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234 posts. 2 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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Here's how I handled the motivation thing - I recount this just for fun, not because it's particularly great.

My ST campaign began in Bard's Gate with the party being exiled for one full year to the Camp for various petty crimes, social offenses, etc.

According to tradition, those exiled to the Camp are part of the New Army of Light. Anyone who behaves in particularly good ways, helping advance the interests of Bard's Gate, gets time off for good behavior.

That was the initial motivation. Kill some bad guys, get home sooner.

But in truth, this ritual of exile has been going on for decades and no one takes it very seriously. Few of the exiles ever return. And the folks of Bard's Gate mostly don't take the Desolation as a grave menace.

It's a threat, but a minor concern, and also a useful foil for the elites of the city when they want to raise taxes or blame an outside enemy for Bard's Gates' troubles.

The wrinkle, of course, is that this particular New Army of Light discovers that something has begun to stir in the Desolation. It's not just a sullen badland. Something new and menacing is brewing.

So my PCs have slowly transitioned from being exiles to being partially assimilated into Bard's Gate's growing military and espionage build-up against the Desolation. They, of course, grasp more viscerally than the city's nobles just how big and ugly the threat is.

With that much meta-plot, my players have totally embraced the motivation. They still have tons of sand-boxy flexibility.

Now when they're, say, rescuing members of the lost Bard's Gate caravan, it's not just for gold -- it's because the members of that caravan almost certainly know something more about the Orcus cult's growing conspiracy.

One thing that I plan to add is a section of urban adventure/intrigue back in Bard's Gate as the PCs struggle against the machinations of the nobility who are bungling their response to Orcus's menace so badly.

I think this will be a good counterpoint to the Desolation story, and it will help my PCs catch up a bit in level. (Their progression has been pretty slow so far...after ten sessions, they're mostly 8th level, with some verging on 9th level...)

--Marsh


Reacting to various ideas here:

Distance: I'm with Majuba about making the squares a mile rather than 2,000 feet in Slumbering Tsar. Frankly, the Desolation just seemed too small to me. I wanted the party to have a sense of crossing a pretty big expanse.

The Usurer: My party is increasingly comfortable with the idea that the Usurer is a tenuous ally, especially now that they killed King Kroma for him. In my campaign, the adventurers' campaign is set against a slow military build-up in the Camp, as Bard's Gate prepares for a more traditional (and almost certainly ill-fated) incursion into the Desolation. Set against that naive political ambition, the Usurer seems to them like a realist and a survivor.

One note about the Chaos Rift: This is probably standard for a lot of DMs, but I moved the rock troll brothers and their elevator to a much more logical and accessible location near the main road. It's such a great encounter, a logical gateway to that section of the adventure -- and as positioned it's just too easy for PCs to miss, or to come to far too late to make much sense.

I'm enjoying everybody's stories and getting good ideas for our campaign...

--Marsh


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Couple of additional notes following my group's latest session this past week:

First, the group I'm playing with is being really cool about essentially negotiating meta-problems. The new magic item restrictions - people got that.

I also have one way over-powered PC. When I raised it with the player as an issue, he was incredibly cool about it. He's working to downscale some of the build that included crazy 3rd part publishing stuff.

I mention this because I do think Slumbering Tsar is the kind of adventure where you want players who know how to collaborate at the table. I feel lucky to have a group like that.

Second, I want to mention that while Slumbering Tsar can be grindy and needs the kind of GM involvement that Greg talks about, the writing and NPC character development is so strong that it really does ease a ton of that.

My group just entered the Chaos Rift and their encounter with Otis and Lortis was really a highlight of the game. I role-played those guys to the hilt and my players kept asking me, "Is all that in there?" -- meaning in the book-as-written.

And I was like, yeah, it really is. The scene of them being lowered down into darkness on the log lift, and then the lift creaking away upward and leaving them down there.

There are so many great scenes like that -- not all combat-oriented -- that it really does sustain...

I'm getting the feedback about using minis later. Thanks for that advice. I'll definitely try another battle-map structured session once we get into the dungeons.

--Marsh


This is going to be a bit of a weird response, given some of the framing of this, but I want to suggest that people read the R. Scott Bakker cycle "Prince of Nothing" cycle.

Bakker's work has gotten pretty unfair treatment in places for being misogynistic - a claim that I find preposterous. Bakker's novels are complex, adult, and occasionally very, very dark.

These are not YA books. And they describe a society which is roughly on par, I would say, with the Near East in the 9th or 10th century. Women are not equal, their lives are often brutal and terrifying.

But the women in his novels are also the most complete, complex, dynamic female characters I've ever encountered in fantasy fiction, with the possible exception of Ursula LeGuin's stories. They are powerful, intensely driven, ambitious, flawed.

If, on the other hand, what you want is a fictional fantasy narrative where women are equal in what we might think of as a modern sense - don't go near this series. Really. Some of what happens to Bakker's female characters is stark and even disturbing (though never gratuitous).

But the same is also true of many of the men in Bakker's cycle. There is, for example, a fascinating juxtaposition of two of the main characters, a female courtesan and a male wizard. Both, by the lights of their society, are 'damned' and live largely as tolerated outcasts - useful and necessary but loathed.

Finally, I would say that Bakker's fantasy cycle is one of the only works in the genre that treats honestly the racism, discomfort with women, and aversion to sexuality that runs through much of our genre. Bakker sort of drags that stuff out into the open and wrestles with it in really interesting ways.

So again -- not a read for that afternoon when you're wanting your woman wizard to be the butt-kicker in the story...but really worth picking up.


Now, about magic items. The truth is that I'm not much of a rules lawyer. I'm a good solid Pathfinder-familiar DM.

But I don't know the fine print and I don't keep current with what's broken or grievously overpowered the way some DMs have time to do.

So I did the same thing you did initially - allowing PCs to create magic items as per the core rulebooks as written.

About three sessions ago, I called a halt to that. I basically made it clear that any magic item creation needed in-game roleplaying.

I think this is more a commentary on a broken set of rules in PF than on the specific issues of Slumbtering Tsar, but I agree it's something to watch out for.

Now that that's fixed, the ecology of loot inside the adventure is working okay because the players are spending so much money on resurrection spells...

We'll see if that stays on track...and I hope we can keep our group together long enough to finish this. 2 1/2 years - that's awesome.

--Marsh


Thanks for these reviews. Very interesting and obviously worth considering as these DMs are further along the narrative than my group.

I think I agree with everything here - I'm already boosting the plot elements and imagine I'll do more of that as things go along. I think the raw material is in place to make that feel doable.

I also quite agree about throwing Orcus into the mix at the end. I understand why Vaughan didn't. That's Rappan Athuk's climax, if I'm not mistaken.

But I'm just not going to run this AND R-A, so I think I'll probably import him.

I use the random encounters thing just enough to give it the first edition feel and to give a sense that the party is always in peril AND to give a sense that ruckuses in the Desolation tend to attract attention.

More on magic items in my next comment...

--Marsh


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The gaming group I'm part of is about ten four-hour sessions into the Slumbering Tsar mega-campaign from Frog God games. This is, I think, the largest single adventure/campaign ever written, and when it arrives in the mail it looks like a brilliant behemoth of highly detailed encounters, amazing NPCs, weird cool ideas, etc.

So how does it actually play? Well, broadly speaking, amazingly well. It's famously sand-boxy, meaning PCs explore, encounter, stumble into encounters, and have to be really flexible to stay alive. That means running away sometimes. That means character death is a reality. If your players aren't into dying sometimes and rolling up new PCs, this isn't for you.

But my players have really committed to the sense that this is an apocalyptic place where things can go really wrong fast. (Three of five PCs died in our last game and while there was a bit of TPK shellshock at the table, guys were really cool about it.) They love the deviant plot ideas that Greg Vaughan cooked up. Basically, I've never had characters get so deeply invested in a campaign.

This is also an awesome opportunity for players to do a bit of power-gaming. DMs should exercise some caution about this (more on this note later) but with some caveats, and some cautions about way over-powered third-party publishers material, Slumbering Tsar is a great place to battle-test awesome PC builds.

It's also truly epic in length. After roughly forty hours of play, the party has explored perhaps 1/20th of the death zone that Vaughan created, and hasn't even dared to go near the actual city of Tsar that lies at the heart of darkness.

That said, here are some thoughts about things I had to sort out at my game table.

First, the 'sand box' ideal only takes a story so far. After allowing my players to drift and explore a bit, I found that it was necessary to introduce a kind of meta-plot that would pull them forward. They still get to make all the decisions, and can chase squirrels whenever they want. But in my DMing experience, players will eventually need some motivation to keep going.

This turned out to be fairly easy to fix. I pulled forward some of the NPCs and gave them a stronger tie to Orcus's larger conspiracy -- and, frankly, I made it clear much earlier in the adventure that there is indeed a scheme by Orcus underway. Not that all the denizens of the adventure are involved...so there's still just a lot of random weirdness.

The second thing I needed to do was keep refreshing the Camp. This jumping-off point for the adventure and home base is a really iconic setting with colorful, ominous NPCs and a kind of cool ecology of stuff going on. But that gets disrupted pretty quickly as the PCs move in. So I found that I needed to cook up new weird NPCs and new weird denizens that could keep it fresh. This was fun, pretty easy...I mention it only because it's one of the few "must-do" fixes I've found.

Thirdly, the power creep in Pathfinder has somewhat surpassed Slumbering Tsar's infamous lethality. So I've had to carefully, subtly boost the adventure's risk factors. I've also tweaked encounters where Vaughan has created enemies that almost literally can't touch the PCs because of an unbalanced attack-vs.-armor class situation.

I think this largely reflects a new reality in Pathfinder. One BBEG and a lot of super-weak minions just isn't much challenge. Instead, you need a BBEG with a handful of reasonably powerful minions to make an interesting encounter.

I've also somewhat slowed level-advancement progression, using various means, to keep the PCs from outpacing the story's dangers. All in all, the power balance stuff is easily handled.

Finally, a very personal opinion. This is the first adventure I've run in the post 3.0 D&D/Pathfinder era where I felt like miniatures actually got in the way.

Vaughan's encounters and settings are so cinematic, so varied and cool and (sometimes) complex that I just feel like the mechanical fixity of little tabletop figures get in the way and sort of reduces the epic-ness.

Obviously, this is extremely subjective. Some DMs will have a ton of fun creating some of these magnificent set-piece encounters (dwarven patriots battling desperately against waves of undead, mutated spiders swarming up out of a crevasse in the earth).

But I'd at least urge you to experiment with it both ways, trying out your minis, but also trying some sessions without them.

Above all else, I'd encourage you to get this book. It's pricey. But if nothing else, it's an encyclopedic collection of encounters, new monsters, awesomely detailed NPCs and captivating one-off adventures that could drop into any world, any adventure. Played as structured, there is a vast saga here for players to act out and attempt to survive.

--Marsh


Hi folks.

I'm running a part of the Slumbering Tsar campaign tomorrow and in theory it looks epic. This is a chapter where the PCs make a desperate stand on a hill top with a gang of dwarven adventurers, facing wave after wave of undead.

Eventually, things get really sticky - more powerful undead, and a fairly lethal big bad evil guy to top it all off. But the part I'm a little uncertain about is how to run the horde portion and have it feel claustrophobic and desperate and panicked.

My specific problems are these:

1. How do I handle what will eventually be roughly 100 NPCs at the same time (including the dwarven 'good guys') without the whole mess bogging down? I'm looking for really cool, cinematic ideas that will make this really elevate. (We are using minis for this episode, btw...)

2. What do I do about the fact that my PCs have really high ACs? I mean, the truth is that the vast majority of these undead hordes are basically almost certain not to hit except on nat-20s. I've thought about having them essentially do grapple checks, trying to overwhelm the party. But most of the PCs also have high CMD...

I want this to feel more like Walking Dead, not like swatting mosquitoes...any ideas appreciated.

--Marsh


I don't have time to read the entire thread, so apologies if some of this is redundant.

One of the things that's interesting about this conversation is that for about 300 years, most "scientists" didn't see science and magic as incompatible.

The vast majority of the very best mathematicians, geologists, physicists, chemists, astronomers, etc., were deeply convinced that magic was real and would eventually be proved compatible with the techniques of the scientific method.

As late as the 1800s, some of the most influential researchers - men working on things like evolution and early plate tectonics -- still espoused essentially magical ideas about cosmology.

Earlier figures including Copernicus, John Dee and Isaac Newton were all deeply embroiled in the latest scientific advances of their day, and doing some fine work, while also spending vast amounts of time on what amounted to sorcery or astrological magic.

(Dee and Newton are extreme cases, but they're far from unique...)

A lot of this doesn't fit very neatly into the various fantasy worlds of the D&D canon, though "new" classes like the alchemist and the gunslinger actually work pretty well in a Tudor-Elizabethan themed adventure.

Finally, I've always been pretty impatient with the whole idea that 'science that's advanced enough will look like magic.' I think this is patently silly.

Once a civilization has grasped the mid-to-late-modern concept that phenomena have natural and explainable causes, the best minds generally stop saying, "That looks like magic."

Instead, they say, "That is a thing I can't explain yet, but we're working on it and we'll figure it out."

--Marsh


And thanks also to Hawkmoon...appreciate the info.


Sara Marie - I am so pleased. Thank you. I love your company and look forward to shopping with you guys again.

Marsh


I love the Alien narrative and I wanted (wanted, wanted) to love this movie. I've seen it three times. I've seen the video that tries to rationalize its gapingly painful plot holes. Sorry, but it was a bust. One of the bigger let-downs in sci fi movie history. I'm eager for P2, but actually am sort of hoping for a complete re-boot. Make a coherent, single movie with a beginning, a middle, an end and believable, reasonably motivated characters. Do NOT have fraidy-cat idiotic laurel-hardy scientists wandering around lost who SUDDENLY get all dewy eyed about alien serpents that look like vicious cobras...ugh.

Marsh


Dear Paizo,

You guys are my favorite hobby company in the world, which is saying a lot for a lifelong nerd like myself. Love your games, love your community, love your writers and artists.

But unless you give me a better explanation for why your customer service is so terrible, I will never, ever order directly from your store again.

I ordered a $150 book 3 weeks ago. Shipping was supposed to happen within two weeks, which is already a ridiculously sloppy amount of time for any company in the age of Amazon.

Then, today, I get an email which says that my order has finally been "processed and finalized for shipment." Great. Really slow, but great.

But then I read that the package is "expected to ship from the Paizo warehouse by Friday, November 21 via Standard Postal Delivery, estimated 4 to 8 business days in transit."

November 21st? WTF? If the thing is process and finalized, put it in the $%*$# mail! At this rate, I will have been waiting for my purchase for as much as six weeks.

And that "expected to ship" part REALLY ticks me off. Expected? What...is your warehouse in Sandpoint or something?

The kicker to the email is that there is no explanation for the delay, no apology -- only a note that my order can "no longer be altered."

On this message board I see a lot of other complaints about slow and sloppy shipping practices.

Maybe it's time for a quick public note about what's going on? The holidays are coming up. If you want people shopping from Paizo, you need to fix this and do some communication.

--Angry Marsh


Hi Sara Marie -

We're now nearing the three week mark and this order 3329153 apparently hasn't shipped. Can you give me a bit more specifics than it's 'awaiting its turn to get into the shipping queue"?

I have to say that in the world of Amazon, allowing two weeks for an order to ship without explanation seems kind of...outdated. (Is this something unique to the gaming hobby?)

Three weeks is really pushing the envelope.


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I think Pathfinder has actually achieved a critical mass of rules where some serious level of selective editing is needed adventure to adventure.

I'm attempting a game right now where almost everything is allowed and while we're having a lot of fun, it's a bit of a mess rules- and mood-wise.

As written, Pathfinder is now an all-things-to-all-people rule-set, with everything from laser guns to ancient priests to gunslingers to World War I soldiers.

So...if you're going for a specific genre or feel, you'll probably have to draw some clear lines around what's in and what's out. Is it still, at the end of the day, Pathfinder? Sure.

Even Paizo has said, while introducing science fiction and World War I era elements into some of their APs, "We won't use or allow this stuff very often in our stories going forward, but it's fun occasionally..." (I'm paraphrasing...)

So, I'd say at this point rules-modding isn't controversial -- it's essential to the system.

-Marsh


I ordered a Slumbering Tsar and we're nearing the two week mark and it looks like the book hasn't shipped yet. Is there a way to nudge it forward?


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Seems to me that saying you like "Pathfinder" is kind of a moving target. The game is evolving all the time. New rules, new player options, new everything.

--Marsh


So after being deeply intrigued by Numenera as a game system and a world concept, I've had the opportunity to GM three sessions so far.

A lot went right. The games were fun, intriguing, and the new mechanics re-energized me and my players. I think the game is really, really interesting.

But because Numenera is so ambitious, and represents a significant work by one of the RPG world's great designers, Monte Cook, I think it warrants serious critical response as well.

I took a stab at this once before, but now I know the game a lot better and have really tested it.

Cook is clearly being really ambitious here. In the best spirit of that effort, I want to hold him to those standards.

I think the game's shortcomings fall into three broad categories: serious DM challenges, the lack of weirdness in the 9th World, and really quite dull published adventures.

DM CHALLENGES: INTRUSIONS

Numenera envisions a situation where DMs will use dice-prompts and a system of traded experience points to insert provocative and creative events into the narrative.

It's a really cool idea. Particularly when players roll a natural 1 or a natural 20, the DM is encouraged to add an "intrusion" that expands the drama and boosts the narrative.

The problem is that this kind of improvisation is really hard to do in real-time. I've tried it and I've watched others try it on the growing number of Numenera Youtube and podcast play sessions available.

Sometimes the outcome is really dynamic. But when you add a jazz-improvisation element like this, you are raising the bar dramatically for DMs. I think Cook should develop some better systems to help us make that work -- quickly.

He's already offering a random "Cypher" deck and an "XP" deck. I think the game actually NEEDS the equivalent of an "Intrusion" deck. This is something the DM would draw from, consult, and then adapt to the circumstances of the game.

Sometimes a DM will be able to wing it without this kind of support. But as a relatively experienced DM, I often found myself struggling to make magic happen on the fly...and I don't think I'm alone.

LACK OF WEIRDNESS

This is a tough thing because true weirdness is incredibly difficult to achieve in narrative without also killing the forward motion of the story.

But far, far too much of Numenera is, well, profoundly scrutable. It reflects current sensibilities, and even a sort of vaguely retro vibe about "cool, strange technology."

A lot of that is fine. We want robots and nano-particles and so on in Numenera. But this world is supposed to be set a BILLION years in the future.

There should be at least a few elements in the game that really make you blink and say "What the hell?" Maybe even some "Call of Cthulhu" like elements where PCs are just hopelessly outmatched or baffled.

Far too many of Numenera's monsters are basically, in the final equation, a ghost or a vampire or a zombie or a dinosaur explained in a different way. As structured, there's a risk that the weirdest elements that are outlined in Numenera will essentially be background to a conventional plot.

I found myself struggling against this a bit and would urge DMs to really find ways to keep pulling as much weirdness as possible into the heart of each play session.

UNDERWHELMING ADVENTURES

This is my biggest concern. I think Monte Cook is amazing as a game designer and a setting creator. Even the shortcomings of the 9th World setting, as I see them, are shortcomings related to a very high bar or standard.

But I also think Cook has a fairly spotty record as an adventure designer.

Years ago, I bought Cook's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil and remember thinking, "This is kind of a mess." (I don't own Ptolus, so I can't comment on whether the adventures contained there are as great as the setting...)

I think the same can be said for the first several published adventures in Numenera. They're not terrible. But the Beale of Boregal, Seedship, and the Vortex are fairly predictable and static.

I don't think they come anywhere close to capturing the spirit of what Numenera could be.

The Devil's Spine was better, but still not a story arc that made me think, "Yes -- this is what this game was meant to do."

And that's a problem. For a game as ambitious as Numenera, and as focused on narrative, Cook needs to drive interest and capture loyalty with some absolutely kick-ass, "we'll remember this ten years from now" adventures.

Those early markers could really define whether the game lives up to its potential and builds a community.

I think Paizo did this effectively with Rise of the Runelords, in particular. They proved tangibly, with a big collection of linked stories, that the Pathfinder engine and the Golarion setting could take us to some amazing places.

I guess I want to see that soon from Monte Cook. I know that he's already moved on to working on a related game -- The Strange.

But as a huge fan of Numenera, I hope his team will have enough backward focus to craft at least one really big adventure that takes this game out for a drive -- a story we'll all be adding to our list of top gaming memories.


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Hi folks -

A couple of thoughts.

First, yes - I could have "my" version of PF by "slicing away" stuff I don't like. The same can be said for people who want sci-fi or Egypt or guns or psionics or epic level play. Anyone can home-mod anything.

I want a variant that Paizo brings to the entire gaming community that makes us all cross-compatible. I like the idea of a store or a DM or a convention saying, "Come play PF. We'll be using the Lite-Narrative rules at some tables, we'll be playing card games at some tables and we'll be using the Core Rules at most tables."

Second, the problem isn't that Pathfinder has grown to have a big math component. This isn't eggheads vs. math-illiterates. The problem is that the math (and the endless book referencing) is slowing down the action to a near-crawl that a lot of us are really chafing at.

The latest Adventure Path basically demands that you have a couple of additional books (or PDFs) open at all times to explain what a crapload of new material does. Check out how many superscript letters pointing to various books there are in any given stat block.

Want an illustration of how this looks in real-time?

I just watched a video of some really great gamers (Dice Stormers - check them out) play through one room in ROTRL where they took down a handful of goblins, including Rip Nugget. With four players and a DM it took 30 minutes to get through a few fairly unexciting rounds of play with low level characters. And before you dismiss them as inexperienced or as having bad table discipline, watch their video on Youtube. It really is worth thinking about -- check out all that book juggling on the part of a really experienced DM. I've been there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWl28lKSsPo

Finally, it's worth pointing out that Paizo will now be competing with at least one extremely well marketed and distributed game (D&D 5) that has the potential to be more streamlined, more narrative, more intuitive and less crunchy than full-iteration PF.

(I'm not sure Numenera will ever achieve wide enough distribution to be a meaningful competitor.)

So...it's just true that gaming climate has now changed. We're not in the 4.0 era anymore when WOTC had basically left the field to Paizo. Going forward, it's not a terrible idea from a community OR a business perspective for Paizo to have a variant product that competes with that kind of product.

-Marsh


Odraude -

That wasn't the original post...at all. That's nonsense.

My original post was totally respectful of PF in its current form, with its current 'everything and the kitchen sink' design.

(I do point to the tendency of games to grow top heavy over time, but that's a legitimate, time-tested concern...)

I know a lot of people like the current approach. Here's a quote from my OP:

I don't want people to think that I'm hostile to products like the Advanced Class Guide.

They're not to my taste. But I know there are a lot of great DMs and super-fun players who completely love that stuff and will never get enough feats and spells and class abilities and races -- that's cool.

So here's my question to folks who are being so adamantly negative about this.

If Pathfinder can have every single conceivable game-experience option -- psionics, mythic level play, outer space rules, rules for WWI, Asian themed play, on and on -- why not a compatible system that is more streamlined?

Again, I'm not talking about a rejection of PF.

I'm talking about one more option for those of us who want to stay in the Paizo-Golarion-AP-gaming community.

If the company can do card games and video games and on and on in the Pathfinder universe, why not also produce and sell a balanced 'rules light' variant?

I could easily see my game group shifting back and forth, depending on the tone of the adventure and the particular Adventure Path.

--Marsh


Right. I don't see pitchforks. And I don't mind people disagreeing with me. I actually like conversation.

I DO grumble about the folks on the messageboard who like to tell other folks not to post opinions...which happens a lot.

Usually it's just the 'we've heard it all before' thing. Which is fine.

But this is actually a thread where if it keeps recurring...maybe that means something.

And again, I'm eager to try Pathfinder Unchained. Maybe Paizo already has exactly the thing I want and I just missed it.

-Marsh


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Sorry everyone - yes. 10 New classes. My mistake.

Most of the responses here make sense and fall into the "I like Pathfinder the way it is, thank you very much."

Which is great. I probably would have made the same argument last year.

And it may be that this is how the game world will shake out, with some of us gravitating toward more rules-light/story heavy games.

But again, I don't want to gravitate away. I love Paizo and yes, actually, I do want my playstyle to be catered to. (Duh.)

I'll check out Pathfinder Unchained -- first I've heard of it. Thanks.

Finally, to folks here who reiterate the old "I've heard this thread before so shut up" argument or the old "quite whining about your playstyle not being catered to" saw, I say - pft.

If I had a quarter for every person on this message board who told me to shut up...

Bottom line?

This is my message board as much as yours, and Paizo is my gaming source and my addiction as much as yours.

They deserve to hear my (hopefully positive, constructive) feedback as much as yours.

And if I'm repeating a concern raised before, even better.

--Marsh


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After quite a few years of happily playing in Paizo's awesome sandbox -- a huge fan of Pathfinder, Adventure Paths, and Golarion -- I suddenly realized this summer that I'm ready for a big change.

Paizo, I think, has followed the same company arc that we've seen so many RPG brands navigate. They started by publishing a great rule system and a great setting.

Then, to keep the cash flow going (which is a good thing, not a bad thing) and because they are creative people, they've elaborated upon that rule system to the point of near exhaustion.

The latest book offering TWENTY new core classes? That pretty much stopped me in my tracks. As a DM, my table and my game group were already creaking under too many options, too many complex mechanics.

I would prepare a story, or gear up to run one of Paizo's adventures, and I never knew what circus menagerie was going to wind up in the party of PCs.

I'm a decent DM. I know the core rules really well. But I was always one step behind my players when it comes to how all their powers and abilities work.

Meanwhile, to heighten my desire for something different, Numenera and D&D 5.0 arrived in the gaming world, both with far more math-and-fine-print light, far more story-heavy architectures.

I ran a Numenera game last weekend and I have to say, it was a liberation. Preparation was easy and focused almost entirely on story, not stat blocks. Battles took a quarter the time to run and were far more fun and dynamic and cinematic.

Players, meanwhile, had a ton of fun making up PCs using a far simpler, more story-based series of templates. Half the crunch and still far more unique. My sense of D&D 5.0 is that it moves in the same direction.

So why not just switch? Why not jump ship if I want something a little different? (A lot of you are probably already typing a reply telling me to get the hell out of the sandbox...)

The truth is that I want to stay with Paizo and Pathfinder, for much the same reason that I stayed with Pathfinder as 3.0 and 3.5 were dying out.

I like the continuity. I like having all my old adventures and campaigns still be somewhat forward engineer-able.

I'm also absolutely convinced that Paizo will continue to be the best adventure-writing company in the gaming world. I want to run their Adventure Paths.

So, as regular loyal customer, here's what I want from Paizo:

I want them to earn their next pile of bucks by producing a streamlined, narrative-rich version of Pathfinder.

Not just a "beginner's box," but an actual parallel rule structure that exists comfortably side-by-side with the more byzantine version of Pathfinder that's come into existence.

I get that one way to "solve" this is by simply banning (at my table) a lot of the material published after the Pathfinder core rulebooks were released.

But I bet there's a more exciting way for the game gurus at Paizo to do this -- one that would be a profitable way for Paizo to compete with and match the new innovations coming from Wizards and Monte Cook.

This next part is important: I don't want people to think that I'm hostile to products like the Advanced Class Guide.

They're not to my taste. But I know there are a lot of great DMs and super-fun players who completely love that stuff and will never get enough feats and spells and class abilities and races -- that's cool.

But I think Paizo can do that stuff and offer a kind of alternate, streamlined cross-compatible system.

So...here's my memo to Paizo: Put that version of Pathfinder in a hard-back book with a lot of fun art and charge $50 for it...and I'll be your first customer.

Captain Marsh


I'm probably late to the party, but I urge any Pathfinder or tabletop RPGer to check out the DiceStormer Youtube channel.

These guys are modeling some awesome game-table strategies, they're offering fun snapshots of some of the adventure paths, and it's an entertaining way to get a fix of a great Pathfinder session when you can't drop dice yourself.

I've picked up some cool tips for running games from these guys and it's helped me preview some of the published adventures.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiHMbAFXhVslHs0wPd8-JrA

-Captain Marsh


DRS3-

Yeah, I disagree. I'm not suggesting that I design encounters blindly. Of course I layer in effects designed to prevent thinks like the proverbial 1 BBEG easy topple encounter.

And when I play with a skilled, power-gamey group, I tweak the CR level upward and add in additional challenges (more three dimensional conflict spaces, etc.)

But once I think about the rules and fold in things that have an internal logic and consistency, I get absolutely no fun from blonking an encounter with big cheats on my side.

I also like being surprised by my players. Unlike some DMs, I require rule-loyal PCs, but I don't do pre-audits.

But I don't think even with your philosophical approach, this spell. works. Your assessment of it just strikes me as weird.

Consider this factual description.

1. It's a never-ending ammo clip. 2. It's apparently a silent supernatural ability and can be thrown without cluing enemies that the PC is in fact a spellcaster. 3. It's not subject to counterspells. 4. It doesn't trigger an AOO. 5. It's not limited by Hit Dice, unlike its Sleep counterpart. 6. It's a SOD spell that will always scale relatively high on its Will save. 7. There is a significant list of VERY powerful monsters, high CR, that are highly vulnerable to this spell. 8. The 30' foot automatic hit range increment is actually very generous, compared to comparably powerful spells that require either a touch or ranged touch attack.

That's a pretty long list of boffo attributes for one magical effect which CAN BE GAINED AT FIRST LEVEL.

Bottom line? That's just not the same as buffing a barb or using a clever area of effect spell.

--Marsh


have you ever actually DM'd a game where this power was used?

-marsh


DRS3 -

I do think one place where we really part ways is that I like rules that allow me to create a world and a table experience where a party has a balanced chance to win.

Where the world 'exists,' in other worlds, and where so long as I balance it properly and get the CR more or less right, the powers and abilities of the players will give them a competitive but risky shot at surviving and prospering.

I don't EVER design my adventures to favor (or thwart) particular classes or abilities that I know my players bring to the table. I create fun, balanced, complicated encounters, that are geared to particular CR levels.

(Sometimes I will say, in advance, this is a campaign where you'll need a cleric, or a front-line fighter, or a rogue.)

In this case, PCs were going into funky, complex terrains, battling interesting mixes of monsters where some dramatic things were possible.

Rather than doing interesting things, or coming up with fun, cinematic solutions, this one unbalanced power just twigged the encounters. Period.

It wasn't fun, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't clever. (It was, however, perfectly legal, and I felt creepy about saying, "Dude, I know that's your superpower, but it's killing the night...")

A question: Do you guys who are panning the idea that hex slumber is broken think there are any broken, overpowered spells and powers in PF?

Or do you think once it's published, it's canon and we should all just sort of live with it?

Marsh


So first...I really hate the tone of the response. The "shut up and sit down" quality of the message boards here is sometimes really a drag. Now...here's my argument, in all civility...

A) I'm not missing your points, I just disagree, and I think my argument is better. I have DM'd Pathfinder since its release and have DM'd D&D in all of it iterations. In every case, there have been unbalanced spells and powers that needed to be mopped up after release.

It doesn't help to just say "broken stuff happens" and the game sometimes doesn't work and isn't fun. What makes the game better is to provide feedback and player experiences from actual game-play so that the rules can be tweaked.

B) If you've never had spellcasters use single-target effects at early stages of combat and battles, then I'm baffled by what game you're playing.

C) The Save or Die thing is in fact a perennial problem in Pathfinder and d20/3.0/3.5, one we've all struggled with for years. In this case, Slumber, it's a SOD power that can be used with no Vancian limitations and no limit on Hit Dice power for the target.

So when you combine those factors - SOD, infinite uses, no HD limits -- it's worth revisiting.

D) It's noteworthy that Sleep, a limited use spell, HAS a HD limitation. And casting Sleep triggers an AOO, while Slumber hex does not. So...why would the rules take a really balanced spell and suddenly make it completely unfettered like that?

E) Two thirds of monster types in the game are NOT immune to this hex. In fact, a lot of fairly tough CR6-10 creatures are REALLY vulnterable to this spell, with a 50% chance or greater of falling to it.

And if you happen on a given night to be running a dungeon that is flatly vulnerable to a broken spell like this (raiding a place with human villains, or orcs, or whatever...) you're just toast.

It's not enough to say that maybe you'll get lucky and design a dungeon or adventure where a broken spell isn't as broken...and it's not my style to design dungeons that specifically thwart PCs power.

F) The crappy hostility suggesting that if I find a spell broken I must be "dumb" enough to have created a bad encounter is just mean. Quit that stuff. In fact NONE of the encounters that were wrecked by this spell involved a single BBEG...not one.

FWIW, the encounter that was most completely disrupted involved eight bugbears (including a ringleader), a dire bar, a girallon, and a giant stag beetle.

Marsh


DRS -

I love the fluidity of Pathfinder, I love the complex interplay of powers, I love that surprising things happen.

But when Paizo discovers that they've mucked up and unbalanced a particular power -- and this one is -- they should do something about it.

It's a standard part of game design. Design, playtest, publish, then correct.

This thing is wildly overpowered with infinite uses per game. Not at all comparable to buffing a fighter.

Torbyne -

I think ANY power that has the ability to single-shot drop an enemy, no matter how many HD they have, should at the very least have a limited number of uses per day. Whether that's slumber or whatever.

It's not that this player was able to use this cool, awesome power that cheezed me - it was actually kind of amazing and dramtic.

It was that he could (and did) basically do it EVERY TIME. In sheer fun gaming terms, that's boring and undramatic and uncreative.

-Marsh


Just ran a dungeon crawl and the Slumber Hex really botched my game. A player used it completely legally and legitimately, and as a result one cool encounter after another was reduced to "I put him to sleep and the rogue kills him."

When I asked how many times a day he could uncork that thing - still feeling pretty cheerful about things, assuming he was making balanced choices about his spell economy - he said it was infinite-use.

I sort of choked. This thing, which works against creatures of any HD, is RIDICULOUS. Paizo should errata it down in power asap.

-Captain Marsh


Sorry for dropping out of the discussion. I was away traveling without my computer.

Some good ideas here. I'll check some of them out. I did buy and run Numenera. I have mixed feelings about it, but will likely DM it again.

Regarding the 3pp suggestions, I will give them more of a try. Of course that's a great option.

But I still aim my main nudge at Paizo. For the moment, they're carrying the banner, and doing it really well. I want that to continue.

-Marsh


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I've played Pathfinder from its inception, and D&D since the late 1970s. I'm a huge fan of what Paizo has done with the gaming community and with the d20 system in particular.

As I've written here before, I think Paizo is really the first major gaming company that wrote actual stories that players and DMs could bring to life -- full of character and tension and still blessed with a lot of open-ended "sandbox" play.

Yet here I am in 2014 wanting something new. I feel like my time in Golarion has pretty much run its course.

I also feel like the basic structure of the Adventure Paths - which redefined how I think of RPG narrative arcs -- is no longer producing the kind of stop-me-in-my-tracks work that I used to see.

Don't get me wrong, there are still brilliant moments, flashes of weird creative brilliance. But not as often.

Rather than finding new ways to wow me with absolutely crazy imaginary settings and conflicts, I feel like there's more and more rules-lawyer tomes, longer and longer lists of feats and spells and character classes and variants.

And again, I get it. I understand that the business model of RPGs requires some of this stuff. A lot of gamers want more and more of those rule clusters. Building characters using 12 different books is half the fun.

But as a certified Paizo junky-fanboy, I'm ready for the next thing that doesn't feel sort of middle-aged and typical and "this is where RPGs always go in their life-cycle."

Is it time for a new world? I know that's dangerous and has really hurt game systems in the past. Or how about a one-shot hardcover mega-adventure written entirely by one auteur-quality writer?

How about a series of "adult" adventures, by which I mean adventures which emphasize -- really dramatically -- things like role-playing and mystery solving and the "world inhabiting" experience, rather than combat?

Finally, I'll admit that I don't really know exactly what I want. Just like I don't know that I really want that next brilliant Quentin Tarantino film or Joe Abercrombie novel until it appears. That's the job of artists, after all, doing something so cool and engaging and new that it takes an audience into an entirely new place.

So this is a greed post, really. Paizo has done that for me in the past and I want them to do it again.

I know none of these ideas will ever be Paizo's bread and butter, but six years after Pathfinder was launched I think tilting at windmills and being experimental is a great idea for a creativity-based company.

--Captain Marsh


This is slightly off-topic, but the conversation here brings me back to a real wish-list item for me as a gamer.

I'd love for Paizo or someone else to create a Pathfinder setting and published adventures that accomplish the following:

1. The world is moderately scaled, so that the most powerful PCs and NPCs are around 12th level, perhaps with a few world-spanning good and bad NPCs as high as 20th level.

2. Given those limitations on power and magic, I'd like for the world to be a bit more coherent -- not an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach.

3. More adventure paths that aren't about saving the world. One of the problems of high-level play is that the stakes often have to be raised to Wagnerian scale by the AP's final chapters.

I get why Paizo's Golarion includes EVERYTHING -- it's a sandbox for a huge range of players and gaming groups.

And I get why Golarion needs to include play levels from 1st through epic.

And I think given given those commercial/creative parameters, Paizo has done a GREAT job with Golarion.

But I'd love to see a world that has a slighty more writerly, narratively coherent structure.

Maybe one or two big overarching themes (say, one dark lord emerging and one great invasion of orc hordes from the north) with plenty of room then at the low-to-mid range of play for sandboxing and intrigue.

And the rules for PCs would be pretty simple: The goal -- the "victory condition" is to graduate to being a powerful NPC, which happens when you hit 12th level or thereabouts...

-Marsh


Elendur -

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.

Ratpick -

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...


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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...

Marsh


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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."

http://www.montecookgames.com/why-not-d20/

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.

-Capt. Marsh


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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.

:) Marsh


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.

Marsh


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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.

--Capt. Marsh


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...

-Marsh


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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.

-- Marsh


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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...

-Marsh


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.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700245157/State-job-is-not-to-redefine-m arriage.html?pg=all

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.

--Marsh


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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.

-Marsh


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.

-Marsh


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.

--Marsh


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.

-Marsh


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....

Marsh


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... :)

--Marsh

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