Friday, August 30, 2013

Advanced Class Guide Classes: Initial Thoughts

A few weeks ago at Gen Con, Paizo announced one of the products they plan to release next summer called the Advanced Class Guide. It will be a 256-page rulebook that will contain ten new classes, each a mix of two already existing classes, similar in many ways to the Magus class from Ultimate Magic. On Wednesday, Jason Bulmahn (the Lead Designer for Pathfinder) revealed six of the ten classes and I thought I'd give my initial thoughts on these classes and some predictions for some of the other classes that might show up in the final product.

Bloodrager: Basically, it will be a blend of the Barbarian and the Sorcerer. As the name implies, the class will be able to call upon their bloodline powers while raging and probably be able to cast spells as well. Many people on the boards believe the Bloodrager is going to be a full BAB class with a 4-level spell progression like the Paladin and the Ranger, and I think that's a pretty reasonable prediction. Personally, I think the concept sounds interesting enough and I want to see what it looks like mechanically, but I think the name just sounds stupid. While it fits the concept, "Bloodrager" just sounds like a cheesy metal band name to me.

Hunter: At first, I was really apprehensive to this class since I felt it was trying to fill a niche that frankly is already filled by the Ranger. I've always subscribed to the philosophy that you should only design a class when you can't play the niche without extensive multiclassing, taking a lot of feats, or advancing into a prestige class. However, after learning more about the class, its starting to sound like a more nature-based Inquisitor that also happens to have an animal companion. So, I've gone from strong apprehension to mild curiosity about the Hunter.

Shaman: This is one of the classes I'm looking forward to the most. I have always loved the idea of the Shaman class, dealing with spirits and other mystical forces and I love the Shaman class Kobold Press released as part of their "New Paths" series. While that class fills the niche really well, I'm kind of interested in seeing what Paizo does with the idea, and the fact that its a hybrid of the Oracle and the Witch makes me even more curious.

Slayer: I was rather apprehensive about this class as well when I first heard it, and I'm still somewhat apprehensive about it now. To me, it seems like they are trying to make a base class version of the Assassin that doesn't have to be evil and gets the Favored Enemy mechanic from the Ranger. My apprehension stems from the fact that you could really just pull this off with a Rogue archetype instead of a whole new class. However, I might be blown away when I see the mechanics and do a complete 180, so I guess I should reserve any actual judgments until the playtest for the class comes out.

Swashbuckler: This is, without a doubt, the class I am most excited about at the moment. I've mentioned before that I've always wanted an official Swashbuckler class for Pathfinder since there really is no good way to build the kind of character without a lot of multiclassing and taking levels in the Duelist prestige class. Also, I love the fact they are going to be using the Gunslinger's grit & deeds mechanic (calling it panache and hopefully basing it off Charisma instead of Wisdom to fit the theme better), which I think is a perfect fit for the concept.

Warpriest: To be honest, I think this class is being added to give those people who would like to play Paladins, but don't want to be Lawful Good an option. I think the idea could be interesting and think I'll remain on the fence about it until I see the mechanics. However, like the Bloodrager, the name Warpriest just seems weird to me. However, unlike the previous class, I can't figure out why. If I were to name the class, I think I'd go with Templar instead of Warpriest. Like some of the other classes, Templar has that real world context and I think it just sounds a lot cooler. However, to each their own I suppose.

As I mentioned before, there are still four classes that haven't been announced yet. I've seen a lot of people on the Paizo forums making some predictions about what those four classes will be and I thought it would be fun to throw my two cents as well. Here are some classes I personally would like to see in the book.

Artificer/Gadgetteer: This one would be a weird mixture of the Alchemist and the Summoner. Like the Alchemist, they would create items that replicate certain spells. However, instead of potions, they would create different devices and gadgets. However, it would also have a construct companion (based on the Summoner's Eidolon) that it creates at 1st level and "upgrades" as they advance in power.

Mountebank: In my head, this would be a Rogue/Wizard hybrid focused on enchantment and illusion spells. It would be similar to the Beguiler class from the later days of 3.5, using deception and a number of tricks to bypass obstacles. They would basically be magical con artists, and I think it would be a pretty fun class to play.

So, what do you guys think of the six classes that have been revealed? Are you excited for some of them, or are you more apprehensive? What are some of the classes you'd like to see in the book?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Matter of Luck

Art by Carl Frank
A few months ago, I mentioned my apprehension about adding the Hero Point option rule from the Advanced Player's Guide to my Pathfinder games. While I like certain aspects of the rule and how they allow a player to turn a failure into a success at the drop of a hat, I dislike how they can subtly encourage a character to be more reckless with their actions since the hero points can always save them.

Recently, I've been working on my house rules document for Pathfinder since I'm probably going to run a Pathfinder game in the near future, and I've been thinking about hero points once again. I've been toying with the idea of adding them to the game, but in a heavily modified manner and calling them "luck points" instead. 

At the beginning of each session, characters receive exactly 1 luck point. During the game, a player may spend their luck point to A) re-roll a failed attack roll, saving throw, or skill check, B) add 4 to any attack roll, saving throw, or skill check, or C) automatically stabilize their character when they are dying. However, once they use their luck point, they do not get another one until the next session and you cannot have more than 1 luck point at a time. 

My reason for putting the cap at 1 luck point is rather simple. If a player knows they only have 1 luck point to spend, the likelihood of them being more cautious with it and not spending it willy-nilly should go up. However, since you can't save them between session to gain more, the likelihood of the point being used during the session goes up as well. 

While each player receives only 1 luck point each session, I have been toying with an idea that would let players receive the benefits of a second luck point, but at a price. Basically, the player would ask to "push their luck" and would roll a d%. If they roll 50 and under, they receive the benefits of the luck point. However, if they roll over 50, karma bites them in the ass and they receive a disadvantage/penalty of some kind. I have always like options that require a bit of randomness or a cost. I find it makes things a little more interesting. However, I still have no idea what the disadvantages or penalties would be yet, so I probably won't implement this element just yet. 

I've also been toying with the idea of a feat called "Fortune's Friend" that would allow characters to have more luck points or have a better percentage when "pushing their luck", representing their character being very lucky. However, I want to think of a good prerequisite so it doesn't become a feat everyone takes, making it less unique. 

I will most likely be implementing the basic Luck Point rule in my upcoming Pathfinder game, mostly to see how it works out and if my players like it or not. If they do, I might try and introduce the other elements at a later date once I've figured out how I want them to work exactly. Also, I'd love some feedback on this rule and the additional elements as well. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wrath of the Righteous: Being Inclusive, or Pushing an Agenda?

((Warning: This blog contains some spoilers for the first installment in the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path.))

Recently, Paizo released the first installment to their newest adventure path, Wrath of the Righteous. For those of you who don't follow Paizo's adventure path series, Wrath of the Righteous is set in the Worldwound region of Golarion (basically its a wasteland ravaged by demonic hordes flooding forth from a tear in reality). For decades, numerous crusaders and heroes have managed to keep the demons at bay through constant vigilance, war, and the creation of magical "wardstones". In the first installment, The Worldwound Incursion, one of the wardstones has mysteriously failed and the city of Kenabres has been devastated by the demonic forces. The PCs must hold off the forces of chaos and evil until help arrives and aid the handful of survivors hiding underneath the ruined city.

After downloading a PDF copy of the adventure, I've been casually reading it along with the supplements connected to the adventure path (particularly Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound). So far, I've liked what I've read and think it would be really fun to either run or play this adventure sometime in the future.

However, apparently there is a "controversy" surrounding two of the NPCs in the adventure due to their backstories and the relationship between the two characters. One of the characters is a half-orc paladin (who is depicted on the cover of the adventure) named Irabeth who happens to be the result of a loving relationship between an orc and human instead of the usual situation. The other character is a human rogue named Anevia who is a Male-to-Female transgender character who fell in love with Irabeth and is now married to her.

The "controversy" was created when a group of people decided the inclusion of the two characters in the adventure was a sign that Paizo is trying to push a pro-LGBT agenda onto its customers. They talk about how the relationship between the two NPCs and the transgender nature of Anevia have no bearing on the over-all plot of the adventure and have no real affect on it beyond being a part of the characters' back stories. So, they conclude the two characters were included in the adventure to push an agenda.

Its not hard to see the problem with this train of logic. Yes, the characters' sexuality and relationship has nothing to do with the story of the adventure. However, the same would be true for a heterosexual relationship. The story of the adventure is about a group of characters fighting demonic hordes in a devastated city, not their sexuality and relationships. So, one might be inclined to ask, "Why include information about the two characters' sexuality and relationship at all?"

The answer is rather simple: to give the GM some insight about the characters. A person's sexuality and gender identity are major elements of the character and will affect them in certain ways. Since Anevia's transformation from male to female was a major event for the character, it should be mentioned in her back story because it affected her in different ways and mentioning it gives the GM something to play off of. The relationship between her and Irabeth does the exact same thing, giving the GM an idea about how the two characters will interact with each other and how they get along.

When I was reading the adventure and looked over the back stories of Anevia and Irabeth, my reaction was, "That's pretty cool." As a bisexual man, I have always loved that Paizo includes LGBT characters in their material. However, I hate that by including such character, some people will cry foul and yell at them for pushing an agenda because you apparently can't have an LGBT character in a form of entertainment without pushing some kind of agenda. Having them be just another character inhabiting the world would be ridiculous (don't chat just love sarcasm?).

Personally, I applaud Paizo for being as inclusive as they are. They could have easily omitted those elements from the characters' backgrounds or keep Anevia as a man and have him be a "reverse damsel in distress", but they kept the information because that was how the characters were written and they didn't want to change it just because a group of people would be offended by it. They kept the characters the way they are because they found them interesting and they add an interesting element to the background of the adventure, not because they are trying to force an agenda onto their unsuspecting audience. If they do have an agenda, it seems to be "LGBT people exist, and due to their existence, LGBT characters will show up in our material," which I think is a rather harmless agenda if I had to be perfectly honest.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Three Board Games Everyone Should Try

Wednesday, I talked about some of the things you can do when some of your players have to cancel at the last minute. One of the suggestions that I made was to pull out a board game and play that instead. However, there is one question you will have to ask yourself; "What board game should we play?" So, I thought I'd talk about three games that I personally enjoy and think everyone should at least try.

Kill Doctor Lucky
Designed by James Ernest, Kill Doctor Lucky is sort of an inversion/parody of Clue. The basic concept of the game is that each player is trying to kill an elderly man named Dr. Lucky. They do this by playing a weapon card (such as a letter opener or a chainsaw) while their pawn is in the same room as Doctor Lucky and out of sight of the other players. Each weapon card has a numerical value which can change depending on what room you are using the weapon in. 

The other players, not wanting the attacking player to win the game, can play failure cards to thwart the other's murder attempt as long as the failure cards' value equals that of the weapon card. However, the other players must do this in clockwise order and only have one opportunity to play cards. When a character's murder attempt fails, they receive a "spite token". This token adds a bonus point to all future murder attempts made by the player and can be spent to aid in causing another player's murder attempt to fail. 

While the game does have a little bit a learning curve, there are a lot of strategic elements in Kill Doctor Lucky and its incredibly fun trying to thwart your friend's attempts to kill Doctor Lucky so you can take the bastard out yourself. There's a sequel game known as Save Doctor Lucky, but I have yet to play it. 

Tsuro is a tile-based board game designed by Tom McMurchie. I discovered this game through Will Wheaten's Youtube webseries Tabletop and decided to find it and give it a true. The rules of the game are rather simple. Each character controls a colored marker that is supposed to be a dragon flying through the sky. You also have a number of tiles on them. You play these tiles on the board, creating the path that your marker will follow. The object of the game is to follow the path that you have chosen without flying off the edge of the board. You win the game by being the last marker on the board. 

As I mentioned, the rules are really simple and are very easy to teach to new players. Because of the simplicity, you can pull Tsuro out at a moment's notice and have everything set-up and ready to go within seconds. However, there is a lot of strategy to the game as well. You want to be really careful about how you lay your tiles and it can be fun to lay that tile that will cause another play to go flying off the table on their next turn. If you are looking for an easy game that has some strategic elements to it, I'd suggest giving Tsuro a try. 

Red Dragon Inn
While Red Dragon Inn is a card game, not a board game, I still think it deserves to be mentioned. The basic concept of the game is that you are a group of adventurers who have just returned from a fantastic adventure and have decided to relax in the titular Red Dragon Inn. Each player chooses to play one of four adventurers: a warrior, a thief, a priestess, and wizards and receives a deck tied to that character. As you play the game, you will play cards to help yourself and cause your fellow party members to spend gold, drink some fine ale, and do a few more things while relaxing in the tavern. If your character is the last one conscious and still has some gold, you win. 

Like the previous games that I've mentioned, Red Dragon Inn has a lot of strategic elements to it and its entertaining to just toss a monkey wrench into the cogs of your fellow player's plans in an attempt to get them drunk or to spend all of their gold. Also, the game is rather humorous and for those who love fantasy and know the typical tropes, you will probably have a blast with Red Dragon Inn

While these three games are all fun to play, there are numerous other games you can pull out and play when a gaming session goes south for one reason or another. So, here's a question to you dear readers, what are some of your favorite board games? What's the basic concept of the game and why do you love it so much? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What To Do When A Game Falls Apart?

Sometimes, life likes to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of a carefully laid-out plan. For example, tonight was supposed to be the first session of a new Pathfinder campaign. Unfortunately, two of the players couldn't make it do to some unforeseen circumstances (Which is fine. Sometimes shit happens) and since we didn't have enough people to run the adventure I had planned, the two players who did attend and I decided to go get some dinner and call it a night.

However, sometimes you don't want to just call it a night and go home without rolling some dice and having some fun with the few players that managed to show up. So, I started to think of a few things that I could do the next time this happens that will allow us to still have a game night and have some fun.

The first thing that came to mind was to have a back-up game ready to pull out at a moment's notice. For example, I've talked about how Superhero campaigns can be perfect back-up games before. Due to the nature of superheroes and the general power-level of a character in such a game, it is really easy to explain why certain characters are missing (they are out having their own adventures) and it's relatively easy to adjust to the smaller number of characters. I think Call of Cthulhu would work as well since I find it easier to run a game of Cthulhu with a smaller number of players.

Another option is to just play a game with a really simple or quick set-up and a story that can be made up pretty much on the fly. For example, I was trying to run a Dragon Age game at the beginning of the summer and the game just wasn't jiving that well with the group. So, we decided to switch things up and pulled out the old Jenga tower for a session of Dread. Everyone had a blast and it was easily one of the best gaming sessions I have had in a very long time. Also, depending on the amount of people you have at the table, you could also pull out Fiasco or Dungeon World and have some fun as well.

Finally, you could always go to the gaming closet and pull out a board game or card game. If you have a copy of it, Munchkin is perfect for this. Pandemic is also a good choice if you want a more cooperative game and Cards Against Humanity or one of the Flux's are excellent choices if you are in the mood for a card game.

While life likes to toss those curve balls at you occasionally, you don't have to let them affect you. Just try and roll with the punches and find another way to have some fun with your friends. It's why most of us do this in the first place.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Mr. Lovecraft!

Today marks the 123rd birthday of Howard Philips Lovecraft (better known as H. P. Lovecraft), one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. He was considered one of the "Big Three of Weird Tales", along with Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith (who are influential in their own right), and his Cthulhu Mythos has inspired numerous books, movies, music, and games. 

I discovered Lovecraft's works while I was in high school. I was in my school's library and I was looking for something to read when my eyes landed on the Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthology collection from Del Ray Publishing. There was just something about the cover that caught my attention and made me pick it up and check it out. While Lovecraft's writing style took some getting used to, I quickly fell in love with the Mythos that he created and the cosmic nature of his brand of horror. Once I finished that book, I quickly moved to other collections and haven't looked back since. 

H. P. Lovecraft is one of the five writers who has influenced my own writing and gaming the most (the other five I'll mention at a later date). There is something about his stories and the Cthulhu Mythos that jump-start my imagination and make me want to write stories and run games with similar themes. 

So, because of his influence on my favorite genre of entertainment and own creative endeavors, I want to say happy birthday Mr. Lovecraft and wish everyone a Happy Lovecraft Day. Now, let's summon up some outer gods and have ourselves a really weird party!  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Super-Powered Risus

I have always loved superheroes. Like most people when they were little kids, I would take a towel and wear it like a cape as I pretended to be a superhero fighting crime and saving the world from the forces of evil. Now, I'm an avid comic reader with a preference for DC (even though I'm not the biggest fan of the New 52 and I think they keep making stupid decisions) and I love talking about different heroes and the history of the medium.

So, with that being said, it should be pretty obvious that I really enjoy playing superhero roleplaying games. I've run two campaigns and a few one-shots using the 3rd edition of Mutants & Masterminds and I've played in a very short-lived Marvel Heroes campaign. While I love running and playing both games, the can both be a little crunchy at times and I find myself wanting a more "rules-light" alternative.

That's when it hit me: Why not use Risus?

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Risus is a simple roleplaying game that uses a die pool mechanic that shares a lot of similarities with West End Game's d6 system. However, instead of your character being defined by attributes and skills, your character consists of a number of "cliches" that you create from scratch and assign a number of d6s too. It's an incredibly easy game to learn and play and can be adapted to run almost any genre of game you want.

Since Risus is an incredibly flexible rule-set, it shouldn't be too hard to use it for a superhero game. The cliches, obviously, would represent the character's powers and the "build it from the ground up" nature of cliches would allow players to have the exact powers they want instead of having to compromise their vision of the character to fit into the rules of a more complex system.

The only thing I would really have to figure out is if I'd use the game as is or use the "Funky Dice" advanced option presented in the back of the book. I like the simplicity of just using d6's, but I would probably have to put a cap on how many dice a character can have in a cliche so the players wouldn't end up rolling an obscene amount of dice at a future point in the game. Using the funky dice variant would take care of the "obscene amount of dice" fear and would better model the power levels of a superhero, but it adds a level of complexity to the game and there's the fear the die pools might get a little bit "wonky" as the dice being used get bigger and bigger. I'll have to think about each option first before making a final decision.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Musings About Attacks of Opportunity

Art By Wayne Reynolds
I have a confession to make: I have always hated attacks of opportunity in D&D/Pathfinder. If I had to be honest, attacks of opportunity are one of the things that I hate the most about the d20 system. My distaste for this rule almost boarders on the irrational.

Now, let me be clear, I understand why attacks of opportunity are in the game. Attacks of opportunity are supposed to help make a combat more dynamic and make players think twice about their moves and try to be more tactical when approaching and maneuvering around their opponents. I don't have a problem with that concept at all and I can appreciate what the designers were trying to do with the rule. 

My disdain for the rule comes from the problems that it tends to cause at the table. For example, let's say a player wants his character to engage a small group of 4 goblin warriors. Moving into a group of enemies is highly likely to provoke at least one attack of opportunity. Now, in my experience, most players really hate it when an enemy lands an attack and damages their character, no matter what the situation is. Since the player doesn't want to provoke that attack of opportunity, they will go to great lengths to avoid doing so and will most likely cause combat to drag on longer than it should. Also, people (including myself) seem to forget which actions actually provoke attacks of opportunity, which means we have to constantly crack open Core Rulebook to the combat chapter and see if a certain action a character wants to try provokes an attack from the opponent, causing the game to slow down some more. 

Due to my dislike of attacks of opportunity, I considered removing them from my Pathfinder games entirely. While it would remove some of the "realism" in the combat rules, I believe it would have made the game a little bit easier to run and play and make combats run a lot faster. However, there are a lot of rules that rely on the existence of attacks of opportunity that I would have to change or remove as well, and I don't feel like changing the rules that much at the moment. 

However, after some reading, I think I have found a solution to my problem. Not too long ago, I purchased the PDF for Bad Axe Games' Trailblazer. For those of you who are not familiar with the product, it is supplement for the d20 system that takes the rules and reworks them to make the game better and easier to use. While I don't like every change they made, I really love the change they made to attacks of opportunity to make them less frustrating. 

The change they made to the rule was rather simple actually, so simple that I want to kick myself for not thinking of it. In Trailblazer, characters only provoke attacks of opportunity when moving out of a threatened area (all of the surrounding squares that are within the opponent's reach) and performing certain "distracting" actions while in that area. So, under this rule, a player doesn't have to worry about provoking an attack of opportunity when engaging an opponent. As long as they stay within the opponent's threatened area, they are safe. If they attempt to leave that area without taking a 5-foot step or the withdraw action, the provoke an opportunity attack. It's simple to remember and encourages players to engage an opponent without worrying about opportunity attacks all the time. 

Now, this rule isn't a complete fix. It would still require me or a player to look up which actions provoke attacks of opportunity. However, that is more of a pet peeve than anything and I could always print the table in the combat chapter out and keep it with my notes for easy reference. It's a compromise that I'm willing to make for this house rule. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pantheism & Pantheistic Priests

After my posts on Monday and Wednesday, it should be pretty obvious that I have a fascination with fantasy religion. I've had a deep love of mythology ever since I was a little kid and I find creating new and interesting deities incredibly entertaining.

However, I've always had a problem with the standard D&D/Pathfinder pantheon. The general presumption of most D&D/Pathfinder religions is that a character will choose to worship a single god or goddess out of a large array of deities and only that single god or goddess. This is not how pantheism actually works. The entire point of having a pantheon of deities is to allow the believers pray to and offer sacrifices in the name of any of the deities depending on the current situation and time. For example, a farmer would pray to the God of the Sun so his crops would receive enough sunlight to grow and the Goddess of Nature so his crops remain safe and his harvest be bountiful. 

Now, I understand why D&D/Pathfinder favors a more "monotheistic pantheism". Players choose a single deity to worship based on their characters concept and beliefs to further develop said character and the cleric class is built around the concept of an individual dedicating their life and immortal soul to a single god or goddess to gain access to certain abilities and spells. Also, its much easier to worship a single deity instead of a plethora of them. 

However, I would gladly trade that simplicity for the interesting stories and conflict that can be derived from a more traditional approach to pantheism. I think it would be a lot more interesting to have a world where people worship multiple gods at once, occasionally offering prayers and sacrifices to "evil" deities when the situation calls for it, making the deities themselves a little more complex and not as black and white. 

If you decide to implement this kind of pantheism in your D&D/Pathfinder games, you will need to figure out how you are going to handle clerics. The easiest solution would be to keep the rules the same. While the other classes can worship all the deities at once, clerics have to choose a specific one. They honor the other gods and goddesses, but they only work for one of them. While this works and I'd probably allow this train of thought in my games, I think it would be cool to have "pantheist priests" in the game as well. The only question is, how do you handle that? 

One way to handle pantheist priests was presented in Kobold Press' Midgard Campaign Setting. In that setting, the deities are broken up into regional pantheons and a pantheist priest chooses one of these to follow. Every week, they choose two domains from the deities of their chosen pantheon and gain a replacement domain power due to their pantheistic belief. While this would work, I fear players might forget to change their domains every week (I'd probably make it every session to simplify things). 

Another way you could handle pantheist priests in the game world would be to have them choose a specific pantheon (whether it be regional or cultural). Afterwords, they would choose two domains from that pantheon's deities that don't contradict each other or their chosen alignment. This choice would make things a lot more simple in some ways, but it doesn't represent the fact that you are devoted to an entire pantheon as well as the first option does. 

Personally, I think I would probably use the second choice for its simplicity. Instead of having to switch out domains on a regular basis, you would just choose two and keep those throughout the game. I think its a nice, little compromise between the game rules and the pantheistic worldview. However, that's just my opinion and I can see the appeal of the other option. I might try out both in the future and see which one I like the most. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Obscure Divinity: Three Ready-To-Use Minor Deities

Monday, I discussed how to create some minor, obscure deities for your campaign settings. Today, I decided to continue along that path and present three minor deities you can use in your games. Two of these deities, the Mother of Rats and Taniwha, use the steps and guidelines I mentioned the other day. The third one, Sylva, uses a method that I didn't mention (the Recently Ascended Deity) to show another way you can add a minor deity to your game. You are free to use these deities as you see fit.

Neutral Evil Goddess of Filth, Pestilence, and Vermin

Her name lost and long forgotten, the mysterious deity known simply as "The Mother of Rats" is the goddess of plagues and vermin. Her crude idols and secretive holy texts generally depict her as either an enormous rat with sickly, white fur or a diseased hag dressed in filthy robes and surrounded by swarms of vermin. The Mother of Rats revels in the spreading of disease and the suffering of mortals, enjoying the pain and misery of the sick and those plagued by her "children". Her most common worshipers are evil alchemists, ratfolk, and wererats. 

Clerics devoted to the Mother of Rats usually wear filthy, brown robes and are incredibly paranoid individuals who lurk in the shadows and garbage, watching those around them suffer from the plagues they secretly spread. These clerics have access to the Animal, Death, Evil, Strength, and Trickery domains. The goddess' favorite weapon is the claw or the dagger. 

Neutral God of the Coastal Tribes, the Sea, and War

The chief god of the Coastal Tribes ((A group of humans that closely resemble the Maori. They are merely a stand-in and can easily be swapped out for another culture of your choosing)), Taniwha is the god of the sea and war. His wooden idols and primitive holy texts usually depict him as either a Coastal Tribesman with the eyes and teeth of a shark or a gargantuan shark who's skin is engraved with tribal markings. Taniwha is seen as both the protector of the Coastal Tribes and a destroyer of those who dare harm his chosen people and their coastal home. He teaches his followers to be strong in the face of adversity and to never back down, no matter what. Due to his ties with the culture, the majority of Taniwha's worshipers are found amongst the Coastal Tribes. However, a handful of sahuagin and war-like sailors worship him as well. 

Clerics devoted to Taniwha are generally heavily tattooed individuals who wear jewelry made from the teeth and bones of sharks. They are usually very aggressive as well, willing to do anything to protect their tribe and companions and will take on almost any challenge set before them. These clerics have access to the Animal, Destruction, Protection, War, and Water domains. Taniwha's favorite weapon is the spear. 

Lawful Neuutral Goddess of Humanity, Perfection, and Youth

Known by many as the Young Goddess, Sylva presents herself as the goddess of humanity and youth. Her recently-constructed idols and freshly-written holy texts depict her as a beautiful maiden wearing simple white robes with a warm smile present upon her face. As her title implies, Sylva has only recently ascended to godhood. In life, she was a human sage who managed to reach a state of mental and physical perfection. Now, she wishes to become the patron of humanity and help them reach their full potential. 

Her worshipers are mostly young humans who hope to reach a state of nirvana by following her footsteps. However, there is a small splinter sect within her growing faith who believe the story of Sylva shows how inherently better humans are than the other demi-humans and hope to one day lead humanity to greatness and to take their rightful spot above the other races. Members of this sect are viewed by other Sylvanites as heretics and not worthy of Sylva's divine grace and teachings. Sylvanite clerics have access to the Healing, Knowledge, Law, Protection, and Strength domains. Her favorite weapon is the quarterstaff.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Obscure Divinity

Art By William O'Connor
As I've mentioned before, I have always enjoyed designing new and interesting pantheons of gods and goddesses. Creating different gods and goddesses and figuring out how they interact and influence the world is an interesting exercise for me. Also, it's just fun to play god with the gods sometimes.

When designing pantheons for campaign settings, I usually prefer pantheons that have about five or six major deities with broad areas of concern, such as a deity of artifice and order or a deity of light and mercy.

While these five or six deities represent the major divine powers in the world and are probably the most commonly worshiped deities, it doesn't mean they are the only gods and goddesses that exist. One of the nice features about having a smaller pantheon of major gods to work with is that you have a lot more room to expand the pantheon with more obscure minor deities that have more focused portfolios that causes the religions build around them to be smaller.

Creating these more minor and obscure deities really isn't that hard. However, if you want these divine entities to be unique and interesting, you can't just throw something together at the blink of an eye. You might want to think about a few things first:

  1. What is the deity's theme and purpose in the setting?
  2. Why is the deity so minor and obscure? 
  3. How do you expect players to encounter the worshipers of this deity? 
Like the major deities, you need to sit down and figure out what your minor deity's theme and portfolio is. Let's say you want to create a minor, villainous deity for a secretive cult to follow. Since the cult is located in a city known for being a wretched hive of scum and villainy and its hidden temple is within the sewers, you decide the deity might have something to do with filth and sickness. After some brainstorming, you've decided the deity this cult will be worshiping is a mysterious goddess of pestilence and vermin known simply as "The Mother of Rats." Also, with the creation of this deity, you decide the cult is populated by wererats and their major plan is to spread a deadly disease throughout the city to win favor with their patron deity. 

You also need to determine why this god or goddess you've just created is so minor and obscure? You need to figure out why the players' characters or the general inhabitants of the world have never heard of this minor deity. There are two easy ways to handle this. You can A) have the deity be very mysterious and its religion incredibly secretive, or B) have the deity be tied to an exotic culture the character have yet to meet. For example, your characters could discover a group of tribes living along the coast that resemble the Maori. While interacting with them, the characters learn of a god these tribes worship known as Taniwha. He is depicted as a gargantuan shark covered in tribal markings that acts as both a guardian of the tribes and a destroyer of their enemies and those who dare harm the sea and the coast. 

Once you figure out the minor deity's theme and the reason for its obscurity, figuring out how the players will encounter this entity shouldn't be that hard. With the Mother of Rats, you can have the players arrive in the city and notice a large number of the citizens are suffering from a strange plague. They decide to see whats up and end up encountering the cult and this filthy deity. Also, as I described above with Taniwha, you can have the characters meet these tribes of someone from this culture and during the discussion, have the NPC or group of NPCs mention the god and talk about him. On the other hand, if you don't want to be as direct about it, you could have the characters find an old holy symbol or the deity's holy text and do some research on these items to figure out what deity they represent. 

Minor, obscure deities can had some spice to your campaign setting. They can create some interesting mysterious and secrets for your characters to learn about and discover, or they can represent distant and exotic cultures. As with the major deities, the possibilities are endless. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Conspiracy Theories & Fantasy

For the longest time, I have had a strange fascination with conspiracy theories. While I highly doubt any of them are actually true, I find most of the theories interesting because they suppose the world is not what it seems and there might be something dark and mysterious lurking in the shadows that would change our lives forever if we just knew about it.

My fascination with conspiracy theories is one of the reasons why I love Conspiracy X, Delta Green, and Unknown Armies so much (the latter being my favorite of the three). Taking real world conspiracies and giving them a more "supernatural" spin can be really fun, as well as making up your own conspiracies from scratch. 

While a good number of supernatural games that take place in a modern setting tend to take conspiracy theories into consideration and in some cases directly incorporate them into the game, most traditional games seem to ignore their existence. Usually, the reason I tend to run into when I ask why is that the world is already filled with magic and other weird things, therefore conspiracy theroes really wouldn't have that much of a punch and most characters wouldn't find the theories that strange because they've probably encountered stranger. 

However, I find that explanation lacking since both Delta Green and Unknown Armies tend to feature conspiracy theories in a world where eldritch horrors and powerful magic exist (albeit secretly) and the players know they exist (usually anyway). So, if conspiracy theories can work in those games, I think they can work in a traditional D&D/Pathfinder world. 

For an example of a conspiracy theory that could work in a fantasy world, you could have a NPC in a tavern tell one of the players that "gnomes aren't really from the Feywild. In fact, thousands of years ago, they were actually a clan of halflings that were enslaved by a powerful wizard. Wishing to have the perfect servants, the wizard experimented on them. However, the transmutation spells he used mutated the poor halflings and knocked a few screws loose in their brains. Mentally unstable, the halflings ended up killing the wizard with their new abilities when he least expected it and ran away. Centuries past and the gnomes mated like rabbits, and their mutated minds caused them to forget what created them. Don't believe me? Well, just think about it. Haven't you ever wondered why gnomes act so weird and look so strange?" 

When making a conspiracy theory for a fantasy world, you should try and take one of the more excepted elements in the game or world and subvert it. In the above example, most people believe gnomes are exiled fey from the Feywild (or whatever the Plane of Fey is called in your setting). However, this theory changes that and says they are actually the result on magical experiments on a group of halflings centuries ago. The fun part about this is it could be a total lie, but it could also be true or maybe partly true (they are the result of magical experiments, but maybe not for the reasons stated or maybe they weren't originally halflings. The limits are endless). 

Also, these theories that you create and drop into the world can lead to new adventures. Using the example above, let's say the party that hears this theory has a gnome in it. At first, he is reluctant to believe it begin a gnome himself. However, after a few more adventures, he finds a few hints and clues that actually make the theory more plausible and his world-view has been questioned. Because of this, the gnome decided to make it his goal to find out the truth about his race's origins and tell the world. 

Another thing you can do is allow players to create some weird theories of their own. Maybe the party's wizard believes clerics aren't actually getting their power from a god. Maybe he believes clerics are another kind of wizard who uses the image of a "holy man" to con people and make a living. It might not be true, but it would definitely add an interesting element to the game.

Adding some conspiracy and a few weird theories to your gaming world can be a whole lot of fun. The existence of these theories help show that not all the NPCs in the world believe the same things about magic, monsters, the other races, or even the deities. Also, they add a few strange secrets to the world that are waiting to be discovered and a few odd mysterious begging to be solved, which is a pretty good thing in my book.