Delving Into PaizoCon 2016

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While my PaizoCon was not filled with the same life-altering good news as GeekDad’s Will James, detailed in his post, I’ll Never Forget PaizoCon 2016, my son and I spent the Memorial Day weekend rolling dice and left with many great memories of heists, miracle filled dream-scapes, inter-planar travel, destroyed taxis, a delve-based TPK, and a wonderful time.

PaizoCon is a “celebration of Paizo, Pathfinder, and the folks who play it!” and is organized by Paizo, Inc., the publisher of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. In addition to Pathfinder-related gaming, PaizoCon also offers panels and discussions, including “Pathfinder Adventure Path Q&A,” and “Pathfinder RPG Design Workshop,” as well as gaming in other roleplaying systems, board and card games, drawing, and so much more.

At around a thousand attendees, PaizoCon is big enough to have a great deal going on, while small enough to maintain an intimate and personal feel. While there’s a Paizo store with some third-party publishers, there’s not a large exhibit hall to peruse; PaizoCon is all about playing games. I often talk about the Paizo/Pathfinder community, and PaizoCon exudes community. You can easily interact with most of the Paizo staff and you see and play with many of the same people you’ve played with at prior PaizoCons. Everyone volunteering or working there is totally vested in the game and it shows in their interactions with fans throughout the con. Everyone from all branches of the company are there: CEO, tech, warehouse, design, editing, customer service; basically, the whole company is on site, running games, playing games, and being available.

The main two activities at PaizoCon are Pathfinder Society (PFS) and the Adventure Card Guild (ACG). Pathfinder Society is Pathfinder’s organized play. Players create characters using the Pathfinder Role Playing Game and some character-creation constraints that help balance the characters at the table and avoid Munchkinism. Play is organized into seasons with some 20+ modules, each with an ongoing story arc, released throughout the year. The Adventure Card Guild is similar, with a season of scenarios written to be played with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.

PaizoCon Gameroom
The grand ballroom had plenty of space to move around, but so many gamers in one space is pretty loud. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

In addition to the Paizo games many other games are played as well, including Sword and Wizardry, Call of Cthulhu, Forbidden Desert, Hanabi, and much much more.

GeekDad’s Will James planned to focus and report on the Adventure Card Guild, but as mentioned, he missed most of PaizoCon for more pressing business (new daughter!). My son and I focused on Pathfinder Society, but also sampled the rest of the smorgasbord of fun.

PaizoCon Registration and Offerings

Friday morning we were up in time to get to registration at 7AM and on to our first 8AM PFS game. Paizo has the registration process down pat. The line moved quickly, with hundreds getting through in probably just 20-30 minutes, and as I’ve said before, the swag bag serves as an icon for all other conventions to strive for. This year’s bag included a Pathfinder Tales novel, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game character deck and item cards, Pathfinder mini-mates, hard-bound Pathfinder Comics volume, the Pathfinder fanzine Wayfinder, Pathfinder Battles booster pack with four random miniatures, a custom paint of a Pathfinder Battles pre-painted plastic miniature, The Dark Eve quick start guide, a coupon for 10% of the Paizo web-store, and, of course, the PaizoCon schedule, event tickets, and ID badge. At this point participants have already received the value of the badge!

PaizoCon 2016 Swag Bag
The PaizoCon swag bag is full of awesome sauce. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Immediately around the registration table are two tables of the 15-minute roleplaying delves, demos of Obsidian’s Pathfinder Adventures tablet app translation of the Adventure Card Game, and Syrinscape, an application designed to create sound environments for your gaming. Within twenty feet of registration is the Paizo store, with most of Paizo’s products, as well as third-party publishers, artists’ tables, and the Reaper Paint-N-Take. Twenty feet the other way is the grand-ballroom where most PFS and ACG tables play as well as where the preview banquet is held. Just upstairs and a short walk on the same floor are smaller rooms for seminars, and non-PFS/ACG gaming. Everything is easy to find and get to so there’s no worry about scheduling back-to-back sessions.

News from PaizoCon

PaizoCon is a great source of Paizo and Pathfinder related news as they announce much of the coming year’s product at the PaizoCon Preview Banquet on Saturday night. The banquet is the only event that costs anything above the convention ticket price. At this event Paizo staff sit one or two per table and on a first-come-first-served basis you get to pick who you sit with. Almost every staff member is there so whether your interest is editing, design, operations, or any aspect of Paizo, you can find and sit with the people that make the game you’re there to play! My son and I sat with CEO Lisa Stevens and Wolfgang Baur of Kobold Press. I covered most of the scuttlebutt in my prior article, 12 Critical Hits of Pathfinder Gaming News From PaizoCon 2016, but I will repeat the big one here.

In likely the biggest Paizo news since Pathfinder, Paizo announced it is creating a new roleplaying game, a science-fantasy game called Starfinder. It’s set in the same solar system as Pathfinder’s Golarian, but the campaign-setting planet is missing! In its place is Absalom Station described by Creative Director James Sutter as “United Nations meets Babylon 5.” There will be compatibility with Pathfinder, but they said where making an excellent game conflicts with compatibility, they are going to choose making the best game they can for Starfinder. The game is set to release at GenCon 2017 with invite and lottery playtesting to happen over the coming year. We’ll let you know more on this intriguing news as we discover it.

Absalom Station
Golarion, the planet, is missing. In its place is Absalom Station, a mix of the United Nations and Babylon 5. Image from Paizo.

Pathfinder Society RPG Play

Pathfinder Society (PFS) was our focus and we were able to play four sessions of society play. We could have worked in at least another couple of sessions, but had to choose sleep in lieu of fun. Gaming runs until midnight most nights and with late night banquets and a special PFS scenario running to midnight we had to take an afternoon and morning session off for much needed rest.

Immediately after registration we hopped right into our first game of PFS. We also played sessions Saturday morning, the PFS special Sunday night from 7PM – midnight, and Monday morning again at 8AM. The PFS sessions we played were great fun as we continued to level characters we’ve been playing at PaizoCon for the past four years. From Blakros Connection, where we got to journey to Absalom’s most prestigious archive, playing a surprisingly engaging research minigame to uncover a dark secret, to a great heist scenario in The Sun Orchid Scheme, to some interplanar travel, and intense negotiations in Captive in Crystal. Every year Paizo runs a PFS special scenario one evening of the convention. In this scenario, as anti-Pathfinder Society Aspis Consortium members, we got to play evil characters, and be a little bad.

PaizoCon 2016 PFS Table
In our first game we played with a couple that we gamed with three years ago when we experienced our first character death! Photo by Ryan Hiller
PaizoCon 2016 Battle Mat
A nice cluster, all ready for a fireball. Center on the gnome! Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Again, PaizoCon is a relatively small convention, so you see and play with many of the same people every year. When my son was 10, his character died brutally at the hands of a bearded devil, luckily brought back to life by a PFS boon we had from playing Pathfinder at PAX. In the Sun Orchid scheme we got to play as fellow players with the DM who had killed him so many years ago. Sometimes you play with the same players, sometimes even the same characters meet up. It’s a great ongoing inner story, unique to every player’s character.

PaizoCon 2016 Loot Table
You earn tokens for each ‘PFS’ or ‘ACG’ game you play. Each token earns you a roll at a loot table where you can earn boons for your characters. Boons provide things like one-time bonuses to roll under special conditions, or other limited benefits for the characters and some allow you to be races not otherwise allowed. Also, if you crit, or roll a natural 20, on the die, you can earn ‘Pathfinder’ product such as rule  books, or ‘ACG’ character decks. Photo by Ryan Hiller

I love sitting down at a table with seven complete strangers, six players working toward a goal, the players have varying degrees of being able to work together, as do the characters, there’s really 12 different in- and out-of-game skill sets and personalities all trying to work (or not!) towards the same goal. I’m not great at meeting people, or starting conversations, but it’s easy for me to sit down and play games with complete strangers given this common objective. PFS and my interactions with the superb Paizo community are the highlights of my PaizoCon experiences. My son and I have always been welcomed and treated well at every PFS table we’ve played since he was nine years old.

PaizoCon 2016 PFS Table
Our last game of the weekend. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Winning the Lottery

While it’s easy to schedule most any PFS or ACG scenario and you can walk up without a scenario ticket and be relatively confident in getting a table, PaizoCon also offers lottery events. These are single sessions with just 4-6 seats available run by Paizo staff and other industry celebrities. These high demand slots are awarded through lottery. Before the con you rate each event on a priority list and through fairy magic you are awarded some lottery events. With a little understanding of the process, and some flexibility, you can score some excellent events.

The Anger of the Old Forest
Greg Vaughan running ‘The Anger of the Old Forest.’ Photo by Ryan Hiller.

The main lottery even we attended was Anger of the Old Forest, a Pathfinder adventure run by freelance writer Greg Vaughan. The adventure was set in the land of Tolkien’s Middle Earth 30 years before Bilbo leaves on his quest for the Lonely Mountain. This scenario was taken from Greg Vaughan’s home campaign for his children. He said his kids were interested in Lord of the Rings, not roleplaying games, so the setting was his way of getting them to play. Mr. Vaughn’s knowledge of of lore, locations, origin of names, and such, made this an entertaining and educational experience. The story was a well written puzzle, with all the necessary elements in place for us to solve. I highly recommend getting into any game run by this excellent game master. On a side-note, I played the Bilbo Baggins, a rogue in Pathfinder terms, and we almost caused his death, 30 years before finding the Ring.

We had to bow out of one of our other lottery events for the sake of sleep, posting our tickets on a cork-board designated for giving away events. Our third lottery event was the Special discussed in the PFS section. With 250 available attendees, that event is not hard to win.

Delving, ‘Battle Taxi’, and Other Activities

In addition to scheduled events there is a ton more to do at the convention ranging from seminars, to pick-up games, to just hanging out with fellow gamers.

Dying in Delves

The delves are short 15 minute sessions, mastered by various Paizo staff, where you and three other players use pre-generated Pathfinder iconic characters and face overwhelming odds, usually ending in a total-party kill (TPK). There are two tables for delving, one set in a dungeon scenario using Dwarven Forge 3D terrain, and another village-scape by Renaissance Miniatures. In our delve Paizo’s Rob McCreary turned my rogue Merisiel into stone with the gaze of a dracolisk, then devoured fighter Valeros played by my son, before moving on to exterminating the rest of the party. Always a hoot, it’s a great way to meet and interact with the creators of the game.

The delves use great 3D terrain like this Dwarven Forge dungeon. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
The delves use great 3D terrain like this Dwarven Forge dungeon. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Syrinscape

Syrinscape is “a dynamic, easy-to-use application designed to create continuous, repetition-free sound environments.” This awesome little piece of software allows you to easily add ambiance music and sound effects to your gaming. Specific sound packs are available for different situations such as “Friendly Tavern” and “Ettin Battle.” Glancing at my Syrinscape sound sets (yes, I own it… because it’s excellent), I see there over 100 available, and you can create your own set by selecting components from various sets. Each set includes ambiance music, and looping background noise appropriate to the intended scene; clashing of swords, battle calls, screams, and the like. In addition you can trigger various sounds to happen when you want to highlight something happening in your game.

I stopped by to talk with Benjamin Loomes, the Creative Director, and got a demonstration of the Syrinscape SoundSet CreatorThe software allows you to edit all of the sounds from the Syrinscape sets as well as record and edit your own sounds effects and vocals. Syrinscape SoundSet Creator “provides incredible intensity, control, and immersion.”

I’ve used Syrinscape’s Rise of the Runelords sound set for my campaign of the same name, and my kids often use Syrinscape just for fun, or as ambiance for play. I look forward to trying out the SoundSet Creator and hope to review for GeekDad soon.

‘Playbook’ by Trapdoor Technologies

PaizoCon 2106 Playbook App
Playbook is intended to aid in the gaming process, allowing participants to focus on the story rather than the rules. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Trapdoor Technologies recently announced a partnership with Paizo to create Playbook for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The app has the ambitious goal of integrating all the components of running Pathfinder into a single iPad application.

Playbook will allow players to roll up and manage characters, while Game Masters can purchase and prep adventures and campaigns in the award-winning world of Pathfinder,” says Chris Matney, Managing Director at Trapdoor. “With quick rules lookup, information sharing, stat tracking and more, this is the app roleplaying gamers have been waiting for.”

I spent some time talking with the Playbook team, and played the opening of Dragon’s Demand as run and played through iPads with Playbook installed. Playbook includes the following modules: Character Module: build and manage characters; Adventure Module: as a GM, manage your adventure, track encounters, share maps and take notes; Campaign Module: keeps the campaign story arc organized and available with campaign maps, major world events and notable places and people easy to find; Party Module: share information, pass secret notes, and muster your own game nights; and the Library Module: read your own creations or browse through an expanding library of content. Trapdoor Technologies plans to release the app for GenCon. In its current incarnation each of these modules is available with varying states of completeness. An additional module is also intended, Forge Module: a toolkit for world building.

If Trapdoor Technologies brings all of this together with as sleek of an app as it currently looks, they will have a winner. The Library Module itself is worth Playbook’s $1.99 a month subscription cost ($19.99 for a year. The app is free to download and use). The Library Module will give you in-app access to any of your Pathfinder books purchased on Paizo.com. Using technology from their primary business in the publishing industry, they are converting the Pathfinder rulebooks into true ebooks, with all the benefits ebooks offer over PDFs. For PFS, you are expected to have all the source material used to create your characters; this will be an enormously simple and useful way to bring all of that content and find the rules you need. I also hope to review this promising app in the near future.

Seminars and Workshops

There are so many great seminars at PaizoCon including such topics as mapping, writing for RPGs, game mastering, making monsters, creating inclusive game spaces, and many more. Workshops included such things as, “The Crayon of Vecna” where you get the opportunity to draw live models, and “Miniature Painting 101.” While I’d love to attend most of these sessions, most of the seminars are recorded by the Know Direction Podcast. Knowing these recordings will be released after PaizoCon, I usually choose gaming sessions, and other things I have to “be there” to experience. If you’re interested in Pathfinder, whether or not you attended there is a ton of great content available from Know Direction.

Battle Taxi – Playtest

There are so many sessions running concurrently at PaizoCon that Ryan Costello of the Know Direction Podcast had asked for volunteers to either record, or loan recorders for use. I couldn’t commit to recording, but did loan my recorder. When I met Ryan to hand it off, he happened to be talking to Paizo’s lead designer Jason Bulmahn. Jason also has his own game company Minotaur Games. This fortunate timing lead to my son and I getting to sit down with Jason and Ryan for the first ever playing of Jason’s latest brainchild, Battle Taxi. The game was fun and ran remarkably well for a first-ever playing of a game. It was interesting seeing the internal workings of a game designer’s mind and discussing various mechanics that worked and potential solutions for things that didn’t. After about 45 minutes of play we left with some terrified fares, heavily damaged taxis, and Jason had ideas for the next iteration of the game.

Playtesting 'Battle Taxi'
My son, Jason Bulmahn, and Ryan Costello playtesting ‘Battle Taxi’. The game is a very rough first-draft and this is the very first time anyone has played it. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Obsidian Pathfinder Adventures

Obsidian created Pathfinder Adventures, a phenomenal translation of the Adventure Card Game for iOS and Android tablets. Available now, the game is as entertaining as it is beautiful. While you can pay for content, you can also play to unlock content, so the game is free. As I discussed in my PaizoCon news post, they will soon offer special daily quests; they’re working on multi-player, as well as PC and smartphone versions of the game. One seminar I attended was the Obsidian panel. It was interesting hearing how they tackled various challenges in this “video game based on a card game that’s based on a roleplaying game.” They discussed how the in-game dialog changes based not only on the characters chosen for a scenario, but also based on the pairings of characters. Anyone who has read the Pathfinder Comics, or the Big Finish audio productions knows that there are relationships, and specific banter between the various iconic characters.

I’ve been having a great deal of fun with Pathfinder Adventures, and have not spent a cent on it. Try it out!

A screenshot of 'Pathfinder Adventures.' It's free, so there's no reason not to try it out! Image from Obsidian.
A screenshot of ‘Pathfinder Adventures.’ It’s free, so there’s no reason not to try it out! Image from Obsidian.

Reaper Paint N’ Take

The Reaper Paint N’ Take is a great diversion from all the interaction (I am very much an introvert). You get to select an unpainted Reaper Bones miniature, borrow some painting supplies and just sit and paint. There is Reaper staff there should you need help. Visiting this location also allowed us to finish a scavenger hunt that would give us a useful boon for Pathfinder Society.

Whew… I think that about covers it. There is a ton more to do in Seattle, but being from around the area I did not have a need to see any of it. There are supposedly good restaurants near by, but given my desire to maximize game-time and sleep we only ate out the night before the convention, after that it was either room service or the Paizo Banquet. Throughout the day we carried food such as granola bars, carrots, pbj’s, coffee, water, and other snacks. Playing back to back 5 hours games meant having food on us was a must (check out my convention check-list.) The hotel has a pool which we didn’t use. There was just too much con-related fun to be had!

Were you there? What was your highlight of PaizoCon 2016? Post a comment and tell us about your experience.

Thinking about next year? For $75 you can’t beat the wealth of enjoyment available from PaizoCon. Next year PaizoCon 2017 is also on Memorial Day weekend May 26-29, 2017. Come and role for initiative!

Note: All my pictures from PaizoCon 2016 are on Flickr, play Waldo and try to find yourself!

Disclosure: Paizo provided me a badge to attend PaizoCon but all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

PaizoCon 2017 May 26 - 29

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