Ulzer Zandalus

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Maybe it's just my old age and lousy memory, but I've noticed familiars and porters tend to disappear from my games.

The problem is that working the "extended party" into a game is straight up hard. It’s tough enough to hold your own PC in your mind’s eye, allowing them to react to situations naturally and in-character. Start tacking on all the squires and animal companions and escort quests you’ve picked up along the way and your attention fractures.

Worse than that is the limited limelight. Everyone wants their moment at center stage, but those moments get smaller and smaller when “the party” becomes “the party + the help.” And while a big group can make for a rich living world, it also risks taking attention away from the real stars of the show. Someone is going to get slighted, and that’s a great big feels-bad.

That's why I tend to favor a “one NPC per party” model. It allows a GM to provide a little in-character commentary, but doesn’t detract too much attention from the campaign’s headliners.

What about the rest of you guys though? What’s the largest party you’ve ever traveled with, NPCs included? Did you find that the extra bodies got in the way of the PCs, or did you enjoy the rich cast of characters?

(Comic related.)

Neriathale wrote:
There’s this spell I’ve got memorised and I have no idea what it does, but it’s a biggie.

That is excellent. Make it like a single use or something.

Hmmm... Ride the lighting could be suitably awesome.

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It's been a little while since I ran my last "The Hangover" session. The basic premise is that the party wakes up hungover and cannot remember what they did last night. The session is all about piecing together the events of the previous evening. Usually they have to find a missing item or partymate (who conveniently had scheduling issues that week).

I describe the setup in further detail over here. My question is this though: What are the most implausible shenanigans for a party of Pathfinders on a drinking binge? I could use a bit of help with the brainstorm.

Zepheri wrote:
If some of the player say: I'm invincible " my gm will only say: the day become dark and in front of you there is a huge golem but in reality is the god Gorum, and he tell you: for so long I was waiting for a challenge come on let's do this to the death ;)

Do we have Gorum stats? I now want Gorum stats.

I've always heard that it's a fool who tempts the GM.

"This dungeon is a cakewalk! Those monsters are trash! I am invincible!"

That's the equivalent to asking for a tarrasque to get dropped on you.

But at some level, isn't it part of good GMing to let the players feel like badasses? Should a GM interpret this style of boasting as a call for increased difficulty, or allow players to feel like BAMFs for a bit?

I guess my question boils down to, "Is it better to quash overconfidence or stoke player egos?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

This is basically a question about monster tactics. But it's one that I seldom see discussed beyond "the monsters want to win."

This can be a tough tightrope to walk when you’re a GM. That’s because the difference between a fair fight and unfun tactics can be little more than a matter of taste. Take the boss fight my PF1e megadungeon group just lived through. The five of them were APL 16, and they were facing off against a CR 20 kraken lich monstrosity. Here are a few of the close calls I had to make as a GM.

-- All PCs are in reach. Do you target the squishy caster with all ten of your tentacles, or do you spread the damage out across the party?

-- Do you turn on power attack (increasing the likelihood of PC death), or do you leave it off (increasing the likelihood of dramatic but non-damaging grapples)?

-- The party’s bard has access to bard’s escape, and can teleport grappled party members out of trouble. Do you stuff your grapple victims beneath the inky waves, cutting off line of sight and blanking the spell?

-- You’ve decided to reflavor your lich kraken’s beak attack as an inflict wounds by simply changing the damage type to negative energy. When your player asks for a save to half, do you allow it?

-- The wizard casts control water, attempting to lower the water level and leave the kraken high and dry. You didn’t plan out ocean depth ahead of time. Does the wizard’s plan work as intended?

There are a couple of ways to approach these decisions. You can try to play optimally, giving your monster the maximum chance of winning the fight and killing the PCs. Then again, your can play in a characterful way, taking the monster’s psychology into account. Is it arrogant? Is it mindless? Under what circumstances will it choose to retreat? You might even take a mechanics-first angle, showing off as many tricks as possible for the sake of variety.

For my part, I wanted to foreground the multi-grapple aspect of the fight, so I leaned into those mechanics rather than maxing damage. I also like to reward my players for bringing the right tool for the job, so the teleportation and the water control tricks both worked. As for the inflict wounds business, that was just lazy monster building on my part. I can’t very well punish my players for my mistakes, and so the Will saves were summarily saved.

That’s my line of thinking anyway. But I'm curious to hear about how you guys handle these "soft difficulty adjustments" in your own games. Is it incumbent on a good GM to play the monsters as tough as possible, or do too-clever tactics get in the way of a good time? Conversely, does it ruin your victory when a GM “plays the villain dumb,” or can that serve to make more interesting fights?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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Dragonchess Player wrote:
Didn't you start a thread about pretty much the same topic two months ago?

Crap. So I did. My notes are out of order. :/

Do you like playing first level characters? I've encountered this sense from the community that the essential low-level experience involves getting crit and rerolling until you're finally strong enough to be a “real adventurer." Other opinion I've discovered include "low level play is boring" and "I've been gaming long enough that I don't need training wheels."

So here's my question: Do you like to start games at 1st level, or do you prefer to start campaigns at second or third level? What's the rationale for your preference?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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I'm looking for opinions on “the first level experience.” I’ve run into lots of hot takes about "first level is boring" and "all my games start at higher level" over the years. So here's my question: Should third level be the new first level? Or is there some other way to solve the twin problems of "extremely-fragile low-level mages" and "boring low-level play?" And if there is value to be found in start at 1st, what is it?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Azothath wrote:
Realize that people will assess to some degree the political and social dynamics of your group and thus responses will vary.

That is the hardest thing about this forum (or EN World, or your subreddit of choice, or whatever). Context and nuance just don't come across in a text-based anecdote, and the micro-culture of any particular gaming table usually fails to translate.

Given all that, how do you even begin to give successful advice to someone in a "looking for perspective from the community" kind of question?

For those of us lucky enough to be in a relationship with a fellow gamer: Do you ever worry about the appearance of preferential treatment?

It’s irrational, but the whole "GM’s Girlfriend" thing pokes me in the back of the head every time I sit down to write up content for my significant other. Am I giving her too much attention? Or am I overcompensating and giving her too little? Am I making too many rules calls in her favor? Does she have too much loot compared to the others? Maybe I should kill her character just to be fair?

Clearly, it is possible to overthink this sort of thing. That’s why I’m hoping for a little perspective from you gys. When you’re GMing for your partner, do you ever second guess yourself about how much attention they’re getting? And for all the players out there, have you ever seen your GM give “most favored player” status to somebody else?

Comic for illustrative purposes

Ryze Kuja wrote:
I usually go to DeviantArt, Pintrest, or Ye Olde Google Machine and find a character portrait that I like. I can usually find what I'm looking for, but if not, I will bring up several pictures that "piece together" what I'm looking for. For example, if I have a Lionfolk Pirate Captain who wields a Spiked Chain, and I cannot find a specific picture that I like, then I'll break it down. I'll find pic of a Lionfolk, I'll find a pic Swashbuckler's Garb, and then find a pic of a Spiked Chain I like. "This is what he looks like, this is what he's wearing, and this is his weapon." Done and done.

I've had some artist friends express discomfort at the idea of "stealing my OC" for use in a game. Seems like a weird hangup to me. But have you ever run into that?

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I'm not an especially visual person. So when it comes time to describe a character's appearance, I often rely on the stat block rather than my own creativity.

"He's a dwarf in medium armor."

"She's an elf with a bow and a magical cloak."

Do you try to avoid confusion by using character art? Or do you prefer to let literary description + the mind’s eye do all the work? Is there a good rule of thumb for figuring out how the happy medium between "vague description" and "overkill?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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One of my own calls that I second guess in retrospect was using "wind wall" to direct a "cloud kill" back at the players.

If you take cloud kill's advice and reference "fog cloud," you can reference text about how wind "disperses the fog in 1 round." But I thought that it would be clever play if a PC tried to do it, so why not the NPCs? The only trouble is that, since I'm the arbiter of what 'makes sense' in the world, it's awfully easy to look like you're favoring the bad guys / going for a "gotcha."

The classic example is a fireball in a wooden inn. You've decided to unload the big guns, but a GM assesses that you've chosen poorly. Property damage, excessive force, and pissed off NPCs are the result.

Here's where the weirdness comes in. "Fireball" is something of a special case. It mentions "setting fire to combustibles and damaging objects in the area" in the spell text. Do you think it's fair for GMs to tack similar effects onto other AoE spells? When does "you inadvertently blew up the setting" begin to feel punitive? We're talking stuff like "the lightning bolt deals half damage to your merfolk allies" or "the black tentacles thrash around and break the furniture." Is that kind of descriptive freedom fun and flavorful, or does it risk coming off as unfun?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

TxSam88 wrote:
yeah, sounds like you might be getting "Too" into your games. After our games, we clean up the game area, then go to bed. Not much need to "cool down".

It's normally more associated with LARP, but the concept of "bleed" is a very real thing!


My question is a bit outside the normal scope of play. I'm interested in best practices for end-of-session. If any of you guys a theater kids, I’m talking about the concept of the "cooldown."

In a hobby like ours, where we like to talk about escaping into fantasy, entering another world, and becoming somebody else for a little while, the return to everyday life can bring out some peculiar emotions.

Therefore, I'm curious whether you guys have any special rituals to address the pent-up energy and feeling of emptiness that comes when moving from the game world to the real. What typically happens in your group when the game is over for the night? What signals that “the session is done” and “we’re back in the real world now?”

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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VoodistMonk wrote:

What level is the party/Paladin?

Party just hit Level 18 of the megadungeon, and are hovering around APL 17.

I quite like DeathlessOne's idea about 'no fraternization' until the year and a day is up.

Combine that with Mightypion's idea about the magical monster friendgroup who "hate to see their friend cruelly bound by a heartless paladin" and I think we've got a good plot.

Not quite sure how what level of critters to bring in though. Straight skill challenges always get a big silly when you're dealing with high-level play. The modifiers are so goofy-large that I have trouble keeping things reasonable.

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I know what you're thinking. "Not another friggin' horny bard thread!" This is a good-faith question though. It actually came up at my table.

Here's the TLDR: A brass dragon had been trapped for centuries in a magical prison. Desperate for freedom, she tried to trick the party in swapping places with her. In the form of a half-elf, she begged the party's paladin to just -- pretty please -- step onto the suspicious dais.

"Alrighty then," said the paladin. "As long as you don't turn out to be some kind of creature that forces me to look on helplessly while you attack my friends, I guess I'll do it. Because I'm a paladin. And I believe in helping people. In fact, I can even imagine a scenario where I would still want to help someone even if they'd been less than honest with me up to that point."

Dude basically guilted the good (but slightly mad) dragon into admitting her ruse. The party managed to do a bit of problem-solving, and actually got the dragon out of prison. In gratitude, Calleosis (aka Callie) the dragon volunteered to serve the party for a year and a day. And because she was one of those "gregarious and whimsical" brass dragons, I thought it would be a good idea to give her a sense of humor.

"She returns to her half-elf form," I improvised, not wanting to give them a literal dragon cohort. "Only she's wearing a servant's livery this time."

"You mean, like, a maid outfit?" joked one of my other players.

I ran with it. And now I find myself trying to figure out what courtship would look like between this selfless paladin and his secretly-a-dragon maid.

The situation is ridiculous enough to have me stymied. What kind of plot developments would you spin out of this setup? I certainly don't want it to get weird, but I do want to support this paladin's chosen narrative. Any help with romantic comedy plots? It's a bit outside my wheelhouse in terms of genre.

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Phoebus Alexandros wrote:


If you're willing to extend the established relationship between characters with the panache class feature (scroll down to the "Grit and Panache" section) and grit users to the Gunslinger's optional Daring Act rule (scroll down to right before Alternate Capstones), then the Swashbuckler can perform a "daring act" to regain panache:

That was driving me crazy! I remember reading the "daring act" rule a million years ago, but I thought it had been errata'd out of Swashbuckler. Turns out I was looking in the wrong class.

I can picture that optional rule falling flat at some tables, but I think it will play OK with my group. Cheers!

One of my players has a swashbuckler coming up in a new campaign. They've expressed their love of chandelier swinging, bannister sliding, and general over-the-top stunt work. I want to make that present in the game. The only problem is that there's not much payoff for these sorts of stunts beyond, "You made your Acrobatics check and now flank the goblin."

What are some suitable mechanical rewards for successful derring-do maneuvers? Do I engineer exploration encounters that rely on this biz, or is there a reliable way to make "put myself at the mercy of the dice to look cool" a viable combat strategy?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

VoodistMonk wrote:

You're probably right. Either way, I am no longer willing to derail this thread with Paladin hypotheticals.

As far as the original topic goes, has anyone ever successfully used Call Truce, Concilator, or Entreating Critical to end an encounter without violence? Has anyone even seen or heard of this being done in a real game? Have you ever even seen someone take any of those feats, much less actually use them?

Well now I'm intrigued. If you're at a table that allows leadership, this might be a viable option for a cohort. A caster-centric bard could also get away with it, as they're suddenly less starved for combat feats. I just might try this out at some point....

Should players feel comfortable surrendering? I mean... I know it won't work every time. The "successful surrender" generally winds through some kind of prison, the subsequent prison break, and a rematch against your captors. It’s either that or gladiatorial combat. But in both cases, it seems better than futilely swiping another few HP from the thing that’s about to kill you.

So what do you think? Should that kind of mid-combat diplomacy be freely available, or would your rather rely on mechanical solutions like "call truce?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes).

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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
Now you're just going to make me cry... stay friends with the folks you gamed with. Make a point to have a beer or a coffee or something. Enjoy the friends you made along the way.

Now you're going to make ME cry. My paladin was my best man. We're all having our annual Secret Santa part this Friday. Tonight is group craft night on the Discord. They're good people, and they're the reason I think it's best to play with your friends.

VoodistMonk wrote:
I was going to bring up getting custom [metal] minis made of each character, and presenting them to their respective players. I'd probably have them done in bronze by a place like Hero Forge, and not paint them.

Ordering something seems to be within my skillset. Maybe this + the campaign aware certificate idea....

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I'm coming to the end of a long-running campaign. I'm talking 10+ years IRL of adventuring through a mega-dungeon. I've thought about writing up all the session summaries and turning that into a leather-bound volume for each of my players, but the cost (both in time and money) is prohibitive.

So help a gamer out. What's the best way you've found to memorialize your adventures?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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Is there any merit to relying on your allies for this biz? For example, if you've got a necromancer in the party, riding around on a skeletal wooly mammoth howdah seems like a viable option with slightly less feat investment.

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Standing in the backfield while unloading shot after shot into the baddies is an appealing combat style. As an archer you’ll be full-attacking long before the dumb brute with the pointy metal stick closes to melee, meaning that you basically get a free turn just for rolling initiative. Of course, that assumes you’re fighting on a featureless plane. If you’ve ever plucked a bowstring, fletched an arrow, or shot into melee, you know just how rarely that’s the case. That in turn makes mobility really friggin’ important for an archer.

So here's my question to the board: What’s the best way to get around the battlefield as an archer? Do you go the mounted route? Buy a flying carpet? Get your Barbarian to play Master Blaster with you? Gimme all your best battlefield taxis!

(Comic related.)

Name Violation wrote:

This item does it

Neat! Would be amusing to target with "dispel magic" in an evil GM sort of way.

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You're a small-sized hero.

You just found a magic weapon / magic armor.

Your GM refuses to adapt the module to make any of this crap useful to your character because your GM is a colossal jerk butt. (And also possibly because the world doesn't revolved around you.)

What are the bet ways to resize equipment to fit your li'l dude?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Darigaaz the Igniter wrote:
You'd probably have to use the Steal combat maneuver, getting someone's pants off sounds about the same as trying to get their shirt. Oh, that's not what you meant.

I will refer you to the precedent of Nimble vs. That Guy At The Bar.

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Pathfinder can get complicated. Familiarizing yourself with rules subsystems, antagonists' special abilities, and 3D dungeon layouts can all take time and effort. And yet, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants GMing is a rewarding exercise in improv and wacky hijinks.

So here's my question to the board. Do you think Pathfinder lends itself to a pantsing style? Are there any tricks or resources that help to make making-it-up-as-you-go-along easier? Or conversely, is Pathfinder straight up better when you put in some minimal level of prep time?

(Comic related.)

We all know that evil tends to be self-destructive. Sudden by inevitable betrayal goes hand-in-hand with the dark-bad alignment, and villains like nothing better than murdering minions / assassinating superiors. The question I have is how to design encounters around this sort of setup.

Think about all those Shadow of Mordor orcs you've pitted against each other. Gimûb the Infernal hates Skak the Poisoner. Akoth Pain-Lover wants to murder Ûkshak Bone-Ripper. Jôanie loathes Châchi. But how do you make that kind of dynamic accessible to players on the tabletop? How do design antagonist relationships that can be manipulated and triggered?

In other words, what's the best way to signal to players that "turn them against each other" is an option? Have any of you guys pulled it off successfully? Or is this just another case of forcing players to opt for some "correct" solution?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

In an effort to make this often-invisible part of GMing a little more visible, what do you say we share our favorite tools and processes for session planning? How does your group handle scheduling, conflicts, and reminders? Tell us all about your Doodle polls, sacrosanct game times, and favorite cat herding strats!

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Kasoh wrote:
*Khan* wrote:

I assume that the assassin has readied an action to kill the victim if certain conditions (unknown to the players) are met.

So no intitiativ roll. This is why hostage situations are difficult.
Besides the victim will most likely grant cover to the assassin.

Breath of life/raise dead/speak with dead etc. change the situation and hired killers will make extra effort to avoid that as allready mentioned.

Technically, readying is a special action taken during initiative so you can't ready actions outside of initiative.

Of course, an assassin could probably prepare an action in the non game term sense to the same effect, but I feel like the distinction is important.

Even worse, coup de grace is a full round action, so it's not even a legal option for the ready action. :/

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So here's how it happened in my game. After our wizard cast his feeblemind on the assassin, the dude stabbed the hostage just like he'd threatened.

When the smoke cleared, the duchess (and her one remaining hit point) demanded an explanation. “What in the hells is the matter with you? I could have been killed!”

“Meh,” said the wizard. “We’ve got breath of life as backup. You wouldn’t have been killed for long.”

That's a fully rules-legal take, but it doesn't strike me as a very satisfying one. Is there a good way to make the old "human shield" shtick an actually-challenging challenge? How would you design this trope in your games?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
Is there anyone that goes the opposite route? I think most folks describe HP damage as cuts, bruises, heroic luck, using non-vital parts to absorb brutal blows, etc... but is there anyone out there that's like "you took 27 damage from that bite: it rips away 2 lbs of flesh and blood shoots out, yet you're fine!"

I've always wanted to go this route. Class levels literally give you more "heroic essence" that allows you to keep going. This mess would allow for fully on Bleach-style blood and ludicrous wounds:


It's silly, but at least it's consistent!

It's an old debate, but I find myself running with a group of newbies, and they're asking how "seven slashing damage" impales a commoner but inconveniences a (presumably mortal) barbarian.

So how do you conceptualize HP? Does it represent the same narrative idea in every situation (e.g. actual bodily injury), or do you like to throw out multiple, sometimes contradictory descriptions (it's just 'battle fatigue' this time)? Do you have any favorite ways to describe HP-loss?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
2) everyone plays a Vigilante and no one knows another's secret, leading to a farcical comedy of mistaken identities and silly antics.

I've seen the Glass Cannon guys use that to good effect over in the "side quest side sesh" podcast. That seems like the "natural" state of play for the class, and it honestly makes me wonder if it's even possible to play it straight.

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I love me some vigilante dual identity. So much so that I've been known to hand it out as part of a homebrew "amateur vigilante" feat. It does tend to raise thorny questions though.

How far will you go to preserve your secrets? How central will secret identities be to the game? And perhaps most importantly, is the vigilante player on the same page as their GM?

So here's my question for the GMs of the board. When you introduce secret identities, how do you go about making sure that the player is getting everything they want from the trope? How do you structure a campaign to keep it from becoming silly? (e.g. Why doesn't the party recognize Clark Kent?)

Comic for illustrative purposes.

Here's my situation. My big bad dragon had kidnapped one of the PCs are robbed her. That meant he'd gained an unusual variety of magical gear that I wanted to use against the party. Maniacal laugh and such, sure, there’s no listing for dragons on the Magic Item Slots for Animals chart.

Over the course of my research I encountered the wildshaping rules. Rangers discussed their animal companions. Paladins had questions about their mounts. The 3.5 version of the Draconomicon came up, and the always tricky question of in-game justification reared its horned head: “Such external dependencies are mortal crutches unbecoming of a true dragon!”

In the end I simply let my dragon wear its captured booty and nobody called me on it. I'm curious to hear how you guys would handle it though. What magic items do you allow your critters to wears? Do you fudge the rules in corner cases, or are you comfortable making a few judgement calls when it comes to weird body types and gear?

(Comic for illustrative purposes).

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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I miss those games. I miss that level of trust you're talking about DO. I don't know why all my players these days are so cynical and jaded they think every GM is a killer GM, or they think PF1 is just a tactical simulation, nothing more.

Might be time to break in a new group of first-timers. I found the opportunity to do that recently, and it's been crazy refreshing to see "that was so fan, I can't wait to play again!" after some simple clue-hunting and NPC interaction.

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You’ve prepped the adventure, and your GM game face is on. Your quest hooks are laid like bait in a bear trap. You’ve got bandits waiting in the woods. Deadly peril is prepared to spring from the darkness in A3 (the Old Mill) and B1 (Collapsed Passage). Excitement and danger are hovering just around the bend, and all the players have to do is walk out that door. But then:

“Come on, guys. Let’s faff about in town all session.”

“I’m going to talk to an inn keeper for several hours!”

It's tempting to shrug and give it the old "so long as they're having fun." Ain't nobody want a railroad after all. But my tables tend to split between a hurry-up-and-get-to-the-next-thing and I-love-side-questing.

Therefore, my question to the board is this: When is it wisest to tap the breaks on the "main quest" and let the party linger? When is it best to nudge them forward with Chandler's Law? ("When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.") And how do you split the difference at your own tables?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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I've got a new campaign coming up this summer, and I'll be playing my first divine caster in ages. I'm have trouble wrapping my head around proselytizing in Golarion though.

When it comes to representing a polytheistic society, do you tend to favor state religions and devoted theocracies? If so, would a cleric get in trouble with the authorities for recruiting for her own deity? Or does your game world adopt more of a laissez-faire attitude? The existence of Hellknights suggests evil deities are cool as long as you aren't out there sacrificing people. But I'm genuinely unsure of the extent to which those faiths are tolerated when they become "active" rather than just passively existing.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

If you have the misfortune of being a caster or a ranged combat specialist, a light slashing or piercing weapon isn’t going to do you much good from within the belly of the beast. That means it's time to improvise.

Nowhere in gaming is there a more flavorful situation. You’re being crushed to death in a monster’s throat! You’ve got to do something! On the other hand, nowhere in gaming is there a more nebulously defined set of mechanics. So like… Is there any way to cast fireball so that it doesn’t hit me too? How long can I breathe in there? Can my buddies try and give the monster the Heimlich maneuver?

Therefore, as an exercise in adventurer preparedness, I propose we brainstorm our best creative method for escaping from a “swallow whole” situation. Alternatively, I will also accept clever actions designed to harm your big-mouthed foe from the inside out. All clear? Alrighty then. See you down in the comments!

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

the David wrote:

There's plenty of reasons why:
- Pathfinder has that sweet spot roughly between levels 5 to 10 where the game is the most fun to play.

Are there any products that support E6 or E8 play? I doubt there's anything form Paizo aside from "string together a bunch of 6th level one shots," but I'm wondering if any third party types have down an E6 AP. It would be nice to stay in that sweet spot for longer.

I always seem to wind up going for big, world-shattering plots. We're talking about planar collapse, wars among the gods, and end-of-the-world(s) scenarios. The problem is that you run into superhero storyline problems when you go that route, always needing to one-up yourself and fight ever-larger critters. That way lies the neutronium golem.

So here's my question for the board. As a recovering "go big" addict, how do you move a storyline from "save the everything" back to "track down the bandits?" How do you avoid anticlimax if you want to keep that campaign going?

(Comic for illustrative purposes..)

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Sysryke wrote:
Off the top of my head, it's probably my current character's outfit. I took the trait rich parents. I then used most of my starting gold to buy a slew of masterwork tools and kits. The single biggest ticket item(s) though, are my clothes, which had to total either 150 or 250 gp.

Heh. I suppose that counts in the "as a percentage of total wealth" column.

Fun story about the 75 gp noble's outfit. It was a Crimson Throne gestalt campaign, and my two players were excited to play out the "gutter trash to hero" trope. When they got their first big score, they both immediately shelled out for the most ostentatious tailored suits they could afford. They even got their awakened poodle cohort a jeweled collar. They immediately went for a stroll in the city's rich quarter, then lost their s@*# when I flipped around the laptop to remind them of the clip from Dumb & Dumber.

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What is the most extravagant, expensive, and not-very-useful-in-combat purchase you've character has ever made? Was it a permanent spell effect? Funding for a new orphanage? A partial stake in a small business?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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This is a problem that I think of as “The Forest of Doom.” You’ve probably heard of it. Rumors of that fell wood abound in all the inns and ale houses of the kingdom.

“To set foot within the Forest of Doom is death!”

“That’s a cursed place, and no mistake! Those who venture beneath its boughs are never seen again.”

“I’ve head that even that shadow of the trees can kill. Beware, adventurer. Beware the Forest of Doom!”

Meanwhile my players are sitting there like, "Holy s**$ you guys! I bet there’s all kinds of treasure in there!" That’s because all those fun, fluffy rumors are typical quest text. NPCs are expected to play up the dangers of local dungeons, making players feel like a big damn heroes when they stride boldly forth. But if the Forest of Doom is in fact a straight-up death trap, and if it’s a DC 25 save to avoid insta-death every round you’re in there, then we’ve got a set of competing expectations at play.

Ideally, players show proper caution. The respond appropriately to the dire warnings. They note the dead woodland creatures that ring the edges of the Forest of Doom, and realize from context clues that, “Oh. This isn’t a proper dungeon. It’s a setting element meant to show us that the ancient Hex War left an indelible scar on the land. Let’s maybe not go in there.”

You want to keep flavor on the one hand, but you also want to convey expectations on the other. So here's my question for the board: If you’re a GM, have you even been surprised when your players ignored all your dire warnings and did the “obviously stupid thing?” And in retrospect, was there any way to warn them more clearly?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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