Monday, June 29, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

This Saturday is the 4th of July, which happens to be a holiday in the United States known as Independence Day. Because of that, I've decided to take the week off to relax, spend some time with family and friends, and just have a good time.

I'll be returning to my normal schedule on July 6th (next Monday). Until then, I wish everyone who's celebrating the holiday a happy Independence Day and to those who aren't I hope you have a fantastic week. See you guys and gals next week!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Vigilante Playtest: First Impressions

A simple citizen by day,
a crusader against crime by night.
Last Friday, Paizo published the playtest for the new Vigilante class that will be included in next year's Ultimate Intrigue. As the name implies, the Vigilante will allow players who want to play a character similar to the Shadow or Zorro a class to do so.

When I heard about this new class, I will admit I wasn't very excited about it. I subscribe to the believe that something with such a tiny niche as the Vigilante probably shouldn't have a base class built around it, but should be represented by an archetype for a class like the Investigator and the Slayer. However, I decided to wait until I at least got the chance to look at the playtest version of the class before finalizing my thoughts upon it.

With that in mind, I decided to spend the last few days reading over the document, dissecting the rules, and develop my own thoughts about this new, weird class, which I decided to post here.

PROS
  • The class' mechanics are filled to the brim with flavor. A lot of the class' general abilities represent the class' concept pretty well, dealing with their fame/infamy within different locales (Renown), a stealth-based fighting style focused on striking fear within the heart of their enemies (Stunning Appearance, Frightening Appearance, etc.), and the fact that the character is juggling multiple identities (Dual Identity).
  • The Vigilante also has some interesting mechanical ideas as well. Dual Identity giving your two identities different alignments is pretty cool and the fact that Vigilantes pick a specialization the rework the class' basic role within the party is intriguing. Want to be a martially-focused character? Pick the Avenger specialization. Want to sling arcane spells instead? Pick the Warlock.
CONS
  • The class' mechanics need some serious work. Dual Identity has an awful restriction where you can't use the majority of your Vigilante abilities while you are in your social identity. That's beyond idiotic. Does Batman lose his skills when he's Bruce Wayne? Of course not! Other abilities come on too late to be truly useful (Quick Change, Everyman, the later Appearance abilities) or unnecessarily restrictive or limited (Renown only allowing you to gain it's benefits within a community of 200 people at 3rd level? That's not good...)
  • The four specializations are rather weak and restrictive due to their reliance upon the class' talent system. The Avenger and the Stalker are weaker versions of the Fighter and the Rogue, the Zealot is a weaker version of the Inquisitor, and the Warlock is hampered by the class' talent allotment. It's especially sad when you consider these talents are supposed to be stronger than feats, but many are clearly not.
  • The class' niche is extremely limited and it's place within the game seems limited as well. The class gives off the impression that it will only be useful within a particular type of campaign, an urban one with high amounts of intrigue. The fact that the designers keep saying the class was designed to utilize the subsystems presented within Ultimate Intrigue furthers that notion. Also, I can't be the only one who thinks tying the viability of your class' abilities to optional subsystems that  might not be used by everyone. 

CONCLUSIONS
At the moment, the Vigilante feels like a class that needs a lot of work to make it a much better class. Its abilities need some fine tuning, some need to be moved around, and the talents and specializations need to be made stronger. While Paizo might make the necessary changes, especially since they tend to release purposefully conservative versions of their classes for playtest purposes, I would be lying of I said I was concerned about it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Free RPG Day 2015: A Tale of Many Games

This past Saturday was the 9th annual Free RPG Day. Established in 2007, Free RPG Day is very similar to Free Comic Book Day. Both were created with the goal of introducing new people to cool, interesting properties with the very low profit wall of $0.00. These events are held at game stores throughout the world, many of which also run demo games utilizing the free product to help people learn these new games, meet other games, and have fun while doing it.

Like last year, my FLGS participated in the event and I obviously attended it. Although I didn't play in every demo, I did manage to experience a few and thought I'd discuss my most memorable moments throughout the day. Feel free to share your own, personal Free RPG Day stories in the comments below.

TRAITOROUS WINDS IN THE DEAD OF WINTER
While the day was supposed to be about role-playing games, two friends and I had the first two hours free. We decided to kill some time until our first scheduled games by playing Dead of Winter. This was the first time I happened to get the traitor goal, which required me to have six food cards in my hand at the end of the game. I managed to get five, but couldn't get the last one before the morale track dropped to 0. I decided to just see what the next card would have been if I could have lasted one more turn. It was a freaking food card. If I could have lasted one more turn, I would have finally won a game of Dead of Winter

THE AMAZING STORIES OF THE COSMIC PATROL!!
This was the first game that I actually got to play today, and it was easily the most insane. Cosmic Patrol is a game that hearkens back to the pulp days of science fiction, but our group ended up going in a very different direction. Our game was less "Lost in Space" and more "Barbarella" and incredibly meta, constantly referencing the idea that our characters were just characters in a fiction, 1970's, low budget Scfi show. It was weird, it was strange, but it was incredibly fun.

FUN TIMES WITH BATTLETECH
Battletech was the next game I had scheduled, which turned out to be interesting as well. While I've enjoyed the franchise for awhile, I've actually never played one of the editions of the Mechwarrior game. Although I found it weird that a game about piloting mechs didn't have any actual rules for said mechs in the quick start, our game master did an excellent job winging it and we had fun regardless, the session being one of the more serious ones I had last night. I really want to play the full version of the game now.

THE SECRETS OF THE NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS
GUMSHOE is one of those systems I've always had mixed feelings about, especially since I don't feel like I agree with its most important tenet that players should always find clues in a mystery game if they have a rank in a specific skill tied to the clue. However, I'll be the first to admit I had a lot of fun playing Night's Black Agents, especially due to the simplicity of the mechanics and the interesting name of the skills (Bullshit Detector is still the best skill ever). Although we didn't get to finish our session due to time, I still highly enjoyed it. I also learned that one should be careful when kicking someone in the face because you might not be able to hold back your anger, but that's to be expected when you've been stabbed.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Iconic Characters of Occult Adventures: A Few Thoughts

The New Class of Pathfinder Iconic Characters from Occult Adventures
Over the past few weeks, Wayne Reynolds posted the various new iconic characters that will represent the six new classes being introduced in next month's Occult Adventures. I've mentioned before that I absolutely love Pathfinder's Iconics, so I thought I'd give my thoughts on these interesting individuals.

THE OCCULTIST

This rather plump fellow really intrigues me, mostly because he happens to be the Iconic for my favorite class premiering in Occult Adventures. I like the strange items he happens to have, which make sense due to the fact that occultists utilize the psychic power hidden within weird objects. I also kind of like that he's a little on the chubby side. As someone who's packing a few extra pounds, it's nice to see characters that don't default to society's prescribed definition of attractive. 

THE PSYCHIC

In contrast to the previous Iconic, this one happens to represent my least favorite class being introduced: the psychic. Although the class felt alright mechanically, it just felt dull and kind of bland. With that being said, I rather like this mechanic. I think going with an Indian style character was a good choice and I love the colors Reynolds' used in the picture. The floating objects, glowing eyes, and third eye symbol upon her forehead were nice touches as well. 

THE MESMERIST

The mesmerist was a class I liked in theory, but felt needed a little more work to make it more mechanically viable during later levels of the game. However, I think this Iconic captures the flavor of the class. The contrasting colors really cause the character's design to pop, especially with the gold. I also really like the swirls, which really go nicely with the class's theme. I also can't help but love the fact that he's wearing a fez (which is obviously the coolest headwear ever). 

THE SPIRITUALIST

I'm just going to come out and say this Iconic is easily my favorite out of the entire bunch. I love that we've finally gotten are elderly woman Iconic to compliment the elderly wizard Iconic Ezren. I like the design that feels like a gypsy from an old, Universal monster movie, I like the look of her phantom, and I love the way she's pointing at the viewer, making her look like someone you don't want to mess with because you might find yourself on the end of that ghostly blade.

THE KINETICIST

While the occultist was my favorite class, the kineticist was the class that intrigued me the most. Obviously influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender, the kineticist had an interesting approach to magic and offered something pretty new to Pathfinder mechanically. Because of that, I can see why they decided to go in an interesting route with its iconic by making it a human child. Although I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of rather young child being an adventurer, I like the piece and enjoy the Inuit vibe I get from it. Finally, I want that owlbear plushie because it's so freaking adorable.

...

Don't you judge me...

THE MEDIUM

The medium was probably the class that left me with the most conflicted emotions at the end of the Occult Adventures playtest. While I loved the idea and flavor of the class, the actual mechanics left a lot to be desired and needed a good deal of work. Its Iconic leaves me just as conflicted. While I like the inclusion of the Harrow cards, crystal ball, and Quija board, the overall design just feels a little unremarkable to me and I have a hard time remembering him. 

YOUR THOUGHTS?
What do you think of the new Occult Adventures Iconics? Which is your favorite and why? Do you think they're good representation of their classes? Can you guess what their backstories might be? Leave your thoughts and answers in the comments below. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Archetype: The Mountebank

A mountebank preparing to put on an amazing show
(and separate these find people from their hard earned money)
The art of the con is practiced by so many throughout the world, but none are more skilled in deceiving others than the mountebank. Using numerous tricks, whether they be practical or magical in nature, the mountebank is the master of separating gullible fools of their silver and gold.

While a large number of mountebanks are selfish and self-serving, a small few have chosen to use their abilities for good, tricking the rich and sharing their spoils with the poor (after taking a few coins off the top for themselves, of course).

The mountebank is an archetype for the rogue class.

Prestidigitation (Su): At will, a mountebank can use prestidigitation (Core Rulebook pg. 325) as a spell-like ability. Furthermore, she also receives a bonus equal to 1/2 her rogue level to Bluff and Disguise checks. This ability replaces trapfinding.

Arcane Trickery (Su): At 3rd level, a mountebank receives the major magic rogue talent
(Core Rulebook pg. 68), except the spells are limited to those that belong to the enchantment and illusion schools of magic. At 6th level, and every three levels thereafter, the mountebank may select another 1st-level spell to a maximum of 6 at 18th level. These spells can be cast once per day at 3rd level and one additional time per day every three levels thereafter to a maximum of six times per day at 18th level. This ability replaces trap sense.

Rogue Talents: The following rogue talents complement the mountebank archetype: coax information, cunning lie, honeyed words, minor magic, and underhanded.

Advanced Talents: The following advanced rogue talents complement the mountebank archetype: hard to fool, skill mastery, and unwitting ally.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Initial Impressions: A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying Game, Part One

This cover is simply beautiful. That's an
objective fact.
Last Saturday, I was invited to join a new campaign being played at the FLGS I frequent. This campaign would be set in George R.R. Martin's Westeros setting and would be using the A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying Game released by Green Ronin Publishing. I've owned the PDF for the A Game of Thrones edition of the game for awhile now, but I've never had the chance to use it until now.

Today, I made my way down to the store to participate in the House & Character Creation session for the game. I thought I'd give my initial impressions of that process today and my thoughts on the actual gameplay next week once we have our first, true session.

As one would expect of a game based upon Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series of novels, the aristocratic house one belongs to is just as important as the character and is the first thing the group creates when they sit down at the table.

When we sat down at the table, our group knew that our house would be located in the North. With that part decided, we began the actual creation of our family. This is done through rolling a number of d6's based upon the specific situation. We began by rolling 3d6 to generate our starting scores in Defense, Influence, Lands, Law, Population, Power, and Wealth. Initially, we actually managed to roll some pretty decent scores for these stats.

Those scores quickly changed when we began to roll the events that happened to our house during its history. Depending on how old your house is, it will have a number of special events happen to it which can be good or bad. Unfortunately for us, the majority of our events were negative in nature. We lost an battle during the Andal invasion, we had a lord go mad and a horrible scandal, we were at the middle of a treacherous situation, and finally invaded by Wildlings from north of the Wall.

These events left our house as a pale shadow of it's former glory, just barely holding on to a single keep known as the "Lonely Hall" located within the cold wetlands near the northern coast. Although we had some extraordinary bad luck with our dice rolls, I really enjoyed the process, how it brought us all together to tell this rather tragic story of a house of nobles who once were on top of the world, but have fallen so far.

Once we finished creating our house (which we named Bifrost), we began creating our characters. A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying Game uses a point-buy system for creating characters, giving you a certain amount of points to spend on your abilities and the specialties you have in those abilities based upon your character's age. Although I'm usually not the biggest fan of these kinds of systems, the process wasn't super complicated and I managed to finish it rather quickly.

When you finish spending your points, you can then receive a number of "destiny points". These points can be used like fate points during the game and can be spent to gain qualities which are like feats or edges in Dungeons & Dragons and Savage Worlds, giving you bonuses when you use certain abilities in certain ways. However, you have to be careful how you spend those destiny points because if you ever run out, your character becomes an NPC. I honestly kind of like that because it gives you as a player a tough decision to make and restricts you from picking too many great qualities and if you want to do that, you will have to take some series drawbacks that will hamper your character to do so.

While character creation and house creation where pretty simple, I do have one complain: the book itself is organized horribly. When we were trying to purchase equipment, we had difficulty finding the tables with the actual prices because they decided to put them in weird places, like at the end of the chapter after describing the equipment at the beginning of it. While we managed to figure everything out, it did cause us a serious headache at times.

With that being said, I still rather enjoyed the process overall. I just wished the writers of the book would have organized it better. It would have made things so much easier.

At the end of the day, I ended up creating the first born daughter of House Bifrost, Astrid Bifrost. Although her twin brother will most likely inherit the throne, she realizes he might not be the best leader due to his love of fighting and combat. She hopes to "help" him when he eventually becomes Lord Bifrost after their father's death, advising her sibling with the help of her younger brother who seems to be more like her than her actual twin. Although she never learned how to fight or the art of war, she has learned the ways of the court and has developed a strong silver tongue. She hopes to use those skills to raise the standing of her house and help her family (while making a name for herself).

Next Monday, I'll discuss my impressions of the actual system and how it plays out at the table.

Friday, June 5, 2015

It's Okay to Say No

Back in 2004, Vincent Baker's Lumpley Games released Dogs in the Vineyard, an indie role-playing game set in a version of the Wild West loosely based on the Mormon State of Deseret in pre-statehood Utah. Players play "God's Watchdogs", individuals working for the Mormon Church who travel from town to town, performing a myriad of different tasks.

One aspect that many people remember about Dogs in the Vineyard that it's rules promoted the idea that Game Masters should always "say yes, or roll dice." This piece of advice is pretty simple. A Game Master should either go along with a player's suggestions or at least give them the opportunity for the suggestion to occur based upon a roll of the dice.

Some individuals within the gaming community have taken this idea a step further, believing a Game Master should always say "Yes" to their players. Others have taken the basic concept and expanded upon it, creating two distinct variations: The "Yes, and..." and the "Yes, but..." rules. It seems like the very idea of telling a player "No" has become something only bad people do and they should feel bad for doing it.

Thankfully, I'm not the first person to say how ridiculous that notion is. While I believe a Game Master should say yes to his or her players, since it allows said players to have more influence upon the game and takes some of the creative weight of the Game Master's shoulders, they need to occasionally say no as well.

Now that we've introduced the idea that saying "No" to your players is just as important as saying "Yes" to them, we now have another question to answer: When should a Game Master say no and how should that Game Master say it?

Generally, I believe a Game Master should say no to a player when said player wants to do something that will create problems for the game and the other people playing at the table. Let's imagine you're running a game with a group of people and one of them is playing a character who happens to lean more towards the evil side of the alignment scale.

They want to do something that you know will not only upset the other players, but will make it hard for them to justify why their characters are still adventuring with this person. Because of that, you should probably tell them "no" and possibly explain why. However, you should keep it short and to the point to keep the game moving.

A Game Master should also say "No" when a player wants to do something that clashes with the game world being used. An example would be a player wanted to create an elf in a modern setting with no magic or magical creatures.

Don't be harsh when you tell a player "No". Remain calm, cool, and collected. Explain yourself if need be, but keep it short and to the point so you can keep the flow of the session moving at the correct pace. As the Game Master, you know what's healthy and not healthy for your group and the game you're trying to run. While saying "Yes" to your players is good and you should do it as much as possible, don't be afraid to say "No" every once in awhile.