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Goblin Squad Member. Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber. Pathfinder Society Member. 2,465 posts. 70 reviews. No lists. 1 wishlist.

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There's a question that's come up recently in my group with regards to how to stop a sending spell from reaching someone. Other than disrupting the actual casting, there doesn't seem to be very much that can stop this spell from being sent.

The basic scenario is that my group is worried about a BBEG calling for reinforcements, and want a way to isolate him before moving in for the kill. This basically means shutting down a lot of long-range communication spells, but this one in particular is giving them trouble.

Any ideas?

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Role-playing games are, at their core, something you do with friends. Whether people you’ve just met, or a group that you’ve known for years, sitting down around the game table is fundamentally an activity that’s about friendship. So wouldn’t it make sense for the actual game-play to be about friendship as well? Of course, that’d require something different from the usual fare of “killing monsters and taking their stuff.” It’d need to be something like…

My Little Pony: Tails of Equestria: The Storytelling Game.

Based on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Tails of Equestria (and no, that’s not a typo; it’s “Tails”) is the official tabletop RPG adaptation of the TV show. Created by River Horse Games and distributed in the US and Canada by Shinobi 7, the main (or should I say “mane”?) rulebook is a 152-page full-color hardback. Retailing for $34.95, it’s reasonably priced for what’s being offered.

There are several things to be said about the book before we start looking at the RPG system itself. The first being that this book is COLORFUL! This isn’t so much due to the full-color interior artwork as it is just how much of it there is to be found; I believe there’s only a single page (the first page of the index) that doesn’t have a picture or illustration on it somewhere. Other than that, every single page has a screenshot, drawing, picture, or other artwork on it. More than that, there are numerous instances of one- and two-page full spreads throughout the book as well; each of the book’s twelve chapters, and the adventure and appendix, have a two-page spread opening them, which comes out to almost 20% of the book right there. That’s before looking at the rest of the book’s artwork. If you were to look at a text-only version of this product, I suspect that it would be literally half as many pages as the finished book.

The other thing that needs to be explicitly noted is that this book is meant not only for younger gamers, but those with no experience with tabletop role-playing games. That might be expected, given the target demographic of the source material, but it’s worth repeating. Indeed, the expected “what’s a ‘role-playing game’?” blurb is actually on the back cover! Moreover, the book’s writing is very simplistic, and clearly meant to be approachable by younger readers. While it never talks down to you, it also is making a clear-cut effort to be as unintimidating as it possibly can. (On that note, it flat-out states that it’s using “storytelling game” as a synonym for “role-playing game,” which are fighting words in some parts of the RPG community.)

The book also takes a moment to moment to mention other Tails of Equestria products (e.g. dice, character sheets, etc.), doing so first in the book’s introduction and then again at the end, but I can’t find it in myself to be cynical about this. That’s because the book also goes out of its way to suggest free alternatives to these. For example, it not only says that you can find dice-rolling programs online, but offers “dice charts” – full-page charts with random numbers that you can point to randomly in lieu of rolling dice – in the appendix. Similarly, there’s a blank character sheet in the back of the book as well. So the book is making an effort to be playable right out of the metaphorical box.

So with all of that said, what’s the actual RPG like?

All PCs play as one of the three main kinds of ponies: unicorns, pegasi, or earth ponies (in fact, “PC” stands for “pony character” here). Alicorns – ponies that blend all three types – are mentioned, the book flat-out says that you can’t play an alicorn character. Needless to say, I’m sure that house rules to allow for this are being implemented even now.

The central aspect of characters are traits and talents. Traits are essentially ability scores; Body, Mind, and Charm. Talents, by contrast, are skills, being things like Keen Knowledge: History or Fly (if you’re a pegasus). Each race includes one talent for free (such as the aforementioned Fly for pegasi). Each trait and talent is measured in terms of the die size associated with it. So your earth pony PC might start out with Body d8, Mind d4, and Charm d6 for your traits, with Stout Heart d6 and Special Skill: Running d6 for your talents.

These dice showcase one of the core aspects of the game rules: there are no numerical modifiers to dice rolls. To be clear, you can modify your rolls, but only with regard to the size and/or number of dice used. In the latter case, you always pick the die with the best result; the only time you add or subtract anything is with regards to your character’s other main mechanic: stamina points, which are essentially hit points by another name.

Most of the other aspects of characters are largely non-mechanical in nature. You pick which Element of Harmony (the game’s six principle virtues: Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Loyalty, Honesty, and Magic) your character most closely aligns to, but this is purely as a role-playing guideline. Quirks, the inverse of talents, are likewise not measured with dice rolls. Instead, when a quirk comes up and you voluntarily allow it to impede your character’s efficacy, you’re rewarded with a token of friendship.

Tokens of friendship are a meta-mechanic that allow characters to affect dice rolls, or alternatively to change minor aspects of the setting. You start with a limited number of them, but can gain more in various ways (such as by role-playing quirks, as noted above). The game lays out the basic manner by which tokens can be used, and how many tokens are required for certain actions, but makes sure to leave this open to GM adjudication. Wisely, this is framed in reference to the GM being encouraged to lower the total cost of tokens for certain effects if multiple PCs contribute them, serving to incentivize the cooperative aspect that this book is predicated upon.

At the end of each adventure, characters gain a level. This isn’t tracked by any sort of point mechanic; completing an adventure is worth one level, period. Leveling allows you to buy larger dice for some of your traits and talents, though the game implies – but doesn’t outrightly state – that this tops out at a d20 (given that some of the example creatures have multiple dice for certain traits, there’s an obvious house rule of allowing you to buy a second die at a d4 after your first one hits a d20). You can also purchase new talents (or new quirks, if you’re so inclined), which always come in at a d4.

Your trait and talent dice are put into play for one of two different types of rolls: tests (where you’re rolling to try and equal or exceed a static number) and challenges (where making an opposed roll; this is where you’ll find the combat rules). The thing to note is that you can usually – but not always – roll your dice for the most-relevant trait AND roll the die for an applicable talent, keeping the better result. More notably, there are several sub-rules given for these rolls as well. For example, rolling double or more versus a target number (or an opponent’s score) allows for a critical hi-, er, amazing success, or what happens if several characters work together (which, in a friendship-focused game, naturally provides notable advantages).

I should note that the combat rules – called “scuffles” here – are set up in such a way that most fights probably won’t last long. Basically, each opponent makes a Body challenge (with a combat-relevant talent, if any) and the one with the higher roll subtracts the TOTAL value of that roll from their opponent’s stamina points. Given that your total stamina points are the maximum value of your Body and Mind dice, that means that characters will only be able to take a couple of hits before being defeated (though characters who run out of stamina don’t die; rather, they lose consciousness, run away, admit defeat, etc.). That certainly fits the theme of the show, where combat is only rarely used, but if you want fights to last longer, consider having the loser’s die roll subtracted from the winner’s die roll to determine how many stamina points are lost.

There’s a basic equipment list in the book, and some quick rules for how much money characters have/earn. This section felt odd, if for no other reason than equipping for their adventures isn’t something that’s done very often by the characters in the TV show. Given that having the proper equipment can bump up the die used on a relevant roll to the next-larger one, PCs will almost certainly be looking to purchase goods that they think might be useful in the near future. Though I have to note that, for fans of the show, the list of prices for various goods is a godsend; finally something hard-and-fast with regards to how much things cost!

The book’s introductory adventure is entitled “The Pet Predicament.” It sees the PCs being called up by the Mane Six to look after their pets while they go investigate a new threat to Equestria. Naturally, the pets don’t take very well to their new keepers, and a search-and-rescue mission ensues when they all wander off and get into trouble. Despite the low-stakes nature of the adventure, it does a fairly good job laying out the game rules, and has several call-outs to aspects of the show built into it (e.g. a meeting with Zecora). Of course, it ends with a sudden cliffhanger that just so happens to lead into the next adventure (sold separately).

More noteworthy is that this is where we get stats for creatures and NPCs. While all of the creatures used in the adventure are given game mechanics, it’s more noteworthy that this is where we get stats for the Mane Six, and even Zecora to boot! Of course, there’s a bit of an irony in that Spike (and the pets) remain without stats, given that Spike and co. are typically overlooked to the point of it being a minor trope in the series anyway. A few generic stat blocks for background ponies wrap this section up.

Overall, I only noticed a few production issues with the book, such as two instances where there wasn’t a space between words. More hilariously, the table of contents listed chapter five as being “Traits & Shamans” when the chapter itself correctly listed it as being about “Traits & Stamina.” So it looks like we’ll need to wait until a future book to have more shaman characters besides our resident zebra! (I’m also convinced that Twilight not having the Stout Heart is an error as well, since it’s the racial talent for earth ponies, which as an alicorn she should have.) But overall, there aren’t really any errors here.

I’d say that the book’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t have very much in the way of help for GMs. While there’s plenty of advice as to how to be a good role-player, coming up with adventures is an area that it doesn’t really cover. This is somewhat understandable, as adventures are likely to focus around social, puzzle, and even athletic challenges, rather than combat per se. Moreover, they’re going to need to be at least somewhat tailored for each group, depending on the talents that the PCs are bringing to the table. A group of all pegasi is going to be very different from a mixed group. Although these are areas that the book can’t readily address, I still feel like it should have said something about them, even if only to acknowledge them in overview.

Despite this, Tails of Equestria is a great game for bringing young people into the hobby, though this is predicated on them already being fans of the show. The mechanics are light and easy to grasp, and the book’s presentation means that it’s actually not that difficult for younger gamers to pick up and start using on their own. Likewise, older members of the RPG community will likely have reason to appreciate the RPG engine that the game runs on, though the book’s focus on introductory presentation will be somewhat wasted on them.

If you’re a fan of ponies and slinging dice, I definitely recommend checking out Tails of Equestria.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I've noticed that there are a lot of subsystems for various things in the Pathfinder rules, and I was wondering if there was any sort of index for them, short of checking to see what's been added to the PRD or d20PFSRD.

"Subsystems" are what I call aspects of the game rules that cover a specific that are (semi-)complete unto themselves, with only modest connection to the wider game rules. Things like the weapon creation rules from the Weapon Master's Handbook or the "hexploration" rules from Ultimate Campaign. There seem to be a lot of these minor rules systems for adjudicating specifics aspects of play, but for the most part they can be difficult to find unless you already know what you're looking for.

Is there any repository of these and where to find them?

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

A discussion arose in my group as to whether or not the true seeing spell would reveal that a creature was being possessed, such as via a ghost's malevolence ability or a magic jar spell.

As written, I don't think that it does, simply because the text of the spell doesn't seem to say anything about that. The counterargument is that the spell lets you see "the true form of polymorphed, changed, or transmuted things," in addition to everything else it says it does (that, and asserting that possession would fall within the scope of the spell's first sentence, to "see all things as they actually are").

I'm skeptical of that interpretation, but I wanted to know what you guys think.

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One of the major issues that comes up when critiquing Pathfinder is that some options offer more narrative control than others. The big one in this regard tends to be full-progression casters versus non-casters.

But leaving aside that fairly major distinction, what specific options - e.g. spells, feats, magic items, archetypes, etc. - offer a great deal of narrative control? Leadership is an obvious choice, but what else?

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

So I'm thinking of running an E6 campaign with no full-progression casters (or, alternately, having them use Spheres of Power). It's supposed to be somewhat gritty, and being in a frontier area I'm going to be playing up interaction with the local environment. However, I'm having quite the hard time figuring out how to adjudicate how much time and what sort of rolls (if any) are necessary for some of these things:

1) Digging a pit - a 10-foot deep pit that's 5-feet wide and long (your basic pit trap, in other words) probably shouldn't require any rolls, but I'm not sure how long it takes to dig (without getting into all sorts of cumbersome equations...let alone issues of Strength scores, how many people can participate, adamantine shovels, etc.). This also goes for trenches.

2) Making a berm - roughly the same problem here, insofar as time adjudication goes. This is made with the displaced earth from digging a pit. I'm mostly confident no rolls are needed here either.

3) Chopping down trees - This one seems a lot simpler. Wood has hardness 5, and 10 hp per inch of thickness. The issue is that there's a question as to whether or not that's too much for "just" chopping a tree down, since usually that's enough to open up a 5-foot square in a wall.

4) Damming a river - I have no idea how to adjudicate this. Presumably there's some sort of skill check involved, and the dam would have hardness and hit points?

5) Salting the earth - Alkalizing a patch of earth so it won't ever grow anything again (at least for a while). For a 5-foot by 5-foot patch of earth, how much salt does this take, how much would that salt cost, and how long would it take to do this? Would any rolls be involved?

6) Erasing a scent - Obviously a stronger scent can cover up a weaker one. But besides a powerful chemical, or a skunk, what can do this? Is there a scent equivalent to covering yourself in mud to hide your body heat? There's presumably some intersection of Perception and the scent ability here, but the specifics seem vague.

7) Insects as irritants, not threats - Presuming that things like mosquitoes don't become deadly swarms, what's a good way to treat them as irritants that have some sort of mechanical effect don't rise to immediately life-threatening dangers?

8) Sleeping in trees - This isn't really an issue of altering the environment, but I'm not sure if I should hand-wave this or not. Would this require a Reflex save not to fall out of the tree during the night? Can you get sufficient rest while tucked in branches?

9) Camouflage - I really don't like the idea of this being limited to rogue talents and racial traits. Are there any rules that generalize this?

10) Smoke signals - I'm tempted to have this just be a language, taken with a single rank in Linguistics. Presumably there wouldn't need to be much of a Perception check within a few miles, at least during the daytime.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

My group and I use several abbreviations and nicknames for various elements of our games. For example, instead of calling Pathfinder's second monster book "Bestiary 2," we say "Beasty 2." The spell "see invisibility" is usually just called "see invis," etc.

(More amusing is that, having heard the rumor that the Advanced Race Guide is called what it is because Paizo was concerned that, if the existing naming convention for splatbooks were used, it would sound too similar to "Ultimate Racist," that's how we refer to the book now.)

What terms do other groups use for game elements?

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

So a friend of mine is playing a level 18 cleric with a focus in necromancy. Naturally, this means that he has an animated minion, but he wants to know what he can do to further enhance it.

Currently, he's hauling around a pit fiend bloody skeleton. However, he's chafing at the fact that he can't put the skeleton template on a creature with more than 20 Hit Dice; he knows that he can command a lot more than that via the animate dead spell, but doesn't want to manage more than one companion creature.

So my question is...are there any ways to break the 20 Hit Die cap on a skeleton? I know the obvious answer is to just use a higher-level spell (e.g. create undead and its ilk) to make a stronger undead creature, such as a skeletal champion, but he seems to want to limit it to mindless undead.

So if we only allow for one animated minion, and keep it to mindless undead, has he hit the limit for what he can have? Or is there something else that he can make use of?

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There's no particular mechanism (at least in first-party materials) that I'm aware of for modeling trauma (e.g. PTSD) in the Pathfinder rules. My guess would be that it could be modeled via mental ability score damage/drain, or possibly the madness/insanity rules, but that's just a guess.

In that case, would spells such as heal or restoration be able to fix trauma instantly?

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So one of the guys in my weekly group decided that he wanted to run a brief mini-campaign. The hook was that it was for 18th-level characters; naturally, we were all quite excited, as the highest this group has ever gotten has been about 12th level.

Some necessary background here: the GM for this is a fellow who has only run a game twice before, both of which were short campaigns that got mixed reviews from us. He has a good grasp of the rules, but (like most of the group) treats gaming as a pastime rather than a hobby, which meant that he had only passing familiarity with some of the game-breaking shenanigans that can happen at high-level play.

As such, while I was eager to make a level 18 wizard, I was also nervous about the impact such a character would have. This was especially true since he said we could use all first-party materials, buy ability scores with a 25-point buy, could spend our WBL on any item we wanted (including custom items), and had 11 RP to build a custom race if we wanted.

I voiced my concerns, and this prompted a long discussion within our group about what should and shouldn't be allowed. In the end, he chose to ban a few things (e.g. no use of blood money, no adjusting wealth by level if you have item creation feats, etc.), but for the most part said that he was very confident he could handle whatever we came up with.

The major limitation he invoked on my character, and that I was fine with, was that I couldn't use more than one instance of planar binding, though he was fine with my using other spells that brought in outside help. However, he was fine with my taking Leadership and having my cohort be an intelligent magic item, which I made a level 16 psychic. I also decided that I wasn't going to try and exploit every loophole that I possibly could (e.g. no carrying around a 5-foot section of wall with a permanent shrink item on it that was covered in permanent symbol spells).

We spent a few weeks making characters (if that sounds like a long time, it was because a lot of the group only did work on their characters during our weekly get-togethers). In the end our group looked like so:

  • Three players made level 18 antipaladins (this caught me by surprise; apparently it was in partially in protest to the fact that the GM wanted to include a GMPC with our party. He capitulated when he heard about this, but the other players kept their antipaladins anyway). They mentioned all having glabrezu companions, though only one person actually had that on the board.
  • A level 18 cleric with a necromantic focus (he wanted to make full use of animated dead for minions, but by the time we started had only made a single pit fiend bloody skeleton).
  • A sorcerer 8/dragon disciple 10 (built with a focus on getting into melee).
  • My wizard (conjurer) 18...and company.

More specifically, I sat down at the table with my wizard, his intelligent item psychic cohort (my followers from Leadership were back in my private demiplane where I was astral projecting from...and in my other private demiplane tending to my clone), the solar angel that I'd called via greater planar binding (utilizing Augmented Calling and Spell Perfection), a bythos aeon that my cohort had brought via greater planar ally (via the Faith psychic discipline), and a Gargantuan animated object (animated and made permanent by the solar angel). This rose to eight characters when I had my psychic cohort use monster summoning VII to bring in three (I rolled high) celestial triceratops in the first round of our first combat. (I should note that I'd mentioned all of these to the GM before we sat down to play, and he signed off on all of them.)

Our first combat lasted two rounds, and took us an hour to get through. What caught me by surprise was that, at the end of it, the entire group was me.

I don't just mean that they were a little ticked off; they were pissed, to the point where two guys said that if I sat down with this character next week, they weren't going to bother showing up. When I asked what was going on, they made it clear that they had two complaints:

1) I was taking too much time. Each turn it was taking me about 8-10 minutes to resolve what all of my characters were doing. This wasn't because I was looking stuff up (I knew to do that during everyone else's turns), but simply because it took that long to move minis around, roll attacks, damage, saves, spell penetration, etc. Still, this one struck me as a legitimate complaint, even if there was little that I could do about it.

2) I was overshadowing everyone else. They made it clear that they felt completely superfluous compared to what was essentially my own adventuring party.

It culminated with the GM pulling me aside and telling me that I had to make a new character by next week, because my current one was too disruptive. I tried to point out that he'd given me the okay for everything that I was doing, and he admitted that he hadn't realized just what effect all of that would have. I likewise pointed out that, with only 95 hit points (I'd had some bad Hit Dice rolls) and an AC that was in the mid-20's, that I'd essentially need to redo my entire character, since just getting into direct combat would pretty much be the end of my character.

His reply went something along the lines of, "I feel like I have a worthwhile story to tell, and your character's distracting from that."

Needless to say, the entire thing has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I quite like my character, and want to keep running him, but at the same time I'm quite ticked at having had the gauntlet thrown down. I have no idea what to do before next week's game, and time is running out...

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm uncertain if a trap the soul spell would be impeded or otherwise affected if you cast it on the astral body of someone using an astral projection spell.

Mainly, this is because trap the soul says that it also pulls your physical body into the gem, but in this case your physical body is presumably on another plane, far outside of the spell's range. In that case, what happens? Does your original body get pulled in even though it's on another plane? If not, does the spell work on your soul/astral body? What if your original body dies after you've been trapped?

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So I'm not sure how many people have heard about this, but on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court made a 5-3 ruling in Utah v. Strieff.

Up until now, the "exclusionary rule" - the rule that says that evidence which the police gather illegally cannot then be used in a court prosecution - applied to instances where the police stop someone without a "reasonable articulable suspicion."

However, the new ruling says that if the police stop you even without any such suspicion, evidence that they subsequently seize could still be admissible. According to Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, this won't cause police overreach because the threat of civil suits will keep them in line.

There's a good op-ed about this over here.

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So I'm trying to remember a monster that I know I know, but my brain refuses to identify. It was a bird with a very low CR (something like CR 2) that had vorpal wings, allowing it to potentially behead an opponent on a natural 20...or something like that.

Does anyone remember what this is and what book it's from?

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So one of the rotating pool of GMs in my group has decided that he wants to run a mini-campaign when it's his turn again. For this, he's asked us all to make 18th-level characters. As soon as I heard this, I jumped on playing the wizard.

While he hasn't set out our ability score point-buy (I think it'll be 25, though), he has said that we'll have our standard WBL values, and that all first-party materials (e.g. anything published by Paizo) will be allowed.

So what I want to do is use this as a chance to run the sort of wizard that's always talked about in whenever the caster-martial disparity comes up as a topic. To that end, I wanted to ask what the best - or at least, most classic - options are out there for this. Off the top of my head, I recall the following:

Traits: Magical Lineage seems to be obvious here (though what metamagic feats are worthwhile is another matter). I'm less sold on Wayang Spellhunter, simply because I'm not at all sure what specific 3rd-level-or-below spell to pick.

Feats: Using two or more item creation feats seems like a no-brainer, what with the whole adjust their WBL upwards by 50% if they have two or more item creation feats guideline.

Spells: Traditionally, using create demiplane and astral projection in conjunction get brought up a lot. There's also greater planar ally and simulacrum (though the latter never made much sense to me, since it's at one-half the creature's Hit Dice, so in this case it'd be a 9th-level wizard). Obviously blood money is on the list.

Those are the ones that immediately come to mind; what else should I be looking at?

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Apparently one of the San Bernardino killers had an iPhone 5c, which the FBI now wants to access. Because the encryption key for this phone isn't stored by Apple, that means that the only way in is brute-forcing the password (e.g. trying every possible combination). But the security features on the phone are such that, after ten wrong password entries in a row are entered, it will delete all of its data.

Here's where things get tricky. Apparently the FBI has taken Apple to court to order them to build special firmware that will disable this security feature, making the phone accept any number of wrong passwords without deleting anything. Apple isn't willing to do this, pointing out that this could be used to disable that setting on all current and older iPhone models, and so represent a serious security threat.

Yesterday, a federal judge sided with the government, ordering Apple to build the firmware. Apple's Tim Cook has vowed to fight the decision.

Here's a CNN article for those who want more information.

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Purely for crits and giggles, I decided to try and legally create the most broken, overpowered D&D character that I could. The catch? The character is for Second Edition. Come follow each step in the process over here!

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A friend of mine asked me if there are rules anywhere for a "false tooth," which could contain a single dose of a poison/potion or something like that.

I checked several books and can't find one, but I wanted to ask if maybe someone else has seen such an item somewhere.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman (Published 1966)

I dislike forming opinions about things based solely on second- and third-hand information. Far better, to my mind, to actually sit down and engage with a thing directly; that's a large part of the difference between an opinion and an informed opinion.

It was with that thought in mind that I ordered an old copy of Tarnsman of Gor off of Amazon. I'd heard about Gor (and things "Gorean") for years, but this was the first time I'd gone straight to the source. (As a quick aside, it seems silly to warn about spoilers for a book that's almost fifty years old, but I'll do so anyway for those who care: spoilers ahead.)

For those who don't know, a quick primer: the Gor books tell the tale of a sister planet to Earth, in the same orbital plane as us but on the opposite side of the Sun, where the mysterious "Priest-Kings" have been clandestinely bringing humans to live for millenia. The most popular (or perhaps infamous) aspect of Gor, however, is its slave culture, particularly where female pleasure slaves are concerned.

My expectations for the book were mixed. I knew that the series as a whole was famous for its focus on female sex slaves; but I'd also heard that the first half-dozen or so books were much more muted in that regard, serving instead as thin veneers for the author's own thoughts on society.

What I found was that neither of those descriptions were entirely true. Rather, Tarnsman of Gor is a rather standard sword-and-planet adventure. It proceeds to tell the (slightly convoluted, but fairly standard) tale of an Earthman named Tarl Cabot, brought from Earth to Gor, where he has an adventure that sees him helping to destabilize the existing power structure among Gor's city-states, while at the same time meeting and falling in love with a beautiful woman.

What struck me most about the writing (which is entirely in the first person) was the sense of distance that the author's tone conveys. Tarl tends to describe things in a very straightforward, almost clinical manner. Even when overcome with emotion, he rarely focuses on how he's feeling, instead talking about what it drives him to do.

I'm uncertain if this tonal presentation is purposeful on the author's part. While it's easy to simply chalk this up to John Norman not being a very good writer, I hesitate to do so for two reasons: the first being that narrator, Tarl Cabot, is British born and raised. While he expresses some disdain for his homeland in the beginning of the book, it's amusing to think that his detached tone is due to his having internalized the whole "stiff upper lip" mantra.

More germane, however, is the explanation given in the epilogue. While several first-person perspective novels never bother to explain why they're being presented that way, Tarnsman of Gor explicitly states that Tarl's writing all this down six years after the fact - presumably the distance he feels from those events is affecting how he writes about them.

What's not notable - at least not as much as I think new readers (who've heard of the series) might expect - is the focus on female slaves.

Simply put, slave-girls aren't important to the overall plot of the book. Indeed, Tarl notes his disgust at how slavery is an integral part of the cultures of Gor, to the point of silently swearing to himself that he'll bring the entire institution of slavery down. While he doesn't have a chance to act on this during events of the story, he does free the first slave-girl he's given (who has been instructed to perform a suicide mission in order to help him achieve his own task, which horrifies Tarl).

The area of the book where slavery and sexual politics are highlighted the most are with regard to its main female character, Talena. The daughter of the ruler of the city-state of Ar, Talena is abducted by Tarl when she interferes with his mission to steal the "home stone" (essentially the flag) of Ar.

From the first, she seems to be a completely formulaic character. She starts off as a b#&!#y, pampered princess, who grows closer to Tarl as they travel together, until she inevitably falls for him and, upon doing so, begs for him to formally enslave her. Rather ironically, she's kidnapped before he can, and by the time he rescues her at the end of the book, he ends up taking her to be his "free companion" - that is, his spouse - instead.

I said "seems to be" in the above paragraph because there's a more subtle aspect to Talena's character - and here, I do think that this was done purposefully on John Norman's part: her antagonism towards Tarl is in direct proportion to the degree that he breaks from the cultural expectations she has for him. Literally, the more he acts the way she expects a "tarnsman" (a warrior-raider that rides a giant, ill-tempered tarn bird) to act, the more warmly she treats him.

Specifically, she explains her original antagonism as being not due to his having stolen Ar's home stone (which destabilizes the city and drives her father from power), but because he didn't do what tarnsmen traditionally do when they kidnap a noblewoman from another city-state: strip her naked right there on the back of their bird and toss her clothes to the city streets below (in a gesture of "this is what I do to one of the revered daughters of your city!"). Tarl had no idea that was the custom, but by failing to perform it, Talena interpreted it as the act of a coward - someone with a "get in, do the job, and get out" mentality, rather than showcasing the boldness that tarn-riders are supposed to exhibit.

Likewise, as they journey together, they both take on disguises to protect themselves from other raiders. Since this necessitates that Talena appear to be a slave-girl, Tarl is forced to treat her like one. It's no coincidence that this is the period when she starts to become amorous towards him, since now they're acting a role that's in accordance with her understanding of how things should be progressing. He's finally, in other words, acting like a man she can respect, despite (or perhaps because of) his being her enemy.

While my suspicion is that later books eschew this level of subtlety in favor of the more blase "she's happier because she's a slave now; that's how all women are" idea, taken unto itself Tarnsman of Gor's main idea seems to be less about the peculiarities of a slave-owning culture, than it is about the idea of a stranger trying to navigate a foreign culture's values. Much of the book is about Tarl either stumbling through Gorean customs that he is (mostly) unaware of, or attempting to turn those customs to his advantage.

Ultimately, Tarnsman of Gor is a fairly straightforward sword-and-planet adventure, with little to distinguish it from its better-known fellows in the genre (at least unto itself). It's largely unconcerned with slavery, except as a vehicle for pushing the idea of "when in Rome" as well as the romance between Tarl and Talena. Had the series not eventually decided to make that background element into the primary focus of the series, I'm not sure how much Gor would even be remembered today (for better or worse). As it is, I can recommend Tarnsman of Gor only to those who would be interested in a fairly average sword-and-planet tale, or are otherwise curious about the beginnings of this infamous series.

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For those that haven't heard, James "Grim" Desborough published a GamerGate card game via his publishing company, Postmortem Studios, which went up on various OneBookShelf sites (e.g. RPGNow and DriveThruRPG) on December 4th. (Note that, while Postmortem has a Paizo outlet, the game has apparently not been uploaded here.)

Very shortly after it was uploaded, the guys at Evil Hat Games started threatening to pull their products from OBS unless the GamerGate card game was dropped.

Rather saddeningly, the game went down almost immediately. While Grim eventually put it up for sale elsewhere, it's still upsetting that this happened at all. Somewhat hopefully, the line from OBS is that internal discussion is still going on over this. They seem to be fairly open to input as well.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I think that Grim courts controversy, often in a manner that could charitably described as lacking nuance. That said, I find it to be beyond disgusting that Evil Hat Games thinks that they can try to coerce a vendor into removing products that they personally don't like.

Apparently they're also fine that people can buy books such as F#*+ for Satan, Choice and Blood (which can be summed up as "d20 Modern: Abortion"), and the infamous Carcosa, but a card game that leans in support of GamerGate? That's apparently a bridge too far.

A few caveats here:

I'm a supporter of GamerGate, having read more than a few articles about both the movement itself and what it means when viewed against a broader cultural context. Simply put, it doesn't live up to the "harassment campaign" that its detractors have labeled it as. I mention this because I'm guessing that some people will respond with something along the lines of "it's not wrong to take a stand against something that glorifies a hate group." That stance is based on a fundamentally incorrect premise; namely that GamerGate is a hate group to begin with.

Secondly, I'm anticipating that some people will respond with "Evil Hat has the right to determine where they sell their games." That's true, but questions of "rights" are questions of legality, not ethics. You have the legal right to ignore someone who's injured and needs help, but doing so is ethically corrupt.

While (what I call) a "personal boycott" is simply choosing whether or not you want to patronize a given business or outlet, that's different from what Evil Hat is doing, which is an "organized boycott" (again, my term). An organized boycott is a public pressure group that's designed to use the threat of economic harm in order to use coercion against a business or other entity in order to make them comply with your demands. As the ACLU states:

In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.

So I think that what Evil Hat is doing is founded not only on a fundamentally misdirected sense of outrage, but is ethically corrupt as well.

If the GamerGate card game had been hosted at Paizo, I wonder if they would have received the same threat (and I wonder how they would have responded).

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So I was looking over the list of Paizo employees and their job titles, and I noticed that there are several developers alongside a few designers.

I'm curious what the difference is between the two jobs? It sounds like the designers are responsible for creating new materials, and the developers are responsible for shepherding these ideas to (greater) completion, but is that correct? Or are they something else altogether?

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So I was in link-freefall across the web, and somehow ended up in this pastebin, where the writer asserts that:

I have a friend that works at Paizo, creators of Pathfinder, who complained that their new "iconic character" - a sort of example for whatever new character class is getting a book - was a very hamfisted attempt at pandering to the trans community. This friend is trans herself, and her complaints led to her losing her job.

I really hope that this isn't true. Can anyone shed any light on this?

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Lately, I've been getting an annoying message when I try to navigate the boards.

"You have made too many requests for the same page too quickly. Please wait a minute and then try again."

I'm paraphrasing, but I've received the above notification twice in the last few days.

This is odd, since the second time I'd only just logged in, had checked a single thread, and was clicking a link from there to a separate thread. That was literally all I'd done, but the server was reacting like I'd just clicked the link twenty times, rather than once.

This seems to be a pretty new issue, as I've never had this happen before a few days ago.

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Every so often, I'll think about dabbling in some third-party work. Usually that's just writing down some ideas, but sometimes I wonder about how layout works.

Since I know nothing about the latter topic, I wanted to ask the publishers here: what tools and techniques do you use for graphic design in your PDF products? What's the process for making the transition from black text on a white background to something more visually pleasing?

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Since I've noticed a great deal of similarity between the game mechanics of Basic 5E and those of 3E, I've decided to try and back-convert the Basic 5E character classes and races to my favorite variant of the 3E rules: Eclipse: the Codex Persona.

For those who don't know, Eclipse is a class-less character-generating supplement, where you make your characters using point-buy progressions at each level. It's entirely compatible with 3E and related games such as Pathfinder, and offers a spectacular amount of freedom over typical class-level progressions. (Though you don't have to take my word for it, as the book's co-author has a truly huge number of examples over on his blog.)

That said, my first attempt to convert Basic 5E to the Eclipse rules can be found over on my blog, where I've converted the Basic 5E fighter class to Eclipse. It worked surprisingly well, and I'll be converting more classes (and races) soon!

(For more information about Eclipse, check out Endzeitgeist's 5/5-star review.)

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[Note: This is a cross-posting of the review I wrote over on RPGNow. I'm not affiliated with Silver Games, just to make that totally clear.]

Crossovers are something I’ve always enjoyed, and that’s doubly true for bringing characters from my favorite media into role-playing games. There’s an undeniable joy in being able to represent your favorite characters from comics, movies, and television in your campaign.

Said characters usually tend to be superheroes or the cast of various anime, in my experience. While I knew that there were plenty of fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic who fell outside of the show’s target demographic, I wouldn’t have thought that there’d be many Pathfinder fans among them, let alone enough to warrant an attempt to bring the former into the latter.

The existence of Silver Games’s Ponyfinder Campaign Setting is a testament to just how wrong I was. While unofficial (in that it doesn’t reference any of MLP:FiM’s intellectual property), this is still THE book for playing ponies in Pathfinder. Let’s take a look and see how well it brings the show to your tabletop.

Before we go any further though, a disclaimer: at the time of this writing, I’ve seen just over a dozen episodes of MLP:FiM (and read the show’s Wikipedia entry). As such, while I have a basic grasp on what it is this book is trying to showcase, there’s a good chance that I’m missing some of the finer points; if you’re a hardcore pony fan, then keep in mind that I may be overlooking something notable from later in the show.

I also need to take a moment to talk about the book’s artwork. I’ve seen plenty of first-offerings from new companies that were clearly operating on a shoe-string art budget, and wow was that not the case here. Ponyfinder is a book that’s resplendent with full-color art! Immediately after the colorful covers is a two-page map of the Everglow campaign world, drawn in a very bright style that makes it pop off the page. Moreover, the interior pages are all set on backgrounds reminiscent of the main Pathfinder books, being lightly-colored in the center of each page but slightly darkening towards the edges, where there are subtle designs in the background.

But far more notable than that are the character illustrations. The book is absolutely stuffed with colorful images of ponies (and other races). These illustrations are remarkably talented, and more than once I found myself smiling at the adorable pictures. Visually, this book knows exactly what to show to its fans.

Of course, all of this art means that the book is about 80 megabytes in size for 120 pages. Personally, my computer had no issues with displaying the images or scrolling through, but that might be an issue for some readers. Moreover, that makes the lack of a printer-friendly version all the more notable. This is similarly true with the book’s lack of search options – the table of contents isn’t hyperlinked, for example, nor are there any PDF bookmarks for ease of navigation. Still, the text is copy-and-paste enabled, so overall the book’s technical achievements are something of a mixed bag.

But enough about that, what about the ponies? Very cogently, the book opens with the first thing most readers will want to see: rules for pony characters.

Presented as a type of fey, full PC racial information is given for standard earth ponies. Smartly, the book doesn’t retread the same ground for other pony types, presenting breeds such as unicorns and pegasi with alternate racial traits, rather than presenting full stat racial stat blocks again and again.

If it had stopped with just the basic three types of ponies, that probably would have been enough for many, if not most, fans. But I have to give Ponyfinder props here – it went the extra mile and then some: there are over a half-dozen other pony breeds presented next, ranging from gem ponies to sea horses to zebras and more!

It doesn’t stop at just mechanics either, there’s a good page and a half of descriptive text regarding the pony race, and each breed has several paragraphs of description. Humorously, the book also discusses the mechanics of a race that can use their forelegs in a somewhat arm-like manner, but lacks fingers (hint: it’s not nearly as burdensome as it sounds – after all, the ponies on the show get along without fingers just fine). There’s also several paragraphs given to describing pony members of each class (although sub-classes such as ninja and samurai are ignored, as is the inquisitor, rather oddly).

A series of pony-specific mechanics follow, including two bloodlines (e.g. Unification, which is focused around bringing the pony tribes together), several class archetypes (ever wondered how a pony would be a gunslinger?), pony-specific evolutions for an eidolon, and quite a few feats for ponies. The last section is of specific note, as it’s here that we see a lot of the more notable aspects of the show brought into game form: a unicorn levitating items with her horn, for example, is a short feat-chain here, as is the way pegasi physically push clouds around, etc.

That’s not the end of it, as the book then moves on to seven other non-pony races that live in the world, such as griffons, sun cats, phoenix wolves, and others. Again, full racial information is presented alongside a discussion of their society, alignment, relationships, etc. Each even has a few (usually just under a half-dozen) race-specific feats presented.

That was the book’s first major section. While it was largely mechanics with a generous dose of expository writing, the second takes a more balanced approach between fluff and crunch. It opens, for example, with the eight gods of the pony pantheon. Deities such as the Sun Queen, the Night Mare, and Princess Luminance are all familiar shout-outs here. We also receive the height/weight and aging tables for the races in the previous chapter (information that I thought for sure would have been overlooked – kudos to the authors there).

I was quite pleased to see rules for ponies as animal companions and familiars presented next. That’s because having ponies as prominent, PC-focused NPCs like these is a great gateway to seeing how well ponies can work in your party if your group is unsure about the idea. Finally, a few optional rules (mostly in regards to how much realism you want regarding how well ponies can manipulate objects) are given.

Everything so far has been high-quality work, but it was the next chapter that truly sold me on Ponyfinder. This section, which highlights the timeline of Everglow, the campaign world, is where the book truly comes into its own.

A relatively young world (it’s entire recorded history spans less than 750 years), Everglow’s history is covered in three broad sections. These are the early days when the Pony Empire was just beginning, the height of the Empire, and after its fall (the latter presented as the default option). After giving us a timeline, each era’s major events are overviewed. Interestingly, the book then presents major factions active in each era (including faction traits) and several era-exclusive rules, such as breeds that are found primarily during that era and no other.

What grabbed me about this section was the tone that it presented. Rather than rigidly sticking to the (almost naively) optimistic tenor of the show, Ponyfinder does a truly excellent job of presenting the ponies as living in a more nuanced world. This isn’t a setting that pretends that everything can be solved with friendship – there are differences of opinion with no clear resolution (e.g. was the early expansion of the Empire the work of a unifier or a conqueror?), wars with evil ponies, and an overall sense of poignancy as the ponies have realized that their best days are behind them with the death of their great Empire, with no clear idea about what that means for them or what they should do about it.

For that alone, I admit that I’m very impressed with Ponyfinder. It’s can be tough to admit that the tenor of the source material needs to changed when changing how it’s presented; actually pulling off such a change without completely alienating the original feeling it evoked is even trickier. But this book pulled it off. I think that the best example of this is the Denial of Destiny feat found in this chapter, which represents a pony that has voluntarily scarred her Brand of Destiny (e.g. her cutie mark) off of her flank, representing her rejection of the role in life that the gods have chosen for her in favor of one she’s chosen for herself. That’s the sort of mature take on a familiar subject that elevates Ponyfinder above simply aping the conventions of MLP:FiM.

Following this are roughly twenty pages that outline the various locations of Everglow, along with several ponies (and groups of ponies) of note. I do wish we’d seen some stat blocks here, as there are no NPC listings to be found, and this would have been a perfect place for them. While I can see the advantage of not setting levels for specific NPCs (such as the Imperial Queen), it’s better to have them and decide not to use them, than to want them and find that you need to make them from scratch.

Several pages of adventure hooks (covering each of the world’s eras) are presented before we are given a chapter full of new mechanics. Here’s where you’ll find equipment meant specifically to be held in the mouth, for example, along with things like the “elements of destiny” magic items, a spell to make hooves sticky (and so grip things better), and quite a few starting traits (including ones specific to certain times and locations).

The book closes out with a bestiary, and while nothing here was bad it felt like something of an afterthought. The deeptide horse has no descriptive text, for instance, and the vanguard inevitable, with its emphasis on punishing liars and oathbreakers, doesn’t feel like its breaking any new ground. It’s a slightly weak ending for the book, though one that’s easy enough to overlook.

I should also take a moment to mention that a few errors did crop up throughout the book, though they were rarely anything more than minor. For example, the alternate racial traits for zebra ponies didn’t have a -2 ability modifier (which every other race had and so I assume was an oversight), or that the deity entries had their domains and subdomains all listed in the same line, rather than separating them.

What was more notable were several areas that a Pathfinder aficionado would likely look at as a missed opportunity. While nothing was lost, per se, by not doing so, there were several areas that could have benefited from additional Pathfinder rules. The various pony racial stats don’t have costs in Race Points (from the Advanced Race Guide) for example, nor do the gods have inquisitions listed (from Ultimate Magic). While the factions do have faction traits, I wonder if they could have benefited from full faction rules (from the Faction Guide), or if the towns listed could have had – rather than just their alignment, government type, and population breakdown – full community stat blocks (from the GameMastery Guide or Ultimate Campaign). Certainly, the fact that the Imperial Queen was an earth pony who became an alicorn is reason enough to create an alicorn mythic path (from Mythic Adventures).

I want to reiterate that I don’t hold any of these exclusions against the book; it’s just that I’m cognizant that it could have presented more than it did. Still, when the worst thing you can say about a book is that it left you wanting more, that’s not too bad a criticism.

The material that is in here though is excellent for what it presents; enough so that I’d call this a 4.5-star book (rounded down). The coverage of the source material is not only thorough, but is evocative of what’s presented in MLP:FiM while still being suitable for a Pathfinder campaign setting. While it seems like a stretch to bridge that gap, Ponyfinder successfully straddles the divide and keeps one hoof planted firmly in each world. That’s something that anypony, er, anybody can appreciate.

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Evil Hat Games has just put up a huge (over a hundred pages long!) excerpt from the forthcoming first volume of Shannon Appelcline's revised Designers & Dragons set of books.

This excerpt covers something that I think will be of interest to a lot of people here: the history of TSR!

Download it over on their website.

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The welcome note from Jason Bulmahn at the beginning of the Advanced Class Guide playtest document mentions that there'll be a survey going up Tuesday, November 24th.

What Bulmahn seems to have overlooked is that the November 24th is a Sunday! Now, December 24th is a Tuesday, but given that the survey closes a week earlier on December 17th, I don't think that's the day it's supposed to open.

Which begs the question, when can we expect the survey to go up?

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Intelligence Check continues its series of character conversions using the Eclipse class-less point-buy character creation rules!

The newest conversion is the heroine of Final Fantasy VIII, Rinoa. Not content to simply stat her up as she appears in the game, this version of Rinoa covers her as she appears in Monty Oum's critically-acclaimed Dead Fantasy series of videos. It also includes conversions for the magic system in FF8, and a critical analysis of comparative strengths the Dead Fantasy characters.

Check it out here: Dead Fantasizing

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Continuing the string of converting characters from various media, my next conversion is for Pyrrha, one of the main cast members from RWBY, the new series from Rooster Teeth, the studio that brought you Red vs. Blue!

Like all of my recent conversions, this one uses the class-less rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona, and is fully compatible with Pathfinder (though this time I've made sure to write out additional information regarding what her derived values are, to reduce the need to reference the book).

Check it out here: Pyrrhic Victory

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Reviewed here and at RPGNow.

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Reviewed here and at RPGNow.

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Reviewed here and at RPGNow.

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Courtesy of the kind folks over at The Gamer Effect, I'm pleased to announce the debut of my new column, Wisdom Check, a sister blog to Intelligence Check.

The debut article is an article for Pathfinder that discusses a mechanic from older editions: the morale check. In this article, I outline what morale checks do, ways the GMs can avoid being hamstrung by them, and a simple yet elegant mechanic for reintroducing them to your Pathfinder game.

Check it out here: Modern Morale-ity

(Also, be sure to check out the previous article, a system-neutral piece about using the environment to challenge the PCs in your game, titled The Invincible Enemy. I know I said the aforementioned piece on morale was the debut article; this piece on the environment was written before the column received its title.)

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As part of our continuing series on using Eclipse: The Codex Persona to make Pathfinder-compatible versions of existing characters from various series, we take things to the realm of video game ultra-violence! Presented here is Scorpion, as he was in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon!


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Cross-posting my five-star review of Eclipse: The Codex Persona from RPGNow:

I really don’t know how I’ve gone this long without reviewing this book. I’ve known about it for quite some time, and have been using it for the last several weeks in my home game, yet somehow writing a review didn’t occur to me. That oversight ends now.

I think that for everyone who plays a d20 System game, be it Pathfinder, d20 Modern, 3.5, d20 Future or whatnot, that there’s a sense of frustration with how patchwork the system’s exception-based rules are. That is, if you have an idea for a character, you can try to design an appropriate facsimile, but unless it happens to fall within some very specific parameters, there’ll be some aspect of the character creation mechanics that doesn’t quite fit with what you had in mind.

This, of course, leads to one of two things. Either you modify your expectations to fit within what the “class level” structure allows, or you go on a never-ending hunt for splatbooks and third-party supplements in hopes of finding new rules that will let you build exactly what it is you’re looking for.

Have you ever wanted to build a character that can shapeshift into different forms, but isn’t a druid, or even a spellcaster? What about a character that is able to manipulate fire via dancing? Or one whose spellcasting ability is limited by physical ability, rather than “prepared” spells? How many supplements and sourcebooks would you have to comb through to find rules that could let you play those characters? For that matter, how many would have rules to make ALL of those characters, and whatever others you can imagine?

The correct answer is: one. That being Eclipse: The Codex Persona, from Distant Horizons Games.

Weighing in at just over two hundred pages, Eclipse is an OGL supplement that has generously been made available for free. There’s also a page for a pay-for version of the book, which is completely the same as the free version in every way. In essence, the pay-for version is a tip jar, allowing you to pay for the book if you feel so inclined. Given that this book is essentially the same as every other character book ever released, that’s a staggering level of generosity.

The book hits the technical high marks for what’s expected of a PDF: copy-and-paste is enabled, and there are full, nested bookmarks present. Most helpfully, there is a link to the authors’ blog – I’ll mention why this is helpful shortly.

I should take a moment to mention the artwork. Entirely black and white, the artwork seems to be a mixture of stock art and works from the public domain. Moreover, most pieces are given a humorous caption. I say “humorous” because these captions tend to be of the Monty Python variety (in terms of how they read, rather than any specific quotations). For example, the illustration in the section on shapeshifting is of a woman with inhuman hands licking at her fingers. The caption? “Is it cannibalism if I wasn’t human when I ate him?” They’re pretty much all like that, though some are real groaners. As someone who loves making bad jokes (especially puns) I was tickled by these, but they might induce strain due to excessive eye-rolling in other readers. Be warned.

So now, having said all of that, just what IS Eclipse: The Codex Persona?

Simply put, Eclipse is a point-buy method of character generation for the d20 System. It wasn’t the first book to release a point-buy system, nor was it the most popular (thus far), but it is by far the most successful. Let’s get to why.

The book’s first section introduces the fundamentals. Basically, characters get twenty-four Character Points (CP) at each level. These points can be spent on a variety of things, ranging from the basics (Hit Dice, weapon/armor proficiencies, base attack bonuses, save bonuses, and skill points), to spellcasting abilities, to the much more colorful powers in chapter two, with things like damage reduction, the ability to actively block incoming attacks, esoteric means of communication, and so much more.

A review must, of course, gloss over some details, which is a shame since the first two chapter that detail these myriad abilities take up roughly a third of the book. But there’s something more fundamental that must be taken into account. While a large list of abilities that can be purchased is absolutely necessary to any point-buy system, it’s ultimately going to be limited – it has to be, since no single book can possibly list every ability that will ever be thought of in every other sourcebook, right?

Well, not exactly, no.

What makes Eclipse unique is that it gives a method for tailoring EVERYTHING that can be bought with Character Points, allowing you to alter them as necessary to fit with your idea for how they should work. How does it do this, you ask? By utilizing two related concepts: corruption, and specialization.

To be clear, both of these terms are referring to the same basic idea: that by placing some sort of limitation on an ability, you can give it a corresponding increase in another manner OR you can reduce the amount of Character Points the ability costs. The terms “corruption” is used to refer to a comparatively mild limitation, while the term “specialization” refers to a more severe one. It’s by using these abilities to modify the existing powers that you can create virtually limitless abilities.

For example, the Empowerment special ability lets you use your own ability score modifiers and caster level when activating a magic item, up to (3 + Int mod) times per day (sort of like how magic staves are normally). That costs 6 CP. But you could specialize that ability by limiting it to just, say, magic wands. By accepting that degree of limitation, you can choose to either cut the price in half (3 CP), or keep the full price, but remove the “per day” modifier. So when you make a character that’s a self-styled “Master of Wands” – with little actual spellcasting power, but is able to use magic wands far better than most fully-fledged wizards – you can easily distinguish him from other run-of-the-mill wizards and sorcerers.

The third chapter of the book builds on this, exploring what it calls “paths and powers.” These are, largely, more of the same, but where the first two chapters presented individual abilities that were largely unconnected, the various sections in chapter three showcase powers that have various sub-abilities. For example, channeling is the basic “turn/rebuke undead” power that clerics have. Here, however, not only can you manipulate how powerfully and how often you can channel positive or negative energy, you can do so much more. Beyond things like not needing a holy symbol, you can convert the energy into spell effects, turn or rebuke other types of creatures, grant bonuses to magic weapons, animate corpses, and so much more.

Many of the new abilities presented in chapter three are different systems for using magic. Skill-based magic systems, for example, have multiple different presentations here. So are low-level psychic powers, high-level direct manipulations of magic, mystical artistry, eldritch connections to a land you rule, and even divine ascension, among others.

Chapter four concerns itself solely with epic-level magic. This may seem very specific, but with the various ways to manipulate spellcasting (did I mention the metamagic theorems in chapter two?), it becomes something of a practical concern…depending on the sort of campaign you run. The spells here don’t use, surprisingly, any kind of new system of magic. Rather, they still use spell levels, ranging from level ten spells all the way up through level twenty-four.

It’s in chapter five that we move away from mechanics and more towards how to utilize what’s in the book. There’s a section for players here, and a section for GMs. The player section largely discusses the type of character you want to build, which is more helpful than it sounds when you can build pretty much anything you want. For GMs, the advice is even more practical – any role-playing game system can be abused by problem players, and in an open system like Eclipse, this requires a more proactive GM. Issues of deciding ahead of time what powers (and combinations of powers) should be disallowed are dealt with, in addition to suggestions and advice for what to do if a character goes out of control. Some templates and sample epic-level monsters help to round out the GMs tools.

A few appendices close out the book. There’s a quick example of chakras, presented as an in-game reason for disallowing certain power combinations. The second and third appendix take standard 3.5 and d20 Modern classes and show how they’d be built in Eclipse, along with how to take standard feats using Eclipse abilities. Some helpful worksheets are the last thing given.

If you’ve read this far, you probably have a pretty good sense that I’m a big fan of Eclipse. The author says in the foreword that none of his players want to use any other character-building options besides what’s here, and having gotten a chance to use the book in my own game, I can completely understand why. Why go back to digging through various books to hodge-podge together a character that resembles what you wanted to make, when you can use one book to put together exactly the PC you really want to play?

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Eclipse is a book against which no criticism can be leveled. The biggest critique that can be said of the book is that it’s horribly lacking where examples are concerned. This is no small complaint, as the system is a fairly complex one to understand, especially if you’re expecting more of the fairly rigid class-level structure from standard d20 games. There are numerous points where a helpful example would go a long way towards making things clearer.

To be fair, the book does have examples for some sections, but these are few and far between. The system is, I believe, fairly intuitive…but only after you’ve made a significant investment in understanding exactly what it’s offering and how it goes about doing it. Luckily, there’s a remedy for this: remember the authors’ blog that I mentioned earlier? It has a plethora of sample characters and items built with Eclipse (including my favorite articles on how to build 100% Pathfinder-compatible characters using the book), and more than fills the need for examples of what can be done with Eclipse.

It’s also important to keep Eclipse’s limits in mind. The book allows for many options in building characters, and while this often brushes up against many other parts of the d20 System, there are some that it doesn’t replace. For example, there are many different ways to manipulate the skill system with the powers here, but the system itself is independent of Eclipse (which is why it works with d20 Modern skills, 3.5 skills, Pathfinder skills, etc.). There are different ways to build magic items, but magic items themselves aren’t dealt with here (though relics, which are similar, are). Eclipse is a powerful character generator, but it’s not a complete replacement for your d20 game of choice.

My understanding is that Eclipse is so named because it “eclipses” all other character-building options in the d20 System, and I can honestly say that it does. Think of every fictional character you’ve ever read, watched, or heard about; you can make them all here. You may still need to increase the amount of levels necessary to do it, but it can be done. The Codex Persona is exactly what it promises, and is still completely compatible with whatever d20 game you’re playing, to boot. So put on your protective eyewear and look into the Eclipse.

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In last night's game one of the PCs was hit with a dominate person. We managed to subdue her, but we were very low on resources to the point where we couldn't bring anything to bear that would free her from the control she was under.

Given that, we decided to tie her up for the time being. Since she was pinned at the time, one of the group decided that since she couldn't really resist, he was going to take 20 on his CMB check, since the normal DC for Escape Artist is 20 + the CMB of whomever is tying the rope.

I wasn't sure this was correct, since a CMB is an attack roll and you can't take 20 (or 10, for that matter) on those. However, the group felt that this made narrative sense, since you can keep trying and re-trying your knots until you've tied them tightly and securely.

I'm still not sure I agree with that interpretation though, so I'm asking everyone here: for the purposes of tying someone up, can you take 20 on your CMB check?

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I've recently been thinking that issues of "game balance" (and, for that matter, "player entitlement") aren't focused so much on actual play-sessions, but rather on character creation.

That is, "balance" - as it's often discussed here - is less concerned with the context (of game-play) in which PC choices are exercised, than it is with making sure that all of those options have parity when compared on paper. The most directly-applicable situation for this seems to be when characters are being generated (and, by extension, leveled up).

The practical impact of this seems to be that players can (or maybe should?) create their characters with no real input from their GM. That is, there's an implicit understanding that since any choice is (supposed to be) as good as any other, with the only variance being some expected difference in combat role, then the player can have access to virtually any material with which to build their character, and it'll all be fine in the end.

So in other words, there's no reason why a player shouldn't be able to consider playing a fighter, paladin, magus, gunslinger, etc. because the end result on actual game-play will be roughly the same. Hence, there's no need for the GM to be involved anyway.

My question is, do you necessarily agree with that presumption? Does the GM have any particular place in putting qualifiers on what the PCs can play? Is is "appropriate" for the GM to put restrictions on certain options? To want approval over a character's build? To restrict certain books, even though the players have bought them and want to use them (and they're "official")?

If so, what circumstances are those appropriate in? A lot of people seem to agree that certain classes can be banned pre-emptively for thematic reasons (e.g. "gunslingers don't fit my world design"). Is it never appropriate for the GM to comment on a player's character without being asked? Or are there times when the GM should offer an objection?

I should mention that this is purely about mechanical options; obviously poor conduct would need to be called out (though not necessarily publicly).

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Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gamer (sung to the tune of "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta"; with apologies to the Geto Boys)

Damn it feels good to be a gamer
A real tabletop gamer runs his char’ right
A real tabletop gamer never needs to check morale
‘cause real tabletop gamers don’t lose fights
His PCs always got the high stats
Showin’ his party that he rolls highs
But real tabletop gamers don’t point-whore
‘cause real tabletop gamers don’t optimize
And everything’s fun in the game of a gamer
‘cause tabletop gamers don’t complain
Play levels one-to-twenty, low up through the epic
‘cause real tabletop gamers all campaign

And all I gotta say to you
Domino, video, card-playin’, free-formin’ lamers
When the dice come out what the #$%& you gonna do?
Damn it feels good to be a gamer

Damn it feels good to be a gamer
Drivin’ the plot, helpin’ out NPCs
Though all my stats were rolled random
Now I’m earning big XPs
Damn it feels good to be a gamer
Beatin’ monsters everywhere I go
Ridin’ around town hittin’ pick-up games
Whackin’ monsters with my sword +4
Now tabletop gamers come in all race and classes
Some got killed while they played
But this gamer here is a smart one
Bought contingency to get me raised

Now all I gotta say to you
Domino, video, free-formin’, card-playin’ lamers
When your tournament ends what the #$%& you gonna do?
Damn it feels good to be a gamer

Damn it feels good to be a gamer
A real tabletop gamers get his wealth
Real tabletop gamers get the biggest of the treasures
Ask that tabletop gamer called Melf
Now monsters look at tabletop gamers as a challenge
And move into their combat roles
But get surprise on a monster grab your weapons and your spells
And end up pokin’ them full of holes
‘cause tabletop gamers be the game players
And everything’s quiet in their fort
A tabletop gamer sees a bad guy
And his partners in the party scry-buff-teleport
Real tabletop gamers don’t parlay much
All you hear is the clack of a die cast
And real tabletop gamers just roll to hit
‘cause real tabletop gamers make you die fast
Now when you in the game world makin’ crits role-play it
Fail a save against some GMPC shamer
But players like myself kick back and retrain
‘cause damn it feels good to be a gamer

And now, a word from the Game Master!
Damn it feels good to be a gamer
Got it all set up behind my screen
Everything lookin’ good to the players ‘round the table
But none of them know I’m feelin’ mean
So every now and then I pick a player slap ‘im down
By fudgin’ just a die roll or two
And lettin’ a monster make its attack roll
So it can run that PC through
So players of the game keep respecting me
And you’ll be the game world’s star
But your actions better not upset me
Or level-drainings are in store
And for all those char-op threads which I have read
I’ll issue this disclaimer
They’re what a GM needs to run the PCs scared
And damn it feels good to be a gamer

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Okay, I think I know the answer to this question, but I wanted to double-check.

My cleric just bought a ring of the ram. Based on the description, using charges inflicts both damage and a bull rush attempt, based on the number of charges spent, correct?

For example, if my PC spent 2 charges, the ring would inflict 2d6 points of damage and, as part of the same action (if the enemy were within 30 ft.) make a bull rush attempt with a +18 CMB, right?

Also, does it seem to anyone else like it should use a ranged touch attack, rather than a ranged attack?


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Are your wizards too powerful at higher levels? Do full progression spellcasters in your game make the fighters and rogues feel useless? Isn't there a way to reintroduce a greater degree of balance without pumping up the non-spellcasters even more?

How about introducing a few limitations on your spellcasters...from previous editions?

In our first article for 2013, Intelligence Check introduces a set of variant rules inspired by older editions of everyone's favorite fantasy role-playing game to help limit the power of wizards and other spellcasters. Use these, and put the kibosh on the wizard-as-god in your game.

Check it out here: Triple Solutions for Quadratic Wizards

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Review posted here and at RPGNow.

1 person marked this as a favorite.
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When running a game, where is the line drawn between things not going the way a player expects/wants, and the game not being fun anymore?

I ask because I've seen a lot of threads lately where the same sentiment seems to come up over and over: that if serious or long-term penalties afflict a PC, then (unless the GM has gone out of his way to avoid and the player still blunders into it regardless) the GM is violating the main reason the players are playing the game to begin with - to have fun.

I personally think that such major downturns are in the game for a reason - you can fall from paladinhood, your spellbook gets destroyed, (some of) your followers abandon you, etc. - and that's part of the game, and should be treated in the same manner as rolling a natural 1; you deal with it as best you can and move on. These things are not the GM's indictment of you as a player.

Moreover, there's a wide range of opinions regarding how much the GM should try to course-correct for these things happening to the PC. I'm not talking about fudging dice rolls so much as people seem to expect the GM to give the player out-of-character warnings that their PC is about to do something that will have serious consequences. This, I'm very iffy towards. Again, no one likes feeling punished, but to what degree is this a case of in-game consequences versus the commandment of "thou shalt preserve thy players' fun"?

It seems that a lot of the "save my fun" sentiment is used to justify player entitlement. Obviously, communication is key here - ideally before the campaign begins - but what do you do when people have ideas on this that are incompatible, don't want to compromise, but still want to game together?

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In the latest post over on Intelligence Check, I discuss being burned out on new supplements, using a point-buy system for character construction, put stats to a character from a hit TV show, and introduce three new spells!

Check it out here: A Legendary Burnout.

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Lately, I've been seeing some third-party publishers referring to the NPCs in some of their books as "iconic(s)" in a manner that's clearly reminiscent of the characters that we all know from Paizo's books (and WotC's before that).

I wanted to say that, while on the surface a lot of these "3pp-iconics" could conceivably live up to the name - being characters who rend to represent something specific (usually a new character class) while not being too thoroughly defined - I'm of the opinion that there's one major factor in what makes a character "iconic," rather than just being a notable NPC.


Let me say that again.


The Iconics are iconic because they - primarily artwork of them, as well as their names being dropped in even short instances of framing fiction - are everywhere. They're in every book, over and over again. Virtually every piece of artwork that isn't a monster or location illustration features them. We see them so often that we come to expect them whenever the company puts out a new book. It's a given that they'll be in there; they're iconic.

It goes beyond this, of course (e.g. pregen stats), but that's the big one. To me, 90% of what makes an Iconic what they are is that they're omnipresent.

Third-party publishers, if you want your character(s) to be an Iconic character, please dial their exposure up to eleven. Yes, you still need to check off the other boxes mentioned above, but repeated exposure is the number one ingredient by far.

Don't tell us that your characters are Iconic. Show us...again and again and again.

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The newest article from Intelligence Check pays tribute to the Grand OGL Wiki, and begins to repost some of the Open Game Content I submitted to its DM Sketchpad.

Here, I rework the aging tables into something that doesn't have the longer-lived demihumans spending potentially half their lives as wizened old geezers. Check it out here: What's Old Is Young Again.

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Reviewed here and at RPGNow.

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