Pathfinder Low Magic Style

•June 26, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t posted on here in ages. I hit a slump with my DMing about a year ago and as a player about six months ago. I found myself being less and less interested in role playing and started to feel that the time I spent with my favorite hobby was being wasted. Now a lot of that comes from my increasingly dysfunctional gaming group. We’re all edging towards our mid-twenties and are more or less done with college and now trying to make it in the “real” world. We don’t have nearly as much social time so a lot of what would be game time is spent catching up on the week or two since we last saw each other which leads to a lot of out of character distractions and the game gets derailed or stalls out.

I also recently got into Warhammer 40K which takes up some evenings that would be game night with Grimdark battles. I play Orks and run a very fast attack army with lots of bikers, trukks, and deffkoptas led by Warboss ‘Ardgob NOSguzzla and a Big Mek that I haven’t been able to come up with a cool automotive themed name for yet.

It looks like I still get a bit of traffic through this way; hopefully you are all finding what you are looking for here.

Anyways now onto the point of this post: Low Magic Pathfinder.

I have been talking with a couple of the people in my gaming group, the more functional ones, about what we really want from our limited RPG time. We have determined that we really want a more story focused game where the characters are an integral part of the world and actually work to improve the world in ways other than putting ogres and trolls on the endangered species list. I find that difficult to mesh with the quirks that come with high level play where death is just a minor financial set-back and your sword costs more than the GDP of every village, town, and small city within nine hundred miles combined…oh and your friends all have equally valuable stuff too. To this end we have been making some rules tweaks that I think might bring the system down to a low magic, low power level where you would spend 1000gp on 40 acres and a mule rather than a cape that gives +1 to all saves because the benefit of the former exceeds the benefit of the latter since we are working on story and character/world development rather than trying to level up so we can fight bigger things in order to level up again.

At this stage the rules are very much just thoughts and have yet to be play-tested by us although many are borrowed from SRD variant rules and stuff I have seen while browsing forums where low magic was discussed.

Rules Changes:
* E6
* Spell Points – recover at a rate of caster level per day, double for full rest.
* Wounds and Vitality
* Magic Items are not available for sale, any that are are prohibitively expensive.
* Sliver Standard – When treasure/loot is found you get 10% the treasure as normal because silver is handed out like gold, copper like silver, and gold like platinum. The wages earned from craft and profession checks are unchanged. Prices for non-magical items stay the same.
* Paladins, Rangers, and any other secondary caster class must take a non-casting variant option.
* Allowed Caster Classes: Witch, Oracle
* Start at 2nd level (0 xp) with MAX VP for first level and MAX-1 VP for second rolling thereafter.
* 10,000 sp starting wealth, represents total holdings in the world (land, livestock, shop, etc) not just adventuring gear.
* Armor as Damage Reduction – AC bonus applies to AC as normal, but DR applies to wound points/critical hits only (DR = half armor bonus rounded down, AC bonus = armor bonus – DR)
* Base Defense Bonus – competence bonus to AC equal to a character’s Base Attack Bonus.
* Initiative = Reflex Save – Improved initiative adds +4 as normal to initiative checks, but not to Reflex Saves made for other reasons
* No attacks of opportunity – there are some cases where they may apply, but the general rule is that there will be no attacks of opportunity.
* Weapon Sizes – For each size category larger your opponent’s weapon is you take a -1 penalty to attack rolls made against them as you have to dodge their longer weapon to get in range to strike. Weapon Sizes are Light, One Handed, Two Handed. This does not apply if the defender is flat-footed
* Sunder Strike – whenever your attack roll exactly meets the defender’s AC treat the result as if you had made a successful sunder attempt against the defender’s weapon, shield (defender’s choice)
* Casting Spells Above Your Level – you may cast a spell that exceeds your level as a full round action as long as you have the spell points required to cast it and make a concentration check DC 15+Double Spell level. This is always obvious to observers that you are casting a powerful spell. Whether or not the spell is successful the caster is exhausted and takes 1d4 constitution damage.

This is all very rough ideas, but the goal is to make the game pretty brutal, to “correct” perceived problems with the combat system in standard D20, while enabling characters to be more story oriented and not worry so much about if they can overcome the fast healing of a troll or the DR of an ice devil. Any feedback positive or negative is more than welcome, but please refrain from the argument that magic is inherently a part of the system and taking it out cannot be done.


DM Notes Session 1 – d20 Future Corporate Space

•September 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Here is the notes I used to run the first session of my d20 Future game that turned out to be the best game I have ever run. If I get enough positive feedback I’ll continue to post the notes I have for this adventure. If anyone tries to run this or gets some inspiration, be sure to let me know.

You have recently been hired by The Corporation, a massive interstellar conglomerate with numerous divisions spanning from biomedical research to private military contractors. After several weeks of training and instructional videos you are finally given a field assignment. You are to report to the space station Exodus in orbit around P-3813, where you will be briefed on the particulars of this assignment. The Exodus is almost completely self sufficient requiring only a small supply of reactor material every few years. Luxury items are also imported, though all the essentials for life can be produced on board.

Mission Briefing:
A remote research facility on Kimed VI has ceased uploading its weekly reports. All attempts to contact the facility remotely have failed. We suspect that recent storms may have knocked out their communications array you will be accompanying a technician to the facility in order to repair the uplink and gather a full report on what occurred at Kimed VI

Vital Information
● Bitter Cold
● Normal Gravity
● Thin Atmosphere
● Recent Foul Weather

Optional Information (If Asked)
● Facility was researching advanced Artificial Intelligence
● The weekly reports were automated
● 31 Scientists on site
● 60 additional support personnel

From the Exodus you travel aboard the Corvette Icarus to the Kimed system. The ship places itself in orbit above Kimed VI and you are ordered to the hangar bay. Inside the cramped hangar bay is a Osprey drop ship, two Sparrowhawk gunships, and a M83 LRV; two pilots are busy prepping the Osprey for flight. A marine approaches you and explains last minute details of the mission.

Kimed VI (Bitter Cold and Thin Atmosphere Hazard):
The pilots set the Osprey down on the landing pad outside the facility. After pressure equalization the rear door drops open and you are greeted by a blast of bitterly cold air, it is also a lot harder to breathe due to the thin atmosphere. After you exit, the Osprey takes off again returning to the Icarus. There is no light emanating from the facility and the door leading in from the landing pad is frozen shut. (DC 20 strength check to force it open 1 minute per attempt)
Failure: You smash against the door, succeeding only in breaking loose a few icicles that come crashing down around you.
Success: With a mighty effort you shatter the thin layer of ice and open the door.

Nearby the communications tower seems to have been burned, the metal frame is twisted and blackened from the intense heat (spot DC 27: partially buried in the snow near the comm tower is a corpse.)

Comm Tower:
The tower is severely burned. Several meters away lies a frozen body clutching a microplasma torch, its fuel source exhausted.
Body Contents:
● micro-plasma torch
● Passcard Level IV “Dr. Matthew Willard”
● Shotgun w/ laser sight
● Journal, pages of which have been torn out.
Journal Contents:
1.05: Began work on new breed of AI
2.14: Foundations completed
5.11: Personality matrix nearly complete
5.14: Beginning preliminary tests
5.16: AI has exceeded all expectations moving on to advanced trials
6.08: AI has gone rampant, calls itself “Keltera”
6.10: “Keltera” has attempted to gain access into our data up link system
6.15: “Keltera” has taken control of the facility
6.16: The other researchers are dead. I am going to destroy the data up link
to prevent the AI from leaving this facility
6.16: Whoever finds this, DESTROY the AI labs KILL KELTERA!

Airlock: You are now inside the airlock, shutting the door behind you will provide some protection from the harsh environment outside. The interior door of the airlock is magnetically sealed, a small console on the right side of the door frame blinks faintly and asks for an access code. (DC 20 Computer Use can open the door or a DC 25 disable device can deactivate the lock mechanism itself )

Once you gain entrance to the facility you can breathe easy in the normal, although quite stale, atmosphere. It is still uncomfortably cold, though the heating system has kept the facility at a “safe” internal temperature. The majority of systems seem to be off line as you explore the loading docks and warehouse sector; the stale air suggests that life-support may be disabled.

Locations of Interest:
● Dormitory: where the scientists live, eat, and sleep
● Engineering: controls the reactor and various systems of the facility
● Lab I: basic programming lab working on interactive software
● Lab II: lab working on robotic AI
● Lab III: bio-lab developing living microprocessors
● Lab IV: advanced programming lab working on starship grade AI

You head towards the living quarters of the research facility, in the corridor leading towards the airlock you find a body. The cold temperatures and sterile environment have protected him from decay.
Body Contents:
● Optical disk labeled “Emergency System Shutdown”
● Level I pass card “Dr. Edmund Slemme”

Slemme’s pass card opens the dormitory air lock. This area consists of a long central corridor with many rooms on its sides, and several halls branching off perpendicular from the main corridor; the stench of death hangs heavily in the air. It is noticeably warmer here. Most of the bodies are in their beds, a few are lying in hallways or communal living areas. None show any signs of trauma or distress. At least they all died peacefully.
(Thorough investigation in this area will reveal that carbon monoxide levels are higher than they should be, due to a malfunction in the air scrubbers. As well as several scientists personal journals)

The corridor leading to the engineering sector is filled with a low hum, lights flicker on and off randomly. The airlock is wide open and a warm glow emanates from within.

spot DC 10: the light seems to be coming from a control panel on the far side of the room Accessing the panel causes a holographic representative of an AI to appear in the center of the engineering room. It speaks: “Greetings, I am Keltera, monitor of station K four dash two one Z. How may I be of assistance?”

(If asked about the incident, Keltera will respond with things like “system failure due to improper maintenance” and “Contamination of breathable air” Explaining what went wrong, but giving very little as to how or why. The AI will be very helpful in restoring vital systems, though she seems anxious to repair the communications array)

Lab I:
This lab is just a room full of computers. Several white boards adorn the walls covered with flow charts and ideas for new interactive programs.
Lab II:
(Listen DC15: there is something moving in this lab)
As you enter the lab, a bright light shines in your face (Reflex DC 15 or take 2d4)
Small Animated Object (EL 1)
A small wheeled robot armed with a SMG. It will fire the SMG until empty and then employ its slam attack, fighting until destroyed
Lab III:
A standard biological lab, two Larethians lie dead on the floor. The room is bitterly cold; they are huddled together seeming to have frozen to death.
Lab IV:
The door to this lab is magnetically sealed, the keypad next to it has shorted out. (DC 25 disable device can deactivate the lock mechanism)
Keltera: “I am sorry, this area is under quarantine. I cannot permit you to enter.”
(The AI will not offer explanation as to why the area is quarantined, nor what happened at the
facility other than the obvious. Keltera will also suggest repairing the communications array at
this time too)
There are two robots guarding this room
2 Small Animated Objects (EL 2)
A small wheeled robot armed with a SMG. It will fire the SMG until empty and then employ its slam attack, fighting until destroyed.
The room is very similar to Labs I and II, only with much more advanced and powerful computers. The temperature begins to drop rapidly in the lab and breathing becomes difficult as a toxic haze is pumped into the room (DDT: Inhaled poison, Fort DC17, 1d2 Str primary, 1d4 Str secondary) This whole time Keltera will be taunting the party as their feeble organic bodies fail due to the toxins.
(A Computer Use DC 15 check will allow someone to disable the AI using the Emergency Shutdown disk. If the party begins to succumb to the poison, the captain of the Icarus will radio for a status report, and use a precision orbital strike to take out a section of Lab IV to allow fresh air in)
(In either event the Drop ship will be on hand to retrieve the party after the AI is destroyed. Medical officers will be present on board the drop ship, to begin treating any wounds received. Upon returning to the Icarus the party will be debriefed and congratulated on their success in this mission. If the AI was destroyed without help from the Icarus each member will receive a +2 wealth bonus for their flawless operation)

Black Rock
The captain’s voice comes across the ship’s intercom.
“Kimed VI ground team report to the bridge”
The bridge is a circular room on the top deck, located one-quarter the way back from the bow. The bridge crew of 8 sits at their various control terminals, busy keeping the ship on course. The captain stands to greet you. She is a rather attractive woman in her mid thirties, her brown hair worn in a very conservative pulled back style.
“You handled yourselves well down there. A homicidal AI was definitely not anticipated and you were ill equipped to handle those guard robots, yet you prevailed against those odds.” She pauses and looks thoughtfully out the view screen at the vast blackness of space. “Let us continue this conversation in my ready room.”

Dept. 7:
The ready room is a small office adjoining the bridge, a long conference style table dominates the center of the room. She motions for you to sit down. “That sort of tenacity and dedication to accomplishing the mission is exactly what we look for in Department Seven.” She pauses, giving you a chance to speak.
(Captain Clara Jenner will explain the basics of Dept. 7)
● Protect the interests of the Corporation
● Investigate and secure new technologies
● Neutralize hostile entities that threaten Corporation operations
● Act in a covert manner
● Are allowed a generous expense account to accomplish missions
“We just received a distress call from the planet Kimed IV, one of our colonies until the terraforming incident released massive quantities of radiation.” She plays a recording of the distress call: The sound is masked by static, but you can still catch the tentative quality of the woman’s voice. “Hello? Hello?” she says. “Oh, God, can anyone hear me?” It sounds as if she’s close to tears.

“You will proceed to the surface of the planet, locate this woman and then extract her back to the Icarus. The planet’s surface is highly radioactive so our scanners cannot get a lock on the source of the signal.”

A radio operator buzzes across the intercom: “Captain, the signal repeated itself, the woman said that she is in a town called ‘Black….something.’ According to maps of the planet, there is a town called ‘Black Rock’ and it is in a lightly irradiated zone.”
“Good news” The captain responds. “I’ve already requisitioned the M83 LRV, NBC suits and a fast use medical kit containing several doses of neutrad for your mission, now report to the hangar bay and get planet side ASAP.”

Saturday Night Gaming

•August 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The DM of our regular Saturday game wanted to take a day off so we got to play a 10th level module instead of the usual game, we also ended up with two extra players so it was a very different gaming experience. I don’t recall the name of the module, but it involved fighting a bunch of giants in a castle in the clouds and I believe it was written by Monte Cook.

Since it was going to be a one time thing I decided to try playing a different class than usual, this time I decided to play a Bard. I just couldn’t get into the musical thing so I decided to use oratory as my performance skill and fashioned my actions and personality after that of an Imperial Commissar . Inspiring courage and punishing cowards. I also took leadership as we originally did not have a healer so I had a 8th level cleric cohort who thanks to the nobility domain also had leadership and a 6th level fighter cohort. The two extra players joined late so I had already made up three characters and decided to use them anyways bringing our party to 8 player characters played by 6 players. One player scored repeated, like 9 in 8 rounds, critical hits with his long bow and we really breezed through the encounters due in part to the large party and some really good luck. All in all it was pretty fun, but I must say that I don’t particularly enjoy higher level play.

Playtest: Wings Over Acaxochitl

•August 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I got to run a brief playtest of the vehicle combat system copied adapted from Star Wars Saga Edition. Initial impressions were pretty good, but a few suggestions were made by players and a couple of things were noticed by me as well:

* Damage should be expressed as DCs rather than damage bonuses.

* Missiles should get additional iterative attacks at -2, -4, -8

* Missiles should be able to be targeted and destroyed before they hit. They will be dimunitive in size at aircraft scale, with an appropriate dexterity score and toughness bonus.

* Vehicle scale should be adjusted so that “huge” is the new “medium” thus negating size penalties to defense and attacks, Dexterity scores should be adequately adjusted down as well. This also allows for truly gigantic zeppelins in the “colossal”, “awesome”, and new “terrain” categories.

* Pilots may use the more advantageous of their dexterity or their plane’s dexterity for both attack rolls and defense scores.

These changes should serve to speed up play and make aerial combat both more interesting mechanically and more exciting thematically.

Now this is something interesting

•July 29, 2010 • 1 Comment

Today while doing some reading online I came across a rather interesting OGL project called Microlite20. This is in essence a chopped down version of the D20 system to its most basic components, the whole thing is less than 30 pages long with several of those pages being the OGL that is included with each free PDF.

Lets go for a quick overview of what this game is and then I’ll give my opinion on it.

First Microlite20 streamlines the standard six ability scores into just three: Strength, Dexterity, and Mind.

Races provide adjustments to one of the 3 ability scores or a bonus to skill checks. Classes are Fighter, Rogue, Mage, and Cleric each with different weapon and armor abilities.

There are just 4 skills : Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and Communication. They boil down to a level + ability modifier + class/race bonus + 1d20. Saving throws are now skill checks.

Spells cost you hit points to cast rather than using the Vancian casting spells/level chart.

Everyone gets Strength + 1d6 hp per level, when hp goes to 0 take strength damage when strength goes to 0 you die. There is no BAB, though fighter does get a bonus to hit.

Advancing in level is pretty simple when you have fought Encounter Levels equal to 10x your current level you advance.

Now for my opinion.

We’ve got three ability scores instead of six, I do like the differentiation between intelligence and wisdom, but for simplicity MIND works just fine. I would have liked for them to change the name of strength since strength now represents general physical well-being as well as raw physical power. I’ve also favored Agility as label rather than Dexterity, but that’s just personal preference

The races are just mechanical adjustments and while not everything is represented there is no barrier to re-skinning and saying that your extra Dex comes from being a kobold rather than a halfling. I usually play humans so there is no loss by not including gnomes or half-elves in the list.

The reduction of classes is something I am very much for. I dislike the large number of only marginally different classes that plagued 3.5 and is now making its way into Pathfinder. Just be a fighter who uses a bastard sword if you want to play a samurai, the flavor is in the roleplaying not the nearly identical to fighter mechanics of the class. Only four classes is great, they fill the 4 core roles that a party needs. I feel that those classes do it best anyway so why do you need Bards, Paladins, or Monks?

Generic skill list is alright though I do like to see a bit of divergence in ability, having different skills keeps fighters from all being the same guy in plate armor with a sword and rogues from being just that leather clad dude who steals stuff. There are also no feats, forgot to mention that earlier, you are considered to have the feats that are usual for your class such as two weapon fighting and weapon finesse for fighters and rogues.

Spell casting requiring hp rather than spell levels is a pretty good idea, I like the act of casting draining the caster. Then again I really don’t like magic whatsoever so my opinion on the change is rather invalid.

Everyone gets the same hp is alright though I would not like to see a fighter who has fewer hp than a mage of the same level. I’ve become a fan of average or otherwise fixed hp/level progressions over rolling because of how much rolling a 1 sucks especially if you do it more than once before 5th level.

Finally advancing in level is alright for dungeon crawl type adventures but doesn’t leave a lot of room for quest based XP unless you assign completing a quest an EL in which case it fits in perfectly. It is very basic and perfectly functional.

Overall I really like Microlite20, it looks perfect for running one shot games and throwing down some adventures off the cuff. I’d like to replace hp with a toughness save, perhaps just use the Str+physical skill used for fortitude to represent general toughness as well, and replace rolled damage with a fixed quantity so that the game requires only 1 die to play as well. That would really simplify things.

The portion of the game that I reviewed here is just 1 page of it, the rest is equipment, spell, and monster lists as well as a provision for Microlite20 Modern, but I pretty much covered the whole system aspect of it here.

EDIT: I have been informed by the creator of Microlite20 that the game’s website is now located at

Blast from the Past

•July 28, 2010 • 3 Comments

Last night a friend of mine brought over a ton of old D&D material that had belonged to his late uncle. Included was a few 2nd ed modules, pages and pages of maps and dungeons all hand drawn on grid and hex paper, details about gods and cities, long computer printouts on old continuous pin-feed paper.

Looking through all of this material was a rather interesting experience. The most striking aspect of it all is how much work had been put into meticulously mapping out dungeons and writing down every detail about a city including some advanced math to determine population density by race. It is just amazing to see how much work was put into playing these older versions of RPGs. I definitely appreciate the “rule of cool” and some of the simplicity found in modern gaming, but the efforts of the past impress me a lot. These people really liked what they were doing to have done so much for it.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing to have found in this treasure trove of ancient gaming is a box of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks which no doubt contain more campaign notes and other valuable information, but are essentially lost because the technology is so old that no one has access to anything that will actually read those old disks. I think this highlights the greatest weakness of modern gaming and the huge web-tools focus that has come with 4e. Eventually our technology that is “the wave of the future” will be obsolete and no one will have the equipment required to access the data we have saved on optical disks and USB drives. Things that are written on paper will always be accessible to the literate so long as the paper and the language survive, and given that we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, paper can stand the test of time.

This is going to be GREAT!

•July 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I may have mentioned this before. My greatest achievement as a DM was a game of d20 Future that lasted several months and took the party from 1st to 6th level. The basic premise of world, perhaps galaxy or universe is the better term here, was that there is a Human Federation, based on the government in Starship Troopers, headquartered on the human homeworld of Terra and that a massive interstellar conglomerate called The Corporation (capital “T” capital “C”) was more or less in charge of things outside of that although there was some degree of government oversight. Technology was somewhere around the level seen in the Mass Effect series, although conventional firearms were still the norm for personal scale combat. Other races existed as aliens from other worlds including the Moradin (Dwarves), Larethians (Elves), Sh’non (War Forged), and Orcs and Goblins as more or less orcs and goblins but in space. Dwarves and Elves were a tech level ahead of humans while the the Sh’non were deeply philosophical about their status as constructs that live and think, orcs had enslaved the goblins and just went around space raiding colonies and drinking beer.

In addition to a pretty rich and detailed world the party dynamic was great. We had the charismatic captain Hecatoncheires “Hek” Malloy, the alcoholic renagade pilot Loki Jenson, the brilliant gun-toting scienties Evelyn Trevor, the Moradin doctor Porkbeard Gleeson, a Larethian who they found on some desolate rock, and a rather poorly played Sh’non named 86 who liked to use chainsaw swords and thirsted for battle (his player missed the whole philosophical bit and went for the killer robot angle).

All my DMing notes as well as equipment charts and work-in-progress for this campaign is available for download HERE. The finished campaign notes are in .PDF format and the supporting material is mostly in Open Office formats.

Anyways at least three of the players from this game are going to reprise their roles with a few changes in my Wings over Acaxochitl campaign set in 1930s Mexico. Recapturing that dynamic and having a good setting is going to ensure that this upcoming campaign will be quite memorable, but will definitely have a life of its own due to the character updates as well as the change in both system and setting.