JP On Gaming

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: One-line fix to the Intimidate Skill

Here is a situation that happened (the names and places )

GM: As you break in to the Protectorate enclave, a number of towering ironforged surround you. They are sword-wielding ten feet tall golems.
Player: I growl at them menacingly.
[Player rolls well on an Intimidate check vs. 10+HD+Wis]
GM: ...and the creatures recoil in fear, obviously demoralized.
[At this point the GM swears]

As that kind of situation happened to you? I know I've faced it more than once. Although I love the Intimidate skill and use it quite often (based on character), I think there is potential for... not really abuse, but more a case of silly usage.

Back in the days of 3.5, there was a line which disappeared from the Pathfinder rule set that opened the door to such ridiculous situations.

To quote the 3.5 SRD: A character immune to fear can’t be intimidated, nor can nonintelligent creatures. This meant that oozes or skeletons would not cower when your character goes "BOO!"

In Pathfinder, creature types are no longer specifically immune to fear. Reading through the books, everything SEEMS to indicate the fact that intimidate doesn't work on creatures immune to fear, such as paladins. And that the mindless monsters would not be affected by someone growling or threatening them.

But they are not.

You fighter or bard could scare anything he meets by "looking impressive." This just doesn't make any sense.

Looking at the most common fear-based spells (cause fear, fear, etc), all of these have both the "Fear" and "Mind-Affecting" descriptors, thus making them useless against a number of creatures you normally do not expect to feel fear.

How I would fix it

I thought of making the penalties for shaken be explicitly a morale effect but that would really make the shaken condition become much weaker. Plus I think there might be unexpected side-effects to this. So I let that one go.

Quite simple, I would reintroduce the line from the 3.5 SRD, making creatures immune to fear and non-intelligent create immune to Intimidate. This would leave the skill to have a lot of usage while closing off the biggest loopholes. Thus you can dazzle the gelatinous cube with a Dazzling Display of your nunchuks!

What do you think?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NeoExodus Free RPG Day Kickstarter Kick-Off!

And it's a go! LPJ started our Kickstarter a little early I guess my excitement about the project got to him and he just had to get it on track!

You'll notice that I have placed a tracker on the page (top right) to allow people to get there... Who am I fooling? Its so I can one-click to there! As more and more people give, he will unveil some more goodies for all.

Now I have to get to writing for the promised goodies!


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Funnies: This one's just for D'Anne!

When I saw this, I immediately thought of my fellow First One: D'Anne aka The Wicked Witch of the West...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: Feat Over-Specialization

One of the frequent things in fantasy literature - and for this I generally refer to Robert E Howard's Conan, not the recent stuff - is that the protagonist adventures and explores the world. Then as he spends time in a given location, he picks up on the local weapons and armor and adds those new skills to his how, making the character grow in experience.

Now let's take the Pathfinder equivalent of Conan, we'll call Konan. At level 1, he picks up Weapon Focus (greatsword) and spends the rest of his life see any non-greatswords as loot the GM is trying to cheat out of him. "Another awesome longsword? I'll sell it and make my own sword better."

Ever heard that?

It gets even weirder when you adventure to a completely different continent: like Tian-Xia on Golarion, Maztica in Forgotten Realms (before they got rid of it) or the GM's latest idea in your home world. Whatever the case may be, the above-mention PC barbarian will forever be using a greatsword. While there might be a reason for a player to prefer his "ancestral, family greatsword," this should not be a reason for that character to never pick up or want to use a different weapon.

One thing I really liked about playing Warhammer Fantasy (I'm a 1e-er, never played the others), was the concept that most weapons all did basically the same thing. Whether your character picked up an axe, a mace or a sword your damage was the same. The few categories of weapons such as two-handed weapons, flails and small weapons all worked basically the same but had a few special rules. I really liked that. So my character started with his sword and later adopted the hammer as his weapon of choice without changing his stats. Even after I specialized in the hammer, there were a few fights where I would use my spear or my sword (usually after I dropped my hammer) and continued fighting. That's not something I often see in Pathfinder.

Let's be honest, the game encourages you to select common weapons as the "easiest to find". Then for players, they get to select feats that requires them to specialize in a specific type of weapon, compounding the problem. I'll admit being guilty of it myself. So by 12th level, a fighter could have a fair amount of feats invested in say the battle axe (Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater Weapon Focus perhaps Improved Critical) and the party finds a great longsword. The longsword is quickly wrapped in a blanket and traded to the first trader they find.

So how do we fix it? Sure, a fighter may swap some feats every 4 levels... But what about everyone else? What about the above-mentioned barbarian?

To further push my reflection, I began to consider examining the Spell Focus feat. So my wizard, used to focus his efforts on evocation, but after a given adventure, he meets and studies with the Grand Enchanter of the realms. Or he dies and begins to spend his time studying the dark arts of necromancy... Why couldn't he change his specialty?

What I want to do (my goals)

Before I go off on a number of tangents, let's lay out what I want to do first.

         1 - Allow players (and to a lesser extent, GMs) to allow a character to evolve his specialties over the character's career.
         2 - I do not want this to be a "rebuilding" of one's character every time a PC finds a new item.
         3 - A character should spend some time with his new specialization. This is not a revolving door option.
         4 - By allowing variety, a GM can think of adding different weapons and loot drops into his adventure. You're not longer "just" finding long and short swords, but you can find the occasional a katana, a bastard sword, a spear, etc.

         5 - The changes should allow for added crunch, but also changing flavor over a character's career.

How to do it?

I considered a number of ideas.

         1 - Allow a player to change his specialty as soon as he spends X amount of time practicing. Perhaps the simplest of rules, but one I don't like. The various amounts of time included fighting X number of rounds, X number of combats or a flat time (modified by Intelligence OR Base Attack). But I disliked it. It felt too arbitrary overall and I found the solution to not be elegant.
         2 - If a player finds a master and spends "some" time with that master - usually between adventures - then he could swap. Usually this would include either a payment to the master or some service to do. I like this because a player seeking to find a master gives the GM a plot hook for future adventures. However, in my experience, players will either constantly seek a master OR completely ignore them to save their money. The third option included kidnapping the master and forcing him to teach them, but that's a different issue. I dropped that too as the final solution. Rather than forcing the PCs to meet a master, this could be done in a more role-play, than formalized.
         3 - I took a step back, examined my goals and then it hit me. A solution I felt elegant, simple enough and that filled my goals.

Rules Proposal

A PC possessing a feat that requires a specialization, such as Skill Focus, Spell Focus, or Weapon Focus can change his specialty every time he gains a new level. The exact method of how this is done is left to the individual GM as I know some GMs require that the PCs train (on their own or with a master) or that they spend some gold.

Now there is a caveat that all feat depending on one be changed at the same time to the same specialization. Thus a sorcerer with Spell Focus (evocation) and Greater Spell Focus (evocation) would have to change both at the same time to say - divination or transmutation.

However, feats not in the same tree such as Weapon Focus and Improved Critical do NOT have to be changed together. At that time, the player must decide whether he levels or not.

Whatever a given GM's specifics, most PCs spend at least a few sessions at one level before gaining a level.

Thus our Konan could take Weapon Focus (greatsword) at level 1. At 3rd level, he comes across a magical flail, so he decides to change his specialty to flail when he reaches level 4. Then at level 8 when he find a naginata, he can switch to that upon reaching 9th.

There you have it... A rule simple enough to not break the game, but that gives both players and GMs room for versatility and change during a character's career without completely rebuilding the character.

What do you think of it?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Busy days!

This is just a quick update about me. I'm really working hard to finish a lot of projects. At the same time.

And I like it.

This past Saturday, I ran two play tests for upcoming NeoExodus Legacies Adventures. Linda's A Rose by any name and my own The Prisoner. While there are fixes to do to both - mostly in the area of grammar, but there were a few things I need to fix. Avenues of investigation we need to detail to help our GMs when they are faced with a table of players.

One of my biggest concern was the incorporation of a chase into an adventure, using the rules I proposed in this previous post. Using them was a challenge but I think the result was very positive. Very encouraging. I'll post more about it in its own post later. It changes some of the premises of chases, but it make for rather interesting times, from my side of the screen, it was good. From the players' side, the possibility of removing some obstacles really helped. At one point someone ran back to heal other members who couldn't roll to save their own lives... As I said. Interesting!

Genghis Con is coming together for us (and I hope for others too). With two adventures nearly done (I sent them to D'Anne and Linda) to edit, my focus for the con shifts to finishing the interactive. If you've been following my Twitter feed, you know that I've been working on it for a while now and that it is coming together nicely. That's true. Well, this is something we keep talking about and the more we do, the more ideas we get for it. Those who will get to play will get a chance to get their names into Exodus' history.

There will be some new GMs who will run things for us as well, which is going to be great! I can't wait to get adventures into these guys' hands. Meaning I've got to hurry!

I need to get as much done before we kick off our Kickstarter for Free RPG Day which will take a fair chunk of my time (and not just the writing...). I'll let you know more about it when kick it off on February 1st! LPJ worked his butt off to get some traction on this, and this KS is really the icing on the cake.

When LPJ and I first talked about the "Supporting 3PP is supporting Pathfinder" campaign. Okay, I was told of this, but I supported the idea nonetheless. I wondered if this would peter out into nothing, but I am happy to say the LPJ and a number of other 3PP are really behind the idea. As proof, you can see a lot of their names pop up here with us doing something with them or them doing something for us.

I'm happy to report that the two Kickstarters we funded and where I was directly involved with: last year's Free RPG Day (Undying Legacy of the First Ones) and Origin of Man are both out. The Silvered Skull which I wrote for Dreamscarred Press is in formatting with LPJ right now, thus done (on my side of things). My initial offering for Obsidian Apocalypse is also done (though I expect a few more things to come my way on that one). So now I can focus my attention on this newest offering. I have a few combats and situations/traps I have, but nothing concrete just yet.

I'll be posting more miniatures and commissions soon. I've had a number of units sitting on my desk in their base coat only... I have to finish them then take pictures.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Funnies: Conan goes musical

I've been thinking a lot about Conan the Barbarian lately... I had been told of this long ago but... it is worth posting.

You cannot un-see/un-hear, only bask in the awesome.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chase Decks + Magic Decks = Great Chase?

As I read Matt's comment about running a chase with the PCs being chased (read it here) and started putting ideas down for my response (here), I began to think "how can I make a deck that could be used like a chase deck yet fit the changes I want to implement?"

The idea slowly dawned on me. What has a lot of terrain, art and is available on the cheap?

Magic cards!

Don't laugh, lands for Magic are inexpensive enough that you can buy a bunch of them, replace the text with boxed text and use those! Go to your local games store and ask for their stash of lands. I spend an hour at Petries' Family Games looking through their lands box to find 2 identical cards with some art that represented what I planned to use in my chase.

Shout-out to Cam for the cards!

For 5$ you can get about 50 cards: enough to correct mistakes and generate a number of cards! It's even less than that if you don't mind using the pre-used/ non-mint lands/ white contour/ brown edge. I did not mind. I wasn't going to play Magic, just use those for RPGs.

I think this might be a winning option here: cheap, readily available, portable, quick to use, and pleasing to the eye! For under 5$ I don't mind slapping a sticker on them to cover the "Tap for 1 mana" text.

I'll finish them later today and post some pictures over the weekend.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: Armor affecting initiative

Continuing my series about how to tweak the Pathfinder Game.

What I want to do (my goals)

In some games, in movies, and other representations, you see the typical adventurer wearing light armor for the most part. But in D&D, armor up as high, heavy as you are proficient with. I would like to encourage this type of behavior. I would like to see more fighters in light armor, but also make it interesting for the player to do so.

1e AD&D had an initiative modifier based on your weapons. I also recall seeing it early in during the 4e playtest and in Star Wars Saga (iirc). It makes a lot of sense to me: the shortest armor gets to go first, but has a bigger chance of not being hit.

How to do it?

I thought of a few methods of how to do this. First was imposing a flat penalty based on the weight of the armor: O for none, -2 for light, -4 for medium, -6 for heavy. That was a little too hard and complex.

Next I looked at modifying the system above by lowering by the Base Attack Bonus. So if you wear a bigger armor at low level, you gradually get rid of it. I didn't like that because it was generally a pain to explain.

Finally, I thought of the Armor Check Penalty (ACP). This was a good compromise. There are ways for a player who wants to focus on going first to actually do so.

This makes fighter even better as their armor training ability lowers their ACP and get to go before (on average) a paladin in heavy armor. Also, rogues would be more likely get a sneak attack in before the heavies get to go.

Problem/ What I don't like

This approach is pretty cool in a game focused on non-magical characters - the types common in Warhammer or low-magic settings like Lankhmar or Thieves' World. But in typical Pathfinder settings like Golarion and NeoExodus, such a rule would not really help. The area of effect casters would generally get to kill off mass number of enemies before anything happened, increasing the gap between melee and casters.

I have thought of this and though it is an idea I like, I cannot see it work right in Pathfinder without seriously re-working the system. I could see something like this work better in a system where initiative staggers - such as Arcanis or Savage World.

What do you think? How would you implement such a system?


More thoughts on armor

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Responding to comments about chases

A few points mentioned in comments posted in my first "Tweaking Pathfinder" post, which you can find here.

First, from my good friend Daniel Mayrand:

DAN:* 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.

JP: Actually, you CAN do that... and that is why they give a range between scenes. So you ran it right. If instead of trying to do the skill challenge part, you try to cast a spell or make a ranged attack, you definitely can.

That's part of the rules, but not quite clearly mentioned or explained - perhaps the biggest issue with chases is the number of unclear or GM-call ruling IMPLIED in the rules. For a home game, no problem, the GM says how things works and that's it. In an organized play campaign though you want to make sure every GM understand the rules you are using. The chases rules require a few extra lines to clarify, which was one of my goals.

PCs should be able to use whatever means at their disposals to work to defeat the encounter. That's why they generally work better at lower levels than at high level, when everyone gets hasted, drink a potion of fly with the other half of the party using dimension door... Yes that happens.

DAN:* "A party of level 5+ faced with a DC 10 Perception check is wasting your time". Not necessarily: 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.

JP: Actually it is... PFS has taught us players that Diplomacy and Perception are the top 2 skills you need in the campaign. Acrobatics, Disable Device, Intimidate, Sense Motive, and Spellcraft are useful, but you can either focus on them or ignore them.

Knowledge skills are also useful, but the way they are written you don't *REALLY* need them to succeed. It might be a tad harder, but you'll win in the end. Local and religion are CLEARLY the most used skills in PFS, with arcana and dungeoneering next, nature pops up, but engineering and geography are generally wasted skill points.

Appraise, Disguise, Escape Artist, Craft (other than alchemy), Heal, Profession, Sleight of Hand and Swim are generally useless, unless you really try to use them - or as a day job. Since it's part of the BIG THREE DC 10s are useless. exp at level 5+.

PLEASE, do not comment or email me with "*MY* character uses that skill all the time!" Ask yourself if you've ever seen someone - OTHER THAN YOU - use these skills?

Try to "challenge" your PC with a Perception DC 10 at level 5+ see how many cannot fail. Even your cleric with his Wisdom of 14+ is likely to get a bonus on the roll, making it a DC 5-8, depending on your stats... That's 75-60% on a skill you are not good at.

That's part of the culture of the campaign. After you play a LOT you see these trends where certain skills keep coming back over and over: Perception and Diplomacy, Perception and Diplomacy, Perception and Diplomacy.

Don't read me wrong. That's just the STYLE and CULTURE of the campaign. While those two skills are valuable in NeoExodus Legacies as well, I make a conscious effort to try and create situations where the players don't just rely on Perception. It's important, yes, but not to the point where EVERY class should get it as a class skill through trait or fear and dump a ton of points.

Next from Mattastrophic with whom I got the pleasure of adventuring a LOT, in the days leading to the retirement of Naadhira... He's the one responsible for Naadhira's famed Book of Lichdom. Yes. Blame him.

MATT: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.

JP: Of course, going off script in PFS is usually when I had the most fun. Makes the adventures feel dynamic and vibrant. But doing that you clearly go against the rules of the campaign.

That one thing is perhaps one of the biggest philosophical differences between PFS and NeoExodus Legacies. We encourage our GMs to make the adventure fun, while trying to stick to the script as much as possible. GMs are good and love what they do - for the most part - and that should be encouraged. Not just for Organized Play campaigns, but for role-playing as a while. That's one of the things I believe LFR did right with their MyRealms (a format I will most certainly emulate in Legacies).

MATT: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.

JP: The chase cards were a good idea. Really they were. The problem is that by scripting the skills and DCs like you said, they put the players in a level-dependent manner and a mindset. Put a 10th-level monk in there and see how quickly he blasts through your "challenge". Daniel's comment at the top with his dwarf cleric (generally not the one to make the most of these high-speed encounters) is basically screwed.

I'll admit that I found myself in that type of thought process when I had to deal with such things. Lucky for me, my Samurai mounted his horse and I went on a rampage of skills that made no sense: he climbed a wall, acrobatic'd through a crowd and finally I stealthed around something. Yup... all with +4 bonus. It made no sense to me, but that's what I had to do.

Could they have used a non-quantitative but qualitative method to define the challenge? "Easy/ Moderate/ Hard/ Very Hard/ Impossible" each of these mapping to a level-dependent number you could find the booklet?

LPJ actually did this in his Ultimate Maze Decks: Crypts, a product I like much more than the Paizo Decks. You will say I'm partial - and I am. But the UMD, has a DC X+CR for skills which is really cool.

MATT: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.

JP: Not that I know, but I plan to used the rules above in an NeoExodus Legacies adventure where the PCs and the bad guys are both trying to reach a given place first and the follow encounters play out differently based on what happened. I think that such a chase could be potentially deadly but extremely fun. I'll see the players' feedback to the chase I'm working on right now (when it is done).

I think a chase like that would work MUCH better with a chase deck to give the players an idea of the challenge they face... Why not have a booklet, like the Harrow Deck that gives information about the cards? We can do it for a fake future-reading deck but not something we are actually likely to use more quite often.

I had a chase deck I simply turned over to a friends as "something I'll never use". And guess what... I never had a reason to use them!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Talking Interactives: The making of Opening Moves

I have been working on "Opening Moves", the NeoExodus interactive for Genghis Con. The original idea I've been toying with for a while, but the format and the details only took shape in late October. D'Anne, Linda and I got on a skype call and began talking about what we'd like to do.

I teased you with a few posts before here, here, and here. But today I won't be doing that. I'll talk about the way the adventure was developed and how we went from an idea to the final product.

First, "what are we doing"? I gave the ladies my first thoughts on what and how we would do it. This was a very high level overview "The Caneus Empire launches its Crusade against the Janus Horde." And go from there. War is something that is both a curse and a bane for authors. There is a LOT of adventure potential, assuming one does focus on the military aspect: seek and destroy missions, intelligence gathering, offensives, counter attacks, covert operation, etc. However, it can become stale. That is the danger we wanted to avoid.

Avoid having only combat encounters.

Avoid having too many role-play heavy encounters.

Find a balance for the event and make it exciting and new. So how to do it?

We discussed a number of things but eventually settled on a format that would allow the PCs to evolve through a complex adventure, make it multi-table (so the players can feel they are part of something bigger). How can we make this a trek into the lands of the Janus Horde that is both new and typical? So far, we've have a few adventures set in the lands of the Horde or that deals with them: Encounter at Ramat Bridge, Ruins of Trovaska, the PaizoCon 2012 Interactive Battle of Trovaska, and Shattered Peace... So there is a baggage of encounters there. The Horde's method of operation are known by players and GMs alike by now.

So we pitched a number of ideas, mixed typical encounters and new stuff we thought would make it interesting. The Horde got a number of write-ups in the Usual Suspect book so we shamelessly took opponents from that. I also went through books I currently have in production: The NeoExodus Players' Guide, a monster book whose WIP title is "Scions of the First Ones", and a book filled with GM resources and unique environments of Exodus (WIP title is bad but it's Magic of the First Ones).

With a list of combats, mini-encounters, RP encounters and yes, even foreshadowing of future adventures, I now had the task of finding a way to present this to the players in a coherent manner.

For the past week or so I've been hard at work trying to complete the adventure. It's coming along real well... and quickly too - always a plus for enthousiasm.

So, what do you, as players, have to look forward to?

Well first off throughout the interactive there are encounters, events, meetings, combats and locations we want to see what you will do? Will you ally with such-and-such? Will you let these people free? Will you fight that person? Will you listen to what NPC-A has to say? We won't tell you what these are, but by playing you will influence more than you might think.

Right now, we have split our encounters into 3 types:

The first is the "Super-Shorts". These encounters are small encounters requiring no more than a few minutes to set up and complete. They could be witnessing something, finding something, talking to someone, or a number of other events which are usually of a non-combat nature.

The second are the "Shorts". These encounters are mostly a straight combat encounter. The interactive is after all, a war. We have put a number of monsters in there, not just wave after wave of Hordesmen. I'll admit I was tempted to do so, but Sametia is wide and is home to many more things than just raging barbarians.

The third group of encounters are the "Longs". These encounters are likely to take longer to play. They could be larger fights, more involved role-play encounters, or even a two part encounter (if you do this then that). Long encounters may not be very long actually.

Also, we will have a few special Legacy Records (LRs) to reward some players who will do special things. We did that in LG and really liked being able to ask "did anyone slay the Troll General?" or "does anyone carry Lord Duncombe's banner?" These bits allowed for unique character stories, usually leading to additional information in adventures and sometimes recognition. One character really liked being the bannerman as he could wave the banner in any war scenario to give people bonuses. I still have to detail what these will be for the interactive. Okay I'm totally lying I know what I want to give out but I still have a few I am working on...

Looking at the almost 30 pages of material for the interactive (there is still a fair amount to polish), I believe this will really kick off the campaign in a positive way.

I think I already said too much...


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NeoExodus Free RPG Day Kickstarter approved

Well it seems things are coming together for the year. LPJ got approval by Kickstarter for our next big thing: a new NeoExodus adventure for Free RPG Day. I already gave you a few teasers in a previous post, but now we have a name and some more art for it.

The title, I'll admit not being overly fond of, but it's growing on me. From the art you can see the unmistakable shape of a Kobura, one of the First Ones!

One of the things about our idea is that it will be greatly influenced by you guys in the sense that there will be the Free RPG Day (I can't remember the exact number of pages) product but based on the Kickstarter, we'll add more stuff to the adventure. I don't have the specifics fully down just yet (LPJ handles all that while I focus on completing my work for the next round of adventures for Legacies). But preliminary discussion make me very excited about what we'd might see as the finished, completed product...

Is there anything you would like to see in the adventure? A monster? A location?

What does the title make you think of?

Let me know.


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

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.


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.


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?


Monday, January 7, 2013

More tips to create fun characters

Following my Friday's post, I received a few additional emails through various sources. I chose some "choice morsels" to re-post here.

Sean Clark is one of the "old guys". Okay not so much because of his age, but because he was around in the days of Living Greyhawk. Sean really creates unique and colorful characters... I like his advise. It's simple and to the point. I especially like the catchphrase idea, what a great idea to get into your character.

Don't stress on fleshing out your characters life story - work from a solid concept and let the character develop over time.

If you have problems staying in an accent, work on a catch phrase for your character, using that accent. That catch phrase can help keep you " in the groove" and also helps people remember you character. Example? Try saying "That's freakin' huge!" With a Scottish accent ;)

One of the great questions that I always ask myself about each character is "what motivates this character to risk life and limb to go adventuring?" Kind of a basic question, but it can really help nail down what drives your character.

Make sure your character is really good at something. Role playing is awesome, but if you party TPKs because your character has a lot of personality, but brings nothing to the table, the players WILL remember you, but not in a very positive light.

And Jeff Kokx, owner of Enchated Grounds added to the discussion. I consider Jeff one of the best player (and GM) I've played with over the years. His point reaches mine about not predetermining everything about your character. Play and interaction with others creates ties and recurring relations that make for unmistakable moments.

His advice is great. Great point.

I'll also add on to Sean's idea about letting your character develop over a bit of time: don't be afraid to let other players' influences define who you are. One of my favorite characters to play is Khaldun, my dwarven guide. He is uncouth, butchers names on a regular basis, and respects people with really nice hats. The uncouth and hat parst came from another player's input, and I love those aspects of his personality.

Eric Ives shared the following thought which I really liked. A character is never "mysterious". In an organized play setting, Eric is 100% right that a mysterious character remains mysterious. If, as a player or GM, a mysterious character is someone who simply gives you no hook.

That's not to say that the "mysterious" thing cannot be used. Having a character with a mysterious tattoo or mark or a weapon of mysterious design at least prompts the question "what is that?" But being a mysterious stranger... Well see Eric's comments.

I've played at quite a few of the Learn-to-Play nights over the last year and one mistake I see a lot of new players making is to define their characters as "mysterious", thinking that that means "cool", but in this context it usually means "boring", both for the player and his teammates. In this setting, no one has time to draw your character out of his shell, and most people just aren't going to care about the slow reveal of your secret origin. From what I've observed, the people that have the most fun playing in PFS are usually playing characters that are relatively up-front, understandable and at least somewhat entertaining to the other players.

Do YOU have any tips, comments of advice?


Friday, January 4, 2013

Making Fun Organized Play Characters

I have been talking to players who asked me how they can create unique characters - particularly for Organized Play. Though many campaigns focus only on the combat and ignore or minimize the non-combat to "a few dice rolls", many GMs and players enjoy doing something than comparing the amount of damage they did.

One thing LPJ and I have talked about has always agreed upon is that art must make a person go: "Who is that guy?" and "What's his story?" Those two questions seem fairly simply but how many times have you looked at a piece of art in a book (RPG or not) and asked yourself those two questions?

One of my favorite artists is Larry Elmore. Other than a great realistic way to draw, LE always created scenes that made me want to know more about how things got the way I saw. When I look at the image to the right, I don't think "That elf girl is a 6th level ranger with bow focus, and the Manyshot, Rapid Shot and a bow +3" or "that mounted swordman is a 12th level cavalier with a +25 in Ride and a +3 demonslayer sword".

Let's look at what we know from the Archer Girl: She is an elf. She is an archer wearing light armor. Her dark hair could indicate a tribe or even half-elven heritage. She has been here for a while, perhaps having set an ambush (why would she plant arrow in the ground rather fetching them in her quiver). She seems poised and calm amidst the chaos of battle. The hair + earring combination makes me think she might be from a gypsy-like culture.

And now the mounted swordsman: he carries a sword and shield. He wears some type of breastplate with a simple cloak - making me think he is either used to the cold perhaps coming from a place where this weather is common. From the way he handles his horse, it is obvious that he is used to riding and his horse used to be taken into combat. His eyes are on the dragon's head but he seems to be preparing for an attack behind the dragon's legs.

From either of those two simple description one could make vastly different characters. For the fun of it, try the exercise on more LE's art. Feel free to try it on any art you find on Deviant Art or Elfwood.

If you only saw two sets of stats, then there is little I can do for you.

Creating a unique character

When creating a character for it (whether NeoExodus or PFS), I try to think of my character in the following terms. "What will MY character bring to the table that would make me a useful member of a team?" and "What will MY character bring to the table that can help the party succeed?" By answering these two questions, I generally try to answer in terms that are not strictly in-game.

Next, I try to think of a few quirks. Those familiar with GURPS will know exactly what I'm talking about. These are small personality tricks that make your character unique. This could be an accent, a little trick they do, a basic character trait, in short something that cannot be quantified in pure game terms.

From the 2 questions and the 2-4 quirks, then I start building a concept. This makes characters completely unique without having anything to do with his stats.

Here are my first three PFS characters with the basic idea I had for them: People often remember them simply on the basis of these quirks.

Katharan al-Zawree: "This character will be an awesome face and highly utilitarian caster" Quirks: Acts like a spoiled brat, speaks with a "Borat-ian" accent, promotes her business "Al-Zawree oil"
Sir Alexite von Crispin-Thrune: "This character will be able to do almost everything non-combat" Quirks: Speaks with a french accent, strongly devoted to Asmodeus as the "lord of contracts"
Naadhira al-Zawree: "This character will be a kick-ass necromancer" Quirks: hates Katharan, speaks with the same accent, hands out "if you find my body" cards

Now I have a concept that can be ported to any game system. I now have guidelines upon which to build my characters.

Playing a unique character

It's one thing to have created the most unique character in the history of the game. If you forget everything once you sit at the game table, you simply wasted your time.

You now have a character with some interesting traits. It is time to bring that character to the table and explore the world.

Here are a few tips.

Your quirks should be easy to remember and play If you can't make accents, do not build a character based on a stereotypical Italian pizza man. YOU are the one playing your character, others will not be reminding you "doesn't your character stutter?" They won't.
Your character will evolve based on his game experience, go along with it One of the worse things you can do is to plan your character for the next 50 level of his life. This is convenient, but completely unneeded. It makes you unresponsive to what happens around you. Some of the best characters I played completely happened when I least expected it. One such character was my cleric of Berronar Truesilver in LG who I planned on making a Clr/Ftr. However as a CLR2, I met an oracle who told me that I would become greatly involved in magic. During the adventure, I found a spell book. Well, Torgga finished her career as a Mystic Theurge! She became one of my favorite characters, and a memorable one at that!
Focus on what YOUR character would do, not what YOU would do Your character should have thoughts an ideas that are his own. Your character is not YOU. He is influenced by you, draws from your experiences, but he should have goals and thoughts of his own. And alignment should not be the determinating factor in his personality. Some of your characters may hate such another PC but like others. Most players dislike playing Naadhira because of her abrasive personality, yet about as many like having her around because she keeps people alive and does her job well. Yes, she's abrasive and threatens people all the time, but she also keeps them functioning (though a few people would rather not...)
Don't talk about your character in game terms That's perhaps the easiest. Use non-game words to describe your character. Don't say "I'm a fighter". Say "I'm a veteran mercenary" or "I live to slay [orcs/ dragons/ demons/ ninjas]". This makes is fun because your character does not have "fighter" or "barbarian" or a unique combination of classes. Never lie to the GM, but don't be afraid of passing notes to him about your class. If you ever pull out the surprise where your fellow players look at you with round eyes and go "you can do THAT!?" is well worth the reward.
No one else wants to read your background, you have to make others interested in it Many players believe that writing a novel for your character and giving copies to all your friends and fellow players is a great way to give yourself depth. It does not. It gives your character a back story. The experiences you had should affect how you play. How did the experiences he had in the back story affect how he is today? Did you characters grow cautious or brash? Did he gain a fascination for spiders and other things? That's one thing. The next is to have your character bring in tidbits of his story. Let that be the catalyst for in-party discussion. Understand that your character's views and story may not be the only one.
Do not get discouraged Many players get discouraged because others only care or focus on the stats and the number. One of the things about Organized play is that not everyone wants the same thing. Some people are just there for combat and others are there for the social. The goal is to make sure everyone gets their fun and perhaps find that there are some bright spots. Campaign culture really plays a big part of that. Campaigns where AC 30+ "wins" and all you need is a mindless barbarian dealing 50+ damage at level 2, will result in players doing exactly that.
There is no difference between in-combat and out-of-combat character unless it is part of your character, your character doesn't have a personality that turns on or off during combat. If your character is shy, he should act that way in and out of combat. Try to stay true to your character.
Combat should not trigger that type of surprise change.

Yes this was just an excuse to put one of rock's most awesome and insane anthem: Genesis's 1972 "Supper's Ready" the sweetest tale of the Apocalypse... When they were great. Really. Awesome... All the way to the raising of the sword at the end... NICE

Practice, Practice

Now all this is simple and easy to say, but you should practice, practice, practice. You won't be good at it the first time around. But the more you practice and keep reminding yourself of your quirks and how you want your character to be.

Oddly enough, I found this to be easier to do when GMing. Take a few NPCs and think of them in that way. Make them unique. The reason it is easier is that you do not have to play the same character for X hours. Rather the character comes in, does his thing and leaves. You may them think back upon your performance and practice it.

I practiced - quietly - my Joker laugh/ giggle at work for a week before I got it to a point I thought was both sinister, funny and insane.

I didn't tell my players, but WAYYYYY back in an era of innocence, youth and craziness, known as the 90s, I practiced that... ON MY PLAYERS. At the time, I used to have 2 groups of Vampire: The Masquerade I would run. Both of them in the same in-game town (but I had one group in Montreal and one group in Sherbrooke). One of the things I (still) like about VtM is the fact that you have relatively few Vampire NPCs, so they are frequent recurrent characters. By having 2 groups, it quickly became obvious that they would both come in contact with each other.

And contact they had. So many times, I played PCs of group 1 to the PCs of group 2 and vice versa (then off-screen I would tell the player I impersonated the gist of the conversation he had). Then one time, I had a "party merge" where they all got together for some big event (can't remember what it was). The players were amazed at how smooth the transition was. And I was happy about it too.

If your spouse - or significant other - is like mine, she should provide you with ample quirks to mimic. Mimicking my wife - usually behind her back - is great and hilarious... Until she finds you then you pay for it.

In short, there is no "bad way".


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

NeoExodus Legacies in Down Under! With Pix!

We told you it happened.

Now we have proof.

A big thanks to the crew down under: Alistair, John and Martin (who kindly provided me with the picture). Both of those were taken before or during "Undying Legacy of the First Ones" (Get your copy for free here). We promise to get you guys some more adventures!

Which leads me to something... if you are planning a convention or game day in February/ early March of 2013, we will be releasing two new Legacies Adventures and would love to allow you to provide us with feedback. This is your opportunity to tell us what happened at your table(s), and thus allow you to decide the future of Exodus! Just get in touch with me or any one of the First Ones (D'Anne or Linda). We will be at Genghis Con in Denver Feb 14-17!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Khador Winter Guard Command

As promised some more Khador! These are the final miniatures from the latest batch of painted minis. These are a command unit attachment to Khador Winter Guard. I like the sculpt on that female officer. The banner, however, I find too heavy and if I were to redo it, I would use a paper banner to make the model more stable. I don't expect that guy will stand up in anything but straight, flat ground. And I find that annoying.