Saturday, May 30, 2015

Krasis is Over: Death of a Campaign

Krasis had one session, weeks missed while gathering players, and in the end, I just couldn't get 4 players to commit, let alone 6.  When a game falls apart, it is good to deconstruct it.

  1. Many of the "experienced" players had never played on roll20 before and had unrealistic expectations.
  2. Many of the players could not follow directions, forcing me to tell them no, sometimes over and over.  This made me feel like the bad guy and didn't help the GM-player relationships.
  3. Many of the players built a full race and character and then dropped out.
  4. At least one player could not build a race ecology, despite it being a condition for joining.
  5. None of the players really admitted to anything being wrong with the game.  One admitted that he expected to have better role playing during the first session, but never played a second session.
Now a few general observations I have gathered from the experience, which, in total, included about 10 players:
  • Pathfinder players don't like to be told no, and don't like to be limited in what they can use from the SRD.
  • Players new to Roll20 may be expecting a different experience.  Online gaming is different, so they should be warned.
  • Good players are hard to find.
  • Pathfinder on roll20 has changed drastically since 5e came out.
The bottom line is I'm not going to run Pathfinder online for a while.  I might try to start another 5e game.  There might even be a chance that I start a Ponyfinder game for my daughters and their friends as an offline game.  In any case, this game has soured Pathfinder for me for a while.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Krasis Crash and Burn: Will it Rise from the Ashes

It was a bad week.  Krasis, my Pathfinder campaign, has been limping along.  Then, we lost two players and a 3rd was going to be absent from the session, leaving us with 3, 1 too few for a game.  I called it off with 2 new players incoming and low and behold, two of the original players dropped out without even notice.

The most disheartening part of the whole thing is that these players put in the time to build a race and a character, got the standard request for input about what they would like to see in the game, and then left without a word.  It boggles the mind.

It leaves me asking all sorts of questions.  Are all these players used to GMs that say yes to every crazy character concept they come up with, no matter how rule breaking it is?  Are all of these players so used to video games, that they don't even have simple courtesy enough to let me know that they are leaving a live game.  It is truly bizarre.  How could a player think that a game isn't going to be what they want, when they are given an opportunity to define what they want it to be?

So now I have two solid players and two new players in my Krasis game.  I'll only play with 4 to 6 players because of encounter scaling.  I guess either this week, we get enough interest in game to keep going, or we have someone drop and I deep-six the entire campaign.  It is a shame.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

So When Did Roll20 Pathfinder Players become Jerks?

I've been involved in setting up and running quite a few games online on roll20 over the past few months.  The trends I have seen is startling.  The D&D 5e players are generally nice, appreciate getting a spot in a game, they are respectful of the GM, and they generally are good players.  Pathfinder players mostly have become the opposite -- bratty, min-maxing, disrespectful.  It is startling to me, because Pathfinder use to have a solid player base.  Has 5e sucked up all the good players?

Thinking about the anecdotally-backed trend I have noticed, I think back to when Pathfinder was the newcomer and 3.5 was the old game.  It was very similar in attitude, at least in that 3.5 drew in the power gamers.  It really upsets me that I can't hardly run a decent Pathfinder game now with all of the min-maxing attitude.

Worse yet, making Pathfinder playable in a balanced sense is becoming harder and harder.  In my latest Pathfinder game, I had to restrict the players to Core Rulebook, Advanced Player's Guide, and Advanced Race Guide.  Even then players were pushing the envelope trying to break the rules.

I feel lucky now that I found a few good players for my game, but I fear getting my usual 6 players might be near impossible.  Today I had a player that wanted me to go track down his sign-up posting for my game, because he had closed the tab.  WTF?  Like I don't have better things to do.

All of these brats wasting my time just burns me out instantly.  I am usually GMing a couple of games a week, playing in a game or two, plus dealing with real life.  I regularly get Pathfinder players that join up, complain, ask tons of questions, half-ass build a character, and then drop right before or after the first session.  The worst part is that they are rude about it to me, like its my fault.  I kid you not, that I have had players drop because they don't like the game, during the week they were supposed to email me what they wanted in the game.  This after one session of level 1/2 "get to know the party" encounters at the beginning of a campaign.  What do players expect?!

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the old man curmudgeon who wants to start screaming some nonsense about millennial expectations and how MMORPGs have ruined so many table top players.  The truth is that every player should know how to behave, no matter how old they are or what their excuses are.  This is why, every single player that acts like an ass or wastes my time on roll20, gets permanently blocked by me.  I never want to see them in my games again.

Life was simpler when all the games were in person.  Where is my gaming group when I need one?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Exploiting Weakness in D&D 5e: A Guide for the Evil Plotting GM

I wrote a similar article to this on Pathfinder, and though this is a pretty evil topic, it has been of use to a lot of folks out there.  So, now, I think, is the time to start a similar article for D&D 5e.  This will be a living document to be updated with suggestions and more information as I find better methods.

In general, 5e is a lot more challenging for a GM, because the classes are reasonably balanced and because the game mechanics don't have a lot of scale over the 20 levels.

Here's a general list of things to increase the difficulty for the party:

  • Increase the number of foes and the CR (ignore the book CR system if it isn't offering a challenge)
  • Spells against the PCs low saves.  A high level sleep spell, for example, could take out a party with no elves.
  • Drag out the opportunity for the long rest.  After 2 short rests, the 3rd battle of the day is tough.
  • Hit the most vulnerable PC first. It almost always forces another teammate to take an action to assist.
  • Use terrain to force the casters in close to get line of sight.
  • Make the foes so they can quickly switch between ranged and melee.
  • Place skill checks in the middle of combat to pull off key PCs.  For example, a trap in front of foes with longbows pulls the rogue out of combat.
  • Use your high AC / damage resistant foes to "soak up" all the PCs' reactions early in the round so the rest of the foes can move around at will.
  • Place your foes behind terrain and obstacles so the melee fighters can't reach them while they do ranged attacks.
    • In dungeons, a 5' wide tunnel with a turn is ideal.
    • A simple 5' door is a death trap if you have polearm-optimized foes in the room, waiting for them.
    • A slick muddy steep hill with longbow wielding foes on top is usually a serious threat since it may require Dex and Str to get up it (climb plus not slipping)
    • Just imply ranged attackers separated by a rivine is a big obstacle.
    • Hidden attackers can also use terrain to surprise melee attackers whent hey do try to advance.

Exploiting D&D 5e Classes
Class How to Exploit
Barbarian Barbarians have DR while raging that makes them near impenetrable.  The key is to either stop their raging or hit them with damage outside their DR.

Barbarians lose their rage if they haven't attacked or been damaged since their last turn, so back off and let the rage fail before engaging.  An illusion that draws them away but disappears before they attack is ideal.

Monsters outside their DR that do psychic damage include Aboleth, Banshee, Shadow Demon, Fomorian, Intellect Devourer, Mindflayer, Succubus, Incubus,  . Spells that do psychic damage include Dissonant Whispers, Dream, Feeblemind, Geas, Phantasmal Force, Phantasmal Killer, Staggering Smite, Vicious Mockery, Weird, Wrathful Smite, .
Bard Bards can be a little bit all over the map, but usually they have low enough AC and HP that they don't want to get into melee.  They are also using 
Druid When in animal form, these guys usually drop to a lower AC for HP.  You need to do massive damage, and you can use a lowered attack bonus to get there.  Feats like Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter on the foe side of the table give you the edge to inflict the required damage.
Fighter The most important thing you can do to disable a fighter is to make them spend their action doing something else.  Set them on fire so they use their action to put out the flames.  Hit them with a spell, so they are doing saves.  When they get their actions with multiple attacks, there is little that can stop them.
Monk I've never seen an effective monk that may the player happy they were playing a monk.  That being said, they are often squishy and don't do well against high AC targets.
Paladin The bane of the paladin is a High AC foe.  If they don't land their attacks, their abilities just aren't effective.
Rogue Deny sneak attack by giving him disadvantage.  Terrain is good for this.
Ranger Two weapon rangers get showered with ranged attacks from a distance.

Ranged attack rangers get engaged in melee, preferably by hidden foes.  Add high winds to give them disadvantage on ranged attacks.

Rangers with an animal companion get their animal companion attack to draw them out.  Then attack per ranger rules above.  
Sorcerer See caster.  See wizard, ignoring spell book.  Try to get them to use up their limited points early, so they can't use them later.
Warlock See caster.  Warlocks have very limited spell slots, so getting them used up is key.  Avoiding short rests is good too, since short rests are key to warlocks.  Warlocks often multiclass, which may give them sparse stats across the two classes.  Use these lower ability scores against them.  Usually warlocks are weak, so grappling is an idea way to ruin their day.
Wizard See caster.  One of the strengths of wizards in flexibility in spell preparation, so don't give an indication in advance as to what type of spells will be needed, i.e. changing damage immunities.

The spellbook is flammable.  If they don't have a backup, it is a prime target for fire spells and for thieves to steal.
Melee Combatants Lots of ranged attackers, especially behind difficult terrain, can render these guys completely ineffective.
Ranged Combatants Hit them with melee to give them disadvantage on ranged attacks.
Casters If they have a concentration spell up, hit them with some damage, even minimal to force them to make a spell concentration check.

Engage in melee.  Their low AC, low HP, and disadvantage on ranged spell attacks makes this the most dangerous situation for them.

Force them to spend their spell slots early on utility things so they don't have them in combat.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Krasis: An Experiment in Collaborative World Building

Recently, I started a new Friday night Pathfinder game that has been an experiment in collaborative world building, where the players take a major role in determining the feel and history and social dynamics of the planet.  Since then, we've gotten 5 players through the first session, I thought I would start sharing some of the results and my own personal observations.

Krasis: The Crater Planet
So I got this idea about a year ago of a world where solar wind started degrading the atmosphere of a planet, essentially turning the surface into lifeless wastes.  However, long, long ago, the planet had been struck by a catastrophic meteor that had blown a deep crater into the planet.  As the atmosphere was drained away on the surface, this crater had become the last refuge of the plants, animals, and intelligent races that used to be separated over the surface.

Within this crater, I created circular biomes reaching from the outer edge of the crater to the deep center where the fragment of the meteorite still lie.  The outer ring would be the high wastes, a region transitioning between the hell-like surface and rocky barren terrain at the outer edge of the crater.  Slight closer to the center would be a broken ring of mountains.  Inside that would be a scrub plain with low vegetation.  Further inside the crater, there might be a partial ring of desert.  Then there is a large region of plains with high and low forests within.  In the deep center there would be a small sea and then finally a dead zone where radiation from the meteorite permeated the region.  Somewhere underneath, there is a series of caves and caverns to support other kinds of life.

To further change the natural dynamic of the world, I put this crater in a region where it never gets completely dark.  Then I covered the hell-like surface with devils, demons, and other unnatural creatures that periodically try to invade Krasis.  This common enemy would give the races in the crater, Krasis, a reason not to kill each other.

Now, what this backdrop needed, was races.  I am tired of using the tried and true dwarves, elves, half-orcs, gnomes, and halflings.  This world deserved something better.  I considered building the races myself, but I chose not to because it was a huge undertaking.  My first goal with this project was building a world in a crater.  My second goal was reducing the Pathfinder ruleset to something manageable, so I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time on the campaign.  Giving the races to the players fit with this second goal.

So I put out my roll20 LFG, with a pretty simple ruleset.  Core Pathfinder Rulebook, Advanced Player's Guide, and Advanced Race Guide were the only resources allowed.  You get 15 race points to build your race with ecology, and then you get to build your character with a 15 point buy.  All backup characters must be of the same race, but a different class.  I encouraged coordination of character building so all the party's abilities were covered.  Initially 7 players showed interest, but halfway through the week, players fell behind and left the campaign, leaving me with 5 races, characters, and players by the time Friday rolled around.  What happened in that first week was pure magic.

The players, all of whom were experienced, some of whom had GMing experience, started building the world from the races.  They added gods, which I required only to be reskinned from the deities in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook.  They added conflicts and history.  They added culture.  Some even added or requested new creatures to support their races.  My simplistic framework in one amazing week sprung to life with the creativity of the players.

After the races were solidified, I added some new races to fill a few holes.  I also shared my plan to use some non-core races from the Advanced Race Guide to play "dying races" to fill in NPCs and foes.  I had the players publish their races, deities, ecologies, and such in the forums.  I was surprised to find a cross-race lore forum topic appear.  The players were coordinating the world building on their own.

Our first roleplaying session, last Friday, was pure magic.  Five strange races came together during the journey to answer the call from a central republic, taking shelter in an old tomb together.  Each character had its role, broken from the mold of the old races, with innovative new abilities.  Some were more tribal; some were more intelligent; some were more animalistic; some were more exotic.  All together though, they were all magical from a GM's point of view.  The players had done a far better job with my vision than I would have.

The moral of this story is when you have experienced players, give them control.  True, you are GM, controller of the world and all the obstacles in the party's path, but there is no reason not to give the players a balanced hand in building the flavor of the world.  If your players are like mine, you might be really surprised at how wonderful the outcome is.