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Captain Marsh's page

218 posts. 1 review. No lists. No wishlists.


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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


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.

--Marsh


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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?

--Marsh


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..."

--Marsh


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
story bomb character?

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.

--Marsh


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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...

--Marsh


Icyshadow -

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's awesome.

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.

--Marsh


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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...

--Marsh


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.

--Marsh


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.

-marsh


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?

--Marsh


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.

-Marsh


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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.

--Marsh


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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.

--Marsh


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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.

--Marsh


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?

Thanks,

Marsh

-


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.

--Marsh

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