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Each character in Pathfinder Online is the sum of its experiences in-game. All the characters start from the same baseline, and then over time they change as they accomplish mighty deeds and interact with one another.
Your character has six basic attribute scores - the same attributes you're familiar with from the tabletop game. They define how strong, fast, clever, perceptive, healthy and persuasive the character is. Over time, as your character gains experience and learns new abilities, their attribute scores will change.
Characters gain skills through a process of real-time XP accumulation. Active characters gain XP regardless of how much you play or what you do while you play. There's no difference in XP accumulation between the casual player who logs in for a few hours on the weekend and the hardcore grinder who plays every spare minute of every day.
Skills have ranks. The first rank of a skill doesn't take much XP to learn - perhaps just a few minutes or hours' worth. Each rank of a skill is progressively more expensive. The highest ranks of skills can take months' worth of XP to train.
Just training a rank of a skill doesn't actually improve the character. Skills are all prerequisites for character abilities - and there may be other requirements a character has to meet before they can gain a character ability, not just having the necessary skill ranks. There are many kinds of abilities that a character can gain. Some abilities improve the character's attributes. Some let them use various pieces of gear - weapons, armor, adventuring kit, etc. Some improve or unlock attacks and defensive moves. Some let them harvest new resources or craft new items.
The advantages a character gets from training a skill and learning more advanced character abilities decrease with each rank. This creates a shallow power curve. The characters that have trained the highest ranks of a skill don't gain an overwhelming advantage over those who have trained just the first few ranks.
Older characters who have accumulated and used a lot of XP aren't necessarily more powerful than newer, less experienced characters. Instead they're more flexible, able to perform well in a variety of roles. Newer characters tend to specialize and concentrate their training and character abilities, whereas older characters will have reached the limits they can advance in their first specializations and begun to broaden their capabilities.
The tabletop game focuses on classes. Because the online game is a superset of the tabletop experience - characters will do many more things than they typically do in the tabletop game - we wanted to capture the flavor of the class system while still allowing characters to pursue many different ability specializations.
We still group many abilities by categories familiar to anyone who has played the tabletop game. There are collections of abilities that mimic the class features of fighters, wizards, rogues, clerics and alchemists - and eventually we'll do the same for all the other base classes in the core Pathfinder roleplaying game book.
Remember that characters in Pathfinder Online do many things that the adventuring heroes of the tabletop game rarely if ever do. The online characters harvest resources, craft many kinds of items, transport goods from place to place, work as guards, spies, diplomats and soldiers, and become bandits, generals and spymasters.
There are two kinds of harvesting in the game. Individuals can use harvesting tools on resource nodes they detect in the environment - pretty classic "whack a rock with a hammer" style harvesting that you may have used in many Theme Park games like World of Warcraft.
The other kind of harvesting requires characters to construct Holdings and Outposts. These are persistent structures in the game and are available in all kinds and levels of complexity. Outposts are linked to natural resources and produce a steady stream of some kinds of resources needed in bulk - like wood or ore - to the Holdings. Getting together the materials needed to craft these buildings, place them, and then defend them is central to controlling territory and requires a very organized effort.
With the exception of some beginner gear and some consumables and vanity items from the cash shop, every item in the game is crafted by player characters.
Crafting is handled via batch jobs similar to the system used in EVE Online. You assemble all the necessary materials at a specific crafting location, load them into a job, pay a fee, and are given a delivery date when the batch will be complete. Of course over time we can imagine many ways to make this process more complex and to permit lots of variation and customization - Crowdforging is a crucial part of determining these plans!
Because player characters create most of the items they and others need, they also require a way to distribute them and be compensated for doing the work to harvest resources and craft stuff. Settlements can operate auction houses, where supply and demand send price signals to the crafting community. Each market operates independent of the others so there are arbitrage opportunities in buying low in one Settlement and selling high in another. Getting a load of valuable cargo from place to place is of course part of the fun.
All characters in Pathfinder Online are members of social structures. A a minimum, they are members by default of an NPC Settlement - one of the starting towns that provide a base of operations for new characters and those who choose not to become affiliated with a player-run Settlement.
Much of what makes the game interesting arises from the actions of large groups of characters working together to accomplish some meaningful objective. Pathfinder Online focuses on the "MM" part of "MMO" - "massively multiplayer".
Parties are ad hoc, simple groups of characters that are assembled to work together on a short-term basis. You might assemble a party to take on a moderately tough encounter against monsters in the wilderness, or to guard a caravan moving between points on the map, or to fight some bandits or outlaws. Parties in Pathfinder Online work like the party mechanics you've experienced in most MMOs.
Companies are a more complicated system than parties. Companies are persistent - they continue to exist even if all the characters in them are logged off. They also have shared vaults for storing communal gear and crafting materials.
Companies are the center of the Holding and Outpost system. Outposts are persistent structures that you can build in the wilderness that tap a nearby natural resource, such as a small lumber mill or an ore processing structure. Outposts can be destroyed and raided by hostile forces so you need to defend them as well as operate them.
Outposts are connected to Holdings, such as an Inn, a Watchtower, or a similar large persistent structure. These are also constructed and defended by Companies, and are used to claim a hex before placing Outposts.
Some Companies become Chartered. A player-run Settlement can issue a Charter to a Company, and the Charter will provide some mutual benefits between the two organizations.
The centerpiece of the game design is the Settlement. Settlements are both a place - they are permanent collections of structures - and a social grouping of characters. Being a "member of a Settlement" means that you are a part of the Settlement's ownership and management. A character might be physically within the walls of a Settlement, and might even have storage there and be operating out of the Settlement, but the character is not a "member of the Settlement" unless that character is actually a part of the social structure system.
A character is really a combination of the experiences of the character as reflected by trained skills and learned character abilities, and their Settlement. The structures in the character's Settlement reflect the abilities the character can use, and the skills they can train. If a character leaves a Settlement and joins another, they may find that some abilities they used to have access to are unavailable, and new abilities that they couldn't previously use become unlocked.
Settlements have structures that support the in-game economy, like auction houses and crafting facilities. They also have Taverns where characters can gather to heal more quickly and engage in roleplaying and camaraderie. NPCs appear in Settlements and ask for help - creating opportunities to earn treasure and learn more about the lore of Pathfinder Online.
In many ways, the game is driven by the Settlements. There are only limited numbers of places Settlements can be built, so the struggle to control territory, to build and defend Settlements, is the primary source of conflict between characters. As more players join the game, we'll add new territory to the edge of the map, so there will always be a frontier where a new group, or a group that has suffered a catastrophic setback, can go to seek new opportunities.
Settlements can have hundreds of characters as members. They can organize themselves in many different ways from dictatorships to pure democracies. They can set certain policies and tax rates. They can decide how to allocate various economic resources, and assign roles and responsibilities to characters who will act as managers of those resources. Settlements can also have relationships with other Settlements and with Companies, and have the ability to establish certain laws within the territories they control.
Settlements can form alliances with other Settlements, allowing them to work together to more easily control larger amounts of territory than a single Settlement can control on its own. Alliances can have thousands of members - the members of all the constituent Settlements. Competing Alliances struggle with each other for control of vast swathes of territory, with their interactions becoming the legendary stories of Pathfinder Online.
One of the most controversial parts of the game design for Pathfinder Online is the presence of widespread (but not unlimited) player vs. player combat.
We believe that PvP is a crucial component of the sandbox experience. Our game is predicated on the objective of maximizing meaningful human interaction and there is no experience more meaningful and more interactive than characters fighting each other. Combat between characters gives value and depth to every game system and drives the economy, the battle for territory and the objective of becoming a more powerful and versatile character. Human opponents make the game feel real in ways AI opponents never can. Remember that there is only one server for Pathfinder Online so everyone shares the same game space. There is no "PvE only" version of the game.
In most areas of the game world your character can be attacked by other characters. This system is not optional. Some players are very concerned that this kind of system leads inexorably to what we call a "murder simulator" - a game that degenerates into endless ganking, griefing, and harassment that ruins the experience for everyone.
Our team is committed to the idea that we can re-introduce PvP as a meaningful part of the ways players interact without allowing the game to degenerate in that fashion.
We don't believe there's a magic bullet that solves all the problems with PvP with one shot. Rather we think the solution is a layered approach, ranging from in-game mechanical effects that impact characters who behave badly, to out-of-game moderation activities by our team to identify and reform or remove players who persist in being toxic to the community.
Our commitment to you is that we will work continuously on these aspects of the game to make them fun, make them sustainable, and to fight the tendencies that have ruined PvP in many previous MMOs. We recognize there are dangers and we're prepared to do everything in our power to resist them.
Not all territory in the game permits PvP. There will be a continuum of security established around NPC Settlements and along certain roads. Around the main NPC Settlement, Thornkeep, PvP is disabled, and in other NPC settlements it is only allowed when sanctioned by official feuds and related mechanics.
Characters can gain various flags that relate to PvP that are automatically assigned based on character actions, like attacking a neutral or friendly target. These flags make it possible for other players to swiftly respond to unwanted acts of criminal aggression, and to set up patrols to detect and hunt down those characters who transgress against others.
The Reputation system is a major addition to the game system we inherited from the tabletop. Reputation adds a new dimension to the way the game tracks the behavior of characters. As your characters engage with others in PvP, your Reputation will change. Attacking and killing neutral or friendly opponents will have significant impacts on your Reputation. The lower your Reputation, the less desirable you will be as a member of a Settlement. You may even find that your fellow members would rather kick you out than tolerate your misbehavior.