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Douglas Muir 406's page

7,982 posts. 5 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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Scythia wrote:

Personally, I find Toughness, and the +2 to two skills feats to be very weak. Skill Focus not only seems weak to me, but is also used as a tax, nonsensically for Eldritch Heritage among others.

Toughness: If you're elf wizard with an 8 Con, Toughness increases your hp/level by almost 40%. As a practical matter, Toughness makes Con-dumping builds possible -- maybe not a great idea, but possible.

I've also seen it played the other way: a guy who played a barbarian who decided to just get as many hp as possible. Adding Toughness didn't make that much of a difference in practical terms (18 hp at first level instead of 17 is a pretty small marginal increase) but it was thematic and flavorful. Again, sometimes that counts for more than game utility.

Skill feats: These get underused, but some of them are actually pretty fantastic. Getting skills like Bluff, Intimidate and Diplomacy into the stratosphere can deliver some astonishing in-game effects; you can instantly turn hostile creatures neutral, get information, deliver mass debuffs, and warp the minds of enemies into believing all sorts of nonsense. Being able to hit high DCs on these is really useful, and these feats are how you do it. And then of course there's Perception. It's the most useful skill in the game, used again and again to detect enemies, find traps, and locate treasure. Anything that raises it is good, good, good.

If you're playing a mounted character, better Ride can save your life. If you're a rogue, anything that increases your Stealth, same same. If you're a highly mobile melee type, raising Acrobatics is going to save you from a lot of AoOs. If you're a party face, you have every reason to want Diplomacy and Sense Motive pumped up. And so on, and so on.

Now, all skills are not created equal; you're not going to see a lot of people investing in Skill Focus: Swim. But you can do a lot of good, fun and interesting things with the skill-boosting feats.

Doug M.

wraithstrike wrote:

Whirlwind attack is weak to me. Getting surrounded is not a good idea, and if you do get surround killing one of them is betting than hitting all of them once.

Whirlwind atttack may be tactically questionable, but it's cool as hell. That counts for a lot.

Also, it's a great feat for NPC brutes. Standard PC tactic is to flank-swarm single opponents, especially if the party is large, has summoned creatures or cohorts, etc. So once in a while it's nice to see the expression on their faces when the frost giant hits /every single one of them/.

(Combat reflexes can do this, too. Does the monster have reach? tactically clever PCs send the tank in first to soak up the AoO, then everyone else goes in to flank. But let them meet a single monster with combat reflexes, and suddenly they'll get a lot more thoughtful.)


The dodge feat is weak to me also. Actually any feat that only gives a +1 bonus to AC is weak.

A +1 bonus to AC that stacks with everything and works against combat maneuvers and touch attacks? That's a perfectly okay feat. Not great, but always okay.

Doug M.

Aw. You guys.

I did something sort of similar for the Erinyes a while back. Didn't catch as much attention, though.

-- BTW, I think Mikhail handled the denouement very well. He had to make a snap decision about which rule to use, and even if it wasn't precisely correct it was reasonable. It's better to think fast and come up with something reasonable than to stop the big dramatic scene for ten minutes of flipping through books to find the "correct" rule.

Also, the players had fun, and that's the ultimate test!

Doug M.

Hey gang -- I will be in the Washington, DC area for most of October and November. I don't think any of you live around there, but if you do, feel free to get in touch!

They'll remember the good Captain! (And if you want them to have the sword back, you can have the Cardinal fix it for them... after they've crushed Ballentyne.

There are multiple ways to storm Ballentyne; Gary deliberately wrote it that way. But don't forget that the defenders are lawful and intelligent. Run them as competent -- disappearances will be investigated, and if enough weird stuff happens they'll be on alert.

So what about Cardinal Thorn?:

Young Samuel Havelyn was always jealous of his older brother Thomas. Samuel was brilliant, charming, witty, cunning. Why should his dull, conscientious stick of a sibling get the title, the lands and the honor? Still, for a time he was able to content himself: their cousin, beautiful Bronwyn. She was always particularly kind to young Samuel. She listened! She understood! One day, one day --

And then the betrothal was announced.

In fact her kindness to young Samuel had been just that: sympathy for the younger brother, brilliant and frustrated, gentle consolation and a willing ear. But nothing more. Thomas -- not dull but honest and steadfast and good -- had her heart from the first.

But Samuel would never, ever let himself see that.

He turned to the Church, which met with wide approval: an altogether appropriate career for an ambitious younger son. He rose quickly. perhaps he hoped that prayer and hard work and success would soothe his pain. No. Always, always, jealousy gnawed and chewed at his soul.
And then one day, while researching the family history, he made an astonishing discovery: the Havelyns had not always been loyal servants of bright Mitra. They had converted from the worship of the devil-god Asmodeus. (Hence the family coat of arms. The hand thrusting through the mass of thorns... wisdom gained through great pain. for the conversion had not been easy, or without cost.)

At first it was just a matter of researching family history. But step by step, his feet found the downward path. The Church was full of hypocrites and inferior minds. the kingdom rewarded dullards, the servile and the weak. His Bronwyn was lost, lost! Why not explore a little further? And so the day came when Samuel Havelyn stood before a circle, knife dripping blood, and spoke certain words. And from the darkness within the circle, a sweet voice answered him. And they spoke together, long and long.

He prospered, for a time. A hidden servant of Asmodeus within the Church hierarchy: there was so much to do! But ever his mind turned back to her, to her.

And then one day he realized: his new master was a lord of trickery and deceit. So one day, while his brother was away on duty (always duty), he murmured softly, and gestured, and felt the thrill of the Dark Lord's power passing through him. And he looked in the mirror and saw his brother's face, his brother's pale blue eyes. And he left that place and went to the house where his brother lived with his beautiful, beautiful young wife.

And then, a little bit later, he slipped. How? who knows. Perhaps the satisfaction of desire so long deferred, at last fulfilled, made him careless. Whatever the reason, he was discovered. The evidence was found, or winkled out by magic. There was no question of his guilt. And no question of the sentence to be passed.

He burned. And after they burned him, they took his charred bones and interred them in the family crypt. Because for all his monstrous crimes, he was still a Havelyn, and the family took care of their own.
and when night fell, and the servants and gravediggers had long since departed (there were no mourners), and a thin crescent moon shone down on his tomb... he rose. For his hatred was stronger than death, and the Dark Lord had use for him.

and some months later, Lady Bronwyn died giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

* * * *

What was the Cardinal? -- a lich, the former Bishop Samuel Havelyn returned to walk the world as an undead abomination. That's why he always wore gloves: he has a lich's deadly touch. That's what he used on that Mitran monk up on the roof at the end of the battle. (It's also why the Arrow of Human Slaying did nothing to him.) Oh, and it's why he had a faint spicy smell around him: preservative spices, without them he gives off a faint unpleasant odor of burning flesh.

other clues? -- There were a few. The aveline / Havelyn. He planted an avenue of hazelnut trees outside his new lair, because he was used to them and liked to look at them. The family Scriptures found in his brother's apartment, with his name carefully scratched out. His familiarity with nobility and the Church. The name "Thorn" was a reference to the Havelyn family coat of arms. And of course the demonic dream sequences.

Why send you to kill his brother?:
-- He hated his brother Thomas. There were other places he could have started the attack, but he wanted it to be his Thomas' failure and Thomas' fault.

Wait, what about the baby?:
-- Ah hah. the baby grew up to be Sir Richard Havelyn, who was even a greater paladin than his father. In game terms, he was going to be a high level Champion of the Righteous, a terrifying optimized monk/paladin with incredibly deadly melee flurry/smites, ridiculously high AC and off-the-scale saves. In addition to being best friends with Janna, who of course was Irin's adopted daughter -- it 'was Sir Richard, as a young questing paladin, who saved her and nearly killed her mother.

In fact, that's how Cardinal Thorn found Irin in the first place. The Cardinal constantly (one might almost say, obsessively) watches over Sir Richard, both by magical and other means. Why? Because Richard Havelyn's paternity is obscure. It's not certain which of the two brothers fathered him -- the late Sir Thomas, formerly of Balentyne Castle, or his younger brother in magical disguise. But deep in his black and shriveled heart, the Cardinal is sure that Sir Richard is *his* son. His! The only son he will ever have. So when young Sir Richard was about to kill Irin (he got lucky, BTW -- caught her by surprise and made a couple of tough saves -- and even so, she wiped out all the rest of his party), the Cardinal, who was watching intently, intervened at the last moment to rescue her. If the fight had been going the other way, he'd have killed Irin to save him. Nobody can kill Sir Richard. He can be hurt, knocked down, humiliated, whatever -- that's fine, it may shake loose some of his faith in his ridiculous sun-deity -- but his life is under the Cardinal's protection. One day, he will claim his son. and one day, his son will love him.

So where was this going?:
Well, Sir Richard's destiny was to be the BBGG, your archenemy. Not only was he an alarming antagonist in his own right, not only could he assemble an equally alarming group of good-aligned characters to fight beside him, but you would find it very nearly impossible to kill him... because an epic level lich would be watching him at all times, and would intervene to make sure that he could never be permanently ended.

Of course, in the end this would bring the Cardinal down.

Because just as he watches his minions, Hell watches him. And Hell never sleeps. Already his diabolical patrons were sniffing a hint of weakness. Once they realized he was infected with sentiment -- with *love*, however twisted -- they would promptly begin searching for a suitable replacement. Or replacements. Some group ruthless and evil enough to take over the great scheme and complete it, toppling Talingarde screaming into Hell.

And so -- had we gotten that far -- your penultimate fight would be against Cardinal Thorn and his allies: the Ninth Knot versus the Cardinal, Sherkov, Sir Marcel, possibly Tiadora and Irin (or maybe not; there were subplots with both those, e.g. the whole thing with the pen), and others.

What was Tiadora?:
A Handmaiden (Gyllou) Devil with a couple of class levels. (This was pretty much given away by the bas-relief in the Cardinal's obstacle course, which showed a Gyllou with Tiadora's face. Nobody seemed to notice.) I designed a "tormentor" prestige class that basically did nothing but give her the ability to swap spells or SLAs in return for the ability to inflict carefully quantified amounts of pain.

Why did she serve the Cardinal?:
Because he knew her true name, and had used it to enslave her. That's why Irin was mocking her about freedom and calling her a "tool" and "machine" -- unbearable insults to a proud fiend forced to serve a mere mortal.

Normally, enslaving a fiend as like Tiadora would be crazy dangerous; not only is she herself powerful, cunning, and full of patient hate, but her superiors would take an interest. In the Cardinal's case, though, not only is he himself way powerful, but he's very much in Hell's favors at the moment; if Tiadora broke loose somehow and killed him, she'd be in even worse trouble. So she serves. For now.

(This goes a long way towards explaining Tiadora's sweet good nature. Gyllou devils aren't very nice to begin with, but she has good reason to be perpetually pissed off. Being a devil, she's happy to take it out on others.)

What was Irin?:
Irin was a rakshasa with a bunch of levels in the Harrower prestige class. Rakshasas start as the equivalent of 7th level sorcerors, so this made some sense. She's optimized for enchantment and mind control on one hand, divination and information on the other. You can find a crude first draft of her here; I added a level or two and did a lot of tweaking before I was quite content.

The backstory Irin gave you was true as far as it went -- she did indeed live for decades as the leader of a bunch of travelling Varisians, regularly taking new apprentices, keeping them for a while, then killing them and taking their place. Mind, there was more to that story than even she knew, since the paladin who defeated her was none other than Sir Richard Havelyn, son of the late Sir Thomas...

Cardinal Thorn did indeed save her life; in return, Irin signed a contract to serve him for seven years. That part is all true enough...

The Two Queens:

The Two Queens are two marilith generals, in service to the Mother of Monsters, who share a strange bond. And they're after the same thing you guys are: Talingarde. Except that where you want to take over the kingdom and remake it in your evil image, they want to destroy it pretty much completely.

The Queens have one strong hole card: a mole in the Cardinal's organization. So their plan is to let the Cardinal succeed up to a certain point... then sweep in, decapitate his network, and take over. At some point, you'd end up confronting their agents directly. And if *that* failed, the day might come (many levels down the line) when the Queens themselves would move against you.

Captain Odenkirk, BTW, had been recruited to the service of the Queens; not that hard, as he was already deeply evil, and his patron the Kraken is associated somehow with the Mother.

Okay, some spoilers for those who would rather not know.

Doctor Moon:

Doctor Moon was an epic level nalfeshnee. You were never supposed to actually fight him; he would stay pretty strictly offstage. He's chaotic evil, but he has a lot of other stuff going on; his interest in Talingarde is purely academic.

Kate/Zimu attracted his attention by messing with the Oracle, because he'd been watching the Oracle for reasons unconnected with your story. Snacking on her was a fairly chaotic act that gave Doctor Moon a foot in the door of Zimu's psyche. He was feeding her tidbits of information, half for his own amusement and half to see if he could turn her into a puppet of the Abyss.

Doctor Moon was loosely allied with the Two Queens. (Very loosely. You may recall that when their emissary the Spite-Captain annoyed him, he sent her back to them in a jar.) The Two Queens, now, had their own agenda -- and they were much more closely interested and engaged in the multi-cornered struggle for the fate of Talingarde.

Had the game continued, Doctor Moon would have popped up again, seemingly friendly, offering information. With strings attached, of course. Oh yes, with strings attached. But you could deal with him, if you were careful and clever, and had something interesting to trade...

You can find a discussion of Captain Odenkirk right here. That should give you enough to build him; note that you'll want to adjust to the particular strengths of your party.

Bag'o'Bones was an Adept -- the weak NPC spellcasting class -- who had taken a couple of levels in the Souleater PrC.

I believe the crew were mostly 2nd level warriors except for the first mate, who also had a level or two of expert.

MiniGM wrote:

Everyone had a blast and we have you to thank dmdm!

I miss this game and I hope that things are getting better for you!

Aw. Thanks a lot, man. I'm really glad your people are enjoying it.

At this point it does not look hopeful -- I'm still job hunting, and don't expect to have bandwidth for the campaign any time soon. I really don't think it's going to happen, guys.

However, I can offer two things. (1) if you have questions about what I was doing, or any of the various mysteries and oddities that popped up, feel free to ask. (2) I have some of the backstory written up and I'm thinking to post it; it's full of spoilers but, as noted, it probably doesn't matter now.

So, first -- questions?

Doug M.

Many thanks to everyone for your kind words and support. You've all been great players, and I'm already missing the campaign!

This campaign is on hiatus indefinitely.

Doug M.

Okay, gang. I have some bad news.

I just a few days ago found out that my workstream is being shut down. This means that I'm going to be unemployed starting in the middle of next month.

Now, this is not our first trip to the rodeo. The nature of consulting work is that there's really never job security. In fact, when we started the first campaign 18 months ago, in November 2012, I was freelancing. But this time we're being caught by surprise, after we had made various plans. So, we're scrambling a little.

This campaign has been a huge amount of fun, and often a very welcome distraction. But the next couple of months are going to be very up in the air, and I don't think I'll be able to give this the attention it deserves. I'm very sorry to end like this, but there it is.

Does this mean the end? Well, I'll leave the door open a crack -- if things settle down, and people are still interested, we could conceivably start things up again. But, realistically, we're probably looking at several months, and I would expect that you guys will have moved on to other things by then. So, not certainly the end, but very probably.

I have very much enjoyed playing with all of you, and if things ever break that way, I'd be delighted to game with you again, whether online or FTF. I am still coming to the US at the end of this month (tickets already bought) and will be passing through NYC, Washington DC, and Nashville. If you're anywhere near any of those places, drop me a note -- my address is "vormuir" in the domain men call yahoo dot com.

With respect and warmest regards,

Doug M.

Still waiting for a cite or official ruling on whether Detect Magic will auto-detect illusions. Anyone?

Doug M.

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Kryptik wrote:

It is interesting to note a certain amount of bias in the assumption that because I am a DM, I must have been abusing the poor players.

Kryptik, if you hang around tabletop gaming forums for a while you'll find that this is always the case. I don't mean that most people will draw this conclusion! Most will not. But there will always be a small but energetic minority who will respond WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING THE PLAYERS!?

Has one player come up with a clever build that's mowing down your monsters, and you're posting to ask for a way to respond? Nine out of ten posters will respond helpfully and constructively, but one guy will assume right away that YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOUR PLAYERS. Is one player doing something that's incredibly annoying and disrupting the game? Nine posters will offer helpful suggestions, but the tenth guy (it's always a guy) will want to know WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING HIM FOR HAVING FUN? Have your players developed a tactic that's going to ruin the awesome boss fight you have planned, and you want advice on how to fix the boss so she doesn't go down like a chump in Round One? YOU ARE PUNISHING YOUR PLAYERS FOR BEING CLEVER.

I don't know why this happens, but it does. It's not unique to Paizo -- I've seen it happen on Usenet and several other forums. There's no point in getting angry about it.

Doug M.

Zimu's assist roll: 1d20 ⇒ 4

Hangman's Noose.

Doug M.

Does anyone have a cite for the statement that Detect Magic detects illusions? Because the OP has a point -- if that's how things work, then a cantrip can shut down a whole category of spells. That just seems weird and wrong. Nobody's going to the trouble to cast a Major Image and burn a Permanence on it if some first level mook can see through it with a 0 level spell. Hallucinatory Terrain, 4th level spell? Don't bother. And so forth.

If that's how it works, that's how it works, but I'd like to see a cite to that effect.

Doug M.

Striking some sort of arrangement with Sylvie & Co. may be possible, but will require a Diplomacy roll for the party (and Bluff, if you're going to lie or seriously shade the truth.)

One person should roll for the party; up to two of you can Aid if you want to. I'd suggest working out who rolls what first...? If you want to present a well reasoned argument, that could give you a modifier.

Sylvie looks a bit nonplussed. "So, you're not just passing through? What are you doing in the Bryr, then? Hunting treasure?"

Well, it replaces your AC for one attack per turn. (Because you only get one immediate / swift action per turn.) So, don't rely on this to go toe-to-toe with a marilith.

But assume for argument's sake we want to play a straight rogue. Any thoughts on how best to build around this?

Doug M.

So, Snake Style.


Prerequisite: Improved Unarmed Strike, Acrobatics 1 rank, Sense Motive 3 ranks.

Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus on Sense Motive checks, and you can deal piercing damage with your unarmed strikes. While using the Snake Style feat, when an opponent targets you with a melee or ranged attack, you can spend an immediate action to make a Sense Motive check. You can use the result as your AC or touch AC against that attack. You must be aware of the attack and not flat-footed.

The need for Improved Unarmed Strike seems to make people think of this as a monk style. But it actually works pretty well with rogues too. A rogue has to pay a feat tax, but IUS is not a completely useless feat for a rogue -- it lets you make unarmed sneak attacks -- and, hey, you were going to invest in Acrobatics and Sense Motive anyway.

So let's say you're a human rogue. You take a 12 Wis and burn your human feat on Alertness. (Yes, you could also take Focused Study and Skill Focus. Keep it simple for now.) Take IUS at 3rd level and Snake Style at 5th, and now where are you? 5 ranks +3 class +1 Wis +2 Snake +2 Alertness = +13. So you'll average AC 23-24. That's pretty good! Then you'll increase by 1 AC per level, to 27-28 at 9th level. Then it'll jump to 30-31 at 10th level when your feat bonus increases to +4.

Negatives: the Sense Motive roll completely replaces your AC, so you don't get the benefit of buffs or spells or conditions that increase your AC. Haste, rings of protection, cover, whatever... none of them help if you're using this. And you must be aware of the attack and not flat-footed, so sneak and surprise attacks can still ruin your day. Also, it says when "an opponent" targets you, so I'd interpret that to mean it doesn't work against traps that make attack rolls.

Positives: the Sense Motive roll completely replaces your AC, so you aren't harmed by debuffs or conditions that damage your AC. If I understand correctly, you can be nude, prone, entangled, and have your Dex cursed down to 1, and you can still have AC 40 if your Sense Motive roll is high enough. In the long run, you're probably going to save a lot of money on AC-boosting items; they're not completely useless, but they're definitely a lower priority now. And, oh yeah, it works against touch attacks too. Do your worst, Mr. Bad Touch Cleric.

Okay then: assume a rogue build that's still otherwise functional as a rogue. Just how high can you crank your Sense Motive?

Doug M.

1) The RAW says that "when an opponent targets you with a melee or ranged attack, you can spend an immediate action to make a Sense Motive check. You can use the result as your AC or touch AC against that attack." Now, that second "can" seems to suggest that you have a choice -- you can make your Sense Motive roll and then choose either to use it or, if it's very low, your actual AC. Is this correct? Or if you choose to make the Sense Motive roll, are you stuck with whatever you roll?

2) "Use the result as your AC... against that attack." There seems to be a general consensus that this means you do NOT apply any AC modifiers, good or bad. So, you don't get dex bonus, monk's wisdom bonus, or bonuses from spells or buffs. On the other hand, you don't lose AC from debuffs, being prone, being entangled or having other bad conditions, etc. You could have a 3 Dex, be prone and entangled and still have a 35 AC if your Sense Motive is high enough. Correct?

Thanks in advance,

Doug M.

"I've never seen Booger and I don't want to." Sylvie glances over her shoulder involuntarily. "They say you never see him until he comes for you. They say he can go invisible, or turn into a mist. They say Lady Calliaste tried to kill him with her enchanted bow, but he became a vapour. A vapour that laughed at her, and oozed into the ground... Weegee is a creature of blood and rage and hate, they say? Well, Booger is a creature of terror.

"There was a group of people in the forest -- bandits, I suppose they were. Maybe they did something to annoy or offend Booger. Or maybe he just found them and thought it was funny. He killed them all over three days. He played with them, killing one at a time, but using terror to force them to flee ever deeper into the forest. My uncle met one just before he died. He was screaming and raving about a black axe, the man with the black axe. Later we found his body, stiff and convulsed. No blade had touched him, but his heart had burst.

"We stay well clear of Weegee and Booger, and we advise you do the same."

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"What kind of creatures are we? I told you -- we are the Poimenikoi, the Shepherds.

"The world needs predators to keep it in balance. And what predator is more perfect than the spider? Hunger distilled into beauty, the joyful architecture of the web, the absolute stillness of the ambush, the perfect arc of the leap. But the predators themselves must be watched, sometimes cared for and sometimes culled.

"There's a story that long ago, the spiders of the Underdark fell under the sway of a Demon Queen. And the dark elves who served Her made the spiders their servants and steeds, their pets and playthings. And they awakened some of the spiders to thought and speech, the better to serve. And in time, they gave the very cleverest of these thinking spiders the ability to take a shape like their own, and walk among them. For they were masters of the flesh and the shaping of the flesh, and this amused them greatly. And these, some say, were the first Shepherds, servants of the dark elves who were servants of the Queen.

"But the Shepherds did not share the cruelty and wickedness of their masters. They only wanted what was best for their kin. For even though they had thought and speech, still there was the bond of blood and silk. And they saw that their masters were mad.

"So they rebelled, and fled with their herds and flocks to the green forests of the Overlight. The dark elves pursued them, and many died. Some of the flocks were recaptured, and their children serve the dark elves yet. But many escaped, and have dwelt in the world above for long these many years. Not in peace, for the spider does not know peace. But in freedom, and in balance.

"Or so some say. That is a very old tale, and if it is true I do not know.

"We are the Shepherds."

"That's... unorthodox. But, all right." Sylvie reaches out her hand for the gem. (Mark it off the group treasure, please.)

"There are two dragons, and they're green. They showed up about six months ago. Some say they're the spawn of a bigger, older dragon that lives to the west, far away by the sea. I don't know where their lair is, but if you go more than a day's travel west, you'll run into them.

"They're gradually expanding their range, driving out competitors. They can fly, and breath clouds of acid, so they're hard to fight. We can go to cover under the trees, but even there they are formidable opponents. They have magic, and can cause branches and vines to wrap around their targets. I've seen them make prey become foolishly friendly to them, and use some kind of light spell to daze and stun their targets.

"One -- I think it is the female -- is a bit bigger; she seems to be dominant. Usually she stays on high, breathing and casting spells, while the other closes in to fight on the ground."

Sacred Tattoo + Fate's Favored is a nice hack! I wasn't aware of it. Wow, that gives this build very respectable saves. At 6th level your base saves are now Fort +4 Ref +7 Will +5, which puts you roughly equal to the monk (+5/+5/+5). At 12th level you're still competitive with the monk -- +6/+10/+8 vs. +8/+8/+8. That's impressive.

Thematically, I think intimidate is a better fit than Endurance. Keep in mind that Intimidate is attractive because it gives you an alternative action you can choose with Let Fate Decide -- use Diplomacy / Intimidate, attack / Intimidate, and so forth. Similarly, the big damn half-orc weapon is mechanically good, but thematically not a great fit. (And the Quicker Than The Eye ability nudges you towards light weapons anyway.)

Snake Style with Skill Focus could be pretty amazing. It does get a little feat-intensive -- that's three feats in order to get great AC (sometimes). Glutton is right: combination with Focused Study would be the way to go, if human. (Question about Snake Style: it says "You can use the result as your AC or touch AC against that attack". Does that mean you /must/ use the result? Or can you choose, so that if you rolled really badly, can you keep your normal AC? The wording favors the latter to me.)

Doug M.

Jax Naismith wrote:
"Nothing, simply curious. Your plight..intrigues me. With so many spiders to feed, why do you not prey upon the nearby city?"

Sylvie frowns, clearly debating whether this is a "question". Finally she says, "That would be... a tactic of desperation. Feeding upon people, or their herds, would bring the people down on us in force. There's no shortage of food in the forest. That's not the problem. We just have to find a corner of the forest where we can take over as top predators."

Ah hah. Okay.

It's interesting, because I've noticed this once or twice before -- 3PP sales happening over there, but not here. Thanks for the explanation!

Doug M.

So close! Full price.

[raises hand] Please excuse my ignorance, but why are these items on sale at DriveThru and d20, but not here on the Paizo site? I ask because I'm intrigued -- by all accounts these are great products -- but I don't have accounts at either of those other two stores.

Doug M.

Buying poison:

Ulp, if you can make a DC 15 Sense Motive check -- untrained, I believe -- you'll realize that Sylvie is rather naive about money, and you'll be able to buy poison from her at half price. (Whether this is a good idea is a separate question.) A successful Bluff check could bring the price down even lower, but you don't have Bluff as a skill, and a failed check could backfire.

You can buy up to eight doses of Drow Poison, and four doses of Medium Spider Venom.

I'm inclined to think human... what's the particular benefit of half-orc?

Doug M.

The Swindler is probably my favorite part of the new Harrow Handbook. It's not particularly powerful, but it's the most flavorful archetype I've seen from Paizo in a while now. So, let's explore this guy a little. If we build a Swindler out to, say, 10th level, what are some interesting directions we could take?

Let Fate Decide (Ex): At 1st level, the Sczarni swindler can declare two different actions that rely on different types of rolls or checks, such as attacking a creature (an attack roll) or sneaking past the same creature (a Stealth check). As a standard action, the swindler then uses a random method to choose one of the declared activities, such as flipping a coin, rolling a die, or drawing a harrow card... If the swindler then performs the chosen activity within the next round, she gains a luck bonus on the roll type required for that activity — attack rolls with a specific weapon, a specific skill check, a specific ability check, or a specific saving throw—equal to half her rogue level (minimum +1) for 1 minute. If the swindler performs any other action (whether declared or not) in the round after using this ability, she becomes shaken for 1 minute instead. The swindler can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + her Charisma modifier. This ability replaces trapfinding.

As I've said already, I love this ability; it's very situational, but it's flavorful as hell. And if you combine it with the Fate's Favored trait (+1 to any luck bonus), then it gets a lot better, especially at low levels; a situational +2 on attack rolls, saves and skill checks at levels 1-3 is nothing to sneeze at.

In build terms, this ability encourages you to invest in being a skill monkey. You'd do that anyway, of course, but it particularly favors skills like Bluff and Intimidate. These in turn encourage you to boost your Cha. (Which is a problem with the Swindler: he's MADdy. We'll get to that.)


Quicker Than the Eye (Ex): At 2nd level, when the Sczarni swindler uses Sleight of Hand, creatures take a penalty on their Perception checks equal to half the swindler’s class level to notice the attempt. The swindler also reduces the normal –20 penalty by an amount equal to her class level when attempting a Sleight of Hand check as a move action instead of as a standard action. Lastly, the swindler can draw hidden weapons or objects from her person as a move action instead of the usual standard action. This ability replaces evasion.

This is identical to the ability gained by the Halfling Filcher rogue archetype. Which is fine; I don't mind Paizo occasionally recycling stuff, and it's a nice fit here.

So, where does this lead us in build terms? Well, investing max ranks in Sleight of Hand, obviously. You're an accomplished pickpocket, and... um, what do people use SoH for besides picking pockets? The reduced penalty means that at higher levels you can SoH twice in a round, or use SoH and do something else. I'm honestly not sure how great that is -- this isn't a skill I or my players use much -- so I'm open to suggestions. Finally, the "draw as a move" is great for sneak attacks from a flat start: you're standing there chatting and then, wham. An interesting question is whether you could combine this with the Quick Draw feat ("draw a weapon as a free action instead of as a move action; draw a hidden weapon as a move action") to draw a hidden weapon as a free action. I could see arguments on either side on that one.

Poker Face (Ex): At 3rd level, the Sczarni swindler gains a +1 bonus on Bluff, Profession (gambler), and Sense Motive checks. This bonus increases by 1 for every 3 levels beyond 3rd. The Sczarni swindler can also attempt to feint against non-humanoid targets without penalty, though she still takes a –8 penalty on feint attempts against creatures with animal intelligence and she cannot feint against mindless creatures. This ability replaces trap sense.

I have mixed feelings about this one. Bonuses to three skills, two useful and one flavorful -- okay. Feinting against non-humanoids is nice, and thematically consistent. It does mean you'll want to invest in Improved Feint, which is fine for a rogue except you have to pay the wretched Combat Expertise [hawk, spit] feat tax.


No Fool (Ex): At 4th level, the Sczarni swindler gains a

+1 bonus on Will saving throws. This bonus increases by 1 for every 4 levels beyond 4th (to a maximum of +5 at 20th level). This ability replaces uncanny dodge.

Nice, and thematic. Worth giving up Uncanny Dodge? Less certain. But note that if you throw Iron Will in there, you have about the same Will save as your average wizard or sorceror.

Cheat Fate (Ex): At 8th level, once per day, the Sczarni swindler can reroll any one d20 roll she has just made before the GM has revealed the result. She must take the result of the second roll, even if it is worse. The swindler can use this ability twice per day at 14th level, and three times per day at 20th. This ability replaces improved uncanny dodge.

Normally I dislike reroll powers. (Don't get me started on the stupid samurai and his wretched resolves.) At least this is thematic. An interesting question is whether it can be used together with the Let Fate Decide feature. I'd say yes -- you can roll a d20 to determine your coin flip, right?

So, building. You want to have good Dex, decent Int, decent Cha for all those Cha-based skills, and don't dump Str and Con since you'll be a second-rank fighter. Ugh -- that's really MADdy. A 15 point build might look something like Str 13 Con 12 Dex 14 Int 12 Wis 10 Cha 13 -- if you're human or half human, bump Dex +2, and put your first two level-ups on Str and Cha. Alternately, Str 14 Con 12 Dex 15 Int 10 Wis 8 Cha 13, +2 on Dex, level-up Dex and then Cha. Either way, resign yourself to being a character who is good at a wide range of things without being outstanding at anything. Such is the life of the MAD PC.

Skills: human with 10 Int or other with 12 Int = 9 ranks per level. Max out Bluff, Diplomacy, Perception, Sense Motive, and Sleight of Hand. Throw one rank every 3 levels at Acrobatics, Appraise, Disguise, Intimidate, Knowledge (local), Profession (Gambler) and three other skills of your choice.

Traits: Fate's Favored, of course. Reactive is hard to avoid. Anything else that might go with this?

Feats: well, Improved Initiative is a no-brainer for a rogue. Combat Expertise (sigh) and Improved Feint would come next. And then Skill Focus (Bluff). Then the question becomes, do you take other stuff from the Combat Expertise tree? Like, Improved Disarm combined with the Advanced Talent Weapon Snatcher, since he's going to be maxing Sleight of Hand anyway. And I think Iron Will would go in there somewhere. Otherwise, open to suggestions.

Rogue Talents: Well, the ones that let you reroll Bluff and Sleight of Hand checks. Weapon Snatcher, see above, when you reach 10th level. What else?

Role-playing: Have a name that ends in a vowel, and at least one gold tooth.


Doug M.

Sylvie folds her arms. "We said three questions, and we answered in full. What's a fourth one worth to you?"

"A tower with treasure? Yes, the dragons were asking about exactly that. Bastards. We didn't know anything about it."

"Well, where to start. I mean... lots of things here are dangerous. But if I had to pick a few, I'd start with the cursed dragons. They're what we're running from. There's no bargaining with them -- we tried.

"Old One-Eye is damn near as bad as a dragon himself. Wish we could bring them together -- whoever lost, the rest of us would win. He mostly stays near the swamp, though. So do the frogmen. Don't know if I'd call them dangerous -- most of them are pretty stupid -- but they can panic the unwary with their calls, and some of them are competent fighters.

"There are a lot of fey in the Bryr, and some are pretty dangerous. There's Dark Calliaste and her pack. But she's never bothered us. One of our cousins spoke to her once. He was loopy and strange for a long time afterwards, though. She can mess with your mind, and that's without even trying.

"There are some fey who live to the south of here -- Weegie and Booger. One is bad and the other is worse. Stay clear of them. There's a very sweet dryad around somewhere. I guess she's a dryad? She moves around, though. She's nice, but she survived an argument with Weegie, so I guess she could be dangerous if you messed with her trees or something.

"Actually, leaving the trees alone is generally a good idea. There are tree-shepherds in here, who care for the trees the way we care for the spiders. There's a big one just a few miles from here who watches over the old stair. The Guardian, they call him, though I don't know what he's supposed to be guarding. Nice old guy, a bit dim. Wish he'd do something about the dragons, but I guess as long as they're not killing a lot of trees, the tree-shepherds don't much care. There's a story that one of them went mad a while back and hung a lot of people from its branches. Maybe they were messing with the trees? Best leave them alone.

"There used to be wyverns but the dragons have been killing them off fast. Dragons hate wyverns, I guess?

"There are all sorts of wild beasts. Bears, giant boar. I'm pretty sure there's another Trucido out there somewhere. We'd find spoor once in a while, you know, wild boar sucked dry, things like that. But she's terribly shy, poor thing, and now with these dragons and all...

"Anyway. Dangerous denizens? Yes, lots."

So, Questions #2 and #3 are "other dangerous denizens of the forest" and "rumors of a tower". Okay!

"I said -- we are the Shepherds. You see the remnants of our flock around you." She grimaces. "I am Sylvie. You have already met my brother. We have been driven out of our homes, further to the west. We need to find new pastures, someplace rich in life to feed upon. But the way south is blocked, and we know little of the forest to the east.

"So, we may need to live among the... people, for a time. That is why we have claimed this road for a little while, so that we can take money from the few travellers that pass by. Money is a thing we have little use for normally, but we know the people prize it highly. But soon the flock will eat this corner of the woods bare, and then we will have to move on."

To bring it back closer to the OP: you could also use this archetype to create a Two-Face style gang boss. If your players are familiar with Two-Face (and, at this point, who isn't) you could instead have him pull out a Harrow deck. Of course, since the bonus only lasts one round, this won't always have an effect in game terms. But so what? A powerful NPC who is chaotic neutral and whose responses are to some extent random is an interesting and alarming prospect. (Not completely random -- that would be stupid. But he pulls the cards out whenever there's not a clear and obvious choice. Random enough to make him unpredictable.)

Doug M.

Slight tangent: playing a Sczarni Swindler multiclassing into Arcane Trickster would be flavorful as hell. Unfortunately, the Swindler bases a lot of its class attributes on rogue level, which means you'd never get full advantage of it.

Doug M.

"Dren, you seemed to have something on your mind as to what you wished to ask. I confess to simply wanting to know more about these two and their pets."

To speed things along, shall we say that's your first question? "Who are you, to be traveling around the forest in such... company?"

Fate's Favored: of course! And that means that at levels 1-3, you're intermittently getting +2 on attacks, saves and skill checks. That is pretty sweet.

A think that occurs to me is, for one of your choices you pick something harmless that requires a roll. So, you encounter a trap that needs disarming: "Well, heads I'll roll for Disable Device, tails I'll try this really sweet breakdancing move that requires a DC 20 Perform (Dance) check." Heads and you get a sweet bonus on your disarm, tails and you're no worse off than you were.

Okay, that's legal under RAW but kind of obnoxious and I as DM would probably disallow it. Second possibility, you make one choice be something that's hypothetically useful but probably not. "Okay, heads the trap, tails I stare hard at the walls looking for a secret door that might perhaps be there."

Doug M.

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From the new Guide to the Harrow comes the Sczarni swindler rogue archetype, which includes this class ability:


Let Fate Decide (Ex): At 1st level, the Sczarni swindler can declare two different actions that rely on different types of rolls or checks, such as attacking a creature (an attack roll) or sneaking past the same creature (a Stealth check). As a standard action, the swindler then uses a random method to choose one of the declared activities, such as flipping a coin, rolling a die, or drawing a harrow card. The specific method doesn’t matter as long as there is an equal chance of either activity being chosen. If the swindler then performs the chosen activity within the next round, she gains a luck bonus on the roll type required for that activity — attack rolls with a specific weapon, a specific skill check, a specific ability check, or a specific saving throw — equal to half her rogue level (minimum +1) for 1 minute. If the swindler performs any other action (whether declared or not) in the round after using this ability, she becomes shaken for 1 minute instead. The swindler can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + her Charisma modifier. This ability replaces trapfinding.

Now this is the sort of flavorful-as-hell thing that I wish Paizo would do more of. Try to disable the trap, or just dodge its effect? Coup-de-Grace the captive, or set him free with a Diplomacy roll? It's not all that powerful in game terms -- the fact that it's a standard action really nerfs it for most purposes -- and I could wish it were a little more clearly written, but it's /cool/. You read it and you're like, okay, I would play this archetype just so I could go around flipping my lucky gold piece.

Anyway, I just wanted to put this out here: can anyone think of particularly clever ways to use this? It seems like it should be moderately exploitable... anyone?

Doug M.

Let's hold off on poison haggling until we've resolved (1) whether there's still going to be a fight, and (2) any other matters of mutual interest.

She looks surprised, then thoughtful. "Well, I suppose I could milk one of the hens and... uh, sell you some?" She shakes her head. "I didn't know people would buy poison. I guess it makes sense, though."

(So, is Jax healing Bruno? Is anyone else doing anything? Does anyone want to ask these guys any question, or shall we just say "encounter over" and move on?)

Ulp wrote:

You like spiders. Are they poison?

She is nonplussed. "Did you just ask..." She shakes her head. "Yes. Yes, they're poison. Some more, some less." She touches one of the little spiders on the tree near her. It's a gentle touch, almost a caress. "For protection, and for the swifter dispatch of their prey. It's a kindness, usually."

Jax Naismith wrote:
"We agreed to heal the loser upon defeat. I will be using a heal spell on your brother. Do not attack me or discover what ither tricks we have up our sleeves."

"All right. Do anything but heal him, and we'll see how your tricks hold up against a few dozen virosus. Go on, then." She waves one hand.

Knowledge (Nature) DC 23:

Ampullae virosus, the poison-bottle spider, the reddish guys with black legs who've been scuttling around. About the size of a child's hand. You'd have little to fear from one or two of them. If she can really call up dozens of them, though... that would be a lot.

Spellcraft DC 21:

That "go ahead" waving gesture was the beginning of a spell. Just the beginning, though -- she's not actually casting. In game terms, she's readying an action.

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