Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Making Interesting Pantheons

I have always enjoyed crafting new and interesting pantheons of gods and goddesses for my fantasy games. While this might arise from my love of the cleric class (I'm a weird guy like that), I also find it fun to "play god with the gods" in a way. Since I know crafting a pantheon of deities can be a daunting task at first glance, I thought it would be helpful if I gave a few suggestions and guidelines to those wish to create interesting religions for their next game.

First, I suggest starting with a small group of about 5 or 6 core deities and slowly expanding the pantheon as the game progresses. While you could create a large pantheon with numerous deities, you most likely won't be able to put very much detail into the gods themselves or the religions based around them. Focusing on just a handful of major deities that cover your setting's basic needs (like a god of the sun, god of nature, god of death, etc.) will allow you to put a lot more detail into them and make them fleshed out beings that the players will hopefully find interesting and actually want to worship.

Also, when coming up with your core deities, try to add some interesting bits of flavor to each deity so they don't seem stereotypical. While you could have your typical neutral evil god of death who looks almost identical to Charon, it would be more interesting to have a neutral god of death who happens to also be the god of knowledge and prophecy.

Once you have your 5 or 6 core deities created, I'd suggest creating 3 or 4 minor deities based on the needs of the players. For example, you might create a minor god of justice for your paladin player or a goddess of magic for your wizard player.

After creating some minor deities, you should take all your gods and goddesses and create some relationships and rivalries between them. For example, the moon goddess might be the estranged wife of the sun god and the god of justice is their son with the goddess of death being the sun god's sister and mortal enemy. These relationships will help creating a more interesting pantheon and could add some interesting tension to the game. For example, the clergy of the moon and sun deities might not be so friendly with one another because of patron deities' relationship with one another.

Finally, I suggest figuring out how each race in the setting views the deities of the pantheon and some divisions within the churches' of each deity. For example, the dwarves might view the god of the forge as the creator of their race, but think the way humans worship the god as just a deity of smiths as blasphemy. For and example of a division within a religion, you could have the previously mentioned neutral god of death have a sect of followers who worship him as merely a god of knowledge, while another sect is made up entirely of fanatics fascinated with death and necromancy. These divisions better mirror the contradictory nature of many real world religious sects and will add some interesting flavor to your setting. However, I wouldn't suggest having more than three major divisions in each religion. You don't want to have so many that you can't keep up with them.

I hope these suggestions help you make some really interesting deities and help you add some more flavor to your game worlds.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Making Pacts in Pathfinder

From Heroes of the Feywild, Illustration by Eric Belisle
Recently, I've been reading the fourth book in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series, Summer Knight. Like the first three books, it is a great read and I highly recommend it.

While reading the book, I found myself really latching onto one of the elements of the story that was introduced in the previous book Grave Peril. In the series, Harry Dresden made a pact with a power faerie named Leanansidhe, giving his fealty to her in exchange for help escaping his evil mentor. Since Summer Knight's focus is on the fey of the Nevernever, the plot point resurfaces and had got me thinking about something that might be rather fun to see in a Pathfinder game: characters making pacts with otherworldly being for power, but having to pay a price for it.

I think it would be interesting for the characters to seek out a powerful fey creature or devil and make a pact with them, but end up owing them something as well. It could be their eternal soul or it could be a favor they can call upon at any time. So, after tossing around some ideas on how to implement this in game, I came up with some simple guidelines for these pacts.

All pacts with otherworldly beings fall under one of three ranks: minor, moderate, and major. A minor pact is usually for a small, temporary boost in power or a small permanent bonus. For example, a character could make a pact with a powerful fey creature to gain small bonus to any social skill (most likely a +1 or +2 bonus at most) so he can win the heart of the princess of the land. The price for a minor pact would be something simple, like a blood or monetary item. 

A character who makes a moderate pact with a otherworldly creature receives a bigger bonus (usually a +3 or +4 at most), a magical item, training in a new skill of their choosing (treating it as if it was a class skill), or something similar. However, the price is much more substantial this time around. The creature might ask for your loyalty for a time or require you to perform a favor for it at some time in the future. 

Finally, characters who decide to make a major pact with a creature receive can receive a bigger bonus (usually a +5 or +6 at most), a powerful magical item, a position of power in the campaign setting, raising one of their ability scores by 1 point, gaining a new feat, or something similar. Like with the moderate pact, the payment for these boons grow as well. Major pacts will usually result in a character having to exchange their loyalty to the creature for the rest of their life or even their soul if the creature is an evil one. A character should only perform a major pact if they are desperate. 

Only certain types of creatures can make mystical pacts with mortals. These creatures are particularly powerful (usually CR 10 or higher) and the majority of them are outsiders. The most common creatures to make pacts with mortals are Aberrations, Daemons, Devils, Dragons, and Fey. While it has happened before, good outsiders rarely make these kinds of pacts with mortals. 

Like most of the rules (or guidelines in this case) I put up on this blog, I like to give them some time at the table and see how they work in action. Hopefully I'll get a chance in one of my games to have a creature make a pact with a player and see how it effects the story in the game so I can come back and refine these guidelines and maybe turn them into an actual set of rules. I guess we'll see.  


Friday, January 25, 2013

My Ideal Version of Dungeons & Dragons

I've been thinking a lot about Dungeons & Dragons lately and a project that I've been tinkering with ever since Wizards of the Coast announced they were working on the 5th edition of D&D. After looking through the playtest documents, I noticed some things that I liked but decided the game wasn't really for me. However, D&D Next (which I hope isn't the final name for 5th edition) did inspire me in a strange way.

I started to think, "I wonder if I could make my own version of Dungeons & Dragons? One that stayed true to the recognizable aspects of D&D, but was still simple enough to play and easy enough for those who had never played D&D to understand."

So, for the past year I have been tinkering and occasionally working on this project whenever I had free time. Sadly, I haven't really gotten very far with it. However, I hope to change that. I've decided to really buckle down and try to finish this project.

However, before I can really finish this project, I really need to take a step back and make a few decisions. I need to decide what I would want in my ideal version of D&D. Once I know exactly what I want, it might help me turn my random notes and stuff into a coherent whole. So, I thought I'd make these decisions here.

So, here is what I want in my ideal version of the world's oldest roleplaying game.

Ability Scores
I want the six classic abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) in the game. I also want the traditional numerical scores with an associated bonus or penalty. To generate these scores, I would prefer random generation with dice over a point-buy system. Most likely, I'll go with the default method of "roll 4d6, drop the lowest result". 

I know I want the four classic races (Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans) in the game as the base races. Other races can be added at a later date once the core rules have been established. I want the races to also have a uniformity to what they get so it will be easier for new players to digest and for GM's to create their own races. I'm thinking Ability Score Modifiers, Creature Size, Base Speed, Vision Type, Skill Bonuses, Saving Throw Bonuses, and Automatic Languages. I might go into each of these further at a later date.

Like with races, I want the classic four (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard) in the game as the base classes. Each class would grant the character with weapon and armor proficiencies, a number of hit points, bonuses to saving throws, and a base attack bonus. Also, each class would possess a number of "themes" that would allow a player to further customize their character. Clerics would possess domains, fighters would have styles, rogues would have schemes, and wizards would have schools. I'm thinking each class would have eight themes to start with and more can be added at a later date. 

I want to have a smaller list of skills, but each skill have a number of uses. I'd probably combine Escape Artist with Acrobatics, combine Climb and Swim into Athletics, and combine a few other skills. I'll probably end up using the Skill Training rules that were presented in the Alpha playtest for Pathfinder because I like how simple it is. 

Hit Points
Since I've never been a big fan of rolling for hit points, I think I'm going to have each class grant a set number of hit points at each level. 

I think I'm going to keep the Vancian system that D&D is known for. While I can see why some would prefer a "spell point" system, I've always liked the feel of Vancian magic and I find it more fun. I'm sure I can find a way to make it work. 

Combat Actions
One of the things I find annoying in 3e and its variants is the number of different action types you have to remember. I want to simply it down to what I call the three M's: Major, Minor, and Move actions. Major actions would be your Standard actions, Minor actions would be your Free Actions, and Move actions would remain as they are. I'd probably add in full-round actions as well. 

Core Mechanic
I think I'll probably keep the basic d20 mechanic. Rolling a d20, adding some modifiers, and trying to match or beat a target number is a simple mechanic and like the old saying goes, "Don't fix what isn't broken." 

So, these are some of the things that I want to include in my ideal version of Dungeons & Dragons. There are also a few minor things as well, but they can be saved to another time. What are some of the things you'd like in your ideal D&D?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tabletop Adaptations: G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is easily one of the most recognizable cartoon series from the 80's. For those of you who have been living under a rock, here is the basic concept of G.I. Joe: A counter-terrorist unit consisting of a number of members with various combat specialties are fighting an evil terrorist organization known simply as Cobra whose goal is total world domination. 

While some might view the concept as goofy, I think the basic set-up for G.I. Joe could make for an interesting campaign. The player characters would be members of a counter-terrorist organization with each of them being a specialist in a certain form of combat. This group, who is funded by a mysterious entity, would be sent on numerous missions to stop an evil organization that wishes to take over the world. 

I think the best way to handle this concept is to embrace the silliness of it. Don't shy away from the goofiness and use it to make the game more fun. You could have the evil organization kidnapping world politicians with plans to clone them and place those duplicates in seats of power so they can further their goal of world domination. You could have this organization create a machine that controls the weather and have them create massive storms around the world, hoping to destroy major military bases to weaken the major powers of the world. While you can have some serious elements in there and have drama between the character, I wouldn't shy away from the overt silliness. 

For systems, I would suggest two: Savage Worlds and Spycraft. The reason I suggest these two systems is because both have books that allow you to already run these kinds of games (Strike Force 7 for Savage Worlds and Real American H.E.R.O. for Spycraft). If you want a more rules light system that emulates a more pulpy style of play, I'd suggest going with Savage Worlds. If you want some more crunch and espionage elements in your game, I suggest going with Spycraft. Both systems are a good choice and it just really depends on your preferred style of game. 

What other cartoons do you think would make for a good framework for a campaign?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Playing Dark Characters

In my experience at the table, some of the most popular character are what people would call "dark characters." These are character who might be good, but have some morally questionable tactics or a dark side that could possibly end up corrupting them if left unchecked.

These kind of characters can be incredibly satisfying when played right. However, they can be incredibly annoying and unbearable to the rest of the party if they are played wrong. So, thought I'd post a quick guy for players who wish to play a dark character well.

Pick Your Themes
The first decision you have to make when you decide to play a dark character is what themes do you want to explore with the character. Do you want to play a character who wishes to make a single NPC suffer for the death of their fiancee and is willing to do anything to see that happen, even if it ends up turning them into the monster they hate so much. Maybe you want to play a prince who was exiled after a political coup who wishes to reclaim his throne. However, because he wants to reclaim his position so badly, he's willing to use any method available to achieve his desired goal. 

To play a dark character well, you really need to pick your character's basic theme. A good theme, in my opinion, has the character begin his path with good intentions. As an example, let's say a wizard began studying magic so he could learn how to bring his dead love back to life. However, you have to have the character head down a diverging path that would logically cause them to take certain actions others might deem morally question or downright evil. Using the previous example, let's say the wizard chooses to practice necromancy because it would better help him with his goal and is willing to delve into darker magic if it will reunite him with his lost love. As with any character, having a clear idea of its theme will help you play the character a lot better. 

Pick Your Weaknesses
Once you have your character's theme, you need to determine what weaknesses caused the character to travel down that diverging path of moral ambiguity or evil. Let's go back to our necromancer fan from above. The reason he decided to walk down this path can be boiled down to selfishness. While wanting to be with the person you love is an understandable thing, his obsession with returning her to life is based off his selfish need to have her with him once again, even if her soul is happy in the afterlife. Knowing what weakness caused your character to go off the normal path will help you make decisions in the game that feel honesty to the character you are playing. 

One of the easiest ways to determine a character's weakness is to choose one or more of the seven deadly sins. If you are playing a character who wishes to take vengeance on a specific character, the sin of Wrath might be a perfect fit for the character. The character who is willing to do anything as long as the price is right is a perfect fit for the sin of Avarice/Greed. The use of sins to help define your character worked pretty well in World of Darkness, so I believe it can work just as well when creating a character for another game. 

Always Have an Explanation Ready
Whenever your character does something that another character might find questionable or downright evil, have your character's reasoning for why they took the action ready. If you're playing a bounty hunter and you've just killed a bounty instead of taking him back in alive, be ready to explain why you made the decision to kill him. Maybe you decided that since he's a repeat offender and has been arrested numerous times, there was no point to bringing him in alive since he probably would have just broken out of jail once again and returned to a life of crime. 

Having a reason behind each of your questionable actions will help the other characters in the party understand why you did something and could even spark some roleplaying scenarios where a character who should find what your doing wrong, but discovers they actually agree with your reasoning and now start questioning their own ethics. Stuff like this can lead to interesting character grow. 

Determine Where Everyone's "Lines" Are
This is where I feel most people tend to falter when playing a dark character. Since you are going to be playing a morally questionable character, you will occasionally push against some of the limits of the other characters. While this can lead to some interesting roleplaying situations when done with moderation and care, it can also end up pissing the other players off if you decide to push to far. 

So, if you are going to play a dark character, I suggest determine where everyone's comfort zones are and what stuff they really don't want to deal with at the table. For example, if one of our characters is sensitive to sexual assault, it might be a bad idea to play a character who's a rapist. Know where everyone's boundaries are and be very carefully not to push them to far because this is a game where everyone wants to have fun.

I think if a player keeps these things in mind, playing a dark character will be a lot easier and more rewarding. 

((Quick Note: Since I've been rather busy lately, I'm going to be switching to a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting schedule for now.))

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ability Score Generation: Which Method to Use?

Throughout the different editions and variations of Dungeons & Dragons, there have been numerous methods for generating your character's ability scores. Since I've been working on my house rules document for Pathfinder, I've been thinking about what method to use. So, I thought it would be fun to look at the five different methods presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, look at their strengths and weaknesses, and see if this will help me make my final decision.

The "Standard" Method: This is the method that I have used the most during my career of gaming. The standard method has a player roll 4d6, discard the die with the lowest result, and add the three remaining results together. The player repeats this process until six numbers have been generated, then they allocate these scores to their six abilities as they see fit. While this method is less random then some of the other dice-based generation methods and usually creates characters with above-average ability scores, it also has the same problem that any randomize generation will have; sometimes a player will have really bad luck and end up rolling horrible scores.

The "Classic" Method: This method also uses six-sided dice to generate six numbers. However, unlike the standard method, you only roll 3d6 and add the three results together. The six numbers you generate with this method can be placed where you want, or they must be placed in order down the row. This method is probably the most random of the five, and going the truly "Method I" style would be interesting if players didn't mind leaving some of their character choices up to the dice, but I'm not sure my players would really like that.

The "Heroic" Method: For this method, the players only roll 2d6 and add 6 to the sum of the dice. They record the total and repeat the process until six numbers have been generated then assign the scores as they see fit. This method is less random than the standard method, preventing anyone from rolling a score under 8. However, this method also tends to create characters with above-average or high scores, and sometimes I'm not a fan of 1st level characters having a lot of really high scores. However, the method is incredibly fast, which is a plus for me since I tend to have only three or four hours to run a game because of other things in life.

The "Dice Pool" Method: I have actually never seen anyone use this method. Basically, each player receives 24d6 to assign to his statistics. Before the dice are rolled, the player selects the number of dice to roll for each score, with a minimum of 3d6 for each ability. Once each player has split up their pool of dice, they roll the amount for each ability and total the results of the three highest dice. While this method is interesting, I feel it would eat up a lot of time during the character creation session.

The "Purchase" Method: This and the standard method are the two generation methods I see used the most around where I live. This method gives each player a number of points based on the power level of the game. Each character takes these points and spends to raise their six abilities from a base score of 10. If they want more points, they can lower one of their scores to gain more. This method gives the most control out of all the methods, but it also seems to take the longest because players start to really think about if they'd prefer a 15 or a 16 in this one ability.

While each method has its merits, I think I'm going to just stick with the standard method for my games in the near future. However, I'm going to add a caveat to the method. If a player is not happy with the scores they have generated, they can choose to use the heroic array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8) instead.

What method for ability score generation do you use and why?

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Race: Vucari

From The Terah Project, Illustration by
Hugo Solis
I have always liked creating new player races. Mainly its to give my players some new options for their characters, but sometimes I just feel like letting the creative juices flow and seeing what I come up with. Because of that, I've decided to post some of the races I've created here every so often to give others the chance to use them as well. So, let's start this series of posts off with my most recent race, the Vucari.

The Vucari are a race of anthropomorphic wolves whose nomadic tribes can usually be found at the edge of civilization, traversing the numerous forests of the world. They are known for being incredible hunters and are fiercely loyal to their comrades, families, and tribes.

The Vucari tend to be the same height and weight as your average human, with males of the species being taller and weighing more than females. Their bodies are covered in a short coat of fur with longer, silkier hair growing from the top of their heads. Most Vucari have monochromatic fur which ranges from a light gray through all the shades of brown to black. Very rarely, a Vucari will be born with snow white fur. The Vucari tend to see these individuals as chosen by the gods and they usually become great spiritual leaders. The palms and soles of their hands and feet are covered by thick, leathery skin, and short, clawlike fingernails protruding from their fingers and toes. All Vucari have short, non-prehensile tails that they sometimes have difficulty controlling (especially when anxious or excited).

Because of their wolf-like features, many non-Vucari mistake the race for werewolves. This common case of mistaken identity has caused the Vucari to develop a deep resentment towards lycanthropes that borders on utter hatred. In fact, some of the greatest lycanthrope hunters in the world are actually Vucari.

+2 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom, -2 Intelligence: The Vucari are quick creatures, but rely more on instinct than knowledge.

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

Vucari: Vucari are humanoids with the Vucari subtype.

Normal Speed: Vucari have a base speed of 30 feet.

Low-Light Vision: In dim light, Vucari can see twice as far as humans.

Hatred: Vucari gain a +2 racial bonus on attack rolls against lycanthropes because of their special training against these hated foes.*

Natural Hunter: Vucari receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception, Stealth, and Survival checks.

Sprinter: Yucari gain a 10-foot racial bonus to their speed when using the charge, run, or withdraw actions.

Languages: Vucari begin play speaking Common and Vucari. Vucari with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following languages: Elven, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, and Sylvan.

*I know that hatred is usually only a +1 bonus instead of a +2, but since this race's hatred ability only works for one specific kind of monster, I thought it'd be okay to up the bonus slightly.

I will admit, the Vucari are not the most original race I've ever created. In fact, they are actually heavily influenced by the old lupin race from the Mystara campaign setting. However, I have always liked the idea of tribal "wolf-folk" and thought I'd create a race for Pathfinder that would allow me to fulfill that.

Also, for those of use who enjoy the alternate racial traits presented in the Advanced Player's Guide and Advanced Race Guide, I came up with these two for the Vucari if you wanted to change them up a little bit for your own games.

Scent: Vucari favor a keen sense of smell over sensitive sight. Vucari with this racial trait gain the scent ability. This racial trait replaces the low-light vision racial trait.

Wolf's Claws: Some Vucari have stronger and more developed claws than other members of their race, and can use them to make attacks. Vucari with this racial trait have a pair of claws they can use as natural weapons. These claws are primary attacks that deal 1d4 points of damage. This racial trait replaces natural hunter.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Social Class and Wealth

I've been thinking a lot about starting character wealth in Pathfinder. When my players and I have sat down to go through the steps of character creation for a new campaign, I have usually just told them to take the average amounts listed beside their chosen class on the Starting Wealth Chart that is present in the book their class can be found in.

While this has simplified things for the most part, I have recently grown dissatisfied with it. I don't know why exactly, I just feel like there could be a more interesting way to determine a character's starting wealth than flipping through a number of different books to find that Starting Wealth chart to determine it's average starting wealth.

Then it hit me: why not tie a character's wealth to their social class?

I have always liked the idea of a character's social class playing more of important role in a game than a simple line of description in their background. So, why not use it to determine how many gold pieces your character receives?

So, here's my supposed house rule. During character creation, Roll a single d6 and consult the following table. Once you have determined your character's social class, you can either randomly generate their starting wealth using the formula beside the social class' entry, or use the average starting amount. If you are using the Character Traits from the Advanced Player's Guide, anyone who chooses the Rich trait receives the maximum amount for their social class instead of the listed benefit in that book.

Lower Class
2d6 x 10 gp
70 gp
Middle Class
3d6 x 10 gp
105 gp
Upper Class
4d6 x 10 gp
140 gp

I decided to make this process random because I've always been a fan of determining some things through randomization. Also, I could see most people never choosing to play a lower class character if I just allowed them to choose. I'm probably going to do a lot more with social class in the future, but I think this will be an interesting first step. Since I'm going to be starting a new Pathfinder campaign in about a week, I'm going to test this out and see how it works at the table and make any changes I deem necessary accordingly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Injecting More Weirdness Into Your Fantasy Games

From the Distant Worlds supplement,
Illustration by Kerem Beyit
While some people might see it as heresy, I have always been a fan of mixing some horror and science fiction elements into my fantasy games. I've always love adding in some weirdness to a campaign setting or to the occasional adventure to throw my players for a loop. It's for this very reason one of the first old school modules I hunted down was Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

Now, I will admit, you can't throw this weirdness into the game haphazardly. If you do, it might end up destroying the verisimilitude of the game world, making it harder for the players to feel like its a real, breathing place. Because of this, I thought I'd give some advice to those who'd like to add a touch of weirdness to their games without upsetting things too much.

1. Make it Ancient and Mysterious: This is probably the easiest way to inject some weirdness into your game. While exploring a remote area far away from civilization, have your players stumble upon a strange ziggurat hidden deep inside a cave or engulfed in jungle foliage. While exploring this ziggurat, they discover it was once a temple to dark and alien gods whose names have no literal translation in any mortal tongue. As they delve further, they might accidentally unleash a servant to these alien entities (like a shoggoth or maybe a flying polp) and focus on the alien anatomy of this creature (or creatures). Rack up the fear of this beast and limit what they can learn about through knowledge checks, making it even more mysterious and strange. Heck, you could even describe the architecture of the ziggurat, describing it like something that just fell out of R'lyeh.

2. Blur the Line Between Magic and Technology: Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." So, how about we take this quote and run with it. We could have it that a small island nation is known in the region for their use of advanced technology they salvaged off a spaceship that crashed into the center of the island. However, to them, these technological devices are just strange artifacts that create powerful, magical results. Because of this, the natives of this island are very protective of them and do whatever they can to stop one of them from leaving the island. This set-up allows you to add some sci-fi technology into your game, but you can describe and treat it like some strange magical artifacts.

3. Change the Core Races/Twisting the Core Races: This is where we start to make major changes to a game and this needs to be done before a campaign begins. One of the easiest ways to add some strangeness to your game is to replace the core rules. Maybe instead of dwarves, we have insect-like beings who live underground and belong to a collective hivemind of some sort, or maybe the elves are replaced by a race of humanoid plants who worship nature and are master druids.

If you don't feel like replacing the core races, you could also twist them to make them a lot more weird. For example, you could make elves fey creatures who have traveled to the material plane for mysterious reasons. They will do things that make perfect sense to a fey's mind, but not to a human's. Or, we could make dwarves be creatures of living stone who were forged by the gods at the dawn of time to help them craft the world.

4. Mutate the Campaign Setting: This, like the advice right above it, is another major change that you will have to do a lot of thinking about before implementing it. One of the easiest ways to make a game weird is to make the setting itself weird. For example, you could have it so the world was destroyed during a war between the good and evil gods. Now, large chunks of the world float around in the Astral Sea, each island chain controlled by a god, and travel between each made possible by astral skimmers.

However, the more you go against traditional fantasy tropes, the more you might end up alienating your players. So, if you choose to mutate a setting and make it weird, really think about the repercussions of your choose and how to make it accessible to your players.

These are just a handful of the things you can do to inject some weirdness into your game. For those who aren't afraid to mix genres, what are some ways you have injected some strangeness into your fantasy games in the past?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Superheroes for a Back-Up Game?

Illustration by Joe Weltjens
I have always been a fan of comic books. Ever since I was a kid and I picked up an old back issue of Spider-Man at my local comic book store (which, sadly, went out of business a few years ago). While I've changed a lot since then, comics have remained a constant.

So, with that in mind, it should be no surprise that I'm also a huge fan of the Superhero genre of RPGs. While fantasy games are still my go-to when it comes to RPGs, superhero games are a very close second.

Occasionally, when I'm running my normal Pathfinder game, I'll have a player cancel at the last moment because something came up and leave the rest of us wondering if we should just go ahead and run the session without them. However, I think I have a solution to this problem that will allow us to still game for the night without the player missing an important story element or having to adjust to his character's absence. My solution is to have a superhero game ready to go as a back-up.

My reasoning for choosing a superhero game is rather simple actually. My choice is based on the fact that I can run a very fun, episodic and character-focused game where you don't need the entire party for every session. Since each adventure is episodic for the most part, the absent player will usually not have to be briefed on important story moments as often as they would in the other campaign. Also, we just pretend the absence of that character's hero is that he's off on his own adventure at the moment. Finally, since I have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, I can run a last moment, improved superhero game rather easily.

For my back-up superhero games, I tend to go with Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds (specifically the 3rd edition of that game). While it can be a little crunchy at time, I like how it can be adjusted to fit almost any kind of superhero game I want. I also own a lot of supplements for Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition, and I can easily convert a miscellaneous statblock without much work to use as an enemy for that session. If I don't feel like using Mutants & Masterminds, I tend to go with Savage Worlds using the Super-Power Companion. 

If you're looking for something to run as a back-up game when a player has to miss a normal session, I highly suggest going with a superhero game. They can be easy to run and who doesn't want to be a superhero every so often?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Crafting Items in Pathfinder

From Gnomes of Golarrion supplement,
Illustration by Christopher Burdett
It's no secret the Craft skill in Pathfinder doesn't work that well and makes no logical sense when you really break it down.

For those of you who don't know how the Craft skill works in Pathfinder, I'll give you the basics.

First, you need to determine the item you wish to craft's price in silver pieces. One you have done that, you need to find the item's DC on Table 4-4: Craft Skills on pg. 93 or the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. After that, you will have to pay one-third of the item's price for the cost of raw materials.

Once you have done that, you have to make the appropriate Craft check, with each check representing one week's worth of work. If the check succeeds, multiply your check result by the DC. If the result x the DC equals the price of the item in silver pieces, then you have completed the item. However, if the result x the DC equals double or triple the price of the item in silver pieces, then you've completed the task in one-half or one-third of the time. If the result x the DC doesn't equal the price, that check only represents the progress you've made this week. Record the result and make a new Craft check for the next week. Each week, you make more progress until your total reaches the price of the item in silver pieces.

On paper this might not sound too bad or broken. However, this process can produce some very strange results when put into action at the table.

Here's an example. Let's say that a smith is commissioned to make a heavy repeating crossbow. After you convert the item's price, it ends up costing 4000 silver pieces. After looking at the chart, the DC for the check will be a 15 and the Smith has a plus 5 in his Craft (Weapons) skill. Let's say he manages to make a 10 on each and every Craft check. 15 times 15 equals 225. So, after doing the math, it would take the smith about 17 or 18 weeks to actually finish the heavy repeating crossbow. While that might not be a problem for the smith, it is for the adventurer who commissioned the item and has to now wait a couple of months before getting his item.

It should be obvious by now that the Craft skill doesn't work that well in action. However, some of you might be thinking, "Why bother trying to fix this system? The game's about going out on adventures and slaying dragons, not crafting items in a forge." Well, it's pretty simple really. What is one of my players came up to me and said, "Hey, I want to play a dwarf weaponsmith who travels the land, trying to find rare materials to make new and interesting weapons with?" Am I supposed to tell that player, "Sorry, can't play that character because that's not what the game is about?" No, I should try and fix a broken system so he can play that character and have actual fun with it.

Luckily, someone out there has already purposed a fix to the Craft skill rules that I actually rather like. Spes Magna Games released an 8-page PDF written by Mark L. Chance about how to fix Craft and make it more logical. Basically, Chance has decided to throw out the old model for determining how difficult an item is to craft and how long it takes. Instead, both of those factors are now determined by the item's complexity. There are five levels of complexity: Very Simple (things like a crowbar or a quarterstaff), Simple (most simple weapons and articles of clothing), Moderate (most martial and exotic weapons, bows, shields, etc.), Complex (most types of armor, crossbows, most vehicles, alchemist's fire, etc.), and Very Complex (ocean-going vessels, unusual armors, antitoxins, etc.)

Other things, like is the item of masterwork quality or is the smith using an unusual material like adamantine, also factor into the difficulty and time needed to craft the item. The variant system is well designed and I think  it does a great job of fixing the weaknesses of the Craft skill. The only real weakness I can see in the variant system is the lack of rules on crafting magical items. However, I think that extension could easily be added on here without much of a problem.

 The PDF can be found for sale here for a rather cheap price. I highly recommend giving it a look.

Monday, January 7, 2013

No Actual Post Today

Yeah, for the past couple of days, I've been confined to bed, feeling horrible. Because of this, I really didn't plan a post for today, so I'm just going to take the day off and post twice tomorrow to make up for it. Now, I'm going back to bed, so I will end this by saying I hope everyone has a good day today and feels a lot better than I do :)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Game of Thrones as a Fiasco Play-Set?

From A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game,
Illustration by Andrew Hou

One of my favorite games to play when my group wants to take a break from the usual games for a night is Fiasco. I love how the game works, how simple it is to learn, and how much fun it is to come up with all these devious plans and then watch them all fall apart in a glorious fashion.

In a few weeks, I'm going to be helping one of my best friends move and visit another friend in the process. Since both are gamers, I'm thinking about having a game night while we're up there and running a few different one-shots, and Fiasco is definitely one of the games I've been considering. However, I also need to figure out what play-set to use.

While looking through the free play-sets available on the game publisher's website, I started to think, "You know, I wonder if you could use the set-up for Game of Thrones for a session of Fiasco?" As I thought about the goings-on in Westeros, the more I felt it would make a really entertaining Fiasco game. The players could be scheming nobles who are all trying to further their own goals while working with each other and secretly sabotaging each other as well. I can always see the different relationships that would be available and what options would be available during the Set-Up stage of the game.

Now, all I have to do is actually sit down and write it all out.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Social Mechanics in Pathfinder

From the Player's Handbook II supplement,
 Illustration by Steven Belledin
While I love Pathfinder and its my go-to system for running a fantasy game, I do have some grievances with the rules and how they work. One of the things that has been really annoying me lately are how the Bluff and Diplomacy skills work.

Now, LS of Papers & Pencils and -C of Hack & Slash have both dissected these skills and weighed in on their problems. There posts can be found here and here. I highly recommend reading them. However, since the social mechanics have been on my mind as I collect all of my house rules for Pathfinder into a single, easy to reference document, I decided to weigh in on the topic as well.

For those of you who might not be familiar with how the Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate skills work in Pathfinder, I'll give a quick overview for you. Like most skills, the three social skills are supposed to represent how adept you are when performing the action. When you attempt to use one of these social skills, you roll a d20 and add the relevant modifiers and try to match or overcome a target number determined by the GM based on the difficulty of the task. For social skills, the difficulty is determined by the opposing party's attitude towards you and other miscellaneous modifiers.

On paper, that doesn't sound that bad. However, in practice it causes a couple of problems. Probably the biggest problem is that it tends to boiler a situation that should incorporate some fun roleplaying down into a simple die roll. Even if the player does roleplay out the situation, his or her words may only grant him a simple modifier on his roll. The player could have their character make a very good argument  but the opposing party doesn't go along with it because they happened to have a moment of bad luck and rolled a 1 on their Diplomacy check.

So, I started to think of a way to handle social situations better in my home games and I think I've discovered a way to do it. While reading through the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition book, I found myself captivated by one section in that book in particular. The section detailed a system for social interactions that I think could easily be adapted to Pathfinder and help fix the problem of the social skills.

Each major social "conflict" is broken down into three rounds of conversation, each focusing on one particular point (or a few highly connected points). Further rounds represent the turn of conversation to additional points. Each round, the player character roleplays his argument and makes the appropriate social skill (or an opposed skill check if a rival is arguing against him). The DC the PC has to either match or beat is determined by adding 10 to the opposing party's Will saving throw modifier. If the opposing party is particularly unfriendly or has something against the PCs, the modifier is raised by 4. If the opposing party is particularly friendly or likes the PCs, the modifier is lowered by 4.

At the end of each round, the speaker who manages to succeed at their skill check will accumulate 1 point of success. At the end of the final round of the social conflict, the side with the most points "wins" the argument.

The GM should grant a plus 2 bonus to a side that makes a particularly brilliant or undeniable point; or a minus 2 penalty if the speaker commits a faux pas, such as making a provably untrue statement or insulting the audience he hopes to convince. If the characters are arguing technical points, such as a legal battle or the best plan for a kingdom's defense, the character receives a plus 2 bonus for every 5 ranks they possess in an appropriate Knowledge skill.

While I think this system would fix some of the problems inherent to how social skills work in Pathfinder, I feel it might add a level of complication to the game I might not be too happy with. I'm going to try and playtest it in my next game and see how it actually works in play before I make any serious changes or revisions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Musings on the Monk

From the Ultimate Combat supplement,
 Illustration by  Dmirtry Burmak
I must be crazy. This is my second post and I've decided to stick my head into the Pathfinder Monk debate.

If you, like me, like to frequent the Paizo forums, you have probably noticed the large amount of threads talking about this problematic class and ways to fix it and make it better. For the longest time, I just ignored these threads and went on my merry way. However, with all the tinkering I have been doing with the Pathfinder RPG I've started to realize a lot of those threads were right; there are a lot of problems with the Monk.

I think one of the most obvious problems with the monk is that it's a martially focused class that possesses a moderate attack bonus progression and a d8 hit die. All of the other martially focused classes (the Barbarian, the Cavalier, the Gunslinger, the Fighter, the Paladin, the Ranger, and the Samurai) all have a fast attack bonus progression and a d10 hit die. Why is a class that focuses on unarmed combat the only one left out? So, if I had to redesign the class, giving it a fast attack bonus progression and a d10 hit die would be one of the first changes I'd make.

Second, I also feel the monk is one of the most linear classes in the game. While you get some interesting abilities, the core monk has very little room for variations. I think the monk would benefit heavily from a set of class features similar to rogue talents and ninja tricks. This would allow players to make their monk characters a little more unique and allow for some interesting ki abilities. I'd also probably allow the monk access to its ki pool a lot earlier than in the Core Rulebook version.

Finally, I think the monk relies one too many ability scores. Most classes rely on two or three ability scores. However, the monk needs a good Strength score so It will have better accuracy with its unarmed attacks and enhance his damage output. It needs a good Dexterity and Wisdom score to enhance its Armor Class since it can't wear armor, and it needs at least a decent Constitution score so it will have a decent amount of hit points. While you could just take Weapon Finesse so you could use your Dexterity score instead of your Strength score for your unarmed attack rolls, I hate that I'd have to spend a feat to do so.

After getting this all out, I feel like deconstructing the monk class and rebuilding it to fix some of or all of these problems. It would be an interesting project.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Simple Introduction

From the DCC RPG, Illustration by Jeff Easley
I have exactly three loves in life (if I exclude my girlfriend from the equation): comic books, movies, and roleplaying game. Back in 8th grade, I spent my Christmas money on the three core rulebook for the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Like most, I managed to rope a couple of friends and I ran their first characters through a number of the free adventures that were available to download on Wizards of the Coast's website. When I look back on those old games, I were incredibly bad. However, I still remember them fondling because without them, I wouldn't be in this hobby today and practice makes perfect they say. 

I created this blog to act as a place where I can talk about roleplaying games, post different rules or ideas I have been tinkering around with, talk about my own experiences in the hobby, and anything else that has to do with one of my three passions in life. While this blog if for me, I hope those who do decide to stop by and give it a look enjoy what they see and leave a comment. I always love to discuss things and I'd love to here your thoughts as well.