The Whys and Wherefores of Adventure Paths
Depending on which corner of the internet you haunt, the overall opinion of Paizo is wildly divergent. Naturally, on the Paizo forums, there are the expected fanboys who hang on every word uttered by the editorial staff, waiting in line at the cons each time something new is released. They play in the Organized Play sessions at their hobby shops, buy every new hardcover when it comes out, and get all fluttery whenever they meet one of their heroes in person. That’s one end of the spectrum.
On the other end of things, you have their opposite number. The hardline grognards have invented all manner of (what they think are) clever nicknames like ‘Paizil’ and ‘Pathfailure’ to discuss their overwhelming hatred of the game in their own personal echo chambers. They rant on and on about how no one in their right mind would buy physical copies of the books when there’s a perfectly serviceable SRD to reference and how the company never fixed any of the problems that existed from the days of 3.5 D&D. And naturally, they talk of better days in the past, when the sacred scrolls were brought down from Mount Gygax, sealed in white or blue or red boxes, and delivered unto the believers to be enshrined forevermore. And since that point, all innovation has been desecration.
There are perfectly reasonable points to be found in their mounds of bullshit, but half the time, it takes the dedication (and personal predilection) of an otyugh to find something worthwhile. Yeah, Pathfinder is little more than a streamlined version of the 3.5 D&D rules. That’s what it needed to be, in order to keep their audience and continue publishing their products. If they’d tried to jump to 4e D&D, they’d have lost their public, and that would have sunk them as a company.
In amongst all of the other nonsense about the ‘perfect’ version of Dungeons & Dragons, there’s a fascinating point that tends to be obscured. Sure, Pathfinder has been crowned as a worthy successor to 3.5 D&D, and their rules have well outsold the best efforts of 4e D&D; but that’s not why they did it. And it’s why their company is at the top of the heap for profits. (Yeah, Wizards pulls in more revenue, but they can be easily disqualified for one of two reasons. For one thing, they make Magic, which still commands a stupid amount of profit in the gaming marketplace, despite my personal disinterest for right now. And for another thing, they’re owned by a damned toy company, whose overall revenues run about 1,000x what an RPG company pulls in. Either way, Wizards is pretty much just a pretty shell that has autonomy so long as they keep bringing in dollars. Paizo, in the mean time, exists solely on their own publishing. And they do damned well with it.)
So, digression aside, what point was I trying to get at? Simple. Paizo exists to publish adventure modules. That’s what got them their name, and it’s what keeps them at the top of the heap consistently. Pathfinder sells a lot of hardcover rule books, but Paizo is careful to make sure that these rules are integrated into their Adventure Paths, to ensure that people keep buying them. Were the hardcover rule books divorced from their main money makers, I’d lay easy money on the death of that given hardcover.
It makes sense, really. As a company, Paizo started their run by acquiring the rights to publish Dragon and Dungeon Magazines from Wizards of the Coast, both of which were holdovers from the early days of TSR. It was during their run of the magazines, from 2002 to 2007, that they began experimenting with series of modules in Dungeon, calling them Adventure Paths. Up to this point, most of the material in Dungeon was scattershot and random, depending mainly on submissions and often bearing little continuity. It was in the process of creating these first Adventure Paths (Shackled City, Age of Worms, and Savage Tide) that they started laying the initial groundwork for what would later become Golarion, the official Pathfinder Campaign Setting. (It was fascinating to sit down to run Savage Tide, only to realize that a lot of it was familiar. The central mainstay organization in Golarion, the Pathfinder Society, was already present in Sasserine under a different name.)
Having watched the slow advancement of the Adventure Paths, I will admit I had some measure of misgivings. When they were first announced, they were set to be released on a monthly basis, just like Dungeon and Dragon Magazines, but they were set with a price tag of $20, which was about four or five times as expensive as its predecessors. And the first Adventure Path, Rise of the Runelords, was a little weird. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk about Runelords soon enough. Just not right now.
And now here we are, nearly seven years on. The Adventure Paths have pretty well solidified themselves within the marketplace, and Paizo has continued to improve their standing by cautiously expanding the scope of Pathfinder. Despite their price, I’ve largely managed to keep on top of the monthly Adventure Paths, which totals out to be about $1,500, all told.
Part of my dedication to Paizo’s Adventure Path line up owes to my completionist nature. I made the mistake of buying Runelords when it came out, so inertia compelled me to continue collecting the damned things. But part of it owes to the production values and the generally interesting nature of the paths themselves. And the final part goes to the idea that, in a lot of ways, Paizo’s the only game in town for what they do. No one else really cares to publish adventure modules these days, so my money goes to the people that do. (Of course, if they were awful, I’m pretty sure I’d have given up a while ago, so there’s that.)
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time behind the screen. Sadly, it’s the greater majority of the time I’ve spent as a gamer, but it’s sort of what has to happen. And having adventure modules to run or crib from makes that job a lot easier, depending. I enjoy creating my own campaigns wholecloth, but every now and then it’s nice to let someone else do the heavy lifting for you.