Saturday, December 31, 2011

Colorful Characters 11: Ione Grear, Disgraced Pilot

Ione was born and raised on Coruscant, in the heart of the Emporer's new order. His human family prospered when the Old Republic was transformed into the Galactic Empire. They were not wealthy, but they were proud citizens of the Imperium, and raised their children to respect and obey Palpatine's government. Ione, like his siblings, was encouraged to consider military service. And when he was of age, Ione enlisted in the Imperial Naval Academy.

The academy was a harsh trial for Ione. He had always been heavy, and his instructors were merciless in their disapproval. The young recruit was singled out for additional training many times during his education, often in needlessly cruel ways. Once he was required to undergo an additional hour of exercise in the middle of every sleep cycle for over a month. For his part, Ione rarely complained. Not that he had anyone to complain to. He was not well loved by his classmates, due to his ability to get the entire group marked for half rations, or second laps through the obstacle course.

Despite his difficulties, Ione successfully graduated from the naval academy with the rest of his class. He barely managed to skirt beneath the maximum weight limit, but he was an officer in the Imperial Navy. And like all officers, the first year of his commission was spent in a TIE cockpit. He took great pride in his skills as a pilot, and even volunteered to help the technicians keep his squadron's TIEs in top fighting shape. His skill and dedication were noticed, and he was given a posting on the Imperial Class Star Destroy Judicator as a TIE Interceptor pilot.

Ione had been stationed on the Judicator for two years when he received word that his family, parents and two younger brothers, had been killed in a speeder crash. His elder sister, also in Imperial service, but stationed on Imperial Center, was arranging the funeral. Ione was crushed by his family's passing, but could not abandon his duties as an interceptor pilot. He did his best to carry on, but despite his efforts, he began to gain weight as he sought to find some solace in the comforts of food. His commanders were understanding at first, but his weight continued to increase. When disciplinary action failed to curb his eating problem, Ione was dishonorably discharged from his majesty's service.

Without a career to focus on, but unwilling to abandon his values or his love of ships and flying, Ione took his half of his family's inheritance and bought a ship. Nothing too impressive, just a little Seinar Fleet Systems scout ship. He also bought a TIE/In Fighter from a black market dealer, and burned through the last of the credits modifying the two in a cheap garage on Corellia. He improved the weapons systems and the speed, as well as adding some minor shield power to the TIE, in exchange for losing some of its maneuverability. The biggest modification was adding a docking clamp to the scout ship, allowing him to carry the TIE with him, and launch it when needed. He self-deprecatingly named the ship Grear's Folds, and christened the TIE Spitball One.

These days Ione does whatever freelance work he can pick up. Much to his chagrin, this often includes smuggling work, which Ione avoids if at all possible. He prefers to keep his work legal, and still has some friends in the Empire who help him out if there's ever a freelance Imperial contract to be had.

Grear is a morose fellow. He's probably suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression, but he wouldn't allow himself to blame a medical problem for his outlook even if he could. He's simply doing his best to get by, even if he sometimes wonders if 'getting by' is worth it. Despite being a diehard Imperial, he is not so sexist or xenophobic as most members of the Imperial military. Just the same, ff he happens to encounter rebels, it's likely he'd attack them in the hopes of going out in a blaze of glory--perhaps even to be remembered by the Empire.

Grear is unlikely to engage in combat unless he meets with rebels. If he does find rebels, or is attacked by another aggressor, he will use his flying skills to the best of his ability to defeat his foe, and will not retreat. If the attacking ships attempt to use superior maneuverability to defeat him, he will put Grear's Fold on auto-pilot, and attack them in Spitball One. If outmatched, he may attempt to trick foes into believing he is defeated by allowing Grear's Fold to drift powerless through space, only to launch in his TIE when the enemy's defenses are down.

If attacked outside of his ship, Grear will attempt to escape to the safety of his ship. Or to the safety of his TIE, if Grear's Fold has been boarded.

Thoughts on Use
Grear and his ship make a great source of transportation for any type of player--though rebels will want to keep their affiliations secret!

Ione Grear
Type Discharged TIE Pilot
Gender/Species Male/Human
Age 32; Height 1.5 meters; Weight 148 kg.
Physical Description Short and squat, with folds of excess weight barely fitting in to his sweat stained and threadbare olive drab uniform.

Dexterity 3D
--Blaster 4D
Perception 3D
Knowledge 2D
Strength 2D
Mechanical 4D
--Starfighter Piloting 5D
--Space Transports 6D
--Astrogation 5D
Technical 4D
--Space Transports Repair 6D
Special Abilities None; Force Sensitive No
Move 10
Force Points 1; Dark Side Points 1; Character Points 5
Equipment The Grear's Fold, Blaster Pistol (4D), 2x Thermal Detonators (10D/8D/5D/2D), Datapad, Comlink, 10,000 credits

The Grear's Fold
Craft Modified Seinar Fleet Systems "Lone Scout B"
Type Modified Scout Vessel
Scale Starfighter; Length 30 meters
Skill Space Transports - Lone Scout
Crew 1; Passengers 2
Cargo Capacity 150 metric tons; Consumables 6 Months
Hypderdrive Multiplier x1.5; Backup Hyperdrive x10; Nav Computer Yes
Maneuverability 1D; Space 5; Atmosphere 295; 850 kmh
Hull 4D; Shields 2D
--Passive 30/1D
--Scan 50/2D
--Search 75/3D
--Focus 5/4D
--1 Quad Laser Cannon
--Fire Arc: Front
--Skill: Starship Gunnery
--Space Range: 1-3/12/25
--Atmosphere Range: 100-300/1.2/2.5km
--Damage: 6D
Droid Pilot Astrogation 4D, Sensors 2D, Space Transports 2D+1, Starship Gunnery 2D, Starship Shields 2D+2

Spitball One
Craft Modified Seinar Fleet Systems TIE/In Fighter
Type Modified Space Superiority Fighter
Scale Starfighter; Length 6.4 meters
Skill Starfighter Piloting - TIE
Crew 1
Cargo Capacity 25 kilograms; Consumables 2 Days
Maneuverability 2D; Space 10; Atmosphere 415; 1200 kmh
Hull 2D; Shields 1D+2
--Passive 20/0D
--Scan 40/1D
--Search 60/2D
--Focus 3/3D
--2 Laser Cannons (Fire-Linked)
--Fire Arc: Front
--Skill: Starship Gunnery
--Fire Control: 2D
--Space Range: 1-3/12/25
--Atmosphere Range: 100-300/1.2/2.5km
--Damage: 5D

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Star Wars: Movie Hooks

Well, that little break lasted longer than expected. That's how my self discipline works I suppose. If I give up an inch of my ironclad mental schedule, then my tendency towards laziness will take a mile. Fortunately, my self loathing was really on top of things this time. By the end of my little "vacation" (which caused me to miss all of two posts) I was so frustrated with myself that getting back on top of writing became my only escape from a constant barrage of self recriminations. Go self loathing! About time you started pulling your weight.

As a change of pace, I thought I would end 2011/start 2012 with a week dedicated to my beloved Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games. As a geek, Star Wars is my specialty, and I have a soft spot for the simple and elegant system designed by West End Games. I've been writing about Pathfinder nonstop for months now, but I've always imagined this project as one which can be more diverse. Pathfinder is my focus, certainly, but there are so many systems and possibilities out there. It would be a shame not to give them some of my attention.

Today it's plot hooks! Every adventure needs a starting point. Something to get the players excited about the game they're playing, and what they're doing in it. It's a springboard for the GM to get the action going. You never have more of the player's attention than you do in the first minute or so of the game, so you've got to make it count. With a Star Wars game, GMs have a unique opportunity to hook their players into a game by intersecting that game with one of the three good films. Unless you've got a game group full of avid Star Wars fans (in which case, I hate you) it's likely that your players are somewhat wary of playing in the Star Wars universe. By giving them a touchstone to something they're familiar with--the films--you help make everyone a little more comfortable and familiar with their surroundings.

Ultimately, how you intersect the films is up to you, but I've arranged these according to the methodology which I feel is most appropriate. The idea is for the players to fit into the background of the films. Perhaps someone with a moment of screentime, or someone who was standing just off camera during a specific scene. These characters can then go on to change the course of the entire saga if they want to, but starting your players out as Obi-Wan Kenobi's 'other jedi apprentices' simply strikes me as awkward and masturbatory. Like bad self-insertion fan fiction.

A New Hope

Death Star Plans: Imperial Players who would like to explore the sophistication and grandeur of Palpatine's New Order can start the game with orders to recover the Death Star plans. Eventually this would intersect with the opening scene of A New Hope, where the Star Destroyer Devestator is giving chase to (and eventually capturing) the rebel blockade runner Tantive IV. When the plans are not found (having been hidden with R2-D2) the Imperial players can continue down to the planet, and continue following the plan's trail. Particularly successful players may be able to capture the plans before they eventually reach the rebels, stopping the destruction of the Death Star. The rebellion would be a great deal weaker after losing the Battle of Yavin, but that wouldn't mean they couldn't still pose a threat for your players to fight against!

If you were so inclined, you could start the quest even earlier, with the players on the planet Danuta following Kyle Katarn's theft of the plans--a classic moment in the Star Wars continuity, and more well known than many other stories from the Expanded Universe (EU).

Death Star Plans: Alliance If your group prefers the more traditional route of playing as rebels, the Death Star plans can still provide impetus for gameplay. In the film, when Darth Vader and the Devestator capture princess Leia and the Tantive IV, the rebellion's leadership has every reason to suspect that they've been compromised. Not only have the Death Star plans been (supposedly) recovered, but an important leader has been identified and captured by the enemy. As much respect as anyone might have for Leia, can they really trust that she wont betray the Yavin IV base when subjected to torture?

So the rebel leadership is faced with two problems. First, they must find a way to counter the Death Star. Such a weapon is too devastating to be ignored, even in the face of massive setbacks. Likely this would mean formulating a new plan to re-acquire the schematics for the station. But after the destruction of Alderaan, they may feel that it is worth the risk to attempt smuggling operatives onto the Death Star itself to destroy it from within. Secondly, the rebellion needs to find a new base, which I'll discuss more below.

New Base: Alliance Regardless of how events transpire, it is highly likely that the Rebellion's Yavin IV base is compromised. Whether it's simply assumed due to Princess Leia's capture, or whether the Empire follows the tracking device planted on the Millennium Falcon, one way or another, the rebels need a new home. Eventually this new home will be Hoth, as seen in Empire Strikes Back. However, GMs could run some very interesting exploration games where the players are rebel scouts, looking for suitable planets for the rebellion to hide on. Hoth is remote, and has the benefit of per-existing structures for the rebels to use, but if players find something better, that could change the course of the saga.

There's a lot of benefit to this hook. First, it presents an opportunity for the players to make a significant contribution to the story immediately. That ability to have a real impact on events is rarely so clearly spelled out, and players like to feel as though the outcome changes based on their actions. That's what we call Player Agency. Second, the possibilities are wide open for the type of adventure you could run. First players need to figure out where to go, which allows them to pick from a number of options. Then the players need to get there, which provides an opportunity for space-based adventure. Once the players arrive, they'll need to scout the area, giving the GM plenty of opportunity to create all manner of conflict. Since the players will want to find a planet with existing facilities for the rebellion to use, you could even use that as an opportunity to include a dungeon delving-esque adventure.

Bounty on Solo: Bounty Hunters Rebels and Imperials are not the only types of characters players enjoy. Thanks to the popularity of characters like Boba Fett, some people view playing as a bounty hunter is the best part of the Star Wars universe. Considering the sizable bounty placed on Han Solo's head by Jabba the Hutt, players may be very interested to hear (or better yet: witness) Solo's cold blooded murder of Greedo in a little tapcaf on Tatoine.

Sand Crawler: Droids I don't have many ideas regarding this, but if you're GMing for a party of droid characters, they could all meet up on the Sand Barge where R2-D2 and C-3PO are reunited.You might even bend the plot of the story a bit by having R2 entrust one of your players with the Death Star plans, and the task of taking them to Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Empire Strikes Back

Hoth Escape: Alliance After the battle of Hoth the rebellion is completely routed. The surprise attack on their hidden base left them scrambling to escape, taking massive losses during one of the most exciting and memorable battles in any of the films. There's a reason this encounter has been repeated ad-nausea in almost every Star Wars video game ever released, and it's a perfect place to jump into the game as Alliance players.

Right off the bat, players are faced with the deadly battle against the invading imperial force. The group could start the game in the trenches, then fall back as the Stormtroopers press further into the base. Or if the players prefer, they could be pilots, zipping about in agile air speeders, trying desperately to figure out how to take down the towering imperial AT-ATs. But Hoth is a losing battle, and any combat is merely to provide cover to allow time for other rebel personnel to load transports and begin the escape. The players who survive (which, given the fatality rates in the Star Wars game, probably won't be all of them) must then escape from the planet themselves. If they're pilots, this can be even more exciting than the battle below. If they're not, then they'll be huddled in the belly of a rebel transport, hoping they don't get blown out of the sky.

Vader's Task: Bounty Hunters A short, but memorable scene in Empire Strikes Back is shortly after the battle of Hoth, when Darth Vader meets with a group of bounty hunters and tasks them with finding the Millennium Falcon. The scene introduces Boba Fett, and includes the now infamous "No disintegration" line. There was actually a whole book about it called "Tales of the Bounty Hunters," which was remarkably good. But I digress. The major problem with this hook, of course, is that most players will already know that Han Solo is on his way to cloud city. None the less, there's some opportunity for a good game here.

Occupy Cloud City: Any During Empire Strikes Back, Cloud City is occupied by the Empire. This becomes particularly problematic at the end of the film when the Empire's occupation becomes permanent. Cloud City is a mining outpost, but it's also a haven for smugglers, gamblers, and manner of riff raff. There are doubtless even some rebels amongst the populace. The frantic escape from Cloud City doesn't give the game much direction, but it's a fun and interesting way to tie your game into the film.

Return of the Jedi

Free At Last: Any Jabba the Hutt was a powerful crime lord. Head of the powerful Desilijic crime family of Hutts, his underworld power was matched only by Prince Xizor of Black Sun. In his Tatooine palace, he had any number of droids, slaves, mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other hangers-on around him at all times. His death would have caused a frantic scramble either to escape from the fallout of a collapsing criminal empire, or to try and claim a piece of that empire.

Players who don't mind playing as villains may even be interested in starting the game earlier, and having an opportunity to prevent Han from being rescued by his friends. Or, if the players wish to start out as slaves, perhaps they help the heroes escape Jabba's sail barge, and follow them to join the rebellion.

Assault on the Death Star: Rebels The most impressive space battle in the entire trilogy, in my most humble opinion, is the fight to destroy the second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi. After the fleet jumps in-system, players will need to fight tooth and nail just to survive while the shield remains staunchly in place. And once the shield is down, small craft can dive into the structure of the massive space station, and perhaps join Tycho Celchu on his 'merry chase through the Death Star.'

Assault on the Shield Generator: Rebels If players aren't particularly interested in space combat (and in fairness, it can be tricky to pull off well) then the action on the ground of Endor is another great place to start. Particularly if one of your players wants to be an Ewok. The conflict on the ground is long, and comes in multiple phases, which provides good structure to the adventure. First the characters must use stealth as they avoid Imperial scouts as they make their way to the generator, then they must fight to get in. Once in, it's revealed that the whole thing was a trap, and they must fight against insurmountable odds to accomplish their mission. If the players in the game manage to be more skilled than the characters in the film, then the destruction of the Death Star may even go a great deal more smoothly, perhaps leading to promotions for the PCs, and more dangerous missions in the future!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Critical Christmas

My lady-friend will be working over the Christmas weekend, so she and I decided to celebrate the holiday today. Fancy dinner and gift giving, followed by hours of watching the Batman: Beyond DVDs I got her. Not exactly related to the content of the blog, but as it turns out, my lady-friend knows that I like:

Linkskywalker's RPG Filled Christmas Wishes Come True!
Click to Enlarge

There's a lot of great RPG stuff here. So lets tackle it in order.

Goblins of Golarion is a small Pathfinder supplement which serves to aid people who wish to play as Pathfinder's iconic goblins. Not too long ago I ran a one-shot game called We Be Goblins! which was offered by Paizo as free promotional material for the release of this little supplement. And I must confess, the idea of playing as a goblin really got my group excited, and everyone had a lot of fun. Goblins of Golarion is only slightly over 30 pages long, which is about how many pages were allocated to each race in the old D&D 3.5 'Races of...' series of books. It's even structured similarly to those books. It begins with "Life as a Goblin," and goes on to cover numerous elements of goblin culture, specific goblin tribes, as well as a few player options at the end. Goblin specific feats, spells, and so on. Based on my cursory perusal, it seems like a solid supplement.

Moving on is a more full-bodied Pathfinder supplement, Ultimate Magic. I haven't had time to meaningfully look over the options presented here, but I suspect I'll feel about it the same way I felt about Ultimate Combat. Which is to say: lots of good stuff there, glad to have it in my collection, but way too much filler content. I really like the class archetypes system Pathfinder introduced. I think it's a great deal better than using prestige classes. Personally, I rather wish Pathfinder had gotten rid of prestige classes altogether, rather than nerfing them and de facto replacing them with archetypes. That being said, does every supplement need 70+ pages of archetypes? Surely you're not that desperate to fill pages, Paizo.

The rest of the book seems much better. Spell duels can be difficult, so having some advice on running them would be good. Spell blights sound extremely interesting, and I always love to get more detail on classic wizard tasks such as binding outsiders and crafting constructs. So overall, the "Mastering Magic" chapter seems cool. There's also a sizable chapter on feats. I'm somewhat dubious, due to my aforementioned problems with feats, but at the same time I readily acknowledge that the core game lacks feat variety for casters. Hopefully Pathfinder solved the problem better than D&D 3.5 did. I'm not really sure what to expect from the Words of Power chapter, and of course, there has to be several dozen new spells for some reason. I look forward to delving further into the book. I'm sure I'll eventually post about anything particularly interesting.

All I really wanted for Christmas was the Mouse Guard RPG. And I got it. I've been in love with the concept ever since I first read about it on /tg/ a few months back. After reading a few of the comics, I can confirm what I heard then. It's a story (or game) about the creatures at the absolute bottom of the food chain trying to survive in a world where everything is a giant monster. I have no doubt there will be one, or several, posts dedicated tot his book in the future.

The ladyfriend also picked up a number of items from our game store's "old stuff" bins. All very interesting, but the stand-out win here is a copy of Gang Busters. Classic 1980s TSR game about being a mobster or a copper back during America's roaring twenties. The game was pretty popular in its day, a third edition (though no second edition). What I got is first edition though, which is killer. I've really been wanting to sample some of TSR's earlier work. I will absolutely be forcing this game on my players at some point in the future, and doubtless I'll be posting about the experience.

I also received three issues of an independent British role playing magazine (says so right at the top) called "The Last Province." I haven't had a chance to peruse these much, but they look like they have some good information in them. And I always like old RPG materials, if for no other reason than collector's value.

Lastly, there's issue 17 of White Wolf Magazine. Truth be told, I don't know if I've ever played with a White Wolf product. However, the cover says that this issue covers AD&D 2nd edition, Shadowrun, and contains 3 adventures. Those are all things which interest me. One of these days I really must get around to trying Shadowrun! Also, the woman on the cover has the boob. Like, woah, lady.

Overall, a very merry Christmas for me!

Friday's normal colorful characters post will be pushed back to Saturday or Sunday, and will replace the regularly scheduled weekend post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Magical Marvels 1: The Womb Dagger

If I haven't made this clear before, I'm a huge fan of 4chan's "Traditional Games" forum. This makes me something of an oddity on the "respectable Internet." The general consensus is that everything on 4chan is awful, and saying anything positive about it makes you a bad person. As is often the case, the general consensus on this matter is drawn from ignorance. Not only does it overlook that many of the cute and harmless Internet jokes everyone is so fond of originate there. But it is most often informed by an encounter with /b/. And while /b/tards may be the most numerous of 4chan's contributors, I'm a fa/tg/uy. And I'm proud of that. But defending 4chan's non-/b/ subforums isn't the purpose of this post.

About two years ago I participated in a thread on /tg/ which forged the most horrible magical item any GM has ever concocted. A wicked cursed dagger so ghastly in nature that I honestly hesitated to post about it. It's not an item any civilized GM would include in a game. Its value lies in how amusingly vile it is. We called it: The Womb Dagger. It was created in a generic thread about cursed items [Very mildly NSFW link]. You can view the entire discussion if you like--there are some gems in there. But here is the full write up which I put down on paper once the thread was completed.

I would like to make clear that I am not responsible for creating the majority of this. I merely sorted all my favorite ideas together, then made a nice write-up. I would also like to add, in all seriousness, that this item may be offensive to some readers. If sexual elements in role playing games bother you, you may not wish to read further.

Womb Dagger
Aura Overwhelming Transmutation; CL 28th
Slot none; Weight 2lb.
The dreaded Womb Dagger is a cursed minor artifact created by a long forgotten god of trickery and balance. Most of the few womb daggers are very plain, though a few are adorned with ornate carvings. All Womb Daggers are +6 Keen weapons. However, the true wonder--and horror--of the item is obscured from identification with spells.

When a woman uses the dagger to kill a creature of any type capable of sexual reproduction, the wielder becomes pregnant with the (now dead) creature's offspring. If the character is already pregnant and kills with the dagger, then immediately after giving birth she will become pregnant again. Each killed creature is added to her 'queue.' Creatures are born as halfbreeds, half the DNA of the killed party, and half the DNA of the killer. In some cases this can cause odd creatures to be created, since not all species would normally be genetically compatible.

The dagger wielder can never harm the child in any significant way, but will always recover fully from any injuries relating from pregnancy and birth. In such cases where such injuries may be extreme, such as with hill giant or draconic children, this can be a lifesaving feature of the dagger. The woman's children are strongly predisposed to be quite fond of their mother, and will remain with her as companions throughout her life, barring any extenuating circumstances.

If a woman's queue becomes large enough, she will begin to bear young in 'litters' to avoid an endless repetition of pregnancies after clearing two or three dungeons.

If the dagger is wielded by a man, then any time he kills a creature of any type capable of sexual reproduction, he will "carry" that creature's genetic legacy with him. The next time the male dagger wielder has sexual contact, he will have a 100% fertility rate, negating the use of any preventative measures. Men will maintain a queue of waiting young much like their female counterparts will, though they will only ever pass children along one at a time.

So long as a man wielding the Womb Dagger has a queue of children waiting to be passed on, he will find that he is irresistible to women. Heterosexual women passing within [10 * # of children in queue] feet of him must succeed on a DC: 16 will save or make aggressive advances on him. These women will suffer the same pregnancy and birth related oddities experienced by women who kill with the dagger. This includes their young having a lasting fondness for them. However, that fondness will be overwhelmed by a deep hatred of their father. Most often, these children will leave their mothers once they reach adulthood, and attempt to hunt down and murder their father.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spicing Up The Battlemat: Deserts

I've never liked deserts. Even when I was a kid, I found stories which take place in deserts to be pretty boring. The character is thirsty, the character is hot, it's cold at night, boom. Deserts. Of course, I'm aware that deserts have their own forms of diversity. Geological formations in deserts can be quite mysterious and beautiful, and the types of creatures with the ability to survive in such harsh environments are often fascinating to learn about. Despite that, I still don't find deserts all that enjoyable. It's a bias of mine. Cold deserts are a little more interesting to me, but those will not be covered in this post.

But you can't just send your PCs through forests all the time. Sure there are idyllic forests, creepy forests, dense forests, sparse forests, coniferous forests and deciduous forests, forested mountains, and forested planes. But for some reason, players eventually get tired of trees, and you need to throw in something else. Eventually that something else ought to be a desert. In all likelihood, since we are playing Pathfinder, that desert is going to produce a creature which is going to try to kill your players. And unless you're fine with all of your desert combat occurring within a featureless box with a desert painted on the background, you'll need to find some way for the environment to become a factor in combat.

The problem is that in many ways, deserts are featureless boxes. The box just extends further than the eye can see in every direction. None the less, there are a number of ways in which the players can use the environment to their advantage, and ways in which the environment can betray them.


Blinding Attack If movies have taught us anything about sand, it's that sand makes for a good quick blinding attack. (if movies have taught us a another thing about sand, it's that people are softer than it.) If players want to throw sand in their opponent's eyes, you can treat it as a ranged touch attack (range of 5ft.) which can be performed from a prone position. If the target is wearing any kind of full eye covering, the attack fails. Success causes the target to be dazed for one round. Bear in mind, as GM, that most creatures which evolved in a a desert will have better protection against this kind of attack than most humans would, and may not be susceptible to it.

Blinding Wind Deserts are often very windy, and that wind tends to pick up sand and carry it around the battlefield. This effectively functions as the blinding attack noted above, but against all players facing a certain direction. How often this effect occurs is entirely dependent on what the whether is like. If the characters are fighting during a sandstorm, then any time they open they're eyes they're going to get hit by the dazed effect. More likely, though, players will need to deal with either a consistent wind, or a sputtering breeze.
--Consistent Wind: The wind is coming from a single direction. If this wind is not present and defined before combat begins, roll 1d8. A result of 1 means the wind is coming from the side of the battlemat opposite your position at the table, or "north." A result of 2 means the wind is coming from the "top right" corner of the battlemat, or "north east." Results continue in a clockwise fashion around the battlemat. The GM may, at any time, roll 1d6. A result of 1-2 means the wind shifts one "space" in a clockwise direction (West becomes South West, East becomes North East, etc). A result of 3-4 means the wind remains the same. A result of 5-6 means the wind shifts one space counter clockwise. Any players facing against the wind without eye protection must succeed on a reflex save DC: 16 or become dazed for one round. Players facing a direction which is only one space off from the wind direction are allowed a reflex save DC: 13 to avoid becoming dazed for one round. Note that since Pathfinder does not include a facing mechanic, facing must be determined based on the direction in which the player performed their last action. If the player wishes to turn in their space, treat it as a swift action which provokes an attack of opportunity to any enemy the player turns their back towards.
--Sputtering Breeze At the start of each round the GM rolls to see if there will be a gust of wind this round. There is a base 20% chance (which can be raised or lowered depending on the current weather patterns, but should never be above 50%) that the battlefield will be affected by a gust of wind this turn. If there is a gust, roll 1d8 to determine which direction the wind is coming from as noted above. The effects of the breeze are as noted above under Consistent Wind.

Poor Footing Sand makes for poor footing, particularly when moving up and down the sides of dunes. Any characters not intimately familiar with desert environments suffer a -2 penalty to their CMB and CMD for any combat maneuver which requires them to have firm footing (resisting a bull rush, tripping, charging.) This penalty rises to -4 if the character is standing on a particularly loose area of sand, such as the steep side of a dune. In such an instance, the character also loses their dexterity bonus to AC.

Gets Everywhere Sand gets blown around so much, and is so fine, that it can get into anything. And if enough of it gets into a mechanical device, odds are that device will stop working. If your game includes guns, these would be particularly susceptible to this danger. But any number of devices which rely on moving parts could be at risk. Clocks, locks, or even crossbows! Players can avoid this trouble by wrapping their equipment and keeping it protected, but if they fail to do so, then they risk a 5% failure chance in the first two days, a 10% failure chance for the rest of the first week, a 20% chance the second week, a 30% chance the third week, and so on. For guns, these numbers would likely double. Fortunately for bowers, crossbows are relatively simple, and a standard action to clean out the sand in the triggering mechanism should be enough to restore the device to working order.

Just Beneath the Surface The wind over a sandy desert covers up anything quickly. It would be essentially impossible to actually track something through the sand. It would be be similarly impossible to see anything buried just beneath the sand. If foes are springing a trap on the PCs, they could easily have tripwires beneath the sand which would be impossible to detect. Weapons could also be hidden just under the surface of the sand to give the appearance that a group was unarmed. Sand could even hide a trap door with ease, allowing GMs to prepare deadly ambushes where additional foes can spring forth from the sand itself.

Dune Collapse Sand dunes form in a "wave" formation, with one gently sloping side which the wind blows over, and one steep side which is blocked from the wind. Dunes can grow quite large, and oftentimes, quite precariously balanced. A sudden change of wind can potentially cause a dune to collapse towards the steep side. This would have similar effects to an avalanche (Pathfinder Core Rulebook Page 429)


Underfoot As noted in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, hot deserts are not always endless wastelands of nothing but sand. Stones, sometimes a lot of them, often litter the landscape of a desert. Occasionally, even extremely resilient shrubs can manage to survive in the harsh desert landscape. So light undergrowth, light rubble, and dense rubble are all possibilities in a desert environment. See the Pathfinder Core Rulebook page 430 for more information on that.

Bones Perhaps it was once a large native creature, such as a blue dragon. Or maybe it was a pack animal brought here by travelers, or simply a wild creature who became lost. It could even be the remains of a creature who died here when this desert was lush and green. Wherever it came from, and whatever the cause of death, all that remain now are bones stripped clean of any meat by the persistent winds. While small creature's bones may only be good for improvised weapons, the skeletal remains of a blue dragon or dinosaur could potentially provide a good vantage point for archers, or just an interesting environment in which to fight. Hopefully the players don't try to use it as a landmark, however, since the nature of a shifting sea of sand is that it will sometimes completely conceal the presence of these bones under a dune of sand.

Geological Formations
Big rocks are, without a doubt, the coolest thing about deserts. The unique element of sand constantly being blown around seems to create an environment where literally any kind of rock formation imaginable can theoretically be produced. The sheer level of variety makes it impossible to discuss in any meaningful way. Instead, here are a number of photographs of interesting desert rock formations. Let your imagination run wild here. Click any of the thumbnails for larger versions.

Not to sound like an advertisement, but if you like the options which a hot desert environment provides, and would like to run a session or even a campaign in a desert environment, you might consider picking up Sandstorm. It's one of the better Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 supplement, and it manages to retain most of its relevance in the Pathfinder system. The only reason it was cut from my recent list is because I thought it would be odd to mention it without the other "Environment Books" (Frostburn, Cityscape, etc), which I don't yet own and have not read. The book contains a lot of great information on running sessions in a dry desert, as well as some really cool desert monsters and specific locations to adventure in. I've wanted to find a use for the "Dry Lich" monster for ages. Now that I've got myself all hyped up to give deserts a try, I just might get a chance...

News: Pathfinder Bestiary Box

Paizo recently announced a new product which, in keeping with form, I'm a huge fan of. They're calling it the "Pathfinder Bestiary Box," pictured to the right. The box will contain more than 300 cardboard stand-ups with full color art of various creatures and monsters. They also mention that there will be "more than 250 unique creature images," which makes me happy, because it would be ridiculous if a GM only had one goblin token to put on the table. The idea obviously follows on the heels of the Pathfinder Beginner Box, which had similar cardboard standups for both monsters and player characters.

Personally, I've never been a huge fan of miniatures, which is why I like this idea so much. For years I've been using things like pennies and other random items found around my apartment to represent items on the battle mat. It works well enough, but I've never been fully satisfied with it. The cardboard standups provide a good middle ground between having nothing to mark your battlemat, or spending tons of time and money on minis.

Still, I'm not completely sold on the idea. Part of the reason I've never liked minis is because they steal some of the imagination from the game. If I want to throw my players up against 4 goblins and a poisonous plant creature with the head of a monkey and the legs of a spider, I don't want to have markers for the first four, and nothing for the last creature.

Still, for those more interested in using miniatures casually, this sounds like a solid product.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hook Horrors for Pathfinder

Several months ago, when I posted The Hall of a Dozen Deaths, I mentioned that I had been unable to find the Hook Horror in either one of Paizo's Bestiaries. I found this really disappointing, because the Hook Horror is one of my favorite, classic D&D monsters. As best as I can tell, Wizards of the Coast doesn't actually have any particular ownership on the monster. It originally appeared in a magazine called White Dwarf published by Games Workshop, before appearing in TSR and later WotC products. Though if I am wrong on that, or if my quotations from Monster Manual II are problematic, I imagine I'll receive a cease and desist letter if this blog ever ends up on Wizard's radar.

Below is the classic Hook Horror monster, updated for the Pathfinder role playing game. I based it off of the Hook Horror as it appeared in the Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition Monster Manual II. I realize, of course, that it's no great task to update a monster from D&D 3 to Pathfinder, but I decided to post this for three reasons. First, easy as it is to simply throw a 3.0 monster into a Pathfinder game, few GMs will take the time to notice that the creature should have different skills and more feats, so I took care of that. I also calculated combat maneuver bonus, which is important to the Hook Horror, due to its special grabbing attack. Second, it has been a very long weekend, with lots of computer issues, and I really don't have the energy for a more full bodied post. And my final, very selfish reason, is that people have been getting to my blog by typing "Pathfinder Hook Horror" for months. At least now they won't reach my blog only to realize that what they're looking for isn't here.

So, without further ado:

Hook Horror
The hulking creature has the screeching head of a vulture, with the hard carapace of an insect. It's long limbs end in wicked hooks, which look like they're good for more than just climbing.

Hook Horror (CR6)(Aberration/Underground/Temperate)
XP 2,400
N Large Aberration
Init +3; Senses Perception +9, Blindsight 60ft.
AC 22, touch 12, flat-footed 19 (-1 size, +3 Dex, +10 natural)
hp 65 (10d8 + 20)
Fort +5, Ref +6, Wis +8
Speed 20 ft., Climb 20ft.
Melee bite +8 (2d6 + 3); 2 claws +13 (1d8 + 7)
Space 5ft.; Reach 10ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab, power sunder, rending bite
Str 24 Dex 17 Con 14 Int 7 Wis 12 Cha 9
Base Atk +6/1 CMB +14; CMD 27
Feats Cleave, Improved Trip (B), Power Attack, Improved Bull Rush, Awesome Blow, Improved Natural Attack (Claw)
Skills Climb +16, Stealth +8, Acrobat +9, Perception +9
Languages Undercommon
SQ light sensitivity
EnvironmentAny Underground
Organization Solitary, pack (5-20), or clan (21-40)
Treasure Standard

Sly hunters of cavernous subterranean areas, hook horrors are territorial monsters that distrust intruders and fiercely protect their hunting grounds. Underground areas where hook horrors dwell echo with the constant clacking and scraping sounds of their hooks against stone, as they wend their way across cliffsides and cavern walls.

A hook horror stands about 9 feet tall, and weighs approximately 400 pounds. Its long, powerfully built arms and legs end in wickedly curved hooks. Its head resembles a vulture's, with a monstrous beak. Its torso is shaped like a beetle's body and covered with a rough, stonelike exoskeleton, studded with sharp, bony protuberances.

Hook horrors normally live in extended family groups or clans, each of which is ruled by the eldest female. The eldest male usually leads the clan's hunters and warriors. The clan stores its eggs communally, in a central, well-defended area of its home system of caverns or warrens.

Hook horrors are omnivores, consuming lichens, fungi, plants, and any animals they can catch. Meat is their preferred food, and drow is rumored to be one of their favorite meals.

Hook horrors attack in groups, using their climbing skills to ambush foes from above. They fight cooperatively and work together against the largest and best armed opponents. Hook horrors use their arm hooks to trip foes. If a battle goes poorly, they retreat by scaling walls.
Improved Grab (Ex) If a hook horror hits an opponent that is at least one size category smaller than itself with both claw attacks, it deals normal damage, and rolls a combat maneuver check to begin a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. If it gets a hold, it automatically hits with its rending bite attack on the same round (this replaces its normal bite attack for that round.) Thereafter, the hook horror has the option to conduct the grapple normally, or simply use its claws to hold the opponent (-20 penalty on combat maneuver checks to grapple, but the hook horror is not considered grappled). In either case, each successful grapple check it makes during successive rounds automatically deals damage for both claw attacks and a rending bite.
Power Sunder (Ex) A hook horror attempting to strike a foe's weapon or shield does not incur an attack of opportunity. On a successful power sunder attack, a hook horror deals double damage.
Rending Bite (Ex) A hook horror can automatically bite a grabbed foe for 3d6 + 19 points of damage.
Blindsight (Ex) A hook horror emits high-frequency sounds, inaudible to most other creatures, that bounce off nearby objects and creatures. This ability enables it to discern objects and creatures within 60 feet. The hook horror usually does not need to make perception checks to notice creatures within range of its blindsight. A silence spell negates this ability and forces the hook horror to rely on its weak vision, which has a range of 10 feet.
Light Sensitivity (Ex) Exposure to bright light (such as sunlight or a daylight spell) imposes a -2 penalty on a hook horror's attack rolls.
Skills: A hook horror recieves a +8 racial bonus on stealth checks when in subterranean areas. This is not included in the calculation of Hook Horror's stealth check above.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Colorful Characters 10: Khatael Nafleed, Elven Soldier

In the immense forest of Uvnebrie, larger in size than any of the great nations, Lady Tevre is the absolute authority. For centuries she has led her fellow wood elves in the judicious application of law in the largely lawless wilderness. She is a kind and goodly ruler, and freely allows any who wish to pass through the forest in peace to do so unmolested. But if any wrongdoing occurs within the Uvnebrie's boundaries, Lady Tevre's network alerts her instantly. What her scouts do not see, her wizard's wards spells or her cleric's divinations will catch. And what they do not catch will be whispered to Tevre's druids by the trees themselves. Nothing happens within Uvnebrie to which the wood elves are not a party.

And when wrongdoing does occur, The Lady's justice is swiftly carried out by her fearless and loyal warriors. Khatael Nafleed is one such soldier. He has served the lady with a fierce loyalty since shortly after her reign in the forest began, as one soldier amongst thousands. And he has always been happy in his role as a bringer of justice, and as a vassal to the Lady Tevre. Like many of her subjects, Khatael loves her as his queen.

Some few decades past, Khatael was part of a team sent to dispatch a necromancer. The fool human had thought he could twist the forest's creatures into fearsome undead predators, and avoid The Lady's justice with his simple concealment spells. The battle was bloody. The necromancer had managed to corrupt a number of wolves and bears, and bend them to his service. Four elves were lost, but the Necromancer was felled, and his abominations put properly to rest.

This was the most significant altercation within the forest boundaries in several decades, so lady Tevre herself came to survey the damage that had been done. She sent her honor guard to help gather the corpses of the corrupted animals for burning, and knelt in prayer beside each of the four elven corpses, wishing them a speedy journey to the afterlife. As she prayed, an undead wolf, who had escaped the earlier fighting, bounded into the clearing. The monster made to leap upon the elven queen, but Khatael ran between them, taking a vicious bite to his face before a volley of arrows ended the wolf's unnatural life.

Lady Tevre herself helped Khatael onto her horse, and for Oakshead Fortress, her stronghold in this section of Uvnebrie. She pushed her horse forward without rest, but even so it took the better part of a day for her to get the wounded soldier to the healers at the citadel. The healers were able to stop Khatael from worsening, but were unable to completely heal his wounds. The bite-marks of the undead wolf had been suffused with necromatic magics. They would remain as black craters in the soldier's skin for the rest of his life. For his part, Khatael viewed the wounds as a badge of honor.

The healers would not release Khatael for two weeks, until they were certain they had done everything they could for his wounds. Once free of the healers, he was immediately summoned to appear before lady Tevre, who had since withdrawn to her primary stronghold of Forestheart Citadel. When he arrived, she offered her personal thanks for saving her life. And, in recognition of his devotion to his duties, she granted him the rank of Captain, and gave him command of a dozen soldiers. Finally, as a personal gift given in gratitude, she gave him a rapier which had belonged to a very dear human friend and companion, who had died long before she had become ruler of Uvnebrie.

In the time since, Khatael has led the elves under his command on many successful campaigns throughout the forest. They were the first to discover that some more of the necromancer's animals had gotten loose, and spread their corruption to others in the forest, and were on the forefront of the battle to eliminate the monsters. They also routed the attacks of several drow raiding parties. Perhaps what Khatael is best known for is his defeat of the Great Forest Worm, a colossally sized vermin which destroyed whole acres of trees before it was killed.


Khatael's only concern is his service to the Lady Tevre and her goals. He is utterly, and ruthlessly indifferent to all other concerns. He considers any problems outside of the Uvnebrie forest to be of no importance to him. He lacks even the foresight to see which outside problems could potentially spread to become problems within Uvnebrie. However, if a clear argument is made, demonstrating how an outside problem will soon affect Unvebrie, he may be willing to listen. However, he is still likely to conclude that any problems can be dealt with once they reach the forest.


Khatael is a master of both the blade and the bow, and can engage in armed combat of any kind comfortably. He is significantly more skilled as an archer, however, and often prefers to snipe his enemies from a great distance. While fighting within the borders of Unvebrie, he will never give up. He may retreat temporarily to tend to wounds or to formulate a plan, but he will never remove himself so far that he might lose track of where his foe is.

Thoughts on Use

Khatael could be used during any encounter with wood elves. If the PCs are working in the interest of a forest, Khatael could be a very useful ally. Though if their actions could be viewed as harmful to a forest, Khatael and the elves under his command (Rangers & Fighters of levels 5-8) could make deadly foes. It's also worth noting that Khatael is the type who could easily become overzealous in his duty. While his patroness is Lawful Good, Khatael himself is Lawful Neutral. He may be of the opinion that it is simply better to never let anyone into the forest, rather than risk allowing them to harm it.

Interesting Facts

  • This character was largely randomly generated. Dice were rolled to determine everything from gender, to class. Stats were rolled organically (thank goodness they matched up with the class!) Number, type, and specific magic items in his possession were likewise rolled. I drew magic cards randomly from my green collection to determine events in his past, and what type of personality he was. Even his name is based off items in a randomly selected pages of randomly selected books.

Khatael Nafleed, Elven Soldier (CR 10)

XP: 6,400
Male Elven Fighter 11
LN humanoid
Init +8; Senses Perception +6, Low Light Vision

AC 24, Flat Footed 19, Touch 15 [10 + Armor(9) + Dex(4) + Dodge(1)]
hp 85 (11d10 + 11)
Fast Healing 1
Immunities Sleep effects, Bleeding
Fort +8 Ref +7 Will + 4 (+6 v. Enchantments)(+7 v. Fear)

Speed 30ft
Melee Rapier of Puncturing +17/+12/+7 (1d6 + 5/18-20 x2)
-----Special(Wounding): Successful hits also deal 1 point of bleed damage. Damage stacks, applied at the start of each turn.
-----Special(Puncturing): 3/day, wielder may make a touch attack with the weapon to deal 1d6 points of CON damage.
Ranged Composite Longbow +21/+16/+11 (1d8 + 10/x3)(100ft)

Str 16 (+3) Dex 19 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 13 (+1) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 15 (+2)
Base Atk +11/+6/+1; CMB +14; CMD 28
Feats Dodge, Iron Will, Lunge, Improved Initiative, Quick Draw, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (Longbow), Point Blank Shot, Far Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Weapon Specialization (Longbow)
Skills Perception (+6), Intimidate (+16), Stealth (+10), Survival (+13) [Armor Check Penalty: -2]
Languages Common, Elven
--Weapon Training 2:
+2 to Bows, +1 to Light Blades
--Lunge: You can increase the reach of your melee attacks by 5ft for one turn by taking a -2 penalty on AC until your next turn.
--Quick Draw: Draw weapon as a free action.
--Point Blank Shot: +1 attack and damage for ranged weapons on targets within 30ft
--Far Shot: Range penalties reduced by half
--Precise Shot: No penalties for shooting into melee
--Rapid Shot: Make one extra ranged attack. Both attacks suffer a -2 attack roll penalty.
Gear +3 Composite Longbow (Str Rating +3), 50 arrows, Rapier of Puncturing (PFCR Pg. 474), Ring of Regenration (PFCR Pg. 462), Gem of Seeing (PFCR Pg. 514), Iron Flask (PFCR Pg. 521), Masterwork Full Plate Armor, 50ft of fine elven rope, three days worth of rations, a warm cloak, 80gp.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Proto-Alpha Brainstorming for NPC Interaction Rules

On the off chance that you don't already read -C's awesome OSR blog, Hack & Slash, you may be interested in checking out some of his recent posts on skill deconstruction. Post by post, -C is applying his impressive analytical ability to identifying the benefits and drawbacks for each of Pathfinder's 26 skills in turn. Recently he deconstructed two skills which have been an increasing source of anxiety for me over the years: Bluff, and Diplomacy. These two skills annoy me. Tabletop RPGs are supposed to facilitate social interaction, not just between the people playing them, but between the players, and the non player characters. Skills like diplomacy and bluff replace these entertaining and valuable interactions with dice rolling.

No matter how good or bad the argument/lie a player attempts, the most they can achieve through role play (using Pathfinder's core rules) is a modifier of some kind to their skill roll. Certainly, it can be entertaining when a character with high bluff skills steals something right in front of a guard, then says "You didn't see me steal anything," and rolls a 35 on their bluff check. Truthfully, I've had a lot of fun with those kinds of players in the past. But it's a somewhat less entertaining when the players approach a local regent, present maps and evidence of an incoming attack on the regent's town, but are ignored because they rolled a diplomacy of 8. Even if good role playing & evidence gathering earned those players an unprecedented +10 bonus to their roll, they would still fall short of the DC of 20 required to affect an attitude shift from unfriendly to indifferent.

And none of that even mentions how the current structure of the diplomacy check slows games down. If a player wants to try influencing the attitude of an NPC, the GM needs to pull out the core rulebook, and find the spot in the chapter on skills with the Starting Attitude / Improvement DC chart. I suppose the chart could be memorized, but it seems silly to ask a GM to memorize a chart of arbitrary numbers. Diplomacy also harms gameplay because it turns NPC interaction (which should be part of game play) into a binary proposition based on die rolls. Either you succeed, or you fail. Either way, that NPC can't be influenced again for another 24 hours.

And on top of all of that, the skill check is so utterly and completely broken that playing it as written in the core rulebook allows a player to rule the world by level 13.

Of course, any of these issues could be softened with house rules, or simply avoided by throwing the entire diplomacy/bluff check system away. Let the players role play with the NPCs, and let the GM decide how NPCs react based on how well the characters influenced them. This is fine, it's why we have rule zero. It's what I've been doing myself for a number of years now. But that doesn't make Pathfinder's broken rules on this subject okay. Just because the individual gamers can fix the problem doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. That's called the rule zero fallacy, and lets get it out of the way right now. We shouldn't be okay with our favorite games having bad mechanics, we should want those games to improve on those mechanics. Not just for our sake, but for the sake of new players who may not understand that they have the option of throwing rules away.

NPC interactions deserve a better mechanic. Modern video games have managed to turn conversations into a mechanically relevant and interesting feature, so it should be no problem for tabletop RPGs. Such a system must be simpler to use than Pathfinder's current chart-reference method. Yet it must also provide a conversational experience with more depth than simply rolling to determine a binary result. It should also be impossible for the system to completely break the game.

Below, I've pieced together a simple mock-up of where I've started thinking. Bear in mind that this is not intended to be a complete and functional mechanic. It is, as the title of this post suggests, only the very beginnings of the idea. My hope is that we can build a dialogue from this starting point, and eventually produce a usable system. I've chosen to present the initial version of this ideas as one which builds off of Pathfinder's basic structure. I believe that, eventually, a good system for NPC interactions will need to be divorced from any existing system. However, at this early stage, I think there is value in connecting the system to a frame of reference.

Simply stated, my rule is thus:
When attempting to convince, deceive, or intimidate through conversation, the speaker uses their CHA score (not modifier) to oppose their target's WIS score. These scores are modified somewhat by abilities, and heavily by circumstance and role playing. If these scores are relatively close at the end of the speaker's attempt, participants roll 3d6 and add the results to their scores to determine the outcome of the attempt. Otherwise, the higher score wins. At the GM's discretion, characters who make a particularly convincing attempt should automatically succeed, without the need for any number comparison. Succeeding will either achieve the speaker's goal, or allow the speaker to continue attempting to achieve said goal without penalty. Each failure forces the speaker to suffer penalties during future interactions. Particularly egregious failures may result in insurmountable penalties.

I understand that some of this is confusing, and some of it is downright vague. The above is meant to be the distilled essence of the rule. It is the only part of the rule which you will actually need to remember once you understand how the system works. Those points I left vague were left so because I really have no idea what the specific numbers should be. I'm hoping that someone with a better grasp of the mathematics of game systems can offer some insight on that. For now, just to facilitate the discussion, lets say that every +5 to your diplomacy/bluff/intimidate check (not counting Cha bonus) grants a +1 when you attempt any of those tactics in a conversation. For the purposes of the dice rolling, "Relatively close" will be defined as "within 5 points."

Henar the gnomish rogue would like to convince a guard for the city of Yedge to allow her passage into the city, even though the gates have been closed for the night. Henar's Charisma is 10, and the Guard has a Wisdom of 16. Diplomacy is a class skill for Henar, and she also has 4 ranks in the skill, as well as the Skill Focus: Diplomacy feat. Normally this would give her a total of +10 to Diplomacy rolls. Using this system, that number is divided by five. So Henar now has an effective Charisma of 12 to compare to the Guard's Wisdom of 16. Henar's player speaks to the guard:

"Please, good sir! It is cold and wet out here. I am but a gnome, what harm could I do to your city and its powerful watch!?"

Henar's player doesn't exactly make a good argument, but the GM decides that this guard will react favorably to flattery. The GM grants Henar a +2 for the role playing, bringing her effective Charisma to 14. Since this is only 2 points away from the guard's Wisdom of 16, the GM calls for a roll. Both parties roll 3d6. Henar rolls an 12, bringing her total up to 26. The Guard, however, rolls an 11, bringing his total up to 27. The guard "wins" the encounter, and responds:

"Rules is rules, gnome! I won't let you in for nothing."

Henar has failed, but the failure is not extreme. The GM decides that she will suffer a -2 penalty during the rest of the conversation. Henar decides to try again, picking up on the "won't let you in for nothing." cue. Remember that at this point her effective Charisma is 10 + 2 for her bonuses - 2 for her previous failure. She is again at a disadvantage of 10 to 16.

"Surely an upstanding gentleman such as yourself is due more prestigious duties than guarding a wall! You ought to be spending your evenings in leisure with your fellows. Let me ensure you have the means to truly enjoy yourself next time you are at liberty..."

With this, Henar offers a bag of 25 gold coins - a very generous bribe! The GM decides that the guard is not the type to become offended when offered a bribe, and grants Henar a +4 for this offer. Henar's flattery has also been laid on more thickly this time, and the GM decides to grant a +4 for that as well. All told, this gives Henar an effective charisma of 18 compared to the guard's charisma of 16. This is close enough to call for a roll, but this time, Henar wins. The guard allows her through the gate, and takes her gold.

I want to reiterate that this isn't a finished product. It's merely the beginnings of an idea. I can already see possible avenues of abuse, and I worry that it may be overly clunky, but it's a place to start. Maybe the end result of this process won't look anything like this. Regardless, I'm eager to hear any feedback. I would encourage people to use the comments on this post (rather than IMing, emailing, or twittering me) because any criticism made in private to me isn't one which is part of the larger discussion.

Monday, December 12, 2011

D&D 3.x Supplements for Pathfinder Players

Most people who play Pathfinder do so because they played Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. They are, after all, the primary demographic which Pathfinder has been geared towards. Paizo created Pathfinder with the intent of carrying on 3.5's legacy by continuing to provide compatible products to the fans of that game after it was discontinued. However, the more I watch Paizo, the clearer it becomes that they are an adaptable and forward thinking company. They understand their customers, and their market, and know how to leverage their resources. An excellent example of this is the Pathfinder Beginner's Box, which has been universally hailed as the best starter box-set since the original red box.

So it strikes me that if Pathfinder has created such an excellent product for getting new people to play their game, then it is reasonable to assume that there are new people playing it. Those new players, by definition, have not played any previous RPGs, such as D&D 3.5. Of course we don't actually know how many new people have been turned on to our hobby through the Pathfinder Beginner Box, but it is safe to assume that there are some, and that there will be more. As these players connect with the hobby, they'll move on to the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Pathfinder Bestiary for a more complete version of the basic rules. And then they'll want more, and they'll turn to supplements.

Now, Pathfinder has many fine supplements. The Game Mastery Guide is a particular favorite of mine. But one of Pathfinder's great strengths is its ability to draw on any of the supplements of D&D 3.5. I fear that new players and game masters may not be aware of this treasure trove of books just waiting to be used in their games. And so I've compiled a list of Dungeons and Dragons supplements (mostly 3.5 but some are D&D 3.0) which I feel work best with the Pathfinder role playing game. This list is by no means complete. The list details a modest selection of books which I am familiar with from my own collection. I still don't own about 1/4 of the official supplements, and the list below is not complete even for the books I do own. Only the ones which are truly excellent.

Fiendish Codices: I & II
In my most humble opinion, the two Fiendish Codices were the best books released for D&D 3.5. The first codex, Hordes of the Abyss, details demons. In D&D (as well as in Pathfinder,) Demons are being of pure chaos and evil. The second, Tyrants of the Nine Hells, details devils. Again, both D&D and Pathfinder use the word "devils" to describe beings of pure Law and evil. Demons and devils loathe one another, and according to D&D lore, have been engaged in a conflict called "The Blood War" since the dawn of time. Both books begin with a chapter expanding on the 'fluff,' (or 'lore,') of these evil creatures. This is something which I found considerably lacking throughout all of D&D 3.5's run: good sources for information which isn't strictly mechanical. I particularly enjoyed the story of The Pact Primeval which TotNH begins with. The books go on to tour various locals in both the Abyss and the Nine Hells. Both also contain information on the Lords and Ladies of these dark places. Rulers of incalculable power and evil, many of which are so fascinating that I had a dozen campaign ideas for them before I finished reading their descriptions. Aside from the above, each book contains new feats, spells, prestige classes, and monsters. Most of which should be compatible with Pathfinder.

Many of the characters and locals in these books are protected intellectual properties of Wizards of the Coast, so Pathfinder is unable to make use of them. Pathfinder's world of Golarion has done a great job making up for the loss of the traditional D&D cosmology and history, but it simply doesn't have the same impact for me. Maybe I'm simply not familiar enough with Paizo's game world, but I can't bring myself to abandon the gods, heroes, and villains which I came to love in my early days of role playing. But even if you're perfectly happy with Golarion's denizens, these two books are worth getting your hands on.

Races of Stone, Destiny, and The Wild
As you can easily infer from these book's titles, they provide more detailed information on the basic races of Dungeons and Dragons. Out of the seven core races, each book provides an entire chapter devoted to two of them (save Destiny, which covers 3). Each book also introduces a new playable race, given a similar amount of detail, which holds to a common theme. Races of Stone details Dwarfs, Gnomes, and a large, hard-skinned race called Goliaths. Races of the Wild covers elves, halflings, and a flighted race called Raptorans. Finally, Races of Destiny goes over Humans, devotes on chapter to both Half-Elves and Half-Orcs, and includes a new race called Illumians, which are the living embodiment of language.

The racial chapters are a good hefty size, between twenty and thirty pages in length. Each race is dissected in detail, from their psychology, to their common grooming practices. Artistry, folklore, religion, the list goes on! These chapters have proven invaluable to me over the years, and to this day I still grab these books for reference if I'm including an important NPC of a race I haven't used in awhile. And on a personal note, I really love Illumians. So much so that I included them prominently in The Girl and the Granite Throne.

Unearthed Arcana
I've mentioned before how great this book is. In fact, I wrote an extensive post detailing my reasons for using one of its alternate rules. That entire post was based on two and a half pages of this 218 page book. I won't say that everything in here is gold, some of the ideas presented in it are actually quite bad. And many of interesting or good ideas presented in this book have actually been updated and reprinted in official Pathfinder supplements. However, there's still a lot in here for Pathfinder players to enjoy. Environmental races such as aquatic dwarves or arctic elves; bloodline templates which allow players to gain minor--or major--abilities due to a special ancestry; paragon classes which allow characters to level up as a model of the traits their race embodies; and that's all in chapter 1!

I can't think of any book which I would recommend to new GMs more highly than Unearthed Arcana, because it does a good job of teaching GMs how to apply rule 0. The core rulebooks of an RPG always throw in a few lines to the effect of "But if you don't like it, change it! It's your game, you can do anything you want!" It characterizes rule 0 as a blunt instrument, requiring no forethought. By presenting balanced alternatives to the official rules, Unearthed Arcana provides a model of what house rules should look like.

Epic Level Handbook
In the first edition Dungeons and Dragons rulebook "Men and Magic," Gary Gygax writes that there is no limit to the number of times a player could theoretically level up. First edition modules were often marked "An Adventure for Characters levels 28-32," or even higher than that! The 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons is a little more reserved regarding levels beyond twentieth. Given the massive scaling differences between the two, I can't blame them. Yet as a player and as a GM, I've always liked the idea of a character being able to scale infinitely. I would love to see my players bite and claw their way through forty or fifty levels, eventually growing powerful enough to replace a god. And once that happened, they could become a permanent part of that game-world's pantheon.

Even if you're less inclined towards allowing deicide, or similarly grandiose feats in your game. the Epic Level Handbook is a severely underrated guide to running games beyond 20th level. It includes a number of tools for GMs to help them create epic level obstacles and epic level monsters which their players must face in order to accomplish the epic level goals the book suggests, in order to win some epic level loot and rewards.

Manual of the Planes
As I mentioned above, I'm not intimately familiar with the world of Golarion. Thus far I have stuck to the classic Dungeons and Dragons flavor whenever I'm not using something from my own campaign settings. So I don't know what offerings Paizo has with regards to planar adventuring, but I have a hard time believing it could be much better than this.

I've honestly read the Manual of the Planes cover to cover a number of times for the sheer pleasure of it. And truth be told, I've never had the opportunity to run a game where my players spent a significant amount of time off of the material plane--but ever since I read this book I've been looking for an excuse to send my players out into the multiverse to explore.

This book is a spark to my imagination. What kind of adventures might my players have on the Twin Paradise of Bytopia; a plane with two landmasses facing one another, each serving as the sky of the other. Or what about the supremely lawful Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus, where gravity is dependent on which miles-wide cog you happen to be standing on. What about the Infernal Battlefield of Acheron, where dead warriors fight on in an unending battle which will last for a hellish eternity? The possibilities seem endless. Such places could be the location of a single whimsical adventure, or an entire deviant campaign.

The Books of Exalted Deeds,
and Vile Darkness
Named for the artifacts of the same name, these opposing tomes describe the absolute pinnacle of all that is good and holy, and the darkest depths of all that is depraved and profane. To my knowledge they are the only books which were sold with stickers bearing warnings of mature content, not for players under 18 years of age.

Both books are excellent examples of what good and evil should be in the game. BoED is essentially a long-form version of my recent post on Paladin Overzealousness. It encourages GMs to provide paladins (or non-paladin characters who wish to hold to an 'exalted' code of ethics) with legitimate moral quandaries. The book also stresses that these moral quandaries should be solvable without forcing a character to betray their ideals, and it provides tools to help GMs do that. The Book of Vile Darkness is, not surprisingly, just the opposite. Aside from terrifying monsters of pure evil, spells which cause unnecessary suffering, and basic rules for torture, the book includes a lot of information to help GMs build better villains. In particular I liked the section near the start which presented a number of simple villain archetypes.

As I mentioned above, this list is not exhaustive. Wizards of the Coast released an immense number of supplements during the run of Dungeons and Dragons 3.x. Books like Exemplars of Evil, or The Stronghold Builder's Guidebook still see use in my games. But in going through my own collection, these are the books which really stood out to me as having the most impact on my play over the years I've had them. I would recommend any, or all of them, to a Pathfinder player looking to expand their collection.
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