Clockwork Librarian

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Everything I Need in a Change of Pace.

5/5

We've been playing a lot of it lately. There are still a number of Pathfinder campaigns running, but to be honest, sometimes you need a break from... I want to say the complexity, but it's more like the assumptions baked into the game.

If you're looking for the total opposite of the Pathfinder experience, Torchbearer is about as different as you can get. It's still complex, but the complexity derives more from the interactions of the various rules than from the sheer volume of abilities and exceptions.

Character creation is super light. The emphasis is on roleplaying and motivations to differentiate your character. You can't play "character sheet solitaire" with this game; once you've spent your 15 minutes making the character, there's nothing left to do but play (and play well) if you want to improve. Being a unique superhero is not the point -- your character will be defined by what they do in play, not what they can do after character creation.

It handles large groups incredibly well. All the players can remain engaged even when it isn't their turn, because they still need to describe their actions to provide helping dice. I have never run an 8 person party with such ease -- nor with such entertaining results.

Combat is not the default solution to all problems, in fact it is vastly suboptimal for character accomplishment -- and the rules exist to support non-combat encounters at the same level as combat! But the combat that IS there is dynamic, mapless, dramatic, and fast paced.

The pace of exploration is fast and role-playing focused. You CAN roll to accomplish things, but it consumes resources so it is wise to avoid rolling by describing your actions thoroughly and obviating rolls. This is much the opposite of Pathfinder, where you worked so hard to make your character good at things you are itching to roll dice to resolve obstacles.

GM prep is minimal and meaningful. I ran a session last Sunday where I only had: the leaving-town generated plot hook from the previous week, a lizardman statblock (and Torchbearer statblocks are lean), and a half-remembered encounter site from the Kingmaker adventure path. It was incredibly fun, and by all accounts the player experience felt very polished!

Don't mistake me: I love many things about Pathfinder, but it is not the RPG to end all RPGs for me. When I need a break from its peculiar mindset, Torchbearer's the game.

If you're interested in further discussion of this game, there's a discussion thread on the forum here.


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LAIR BUILDING

4/5

I really enjoy this game. It gets the Mythic Evil Lincoln Anti-Presidential Seal of Approval.

The art really makes it awesome, but sitting back and watching your artfully built dungeon grind up 16-bit adventurers is incredibly fun.

I look forward to getting the expansions.


An email I just wrote to a friend about Mouse Guard RPG:

5/5

It is awesome, but if it has one failing, it's that it doesn't really spell out how it differs from a "normal" RPG. Because it amuses me to ponder such things, here's a few key points:

  • Advancement is done by passing and failing skill checks. This means if you want to get better, you have to undertake harder and harder tasks.

  • Skill roll failure is never stops forward progress of the story. A failed roll either gives you a condition (Hungry, Tired, Angry, Injured, Sick) or creates a plot twist according to the GM rules. You never roll twice to try the same thing. This encourages people to be heroic.

  • Because advancement occurs through checks, the players get a special player turn that is sort of like "downtime". They get to choose their own checks to perform, and therefore advance (in addition to what they did on the GM turn).

  • You earn more checks by playing traits against yourself... so your character might probably earn checks for being "primitive" or "impatient", which are things you RP her as doing anyway. Now you'd get paid back for that RP.

  • Alleviating conditions costs "checks" too, so they basically drain your "xp" such as it is.

  • Combat is awesome. It uses a rock-paper-scissors card flip-over system. The moves are: Attack, Defend, Feint, Maneuver, and different weapons favor different moves. Each side works as a team each turn contributing their strengths/weaknesses to the party tactics; so everyone has something to do on every turn, no waiting!

    Those are things that didn't make sense until I read it cover to cover.


  • An email I just wrote to a friend about Mouse Guard RPG:

    5/5

    It is awesome, but if it has one failing, it's that it doesn't really spell out how it differs from a "normal" RPG. Because it amuses me to ponder such things, here's a few key points:

  • Advancement is done by passing and failing skill checks. This means if you want to get better, you have to undertake harder and harder tasks.

  • Skill roll failure is never stops forward progress of the story. A failed roll either gives you a condition (Hungry, Tired, Angry, Injured, Sick) or creates a plot twist according to the GM rules. You never roll twice to try the same thing. This encourages people to be heroic.

  • Because advancement occurs through checks, the players get a special player turn that is sort of like "downtime". They get to choose their own checks to perform, and therefore advance (in addition to what they did on the GM turn).

  • You earn more checks by playing traits against yourself... so your character might probably earn checks for being "primitive" or "impatient", which are things you RP her as doing anyway. Now you'd get paid back for that RP.

  • Alleviating conditions costs "checks" too, so they basically drain your "xp" such as it is.

  • Combat is awesome. It uses a rock-paper-scissors card flip-over system. The moves are: Attack, Defend, Feint, Maneuver, and different weapons favor different moves. Each side works as a team each turn contributing their strengths/weaknesses to the party tactics; so everyone has something to do on every turn, no waiting!

    Those are things that didn't make sense until I read it cover to cover.

    FOR THE BOXED SET SPECIFICALLY:
    The box is sturdy, glossy and beautiful. The cards greatly enhance the gameplay, it would be worthy making your own if you only have the hardcover. The "pawns" are a little iffy, probably too large and the colors are kind of garish, nothing a little paint wont fix. The rules expansion is great and really adds clarity and awesome options to the original. The dice are really cool and thematic, and the character sheets are much better as well.

    In all, if you are debating between the hardcover and the box, and you have the money, you get a lot of extra value for the box. Plus, it is the right size for storing your Mouse Guard comics, and it has enough room for that!


  • Print Edition Out of print

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    A forum post I made that probably belongs here.

    4/5

    Just bought my hardcopy of the Pathfinder Society Field Guide at Millennium Games in Rochester, NY.

    Mostly, this is a good book for:

    People playing in PFS
    People playing Pathfinders
    people playing in Absalom

    And the sizable field guide chapter, although an amusing read, is suitable for:

    People who don't know what to expect from written adventures and APs.

    Since none of the above bullet points describe me, you might think I was disappointed with the purchase. Oh, my, no.

    The equipment chapter is good, offering kits which I regard quite highly. A "Campsite Kit" and a "Deluxe Campsite kit" are unfortunate omissions, however, we might yet see them in Ultimate Equipment *nudge nudge*

    But oh! The Vanities section. That's why I chose to post in this thread. The vanities section shows me that some really competent, campaign-focused design is continuing, bit by bit, in the various campaign setting products.

    These vanities expand on the role of prestige points with organizations, but now they also let own businesses, and acquire followers. I would love to see these kind of rules brought into the core in the next edition. The ability to acquire followers outside the framework of the Leadership feat does much to assuage my (bitter, long-held) issues with that feat as a GM.

    The rest of the Vanities are awesome too. I would like to request that the Campaign setting products continue to expand in this direction. Give us rules for acquiring prestige with multiple organizations (already possible I think), continue to "fix" rules like Leadership (PP followers), the craft, perform and profession skills (day jobs), and the complexity of gear management and purchasing.

    These things should make their way to the core design, eventually. I could see a general (non-organizational) prestige system replacing a number of problematic aspects of the core rules.

    Campaign Setting Line, you are the dark horse of Pathfinder game design, and you don't get nearly the attention you deserve.


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    Virtual Table-Top GM's Opinion

    4/5

    As a MapTool GM, I've subscribed to Pathfinder Modules primarily for digital assets (maps, art) I can use in my own campaigns. I've read Tomb of the Iron Medusa, but I don't intend to run it as-is. I've broken my review down into sections that I hope will be more informative, but my overall rating is not an average of the section ratings.

    Story 4/5
    Tomb of the Iron Medusa has a compelling story about a noble line cursed by its diabolism. Many elements are reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft. The scene-setting text and dialog are both well written and I will be using them (mostly) without modification, which is quite rare in my experience.

    The module does resort to "cut scenes" near the end, which is ordinarily an automatic demerit. In this case though, they are compelling scenes and well written enough that I would actually use them as-is, but only if the PCs had an active interest in the background of that noble family; for example, if it had been set up earlier in the campaign, or had obvious later consequences.

    As a module for 14th level PCs, it may need more heroic plot hooks — a simple proposition by a merchant prince with a hidden agenda is offered, but 14th level characters are likely to be nonchalant about such errands. Luckily, matters of national importance are simmering beneath the lid, so it shouldn't take a GM much effort to hook the PCs if they've had any exposure to royalty during the campaign.

    Mechanics 3/5
    The actual flow of the adventure feels very much like a video-game level, and that's not entirely a bad thing. Many of the obstacles will require key retrieval, sometimes involving a search for objects from far-flung rooms. This is an alright device to use once in a while, but I worry that my players would become sarcastic about it before the end.

    As a module for 14th level PCs, perhaps there should have been more discussion of how mid-to-high level spells will interact with the adventure design. I understand that page-count limits such discussions, but the module reads like a great lower-level adventure with big numbers, it doesn't quite account for higher level divinations and encounter-bypassing spells. There is no soft timer built into the plot, which I consider a requirement for parties with high level casters; I would need to add one myself.

    Art 3/5
    The interior character art is not mind-blowing (to me), but far from unprofessional. Many of the pieces are re-usable too, which is of value to me as a MapTool GM.

    Spoilered by Request:
    The smug noble headshot, undead noble lady, ghost pirate, and demi-serpent medusa
    illustrations I shall mirthfully place into my Resource Library for later reuse.

    Maps 3/5 (quality 4/5, VTT utility 2/5)
    Jared Blando's style always leaves me with mixed opinions. I love the intricate designs that grace his maps, although I feel the nordic runes he uses are not always a great fit for the subject matter. The maps are clear and accurate, but they are also highly schematic. That may be an asset to some GMs, but I am subscribed to Pathfinder Modules so that I get a constant influx of detailed of full-color maps. As such, I prefer Rob Lazarretti's illustrative map style, although I am positive that I can put these maps to work in a VTT with a little added effort. Evocative elements like the over-turned carriage are a must for my MapTool needs.

    Overall, a good module, I'm very glad to own it. I'll definitely be putting some of the digital assets to work as well.


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    Maptool features as well as a PDF!

    5/5

    This is a quality map that should inspire several potential encounters in any GM — not just dragons but any number of encounters might take place here. It has several clearly marked levels of elevation, and a small illustration in the corner makes it clear how everything is laid out whilst charging the imagination with a vivid image of what it must be like to stand within this sweltering, magma-filled cavern. The scope of the map includes a cliff face, entry passage, magma chamber, and several smaller attached chambers and caverns. There's enough room to support one extremely mobile and dynamic encounter, or several small encounters throughout the map.

    The file contains ready-to-print 1" grid scale map segments, but I didn't use these myself. I skipped straight to the Maptool .cmpgn files to check out the vision topology and lighting features. There's a lot of attention to detail to be found in the lighting, even the magma pools give off light! That is nice and ominous for PCs peering carefully into the magma chamber.

    The cartography is beautiful, consistent as I have come to expect from Jonathan Roberts work. If you've been using his great free Maptool image set, you'll find that this map will work seamlessly alongside it.

    This is a great map for any GM even considering an important encounter in a series of caves with a magma-filled chamber — and really, isn't that all of us? If you are new to Maptool, this is also a first-rate introduction to how to set up top-notch lighting.

    Now I can't see what other products Rite Publishing cooks up for us Maptool users!