I'm a firm believer that pcs should be offered nearly any amount of rope they would like with which to hang themselves. Do your research (gather information, intelligence networks where rogues excel and fighters do well, magical intelligence via spell), and you can find lots of things that you can attempt or estimate the difficulty of the ideas you came up with. Then consult with your party whether they think the estimated reward is worth the estimated risk. I don't tune encounters to PCs normally, unless I'm running a miniseries where I'm going more narrativist/gamist than simulationist. That ogre lair exists whether you choose to go there or not, and it has some number of ogres with a mean of X and a standard deviation of Y no matter what level you might happen to be. What is incumbent on me as the GM is to make the information available within reasonable due diligence for the pcs to decide what they want to do, what jobs they want to accept, etc.
If you look at the strength lift chart, the strongest humans on earth are in the 22-24 range. This maps pretty damned well to my interpretation of stats. 10 is the mean, and every 2 points equates to a standard deviation. This means that an 18 INT, for instance, is the equivalent of someone 4 standard deviations from the mean. That's not quite 1 in 10,000 level. 20 is 5 standard deviations, and 22 is 6. I recommend that you look at mental stat increasers as being a lot like chipware/wired skills/wired memory from Shadowrun in terms of how you run the fluff around them---it is way easier to maintain verisimilitude that way. Not to mention the fact that the headband of INT gives you skills rather than skill points, which tends to support my interpretation. It is much easier to credibly portray, say, an 18 INT guy with 10 in net enhancements (so he's a really smart guy with tons of magical 'cyberware', instant recall with a large online memory storage cache, and magical focus) than it is to portray an 'organic' 28 INT.
Oh, and in terms of daily routines...I'd say 95% of what everyone does every day is 'taking 10'---sometimes taking 5 when we're not paying much attention. That makes a relative +1 a big deal. When we're trying to learn something new, taking 20 becomes important (as does, rolling until you finally hit the DC if you CAN hit the DC). In those cases, that +1 is also a big deal at the thin part of the wedge.
Are 6 figure automobiles rare and precious? Yes, but people have them. Adventuring PCs are the 1%, so to speak, and many of them become the .1% and .01% and beyond as they advance. Frankly I found a verisimilitude issue way back in 1st edition and BECMI with magic shops NOT existing, so I had them in limited forms even back in the late 70s/early 80s in my games. They were more of a broker/commission kind of thing, and they were cartelized, but the notion that you could sell an item but never buy one never sat well with me (the 1st edition DMG had item sale values for every magic item). If you want no organized trade in magic with a monetary intermediate in your game, you need to make magic items a LOT rarer than RAW. You also need to ensure that there's a reason why none of your players can reasonably start such a trade on their own. The YA fiction answer of 'nobody thought of that' is just patently offensive to my sensibilities.
Gods in game worlds can be thought of a lot like feudal overlords on steroids. They provide tangible benefits, regular miracles, etc and ask for tangible devotions. It's a 'god' relationship rather than a 'God' one. How do you convert people? By offering them a better deal or a more attractive philosophy. Or you can inspire them with your mighty deeds and great renown. If you're a rock star, epic hero, etc, people are going to incline towards your overlord as well.
You should assume that any prominent figure with access to divination spells on a regular basis is using them daily/weekly/etc to determine if there are any active assassination plots against them. Thus if you're not warded against commune/contact other plane/etc, you can assume that your cover is blown more or less automatically. This is just the magical intel side of the house (analogous to signal intelligence and cryptanalysis in our own world). In terms of human intelligence, of course they're going to have a spymaster effectively using gather intelligence and running a spy network. This is, of course, if the NPC is competent, wants to live, and has lived up until now. If it is someone brand new to prominence, they might be more sloppy.
What would your PCs do if it was an NPC that betrayed them?
Did you accept their surrender? Or did you shout back 'No Quarter' instead? If the latter, no problem. Armies do the 'no quarter' thing whenever they're ill equipped to handle prisoners. That's neutral. But if you accepted the surrender its another matter.
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.
I've run games before where the disabled/dying window goes all the way down to negative (your full hit points plus your constitution). These are normally the games where raise dead/resurrection is not possible like my 'Dawn of History' series. It works pretty well. I also did away with CdG and various other similar effects in that series (CdG was just an automatic crit). The idea was that these 'Antediluvian' humans lived before the breaking of the 'Law of Death' (think Thomas Covenant here), and would very strongly cling to life. From a metagame perspective, I also wanted to do away with raise dead and the like without breaking higher level playability.
The fighter aristocrat might be a major or a colonel of an elite formation. The warrior aristocrat is likely the same rank, but of a more ordinary formation. Basically the first aristocrat mostly commands low level fighters, the second, mostly low level warriors and commoners. Both have seen the elephant, probably multiple times.
Bit of Luck really shines OUTSIDE of combat, when you want to minimize the probability of a really bad roll. The one for law domain that makes you 'take 11' is similarly good in such situations. Make sure you have one on hand if you do contact other plane with a GM that won't let you take 10 :-)
As a GM, I'm willing to not track arrows and such as long as:
If you're not in compliance, yeah, you've got to track every quiver and every arrow. Most of my players stay in compliance.
As a GM, I found the builds players were presenting me with aesthetically unsatisfying when I used point buy.
For instance, if you are using the 2 stat points = 1 standard deviation approximation that I use...
I know people in the real world with 18 Strength, and considerably more in the 14-16 range. How many of them have 7 or 8 intelligence (common dumpstat)?
So my solution was to offer my players several templates to choose from. They're all decidedly lacking in 7s, 17s, and 18s, although they 'cost out' to fairly high point buys. My intensely competitive (among themselves, they've learned not to try to compete directly with their gm) players are a lot happier with that solution.
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.
The social skills in D&D are pretty much broken. Frankly, even games with much better systems for such like Exalted are broken also from an aesthetic point of view (especially how it essentially encourages you never to let a social monster speak a la the 'shut up Hannibal' trope).
These guys are way way more than we can handle
So they're inclined to let you pass as long as you don't rub their faces in it. Retroactively if you wind up doing something heroic, they'll revise their memories to how they helped you. People just tend to think that way.
You've got to be really careful with shield other. I suggest combining it with other defensive buffs, like resist energy of the types being tossed around. But when you use it properly it partially defeats one of the trump cards of pathfinder and similar games (focus fire). By spreading the damage around you make area heals/channels a lot more effective and take advantage of the fact that damage doesn't really impede a character much until he gains the unconscious or dead condition. Handle with care but do handle it.
For instance, if your game rules heavily weight initial attributes vs learned skills, expect a heavier effort by NPCs to identify and train those with the innate talent than otherwise. Or vice versa if those rules are reversed. Similarly, if combat maneuvers are more effective vs straight damage than the norm, expect to see more trip, grapple, and the like. People whose business is warfare do notice these kinds of things. They will know what's nearly impossible or highly ineffective and condition 'what they want to do' based on that knowledge.
One big meta narrative I've used a lot is this:
I've generally made the approximation that magic plus medieval tech gets you the equivalent of very early industrial revolution lifestyles. Plant growth, in particular, gives a pretty substantial yield increase each year, allowing a higher population density and larger cities (the agricultural area around each city where it is practical to transport food is more productive). This also allows races like the elves to get by on less farmland since they're likely to have more access to plant growth and similar magics. They might farm proportionately only half the land that similarly situated humans do, hunt and gather on the remaining land, and let land fallow a lot more often---say a rotation like corn/soybeans or clover/nothing/nothing.
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.
Low level pathfinder is rocket tag. So is very high level PF. Low level fighters, barbarians, and the like essentially have a "Save or Die", where the save is your armor class with two handed weapons for an awful lot of threats. So too do casters with sleep, color spray, etc. Maybe your GM is used to parties full of skill monkey rogues, sword and board fighters, healbot clerics, and blaster wizards?
Ask your GM to use the optional rule where you get one BUILD point per level rather than one attribute point per 4 levels (since raising a stat 18 or higher costs 4 points, this works out precisely the same for most optimized builds, but really helps unfocused builds like yours. For instance, at level 8, you'd have 8 more points to spend, so you could raise 4 of your 5 13s to 14. Or you could raise the 14 to a 17 by spending all 8 build points at that time.
44) A patrol from the nearest (mostly) civilized area. They may or may not be favorably disposed towards the PCs. They're probably mounted if the terrain favors such, and are probably level 1-2 with level 3-4 officers and a 5-6 commander. Size typically between a squad and a platoon.
45) A mercenary company, from platoon to battalion size, either on the move or on a job. They're likely neutral to the pcs unless some special condition applies.
In general, most GMs I know, and myself, basically ignore your familiar UNLESS you do one of several things:
If you do none of the above, 95%+ of your opponents will ignore the familiar and the GM won't inquire about him. We don't care whether he's wrapped around your wrist, perching in your backpack, fluttering in the breeze, whatever. I have had players go the 'fake familiar' route though---where they actually have a bonded item but they have small disposable pets for the opposition to ASSUME that they're a familiar.
The downtime rules aren't very good in my opinion. They're way way too liberal in some respects (retraining, for instance, and in the rate at which you can acquire capital of the various sorts in short bursts of downtime). But they're also way too stingy for long term investing.
I use my traps in three main ways:
Most of the 'interesting' traps only show up in places that aren't principally dungeons---proving or testing grounds for instance.
It's reasonable to assume that any caster, especially one with a few levels under his skeletal belt is going to have a set of 'best practices'. It is quite possible to spoof some of them, for instance, pretty much all of my players have their characters carry at least one spell component pouch. Some of them even deliberately carry the components for spells higher level than they can cast to throw their adversaries' threat assessment out of whack. Just about everyone carries a holy symbol, amusingly enough, a psionicist was the most religious member of a party I ran some years back, much moreso than the party's cleric.
From talking to a number of other GMs, I'm often struck by just how kinetic a pace they run their campaigns at. PCs usually level from 1 to whatever inside less than a game year. Downtime is really sparse. When I ask them why, and dismiss ADHD as a root cause, this is what I get:
Now when I look at a problem, I ask myself two questions, brought to us by Morden and Comrade Lenin
What do you want? and
Which is to say, what is my objective and who is to be advantaged and disadvantaged relatively speaking over the status quo.
First, what are the objectives.
So this is what I did. It seems to work pretty well in a Core-only environment.
First, I assume that EVERY member of a PC class has an implicit professional/crafting type skill. The number of ranks is Level +3. The controlling attribute is your highest attribute, whatever that might be. That skill might be 'mighty warrior' or 'warrior poet' or 'fire wizard' or whatever. Should you be in downtime, your character can produce an amount of 'value added' equal to
What are they actually doing during this time? Well, Volificar is condensing magical essences and the like and occasionally applying them to the weapon. Elijah is praying a lot...probably 4 hours a day or so. Barjin is instilling the sword with his valor and fame. He's probably using it in downtime while hunting or whacking the occasional marauding orc (all things too minor in CR to shift out of downtime mode).
Suppose the PCs want to make the item faster. Well, they could pay more to hire someone else to do some of the necessary enchanting/instilling work. Basically this is effectively the same as increasing the materials cost. They could cut the time in half by just starting with 13500 gp in materials rather than 9000. Or they could use capital.
What is capital? It is a device, special location, or whatever that allows you a force adder in adding value. In my games I use three categories of capital:
When you do this, the pace of magic item creation slows a LOT.
Some societies will go for a weregeld. My recommendation is that such weregeld be in the ballpark of 3x the annual income of the NPC in question. So for a total peasant who earns 1 sp/day, this is around 100 gp. For a skilled worker who earns 1gp/day, that's around 1000 gp. These are also typical ransom amounts. Accepting a weregeld is also a face-saving way of satisfying honor when you KNOW it is going to be extremely bloody to take down an opponent or group. Even law enforcement, when they know that taking down a group is going to cost them 2-3x their number or more will sometimes take a weregeld.
Against foes at low levels with good AC, the good old alchemist's fire/flask of oil is an especially good trick. Holy water is another decent option. Touch ac is just way easier to hit. Even so, a typical 2nd level figher has what, 18 strength, that's an attack bonus of 4+2, probably adding another 1 for masterwork and another for weapon focus, so he'll hit on an 11. With +2 for charging, that's a little more than half the time. Flanking with the inquisitor, that's not bad. If he's a greatsword wielder, he's hitting for 2d6 +6 or thereabouts--power attack is probably not a good idea when hitting is so in doubt. After DR that's an average of 8 points a hit, with a crit that is probably a one-shot kill. Closely pressed, they've probably just got to off him before his channels kill them.
TPKs happen a lot if you're not pulling your punches at 1st-3rd level. Been there, done that. I wouldn't sweat it that much, it's part and parcel of sandbox gaming. Make sure you make information available to the PCs if they do their gather information homework. They're entitled to enough rope to hang themselves but they should have the means to measure its length, at least approximately.
You really need a system that is designed to handle gods and which makes the gulf between them and 'mere mortals' or 'exalted' types appropriately large for your tastes. The old 'Wrath of the Immortals' managed this fairly decently. Otherwise you run into the problem of 'mortal with brokenly high DPR' > god. Also, if you as a GM have system mastery less than any or all of your players, best to stick to stat-less gods, or you're going to see 'if it bleeds, we can kill it'.
Well, level 2 pcs aren't all that difficult to capture. What kind of magical resources does the opposition have available to them for information? Do they have commune/contact other plane or at least divination?
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:
A lot of GMs, myself included, frequently use the optional rule that a 20 is treated as a 25 or a 30 in terms of what it will hit. Some also use that a 1 is a -5 or a -10. If you want any verisimilitude at all in big battles with tons of arrows at extreme range, you really need this, otherwise at long range a bikini is equally protective to full plate. Sometimes people also use the rule that you can't crit if you're only hitting 'by grace of god'.
Other popular slurs,
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.
Most campaign settings assume a FAR lower surplus society than we're accustomed to today in the West. Typically they're something between Renaissance and early Industrial period (via magic) in terms of standards of living. Low surplus societies have massive prejudice more or less as a standard. In most of my games, nearly every race has slur terms for nearly every other race, even the ones they like fairly well. One thing most people forget on boards like this though is that there's miles between mild prejudice and foaming at the mouth genocidal fury. Another thing to remember is that people closer to the margin of survival simply can't afford to take the chance that a stereotype, accurate in, say, 90% of instances, MIGHT not be accurate in one particular case.
Other counters include bracing with a reach weapon against a charge (readied action, does double damage if the weapon has the brace property). Polearms/long spears are one of the approved methods of dealing with cavalry in general. Any kind of difficult terrain will usually do it too.