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A Three-Headed Hydra

We have so much news to share that we have to split this blog into three parts!

Part One: Kickstarter Fulfillment

After running a successful Kickstarter, at some point you need to gather the information necessary to ship out all the cool rewards to the project's backers.

Paizo will be doing the fulfillment for our rewards, and we're pleased to announce that their tool to coordinate all of this stuff is now live! To enable Paizo to bend time and space and deliver your rewards, you'll need to create an account on paizo.com if you don't already have one. You'll also need a bit of information that we'll be sending via email to the email address associated with your Kickstarter account, so check that mailbox now!

The email includes a link to Paizo's new Pledge Drive management tool, where you'll be able to validate the information we've received from Kickstarter. If your reward involves shipping, you'll be able to provide a mailing address, and if you're getting a T-shirt, you'll be able to confirm your shirt size. On the payment front, if you pledged less than $50, you can also adjust your pledge up to that amount at this time, and if Kickstarter was unable to process your payment earlier this year, you can now pay through Paizo. After you complete the process, you'll find that your name on the Pathfinder Online messageboards on paizo.com now has an icon identifying you as a Goblin Squad member, Founder, or Executive Founder as appropriate!

Thornkeep PDFs Are Almost Ready! Paizo has already sent the book to the printer, and as soon as they've reviewed and approved the printer proof, they'll make the Thornkeep PDF available to backers at the appropriate pledge level. When that happens, you'll get an email at the address associated with your paizo.com account giving you instructions on how to download the PDF from them. To be clear, the PDF is not yet ready, so you won't be able to get it immediately, but we do expect the PDF to go live for backers within about 10 days.

We are going to ship all of the physical rewards to each backer in a single shipment. The timeline for that shipment will be determined by the date we receive the Thornkeep books from the printer; our current ETA is January, but we'll keep you updated as the date draws nearer.

Part Two: The Technology Demo Video

We are scripting the video that will be made available to Kickstarter backers featuring the Technology Demo. That video will be assembled in the next week or so, and when we're happy with it, we'll send a link to all the backers eligible to view it, allowing you to finally see the hard work you backed.

The Tech Demo video will include a walk-through of all the features of the Tech Demo, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews with the team and "making of" vignettes showing how designs evolve from 2D paintings into 3D avatars and environments in the game engine.

The long form of this video will be an exclusive for Kickstarter backers, but we'll also be making a shorter version for the general public.

Part Three: The Combat System

We know that everyone has been waiting for us to talk in more detail about the combat system. Lead Designer Lee Hammock has prepared a report on the team's work-in-progress ideas for your consideration and feedback.

Now that we're starting to talk about concrete plans we're modifying our standard disclaimer a bit: you're now going to start receiving details on the current plan. We may still change the plan in response to feedback or playtesting, but we're moving beyond theories of what we might do and into the practical implementation of what we are going to do.

In this kind of update you may see us reference various bits of the Pathfinder tabletop RPG system. Consider that shorthand—a way for us to convey an idea or concept, and not a commitment to a particular mechanical system. The math behind Pathfinder Online will be very different than the math behind the tabletop RPG. While you'll see a lot of similar effects and outcomes, how we get to those will likely be very different from a bookkeeping perspective.

One of the driving goals we have in our overall design is to offer players a series of decision points so there is never a single absolute best option for all play styles. Armor, weapons, abilities, etc. will all have built-in tradeoffs to ensure that no one choice will be ideal for all situations.

Stamina and Refresh

We're working on a Stamina system that somewhat mimics the rounds of the Pathfinder RPG. Every six seconds, players will receive a pool of points they'll be able to spend taking various actions, breaking down combat into a number of tactical decisions.

Players who plan out their attacks to maximize their abilities in terms of Stamina will be better off than those who rely on straight speed to spam abilities as quickly as possible. The "planning player" will end each six second interval with no excess Stamina, while the "spamming player" will end up with unused points in their pool.

We're also creating a Refresh system. Characters can use particular abilities a certain number of times per four-hour in-game day, or until the player uses a Refresh—a special action characters take to refocus, rest, and regain abilities. This system avoids the situation where your character has nothing useful to do and is waiting for a new game day to begin before they can be productive. Using a Refresh requires at least fifteen seconds of uninterrupted time, so it's not something you can usually do in the middle of combat. Characters only have a limited number of Refreshes per game day.

Our design gives more Refreshes to new characters and fewer to experienced characters. Generally speaking, as a new character you will be able to do a few things often using Refresh, and as an experienced character you'll be able to do a wide variety of things without depending on a Refresh.

Characters have the opportunity to earn abilities that adjust the number of Refreshes they have, how long they take to use, and other special effects like going invisible or raising a magical shield while using a Refresh. The Refresh system introduces many meaningful decisions, such as choosing between using a Refresh before traveling through dangerous territory in case you get ambushed, or saving it for a battle at your destination.

Actions and How You Take Them

One of the big problems with classless advancement systems is that, over time, players can develop a huge variety of abilities as they dabble in combat, magic, crafting, etc. This can create paralysis of choice as players have too many options to easily make good quick choices, like how to react when threatened. Managing all of the available options also provides a nasty challenge for user interface layout. Also, if everyone in a classless system can use all their skills all the time, it makes other characters ultimately unimportant from a party balance perspective.

We want to find a good way to provide players a limited selection of immediate choices that's fun and retains the feeling of a recognizable Pathfinder class. Players can customize their options and draw on the whole range of their character's abilities, but they'll have to make choices about what they can do at a moment's notice.

We're using the action bar concept that's become something of a standard in MMOs, but we've made some significant modifications to what most games have done. Reconfiguring the action bar is something that your character will typically do when not in combat, and potentially may require being at a location suitable for making major changes (like changing armor types, for example).

The action bar also corresponds to hotkeys. The first 10 slots correspond to the number keys 1–10. The second 10 slots correspond to the function keys F1–F10. Of course, we anticipate that you'll be able to customize these keybindings if you don't want to use these defaults. And you'll also be able to activate these actions by clicking the action bar with your mouse pointer.

Weapon Slots

The first six slots on the action bar are weapon slots, tied directly to the weapon (or weapons if dual-wielding) you have equipped. (In this context, the term "weapon" includes staves, wands, holy symbols, and other magical implements.) Each weapon has one or two basic attacks associated with it that any character who can use the weapon can take advantage of; the remaining slots are used by the player to slot in abilities the character has learned that are compatible for that weapon. For example, a fighter who equips a short sword may equip abilities like Whirlwind Attack or Power Attack, while a rogue may equip Sneak Attack in these slots. The number of slots available is determined by the character's skills; a low level character may only be able to use two or three abilities initially, while a master of that same weapon will be able to use all six slots.

Each weapon has certain traits associated with it, such as Sharp, Blunt, Rogue, or even Vorpal. Some abilities players can learn are only useable with weapons that have specific traits, such as Sneak Attack working only with weapons that have the Rogue Weapon trait. More valuable weapons have more or rarer traits, as opposed to simple inflation of their statistics, so low-level characters given a high-level weapon won't immediately become overpowered; they just won't have the abilities to make full use of the weapon. Some weapons will come with a selection of abilities already slotted, which players can only activate upon meeting prerequisites. A primary example of this is holy symbols, which come pre-built with a set of abilities (channel energy, domain powers, etc) set according to the god the symbol is dedicated to. A holy symbol of Desna will let you channel positive energy, while one of Lamashtu will let you channel negative energy, but you can only use a holy symbol that matches your alignment. Similarly, you can only use weapon abilities that you have the right character abilities to trigger.

Characters can have up to three weapon sets and switch between them in combat, so a cleric could switch between her mace with shield and her holy symbol with shield. Lower-level characters will have fewer weapon sets; this flexibility comes with character experience.

By linking weapon choice to ability selection, players will be able to make a guess as to what role a character with a particular weapon is pursuing, but you won't be completely certain: Most fighters won't be carrying a staff... but they could.

Refresh Slots

Most combat abilities that are not tied to weapons are Refresh abilities, and they're placed in slots 7–10. These are things like spells, rage abilities, etc. If a character has a spellbook equipped, it can go into one of these slots; activating the spellbook turns all weapon slots into spell slots determined by the spellbook. Wizards will have to find and equip different spellbooks to get access to different spells, with some books being more valuable or rare than others.

Utility Slots

The F1 and F2 slots are utility slots, used for abilities that are less combat-focused than those placed in the 1–10 slots. These include things like the Paladin's Detect Evil ability.

Consumable Slots

F3 and F4 are for consumable items like potions and scrolls.

Passive Slots

In addition to the slots that require the player to hit a button or click to activate, there are a number of passive slots players can use to slot in permanent abilities that are always running. These are divided into three groups:

  • Defensive: Abilities that protect the character like Evasion or Uncanny Dodge.
  • Reactive: Abilities that activate when something sets them off, such as Diehard or Stand Up.
  • Aura: Abilities that affect characters in a radius, such as many Bard abilities or a Paladin's various Aura abilities.

That's a lot to digest for one blog! In upcoming posts we'll be talking about weapons, armor, critical hits, and other important aspects of the combat design. We'll also revisit topics which have generated a lot of feedback on the forums, like the death/resurrection system!

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.