Letter to isdestroyer


Advice


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Sorry, been busy. Thank you for your question. It touches on a subject about which I have some passion, as you will see. As it is not specific to firearms, I've separated it here.

All I do is the opposite of whatever is the popular consensus or common behavior. In this case, that expresses as using less rules rather than more. If I run true Dungeons and Dragons, I run Pathfinder Core Rules only. And I mean it. The Core Rulebook and its errata only. I.e., only what's under the Core Rulebook menu-tab of this page: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/

If I run a modern game, I cut rules out, rather than add them in. Cut out all the magical classes and magic items. Most operators are primarily of the Fighter class, with Rogue or Ranger dips (minus the Ranger supernatural stuff). Most self-taught street fighters can be covered by Barbarian or Rogue. Monk can give your game a bit of exotic flare. You could say I've added guns, but the whole point of this thread is that I'm actually not adding guns in any rules sense. I'm using ("reskinning," if you will) the rules that players already know and play smoothly, which cover guns perfectly well. Composite bows. Feats like Rapid Shot to account for automatic fire. Area of effect traps like "Storm of Arrows" to cover suppressive fire. Why add a mechanism like a Will save against suppression when you don't have to? Imagine what it would be like to get shot at, and then have your mooks act appropriately. Cover is already in the game. There's already mods for the Prone condition and High Ground.

In short, the content of the CRB is extremely good. It's as close to a perfect refinement of the third edition DnD system as you're going to get. When you add expansions to it, like any other system it becomes ungainly (3ed is already crunch heavy. It doesn't need more math.) and unbalanced (My Rogue/Monk/Paladin core rules build is already doing over a hundred DpR at level 14. We don't need Pun-Pun ).

"But you're limiting creativity!" No, I'm requiring creativity. If a player says "I want to be able to fly," instead of just adding a rule that lets him fly, I say, "Okay, here's the rules. Here's the different forms of flight that the game offers. Come up with a way to get there. Go on a quest. Build me a character who dreams of flying and searches the world for a way to accomplish that."

"And what about the DM? If you cut out half the game--or 90% of the game, if we count all the splat--how does the DM keep it fun? If all of your players in a modern setting are just playing flavors of Fighter, what's the point?"

The point is Content. And by Content I don't mean more rules, and a million prestige classes and advanced classes that all subtly rehash the concept of a martial warrior. I mean DM's Content. Creativity. Story. Texture. Heck, you could give me a team of four Fighters with basically identical builds, representing four operators in a modern setting. That's fine. I'll differentiate them just by skill points. I'll have one do Survival, one do Heal, one take a driving/vehicles skill, and one take a JTAC skill. Just with that little differentiation, I've given each one a unique role in the party--if I do my part.

If. I. Do. My. Part. Like knowing what a JTAC is. If you have a character whose job is to call in close air support, do you have the player Roll To Call In Close Air Support, or do you go download an old copy of JFIRE, and a DD-1792, and offer him a chance to come up with a legit air strike? Do you challenge him to get the radio comms right for a rotary-wing 5-line while you roll withering machinegun attacks against the party's dwindling cover and HP reserves?

Do you have your party Roll To Sail Ship, or do you challenge the party sailing expert to come up with a tactical plan to stay upwind of the enemy, maneuver for the stern approach, steal their air, and strike from the position of maximum advantage?

This relates to a basic principle of skill challenges: the roll tells you how well it's done, but the player has to tell you what he did. "Oh, God, he's been shot! There's so much blood! He's in negative HP and dying! What do you do?!" "I roll Heal to stabilize!" "That's a pretty good roll. You did something well; I hope to God it was the right thing. So, what did you do?"

Your players won't always have these answers. The average gamer hasn't been through a TCCC course. He doesn't know what a C-A-T is, or a JFAK, nor how to use one. This is your chance to teach, or to learn together. Reward players for bringing new knowledge to the table. Reward them for contributing texture, rather than just die rolls. And whatever the players contribute in that vein must be overmatched tenfold by the DM. Running an adventure with sailing? Read the entire Horatio Hornblower series, do some online research, and take a weekend sailing lesson. This is you doing your part.

Tabletop games, like videogames, are about bringing players experiences they've not had before. The more you know, the more experiences you've had, the more you have to offer in place of just rules.

"Well, I've never been sailing, but I have my imagination." It's not the same. High fantasy without real knowledge leads to thinness. A flood of flash and spectacle upon which the players feel they're riding as in barrels down a river. Real knowledge, experience, and research makes your world feel heavy and rich, and it makes the players' actions feel like they're biting into that soil, like they're tilling up the earth of your creation. When they walk into a shop and you tell them there's a spider-person weaving clothing of golden thread, that's a nice image, very fantastical. When you can describe a warp-weighted loom, and the two old women passing the shuttle back and forth through the warp yarns, and the sounds and smells of it, your research shows. Your world feels instantly heavier and richer, more real, and more present. And this is all the moreso for your characters' actions. When your player rolls to build a snare, and you describe him selecting sticks, whittling and drilling them, harvesting and preparing cordage, and at last carefully assembling an Ojibwa bird snare, he feels the weight of his character's skill, the richness of it. He can do a google search to see the thing he made. It feels real. And it feels eminently more badass than "a snare." And who knows: he might end up on a wikiwalk learning all about other kinds of snares. Next time, he might be the one telling you about how he makes a figure-four deadfall, but with this one modification to make it better for trapping fantasy-gerbils or what have you. You can't buy that kind of player investment. You have to inspire it.

***

None of this is to say I don't like crunch. The above principle makes a game like 5th Edition DnD bearable. Tolerable. But I can't really enjoy a game like that because the crunch side of it doesn't give me enough to do. Pathfinder, by contrast, is rich with opportunities for the min-maxer, the munchkin, the Gamer.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, restricting the rule-set promotes crunchy play rather than stifles it. When the game is open to all manner of add-ons, then, as I said initially, players will tend to solve capability problems by importing capabilities. They want to hit harder? They'll take the Hits Harder Advanced Supplementary Alternate Prestige Class.

What I've witnessed in my CR-only game is that players have taken the core rules to staggering heights. Because the game system is limited to one book, they've been able over the years to learn it thoroughly. No one has to stop and look up the nitty gritty of combat rules, like what provokes AoOs or whether a particular effect stacks. They play quickly.

Furthermore, they play well. They have developed sophisticated, efficient TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) for various types of encounters, they can shift from one tactic to another smoothly, they're experts at managing delays and ready actions to create group combos... They play as a well-oiled unit, slickly slicing up enemy formations and delivering massive amounts of math damage on target.

"Math damage" is what we call the ridonkulous numbers that result from smart, skillful crunch play, when the wizard dimension-door-drops the party on top of the enemy, the monk/paladin smite-Greater-Grapples it into the pinned condition, the attack specialists each deliver a full attack worth 150 HP, and then the Cleric touches it with Destruction to finish it off. Another example: we recently did a calculation and determined that our party wizard is capable of delivering something like 41 melee attacks per round. And not light hits, either. He's a Conjuration-spec wizard with Augment Summons. If he max-rolls for 3 Greater Fire Elementals, they're each swinging at +21, 2d6+9+Burn per attack. 6 of those per round would be powerful enough, but add Haste. He summons as a full round action, so the elementals arrive and act just before his turn in the next round. He uses a free action to tell them to delay, so he can cast Haste on them and the rest of the party. Then they attack, so that's potentially 9 attacks, now at +22. Then look at the fact that they have Combat Reflexes. And a DEX of 27. And a 15' reach around a 15' space. Picture the charging orc horde, and these three elementals summoned in their midst. Every NPC that departs a threatened square on a move action without beating an Acrobatics DC of 41 triggers an AoO.

In 5th Edition, there's a spell called Blade Barrier. How extraneous. My wizard-playing friend invented it, only bigger, meaner, mobile, sentient, and on fire. Just by reading the stat block on his summons. "Combat Reflexes... wait, what's his Dex? And his threatened area is what? Holy cow..." That kind of thing warms my heart.

***

So, yes, we have more fun with the crunch, because people actually play the game, rather than write their way around the game. And we have more fun with the fluff, because I make sure to bring good fluff to the table, and encourage the players to do the same. They don't feel constrained by the rules because the game world and story are constantly expanding their horizons.

So you're starting a game, and you're tempted to use Pathfinder? I encourage this. And I strongly recommend you do what I do. Start with (and, if I may be so bold, stick with) just the Core Rulebook, and if they're new players, start at level 1. Starting at level 1 further reduces the amount of rules anyone has to learn.

It means you'll have to pull back on some common player assumptions. Level 1 PCs are not heroes. They're slightly above-average locals, usually youngsters. They may have the potential some day to become heroes, if the stars align and they believe in themselves, but it starts with fending off just a few goblins, or getting themselves and the caravan out of a bad snow storm alive. This is how you introduce new players to the game or ease into a crunchy system like PF. Start small. Keep the camera low and close. Make the challenge very confined, in terms of rules and difficulty, and bring it to life with texture, additional victory criteria, choices, gambles, personalization of story.

Have you ever been out in a bad snow storm? Have you ever just been out in the woods, in the dark, when it's really cold? Have you felt your body shivering to stave off hypothermia, felt air so cold it bites all the way down into your chest with every breath? Have you heard the kind of silence of the woods in the dark of night when it's that cold? When your toes go rubbery inside your boots, and rubbing them together creates a dull squeak that cuts through the silence? Have you heard the snap of limbs breaking under the weight of ice in the dark? Can you make your players feel each point of health as you tick it off while they roll and reroll and reroll to get that fire going? If not, maybe go find some woods this weekend and just park your car and roll down the windows and sit for an hour or two. You never know what you might learn that you can bring back to the table. The things that happen to PCs in DnD are really scary. Consider doing something that really scares you, just so you can describe to your players what it feels like to be really scared--not in language you gleaned from your favorite novels, but in your own words, gleaned from your own experience.

***

You asked about house rules. I can think of a couple, off the top of my head, in an eight-year-long core-rules-only Pathfinder game:

My Conjuration-specialist wizard is a Contract Summoner, which means for each type of sentient summons, one individual of that type is his contracted agent. For instance, the first Hound Archon he ever summoned was a particular Hound named Lumiel. If he ever summons groups of Hound Archons, he gets Lumiel plus however many others. Crunch-wise, the only difference is that he can give gear to Lumiel, and it remains persistent. Lumiel reappears with that gear each time he is summoned. Fluff-wise, though, it's fantastic. He often summons Lumiel during down-time, for advice on battling evil when he doesn't have the party paladin on hand, and for martial advice when the party fighters aren't around. They are fast friends. And after years of that relationship, Lumiel taking hits in combat really matters. Was this really an added rule? You could say so, but we didn't really add any new mechanisms to the game. Just named some of his summons and let him put equipment on their sheets.

My half-elf Ranger is half-human elf rather than half-elvish human. We shifted his racial traits a little more toward elf than human, because he was raised among his mother's people. Again, crunch effects largely negligible. One fewer skills, in exchange for he meditates rather than sleeps, generally. On balance, I suspect he gave up more than he gained. But it served a fluff purpose, and we wrote no new rules for it. Just swapped some racial features already extant in the core rules.

And we have custom items. I gave each of the plank-owning characters (i.e., those characters who were present in the first session and remained with the game consistently thereafter) unique artifacts somewhere in the level 10-15 range (so, after about 4 years of play). But their effects are system-native.

The fighter got a glass eye which auto-confirms critical hits on some weapons in the same manner as Bless Weapon, and grants him permanent dark vision and rounds per day of True Sight equal to his HD.

The Ranger got a new version of his halberd which gives a +4 to tracking checks, but also requires the DM to apply a DC to any tracking task. So the DM can say that following tracks on the rocky bed of a flowing stream is stupendously hard--say, a DC of 55--but he can't just say it's by fiat impossible. And with a good roll, that Ranger at level 17 can hit a Survival check of 55. Its final power is that it even allows him to follow tracks that lead into other Planes. So if someone he's tracking uses a Planar Travel effect, he can, with a sufficiently high Survival roll, follow them into that other Plane. (Note, the weapon does not provide him with a way to get home from that other Plane.)

The Wizard received a Mirror of Life Trapping. It is bog-standard as per the Wondrous Item of the same name, except he discovered that there was already someone trapped in it: a beautiful, mysterious (and naked, because rules is rules) woman whom he has determined (over the couple of years since) to be a profoundly powerful witch, who apparently became trapped in her own mirror. She teaches him magical secrets and provides guidance and knowledge to which he would not otherwise have access. Forbidden arts and such. To a properly played Wizard, knowledge is worth far more than a staff of blastin' stuff.

Oh, and one may use STR or DEX, whichever is higher, for ranged attacks within one range increment.

And that's really it. Three house rules and some items, none of which are particularly game-altering. We play things straight. Nobody has plot armor. Nobody has plot-powers. Including NPCs. It's by the book, RAW (rules as written), core-only.

***

Just remember that the game is meant to abstract real world concepts, not recreate them or model them faithfully. This expresses in two ways:

First, Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension Pathfinder, are intended to model not a realistic event, but a heightened retelling of an event. Not your high school history text, but The Illiad or Beowulf. Not Black Hawk Down, but something more like John Wick or Die Hard, where certain characters survive countless life-threatening encounters by the grace of being The Protagonist, The Hero. When trying to decide where to apply realism, keep the concept of the Epic (in the classical sense) in the back of your mind. Your story is playing out in the present tense, but it is the events as they would have been recorded by Homer.

Second, as you apply the rules, and you're deciding how to handle a particular situation, remember that the game system is meant to make the mathematical modeling simpler, rather than more complex. Less granular, rather than more granular. This is especially true of d20 systems like Dungeons and Dragons. Pages and pages of Shadowrun nitty gritty are rolled up into the elegant Attack Roll vs Armor Class of 3rd Edition. Don't undo all that work. Whether you're adjudicating automatic gunfire or negotiations with a dragon, first think about whether you need a crunch rule at all. Is there in fact something that needs to be adjudicated in that sense, or is this just a storytelling/roleplay event? If dice absolutely must be rolled, think about how simple you can make it. Let the players come up with the plan, and only roll dice as necessary to see how well they execute the critically risky steps of their plan. Finally, for each step where dice must be rolled, try very hard to use a rule that's already in the CRB, rather than invent one.

I hope this gives you some ideas. I always welcome discussion, also. If I am delayed in responding, it is by virtue of task saturation, not lack of interest.

V/R


Did you mean to send this as a PM, or is it an open letter?


Open letter. Conversation of this sort should be public, to inspire thought and disagreement.

Silver Crusade

Many thanks for your insights Moriakul. Most of that will have to come with experience in GM'ing, but I will hopefully have the opportunity to get there.


Oof.

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