Friday, July 31, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Problematic Spells & Magical Rituals

Art by John William Waterhouse
This past Wednesday marks the release of Paizo's latest hard-cover supplement for Pathfinder. This book, called Occult Adventures, introduces psychic magic to the game and presents several rules and ideas for implementing more occult themes into your games. I've been casually reading the book for the past few days and I'm definitely digging what I'm finding inside.

Speaking of which, I'd like to focus on a specific set of rules found later in the book: Occult Rituals. These rules are similar to spells, but are usually time-consuming, require specific components, conditions, and successful skill checks to be used, and includes several drawbacks for using them and definitely for failing to cast them successfully. The fact that characters without spellcasting abilities can also help cast rituals is just icing on the cake in my opinion.

While reading and digesting these rules, a thought occurred to me, one that I wish to express to you all within this post. What if we used these rules for rituals to handle the Big Three Gamebreakers? What if we turned Divination/Commune, Raise Dead, and Teleport into rituals?

The process seems simple enough, especially since the designers thankfully detailed the process for creating rituals within the text. Converting these spells to that system doesn't seem all that complex. The only thing you really need to figure out is what skill checks the ritual will require, what the backlash effect will be, and what happens if the ritual fails. To illustrate this, I'll adapt Raise Dead into a ritual.
School Conjuration (Healing); Level 5
Casting Time 50 minutes
Components V, S, M (diamond worth 5,000 gp), F (Holy or Unholy Symbol)
Skill Checks Knowledge (Religion) DC 33, 3 successes; Spellcraft DC 33, 2 successes
Range Touch
Target Dead creature touched
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw None (see text); Spell Resistance Yes (harmless)
Backlash The primary caster takes 1d6 points of damage and becomes exhausted.
Failure Failure results in one of two outcomes, which is determined by the roll of a d%. One result simply has the ritual fail and the creature not be raised. The other result raises the creature, but the soul brought back is not the right one. The base chance for each result is 50%. However, every time a caster fails one of the skill checks by more than 5, the percentage for the later result increases by 5%.
Effect You restore life to a deceased creature. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 5 days. In addition, the subject's soul must be free and willing to return. If the subject's soul is not willing to return, the ritual does not work; therefore, a subject that wants to return receives no saving throw.    
Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. The subject of the ritual gains two permanent negative levels when it is raised, just as if it had been hit by an energy-draining creature. If the subject is 1st level, it takes 2 points of Constitution drain instead (if this would reduce its Con to 0 or less, it can't be raised). A character who died with spells prepared has a 50% chance of losing any given spell upon being raised. A spellcasting creature that doesn't prepare spells (such as a sorcerer) has a 50% chance of losing any given unused spell slots as if it had been used to cast a spell.    
A raised creature has a number of hit points equal to its current HD. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Normal poison and normal disease are cured in the process of raising the subject, but magical diseases and curses are not undone. While the ritual closes mortal wounds and repairs lethal damage of most kinds, the body of the creature to be raised must be whole. Otherwise, missing parts are still missing when the creature is brought back to life. None of the dead creature's equipment or possessions are affected in any way by this ritual 
A creature who has been turned into an undead creature or killed by a death effect can't be raised by this ritual. Constructs, elementals, outsiders, and undead creatures can't be raised. The ritual cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age. 
This is simply a rough draft of what a Raise Dead ritual might look like, but I think it illustrates how it can be done and how fast it can be done as well (it took me roughly 2 to 3 minutes to write up). Most of the spell can simply be copied and pasted into the ritual format, with the only elements you have to create whole cloth being the skill checks, backlash, and failure results.

Heck, you could also add a few things to make the rituals more interesting or weird. If you wanted to make Raise Dead more morbid, you could include the sacrifice of a living creature the same size as the creature being raised as a material component. That would definitely explain why very few people bother using the ritual within the game world, and could lead to some interesting situations within an adventure.

The big benefit of this method is that you can still have these effects within the game, but they now are much harder to pull off and allow you as the Game Master to determine their frequency since you control how often the players will run into and possibly learn new rituals. I also feel like this creates some interesting flavor and the fact that nonspellcasters can also use and help with rituals means you can bring the entire party in on the fun.

The Designs They Are a-Changin'

You might have noticed some cosmetic changes in the past 24 hours.

Since I started Dungeons Deep & Caverns Old nearly 2 1/2 years ago, I haven't really changed the overall design of the blog, preferring to stick with a rather simplistic look. However, after much consideration, I finally decided the time has come for something new.

After trying a couple of different templates and backgrounds, I thought the one you are currently seeing was the most appealing to my own sensibilities. I hope you all like it as well, because it's here to stay for the foreseeable future.

I'm also working on a new logo for the blog, which you might have caught a glimpse of earlier. I'm still fine-tuning it, trying to make it look as perfect as I can possibly get. I'm going to try to have it posted by something next week.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the new look. Stay tuned for your regularly scheduled post about something actually related to tabletop gaming later today. I need to take a nap before getting some breakfast into my belly.


Edit: Due to the sidebars being difficult to read because of the lighter transparency, I've switched to a darker shade, toyed with the color of the text, and messed with the color of the links. Hopefully, that helps with the problem.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy Gary Gygax Day!

Today is the 77th birthday of the late Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. Today, we decide to raise our tankards in honor of a founding father of gaming, celebrate his large body of work, and keep his legacy alive. Everyone should take a drink and give thanks to the original GM. Without him and his friends in Lake Geneva, we wouldn't have the games we love so much today.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Leagues of Gothic Horror: Kickstart it Now!

Leagues of Gothic Horror is an obviously horror-themed expansion designed to be used with Triple Ace Games' Leagues of Adventure, a roleplaying game of Victorian exploration, derring-do, and steampunk wonders. As to be expected, this book will be coming from the prolific pen of Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams, the creator of the Hellfrost setting, All for One: Regime Diabolique, and the writer of the Daring Tales series of modules for Savage Worlds

It will be a 160-page softback book with black and white printed interior pages and a color cover. This book will include rules for horror, corruption, fortune-telling, occult grimoires, magic, and mentalism for Leagues of Adventure and other games that utilize the Ubiquity System, like All for One and Hollow Earth Expedition. It will also include statistics for monsters and NPCs that would fit right in with a Gothic Horror campaign, creepy locales, rules for heroes wishing to take down the forces of darkness, and much more. 

Although I've never played Leagues of Adventure, I have a weak spot for Gothic Horror and Triple Ace Games tends to make very quality products. Those of you looking for a supplement that blends Gothic Horror with Pulp Adventure might want to check this Kickstarter out and back it. Although it's already reached its funding goals, there's no harm kicking them a few more bucks and getting a cool product out of it as well. Those of you who are interested should click HERE to check it out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Saurian: A New Race for Fantasy Age

Fantasy Age is one of those games I knew I was going to like from the very moment I heard about it. I loved the AGE System that Green Ronin's Dragon Age used, but never ran it for more than a session or two because I didn't want to use the included setting and didn't feel like adapting it to something else. When I heard they were creating a stand alone version, I was excited. Now that I have my hands on the PDF, I can definitely say that I love it and will most likely be using it as soon as possible.

With that in mind, I thought I'd have some fun and try my hand at creating a race for Fantasy Age. I personally like having a reptilian race as an option for players, giving them access to something more primordial than your normal races.

The reptilian race known by most as the "Saurians" has inhabited the world since Primordial Times. These ancient beings once controlled the world's most powerful empire until a mysterious catastrophe and blood civil wars brought them to ruin. Now, the Saurians are just a pale shadow of their great ancestors, having reverted to a more tribal society, inhabiting the steamy jungles and thick swamps of the realm. While they might not be as strong as their predecessors, the modern Saurians still possess a rich culture, a proud history, and refuse to let themselves been overcome by the younger, warm-blooded races. 

If you choose to play a saurian, modify your character as follows:

  • Add 1 to your Constitution ability. 
  • Pick one of the following ability focuses: Constitution (Swimming) or Intelligence    (Natural Lore)
  • You have Dark Sight, which allows you to see up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source. 
  • Your Speed is equal to 8 + Dexterity (minor armor penalty if applicable).
  • You can speak and read Saurian and Common Tongue. 
  • Roll twice on the Saurian Benefits table for additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, re-roll until you get something different. 

+1 Willpower
Focus: Perception (Tracking)
Focus: Constitution (Stamina)
Weapon Groups: Spears
+1 Strength
Focus: Strength (Might)
Focus: Willpower (Courage)
+1 Fighting

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rule of Three: Playing Evil Characters

Evil is sexy. It's proven science...
Don't you judge me...
Sometimes, you just want to play a villain. You've been playing the noble hero for the longest time, now you want to just watch the world burn and take what's left within its ashes for yourself.

However, a stigma exists for those wishing to play an evil character in a group of good and neutral fellows. Due to the antics of certain players (a.k.a., "dicks"), numerous Game Masters outright ban evil characters or heavily monitor their behavior at the table. I know this because I'm that Game Master. I very rarely allow evil characters at my table, and I outright ban Chaotic Evil characters.

With that being said, I will allow certain people to take on the challenge, those players who happen to be good roleplayers who know how to run a somewhat villainous adventurer without it being too disruptive to the campaign. They know the tricks to make the character work within the game, which I'll be sharing with you today.

Like every other Rule of Three article, these tips are merely guidelines to help you, not absolutes you must follow no matter what. Use what works best for you and your group. Feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments below.

Rule #1: Aim for Complexity & Sympathy
While you can play the maniacal villain who's evil for evil's sake, you probably shouldn't do it. Instead, you should probably aim for a more sympathetic path. Your character might due something immoral or downright evil, but you have some motivation that causes others to feel sympathy towards you (even if they don't agree with your methods). Have positive aspects to your character, because nobody is 100% evil. You might be a cold-blooded killer who wouldn't bat an eye at slaying an enemy, but you refuse to harm a child or a domesticated animal. Maybe you're a power-hungry warrior who will do whatever you can to achieve glory, but you're also honorable and will keep your word (even though you will most likely find loopholes within that code to exploit). Having this complexity and sympathy allows the other PCs justify keeping your character around, even if they aren't evil themselves. 

Rule #2: Explain Your Origin Within the Party
One of the biggest fears that people have about including an evil character in a non-evil party is that at some point in the future, the evil character will end up betraying them in one way or another. That's why you should probably create a reason for the character to not do that, giving them some kind of link to the party that explains it. Maybe the evil character is a childhood friend of another member in the party, or maybe a family member. They could possibly be paying off a debt to another PC who saved them. Whatever the reason, you should figure it out and make sure it makes sense. This doesn't mean this bond might not be tested at the table, but it will calm the betrayal fires down. 

Rule #3: Don't Be A Dick
This is the most important rule to remember: Don't use your evil character as an excuse to be a total dick. Your character might have some dickish tendencies, but you shouldn't use that to justify being a complete asshole. This is the biggest reason why Game Masters like to ban evil characters. At some point in their careers as Game Masters, they probably had some douchebag play a CE sorcerer or something at their table, using it as the reason why they are being horrible to other players and disrupting the game. You can have your character do the occasional dickish action, but make sure that its clear this is just a minor thing and you can tone it down if it becomes problematic. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vigilante Playtest Impressions, Part Deux

A few weeks ago, Paizo released the playtest document for the Vigilante, a new base class that will be debuting in 2016's Ultimate Intrigue. I read through the short PDF and gave my initial thoughts HERE. Although I liked the flavor of the class and felt it has some interesting mechanical ideas, I wasn't too fond of the actual product and believed it needed some serious fine-tuning.

Last Thursday, Paizo posted a second iteration of the playtest document that depicts an altered version of the Vigilante, with several major changes having been made to the class' mechanics. After spending the last few days looking the document over, I thought I'd make another post discussing the changes, what I think about this new version, and if my overall opinion of the Vigilante has changed.

Like the previous post, this critique is based solely on my opinion. You are free to disagree and post your own thoughts in the comments below.

  • Thankfully, the designers decided to rework the mechanics associated with Dual Identity. Originally, the feature prevented you from using any of your vigilante identity's powers while in your social identity. That clause was incredibly idiotic and I'm glad they removed it. Now, using your vigilante identity powers while in your social identity gives the opponent a higher chance of discovering who the character really is. That's definitely a welcomed change. I also like that it now only takes 1 minute to change your identity instead of the original 5 minutes. 
  • This version of the Vigilante also includes "Social Talents", several features that you can select every odd level that deal with your social identity and blending into society. The original version of the class gave you no real incentive to ever switch into your social identity, and these talents do that for the most part.
  • The four specializations presented within the playtest document have been buffed up, making them a lot better than their previous versions. The Avenger and Stalker specializations now feel like they can stand on their own, with the Zealot now having more of its own identity. 
  • I still feel like this class has a niche that's too narrow. I don't see the Vigilante as a class that could be used in any campaign. Based on the nature of the class' mechanics, I highly doubt I'd pull out a Vigilante for an exploration based game or a more traditional fantasy campaign. I'd only really use it for urban campaigns and ones that deal with a good amount of intrigue and secrecy. I know that's kind of the point, but I feel like this will be one of those classes that will just collect dust and will only rarely be used, which is kind of a shame. 
  • The Vigilante's customization might end up being a double-edged sword. While I like how you can customize your Vigilante with so many options, those options might cause the class to be one of the more complicated ones, which will limit how many people will want to actually deal with it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but something to think about and consider.
I'll admit, I think I like this version of the Vigilante a lot more than the previous one. It feels like a class that's been more fleshed out and some of the rougher edges have been filed off. I think I could see using it in my possible Gothic Fantasy campaign I've mentioned last week and the class' nature makes it the perfect class for the secretive big bad with two identities. Color me more optimistic about the Vigilante than I was before.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shadows Over London, A Pathfinder Campaign of Gothic Fantasy

What awaits these adventurers within the
tomb of this ghostly maiden?
On the 29th of this month, Paizo will be releasing Occult Adventures, a hardcover supplement that will give Game Masters mechanics for implementing more occult elements into their games (like chakras, possessions, mindscapes, etc.). The book will also include six new classes that utilize a new power source called "psychic magic".

Anyone who's been following this blog for the past year or so should know that I'm already a big fan of these classes and have been excited for this book since it was announced. Now that it's only a few weeks away, my mind has started to contemplate new campaigns that will allow me to use the information and mechanics presented within the book in interesting ways.

That's where today's post comes in. During my short hiatus from the blog last week, I had an idea for an interesting campaign. What if I ran a game that used the six psychic magic classes as its sole spellcasters? This little idea gave birth to what I'll be referring to as "Shadows Over London".

Like the old Masque of the Red Death sub-setting for Ravenloft, Shadows Over London would be set on our very own Earth during the late 19th Century. As the name implies, the game would most likely lean towards Gothic Horror or Dark Fantasy genres, with the characters the dark corners of Victorian London, fighting terrifying beasts many people believe to just be fairy tales meant to frighten children.

As I said earlier, arcane and divine spellcasters would not be allowed. The only spellcasters player can use would be the Kineticist, Medium, Mesmerist, Occultist, Psychic, and Spiritualist. Players could also use the Alchemist, Barbarian, Brawler, Fighter, Gunslinger, Investigator, Rogue, Slayer, & Swashbuckler classes as well. I might allow the Ranger, but they will have to use the Spell-Less variation found in Kobold Press' New Paths Compendium. I could also see allowing the Vigilante as well, but the Warlock & Zealot specializations would have to be heavily re-themed to better fit the idea of the campaign. Obviously the only racial option would be the Human. At least, at first.

Since armor would seem somewhat out of place, I'd probably use the Defense Bonus idea from Unearthed Arcana so people could still have decent ACs without having to worry about armor. I'd probably also cap the game at 12th level, which I feel would create a power level that better fits the tone I'm going for. I'd also be using the automatic bonus progression from Pathfinder Unchained so I could make magic items more rare, mystical, and most likely cursed as well.

The exact nature of the game is still kind of fuzzy since this is currently a very rough sketch. However, I have a basic idea for how the characters come together and begin investigating the supernatural. Each PC would have had some interaction with the paranormal, which brings them into contact with a shadowy organization that exists to fight monsters while keeping knowledge of them a secret from the rest of the world. Kind of like a Victorian BRPD, but more along the lines of a secret society than a government organization.

This idea will probably remain sitting on the metaphorical shelf for awhile since I'm currently in a few games at the moment. However, I'll probably be using that time to brainstorm some new ideas, scrub away the rougher edges, and get some of my ideas in order. Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below and go ahead and use the idea yourself if you want to. I won't claim this is an original idea (it's not), so go ahead and use this as a starting point for your own games, I won't mind.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Awakened Mystic: Psionics Playtest for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Released

Today, as a part of Wizard's Unearthed Arcana series of articles, the designers released a PDF introducing rules for a new class: The Mystic. This class will utilize psionics and the document allows players to playtest these new rules up to 5th level, but it will most likely be updated and changed as feedback comes in about the mechanics.

Honestly, I'm rather surprised that WoTC's attempting to tackle psionics so soon, especially when its one of those topics that tends to be rather divisive among fans. Personally, I've always fallen into the camp that liked the idea of it, but was never too fond of the execution.

However, I kind of like how they've implemented it here. It seems pretty simple to grok, I like how they went with the name Mystic over Psion (which always sound strange to me), and they've done a decent job separating it from the arcane and divine spellcasting classes. I'm honestly interested in seeing what they'll add in the future and this will definitely make those who wish to run Dark Sun with 5th Edition very happy.

Those interested in checking out these rules can find them HERE. Go ahead and give them a read. For those of you who have read the rules, what did you think? Do you like the path they're going down with them? What would you like to see them change if you're not so found of the rules being presented?

((Those of you who read the post on Monday will probably notice it has changed rather drastically. The reason for this is that I was wrong about Unearthed Arcana being a new series of posts. I apologize for that mistake and promise to not let it happen again. With that in mind, I've refocused the post on the Mystic itself.))