Sunday, December 28, 2014

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.  So far as I can tell, they never group, they never talk, they never interact.  The wander and linger, far from each other, eating leaves from the trees, sleeping standing up, and never doing anything more than surviving and being.  They wear no clothing.  If you could imagine a zombie that was still alive, I dare say it would resemble these people.  Their existence is what I can best describe as a solitary living death.

Monday, December 22, 2014

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 the uncertainty in the parameters used as inputs to the simulation.  Picking the right fidelity is usually key when putting together any kind of simulation so the right answer can be attained with the least amount of resources of computation.

Mixed fidelity is when we simulate certain aspects in great detail while we gloss over the details in other areas.  Mixed fidelity is a danger, because the low fidelity uncertainty can easily swamp out the detailed simulation, resulting in an imbalance of prediction.  The result is a simulation that may not predict anything realistic.

So let's jump back to our example.  Back in D&D 3.5 / Pathfinder we could get a +2 attack bonus for flanking.  However, in both D&D 5 and 3.5/Pathfinder, there is no facing. Without facing, we can now start to get unrealistic scenarios like the following:
Here we have four blue attackers all getting flanking bonus off a single partner, the blue guy in the center.  The reality of the situation is that the blue guy in the center is in serious trouble and not a really good flanking partner.  No worries -- he's also getting a flanking bonus for all 4 of the red guys that can attack him from his 4 blue attackers.  Without facing, it's easy to see that flanking bonus becomes unrealistic.  And why does this happen?  Because we have chosen to include one high fidelity component, i.e. flanking, when we didn't include another element of similar element of fidelity, i.e. facing.

Ultimately, this is what makes rule systems like D&D 5e better.  They have eliminated some of the fidelity that was both overwhelming and unmatched in the rule system.  The new streamlined rules allow for complete segments of rules to be swapped in and out, per the DMG, in order to change the fidelity, while trying to balance the overall fidelity in each approach.  I think GMs need to keep this in mind as they start tinkering with rule systems so they an understand the pitfalls of various changes they may make.  I also think looking at this example illustrated the elegance of D&D 5e and how it has fixed some of the mixed fidelity pitfalls of previous editions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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 was an important day for the Veriago.  We were taking to the old trade route to find out what we could of rumors of a new grathnium mine filled to the brim with the gold metal that made the ships slip so easily across the sand.  And, if the price is right, or the guards too few at the mine, we will return with a load of the stuff.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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 trying to get rewards out of game play that they haven't earned.

Character death is a cross-over disincentive for character actions that punishes both the character (who dies) and the player who loses her existing character that she has investment.  In addition, she now has to make a new character before reengaging in the game.  Some games offer an in-game cheat by the actions of their party to resurrect them.  This is primarily an action by the party characters to avoid player punishment, which is a mixed incentive that can lead to serious player conflict.  Death is often considered a required component of the game to guide character actions wisely.  The player punishment aspect, however, often leads some GMs into thinking that character death is an appropriate player punishment for player actions.  To avoid the crossover aspect of this disincentive and maintain its effectiveness as a character incentive, generally I make sure my players understand that character death will occur and that a backup character is required.  In addition, I often provide multiple options for resurrecting characters, some which do not require in-game party actions.  Though it is often emotional when a player loses a character to death, it is a part of the game, and is the ultimate in game disincentive for performing stupid character actions.

Experience points are a possible incentive often used in games.  Experience points are awarded for good things that happen in game and accumulate to allow the player to level up their character.  Experience points are a crossover incentive, in that they award a player for character actions.  This causes a conflict of interest between the player and the character.  The player may be pushed by a desire for XP to take the character into dangerous situations that they otherwise might avoid.  For this reason, I avoid XP and instead award levels by reaching story points.  This motivates the player to move the story along to gain character levels.

Hero points, which have a lot of different interpretations, are usually a player spent point to act as an in game cheat code.  These can be used to do cool things, get out of bad situations, or even obtain other in game favors (wealth).  Hero points can be awarded for character or player actions in game or player actions out of game.  I usually give these out to players for good player actions.  This can be bringing snacks, helping clean up, writing background, or even excellent roleplay.  In addition, these could be awarded by other players.  In any case, this incentive not only pushes the players without terribly disrupting the game balance, but also provides a cheat mechanic to dissuade players from cheating through other means.  Hero points are also an example of something that could be used as a non-party action to avoid character death.

Story-based incentives can be a reward to both players and characters, though sometimes the best character storylines put characters through the ringer.  Story-based incentive also make the game more entertaining and engaging by really pulling the character backgrounds into the spotlight of the story.  In general, storyline incentives should be balanced across characters to avoid a sense of favoritism within the group.

Mechanic-based incentives or disincentives are generally used for rewarding in-game actions and eliminating out-of-game distractions.  For example, a GM may reward incentive for good in-game roleplaying (D&D 5e).  A GM may engage in the action with an Intrusion to spice up a boring segment (Numenera).  A GM may skip a player who is absent from the table or who isn't paying attention.  All of these are effective, but should only be used to improve the game, not necessarily to punish players.  A player that is distracted can disrupt the game.  Avoiding this disruption improves the game.  As with most aspects of the game, establishing an up-front expectation for these types of elements is important for making them effective and fair.

The GM also has the responsibility, sometimes shared with the rest of the gaming group, to ensure that player and character actions do not impede the overall fun of the game.  This overriding principle also means that the group or GM may have to consider the disincentive of removing players from the group.  This disincentive often comes with a warning, usually from the GM, after a player engages in disruptive in-game or out-of-game actions.  The first line of defense in using this action is establishing clear expectations for in-game and out-of-game behavior.  A simple one to two page document to establish expectations is a good start, and should establish clear lines that should not be crossed, and the results to be expected if they are.  When a player does not heed an initial warning, it is often time to remove them from the group.  This disincentive should be used carefully.  Often GMs will mistake different thinking as disruptive game play and try to remove players because they have a different view of the game.  This can often be a trap, since new players with new ways of thinking can often bring a lot to the table to make the game interesting.  Before removing a player, make sure they are being removed for the right reasons.

It really is amazing the number of incentives and disincentives in the hands of the GM.  The best games happen when the GM establishes upfront how these will be used, and then uses them effectively.  In the end, the most important goal to incentify is Rule 0:  Everyone has fun.  Before you host your next game as a GM, take some time to think about how you use these types of things to make for a better game.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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 to quantify.  It can be made up of combinations of facial structure, body structure, and even clothing.  However, physical beauty is one of the easiest to portray in game, by directly describing the character as beautiful.

Familiarity is context sensitive and will mean different things to different people.  A dwarf who is charismatic in his homeland may be homely in an elven village or to an orc chieftain.  Familiarity may also include dressing the same, using the same language, or even having the same ideas.  Those outside familiarity may be described as odd, weird, or creepy.

Communication is an ever important aspect of charisma.  Speaking well will bring others to your side.  Speaking poorly may upset or alienate people. 

Stature is a difficult power of Charisma to describe.  A model who knows just how to walk on the catwalk had good stature, as does the paladin who rides tall and straight on his mount into battle.  The small halfling who lays sprawled across a chair sideways or the old woman who carries her groceries hunched over are weak of stature.  Someone with good stature carries with them a force of presence that adds additional charismatic impact to anything he or she does.

For an example, I am going to use Crayla, my female elven archer.  Crayla has average charisma.  She has very good physical beauty, so much so that she may attract unwanted attentions.  However, she has very poor communication skills.  She is caustic and unsympathetic when she speaks, often putting people off.  She has slightly above average stature that she gains from her use of the longbow, but has slightly below average familiarity because of her elven background of living poorly on the edge of urban areas, rather than in elven villages.  When I roleplay Crayla I emphasize her stance as she draws her bow or prepares to do so.  When Crayla speaks she often comes across as gruff and says sometimes odd or upsetting things.  I often remind my GM of my character's beauty so he can have her beauty become a problem when appropriate.  When in higher society, I also make Crayla slightly awkward.

So that's our view of charisma in role-playing characters.  Take a little closer look at this next time you play and see what new aspects of Charisma toy can bring to your game.

Monday, December 1, 2014

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 was, will give use the basic layout, size of rooms, and how they were originally used.  This is the tree part of our dungeon, that we would usually sketch out.

Like the lights on our tree, we need something for our dungeon to draw us into the dungeon, pull us through it, and help us cover the whole thing from edge to edge.  For this we need to build a bit of lore.  Why would anyone come to this dungeon now?  How would they enter or exit the dungeon?  What obstacles would cause the adventurers to search through the dungeon areas?  From this we start to add entrances, exits, obstacles, and some idea of a goal with perhaps subgoals for specific areas.

Garland is next as a way of diffusing the light throughout the tree.  By this, we mean to soften the edges of our previous step.  We ask other questions like who is using this dungeon now?  What are they using it for?  How would this have changed the original dungeon?  What would have been added, removed, or stolen?  How would time have changed things?  All of these details let us start to fill in interesting details that may either add to our original view of how the dungeon will be played or may further complicate how it might be played.  This step is often the most fun for players because it adds detail that isn't necessarily related to the main story arch.  This type of detail gives the dungeon a real feel because not everything defined is important.

Ornaments come next, and the ornaments of a dungeon are it's encounters.  Now we're breaking out our books of monsters, traps, treasures, and puzzles.  In some dungeons you may have repeated random encounters or encounters of the same type.  In others, the encounters may be all unique.  Keep in mind that encounters are a snapshot of the state of the dungeon that need to be connected to the dungeon's structure and story.  They should make sense.  The dungeon should have either symbiotic or predator-prey relationships between it's inhabitants.  These relationships can even be used to make more complex multi-faction encounters.

To add the final sense of realism to the dungeon, we add the tinsel, the little details for flavor.  The details should be things to make the dungeon memorable.  The should capture all of the senses.  Examples can be smells, textures, light levels, feel and temperature of the floor and walls, elevation changes, drafts and breezes.  Statues, books, furniture, and non-encounter creatures can also add to the full picture.

Finally, much like we top our tree with an angel or star, we need to top off our dungeon with a boss encounter.  The encounter ties back to the goals, structures, and other encounters to complete the picture.  The boss encounter should be a challenging fight and should reward the players with critical information, a critical plot piece, or some valuable treasure.

Tying all of these pieces and parts together, much like a Christmas tree, will bring a wonderful thing to life that will give your gaming group hours of joy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

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!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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 through them.  Fate Accelerated seems pretty awesome.

I've been working on a d20-like game inspired by The Walking Dead.  I was planning on using a "gain skills as you use them" type of mechanic.  Good old Mike Mearls mentioned sometime later on his AMA how he was really wanting to add a similar mechanic of D&D 5e.  Great minds think alike, I guess.

I've been watching a lot of youtube videos lately on gaming topics.  I am hoping to get back to miniature painting again soon, and I have some new basing techniques to try out.  I have to admit though, YouTubers tend to ramble.  Please folks, get to the point quickly when you post videos.  Here's a good cooking channel that does exactly that, as an example,

Monday, October 27, 2014

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

P.S.  If you happen across my sister, please tell her I love her.  And should anything happen to me, tell her to take my holdings in the business as her own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

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 each assigned a PC that directs them, while the GM runs the enemies.

Dealing Group Damage
Groups can attack other groups or even a single character.  Group damage is calculated as an expected value.  For example, if a group of 6 wizards is going to cast a fireball for 6d6 versus a group of fighters, the fighter group is going to take 6 x 6d6 damage.  Generally on this scale of battles, saves against area spells aren't going to work since multiple area effects on going to hit at once, so we ignore the save. (A fighter dodges one fireball to jump in the path of another one.)  Roll 6d6 and multiply by the number of attackers.  In this case I roll a 22 damage, so the fighter group takes 132 damage.

In the case that there is a normal attack, we use a formula for expected damage based on the crit range of the attack, the damage of the attack, the crit multiplier for the attack, the attack bonus for the attack, and the AC of the target.  Damage reduction can also be applied directly to this value.

E{damage}=Phit*Mdmg+Pcrit*Phit*(CritM-1)*Mcrit,dmg

Phit = Probability of Hit = (20-(AC-Attack))/20; Min of 1/20, Max of 19/20

Mdmg = Mean Damage =(Max Damage + Min Damage)/2

Mdmg, crit = Mean damage that is multiplied by a crit

Pcrit = Probability of a crit = Crit Rolls / 20

Crit Rolls = the number of sides on the d20 that result in a crit (so 17-20 would be a crit roll of 4)

CritM = crit multiplier

The expected damage is the damage that one character does against another character per round on average, so multiply this by the number of attackers, and you have damage from an attack per round for the group.  This may seem slightly complex, but it is easy to set up in a spreadsheet, and because pairings don't get changed often in a group, it will get used over and over. Keep the expected damage and multiplier for number in the group separate, since some of the group may be killed.

There may be cases where it isn't really straightforward how to calculate expected damage.  In these cases calculate maximum and minimum damage and take the average.  Then estimate the probability that this damage will hit taking into account whatever complex mechanics there are.  Get player agreement.  Multiply the two and you have an estimate of expected damage.  This will be good enough, even though every detail may not be properly expressed in you estimate.

WARNING:  Generally armies don't worry about individuals, so you normally shouldn't have groups attacking PCs.  The condition when this changes is when there is something big and bad that warrants a group response, like a dragon.  Remind your PC of this before he or she polymorphs into a dragon in the middle of battle, or the player may be very surprised by what happens.

Groups Getting Damaged
A group that is getting damaged loses members based on total hitpoints.  So for example, if we have a group of gnome alchemists getting hit by 147 points of cannon fire, we need to look at the HP of the alchemists.  In this case our wimpy gnome alchemists have only 33 HP each.  As a result, 147/33 number of gnomes are killed, which is 4 dead gnomes with 15 damage remaining against one gnome.  This 15 damage can either be tracker or can be dropped, depending on the GM and player's wishes.

As a result of this mechanic, the groups will dwindle in number as they are hit.

What it Looks Like in Practice
Here's what a stat block for each group looks like as you are keeping track.  Of course, behind each group there should be a full character sheet to grab AC, attacks, equipment, spells, and etc from.

Group A Elf Rangers
Attacking Group G
Number: 8
Expected Damage vs G (Longbow): 12
HP Each: 34
Remainder Damage: 6

Group B Tengu Sorcerers
Attacking Group 3
Number:  5
Expected Damage vs E (fireball): 14
Expected Damage vs E (magic missile): 12
HP: 14
Remainder Damage: 3

In terms of logistics, the GM is keeping track of this for the enemies (usually fits on a notebook page or two).  The GM is probably running the expected damage spreadsheet as needed.  The PCs are keeping track of their characters and the groups they are directing.

Calculating the initial expected damages and changing them does take a moment, but in return for this small expenditure you can easily have hundreds of characters "on the board".

Miniatures
When playing with miniatures, there are a couple of simplifications you can introduce.  First, you use only 1 mini per group.  Second you can add both a group letter and a number left to each group mini, so someone looking at the board can tell what is going on.  A small post-it note works fine for this.

Endgame
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don't need to play the battle out to the last man.  Once your NPC BBEGs have been killed (or alternately, all of the PCs.  Oops!) and the army has killed over half of the opposing army, there is a good chance they will start into retreat.  Let the winners hunt down the retreating army if they wish.  You can even make this a plot point that leads to another battle when their backup troops arrive.

Experiences
I have used this method several times.  Here is an example where a high level party got attacked by 72 goblins.  We ran the encounter easily in one 3 hour session despite the number of characters involved.

"Friday Night Pathfinder: Goblins" Link



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

15000 Pageviews Reached

We just hit 15000 previews. Woohoo!

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


Monday, October 20, 2014

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 the player no longer can kmow what to expect, nor can they plan for it, because the rules aren't fixed.  To be effective, rules must be clear, communicated, and static.

New GMs often get sucked into worries of overpowered characters and min-maxing builds.  They find a better player has a better character than everyone else so they nerf it.  They may even see people as breaking the game because they too easily succeed.  There is talk of players needing punished.  As a result these new GMs start house-ruling things.

Excessive house rules from a new GM is usually a result of a combination of things.  1) They don't understand the rules and so their players are making illegal actions.  2)  They don't know how to play the enemies.  Each class, monster, and scenario has an optimal way of being played.  If they aren't played that way, the encounters will be severely underpowered.  3)  They don't understand the controls on the game.

The bottom line is that the GM needs to understand the rules of them game.  If a player is running a character of a configuration that the GM is not familiar with and it seems overpowered, the GM needs to become an expert in that configuration for the next session to make sure the actions are correct and legal.  The GM needs to study up on the enemies he runs so they don't become used improperly and thus useless.

The final piece is for the GM to understand the control he or she has in the game.  The GM controls every encounter, every bad guy, every plot point, every trap, literally everything but the characters.  If one character is overpowered, use these controls to balance it.  Build in encounters to exploit the weakness of the min-maxed character.  Make conscious decisions about who is going to be attacked, if you need to.  Let the enemies' knowledge of above average character work to the advantage of game balance.

The summary point is that there are a lot of options of how to control the game outside making rule changes during the game.  Strive to clearly communicate the rules up front and try not to change them unless you really need to.  It will make your players a lot happier.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

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 more enemies, and thus, the more damage they will have to endure.

Often this seems like the big moment for rangers and casters, but if you put enough enemies, you can make it so they can't kill them fast enough.  A sure-fire RAW way to do this is to use a bunch of low-level CR enemies with bows.  Orcs stand out as a good option.



The obvious choice once you get enough enemies stacking up against them is to make a run for it.  If the territory is hostile, the trapfinding rogue should be the man out front or right behind the man out front.  The problem is he can't find traps very effectively on a run.  At the end of the enemies just entering the safe zone on the other side, put a trap or two or three.  It doesn't matter if they are easily detected.  Make them very dangerous but easy to see.  If the rogue finds them, he'll hold up the whole party while getting shot trying to disarm the traps.  If someone else finds the first trap, they will learn about traps the hard way.

Now I don't recommend whipping this encounter out just anytime.  This has a great potential for TPK if used improperly.  However, when put in at the right time, it can be a load of fun (for the GM) and can really retune the party back to real dangers and the real mix of skills they need to rely on.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

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 the others, a time when the monsters that crawl would take all of the world.

The words rang again in my mind as I remembered the telling of the tale when I was a child.  Gladriana was long dead.  The village tellers had long stopped telling the tale of the four gods.  Now they spoke of the new gods, the living gods, the gods whose avatars came to this world, who gave clerics power, and paladins purpose.

But here, now, I stand before a Tarrasque, perhaps some 200 feet or more in length as we mine around its corpse.  These creatures of normal size cannot be killed, but it is dead.  It is a hull of a once magnificent god-like creature.  A tarrasque half this size terrorizes the world when it awakens; this one would have ruled all the lands.  Is this, perhaps, the God that Walks?

I wonder what we have yet to discover.


Monday, October 13, 2014

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 ownership of the Misgivings.  I have suspicions that Justier Ironvar, the old pale elf prosecutor, might be linked to the things, so we do not dare pull in the authorities here.  We are working under order for Sheriff Hemlock in Standpoint, should someone need to know that.

The note we found has pointed us to a Sawmill on the island here in Magnimar.  We go soon to investigate it.  If I do not return, take this information to the Sheriff Hemlock in Standpoint.

Your humble servant,
Llarm

P.S.  Tell the dwarf that the Brotherhood of Seven is performing the Sihedron ritual.  He will know what to do.

Yes, so we got to Magnimar tonight and things went well.  I am surprised how much technical difficulty we still have with Roll20 malfunctions (or is it the browser) and connection issues.  Teamspeak3 for my earlier game still seems more solid that Skype for chat.  Odd.

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, Sylph
  • Kip, Kitsune Techniker
  • Thelx, 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 $10k a piece.  He'll text the details.  The party is in, hands are shaken, and Spinner is gone.

The party gets the text.  16th floor. The party checks out the info and info online and they track down indications that it is a manticore.  Unfortunately, the only info they can find on a Manticore is a bit myopic, involving a voodoo ritual of unsettling proportion.  The party decides shooting first and asking questions later is the way to go.

They get down to the location.  Bob is driving a 3 wheeled car with Kip on the passenger's side and Indi in the back.  Behind them, Thelx is driving an old pickup truck and Amzi is riding in the back.  Amzi's legs don't work too well with regular seating.

They scan the area.  Thelx is driving and stopping to check security cameras.  Finally the creatures finds them, jumping onto the hood of the car and biting into it.

The party is firing from position except Thelx who runs across trying to get closer with a clear line of sight.  The creature takes some damage, but Thelz gets hit with spikes from its tail.  Everyone has a gun going except Amzi, who has three in action.

The creature flies back up and takes position on the second story roof of a building, gaining some cover from the building.  The party kills it.

Then it becomes apparent that the party was just shooting at an occupied building.  They go in through the door and scare the crap out of those waiting inside. Eventually the party techniker rigs up a puller system to lower the creature into the pickup truck and they vamoose.

Spinner meets the party back at the bar, takes a pic, pays thems electronically, and is on his way.  Unfortunately Indi is blabbing about the new kill to a couple of car gangers from the bar and mentions that he thinks it is worth quite a chunk of change.

The group arranges to take the carcass to a fence to sell it off.  Unfortunately on the way there, the car gang makes its move, surrounding the group with 3 large trucks (cement truck, garbage truck, and a box truck).  5 armed men are making the move on them.

Thelx gets an old man in a nearby pickup to start backing up.  Bob gets into the cement truck's systems and sends it hurling into the garbage truck, both clearing the way and taking out two bad guys.  Bob accelerates out of the situation, striking one more bad guy down, and barely dodging the old man backing up just enough to only get scratched.  Amzi looks over the top of the truck, takes aim with two guns, and blows another bad guy away.  The one remaining foe hops in his truck and gets out of there.

The party heads the remaining few blocks to the fence.  He waives his normal finder's fee for the info on the salvageable trucks.  He is so pleased, in fact, that he takes the manticore body and pays the team on the spot.

The team made $20k each on their first outing and didn't die.  Next time they will be level 4 and we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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 introduction of such a streamlined ruleset in D&D 5e, it is now very feasible to capture a character as a path of growth rather than just a snapshot of state.  I am including an example below for my 5th level Eldritch Knight Llarm.  In this graphic, I describe my level 1 character.  Then at each level up, I describe why Llarm is growing in the direction he is.  In some cases this is just the nature of the character.  In other cases, this is driven by events happening in game.  Together these elements show both the states of Llarm and the growth of Llarm throughout the game.

The Growth of Llarm

From this diagram I can see how Llarm's background and the choice of Eldritch Knight fit together.  I can see why he takes damage spells as cantrips and utility spells as level 1 spells.  I can see how war caster, shield, and second attack all feed a growing obsession that Llarm has with protecting his party (now his friends) by charging in head first as a meat shield.  I can also see that in the future Llarm may want to take more social skills as a feat, because he wants to learn to lie better.  I can also see how his curiosity and arcane background mesh in his new goal of finding out how to become immortal.

From a  purely statistical point of view, I can see that Llarm is using a shield and a rapier because of his high dex, and he is focusing on using warcaster with the arcane touch cantrips for melee.  Firebolt and his crossbow also give him ranged options.  This fits will a desire to due good damage but maintain some flexibility.  Shield also should give him a very high AC with light armor and a shield as a reaction, giving him a lot more confidence when going into melee with a big bad.

Most interestingly is that I could share this as a character with another person and they would be able to build Llarm at all levels up to 5.  I have not only given them a snapshot of the character, but the whole character.

I hope that as software builders are looking at the next generation of character builders, that they give us this type of view and interface.  I think being able to plan and share the growth of a character over levels is far more useful that just being able to share a snapshot.  Maybe even, someone could even build an RPG with this in mind from the start.

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 adventures that I run are sandbox adventures, so I'll be preparing for that, as well.  (Someone is going to want to go to one of the other cities that isn't mapped out, I am sure.)

The first major overhaul I am doing is a complete revamp of the maps.  The maps in the book are available for sale, so I won't be making mine available other than in large thumbnails -- I don't want to take away from the original artist who has digital versions forvery reasonable prices.  The Greenest map is getting tossed out completely in my game.  I am also putting together a series of overland and battlemaps to allow me to capture both the gross tactical decisions and have closer encounters.

My maps clearly have a different feel that the original maps.  I believe that things should first be built for a reason, then other people may take over them for their own purposes.  I have a major problem with Greenest being a town on a trade route that has no defenses.  As much warring that goes on along the Sword Coast and as many dangers that lurk in the wilderness, I don't think these townsfolk would come along and built a town that can be so conveniently destroyed.  I replaced Greenest with Grievance, a new town on the river surrounded with walls, gates, watchtowers, and with a castle in the center.  After all, towns are going to thrive where there is protection.

My little town of Grievance.

Similarly the hatchery in my maps is a set of caves without the improvements in the original maps.  I limited improvements to adding tunnels.  If there are steps, I think they would be made of wood.  This, after all, seems to be a temporary outpost; it isn't a fortress to be maintained for years.  There are other places for that.

Another major plot point I am correcting right off is that the adventurers will be living in Grievance, not just passing by.  I might even give them some free contacts in Grievance.  I feel the PCs need to feel the deadliness of the attack first hand and understand the consequences directly.  One of their contacts may even be taken and give additional motivation for tracking down the culprits.  Alternately, a dying PC might be dragged off by the cult.  These things give the PCs motivation no matter who they are or what they want.  Hoping that first level PCs wandering by on a trade route will jump to help a town under dragon attack is a major plot hole.

So that gets my revamped version through 3 chapters.  I still have some additonal plot points to work out, and certainly need to revamp NPCs a bit, but I think it is enough to get it underway soon.

In closing, I want to say, that every adventure is just an outline for a GM.  Running a premade adventure requires some fiddling to make it fit with your party and your style.  Don't feel bad when you do this -- it doesn't reflect on the quality of the original product.  If anything, there must be a solid foundation there, if a GM is willing to invest the time into customizing it.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

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 inside the vehicle now that we were going straight.  It was weird not having viewscreen windows.  They were just clear unadulterated glass.  I reckon the inside used to have a proper interior, years ago, but it was long since rotted away.  Instead the bare metal was covered in macrame made from old newspapers, back when such things really were papers.  Someone had chosen the pictures carefully, intently, but I don't know how.

Buildings were coming into sight now.

"Here, down to the left, on the left."  I said to the driver.

The car swerved, tires chirping ever so slightly.

My eyes were open.

"Take the alley just past there."   I said to the driver.  I pulled my hat down tight.

The street was empty except for a woman with a bag of groceries and a man in a old brown suit.  He was headed towards The Vintage Inn.

I ran my hands down my sides.  My pistols were in place and loaded.  I threw the pack over my shoulder as the taxi grinded to a halt in the alley.  I pushed a button on the side of my sunglasses and the money for the ride transferred with a small tip.

"Thanks to ya." yelled out the driver as his head tipped down at his small account screen on his dash.

The alarm went off on my MoD and the message flashed on my glasses:  "Vintage Room 213".

The backdoor at the Vintage was still key card controlled, even though no one even used key cards anymore.  I pulled mine from my pocket and swiped it.  There was a beep and a click and I pulled the door open.

I didn't like the way my shoes felt on the carpet as I walked down the hall.  There was some odd kind of friction in old thick carpet than made feel like I was perpetually falling down.  The hall was empty and I grabbed the stairway door.  Every step sounded the whole distance of the stairwell as I made my way up.  The door was marked with a giant red 2, like someone would need to read it.

Into the hall and there were more signs, though my glasses were already feeding me the directions and floor layouts as I went.  213.

I stopped a few steps short and flipped my eyes over.  Was there one person in the room?  It looked that way.

I knocked, standing just to the left of the door.

"Who is it?"  As I jutted my jaw out for the word 'it', I heard the crinkle of a bag from the end of the hall.

Some people call it an instinct.  Other people call it a hunch.  When you are a punk, falling to the ground and grabbing your guns, you call it a necessity.  Two shots rang out over my head as my guns aligned with the lady with the bag of groceries from the street.  I knew there were no grocery stores around here.

The bullets connected and she was knocked back, hitting the glass window, and falling through it.

"Slick." I said to myself, realizing that only the old windows of the Vintage would do that.  I knocked at the door again and gave the password for all clear.  "It's the cat's pajamas out here."

I heard a chuckle from the door as it opened.  The old ball-headed fence I used for this type of thing found it amusing, me nearly getting shot.

"I can't believe I got to hear you say that."  he chuckled again.

I handed him the pack and waited.  He peeked inside and walked into the bathroom.  A "Kaching" played through my MoD as $20k appeared in my account.  I immediately hit the button on my glasses to transfer it on.

He walked out.  "Nice doin' business with you again."

"Yeah," I replied.  "Call me a cab, will ya."  I heard an "Okay" muffled by the door as I walked away.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rise of the Immortals: Technical Difficulties

Our DM tonight at intermittent internet connectivity, so we had a short session, just long enough to finish off the Misgivings by taking out Foxglove (the Skinsaw man?) and a couple of ghouls and some other creature.

Level 5!  2 Attacks per action and 4 if I use my Action Surge!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

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 character
  • Zed Gunslinger Overkill Gunner that talks little and likes to shoot things and blow things up
  • Human hacker with rogue flair
  • Technik (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.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

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)

  • History
  • Culture
  • Geography
  • Locations
  • Groups
  • People of Interest


Cyberpunk Path Rules (171 pages)

  • 5 New Races
  • 2 New Classes
  • 18 New Archetypes
  • 3+ New Skills plus New Interpretations of Old Skills
  • 41 New Feats and Traits
  • Rules extensions for Cyberpunk
  • Almost 20 pages of new Equipment
  • Rules for building, equipping, and upgrading robots, vehicles, and android bodies
  • New Computer building rules
  • 29 New Spells
  • Sheets for building Cyborgs, Vehicles, Robots, and Androids
Cyberpunk Prebuilds (59 pages)
  • 35 prebuilt vehicles with full stats
  • 18 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 to core races plus the 5 cyberpunk races in the guide.

All of this started because I found the Shadowrun 4e rules too complicated and then they switched to 5th edition after I had gotten all the books.  My look through cyberpunk rules for Pathfinder were very disappointing so I decided to write my own.  The rules themselves could probably be adapted to all sorts of scifi / futuristic fantasy adventures.  Vehicles include space vehicles, so I suspect space adventures wouldn't be a big jump.  One would need a new setting for either post-apocalyptic or space campaigns.

Some of the material was tested in the campaign back in Fort Wayne before I left.  We'll see how the new campaign goes now that I have polished things a bit.  It is rather depressing though, since there is only two pieces of artwork between all the material.  I made them myself though.

Maybe someday I will "finish" this project and publicly distribute it.  Its just out the door, and I have already found the need for at least one more class.  Still I don't really want to think about licensing details anymore than I have to right now.  I would like to see my players have a lot of fun playing all sorts of interesting characters in all sorts of interesting situations.  My cyberpunk game has always been my favorite, mostly because I find it is the game I improvise for the most.

Monday, September 29, 2014

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 Chronicles Vlog -- I haven't done anything on this.  STATUS:  No Progress

Miniatures Painting -- My big find this month was a new brush that sped up my painting quite a bit.  Unfortunately I haven't spent any time at it, mostly just glueing up troll miniatures when I have a couple of minutes.  I am hopeful that I will be able to do more in the future.  STATUS: Less than 1% Complete

Game Room -- No progress here.  Unfortunately a lot of what I have to do, I just can't do right now. STATUS:  No Progress

Online Games -- Ponyfinder is stalled until I watch more of MLP: FiM.  Darklands has taken a backseat.  Currently I am gathering players for Port Wayne.  I am also starting to make maps for a D&D 5e game, probably based on Hoard of the Dragon Queen.  STATUS: Darklands No Progress, Port Wayne 90%, D&D 5e 15%, Ponyfinder No Progress

Finding a Game -- I am playing in a Rise of the Runelords adaptation to D&D 5e.  It has been a fun game, and I really like D&D 5e.  STATUS: Complete

My Character-based Novel -- No work done on this.  STATUS:  No Progress

This month I don't really know how things are going to go.  I am starting new treatment and physical therapy for my back, so my time to work on this stuff will be limted.  I am hopful I can get the Port Wayne game going again and get some speed painting time in on my miniatures.

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 new spell to defend me when attacked out of nowhere.  The best combination is though when I charge my hands with lightning and then attack with my sword.  Not only does it effectively subdue our opponents, but it also shows others that oppose us what awaits them should they challenge me.

The team is becoming ever closer and more skilled.  Zolis, the paladin, is always at my side as we charge into trouble, usually with Warryn, the gnome druid, dragging us into trouble.  The Gnome has become a fierce ally with his ability to take the form of a bear and various magics.  He also seems very intelligent and has helped set up this new business.  Zolis and Warryn also look after our health like a couple of mother hens, always tending to our wounds.  It is really nice.  

Rolen is forever at the back of the party, a fitting place for an elf with such a deadly bow.  He kills as many if not more foes than I do with the magic he weaves with his arrows.  I fear sometimes I increase the trouble that befalls us with the eye I have for valuables and artifacts, but, as you have seen, I find very unique items with rare cultural significance, just the kind of things we are looking for.  This group has been a good find during my journeys.  Between the 4 of us, there seems not a single foe we cannot defeat.

Regards,
Llarm Blacksword

---

Llarm and crew did make it to the Foxglove manor after dealing with some animated scarecrows along the path.  In fact, we searched nearly the entire house, waiting to bust down just the last door as the session ended, only 100 points away from level 5.  Level 5 is a bit of a snooze for Llarm, but very powerful, as he gets his second attack per round.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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 wait until we get to the lighthouse -- what secrets does it hold?

Please keep a spot open for me at the gallery.

Regards,
Llarm Blacksword

---

Yes, so much to Llarm's surprise, he now owns property in Standpoint.  What a cray random happenstance?!?

Llarm is level 4 now.  The GM has ruled on warcaster allowing me to attack with my rapier to deliver touch spells (I only have the cantrip shocking grasp for touch).  The slightly increased damage will maybe balance me against the rest of the party until level 5 where I get me extra attack.  Eldritch Knight is tricky.  My utility spells are eating up quite a few spells known, which has made it harder.  Shocking grasp -- if it were a scimitar I would be back to playing Ranier from a previous campaign.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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 attack):  shocking grasp (cantrip) @ 1d8, Inflict wounds @ 3d10(1st level), contagion that inflicts a disease (5th level), vampiric touch @ 3d6 (3rd level)

These again don't seem overpowered considering the spell casting and feat requirements for spell
level.

For an eldritch knight, the feat comes at 4th level, which could be used in combination with shocking grasp.  Not a considerable boost since casters can do this damage at first level, but enough to make eldritch knight more comparable to the multiclass. At 8th I could add vampiric touch.

At higher levels, the trade off becomes spell vs multiple attacks, and so balance is also maintained.

I already talked with my DM about the touch spell with war caster, and he is on board, so hopefully I can prove the balance in game.  Certainly it closely resembles the pathfinder magus which is both fun and balanced.

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 in a day or so once we've returned and figured things out a bit.  Hopefully I will have more good news to share.

Humbly,
Llarm
---
Llarm had a good week at level 3 eldritch knight.  The cantrips are quite handy in battle.  I almost hope that Llarm gets imprisoned at some point since he had several spells and they don't require a spellbook.  He also can call his weapons into his hands from anywhere on the plane.

Oddly enough I have been reading about how eldritch knight is underpowered and yet the one fest that balances it, namely war caster, seems to be interpreted by a lot of folks to not really work the way I think it should.  Luckily my GM agrees with my interpretation which gives me a spellstrike-like magus ability at level 4, essentially using my rapier to deliver touch spells.
The DMG just can't get here soon enough.

Llarm now has his ultimate question to answer.  He wants to know how to become an immortal runelord.  Llarm reminds me a lot of Ranier, my pathfinder magus who left the party while looking for a way to become a lich.  Ranier was a bit more suave; Llarm's sage background tends to make him a bit more geeky and impulsive.  This last session that impulsive nearly got the party attacked by a shadow from a sarcophagus he just had to open, even thought the paladin had said it was evil.
Good times.  I'm liking 5th Edition a lot.

Monday, September 1, 2014

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 some serious Rise of the Runelords spoilers.  Here's the latest:

Torin,

I hope this letter finds you and the others well.  Please tell each one of them I asked about them, though I have not the parchment to list them all by name.  Standpoint greeted me harshly, having just suffered a terrible goblin attack, but your letter got me through the gates.  I happened upon some local heroes at the local Sleeping Green Dragon Inn where they were whooping it up over their victory over the goblins, savoring good ale with a local nobleman named Foxglove.  They have allowed me to join them and I think they can get me safely into the lighthouse ruins and, perhaps, as a bonus, into the catacombs beneath the temple.

The rooms in the Dragon aren't bad and I think my association with the heroes has gotten me a free room for now.  A gold piece saved is a gold piece earned so they say.

There was a disruption in the tavern when first I got there, with some old crank of a noble yelling at his daughter.  I hoped to track her down after the altercation, but she got away.  I guess being with these heroes is rubbing off on me already.

I made a few gold coins on my second day in town and saw the most amazing thing.  We had to check out a tomb, under the temple, and found a number of animated skeletons and zombies about.  The skeletons were quite impressive.  Necromantic servants like these seem like such a good idea.  The party and I quickly dispatched them, but not before the poor gnome was nearly killed.  I guess all the sword practice from my youth is starting to pay off.  Strange too, that we found some remains had been taken from the tomb.  There is a mystery afoot!

We also checked out the glass factory, where we seemed to lose track of Amiko, the elven daughter from the tavern.  There was worry for her, but instead we stumbled into an even bigger plot.  I rushed into the building after the gnome discovered that there were goblins in the building.  Amiko's brother, it turns out, was working with the goblins and in fact has killed his father right there in the factory by covering him in glass.  The heroes and I fought the goblins and I ended up having to kill the evil brother as he was trying to escape with my crossbow.  

It turns out that the brother is in league with some woman, daughter of the priest whose remains were stolen, who is trying to raise Malfeshnekor, apparently some sort of devilish, demonic creature or great power.  There is something afoot with a succubus, as well.  The excitement is just overwhelming.  I can't wait to investigate further.

It is unfortunate to date that I have discovered no artifacts of interest, but I am sure this will change very soon.  I have taken a few rubbing of tomb artifacts, which I have enclosed.  Things look to be dangerous here, at least for the next fews day.  Should someone need to find me here, please have them contact the Sleeping Green Dragon Inn and ask for the heroes of Standpoint.  I will be with them.

Humble regards, 
Llarm Blacksword

--

In addition, I wanted to post just a few quick takes on D&D 5e since this is my first game with it:

  • D&D 5e is very streamlined.  I've only had the PHB a few days and I was up and running with no trouble in the first game.
  • D&D 5e is extremely balanced at first and second level.  I expected to be an overwhelming force at first level as a fighter.  This wasn't really the case.
  • Leveling up in 5e is quick.  We did it in game in less than 10 minutes.
  • I'm not sure how I feel about skills yet.  In Pathfinder there is an ability to change your skills as you level up.  I don't see any way to do that in 5e.  It can be a problem if multiple people in the party chose the same skills.  Still researching this one...


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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 of the ilk that magic and other humanoid races have always been around.  So far I have a rough outline and have rewritten about half the history.  STATUS: 50% Complete

Dead Channel Sky -- This is an extension of Pathfinder rules to cover post-modern / cyberpunk games.  It is meant to add equipment and archetypes to allow existing Pathfinder classes to still be played.  The bulk of the rules are simple additions or extensions.  There are a couple of new classes and a few new races.  It also includes rules for building vehicles and hacking.  I am working on a revision to fix a few details from our previous playtest and add some missing content, most specifically magic.  STATUS: 70% Complete

The Pink Dice Chronicles Blog  -- You're reading it.  STATUS: Ongoing

The Pink Dice Chronicles Vlog -- Yeah, I am working on a Vlog conversion of the Pink Dice Chronicles to help gain some audience.  So far I have created a brief theme song and I am learning how to use Synfig to put together an opening sequence.  I am also trying to learn how to do greenscreening.  STATUS:  Maybe 15% to my first episode

Miniatures Painting -- I have literally more than a hundred miniatures to paint.  It is a very slow process.  I typically work on 3 or 4 miniatures at a time, painting one or maybe two colors on each before letting them dry.  Currently working on a dracolisk, a halfling sword and shield maiden, a female devil, and a pack camel.  STATUS: Less than 1% Complete

Game Room -- My game room is slowly coming together, though it takes a lot of time since I can't do much lifting and hanging of stuff.  I have all my major furniture fleshed out with 4 book cabinets, a miniature painting table, a gaming table and a large countertop area with cabinets.  I have a convection microwave oven for heating and cooking snacks.  I still need to get a small fridge.  There is lots of sorting, organizing, and hanging of posters yet to do.  I also hope to make a large wall shelf to hold my hundreds of miniatures. STATUS:  80% Complete

Online Games -- I am currently working on 4 games I would like to run.  I am converting my horror game over to a Darklands campaign for standard Pathfinder.  I am also trying to get Port Wayne ready to run with DCS at some point.  I have been watching MLP:FiM with my daughter in preparation for a Ponyfinder game.  I also am learning DND 5e to see if I can run a game in it someday.  Most likely no more than one or two of these games will turn into something real anytime soon, but it is still fun to think about them.  STATUS: Darklands 80%, Port Wayne 60%, D&D 5e 5%, Ponyfinder 20%

Finding a Game -- My oddest "project" is finding a game to play in.  I have put out a notice locally on craigslist looking for a local group.  I also have a LFG notice up on reddit hoping to find a group online.  I really would love to get into a new Pathfinder game.  I am thinking I might give an Oradin build a try (Oracle / Paladin).  STATUS: Unknown

My Character-based Novel -- I have a novel I am writing based on characters I have developed and played throughout my lifetime.  It is currently about 45,000 words, and I am hoping to hit 100,000 at around the end of the storyline.  For this I just recently completed a map for Erinius, the land where it takes place.  STATUS:  45% Complete

So I'll keep adding a little time to these here and there and maybe even post my progress as I get things completed.  Someday soon I'll hopefully be back to work, and then my time for these things will be a lot less.  That's OK.  I don't mind taking years to finish things.  My novel has been in the works since at least 2002.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

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 new online game or maybe even start a Ponyfinder game.  I guess it is probably time to convert the blog into a vlog too, while I have some time.

Friday, August 15, 2014