I've always played and run in homebrew campaigns. Sure, me and other GMs have supplemented published material, but it's always been in arcs, plots and for the most part settings created by the GM. When I was a kid in 1e & 2e, we made characters in droves, threw them out there and saw what stuck b/cause that's how the systems ran then.
When we got to 3x our games changed. We didn't "roll up" our characters any more...we built them.
This changed the way the GMs thought, myself included. My gaming groups and I no longer thought "how can I mold my vision to fit these characters in" but rather "what kind of game do I want?" As a result we GMs could craft a game with a point and major themes/events/villains already planned with the confidence that the players would be prepared to keep up.
I agree w/the OP in that this idea of forcing characters to adapt is silly. It does a disservice both to the GM and the players. If player x makes an undead hunting paladin, that's indicative of the kind of game they want to play. Sitting down as the GM and then announcing "I'm running Skull & Shackles" not only invalidates most if not all of the choices player x has made but also sends the message that the GM really doesn't care WHAT character you made; this is what the game is.
Now some of my grognard friends would and have told me that fluff is fluff; if you haven't even rolled your first combat yet you can always re-do your backgrounds, motivations and such. But my response is always that, even if your not optimized, you've built this character to do a particular job and now will have little to no opportunity to pursue that focus. My grognard friends would have me build fluff-less generics with little 1st level specialization who can fit into any setting: sword & board fighters, vanilla rogues, wizards with arcane bonded rings and healer clerics.
I crave a more unique, personal experience from the outset.
I'm not saying however that my grognard friends are wrong. If you make Genero the Vanilla Wizard you can adapt him to any campaign and make his personality fit as you roll on through the story. But to me that feels boring - I'm only playing the character that fits into the mold the gameworld sets for me. Had I known what the game held in store for me ahead of time, I'd have made the character pre-tailored to the material and ended up in the same place anyway.
I especially appreciated your commentary on providing encounters with objectives beyond hack n slash. I often attempt to challenge my players with these adding villains with hostages or adding background elements like gems that need to be broken to end a rite instead of just interrupting with battle.
So what can the PCs in my game do? My roster:
Party face: LG m human paladin of Iomedae
So... the paladin's second greatest asset physically is strength and a bit of Knowledge: Engineering. The cleric is fond of firing off Fire Bolts and has stone masonry skills. The magus is an outdoorsy type focused on Str, Dex and DPR. The ranger is our "defacto trapfinder."
I suppose if I had a trap where the bypass mechanism was susceptible to heat and trapped behind heavy plates or slabs, I could have the paladin and magus pry them open while the cleric blasts it with a Fire Bolt. Alternatively I could have a complex series of interlocking gears that the magus could traverse using timing provided by the paladin's engineering knowledge; then he could use his spear to jam the right cog.
If anyone else has any examples for me I'm dying to hear them.
Check out John Four's 5 room dungeons (don't have the link handy but you can google it). If you want to make your OWN intro dungeon they're a great formula for a tidy little adventure.
Room 1/intro: this establishes the theme of the dungeon and might just be an obstacle or guardian to gain entry to the dungeon/adventure. Examples include a monster, a locked door or a long journey.
Room 2/obstacle or RP: this is essentially a skill-based challenge for the PCs. Perhaps they have have to negotiate with a kidnapper or they have to disarm a trap.
Room 3/setback: the goal is close, but you need to just get past this one last roadblock. This is usually a combat to drain some more resources from the party but might also be something as simple as they see the treasure room and then the floor drops.
Room 4/BBEG: here's where they finally come in direct conflict with the main protagonist of the adventure. They fight the dragon, disarm the warlord, outsmart the sorceress.
Room 5/reward or reveal: the final "room" represents the reward for the PCs hard work and might be simple treasure or perhaps some secret knowledge they didn't previously have. Also a chance for a "switcheroo" like the main villain wasn't the real villain after all.
So here's an example for APL 1:
The Vault of Meiger Vaugg:
Background/Setup: in the kobold language "Meiger" is synonomous with boss. Meiger Vaugg however is not some simple-minded boss. He is a wizard par-excellence as well as an avid trap builder. Meiger Vaugg also has a secret - he's been skimming off the top.
Going toe-to-toe with the Meiger at this point in your careers would be suicide. However you've learned of a way to hurt him and get rich in the process. The wicked old kobold scroll-slinger has been housing his ill-gotten gains in a modest vault buried under a nearby hill. The hill is marked with a massive, dead tree and your informant, the kobold courtesan Ozula, claims that there is a secret entrance through it's bole.
Room 1: The Bole of the Oak/CR 1
Room 2: Secret Door/CR 1
Room 3: Spiraling Down/CR 1
Room 4: The "Dragon"/CR 2
Room 5: Treasure and escape/CR 1
Several trap threads have described making traps interactive and fun for the whole family. The one I liked was simple: have the trap's disarm mechanism under something heavy so that the fighter or perhaps 2 PCs have to make Str checks to lift it in order for the rogue to disarm. I have a game coming up and I'm looking for examples of traps I can use instead of Perception/Disable/Rinse and Repeat.
Ok, I did a couple in the other thread; let's see what I come up with here:
1d100 ⇒ 70
Kasathas - four armed desert wanderers
So environments needed for the setting are: desert, forest, swamp. These races are all land-dwelling and 4 of the 5 are Medium. Just off the top of my head I'm thinking this region is primitive, like fertile crescent times in the real world. There are primal jungles and swamps along a river delta; out from this are mountainous deserts and badlands. All of the PC races are semi-nomadic, barbarous; tech levels are primitive. However the hobgoblins rule over a city-state fueled by goblin slavery. They employ bugbear taskmasters to keep the slaves in line. The boggards in the swamps worship dark gods and plot the downfall of the overlords while the fey-blooded Gathalain seek to awaken new regions of the wilderness using natural magics to create oases in the sands and rock. The neanderthals and kasathas are both hunted as potential slave races but as of yet they remain free wandering the deserts and badlands.
Since no setting would be complete without villains, this region is no different. It would be easy to vilify the hobgoblin overlords unless you examine the reson they seclude themselves in high walls: Dragons. The upper mountains are uninhabited by PC races because these heights are rife with the beasts. Volcanic cones inhabited by the red; boreal conifers on the edges of the peaks as home to the green; swampy mires prowled by black while pristine glacial rifts are the realms of the white. The butes and deserts however are the lairs of the blue dragons.
Of course, in a setting like this, there are bound to be kobolds. These creatures, while not a PC race are as abundant as the 5 prime and might be used as an alternate. They can be found in the markets of the hobgoblins, along the desert trails of the kasathas, and even mingling in the steaming jungles and swamps of these lands. They are the ambassadors of their patron deities, the dragons and the more powerful of the kobolds are used as collectors for their patron's hoards. Of course this has earned them the ire of every race around.
So a campaign in this setting would be about survival in the wilds and the harsh environments. The adventures could involve raiding kobold outposts, slaying dragons and even springing slaves from the hobgoblin cities.
One thing another poster said is worth repeating: these are the 5 races you're building the setting around as PC races, but they don't have to be the ONLY races.
Ex: most vanilla games of PF include goblins as monsters for the PCs to fight. Since they only advance through classes this makes them an NPC race. Sure, you might play the We Be Goblins adventure to be PC goblins, but this is the exception, not the rule.
So, if you get a setting with NEAR humans but no human PC races, think of the goblin scenario. The humans might still be around, but they're the ENEMIES in this setting. Maybe they're decadent and wicked; perhaps they exist only in stasis for genetic fodder; they might just simply live in another part of the setting. There might be more to your setting than ONLY these races.
We've defined a lot of terms in this thread, so if you'll pardon the threadjack I'd like one more defined:
Several posters here and in other threads have said they expect characters to die while others have said they've NEVER had a death. Since part of the coddling debate revolves around the GM saving characters from death, I figured we should define it.
Is it the PC dropping unconscious and under the Dying condition? Is it when they actually flatline but they can still be rezzed? Or is it when, after all is said and done there is nothing short of GM intervention that will return the PC to the campaign?
If we're defining it as negative HP then I have at least one death a session. One of my players, when I asked for his feedback on favorite scenes in my last session said his fave was when his paladin dropped to -4 and had to get healed back to 2 in order to hold a doorway one more round and thus help win the fight. However if we're saying its when they need to be rezzed or worse, the I haven't had a death for the past 2 campaigns.
This has not been due to coddling, but rather because my players always make sure they have healing magic, or consumables, or items that ensure they make it back to positive HP. Oh sure, I could run a dark world where they're attacked while resting every time but I don't. Maybe THAT is coddling.
But as it stands in my game the players run very conservative with their resources. Now there've been instances, as with AD and a couple others, where I've over or underestimated the PCs and adjusted on the fly; there is also a now-infamous fight where I screwed up the # of attacks on a charge by a monster and a PC was paralyzed and NEARLY died, but after the session wrapped and my player called me out on it I apologized and haven't made that mistake since.
But if PC death is used as a benchmark for GMing and coddling, I figure it needs to be spelled out clearly.
There's an old radio play called the Cinnamon Bear that I've always wanted to make into an adventure. It is essentially the story of a pair of kids who lose the silver star that goes on top of their tree. They meet a toy bear, 4 inches high by the name of Patty O'Cinnamon, or the Cinnamon Bear and he and other characters in a fictional world take them to go find it.
The wrap up at the end is classic. The main protagonist is the Wintergreen Witch and she stole the star because, well, she's mean. But the trail eventually leads to the north pole and Santa's workshop where the witch pulls her final battle. She assaults the workshop and the elves defend the place while the kids watch. In the end all turns out well and good and they get home with their silver star, but their mother tells them they were asleep this whole time.
Anyway, if I were to write this as a 4th level adventure you'd have a minor artifact that summons powerful, positive energy. Each year this artifact is activated by a pair of twin children and, once employed summons a wave of goodwill across the land and helps ensure the general peace. Unfortunately the device has been stolen. Since the region has been peaceful for some time they have no heroes trained and equipped to deal with this situation. Fortunately the children are able to call upon a guide who can track the Silver Star - a tiny, sentient bear.
The characters are tapped to accompany the bear in tracking the device. Their adventures lead them to the lair of a dragon with multiple different scale colors (the Crazy Quilt Dragon from the story) who at first is suspected of taking the star but on surviving the PCs initial attack does not retaliate and instead cowers before them. The dragon has in fact been reduced to this simpering heap by the Wintergreen Witch; a hag of great power. The party, now accompanied by the dragon, must travel into the frigid lands of the north and once there meet with the Silver Star's original maker - San-Ta, the ancient fey Primean (or whatever those fey overlords in the first world are called).
San-Ta is a legend, a myth in the lands of mortals. He's said to be able to travel through the light of the Silver Star by night and be everywhere it touches at once. He brings small gifts from his realm to the mortals to help them through the winter months. Since all have what they need then none are left wanting the magic of the star stays intact.
The real story is that Wintergreen was a pupil of San-Ta but that she was cold, ambitious. He withheld his greatest powers and housed them in the Silver Star, then banished the witch from his realm. She has taken the device and intends to corrupt it's power with the essence she stole from the dragon's heart. Once turned evil she's going to destroy San-Ta and his whole realm, bringing down an ice age of hate. The party will have to find a way to get the star from Wintergreen even while her minions siege San-Ta's citadel.
You want an interesting story, not a kill the goblin type thing. You also have noob players. Regardless of setting and desire combat will need to be part of the opening to prime the players for rules to come.
Here's my suggestion: use a random encounter to bring them together w/each other AND a community of NPCs.
Example: the PCs, unbeknownst to one another, are all strolling the market of the homebase city. Suddenly dire rats burst onto the scene! There aren't any guards around and the rats are causing a panic. In the pandemonium all of the PCs individually notice a pair of young girls cornered by some rats; one is pinned under an overturned cart while the older of the two valiantly stands guard against the monsters with a stick. A sudden scream rips from the din: "My babies! Please! Someone save my little girls!"
Its go time. If the PCs do not act now these poor kids will die. Hopefully this spurs them to action. A fight ensues during which a notable local hero finally arrives to take care of some rats on the far side of the market. But its the PCs who step up, save the sisters and get the acollades today.
Now, here's where the game really takes off. You have all sorts of NPCs on site for the characters to interact with. There's the local hero and the mom of the two girls. They'll want to congratulate the PCs and reward them in some way. But off to one side the party also notices a shifty gentleman and an adolescent girl; the shifty man has a live dire rat in a cage which he's apparently selling to a third person in the shadows.
The party can confront them if they'd like. The man and teenager are a ratcatcher and his niece. The ratcatcher is a bit of a reprobate and his niece is oddly quiet but they are not in fact the instigators. Their conspirator is a local business owner buying live rats for experimentation - something ilicit in the city.
All of these NPCs now become providers of plot hooks. The ratcatcher says he can do some digging and find out why the rats attacked but in the meantime he's got a lead on an abandoned cache of loot in the collapsed foundations of an old building. He knows the way in through the sewers but there's a monster.
The mom of the saved girls is a barmaid and knows a lot of tavern gossip. She's also however certain that a family heirloom of her late husband's has been stolen by a city official. He'll give it up to her if he's intimidated enough to do so, but getting in to see him requires either brawn or skills, neither of which she has. The local hero in the meantime has a lead on a ruin outside of town that needs exploring but, before he sends the party there he'll want a test of their skills. He instead asks them to track down some rare healing herb in the forest; it's bulb is very pungent and attracts vicious goats that are agressive and territorial. The PCs will have to use skills and powers to resolve this test.
The point is: you use this opening session to display and immerse your players in your setting. You give them a lot of little things to do instead of one big thing. Then, in the background, you have some larger plotlines brewing that may or may not tie to one another. There's corruption in a city official's office and how did the barmaid's husband die? There's also the strange rat attack from nowhere and why doesn't the ratcatcher's niece say much? Finally there's this ruin outside of town.
Is this kind of what you're looking for?
One source I read said to make the "standard" fight APL -1 or APL -2. This way PCs manage resources better and are more impressed with beating tougher challenges. I have a game coming up this weekend; I'm going to be employing this methodology.
I probably run a pretty puffball game compared to most in this thread. A couple fights here and there are hard, dark and gritty. Most however are resolved in a couple rounds and don't use up that much in PC resources. I have noticed though that my players generally rest, regardless of remaining spells/powers once the healing runs out. I'm hoping that by lowering the baseline challenges just a bit we have more than 2-4 fights a night.
One other thing the article suggested about lower APL baselines. If you have, say, 12 rooms near one another with a single goblin in each, and the PCs get to one where an alarm is sounded, you can have a few adjoining rooms worth of goblins pile in to make the fight tougher without hedging too much.
I think that's already what some of you have already said, but I figured I'd throw that in.
I will say this: I want to get better as a GM so that I can set the game on autopilot and not worry about my mistakes TPKing a party. I want that, but I don't know if I'll ever get there.
Adamantine Dragon wrote:
Ok, and do your players, when researching their NEXT adventure, go into what monsters are there down to stat blocks, then plan appropriately? Do they buy new equipment to optimize for their potential encounters? Do they learn all the lore of the place so that they're not surprised by traps, spells cast by the villain or potential environmental hazards?
What about local weather or terrain along the way? How many players get THAT in depth when settling back into the game after being away from the table? In other words: how many players put in as much prep for an upcoming adventure as a GM? In my experience: none, but that might just be me.
Kirth Gersen wrote:
But no, I'm not just talking plot here. Ever had a player who said "Ok, so where are we going? Barrow of the Black Hand? Ok...what's the 'Black Hand'?" which then sets off an epic hour of RP to determine a wight is running the barrow? Then it doesn't stop there. Our fearless heroes then head to the local church for strategies to defeat the creature and thus learn knowledge like it's thrice as strong as any one of you (3HD) or that it has to touch you to drain your life and therefore they get a bunch of ranged items blessed and holy water super soakers and such.
See, my players ask "Where were we" and I tell them. Then they ask "so, what are we doing now?" and after about 15-20 minutes discussion of current plot hooks they decide and we're off. My players don't obsess over the mechanics of undead, or wights, or whatever. They just figure "we'll burn that bridge when we get to it". That's the prep I do and they don't, and I have no expectation that they would.
One of the points being bantered back and forth is prep work. I have a month between my adventures. When we actually sit to play, it's usually a 5-hour session. My players are all busy professionals in RL who are taking this time w/me so we can be entertained in a hobby we enjoy.
Now, between games I take that month to plan. Since I homebrew nearly every adventure and often customize villains, I'm tinkering with numbers for probably a full 24 hours stretched through that month. In that time I'm thinking about the game, the adventures before this one and how this adventure will relate to the next one. I'm also thinking about the characters and what their capabilities are. All of this is my job.
My players are not doing any of this.
We sit down to game. I set up the scenario and they say "ok, we go to the dungeon" or some such. Now we're off and running. The players encounter a few fights - they have done JUST enogh scouting and recon to know there's SOMETHING up ahead and chances are it isn't friendly. Finally they encounter my villain; for this example let's say it's a wight. They are APL 1 so this is a rough fight for them.
So should I penalize them for this? Should I shrug and say "you should've KNOWN this guy had a death touch and that he was way more powerful than you are." and then just let the characters go to pot? Maybe THAT'S coddling because my answer is: I don't expect my players, after a month off, to be as immersed/invested in my game as I am.
Well another thought would be for the monster to actually contain something the characters need. For example there's a low-level Daemon that swallows souls and houses them for other Daemons to use. You might put a little spin on it and say if the PCs just walk right up and pulverize the thing (its only CR 2 and absolutely no threat) then the souls they want to save are immediately doomed to Abadon. The players then have to subdue the thing and make it regurgitate them or they have to extract the souls somehow.
Another thought would be that there is something that will save the city, but part of the formulae for the McGuffin is needed from a living monster. "We can close this rift to the Maelstrom of Abadon, but only with the distilled essence of a dryad's tear!" Now they COULD just murder a dryad, extract her tear ducts and hope for the best, but perhaps it'd be better to go and find a dryad, then make her cry.
Finally, find some things the PCs care about and start putting them in jeapordy. Kidnap NPCs, continue threatening the city, and steal their prized possessions. I don't know if you have any long-time NPC villains, but any enemy of the city and the characters should understand by now that just flying up on a dragon w/a retinue of demons is a swift ticket to murder-town, so said villains will have to get creative:
- Ponzy schemes to break the city's economy
In other words; think like a comic book villain. Only Ultron has the brass set to walk up to Avengers Mansion, knock on the door, and then go toe-to-toe with the A-team on the streets of Manhattan. However every week or so the Avengers have to deal w/a new threat and there's not much on earth to threaten them. That's why you have plotlines like Bucky coming back from the dead as a villain and Cap having to stop him w/out destroying him since he was once a friend.
Get out your old comics, leaf through them and start taking notes.
"Lights please? 'And there was a light in the sky and the shepherds were afraid. And the angel of the lord said unto them fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the city of Bethlehem a savior, which is Christ the lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising god and saying Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill toward men.' That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown."
I can't even type this w/out shedding a silent tear. If I've offended I'm sorry, but just the same happy holidays to all and to all, peace on earth and goodwill.
Ummm...these PCs are not going to care about non-combat objectives in combat. Let me rephrase; I wouldn't expect them to based on my experience as a GM and their power level.
You said in one of your examples there's a thief that needs capturing? The PCs enter a chamber with a CR 16 "thief" (maybe a demon, or a godling or a polymorphed dragon or what have you) and they need to subdue him instead of murderize him. They all attack, some doing lethal and others taking the penalty to do non-lethal; so long as they can see him and beat his DR, they've dropped him to 0 HP in one round. Otherwise the druid and inquisitor can use powerful spells to hold him in place while the others wail on him, so on and so forth.
These guys just simply aren't going to get challenged out of combat. They can summon powerful allies of nature to snag prisoners in a round; in that same round 7 snap-shot arrows and several more bullets besides hit the kidnappers in the face. The druid can assume forms to recon every inch of a hideout and the team just jaunt right in and whomp on their enemies. And if their first round doesn't win, any retaliation is covered from range with unlimited AoO's at reach 15 or 20 as well as mobile monks, unlimited AoO bow shots, etc.
I think maybe you look at combat challenges built in the vein of console and PC RPGs. You have a dragon on a pile of gold; attacking him directly does nothing as he regenerates all damage in one round. However destroying portions of the hoard causes permanent damage to it. Or maybe there's a vampiric demon inside a cage with a permanent Blink effect. He can phase through and murderize the party but takes half damage and constantly returns to the blood-cage for healing. However four levers around the room unleash Anchor Spikes; one-time use barbed spears that shoot out on chains and remove the blinking and healing for a round. You need to solidify him, then wail, then he heals a little, but then you anchor him again and deal more damage...rinse, and repeat.
Is THAT what you were looking for?
Making fire. Think of how many innovations in real life came from having to rely on tools for this. Now imagine a world where, after some global event, Neanderthals who survived woke up the next morning with the power to just snap their fingers and make kindling burst into flame.
I think what you're looking at is a society of people who no longer labor. They have mage hands to assist them with every chore; they have no need for candles or oil lamps because the have light cantrips; as mentioned upthread they have no need to bathe, or harvest spices or herbs from the wilds of the land for they flavor their food with prestidigitation.
And that's only the cantrips.
If half of every single person you meet can cast cure light wounds there are barely any accidental deaths. No one you meet has scars. If the few tools they do have are magic items, all the mass-help spells are scattered around the city:
- Unseen Servants in every home
Seriously, if taken to the nth degree I think the all-magic land would be half elite adventurer types and the other half would be obese loafers who just sort of...exist.
PL: I don't want to hijack the thread here. I knew the ghost was in the ruin, yes, but I didn't know where. I left that to a random roll. I happened to roll a random encounter and the ghost came up. I just figured "the PCs have only had one fight. They're nearly full capacity. They can handle this." Suffice it to say...they couldn't.
And you're right - my examples haven't been exactly like the OP, so I'll stop trying to compare. Instead, I'll reference one thing: the PCs knew "there's goblins there" but I don't see evidence that they knew what the force of them would be.
Did they not use stealth? Were they in fact careless? Or did they simply fail/botch a couple rolls? What were the Perception penalties based on the encounter distace and environmental conditions and were these factored into the goblins' rolls? Did the GM roll 15 Perception checks or 1?
I don't know; I wasn't there.
What I do know is that, after the goblins spotted them, all 15 opened fire with shortbows. If they were employing strategy they may have concentrated their fire to ensure they dropped singular foes but this I don't know. However surprise round alone would've been CAPABLE of dropping at least one PC in an APL 1 group.
Now look at that from the player's perspective:
You come around the streetcorner and...(GM rolls some dice) Wizardo the Smart; you're dying. The rest of you have been wounded for (x) HP. There's a horde of 15 goblins in front of you. Roll initiatives.
Does THAT sound like fun?
But, that's just it with this thread isn't it? What I'm asking, what the OP is asking; they're opinions. What I think is fair, others might see as coddling. Vice versa what others see as fair I might see as... not fair (no need to be inflamatory or what not).
What I CAN say is that 15 goblin warrior 1 is a 2k XP threat. That would be CR 5 - an APL +4 fight for an APL 1 group or a greater than epic fight. It would be highly likely that the PCs all die in this encounter. Beyond this we're arguing our feelings but these are the numbers of this fight.
Dang it; VT went and said it all!
I think of coddling as guaranteeing the players will always win or that there will be no real consequence for losing. Conversely I think of killer GMs as the folks who either never let their players win or taint the victory with some kind of loss so that the victory is not complete.
I try to fall between these in most conflicts.
If the players are going toe-to-toe with monsters I'll adjust the creatures on the fly, or use a sub-optimal strategy if I've messed up. Conversely I'll ratchet up the monster or minions if the PCs are just breezing through. However every once in a while I put in a conflict that is EXTREMELY difficult to solve by mere smashing alone. Other times, just for balance, I put in monsters well below the PCs weight class, just to show them the power they really wield.
However I try to build similar tensions when PCs are just talking with people. If they need some help in the wild and come across a foreign patrol, if I'm looking to play out the situation as a conflict and not handwave, then there will be genuine threat. The foe might be easily defeated but part of a larger force; maybe the patrol seems physically more powerful but isn't overtly threatening; maybe peeving these folks off will lead to skirmish or war if the party isn't careful.
Bottom line: be fair, build tension.
As for fudging dice well...what my players don't know won't hurt them. Much. ;)
AD I've said it before in other threads and I'll say it again - it'd be great playing a game with you sometime. Your sentiments and positions in this and many other threads seem quite agreeable to my play style. Not to mention the fact that your 3d terrain COMPLETELY blows mine away!
One thing I will say re: fairness - I am human. Sometimes I get distracted, frustrated or petty; sometimes I loose my cool. My point is that I don't always achieve success with what I'm trying to do.
I TRY to be fair, but sometimes I miss a rule, overestimate my players or their characters, or otherwise run the game poorly. When this happens I own my mistakes and collect feedback from my players. THIS might be what some consider coddling. I tend to think of it as being normal.
Likewise, I try to remember this of my players. I go a month in between games. Sometimes people forget what's going on or it takes a bit to get re-immersed in the game. Other times my players might be grappling with a personal issue like their health, the well-beind of a loved one, stress at work or just general life. Their head might not be fully in the game. Players are often NOT in the same mind and intellect of their characters.
Players shouldn't be penalized for this. Again, this may be seen as coddling but there's no reason to expect full tactical genius from a guy who's just coming off his second job and cramming game time in before a marathon study session for midterms.
I TRY to design for my players. I TRY to consider the people at the table as well as the characters they're playing when creating my game. My fervent belief is that they consider me to an equal degree. This may be naive but that's it. I don't always succeed, but I'm going to keep trying.
There's a stork like monster in the bestiary, I think it's called the Stryx. They implant eggs into hosts and these explode out young birds in a couple minutes. Here's a combat I've been thinking of for low levels:
There has been an earthquake and the heroes are in the undercroft of a building. This area is a cellar with an earth floor, slightly taller than a crawlspace below this workhouse, where a bunch of young kids were being housed. Because of the quake the stacked-stone pylons supporting the building here have been shifted and the whole place is ready to collapse.
Now, as if this isn't enough a pair of Stryx have found their way in. These creatures got into the undercroft mere moments before the party. They are going through the cellar implanting eggs into the boys.
The objective is to get the kids out. If they focus on killing the birds they risk damaging the enclosed/partially collapsed chamber. For every miss in combat they automatically roll damage against the pylons: Hardness 8/HP 30. If they destroy more than 2 of the supports they collapse the room and everyone is crushed.
If however they focus on rescuing the kids they can use any skills/powers/techniques to do so. A couple of the boys will have already been implanted but there are another 6 who are beat up but otherwise ok, save for being trapped down here.
I'm sorry I ruffled feathers with my Bilbo reference. I didn't mean to upset anyone. But the second half of my rant was eloquently articulated here by E-ticket. So what if the GM rolls 100 goblins as his encounter; its on them to decide what, if any action these goblins take.
Their Int and Wis stats are good guidelines for what they're capable of thinking of. The GM's plotline and setting are also useful suggestions of motivations for these creatures. But when push comes to shove the GM alone has the unenviable task of deciding what this force does.
@ The Calzone King: I appreciate you taking the time to dissect my analogy and point out all of the places where I was wrong. I hope that gave you a small measure of satisfaction. However my point was that the GM decides what the monsters do. In that vein, I'll take another example. This isn't made up; it's from my own homebrewed game:
4 PCs - a Cleric of Erastil, an abjurer wizard, a dwarf fighter (unbreakable) a bard/monk, and an oracle of time (APL 4) enter the great hall of a ruined castle. They had been warned that there is a ghost lurking in the ruin. As they pass through the hall the ghost manifests and the PCs fail a Perception check (only DC 20; everyone rolled fairly low). I was running the ghost right out of the bestiary and this was meant to be a set piece/hard encounter so it's a CR 7 foe.
Surprise round: ghost uses a fear effect - cleric's animal companion and bard fail their save. Both begin running in random directions since the "closest exit" was obscured.
Round 1: oracle uses a spell to grant his weapon the ability to affect the ghost; remaining PCs attack/buff dealing no damage to the ghost. Ghost touches cleric and inflicts terrible wounds.
At this point it suddenly occurs to me (in best Gob Bluth impersonation) "I've made a terrible mistake".
Round 2: Ghost glitches; does nothing but talk for a round. Cleric realizes the ghost is that of her grandmother. PCs damaged her a little but when the ghost stopped the door out was revealed and the dwarf grabs the bard to make for it. The cleric's animal companion (by random rolls) has sprinted deeper into the dungeon and been set upon by an ambush I had planned there; it is lost to the party
Round 3: the ghost pursues, regaining composure. The PCs do a bit more damage and it once again touches the cleric. The dwarf and the bard make it out.
Round 4: the ghost glitches again and the PCs flee, taking pock-shots as they go and not dealing any damage.
My mistake was relying on random rolls and overestimating my players' capabilities. I did a poor job of planning and executing the encounter. As a result I nearly killed the cleric and may have ended up killing someone else in the party before they fled. I'm not a killer GM and didn't want to murder party members. You can call me all the names you'd like; I already have said them about myself but if you need to pile on you can.
Anyway, that's why I had the ghost glitch. She stopped, hesitated and gave the party a chance to escape. It also helped to set up the plotline that I was going for; the cleric's grandmother had died there trying to protect her daughter, the character's mother. I wanted the PC to get the connection and then return to put the poor woman to rest.
I didn't pull any punches or fudge any rolls. Everything was rolled on the table. But what I DID do was decide that the ghost wasn't attacking so that my players had that chance to regroup. Ironically I was still accused of being a terrible GM for springing such an "unwinnable" encounter on the party in the first place and the players never returned to save the ghost but oh well.
I hope this helps illustrate the point a little better. GMs are more than dice and rules. They are the brains behind an entire world of possibility. They should know their PCs' capabilities or, in my case, realize when they've grossly overestimated them. No, I don't think the party should just "win" every fight or conflict, but I also don't like setting them up to fail either.
As AD says: GMs should know basically what they're doing before they go in. I also agree w/the OP however that sometimes you just need to wing it and fudge through a ruling if they've made a mistake. However a key thing a lot of GMs forget: Adaptability.
It's easy to forget a rule in the heat of battle. You're amped and forget that a ghoul doesn't get a full attack in a charge. That's understandable. But another part of the OP's comments were in response to RP situations or gray area rulings. I-bar at the top is basically saying the GM's word is law so be confident.
Some GMs I've met however feel that they are authors; storytellers. This is not even the case in a "Storyteller" game system game.
One of the things I've seen "confident" GMs do is make rulings and judgments solely to preserve their setting, plot or NPCs. I've been guilty of this many times and I'll probably continue getting it wrong, though I'm trying (which is why I'm a 30+ year vet GM and I'm in a GM's advice thread).
Anyway, GMs with overconfidence or arrogance are so rigidly devoted to their creation that they refuse to bend to the players. Remember: there are often more of them at the table than there are of you. I'm not saying you need to monty haul it for them but ruling in favor of the players once in a while or saying yes to their bizarre plays often makes the difference between a good game and a great one.
Derrick Winters wrote:
Wait, I missed something with Liquid Ice. Are you saying it ADDS 1d3 piercing when consumed? I thought it just changed the damage type to piercing.
RAW, there's no way to make the Wall of Iron spell into a renewable resource. Now...let's get creative.
Long ago we lived in a stone age and we would still today children, if not for the League of Eldritch Alchemy. You see, in the ancient days of our lands vile aberrant overlords unleashed hordes of powerful, burrowing creatures called Rust Monsters to consume the veins of iron ore in the very strata beneath our feet. However the League, then primitive dissidents within the ranks of the hive slaves of the inhuman overlords, began experimenting.
It was discovered that beings called elementals existed. Indeed there were whole planes where these creatures hailed from. Bargains were struck with these creatures to travel to our world and bring with them the raw stuff of creation itself.
Still other conjurers learned to summon the ore themselves in massive walls. These creations however would not bend to the will of the spellcasters and the iron was inferior; once heat was applied to re-forge something new of it by hand it would dissolve into slag. Undeterred alchemical processes were created to introduce new, supportive metals to these walls where they stood. Once so modified, the walls could then be transformed and utilized by our forefathers.
In time huge engines, which we refer to as the Eldritch Foundries were created. Each day they spontaneously create several walls while the League's alchemists constantly craft mass quantities of the chemical alloys. These are combined and the enriched ore is broken down into manageable units to be distributed to the four corners of our lands. Thanks to the league of Eldritch Alchemy all the free people have access to renewable iron for our daily lives.
But there is a cost children. You see, it was found that one of the substances needed for the process is the distilled innocence of children, such as yourselves. Once puberty has begun and body chemistry changes, you are no longer a value to the state. Fortunately not ALL of you will be selected to give yourselves to the Foundries. Those of you who do however will be doing your families, your neighbors, your whole world a great service. For those who volunteer themselves before the lottery you are guaranteeing that your immediate family will be removed from the roll and that they will also be compensated much more than if you were to be drawn for service.
Come forth children. Help your land by giving of yourselves for the greater good. Be heroes!
- Taken from the propaganda film "The Iron Contests"
Essentially it's a dystopian world where the "aberrant threat" is long past but a cruel, ancient custom of draining children's essences out of their souls to add to the process of making pure iron from Wall of Iron spells. This has the added benefit of lobotomizing the children. Their bodies continue to grow and they retain just enough brain function to serve as slaves. Thus they are sent to the Foundries, drained, and then used as a docile workforce until their bodies give out.
The PCs then know that, every time they buy a sword, a child somewhere had to suffer for it.
Or, we could just say no because of RAW. It's your call Weirdo.
3. Rite of Passage
Let's say, I don't know, the Halfling wizard stupidly gets separated from his dwarf party in the woods. You've rolled 3 trolls. Said Halfling is on his own, armed poorly and is a, let's say...first level rogue.
Running the trolls completely by the book they'd be well hidden in the woods. They'd get a surprise round, tear the rogue apart, and then consume him quietly. In a particularly famous book however, the "GM" decided the trolls should be out in the open for the rogue to sneak up on them and, when he DID get caught, he was able to talk to them long enough to get rescued.
Bilbo Baggins, by PF rules and "strategy" employed by intelligent, sentient enemies, should have died hours after leaving Bag End.
All's I'm saying is that yes you can have verisimilitude, and fate (of the dice) and all that, but you ALSO need a spark of creativity to run these games. Your friends showed up to have a good time, participate in a game and enjoy themselves. They didn't show up to watch you roll some dice, tell them their characters all died, and then start over.
Just because the dice say something, that doesn't inevitably lead to the next thing. That's not fudging, that's gaming.
You rolled the encounter, you rolled encounter distance, and then you made perception checks. Once that was done...YOU, the GM, made ALL the decisions. Some GM's would've had the goblins freak since the adventurers sauntering overconfidently into range of their bows may have been 10th level heroes. Other GM's might have had them try to capture the PCs, or act in a disorganized manner and only loosing a couple warning shots. Still OTHER GM's may have not even gotten that far; having rolled 15 goblins they might've split it into 5 sets of 3 goblins each, all within hearing distance of one another, skulking about to set the town on fire.
YOU, clh, decided that all 15 moved with military precision and purpose, training their bows unerringly on the PCs and beginning a battle that mathematically was WELL beyond what they were capable of handling. Sure, had luck been on their side they might've survived. But the laws of averages say that, attacking from surprise against flat-footed opponents of level 1, they had a better-than-50% chance of hitting (+8 vs avg FF AC of 13) and dealing 2.5 avg damage/hit. If 8 of 10 shots hit w/those odds, then 12 shots on avg would have hit the party. If you figure 4 PCs, that means 3 hits/PC, for 7.5 HP per person.
Volley 1: arcanist unconscious or nearly there; rogue-type and cleric type severely wounded; fighter-type at half HP
Volley 2: if goblins win initiative...arcanist dead; rogue-type and cleric-type dead; fighter-type Staggered
The GM decided this outcome. The dice only provided the opportunity. I've done it, unleashing a ghost on my players that I thought they were ready for. But in that instance I worked in a glitch; a momentary lapse where the ghost would stop all malicious action and give the party a chance to flee. The party did eventually flee but not until after the poor cleric lost her Animal Companion that she'd JUST gotten.
I'm sure this has happened to other GMs before us C-battery; it'll happen to others after us. But we GMs need to acknowledge that the dice only have SO much control over the game; at the end of the day it's on US to decide how it turns out. GMs wield great power, and if all those years reading comics taught me ANYTHING, it's that "With great power, comes great responsibility"
Thank you Stan Lee, and your many wonderful creations, for trying to help us be better than we are!
Now then The Haze, we all fall down, we all topple our games once in a while. It's not how we stumble that defines us as GMs; it's how we rise.
Rise up, Master C. Rise up and say: "I'm not fudging dice, but I'm not killing my players' party at random either." Rise up and admit that YOU decided to have the goblins attack in such a manner and that, if your players didn't have any fun getting killed, that's on you. Then rise up and make the decision to game consciously, with your players' feelings in mind. You don't have to fudge the dice to have a good time; your players know this and they trust you. You aren't a wuss or cheap if you "let" them win once in a while either.
Rise up Chris; rise up.
Isn't this one of the reasons why older brothers wail on younger brothers? If I pulled this with my brother Matt first he'd talk to me, then he'd kill me in the game, and if in either case I whined about it he'd wrestle me to the ground, possibly dangling some spit for good measure.
I'm serious; this was my childhood.
Maybe you brothers are different. Maybe you guys are the "hug it out" types they make all these sitcoms about. If so, I'd suggest you talk to him once again, this time citing specifics and involving the whole gaming group. Explain that he can't tease others and then cry if he's teased back - that's a little like bullying and there's plenty of "no bully" campaigns in school right now. Also at this public meeting set up consequences such as Troll DM mentioned above. If he's gonna get uppity, he's gonna get whupped in game; if he keeps at it his PC's gonna get killed.
If this STILL doesn't do it, and you're stuck in the same house w/him, perhaps take it up w/your parents. For nothing else give them a heads up why you're ostracizing him from your games. If all else fails, maybe start messing up his room or steal his comics.
"Hey gang, sounds like there's a horde of goblins moving through the Southgate District, by the old abandoned mansion! Let's head over there in the Mystery Wagon and see if we can pick up their trail!" - and the PCs were never heard from again.
If this is how it played out then AD is right. However if they had taken some precautions or had bad/no intel or whatever, then this is a jacked up way to go out. If we're assuming 15 goblin warrior 1 w/no leaders, mounts or other support creatures, you're STILL looking at 135xp *15 = 2025 xp as Lurk3r states. That is the equivalent of surprising your party with a Very Young Black Dragon, which doesn't sound so bad except when you figure that in the surprise round he hits the party with 4d6 Acid as a breath weapon. That's 14HP average damage.
If THAT doesn't kill the PCs outright, then by the time they roll initiative and decide to flee, it could Charge attack with it's bite for Melee bite +7 (1d6 +3) for avg damage of 6HP. Combined with the lead-in of the Breath Weapon and a ridiculous fly speed, no WAY any of the party survives.
Or if you want to stick with the 15 goblins, in the surprise round you're talking about 15 Ranged +4 (1d4/x3) attacks that are made against Flat Footed AC. That's a solid chance to hit on every attack, but if even only 8 hit you've just delivered 5HP damage to every PC in the group before they've even moved/acted. Then you've got the first initiative round; if the party moves to attack, they'll each be taking another 2HP damage before they engage or if they flee it's the same unless there's cover. If this hasn't killed the party, then when they finally begin melee Aid Another and mob tactics ensure that the party continues taking 1d4/round fairly consistently. My guess is even the fighter is dead by round 4.
Now, cast your mind: remember all those Bruce Lee movies you watched as a kid? Where 30 guys surrounded him but only 1 or 2 at a time came at him until he'd wheedled them down and then when they all swarmed he finished 'em off? Master Lee was STILL pretty beaten up, but he was alive. Why not run it like that?
Surprise round: the goblins sneer and send out "Tiny", the mutant bruiser who is size Medium and has a 15 Str. The PCs wipe the floor with the guy and then a few more rush 'em in round 1. By the start to round 2 between a sleep spell and some tough fighting the PCs have suffered a few D4 damage but the goblins are down to 8 of their guys and they swarm. The party, using cover and tactics, ends up with a nicked wizard, a nearly dead fighter and rogue, and a beat up cleric out of spells, but they're all alive.
RP is a fluid, gray area mostly decided on by the GM. If your father is black and white and militaristic as you describe, then he'll respect the fact that in every version of D&D the GM has the final say in such matters. Your word is law - this is the mantra GM's from the dawn of the game have chanted in the face of such player criticism. Your father may be doing nothing more than testing your resolve as a GM.
That being said I've always been a GM who extrapolates from SOME kind of rule to support my decisions in gray areas. Look at the rules for the Diplomacy skill: you need to take a full minute, out of combat, and chat w/a creature just to get the chance to improve its mood by one step. You can only do this on the same creature 1/day. I don't know anything about this AP, Witchcrows or levels, but I know the Diplomacy rules. I'll give you an example out of my own game:
A LG male human paladin 1 with an 18 Cha, 1 rank in Diplomacy and the Persuasive feat captures a kobold just outside a dungeon. The thing is frightened and alone, however he knows fighting is not an option as he really wants to live. He is craven, selfish; not a zealot. I decide based on that to set his initial attitude at Unfriendly instead of Hostile.
Now I as the GM also know: if this kobold goes back in the dungeon w/these PCs as a guide or whatever and gets caught its a fate WORSE than death. The kobold knows this too. Based on all the above, I ask my paladin player what he's doing. He decides to play good cop and make a request of the kobold to show them a safe way into the dungeon.
What ended up happening is that the player made a good roll, lowered the creature's attitude to Indifferent and then another decent roll for the request (total after all bonuses of 26). He also gave an impassioned speech about how the kobold would be protected and such. Despite the effort the best the kobold would offer was a map in the dirt. He DID however beg to be taken back to the city as a slave/prisoner. He would serve his master well, do as he was told, etc. He absolutely refused under pain of death to return to the only home he'd known his entire kobold life.
I guess my point is: be fair but firm with your players. If you simply drop the hammer and say no to their requests, you'll get snarky comments; if you acquiesce to every player suggestion however your players will just win everything. Find a middle ground, based on rules, and stick to your convictions.
There's been a lot of this over the years. Players inventing villains like the time the PCs were convinced the miller was a bad guy so I ran with it and borrowed an idea from an old Dragon magazine making the miller a wererat. Another time the players became convinced that I'd put a broken, rusty sword in a chamber for some reason. I'd rolled it in adventure creation as a piece of set dressing; instead the players' obsession with it turned it into Arumdia; the fabled broken artifact sword that, once restored would end the demon queen Loth and banish all drow forever.
It really comes down to adaptability, not creativity. Most GMs have an idea when they sit down to run - I'm guilty of it myself lately. We have this idea either written into the game we've made or at the very least in the back of our heads and woe be to the player who doesn't fall in line with that idea. But if we GMs merely relinquish a bit of control and say "to heck with the idea" the players are sometimes FAR better storytellers than we could ever be.
If you really want this to happen in your game then instead of sitting down to run with a firm idea, instead replace that with a "What if" statement
- What if the villain is the duke
That way when the players suggest something different that they're SURE is the truth, you can replace that part of your statement with their answer and STILL have a fun game.
Hey Wiggz, great stuff. In my own experience I've done the re-flavored consumables thing - this was a great way to spice up these low level items. I think my players enjoyed the variety. Some examples:
- churches using holy wafers, incense or blessed water sprinkled from a censor to deliver potion effects
- Scrolls or scroll effects on: spinning cantor wheels (a rod with a spinning drum that the cantor reads from), a picture book, braided rope or hair unwound in a certain way to release the spell, quill pens that you scribe the spell in the air with
- Alternative "wands": preserved bones (I've used fingers and skulls), masterwork tools such as thieves picks, scarves
As far as the "magic mart" goes, I don't have one central place in my games for magic item acquisition. Instead I try to provide players contacts likely to have/craft items and make the search for items in a settlement a mini-adventure in itself. If a player says "I need a +1 shield" for example, he doesn't just pop off to the magic mart. Rather he begins by asking around; some of the 2k for the shield goes towards greasing some palms and such. Then he gets a bead on an old farmer out in the hinterlands of the town with such a shield. The reason the man and his family own their own stead outside the town in the first place is that an ancestor had been a prominent mercenary/adventurer/knight etc and returned home with cash and the shield, however the old farmer no longer has a need for such a trophy and so he sells it to the PC.
I've also tried to use Legacy Items. I must've done it wrong though. I thought the PCs had to awaken certain powers; they didn't just happen. I told the players this and added things in game to suggest greater powers lurking within their items, but they never actually did anything with them so the items never got any better. If I use this technique again, I'm just going to have the items awaken spontaneously and merely acquire power as they go.
Yet ANOTHER way to make items grow is to have additives. These are completely homebrewed ideas that I've thrown in from time to time. Got a +1 sword? Well if you grind up these rare fire opals from the Plane of Fire and embed the dust in the hilt it becomes a +1 Flaming sword.
You can do this with rare radiations, herbs or gems, the blood or breath of specific monsters, etc. I usually introduce the idea to the PCs through a source like finding an eldritch manuscript, speaking with some old sage, or something along these lines. These sources provide instructions for a one-time infusion of power to increase the potency of an item or add additional abilities to it. The reason these aren't world-known and used is because I usually also include a stipulation like it only works some of the time or in specific conditions, etc.
P.H. Dungeon wrote:
It might be more interesting/challenging to have the treasure somehow contained in the balls
Isn't this why there's a creature in the Bestiaries called a Mercane? Also if you're a fan of the Myth series by Robert Lynn Asprin you could simply add Deva, the Infinite Bazar where anything and everything can be found. Of course, then you'd have to offer Deveels, or "devils" that can pop through the dimensions and make deals on items.
Personally I say: if my PLAYERS don't care about price fixing, economics, or magic item purchase, why kill myself over it. But even though it might not be needed for my game, you've done the game a service Peet and your fluff is top notch boss! You have my thanks for an awesome read.
Currently there is a level 1 cleric of Saranrae in my group. His build includes Int 14 for a bonus of +2 on his Knowledge: Religion check. This puts him taking a 10 at:
10 +2(Int) +3(Class Skill Bonus) +1 (Skill Rank)= 16
This means on an average roll he might find out one of the more common aspects of the wight... like a mere touch equals instant death to weak mortals. If he rolled just a bit higher (18) that would DEFINITELY be one of the things he'd learn. Adventurers who survive wight attacks and tell the tale later tend to reiterate more frightening details...like a death touch.
Now in the case of my second example above the players were smart enough to use the resources of the town of Mistwatch, which had a church library. The Lore bonus of the town got added to their research and 2 characters worked together granting an Aid Another bonus. This resulted in a total of a 22 Knowledge check but I fudged it a little and gave them 3 items of lore on the wight in the tomb.
Knowledge is power in these situations kids; knowledge is power.
Hmm, this is the OP's first and only thread.....
OMG I'm sorry. I was really snarky upthread. @ the OP: I'm genuinely sorry I was such a little B about my comments.
Still it just seems odd out of context. Please elaborate a bit more:
- what's happening in the game prior to the dragon
Please help those of us telling you to kill the dragon anyway to understand your game and the ranger's objection so we'll give better advice. "The most important rule: Don't be a jerk." It says so right below where I'm typing and I think I may have courted that infraction. If this is your first post I don't want it to be the last.
Umm...yeah, this campaign isn't really about morals and ethics, is it? This game is extremely wonky. You say you found a blood trail that JUST HAPPENED to lead to 700k in a hoard, a dying dragon, and a wyrmling? Just to house/support such a creature I'm guessing you're in the heart of some insanely massive glacier or tundra or icy mountain pass. How did you even GET to this moment in the game and NOT have a conversation about dealing with moral dilemmas?
That all being said, you should not suffer this creature to live. It has existed now for AT LEAST 1201 years; that means TWELVE CENTURIES. Even if, by a freaking miracle, it ate only caribou and elk to sustain itself the entire time, it has likely decimated whole populations of these creatures with its raids, the fear it exudes, and the powers it's breath weapon possesses. Not to mention 2 facts, one previously named and one yet undisclosed:
1. Someone/thing had to be powerful enough to defeat it before you got there (bear in mind it's a CR18 creature)
2. Some white dragon had to be worthy enough to mate with it
So all of this together means that if this thing survives it will need copious amounts of food and thus it will depopulate some local community just for that basic need. It will also need treasure to replace what you stole (more destroyed communities); it will require vengeance (you and it's original defeater are on the menu here) and it may impress it's former mate and others into its service meaning a force of devastation hewing through the land looking for the objects of its vengeance (more destroyed settlements).
Frankly I think there is something way off here that we're all missing, from earlier in the campaign. This encounter, taken out of context, seems mindbogglingly wrong. Dragons like this are the stuff of nightmare and legend; their destroyers are generally equally frightening. Your party just seemed to trip and fall into the path of these world-shaping forces and NOW after you've looted the place and kidnapped a sentient creature with an Int of 6 and the capability of speech so it can therefore beg for its life in draconic; NOW you're wondering if maybe you've gone too far?
Kill the dragon. End its pain. Find the capitol city and then buy it. End the campaign.
The difference (in my actual experience) between a wight being fair and unfair for a level 1 encounter:
GM: you're walking down the hallway and come to a "T" intersection; you spot a...powerful humanoid with rotting flesh
This fight ended poorly for the PCs and I got yelled at for such a brutal random encounter.
GM: Legend tells of the tomb being haunted; not by it's original inhabitant but by a murderer who used it as a hideout. Malek Bane was convicted of murder but swore unto the noose he was innocent. His old gang helped free him literally from the gallows in a daring raid and they escaped into the barrows nearby. So the tale goes the corrupt sheriff drove a posse here in pursuit and cornered Bane and his accomplaces in this tomb, then sealed them inside. Years later a powerful undead force, a creature of rotten flesh, hateful sentience and inhuman strength, was found stalking the inner chambers of the place. Over the years many have tried to cleanse the tomb of this haunt and give proper rest not only to Bane but the other restless dead his mere presence has given rise to. The city has even gained assurance from the church of Pharasma that they will compensate any who complete the quest so long as the original burial artifacts are left where they are found. To date ALL have perished in the attempt.
PCs do research, make rolls...
GM: Bane has exhibited the powers and behaviors of a wight; powerful undead creature (undead traits) with a devastating life-draining touch attack.
The players entered the tomb with holy water, specially blessed arrows (+1 to hit vs undead) and alchemist's fire. Needless to say, my players were very happy to have been so well armed and walked away with only minor scrapes from accompanying skeletons in the tomb complex.
Wow, just...wow. I imply darkness but rarely actually show it off. Last game the PCs met a dying man in a cell that was at the back of a tortrure room. His skin had been flayed. I didn't describe the wounds, nor the graphic nature of the chamber. After finding him they got grim news - the kobolds are using the skin collected as vellum. That session concluded with the party being sheltered in the dungeon by a kobold "courtesan" in her brothel where it was implied that one of the PCs and one of the NPCs "didn't get much sleep."
However I don't know that I actually unleash real darkness on my players. My plan with the vellum using kobolds is
There's a slaver ring called the Chain and Sickle operating out of the character's main city. They cruise the poorer neighborhoods, prisons, and cris-cross the countryside offering to either pay money or perform a service for the next of kin if folks will give themselves to them. The Chain and Sickle then deliver these slaves to the Scritedra (the scroll-writing office of the kobolds in the dungeon). These transactions help maintain a tenative peace between these kobolds and the city of Ravenhurst. There's an NPC who's going to uncover this on her crusade for vengeance and rope the party into it with her.
I guess if I'm really honest, I don't think I have the stomach for true darkness in my own games. I can allude to it, but in RL I have a wife, kids, and am very close to family and friends; my stomach churns when I think about RL horrors like crimes involving children, genocide, graphic murder and such. Silence of the Lambs in my opinion is still one of the most horrific horror movies ever made IMO.
Kudos to those of you that can actually pull it off. I just can't get that dark.
Item drops can be unique with flavor.
All the orcs carry axes, and this one's no different. However close inspection reveals this masterwork has a handle of bone with a wyvern's stinger at the pommel. The leather chord that wraps the haft has had repeating script burned into it; oddly this is dwarf lettering and is the Defender's Code. The blade is the head of a dragon with the axe being a firey blast from it's open maw. The creature's bust is crimsoned cold-iron making it appear like an ancient red with its scales faded by its unfathomable lifespan. The beast is adorned with twining horns writhing around the tip of the haft; these are embedded with eight bloodstone studs, each ringed in gold, and the rings each have a unique rune. These represent the Eight Heims of the Lords, the ancient dwarf halls that once ruled all of these lands.
It sounds like you're doing something like this already. I too like to drop only weapons the monsters would actually have. My players fought a bunch of kobolds, finding a masterwork spear... sized for a kobold. No one in the party can use it, but they can keep it as a trophy or sell it or whatever.
To supplement this I often have Downtime, and in these moments I make it a point to engage my players with specific questions like what items they're looking for or what they want to improve on their PCs. I then have contacts in the town that might be able to offer something along the lines of what the player is looking for.
However if you're looking for ways to make item drops unique, look no further than Diablo II. Lets say an orc drops a masterwork axe; yawn. However he also drops a rare piece of Warpstone; a magical crystal that emits a radiation that can be subtly manipulated by master crafters and spellcasters. The axe, being masterwork, can survive this intense process and the gem can be utilized to imbue the item with some kind of upgrade - Flaming, Defending, etc. The process itself grants the device a base +1 and costs a pretty penny, but such items are always worth the investment.
Finally item drops don't always have to be weapons and armor. Give them a little forethought. Your player is compaining that he needs a new set of armor. In the next town he JUST HAPPENS to run into a rare armorer who claims to be able to make amazing scalemail armor sets using dragon hide and cold iron. The party is chasing a dragon, but he'll need other things too, like the blood of a wyvern-stung dwarf and sunlight distilled through a kobold's eye. The party has a dwarf in it.
They hunt down a local wyvern, allow the dwarf to get stung then kill the beast - they then drain a vial of the dwarf's blood and rest for a day. The next day they find a nest of kobolds, slay a powerful sorceress, and take her eye up to the hilltop aerie of the wyvern where they follow the process to distil the sunlight into six teardrops. Finally they go destroy the green dragon they've been hunting, skin it, and return to find the crafter has already started to prepare the process. Since he's got the cold-iron started and has some spells to help out, it'll only take him a day to fuse all the materials in a ritual that results in a suit of dragonscale armor +2.
This has honestly NEVER been a problem in my games. For one thing all my games implode at 4th to 6th level for some reason, so my players are usually only buying consumables. For another I always include a crafter NPC or two in some of the initial contacts I give the party, and they make a point to seek them out in town so they just buy stuff off them. However if my game ever makes it to levels where my PCs start to really need powerful wondrous items, weapons, staves, etc, I suppose I'd handle it like this:
There's no Magic Mart. However towns and cities have leftovers; items handed down over time, resold from loot broght by other adventurers, and such. These hand-me-downs are generally kept among like items or in the homes of people known to have been associated with them.
On top of that, there are crafters.
If in RL we can have a Lexus Dealership full of luxury vehicles that only the upper third of the local populace can even afford to look at, it stands to reason that the wealthy of major locales would have access to crafters of such extreme skill that they may have enchanted wares alongside their masterworks. Of course, they might have a few on display to impress the neuvo riche like adventurers.
Finally, there are the PCs contacts.
Getting back to my own low-level solution for consumables, there are NPCs the characters know like the local cloistered nun/healer, or perhaps the old kook in the tower on the edge of town. These folks have other contacts BESIDES the party and may once in a while receive info, items, and materials to help the PCs.
I like the broker fee idea. However I prefer to keep things simple while also using these things to help define the setting instead of defying it.
So I've put another email out to the guys and gotten some more specific feedback. One liked the RP with the kobolds; he said he liked the idea that not every monster is immediately evil (a LN kobold helped them last game). He thought the fights were fair. Another player chimed in saying that the 2 fights we had last session were not fun; he'd like more manageable fights (the 2 last game just happened to roll out to a CR 3 and a CR 2 for an APL 1 team).
From this feedback I'm getting that I need to scale back the threat level, give the PCs a chance to feel more epic in their fights; maybe have several APL or APL -1 fights scattered through a session. Also keep the intelligent villains talking (a new thing for me) and change up alignments and motivations once in a while. So...
Taking the excellent advice here from Detox I'm going to have the earthquake set piece. Instead of making that a quick detour in the session I'm going to stretch it out. The quake opens fissures around the main city - from these issue vermin. Lots of little fights (APL 1/3, 1/2, and 1) that threaten folks in the streets and some environmental hazards (falling building cornices, 5' wide gaps in the ground, etc). These lead up to a rockslide hitting the slums on the other side of the western wall (the Slivers).
The second half of the game session is getting into the Slivers, saving folks there while trying to find a couple NPCs that are there. A final confrontation with some kind of intelligent vermin and the game wraps. Sound good?
The only one I've done consistently is to speak in a voice or occasionally act out something like a twitch, limp or a humped back. But I've done most if not all of these when I was in HS and college.
We had old European coins (no value) that we used as props; we used poker chips as Cool Guy awards; we played music, dimmed lights and once or twice dressed up for a game. We did #10 once for a White Wolf/Mage game but the only exotic thing I could find was homemade hummus (it was new/exotic to the players, so I went for it).
Nowadays we game at a games store or a guy's house with his kids right there. Plus none of my players are really into that stuff. I miss it though. I don't miss the super dramatic stuff like candles or plastic Halloween goblets, but I do miss listening to JUST the right music, or the one time my brother bought a single piece of expensive parchment, washed it with coffee, wrote on it with his calligraphy set and then finally wrinkled and burned portions of the page for a prop.
Why don't I do this stuff any more? It's not because I don't have time - I make time to make my game and my wife is really understanding, so I could squeeze in an extra five min for a prop or handout. Is it laziness? Maybe, but I don't think so. I think it's that my gamers right now would look at me like I'm from Mars if I showed up with The Ring of Mel - a rotating prop for the players when they want to try something cool but if they fail they want to look good doing it.
I have committed to one thing though for my current game: NPC cards. I'm going to have index cards w/NPC pics, names and a few characteristics. I'm toying w/the idea of also doing this for places and things as well. That way when recapping the story so far I can go: So, you started at the Hammered Dragon Inn (throws a card) and met Aldredhein (throws a card) the female half-elf rogue. She took you to the ruins of Flamenwing Castle (throws a card) where you fought numerous kobolds and found much loot including a masterwork spear (throws a card) with Ulfbert's father's maker's mark on it. Now you are headed back to the City of Ravenhurst (drops city map).
@ PH: this is great stuff. You and I have very similar styles it appears.
@ Cevah: I never realized. I use this tactic in RL all the time. I have a daughter with ADHD; she can be so distracted that if you ask her "how was your day" she just shrugs, but if you say "What was your happiest moment at school today" she'll ramble on for 20 minutes. Since one of the guys in the group constantly jokes that he has adult-onset ADD, I can't believe I never saw this before. THANK YOU for your suggestion.
@ Pendothrax: I concur - accidents are a good thing. I had a bartender a couple campaigns ago who I could never remember the name of. I had it jotted down in my notes but heaven help me I never found it when I needed it. So I'd always say something close. One of my players noticed the discrepancy in an email and jokingly confronted me on it in game. I was running the bartender at the time... so I had him throw a drink in the PCs face and bolt out the back door. I decided on the spot he was a spy for the BBEG and thought he'd been discovered.
This led to a chase through town, some kobolds killing the guy at the end before he could reveal his true identity, and opened up a whole new facet of the game. Use accidents, and never let them see you sweat.
As for the planning itself, it's still a pain. Even if I'm just assembling hooks to flesh out later, I've got to figure out each one's basic premise, create at least a little detail for the hooks, then take clues to that detail and drop them organically into the game.
Let's take PH's example above. I've got: Dwarf Stronghold, Fallen Monastery, Demon Cult in Swamp. Now I need a basic premise for each
Dwarf Stronghold: it was taken out by a dragon and its infested w/kobolds
Fallen Monastery: random tragedy but it's backfilled with monsters; PCs need to retrieve a McGuffin
Demon Cult: kidnapping people to turn them into cultists, sacrifices
From here I've got to work out adding these to the conversation w/the PCs. This means I need a scene where they're talking with citizens of Ravenhurst or other NPCs. Now I have to arrange a meeting I know they'll want to attend.
@ Firsttimeplayer: I don't know if you're still tracking this thread, but if you are, have a conversation with Dave. He doesn't have to tell you his entire game plan, but he as GM should give you some hints as to what his game is about and what you should think about while making your next character. A killer game filled with angry traps and brutal encounters will inspire a much different character creation then say, a Weis-Hickman-esque high fantasy romp.
Also Firsttime, making a character is really just a lot of numbers when you're first learning. As Ciaran said upthread get out lots of paper and make up a bunch of stat arrays (sets of abilities such as Str, Int) and see what you can make out of them. Even though your game is for eighth level, try making a bunch of level 1's until you feel you've got the hang of it.
As for your first game out; we've all been there. Believe me. My first adventures were playing a high-level illusionist in AD&D to give my brother help running a module - Queen of the Demonweb pits. I died 3 times and when we finally finished the adventure we did it wrong and ruined the magical artifact sword anyway.
We've played under killer GMs, angry GMs, GMs who were overly laid back... they are people after all and their personality translates to how they run the game. Dave may not know what he's doing or maybe he does; either way believe me when I say that's not the only way to play.
Finally, if you want to learn the game as a whole, there's youtube videos with basic tutorials and game sessions. There's also the PRD to read (once you begin to understand what you're looking at) and of course there's always people on the boards.
You might even head out, if you're really interested, to your local games store or hobby shop. There may be a Pathfinder Society game scheduled. If so you might watch or even join in. PFS is a standardized form of Pathfinder that has rigid rules for character creation, gameplay and mechanics, so the folks participating can have consistency in any game they jump into. It's a great way to learn the basics through doing.
Post up some numbers, if you're willing, and show off a character or two. You'll find most everyone on these boards both supportive and encouraging. You might even get some ideas that you hadn't thought of before. Hopefully you'll keep trying!