Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: Chases

In this new series of post, I will post on a number of game-related topics with an eye to fix, tweak or change what is there now. Why I think they is an issue and - usually - try to come up with a way to fix it, keeping as close to the original rules as possible.

Without further ado, the first installment: Chases.

Chase Scenes... Usually one of the high points of any movie. I cannot help but think of "Bullit" when I think of chases. Those 3-lane wide cars going across San Francisco... Nice

But unfold the sheet with the boxes upon it and your table groans in despair and disgust. I won't mention the epithets they sling in your general direction. Just the mere mention of using these rules turns away most Pathfinder players. They eyes glaze over and groans echo from around the table as everyone pulls out their d20 for a string of mindless dice rolling.

It's been my experience.

The rules themselves aren't so bad. They are simple and short yes, but they are not BAD. Perhaps this shortness might be attributed to a need to fit them into the page count (the Gamemastery Guide is so full of so many things, there had to be something cut out somewhere).

But you know me, I'm not one to run a long string of boring dice rolling. They bore me. And when things bore me, I change them. This blog post covers

So the question is "How to fix it without throwing everything out?" Because I think the system is not broken. Badly presented perhaps? Therefore I set myself a-task of finding a way to make these encounters fun, and to reward creativity above all else.

What I want to do (my goals)

First, let's examine the rules as they are presented in Paizo's Gamemastery Guide. Everything is part of the PRD, so they are here.

Then let's see what I want to do with these rules:

         1 - Allow the players to use their creativity to defeat the challenge. This could include the PCs casting spells, using tools and equipment.
         2 - Make the encounter exciting. There is nothing worse than sitting there and having to make a Strength check or a Climb check with your wizard.
         3 - The skills to use should be varied.
         4 - The fun focus must be on the players, rather than simplicity of writing.

Here is what I want to avoid:

         1 - "I cast fly, I win" The whole chase should not be resolvable with a single spell or ability. That a spell bypasses an obstacle is fine and acceptable.
         2 - Try to keep to the current rules as much as possible.
         3 - The DCs should scale based on APL, making things more difficult.

How to do it?

Let's start by what Paizo presents us as a base for the scene. (Image linked from Paizo.com).

My first problem is the creation and presentation of the chase. Quite simply: it's too short. Players need a short description of what is happening, where they are, to be able to be creative. Next, for a player to deduce some of the skills he can use, this is also insufficient. Looking at the chase scene above, here is one way such a challenge was presented to me.

In-game example You are running across the rooftops to find the Bad Guy. You can run across the cluttered roof top with an Acrobatics checks or look for the secret handholds with Perception. Scenes like these... Well they create an automatic JP-wait-for-the-end-begging-for-death... I have no desire to keep going, I was once tempted to call out "can we just fail and keep going?"

So how to make it interesting to play?

Rather that a board-game style box with a few words, skills and a DC, how about changing it to the following.

Each box contains a rough description of the obstacle "Chimney-filled Rooftops". The GM, in turn would have a short paragraph describing the obstacle.

Ahead of you is a veritable maze of chimneys of various heights. A smokey haze blankets the area. The occasional iron ring on a chimney leads you to believe there might be more. There, players now know they can try to run around/on the chimneys or look for wrungs of the secret handholds.

I guess the most difficult part is to keep the text short and convey some basic ideas with it. THAT is a problem beyond this post.

Dealing with flying/teleporting PCs

A common problem in the work of Pathfinder... The solution to this one is not trivial and the GM-fiat of "no fly, no teleport" really hobbles creativity. That said, play usage of such methods does one thing: expends resources, which as a GM, is usually a good thing.

Using the above-image from Paizo, let's use assume the PCs are chasing a villain (who starts at the steeply sloped roof or box 2). A flying PC would appenrently immediately gain an advantage as he could avoid the chimneys, then fly 60ft. over the roofs to the target. Encounter over.

It should not be so easy. Although the scene seems to be straight forward, there are a number of things in the way, the flyer should be forced to use the Fly skill to navigate the obstacles. You will get the +6 for your speed.

"But JP, my wizard flies 100ft. into the air, well over those obstacles!" Congratulations, you now have to make Perception check to spot your target. I'll be nice I won't count the diagonals, so that's a -10 for distance... The bad guy is very unlikely running in a straight line, waiting for you sprint straight to his square... Or have the wizard catch up to the bag guy... Then face him alone while the rest of the party trickles in...

The goal is make an encounter out of it. Of course some of the challenges should be fairly simple for a flyer: Box 2 should make a straight path.

Difficulty

Let's be honest here. A party of level 5+ faced with a DC 10 Perception check is wasting your time. The party has that handled. I'm a strong believer in the level-scaling scale. Therefore running a chase for a party of lvl 1s and lvl 5s should not have the same DCs. The level 5s would run into more obstacles along the way (represented by a higher DC rather than more obstacles). The thing is, the high-level crowd is likely to have more resources to defeat the obstacle as well. So having some higher DCs does not necessarily make for an tougher time.

Adjudicating the level-bonus is not trivial. I would be tempted to use Base DC+APL for skills that can be done untrained and Base DC+ half APL for trained-only skills.

Working together

A big one. There should be a better mechanism for players to help each other than the usual rules in the PFRPG.

For example, one infamous chase in a Pathfinder Society adventure has a DC 12 Disable Device and a DC 20 Climb check in the same box (I think it's Climb). Most PCs who get to that box simply get stuck there and stop. Personally, I chose to run from the previous box to avoid those 2 (my paladin has neither). We all looked at the board and groaned in pain at that box. It did swallow two of our party...

Perhaps I'm stating an unsaid rule, but should one of the party - in this case the rogue - come and open the lock, then it should be open for all coming after. Which introduces a new complexity: removable obstacles. The first person to defeat that obstacle makes it a "non-obstacle" for those coming after him.

So...

To recap what I have (TLDR):

         1 - Add a short boxed text to let the PCs know some of the things they can do.
         2 - Write the encounters so someone who flies or teleports does not automatically win.
         3 - The difficulties should scale with the party.
         4 - Some of the obstacles should be "removable".

Entry Format Proposal

The Chimney Maze
Ahead of you is a veritable maze of chimneys of various heights. A smokey haze blankets the area. The occasional iron ring on a chimney leads you to believe there might be more.
Obstacles Cluttered Rooftops (Acrobatics DC 10+APL; permanent)
         Cluttered Rooftops (Fly DC 10+APL; Flying)
         Secret Handholds (Perception DC 20+APL; Removable)

What do you think?

JP

4 comments:

  1. I hate chases, with a passion. I even refused to participate in one at Gen Con, of all places (my level 3 Dwarven Cleric was not build for speed, so for him it was pointless...).

    I understand that Paizo wants to get as much milleage (and revenues) from that "Chase Deck" they released, but come on ! Between the end of Season 3 and the start of Season 4, it seems every other mods has a chase in it !

    And I have a few comments on that fine article, my friend:

    * PCs are allowed to cast spells and use equipment (i.e. ranged weaponry) during a chase. One I ran as a DM (*sigh* yes, I will run them since some of my players seem to like them...) a few months ago ended when the Bad Guy got Charmed from 30 feet away.

    * "A party of level 5+ faced with a DC 10 Perception check is wasting your time". Not necessirily: your level 6 ranger might see just fine, but my level 6 Cleric who did not put any ranks in Perception ("why should I ?") might see f**k-all.

    * I agree: more than once I've seen 1 character get desesperaly stuck on 1 square of the chase while all his comrades breezed right thru it. Being able to "defeat" the obstacle would be nice.

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  2. You're on a good track, JP. I've been fortunate in PFS in that when I've run chases, I've managed to make them fun for my table largely by being willing to step away from the constraints-as-written and be accepting of creative solutions.

    I particularly like your idea of making sure to not include the name of the skill required to overcome the obstacle in the description of the obstacle. Not only is just saying it immersion-breaking, but the description places the players in a box with specific ways out instead of letting them find a way to overcome the obstacle.

    Also, I flipped when I heard that the Chase Cards had pre-printed DCs. Challenges have to scale! My thoughts so far on that note differ from yours in that I'd scale the DC based on the skill modifier of the opponent instead of by APL. This way would represent having to possess a high level of, say, climbing skill in order to keep up with an expert climber.

    Something to think about... I've wondered, has there ever been a chase scene published where the PCs are the ones being chased? Now that would be interesting.

    -Matt

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  3. Pretty good thougts and advice. I am working on a chase scene right now for a level 1 party (so no flying at least) and the point of it is more to give them a tour of the city by having the chase pass by all the landmarks =p

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    Replies
    1. Coridan, let me know how it goes. The adventure in which I used it received good marks and was enjoyed by players.

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