Nerds on Earth burned a spell slot to cast Command on Erik Mona, Publisher at Paizo, maker of the Pathfinder RPG. Compelled to answer our questions, Erik was interrogated thoroughly, then released (mostly) unharmed. (No, you stop using that joke!)
What follows is part 3 of a three part interview that is in audio form here, as well as in written form below:
2. A Possible Cataclysmic Event
3. Future Adventures in Golarion
And, now, here is Erik Mona, speaking on Pathfinder Second Edition and what that means for future adventures in Golarion.
Pathfinder 2.0: Future Adventures in Golarion
Clave: The Inner Sea World Guide is the current big text for Golarion. Gosh, I don’t know, there are 50 countries in there? Or, it seems like it.
Erik: Yeah, 49.
Clave: That brings up the question, how much depth can you go into with that many areas? Or do you go breadth? Do you go depth? Will those decisions impact your rollout and the types of books we see?
Erik: It’s so interesting that you put it in those terms. Those are exactly the terms that we’ve been discussing sort of in house. I should say that I’ve got, I know right now what the 2019 schedule is going to look like. For example, I know what’s coming out at GenCon, with the formal launch of second edition. I know what’s likely to come out between then and the end of the year. I’ve got a pretty good idea what we’re doing in broad strokes terms in 2020 and in 2021. Then I’ve got a plan that even goes a little bit further out than that. But again, the further away you get from this year, the more foolish it is putting a ton of time into plans, because things change.
But we have been talking a lot about what the appropriate level of depth and breadth is when it comes to setting material. If you look at the way the Inner Sea setting has developed, in publication form it started in, let’s call it 2008 with the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer, which was a 64 page book written by me and by Jason Buhlman, with some assist from James Jacobs and Wes Schneider and James Sutter and others. That was really a column on each country, pretty much. We’re talking 64 pages. Not a lot of text. Most of those countries did not get a ton of information.
A couple years later we expanded that into the Pathfinder Chronicles book, which was the hardcover world guide book that we did. But that still was for 3.5, so a couple years after that we updated it and expanded that into the Inner Sea world guide of today. But even the Inner Sea world guide does about, I want to say it’s probably about four pages per country. If what you’re looking for is an overview of the entire world, or the entire campaign region, that’s a pretty good way to go. But if you’re looking for, “I want to actually set my campaign in one of these countries”, four pages really isn’t enough for most people. Definitely it’s enough to kind of ignite the creative impulse and get you doing a lot of the work yourself. But I have this theory that a lot of people come to game publishers so that they don’t do that work themselves. They want us to do that work for them.
We have been talking a lot. I feel that Paizo’s been very good about being completists, and basically being like, “Okay. We’re going to give you the entire breadth, ie all 49 countries, but because of that, by necessity we’re only going to be able to go so deep on those countries”. Obviously when we do 64 pages on an entire country, we have lots of room to go into them. Or when we do six volumes of an adventure path set in one region, we’ve got lots of opportunity to add depth to those regions.
But there are regions that have never had more than, say, the four pages that they’ve gotten in the Pathfinder Inner Sea world guide. I would expect those countries to receive treatment in the early years of second edition, and I would expect any kind of thing where we’re like, “Alright. We want to focus on this for a little while”, I think you’re going to find that it’s going to be a tighter breadth and a much deeper approach. If that makes sense. I’m trying to be a little bit vague here.
Erik: When you’re dealing with a medium where you have a limited number of pages, it’s really… well, balancing breadth and depth. I think we’ve done a very good job over the last, what is it, 11 years doing the breadth thing. I’d like to get a little bit more into the depth business.
Clave: We mentioned 49 countries. Feel free to dance around this question and be shifty with me to prevent spoilers.
Clave: But even in Golarion, even all those countries, there are still some places on the map that are “off the map.” Some places are off the map on purpose, right? It’s to be mysterious and this sort of thing. But I also have heard you before say there are a couple of areas where certain writers, they love those areas but they haven’t had time to really explore them more.
Clave: At some point it’s like, “Alright, you’ve got to put up or shut up”, right?
Clave: Are there going to be some of those areas where you’re like, “Alright. This is going to be a new place that we are going to cover a little more deeply, or adventure in?”
Erik: Yes. Of course, absolutely. One of the things that I’ve done is kind of a thought exercise. I mentioned earlier that you can break up Golarion … I think one of the reasons why it doesn’t just seem like a mad hodgepodge of, “Wait. There’s guns in this country, and then this country’s in feudal Japan, and then this country is in the French revolution?” There is a little bit of that, but we’ve kind of taken pains to put culturally similar places close to one another, technologically similar places close to one another, and so on. There are regions that you can identify through both geography and theming if you will, that break down the setting into about a dozen different locales. Regions, broadly speaking.
Just as a way to kind of get my head around where we’ve been and where we’re going, I, with the help of some of the other folks around here, have kind of done that. I’ve gone through the process of sort of saying, “Okay. These countries are kind of a region, and these countries are kind of a region.” It doesn’t work perfectly, but it’s surprising how well it does work.
The fact of the matter is, if you look around some of those areas, some of those areas have been very heavily covered in the first 10 years of Pathfinder. For example, we have done an awful lot in Varisia. Varisia was James Jacob’s–our creative director’s–home campaign for a long time. It was the site of our first three adventure paths. We’ve gone back to it several times. We’re going back to it again starting in August with Return of the Runelords. We’ll go back to it again in second edition, but no one can argue that we have not covered Varisia. Maybe you could say, “I’d love a book on Riddleport”, or, “Do something with Kaer Maga”, or, “Do something else”. We’ll be listening to that as well.
But rest assured, we’ve done Varisia. We’ve done the Isles of the Shackles with the Skull and Shackles adventure path. We’ve done a lot on Cheliax with War for the Crown. Or not War for the Crown, but for the evil campaign that we did last year, and the first Pathfinder first edition campaign was in Cheliax. We’ve done a few countries quite a lot. Then you’ll hit a country like Rahadoum, and it’s like, “We’ve done two Pathfinder Societies scenarios and a novel set there.” That one we haven’t done a lot with. There are other countries where we’ve done even less than that.
As you say, some of those countries are areas where different staff members have kind of claimed as their own. That is a policy that has sometimes worked very well. I think James and Varisia is a great example of that. Our old managing developer Wes Schneider kind of took Ustalav under his wing and did a lot of great development there. Then other times it’s been a little bit more subtle, which is just like, “Oh. Sutter is the Rahadoum guy. If you want to do something with Rahadoum, make sure you run it by him”. That’s just a way we make sure we don’t put our foot in our mouth, or accidentally detail the same city two different products, or something like that.
Sometimes it’s been a little bit more subtle. But what honestly is also happening is, you’ve got a couple of countries, like one for myself which is the country of Nex, which a lot of people really want to see. Then another one I can think of is Jason Buhlman’s country, which is Razmiran, which a lot of people want to see. The director of game design for the company and the publisher for the company are pretty busy guys, so basically with those two countries, with a handful of other places, we have sort of initiated the SOGOTP protocols, if you will, on that stuff. Giving people a legitimate change to do their take of it.
But at a certain point it’s like, “Look. We’re trying to hit all these countries”. Eventually I want to make sure that we have covered every single one of them to the extent that we have covered any of them. We will get to those other countries, and some of those places that very busy boys have been dilly-dallying on are going to get done whether the busy boys do them or not. I say that as chief busy boy.
Clave: That’s the thing, right? You want the people who are most passionate about the places to be able to pour their creativity in it. But if they have limited time, then…
Erik: Yeah, that’s a struggle. Honestly, it hasn’t really been that big of a deal to date because it’s like, “Oh, you know.” I’m just using Bullman as an example here, but, “Jason’s too busy to to the Razmir book.” Well, we still haven’t done a book on Nirmathas or Molthune or Druma or Kyonin. There’s just tons of places we haven’t done. But as the years go by, all of a sudden we have done a lot of those places, and the number of places we haven’t done, I think at this point if you count adventure paths as a significant treatment and a 64 page book as a significant treatment, I think the places that we have done significant treatments now outnumber the places that we haven’t. Or it’s very very close. It’s getting harder and harder to hide in the bushes of other undone countries, and so those of us who have been dilly-dallying are going to get smoked out pretty soon.
Clave: Before I let you go, the playtest will go for how many months?
Erik: August 2nd is when all the play test stuff drops no matter where you are. I think what’ll end up happening is that we’re looking at probably about a seven month play test. It’ll probably go August, September, October, November, December, January. I’d say in February, March, we’re going to be looking at wrapping up the play test and implementing the feedback. We’ll be doing that all the way throughout, but things are going to start to get serious in February and March.
Clave: Yeah. Well, you have publishing deadlines. You’ve got to get the copy off to the printer.
Erik: Exactly, we’ve got to get it printed. We actually ended up printing, we did a different printer this time for the play test to give ourselves the maximum amount of time to get it right. And the longer playtest, I mean within reason, the more time we have getting play test feedback, the better the final book’s going to be.
Clave: People are so excited about this. I hear from a lot of nerds…
Erik: Oh, do you? What do they say?
Clave: They’re excited, they’re excited.
Erik: Well, that’s good to hear.
Clave: They love Pathfinder. There is a sense of wistfulness in part as well… there always is when something new comes along.
Clave: But oh my gosh, it is 97.3% excitement and enthusiasm.
Erik: Well, I’m glad to hear that. You know, the initial play tests we’ve done, we did one with the Glass Cannon Podcast that you can download online. One of the cool things that I found, and we’ll see if this gets repeated, but people play it, and maybe they were skeptical about one or two things that they’d heard about it. But the thing that I’m feeling, and even though we’ve done some pretty significant changes, things like the action economy and whatnot, people are saying this really feels like Pathfinder. That’s exactly what we were shooting for.
We want to make sure that people can still, that rich customization of their character, that’s very very important. Being able to imagine a hero in your head and then being able to have the rules to make you build that character, super super important. Tactical complexity. We’re not just trying to dumb it down. We’re trying to streamline the presentation of the rules, but we’re not trying to make it a beginner game or anything like that. We know people are looking, that our customers can appreciate complexity as well.
That’s the feedback that makes me most proud and most happy, is when people say, “This really does … It’s better and I really like it and it’s faster, but it doesn’t feel like something else.” You know what I mean? That’s what we’re shooting for. We want people to be able to tell the same kind of stories that they’ve been telling, but just with a little bit less things in the way.
Clave: Erik, thank-you so much, man. We really appreciate this.
Erik: No problem. It’s great to talk to you guys. Hopefully we’ll see you some time in the coming year.
All three parts of our three part interview, as well the entire interview in audio form here.
2. A Possible Cataclysmic Event