Tag Archives: Paizo

Why Paizo Still Has An Edge Over WotC

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition is out – and it’s pretty good!  I hated Fourth Edition and, like many folks, defected to Paizo’s 3e-derived branch called Pathfinder and Paizo rose to the top of the sales charts for a long period. But now with a viable product, good community engagement, and the nostalgia factor (Drizzle the elf! Space hamsters!) WotC is back in the game.  Will Paizo just fade away, only beloved by a fringe of the old guard?  No, and here’s why.

Let me preface this by saying these are “big boy” reasons, not game system details – how many hit points a bard gets is very meaningful to some ultrageeks but is not relevant to market position. If you wanted to hear something about 5e gnomes vs Pathfinder gnomes, please go play and let the grownups talk for a minute. With that preamble, here are the three major edges Paizo has over WotC and why those will help them maintain their market position.

1. The subscription model. Paizo’s subscription model of selling is like printing money. You’ve heard how comics subscriptions are basically the single largest factor in keeping comics and comic stores afloat right? Well, same effect applies with Pathfinder subscriptions.  The convenience wrenches the money right out of me and many other customers automatically without requiring us to re-make purchasing decisions each month (and to be at the mercy of stores just happening to stock products we want). It’s the same reason why WoW always made huge bank and that model became very compelling to video game producers. Paizo keeps quiet about how much of a big deal this is, probably deliberately so folks like WotC don’t get the memo. But from a business point of view, this is probably the single biggest innovation and leverage point they have from a revenue model perspective. And it’s a big one. I work in software, where we desperately try to get people into subscription models – maintenance, SaaS, etc. because it’s so financially productive.

2. The iconics. With their iconic characters – an idea enhanced from 3e D&D – Paizo doesn’t just have a game system, they have intellectual property. They have then used those iconics to fuel their comics, audio dramas, card games, mini-figs – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movies or TV in the future. I thought it would be a no-brainer for WotC to have a strong stable of iconic characters in 5e but they completely didn’t for reasons that elude me. Sure, they have some older recognizable characters from their campaign settings – Elminster, Drizz’t, the Dragonlance characters – but they’re not capitalizing on them. One big reason why the D&D movies sucked was that both the good guys and the bad guys were just new made-up generic folks.  “I have purple lips and am evil!” Screw you. Call me when you make Strahd or  Bargle or Vecna or someone the bad guy. Hasbro is supposed to be “branding” geniuses, but even Paizo’s unique visual take on goblins generates stuffed animals and cute comic spinoffs and miniatures while with the 5e launch WotC’s critter of choice, kobolds, has pretty much zero sizzle and visual styling. [Normal] People relate to characters way more than setting way more than rules. Companies work very hard to get good commonalities to use to push customers across product boundaries inside brands, and that’s a great way to do it that WotC doesn’t seem to have an answer for, making it much harder to really capitalize on cross-media opportunities.

3. The adventures. “It’s the adventures, stupid.” Why do people have such nostalgia-love for the old days of Basic D&D/1e AD&D? Do they go back and talk about their love for weapon speed factors and to-hit tables? No, they talk about THE ADVENTURES. Temple of Elemental Evil, Ravenloft, Scourge of the Slavelords, Isle of Dread… These were the shared experiences people had and what they find compelling about the hobby.  Adventuring is the entire point of all the rules and setting content, it’s the actual activity of the game. WotC gets this enough to keep revisiting those classic adventures every edition (Now – Return to the Return to the Keep of the Elemental Hill Giants!) but not enough to actually put out frequent and compelling adventure content themselves except for a smattering of mostly indifferent products. In 3e, the Open Gaming License covered this gap and new adventures are what propelled third party companies like Green Ronin and Atlas Games into the larger businesses they are today. In 4e, they kicked off with a couple and then slid into nowhere and now with 5e, they managed to get two out – but frankly, they’re not all that good, and again, it’s a matter of amount.  Paizo gets out an Adventure Path chapter per month, every 6 months it’s a new one, there’s previous ones where if you want to do gothic horror or Arabian Nights or whatever there’s something to scratch that itch – WotC’s just planning to retread the same old properties, at a plodding pace. And as they are still farting around on licensing, third parties aren’t filling that gap as avidly as they could be. That is leaving player engagement on the table and providing fewer shared experiences to build the nostalgia that’d drive their sales in the future, especially in other media.

So though 5e is a fine game – I’m not sure that as part of the overall package, Paizo has a lot to worry about.  Sure, Hasbro can pump in marketing dollars and get things into bookstores, but a) do they care enough about a small line to do so, as opposed to making more Iron Man doodads, and b) can they really successfully capitalize on multiple product lines and the D&D IP? You’d think that’s where they would be Vikings, but so far early results don’t show a lot of spark there. Anyone that’s listened to Paizo employees talk about behind-the-scenes stuff at Gen Con/PaizoCon seminars (all available on various podcasts) know that they are very smart, squared away professionals who tightly manage their own work, freelancers, licensed products, everything. They’re a well-tuned machine producing huge amounts of product across various channels and product types – Hasbro/WotC could probably do the same – but they don’t seem to be. So sure, brand recognition and deep pockets and being a decent game product will help push 5e into the limelight, but their execution isn’t crisp enough to push Paizo out, is my prediction.

The Mexicans Are Coming

Thought I’d share a little tidbit from a Paizo forum thread I started asking about Hispanic or Latino analogues in Golarion.  I’ve run through most of the other Golarion ethnicities and I’m hankering to play a member of La Raza Cósmica! James Jacobs says there’s not really anything now, but there will be – “That’s the plan.”  Most speculation as to where that’ll come from is on Arcadia, though he doesn’t say that out loud.

Why, I think I’ll get one of these Han Cholo rings in preparation!

We Embark Upon The Wrath of the Righteous!

balorAfter we finished up Carrion Crown, we discussed what Pathfinder campaign Paul was going to run next.  The clear front-runner is Wrath of the Righteous, the against-the-demons Adventure Path from Paizo Publishing. Which means goody-goody characters for everyone!  And this one goes high level – it’s planned for level 20 plus 5 Mythic tiers.  Mythic is a cool new Paizo ruleset that adds a layer of legendary/demigod/whatnot on top of normal levels – not limited to “Epic” like the old “above level 20” 3.5 rules, but this is how some level 5 guy (or critter) can have an actual legendary kick to them.

Here’s our campaign page with character sheets and links to pages of session summaries and the like.  I’m a little behind, we’re actually done with one of the chapters already, but the summaries should start showing up!

Because I always want to play something a little different than what everyone else is, and because all the 3.5 era min-maxers (they call themselves “optimizers” nowadays to try to wash the stink off) all say the monk is the worst and “most nerfed” (thanks WoW) character class ever, I’ll be running a monk. Actually a combo  monk/paladin, there’s a Champion of Irori prestige class that seems cool and kung-fu movie-style I plan to take. I’ll do a separate post on my character later. But besides me, we have two paladins (melee and ranged), an oracle, a cleric, and an aasimar sorceress! Fear our codes of conduct!

Before the campaign there was some talk of everyone playing Shelynites, which I was all for as that would be interesting – but the adventure has so many Iomedae hooks that two of the players bailed and went Iomedae, so I went Irori to mix it up. And then the cleric is of Tsukiyo, a weird pagan deity from Tien Xia. (You can look up what any of that gibberish means on the Golarion wiki at pathfinderwiki.com.)

So buckle up and prepare to witness our attempts to slay demons, redeem the fallen, and mind our cornholes in Wrath of the Righteous!

Carrion Crown Chapter 6, Shadows of Gallowspire, Session 5

350px-Gallowspire_confrontation

Fifth Session (10 page pdf) – We ascend Gallowspire and it’s a fight to the finish with a would-be successor to the Whispering Tyrant!

Welcome to the final session of our Carrion Crown campaign! It lasted for exactly a year of every-other-weekend play. We’re level 14 and locked, cocked, and ready to rock.

We have some luck and an optimized necromancer – the one fight on the way up the tower that could have been epic and/or fatal was the nightwing, and Zurak banished it at a go. We did a good job at not hesitating to use our spells as we went up but also not depleting ourselves completely.

Then we threw down with the lich!  Well, an amped up semi lich dude. But the “solo caster vs party of PCs” fight never lasts too long, we lay on greater dispel magics and swarm him.

You can see our final L14 character builds (for some of us, at least) on the main Carrion Crown page! I’ll publish a retrospective with thoughts from the players and GM later.

Carrion Crown Chapter 6, Shadows of Gallowspire, Session 4

Fourth Session (15 page pdf) – Dr. Vaus turns into his alter ego Ironface and head butts the Grey Friar till they both regret it. Then, shopping! And then we meet the most helpful ghasts in the world. And then we fight fight fight.

ancientpsychictandemwarelephant

Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant

First, Bruce our session scribe treats you to an extended bout of more-purple-than-usual prose. I missed the Grey Friar fight because I was taking my daughter to band camp, but I got there in time for the shopping!

We went to Gallowspire and fought the ravener first.  That’s like a dracolich but not copyrighted, apparently. I liked the end scene where I gently send him to his rest courtesy of my (Su) Healing Hex.

Then we had one of those shitty D&D fights, with “dreams” that look and act all undead but aren’t because they know we have anti-undead stuff going on, and they spam fear and confusion and such on us all combat.  Yay, I got to spend the whole combat running away. That’s one game mechanic that needs to die in a fire, it is so un-fun.

Then we rested.  Then we fought two devourers and a nightshade, and went to rest again.  I summoned a celestial triceratops again but to make it more Indian-y I insisted it was an ancient psychic tandem war elephant (see pic above!).  Dr. Vaus’ force bombs are the one thing that actually allows us to dump damage onto anything in this craphole.

I’m not too jazzed with this final chapter, but next time should be the climax!

Carrion Crown Chapter 6, Shadows of Gallowspire, Session 3

Third Session (14 page pdf) – As we wander through Renchurch, our necromancer and dirge bard keep us in lively discussion with the local undeads. And we do bong hits with Whispering Way acolytes. (No, really!)

The Worm That Walks

The Worm That Walks

Apparently there’s nothing you can’t add the lich template to, including werewolves and worms. The grind would be a bit trying, but with all the charmed undead we have around, we at least get to talk some before the killing.  When we came across Whispering Way acolytes smoking spirit siphons, Girl was so put out by the dungeon that she flopped down and started taking hits with them. This was quite successful, as we talked with them for a long while and then moved on.

When we fought a bunch of “cenobites” it took us a long, long time to get through our heads that wasn’t code for Hellraiser type cenobites (which you see a lot in Pathfinder, they’re called kytons) but actual, you know, monk type cenobites. But undead, so whatever.

Then it was double up action with the Worm that Walks and the wolf-lich. Spells! Violence!

 

Carrion Crown Chapter 6, Shadows of Gallowspire, Session 2

Second Session (11 page pdf) – We force our way into the monastery and fight various high level outsiders. Then we try to act chill when we meet our vampire lady friend.

Devils, daemons, undead, we’re racking up the CRs here. Then we find our vampire lady friend parleying with the locals. We collaborate with her and then waste some spectres. It’s mostly fight, read the session summary for the nitty gritty!