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The Window's a Wound, the Road Is a Knife

Welcome to 2014! This will be the most exciting time yet in the history of Pathfinder Online. Our breakneck schedule continues to aim for a Q3 start for Early Enrollment. Staying that course requires us to complete the current milestone early this month. We are debating bringing the milestone to a conclusion either this week or next, based on the team's determination of the status of the feature set and how much additional work is required to hit our objectives. In either event, that means that the next blog in two weeks should be full of juicy details on how much progress we made at the end of 2013!

This week, Tork talks some more about Points of Interests (PoIs) and Outposts.

Centers of PvP activity and home to companies of all shades, Outposts and PoIs represent some of the more fluid structures and holdings in Pathfinder Online. We have mentioned them in varying levels of detail in the past, but here I'd like to tie up some loose ends, introduce a few new ideas, and generally give you an insight into how we see these working going forward.

Please note that some of this stuff may contradict or alter some of the older posts on these matters—this reflects changes made elsewhere with knock-on effects, some changes in our own thinking, and feedback we have taken on board from our Crowdforging in the forum.

Social Evolution

The social aspect of the game is a primary design objective. One of our core philosophies is to maximize meaningful human interaction.

We have focused a lot of discussion on the idea of the Settlement—which will be the primary social structure that most characters deeply engage as they play. However, there can only be a small number of Settlements relative to the population, and that means only a small number of players will be able to be meaningfully involved in managing them.

We want to create a hierarchy of social structures so that many people have a chance to try their hand at leadership and management. We expect that the people who eventually run the Settlements in the long term will be folks who have shown a lot of skill in helping to create cohesion, discipline, and good choices. The place to learn how to do that is in the smaller venues we're describing in this blog.

The hierarchy begins with the Outposts that are tied to resource extraction—the heart of the in-game economy. The Outposts are connected to the Points of Interest—more advanced structures with substantial benefits (and risk!). Outposts can become sponsored by Settlements, forming a web that goes to the heart of the social systems of the game.

Points of Interest

PoIs (they may earn a new name before launch!) are semi-permanent structures in the game world. They are constructed in hexes designed for that purpose (which first must be cleared of indigenous monsters, much like settlement hexes). There are upwards of 2,000 PoI hexes on the current game map, appearing in all types of terrain and potentially teeming with all kinds of monsters of all challenge ratings.

Before planting your flag there, you must first clear a PoI hex of its monstrous ne'er-do-wells: this means beating its currently active escalation cycle. A company can then claim the hex by paying Influence to do so. The more a company has contributed to the clearing of a particular hex, the cheaper it will be for them to claim the cleared space. This is designed to discourage companies swooping in at the last minute to claim land others have fought hard to clear.

Once claimed, the company can choose which type of PoI it wishes to build there. Certain factors (such as alignment, factional reputation, terrain type, skills, and others) may affect this choice. The total list of available PoIs is not complete, but a few of them include:

  • Inn: A welcoming tavern that provides lodgings, player power regeneration, limited trade goods, some training for social classes, and a space for social interaction
  • Manor: A sturdy country house with a surrounding estate that provides some skill training, some resource gathering potential, and some trade and aristocrat skill related functions
  • Watchtower: A secure hold that provides perception bonuses and some martial training
  • Shrine: A place of worship that provides some healing, some curse and affliction removal, and some religious training

Each PoI is run by a single company and can be upgraded by setting aside Influence (along much the same lines as a settlement is upgraded). Owners can choose to invest in functionality, security, or resource generation, to create their own unique, persistent space in-game.

PoIs have a vulnerability window similar to those of settlements (we used to call this the PvP window and will talk more about it in a later blog post). In order to achieve higher level upgrades, a PoI will have to open itself up to a certain amount of danger. Such danger can be mitigated by forming alliances, investing in security upgrades, or providing an invaluable and fair service to the community.

Sponsored Companies and PoIs

A company that owns a PoI can link it to a settlement by becoming sponsored. Doing so creates a strong bond that allows a settlement to build roads to the PoI (improving travel times) and to send settlement guards to bolster a PoI's defenses. What a settlement gets in return is up to the PoI owners themselves, but will most likely include resource trafficking (see Outposts, below), and, of course, a boost in membership as sponsored company members automatically become members of their sponsoring settlement.

Outposts

Outposts are the most fluid and volatile of our structures in Pathfinder Online. Affiliated with PoIs (and, therefore, their sponsoring settlements), they are the game's primary source of trade goods.

An outpost is a semi-permanent node for trade goods. They are the farms, the mines, the lumber mills—the production location for the goods required to build and upkeep PoIs, Settlements, and their populations.

Each PoI hex contains two Outpost locations as well as its central PoI. Outpost locations are generally located on the outskirts of a hex, some distance from the PoI. Outpost locations need to be claimed by a company (with a small Influence cost) that can then select what kind of Outpost it will be. The cost of claiming and building an Outpost increases significantly if that company already has any holdings, so it makes more sense for a PoI-owning company to find other, smaller companies to run their Outposts (essentially subcontracting rather than running everything themselves).

Certain hexes can only support certain Outposts, or at least will support some Outposts better than others. Each hex can provide at least one resource in significant quantities depending on its terrain type. Other resources may also be available there at significantly reduced rates.

Once built, an Outpost produces goods based on the relevant Knowledge skills of its manager. Companies must appoint one of their members to manage each Outpost (which, of course, takes up one of his active crafting/working queues, just like managing a settlement structure). Additional "workers" can be added to an Outpost to boost its production (also preventing them from working on other structures).

Goods are produced each hour and deposited directly into the Outpost bank. Only company members (and, potentially, other named allies) have access to this bank and will want to transfer goods regularly from the Outpost to a more secure location. This is most likely to be the PoI bank but may also be all the way to an affiliated settlement (if they can get a good supply line running). There is no need to clear the outpost bank every hour, but it will only be able to contain so much material—emptying it at least once every 24-48 hours is prudent. This is not only for maximum production, but also to avoid raiders (see below).

Outposts have very little protection, by default. They do not enjoy the walls and gates of a PoI or settlement and are much more vulnerable. Outposts are designed to be raided.

This has provoked an interesting split in responses from the Goblin Squad, with some keen to make Outposts a more permanent structure and others happy with their fluidity and disposable nature. I think the best way to describe the design goal here is that while PoIs are for those who want to build a base, Outposts are simply footholds in the River Kingdoms. They essentially provide three things: the resources necessary to build and maintain PoIs and settlements, a focus for companies focused on trade goods, and a flash point for group PvP.

This PvP comes in the form of raids!

Raiding

This has taken a pretty serious rewrite, thanks in part to the discussion on the forums. Originally, raiding served two functions: removal of materials and destruction of the Outpost. This was more complicated (and advantageous) than it needed to be, and has been revised as follows:

To raid an Outpost, a player, group, or company must hold onto a specific location within the Outpost for a certain amount of time. They can initiate a raid by first eliminating any guards on site, then accessing the Outpost bank. Accessing the bank is an interruptible action that takes several seconds and, when successful, allows the looting of up to 5% of the current contents of the bank. Once accessed, the bank cannot be accessed again for 5 minutes, but while the raiding state persists the percentage looted each time increases (encouraging raiders to stick around and hold for a period for greater rewards than using hit-and-run tactics)

When an Outpost is raided, the management company and associated PoI owners are notified. Any characters within the area of the Outpost (that aren't allied with the Outpost owners) are marked as Criminal and lose no stacks of Criminal until they leave the area.

The intention is to encourage short-term, regular PvP on the outskirts/frontiers of civilization. Raids are valuable to the raider, threatening to the defender, but resource-light enough for both to keep raids frequent and fun. We wanted to ensure that there were structures in game that positively encourage player versus player combat on both a macro and a micro level. Outpost raiding has implications for the Outpost, its PoI, and any affiliated settlement, making it a valuable tool for everyone from bandits to those embroiled in full-scale war. While an outpost is unlikely to change hands unless its affiliated PoI supports such a change, it can provide valuable resources to a canny raiding party. This should allow them to further their own goals in Golarion by methods which suit their play styles.

There is also always the option to destroy an Outpost, just as you would destroy a PoI or settlement structure. This clears the Outpost position so that it can be claimed again (but this will be challenging if it is counter to the wishes of the local PoI owner or even affiliated settlement owner). This does have a more lasting effect on a settlement's supply lines than simple raids for during warfare, however, so marauding enemies may empty an Outpost through raiding and then raze it down afterwards.

Continuing Development

We are pretty happy with this three-tiered hierarchy of social venues and we have a huge list of ideas for what kinds of structures we can build into this system. We have far more than we'll have time to implement during Early Enrollment, meaning this is one of those systems that will continue to evolve complexity throughout the life of the game.

The designs described in this blog do have a lot of "to be decided" embedded in them, which means they're ripe for your input. The mechanism for establishing management roles and processes for Outposts, Points of Interest, and Settlements is going to need a lot of continuous iteration. There is room here to work on a wide variety of security policies—both those imposed by game mechanics and those imposed by the actions of the characters.

We're looking forward to brainstorming those ideas and systems with you on the forums.

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.