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This is our sixth development blog, and our topic is groups—the social organizations that make Pathfinder Online Massively Multiplayer.
We know that people want different levels of social interaction, from solo play to being a part of a huge organization. The game design we're currently envisioning has several layers of grouping to facilitate those needs. As with each of these dev blogs, we're talking about elements of the design which are not set in stone and are always subject to change based on future development and feedback from the community.
Han Shot First—Playing Solo
Some people just want to be the lone wolf. A world filled with folks who rely on others is anathema to them. Self-reliance and individualism are their preferences.
Solo play is going to require a character that has quite a bit of diversity in character abilities. You'll want to be able to explore (to find stuff), to heal (to recover from the monsters that infest the stuff you find), to adventure (so you can cope with the hostile environments you'll be exploring), and to fight (so you can try to kill the creatures that make those environments especially hostile). (Sounds very "ranger-y" or "druid-y" to us.)
Some solo players won't even leave town. They'll become masters of crafting and market warfare, using their canny ability to time swings in prices and to identify opportunities for arbitrage to make their fortune. These spreadsheet warriors will be ready to pounce on the pricing mistakes of their less focused competitors, and can be the secret to success for the forces engaged in territorial warfare. (Or their downfall—a canny merchant never forgets a previous slight or betrayal.)
By and large the solo player is going to find that the game is a harder experience than it isfor the folks who play in groups. By design, Pathfinder Online seeks to maximize human interaction, so when you try to avoid other people, you'll find your road is harder and longer than those who seek companions. But there's something to be said for the feeling of accomplishment that comes from "I did it all by myself!" And for those lone wolves who do succeed, we'll salute you!
A Fighter, a Wizard, a Rogue and a Cleric Walk into a Bar...
The fundamental social unit that most players will experience is the party. This is a classic adventuring team that self-assembles to go out and kick down doors, whack monsters, and power up. But the party has other functions in Pathfinder Online. Parties may form to go harvest resources: some members will extract the resource while others patrol and fight off hazards that appear (see our previous blog for more info on how this system works). Parties could also be a caravan, with some members moving large quantities of goods from place to place, and some acting as guards to protect the group from hazards and brigands.
Parties will typically be small, just a few characters. We haven't picked an upper limit, but expect it to be only a couple of dozen characters at most.
There will be many ways to find a party to join, and lots of ways for parties to find new members. We want to make it really easy for people to group into ad hoc parties that may only last for a few hours while the group completes an objective. The people you meet during these adventures could become friends (or enemies) as you move deeper into the social networks of the game. You'll be able to track those you've been in a party with and see what happened during those adventures, and you'll even be able to note if those individuals were friends, enemies, or neutral for later encounters.
The Knights of the Round Table
Sometimes a party will find that its members work really well together, or is comprised of characters who share similar goals and who want to pursue them as a team rather than as individuals, or maybe just as players who like each other and want to stay connected.
These parties can become chartered companies. Each member agrees to certain terms and obligations as set forth in their charter, and the group as a whole gains some benefits, like shared storage, private communication channels, and the ability to share information about locations on the world map. Chartered companies are the first persistent social organization most players will join in the game. They can grow to be quite large, on the order of several dozen characters (exact sizes have yet to be determined). They can receive messages and can be named as the hunters for bounties (see the previous blog for information on how the bounty system works).
Some chartered companies will become world renowned. They may be mercenaries called in to tip the balance of a fight, or a guild of assassins that strikes fear into any who are marked for death. They may enforce the law, tracking down criminals and bringing swift justice to the evildoers.
Chartered companies will have tools to manage its membership, including ways to vote and to appoint leaders. Those tools will include the capability to add new recruits and to boot members who fall away from the ideals of the chartered company.
For the first six to ten months of the game, these will be the largest social organizations in Pathfidner Online. During this period, characters will be exploring, developing, and adventuring in the Crusader Road, creating all the infrastructure needed to support a robust sandbox experience. Eventually, the conditions will be right to introduce the next level of organization...
Keep on the Borderlands
(That's so much better, isn't it!)
When the time is right and the sandbox is ripe for evolution, the characters of Pathfinder Online will be able to make a giant step forward and found their own player settlements (different from NPC settlements, which we talked about a little bit in our second blog).
Player settlements will scale from fairly small communities to quite large social structures with perhaps hundreds of members. A player settlement is a functioning community which can be developed and improved by the collective work of its members. Player settlements add all sorts of new capabilities to the social game, including markets, shared accounts, and access to buildings and workshops needed to earn many new character abilities.
Think of NPC settlements as a training zone where you can learn how to play the game and master the basic skills you need to pursue your goals in the River Kingdoms. Player settlements are where the training wheels come off, and where you're on your own to survive and thrive... or crash and burn. There won't be automatic systems to enforce the law—you'll need to do that yourselves. There won't be a mass of random characters just itching to put down an invading horde; if you're not monitoring the lands you control, things can rapidly get out of hand.
To create a player settlement, you'll need to do several things. You'll need to find an area of the wilderness claimed by no other settlement. You'll need to establish territorial control over that area. You'll need to assemble all the materials required to construct the player settlement and guard the area while it is being built. You'll have to create a settlement charter, and that charter must be signed by a fairly large number of characters who pledge their support and loyalty to the new settlement.
Your charter will set forth things like the alignment of your Settlement (which limits who can be members), how voting authority is allocated, how accounts are audited, and how funds are shared.
And once your settlement is built and your charter is signed and in force, you'll then have to defend your lands against those who covet them and seek to take them from you.
The Kingdom Game
The highest level of social organization is the player kingdom. These are created when two or more player settlements agree to bind themselves together to create a single political entity. The kingdom is the most powerful organization in the game. It has access to the most powerful constructs and workshops. It can marshal and direct the efforts of thousands of player characters. Kingdoms field armies. Kingdoms engage in diplomacy. Kingdoms dominate their surrounding lands.
Though we use the word "kingdom," the political structures of these entities will be varied. Some will be actual kingdoms with power vested in a single monarch. Some will be oligarchies. Others will be more democratic—even a direct democracy is possible.
The economic structures of kingdoms will be varied as well. The kingdom may tax its members on their earnings to fund its operations, and that tax rate could vary from nil to 100%. Ayn Rand to Karl Marx and everything in between.
The combination of politics and economics will create a matrix of variety in kingdoms, and that matrix is further complicated by alignment, creating a three-dimensional structure of options. If you can imagine it, you can likely custom-tailor a kingdom to deliver.
The Design Objectives
We want to mirror some of the amazing things that occurred in Ultima Online and EVE Online, but we also want to strike out on our own path. At the size and scale that Pathfinder Online will eventually reach, opportunities for player-driven content to become epic are everywhere, and we're going to be working to maximize those epic stories when they naturally arise.
We also want to avoid some of the missteps that have happened in other games. We want to ensure that there's always enough space so that new settlements and kingdoms can form. We want to avoid the problem of choke points that restrict access to key resources, making whomever got to those points first the de facto "winners" in the economy. We also want to retain the sense that the land is wild and untamed. You'll be able to leave civilization behind and go out in the dark areas of the map where nothing rules except monsters, robbers, and cults.
We're going to design Pathfinder Online so that each level of social organization arises when the game is ready for it. Slowly adding these increasing levels of sophistication will allow the society of the game to ramp up gradually and with good cohesion. As new players join, they'll always have ways to become a part of that process. By the time the first kingdoms form, there will be a pyramid of smaller group structures for players to participate in, ensuring lots of content for everyone.
We're sure that these ideas have already sparked your imagination. We want to encourage folks to begin self-organizing even before the game is ready for testing. We'll do our best to recognize those organizations that get created early, especially if they announce their existence on our messageboards. How awesome will it be to start playing Pathfinder Online and already have the seeds of the early social order in place? We can't wait to see it all develop and we're so excited to have the community along for the ride!
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