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:

  • Roll20.net 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: