As far as Steel Falcon goes - it's just one branch of the Eagle Knights, so if you should become an Eagle Knight (at 20 fame, with the appropriate PA expense) you can just *be* a Steel Falcon.
I suspect *most* Pathfinder Eagle Knights are Steel Falcons (it seems fitting), but it's worth mentioning that membership to the specific order is *secret*, so you wouldn't be known as Roland the Steel Falcon ;) They're the "Delta Operatives" of Andoran!
FYI my 11th level Ranger, Knight Captain Kyrian Solonor, is a Steel Falcon, so you can consider him one of your contacts in the organization if you like...
Not an uncommon problem.
Basically, mature players understand the concept of teamwork, and are fine with group items, including expendables (which, by helping "just one" player, actually help everyone, because that "one" player is also integral to the team). They know that they're playing for the big end-game cash-out (or whatever), and the best treasure allocation benefits the team as a whole.
Less mature players, of course, don't understand this, so it's best to either (i) determine the total treasure value, and dole out cash and items in whichever proportions makes this even or (ii) sell everything and just divide the cash. This latter approach especially is, frankly, stupid, because (assuming selling items around 1/2 retail) they're powering their party down 50% over time; but then, that's less mature players, right?
If you have players who are "jealous", then you have less mature players (note that "mature" here is a factor of player experience, not age), and it just needs to be divvied-up "equitably".
(Example: in our Legacy of Fire campaign, my ranged inquisitor has gotten a +1 ring of protection, +1 longbow, +1 mithril chain shirt; the barbarian has gotten +3 mithril chainmail and a +1 Life Drinker great axe/ I'm cool with this because (i) he can put those to good use, keeping enemies in melee while I attack from range and (ii) if we sold the big items, so he's have a +1 axe and +1 chain, he's much more likely to drop, causing me to waste actions healing him, avoiding melee charges and so on.)
There is a fine line between metagaming and knowing the game.
Some players really know the game well. They know the rules mechanics, they're familiar with the setting, and they're familiar with the bestiaries, spells, and magic items.
When a player who, as a player, recognizes that a creature is, say, a Glabrezu, but, because he's playing a PC who lacks Knowledge:Planes acts as though he does not, he is absolutely metagaming! By that criterion, the only avoidance of metagaming would occur when a player only plays PCs with knowledge skills mirroring his player knowledge of the game. It's absurd.
There is no reason a player who has taken the time to read the books shouldn't be better at the game than those who haven't, or that an experienced players shouldn't be better than those who aren't.
If I'm at-table, and my fighter (clueless about K:Planes) encounters a Glabrezu, and I deliberately, as a player, ignore what I know as I make tactical decisions (or worse, actually act counter to what I know is wise (a common psychological response to concealed prior knowledge), then why am I even playing? I can simply have someone else run my character - after all, he's just the sum of his traits and skills, right? - while I go grab a sandwich. It doesn't make sense.
A PC is not just a PC - he's a projection of the player into the game. The PC can do things the player can't - jump a forty foot chasm, say - and the PC may know things the PC doesn't - like the fact Glabrezu can reverse gravity at will, or rend, or appear veiled as a huge tree. That's the fun of the game, the bidirectional interplay between player and player, between player and GM, and between player and character.
In practice? If a player knows, based on GM description, what a monster is, he should act freely on that knowledge; if the GM wants to obfuscate within reason? All the better!
I think a list of choices is a fine idea - I may do that myself (My PFS main is a rather mean fey sorceress with a DC 27 major curse!)
Obviously, there will indeed be table variation; a lot of PFS GMs are "new to GMing", and will likely be uncomfortable making a call, but a good rule to follow is that bestow curse is a 4th level spell, and major curse 6th, so any curses should be commensurate with those power levels.
A sorcerer might have cursed an enemy to be forever blind to beauty, which a GM might sort of softly rule to mean beings with charisma better than 16 or so would be effectively greater invisible to the victim; since greater invisibility is a 4th level spell, this is probably a reasonable curse.
(My sorceress, who is very vain, was turned permanently blue (rod of wonder), and is quite angered if she's referred to as "blue" rather than azure, and I'd like to have a contingency where if she's offended by being referred to as "blue", the offender is stricken with a major curse of may all the world be blue in your eyes, thus presenting an world in which everything appears bright blue. A flavor thing. We shall see!)
A thread on suggested curses would be amusing!
As the "owner" of a five month old girl, I will say that, while she's amazing, as far as any kind of ethos or moral/philosophical worldview?... Nah, she's got nothin'.
As per animals, definitely neutral.
(One exception: if one were running a campaign set in say, historical Europe, ie. "Christendom", babies would be born with "original sin", and thus would be evil until they were baptized, at which point they would be good. Interesting notion!)
The victim can't take actions, so it can't make fly checks - it does, in fact, free-fall.
Per "Environmental Rules" in the CRB, you fall 500 feet per round (which is why falls of less than 500 feet require casting of feather fall to mitigate, as you can't cast fly quickly enough). Of course, the maximum falling damage is 20d6, so anything higher than 210 feet doesn't matter, really.
It - along with the various hold spells - is an excellent counter to fliers, though the spell's short range poses a problem.
Well, by RAW it's the "monster identification" skill for humanoids, regardless of how silly it may seem: an adventurer who's lived all his life in, say, Korvosa, but who happens to have gone on a quest to the deep and faraway Vaults of Orv, will use K: Local to identify any bizarre humanoid servitors he may encounter there.
As for specifics, though, that's really a matter for the GM to decide. For example, let's say I see a Captain of the Guard - who happens to be, say, a hobgoblin (a humanoid) - and I make a K:Local check; the check gives me basically racial information - he has darkvision, he's stealthier than average, and so on. Nothing about class levels, not his name, not the schools he attended... nothing but the Bestiary listing. Further, this would be a DC 11 check to identify (his race is CR 1/2), so with a 16 check we'd know about the darkvision, with a 21 the racial stealth bonus, and so on.
That said, it's certainly reasonable that one might know something about him. As a GM, I'd leverage the +5 DC per detail rule to add particulars aside from the Bestiary, IF it was reasonable that I might know something. For example, if this captain belongs to an organization you've been fighting for some time, you might know things about key people - if it's some random captain in a stronghold you just happen to be infiltrating, it's probably not possible to know minute details about him. Again, this is really what you and your GM agree upon as reasonable.
Ex: Let's say my Hobgoblin captain is a 7th level fighter. To realize he's a hobgoblin, I go through my usual chain of DCs to identify the race, and know racial abilities (11, 16, 21, and so on). If the GM thinks it's reasonable, I might get that he's a hobgoblin fighter with a DC 17 (since he's CR 7 with the class): for example, I've been following the activities of the Brotherhood of Total Evil, and I know they recruit hobgoblins to train as fighters. If so, for each +5 increment, I might know some feats, schticks and so on (since I might know something about how the Brotherhood trains its warriors). If I get a crazy high roll (like a 38 or something) I might even know that this is Captain Gnash, favored scion of the Brotherhood, who's famous for sundering opponents weapons and then directing his men to grapple the disarmed opponent, AND that he personally slew Princess Daisy's pugs, or whatever).
tl;dr: By RAW, you automatically use K:Knowledge to access the Bestiary listing of humanoids; beyond that, it's what's reasonable and agreeable to the GM.
If your buddy was one-shot, then he's kind of in the category of "people who don't build good characters", right?
Having a number of PFS characters (levels 13, 12, 11, 7, 4, and 2), I've learned a few general principles for happy PFS play; the basic issue is that you never know who you're sitting down to play with (with exceptions, obviously, but in con and game day play, this is a general rule), so you can never completely rely on them. Bringing a broken character to the table isn't the answer, because those are almost always one-trick (or few-trick) ponies; they usually work well at low levels, but start to falter at higher levels (I see this with things like optimized grapplers, characters built on a heavy sneak attack or enforcer type schtick, casters focused very intensively on specialized blasting (like pyromancer-type builds), etc).
What you need to deal with the random tables of PFS is:
- ability to succeed at faction missions. *Mostly* this means the ability to make diplomacy checks. Being a total charisma dump (many PFS characters, especially "optimized" ones) isn't really a good idea. Why is this important? Because your later access to good items is dependent on prestige.
- the "I can't believe you don't have that" tool kit. Things like weapon blanches, potions of fly and lesser restoration, wands of CLW and endure elements, and all the other things which can compensate for having ineffective casters at the table.
That's about it. "Making the table cry", in addition to having limited long-time use in PFS (I'd hate to go through the retirement arc dependent on a fighter who's built only to trip, or a sorcerer who casts fire spells at +3 or +4 caster level... but has no other kinds of spells); it's also bad "game citizenship".
It's worth remembering that we play these games for fun, not "to win". If you prefer the latter, it's worth checking out card and board games instead. PFS *does* have a lot of "ineffective" players, because it attracts a lot of new, first-time players to the game: I meet many PFS players for whom this is their first time playing RPGs - and this is a GOOD thing. The best long-term strategy is to invite these players in, gently suggest things, answer when asked, and so on; eventually they'll learn the game, learn tactics, teamwork, and so on.
I play both PFS and a completely non-PFS home game.
PFS, of course, is pretty close to "anything goes"; there are restrictions (no words of power, no permanency, and so on), but mostly one can use any feat or spell, and there's a wide-open magic mart. My PFS characters - I admit - are comically powerful. I mean, I have an 11th level ranger who can make a DC 90 perception check... what does that even mean.
With notable exceptions, it's not especially challenging to play that way; it IS very challenging to judge PFS for the very same reason - dealing with optimally effective (I'm not going to say "overpowered" because that's nakedly subjective) PCs can be, well, disappointing from a GM's perspective.
How different is the home game! We're currently running Legacy of Fire (just starting on the 3rd book) with 15 point builds; typically we have 3-5 players at the table (depending on people's schedules). We are restricted to Core Rulebook and APG only, banning the Summoner and Gunslinger classes (for balance and flavor reasons, respectively), and our magic items are what we find (no magic mart). We have a "soft" ban on the Leadership feat (one player can have it), and pretty much we need to be self-sufficient (for example, several of us are currently suffering from Con drain - I'm down from a 14 to an 8, myself - with no hope of a restoration until our cleric hits level 7 (if he lasts that long - he's down 8 con!))
It's pretty brutal (I'm a player - level 7 inquisitor - not the GM), but it's SO challenging and fun. We actually have to depend on tactics, stealth, and playing smart, not brute-forcing the scenarios with raw ability or power. Do we think of ourselves as nerfed? No, because basically our GM just set Pathfinder back to a pre-power creep level, removed a terrible example of game design (the summoner), and removed something which doesn't fit, narratively (the gunslinger). I can still build a very effective character (notice that I selected an inquisitor, a good choice for a no-magic-mart campaign, since I can pretty well replicate magic weapon enhancements like bane and so on), but it's a very nice change from the complete cakewalk of PFS.
Pathfinder, in toto, is no longer a balanced ruleset; it's heading to where 3.5 was prior to 4E (it's not as bad yet - my last 3.5 character could shadow evoke a miracle with no material cost or xp expenditure, and was in general stupidly broken in a way not yet possible in Pathfinder, but still!) A serious, challenging campaign requires careful consideration by the GM of what will be allowed, refused, or changed. Nearly all mature game systems go through this phase - I'm not demonizing Pathfinder - but it simply doesn't work an an "everything goes" system.
Christopher Rowe wrote:
In my view, this approach is inadvisable.
I'll use my home group as an example: my home RPG group (which happens to be doing a Pathfinder AP at the moment), with the exception of myself, has never had any interest in organized play. In fact, they would take my "signing them up" so I could get GM credit in PFS as an affront - basically, using them to gain some kind of "stuff" exterior to our gaming group. It would do NOTHING for PFS, and would simply be me garnering myself hollow "GM points"; at worse, it could be considered as defrauding PFS.
But, let's say I did it anyway, "holding" chronicles for my players "just in case", and in fact at some point some of them DID happen to decide to play PFS (maybe at a local game day, or perhaps a con), and suddenly they're starting PFS with 7th level characters. They barely even know what PFS is - no clue about what "prestige" or "fame" are, no understanding of what various factions are about, and so on - but they're playing 5-9 or 7-11 scenarios. Again, how is this - foisting power-leveled neophytes on the scene - helping PFS? Well, it isn't.
When organized play incentivizes judges with accolades, free character advancement and so on (and it has taken differing forms in different organized play campaigns), it sometimes has the negative effect of causing people to focus on those meta-rewards (Living Greyhawk, for example, had a problem with people running "straw tables" for GM credits, so they would qualify for Wizards' GM reward card mailings). The degree of excitement over the prospect of judge rewards for the sanctioned APs worries me, especially given that these are likely to be run "out of view" in home settings; it's a perfect set-up for a certain species of fraud.
So, it's a slippery slope, and the best practice is to take a fairly strict approach to crediting sanctioned APs: for credit, both players and judge should be running them with the understanding that it's within the context of PFS play.
I don't think relativity applies to Pathfinder.
First, there are planes of existence, so that invalidates general relativity (which depends on geometric curvature of spacetime); second, the presence of instantaneous travel (teleportation) kind of trumps special relativity (which is dependent on the speed of light as a speed limit).
In the case of my model, for example, I basically ignored gravity in favor of pressure (or more precisely, I assumed a constant terrestrial gravitational field).
As for dropping a stone, anything above colossal size is subject to GM handwaving anyway :)
Certainly if you had a planeful of metastable ice II or III or something, and suddenly introduced it to normal terrestrial conditions, it might explode.
There are probably easier ways to kill enemies with water, of course!
Okay, this is fun.
Yes, your scheme would work.
First, I’m defining a “demiplane” as an thermodynamically fully isolated system which is isochoric (volume can’t change)… just so we’re on the same page. If someone thinks “planes” wouldn't be thermodynamically isolated (maybe there’s energy transfer with the astral or ethereal plane) then my argument won’t be valid.
Assuming a minimum-sized demiplace (one 10-foot cube, or 1000 cubic feet), at the moment the plane is filled at density 1 we’ll have 2.8317e+7 grams of water, or 1.573e+6 moles of water (assuming the decanter itself has negligible relative displacement).
Now, assuming this is an indestructible decanter that somehow lacks a “limiter” which responds to environmental pressure, so we keep adding water to this isochoric system. One interesting feature about water is that its phase diagram’s liquid-solid boundary has negative slope, so you essentially can’t press water “solid” (indeed, its solid phase is less dense that liquid, because strong hydrogen bonding forces the solid into a tetrahedral geometry, increasing “spacing” over its liquid form). Now, we’re adding pressure VERY slowly (30 gallons per round to an essentially 7480 gallon “tank” – our demiplane), but we also have an isolated system, so we’re slowly, inexorably adding heat – it can’t dissipate – so our water is getting hotter. Slowly, but hotter.
Folks have mentioned that water is pretty impervious to pressurization – this is a feature of liquids – but we’re dealing with a pretty unusual system (an ideally isolated thermodynamic system) – so we actually can explore some exotic states of water. For example, at some point, our phase diagram get a bit wonky, and we might move in and out of some different-geometry solid states (as systemic heating begins overpowering hydrogen bonding, for example). If you’re curious about these metastable forms of water, this paper has an extended phase diagram.
So, after a lot of interesting chemistry happens, and we start sort of moving away from a pressurized system of water to more things like hydronium. At 10,000 atmospheres (equal to a terrestrially-impossible 64 mile depth), for example, we’ll see Ice IV… so we still haven’t fused, but we’re at another exotic solid state, and we’re still adding water to the system. What we DO have, at this point, is something like the atmosphere of a water world… kind of interesting.
By the way, it’s probably important to point at t at this stage: it will take the decanter 2,055,000 years to achieve this level of pressure, adding its 30 gallons per round (the first problem evident in the scheme).
But we continue adding water, and our demiplane gets hotter, and goes through yet more exotic phase changes (there are fourteen forms of ice to go through!) The pressure needed to fuse water doesn’t really matter, because our water will have long ceased to be water by the time we get there – it’s elemental oxygen and hydrogen, and some other kinds of ions of the two in certain forms.
So what about fusion? This is a matter of sheer guesstimate outside of some very complex calculation of the Lawson criterion triple product (which I don't intend to do at 1:41am), and it’s hard to say what the pre-fusion conditions are like insofar as temperature, pressure, and so on. I guess we’re just looking for an explosion rather than sustainable fusion (building a star inside our demiplane)? It’s largely a matter of temperature, and relation of pressure to temperature for liquids involves evaluating a partial differential equation (again, meh), but it’s on the order of a billion atmospheres (the sun is 340 billion, but it's a fully sustained star, and there are non-nuclear explosive which achieve pressures of 100 million atmospheres, so… 1 billion seems like a good estimate).
Using a decanter of endless water, it would take 6.49e+14 years – that’s 649,000 one-billion year intervals of time – to achieve fusion in a 10x10x10 demiplane.
For scale, our (real) universe is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old – your project will take 47212 times longer than that (not to mention that it might well drain the elemental plane of water!)
The verdict: the plan works, but perhaps on a different time horizon than one might want.
Of course, we can mess with the flow of time when we create our demiplane, but that’s another discussion.
I often use discussions such as these - the twin conundrums of (i) finishing scenarios on time at conventions and (ii) what will be sacrificed, combat or roleplaying? - to illustrate why building very effective characters is actually better for roleplayers than the puzzling tradition of "I'm a roleplayer, so therefore I make weak characters":
If you build characters which can quickly steamroll the combat encounters, you'll actually have more time for roleplaying.
What I've found with dragons is that a party who *knows* about the dragon (perhaps they're hunting it) and goes in *ready* is pretty much going to make short work of the dragon.
That said, dragons are VERY perceptive, so generally it's unlikely that a party will stumble upon a dragon without it knowing they're there - in other words, the dragon typically should get the jump on an unprepared party.
In the case of a juvenile green dragon which has just learned about adventurers poaching its spider herd, there are a few approaches it might take to gain advantage:
Attack the party at night - the dragon has 120' darkvision, meaning it can see the party when they can't see it. If it waits until they camp, it can get the whole group in its acid cone as a surprise round (and remember, if it observes the camp from 120', the watch has a hefty -12 penalty to hear the dragon out in the woods.
The dragon also likely knows the terrain, so it may know that at some point the party will be crossing a wide river (or lake, or whatever) and it could then attack from underwater: a lower-level party attacked by a green dragon on the water has some big problems (like the dragon getting improved cover by attacking from the water - mage armor, shield and improved cover will give the dragon a 39 AC!)
If it could combine the two - attack the party while it's crossing water AT night... hmmm.
Scenario: a juvenile green dragon, having learned of a group of adventurers interfering with its spider herd, does some nighttime recon. The party doesn't know that they're camping about 100 yards from a wide, sluggish river, but the dragon does. It commands some locals (they fear the dragon) to lure the party to the river, where there is a small barge (perhaps a local dryad is asked to do this, who does so out of fear of the dragon; any charming fey being would do, ideally one who can bluff): adventurers, never saying no to adventure, decamp and set off on a nighttime river crossing. The green dragon, slipping into the water, arises (maintaining improved cover) and opens combat with a cone of acid enveloping the barge (including its hapless accomplice), exposing to party also to its 120' aura of frightful presence (DC 17 will save). Roll initiative...
Dragon uses cover from the water, ability to attack using flybys out of the darkness, and so on, making the party use mostly readied actions to try to combat it, and using its breath weapon from the improved cover of the water whenever it recharges. Prior to attacking, it has cast mage armor and shield, so it's running a AC of 31, 35 if it full attacks with cover from the water (adjacent to the boat) and 39 when it attacks with improved cover from the water (discharging its breath weapon).
It's a dangerous encounter, with the added bonus that at least one character will likely spend actions protecting the dryad (or whatever).
Well, here's another take: in order for "the world" to be suitably impressed by a 40 Perform check, they need to be able to *appreciate* a 40 Perform check.
Consider an analogy (and bear with me here, as I live in Atlanta so I'm using an Atlanta-orientd example): Let's say two people - one Joe Average, the other an experienced foodie and wine connoisseur - head to Restaurant Eugene, where they enjoy a brilliant, seven-course chef's menu with perfect wine pairings. The bill is $500 ($600 with gratuity). Our foodie totally understands that he's paying for the chef's innate talent and years of experience, local ingredients sourced this morning from organic farms, attentive, informed staff, an experienced, educated sommelier, and so on - he's *capable* of appreciating a $300/person dinner. Joe Average, on the other hand, is outraged - $300! That's thirty meals at Chili's or Applebee's! So stupid!
Most people are Joe Average.
The "world" probably doesn't react as fully appreciatively as one might expect from a 40 Perform check. They LIKE it (Joe Average liked his dinner at Eugene; he just doesn't understand why it's $300), but they aren't especially *moved* by it - they are unable to appreciate the full scale of the performer's brilliance (maybe they can "comprehend" up to a DC 20 performance). That said, there *will* be people who can - other performers, who might seek out so talented a person to learn from him, certain theater owners and people "in the biz", maybe a very cultivated aristocrat (and most of them aren't, either; they just follow fashion). In a fantasy setting, maybe certain kinds of supernatural or other beings take an interest in him (a mysterious fey sorceress, a dragon, and so on).
A good film example of this kind of thing is the 1980s film version of "Amadeus"; Salieri alone has the ability to understand Mozart's brilliance, but since he himself cannot *create* to so high a level, he's consumed by jealousy and uses his position to destroy Mozart; certainly, another mode of reaction to so elevated a performer!
Lady Violetta d’Armand Countess du Plessis is the picture of supernatural beauty – lithe of form, she appears draped in a clinging gown seemingly spun from dewdrops and strands of silvery light, honey-hued hair draped with a headdress of glittering jewels and platinum threads lightly blowing as though in an unfelt breeze, eyelids shadowed in actual shadow, the kohl-like darkness offset by eyelashes seemingly dusted with tiny diamonds. She glides into the room, a vision of sorcery and grace, her limitless vanity made tolerable only by an incredible charisma. The fear and desire of onlookers is palpable; she adores it.
“Lady Gabrielle… I have heard lovely things about this play. Your idea certainly has merit.
I was actually born in Varisia. I was sent to Oppara for school at a young age, but as a youth I was well exposed to the culture of the land. Varisia and it’s fortunes wil always be close to my heart, and I am overjoyed that we have moved forward to embrace it.
There are few things more beloved in that superstitious land than music, song, and dance; bringing high art into the land is probably the least painful way to expose it to Taldan sophistication and mores; indeed, it is an inevitability that wonderful new actors and performers will be discovered there if performances are eventually cast locally. I do think it’s the best way to begin an acceptance of Taldor; that, and awareness of Taldor’s opposition to Cheliax, a common enemy.
However, it must be remembered that the Varisians are a proud people; they have a rich and ancient culture, and a very strong sense of cultural identity. To try to impose a duplication of Taldor there will be a mistake. The play you mention is involved with Varisian themes, but – and my apologies if I sound the critic, as I know nothing of its subject matter – it must demonstrate a respect for Varisian values, not an attempt to simply use a Varisian story to explicate Taldan mores. They will react negatively to such an exercise, for they are proud, but they know the more ”civilized” lands regard them as backwards and superstitious.
One of the great misconceptions – and this is especially problematic, I think, in Varisia – is that Taldor is very elitist and “classist”; in fact, it is a place which greatly rewards merit, but this is a fact seldom emphasized.
The idea that Taldan patronage can create opportunities for Varisians in Varisia will go far, I think.
As for the Szarni… they are a fact of life. A people who mistrust authority tend to seek social order in gangs; we see it in poor neighborhoods in large cities all the time. Varisia just happens to take this to a national scale. The Szarni are tolerated because they DO bring local security and opportunity to Varisians, especially those of low birth. But the Varisian is practical, and when opportunities for security and opportunity arise, they will take it, Szarni or no; they will weaken in time, but to try to attack the Szarni directly is to attack Varisian families. Best to work with the Szarni; they will fade in time.
If your play is very fine, the Szarni will not interfere with it; they are not foolish enough to stand between the Varisian and his entertainment.
One more thing – these are not a sophisticated people… yet. The Varisian likes a good show, so any entertainment there must deliver that. Think of what works in Oppara, and then make it a little more colorful, a little louder, the dance a little faster. And the pomp and parties? A little gaudier, the food a little spicier. These are not a subtle people!”
Whenever I see the Conjure Black Pudding spell I think "that would be awesome as a follow-up to a casting of a Pit spell". Even better, drop a Cloudkill into the Pit along with the Black Pudding for the pure cruelty of it.
I was GMing a PFS scenario a few month ago, and the party's wizard, after dropping a couple of key NPC enemies into a Pit, cast Mad Monkeys down into the Pit to steal all their stuff - it was good fun. He then Shadow Conjured a Stinking Cloud into the pet just to be mean.
Finally, Aqueous Orb is *made* to synergize with Pit spells.
Mechanical problems (which are significant) aside, I don't like it.
Here's why: a role-playing game is not about *the story*, it's about *the characters*.
I've been in a number of games in which the GM was "telling a story", and it simply isn't nearly as satisfying as the players telling their characters stories. A good GM develops a world - and obviously there are narratives happening in it; it's dynamic - in which the player characters' stories unfold. Sometimes that story is "and then he died", but that outcome should be the result of player decisions, not GM fiat or - even worse - a GM deliberately tricking the players into "participating" in a foregone (and lethal) conclusion.
Now, that said, I'm all for an evil wizard trying to bend the PCs to his will through trickery, and setting up a death trap for them upon success *or* failure (I've certainly run plenty of Shadowrun games where the employer decided to remove the "loose ends" - the PCs - with a troll death squad after a run!), but I think the "wrong" here is the INTENT: when a GM simply intends to kill the PCs from the outside, he's basically cheating them of their implicit right to influence the outcome of the game they're playing.
That depends on what you mean by "Spain" - which period?
Taldor is decidedly NOT Britain - its the generic decadent, opulent fading Empire - so it COULD be Spain post-Age of Exploration (it could also be Byzantium, easily).
Cheliax has quite a bit of the feel of Inquisitorial Spain, with the Hellknights and the rigid, legalistic system of oppression.
Overall, though, with its demented, inbred royalty, dreams of former glory, nobility stalled in a state of decaying splendor, AND menaced by "arabesque" foes (Qadira), I think Taldor is the most perfect "Spain".
A game of chess (which could take hours) should be at least as involved as resolving combat (which takes seconds); also, a simple skill check doesn't capture the back and forth, the tension, and the suspense of two well-matched players at chess.
From a playability standpoint, I guess I'd say that if chess is just a backdrop activity ("oh I'll go play chess with those guys") then resolve it with a roll (or if it's just being used for an income check); if the game is *important* ("okay, I challenge the archdevil to a game of chess...") then a more involved mechanic may be called for :)
Lots of good advice above which need not be repeated.
I've GMed at many cons, some small (local game days) and some large (Gen Con, DragonCon), and the greatest challenge, I find, is time management. You *really* need to run the scenario in 3.5 hours, because it never starts *right* on time, and there needs to be time for paperwork and so on before players rush off to their next table or to grab a quick bite.... before their next table.
At large cons, *usually* you'll be running one scenario multiple times, so you don't have to prep 4-5 scenarios - this allows you to become very familiar with the scenario; if you *are* running several different scenarios, it's a bit more challenging, but KNOW THE SCENARIO.
While you prep, it's worth planning ahead for what can be hand-waved, cut, or otherwise expedited; the key here is to accelerate play without simplifying the narrative or eliminating role-playing opportunities. Note that this does NOT mean cutting, say, a thug encounter along the road, necessarily - while it might not advance the narrative, it IS intended to divert/consume resources; maybe, instead, you remove some non-encounter rooms in a dungeon to expedite.
Or whatever - decide "what can we skim through" to keep in-time and complete the scenario while preserving its flavor and challenge?
Another valuable rule is the One Minute Rule - if a player takes more than a minute to decide his action, s/he auto-delays and the next player goes. This keeps combat dynamic as well, always a good thing.
I also can't emphasize enough the value of plenty of hydration and healthy snacks to keep blood sugar stable! Bottles of water, a cooler with carrots, fruit and so on. GMing is actually really taxing - at a six person table over four hours, the players spend about 40 minutes each in actual play (rolling dice, announcing actions, speaking in-character) while the GM "plays" the WHOLE TIME! Do that 2-3 slots per day for 2-3 days and it's a hike through the desert :)
(I ran 9 slots at Dragon Con one year with a sinus infection - hating life, I assure you...)
In short, my GM rules: Prepare, Manage, Annunciate, Hydrate... I probably need better words so it doesn't spell PMAH :)