JP On Gaming

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

[Predictions of Doom][Rant] Is Pathfinder Society Dying?

This is really not a rant... more of an inner questioning about a game I love so dearly. There are some ranty parts, mostly geared towards some people in particular.

For the past three or so years, the gaming landscape has been dominated by Pathfinder and Pathfinder Society. Paizo has done a great job of keeping us entertained with fun adventures, and an evolving storyline. PFS has grown from strength to strength until it became the biggest organized play campaign out there. Under the steady leadership of Mike Brock, and as of year 5, the inspired guidance of John C, we have been offered adventures that changed some elements of the campaign (killed the factions, better, more concise story line, an overarching plot).

All things I have been clamoring for since I submitted my application for Venture Captain in 2010. So I rejoiced in the additions - with the exception of the death of the faction. I like the factions.

Paizo fading?

In the past few days, I spoke to three different people (each in a different country, some Venture Officers, others local coordinators), and all of them remarked to me that PFS attendance was dropping and that the focus of many players was moving to 5e (either quickly or slowly).

With 5e getting closer, and WotC started to announce a few things. We are starting to see what the final product will be. The Exodus is about to begin.

For the past 2 years (since the banquet in 2012), I have been having this nagging feeling that Paizo has been kinda waiting for the next iteration of D&D before seriously touching the game. Going on a holding pattern until 5e was out: no major changes to the rules, no big updates, just a few additional products with an appeal that is much more limited than in previous years (no APG). From the major releases they have been putting out, I think their products are... uninspired. There are no more core books that really are core books. Bestiary 4's big selling point during the banquet was "you can fight Cthulhu."

I will go on a tangent here, but the idea of Cthulhu-in-D&D has never attracted me. There is something about it that just feels wrong. That said, I am a big fan of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Hopefully the 7th edition will be arriving very soon. I have no interest in fighting Cthulhu. Like the Tarrasque in D&D, it is more or a plot device. Like Mutants and Mastermind's Power Level X opponents. But back on track.

During these two years, Paizo has moved from a purely RPG company to a bonafide gaming company. They have branched out into the card business, exploded their miniature business (I am wondering if they may new be glutting the market, but...)

I didn't see the quality of their product drop. I did not see the quality of the art drop significantly. I certainly did not notice a lack of enthusiasm for the PFS volunteers.

So why is PFS dying (one source's words, not mine)? Why is it loosing steam? (I think losing steam is more appropriate than dying) if by most account (including my own), Season 5 is the best season so far? Shouldn't it soar and keep on growing?

Attempt to understand

I will try to provide a few reasons:

Players have no buy-in Although the adventures are entertaining, players have nothing holding then there. They are not fighting for an idea. They do not work for a goal that is tangible. Even season 5's goal is neither noble nor really clear. What the PCs are doing as part of the season and the results are difficult to judge. So I as a player don't know what - if anything - my contribution, and I mean *MY* contribution brings to the table.

I and many others complained that 4e felt too much like an MMO. Have we cheapened our play experience to exactly that? Have we settled to treating our RPGs and Organized Play like we do our MMOs, something we do to pass time? Have we, as players, just decided to be viewers on the rails?

Asking the question another way, what is there that makes me feel important? What is there that makes *me* feel special?

Why, after being dead 6 years now, is Living Greyhawk still highly talked about, over Living City, or pretty much all of WotC's other organized play campaigns? Could the players have buy-in? Did they feel important and part of the plot? Did they have a way to help shape events in the campaign? Yes. Yes, they did. And that's where PFS failed to give the players any reason to remain loyal.

Players have no influence over plot Continuing the previous entry... For the first few years of the campaign, we were lied to and told that playing one's faction would influence something. There were a few half-hearted efforts to pretend like something mattered. Really, some ideas I proposed that were rejected off the cuff: have a monthly "winning faction" and give a minor bonus (a reroll, a +1 to a Knowledge skill, etc). There are many ways to decide who "won": Average PA/session, total PA, each only requiring a slight math change in a database query. Takes 2 seconds to do. I know the leadership looked at the number on a regular basis, so why not do that.

The bonus would be irrelevant to the adventure played. "For the month of June, all members of Taldor gain a +1 to any Diplomacy check." Not over powered, but to incite play and see which faction won.

Players have no influence over world After five years of play, what can we say the players have accomplished that affected anything in the world? Oh yeah! We opened a teleportation hole between Absalom and Varisia... This allows us to travel quickly between the two, when all adventures did that before. So no gain.

Even year five will not provide any significant change, just another fight of the Crusade... I am waiting to see what the GenCon finale will be but I won't hold my breath on its awesomeness. I expect it will be fun, but not great. FYI I won't play it at Gencon, I play it here in Kentucky with my children and local GMs who want to provide a good game experience. I've enjoyed myself a lot more locally and will continue to support and promote local play through my local stores above Gencon.

No special content, ever Only a few events in PFS history were ever unique: The Grand Convocation. And those were quickly dropped and barely remembered. No player ever does anything remarkable. Funny how people who play other organized play (I will use Arcanis as a counterpoint) can talk about battles they did and the unique encounters they had.

How many of those events can you remember in PFS where you did something really remarkable? I will admit that, since year 2+ most of the moments I remember are tied to the table with people doing something great. Generally things that would not have mattered whatever the game or adventure we played.

Bloated Rules After five years now with monthly releases adding partially-to-tested rules, feats, spells and other elements to the game Pathfinder, like all its predecessors has become bloated and is in serious need of a slim-down. Something that will concentrate the rules together, not add more. It is time to shake down the house and trim some extra branches. Since PFS only keep adding and adding to the campaign a lot of these rules elements

I have been saying we'll be getting a PFRPG 1.5 (not a full 2e) one year after 5e. Why not a full 2.0? Because Paizo realizes that even MORE people will drop off from their band wagon. So they need to update the rules just enough that people will WANT to change but not feel obligated to do so. Like 3.0-> and 3.5->PFRPG. From there, I hope we will see a number of simplifications of the game.

Newness factor of 5e One cannot discount the "newness" factor of 5e. It will be new, shiny, with fewer books to get into. And WotC will aggressively push it, seeking to regain its traditional seat as Lord of the RPGs. Will it work? I think it will have a nice success. It is very 4e-ish to me, but I try to keep an open mind. Will I try it over a game of PFS? Likely. I will make my decision on whether I like or not very quickly.

For me, supporting 5e will heavily depend on whether the have a real OGL. And just offering some free goodies is NOT an OGL. It's great to get players to buy-in, but for publisher to support and encourage the game... We'll see. My money is no "NO OGL". There will be partnerships, enough for WotC to get a couple of people involved, but the open safari that is the OGL is over, I think. Meaning the community as a whole is unlikely to jump in behind. Sure there will be a lot of people playing, but on a personal level rather than publishing level.

Adventurers League This is really what drew my eye: The announcement of the Adventurer's League. That post a LOT of goodness to it. They hit all the nails on the head: Premiere events impact the storyline, players get to make choices, a flow of new and different adventures.

Now my excitement about this is to be strongly tempered by this caveat: if this is just another endless series of "Encounters"-style games, I know I will have a lot of free time on my hands and I will not be playing 5e very long. BUT if we are given a quality campaign, with a story (and not a story of "you enter the tomb of the lich" kinda crap). But encounters where those who seek to play and interact with the world can do so, are rewarded, it may hold my attention.

Culture change Most people who have been with PFS a long time, have noticed a sharp culture change. From a "glad to play"-culture to one of entitlement where players always assume GMs are there to roll over an wallow in their own awesomeness. I will not lie and say that I can optimize the heck out of my characters (and when I try not to, they turn out even more ridiculously overpowered). The death of 4e really signaled the end of a fun time. Climbing the mountain make it exclusive. But with that gone, we've become the Jabba of the world.

A number of Venture Officers believe the world is owed to them and that because they are involved in PFS that everyone else deserves to bow to their will. I heard of a VO who claimed that boycotting a major event was "good for PFS."



I mean, really?

How will not helping an event help you in the long run? You have to be a COMPLETE MORON, to say, and believe that. Even if you dislike a convention or something about an event, supporting it is important. Whether attending as a player or a GM, supporting local and nearby event when you can is important and helps build relationship with gamers from other games. And what do you think these other gamers tell people about you and your campaign? That's right, they say that you are the best and most awesome people in the world and that they want to associate with you!

No. No they do not.

So when PFS will begin to die off, and it will. You will find yourself without any friends who will want to support you. That's just a really stupid attitude and shows how long you have been in the world of gaming. The answer is not a long time. Come on people!

Now that said, there are plenty of fine Venture Officers (enough to compensate for the idiots like the guy mentioned previously). They are passionate about PFS and run a good game and are a delight to their communities.

So is PFS doomed?

Everything dies.

I mean yes. But I do not see PFS going away in a short time. It may have a long decline before it goes away or is rebooted (PF2.0 would be a good time to reset the campaign...). It had a 5-6 year run. It has nothing to be ashamed of itself.

The coming year will be a big revelation to many people as players and GMs desert to 5e games. Events that used to regularly fill venues, will trickle to less and less.

That said, I think Paizo will continue to be an important part of the gaming landscape for a long time.

Is this a "PFS is gone in a year" prediction? NO. But I don't think we will see rooms the size of those we've been seeing at Gencon. It will be smaller.

The question I have is: "How will the leadership cope with this and how will the bounce back?" I think PFS or a revamped PF-OP can indeed rise again. There will be big changes to shake things up, but I think Paizo has this well in hand.

But only time will tell.

Hey what is your prediction? I foresee than within a year we will see a decrease in PFS play at large events ranging from 50-75% in the coming year while 5e will take an ever larger place. How long will this continue? I will post again after the release of 5e.



  1. Bloated rules is the reason I stopped GMing PFS games, and the "culture change" you mentioned is mostly the reason why I haven't played more than a couple of games since 2012...

    1. You dropping out is truly a big loss to the PFS community. I recommend trying Legacies ;) A lot fewer books and less drama.

      However, to be fair, there really are a lot of great people out there who support PFS.

      Will you be at Origins or Gencon this year? I will attend both.

    2. I agree with JP that we wish we had you back Daniel. I enjoyed meeting you and our LG conversation at Carnage on the Mountain. Was actually something I thought of while reading JP's post above about how LG is so talked about still. Personally I enjoy having a large complex rules system. My issue with PFS is that while I prefer RAW games or something very close to them, the structure of PFS doesn't allow for any wiggle room. Sometimes a ruling needs to be made to clearify something that should work one way but clearly doesn't, or simply does not work at all due to a typo. We get these occasionally from Paizo but not nearly enough. This tends to cause the most issues is when a rule is simply unclear, and that happens in PFS quite often more due to the fact of organized play and a GM's inability to make reasonable calls than it does from bloated rules in my experience.

  2. Fantastic post JP, a lot of great points to consider.

  3. Good post. As far as i am concerned, this continuous increase of rules and the loss of the faction missions really bothers me.