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The Forgotten Land beyond the Iron Mountains

So far as I can tell, I am the first person to hike over the iron mountains since the event that created them some 800 years ago.  The whole region is considered cursed by every civilization I have found bordering it, so much so that they will not even drink water that flows from within.  Still, my curious nature, empty pockets, and stalking debtors drove me to make the journey with my 3 companions.

The region is essentially one mountain, towering over valleys sharply cut off by the recent appearance of the iron mountains.  Elves from the nearest village old enough to remember claim the iron mountains appeared all at once, with a cover of magic, so whatever lay behind them must surely be valuable.  With a doughnut-shaped set of valleys and one large mountain, it has taken weeks already and will take several weeks more to fully survey the area.  It may take a lifetime, however, to understand what has been seen thus far.
There is a people here, or perhaps they should be called persons. …

Simulationist Pitfalls: The Mixed Fidelity Ruse

Articles like this "Clunky Mechanics in 5E", "Flank You Very Much: Tactical Play in D&D", and others, start to address tactical, aka simulationist concerns in the new D&D Next / D&D 5e ruleset.  One particular rule, flanking, has been a controversial subject since the beginning.  I'm going to pick on this particular example to explore an important aspect of simulation, namely fidelity.  Simulation is one of the few areas I would consider myself an expert in, so I think this discussion is warranted.

Simulation is the representation of a specific system using a series of mathematical relationships.  Simulation allows us to predict the outcome of the system without having to have a real system.  Fidelity is the level of detail that we include in a simulation.  Up to a point, fidelity can decrease the uncertainty in the prediction we make.  At some point, however, too much detail in a simulation simply clouds the uncertainty of the result with all of th…

Sand Sailers

When the wind hit the first unrolled sail there was a tug that judged the men; those that failed fell; those that were of these sands stayed at work, hoisting the rest of the sails to bear.  The shushing noise rose out of the background of the whip of the wind, as the glass slipper of the bottom of the Veriago made way.  I tugged the wheel to the right, driving skids against the sand just enough to miss the other sanddocks.

42 Aboard on the Veriago all pulled and pushed to get the full scale sails into the wind.  She was getting up to speed now and I pulled her right into the winds direction completely.  It wasn't completely ideal for the bearing, but it would still shave a days sand off our journey.

In my own mind I could imagine of what could be seen from the dock, the gold hull with gold skins reflecting gold light off of gold sand, the sails of multicolored dragon scale whipping forward, Sailors becoming smaller and smaller as the haze of the desert overtook the view.

Today wa…

Player and Character Incentives and Disincentives

Part of being a good GM is providing incentives for good, fun things to happen as part of the whole gaming experience.  These incentives and disincentives can take two nonexclusive forms -- direct and cross-over.  Direct incentives work so that the actions result in rewards in the same space -- character rewards for character actions and player rewards for player actions.  Cross-over incentives mix the two realms, often resulting in mixed priorities that can sometimes cause problems.  In this article, we're going to discuss how incentives and disincentives for both players and character's can be used correctly and incorrectly.
Gold and treasure are a very straight forward incentive.  They reward characters for character actions.  This kind of non-crossover incentive works very well and is rarely changed.  Some GMs may be tempted to use treasure as a reward to players, but its a trap.  Giving the player influence the ability to influence treasure will only lead to players tryi…

The Multiple Aspects of Charisma

Charisma is a quality which allows the inspiration of devotion in other people.  In terms of game mechanics, charisma may drive the ability to influence others and may act as a source of power for magical abilities.  Charisma also influences how others may see us, such as through physical beauty or in terms of power of personality.  Because charisma has multiple aspects, role-playing a high or low charisma can take on a combination of options.  In this article, we're going to discuss those options and look at some examples.
There are several aspects of Charisma.  Physical beauty describe how the character looks.  Familiarity describes how well the character reflects the expectations of normalness.  Communication reflects how good a person is in portraying a positive light when speaking.  Stature describes the nonverbal communication that the character portrays through their body.    Combinations of these can result in a high, low, or average charisma.
Physical beauty is difficult…

Building a Dungeon is like Decorating a Christmas Tree

Happy Holidays to friends and readers!  Today I thought I would share a Christmas tree inspired method for building a dungeon.
When decorating a Christmas tree, one starts with a natural structure -- the tree.  The tree is grown (or made to resemble) a natural form.  Over top of the tree, we add lights as a structure to pull our view from the bottom to the top of the tree, highlighting all the character we will add in between.  Next we add garland to spread the lighting more diffusely and to add color.  Then we add ornaments that give us points of interest on the trees.  Some may be generically the same, while others are unique.  We add tinsel over the ornaments to increase the twinkle.  Finally the tree is topped with a special angel or star to finish the look.
In our dungeon, we also need to start with something natural.  What was this area originally?  Was it an underground mine?  Was it a prison?  Was it a series of smugglers caverns?  Whatever the original purpose of the area wa…

A Good D&D Joke

A large group of orc soldiers are moving down a road when they hear a voice call from behind a sand dune. "One dwarf is better than ten orcs!"The orc commander quickly sends 10 of his best soldiers over the dune, where upon a fierce battle breaks and continues for a few minutes, then silence.The voice then calls out "One dwarf is better than one hundred orcs!"Furious, the orc commander sends his next best 100 troops over the dune and instantly a huge firefight commences. After 10 minutes of battle, again silence.The dwarven voice calls out again "One dwarf is better than one thousand orcs!"The enraged orc commander musters one thousand raiders and sends them across the dune. Explosions and cries of war ring out as a huge battle is fought. Then silence. Eventually one wounded orc fighter crawls back over the dune and with his dying words tells his commander, "Don't send any more soldiers, it's a trap. There's two of them!"

Reading, Thinking, and Tweeting

Unfortunately I have had a bit of a bad spell and I am in bed for my back again for a few days.  Lots of gaming thoughts are percolating.  I've also been a bit more active on twitter.

If you get a chance to read the twitter feed as of late, there are some cool #PungeonCrawl and #GMConfessions.  I even got a retweet from the infamous Dungeon Bastard, and a favorite from my favorite GM, Chris Perkins.  I've picked up a few new followers, so hopefully they find their way here in time.

Somebody over on Reddit noted that we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of Dune next year.  It is cool that it coincides with me adding a space element to my Pathfinder postmodern cyberpunk extension.  Someone recommended looking at Fading Suns for a Dune-like game, so I decided to pick up an older copy of the d20 version of the books for it.  That will be some good reading when it arrives.

I've also recently gotten copies of FATE and FATE Accelerated to read, and I'm working my way thro…

Rise of the Immortals: All Points East

Dear Torin,

I hope this letter finds you well, as I was unable to check in with you before leaving.  I have been named a member of the Lords Alliance of Magnimar and been sent by the mayor with the others to check out lost contact with Fort Rannick.  I fear evil has taken another stronghold there.

I have been named heir to the Foxglove Estate and it has been added to our party's expanding holdings.  It is good to be in business for the days ahead when I no longer wish to collect knowledge in the world but turn to times of studying secrets from books.

We have stocked up here in Magnimar and plan to head to Sandpoint to check in on Bold Intentions.    I own an inn there now too, and I wish to check on it, as well.

From there we cut across the plains to catch the ferry.  In a couple of weeks we hope to reach Turtleback Ferry and then head on to Fort Rannick.  I fear what we may find.  Still, my blade and crossbow are as  fast as ever, so I think we will fair well.

Regards,

Llarm Blacksword

Pathfinder, D&D, d20: How to Stage Large Battles

I don't know about other GMs, but I like to end epic campaigns with epic battles.  Sure there might be a big bad that the the PCs need to take out, or a dragon, or both, but have armies fighting in the background just makes for a cool final battle. It also is a good plot point to have throughout the campaign -- building up allies for the final showdown.  However, how does one GM a large final battle?

The problem is simple to understand.  If you use the same mechanics that you use for normal battles, you will never reach the end.  The mechanics just weren't built for this many characters in play.  Instead of running the battle with a character vs character level of detail, you need to run it with a group vs group level of detail.

To do this, you group allies and enemies except for special NPCs and PCs.  A typical group can be from 5 to 12, though more or less may work depending on the overall size of the encounter.  Each group takes and does damage together.  Allied groups are…

Rise of the Immortals: Finishing off the Brothers of Seven

Torin,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I am unable to check in with you until we've cleaned up all of our most recent mess.  We have uncovered a cult responsible for the recent murders and killed their leader, a vampire who was holed up in the old Shadowclock Tower.  I am unable to share much more about the situation, as certain people involved were charmed and are people of power.  They, luckily, were happy to have our assistance in escaping this evil plot.  I think our efforts have also went well enough that I shall be named heir to the Foxglove Estate which will be managed by our company of 4.

I need to search our knowledge base on a ring I have acquired.  With each use, the ring speaks to me.  It steals away my own energy to negate spells.  I am somewhat fearful that it may at some point unleash something best left out of our world.

Regards,
Llarm Blacksword.

When Bards Fight

Advice for New DMs / GMs: Clear, Communicated, Static Rules

I always see new GMs asking for advice, so I wanted to put some discussions out there specifically targeted for new GMs.  This one I thought should be first because it is a mistake that a lot of GMs make and never outgrow.  Some folks will tell you that the GM is always right, and perhaps even that this old adage is rule 0.  We can talk about rule zero in a different post, but here I want to address the problem with the GM being always right.

If a player engages in a game, there is a social contract between the GM and the player.  A big portion of this social contract is the rules.  As a player, I want to know the rules up front and not have them change during the game.  I want to engage in the game both outside the gaming session where I am growing my character on my own, and in the gaming session where I am growing my character with others.  If the GM either does not clarify the rules or simply overrides the rules at any whim in game, the rules contract is broken.  This means that t…

Balanced Encounters: Ranged / Reach Gauntlet

Sometimes the melee fighterss become too much of a certainty and the rogue just starts losing his cautiousness.  The solution I use for balancing things and giving the party a challenge is a ranged / reach gauntlet.  The setup is pretty straightforward -- give the party someplace they really need to go.  They could be escaping a dungeon, saving a princess, running from a dragon -- it doesn't matter.
They come to a hallway / section of tunnel / section of castle walkway that has an area they can't get to on each side.  I prefer using iron bars, but a steep change in elevation or other terrain, physical, or magical barrier will work.  To make it through the obstacle they have to run past the area that they can't get to it.  In this "safe" area is a group of enemies with ranged weapons or reach weapons.  The enemies can hit them, but they can't hit the enemies unless they have a ranged attack (or reach weapon).  The longer the area they have to run past, the mo…

The Four Gods

Gladriana's voice quivered with her age as the wrinkles on her face reinforced the seriousness of the words as she spoke them.  I was a curious little boy there, listening intently to her words.

When the world began, there were the four gods, and no others to vie for power.  They ruled over all but each other.  They came together and split the world.

The God that Swims took the waters and ruled over the oceans and seas.

The God that Flies took to the air and ruled over the skies.

The God that Walks took to the land and ruled over the continents.

But, the final god, the God that Crawls, saw no part of the world left for him, and so he crawled deep within the world and made a new world.  The God that Crawls made dark lands beneath and in his anger towards the rest of the gods and their worlds, he made all sorts of creatures that would be the bane of the others in the world that flew and walked and swam.  And, in his own time, that god, the God that Crawls, planned his vengeance against t…

Rise of the Immortals: The Brothers of Seven? (Spoilers)

Torin, My Friend,

I am writing this in case anything bad happens to me, I want to have it known what was really going on.  I cam to Magnimar not just to check in, but in pursuit of a conspiracy of strange murders stretching from Standpoint to here leaving nearly 30 dead.  Foxglove is dead by our hands, but he had turned, and we found him mad in the caverns under the Misgivings, a ghast set on death, and on a leash from some group here.  We know now the group as the Brothers of Seven.  Xenesha is connected to Foxglove and the Brothers of Seven, but we do not know how, why, or even who she is yet?

Tonight while investigating the Foxglove townhouse we were jumped by mercenaries paid to find and kill us.  We killed one of them.  If it comes to it and you need protection or a witness, you can find the other working in our factory in Standpoint as a guard.  He is loyal to us now.

In the townhouse, where we barely escaped from nearby guards, we found a contract linking the Brothers of Seven to …

Port Wayne Revisited: The Creature Hunt

So Sunday afternoons I have a new crew gaming my cyberpunk path homebrew for Pathfinder.  Here's the new party:


Bob the Pilot, SylphKip, Kitsune TechnikerThelx, Human Hacker/Pilot Amzi, Zed Gunslinger (Overkill Gunner)Indi, Human Rogue The party starts out doing whatever and gets a message to meet spinner in the Cold Tube.  It is a creepy retro hacker bar that attracts only hipster retro hackers and old timers.  The security equipment looks like Uvoid junk yard with animatronic camera eyes watching for trouble.
Once inside, the crew meets with Spinner.  Amzi folds her legs and listens, getting stairs from the regulars.  As a Zed, that is the way it goes.  Most Zeds, an insectoid-like race from a crashed spaceship, stay in their compound for good reason.  They can just barely speak a humanoid language.  They also tend to be hunted by researchers and insect haters alike.
Spinner gives them the lowdown... a creature loose in the ground floor needs taken out for the coucil.  The pay is…

Character Maps: Mapping Character Growth rather than Character State

Ask a player to show you their character and they will hand you a character sheet.  Ask your player to describe their character, and they will tell you the same thing the character sheet says, perhaps in interpreted words, maybe with a picture or a small but of disjointed history.  This static view of the character is really contradictory in every sense of playing a character, since so much of the story in an RPG is the growth of a character.

I've tried to do something like this before with Pathfinder.  The problem with Pathfinder is that there is a lot going on in the rules and it is hard to capture everything in a short form.  It could be done in software, but I've never found any software that did it.  Even working through a progression to meet the simple requirements for a prestige class can take a lot of work in Pathfinder.  Planning over levels is hard  Trying to capture the full progression of a character in both stats and personal growth is unmanageable.

With the intro…

Rebuilding Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Spoilers)

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a solid adventure outline, but has some possible shortcomings (ref1, ref2, ref3 ).  The adventure is a bit of a railroad as outlined, the maps are difficult to use for groups used to battlemaps, and it just really doesn't have the unique details that other adventures have had.  However, as a GM, reading the adventure was a real treat because it has enormous potential.  In many places the characters have an enormous abundance of choices that can influence their success or demise.  It just needs to be rebuilt a bit for my style of GMing.

I am planning on GMing this as my first D&D 5e adventure.  It's going to be a roll20 game.  My hope is to drag this adventure into a form that represents the tactical complexity that is available while adding opportunities for new plot paths through the adventure.  I also want to clarify the motivations available to the PCs a bit, so the adventure feels like a bit less of a railroad.  At some level, all adventure…

Port Wayne: The Drop

The VW pipes were singing until a bad shift let out a puff of smoke and a shutter.  The Dub in the front seat turned his head and opened a yellow smile at me.

"No worries man."  He drew out his words.  "She is just a little tempermental, but she'l' get us there."

I coughed.  I preferred the clean air and silent hum of an electric, but there are no electric taxis around the ground floor.

There was a loud thump as the suspension bottomed out.  It was the first ramp down.  I looked out the window as the old VW gripped the corner tightly.  You couldn't watch a viewscreen in one of these old beasts while taking the turns down -- you'd vomit all over yourself.

The engine wound up again as we hit flat ground.  There was a smell of musty dirt in the air.  Up ahead, I could see one of the robotic tractors running operations.  It was turning over the grass into the soil and planting new.  It is the only way to grow soil this far underground.

I looked around i…

Port Wayne Revisited: Starting Again

So we had the first meeting of my Port Wayne game today.  of the 7  players I originally had lined up, we ended up with the 3 original players and one new guy.  It irks me when folks sign up and then drop with no warning.  Grrrr.

So the party looks like it is going to be the following:


Human rogue "Indiana Jones"-like characterZed Gunslinger Overkill Gunner that talks little and likes to shoot things and blow things upHuman hacker with rogue flairTechnik (new class coming) that creates and uses technology I am excited.  I am looking forward to getting the game going. 
If anyone else wants to join, drop me an email or a comment here.

Getting my Pathfinder Cyberpunk Campaign Started

So, things are coming together for my Pathfinder cyberpunk campaign.  I've gotten 2 documents out so far to my players, and the third goes out to players this week.  Here's what my players are getting for the campaign:

Setting Guide for Port Wayne (51 pages)

HistoryCultureGeographyLocationsGroupsPeople of Interest

Cyberpunk Path Rules (171 pages)

5 New Races2 New Classes18 New Archetypes3+ New Skills plus New Interpretations of Old Skills41 New Feats and TraitsRules extensions for CyberpunkAlmost 20 pages of new EquipmentRules for building, equipping, and upgrading robots, vehicles, and android bodiesNew Computer building rules29 New SpellsSheets for building Cyborgs, Vehicles, Robots, and Androids Cyberpunk Prebuilds (59 pages) 35 prebuilt vehicles with full stats18 prebuilt NPC contacts with stat blocks Since the rules are an extension to Pathfinder, they can also use everything in the PRD except the Technology Guide and Mythic Adventures.  I have also chose to restrict races t…

Projects Update: Status and Progress in September

September has been a long month, but I have gotten a few things done.  Here's my status update.

Port Wayne Cyberpunk Setting -- I successfully completed a release of the Port Wayne Cyberpunk setting and have already started adding a few new pieces of content that will appear in the next version.  STATUS: Complete

Dead Channel Sky -- I've done a lot of work on this here and there.  The NPC and Premade Vehicle sections have been split out as a separate book.  I also recently found a quote from William Gibson, indicating he really didn't like Shadowrun and its mixing of Elves and cyberpunk, so I'll probably change the name and direction a bit.  I've also looked into appropriate licenses for release.  For now, I am just trying to get it to a playable state for a single game.  STATUS: 90% Complete

The Pink Dice Chronicles Blog  -- My stats are down in September, mostly because I haven't been posting as much.  I will work on this.  STATUS: Ongoing

The Pink Dice Chronicle…

Rise of the Immortals: Murder and Intrigue

Torin,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I still await the assistant you had planned to send.  There is much to do here and I obviously cannot handle all of it myself, as the local sheriff looks to our group to assist with matters now.

In fact, just this week the sheriff came to use with a murder investigations.  It was some sort of ritualistic killings, from what I have seen, and there have been multiple deaths.  It all seems to point to some sort of intelligent undead.  We're leaving this day to go to the Misgivings, the old manor belonging to Adrienne Foxglove, a friend of the others and local nobleman.  I hope he is ok.

I am very excited by the trip.  I've never been to the Foxglove manor, and the rumor is that it is haunted.  It lies on the coast down a couple days from Standpoint.  The ride will be a nice change of scenery.

My skills continue to increase with magic.  I have now learned a method for casting while still holding my shield and sword.  I've also learned a n…

Rise of the Immortals: Bold Intentions

Torin,
I hope this letter finds you well, but soon I shall be able to see for myself.  We have wrapped up this nasty business of taking down the goblin war chief and the dark woman and her minions that attacked Standpoint.  I was able to gather up many artifacts which I will turn over to you promptly.  After you see the bounty, I am sure you will choose to send another person down here to help me study this place.
On a slightly stranger note, this ragtag band of folks I have been working with, including myself (Ha!) inherited the local glass factory.  The woman whose it was could not bear to run it after all the misery of her father and brother dying there, and she having been held there.  We have begun preparations to convert it over to produce magical goods.  We will be looking for an alchemist, enchanter, smithy, and guards when we arrive in Magnimar.
I guess this delving into ancient tombs, danger be damned, is quite my style, so I will be outfitting for more exploration.  I cannot w…

Fixing the Eldritch Knight with War Caster

There is a lot of discussion that Eldritch Knight in 5e is suboptimal when compared to battlemaster fighter / wizard multiclass builds.  There is also discussion that war caster is a feat tax since divine casters can use their shield as a holy symbol for casting.I think the simplest fix is to interpret war caster with a special case for touch spells.  When casting a touch spell with a weapon in a hand using war caster, the caster can make their melee spell attack using their weapon attack and add weapon damage to the spell effect.  So for example, shocking grasp would grant a single weapon attack with a bonus 1d8 lightning damage.Is this overpowered?  I don't think so.  The feat comes at level 4 or later.  The attack only gains a significant bonus if the weapon is magic.  Compare this to the rogue's sneak attack at a bonus of 1d6 for no feat cost at level 1.The following spells could work with this combo (touch spell, no material component, offensive, grants a melee spell atta…

Rise of the Immortals: The Glass Factory and Thistletop

Torin,

I am sorry to send word that I haven't gotten to the old lighthouse yet.  However, I was able to make it into some old ruins below the old glass factory.  We found evidence of a greater mystery, including a reference to a powerful being Malfeshnekor.  I found a couple of artifacts of Uz to bring back with me.  I fear they are too valuable and dark to send by courier. We have undercovered a terrible plan to destroy the town, sacrifice various beings, and do who knows what.  We saved a girl -- a beautiful elf!  She has sent us on another mission. Today we embarked to thistletop to fight goblins and perhaps slay the evil creature behind the plans.  We ran into all sorts of creatures and goblins and their minions.  There were even some mercenaries. The best news this week, is that I have finally gotten the hang of some of the spells I've been studying.  In combat, I'm able to cast them off the top of my head, which has been very handy. I shall attempt to send another letter

New Game: Rise of the Immortals with Llarm Blacksword

So Sunday nights has me playing D&D 5e now.  Oddly enough I am playing through a version of Rise of the Runelords adapted to D&D 5e.  This is my third time through... maybe I'll finally make it to the end.

My new character is an Elf Fighter (soon to be Eldritch Knight) with a Sage background.  He is a researcher from Magnimar who has been sent to Standpoint to investigate the ancient ruins and solve an ancient mystery (TBD).

Llarm Blacksword never turns down a gold piece or a chance to ask for one.  He never turns down a tomb or a catacomb or an ancient ruin to be investigated.  He loves a mystery.  He has a tendency to talk a bit much in explaining things and often blurts out things without thinking.  His rapier makes a whoosh as it cuts through the air.

The party consists of a gnome druid, a human noble paladin, and an elven ranger.

Llarm reports back to his group in Magnimar through letters, which I'll be sharing on here.  Don't read ahead if you don't want …

Projects Status: Stuff in Progress, Slow and Steady

These days I am getting maybe 2 segments of 3 hours a day where I am in relatively little pain, assuming I keep my activity limited.  Driving my wife to the store or going to the doctor pretty much knocks out the entire day for me, so I lose quite a few days a week.  Hopefully soon I will get this issue all resolved.

In the meantime, with no weekly game set up yet, I have turned my attention to using some of these little segments of times to work on gaming projects when I am not spending time with my family or handling other household things to do.  A little time scattered here in there can make at least some progress on getting things done.

So here is my list of gaming projects currently underway:

Port Wayne Cyberpunk Setting -- Originally this was a Shadowrun setting made up of a series of handouts and built off of the Shadowrun world and history.  I am revamping it into a single book that is all setting and no rules.  The world I am building it on is purposely left vague, but more o…

Sad Days: A Gamer without a Group

So my online game finally imploded with several players leaving, not showing up, or simply not putting in any time in the game.  With 8 players I thought I would be able to get a minimum of 4 per week, but it didn't work out.  *sigh*  I got tired of building a game that was never going to be played.

So I thought maybe I would look for a local game.  I put a notice out on craigslist and got no responses.  I can't find any evidence of a gaming group in the immediate area.  I guess I could drive 30 or 40 minutes to the big city area and see if I could find one to join.  Unfortunately, my back injury has recently gotten worse, and it just isn't going to be possible.

So, for now, this sad GM is watching MLP:FiM in preparation for Ponyfinder, reading up on D&D5 PHB, dabbling at painting minis, and hoping that I will recover soon.  It is just really sad for me to not have a game going right now.

Maybe sometime in the future I will start a new game online as a player or host a…

Painting as of Late

The first three are almost done.  Lots of other works-in-progress.