Losing My Edge


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kyrt-ryder wrote:

Are they having fun outmaneuvering the opposition you present?

There very well should be times when they have to struggle, but there's no need to work hard to present a challenge all the time.

I suppose my question to you would be- why are you not having fun? Are you in the GM seat to try to bring your players to the brink of death and create drama, or to RP the world around your players however that may pan out?

Trying too hard to make the game hard seems stressful in my book. These are heroes, they have their struggles now and then but it's understandable if they have it easy when they get the opportunity to plan out their attack in advance.

EDIT: Disclaimer- there's nothing wrong with making creating drama and putting your PCs in a pinch your objective, it just seems difficult and stressful to me.

I wasn't trying to make it hard, at least I don't think I was. I was trying to make it dramatic and exciting, much like the games we used to play back in the day. They're having fun, or at least they tell me so, which is great. But when the dice come out for swords and stuff there's no drama or even much action. Which I personally feel bad about because I've poured myself into creating an encounter that I hope will be exciting.


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I find that an excellent way of shaking things up is to either:

1) have have them encounter something they are completely unfamiliar with, and which they would simply not expect given the setting and circumstances. This means they have little or no time to prepare and they can't do things "the same old way", and they are unlikely to have spells and equipment ideally suited to the encounter. They will then have to improvise and think out of the box.

2) have them encounter something which, on the face of things, shouldn't be a challenge at all, but which uses all manner of underhanded and sneaky tactics, traps and skulduggery to place them at horrific disadvantages. Classic example is a mid-to-high level party trying to make it through a set of kobold warrens. I don't care how powerful you are. When you are faced with hundreds of hidden foes, each armed with a shortbow and with oodles of nasty traps between themselves and you, you're going to be in serious trouble. Action deficit is a thing. No matter how tough they are, they each have a fixed number of actions they can take each turn, including attacks. Coming up against something that simply has a LOT more actions than them, combined, is goign to lead to difficulties and will force them to think outside the box as well.

3) Have them come up against something significantly harder than them and use tactics appropriate to the encounter. Another classic example: a dragon. Almost every GM out there has the damn thing land and try to clobber its enemies into submission. Dragons -fly-. Have it stay aloft where it is out of reach and let it use breath weapons and magic to roast them. Again, it forces them to think out of the box.

4) If all else fails, and they are still not challenged. Combine all previous three situations. Let them run into a raiding party of frost giants in a hot climate where they have been misplaced by a powerful mage's spell a month or so ago. They're really cranky because of the constant heat and not in the mood to talk. They've subjugated a tribe of two hundred and thirty nine goblins who provide the huge creatures with food, water and someone to fan them when the heat becomes too much. The goblins have set traps and are all armed with slings, bows or darts. The giants have the high ground, the worst mood and a few magic items to help protect them against magic.

Okay, that's a very theoretic example, but I'm sure you get the meaning ...


Other ways to shake things up is to test alternate rules. It puts speed bumps up for system masters and optimisers. You just say ok we are going to test wound thresholds (or what ever interests you) next session have a read of the rules before the game.

The benefit is your and your players may find new things that make your game fun.


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Alkie hit on a good point: deny them full attacks. At 9th level a PC can easily be getting off 3 attacks in a round and quite possibly as many as 6-7. That's a ridiculous amount of damage. Couple that with quickened spells, improved familiars using wands and other shenanigans and this party can really unleash heck when they are using all their actions.

Find ways to remove some of those and make them burn Move actions. Dirty Trick maneuvers, giving attacks Burn, Dazing spells etc are all good candidates and I'm certain there's a truckload more. A monk that can't flurry, a fighter only making single attacks while moving, a witch or warpriest only having the ability to fire off a single spell; these all hearken back to when the PCs were lower level and had to make the most out of their ONE action, thus helping to add the drama.


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Fair warning, I've only really skimmed the thread since it's late and I'm really just waiting for my meds to kick in so I can actually sleep. Also, prepare for incoming wall of text as this is something I've been thinking about for a while.

Given what I've read of your posts here on the board Cal (feel free to tell me to not be so familiar if need be :P), I think it's fair to say you're pretty heavily invested into Pathfinder as a system. That's not a bad thing, hell for a while I was as well, and wouldn't play anything else. But unfortunately it means my own experiences with losing my edge in the last year or so aren't going to be hugely helpful to you... that said, I thought I'd share anyway just in case.

So I've been playing for a much shorter period of time than many posters here... 8th Dwarf I'm looking in your direction here. For the majority of that time, it's been 3.5, and for the last 4 to 5 years, Pathfinder, with forays into World of Darkness, Fate, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu, and some really off the reservation games (Kult is a personal favourite of mine). But in the last year or so, I've really started to feel burnt out on traditional fantasy games, and it took me a long time to realise why. It's not the system, though the amount of book keeping does get to me at times (Hero Lab has mitigated that though), and it's not the setting itself... it's the dissonance between what my friends and I are looking for in games when it comes to Pathfinder. And yes, this is specifically a Pathfinder problem, I play in other games with people from these groups with no issues whatsoever.

See what I'm looking for is a traditional fantasy game where we're heroes doing what we do, but with plenty of good RP and character development. Not super serious, but I'd prefer humour make sense in context of the game or, if slapstick does occur, at least not dominate the game. It's how I run games, and it's how I play in them. Realistic (for a world where realism involves throwing fireballs and lightning) and dramatic moments etc. What the rest of my group ended up looking for turned out to be heavy slapstick and zany antics, with NPCs renamed to have pun names, and the cheesiest builds they can think of. Which means when I'm running games, they just seem to get frustrated because I tend to not allow things like keeping a flying cannon in a bag of holding for use as your primary weapon, and stick pretty close to the rules except when rule of cool really does just demand that something work when it shouldn't. I however get frustrated as a player in the other game when I show up and find out that while I thought it was going to be run as a pretty standard Pathfinder game, I'm running a bard with a heavily tragic past in a party consisting of a siege wizard riding flying cannon, a druid with a flying wolf who is apparently now a minor deity due to the belief of a single person, an android wizard who insist on just teleporting their way through entire adventures and an undine gunslinger whose entire character backstory appears to be "b@**~ who likes to shoot people in the face and take their jewellery". So I'm outclassed and generally not even much use as support. Please note that I'm not saying that their way of playing is wrong, or mine is better... just that they aren't overly compatible. I've suspended my game, and I'm really just riding out the other game because we're pretty close to the end anyway...

Anyway, the end result of this was that my own games started to lose quality, because I knew my players weren't interested, so I stopped caring. My sessions either became a cakewalk, or I'd TPK the party, because I just couldn't be bothered balancing it to their power levels anymore.

The answer for me seemed to be moving away from Pathfinder. So I started seriously looking at other systems. Polled a few people about what they might be interested in playing. Got involved in a World of Darkness game again as a player (and it's amazing and everything I wanted). Played a few sessions of some random games, like The Laundry, Ashen Stars and The Esoterrorists, just to see what held my interest.

I ended up settling on Savage Worlds. Got a group together, and organised to play one of the campaigns that Pinnacle Entertainment (the company that owns the system) published that I backed on Kickstarter, East Texas University. So for a couple of months now my players have been investigating the bizarre paranormal activity at East Texas University, and we've all been having a blast. I've even managed to get one of the guys who hasn't ever really had a good time playing RPGs to give it a go, and he's loving it. The best part of it is that we all seemed to be on the same page about what sort of game it was going to be. A solid investigative game, with moments of creepy horror and fast paced action, but also just enough humour and slice of life university stuff to stop it from getting too heavy. The other thing I like is that there are built in break points (when the characters have exams) where I can say "Okay, let's take a break for a couple of weeks, and we'll play some other games", with the idea being that the PCs are getting together during their holidays and playing other games together. Gives me an excuse to run some of my really rules light indie games that I've had sitting on the shelf for years without playing. And when this campaign is over, I can just grab a different setting book and plot point campaign guide (or write my own) and run a completely different genre of game with the same basic core rules (I'm looking at Interface Zero, a cyberpunk setting for the next one).

Again, sorry for the wall of text. I guess if there was a point to any of it, it'd probably be "try getting out of your comfort zone just a little bit, see if a change in style helps you". Not drop Pathfinder, as I said I know it's your main system, but look at what the others are suggesting and try adding some alternate rules. Take a look at Unchained and see if there's anything in there you think might help. Anyway, I hope you at least found my ramblings interesting, if not useful. Best of luck with finding your groove again.


Tinkergoth wrote:
Given what I've read of your posts here on the board Cal (feel free to tell me to not be so familiar if need be :P), I think it's fair

We are really heavily invested in PF. My group has decided that this is the last game system they'll every purchase because of spending so much on so many over the last 30 years, so I'm kinda stuck with it. I've suggested taking time off and playing an older edition or maybe one of the games we played long ago (TORG or DC Heroes) but they're just not interested. The only thing we play that is NOT PF is a strange Vampire/Cthulhu d20 mashup run by one of my players, playing in which I have an absolute blast, but he'll only run it 2 or 3 times a year.

So, for my group it's pretty much PF and that's it. I'd like to try Numenera or Savage Worlds, but I don't see those things happening.


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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

The players essentially assassinated the BBEG -- they murdered him (by your account) instead of bringing him to justice before the town council.

Wouldn't the town council want to pass judgement and carry out punishment?

Twist: the BBEG knew the players were coming after him, but he needs time to prepare before confronting them... so he hatches a plan: it was a setup all along by the BBEG to cast the players in a bad light. A previously unknown (or known) minion (perhaps another member of the council) presents fake evidence countering the players and casting doubt on their side of the story... now everyone thinks the BBEG is dead, conveniently so. Meanwhile, the BBEG is very much alive and has made good his escape because the players only killed his doppleganger (how else could it have been so easy). Now the BBEG is ready to destroy the players at a time of HIS choosing.

I could twist this 3 of 4 more ways without too much trouble.


G'day TG thanks for the shout out.

I have been playing since the mid 80's lots of systems, I am one of those people that abandoned 2E because it was the game of choice for "Munchkins and Cheese Lords" in the Town I lived in. Being a high school student and not having an income other than lawn mowing money and all the players in my 3-4 RPG groups all in similar positions, we became the systems guys I was the go to guy for all things Rolemaster, another friend was GURPS, another was Palladium, another was Shadowrun and so on. It meant DMing was shared we all got a break. We also knew what to get people for birthdays. The nearest shop with a few D&D books on the shelf was an hour away. The nearest game store was three hours away. We bought our stuff by mail order and shared the shipping. So I am tighter than a frogs arse when it comes to spending money on RPGs.

What I do now is scout around for beta Tests, one offs, freebies, free systems and Free intro/quick start games. And occasionally talk my group into testing stuff out. I have recently run the Alpha test for Rolemaster Unified, at no cost all I had to do was sign up to the ICE forums. Also the Bargain Bin in RPG stores is a good place to pick up cheep stuff...I am goIng to haggle over a $20 4e Gamma World Box I saw the other day if it's still there, see if I can get it for $15.

If you take a look around http://paizo.com/store/downloads/free I found a few Betas and quick starts. In the sale section you can get the D20 Bab5 2e Hardcover for $15. It's an easier search for free stuff on drive through RPG, because you can target companies, and search Quick Starts.

I am also in a situation where I am on extended medical leave, my medication makes me lethargic, nauseous, and fuzzy brained. I have player I trust to help me out if I start to forget or trail off to remind me to stay on course. Mostly I play now not as exhausting as running a game.

Have you thought about bringing in new players. We have an interview technique that is typically Australian. We organised a meet up of Paizonians at a pub, shared stories drank beer and decided who would fit our group best, then we asked them if they were interested in joining our group. We have one player with some social anxiety about new people, so those we chose had a second "interview" at another pub a few weeks later with the rest of our group, then a third pub meeting to decide what we were going to play and 5 years later we still have both of the people we picked and they are now good friends.


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The 8th Dwarf wrote:

G'day TG thanks for the shout out.

What I do now is scout around for beta Tests, one offs, freebies, free systems and Free intro/quick start games. And occasionally talk my group into testing stuff out. I have recently run the Alpha test for Rolemaster Unified, at no cost all I had to do was sign up to the ICE forums. Also the Bargain Bin in RPG stores is a good place to pick up cheep stuff...I am goIng to haggle over a $20 4e Gamma World Box I saw the other day if it's still there, see if I can get it for $15.

This is one of the reasons I say all old GMs should go to a con. Any con. Hopefully there's one nearby. I used to have this really cool one, y'know, GenCon? I lived in Chicago and the con used to be in Milwaukee so it was quick drive and I was there. Then it went mainstream, moved to Indiana which wasn't all THAT far away but it just wasn't the same con. But then I moved too, up to Minnesota so I was plain out of luck.

A few years ago up here I found Con of the North. They've been around for years but it isn't mainstream like other cons I've attended. Its old skool; guys selling things out of milk crates; more gaming than deal-making; people playing with actual pen and paper, not tablets and iPads. I freaking LOVE it!

So another bit of advice I give to all burnt out GMs is get to a con if you can. I know Cal that this isn't convenient for you but maybe it's like a therapeutic retreat. Just to smell old books and bad BO, sit among your people without judgment or posturing and jump into games from every country, era and genre is a gift all GMs need to give themselves once in a while.


Heh..I did get to go to GenCon 12 years ago; my group paid my way for me to go as my 40th birthday surprise. It was fun and I wish I could go again.


Mark's got a great idea there. I went to C4 (Canadian Central Comic Convention) two years ago and had a blast. Sure, it's not well known, but I ended up having a blast. At the play tables, I ended up conversing with three employees of various comic/game/hobby stores, and they gave me coupons and advice about RPGs and board games that really broadened my horizons.

I would recommend going to a Con because that's where the experts are. Game stores often have booths, and may let you playtest systems during the Con, or can tell you when they will be tested in store. Now I realize that this is far more helpful if the Con is in your city, but you can still ask around. Someone is guaranteed to know a game system or two that could peak your interest.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

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My "go to" mid-campaign break for the DM and players is to bust out the 3.5 Stronghold Builder's Guidebook and let the PCs build their own individual bases of operations.

...and then you join up with the other players and try to wreck them with a band of NPC adventurers when the characters are out. Total cathartic death stomping.

Rules Guidelines:

Spoiler:

Attacking the Strongholds

Once the Strongholds are completed, each player will take turns to defend their stronghold as GM against the other players.

The idea is to have several fast, one-shot adventures to showcase the style of the strongholds built.

Challenge Rating

The defending player chooses the challenge rating of the dungeon. This will be the level of the other players' characters that will be raiding his stronghold.

Characters

After the stronghold is given a challenge rating, the other players will develop a party of characters based thematically on one of the defending player’s enemies / loose ends. The type of party will be kept secret until the game is ready to be played.

These characters will have PC wealth per level and 10% of this will be in cash.

*DM creates a list of potential enemies (in order of appearance)*

Treasure

A challenge rating appropriate the defending player will put up treasure, going by the total treasure by encounter tables. Portable equipment for minions counts as half towards the required treasure.

Stronghold Effectiveness

Do not worry if the strongholds are too effective. Unfurl every last devious method to defend your treasure. You don't have to be fair. But make it realistic – hidden pit traps and contact poison are just as likely to kill off (relatively) innocent minions as they are intruders.

Creature Features

Cost for keep minions / creatures are as follows, assume 1 year of costs before the raid takes place.

Staff

Typical staff types can be found in the DMG (Table 4-1, pg 105) or the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook (Table 2-11 pg 42).

The hiring prices for these should be taken from the SHBG.

Mercenaries

Mercenaries employed are hired on the following scale:

CR Cost / Month
1/3 (e.g. Goblin warriors) 6 gp
1/2 9 gp
1 (e.g. War 2 or Wiz 1) 18 gp
2 36 gp
3 72 gp
4 144 gp
5 288 gp
CR 9 x 2^(CR) gp

Monsters

Animal intelligence monsters can be purchased to defend the lairs. The following costs include training (your choice of tricks)

CR Purchase Cost Upkeep Cost / Month
1/3 25 gp (e.g. Small dog) 1.5 gp
½ 100 gp (e.g. War pony) 1.5 gp
1 150 gp (e.g. Riding Dog) 1.5 gp
2 400 gp (e.g. Warhorse) 1.5 gp
3 800 gp 3 gp
4 1600 gp 6 gp
5 3200 gp 12 gp
CR 100 x 2^(CR) 3 x 2^(CR-2)
Monster Manual List price overrides this guide
Flight x 5 x 2

Intelligent (>6) monsters use the Mercenaries list.

Equipment

All equipment purchases are the responsibility of the defender's PC.


DungeonmasterCal wrote:

We are really heavily invested in PF. My group has decided that this is the last game system they'll every purchase because of spending so much on so many over the last 30 years, so I'm kinda stuck with it. I've suggested taking time off and playing an older edition or maybe one of the games we played long ago (TORG or DC Heroes) but they're just not interested. The only thing we play that is NOT PF is a strange Vampire/Cthulhu d20 mashup run by one of my players, playing in which I have an absolute blast, but he'll only run it 2 or 3 times a year.

So, for my group it's pretty much PF and that's it. I'd like to try Numenera or Savage Worlds, but I don't see those things happening.

It's a shame that you can't get them to at least try something else, though with Numenara, I personally feel you're not really missing much. The Strange setting interests me far more, though the system still falls flat for me. Something about it just doesn't grab me.

The 8th Dwarf wrote:
G'day TG thanks for the shout out.

Heh, first time I can recall someone thanking me for a sly comment about how much older they are than me, but anytime mate :P

Gotta second your ideas about scouring for betas and freebies though, as well as deals in second hand stores. Money's a lot tighter for me at the moment than it has been in the past, hence my cancelling all of my Pathfinder subscriptions and so on, so I've been looking for cheaper ways to get my stuff too. It's part of why I settled on Savage Worlds as my new primary game, the core rulebook is only $12 new here, and I can get PDFs of most settings and campaign books pretty cheap.


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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
He never got a chance to cast a spell or use an SLA. All characters, the BBEG included, were 9th level. After a 5 hour session and weeks of planning, this was how the story arc ended. I hated it.

The problem is simple, you have a 9th level party and you gave them an CR 8 encounter (9th level NPC). That fight is considered "easy", so it's not surprising that's exactly what happened.

Designing Encounters

Your BBG fights should have a CR of APL + 2 or even APL +4 (depending on your group's optimization).

Also...
1) Don't allow options if you find they're extremely unbalancing. 3rd party supplements tend to be unbalancing.
2) The PCs can't just run around beating up whoever they like, there are repercussions. They can be attacked/ambushed too.
3) Maybe less magic items or wealth is a good idea, but it's probably too late.
4) This is a home game, if you don't like a rule, change it.

I've never had a problem challenging my party or characters, if anything I have a hard time not killing them (RAW without home rules). It shouldn't be hard to challenge characters in Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is a great system. I recommend being a player in organized play for a different point of view and new experiences.


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This lists some of the free stuff out there Linky


DungeonmasterCal wrote:
Well, like I'd said earlier, there were several factors involved, from burnout to chronic pain. I used to be a lot more on the ball than I am now, and even the obvious sometimes escapes me. I've been working on something really big for my campaign lately and I really hope to be more on target than I have in a long time.

As someone who has also been a gamer/GM dealing with chronic pain, personally I would suggest taking it slow for a while and focusing on finding ways to eliminate the pain. I don't know what you're dealing with, but if you can get things under control I bet you'll be able to focus on the game more and find things more enjoyable.

Just make sure that you have the right doctors! I suffered for a long time because the first ones that I went to gave me a completely wrong diagnosis.


Matrix Dragon wrote:

As someone who has also been a gamer/GM dealing with chronic pain, personally I would suggest taking it slow for a while and focusing on finding ways to eliminate the pain. I don't know what you're dealing with, but if you can get things under control I bet you'll be able to focus on the game more and find things more enjoyable.

Just make sure that you have the right doctors! I suffered for a long time because the first ones that I went to gave me a completely wrong diagnosis.

I've been to several and the consensus is about the same everywhere I go. One of them wants me to have surgery that "might" eliminate the pain, but I'm not sure I want to be laid up for 6 weeks with a "might"...lol


DungeonmasterCal wrote:

I've been to several and the consensus is about the same everywhere I go. One of them wants me to have surgery that "might" eliminate the pain, but I'm not sure I want to be laid up for 6 weeks with a "might"...lol

Can't fault you on that one... If it was a little more confident, then maybe, but "might" sounds like someone hedging their bets.


The 8th Dwarf wrote:
This lists some of the free stuff out there Linky

Well, that's a treasure trove and a half. Consider it bookmarked!

Also worth mentioning for idea mining if nothing else, is that Eclipse Phase was released under a Creative Commons license (I believe that's the correct term), and PDFs of pretty much all of the books are made freely available here. I plan on purchasing the books as soon as I can, but given how tight money is right now I have to say it's really nice to find something like that being done. Additional resources for Eclipse Phase can also be found here

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