Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Magical Conspiracy

Dangerous, yet fun, mysteries await those who open
these packs
Conspiracy is a Magic: The Gathering set released last June by Wizards of the Coast. Unlike normal sets, Conspiracy was designed specifically to be drafted.

Ever since I started playing Magic again last year, I've fallen in love with the draft format and really wanted to give Conspiracy a try. Thankfully, I finally got the chance to play it last Friday at my local game store and I thought I'd give my thoughts and opinions about it here.

While I'd like to start off with the elements and ideas that make Conspiracy an interesting and unique draft format, I feel like I should explain who drafting works first.

Drafting is a "limited" format where each player is given three Magic packs. Roughly six to eight players will sit around a table, pick up the first pack when everyone's ready, and open it. They will look through the cards, pick one they want, then pass the rest to their left. This continues until all the cards in that pack have been selected.

They will repeat this process with the remaining packs, expect they will pass the contents of the second pack to the right instead. Once all the cards from all the packs have been divided among the players, they will take said cards and build a deck out of at least 40 of them and play a few matches with those decks.

Now that you know how to draft, let's talk about how Conspiracy is different and why that's cool.

Just look at that draft value!
Although the majority of the cards featured in Conspiracy are reprints from previous sets of Magic, 65 of the 210 cards in the set are brand new, with several of those cards actually possessing abilities that affect the draft while it's happening. These cards (which are mostly artifacts) do things like add a new booster pack from any set of Magic to the draft, draft multiple cards from a single pack, look at any one unopened pack that's in the draft or a pack currently not being looked at by a player, and find out what cards other people have drafted.

These "meta-draft" cards really add a cool element to the draft itself, making it more than just picking and passing cards. Think about what it would be like to draft a Lore Keeper and get to add a pack of Modern Masters, Future Sight, or Revised to the draft? That would be insane and possibly lead to some really memorable draft game experiences later during actual play, not to mention the financial value you might walk away with.

The second element that makes Conspiracy awesome is that games are played with multiple people instead of the usual 1 vs.1 affairs. Because it was designed with this in mind, Conspiracy introduces a new type of card and several new keyword abilities.

"Conspiracies" are a new card type that start off in the command zone and either begin face up or face down at the beginning of the game. These conspiracies have special abilities that give you come neat, little tricks like getting to automatically go first, giving you an extra mulligan, allow you to only run a minimum of 35 cards instead of 40, or allow every land in your deck to tap for any type of mana (as long as you run every card in your pull).

The conspiracies that start face down are called "hidden agendas" and require you to name a specific card before you start playing. When that card is played, the hidden agenda is flipped up and activates. These hidden agendas can do things like give target creature haste, have it come in with a +1/+1 counter, give it the ability to table said creature for any color of mana, allow you to copy an instant or sorcery, etc.

Would you like to Ancestral Recall
or Time Walk?
The several new keyword abilities are Dethrone, Parley, and Will of the Council. Dethrone is an ability made for more aggressive strategies, giving creatures with the ability a +1/+1 counter each time they attack the player with the most life or is tied for the most life. Parley has everyone reveal the top card of their decks, does something for every nonland card revealed this way, and allows the players to draw that card. Finally, Will of the Council offers everyone two options they must vote on, with the option that receives the most votes or happens to be tied for the most votes activating.

Both the conspiracies and these new keywords really shake up the actual gameplay, creating tough decisions or weird moments at the table. You might have that one player who's going the Dethrone strategy, but is actively trying to lose life as well so they aren't on top and can keep getting his triggers, or the other person using a lot of parley cards so she can gain a lot of mana and creatures, but also filtering her deck so her spells still get some effect.

The meta-draft cards add a cool extra layer to the drafting experience, the conspiracies were an excellent addition, and the new keywords make multiplayer games much more exciting and intriguing.

However, I do have a small handful of complaints. First, I don't like how drawing your entire deck and losing because of that is such a real possibility. This mostly is due to the multiplayer format, how long these games tend to last, and the size of most normal draft decks. Because of this, you might actually want to break from the normal assumption and run a 45 card deck just to be safe.

Also, due to the fact that the majority of the cards are reprints, the flavor of the set really doesn't come through all that well. Conspiracy is a set that takes place upon the plane of Fiora, which seems to take a lot of influence from Italy during the Renaissance Era. While the new cards definitely show this, I wish we could have gotten at least some new art for some of the reprinted cards that depicted this flavor a lot better. However, I am something of a Vorthos when it comes to Magic lore, so this is more of a personal nitpick than a legitimate criticism.

Finally, due to the added mechanics that effect the draft and the multiplayer nature of the subsequent games, I would never through a new Magic player into a Conspiracy draft. We had some new players within our drafting pod who had never done this before, which caused our pod to move incredibly slowly and a few accidents occurred during the draft as well. This is definitely a set and format meant for more experienced players who know what they're doing and have drafted a couple of times before.

Even with these problems and issues, Conspiracy is probably one of my favorite draft environments yet. I've only manage to draft the set once, but I would eagerly jump at the chance to do it again. I'd love to see the conspiracies make their way into numerous different cubes, along with the meta-draft cards, and the new keywords could really liven up any game of Commander. I highly recommend Conspiracy to anyone who's an avid drafter and would love something fresh and new to try.

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Cavalier Archetype: The Templar

The templar is both a mighty warriors and a pious
individual.
Some cavaliers swear their loyalty to might rules, promising to protect their kingdom at all costs. Others swear loyalty to a band of likeminded individuals, vowing to stand by their side until the very end. However, a small few give their lives to one of the many deities of the world, choosing to wield their blade in the name of their god or goddess, acting as a warrior of their faith. These cavaliers are known as templars.

Alignment: A templar's alignment must be within one step of his deity's, along either the law/chaos axis or the good/evil axis.

Orders: Most templars seem to be members of the Order of the Shield, the Order of the Star, or the Order of the Sword.

Domain (Su): At 1st level, a templar gain access to one of his chosen deity's domains, gaining the granted ability of that domain at their respected levels. He treats his total cavalier level as his effective cleric level for these abilities. This ability replaces the mount ability.

Templar's Charge (Ex): At 3rd level, a templar learns how to fight the enemies of his faith more effectively. The templar receives a +4 bonus on melee attack rolls on a charge against enemies who possess an opposing alignment to him. A good templar only gains this benefit when charging evil creatures, while an evil templar receives it against good creatures. A neutral templar gets to choose whether it works against evil or good creatures, but once the choice is made, it cannot be changed.  In addition, the templar does not suffer any penalty to AC after making a charge attack against enemies of an opposing alignment. This ability replaces the normal cavalier's charge ability.

Channel Energy (Su): At 4th level, a templar gains the ability to channel positive or negative energy as if he were a cleric (Core Rulebook pg. 40), except the templar's effective cleric level is equal to his cavalier level -3. He can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + his Charisma modifier. This ability replaces the expert trainer ability.

Templar's Mighty Charge (Ex): At 11th level, a templar learns to make devastating charge attacks against the enemies of his faith. Double the threat range of any weapons wielded during a charge against an enemy of an opposing alignment. This increase does not stack with other effects that increase the threat range of the weapon. In addition, the templar can make a free bull rush, disarm, sunder, or trip combat maneuver if his charge attack is successful. This free combat maneuver does not provoke an attack of opportunity. This ability replaces the normal mighty charge ability.

Templar's Supreme Charge (Ex): At 20th level, whenever the templar makes a charge attack against an enemy of an opposing alignment, he deals double the normal amount of damage (or triple if using a lance). In addition, if the templar confirms a critical hit on a charge attack with an enemy of an opposing alignment, the target is stunned for 1d4 rounds. A Will save reduces this to staggered for 1d4 rounds. The DC is equal to 10 + the templar's base attack bonus. This ability replaces the normal supreme charge ability.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Few Thoughts About Special Snowflakes.

I've noticed several blogs recently have discussed the phenomena known as the "special snowflake", a weird pop culture term generally used to describe a character who places a great deal of importance upon how different they are from the rest of the herd. Generally, the term is used to insult or criticize a character.

Although I've criticized characters as being special snowflakes before, I found myself thinking about the somewhat broad and nebulous definition of the term and wondering about something in particular.

Where does one draw the line between a unique character and a special snowflake? Is there a line at all, or is it based purely upon personal opinion?

The reason I ask this is because you could classify playing a peculiar race/class combination or playing a good-aligned character belonging to a normally evil-aligned race as a special snowflake if you stretch the definition far enough. Do we separate the unique characters from the special snowflakes the same way some people jokingly separate homages from rip-offs based upon their quality? Is one man's unique character another person's special snowflake?

After thinking about this question for a little while, I've determined my own personal method for separating the two ideas.

Personally, I believe the deciding factor is based upon intent and focus. Characters who are made with the sole purpose of being different and said difference is their defining trait, I'd most likely label that creation as a special snowflake. However, if the differences are used as just starting points to create interesting characteristics and ideas, then I'd refrain from giving the character the negative label.

Let's look at an example to illustrate what I'm talking about. You've just joined a new campaign and you're attempting to create your new character. You decide you want to play a dwarf wizard who dislikes alcohol, preferring tea. The character would be a special snowflake if these differences were the only things that defined the character and would leave a hollow shell if taken away. The character would be spared the label if these were just used as bits and pieces to help you build an interesting character with a developed personality and backstory that explains your choices.

The reason I decided to rely upon intention & focus to identify special snowflakes is because I want to make it clear that creating characters that go against the grain and utilize concepts that aren't "normal" isn't a bad thing or automatically makes it something worth ridicule. As long as you use those things as blueprints to add upon and build from, you should be good.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Villainous Options

"Me? I'm just getting a head of the competition."
Villains really love their puns...
Everyone loves a good villain. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but stick with me for a second. Every great adventure usually has a great villain at the end of it, a bad guy who will challenge the PCs, make their day a living hell, before ultimately being foiled by those meddling heroes.

While you can make some pretty awesome and powerful villains with the Pathfinder rules, sometimes you want to give that one particular bad guy a little extra punch, helping him stand above his or her minions. 

The following are a few methods I utilize to make Pathfinder villains a little bit meaner and nastier. They're pretty simple and require very little additional math to use. 

When creating a villain character, add it's Constitution score (Charisma score for undead) to its hit point total and give it one "villain point" for every three PCs its fighting. 

A villain point is similar to a hero point (Advanced Player's Guide pg. 322), but with a few limitations. A villain point can only be spent to reroll a single d20 roll the villain made, receive a luck bonus to a roll (+8 if spent before the roll; +4 if spent after the roll), or gain an additional standard or move action. 

Don't change or modify the character's statistics beyond their hit points or their Challenge Rating. This set of rules is just meant to make the NPC a little bit more difficult to challenge and make that final fight a little interesting, especially since the villain now has points to spend as well. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (a.k.a., Admitting You Might Be Wrong About Something)

This is going to be a
weird post...
Sometimes, you realize you judged something before actually giving it an actual chance. You just let your preconceptions and negative biases influence your decisions, causing you to treat something unfairly.

You realize this at a later date and you have a decision to make. Either A) Admit you were wrong, or B) Ignore this and continue to deny any wrongdoing what-so-ever. 

Last Saturday, I realized I was wrong about a certain game set in a galaxy far, far away. This post is me deciding to choose Option A. 

However, before I explain what I was wrong about, I guess I should give some much needed context to this situation. Back in 2012, Fantasy Flight Games announced a new series of Star Wars roleplaying games, each focusing on a different aspect of the franchise. The first entry, Edge of the Empire, would focus on playing the scum & scoundrels of the galaxy. 

Knowing this game would utilize a system similar to the one used Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition, I was incredibly worried. I've gone on the record as disliking that system greatly, feeling like it was overdesigned, cumbersome, and clunky. That piece of knowledge immediately lowered my expectations for Edge of the Empire. When I finally got my hands on the Beta version of the game (which costed $30 f@#king dollars), I gave it a read, wasn't too thrilled by what I saw, and metaphorically shelved it (since it was a PDF). 

Last year, I attempted to play Edge of the Empire at my local game store when someone offered to run it, but gave up during character creation due to it being so boring and me being so tired. I actually dozed off at the table for a moment or two. Since then, I haven't really thought about it all tat much, only occasionally bringing it up when I talk about games I don't really like all that much.

Until last Saturday.

Recently, a new patron at the game shop started running an open table Edge of the Empire game, with this past Saturday being the 2nd session. I had nothing better to do at that moment, so I decided to give the game one more chance. I grabbed one of the pregenerated characters (a smuggler), took my place at the table, and rolled some weird dice. 

While I'm still not the biggest fan of the system, I didn't dislike it as much as I did the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay iteration. They seemed to cut away a lot of the fat I didn't like, making it a lot less cumbersome. The dice weren't as problematic as I remembered them being either. I still had to glance at the guide given with the pregenerated character every so often to remember what each symbol stood for, but I quickly got the gist of it.

I also really dug the advantage/disavantage mechanic. It takes some time to wrap your mind around it, especially when your role succeeds, but you somehow have two disadvantages, but it can lead to some interesting results. For example, my smuggler character managed to recognize someone in a prisoner pod, but unfortunately that person wanted to kill him due me screwing him over during a past job. 

Because of my experience last Saturday, I want to offer you an apology, Edge of the Empire. I didn't give you a fair shake and unfairly judged you. You weren't an amazing game, but you were pretty decent for what you were. I was wrong, and that's okay. 

Have you ever unfairly judged a game before? What did you do when you realized you might have been mistaken? 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Barbarians, Constitution, & Armor Class

Sometimes, it's the little things that you love the most. While I love some of the big mechanical ideas presented within the 5e Player's Handbook, like the Proficiency Bonus & the Advantage/Disadvantage system, I think my favorite elements where the small class features that seemed to add just a little extra dash of flavor to the whole package.

An example of one of these features is the 5e barbarian's unarmored defense. This ability, for those of you who haven't checked out the class yet, allows you to add your Constitution modifier to your Armor Class as long as you are not wearing any kind of armor.

While the realist in me knows this doesn't make much logical sense, the fantasy fan in me loves it. It gives me this image of barely clothed barbarians being so tough they can just shrug off a major blow from an enemy.

It allows you to create a barbarian character who'd be right at home in a Boris Vallejo painting without shooting yourself in the food mechanically. That's definitely a positive in my book.

Because I love this little feature so much, I've been toying with a way to give it to Pathfinder's barbarian for awhile. Here's what I've come up with after some brainstorming, too much free time, and an inability to sleep. I guess insomnia has its perks sometimes.

SAVAGE BOND (EX): At 1st level, a barbarian forms a bond with her inner savagery. This bond can take one of two forms. The first form increases the barbarian's base speed by +10 feet. This benefit applies only when she is wearing no armor, light armor, or medium armor,and not carrying a heavy load. Apply this bonus before modifying the barbarian's speed because of any load carried or armor worn. This bonus stacks with any other bonuses to the barbarian's land speed. 
The second form allows the barbarian to add her Constitution modifier to her AC. This bonus applies even against touch attacks or when the barbarian is flat-footed. This benefit applies only when she is wearing no armor, light armor, immobilized, helpless, or medium armor, and not carrying a heavy load. 

This ability would replace the barbarian's fast movement feature (the reasons behind that should be obvious), but still allow the player to make a choice. Also, I based the 2nd half of the ability on the monk's AC bonus feature, excluding adding the modifier to CMD because you can use this while wearing some forms of armor.

Furthermore, I should warn people this feature was made with the Pathfinder Unchained version of the barbarian in mind. The reason behind that is that version of the class doesn't grant a Constitution bonus while raging, which might break this ability. You might want to not allow that bonus to effect this feature if you want to use it with the Core Rulebook version of the class.

Currently, this is an alpha version of the class feature and still needs to be tested at the table. Some possible ways to reign it in if it ends up being too good would be to limit the specific amount of your Constitution modifier you can add to your AC, much like the duelist's canny defense feature, or maybe only allowing it to work with light or no armor. However, I'd like to see how this one works before attempting to patch it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New Race: Lizardfolk

The Lizardfolk were here before humans were
born, and will most likely be here after they die
as well.
Lizardfolk are a proud and powerful race of reptilian humanoids native to the world's scattered swamps and marshes. While many "civilized" races view them as monstrous savages, they actually possess a very rich society with numerous unique traditions and stories that depict a vibrant history stretching back several millenia. 

Physical Description: The majority of lizardfolk stand 6 to 7 feet and weigh roughly 200 lbs, with females being slightly shorter and lighter. The scales of a lizardfolk are usually gray, green, or brown with some breeds sporting short dorsal spikes or brightly colored frills. All lizardfolk possess tails that reach 3 to 4 feet in length. Lizardfolk usually prefer light, loose clothing due to their warm, temperate environment and prefer practical design over gaudy fashion. 

Society: Lizardfolk are mostly found in temperate or tropical climates, living within small villages hidden deep in the swamps & marshlands found in those areas. While certain elements may differ from tribe to tribe, the majority of lizardfolk society tends to be matriarchal in nature, with one specific chief ruling the tribe with a group of elders advising her. Lizardfolk tribes very rarely keep written historical records, preferring an oral tradition. 

Relations: Lizardfolk society tends to be insular in nature, very rarely interacting with other civilizations beyond the occasional moments of trading resources. They generally prefer to handle their own problems than ask for help and despise other societies forcing their beliefs upon them. Because of this, lizardfolk tend to come off as hostile or standoffish to other races. With that being said, lizardfolk are also incredibly loyal to their tribes & friends. Many scholars say that turning a lizardfolk into a friend is difficult, but you will never have a better one once you achieve that task. 

Alignment & Religion: Most lizardfolk tend to favor neutrality due to their insular nature. However, they tend to lean towards the lawful side of the spectrum due to their loyalty to friends and family. Lizardfolk society is generally animistic in nature, believing everything possesses some spiritual essence, with certain ones being more powerful than others (i.e., the deities). When lizardfolk give favor to a deity, it's usually one who governs the natural world, community, or family. 

Adventurers: The few lizardfolk who decide to leave their marshy homes are usually seeking some form of enlightenment or wish to experience the outside world for a time before returning home to retire to an average life. A small few are also unfortunately exiles, banished from their village for one reason or another, falling in with adventurers because they have nowhere else to go. 

LIZARDFOLK RACIAL TRAITS
+2 Strength, +2 Constitution: Lizardfolk are powerful and tough creatures.

Medium: Lizardfolk are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size. 

Reptilian: Lizardfolk are humanoids with the reptilian subtype. 

Normal Speed: Lizardfolk have a base speed of 30 feet and a swim speed of 30 feet. Furthermore, you receive a +8 racial bonus on Swim checks. 

Athletic: Lizardfolk receive a +2 racial bonus on Acrobatics checks. 

Hold BreathLizardfolk can hold their breath for a number of rounds equal to four times their Constitution before they risk drowning. 

Natural Attacks: Lizardfolk receive a bite (1d4) and two claw (1d4) primary natural attacks. 

Scaly Hide: Lizardfolk have a +1 natural armor bonus due to their scaly flesh. 

Languages: Lizardfolk begin play speaking Draconic. Lizardfolk with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Aquan, Common, Goblin, and Orc.  

ALTERNATE LIZARDFOLK RACIAL TRAITS
Camouflage: Some lizardfolk are born with smaller fangs, but the ability to change the color of their scales to better hide in certain locations. Lizards with this trait receive a +4 racial bonus on Stealth checks in marshes and forested areas. This trait replaces the lizardfolk's bite natural attack. 

Prehensile Tail: Many lizardfolk have tails, but some have long, flexible tails that can be used to carry items. While they cannot wield weapons with their tails, they can use them to retrieve small, stowed objects carried on their persons as a swift action. This racial trait replaces Hold Breath. 

Scent: Some lizardfolk have the ability to pick up strong scents with their tongue. These lizardfolk possess the scent ability (Bestiary 304). This racial trait replaces Hold Breath and Athletic. 


((WRITER'S NOTE: I know making lizardfolk into a player race isn't a new idea, but I've always loved the concept and wanted to make a version for Pathfinder. If you'd like to see another take on the subject, give Kobold Press's Advanced Races: Lizardfolk a look)).