Alastir Wade

Mythic Evil Lincoln's page

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Dead Gods next!

EDIT: Oop, there it is.

Much as I love Legacy of Fire, Kingmaker is the obvious choice.

It would sell like hotcakes, and has those blank hexes that would cry out for bonus content.

Even the folks who own the entire original run could not resist such a thing.

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I've got some of this badness.

The worst part is the complete inability to explain it to people. I'm not a hypochondriac, I'm really pretty pragmatic about pain and getting older. I try to deal with it.

But sometimes you're just in a bad spot, and it affects your attitude and capabilities. If you let on that's what's going on, your loved ones are usually all about "go to the doctor" and so on.

Then you go to the doctor, and they do tests that maybe you can afford if you're lucky but are always an inconvenience. They might put you on drugs that don't help, or make things worse.

I'm not saying all doctors suck, or that treatments don't work. I'm say a tragic number of people have to just live with it, either because they can't afford to deal with it or nobody can isolate the problem.

After years of this, you just kind of shrug and decide to live your life. Basically, at this point I'm just waiting for them to invent cyborg bodies so I can replace this crappy one.

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Zmar wrote:
Umm... wasn't the Torchbearer based on Burning Wheel and not a DW sister at all? More like distant cousin, or perhaps a similar looking guy living in next city? :)

Yes, but Burning Wheel HQ is officially distributing DW now.

So -- like step-sisters, I guess.

I've long been curious about it, but my group is pretty deeply entrenched in DW's sister game, Torchbearer. They're both publishing under the Burning Wheel imprint now. I understand they both tackle similar themes but from totally different angles.

One thing that makes me sort of sad about these little indie games is that there really isn't the same kind of enthusiastic discussion forum available. I wish I could post as voluminously as I used to post about Pathfinder, but it's clear that there's a vastly smaller player base.

All I'd say is, it's worth trying things without the minis if you've never done it.

Pathfinder probably isn't the right game for it, and it really will take a lot of getting used to. But if you can get past the initial mental barriers, you'll develop skills on both sides of the GM screen that you can take back to tactical RP.

I'm a strong proponent of both styles in alternation.

Theater-of-the-mind is not the definition of old school, but... the play style enforced by theater-of-the-mind is old school, or at least aligned with old-school principles.

3.x and Pathfinder are not a very good tool for theater-of-the-mind play for the same reason they are not conducive to old-school play.

With no map, and no grid, all your brain has to latch onto is the set pieces. Set pieces become a very important part of positioning, and are much more likely (in my subjective experience) to be incorporated into the scene in theater-of-the-mind.

Disclaimer: my GM style is primarily based on running tactical combats on Lazz maps in Virtual Tabletops. So this is not offered as case for superiority. I love tactical RP on a grid. I also love logistical theater-of-the-mind RP in a dungeon. They're actually like two different kinds of game in my mind, and I like them both.

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kyrt-ryder wrote:

Can some of you old timers explain the appeal to dungeon delving?

I know personally speaking I infinitely prefer an open world motif.

At its core, the hobby is about being presented with a meaningful decision in a hypothetical situation.

Any plan for a series of meaningful decisions can benefit from a flowchart. The difference between open world games and more site-oriented games like dungeon crawls is one of depth and width.

A heavily improvised, no-tracks open world game is still a series of meaningful decisions. However, because GMs are mere mortals, you hit a point of diminishing returns where addition choices have less meaning, because there was no real thought put into the outcome. They can be interpreted and improvised, of course. But there is an element of impartiality and planning that is lost.

In the other direction, you have the dungeon (or encounter site, if you prefer). This is a GM plan where the variables are all tightly controlled enough that the consequences can really be explored in theory. A dungeon is a flowchart. Open worlds are flowcharts too, but they are so complex that they require more improvisation and it is less possibly to predict the meaning of outcomes.

In a dungeon (or similar planned encounter site), it becomes very easy for the GM to present choices at their most meaningful. The five senses are front and center, and when faced with a decision as elemental as "do I turn left or right", a waft of decaying flesh from the left or a the dulcet tones of an elf-maiden's song from the right become meaningful. It is a natural compromise between player agency and GM control -- make whatever choice you want in the scope this this environment. It's a fairly nature state of affairs.

Neither is superior. But if you want immersion and you don't want your GM to burn out, running around in a flow chart is actually a really good compromise. In a perfect world, GMs could promise the depth of consideration that comes from an encounter site with all the freedom that improvisation allows -- a truly consistent, meaningful sandbox.

But in lieu of that impossible dream, I'll continue to use both tools interchangeably as needed for the campaign.

I'm beginning to think it may help to list what the delineators are not.

Irontruth wrote:
There's a contradictory element to your argument.

Good! Otherwise it would be suspicious. The situation is nuanced, after all.

Irontruth wrote:
You're talking about how old school, players had to rely on their intellect to solve problems. In the new school, players have to find the rule to help them solve problems.

Well, I'm not really talking about rule sets, though. I'm talking about the values of the players and GM. And yes, I think that old-school values emphasized the player over the character.

And it's not so much about finding rules, but rather in the new school your character build out has much more influence on what tools you have to solve problems. Again, both schools had big choices in character creation, but in the new school this is embraced as a central focus of the game. It is valued more highly.

Irontruth wrote:
To me that sounds like players were more empowered in the old school, because the rules didn't preclude them from doing actions, thus giving them a wider array of choices of what to do during the game.

I'd say "the rules" play exactly the same role in both schools. You can play Pathfinder with old school values, or 0D&D with new-school values. This is why I think the Rule 0 discussion is a trap.

Old school had a ton of rules. There was a big difference in consistency, availability and organization, but characterizing original D&D as some kind of wild west where everything was GM fiat is not accurate.

The real difference was an attitude that the player was being tested, and was ultimately responsible for the interactions, rather than deferring to what the character "should" be capable of.

Irontruth wrote:
This is again, why I find this delineation to be arbitrary and not very productive. We're arguing over whether the apple is red and has flecks of gold color on it's skin, or whether the apple is red and has tiny spots of gold on it's skin.

Oh, I don't think we're any more up our own a**es than any other philosophical conversation. I would put it to you, though: if I'm right, and it's not Rule 0 but player values over character values, is that not a more original topic than rehashing Rule 0 yet again?

I think that's where the quality discussion lies.

Charon's Little Helper wrote:
I just meant that the ruleset pushed people towards point-buy rather than necessarily a different gaming outlook.

And I maintain this is more than a coincidence. It obviously goes deeper than just Roll vs. Point Buy, but if I had to pick a single moment of transition from old to new school, that would be a pretty good one.

Charon's Little Helper wrote:
So, having your melee combatant with a starting STR of 8 instead of 16 wasn't detrimental, while in 3.x/Pathfinder your character would be pretty-much gimped. (unless going a Dex to DMG route)

I feel this is actually in service to my point:

In the new school, the rules are an interface between the character and the world. A lot (though not all) of the most meaningful decisions are bound up in character options.

Charon's Little Helper wrote:
Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.

That, and in most entertainment industries which have been around for 20-30+ years there is a niche market aimed at the older users who wish to relive their earlier experiences, partially due to nostalgia.

Arguably moreso in TTRPGs (as a % of the niche which is TTRPGs) since they OSRs tend to be a bit simpler, and as gamers get older they generally have less time to pour over minutia.

You're not wrong, but there's a surprising amount of young blood involved. Much more than one would expect.

For example, I was technically around for some kind of actual old school, but I was six years old at the time (still playing!) Everything I have to contribute is about the retro movement. I was not a conscious being during the original events.

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Codifying rules was a big part of old-school play as well -- again, it's just that the expectation of the rules was different, I think.

I really think that character vs. player emphasis is the delineator here, and that clears up a lot of the Rule 0 discussion.

Yes, codified rules favor player empowerment. And that was still true when the Cavalier Class galloped onto the scene. The evolution of rules, including player empowerment, has been a continuous process throughout the old and new schools.

It's the mindset of the players and the GM that makes the difference. I think there's no better example than Random Ability scores vs. Point buy being the default assumption. There's no question which method is more old-school, right?

And that's because the old school was about what the player could make of the hand they were dealt. Class selection was almost a part of the dungeon -- you have this Int, and this Str, what will you do with yourself?

There always was Rule 0 folks.

I really don't think that's what delineates the schools.

I'll note that my above definitions are pretty good at reconciling the Rule 0 issues you're encountering. Both schools have Rule 0. What we're really talking about is the value-driven priorities of the rules in both schools.

Old school isn't about a lack of rules, or less rules, or Rule 0. Old school is about having a different expectation about what the rules are for.

In the Old school, the rules are mainly an interface between the player and the world.

In the new school, the rules are an interface between the character and the world. A lot (though not all) of the most meaningful decisions are bound up in character options.

Not 100% mind you. Being a wizard or a fighter in 0e was still a huge choice -- although certain truly old school modes of play limited that choice severely. But all I'm saying is that the Old-School mindset seems to place the VALUE on the player's choices over the character's abilities.

What gets new school players excited is character options. You need only briefly scan these forums to see evidence of this. The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.

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I feel like we're drifting away from old/new school and into "Rule 0" territory.

The confusion is understandable, so let me attempt to pin down what *I* think defines the old and the new schools:

Old school values the decisions made in play over the decisions made in character creation. It values the player's ingenuity in interacting with the environment over the character's abilities interacting with the environment. It values GM and player judgement over covering the rules for every situation (although it never hesitates to supplement the rules in that case).

New school values character creation as a part of the game's decisions. New school grants a considerably greater field of options to certain character types, making character creation a very important decision-making step. New school values *characters* solving problems and interacting with the environment, and strives to downplay the character's reliance on their player's intellect to overcome challenges. As a direct result of this, the rules do make an attempt to cover a larger number of cases, and in such a way that new situations can be easily generalized in the existing rules.

When I say a school "values" something, it doesn't mean there's a perfect execution, mind. Both schools use some elements of logic from the other school at times. It's about "values", quite literally-- what do practitioners of a given school seem to want.

I really do enjoy both styles, so how do you like these definitions?

While I generally agree with what you're saying, I'm going to cherry pick this part for the sake of conversation (emphasis mine):

Irontruth wrote:
All games have blank spaces. The trick is identifying what the best blank spaces are and asking your players to fill them in. Typically the least satisfying gaming is when the GM leaves no blank space, or pretends like there is, but will only accept the thing they think perfectly fits that space (hence, not really blank). Different systems leave different spaces blank.

It's important to realize that this is an opinion. It's an opinion I share actually, but there are people in my groups who don't. For some people, RPGs are very satisfying as an objective construction of a character who then gets put through some pretty standardized scenarios. These people enjoy watching how their mechanical choices interact with a somewhat known quantity. Adventure Paths are great for this style of play, and Pathfinder--with its strong emphasis on mechanistic character options-- is also very well-suited.

If a player desires this, they benefit hugely from the "new-school"-- knowing how far their average acrobatics check can jump, etc.

I'll reiterate though, while some games reinforce certain styles of play, both old-school and new-school are really more about GM style than rules.

I do think there's a huge problem of definitions in this topic. But I also think the concepts are real, and there's some good to be made of discussing them.

The Battle of Scarlet C*ck.

So named for the signboard with a red rooster that dangles lasciviously out front.

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Irontruth wrote:
And where would a game that has expansive rules that don't require much adjudication, but has lots of empty/blank space in it's narrative map sit on your scale? Ie, a well defined mechanical game that does a good job of encouraging whimsy.

I'm not sure it's a spectrum, really. Let's stop and consider that the concept of old-vs-new-school is super vague, which is probably why half this thread is just posts attempting to pin it down in pithy slogans.

What requires adjudication is pretty subjective. To a lot of people, you just described OD&D. Other people feel that those games need constant adjudication. Hell, I've held both views at various times.

Because we're talking about schools of GMing, not games, I don't think it's even possible to pin a system to a certain school. You can run Pathfinder old-school, or OD&D in a new school fashion (just call for ton of ability score checks and canonize your modifiers-- you'll be new school in no time, no houserule necessary).

But just because it's vague doesn't mean these things don't exist, or aren't worth talking about. I think being partisan about it is a waste of time, but I don't mind considering it as a part of my studies to be a better GM.

Now, I do think that there are games that are taking an informed view of play style out there. You and I both mentioned Torchbearer upthread-- that's a good example of a very serious attempt to capture some old-school elements that got iterated out of the hobby-- especially the "describe to live" concept. It's a great example of going back to something that got "fixed" and finding a different solution.

That game rewards the players mechanically for interacting with the environment even though they can still solve most problems with a die roll. That's an interesting mechanic that was definitely inspired by the old-new school conversation. It's not the One True Game by any means, but it's an example of how this kind of talk can create a cool design space instead of mere partisan bickering.

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Stormfriend wrote:
World maps feel as though a wizard went off with a GPS unit and said 'that's all folks'. It's done, finished, closed. The world doesn't need to be infinite physically, but it needs to have infinite possibilities (so long as it all makes sense with what went before). You can't do that when every country has been defined and populated. Even as a GM I would find that limiting.

I'm constantly exhorting to my players and fellow GMs that, while we have a map, the map is not the territory.

The steppes of Barbaria may only take up a small portion of the map the players have, but guess what? In the game world, Barbaria is actually many times the size of their native Feudor. Its size on the map is a result of both politics and ignorance.

I have a framed copy of Pomponius Mela's Orbis Habitabilis that I show to my players. The linked image depicts Europe, Asia and Africa, 90 degrees counterclockwise from a modern map. The message is that maps can be wrong-- in fact, all maps are wrong-- but still useful.

To me, this sums up the Old School vs. New School quite well as a metaphor. The old school play demands that a certain intangible quality escapes the game rules. Players must rely on their own, imperfect vision of events. This necessarily creates a communication obstacle that can lead to disagreements, but it also grants a ton of flexibility and whimsy.

For all the right reasons, New School games try to create more and more accurate and efficient maps of the game space. Not just literal maps, but the "maps" of how given actions are executed, how you measure and interpret the entire game world. This reduces the communication problems, but sacrifices the whimsy.

People will have their individual preferences, but honestly these are just tools for getting the job done. As a poster said upthread, what you need at a convention with complete strangers is much different than what you need at the kitchen table with your closest friends. The GM's temperament is a "here be dragons". You would rather not have that on the map when you're just trying to get to the end of a session. That's why the new school has systematically treated this issue.

There is beauty and art in old maps, even though they may not serve as well in getting you where you're going. The lack of constraint and the emphasis on description and imagination in the old school definitely leads to communication problems -- like using an inaccurate map. But there's value in that process too.

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He did a great service to our hobby by putting the worst myths into a form so easily mocked.

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TOZ wrote:
My usual response to people quoting Matt Finch is to link this.

On Finch v. Alexander I am tempted to plug Torchbearer as a game the enshrines GM fiat in exactly the manner described by Finch, but retains the niceties of a mechanized skill system.

They do it by making interaction a commodity. A certain level of thoughtful interaction -- as long as it makes sense -- will spare you from making a roll. And in Torchbearer, not making a roll can be a very good thing, since rolls drive the clock for hunger and light.

It's interesting here, because in a lot of ways it proves (for me) in practice that both Finch and Alexander's premises are flawed, although their discussions both contain a great many truths.

At the end of the day, GMing is an act of performance. Rules and consistency are like stagecraft-- they help with suspension of disbelief, and keep the audience (and the actors) in the scene. But if the performance is sufficiently honed, and the performers are all working together, you can do it all in black turtlenecks on an empty stage and pull it off.

A purified form of Finch's thesis would involve no rules whatsoever. And this CAN be done. Because this can be done, his thesis is essentially correct.

But consistency (and stagecraft) are an art unto themselves, and when properly executed can elevate the experience. I think that Alexander is merely saying, don't just throw out 40 years of development without looking at why it was there. That's quite correct, in my view.

But there's a dark side to his end of this, too. In continuing with my stagecraft metaphor, it's the equivalent of a Michael Bay film -- all sets, effects and stagecraft with no performance to speak of. Some audience can tune into a performance of mere explosions and enjoy themselves, but others will wake as though from a nightmare, wondering, what's going on? Why should I care?

I think we've all played in that session too.

At the end of the day, I recommend GMs be mindful that their principle task is to present information in an entertaining way; enough information for the players to make a meaningful choice at each interval. You can and should maintain a decent, consistent rules apparatus in service to that goal.

The difference between a great Old School GM and and great New School GM, in practice, is virtually invisible.

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wifantasywriter wrote:
For those who have run sessions, would you say that you detail out all of the obstacles and twists ahead of time? Or do you wing it a bit at times to add to some of the uncertainty of things?

Mouse Guard has a prescribed method. Pick four events for your GM turn: Mice, Animals, Nature, and Weather.

Pick any two of these to be your default obstacles. Hold the other two in reserve for twists.

This is the advice from the first edition, I don't know if it made it into the second.

Now, there's nothing saying you can't use more than four, or double up on Animals, for example. But following this format should provide you with a very well-rounded GM turn. A little short, maybe, but exciting.

My preferred method, however, is not to specify any Obs before the game, and just factor them as I go. The MG skills section (and GM screen) is awesome for that. You're best off just creating a really vivid, detailed scenario. The numbers will usually take care of themselves.

wifantasywriter wrote:

I'm trying to wrap my brain, too, around combat. Actual combat. I'll summarize how I think it goes:

1. Determine disposition (is this for the party or each member?)
2. Patrol Leader (PL) picks actions for each patrol member (PM)
3. GM and PM #1 go; resolve
4. GM and other PM's take actions; resolve
5. Repeat 2-4 until one or more parties reach 0 disposition

I think I have that right, but I want to make sure before I get into a game and have to try to wrap my brain around it in the moment.

This is basically correct, yes.

Try and scrub with word "combat" out of your mind. In MG they are Conflicts. Some may be fights, but not all. And the resolution system is wide open, so relying on a traditional RPG structure, even by analogy, is likely to mess you up.

Why make the distinction? Because in an RPG combat system, the mechanics don't really tell you when the fight is over. If the characters are defending the tower from an onslaught, do they only succeed when they kill to the last man? Or do they succeed when they defeat enough to drive the rest off in fear?

This system is very much about the narrative value of victory, rather than the actual measurement of each warrior's endurance in the battle (and there is NOTHING wrong with that, BTW. Just different games.)

So, if there's a step missing here, it's step 6: Compromise.

Everything you do narratively in the fight will be working with the objectives in the scene. Depending on the level of compromise and the scene elements, characters may be injured or even killed-- or they may simply be carried off by a bird of prey and dropped far away from the party.

I would also add in step 2.5 -- Declare weapons. Even for Animals. Especially for animals. For both the players and the GM, the choice of weapon is your strongest clue into which actions might be played, and so it is necessary to keep the ADFM Conflict system from becoming totally arbitrary. For example, if you're fighting against three mice, and the weapon declaration phase goes:

Mouse 1 - Axe
Mouse 2 - Knife
Mouse 3 - Shield

What can you infer from that? How will you then play your actions? Weapons and the ratio of remaining disposition are the basis for all strategy in Mouse Guard (and Torchbearer).

Turelus wrote:

I hope so. I am not a Roll20 user really (only as a player for one campaign) so I don't tend to follow their news. I know for Fantasy Grounds at least they've made a very strong push to show they have the D&D content and tend to only really talk about D&D on their social media now.

They're still supporting PFRPG and others, it just doesn't seem to be their outward focus for marketing.

Roll20 does a bunch of analytics to see who's playing what on their site. They even publish the results quarterly.

Of course, D&D makes a huge percentage of the gameplay, as does Pathfinder. But the sum of all those other games is a non-trivial amount of users.

It's a fabulous marketing vehicle for both parties. To bring it back around, I'd really love to see Paizo get in on that marketplace, especially because it would keep the medium diverse.

Turelus wrote:

I do wonder if the contracts that Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds have with WotC bar them from making the same kinds of deals with Paizo. I wouldn't put that kind of deal past Hasbro/WotC.

Still it would be nice if Paizo worked with the current big two VTT as well, I remember being excited for Game Space when I first heard about it, but years later I am still using Fantasy Grounds because nothing came of it.

That's my cynical grumblings for the morning. :P

System agnosticism has long been a core goal of Roll20, so my guess is that they wouldn't sign on for that. But I might certainly be wrong. It would be a bummer if that were the case.

archmagi1 wrote:
How much has roll 20 improved in the last 2 years (last time i tried it)? Does it handle complex macros and all the fancy stuff I can do with Maptool yet?

They're definitely catching up. I'm not sure what your MapTool setup could do, but the Roll20 approach -- using an actual API and javascript instead of the unholy mutant that was MapTool scripting -- is vastly superior.

As a result, it's possible to do incredible things with Roll20 and the developments are coming out faster than they used to in MapTool. Plus, you can use a proper IDE to work with the API, where MapTool forced you to either count brackets or create a special text editor plugin. Let's be real here, MapTool macros were never intended to do what they ended up doing, and it's really kind of silly and brutal to work with.

That said, some of the more esoteric but wonderful features of MapTool haven't been replicated... yet. Specifically, I'm thinking of the interactions between lighting reveals and Fog of War. There are requests in the upvoting system to replicate that.

But if you see the forest for the trees, you'll see that Roll20 already has a ton of features that MapTool does not. For a social application, the web interface is VASTLY superior in terms of speed and ease of use. The formalized structure for individual code contributions in scripting and character sheets make it so that you can leverage community creations without knowing any code at all.

Compared to two years ago, Roll20 is has come an incredibly long way. But considering their methodology, I'm betting on them for the long haul. It's not perfect, but it's better than anything else I've used, MapTool included.

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I've been advocating this for years now, and I still do. Adventure Paths and VTTs are a natural pairing, and there is no better VTT right now than Roll20.

Just last week I cancelled a session of Legacy of Fire due to a lack of prep time. I have certain standards when it comes to executing an adventure path in VTT, and it takes time to set up. That is something I would gladly pay to have done for me in advance.

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SilvercatMoonpaw wrote:
Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Those folks need to breathe deep and think of the rule as thematic, not an attempt to simulate reality.

I don't like the thematics, either.

But I'm prepared to play in a universe that has alignment. I just really, really hate not being able to opt-out. It feels like press-ganging: you've done these things so you have to be on this side regardless of how you actually feel about it.

It is an election year, isn't it?

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Alignment is the only rule in the game dedicated to characterization. It's a true "role play" rule in its intent. I can look at a character's class, spells and feat selection to get an idea of what they are capable of. I can look at a character's alignment to get a sense of how they will behave. That is useful information for everyone, GM and Players.

Some may chafe under it if they believe it is a restriction, and especially if their GM has a narrow, adversarial approach to "enforcing" alignment, or the player is being willfully obtuse. In that case, I argue bad faith is what breaks the system. But generally speaking, it's perfectly appropriate for a game with literal angels and devils in it to have an objective ruling on morality.

Some players get confused and imagine that an RPG is some great venue for reviving a long-settled philosophical taxonomy. Those folks need to breathe deep and think of the rule as thematic, not an attempt to simulate reality.

Obviously, if you're playing in a campaign where morality is *ahem* beyond good and evil, then yes, you'll need to change alignment or ditch it altogether. But in my opinion, removing alignment from D&D-derived games doesn't really leave you with a ruleset that's perfect for nuance and moral complexity, so what's the point?

This is a game where 90% of plots revolve around Manichean confrontations between good guys and dastardly villains, where almost every problem is solved with (supernatural) violence. I've seen the removal of binary good and evil actually cause more moral problems than it solves.

Generally, I feel like it's a great rule that gets a bad rap from misapplication.

If not much has happened since the mistake, and you did want to implement a retro-active continuity, you could always say that the "victorious" fight was actually a hallucination brought on by the sickness of whatever nauseated them.

They imagined they were at the top of their game, when in truth they were rolling around on the ground in total delirium.

Let them me captured or whatnot and work their way out from there.

I must say, though, I think it is fine to just let these mistakes slide and continue on with the game. If the opportunity was there to fairly work it into the story I would do that, but I wouldn't force it.

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Honestly, it sounds like the best result will come from lowering your own standards. This is a classic GM problem.

RPGs have much more in common with birthday parties than with authorial media like films and novels.

If the players you've gathered are not likely to have fun while being serious at any other time, don't expect them to have fun being serious in your game.

It's like going to a birthday party with a black tie dress code and schedule that you expect the participants to conform to. Some crowds might be OK with it. It sounds like your people are not of that ilk. Placed in that situation, they're going to try to make the best of it, and have fun despite all the stuffy rules. That's what's going on in your game.

Once you've embraced their style, you can still push things in the direction of "cool." Remember, GMing is a performance art, and part of performing is conforming to the audience's expectations. There's give and take.

It sounds like you've already achieved some flexibility, letting them take unconventional approaches. The next step lies with you. You have to revise your expectations in order to be satisfied with the result.

Oh, hey! Sorry for the delayed response, I've been off the forums for a spell.

Ratpick wrote:
Iif a monster has a certain Disposition given for a certain type of conflict I never roll for their Disposition, no matter how many creatures there are in the scene, right?

You add one to the monster team's disposition for each monster past the first.

If you happen to have more monsters than points (only common with weaker horde monsters like goblins and kobolds) then you come up with a reason why the remainders are quickly knocked out of the fight. This rule ("Too Many Kobolds") only tends to come up with fairly muppetty monsters, so I've never had trouble with it.

Ratpick wrote:
Secondly, I'm looking for a good adventure that would make a good one-shot in a convention environment. I know there's an adventure in the book but it leaves me a bit cold, and the free adventure available on their website seems solid but I'm unsure as to how representative it is of the game as a whole. If anyone has a good idea of a short old-school dungeon crawl that would adapt easily into Torchbearer (preferably something with standby monsters like goblins and kobolds) that would be much appreciated!

You know, I'm not a huge fan of the book adventure myself, although returning to it with more experience I think it would run much more smoothly. The intro adventure on the site "The Dread Crypt of Skogenby" is pretty good, albeit small. The end boss of that dungeon is likely to cause a lot of problems for groups that are too hasty to use violence as a solution.

I'm actually working on a whole series of adventures to publish under the commercial license, which is exciting! But until then, I recommend you grab any small-ish adventure site from a module or AP that has a lot of low-level logistical stuff in it: climb DCs, secret doors, and the like.

The secret about Torchbearer is that you just need a really good map and a very clear sense of the environment. Setting obstacles (DCs) and statting out monsters isn't nearly as crucial as it is in Pathfinder. In some ways, planning out rolls ahead of time is actually a bad move. I'll do it for only the most obvious things.

Because remember: if the players can talk through a situation in sufficient detail, there's no roll. No roll means no time wasted.

Ratpick wrote:
And finally, for the sake of this one-shot, would I be better off just making the players' characters completely or providing them with prefab characters with some choices left for them to make (like the Nature questions). Making the characters completely from scratch is probably not on the menu, because it would simply take too big a slice from the four-hour slot I'm planning.

I'd recommend using the characters provided in the book, but let them modify any specific details they wish. If you have time, make characters as a group, but the pre-gens have some interesting synergy built in. Skill synergy between characters is absolutely critical in this game.

Ratpick wrote:
EDIT: Reading the Dread Crypt of Skogenby, apparently in conflicts where the Disposition of the creatures is set you're supposed to add +1 to disposition for every creature beyond the first. I'm not sure where that's stated in the rules, but I'd completely missed that. So, in a Drive Off conflict against four goblins their Disposition would be, in total, 6 (3 to begin with, +1 for every goblin beyond the first)? That makes a lot more sense to me, although I'll have to read the book again to see if I've got that right.

That is correct, as I mentioned above.

Welcome to the game! My group is still really enjoying it. In addition to our weekly sessions and pickup games of pure Torchbearer, I'm about to try the Aliens/Colonial Marines hack that the developers stealth-released.

A bit of advice for veteran gamers taking their first steps into Torchbearer: in most games, the player succeeds when the character succeeds, and fails when the character fails. In Torchbearer, the character can fail, in fact must fail to advance, and the player can still succeed by utilizing the failure correctly.

Once you fit your head around this, a lot of the rules that seem needlessly harsh at first glance actually turn out to be gifts to the player. Some people just never grasp this, and so the game has something of a mean reputation.

In my opinion, Burning Wheel is kind of a hot mess compared to its little siblings: Mouse Guard and Torchbearer.

I've been meaning to give it another go 'round, and I probably will when the new Codex comes out. But for the time being, everything I like about Burning Wheel is present, and in fact better-executed, in the other two games.

I really enjoyed it as an RPG design manifesto with some really innovative ideas, but when it came to actually running a campaign it turned out to be too mechanically intense; often without any return to justify the efforts.

Just for example, most BW games have a mechanic where skills accrue XP individually every time you roll them. In Burning Wheel, this involved referring to a lookup table for every skill roll, and not one that is easily reduced to an algorithm either. In Torchbearer and Mouse Guard, there is a simple rule about how many tests you need to advance in a skill, no chart necessary. Both methods ensure that the player is deliberately challenging themselves in order to advance, but the latter is just 100% more playable as far as concerns me.

I advise against it, but I am curious to hear what those in favor think.

To me, the Burning Wheel system is antithetical to an AP. The GM has a mandate to craft their game around the character's beliefs. When playing an AP, it's often best to let the game's events shape your character.

It's certainly not impossible to take an AP as inspiration for a campaign, but trying to actually run the AP as intended in BW proves to be... difficult at best.

For example, there's often that person who makes a Brevoy-centered political intrigue PC in Kingmaker games. While it's relatively easy in Pathfinder to redirect that character's ambitions into the Stolen Lands, Burning Wheel characters are like cruise missiles that unswervingly target their backstories. It's not impossible! But it should be much, much harder, by design, to redirect characters into the AP's metaplot. Especially since the Kingmaker metaplot is a bit nebulous.

I also think that structurally, Torchbearer is a better fit amongst the BWHQ games. Although it would exhibit some of the same problems, the importance of character beliefs is quite diminished and there's a lot more of the normal fantasy RPG tropes to latch on to. Plus, its intense themes of survival and exploration are a natural synergy with Kingmaker.

Kobold Cleaver wrote:

Yeah, I just don't really get when it's used what what the practical benefit is. Since the GM chooses obstacles, and obstacles are very abstract, ruling out one type of obstacle doesn't seem that useful to me.

I know you probably don't have answers for this, since you aren't as into Mouse Guard. I'm just griping.

Also, I think MG has a different Twist mechanic than TB. Twists in Mouse Guard aren't something you hold on to—they happen as the direct consequence of a failed roll, and go away right after. Doing something risky like leaving a bag behind doesn't cause a Twist.

Well, I recall that the advance of the seasons is based on the number of weather-related twists that the GM uses... so it might be possible for a savvy player to delay the onset of a harsher season by using the skill. However, that's a bit wonky and I doubt that's the intention of the rule.

Leaving a bag behind in itself doesn't cause a twist -- but it is fodder for a twist if a roll is failed. Let's switch to a Mouse Guard scenario, let's say the guardmice try to leave a dead drop to pick up later when returning from a mission. Leaving the dead drop may not require a roll, in the GM's estimation, but finding it again afterward might be a Pathfinder test. If they fail that test, a twist could very well be that something happened to the cache of goods while the players were absent.

OR! If the player did require a roll (Scout perhaps) to conceal the dead drop and that was failed, the GM can still resolve it with a twist -- but he can wait until the players try to recover the stash to tell them that someone else got to it first.

Twists are incredibly open-ended. They can either cause the failure of the skill roll or result from it. You can use them to fill in the world and include all of those trifling survival issues that other games can't handle due to the sheer number of mechanics you would need to simulate them.

As far as I know, TB and MG have identical Twist mechanics, but I can't say for certain that the clause about the GM being able to wait and reveal a twist down the line is in MG. It shouldn't matter though, the Twist can reveal itself whenever it would be discovered.

I believe that in Mouse Guard, the Weather Watcher skill allows the player to define the upcoming weather in their advantage. For the most part, this shouldn't wreak too much havoc since it requires a check at the least, and the earlier edition at least outlined some potential consequences (drought if the player never lets it rain) that could be applied as Twists.

I often find myself reminding players that Twists are a thing -- if they do something risky ("we'll leave our packs here... they'll be safe.") or if they fail a roll and I don't want to explain too much what happened ("Everything seems to have gone ok, but I will be using this failed roll as a Twist when the time comes.")

Twists are terrific. They really are the mechanic that makes MG/TB inclusive of all the nitty-gritty things that just don't fit on a combat grid.

Yeah, I'm still around! I'm glad to hear you got the second edition. I'm happy to answer questions about how I play, although I have only played Mouse Guard for a few sessions. Mostly I do Torchbearer, which is almost the same, so here goes:

When choosing Obstacles for the GM turn, I would definitely have a skill roll in mind ahead of time. But it is a role-playing game, and creativity should be rewarded, so if there's a really good alternative plan suggested by the players, run with it! It certainly doesn't affect the rules either way.

Just don't let them spend a bunch of time debating how to solve the problem. It's the GM turn, keep the pressure on! I try to allow only a level of discussion that would be appropriate in-character at that time. Every time they waffle, I'll throw in some tension-raising description to prompt them to act.

Basically, the spirit of the rule here is: "This problem is happening now, what's your first reaction?"

  • If the players describe an action that lines up with the skill Ob you had in mind, awesome.

  • If they describe something else that might work, that's fine too.

  • If they're stuck for ideas, just call for the original skill you had in mind. They'll get another chance to roleplay during the test with Traits, Help and Wises. ("How are you helping?" and "How does that trait apply?" are the most effective roleplay reinforcement rules I've ever used.)

  • If the situation calls for a roll but simply wouldn't allow players to choose their approach, such as a trap or a lansdslide, just call for the roll and RP around it. This is covered more explicitly under traps in Torchbearer, but should apply to MG as well.

  • If they plan to try and build on specific skills by always dreaming up solutions involving those skills, they had better be REALLY good at that. And fast. Otherwise, they'll have to wait for the Player turn, that's what it's for!
Remember that just because the player might be ill-equipped (or completely unable!) to pass a test you intended isn't a bad thing, so don't hold back! Remind the players that they NEED failure to develop those skills, and furthermore that losing a test isn't the end of the world (less so than other games) -- apply a twist instead of a conditional success.

This means that sometimes the GM turn obstacles are more railroady, and sometimes not. You are within your rights as a GM to throw nasty weather out there, with such a high Ob that they simply cannot succeed -- just in order to introduce a twist to your liking.

In some games, that's just mechanically unfair to the players. In Torchbearer (er, um, Mouse Guard, I mean) an impossible Ob is great in several ways: firstly, anyone looking to raise a skill that needs failure can make the roll. Secondly, it's a gift-wrapped opportunity to earn some checks -- you were going to fail anyway so the penalty doesn't matter.

Presuming the world is not cosmopolitan like Golarion often is, I just spell it out for them: "This world is not cosmopolitan. There are many places where the locals will react poorly to humans they're not acquainted with, let alone someone with an overtly monstrous face."

If there are places where that character may gain public acceptance, I name them: "The town with the wizard's tower has seen all kinds of things, you can pass for normal there. And the bustling port town, they've learned not to be as judgmental. But in these remote villages, you need to expect torches and pitchforks as an initial reaction."

Sometimes, just knowing that there are some places where it won't be an issue is enough to assuage their concerns.

I also have it written in my house rules: if you want to play a monster race PC, you need to be prepared to be treated as an outsider at best. But in a world like Golarion where some forty different humanoid races are accounted for, it doesn't seem necessary to enforce this as much. My homebrew is much more xenophobic.

I looked through the 2nd Edition book in the store the other day and couldn't notice any significant difference from the first edition, other than simply being in-print.

That doesn't mean that there aren't small fixes in there somewhere, just that nothing was so major that I could tell on first inspection.

@Osric: As mentioned, the first and second are basically the same game as far as I can tell.

I would say that vs. Pathfinder, the game is definitely more kid friendly. The "Plot Twist" element of failed rolls (as opposed to the "closed door" interpretation of failed rolls in PF) is especially fertile in the hands of young imaginations. A failed roll can mean almost anything! Veteran roleplayers sometimes strain to re-learn the possibilities in such a system, but for those without acquired hangups, it can be very giving.

But, Mouse Guard is not a "lite" RP system. There's a lot of depth to the rules, a lot of interlocking parts. The math is simple, but the rules are actually quite complex in a way. There's not a lot to memorize, but the interactions are many. If a child is expecting that RPGs are like video games, then Pathfinder is closer to the mark.

Start with the first graphic novel, "Fall". Then move to "Winter". Please bear in mind, these are only "kids" books according to an older sensibility -- they are at times very dark and sad, as befits the life of a prey animal in a dangerous world.

What's all this narrative/dramatic pressure I'm talking about, right?

Well, here's the thing. As the GM, you should actually pull the trigger once in a while. PCs are forever rushing off to stop some nefarious plan from coming to fruition. If, at some point early in the campaign, the plan actually comes to fruition, not only does it make later threats credible but it enhances every aspect of your game.

Doing this earlier rather than later helps to contain the consequences. But even right up until the final session, have a real and earnest willingness to actually pull the trigger on whatever the PCs are opposing is a great tool.

GP should really be an afterthought for folks this powerful.

A more meaningful limitation is the availability of items, and the ability of the community to even provide such items for their needs. I find that abiding by the GM limits in the town rules, and the 75% availability roll, tends to be enough for me. By and large, they won't be able to get their hands on really great stuff without a logical amount of effort. If they exert the effort, I let them have the stuff.

But, you need to keep the dramatic pressure on so that they don't just sit around and accumulate stuff.

Fully buffed PCs are something you should balance for. Most fights will be that. Learn it. The CR rules work well as a ball-park measure of relative monster power, but after 8th level or so you can safely ignore them when balancing encounters. Use your own judgement. If you're running for an organically growing party, you have a sense of what works and what doesn't.

Narrative pressure is probably the most important tool here. If you don't give the players scads of free time to hack the spell system, then they will need to use more direct means. If these high-level characters are the right people for the job (and the job is worth their interest) then things are probably pretty urgent indeed.

Mathius wrote:
One of the main reasons I ask this is I have not seen a published adventure that truely addresses what high level PCs and BBEGs can do. Is there one out there?

There are many reasons for the dearth of high-level modules, but one of the most important reasons ties into my last point in the post above: good high level games address organic character development. This is why you need to look at Adventure Paths to get a sense of how it's done.

High-level modules with no campaign for context are a nightmare to create, and the end result will likely be terrible no matter the talents of the writer.

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I think Rise of the Runelords did a pretty good job with high level, FWIW.

In my opinion, Pathfinder's end-game levels are really 15th-16th. That leaves room for the last few levels to serves as challenges for the PCs, probably with a 20th level super-villain at the end of the campaign. I might pop the PCs up to 17th for a session or two, just long enough for the climax.

Pathfinder/3.5 becomes an entirely different game, narratively, after around 12th level. The GM can actually stop planning for potential solutions and actually present the party with seemingly impossible problems and over-the-top defenses.

The GM has to completely throw out the low-level adventure structure and begin requiring the heroes to do things that literally only they can do, like fly across continents overnight.

If the PCs try to change the economy, I hit that with the same cudgel that I handle economic game commentary at any level: with an arched brow, I remind them that even economists in real life have no ability to reliably control such things, and disaster or a total anti-climax could result. The game's economy makes no sense. That would be a waste of everyone's time, and even if this were desirable no game could model it. Go kill some monsters instead.

But really, most of the spells have pretty reasonable restrictions baked in. I mostly manage economic concerns by putting demographic numbers out there. I considerably limit the number of NPCs that are higher than 10th level (heck 7th). If the players want to put their powers to use as some kind of magic bus driver or telephone operator, so be it. I'll just viciously mock them until they decide to do something cool instead. If what they're doing has a place in the action, (feeding an army, for example) then I embrace it. They're the Justice League at this point, not the X-Men anymore.

For boss fights, embrace henchmen. Strong ones. Credible threats who can actually run interference. Dragons work pretty well. The fact is, you'll never force players to enter a fight at a disadvantage if they have literally any other option. You shouldn't, it's stupid. It's a made up trope that inexperienced GMs think is the standard for some reason. Think about it: are you ever going to enter a life and death situation when you are less than completely prepared? That's what you're asking your players to do. And if they take every measure to ensure that never happens, that's called role-playing. If you're expecting them to plod onward despite attrition then you're asking them not to role-play.

With respect to BBEGs, in a world where valuable intelligence on your opponent can be plucked from the air, reputation management becomes weaponized. A truly classy villain will operate in such a way that the heroes never know WHO to scry on. Every time they think they've got the guy, it should be a patsy. Nobody knows the villain's real name, or what he looks like. It makes scry-n-die obsolete (not that it works all that great anyway.)

Another bit of advice: don't start players at high level. It's totally not worth it. Organically grown high level PCs are much easier to predict and nourish with appropriate challenges. High level PCs out of a can are a nightmare for all involved. Screw that.

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Here you go:

66-84: GM's selection.


No seriously, good catch, though. It's not exactly a critical flaw, just an omission I'm sure they can correct in a later printing and the PRD.

It's a huge book, and somewhat more detail-driven than most, which makes it very challenging from a publishing standpoint, I suspect.

Silent spell: Still useful for not alerting people in the next room that you're buffing, or casting spells in silenced areas, or with a gag on, or holding your breath.

Still spell: still useful for bypassing arcane spell failure, casting while restrained.

Just because being able to secretly cast in front of someone would be nice does not mean it was the intent of these feats. They are both VERY useful.

I personally advocate the magic glowing runes interpretation.

Severely limiting the subtlety of magic may not be very "literary", but it goes a long way toward limiting shenanigans that can derail a campaign, and makes it so that the warrior types at least know who to hit without having to cast a spell themselves. There are lots of ways that Pathfinder magic is not very literary, so I'm not bothered in the least by this. Vancian magic puts gameplay first.

Frankly, I wish they'd make magic even less subtle (c.f. Iron Kingdoms).

Full disclosure: I play a bard with spellsong in one campaign, and the results have only reinforced my opinion that subtle magic is a pain in the arse for the GM, and steals the spotlight from the other players. That's meta-game logic, sure, and it points to a bad gameplay result.

And that's spellsong, which is not compatible with stealth. If general spellcasting – even with a 2-3 feat investment – were compatible with stealth, then why make any other character? Why would villainous spellcasters ever expose themselves? What kind of game world does that make? Sure, playing a spell-sniper seems like fun, but what about the rest of the party? Moreover, what about GMs using spell-sniper NPCs? That's sounds just great...

Just my opinion, but I think they should leave it at Spellsong which at least has some kind of stealth limitation. And even that may be too much, but at least it's just the Bard spell list.

Yeah, I don't see book 6 going anywhere.

But if they did Kingmaker over, and added some more material, I can definitely see a bigger presence for Brevoy, Numeria, and the River Kingdoms in that supplemental material.

Specifically, how to expand the high level game into those regions.

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