A year of online Pathfindering

While I apparently did not take advantage of Covid to increase my blogging activity, I certainly did a good job of getting some role-playing games in. (Both facts backed up by my last post being 8 months ago on this very same topic.)

Almost exactly a year ago, I emailed some folks to set up a new online Pathfinder 2e game. We managed weekly sessions for almost six months–the first time I’ve GMed that frequently since my kids were born–and every other week since, alternating with a 5e game run by one of my players. I’ve been running the Baba Yaga-themed Reign of Winter adventure path on Roll20.

At some point I’ll maybe put together some notes on specific conversions or changes I made, but some spoiler-free notes on the PF2 RoW experience so far:

  • Paizo’s Adventure Paths are huge. A year of weekly or semiweekly play, in 2 hours sessions, and we’ve just finished the first third. I always advise people new to Pathfinder to *not* start with an AP, but get their feet under them with a short module so they understand how the system works, and I could have taken my own advice here. Converting a 1st edition AP to Pathfinder 2e is a big lift. The Series of Dice-Based Events discord is dedicated to such conversions and has been a big help, but the thoroughness of existing notes found there trails off a bunch after book 1.
  • Reign of Winter can start anywhere in the world–so it would (would have been) easy to start with a 2e module and roll into RoW. It’s “You do some stuff, and then a portal opens and takes you somewhere else,” but there is a reason for the portal to exist and for the players to care. I had actually started this with intent to run Rise of the Runelords, as the first Pathfinder AP and the broadest “shared experience” in the Pathfinder community. One player’s 8-year-old kid showed up to the first session wanting to play, though, and after refreshing my memory on the latter books in Runelords decided there was no way I could run it with an elementary schooler. Since I’ve also been wanting to run RoW, I decided I’d rather shift the tone of the game–less Se7en and more Grimm’s Fairy Tales–than kick out an eager young player. At any rate, transitioning from the opening scenes of Runelords into RoW was nearly seamless.
  • Reign of Winter as written is (so far) completely linear: there’s only a few places where there’s any choice at even the level of which order different scenes are encountered. I’ve moved some things around on the fly, left some bits out, added a few things–in general, when I run any published content I like to diagram it out and then apply something like The Alexandrian’s Jacquaying the Dungeon approach–but it’s still an issue of big blinking arrows saying “hey players, saving the world is that way.”

Online play of a game as heavy on maps/miniatures as Pathfinder is work–but even so I still prefer my heroic fantasy RPGs to contain a tactical squad-based combat mini-game. And for online play I find myself even more so wanting publication-level graphic assets than in person, where sketching with markers is often totally fine. And unlike the off-week 5e game, which is using an official pre-packaged asset bundle for Lost Mines of Phandalver, RoW is far enough down the Paizo back catalog that it doesn’t have convenient existing bundles.

  • The pathfinder community has delivered maps: specifically, Paizo user bwatford has produced original art digital clones of the maps for Snows of Summer, Shackled Hut, and the first part of Maiden Mother Crone; I’m about to hit the end of that runway, though, and will either have to extract them from the published PDFs (I remember map cleanup and scaling being annoying when I last tried that route) or piece together maps from elsewhere.
  • Very important Roll20 tip: map uploads are limited to 10MB each! If you try to upload a larger graphic file, it will fail without any indication of why. Most of the map downloads I’ve used I am resizing smaller (just MS Paint scaling) and then resizing bigger again after upload.
  • TokenTool is a free, easy bit of software for doing one thing and doing it well: open a PDF and select an image–or drag and drop an image off the web–select a boundary/background, and it spits out a token for that character or critter. Between the pdfs of the AP and its pawn set, and the monster images on Archives of Nethys, this turns out to be the quickest and easiest part of the process. Thanks, TokenTool!

Overall I have mixed feelings about online gaming. I certainly miss being in the room with my players, and also the tactile experience of minis and so forth, but the logistics allow for more frequent play–and it’s still a lot of fun. Since nearly everybody at the table is a parent and coming in pretty fresh off of putting kids to bed, everybody (including me!) is much less likely to be running late than when they have to physically gather things and set up or leave the house. Online also allows the young player at the table to make a decision at the time the session is starting of whether he’s joining or not–or to leave mid-session to go to bed when he needs to. After-bedtime is when I can most easily and reliably play, and he wouldn’t be able to join for an after-bedtime session if there were travel involved. I’d like to shift to in-person gaming once vaccinations and so forth permit, but that may require trying to find a daytime schedule…with less frequent play as a result.

About Me

Michigander, parent of twins, urban planner, role-playing game nerd.


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