This past Memorial Day weekend PaizoCon 2018 was logged into the Pathfinder Society Journals. Like past PaizoCons, the pages were filled with countless tales of adventure and discovery, punctuated with character death and loss. PaizoCon is an four-day gaming convention in Seattle, Washington, celebrating everything Paizo: Pathfinder, Starfinder, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and much, much more. In addition to playing all these great games, con-goers get to meet all the wonderful people from the community–players, volunteers, and staff alike. If you want four days of gaming euphoria, then PaizoCon is a must!
I’ve been going to PaizoCon for the last seven of its 11-year run–with my son for the past six years, since he was just 10 years old. There’s plenty for kids that like gaming to do, including kid specific gaming tracks and short RPG experiences called Delves, but I’ve always just included my son in the games I played. He’s always played the full Pathfinder Society Sessions (PFS) as well as any of the special games run by staff and industry guests. My older son has always been willing to sit through the five-hour sessions, something my younger son, now 13 has never been willing to do. You’d want to consider your child’s willingness to contribute to a game for these long sessions when making your event decisions.
It’s easy to pre-sign up for the PFS sessions and large seminars with people you’re attending the con with, but the special games are in limited supply and are distributed through a lottery system. Paizo allows you to sign up for events with one “buddy” which ensures you are assigned to the same lottery wins, so I’ve always been able to ensure I’m at the same table with my son–convention-going support I probably am in more need of than him!
In addition to the various ‘Finder related games, the con is a great place to discover new games. Many of the lottery events consist of Paizo staffers running their favorite boardgames, or running another RPG. Always a blast, and we usually leave with knowledge of a new game to play.
I love the intimacy of PaizoCon. At less than a thousand attendees, it’s small enough that you can actually meet and talk with whatever staff and guests you want, you see many of the same attendees year after year, often playing with the same people even through random table selection, and you can at least sample most events at the con. Some conventions are just so large that they’re overwhelming. PaizoCon is large enough to have a ton of excellent events going on, while being easy to take it all in.
Kicking off PaizoCon
We get to the con at the Doubletree by Hilton SEATAC Airport hotel the night before so we can rise early, register, and attend our first PFS gaming session for the morning. Registration is a snap, with the line seeming long, but actually cycling through pretty quickly.
The awesomeness of PaizoCon starts right out the gate as the swag bag is always spectacular. I always provide a shot of the swag bag contents (above), because it’s really one of the best I’ve received from any con. In addition to the program, a $10 PaizoCon gift certificate, and other conning necessities, attendees got two Pathfinder Battles booster packs, a Pathfinder Pawns box, a special Pathfinder Adventure Card Game card, an ACG character deck, a con-special single Pathfinder Battles mini, and a Reaper paint. The value of the swag bag easily covers the cost of attendance even before enjoying four days of gaming! My miniatures always make for a great gift for my younger son who chooses not attend the con.
One of the main things going on and what my son and I typically put most of our time into is organized play. While my son and I focus on the Pathfinder RPG, organized play includes Pathfinder Society, Starfinder Society, and the Adventure Card Guild. Organized play uses slightly constrained sets of the Pathfinder or Starfinder rules to generate and level characters who are members of the in-game Pathfinder Society. While each year there’s an overarching story, Society scenarios are designed to be self contained adventures that will take the typical party around 4-5 hours to play. You can easily hop into any scenario, with an appropriate level character and play. My son and I spend our gaming time throughout the year playing regular non-society home games. While I do quite a bit of play-by-post Society play, our face-to-face Society play is limited to once a year for the four days at PaizoCon. (I’d love to play more Pathfinder and Starfinder Society, but, hey, life!)
Historically the ballroom has dozens of tables of Society play every morning and afternoon of the con. This year they also added a midnight to six in the morning slot! While crazy, this new slot got great attendance! In addition you can get into pre-con, post-con, and pick-up games to your heart’s content.
I love the nature of convention-style Pathfinder Society play. You can certainly sign up for tables with people you know, but as a pair, we’re faced with sitting down with five strangers, four other players and a gamemaster. Sometimes they’re people we’ve played with before, but it’s so interesting to be thrown into a situation where the players, and the characters, are meeting for the first time. Given the clear and shared objective in and out of game, teamwork and cooperation instantly flows.
Sunday night from seven to midnight is the Pathfinder Society Special. Around 300 Pathfinder Society players get together for one big event where every group at every table in the room is working together towards the same goal. Usually it’s a scenario wrapping up the prior season’s storyline and/or opening up the next season’s story.
My son and I both attended this extremely deadly event. I’m not sure how much of the deadliness was the scenario, and how much was the GM, Chris, using player tactics to focus on one threat at a time, but by her hand we had four character deaths and one animal companion death by the time it was all said and done. Starting with a death three rounds into the game, my paladin blew through Ultimate Mercy and two uses of Breath of Life to keep three people in the game. The Specials are always a blast–tons of energy in the room, even in the wee hours as it is.
Next year I hear we have The Grinder to look forward to for the Pathfinder Society Special–designed to burn through characters. I anticipate with the new edition of Pathfinder releasing at the end of the next season of PFS play that the story will be something similar to the Starfinder Society Scoured Stars incident. To explain why in the next season there’s suddenly a deluge of 1st level Pathfinder Society members (to satisfy the introduction of second edition) a similar event could happen in Pathfinder Society. The Grinder may be the event that explains why all these high level characters that we’ve been playing are suddenly gone.
While I play and GM Starfinder via play-by-post, neither my son or I have ever played a face-to-face game of Starfinder, so we had signed up for a Starfinder Society session. We were looking forward to it, and we’d heard great things about Live Exploration Extreme!, a reality-TV-show-esque scenario where the characters must achieve their mission while dealing with the, “mandatory presence of an unliving camera crew—not to mention the interference of the live studio audience in orbit!”
Alas there’s just so much going on and to do at PaizoCon, we had to find time to sleep! We had the banquet on the prior night until 10pm and after that I wrote my news from PaizoCon post until late until the evening. On the following day we were scheduled with Starfinder from 7am-1pm, Pathfinder Playtest from 2pm-6pm, and the Pathfinder Society Special from 7pm-12pm. The Playtest and the special were both a must, and I hoped to do other things throughout the day, like talk to the artists, maybe hit up the delves, hitch up with the Glass Cannon Podcast team, and so much more, so we forewent our one shot at Starfinder for a much needed sleep-in and a morning of other activities on a less tight time-frame.
It’s a good problem to have. There really is more to do than one person could possibly do at PaizoCon! If Starfinder is your thing though, you could have played Starfinder all weekend long.
The guest artist for PaizoCon 2018 was the extremely talented Taylor Fischer (Twitter, Tumblr). Primarily working on AAA video games on such titles as Elder Scrolls Online, Civilization, Xcom they also created the art in many Pathfinder and Starfinder products, such as Pathfinder’s Curse of the Crimson Throne hardcover and Occult Adventures. Here’s a sample of their fabulous art that graced the welcome billboard, program, convention badges, and more at PaizoCon.
As a concept artist and illustrator, they were perfect for the Concepting Monsters and Concepting Aliens sessions at PaizoCon. In each of these sessions, through discussions between Paizo game developers, the audience, and Taylor, a horrific beast is created. In a session that follows, developers work with the audience to stat the beast. I love the art and design of these games, so I try to pop into at least one of these sessions. I caught the Concepting Monsters for Pathfinder session and got to see some horrendous ideas unfold.
After a few years of attending this and other cons, I’ve started to get over my introverted self and have been hitting up the artists for commissions. I have a new tradition of commissioning the guest artist to draw me as something. With the release of Starfinder last year I had the guest artist draw me as a Starfinder-esque hacker. So I asked Taylor to draw me as a roguish guy. I didn’t give them a lot to go on, we discussed Starfinder, they snapped a reference shot of me, and I was wearing my Maxpedition camera bag which made it into the sketch. The next day I popped in after my PFS session to pick up this superb piece art!
An art piece or two is a great way to remember the con, get a superb representation of your character, meet an artist, and get an original one-of-a-kind image from them. Check Taylor out on Twitter; in addition to being an awesome artist, they’re building a beautiful Tiny House. Want to follow their work, and get some tutorials and digital tools, support their on Patreon. Want to just see their cool art, here’s their Tumblr–some fabulous stuff here!
Liz Courts (Twitter, Web Site), another freelance artist, was also on-site so I commissioned her to do a character portrait. I described my character and showed her the mini I used for him. She whipped up an excellent illustration of my character–Ahn, the gnome paladin mentioned earlier that brought three characters back to life during the Pathfinder Society Special.
Both artists were also selling prints and original works. Definitely, when you’re at any convention, if you get a chance to see the artists or get some of their work, do it. The games we enjoy so much would not be the same without all the fabulous art to pique our imaginations and set the mood.
Lottery Events and Sessions
In addition to the organized play sessions, there are lottery events. These are high-demand events with limited seating–a six-person game with Paizo staff, or larger sessions that are expected to attract large numbers of people. Prior to the con you can select and prioritize as many of the sessions as you want, and then through a fair and random mechanic you win an event or two. The selection process yielded one lottery event for my son and I but we were able to get into one more larger lottery session as I caught spots opening up.
Once the lottery is done, everyone then can fill up the rest of their schedule slots by picking any remaining open sessions including sessions not included in the lottery. This is also when you select organized play tables. Just as a note for those trying to sign up with a buddy, this process no longer uses the buddy system, so I get two computers side-by-side and sign my son and I up as closely to the same time as possible.
As a playtest of the recently announced Pathfinder Second Edition, the Glass Cannon Podcast has been playing through the Crypt of the Everflame with Lead Designer Jason Bulmahn and Publisher Eric Mona. Prior to the con they released the audio of their first session, released around when Pathfinder Second Edition was announced. At PaizoCon the adventure continued with a packed room full of energy and excitement as the GCP did their thing.
Gamemastered by lead designer Jason Bulmahn, using the great story of the Crypt of the Everflame (also written by Bulmahn), and an extra level of GCP antics, the session was extremely entertaining as well as a great window into the inner workings of second edition.
One of the rules highlights was when the characters were faced with plague zombies and became sickened, a progressively worsening condition that requires spending an action retching to remove one level of sickness. We were graced with many GCP players actually going through the motions of retching for their players! While making for hilarious fun, it’s an example of a simplification of the rules–a simple condition, with an interesting an appropriate action economy effect to remove that condition. Sickened 1 basically means you take a -1 to most d20 rolls. If the condition worsens, or the event that caused it was a crit, you’ll hit Sickened 2 and take a -2 to your rolls, and the condition can continue. No more wondering what sickened or nauseated does, different levels of the same effect, but with different definitions. Sickened is now one simple mechanic with clear indications of how to remove it. For more on the playtest, read my prior Playtest post, more on the Paizo blog, I discuss it some later in this post, and I’ll be writing more when I get my eager hands on it!
The session ran until 11pm much to the other non-gamer-hotel-goers’ confusion, “Honey, why are all those people cheering when that man says he retches?” If you are interested in some of the inner workings of the Pathfinder Playtest, check out the podcast. This PaizoCon session will also be released at some point; it’s well worth a listen. Also, if you don’t already, check out the Glass Cannon Podcast as well as their other podcasts. They really are some of the best actual play podcasting out there.
The Glass Cannon Podcast also had their own room at the Con with a few tables of GCP Nation gaming! Various members of the Glass Cannon Podcast ran and played games for lucky attendees. There’s a couple members of the Glass Cannon Podcast in this pic–play a little Where’s Waldo; you may have to look behind a beer glass to find Troy!
Pathfinder Playtest with Amanda Hamon Kunz
The session my son and I won in the initial lottery was a Pathfinder Playtest session with Paizo’s Managing Developer Amanda Hamon Kunz. Getting in on a playtest was a must for me so I could see as much of the internals of the Pathfinder Playtest as I could in preparation of playing and reviewing the new edition.
We teamed up with three other lottery winners, including a freelancer, a Lonewolf Development staffer, and another civilian like my son and I. The adventure was a converted from first edition Gallows of Madness where we took level one playtest versions of Kyra the cleric, Valeros the fighter, Seelah the paladin, Merisiel the rogue, and Ezren the wizard for a little test drive. We could also play a goblin alchemist–his character sheet was in someone’s hands at one point, but when play started, he’d been left behind!
Play consisted of some investigation, traveling with an encounter, and then a dungeon/structure crawl. Even with new rules, as many have said, it definitely felt like we were playing Pathfinder.
Here I go off on some Pathfinder Playtest minutia, click through to the spoiler if you dare, or if you’re happy to wait to get your hands on the playtest materials in August, you can happily skip this section.
Getting some inside experience with the Pathfinder Playtest was a high point of the weekend, and the story was entertaining. Again, this felt like playing Pathfinder, just with some cleaner and more interesting rules. I have high confidence in Pathfinder Second Edition and am excited to get involved in the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest. Amanda Hamon Kunz was an animated, talented, and interesting gamemaster. I’d highly recommend any sessions she runs at future conventions.
The convention is mainly about gaming, so there aren’t a ton of booths like at larger, less focused conventions, but in addition to housing the artists, the large room with the store does have a ton of Paizo product, as well materials from third party producers. I got some dice from q-Workshop, and there are minis and more. It’s a good place to pop in and peruse, participate in the Reaper Paint-n-Take, meet the artists, and you’ll see most Paizo staffers in here at one point or another.
News from the PaizoCon Banquet
Every year Paizo puts on a banquet with buffet-style food, an available bar, and each table has at least one Paizo staff member, or industry professional to mingle with the guests. Con attendees can grill the staffers while enjoying good food and hearing all the upcoming Paizo news. This year I enjoyed the company of Paizo Art Director Sonja Morris, Creative Director Sarah Robinson, guest of honor freelance artist Taylor Fischer, as well as my son and other con-goers. I wrote about the banquet and its news in more depth in my earlier news from PaizoCon post.
Monday Gaming with Paizo Staff
Paizo tried something new on Monday. Paizo staff set up in the various conference rooms, one room with a video game console, and other rooms with table-top games of the staffers’ choice. My son and I forwent our last PFS session to try out a new game and meet some more staff. We ended up playing a round of Channel A, The Animal Pitch Party Game. One player is the “producer” and plays a couple of cards that act as a theme for a show. From six cards the other players each have in hand, each player must come up with an anime style show title and then pitch the show to the producer. After everyone has pitched, everyone votes on the best show title. The game was a blast, generating such titles as Lingerie Blood Rain and Eternal Symphonic Dream Drive. While the titles were great, the pitches from the creative talent of Paizo were hilarious!
So Much Missed
There were so many more sessions I wanted to attend. Roll For Combat was there in force, playing games, running sessions, putting on live podcasts from the event, and even doing an intriguing Starfinder/Pathfinder mash-up with Order of the Amber Die. Know Direction Podcast also attended with many of their members, Perram for the first time at a PaizoCon. They did live shows, and seminars, including Ryan Costello’s session on how to incorporate board games as mini-games within your tabletop roleplaying games. They always record most of the seminars and are currently posting a couple per day on the Know Direction site. Another session I have loved in the past and did not make this year was Crayons of Vecna, a session which provides attendees with the opportunity to draw live models in cosplay.
My son and I usually play some delves, short 20ish-minute scenarios where you play pre-rolled iconic Pathfinder or Starfinder characters and the brutal game master throws everything they’ve got at you. This year they had a table running a Starfinder delve, and two tables utilizing the Pathfinder Playtest rules.
Syrinscape, provider of awesome audio ambiance, was, once again, recording attendees for possible inclusion in future sound sets, and Lone Wolf Development was providing access to their Hero Lab character management software for both Pathfinder and Starfinder. It was announced at the banquet that Hero Lab will be providing support for the Pathfinder Playtest, a welcome surprise.
In the store I did not sample Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which releases in August (yay!), or Pathfinder Online, but the terminals always had players checking them out.
Reaper was also on-site with their customary Paint-n-Take. You get a free Bones miniature and on your own or with the guidance of talented painters, paint your mini.
Okay–I need to quit writing. I’m at over 5000 words and am going to freak some editor out. This post and my experience really just scratch the surface of what there is to do at PaizoCon, and that’s just the organized events. If you just want to meet great fellow gamers, there’s so much opportunity for that too, hang-outs at the bar, pick-up games, and even a GCP bowling event, there’s a ton of meet-n-greet going on.
The next PaizoCon will again be on Memorial Day weekend, May 24th-27th, 2019. Be there!
Disclosure: Paizo provided me a 4-day pass. I paid for my son’s pass, the banquet tickets, and all purchases. All opinions are my own.
Edit: Fixed some pronouns, sorry!