The 800 lb. Gorilla – Pathfinder Society

The focus of today’s attention will be given to Pathfinder Society RPG. I promise, as always, that I will not sugar coat my comments and will be true to myself and to you, my readers.

I see lots of value in organized play that is run effectively and efficiently and I believe the folks over at Paizo have done a good job in this area. There are lots of Society games happening at regular intervals all over the country and the world for that matter. To me, the most important aspect of organized play is the coming together of gamers for fellowship and a common interest–the game. There are other companies out there try to get their organized play program up and running or trying to make them better. Paizo has set the bar pretty here. I look forward to a day when there are more organized play programs that are as prolific as Pathfinder Society.

Ok, now that I got the niceties out the way, I hate the domineering presence of Pathfinder Society on local gaming communities and especially the convention scene. Let me qualify my position with as much fact as personal opinion!

1. The popularity of Pathfinder is awesome, but more times than not gamers are drawn into Pathfinder to the exclusion of other RPGs. I know this is not the case for every person in every location, but I consistently find that many local gamers that play Pathfinder Society typically do not play a wide variety of other RPGs. Why is this? I think part of the problem is that the nature of Pathfinder and Pathfinder Society is such that the player is required to have such a level of depth into their characters that it takes a lot to keep them invested in the development of the character. Another reason players seem to be engrossed in this game is that the money that have to shell out to get the books. God knows Paizo loves to flood the market with product. I wonder if they are working from the same play book at Wizards if the Coast?

2. Pathfinder Society games at conventions are very prevalent, but there is a cost associated with having these games at conventions. More than a year ago, Paizo decreed that all Society slots at conventions had to be 5 hours in length to receive official support from them. This decision pissed off many convention directors, myself being one of them. If you didn’t know, most conventions run on a 4 hour block schedule and the Paizo change to Society scheduling forces conventions to bow down and accommodate the 800 lb. gorilla that looms large. Convention directors and schedulers are forced to either change the programming to 5 hour blocks or reduce the number of Society games to keep a balance within their own schedules.

I know an equal number of convention directors, from all over the country) that have gone one way or the other. Some have bowed down in an attempt to get or keep offiial Society support (boons and swag), but require the players to suffer by having to start Society session earlier than other sessions to keep things lined up or even running them later into the wee hours of the night for the same reason. The GM’s suffer as well. I have witnessed Society GMs running games for 15 hours straight. This is due to several factors such as, a shortage of Society GMs, GM compensation programs (GMs love to get their registrations comped), trying to maintain a high number of Society games to get the swag and boons or some other factor.

3. Locally, Society play is not well thought of except by the handful of players in my area. The only local game club has a dedicated society group that numbers about 10 or 12 players and three of them are also GMs. No local stores promote Society play and for good reason! One doesn’t have the space, one can’t get enough of an interested crowd for it to form into anything with substance and the last store and the largest by far, appears to not want to promote Society play. From casual water cooler conversations, I get the sense that to bring in official society play events, with enough GMs to run multiple tables and make it worth the store’s time, there is a price that must be paid. The price isn’t monetary, but one of free advertisement for an out of the area convention that the store may not want to promote. Officially I have no idea if the store supports said convention or not.  I will leave it at that….

From what I have personally seen and from the numerous convention directors I speak to on a regular basis, Paizo is pressing hard to gain more ground for Society play, which is both good and bad. Good that it gets gamers playing a game they are enjoying, but bad in the sense that dedicated society players tend to (from my observations) not play much else in the way of RPGs. Paizo, may, in the long run push away the very people they need for their organized play program to be continually successful, the convention organizers. There could also be a domino effect on the players as well; only time will tell how this will resolve itself. 

My official position is: There are better RPGs to spend my time playing and my money. Paizo will not be getting my time or my money!

~ Modoc


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Mata says:

    hmm… I think I am right about 60/40 on this one. Pathfinder society is a huge entity and dwarfs smaller ones but people do enjoy the hell out of it. Locally the group is quite strong and has the numbers. There are a ton of non PFS PF games that are played though. They do have a plethora of books but their quality is always high in my opinion and the local guys love it. As usual the GM’s own all the books and the players own a smattering of them. Most of our groups are established and they *pool* their collection so each player or GM doesnt have to buy everything. Paizo is a business. If it were me, I would put out as much as the market would bear. Granted I am self employed in the food industry so volume is a something I am always reaching for more and more. Granted your situation sounds different.


  2. modoc31 says:

    Chris, you make some great points. Pathfinder as a system is good, though it is not for me. Locally there are lots of non-PFS games that played at the local stores and in private homes. What I dislike about society play and in same ways Pathfinder as a whole is the total envelopement by the the players. I see many times that the players tend to snub their Norse at other RPGs because they are not Pathfinder or society. I fully appreciate that we all have a favorite “go to” system, but to not play or even try other games seems counter productive to the hobby as a whole.

    With regard to market saturation, the market stills bears quite a bit from Piazo. Ever notice there foot print they have in the stores rivals that of D&D?


  3. shane00mail says:

    I have two opinions on the topic. First due in a large part because of Paizo the genre of tabletop organized play is in the best shape it has ever been in since the hay day of the RPGA. Overall that is a good thing for the industry as a whole. Ultimately it has set the industry bar very high for any future OP game system. On that note Shinetar from Savage Worlds is making an interesting push at a online style of play where everything everyone who takes part on their forums becomes setting cannon.
    On to my second point; from a convention direction standpoint. The recruitment of PFS GM’s is painful in some regaurd. In recent years (the last two) Paizo has increased the level of commitment in floorspace and games run to get GM boons, and extended game sessions to 5 hour blocks. As a con director of a smaller convention. being informed to get GM’s you have run at least 20 five hour sessions. For a smaller con this is a huge amount of floorspace and time commitment. Five hour sessions cripples the diversity of games available to your attendees. half of your convention are now arriving to game an hour or so earlier in the morning and leaving late to lunch or bed. Add to that now most your PFS players are out of sink with all the other con events traditionally set in four hour blocks. And ill just gloss over GM fatigue from five hour sessions. So from a con who focuses on diversity at my event Paizo’s current model is greatly annoying.
    As a business i don’t take issue with the Pandora’s box of content, it has become the standard of any successful RPG ever since the dawn of the d20 era. And a large number of these books are third party books. Or smallish 10 buck splat books.


  4. I like the insights and now I know more about Society than I did from reading. PF does seem to have an all-consuming vibe to it. But I’ve also seen the same thing with people who play 3.X, something about the system design perhaps? PF is nice but I enjoy playing more and varied systems as well.


  5. Chris Mata says: you getting some traction of sorts over on Reddit.


  6. modoc31 says:

    Thanks for all the comments! I appreciate other’s opinions and insight. I read some the reddit comments and while some seem to have missed the meaning of my post others were spot on. Some are just upset because they think I bashed their holy game.

    I do want to be clear, Pathfinder as a game and system is NOT bad and I used to play it quite regularly. What I really dislike is the strangle hold PFS places on some conventions. The one I ran was affected by the stranglehold. Though we did have some PFS, we limited what we offered. I will admit the strangle hold may have more to do with the Venture captain (a whole other topic) than with PFS itself, but none the less, the venture captain represents PFS and Paizo. Therefore, they are one and the same. Bottom line from me, the 5 hour time slots do impact convention scheduling in a negative way.

    With regards to local (Charleston, SC) players, those that play PFS do indeed play very few other RPGs. In fact it is so few that when GMs try to introduce other RPGs systems at the local game club or even at the local games stores, they gain little traction and it is rare to see any known PFS players come out to play something different.


  7. Lets just call the kettle black… it’s a cult.

    Pathfinder is currently the top game and lots of people are playing it. Go back 30-35 years and D&D was king. In both time periods there were many alternative games to play but most people stuck to what they know and went with what was popular. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus on one game and disregard the others especially when it’s a favorite. In time, tastes will change and Pathfinder players will seek something new or old and out of print.

    “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.” – King Osric (Conan the Barbarian 1982)

    But for right now Pathfinder is mega popular and gaming store are going to have more product to support it. Gaming stores are business and need to make money. Unfortunately not much money is made from RPGs. A associate of mine who used to work for White Wolf back in their hay day once said “If you want to have a million dollars in the roleplaying industry start with two million.” or my other favorite quote from DM Mike from the Save or Die Podcast “Yes you too can make hundreds of dollars a year in RPGs” Frankly I’m just glad local game stores offer any RPGs even if it’s a small section sandwiched between board games and card games.

    The best way to tempt a Pathfinder player to another game is to give them something very different. If you try another sword and board you’re going to have a hard time getting them to convert. Introduce them to a completely different concept in gaming like Call of Cthulhu. Instead of attacking the monster the point is to not encounter or run away if you do. It will show them that not all RPGs are centered around murder hobos. I’m pretty sure I influenced a group of young Pathfinder players at the last StormCon. I introduced them to Call of Cthulhu and gave them an experience unlike anything they were familiar with. After the session was over they were very interested in finding a local CoC game to join.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:


      Thanks for the thoughtful comments! You are correct that store have to make money and Pathfinder, like Magic the Gathering are money makers for stores. Like you, I try to tempt these players with other systems so that they can see there is so much more out there, but conventions are a hard nut to crack. Organize play, whether it is PFS or some other, draw a dedicated fan base and with that draw comes tunnel vision. Most will go to play that one particular game system and not have time to try anything else.

      PFS has very specific rules when it comes to organizing PFS sessions, especially at conventions. For example, the standard time slot structure is set at four hours. PFS requires five-hour time slots. That criteria alone prohibits players from playing much else.

      Again, thank you for the comments.

      ~ Modoc


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.