The Explorer’s Club: A Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Competitive Play Variant

Roughly 15 years ago, Wizards of the Coast changed the way people enjoyed roleplaying games when they created the Open Gaming License and with it the D20 System which allowed anyone who wanted to, within limits, to create content for arguably the most successful roleplaying game of all time, Dungeons and Dragons. The system was relatively elegant for its time but my primary interest was collectible card game design so I set about working on a CCG based on this system with a design partner that we codenamed, unimaginatively, the D20 CCG. Due to some creative differences we ended up scrapping the project but every now and then I would still get the urge to work on the design whenever I got a new idea. Over the years it evolved and changed but most of the core concepts still remained.

As you can imagine, it was with great interest that I followed the development of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game after it was announced. I was excited to see what someone else would come up with in the same design space I had been working on. I was surprised however when one main difference between our two concepts arose. While my D20 CCG was meant as a competitive game, Pathfinder’s would be a cooperative card game, a genre that did not exist at the time I was working on my design but one that has become increasingly popular over the years since.

Now with two 1200 card Adventure Path sets and more to come, PACG is not only popular but also a relatively extensive toolbox of fantasy cards that can be combined to create whatever adventure players would like. There is even a custom card creator where you can make your own cards and have them professionally printed to incorporate into the game! Although PACG and D20 CCG differ considerably from each other, they still share that D&D DNA. With a little work I was able to adapt some of the mechanics from my design to work with the PACG cards to make a competitive variant where you can face off against another player. This concept is still in its infancy and will need a lot of testing to get right but the cool part is it works and it’s fun!

In The Explorer’s Club variant each player constructs two decks, a challenge deck consisting of banes, and a party deck consisting of boons. In addition each pair of players will need a specially constructed blessing deck. Once these are constructed players take turns first by flipping a blessing, then playing cards for their party, and finally by encountering the top card of their opponents challenge deck. The winner is the first player to defeat their opponent’s villain which is always the last card of their challenge deck.

In order to restrict which cards players include in their decks we use the different checks on the cards themselves. These can be considered a sort of point cost for the card when constructing a deck. If a card has more than one check separated by ‘or’ then use the highest check to determine the cost of the card. If a card has more than one check separated by ‘and’ or ‘then’ you add the two (or more) checks together to determine the point cost. If the bane has the ‘veteran’ trait, add 6 to the cost that bane. Additionally players are restricted in the number of copies of each card they can use by the total number of that card included across all official products including base sets, adventure decks, class decks and promos. Due to the variance in card size and card back color across printings it is highly recommended that you sleeve these decks. It’s also a good idea to use different color sleeves for each deck so they don’t get mixed up by accident.

When building a challenge deck you have 200 points to spend on 10 banes, including exactly 1 villain. Your challenge deck much contain exactly 10 banes in total, no more than 3 henchmen and only 1 villain. Before you begin a game, you shuffle all the banes you purchased other than your villain, then place the villain on the bottom of the deck. For the purpose of gameplay, your challenge deck is considered a location deck where all of your opponent’s characters are located. Whenever a card or effect would cause your challenge deck to be shuffled, first set aside the villain card, then shuffle the remaining cards and return the villain to the bottom of the deck. Finally, ignore all power text that would cause you to summon another card or close a location.

Building your party deck is a little different from building your challenge deck but the core idea that checks to acquire are point costs is the same. Start by selecting two characters with different names and two matching role cards. Then give each character 5 skill feats, 5 power feats and 5 card feats. Now you have 400 points to construct a 40 card deck using boons that match the types and quantities on your characters’ card lists. In addition, in order to include a boon, one of your characters must have the skill required to make the check to acquire listed on each card.

Finally the blessing deck is constructed by combining two of each blessing included in the Rise of the Runelords base set and 10 Blessing of Gods cards. For reference, the blessings are Calistria, Desna, Erastil, Gorum, Iomedae, Irori, Pharasma, Sarenrae, Shelyn, and Torag. Shuffle this deck and place it in easy reach of both players. Each player will begin their turn by flipping the top card of the blessing deck into a face up pile just like in the cooperative game. When the blessing deck is empty, the game ends at the end of that players turn.

When making a check things are done a little differently. After the active player has finalized their dice pool for a check but before they roll for the check, the other player may play any cards that would normally add dice to a dice pool to instead remove that number of dice from their opponent’s dice pool (to a minimum of 1) or cards that would add a fixed amount to the check to instead subtract that amount from the check. Just like on any check, the opponent can only use one card of each type. When removing dice, start with the smallest die and proceed in increasing order. The active player may then play additional cards if able to increase his dice pool followed by his opponent then having the opportunity to play more cards to decrease it. This continues until both players agree to pass, then the check is made as normal.

Play begins with each player presenting their characters and decks then each player drawing cards equal to the highest hand size of their two characters. Each player then chooses a character to make an initiative check using their dexterity skill. Players may play blessings or other cards to increase their dexterity dice pool or decrease their opponents as normal. The player who wins the initiative gets to take the first turn.

Turns proceed exactly as described in the cooperative rules with the exception that after encountering a bane, the active player chooses one of their characters as their primary character for the encounter. That character must make all checks and play all cards during the encounter. Their secondary character can use powers as normal. For the purpose of all checks, the adventure deck number is considered 6.

If the active player cannot draw enough cards to reset their hand at the end of the turn their party dies and they lose. If a player defeats their opponent’s villain, they win. If the blessing deck runs out the player with the most cards remaining in their challenge deck wins. In the case of a tie, the player with the most cards remaining in their party deck wins. If there is still a tie, the game is a draw.

This is still a rough idea and I’m sure there may be some interactions I’ve missed or things that need to be tweaked or clarified but the best way to figure that out was to share this with everyone so people could try it and find anything that needs to be changed. If it gets relatively popular, I plan to maintain a more formal rules document as well as a potential ban list for cards that are overpowered. For now I’d just be happy to hear anyone’s thoughts or read anyone’s deck lists.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. Please leave a comment below!

Rules Summary Page