Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Art by Eva Widermann
Happy [insert specific holiday you celebrate here] everyone!

Like most of you, I'm going to be rather busy next week celebrating Christmas with my friends and family (which are kind of the same thing for me, but that's not the point). So, to make my life a little easier, I'm going on a short hiatus from Dungeons Deep & Caverns Old.

While I might post something on Christmas day (depending on the amount of free time I have), my hiatus will end on January 1st (this blog's one year anniversary). So, until then, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

D&D Next to be Released Next Summer

Today, Wizards of the Coast announced the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons will be hitting store shelves next summer. This news matches what most people have been speculating for awhile now, and this date was most likely chosen to allow a Gen Con release. The official announcement states: 
Wizards of the Coast today announced that the highly-anticipated new rules system for Dungeons & Dragons will release in summer 2014. After nearly two years of an open public playtest and more than 175,000 playtest participants, the rules are complete. Players will be immersed in rich storytelling experiences across multiple gaming platforms as they face off against the most fearsome monster of all time. 
"Just like a perfectly balanced party, Wizards has worked cohesively with fans, designers and partners to create the next generation of D&D," said Nathan Stewart, Brand Director for Dungeons & Dragons. "We whole-heartedly thank all of the play test participants, whose feedback has proven instrumental in shaping the future of Dungeons & Dragons." 
While I personally lost interest in D&D Next during the playtest, I will most likely give the core rulebooks read when they are released to see if the final product changes my opinion. I'm also curious about this "multiple gaming platforms" point. Does this mean Wizards will continue with the subscription-based DDI model, or does that mean D&D Next will be released in connection with other games that belong to the D&D brand? I wish they would be a little more specific.

Since I really don't have that much of a horse in this race, my biggest concern right now is if they are going to change the name or not. I stand by my belief that D&D Next is a idiotic name and reminds me of the stupid naming processes of the 90's (the only way it could have been worse is if they called it "D&D Extreme" instead). I just wish they'd call it 5th Edition and leave it at that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pathfinder Society: First Impressions & Brainstorming Characters

Pathfinder Season 5 Logo
As I mentioned on Monday, I played my first session of Pathfinder Society last Saturday. I've been wanting to try out Organized Play for awhile now, mostly to give me a chance to actually to play the game instead of just running it.

The group consisted of five players, with at least two of us being new to Society play. Like the other new player, I decided to use one of the pregenerated characters (Valeros, Pathfinder's iconic fighter) the organizers had brought with them. Our party consisted of my human fighter, a human cleric, a halfling bard, a half-orc barbarian, and a half-orc brawler and the scenario we played was The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment, an adventure from Season 3 of Pathfinder Society. While the scenario had a slower pace than I expected from a Organized Play scenario and it took a few minutes for the party to get on the same wavelength play-wise, it was great to be able to play again and I definitely will play more Society in the future.

However, I don't want to continue using a pregenerated character (even though I do like Valeros a lot). So, I'll have to make my own character, but I'm not entirely sure who that character might be. Thankfully, I have a few ideas floating around I head.

The first idea is for a Paladin character belonging to the Taldor Faction. The character would be the youngest son of a Taldan noble family who chose to dedicate his life to the faith of Abadar, the god of law and wealth. He joined the Pathfinder Society with the hope of bringing new-found glory to his beloved homeland. The second idea is for a Bard character belonging to the Andoran Faction, with a story similar to Valeros'. He grew up on a small, Andoren farm, hearing stories about brave adventurers throughout his childhood. Just before he reached adulthood, the Bard ran away from home and made the sojourn to the nearest Pathfinder Lodge. The final idea is a Wizard belonging to the Grand Lodge Faction who grew up in Absalom and attended the famous Arcanamirium and joined the Pathfinder Society with the hope of learning ancient secrets lost due to the passage of time.

Due to the nature of Pathfinder Society, I want to keep these characters' concepts rather simple where I can easily encompass the goal-based aspect of Society but still have some freedom roleplaying them. Also, I know I can have as many Pathfinder Society characters as I want, but I want to focus on one for the moment. Most likely, I'll either go with the Bard or the Wizard. This is mostly to get all my thoughts in order. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Three Suns Unlimited: First Impressions

Source: Three Suns Unlimited's Facebook Page
Recently, a gaming store called Three Suns Unlimited opened up in my area. This is something of a godsend since the closest FLGS ("Friendly Local Gaming Store") was a few towns over and me being a broke person made that trip a very unattractive action. So, since I had some free time on Saturday, I decided to give Three Suns Unlimited a visit.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the establishment was the large gaming area. There were rows upon rows of tables and a large shelf filled with numerous board games. They even had an area with a couch and television for people to play video games. Since the store's mission (as stated on their website) is to "[provide] a safe, fun environment for the community" and they seem to have a number of gaming events throughout the week, this is definitely a good thing. When I walked into the store, they actually had a Magic tournament going on and there were a few tables where two Pathfinder Society games were being set up (One of which I played in. Quick Thoughts so I Don't Digress From the Point of This Post: While the scenario's had a slow pace at times, I had a blast and will most likely return).

The store also had a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere. I've heard so many stories about people who've gone into a gaming store and had a horrible time because the owners of the employees made them feel unwelcome. Thankfully, that's not the case for Three Suns Unlimited. The owners seemed to be very nice and seem to really care about the hobby and their costumers.

Honestly, I only really have one complaint about Three Suns Unlimited. This is most likely due to the fact that they just opened, but the store seem to be lacking a little in the product department. While they had some cool stuff, I just wish they had more of it.

However, I believing the welcoming atmosphere, the regular gaming events, and the large gaming area make up for that complaint. I will definitely be going back whenever I get the free time and supporting this store as best as I can. If you're ever in the Longview, Texas area, I suggest stopping by Three Suns Unlimited and giving it a look.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit-The Desolation of Smaug

I really miss artistic and interesting movie posters
((Based on the name of this blog, it should be obvious that I'm pretty found of The Hobbit. Due to that fondness and the connections between this property and the hobby, I thought I'd post my review of the movie here instead of my other blog, A Place For My Thoughts.))

The second in a trilogy of movies base off the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, the mighty wizard Gandalf, and his thirteen dwarven companions who hope to reclaim the ancient kingdom of Erebor from the deadly dragon Smaug. 

While I enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I felt it suffered due to sluggish pacing and I had issues with the film's tone at times. So, when walking into the theater this afternoon, I hoped The Desolation of Smaug would do what any good sequel should: keep what worked about the first movie, but improve on what didn't. 

I feel like The Desolation of Smaug acheived that...for the most part, anyway. 

As with An Unexpected Journey and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is visually stunning. Like the previous films, you really feel like Middle-Earth is a real place that you wish you could explore for yourself. Each settlement looks stunning and most of the costumes and special effects are interesting to look at. 

Likewise, the action scenes are incredibly entertaining. Action scenes can be some of the most boring and uninspired scenes in a film when handled poorly. Thankfully, The Desolation of Smaug does a good job with keeping the fights interesting and imaginative. How can you not love an action scene where a group of dwarves have to fight off a group of orcs while riding down a river in a couple of wood elf barrels? 

The acting is great as well. Ian McKellen, as usual, does a fantastic job as Gandalf the Grey and Martin Freeman performance as Bilbo Baggins is great. Both actors capture the essence of the characters while giving excellent performances. Benedict Cumberbatch was simply amazing as the voice of Smaug. You can simple tell how much fun he was having playing the role. While I still have trouble remember which dwarf is which, the actors give solid performances. The only actor I had any real problems with is Orlando Blum. I don't think he's a terrible actor, I just never find his performances all that interesting, and his performance as Legolas in this movie doesn't change that. 

However, like its predecessor, The Desolation of Smaug is by no means a perfect film. While its not as sluggish as An Unexpected Journey, the film's pacing is still a little too slow at times for its own good. Most likely, the pacing issues are due to the film trying to extend a single book into three movies, which cause some scenes to feel a little padded at times.

I also have mixed feelings about some of the things they added to the story. For example, a female elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the aforementioned Legolas were added to the movie. While I actually kind of like Tauriel and her relationship with Kili, I wonder if their inclusion in the film was all that necessary. 

With that being said, I still enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug. While it could be better pacing wise and I wonder if certain elements should have been excluded from the final product without harming the film too much, the film is still a fun fantasy movie and I have no problem giving it a recommendation. 

Final Verdict: See it if you enjoy the fantasy genre, liked the previous films in the series, and have a soft spot for action/adventure movies. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fantasy Art Thursday: The Caves of Chaos by Micheal Komarck

((Click Here for More of Michael Komarck's Artwork))
Like most, I first encountered this gorgeous piece of art in the Player's Handbook II supplement for the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. At the time, I was only vaguely familiar with the Caves of Chaos and The Keep on the Borderlands, but this image made me want to run that classic adventure and explore this famous adventure location.

The sheer amount of detail that Komarck put into this picture is just amazing and it just screams "Classic Dungeons & Dragons." You have a party of adventurers (a fighter, a rogue, and a wizard) standing on top of a giant rock, looking at this massive mountainside dominated by numerous caves and ruins just begging to be explored. Just looks at it makes me want to be one of those adventurers, delving into the Caves of Chaos, fighting vicious monsters and finding lost artifacts and treasures. 

This is easily one of my favorite pieces of D&D art because it perfectly captures the spirit of the game: you are a group of ragtag adventurers who explore these ancient places filled to the brim with danger and mystery. The fact that its a beautiful piece of art doesn't hurt either. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Heroes of Sandpoint: Strange Happenings at the Old Light

Art by Eva Widermann
Our Cast of Characters
  • Alfgeir Stannisson, an Ulfen Cleric of Gorum who has traveled from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, hoping to become a great hero like his ancestors. 
  • Fiona of Sandpoint, a Varisian Rogue who has spent most of her life on the streets of the coastal town, doing whatever she can to survive. 
  • Jon Silverbow, an Elf Ranger who hails from the Mierani Forest of northern Varisia who has a deep hatred for goblinoids. 
  • Ongar, a Half-Orc Paladin who has dedicated his life to the goddess Sarenrae and hopes to spread her redeeming light wherever he goes. 
  • Tywin, a Half-Elf Sorcerer from the shadowy realm of Nidal who has traveled far and wide in search of vengeance against someone who has wronged him.
When we last left our heroes, they had just defeated the ghast Baltazar and his ghoulish followers who had taken up residence underneath the Sandpoint Boneyard, using the surrounding graves as an easily accessible food source. The town priest, Father Zantus, thanked the adventurers for taking care of the problem and gave them their promised reward. 

Since then, two weeks have passed and the adventurers have started to notice the word of their good deeds has started to spread throughout the town and more people seem to be taking note of their presence. One of those people just so happened to be Belor Hemlock, a man of Shoanti descent and the town's sheriff, who just so happened to have a job that would be perfect for our heroes. 

Recently, a brand new narcotic has been circulating within Sandpoint's criminal underground. This black, liquid-based hallucinogen called "Bliss" or "Liquid Bliss" usually causes its users to enter a comma-like state where they fill nothing but pleasure. However, some users have a violent reaction. While those who have the second reaction are a very small minority, Hemlock wants to put an end to this drug before that number starts to grow. 

While he believes a local group of Varisian con artists and thugs called the Sczarni are the ones selling the drug, his evidence is less than concrete and he fears that sending his men after the gang might spark a war between the two groups and put the town in danger. However, if a group of independent adventurers were to confront the group, the sheriff could claim "plausible deniability." 

After being promised a handsome reward if putting a stop to this Liquid Bliss, the party gathered there things and made their way to the Fatman's Feedbag, a tavern located near Sandpoint's docks known to be a favorite hangout of the Sczarni. Once inside the tavern, Jon approached a group of surly individuals, hoping to gather information. However, it all went south rather quickly and a rather vicious bar fight ensued. Once two of the thugs were subdued (with one of them having their face slammed into the bar), the fight was interrupted by the secret owner of the establishment and the leader of Sandpoint's Sczarni, Jubrayl Vhiski.

Wanting his establishment to remain intact, Vhiski put an end to the fight and approached the characters, wanting to know why they were there in the first place. After a lengthy discussion, Vhiski confessed to selling the drug, but not its production. The adventurers made a deal with the Varisian where he would tell them who was supplying him with the drug and they would keep his name out of their investigation. He informed the adventurers that a strange group of individuals who had taken up residence underneath the ruins near the edge of town called the "Old Light" are his suppliers.

With this new piece of information, the characters left the Fatman's Feedbag and traveled to the Old Light. Once they arrived, half of the party decided to enter the ruins while the other half remained outside, laying in wait to see if the group would make an appearance. The party exploring the Old Light discovered a hidden door in the floor leading to a subterranean set of chambers, which they decided to explore. As they descended underground, the other half of the party spotted a group of cloaked figures heading towards the ruin. Guessing they were apart of the group Vhiski mentioned, the heroes ambushed the group and managed to subdue them.

While searching the cloaked individuals, the heroes discovered they were all wearing crude medallions that depicted a three eyed jackal. Alfgeir, using his religious knowledge, identified the medallion as a holy symbol dedicated to the demonic goddess Lamashtu, meaning the group was most likely a cult dedicated to the Mother of Monsters. Fearing their companions might be walking right into the lion's den, the group stripped the cultists of their robes and jackal masks, slipping them on so they can sneak in without a problem.

Thankfully, the adventurers managed to catch up to their companions before they had delved to deeply into the dungeon and informed them of their findings. Knowing there were probably more cultists in the ruins, the party decided to tread carefully and those wearing the cloaks and masks (Alfgeir, Ongar, and Tywin) decided to act as if they captured the others as sacrificial offerings. However, that plan backfired when they entered the main worship chamber and the other cultists tried to force them to drink the black liquid they called the "Waters of Lamashtu."

After taking out the cultists, the found the leader of the group, a tiefling witch named Mahga and her gnoll bodyguards. The tiefling, with a maniacal cackle, told the heroes her diabolical plan. The black liquid wasn't a drug at all, but a vial potion that would mutate those who had ingested it into horrific monsters after she finished a ritual. Not wanting this to happen, the characters quickly engaged the witch priestess. While the fight was long and hard, the adventurers managed to defeat Mahga and her gnolls, preventing her from completing the ritual.

((If you'd like to read  re-cap for the 1st and 2nd session, click here and here)) 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: A Princess of Mars (1917)

((Fantasy Fiction Tuesday is a weekly series where I talk about a fantasy comic, novel, or short story that I like and how one can mine it for ideas to use in a roleplaying game. These will not be reviews, but merely short pieces about the piece of fiction))

Originally published as a serial story in The All-Story under the title "Under the Moons of Mars", A Princess of Mars is a science fantasy novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The book follows Civil War veteran John Cater who is mysteriously transported to the planet of Mars (called "Barsoom" by its inhabitants), a dying world dominated by a harsh desert environment inhabited by green, six-limbed giants called Tharks, human-like Red Martians who populate a loose network of city-states, and more alien creatures.

While on Mars, Carter falls in with a tribe of Tharks led by the mighty Tars Tarkas eventually earns the respect of the Green Martians. However, when the Tharks capture the Red Martian princess Dejah Thoris, Carter rescues her and promises to return her to the city-state of Helium. Doing so quickly embroils him in the political affairs of the Green and Red Martians and the tense situation between Helium and the city-state of Zodanga.

Like most people my age, my first exposure to John Carter and his adventures on Mars was the 2012 Disney movie John Carter. While I stand by my opinion that whoever decided to change the movie's name from John Carter of Mars to the more bland John Carter is an idiot, I found the movie to be a decent adventure film and I definitely enjoyed myself and wanted to read the source material as well. So, I went out to my local book store and purchased A Princess of Mars.

While Burroughs' writing style took some getting used to and certain elements definitely showed their age (like the obvious racism), I found the book to be a fun adventure story with a really cool setting. So cool in fact that I'd love to run a campaign set on Barsoom. Thankfully, the movie makes it incredibly easy to introduce the concept to the players if they're not familiar with the material and their are a few ways you can achieve this.

The easiest way to run a Barsoom-influenced campaign would be to use the Mars setting for Savage Worlds by Adamant Entertainment. While its not a direct adaptation of Burroughs' Mars, the inspiration is rather obvious and it'll still work. You could also use the planet of Akiton in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting if you wanted to use the Pathfinder rules. If you're not a fan of Savage Worlds or Pathfinder and wouldn't mind doing a little more work, I believe a modified Stars Without Numbers would be a good fit for the setting as well. I'd probably change the available technology a little and I'd have to create a few new alien species (such as the Tharks), but that shouldn't be too hard.

If you didn't want to do a full on Barsoomian campaign, you could also introduce some Barsoomian creatures into your game and give the setting some "weird" elements. For example, you could throw some Barsoomian creatures (like banths or thoats) into the desert regions of your setting. Also, you could make the Tharks the native desert race.

Question Time: Have you read A Princess of Mars? If so, what did you think of it? Did you like it, or did you dislike it? How would you use different Barsoomian elements in your campaigns? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Power-Gaming: Reasonable Optimizing VS Gaming the System

A useful chart from Dice of Doom
I have always had a complicated relationship with character optimization and power-gaming.

On one hand, I understand why people optimize their characters. Roleplaying games are games, and players want their characters to be mechanically good. For example, a player building a warrior who specializes in two-handed weapons will most likely choose options that compliment that choice.

However, I think the problem with character optimization is when a player takes it to an extreme level and "games the system". I'll elaborate for those of you who might not understand what I'm talking about. Players "game the system" by manipulating or breaking the rules to achieve a desired outcome.

I believe their is a fine line between character optimization and "gaming the system", one that is so fine that many people can't see it. Many people have trouble separating the two and see anyone who chooses to optimize their character as a "dirty power-gamer." I actually used to be one of these people.

However, there is a different between the two camps. That different is based on how the optimization affects the game and the group's enjoyment of said game. If the optimization doesn't negatively affect the game or the other player's enjoyment, then you shouldn't worry about it too much. However, if the optimization is ruining the game and the other players are not having fun or getting annoyed by it, you might want to step in and put a stop to it.

Character optimization is perfectly fine when it remains reasonable. If the character chooses options that enhance a character's ability to perform certain actions, but remains logical and doesn't try to utilize loop holes or weird rules present in the system to achieve a rather powerful outcome, then its fine.

Question Time: What are your opinions on character optimization? Do you like it, or do you hate it? What do you believe is the line between reasonable character optimization and gaming the system? How do you handle situations where a character is ruining a game by gaming the system?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Banning Game Materials

Earlier today, I was surfing the Paizo forums and I found this thread about banning certain game materials from their home games. Reading through the thread and seeing what things people ban from their games got me thinking.

Why do we ban certain things from our games?

Generally, there seems to be two major reasons why someone bans something from their games: Mechanical Reasons and Flavor Reasons.

Sometimes, a game master will ban an options they feel is mechanically unbalanced or fear will screw up the mechanics of the game in some way. This tends to be the reason most people ban the Summoner class. Because of the class' complexity, its relatively easy to create an eidolon that is either horribly useless or broken if you don't know what you're doing or rather overpowered if you do know what you're doing.

Others ban certain materials and options due to their flavor and how it might not match the game master's current campaign setting. This seems to be the reason why most people ban the Gunslinger, the Ninja, the Samurai, and certain races. For example, some game masters ban the Gunslinger because they believe firearms have no place in fantasy worlds or blackpowder weaponry just doesn't fit the setting they are using.

Personally, I have a softer view on banning certain materials from my game. I generally allow pretty much anything that is presented in the Core Rulebook unless noted otherwise (I wouldn't allow players to play gnomes if they don't exist in the campaign world, for example). However, if they want to use something from a supplementary source (whether it be from Paizo or a 3rd party publisher), they have to present the material to me and let me look at it first. I will usually allow them to have the option, but if I believe its broken, overpowered, or clashes with the setting, I'll say no and give my reasons for rejecting it. This method has worked for my group so far.

Question Time: Do you ban certain materials from your games? If so, why? Is it due to the mechanics, or is it for flavor reasons? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advanced Bestiary Kickstarter: Funding Reached With 3 Days to Go!

Art By Shawn Sharp
The Advanced Bestiary Kickstarter which Green Ronin Publishing launched back in November has managed to reach its $20,000 goal with just three days to spare. Due to my love of the original supplement, I'm really excited about this and I'm glad they were able to achieve at least two of their stretch goals (a new cover for the book and 16 pages of new content). Personally, I hope they will receive enough to reach at least the third stretch goal (a full color release). However, since they'd need to receive $4,770 in just three days, I won't be holding my breath.

If you want to get in on the action before its too late, click on the following link. The Advanced Bestiary was one of the best third party supplements for 3rd Edition and I'm glad its being updated for Pathfinder. The different templates allow you to create some really interesting encounters (such as a swarm of tooth fairies from the Bestiary 4) and allows you to breathe new life (mechanically speaking) into some classic monsters. Even though the project has already reached its goal, don't stop donating. Maybe we can reach that third or maybe forth stretch goal (all new color art).

((SOURCE: "This Bestiary is Advanced" Blog Article on Paizo.Com by Chris Pramas. Click here to read the article.))

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Melnibonean Elves

Recently, I've been reading Michael Moorcock's The Weird of the White Wolf, a novella collecting four short stories staring the antihero Elric of Melnibone. This is actually the first work of Moorcock's I've ever read and I'm enjoying it so far.

However, as I read the novella, I find myself wanting to flavor the elves in my D&D/Pathfinder campaigns after the Melniboneans. While I'm sure I'm not the first person to have this idea, I still feel like its a cool idea and I think it gives the rather boring elves an interesting take. However, I might change a few things to make the race a little more "player friendly".

So, here's my take on Melnibonean Elves.

Long ago, the elves were once a nomadic race who traveled across the different planes of existence with their draconic companions. For reasons that remain unknown to their descendants, these primordial elves decided to remain on the Material Plane instead of continuing their travels and settled on a small island off the coast of a large continent. Within a few centuries, the small settlements that dotted the island banded together and the first elven kingdom was forged.

Due to their natural command of magic and dragon allies, this small kingdom quickly became a mighty empire and the elves held dominion over most of the known world. Most of the "lesser races" bowed down to their new overlords. However, there were a few who tried to fight back and were ultimately decimated by the empire's superior forces and the few remaining survivors were forced into submission. The Empire of the Elves remained in power for thousands of years.

Sadly, as time passed, the elves slowly grew callous and apathetic to the happenings of the outside world. As the race slowly withdrew back to its ancestral homeland and gave into to its own excesses, their powerful empire began to crumble. All that remains of that once great civilization is their original island kingdom.

Now, the elves are a rare sight outside of their island kingdom and their unique appearance makes them easily stand out in most crowds. The elves are generally taller than humans and possess a graceful, fragile physique that is accentuated by their long, pointed ears. They have slanted eyes that are usually crimson in color and they typically wear their hair long. All elves are albino, possessing snow white skin and hair.

Due to the nature of their culture, the elves can be uncaring at best and downright cruel at worse. Elves tend to focus on themselves first and foremost and have a bad habit of looking down on the "lesser races" (almost every race that isn't an elf), seeing them as less sophisticated and not worthy of respect. A lot of people like to compare the elves to cats, seeing how both creatures can be so uncaring and occasionally derive pleasure from the suffering of others.

Most elves found outside their island kingdom are either adventurers seeking a life of excitement and new experiences or the rare diplomat sent to bargain with the nobles of lesser kingdoms. These elves tend to be belong to the Fighter, the Magus, the Rogue, the Sorcerer, and the Wizard classes. When multiclassing, elves generally choose a class with the ability to cast arcane spells if they possess levels in a non spellcasting class.

((I left some stuff, like the name of their island kingdom and the continent, vague so others could adapt these elves to their own campaign worlds without a lot of effort. Also, with the exception of the preferred classes part, I tried to remain agnostic with the rules so you can adapt them to your rules system of choice.))

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clerics, Miracles, & Prayers

My opinions on divine magic have always been mixed. While I love and enjoy playing Clerics and believe the class should have some supernatural abilities to represent their connection to the divine, I've never liked the implementation of divine magic. I've also never liked how the Cleric's spellcasting ability was tied to Wisdom, thinking Charisma fits the whole "praying for your spells everyday" idea a lot better. 

However, I think I've found an interesting alternative in the new retroclone Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. The game presents a divine class called the "Friar", which takes the place of the traditional Cleric class. Unlike its predecessor, the Friar does not receive spells. Instead, the class prays for help from their deity. The player rolls a d6 and adds their Wisdom modifier. Any result above 1 is successful, but each additional prayer during the same day raises the DC by 1. A successful prayer allows a Friar to do one of the following: 
  • Blessings. Beneficiary is granted a +4 bonus for a single particular task (one die roll), or the next saving throw against a particular threat or creature, within one day. 
  • Counter Prayer. Cancels sound associated magical effects (e.g. harpy songs) within 30 feet, so long as the Friar loudly prays. 
  • Dispel Charm. Dispels a mind affecting spell or effect if the Friar rolls 1d10 plus their level vs. 10 plus the caster's level (or creature's HD). 
  • Encouragement. All allies within 30 feet get a +1 bonus to attack rolls and saving throws vs. fear for a duration of 1 round per Friar level. At 9th level, the bonus increases to +2.
  • Exorcism. Expels a malignant spirit from an unwilling host (use a Turn Undead roll, but after 30 minutes of loud prayers). 
  • Guidance. Answers a question with a short vision, a few words, a coincidental sign, etc. 
  • Healing Touch. Cures 2 hp/level, or grants a new Con save (plus Friar's level) to cure a disease. 
  • Sanctuary. No creature can attack the Friar so long as he prays silently during that combat. Common creatures get no save, but supernatural foes get a Charisma save. 
  • Turn Undead. Repels or even utterly destroys undead and sometimes demonic creatures. 
I really love this mechanic and I wonder if I can work it into a project that I've been toying around with for the past year or so. The project has a class similar to the Cleric called the Acolyte, and I believe implementing this prayer system would make the class more unique. However, I might streamline the ability somewhat. Instead of basing it around a random roll, I think I might allow the Acolyte to use this ability a number of times per day equal to their level plus their Charisma modifier (the game only has four attributes). Also, I might toy with the idea where Acolytes might receive a few special prayer abilities based on their chosen deity. 

Old School Thoughts and Decisions to Make

Art by Erol Otus
It's been almost three weeks since I last ran my Heroes of Sandpoint campaign. Thanksgiving really screwed with the scheduling there and one of my players keeps wanting to change the date on me or canceling. Because of that, my mind has been elsewhere, thinking about other games that I could be running until the Pathfinder game gets back on schedule.

I have a few ideas for a Mutants & Masterminds game and Numenera could fix this science fantasy itch I've had for awhile. However, I really don't feel like dealing with M&M's crunch right now and I'm not sure if I can sell my player's on Numenera. So, after thinking long and hard, an idea popped into my head: Why not give a retroclone a try? 

I've been interested in running one of the clones for awhile now, but something has always held me back. This might be the perfect time to fix that. However, I should decide which clone do I want to use? While there are a lot of great clones out there, I think I've narrowed it down to two candidates: Sword & Wizardry or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. 

I love the simplicity of Sword & Wizardry, how it presents a few alternate rules that you can utilize within the rulebook (such as Ascending AC), and the rulebook is free to download. However, I love the weird elements present in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, how the rules handle the cleric class, and the d6 skill system. Also, it doesn't hurt that you can download a free copy of Rules & Magic as well (sadly, since its art free, it causes some of the page design to be weird). 

Most likely, I think I'll end up going with Sword & Wizardry in the end. While they are both great games, I think I prefer the overall rules in S&W a little bit better. If I go with S&W, I will most likely use the Ascending AC variant (along with "To Hit" Bonuses) due to my player's familiarity with newer editions of D&D. I think I'll also use the "Save or Die at 0 HP" house rule so the characters have a slightly better chance at survival. 

Now, I just need to create an adventure and see if my available players are interested. Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Power of Re-Skinning

Art by Wayne Reynolds
Occasionally, when writing the notes for my next adventure, I want to throw something different and unique at my players, something they haven't fought a billion times before and know inside out. They've killed numerous orcs, but haven't fought as many magically-warped mutants. However, I don't want to create something completely from scratch. So, I reach into my bag of GM tricks and pull out the re-skinning card.

Re-skinning is one of the most useful tools at a GM's disposal. It allows you to create something new and interesting without creating an entirely new mechanical structure to represent it. All you have to do is pick something that already exists in the game and change its appearance.

Your players are exploring a crashed spaceship and you want them to find some pieces of advanced technology? Just re-skin some magical items with a technological visage. That wand of magic missile becomes a laser pistol and the magical charges become the power cells. That fancy laser sword the fighter found is actually a +1 brilliant energy longsword. It's that easy.

With that being said, you should still put some forethought into the re-skinning process. Since you will be using an existing mechanic to represent your new idea, you need to figure out how that mechanic will be implemented after the change. For example, let's say you are planning to re-skin a couple of kobolds into a hive of bug-men. Knowing that kobolds receive a bonus to their AC due to their scaly skin, you decide that bonus is a representation of the bug-men's exoskeleton.

Also, you should think about the problems that might arise from re-skinning something. Let's look back at the wand of magic missile that has been re-skinned as a laser pistol. Since its now a piece of technology, does that mean its immune to effects that would normal screw with it like spell resistance? If you say yes, does that make this piece of technology overpowered? If you say no, why is this piece of technology hindered by this ability that effects magic? Does that mean magic and technology are similar? Just take some time to think about the changes you are making and the questions that might come up because of it.

However, don't let the problems stop you from utilizing this useful GM trick. A simple re-skinning can take something boring or average and make it interesting and unique (flavor-wise at least). Just be careful with how you do it and give some thought to the repercussions of the changes you are planning to make and you should be fine.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Importance of Names

Last week, Paizo released the playtest document for 2014's Advanced Class Guide. While I gave my first impressions of the 10 "hybrid" classes, I want to focus on one of the criticisms I gave to the Bloodrager. For those of you who haven't looked at the playtest document, the Bloodrager is a hybrid of the Barbarian and the Sorcerer who gains the ability to access a number of supernatural abilities while enraged and cast a small number of spells at later levels. 

The class itself is an interesting concept and there are a few character ideas floating around in my head that would be a perfect fit for the class, but the name is just terrible. Yes, the name describes the concept of the class nicely (someone who accesses the power of their blood by raging), it sounds like a cheesy metal band from the 80's. Don't get me wrong, I love cheesy metal music, but a name that might work for that genre wouldn't necessarily work as a name for a Pathfinder class. 

Names are important things. Sometimes, something that's cool or interesting might be weakened by a bad or boring name. For example, lets say we have a game with three simple classes: the Combatant, the Expert, and the Spellcaster. All three of theses names give you an idea what the class does. The Combatant is great at fighting, the Expert is a specialist in a certain area (like disabling traps or sneaking around), and the Spellcaster casts spells. However, the names are kind of boring. Names such as the Magician, the Rogue, and the Warrior are much more interesting and sound much cooler than the more bland names. 

Names, at least certain ones, have a number of preconceptions tied to them. When choosing a name, you should think what kind of preconceptions it might have and how those preconceptions will affect how certain people view your creation. For example, when I hear the name "Swashbuckler", I envision a martial combatant who focuses more on finesse and wit that brute force. So, when someone hands me a class called "Swashbuckler", I expect to see a class focused on Dexterity and Charisma, not Strength. 

Finally, names can also affect how serious someone takes something. For example, lets say you create a monster to throw at your players. Depending on the name you give the creature and how you describe it, your players might take it as a serious threat, or laugh at it and see it as nothing but a joke. It sucks when you spend all this time coming up with a cool monster and your players laugh at it because you've given it a cheesy name. 

So, the next time you create something, give some thought to the name. The creation's title is sometimes just as important as the creation itself. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fame, Infamy, and Reputation

Art by Eva Widermann
For the past few years, my friend Corbin has been working on a roleplaying game based on the Legend of Zelda series. Recently, he has been working on some revisions to the game and adding a few new rules, one of which he wanted my opinion on: a reputation-based system which he is calling "Infamy."

The mechanic basically measures how famous the character is and how people will react to the character. The reputation could be positive and be a boon to the character, or it could be negative and act as a hindrance to the character. Whether its positive or negative really depends on who the character is interacting with and where they are at the time. As the character travels the land and goes on different adventures, their score will fluctuate, going up or down based on the character's actions.

While a sub-system is one of the more obvious ways to handle this idea, there are a few others ways you can implement it as well. If you're using a system similar to Dungeons & Dragons, you could have a seventh abiliy score called "Reputation". Like the other ability scores, Reputation would have a number associated with it and a positive or negative modifier tied to it. The modifier would influence situations where your Reputation would factor in. If your Reputation would help in the situation, you would add the modifier to your checks, making things easier for you. If your Reputation would hinder you in the situation, the GM would add the modifier to the difficulty class of the check, making things harder for you. As you go on quests, your Reputation score would advance based on your actions. The one hiccup with this version is how you'd handle negative modifiers and would you generate your Reputation score like the other ability scores, or would it start at 0?

If you didn't want to bother with mechanics, you could handle the fame of the characters in a more free-form manner. This is the method I'm currently using in my Heroes of Sandpoint campaign. As the characters go out on adventures, you basically call attention to their growing presence in the region, make the people hiring them for jobs more important and influential, and have the rewards they receive grow and change. While you don't have to worry about mechanics with this method, you have to remember to keep decent notes so things remain consistent and its more of an art than a science.

Like most things, which method you prefer really comes down to personal preference and maybe what kind of game you are trying to run. If the game focuses a lot on the heroes becoming famous and how that will both hurt and hinder them, a hard mechanic might be the way to go. However, if you prefer a more casual representation of a character's reputation, the free-form method might be a better fit.

Question Time: What is your preferred method for the representation of a character's reputation? Do you like a mechanical approach, or a more free-form style?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advanced Class Guide Classes: First Impressions

Yesterday, Paizo finally released the playtest document for the upcoming Advanced Class Guide. The 51 page PDF presents the 10 "hybrid" classes that will be in the final book. After giving the document a read, I thought I'd give my first impressions of the classes in alphabetical order. Remember, these are merely my initial impressions and they are subject to change as I delve further into the classes.

The Arcanist
This Sorcerer/Wizard hybrid was the class I was most weary about coming in. Unfortunately, the document didn't fix that uneasiness. The class is trying to fill a role that doesn't really exist in the game and I feel the Arcanist might end up overshadowing both of its parent classes, even with its slowed spell progression (it can cast one less spell per day than a Sorcerer if I'm reading right). I will say the class' Blood Focus ability is kind of interesting (it's basically a pool of points you spend to access your bloodline powers), but I still have some reservations about it. I probably will not be using this class anytime soon. 

The Bloodrager
This Barbarian/Sorcerer hybrid is an interesting beast. Like a Barbarian, it has the ability to enter a rage to gain a few different bonuses. However, unlike the Barbarian, the Bloodrager also has a bloodline with a number of powers he can only access while raging. Also, at 4th level, the class gains the ability to cast a number of arcane spells and can even cast them while raging. While I really wish they would give it a different name (Bloodrager sounds like a cheesy metal band from the 80's), the class seems interesting enough and I have a few idea for bloodrager characters floating around in my head. 

The Brawler
This is a Fighter/Monk hybrid that strips away the supernatural elements of the Monk and focuses on unarmed combat and combat maneuvers. The class gets a full base attack bonus progression, a d10 hit die, proficiency with light armor. The Brawler has the ability to sacrifice a move action to gain the benefits of a combat feat she doesn't already possess for 1 minute. While I probably won't be playing a Brawler anytime soon, the class seems to be solidly built and could be fun to play. 

The Hunter
This Druid/Ranger hybrid feels like a druidic version of the inquisitor. However, instead of getting access to domains and the Judgement ability, you get an animal companion at 1st level and a new ability called Animal Focus. This new ability allows the Hunter to take on the aspect of an animal as a swift action that lasts 1 minute. For example, the Hunter could take on the aspect of the bear and gain a bonus to their Constitution score.  There are some weird elements to the class though, like how they can wear armor made from steel but can't use shields made from steel. In the end, the Hunter is a little lackluster to me and I probably wouldn't play it unless I had the right concept. 

The Investigator
This Alchemist/Rogue hybrid is actually one of my favorite classes in the entire document. The class has the ability to creates alchemical items and extracts like an alchemist, but also can sneak attack and has the trap-based abilities of the rogue. The class also has an ability called Inspiration, which is a pool of points he can spend to augment skill checks with a d6, and can spend two points to augment attack rolls and saving throws. He also receives a number of investigator talents that mimic an alchemist's discoveries and a rogue's talents. Being a fan of both the alchemist and the rogue, I really dig the Investigator and I really want to give it a test run.

The Shaman
A Oracle/Witch hybrid, the Shaman was one of the classes I was looking forward to the most. Sadly, I feel somewhat disappointed with it. Now, don't get me wrong, the Shaman is a nice mixture of the two classes where you receive the witch's familiar and hexes and the oracle's mystery in the form of a "spirit". However, it feels a little bland to me and I feel like it could be so much more. Personally, I feel like Kobold Press' Shaman does a better job at capturing the concept than this class does. However, like I said, this Shaman is still a solid class and my feelings towards it have nothing to due with the mechanics. 

The Skald
The Skald is a hybrid of the Barbarian and the Bard that leaves me with mixed emotions. The class is interesting, especially with its ability to inspire his allies (and himself) into bouts of rage and can grant them rage powers at later levels. My main problem with this class is that the concept can already be done thanks to the Savage Skald archetype, which is one of my favorite archetypes in the game. While the concept does have enough meat for a full class and it seems like it would be fun to play, its kind of sad to think that archetype will be overshadowed by this class. 

The Slayer
The Slayer is a hybrid of the Ranger and the Rogue that I find actually kind of cool. Its easy to tell the class was built to allow people to play assassins from 1st level without having to being evil. However, the concept is broad enough where you could play it as a bounty hunter or a monster hunter if you wanted to. The Slayer has the ability to sacrificing a move action to study an opponent, designating them as a "favored target" and receive a bonus to attack rolls, damage rolls, and certain skill rolls against it. You also gain a number of Slayer talents (which are a lot like rogue talents) and sneak attack. The only weird thing about the class is that it has a full base attack bonus progression, but only a d8 hit die. I wonder if that was on purpose, or was just a typo.

The Swashbuckler
Easily my favorite class in the entire playtest packet, the Swashbuckler is a hybrid of the Fighter and the Gunslinger.  Like the Gunslinger, the Swashbuckler receives a pool of points called Panache that allow them to perform cool abilities. The class really does fit the concept and seems like it will be fun as hell to play. However, I do have some problems with it. I think the class should just receive Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat instead of just the benefits of it and I wish its weapon selection was more open than just light or one-handed piercing weapons. Other than those two gripes, I really love this class. 

The Warpriest
The Warpriest is a hybrid of the Cleric and the Fighter that is basically a divine version of the Magus. The Warpriest receives proficiency with martial weapons, heavy armor, only has access to 6th level spells, receives "Blessings" instead of domains, gains fighter bonus feats, the channel energy ability at 2nd level, and the ability to imbue their deity's favorite weapon with divine power at 4th level. The class seems simple enough and could be fun to play. One of my players, Alfgeir the Cleric of Gorum, has asked to change his character to a Warpriest and I'll get to see the class in action pretty soon. 

If you're interested in looking at the playtest document and participating, click here. You will have to have an account, but since that is free there shouldn't really be any problem. You will be able to add the document to your downloads page and get it from there. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Philosophy On Classes

Friday, I mentioned Paizo will be releasing the playtest document for next year's Advanced Class Guide tomorrow. The document will contain ten "hybrid" classes that take two existing classes and combine them into a new one that will possess abilities from the parent classes and a few new mechanics as well. The ten classes will be Arcanist (Sorcerer/Wizard), Bloodrager (Barbarian/Sorcerer), Brawler (Fighter/Monk), Hunter (Druid/Ranger), Investigator (Alchemist/Rogue), Shaman (Oracle/Witch), Skald (Barbarian/Bard), Slayer (Ranger/Rogue), Swashbuckler (Gunslinger/Fighter), and Warpriest (Cleric/Fighter).

Ever since Paizo announced this book and the playtest back in August, I have been thinking a lot about classes and my philosophy about what concepts deserve their own base classes and which don't. Personally, when creating a class, I feel like the designer should ask themselves three questions:
  1. Does the class' concept have enough "meat" to build a full class around it? 
  2. Does the class' concept fill a role that is currently missing in the game? 
  3. Is the class necessary to play the concept from the 1st level? 
Before you start working on the mechanics of the class, you need to figure out if the concept has enough "meat" to build a class around it. For example, if you're building a class for Pathfinder, there needs to be enough there to fill out twenty levels. If you can only fill out a few levels, it is probably better off as an archetype or a prestige class. 

Also, I believe its important to design classes that fill missing roles in the game. The reason why I believe this is important is that it gives the new class a niche to fil. For example, you could design a class that creates and utilizes technological devices for Pathfinder. Since there really isn't a class that fills that niche (if you don't count 3PP classes), this new class would have a unique place in the game.

Finally, the concept should be something you can't already build with the current options at 1st level. For example, you can build a Swashbuckler character using the current Pathfinder rules. However, you will most likely have to wait a few levels, choose a bunch of feats, take a level in the Duelist prestige class, etc. However, a Swashbuckler class allows someone to play a popular fantasy archetype from the very 1st level instead of waiting until level 5 or so to play it. 

Now, I readily admit these are only my personal opinions on the subject and I know a few people will probably disagree with me. However, I stand by these three questions for the most part and they will be on my mind when I'm reviewing the playtest document tomorrow. 

What are your thoughts on designing new classes? How do you judge if a concept is worthy of a full class? Finally, what concepts do you believe deserve their own full class? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Advanced Class Guide's Playtest Begins Next Week!

Back in August, Paizo announced the Advanced Class Guide, 256-page rulebook that is due out next summer. The book will contain 10 new classes, each a hybrid of two existing classes (similar to the Magus from Ultimate Magic). Like many of their previous books, Paizo also announced they would be holding a public playtest that would begin "this fall."

Thankfully, Paizo sent out a e-mail to members of its forum last night announcing when the playtest would start and what the 8th class will be. Here is the message I received:

"Dear Cody,
As many of you are aware, we have a playtest coming up for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Class Guide, an exciting new rulebook due out next August. This book contains 10 all new classes that we like to call "hybrids". Each one takes rules elements from two existing classes and blends them together to create a new concept. To date, we have announced 7 of the 10 new classes, but since you are some of our most dedicated fans, I thought it only fitting that Pathfinder Society members get the scoop on the 8th class.
Before I get into the new class, I want to tell you a bit about the upcoming playtest. Starting on Tuesday, November 19th, you will be able to download the Advanced Class Guide Playtest PDF from paizo.com. This document will contain rules for all 10 of the classes slated to appear in the Advanced Class Guide. We want you to read over the classes and use them in your game. We want your feedback on how they perform at the table, what works and what needs work. Your thoughts and feedback will help shape these classes before they take their final form. You will be able to contribute through a number of special playtest messageboards.
Best of all, these classes are available for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play immediately upon the release of the playtest document! You'll need to have a print or PDF copy of the playtest document with your character, and you'll need to incorporate any changes established by the design team or campaign staff during the playtest as well as once the final versions of the class are released in August 2014. the Additional Resources list will have specific details about what is allowed in the campaign and should be referenced when creating a character that uses any of these classes.
Now that you know when to expect the playtest, on to the new class. Up to this point, we have talked about 7 of the 10 classes: the Arcanist (a mix of sorcerer and wizard), the Bloodrager (a mix of barbarian and sorcerer), the Hunter (a mix of druid and ranger), the Shaman (a combination of oracle and witch), the Slayer (a blending of ranger and rogue), the Swashbuckler (a mix of gunslinger and fighter), and the Warpriest (mixing the cleric and fighter). The 8th class is...
The Investigator. This class blends together elements of the alchemist and the rogue to make for the ultimate sleuth. Using extracts, sneak attack, and a new mechanic called inspiration, the investigator is skilled at putting together clues, finding hidden foes, and striking enemies with precision. Think of him as part Sherlock Holmes, part Doctor Jekyll. Using inspiration, the investigator can add a bonus to certain skill checks, saving throws, and even attack rolls.
The design team here at Paizo is looking forward to getting this playtest started and we can't wait to see your feedback. We know that you are some of our most diehard players and we want to hear what you have to say.
Jason Bulmahn
Lead Designer"  
This announcement has me both excited and nervous at the same time. I'm excited to know the playtest will be starting soon and I'll be able to try out the 10 new classes. I can already guarantee one of my players will want to re-create their character (from a Cleric of Gorum to a Warpriest of Gorum).

However, I have mixed emotions about the Arcanist and Investigator classes. The Arcanist feels like its trying to feel a role that doesn't really exist and the Investigator is already a role that can be accomplished with a few archetypes. However, these are just initial worries based on my perceptions of the classes and I'm perfectly willing to change my opinions if the playtest makes me feel like the two classes are necessary additions to the game.

Also, for those of you who are curious what the last two classes will be, keep your eyes on EN World today. They will be posting an interview with Jason Bulmahn where he will announce the remaining classes. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that one of these classes will be a Rogue/Wizard hybrid that focuses on Enchantment and Illusion spells (Hopefully called the Mountebank).

Update: The interview has been posted over at EN World and the final two classes have been announced. They are the Brawler (a Fighter/Monk hybrid) and the Skald (a Barbarian/Bard hybrid).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kickstarter Promotion: Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary Update for Pathfinder

While some might view this as hyperbole, but I'm going to say it anyway: Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary was easily one of the best books put out for 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. Its a book I believe anyone who enjoys the d20 system should have on their shelves because it gives you a number of interesting templates to add to your typical monsters and make them different and unique (who wouldn't want to fight clockwork chokers?). 

Today, Chris Pramas announced on the Paizo forums that Green Ronin is running a kickstarter to update the Advanced Bestiary to the Pathfinder RPG. Since Green Ronin usually publishes very high-quality products and this was one of the best books published under the OGL, I definitely feel comfortable promoting this kickstarter. 

If you play or run Pathfinder, like Green Ronin's work, and want a book that will give you a lot of material to make some really cool and interesting encounters, I highly recommend you back the project. If you're interested, click here

Monday, November 11, 2013

Random Inspiration: Magical Trinkets

I love magic items. Always have, always will. I know I'm not the only who feels this way and I bet you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who truly hates magic items.

I also like the concept behind magic shops, at least in the bigger, more cosmopolitan cities in a setting (like Absalom or Waterdeep). However, I believe magic shops should only have weaker magic items like scrolls, potions, maybe a few basic magic weapons and armor, and some of the weaker wondrous items and that's it. 

However, while watching the anime Fair Tail on Netflix the other day, an idea popped into my head. Why not create a new category of magic items called "magical trinkets". Basically, these would be minor items that have one simple function that isn't too powerful or mimics the effects of a low-level spell. Here's three magical trinkets, just to give you an idea about how they'd work and their basic power level. 
  • This silver ring has a sapphire attached to it. Once per day, by saying the phrase "Light the Way" while touching the ring, the sapphire glows and acts like the light spell as if it was cast by a 1st-level spellcaster. 
  • This brown bag contains an amount of fine, silver sand. As a standard action, a character can pull out a small amount of sand and throw it at an opponent (making a ranged attack). If the sand succeeds at hitting the target, the opponent must make a Will save and they suffer from the effects of a sleep spell if they fell. The sleep spell works as if it was cast by a 1st-level spellcaster. There is enough sand inside the bag to do this three times. 
  • This small amulet is made from an enchanted rabbit's foot. Once per day, a character can take this amulet into its hand, focusing on the amulet, and receiving the benefits of the guidance spell. 
These trinkets would be readily available in most magic shops, allowing you to keep the majority of wondrous items as treasure. However, like most ideas that pop into my head late at night (might have been early in the morning), I want to refine the idea a little more. I want the trinkets to be useful, but not all that powerful and have a drawback if their effect is rather powerful (hence the sand requiring a ranged attack and Will save). 

So, here's a question for all of you: What kind of magical trinkets would you like to see? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Heroes of Sandpoint: A Grave Encounter

Art By Wayne Reynolds
Our Cast of Characters
  • Alfgeir Stannisson, a Ulfen Cleric of Gorum who has traveled from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, hoping to become a great hero like his ancestors. 
  • Fiona of Sandpoint, a Varisian Rogue who has spent most of her lives on the streets of the coastal town, doing whatever she can to survive. 
  • Jon Silverbow, an Elf Ranger who hails from the Mierani Forest of northern Varisia who has a deep hatred for goblinoids. 
  • Ongar, a Half-Orc Paladin who has dedicated his life to the goddess Sarenrae and hopes to spread her redeeming light wherever he goes. 
  • Tywin, a Half-Elf Sorcerer from the shadowy realm of Nidal who has traveled far and wide in search of vengeance against someone who has wronged him. 

Two weeks have passed since our party of adventurers saved the local sage's niece from certain death. During this time, the town's gravekeeper has noticed something strange happening in the town's cemetery. A number of graves, all surrounding a rather old mausoleum, have been dug up and the coffins that inhabited the plots have disappeared.

Fearing what might be behind these disappearances, the gravekeeper Naffer Vosk quickly informed the town priest Abstalar Zantus of the robbed graves. Not wanting to bother the town guard in case its just a couple of hooligans playing rather morose pranks, Zantus contacts this new group of heroes after hearing what they did for Brodert Quink.

Once the characters were caught up to speed, Naffer led the group to the now vacant graves and the mausoleum. While investigating the inside of the mausoleum, the party discovered a secret passage underneath an ornate coffin, leading down to a cave system underneath the Sandpoint Boneyard. After securing some rope to one of the columns inside the mausoleum, the party carefully lowered themselves down into the first chamber, a large cave dominated by a pool of murky water with three tunnels leading further underground.

Wanting to test the depth of the pool before attempting to cross, Fiona took her quarterstaff and stuck it into the water. After hitting the bottom, she quickly pulled the staff back out and noticed something odd. The end of her staff was sizzling, as if it had been dipped into acid. Figuring something might be lurking in the water and believing his ability to see in the dark might allow him to see through the murky water, Ongar moved onto his knees and stuck his head into the pool. Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the gray ooze living in the water, which quickly grabbed the half-orc and pulled him in.

Thankfully, his companions manage to pull him out of the water and the grip of the ooze before he could sustain any serious injuries. Once the paladin was safe, Tywin decided to experiment with one of his spells, casting ray of frost* onto a section of the pool to create a temporary bridge. While it worked, the bridge wasn't very stable and they had to move across quickly.

After collecting themselves and healing their wounds, the heroes moved down the nearest tunnel and onto the next chamber. As they moved forward, the group heard two creatures arguing about the "proper" way to consume a freshly dead corpse. When they finally entered the next chamber, they discovered the source of the argument: two ghouls perched atop two piles of bones. It didn't take long for the ghouls to notice the unwanted company. Luckily, the party reacted quickly and managed to take out the pair of ghouls before anyone was seriously hurt.

The group quickly searched the room for anything of value before moving onto the next chamber. When they entered the strangely well-lit cave, they spotted a ghast dressed in tattered rags with an amulet constructed from a jackal's skull. The creature named Balthazar was perched upon a throne made from bone. After summoning a pair of zombies from the coffins found behind him, the group of undead attacked the interlopers. While the battle was long and hard, with two of the characters getting paralyzed by Balthazar, the group managed to slay the creature and his minions.

After searching the room and gathering anything of value they could find, the party made their way back up to the surface and informed Zantus and Naffer about the source of the empty graves and received their reward.

*(Yes, I know ray of frost doesn't work like that. However, it was an interesting idea and I didn't want to shut him down for coming up with a cool idea. Although, I did have him make a check to see if he succeeded or not.)

((If you'd like to read the re-cap for the 1st session, click here))

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NaGa DeMo: What Will the Rules Look Like?

Monday, I talked about NaGa DeMo (National Game Design Month) and a few ideas I had for my game. After thinking long and hard about the three ideas, I've settled on the Golden Age Superhero game. The game will be set during the late 1930s until the early 1950s (which most people consider to be the "Golden Age of Comic Books"). Characters will fight crime, take on the horrors of World War II, and create a place in history as the first superheroes (for their world anyway).

Now that I have a concept that I like, I need to figure out what the basic mechanics of the game will be. Currently, I'm aiming to design a more rules-light system. I have nothing against crunch (I'm currently running a Pathfinder game after all), but I kind of want to keep the game simple and focus more on having fun with the game instead of stumbling over mountains and mountains of rules.

The core mechanic of the game closely resembles the core mechanic of the d20 system. For those of you not familiar with the d20 system, I'll elaborate. When attempting something in the game that has a significant chance of failure, the player rolls a d20 and adds any relevant modifiers he or she might receive to the die's result. If the final result is equal to or greater than a target number assigned to the task by the Game Master, the character succeeds at the task. However, I might chance the specific die (possibly to a d12 or a d10) at a later date.

Characters in the game will be defined by four aspects: Archetypes, Motivations, Attributes, and Abilities. A character's archetype represents the character's basic concept and a character's motivation represents why the character has become a superhero. For example, Spider-Man's archetype would be "Friendly-Neighborhood Superhero" and his motivation would be "With Great Power Must Also Come Great Responsibility". Both of these phrases will affect the character in certain ways and gives the rest of the group a clear idea of what kind of hero the character is.

A character's attributes represent their most basic mental and physical characteristics. Currently, each character has six attributes. They are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower. Each attribute will have a score that act as a modifier to die rolls associated with the attribute. For example, a character with a Strength of 3 would add 3 to their die roll when trying to break down a door.

Finally, a character's abilities represent their powers and talents. Each ability will be defined rather broadly to allow each player to alter the trappings of the power. For example, the "Attack" ability could be a character blasting an enemy with magical power, swinging a mythical sword at them, or shooting them with their high-tech laser. Like attributes, each ability will have a score that acts as a modifier to die rolls associated with the power.

Currently, this is more of a "blue-print" than a concrete list of rules. I still need to figure out what the main die will be (currently its the d20, but as I said, that might change down the road if I feel like another die does the job better), how situations like combat and the like work, and what powers are available for the players to choose for their characters. However, typing all of this out gives me something to look at to keep myself on track during the month and remember the basic elements of the game.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy Role-Playing Game


Ryuutama is a Japanese RPG designed by Atsuhiro Okada. The game is set in a world where the characters are normal townsfolk (such as bakers, merchants, minstrels, farmers, and the like) who travel a fantastical world together, searching for fun and adventure. 

Andy Kitkowski (who ran the kickstarter to have Tenra Bansho Zero translated to English) is running another kickstarter to create an English translation of Ryuutama. The product looks really interesting and the artwork has this classic JRPG feel to it and makes me feel rather nostalgic. I really hope this project gets funded. 

If you'd like to take a look at the Japanese PDF of the game, you can download it here for free. If you're afraid that you might be pirating something, its okay. Okada made this PDF available to the public.
The Cover of the Original Rulebook

NaGa DeMo: What's My Idea?

So, as most of you already know, its National Game Design Month and I plan on participating this year. However, before I can participate, I need to figure out what kind of game I want to make first. So, its time for a brainstorming session.

While I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head, I can't use all of them because it would make the project cluttered and raise the chances of me not finishing in time. So, I'm going to focus on the three ideas that interest me the most and choose one of them.

The first idea, which is based on a campaign concept that's been sitting in the back of my head for awhile, is an urban fantasy game set in a small town with a large boarding school that just so happens to sit on a nexus of supernatural energy. Because of this, fantastical and horrifying creatures are drawn to the town and some of the students attending the boarding school happen to be more than meet's the eye as well. The players would be some of these students, having to deal with growing up and handling their new found abilities (whether they be wizards who have just discovered their magical abilities or werewolves dealing with their transformations and puberty) and secretly fighting these supernatural forces to protect the town and school.

The second idea, which was influenced by a post I made recently, is a zombie survival game. The game would focus on the survival aspect and the rebuilding of society instead of the chaos of the initial outbreak. The game would also focus on the characters adapting to this new world dominated by the walking dead and the character's slowly losing or doing their best to hold onto their humanity as time goes on. For that reason, it would have something similar to the Sanity mechanic from Call of Cthulhu that would go down or up due to the character's actions and how they handle certain situations in the game.

The final idea is a superhero game set in the 1940's during the Golden Age of Comic Books. The game would be about the first generation of superheroes fighting crime, dealing with Nazis and World War II, and other threats. Also, the game could turn into a generational game where you follow the growth of superheroes from the Golden Age, through the Silver and Bronze Ages, into the modern day.

While the first two ideas would be easier to accomplish within a month, the third idea would be a fun challenge and I've been wanting to run a Golden Age Superhero game for a long time. What do you guys and gals think? Which idea should I run with? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Game Design Month: Write and Play a Game in One Month!

((Click Here for the Challenge's Website))
Since its creation in 2010, National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMo for short) is an annual challenge that takes place during the month of November. The rules for the challenge are rather simple:
  • Create a game during the month of November. 
  • Finish the game during the month of November. 
  • Play the game during the month of November. 
  • Talk about your experiences during the month of November. 
If you manage to do all four of those things before the month is over, you "win" and get to brag about defeating the dreaded beast that is NaGa DeMo. The game can be a board game, a card game, a RPG, a video game, a wargame, or anything else you can come up with. As long as you create it and play it during November, it counts. 

I think I'm going to try and take the NaGa DeMo challenge as well this year. I already have a few ideas and I just want to see if I can pull it off. I'll probably post updates about the game I end up working here as well, hopefully on a regular basis throughout the month. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Important Elements of Horror Gaming

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a fan of horror literature and movies, I absolutely love this time of the year and I take every opportunity I can to enjoy the macabre. One of the ways I do this is by running a horror-themed game or adventure near the end of the month (I did so last Saturday actually).

Horror, unlike fantasy or science fiction, is a little bit harder to as a table-top game. The GM has to be careful when building that sense of dread and terror and one wrong step can cause the whole concept to crumble. Also, if the players are not willing to buy into the concept and play along with the concept, the game will quickly unravel (This is true for any game really, but its especially true about horror games). 

Now, let's say you've thrown the idea out to your players and they seem interested. You have an adventure in mind, but you're nervous that you might fail to deliver on the horrifying elements and the game might end up being a complete dud. Well, there are a handful of elements you can focus on that will you run a successful horror-themed game (or let you add some horror elements to your existing game if that's your goal). Those elements are Mood, Mystery, and Tension

Mood is probably the easiest of the elements to capture. When describing a location or setting up a situation, focus on the elements that would make the location or situation creepy. For example, let's say your characters are traveling down a country road that leads to an abandoned mansion one of the characters recently inherited. To set the mood for the horror to come, you can focus on the isolated nature of the country road and the derelict nature of the mansion. Describe how the floor boards creak underneath their feet and and the only source of light seems to be the sunlight slipping through the tattered curtains. Focus on those details that will help create that sense of dread and uneasiness that will get your character's on edge. 

Creating a sense of mystery about things also helps as well. Basically, its working on the "Less is More" idea where the less you know about something, the more mysterious and creepy it can be. For example, lets say your characters go into the basement of this mansion and you know there is a ghoul warren hidden underneath the house. When they finally encounter these ghouls, you could call them by name, but that takes away the mystery of the creature. Instead, only describe them physically. Call attention to their gaunt frames and pale flesh, their talon-like fingers and rotten teeth, and the stench of carrion that hangs around them. Keep the characters guessing about the true nature of the creature, what its motivations are, what it will and won't do, why exactly is this thing here, how long has it been here, and so on. While the characters can discover these things as they play the adventure, the mystery should still be there and you should use it to add that fear of the unknown. 

Finally, remember to build tension to make the moments of horror more effective. For example, we have the ghoul warrens underneath this abandoned mansion. The characters discover a trap door in a cellar that leads to the warrens. Now, you could have them open the trap door and two ghouls pop out and growl at them, but that's not scary. Instead, you drop hints about what might lie beyond this trap door. You mention a few scratch marks on the door and the ground surrounding it, and a faint rotten smell hanging around it. When they open it and drop down into the warrens, you mention how the stench seems to grow worse the further they delve, and bones litter the floors of the cave. As they draw closer to the ghouls, tell them they start to hear the sound of something eating, tearing and clawing away. All of these elements help build the tension that will be released when the ghouls spring their attack. It, like mood, will help put the players on edge as well. 

While there are other elements you could throw into the game as well, like taking the normal and twisting it into something abnormal, the three above elements are the most important in my opinion. Focus on them, implement them, and build upon them to help make your horror games better.