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The Rise of the Fantasy Sandbox MMO - An Exclusive Pathfinder Online Q&A

Posted Wed, Jan 09, 2013 by Sardu

Pathfinder Online Interview

We recently had the opportunity to discuss many of the design concepts behind Goblinworks' Pathfinder Online with CEO Ryan Dancey. Learn more about what makes this fantasy sandbox MMO tick, including how character advancement works, how open world PvP will be handled to add depth to the game, and lots more in this exclusive Q&A.


Most online roleplaying games tend to use heavily modified rule sets based on tabletop gaming. How will Pathfinder Online leverage the core strengths of the Pathfinder RPG?

With Pathfinder we get a huge library of "objects" that we can immediately use, many of which have been extensively playtested in the tabletop game. There are thousands of monsters, magic items, spells, and character abilities in that library, and we'll use them as the baseline for our design.

While the game mechanics will be different between the tabletop game and the online game, the tabletop game is a very good testbed for the online game. There will of course need to be lots of balancing and tweaking to bring something from the tabletop game into the online game but we don't have to start from a blank sheet of paper.

Will there be any major concessions made to help translate the Pathfinder RPG into a massive, online gaming environment, or is the goal to remain as true as possible to the original IP?

The rules of the online game will be different than the tabletop game. The tabletop game is designed to focus on small parties of heroic adventurers. The online game is a bigger game in scope - it's a superset of the tabletop experience.

The tabletop game is built around each player having an essentially unlimited amount of real time to make decisions but the online game will operate in real time so players will not have that luxury. The tabletop game assumes there's rarely more than 10 people at a table and often less, whereas the online game will enable hundreds and eventually thousands of people to be interacting directly - and that has huge implications. These things make the tabletop rules unsuitable for online play.

The tabletop game is built around a combat engine. The online game is built around an economic engine - combat is a part of that but a subset of the whole. In the tabletop game you have lots of rules for combat and things that happen during combat like spellcasting. In the online game combat is a much smaller portion of the rules - we need rules for crafting, and exploration, and social interaction, and logistics and operating markets, etc. Since the tabletop doesn't have to worry too much about those kinds of systems we have to create much of those rules from scratch.

In the end, I expect that folks who come over from the tabletop will find so much that is similar that they'll have an intuitive grasp on how to play a fighter type character or a wizard type character and they'll intuitively understand how the rules for those kinds of characters work, because of the familiarity they have with the tabletop experience.

The concept of “Crowdforging” intrigues us. Could you expand on how this process will help players determine what features are implemented in the game?

Every software project has three variables: Time, money and resources. You start with a big list of things you would like to build, and then you start prioritizing that list and the factors that dictate the priorities are those three variables.

Pathfinder Online is going to enable the players to have an active voice in how those variables are manipulated. They'll know what the priority list is for the development team, and they'll be able to give input on how that list is built and how it is restructured from time to time.

They'll also be involved in helping set game design policies that will have deep and significant effects on the overall game. They'll be helping decide things like how powerful a character should be at various parts of its lifecycle, how much the economy should be affected by NPCs and how long it should take to achieve various in-game objectives across a wide variety of character types.

To do this we'll have a variety of tools. Sometimes we'll run polls or votes. Sometimes we'll have a system where folks can submit ideas that are peer reviewed and then reviewed by the designers. We'll likely have a Player Council similar to what EVE Online has with the Council of Stellar Management - a formal relationship with elected leaders of the community who will represent the interests of that community directly.

To make this work we need a level of transparency that is rare in the gaming industry. We can't have a lot of "secrets" or "surprises". And people will need to educate themselves on what can be done with the resources available; some of the best ideas are unfortunately impractical despite their merits.

Our sister company Paizo Publishing has operated in this manner for quite some time, subjecting a lot of their core rule design process to public scrutiny. And my experiences at CCP put me in direct contact with the Council of Stellar Management so I was able to see up close how that kind of body can have a dramatic and positive impact.

It will be a wild, exciting, interesting and entertaining ride for everyone involved.

Pathfinder Online Tech Demo

Pathfinder won’t have traditional MMO classes. Could you discuss how players will be able to shape and advance their character’s skill set? Will there be any major limitations on how you choose to pursue different roles?

This is a critical part of our design concept. We want to encapsulate the idea of classes from the tabletop game but we also don't want to limit players to the kind of rigidity that comes from class-based systems. Sandboxes work best when players are able to make a very diverse range of characters and they often come up with ways to advance a character that are not anticipated by the developers but make perfect sense within the logic of the game world.

We think we have a pretty innovative solution. In the tabletop world, characters gain power by earning experience points. When a level threshold is reached, the character is given a number of new benefits as a result of "leveling up".

In Pathfinder Online, we stood that paradigm on its head. Instead, as your character gains benefits, it moves closer to being recognized as having "earned a level". The process of earning those levels involves a character doing things that are meaningful to that "role". So a character that is becoming more skilled with weapons and becoming stronger and tougher will be recognized by earning a "level" of Fighter, rather than vice-versa.

This makes it possible for us to anticipate a wide range of character development options that we would be very challenged to make if we had to pre-plot all the benefits of a traditional level-based system. In Pathfinder Online, you might find that you've specialized as a character who is really effective fighting other humanoids, whereas I might have specialized as a character good against monstrous creatures and aberrations. We might both have earned recognition with "levels" of Fighter, but we'll be very different characters with very different histories.

Folks who want to pursue the traditional roles in traditional ways will have no problem doing that and they'll end up with characters that are very similar to those you might find in a tabletop Pathfinder game. But the system is broad enough that it enables players to explore a fractal space of options and there will be a near-infinite combination of character development options so that those "traditional" characters will be joined by hundreds (or thousands) of other character types as the players mix-and-match the system to suit their own needs.


His use of the milk analogy is flawed. Milk is a staple product that would cut off a large chunk of a supermarket's revenue. PVP in mmos is not necessary, and often times it adds nothing to the game except for whining about class imbalances and aggravation. I would liken PVP to the candy section, which is often small, and produces little income for the store (except on holidays).

I'm sorry, but you had me at Pathfinder (I love the setting), and sandbox mmo... and then lost me at open world pvp. I'm not 100% against pvp, it can be fun if done correctly, but open world pvp adds nothing but frustration to the game... I would want to know how they are going to counter-act higher levels ganking lower levels, because that is not pvp, that is PK. Two totally different produces. PVP implies that there is a fair chance of one of them winning, whereas PK is just someone coming along and killing someone else who doesnt stand a chance of winning.

Good luck to them, and I hope that they see reason and make pve servers too.

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