Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Feat - Flanking Shot

While I enjoy playing and running Pathfinder, I would be lying if I said there weren't elements of the rules that I hate, especially when it comes to unnecessarily hampering a concept that should be relatively easy to pull off (*cough* Dex-Based Finesse Fighter *cough*).

A good example of this is the ranged rogue. The idea of a character surreptitiously attacking individuals with a short- or longbow is a very common trope within fantasy literature and media, however it's incredibly hard to make one that's actually effective using the current rules.

The easiest path for obtaining sneak attack damage (i.e., flanking your opponent) isn't really an option and the other option for achieving it is so incredibly bad that you will very rarely want to do it. I mean, I get receiving a penalty on a stealth check after hitting an opponent, but does that penalty have to be a -20? That just seems like overkill to me. Keeping that in mind, I thought I'd create something to help those players who would like to play a rogue who utilizes a bow as their main weapon, and what better than a new feat?

FLANKING SHOT 
You are particularly skilled at utilizing the position of your allies and opponents, allowing you to make the perfect shot.
Prerequisites: Dex 13, Point Blank Shot
Benefit: You can flank an opponent from a maximum distance of 30 ft. as long as an ally is standing on the opposite side of that specific target. However, only you gain these benefits, not your ally. 
Normal: Only creatures within melee range can receive the benefits of flanking an opponent. 
This feat opens up the easiest path for the rogue to receive their sneak attack damage, giving them a better option than the overtly nerfed sniping option. However, I felt like I had to put some limitations on the feat, otherwise it would just be too good. Requiring the character to be within 30 ft. of the target makes some thematic sense, and creates a logical prerequisite feat. Also, only granting the character with the feat the bonus allows me to keep the feat from being broken.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Game That Got Away

Today, I want to take a moment and talk about the games that got away.

I guess I should explain what I mean by "games that got away", but I don't literally mean games that hoped off my book shelf and ran out the door. That would just be silly. This blog is supposed to be super serious, after all.

At one point in everyone's gaming career, they've stumbled upon a game they thought sounded awesome. Maybe the concept grabbed them, or maybe the mechanics seemed pretty cool. The reasons are endless, but you found yourself captivated by the game and just had to buy it, knowing you'd play it eventually. Unfortunately, the book or books have done nothing but collect dust upon your shelf because your group just didn't seem to have the same level of enthusiasm about the game as you do, never giving you the chance to play it. So, metaphorically, the game "got away". I know it's kind of a stretch, but it's the best phrase I could come up with.

The game that got away from me was Wraith: The Oblivion. Published by White Wolf in 1994, Wraith was this odd, little entry into the World of Darkness line. Players take on the role of characters who've recently died and found themselves within a rather dark afterlife. During the game, characters can eventually ascend to the 'true' afterlife (called 'Transcendence'), become entangled in the strange politics of the afterlife, or gradually fade into Oblivion.

As to be expected, each character possesses certain things that keep them tethered to the material plane, preventing them from passing on. These are objects, places, and people they once knew while they were alive (called "Fetters") or strong emotions they failed to resolve before their untimely deaths (called "Passions"). However, what makes the game truly interesting is that each character also has a "Shadow", a self-destructive aspect of the character trying to lead them down the wrong path. This aspect is usually played by another player at the table, and can cause games to be very emotional.

The game had a very short lifespan, only lasting five years or so. I discovered it much later, roughly around the same time I found out about the New World of Darkness. I quickly fell in love with Wraith, loving the intriguing concept, dark flavor, and cool mechanics. However, I feel like the things that I love about it make it a hard sell to other players. Hopefully, I'll find a group of players interested in giving Wraith a chance, hopefully around the time that Onyx Path Publishing releases the 20th Anniversary of the game (something I'm incredibly excited about).

What game did you fall in love with, but never had the chance to actually play/run? When did you discover it, what do you love so much about it, and why have you never played it? I would love to know.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Morale Saving Throws

Two weeks ago, I talked about RPG combat and ways you might make it more interesting. A piece of advice I gave was to have your opponents fight intelligently, which includes attempting to escape if things don't go their way.

Occasionally, when utilizing this piece of advice, you might ask yourself a very simple question: When should I have an NPC or a group of NPCs retreat? Generally, you can probably figure this out by simply thinking about what these particular NPCs would do based on who they are and what their motives are. However, you might want to sometimes leave this kind of thing to chance, especially against random mooks.

Well, I think I have an answer for you. I think we can figure out a pretty simple house rule based on an idea from older editions of Dungeons & Dragons: Morale.

Whenever an NPC is reduced to half its total number of hit points or fewer during the course of battle, has no way of harming the PCs during its turn, or happens to be greatly outnumbered by the PCs, the Game Master may have the NPC make a DC 10 Will save. NPCs who succeed this will save realize they will most likely lose this fight and attempt to escape as soon as possible. If escape is impossible, they will surrender.

Particularly large groups with a centralized leader should use a slightly modified version of this rule. When a group loses at least half of its members during a fight with no loses on the opposing side, the leader of the group makes a DC 10 Will save. Success means the leader orders his group to retreat or surrender if escape is impossible. If the leader of the group is reduced to 0 hit points, knocked unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated, the group will attempt to flee without the need of a morale role. If the group has a second in command, that NPC will make the Will save for the group inside, following the same rules as listed above.

These are supposed to be very simple rules that a Game Master can generally memorize and utilize at the table relatively easily. However, seeing as these are meant for Pathfinder, I still need to figure out how certain rules interact with them. With that being said, I feel you could use them as is without much of a problem. Just remember this should only be used sparingly, mostly for minions and randomly generated conflicts. Like any rule, don't let these become a straight jacket and restrict you. Picture them as just another tool to add to your GM toolbox.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fun Times With Magic: The Gathering, Part Two

May Garruk watch over us all, making sure we draw well and play by the
rules
Last Friday, I attended the Fate Reforged prerelease event at my local game store, Halflings' Hideaway. As I mentioned in my previous post, this was my first prerelease event for Magic: The Gathering since I started playing again. I thought I would write a post about my experience at the event, some of the more interesting moments I had, and whether attending a prerelease event like this is worth it (here's a hint: it totally is if you like playing Magic).

Like every Friday night, the store held their usual Friday Night Magic tournaments. Since I had some time to kill until the prerelease started at midnight, I decided to participate in the Standard tournament. I had two decks that I could have used, a Blue/White Control deck and a Red/White Aggro deck. Due to the latter deck working more smoothly than the former one, I decided to use it instead.

I managed to win my first match pretty easily due to the player being rather new to the game, but I decided to give him some advice afterwords. The second match was much more arduous, going up against a Black/White midrange deck run by a friend. She won the first bout, but the second one was much more tense. I managed to get her down to 2 life and I would have won if I had drawn just one of my burn spells. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The third match wasn't as tense, going up against one of my most hated decks: Mono White that gains life at an insanely fast rate. You can probably figure out how that one went.

Just look at that value!
Once the Standard tournament was over and everyone was ready, the prerelease began and everyone was handed a small box labelled with the insignia of their chosen clan. Originally, I was going to pick Temur (Green/Red/Blue) due to my love of big creatures and burn spells, but I ultimately decided to go with Jeskai (Blue/Red/White) to try something different. I'm also glad I made that choice because one of my packs had a certain colorless planeswalker that everyone wanted to pull: Ugin, The Spirit Dragon. I was one of four people who ended up pulling an Ugin, and I believe I was the only one to pull him from their normal packs (not the special promo packs we received afterwords).

Having pulled such a powerful card, I made it my goal to play him at least once before the night is over. Thankfully, I managed to do just that and pull off his ultimate and win my first game with only a few rounds to go. Unfortunately, I think the sheer amount of luck unbalanced something in the Universe, so I ended up drawing incredibly crappy hands the rest of the night and getting horrible luck, so I only won the one match. However, due to the structure of the tournament where you one a pack for each game you won, I did manage to get an additional pack of Fate Reforged.

It was nearly 5:30 in the morning when the tournament finally ended. Due to being incredibly hungry, a friend and I decided to the nearest IHOP, which is 30 minutes away. However, it was totally worth it, even if it meant I wouldn't be home until 7 or so. Once I made it back, I quickly sorted out my new cards before passing out.

In the end, I definitely had fun at the prerelease and I can't wait for the next one for Dragons of Tarkir. These events are totally worth it if you enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering. Not only do you get the chance to nab some cards before they're even released, but you also get to spend the night playing with them. What's not to love about that?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fun Times With Magic: The Gathering, Part One


Tonight, I'll be attending the Fate Reforged prerelease at my FLGS (Halflings' Hideaway). Fate Reforged is the second set in the Khans of Tarkir block for Magic: The Gathering. This will actually be my first prerelease event, having never attended one during my relatively short time with the game several years ago. Due to the presence of a FLGS nearby and new friends who are entrenched in the nearly 23 year old game, I've found myself playing again.

Like most Magic players, I can remember when I discovered the game. Back in 2005, after playing numerous other trading card games, I finally decided to give the industry juggernaut a try after watching some kids play it during lunch time at school. They had just released a new block, Ravnica: City of Guilds, and I purchased one of the four intro decks (Dimir Intrigues, the Blue/Black intro deck) and a few boosters. I enjoyed the game immensely, trying out different colors and ideas, having a blast with my friends. 

Unfortunately, I stopped playing shortly after Coldsnap, focusing on other games (mostly D&D). I had a short resurgence during the Scars of Mirrodin block due to a friend purchasing a deck builder's toolkit for me, but that didn't last long because I didn't have anyone to play with and I believe the only store near me that ran an Friday Night Magic (FNM) had shut its doors shortly before that. 

However, that all changed last year when Halflings' Hideaway opened. I resisted the urge to get back into the game for the longest time, but that didn't last very long. I finally caved, picking up another deck builder's toolkit and slowly started piecing together a Green/Red standard deck. 

I had to relearn the game, due to the new mechanics of the current sets (Theros & Khans), learn how to properly build a deck, and I started going to FNM on a regular basis. I didn't win many matches at first and I made a lot of obvious mistakes, but I've slowly gotten better over the past few months. Heck, I actually managed to place 4th in one of the standard tournaments, which is definitely an accomplishment in my book. 

Now, I can definitely count myself as a Magic fan. I enjoy cracking new packs, building new decks, playing against my friends, and learning more about the game and its history. I still make some mistakes and I'm definitely not the best player, but I have fun and that's all that matters really. 

So, if you're in the East Texas area and happen to be a Magic player, drop by Halflings' Hideaway this evening for FNM and the prerelease event at Midnight. There should still be some slots open, and it's only $25 bucks for a couple of packs and some fun times playing a fun game.

Those who are interested in hearing about my experiences with the Fate Reforged prerelease can read about them in Part Two.

Monday, January 12, 2015

WoTC Creates D&D Basic Rules Website


Recently, Wizards of the Coast quietly launched a hypertext version of the Player's Basic Rules for the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons. While it looks somewhat austere, it is definitely functional and easy to navigate. Considering Wizards hasn't had the best web interfaces before, they definitely earn some points in this regard. Hopefully,  we'll see a DM version of this in the near future.

However, the appearance of this site does raise a simple question: why haven't they updated the PDFs? While the PDFs are functional, they are still missing some very basic elements like a table of contents or an index. Heck, it would be nice to see some of the more basic rules and advice from the Dungeon Master's Guide included in the DM PDF. However, it's been awhile since they've made any notable changes to either PDF. Part of me wonders if this website might be the replacement for those documents and a glimpse at the upcoming SRD for the new license. With that being said, this is just speculation, so take it with a grain of salt. 

What do you think? Are you glad to see this website? Would you like to see a website for the DM's rules? Why do you think they haven't updated the PDFs recently? Do you think I might be on to something with my speculation, or am I completely off base? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Rule of Three: Creating Combat Encounters

Art by Wayne Reynolds
A new year, a new series. Rule of Three is a gamemasery advice series where I tackle a specific topic by presenting three tips and tricks for handling it at the game table. 

I feel like I have a confession to make, something that will sound like blasphemy to some of you. However, for me to properly discuss this topic, I have to do this. 

I find combat in roleplaying games incredibly boring. 

Before you start calling for me to burn at the metaphorical (at least, I hope it's metaphorical) stake as a roleplaying heretic, let me defend myself. I enjoy a good combat encounter just as much as the next player, but I'm very rarely enthralled by them as much as I am by straight roleplaying scenes. 

However, this is mostly due to game masters designing and running combat encounters that are devoid of anything interesting or unique, coming off as lifeless, mechanical bouts. Thankfully, I have a handful of tips you can utilize when writing and running combat encounters. Just remember, these are not rules to cling to, but guidelines to help you. Just keep them in the back of your mind when writing your session notes and running the encounters at the table. They've helped me and I'm sure they'll help some of you too. 

#1. MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS TO EVERY ENCOUNTER
I know it might sound weird, but combat should not be the one and only solution in a combat encounter. Instead, consider alternate ways for your players to tackle each encounter. For example, your players are traveling down a country road and stumble upon an overturned wagon. You know this wagon is a trap laid out by a small group of bandits who are hiding among the trees that line each side of the road. The players could handle this situation in so many ways, from straight out fighting the bandits, to reasoning with them and striking up a deal to let them go, to even possibly evading the encounter entirely due to some quick scouting by the party's ranger. Allowing your players to defeat encounters with non-combat solutions will help make said encounter feel more three dimensional and will makes the players feel like they actually have an effect on the situation. 

#2. HAVE OPPONENTS ACT INTELLIGENTLY
When running your NPCs, have them act in an intelligent & logical manner. You could have the bandits simply rush the players in the above example, fighting them to the death, but that's not interesting. Instead, you could have the bandits ambush the players, using simple hit & run tactics. When they realize they are overwhelmed and will most likely die, have them run away and use the archers they left in the trees to distract the players so they can escape. This makes the bandits much more interesting opponents, acting with some sense of intelligence and helps make the encounter more memorable. 

#3 ADD FLAVOR EVERY CHANCE YOU GET
This might seem obvious, but you will be surprised how many times I've seen a GM give very little flavor to the NPCs and the setting of the encounter. You might have something simple like "the PCs stumble upon six orcs camping within the mouth of a small cave" written in your notes, but you need to give it so much more life at the table. Maybe those orcs worship the god of slaughter, scooping up an opponent's blood and spreading it across their faces each time they land a critical hit, attempting to demoralize the opponents still standing. Maybe you describe the mouth of the cave looking a little unstable, meaning the players could cause it to collapse onto the orcs before they even noticed them, maybe the orc leader actually follows a cruel warrior's code and will surrender if reduced to a certain number of hit points, respecting the players' strength and letting them pass unharmed because they managed to best him. However, he mentions the next time they meet he'll be looking for a rematch. These are just a few ideas that came right off the top of my head, and if you put your mind to it, I believe you can do the same. 

Designing interesting combat encounters might seem like a daunting task, but it's actually rather easy. Just remember these three simple tips and I believe you'll be creating and running encounters that are much more unique and entertaining in no time.