Monday, November 24, 2014

Pathfinder Musings: Material Components

Material components in Pathfinder are one of those ideas that I like in theory, but never enjoyed the actual execution at the table. I feel like material components could be cool things that add a more esoteric feel to magic and could help limit the power of said spellcasters. However, actually trying to track a spellcaster's material components adds another level of bookkeeping that I'd rather not add to an already complicated game and figuring out the prices of said material components can be a nuisance as well.

I could simply ignore this part of the game, but part of me wants to try and find a way to make the concept work. I've been toying with different ideas for a while and I think I have one that might work. Its heavily influenced by the Occultist class from the Occult Adventures playtest.

In this proposed system, each school of magic would possess a list of possible material components. For example, material components associated with divination spells could be crystal balls, a Tarot deck, augury stones, or anything else that is usually tied to divination abilities. When casting a spell from that school that requires a material component, you must use at least one of these components when casting the spell. You can cast the spell without the component, but the spell is much weaker than it normally would be. Its DC is lowered, the time it lasts is reduced, and other variables are lessened.

I was also thinking about adding another layer to this system, one that would allow spellcasters to add specific kinds of components to receive additional benefits to the spell. For example, let's say a wizard is about to go on an adventure where she knows she'll be fighting a lot of demons. She then purchases a few angel feathers from one of her magical contacts, adding the component to her evocation spells. Now, those spells receive additional bonuses against evil outsiders. This addition could also give players cool things to look for and GMs can build adventurers around characters trying to find a rare material component to help them deal with a specific enemy.

This system is still very much a rough outline and I need to figure out how certain things will work. How will the Eschew Materials feat work with this system? What should the exact penalties be for casting a spell without its school's material component? What should I do for the spells that are balanced around the specific components required for the spell? However, I felt like posting this anyway to see what people thought of the idea and get some different opinions on it. What do you think?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marvel Dice Masters: Initial Impressions

Recently, my local FLGS jumped onto the Marvel Dice Masters bandwagon after a generous customer donated a large number of cards and dice to the store for people to learn how to play. Being a comic book fan and a lover of dice-based games, I found myself tempted by the new shiny. Eventually, the temptation broke through and I decided to give it a whirl.

Designed by Mike Elliot and Eric Lang, Marvel Dice Masters is a collectible dice building game. Its very similar to Elliot and Lang's previous outing Quarriors, but obviously switches out the fantasy theme for a super hero one. Some of you might be asking a perfectly legitimate question: "What's a dice building game?" Well, I'll tell you. A dice building game is similar to a deck building game, but players purchase and draft dice instead of cards.

At the beginning of the game, each player will be given a bag containing eight white dice inside it. These dice are known as your "Sidekicks" and can be used to bolster your offensive & defensive capabilities or purchase better dice later in the game. On your turn, you will reach into your bag and pull out four dice. You may roll these dice no more than twice each turn. After rolling your dice, you can field any dice showing characters, spend energy to purchase other dice, or use any other ability you possess. After spending your dice, you place them in the used pile and place them back into your bag once its empty. That's pretty much the basic mechanic.

However, Marvel Dice Masters does possess a decent amount of depth to it. Like a deck building game, you have to decide which dice your going to purchase, how many of those dice will you get, and when should you pick them up. There's also the decision of which heroes or villains to bring into the game with you and how they interact with each other. For example, you might decide to bring Angel & Falcon with you to the table because they both enhance your sidekicks and work well with each other. You might also throw Psylocke in there too to knock out your opponents characters, preventing them from attacking or defending on their next turn.

Combat also adds another layer of strategy to the game. During your turn, you can attack or defend with any sidekick or character you have fielded. If you block a character and never character dies, they return to the field zone. If they did die, they are KO'ed and move to the prep zone where you get to roll them with your four dice next turn. If the character slips through your opponent's defenses and deals damage to your opponent's life total (either 20 or 15), they are moved to the used pile. The first person to knock their opponent to 0 life wins the game. Sounds easy enough, but you have to think about your actions. Do you swing all out, dealing a devastating blow to your opponent's life total, but leave yourself open to an equally devastating attack? Maybe you hold back some of your characters, dealing less damage but keeping yourself better protected. Which characters do you attack with and which do you leave behind to defend? Decisions, decisions.

Hopefully you've picked up on it by now, but I absolutely love Marvel Dice Masters. I love how simple it simple the rules are, but still possess some tactical depth. I love the cool looking dice and the art on the cards looks awesome. Finally, the theme really does come out while you're playing the game. I love constructing a team of superheroes, seeing how they work together and all the different powers fit each character they're assigned to. My only real complaint is the bags packaged with the starter set are atrocious and I'd advise picking up a cheap dice bag with your purchase. You might want to pick up one of the player mats as well, just so you remember where everything is supposed to be on the table and it makes keeping your life total much easier.

I also don't mind the collectible element either. I know some people avoid collectible games like the plague, seeing them as nothing more than a money sink. I understand that sentiment and I'm sympathetic towards it. Hell, its one of the reasons why I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering years ago (although I recently got back into it). However, the starter sets give you enough to play some smaller games of it and the booster packs are only 99 cents. If that isn't a deal, I don't know what is.

Marvel Dice Masters definitely has my seal of approval. If you like dice games, super heroes, and were a big fan of Quarriors, you will most likely dig this game. If you're looking for a game with some easy to learn rules but some strategic depth, you'll like it too. The starter sets are about $15 and I feel they're definitely worth it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

New Monster: Bone Mage

The skeletal creature standing before you is draped in rotting robes, holding a well-crafted staff in its talon-like hands while an evil red light rests within its empty eye sockets. 

XP 1,200
NE Medium Undead
Init +6; Senses Darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +11
AC 16, Touch 12, Flat-Footed 14 (+2 Dex, +4 Natural)
HP 37 (5d8+15)
Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +6
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +2; DR 5/bludgeoning & magic
Immune cold, undead traits
Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee mwk quarterstaff +4 (1d6/x3) or
            slam +3 (1d4)
Special Attacks channel negative energy (DC 14, 6/day), unnerving gaze
Arcane School Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd; Concentration +6)
            6/day - grave touch (1 round)
Spells Prepared (CL 3rd; Concentration +6)
            2nd - command undead, levitate, touch of idiocy (DC 15)
            1st - cause fear (DC 15), protection from good, ray of enfeeblement (DC 15), true strike 
            0 (at will) - detect magic, mage hand, ray of frost, read magic 
Opposition Schools conjuration, illusion
Str 11, Dex 14, Con -, Int 17, Wis 15, Cha 16
Base Atk +3; CMB +3; CMD 15
Feats Combat Casting, Command Undead, Improved Initiative, Spell Focus (Necromancy)
Skills Intimidate +11, Knowledge (Arcana) +11, Perception +11, Spellcraft +11
SQ Arcane School (Necromancy)
Languages Abyssal, Common, Draconic, Infernal, Undercommon
Environment any
Organization solitary
Treasure standard (masterwork quarterstaff, other treasure)
Arcane School: A bone mage specializes in one school of magic, just like the wizard. A bone mage is considered a 3rd level wizard when determining which school abilities he has access to and how powerful they are. Furthermore, he must also select two opposition schools too.
Spells A bone mage casts spells as a 3rd level wizard. The above example possesses the Necromancy school.
Unnerving Gaze (Su) A bone mage can make a gaze attack that strikes fear into the hearts of all creatures within a 30-foot radius that can see the bone mage. These creatures must succeed at a DC 15 Will saving throw or be shaken for 1d4 rounds. This is a mind-affecting fear effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.

A bone mage is an undead spellcaster whose mastery over the arcane arts allowed him to utilize dark magics to survive beyond death, even long after his flesh has rotted away.  Due to his power, the bone mage retains his intelligence and spellcasting abilities. Most bone magi are obsessed with gaining more magical power, whether it be through esoteric study or other dark deeds.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pathfinder Musings: Background Skills

Something that's always annoyed me about Pathfinder (as well as its predecessor 3.5) is that certain classes tend to get the short end of the stick skill-wise. It sucks being a fighter and only have two or three skill ranks to spend each level, meaning you have to be more picky with your skill choices. You want to select a Craft or Profession skill for background reasons, but you'd be better served selecting something more useful like Perception or Intimidate.

There are a few ways to fix this problem, with the easiest being a 2 skill rank bump to class' that only receive 2 + INT mod. skill ranks each level. While this works, I have another idea in mind for my own games. The following house rule is a popular one and this is my version of it. My goal is to keep it simple and easy to use.

Skills are now divided into two broad categories: Adventuring Skills and Background Skills. Adventuring skills are skills that tend to see the most use while adventuring, like Climb or Perception. Background skills are skills that represent a character's previous life and what they did before becoming an adventurer. The background skills are Craft (Any), Knowledge (Any), Linguistics, Perform (Any), and Profession (Any).

At 1st level, and every level thereafter, each player receives two additional skill ranks they can assign to any two background skills of their choice. These background skills are considered class skills for the purpose of any ability that requires such distinction (meaning they also receive the +3 training bonus as well). If you're using the Advanced Player's Guide's option trait rules, any skills granted to you by traits are considered background skills for you as well and you can assign your background skill ranks to them as well.

The point of this house rule is to give players the ability to purchase those skills that represent their character's history and background, but still allows them to spend their main pool on skills that will probably see more use at the table. So, now your fighter who used to be a farmer can pick up Knowledge (Geography) and Profession (Farmer) without having to sacrifice skill points they could be dropping in Perception or Survival.

The addition of the trait rules was made because it just made sense. Traits are supposed to be mechanical representations of your background and past experiences, so it makes sense that the skills granted through these traits should be added to your personal list of background skills. I also thought about adding a few other elements, like humans receiving a bonus background skill rank to spend, but I felt like that might too much and take away from the simplicity of the rule. However, if you want to take this rule and add that element, go ahead.

What do you think? Is this a house rule that you'd use in your games? What house rules have you made to the skill system? I think I might make this into a sister series to 5e Musings. Its fun talking about house rules and the results of my rules tinkering. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Shadowrun, or How to Have Fun in Spite of the Rules

Having decided to take a break from my usual Pathfinder shenanigans, I've been running a bi-weekly Shadowrun campaign instead. Although I love the game's setting and adore the 16-bit RPG for the SNES, I've never actually ran Shadowrun before because I'm not the biggest fan of the system the game uses.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good dice pool system. Who wouldn't enjoy grabbing a fistful of dice and watching them bounce across the table as you wait to see if you succeed or fail spectacularly. However, I've always felt Shadowrun adds so many unnecessary elements that only bog the game down. I've tried adapting the setting to other systems before, like d20 Modern and Savage Worlds, but never got really far. However, I finally decided to bite the bullet and run Shadowrun (using the most recent edition) after my players showed interest. 

Although I still believe the system is far from perfect and could benefit from some serious streamlining, I strangely don't hate it as much as I thought I would. I wonder why that is? Well, I do have a theory. I think I enjoy the setting and style of the game so much that I can enjoy running despite my misgivings with the rules. I love its blending of cyberpunk and fantasy tropes, I like how the game focuses more on the criminal aspect with everyone playing scoundrels willing to do incredibly dangerous things for some quick cash, and I enjoy being able to change things up and run something other than your typical fantasy game. 

While I'm currently running a micro-campaign that I plan to end in either January or February, I can definitely say that I'll be running more Shadowrun games in the future. I will probably never be the biggest fan of the game's system, but the cool setting and interesting feel really grab me and allow me to put aside my misgivings with the mechanics. 

Do you have games that you love running despite the rules? What do you find so cool about the game? Leave your answers in the comments below.