Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lovecraftian Bestiary

I'm getting ready to leave for a gaming session (finally getting the chance to run Fifth Edition), so I unfortunately don't have the time for a normal length post. However, I wanted to share something anyway. I found this on Tumblr the other day, thought it was pretty cool, and figured others might find it interesting as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Running Pathfinder for Smaller Groups

Pathfinder, like its close cousin Dungeons & Dragons, is a fantasy roleplaying game where a group of players gather around a table to have numerous adventures within an imaginary fantasy world of either the Game Master's creation or a publish setting created by someone else. Ideally, this group contains four to five players who fill the four, classic roles (Arcane Spellcaster, Divine Spellcaster, Expert, & Martial).

Occasionally, this idea is not met and the group only has two or three players. At first glance, this might make running the game a little harder. However, its relatively easy to adapt the game to smaller group, especially if you follow a few simple tips. 

First, I suggest allowing the group to begin at a higher level. As a general rule of thumb, I would make the level they start at equal to the number of players missing from the game. For example, I would have a three-player group begin at 2nd level (1st level +1 missing player). While I'd be starting the group at a higher level, I'd probably create and run adventures meant for a four-player group one or two levels lower than them (Example: For a three-player group at 2nd level, I'd use a 1st level adventure). This would help make the characters a little tougher, but still allow the adventures to be challenging. 

Secondly, I'd probably make sure each character began the game with a potion of cure light wounds (especially if no one in the group wanted to play a healer). The reason for this should probably be obvious: to give them easy access to healing abilities. With that in mind, I'd suggest making healing potions readily available, or have a character invest in a wand at some point. 

Finally, I'd probably advise the group to create a group of characters that would work well together and help cover any weaknesses they might possess due to the absence of a fourth player. For example, they could create a group consisting of a Druid with a bear companion, a Wizard, and a Bard. The druid's bear companion could take the missing martial role while the bard buffing the rest of the group with his spells and performances. You could also go the Bard/Paladin/Wizard route, having the Paladin be both the martial character and the healer thanks to his lay on hands ability. 

While there are a few other ways to handle smaller groups within Pathfinder, these three tips are the first ones that came to mind. Hopefully these help the GMs running campaigns for smaller groups. If any has any more tips they'd give for running games for smaller groups, go ahead and leave them in the comments below. I'd love to hear them. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

5E Player's Handbook Art Preview

Art by Daren Bader
Boing Boing has posted a preview of some of the art from the upcoming 5th Edition version of the Player's Handbook. While some people might be put off by the fact that one or two of the pictures still feature the "Dungeon Punk" aesthetic that was popular during 3E and 4E (I personally like the style, but to each their own), most of the pieces have a more classic feel to them, especially the above piece by Daren Bader. Check out the preview and see for yourself!

Having Fun With Shadowrun: Creating a Character

This is going to be good...
Last Saturday, another customer at Haflings' Hideaway (my local FLGS) approached my friend David and I, asking if we'd like to join a bi-weekly Shadowrun 5th Edition game that he was starting up. Since both of us have been rather eager to play the game (especially David after he played it on Free RPG Day), we both gave an outstanding "Yes."

Because I'm usually the one sitting behind the screen, taking on the role of the GM, I very rarely get to be just a player. Because of that, I try to make the characters that I tend to play a little unique and different from the usual fair. I want to play something interesting and memorable those few times I get to step out from behind the GM screen. So, I've been brainstorming a new Runner for the past day or so.

Originally, I was going to create either an ork or troll street samurai who lived by a warrior's code and became a Runner to track down the individual who killed his mentor. However, after flipping through the Core Rulebook and reading some of the negative qualities that a character can purchase, an idea popped into my head. 

Instead of playing an ork or troll, I decided the character's metatype would be human and his name is Jax Walker. Wanting to have a reason for Jax being a Runner, I decided he was a career criminal who just spent the last five years in jail after a job when a failed job. Having been released, Jax was drawn back into the life because he couldn't find a normal job and he desperately needed the money. Why is he so desperate for cash, you ask? Well, it's pretty simple: he's a single father. 

While reading the Qualities section of the Character Creation chapter, I noticed that one of the negative qualities that a character can purchase is called "Dependents". As the name implies, the quality represents a NPC that is dependent on the Runner, the exact relationship between the NPC and the Runner being based on how many points you spend on the quality. If you spend 9 points, the NPC is a close family member. When I read that, the little idea light bulb appeared over my head and I ran with it. 

Before he went to prison, Jax Walker had a fling with a girl from his old neighborhood, which resulted with him becoming the father of a little girl named Skylar. The mother died during childbirth and Skylar was raised by Jax's parents until he was released five years later. Now free, Jax tried to stay on the straight and narrow path, wanting to be a good father and role model for his daughter. However, due to being a convict, that was much harder than he suspected. So, he's fallen back on the one thing he knows he can do. However, he's trying desperately keep his life as a Runner secret from his family, not wanting Skylar to know about this. 

I'm really excited to play this character. I've never played a character who's a parent and I think it's going to be interesting to play one within a game like Shadowrun. Also, I've tried seeding a few hooks that the GM can use as he likes. This is going to be really fun. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Playing With Faith

I've made it no secret that I really enjoy playing clerics. While part of that is that I actually like playing support characters, the main reason is that I find playing characters who have decided to dedicate their lives to a specific deity for one reason or another interesting and offer a lot of potential for different kinds of adventures dealing with religion and faith.

Because I love playing these kinds of characters, it saddens me whenever I see someone who is playing a one-dimensional cleric who's squandering so much potential. With that in mind, I thought I'd post a few pieces of advice that I feel will help those players who want to make more interesting cleric characters.

When you first decide to make a cleric, you should ask yourself a very simple question about your character: "Why has this character decided to join the clergy and serve this specific deity?" In many ways, the answer to this question will act as the foundation for your character, determining how they will most likely act within the game and their opinions on their faith.

For example, let's say you're creating a cleric dedicated to Sarenrae, the goddess of the sun, healing, honesty, and redemption. Wanting to play up the redemption part, you decide your character spent most of his youth as part of a street gang and eventually ended up in prison due to his actions. During his time in jail, the character was introduced to the Sarenite faith and felt the goddess' redeeming light. Once he was released, he decided to spend the rest of his life preaching the teachings of the Dawnflower and helping those who he views as "lost souls" find their way to the right path. Knowing this is how your character came to worship Sarenrae, you're character will probably be more willing to forgive those others would see as irredeemable and might be more merciful than other agents of the faith.

Keeping that in mind, the next two questions you should probably ask about your character are "What religious beliefs are most important to your cleric?" and "Does your cleric question any of the religion's beliefs?" Unless the cleric's a complete zealot, they'll probably favor certain beliefs over others and find certain ideas either questionable or downright objectionable. Answering these questions will help you figure out how your cleric interprets their religion's scriptures and teachings, most likely leading you to figure out how they'd probably fit in with the other agents of their faith and how they might express said beliefs.

Continuing to use our Sarenite example from above, we can probably figure out that he greatly favor's the redemption aspects of the faith and most likely follows the healing and honestly sections of Sarenrae's portfolio too. However, he might question the popular belief that certain creatures (like evil outsiders or intelligent undead) are utterly irredeemable and should be destroyed on sight. He'd probably espouse that almost everyone deserves a second chance, even those who you might believe don't deserve it. His view of Sarenrae would be much more loving and forgiving then some members of the flock's perception of the Dawnflower.

Finally, you might ask one additional question: "What is your cleric's current relationship with the church?" The main reason you should ask this question is that it'll give the Game Master something to work with and possibly explain why you're going on adventures in the first place. While most clerics will probably be on good terms with their church, it can be interesting to play a character who's working relationship with the leaders of the faith is a little more strained or downright hostile.

Because our above Sarenite disagrees with a rather popular belief within Sarenrae's faith, his relationship with the church might be a little rocky depending on how strongly he observes this alternate beliefs and how often he preaches it. Due to this rocky relationship, the leaders might have sent him on a quest with the hopes that he'd be too busy adventuring to preach or maybe seeing how the world really works might change his opinions. If things get worse, he might be labeled a heretic and some really interesting things could happen within the campaign and for the character.

Like any character, clerics are as interesting as you make them. As you have to do is ask yourself a few questions and seize upon the opportunities laid out before you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Importance of Inclusiveness

Over a week ago, Wizards of the Coast released the D&D Basic Rules, a free PDF presenting the most basic version of the new edition's rules. Like with every edition of the game, there are some who love it, some who hate it, and a few who either fall somewhere in between those two extremes or feel completely indifferent. Although I've already given my own impressions of the new edition (HERE), there's a specific piece of text found within the PDF that seems to be getting a lot of attention that I'd like to talk about for just a moment.

In Chapter 4, which talks about developing your character's background and personality, the following paragraph from the section entitled "Sex" can be found:
"You don't need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon's image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character's sexual orientation is for you to decide.
While the above paragraph isn't perfect and a few people have pointed out how the language targeting transgender characters in particular is a little problematic because it perpetrates the use of a "single story", many gamers (like myself) have praised the paragraph because it represents a more inclusive attitude and a step in the right direction for Wizards of the Coast.

Of course, there are some individuals who feel like this really isn't that big of a deal, wondering why its so important to point this stuff out within a game that's about adventurers exploring ancient ruins to retrieve lost treasures. Because this is such an important topic to me, I thought I'd try to explain why I believe the inclusive attitude present within the above paragraph is important.

Its no secret that people like to see themselves represented within their media. This representation gives us a stronger sense of self, an affirmation of identity, and gives us something we can relate to within the narrative. For those of us who belong to groups or communities that are often ignored within mainstream media, representation is of special importance. It helps show that we are no different from everyone else, that we are not abnormal or something to be feared, that we are just like you and deserve the same amount of representation as you.

Making roleplaying games more inclusive is good because it helps people who tend to be excluded or ignored feel welcome. They can look at this simple paragraph and see their identity matters, just like the everyone else's. Paizo figured this out and has been pretty inclusive since the first volume of the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path (which included a paladin NPC who happened to be gay and in a loving relationship). People have cried foul in the past, claiming this level of inclusiveness doesn't fit a setting based on the Middle Ages. However, if we were to follow that logic, we'd have to severely limit the roles for women within the setting as well due to their treatment during the time. Also, its a game about having a fun time adventuring in a fantastical world. I think its okay to have some anachronisms.

Although its just a simple, little paragraph within a single chapter, the paragraph is a good sign that shows WoTC is at least trying to be inclusive and make the game a much more welcoming product. I think that's a pretty good thing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Cantina Effect

Art by Andy MacDonald
For the most part, I've always been a GM who likes to see his players happy. Generally, when one of my players approaches me with a character concept, I generally like to approve it and do whatever I can to help them bring it to life. However, occasionally a player will approach me with the desire of playing a character belonging to a race outside the normal choices. Part of me is completely fine with that, but another part of me fears that allowing this weird race might open a can of worms that has everyone else asking to play a weird race, resulting in the Cantina Effect taking place.

I guess I should define my terms. I'll just assume most of you have seen Star Wars Episode IV. Remember how the Mos Eisley Cantina was populated by so many different alien species? Well, the "Cantina Effect" refers to a fantasy or science fiction setting that has so many sentient races that a scene like the one at the Cantina would probably be extremely common throughout the world or galaxy.

Since I'm someone who enjoys having a lot of options available to me, I see the appeal of having a myriad of different races available to the players. Also, it gives the players a chance to shake up the status quo by playing something other than a dwarf or an elf. However, a part of me worries that allowing the more weird races to become much more common within the setting might actually devalue the race and rob them of some of its uniqueness.

When presented with this situation, I'd probably approach it with moderation. I'd allow the races to exist within the setting, but either make them rarities or drop them into regions that are distant to the campaign's current location. I'd also give the player a head's up that playing the race might earn them some weird reactions from locals and they might be treated a little differently (the player running a grippli swashbuckler in my Secrets of Magnimar campaign is experiencing this right now).

How would you handle this situation? Would you give into the Cantina Effect, do everything to resist it, or fall somewhere in between like myself?