Pathfinder Society Organized Play
Announced in March 2008, Pathfinder Society Organized Play is Paizo Publishing's organized play organization. Similar to other shared-world campaigns such as Wizards of the Coast's Living Greyhawk, Pathfinder Society features two to three modules a month, run simultaneously throughout the world. Pathfinder Society Organized Play centers on the sprawling city of Absalom, where five factions engage in a shadow war for control of the city's politics and economy. As participants play, the outcome of their adventures, actions, and deeds affect events on a global scale, turning the tide of secret wars between some of Golarion's most powerful nations.
Pathfinder Society was originally led by veteran designer Nicolas Logue who accepted a full-time position on the Paizo staff to spearhead the operation, working in close conjunction with Joshua J. Frost, Paizo's Director of Sales & Marketing. Logue left the position in September 2008 to pursue a teaching career in England, and Frost took the helm of the campaign. Following Frost, Mike Brock took the helm of the leader of society play until he stepped down in late 2015. His successor, Tonya Woldridge, is the current Lead Organizer for Pathfinder Society. The Society also utilizes a vast array of volunteers throughout the world to market and run games in their local areas and at industry conventions.
Like other shared-world campaigns, the Pathfinder Society provides the opportunity to game at conventions and at local gaming stores, but also presents a third, unique option for those wishing to get involved. Home games will also be a vital part of the Society, allowing a much wider range of players throughout the world to participate, regardless of their proximity to conventions and retail stores.
One element unique to the Pathfinder Society organized play system is factions. Every faction has its own unique history, culture, style and specialty. Each has its own modus operandi in the ongoing struggle for control of Absalom, and each offers the Pathfinders in their service different boons. A player's choice of factions is as important as her choice of character class or race, defining character in the campaign and tying the Pathfinder to one particular nation's destiny.
The Society tracks and rewards the success or failure of a faction over the course of a season through a system of faction prestige points. How much renown a Pathfinder has in his or her respective faction determines the value of items he or she can purchase and the amount of free help their faction will offer for castings of spells and other assistance.
Factions initially available to players were Andoran, Cheliax, Osirion, Qadira, and Taldor, the five most powerful nations on the Inner Sea. At the beginning of Season 3, five additional factions were added: the Silver Crusade, the Shadow Lodge, the Grand Lodge, the Lantern Lodge, and the Sczarni.
During Season 4, it was announced that there was a chance that the least active factions available to players in Pathfinder Society would be eliminated from play. The factions being eliminated are Lantern Lodge and Shadow Lodge. As of August 14th, 2013 the Lantern Lodge and Shadow Lodge were no longer a valid faction for Pathfinder Society characters.
In Season 6, further refinement of the factions led to the combination of several "national factions" into a faction that represented an overall mindset rather than an actual nation or territory. This thinned the faction count down to a total of seven factions. The current factions are Dark Archive, Liberty's Edge, Scarab Sages, Silver Crusade, Grand Lodge, The Exchange. and Sovereign Court.
Season 0, which debuted at GenCon 2008, ran under the SRD 3.5 ruleset and officially ended on the eve of GenCon 2009. Pathfinder Society Organized Play converted to the Pathfinder RPG ruleset on August 13, 2009, at the start of Season 1. Season 0 was advertised from its very announcement as being the Society's "playtest season" and a number of rules and concepts of the OP system were tested and subsequently altered during the transition to Season 1. Most notable among these was the idea of faction competition, which was abandoned for fear of creating a sense of losing in four fifths of the society's members.
In addition to the first four Pathfinder Society Scenarios, Gen Con 2008 also featured a special preview of the third Pathfinder Adventure Path, Second Darkness, called Ascension of the Drow. In this massive kickoff event, over a hundred players vied for their noble house to gain control of the drow city of Deraktinus.
Season 0 contained a single interactive, held at PaizoCon 2009, called Grand Convocation. This event consisted of faction-specific encounters, individual challenges, site-based encounters, and a grand melee round-robin tournament. As with all interactives, however, the contents of this event are not considered canon in the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting.
Season 1 began on August 13, 2009 with the launch of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game at GenCon. All Season 0 characters were permitted a one-time conversion to the new rules based on guidelines in the Guide to Pathfinder Society Organized Play, which released version 2.0 several weeks earlier. Notable changes to the system of play included the addition of GM rewards for "eating" scenarios, less competition between factions, and the inclusion of numerous non-core, setting-specific mechanics for legal use in PFS. Season 1 also made legal the running and playing of PFS games online, either via play-by-post games or tabletop emulators.
Scenarios released over the course of Season 1 included the first linked adventures in the form of series such as The Devil We Know, telling a complete story arc over the course of several scenarios. Additionally, PCs which had reached level cap at 12th level were given their first chance to play in special capped scenarios.
GenCon 2009 saw not only the launch of the new season with the first four PFRPG scenarios, but a two-night interactive entitled Betrayal in Absalom organized by Tim Hitchcock and Adam Daigle. The event, also designed by Tim, sent teams of Pathfinders throughout the convention center to remote encounters as they attempted to piece together a shattered relic before a malevolent spirit used it to assassinate a member of the Decemvirate. The remote encounters were designed by members of the Werecabbages including Liz Courts, John Ling, Rob Manning, and Joshua Stevens.
Season 2: Year of the Shadow Lodge
Season 2 of Pathfinder Society play started at Gencon 2010 on August 5th, 2010 with the release of the first ever Pathfinder Special, 2-SP: Year of the Shadow Lodge. This season saw the Pathfinder Society work to figure out who and what the Shadow Lodge was, what their objectives were and how to bring them back into the fold of the Pathfinders.
Season 2 was the first season to release a Pathfinder Society Exclusive scenario. For the first year after the release of an Exclusive scenario, only 4 and 5 star GM's, Venture Officers, and Paizo Staff can run it for players. After the first year, the scenario is made into a public scenario for the new season. Season 2 offered 2-EX: The Midnight Mauler, released in January, 2011.
Finally, Season 2 brought a new mechanic to Pathfinder Society Organized Play, chase scenes. These interactives rely on skill, combat, and attribute checks to overcome challenges presented to players to advance them further into the scenario.
Season 3: Year of the Ruby Phoenix
Season 3 began at Gencon 2011 on August 4th, 2011 and ran from August 2011 to July 2012. For Gencon, Paizo released two different interactives that gave players the ability to participate in the Ruby Phoenix Tournament. The first interactive was the Season 3 special, 3-SP: Blood Under Absalom, where the Pathfinder Society attempted to earn their invitation into the Tournament. Players who did exceptionally well in this special, had the privilege of playing in the first tables ever ran of the module, The Ruby Phoenix Tournament. After great challenges and tests, the Pathfinder Society were victorious in the tournament. The events in the module play a pivotal role in the metaplot of the campaign's 3rd season.
Throughout Season 3, Pathfinders must work together to ensure that their hard-earned prize from the tournament does not fall into the clutches of a rival organization. Eventually, The Pathfinder Society finds out a terrible secret that could change Golarion forever.
At the start of this season, five new factions were introduced into the organized play campaign, including the Grand Lodge, the Lantern Lodge, the Shadow Lodge, the Sczarni, and the Silver Crusade.
Season 4: The Year of the Risen Rune
Season 4 of the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild campaign ran from August 2012 to July 2013. The season is referred to as the Year of the Risen Rune due to the season's prominent presence in Varisia and activities dealing with the mystic civilizations ruled by ancient wizard kings, or Runelords, that were lost to time. During this Season, the Cheliax Faction saw their faction head disappear and threatened to be killed. Through the actions of Pathfinders from around the world that aligned themselves with the Cheliax faction, Zarta Dralneen was rescued, though her power in nation of Cheliax would never be the same. During a Mid-Season update, it was determined that the Lantern Lodge and the Shadow Lodge factions would be eliminated from being an available faction for Pathfinders to align themselves with by the end of the season.
When the season ended, the factions that remained were: Andoran, Cheliax, Grand Lodge, Osirion, Qadira, Sczarni, Silver Crusade, and Taldor.
Season 5: The Year of the Demon
Season 5 of the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild campaign ran from August 2013 to July 2014. The season is referred to as the Year of the Demon due to the large involvement of the Pathfinder Society in and around the Worldwound.
At the start of this season, there were eight factions: Andoran, Cheliax, Grand Lodge, Osirion, Qadira, Sczarni, Silver Crusade, and Taldor
Season 6: The Year of the Sky Key
Season 6 of the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild campaign ran from August 2014 to July 2015. The season is referred to as the Year of the Sky Key due to the involvement of the Pathfinder Society in and around Numeria.
At the end of Season 5, national factions were retired and replaced by new ideal-based factions with the same leadership but new goals and traits:
- Andoran's vanities and boons carried over to the new Liberty's Edge faction.
- Cheliax's vanities and boons carried over to the new Dark Archive faction.
- Osirion's vanities and boons carried over to the new Scarab Sages faction.
- Qadira's vanities and boons carried over to The Exchange, a new faction that includes elements of the retired Sczarni faction. However, Sczarni vanities and boons are not transferable to The Exchange without a boon that states otherwise.
- Taldor's vanities and boons carried over to the new Sovereign Court faction.
The Grand Lodge and Silver Crusade factions remained unchanged.
Season 7: The Year of the Serpent
Season 7 of the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild campaign runs from August 2015 to July 2016. The season is referred to as the Year of the Serpent due to the involvement of the Pathfinder Society with the Aspis Consortium.
At the end of Season 6, all factions remained unchanged going into Season 7.
Each season consists of 28 scenarios, released on a schedule of two per month, with four released both in June for Origins/PaizoCon and August for GenCon. On October 2, 2008, Joshua J. Frost announced that some scenarios would be developed as part of an open call, in which members of the Paizo community would have the opportunity to write a scenario for official release. Since this time, a number of scenarios have been written as part of this ongoing process.