Blood and glory in the (miniature) arena: how a Boston hobby shop made Pathfinder a PvP battleground
Pathfinder Arena is a homebrew set of rules and conversions that rests comfortably between board game and tabletop RPG. It's also fun as hell. I spent what little time my schedule would allow at PAX East standing around a 3D model arena, carefully maneuvering my rogue into proper backstabbing position, and I loved every minute of it.
Gladiator death battles: a how-to
Pathfinder Arena is a game based on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game from Paizo. As such, players should be familiar with basic Pathfinder rules and how a d20 system works. You'll also need at least one miniature from the Pathfinder Shattered Star or Rise of the Runelords sets, and you or the host will want a map onto which you can place the minis. The game I participated in had a 3D arena, with squares for measuring distance cut into the bottom, but you can use whatever you'd like as long as you can keep track of movement.
Once everything is set up, players choose one mini from their collection, pull out the correlating stat card, roll initiative, and enter the arena in order of highest roll to lowest. From there, rounds play out the same as they would in a typical Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons game, except the game is now competitive instead of cooperative. Players attack each other just as they would monsters and villains, trying to stay alive in the arena as long as they can.
At the end of a round, the DM asks if anyone would like to enter the arena. Anybody can join in at this time, provided they have a mini; they don't have to have been around since the beginning of the game. Any player who was previously defeated in the arena can have another of their minis enter the fray, but they can't re-use a mini that was slain, nor can they control more than one mini at a time.
Allowing new combatants to enter the arena at the top of every round made it easy for passers-by to get interested and involved quickly, while veteran players who hadn't yet had their fill of battle could keep playing. Incoming players roll initiative and get placed in order respective to current combatants. A large whiteboard was used to keep track of player order when I played at PAX East, but again, it's up to players to decide how they want to handle such things.
The game can continue on for as long as players have available miniatures, and therein lies the brilliant marketing and business sense of Pathfinder Arena. There are more than 110 unique miniatures across the Shattered Star and Rise of the Runelords collections, and each box comes with four random minis. It's very easy to get caught up in the game, run out of minis to play with, hurry to the counter to buy another pack, and rush back to the table so you can enter the next round of combat. I know, because that is exactly what I saw happen at PAX East.
The player to my left was playing a wizard. Unfortunately, he was a wizard caught between me, a rogue with plenty of sneak attack damage, and a fire elemental. He continually missed his own attacks while drawing attention to himself, and was soon pounded into a pulp. The men hosting Pathfinder Arena had a special promotion however: play until your character died, and you got a 10% off coupon.
The player took the coupon, disappeared around the corner, and came back within moments, a new box in-hand. He opened it to find, among other minis, a large-size wyvern. He grinned and tore apart my poor, vulnerable rogue.
This is what separates Battleground's approach from other, fan-made arena style deathmatches; not only has the system been streamlined, converted, and organized to work with existing materials, but it's practical from a business standpoint as well, as players feed into the arena to keep playing. It's like microtransactions, but done very organically, and with a tabletop game.
Origins of the arena
Derek Lloyd is the owner of Battleground Games & Hobbies, a local business with two locations in Abington and Plainville, Massachusetts. His stores sell everything from Magic: The Gathering cards to board games to tabletop RPG rulebooks. They are also the home and origin of Pathfinder Arena, and it was they who hosted the game at PAX East.
I asked Lloyd to explain where the game's concept came from. He attributed the idea to Wizards of the Coast and their Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. “The original concept of kind of watering down the mechanics of the game into a card that works probably stems from the D&D Miniatures era,” Lloyd said.
“Wizards of the Coast produced their miniatures for the Dungeons & Dragons brand, and they would supply cards that would have both the full stats on the one side, and sometimes a watered-down version of the monster on the other side, to make it very easy to use in a one-on-one kind of a game.”
Arena's own stat cards are loosely based on the same premise: take every monster and creature that's part of the Rise of the Runelords or Shattered Star set, and adjust it to be of approximately 3rd or 4th-level power.
“The guys who put on the Arena… they put a lot of effort and work into the weeks and months prior to the event, basically condensing the stats for the monsters – which can sometimes be quite long, their descriptions can be two pages of stats long – try to condense them down into something that works in the arena.”
I asked Lloyd if he had run into any problems or legal conflicts with Paizo. Just the opposite, Lloyd told me an employee of Paizo had participated in the 2012 PAX run of Arena, and in turn gave Lloyd and his crew at Battlgrounds a shout-out.
“I went to a trade show, and at that show, Paizo was there, putting on a seminar,” Lloyd told me. “In that seminar, they mentioned, 'A couple weeks ago we were at PAX East, and there was some game store that was putting on this great big arena event and it was a huge hit, and I played in it for hours and it was great!'”
I asked Lloyd if he ever considered partnering with Paizo to make the Battleground version of Arena an official extension of the game. He said the shout-out was the extent of contact he's had with the company, but that he was open to sharing the stat conversions that Battleground used. “I'd certainly love to talk to Paizo about making this a bigger event. There's clearly a lot of interest in it,” he said.
It's not just Paizo Lloyd is open to sharing with, however. As a special treat to the Report's readers, you can find the Battleground conversions for the Rise of the Runelords and Shattered Star minis, completely free, here.The conversions are done by Lloyd's employees and friends, Craig Baker, Chad Kelble, and Jeff Coulton.
Next time you're in the area, stop by Battleground and tell them thank you. Then stick around, and play a round in the arena.