Monday, December 30, 2013

Hopes for the New Year

Resolve:  a firm determination to do something.

Since the move is nearing and so many things are still up in the air and underway, I really don't have any resolve for actions in the new year.   Instead, I think I just have a lot of hopes, and with all things, I think I will decide what to do as the year progresses.  It is going to be a big year of change.  So here are my hopes for the future.

  • I hope to get back to a regular gaming schedule.
  • I hope to find a nice balance between working time, commuting time, and time to recharge, with my new job and my new extended commute.
  • I hope to improve my health and become more fit.
  • I hope to become part of a new in-person gaming group in our new hometown.
  • I hope to set up a nice gaming area at the new house.
  • I hope to set up an efficient woodshop at the new house and start using it to make useful things, some of which will be for gaming.
  • I hope to get in a full solid year of beta testing for my new rule extension for Pathfinder.
  • I hope to improve my gaming art: both cartography and drawings.
  • I hope to write more consistently.
  • I hope that I can help my family to be happy in our new hometown.
  • I hope to sell our old house.
So really the challenge, as with all things, is to manage my time to fit all these things in.  In this time of rather overwhelming stress, I think I see a path of things building together to bridge all these goals.  
  • Get better sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Eat right.
  • Take the family out to places where we can socialize.
  • Set a comfortable schedule.
  • Tackle a small goal each week.
And this week's goal is to prepare for a successful, pleasant move, if there exists such a thing.  Next week's goal will be to execute the suggested move.  And the week after, I can start working on my comfortable schedule.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Finding Weaknesses in Pathfinder Characters and Exploiting Them

This article isn't finished yet -- it is more of a living document to accumulate knowledge as I gather it.  In any case, I thought it would be worthwhile to publish and collect comments on.  Thanks for help from Michael Bell on Cavalier weaknesses.


Unlike other systems, Pathfinder doesn't explicitly include weaknesses in character as a choice made by the player on character creation.  Instead, the GM has to ascertain what abilities, skills, saves, background, or class properties represent the weakness of the character and exploit them.  Think of it this way -- when building some characters, everything starts at a base level and a lot of things get better and some get worse.  In Pathfinder, characters start at a lower level and everything gets better, except because of the balance of things, only a subset of everything gets better.  What doesn't get better, is the weakness of the character.

Now normally I am not an evil GM.  I don't see the GM as an adversary to the players, but more of a guide, sort of like that old D&D cartoon's dungeonmaster.  I also, however, believe that heroes are defined more by their weaknesses than their strengths, and that any good game should be about characters overcoming their weaknesses.  In this article we present some ideas to help GMs find those weaknesses.

As an added bonus, exploiting weaknesses wreaks havoc on a power gaming min-maxer.  If you always go for the weakness, then the maxing out of a few abilities at the expense of everything else becomes a real problem.  This encourages players to find balance and to build characters with a different goal in mind -- perhaps the goal of making an interesting character.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a character should start with the core stats: HP, AC, ability scores, and saves.  Each of these can be a big weakness, especially when a player tries to min max a character.  Let me summarize what to look for in a handy table:

Exploiting Pathfinder Weaknesses in Core Stats
Weakness How to Exploit
Low HP Do what it takes to do damage. Some good options: setting them on fire @ 1d6/rnd damage, falling @ 1d6 damage per 10 feet fallen, acid pit @ 2d6 damage per round.
Low AC Use groups of adversaries of lower level that can still hit but do more damage because they are in groups. For example, a grizzly bear does up to 33 damage per round at CR 4. A group of 12 goblins does up to 48 damage per round also at CR 4.
Low Strength A good low strength challenge is a trap that requires a strength check to get out of -- perhaps something with a large sliding rock. In addition, low strength is a strong disadvantage because the character can't carry anything very heavy. Force them to track the weight of things and apply penalties for their load. Also, hit them with climb and swim scenarios.
Low Dexterity Low dex characters are often weak when engaging ranged targets, because they have a poor ranged attack. A few archers out of reach can be really bad. Also, have them get captured and tied up -- they'll never be able to get loose (Escape Artist is dex-based). (See also Low Reflex Save)
Low Constitution Low constitution means low hp and a quick transition to death. Area effect spells like fireball are very effective if they can't make a reflex save (i.e. paralysis). (Also see Low Fortutude, Low HP)
Low Wisdom Low wisdom implies low perception, so use it by hiding everything. Use bluff against (vs sense motive, a wisdom skill.) Also leave them in the woods (survival is wisdom based). Another good one is to force them to use a heal check (WIS) to check if someone is dead. Not helping someone who is not dead yet can be devastating to a party, especially if there is a funeral pyre. (Also see Low Will Save)
Low Intelligence Hit them with INT-based knowledge checks over and over again. Also, force them to use appraise when buying items so they get ripped off every single time.
Low Charisma Make them talk to every person that comes along, splitting them off, if necessary. Use social skills to convince them of all sorts of things. There is nothing funnier than watching the low charism barbarian argue with the high charisma face after or during an NPC discussion when they are trying to figure out what to believe.
Low Will Save Charm them and hit them with Will save spells: Glitterdust is nice, especially against rogues and ninjas.  So many spells work on this: Lullaby, Sleep, Hold Person, Hypnotic Pattern, Deep Slumber, the list goes on.
Low Reflex Save Area and cone effect spells are nice. Traps with reflex saves are also effective.  Combine spells if necessary:  for example:  Entangle + Fireball.
Low Fortitude Save Poision and disease hit hard against fortitude. Suffocation spell.

Once you've looked over the core stats, look for weakness in the class.  Each class has things is does well, and doesn't do well.  Understanding these things helps the GM to counter individual classes.

Exploiting Pathfinder Weaknesses in Classes
Class How to Exploit
Fighter At lower levels, if they wear heavy armor, put them into situations with skill checks during combat that are affected by ACP. Also, attempt to engage them before combat with social skills, traps, and other things using skill points fighters just don't have -- how would you beat a fighter? With a club while he slept!
Arcane Casters (Sorcerer, Wizard, Summoner) Traditional arcane caster cannot easily engage in melee, so have a couple of hidden bad guys to emerge and attack them. In close combat, they die quick. It helps if you can otherwise engage any summoned creatures they have. Also, remember, if you kill the caster, the summons are gone. Spell: Enervation -- the negative levels cause the mage to lose all of their highest level spells.
Wizard Destroy the wizard's spellbook and he can't prepare spells anymore. A bit of fire will do the trick.
Rogue Generally, rogues can't do well when denied sneak attack, so faerie fire works nicely against them. Also, using large creatures with reach makes it much harder to flank. Tight spaces and clusters of enemies will also eliminate flanking and drive the rogue to frustration.
Cleric Clerics can be dangerous, but are easy occupied being a heal bot. Force them to use spells for healing and they won't have them for combat. It is also common for clerics to have horrible ACPs against them in heavy armor with shields, so if that is the case, hit them with swim, climb, and ride checks.
Sorcerer Sorcerers have a limited number of spells per day, and this has to cover both utility spells and combat. Try to set up obvious uses of utility spells in advance of combat to sap away some of their spells per day before they need them.
Druid Working in unnatural environments without animals could be slightly helpful. Need additional ideas.
Ranger (Ranged) Having enemies run up and surround a ranger is not a bad strategy, since they are usually worse melee fighters. Sundering their bow might be helpful.
Ranger (Two-Weapon) Wielding two weapons may reduce the ranger's AC quite a bit, so consider low AC strategies. It also is a good idea to sunder their weapon(s).
Barbarian Get them to use their rage at the wrong time -- i.e. before they need it or when suddenly a skill check is required that they can't make. Catch them when they are fatigued or exhausted. Make sure they can't get enough sleep. Spell: Waves of Fatigue.
Gunslinger Firearms are usually not common, so make sure they are always struggling to get some supply they need. Also, use attacks of opportunity when they are reloading to nail them. Use cover and large movement speeds to keep enemies at a miss chance. Keep the monsters touch AC high.
Monk Ranged attackers are usually pretty good against monks.
Magus The magus is all about making touch attacks. To keep the pressure on them, keep an adversary adjacent to them so they have to make concentration checks for their spells. Also, in lower levels, try to dispel their shield or mage armor to reduce their AC. Their HP isn't that deep usually, so once their AC drops, they die quick. Also, try to get them to use their limited spells at the wrong time (aka. too early) so they don't have them later when they need them.
Bard Silence them. Engage them head-on in combat. Avoid socializing with them. It is often a good idea to force them out of the socializing rule by giving them a problem. For example, maybe they are wanted as a pickpocket because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now they can't show their face.
Oracle Oracle is a class with a built-in weakness -- the oracle's curse. Use it against them whenever possible.
Witch The most powerful weakness of the witch is the power of superstition to be used against him. Witches get burned at the stake and tormented. Use this against the witch. Grab the torches and pitchforks!
Paladin Use their code of honor against them. Make sure they are always off balance. Lawful evil can beat lawful good every time. Also use false auras to ensure them spending a smite when it won't work.
Alchemist Fire immunity of enemies helps a lot.
Cavalier Terrain is the cavalier's worst nightmare -- i.e. take away his ability to adequately perform mounted combat with a charge.
Inquisitor Judgement bonus only are available when engaged in combat, so keeping the inquisitor out of combat (much like the cleric) is a good strategy.
Summoner Summoners hide behind their eidolon, but are extremely attached to them. In play these means separating the eidolon and summoner and hurting one of them so the other compromises their position.
Ninja For the ninja, much like the rogue, focus on eliminating sneak attack. The ninja has the second dimension of trying to get the ninja to use her Ki pool up too early so it is depleted by the time she needs it.  Non-combat usage of Ki is especially recommended:  Darkvision, possibly Shadow Clone, possibly Smoke Bomb, Sudden Disguise, Undetected Sabotage, Ventriloquism.
Samurai The samurai's lord can be a point of particular difficulty for the saumarai. Use this non-obvious NPC to wreak havoc on the samurai's plans.

In cases where you've already used up the obvious weaknesses or where the character truly is balanced, break into the background of the character for inspiration.  Every super hero tale revolves sooner or later about how the people that know and love the superhero are the superhero's greatest weakness, so look for significant people in your character's life.  Look for the obvious weaknesses they planted in the background.  Many people have dead parents -- maybe someone thinks that the character killed their own parents?  Many people are escaping something bad -- maybe they were the cause of it?  Players write these character backgrounds to be used -- make sure you use it against them as a weakness.

When no other weaknesses are available, it is time for the GM to manufacture some of them.  Here is a list of suggestions:

  • For mages, hypermagic fields, wild magic areas, and antimagic fields are gold.  It is scary to a mage when their magic won't work, but even scarier when small controlled effects get completely out of hand by either being too powerful or being completely unpredictable.
  • An intelligent weapon is a weakness waiting to happen.  Give it some exotic desire it wishes to fulfill and let it battle the PC for control.  Make sure you use it to annoy and distract the PC too.  And make it talk so it can always let all the enemies know that the PC are on their way.
  • Cursed items also give a nice weakness in a just-in-time fashion.  Place a cursed item in with other items of the same type that aren't cursed and leave them together just before the big battle.  Sooner or later someone is going to say "Hey, they must all be boots of speed." and put them on to find out that one pair are boots of slow.
  • Planted NPCs that join the party and then screw them over are always nice.  I had a thief that was always slightly higher level than the party.  He would join the party to act as their trap finder, since the players refused to play a rogue.  He would clear a room, let them go in and get into big trouble (usually a battle plus a trap he "missed"), and when things turned south, he would loot the bodies, steal things, and run away.
  • Disenchanters and rust monsters can take out magical and metal items quicker than anything.  
  • Overpowered magical items sometimes can bring weaknesses with them.  The necklace of fireball, for example, is a wonderful item, unless it gets hit by fire.  Then it can become a mushroom cloud of PC-killing evil.
  • Lack of needed items can be a big weakness.  Let the PCs run out of stuff they need:  gunslinger bullets, ranger arrows, water, food, light.  This becomes a big weakness in a hurry.
  • Blackmail is a good weakness, and there are lots of ways to fool a PC or group of PCs into doing something really bad without them even knowing about it.  And when they are done doing it, it is all the weakness a villain needs to exploit them.
  • Blindness / deafness spell:  PCs are one bad saving throw away from a big set of negatives that are permanent (until removed) and it is only a level 2/3 spell.
  • Black tentacles spell: no spell resistance, no saving throw.
  • Damage resistance:  Let's see how many weapons we can make do no damage.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Matter of Space: The Mythical 5' Square

As of late, having switched mostly these days to virtual tabletop gaming, I have come to notice the great difficulty in running on 5' square maps with 5' square tokens.  It is a simple enough explanation in the rule books -- that the 5 foot square is the fighting space for a single party member.  Still it bugs me.  In the older D&D tomes, you can find reference of a "3 wide shoulder-to-shoulder in a 10 foot hallway" reference and even 3 1/2 foot per inch squares in some OSR allowing 3 to fight side-by-side in a ten foot hallway.  On VTT this really doesn't need to translate to a new grid, but just smaller tokens with a bit more zoom.  Change noted.

As I move through my own home now, investigating the use of space, especially as we look to pick all these items up and move them to a new home in a new layout with a new sense of space, I don't find many mythical 5 foot squares left.  In this house, built in the 60s, there was space enough for things, but more along the lines of a 3 foot square or perhaps even a 2 1/2 foot square.  We have filled much of the space, to the edges and to the seams, even with two daughters leaving.  Like an ideal gas, we expand to fit the shape and size of our container.

The mythical 5 foot square now becomes a problem as we attempt to clear to the lower half of our home for painting and new carpet.  A five foot square in the garage holds spare desks.  A five foot square where we flipped over our dining room table holds a gelatinous cube-sized pile of boxes and miscellaneous items from the girls' bedrooms.  Closets hold boxes.  Walkways through the garage are overtaken  by boxes.  There are no more five foot squares left.

As I think ahead, to the new house, I am starting to size it up in 5' squares, and this time, to avoid this, I think I shall plan out some empty five foot squares, just like in a good dungeon.  It is good to have space, to move, to breath, to escape the clutter of things.  A good battle doesn't have all its foes lined up one-by-one to be killed, but instead engage across the party all at once.  Similarly the flow of a home should allow movement outside a single walk-through path.  Space should have an opportunity to tug and draw one, on foot and in the eye.

This same principle, I will apply to new maps, as I find them, and as I make them.  Five foot squares for everyone!  As the Darklands open up on Fridays, let the space open up and envelop them, just like that gelatinous cube, living in my dining room, made of the living junk, excavated from the bedrooms below.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Move: Fighting Coax

It is unfortunate, but even the pre-move things don't seem to be going as well as expected, and it has impacted even my online games.  I had hoped to be hosting games at either the new or old house, but the new house has an evil secret.

Deep in the bowels of the new house, which supposedly has cable internet hooked up now, is a nest of around 40 coax cables running to everywhere.  It turns out the house was wired for dual satellite plus cable, meaning many of the rooms have three coax drops.  There are also phone and DSL drops.  That is a lot of cable.

In the beginning it seemed simple, in that the cable TV drops were unfinished, and I could just hook them up and voila... internet.  But no -- one of the previous occupants decided to "fix" this and now there is a mangled mes of unlabeled cables that may or may not hold the key to getting cable hooked up.  It is nice that they are mostly housed behind the panels of the drop ceiling in the basement, but still, it is impossible to trace them down, especially when I can't even see where the CATV comes in, and I have no tools for testing which cable is live, since it requires special CATV boxes and modems, which I know are notorious for not quickly connecting.  I tried my TV, but it says no signal on everything, which I'm not sure I really believe.  What I wouldn't give for an RF power meter that would work with the CATV signal?

Anyway, I broke down and a contractor is coming out to trace the cables and get the basics up and running.  At the cost of a contractor, I just want the bare minimum up and running -- 3 drops.  In addition, I purchased Klein Tools Cable Tester than has the ability to test and trace up to 4 endpoints, in the hopes that future links can be reconfigured after I have gone through the tedious task of labeling all of the non-active drops.

Meanwhile my box of cable TV and internet hardware is doing a nice job of holding up a TV hooked to an antenna, and my box of networking cables and routers is acting as a nice side table.  The good news is that years of playing Pathfinder and other RPGs has prepared me well for having my plans and schemes destroyed and for rewriting them on the fly.  I just hope that we can get the games going again before the holidays take their toll and drag everyone off to other things.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Port Wayne Campaign

So I wrote an extension to Pathfinder for post-modern because I was tired of fighting Shadowrun and not looking to invest another wad of money in 5th edition.  Mostly, I like Pathfinder because of the OGL aspect so my players can play basically for free, and the greater community makes money off of me buying books and supplements.

The extension is lovingly referred so far to as Dead Channel Sky, an obvious tribute to the cyberpunk genre king William Gibson.  My design goal was to extend, not rewrite, normal Pathfinder.  By simplifying a lot of extension rules and rebalancing using new equipment, new archetypes, new classes, and a couple of new races, I am trying to make Pathfinder come alive in a post modern campaign.  Traditional Pathfinder sorcerers can now fight alongside modern gunslingers with machines guns and hackers.  The best part, however, for DCS, is that it has nothing too closely tied to setting.  As a result, I am taking my own homebrew Port Wayne Shadowrun setting and reusing it as a test.

Our band of 4 was able to get through character creation in person, but the impending move has forced me to move the game online.  Roll20 and teamspeak3 come to the rescue again; but this time, I am sandboxing it and making up stuff as we go along with a rough outline already in my head.  Unlike my other Pathfinder campaigns, this one is going to be very free-form.  It makes it more fun for all of us.  My roll20 prep is simple -- loading a bunch of urban maps in advance.

The campaign, for me, is a playtest as well as just a really fun game.  I get to see where things might break and where things don't work and where complexity isn't fun.  First hand experience playing these things helps a lot.  It also helps that both of my younger daughters are playing in the campaign, so I can see when they are and aren't having fun and adjust.

Session 1 started out in a club.  The party is a foblin (flying goblin race of size tiny) bard with a new archetype "Face", a human pilot (new class), a human gunslinger with a new archetype "Overkill Gunner", and a cavalier with the new archetype "Leatherback".  The foblin is named Mr. Fixit, the gunslinger is Vee, the pilot is named Ziggy, and the cavalier is Caversen.

Fixit and Caverson are Dubs, a nomadic band of VW-loving hippies that inhabit the ground floor and specialize in providing cheap taxi service.  Fixit is their spokes-person to the elder council of the ground floor and Caverson is his body guard, provided by the council.  Ziggy and Vee are privately hired to keep an eye on Fixit, and the four of them also take on jobs, as needed, to pay the bills.

Cav and Fixit are enjoying a smoke and a drink.  It is noticed that a gal at the next table iswatching Fixit.  The group gets suspicious, but they get a message from Spinner, their business contact, to meet them at this very bar.  They wait; Spinner shows up, dressed in a  gaudy blue suit.

The business proposition is a simple snatch 'n' grab in the security zone on the edge of Port Wayne.  They have a guy in a safe house to pick up.  Negotiation to $1200 each is easy and Spinner picks up the tabs on the drinks.  Spinner leaves.

The party turns its attention back to this lady, who now seems to be operating some device under the table while staring at Fixit.  The group heads for the bathroom, keeping Fixit surrounded.  The gal and her new troll friend, who had entered the club with an obvious gun, then leave the club.

Fixit would like to take flight out the window in the bathroom, but it is barred to keep folks jumping their bar tabs.

The party heads outside.  The gal from earlier is in a car.  They get to the corner and find the troll hanging out.  Vee draws her weapon, and everyone moves out to get Fixit out of here.  Vee and Cav head to the bike, Fixit gets in the limo back-end that has no top, known as the Chariot.  It is the honorable transport for the Dub representative to the council, aka The Dub Council Dude.  Normally it would be on a hitch on the motorbike, and they don't notice that it is unhooked.

Ziggy gets hit on by the troll, while the gal starts driving.  Cav pulls away on the bike, but the trailer is unhooked.  The troll tackles Ziggy and the gal tries to shoot Fixit with a net gun, but misses.  The troll and gal take off, while Cav runs his bike into a junk car, trying to get back to Fixit.

Meanwhile Fixit has been conversing with a contact trying to get info on the two folks.  As Fixit  later explains, they are from the lab where he was created, and they are trying to get him back.  The gal, for all intents and purposes, is Fixit's scientist mom.

They head on to Metaburger, grab way too much food, and then head on to the hotel.  A good night's rest for most does the trick, though Fixit is up part of the night sick from the "food".

The morning brings breakfast and a quick run to the S-zone.  They find the house, and it looks bare and empty.  They go in and see something moving, but don't find their target just yet.  To be continued next time...

Here are my playtest notes:

  • Need stats for modern walls
  • Need to explain rules for 'texting'
  • Need to look if Foblins are overpowered as a rogue thief.

Ranier Leaves: The Rise of the Runelords

The week the party rescued the beautiful Xeneshu.  She was the most beautiful hal-elf he had ever seen (Ranier was charmed by her.)  She kept her safe while they turned in the judge to the authorities.  Once everything cleared through and they received their reward, Xeneshu was gone.

Ranier followed the party onward to investigate reports at a local fort near Turtleback Ferry.  His heart just wasn't in it though.  While the party slept on the way out of town, Ranier left the party and left behind this note:

My Fellows,

I've reached the end of this road and I am taking my leave of all of you.  Bigger things await me.  My destiny is yet to be found.

To my friend Alex, I return the deed to the townhouse in Magnimar.  Unfortunately, my path still requires access to the Misgivings, and so that deed I am keeping.  Do not follow me there and do not venture there for the next two weeks.  I will recover what I need from that place and then be gone.  The deed will be left behind the painting of Iesha on the second floor in the hall with all the other paintings.  I also leave behind for you Abyssal<->Infernal translation book that I purchased, my compass, a chime of opening, a masterwork scimitar, a ring of protection +1, and a potion of heroism.  Also, you may have my cloak of elvenkind.  Please find a way to protect the rest of the party.

To my colleague Jericho, I leave you my fortune of 1026 gold pieces, a +1 mithral chain shirt, and a +1 scimitar.  I also leave you my manacles and marbles.  Two potions of cure moderate rooms have also found their way into you pack, along with a masterwork longsword.  Good travels for you, my friend.

For Tari, the great blade of our party, I leave you a Composite longbow (Str+2), 80 arrows, my wayfinder, my traveler's any-tool, and potions of shatter, remove fear, remove blindness/deafness, hold portal, cure light wounds, charm animal.  I also leave you my belt of giants strength (Str+2) and an amulet of natural armor +1.  I also leave you my boots of the cat.  Please also take care of my companion Sol.  He will find no happiness on the trek ahead, but perhaps he will find it with you.  Please use you blade for good and your mouth for nothing more than you have to, lest you annoy the others to homicidal tendencies.

My magical items I yet keep with me.  I consider that I may yet need their power to complete my planned transformation.  If ever we should meet again, I bid you all find a way to leave me quickly, for I shall not be the same.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Things I Don't and Do Hate about Pathfinder

Iron Tavern has some thought provoking articles now and then, and I was inspired by the article I saw today:  The Thing I Hate about Pathfinder.  It turns out the pet peeve in question pointed out by Iron is the rules bloat that comes with feats.  Every feat rewrites the rules slightly.

Underlying this problem, I think ultimately in Pathfinder, is a bigger problem that comes with the stack of legacy underneath the Pathfinder rules.  In many cases, folks GMing Pathfinder haven't really played it.  They played D&D 3 or 3.5 and have transplanted themselves into Pathfinder thinking its just the same.  And quite frankly, the problem is that you can't GM Pathfinder well if you haven't played it a lot.

Feats are a good example of that.  Certain combinations of feats work really well with classes and other things to basically rewrite the rules for characters.  Knowing the feats, when they are useful, and how they are used is a big challenge for a player.  For example, I am currently playing a Magus, and I find myself going back again and again to the Magus guide to understand which feats and spells really pack the bang for the buck.  A magus, if played well is awesome, and if played like a different spellcasting class, really sucks a lot.

This becomes a big problem for a GM.  A GM that hasn't played every class and combination of things doesn't know when and how feats, classes, archetypes, and all the other subtleties of the game are supposed to tie together.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn't just stop with understanding the rules for feats and classes and such.  Hand us an NPC, and how are we supposed to know all of the subtle strategies that are supposed to be used?  The best bet, if we have time, is to read the expert guide on that class and see what we can learn.  That is some serious time investment if we have a lot of NPCs.

The worst part, though, is monsters.  Every new creatures has some new ability that we probably don't know how to use, or, worse yet, that we forget about during play.  My guess is that at least 40% of my encounters are underpowered because I forget or misuse a special ability.  It is sad, but very true.

So, coming full circle back to Iron's comments, the real problem is rules bloat.  At some point the GM has to become superhuman to be able to really play all of the variations of things easily.  That, in my humble opinion, is probably the biggest problem with Pathfinder.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rise of the Runelords: Sessions 12 and 13

Ranier reports in after a couple of very long adventures:

Well, into the next room we went, and there were some baddies, including old Aldern himself.  He was wearing some sort of strange mask.  It was a touch fight, but in the end, we slaughtered all the unspeakable creatures in there, even some sort of fungal residue of one of the older Foxgloves that was trying to bring him back.  Aldern is dead, and Iesha is layed to rest, her spirit no longer seeking revenge on Aldern.  I wish this was the end, but the trails leads farther on to Magnamar.

So we said our goodbyes and hit the road.  Shadowmist (the horse we saved from the goblins at Thistletop) is doing better now and took easily to the trail.  Jericho took his own path there, looking up his family.  We grabbed a room at Trent Towers and then headed over to visit Pug, the guy who made the cages for Aldern's little laboratory animals.  Getting information out of Pug is like squeezing blood from a stone.  Sooner or later we head over to the Foxglove townhouse.  Much to our dismay, Aldern and Iesha are home and alive and well.   We spend time with them, feigning concern after "dark events" around the Misgivings.  They seem fine, but aren't themselves.  Aldern doesn't even remember what we were hunting back in Sandpoint.  These things are not Aldern and Iesha.  The paladin tries a channel to see if they are undead -- nope they are something otherwise -- something that can take on Aldern and Iesha's form.

We resupply in town.  Once night falls, we're checking the townhouse, empty this time, and search the place.  Nothing seems out of place until we get to a secret compartment over the mantle.  We find money (good for helping us fund this hunt, now that we're off of Sandpoint's payroll) and a deed for the townhouse and a deed for the Misgivings.  The deed for Misgiving's is strange.  A group called the Brothers of Seven helped build the Foxglove estate, but they get it back after 100 years, including the land around it.  Only 20 years to go.

The Brother's of Seven is an anomaly and we can't find much on them.  They seem to be associated with Norgorber, very cultish in nature.  No one admits who they are.  Time to follow the money.

It appears a sawmill was put up for collateral for the Misgivings byt he Brothers, so we go looking for it.  After asking around a bit, we visit the sawmill, trying to buy lumber.  We keep getting sent on wild goose chases to offices that aren't there, or that aren't open.  At night we break in, despite the place being manned.  The way in from above is blocked, but it appears there is a room on the top floor that has no windows.  That sounds like a perfect place to keep whatever we're looking for.  It is also odd that they are keeping messenger crows on the roof.

 We come in with the logs and sneak through the place.  Unfortunately, Alex stumbles right upon someone and soon we're in pursuit up the stairs.  Suddenly we're surrounded.  I am talking as fast as I can -- we work for Pug, came to repair the lock on the roof entry.  They don't buy it, and draw razors, so I dive out one window, Alex dives out another, and Tari, the paladin, takes off down the stairs and out the door.  We get to the horses and get away.  So much for the element of surprise we had going for us.  Odd as it is, the guy in charge in some sort of robes was wearing the amulet of a judge.  Yeah -- we're going to need some damning proof to get through this.

 We drop the shiney armor off at her temple and head to a tavern where we think we can contact the thieves' guild.  I hint at the bartender but all I get is an invite to a mercenaries guild.  Alex uses his skills to play a game against me with a bet so he can show off his sleight of hand skills.  Somebody tags his sleight, and heads out the door, and Alex is in pursuit.  I am milking my beer and keeping an eye open.

Alex comes back in later, running through the door, huffing and puffing.  The bad guys from the sawmill tried to ambush Alex in a hallway, but he was quick enough to get to the rooftops and get away.  Maybe this is our big chance to catch the sawmill unguarded.

We're qucik to get inside and get the room of interest open.  This place is pretty bad... masks made of stretched faces from vicitims.  We find a journal that must be pretty damning, but we can't read the thing. It i spretty aparent this is a skinshaw cult.  I find a spellbook -- a nice resource. We also check out the crows, letting a few fly.  It looks like they are heading to an old clocktower under the bridge.

It is another search to find a book to help us decipher the infernal language used in the journal.  Man, this guy is depraved.  He'll be hung for sure.  So we're off to the clocktower, looking for a love of the depraved judge, Ironbriar, that we think will be found there.  Her name is Xenesha.  We also find out that the Red Mantis (an assasins' group) is buying the fungus that makes people sick from the Misgivings.  It explains some of the connection between the Misgivings and Magnamar.

We have to pry our way in and digging around in the rubble, we find some sort of contruct built out of pieces of horse and cows and people and it is not happy to see us.  It is a full out battle.  My magic isn't hurting it, but the paladin is using all of her divine backing to take this thing down.

After it finally falls, we start up the ladder to the top, when we are greeted by calls from the Foxgloves.  Great!  They know we're here and they drop one of the huge brass bells down at us.  It is lucky one of us hasn't gotten killed.  I use a little magic, and we climb the wall of the tower to avoid further bell trouble.

Iesha, Aldern, and one of their faceless shapechanger friends greets us, ready to talk, but I'm done with this crap.  Sword drawn, I am after them.  It takes only a moment for us to dispatch them all.  Stairs lead up to another floor... that must be where the judge's love, Xenesha, is.  Based on his reference, I am betting she is some sort of odd thing.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I am not Strange *sigh*

Though I am a big fan of Monte Cooke, I decided not to participate in the Strange Kickstarter.  Quite frankly, this year has been a really good year for gaming with Numenera, 13th Age, and DnD Next all coming to fruition.  It is sad to say, but I have too many other good RPGs to play.  Oh, and I am moving, which doesn't exactly make for the most opportune time to get involved in new kickstarters.

I guess I have other reasons too.  Kickstarters that offer non-exclusive content make it hard for me to feel special as a backer.  For Numenera, my book came in after GenCon, and while I was there, I saw lots of other folks buying up Numenera stuff without taking the risk of the kickstarter.  So how was being part of the kickstarter worth the risk?  Because my name was in the book?  Did I get a big discount?  Its hard to tell on RPG books and certainly what risk is their with receiving PDFs?  I remember at the end of Numenera, there was an email about Amazon underselling the kickstarter price for the core book, which was really disheartening.  I've been through a lot of kickstarters and it is starting to feel like too many well-established companies are using them to expand their offerings without making it a special offer for those contributing and taking the risk.  It is only a bit more of a kick in the teeth when the content comes out under restrictive licenses -- if other folks are funding your dream, shouldn't there be some sharing involved?

One kickstarter type I can usually get excited about are miniatures kickstarters.  I've backed several, some slower and some faster than others, but at the end of the day, they are pretty low risk if the company has done it before, and the company offers some steep discounts because you are helping to get all the start-up greens and molds paid for by guaranteeing their first sales.  It really is a win-win.

Another class of kickstarters I feel good about are those where someone doing something really unique.  Some good examples are all of the kickstarters by Andy Hopp (Low Life Miniatures, Low Life: Rise of the Lowly (Core Rulebook),  Dementalism: Lots of Snazzy New Stuff). I am a big fan of Andy because his content is so unique.  He's also a great guy to meet in person, if you get the chance.  Another good example is Ehdrigohr, probably want of the most inspiring new RPGs I've read in a long time.  There just isn't much out there like these projects.

There are, of course, other kickstarters I've liked a lot.  Someday when I'm really bored, I will have to go through the list again and figure out my report card.  Unfortunately, today, I am somewhat lamenting the fact that I am not Strange.  But who knows, maybe I can get Strange next time I'm at gencon.  By then, I might even be ready to play it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

GM Tip: Changing the Effective Font Size in Roll20

I've seen this complaint a few times in roll 20:  can't adjust the font in the chat window.  Unfortunately, they haven't added controls for this yet, at least not at the level of account I have.  For me the font is just too big, but I know for a lot of people it is too small.

I am using chrome to do this, but I am sure it will work in other browsers.

The method basically allows to increase/decrease the size of the font/controls by about a factor of 2 easily.

To increase the effective font size, zoom in with the browser (ctrl-plus), and reduce the zoom on the map, until it is back to the size you want.

To decrease the effective font size, zoom out with the browser (ctrl-minus), and increase the zoom on the map until its back to the size you want.

The main limit of this is the limited range of the map zoom, which really limited me to fonts doubling to halving in size.

Default size with chat font

Decrease browser zoom and increase map zoom to reduce font effective size

Increase browser zoom and decrease map zoom to increase font effective size.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Friday Night Pathfinder Horror on Roll20: Session 1

The first session for any campaign can be a bit daunting for any GM.  A new group of people, a new group of characters that no one knows, a new setting, maybe even some new rules and new tech -- it all adds up to a lot to learn, keep track of, and keep moving.  The first online Friday night Pathfinder horror game lived up to all of that.

In the first session of using a tool like Roll20, I knew our focus had to be about tech, first and foremost.  If the players can't talk, roll dice, interact with me and the other players in meaningful ways, the game is going to be a failure.  As expected from pre-session testing, the audio on Roll20 was flakey on a couple people's laptops -- namely in that they could only hear a few of the audio sources, not all.  Some players couldn't hear other players.  That is a non-starter.  Luckily in the background, I had already set up a teamspeak3 server.  I gave the IP, password, and download location and we were up and running with good audio inside of 10 minutes.

The first page in the adventure was in town.  This gave folks a chance to move their characters around, use emotes (/me), and talk in character over audio.  It was a nice time to get folks familiar with the new play style -- role-playing over audio chat.  The second page was a local parade that I admittedly railroaded the group into attending.  Earthquake and bam! -- they are in the Darklands.

Suddenly torches become an issue and some characters have them.  The players now get to play with dynamic lighting and exploring. Leave it to odd chance that the adventures pick the correct of 4 tunnel options right off the bat.

So we suddenly have our first battle.  One character is out front and there are goblin dogs -- 4 of them.  It is amazing in this horror setting how quickly the party is ready to sign up to running away and letting a PC die. Luckily, they didn't. The fight was tough because of the limited access through the narrow tunnel.  To complicate things there was a tentacled creature dropping from the ceiling onto PC's heads trying to grapple them.  It took a bit, but the PCs finished off the goblin dogs.

Boy, is the party obsessed with the ceiling now.

So the party found a secret tunnel to crawl through and decided (without investigating the rest of the area!) that they would crawl through it.  Two characters were less than happy to follow the party, but had no other option, since they had no torch and didn't want to be left in the dark.

Through to the next area the party had a brief encounter with a venomous snake, found yet another dead body, and ran into more goblin dogs.  This time there was a complication -- the sound of the PCs hollaring about goblin dogs drew the interest of ghouls -- lots of ghouls.

Unfortunately, at the end of the session, there was another quake, a large rock fell, and the party's cleric, Isaac, was crushed.  He managed to get off a healing surge before dying.

GM Observations

  • Having 8 characters is a bit much for such small map grids.
  • I can't keep track of all of the rolls happening in the chat window.  I need to figure out how to change the font or something.  I ended up have all the players call out their character's initiative rolls as I typed them into the turn tracker.
  • The turn tracker had to be reloaded on each page?  That doesn't seem right.  I must be missing something.
  • The auto-colors Roll20 uses are never optimal.  Can I reset those?  I need to check.
  • My encounters need toughened up to kill off PCs.
  • Need to have my sanity rules ready to go for next time.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Anticpating the Advanced Class Guide

So take a moment and read this overview of what we know so far about the Advanced Class Guide from Paizo.  It is interesting too, that I got an email that said that a beta version will be available for download and testing (Tuesday November 19th), and that it will immediately become legal for Pathfinder Society, even though the release isn't until next August.  They seem to be very serious about playtesting this new content before the release.  That is very good.

So let's take a look at where we're at and where we're going with this new content.  Core Pathfinder has 11 classes, Advanced Players Guide adds 6 more, Ultimate Magic adds Magus, and there are 3 more in Ultimate Combat.  That is 20 base classes folks.  Add archetypes, and you have plethora of base class options.

So Advanced Class Guide is going to increase this by 50%, including adding archetypes for these new base classes.  I have a hard enough time as a GM keeping track of all of the details of the existing base classes -- how am I going to fare learning another 10 base classes?

Another important point to be made is that third party products have already come out with base classes called swashbuckler and shaman.  Adding these then later to the core is confusing and unfair to the third party product folks.  I like the third party classes a lot, and I think Paizo is doing everyone a disservice by ignoring them with this book.  Perhaps it would be better to buy rights or make some sort of arrangement to include them in this book, rather than trying to overwrite them like they don't exist.  In the very least, change the names, Paizo.  I like the Shaman and the Spell-less Ranger, and I don't want to see the 900 pound gorilla ignoring those folks.

The final promise of the Advanced Class Guide is a look into building new classes.  I am worried with the statement that they mention -- that is more of an art than a science.  Though I love my Pathfinder roleplaying as if it were art, the mechanics in combat are king.  It is important that new classes be evaluated in terms of combat (and non-combat) abilities of existing classes -- nobody wants to play a nerfed class or archetype that was poorly designed.  I was hoping that they would spend some time going over the stats spread for existing classes and talk about how fitting new classes into that.  Their "more art than science" statement means that it probably isn't going to happen in this book.  That is a real shame, especially since some of the archetypes Paizo themselves have previously released have failed on this point, making them essentially useless.  (A good example is the Holy Gun archetype, that has fatal flaws described here. )

So the big questions, will I allow these new classes in my Pathfinder campaigns?  If I were playing a normal Pathfinder campaign right now, I probably would.  However, with the intricacies I have designed in to doing a horror campaign on Fridays and a custom modern extension to Pathfinder on Tuesdays, I think I will have to pass.  I'll give the playtesting some time to percolate and refine.  I'll also wait for a Herolab release to include the material.  It is a lot easier to get to know a new class, when you can practice by building a few at different levels.  We'll see how it goes, and I'll wait and see where this wagontrain heads over the next 10 months.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Setup for a Roll20-based Online Pathfinder Horror Campaign

So we've been getting things set up for the new campaign.  I helped set up character sheets in Roll20 for everyone.  We even did some testing tonight.  Audio was a bit iffy, so I decided to set up a teamspeak3 server as a backup, just in case.

Some observations:

  • Roll20 doesn't always give a good indication of what the players will see to the GM.  To get around this, I often end up running one pane as a user and one pane as the GM.
  • Managing a large number of pages in Roll20 seems painful.  I am always scrolling around.  It also seems like the page scroller should disappear automatically sometimes but doesn't.
  • It seems like I am setting page settings over and over again for things like distance in Pathfinder/3.5 units.
  • Modern maps seems ill-supported on Roll20.
  • Getting players to generate characters in advance is difficult.
  • PCGen is a resource hog.  I don't know how they can possibly keep moving it up in version without addressing the resource usage.  1 character sheet load took almost a half a gig of RAM.
  • Teamspeak3 server is easy to set up until you don't get a router port opened automatically.  I had a conflicting app rule in the port forwards that I had to delete and then replace. 
  • The android app for teamspeak3 worked great on my Galaxy S4.  That was a surprise after reading the reviews.
  • Roll20 needs a better way of holding GM notes.  I ended up sticking guidepost objects on my GM layer to hold them.  It wasn't really ideal.
  • The Darklands for Golarion seem a lot scarier that the underdark.  It works well for horror.  I highly recommend "Into the Darklands" as a resource.
  • Desperation seems to be a key aspect to entrench in the setting of a horror campaign.
  • Dynamic lighting is nice.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rise of the Runelords: Session 11

Ranier reports in:

We're searching the Misgivings, House of the Foxglove Family.  It isn't good.  Upstairs we found a room with a pictoral representation of powerful necromancy that seems to indicate that the progenitor of this family here in Sandpoint was trying to become immortal by becoming a lich and generating a phlactery.  It isn't a good thing.  I sat the rest of the group down to explain the danger we face.  They took it well, though Jericho still can't pronounce phlactery.  My magical background is known now.

The whole place is haunted by the things that have happened here.  We found paintings that seem to give us a view of the family and perhaps what their outcome was:

  • Tall middle age man in blue, Vorill
  • Burnette woman with graying hair in blue, Vorill's wife Cassandra
  • Trevor, who apparently got his throat cut
  • Serial, Trevor's wife, whose wife turned black, burned?
  • Sindelli and Ziva, their daughters, frosted
  • Aldern, turning undead, likely into the ghast we expect at this point
  • Iesha Foxglove
The whole place is haunted with echos of the horror that took place here.  In various rooms, the spirits have touched us.  It hasn't been easy or pleasant.  I am bit afraid, but try not to let on, since Alex and I have been diseased by these ghostly interactions.  Pustules cover our skin.  I have found and gathered a lot of pictoral images of the rituals for necromancy.  These are things I don't want or need to know, except to find the evil in this place and destroy it.  In the end, I will want to burn this cursed place to the ground and watch it fall into the ocean.

Iesha is strong in this place and she is still about.  I found a scarf I think was used to strangle her and she reacted to it.  We follow her lead in hopes of getting to the root.

This family came over from Geb, the Nation of Undead, I dare think.  Not good.

The cages for the rats that were experimented on were from Pug's Contraptions in Magnimar.  We will have to check out that connection at some point.  I hope that this family does not extend there.  Ghouls in Magnimar could lead the place to be a Nation of Undead.

The house is searched and we've made it into caves below the house.  We can across a scaveling.  These things are groomed, so someone had to be here taking care of it and feeding it human flesh and fungus.  We are getting close.  We ran into ghouls and some goblins turned into ghasts.  Goblins whereever we go.

The next room has a lege to a door to where?  We're only 50 feet above the seawater below.  I am readying my spells.

Friday Night Pathfiner Returns: Pathfinder Horror on Roll20

It has been a long time coming, but my Friday night Pathfinder game is restarting.  This time, because I know the move is coming up, I am starting a game online in Roll20.  I am running a Pathfinder horror game.

I was lucky to get a solid party of 4 with another joining in the next month or so.

I am trying out a lot of things at once on this game, so it is going to be a big learning experience.  Here are some of the new stuff in the mix:

  • is new, which I have used slightly before, but has gotten a lot better.  It has really been a breeze to use it to set things up so for.  I even got a subscription so I could get dynamic lighting and help support them.
  • DCC-style level "0" characters are a new concept for me.  In my case, I had everyone make two level 1 characters, but nerfed them just slightly by requiring a drawback for every trait and by requiring two skill points to be spent on a profession.  15 point build too, to keep things weak.  I have guaranteed my players that not more than one of the two will make it to second level.
  • Big negatives for dying -- if you lose your characters, you have to build a new one at 1 level lower than the party with 2 fewer points each time in the point build.  This should get people to avoid dying.
  • Sanity, which I will be tracking separately as a GM, is also new for me.  I am going to use all sorts of sanity-boggling things so that the description of what is going on to one character and to another character may not be the same.
  • "Connected" characters that have to have family, friends, and other people around they care about, as a basis for causing all sorts of horror.
  • Breaking out the mundane rules:  food, water, drowning, suffocating, torches.  There is nothing scarier wandering hopelessly in a place with too little food, water, and light, fighting the environment around you.  It will be like the first season of Stargate Universe.
  • This will be the first time I used the Golarion setting in a campaign.  Luckily I just received the "Into the Darklands" book today.
  • Horror is truly new to me, so I've been reading the 4th Edition GURPS book on Horror.  It has a very good outline of everything to consider in the horror domain.
It all gets started this coming Friday, so we'll see how it goes.

A Character with Some Courage in It

I am a big fan of Joss Whedon for a lot of reasons, with The Avengers only be a small recent reason.  This video delves into the question Joss gets asked over and over again:  So, Joss, why do you always write these strong women characters?  I can identify.

In gaming, playing a strong woman character, I've been asked the similar question:  why are you playing woman character?  Joss gives all the right answers in this video.

For me, the biggest woman character I play and explore in my fiction is Crayla.  Crayla is strong, slightly defiant, and has a complete psychological profile that I have worked on, pieced my way through, and tried to figure out.  In some ways, I never quite figure her out all the way, and that too, is part of the enjoyment.  There comes a unique perspective in playing a woman character that you just don't get with playing a male character, as either a man or a woman.  Joss explains that too.

It is cool too, since all the gaming systems have pretty much standardized on non-gender-biased worlds.  The world doesn't fight back so hard, though sometimes the GMs and other players don't get it, and they end up becoming the obstacle.  Bleed from the real world into the game world is always interesting.

At one point in playing Crayla, one of her companions was mauled by a bear after she had brushed him off (it turned out the other character was having some mental issues, which ultimately cause the character to get mauled by the bear).  In a heart-wrenching scene, she goes to see him in the temple where the priests are trying to reassemble him and heal him and they don't know if he is going to make it.  This happens just after she has started to make a connection with him, after perhaps 3 or 4 days of working with him.  For her, this connection is a big deal, and well, seeing him ripped apart after she blew him off, she actually stumbles a bit walking away from the scene.  (The GM did an excellent job describing how gruesome it was.)  The GM actually took issue with the fact that she would respond that way "after only a few days".

It was so odd that he would choose that behavior to consider "wrong" after all of the craziness that the players through into the other characters that simply made no sense.  It went beyond a character or player bias... in my mind it was clearly a character gender bias that made no sense to me at the time.  Since then, playing other characters, it has become clear to me that often we draw boxes around characters based on our own lives and we don't like when those boxes get broken.  I'll have to share more on that another day.

In the recent weeks I am watching Marvel's Agents of Shield, and I'm not sure quite where Joss is going with the characters yet.  I see a mix of characters in it... strong, weak, experiences, naive, still looking for a place.  It's a strange hodge-podge.  Still, I am looking forward to where they end up.  I can tell that the series will be another exploration as Joss always does, because all of the characters have enormous potential to grow.  With Joss, I know the journey will be true, perhaps tragic, frustrating, yelling at the screen "Damnit, Joss", as another character dies, but true.  And I don't need to ask why there are strong woman characters in the mix.

Bestiary 4

I received my copy of Bestiary 4, and it is a really good read, as are all of the Paizo bestiaries.  This one has a good collection of Lovecraftian horrors, including big, green and tentacley himself.  I would definitely recommend picking up a copy if you are a GM for Pathfinder and use that sort of thing.

Cthulu Comes Home

Just picked this up at my FLGS:

Armor History

Check out @critj_doc's Tweet:

Monday, October 28, 2013

13th Age comes of Age

The rule system for 13th Age, the Archmage Engine, has been released as an SRD under OGL.  This officially makes it a game that I have to GM, now that the rules are freely available for my players.

Archmage Engine SRD

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Q & A: RPG Profile

I'm currently running (at flgs):  Custom Pathfinder extension for modern on Tuesdays

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at flgs) include: Sunday Rise of Runelords

I'm currently running (online): Nothing yet

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include:  Shadowrun

I would especially like to play/run:  Numenera, 13th Age

...but would also try:  Call of Cthulu

I live in:  Indiana

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:  Ultimate Equipment (Paizo), everything Forgotten Realms (Ed Greenwood, et al), Numenera (Monte Cooke)

2 or 3 novels I like:  Neuromancer, Snowcrash, Giant Series (John P. Hogan)

2 or 3 movies I like:  Groundhog's Day, Gattaca, The Avengers

Best place to find me on-line:  Who knows?

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Well thought out, insightful, positive

I really do not want to hear about: Failed kickstarters (aka beating a dead horse)

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....)  a nice problem to serve up to a paladin.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gaming Tables

With a new gaming room coming into my life soon, I've been taking a look at options for gaming tables.  This is a quick overview of what I've found so far.

First up is a Kickstarter I helped fund by the newly created Mortise and Magic.  The kickstarter has a good overview of this add-on style gaming table.  By setting this on a good sized table, like a dining room table or a coffee table you can create a cool set of gaming nooks.  There is also a version that is stand-alone.  Some neat features include book slots on the corners and integrated lighting.  The kickstarted version will have additional features.  I like this table as an inspiration piece, though I'm not sure it is exactly what I'm looking for.  I look forward to getting a copy of the plans so I can potentially hack them in the direction I want.

The next table is the "Ultimate Gaming Table", aka "The Avenger", which has its own dedicated website with lots of pictures.  This one has lots of slide outs under the able, which I like a lot.  It is also a full size table, which gives the gamers a lot more room, and the GM even more room.  The top is plexiglass, and the pull-outs have plexiglass too for wet erase marker usage.  I am a big fan of using wet erase markers because they don't smudge, but I'm not a big fan of plexiglass.  It tends to scratch easily.

The "Green Monster" is my nickname for the gaming table at our local FLGS.  The green monster is a 4 x 8 green felt stool height gaming table build out of lumber.  When I am playing, I like the height.  It is harder to use for non-gaming stuff.  The felt turned out to be not nearly as flat and useful as I thought it would be.  We regularly get dice landing not quite flat on it.  Recently, they added plexiglass to the top to put maps under.  Again, I'm not a big fan of plexiglass because it scratches easily.

The Cadillac of gaming tables are made by Geek Chic and they have a whole website with gaming furniture.  You might recognize their tables in use by Acquisitions Incorporated or Tabletop.  Their top model is the Sultan, shown below.

So, looking at all of these tables, what table do I like the best?  It is a chimera of a lot of the tables.  I like the two level effect, so a center table that has a second level that can be raised or set on top would be nice.  I like the pull-out drawer features of the Avenger.  I also like the cover up gaming space under the top of one of GeekChic's tables, like the portal (shown below).

Ultimately that means, the first table I need to worry about is my saw table so I can build my own.  It will take some time and money and love, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.  I am also looking into integrated tablets, projection display, or touchscreen as an additional feature.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

At The Mountains of Madness: Online Movie Script and Related Artwork

Unfortunately, Guillermo de Toro's interpretation of Lovecraft's "At The Mountains of Madness" will not be produced.  However, the script and artwork is now available online for your GM inspirational pleasure.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday Shadowrun: Just to Make Things More Interesting

Vlad reports in...

When it rains, it pours, and time, it seems is slipping at its usual duty of keeping everything from happening at once.  You almost get the idea that there is someone, somewhere plotting and scheming all of this reality, trying to make it into some sort of story.

So I finally made it back to the bus without incident.  I have to admit it creeps me out a bit having it parked on the edge of the crater that we created on a previous mission.  It is the constant reminder of what happens when things get complicated.

So we split the cases we had gathered into two piles -- cold cases and warm cases.

Opening the cold cases we found a mismatch of about three people's worth (minus the torso and skulls, of course) of cyberware.  Some of it was old; some was normal stuff; some was foreign.

We opened one of the warm cases and saw a glowing head.   It was as creepy as one can imagine -- I think I saw the thing move. I'm thinking radioactive, so we aren't going to open anymore until we can get it somewhere that can keep us from glowing in the dark.  We close the lead case back up.

The case from Grundy's friend has a lifelike humanoid arm with a ring on it.  Saeder-Krupp logo on the ring lets us know it might be something high-end and corporate.  One has to be wary of any corp run by a dragon though.

So we decided to go visit Mr. Vic, a crazy gnome street doc about these limbs, and, besides, he probably has the proper protection for radioactive stuff.  Now the thing about Vic is that he isn't all there anymore.  He has dabbled in too many dangerous things with too many odd side effects.  When we arrive at his house, he is camped out in the bushes with his missile launcher that he lovingly refers to as a BB gun.  Scary gnomes (the garden variety) are keeping watch with him for squirrels.  What he really means is droids -- you learn to translate after a bit.  Inside he has droid heads mounted on the wall.

He takes down his front door, which just so happens to be a cart (*shakes head*) and we bring the cases inside, though a spiral staircase in the trunk of his car.  Cool entry -- he flips up the keypad that covers the old style keyhole for the lock on his door.  He digs in after we promise him a game of chess with the lizard man (Zero)?!?!  Inside we all just stair at the "junk land of mystery and wonder".  Outside there is a ruckus, so he gives me his BB gun with some cryptic directions to go kill the squirrels.  Sure enough outside there is a St. Bernard sized droid with odd features burrowing down headed for Vic's lab.  I aim the "BB gun" and push the red button.  Next thing I know, I am laying on the ground.  There is a crater where the droid was.  In the crater we find the original droid, and 3 smaller cloaked ones that luckily got taken out in the blast.  They aren't disintegrated, but seem shorted out.

Back inside Vic shows us what he has found... even a cyber heart.  It is all weird stuff.  Luckily he recognizes it, both from an auction house (Titanic Auctions run by a Mr. Smith -- the same banker that ended up dead) it all went through and from an estate sale coming somehow related.  It turns out he bought a lung from the collection and had it implanted.  He gives us a ticket to the estate sale, and mentions our old buddy Dredd stopped in with similar questions and headed to the same place.  Great.

There is a brief moment where Vic threatens zero with a dandelion, but I calmed him down.  We get our stuff.  I get to keep the BB gun.  We're back on our way again, after seeing a black van pull away.

GRRRR  Can I do nothing without being followed!  I need to get a scanner.  Or maybe a security drone?

Mr. Fixit calls -- we have to meet him in the mausoleum of an old cemetery at 6AM.  No sleeping in for the wicked.

We get back to the bus.  The crew turns to a conversation on the ring on the new hand marked Saeder-Krupp.  I find out there is another ring similar from Ares.  Oh, and they glow like the sun in astral space.  No wonder everyone had been tracking us.  Mages!  Grrrr

About this time a guy in a white suit, white hat, with red eyes and a demonhead cane strolls up from thin air.  I work the mouth magic and he spills the deal.  The rings we have are 2 of a ten ring set, of which he has 2.  If we can find and return our 2 plus the other 6 he''ll give us one wish (Really... genie dude?) or 25 million nuyen.  We can get a quarter of that if we just turn over the 2 rings.  This guy has an angle.  He leaves a cigar box with places for each ring.  I suggest we throw it away -- his magic contraption seems like a nice way for our rings to magically disappear.  I am worried we need someone powerful to balance out this guy's act.

So talking about these rings more, I find the guys ran into a dragon a while back who looks like an elf, hangs around with an elf woman, is a powerful person (duh), and likes to frequent newer drinking establishments.  They even know what he looks like.  We really need to talk more.

So we are figuring options:
  • Track down dragon
  • Sell 2 rings
  • Go to Sacramento and visit Auction House
  • Estate sale -- Noon tomorrow in Port Wayne
  • Sell augments
  • Meeting with Fixit at 6AM
  • Find rings by astral aura
  • Visit old lady in Port Wayne at antique shop for something to hide the rings' auras

Yeah, about this time we hear the news of Dunkelzahm's death. Man, what a day?

And, then, who shows up but our old buddy Dredd. I am ready to flee when he says he just wants to talk. He not only has one of the old vintage foreign cyberlimbs, but it turns out someone has filled him full of the same kind years ago. I scrape enough to know it was against his will and he is motivated to find these people that pushed him full of metal 30 years ago. Dredd looks a bit rough, like he's been in a losing fight lately. He agrees to assist when we need him. He also mentions the augments become no longer radioactive once their properly installed. Ok... explains why he doesn't glow in the dark.

Just when I think the day couldn't get any weirder, a guy falls off a building onto the bus behind us. 20 nuyen says it is a sniper who tripped -- it would be our luck.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lovecraft: Blasphemy, Abomination, and Insanity for Role-Playing

Deep in one of the many packed boxes, a mint condition book of Call of Cthulu D20 awaits for its next victim to find it.  Reading the blasphemous book will rend the mind with aeons-old pieces of the greater chaos that awaits, lurking, within the places that humans do not look, the place where false assumptions hide the real chaos.  Insanity could be the only outcome, if there weren't something far darker and deeper yet to be awakened.

Lovecraftian horror awaits you.  But what is it that defines Lovecraftian horror, over all the various subgenres of horror that evolved since?  Simply put, Lovecraftian horror is defined by the discovery of new knowledge that destroys the human assumptions of the world so profoundly, that it causes insanity.

I cannot emphasize enough how utterly brilliant the piece "Lovecraft's Concept of Blasphemy" by Robert M. Price is in describing the true nature of the dangers in Lovecraftian horror.  If you truly want to capture the dangers in your role-playing version of Lovecraft's world, you are going to need a truly dangerous and horrific form of insanity brought on by exposure's to blasphemous pieces left to be found in the world.  You also are going to have to always have the threat that something bigger, chaotic, beyond understanding is lurking, awaiting return, awaiting a call.

In all of our games, there are those monsters set aside for destroying the world -- the tarrasque, the leviathan, the elder evils.  They are reserved for times like these, when the actions or misactions of the party can trigger something so terrible, so much in utter defiance of the world as it is, that once unleashed, if even for a moment, that nothing will ever be the same again.  In these moments, the PCs have the chance to not only miss their own petty goals, but to unmake the world.  In this moment, the world can turn post-apocalyptic.  The laws and rules can be thrown to the wind.  The real emergence of danger can unwind everything.

And, yet, even before reaching this point, the characters will themselves, necessarily start to unwind, breaking piece by piece of the working model of the world that is their minds, until they no longer will be able to function, will no longer be able to determine the reality of shared humanity, the subset of the blasphemous world that lies just below.

As a GM, this is my greatest challenge -- to bring fear into a game with Cthuluian mythos.  I think the answer is simple... do not let them see it coming.  Let the threat appear from the corners and the edges until it is upon them, and then it is too late.  Their precious characters will be pulled in and the new knowledge will tug and pull at their minds.  And I, the GM, will track it all, and suddenly insanity (link to sanity rules for d20) will cloud them, their direction, their party.  And if they do not discover the outcomes, it will be too late, and the Lovecraftian horrors will decend upon them, and destroy them.  But if they do figure it out, victory, in some small petty way, might be theirs.  But I will not tell them what is possible or how it will work.  In this, they will find their fear.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rise of the Runelords Update

After a bit of a hiatus, our humble party got back underway on the Rise of the Runelords campaign.  Ranier was in good form this week.  We started this week having split all the loot and gold from the end of the first big adventure and wearing a shiney new level 4.  For Ranier, this meant now having the ability to use wands to perform melee attacks with his scimitar.  Here's his report:


It's been a quite couple of weeks in town.  The sheriff is still grumbling because we left town to deal with the goblins and others.  Oh well, we saved the town... again... from evil.  And the town guards does squat.

I've been copying scrolls into my spellbook and have quite a collection now.  It is unfortunate that some of them I have not truly figured out yet.  I have found a new trick -- being able to charge my scimitar attacks with spells from wands.  I suppose I'll have to share this one with the group, because certainly they will notice.

I've been working with Sol, and besides guarding, he can now also fetch and track by scent.  He's a good dog, and I'm sure his new skills will help the group a lot.  I just need to get some armor or something to protect him better.

Amico is still providing us with a place to stay, and we give her a shoulder to cry on after all that has happened.  The Red Dragon Inn has become a good enough home for now.

The sheriff showed up this morning at breakfast, skulking in to sweet talk us into another job.  It appears a gruesome murderer is loose, and we get to mop up the mess while keeping it all quiet.  Actually I shouldn't say much more -- the rest is meant to be kept close.  Just don't read ahead if you don't want to know (SPOILERS ALERT)

We got a couple of notes from the sheriff from "his lordship", the murderer.  It looks like Jericho is somehow connected -- this guys wants him in on something.

Today there were two victims at the sawmill.  Before there were 3 victims in the young widow's bard at Cougars Creek.  The scene at the sawmill was awful.  Katrina and Harker, her love interest, were both murdered.  She was cut in half by the saw.  He had his face craved off and had a 7 pointed star carved in his chest.  The place was covered in a terrible smell.  The footprints leading in and out of the window lead us to believe that a barefoot intruder did this, despite Jericho's discussion of a murder / suicide.

Tari and I check out the Lords' houses to make sure nothing strange is going on there.  Meanwhile Jericho and Alex interrogate the Katrina's father, Vin Vinder, and the finder of the bodies, Ibel Thorn.  They also check out the bodies -- all but Katrina with the star and the face removed.  Grim.

I question Amico more about the lord's houses -- Scarnetti, Valdemar, Devron, and Kajitsu.  Of course, Amico is the last lady of Kaijitsu with her father and brother and mother dead.  Devron, the mayor, lost a brother to chopper, an infamous serial murderer in the area in the past, and a father killed in a riding accident.  Scarnetti runs the lumber mill.  The widow's farm was handled by the Devron family.  Too many connections.  I guess that is the way it is in a small town.

We check out the barn of the widow where the murder occurred. From the widow we learned another person was taken in at the scene of the first murder.  Graste was found to be insane and was sent to the sanatorium.

At the sanatorium we got held up by the doctor, who took off after a loud noise from one of the patients.  We checked his files and found some inconsistencies in his story.  Further investigation found him under attack by Graste, who was changing into some strange monster.  We took him down quickly, but not before he gave a message to Jericho.  Jericho was desired as "part of the pack" before the killing would stop.  I used my "new trick" with the wand of shocking grasp channeled through my scimitar, and when it hit him (crit), it electrocuted him so quickly that I thought he would explode (33 damage -- woohoo!).

The doctor was experimenting and monitoring the changing patient.  A man in purple robes appeared from seemingly out of nowhere and offered to help for our silence. Its the same thing the sheriff directed us to do anyway, so I shook on.  I am convinced it is best that people don't know this truth.

The purple robed necromancer took us down under the sanatorium where he had been doing his own research.  He had several zombies nearby.  He indicated that the outlying farms had been hit by the group of ghouls.  It looks like the leader is a still-somewhat-human ghast.  They tried to lure Jericho into the west where they have been identified to be operating.

We are off to help the people of the outlying farms.  Hopefully some of them weren't change by the bite of the ghouls, or we'll be taking several days to kill all the ghouls running around.  I could get really dangerous in a hurry.

We covered so much ground this session that now were are leveling up to 5.  Wow.  Next level -- Shadowdancer!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Karma Economy: Increasing Skills

Playing Shadowrun (4th Ed) has gotten me thinking about the contrast between leveling up in traditional D&D and its derivatives (Pathfinder, 13th Age, etc), and completely different games (Numenera) in contrast with Shadowrun.  Shadowrun has a very unique economy with the gaining of karma points over time.

Numenera and Shadowrun both have a mechanic that allow a player to accumulate a few points each session and you can use these points to make you character better.  The D&D sphere and Numenera both also have significant level ups that occur after many sessions, unlocking all sorts of new things.  Where Shadowrun is substantially different, is that once you are really good at doing something, getting even a little bit better requires some significant hoarding of karma points over time.  It simply isn't easy.

So for example, I was a bit of a dunce and didn't put much into my perception at the beginning of Shadowrun.  To make up for this and other skills that I've got nil in, I can take a good session's worth of points (4 points) and bump those up a notch.  However, if I want to bump up something that is already a strong suit, it can easily cost 20 to 40 karma points.  Now I am saving up for a month of two (assuming a session a week).

This is an interesting economy of points.  Those impatient will slowly become moderately skilled in lots of different things except for what they specialized in during the upfront build.  Those with a personality for saving points, can become masters at what they are good at.  This, however, can cause some big problems.

As a GM, I know that deconflicting characters is an important part of keeping a game fun.  I want my character to be the absolute best at X, and if someone else comes in and is better than me at X, my character loses its appeal.  This is a major design consideration in parties, and why D&D has the typical fighter, cleric, rogue, wizard group engrained in everyone's brain.  By design, the party mix deconflicts the characters.

However, with Shadowrun, everyone starts out happy, but the impatient players keep getting broader and broader, and patient players keep getting more and more focused.  Now with Shadowrun in particular, the dice mechanic makes this a big problem.  Getting a rank in a skill in a d20 style game increases all your rolls by 1.  It is a definite increase. You are better.  In Shadowrun, getting a rank in a skill only increases the probability that your roll will increase on average by 1/3.  What this means in practice, is that a moderately skilled character with good rolls can easily beat a highly skilled character with bad rolls.  And so one can see how someone's character suddenly becomes a drag, because their thunder got taken away.  The impatient player can actually take away the gameplay from the patient player with a well planned out character.

Numenera, on the other hand, moves skills in chunks of 15% of probability, aka 3 numbers on a d20.  And, the most you can ever scale your rolls with skills is 30%.  What this means is that ultimately skills can only have a 30% influence on the outcome of a situation.  In d20 and Shadowrun, these influences are much larger,  having a 95% shift in d20, and per the rule of 20 in Shadowrun, a mean shift of nearly 7, which is pretty much the whole range (aka 100%).  Of course Numenera has other pieces that figure in:  do I have the right equipment, do I have help, do I put extra effort into doing this thing.  Edge in Shadowrun is sortof like effort, in that you can add it when you really need it.  The resulting alternation in probability is a bit more muddled though.

So which system is better?  Which system is right?  It is hard to argue with the hybrid, simplified approach that Numenera takes.  It balances between both approaches and yet simplifies the mechnic for easier, faster play.  D&D, being the old classic skill base (aka d20), is also elegantly simple and hard to say is wrong.  How can you beat a mechnic like 'you just add'.  Shadowrun, on the other hand, really seems like a much more complex formula that can ultimately cause character conflict problems.  It does, however, fit with the general feel of Shadowrun.  In Shadowrun, there really is no balance.  Every character is going to be different; everyone's goal is to stay alive and munchkin up as much as possible.  From this perspective, which really meshes well with the video gaming generation, Shadowrun has its place.  It just is a different place than a lot of other RPG systems.