GeekDad’s PaizoCon 2019 Recap

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Is it PaizoCon 2020 yet? Hurry up already! It’s been over a month since another PaizoCon has gone down in infamy, and I’m finally having the time to write up what a wonderful experience it was.

Part of the reason for my delay is that my time there playing in so many great gaming sessions has me energized to play more. I’m back into Pathfinder and Starfinder play-by-posts, and got the home group back together to finish up chapter four of Carrion Crown.

My son has finally joined me in a play-by-post, and has also since brought together a couple different groups of friends even introducing some new people to Pathfinder!

PaizoCon is a four-day gaming convention in Seattle, Washington, full of everything Paizo; Pathfinder, Starfinder, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and much more. Not only do con-goers get to play all of these games, but they get a chance to meet all the creative and welcoming people from the community–players, volunteers, and staff alike.

This was my seventh PaizoCon and I go most years with my son, now sixteen. Since he was 10 years old, It’s always been a father-son high point for me as we spend four days hanging out in a hotel and adventuring our way through so many great stories. This year was no different.

You’ll see in my prior PaizoCon posts that I describe PaizoCon as a small and intimate con. Unlike larger cons I’ve been to, with tens-of-thousands of participants and dozens of companies demoing their wares, PaizoCon, at around a thousand attendees, allows you to see and interact with most everyone there, and partake in any parts of the con you want.

It’s great being able to talk with and meet the staff who creates my roleplaying games of choice, and it’s also cool running into the same attendees year after year. It’s always a treat to sit down at a randomly selected Pathfinder Society table, see someone we’ve played with before, and reminisce about adventures of yore as we begin another great story.

Lottery Games

Lottery games are the one thing that is in short supply. Staff, industry insiders, and people who submit session ideas that get approved, all have limited-seat sessions available. With almost every staff member offering sessions, it’s a great way to meet your favorite staffer– I typically look for interesting sessions with staffers I’ve never met before. Prior to the con, there’s a chance to rank the various games available via lottery and a magic selection process assigns people to the available seats.

My son and I designate each other as buddies, so we’re guaranteed to be assigned together. If you’re picky and only sign up for a couple of possible sessions per day, you’re unlikely to get what you want, but with the plethora of excellent sessions available to pick from, it’s easy to rank enough that you’re likely to get something you are sure to enjoy.

We did well with our lottery wins this year, getting assigned events every day. Again, we picked quite a few each slot, so we were pretty sure to get some. My main goal was to get in some Pathfinder 2.0, so I marked all of those sessions as my top choice, then selected other interesting events as a lower priority below that.

Once you get your lottery games assigned, you can sign up for the non-lottery events, or the larger seminars and panels that usually still have spots because so many seats are available.

As an example, here’s the gaming schedule we scored, fleshed out with society play and seminars. Some pretty full days, with a couple of days running 14-16 hours! You certainly don’t need to play that much, but you can– and then some! I did not sign up for any of the after-midnight games!

Friday

  • 9:00 AM-1:00 PM – Escape from Hyrantum (lottery): Pathfinder Second Edition where we played undead trying to escape from a prison that we had no recollection how we got there.
  • 1:00 PM-6:00 PM – Starfinder Society Scenario #1-16: Dreaming of the Future

Saturday

  • 8:00 AM-1:00 PM – Reaping What We Sow Author Edition with Linda Zayas-Palmer (lottery): Pathfinder Second Edition, Pathfinder Society scenario, run by the author of the scenario.
  • 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM – Dungeon of Doom (lottery): Pathfinder First Edition playing through a subset of the Dungeon of Doom from one of the Dwarven Forge Kickstarters, utilizing Dwarven Forge terrain.
  • 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM – PaizoCon 2019 Preview Banquet (additional cost) – Banquet food, sitting with Paizo staff, hearing all the news! I summarized the news in a prior post.

Sunday

  • 8:00 AM – 1:00 PM – Starfinder Society Scenario #1-32: Acts of Association
  • 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM – The Philosophy Behind Pathfinder Second Edition – Developers discuss the decisions behind Pathfinder Second Edition
  • 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM – Oblivion Oath, Actual Play Live Stream – A live session of the Oblivion Oath actual play show run by Jason Bulmahn.
  • 7:00 PM – 11:59 PM – Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-98: Siege of Gallowspire (lottery) – The last Pathfinder Society First Edition PaizoCon Special (probably?). A room full of Pathfinders all working together towards the same goal.

Monday

  • 8:00 AM – 1:00 PM – Starfinder Society Scenario #1-36: Enter the Ashen Asteroid

PaizoCon Kick-off

We’re fortunate that PaizoCon is just an hour drive away from home for us, and we always arrive Thursday night to get our bearings and allow us an easy first morning to get registered and get to our first, usually 8 AM game. This year we had a late first game, so slept in (which cost me dearly as Wayne Reynolds sold out commissions by 7:30 AM on day one! Great for him, very bad for me!) In any case, we got registered, found where our first game was going to be, and then dropped off our swag bags before coming back to ease into our game.

Speaking of swag, I’ll say it again: the PaizoCon swag bag is easily the best I’ve received at any con. It alone would be worth the cost of admission– including two Pathfinder Battles miniatures booster packs, Pathfinder Pawns box (my son got a Starfinder Pawns box), Pathfinder comic, Pathfinder Adventure Path chapter, a Wayfinder fanzine, a Pathfinder Adventure Card Game card, a specially painted Pathfinder Battles miniature, as well as con badge, Pathfinder lanyard, event tickets, and program.

PaizoCon Swag Bag Contents
‘Pathfinder Battles’ miniatures booster packs, ‘Pathfinder Pawns’ box, PaizoCon program, a ‘Pathfinder Adventure Card Game’ card, a ‘Wayfinder’ fanzine, ‘Pathfinder Adventure Path’ chapter, ‘Pathfinder’ comic volume, and a specially painted ‘Pathfinder Battles’ miniature.
PaizoCon Swag Bag Miniatures
My youngest son does not come to the con, so I always give him my ‘Pathfinder Battles’ miniatures booster packs. The boxes often contain one large mini and some medium or small minis. The wereleopard on the right is the PaizoCon special miniature. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

After getting our awesome loot, we got some coffee and hopped right into the fun. From here we’ll look at the con through the lens of the different things we experienced.

‘Pathfinder Second Edition’

Again, one of my primary goals was to play some Pathfinder Second Edition (preorder now, launching August 1!) and try to glean any more information and a feel for the game. While we had a blast with the Second Edition Playtest, the playtest was much more about stress-testing the game, so was not a great indicator of how the game would play in standard situations. Plus, from the playtest feedback, the rules have changed quite a bit– getting some experience with the final rules as sent off to the printers, was high on my list.

Our first session of the con was a Pathfinder Second Edition lottery event, Escape from Hyrantum with Paizo developer Patrick Renie. “You awake in a crumbling stone prison in the sunken city of Hyrantam. Where are the guards? Who are your strange cellmates? And why does your body ache like you’ve been asleep for a hundred years?”– Well, because we got to test drive some Second Edition undead monsters as our characters! I played a bloody skeleton, my son was a vampire, and the other two lucky lottery winners played a ghost, and an undead giant that used one of his rotten off limbs as a club. We were asked not to share details, but suffice it to say, each creature had interesting mechanics that make monsters more than just a stat block. Each creature had flavor and abilities that make them interesting to play (and in the future, encounter). Other than the specific monster abilities and stats (which again, I was asked not to share!), I didn’t learn much new about specific game mechanics. Like in the playtest though, it still felt like Pathfinder, and as has been my experience with the playtest, the three-action economy, consistently makes for dynamic and interesting combat, converting what would be a mostly static experience as friend and foe stand and pound on each other, to a lively dance around the battlefield.

Patrick Renie leading some lucky lottery winners through a Pathfinder 2.0 session where we played as undead beasts! Photo by Ryan Hiller.

We enjoyed another excellent experience with Pathfinder Second Edition in a converted Pathfinder Society scenario, Reaping What We Sow run by the author of the scenario Linda Zayas-Palmer. Our characters were tasked with a diplomatic mission to Rosehaven, a village about to celebrate its yearly festival of light and forgiveness. Of course, things go awry, and we have to combat a great evil before we can earn the trust of the town.

We got to experience the Second Edition rules again with pregenerated characters, albeit 1st level, so we didn’t get to delve too deeply into the rules such as magic item usage (we didn’t have any of note). The adventure was a blast, thanks to Ms. Zayas-Palmer, as well as the antics of the other players. We even got to carve pumpkins!

Pumpkin Carving
My character, Ezren, carved the likeness of a behold… uh, I mean flying eyestalk beast! Photo by Ryan Hiller.

In addition to the Pathfinder Second Edition gaming experiences, there were panels on Second Edition. We went to The Philosophy Behind Pathfinder Second Edition session with a panel of Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and Mark Seifter. They talked about their goals of making sure the game feels the same, but making it smoother, easier to run, and easier to understand. They looked for where First Edition prevented you from telling the story you wanted, and eliminating those barriers. Using ten years of data, message boards, convention conversations and more they took– using a coding analogy– old spaghetti code, iterations upon iterations with multiple authors, and rewrote it using object-oriented design. Now the system is easy to get in and make parts as necessary. Because of this, the system is easier on the developers, easier for us, the players, to learn and play, and is even easier for digital platforms, systems like Herolab, Roll20, and others to incorporate.

Characters are easier to learn and build. They all build the same way as the structure of all the classes are the same, but the mechanics of underlying feats may all be very different. Again, they build the same, but they may play “super differently.”

This makes it easier for new players while still leaving a wealth of options for experienced players. It appears there’s still room for system mastery, but lack of mastery does not penalize the newbie. There was so much more in this session, and it all just makes me enormously excited to get my hands on the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook.

If you’re interested in listening to this session, or any of the others, check them out either on Paizo’s Twitch channel, and the Know Direction Podcast also recorded most every session.

The ‘Philosophy Behind Pathfinder Second Edition’ Panel. Mark Seifter, Jason Bulmahn, Logan Bonner, and Stephen Radney-MacFarland. In the background, you can see Perram of the Know Direction Podcast. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

‘Pathfinder and Starfinder Society’

The largest portion of PaizoCon is organized play. With dozens of tables each gaming block of Pathfinder Society, Starfinder Society, and the Adventure Card Guild, you can play organized play to your heart’s content. After lottery games are assigned, it’s easy to fill your schedule with as much society play as you want, including the wee hours of the morning. Heck, there’s even the Glass Cannon Nation gaming room where there are even more games running.

With this really being our last Pathfinder First Edition focused PaizoCon, we didn’t really want to start new characters, and my son was sort of done with the one society character he had (He only plays society at PaizoCon, so he just has the one character), so other than the Sunday night special, my son and I focused our society play on Starfinder, starting with some first level noobs.

Starfinder Society Play
My first level mechanic. Photo by Ryan Hiller. Character illustration by Remko Troost.
Starfinder Society Play
Our first PaizoCon ‘Starfinder Society’ session. Getting our starship combat on! Photo by Ryan Hiller.

We got a healthy dose of Starship combat, as well as a short dungeon/space station crawl, and a nightclub-stealth-mission-became-shoot-out experience. My son enjoyed it all so much that he asked to get into play-by-post so that we could level our characters some before next PaizoCon– and we’re already well underway in a PbP of the popular, Live Exploration Extremescenario!

In addition to regular society scenarios, I participated in the Pathfinder Society Special on Sunday night. The Pathfinder Society Special is a 7 PM to midnight session, where the entire room of Society players are all working towards the same goal. Storywise, all the characters are involved in a single large event or battle, presumably, groups of Pathfinders all on the same battlefield fighting various foes. As parties succeed, the group score goes up and based on how the entire room does, events may get easier, or more difficult. It’s always a blast, and often a challenging scenario.

Pathfinder Society Special
A heated battle with a dullahan and some of his cronies. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Dungeon of Doom

The Dungeon of Doom lottery event was great entertainment. The session utilized Dwarven Forge terrain, and a dungeon layout and module that was part of a Dwarven Forge Kickstarter— all the terrain necessary to build the dungeon was included in some reward levels. We were told to build and bring 5th level Pathfinder First Edition characters. Expecting that this session would be an old-school inspired dungeon crawl that would make Gygax proud, my son and I both created rogues to help deal with the plethora of traps we anticipated. We were not let down.

The dungeon was a paired down version of the roughly fifteen room full Dungeon of Doom, but we got a great taste, and it was just about the right size for our four-hour session. Again, it’s always fun running into people we’ve played with in the past. Two of the other players were a couple we’ve played with multiple times throughout the years. It’s also interesting meeting new folks– one of the other players had come to PaizoCon from France!

Dungeon of Doom
This is a six room, paired-down, version of the full ‘Dungeon of Doom.’ It was about the perfect length for our four-hour session. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Dungeon of Doom.
With an old-school vibe, this room had traps, animated statues, puzzles, and was all represented by some pretty awesome terrain pieces. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Dungeon of Doom
One of the players as seen from the perspective of the characters. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Podcasts and Spectator Actual Play

There are now so many phenomenal actual play podcasts and streams by entertaining groups, such as Dragons and Things, Glass Cannon Podcast, Roll for Combat, and more all playing Pathfinder and Starfinder. They’re great entertainment and a wonderful way to satisfy some of the roleplaying itch when you can’t otherwise be roleplaying.

As they’ve gained in popularity, live actual plays have become a larger portion of the con over the last couple of years. The folks from Glass Cannon Podcast were guests of honor and in addition to their gaming room on the second floor, they had an off-site live show where they played another session of their Strange Aeons game. Sadly this coincided with the banquet, so congoers could not attend if they wanted to get the latest news. The Glass Cannon also participated in a three-part live play showcasing Pathfinder Second Edition, in sessions run by Jason Bulmahn. This is being released on the Glass Canon Network feed as a podcast for Patreon subscribers, but is also on their website, available on YouTube— there are some great spoilers for Second Edition here!

Another live actual play that I did make was the live Oblivion Oath session also run by Jason Bulmahn. This is one of the new shows on Paizo’s excellent and active Twitch channel. In Oblivion Oath Jason Bulmahn is running staffers through a Pathfinder Second Edition game. It’s a great way to be entertained by great story, while picking up the occasional Second Edition rules leak.

Oblivion Oath actual Play
The ‘Oblivon Oath’ players, GM, and producer. Photo by Ryan Hiller

Paizo Store

Most Paizo products are available in the on-site Paizo store. It also houses some third-party publishers and their wares, The Reaper Paint-n-Take, q-Workshop dice, and the con guests of honor, as well as other artists. You can also check out digital offerings. This year people had access to Pathfiner Online and Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

Paizo Store
A plethora of ‘Pathfinder’ maps! Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Paizo Store 3rd Party
Black Bard Studios, purveyor of miniature props, and even a cool airship. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Skittermanders at the Paizo Store
Skittermander plushies at the Paizo store. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

News from the PaizoCon Banquet

The Saturday night banquet is a great place to get some food while meeting people and getting all the latest Paizo news. Paizo staff and other industry folk are at every table, so you have a chance to meet the industry professionals making the games we love. This year’s banquet was full of intriguing Pathfinder and Starfinder news that I covered in my earlier post from PaizoCon. This year I sat with Paizo’s Customer Service & Community Manage Sara Marie. She’s also one of the players from the Oblivion Oath actual play twitch stream.

New to the banquet (I think), we all had a Pathfinder pint glass and Pathfinder Second Edition coin waiting for us.

Pathfinder Pint Glass
When we showed up at our table, a pint glass was waiting for us, with a campaign coin in the bottom– were we being conscripted into service to Paizo? Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Campaign Coins
We were each given a ‘Pathfinder Second Edition’ coin. The new hero point system is an excellent use of coins like these (though, I think I like BOTTLECAPS!) Photo by Ryan Hiller.

A special treat in the presentation at the banquet was an animated globe depicting the entire world of Golarion. The Inner Sea, where most everything we experience in the adventure paths and society scenarios, is such a small portion of the potential stories available here!

Once Again, So Much Missed

Next year I’ll probably do some of my Starfinder/Pathfinder Society play in the Glass Cannon Podcasts gaming room. I’ll still fulfill that society itch, while getting to spend some time with the Naish! With gaming sessions available for signup on Warhorn, as well as a board game library available for checkout, there was always something to do. Both times I stopped by, just to see how full the room was, some welcoming person (the first time Joe O’Brien) invited me to enjoy the gaming. I’d also love to catch a Glass Cannon Live show, but I’m pretty committed to writing up the Paizo news at the Saturday banquet and want to catch the Sunday society special, so hopefully, it’s Thursday or Friday night next time.

Glass Cannon Nation
The Glass Cannon Podcast gaming room was hopping day and night. In this picture you can see Mathew and Joe… maybe others from GCP? Photo by Ryan Hiller.

As always, there were a ton of sessions I’d like to have been a part of and we usually play some delves, short 20-minute scenarios where you play pre-rolled iconic Pathfinder or Starfinder characters and usually die brutally This year they were running both Starfinder and Pathfinder Second Edition. We’ve had such busy schedules the last couple of years, that we haven’t had a chance to delve– and it’s usually such a good way to experience various Paizo staff GMing.

Should I Bring My Kid?

I’ve been going to PaizoCon with my son since he was ten. He’s always been welcome at the gaming tables and enjoyed himself throughout the con. It’s been a wonderful experience that we get to have together every year and I’m glad I chose to bring him that first time when he was ten. That said, my other son, two years younger, now fourteen, does not come. He is always given the option but chooses not to. He knows he does not want to sit at a table for five hours playing a game (let alone a couple of times a day for four days!)

PaizoCon is all about playing games or going to sessions and panels that talk about playing games. Most games are a 4-5 hour session, and they are usually pretty busy sessions, so you need to be focused and playing for the entire time with brief biology breaks. There’s not a great deal to walk around and look at as compared to say PAX that has countless booths and demos to check out in brief spurts.

In addition to the 20-minute delves, and Reaper Paint-n-Take which are great short time commitment options for kid and adult alike, there is a kid’s gaming track with sessions designed specifically for kids– adults only allowed if accompanied by their children. We have not played these sessions as they were not available to us when my son was young, and we always did well with the regular sessions in any case. But kid’s track or not, PaizoCon is about gaming, not wandering around and looking at things.

So, if your child plays long gaming sessions at home, and is mature enough to positively participate in a roleplaying session with five other adults, PaizoCon will be a great experience for you!

If not, there are other things for non-gaming family members to do as well. In addition to experiencing the con to their level of enjoyment with the short delves, painting, and the like, the DoubleTree hotel has a pool, and Seattle, and all its entertainment value is not far away.

Next Year

The next PaizoCon will again be on Memorial Day weekend, May 22nd-25th, 2020. We both plan to attend again and are looking forward to some Pathfinder Second Edition roleplaying! We’ll be spending the coming year participating in some Starfinder and Pathfinder Second Edition (after August 1st) Play-by-posts, so we don’t need to begin at level one when we hit the PaizoCon 2020!

We hope to see you there!.

Final Society Game
Our GM smiles at the camera at our final session the con on Monday Photo by Ryan Hiller.
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