Thursday, August 28, 2014

Who is in the Tavern?: Fund it Now!

At some point during almost every campaign, the players have entered some random tavern during their travels and asked a simple question:

"Who's in here?"

Catloaf Games hopes to offer a solution to that situation with the Kickstarter they just launched. Who is in the Tavern? wishes to present GMs with two decks of cards, filled with numerous illustrated NPCs with fleshed out personalities and statistics. If you need a quick NPC, just pull a card and have fun.

If you'd like to fun this project, click HERE. If you do choose to fund Who is in the Tavern?, you might be able to get some of your very own characters into the deck! I don't know about you, but that's a pretty cool perk for something like this.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Magic: The Gathering

Since its no secret that I love card games, it should come as no surprise that I'm a Magic: The Gathering fan (at least, a casual one). While I don't enter tournaments or keep up with the game as vigorously as some people I know, I enjoying building different decks and playing matches with friends & family. 

Wizards of the Coast made an announcement about the game today, an announcement that promises some big changes to the game and its release structure. Due to some problems associated with the current release format, Wizards plans to change the three-set block format to a two-set block one, be doing away with the Core blocks, and modifying how long a block is available for Standard play. While these changes won't affect casual players like myself, it will probably have major ramifications for those who regularly participate in competitions. 

If you'd like to read the full article, click HERE. Although this is just an opinion, and things could change after this new direction comes into play, I feel like this will be good for the brand. It should be much easier to manage blocks containing two different sets, allow them to explore new ideas and worlds more often, and keep the game feeling fresh.

What about you? How do you feel about this major change to Magic? Are you excited, or nervous? Leave your answers in the comments below. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pathfinder House Rules: Minions

Art by Ralph Horsely
It's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of 4th Edition. While the system is alright and I wouldn't object to playing it, 4e just isn't my cup of tea. With that being said, there are a few ideas introduced with this edition that I genuinely like.

For example, I love the concept of minions. For those of you unfamiliar with 4e, I'll elaborate. Minions are a type of creature that die after one successful attack. While they aren't much on their own, they can be a real bitch in numbers and offer a good way to recreate those iconic scenes of a ragtag group of heroes battling a horde of creatures without slaughtering the PCs. 

Since I think the concept is a good one, I figured I should make a version for my fantasy game of choice: Pathfinder. There are a few ways you could handle a port of this mechanic, which the most obvious being the reduction of certain creature's HP to 1 and calling it a day. However, I'd like to take a different route that's a little more creative than that. 

With that in mind, I created the following template that Game Masters can add to existing NPC stat blocks, hopefully keeping the rules simple and keeping the spirit of the original mechanic alive. Keep in mind this just a rough draft that still needs to be playtested. However, feel free to give it a try at your gaming table and leave some feedback in the comments below.

"Minion" is an inherited template that can be added to any living, corporeal humanoid with an Intelligence score of 4 or more. A minion creature retains the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted below. 

CR: Same as the base creature's, but -2. 

Type: The creature's type remains the same, gaining the Minion sub-type. Do not recalculate HD, BAB, or saves. 

Hit Dice: While the creature retains the same number of HD, they only receive a single hit point per HD, ignoring the creature's Constitution modifier. 

Defenses: The creature gains the following defensive ability. 

Evasive (Ex): If the creature makes a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals half damage on a successful save, the creature takes no damage instead. A helpless minion does not gain the benefits of this ability. 

Skills: A minion receives no skills. 

Feats: A minion receives no feats. 

Goblin Minion (CR 1/6)
XP 65
Goblin Minion Warrior 1 
NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid) 
Init +2; Senses Darkvision 60 ft.; Perception -1
AC 16, Touch 13, Flat-Footed 14 (+2 Armor, +2 Dex, +1 Shield, +1 Size)
HP 1 (1d10)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will -1
Defensive Abilities Evasive 
Speed 30 ft. 
Melee Short Sword +2 (1d4/19-20)
Ranged Short Bow +4 (1d4/x3) 
Str 11, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 6
Base Atk +1; CMB +0; CMD 12 
Feats -
Skills Ride +6, Stealth +10; Racial Modifiers +4 Ride, +4 Stealth
Languages Goblin
Gear Leather Armor, Light Wooden Shield, Short Sword, Short Bow with 20 Arrows, Other Treasure

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5e Musings: Inspiration

Like every edition before it, 5e introduces a few new mechanics to the game. One of those mechanics is Inspiration. For those of you who haven't read the Basic Rules or the recently released Player's Handbook, I'll do my best to explain how the rule works.

Inspiration, at its most fundamental level, is just the latest iteration of "action points" (except extremely simplified). When a character has Inspiration, they may expend it while making an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. By doing so, they receive advantage on that particular roll. A character gains Inspiration by playing out their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. A character cannot have multiple "Inspirations". They either have it, or they don't. 

While I like the mechanic, I feel like it could be taken a step further. Although there are a few different paths one could take Inspiration down, I just want to entertain one specific idea for the moment. When designing new house rules, I sometimes like to take influence from other games. While reading Inspiration and thinking about different ways to handle it, my mind constantly drifted back to FATE and how it handles aspects. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with FATE, aspects are simple words or phrases that represent a key feature of your character, something that can either help or hinder you depending on the situation. During the game, you can spend fate points to "invoke" an aspect, gaining a benefit in a situation tied to it. Alternatively, the Game Master may "compel" an aspect, rewarding you a fate point if you take a penalty in a situation tied to it. 

Hopefully, you can see where I'm going with this. 

What if someone decided to adapt FATE's method of handling aspects to 5e, incorporating Inspiration into the mix? During play, characters can invoke Inspiration to receive advantage in a situation where on of their personality traits, ideals, or bonds would be helpful. However, the Game Master may reward Inspiration to compel a character's personality traits, ideals, bonds, or flaws during situations where they'd be a hindrance, giving the character disadvantage. Furthermore, characters can now have up to three Inspiration points at one time. When being compelled, they can choose to spend an Inspiration to deny it. 

While this change does add a little more complexity and I admit it's not for everyone, I feel like it makes Inspiration a much more interesting rule and gives personality traits, ideals, bonds, & flaws more mechanical weight. I thought about adding alignment into the mix as well, but I'm not sure I want to travel down that rabbit hole (at least, not yet). 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Playing Older Adventurers

I've always loved the concept of the old adventurer, the veteran explorer who's been traveling the land for years, experiencing numerous different quests and refusing to retire. However, it's a concept that can be somewhat difficult to pull off mechanically.

The biggest difficulty for representing this concept within the rules is an obvious one: why is this character 1st level? If this character's been on all these adventures and quests, why isn't she a much higher level? Isn't that a little weird?

Now, you could simply ignore the mechanical side of things and just accept that little wrinkle, but where's the fun in that? After some brainstorming, I've worked out two easy ways to somewhat reconcile the character's backstory with their mechanics. While I'm sure there are other ways to do this, these are my personal favorite and I feel they work the best.

Yes, your character has experienced these different adventures and has numerous stories to tell. However, the reason they're a 1st level character is they've decided to follow a new path for some reason, starting over with a different class. For example, let's say you've decided to create a grizzled veteran of numerous battles that happened to find religion and decided to take up the cloth. She sets aside her sword and spends a few years learning these new divine rites. It would make sense for the character to be 1st level because she's starting from the beginning with something else. 

This concept takes things down a different road. While this character used to be a great adventurer, something caused her to retire. She's spent years living a regular life, her skills waning due to not using them as often as she did before. However, something drags her back into the life. Although she still has that knowledge and skill buried inside her, she's out of practice and it's going to take her awhile to get back to her previous level of power. 

I'll admit, these are not perfect fixes. Mostly, they're ways to help you suspend your disbelief. If you want to take things further, you could rework your ability scores to better represent the character's age. Maybe the warrior has a lower Dexterity score, representing her age's effect on her reflexes and joints. Maybe she has a higher Wisdom as well, representing her different experiences and how they've affected her. 

You can make almost any concept work as long as you sit back, take some time, and really think about it. There's always a twist or an alteration you can make, you just have to look for it. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pathfinder House Rules: Learning New Languages

There are a number of minor rules that I've never liked about Pathfinder. One such rule is the method for learning new languages. For those unfamiliar with Pathfinder, I'll explain how this rule works.

Within the game, there is a skill that characters can select called "Linguistics". As the name implies, this skill allows characters to decipher different forms of writing, create & detect forgeries, and learn new languages. Whenever a player puts a rank into the Linguistics skill, that third feature takes effect and the character learns a new language. 

That means if a player were to place 20 ranks into Linguistics over the course of their character's entire adventuring career, they'd learn 20 different languages. I don't know about you, but I feel like that's a little excessive. With that in mind, I've been toying with some house rules to fix the problem. Right now, I've created two different solutions that I feel will improve this rule; One tries to model the idea of slowly learning a new language, while the other is much more simplistic and straight forward. 

The first rule allows you to select a new language each time you put 2 ranks into the Linguistics skill. However, unlike the previous rule, you aren't completely fluent in the language (at least, not at first). When you first select a language, you are simply "literate". This means you can read the language, but you don't know it well enough to actually speak it and hold a conversation with someone who is fluent with that language. When you select the language again, you finally become fluent with the language. 

The second rule doesn't possess the levels of fluency that the first one does. Instead, you simply learn the language each time you put 5 ranks into the Linguistics skill. This version of the rule is much closer to the original, but offers a slower progression and limits you to four new languages over the course of your character's adventuring career.

While my Pathfinder campaigns have currently use the second rule due to its simplicity, I've contemplated switching to the first one to see how it might work at the table. Feel free to use either of these rules in your games.

((Also, I'd like to thank my friend Corbin. He's offered to take on editor duties for this blog, which takes a load off my shoulders. Thanks buddy!)) 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paladins & Alignment

I'm probably not going to win any fans with this post. However, with the release of 5e's Player's Handbook and the latest iteration of this class, I feel like this is the best time to tackle this topic.

Let's talk about paladins and their alignment. 

While this wasn't always true, the Paladin is one of my favorite classes within D&D and Pathfinder. Although I understand why some people fine the class frustrating because they experienced a bad player giving into the "Lawful Stupid" stereotype that haunts these characters, I love playing a paragon of chivalry and virtue. Some of my favorite characters have been Paladins, I like including Paladin NPCs within my campaigns, I enjoy seeing a new, interesting take on the archetype. 

With that in mind, you can probably assume that I have no problem with the class' alignment restriction and that assumption would be right. 

Anyone who's read my blog before should know that I put a lot of importance on names and how they're used. Most names have pretty specific meanings and certain ideas attached to them. The Paladin is no exception. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name's historical context, I'll do my best to offer a quick summary. 

Sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, the Paladins were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court. While they did have connections to Christianity and that religion's virtues, they were supposed to be the knight's knight, the ultimate example of chivalrous ideas and the advocates of just and noble causes. When you consider that, Lawful Good really is the only alignment that makes the most sense for the class. 

Most people seem to see the Paladin as the martial arm for a specific church. 4e definitely took that path, and a few other products seem to adopt that belief as well. When you accept that belief, it makes no sense for Paladins to be a mono-alignment class. Only Lawful Good, Neutral Good, & Lawful Neutral deities can have Paladins? That seems a little weird.

However, Paladins are not divine warriors and shouldn't be seen as such. If you want to make a holy (or unholy) champion class, call it something other than a Paladin. "Crusader", "Templar", or "Warpriest" would probably be a better fit.

I feel like the main reason this misconception exists is because the Paladin receives the ability to cast divine magic spells at later levels. Sometimes, I wonder what people would think of the class if it didn't receive that diminished spell progression.

Now, I want to make something clear. I have nothing against those who want multi-alignment Paladins. If allowing Paladins to take alignments other than Lawful Good makes you and your group happy, I'm totally fine with that. Also, if companies would like to cater to that audience, I'm okay with that as well. 

I just like my Paladins to be Lawful Good and only Lawful Good. That alignment restriction is part of the appeal to me, and I feel taking it away would take away from what the Paladin actually is. If you want to make a divine champion class, that's cool. Just call it something else.

Monday, August 11, 2014

5e Musings: Healing & Hit Dice

Art by Alexandre Togerio
Like 5e's magic system, I wasn't too fond of the system's implementation of hit die as healing surges. While I have a few problems with this rule, the main one is that I'm not the biggest fan of the random element. Originally, I was contemplating a house rule that would replace the randomness with a set number. However, a thought occurred to me while I was brainstorming ideas: Why not find a nice middle ground between the two different methods?

With that in mind, I propose the following house rule. While taking a short rest, you can spend a hit die to regain hit points, as described in the D&D Basic Rules. However, you are now given a choice:

Choice #1: Take the rounded up average of each hit die (1d6=4, 1d8=5, & 1d10=6) you spend instead of rolling, or...

Choice #2: Roll your hit die as normal, using the results you receive no matter what.

While I'm still not that a fan of randomness when it comes to hit points, I think I like the middle ground of this rule and how it gives players a choice to make. Do they want to play it safe and take the average, or take a risk and roll the dice? Options that facilitate choices are always good in my book.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five Great Gateway Games

Occasionally, I like to participate in some geeky evangelism and attempt to introduce people to the wonderful world of board games. Although most people have played games like Clue or Monopoly, I want to broaden people's horizons and show them some of the great games that are out there begging to be played. 

However, I always find myself struggling with a simple question: "Which should they play first?" I highly doubt I'm the only person who's struggled with this question, so I thought I'd create a short list detailing five different games that I feel are great "gateway" games for beginners. These games are in no particular order and I tried to pick a variety of styles. Also, consider this a list of great games to buy if you're starting your very own board game collection. 

So, let's begin: 

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is a railroad-themed, set collection game designed by Alan R. Moore and published by Days of Wonder. Players take on the role of railroad barons, building train routes across North America. They achieve this by playing different sets of color-coded cards on their turn, hoping to earn as many victory points as possible. Ticket to Ride's strength is that its rules are incredibly simple, the game's easy to teach, and it possesses a nice ratio between luck and skill. 

Settlers of Catan

Designed by Klaus Teuber and published by Mayfair Games, Settlers of Catan is a resource management game and one of the first German-style board games to achieve popularity outside of Europe. As the name implies, players take on the role of settlers establishing colonies on the titular island of Catan. These players build settlements, cities, and roads buy collecting and sending different resources they gain throughout the game. While not as simple as Ticket to Ride, Catan makes up for that with a decent amount of depth and the customizable board makes it very replayable.  


Dixit is a card game created by Jean-Louis Roubira and published by Libellud. Each player possesses a hand of cards which depict an interesting picture. Each turn, one player will take on the role of the storyteller, making up a sentence or a phrase that describes one of the cards within their hand and playing it face down. Everyone else will select a card from their hand they feel best fits the sentence or phrase, playing it face down as well. Once revealed, everyone but the storyteller votes on which card they believe is the storytellers, earning points based on their guess. Dixit is incredibly easy to learn and teach, and makes a great party game. 

Forbidden Island

Created by Matt Leacock (the same designer who brought us Pandemic) and published by Gamewright, Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where the players are daring adventurers who've traveled to a mysterious island to recover four ancient artifacts. However, there's just one problem: the island is sinking. If they want to escape a watery death, the players will have to work together and do whatever they can to survive. Like most of the games on this list, Forbidden Island is a pretty simple game, possessing rules that are easy to figure out and plays pretty quick. It also doesn't hurt that you can usually find a copy for $16 dollars or so.

Small World

Small World is a strategy game designed by Philippe Keyaerts and published by Days of Wonder. Like most strategy games, each player controls a specific faction and tries to conquer and control different areas on the map. Each faction is a fantasy race, like dwarves or elves, possessing a singular trait, such as "Pillaging" or "Wealthy". These races and traits have their own, individual powers and strategies associated with them. Since the races and traits are interchangeable, Small World possesses a high level of replayability. The game is also incredibly fun and just a great strategy game. Also, it doesn't take forever to play, which is definitely a bonus in my book. 

While I feel these games are great starting points, there are a few other games I didn't list that would work too. Alhambra, Carcassone, Castle Panic, Tsuro, and King of Tokyo are great gateway games as well. If you have some ideas for games that would be great introductions to the hobby, leave them in the comments below. 

New Feat - Improved Weapon Finesse & Slashing Grace

There are certain concepts within Pathfinder that are rather hard to build and make effective. One such concept is the warrior who fights with a light weapon in one hand, keeping the other empty and eschewing Strength for Dexterity. Mostly this is due to the designers extremely odd aversion to options that allow characters to use their Dexterity modifier instead of their Strength modifier on certain weapon's damage rolls. While I think their reasons for remaining conservative on this issue are rather asinine, I'm not going to focus too much on it because I don't feel like ranting at the moment.

Instead, I thought I'd offer a simple solution in the form of a feat. This feat, called "Improved Weapon Finesse", should help make these kinds of characters more viable mechanically. Also, it'll probably help the rogue, which definitely needs it. Although this is simply a first draft for this feat, feel free to use it within your games and tell me what you think.

Improved Weapon Finesse (Combat)
Due to your training, you are more adept at using agility than strength with certain weapons.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (Chosen Weapon)
Benefit: You may replace your Strength modifier for your Dexterity modifier on damage rolls with any finessable weapon with which you have selected with the Weapon Focus feat.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5e Musings: Non-Leveled Spell Slots

Art by Wayne Reynolds
Last week, while recapping my first session of 5th Edition, I mentioned that I wasn't all that happy with the latest iteration of the traditional magic system. While I like the basic idea and believe its definitely workable, I feel it fails in execution.

I guess I should elaborate on that.

For those of you who haven't read the D&D Basic Rules yet (which you really should), I'll do my best to give a brief summary of the magic system. Like earlier editions, Clerics and Wizards must prepare the spells they wish to cast that day. However, unlike those previous iterations, these classes can cast these spells multiple times per day based on the number of spell slots they have available to them. In many ways, the magic system seems to be a melding of the preparation method with the spontaneous method, which really does make things easier.

Also, you can choose to spend a higher level spell slot to cast a much more powerful version of a spell. For example, Clerics can choose to cast the Cure Wounds spell at a higher level, granting them the chance to roll more dice and hopefully heal more damage. I also like the idea behind this because it helps make those lower level spells remain viable at higher levels and allows for some interesting choices for these kinds of characters to make.

Like I said, I like the basic idea behind the system and believe it could be interesting. However, when I say I dislike the execution, I mean that I hate the fact that spell slots are still divided into separate leveled pools. Since the preparation of spells is no longer tied to the spending of spell slots equal to that spell's level, retaining this element of the system feels like something that was done purely because of legacy.

With that in mind, I've been brainstorming a house rule that I might apply to the magic system whenever I run 5th Edition. Instead of separating spell slots into nine leveled pools, the Cleric and the Wizard would receive a singular progression of genetic spell slots. When casting one of the spells they've prepared, they would spend a number of spell slots equal to the spell's level. If they wished to cast a more powerful version of a spell, they would have to spend double the amount of spell slots for each power increase. For example, a Cleric would spend 1 spell slot to cast Cure Wounds as its 1st level version. However, if they wished to cure 3d8 points of damage, they'd have to spend four spell slots (1+1 for the first increase, then 2+2 for the second increase).

Since this is still just a rough idea, I have a few kinks I need to work out. For example, I'm still debating if I should limit how many spell slots a character can spend based on their level. Should a 1st level Cleric be able to spend 2 spell slots to cased a more powerful version of Cure Wounds, or should he have to be a higher level to do so?

What do you think? I'd love to get people's opinions on this house rules and the best way of implementing it. If you have any ideas, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Deity - The Watcher in the Waves

From the waves, Q'Yoth watches us all...always & forever...
Rambling Statement of a Q'Yoth Cultist   
The Watcher in the Waves
Symbol: An open eye surrounded by eight tentacles.
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Portfolio: Cataclysm, Madness, Water
Domains: Chaos, Destruction, Evil, Madness, Water
Favored Weapon: Trident
Sacred Animal: Octopus
Sacred Colors: Blue, gold, and green.

Q'Yoth is a mysterious deity of unknown origin. Malevolent and completely alien, Q'Yoth contacts those who dare worship him through strange, enigmatic dreams that tend the shatter the sanity of the weak-willed. These dreams usually depict Q'Yoth as a withering mass of tentacles, possessing numerous eyes and drooling mouths. No one knows what his true motives are, but those few who do know of his existence notice he possesses a strange need for destruction. Because he possesses dominion over the oceans and the monstrous creatures that inhabit them, the Watcher in the Waves is usually worshiped by desperate or insane coastal dwellers, hoping to win his favor so that he will spare them from his wrath.

Those that turn to worshiping Q'Yoth usually do so in secret, maintaining a facade of worshiping another deity. While most of Q'Yoth's worshipers are individuals and loners, the few cults of his that do exist are usually the result of small coastal villages that have turned to worshiping him, dealing with monstrosities that lurk within the watery depths of the world, even occasionally interbreeding with them to create aberrant hybrids in Q'Yoth's name. These villages are usually isolated, very rarely dealing with outsiders. The few who do find the village tend to meet their fate their, usually at the end of a sacrificial knife.

Friday, August 1, 2014

5e Musings: The Investigation Skill

Art by Steve Prescott
Over on Bat in the Attic, Rob Conley's posted a few thoughts on 5th Edition's Investigation skill and its proper use at the table. Those thoughts inspired some of my own.

For those of you who haven't read the D&D Basic Rules yet, Chapter 7 presents the following description for the Investigation skill: 
"Investigation: When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check. You might deduce the location of a hidden object, discern from the appearance of a wound what kind of weapon dealt it, or determine the weakest point in a tunnel that could cause it to collapse. Poring through ancient scrolls in search of a hidden fragment of knowledge might also call for an Intelligence (Investigation) check." 
Although there is some obvious overlap between Intelligence (Investigation) checks and Wisdom (Perception) checks, the former seems to act like a hybrid between the latter and a knowledge skill, allowing the user to deduce certain pieces of information about the subject. For an example, let's say you've stumbled upon a recently deceased corpse while exploring a dungeon. The DM might ask for an Intelligence (Investigation) check to find the fatal wound and learn what could have caused it.

While that seems pretty simple, a thought occurred to me: Why not just perform a Wisdom (Perception) check in conjunction with an appropriate knowledge skill? Using the above example, the character would make a Wisdom (Perception) check to find the wound and possibly a Wisdom (Medicine) check to discern the cause of it.

Although I personally feel the Perception + Knowledge skill method could reproduce the same effects as the Investigation skill, the argument could be made that boiling things down to a single skill makes the action much more simple and streamlined. That train of thought does have some serious merit to it and I suspect that its probably the reason the skill exists at all. However, I think I actually prefer the Perception + Knowledge method because I like the idea of characters having to use multiple skills to get information like this.

What about you? Do you like the Investigation skill, or would you prefer the Perception + Knowledge route?