Season 5 changed a lot about how Pathfinder Society works and the overall direction of the campaign. Now that we’re 7 scenarios in, we have a clearer picture about where Season 5 is going and how we should change our expectations about various parts of the campaign. I wanted to take a moment and talk about how the changes have affected us so far and how we should take a different look at the campaign going forward.
Even more so than previous posts, this is definitely an opinion piece by me, so take everything here with a grain of salt. Given my experience, I hope that my opinion is a useful one, but it is certainly not an universal truth. Take these opinions with a grain of salt like you should for all opinions, and use them to form your own opinions about how we should look at PFS going forward. (And I’m certainly interested in hearing your take on the things I bring up in this article.)
(Added a cut since this is a long one.)
First, a bit of history about factions. Factions used to be a lot different back in Seasons 0-2. There were only 5 factions, the five nation based ones, and the factions came up a lot more in gameplay. Seasons 1 and 2 had two faction missions for each faction in every scenario which made finding your faction mission take up a lot of table time. Generally one of them was something that you needed to do, but doing it was automatic. The second mission would be something that generally required a skill check to do, and trained-only skills were fair game. As such, factions were a big part of building a character, as players would try to pick a faction that worked well with the character’s skills. Also, up until part-way through Season 2, players were allowed to replay a scenario as long as they did it with a character of a different faction, so most players’ characters were of all different factions. (Although any rumors that you may hear of me having an Andoran character at the time are blatant lies!)
There were some problems with this setup. First was that the story line of why the factions existed was that the factions were all trying to gain control over Absalom in a “shadow war.” This did not encourage good gameplay at the table and is one of the main places the no PvP rule came from. XP was important, but Prestige and Fame were just as important, but you got no Prestige for actually being a Pathfinder, and were not encouraged to actually complete the missions sometimes. You only needed to go through 3 encounters to get your XP, so if you completed 3 encounters, did both your faction missions, and had already made a bunch of gold in the scenario, why should you continue? On top of all this, there was no “neutral” faction. Some characters wanted to be completely devoted to the Pathfinder Society, or to the idea of good, or to something that wasn’t one of these five nations. Lastly, the two missions per faction were a lot to keep track of per scenario – each character had three things to do in each scenario, and GMs know how hard it is sometimes to keep people focused on the main mission sometimes.
Season 3 brought the introduction of five new factions, including a “neutral” faction as a catch-all, and gave each faction only one task per scenario. Season 4 gave each faction a story line for the year in order to give the factions a better relationship to the Pathfinder Society, along with involving faction heads more in Pathfinder Society missions. However, in most cases, faction missions still felt like tacked-on fetch quests from omniscient people which were only vaguely connected together. Season 5 went out to change that, but decided to do it in a more drastic way than any season before it.
When comparing the factions of Season 5 to the seasons before it, the key thing to remember is “story lines.” Previous years, factions were static things that assigned you side missions. This year, factions are changing entities that have a story line for you to follow. Each faction has its own goals for the year that have been interwoven throughout the scenarios for you to follow. The story line is progressing as you go throughout the year – Sczarni’s faction mission from 5-06 You Have What You Hold is directly linked to the mission from 5-02 The Wardstone Patrol, and there’s a similar link from 5-01 The Glass River Rescue and 5-07 Port Godless. Much like we’ve had linked scenarios in previous seasons, either in title like the Quest for Perfection series or the Glories of the Past series, or in story line like the Lissala arc from Season 4 or the Hao Jin Tapestry arc from Season 3, it looks like each faction links a bunch of scenarios together in a season-long story arc. However, the levels these are written at may cause you not to be able to play the entire series with one character. Unless you are exactly level 5, you won’t be able to play 5-04 The Stolen Heir right after playing 5-03 Hellknight’s Feast with a faction-appropriate character (either Andoran or Taldan). Like most year-long story lines in Pathfinder Society play, it is meant to be experienced by multiple characters all interacting with each other as thousands of agents spread all throughout the Inner Sea. This brings me to my first recommendation:
Recommendation 1: Pick a couple factions to focus on, and have all your characters be of those factions.
As an example of this, I decided to focus on the Grand Lodge and Taldor faction story lines this season. All of my characters are one of the two factions, and they are (mostly) spread out enough that no matter what tier the Taldor or Grand Lodge scenario is, I have an appropriate faction character to play. I’m not going to pretend that this was on purpose initially – this was really a side effect of having so many Taldan characters – but I’ve seen people try to jump through hoops with characters of so many different factions and trying to get them all through appropriate scenarios, and in my opinion it’s not worth it. Pick some factions and say that these are the story lines that I as a a player are going to focus on, and if I can get other faction missions to work out, then great! Otherwise, don’t be too worried.
Another change for factions in Season 5 is the fact that not every faction has a mission in every scenario. This helps cut away from the chaff faction missions that were only in the scenario because there had to be a faction mission in the scenario. And because there is less factions missions per scenario and the separation of faction and prestige (I’ll come to this later), completing the faction mission now earns you a boon on the chronicle sheet. However, the general culture of PFS says that farming for boons on the chronicle sheet is something to be discouraged. Not to say that it doesn’t happen (Riddlywipple says hi!) but that it shouldn’t be something that we promote. That plus the fact that early in the season it wasn’t clear which scenarios lined up with which faction means that a lot of people gained a negative attitude towards planning out which characters went with which scenarios. I think that this is the wrong attitude to take towards this behavior, which leads to my next recommendation:
Recommendation 2: Plan ahead for which scenarios are going to be played by which characters, especially in terms of factions.
In an organized play campaign, the GM isn’t going to make sure that the story is relevant to your character – it’s up to you to do that. If you want to participate in the Qadiran story line, you need to make sure that you have Qadiran characters play in the Qadiran scenarios. To help this, I’ve created a page on the website specifically for dealing with what Factions are related to what scenarios. This way you know before you sit down at a table with a Season 5 scenario which character you should be playing with. That being said, I know this is easier for those people with a stable of characters already as opposed to the new players who are just starting out. For new players, don’t worry too much. Focus on one faction for now, and as you keep playing and need to make more characters, you’ll see it become easier and easier as your time in the campaign grows.
Lastly, possibly the biggest change to come from Season 5 is the introduction of Secondary Success Conditions, completely divorcing factions from prestige. It’s such a big change, that they went back and retrofitted secondary success conditions to each of the scenarios from the previous missions. Now, your character earns fame solely from being a Pathfinder, which means that there is now a mechanical reason for your character to focus on being a Pathfinder. However, there has been a note that since these missions are not mentioned in the Venture-Captain briefing at the beginning of the scenario, they are harder to get. This leads to my third recommendation:
Recommendation 3: Lower your expectations for how often you are going to get that 2nd prestige point.
In previous seasons, it was repeated over and over again that you weren’t always supposed to get your 2nd prestige point 100% of the time, but for many players that was their reality. However, compared to previous seasons’ faction missions, secondary success conditions are harder. You have to look at the situation you find yourself in and ask “what would be the best thing for the Pathfinder Society in this situation?” You won’t always come up with the right answer, and that’s okay. If it was solely up to me, I wouldn’t have the 2nd prestige point for when I played 5-02 The Wardstone Patrol since my character wouldn’t have done the secondary success condition, and I only have 1 prestige for 5-04 The Stolen Heir since my character blatantly didn’t do the secondary success condition (and by the end of the scenario, was the only person who could do the SSC). You will occasionally fail, and that’s okay. Learn to accept that failure, and realize that as long as you stayed true to your character and you had fun, everything is all right. You don’t need every single advantage for your character to make him playable in Pathfinder Society.
Hopefully the previous wall of text gives you some ideas about how to look at the changes that has occurred to Pathfinder Society this season. As I said at the beginning, all of the recommendations are my opinions and you should critically analyze them before putting them into your mind. Please feel free to respond in the comments or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) What do you feel about the new changes? How have you changed playing Pathfinder Society since Season 5 came out?