Questions by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Answers by Chris Avellone (Writer for Pathfinder: Kingmaker)
We fell in love with Pathfinder: Kingmaker at PAX West 2018. So when we were offered an opportunity to follow up with an interview with the game’s writer, Chris Avellone – who has an extensive history in game design and writing for some of the genre’s biggest RPGs – we couldn’t pass it up.
Many people might not know the lore behind Pathfinder. How did this affect your writing in terms of setting and characterization?
While lore is important, it’s not as important as players having a direction to pursue and knowing what challenge they currently face at any particular moment.
To explain, the example I often cite is Game of Thrones – while it might be way too much to absorb all of the Game of Thrones lore at once, what makes it digestible is in every scene (in the book or TV show) the adversary and the stakes are clearly outlined. It’s done in a way where the reader can make sense of the situation and decide where they want to stand … and often, the player learns more of the lore from the challenge outlined.
If you keep building upon this structure, you often have the chance to introduce increasingly complex lore by giving the players a chance to interact with it – say, by meeting characters tied to facets of lore, or quests that reveal some of the depths of some of the region’s secrets that might be obscure if you simply read it in a book.
What would you say were some of the more lesser known influences on your work for the game?
There was enough in the current Pathfinder lore to draw upon, that I don’t think I drew much beyond the actual setting itself because there’s so much there already.
I was familiar with the sourcebooks, some of the comics, the goblin concepts, and I did do some research on other goblin presentations in other games and media (including Styx), but overall, it was all stemming from Pathfinder itself and from the “Kingmaker” adventure path (see below).
Did you face any particular challenges bridging the story to all of the aspects Kingmaker offers?
The story of Kingmaker comes from the pen-and-paper adventure path (“adventure path” is a series of modules in the Pathfinder franchise that you can play in sequence from level 1 to level 20 or so).
The challenge was to take that adventure, and with the Owlcat team, decide what to flesh out in more detail (some of the NPCs in the pen-and-paper Kingmaker only have a brief mention, so detailing them out, including dialogue and character arcs, is a big task) and also what to retain to make players familiar with the module see the familiar touchstones they may have experienced, yet also adding new elements (and a new chapter) to add more to the adventure so that even veterans will have something new to experience.
What part, if any, did you play in making sure character alignment played a role?
It’s important, not just for your kingdom, but for companion personalities as well. Since Kingmaker allows you to embrace creating an evil character, there needs to be a range of evil (or evil-tolerant) companions to draw upon to round out your party. If you’re allowing for evil (and if you embrace role-playing and player choices, you should), then evil needs to have its fair share of content, too.
Do you think there’s a hurdle in crafting a story commonly found from a pen-and-paper game to a video game?
Absolutely. The trick becomes balancing implementing the familiar, existing material – and deciding what to keep vs. what new elements you want to add to the experience.
We had one advantage in that the inclusion of the companions added a brand-new story layer (they are well-integrated with the plot) and when their agendas and motivations are taken into account, the narrative became much richer for it.
Who was your favorite companion and why?
Octavia’s the nicest (Tristian comes a close second in nice-ness), but I like Jubilost because frankly, he’s such a huge jerk. It’s fun to interact with him – and if necessary, put him in his place.
Do you have future plans to write additional story content for Kingmaker?
It’s not currently planned, no, but I do hope Owlcat gets to do more with the franchise. I’m proud to have worked with them and the game, and would gladly work with them again. 🙂
Without spoiling too much (difficult I know), what was the most surprising thing you had to come up with for the story?
Without giving any spoilers, I’ll answer this in a high-level manner: It’s often a challenge as a game designer to add creatures and challenges to a computer game. This is because the more art assets that are involved in the content (character models, animation, spells), the harder it is to pull it off – so if you can find ways to leverage existing creatures and art in new ways (which I always think is fun to do as a designer), you can pull off some surprising encounters that players may otherwise take for granted. I don’t want to say too much about it here, but if you play the game, it’ll become apparent how we made this happen, and I’m pretty pleased with the instances we implemented.