Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Musings About Hero Points

For a good while, I have been contemplating whether I should add the Hero Points system from the Advanced Player's Guide to my list of house rules for Pathfinder.

On the positive side of things, I like how they present the players with some narrative control of their characters and give them away to potentially save themselves if they botch a roll or make a terrible decision.

I also like how they allow me to reward players for thing beyond defeating challenges like traps and combat. If a character finds an interesting way to sneak past the guard to get into the treasure room, I could reward him a hero point for that.

However, there are a few negative sides as well. Strangely enough, hero points being a way for players to save themselves is kind of a bad thing as well. In most games, if a player makes a terrible decision and ends up suffering for it, they will hopefully learn from that mistake and be more cautious next time and plan ahead. However, when using the hero point system, there is a chance the character will not learn from the mistake because they have a hero point the can use to save them.

If I were to implement a hero point-like system into my home games, I think I would rework it a little bit. I would keep the three point maximum so players would have a limited pool of hero points and would not want to just throw them around without much though. The player could use a hero point to 1) re-roll an attack roll, saving throw, or skill check, 2) add a +4 bonus to their next attack roll, saving throw, or skill check, or 3) automatically stabilize their character if it is dying. 

What are your thoughts on hero point-like systems like Action Points or Fate Points? Do you like them or hate them and why? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Making a Good Player's Guide for Your Campaign

Have you ever tried to start a new campaign with certain ideas that you wanted to see, then your players constantly ask to play things that would make no sense in the setting that you are using or would not match the original idea for the campaign you had in mind?

If you're willing to do a little extra work, you can curtail this somewhat by creating a "player's guide" for your group that will present them the basics of the setting, what stuff is common, and some of your expectations for the campaign that you want to run.

While I haven't used a player's guide for the last few campaigns that I've run (mainly because I didn't have the time to create one before-hand because of school), I'm still a huge supporter of the idea and I thought that I'd give some advice on how to construct one of these player's guides and what should and should not be in it.

First, you need to give a simple overview of the region or setting that you will be using for the game. The overview should cover the basic level of knowledge someone in the game world would have about the area. Also, it should be only about 2 to 3 pages long because the longer the section is, your players will be less likely to actually read it.

Second, give them another simple overview about the races and ethnic groups that inhabit the area and how the work. This is where you can drop hints about which races are the most appropriate for the game and which ones aren't. For example, lets say you really don't see halflings playing a large role in the setting, you could have a sentence in the halfling section saying, "Halflings are a very rare sight in the region." I suggest this section be about 1 to 2 pages in length.

Third, present the basic information for the starting town or area of the campaign. If you are beginning the campaign in a trading town located on an intersection of four major trade routes, give the players a basic map of the town and an overview of both it and the immediate surrounding area. This will give those who have decided to be from the town the information they will need and give those who will be from somewhere else some ideas about why they are at the town. I think a good length for this section is probably 2 to 3 pages at the most.

Fourth, present a basic overview of the different house rules that you will be using for the campaign. Make all of the rules clear and understandable and give a quick, short reasoning on why you are doing it this way or why you have added this rule. This section will probably be the longest and should be placed at the back of the guide.

Finally, I would suggest putting the guide into a thin, three-ring binder with dividers separating each section. The reason for this is it allows you to add more information to the guide when you need to. For example, let's say I'm setting a campaign in the land of Varisia from the Pathfinder setting of Golarion and one of my players wants to play a Shoanti barbarian. Well, I can go to the Varisia: Birthplace of Legend PDF, print out the section on the Shoanti, and insert that into that player's guide so he will have more information about his character's ethnic group. Also, putting the guides into thin binders give the player some place to put there character sheets and notes for the game.

Like I said before, player's guides can be incredibly useful tools for your campaigns. While they ask for a bit more work from you, they can also possibly save you some time in the future since some of the basic setting info and details will be in the guide.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Problem With Dragons

One of the things that I hate about modern fantasy games and stories is the demystification of dragons. In my opinion, dragons should be something utterly terrifying and only high-level characters should be able to even stand a chance of defeating them. However, for some strange reason, I keep seeing 1st-level adventures with  dragons as their final bosses who never seem to use the things that make a dragon such a formidable foe.

Now, I understand why these scaly titans keep making appearances in these 1st-level modules. The majority of these adventures are meant to be introductions to the game and when most people think about the fantasy genre, they tend to think of brave warriors fighting a vicious dragon.

However, when you try to shoehorn a dragon into a 1st-level adventure, you will have to weaken it and make it something the characters can realistically defeat if they are smart and the dice aren't rolling horribly. The problem with this is that you are now showing the players that dragons aren't that scary and even a group of 1st-level adventurers can take them with some planning and forethought.

So, I believe we need to stop putting chromatic and metallic dragons into 1st-level dungeons. Dragons need to be the thing that only powerful adventurers can possibly take. They need to be the creatures that young, low-level adventurers will run in terror from because facing it would be almost certain death. They need to be monsters that you have to come up with a really good plan if you even want a chance to defeat it, not just swing your swords and cast a few spells.

I don't think that's too much to ask, is it?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Making Monotheism Work in Pathfinder

Religions in fantasy campaign settings have always fascinated me. Whenever I buy a campaign setting, one of the first things that I do is flip to the chapter on religion and see how this world and these designers handle the topic. Maybe its my love of the cleric class or my love of mythology, but I have always enjoyed reading and designing new and interesting fantasy religions. 

During my short tenure as a game master, I have purchased and read a large number of campaign settings and have seen the numerous different ways the designers of these worlds handle the topic of religion and the deities that watch over the world. However, one form of religion almost always seems to be absent in these fantasy settings: Monotheism. 

The majority of campaign settings tend to be polytheistic in nature. There are numerous gods and goddesses roaming the multiverse and acting as patrons for those mortals who happen to fall into one of the domains they have power over. Now, I can see why most people would go the polytheistic route in a campaign setting over the monotheistic route. With numerous deities, the players have more options to choose from and the presence of multiple gods and goddesses better mirrors the legends and mythologies that so many of us draw inspiration from for our games. 

With that in mind, most people would probably see a monotheistic religion in their fantasy world as "restrictive". However, I believe you can make monotheism work within a game world rather easily with the following pieces of advice and guidelines. 

First, let's tackle the whole "restrictive" argument. While a monotheistic religion could be seen as restrictive because players only have one god to choose to worship, this doesn't mean the characters all worship this one god the same way. For example, there could be numerous sects throughout the land who worship the True God in different ways. You might have one sect who is very much tied to religious dogma and puts a lot of importance on ritual and church law, while another sect is more free-spirited and believes as long as you live your life in the name of the True God and follow his basic teachings, you will be saved. Just look at some modern day monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam to see how different sects vary in how they worship the same god. 

Also, while there might be only one deity, there could be numerous patron saints that have more specific focuses for the characters to venerate. These saints would take the place of some of the typical roles for gods in a more polytheistic society, like the saint of knowledge or the saint of soldiers. While all these characters still worship the main deity of the religion, they find themselves venerating the saints that watch over their interests and professions as well. 

I would also suggest implementing one of the rules the Eberron setting used for religion. Basically, in the world of Eberron, clerics did not have to be within one-step of their deity's alignment. This allowed for LE clerics dedicated to the LG Church of the Silver Flame. By implementing this rule, you could have a few "heretic" sects who worship the main deity in ways others would see as evil or have bishops of the church who have become corrupted by power. This would also add more options and flavor for your PCs to take advantage of. 

Another idea I would highly suggest implementing is to make the main god of this monotheistic religion distant. Have this deity never present itself in a overtly obvious way in the world. Have the signs of its presence being extremely symbolic and could be interpreted as just arcane magic or something else. If the god is distant, you can have characters question their faith in a god that seems to remain silent and have scholars argue this god might not even exist at all and the clerics are all actually just sorcerers who are deluding themselves. With this, you can make your world and the religion more interesting and create some interesting story lines and adventures in your games. 

Finally, just because there is only one god does not mean he only has one form. While a few lands might worship this god in a form that resembles Catholicism in the Middle Ages, these distant desert lands might worship the very same deity in a form that is closer to Islam, and the nomadic barbarians of the northern wilds might worship the god as the Earth Mother and the saints as her many children. While they are worshiping the same god, they just have different names and forms for him. 

I hope this helps those who could never figure out a good way to implement a monotheistic religion into their games decide to give it a second try. While I like the polytheistic ways of doing things, sometimes you need a change of pace and a monotheistic religion might be the perfect thing for the job. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Template: The Reforged

The Reforged are the horrifying result of a mortal seeking to extend their life by any means necessary. Through dark rituals and painful procedures, these desperate folks turn themselves into mechanical monstrosities to cheat death for as long as they possibly can.

"Reforged" is an acquired template that can be added to any living, corporeal creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature). A reforged retains all the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted here. 

CR: Same as the base creature +2 

Subtype: Base creature gains the "half-construct" subtype. 

Armor Class: The base creature's natural armor improves by +2

Special Qualities and Defenses: The base creature gains darkvision 60 ft; +2 bonus on saving throws against disease, mind-affecting effects, poison, and effects that cause either exhaustion or fatigue; can no longer be raised or resurrected; do not breathe, eat, or sleep, unless they want to gain some beneficial effect from one of these activities. 

Melee: A reforged has a natural slam attack. If the base creature can use manufactured weapons, the reforged can as well. The slam attack deals damage as appropriate for the reforged's size (see "Natural Attacks" on pages 301-302 of the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary). 

Abilities: Increase and decrease from the base creature as follows: +2 Strength, +2 Constitution, -4 Charisma. 

Skills: A reforged with racial Hit Dice has skill points per racial Hit Die equal to 6 + its Intelligence modifier. Racial class skills are unchanged from the base creature's. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Musing on Alignnment

During the eight years that I have been apart of this strange, but entertaining hobby, I've noticed there are a number of topics that seem to get people riled up for one reason or another. One such topic is the alignment system in D&D/Pathfinder.

Some people hate the alignment system with every fiber of their being. They see it as a restrictive system that forces their characters into specific roles and punishes them whey they try to act outside the box they have been placed in.

Others, like myself, are quite fond of the alignment system. Instead of viewing as a metaphorical straight jacket, we see it as simply a shorthand for the player to help determine their character's basic personality and how they will approach and react to certain situations in the game.

With that being said, I do have my own set of problems with the alignment system that tend to rear their ugly heads every now and then. My biggest problem with the system is how easily it can be interpreted in different ways and the lack of explanation given on how to handle changing a character's alignment. 

While playing the game, the player might have their character do something that you as the GM view as opposed to their stated alignment. However, the player see the action in a different way that doesn't match your perception of his alignment. The easiest way to handle this, of course, is to just sit down before the campaign begins and tell the players how you perceive each alignment and figure out which alignment best fits the player's idea for their character.

Although this problem has an easy fix, it can still through a monkey wrench into the game when the character does something you believe would cause him to have to change his alignment, but he doesn't view it the same way you do. While you can tell them what they did is going to cause them to change their alignment, there is a good chance you might spark and argument where he feels like he has to defend his action and the session comes to a screeching halt. While you can implement a "three strikes" rule (they get three warnings about acting out of their alignment before the alignment it changed to one that better mirrors how they are acting), there is still that chance you might cause an argument to break out.

A few days ago, I was contemplating some other ways to handle alignment in the game that could allow those who view the system as "restrictive" more wiggle-room during the game. One idea I had was to create a variant system that mirrored a morality system found in games like Fable. Each character would have four "alignment scores" that begins with a score of 0 (starting them off as neutral characters). During the game, every significant action they make that has some moral consequence to it will raise or lower each alignment score. For example, pick-pocketing a man walking down the street for selfish reasons might raise a character's Evil score by 1 or 2 points while saving a child from a marauding orc for purely altuistic reasons could raise a character's Good score by 2 or 3 points.

However, this kind of system would cause more problems than it would fix. You would have to figure out how spells like detect good and protection from evil would work against characters with scores in all four alignments. Also, how would you handle classes with restricted alignments like the paladin? Would they begin with points in two of the alignment scores? Would they fall or lose class abilities if they gain points in another score or their Good and Law score drop to 0? What score would you have to have in Evil before you could become an assassin? Finally, what would these numbers actually mean? What makes a Good score of 10 different from a score of 5?

While the current alignment system does have some problems associated with it, I think you would probably to rebuild a large amount of the game to implement a variant system that fixes those problems and those variants would create their own problems.

What are your thoughts on the alignment system? Do you love it or hate it? If you hate it, how would you replace it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oh Science Fantasy, How I Love Thee...

"John Carter of Mars", Illustration by
Reilly Brown
As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a big fan of mixing genres to create something interesting and unique. Because of this, it should come as now surprise that I'm a huge fan of the Science Fantasy sub-genre.  Ever since I saw the Star Wars trilogy when I was a little kid (before George Lucas released the Special Editions and my love for Star Wars began to slowly die), I have found myself fascinated by the blending of the fantastical and the scientific.

While there are a couple of different varieties of Science Fantasy, I think there are three that are the most prominent. There is the variety where the game is set in the distance future long after a catastrophic event that caused an advanced society to collapse. Because of this, the world has entered a new dark age. However, pieces of technology developed by this ancient society still remain, but many view these devices as magic.

The second variety is basically a fantasy setting with some science fiction elements thrown in. Edgar Rice Burrough's "Barsoom" series of novels are a great example of this flavor of Science Fantasy. We have characters teleported to strange, alien worlds with weird monsters and fantastical devices. This flavor is generally referred to as Planetary Romance or Sword & Planet.

The third major flavor is where both flavors collide to create a strange world where magic and technology exist side by side. Perfect examples of this flavor would be Shadowrun and the later entries in the Final Fantasy series. In all honesty, this is my least favorite of the three major flavors because sometimes it just feels lop-sided to me.

If I had to pick a favorite variation, I would probably pick the second one that is closer to the fantasy genre because I feel like I can let my imagination go wild and now have to worry as much about scientific laws. Here, I can have mighty warriors wielding swords and laser pistols fighting vicious aliens and robots on-board a hover-barge. There is just something about that imagery that makes me smile and giddy inside.

Heck, just thinking about the genre makes me really want to run a Science Fantasy campaign. Most likely, I would either use Savage Worlds or some other rules-light system that I can easily hack and modify. I'd probably have a good does of alien technology, psionics, weird aliens, and a sprinkling of Burrough's Mars.

Just like my love for Fantasy, Science Fantasy just causes my imagination to go insane and bring a big smile to my face. Just thinking about fantastic alien worlds with equally fantastic lifeforms inhabiting it and strange technology just waiting to be harnessed by a diabolical villain or brave hero makes me happy.

What strange genres of fiction do you love and why?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Zero Charisma: A Few Thoughts

Zero Charisma tells the story of Scott Weidemeier, an overbearing game master who finds his life turned upside down when a "hipster gamer" joins his group. However, things continue to grow worse when his grandmother's health starts to falter and his estranged mother and her new boyfriend re-enter his life. As a result, his comfortable life starts to spin out of control.

After watching the trailer, I find myself feeling a lot of mixed emotions towards this movie. While I'd like to see more movies feature roleplaying games and the hobby, I feel like Zero Charisma is showing the stereotypical side of the hobby that has been the butt of numerous jokes over the years.

While I know one or two players in my area that are like Scott, most of the people I play with are pretty normal guys who have pretty decent social lives that just like to gather around a table, roll some dice, and tell stories together.

Honestly, I wish this film would be more like The Gamers series of films where the roleplaying games is used to facilitate the humor and poke fun at some of the stereotypes in gaming instead of making fun of the hobby.

However, since I haven't actually seen the film yet, all of this is just speculation based on the trailer and how it came off to me. I'm going to give it a chance to prove me wrong when it comes out. You never know, I might be completely wrong and this film might end up being completely hilarious.

How about you guys? What are your thoughts on Zero Charisma?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thoughts on Cheating

Earlier today, I was reading an old post on The Douchey DM about players who cheat on their dice rolls for one reason or another. After I finished the post and thought about it, I thought I would talk about my own thoughts on cheating in roleplaying game and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.

While this might not be a shocking revelation, I believe cheating can be rather detrimental to the game as a whole. One of the elements that I have always loved about RPG's is the random element of the dice. I love how in certain situations the way the dice land can determine if a character succeeds or fails at an action. It's that chance of failure that makes a success even more sweet.

So, I just find it hard to understand the appeal of cheating at a game? Maybe it's just me, but I find it rather boring to succeed at everything. If there is not chance you will ever fail, every success is just more shallow than the last in my eyes.

Now, with that being said, I can understand why a GM might want to "fudge" a roll or two during the game. For example, you are playing the very first adventure of a campaign and you happen to roll critical hit after critical hit and you might end up with a TPK at this rate. Now, if this were me, I would probably fudge a roll or two so they are normal hits instead of critical hits so the characters still feel like the combat is dangerous, but I don't end up killing them because I was rolling rather lucky and I don't want to end the campaign with the first adventure.

However, I think the difference here is that while I'm fudging some of these rolls (and therefore "cheating"), I'm not taking away all of the challenge and giving them a free pass. I think if a GM fudges every once in awhile, but doesn't make it a perfect win for the characters, than it's fine. However, if he fudges the dice constantly to "protect" the party and his players immediately scoop up their dice after they have somehow rolled their fourth natural 20 in a row, I think that can really hurt the game in the long run because you will slowly erase any real challenge the game has.

What are your thoughts on cheating? Do you think it has a place in gaming? Do you think it's a horrible thing that should never be done?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Musings on the Summoner

From the Advanced Player's Guide. Illustration by
Wayne Reynolds
To be perfectly honest, I have always had mixed feelings for the Summoner class. I like the basic idea of having an arcane spellcaster who specializes in a strange pet and summoning other creatures, but I feel like the class we got has a few problems that result in me being incredibly hesitant to allow one into my Pathfinder games.

In my opinion, I think the biggest problem with the Summoner is actually its main feature: the eidolon. Like I mentioned above, I like the idea of an arcane spellcaster that focuses on a "pet". However, I feel like they went down the wrong path by including the eidolon. First, the eidolon mechanics allow a character to create a strange, weird monster that most likely has absolutely no place in the setting at large. Also, I feel like the person who should be creating new monsters is the GM, not the players.

Secondly, the eidolon has a lot more bookkeeping attached to it than a druid's animal companion or a wizard's familiar. Having to juggle an eidolon's evolutions and all those fiddly bits can be really annoying.

I believe the eidolon should be removed entirely from the class and replaced with something more akin to the druid's animal companion. However, instead of choosing an animal, the summoner receives a low-rank outsider as its companion. They could choose to have angels, archons, azatas, demons, devils, and any kind of outsider and can advance in the same way as a druid's animal companion. While there would still be some bookkeeping involved, it wouldn't be as much as with the current eidolons.

The other major change would be to grant it a full spellcasting progression instead of the shortened one they have right now. With the bard, I can understand why it has a shorter spellcasting progression. It's a class that has merely dabbled into the arcane arts. However, the Summoner is someone who has studied for years to be able to make a link with its eidolon and summon it, so I don't see why it shouldn't have a full progression.

Now, I know some people like the Summoner as it is, and I'm fine with that. Everyone is allowed to like whatever they want. These are just my opinions on the class and why I have some problems with it. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the class.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Romance in Games

One element that I always try to include in most of the games that I run is romance. To me, romance plays such an important role in the real world that I feel it should have some representation in the game world as well.

However, there are some who hate the inclusion of romance in games and will go out of their way to exclude it for one reason or another. Usually, the most common reasoning is that it is awkward to roleplay romances at the table.

Because of this, I thought it might be useful to talk about some ways you can handle romance in games without it devolving into awkward situations and making everyone uncomfortable.

I think the best thing you can do to help relieve some of the awkwardness of the situation is have the two participants in the relationship (whether they be two players or a player and the GM) sit down and discuss the best way to handle the relationship and figure out where everyone's comfort zones are. If your party finds explicit depictions of romance awkward, you can decide to go with more subtle depictions that hint at the romantic relationship between the two character, but all of the explicit stuff happens "off-screen."

Second, never introduce a character for the sole purpose of being a love interest and only a love interest. If you do this, your players may think you are trying to force one onto them and they will most likely rebel against it. A romantic interesting in an NPC should be something more akin to a happy side-affect instead of a desired destination. When designing a character for your game, you might think, "Player A's character might be interested in this character," but that should never be the only desired result. If it is, then you probably haven't created a well-rounded character.

Finally, I think the most useful piece of advice I can give you is to not jump all the way into romance at first, but to just dip your toes into the water and slowly submerge yourself over time. If you are unsure about how your players will react to romantic subplots and the like, add little pieces of it here and there and try to gauge their reactions. If they seem interested, increase those elements. If they don't take the bait, just shrug and move on.

While romance, like horror, can be a difficult element to add to games, I believe it can also be one of the most rewarding elements if don't correctly. I hope this advice helps those who have been hesitant to add romance to their games and make it a lot easier to do.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Looking for a Good Cyberpunk Game

Since I'm hoping to get a new game going soon (my last attempt failed miserably), I've been thinking about what I would like to run. While fantasy is my usual choice, I'm thinking about changing things up. While I thought about a few different genres, the idea of running a cyberpunk game keeps popping up in my mind and I have an idea or two that could work for it.

However, if I were to decide to run a cyberpunk game, I would need to find a good cyberpunk game to run. For the story that I have in mind, I want it to be a strictly Sci-Fi game, so that would disqualify Shadowrun. Does anyone have any good recommendations for a cyberpunk game?