JP On Gaming

Friday, April 29, 2011

Defining an RPG Encounter

Denis Diderot, author of the EncyclopediaA few nights back, I was talking to Louis on Skype, on our regular weekly chat about NeoExodus and he sounded surprised when I told him that I had completed nine encounters for Encounter at Ramat Bridge. I believe his exact words were "Are you sure that's enough?" in a sarcastic tome, implying that I had too many encounters.

So it has been tickling the back of my mind. Enough that I feel I have to expand upon this seemingly simple question. What is an encounter? Let me start with the boring part, according to the Oxford Dictionary, an encounter is an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. (Note for purists, Myriam-Webster has a very similar definition).

At the start of 4e (and I mean pre-release (March-May 2008)), as we were writing the first LFR adventures. We tried to wrap our heads around the new encounter concepts. Someone at WotC told us that an encounters was "Anytime a player gets to roll a dice, everything else is without importance." Though not incorrect, it is far too simplistic and erroneous. Not quite invalid, but not quite right either. True, PCs often roll dice in encounters. To reduce an encounter to rolling dice is like saying that role-playing is about rolling dice. (Yes I edited the 4e humor here).

It could easily be argued that everything that happens in an RPG adventure, happens in an encounter and the rest is just filler added by the GM as transition (like the core of what our WotC-guy said).

Before going on further, we must define the elements of an encounter before coming up with a valid definition. First, the PCs have to be faced with something, whether a situation, a challenge, or a combat they have to overcome. Second, overcoming the encounter should change the situation in the story. If all the PCs can do is nod their heads, that's is not really an encounter. Third, this has to be in an RPG adventure. Any definition we come up should cover the following encounter types: a combat with a random enemy, a combat with the big bad guy (and/or his minions), a gambling evening at the local inn and an evening at court. One thing I do not consider to be a valid encounter is the "boxed text meeting".

A combat with a random enemy This is the good old random encounter table, but also includes some OTE (Obligatory Thug Encounter). This combat is unexpected in the grand scheme of things, but does it advance the story? The PCs cross the forest and are beset by a pack of wolves. Unless someone dies or the wolves have a clear signification in the story... whether they show up or not does not advance the story.

A combat with the big bad guy (and/or his minions) After months of questing, the PCs finally corner the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) and take him down. It advances the story, but it should be far from unexpected. The PCs have prepared for this and get ready for the showdown.

A gambling evening at the local inn Filled with gold earned in a previous adventure, the PCs hit the local watering hole and try to gain more by playing a game or twenty. Is it unexpected, perhaps in that the GM may or may not be expecting such an activity. Unless when such activity is used by the GM as plot device or hook, the PCs play a game of dice and earn money. Doesn't change the story.

An evening at court The PCs dress up for an evening. Here, the cutthroat world of politics and intrigue sets the stage for the PCs to perform. heading for the world of nobility, is rarely something casual or unexpected, rarely does such an encounter leaves the plot unchanged from its previous situation.

The boxed text meeting is something many writers include in adventure as an encounter. This is generally presented in the form of a long GM-to-Player text (boxed text). To make the scene "dynamic", they add a break and something like "Once the PCs agree, continue." At the end, the situation has changed and the PCs move on to something else. I've talked about Living Arcanis... well that is pretty much one of the hallmarks of Arcanis (it is one of its curse and positive of the campaign). Whatever the goal is here is not to give Boxed Text theories... That is for a full series of articles! The alternative to the BTE is the "Knowledge Roll Encounter"... Instead (or in addition to) boxed text, the PCs get to make a few Knowledge to correct/ confirm/ add information to what they saw/ heard.

Now back to the topic, the BTE frequently does include a meeting or challenge, unexpected happenings and usually changes the situation and the story. But it does not give the PCs must say over what they do. Since the players don't do anything that's not scripted, those "encounters" should be written as part of other encounters.

With those elements in mind, I can attempt the following definition. Encounter (RPG) Part of an RPG adventure where the PCs act upon a challenge that changes the world through their action.

There are a few key points. First, its part of an RPG adventure specificly. Next, the PCs get to act upon the challenge. Finally, the result changes the world around them, though it sounds dramatic, the world is meant as the environment, the world around them, not the whole world (though sometimes it is).


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Steam Radio Idea sent!

I sent my Steam Radio idea / writing sample earlier today and now wait for the axe to fall. The story is set in Shanghai (a city I know through running The Masks of Nyarlathotep and because I wrote for the unofficial companion for that book regarding China).

Now I've never seen China and may go one day, but I think I can convey the unique feel of such a city during the late 19th Century. It is a place where the Imperial government holds relatively little power. Its power runs through a series of imperial bureaucrat and warlords.

In short, it's a perfect setting setting for a Steampunk or Victoriana adventure!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing a Steam Radio Episode?

Ever since I took part in Nanowrimo 2009, I really have taken to writing non-adventure material. I have been approached by some of the folks (folks being my good mate Scott Crosson) at Steam Radio to guest-write an upcoming episode. Now this is FAR from a done deal, I mean I have to submit a sample, then go to full production then editing and finally recording. So there is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge before/if this ever comes to see the light of day.

But its a start. I'm really looking forward to writing this. I'll also share with you, my RPG-folks any thoughts and lesson I learn as I do so. Like the novel, this is a new media for me. I had previously written a few things of the sort, but they never saw the light of day. I might've showed them to a friend or two, but nothing I could call "serious".

If you have not heard their podcast, I literally sat down and listened to it non-stop. It is very entertaining. It's not a professional job, but the guys are getting a LOT better as the episodes go by! Oh! And read the Website BEFORE listening... I did the mistake of listening to the first episode, going WTH? and then going through the website and going OH! Now THAT makes sense!

One thing I really liked were the commercials they have mid-episode. Like the anti-kraken powder for the ladies! Good, fun stuff! Hentai girls... that could save your ass... LITERALLY!

Now my personal history with steampunk was an odd one... It came in the form of Space 1889 and its sister product The Soldiers Companion, back in the 80s (or maybe early 90s...). Space 1889 is a real 80s rpg system: very much oriented towards miniature gaming, with rules taken right out of a minis game. Everything is there to do more than combat, but the system is just.. BAD. just bad. The game mechanics are just TEDIOUS. Really. Clunky, complex and just plain too difficult for their own good! Compared to today's game systems... Night and day.

For example: every time you get shot, you get to roll 1d6 and on a 6 you avoided/ dodged/ took cover from the attack. 40k's cover save anyone?

BUT THE SETTING! The setting is what got people into it. It had inter-planetary travel, Victoria as Queen and Empress of the solar system, evil Germans, Martians, and if that was not enough... You *ALSO* had the Earth to deal with. Just awesome. Just great. In the years since its publication, many have ported Space 1889 to other game systems: Gurps and more recently to Savage Worlds. I haven't got to play, but really would like to.

So... Space 1889 was the first time that I realized an interest for history closer than the Roman era. It got me thinking, researching, reading and getting me very much interested in the period.

To this day I can't call myself a Steam-punk aficionado or expert, I enjoy it. So... What I lack in specialized knowledge about Ether engines and copper boilers, I (think I) can make up with historical knowledge, and a love of sci-fi.

I'll keep you posted.


[OT] A WTF Moment

This is very OT on this blog. However, I did find it very funny when this morning, I went to buy myself some discounted hockey jerseys (end of the season and all).
If you don't know, I am a die-hard fan of my home team, the Montreal Canadiens (see logo above). GO HABS GO!

Back to the story... So I do some shopping, get a jersey for myself, one for my wife. Look around a little. Nice stuff. Then I go to check out.


There is a free shipping option... for 19.99!!! WTF? I laughed at the irony and contacted their customer service.

This was a very OT, WTF, funny moment!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

PaizoCon NeoExodus Map WIP

I have been working on this map in my head for a couple of days now. This map is for Encounter at Ramat Bridge, the PaizoCon NeoExodus adventure. I'm okay with it (its not great, but it should convey what I want. Let me know what you think.


Friday, April 22, 2011

More about NeoExodus, PaizoCon, Grognard and… 4e praise???

Let me take you back to the days before Pathfinder, the days before 4e, the time before even 3e appeared, back to the 80s, back to the days where one could find the now-mythical adventures on the shelve of your local game store… Names that evoke fond memories in the Grognards... Names like White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors, Greyhawk Ruins, Queen of the Spiders and Temple of Elemental Evil

I remember fighting a lot of monsters in those days, a lot of nameless, thuggish, unremarkable monsters. One thing I vividly remember most about those adventures and their dungeons were the very insane traps. In the same vein I remember the old Fighting Fantasy books by Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone and Joe Dever (Lone Wolf FTW). Those books were filled with mad traps (Labyrinth of death anyone???). Okay the FF books weren’t as dynamic, but a few has some very interesting traps and paths you had to take to get through. The idea of the trap-as-an-encounter by itself always interested me. It’s also funny that I rarely play Rogues/ trap monkeys in pen and paper (I play almost exclusively those in MMOs however).

Few who read this blog regularly would have read Oeil Noir’s Heros, Monstres et Forces Obscures, the French translation of a German RPG (Das Shartze Auge (or something like that)) that I can honestly say was the first RPG I played and enjoyed. That book was about DMing, storytelling techniques, how to challenge players, how to introduce riddles, how to create inventive traps and dungeon features. Some of the drawings in there led us poor dumb kids to always check the wall OPPOSITE the door for a crossbow hole! While most of the traps therein are very simple and mundane today, many are still inventive.

One thing from this book that still influences me to this day is the philosophy behind traps. Why would you build a trap? What are you trying to accomplish with the trap? What purpose does it serve? And most of all, what type of resources do you have?

In the dying days of 3.5, WotC began to change its trap philosophy and how to write them into an encounter. These “encounter-traps” were more elaborate than a simple poison dart on a door. Dungeonscape, a late 3.5 book, contained a lot of elements, many of which drew me back to Heros, Monstres et Forces Obscures, about trap philosophy, goals and location. If your goal is to kill, you normally want those traps at the start of a dungeon. If you want to soften up, you want those traps near the main villain, etc. A book too often overlook that came out too late to really be used much.

The encounter-traps presented therein turned traps (which has thus far been quite simplistic) into complete encounters. Instead of the rogue searches the door, finds the trap and we move on or the barbarian walks through the corridor, takes the damage and pulls the lever at the end of the hall which were the norm in those days. Now you walk into the room, the doors close, walls start closing in and poisoned darts start flying… Ouch. That is an interesting setup… Add a few shadow or wraiths and you have a real death trap! Something the players have to think to get out of.

That’s what memories are made of…

With the advent of 4e, traps did take some elements of Dungeonscape’s encounter traps, but did not go as far. 4e’s method made traps the equivalent of a monster and thus a common part of an encounter. It was no longer just the needle on the door (though it sometimes was). Kobolds fighting PCs could be supported/ beefed up by traps. I used to laugh that the only thing in 4e that scared me were traps.

Yes folks, you heard it here. 4e got traps right! (I’ll stop the 4e praise here).

As I am currently working on Encounter at Ramat Bridge, the PaizoCon showcase adventure for NeoExodus, I have been thinking about Dungeonscape’s encounter-traps and 4e’s encounter-monster and how to mix the two into a Pathfinder adventure. I want to have trap encounters that are logical, dangerous and most of all that force players to think outside the box to defeat the traps. Not merely make a Search then Disable Device check...

For those of you who may participate, the doors are not going to be trapped!

I promise.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How I got to rant at PCI: Talking with Peter Barrenechea

If you have been reading my blog these past few weeks you are no doubt aware of the "feud" between PCI and me. A feud that never was! What came out of this debate and exchange of ideas surprised me, I have to admit it. Peter and I had a very frank exchange about Arcanis and the Chronicles of the Shattered Empire. Here are some of the highlights of this conversation, presented in Q&A form for the benefit of my readers.

JP: Who are you? What is your “RPG-pedigree”?

PB: Pedro Barrenechea aka Pete, Stat Monkey, and my favorite title Dad.

Peter looks very proud of this last statement, we both chuckle. I share the feeling.

RPG-pedigree, well then… I have been playing RPGs since the late 1970s, started with basic D&D, played 1st and 2nd edition, twilight 2000, Gamaworld, Mekton, the original west end Star Wars, MERP…. Ok let’s just say I have been gaming for most of my life and played and ran more campaigns then I care remember.

JP: What is your official (or unofficial) position as part of PCI’s design team?

PB: I wear, like most of the crew, many hats in PCI… I am or have been a systems designer, writer, campaign coordinator, graphic artist, graphic designer, and all around idea guy. We all pull our own weight and play to our strengths. Whereas Henry [Lopez] is a story guy, I’m a numbers guy, that’s not to say that we have not all tossed around new story and rules ideas…

We at PCI are very much a team…. which is why I love working with them so much!

JP: What systems do you enjoy (other than ARPG)?

PB: Okay, that’s going to take some thought, I like different games for different reasons… but here are my top 5 in no particular order (which is not to say I don’t have house rules for these systems): TSR’s Classic Marvel Super Heroes Game, D&D 3.5, Star Wars Saga Edition, Old World of Darkness, and Green Ronin’s new AGE system (used for Song of Fire and Ice).

There are more (Rifts) but that might take all day…

Peter chuckles as I keep quiet my personal liking of Palladium’s Rifts. If only there were a Rifts OGL, the edition war would end…*sigh*

JP: When you run a home campaign, what elements would you say are typical of a “Peter” campaign or adventure?

PB: I’m all about the story, and about the players in that story… I love big epic cinematographic battles… as well as deep role-playing sessions… There are days that one dice hits the table and others where it feels like an Arcanis Battle Interactive…

For those who never got to play a battle interactive, it’s the most awesome and unique of experience! Many tables all taking part at the same time in some big event, usually a battle, hence the name. I used to write many during my LG days. Unfortunately most current campaigns have gone away from this campaign, kudos to PCI for keeping them in their plans!

And I’m a huge fan of subplots….

JP: Can you tell people about the new Arcanis game?

PB: Well let’s start with the new name Arcanis: The Role Playing Game (ARPG).

System: ARPG is a game designed to not only play tactically but encourage out of the box thinking while providing a stable rules structure for both the players and the GM. From the “concept first” character creation system to the way your actions matter in combat, to the dynamic skill system. Each part of the game reflects our mantra “Actions have Consequences”… it’s something we always stressed in the campaign and we wanted to reflect in the system. Classless advancement allows players to develop their hero organically giving them to freedom to either plan out there character advancement or allow the story to guide them without fear of making “sub-optimal choices”.

JP: Can you expand on PCI’s mantra “Actions have consequences”? I’m really a big devoted of this and always like hearing what others mean by this. What does this mean in the game/ meta-game/ rules-writing aspect?

PB: Our adventures place the heroes in situations where they are forced to make hard moral choices… Those choices do not exist in a vacuum. Although your choices may not affect you now, a year from now we will sideswipe you with its repercussions…

Someone once said "You can’t play a good Arcanis game without feeling slimy. So, so true.

We also like to say “Stupidity Leads to Character Creation” the wrong choices can, and will, get you killed…

JP: Why is Arcanis different from Tolkien-esque fantasy?

PB: A world where the most difficult thing to do is be a Hero. It’s a world which is not black and white, but painted on every shade of gray… it’s not a world where the most dangerous monsters hide someplace within the darkest forest beyond the walls, but where the real monster might be the man drinking at the other end of the bar. A world where faith is not a given, a world where even the most powerful of men are always looking over their shoulders.

You simply can’t come into Arcanis expecting it to fall within your “classical fantasy” expectations...

JP: When is ARPG due to hit the book shelves?

PB: June, though you can pre-buy the book now… if you do, free pdf…

JP: I freely admit that I am not a fan of what I saw of ARPG. But it’s not like 4e I don’t hate it! The one piece of system I am truly averse to is the D12 initiative system. I tried it, dislike it, think it slows things down and want to kill it. How did that system come about? Any chance it will go away and go to a simpler system?

PB: That’s one part of the system that takes a game to really get the hang of, then really speeds up once you know your character and know the basics (which have been cleaned up in the new version of the rules).The reason why we don’t expect to get rid of it is because it’s too intricate to the overall combat system, the strain mechanic is just one example. Every time I have ran a table, by the 2nd combat the players have a better feel for the system and combat starts to move along at a good clip.

Our website has a example combat to let you know how combat feels and flows.

You can see the example by following this link. The system has something of a D&D 3+ feel to it while being unique. Have a look and make up your own mind about it.

I did not put the long back and forth we had about this on this post. However, it seems that since I played last, this system has been simplified. I’ll freely admit that I’m still not sold on it, but I’m definitely willing to give it another try.

JP: Why has PCI gone from an OGL publisher to your own in-house system?

PB: Not owning you own system puts you to the mercy of the system, and the company, you have tied yourself too. I have two words for you… Spell Decks. I can’t go into details, but let’s just say we had a warehouse full of Spell Decks which became unsellable over night with the announcement of 3.5… we went from having one the biggest selling d20 products on the market to having a warehouse full of worthless product in one day.

Besides we always felt the class system was somewhat limited… you have no idea how many times I had to rebuild NPCs to make them fit a story stat wise… I had to go so far as to create a class, the Patrician, just to fill a hole in the system.

We also felt it was time for us to chart our own course…

JP: To me, the strong point of Arcanis has been its very involved storyline. Note to players: don't play Arcanis if your goal in life is to remain unaligned and watch events that do not concern your character! You will/have to get involved. Can you tell us of some of the "tricks" you guys use to come up with such a storyline?

PB: We are not afraid to push the players… we don’t treat them like children… And we simply embrace story concepts other campaigns shy away from. You need to draw the players into the story slowly at first then push hard... And make sure they don’t have a chance to keep their footing.

We both chuckled in agreement here.

JP: Will you publish Arcanis material for 3.5/ Pathfinder? Why?

PB: Mostly the limitations of the Pathfinder license. You cannot produce material in the Pathfinder system and your own at the same time. But, again we simply felt it was time for us to chart our own course…

JP: One of the impressions I’ve gotten from people close to PCI is that there is strong disdain for 3e/Pathfinder RPG. It sounds like when WotC announced the roaring, massive perfect success that became 4e, I don't want to predict doom, but... What are your thoughts on that?

PB: I would not say we have a disdain for pathfinder, we just always felt like it was a round peg in a square hole (alignment anyone?). The only thing I don’t like about the 3.5 system is that it always forced me to work my character concepts into their template… something that drove me nuts… you should not have to wait 5 class levels until your character finally fits your original character concept.

JP: Regarding the old Living Arcanis material, are there any plans to make available the old adventures that disappeared when expired? Either making them available through a single collection of PDFs or through a book like you have done with Year of Ill Harvest and Year of the Fall?

PB: Not right now, we have our hands full… but it’s on the radar.

At this point I started mentally counting my pennies to add those products to my collection.

JP: Speaking of Living Arcanis, that campaign has ended its six-year story arc, and Chronicles of the Shattered Empire (CSE) had a few soft launches. When is CSE going to go into full-release?

PB: Origins 2011… we have a team of writers now who are starting to spit out adventures... Hell, TPF (Tiny Poisonous Fish) is back!

We just had two adventures premiere at MegaCon and I just finished editing 2 more…. And there are 6 in the pipe… so, the way things look, we expect to hit our expected 24 mods a year next year….

JP: In the game of CSE I played, the setting seemed to have changed and be more focused than Living Arcanis. Whereas LA was a “general” campaign, this one seems very limited in scope. What’s the deal with this Crusade? Any juicy bits you can share with us?

>PB: Not quite, we had a LONG story arc with the 1st campaign. The 5 year story arc felt general at first, But if you connect the dots you will see that we dropped some hints in year one about what would happen in year 5.

Now the main plotlines are going to be shorter (2 years) and a little more focused, BUT we will have quite a few general adventures, but they will all ‘hover’ around the core story line…

JP: Will we see interactive adventure like in LA? Most other organized play campaign seems to go away from.

PB: Always!!! Both Role playing and Battle focused… we will never shy away from those.

JP: Will we see Community Content? Either through a local/regional system (like the Invisible Kings (IK) used to be) or through a “MyRealms” type of open material? Any goodies you would be willing to can share with us about this?

PB: We are definitely looking at restarting IKs. We also have a new program in the works for game masters to help organize events and get some cool stuff for it.

JP: Any hope for a partnership with another company to produce a Pathfinder adaptation of the Chronicles of the Shattered Empire? Any chance you might be interested in a 3.5/Pathfinder author/editor/adapter for Arcanis products?

PB: Nope, not in the foreseeable future.

JP: It was worth a try.

I spent some time sulking and whining here as Peter patiently listens but says nothing.

JP: What would you say about ARPG to haters to change their mind?

PB: Well, all I can say is that it was a bumpy start. But thanks to play testers and players we were able to put quite a bit of polish on the new rules set… We cleaned up a lot of the rules and with the assistance of some amazing players clarified quite a few sections.

Give the game a try after its full release with an open mind it’s all I can ask.

JP: Thank you Peter. That was very informative!

As we exchanged friendly parting words, I promised Peter that I would give ARPG a serious try. If only I could find a table locally that plays outside the big cons!

I have to say that I came out of this exchange with a greater understanding of the reasons why PCI went to ARPG. While I still think they would have had a bigger distribution had they gone to Pathfinder (and preferred it myself), Peter’s answers convinced me that they did not do it on a whim or “because they hate 3.5/PFRPG” which was what I thought was the case.

I encourage my readers to check out Paradigm Concept’s web site (PCI's Arcanis Page). They have a lot of goodies coming including a participation in Free RPG Day 2011, big launch at Origins and their forums have a lot of information about CSE and the game itself.

After all this, I find myself annoyed. I had wished to find ammunition to sling away and go on a full-on rant about how ARPG sucked and how everyone related to it was doomed to roast in hell like a previous post (see my rantish post), but instead found myself growing more curious about the product, the campaign and what would be coming next from PCI.

To annoy me further, I initially was certain I would be able to spend my hard-earned money on other things, I just might have to save up the cash to buy me an ARPG book.

Wow… now I can rant! Sweet!


*Shakes fist angrily*

*Contented sigh*


Monday, April 18, 2011

Cult of the Ebon Destroyers Comments

”More than a crawl”, a spoilerless evaluation of Cult of the Ebon Destroyers, a Pathfinder Module adapted to society. Not to spoil anything, and from a PC perspective, this is my appreciation of the adventure.

Yesterday at Enchanted Grounds in Highlands Ranch (south Denver), I got the chance to play the Pathfinder Module Cult of the Ebon Destroyer. The make-up of the party seemed ominous from the start: a lot of thugs, one caster. Our party included:

  • One monk
  • One rogue
  • One barbarian
  • One fighter
  • One fighter/rogue
  • One bone oracle of Rovagug (me)

  • When I sat down at the table – after an eventful night – we all expected to be there for a solid 12 hours of action. I expected to be constantly involved in extended battles deep in a dungeon fight-after-fight type thing.

    I was greatly surprised by the adventure’s flow and story. The adventure is more than a simple dungeon. It included some investigation, some combat and a little research.

    One thing I really liked was that the combats were highly flavorful and made sense. Two elements I’ve been writing quite a lot about on this blog. As we played through, the encounters flowed into one another seamlessly. Maybe it was our GM who did it too, I don’t know.

    Cult of the Ebon Destroyer left a very good taste in my mouth. We played at a leisurely pace (with the guys at that table that’s the only pace) from 9am-7pm. We did get into a few hairy situations at time, but brave stupidity prevailed and we won.

    This module has a lot of room for PCs with varied skill set (or lack of skill in our party). Not just rogue/ healer/ thug… And that is a great plus in my book.

    Great module.

    Great table.

    What more can a guy want?

    Personal notes…

    I think playing this scenario with Naadhira really added to my enjoyment. Naadhira is my bone oracle dedicated to Rovagug the destroyer. She constantly spews insane ranting in a language no one understands (Abyssal or Aklo). Her role is clearly that of a buffer/ nerfer. As such, she either really does bad things to the target (bestow curse, blindness or fear and later… slay living). She is powerful enough when facing human opponents but Ebon Destroyers proved that she needs a little luck to hurt people. But if you fail your save… ouch.

    I’m almost sad to see Naadhira getting so high in levels… After the module, she is now 9th level and rapidly approaching retirement… With two characters near the top level twelve limit I have to level up my next characters…



    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Painted Warmachines

    As I have been working on NeoExodus, I have bought a few minis from Privateer Press' WarMachines/Hordes range. Here is the first series of minis I have painted. Simple scheme, but I think it works.

    I'm killing 4e Shirt

    I have to say... I REALLY like this latest thing by LPJ. I have been thinking about getting a shirt with something like that... PaizoCon ? See his post Here.


    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    PaizoCon, NeoExodus, Player Impact and CSI

    For months now I’ve been working with Louis Porter on Pathfinder-izing NeoExodus. No surprise if you have been following this blog, or talking to me in person. Just this week, I finished my first draft of Enemies of NeoExodus: The First Ones. The First Ones are the top villains or NeoExodus. They are bad. But that is not what I was thinking about this morning. I had a rough night with an odd dream of having to save my kids from Kevin Nealon-turned mad scientist planning to turn the whole world into Zombieland. I’m sure this has to do with my constant classic Doctor Who watching. I’ve been watching the Hartnell/ Troughton/ Pertwee serials online with great delight. I mean where else would such an awesome adventure idea fall on my lap than between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning? Thank you weird dreams

    I digress.

    I had been talking to Louis about a number of things I would like to do with NeoExodus. More things than I can do by myself. Note to would-be adventure authors, we’re looking for you. Contact me or Louis. NeoExodus is growing and getting better all the time and it would be awesome to get more people to allow us to make NeoExodus bigger than just the two of us can do right now. I mean we’ve got ideas and a vision that spans a whole mega-verse! But I only have a few hours a day to write and Louis’ adventure-writing skills… Well not so much! This may seem like a cheap jab here, but it’s true! He’s the campaign/ sourcebook/ setting guy. I more the adventure guy and the focus on adventure when you write a sourcebook-guy. That’s why we make a good team! Two sides of the coin.

    But I digress. Again.

    Over the past weeks, we have been discussing one thing both of us hold dear. We think could add more uniqueness to NeoExodus. Not just to the product, but to the events as well! Back in the LG days being able to participate in the one of the specials was something unique and… special! As if NeoExodus needed more uniqueness: with unique monsters, unique races, a setting that mixes punk, horror, fantasy and some weird science elements I never saw together thus far.


    So the idea I’ve been championing and pushing on Louis – I’ll admit it was like preaching to the choir – is to use those events as plot points. Use them to advance our storyline forward, and give players some credit doing so! In a manner very much like LG’s interactive under my jurisdictions (I won’t about other regions). Each public event would count towards some resolution of plot points.

    For example, Encounter At Ramat Bridge is the name of the PaizoCon adventure I am currently writing for NeoExodus. Within the adventure (and I am not saying where or what) are a few plot points I want the players to decide. How do the PCs react to certain news? What relations do they establish with the NPC? Did they discover the secret of the place? Did the players seem interested in learning more about this or that element presented to them?

    Gage their reaction and adapt future products and events based on that. To this day, I still have people talking to me about my first Weekend in the County interactives: The Defense of Durwich. I really wanted to use that to see what players wanted to do and play, plus the fate of Durwich was in their hands (of course).

    I plan to come up with something for any major convention where we will be putting on NeoExodus demo game(s). The result of the events will be compiled and worked into the NeoExodus storyline, something that matters and that gets written in a yearly update or something similar. Therefore, some NPCs may be killed off, some might be saved and some may have changes of hearts. In short, YOU, the player get to impact NeoExodus simply by playing the game!

    Of course, the level of the game determines the impact the players have on the world. The PaizoCon adventure will be for first level (at least I have it planned that way for now, but may beef it up to 2nd or 3rd). Good for intro levels, but empires should not topple… Yet.

    For talking to many people in the industry, some – like PCI in Arcanis – really embrace this idea of player input into the campaign, while others have difficulty wrapping their head around this. For home games, few would deny that player impact is paramount. But as soon as something becomes public, the discourse changes and then players should not be allowed to mess up a good storyline. Be honest.

    Be very honest.

    When have the players NOT messed up a good storyline? I’m not talking about players refusing any hook you send their way. I’m talking about coming up with a good plot/ story/ campaign. Then you send a group of players in there.


    Yes. Players derail the simplest plot with a comment, thought or even out of character comment. Unfortunately, us adventure writers (whether the home GM or a writer who gets his stuff published) often become enamored or focused on how the adventure SHOULD go, that we do not think about troubleshooting or leave the poor GM who runs it out to dry and make it all up.

    What I am proposing to do here is to change our adventure-writing approach. I mean instead of thinking of an adventure plot as the whole universe for X hours, let’s see this as an episode. Many TV shows and crime drama have been doing a lot of this in recent years. I can easily think of Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS and the Mentalist off the top of my head (since I watch those shows).

    In each episode, there is main plot (what the PCs are actively doing) and the meta-plot (elements the GM look at the PCs’ actions and uses those as plot points/ hooks for the next episode). The main plot is expected to have the PCs succeed. The meta-plot is not as obvious.

    Let’s take an example using "CSI". The CSIs find two dead bodies. One body is the main plot, so they investigate, do their little thing and find the murderer. They do the same on the next body. However they find clues that link it to the serial killer they have been hunting all season. Through the body they discover more clues about the serial killer but don’t find him just yet. The episode ends on a victory: they caught murderer 1, but also leaves the CSIs with new clues about the murderer.

    When writing an adventure, too many authors plan to have murderer 1 be the main villain of the adventure, then have him be a recurrent villain. It won’t work. Your main villain has to be the Serial killer. The PCs accomplish a win by defeating Murderer 1 and find clues about the Serial Killer. But he remains elusive.

    For now at least.

    At some point, the CSIs need to confront the Serial Killer, but this does not have to be day one. Unlike in classic comic/ superheroes where every week the Joker could escape and come up with a massive scheme to kill Batman, and every time he gets caught, non-superhero fantasy RPGs tend to give a quick and final end to most villains’ plots and schemes. Few PCs will bring Duke Evilton to jail adventure after adventure. Soon he tastes a blade and goes away.

    Now how create a meta-plot where the installments are occasional and not always constant? Not an easy or obvious task, but one that can be done. The adventure we want is a dungeon crawl. The PCs go in, learn about the villain and leave with some cool loot.

    Split the elements that go in either part. There is no need to be overly specific as some elements may be re-threaded into the main plot later. The Dungeon aspect (flavor of the week): the orcs that inhabit the dungeon and the treasure they have stolen.

    The meta-plot: letters from the arch-villain, his envoy/ liaison.

    Some elements can be used for both: maps that leads to further adventure (some map may give location to further henchmen of the arch-villain others may not).

    What would you be looking for in the meta-plot: the PCs relation with the envoy, whether they found the letters and made a link to the arch-villain. Expect the orc chief and shaman to die. They are not what you are looking for at this time. If they don’t then they become additional player impact and the orc chief may return, now as a lieutenant of the arch-villain (or become his own meta-plot).

    With this simple plot twist, we have an adventure and a meta-plot the players cannot "ruin" because we seek to find out how or what they will do. Our plot point is based on what they do with specific elements. Since you are looking for specific things or actions and not whether your villain-of-the-week lives through.

    Not everything is crucial.

    Even if you wrote or thought it up.


    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Painted Samurai !

    More painting pictures! I have finished a few more samurai and here they are. Since painting them, I really want to play one or create a small samurai skirmish game. Of the minis below, two are from Clan War (the one with the tetsubo and the green dual wielder), the others are Reaper's Classic Samurai.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Pathfinder Goblins Painted!

    Okay so it’s been quite some time since I posted some pictures. But the long wait has ended. I finally not only put the last touches on the goblins, but I managed to take pictures too!

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Prediction of Doom: Pathfinder Society!

    Just to be sure… Prediction of Doom is a term that I use regularly to indicate something that I would be willing to bet actual money on. It does not only mean that bad things are going to happen. Though most of the time it does.

    But not today!

    For months now I have been like the stream in the canyon, scratching, asking, shouting, yelling and generally being an annoyance over things I consider essentials. But it’s not sufficient to just yap, whine and shout. One has to put his money where his mouth is! Now you see the link to Prediction of Doom?

    If you didn’t know, there are major changes coming to Pathfinder Society culminating at Gencon. I’ll refer you to for fulls details. In short: new factions, a shakeup in how there are involved in the adventure, changes on some of the NPCs. To make a long story short, Society is evolving and I am very excited about this, which is an odd change from my normally dour disposition. Player feedback (some I think may go too far, but it is better to move forward than to stagnate.

    One of the things I recently predicted (privately) has come true. I was asked to perform a small task for the Society regarding an upcoming product. Don’t ask (unless you’re Mark or Hyrum), I won’t say. And it really doesn’t matter… The important thing is that I got involved more directly than before in an area I have been asking for, for a long time now.

    Good times.

    Better times ahead.

    I’ll let you know about specifics when I can. For now I’m just so excited! I hope this is but the first of many such projects.

    *Fingers crossed*

    Sooooooo, my Prediction is that Paizo and the Pathfinder Society with the dynamism and responsiveness to feedback will stay around for many years. In eight years of Organized Play, I have yet to see an organization respond to feedback like Mark & Hyrum are doing.

    That said, I know other campaigns are responsive to their fan base and I don’t want to rub them the wrong way (looking over my shoulder to PCI, who seem to respond well, but I have not experienced enough of their campaign while it was going on to be able to say).

    GO PFS!


    Monday, April 4, 2011

    NeoExodus Map WIP

    I am trying my hand at map making. Here is a picture of my WIP. This is my attempt at making a map for Kayen'te the home of the First Ones for NeoExodus. It includes a few spoilers such as some of the unique locations to be found therein. What do you think about it? Impressions? Good? Bad?


    [RANT… huh rant-ish] Kinda curse you PCI… kinda

    Last week, I posted a message on Paradigm Concept’s Facebook page regarding their upcoming “Codex of Arcanis” product. I was rather simple You guys plan to drop the D12 initiative system and go to Pathfinder? The response I got (which is not the one you can see now) got me riled up and annoyed. Pissed off, I wrote a message to PCI on their website stating my indignation at the response.

    I prepared myself to write an awesome, scolding, rant-to-end-all-rants type of rant. I put down all I disliked about the new system. Artillery locked and loaded. My response was direct, but civil as I don’t really have much against the people, only the system.

    <JP stabs his D12 to the theme of Halloween>

    Then I get a message from Peter Barranechea from PCI, who in rather simple terms asked me what I felt was wrong with SERP (Shattered Empire Role Play). Rubbing my hands together, licking my chops in glee, I wrote a long and (as usual) quite direct response. I detailed my experience with the new game, the old game, what I dislike of the new system. Total of 1,200 words!

    Surely, he would send me off to hell with a “gnah” or something like that, and my conscience would be clear to yell FIRE! with a clear conscience, content that I had tried to talk. The talks would fail. Cannons will roar.

    Then later this afternoon, Peter replied with some interesting insight about the game, things that had changed since I played and other good things about the game. While I don’t agree with many of his points (my biggest point of annoyance is still there,the D12 wheel), his argument was well formed, valid and not conducive for me to go off on a rant! AAAARGH

    <JP stabs his D12 to the theme of Halloween>

    So there, it would’ve been an awesome rant. I would’ve been as awesome as the Grande Batterie at Waterloo. But like l’Empereur winning in Belgium, it’s not going to happen.

    So instead of the awesome, venom, hate and condemnation-filled rant I was ready to send, I am instead writing this post. The above post sounds melodramatic for effect I really did not want to write any rant against PCI. I like their Arcanis campaign and though I remain indifferent (at best) about their new system, I want to see the finalized version before giving a final verdict. Maybe play an additional game or two.

    However, that D12 initiative system just drives me crazy! That much I can rant about. RANT ON!

    I have been talking to Peter about this and will be posting more on this here.

    <JP stabs his D12 to the theme of Halloween>

    <JP stabs his D12 to the theme of Halloween>

    <JP stabs his D12 to the theme of Halloween>