PaizoCon 2017 Invaded by Aliens!

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PaizoCon 10th Anniversary

Oh PaizoCon, why do you have to be a whole year away? I, once again, greatly enjoyed every aspect of PaizoCon, this year in its 10th anniversary. It was four days of gaming, seminars, meeting new people, talking with staff at games and over dinner at the PaizoCon Preview Banquet. While PaizoCon has grown significantly from its 30-participant 2008 first year, PaizoCon is large enough to offer many options for activities, but small enough to be easy to navigate, and at less than a thousand attendees, PaizoCon has an intimate feel where you see and play with people you’ve met before, as well as have easy access to the Paizo staff and industry guests.

DoubleTree by Hilton near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport is a great location with a large gaming hall, and plenty of rooms for smaller games, sessions, and pick-up games. Nothing is more than a 2-5 minute walk in the hotel. There’s a pool, expensive but good restaurant, a coffee stand (long lines in the morning, I used my room-supplied coffee pot for the first cup), and in the PaizoCon block of rooms, WiFi was provided for free.

Typically I attend with my son. He started attending with me when he was ten and has been to the last four. This year I was flying solo though as he was on a school-related trip to Washington DC. While I prefer enjoying PaizoCon with him, I still had a great time, filling my time with gaming excellence each day.

If you want to just see my photo journal of the con, check it out on Flickr, otherwise, read on, and get back to the pictures later. I usually try to get pictures of many PFS tables, so if you were you there maybe I immortalized you in the images!

Here’s what I did throughout the weekend, grouped by category.

Off-Book Games

In addition to all the great gaming and sessions provided through Paizo, there’s a ton of “off-book” games. The active Pathfinder community uses the Paizo forums, and Warhorn event management to schedule pre- and post-con games, as well as games during the con when some people have down-time (like during the banquet for people that couldn’t get in, or chose not to), or in the afternoon schedule slot which usually offers less PFS. There are also pick-up games happening all the time. With a little looking you could fill any open time with more gaming.

This year I went ahead and took all of Friday off work so that I could enjoy the full four-day convention. Arriving the night before I was even able to get in one of these pre-con Pathfinder Society organized-play gaming sessions. While my game ran quite late Thursday night, leaving me tired from the get-go, it was a blast—playing with some people I knew from the Paizo forums, others I’d played with before at PaizoCon, and others I was meeting for the first time. The session was a blast, and a nice appetizer for the four days to come. I even got my reserved “goblin brain” snack from PaizoCon regular Majuba! Thanks!

PaizoCon 2017 Battlemap
In this partially waterborne adventure, our adventurers defeat a band of pirates despite themselves. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Check in

Convention check-in runs efficiently at PaizoCon. The morning line seems long and people worry about making their first scheduled 8:00 game or session, but once the process starts everyone is through in 15-20 minutes. Every year I say this, but the swag bag you get from Paizo is awesome. Two booster packs of prepainted plastic Pathfinder Battles miniatures, a single convention special miniature (you can see him standing on the novel), Pathfinder Tales novel, Adventure Card Game character pack and special card, Pathfinder Map Pack, Wayfinder fanzine full of great Pathfinder related content (in full color this year!), Starfinder lanyard and snazzy badge, Munchkin bookmarks, popsicle-stick mask with Syrinscape coupon, and a printed program. Add up the cost of these items, and you’ve already made up the admission cost!

PaizoCon 2017 Swag Bag
The PaizoCon swag bag contains a ‘Pathfinder Tales Novel,’ ‘Pathfinder Battles Miniatures,’ ‘Pathfinder Map Pack,’ ‘Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Class Deck,’ and more! Photo by Ryan Hiller. Awesomeness by Paizo.

After registering I still had time to get my excellent swag-bag back to my room. Note, I refrain from opening anything as it’s a great gift for my kids when I get home. Then I dove into the rest of my weekend of gaming, sessions, and meeting great gamer folk!

Pathfinder Society

PaizoCon is a “celebration of Paizo, Pathfinder, and the folks who play it!” As such Pathfinder is the majority of the game-play. Pathfinder Society (PFS) is the organized-play version of Pathfinder. There are some limitations on how characters can be built and advance in level. This makes it possible for seven complete strangers to come together, and have a set of characters that are roughly balanced, and certainly all fall within the same rule-set.

Pathfinder Society Room
Here’s 300+ people, mostly strangers, playing ‘Pathfinder’ together. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Pathfinder is my main gaming gig so I squeeze in as much as I can, while allowing myself as many other gaming experiences as possible. In addition to the pre-con PFS game. I played PFS each morning from 8AM to 1PM. Getting to take my inquisitor through the first two scenarios of Tyranny of Winds, and my paladin/life oracle through, Perils of the Pirate Pact, Treacherous Waves (completely failed our mission), and Tome of Righteous Repose, where continuing his bad luck, the Paladin, who is focused on being able to raise others from death, was killed by a shadow! He got better, thanks to the quick thinking from his fellow party members. The kind fellow Pathfinders also contributed to the cost of his return from death. Mind you these are complete strangers to me as well as my character! Very kind. Gamers are usually a pretty good group of people.

A character dies in PFS
Ahn Silvertongue the gnome paladin is killed by a shadow! His party helped pay for his resurrection. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

So, in addition to everything else, I was able to get in five sessions of Pathfinder Society play. If that’s all you wanted to do you could easily get in eight to twelve sessions throughout the weekend!

On top of all that, in addition to hours of excellent gaming fun, for each PFS session you play you get a chance to roll a dice to win prizes. Roll crits and you get Paizo Pathfinder product, anything else and you get PFS Boons—bonuses and perks you can add to your characters.

PFS Prize Table
For each ‘PFS’ session you play you get a chance to roll a dice to win prizes. Roll crits and you get Paizo ‘Pathfinder’ product, anything else and you get ‘PFS’ Boons—bonuses and perks you can add to your characters. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Workshops & Sessions

There are many excellent workshops and sessions run by Paizo staffers and other industry experts; including such sessions as, previews of coming products, Enhanced Gaming: Using Props Effectively, Better World Building: Stealing from History, Art previews, Creating Believable Evil, Crafting Terrain: Styles, Methods, and Advice, 1-on-1 Fiction-Writing Workshop, celebrity gaming sessions, and much more. With over 80 sessions throughout the weekend, there’s a ton that interest me.

Thankfully, Know Direction Podcast, which covers Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews, records many of these sessions, so there is a way to still get to hear them. This is, of course, not as good as actually sitting in the session and getting to interact with the presenters, but it’s an excellent second option if you can’t make a session, and a great way to enjoy PaizoCon for weeks to come. Thanks to Know Direction, I spend my time with games and other things that I have to be present to do, and listen to all the recorded sessions later.

I do still pop into some sessions when I have openings in my schedule or a game ends early. I went to the Starfinder Art Preview and got to see the talented and friendly Remko Troost discuss his superb Starfinder art with Paizo’s Sarah Robinson and James L. Sutter. I also popped in to two other sessions, Starfinder: Concepting Aliens and  Starfinder: Designing Aliens. Running back to back, in the first session, again with artist Remko Troost, using input from the audience, drew an alien. In the second session, the Paizo design staff took us through the number-crunching statting up of the alien.

Remko Troost discussing his art
Remko Troost discussing alien creation in the ‘Starfinder Art Preview’ session. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

The last session I attended was a celebrity gaming session with Spencer Crittenden of HarmonQuest fame as the GM. He ran some Paizo staffers through a hilarious Adventure Time based Pathfinder adventure.

Spencer Crittenden Gamemastering
Spencer Crittenden GM’ed a hilarious celebrity gaming session. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Artists

There are always great artists at PaizoCon, and for PaizoCon 10 they had Remko Troost, the artist behind much of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game art, and all of its iconics. I wanted something drawn, but don’t yet have a character for this as-yet unreleased game, so I just asked him to draw me as one of the Starfinder character types, a hacker. His work is amazing. I now have my first character… I’m going to play a 48 year old family man, who is was a technology teacher until he felt the call of the Starfinder Society after the catastrophic loss of members the society suffered. He’ll be named Ryan. Maybe my son will play himself too.

Me Drawn as a Starfinder Character
I had Remko draw me as a ‘Starfinder’ Hacker. I have my first character concept! I think having the guest artist draw me, “as something,” will be a thing now. Drawing by Remko Troost.

Delves

The delves are set up in the lobby and allow four people playing low-level Pathfinder iconic characters to pit themselves against Paizo staffers in 20-minute sessions. The Paizo gamemaster selects baddies way overpowered for the party. If you make it 20 minutes, you win the satisfaction of not dying. For the first two days they ran regular Pathfinder delves, but Sunday and Monday all of the delves were Starfinder! Having not been able to get into any Starfinder events, this was a great opportunity to try out the system and see how it operates.

Delves are a great way to fill some time as well as meet and interact with Paizo staff and other industry people. Interestingly, I delved five times throughout the weekend, and every time, even when I started with Bulmahn or Sutter for instance, I ended up with editor Joe Pasini running the delve, and every time he killed me… always with a chuckle too.

Sign introducing folks to the delve.
The 20 minute RPG delves ran every day, and where one of the last things still going on Monday as the con wound down. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
The delve being played
Session of the delve getting underway. Oddly I got editor Joe Pasini FIVE times! It is not lost on me that I died every time as well. Photo by some random passer-by, thanks!

Lottery Games

PaizoCon includes PFS games and sessions that are mostly pretty easy to get on your schedule, but a couple weeks before the con, there is a lottery where you put in your request for high-demand, low-seats-available games. These are games run by Paizo staff and other industry personalities, some Pathfinder based, but many board games or other RPGs. While there may be dozens of Pathfinder Society tables running, sometimes with two or three instances of the same scenario, these lottery events are one time only, with four to six seats available. There were a few Starfinder Sessions available, PFS scenarios run by authors of the scenarios, arena style combat with creatures from the bestiary, terrain crafting, board games, other RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, End of the World, and more.

You prioritize the events you would like by assigning a score of lowest of one to highest of four. Then Paizo runs some fairy magic that randomly walks through the list of attendees, assigning each attendee to the highest rated selection that still has room at the table. It’s a pretty fair way to seat a few hundred people into these limited seat slots, and depending on how many lottery events you attempt to get into, you may get a couple of your choices. After you have your lottery results, you then fill up your schedule with PFS, other sessions, and hopefully leave some gaps in your schedule for delves, perusing the store, talking to staff, and other unscheduled events.

Books in the Paizo Store
The store has a great deal of Paizo product, as well as third party publishers, the artists, and the Reaper Paint And Take. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

In the lottery I was lucky enough to score two pretty cool events, Delve Roleplaying Game, a game in development by Paizo designer Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and PaizoCon Invasion run by Paizo’s lead designer Jason Bulmahn.

Delve, not to be confused with the Pathfinder 20-minute delve sessions, was an fu fantasy game with some mechanics that simplify play from what we’re used to in Pathfinder, while still including customization options that make each character unique. What is always evident to anyone who has played many roleplaying games, the system is not as important as the people playing it. With Stephen running, and a room full of creative players, some known freelancers themselves, the session was full of great roleplaying and nail-biting action. Creatively eliminating Vancian magic and introducing an excellent initiative system that allows players to choose initiative, at a cost, Delve provided an excellent framework for us to tell our story. I look forward to seeing it as a finished product.

Stephen Radney-MacFarland
Stephen Radney-MacFarland explains the basics of ‘Delve,’ an RPG under development. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Delve RPG Battle Mat
Our weary band of adventurers face down the boss in our ‘Delve’ RPG experience. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

PaizoCon Invasion, using the End of the World: Alien Invasion Game was another entertaining session where lead designer Jason Bulmahn led us through a game where we played ourselves, at PaizoCon, as we slowly discovered the staff and attendees were being taken over by aliens. We started by assigning ourselves some attribute scores (in a home game you’d vote on the accuracy of participant’s selections) and listing some positive and negative features we have (such as for positive I put that I’m an Emergency Medical Technician, and a negative was that I’m a poor lier.) The equipment we had was anything we actually had with us in the gaming room. Suffice it to say we all died, but not before some wild antics involving scuffles with possessed Paizo staff (sorry, I tried to kick one of you in the head… but failed), one player washing spores off his face in my hotel-room toilet bowl, and going after the boss beast, Eric Mona, with three fire-extinguishers. I will say, it was refreshing to see how long it took five people playing themselves, to deviate from polite, normal, non-aggressive behavior. The murder-hobos we typically play in Pathfinder are far from how we actually act.

The End of the World system let us easily resolve the actions we tried and again provided the structure to support our roleplaying. Creating ourselves as characters was easy and believable. There are four books in the series covering, Alien Invasion, Zombie Apocalypse, Revolt of the Machines, and Wrath of the Gods. The game provides a great one-off gaming session, but with enough flexibility to play multiple times. Jason did an excellent job keeping us engaged, challenged, and ultimately dead.

Jason Bulmahn playing End of the World
Jason Bulmahn led us through a game where we played ourselves dealing with an alien invasion using the ‘End of the World’ game system. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Banquet

I attend the Paizo Preview Banquet every year. The food is good, you get to sit with Paizo staff and industry personalities, and Eric Mona and crew present some of the new and upcoming products for the year. In addition to some other wonderful PaizoCon attendees, I sat at a table with Dan Tharp, the Outreach Coordinator for Paizo (the person behind @Paizo), as well as the media guest of honor, Spencer Crittenden, from HarmonQuest. I got to talk with Spencer about what it takes to make a HarmonQuest episode and about his experiences with season 2, due out July 27th.

I covered all the news from the banquet in my earlier post, Goblins in Space! News from PaizoCon 2017, and some slides from the presentation can be seen in my PaizoCon 2017 Flickr album. Want it right from the horses mouth? Know Direction Podcast has posted a video of the banquet presentation already.

Spencer Crittenden and banquet table
My banquet crew. There’s Spencer Crittenden in the upper right. Photo by Dan Tharp, @Piazo.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Demo

A big piece of news released just before PaizoCon was that Owlcat Games is creating a computer roleplaying game adaptation of the beloved Pathfinder Kingmaker Adventure Path. I saw both a demo-reel of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, as well as got some time playing the game in a fully operational demo. The game is a real-time with pause, isometric (‘ish, conversation on the Paizo boards about what true isometric is… 3D or isometric, it looked excellent!), party-based, computer role playing game. They said that multi-player is not in the current plans as they wanted to put all of their effort into making an excellent single-player game.

 

Pathfinder: Kingmaker was easy to get handle on and I ran through a few encounters taking out bandits and goblins. What intrigued me most though was the character generation screen. It depicted all the fiddly bits of Pathfinder character creation that I love. The character sheet showed level advancement from 1-20 with slots for regular feats, bonus feats, skills, current buffs and conditions. Again, all the stuff to make interesting and original character builds. On one sheet you can see an alignment wheel, where your choices in game may slowly shift your alignment. The developer I was sitting with said that they were planning to release with all Pathfinder Core Rulebook content.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker has a schedule, budget, and a release date, and while they are running a Kickstarter to try and raise funds to add more content and options for players, the game will be released regardless of the Kickstarter success or failure. What I saw was polished and quite functional. The developer said that there was about four hours of finished content with much more in various stages of completion. From what I’ve heard, Pathfinder: Kingmaker should hit the streets summer of 2018. Given what they have now and another year of development, I’m excited for this game. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and to see how closely it models Pathfinder intrigues me more.

The Kickstarter is set at $500,000 and should go live in the next week or so. Expect more news from GeekDad on Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and the Kickstarter in the near future.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Screenshot
It looks like these characters are wisely running! Screen shot provided by Owlcat Games.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker Screen Shot
Just some murder-hobos looting the camp of their defeated foes. Image provide by Owlcat Games.

Starfinder Demos and News

Last, but certainly not least is Starfinder. While I didn’t get any of the longer Starfinder gaming sessions on my schedule, Sunday and Monday gaming delves were dedicated to the game, so I did get to play twice, as well as attend the Starfinder art preview and alien creation seminars.

The main philosophy I got from my exposure in the sessions and in the gaming delves was that, when compared to Pathfinder, the game is being simplified while still allowing the wealth of character options that draws me to Pathfinder. From the alien design sessions I learned that monster creation is a very quick process that allows a GM to create the monster they want with minimal effort, focusing more on theme and special abilities than number crunching. Monster creation is basically the simplified monster creation rules you can find in Pathfinder Unchained.

“We are trying to empower GMs to easily create the monsters they need to tell the stories they want to.” Owen KC Stephans

Other simplifications include the dropping of most of the different types of armor classes. CMD/CMB, flat-footed, touch are gone, replaced by just two armor classes, Energy Armor Class (EAC) and Kinetic Armor Class (KAC). “Attacks that deal energy damage (like the fire damage from your trusty red star plasma pistol) target EAC; attacks that deal kinetic damage (like the bludgeoning damage from a gravity well hammer) target KAC.” Iterative attacks are gone, instead players, regardless of level, can opt to take one attack, or two attacks as a full-round action at -4 to hit each. Fewer actions trigger attacks of opportunities. and hit points are handled a little differently. An excellent blog was recently posted on the Paizo site covering Five Differences Between Starfinder Rules and Pathfinder Rules. In addition I was happy to see the introduction of “resolve points.” Much like grit or panache from Pathfinder, “You can spend Resolve Points to power (or enhance) some class features, or to help you stay in a fight longer. Resolve Points also determine whether or not you die if both your Stamina Points and Hit Points are reduced to zero.” I love having options each turn as a player, and resolve points are a way to allow a character to do cool things, but since it’s a limited resource, the characters aren’t spamming out special abilities. Most will want to hold on to some resolve points, to prevent permanent death, or for that final killing blow on the space-boss.

While they are simplifying many aspects of the game, looking at the various character sheets available for the devle I saw the same bits available such as feats, skills, and abilities, to customize our characters to our heart’s content. Unique character builds remain, while the world of number-crunching through prep, and through each round of combat, has been reduced.

Navasi in play at the Delve
Navasi, a human female Envoy is a leader type, able to replenish other characters’ stamina points with some inspiring words. And look! Some ‘Starfinder’ Pawns! Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Prototype Starfinder Miniatures
Non-final, hand painted, prototype ‘Starfinder’ miniatures from Ninja Division were on display. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

There we go. That pretty well filled my four-day Memorial Day weekend. Other than time to eat, get limited sleep, and write my PaizoCon Preview Banquet news article, I just consumed gaming-goodness. There’s still more that could be done at the con that I didn’t get to. In addition to 75+ other sessions, and countless games, LoneWolf Development was there with Hero Lab and RealmWorks, excellent character generation and campaign management software. I’ve been meaning to write up this excellent software for years. Hero Lab is a must-have piece of software that makes character creation and tracking a pleasure. Pathfinder Online had a room where you could play the game. Syrinscape was there demoing their software and recording people for use in the program. Steve Jackson Games was there with Pathfinder Munchkin. Last, Reaper was running their Paint & Take.

I’m already excited for PaizoCon 11. Maybe I’ll see you next year at the gaming table, Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, 2018.

Check out the rest of my photos of PaizoCon 2017 on Flickr.

Syrinscape recording
‘Syrinscape’ was there demoing their software and recording people for use in the program. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Hero Lab workstations
Lone Wolf Development had a few stations of ‘Hero Lab’ set up so attendees could build characters. They were also demoing their campaign management software, “RealmWorks.” Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Pathfinder Munchkin Room
‘Pathfinder Munchkin’ from Steve Jackson Games was available for play. I believe some folks left with custom drawn cards! Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Reaper Paint and Take Booth
At the Reaper Paint & Take you can select a Reaper Bones miniature, and using provided paint and brushes, paint your miniature. Always a fun diversion. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Disclosure: Paizo provided GeekDad a pass for PaizoCon 2017.

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