Ratpick describes it pretty well. I'll add a couple of thoughts. A difficulty 1 task translates into a needed die roll of 3 or higher, which is pretty easy but not a sure thing. A difficulty 10 task is, as you suggest, basically impossible on a d20. So if you can't use skills, effort and other strategies to reduce the difficulty level to a manageable point, you're basically screwed. Which means that players have a huge incentive to find ways -- mechanical and story-based -- to get that challenge level down.
Cook does include lots of suggestions and ideas for intrusions, especially in his published adventures. That hand-holding helps. But the bottom line is that GMs are going to need to innovate story A LOT on the fly. Not everyone will be good at this. I pan to do the next gaming session with a long list of pre-meditated intrusions for various possible situations. (It may be that somewhere in Numenera Cook suggests doing this -- if so I missed it.)
I plan to do a final review type essay basically including some suggestions for how to successfully run Numenera. Having lots of intrusions scratched out is one...
So I started an occasional review of Numenera a few weeks ago by posting some concerns about the engine at the heart of the game.
The mechanics of Monte Cook's much-heralded Kickstarter-funded RPG struck me as surprisingly clunky and math-heavy.
In part two of the review, I want to talk about my first time taking the game out of the garage.
I ran a game last weekend with four players at the table - two jacks, a glaive, and a nano, all fairly experienced gamers.
First, I'll say that the mechanics are, in fact, a bit awkward.
To recap, the GM sets a difficulty level (1-10), the players try to adjust the difficulty level of each task dowwnward using skills, special effort, and other tactics.
The final number is multiplied by 3 and the players roll a d20 to try to beat that amount.
(So a difficulty seven task knocked down to a difficulty four task would be multiplied by 3 to produce a challenge number of 12...)
There was some muddly confusion over all this, and a bit of exasperation, but it wasn't the end of the world.
Second, I'll say in as uncomplicated a way as possible that we had a really great time playing Numenera.
The general setting, which is sort of a mishmash of post-apocalypse-sci-fi-fantasy-horror genres with lots of "magical items" and tons of general "weirdness" was a big hit.
In my adventure, I adapted parts of Cook's "Vortex" module with my own home-brew adventure.
The session involved a group of PCs with amnesia trying to sort out their identities, first by escaping the clutches of a mind-controlling alien, then by infiltrating a mysterious temple to recover vials which contained their stolen memories.
Along the way, they battled margr goat-men, encountered a group of parasitic "Filthers" -- intelligent parasites who use captured humans as their digestive systems -- and fought their way past deadly claw-bots.
The players loved their mix of powers and abilities, and really enjoyed the throw-away "cypher" magical items that are a big part of the game's flavor.
So that was all good.
Finally, I'll say that, sadly, parts of Cook's goal in creating Numenera remained unfulfilled -- at least so far -- at our table.
The game as written is supposed to encourage really innovative, colorful, in-character role-playing and storytelling.
Players are rewarded with experience points largely for coming up with cool narrative events and bits of drama.
Similarly, GMs are encouraged to regularly throw cool plot twists -- intrusions -- at the PCs that add spice and color.
I really like the idea of a mechanics-driven, constantly-reenforced story element boost in a game's design.
It nudges you not to just fall into a combat-round-after-combat-round rhythm...
But the simple truth is that this "live theater" stuff is hard.
A lot of the time, despite my nudging, my players fell back on saying, "I stab him with my spear" or "I shoot him with my buzzer."
Meanwhile, on the fly, I found it pretty difficult to come up with cool, colorful intrusions as often as the game suggested.
(I succeeded maybe 25% of the time in brainstorming something cool...)
Still...the bottom line is that I took a head-count at the end of the first session and everyone wanted to try another Numenera session.
So maybe we'll get better at upping our game in the way that Cook envisions?
Still to come in my series of reviews:
I'll look at the published adventures that have appeared so far and finally at the 9th World setting itself.
Yeah, I suspect that after I play this a few times, I'll house-mod it, or merge its best ideas with d20.
Which, if I read Monte Cook's sensibilities right, he'd be perfectly happy with.
But I want to play it "straight" first a bit before deciding...
In the weeks to come, I plan to write a series of essays about Monte Cook's Numenera.
Before this first installment, I want to make a couple of points. First, I love Cook's work and I think he should be taken seriously.
He is as close to an auteur game-maker as the RPG world has produced, and he hits a lot more than he misses.
So when I'm critical (and this first essay will be) it should be taken in that light.
A tough review of a Woody Allen movie doesn't mean the reviewer thinks Woody Allen is a hack. Same goes here.
Secondly, some of my later essays -- about elements of the 9th world, the use of magic items in the game, etc. -- will be mostly glowing.
I want to spend some more time with those elements before writing about them.
Thirdly, this first installment is a read-through review only. I haven't DM'd Numenera yet and I'll plan to revise my thoughts after a few sessions at the game table.
As we all know, rules and adventures sometimes play a lot different than they read. In this case, I hope that's true.
Those caveats aside, I think there is a startlingly broken series of mechanics at the heart of Numenera.
In theory, Cook's goal is to lessen the math and erase a lot of the crunchy "look-it-up-in-the-rulebook" muddle, while pushing gamers more toward story and mystery and weirdness.
I personally love that idea. I want Cook to keep looking for experimental ways to make tabletop games into vivid stories.
But I don't think he succeeded here.
The core of Numenera is a system called Task Difficulty. Once a Player announces an action or goal, the DM sets a difficulty level of 1-10.
So far so good. Sounds more or less the same, but maybe a bit simpler than the DC (Difficulty Class) system in Pathfinder, which can run (in theory) from 1 up to infinity.
But now things get a bit gooey. Once the DM has set the Task Difficulty level, the Player then offers up various skills, levels of effort, magical effects, etc., that might lower that number.
(A person trained in a skill, for example, automatically has the Task Difficulty dropped by one. A person specialized in a skill drops the Task Difficulty by two.)
So with the right effort, skills and assets, a nearly impossible difficulty level of 10 might be negotiated down to a 6 or a 5.
Then -- and this is the part that gets a bit rough -- the final number is multiplied by 3.
The product of that random process (in effect, 0-30) is the "DC" that the Player then has to match on a d20 roll.
So...why all that up-down rigamarole? Why not just go with a d20 DC system and institute a two-tiered numeric skill level system?
It's not clear.
There's nothing inherent in the process that I can see that pushes more "story" into the game. There are still skills, magical effects, and so on.
There are a couple of cool innovations tacked on.
In Cook's imagining, once the player finally rolls the d20, interesting "interventions" are supposed to happen for both high rolls and low rolls.
These are build-in nudges, where the DM is supposed to complicate the story or add narrative detail and color.
But that idea, lovely as it is, could easily be added to the much simpler and straight-forward d20 system.
Another idea that Cook offers is that Players always do the dice rolling. They roll to hit, for example, but they also roll to avoid being hit.
Kind of clever, in theory. It frees up the DM to focus on storytelling, and it keeps players engaged and tossing dice.
But the truth is that a lot of DMs (myself included) like rolling dice.
And it's also arguably less fun for a specific monster or NPC to always have the same static "beat this number" challenge level.
Dodging a critter's attack can be more fun and tense if the critter's danger-level and fortunes shift from round to round.
But again, the big problem here isn't the new, interesting ideas. I'm guessing some of those will be house-ruled into a lot of Pathfinder campaigns.
Really, it's that clumsy "1-10-up-down-multiply-by-three-then-roll-d20" engine at the heart of the game that strikes me as squidgy.
A bit of a throwback to the complexities of THAC0, actually.
My hope is that the secret goodness of this reveals itself to me and my players when we sit to the table.
But I'm skeptical. The gameplay example included in the book is startlingly static and mathy - not very promising.
To be honest, I'd like for Cook to explain all this a bit. I found one essay where he suggests that he moved away from d20 just to "do something new."
Fair enough, but something new -- when you are Monte Cook and you're rolling out something as ambitious as Numenera -- should be something better.
So again, I'm starting with my biggest beef so far. There will be some more skeptical essays, but also some glowing, overjoyed ones.
And let me wrap with a statement of principle here. This isn't flamewar, snarky stuff. I love Cook and plan to DM Numenera.
I take his work seriously and hope I've begun to review it in that respectful spirit.
I know this is low-brow, but my main problem with the Aboleth is its goofy, catfish whisker appearance. Maybe it's really more an art problem.
Some Lovecraftian aberrations -- great old ones, for example -- are wonderfully alien in description, but when you try to draw, paint or sculpt them they begin to look like winged eggplants.
So maybe the idea of an aboleth coursing through the depths of an ancient ocean, working its ancient plots, is cool and creepy -- but a picture of that?
Just looks like the big lunker that got away.
The thing that I really, really like about Lc's MoM is that it is an approachable, readable sci-fi-horror yarn, much better constructed than much of his fiction...
...but he still makes sure that the alienness is truly alien. It's not merely a case of human-like creatures from outer space, or (more boring yet) some kind of illogical predator from outer space.
MoM presents a sort of plausible bizareness. The aliens are completely biologically evolutionarily alien. Their motivations, as well as their physiologies, are completely closed-book weird.
It's a terrifying idea -- an encounter with the truly and completely "other."
But it's also an idea that I think that would be pretty hard to put into a big-budget feature film.
I haven't played (or read) this AP, or this particular chapter, but I want to make a point about the OP.
I get that lots of AP's won't be to everyone's taste. Some people won't be interested in Asian-themed adventures, or adventures that are primarily urban.
Some players and DMs might be weary of the horror or Lovecraft based narratives.
There are times when the "earth shattering" nature of the AP plots gets a little old to my taste.
And my own particular taste has never run to pirate-themed tales.
But the idea that Paizo shouldn't (ever) introduce weird, complicated, genre-busting new elements into their story-telling? No.
The thing that has set Paizo apart from competitors from the beginning has been a willingness to take narrative risks.
Does Mammy Graul style horror have a place in Tolkien's genre? Probably not, but it turns out a Hills Have Eyes adventure really worked.
None of which is to say that everyone has to play every AP, or adopt every idea or rule. That's what a DM is for, after all.
But suggesting that Paizo is "stupid" for introducing strange, nontraditional elements into their fantasy isn't just wrong.
It misses the whole genius of Paizo's creative process.
I have just - belatedly, embarrassingly -- discovered Tim Powers. Raced through "Declare" and it is genius. Does for the supernatural-spy genre what Game of Thrones did for high fantasy. It's that good. Merges LeCarre, Lovecraft and Mignola in ways that had me shaking my head with delight.
"Declare" basically involves a two-decade long battle between the spy agencies of Britain, the US, the Soviet Union and France to control a "colony" of powerful spirits living on Mount Ararat. As the novel begins, the Soviet Union has already installed one of these "djinn" as a kind of guardian spirit over Mother Russia. Her insatiable appetites account for many of the horrors of Stalin's era.
I know it sounds like a stretch, but it all works with remarkable symmetry. And the characters are, without exception, fully realized, brilliantly drawn, compelling. Even the occasional cliche -- the spy whose hair turns white after a harrowing supernatural experience, the indescribable horror in the depths of a glacial ravine -- somehow seems fresh in Powers treatment.
Can't wait to read his other stuff...
I think the OP makes two more or less patently wrong assumptions.
First, of course, is the idea that Pathfinder - and the post-3.0 versions of D&D - can or should be viewed in isolation, out of the context of the game's evolution.
When you put Pathfinder in that bigger frame, it's impossible to avoid the reality that the game has moved steadily toward greater balance and a more gracefully integrated system of rules.
Complaining about 'balance' in Pathfinder is like complaining about the speed of travel in a 747 airliner.
Yes, there are problems and discontents.
But if you compare the experience to, say, traveling in a covered wagon (or playing 1st edition D&D) there's just no comparison.
And things wouldn't have gotten better if designers didn't care about things like balance and fun playability.
The second assumption that doesn't hold up is one that skews a lot of these conversations -- and that's the idea that Pathfinder is an abstract or "pure" system of rules logic.
The idea, in other words, that you can reduce the various classes to a mathematical chart of damage output, utility, etc., and come up with a numerical assessment of "balance."
In my experience, most of the problems people talk about here in the abstract simply don't materialize around the game table.
I've never played a Pathfinder game in which martial characters (and rogues, for that matter) become irrelevant or "underpowered" at higher levels - even when paired with high-level wizards or clerics.
It just doesn't happen. The players running those PCs continue to find plenty of effective ways to involve themselves in the story.
Obviously, in a game system this complex, with so many variants, problems do arise.
Certain classes and combinations (summoners and alchemists, in my personal experience) just don't work right as written - they are wildly, demonstrably overpowered at lower levels.
But that's easily fixed. And those, in my view, are the exceptional cases of imbalance that prove the general rule.
Yeah, no. No homophobic stuff, no mean stuff, no racial stuff. No bullying, no nothing that will send anyone away from the table unhappy.
It's just full stop not ok.
I know this sounds a little melodramatic, but from my gaming experience I think RPGs are a refuge for a lot of people.
Anyone who messes up that safe-base, who takes away the moment of fun and community for people who sometimes don't have many other options - they need to knock it off.
I see it as part of the GM's job to help make that happen...
I generally agree with the idea that a lot of great (and just pretty good) writers are (or were) creepy people.
From VS Naipaul to HP Lovecraft -- from genre writers to literary giants -- you can find some pretty awful convictions out there among scribes.
So I don't plan to join any boycotts. I will say, however, that Scott's statement (see above in the discussion) perpetuates his profound intellectual dishonesty.
As an activist on this issue -- and a deep homophobe -- Card knows quite well that homophobia was an issue well before 1984.
The Stonewall riot that launched the modern gay rights movement happened in 1969.
By 1984, AIDS was a major national crisis in America, raising new awareness of gay issues, prejudice and concern.
Finally, Card's suggestion that sci-fi fans should be "tolerant" of his bigotry is sad and Orwellian at the same time.
Yes, of course, Card is free to hold his views. No government agency or censor should restrict him - that goes without saying.
But Card has argued over and over again that gay couples are inherently unnatural and that their marriages are definitively inferior to heterosexual marriages.
That's not worthy of tolerance. I'm not gay, but those of us in the "nerd-geek" community who've experienced bullying and ostracization should have no part of that kind of venom.
The brutal irony here, of course, is that Card's creation -- Ender Wiggin -- is capable of hearing and understanding and feeling empathy toward an opponent he has long warred against.
The little boy in his story is capable of realizing that the monsters from outer space aren't so alien after all.
Card should spend some time among his fellow Americans who happen to be gay, talking and listening, to see if his own understanding of America's culture war deserves updating.
A couple of thoughts.
1. I generally agree with the rules analysts who see fundamental imbalance here. I think it's real and they're right. Weirdly, though, it just doesn't manifest as an issue at my game table. My players all seem to have a good time, the martial class players don't grumble about feeling underpowered -- by the time the night is over, just about everyone has made fun, meaningful contributions. Not sure why, but at my table at least, this is a problem in the abstract, but not at the actual game table.
2. That doesn't mean that some PC classes aren't prone to being wildly overpowered, but weirdly for me it hasn't been wizards or clerics. It's been summoner and alchemist builds. Even at relatively low levels, there are certain builds that just tip my table, throwing off encounters and overshadowing the rest of the party.
3. I know this is old hat, but it's worth pointing out again that part of this problem resolves itself by sticking to lower-level play. It's not a reasonable solution for many groups, playing at 1st-10th level, because they like big-time power-gaming. But my group tends to enjoy narratives that are closer to true fantasy rather than "superhero" fantasy that occurs at 10-20th level. As a fringe benefit, this is also the spectrum of the game where the classes tend to be more balanced.
Has anyone compiled a good list of all the available Paizo references to Khorvosa? I have the basic stuff - Crimson Throne path, city setting guide. How about stand-alone adventure modules? And has anyone created any good independent GM content? Maps, statted NPCs?
Any help appreciated.
I have a couple of outsized PCs in my group - a summoner who wears his eidolon as living armor and an alchemist barbarian. Honestly? Both are pretty broken builds. Legal but broken.
But rather than get into a rules lawyering match, I've storied the problem. The bad guys are smart. They've been watching the group through several extended encounters. They know their strengths and weaknesses.
The toughest guy - an alchemist - was crippled with a simple "Suggestion" spell.
The bottom line is that rather than beating up on a powerful PC as an act of DM fiat, you should have the world around him react as it really would - i.e. smart opponents will find chinks in his armor.
But I also do set some basic house rules. No dump stats, that kind of thing.
I run a large group. Here are some ideas that help me a bit.
1. Establish initiative order by Initiative and Dex modifier once and use the same order throughout the night. Don't reroll initiative every time. With that many people it's a bungling mess to do over and over.
2. Have people sit in their initiative order, so that you are 'going around the table' and people know whose turn is next.
3. If you can, limit the number of your own NPCs and monsters. It's much easier to run one big bad critter that's a fair match for 9 1st level dudes -- easier than managing, say, 20 kobolds. Just make sure you don't pick monsters that have armor classes or damage output that spoil the fun.
4. Know your adventure backwards and forwards. Even if your group takes you off track, knowing the adventure well will help you find ways to on-ramp them back into the flow of the story.
5. Lay down the social contract in advance. Cop the fact that you're new and make sure everyone's on board with really helping you keep things on track.
6. Start with a battle. Even if you plan on a lot of talking and storytelling, give them something action-y right off the bat. Even if it means some of your later narration happens as a flash-back our out of time-sequence.
7. Keep the storytelling modest and brief. Backstory and exposition should be dripped into the story along with the action, not in big blocky monologues.
8. Sketch out three or four big splashy moments in advance, where the action is more cinematic, more memorable. This is as important as lots of detailed dungeon prep.
Yeah, Karse, I agree with Kolokotroni. The APs are wonderfully different in almost every way - and I would argue that the easiest mod for each is to boost the power level a bit to take your PCs all the way through 17-20th level. A few side-trips, one additional high-level BBGEG minion, and you're there. So the more complex question, is Where to take your players. Another consideration is that not all of the APs are still readily available....
Good discussion. I want to chime in arguing that the PF rules are NOT the problem.
Why is this so? Because less experienced players always have the option of playing simpler PCs.
It's fine --sometimes even better in power-gaming terms-- to just play a PC that swings a sword and either hits or misses.
On top of that structure you can build a lot of fun, colorful role-laying.
But even with more complicated classes -- spellcasters, skill-monkeys, etc. -- MOST of the stuff is pretty straightforward.
So if you have one particular gimmick that's tricky -- you sometimes grapple or you sometimes throw a muddley spell -- you just have to have that one thing wired and sorted.
Especially with so much "downtime" between turns, there's just no excuse for saying, "I throw a "Take That You Fiend" but I don't really know what it does.
Especially-especially if some of that downtime has been spent checking your email... :)
These are great. And I do agree that one of the key things Players can do is keep their turns tight and focused.
I don't think I've done enough as a DM to re-enforce the idea that if you're going to throw a spell and you've had eight minutes to prep for your turn, you darn well better know what that spell does...
I do think I've contributed to silo'ing of PC actions. I'll work on trying to get more interaction, teamwork going. It's a great idea.
So after DMing Pathfinder, 3.5 and 3.0 over the last decade or so, I've come to think that my next big challenge is to improve the 'negative space' in my games.
What I mean by this is that too much of the time spent by players between "their" turns is dissolving into distractions, non-game related muddle, and energy-sucking behavior.
I'm not blaming my players. The truth is that I haven't found a great way to "involve" them when they're not actively rolling dice or attacking or defending or role-playing.
I've created a kind of binary on-off switch in my games. It's either 'your turn' or you're not really playing - you're on the sidelines.
Honestly, I'm not sure what the answer here is. But here are some ideas I'm playing with.
One thing is to encourage players to be better audience members. When it's not your turn, enjoy the show - don't look for other entertainment outside the game.
Another suggestion is for players to do better prep between turns. You know you're up soon, so dig in and really think about the situation and what you can do, how your spells will work, etc.
I can also do better as a DM to share around the interaction with the world when it's 'my turn.' Try to involve as many PCs as I can when the NPCs are doing their thing.
But maybe there are other good ideas out there?
My goal here isn't to eliminate out-of-game distractions. Joking and side-chatter is fine up to a point.
But the truth is that even with a small four-person player group, it'll only be your turn about 20 percent of the time.
If we can improve and deepen the other 80 percent of the table experience for players, that could really transform game night.
So - mostly this is a bid for fresh ideas. How do you, as a player, improve your fun when it's not your turn?
And as DM, what do you do to make sure that your players are as engaged as possible in the session even when you're interacting with someone else's PC?
I want to make a strong appeal for something that many DMs and players will consider heretical, but here goes.
Don't ever -- ever -- whine about people not showing up or showing up late to your table.
Pathfinder is a fun game. Period. Being there, or not being there, should not be a pressure thing.
It should be the icing on the cake, not the obligation - always.
The good news is that when you arrange your gaming table this way, people tend to want to come.
So here's how it works. You always have in the back of your mind some flex points for the encounters you're planning.
If five people show up, I'll throw in this many orcs. If ten people show up, that many orcs.
I don't mean to sound glib. It's not always easy.
And sometimes it's necessary to take ten minutes to rethink the arc of an evening's game if a key PC doesn't make the table - happens to me all the time.
But calling audibles is about 90% of a DMs job really. The other ten percent is making things fun for people.
Same goes for people arriving late. I never, ever ask why they're late. Maybe it's work, maybe it's a boyfriend, maybe it's a weird mood.
None of my business.
I just assign them a certain loss of hit points and spells and other expendable powers to match the group's situation and let them jump in.
One final point: This strategy also takes a TON of power away from irritating players.
I've known players who use lateness or no-shows as a sign of disrespect or as deliberate sabotage.
This DMing approach gives them the colossal shrug. "Be here, great. Don't be here, great. The game goes on..."
Just read the Old Man Henderson narrative - a bit of it anyway.
I know, I'm a humorless lump, but you know I REMEMBER players doing stuff like that.
And what's crazier, I remember letting players get away with doing stuff like that.
It sort of sounds funny and justified in hindsight.
But I remember the hours of pained, dead-ended gaming that we slogged through with a player who just didn't want to get into the actual story.
Sometimes it happened because of a personality feud with the DM.
Sometimes it happened because of a legitimate grievance that no one had the common sense to, you know, resolve.
Sometimes it was just a player who didn't have anyplace better to be but also had ZERO interest in the story or adventure.
And we all TOLERATED it, while our Saturday gaming session slowly bled out.
You want us to remember how clever you were with your
I remember poor, frustrated DMs looking increasingly doomed as their hours of game prep time went up in flames around them.
I remember other players feeling the mood of the story drain away while the dude in the Hawaii t-shirt and Army boots kicks doors (and plotlines) down.
Ugh. No. Never again.
That said, if the campaign is MEANT to be funny and humorous and sort of Tunnels and Trollsy, then go for it.
I personally suck at that kind of thing (as you might imagine) and generally sit out the games that are meant to be sort of Monty Pythonesque.
But that stuff is an honorable part of the gaming tradition -- if that's what everyone has agreed to do.
Finally - blah, blah - I'll just ask point-blank: Why would ANYONE put up with a really crap DM for more than about two sessions?
This seems like one of the easier problems to solve. Either help your DM sort out the malfunction, or hand the DM screen to someone else.
Sabotaging the poor wretch? That seems like you're perpetuating your own misery...and likely torpedoing a friendship along the way.
Again, one of the things that I think Golarion does REALLY WELL is give DMs the tools to build incredible, specific campaign arcs.
I think Eberron did this too and yes - the crazy multiple-threat reality of Eberron was, without a little DM work, overwhelming.
In fact, maybe even MORE overwhelming.
The adventures that Wizards wrote often tried to shoe-horn in way too many different evil cults and factions and end-time schemers into one scenario.
Paizo has, for the most part, avoided this trap. Their Adventure Paths tend to narrow the focus beautifully, creating one big threat at a time.
It also helps, I think, that Paizo has stuck with their decision to have most of the adventures take place simultaneously, in sort of a permanent year-zero.
The way I imagine it (this is just my own little narrative tic) is that Golarion a mysterious world with a lot of superstitions and legends and rumors and fears.
In any given campaign, one of those awful things turns out to be real and present. The others remain as rumors in the dark.
But in a parrallel Golarion, it's one of the other threats that turns out to be active.
That said, I have found that some of the APs interlock in cool ways.
My ROTRL campaign involves a political effort to create a new Varisia.
So one side-plot, for a different set of PCs, is the effort to keep Korvosa out of the hands of an evil queen who wants to ally herself with Cheliax rather than the new Varisia.
In this context, Crimson Throne has taken on a cool, added texture. So it's fun to mix and match...
Yeah, that's why I described elements that I like. One of those elements are the crazy diverse storylines.
My group can play in a world dominated by Runelords. Another group can fight in a world threatened by rocks falling out of the sky.
Yet another group can worry about permanent winter sweeping out of the north.
It certainly doesn't have internal consistency the way, say, a series of novels like Game of Thrones or The Prince of Nothing does.
But that's because different player groups don't all want to be in the same meta-plot.
In other words, it's a strength, a value -- not a weakness or a drawback.
I get that it's kind of fun to try to rationalize all the different end-of-world doomsday scenarios in Golarion.
But the result is a rickety, duct-taped affair that doesn't make the setting one whit better as a place to adventure.
Someone above mentioned the cool modular nature of Golarion. I'm right there with this idea.
The truth is that, like all other successful RPG settings, Golarion has too many plots, too many villains, too many "end of the world" scenarios.
It's designed that way, to give DMs and gaming groups almost infinite options.
Obviously, there really isn't a viable political or cultural ecology here, even when you factor in magic.
Which is fine because as a DM you are invited (encouraged? required?) to just suspend about 90% of it at any given time.
I've been running a massive ROTRL campaign for about the last two years. It has folded in quite a lot of Golarion.
There is political intrigue between the evolving nation of Varisia -- rivalries between Magnimar, Korvosa, Riddleport and even Kaer Maga.
Cheliax is making ominous military gestures on the border, and so on.
It's enough to give players the sense that there is much, much more "out there" than the immediate dungeon or challenge.
But for the purposes of my campaign, there is no "World Wound" except as maybe a distant rumor.
There is no imminent threat from Tar-Baphon or looming Second Darkness or creeping Reign of Winter.
Karzoug is plenty enough for us, so the rest just kind of fades into the (very distant) background.
As an aside, one thing I really do like a lot are the adventure paths that don't have "world ending global doom" plot-lines.
Kingmaker, Crimson Throne, Council of Thieves - I like their most localized, intimate, deep immersion storylines.
In other words, I think small chunks of Golarion work much, much better than the setting as a whole.
Which is perfect for an RPG setting that you want to endure over lots of different stories...
This is kind of an illustration of the problem that I think would be solved by creation of something like an "Ultimate: Pathfinder Player" guide.
That discussion here. paizo.com/threads/rzs2pw5w?Needed-A-howto-guide-for-PF-players
In this situation, which is incredibly common, you have people who aren't actually playing RPGs anymore.
They're just acting out weird personal and interpersonal problems at the gaming table.
My point in the other thread is that the best ruleset in the world won't work if we don't get better as DMs and players.
And a general "be nice and have fun" doesn't cut it.
We need people to have better ideas about what makes a good player and how players interact with the storytelling process.
Especially when problems arise, too many players just don't have a vocabulary for how to talk through or think about the problem.
The OP talks about players "breaking" their DMs campaign. But that's not the way to solve a "railroading" narrative.
That's the moment when players should have a really in-depth conversation with a DM about the story they're collaborating on, what everyone's expectations are, and which particular elements of the meta-narrative aren't working.
Without those better ideas, you find people permanently damaging otherwise viable gaming groups.
The bottom line is that I think we could help people get past thinkng about this complicated art form in ways like "my DM is a dick."
The truth is, what your DM is trying to do is really, really hard. It sounds like he's probably messing up part of it, from your account.
But coming up with a character actually designed to make the situation even worse? That's not going to end well.
Yes, I think the "GameMastery" book is great. It's sort of exactly what I have in mind - only a volume aimed at players in particular.
And I think any such guide should certainly point to the many different possible styles of play.
I think a lot of players get that they can play different classes, but haven't been given access to the joys of playing different styles.
The "Ultimate: Pathfinder Player" book wouldn't need to be pedantic or pushy or fussy.
The goal after all is to make the experience as insanely fun as possible.
It's also just not great that each new table-group has to essentially learn their way past all the pitfalls of shared storytelling without much guidance.
Frankly, I wish someone had put a book like this in our hands back in the 70s or 80s.
It would have saved some cool campaigns from imploding, made other campaigns even better -- and perhaps even prevented some ugly moments.
And I'm betting that right now there are tables across the world that are playing PF 10% or 20% better than my table because they've come up with cool approaches that my group just hasn't stumbled across.
One final thought:
I think some groups may have access to more of these ideas because they have active gaming stores, or they can get to conventions, or they're in places where different DMs and players meet and mix and match.
But other groups, like mine, are pretty isolated, and we're introducing new players who've never tried an RPG before -- at least not the table-top kind.
We're sort of like a community theater group in the sticks. Some creative advice and pointers from folks who play really, really well would be insanely helpful.
I'm a huge fan of Pathfinder. For all its quirks and limitations, it is a remarkably intuitive, agile, fun system to play.
The last couple of weeks, reading the message boards and playing with my local group, it's occurred to me that PF is maybe a little better than we are.
Let me explain.
I like to ski. And sometimes people poke fun at me for my lousy, last-generation, dinged-up equipment.
My answer: "My skis may be crummy, but they're at least as good as I am."
In other words, the hardware isn't holding me back.
There was a time in RPGs when the hardware regularly held us all back.
But now -- in metaphorical terms -- our skis are better than we are. the game flows better than a lot of us, myself included, know how to play it.
Some of that is fixed with experience and play-testing.
But I think there are shortcuts and non-intuitive fixes that can make table play better.
Not by continuing to hink the rules, but by offering a sort of primer on how to be a next-generation player.
The rules would include basic things like table etiquette and important foundational rules to understand.
But this splat book for players would also get into things like how to really role-play if you're kind of shy and don't think particularly well on your feet.
What are some short-cuts to coming up with a lively table presence if that kind of thing doesn't come naturally to you?
The book would unravel party strategies and give more advanced examples of how different classes interact.
It could also offer really cool advice for how players can help DMs create a better, more immersive imagined environment.
A basic short chapter might be called something like: "What do you do when it's not your turn?"
Another brief chapter: "If I'm bored, what do I do to help the game?"
Another, longer chapter, might outline the different play styles that are necessary for different genres of play.
Too many players at my table struggle to adapt when we shift from the dungeon to the urban setting, or from the diplomatic session to the battle lines.
Finally, a basic part of the primer would be helping players get past the anti-social crud that gums up otherwise-good gaming groups.
A lot of players just don't get that there's a complex social contract at the table.
The goal is not for your PC to be dominant, or for you to win the most gold or XPs.
The goal is for a group of people to create a shared story and have a crap-load of fun along the way.
So...am I naive?
Or would a short, soft-cover book touching on strategies, play-styles, etiquette and deeper role-playing would level up a lot of game tables?
I actually do allow 8s with a -2 racial modifier without a DM consult. Again, it's not so much about being a minmaxer, though I think that stuff gets pretty dull. It's about trying to play a "story" game of Pathfinder with PCs who look and feel completely meta-gamed.
I have two thoughts about this.
First, I think everybody playing PF should consider navigating well clear of clumsy talk about Down syndrome, village idiots, mental retardation, and people working at McDonalds.
When sitting down to role play PCs who have lower IQs, the LAST thing anyone should be doing at a gaming table is adopting those kinds of stereotypes.
I know this sounds scoldy. But fantasy gaming operates in risky territory on a lot of issues, race, violence, sexism, etc. It's possible to have a crap-load of fun while also avoiding trip-wires.
I guarantee you, there is someone at your gaming table who has someone in their world with intellectual limitations or developmental disabilities.
Second, as a DM, I've mostly outlawed dump-stats.
For one thing, the kind of games I run don't function well without fairly bright, alert and (reasonably) charismatic PCs.
As a result, I was finding a lot of Int 8/Cha 8 characters trying to get away with acting like Sherlock Holmes.
But I also just don't like the way these characters start to look on paper, far too attenuated and meta-gamed.
So my house rule is that you have to come to me first with a story reason or a role-playing strategy that makes a lot of sense.
Only then can you dump-stat.
I honestly think Paizo should produce a book that deals with the real-world etiquette of gaming, with strategies for making this kind of thing work.
I say that because when I first started gaming back in the late Seventies this sort of conflict gobbled up a huge amount of our time and energy.
And disputes like this affect game-play. It's just not as fun sitting at a table when these personality-table-politics issues get in the way.
And it's fixable. I know from experience because we just don't have tensions like this at our gaming table any more.
Here are a couple of the fixes that work for us:
1. The social contract is that people come whenever they can and when it will be fun for them. Period. No pressure, no arm-twisting, no do-or-die. If a PC isn't there one session he/she magically vanishes. If the PC is back the next session -- poof, she/he is back in. (I subtract hit points, spells, etc. to balance game-play.) This dings the continuity a bit, sure. But the pay-off in lack of stress and funkiness is HUGE. In my experience, once things relax and get really fun, people start coming more often. That said, though, especially at particular times of life, other things are going to take priority. New relationships, jobs, classes, parents - don't try to get in the way of that stuff with your Runelords campaign. By running our table this way we literally have more players than we know what to do with on any given week.
2. Out-of-game rivalries are FORBIDDEN in game. People come to the table with baggage. Some of that is unavoidable. But we absolutely forbid any back-stabby, gang-uppy, odd-man-outism at our table. At first, I had to say this a couple of times a game. "We're here to have fun - and that means absolute coolness player-to-player. Your only enemies here are my BBGs." But after a couple of months of that, guys just got it and knocked that crap off. We still have two brothers who sometimes snipe at each other instinctively, but then they'll glance sheepishly around the table and say, "Sorry, sorry" and get back to rolling dice.
3. Recruit more players. In my experience, the way to build a thriving game table isn't to try to hold onto players. You should be looking for new ones and putting on games that make all kinds of folks want to come. I'm not sure why, but it seems like problem players can smell a fragile gaming table. They know that their $*(W* will be tolerated. But if you've got a big group of eager gamers committed to the game, that kind of dopiness just begins to feel more and more marginal.
4. Be firm. This isn't easy, but it's necessary. Once you figure out what you're comfortable with and what you're not comfortable with, draw some firm lines in the sand. But be darn sure that they are lines you really care about and you aren't just engaging in some kind of rivalry. In my game, I'm firm about computers and book-reading at the table. I don't allow it, don't tolerate it. I don't allow PC on PC violence. I don't tolerate overt plot-destruction. Sandboxing? Fine. But if I see that you're out to fudge the basic narrative, for some reason, I step into meta-game mode and say "Knock it off."
I know this sounds lecturey. But the truth is that I played a lot of really weird, tense, unfun D&D before we figured out that it just doesn't have to go like that.
These social contract things can really mess up a game. In this case, I'd just say bluntly, "New house rule, everyone rolls everything in the open and lets everyone see how the dice fall. Only the DM gets to make secret rolls, when necessary."
If people ask why, just say, "I feel like to run the game fairly and well I need to see what people are rolling. It adds to the fun to see the numbers clearly on the table -- crits, fails and everything in between. And helps me as a DM."
If anyone refuses or makes a big issue out of it, then it's probably time for a private side conversation.
Now the questions.
I'm interested in incorporating the kingdom/mass battles rules into a campaign set in Varisia.
- Has anyone generated hex maps that scale any parts of Varisia to a kingmaker-size/kingdom-building format?
- Has anyone generated calculations about settlements and cities in Varisia that calculate their kingmaker attributes -- BP production, etc?
Now basic rules questions.
- Is it clear from the rules how large an army can be levied from a given population? Are there limits, or an you buy any army that you have the BPs to support?
- Why did Paizo calculate all BP costs in monthly increments but the BP costs for armies in weekly increments? This seems clunky AND unrealistic. Surely medieval-era armies couldn't be levied and disbanded in weekly increments?
Two posts coming, first a review/general impression.
Expected to find this book mildly useful. Instead, it's got some stuff - primarily the kingdom/mass combat rules and the story feats - that are really going to upgrade my campaign in a big way.
I can see big room for house rule upgrades and tweaks, but the kingdom-battle rules seem to create a very solid framework. Comes at a perfect time for my campaign...
Always cool when a Paizo book exceeds expectation.
Never. Really, never.
If someone wants to get that kind of thing out of their system, have people put together PCs for an arena combat style dungeon.
But if you're running a real story, where people are invested in their characters, then this is a crappy, crappy idea
Inevitably, real-world tensions get drawn in and exacerbated by the in-game shenanigans. And it ends badly.
Whenever my players start flirting with these kinds of ideas, I just say it bluntly:
Players have to be nice to each other at the table and PCs have to work as a team in the game. End of conversation.
In my latest session, I had a player who desperately wanted to play a necromancer - in a good party.
I said Fine, so long as you are a good necromancer whose specialty is understanding and killing undead.
He fussed and fumed but within a half hour had completely made peace the idea that he was a badass, cold-eyed zombie slayer.
Finally, to complete the soapboxing, I'll say that I'm not a big fan of "evil" campaigns.
The PCs in my adventure wind up in a lot of morally complex situations, and it's definitely big shades of gray all the way.
But in the end, I don't want to hang around with a bunch of guys and gals on a Saturday night pretending to be psychopaths.
When I first started playing D&D back in the 70s we assumed that this kind of cruel $%&# was just endemic to the game.
People bullied other players, they whacked each others' PCs, screwed pointlessly with the DMs campaign arcs and just generally used the game as a vehicle for lots and lots of ass-hattery.
I really didn't get it that gaming could exist without all that stuff.
Then I started gaming again when 3.0 came out and we all just laid down some basic social contract stuff.
Be on time, within reason. Don't be mean. Have fun. Let everybody play their own characters. No picking on anyone. No player on player violence unless it ABSOLUTELY serves the story.
And so on.
We've also kind of adopted a poker mentality. Which translates roughly as 'Come to play, not to $%*# around.'
As with poker, you can still have a ton of fun and side-chatter and cut-up moments, without a whole lot of distracting crap.
(It's a balance thing, but we lean toward play, not nonsense...)
All of which leads me to my main argument. I'd say you should start over.
Set guidelines from the outset and invite nice people who really want to play Pathfinder.
People who aren't really into it, or who pull stunts like this, give them one blunt clear friendly warning, then cut them loose.
Good thoughts. Thanks. We're still early days, because we've taken so many side trips.
Including a big side adventure trip to Kaer Maga, using elements of Shattered Star -- a detour which I know think was a bit of a misstep on my part. Seemed like a good idea at the time...
So my next step is to get back to Sandpoint and back into the main flow of the AP.
One benefit of the detour is that I feel like my players have a much broader sense of the scope and landscape of Varisia.
The "world building" bit of an adventure, which I like, has fallen into place.
Now I just need to get the tension level back up, the sense of impending doomishness. :)
I think I will also put the game on a two week hiatus, just to let everyone have a break...
So I've been running a really steady ROTRL campaign, with lots of sidetrips, including a big journey to Kaer Maga.
The players have met regularly for about four months now, nearly weekly, occasionally even twice a week.
And here's the truth: It's feeling a little stale.
It's not the adventure. That's great. It's just the energy level in the room, my DMing, and maybe just a little over-familiarity...
I dunno. Anyone else have this problem?
I noticed a guy yawning during a battle with a black dragon today.
I guess I know the fixes. Get back to basic storytelling, make sure the NPCs seem engaging, create narrative tension...
Or maybe it's time to take a little break? I worry about doing that because we have such a good steady game-night going.
When I first started gaming, in middle school, we had no idea about social contracts. It was disastrous usually.
We killed each others' characters, we derailed each others' adventures, we were obnoxious in real life and in character.
When my current group revived after 3.0 came out, we were much more conscious of the need for some accord at the table.
It's a pretty constant negotiation, but the rules are generally a) no killing other characters, b) no deliberately scotching the plot of the adventure, and c) no chronic distracting behaviors at the table.
That means no cell phones, but it also means no neurotic "testing" of dice -- rattle, rattle -- no cross-talk about Skyrim, and so on.
On the other hand, it's important to allow the table to just sort of gaggle for a while occasionally -- over a good joke, a funny moment in the game, or whatever.
I've definitely made the mistake as a DM of clamping down too hard on extra-curricular socializing...
The bottom line is that I try to have our players be roughly as focused as a good group of poker players -- which is pretty darned focused.
Honestly, I think more of this kind of advice would be a worthy addition to the core rulebook.
Explaining to people that group story telling requires a little bit of deliberate buy-in up front might help new groups avoid our awful stumbles.
I'm surprised by the loyalty to the fiction in the AP context, but it sounds like there's a good audience for it. Cool and good.
Question: Can anyone recommend particular AP storylines that really worked and that are worth going back and trying to read back-to-back?
Meanwhile, I'll keep bootlegging encounter maps wherever I can find them... :)
Thanks for the chat,
Yeah, I'm skeptical about that cost argument.
There are really good digital map-making programs all over the place that produce cool content pretty easily.
And AP modules are already really art-rich, so it's not like they'd have to add new colors to their print budget.
Like Azmyth, I can think of a half-dozen specific places in ROTRL and Shattered Star where a maps would have boosted the AP value.
Having a copy-ready map also helps clarify the narrative a bit for DMs. It sort of telegraphs the idea that RIGHT HERE is a significant set-piece moment.
It would also be cool to have maps that would essentially establish iconic places for entire APs -- the main room in the Rusty Dragon, a small section of Sandpoint's wall, a street in Underbridge...
Fair enough preferring/liking the fiction. But why would maps cost more? I'm not talking about removable art or inserts or anything of that sort.
Just an 8 1/2 by 11 map that I can photocopy and bring to the table. Are those expensive to make and print in a format like the AP?
And not to push a rope. But even if you like Golarion fiction...
In the context of an AP's function, do you think the fiction makes more sense than really usable maps?
I love the Adventure Path series and generally like the slow, evolutionary tweaks that have happened over time since the first ROTRL series.
Yes, a few AP's have sputtered and stuttered, but all have been interesting, worthy efforts that captured the imagination of at least some gamer groups.
One element, though, that seems worthy of a major overhaul -- to my eye -- is the fiction that takes up a chunk of each installment.
I love reading fantasy. I even occasionally enjoy short fantastic fiction.
But there's something about the style and the episodic nature of the Pathfinder Journal that just doesn't work for me.
This is no disrespect to the authors. I often recognize some good, solid writing.
And I get the idea that fiction is a way to flesh out the atmosphere of Golarion.
But I just don't ever find myself engaging the stories or the characters in ways that get me to the end.
I wonder if other regular purchasers and players agree that this is real estate that could be better used in other ways?
One MUCH more useful element for my gaming table would be a series of pages devoted to 1" grid maps usable for key battles in each AP installment.
If Paizo printed 3-5 pages of miniature-scaled maps per episode, I'd be over the moon as a DM...and that also seems like an element that would be fairly easy to produce.
Has anybody ever had their credit card information stolen after making a purchase off the Paizo website?
I'm a big believer in transparency.
But for all kinds of reasons, this is an issue to be taken up first, directly and in private, with Paizo's staff.
First for your own security. It's important that, if there really is a problem, they have an opportunity to help you track down the solution.
(And, if possible, the culprit.)
Second, for the sake of Paizo's well being.
It's no good starting rumors about this not being a secure site for transactions until you are absolutely DEAD sure they're at fault.
The truth is that there is every possibility that your security has been compromised some other way.
If you try a direct, private approach and that doesn't work, posting her make some sense.
I have no doubt but that Paizo will be the first to inform the community if it turns out their security is compromised.
In the meantime, I will continue buying here in the conviction that all is well.
I generally really like the multi-author approach to the APs. But I think the OP gets at something real.
I think the APs do need slightly greater cohesion - someone in a kind of show-runner role who can tighten the narrative threads.
I'm sure someone already does something like this for each AP - just wouldn't work otherwise -- but my sense is that this kind of continuity focus needs to be dialed up a bit.
It's just not cool that so many of the modules in each AP now include disclaimers like "this chapter doesn't really contribute much to the overall narrative arc."
And it's not great that fascinating NPCs so often appear just in time to be killed off.
It strikes me that each draft of each chapter of an AP should include specific requirements, like foreshadowing, meta-plot development, and NPC cultivation.
Again, I'm certain that a lot of this happens already, but this is one of the rare areas IMO where there's real room for AP growth.
Easy - just say no. It's easier for me because I DM with some younger players so I have a "no evil PCs" policy at my table. But if your entire party is good or trending that direction, an LE PC is just wrong -- unless there's a very strong story element in favor.
When you realized the guy didn't want to be captain, you should have backed off.
By sentence three of your conversation, it was clear that this wasn't going to work in a way that was going to be fun for anyone.
Furthermore, absolutely none of my players would want to play an entire AP taking orders from one PC.
I don't know this adventure, but if I were DMing, I would urge players to form the S&S Pirate Ship Adventurers' Collective.
I think the OP gets at a problem in the fighter build progression. Generally speaking, building fighters who do a bunch of cool, weird stuff in battle doesn't stack up well with a fighter who is simply built to hit and damage.
I think it would be a worthy tweak to actually encourage builds (through fewer feat taxes, slightly stronger feats, etc.) that do zany things like intimidating, bluffing, tripping, disarming as a major part of their combat approach.
I'm sure there are really astute power gamers who have figured out how to make a non-traditional fighter competitive, but it shouldn't be a hidden cookie. There should be a more or less clear path to alternative builds.
I've thought for a while that one cool art addition to PF books would be flow charts showing attribute-skill-feat progressions that get a PC from 1st level to a really cool, say, 5th level non-trad PC build.
I'm a big fan of the Pathfinder rules.
But I think one "canon" variant that Paizo should introduce is a system of Magic-style cards that interact directly with the RPG.
The first cards issued would pretty much resemble the various spells thrown by different magic users at different levels.
(Divine and arcane)
You would play them as you would currently play a spell in the game as written.
I want to play a magic missile -- I lay it on the table. I want to turn invisible, I place that card next to my character sheet as a buff.
But slightly different rules -- and new cards --would gradually allow the cards (and therefore the spells) to be played in more flexible way.
There would be far more "instant" spell cards, which could be used by any spellcaster at the table to counter, or modify, other spells being cast.
Non-spellcaster PCs carrying magic items might also possess "instant" spell cards, allowing them to counter or mitigate the impact of spell cards played against them.
And so on.
This would allow for magic duels that would, in a small way, resemble the contests that occur in the card game Magic.
Cards could be packaged by Paizo as "spellbook expansions."
New cards could be issued on a regular basis, with commons, rares, and extremely rares mixed in.
Packs of special deluxe "summoning" cards could come pre-packaged with the monster stats printed on the cards, along with mini pawns.
A magic user who summons a new type of creature is ready to play.
This kind of "collectible" product would add a fresh new dimension to the magic rules, and mean cool new spells being introduced to the play environment on a regular basis.
It would also providing Paizo with a new stream of revenue.
Play groups that don't want to spend the extra money, or who prefer to stick with the RAW, can simply ignore the cards-variant system.
(Much as some groups might, say, ignore a psionics variant...)
I know my group would love to be flipping cards on the table, adding immediacy and conflict to the spellcasting simulation.
I adapted the book from a WOTC Call of Cthulu book that came out some years ago.
By reading it, the magus also learned a weird variant insivibility spell that he can use once daily but only by taking temporary intelligence and wisdom damage and leaving himself highly visible (and vulnerable) to creatures from Leng.
I currently have one PC in the campaign infected with lycanthropy, and another going slowly mad from his knowledge of Leng...
Another full house for this week's ROTRL campaign. A summoner, a fighter-thief, an inquisitor, a cleric, a magus, a gunslinger, and a barbarian.
The session was a bit lackluster, simply because I had a crusher work week and wasn't as well prepared as usual. Standard DM woes...
The players picked up some of the slack, doing a fun job of role-playing their efforts to build a full cargo for their trip upriver from Magnimar to Kaer Maga.
Their trade goods include everything from tobacco to alchemist's fire.
They also discovered that there was a sailor in Underbridge being held hostage by derro alchemists who had experience sailing through the dangerous waters near the Mushfen swamp.
They found him and broke him free -- after first battling against a group of mad derro and a queer interdimensional being.
Meanwhile, the magus purchased an ancient book in the Capital District which he was able to decipher.
It told of an ancient time when a runelord named Karzoug did battle against another runelord named Alaznist.
According to the text, Alaznist enlisted the aid of a demon goddess known as The Mother, while Karzoug secured allies from a dimension known as "Leng."
Reading the book with its strange and uncouth runes cost the magus two permanent points of Wisdom drain.
Next game, the groups sets off upriver with a hold full of trade goods -- destination Kaer Maga.