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Are You Experienced?

Hello everyone! We're back with another blog and a quick update on our progress!

Last week we added a new goblin to the team, Darran Hurlbut, who joins us as a concept artist. The role of the concept artist is to create 2D drawings that the 3D artists use as reference for the many objects, characters, monsters and environmental assets that they need to create. Darran is going to help us ensure we have a consistent look to our in-game assets and increase the tempo of the art team's production.

We're also interviewing programmers for the engineering team. We're looking for someone with just the right mix of experience with online games, great programming aptitude and a can-do attitude. If you or someone you know has worked as a game programmer, has mastered C/C++/C#, and most especially if they've used Unity, you can apply for the job on our career site!

The game design team has been working on focusing our initial character development concepts. The following updates and replaces the concepts we talked about in the blog entitled Your Pathfinder Online Character.

Character Advancement

Our current concept of the character advancement system is similar to that of EVE Online, but adjusts some of the process to be more familiar to fantasy games.

Every hour your character is able to advance (via being subscribed or otherwise buying advancement time), you gain Experience Points (XP) whether or not you're logged into the game. These accumulate at a fixed rate throughout your career (currently at a rate of 100 XP per hour, but that may change as we get deeper into pricing). After 24 hours in the game, you'll have earned 2,400 XP; after 10 days you'll have 24,000; and so on.

Spending XP

In order to spend this XP to advance your character, you'll need three things:

  • Most importantly, you need to find a settlement with a training hall that has the feat you want to buy. The NPC settlements will have a lot of the basic feats, particularly for starting characters, but you'll need to find player-created settlements with advanced training halls to get many feats. Training halls are generally role or skill-based (e.g., Fighter College, Blacksmith, etc.). They will be able to train specific feats for that role or skill and generic feats that are useful to that role (e.g., you need to go to a Fighter College to learn Weapon Specialization and other Fighter-specific feats, but you can buy additional Hit Points and generic melee attacks at the Fighter College, Barbarian Lodge, Paladin Annex, etc.).
  • In addition to an XP cost, each feat may also have prerequisites. This will always include lower-level versions of the feat (e.g., you can't buy Blacksmith 3 without Blacksmith 2), and will almost always include some kind of achievement/merit badge. This can include ability score requirements (see below). You can't buy the feat without the prerequisites, so even if you don't play your advancing character for a while and come back to a huge pile of XP, you'll have to go out and earn achievements that unlock the feats you want.
  • Finally, each feat may have a cost in coin that's set by the settlement that owns the training hall. Like any other fee, such as using their markets, settlements have a lot of control over pricing for these feats and can charge a different rate for guests or members (and likely more fine-tuned control for different types of members).The fee is important, because each hall offers a limited amount of training (there are only so many instructors to go around), and the settlement probably doesn't want guests swooping in to take all the training from a building they made to support their members. Settlements can also choose to only allow certain types of characters to use the training facility, such as only settlement members of a certain rank or only characters who are members of the same player nation. Thus allied settlements can trade training access to each other as part of being a player nation. Training slots for different feats recover over time, and settlements may be able to increase the speed of this generation as well as the depth of feats available via building upgrades. A portion of money spent on training goes to the settlement coffers to pay for settlement upkeep.

If there's available training, you meet the prerequisites, and you can afford it, purchase immediately deducts the XP and coin and awards you the feat (though we might throw in a little fade-to-black to indicate that you're going into the back and having a quick training montage).

What this means practically for your advancement is:

  • You'll never have to worry about losing progression because you were away from the game and didn't set a new skill to train.
  • You will need to go out and get the appropriate achievements/badges (we're not sure what name we'll settle on calling them) before you can buy a lot of feats.
  • Feats that are generic, low-level, and otherwise common will be easy to find and train. As they increase in focus, level, and rarity, you'll have to travel to settlements that have the requisite training halls with training in stock or convince your own settlement to build what you need. Either way, it will probably be much cheaper to train as a member than to rely on training as a guest. Some settlements may gain an advantage purely because they've followed an upgrade path that unlocks feats that no other settlement can train yet.

Ability Scores

Ability scores do not directly affect many game systems the way they do in tabletop: having a high Strength won't add directly to your melee attacks, for example. However, ability scores play an important role in your training and advancement.

Previously, we had conceived of ability scores as a mechanism for decreasing the training time for linked traits (by lowering the XP cost). However, we worried that this would require too much up-front planning. If ability scores were set at character creation, you would be permanently making a choice as to what types of traits you'd pursue before you even knew what you'd find fun. If they could shift during play, there would be optimal paths for training order to match purchases most effectively to high ability scores.

So we've fairly dramatically adjusted our expectations for ability scores, while keeping them primarily about influencing your trait selection. Specifically:

  • When you make a new character, you start with 10 in all ability scores (modified up or down by racial advantages).
  • Every feat is linked to one ability score and provides a fractional increase to that score when purchased (potentially of a variable amount based on the XP cost of the feat and other factors).
  • When you get enough fractional increases, your ability score goes up by 1 permanently.
  • A minimum ability score value can serve as a prerequisite for purchasing feats.

It will be common for "higher level" traits to require a fairly high ability score to indicate that you're not just skipping ahead of the power curve (and this makes racial bonuses useful, because they mean you can skip some of the power curve). A single progression path will rarely be enough to keep ahead of ability score requirements, so you'll find yourself wanting to diversify. For example, a player trying to get Fighter 8 may need Strength 17, but all of the otherwise required Fighter feats only get her to Strength 15, so she'll need to diversify and pick up 2 more points worth of Strength feats of her choice to meet the requirement (this could be more attacks, more armor, or just skills that use Strength).

Additionally, we may use the ability score as a minimum number for certain systems, but you will generally be able to overcome it with other purchases. For example, each skill's total bonus (which goes up to 300) has a minimum of the relevant ability score (e.g., if you've put no ranks in Stealth, your Stealth total will still be equal to Dexterity). This allows us to do comparisons where necessary without risking a divide-by-zero problem if you haven't purchased something.

Commoners, Experts, and Aristocrats

We've talked a lot about the roles of the game that are derived from Pathfinder's adventuring classes, but we haven't yet mentioned that the same idea also extends to reusing some of the NPC classes from the tabletop game. Specifically, players may pursue three additional roles:

  • Commoners focus on gathering and harvesting skills.
  • Experts focus on refining and crafting skills.
  • Aristocrats focus on leadership and social skills.

Each of these roles requires improving multiple skills, and grants access to bonuses that are unavailable to players who only focus on a small number of skills in addition to their combat feats. Increasing these roles is a great idea for players that want to focus on acquiring resources, manufacturing goods, or leading settlements and armies. Particularly for players that don't engage in a lot of combat, raising these roles provides a structured way to improve at other parts of the game.

All players will start out as Level 1 Commoners, even before choosing to follow another role, and can slot some feats that improve gathering and harvesting. Thus, the newest players should be able to begin their careers and build up a monetary stake by harvesting resources even if they're not quite ready to mix it up in combat yet.

Playing Catch-Up

Because advancement is tied to time, new players might imagine that they'll never catch up to anyone who has been playing longer. However, our system has several elements that help to mitigate this concern:

  • The overall power curve in Pathfinder Online is relatively flat. We expect characters to have an overall power range broadly similar to that reached between 5th and 10th level in the tabletop Pathfinder RPG. Unlike traditional MMOs, a relatively small level difference will not result in you doing inconsequential damage to a target, a completely new character won't be instantly flattened by a veteran, and a character that's only a few weeks old will be able to meaningfully contribute to a group.
  • The speed of progression on a particular character path is not a constant—successive levels require increasing amounts of training time to achieve. You'll see notable advancement in the first hour—advancing a saving throw, skill, hit points, or attack bonus—and you may reach 3rd level within the first day. Reaching 8th level, though, may take a month, and reaching 16th level may take a year. So while a character that started on a particular path before another character will always be ahead, the difference in capabilities between two otherwise identical characters that started at different times will narrow over time.
  • As characters accumulate XP, players will be able to decide if they want to specialize—and thus begin catching up to the most capable characters in that speciality—or be more broadly based and have several areas of expertise that advance collectively more slowly.
  • Even characters dedicating all their progression to a given path will eventually reach a plateau after about two and a half years. At this point, they will likely choose to round out their skill sets, possibly pursuing another role entirely, but this means that they'll be gaining more options rather than more power.

So after an initial period of "being the new character," starting at the beginning of character advancement, you'll find that you'll soon close any perceived power gap with older characters. Late starters will eventually be just as powerful, though not as versatile, as those who have subscribed since day one.

The Long-Term Plan

One of the very best features of this time-based character advancement system is that it allows us to plan to deliver content on a fairly lengthy schedule. In many theme park MMOs, players will min-max their play so that they advance rapidly through the character power system, reaching maximum potential power within weeks or months. To support that, the game has to have almost all its systems implemented at launch.

Our time-based system means that no character can advance past a certain point in real time regardless of how much game time the player invests. We can thus build our design plan around a much lengthier calendar than a typical theme park MMO. We'll be able to ensure that game systems get lots of testing at each stage of the character power arc before the next stages come available. And we can also ensure that we don't have max-power characters running around in the game for a very, very long time, which promotes our ideas about long-term focus and commitment to the game.

Pathfinder Online is going to be a game where you're engaged for years, not months.

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.