Monday, January 26, 2015

Ebberon and Westeros: The High and Low Magics of Deception and Trickery

Ebberon and Westeros seem like two sides of the same coin, with all of the deception and trickery underway to take the throne.  Oddly, though, even with the major differences in technology and magic, the two continents have decided to settle their disputes the same way, with armies.  Of course, in Ebberon, some of the armies were built rather than rallied.  And then there is Cyre.  What can I learn from GoT to use for my new character in Ebberon?

Do not continue farther unless you want to endure spoilers for the entirety of GoT through season 4.

So why do the ways of Westeros not result in the same blood spent throughout Ebberon?  Magical security is the answer.  Any King can have scrying and antiscrying, can have doubles and triples of himself in changlings, can have care watchers checking for trouble and poison.  In Westeros, the plots succeed, in Ebberon, they fail.

Armies still thrived in Ebberon, because armies are the way to change the will of the people as a whole.  Kill many of them, ransack their villages, destroy their crops, leave the survivors cold and starving without security, and then they will give up their king, their national identity, their loyalty.  These people that must be changed are not the peasants that have nothing, but the classes above up to nobility that have something to lose.  In both Ebberon and Westeros, this is the real fight -- for the will of the people that have.

So in playing through Ebberon now and having watched the entirety of Game of Thrones so far, I must ask myself as a player, what sort of character in these plots and schemes do I want to be.  The simplest answer is the character that grows.  Even as early as the first season, there are five growing characters in the plots of Westeros -- John Snow, Arya, Tyrion, Sansa, and Daenerus.  These five characters are learning to be what they will become, and that is the first of the qualifiers for a good character.  Arya is growing to be a weapon of vengeance, and my character has no fit for that.  Sansa doesn't seem to yet have found her power, and that has no makings for a hero to date.  The other three are learning to stand alone as leaders of people, although each of them stumbles at times.  That is the real power emerging, and that is what I want of my character.

Of the three, I dare say I find Tyrion most interesting, not because of what he has become, but because of his historical ability for always swirling the political players into a fury when he appears.  He stirs the plots of schemers and makes them lash out.  It is a worthy component for my character, the ability to stir up trouble by saying what he exactly means, without consideration of the bluntness he has in really speaking the truth.  The difference is, that my character will have this power no matter what he speaks, because he rarely speaks the truth.

As the plot folds forward, both in Ebberon game and Game of Thrones, it is clear that dragons and dragonmarks be the real source of power in what lies ahead.  This key to dragons makes it an interesting adventure indeed.

My prediction in Westeros is that three dragonriders with emerge.  John Snow, son of Ned Stark's sister and a Targaryon, Daenaerus Targaryon, and perhaps the missing Targaryon who is no son of Tywin Lannister, Tyrion, will take to their dragon steeds and save the kingdom from the white walkers.

My prediction in Ebberon is that the party will find a great dragon secret, and if Merek really has anything to do with the ending, the party will also find a way to receive great dragon power.  And in this, they will find the true power of Ebberon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Dark and Stormy Night: The Beginning of the Drednaught Campaign

So our new 5e party consisted of:

  • Anders -- Halfling Rogue
  • Elmeren -- Wood Elf Druid
  • Lesh -- Half-orc Barbarian
  • WIlliam -- Human Paladin
The party starts in the woods outside the town of Grievance somewhere between Greenest and Beregost.  A squall blows inland from the sea.  Lightning strikes are everywhere and the individuals  sought shelter.  Lesh is the first to find an old tomb built into a hill.  The old stone doors had been blown open by lightning.  Inside he found an empty, but dark stone room where he started a fire.

Slowly over time the other three appeared, fleeing close lightning strikes and taking refuge during the storm peace around the fire.  Some looked around but could not decipher old runes in the faded stonework along the ceiling.  3 sets of double stone doors stood strong.  Lech tried to open one set, but it was no use.

After a while, as the waters from the storm dripped down into the old stone structure, pools of water formed in the back corner.  Apparently a rat nest in another area was flooded and rats swarmed.  About 5 rats rushed in while the party watched.  Surprisingly aggressive, the rats bit at the party but were quickly dispatched.

The party looked around a bit until there was a direct lightning strike on the hill, shaking the ground all around and unleashes the 3 sets of stone doors from their hinges.  With new areas to explore, Lesh couldn't hold back his curiosity and headed down the tunnel off to the left of the room.  After going through another set of doors, the party found what appeared to be a statue of a devilish looking creature, though Elmeren quickly identified it as alive.

Lesh gave the creature rations and spoke to it.  It seemed to be the servant of a knight who was buried in this tomb.  When the knight was buried, the little creature (a quasit) was left here too.  With coaxing, the creature told the party there was both treasure and danger in the tombs, with several people having died therein.  William, the paladin, identified the creature as a fiend and warned against talking to it.  The creature tried to scare the party and then lashed out at Elmeren.  He was killed almost instantly.  In the same room, the party rested and identified a magical Drift Globe light source.

The party continued on to check the other room off to the right of the main room.  There the party identified a trapped chest.  Anders did his best to disarm it, but triggered the dart trap instead.  Inside there was a small bit of treasure.

Anders then scouted ahead in the forward tunnel into the darkness.  Unfortunately the room was too dark for him to see anything and he was quickly surround by large armored hobgoblins.  He surrendered to them and they attempted to tie him up as the party ran in to save him.  After quite a fight, the hobgoblins were gone, except for one that ran away.  The deeper tunnel where he ran to was filled shortly thereafter with a blood curdling scream.  The party found a few items of interest on the hobgoblins.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Be A Better GM: Roll Dice Less

Any GM humbled by experience of session and campaign desires to become a better of GM.  If there is one lesson we can take from new systems like Numenera and foundational systems like Burning Wheel, it is that RPGs are not about rolling dice.  They are about great storytelling.  In this segment we are talking about strategies for rolling less and DMing better.

First let's look at a little math.  Assume we have a 5% failure rate for something, which is equivalent to rolling a 1 to fail on a d20.  Make just one roll, and we have a 5% failure rate.  However, make the same player roll that four times, and they now have four times the chance of generating a failure.  The basic principle is simple, making a player roll more than one increases the chances of failure.

This leads to all sorts of problems when people alter mechanics.  Do you want to have a critical failure mechanic?  Now you characters that can roll multiple attacks (i.e. your BETTER characters) now have a higher rate of critical failure.  Don't do it.  Critical failure mechanics based on rolling failures increase the chance of failures in better characters because they get more rolls.  Do you make your thief roll stealth multiple times?  If so, you've now made him worse off than the wizard who rolled once and stayed put.  Multiple rolls destroy the foundational assumptions about being good at a skill. So what do we do instead?

Let's introduce two important concepts, taken from other gaming systems that really apply.  Let it ride. "Let it ride" says that outcome of a roll stays valid until something major changes.  It avoids the escalating failure rate problem and makes for less dice rolling.

Our second concept is "Don't Roll unless It Matters", which states that you don't roll unless the story line will accept both failure and success as making the plot more interesting.  First, it means you roll less dice.  Give characters success on things they are good at.  Give them successes when the outcome doesn't matter.  Now, also it means that the outcomes of a roll don't have to be just simple success and failure.  Instead think of them as "success" and "interesting but not ideal for the character".  Failure on a use magic device check -- maybe the magic items does something different or more weakly.  Failure on a stealth check -- maybe you now have a cat following you.  Failure on a disguise check -- now you look exactly like the guard's father, and he's going to come talk to you.

Now in D&D 5e have this wonderful new concept of passive skills.  Passive skills are equivalent to the old Pathfinder version of 'taking a ten', but they are always available without player interaction.  They give the GM a wonderful new way for judging things without rolls.  For example, perception is one of those things we used to have the players roll for over and over again.  With passive perception we just use the passive value and only ask for dice to be rolled when a player indicates that their character is actively using perception.  Walk through a dungeon, check passive perception when traps are encountered, and roll when characters are "looking for traps" or "searching a room".  It is wonderful.

Now let's lump in all the other tricks for rolling less.  Unless there is a significant (i.e. 5 to 10) different in initiative modifiers for foes, only roll one initiatives for foes.  In addition, only roll initiative once per encounter.  In addition, allow PCs, their animal companions, and other related animals to act all on the same initiative.  To speed things up, always roll attack and damage rolls together.

Now taken altogether, all these rules of rolling can significantly cut down on the number of rolls to be made and adjudicated, resulting in more time for focusing on roleplay and plot.  Focusing on the storytelling will make you a better GM and make your players happier, and isn't that what all GMs want?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Struggling Paladin: Another Interesting Paladin to Play

We brushed over an interesting code that can be used for playing a paladin in our "Paladinic Philosophy 101: Another Way to Play a Lawful Good Paladin Without Being Lawful Stupid" segment. This paladinic code-based paladin is interesting but still lacks some of the element of growth we might really want to explore with a paladin character.  In this segment we are going to consider "the struggling paladin".

Paladins, like nuns and priests and other spiritual folks, are real people.  Real people have their faults and their struggles.  Priests and nuns and paladins can mess up with both their deity and the law just like anyone else.  They can pay the price like anyone else.  In the case of the struggling paladin, we pick a vice that becomes the paladin's daily struggle.  This struggle will sometimes force the paladin outside his normal bounds, and he will maintain some sort of daily atonement to try to keep himself forgiven for the mistakes he or she makes.

Possible Vices and Negative Effects

  1. Bad Temper -- Bar fighting, Impatience with Negotiation, Anger at Party Members
  2. Drinking -- Shirking Responsibilities, Sleep Late, Poor Choices
  3. Difficult Trusting -- Difficulty with Group Plans and Tactics, Trying to do everything himself
  4. Forgetting / Refusal to Eat / Rest -- fatigue and exhaustion
  5. Stubbornness -- Refusal to ask for help (healing, skill help, etc), Refusal to accommodate other things when on a mission
  6. Romantic Involvements -- time and focus away from duties and mission, altered priorities
  7. Greed -- driven to make decisions based on acquisition rather than code, unable to spend money on needed items
  8. Weak of Faith -- Difficulty in sticking with mission, responds poorly to setbacks
  9. Arrogant -- Difficulty in deferring to others, difficulty in admitting mistakes and weaknesses
  10. Tyrranical -- Often gives orders to party, generally unpleasant and disrespectful
  11. Narcissistic -- spends too much time on appearance (polishing armor, trimming hair, sharpening weapons, bathing)
  12. Envious -- finds faults in wealthy and powerful, always seeking positions of importance for himself
When choosing vices from these options or from other ideas, a player has to be careful not to introduce a big problem into the party.  Vices like being tyrannical should be approved by the party and GM before using them.  Character narration may also be needed to soften the effect of bleed in game.

Vices can also be worked into the plot by the GM.  One of the most compelling storylines I ever roleplayed for a paladin was the paladin being turned by a vampire.  This was a huge tragedy and struggle, resulting in him being excommunicated from his order, and having to search for a cure.  Even though a cure was found in this case (per the world rules in play), it had a profound and resounding effect on the character and completely changed the tone of his progression.  It also gave the character a vice to continually overcome.

I the case of all vices, the GM needs to be on board with atonement to make up for breaking the paladin's code, if that is part of the situation.  Atonement doesn't have to be a big grandiose thing for small transgressions.  It can be things like fasting, additional time spent praying or meditating, or even donating time and wealth to good causes such as the church.

Altogether, the tone of the struggling paladin is diminished over the typical arrogant, lawful stupid paladins that are sometimes played.  There may be a sadness, darkness, or deep sense of humility about the paladin that is clearly different.  The paladin may limit his interactions with other in telling them what is wrong because of his own guilt, shame, or feelings of not being worthy.  At the same time, he may have a very clear voice for doing the right thing.  This can keep the party on a good track without the lectures or grandiose gestures of lawful stupid.

Playing this kind of paladin can be fun.  Because of the lack of strict alignment interpretation, they can be flexible.  Whereas a standard paladin is more like playing Spock, a struggling paladin is much more like playing Kirk, throwing out the rules sometimes but still maintaining a good, lawful direction.  Next time you roll up a paladin, maybe give it a try and see what you can do with it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Port Wayne: The Backups

Some notes from Sunday's Port Wayne game:

  • Thelx got kidnapped by Draven, a local gangster
  • Draven wanted the backups from the space station in exchange for Thelx.
  • Eula made a fake backup drive with "realistic" data
  • Kip rigged the place with explosives in the tool shed and did recon.
  • Once inside for the meeting, Draven showed the crew a video of the station exploding and another station moving into its position.
  • Draven had the right computer for the drive and the test failed.
  • Draven left while his henchman engaged the team.
  • In the ruckus, involving guns and grenades, the team was able to locate Thelx.
  • Everyone escaped relatively unscathed.
  • Spinner confirmed that only WHY knew about the mission, so it is hard to know how Draven found out about it.
A bit of a new story started...
  • The party got cryptic texts setting up a meet.
  • The meet was at the dubs camp.
  • There, the party found a large obsolete computer in a truck, running part of the R-AI-L-OR AI.
  • The AI had been rebuilt and let loose on the ground floor network by Ministrad.
  • R-AI-L-OR was looking for hire the party (for the million dollars he already gave them) to find him a body.
  • The body needs to be extracted from a no-go-zone in the Southwest Territories that has been invaded by daemons.
  • The body needs to be an intact Purrodaemon.
  • R-AI-L-OR plans to use the body for his own using research from the station.  Apparently the research was in putting AIs in undead bodies.
Because of the difficulty of the mission, the players have been given full reign to build new characters just to support the mission.

Rules changes were discussed for imbuing spells into ammunition.  Kip's recipes were going to be provided for review and consideration.  Also, it was suggested that grenades have some sort of debilitating effect, like stunning those caught in the blast, or something similar.  I'll work through those this week.

Shadows of the Last War: Entry to Darguun

A journal entry from Merek on hid adventures in Ebberon:

More now than ever I need to keep track of things.  There are so many things afoot, that it is hard to remember it all.  I'll keep this journal in code so no others can read it unless I give them the cypher.  It is too important to have anyone pick it up and read it.

The trip on the Lightning train was a fiasco.  After being attacked by assassins we found ourselves in a train car covered in blood and with one lone nobleman scared to death.  Luckily our disguises held.  We ended up pulling the emergency break and making a run for it.

Wroat was full of rumors and by our next train stop there were wanted posters for our disguised selves.  At some point, I think I shall have to disguise some bodies the same and turn them in for reward.

We made way on towards New Cyre and then Kenrun to get our excavation banner for "safe" passage.  New Cyre left me feeling very alone, with no Gowens to be found.  I guess all the rest or my mother's family didn't make it out.

Once in Dargruun we headed for Skullreave and the to the Seven Caves where the mark lie.  Skullreave was the false map location and we found it burnt to the ground.  We avoided the town and went on.

Near the Seven Caves we first found Wyverns and then hobgoblin guards for a Cult of the Dragon Below supplied by House Thaursh.  The wyvern was easy enough to dispatch, the hobgoblins more so.  I talked our way into the bowels of the cult's chambers using a House Thaursh signet ring.  We found that the Lady in blue had been sacrificed there.  There we also found the unbelievable truth.

The map leads to  schemas that allow the ultimate warforged to be made.  In the chambers, the cult had imprisoned a red dragon, kept it from growing, and forced it to answer their questions.  We freed the dragon, slaughtered the cult, and took the schema.  The dragon who I have nicknamed Red has chosen to accompany us on further into Darguun to find the next schema.

Wish us luck.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Professor R. B. Magick's Mobile Emporium of Arcane Wondries

Professor R. B. Magick stands nearly 6 feet tall with his high heeled black boots, and seems taller with the brightly colored silken garbs that hang loose from him.  He makes a point to twirl often to allow the bright colors to dance on the air about him, as if he himself were magical.  His voice dances similarly as he speak, using all of his bardic knowledge to inflect and sing the words for maximum effect.  He is mostly a salesman and he sells amazing magic items and surprisingly reasonable prices (half book prices) before moving on to the next town with his brightly colored mechanic contraption of a sales wagon.

Every now and then, though, he takes a detour through an unknown alley in a city he'd rather not mention.  This alley is where the rejected magical items from the local mage school get dumped for disposal.  Unfortunately the fence is not so high that it can't be climbed and the incinerator furnace is not run so often by the groundskeeper.  The Professor finds his magical items.

It takes a very keen eye (DC 15 Perception or Arcane Knowledge) or an unlucky use to determine the problems with these items.  Some of them are weaker than they should be.  Some of them have nasty side effects, or perhaps the primary effect has been warped somehow.  In other cases, a misspelled rune makes the object do something altogether different.  And once in a while the item behaves as normal.

The Professor always mixes in a few normal items that he keeps track of for demonstration so no one will know until his wagon is long gone.

Here are some example magic items to be sold (suitable to be rolled on a d20), with the items they appear to be given in parentheses.  The items function normally with the exceptions given.

  1. Wand of Bless You (Wand of Bless) -- functions normally, except the target spends their bonus action each round sneezing for the duration
  2. Wand of Feather Wall (Wand of Feather Fall) -- instead of having the effect of feather fall, the wand places a wall of feathers at the impact point of the falling person, reducing falling damage by 1d10.
  3. Wand of Maid Armor (Wand of Mage Armor) -- The target is dressed in a French maid's outfit, and the base armor class of the target is set to 11 + their DEX modifier.
  4. Wand of (Almost) Silence -- Works as the spell silence, except that sounds at a shouting level can propagate and be heard.
  5. Scroll of (Almost) Sleep -- Instead of sleeping the target become very drowsy and falls prone, but is otherwise unaffected.
  6. Scroll of (Almost) Witch Bolt -- Instead of an instantaneous blast of blue lightning, a witch flies at the target and hits doing 1d8 damage.  This can be continued each round per the normal spell.
  7. Scroll of (Almost) Rope Trick -- The spell acts normally except that it only lasts 30 seconds.
  8. Wand of Magic Thistle (Wand of Magic Missle) -- Instead of missiles, a crop of thistle crops up around the target, causing the 5 foot square to become difficult terrain and causing 1d4 damage.
  9. Scroll of Fire Faerie (Faerie Fire)  -- Instead of outlining the target in flame, a faerie appears and shoots flame at the target doing 1d10 damage (Reflex Save for half damage) and setting any flammable items it is carrying on fire.
  10. Potion of (Purple) Healing -- The target is healed normally, but also turns purple for 1d4 hours
  11. Potion of (Nearly) Invisible -- The target turns invisible, but the spell does not affect the target's clothing or carried items.
  12. Potion of (Too) Invisible -- The spell functions normally but one random item the target carries is permanently turned invisible.
  13. Scroll of Comprehend Most Languages -- The spell functions normally except that the target has their ability to normal common language randomly switched to another language for 24 hours.
  14. Scroll of (Involuntary) Levitate -- When cast, the spell automatically targets the caster and maintains the caster at a fixed altitude of 20 feet.  It lasts for 1d4 hours without concentration.  The caster cannot end the spell and gets no save.
  15. Potion of Speak to (and Kill) Plants -- The spell functions normally except that all of the plants die when the spell ends.
  16. Scroll of (Not) Truth -- The spell functions normally, except the affected creature can only speak lies, instead of truth.
  17. Potion of (Weak) Spider Climb -- The spell functions normally except that automatically ends if the target reaches says the word "spider"
  18. Scroll of Putrify Food and Drink (Scroll of Purify Food and Drink) -- The spells works normally except that the food and water become completely putrid.
  19. Goodlarry (Goodberry) -- The spell produces a human named Larry of good alignment instead of berries.  Larry is confused.
  20. (Altered) Colorspray -- The spell functions normally except that targets are instead painted with rainbow colors.  Attacks against them have advantage as with faerie fire until the paint is removed using an action.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Good Laugh for a Friday

If you get a chance, wander over to Out of Context D&D Quotes for a laugh.

My favorite quote so far, which might closely resemble a certain explosives-happy Cyberpunk player of mine:

"Bullets might have someones name on them, but 20 kilos of ANFO is more (of a) To whom it may concern"
-- A particularly philisophical street samurai

Yup, you guessed it right... ANFO is a fictional explosive.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sunday Cyberpunk Pathfinder: Port Wayne Revisted -- The Restart

We restarted the Pathfinder Cyberpunk campaign on Sunday and the group was well underway in getting themselves into trouble.

The current party consists of four interesting characters:

  • Amzi -- Gunslinger (Overkill Gunner) Zed (instectoid)
  • Kip -- Kitsune Techniker
  • Pisha -- Half-elf Bard (Face) / Investigator
  • Thelx -- human hacker
The game started out with their pilot being eject out an airlock (player left the group).  Still, there is a skeletal young dragon to tend with, a security gun in the room with it.  There is a pounding at the door adjacent to the party of 3.  Inside the party finds Pisha, locked in for some 40 hours now.

The party dispatches the dragon with a couple of well-placed fragmentation grenades.

Thelx then lead the party back up to the main deck so he could signal WHY Corp on the station status.  Within 2 seconds of the status report, a 15 minute self-destruct was activated on the station.

The local AI started interacting bizarrely with the crew, displaying knock knock jokes that didn't make quite sense.  It requested to have itself loaded onto the scif so it might escape.  The crew split up.  Pisha and Amzi loaded the AI, named R-AI-L-OR, onto their mods.  It quickly spread throughout all the operating mods.  Thelx and Kip recovered the backup drives from the lower level, barely dodging a shadowy ghost.

Pisha and Amzi loaded the AI on the scif.  R-AI-L-OR took off soon thereafter, initially headed for disneyland, but later accomodating commands to head to the Port Wayne Hyperterminal.  Kip and Thelx followed in the ship.  As they left, the station blew behind them.

Upon landing, without papers, with an extra ship, the party started relaying information of the AI, which triggered a security code.  Things started to get ugly fast, so the party escaped in the aftermath of R-AI-L-OR arming weapons and taking off in the scif.

The party lost pursuers in the clouds and flew back to the junkyard.  From there they lined up Zizzy to wipe their records for the last 48.  Thelx lined up a potential buyer for the AI bits stuck on their mods (which had the batteries removed).  Ministrad, the AI at Nervane, bought the mods for a hefty sum.  Pisha called in WHY CORP who came and picked up the backup drive.  Zizzy executed the wipe.

Back at the junkyard, the scif showed up again with the mad AI.  He wanted help and they agreed to help him, hiding their plans to take $1M dollars that he had stolen and blowing him up.  Unfortunately, a check of the hull showed a tracking explosive.  The AI transferred $1M in stolen funds to the team just before the explosive went up.  All internal systems were destroyed.  Incoming VTOLs chasing the AI turned away after the explosion.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sunday Night: Shadows of the Last War

I officially started a new campaign tonight in Ebberon.  The party consists of a female tiefling fighter/warlock, a dwarven fighter, a warforged wizard, and my character, who will introduce himself in a bit.  The campaign started out in Ebberon and follows the Forgotten Forge as an introduction but quickly got off track into the new sandbox campaign.  Our GM did a wonderful job dealing with out shenanigans.  I'll let Merek tell the rest.

I am Merek Gower, an average purveyor or music but an excellent purveryor of stories.  You used to find me most nights in the Broken Anvil, an old tavern buried in the Mason's Tower of House Ghallanda.  I earn enough coin here to pay my way, though I am always looking for other opportunities.  It's in my nature -- I grew up on these streets in Sharn and had to learn them myself.  My mother was a refugee from Cyre and she didn't know this place.  She died here when I was very young.  My father, well, he was never in the picture, though I have an idea or two which noble he was.  I have an old signet ring that reminds me when I need to get angry.

In any case, I have met a few new friends looking for opportunities like me.  Breeses is an odd one, keeping under her cloak most of the time.  I dare say she would be attractive if she ever let her hair down.  Her mood always a bit gruff.  Though wise, she lacks the memory for good negotiation.  I think she prefers agreesive negotiations with her scimitars anyway.  Dain is an incompetent dwarf at everything except smashing faces in with a blunt weapon.  He doesn't hold back and it is downright frightening to see him work his specialty.  I feel safer with him nearby though.  Ink slinger is a warforged, and before you say anything bad about him, he wasn't involved in the war.  He was trained in the magical arts and really seems more timid than most warforged.  I like that he is a thinking machine, not jumping out and chopping down people.  He gives me someone like me, as much as there can be someone like me.

Oh, yes, and then there is me.  How do I fit in to this ragtag band?  I do the talking when there is diplomacy yet to be salvaged.  I can lie and steal and cheat as much as I need to.  I can break into things and see my way clear of deception and treachery.  In the end, I hope all this leads to a life less ordinary with bags of money and those in my service and those that love me.  But this adventure is just starting, so the tale is yet to be written...

The day ended like any other with my oration at the Broken Anvil earning me more laughs from my own group than silver from the drinking crowd.  It was a spring rain, the kind that comes down so hard and so fast that it seems to be coming up from the ground.  Walking the bridges in this weather is difficult and we almost didn't see the dead body, slashed from knickers to nose.  We searched and there wasn't much to find and surprisingly much for being killed on the streets of Sharn.  His attacker was still nearby and we found ourselves in an ambush by a very large warforge.

The party jumped to action and we quickly dispatched the beastly thug.  It was unfortunate that we were just tossing the bodies over the bridge when the Captain of the Guard wandered in.  So we ended up in the Hoosegow, but I talked our way free with the old Captain.  He knows me from my less than honorable childhood with the Artisan's and Entertainer's Guild.

Just out the door we ran into someone looking for items from the old man that had been killed.  There was an opportunity, so we met with the blue lady from the House Cannith.

She took the blank magical journal and generated a map from up.  For 100 upfront and 1000 end haul, we had to trudge into the sewers and retrieve something from an old vault, 57 levels down.  Not a bad wage.  Breeses, an old smuggler, found us a map down, and away we went.

Not two levels in we got jumped by a warforged and two changlings looking for the journal, which we had sold back to the House Cannith Lady in blue.  Breeses tried to do the talking, so we ended up in a fighter.  I nearly got my head knocked off by a changling, but was able to switch over to my new hand crossbow to help out.  The rest of the journey was without incident, except for a trapped, sealed door that Breeses got hit by.

The vault itself was in a cavernous collection of old buildings.  The doors in were delapidated, so it was quick inside.  We had to defeat some minor warforged guard dogs.  The seven-pointed start item was inside along with a map and some other goods.  The healing potion felt good going down but didn't help the wounds much.

Upon leaving, an elvan ambush was layed for us, and it was another house looking for what we had gotten.  I talked our way out of it and into an exchange for gold for the item that would put 5000 gp in each of our pockets.

The exchange was to happen the next day, a simple exchange of bag for bag.  We hired some extra crossbowmen to keep watch and Dain did the exchange.  It was legit, much to my own surprise, and we were ecstatic.

There was still the map left, so we would sell it to the Lady in blue.  But not the real one, so Breeses lined up a forger and we had a new one made.  It was time to get out of town as many deals that had been made, so we also booked seats on the rail.  We were going to see the orcs and Mournland where this map lead us.

THe Lady in Blue never showed but her lesser came to the tavern asking questions.  We sold her the info for $500 gp and the fake map for another $1500 gp.  A disguise later we were on the train and off to new lands.

Of course, the train ride didn't go as well, and we got jumped by 5 assasins hidden among the normal people on the train.  It was a bloody mess when we bested them.  Now we have to figure out how to get away from the bloody scene without getting caught, while on a train.  Yikes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Binary Star System: Being Pulled between Pathfinder and D&D 5e

The last few years have been good to us as gamers.  We saw innovative new games (Numenera), we saw innovative remixes of our old D&D games (13th Age, DCC,), and we saw the emergence of better versions of our D&D heritage (Pathfinder, D&D 5e).  The unfortunate outcome of this is now being pulled by the gravity of systems.  Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 and D&D 5e are both wonderful gaming systems and now it is hard to figure out what to play.

D&D 5e is the elegance of simplicity with 3 books of material that weaves together in a balance that has not been seen in a system in a long time.  It is the new shining jewel in the WoTC crown that will be bring forth new content, new options, and a whole new generation of gamers.  If you are new to D&D, this is where you are going to end up.  And, it seems, there just aren't enough experienced DMs to meet the demand.  Though the material hasn't been perfect to date, it is just going to get better and better.  Forgotten Realms has come first, but we are all clamoring because we know Greyhawk, Ebberon, Dark Sun, and others are lurking somewhere in the multi-year release list.

D&D 3.5/Pathfinder is the crunchy version that we've been playing for years upon years.  We know exactly what to expect, we know how to optimize all the classes, and we've still got a list of a hundred character combinations we have yet to try.  Paizo is still pumping out material, and that latest Advanced Class Guide book was a practical rewrite for the character portion of the game, the likes of which we haven't seen since 3.5 first emerged.  There is a lot of energy and excitement still in this world.  Adventure Paths like Iron Gods are bringing us whole new stories for Golarion, the world of worlds.  It is a wonderful ride.

So here we are, left hopelessly orbiting the two RPG stars, being yanked about in our chaotic orbit by moons and planets of Numenera, Dungeon World, 13th Age, DCC, and others, never quite knowing where we'll be day-to-day.  It is the wonderful feeling of chaotic discovery combined with the refreshing minty feeling of rebuilt classics.  Isn't it a wonderful problem to have!

Monday, January 5, 2015

House Rules Expanded: Two More Things to Consider

Sly Flourish posted "Four Principles for House Rules" and it is clearly a good view to start with for house rules.  These four guidelines pave the road to good solid house rules.  I just wanted to throw in a couple of key points that might fall under the "Keep it Compatible" portion.  These warnings hopefully can help to avoid the road to hell paved with good intentions in adding house rules.

POINT 1  Understand The Side Effects on the Core Mechanics
Side effects are a big problem when adding new rules to the game.  Side effects the unexpected consequences of a rule that can result in potentially game-breaking scenarios.  Here is a good example of a good house rule with a nasty side effect.

I ran into this house rule recently that required all character actions to be stated at the beginning of the round.  To change that action when your turn came up, you had to make an INT or DEX check.  The intent was clear -- to speed up combat.  However, the results were slightly different.  By making the check only INT or DEX based, it favored DEX or INT builds more.  In addition, by introducing uncertainty in the battlefield between the time when an action was declared and when it occurred, it heavily favored a high initiative, requiring a high DEX, as well.  The result was that non-DEX, non-INT based classes really got screwed by the new rule.  The was clearly not the intent of the rule, it was a nasty side effect.

The other side effect of this rule is that it broke a piece of the simulationist view underlying the original rule.  If rounds are 6 seconds and I hesitate at the beginning of battle by, let's say, 2 seconds, my effective rounds will always lag by 2 seconds.  Essentially this means that everyone gets 6 seconds from one action to the next.  In addition, after combat starts and everyone has acted, it no longer matter who went first since the rounds cycles as actions one after another.  With the new rule, the start of the round takes on some special meaning as a point in time that repeats every 6 seconds.  This makes no sense in the real world and is just an artificial construct in time.

A key indicator for a side effect is an unnatural reliance on a specific feat, ability score, saving throw, class feature or other element that would not be fairly weighted across all characters.  Another key indicator is an artificial construct that does not reflect the realism or fidelity of the original rules.  Side effects may be sublte, but in systems where often advantages and disadvantages are doled in in portions of a mere %5 (a d20 based-system), subtle can be on equal footing with normal rules.

POINT 2  Understand The Side Effects on the Characters
This point is where most GMs really fail and break rule zero (everyone has fun) when making house rules, especially in the middle of campaigns.  A significant portion of many gaming systems is building a character concept.  When a GM chooses to house rule (add a rule) or ignore a rule that a character build relies on, it is very easy to break an entire character concept and end up with an unhappy player.  Now the problem is that in some systems, there are 10's of character classes with 10's of archetypes and other variations giving hundreds of possible character classes.  GMs are usually ill equipped to judge a rule in the context of this many options.  Let me give a couple of examples on this:

In certain systems we have the ability to put points into various skills as we level up.  In our example, one of these skills is Appraise, and it is used to value items, which is important when buying goods and negotiating the price.  It keeps the character from getting ripped off.  If the GM decides to never use the Appraise mechanic for goods, then the player can feel cheated because he wasted those points on a useless skill and part of what he expected to be in the game is missing.  The player is now upset over her broken character.  Rule zero is broken.

Another example is Armor Class Penalty being house-ruled to not be used in Pathfinder.  The side effect that may not be readily apparent is that the fighter class, which has several class features for reducing armor class penalty, now is broken.  It is better to replace those ACP reducing options with other things.  If the GM doesn't catch this, he can end up with broken fighters class players that get real unhappy.

In one game I was in, there was a game ruling that was made giving all characters the ability to do a certain thing in combat given a high enough skill roll.  This quickly became an issue since one of the character had specifically taken a feat to allow them to do that, and they now felt they had wasted a feat for nothing.

In other cases, I have heard of blatantly biased rules being introduced in the middle of a campaign to specifically nerf a character from using one of their ability combinations because it was overpowered.  This is a recipe for an unhappy player from the get go, and as a player if I ever saw this, I would be very tempted to leave the GM's game for good.  In this case the house rule is designed to break a character.

In all of these cases, the impact of the character-breaking house rule is lessened if it is clearly spelled out upfront in a campaign before characters are built.  This doesn't completely fix the problem, but it does lessen the impact on rule zero.

Conclusion
Making house rules can be a dangerous game when a GM steps ill-prepared into the realm of game design without understanding the real underpinnings of a system.  In addition, as a system grows in size from something relatively simple like D&D 5e to something as voluminous as Pathfinder, one must become more hesitant in adding house rules because the breadth of knowledge required to judge their impact.

However, when the time comes to consider a house rule, the GM, as part of the original 4 principles from SlyFlourish, should also consider the side effects of the new rule on core game mechanics and on individual character builds. GMs should set house rules early so there is a clear expectation when the game starts. More importantly, the GM should be prepared to throw out house rules when players protest breaking the game.  After all, when your say your are going to play Pathfinder (or D&D 5e or FATE or Shadowrun, etc) that implies how the game will be played.  Breaking that expectation is a slippery slope.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One of My Favorite Modules: A Dark and Stormy Knight

A lot of people ask a lot of the same questions over and over when it comes to gaming.  How do I get my characters introduced to each other?  Where can I start my campaign?  What module should I use for new players?  For all these questions and many more, I offer my perfect answer:  A Dark and Stormy Knight.

This module has been around for a while and was released for free in a D20/D&D 3.5 converted form back in 2005.  The premise is pretty straight-forward.  The group of travelers get caught in a storm and have to make for a local ruin.  Now, as a DM, I could spin this 100 different ways depending on setting -- a sandstorm in the desert, a snowstorm in the cold North, a lightning storm on the plains or in the woods.  In all cases, the travelers are stuck in the same place.

To draw the party together, there are things to experience, things to discover, things to fight, and fortunes to be had.  The best part is that it is only around 8 rooms.  This could easily be a quick starting session for a new campaign or a convenient session to get new players up to speed.

I really hope this gets rereleased as D&D 5e in total, because I really think this is one of the most useful, versatile modules around.  Having modules like this is really good for gaming.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Review and 2015 Resolutions

2014 Has been a pretty sucky year for me.  I've been down with a back injury for most of the year, often so bad I couldn't even sit in a chair to game online.  I've had my Pathfinder horror campaign completely crash and burn.  I missed the end of the Rise of the Runelords campaign again.  I had to shut down my Pathfinder cyberpunk game after only a couple of sessions because of a relapse.  The local comic book / game store shut down too, and I've had no luck finding a local gaming group.

There have been some positive points in 2014.  D&D 5e turned out to be a big surprise, and with the rumors of an OGL-style license coming, this could be the version I've been waiting for.  I also got a solid start on my Pathfinder cyberpunk rules and supplements, including my cyberpunk world.  My cyberpunk stuff also grew into a new space setting, starting out as a how-to envisioned novel.  I ended the year with a bang for coming up with two new caster classes -- a mana caster class and a rune caster class that I am tweaking for Pathfinder.  Oh, and I can't forget the twitter storm I generated when the Dungeon Bastard shared one of my tweets and Chris Perkins favorited it.  That was awesome.

2015 For me is a year to get healthy and get my attendance up to 100% for games, for work, and generally, for life.  I've been disabled for too long with this injury, and with some positive progress again, I just want to be done with this.

My resolution for January is to find one campaign to play in and to run one campaign -- my Pathfinder cyberpunk game.  If I can achieve those goals I would be happy.  I'd like to level off my gaming blog visits and maybe grow them a bit.  I'd like to try vlogging at some point.  I'd also like to try to keep up with the twitterverse and generate some good consistent solid content.

I have lots of stretch goals.  I want to run a Ponyfinder game.  I want to run/play in a Numenera game.  I want to GM a D&D 5e campaign.  I want to get to space in my Pathfinder cyberpunk game, and maybe even split it so I have one space campaign and one cyberpunk on-the-ground campaign.  I also hope to get a physical in-person game connection, since everything I'm doing otherwise is on roll20.  I also want to get each of my daughters at home into a game with me, either as GM or player.  Someday I even hope to get back to 13th Age.  Oh, and there are the hundreds of miniatures, inclduing Dwarven Forge cavern tiles that I need to paint...

I hope this year start finds everyone well and happy and positive.  May the new year bring you new blessings and better games!