Just finished my read-through of the AE version and I'm ready to run this fine product for my group (once they're ready, that is.) But I've ran into yet another 'bumpy' area that I'm considering modifying before we get too deep into things.
I'm trying to find a working relationship between Karzoug and Lamashtu. This is what got me thinking about it:
Page 351 wrote:
The problem here is that Lamashtu is a HUGE part of Nualia's background and is the patron for all the Lamia's except Ceoptra.
It kind of makes sense that Karzoug intended for them to convert, and I suppose it is plausible that he never found a good time to orchestrate it, but why tolerate it now.
In Nualia's contingency section it suggests that she might pledge herself to Karzoug, and to me this makes no sense. She's Wrath, first and foremost, not Greed. Plus Karzoug has no love for Lamashtu. And he was at war with the Wrath faction to the point of nearly destroying it. There are even hints that he succeeded in doing so just before the cataclysm.
Anyway, how does this shore up? Any ideas?
Once, back in college, we had a group of twelve. I got the idea to anoint one of the players as a 'co-GM'. We were running something similar to an adventure path, with lots of branching side plots. I tasked the co-GM with taking part of the party on one of these side plots each week. The actual group makeup would vary from week to week, and we would often bring the large group together for 'text box' style plot presentations. Then they'd split again and we'd continue.
It was great fun, but still a lot of work. Probably less than two completely independent campaigns, but more work than running the same AP on two different nights of the week.
It looks like the Scribbler must be the one bridging the gap, somehow. He's using speak with dead on someone who doesn't speak his languages, and the spell specifically says it doesn't add any... Though, to be fair, I don't see that on the list of the Scribbler's third level prepared spells either.
I think he should get seven of that level, and that's what he has in his statblock. So maybe this is on a week where the corpse is on cooldown... :)
Chapter 5 talks about having the Scribbler mine information from the PCs, potentially entering into a tit-for-tat exchange with the them. My question - how does he communicate with a typical party?
He lacks the common language, having only Abyssal and Thassalonian. He scribbles in Thassalonian, per the text, which even suggests bring Quink along so he can read it. And this makes sense as none of the hold overs from the last age speak common. One assumes that it wasn't developed yet, or that they used Thassalonian as their own common.
I see nothing in his stat block that gives him tongues, but assume he could prepare it as a 4th level cleric spell. If that's the case, which should I remove from his prepared list to replace it? Honestly, though, I don't know that a guy who's only learned two languages in thousands of years of life really cares about communication...
The same problem, though, also should have already presented itself in the library in the last chapter. How many of those tomes were written in a language other than Thassalonian? I may give the party the opportunity to pick up the language from study there, but as the AP makes several assumptions about them not being able to read it, this could cause problems.
For THAT matter, Karzoug doesn't speak common either. Did he think to cast tongues before taking Mokmurian's body in chapter 4? And if he didn't pre-cast it, could he have cast it through the link once he realized that nobody understood a word he was saying? Really, since he was musing to himself almost exclusively, mocking the party, this too should have been spoken in Thassolonian, I would think.
I'm just a little surprised that after all the thousands of times this has been played to be 'finding' something like this. So I guess maybe I'm overlooking something obvious.
One more try?
Why do your NPCs only try to 'kill the hell' out of the PCs while in combat?
Specifically via RotRL...
Why not have Aldern kill the PCs in their sleep, rather than stealing from his obsession?
And why not infect his obsession with ghoul fever in these same opportunities?
Why not get the stone giants to use shape stone to destroy the dam over Turtleback? Or at least open a hole in the very bottom letting all the water escape?
...but this applies equally in other settings as well. Again, why not arcane lock the inn and burn it down?
Because that's not the terms of the engagement, and I imagine you well know this to be true. The PCs are assumed to have their chance to be heros.
As for 'smart is new' or 'PC death is old school', yes and no to both. But neither would be an excuse to go out of your way to kill a player's character. See arcane locked inns for 'smart'. As for 'old school', I seem to remember having to start over at level 1. I'm guessing you don't still use THAT rule, too, eh? :)
And even if you did, it would be grossly innapropriate for RotRL.
Here's a thought - what if you kill the entire original party from Burnt Offerings? I can't see how you'd achieve the same story arc through people who didn't have the same attachments as are slowly built through the beginning. In fact, I see little to no mention of PC death anywhere in the AP. So far at least. But I see loads and loads of 'let them feel welcomed back' that wouldn't apply if they had never been there before.
In deference to the idea of returning to the topic, I'll be brief:
If you don't play the villian as non-optimal in combat, then why are you playing them so out of combat?
A truly evil villian played to the best of the GMs ability would 'win' every single time at most tables. Particuarly because players are expecting a certain genre. The classic villian captures the princess. The 'realistic' villian just kills her in her tower. Probably after distracting the heros by setting an orphanage on fire. Or just kills them all in their sleep. Maybe cast some arcane locks on all the entrances to their inn and fireball the place. This would work best at the end of the day...
As a dad with my own 11 year old son in my upcoming RotRL group, I have some similar concerns. Thus far I plan to handle the more mature themes in two different ways:
A) I plan to leave out certain details unless they matter. E.g. 'entrails hanging from whatnot' will become 'the ogres made a mess in this room too'. I can also use this as a valve to let them control their level of exposure to the horrors. It'll depend on how many 'how' questions they ask, etc. The key here, particularly for the kid, is to separate what the PCs are going through from what the players themselves have to picture in their minds.
B) I plan to underscore how my son's character is a hero, and how his character can STOP these evil things from hurting anyone else. It is a plain fact that there's evil in the both the real world as well as the game world, and rather than stripping it out I hope to use the game as an example of what can be accomplished when good people do the right things.
I do still worry though, and have talked with his mom about it. She's also a player at my table, though, so she can help control things a bit.
I learned something once from a member of a different forum that explains some of the fudge/don't fudge psychology, and I'd like to share it now.
However, first, a caveat - this is a red pill/blue pill thing for all flavors and decendants of 3rd edition. So you may not even want to read it. I suppose I'll tag it, particularly because it's a full-on tangent at this point. :)
WoTC engineered 3e with a 'rules mastery' mechanic, borrowed from Magic the Gathering. The concept is essentially that by rewarding players for owning and reading the splat books, you'll sell more splat books. Google 'Monte Cook ivory tower game design' for more details on the history, and note the 'Timmy card' reference.
For obvious reasons, a culture of expecting the rules to have primary importance grew organically around 3e. Whether the gamers themselves were changed or a certain type of gamer was attracted to the style is whole other discussion. Undeniably, here they are.
When you identify a gaming career beginning in the 80's, you are describing a time before this concept was present in RPGs. As such, you may not have recognized it when you saw it. I know I didn't. Hopefully, if nothing else, you can understand how a given player with a 'masterwork character', leveraging the rules to their fullest, would be dissapointed to find that a single person's choices can diminish all their hard work.
Though, in the long run, as was described above so very well - there's nothing they can do about that, fudging or not.
As for the dog, it has to have a place at the Manor, because he's taking in there when it gets killed. If the dog stayed in Magnimar, then it wouldn't have stopped in Sandpoint with it's master.
I think I like Aldern better as 'crazy after', but I suppose you're right. His childhood trauma probably never was properly treated, and he has already killed his wife... So maybe I'll need to come up with a way to display that a bit during the boar hunt.
It still needs a gentle, gentle touch, though.
So I'm trying to see what was forshadowed by the 'Larz workaholic' joke, and I can't find it. Did I miss something?
Meanwhile, I'm considering replacing and/or dovetailing this with a joke about how she's surprised to see Benny Harker out of bed so early considering how late he had the mill running last night.
Another thing I've noticed is the AE doesn't require as many of the Community materials. I can only assume that those materials weren't included in the classic version (otherwise why re-create them as a community). Again I can't speak to the history without knowing for sure, but it seems to be an unspoken bonus. Not that the community stuff isn't good - it's just that the Official stuff is better, IMO.
What follows is long, analytical, and may represent a bit of a red/blue pill issue for the reader. You were warned. :)
I'm working hard to absorb the entire content of the AP and the world around it into my brain, and am trying to make it 'real'. This way I'll be ready for when it goes off the rails, able to tailor it to the PCs, etc.
Right up front, I have a few problems. The biggest of which is Aldern's role in chapter one vs chapter two. Maybe I misunderstood something, but I'm going to try and lay it out the way I see it:
A) Aldern is in hoc with the Seven in a bad way, but is trying to renovate his family manor anyway. The manor itself is an irrepairable, haunted wreck, that is openly hostile to people within it, and potentially fatal. Yes I realize that the floor was closed up, but there are all sorts of possible problems with suicides and so forth even before Aldern kills his wife. I can't understand how anyone slept there, let alone lived there, let alone did any carpentry. But this isn't a HUGE problem, as I doubt the PC's will notice.
B) Aldern 'accidentally' kills his wife and a carpenter. He locks the house and flees to Magnimar to get help with cleaning it up.
C) He eventually heads back to the house, stopping at the festival along the way.
D) During the attack, he cowers while goblins kill his dog.
Problem #1 - What dog?
The plot lays this out like a beloved family pet. And if this were the case, I'd think at a minimum there'd be an empty dog house outside of Foxglove Manor with the dog's name on it. So maybe not a huge thing to try and fix. But I can't see the dog dealing well with the supernatural aspects of the place. Though I suppose I could underscore this from the kennel, or something. It does, though, seem strange that the dog springs into existance only long enough to leverage this aspect of the goblins' hatred.
Problem #2 - Why is he cowering?
Set aside the fact that this guy is a member of a murderous cult, corresponding with a Lamia witch. If you can set that aside. I'm not sure I can, but I'm trying. No, the thing that's bothering me is that he's level seven, with three of those being Rogue. I don't understand why he'd be afraid of a CR 1-2 encounter, particularly when he can use his dog for flanking. Hold that thought for a second...
E) He becomes obsessed with one of the PCs. Starts stealing their stuff, etc, etc.
F) He invites them to go boar hunting with him and his three manservants.
Problem #3 - What manservants?
This is admittedly a bit nitpicky, but how does a broke dude with no place to live cart around manservants? Presumably he brought them from Magnimar, but what was he planning to do with them when he went to Foxglove Manor? Surely he didn't want them poking around? And how would he explain the caged, dead, diseased rats to them? It's just weird...
Not to mention he also buys everyone horses, etc. All while being 'nearly bankrupt'.
He is also paying for these people to all room at the Rusty Dragon. Unless the servants all get to sleep in the stables or something. I'd be pretty angry if I thought my lord's manor was only a short horse-ride and I had to sleep in the stables. Particularly if he was running out of money and maybe I wasn't all that well paid or something. I'd at least ask if I could ride on to the manor and return before dawn. Particularly if there were three of us. How much help could one guy need in the night?
Problem #4 - Boar hunting?
See Problem #2 above. This guy cowers in fear at the thought of encountering a CR 1/3 goblin, but actively seeks out and kills CR2 boars?
I think I can fix 3 and 4 by replacing the manservents with a hired hunting guide. Maybe Aldern has never actually been boar hunting, but his best friend used to love to do it, and it was the only thing he could think of to be close to his obsession.
But I do need to decide whether or not Aldern is a weakling in his human state. If he isn't, then he must be pretending in 'D' above. But for that to be prudent, he'd have to have had his eye on the PCs prior to the attack. And that begs a bit of roleplaying, which might make the PCs too suspicious.
I think, in my particular case, I can ignore his stats entirely in chapter one, make him an ordinary human who ought to be afraid of goblins and wild boars, etc. I can play all of his power swing into his transformation. I think this makes the most sense, outside of the specific game mechanics being used to transform him.
That, plus a dog house at the manor and a dog bed in Magnimar, and finally a hunting guide for the boar hunt.
I have some other issues, too, but I'll do another post or something for those. Right now my immediate need is deciding how to run Aldern during the festival...
I'm still not clear on why you'd use the coup-de-grace manuver on your PCs. It doesn't seem to match any fiction I can think of, and in fact Zombieland made a gag out of the 'double-tap'. It also isn't that realistic, I don't think. Many historcal combat wounds led to death via infection - possibly even most of them. Also, in the mindset of many of the villians in the series, wouldn't they prefer to leverage the defeated PCs in some way instead? Not even as a sacrifice of some sort?
In short, is using this maneuver perhaps a bit meta? Meaning the NPCs know they're in a game and are trying to use the rules of that game to maximum advantage?
If you're absolutely opposed to fudging, and hero points aren't getting it done, try stealing the bennie system from Savage Worlds. It could go something like so:
1) Every player starts each night (not each adventure, but each game night) with three tokens. At any time a player can spend a token to make anyone re-roll anything they please. The one who spent the bennie gets to pick which roll to keep.
2) Exceptional play gets you one free bennie, at the GM's discretion.
3) Each major GM NPC gets two-to-three as well. (Not the grist, but the actual baddies.)
This introduces a sort of 'above-board' fudging where everyone knows what's going on as it happens.
Now if a system like this is still not 'hard core' enough for you, well, I'd suggest you get used to using software to make new characters. It makes it go faster...
Just to reiterate what others have said, your options appear to be (and note these are mid-to-fairly manipulative, so use your discretion):
1) Discuss removing it with your GM, but come at it from a different angle. Go with the 'not fun' and illustrate how iterative attacks wind up making you worse at combat. Point out how you'd rather play with an 'awesome heros' theme, even though it 'is not as realistic' that they never fumble. Cop to the 'casual mode' and deflect that back to 'just not quite as hardcore as we are now - just this one change, and I am golden'.
2) If that fails, ask for a way to 'buy' your way out of it. Can you, for example, buy a Feat that cancels out the risk of fumbling? Sometimes this negotiation/level of detail will cause a GM to lose his resolve on his custom rules. YMMV, but it's worth a shot.
3) Offer to GM instead. Go with the 'hey, it really is your table, but we should probably take turns'. Again, many a GM won't be so resolute in the face of competition. Do make sure you're ready to run at least a one-shot, in case of called-bluff.
4) Stop coming to games. This can work in two ways - on the one hand, your 'protest' might gain you some favor. (Equally, it may not. It depends.) And on the other hand, your time away will help clarify your feelings on the matter. Maybe you'll not mind the rule as much as you mind missing the game. Or maybe you'll wonder why you wasted so much time playing under the rule. Again, it depends.
Best of luck to you, whatever happens.
Just to tell on myself a bit, I now own both the hardcover AND the pdf set (AE).
I can't read the hardcover in bed without bothering my wife, and it didn't feel 'right' bringing it to work, nor can I copy+paste from it. Though I'm oddly not all that sorry I own both, because I do enjoy reading the book a lot more. It just feels better...
Anyway, there it is. :)
Nice! Keep 'em coming.
And since this is an RPG application, the actor being dead is no barrier. Just so long as I can find some clips on YouTube, movies on Netflix, or some other fodder to emulate, we're golden.
Ameiko is proving really hard to cast. The best suggestion I've heard so far is Jessica Alba. But that's pretty terrible, honestly. Ameiko isn't from California...
In the nineties I would have agreed with the concepts in this post. Maybe even a year or two ago, as well. But stuff has happened since then:
1) The Phantom Menace - Lucas demonstrated clearly that he has no love for his work and is only in it for the money. It is IMPOSSIBLE to move the content into worse hands, and the brand will still probably never recover. There's a reason KoTR was set thousands of years before Ani the Boy Wonder.
2) Disney bought the Muppets - Have you seen the last Muppet movie? Amazing stuff. Just as good, if not better, than the content I loved as a kid.
3) Disney bought Marvel - Um, one word here: Avengers.
I'm cool with whatever Disney thinks is best. They have a much better track record than George Lucas and have demonstrated that they can take existing IP and leverage it for maximum effect.
I've always found 'fallacy' to be a really strong word with this Stormwind stuff. For example, there is one way that rollplaying and roleplaying always do conflict - time spent. Imagine two scenarios:
A) PC wants lower prices from a shopkeeper.
Rollplaying A) Diplomacy check.
Rollplaying B) Protracted combat with tactical elements highlighting feat selection and character design.
As you can see, one of these options takes a lot more time than the other, in each case. While 'Roleplaying B' may not be typical, it has seen a lot of use at my table when evil PCs want to do non-adventure-related things. "While the Ninja effortlessly kills each of the sleeping soldiers, what are the rest of you doing?"
Going back to the system at hand, being Pathfinder, it is noteworthy that it even has a Diplomacy skill. It is also noteworthy that their newest book seems to be making downtime more systematic, providing faster resolution.
IME it shifts it towards rollplay, but that's just based on the description of it, and the assumption that the remaining table time will be spent on rollplay things.
The Savage Worlds books had a bit of advice that I thought I'd try when I run through the RotRL AP:
Imagine that your adventure is a Hollywood movie, and you can cast anyone you want to play each NPC. Assign an actor or persona to each one, and rely on that throughout the sessions.
Right away, I'd cast Mako (from e.g. Conan) as Ameiko's father. Or maybe Ken Watanabe (Saiko from Inception), but his personality is a bit more bland.
Angela Landsbury as the halfling woman from Ameiko's bar.
That's all I have so far. I'm only up to the Glassworks in my read through...
What do you guys think? Obviously I need strong roles for each of the major players in the story and in Sandpoint. Like the sherrif, mayor, etc.
Okay, that's some good stuff right there.
So let's see, why practice the ritual first? What if they're not connected directly, but rivals? Maybe the Caves of Chaos sect is trying to beat Nualia to the punch? I could make the leader of that sect someone disgraced by Nualia when she was in Magnimar, with an axe to grind. So she stole Nualia's plan and tried to beat her to the punch ensuring that the Sandpoint sacrifice would be too little, too late. "We'll see who gets the last laugh" sort of a thing.
So the main vehicle for relaying this information would be correspondance found in the loot, I'd think. That and some vague dialogue. Any suggestions on who in Magnimar would be a good choice? Or anyone better to tie the correspondance to? I briefly thought Tsuto - maybe they grew up together. But it seems like he wouldn't want anything to threaten Nualia's success. Unless maybe he doesn't see it as a threat, as much as a motivation to speed things along. "Let her try. She's an idiot anyway."
A risk here is that I'm dangerously close to tipping the party off to the metaplot, and as you said they wouldn't feel as attached to Sandpoint.
One thing I could do is not refer to Nualia by name. Something like "that Sandpoint cow" - though that needs a better female pejorative (preferably PG rated).
I rather like the goblin and cultist angle, because that's a close match. I could draw some parallels with the medusa at the end of B2 and 'Mal'. But how would the party know to go to Sandpoint based on that? That might be better stuff for foreshadowing than hooks. What about the seven-pointed symbol? Any reason not to use that with the misc cultists?
I like the artifact idea, too, but the Foxglove connection might be a bit better because that ties them into the second chapter. So maybe a combination of:
1) Link the cultists and goblins thematically.
My risk here being that I might wind up intermixing chapters 1 and 2 based on the party's interests.
It's a start...
Some nice hooks there, thanks!
Yeah, this is the original B2, and the campaign has no other shape at this point. I can feasibly place it anywhere, so that's a solid idea.
As for difficulty vs level, thank you for the advice, but I'm not using the same system, so I'll be on top of that for other reasons anyway.
(My copy arrives tonight, so apologies if this is covered in the material or elsewhere, but...)
Does anyone have any good advice for plot hooks that I can sew into my current module that would lead in to Burnt Offerings?
Right now my party is in the Caves of Chaos (B2 - Keep on the Borderlands) and probably will be for at least the next few weeks. This gives me (us) plenty of time to think up some good hooks that I can use to segue gently into the events of RotRL.
The party is an elf wizard, an elf fighter, and a human cleric.
One that comes to mind already is a fraternal offering from the cleric's order to the temple.
But I'd rather stay away from 'backstory' or 'you have no choice' leads. I prefer found clues, NPCs that were hostages, or perhaps adventurers from Sandpoint who fell in the Caves. 'The orcs have us trapped in this room. They're breaking down the door! If you find this journal, please deliver it to my love Amiko', or something.
Like I said, I haven't read it, but I plan to remedy that shortly!
Let me just say "Go Dad, Go!"
I'm doing the same for my 11 year old. It's a good hobby to have around, and teaches good life skills (like performance) and gives you perspective.
As for the 'going easy', don't worry about it. Part of what you're feeling is probably just the gap in difficulty/lethality between editions.
Finally, you can buy the other 'B's and 'X's and other classics online now. (Not sure if it is kosher to post where, being competitors and all...)
If this is for PFS, I'd say no, don't join a group without any kind of caster. The GM isn't supposed to be flexible.
But if you have a GM that can be flexible, I'd straight-up ask that question at your table. As in, "can you run us a game that doesn't require a caster?" There's a bazillion options for this, starting with simple creature selection and leading all the way up to 'low magic'/'wild magic' setting choices.
Finally, if this is an established campaign/table, it is always, always, ALWAYS good form to ask what they feel they need. Ask, mind you, nothing required. But if they say 'Wizard' then your question is answered already.
This is a surprisingly great thread. I don't have a whole lot to add, but...
1) Love the 'on these boards' comment. Yes sir, context is key. Try not to let it get you down, though. There are lots of boards, each with their own mono-culture. Knowing the truth about the 3.5 community shouldn't detract from some great conversation within it...
2) OP - I would use this as an in-game reason to shift your PC towards LN. "Seeing that idiot slaughter those prisioners has made me reailze the truth: my code is the only thing sane in this world." Then you can have Lawful-vs-Lawful passive aggressive play, which seems to be something you'd prefer.
3) OP - If you wanted to 'tattle' on the Paladin, which in and of itself isn't a terrible idea, you need to choose a better vehicle. For starters, does your campaign world even have a postal system? Beyond just the practical, and someone already touched on this, why would they believe you? No, the far better approach would be to go to a rival church and tell them the tale, with embellishments of course. Let that rival church use their clout to spread the heresy of Torag's Paladin around, and then you might see some results - maybe.
4) Ahh, that discussion of Torag and genocide is deep stuff. As others have said, though, there's no 'RAW' here. It's totally 'GM fiat' because Torag is an NPC. Period, end of story. I'd expect to see any further arguments about what Torag would do be prefaced with 'at my table' going forward, if not for #1 above. :)
5) I think leaving them in their cells would have been most appropriate for the character. As was said, Morlocks and Dwarves have a long history of being enemies. Plus, what is more merciful, killing them or letting the gods decide what happens next? Perhaps it was all part of Torag's wisdom that they wound up in that cell in the first place. His code says he can't be weak to them, and certainly this would include giving them aid, such as releasing them. Were it my Pally I think I'd say a prayer and wish them all the best, hoping we can meet in glorious battle some day.
That's another gap with everyone's concept of the 'paragon' Paladin - why do they have to free prisoners and slaves? That's not very Lawful... But I digress.
As you have said, different groups have different styles. And if your table has such little variety that you find yourselves in a situation where you can routinely use a 'room mantra', then that's probably an issue in and of itself.
But that's not an argument against searching as much as it is an argument against boredom. Which seems like a point, but mostly isn't.
Do you really need to get all that boring searching out of the way for the 'combat mantra' to take its place? ("I attack. I attack again. I attack. This time I attack.") Same animal, slightly different angle.
As the poster above me said, there's room for both. Plus it gives searchy characters and classes chances to shine.
Finally, I'd hope you can remember at least one item that was found in a unique location fondly. I know most of my players can.
I agree. Many of these are resolvable with a short conversation. Like, "Dice are part of the game. Don't you think we should be able to roll our own? I know it would be more fun for me, as a player. And look, if that NPC meant that much to you, I think we'd all be okay if you retconned his survival somehow. We're all adults here, right? Whatever makes it more fun. Please pass the chips..."
So you feel 'wealth by level' is a Paizo design?
Personally I do not believe this to be correct. If it is, and only if, then you have a point.
Many other topics in Pathfinder, however, do not enjoy such ambiguity. For example, which gets the authority over the nature of Lawful Good? Did SKR participate in a design session for that as well?
I believe the MOST relevant fact is the one that clearly stated that the 'intent' of WBL was spelled out long before Paizo was doing anything other than publishing magazines. Now you could clearly argue that Mr Reynolds was describing Paizo's implementation of it, and since it may not have been OGL this well could have been something they needed to re-design along the way. Even if it WAS you'll still be really really hard pressed to claim that anyone not named 'Gygax' or 'Arneson' has some kind of ultimate authority over the game. There's way too much interitance involved through way too many editions to make that claim.
And in fact, doing so insults the entire vision behind the OGL. It's supposed to be free.
Going back to the example, if the NASA engineer was arguing about the nature of physics (something neither invented nor controlled by NASA) in his discussion of shuttle design, and the grocery store clerk had a point that made more sense, I'd definitely be pressing back on said engineer.
Authority exists in a lot of areas. 'Roleplaying in general'? Not a chance. 'Ancestors of Dungeons and Dragons'? Rarely, and almost certainly limited to their own new additions to the rules.
I'd caution against trying to define some kind of a red line for all players all of the time. Like most things in life, 'it depends'.
Violence shouldn't ever be tolerated, even if it is just intimidation. There's no place for that sort of behavior in a friendly setting, period. So those cases have nothing to do with 'mid-combat' or not, or gaming in general, so they're not good examples. And the appropriate reaction to those situations doesn't have any bearing on gaming situations, per se.
As for the "I don't care" subset of walkouts, that's totally your call. For me, I'd be concerned on how it reflects on me as a person. Should I be rude to the desk clerk at this hotel who has totally screwed me over, even though I know it isn't her fault? After all, I'll never see her again... Probably not. I'd prefer to think of myself as politely wrapping things up and making a mental note to never go there again.
When it comes to gaming, particularly with friends of friends, I do also worry that a walk-out is a lost opportunity for a constructive conversation. I see some of the stories here almost gloating that 'nobody plays in his games these days'. Personally, I'd feel guilty about whatever pain that person had inflicted/suffered due to any inaction on my part. For example if he's too deeply in the 'GM is god' camp, maybe I could have coached him on his playstyle. Or at least showed him the value of communicating that sort of thing up front. Maybe the GM needs to understand different perceptions on railroads, maybe the group needs to discuss the pros and cons of PvP, etc, etc, etc. But when you just quit, throw a fit, or even decide not to return, you're missing a chance to make a small part of the gaming world better. Or at least the chance to try.
Did you seriously just label 'people hiding things' as a meme?
As I understand it, adventure locations are supposed to be analogues to 'real places'. As in if that tribe of goblins actually lived here, what would they do? And if you don't expect that the goblin chief would hide his most prized possessions away from his CHAOTIC EVIL cohorts, then I suggest you maybe haven't thought this through.
Germane to this 'PFS must be hard mode' thread, there's one in the PFS forum entitled 'Has PFS gone too far into "hard mode"?' that's a pretty good read. From glossing it over, I see things about pulled punches, saving characters from death, etc. So FWIW, until someone presents an actual rule, it seems that 'common practice' does include some GM discretion in the execution of combat encounters.
I know these threads can get long, and reading the whole thing can be tedious. I apologize if there's been some miscommunication. Let me clarify and we can see if I have a point or not.
If the player doesn't like the new GM's style, would it be okay for that player to tell the GM and ask if they could tone it down a bit?
I believe it would, and that is all I have ever said. The reducing hitpoints thing was someone else's hyperbole and not anything I ever advocated. Someone also suggested I meant to modify the five foot step rule. Again, not the case.
If I have misunderstood PFS to the degree that all GMs must use exactly the same gaming style at every table, then so be it. I'd be happy to learn that was the case.
Do you deny that the player perceives this as a change due to the new GM?
And which module is this? Does it actually say they're supposed to do a five foot shuffle? I have a few PFS materials, and I don't recall anything that specific in those. Someone said they knew what it was. I'd be happy to look it up myself if no one else has it.
Anyway, if there was a rule stating that it had to played in the most excruciating fashion possible, then I'd expect someone would have quoted that to me by now. This is still the internet, isn't it?
My first bit of advice, take all of this advice with a grain of salt. Some of it honestly makes me cringe. There's no 'ONE TRUE WAY' to play D&D or anything else. Take each day one day at a time and do your best. You and your players will improve over time, that much is certain.
Some things already mentioned, and a few tidbits:
1) Tie reality to the PCs. If they aren't paying attention at the table, then the PC is distracted. If they miss their initiative give them a brief amount of time to correct it and then skip them. Explain that you worry that combat is bogging down the sessions and you want more time for the story. Sometimes I'll use a 'count outloud to five' method. "Your turn, what are you doing? (Short pause...) Five, four, three, two..." They usually attack something by that point.
2) Discuss swapping out their characters. Try and match what they like to do with what the character would be good at doing. Honestly I tend to ret-con these types of changes, especially when dealing with new (e.g. non-hardcore) players. "Guys, starting this session, 'X' was always a Ranger and not a Druid." Don't sweat being 'figher heavy'. That kind of thing only matters if you can't be flexible and adapt encounters to your group. Speaking of...
3) Be flexible. Look, this is hard to do, I know, but I'm guessing you'll love it once you get used to it. Personally, I'm addicted to it. You mentioned your clever group trying to get the bugbears drunk. Imagine how the session might have gone had you allowed it to happen. I'm guessing it may have been more fun. Look for opportunites to go off the rails and make things 'custom' for your friends. There will be some learning involved but you'll all love it in the long run. Make sure that whatever you're doing, you're rewarding the players who participate. Speaking of...
4) Reward the players who participate. Now, to be clear, I am NOT recommending favoritism. Except that I am, if only slightly. Don't use anything tangible like XP, gold, or anything like that. Use gentle praise, like, "That is a GREAT idea. Roll a d20."
5) Put wallflowers in the spotlight. This can be hard, too, but you might start by just watching for opportunites. Imagine the party in a city where they're intended to encounter a key NPC. Try having that NPC stumble into the wallflower's character alone. It may pay off big time. And even if it backfires, you can usually get the adventure back on track with a few quick adjustments.
6) If all else fails, put the game aside for a minute and focus on the table stuff. Have a conversation about how others think combat might go a bit faster, etc. Once I actually held an impromptu acting session where we just threw people into different roles and had them act in character for the scene. Another option is to have them spend a session trying to weave together their backstories, come up with villians for each other, or do other things that make their characters more 'real'. A bit of maintenance can go a long way, and these don't even need to be whole sessions. Maybe just the first fifteen minutes.
It sounds like you're off to a great start. Before long you'll be in here tossing advice out on how you improved your own table.
As you can see from some of the posts here, balance is key. Don't make it into a power trip, just try putting out a carrot or two. Like the advice about the magic ring in the table. That's pretty good. Works a bit better if you can demonstrate it IC, though. Like when your major villian gets away, and the PCs are following, they find the wall safe left open in a room they had already passed through.
I will warn you, though, this can be taken too far. I still remember that one time in X1 when someone found a magic item in the stomach of a dinosaur. Every single thing they killed from that point forward had its stomach opened and checked for treasure. Every. Single. Thing.
So be cautious.
I typically run into the exact same problem. What usually works for me is to design stuff to be used in the future. Like working on adventure ideas for after we finish the module. If I really like those ideas, I'll start seeding in hooks 'now'.
One risk to my approach here is that I only have a limited amount of time and energy to spend. So I can burn myself out pretty quickly if I'm not careful.
You can play Pathfinder 'mapless', but it represents a variant of the tradational rules. It means ignoring many of the AoO rules, lots of feats, etc. You'll want to make certain you put down on paper what changes you're making, and allow your party to design their characters around those. Just like any other homebrew change. Also you're going to need to be flexible and prepared to make changes when things don't make sense.
As for roll20, I'm not sure that's a match for asynchronous pbp play. According to their forums they're looking into adding some features to make it a better fit.
It sounds like the text grid would work best.
For me, homebrew, it's all about assumptions. If I have a party that's doing it a lot, and I want them to feel more challenged, I'll bump up the encounters a tad to compensate. This will typically also increase the reward. On the other hand, when the party never does, I'll often remind them about it.
Remember, they're adventurers. If they're not expecting to get killed by something in the dungeon, they're stupid. They're 'at work' so to speak, so certain assumptions that seem meta-gamey probably actually aren't. Depends on the situation.
As for the sounds of buffing, I'd rather say this depends, but I'd have to look it up. Somatic components being game-rules things, it's definable for someone with the right books on hand. There's little doubt that an arcane caster needs to use a 'strong voice', unless I'm mixing up my editions. But what about divine? Can they cast buffs by praying quietly? If not by RAW, that's perhaps a good house rule, just because it's so thematically appropriate.
Heck, for the right player, I might even work up a 'deity decides' system. They pray for protection, as the religious often does, and one of their spell slots gets spent on whatever is appropriate based on what the diety might know. Maybe that's a feat idea, class feature, or a wonderous item. When's the next RPG superstar? :)
4) Invent time machine, meet past-self, explain that there's no reason to discuss preferences on certain forums.
Seriously, and I say this with love, but you don't think that '3' is pretty self-evident?
I think too often the "I have a problem" posts get answers of "the problem is you". Even when it is true, and it often is, what's the value in that answer? This is the 'Advice' forum, right? I'm in the right place?