Saturday, July 26, 2014

Friday Night Pathfinder Horror: Back to Civilization

This week the party, missing only Bengrim from its active ranks, conitnued trying to find their way back.  When last we left our heroes they had just talked a beautiful glowing green apparition out of protecting its territory.   Unfortunately two small balls of electrical energy were still hostile and attacking poor Sora.

Sora continued to be attacked by the two small floating balls until he lie dying on the floor.  Lillian, Vinde, Morrigan, and others headed past the dangerous creatures.  Sowden fired his crossbow at the creatures.  Tabbris attempted to use spells on the creatures.  The floating electrical balls floated over and started attacking Hecate.

Vinde was able to make it to the chest on the side of the cavern.  She opened it without issue and found a large stash of all sorts of random magical and nonmagical items inside.  Unfortunately with the attacks still going on, she had to grab what she could and run.  Morrigan's eidolon, a panther-like creature, also grabbed what it could and took off.

Sowden continued using his crossbow to provide cover fire as the party escaped.  Tabbris attempted to fight off the electrical hostiles, but was quickly foiled once he discovered they were immune to magic.  The party retreated, unfortunately leaving Sora and Hecate to their deaths in the cavern.  The cavern had taken so many already.

After resting and wandering down a corridor, the party found their way to a large cavern chamber ocvered in a pitch black charcoal-like substance.  As they approached it, their magical and psionic items began to flicker.  Sowden, an experienced ranger in the underground, quickly identified the tell-tale signs in the cavern of a carbauxine gas explosion.  Carbauxine gas builds up underground and is highly flammable.  Sowden passed along advice not to take anything with a flame into the room.

The party, all but Soawden ventured into the darkness, with all their normal torches and lanterns extinguished and no magical or psionic forms of light available to light the way.  Wondering in the darkness, they headed for a very dim light they could see ahead in the tunnel.  Morrigan can across a body that she could make out before they entered the cavern.  It appeared to be a dead ogre.  In the dark, she groped around searching the body.  She found a rusty piece of metal.  As the dug through the body, which felt crispy on the outside, her handed slipped through, leaving her hand covered in entrails and the writhing bodies of some sort of living insect feeding on the corpse.  After creaming and running a bit, calm returned to the party.  They reached the other side of the cavern without incident, Sowden following once everyone else was across.

Vinde tossed a bottle of fire ink into the cavern as Sowden moved through.  Luckily the fire ink was magical in nature and could not ignite the gas.  Sowden was still perturbed by the ill-timed toss of fire, and a small argument ensued.

While the bickering continued, Lillian ventured ahead through a door in the cavern.  Across a well-lit room, Lillian could see Tristis (!), her old friend that she had left locked in a cage in a cave so long ago.  Tristis broke free of his chains and whispered (magically) to Lillian his plan to escpae the Ogres that Lillian had not yet seen.

Sagittarius joined Lillian and he ran over to untie Tristis, not knowing Tristis was already loose.  As part of his plan, Tristis summoned a pony in the room near to the Ogres and then all heck broke loose.  The party quickly entered the room to defend their teammates and attack the ogres as they charged Sagittarius and Tristis.  Sagittarius used his bow, Lillian her sword.  Tabbris gave the party strength.  Morrigan's eidolon attacked the ogre.  Vinde attacked the ogre,pushing it hard with her mind.  It fell quickly.  The other ogre took time to destroy the pony, holding it up long enough to get hit by a grease spell and fall prone.  The party swarmed, attacking the ogre before Lillian finished it off with a final blow that nearly cleaved it in two.

The party searched the room, starting with a most prominant chest.  The chest contained some fabric covering some bones.  Sagittarius removed the cloth that Tristis would not touch and found it to be a cloak of protection, which he then put on.  The party found random weapons and supplies.  There was also a secret door behind one of the cabinets, in addition to the obvious door on the south end of the room.

After a moment, poor Sagittarius turned to stone, the unfortunate victim of a cursed cloak.  The party removed the cloak and was able to use a scroll of remove curse to turn him back.

While in this seemingly safe area, the party rested and talked about staying together.  Unfortunately, Sowden had already found his way into alcoholic brew and was stumbling drunk.  There was much discussion over sticking together and mourning for the dead.


As a bonus for readers in the party, a few items from the GM:

  • Cursed items are often very useful and valuable.  I hope you don't leave that cursed cloak behind.
  • When you get treasure, write it down on your character sheet immediately.  I delete the items from the list as they are taken, so there is no record of the stats after an item is claimed. This often happens when I use random treasure generators. 
  • Characters are always leveled up out of game, never in game.
  • In game, characters are played as written on the character sheet.  For example, you cannot use your level 4 abilities until your character sheet lists them.  You also cannot use items not listed on your character sheet.  No exceptions.
  • Character mistakes can be corrected out of game -- just let me know what the change is.
  • If you are using any ability / spell / etc on a regular basis that lasts less than 8 hours, please let me know when you activate it.  That will allow me to figure out if you have it active later during an encounter.  If you want to take an action when that ability shuts off, let me know, and I will alert you when it goes away.
  • We will be transitioning to more roleplay, so jump in and take over when you wish.  I will continue to provide relevant information.  Please don't feel like I am trying to hurry you along.
  • We are playing with magic / psionic equivalency as a rule.  Thus, spell resistance and magic resistance are equivalent and antimagic fields, like you found in that black cavern, also are antipsionic fields.
  • Don't forget -- LEVEL 4 for next time.
  • As always, it is OK to be out (real life happens), just drop me an email so I'm not waiting on people.
  • Good job this week.  You have now reached an appropriate level of cooperation and paranoia.  Good job trying to save Sora and Hecate.  Good job turning Sagittarius back to flesh.  Good job not blowing yourselves up with carbauxine gas.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Technical Difficulties: The Bane of the Online GM

Occasionally I find myself needing to GM online from my laptop rather than my desktop, most recently because of a sore back.  Unfortunately I recently found out that my laptop suffers from a Windows 7 bug that results in it randomly dropping teamspeak.  This week was one of those weeks, but I thought I had a solution using my cell phone to run teamspeak.  It turns out talking to one person is fine, but my cell freaked out when I connected up for the game.

In a technological hail mary play I thought we'd give the audio a try on Roll20, but the group never entirely got it working.  It resulted in some unhappy players and a cancelled game, not to mention a frustrated gm.

So, I got underway yesterday installing Windows 8 on my laptop.  Windows 8 installed nicely, though Microsoft locked out my license key on the license,  even though I never did get working on my old green monster desktop that died a horrible hardware failure death.  Grrr... that is $80 bucks more for another license.

Windows 8 worked nice.  Unfortunately I took advantage of the free Windows 8.1 upgrade.  It didn't work out.  It trashed all of my drivers which worked on Win 8 but not 8.1.  I have it working reasonably well now after some fighting, though my wireless is flakey and my nvidia video card didn't get a proper hardware accelerated driver.  I am probably going to have to reinstall again.

I go online and drooled a bit over the Surface Pro 3, which I would love to replace this dual core Atom laptop with. Maybe in the spring, if the prices come down I can think about it.  In the meantime maybe I can find a cheap recliner to replace the awful desk chair I have and skip the laptop altogether on Friday nights.  *sigh*

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Depths of Characters

It is an interesting tale that we weave when we play a character, a tale of our own life.  Ask a man to draw his fingers, and in the errors we add in the drawing, we reflect our own exaggerations of how we see our self -- a tall thin person will draw long, spindly fingers.  The person who sees themself as fat will often draw fatter, shorter fingers. But characters do not shine our flaws this way.  Look into the characters, and what we see are deeper reflections.

Beginner players always start out the same.  They pick a character they already love and they try to copy them into the game.  For years I played in games with other characters named Ryu because of this.  Batman has popped up again and again in different forms.  And don't forget the always popular drow elf with two swords and a panther companion.  Their characters are always misplaced in the world, loners, unconnected, wronged, and for some reason, without parents.

At some point players, if they experience enough, move beyond this.  They grow characters to reflect themselves as they want to be.  Every little child wants to be Harry Potter or Hermione Granger or Elminster or Merlin.  Some part of that little child wants to be that powerful one.  They become martial arts experts, sorcerers, wielders of large axes and magic wands.  Eventually that theme runs out though.  And when that happens, something magical occurs.  The player becomes a true role player.

You see, once you have exhausted playing other people's characters and playing yourself in a better life, you can finally settle down to explore some real characters.  People in these positions become to understand the fundamental meaning of heroes in this game -- real heroes are defined by their weaknesses.  Instead of min-maxing characters, these roleplayers will try balancing players, and in fact, even max-mining the characters i.e. giving them purposeful flaws to overcome.  They give them quirks and even start to build psychological profiles of the characters.  Needless to say, psychologists and actors both are drawn to this level of play.  Suddenly the character becomes a puzzle to challenge them, a puzzle to figure out.

I never really appreciated this transition until a couple of years ago when I received a game called Kagematsu .  In Kagematsu, it is played with usually all men and one woman.  The woman plays the samurai named Kagematsu, and the men play the woman of the village who are trying to convince the samurai to defend the village, perhaps even using their feminine charms.  The gameplay isn't particularly complex, but the impact that the game has on the players can be amazing.  It is role reversal at its finest.  Once experiencing this thought process for a game, I knew I never wanted to go back to flat character gaming again.

In the time as of late, this chapter of my gaming life, if you will, I have only gotten to play 3 characters.  In Pathfinder, I explored Crayla a rogue-ish ranger with issues, and a magus Ranier who attempted to hide his powers and be a ranger.  In Shadowrun, I played Vlad, an in-your-face faceman who surprised way to many people with his antics.  In all three cases, the characters had depth.  That isn't to say I didn't balance my stats to keep the game competitive, but I really felt my way through each of them to find their place. Through them I explored each as a new character that I wasn't really comfortable with in the beginning.

Unfortunately, now, as a GM, I only get to play NPCs, and I find NPCs almost too fleeting to try to roleplay to that level anymore.  I find it is better to make an impression with an NPC that to try to roleplay some level of subtlety.  After all, it is hard enough to get players to remember important plot points in the game, let alone something subtle.  Everyone can remember the crotchety old man farmer or the loud dwarf, but no one remembers the subtle magistrate or the iconic quirky bard.  Still, I hope my players can find their way into the depths, and maybe someday soon I'll get there again myself.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Darkened Path: Friday Night Pathfinder Horror

With a group consisting of 4 old players and 3 new players, Friday Night Pathfinder Horror got back under way this week.  As always, the new players started out with two players a piece.  Here's the starting party:

  • Allison -- Human Bard
  • Bengrim* -- Dwarf Paladin
  • Hecate -- Half-elf Sorceress
  • Lillian* -- Human Fighter (former paladin)
  • Morrigan -- Human Summoner with a Panther-like Eidolon
  • Sagittarius -- Half-elf Ranger
  • Sora -- Elf Bard
  • Sowden* -- Human Ranger
  • Tabbris* -- Human Druid
  • Vinde -- Human Psion
Previously played characters are marked with an asterisk.

The party starts out, having had new characters fallen down a crevasse into the cavern where the party waits to cross the lake.  Bengrim, Sowden (whose player is out), Lillian, and Tabbris sit near a camp fire.  The party gets briefly introduced and then starts to undertake the task of crossing the murky, putrid lake ahead.

Bengrim grabs his climbing gear and climbs along the cavern face to get to the other side.  Tabbris wild shapes into an alligator and heads to a large boulder near the center of the lake.  Lillian starts swimming.  Sagittarius starts swimming.

Unfortunately, the leech swarms in the water lock on to the scent of Sagittarius and head straight for him.  He writhes in pain as the blood is sucked from his body.  Tabbris summons a flaming sphere and attacks the creatures with it.  Many of the tiny blood-sucking creatures are killed.  Bengrim, remembering the sulfur ore he has mined takes a quick taste and realizes there is a salt flavor.  He throws the sulfur mixture into the water and kills a good number of the leeches.  Sagittarius swims back to shore.

Vinde takes a flying jump and attempts to float across the lake.  She makes it about 20 feet before having to grasp the wall to pull herself along.  Allison and Sore summon dolphins in the water to help them get across.  Lillian finds herself being stalked by the fast moving leeches, but one of her allies tosses meat into the water to draw them away.

After a few moments, the party finds themselves across the lake.  Lillian has made the swim.  Vinde has floated across.  Bengrim finishes his climb.  Tabbris easily swims as an alligator to the other side.  The dolphins help the rest quickly across.

On the other side is a large cavern.  It seems to have a chest situated in the back corner.  A boulder hides part of the room.  The party gathers themselves up, tends to the wounded, and heads forth to explore.  A ghostly green apparition of a beautiful woman appears.  She is obviously unhappy to find visitors here.  The tells the party they may not enter her house.  Sora attempts to coax her into letting them past.  Finally Hecate attempts to convince the creature that she is a powerful sorceress and will destroy the ghost is they are not allowed to pass.  The apparition disappears, but the two white glowing balls nearby remain.  They both bob around Sora and then finally blast him with electricity.  Bengrim takes a swing at the glowing orbs, but they easily dodge his strike.

At this point (because all new characters are still alive) there is a quaking in the earth.  A large boulder drops from the ceiling and crushes Allison.

Monday, July 7, 2014

GM's Little Helper

My wife recently got me a "moleskin" style notebook, pink, and took the time to label it "Pink Dice GM".  It was a very thoughtful gift, especially since I had been wanting a nice notebook.  What I didn't realize when I received this thoughtful gift is how big of an impact it might have on my gaming.

You see, lately I have been struggling to come up with new pieces of "flair" to keep the game interesting.  It is fun to pull some interesting pieces from one of my numerous books of beasts and items.  Sometimes, however, I like to add something unique -- my own pieces of flair.  Through the years, these are the things that really make the game fun.

This notebook has become a place to keep my creative ideas as I come up with them.  So far I have captured ideas for unique creatures, items, and even plots in this notebook.  It is quickly becoming my treasure-trove of inspiration -- raw inspirations that come from me.

As all GMs wonder, will there be a time I want to put together my own gaming book?  If so this notebook will be my key.  It will hold all my original ideas, fleshed out neatly and recorded for all time.  And, until that time comes, it will be where I go to get those unique little pieces my games need.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pathfinder, ACP, and D&D 5th Edition

Way back when, I posted a brief article about Pathfinder without ACP.  Now that D&D 5th Edition has come out, I figured it was time to take a detailed look at how they handled ACP and see if my gripe about ACP had been fixed.

Wearing armor in 5E basically requires proficiency or you take disadvantage on just about everything and you can't cast spells.  They have scaled the AC from the armor to include DEX for light armors, a limited DEX for medium, and no DEX for heavy armors.  In addition, certain armors (heavy, some medium, one light) give disadvantage on stealth.

HOWEVER, there appears to be no more penalties for other skills by wearing armor.  Hurrah!  ACP is gone, except for stealth.

These kinds of attention to detail in the mechanics make me think that 5E really has a chance of being the system of choice in the future.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A First Look at D&D 5e Basic Rules

I downloaded the D&D 5e Basic Rules today and skimmed the 110 pages of content.  This is really my first look, since I didn't participate in the play tests with the 175,000 D&D fans (mentioned right up front in the Basic Rules).  I admit that I mostly skipped over the details of races and classes.  I fall strictly under the category of old edition lover, with my favorite versions being 3.5 and earlier.  I currently GM Pathfinder.  4th Edition and the related atrocities committed against Forgotten Realms in the the Spell Plague angered me as a player and I refused to participate in 4th Edition.

Overall, my general impression of 5th Edition Basic Rules is positive.  The rules have greatly simplified a number of things, mirroring one of the strengths of Pathfinder and taking it further.  The description of many aspects of the game are straightforward and allow multiple interpretations of play to be used.  The character sheets are clean and easy to interpret.  This is going to be an excellent edition, as far as mechanics are concerned.

There are two aspects of the Basic Rules I still find troubling.  First, the Basic Rules are not openly, freely available for full use because there is no license.  We don't know what that means yet, but certainly the community does not have any ability to publish the Basic Rules in any form other than the released PDF. This also means third party publishers aren't welcome to the party yet.  Second, the basic rules are leaving out major aspects of the game, that presumably will be available in the published books.  Classes, races, and feats seem like obvious holes.  I've already signed up for the preorders, but a partial ruleset that is only marginally usable within the community isn't playing well compared to the examples of success of Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, and D20.

I, of course, will hold my final conclusions to see how the licensing for the community and third party publishers works out.  Unfortunately, my gut tells me that this slow 5th Edition release schedules is aimed at selling the system before the community knows what they are really buying in to, perhaps avoiding the backlash they established in 4th Edition.  I find this troubling, since 5th Edition really is a worthy successor to the D&D brand.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What You Need to GM: A Requirements Review

GMs all have lots of clever tools for GMing in all sorts of places and scenarios.  Maybe he has a mega-kit for GMing at home.  Maybe she has a nifty on-the-go GMing backpack for cons.  Maybe you even have an online set of tools you use.  No matter what you use to GM, my bet is that you cover your bases and hit all of the requirements we are going to talk about today.  Below I have listed the basic things you need to GM effectively.

  1. RULES: Access to a copy of the official accepted rules
  2. MAP: A map of the environment (optionally shared with players; optionally with tokens for characters and other things in play)
  3. MAP KEY:  A key to where encounters, traps, and other things of interest are on the map, that the PCs don't have access to
  4. INITIATIVE TRACKER: A way of keeping track of and displaying initiative order.
  5. DICE: A way of rolling dice (rolling in secret, as needed)
  6. STATS: A resource for stats for opponents, NPCs, traps, and such
  7. NOTES: Notes about plot points and other relevant items
  8. CHARACTER SHEETS: Optional:  A copy of player character sheets
I will cover how to meet this requirements effectively in different settings in future posts.  One thing to keep in mind, as a GM, is that there is never enough time when there are 4+ players around the table waiting on you.  In the case of each requirement, consider the fact that players can help with certain tasks, especially if it speeds it up for the GM.  For example, rule look ups go quickly if everyone at the table has electronic devices that can access the rules.  Similarly, having a shared initiative tracker and a shared map allows the players to help manage those elements.  After all, why does the GM need to record initiative?  Anyone at the table could do that while the GM is doing other things.

The quick response is always a bigger issue that the GM will initially allow for.  For example, I switched to my laptop for looking up rules rather than my phone because my laptop was just a couple of seconds faster.  These couple of seconds seem small, but at the table they can be huge.

The other things to consider as you work through these requirements is that the GM can always make stuff up on the fly.  In these cases, you are spending less time referring to your notes and spending more time making notes for future sessions when you need to remember the stuff you made up.  This isn't a bad thing.  Many of my best elements were things made up on the fly.

Let me make one additonal comment, referring to item 8.  Access to player character sheets can be very handy for a number of reasons.  First, if you need for them to make a check they aren't aware of, you can make it in secret.  Second, when they make rolls, you can spot check them occasionally to verify they are not cheating.  Third, you can give players values off their character sheet when you need them -- this feeling of "why does the GM get to my stats faster than me" can give the player a bit of incentive to be quicker when looking up stats.

Stay tuned for more on how to meet these requirements in different settings in the future.