Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Passing of a Legend

Jack Vance (John Holbrook) passed away Sunday at the age of 96. He died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Oakland, California. Jack was a brilliant author whose most recognized works were The Dying Earth series and the Lyonesse trilogy. He was also one of the major influences for Gary Gygax when designing Dungeons & Dragons (he's the reason the magic system is referred to as "Vancian Magic").

It is sad knowing that Jack is no longer with us. However, like any great author, he will continue to live on in the pages of his work.

We will all miss you Jack Vance.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Argument for the Swashbuckler

Art by Jason Engle
I have a simple philosophy when it comes to creating a new base class for Pathfinder. A designer should not create a new base class unless it will fill a role that another base class doesn't already fill, can only be somewhat handled by multiclassing, the right archetype choice, the right choice of feats and skills, and entry into a prestige class, or has a concept worthy of a 20-level base class.

The main reason I adopted this philosophy is because of the class bloat that developed during the life of the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally, Wizards of the Coast would release a new supplement that presented a new base class who's shtick could already be handled by another base class or the right selection of feats/skills/spells. You'd also see classes that had rather niche concepts that honestly better fit a prestige class instead of a full base class.

Now, with that philosophy in mind, I really think Pathfinder would benefit from a Swashbuckler-like base class. The idea of an Errol Flynn-like character who focuses more on grace, speed, and flare instead of brute force and high stamina is an incredibly iconic in fantasy literature and definitely has enough meat to it to fill out a 20-level base class.

Secondly, there really isn't a good option for building a character who wears very little to no armor, doesn't use a shield, and fights with only a one-handed weapon. You can attempt to build it with a fighter, but it would kind of make the Armor Training ability pointless and you'd have a horrible Reflex save bonus. You can try and build the character with the rogue, but you'd be stuck with a lot of unwanted trap-themed character abilities and the lower amount of hp and base attack bonus would hinder your fighting capabilities. Also, rogues are horrible at fighting an opponent one at a time, which is what swashbucklers should be great at. You can fake your way through it by multiclassing and archetypes and the Duelist prestige class, but you wouldn't be able to play the character you want from the beginning or you might still be stuck with abilities that don't fit your concept.

So, if we were to sit down and create a Swashbuckler class, what abilities would it have? Well, it would obviously have a good base attack bonus progression and the good hit die that comes with it, a good Reflex save progression to represent the class's focus on agility and grace, a decent amount of skill points and class skills that mirror the class' acrobatic and social capabilities, an ability or two that would help off-set the negatives entailed in wearing light to no armor and not being able to carry a shield, help enhance its ability to fight with a light or one-handed weapon, and a few abilities that would allow it to recreate some of the daring feats seen in the old Errol Flynn movies.

Now, if I was going to sit down and build this class from the ground up, I think I'd take a few of the abilities from the Duelist prestige class and throw them into the mix (specifically Canny Defense and Precise Strike). Also, after giving the swashbuckler archetype for the Gunslinger class over at Tower of the Lonely GM, I'd also throw in a Grit and Deeds-like mechanic into the mix to allow for those Flynn-like acrobatics. I'd also probably throw in the Evasion and Uncanny Dodge abilities as well because they fit the class' concept.

So, what do you think? Do you think Pathfinder needs a Swashbuckler-like class? If you were going to design it, how would you?

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day of Remembrance

Today is the last Monday in May, which means for those of us who live in the United States it is Memorial Day. It is a day where we honor those men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is a day for us all to come together and remember these brave souls who fought for their country and to protect its citizens and the ideas this nation was founded upon.

In honor of these brave men and women, I will not be doing a normal, RPG-focused post today. Instead, I wanted to post this in honor of the people who fought to keep this country free and were willing to sacrifice their lives to do so and their families and friends. I would simply like to say thank you for everything you have done.

I hope everyone has a happy Memorial Day. I'm going to spend some quality time with my family and visit my grandfather, who as a veteran of the Korean War,'s grave and honor him as well. I'll see you all on Wednesday with a normal post.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Leveling Advancement Variant for Pathfinder

It's no secret that I like Pathfinder. While I've become somewhat disillusioned with the excess of rules and wish the game was somewhat lighter, it is still one of my favorite games on the market and my go-to choice for fantasy gaming.

However, I'm very aware of the problems that are inherent to both Pathfinder and other games based on the d20 system. For example, it's a very common belief that the d20 system begins to break down at higher levels. While I don't think the problem is as drastic as some would make it out to be, the obvious bloat in bonuses and some of the problems with high level play is something I would like to avoid if I can. It's one of the reasons I very rarely run a game past 10th level.

Recently, I have been brainstorming a better way to handle character advancement past 10th level and I think Paizo has giving me a perfect way to handle it: Mythic Tiers.

For those of you who don't follow Pathfinder and have no idea what I'm talking about, I'll elaborate. Mythic Tiers are basically character levels that a character gains by completing a "mythic trial". Once they have completed the mythic trial, they choose which of the six mythic paths they'd like to follow (Archmage, Champion, Guardian, Hierophant, Marshall, and Trickster) and can receive a maximum of 10 mythic tiers. Since these tiers aren't based on experience points, but characters accomplishing these trials, the advancement can be as slow or as fast as a game master wants it to be.

So, I'm thinking about doing the following for my future Pathfinder games. Characters will stop advancing normally at 10th level. If they wish to advance further, they will be presented with a mythic trial and will be granted a mythic tier. They can continue to advance by completing more trials and gaining more tiers along their chosen path.

Basically, I'm dividing the game into two tiers of play: the Heroic Tier (1st through 10th level) and the Mythic Tier (1st through 10th tier). So, there are still 20 levels in a way, but the way you reach that 20th level is a little different. Also, since the mythic tiers (as they are presented in the free playtest document) work a little bit different than levels and don't contribute to the bonus bloat in the same way as a level does, I think this might be an interesting fix for the problem.

However, I still need to give it a test run and see if it actually works or if it just creates its own set of problems. Time will tell I suppose.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why I Don't Care About D&D Next Anymore

On January 9, 2012, Wizards of the Coast announced it was working on the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Public playtesting began on May 24th of that same year and like many gamers, I eagerly signed the non-disclosure agreement and downloaded the playtest packet. While I didn't see anything groundbreaking, I felt the basic system was interesting enough that I decided to keep giving each future playtest packets a look. However, I recently noticed something as I was looking through the most recent playtest packet.

I really don't care about D&D Next that much.

While there are a handful of interesting elements present in D&D Next, like the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic and Finesse weapons, but I have yet to see anything that would actually make me set Pathfinder and the other editions of D&D aside for this new game.

Secondly, the "design by committee" process has started to turn the game into this weird, Frankenstein system   that become less appealing each time I look at it. It seems like they are trying to please everyone, which in turn will turn off a lot of people. I think I would have preferred if they would have just made the game and let us playtest it, then used the comments that were not just people yelling, "THAT'S NOT D&D!" to refine the system instead of creating new subsytems in an attempt to please everyone.

Now, I will probably give the next few playtest packets a glance out of pure curiosity and to see if there are any other elements that I can steal for the other games that I run or play. However, I doubt I'll actually sit down and run the game as it is again. I just don't care enough about D&D Next to do that anymore.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Setting Idea: A Primal World

One of the most enjoyable things about being a Game Master is creating new settings for your games. While I generally use published settings because it saves me some time and allows me to focus more on the adventure and the players' characters, I still like to brainstorm new ideas and concepts for settings that I can possibly flesh out for a future campaign.

Recently, I've started writing down some of these setting ideas in a spiral notebook I had laying around just so I won't forget them. I thought it would be fun to take some of those concepts and explore them a little further. So, I thought I'd start with the first concept I wrote down in the notebook: A Primal World. 

The idea is rather simple actually. The world is a new one, the deities having just created it. There is only one, Pangaea-like continent covered by thick forests and jungles. The small number of sentient races that inhabit this landmass have just started to form numerous tribes for protection and to make survival easier. 

I have always found the idea of a fantasy campaign set in a primal world to be rather interesting. The majority of fantasy settings are set after the "Golden Ages" where all of these legends and world-shaping events have happened. Setting a game in a world where those things have yet to happen would allow the players to actually do those things themselves. There characters could be those legendary heroes that inspire generations to come. They could be the characters who establish the first great empire and could be there to witness the great cataclysm that creates the different continents. 

Another interesting element of a primal world is that some of the tropes and elements common in most fantasy settings might not exist yet. For example, most of the weapons and armor being used are probably made from bones, hide, leather, and stones instead of iron and steel. Magic might be more wild and chaotic, making it a lot more dangerous and less-reliable than normal fantasy settings. Also, the number of deities would be smaller as well. The gods would be incredibly powerful with broader portfolios. The more specific gods would come over time and some of the player characters might become deities themselves. If you're using a game system that has classes, the number of classes might be limited. Paladins, monks, magi, and other such classes might have not been developed yet in the setting. However, you could introduce them overtime, letting the players become the first of those classes. 

I could see most of the adventures and campaigns would be about exploration and survival. There really wouldn't be any "traditional" dungeons yet since the civilizations that will leave them have just started to develop. The players' characters could be exploring to help their tribe's villages to further expand or to track down a threat to their tribes and take it out. You can also have them working to bring different tribes together under one banner to make them stronger and defend them better. This could allow some interesting intrigue and culture-clashes to show up as well. 

What do you guys think about setting a campaign in a primal world? Would you ever do it? If so, how would you do it? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Musing About Health Systems

Wednesday's post on the Shaken rules in Savage Worlds got me thinking about health systems in games. I've been thinking about how certain systems, like D&D/Pathfinder's Hit Points, abstract damage to make things easier and how other games go for a more realistic damage system to represent how taking a hit would actually affect a character.

For awhile now, I've been toying with a post-apocalyptic game. Instead of going the more "gonzo" route of Gamma World, I wanted to make a game that was more gritty and lethal. I want it to be a game where combat is the last option because when two people pull out guns, one of them is going to die quickly and the other will probably die slowly and painfully of an infected wound.

So, I've been trying to figure out a way to handle this kind of damage without making the system extremely complex. However, that's easier said then done. I was thinking maybe it there could be three types of wounds (like major, minor, and moderate) that vary in deadliness. A character could take a certain amount of each wound before becoming incapacitated or die. However, determining what deals what kind of wound and if the location of the hit should effect the severity of the wound has made things difficult.

Really, this is just me thinking out loud. Maybe I'm trying to do something that just can't be done. However, I always like a challenge and some help would be much appreciated. If anyone has any ideas on how I could handle this and make it work, I'd love to here them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Savage Wounds

Art by Steven Belledin
Ever since I discovered it about two years ago, Savage Worlds has quickly become one of my favorite 'generic' systems. Its very simple to learn and understand, it can easily be house ruled tweeked to run pretty much any genre of game you'd like, and the game play is both fast and fun.

With that being said, Savage Worlds is not a flawless system. Like all roleplaying games, Savage Worlds has its own set of quirks and rules that can cause potential problems while playing and running the game. For me, one of those rules is the Shaken mechanic.

For those of you not familiar with Savage Worlds, Shaken is a condition that a character receives when an attack hits them and the attack's damage is greater than the character's Toughness score (as the name implies, it is a measure of how tough a character is). Like most conditions, Shaken has a number of negative effects. First, Shaken characters may only move up to half their normal speed and can perform no other actions (including running). Secondly, a Shaken character who is hit by another attack whose damage is greater than their Toughness receives a wound. Once they suffer four wounds, they are incapacitated.

While a player can make a Spirits check to remove the Shaken condition from their character, they will have to sacrifice their turn to do so (unless they roll the maximum result for their die, getting a raise and allowing them to act immediately) and there is a good chance they are just going to become Shaken again. Basically, it's a vicious cycle that's hard to get out of once your inside it.

I'm going to be perfectly blunt with this. Shaken is easily one of the most irritating mechanics that I have ever seen. I get why the designers placed it there. It's supposed to act as a buffer for Wild Card characters and allow them some extra staying power. However, in my experience running and playing Savage Worlds, Shaken is incredibly annoying and makes the game less fun.

So, I have two options: house rule Shaken so its not as irritating or remove it from the game entirely. If I were to house rule it, I'd probably say you can either move at half your Pace or you can perform an action and suffer a -2 penalty to it. You can do both, but the penalty increases to -4.

If I were to remove Shaken from the game (which I'm kind of leaning towards), I would probably just increase the number of wounds a character can take before being incapacitated. The number of wounds would be determined by the following formula: 2 + 1/2 the character's Vigor die. So, if a character had a d8 in Vigor, they could take 6 wounds before they are knocked out of the fight. Also, I'd probably spread the penalties out a little or place a cap on how far they can stack.

Well, looks like I have a decision to make.

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Dungeons & Dragons Movie: What I'd Like to See

Last week, Warner Bros. made the announcement they had obtained the rights to make the next Dungeons & Dragons franchise and are planning to make a new movie. They've hired the writer of Wrath of the Titans (which currently has a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) to re-write an existing screenplay for a movie that was supposed to be based on Chainmail. Also for some unknown reasons, they decided to bring Courtney Solomon (the director of the 1st Dungeons & Dragons movie) on as a producer.

While I think this upcoming movie is most likely going to be bad, there is an incredibly tiny part of me that does hope a miracle happens and we finally get the D&D movie we've been waiting decades for. So, I decided to embrace that small part of me for this post and talk about what I'd like to see from this new movie.

First, I want this movie to represent the basic concepts of D&D. The characters should be made up of the four classic races and classes (dwarf, elf, halfling, & human; cleric, fighter, rogue, & wizard). The movie should embrace the sword & sorcery elements of D&D and make it a fun, adventure film instead of a Lord of the Rings knock-off. It would be pretty cool if they set the movie within Greyhawk (or at least the Free City of Greyhawk), but it isn't a requirement. Finally, the movie should have a plot that feels like something that would show up in a D&D adventure.

I don't have a lot of expectations for this upcoming movie. It would be nice if they could get the basics right and add the elements I mentioned above, but I'm not going to be holding my breath. I guess I'm just too much of a cynic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Short Hiatus

As the name of this post implies, I'm going to be taking a short hiatus from the blog this week. This is mainly to let my creative juices rest and prevent a burnout from the blog. Also, I'm most likely going to be busy this week with real life things and won't have the time to do the normal, thought-out posts anyway.

So, see you next week dear readers!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Torchbearer Kickstarter

Torchbearer, for those of you who don't know, is a fantasy roleplaying game based on the 2008 game Mouse Guard (which itself is a simplified version of Burning Wheel). The Kickstarter for the game calls is a dungeon crawl game that is a love letter to Basic D&D. While I'm not the biggest fan of Burning Wheel (I find it too crunchy for my tastes), I REALLY like Mouse Guard and want to see what an "Advanced Mouse Guard" game will look like. 

The Kickstarter has 27 days to go and it has already raised $29,431 (over double its $14,700 goal). While this project will definitely be funded, it's never a bad idea to throw your own money into the pot just to get some of pledge awards. Also, if you're like me and curious to see what they're doing with the game, you have an extra incentive to chip in. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Flavorful Races

Art by Pete Venters
Continuing with the ideas I talked about on Monday, I started to think about ways to add some more flavor to not only the classes of D&D/Pathfinder, but the races as well.

I'll probably be ridiculed for saying this, but I have always HATED elves. Generally, they are always depicted as perfect beings who are gorgeous and can do no wrong and are just awesome at everything. However, I will admit this has to do more with how people treat them then how the race is actually depicted.

Still, I have been wanting to tinker around with the elves for a long time and give them some interesting flavor in my games to make them a lot more different and unique without being "special snowflakes".

So, I kind of want to play up the otherworldly nature of elves, making them both fascinating and completely alien at the same time. The more I thought about this goal, the more I started to visualize the more "satyr-like" elves from the Magic: The Gathering's "Lorwyn" set. With that image clear in my mind, I decided to run with it.

So, elves in my games could be immigrants from the Feywild (or whatever you'd like to call the realm of the fey) that migrated to the material plane thousands of years ago. While young elves look similar to humans, with their pointed ears and thinner frames being the only noticeable difference, the race's fey heritage slowly comes out as they age and gain power. Let's follow the same progression as the Sorcerer from Monday's post and say these changes happen to the elf at 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th level. Male elves could become more satyr-like while female elves become more dryad-like. While their racial traits would remain the same, this process of metamorphosis adds an interesting amount of flavor to the race and makes them more unique.

 Also, since elves go through this strange metamorphosis as they age and gain power, you can also see their culture taking this into account. For example, they would be a race who does not fear change, but embraces it. There would probably be very little taboos since those cultural mores need to have a stable base to build from, and a society that's in constant flux would make that rather difficult. This lack of taboos would make the other races that have them view elves as strange and weird and the elves would have no idea why, therefore making their thought-process a little more alien.

You could do this very same thing with the other races as well. For example, maybe all dwarves in your world are born with a purpose and dedicate their lives to that purpose once they discover it. This purpose could be anything, from crafting the greatest weapon in the land or making sure your family is safe from harm.  Since a dwarf has to discover this purpose, that could be the motivation for a number of young dwarves to become adventurers in the first place.

The possibility for flavor-based features for each race are endless.