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Paizo's Abomination Vaults Comes to 5e

Paizo has made waves by announcing a conversion of their adventure The Abomination Vaults to D&D 5e, or what they pointedly describe as "the newest version of the world's oldest roleplaying game." Subtle jabs at what Wizards of the Coast's boasts about "the world's greatest roleplaying game" aside, The Abomination Vaults promises a gruesome dungeon crawl of body horror and mad sorcery made accessible to D&D 5e players at last.

This has caused a lot of Internet emotions along with speculation about Paizo's financial stability.

Your honor, I present Exhibit A: YouTube videos.

Exhibit B is the Paizo official forums, and it presents an interesting picture. The fans seem overwhelmingly certain that this is good news for Pathfinder 2e and will surely draw in D&D 5e fans to their preferred system. Rather than quote all the responses that echo some variant of "this will surely draw in D&D 5e players to Pathfinder 2e," I'll post a screengrab because I'm lazy.

Some might describe this as wishful thinking, but I prefer the word cope. Pathfinder 2e is clearly not meeting Paizo's expectations. However, Pathfinder 2e is meeting my expectations. I was never optimistic about the game's chances of recapturing the marketing share that Pathfinder 1e gained and then later lost to 5e. Pathfinder 2e wasn't the game that Pathfinder 1e fans wanted.

Pathfinder 1e was created to fill the void left by the announcement of D&D 4e. With Wizards of the Coast launching a new edition, Pathfinder's Adventure Paths were doomed to the obscurity of a legacy system. Some 3e diehards would doubtlessly continue playing their favored edition, but the majority of the fanbase would surely convert to D&D 4e. Worse, Wizards of the Coast announced the GSL as a replacement for the OGL, the former being far more conservative. Paizo needed a way to provide continuing support adventures that were written for D&D 3e, and thus Pathfinder sprung into existence. It was a runaway success for Paizo, but consider the Pathfinder audience: D&D 3e players dissatisfied with the direction of D&D 4e. (Ryan and I were both part of this group, and we were playtest participants for Pathfinder 1e.) This playerbase wanted D&D 3e, not D&D 4e, and when Pathfinder 1e started to show its age, a revision was due. Here Paizo erred.

From an outsider's perspective, it is quite obvious that people who were satisfied with an official D&D 3e fantasy heartbreaker weren't particularly interested in a radical departure from that foundation. Pathfinder 2e is such a deviation. Paizo's design team clearly took lessons from D&D 4e with its emphasis on keywords, setpiece encounters, forced movement, and status effects. The purpose of these changes, I suspect, was to allow for a standardized play experience for the Pathfinder Society, but their playerbase had rejected these designs with D&D 4e. Adding to this, Pathfinder 2e has a steep learning curve, emphasizing system mastery with a complex combat system and "character customization" (read: character building and optimization). A loss of backwards compatibility, high complexity, required system mastery, and deviation design emphasis resulted in a game that had a narrower appeal than Pathfinder 1e.

There's more to indicate potential financial troubles for Paizo. The Pathfinder MMORPG was a boondoggle, one that surely cost the company a fair bit of capital for a project that never materialized. After Savage Worlds released their newest edition of the game (Adventure Edition), Paizo opted to partner with them to release a conversion of Pathfinder to the Savage Worlds rules. I'm skeptical that any Savage Worlds players are going to suddenly convert their games to Pathfinder 2e (the design principles of the two clash), so one can surmise that the Pathfinder brand is more popular than Pathfinder 2e. With Pathfinder 2e not performing as well as hoped, the loss of revenue from the Pathfinder MMORPG, and some of the recent events at the company (no, I'm not commenting on them further than that), it's not a surprise that Paizo is in something of a tricky situation.

All of this text wall paints a bleak picture for Paizo, but I think it's quite the opposite. Prior to releasing Pathfinder, Paizo was known for their high-quality adventure paths. Few in the modern age haven't heard praise for Rise of the Runelords, Kingmaker, and Wrath of the Righteous (the latter two spurring an indie team to translate them to a computer RPG). Paizo's stated impetus to create Pathfinder was to continue supporting their multi-part adventures, and that, I believe, is the company's strongest suit. Expansive adventures that provide GMs with pregenerated NPCs, quests, plots, and encounters are always in demand, and broadening Golarion's accessibility to D&D 5e (and Savage Worlds!) players is a canny move.

Although I'm skeptical that many 5e players will transition to Pathfinder 2e as their system of choice, I'm certain that they will readily embrace the conquests and perils found within Golarion.

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