2020 in Review
Can a blog post be too self-indulgent? Hell no. If I wanted to write about Pathfinder, I’d save it for a Know Direction post. If I wanted to talk about someone else’s work, I’d be on Facebook or Discord promoting it. I’m hoping to restart this blog with thoughts about design that aren’t quite a fit for my Know Direction posts, with some product placement. But today? Well, today I want to look back at what I’ve accomplished in 2020, The Year The Earth Stood Still. Who knows: Maybe this will become an annual tradition.
In addition to what’s listed here, there have also been a number of live plays, Know Direction and Geek Together shows, conventions where I ran “author tables”, technical support for Paizocon, and surviving what has ultimately been a loaded and stressful year for everyone on the planet.
2020 Articles & Special Projects
I’m not going to list every KD article I wrote in 2020. You can find them here. Instead, I’m going to write those that had special meaning and impact for me, excluding those that fall better in another category.
I love writing articles on “game balance”, and this is one I’ve wanted to write for years. It seems so obvious that groups should use session-zero to determine how powerful PCs are going to be, and yet I rarely see it mentioned.
I’ve always loved April Fools articles, and this one was a grand slam.
This entire project was a huge win! It started as a nugget of an idea I casually pitched Tonya on Facebook, and evolved into a contest for the first-ever community content created Pathfinder Society legal character option! We got 84 entries that we parsed down and submitted to Paizo to see which would become a canon pantheon. The winning entry? The Path of the Heavens by Conor Young!
This project was super fun and received quite well. Before August 2020, Pathfinder Society boons were limited and had to be “slotted” at the start of an adventure. They are no longer as limited, but these are still a helpful way to quickly parse and track your boons without extra paperwork. I’m not certain if these will continue for season 2 and beyond, but I’d be happy to make them if I knew people were still using them.
So maybe I have used KD for a self-indulgent article, but I couldn’t help it. There were so many people out there I wanted to thank, and it was a nice break given at the time I was dedicating much of my article writing time toward…
Analyzing every summoned monster in Pathfinder Second Edition was a blast, and I can’t wait for Bestiary 3 so I can do it again! This article got quite a bit of buzz and lead to lots of positive discussions concerning the efficacy (and fun) of the summon monster spells in Second Edition!
Having a single link to answer the question “what scenario should I run?” has been super handy. It was also really nostalgic reviewing the entire first year catalog of Pathfinder Society scenarios! There are also articles analyzing the line of quests and adventures most appropriate for Halloween.
Getting this camera was a huge win for me. Using my hobby purchases to practice my live shows on Facebook has been an absolute treat! Honestly, just finding a reasonably priced camera that works for something like miniature painting or booster pack opening was such a pain that I felt obligated to share it with everyone.
The players at my local lodge love the hero point cards so much that I felt obligated to share them with the world. They really do help remembering a system that certain players just forget!
This article was a huge win and I’m glad so many people out there are using the idea for their own roll20 tables! It really helps having a “splash page” like this when you don’t have a map, and reminds both players and GMs of the different options available during exploration mode.
Writing skill feats for the Arcana skill was more of a challenge than any of the other Skill Feats books in the series. Once I remembered that I always wanted a way to hack golems using your knowledge of arcane magic, the rest kind of fell together. I loved writing for Files for Everybody, which isn’t a major surprise given how much I loved monthly player supplements like Dragon Magazine and the Pathfinder Player Companion lines.
Fun Fact Spell Connoisseur and Spell Senses were originally intended for characters who hunt down arcane spell casters. I’ve always loved the idea of mage killers needing Arcana as much as wizards.
Success My biggest success in this book was finding a sweet spot for feats intended against specific enemies that are powerful enough that they could actually see play, but not so powerful that they’d trivialize encounters. I feel like Skill Feats are a great spot for these sort of abilities, given how many players get and the average power level of those feats.
I’m glad I was able to try my hand at codifying alternative combat maneuvers for Pathfinder Second Edition. Choke, Sunder, and Pin Weapon are all options I’d love to use someday soon. Heck, I might even reference Choke in a Know Direction article next week. What I love about these books is they are so quick to parse that you can easily throw them at a player at your AP table when they are looking for just the perfect little thing for their build, especially if they are the type of player who wants to try new things.
Fun Fact One of the things that inspired me to want to work with Alex the Everyman Gamer in the first place was his subversion of expectations for ancestry expectations, which makes this cover especially fun.
Success My biggest success here was getting over my fear of being afraid to push what have traditionally been core elements of a game into character options. I’ve always been worried that doing so removes options for martial characters, but I feel like the feats in this book adds enough power to these options to make them more than a feat tax for something anyone should be capable of doing.
My first Paizo credit! This will always have a special place in my heart. I loved researching this, pouring through my copies of Ruins of Azlant and scouring countless source books for any and all information on Wayfinders, Wyrwoods, and Azlant in general. I loved writing a repeatable quest that actually tells different elements of the story each time you play it, rewarding players with a different piece of the puzzle each time they play. Color-coding the dungeon and giving each route a theme corresponding to a different type of wayfinders really helped me develop each encounter accurately and succinctly without losing sight of the greater whole. Getting into the NPCs head was a total blast, and I absolutely love running this quest!
Fun Fact I found some answers for this project regarding Azlant lore in the #golarion_lore section of the /r/Pathfinder discord. The channel is frequented by none other than John Compton himself!
Success My biggest success here was learning how to expand upon existing canon in a setting to create new hooks that successfully added a certain thematic atmosphere that I’ve heard resonated well with players.
I was sitting with Alexander Augunas and Owen KC Stephens at Paizocon 2019 when I first proposed this product line. It will always hold a special place in my heart, even if it saw limited personal use given how little opportunity we have to play in person shortly after release.
Fun Fact These cards were inspired by how I “built” characters for first edition, laying out flashcards with the names of different feats and class levels to figure out all the different options I had for all my craziest characters!
Success The real success here was being able to muster together a pitch for Alexander Augunas and following through on my dreams of making RPG products! The best time to try was yesterday, but the second-best time is today!
My first ever full Scenario for Pathfinder Society! Remember when I said how much fun I had dived into everything Azlant for the last book? To me, this book will always be “I never knew I’d learn so much about Sahuagin.” There are a few funny coincidences with this book. First, it was a sequel to Kate Baker’s Beneath Unbroken Waves, which I had the honor of playing with the author at Paizocon 2019! It was super helpful in finding the tone for the NPCs to watch their original author roleplay them in person. Second, the adventure was another level 3-6 repeatable, which let me hone my skills and use what I learned writing Wayfinder Origins, this time wanting to focus on different aspects of war while also giving GMs the opportunity to decide how much or how little “underwater” content they wanted for their PCs. This also meant I get to rack up extra Chronicle Sheets when I run this as an author table without having to spend those precious replays, so now all my future PCs will have 5 XP the second they hit level 3!
Fun Fact As I was writing this late one night we had a tsunami warning in the Pacific Northwest. The wave was only about 2 feet high by the time it hit the coast, so I don’t think anyone was injured.
Success I’m glad players have responded well to how the skill challenges are integrated with the encounters. They influence and play off the encounters nicely without didn’t bog down the game, even helping to give the GMs a little time to prep for the combat encounter while the PCs spend time figuring out how to solve the skill challenges!
This product was so many firsts for me. It was my first Starfinder, Pathfinder 1e, and Dungeons & Dragons 5e book! More importantly, it was the first book I got to write for Owen KC Stephens, as part of his 52-in-52 program. You can sign up for the program now to get these books early or wait for their release once all 52 books are published. Writing the same content for four systems at once really helped give me a solid understanding of each system’s strengths. And writing for Rogue Genius Games really let me push the design envelope and try out crazy new ideas like the Somnifer system, which lets you enhance spells in this book using an object that helps you sleep at night, like a teddy bear. It’s the kind of thing that really shines in a third-party publication, and I’m proud to put my name on this otherwise humble product.
Fun Fact There is no exact English name I could find for an object that helps you sleep at night, and “comfort object” didn’t really resonate with the full breadth of cultures I wanted to see represented by a word as universal as somnifer.
Success Instead of writing out the stats for different summoned creatures, or making Bedtime Guardian function ‘as’ existing monsters, I was able to get the “Heightened (+1)” effect down to 28 words, while keeping the summoned creature’s power in line with existing monsters!
Another part of Owen KC Stephen’s 52-in-52 program, I had a really fun time trying to write a product that any character could use, regardless of class, level, or alignment. Usually, these sorts of mechanics require giving up feats, archetypes, or even entire class levels to accomplish. My goal with this book was to give players the opportunity to empower their brands by choosing different character options they could “give up” to empower their brands. This became even more flavorful when dealing with casters, who can effectively forgo domain powers, hexes, or even sorcerer bloodline abilities and gain additional boons instead. This also allows GMs to apply this to existing characters without ruining an existing build by forcing a non-compliant archetype or prestige class!
Fun Fact Each brand is designed around a boon, burden, and backlash. Originally these were called boons and taboo, but I realized that it gave GMs more freedom to split taboo into burdens and backlashes to represent different fiendish patrons. And had the added bonus of triple alliteration!
Success I feel my success here was developing something that felt fresh, especially given how many different mechanics in Pathfinder 1e are thematically similar to “unholy brands”. I can see similarities to divine obedience, oracle curses, and even domains. And yet the boon-burden-backlash formula really sets them apart and keeps them distinct and memorable. I’m also happy I got to work on a product that could so easily apply to a campaign I’m in right now.