Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, Alex is going to be talking about his experience at the 8th annual PaizoCon.
It was a few long flights and a few fast days, but PaizoCon is over. PaizoCon 8 is near and dear to my heart because it was the first PaizoCon that I ever attended. Let me preface by saying this: PaizoCon 8 was FANTASTIC and if you’ve ever debated about whether or not you wanted to go to the show, the answer is, “Yes, oh gods yes!” I am 100% hooked for life, and as long as I have the means I will likely attend. As many of you know, this was also my first-ever convention. I’m planning on going to GenCon this year as well, so when that comes to pass I want to do a compare and contrast piece between the two.
When PaizoCon happens and you’re not there, most of what you hear is the PaizoCon preview banquet; the special events where all the cool products that Paizo is releasing in the next few months are revealed. Because I’m sure that you know most of what’s going on now, I’m not going to dwell on the releases in this article. (Though I WILL say that as someone who sat in on the banquet, many community members are wrong about the next two Adventure Paths; Hell’s Vengeance doesn’t ‘undo’ Hell’s Rebels as their events are set to happen at the same time; events of Hell’s Vengeance affect Hell’s Rebels and vice versa.) Instead, I want to dwell on the things that you DON’T hear about from the conventions, or maybe the things that you DO hear about but only in the form of a sentence or two. Get ready, folks, because this is Alex’s Story Article!
This year’s PaizoCon venue, the Doubletree by Hilton, was spectacular. There were no windows in the Doubletree, only glass walls, and the Doubletree was designed to take advantage of that fact. Every little space outside of the hotel was filled with exotic grasses and beautiful flowers and massive trees; overall, it felt like you were hanging out in Brazil or Hawaii or someplace else while still being inside an air conditioned building. There was a lovely restaurant and bar practically next door to the PaizoCon hub and no one wanted for space. I’ve never been to any other PaizoCon, but everyone who attended assured me that the Doubletree was the most comfortable PaizoCon that they had ever experienced. Despite being on the expensive side, the hotel’s food was fantastic, and although I likely spent more money than most on my food budget because I primarily ate from the hotel restaurant, I’m willing to bet that one of the reasons I avoided the dreaded ConCrude like I did was as a result from the good meals that I had.
Doubletree was very accommodating. They had water stands set up outside virtually all of their convention rooms, even the PFS ballroom. The staff was quick and efficient (although sometimes you could tell that their service wasn’t accustom to the volume of traffic that PaizoCon brought, such as in the restaurant) and their policy was, “Unlimited cookies for everyone.” You don’t get much better then that.
AFK Elixirs and Eatery
I’m only going to touch on this famous location briefly because I was only there for a few hours. If you follow Owen K.C. Stephens on Facebook, you probably know what the AFK Elixirs and Eatery is, and as a matter of fact, we actually asked nearly all of the staff if they knew Owen and their immediately response was, “Oh, you mean ‘Owen and LJ’ Owen?” If you don’t follow Owen, then here’s the run-down: AFK is a nerdy tavern. Plain and simple. They played Legend of Zelda and Lord of the Rings as their mood music. They served dishes like, “The Roaring Dragon Steak.” Board games and card games lined the walls. It was the absolute best place to be if you were a nerd, so it only makes sense that we had the PaizoCon meet and greet there. I wasn’t super social at the AFK as I chose to spend most of my time catching up with my friend Dario Nardi, but I can assure you without question that this is a place that you ABSOLUTELY need to see when you go to PaizoCon.
Where to start about PaizoCon’s Organized Play? Overall, it was fantastic. Whenever you played in a game at PaizoCon, you earned a token. Every two tokens that you earned got you a roll to determine what prizes you got. Most people earned PFS boons, but you had a shot to win books, including Pathfinder Unchained. I walked away with a nice stack of boons in part because I played twice, but also because I met some awesome people named Ale and D who were Card Guild players and thus had no need for their pile of boons, so they were very kind and gave them to me.
Pathfinder Society itself doesn’t change much from location to location, but the big pool meant that you met all types. I played with great roleplayers and fantastic strategists. I met veterans and newbies, great GMs and GMs who are still a bit rough around the edges. I even got the privilege of playing with Ryan Costello in one game and the Venture Captain of New Zealand (a former Philly Lodger) at another. One thing that I took away is that the PFS crew DEFINETELY overscheduled the CORE tables. Not only where there not enough CORE players to play in the 7-11 events, but overall I just didn’t see enough people who were interested in CORE enough to commit to it. 3 tables of Normal to every Core table is likely a better number, as I know there are people who enjoy that style of play. That number just isn’t 50% yet, and if I’m being truly honest I don’t think that the number will ever be 50%.
Gosh, where do I start talking about the Con Specials? First, no spoilers! Second, WOW! I was absolutely blown away by them, especially Siege of Serpents. Basically, EVERY table in the PFS hall played the same scenario at the same time and worked together to complete objectives. It was fantastic, and author Jim Groves should be besides himself with pride; my experience is limited, but it was the most fun scenario that I have ever played in Pathfinder Society, and I would seriously consider hoarding all of my GM stars just to replay that one over and over again, so long as it was played with dozens of other tables in a Convention Hall. Its sort of funny, because one of the more notable Pathfinder Society players, Thursty, actually messaged Jim telling him that the scenario was horrible and everyone hated it, and made him sit there thinking that for HOURS until finally someone (I think it was me) posted about how amazing the scenario was! THANKS THURSTY. The other special, Serpent’s Rise, was also very fun, but that’s the sort of special that you could run with your buddies at home and get the same effect. In that special, you have to play Aspis agents who are going to be pivotal NPCs in Season 7, as well as get a small brief at the higher-ups in the Aspis Consortium’s hierarchy. I chose to play the Unchained Rogue, and let me tell you, I had SO much fun playing that class that I immediately decided to rebuild my Emerald Spire character to be an Unchained Rogue after playing this scenario, partially because my archetype combination didn’t work out as several readers pointed out but mostly because of how freaking fun the class was at Level 7, even when unoptimized for standard play.
Overall, PFS at PaizoCon was an excellent experience. Many thanks to John Compton, Mike Brock, and the legion of GMs and volunteers that make PFS happen so smoothly!
I signed up for a LOT of seminars this PaizoCon. Among them, I was in the RPG Design seminar, Aunty Lisa’s Story Hours, Secrets of Golarion, What’s New At Legendary Games, Intro to Occultism, Occult Adventures Q&A, and of course, Know Direction Live.
All of the seminars that I went to were excellent. Many of the seminars had information that I already knew, given that I practically stalk the Big 10 Paizo Employees on social media and Paizo.com in order to stay informed and make logical predictions about how Pathfinder and Paizo is moving and evolving (and throughout the seminar, it became clear that I was quite accurate in some cases). That said, despite my familiarity with all of the topics that I went to, I still managed to hear great ideas and new information, and I especially appreciated the seminars that gave me a chance to interact with the panel. In the Design seminar, for instance (and I’m allowed to talk about this because the Design seminar didn’t have an NDA this year), I thoroughly enjoyed that when I offered up the suggestion of a class feature tentatively called, “dead inside,” for the vigilante, Stephen Radney-MacFarland promptly responded with a quip, “Oh, I know that class feature! I’ve had it for years!”
Despite being in a room with 25+ people for most seminars, this level of fun intimacy is what made all of the seminars memorable. Even if it was your first time at PaizoCon, it sort of felt like you had lived at the con for your whole life; even if Con goers didn’t know one another, we were like a big, extended family.
The Preview Banquet
I know that this is what you guys know the most about, so rather than talk about products, I’m going to talk about what it was like to BE at the banquet. I’ve never seen anyone talk about the banquet’s food, so let me assure you that it was GLORIOUS. I enjoyed my meal immensely, even more so when Dario and I sat down with a fellow that I had met early named Thomas LeBanc who was kind enough to buy me a drink earlier in the afternoon. Dario and I sat down at the table after he ushered us over and we were introduced to everyone. Now, every table is supposed to have at least one Paizo employee sitting there to try and show the company’s support to everyone. Our chair was empty, so I figured that our employee was out getting food.
“Do you know who’s sitting here, Alex?” Tom asked me?
“Nope,” I replied as I ate my meal.
“Its Jason Bulhman,” I nearly spat out my meal as he replied. I don’t have the words to express my excitement, but I sort of lost it. I sort of spazzed out, waving my arms about me, and squealed, both in a manner not unlike Kermit the Frog. Now, as Know Direction’s crunch guy you might expect that I pelted Jason with rules questions given this rare opportunity, but no, our table engaged in small chat. It was absolutely perfect.
The second PaizoCon Banquet moment that I feel like I need to share is the moment that Jason announced who the Iconic Kineticist. I had hopes from the moment I saw her; she was about as tall as a halfling or gnome, but her coloration and body structure was too normal to be a gnome and she lacked visible feet, which is an essential part of Wayne Reynold’s style for halflings. But I didn’t believe it until Jason uttered those magical words from his mouth, “Our iconic kineticist is a young girl.” After all of the blog articles I had written and messageboard posts that I had made, excitement overwhelmed me. My body wanted to jump up cheering in jubilation, which would have been a TERRIBLE idea. My brain only managed to get control of my lower half, however; if you watch Ryan’s recording of the banquet, you’ll probably see me right in front of Jason, raising my arms in excitement as soon as he makes this announcement. I don’t have the hubris to assume that my crusading about children in fantasy had anything to do with the creation of this character (I did message James Jacobs about it early on after Occult Adventures’ announcement and made several posts in various forums prior to that, however), but I honestly see the creation of this character as a positive step forward both for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and for fantasy tabletop gaming in general. Plus she has this adorable little owlbear plushie….
The final PaizoCon Banquet moment that I feel like I have to share is an obvious one: the moment where Ryan and Perram were announced as the 2015 Volunteers of the year. As Erik was building up to the reveal, I think I knew in the back of my head that he was going to do it, but I wasn’t 100% sure. But when he called Ryan up, I was excited but not surprised. After all, who deserved the reward more than the two of them? They’ve worked so hard since Ryan started the Know Direction Network to bring the community news, reviews, and interviews, and in the last year alone it seems like they work with Paizo’s publicity department to get someone on the show at least once a month. No one does more to help spread Paizo’s read than Ryan and Perram, and the applause that Ryan got was FANTASTIC. Ever the humble guy, Erik asks Ryan if he has any words for the community, and all he can say is, “Pathfinder is awesome!” That’s the sort of guy who deserves a big, shiny plaque, am I right?!
The PaizoCon Store
This is where I spent most of my time, actually. Paizo employees regularly came into the store to chat with one another or sign products for eager fans. I got to briefly interact with the likes of James Jacobs, James Sutter, Crystal Fraiser, Jason Bulhman, and Brand Hodge, as well as plenty of Paizo’s lesser-known stars. For me, hanging out in the store was a networking opportunity; all of the Paizo people were there, after all, and I just loved networking with people. I even got the chance to chat with ReaperBrian of Reaper Miniatures, all-star artist Jason Engle, and more.
In addition to schmoozing, I got a number of things signed at the PaizoCon store. Wolfgang Bauer of Kobold Press (who became a constant supply of conversation throughout the con) talked me into buying Deep Magic, which I got signed by as many of the authors who were at the con that I could find. I also got a Brain Collector miniature signed by Erik Mona, which was AWESOME. Speaking of Erik, I learned that one should never test his knowledge of Pathfinder product: On Sunday, I went up to him while he was situated at the signing booth and challenged him.
“Hey Erik, want to play a game?” I asked. He looked at me quizzically with a mix of confusion and disbelief, which I would later learn had been dubbed ‘the Mona look’ by several other Paizo employees. I challenged Mona to name one thing in the PaizoCon store that was $50 or less, and if I didn’t own it I would buy it and have him sign it. We agreed on giving him three chances to pick something and I kindly informed him that I had all of the Core Rulebook line products.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Mona said frankly. “I wasn’t going to choose one of them. I need to maximize this sale.” And so, Erik begins scanning the room intently, allowing all of Paizo’s products to fall under his scrutinizing gaze. First he eyes the miniatures cart, then the flip mats stand. His eyes quickly dart past the novels and skip over the Core Rulebook table, heading straight to the Campaign Setting line and Player Companion line cart for barely a moment before mentally dismissing them, his eyes settling on the Pathfinder Comic stand.
“Go over to the comic stand, grab one of those leather bags, and bring it here.” Erik said. I did as he asked and found the bag to be of high-quality, stamped with the Pathfinder Online brand. I searched for the tag, and upon finding nothing I returned to Erik.
“It has no price tag,” I explained.
“Bring it up to the register and check,” Erik suggested. I did just that, and when one of the warehouse employees told me the price, I bought it and returned to Erik Mona.
“How much was it?” he asked.
“Well,” I began, “I actually bought it, because you got a critical success on this choice, Erik. Against the $50 limit, this bag was $49.95.” Erik smiled a wereshark’s smile as he signed my new laptop bag, which is made all the funnier considering that I don’t even own a laptop.
My primary success objective for PaizoCon was getting my business card into the hands of as many Paizo employees as possible. I had read a post from Wes Schneider once where he said that giving a staff a member a business card was a smart move because it showed that you are serious enough to have business cards made. My business cards are awesome; they’re black and white with Kyr’shin, my kitsune cavalier, on the front and the Everyman Gaming, LLC logo on the back. I picked some rather choice information to share and made the front of the card holographic, because every designer and developer wants shiny loot, right?
I gave my card to a LOT of people, but I also had a mental checklist of people that I wanted to get my card to: Stephen Radney-MacFarland, John Compton, Adam Daigle, Linda Zayas-Palmer, Crystal Fraiser, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Owen K.C. Stephens, Mark Moreland, Liz Courts and Jason Bulhman. Basically, I wanted to make sure that everyone who doles out freelancing work or deals with the 3PP sector had my information. That said, I made it a habit to give my business card to virtually EVERYONE who wore the Paizo blue that I spoke with, as well as every 3PP freelancer and publisher at the Con. I wasn’t joking when I said that I came home with a good deal fewer business cards.
PaizoCon is an awesome place to find work. One great example happened on Thursday, when I was hanging out with Jason Nelson of Legendary Games. I was chatting with another Legendary Games writer about some of the problems that I had with the swashbuckler class and what I would do to fix them. Jason quickly intervened and said, “We’ve had a lot of people asking us to do swashbucklers after we did paladins, can you get me something by July?” Flabbergasted, I said sure, and then Jason ran home and put me on the “What’s New With Legendary Games” upcoming products reel. I had already been with Jason for a few months working on other products, but that’s the story of how I got the authorship rights to Legendary Classes: Swashbuckler.
But aside from all of the industry people, it was the fans I enjoyed interacting with the most. It felt like I couldn’t go a day without half a dozen people freezing whenever I spoke before turning to me and checking to see if I was the person I sounded like to them. Lots of people told me how much they enjoy the show or how they listen to it on their way to work every morning; overall, it was an AWESOME feeling because you don’t always get a sense of how many people you impact when you’re a podcaster. As I mentioned earlier, Private Sanctuary fan Thomas LeBanc was even kind enough to buy me my choice of a drink. (Although Jason Bulhman half-seriously banished me from his presence at the banquet when he found out that my drink of choice had been a pina colada!)
In all, PaizoCon 2015 was a serious of beautiful paradoxes; I scarcely got six hours of sleep a night, but I had never felt so relaxed before. I was a nervous wreck as I handed out business cards and tried to make small talk with people that I idolize, but the atmosphere with inviting and friendly, to the point where I spent a good ten minutes after the trivia contest literally bouncing around the room with Mark Seifter as we gushed over the cool factor of Iconic Kineticist together. It was a court, professional affair but at the same time I joined a trivia contest team named “Asmodeus’s Chamber pots,” and got to laugh with a great group of people as we got more and more out of hand with every passing round, giggling with delight as John Compton would make jokes such as, “It seems as though Asmodeus’s Chamberpot has picked up steam!” with each passing round. I bellowed with laughter as Cosmo destroyed party after party of players with the likes of the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Birdie, Grimace, and Ronald MacDonald, each possessing its own custom miniature courtesy of Reaper Miniatures. I nearly died laughing with the rest of the PaizoCon goers as I watched Mika Hawkins sprint away from Mark Moreland with an entire case of cookies meant for the Paizo employee wrap-up party. I applauded with everyone else as Ryan and Perram received their award, and I was spellbound with Lisa Stevens revealed the new trailer for Pathfinder online’s next EE patch.
Without a doubt, PaizoCon was and has been one of the best experiences of my life. I came home to Philadelphia Tuesday morning, unsure of whether or not I will dreaming. The convention is over. I’m writing this hardly more than 24 hours after it ended. My room is filled with the swag that I had won, bought, and was given from the convention. But sometimes I’m still not convinced that I didn’t make the whole thing up, because it was the most perfect week I have ever experienced.
That’s what the pictures and the product announcements don’t tell you.
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.