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What you're saying is hardly unreasonable at all. Boiled to its essence, you're saying:
I want a character who doesn't require much suspension of disbelief be expended to explain why he runs with group X for an equal share of the treasure. (A very very few groups with level-shares or other 90s start-up like treasure division rules excepted).
So what you want is a character in the same general optimization envelope. If you're a more intrinsically powerful class, like wizard, optimize less than the party average, if less so, like a rogue or fighter, optimize more.
Were I redoing all of the classes, I'd have this at the top of my mind:
It is REALLY hard to balance classes with burst/nova power against sustained DPR/utility power over the constellation of game types. The fighter, and to a lesser extent, the rogue, don't really have a lot of N times a day burst powers. This makes their balance point exceptionally sensitive to how the game is run. That in turn tends to make all sorts of metagame intrusion come into play (artificially forcing timetables and number of encounters/day for balance reasons rather than in-game reasons). So honestly, were I doing a rebuild, I'd arrange fighters and rogues to have significant 'burst-type' powers.
The central problem with the rogue is this:
Very few GMs are willing to let success/failure/whether and adventure happens at all ride on a skill check. And, of those that are, very few don't consider the skills that the party actually HAS in setting the DC. Thus if you're incredibly tricked out for high DCs as a rogue, well, those challenges will either be optional and/or set to not feel trivial given your skills. These metagame issues seriously hammer the rogue in anything but a hardcore simulationist game (where, for instance, the DC for gather information about plot X is Y, no matter what level you are or what your party composition is because its the DC that is set by plot X's spymaster's skills and the quality of his counterintelligence network).
The harshest setting-specific rules I've used for casters basically combined this:
Melee (and ONLY melee) full attacks took a standard action (thrown and ranged full attacks still took everything but your 5' step that round).
My observations with this is that groups of 6 STILL took an arcane and a divine caster, they just stacked the group with less of them than they usually did.
My take is this: Are you sundering for metagame reasons or because it is reasonably the best option available for THAT particular NPC as he perceives it at this time? Most of the time when you do sunder, you could have killed or crippled the guy whose stuff you just attempted to sunder almost as easily. Pathfinder damage/SOS/SOD tends to be really fast. There are some exceptions (like the superarmored tank that for whatever reason you can't just SOD/SOS) where sunder is actually an optimal move. But you DO carry multiple holy symbols/spell component pouches don't you? All my players do, even if they're not spellcasters. All part of strategic deception.
The biggest strength of the 'God Wizard' style is this.
Here's an exercise for players. Estimate what the success rate is for your SOD/SOS spells used on BBEGs, Major minions, and minor minions as a function of the number of rounds that have passed in climactic encounters. I wager in most cases you'll find an upward trend as the encounter goes on that can not be accounted for by the various debuffs, dispels, etc that you've done or by expiration of limited duration effects. I would wager also that the slope would be steepest for BBEGs and nearly flat for minor minions. Frankly, future editions of the game ought to work this way---making such spells useful only after targets are significantly weakened.
One big meta narrative I've used a lot is this:
I've rarely had any problems with system mastery gulfs at the level of players <-> GM. I don't believe in or require deus ex. There is precisely one thing that will regularly and predictably get you killed in my games. That thing is going after things or going into areas that are out of your league, either by intention or lack of due diligence in doing your pre-adventure research. You see, if you're a level 6 party of highly anti-optimized characters, and all you think you can handle are garden variety orcs, well, you CAN target said orcs. As a GM I'll make challenges of all sorts available to your party, and if you've got initiative, you can often engineer your own, and most of the time, you get to choose what your party does. The exception is the 'red cell', where another faction actively targets you instead, but this usually happens only as blowback and usually only at higher levels. The only thing I use the CR system for really is determining treasure and experience. My encounters don't really give a damn what level or competence your pcs possess. The onus is on the players to identify and go after challenges that they can handle.
Going REALLY old school here:
Our ancient Greeks are basically saying 10% of the male population are essentially 4-F...invalids. 80% are commoners. 9% might have some actual class, and 1% are heroic.
His observation is very old, but it still holds true today to a large extent. For instance, if you take the top few percent of fighter aces you'll find that they account for a ridiculously disproportionate share of the total kills achieved by an air force. Some WWII aces are pretty obviously the equivalent 4th-6th level in a world populated mostly by 1st and 2nd level people, many with NPC classes.
Take this guy, for instance:
Kirth Gersen wrote:
Here's a few:
Humans frequently call dwarves squats. Sometimes also 'grubbers' (money or gold is assumed in front of it). Humans call kua-toa (a KOS race if there ever was one) 'gogglers', although that's something of an old-timer slur. Drow are often referred to by a word that loosely translated, means 'pervert' (although not in Golarion because most don't know of the existence of Drow).
Elves frequently call humans 'mayflies'. Longer lived races than elves (or immortal elves) refer to humans as 'ephemerals'.
Dwarves view humans as soft, and halflings as even softer. Marshmallow is the slur they use.
But if you want something less extreme, perhaps send a few skunks with animal friendship to take up residence in the inn's basement or crawlspace?
I've actually made some bones as a teacher before, in several areas although mostly in engineering. Here's my observation.
For just about every discipline there exists a talent. Sometimes it's intelligence, sometimes it is musical aptitude, sometimes it is mostly athleticism, but pretty much always it exists and it is very important.
A discipline or a task has an intrinsic difficulty. If your talent is equal to that difficulty, you will find learning that task 'challenging'. In a non-grade inflated world, if your talent equals the difficulty, and you work the average amount, you're probably a C student. If you're a sigma above (in PF terms, +2 attribute) you'll find it easy. If you're 2 sigmas above, it is very easy, 3 sigmas, trivial. If you're a sigma below, you'll find it hard, to be a C student requires twice as much effort as someone a sigma higher. If you're two sigmas below, you'll find it nearly impossible. Four times the effort (sweating blood) MIGHT get you there.
NPC classes have lower levels of intrinsic difficulty. For instance, the nominal difficulty level of 'Warrior' might be (Str or Dex) 12 with the other no lower than 10. For fighter it might be (Str or Dex 14 with the other no lower than 12. Thus warriors greatly outnumber fighters despite a fighter being 'better'.
Games that do stat + skill where skill has exponentially increasing costs to raise are in my experience, VERY close to reality. You can normally make up a sigma of talent by working twice as hard, but at some point, you just plain can't work twice as hard because you have only so many hours in a day. This is particularly true in music. Say you're a guy with +0 sigmas in musical ability. Someone with, say +3 sigmas will start out better than you, learn way quicker, and top out (hit their wall of very slow further improvement) way higher than you. The +4 and +5 sigma folks are just plain sick, sometimes being able to gain proficiency in new instruments in a matter of a few days.
Another thing to consider. The tactic of using spells on scrolls higher level than you can cast scales very poorly for armies---ESPECIALLY low trust armies. Consider. a 5d6 fireball in the hands of a level 1 wizard. He makes a caster level check with a DC of 6 I believe. That fails about 25% of the time. Then a DC5 wisdom check for a backfire, with the stipulation that it always fails on a 1. So if you use a lot of these, you're going to get a lot of backfires by military standards, many of which generate 'friendly fire', or friendlies on fire. What's worse though, you're likely to get a fair number of 'backfires'---where it didn't really backfire per the roll. The unpredictability of the weapon creates a very useful 'plausible deniability' mechanic does it not? They're great for adding punch for small groups where trust is implicit, but large organizations IMO will steer clear of them most of the time.
In general though, the higher the magic level in an engagement, the more the tactics are going to migrate towards skirmish formations and more modern tactics. Lower magic levels (or groups with really really good counter-magic capabilities) will gravitate towards close order troops and massed charges (getting hit in skirmish formation or even open order by an attack column or even a line gets you massacred most of the time).
Generally the way I run investments in my games is this:
Now investments have two factors that increase their profitability. The first is what guys like Warren Buffet call an 'economic moat'. That is, is there a substantial factor preventing your product from being a pure commodity (like a South Dakota wheat farmer)? Are the minerals from the mine particularly rare, is their access particularly easy (think Sutter's Mill from the CA gold rush), do you have access to super productive miners by comparison to the median miner? etc.
The 2nd is the risk involved. Given the infestation of demons and other monsters, etc in your mine, that factor is taken as given.
The next step is what I call 5/10/15. Investments neither risky nor with economic moats return 5%. With one, 10%, with both, 15%. This is after all taxes, wages, fees, bribes, normal security costs, etc.
So if a risky mine with an economic moat (say it's the main source of bloodstone gems, sound familiar?) would return 15% with an initial worth of, say, 10,0000 gp. Each year it'd return 1500 gp, and you could further invest in it (investment possibilities are pretty obvious, expansion of the mine, improvement of extraction, etc), all returning around 15%. But every few years, as it's risky, the GM is free to plague you with some new issues, like the deep earth gate to hell.
If you're in a position to accept a surrender, ask them to. If you accept the surrender, honor your those terms agreed to and treat your prisoners mercifully. Honor prisoner exchange and ransom conventions for the culture you're in. If your foes show any inclination towards redemption once they've surrendered, encourage it. If they don't surrender, but you've got overwhelming superiority, occasionally subdue them and take them prisoner. Try to ensure that you've got the resources to allow you to take prisoners and accept surrenders as often as is practical. Never, ever, accept a surrender and then violate the terms of such. If you can't honor the terms of a surrender, don't accept it and let them accept the wager of battle.
You know what I find funny about PvP?
The reason why is that as a GM I seriously frown on players attempting to exploit the 'PC' stamp on their character's forehead. A party in being isn't required to accept any new character from any player. I won't play narrative games generally to browbeat the other players into green-lighting your character. If, for instance, the four characters that form your group 'The Party of Four' want to expand to 'Party of Five', and you're making a new character, it must be at least reasonably credible that you're what they'd choose based on the options available to them. Pretty much never will you have a stalwart paladin in one of my games answering the question---why are you adventuring with those amoral rogues? with---well, they're PCs and social conventions require I game with them. This lack of default acceptance of new characters (or even of the other characters at game start, we generally have a metagame discussion on why these characters will throw in together prior to character generation) seriously cuts down the motivation for PvP. If you had the choice, would you create an unstable powderkeg of rage?
What really terrifies Players, in my experience is the combination of this:
1) A GM style that doesn't give a damn about CR, APL, etc. While Narrativists sometimes achieve this via literary fudging, the alien inscrutable simulationist inspires a lot more terror because he is perceived as not caring.
Normally in simulationist games, the party has the initiative the overwhelming majority of the time. Sure, evildoers and otherwise are doing their thing all the time, but most of the time, that thing is reasonably orthogonal to what it is that you're doing. Often it's not even local to you and even more often, you're oblivious to it. But when you're running horror, those zombie hordes are COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. If you look at the plot of a lot of these movies, books, etc, the turning point is essentially when the protagonists regain their balance and start executing a plan to take the initiative. Essentially you're in a box (in truly global horror, that box is the whole world), and the forces of evil are setting fire to it. If you're outside the box, it's not really horror to you, you can usually at least contest the initiative.
Make up a bunch of set piece encounters at various levels of power. For instance, orcish outpost, goblin lair, ogre family, troll den, giant steading, etc.
Random encounters that aren't set piece are even easier. Just make a table for each area with natural CR segregation plus niche segregation. Apply the 80/20 rule. Try to have a big bag of encounters to make use of. I'm still using a lot of the same encounters I outlined back in 1st edition and BECMI, with some minor conversion required for each edition. The key is, in sandbox/simulationist, it doesn't matter what your APL or party size is (although bigger parties will be seen further away). If the standard patrol size for monsters of this type near their lair is X, you're likely to meet X of that monster. You spend a lot more time in this style worldbuilding, but way way less tailoring. Your PCs have the onus on them to gather sufficient information to determine what risks they're willing to hazard.
Here's my perspective.
Actually Mr Fishy, I'd disagree. Player competence IS a class issue. Casters are no problem even for fairly inexperienced GMs in the hands of players of low competence and system mastery. The majority of the caster-martial imbalance comes when the levels of competence and system mastery are high. While martials benefit a fair bit from having a better player, casters benefit exponentially.
With my male friends, things are much more solution-oriented. The emotional support I provide is much more implicit than explicit, usually manifested as 'let's go do something totally unrelated to this together, which has the unspoken purpose of demonstrating that I have your back'.
I've tried using male grief processing techniques with women. Did it a lot in my earlier relationships as a teenager. Found that it doesn't work and it frequently blows up very badly.
My working definition of game balance: As many of the following are true as possible
1. Combined arms groups (groups with martials of varied types about equal in number or slightly more numerous than casters) are more effective than more one-dimensional groups. I want a self-interested group of players with few hard class preferences to present me with groups like fighter, paladin, rogue, wizard, cleric NOT cleric, wizard, wizard, bard, druid.
In the older traditions of my denomination, a wedding was really simple. The couple just stood up in church and announced that they were married. If nobody objected, it was just that, done. In more recent times, a pastor who is marrying at least one member of their congregation usually charges an exceptionally minimal fee---less than the equivalent of a gold piece or two. If the pastor is marrying people who don't have that relationship, the prices go higher (my pastor, for instance, categorically refuses to marry any couple that he or someone he trusts a great deal has not counseled for several sessions prior to the ceremony). Regular congregants also typically get a major break on the cost of the venue, sometimes a 100% one.
I've done a fair amount of games with
I'd also suggest using the option where instead of getting +1 to a stat every 4 levels, you get +1 build point (i.e. 1/4 of enough to go from 18->19, or enough to go from 10->11) per level. You'll find that it helps with the balance between SAD and MAD classes quite a bit.
In the old module D3, vault of the drow, there is a drow prisoner there who is neutral with a 'slight but terrible tendency towards good deeds'.
I'll put this to you straight. Most of us are products of a really high surplus 20th or 21st Century Western society. But if there was a society of Drow living next to you, you'd be calling for genocide. The same is true for bugbears and trolls. Only when they're at the safe remove of distance and fictionality can you honestly be too concerned with the tiny number of exceptions. Human history doesn't have any society even close to the drow, although there were a few ancient civilizations that successfully provoked the genocide response from their neighbors pretty justifiably (by justifiably, I mean that most of us in the same circumstances would've done the same thing, perhaps quicker).
As a middle age married guy with three children under 5, I've got some suggestions.
You're not going to be able to game as much as you did before you had children. Them's the breaks. You may need to renegotiate your schedule to meet your other commitments. Back when I was in college, I could run several games and play in a couple more. Now I mostly just run games (at a much slower pace), although I do the 'guest star' thing occasionally (like a couple of times a year) in others.
I'm generally in favor of fixing anything that I think needs fixing via class abilities, preferably ones out of range of any minor dips.
You know, a couple of years back I did a bit of an experiment---call it revealed preferences as regards class power an balance.
I ran a game wherein I used 1st/2nd edition interrupt rules and movement rules. This is to say:
The result was that fewer players made casters---the party wound up something like cleric, mystic theurge-like homebrew, fighter, barbarian, ranger, rogue. Normally the party would've been something more like: Cleric, wizard, druid, paladin, ranger, bard, sometimes even more skewed towards the more full casters.
But the party still desperately wanted their casters. It's telling when you nerf the hell out of something and people still queue up to hire them.
If you go back to King James English, you'll note a big difference between to Kill and to Slay. David, for instance, is said to have slain tens of thousands and that this was a praiseworthy thing. To Kill meant basically to murder---to slay implied that there was more or less acceptable justification for it. This is why a lot of moderns are confused about 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (newer translations render that as Murder rather than kill).
A party of all rangers would probably do ok. Play them like a special forces unit. Wands of CLW are no problem, and a high universal party stealth and perception means usually getting the drop on your opponents.
By modern standards I'm unspeakably evil as a GM, because I don't give you replacement characters of equal level to the APL when your character expires and raising isn't an option. What I'll do is one of these:
But I run sandbox, not AP or the like. Such environments are more forgiving of a level spread in the party.
I've heavily nerfed simulacrum in my games, but people STILL queue up to learn it and to use it. Under my rules, you can make simulacrums of things up to your own level (no caster level shennanigans), not twice your level. You also generally lose most of the exotic special abilities on a monster simulacrum, and I have a meta rule that there exists no way to repeatably get a wish for less than 25k gold. Even so there is tremendous demand for 'mini-mes' and 'mini yous'. One mystic theurgist uses a large number of simulacrums of herself to greatly extend her transnational reach.
If strategic stat dumping annoys you as a GM (it annoys the hell out of me), I suggest you do what I've done in recent years. Make several sets of templates that you're ok with and offer those to your players. Typically for my templates the total cost equivalent and the min-maxedness of the template are inversely correlated---which is to say that you get more buy point equivalent with the templates that are more rounded...i.e. that have high overall stats but no 17 or 18s or 7s or 8s in them.
I don't have a problem with stunning assault as long as it only forces one save per target per round. So I'm ok with the whirlwind assault/reach/enlarge/lunge/5' step in the middle of it move allowing a melee to dole out a very large AE stun with a 26-30 DC. I do have an issue with allowing 5-6 attacks against a single target forcing that many saves though.
In most of the dungeons I run---those controlled by one or more active factions, this is how things usually go down.
You could take a leaf from Babylon V and greet everyone in some sort of an encounter suit. Add a few lines like 'the avalanche has begun, it is too late for the pebbles to vote'.
Pretty much everything we understand about God, other than what he has explicitly told us, is through metaphor. God as Father...God as King...God as Author...and, my favorite, God as Gamemaster, which is one with very interesting implications for those who think that the universe may be a simulation.
If you're a believer of any of various stripes, my opinion and experience is that you can get a better (note, I say better, NOT good) handle on what God is and His perspective by running a fair number of games in a fairly strict simulationist style---which is to say, any interference from you has to be credibly laundered, perhaps occasionally through some divine entity's machinations. You could also do the same by writing fiction in the 'world building genre', but frankly, more of us have the chops to run a game than write a book, and players are generally less cooperative than are literary characters.
If you run a simulationist style game, and you have magic item creation rules anywhere near RAW, it is VERY hard to prevent a magic item business from arising. If nothing else, your PCs will invent it and wonder why nobody else had done so before (been there, done that).
Even with 2nd and 1st edition rules where magic item creation was much more difficult, magic items were still bought and sold, just not generally 'to order'. Anyone ever wonder why even in the 1st edition DMG items had a 'gp sale value'?
In a lot of borderlands we call grave-robbing Salvage. If a previous gravesite isn't under the control of 'civilization', it is fair game. But if you're in a borderland as opposed to a total wilderness (i.e., civilization is providing a reasonably safe base camp for you), you are of course expected to pay a 20% salvage tax to whoever the local lord might be. This salvage tax isn't just expected of tombs you raid but loot in general. In some circumstances, that tax is reduced to 10%---for instance, the borderland in question is heavily beset by enemies from the wilderness and is keen to have adventurers do some attrition, or maybe the lord just likes you and your group. In a few circumstances the tax is waived entirely, as in the lord has asked you to do this and tells you that you can keep all the swag.
What do you get in return for paying the salvage tax...besides tax collectors not looking for your head?
Back in 1st/2nd edition days, in my experience, parties tended to run larger. 8 was a pretty common party size back then, plus henchmen, hangers-on, and the like. Thus the personality type that doesn't mind being a total support-oriented class wasn't seriously oversubscribed to supply each group with a cleric, and occasionally two.
Since then party sizes have gone way down. Hell, back in the early 80s you could buy D&D stuff through the Sears Catalogs! A lot of the changes made in 3rd edition-Pathfinder--4th edition are made with that metagame reality in mind. Players who are naturally healers are probably a bit thinner on the ground also compared to back then.
Typical gamist/narrativist contract includes stuff like this:
If you're captured, you'll be given an opportunity to escape.