The immediate impact on me is selfish and silly: I'm ending my self-imposed boycott of the platform. And just in time, too! I've been staring regretfully at the Kickstarter campaign for Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, the sequel to Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the game I've been obsessing about for the last several months. I haven't yet beaten Kingmaker, but am having more fun with it than I have with any recent RPG I've played, and was looking forward to supporting more of the same. And now I can!
Speaking of Pathfinder: Kingmaker: Dang, this game is huge! I'm now deep into Chapter 4 and have no idea how many more chapters there are to go. Any single Chapter could have been a perfectly satisfying RPG. The overall sense of this game isn't so much playing a big campaign: it's playing a series of campaigns. There's a really nice cadence to how things unfold: there's a large, complex, overarching plot that you follow for some time, dealing with factions and conspiracies and lore. You eventually resolve that, then have a few (in-game) months of time to focus on ruling your kingdom: appointing advisors, resolving political and economic issues, touring the land to chart your map and personally clear out stragglers. Then you rush back to the capital to attend to the Curse of Bald Hill, and soon after the next campaign starts. Most good CRPGs feel like a long campaign with a pen-and-paper party; PK feels like a series of campaigns, where you take periodic breaks while the GM plans your next adventure and then get back together again for another journey.
For this post, I want to focus on kingdom management, which might be my favorite aspect of this very fun game. I'm not really an expert, but have a much better handle on things, based on both my own experience and some focused Googling. I basically follow a priority queue of work. From most important to least, it is as follows.
Bald Hill events are the most important. These appear in your Journal under the Kingdom section, with a title like An Ancient Curse. There's a visible countdown timer here, like "The next development is expected in 237 days." That timer is accurate but misleading! About a month before it hits zero, you'll receive a warning to expect something in the next 2 weeks. Don't start any 14-day projects during this time. Exploring is fine, but be sure you can return to within your kingdom borders within a day. When you have ~14 days left on the countdown, you'll get an urgent Problem card that must be addressed within 1 day. For every day you ignore or fail the card, you'll get a significant penalty to your Kingdom (in my case, it was -2 points in multiple categories). I suspect that you actually lose the game if the timer goes all the way down to 0, so it would more accurately be phrased as "the final development" instead of "the next development."
At the same time that you get the Problem card, you'll get a quest to physically go to Bald Hill. This is a little less urgent than addressing the Problem card, so you can afford to Rest and stuff first. There is a very challenging fight here. Enemies dematerialize once you near the top, so apply any buffs before you head up. There are multiple waves and some very powerful enemies. Once you've both defeated the enemies and resolved the Problem, the chapter is officially complete and you'll head into the next phase of the game.
There are some things that will require your exclusive focus, like Bald Hill, but a lot of Kingdom things can be done in parallel. Highest on the priority queue here are other Problems, one of two card types that can appear in the Events filter. Problems will cause (mild but real) penalties if you fail them or ignore them, so, uh, don't do that. The phrasing on the card will say something like "This must be attended to by the 1st of Month XI"; "attended to" just means that you need to appoint an Advisor and start work on it, it doesn't need to be completed by then. All Problems (and Opportunities) expire on the first of the month. You'll almost always have less than a month to do it, but occasionally one will be due the following month. If you have no free Advisors for a Problem, check their current assignments and plan to bring them on before the Problem expires; if their current tasks complete after that, you should probably consider canceling less-important work to move them over, though so far that hasn't happened to me. When multiple Advisors are available for a Problem, my priority order is usually:
- The most-available Advisor (someone who doesn't have anything else they can work on).
- Severely under-leveled Advisors who need more experience. In this case I'll probably need to also spend some Crisis Points to raise their success chance.
- The Advisor with the highest natural success rate. This is partly based on their experience, but also their personal stats and Kingdom buffs you may have previously acquired.
Once all your Problems are being looked at, the next priority is probably claiming Regions. This takes 14 days for your PC, so check if there are any Projects you want to do (and can afford) in parallel. Always save before doing one of these 14-day things so you can reload if something terrible happens during it! There are a bunch of benefits to having Regions: It's a lot more economical to Rest in them while traveling (as your PC can acquire rations instantly and for free, freeing up your Hunters); you tend to get better random events while traveling (weaker enemies or peaceful encounters like merchants); you can access your Kingdom Management UI while traveling in lands that you own; and you can do construction in villages and region-specific Projects in parallel with doing other things (more details on construction below!).
After this, it's probably best to focus on your main quest. Each chapter has its own primary plot, which has a separate section in your Journal, such as "The Season of Bloom". It's nice to wrap this up soonish: If you go too long without solving it, you'll start getting more severe Problems. You'll also get tons of XP and loot and gold by following this plot line, and unlock additional Kingdom-related Projects and things.
Once you have annexed new Regions, be sure to establish villages. There are two schools of thought on this. Some people like clustering them close to your Capital, which cuts down on travel time and helps you complete the highly lucrative Artisan quests quickly. Personally, I've been placing them far away. This makes the Artisan loops a lot more time-consuming in the short term; but, eventually, you will unlock Teleportation Circles which allows instant traveling between Villages.
Inside your villages, you will meet your Artisans, which should be your next priority. Usually you will have a short initial mini-quest, then a task to construct their unique artisan building in the village, and then at some point in the future a more involved multi-stage quest to unlock their masterwork. Artisans may seem like a fun but minor feature; actually, though, they are hands-down the best source of equipment and money in the whole game. The in-game text implies that they cost your Barony money, but in fact, they generate it. Each month they will come and present you with a gift, with usually will either be best-in-slot for one of your companions, or, if you can't use it, something you can sell for a cool 10k or so gold pieces. So, prioritize getting these Artisans up and running ASAP so you can get that revenue stream flowing!
Keep in mind that you can convert GP into BP. At least in my game, I'm always short on BP. I'd say that everything above this point on the priority queue is worth spending GP on to build and do as soon as possible. For everything below it, wait for your BP to naturally build up over time. Also, as I noted in a previous post, you'll want to always keep your BP in the positive zone. Usually you can't spend below it, but you can go negative based on throneroom events and the outcome of certain Events. If you do go negative, you can immediately open the Kingdom interface and buy enough BP to get back up to 0; you won't suffer an Unrest penalty unless you carry over the negative balance into the next day. It's a good practice to always keep at least 100BP in the bank to avoid accidentally going negative, particularly while traveling outside of your Kingdom borders.
In practice I always assign Opportunities at the same time I'm dealing with Problems, though Opportunities are significantly less important; there's no negative impact if you fail or ignore one (and, in fact, I've sometimes seen Opportunities grant a tiny benefit on failure). Opportunities are by far the best way to raise your Kingdom stats: you'll always get at least +3 on a Success, and it isn't unusual to see +8 or increases for up to 3 total stats. This is free, costing no BP or resources, just some of your advisors' time (usually in the range of 7-21 days). I'll usually follow the same advisor prioritization as for Problems here.
Remember to periodically revisit your Advisor lists and see if the people you have assigned are still the best for the job. I almost always pick the person with the highest stat bonus. Whenever a Kingdom stat rises high enough to increase the associated rank, your advisor will present you with a dilemma and will lobby for a particular solution. I usually just follow their advice; mechanically, the difference between these is usually pretty insignificant. (For example, one option might give +3 Loyalty, another might give -1 Loyalty and +3 Economy, another might give 50BP.) On the rare occasion where one option has significantly better benefits and the Advisor wants me to do something else, sometimes I'll just choose what I want; I think that as long as you typically agree with them, they won't quit over the occasional disagreement. Other times I'll reload a previous game and swap out advisors to get someone more in line with my thinking, do the throne-room event, and then swap the original one back in.
Leveling up your Kingdom Ranks is important, but, at least so far, there haven't been as many opportunities as I'd like to do it. You need an unbroken 14-day stretch without any urgent business to attend to, and have the undivided attention of the relevant Advisor. This is particularly hard for the Economy rank, as there are a ton of Projects and Events that can only be handled by your Treasurer. So, whenever you get a chance to rank someone up, take it. These are the things I would personally focus on first.
- Bring Economy up to 3. This ensures you get the benefit from ranking up other stats.
- Bring Loyalty, Community, Divine, and Military up to 3. Each of these will unlock another advisor, which allows you to do more at once.
- Once you have an Arcane advisor, rank this up to 2 to unlock Teleportation Circles in your Villages, which is a huge help in moving around the map quickly.
- After you unlock Relations, bring it to 3 to unlock Espionage and your Minister, which will probably be your last Advisor.
- Continue ranking up Economy whenever you have the opportunity. You want to try and keep this at or above your other stats to maximize your BP generation, and, as noted above, your Treasurer will tend to be in more demand and less frequently available for ranking up.
- Rank up the other stats when you can. I'm not yet sure yet what the best priority here is. You might want to focus on raising your lowest stats, so that all your Advisors can be equally useful in tackling Problems and Opportunities. But, from what I've read, you can unlock some massive bonuses once you reach Rank 9, so it might be worth rushing those. I will report back in a future post!
That said, there are a handful of things worth building. In order:
- Artisan workshops. As noted above, these should be a very high priority, as they will be a primary source of revenue and gear.
- Once you have unlocked them, Teleportation Circles let you instantly teleport between villages. In my game, I unlocked Mage Tower before this, which has additional Arcane bonuses but is significantly more expensive, requires two open slots, and must be constructed in a Town.
- Bulletin Boards, if you are Lawful, give an impressive +2 to resolving all issues in this region.
- I don't think this is ever explained in-game, but in order to upgrade from a Village to a Town, you need to have a certain number of Villages and have have a certain number of buildings in the Village. I think you need 6 buildings (out of the ~10-12 slots available), but am not certain. Upgrading to a Town lets you build some new buildings that you can't construct in a Village, though most are still not worth building. Anyways, if you're trying to upgrade, I think it makes sense to lean towards buildings that (1) have synergy with existing ones, e.g. building a Tavern adjacent to Artisan Shops for bonus Economy; (2) are relatively inexpensive; (3) have synergy with each other or future buildings; or finally (4) raise your lowest stats.
- Once you have a Town, the Aviary reduces the time to resolve Events, and lets you manage your Kingdom from adjacent unowned regions.
- Upgrading an Artisan's Workshop theoretically can get you better offerings and increase the odds of them completing their masterwork.
- Hospitals, Stocks, and Courthouses all require specific alignments and can be expensive, but do provide bonuses to resolving Events.
- I don't think anything else is worth building, but maybe that changes in future chapters if BP is less tight and/or useful!
Everything below this paragraph is, in my opinion, significantly less important!
First, a word for Projects in general: they all sound cool, but you really need to consider the absolute cost (in BP) and the opportunity cost (in BP and advisor time). I'll break these down separately below.
Some Projects provide a buff to event handling: giving a bonus to resolving Events, granting bonus BP on issue resolution, etc. These can be worth doing.
Some Projects give you bonuses while questing. For example, one acts like a permanent Bless while inside your kingdom borders, another grants immunity to poison while inside your kingdom borders, another speeds up mountain travel everywhere. These are useful but not urgent; in particular, you'll probably spend less time fighting within a region that you've already annexed, so these buffs may be less helpful than they initially appear.
Doing Companion quests is good, but should usually be left to the down-time between other events. There isn't a timer or particular urgency for these, so you may want to wait until something else is bringing you in that direction. I suspect that you'll want to do these by the endgame, but the immediate impact so far has been relatively minor, usually just a little XP and loot. (Exception: If the text in the Journal says something like "We need to do X before it's too late!" then you should probably rush the quest.)
Back to Projects: If you are using a civilian (non-party-member) Advisor, like Jhod or Bartholomew, it's usually worthwhile to Train them to be better, which directly translates to better success rates on Events. Don't bother Training unassigned Advisors.
Errands are worth doing; these get a separate section in your Journal. Like Companion Quests, it usually makes more sense to wait until you're headed in a direction anyways. These tend to be pretty straightforward fetch quests with decent but not amazing rewards.
General exploration is also a good and fun way to pass the time. You'll typically only need to visit a half-dozen or so overworld map locations in the course of doing a main quest, and will pass near another dozen or so locations along the way. Personally, I ignore those while doing the main quest, then come back and do these later. It can be especially nice if you can claim their region before doing them, as you'll get some nicer buffs while doing them. There's an enormous range in sizes of maps: some are tiny with just a single monster and a chest; others are bigger than your capital and have merchants, factions, sub-areas and side-quests. And of course there are occasional storybook events, which are always pleasant surprises. Unlike kingdom management tasks, these activities will generate XP and GP for you and your party, which is important for leveling up and completing future quests. In aggregate, you can pretty easily get another level or two while exploring and clearing the various off-the-beaten-path maps. It's fun, too! It reminds me a lot of Baldur's Gate 1, sweeping back and forth across a zone, clearing away the fog of war, looking for cool monsters and interesting people.
And back to Projects again: Curse research should be a very low priority. From what I gather it's important to the end-game, but you shouldn't focus on it early. These projects are time-consuming, often 30-90 days long, and require BP, and will only grant a couple of Divine or Arcane points on completion; during that time, your High Priest or Magister could easily earn 15 or more points for free by tackling Opportunities. You'll eventually want to do them, but there's no rush, and you'll want to get to the point where you can easily afford to keep a critical advisor on the bench for multiple months.
A few Economics Projects offer discounts on constructing buildings, typically a 10% discount for a specific list. This looks and sounds good, but it's always fewer buildings than it seems at first glance (each variation is a building is listed separately, like both a Bank and an Andoran Bank). These Projects are relatively expensive, you would need to build a lot of buildings to break even on them, and, as noted above, you really shouldn't be building many buildings anyways.
Similarly, Trade Agreements are tempting, but are hard to justify. The math for these is simple: divide the BP they cost to sign by the BP per week they yield to determine how long you will take to break even and start profiting on them. Most of them take more than a year to start paying off! Which, to be fair, the game does take more than a year, but still. In addition to that you should be thinking about what other benefits you could have gotten for your 500 (or however many) BP during that time. I'll probably eventually do these, but they're a very low priority.
As noted above, each chapter really does feel like its own full-length self-contained RPG plot, so I feel like I should record my thoughts as I go along, lest I forget by the time I finish the game.
I do really love how these plots are structured. Modern RPGs often lead with the big threat from the very beginning: "An archdemon is invading the land and must be stopped!". PK tends to be more of a slow burn that gradually reveals itself as you progress. Season of Bloom is a great example. It starts with some reports about monsters mysteriously appearing in the midst of your villages and wreaking havoc. After some more investigation, you learn that the monsters are actually bursting out of people. There's a multi-pronged research project as you and your advisors try to isolate exactly what is going on here: is it a mystical curse? Some sort of physical disease? After a harrowing surgery, you finally crack the case: the victims had all ingested physical seeds that lay dormant in their stomachs before sprouting into monsters.
There are some great decisions and skill checks along the way, and I'm curious how else it could have played off differently. In a previous chapter, I had reloaded a specific encounter multiple times to ensure that the evil wizard Bartholemew Delgado survived; he ended up joining my administration and was an invaluable help during this surgery. Without that, I would have needed to pass several high-level Lore: Nature and Lore: Arcane skill checks, and I strongly suspect that the patient would have died on a failure. Along the way you're mediating the well-intentioned disputes between Tristian and Jhod about the nature of the threat and how to address it.
The plot continues to develop, moving more like a wave than a straight line. Tristian helps you infiltrate a cult that seems connected with what's going on. There's a strong indication that goblins are behind the problem; you eventually learn that they are gleefully accelerating its spread, but are not the initial source. More skill checks come into play as you try to convince your lieutenant to do his job and keep order in your capital rather than rush off into a mysterious cave and try to solve the problem himself. (Recklessly exposing yourself to personal danger is the exclusive responsibility of the chief executive, not her cabinet!) Again, my personal Persuasion skills proved highly useful in achieving my desired outcome; from peeking at online spoilers, I would have otherwise needed to choose between the death of Kesten or Jhod.
Multiple threats are now bearing down on you simultaneously, with your capital under the active assault of erupting monsters, while a mysterious cave upstream is pulsing out more and more seeds. You must prioritize the threats and execute on them, all while under a challenging timer. Once inside the cave, you discover a portal to another world, the First World, the original source of all reality on Golarion; here there is an intriguing series of visions that hint at future plot developments and also illuminate some of your previous experiences with the Guardian of the Bloom. This all leads up to an exciting and challenging fight where you split your party in two and simultaneously destroy the Everblooming Flower in both worlds.
Difficult and interesting fights are a wonderful and consistent hallmark of this game. There are lots of trash fights along the way, which are quick and fun to play with in the RTWP engine. Once you near the end of the main quest, you'll need to remember that you've been collecting potions and scrolls and wands along the way, inspect your foes, adjust your tactics, swear a lot, reload and eventually triumph. It's fun!
Likewise, the Vanishing of Varnhold starts out with a mysterious and innocuous plot hook ("Nobody has heard from Magar in a few weeks, someone should check in on him") that ultimately builds up to a bonkers, fun, lore-heavy resolution ("The lich ruler of a millennia-old cyclopean civilization received the Eye of Abaddon from Hell and used it to imprison the souls of all smaller races who dared enter his old territory, and also Tristian is now a bad guy I guess?")
My one very mild complaint at the moment is that the main plot is sometimes a little too exciting, and I don't feel like I have as much time as I would like to devote to kingdom management stuff, which is less exciting but also deeply fulfilling. If only these extra-planar creatures would stop invading our reality so I could finally get back to the more important work of adjusting marginal tax rates and negotiating bilateral tariff agreements!