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Screaming for Vengeance

Greetings, everyone! We want to kick off 2013 with some announcements about process, and a progress update.

We are going to try to increase the tempo of these dev blogs to once a week. With the team in full production now, there should be more than enough content to support such a publication schedule.

Our immediate development objective is to create the first of what will eventually be hundreds of hexes. A hex is the basic unit of territory in the game design. The team has decided that they wish to sub-divide the original hex into 7 "subhexes"—that's a central hex surrounded by 6 identically sized satellites. After making this change, we're now working on 7 hexes for our initial objective. The team is making this change to better facilitate territorial warfare, by creating intermediate points of control for settlements to contest, as opposed to an all-or-nothing contest if two settlements were immediately adjacent to one another. This design also makes it easier to visualize and implement things like escalation, and to reflect the impact of character actions on resources and wandering monsters at a higher degree of resolution.

We are planning on putting some very basic game systems into this project which will allow us to begin testing various aspects of the game platform: servers, databases, the network layer, etc. We will also test the first iteration of our combat system, which implies that there will be at least one player character type and one monster. We expect that a lot of goblins will die to bring you further information.

Don't Panic!

As we have so many new readers due to our successful Kickstarter, we wanted to take a moment to restate the basic intent of these blogs. In our quest to be transparent with the community, we periodically disclose our current design plans for the game so that you can provide feedback and criticism, which we read and factor in to future work.

The game design is a constantly evolving thing. As we make progress in some areas we may create inconsistencies with previously disclosed ideas. Where possible, we'll try to circle back and update you on those changes where practical.

You should view these dev blogs as a window into our design process, and as a way to prepare for the serious crowdforging that lies ahead. In order to have a good grasp on the issues that the crowdforging process will tackle, you'll want to understand the evolution of the design of the game.

Today's blog updates several older blogs, most notably To Live and Die in the River Kingdoms.

There Is Trouble in the Forest

Stephen Cheney continues from last week's blog, Blood on the Tracks, delving into more issues of how player social structures and character behavior impact the danger level of various territories in the game.

Civilized Areas

For PvP purposes, there are four types of territory in Pathfinder Online:

  • NPC-controlled territory
  • Player-controlled territory with strong laws
  • Player-controlled territory with weak or no laws
  • Uncontrolled territory

NPC-controlled territory is limited to a few major cities and other starter areas. In the heart of these territories, PvP may be completely disabled. These territories also feature strong NPC "wardens" who will begin moving to attack anyone who gains the Attacker flag in the area (and if the attack is perpetrated near enough to the warden, it might show up in time to save the victim from death). Even if the act is completed far enough from a warden to kill the target and escape, in these territories murder is always illegal (so the player will get the Criminal flag as well). Functionally, within NPC territory, players are very safe from PvP, but the territory has limited useful resources and the cities do not have the best crafting and training facilities.

When players build a settlement, they establish control over the entire hex that contains it. In addition to potentially establishing PC patrol groups around the hex (and responding to allies that shout for help in chat), the settlement might establish laws to make murder (and several other actions) illegal. Thus, players might be nearly as safe in certain player-controlled hexes as they are in NPC territory. Or, if the controlling players are not interested in protecting travelers, or are actively hostile, these areas might be as bad as the wilderness.

In uncontrolled territory, no player settlement is present in the hex. Murder does not apply the Criminal flag, but attacking an unflagged target still applies the Attacker flag (and flags from other sources persist until they expire naturally). Help is also potentially very far away. A player killer here is likely to be free of the Attacker flag before anyone else shows up. These areas also tend to have the rarest resources, encouraging players to take their chances against bandits in the woods.

Alignment and Reputation

Each player has three axes of personality: law vs. chaos, good vs. evil, and reputation. A player's reputation is clearly visible to others, while alignment is harder to determine at a glance. All three have limited direct effect on the player, but large effect on that player's social life: settlements gain benefits from keeping a high alignment and reputation requirement for membership, so players who lose these qualities may have more limited options for where to go for training, trade, and crafting.

All three axes are lowered by unprovoked PvP, but nuanced differences can result in a player having high values in some axes but not others. Specifically:

  • You slip toward chaotic whenever you gain the Attacker or Criminal flags, except when pursuing a bounty (see below). This is generally a flat amount of loss.
  • You slip toward evil whenever you kill someone while you have the Attacker flag or gain the Heinous flag. For killing, you move less if the target was also evil (in other words, it's more evil to kill a good character).
  • If you have the Attacker flag, when you kill a target you lose reputation proportional to the reputation of the target (it's less disreputable to murder targets that have low reputation). Additionally, the target might further choose to rebuke you (even if it didn't result in a kill), expending some of his or her reputation to lower yours.

Characters with low reputations may also find they're not wanted in certain places. Settlements can set a minimum reputation to enter the city; players who don't meet the requirement are warned, and become trespassers if they continue to enter. Settlements may also be selective about permitting players with low reputations to join, since maintaining a high minimum settlement reputation is key to building several prestigious and useful structures.

A settlement can remain competitive with a low rating in law, good, or reputation (or average ratings in all three), but the penalties add up such that a settlement that caters to low-reputation chaotic evil characters will be at a fairly significant disadvantage compared to other settlements, and such characters may have a hard time finding a place to train, trade, and craft.

Bounties and Death Curses

Any player that hurts you shows up on your enemies list. This list allows you to salute or rebuke the enemy (granting or reducing reputation, at the cost of your own). The entry disappears if you aren't hurt by that enemy again within several days (exact time frame to be determined). If you died within a certain window (also TBD) after someone's entry was refreshed on your enemies list, that person is noted on the list as one of your killers (those who injured you right before you died may be a bigger factor in your death than whoever made the final blow). If you want to get even, you can establish a bounty on anyone listed as a killer on your enemies list.

A bounty is effectively a player-generated kill quest. You go to a local mailbox/post office, select your target from your enemies List, deposit your payment, and set minimums or maximums for alignment and reputation to take the bounty. (You may want to make it harder for the target's friends to take it, although your killer's friends might have trouble getting to that particular mailbox due to settlement restrictions). You can also restrict the bounty to a specific character, chartered company or settlement.

Anyone that comes to that mailbox and meets the restrictions can take the bounty, and becomes the exclusive owner for a limited time. If the hunter kills the target within this time period, he or she gets to come back and claim the cash you deposited. If the hunter doesn't get it done within that window, the bounty reverts to the post office so someone else can take it. And if nobody completes it in 24 hours, you get your money back. You can re-issue the bounty if the target remains on your enemies list (as noted, your killer will eventually disappear if he or she has not injured you again in several days).

In addition to the cash reward, bounty hunters get some other benefits. As noted above, gaining the Attacker flag is not chaotic if you got it from attacking a bounty target (though it might still be a crime where you are, and you will still lose good and reputation if you kill the target, relative to the target's own alignment and reputation). More importantly, if the target is online, the player with the bounty gains a limited ability to track him or her, which can improve if the hunter trains certain tracking feats.

Each player will only be able to pursue a limited number of bounties at one time, and will get general details about the target's friends, reputation, and relative power level when accepting the bounty. So if you want the best of the best to take your case, you'll have to put up a fair amount of coin. Or you'll have to pass off permission to consummate your death curse.

Whenever you're killed and that killer shows up in your enemies list (you were attacked and weren't fair game), upon resurrecting, you are immediately able to pray to Calistria, goddess of vengeance, to bring a death curse upon your murderer. You can only have one active death curse at a time; it only lasts 24 hours unless renewed, and it costs you reputation to enact and renew. The reputation cost is proportional to the reputation of your killer, and increases over time. The target will not know when the curse is placed, but will be able to tell when someone is about to carry out the curse (likely with a very threatening death's head icon over any player involved).

Attacks against the target made by you or your party members will apply a 30-second debuff that renews but doesn't stack on additional attacks. While under this debuff, if the target dies, all of the target's gear remains on his or her corpse, and the normal protections that allow a player to save some gear after death don't apply. If the corpse is looted before the target can recover it, those items are looted like anything else in inventory (a random selection can be taken, and the rest destroyed). The curse expires once the target has been killed this way once.

You can pass a death curse you've created to a proxy/champion if desired, either by selecting someone specifically or attaching the curse to a bounty. Bounty hunters will particularly love it when they get a shot at the target's best gear in addition to the cash payout.

Use of a death curse is kind of the nuclear deterrent of Pathfinder Online: It will lower your own reputation to play that dirty, so you're encouraged to save it for someone that's really ruining your fun, unless the target is so disreputable that murders are a habit (in which case the cost to you in terms of a reputation hit will be minimal). What it does is remove the target's game-granted safety net; even a bandit that wanders around with nothing but gear that is protected from loss and thus thinks he or she has nothing to lose from attacking may find that assumption tested by laboring under a death curse.

GM Appeals

The last line of defense for players of Pathfinder Online is appealing to game moderators. If the systemized controls for managing PvP are insufficient to keep a player from being "griefed," that player can always appeal. GMs are given a wide leeway to interpret whether behavior counts as griefing, and to punish the offender. There are no hard and fast rules that players can cite to get out of punishment on a technicality. The GM will have discretion to determine if sanctions are warranted in the best interests of the game. Remember the basic rule of behavior in Pathfinder Online: Don't be a jerk.

Obviously, GM time and attention is likely to be limited, so a lot of effort is involved in making the other systems reduce the benefit of griefing behavior in the first place. However, players that ignore all the other consequences and still decide to get their entertainment from ruining the fun of others will face the likelihood of human intervention.

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