PhelanArcetus's page

RPG Superstar 7 Season Star Voter, 8 Season Star Voter. Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber. Organized Play Member. 396 posts (402 including aliases). No reviews. No lists. 1 wishlist. 1 Organized Play character. 1 alias.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Most published adventures tend to avoid anything that is seriously beyond the players.

Step 1: Tell the players flat out, at the beginning of the campaign, that there will be encounters they simply cannot handle. Some people may love that. Others may hate it. But they need to know (I've had so many problems in games I'm in due to players and the DM having different expectations and not realizing it).

Step 2: Unless you're very good at it, don't spend your time trying to describe how deadly the creature is in abstract terms. Just tell them that their characters (especially whoever made the knowledge check) don't think they can take it.

One thing I've very rarely found is a DM using a knowledge check to give a relative power level. I've seen descriptions of creatures far weaker than the party that sounded no less powerful than descriptions of creatures far more powerful than the same party (at the same point in time). Maybe every knowledge check should begin with an estimate of how dangerous the foe is, in terms of CR vs. APL (but, presumably, not the actual numbers; think an MMO's color-coding).

The Worf Effect works if you're in a position to introduce the foe early, stomp some NPC or creature, and let the party walk away to level up before coming back. It's very awkward to do repeatedly, though (how many NPCs of known capability are available? Ok, you can use other monsters, but then the players need to know how powerful the monster is relative to the party, to be able to judge whether that demonstration is meaningful. Which works best if the party has fought a lot of that monster.

Recent example from a game: a monster trivially destroyed a pair of frost worms. This was supposed to communicate to the party how much damage it could do, and at what range it noticed and attacked creatures. All we got out of it was "some sort of disintegration ray, ok". Never trust your players to understand what you're trying to communicate unless you are saying it straight out.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

There's also the option of sitting down with the player and explaining exactly what you just said.

"I can tell from the character you're describing that what you want to do is get into melee and be a big, deadly bruiser. However, the build you've described is so good at melee that I'm concerned that it's impossible to challenge your character without negating his entire concept. Let's look at some constructing some house rules and/or adjustments to your build so that we can all be happy."

Of course, it's also possible the player is looking to design an invulnerable, ultra-deadly blender of doom, and doesn't want to be challenged; I can't say, as I don't know the player. Maybe he wants to feel like he's steamrolling everything in his path.

Unfortunately, nobody, game designer or not, is perfect. Games like Pathfinder tend to break down as more and more material gets released, and players have more time than designers to invest in identifying rules synergies. I've put together a couple of very interesting builds in my time, often by combining a couple of relatively obscure rules sources that were never really intended to be used together (at least in the sense that they were designed without knowledge of each other).

Couple that with the increased complexity of high-level play itself, and yes, there's a lot of potential for the game to break down. The best solution I'm aware of is to look at what breaks the fun of the game for you and your group, and look into addressing those things, quite possibly by banning them.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

My biggest tip is to use technology.

I've transitioned to making all my character sheets be spreadsheets (I mostly use Numbers on Mac, but I still sometimes use Excel; Google Docs should suffice as well).

The big reason for this is that it lets me create a block where I can just check boxes on or off for various effects. This is better than trying to write up all the situations, because buffs and debuffs come and go, especially when dispels get going in high-level play. It's not trivial (but if you're proficient with spreadsheets it's not very hard either), and it can be time-consuming out of game, but it means that all I need to do is click a checkbox (in Excel, a Yes/No pulldown might be better; I've had issues with Excel checkboxes), and all the calculations are done for me. Likewise, all the weird circumstances you don't expect are handled.

Weaknesses are that a math error during setup is going to be concealed during play, and that the mentality can make it harder to account for a condition you didn't incorporate into the spreadsheet. (I'm going to add checkboxes for flank & charge tonight, so I don't screw those up.)

Likewise, you can speed up other hassles by having page references, or even links, all over your sheet. Casting a spell? Have a page reference for it, or with technology, have a clickable link to the spell itself. Pretty much all my character sheets contain a spell summary written by me, as well as a page reference, though I may as well convert that latter to a link. My current wizard's sheet is over-complex, but it has a short spell description (longer than the standard summary) alongside each prepared spell.

So really, a lot of the best help (for me) is in preparing out-of-session. These mostly help with reducing on-the-fly calculations, and time spent searching for a rules reference.

Another thing you can do is use an electronic dice roller for things like high-damage spells. Don't want to roll 24d6 by hand? Get a computer (or phone/tablet) and roll electronically; the math will be taken care of.

Non-technologically, you can, as a group, agree to avoid certain types of mechanics on both sides of the table. For example, mechanics that allow/require someone to roll twice and take the better or worse result for a round; just agree not to use those.

You can also do average damage, rather than rolling; this is primarily good on monsters with many attacks.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

For truly bad characters, I'd heard about Lord Bearington, a bear with such an obscenely high bluff that nobody can tell he's a bear.

I've actually played a session with that character. It was intensely depressing. I think the character was some sort of cleric, but really the only things that mattered were:
1. He was a bear, but everyone had to treat him as a normal human; I believe he actually couldn't speak, but could bluff so hard that we thought a bear growling was a human speaking common.
2. He and his friend, neither of whom we had back, made every single "bear" pun they could for the entire session.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

I do, sometimes, love the complexity of Pathfinder.

I'm playing in a Pathfinderized A Paladin in Hell, an old 2nd edition module, and I spent an incredible amount of time building out the character. I must have spent 4 or more hours surveying Inner Sea Gods and the domain / subdomain writeups to determine which domains I could access for my Sacred Servant paladin, and then decide between them. (I finally chose Luck over War, because I didn't feel like also dealing with keeping track of all the feat candidates I had from the domain power, and because it told a story more different from the basic paladin.)

And I do have a list of mechanical concepts I want to one day play in Pathfinder; that's pretty much how I picked out the paladin I'm playing, though I spent a ton of time on the finishing touches. (Core idea was paladin with Eldritch Heritage (orc). That meant a lot of my build was done almost immediately. The domain, the last feat or two, and equipment, those took hours and hours.)

But sometimes, that level of time investment outside of the game just grates on me. Especially when either I'm intentionally skipping powerful options to avoid overshadowing other party members (often the easiest way to do this is just to not be a full caster), or when I'm helping someone else power their character up to the same level that I'm at. Sometimes I don't want to feel that I need to pore over the books, looking for spells, feats, and class features that provide interesting and powerful new synergies, to be able to build an effective character.

Pathfinder is better than 3.0 & 3.5 on giving the ability to play a character concept from level 1, but as thejeff pointed out, there are still some which you just can't pull off until mid levels. And quite often, those are trading out straight power for versatility, which may or may not be a good trade. (I know I tend to go for a greater degree of self-sufficiency in characters, and several of my friends do as well.) Sure, in Pathfinder you can play a fighter/wizard who feels like it from level 1... as long as you're willing to deal with the constraints of the magus (one-handed weapon, no shield), and accept that you're going to end up with less BAB and spell selection than you might achieve with careful multiclassing (I remember 3.5-era optimization, where a gish was considered acceptable only at BAB 17+, caster level 17+, and likely having actual 9th level spells as well).

The martial/caster disparity is something I want to see go away. That, actually, is probably the biggest single cornerstone of that system I'm so slowly building. And the two biggest components to achieving it, in my mind, are:
1. Separate out the combat subsystem from the non-combat subsystem(s). While the core resolution mechanics may be the same, resources need to be different. The biggest part here is that you shouldn't need to give up combat potential for more social skills. (i.e. avoid how the rogue trades combat effectiveness for a large number of skill points and a large class skill list.)
2. Give all classes equivalent resources. A huge part of the martial/caster disparity is that casters have more powerful options, because their options consume limited resources. But this breaks down unless there is sufficient demand upon those limited resources to force the caster to conserve them against future need. And it's non-trivial to consistently enforce that demand.

Obviously 5th hasn't tried to give equivalent resources to all classes; 4th did that, and it was part of the problem there. (Though I think how it was presented, and the sameness of all the options, was more a problem than the notion of martial characters with limited resources. At least, it was for me. Presenting kicking sand in someone's face as a once-per-day action felt silly, but the martials were being kept entirely martial, so it couldn't be a matter of expending ki or a similar resource.) Some of the adjustments to the spells system, however, do help; mostly the fact that spells no longer inherently grow in power as you level, which means that you don't have lower-level slots becoming amazing sources of long-term buffs, or utility that trumps the skills, at a low effective resource cost. (i.e. greater magic weapon and magic vestment grow in power and duration even as the value of their spell slots decreases.) This reduces the caster's ability to solve every problem with spell slots, because the lower-level spell slots don't gain in power even as they are freed up from combat usage. (The change in spell DCs also keeps lower level spells somewhat more viable in combat.)

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber
Tranquilis wrote:
JoeJ wrote:

I haven't picked up the PHB yet, but based on the Basic Rules and those bits of the playtest material I've been able to look at, it looks like WoTC is deliberately heading in the "rules lite" direction, where most of the options are in the character concept and in the role playing choices rather than in the game mechanics.

Bingo. As hard as it is for some to comprehend (and I don't mean that disparagingly at all - it does seem a bit illogical at first), more rules can result in fewer options in-game.

When some players see umpteen hundred feats in a game, they see straight jackets - not freedom and options.

Neither is right or wrong: obviously Pathfinder has embraced the player-focused, character-build philosophy. Other games like Castles and Crusades have harkened back to roleplaying choices versus mechanical choices. Who knows what the future holds for 5th, but it is apparent that with the PHB, WotC decided to go with "less is more" over Pathfinder's "Do you want that wrapped in bacon?" approach.

31 flavors and all that.

This is true. With a personality like mine that tends to study the rules... if the rules tell me I need feat X to do something, then I don't ask the DM if I can try. I either have the feat and do it, or I don't have the feat and immediately write it off as impossible (due to lack of feat). Likewise I often don't think about non-standard uses of spells. I'm working on getting better at that, but a lot of the time I see a spell as doing exactly and only what the spell description says, nothing more, ever. That said, as a DM, I try to encourage the opposite thinking and am quite happy to make quick & dirty rulings; I also sometimes suggest ways to ad-hoc a situation to the DM when I'm playing. (So far I haven't done it for an action I was taking, but for others).

Lots of rules are good for consistency across a campaign and across multiple tables. That's really helpful for something like organized play; since you might have a different DM each time, you don't want to rely on something that's a DM judgment call; your character might be excellent with one DM and near-worthless with another.

The way Pathfinder is written, if it can be done, there are rules for it. That's not strictly true, of course, there's nothing stopping a DM from making a ruling. But the basic assumption is that if the game rules don't model it, then it's not supposed to happen. Or you should construct it from the existing rules. I've watched games derail while a DM decided to survey half a dozen books and build a composite ruling on an unexpected action, because that was the "correct" way to go.

A more rules-light system has a tone of giving you the tools to make rulings on matters not covered in the rules.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

My only problem with the Arcanist is that I'm not sure it's valuable to the game to have all three casting mechanics:
- Full Vancian (wizard, cleric, etc.)
- Full spontaneous (sorcerer, oracle, etc.)
- Arcanist's hybrid method

That said, I love the mechanics, independent of the class's power level. I just see it as a great design choice. Were I designing a whole new system that used spell-slot-based casting, I would most likely use the Arcanist mechanic, because it makes more narrative sense to me.

It hits that sweet spot with me. Between the fear of playing a wizard and guessing wrong as to what we'll need today, and the away-from-the-table work of making sure my sorcerer has the necessary breadth of problem-solving capability with limited spells known (and possibly without the assistance of a human favored class bonus). Instead, I get to have access to basically every spell in the game, but don't get them every day; I get a subset. And while I have to choose what spells I expect to need today, that's not too hard to fill out a common baseline... being able to not worry about how many of each, and how to metamagic, that makes me feel much more comfortable, much less paranoid about screwing up my prep.

And it doesn't have that Vancian mechanism that's always been weird to me.

There may be some exploits to ban; I see no reason to ban the class entirely.

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Ssalarn wrote:
PhelanArcetus wrote:

It doesn't entirely come down to system mastery here; I feel my system mastery level is similar to that of some other players... who continually outshine me.

Why? Because they're playing high-mastery full casters (the concept they tend to prefer), and I'm playing martial / part casters, also at a high mastery. And since most of the campaigns I'm in have only one encounter per day, the full caster is just more powerful. With no need to conserve resources for the second, third, and fourth encounter of the day, they can solve most situations with spells, they can throw their biggest spells at any fight, and that balancing factor of me having mostly unlimited actions, while they have limited but more powerful actions is gone.


That's less a problem of the system itself, and more a problem of your group literally not playing the game the designers intended. Pathfinder is built under the assumption of 3-5 combat encounters, with an easy encounter (CR = APL) consuming roughly 20% of the group's daily resources. If you're playing a game that deviates from that expectation, you should adjust classes that are balanced against it accordingly. If you're only doing 1 encounter a session, you should be cutting expendable resources like spell slots, rage and bardic performance rounds, channel energy uses, etc. by 40-60%. That alone will likely substantially change the gaming dynamic you're experiencing.

5e does balance the classes more on single instance performance though, so your group might be one that benefits from such a system, which works under different assumptions.

There is also a system mastery disparity in your group; you, and presumably the rest of your group, know that there will only be 1 encounter per session. By choosing a class rewarded for longevity in a campaign where longevity will never be a factor, you have already made a sub-par choice. Unfortunately, unless your GM applies the appropriate modifications to make up for this, you've started in a...

This is a fair point. The campaign's been going on for quite a long time, so I can't recall if we knew in advance that there would be very few situations where we had multiple encounters per day. (Some of those encounters are quite long, of course, and early on, we were much more likely to have multiple encounters.) I'm pretty sure it wasn't explicitly stated, but that doesn't mean we didn't know it going in.

Of course, this is one reason why I dislike that method of class balance. (And, since we're in the midst of some revisions to the house rules due to frustration with the game, I'm proposing reducing spell slots. I suspect it will not be done.)

I am, I think, willing to accept fewer but more meaningful choices over many, comparatively small, choices. It can be frustrating on both sides. I recall in playing World of Warcraft in the old days, sure, every level up got you a talent point (after 10th level). But most of them were tiny, incremental improvements you could discern when looking at the character sheet, but not in gameplay. A few were big deals, typically the one-point talents. But you got to do something every level up. Later on, talents were reduced to... I think 6 choices, evenly spaced. You picked a specialization at 10, and a single talent at 15, 30, 45, etc. (if I'm remembering Pandas correctly). So you had entire level-ups where nothing that mattered happened (sometimes you got a new ability, sometimes you got a higher rank of an existing ability, sometimes straight up nothing happened except stats), but there were only a very small number of choices to make.

On the one hand, making a lot of choices that feel meaningless is frustrating. On the other hand, not getting to make a choice at all is frustrating.

I do want it to be that every time I make a choice, I can discern the difference in my character. That's something that feat trees don't always give. The last character I built is a paladin using Eldritch Heritage (Orc); he started at level 16. And of the 7 feats I took, 3 (skill focus (survival), toughness, and eldritch heritage itself), feel meaningless in of themselves. Two of those facilitated Improved Eldritch Heritage and Quicken SLA (touch of rage), but were otherwise near worthless. Toughness is there because all stat items were banned and I felt compelled to compensate for the lack of a Con increase for my hp. Even Power Attack is so much a given for someone wielding a two-handed weapon that it barely feels like a choice. In essence, most of the choices were made by the concept rather than leveling up. I suspect that leveling that way would have been frustrating, making essentially pre-defined choices. (Much as I did find leveling in World of Warcraft was frustrating when I already knew the one and only "proper" set of talent points to select.) Likewise, several of those choices would have had no immediate impact on the character, because their purpose was to unlock a later choice.

I've felt for quite some time that if a choice is such that not making it is just flat out stupid, then it should be built in. I also hate choices that have to be made to facilitate a playstyle, like Dex builds needing to expend resources on applying Dex to hit & damage. Or how World of Warcraft retribution paladins had a few talent points that were necessary to make the build function... and were not available immediately. If everybody using a two-handed weapon is going to take Power Attack, build it into the mechanics. If everybody who wants to play a dextrous melee combatant is going to take Weapon Finesse, build it into the mechanics. I like when I see that done, because it removes false choices, freeing up cognitive and character resources for choices that are actually open.

Definitely reserving final judgment until I've had a chance to actually play, rather than just read part of the rulebook.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

There are a lot of classes out now, and that does raise the burden on both the GM and on any player who wants to build a character in a mechanically optimal fashion.

We're playing a Pathfinderized A Paladin in Hell now, and the GM didn't ban much, all told, but he did ban. He banned Arcanist, Gunslinger, and Summoner, and restricted us to Core Rulebook items (with stat enhancers banned).

Arcanist was banned because he feels it's overpowered (I may well agree).
Gunslinger because it's off-theme, which I'm sure is common.
Summoner was banned because he wasn't sufficiently familiar with the class to feel comfortable including it.

We also had some complaints about design decisions within the ACG, especially things like the feats and archetypes which seem designed to replace multiclassing. Though honestly, I'm not sure what I prefer; the flexibility of full 3e multiclassing is nice, but oftentimes it was frustrating to find you couldn't effectively play the concept you wanted to for X levels. Dedicated classes can provide the concept from level 1, and provide useful synergies that make a character feel complete.

For example, I like the Magus a lot because it's not just a guy who can swing a sword, and also cast arcane spells. It's a guy who can do both at once. It can feel very odd to play a hybrid who can only be one side of the hybridization on any given turn.

But we're definitely reaching the point, even in the hardcover rulebook line, where there's just too much stuff for me. I think if we stuck to the hardcovers, we'd be pretty good. It's the softcovers in the campaign setting & player companion lines which contribute a lot (and many players are sufficiently divorced from the setting that they don't actually note or comprehend the implicit restrictions on culture tied to some of those feats).

Of course, some people love that complexity. I like... some complexity. I do like being able to find synergies within the rules and make my characters more capable... but I don't like needing to search through thousands of pages of content to be able to create a character at the power level I feel is required for the game. (That requirement could be to not be chumped by the enemies, or to not be rendered irrelevant by characters built better; this latter part is exacerbated by how I tend to prefer concepts in the mid-range power level, while several friends prefer the full casters and play in games where resources are not tight.)

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber
HolmesandWatson wrote:

Gary Gygax’s 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery

Step Fifteen - Play In Tournaments

Note: Italics are quotes by Gygax, contained in the book, Role Playing Mastery.

Gaming clubs exist and game conventions are held in most areas of the United States and in many locations in other countries, especially Canada and Great Britain. To achieve mastery as a player, you must eventually (if not immediately) become involved in RPG tournaments that are staged by clubs and convention organizers. These are special play sessions in which various groups of players take part in the same game adventure at different times (similar to the way a duplicate bridge tournament is run).

By comparing your performance to that of other players whose PCs were faced with the same problems and challenges, you can get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses in a way that is not available to you as long as your experience remains restricted to one or a few local campaigns.

Seems like a natural progression from Step 14 (Play Outside Your Group's Campaign Frequently).

Tournaments often spawned new modules (Ghost Tower of Inverness comes to mind and I know there were at least a couple Judges Guild tournament modules).

Of course, in Gygax' time there was no D&D Encounters, Pathfinder Society or even online play. So, you were a lot less likely to find gaming opportunities outside of your immediate group and tournaments played a larger role in steps toward Mastery as he viewed it.

Many (if not all) of the points made in Step 14 would seem to apply here. I don't know: do you think playing at Gen Con, or Origins or Paizocon will make you a better player as Gygax saw it? Do you need to compare your play to other tournament RPGers to identify your strengths and weaknesses?

Surely it doesn't hurt, but does this step really remain relevant today?

It's a bit different, I guess.

In a classic tournament setup, many groups would play the same adventure, at the same time. The only one I ever played, we had pregenerated characters.

It sounds like he's describing the value of the tournament as a science experiment. Hold as much equal as you can, changing the players at the table. Compare results. Then you will see what other groups of players did better or worse than you, learning from the experience of all N tables instead of just your own.

In my (also limited) experience with organized play... there's so much variety between GMs and parties that it's less viable to learn this way. Earlier this year, partly because a friend was suggesting we should all get PFS characters so he could play with us when we happened to be at cons, partly for something to do other than sit at a dead art table with my fiance, I played 4 games worth of PFS.

I think I had the same GM twice, and one time I had a player overlap, using a different character. Several of the players clearly knew each other due to being local. I learned some interesting things about odd builds (one of which I would have liked to have seen), but at no point did I encounter someone playing something similar enough to my own character to learn something directly about that build, or even style of playing the character type.

Organized play fits more into the general "play outside of your normal group" than into tournament, I think. There is value; you can meet new people, you can see concepts you might never see otherwise, and you can learn from all that. But it's more of a different group than a tournament lesson / experiment.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber
Storm Sorcerer Arcturus wrote:
PhelanArcetus wrote:

Players in this setting should expect to spend a lot of time delving...
Jeez! You certainly have a lot going on!

I'm not actively running any of them (only even prepping for the last one, which will probably remain as just a one-shot).

There's two reasons. One is that I'm a completionist and not that great at improv; the more information I have, the better I can extrapolate (rather than create entirely out of whole cloth). The second is that I've found that working on multiple settings simultaneously actually benefits me.

Most specifically, it lets me contrast them, to ensure I have different themes, not too much similarity in the settings. Even better, having multiple settings means that when I have a brilliant new idea, I can put it into the setting where it belongs, rather than going off-message to shoehorn in a new concept that really doesn't fit.

I expect that for the Four-Fold World, I won't have a lot of player input in the initial world design; that one's really my baby. For After Atlantis and the Tome of Battle / Oriental Adventures mash-up one-shot, I'm actively getting player input.

I've run a couple of one-shots in After Atlantis, simply dodging the mechanical issues of building or picking out the E8 rules to use by running at level 8 or below. And I've given the players the ability to help define the regions they come from with their characters. So now I know that Carthage, in addition to making quite a bit of money off of selling slaves, is intensely bureaucratic. And that some elite warriors among the Hebrews wear heavy armor known as Godplate, etched with scripture. (Yes, the setting includes Hebrews; this is a big part of what makes it potentially controversial.)

For the one-shot, when I send out the email with house rules and all, I'm going to ask the players to provide me (before the game) with a bit of information about the martial school their character trained at (and represents) - what classes its students have, what weapons they use, what disciplines they study. And describe another member or three of the delegation that school is sending to the tournament.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

I'm used to playing custom.

At the moment I'm only running in Golarion, but that's because I decided to make my life easier by running an AP and not having to adapt it to an entirely different setting, especially one that has some rules mismatches.

I have 3... well, now 4, settings in various stages of design.

The Four-Fold World
This is a swords & sorcery setting, moderately high on magic being around, but low on traditional magic (i.e. spellcasters); more of a world where it's pretty easy to get a couple of supernatural abilities, I guess. It's not intended to be played in Pathfinder, but in a system I'm slowly designing.

The starting region is a plateau controlled by five Clans locked in a semi-permanent (cold) succession war; this part is quite inspired by the Inner Sphere of the Battletech universe, crossed with some aspects of those Clans, and a lot of culture from historical fiction of early Saxon & pre-Saxon England. On the plains below the plateau are a set of city-states modeled largely on Renaissance Italy, with a touch of Tokugawa Japan thrown in.

It's also substantially inspired, actually, by the cosmology of 4th Edition D&D, one of a few things I did like there. It's a world with four coincident planes, defended by its gods (ascended mortals, in fact) against the aggression of other gods, from other worlds. I've cribbed a few high points from the "default" 4th Edition history, though I'm in the process of filing off the rest of the serial numbers and transitioning this from "copied from" to "inspired by". This definitely includes the notions of points of light on a dark map, and civilization being built on layer upon layer of past, fallen, civilizations.

The setting, though still very incomplete, has gone through many iterations, including a 4th Edition version I was working up during the launch period, and one where it was to be the host for a magic system inspired by the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Players in this setting should expect to spend a lot of time delving into long-lost (or buried) ruins, facing threats sealed away millenia ago, and battling the occasional evil wizard or priest of the gods beyond.

This one I would very much like to publish one day, along with the game system.

After Atlantis
This setting posits that Atlantis did once exist, and in fact ruled pretty much the entire Mediterranean Sea region... until it was wiped out in a magical cataclysm. The rise of the Empire was modeled in part on the Malazan books, though that's all ancient history in the setting anyway. Atlantis was filled with sorcerers, and it was their combination of heavy infantry (largely on the Roman model) and heavy sorcerous support which enabled them to conquer all.

A generation or two ago, something shredded the island of Atlantis, shattered weather patterns, and blotted the core of the Empire's infrastructure from existence. Atlantis itself is now a ruined city in a demon-haunted stretch of sea. The order imposed by Atlantis collapsed, and various provinces reacted in their own ways; Rome becoming a republic, Babylon turning back to the worship of the Annunaki, and so on.

This is an Epic 8th setting, though I do intend to allow limited amounts of mythic in it. That means no character ever gets past 8th level; progression is just feats afterwards (maybe a stat point or two?). One day, when I've got more experience with mythic, I'm thinking of running Reign of Winter, adapted to this, with time travel in one specific adventure.

This is also a setting that is probably not publishable, because it uses real-world religions, and not only dead religions. Of course, there's no reason it would need to be published to play it at home.

Unnamed Setting 1
This setting is inspired by a mix of Dark Sun and watching Les Miserables. Not the movie itself, but a single specific line "fall as Lucifer fell".

This produced in my mind a setting where angels fell to earth, wreathed in flames, causing massive damage, much like a series of large meteor strikes. Then they set themselves up as (mostly) benevolent sorcerer-kings, taking control of the surviving cities and eventually feuding with each other.

Unnamed Setting 2
This one is being built out now, just enough to feed a one-shot I decided to run using Tome of Battle.

It's a mash-up of the lore in the Tome of Battle book itself, the 3rd edition Oriental Adventures book, and Michael Stackpole's A Hero Born and & An Enemy Reborn books. I doubt it will get built out much more than needed for the adventure, though. Too much of it comes directly out of books someone else wrote.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Don't Paralyze the Players

Not the paralyzed condition, nothing against that, go right ahead and use it. Don't leave the players paralyzed and incapable of acting.

This often happens when the players can't get enough information to feel comfortable deciding on a course of action. Now for some players, you don't need much. For others, you need a lot. It can also happen when players are terrified of the consequences of acting.

People have already discussed being careful about overuse of threats to the family, friends, and so on. I won't cover that.

Make sure the party can find out enough information to decide what to do. That might be in the context of figuring out if they can win (not will win, but can win) an encounter before they decide to commit to it. It might be giving them enough information to understand the events going on and how they might be addressed.

Don't hide all information behind huge Knowledge checks; if the party needs it, make sure there's a way they can get it. It doesn't necessarily take a brilliant sage... it could take someone specialized in the relevant field. And just set the Knowledge DCs intelligently - if they need the information, make the DC relatively low, or ensure there's another source. And don't feel bad about suggesting things to the players - their characters may be smarter than they are, and the characters definitely know more about the world than the players do. There's a lot of general world knowledge that just never percolates out to the players, but any character, especially a high level one, would know.

In one of the two high-level games I'm playing in, we just committed to a fight, which is going to be a 4-way mess. We know our own capabilities (I hope). We know (out of character) the power level of one guy on side 2, but not who else will be on side 2. We know essentially nothing about side 3 (and apparently cannot find out; the information just doesn't exist or something), and we don't know the composition of side 4, or the capabilities of the individual members who may or may not show up/

In the other, we're investigating multiple plots. Some are bad for the world, some are probably not... but we can't really find out anything. Many of them are connected, but we can't fathom how. And every method of investigation we seem to try just goes nowhere. I'm at the point where I think my character will just do something substantially unwise rather than trying to understand matters any further. (Of course, I have no way to know if the hornet's nests I may unwisely kick are ones I can survive kicking or not.)

Time Pressure, During the Adventure

It's good to have there be time pressure on any given adventure. This is one of those things that keeps the party from doing the 15-minute adventuring day and hitting every encounter with full resources. But the pressure needs to let up between adventures.

One game that I'm in has so much time pressure going on that we regularly comment how it seems like someone comes crying for help the instant we get back from putting out the last fire. It's not quite that bad, but we rarely get to do any crafting, and we've had times when we commissioned some magical equipment and leveled twice before it was ready. If the players need an item (and these were just stat items) to get their practical WBL up to par, they should be able to get that between adventures... and not go on several more adventures while waiting.

Even aside from those mechanical effects, we find it hard to pursue individual, non-combat, time-consuming goals. We're afraid to split the party, not just because one of us might get ambushed by a group that's a fair fight for the whole party, but because if we get a call and need to jump into action, we don't have the resources to bring the entire party together, then get to the adventure location, all in one day (at least not without one character devoting all his high-level slots to that).

Obviously you shouldn't give the party clear indications how long it will be until the next adventure in general (unless they know what that adventure will be and it makes sense). But don't make every adventure come up suddenly, and in full crisis mode. Let it be something where the party can have time to re-assemble.

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Monster printouts are pretty much a must-have. If you're using a computer or tablet, at least have every monster prepared in a tab or window or similar.

It makes a tremendous difference to not have to flip back and forth between books.

Do this for every creature you expect to need; if you've got an NPC who will summon monsters, make sure to have the monsters handy, and if there's Augment Summoning involved, make sure to have an augmented version.

This is good advice for PCs too; I still have a folder I made from a one-shot where my fiance was playing an augment summoning druid in 3.5 - we picked out every single creature she might summon, I copied them off the SRD, manually augmented them, and printed it all out. That was 3.5 but hey, we might need those again for a one-shot, no reason to ditch them.

Keep those printouts around, you may want them again. It helps to even print out the ones that are in-line in the adventure... I've often seen encounters which require flipping between two or three other pages of the adventure for stat blocks. Having those creatures printed out helps a lot.

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I suspect that if the Paladin & Ranger were built now, they'd have cantrips. But 3.5 Paladin & Ranger didn't, so PF didn't, to avoid too many changes. Giving cantrips to the Bloodrager now would be a slap in the face to the Paladin & Ranger, so 4th-level casters just won't get cantrips/orisons, while 6th-level casters will.

I'd love for all the 4th-level casters to have 0-level spells. Even if there was complexity of treating them as SLAs until 4th level, or similar. It'd add a bit more of that magic feel to the class before 4th level (the Ranger, in particular, is almost totally non-magical until he suddenly casts spells).

As far as casting goes, I'd like to see something that makes use of blasting spells viable on the Bloodrager. It definitely does feel like a class that should be able to fireball more effectively than it does now (lower CL, lower DCs), and as a valid choice in situations other than "I can't reach this guy right now, so I'll blast him." I can live without it, especially if it's an archetype, say (I suspect not a lot of archetypes given the significance of the bloodline choice). I'm not sure what we'd give up in return, though.

An extra class skill or two with the bloodlines makes a lot of sense. It's not exactly a major power boost, but it adds more flavor to the bloodlines. There's little reason not to include that.

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PhelanArcetus wrote:

I tend towards stripped down cosmologies. I've got three settings actively being developed (at different paces).

One of them has something similar to the 4th edition cosmology. In this setting, the prime material is coincident with three other planes, each of which is a distorted mirror of the prime. Similar terrain, but different in obvious ways. Basically, I defined three axes, and each mirror plane is shifted on two of them. Mathematically, it's like saying the prime is at (0, 0, 0), and the mirrors are at (1, -1, 0), (-1, 0, 1), and (0, 1, -1). And that's about it. The gods have their homes in the space outside these planes, but they're distant enough that for all practical purposes, that's outside the cosmology.

In another one, so far I've only got the prime and the realm of the dead, though both are seeded with planar layers. The gods each dwell on planar layers on the prime, generally on mountaintops, and the realm of the dead has planar layers for the different afterlives. As this one is intended to use Pathfinder rules, I'll need to incorporate at least some of the standard planes, or re-describe how some categories of magic work.

In the third, I don't have anything in mind yet, though I may end up with something very similar to the first, as they're intended to use the same mechanical system.

Another point: planar travel is not through magic in any of these.

In the first, planar travel is like ending up in Faerie; at certain times, in certain places (where the boundaries are weaker, or the planes are closer), you can simply step over. It might require a simple ritual, in the vein of moving in a particular way, or focusing on a particular mindset, but no magical power. You'd need to be unthinkably powerful (i.e. no rules for it, and would probably bad for the world anyway) to simply rip a hole between the Prime and the Shadowlands. But instead you can go to a particular area, perhaps a grove of dead, blighted trees, and walk three times in a circle, counter-clockwise, at dusk, and in doing so, step through to the Shadowlands.

In the second, you enter a planar layer of your plane just by walking. Of course most of them are inhospitable in mundane ways; climbing Mount Olympus would be hard even if it wasn't a planar layer, and the guardians make it worse. A few specific places probably connect to the realm of the dead (i.e. a deep cave that leads to the underworld). The necessary transitive planes for spells like dimension door to work without rewriting exist (probably), and that's about it. The planar layers provide enough space for all the outsiders I want.

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I tend towards stripped down cosmologies. I've got three settings actively being developed (at different paces).

One of them has something similar to the 4th edition cosmology. In this setting, the prime material is coincident with three other planes, each of which is a distorted mirror of the prime. Similar terrain, but different in obvious ways. Basically, I defined three axes, and each mirror plane is shifted on two of them. Mathematically, it's like saying the prime is at (0, 0, 0), and the mirrors are at (1, -1, 0), (-1, 0, 1), and (0, 1, -1). And that's about it. The gods have their homes in the space outside these planes, but they're distant enough that for all practical purposes, that's outside the cosmology.

In another one, so far I've only got the prime and the realm of the dead, though both are seeded with planar layers. The gods each dwell on planar layers on the prime, generally on mountaintops, and the realm of the dead has planar layers for the different afterlives. As this one is intended to use Pathfinder rules, I'll need to incorporate at least some of the standard planes, or re-describe how some categories of magic work.

In the third, I don't have anything in mind yet, though I may end up with something very similar to the first, as they're intended to use the same mechanical system.

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Looks like the idea was mentioned up-thread, but I'll say it anyway.

Most of my cultures are based on one or more real-world cultures. Those cultures have languages, so I just crib off of those. Mostly, I pick one of the languages and stick with it. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll actually try to combine words from both languages.

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James Jacobs wrote:
Skeld wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
That said... it's not a reward for doing nothing. A DC 8 Climb check might soudn low... but at 1st level, it's not going to be an auto success. Hell, when you factor in no class ranks + armor check penalties, it's hardly an auto roll for higher level parties. I've seen plenty of paladins and fighters at 8th level or above have negative scores in their Climb skills.

In "There Is No Honor" (the opening chapter of the 3.5e Savage Tide AP from Dungeon mag for those not familiar), I had to throw a PC a bone when she failed on 3 consecutive rounds to climb the DC5 knotted rope from a rowboat onto a larger ship. Level 1, heavy armor, not terribly strong... it makes that DC5 a lot tougher than you'd think.


Indeed. I had a 5-foot high platform in a game I was running that pretty much shut down the group's paladin, who lacked both any ranks in Acrobatics and Climb and was wearing full plate armor. He was about 9th level at the time, but still had a penalty on both checks.

I have a current level 19 fighter type in 3.5 who can't even tread water in armor. Completely incapable of making a DC 10 Swim check. Fortunately he has a cloak of the mountebank, winged boots and also a necklace of adaptation around, so he has ways to escape. I think he has a penalty on every single skill that has an armor check penalty. So even "easy" checks can be difficult for characters not invested in them.

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I don't hate magic items, but I do dislike boring magic items that feel essential. I don't like having most of my wealth tied up in equipment that just provides plusses.

This is for two reasons:
First, I want to have more money available for interesting effects, for plugging gaps, for letting my fighter fly or teleport or do something other than hit creatures really hard with swords. Granted some of this problem is due to feeling I need a bigger attack bonus, better saves, more hit points... often feeling like I need much more than the game's assumptions actually call for. That's a matter of what encounters I face; in most games I'm in, the party faces one encounter a day, and so that encounter is heavily beefed up from the normal CR expectations, to be a threat to optimized characters who have all their resources, and often are also heavily buffed for the fight.

Secondly, I dislike how much of my combat effectiveness comes from the magical equipment. If I'm a great warrior, I want to feel that I'm a great warrior, not that I'm an ok warrior made great by his excellent equipment. If I walked into an anti-magic field or took off my equipment, I'd be hard-pressed to handle opponents who ceased being threats normally 5 or more levels ago.

Finding the balance is non-trivial, of course. On the one hand, I'm a bigger fan of the stories where the heroes are awesome in of themselves, not because their sword is amazing, than of the ones where the heroes are great because of their special equipment. On the other hand, treasure makes the world go round, gives constant power boosts to make us feel like we're making progress even when we don't level, and all that jazz.

I've played characters with custom-created magic items. It actually can drive me nuts; sometimes the DM doesn't have a good feel for what I want, other times it over-emphasizes the equipment. My 19th level 3.5 fighter type is carrying a custom blade of supplication, which is a +3 keen defending wounding speed bane of infidels weapon. (Bane of Infidels is bane against... almost every intelligent opponent we face. It's ridiculously good, even if I never use the defending property and half the stuff we fight is immune to crits and Con damage. But compare:
With the blade of supplication: +33/+33/+28/+23/+18, 1d10+18 + 1 Con (regularly add +2 to hit and +2d6+2 damage to that).
With my next best weapon,I lose +2 to hit & damage, the Con damage, access to the bane property, and the extra attack. That's without losing feats. Against the sort of foes we regularly face, this literally halves my damage potential on a full attack. (We were without an arcane caster for quite some time, and even when we had one he often didn't want to cast haste.) And put that character in an anti-magic field and watch a quarter or so of the attack bonus (as well as the bonus attack) disappear.

If I lost that weapon I'd feel crippled. In fact, when a similar weapon wielded by the party rogue got sundered, it brought the game to a standstill and ended up with a retcon of most of the session.

I think a lot of people, in designing settings, have not considered the number of powerful magical items that exist, and the world the PCs will live in after a few levels, when they construct all the villages that want to burn the sorcerer. (I especially loved the Complete Arcane warlock, who often disguised himself as a sorcerer lest he be burned for being a warlock... how did these people tell them apart? Was it the sign he carried saying "I am a warlock, please burn me"?) I find the tons of key magical equipment less jarring if the setting presupposes magical items are all over from the beginning.

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4e had a lot of appealing goals.
I think it missed most of them, unfortunately.

I loved the resource standardization, because that gets away from the linear fighters, quadratic wizards (but hey, we'll have enough fights every day that the wizards have to be careful with their spell slots). I didn't like how homogenized the individual abilities felt, or the amount of combat bookkeeping (since so many powers applied conditions with varying durations), but I loved that the resources were standardized across classes. (I also wish more classes had been provided with minor action powers, at least early on.)

I loved the intent in the DMG of providing tables to make it easy for the DM to create new monsters. I do wish there had been guidelines (not digging through the MM to synthesize the information myself) as to what conditions it was appropriate to attach to monster abilities at given levels.

I liked the move away from fighters feeling they needed to full attack (not that I've ever seriously played in a 4 encounters a day game after even middle levels). Though I pretty much only ever used my move action to shift.

I loved rituals. Specifically I loved that they pulled non-combat magic out, gave it a longer casting time, and then made it not consume the same resources as combat magic. I thought at least some of the costs were exorbitant, especially given how tight money felt to me.

I liked that healing surges put an upper limit on adventuring for the day, tying the healing you could receive largely to your character rather than the size of the bandolier of healing wands.

I really liked the default campaign setting, as sparse as it was. The feel of it was excellent. In fact, I'm hunting for replacement names for a campaign setting, so I can potentially publish it when it's done but not get sued for including "Nerath", "Bael Turath", and "Arkhosia".

Basically, I liked many of the goals of 4e, but I was disappointed in the execution of those goals.

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Sara Marie wrote:

sara marie: I'll be talking department photos...

gary: I'm complaining!

robot chris: ditto

sara marie: yeah, I've already lumped the entire tech team into one giant complaint which I have locked in the server closet and am ignoring.

gary: tech team is providing our own photo, no need to take new one

robot chris: Here's another option.

Is the tech team riding Jacobs?

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As far as difficulty, I ran into a similar problem running Broken Chains as a one-shot recently. I did 20 point buy, intentionally, and I decently accounted for 20 point buy and a 6th PC in adjusting encounters beforehand, largely by just adding more enemies.

What I didn't account for, though, was that many of the monsters were just not enough threat to the PCs individually; a fight that was supposed to be at-level ended up lasting 2 rounds, with half the enemy dead before they acted.

My best friend in adjusting during the game was the Advanced Simple template. For a quickie, +4 AC, +2 to all rolls (including damage), +2 hp / hit die. It's a pretty easy boost to apply on the fly. When you're preparing, it may make sense to rebuild some NPCs from scratch; for example, I should have worked on the basic slaver thugs in my situation, who were trying to TWF with whips and clubs... but provoked for every attack with a whip.

Advanced Simple is your friend if you just need to bump an encounter up quickly & easily. But when you're preparing in advance, think about also adding in more enemies, especially in tactically interesting ways. Some arrive on round 2, from a different direction (even an unexpected one).

As far as paranoia, I've got two suggestions. One is to brush up on auras in detect evil; while outsiders, undead, and clerics (and similar) pack auras always, there's no alignment aura below 6 HD. Make sure you're not handing the paladin information he shouldn't have. The other is to make sure that there are NPCs who don't betray and backstab the party. Even NPCs who seem like they should. Not only do players tend to get paranoid about every NPC being out to get them, but in addition, if every NPC really is out to get them, they'll really start making those assumptions.

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hogarth wrote:
PhelanArcetus wrote:
I've been planning E8, but in truth I'm considering switching to E6 and just making sure that the 7th & 8th level features are available.

Well, sure. Isn't that the point of the epic/capstone feats?

For people who play E8, what do the capstone feats look like?

I have some notes... at home, of course. There wouldn't be "capstone" feats, just class features at 8th level. If a class really got nothing suitable, I might shift a 9th or 10th level class feature to 8th.

As far as "epic" feats... some generic ones, and a major source was to skim the classes and provide a feat for any class feature after 8th that I felt wasn't going to violate the feel. Sorcerers could pick up their 9th level bloodline power, Rangers could get Camouflage and Hide in Plain Sight, Rogues could get one advanced talent, and so on.

For me, E6 vs. E8 is a question of 4th level spells and the second iterative attack for 3/4 BAB characters. I'm not too concerned about the extra two hit dice as far as HP are concerned, at least.

I would, broadly speaking, impose the same restrictions on NPCs as on PCs. Occasionally, for story purposes, I might allow NPCs to violate the level cap, though I would much prefer not to.

Actually, I'm looking forward to mythic as a way to address higher-level published adventures to a degree without having to raise the level cap itself. Mythic tiers for PCs should allow access to higher level adventures, and rituals cover for high level spells required in the plot. Suddenly, I only really need to rebuild enemies with more than 8 class levels (ideally).

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I'm loving these.
I can't draw worth a damn, but I've got a browser window at home devoted to these tutorials as I try to make a halfway decent prototype map for a world in progress.

They make a huge difference; I can't draw, but these are all the components of the map style I want. Along with the maps essay you wrote in the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, I feel like I can make a map that shows a sensible and plausible geography, and the right illustrative style. Even with my total lack of art skills.

Thank you so much.

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Since you mentioned investigation, there's a couple of links I need to dig up.
Don't Prep Plots, Prep Situations

Three Clue Rule

These basically amount to "assume that your players will not follow the plot you designed, and miss or misinterpret most of the clues you provide".

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I've been in a few "you should run away" encounters. And generally, it hasn't been apparent to me that I should run away.

In the one that stands out, ok, I hadn't bothered to memorize things like the CR of a cryohydra. So I had a sense that this was a tough or impossible fight, but no certainty. And the DM certainly had no intention of saying "yeah you guys aren't going to win". We were supposed to realize we needed to abandon the ship.

Of course, abandoning the ship in half-plate when most of our gear is below decks... doesn't sound like a winning proposition. And I didn't think the DM would put an encounter in front of us that would force us to abandon our equipment, flee, and probably drown in the river because I was a 2nd level character in half plate with no ranks in Swim (and it was 3.5, so double ACP was the Swim penalty). So rather than drowning (I could not make a DC 10 Swim check even taking 20), I hit the hydra. And went from full hp to dead in a single round. Fortunately the replacement character was, well, just better.

Basically, between the expectations of winnable combat set up by the rules, the pigheadedness of players who don't want to run away, and lack of clarity that it's feasible and advisable to run, fleeing is very rare. (About the best our knowledge checks could get us on that cryohydra were "it has 5 heads and breathes cold", which were clearly apparent by looking at it, and its first action. CR something that DM would never give out.)

Actually, that brings up a potentially useful idea. Provide a reference point. One of my DMs (the same one above) often involves custom monsters. And our knowledge checks will tell us something about them; perhaps history, weaknesses, strengths... but what they never give is a reference point as to the threat level of the creature. Which leaves us sometimes massively overestimating the capabilities of a monster. I recall one creature we thought was going to be a real fight. I destroyed it with one (x2) crit. If you're describing monsters or foes with the benefit of a knowledge check, provide some sort of reference point as to how dangerous they are. Not the out-of-character information of CR (unless you have no choice), but in some other, in-character context. Perhaps the bard has heard of when one of these demons killed an entire squad of the elite guard (and the party has a feel for the elite guard's capabilities).

Often I see people saying they've hinted that it's ok and smart to run. But players are notoriously obtuse, and possibly even skilled at not picking up on hints. Explicitly suggesting to run away may be the thing. Very low DC Wisdom or Intelligence checks (or knowledge checks) (that you call for, not on player request) to help that come from the characters, not the GM on high.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

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James Conder wrote:
Clark wrote:
Imagine you are a movie director and envision the action scene from your adventure filmed by Michael Bay.

Encounter starts with someone casting fireball, ends with someone casting fireball. In between, several more fireballs are cast. Encounter should take place at sunset for cinematic lighting.

Clark, with much love as a judge who was kind to my wondrous item and archetype, but surely our superstars can find better directors for their cinematic inspiration! :-)

As for Steven, you had me at naga.

Slow might also be cast... how better to run in slow motion?

(edit: added quote for clarity)

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I've definitely seen people cheat in RPGs. Honestly, I can see two temptations for it.
First is the somewhat justifiable one: this is a pivotal moment, in plot or with the character at high risk of death. One where you're so invested in one outcome that you'd cheat to make sure it happens. (In a setting with no resurrection, I could see being tempted to cheat to keep my character alive and continue to progress his plot).
Second is the totally unjustifiable one: you just want to be the best. If the easiest way to be the best, glory hound the table, and so on, is to always roll very well, then you'll cheat to accomplish that. I've definitely played with a guy who did that, sadly (I'm not sure if he conveniently misunderstood rules, or honestly misunderstood them; on that front I lean towards honest mistake, but on the dice I'm sure he cheated).

I'm playing in Kingmaker right now. I want to read the modules, but I won't touch any of them until the campaign ends. In this case I mostly want to learn more about adventure design, and I have plenty of other modules to read, so I'm not desperate to do so. I flee from anything that looks like Kingmaker spoilers on these boards.

Another concern I don't think I mentioned with mastery is the distinction between player & character knowledge. There is a lot I don't know about Golarion that my wizard does. There is a lot I don't know about Eberron that my character in that campaign does. And sometimes it's information that has been mentioned to me as a player, but I've forgotten. The more mastery you expect out of your players as a GM, the more you would punish this sort of situation; I've had characters blunder badly because I as a player didn't know something the character did know, and the GM didn't bother to tell me until after the fact.

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Honestly, the biggest problem isn't players being attached to those items, for me, it's that I don't want my character based around an item.

I want my character to be awesome, not because of the trinkets dangling off of the christmas tree he is, but for his skills, knowledge, and capabilities. That isn't to say I'm opposed to playing a character whose power comes from an item... but it's not my default. By default, I want to be awesome myself.

I haven't played a character explicitly based around an item recently, but one of my fighter types has a very customized sword (entirely DM created), which is so valuable that I've been paranoid about losing it for at least 10 levels now. To the point where I will spend a move action to sheathe it, instead of dropping it, and insisted almost as loudly about having the sword picked up as I did about having my corpse picked up. This isn't something I asked for, it's just what happens when you get an item that is character-defining. (The DM produced it, I think, because he wanted to power up the fighter in a party he knew wouldn't have a good way to craft or purchase magical weapons (very few crafters in the setting before you can access other planes, and adventures are often short and so close together that we can gain two levels while waiting for a +6 stat item commission to be completed). He did something similar for the rogue.)

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It's certainly not a goal of mine. In fact, it reminds me of one of the reasons I quit the martial arts school I had been going to (the big reason was moving away for college).

That is, the owner of the school flat out, explicitly told us that our correct list of priorities was:
1. Work
2. Martial Arts
3. Family
And I'm pretty sure the only reason work was #1 was because that allowed us to pay him; he may even have indicated as much (this is 12 years ago now).

Gygax was describing where you should eat, sleep, and breathe your RPG. Far too much for my tastes. I'm not willing to treat a hobby as a job, and that's basically what he's asking. My job takes up enough time. To be that immersed in a hobby would push out everything else. He's describing investment in a game to the exclusion of all else, and well past the point where diminishing marginal returns kick in.

I'll happily not go for Gygaxian roleplaying mastery, and instead focus on the three (or four, if you count a joke one) settings I'm working on, and a game system, and on the ability to think and act in-character.

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I've found my improvisation depends on the GM, a lot.

I'm in 3 games right now. Game #1 is a 3.5 homebrew, and I rarely improvise anything. This is largely because I find that the GM implicitly discourages it. Stakes are extremely high, threat levels are high, and it's frankly too risky to either do anything outside of my core competency (full attack) or without seriously thinking through what might happen. It often seems like there's only one way to move forward in that game.

Game #2 is a semi-Pathfinderized Eberron game. Here I'm much more willing to play fast & loose, try to do interesting things that are not quite within standard rules (interesting uses for spells, mostly). The stakes are still often high, and despite the fact that my character is supposed to be reckless and overconfident, I often end up playing it very safe, and trying to analyze a situation rather than jumping in. That's something I'm trying to change, though.

Game #3 is Kingmaker. Here, there hasn't been a great deal of opportunity to improvise, largely because combat goes very slowly and leaves us with fairly little time for combat. The last attempted improvisation actually did not go through (since fireball doesn't set things on fire, it clearly doesn't burn leaves at all, and I wasn't able to even remotely take away the cover of a camouflaged hide that an archer was using; a ruling I definitely disagree with, but will turn to if the GM ever destroys all the items in a room when I fireball it).

So in one game, I feel afraid to improvise, in tactics or plot actions. In the second, I feel encouraged, and am trying to do more of it. In the third, I often avoid it because I want to avoid slowing down combat further, and my capabilities are fairly limited by a heavy focus on damage spells and only having intelligence skills.

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Basically, HP is an abstraction that covers a great many things, including but not limited to (because I'm going to forget at least one):

  • Actual physical health & ability to withstand damage
  • Luck & Mythological Imperative: the ability to turn an incoming attack into a near-miss or graze that doesn't really hurt
  • Stamina & energy: this is typically represented by non-lethal damage

In 4th edition, the majority of healing is tied to healing surges, which are a per-day limit, and the luck, stamina, mythological imperative aspects are emphasized. You have the ability to recover hp out of combat in a short 5-minute rest, but because it uses up a resource that is not replenished until the end of the day, killing a bunch of goblins without threat isn't free healing.

I guess Dragon Age is doing something similar.

I would have no problem with it, but you could prevent abuse by imposing a simple cap; the maximum hp recovered in a short rest after an encounter is the amount of hp you lost in that encounter.

This setup obviously works better with the Wounds / Vitality setup, which explicitly separates Wounds (the amount of physical damage you can sustain) from Vitality (the energy & luck you have to avoid taking actual physical damage from attacks). But that is a substantial change that I would not blindly make.

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I normally go homebrew, but I always generate excessive amounts of information. Now I don't necessarily share that with the players. I do this partly because I suspect I'm a little obssessive/compulsive, and also because I'm not as good at thinking on my feet as I feel like I need to be.

So instead, I develop so much information about the region that I can actually determine logically (rather than creatively) what happens when the party does something totally unexpected. Basically, I do the creative part slowly, and in advance. Then, on the fly, I can deduce from existing creative work what happens.

This also helps me avoid logical inconsistencies in the world, which frustrate me to no end, and I suspect would come up a lot if I was developing it on the fly.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

While spells can allow for some automatic recovery of an item when the rental period is up, I can see not going with that. It makes you safe, but it also says to your clients "I don't trust you to survive to return the item you've rented."

I can see a demand (at lower prices) for rental of non-charged situational items. Party going somewhere loaded with incorporeal creatures? Rent ghost touch weapons.

Treat it more like an old-time video rental; first you face late fees, and potentially blacklisting. If you get particularly bad, you face the wizard hiring a party of adventurers to track you down. And you don't just take a name; you take something, such as a lock of hair, to facilitate scrying on your clients. Now, when they haven't returned the item, you scry on them, with a significant penalty on their save. Yes, they can block this.

Why do you do this as an NPC caster? Because the benefits outweigh the risks. If you spend 10,000 gp and 10 days making a magic item, your profit is 10,000 gp. Not a bad return. But if you make it, and rent it for, say, 5,000 gp... you only need to rent it 4 times to make the same profit, and each additional rental makes you additional profit.

But you'll be doing, essentially, credit checks on people who want to rent your merchandise, because you want to try and make sure they'll survive whatever they're doing, and return your item. You obviously take payment up front and may require additional collateral. (i.e. require the full 20,000 gp sale price up front, but when the item is returned, 15,000 gp is refunded; obviously that decreases the appeal to cash-strapped adventurers... but even 50% collateral helps). Furthermore, you mark the item in some way so you can find it if necessary.

In summary:
- Mark the item you're loaning in a way that allows you to track it down.
- Check out the person asking to rent it; refuse high-risk rentals or ask higher prices.
- Charge 10-25% of the sale price; no more. But require collateral (or a security deposit); the higher the risk, the more the deposit must be. This is refunded to the client when the item is returned. It does not necessarily need to be liquid assets (land is valid collateral, but not valid rental price, for example).
- Take a lock of hair or similar (less off-putting than blood) from the client, and be prepared to invest in hunting him down if he refuses to return the item. (Also in recovering a lost item.)

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Given the removal of XP costs, you could just skip XP calculations entirely and tell the players when they level. That's what one of my GMs does.

Parry is interesting, but it can get time-consuming, and I see it as extra valuable to characters who don't already have swift actions to take; they're not really giving anything up to try the parry, while someone with swift actions is.

With computer aid, a random point buy is another stat generation method; one GM I have uses that; someone wrote up a quick program that generated two stat arrays randomly, with the same point buy (actually he used a small range, so it was 2 point buys within 28-32 point, 3.5-style, I think), and we could choose our array from those two. It has the same benefit of preventing the player min-maxing the stat array, without letting the spread get too out of line between players. The cards method sounds much easier (unless you're loaded down with programmers).

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Throwing in on the opportunity action idea...

  • Opportunity Action sounds like an action you take when an opportunity arises, following the standard attack of opportunity / opportunity attack model. When the enemy provokes, you have a chance to do something.
  • Reactive Action sounds like a superset of Opportunity Action. It's something you're doing, not on your turn, in reaction to something someone else is doing. This could be an interesting (semantic) way to handled readied actions. It could also go for defensive actions, such as if you wanted to require characters to expend actions to make saves, or to parry/dodge attacks (dodge not meaning a static boost to AC, but actually moving in response to an attack).
  • I would keep Swift Actions as something you do on your turn. If you retain Immediate Action, you could keep the "Immediate Action now expends your next Swift Action", or you could drop it.

Honestly, I feel like Standard + Move + Minor + Swift is too much; I'd drop the Swift Action. Four actions a turn seems like a lot. I see how they're all needed for the full iterative attack paradigm, though.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Looking back, "magic is rare" isn't so much what I meant as "really powerful magic is rare".

The game I'm planning to run E8 is not going to restrict anything beyond what's not available because you are not going above level 8. Magic swords? Yes. Vorpal swords? No. Fireball? Yes. Meteor Swarm? No. Dimension Door? Yes. Greater Teleport? No. In fact, magic is common; effectively the setting is a bronze age society advanced to the iron age through the use of magic, rather than technology.

Level 8 characters will be as rare as level 18+ characters in a normal game. Big magic will come through rituals (which are time consuming but not especially difficult).

What do I think I'm getting out of that?

  • Reduced complexity; not having to deal with the higher level spells, which can make the game more involved. Also, characters have fewer total options, which means less trying to pick the best option out of very many.
  • Automatically exclude most spells and abilities that tend to be considered "game-breaking".
  • No need to try and explain why all the threats out there which challenge the high-level PCs haven't just wiped out the areas where there are so few high-level PCs; a CR 10 creature is something that can be swarmed by enough level 2-4 NPCs, while a CR 20 isn't. And I dodge using different planes to explain that, which lets me keep a simpler cosmology. (Also avoids escalating the threats quite so far.)
  • No real need to escalate the plot threats to so high a level as they tend to reach towards 20.
  • Character capability disparities don't get unmanageable; not only do we not reach the rocket launcher tag level, but we don't have to create Climb DCs that challenge the rogue who maxed the skill, but are totally impossible for anyone else (who will just rely on fly anyway.
  • Ability to threaten the PCs with normal people (it would take a lot of them, but the threat still has to be honored, in a way it doesn't have to be at level 20).
  • Ability to construct plots & adventures for "high-level" PCs where I don't need to worry about proofing them against trivialization via high level divinations, scry, teleport, and so on.

In a different setting I'm working up, which won't be Pathfinder at all, everything will be low-magic, high character ability, and it will be sold to players as that. It will be sold as in the vein of classic swords & sorcery fiction, where magic is very powerful, but extremely difficult, and magical items are interesting. Nobody will find a magical +1 sword. (And the game won't be built around the assumption that you do.) You'll be able to get a mundane +1 sword, by finding a good smith, and you may find a magical +1 flaming sword; a mundane +1 sword that is magically aflame. And these items should have history behind them. In that setting I don't intend for players to ever be getting magic items because they're necessary; only because they're interesting (and powerful, but not so much that they overwhelm how powerful the character innately is).

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Overall, I think, at least once keen or Improved Critical comes in, the higher crit range has better performance than the higher multiplier. Adding additional features (one or more) on crits just exacerbates that.

Let's take, for simplicity, Falchion vs. Scythe. Both are two-handed martial weapons, 2d4. Falchion is 18-20/x2, Scythe is x4.

Let's now assume, for more simplicity, just one attack, on which you need to roll an 11 or higher to hit, and have +12 bonus damage.
Both have a 50% chance of scoring a hit for 2d4+12, approximately 17 damage, when we discount crits.

Incorporating crits, without Critical Focus, the Falchion has a 15% chance for a critical threat, of which half will confirm, so 7.5% chance of crit, and 42.5% chance of hit. Scythe has a 5% chance for a critical threat, of which half will confirm, so 2.5% chance of crit and 47.5% chance of hit.

Falchion: 42.5% x 17 + 7.5% x 34 = 7.225 + 2.55; expected damage per swing of 9.775.
Scythe: 47.5% x 17 + 2.5% x 68 = 8.075 + 1.7; expected damage per swing of 9.775.

Now let's add in keen or Improved Critical.
Crit ranges now go from 18-20 to 15-20 (30% threat chance) for Falchion, and 20 to 19-20 (10% threat chance) for Scythe.

Falchion: 35% x 17 + 15% x 34 = 5.95 + 5.1 = expected damage per swing of 11.05.
Scythe: 45% x 17 + 5% x 68 = 7.65 + 3.4 = expected damage per swing of 11.05.
Still balanced with each other, assuming nothing but weapon damage to be applied, and no DR, etc.

Let's now add Critical Focus; +4 to confirm crits increases your effective critical chance by 20%; 70% of crit threats will confirm.

Falchion: 29% x 17 + 21% x 34 = 4.93 + 7.14 = expected damage per swing of 12.07.
Scythe: 43% x 17 + 7% x 68 = 7.31 + 4.76 = expected damage per swing of 12.07.

So dealing purely with a single attack and only with raw weapon damage, the properties are balanced.

Now, getting less mathy, let's think about what in the game makes either a larger crit range, or a higher critical multiplier, more appealing.

Creatures with substantial damage reduction which you do not penetrate may privilege higher multipliers somewhat; certainly a higher multiplier leads to a higher chance to cause an instant kill via massive damage (though I don't count on that happening). Coup de Grace is too niche to be a significant reason.

Elemental burst properties, perhaps? a 21% chance for 1d10 damage vs. a 7% chance for 3d10 looks even. So no, that one's neutral.

Really, the presence of the critical feats, not Critical Focus itself, but the others, and the Magus' Spellstrike class features, are what provide a benefit to larger crit range over higher critical multiplier. Because these additional features are not affected by the weapon's critical multiplier. If I'm a Magus, I will see a higher return with an 18-20/x2 weapon because I will end up confirming my intensified shocking grasp criticals 21% of the time instead of 7%... for 20d6 either way. If I'm using critical feats, I've got a 21% chance of applying one or more penalties, instead of a 7% chance.

If these features scaled with critical multiplier, they could remain balanced. For Spellstrike, the obvious answer would be to either let the spell borrow the weapon's critical multiplier, or retain its natural crit range. For the critical feats, perhaps durations or save DCs could be scaled based on your weapon's critical multiplier. For other effects that trigger on critical hits, we'd need some similar form of scaling.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

I've seen it depend a great deal on the encounters, and the party.

For example, I'm in a 19th level 3.5 game. The Ur-Priest and Druid often have to cast heal. In most combats. This is partly because the campaign has embraced the 15-minute adventuring day, so generally we have one fight that is rather beefed up. That can mean that a single round of good rolls on the enemy's part can bring one or more party members to a point where a typical round will drop them. (And, of course, at this point, any in-combat healing less than heal is going to be not enough to bother with. That's on hp damage. Sometimes it's more of removing a serious condition, such as insanity.

There, it's not every round, certainly, but it's often enough that they need a few resources devoted to it, and at least one standard action, probably each, per fight, on healing.

In one of the Pathfinder games I'm in, we were in great need of healing for a while. But we were also slipping behind wealth-by-level, which by the DM's own admission, was making it hard for him to figure a proper APL. Now that we're not trapped in an adventure which makes treasure acquisition difficult, we're in much better shape on WBL (and associated stats; for example, my AC had moved by precisely 1 point from level 4 to level 9), and the fights are much less likely to leave us desperate for healing.

In a Kingmaker game, we've mostly not needed much healing, though we're in trouble now, due to being massively behind WBL. (Basically, we managed to get the main treasure for the first adventure early, but we've now hit level 5, while mostly mopping up the first adventure worth of encounters.)

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Basically, you should start with figuring out how much magic you want.

Is it a low-magic setting with mostly steampunk technology? Then spellcasters are rare, to start with, and you might want to work with something like an E6 ruleset (original post can be found somewhere on ENWorld; the quick summary is that characters do not progress past level 6; after that point they get feats); I prefer E8 myself, with some supplemental feats to access iconic features.
This prevents the party from having spells that are too over the top, in comparison to everything else. Stopping normal progression at 6 or 8 also prevents you hitting the spells that tend to make adventure design particularly difficult.

If you want a higher-magic setting, then its probably fine with the party having normal magic.

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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

I've run into an interesting phrasing question here. I was evaluating the Dimensional Agility feat line for my Magus, and overall I'm not sure if I want it; it's a lot of feats, even if I stick to the three key feats (stopping at Dimensional Dervish, instead of Savant).

But then I was thinking about alternatives, and I took a close look at wording. It occurs to me that there is an argument that can be made that a Magus can use Spell Combat and dimension door together to teleport up to a foe and take his full attack. There is also an argument against it. I'm looking for more input, and ideally an official/semi-official response.

(I don't see any question that you could take the full attack and teleport away, because the order is different.)

Quoting for convenient access:

Spell Combat wrote:

As a full-round action, he can make all of his attacks with his melee weapon at a –2 penalty and can also cast any spell from the magus spell list with a casting time of 1 standard action (any attack roll made as part of this spell also takes this penalty).
Dimension Door wrote:

After using this spell, you can't take any other actions until your next turn.

The argument is based in the fact that you are not taking a standard action to cast dimension door. Rather, you are casting the spell as part of a full-round action, which consists of, in either order:

  • casting a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action
  • taking your attacks

Basically, the question is whether dimension door should "short-circuit" the rest of the full-round action or not. I'm really on the fence about this; it obviously benefits me down the road to be able to say I can teleport and full attack without taking three feats, and I can see it being valid by the rules as written. But it's similarly easy to say that this violates the intent of the rules, if not their specific wording.

(Side note: I see no argument potential in saying that a Magus can use Spell Combat and dimension door just fine if he has Dimensional Agility, but not the rest of the feat line. That's likely what I'll do with my Magus.)