Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Monday Night Pathfinder Pirates: Heading South

The Celestial Kyte and Zelbinion continued their journey southward to the Cimarine Isles.  First they encountered a galley out of Waterdeep.  They through up a Shadowdale flag, and were requested to parlay. Sandara, the Besmarian cleric and first mate, took the longboat out to meet the other ship's first mate.  After negotiation, she returned and then took a chest of gold back to the other ship to pay for passage.  A pidgeon arrived from the Zelbinion indicating it was time to change course to head around the Whalebones to avoid Waterdeep's ships and navy.  The Zelbinion avoided further entanglements enroute by turning invisible thanks to the mad wizard aboard.

Once underway, the Kyte encountered a Ruathym warship, warning the Kyte to turn back, via a magical booming voice across the water.  Captain Taerl tried to send out a message to the Zelbinion, but his poor pidgeon was blown away when the warship fired across their bow.  The Celestial Kyte headed back to the Zelbinion where they formulated a plan.

The goal was to take the two ships safely through the Whalebones, a great set of hundreds of islands, many not even named, most occupied by barbarians.  Luckily, Falcon's Hollow, a pirate sqib port, was nearby.  The crew took the Kyte to Falcon's Hollow to try to find a guide to get them through.

Sandara was busy trying to resurrect the Captain's pidgeon, so Sheena took the boarding party ashore from a couple of miles downshore.  There was a tavern / inn, a temple, a general store, and a squib building, in addition to a couple of houses.  Two ships sat in port.  There were numerous barbarian longboats about.

Sheena tried the two ships first for help.  The first ran them off.  The second had their guards go for their guns, though Kyte tried to stop them.  Neither inquiries were helpful.

While talking about the plan, Jericho, the human gunslinger, asked for his pay and Sheena gave him 5 gold pieces for the tavern.  Inside he went.

The tavern was rustic, more like a huge barbarian lodge, with logs on the floor to sit on in front of a great fire pit.  A man in the back corner sold some sort of libations.  Jericho, checking first with his companion Boo, the miniature giant space hamster (I have stats), went over to buy some.  They called in Whaler's Milk and it came in some sort of large clay long-necked genie bottle.  Inside was some sort of strong alcohol mixed with some sort of milky clay.

Jericho and Boo both took a nip as they sat next to the fire.  A barbarin patted Jericho on the back and took up conversation with him, egging him on to drink the milk.  In talking, Jericho mentioned that they were going to try to make it through the Whalebones.  The man offered advice to stay away from shore, as the barbarians were known to set sails on fire at night.  He drew out the way on a leather map, which he then gave to Jericho.

Jericho happily returned to the rest of the boarding party, bragging about he saved the day by getting the map.  The group returned to the ship, but the stories didn't stop from Jericho about how great his triumph was.  The Zelbinion and Kyte sailed through the Whalebones and out the other side.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pathfinder Steampunk

If you get a chance, mosey on over to DriveThru RPG and check out the open beta for Pure Steam, a steampunk ruleset for Pathfinder.

Miniatures In Progress

I've gotten quite a collection of unpainted miniatures over the last couple of months, so work is underway to get them paint.  As I've mentioned before, I use the dip method to paint.  So here's my cluttered little work table:

One of the miniature sources is the Tentacles and Eyeballs Kickstarter from Dark Platypus Studio which provided pieces to build these little guys:

I've also got some other miscellaneous miniatures (mostly reaper, I think) underway:

My painting style usually takes a couple of weeks per miniature, though I regularly have 6 to 12 miniatures underway at a time.  Each day I paintone or two colors per miniature.  Once I get the whole miniature the colors I want, I then go back and do touchups until I get them to the quality I am comfortable with.

I did have one major oversight on the Tentacle and Eyeball miniatures -- I primered the clear rods that many of the minis mount to.  Though this was something I overlooked, I am happy with the results.  I have had a tendency to break off the little mounts so I have had to go back and reinforce them with epoxy.  The results I think will look better once I have painted over the epoxy.

My photos are still a work in progress.  Though the new macro lens works wonders, I am still in need of setting up better lighting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pathfinder with the Lappity-Toppity Box

When I started with Pathfinder, it was me, my core rulebook, a bestiary, a notebook, and a set of dice.  Times have changed with 9 full hardback books released by paizo in addition to player's guides, modules, and those awesome 3rd party products (Tome of Horrors, Psionics Unleashed, etc).  Today I am using a laptop and a USB monitor and things aren't bad.

My first laptop GMing investment was Herolab.  As a player it gave me the option to quickly and easily build a character over multiple levels and explore the options.  As a GM, I can use it to quickly build NPCs, verify PC builds and calculate item costs.  It even does a reasonable job of letting me skip the character sheet for NPCs by acting as a during-game character sheet.  Unfortunately, for most people, the price tag for the core version is not cheap, and adding on all the additional books isn't cheap.  It also doesn't fulfill any role in checking rules during the game.  It also isn't very useful for large groups of characters.

With the additional of all of the books to the online PRD, however, one can get access to all the rules, all the bestiary monsters, and all of the prebuilt NPCs for free.  Having this open during the game is a must for me anymore -- not even my smart phone app works as well.

Displaying maps, especially non-battle maps, can be a big problem, especially during my pirate game where detailed maps are important for navigation.  I added ScreenMonkey and a USB monitor and now I can display not only maps, but also the second screen of my home-built java initiative tracker.

You can't hardly game anymore without running into PDFs.  I buy them at RPG DriveThru, I generate them as custom content use GoogleDocs, and I even scan them from character sheets.  Where to keep them?  Both GoogleDrive and DropBox are great for storing large volumes of PDFs for quick access.  I keep a portable wand scanner with me just so I can scan character sheets.

GoogleDocs is good for other things.  I need to be able to quickly build encounters.  NPCs I can grab from the NPC Codex online, but ship stats with weapons are another story.  I made a ship stat spreadsheet with all the standard ships on one page and the siege weapon stats on another.  Now I can build a ship in a few seconds, add a couple of NPC Codexers as officers, add a CoreRulebook NPC as my exemplar sailor aboard and off we go .

I can't imagine gaming in Pathfinder without a laptop anymore.  My digital content is so deep anymore that I even require my players to have email so I cen send them stuff.  If you GM, I would strongly encourage you for flexibility's sake, as well as for sanity's sake with all the Pathfinder rules, to get a laptop and use it at your gaming table.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday Night Pathfinder: The Temple of Lathander

And so the party gathered together to venture into the temple.  The cavalier was leading the way with the rogue close behind, casters near the back, and Kiva riding Chum in the last position.  The white temple stones gleemed in the sunlight as they climbed the long stairs to the top of the temple platform.  Melee guards clad in shining armor with the symbol of the Morninglord stared unyieldingly forward as the party passed.  3 platforms adorned the top of the pyrimidal temple, one with the entrance surrounded with archers, and two off to the side with battle priests ready to defend.

The party was surprised to find the temple in working order with gnomes and priests about.  The first level below was a speaking room, enchanced with magic to allow the large hall to be split into 4 podium areas with benches without having voices carry too far between the various areas.  AA search of the area turned up confessional rooms.  Don tried to entered but was shocked.  Apparently the follower of Chtulu will find no peace under the watchful eye of the Morninglord.

There were quarters about for the various deacons.  3 labs dotted the South wall -- one for making incense for the temple, one for scrivener duties of copying scrolls, and one for storing scrolls.  Various other storage areas were around to hold various items.  Eventually the party found the exit, but their way was blocked by battle priests which demanded a writ from the deacon.  After speaking briefly to the deacon, they got their pass, but with clear disdain.  The deacon refused even to speak to Don, and he had a silence spell cast upon him.

On the next level below, the party ran immediately into a guard room filled with experience fighters.  They continued exploring and searching finding many quarters, a kitchen, laundry, and various storage areas.  In a couple of areas they found scroll storage with various rare and common scrolls.  The whole area was a living quarters for various priests, staff, and servants of the temple.

Eventually the group found their way beyond the used portion of the level into an untouched hidden section.  A crazed man met them, ranting with extreme paranoia.  He has various collections of scrolls, scripts, and mining tools scattered about his decaying, cluttered, chaotic room.   The party moved on, finding a temple room.  Inside they found the Oathbow of Fire, a special magical bow that Corrail quickly grabbed up.

The found some hidden dining areas that appeared to be in use and connected to the rest of the complex.  They found an exit room with blocked stairs and hidden stash of wands.  Two wands were of particular interest:

  • The Wand of Horrible Deaths, as described here
  • The Wand of Skittles (which can shoot large numbers of skittles out of it per charge (enough to fill a room))
In another room the party found a pair of gynosphinxes.  Not surprisingly, they had a riddle for the party.  Behind them were three tiles.  Inserting one tile into the exit stairs would allow them to continue safely.  Inserting another tile will activate the stairs and cause them to annihilate anyone that follows them.  Another tile will randomly teleport the person from the stairs to wherever   The party was allowed to ask the sphines any yes or no question.  One would always lie; one would always tell the truth.  The party asked many questions until finally the bard asked the two sphinxes the same question:  are you both liars?  The left sphinx said no but the one on the right said yes.  Thus they questioned the one on the left to determine the symbol to use.

Continued search of this level uncovered a room of staues inscribed with ruins.  The summoner and ranger entered the room and quickly found out that the statues shot lightning bolts between them for non-good aligned characters dealing 4d6 damage.  Continual search of the level uncovered an entrance back into the priests living space.  No other significant finds were made.

The party activated the stairs and found that they lead to a slide.  There was much hemming and hawing before Kiva and Chum slid down to the next (3rd level) of the temple.  Below they found a tomb and the rest of the party joined them.  Entering a large room of alcoves presumable holding dead bodies, two iron statues came to life, looking to be some sort of construct that held an undead body inside.  The Sepuchral Guardians attacked the group.  Sandra summoned a greater fire elemental that attacked on of them.  Felix and Corrail attacked with bows.  The monk ran up to one and pounded on it.  Don played a fiery song to inspire the group (to a +4 attack, dmg, and saves).  Elliot, the elemental, and Miroku attacked with limited effect.  These guardians were obviously tough.  The party cleared the way while continuing to attack, making slow progress against the guardians.  Kiva flew out into the room and blasted one with lightning.  Chum pounded on the other.  With help from the entire party, the creatures were slain.  The rogue took a quick survey and search of the room and found a mere 65 gp.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pathfinder without Armor Check Penalty: Avoiding Nude PCs

I like Pathfinder without Armor Check Penalty and here's why.

 From the PRD:

Armor Check Penalty: Any armor heavier than leather, as well as any shield, applies an armor check penalty to all Dexterity- and Strength-based skill checks. A character's encumbrance may also incur an armor check penalty.

Armor check penalty is a big problem in Pathfinder.  It affects a number of critical skills:

  • Acrobatics
  • Climb
  • Disable Device
  • Escape Artist
  • Fly
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Stealth
  • Swim
Clearly some of these seem relevantly affected, but what about disable device?  I can't move lockpicks because I am wearing armor?  That seems odd.  If I were to include ACP, which I currently don't foresee, I think I would limit it to affecting only Acrobatics, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand, and Swim.  These seem reasonable... more reasonable than the full list.  Unfortunately, my experience with ACP is that is leads to unnecessarily ridiculous scenarios:

Hmmm... I need to climb this wall.  Let me take off my armor, climb to the top and then put it back on.  Oh, wait.  I need to pick this lock -- let me take off my armor?

I do understand the intent.  It must be harder to move in armor.  Unfortunately for most class this represents a second penalty accomplishing the same general thing.  Rogues are only proficient with light armor.  The intent of this is to prevent rogues (and similar classes) from trying to sneak around in chainmail or full plate.  Unfortunately, the rogue has the option of taking medium and then heavy armor proficiency (or getting it through multi-classing) and then still trying to use their buffed up stealth skill in chainmail.  Yes, technically this can happen per the rules in my game, but to date, it just hasn't happened in my games.  And so what if it does?  One can't pad their chainmail with cloth so it doesn't jingle?  One can't adjust their armor so they can climb and move efficiently?  With all of the new types of armor in the PRD, assuming that armor can be lighter and easier to move in seems reasonable, and, more importantly, FUN.

One of the balance issues that comes out of ignoring ACP is that the fighter class is a bit nerfed.  Fighters get armor training that allows them to avoid ACP.  This is a problem, but is easily solved with archetypes, which allow the fighter's armor training to be replaced with other more useful abilities.

Above all, ignoring armor check penalty makes the game more fun for the players.  Recently one of my players and I were in a Pathfinder game together where the GM enforced ACP.  I played a ranger that was filling in as the groups rogue, since we only had 3 players.  I felt really trapped at the lower levels.  The GM was throwing encounters sized for a full party of 4 (one of which should be a healer which we didn't have) and I wore a breastplate to keep my AC at a non-dying level.  However, anytime I wanted to start sneaking around, I had to drop my armor and take the chance of getting pounded.  Having my armor wouldn't disrupt the game anymore than some of the items or min-maxing that other players were doing (keen katana -- ouch!).  It would have, however, avoided the ridiculousness of me running around without armor.  And, trust me, nobody wants half naked PCs wandering around no matter how stealthy they are.

On Being a Good Pirate

I am inspired by reading this discussion on one of the most beloved science fiction pirates of recent times:  Malcolm Reynolds, captain of the Firefly-class ship Serenity. That first paragraph sums it up:  Loyalty, honor, and morality are luxuries to a pirate, luxuries that ultimately cost a lot.  As a GM running a pirate game on my Monday nights, this is an interesting challenge.  How do I capture these aspects in my game, since these kind of moments are where the crew and captain will be tested?

Firefly captures one of these moments perfectly, as mentioned in the referenced paper.  Mal steals medicine for a vicious, evil man, finds that it is being taken away from sick woman and children, returns the medicine and money for the job, and ultimately gets hunted down and punished by the buyer.  This sort of scenario definitely works for a bunch of pirates.

Another scenario I am fond of using is taking a situation when one of the PCs is acting ruthlessly and I add a female to the mix.  For example, on Friday nights, Don the magnificent was questioning a prisoner and becoming pretty vicious with it.  The first bandit prisoner was a man, but when he went on to the second, she was a woman.  As talked about in Emergent Play, this scenario generates some potential bleed.  Sure, Don the Magnificent with his neutral alignment in a world where generally gender bias is extremely limited maybe shouldn't really care about the gender of his adversary, but his player does and it bleeds into his character, either by accident or by choice.  In this situation, the woman also noted the markings on the cavalier's uniform and stated that she knew he would not allow her to be hurt.  This combined with the gender-based bleed allowed the NPCs to be released unharmed.  Did this cost the party anything?  In reality, no.  They had already gotten all the information out of the two prisoners that I had intended.  The challenge for me next time is to make these  types of scenarios have a greater cost.

One situation that has been brewing for months now in rumors in my pirate game is a potential adversary named Caliana of the Waves.  Caliana is a paladin of Umberlee, the Bitch Queen, a chaotic deity of the oceans.  Caliana has taken Umberlee's mastery of the oceans as her code.  She is out to make sure that any who attempt to take power on the seas (implied as being power taken from Umberlee) are punished for their arrogance.  Caliana, a woman, travels aboard a warship with female clerics and a male first mate psionicist.  The attacks have already been described to the group.  When she attacks, her first mate jumps psionically to the ship, lets loose a psionic burst that incapacitates the crew within a radius of him, and then he jumps back.  Caliana's vessel attacks the now partially disabled victim ship and boards it.  The oncoming slaught of clerics not only fight well but can heal each other at will.  For the PCs, there is little that can be done to fight it.  Caliana is borderline mad and cannot be reasoned with.  Her ship is faster and outguns most ships.  Her army is absolute.  The battle is much like the oncoming army in Serenity Valley.  When push comes to shove, will the flagship Zelbinion come to aid the Celestial Kyte that holds the PCs, or will it too cut losses like the Browncoats backing up Mal?

The other two powers on the edge of the pirates scenario are the slavers and the powder runners.  The slavers take people and imprison them on their ship, either as rowers or crew, or as merchandise to be sold. With the PC crew made up of several former 'slaves', either of the "bought and sold" variety or of the "shanghai'd crew" variety, running across their first slave ship is going to be an experience.  What makes it more interesting is that the captain of the Celestial Kyte is new to them, and they don't know what to expect him to do.  Similarly there are the powder runners who have a stranglehold on the trade of black gunpowder throughout Western Faerun.  Take one of their ships, which won't be easy, and you get a literal boatload of black powder fortune, but you run the risk of being hunted down or banned from black powder.  Taking such a ship with its defenses and nearby escorts will not be without cost either.

The ongoing story of Captain Jacen is also another scenario to test the PCs.  He wasn't lost, as thought, to the blast and the sea.  Rather him and Owlbear were taken by water-dwelling creatures through a portal into who knows what.  Someday word might reach the Kyte that he is alive.  Will they risk ship and life for loyalty to recover him?  It reminds me of a Malcolm Reynolds quote:

Mal:  "I'll take the shuttle in closer. Zoey, ship is yours. Remember, if anything happens to me, or you don't hear from me within the hour... you take this ship and you come and you rescue me."

Zoey:  "What? And risk my ship?" 

Mal:  "I mean it. It's cold out there. I don't wanna get left."

The dilemmas are simple in nature:  how much of the luxuries of honor, loyalty, and morality are you willing to give up for gold and reputation?  I will highlight some of these struggles in the coming sessions of my pirate game.  As always, I am sure I will be amazed by my players and their PCs.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Friday Night Pathfinder: The Hidden City of Gnomes

Tonight Don the Magnificent's player was out sick, so I took him on as a NPC in cases where the group needed his help.  Because he is the only good knowledge character in the group, his help is sometimes pretty critical.
The players also got started on a new background / contacts system that I have been working on.  It provides lifepaths to replace the existing trait system, and then provides a structure for getting and tracking goals, affiliate groups, contacts, and relationships.
The last two weeks of game time has been spent repairing and augmenting the Thornhold's defenses so the party could move on to other things.  Felix has taken over tactical planning for the keep and added a moat complete with spikes and oil barrels that can be dumped into it and set fire.  6 ballistas were added to the keep (in addition to the cannon, 2 springals, and firewyrm).  A secondary gate was added to the main entrance so invaders will be trapped in the tower if they break through the main gate.  An iron drawbridge has also been added to provide a way over the moat.

After doing some searching of the surrounding areas, the party decided to get a wizard from Waterdeep to teleport them into Mirabar to try to sell the domesticated landshark (bullette) they obtained.  However, with Don's player out, we decided to skip that until he is available.

The party then had Don lead them deeper into the Sword Mountains in search of the hidden gnomish town of Ieirithymbul.  After about a day and a half of travel through rough country (too rough for the horse or for Don, who had to be put on a broomstick of flying) they came across what appeared to be a young girl, sitting on the mountainside.

Felix approached the beautiful, beautiful girl (CHA = 26), exchanging greetings and noticing an 8 foot tall golem with an adamantine battleaxe sitting next to the girl.  The girl introduced her friend as Chum.  Felix explained how they were searching for Elminster.  Neva, the small red-headed gnomish girl, lit the rest of the party up with faerie fire to let Felix know she could see them.  She then asked for who was traveling with Elminster.  Felix consulted the group and only Don could remember that it was Marta, Ally's gnome friend  that Elminster had with him.  After giving her the name, she teleported the group impressively quickly to her location.

After further introductions, a gargantuan gold dragon appeared speckled in bright glowing light.  He was old -- older than any dragon the party had ever seen, perhaps one of the oldest dragons in all of Faerun.  He introduced himself as Palarandusk and appreciated the complement of beauty that Sandra gave him.  From the beginning he gave the party the sense that they had a mission to accomplish as part of a bigger plan.  They were going to retrieve a magical mace from a temple -- the Mace of the Sun.

The dragon took flight, a magical aura about him scooping up the party and Neva (who road on Chum's shoulder).  They descended after a while into a valley bordered by a perfect circle of mountains.  Felix noticed a large cave up on one side which he presumed was Palarandusk's lair.  The party saw a small gnomish city with typical round stone houses thatched and at the center, built of white rock, a temple jutting out of the ground.

They landed and Elminster and Marta came out of the temple to greet them.  Marta asked if Ally was really gone.  The group affirmed and Palarausk said that Ally was where she needed to be and was doing well.  Don was further awed by this knowledge that Palarandusk was a plane-jumper and kept his distance.

Elminster explained that the party was going into the dungeons below the temple to retrieve the artifact and that each member could ask one question to assist them.

Don asked how big this dungeon was under the temple:  It is 10 levels but we do not know which level the artifact is on.

Felix asked if there would be gold and riches:  Yes, but they will be useless if you do not retrieve the artifact.

Sandra asked what all will we encounter:  Good and bad, all sorts of things beyond your knowledge and dreams (and beholders).

Elliot asked what his necklace was:  He was told that the answers he sought would come to him at the right time and that he would have his answer before he returned above ground from the mission.

Corrail asked what would be the best question to ask:  He was told that for him, a different question would have been better.

Miroku asked what the best equipment would be to take with them.  Palarandusk pondered it for a moment and replied, 'A torch, because its dark down there, and you can't do much if you can't see."  Miroku was distraught by this answer.

Palarandusk leaped  into the air and into invisibility and left them.  Elminster returned to the temple with Marta.  Neva lead the group to the local tavern.

The party was greeted by cheers of gnomes.  Drinks were on the house.  The barkeep pointed to an old painting, cracked with hundreds of years of age, and said, 'We've been expecting you for a very long time."  The painting was a perfect painting of the party and Neva and Chum.

The drinking began.  Elliot, Miroku, and Don all passed out.  Felix drank until he nearly passed out, but instead retired to the inn next door with two gnomish ladies.  Neva drank and chatted with the remaining party members, letting on that she was both a sorceress and a psionisist.

Several well tanned (almost orange) gnomes appeared and grabbed the drunken party members up and toted them back to the inn. Sandra screamed out about Oompa-loompas, but no one knew what she was talking about.

Chum drank a bit, and then would burp, shooting flames out of his mouth.

The party retired for the night eventually, and met at the entrance of the tavern as ordered.  There were no hangovers, and Don surmised that this was something that they added to the drinks the night before.

Neva explained that it was time to gear up and head down.
Players were given the opportunity to propose 4 items to get in the store, realizing that the gnomeish city is small and isolated and will have limited items.  I set the rough limit at +4 items.  Players will send this out via email to get answers before the next session.  Especially nice is the fact that the Paizo PRD online know includes Ultimate Equipment.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Monday Night Pathfinder Pirates: Getting Underway

Monday night brought the players back together for the first time in a long time.  With two players missing, the action was a bit light.  The Celestial Kyte sailed back to the Zelbinion without incident and the Zelbinion was unscathed, despite being in hostile waters.  The new gunslinger Jericho spent most of his time keeping watch from the tree / crow's nest with the Druid.

Kroop spent some time with the new crazy wizard and then called a meeting of both crews.  The crazy wizard was acting as mage on the Zelbinion.  Kyte was going to be taking the Celestial Kyte's caster position.  A new captain was taking over the Kyte, as well.

In a separate meeting of the officers and chiefs, Kroop explained the plan.  The Kyte was going to sail 4 hours ahead of the Zelbinion for the Cimarine Isles.  They were heading for Tortuga, but planned to pick up some plunder along the way.  The Kyte would chase them down, and if she got in trouble, she'd hightail it for the Zelbinion.  Tortuga held the secret to some reagents the old wizard needed to get the Zelbinion's magical defenses repaired, so getting there remained the priority.

The new crew aboard the Kyte included all of the PCs, made up of officers and a boarding party of 12.

Celestial Kyte Crew (PCs in bold)
  • Captain James Taerl  (Son of a Luskan High Captain)
  • Sandara First Mate and Healer
  • Govan Wavebobbler Second Mate and Gunnery Captain
  • Gunnery Crew
  • "Tom Tom" Illtree (Elf) Navigator / Helmsman
  • Shipboard Caster Kyte
  • Cook Sheena
  • Crow's Nest Druid
  • Ratcatcher Ratline Rattsberger 
Boarding Party (12)
  • Victaerus Shieldheart
  • Jericho Stonefellow
  • Blackguard (Antipaladin)
  • Cleric
  • 3 Gunslingers
  • 2 Fighter
  • Monk (Martial Artist)
  • Oracle
  • Alchemist
Players divided up the boarding party NPCs to build (level 5) and control.
The Kyte took off and found a victim:  the Devil's Pallor Captained by an old Hobgoblin and a crew of goblins.  It wasn't much of a chase, though boarding nearly became a ramming for a moment.  The captain of the Pallor gave up and let the Kyte take his plunder (fruit and wool, 2 points of plunder) without the need for cannons or boarding violence.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thornhold Defenses

The Friday night Pathfinder group is working on further upgrades to the Thornhold, so I made the following map for reference that includes the current Firewurm.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday Night Pathfinder: The Dwarven Onslaught

Tonight we continued the battle from last session.  Arrows flew, dragons pounced.  The cavalier charged through the rush of Dwarves trying to get in the keep.  Yuri went down (but not dead).  The bard jumped off the keep with feather fall and had the monk pick him up and carry him piggy-back style out within range of the Dwarven General for a blast of Dominate Person.  Siege weapons were reloaded.  The crowd anxiously awaited the result.

"Fall back.  They are too much for us," said the General.

The dominate person spell worked, and despite the successes that the group was having against the Dwarves, they didn't have to fight to the last man.

They got some equipment from the battlefield and a domesticated Bullette worth 500 kgp in Mirabar.  Unfortunately Mirabar is 18 days travel there and back and requires one to go through Luskan.

A messenger wandered by and took up lodging with them in the keep.  The word was not good -- Waterdeep had blamed Luskan for the necromancer's attack on Waterdeep and war was inevitable.  Navies were sailing and armies were sure to follow.

So the party (not the players) are taking a couple weeks (game time) to make modifications to the keep, sell off goods, and get things figured out, before the next leg of their adventure.

And the messenger left with a few simple words... "Watch out for Palarandusk."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Contracts of Gaming

Every game table is different, but every game table has sets of rules, written and unwritten, which keep things together.  There are rules of the game and rules of the group and without both of these, things fall into chaos. Somewhere in the middle, the GM and hosts reside to help guide the group to closure on how to deal with these things.  These contracts of gaming have been a topic as of late over at GnomeStew and on RolePlayDNA.

In the two gaming groups I GM for -- my gaming groups, as I think of them -- gaming takes place at a public open space in a game store.  In this setting, as GM, I feel as if it is up to me to fulfill both the roles of host and GM.  As a host, I need to keep the environment suitable for the audience of a game store.  As a GM that allows gamers of all ages, I feel a similar need to keep things appropriate   Somewhere in there too, there is a little bit of Dad I let show that drives me to keep things appropriate for my daughters who play too.

Gaming rules fall under several categories:  rules as written, rules as interpreted (for example, rules clarified in forums by official game writer folks), third party rules, house rules, and GM rulings.  The rules are the rules, and should be chosen so that the group has convenient access to them.  They form a contract between the players and the GM of how game play will occur.  For a player, this means, if I do A, I can expect B, which is the basis of playing a game.  GM rulings are the outlier where the GM steps in to either make a call on an undefined situation or steps in to change something to keep the game "fun".  These, really, should be the only two situations where the GM steps outside of the game rules contract.  I believe in a strong rules contract.

The social contract is the written or unwritten rules at the game table that govern the interactions outside of the game rules.  Needless to say, these rules span a great deal of what really happens.  This covers everything from near game stuff like rolling dice and gaming etiquette to nongame stuff like attendance, bringing snacks, and topics of conversation.

So how do I handle these in my games?  It's different than most groups.  In the group, I am the only GM.  Also, in the group, most (but not all) of the players are teenagers a couple of decades younger than me.  Given that, let me share...

For most gaming tables, rule 0 is "The GM is always right.  When the GM is not right, refer to rule 0."  For me, this kind of tyrannical rule misses the real first rule of gaming.  For me, rule 0 is this: "Everyone should try to have fun and make sure that everyone else is having fun."  After all, no fun = no game in my book.  I throw out a packets at the beginning of a new game and to all new players that join.  Here are some of the non-game rules I include:
  • Please be prepared.
  • Please pay attention.
  • Don't cheat.
  • The reality clause which states "What you say is what you do."
  • Item of speaking which limits talking to the GM and the holder of the item.
  • Be honest about your commitment and let the GM know if you can't attend.
  • Keep conversations age appropriate and polite.
  • GM is the final word, which doesn't make him all knowing.  Know and help enforce the rules.  Some rules may be tabled to be looked at after the game.
  • Dice rolls that land flat on the table count.  Off the table and not flat are rerolled.
  • Do not roll until everyone knows what you are rolling and why.
  • No phones, laptops, music players at the table except to access game material.
  • No page flipping at the table.
  • No pizza boxes on the table.
  • Karma points -- a mechanic that allows players to do things 'pushing or outside' the game rules as a reward for good roleplaying, bringing snacks, being prepared, and generally being a good gaming group member.
Where possible, when I give a rule, I give the consequences for breaking the rule.  I probably need to do a better job of adding some of the evolved consequences to my starter packets.  Here are some examples:
  • The penalty for deliberate cheating is permanent expulsion of the player from all my gaming groups.
  • The penalty for not paying attention is that you may get skipped.
  • The penalty for not having your character sheet up to date is having to play only what is on your character sheet.
Some rules have evolved out of distractions.  There are points in the game where I have put a ban on talking about character creation during gameplay because it is such a terrible distraction.  Really that is just a specific example of the "be prepared" and "pay attention" rules.

Policing of rules sometimes has to be done by me, but very often is done by the group.  Metagaming is usually quickly called out when it pops up.  Other players usually tell the new guy when to put his video game away.  No one even has to mention when to reroll.

My starter packets also give some general stuff, like what to bring, what to expect.

What is obviously missing from my packet is the explanation of details of the social contract.  For example, the conversation is supposed to be kept polite and age appropriate.  What does that mean?  How does that effect the protrayal of sex, slavery, violence, torture inside the game?  How does that effect the joking and topics at the table, like race, religion, politics?

One rule I have made that I never wrote down, but that I have referred to before in situations:
  • Keep your drama away from my gaming table.  (There is that word 'my' again.  I guess I take ownership.)

The real test of rules is whether or not they work.  I have two gaming groups that have been going for about a year and about 6 months, respectively.  There have been problems.
  • One player clashed with the group and agreed to leave.  I think this was more a personality clash than anything to do with rules.
  • One episode where gaming etiquette was broken by one player trying to controller other people's characters.
  • A few players that have left, though most of these seem to have been for external reasons (room noise during Friday Night Magic, work schedules, etc)
  • One player that left for reasons unexplained until after he left.
  • A few warnings on breaking the gaming and social contracts.
In conclusion, rules are those things that you are always working on, both within a group and as a GM.  Every group is different.  So long as you are having fun, its all good enough.

D&D / RPG / Pathfinder Map Storage

I am collecting a large number of maps, both preprinted and hand-drawn on gaming paper.  Unfortunately, storing all of these maps can be a real pain, especially the paper ones that have a tendency to wrinkle and fold.  I looked at buying a wrapping paper contain over the Christmas season but never found one I liked, and quite frankly I'm not sure I ever will.  Sticking rolls in a large open plastic container isn't going to protect them.  Then I came across this solution:

This box is a rolled file box like that used by architects to hold rolled drawings.  I received mine last night from Amazon, though it is available from other suppliers too.  I have noticed that the prices have gone up on Amazon even since I ordered, so definitely shop around for the best price.

The box is tall enough to hold large maps.  The box is sturdy, even better built than the standard cardboard file boxes.  Both the lid and sides have a place to label what map is in what spot.  I think it is going to an awesome way to protect and store maps.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Comments Update

Comments can no longer by anonymous.  I've had some weird spam pop up and I just don't want to have to sift through it.


Friday Night Pathfinder: Forgebar Dwarves assault the Thornhold

 Sandra and Don the Magnificent returned from Waterdeep with an army of defenders and many construction workers.  Construction was quickly underway to install the new gate and the firewurm.  Crews also assembled and placed the two new springals and the new cannon.  Felix scouted the region from the air.  Corrail scouted the region as well during hunting.

A small caravan wagon train passed through on the road heading from Waterdeep to Luskan.  Don and Felix went out to try to negotiate trade with the familiar driver named Greenback.  Greenback seemed annoyed and nervous and insisted on moving on, promising to stop back if they weren't all killed by the time of his return trip.

At dawn, assault on the Thornhold began with the blow of a Dwarven horn.  35 Dwarves appeared at the edge of the forest.  A group of 20 foot solders and their 4 commanders charged the hold directly with two gargantuan ladders and a gallery ram.  Several rangers fired off smoke arrows on the battlefield.  Two riders appeared on top of bullettes    Don heard the calls of this and had a stroke of insight that these must be domesticated bullettes from a mithral hauler.  Had the Dwarves captured a mithral hauler?

 On the castle, Felix and Corrail kept bows going against the enemies.  The wage mage of questionable gender that had been hired in Waterdeep flung spells down at the invaders.  Sandra and her eidolon dragon started an air assault.  The first round Springal fire took out one of the bullettes before Don could warn not to harm them.

Inside the castle, Don and the Monk waited.  The cavalier, Yuri, and the Tiger has taken up position in the room directly behind the front gate.  Should they break through, they would be ready.

The advancing army moved slowly with the siege weapons.  Corrail slowed them further with a well-placed entangle spell.  The 3 Dwarven priests turned out to be the bane of the Thornholders.  Sandra was hurt badly with spell blasts from them.  They also supplied a well-timed dispel magic to eliminate the entanglement.  The firewurm took an epic shot at the gallery ram, turning it black and setting it on fire.  Still it advanced.

The monk advanced over the wall to engage the captains at the front gate, but nearly got himself killed.  Arrows and cannon fire rained down on the gallery.  Sandra got dropped off on the hold while her eidolon continued attacking, sending a fly-bly breath weapon into the heart of a group of 6 rangers who were attacking him with arrows.  2 of the Dwarves went down.  The bullette went underground, leaving their riders to attack with ranged weapons.  The Dwarven general, clad in a red cloak, pulled out his longbow and killed the wage mage in a single barrage of shots.

A Fiery Titan appeared over the battlefield, seeming to erupt from the ground inside the keep, a massive fiery statue with roaring voice.  One of the Dwarven clerics, skeptical with their knowledge of the Hold, saw through the illusion and shouted his knowledge to the rest of the army.  The Cavalier and Don, now on the tower above the gate traded the necklace of fireballs to the cavalier who tossed one at the gallery, hitting it with more flames.

Then the captains with their huge halberd broke through the main gate.  The 20 men manning the gallery and gargantuan ladders dropped their siege items and ran for the gate.  28 Dwarves were ready to pour through the gate.

The session stopped as Corrail and Yuri took their first actions against the incoming horde.  Yuri used his breath weapon to take a couple of them out.

To Be Continued...