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Liberty's Edge

What's the right place to talk about an old-school renaissance game I helped create, the Adventurer Conqueror King System?

I feel like 'somewhere at the Paizo boards' is an appropriate answer because one of the main wellsprings for ACKS' development was the Age of Worms and Savage Tide campaigns that co-author Greg Tito and I played with Mark Moreland and a bunch of other Paizo fans including John Spaulding, who went on to run the Kingmaker campaign that was a big influence on the thinking about domain-level play that also shaped ACKS. And I'm hoping to make our PDF available at the Paizo store, which I shoulda done sooner.

I'm posting here because ACKS is an OGL game, although most but not all of its inspiration predates 3.5. Is there a better subforum to discuss pet projects like combining the ACKS integrated economy with Pathfinder skills and feats?

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Here's the Facebook page:

The show runs until 1/11 during gallery hours (3-7 pm). Freehold, there's a gaming event tonight as well as Thursday, both from 7-11.

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I wanted to let people who might see this thread but not the Gamer Connection one that Mark will be running The Pallid Plague at the Second Annual Dave Arneson Memorial Gameday on 3/27 in NYC. I'm kind of hoping no one shows for the game I'll be doing so I can jump into his - even though I'll need to make a new PFS character because Mark killed my last one, and his little dog too.

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yoda8myhead: Last year I ran a hexcrawl where the players set off into the swamps of Loch Gloomen looking for a castle they could use to establish a new barony. A four hour gameday event does not a campaign make, of course, but I certainly concur that Kingmaker seems likely to tap a vein of pure Arnesonian gold.

One thing that was interesting about last year's gameday was meeting players who'd grown up playing the Basic/Expert/Companion/Masters/Immortals branch of D&D, while my friends and I took the AD&D branch. They said that they used all the rules for strongholds, mass combat, clearing wilderness hexes, etc. that were part of the original Blackmoor campaign but tended to get buried among all the other details of AD&D. It was cool to learn that those things had survived along some alternate evolutionary path, just as it is to see Paizo taking a modern stab at them!

ArnesonianNarrativism: Thanks! Any chance you'll run a companion event in your home town or online?

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When: Saturday, March 27th, noon until 5 pm

Where: Compleat Strategist, 11 E. 33rd St., Manhattan, NY

What: Celebrating Arneson's legacy by playing some of the roleplaying games inspired by his pioneering 1972 Blackmoor campaign (which is to say, all of them!)

Who: Players and GMs of all ages, experience levels, edition preferences, and degrees of old- or new-schoolness.

The big draw for Paizo fans is the Pallid Plague PFS scenario run by its author Mark Moreland, but even if you've already played it I hope to see you there if you're in the tri-state area! Drop me a line at if you'd like to run a game, or just want more info.

This thread has a description of the games that folks ran last year and notes about my own experience playing, running, and talking to folks about the parts of Arneson's legacy like wilderness travel, clearing territory for strongholds, overseeing baronies, and leading armies that got largely left out of the branch of D&D that I grew up with (which did preserve things like dungeons, clerics, monks, and monsters, hurrah!)

If you're not able to make it, why not run a tribute game of your own in your local community? It's always a good time to get together with friends and celebrate the fun that's passed down to us from the giants of our hobby, but March 21st-27th is an especially good time: it's the International Traditional Gaming Week. By running an event then, you'll share the collective experience of re-entering whichever classic gateway to adventure you choose, and TARGA's publicity and organization for the ITGW may help you find players - what better way to remember Dave Arneson, after all, than making a new friend who'll stand by your side even when your henchmen flee the oncoming horrors?

On to the game listings:

Game Name: The Pallid Plague (Pathfinder)

Run By: Mark Moreland

Maximum Players: 6

Scenario: Reports from Andoran's Darkmoon Vale indicate that a new plague is causing the deaths of untold fey. The Pathfinder Society sends you there to aid the nymph queen in stopping the plague and finding and destroying its source. When the plague spreads to the human population of Falcon's Hollow, the need to find a cure grows more frantic. Can you save the many denizens of Darkmoon Vale from certain death?

Characters: Players are encouraged to create their own Pathfinder Society characters using the guide to Pathfinder Society organized play and the Pathfinder RPG, both of which are free online. Pregenerated characters will also be available.

Recommended For: Fans of Pathfinder and its world Golarion, which harkens back to the pulp novels that inspired Arneson, as well as folks who want to play Yoda8myhead's scenario as run by its author!

Game Name: Temple of the Frog(4e)

Run By: George Strayton

Maximum Players: 6

Scenario: For centuries, the tangled maze of sluggish watercourses, stagnant ponds, and festering marshes known as the Great Dismal Swamp has defended Blackmoor's southwestern frontier. Recently, both large armies and smaller parties have disappeared altogether inside its vast, dripping, claustrophobic corridors. But great treasures are said to lie hidden within a secret and weird temple at the heart of the morass and so you and your companions have decided to leave the comforts and safety of civilization behind. Deep into the fetid swamp you must go -- far from sunlight and sanity -- there to find...the TEMPLE OF THE FROG.

Characters: Bring your own 12th level PC or use one of the pregenerated characters provided at the table.

Recommended For: 4th Edition players who want to experience 1st edition feel or OD&D/1st edition players who want to see how 4e can be used as an old-school system.

- Game Name: Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works

- Run By: joethelawyer

- Maximum Players: 6

- Brief Blurb:
The curse has finally lifted! The most legendary and fabled castle of them all, Castle Zagyg materializes from a dread fog that has long held it enthralled and thus averting its many seekers. As your party emerges from the tangled brush, briers, and vines that fence the Old Castle Track, you observe the sprawling ruins of an enormous castle complex built upon a sloping bluff of rock. Crumbling, battlemented walls join towers square, round, and pentagonal. Gatehouses, courtyards, and craft shops lie in varying states of disrepair. High above the ruins, at the culmination of the bluff, rise two impressive towers: one round, the other hexagonal. The great east towers flank an enormous fortress of stone from which carved spires rise, piercing the very sky. This edifice can be none other than Castle Zagyg, the dwelling of the Mad Archmage.

- Recommended for: Folks who want to revisit (or experience for the first time) the glories of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E and adventure in Gary Gygax's final contribution to the castle-and-dungeon genre pioneered by Arneson's Blackmoor.

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How do you get RPGA mods? I'm a RPGA member and took the 4E Herald DM test, but can't figure out where to register a game & request a module. I'm interested in checking out how they use skill challenges, so Gangs sounds like a good example, but I don't know how to get my hands on it.

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My party is about to finish the climactic battle of Tides of Dread, and I'd like to open things up and let them decide what to do next. What are all the things going on later in the adventure path that I need to keep track of? They're likely to want to question some of the Crimson Fleet pirates; what are they going to learn about the Fleet's activity?

Here's what the PCs know already that's likely to shape their decisions:

- They know that Khala is the most powerful outsider on the Isle of Dread, and that he's at the central plateau, so there's a chance they'll go pick on him.

- They learned from the aranea that Thorgriff is an agent of the Crimson Fleet, and has been on the island for a while, so they may go seek him out.

- They also learned from the aranea that there are subterranean tunnels leading to Golismorga, although at the moment the fact that they're filled with water, and that I told them that the volcanic shaft beneath the city ultimately connects with the Abyss, will probably keep them from going there soon.

- I had Lavinia kidnapped, taken to Scuttlecove, and replaced by a doppleganger before the party left Sasserine (my version of the Diamondback/Kellani stowaway storyline) and they've recently discovered this and used circle dance to determine Lavinia's location and direction. So they might go in search of her.

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Crimson-Hawk wrote:
Perhaps there will be mechanics to differentiate the power sources in the future. Who knows? *shrug*

That'd be awesome, but IMO to make it work they would have needed to include power source in monster entries. As it stands you could make a rod of cancellation that was especially effective against interrupting arcane effects, but since arcane is exclusively specified for PC classes there'd be no way of knowing that you could use it against the powers of a drow arachnomancer, say, but not a drow priest.

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Crimson-Hawk wrote:
Considering that both books were written during the playtest period, I think both your team [i]and Ari did a fantastic job, Tavis.

Thanks! I'll pass that on to the rest of the guys when we get together to playtest our newest set of classes later this week; that can be a dispiriting process of tearing apart one another's babies, so it's good to have some heartening things to share then as well.

Crimson-Hawk wrote:
when I deduced that Ari's martial artist was a divine striker and announced such on ENWorld, so much negativity ensued that I nearly vomited.

I missed that brouhaha - back then it was too hard to read forums and not be able to speak out. What part of divine striker did people get upset about? As I was saying in another thread, I kind of feel like I did a disservice to the OD&D foundation of the monk being a subclass of cleric by making them martial instead of divine. And although I toyed with making them a defender, in the end I decided that martial artists in the movies that inspired Arneson are all about ripping out people's spines; it was just an artifact of 3E monks not being very good at dealing damage that made them temporarily into a class that was mostly effective at sucking up attacks.

Jezred wrote:

I think both the AGP and the FH has a lot to offer with its 'non-core' classes. My advice: get them both!!! Then you can use either, or both, or pieces of each. Perhaps get the PDFs and "frankenstein" your own book together for your playgroup's usage.

I like the way you think, sir! In the next 4E game I run I'm going to try "frankensteining" with the PHB classes as well - letting players mix and match powers from different class lists, adjusting the primary and secondary stats as necessary.

EDIT: I should add that I don't think going with this power source or that one is a risk mechanically, since nothing I've seen indicates that there is any mechanics behind power source. You could make a class that used the Care Bear power source and as far as I can tell that wouldn't interact with the rules of the game any differently than any other source. (If there are mechanical effects of power source anywhere, please let me know!) You could say that going with power sources that aren't defined in the GSL was risky, or that Ari took fewer risks by not re-defining classes that are named in the GSL; but in our case at least I know that it was our publisher that made that call, not us.

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Crimson-Hawk wrote:
In your opinion, Jezred, how does the APG stack up against Goodman's Forgotten Heroes: Fang, Fury, and Song?

Crimson-Hawk, there are links to some threads comparing the two books at the Goodman Games forums. As one of the authors of FH, my opinion is somewhat biased but I think it's great to have two (soon to be three) perspectives on these classic classes instead of none! Even when the PHBII is available, I expect there will be people who want to go with the FH or APG versions - for example, if you visualize a barbarian (aka savage warrior) as a defender rather than a striker.

Jezred, I think we're definitely going to see a steady increase in quality of 3PP products as time goes on, just as was the case when 3E was launched. We had the opportunity to do a good deal of playtesting with the first Forgotten Heroes book, including running ~20 different groups using these classes through the tournament at Gen Con. (Premade characters and tournament module available here.) Nevertheless, the second FH definitely benefits from our additional months of playing 4E (and having the rules be more-or-less stable and available for public discussion, which wasn't the case with the first book). And the third book that we're working on now also has the advantage that there are other published examples of class design that we can use as inspiration to expand the boundaries of what's possible.

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My players are in contact with Lavinia at Farshore as well, but somehow it never occurred to them to ask her to pick them up - perhaps because they're so grateful to have solid land under their feet again! They did ask what she was doing, and I described the political power struggle with the Meravanchis. Perhaps the reason she can't free up the Nixie to go get your PCs is that it's part of her political capital, as having it in the harbor holds out the promise of counterattacking pirates / carrying away refugees if the colony is overwhelmed? Your PCs might rightfully be angry if she puts politics ahead of their safety, which could add an interesting wrinkle to the race for mayor.

So although I have a bunch of players who are eager for an overland trek to Farshore, I'm working to make the trip more player-driven and open-ended. I gave the players the hex map from the original X1 module that just shows the coastal areas, and let them head in any direction they liked. Instead of pre-programming the encounters, I made a random event table that I hope will cover much of the same ground:

Roll two d6 for each day and night spent in the wilderness of the northern sub-plateau of the Isle.

First die: 1 - weather change, 6 - survival challenge
Second die: 1 - event, 6 - encounter

Weather change:
1 - hot & humid, tropical rain storm, lasts 1d6+2 hours (unless another weather change intervenes)
2 - hot & humid, low clouds, constant drizzle, lasts 1d6 days
3 - hot & humid, broiling sun, lasts 2d6 days
4 - warm & dry, ocean wind, lasts 1d6 days
5 - cool fog from ocean, lasts 2d6 days, may burn off briefly at the height of the day
6 - unnaturally hot & sulfurous fog from center of island, heat lightning, twisters, lasts 2d6 hours

Survival challenge:
1 - quicksand
2 - bloodsucking flying insects, may cause disease
3 - flesh-burrowing insects
4 - chasm or ravine
5 - deadfall
6 - thorny or poisonous undergrowth

1 - corpses (if desired, roll one or two encounters to determine what creatures were involved)
2 - ancient ruin, e.g. obelisk (can use the Judges Guild Ravaged Ruin table if desired)
3 - modern ruin, e.g. burned tree-huts (ditto)
4 - screams or other eerie noises from jungle
5 - rumbling or tapping from deep underground
6 - aerial monster sighted in distance (or monkeys running overhead if low visibility)

1 - terror bird hunting pack
2 - terror bird pack pursuing dinosaur
3 - terror birds controlled by ancient shrunken aranea hidden in webs in the birds' sinuses
4 - a group of aranea shapechanged to appear as a group of adventurers
5 - roll an AD&D DMG tropical wilderness encounter
6 - roll an encounter using the X1 random encounter table

I don't see the Dark Mountain Passage section as essential, but I'd like to cover some of the same material even if the party slogs over the mountains without benefit of a pass. (They have a ranger who makes such deeds much easier). I'm hoping that the elder aranea in encounter #3 will pressure the party to seek out the site of a meteor strike mentioned in the adventure path, which I of course read as being a crashed spaceship. Here, instead of mummies & mummy rot, the half-roboticized flora and fauna will infect characters with a spreading blight of living metal, and instead of black pudding there'll be a T2-style blob of said metal.

As I use each of these encounters, and as the PCs draw away from the sites of the aranea and terror bird jungle and near other lairs and scripted "stuff that's supposed to happen", I'll swap out the entries to try to get other stuff in without forcing it.

During play last night this chart worked very nicely to make me feel that the Isle was, as it originally was meant to be, a big sandbox where the players could choose to set off in any direction & not even I knew for sure what they'd find. And when random events came up on both dice at once it created some great serendipity; the terror bird pursuing a dinosaur encounter came up along with a tropical storm, causing all manner of fun with mudslides and wet bowstrings that I wouldn't have invented on my own.

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I don't have anything more helpful to say than that (unless it's "vampiric ixixtachitls") but I think they should definitely be there.

A) they're awesome
B) they're traditional worshippers of Big D, so they can foreshadow
C) the backstory of the Isle has them as enemies of the kopru, so if the ones in the lair are representatives of a larger group - perhaps allied with Emraag to try to retake the Isle's subterranean waters - the PCs could wind up negotiating with them to strike against the kopru or aboleths down the road.

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Sebastian wrote:
Are the DCs in the DMG for skill challenges too low to really be a challenge?

No, it's the opposite. As I understand it, there are two problems:

- the overall chances of success are too low, which some people are saying could be solved by using the "raw" DCs (as per ability checks) and not adding 5 because they're skill checks
- increasing the complexity of the challenge (the number of successes needed) awards more XP, but has a higher chance of success, so you're rewarded more for a less-difficult challenge

These are based on a mathematical/statistical analysis here.

The former problem is said to be solved by utility powers etc. that interact with skill challenges in ways that aren't accounted for by that analysus - see here. Last I saw, though, this didn't fix the greater complexity = better odds and more XP too problem - although these threads are long and I haven't read through them all.

My pet peeve re: XP is a variant of this - that a level 3 skill challenge uses the same DCs as a level 1 challenge, but gives more experience, due to the way the bands of DCs go by 3's.

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The glory of old-school modules like Tegel Manor was that they were full of bizarre details that were evocative and random, inspiring you to try to make sense of them in creative ways. Shadowfell is too filled-in to be old school in that sense, and nothing that it's filled with is a tenth as cool as a geneology of nobles all named Rump.

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I'm running a game of Keep on the Shadowfell (see the chop shop thread) in part because I love B2: Keep on the Borderlands, and in part because I want to have the common experience of an adventure that lots of people will have played. Its advantages are that it's easy to kitbash without worrying about future consequences as you do in an adventure path: it doesn't put much out there in the way of story or detail, making it easy to add your own: and it gives you lots of battle maps, which are important for mini-centric 4e fights.

Things I'd do that would be fun if I weren't doing Shadowfell:

- Become a patron of Open Design's Wrath of the River King project and help Wolfgang Baur design an awesome 4e adventure for 4th level. (Actually, I did do that).
- Ditch the XP system, which lends itself to grinding. Have PCs level up after every two or three sessions. Leveling is fun, and you've got 30 of them to run through - none of which are going to change the basic feel of the game IMO, unlike earlier editions where different levels had different play styles.

- Ditch powers . Run a freewheeling OD&D-style game where the players describe what they do and you use the DMG guidelines for winging it (page 42?) to resolve their action.

- Ditch classes. Have the PCs be monsters, maybe using the monster design guidelines to mke their own.

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I ran the first session last night. Here's some stuff that worked well:

My custom intro:

The players didn't like the idea that the party knew one another already ; they wanted to roleplay an introduction of their characters. I wanted to keep the simple 'action begins with an ambush on the road to Winterhaven' intro, so I contrived a way to have them travel together without really meeting. Each PC was hired by the Brotherhood of the Sinew, a mercenary group charged with delivering a wagon to Winterhaven. There were two unusual conditions: no one was allowed to look inside the covered wagon, and no speech was allowed within earshot of the wagon. I told the players that they'd received some training in sign language when they accepted the job, so they could talk to one another at the table if they kept their vocab simple and waved their hands in the air to show they were "speaking" in sign, which was hilarious.

When the kobolds attacked, I had them screeching to one another in draconic, which had the players all saying "uh oh..." At the bottom of the first round, they heard a much deeper & eviller voice from inside the caravan, repeating the words it'd heard from the kobolds (none of the PCs spoke draconic, so I just jibbered & jabbered). The other Brotherhood guards cut and ran, conveniently keeping them out of the fight. At the end of the second round, a evistro burst out of the wagon, screaming delightedly in draconic and terrifying the PCs (especially those who had meta-knowledge that this was a level 6 carnage demon). The horses hitched to the wagon went mad, and we had a very satisfying running battle like something out of Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in the West. The evistro had enough hp to act like a solo (since the kobolds were all wiped out by this point); being a brute, its defenses were easily within reach of first-level characters; and its damage was pretty tame, which was fine because the players were plenty scared of it nevertheless.

Afterwards they searched the wagon and saw that it had been built and warded to contain the demon; an arcana check told them it had managed to undo the bindings by using an unholy word, explaining why they were so eager to keep it from learning any words. They won a skill challenge to track down the mercenaries who fled (in part because I forgot to add 5 to the DC, which the EN World math threads imply is a good idea even if I did it by mistake) and learned that an Earl Gaunt had hired them to deliver the wagon; they didn't know what was inside, although they suspected it was bad news; and they were supposed to contact an elf woman wearing a green cloak at Wrafton's Inn to arrange for delivery & payment. We ended the session as the PCs visited the Inn and saw two elves meeting the description - Kalarath's agent and the wildflower-gatherer - setting up a roleplaying/skill challenge for next time.
Another minor thing I did was to make the 34 silver pieces on the kobolds unusually well preserved specimens of late Nerath Empire coinage, which usually circulates only in shaven and worn-thin form. This got them thinking about who paid the kobolds from an ancient hoard, and pleased the player who likes to make History checks.

My modifications to the town:

I respect the problem about Winterhaven lacking color and having too many people, too few buildings, and not enough farmland. But one of my goals is to have the pure "KotS experience", so I didn't want to use a different town; and another is to evoke the "KotB experience," and my cherished B2 has an outdoor map that doesn't indicate farms anywhere.

The solution I decided to go for is that Nerath built the fort of Winterhaven as a provincial administration and tax-gathering center, with the latter function indicating that it might also need to withstand a peasant insurrection. Parle Cranewing deduced that there was something interesting going on with the Keep on the Shadowfell by noticing old account books that recorded expenses for building two keeps within the same tax district, which was highly unusual & suggestive of something interesting. (I made him an old-war weapons fanatic, inspired by Bat in Sheffield's _Dark as Day_, and who hinted to the PCs that Nerath might have been sending military wizards to the KotS).

Back then Winterhaven was surrounded by plenty of cleared farmland, which I took as why there are graves by the side of the road on the ambush map, and reinforced by having the PCs find old chimneys and foundations in the woods nearby. Decades before the fall of the Empire, Duke Ag Zyg earned the title 'the Mad' by constructing a dungeon full of puzzles and deathtraps beneath Winterhaven. (His face was on the coins mentioned above). When barbarism set in, the outlying farms became too dangerous, so with the help of some dwarven refugees (the current smith's uncles) they converted Ag Zyg's dungeon into a mushroom farm. So when the PCs entered the front gate of Winterhaven, they were greeted with the overwhelming stench of manure. When the market square isn't in use, it's filled with herds of cattle; those citizens who aren't tending the herds are shoveling up the manure and loading it into sledges that are being hauled down a ramp, or brought up empty to be refilled.

The PCs haven't entirely figured out the cattle/mushroom economy yet, but they did pick up on the tension within Wrafton's Inn between the tanned, grimy guys who never share tables with the pale, moldy guys (i.e., herders and farmers, or 'shroomies' and 'muckers' when they want to start a fight).

One of the players said afterwards that he thought KotS was excellently designed as an introductory adventure because the situation in the town was unsubtle and simple yet evocative & distinctive :) I'm pleased because I got in a nod to dearly departed EGG, and because I love to embrace the most gonzo elements of D&D and then try to figure out how mundane medieval life would adapt to it.

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How optimizing is your group? A player who's just attracted to some apparently suboptimal choices for RP reasons/inexperience could use variant rules to keep pace with the path. A player whose apparently suboptimal choices are always just the hoops to jump through en route to an optimized PrC is going to find ways to min/max a variant in ways you'll regret.

The major can of worms I foresee is mystic theurge. If you make it clear that the spell point pools will be distinct for wiz and cleric, PrC or no, that should be OK.

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Murkmoldiev wrote:

I ran the Origonal Lost Shrine of Tamoachan in place of the little side trek one...

Did you use the original module or the 3e conversion from these boards?

I'd done Tamoachan as per the original as a player try-out/intro, so when we got there I just brought in some elements of the original:

- The wall of fire trap opened a time rift (linked to the calendar stone) that brought one over-curious PC back a millenium to the height of the original shrine, where a gold-encrusted dragon (original color hidden beneath gilt & jewels) gave him a suspended animation potion to return thru the eons
- As per the original, the map room gave those who failed a Will save the illusion that they were transported to the southern Olman capital (the northern being Tamoachan), which was on the plateau of the Isle of Dread
- The two monks who were woken from suspended animation in the original awoke when the PCs messed with the calendar stone - in the original I think they're supposed to be Olman, but I made them Suel who'd bought passage in the shrine to a future era when the Scarlet Brotherhood would achieve its destiny: as in the original, they were pissed to be woken prematurely & demanded restitution.

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In my campaign, there's a recurring duality between groups influenced by each of the two heads' personalities. I don't have their names handy, but the calculating one (Aameul?) = lizards = obsession with coins, letters, runes, gambling, bones = the popular Old Nick-style figure of a bone devil named Mr. Bones. The bestial one (Hethrediah?) = apes = obsession with wearing furs, mutilating animals, sweaty perversion = a popular image of a demonic girallon called Two-Prick Tommy.

These archetypes first turned up during the Wormfall Festival, as giant puppets of Bones and Tommy who were, in folk mythology, supposed to be the fiendish allies of Zelkarune who were also vanquished by Sasserine & Teraknian. Since then, the PCs met one tribe of rakasta led by a mad hermaphrodite who had shaved off his fur (lizard), and was in conflict with 'the Others' who burned giant swathes of North Olman Isle & drove giant apes into the pyres (ape). Near Tamoachan, they met a fur-wearing lizardman druid (ape) who wanted their help to destroy the heretic 'crocodile lovers' (lizard).

So far the party has caught on that the tribes they meet are often "crazy" and fighting among themselves. And they know that their doings are of interest to demons (with Dagon, Socoth-Benoth, General Ghorvash, and the 'Lemorian Prince' on their radar so far). Hopefully when they learn about Big D's dual nature it'll allow them to connect the dots with hindsight.

Anyway, in your situation I'd just go with making one group lizardy and calculating, and the other group apey and bestial - with whatever associations that suggests to you.

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One of my players chose a rakasta PC, so we did a sidetrek to North Olman Isle where he'd heard some rakasta were still alive. The Scarlet Brotherhood had driven them into the interior.

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I'm looking to get together a group of D&D players to explore the promised glories of the new school*!

Ultimately we'll be looking to meet 3-4 times a month, most likely on weeknights at a friend's apartment in Washington Heights, and collectively run a 4e campaign. I'll kick things off with Keep on the Shadowfell & its quickstart rules, which should tide us over until the books are released. After that I'll pass on the DM hat to the next of us who wants to give it a try.

The initial step will be to get together with interested folks and run a one-shot trial game using the fan-compiled pre-release rules. The idea will be for us to get a sense of whether we'd enjoy playing with one another, and for you to see whether the new rules seem like a good fit for the way you roll. If the answers to both are 'yes' we'll try to work out a schedule that suits everyone.

Post if you're interested or would like more info!

- Tavis

* My Paizo pride requires me to make the disclaimer that I'll also be grooving on another set of new glories as a player in yoda8myhead's Pathfinder playtest this summer, which is a proposition popular enough among our current gaming group that, unlike 4e, we don't need to look for more players...

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yoda8myhead wrote:
Only time will tell, but I have my canned vegetables and bottled water prepped for the end times.

Good man! Too bad you live across the river so that I'll have a great many desperate fellow-survivors to battle my way past before I can bum off of your cache.

Anyone want to revise their tinfoil hat theories as to why this whole snafu went down and then went away (assuming that does turn out to be the case)?

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I think it's also a late-stage 3.5 issue. In the campaigns I ran using just the SRD, the flotsam ooze would have been a TPK. Using splatbooks + Spell and Magic Item Compendiums, the players have lots of options for teleporting (in my game, the duskblade used benign transposition to get himself in the ooze & the sorceror out) and distance healing to buy another round before a trapped PC becomes jelly.

If you know your players don't have those capabilities, I'd be open to OD&D-style improvisation. In A2: Secret of the Slaver's Stockade, there's a puzzle where you find barrels of vinegar and then encounter a giant sundew: pouring the vinegar onto it dissolves its glue & frees a trapped PC. Since you left it on a cliffhanger, your players have had plenty of time to get desperately creative! To maintain tension, I wouldn't have whatever outside-the-lines solution work right away: instead I'd give them an encouraging description at first, and only let it work 100 percent when it'd be most dramatically last-minute.

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In Savage Tide (which I DM) and Age of Worms (as a player) an archer-ranger has been an invaluable damage-dealing asset to the party. Our STAP party lacks a classic tank -or- a cleric, with a druid & cure wands doing healing, and mobility often substituting very nicely for meatshielding.

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My group just went up to a max of 7 players, min of 4. We're at Tamoachan. Here are some critters that have been challenging for them:

- Harliss Javell, and her sister Marilee (same stats) who I introduced as captain of the Manticore, another Crimson Fleet ship gone renegade trying to get Harliss out of trouble. The PCs respect her mighty BAB, but found grapple/bull rush to be her weakness (low Str).

- The flotsam ooze. Grapple & caught them unprepared.

- The will-o-the-wisp. High AC had them scared, invisibility let me combine this critter with other encounters (wall of fire, Sutolore) that needed spice.

- A roc that came out of the AD&D DMG random encounter tables in the mountains near Ft. Blackwell. Snatch + fly + mighty grappling.

In other combats, my group has dominated. I'm happy with that - I like my D&D turned up to 11 - and it's easy to add more stuff on the fly to keep encounters a credible threat. This is meant more as a guide to what things don't need help to be challenges for a big, late-3.5-optioned-up party (and might be a TPK if they're bumped up too much).

Some things the PCs cut through remarkably easily:

- Two CR 10 martial artist complex NPCs from the DMGII, standing in for the suspended-animation monks in the original Tamoachan. I gave these guys mage armor to bring their AC up to 22 and they still never landed a hit.

- A whole boatload of lemorians on Marilee Javell's ship, above, with CRs of 5-8 pre-template. It helps that my PCs have picked up on the demon vibe and armed themselves with lots of cold iron. They also had resist fire up, so my wands of fireball for the ship's sorcerors were effectively nerfed. A few PCs couldn't beat the lemorian's resistances but were effective grapplers/bull-rushers or used spells to aid the party & affect the melee indirectly.

- Sutolore, the varrangoin. Cold iron and resist fire again.

One thing I'm exploring is upping damage - like having the wall of fire trap do 8d6 damage. I'm finding that with a big party I can do my best to drop one of 'em.

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I have 6 PCs who are overpowered (all kinds of splatbook options, rolled ability scores, equipment values in the range of PCs 2 levels higher). There are still cases where the Big Bad is plenty hard - the flotsam ooze in SWW nearly had them for lunch.

I find that I can't wear them down with minions before the BBEG - they could blow through a roomful of 2 Lotus Dragons without using up any resource except valuable playing time. Instead, I combine encounters - for example, having Rowyn pull all the surviving thieves into one big ambush. The advantage here is giving all 6 PCs something to do (it can get crowded if they're all pig-piling one target!) and giving me flexibility. If I need to adjust the difficulty on the fly, I can always have more minions enter, or run away.

My players surprised me by embracing XP-less level advancement when I suggested it. They like it because they feel rewarded for advancing the story, not just racking up bodies. I like it because it makes my life easier and we can stretch out or condense sections of the adventure to suit what we enjoy without worrying that we'll miss out on needed XP. There are good threads here on how to handle no-XP leveling in the STAP.

We also use a house rule where armor converts damage to subdual damage - if you have an armor bonus of 4 (e.g. chainmail or mage armor) and get hit for 8 points, you take 4 non-lethal and 4 regular. We quickly got used to the extra bookkeeping. The players like the extra survivability (they get KO'd as often, but no one has permanently died) and I like the extra security (if I accidentally overpower an encounter, they're more likely to get captured than TPK'd). I also like that many NPC villains also are subdued instead of killed, because it's fun to turn them over to the city watch & then have them continue to play a role in the campaign from prison!

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Crowheart wrote:
The whole idea is based on some oracular "feeling" Malcanthet got during Sea Wyvern's Wake and assumes the PC's will keep said mysterious objects with them until they are needed 8-10 levels later. It feels very awkward to me.

I figured that Malcanthet, like other powerful supernatural beings, can see the strands of destiny heading towards a likely future. I had her arrange for several possible ways she could maneuver the PCs towards their fate. The only one of these I've planted so far was making the jade bat (one of the "easter egg" items in Lavinia's manor in Bullywug Gambit) also something that Malcanthet had an agent steal from the Aspect and plant with Larissa during her first visit to the Isle of Dread. The PCs read her journal in the vault at the end of TiNH, where I added a mention of her being given this jade bat by a lone phanaton (Malcanthet's polymorphed agent) who said it would keep her safe from the forces of darkness. That paid off in that the PCs are still carrying the jade bat with them.

If demon lords can see that far into the future, it's only fair that others can too. On that tip, I plan to have some dreams/visions/divinations pointing towards the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar. My players get psyched about artifacts from the AD&D DMG, so I don't think they'll toss the Tooth if they have a suspicion it might be an artifact.

Also on the far-future/plot problem, I couldn't figure out why Vanthus was so intimately involved in Demogorgon's plan, ultimately helping Big D not at all - quite the opposite since the PCs wouldn't be on Big D's case if it weren't for Vanthus. In my campaign, the page of the Demonomicon that VV found at his (Seeker) uncle's mansion was planted there by Socoth-Benoth in order to set up the chain of events that leads to the Prince of Demon's overthrow at the end of the AP. Socoth-Benoth may be a contender in the end, or may just hope to rise in the ranks by being prepared for the coming cataclysm.

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I snapped these up this morning from Nick Logue's new venture Sinister Indulgences - a set of PDFs that "provides GMs everything they need to launch their high seas swashbuckling campaign," by many of the authors of the STAP - how could I resist? I'll post ideas about how I'll work them into the voyage to the Isle as I read.

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Also on the roots-of-D&D tip, J. Eric Holmes's _Maze of Peril_ is a surprisingly good "novelization" of the sample dungeon Holmes created to play with his kids & wrote up in the blue-box Basic D&D set. It's still theoretically in press from Space and Time Books - I got my copy directly from the publisher once I saw we were both New Yorkers, and he ran out to his warehouse in Staten Island to pick one up, a bit musty, before we met for lunch. And it's perhaps a bit short for trade paperback edition. But it looks like Holmes also did some Burroughsian stuff that could fill out a great single volume connecting the dots between Pellucidar and D&D.


Space and Time:

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Awesome! I just downloaded the first set of Indulgences and will be slipping them into my Savage Tide campaign - a perfect fit for theme & the geniuses responsible!

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DMFTodd wrote:
Avner, being an ass as usual.

We had the Meravanchis throw a debauched party in honor of the Heroes of Sasserine. Avner is an ass, sure, but he's a rich one who likes celebrities and bad-wrong fun. Some of your PCs might like some debauch: some might like disapproving: and every player likes celebrations in their honor.

Setting up other passengers is better the earlier you foreshadow them. My group had Father Feres "cast detect evil" on each prospective applicant, mwaa haa haa!

Setting up affiliation stuff is also a good idea while still in the city. Have affiliation reps approach the PCs if necess.

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Correct: The story is by Adrian Cole, "Astral Stray," and yes it is totally awesome (and may be of particular interest to D&D roots enthusiasts for its details of the astral plane). It's in the first Heroic Fantasy anthology, ed. Page and Reinhart, DAW 1979. The editorial intro mentions The Dream Lords as what Cole was best known for: "Astral Stray" is part of his then-current series of stories about the Voidal, 'who has crossed the Dark Gods, and for his presumptiousness, now finds himself accursed and set adrift with no memory of who - or what - he was in former times'. His familiar Elfloq, and their meeting, is the protagonist of "Astral Stray". I would sure love to see those stories collected if they haven't been or brought back into print if they have.

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dbernath wrote:
How about Adrian Cole's "Dreamlords" trilogy? "A Plague of Nightmares", "Lord of Nightmares", and "Bane of Nightmares".

I think I read a short story of Cole's in one of the Heroic Fantasy anthologies when I was working my way through the recommended reading list in Ron Edwards' Sorceror and Sword supplement. The story I'm thinking of was the standout in the series - the protagonist was a familiar who was desperate to find a new master before their ability to exist outside their own plane expired. I remember seeing that the author had done some later trilogies, now OOP. I'll confirm that it's Cole I'm thinking of when I get home.

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I strongly support a social encounter resolution mechanic. I agree that an important design goal for this is making it something that engages all characters in the party. One problem with Diplomacy is that it doesn't play well with other skills. There's no guidelines to say how much it helps you succeed in a negotiation if your rogue has bluffed the target, or the barbarian has intimidated them.

Victory points are a backwards-compatible solution that's been used in other Paizo adventures, like Tides of Dread. The bard's successful use of Diplomacy, the rogue's Bluff, and the barbarian's Intimidate can all earn victory points. So can clever scrying by the wizard, carefully-worded divination by the cleric, etc. The GM sets the DCs for these rolls and the number of VP needed to achieve partial success or complete success based on the difficulty of the social encounter.

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Kassil wrote:
It's such a simple idea that actually executing it is more a matter of balancing reward vs risk than worrying about sticky mechanics.

The mechanics get sticky because they have to be back-compatible with 3.5. And it'd be ideal to have rules for earning VP that are less adventure-level design (like in Tides of Dread, or Heroes of Battle) and more tightly defined by the rules.

For example: Finding a criminal in a foreign city is a difficult task, so the DM looks up how many VP the party needs for complete success, partial success, or partial failure, and defines what each will mean. As the players come up with actions, the DM selects DCs for their skill checks based on the encounter level & modified according to the situation. Each point by which the skill check is over the DC gives the party 1 VP.

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tav_behemoth wrote:
chock-full of the gruesome suffering of innocents

I have foolishly badmouthed one of my favorite authors! It's not just his gift for grue that makes Nick great, or his gift for words. What has me jazzed is his ability to set up RPG sessions in which the lives of many depend on the PC's actions - not just monsters to be killed for XP but also ordinary people who are tragically vulnerable to the horrors that populate D&D worlds. Nick's adventures have memorable fights, beautifully staged and motivated, but that's just one of the ways he knows how to give PCs cool and dramatic things to do that matter.

It's totally awesome that Paizo is supporting organized play. Since nothing draws in more gamers than having RPG groups to play with, this is an excellent sign that Pathfinder won't just be for old-edition diehards.

It's way more than dope that such a great creative team is putting their stamp on organized play. This is an exciting time to be a D&D fan.

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Well all right! Very, very pleased. Good to see Mr. Logue leading an organized play system, which I eagerly expect to be chock-full of the gruesome suffering of innocents.

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I agree that simplified monster creation would be a tremendous benefit. What about a table-based solution, like the sample NPCs for each class in the DMG? So if you wanted to make an outsider to challenge a 7th level party, you'd look on the outsider table, go down to the 7th row, and read across to see what its expected AC, attack bonus, average damage, saves, etc. would be. This could be combined with a simplified form of templates (maybe also presented in table form to avoid recalculation) so that you could quickly customize the expected stats for your L7 outsider to make it a bruiser or an artillerist.

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Paizo adventures like Tides of Dread and the AoW festival of Zeech have used victory points as a mechanic to allow PCs to achieve varying degrees of success (or failure) in their strategic goals by accumulating points through a range of appropriate actions.

I think this is a great mechanic and I'd love to see it become part of the core Pathfinder RPG framework, instead of having to be reintroduced each time an adventure designer wants to use it. It'd be cool to have guidelines for using victory points to do a number of classic situations, like chase scenes, complex negotiations, and wilderness navigation, as well as design principles for GMs to create situations using VPs.

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I wasn't able to get Rowyn on board - she's still locked up in Castle Teraknian, and has been entangled in the plot of our alternate-week game that'll stay in Sasserine. So I reckon I'll be using Diamondback in her place. The amped-up builds should work equally well, but I'd welcome any battle-dancer based suggestions.

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Quote from last night's session: "Avner is like the Burt Reynolds of Sasseine."

I knew I was going to have a good time roleplaying Avner, inspired by the great Flashman. But from everything I've read on these boards, I wasn't expecting the players to enjoy him as much as I do!

I certainly didn't skimp on his racism (I stayed away from any real-world epithets, but his anatomically-based shorthand for the islanders he expected to meet on the trip to Farshore was still pretty vile) or sexism (the players succeeded on a Knowledge: Local to know he'd been seen in the company of many of the city's most desirable women, but failed the Sense Motive to tell that his spare-no-details descriptions of these conquests were more than half BS). Nevertheless, most of the PCs were eager to accept his invitation to party down at the Meravanchi mansion. They take him to be a laid-back, fun-loving frat boy. So far they haven't seen the petulant, entitled, and snobbish aspects of his character. (Another set of Sense Motives they failed allowed Avner to conceal his reflexive snarl of disgust when players told him that some of their ancestors had been dragons, or worse yet, household servants).

The thing that particularly set Avner up to shine in the player's eyes was that I introduced him during a scene when Lavinia was chewing out the party. Several sessions ago, they captured Harliss Javell due to a phenomenally lucky sequence of initiative and grapple checks when she tried to exit stage left by swimming out the sea passage after they'd negotiated with her. Having wind walked out to Kraken's Cove, the party had no way to bring Harliss back with them, so they decided to put her in a crate and bury it. When they went back for Harliss and the Sea Wyvern four days later, they decided to strip its former captain naked and tie her to the prow as a living figurehead. Upon sailing back into the harbor and encountering all the ships that were leaving town after the Wormfall Festival, a 30+ Bluff check had the crowds jeering the hapless Crimson Fleet pirate and cheering the Heroes of Sasserine who had captured such an impressive prize & turned her over to the Dawn Council.

Although it hasn't come up before, I've always figured that Thenalar-educated Lavinia is a feminist in the mold of a Bryn Mawr or Smith College graduate. So she was livid that the PCs, who are firmly linked with the Vanderborens in the public mind (and some of whom have been jockeying to be linked to the family & its fortunes through marriage), would humiliate any woman so crudely & publicly. She launched into a speech about how, on their voyage to the Isle of Dread, it would be essential to maintain civilized standards of decency and not match savagery with savagery. Halfway through, I put Avner's mustachioed portrait on the projector: "Mind if I interrupt, Lavinny? Just wanted to offer my congrats to the heroes of the hour! I hear you were flying quite a saucy flag during your sail this afternoon! So sorry I missed it - maybe my father could arrange a private performance at our manor sometime? He's a very important man, you know, and never one to get in the way of a little fun."

All of these Lavinia / Avner interactions were improv rather than planned, but it's going to be interesting to see where things go from here as we begin SWW.

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The players in my campaign have been motivated to pursue romance by:
1) Ambitions to join the nobility by marrying up
2) Rivalry with others who they see competing for someone's hand
3) Illustrations that both answer the eternal question 'Are they hot?' and signify to their meta-minds that this is a major character in the path, worth getting involved with

Not all these work all the time. Rowyn's claim to noble blood didn't entice like Lavinia's did (perhaps if they'd seen the splendors of the Kellani mansion before the dank and dripping-walled subterranean lair of Lady Lotus it'd be a different story). On the other hand, one PC is interested in Liamae without any illustration. And even before I could set up Tolin as a rival for Lavinia, one PC started wooing her to compete with another PC who'd started making advances on her.

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I agree that the heart of the problem isn't about rules. According to Soccer Zone, this guy gets pissed off if he has to roll a dice to succeed. Why? Because that would create the possibility of failure. This player has a superiority complex going on. He needs his plans to be so brilliant that they automatically work out. If anyone disagrees, it's because they lack his superior brilliance: he certainly won't demean himself by explaining it to lesser beings.

If he's the best roleplayer in your group, I'd get a new group. (True, I live in NYC where players are easy to come by, but there's always online tabletops etc.) If you really want to try to make this work, don't make it about you. (I know I have to keep an eye on my own need to be the superior one in control of everything when I DM, which would make me angry at a guy like this who wants to put himself & his plans on top). Instead, focus on the other players' experience. If every situation is solved by this guy's plan, there's no dice rolling, and no one can understand it, how is that supposed to be fun for the rest of the group?

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My players were invited to visit Rowyn Kellani in her absurdly luxurious imprisonment in Castle Teraknian during our last session (mid-Bullywug Gambit). She claimed to be a patriot whose ultimate goal was protecting Sasserine from takeover by the Scarlet Brotherhood. According to her, the LD had prevented assassinations of two Dawn Council members by SB agents. She admitted killing Harbormaster Islaran, but said that it was because he was corrupt & she needed to make an example of him.

If you decided to go this route, you could have your PCs join the LD in some other hideout (sketched in broad strokes 'cause you won't be fighting there) and use the LD section mostly as written to represent a cell of Scarlet Brotherhood operatives that Rowyn wants wiped out. Give the SB another beautiful female leader for Vanthus to get in a love triangle with. He and Brissa would be traitors who sell out to the SB in exchange for support in their scheme to rob Kraken's Cove, which frankly makes more sense for the Brotherhood. They're lawful soldiers whose sea empire is threatened by piracy: Rowyn is a little thief whose livelihood is dependent on the big thieves in the Crimson Fleet to bring in the exotic animals & other Isle of Dread goods she smuggles. For her to bite that hand isn't well justified IMHO.

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My group is having it both ways. Some of the original PCs are going to sail to Farshore: the other players will make PCs to use for that leg of the campaign. Another party's worth of original and new PCs are going to stay in Sasserine and establish a thieves' guild to fill the Lotus Dragons vacuum and try to seize the Islaran vacancy on the Dawn Council via an Emil Draktus-type maneuver. We'll run the Sasserine thieves' guild games when we don't have a quorum for the main STAP, when someone else wants to DM, etc. We're all very excited about both stories and I'm glad not to have to choose between 'em.

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Here are some ideas:

1) Be realistic and hard-nosed about the definitions provided in the PHB for what indifferent, friendly, and helpful people will do. After all, the "socially expected interaction" between Demogorgon and a mortal in his domain is for him to eat their heart.

2) Focus the interpretation of diplomacy check as influencing the attitude of the target to the specific proposition, not the speaker. Depending on whether Demogorgon is friendly or not to the proposition that he should lie down and let the PCs walk all over them, he might let them regenerate after he eats their heart.

The above two are valid interpretations of the rules, but they might leave your player feeling like it's up to your whim whether or not his diplomacy-monkey gets to be awesome in the way he was designed to do. You might want a more mechanical solution so that it's up to the dice, not DM interpretation. To do that, you'd need to introduce some rules tweaks:

3) Give creatures a bonus to the DC to diplomacize them equal to half their hit dice, similar to the sense motive defense from a bluff in combat. Or give them a half-CR bonus - this departs a little further from existing rules, but has the effect of making a drow wizard harder to sweet-talk than a hill giant, which is as it should be.

4) Check out the rules variant here:

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Hmm - I was able to copy an area on my Windows machine using FoxIt Reader's snapshot selection tool, and paste it into Word. So our problem was just with Mac, Adobe Acrobat (Reader I assume), and Photoshop.

I just added the three-layered Photoshop image of the Vanderboren mansion to the Google group. We used it to run a side adventure last night (projecting it onto the wall 'cause we don't have a ceiling mount yet, and sticking minis to the wall with blu-tak) that was quite a bit of fun! Our rakasta 2/monk 2 and fighter 1/ranger 1/scout 1/barbarian both have boots of striding and springing, and they were leaping on & off the 20' walls of the manor compound like outtakes from Crouching Tider, Hidden Dragon. (I made up some rules on the fly to cover springing back & forth up a the walls of a corner like I've seen in parkour videos and Jackie Chan movies).

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My group recently borrowed a digital projector and we're trying out implementing some of the ultimate gaming table goodness we've read about. Since we're running through Savage Tide (they just buried Captain Javell in a crate beneath Kraken's Cove, having beaten her with a seriously lucky bunch of grapple rolls), the online supplements are going to be the number one source of tactical maps for us.

I've seen people post on these boards that they use the online supplements for maps too, so I'd appreciate any help you can provide to get us started! Right now we've been trying to use a Mac to cut and paste images from the online supplement into Photoshop, which we were hoping to use to do some layers for lighting/fog-of-war. We ran into the problem that we couldn't paste into Photoshop; we were able to paste it into Powerpoint, and we did eventually get it into Photoshop by taking a screenshot. So our first question is just how do you work with the online supplement PDFs? But I'd be glad for any advice or discussion of how to achieve digital Paizonian nirvana.

I set up a Google group to allow us to share homemade maps and get into technical discussions:

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I added a savage gold wyrmling to Kraken's Cove - some of my players have dragon backgrounds for their characters, and I wanted to foreshadow that the Crimson Fleet had run into a gold's nest somewhere in the southern oceans. Also, I was disappointed in Ripclaw's lethality: the wyrmling (CR 6) did not let me down, and I briefly worried I had thrown a TPK at them when I had a string of quick-recharge, high-damage rolls for its breath weapon.

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In Bullywug Gambit, we're told that Captain Javell picked up the pearl from someone who gave her orders to bring it to Kraken's Cove and look after it until someone else comes to take it from her. As written, she won't reveal the identities of these someones. Who are they, though?

I figure she got the pearl from the Crimson Fleet: in my campaign it'll have been directly from Captain Wyther, to foreshadow his later appearance. But I dunno who the Fleet would have used to bring the pearl into Sasserine and detonate it. Such a person would likely be the Fleet's most trusted local agent. For now I'm going to figure Harliss doesn't know who this will be either: all she knows is she'll recognize them because they'll be a lemorian. Since my group plans to keep running side adventures in Sasserine after the Sea Wyvern sails - we like the city too much to leave it behind altogether - I'd ultimately like to come with an explanation for what the Fleet would have planned if Vanthus hadn't screwed it up.

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