I managed to get the players together for another session. This is the first one with many big alterations to the AP. A new player joined us this time, while one was absent.
In which a murder is committed, a investigation is conducted, a trio of evil-doers is brought to justice and a terrible secret is brought to light.
Despite the misgivings of the people of Lepidstadt, our heroes are of high spirits. Judge Daramid invites to dinner, promising a taste of the regional cuisine. They visit a small tavern that Embreth calls the best restaurant for traditional Lepidstadt dishes. There they meet Professor Wilhelm von Eisenberg, a friend of the late Petros Lorrimor, who seems to have taken his friend's death to heart; he is busy drinking himself into a stupor. Our heroes decide to invite him to their table and commence their meal, which turns out the huge amounts of black pudding, lamb, potatoes, dumplings, black soup, all dripping with fat. Afterwards they return to the judge's house and get some much needed rest, secure in the knowledge that they saw justice done.
Only to be woken by a servant of justice early in the morning. There has been a grisly murder, and our heroes are wanted for questioning! The priest of Belenus has been shot and stabbed, and the wounds match the weapons of our heroes. Together with Embreth they go the the courthouse and face Otto Heiger, the grim advocate, who relishes in breaking the whole news to them. They are the prime suspects in this case and are questioned and told not to leave the city. Although Judge Daramid assures them that Otto Heiger may be harsh, but not unjust, our heroes feel uncomfortable with the direction of the official investigation and decide to conduct one of their own.
They gather clues, experiment with alchemical precision and gather information. Fortunately, Professor Wilhelm von Eisenberg joins them. He is good at asking questions and not yet reviled by the good people of Lepidstadt. This leads them to the townhouse of Count Alpon Carromarc. They break and enter it stealthily and discover the dead body of the caretaker. After alarming the city watch, they search for more clues. This leads them to believe that agents of the Whispering Way spent several nights in the house, right at the time of the theft at the university. Most have left several days ago, but three remained behind. Exchanging knowing glances, our heroes deduct that these three are responsible for the reprehensible murder. Since the assassins are unaware of the discovery of their hideout, our heroes spent the night in the townhouse.
And almost catch a shadowy figure trying to sneak in. They give chase and follow the fleeing person out of the city, on the northern road along the Moutray. While they are sure that they are right behind the culprit, they do not seem to able to close in on him. And while traveling through a small wood, they are ambushed! Three deadly assailants attack, a crossbow-sniper hidden in a tree, a two-gunslinger and a fierce warrior woman. The fight is short, but very brutal. Our heroes manage to slay the sniper and the gunslinger, while knocking out the warrior.
Afterwards they question their captive. She does only know a little, as the main connection to the Whispering Way was the gunslinger. But she does know that some of the insidious necromancers are at Schloss Carromarc! Our heroes gather their loot, some of it rather quickly, and return her and the bodies to Lepidstadt. Otto Heiger is not happy, but just as Embreth said, he respects the law. Our heroes buy horses and race onward to Schloss Carromarc.
They reach it at dusk. It sits atop a waterfall, a large, fortified manor connected to the either side of the river by two narrow bridges. Our heroes approach the gatehouse with trepidation, and rightly so, as they are promptly assaulted by skeletal fiends and minions of the Whispering Way. A fierce combat ensues, but our heroes emerge triumphant!
Kitsune should be no problem: they can pose as humans thanks to their racial Change Shape ability. The rest may have difficulties, especially those races that cannot easily hide their features, like Catfolk. I can see a half-orc trying to disguise his heritage, but Catfolk with their fur and feline heads?
In my CC campaign, most non-humans take pains to appear as "normal" as possible, using the disguise skill, wearing hoods, concealing clothes and so on. Of course, most of the PCs including the humans in that campaign are not from Ustalav, which means they are considered unwelcome foreigners anyway and are often treated as such.
Well, there is the Sword and Pistol feat. Opening Volley could be interesting, too. You would probably want the pistolero archetype, and need to find a way to reload your pistol while wielding a sword in your other hand.
If you are willing to go for a finesseable weapon like the rapier, you could go all DEX and try to get your hand on an agile weapon.
No ideas on 3rd edition stuff; it's been to long since I actually played it.
With Str 22 or so (actually low for this level), that's, what, +27/+27/+22 for 6d6 +35 damage per hit, criticalling on 17-20? That is going to seriously mess up a Magus. Mirror Image will hold it off a little...but a couple of rounds at best, even assuming Dispel Magic isn't used. And at 13th level, the Inquisitor gets True Seeing, and Mirror Image stops being a problem at all.
At the postulated 12th level, Mirror Image and Displacement/Greater Invisibility will really mess up that Inquisitor. At 13th, as you said, it looks better, but she should really spend a round casting See Invisibility at 12th level, if she does not want to risk starting the fight without actually being able to see her opponent.
Both are very nice classes, versatile, good in design, with lots of options. Magus might have the edge because of the ability to nova against single targets, but both have a large box of tools and possible builds, so I do not believe that you can give a definitive answer; too many variables.
I did something similar for my own CC-campaign. I placed Ustalav in Ravenloft, albeit a heavily modified one. I wrote a primer and drew a map for my players and can share that, if you would like.
For more instant Steampunk, I replaced the summoner class with the clockworker, which does basically the same thing but with constructs instead of outsiders. Add steamboats or even trains and similar advanced technology and it should be easy to get a steampunk'ed atmosphere. One thing I toyed with was armor-less combat, as I feel that the 1800s do not mix that well with full-plate (even if they are still around and used in some of the more backwater places (and by PCs with that background)).
It is working well so far. Further adventures will take the players all over the Core, as many of the themes presented in the AP are available in other domains and mesh quite well with existing stuff.
While both the Whispering Tyrant and Azalin Rex are evil liches, they are quite different. I kept both, as the Whispering Tyrant is more the world-conquering, all-should-be-undead type and thus a pretty good threat from ages past.
Actually, it is quite simple: magic items that require slots only do their thing for you if you wear them in the appropriate slot. Your Ring of Sustenance stops working if you put it in your pocket, same for your Amulet of Natural Armor. If you use your Cloak of Resistance as a pillow at night, it does not confer its benefits to you. Any item that you use with Continual Flame will work regardless of where you put it. You do not even have to carry it on your person. It is obviously not something that requires a slot, regardless of its form.
In which a trial is held, and our heroes visit places of great tragedy and must deduce a terrible truth while facing adversaries born of shadow and night.
Fuelled by a desire to see justice done and by compassion for a creature that displays heart in a heartless situation, our heroes begin their investigations in earnest. Out of the many dreadful events that are attributed to the beast, the court decided to allow three cases: the disappearance and murder of six children of the small farming community of Hergstag, the abductions of several people from the aptly swamp village Morast and the burning of Doctor Brada's Asylum for the Lunatic Afflicted. All three events happened in the last six months, in all cases witnesses have seen the beast and will be called to court. As some of these witnesses now reside in Lepidstadt, our heroes decide to visit them first.
Karl, who used to be the groundskeeper of the asylum, lives in a small hut on the outskirts of the city. He lost his eyesight in the attack, but swears that the last thing he saw was the beast running out of the burning asylum and knocking him out. He seems earnest and believes in his account, but knows little of the asylum itself and its inner workings. Doctor Brada inherited a small fortune when his wife died and used the money to build the asylum just outside Lepidstadt. He believed that lunacy and madness could be cured instead of just locking the afflicted away, and conducted many experiments to help the poor souls. He died in the fire and was buried at Lepidstadt cemetary.
On the other side of town, three spinsters, the sisters Starle, have bought an old windmill and are very happy to entertain our heroes. They relate the tale of Hergstag, where four small kids went missing within the span of one month, and even the beadles of Lepidstadt in league with the best hunters and trackers where unable to find them. Then one day the beast walked into the village, the body of Ellsa in his arms, laughing maniacally. The villagers drove it off, but decided to abandon Hergstag as they believed it to be cursed. While the sisters are friendly, our heroes believe that they might be holding back some information, and a little questioning brings out the truth: the sixth victim, a girl named Karin, was found two days after the incident by her father, lying peacefully in her bed without any mark in her body.
The two visits only confirm our heroes' suspicions, and they make haste towards Hergstag to investigate the scene, as this case is to be tried the day after tomorrow. On their way they stop at the asylum which is situated on the isthmus knows as Karb Isle. The fire has destroyed most of the evidence, but they manage to find an iron lockbox, heavily damaged which resists their attempts to open it for quite a while. Finally, a concerted effort breaks it, and they find badly burned pieces of paper which turn out to be records of the asylum. Only the name Vorkstag and Grine’s Chymic Works can be read several times. It seems to be a factory supplying mostly alchemical products. Our heroes discover an entrance to the cellars and climb down. Sarah sees movement out of the corners of her eyes, but just as she warns her companions, half a dozen undead monstrosities ambush our heroes. Sarah is bitten and paralysed, Lucretia shares this fate, and Elias is wounded to within an inch of his life, but before the ghastly attackers can kill the helpless trio, they are struck down by sword, axe, bolt and bullet. Our heroes discover the gnawed bones of victims of the fire, some of which bear the marks of surgery, and a little treasure - and an empty bottle of Vorkstag and Grine, Chymickal Bleach.
As the ruins of the asylums refuse to release its secrets, our heroes travel to Hergstag which was little more than half a dozen farmsteads huddled together. The villagers abandoned their homes about half a year ago. They left the traps that they placed to catch the beast behind. Our heroes discover one of those, a wicked bear trap. They come across some tracks, but the village seems empty. As Catalin approaches the shrine devoted to the Raven Queen, she hears a children's voice singing a hymn, but it stops before she reaches the shrine which turns out to be empty. Our heroes decide to visit a small hill to the south-west, as there is a scarecrow on its top. As they advance on the hill, they find more tracks and then see a fallen figure in the overgrown fields. It turns out to be the corpse of a man, obviously some kind of looter, who went into the village, but then moved into the fields and straight into the trap. His path is puzzling, but without further clues our heroes begin to search the hill. Lucretia comes across a small hole, looking like a badger's burrow, near the scarecrow. After some debate, Elias drinks a potions that shrinks him to half his size and enters the hole. He soon finds a small cave and several human bones, but before he is able to examine them, he is attacked. Small claws hit his back, and he feels as if some malignant force is draining his life away. He whirls around but cannot see his assailant. Again he is struck, and already begins to feel faint, so he decides that caution is the better part of valor and flees, suffering a last attack from invisible claws. Lucretia and Catalin heal his wounds, and our heroes devise a plan to capture the creature in the burrow.
With tools from the village they dig towards the cave. Pat and Elias craft a smoke bomb using gunpowder and alchemical ingredients. Our heroes place one of the bear traps in front of the only exit. Digging a hole deep enough takes until sundown, but then they drop the smoke bomb into the cave. Something flees the attack but fails to avoid the trap. It is smaller than humans, and the vicious trap nearly cuts it in half. It turns out to be some kind of fey creature, a Lurker in Shadows, evil and known to steal the souls of the living with a mere touch, collecting and binding them to itself. The light of the sun melts its body away, but Kostja places the remains in a box to preserve them for the trial.
Our heroes return to Lepidstadt where they are met with anger and scorn. The people of Lepidstadt have been told that the strangers are helping Barrister Kaple, and they do not cherish the thought of the beast receiving aid. Nonetheless, our heroes remain unfazed and spent the night at Embreth's mansion. In the morning, they speak with the beast and with Karl, visit the alchemical factory to ask for their records of Doctor Brada's orders, and then leave the city early in the morning to visit Morast. They travel through the swamp and reach the village before noon. Lazne, the village elder, greets them enthusiastically, as he believes they were sent to escort him to the city as he is, in his own words, the “star witness”. Our heroes use his enjoyment of his moment of fame to get him to talk about the alleged crimes of the beast, which he happily does. People wandering the swamps alone disappeared, which in itself is not that remarkable, but it soon became obvious that there was more than the dangers of the swamp at work. Then the beast became bolder, even attacking villagers in their homes and abducting them. Lazne organized his brethren and laid a trap for the beast. They attacked it as it entered the village and drove it into the swamp, following with their coracles. It went to the boneyard, at which point the villagers caught up again. It tried to escape by jumping into the waters, but a blood caiman attacked it, bit into its shoulder and dragged it down. Lazne believed the beast to be dead until he was called as a witness in this trial.
With this knowledge, our heroes decide to investigate the boneyard. They find a small isle with a grove of willows. Their keen eyes discover hints that some of the graves have been tampered with. Further investigation reveals a small camp a few months old, with the remains of an alchemistical extract of Darkvision and half eaten rations. Suddenly, Lucretia explains that she could imagine a person sitting there, using some kind of mask to make him look like the beast, and that there could be a box with the letter V next to him. Her very detailed imaginations astonish her companions but she does not reveal her source. Nevertheless, our heroes conduct their search with renewed vigour and find a place where someone fastened a small boat and a lost scalpel marked with a V. Knowing that the beast neither has use for extracts of Darkvision nor for a surgeon's tools, our heroes return to Lepidstadt with the intent of finding the artisan who crafted the scalpel.
They arrive well before dusk and proceed to ask around until the stumble upon the crafter's shop. But he himself refuses to tell them his client's name, so they bribe one of his apprentices who prompts them to Vorkstag and Grine’s Chymic Works which lies on the fringes of Lepidstadt. Before they can investigate any further, they hear loud screams from the courthouse. They hasten towards it, finding a large mob on the market square. The guards are gone, and there is a priest of Belenus whipping the townspeople into a frenzy. He wants them to kill the beast which he calls an abomination. As our heroes try to intervene, the priest accuses them of being in league with the beast and being creatures of darkness themselves. Only by working together can our heroes disperse the mob, but the priest swears vengeance for their sinful acts.
Finally, our heroes decide that they must take more vigorous action as the trial will commence tomorrow. They infiltrate the Chymical Works, dispatching some kind of alchemical guard dog. Inside the factory, they see zombies driven by alchemical concoctions. With this proof of illicit behaviour, they alert the city watch which arrives half an hour later. The captain, distrustful of their motives, wants to wait until dawn and arrest the owners, but our heroes fear that their intrusion will be discovered and evidence destroyed and they offer to act as deputies and carry the risk of facing the zombies themselves. After a short negotiation, the captain agrees and our heroes begin their assault.
The fight inside the factory is brutal. Vorkstag and Grine are accomplished alchemists and fight like cornered animals. Their bombs wound many. The toxic fumes and hazardous environment make every step dangerous, but after a long, hard fight and a final chase, our heroes knock out Grine who falls to his death and subdue Vorkstag. Then they discover the terrible secret: the respected business owners are actually otherworldly creatures, and their business only a front for their real activities: bodysnatching. A dozen corpses are preserved in alchemical fluids in the cellars. Grine was a dark creeper and Vorkstag is a skinstealer, a creature that can wear the skins of flayed humanoids to impersonate them. Our heroes discover his cabinet of skins and faces, containing more than two dozen of the grizzly exhibits. Among them are the victims of murder - some of those have been attributed to the beast! - but also the skins and faces of respected citizens of Lepidstadt, both male and female. And one skin taken from a creature known as a mongrelman, that could be and was used to impersonate the beast.
Knowing their discoveries will help Barrister Kaple make his case, our heroes find some much needed rest. Early in the morning, they attend the first day of the trial. Lucretia presents their findings and deductions to the court, and in two glorious days the defence smashes the prosecution's every accusation. The beast is acquitted on all charges and released. The enraged people of Lepidstadt are loath to accept the verdict, but the beast escapes before the gathered mob can act.
Our heroes are now reviled by many in the city, but their minds are at ease as they have helped seeing justice be done. The only troubling thought that remains: neither Vorkstag nor Grine had anything to do with the theft at the university, and this remains an unsolved mystery.
We played another session. As two my players are going to work on the side of the world for at least two years, I have asked two friends if they would like to join the campaign. They did.
Sarah Guyro, a Sylph Clockworker with deft hands and a deadly crossbow.
Pat Haycox, a Dhampir Gunslinger who lets his gun do the talking.
I had to fiddle with the rules a bit since I am using my own rules for firearms and I had to mesh them with the gunslinger class, but I think it worked pretty good. I changed some of the adventure to fit the needs of my gaming group. We managed to complete the trial, and that will be the last part of the AP that I can use almost as it is written.
Without further ado, the campaign journal:
Act Two or The Trial of the Beast
In which our heroes reach the great university city of Lepidstadt, hear of the capture of a dreaded beast, meet learned women and men and discover a strange happenstance.
On their way to famed Lepidstadt, Elias picks the lock on the Manual of the Order of the Raven's Eye, but discovers that it is written in code. Federico, a natural linguist, manages to decipher the code. The Order of the Raven's Eye is a relatively young secret society intend on battling the growing influence of the undead and of the Whispering Way. The folio is a primer for newly initiated members, containing basic information about the order and its beliefs. Apparently, there is some kind of connection between the rise of the Whispering Tyrant and the Amber Wastes. The order was founded by a group of early scholars of Akirology who found these links in ancients tombs long thought lost to the shifting sands of the desert. The order stays secret because its enemies seem to have influence even at the highest levels of society, and agents of the Whispering Way are known to work ceaselessly towards their great goal: freeing the Whispering Tyrant!
Even before reaching the city, our heroes hear tales of the dreaded Beast of Lepidstadt, some kind of flesh golem, and its capture by brave guards. When they arrive in the early evening, they call upon Embreth Daramid, an old friend - some say even lover - of Petros Lorrimor. She welcomes them warmly and invites them to stay at her mansion for as long as they like. Over dinner, pressing matters are discussed. Embreth has been called to sit in tribunal in the strange case of the Beast of Lepidstadt. Despite being a golem, the beast seems to have developed an intellect of some sort, a living consciousness. This has prompted the people of Lepidstadt to conduct a trial, as the beast is regarded as a person and not as a thing as a golem would be. Embreth is troubled by this trial, as the verdict of guilt and subsequent execution are seen as a foregone conclusion. Alas, her sense of justice does not allow her to disregard the traditions of the law, and she asks our heroes to associate themselves with the advocate Gustav Kaple, who has been called upon to defend the beast. He is up against the ambitious prosecutor Otto Heiger, who is said to be gearing up for the next election of the burgomeister. While discussing the case, our heroes discover strange links between the events at Ravengro and the events that lead to the capture of the beast. Not believing in circumstance, our heroes agree to at least take a look at the case and meet Gustav Kaple and the beast.
First in the morning, our heroes visit the scene of the last crime and capture of the beast, the great university of Lepidstadt, one of the most renowned colleges of learning in all the Core. Embreth brings the books to the library and negotiates a deal that allows our heroes to visit the closed part of the library and study the locked-away tomes of dangerous contents. While they search for clues, they interrogate one Montagnie Crowl, a professor of history and antiquities, who is head of the department where the theft of a strange statue, the so called Raptor Effigy took place. The beast forced its way into the well-guarded storage room and was found standing there as if dazed. The statue is the only thing missing, despite not being the most powerful or even valuable item. In fact, nobody really knows its purpose and use. Our heroes are appalled by the lackluster investigation conducted by both the prosecution and the defence, but this only confirms Judge Daramid's words that the trial is only meant to prove the beast's guilt.
At this point, Elias mentions that he came across a special book, a Flesh Golem Manual in Ravengro, where the proprietor of the Unfurling Scroll, Alendru Ghoroven, offered it for sale. He remembers the name in the exlibris: Montagnie Crowl. Our heroes debate the significance of this finding and decide to subtly confront the professor. As it turns out, he was the official owner of the book, as he tried to pierce the mysteries surrounding the beast, but he gifted it to the library of the university years ago when all his work came to naught. A quick research in the library records reveals the truth: the book was stolen! In shock, our heroes ponder the consequences. Meanwhile, Professor Crowl sends servants to fetch the book from Ravengro.
Finally, our heroes decide that it is time to pay the beast a visit and talk to dreaded golem themselves. They return to Embreth's home where several surprises are waiting for them. Unfortunately, Anna-Katerina and Federico have to depart as they have duties to attend to. But there are new guests at the house, friends and companions of the late Professor Lorrimor. Two of those, the silent man named Pat Haycox and the young engineer Sarah Guyro, decide to join our heroes in their quest for justice. The third, the middle-aged noble Adivion Adrissant, a well-known friend of the professor, has eyes only for Kendra, and the two of them seem very close.
After a heartfelt farewell to Anna-Katerina and Federico, our heroes accompany Embreth to the courthouse of Lepidstadt. A huge pyre in the shape of a man - Lepidstadt’s famous Punishing Man - is being erected in front of the courthouse, and locals eagerly add fuel to the effigy in preparation for the Beast’s execution. The atmosphere is that of a funfair, with the people of Lepidstadt already in the mood to celebrate the burning of the dreaded beast.
Judge Daramid takes our heroes inside the heavily guarded courthouse and to the office of Barrister Gustav Kaple, the appointed counsel for the defence. After a few words our heroes realize why he was chosen; he is prone to stutter when nervous, becomes nervous very often, and his recent track record is rather dour: of his ten last clients, one was sentenced to ten years in prison, three were sent to life-long hard work in the quarries and six were hanged. He is a defeatist, believing the beast to be guilty and the case already lost. His defence will only centre around the effort to change the mode of execution to something more humane than burning. His opponent, the famed Otto Heiger is the best prosecutor of the whole Palatinate and supported by an extensive staff of legal advisers. Barrister Kaple tells our heroes that nobody in the city was willing to help him build his case, and that the trial is set to begin in two days, giving him barely enough time to prepare. While Embreth is one of the associate judges and well known for her compassion and sense of justice, the other one, Kasp Aldaar, an ex-General famed for his impalement of four-score deserters, is a hard-liner in the extreme . The chief justice, the honourable Ambrose Khard, is known as a fair and impartial man who follows the law to the letter.
While the barrister's aide copies some of the records for our heroes, they follow Barrister Kaple down the stairs into the dungeon of the courthouse. All cells except one have been emptied, and half a dozen rather nervous soldiers of the Lepidstadt militia guard the sole incarcerated - the infamous Beast of Lepidstadt, bound by a dozen heavy chains. Even a cursory glance reveals several marks of abuse or even torture, which infuriates our heroes. They try to communicate with the beast, but are only met with silence. Even their offerings of aid fall in seemingly deaf ears. But just as they are leaving, they hear whispered words:
Out of the night that covers me,
In the fell clutch of circumstance
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
It matters not how strait the gate,
The guards try to silence the beast with their long spears, which prompts Kostja and his companions to threaten them until they stand down. Some of the heroes recognize the poem, and Elias visits the library of the university to confirm their thoughts. The poem was written more than five decades ago by a famed writer from Mordent. It is called Unconquered and signifies a man's will to live despite the cruelties that fate may lay at his feet. Our heroes decide that the beast may be more than simply that - there seems to be a kind soul hidden somewhere below the monstrous appearance. They ask for an audience with the Magistrate Khard who has decided that the flesh golem can be tried.
The audience only last a few minutes as Magistrate Khard is a busy man. He confirms that he has spoken to the beast and that it proffered its innocence and even called one of the dead children of Hergstag its friend. As his communication with the beast confirmed its sentience, Magistrate Khard decided that it was not to be regarded as an item but a being, and thus has to stand trial for its crimes. After a short discussion he allows our heroes to actually enter the cell, but only after they sign a waiver relinquishing all claims of compensation if they are hurt in the process.
While the guards do not really like the idea of opening the cell, our heroes brook no insolence. Lucretia and Sarah enter the cell and try to heal the beast while their companions distract the guards. Lucretias magic works, but her magic is seen by the leader of the guards the women are removed from the cell. But their efforts seem to have gained the trust of the beast and it now answers their questions.It relates that Ellsa from Hergstag was its friend, and that it found her dead near the old scarecrow. It took her body to the village in hopes of finding help and warning the villagers of some unknown danger, but they droveit off. The beast mourns the death of Ellsa, and our heroes promise to find the real culprit and bring him to justice.
On their way out, our heroes come across Arlash, a red wizard from Hazlan who demands to be allowed to examine and vivisect the beast to learn its secrets. After a short talk our heroes determine that the self-professed expert is mostly inflating his ego and decide to leave the clerks of the court to deal with him.
Your player had a moment to shine, the fight was won. Sounds good to me. Actually, it sounds like a "remember when I pushed that drider into the river?"-story to be told in the future. I see no need to reduce the XP. Maybe the fight was easier than you anticipated, but stuff like that happens. Some fights are easier, others more difficult. You cannot account for all the myriad possibilities of a fight.
And I guess it is better to not listen to the people who make assumptions about your game based on nothing really. Sailors (and driders) can be unable to swim (look up Nelson's Navy for example), and there can be cliffs at rivers (look up many non-engineered rivers for example).
Well, my main PF campaign is already set in a world in which only the bad guys have access to divine magic (the setting is FFG's Midnight), so I never really thought about that. Still, divine magic is rare, as most members of any given faith are laypersons. There are only a handful of religions anyway, and even most organized faiths are not that influential.
I have played in a few systems without magical healing. One way is to strengthen more mundane means of healing, like skills, herbs, alchemy, potions and so on. But I have not done that with Pathfinder, and I guess that the quite complex rule system might pose problems.
I am going to give the players the less potent magic items without penalties. A lot of that is not worth the hassle of designing a curse anyway. They will receive less, as their relics already cover some basics; they will become quite powerful. I will keep curses and the like for the important pieces.
Switching to E6 after a campaign started does not sound like a good idea. My players would not like that either. I really think that you can do horror even at higher levels. It depends on your players and their acceptance, of course. If they are willing to play that mood and theme, it is still possible even with high powered wizards on flying carpets summoning celestial beings.
There should be a threat. It must be palpable and serious (of course, it often is already). Not just the good old "evil rises again", but something that touches the characters' lives. It would be great if they are actually bound to it, maybe by descent. Give them stuff to care about, NPCs, places, organisations. Now have the evil guys threaten to take it away, destroy it. The players should be open to invest emotions in this, so that losing it is actually horrific.
Doing sequences of dreams or visions in which the PCs actually lose or even die can work, too. Showing them the consequences of failure, actually letting the players think that they have failed/died, should stir up emotions. You can encounters which are not about winning by using the resources at hand, but by using secret knowledge or guile. Gothic heroes are not superhuman; actually, they are quite human. Overcoming the evil should not always be just about the numbers on the sheet, but about doing the right thing at the right time.
My personal experience is that horror in RPGs relies on the group to accept it. It is easy to destroy any hint of horror with a quick joke or just ignore it and treat anything as mundane obstacles to be overcome. Even with systems that try to evoke horror with their rules, it can be nigh impossible if the players are unwilling to cooperate. Horror can be very rewarding, but it is also difficult to pull off.
I wonder if you would care to provide specifics about the changes you've made to keep CC close to its gothic roots?
Sure. As I said, I use a modified Raveloft as the overall background, but I advanced the general theme of the setting to a more 19th century feel. This means technology, which I decided was low-steampunk, but also much of the society in general. At least for the more "enlightened" part of the setting. Ustalav is more backwater and clings to some medieval structures. I wanted it to be like the Transylvania of Bram Stoker's Dracula in this regard.
To threaten Pathfinder PCs - which can be quite heroic even at low levels - I use both a Taint and a Sanity rules system. Taint is not easily gained, but the mechanic allows for PCs to slide into evil, gaining powers but also losing "humanity" along the way. I use it rarely, as I want the threat to be subtle and not just a simple mechanic to be played. I tied it to CHA, so PCs with higher CHA are better at resisting Taint, which grants that ability score a higher value, something I consider a nice side-effect. Sanity reflects one of the common themes of gothic literature, the unspeakable horror that breaks the minds of its witnesses. The aim is to create a constant aura of fear, not only for the characters' lives but also for the less tangible integrity of their personalities. It is possible to physically survive the horrors but still be traumatized by them. Again, I use it sparingly so that the effect is greater when I do.
The low magic part is introduced in two ways: first, magic is seen as unnatural and the target of many superstitions by the general populace. It is rather rare and its practitioners are even shunned and hunted in some domains. Second, magic items are rare as well, and those that are found are usually "cursed" in some way, having one or more negative effects along with their bonuses. For example, the Headman's Axe (I changed it from a scythe as I cannot picture someone trying to execute a victim with a scythe) prompts its users to kill even if they want to stop, and it always goes for decapitation.
But the lack of magic items is countered by the introduction of relics. Basically, I designed one special item for each character, an item with a backstory that was used against the minions of the Whispering Tyrant. These items are not magic items in the common sense, but are powered by the deeds that have been done while wielding them. They also grow with the PCs, gaining powers as they do. Most PCs started with the item, and it ties their stories to that of the campaign, and later on ties them together in their quest to stop the Whispering Way. The relics can also be used as plot devices: some have granted visions of their history, showing the PCs a glimpse of the threats they face.
I use an E7-system, because I believe that capping the power curve creates more opportunities for horror. At higher levels, the game changes considerably, and many of the higher spells and abilities can detract from the feel I am aiming for. The greater dangers of the world are meant to be avoided or defeated by using special tactics, exploiting their weaknesses and so on, not by overpowering them. I also use a very simple system to allow PCs to fight unarmored, as gentlemen in tuxedos wielding pistols to ward of werewolves fit my idea of the campaign better. I allow PCs to add their BAB to their AC as a dodge bonus if they wear no armor at all.
So I should equip the Gunslinger with a crossbow? I should also get him some Alchemist's Fire or Acid?
A crossbow might not be necessary, but alchemical paper cartridges are 12gp a shot, 6gp if your GM lets you craft some before the campaign starts - do not forget to get at least one rank in Craft (alchemy). There will probably be times when you do not want to "waste" a shot, so finding something else to do in a fight is not a bad idea. Switching to an inexpensive weapon is one way to do it. When you earn your first money and gain a level or two, this issue will most likely disappear.
I can only speak out of limited experience as a GM for a low-level gunslinger, but money was his biggest issue, and I am mostly running an official adventure, so it is not me being to stingy ... ;-)
If you are going for a musket, Rapid Shot is not a good choice at first level. Reloading your musket will be a standard action, even with Rapid Reload (muskets). You gain the deed that allows you to treat a musket as a one-handed firearm at 3rd level: Fast Musket. Even then, reloading a musket will still be a move action. Take either Deadly Aim or Precise Shot at 1st (I would probably chose the latter). Weapon Focus is always a choice for characters that focus (haha) on a specific type of weapon.
EDIT: Maybe invest in some thrown splash weapons or some other way of dealing damage. Firing your musket only every other round with no real bonus to damage might get frustrating.
The mutagen gives alchemical bonuses to stats and natural armor, which is good because it stacks with enhancement bonuses like an amulet of natural armor or bull's strength.
Note that the natural armor bonus is not alchemical. It is a plain +2 bonus to natural armor. You could enhance it with an enhancement bonus to natural armor, such as from Barkskin, but it does not stack with other natural armor bonuses.
An archetype that focuses more on monster hunting, like the witch hunter focuses on hunting spellcasters. Maybe bonuses to defense against monstrous special abilities or offense vs. monsters, maybe using or expanding the Monster Lore ability for that. Think the classic grizzled monster hunter who does research in the library to find the weak points of his prey before confronting it.
Wow, I did not know that. That kinda sucks, my barbarian / (travel) inquisitor just found another reason he should run around in light armor rather than medium.
Yeah, my archery-focussed cleric with the travel domain does not like that table either. At least light armor fits his theme ... ;-)
You actually always need to add bonuses to speed before armor/encumbrance:
Always apply any modifiers to a character's speed before adjusting the character's speed based on armor or encumbrance, and remember that multiple bonuses of the same type to a character's speed don't stack.
From the text of Fast Movement: "Apply this bonus before modifying the barbarian’s speed because of any load carried or armor worn."
Again, there is no such thing as direct, separate, enhancement bonus to Armor Class. And I challenge you to find the RAW that says otherwise.
Relax, wraithstrike is actually backing you on that issue (which is not that noteworthy because you are simply correct).
The difference lies in the perception of the robes. You believe:
Armor bonus to AC: 0 (inherent armor) + 5 (enhancement bonus)
Armor bonus to AC: 5 (inherent armor) (which would allow gaining an enhancement bonus)
Your interpretation is based on Magic Vestment, others just read the text for the robe which only states an armor bonus, not an enhancement bonus. If you just read the RAW, the robe just provides an armor bonus without any mention of an enhancement bonus. Of course, by RAW it is hard to justify the robe as a valid target for the spell, too.
Peter Stewart wrote:
I would argue that since they provide an armor bonus, they would be treated as armor by magic vestment - and are thus a valid target.
There are several things that provide an AC bonus without being armor. The spell Mage Armor, Bracers of Armor and so on. From that we can infer that providing an armor bonus does not necessarily make something armor. I believe that the robes are actually meant to work like that, based on gaming history, but their write-up does not really spell it out, and RAW does not support your point.
On a tangent, does regular clothing provide an armor bonus of 0? The only reference that I have found is in the text of Magic Vestment:
An outfit of regular clothing counts as armor that grants no AC bonus for the purpose of this spell.
And it specifically says that it is only for the purpose of this spell. Did I miss a more general rule somewhere?
I think there is a rule somewhere that forbids using natural attacks and unarmed attacks simultaneously, but I don't remember where.
Monks are not allowed to use Flurry of Blows with natural attacks or in addition to natural attacks out of the box.
I do not know if the Synthesist is broken, but it re-introduced one of the more crappy designs of 3.0/3.5: ability score substitution. That one has been a mess for most of D&D3, forcing huge erratas and revisions, and I was really glad when I saw that the developers of Pathfinder were sensible enough to get rid of it. Now it is back, and for me that is not a good thing. It is a messy mechanic, error-prone, easy to abuse, prone to marginalise those classes that actually rely on the abilities in question and simply not clever in a game that heavily relies on ability modifiers for mechanical effects. Luckily, it is only one archetype of one class so far, and I really hope that it stays this way. Of course, that archetype is a secondary caster with a good spell list that heavily treads on the toes of martial classes (again - as if there was need for that).
In my opinion, it should have been a mechanic akin to Wildshape. Much cleaner, much easier to balance, much more in line with the rest of the rules system. I believe that using a unified rule system for similar effects is much better design and facilitates understanding of the rules and thus makes for smoother gameplay. Now we have an exception to these normally used rules, and it creates a lot of headache and many erroneously built characters.
In theory, firearms should be quite fitting, as many, if not most, of the themes of CC have their roots in the gothic literature of the late 18. and early-to-mid 19. century, while others are even more recent, like the Lovecraftian horror. But Pathfinder heroes do not have much in common with the actual protagonists of these stories, at least mechanically, and the backdrop of the AP does not fit these roots either, which is not surprising, given that Golarion is mostly classic fantasy. So it all comes down to GM preference. I would say early firearms at most. I just cannot see revolver-toting gunmen in Ustalav.
Personally, I set the AP in a more "advanced" age to capture the feel of the gothic tales but that is not Golarion anymore - and it is quite some work to get all the details right. Luckily, the era and its literature has been one of my hobbies since my studies, and I even wrote book about it, so I had already done most of the necessary research.
Stay behind the other party members in combat, use cover/concealment/stealth as much as possible, never ever present a good target for anything, especially area spells. Oh, and sing your lungs out to bolster the guys who can actually survive being attacked by a squirrel ... ;-)
There could be several issues at play here. The first one is trust. A situation like this needs a high level of trust between players and the GM. Actually, in D&D-derivative system, you probably need more than in most, as getting captured entails losing your equipment which means much more than in other games. Some classes might even lose access to their most basic abilities - wizards come to mind. This makes PF-players less likely to surrender to enemies. Still, if the players trust the GM and do not fear that the situation is just as dick move, it might still work as intended.
The second issue is perception. The players may perceive their characters and the group differently than the GM. They might not consider themselves heroes for examples. I experienced that both as a player and a GM, and it can be quite frustrating, as the adventures do not match the characters and a lot feels forced instead of natural.
Thirdly, group dynamics can be a weird thing. I guess everybody who played a few games can remember sessions that went haywire for minor reasons. Maybe there are not enough clues, or the clues have been overlooked or forgotten, but suddenly the players feel as if they are on the receiving end of an unfair situation and the atmosphere becomes problematic. That plays directly into issue one, as players lose trust in the GM. It is difficult to snap out of that as a player, and actually equally difficult to defuse as a GM, as high running tensions may prevent that. It is not always easy to keep a cool head under pressure, and an adventure seemingly falling apart puts a lot of pressure on any GM.
Raving Dork, internet discussions are difficult regarding a topic like this. People communicate with virtual strangers and are prone to assume the worst. I have been in games where your plot might have been a great roleplaying experience, but I also remember games that would have been just as difficult as yours. Without knowing the specifics of your group, any definitive answer is hard to find.
But the one advice that is always proper: speak with your players. Grab a few beers, take a step back and keep an open mind. Do not get into a me-vs-them mentality. Never forget that games are meant to be fun. Try to find out where the fun stopped, where your perception of the game differs from theirs. In fact, it is pretty useful to do this on a regular basis, as games and groups often evolve over time.
The XP costs were only a penalty if you were not able to game them, which was quite easy once you figured out the numbers. They did not balance anything and were actually a tool used by optimizers.
I am sorry, but your whole premise of XP costs balancing mechanics stands on hollow feet, because that was simply not the case.
I am in with the happy-that-they-are-gone-crowd. They were metagamey, disassociated and not useful for their intended role anyway.
Caster/Martial - Ashiel:
Thing is, the loss of power for martials from 3.0 to 3.5 was drastically greater than the loss of power for casters from 3.0 to 3.5. Haste granted an extra standard or move action, which might have been the difference of getting of +1 spell each level or not; but they also didn't have things like metamagic rods in 3.0 either, so in essence the actual limits of spellcasters didn't change much at all from 3.0 to 3.5.
I will be quick, because this is the wrong thread. I assume that you are using modern terminology, because your sentence makes no sense in regard to 3.0 (the terminology changed a lot). The thing is, if you believe that getting pounce + benefits is actually as powerful as doubling one of the most valuable and powerful resources in this game - spells - I will not be able to convince you otherwise. But the fact is that the consensus regarding martial classes (both on the more general boards and on the CO board) was: dipping until you can enter a nice PrC. Your 15th level fighter would have to compete with casters casting at least two spells every round and could cast more. Remember the power of many of the yet un-errata'ed spells back then ... honestly, I cannot see any competition. By the way, there were several avenues for martials to get pounce in 3.5 as well, especially if you allowed setting-specific material like the Incantatrix.
Today casters would be able to cast two spells per round as early as fourth level without any meaningful expenditure of resources. And they would still be able to Quicken later on. Just as back then, martials are usually able to dish out more damage than casters, but that does not matter power-wise, as spells can and will trivialize encounters without doing a single point of damage.
I used to frequent the WotC boards back in 3.0 as well. There was far less of the complaints of warriors being underpowered or weak as with in 3.5. In 3.5, the complaint actually isn't about just mundane vs caster PCs, but also mundane vs core monsters.
I will not quantify the amount of complains, as my memories are as anecdotal as yours, but fact is that the complains began on the very first days of the edition and continued all the time, especially in regards to high level play.
Your observation about martials losing more is probably right, though. Of course, that does not mean that they were on par before, but only that the gap got even wider. Martials generally have fewer options, so taking some away hits them harder. Casters have many options so losing some does not hurt them as much.
So, enough with this historic sidetrack ... ;-)
EDIT: added Spoiler-Tags for thread-cleanliness.
Could you imagine the outcry on these boards if they brought back 3.0 haste? "THE FIGHTERS KEEP KILLING ALL MY NPCS!! WAAAAAAGH!"Heehee.
Haste also allowed casters two spells each round. I wonder who would cry more, martials or casters? Remember, that was a time when SoD was really worthy of the name, and when the best melee/ranged PCs were self-buffing casters.
On the old CO-boards fighters were only good for a 2- or 4-level dip. People complained about martials being underpowered all the time on the official forums. Just remember the mess that the old Polymorph and its associated effects were, and how that influenced combat prowess.
No, in 3.0 casters ruled supreme at the levels your are talking about, and only those with no intent to optimize their PC at all would actually level their fighter this high.
EDIT: sorry for the thread-jack ...
If your players know about the settings and you do not (as much), it would probably be better to build a setting from scratch and just take inspiration from Ravenloft and Dark Sun. Otherwise they might be put off by stuff they recognize and remember from another background. It might even be better to change the general feel of the setting somewhat, in order to keep it separate. For example, choose neither Dark Sun's deserts nor Ravenloft's often gothic horror eastern european (yeah, I know, Raveloft has a hodgepodge of domains, but this one is the most evocative) as the underlying theme.
You can find rules for sanity here. They are from Unearthed Arcana, which is D&D3.5, but they can at least provide some ideas. While your players might be jaded, they should in time become afraid to lose their characters to insanity, which can be as bad as dying - or even worse.
The first thing you will need to do is to take a look at the campaign you will be playing in. Optimizing a character can vary a lot depending on campaign. Many builds on these boards are designed in a vacuum out of necessity, or assume some kind of "standard campaign". But home games vary greatly. A PC for a high intrigue / low combat campaign will have very different requirements than one for a good old fahioned dungeon romp. Use your experience or - even better - just talk to your GM.
There is a lot of good advice in this thread. The one I would add is this: always rate an ability in regards to the action(s) it needs to activate. Think of your actions per round as a currency. Most combats do not last more than a few rounds, so your currency is usually quite limited. You want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
Druids are quite complex, probably the most complex class in the game, as you have a full spellcaster with an animal companion that needs additional book-keeping (and thought, too) and you also need to know your wildshapes and what different powers they bring to the table. The first thing to do is to really get to know the class and its many abilities. And you should prepare stat blocks for summoned animals, for your wildshapes and so on, as doing this on the fly while in combat is not really feasible most of the time.
It should be possible although you would need to do significant changes. After all, horror can be set anywhere, and there is already some overlap with Kalidnay (as Drejk already pointed out). Similar themes: a downtrodden common populace ruled by very powerful individuals, fear of the arcane and maybe the supernatural in general. A hard life constantly under threat, both from danger within and without, xenophobia and superstition. Lack of control is a common theme, too.
I would probably start by merging the Amber Wastes with Dark Sun domains. Sorcerer-Kings should often be Dark Lords. The general horror theme would be "terrible secrets buried in ages past, now unearthed"; think of the classic horror mummy. You can mix things up with stuff like civilisation-threatening curses, for example swarms of locusts or even worse creatures that will destroy the last sources of food/water, crazed serial killers in the big city states and other staples of urban horror.
I guess that it would be a rather limited setting, to be honest, as the cross between Dark Sun and Ravenloft makes for a very specific theme. Calling it Raven Sun is better than Dark Loft, of course ... ;-)
Ki Throw reguires Improved Trip, Improved Unarmed Strike. As long as you have access to those you should be fine. Improved Ki Throw needs Improved Bull Rush which you can chose as your monk's 6th level bonus feat. You could then take Improved Ki Throw as your regular 7th level feat.
You only need to meet the prerequisites of a particular feat. If you gain a feat because of a class ability that lets you ignore prerequisites, you still have the feat. Robb Smith is correct. If you gain feat B in his analogy without having to meet it prerequisites, you can chose feat C as long as you meet all other prerequisites of it.
There are cases where the prerequisites of earlier feats from a chain are re-introduced with later feats. These are obviously meant to restrict classes that gain bonus feats without prerequisites. For example, Improved Trip needs Combat Expertise which in turn needs INT 13. If you somehow get Combat Expertise without having INT 13 you can chose Improved Trip in a regular feat slot. But the next step in that chain, Greater Trip has INT 13 as a prerequisite again, so you would either need to get in some way that ignores prerequisites or gain INT 13.
If you look through the feat list you will notice more of that. It allows classes with non-prerequisite bonus feats some leeway in choosing feats, but still restricts them on the higher feats.
Optimistic Cynic wrote:
Actually, you are selling yourself short. Your CMB should be 10: 1 (Fighter BAB) + (Monk levels) + 3 (STR bonus). Maneuver Training specifically tells you to add BAB from other classes normally. With Improved Trip that should be 12 for trip attempts.
But since spellstrike IS NOT a melee touch attack, and since other FAQ answers disallow partial strike mechanics for spellstrike, then any other assumptions regarding melee touch which are not specifically mentioned in the spellstrike mechanics are null and void.
I am sorry, but I never heard of partial strike mechanics and cannot find them in any rule book. And the only FAQ-answer I have found that is somewhat related is this one in regard to moving during Spell Strike:
"Sean K Reynolds, 02/07/12 wrote:
You will notice that SKR repeatedly says that the ability does not change the rules for using touch spells and is meant to give more options and not take them away. Can you provide a link to an official statement that says otherwise?
There's no need to mention such. When the spell was written into the rulesset and copied/pasted into Pathfinder, touch attack was the only standard way to deliver the spell. And barring feats and class choices, it still is by default. If you're a single class wizard/sorcerer and don't have a trait/feat/magic item that changes it. the only way you can use the spell is by melee touch attack. The differing behavior for a magus is totally dependent on mechanics outside of the spell description... in this case, Spellstrike. Spellstrike has no mention of any attack affinities based on the shocking grasp/metal armor intersection.
Since the Spell Strike ability was introduced after the spell, and the spell is in fact one of the few spells a starting magus can use with the ability, I really think they would have mentioned it in the text if it was not supposed to work this way. And I am pretty sure that you can use unarmed strikes or natural attack to deliver touch attacks, so your above statement is obviously false.
Mabven the OP healer wrote:
So, in what way is the robe of the archmagi excluded from the category of "regular" clothing?
That is obviously open to interpretation and yours is as valid as any other, since the term regular is not specified in the rules. Quoting a dictionary does not prove your point, really. And that is without pointing out that the first definition in your list, which means the most pertinent, actually says "usual" or "normal". There might be worlds where a Robe of the Archmagi is part of the normal attire, or a usual piece of clothing; in most it will not be.
By the way, if you actually read the spell, you should notice it states:
An outfit of regular clothing counts as armor that grants no AC bonus for the purpose of this spell.
You cannot cast the spell on a piece of clothing by RAW. Only on an outfit of regular clothing. And while regular might not be defined, you will find outfits in the equipment section. But you will not find a Robe of the Archmagi there. Going strictly by RAW, the robe is probably not a legal target for the spell.
You can rule that the robe counts as an outfit of regular clothing. I would allow it. But anyone saying they would not are not necessarily wrong. As I said, GM territory and FAQ-worthy.
Since there is nothing written in the Spell Strike rules that changes the spell or prevents modifiers like this, it should apply. You will also notice that the spell description itself reads:
When delivering the jolt, you gain a +3 bonus on attack rolls if the opponent is wearing metal armor (or is carrying a metal weapon or is made of metal).
No mention of it requiring a touch attack; it modifies general attack rolls.
Simply going by RAW they would stack, but by RAW it is also easy to make a strong case for the robe not to be a legal target for the spell. By RAW, it is not an armor despite providing an armor bonus, it is a wondrous item. And the exception to its target that Magic Vestment allows only covers a regular outfit of clothing, which the robe most certainly is not, since it is a magic item.
And LazarX has a point, too, as his interpretation is consistent with other cases similar to this one, for example how Magic Vestment treats regular clothing. I do not think that this can really be resolved, as there are several factors in play that are not really defined. This seems to be GM territory and/or FAQ material.
EDIT: forgot to add the ruling I would do as a GM ... I would allow the spell to be cast on the robe. Simply because robes acting just like armor for casters have been around for a long time and I remember them from ye olde days ... ;-)
mmm, this is a tricky one.
As you can probably infer from my previous post, I do not think it is tricky at all. Rage Powers are meant to be in effect during rages, hence their name and the general rule. Nowhere does it state that Superstition is an exemption.
I imagine it will boil down to GM preference. From a game mechanics point of view, I would say the bonus follows the blanket "Rage Powers only while raging." But from any other angle, I would allow it. Is your superstition only supposed to have benefits when you can no longer fully use your cognitive abilities? That's just silly.
As a GM you can house-rule it any way you want, of course. But Superstition is just a name for a mechanic; people have been giving many different flavour explanations. It is as hard to believe it only works when raging as it is to believe that a barbarian grows fangs, becomes a better swimmer, is able to re-roll a Will save or only has a special connection to his totem when raging.
Many people, maybe even barbarians, are superstitious, but that in itself does not protect them from spells. A barbarian with this rage power obviously manifests something more than mere superstition when raging.
The bonus to saves applies all the time, but the need to roll for saves vs. helpful spells only applies while raging.
I do not think that this is the case:
A barbarian gains the benefits of rage powers only while raging, and some of these powers require the barbarian to take an action first.
That is taken directly from the text of the Rage Powers ability. As there is nothing written in the Superstition power to circumvent that restriction, we can assume that this rage power, like all rage powers, only grants its benefits when raging.
If you can include mechanics that allow a character's magical weapon to grow as the character levels, that would be great
I second that, although I would like to see it for more than just weapons. Ideas for that have been around for a long time (I first encountered something like that when I played Earthdawn), and a fleshed out system would be great. FFG's Midnight setting has Covenant Items, and that is the one thing that I ported to almost all my games.
A close relative would be item sets that gain in power when assembled, granting a similar growth-effect and strengthening a character's relation with his gear.
In short, everything that makes characters want to keep specific gear. The idea of magic items is based on heroes of myths and legends, but they did not throw away their special gear because they found something better all the time. It is not meant to replace all magic gear, just give some signature stuff that can be kept and used to define this part of the character.
Remove Use Magic Device as a skill and add it as a rogue class ability at first level that increases with class level. Either base it on class level + CHA or class level + INT (INT if you want to be nice), and add some kind of fixed bonus to reflect that UMD used to be a class skill with several easy ways to enhance it. Add one or more Rogue Talents that affect the new ability, for example a talent granting a bonus on UMD rolls, or one removing the need to constantly re-roll UMD for emulating an alignment or a race.
This gives the rogue an unique ability that allows the class to use the part of the loot that nobody else can use, gives it more situational control and a lot of utility with scrolls and wands. It also frees up one skill point, enhancing the rogue's jack-of-all-trades-feel at both skills and its new ability to use many magic items.