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This week, designer Rich Baker describes a key system of our story and quest generation, escalation cycles. But before we get into that, we've got an update about our Kickstarter fulfillment!
The wait is almost over for our Kickstarter backers to manage their pledges and begin receiving some of their rewards. Paizo's tech team has told us that they expect to deploy the pledge management system next week! When we're ready for you, we'll post a notice on the Pathfinder Online messageboards, send a backer-only update through the Kickstarter system, and post on our social media sites (Facebook, Google+, and Twitter).
You will need a paizo.com user account to use the tool, so if you don't already have one, sign up for one now! If your paizo.com account uses the same email address that you used for your Kickstarter account, we'll be able to connect some things up automatically (such as identifying Goblin Squad members on the Pathfinder Online messageboards). If your paizo.com account uses a different email address from your Kickstarter account, that's no problem—you'll just need to enter a redemption code that we'll be sending to the email address you used for your Kickstarter account.
When you log into the pledge management system, you'll be able to do a number of things. First, you will be able to change your pledge level. If you upgrade to a higher-priced level, you'll be able to charge the difference to a credit card. If you change to a lower-priced level, the system will track the difference, and you can use the "leftover" amount of your pledge to select add-ons. (If you don't use all the money you pledged either for a reward tier or for add-ons, you'll forfeit it; pledges are non-refundable.)
You will be able to change your pledge level until June 30, 2013. After that date, your pledge level will be locked in. You will, however, be able to change the shipping address for your rewards up until your rewards are about to ship, and if your rewards include buddies or guilds, you'll be able to designate recipients for those rewards up until the game launches.
If your rewards include the PDF Superpack, those PDFs will be added to your paizo.com downloads as soon as you complete the fulfillment process. Once the PDFs have been added to your account, you will not be able to change your pledge level to a level that does not include those PDFs. (PDFs cannot be exchanged for others or transferred to another party.)
You will also be able to manage add-ons through the pledge management system. You'll be able to see how much money you pledged above the level you selected, and you can use that value to select your add-ons. You can choose more add-ons than your original pledge covered, charging the difference to a credit card.
The pledge management system will also allow you to designate buddy and guild accounts for the appropriate pledge levels. Ask each of your buddy and guild members to set up a paizo.com account—you'll need to enter their paizo.com avatar names in the pledge management system. They will have a chance to accept or reject your invitation. Once accepted, the transaction is final; you won't be able to re-designate an accepted Buddy or Guild account. At a later date, we'll provide them with the ability to purchase their own add-ons through the pledge management system if they wish.
If any of your rewards include physical products such as printed books or miniatures, the pledge management system will let you specify your shipping information. (If you have any paizo.com subscriptions, we'll ship your rewards along with your subscriptions, so subscribers just need to keep their subscription address up-to-date.) All of the physical rewards will be shipped at one time; we are currently projecting a shipping date in June 2014—if that changes, we will keep the community updated.
You cannot transfer an add-on to a different account, and you cannot transfer pledge amounts between accounts. Also, the pledge management system isn't going to handle the matching of Shieldmates. Goblinworks will manage that process through its own account system, since those are all in-game rewards. We do not have an ETA on when we'll begin matching up Shieldmates.
To use the pledge management tool at this time, you must have already backed the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter, or be designated as a buddy or guild member of somebody who backed the Kickstarter. Later this year, we're planning to open up the pledge system to people who have not previously backed Pathfinder Online. The pledge levels available at that time will vary somewhat from those offered to people who backed the Kickstarter, and many of the current add-ons will no longer be available.
Finally: If, while using the pledge management system, you encounter a problem or cannot figure out how to do something, please contact email@example.com for assistance.
Keep your eyes peeled for notice that the system is live!
OK, now on to this week's development blog. If you've been following our dev blogs and discussions for a while, you've probably heard us say that Pathfinder Online is a sandbox, not a theme park. What that means is that our game isn't going to present a tightly scripted set of storylines or a large number of iconic locations or dungeons to explore. Instead, we're designing a game that generates opportunities for you to engage in activities or tell stories that interest you, based on the narrative you decide you want to tell with your character. That doesn't mean that we won't have PvE content—it just means that our world isn't going to have the sort of career-long quest chains or custom-built raiding dungeons that you might be familiar with from other MMOs. Instead, our primary vehicle for PvE content comes from events, not locations. We call these content-generating events escalation cycles.
An escalation is a dynamic story event such as a Bonedancer goblin invasion, an outbreak of widespread banditry from the League of the Wood, or a raid of dark elf slavers. Each escalation begins in the deep wilderness in one of the hexes player settlements can't quite tame, and slowly builds up strength. At first you see some goblin scouts and wolf-riders, then bands of goblin marauders venture out to trouble travelers and harvesters in nearby hexes, and then vicious war-parties begin an all-out effort to pillage "civilized" hexes and wreck any structures PCs have built there. Dealing with the rampaging goblin hordes provokes various forms of retaliation and generates quests; PCs may find that as the story of the Bonedancer goblin invasion unfolds they'll be called upon to rescue captives taken by the goblins, interfere with the dark rites of goblin shamans, or challenge important goblin chiefs. Left unchecked, an escalation soon spreads into neighboring hexes, and may continue to infect new areas until someone deals with the problem. At any given time, there will be a number of different escalations running in various parts of the Crusader Road area, each threatening a different corner of the game world.
Escalation cycles do a lot of things for us. First of all, they bring a steady diet of PvE opportunities and stories to the player settlements. In a game where settlement loyalty and participation are some of the most important choices you make, we think it's important to have both PvE as well as PvP content based on those decisions, and escalation cycles bring dynamic quest content right to your doorstep. Since escalations need to be answered, they create a strong demand for roving bands of monster-hunters in most settlements—newbies who want to go collect goblin scalps will find themselves welcomed even in well-established settlements. Finally, we'll weight the escalation cycles so that the strongest settlements tend to draw the tougher escalations. Since those mature settlements will tend to have more experienced PCs, we'll make sure they see appropriate threats (and rewards).
Escalations begin in monster hexes—pockets of deep wilderness or monster-infested regions that can't be permanently cleared by player characters. (For more on types of hexes, see Lee Hammock's March 20th blog post Over the Hills and Far Away.) When a monster hex generates an escalation cycle, it selects from a variety of potential escalations, taking into account the development of the nearby settlements and the relative position of the monster hex in the Crusader Road region—Kellid barbarians raiding down into the River Kingdoms from Numeria are more likely to strike along the northern marches, while the bandit gangs that make up the League of the Wood naturally favor the cover provided by the Echo Wood on the eastern half of the Crusader Road area.
Escalations steadily grow in severity, gaining strength as time passes. At specific milestones of strength, an escalation expands into an adjacent hex, which now begins gaining strength itself and may in turn infect additional hexes. As escalations grow in strength, the danger posed by the monsters or NPCs who make up that escalation also increases—just as expansion into new hexes occurs when the escalation hits the specified strength milestones, other milestones trigger an increase in the level or an increase in the numbers of the escalation monsters. However, escalations lose strength in a hex when PCs defeat the escalation monsters. In fact, it's possible to sanitize a previously infected hex by hammering its strength back to zero again.
At the same time that escalations are growing in strength and spreading, the story or script of the escalation *may* advance, depending on whether any PCs are interacting with it. The current stage of the escalation describes what is happening at that point in the event. For example, the Bonedancer goblin invasion begins with scouting parties of goblins searching for good places to attack. When players kill or chase off enough of the goblin scouts, the Bonedancers send stronger parties of wolf-handlers to find out what's been happening to their scouts. In the face of growing opposition, the Bonedancer shamans decide to reinforce their warriors by robbing the local graveyards and animating the dead. Each stage generates its own specific quests and missions for PCs who want to defeat the threat—or, in some cases, egg it on. Eventually, the heroes defeat the escalation by fighting its strength to zero and advancing the story to its final stage.
The combination of different types of strength-based advances, expansion preference, stage advances, and quests associated with stages provides us with a wide variety of tools for creating very different experiences from escalation to escalation. Some escalations like the barbarian raid will effectively "march" across the map; some will reach a defensible limit and fort up; some will keep trying to expand indefinitely and attempt to overrun the entire map. Some escalations will burn out on their own, and simply leave if no one defeats them. Others will continue indefinitely until someone puts them down.
The first and most obvious sign of an escalation in the area is the new and usually more dangerous mix of mobs (NPCs and monsters that want to attack you) that you begin to encounter in an area. When Bonedancer goblins are in the area, you'll naturally begin running across goblin war-bands, often accompanied by shamans and undead. Hexes heavily overrun by an escalation of powerful monsters will be formidable obstacles. Most escalations will also make harvesting resources in an area considerably more difficult, and will eventually threaten player-built structures in claimed wilderness hexes—if you don't do anything about the ogres, they'll plunder your farms and mines and pull down your watchtowers. Finally, hexes infected by escalations for a long time will be severely depleted of resources—ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away isn't the best coping strategy.
On the bright side, escalation cycles offer a couple of significant awards. First of all, the quests associated with escalations will be a very useful way to rack up the achievements your character needs to qualify for many areas of advancement. Final-stage escalations also provide a rare and highly desirable treasure drop in the form of an artifact, a powerful magical item. Artifacts are important enhancements for player settlements, providing substantial bonuses to settlement security and productivity. While it might be a nuisance when goblins raid your fields, the goblin banner in your settlement hall will be a celebrated (and useful) trophy for years to come.
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