Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Paizo In Springtime: Interview With Erik Mona

The Publisher of Paizo, Erik Mona, was kind enough to come back and answer a few more questions for us. Below, he talks about Pathfinder's lifespan, sandbox play, upcoming products, pdf vs. brick-and-mortar, as well as what's played and who has bragging rights around the Paizo office. It's a great Q&A, and I think you'll really enjoy it. Thanks again, Erik!

-Welcome back, Erik. So, I imagine it’s been a whirlwind year around Paizo since Pathfinder’s been released! What sort of reaction are you getting right now not only to Pathfinder, but to the Pathfinder Society?

As I write this we've blazed through two (huge!) print runs of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, and there's no end in sight as far as demand is concerned. We're at this sort of scary point where the audience for the game is MUCH larger than we had dare hoped when we were putting it together, and at this point I have little idea just how large it might actually get. And so far the response has been very, very positive. In the end we produced this game because we wanted to continue to publish and run the style of adventures Paizo has been creating for almost a decade now, and the response from most gamers has been very similar. This is the game we love, but now we love it even more! Given all of the teeth-gnashing, sleepless nights, and work-related insanity that went into this project, the positive response has been very gratifying.

Pathfinder Society keeps growing and growing. I've had a chance to play a bit, which really gets me back to my old con-going days and has been a ton of fun. In fact, right now I should probably be writing a Pathfinder Society adventure I foolishly agreed to write months ago. Now it's late, and I've locked myself in my office until I finish. It's called "Requiem for the Red Raven," and it's the very first high-level (12th) Pathfinder Society event ever released. I'm quite excited about it (if I could just finish it!).

-The Pathfinder RPG pdf is priced at $9.99. Have you seen a pretty positive reaction in regards to online pdf sales, and has there been any pushback from brick-and-mortar stores?

Reaction from the gamer community has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, just a few hours ago I read a post on EN World that said, basically, "I'm playing a different game, I'm not in the market for Pathfinder, but who can pass up a $10 PDF?" There are a LOT of people like that out there, and a lot of them have gone on to really like the system and pick up the $50 hardcover book.

We got some push-back from retailers on the pricing issue, but then we also got push-back (more, actually) for the free Alpha and Beta playtest documents, which proved to be a huge driver of sales of the final book. Retailers in our business are very uneasy about PDFs and other electronic formats because there isn't yet a great way for them to safely deliver that content to their own customers in their stores. A lot of them feel like a PDF sold by a publisher is a print sale lost at the retail store. I fundamentally disagree with that. I think our low-cost Core Rules PDF has generated a tremendous number of brick-and-mortar hard copy sales, often to people who would have laughed had you told them six months ago that they'd be buying a $50 hardcover Pathfinder book. The audience for this game continues to grow, and introductory-priced PDFs of the core rules are a big part of the reason why. More players in general means a better customer network, which should translate into more (and easier) retail sales. The hobby stores that have stocked the Pathfinder Core Rulebook have done very, very well with the book.

-Have you personally playtested any of the new classes in the Advanced Player’s Guide? Can you tell us what to expect from any of the new classes, or give us a couple of hints?

I'm running a barbarian in our office playtest campaign, so I've tested some of the new rage powers from the Advanced Player's Guide, but I have not yet personally played any of the new classes. I have, on the other hand, been the GM for just about all of them, and our game has a summoner in it at the moment that I've seen quite a lot of. I'm really pleased with the oracle, cavalier, and inquisitor classes in particular, as they allow me to pull off character concepts unsupported by the core rules. In fact, the NPCs in the final encounter of my late Pathfinder Society adventure REALLY ought to be inquisitors, but the book won't be out until a few months after my scenario, so I can't use them. Hmm. Perhaps I should figure out a way to be even more late with my text so this won't be a problem....

I think players should expect a lot of really exciting new stuff in the Advanced Player's Guide. Not just from the new classes like the alchemist, cavalier, inquisitor, oracle, summoner, or witch, but also from the traditional 11 classes, all of which are getting cool new options and exciting alternate powers. Many of these are in the form of "packages" that modify the existing classes to better match a character concept. Our lead designer, Jason Bulmahn, was listing off the final barbarian concepts to me this morning and I kept thinking, yep, yep, ok, cool, yeah, sweet! Each one of them was a legitimately cool concept a player might want to pull off with his barbarian, but which isn't quite supported by the rules as written. For example, my barbarian, Ostog the Unslain, doesn't like to wear armor, opting for the "traditional" bare chest and loincloth approach. I'm pleased to say there's an option for that type of barbarian in the book, and I can't wait to officially add some of the related powers to my guy.

-Let’s talk about Kingmaker for a minute. This is definitely not a railroad module series, but a “sandbox”, general-exploration product that still has some story hooks, right? Was this product at all a response or influenced by the recent resurgence online of appreciation for classic and “old-school”-style gaming?

You're right about the sandbox nature of Kingmaker. Counting the Adventure Paths we did in Dungeon, Kingmaker is the NINTH Adventure Path we've produced to date. We try to do something a little different with each path, and we'd been itching to do a sandbox AP for years. Kingmaker finally provided the opportunity. The "old school" vibe is just a happy coincidence. James Jacobs and I have been providing "first edition style" content since about 2003 or so in the magazines, so it's more a case of a lot of Old School bloggers having the same inspiration (AD&D, in the main) we have than us taking any specific cues from the old schoolers online. We're old schoolers ourselves, so it's unsurprising to me that our interests would align closely with theirs. The fact that a lot of folks are picking up Kingmaker to run with OSRIC or Swords & Wizardry or what have you is a happy surprise. I think it's great!

-Will the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide be released at Gen Con Indy this year? What can we expect from that?

The GameMastery Guide is actually at the printer right now and will likely release in June, so well before Gen Con Indy. We're planning to have the Advanced Player's Guide as our big Gen Con release this year. If all goes according to plan, we'll have both books at the convention.

The GameMastery Guide expands upon the GM information in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook to present the nuts and bolts of how to actually run a campaign, from dealing with difficult players to building cities to mapping dungeons to generating random encounters to pacing the narrative to handing out treasure and more. I'm particularly keen on the 100-or-so pregenerated NPC stat blocks, which will save everyone a lot of time. I don't need to bother prepping a city guard or cutpurse stat block ever again, which is a huge relief. The stats are also keyed to dozens of encounter charts spaced throughout the book, which keeps everything nice and easy.

Dozens of RPG industry luminaries contributed their best GM advice to this tome. You couldn't ask for a better guide to the art of GMing.

-Do you think the utilization of the Open Gaming License for Pathfinder gives the game a potentially longer life?

Absolutely. Right now more than 50 companies are producing Pathfinder-compatible products using the Pathfinder Compatibility License and the OGL. I have every reason to believe that Pathfinder products will be written, published, and played essentially forever. Which is great. We could not have created the Pathfinder RPG without the generous Open Game License, so it's neat to "pay it forward" by releasing ALL of Paizo's rules material as Open Content. I strongly believe that open system development like this is the way of the future.

-Have there been any specific products or product types that you’re hearing from Paizo fans that they’d really like to see produced?

Well, everyone's been asking for Pathfinder novels for years, which we'll be doing later this year. The first one is Winter Witch, by Elaine Cunningham, and the second is Prince of Wolves, by Dave Gross. We hope to have copies of both books for sale at Gen Con, but they formally release in September and October.

Nowadays everyone seems to want us to do a sleek "Beginner" set that would also double as a trimmed down version of the game that would appeal to folks looking for a looser, less rules-oriented game. So we should probably try to find a way to do that.

-“Power creep” (subsequent RPG supplements with higher power levels than the original RPG) seems to be a problem with a lot of RPGs. Is that something Paizo looks at in regards to its new releases?

It's definitely something that we are taking a serious look at and trying to prevent when possible. I'm not particularly worried about it, though, mostly because Paizo is not primarily in the business of selling rules. Our bread and butter is the Pathfinder Adventure Path, and we also produce a large number of very popular Pathfinder Modules and campaign setting material. The Pathfinder RPG line itself is planned to include 3-4 products a year. For the first year that meant the Core Rulebook, the Bestiary, and the GM Screen. Not a lot of rules bloat or power creep there. This year we're talking about the GameMastery Guide (more charts, advice, and play aids than new rules), Bestiary 2, and the Advanced Player's Guide. That's one book designed to give more "stuff" to players, which is where the bloat and power creep usually comes into play. It will happen, despite our best efforts to curtail it, but I am hopeful that the impact will be very small and that our limited output will prevent serious systemic problems from coming up.

-Does the Paizo staff ever play any other RPGs around the office, or is it all-Pathfinder, all the time?

We play all kinds of things, from collectible card games and board games over lunch to James Jacobs's Call of Cthulhu campaign to 4th edition D&D. I'm currently in a 1st edition AD&D game with some buddies from Wizards of the Coast, and I know our lead designer Jason Bulmahn is in the middle of a Battlelords of the 23rd Century game. There's a campaign running at Paizo almost every weeknight, as well as on most weekends. Most of those games are Pathfinder in one form or another, but we're gamers and we all have a soft spot for a half-dozen other game systems.

-OK, it’s been a good 8 months since Pathfinder’s release. What’s your personal favorite class to play out of all the ones available in Pathfinder?

Barbarian. I'm loving Ostog the Unslain. In the horrific event that he is one day slain, I'm really excited to play a monk, because I'd love to take advantage of some of the cool new combat maneuvers and I'm dying to see if I can make a viable character out of a guy who primarily uses his fists and whatever improvised weapons are within reach.

-Here’s the killer question—out of everyone working at Paizo, who’s the best Game Master? Answer if you dare!

I've played with James Jacobs and Jason Bulmahn behind the GM screen, and both are an absolute treat. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that our publisher is the finest Game Master in the building. If you can ever get him to run a game!

-Thanks again, Erik!


Tim Shorts said...

Great interview Zack. I just got my confirmation that Pathfinder is sending me the first two in Kingmaker Series. I am very much looking forward to see what they have done.

Josh said...

It sounds like they are going to rock GenCon this year with the releases. I better start setting back money now, lol. Thanks for a great interview Zack.

Zachary The First said...

Thanks, guys! Erik’s always such a great interview, and I really appreciate him doing this.

James V said...

Great interview, though I have to make an aside and give Jason Buhlman props for running a Battlelords game! Everytime I hear about someone running a fun powergame it brings me one step closer to think about using my copy of SenZar for more than just a curiosity read.

WalkerP said...

Great interview, Zach. I'm very happy to see the success Paizo has had with Pathfinder in the face of 4e. Diversity for the win! I'm also pleased to see how well their pdf policy has worked. Other companies could learn a lesson from them.

Questing GM said...

It's already been 8 months? I really need to find time to open the wrapper around my Core Rulebook.

Glad to see how Paizo is thinking of approaching the power creep issue and that rules are not their selling point.

You hear that Wizards?

Longtooth Studios said...

As gamers, we have the best online community!
This was a great interview, thanks for sharing!
I have a Pathfinder compatible, adventure path related project in the works. I hope to add to the amazing works already established.

Can Sungur said...

8 months? Following up with the beta, it seems like more than a year, and doesn't feel that new...

I'm expecting a lot from the GameMastery Guide! :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to see people still enjoying the Battlelords of the 23rd Century Franchise after all these years.

John Fiala said...

Interesting... I may pick up the gamemaster's guide even though I don't play Pathfinder - it sounds interesting.