Parsantium Adventures – two questions I'd like feedback on


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Hi there,

Now that Icons of Parsantium has been released, I've started work in earnest on adventures for Parsantium: City at the Crossroads.

I want the adventures to be usable by as many gamers as possible, so my plan is to include stats for Pathfinder, D&D 5e and 13th Age. I've been giving this a lot of thought, but would really like your feedback and have a couple of questions for you:

Which products have handled multi-system adventures well and how did they do it?

How do you like to see encounter stats presented in an adventure?

Please do let me know what you think if you get the chance.

Cheers!

Richard


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The sobering reply is: There are none.

This has a reason, which becomes pretty much apparent when you take a look at the finer details of adventure design for a given system. Not only do the capacities of PCs oscillate between systems, so do the assumption of what they'll be capable of and how the very world works.

Whether it's flight or divination, assumptions when abilities become apparent or even structuring elements of the power of classes and their options, different systems have different design requirements.

To give you a more concrete example:

Pathfinder is pretty much about the nit and grit of plentiful and small options, of grid-based tactical movement in combat. 13th Age consciously gets rid of that, making abilities etc. work completely differently. Level-structure is different. Versatility is different. PFRPG sports quadratic casters, 13th Age (and 4th edition) is closer to being linear.

Utility magic and assumptions of availability thereof differ VASTLY. Same goes for healing and for what magic can or can't do.

Then, there would be general design paradigms - PFRPG's small bonus tracking and mechanics-crafting versus 5th Ed.'s simpler and less math-intense go-play aspects that require less detail-tracking.

This does not necessarily look like a big issue; it is once you start actually designing the finer bits of a given module and the issue is continuously exacerbated with each level anyone gains - be it PCs or NPCs.

The collective of these discrepancies accumulates a momentum that makes it very hard to tell a believable story that works within the rules-paradigms of all systems - even 2 can already be a jarring mess. I've recently read quite a bunch of 5th Ed and 13th Age material, for example - and the systems work differently.

So yeah, I'd *strongly* advise against multi-statblock modules for several systems at once. It's is system-inherently impossible for the quality not to drop. Additionally, you'll have, by necessity, have your customers pay for pages of a system that they neither want to use, nor care about.

Earlier AAW Games' modules had dual stats for 3.5 and PFRPG and even in 2 systems so closely related, there were sometimes issues in the narrative cohesion. Now think of how that would work in systems that are further away -even if thematically linked, a 1:1 conversion between Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu requires modification of the module's assumptions, in spite of setting and topic being the same.

Thinking that one can just cram in the mechanical bits and make it work in all systems may seem like a feasible assumption; in practice, it does not survive contact with reality.

I'd strongly advise against multi-stat modules in favor of full-blown conversions - there, I *can* actually point you towards my favorite conversion EVER:

Kobold Press - Courts of the Shadow Fey. Ben McFarland did a superb job in converting it from 4th edition to PFRPG.

Beyond that, there'd be EN Publishing's Zeitgeist AP, which is dual-format for 4th edition and PFRPG. Surely, an AP I rate this high does work, right? Actually, no.

Why? Zeitgeist cheats. I don't mind that it cheats, but what the AP does is that it tailor-made its campaign-world so that it imposes rules-restrictions that make PFRPG operate closer to how 4th edition works. This is the ONLY reason the AP works and does not collapse under the narrative ramifications of the system-differences. It's logically consistent, but since you branded Parsantium as a drop-in city-setting, I do not think you want to alienate customers by going this route and tell them to modify their cosmology and basic rules.

Tl;dr:
There is no such thing as a good multistat module for vastly diverging systems. Go full-blown conversion for your modules and don't make 13th Age players pay for 5th edition content and vice versa.

Just my 2 cents, of course.


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I normally agree with Endzeitgeist's thoughts on products. In this case I'd have to disagree, but with a caveat.

First of all, the caveat. Yup, I've yet to see this done well for Pathfinder/D&D Whatever Edition/Insert Other Traditional Fantasy Game Here. Just doesn't seem to work well for them.

That said, I've seen it done VERY well for some other games. Best example for me is Achtung! Cthulhu by Modiphius Entertainment. WWII meets the Cthulhu Mythos, and in both setting and tone it's about halfway between Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green (WWII instead of the 1920s style of Call, or the modern black ops of Delta Green; and characters are more bad-ass than the investigators in Call, but not as ubercompetent as the Delta Green teams... though they're all just as doomed as each other). The setting is designed to run on either Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds The way it deals with it is by presenting the setting, then providing a chapter for each system on how to run it to suit the system (as well as an additional section for Savage Worlds to cover things that aren't part of the core rules for it. For example, magic is different, Sanity and Mythos knowledge isn't a thing in Savage Worlds, and so on). As well as that, they also provide the separate stat blocks, though they also understand that making someone pay for lots of unnecessary content for a system they won't use is uncool, so where they don't need to provide setting specific information, they'll point you to the appropriate book for whichever system you're using that contains what you're after (so instead of getting stats for the more common Mythos monsters, they point you towards the Malleus Monstrorum for Call of Cthulhu, or Realms of Cthulhu for Savage Worlds).

The reason this works so well for Achtung! Cthulhu is that they understand that the systems are going to play differently. Call of Cthulhu is a straight up horror investigative game, while Savage Worlds tends more towards action packed cinematic games. So while they do modify how each one plays, with Call of Cthulhu characters being a bit less likely to die horribly and a little more gung-ho, and the Savage Worlds characters having to deal with Sanity loss and horror rules, they still provided info on how to play to the strengths of whatever system you chose. Savage Worlds magic rules tend to be a little simpler, though possibly a little harsher because of it, and you're more likely to survive a knock down fight, though it's still risky.

So I'd say it can work, but you really have to understand your systems, and try to only include the really important setting specific stuff. If there's creatures that are common across bestiaries for various systems, don't stat them all again, point people towards the books for their chosen system.


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@Tinkergoth:

Your example absolutely works; I have Achtung, Cthulhu! and Delta Green and I'd argue it only works because they're both a SETTING that caters to two different playstyles:

a) Pulp action with a bit of Cthulhu-painting/theme, as supported by Savage Worlds

and

b) Brutal horror as supported by CoC.

This dual synergy, however, only works because both systems already support the theme.

I own both CoC's "No Man's Land" and the superior German version "Niemandsland und Grabenkrieg", the latter of which sported actually GOOD wartime Chulhu-modules, albeit in WW I; so war + cthulhu already exists - kind of, in CoC.

That being said, as you know, there is a pretty hard divide between CoC-fans regarding what modules should be - pulp vs. investigative/purist. The system does support both concepts and it uses the same-ish magic, just tinkers with the repercussions. And that's what Delta Green and Achtung, Cthulhu! do.

The problem shows up when one writes a module and thinks one can simply exchange mechanics in system A for those of system B and all works out. A simple example for a *minor* issue would be CoC's sanity vs. ToC's sanity and stability-system. A more major one would be the design-aesthetics of failing forward versus hitting a dead-end in a particular investigation.

I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm saying that it does show issues very fast and makes fans pay for content/word-count they'll never use.

I also think that a multi-system approach pretty much works best with settings and source-books, but NOT with adventures; for the latter, I'd pretty much advise in favor of a proper conversion for each system, especially with rules-intense games like PFRPG, 13th Age, et al.

Now granted, I have not yet read the more complex, newer Achtung Cthulhu modules (for the record, I was not impressed AT ALL by the pre-KS-offerings, which, to me, felt like a complete, thematic mess - unlike the books that came out of the KS...), so you may well have pwn'd me there, but I can't really see the duality of systems work well for adventures in the context of Parsantium for the suggested systems.

Cheers!


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I've yet to get my hands on the adventures for Achtung! Cthulhu, pre or post kickstarter. At the moment I'm finishing off my collection of the actual setting books, and running some intro games while figuring out if I want to go pre-written or write my own. I'll definitely be checking them out at some point. Which ones were the pre-kickstarter adventures? Is that just the original versions of Heroes of the Sea and Three Kings? I know both of those have revised editions that are now considered part of the Zero Point campaign that's being released.

Definitely agree though that setting books are a far better place for it in general, and that it works for CoC due to the existing support for at least two very different styles (which extends even to the Mythos novels. Look at Lumley compared to Lovecraft. Titus Crow is almost like the Mythos version of Doctor Who, fighting the minions of Cthulhu and the other Old Ones throughout time and space... compared to the majority of Lovecraft's protagonists, who are driven mad just by confronting the horrors of their reality). Pathfinder/13th Age/etc are definitely very different beasts in this regard, and my lack of familiarity with Parsantium in general makes it hard for me to really get a feel for how it would work. I also misread the initial title and post (gonna blame that one on the lack of sleep) and was thinking we were talking about settings rather than adventures, so chalk that one up to some misunderstanding.


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I've converted and run Pathfinder adventures for D&D 5th edition. In my experience it isn't as difficult as Endzeitgeist says, provided you take the time. What you can't do is try to achieve it within the same book. You would need two separate versions that contain their own stat blocks, DCs and treasure. You need to rebalance the encounters (changing the number and/or CR of opponents) as well as use statblocks that belong to the respective games. Due to the differences in XP advancement this will likely result in removing some of the encounters from the 5th edition version, but in your average adventure that spans more than one level there's generally enough fluff encounters that this isn't a problem. Treasure is the big thing that needs to be altered and scaled back. But I've generally found once you remove the Big Six treasure items your generally left with flavourful items.

It of course is more work. But it can be done IMO.


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13th Age is of course a completely different matter. How that game works is so fundamentally different to Pathfinder that your better off creating brand new adventures done in the 13th Age style than to try to create something that works in all 3 systems.


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I agree that conversion to 5th edition *can* work pretty smoothly; as long as you do not have specific mechanical features required by the plot; in my home-game, I convert adventures from all kinds of systems. Would I publish these conversions professionally? No. Because one can always handwave things behind the screen in one's home-group. The same does not hold true once an adaptation hits the shelves. Difficulty-curve is another factor that may not be an issue at home, but in a commercial module, it can become problematic; it doesn't have to, but it can. Imho, the implicit capabilities of PFRPG vs. 5th editions are just as pronounced as those to 13th Age - they are just more subtle. But that's just my 2 cents. :)

However, the question pertained to multi-stat modules and I maintain that everyone is better off with proper conversions done.


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Rite Publishing has converted Breaking of Forstor Nagar into Pathfinder, 5E, and 13th AGE. It was originally done in Pathfinder, each iteration is a new book. I think the new iterations are only on DriveThruRPG. All of the new iterations have been pretty well received, except for one group who said, "We don't like action movies. Now, let's talk about this action movie."

The Black Monks of Glastonbury was done, in the same book, as an Ars Magica adventure and a d20 OGL adventure.

In fact, Atlas made three of these kinds of adventures in their Coriolis line, for Feng Shui, Unknown Armies, and Ars Magica.

Tyman's Taunting Tower was a bonus download from KQ and in Crusader#17, in PFRPG and Castles & Crusades, respectively. You can get the PFRPG one on DrivethruRPG.

There are also the various Kobold Press conversions of OGL/PFRPG/4E adventures-- Halls of the Mountain King is done in all three systems. There were definitely encounters we needed to seriously revise between OGL and 4E, but in almost every instance, I was limited to reusing the same cartography, which meant encounters could not be fundamentally too different. The same held true for Courts of the Shadow Fey. These are not in the same book, but it could have been done-- it would have meant a much longer production window, and a much larger final text, which would have translated to a higher cost for the consumer.

-Ben.


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Hi all,

Thanks very much for all your comments! Plenty of food for thought here...

My original thinking was to include the encounter information in edition-specific appendices – a bit like Murder in Baldur's Gate and Legacy of the Crystal Shard but with all the information needed to run the encounter together, including how to vary it by PC level. But that doesn't allow for differences in treasure and skill/ability DCs per system and I wasn't sure how best to handle those, hence this thread.

I'm 2/3 through the Pathfinder version of the first adventure and have been wondering how to make various details work in the different systems. I'm basically running into exactly the issues Thilo pointed out in his first post!

@Tinkergoth – one of my players mentioned Achtung! Cthulhu's adventures in a comment on my blog post on the same subject on parsantium.com. I need to have a proper look at one.

@Ben – I remember those Atlas adventures and I have to say the dual-systems put me off buying them, even though I bought most of their Penumbra stuff. Point well made ;) I definitely need to check out Breaking of Forstor Nagar too as someone else mentioned that one to me recently.

I'm very familiar with the Kobold Press adventures – I did some stats for the 4e Halls of the Mountain King and have run many of them – and it was very interesting to compare and contrast the 3.5 and 4e versions of each. I'm not sure Pathfinder and 5e are as dissimilar, but 13th Age is a different beast entirely and I wouldn't want to shortchange those gamers. Having said that the maps and art will need to be the same across all three versions to get them to stack up financially.

Overall, some pretty strong and very useful feedback that doing separate versions of each adventure is the way to go.

Any other thoughts or suggestions gratefully received!

Cheers

Richard


I suggest talking with the Frog God Games folks. Some of their biggest projects are available as both Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry versions, such as the Tome of Horrors. The reason you might be interested is that they also released some products for 5th Edition, and Necromancer Games (its spiritual predecessor) became known for using 3rd Edition rules for old-school feel, and plan on doing the same for 5th Edition. One of their introductory adventures, the Wizard's Amulet, has been released for both 3rd and 5th Edition.

So when it comes to experience with multiple Editions/retroclones and publishing them, Frog God folks are one of the most experienced in the biz.

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