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Don't Ask Me No Questions

As Ryan noted in last week's dev blog, we've been collecting some FAQ's that have been kicking around our forums over the last few weeks. Thanks to all the people who helped to populate our submit-a-question thread; even though we're only going to get to a small portion of all the questions that were asked, it's useful to see what you all are interested in hearing about.

The questions we selected this time around were chosen for a few reasons. First, we wanted questions that were honest-to-gosh frequently asked. Second, we looked for questions that we felt a lot of people might want answers for, even if they were only asked a few times. We prioritized questions that we felt we could give succinct and bounded answers to—so questions such as "what does every different type of character do?" were put on hold for brevity's sake. And, finally, we stuck to questions that we felt we could answer with some confidence; while it's fun to speculate about systems we would *like* to implement down the road, we wanted to stick to things we knew we'd be doing sooner or later.

Now, on to the questions! Designer Stephen Cheney answered most of these, with a little help here and there from writer/developer Rich Baker.

Q. What does the Twice-Marked of Pharasma add-on do?
Twice-Marked of Pharasma is an add-on we made available during our second Kickstarter campaign. It's an in-game benefit that makes your character... special. Here's how: In order to create new respawn points in the game, at least one player with the Twice-Marked add-on must participate, making characters with this special trait immediately in-demand for Settlements. In addition, there will be additional quests and locations available only to the Twice-Marked (and those in their parties). Some of this special content is likely to include the earliest quests that begin to reveal new lore about the Crusader Road region.

Q. Will a character's religion have any mechanical effect in the game? What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a patron deity?
While the exact specifics are still in flux as we implement our rules for clerics (and, to a lesser extent, druids and paladins), choice of patron deity will have a major effect on access to divine powers. Specifically, each deity's holy symbol has its own access to different orisons, domain abilities, and spells. Two clerics of similar alignment but different deities may have very different casting styles. Additionally, for all player characters, the different churches serve as alliances—being friendly with the church of Iomedae is different from aligning with the church of Asmodeus, much in the same way that joining the Red Mantis Assassins is different from membership in the League of the Wood.

Q. What is crowdforging? What do you intend to crowdforge next?
Crowdforging is the three-stage system by which we provide you, our customers and supporters, with insight into the development process, gauge your desires and ideas on a holistic level, and then poll you on specific questions. The first element includes the development blog you're reading now: Goblinworks aims to bring an unprecedented amount of fan access to the development process by outlining what we're doing and why we're doing it, usually far in advance of implementation.

This leads to the second element. Our forums allow you to discuss both your opinions on the systems currently outlined and ideas for where you'd like to see the development go in the future. We're reading the forums even if we don't always respond, and a lot of ideas posted there inspire changes to the development of Pathfinder Online.

Finally, we'll sometimes ask specific questions about implementing a particular system or about a choice of where to focus our development efforts in order to gain a better understanding of the community's interests. We may phrase this as an informal or formal poll, but the goal is to get the backing of a plurality of participating prospective players (try saying that three times fast!) before we make a decision.

Ultimately, Pathfinder Online is offering players the opportunity to give us input into the game development much earlier than most other MMOs do. You have the tools and the access to convince us to make deep and meaningful changes to the game while systems are still in the design phase, rather than after they've already been implemented and are hard to change. Once we have a live game that you can participate in, we aim to both maintain this level of participation for upcoming content and to allow you to have ongoing feedback as to whether systems are working as intended or need to be changed.

Q. What's the difference between a crowdforger guild, a chartered company, a settlement, and a nation? How many guilds can you belong to at once?
"Crowdforger Guild" is the Kickstarter reward level that gets six players into the game, all at the "Crowdforger Pioneer" level. It also provides bonus gear for members of a venture company those players might choose to form, but individual players in the package aren't required to join or remain in the same company.

A "venture company" (sometimes also referred to as a chartered company; we'll get the terminology settled soon) is a social construct designed to cover the small-to-mid-sized guilds popular in other MMOs. It can be anything from a small group of friends and/or small adventuring party to a social organization several dozen strong. You can be a member of up to three venture companies, but only one of them can be a settlement-sponsored venture company (in other words, all the members belong to the same settlement). If a second venture company becomes sponsored, you'll have to choose to leave one or the other. This is a change from how they were originally pitched, and we have an upcoming blog post that will go more in depth on how venture companies work.

A "settlement" is a social construct designed to cover the large guilds popular in other MMOs. It has potentially hundreds or thousands of members, many of them members of smaller sponsored venture companies. All characters who belong to a settlement are treated as the citizens of a player-constructed city. You can only belong to one settlement at a time.

Finally, a "nation" fills the role that guild alliances do in other games. It is comprised of multiple settlements, and generally allows the members to share facilities and coordinate their actions more effectively than if they were just friendly with one another. You can only be a member of one PC nation: whichever one your settlement joins.

Q. How well will I be able to solo?
Content for Pathfinder Online is being designed with groups in mind. Our goal is to make finding a compatible group as easy as possible for players, and for content to primarily make sense as a group member, not an individual. We believe a lot of players tend to solo in other MMOs just because it's less stressful than finding a worthwhile group, and content design makes your goals frequently divergent from your group's; we hope to make grouping easy and provide strong common goals.

That said, our content doesn't really segregate players by level. Any player may run into any monster. Challenges that are a big threat to a whole group of 4th level characters might be easily solo-able by a 12th level character. So if you pick your targets well and "fight down" a bit, you can probably succeed at a range of combat activities without a group. Further, many of the rewards from escalations and events will be similar for solo players and group members: as long as you're trying to do the same thing as the players around you, you won't necessarily be at a disadvantage for accumulation of achievements and treasure.

Player vs. Player conflict is the big area where we cannot predict how well soloing will work. If you are exploring the wilderness solo, you'll generally be more at risk to other players who might want to kill you and take your stuff. Based on player expansion and settlement patrolling, there will probably be areas that are safer or more dangerous for a soloing character.

Q. How does looting work?
We're iterating on this right now, and should have an independent and thorough blog post on the subject soon.

Q. What kind of noncombat things can I do in the game?
Many characters will be able to pursue very rewarding careers that don't involve fighting monsters or other players. A basic range of noncombat activities will be available almost immediately in early enrollment, and as the game development continues throughout this period, more and more noncombat functions will be fully deployed. Noncombat-focused players should be able to:

  • Gather and harvest components from the world
  • Refine and craft using those components
  • Trade and speculate using the markets (or face-to-face)
  • Scout and spy to provide useful information to organizations
  • Build and manage settlements and points of interest
  • Engage in meaningful inter-organization diplomacy

We have additional ideas for systems to support social conflict and enhance roleplaying that will become more fully developed later if prioritized by crowdforging.

Q. How can people get into Early Enrollment? How can people get a piece of the Pathfinder Online action?
If you missed out on our Kickstarter campaigns, don't worry. We're going to open our Kickstarter fulfillment system to everyone, backer or non-backer, soon. While not all of the originally offered rewards and add-ons will be available to latecomers, you'll still have the opportunity to buy in at a level that will get you into the game during Early Enrollment. (You won't be able to get in during the very first month of Early Enrollment—that's now full. But you'll be able to begin play sometime during the month or two following.)

Q. How many settlement hexes will be available in Early Enrollment?
At the start of Early Enrollment play, there will be a large NPC settlement, plus fifteen or so hexes suitable for player settlements. The ability to establish and build up player settlements will likely come online a little later in Early Enrollment, as explained in the "Big Things Have Small Beginnings" blog .

Q. Can individuals, groups, or companies own structures in the wilderness? In settlements?
Most structures will be located in player settlements. However, each potential settlement hex is ringed by half a dozen or so wilderness hexes, each with a "point of interest" site where a free-standing structure such as an outlying farm or watchtower can be built. Naturally, it takes a settlement to build a structure in a settlement, but a group or company can claim the point of interest site in an unclaimed wilderness hex and build an appropriate structure there.

We expect there will be many more players than space to build individual structures, so we have strict limits on what individual players can "own." There will be a few structures that can be fully owned by a single individual (such as those with the Tavern Owner reward from the Kickstarter), but these will be the exception rather than the rule. In general, structures will be owned by venture companies or settlements, and individual members of the settlement or company will manage the structure on the behalf of their group.

Q. Will flight be possible?
We won't have flight for players until some point after Open Enrollment begins, and possibly never. We don't have any graphical limitations that would prevent adding flight capability for characters at a later date, but flying imposes lots of balance questions for PvE combat, PvP combat, wars, and transporting goods. We'll need to have lots of data on how players approach all of these activities when subject to gravity, and then consider carefully whether and how we add the ability to fly.

Q. Will the game have character collision, or not?
We anticipate that formations in war will have collision. We're still investigating the technical and gameplay impact of using it for individual characters. We've read the threads on the subject, and are seriously considering our crowdforgers' arguments as we examine the pros and cons.

Q. Will there be an auto-attack option?
The combat system in Pathfinder Online is based around opportunity costs rather than cooldowns. Each attack has different strengths and weaknesses, so you need to tailor your attacks to your available time and stamina and the context of your opponent. Further, there are penalties for attacking the wrong target, such that an auto-attack would be more likely to get you in trouble than help out. Most games tend to use auto-attacks as a filler animation that deals minimal damage between your triggered attacks anyway. For these reasons, there is not currently an auto-attack option.

Q. What game mechanics prevent an unwilling opponent from fleeing a fight?
Our goal in Pathfinder Online is to make crowd control useful to the wielder but not frustrating to the target. Nobody likes to be stun-locked (completely immobilized and unable to respond to enemy attack), and being stripped of the ability to flee from a superior opponent is only slightly more fun than dying without being able to take any actions whatsoever. There will be no effect that lets you reliably force a target to choose between fighting and dying. Players who are attacked will always have running as an option.

All of that said, judicious use of "heavy" crowd controls like Stun may make it possible to keep a fleeing character from getting too far away, even if each individual effect has a very short duration. "Soft" controls like Slow (or just a carrying capacity debuff that makes the target temporarily more encumbered) last longer, and can make it very easy to keep up with a fleeing opponent. Many roles gain access to long-distance Leap/Charge effects that make it very easy to catch up to a target quickly. Don't forget that most attacks don't lock the attacker's movement: Just having a faster movement speed than the target may be all you need to keep him from fleeing, as you jog alongside hitting him with a sword.

Finally, moving faster than a walk during combat generates a condition called "Opportunity." Some attacks (particularly fighter attacks) have particularly strong effect against targets granting opportunity, making it tricky to disengage from a character built to keep enemies close.

Q. What do you mean when you say Pathfinder Online is a sandbox MMO?
"Sandbox" is a term used to describe a game that is largely unscripted and self-directed. Unlike games with a strong narrative arc your character follows and pre-designed adventures to embark on, a sandbox game relies on the player to decide what's fun and focus on that activity as long as he or she likes. In a sense, a sandbox MMO is a giant toolkit that players build their own game with. Some players might decide to become roving monster-killers, hiring out their services to any settlement with troublesome creatures to exterminate. Some might become bandits, robbing other players. Some might become expert miners or smiths, harvesting resources and producing highly valuable gear other players can use. Whatever story you want to tell with your character, you'll be able to tell it. That's the philosophy of a sandbox game.

Pathfinder Onlinewill have a modest amount of "theme park" style content, or content designed to engage your character with a specific narrative and deliver a specific experience. For example, new players in starting areas can expect to be given specific quests to perform and will make the acquaintance of a number of NPCs. Dynamic story elements such as goblin raids, marauding ogres, and Hellknight encampments also generate narratives for your character to engage with and resolve. But it's largely up to you whether you look for game storylines to follow or build your own story by finding something fun to do, and doing it.

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.