Well, now I feel pretty stupid

•July 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve recently decided to put my Mutants & Masterminds Fable based campaign: Heroes of Albion on hold for a while, the task of creating monsters/NPCs is quite daunting. The system is entirely points based and you start off with 15 x level points, the default starting level is 10, and most abilities cost only 1 or 2 points. So rightly so this game is on hold until I can come up with the spare time to spend an hour or two on each major baddie and try to find a good build for generic mooks that can be reskinned as needed.

As pointed out by AWizardInDallas in a reply to my reply, just scroll down a bit on that page, my group changes campaigns frequently. This is because we have a great group where everyone is up to the task of DMing a game and should there be a scheduling conflict with one party and the normal game not be run we usually have a back up game or one shot that fills in our evening. We also usually game two nights a week so there is a lot of room for games to just pop up.

I’m working on another campaign since Heroes of Albion is grounded. This campaign is going to use the much easier True20 system and is based off of Crimson Skies, a very fun alternate 1930s setting with lots of high performance airplanes and sky pirate action. In my opinion most RPGs do not handle vehicles very well at all. Perhaps they went too much for realism, or didn’t bother with balance, or maybe they just stuck it in as an afterthought to make modern gaming seem possible with a system clearly designed for a more medieval setting.

There is one system that does handle vehicles exceptionally well and that is Star Wars Saga Edition so I decided to pull out my core book for that and try to kit-bash it into True 20 which is possible since they are both d20 derived systems, but its not an elegant or by any means seamless combination. One of the hang-ups I had and continued to have until this morning was how many guns/missiles/bombs/chocolate doughnuts you can stuff into one plane and use in combat. Obviously planes don’t have hands so you can’t just go a gun in each hand. They do have wings and hard-points though and perhaps a slots based system would be ok, but I wanted more customization and didn’t want everyone to just go with One-Inch Cannons on all their slots because they do the best damage.

I struggled thinking of various mechanics that I could use to balance the types of weapons that each type of plane could carry and then this morning at 9:07 it dawned on me – WEIGHT! I sat here trying to force a system to abstract a thing that is naturally already the best darn thing to use. Vehicles have a strength score and thus a carrying capacity, so give them a select number of hard points and just don’t overdo it on weight. Yeah it will take a while to load out aircraft, but in a d20 Future game I ran one player spent over two weeks designing the perfect masterwork luxury star battle cruiser for the party to fly around in. And that is why I feel so stupid right now, I couldn’t see the game through the mechanics and tried to abstract and codify something that in its raw form already did what I needed it to do.

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New Ideas

•July 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been a bit scatterbrained recently it seems. I have had many ideas for new campaigns, but I haven’t been able to move beyond the “hey that sounds cool” stage. I’m still grappling with trying to learn True 20 enough that I can run an actual game with the system. A few short one-shot games have helped my group get more comfortable, but I’m still not ready to take the plunge and do a whole campaign yet.

The Mutants and Masterminds game is coming along slowly. It just takes so long to make a monster/npc that I seldom want to work on it. I still feel like the Fable themed game has a lot of promise though.

Kingmaker

•June 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

If you are starting a new campaign I strongly recommend picking up the Kingmaker Adventure Path. My group recently finished the first major plot arc of the campaign and we have been having a lot of fun with it.

The basic idea behind the adventure path is that you have been sent to reclaim an area south of of Brevoy known as the “stolen lands.” To accomplish this task you need to actually explore and map the region, suppress bandit activity, and deal with some hostile wildlife as well. The exploration aspect is something that is really neat, players are given a sheet of paper with hexes on it and get to create their own map based on the DMs description of what is in each 12 mile hex. This aspect makes the game feel like it is constantly growing as you get to see a nearly blank sheet of hex paper become a map of this untamed region which you eventually conquer and become the rulers of.

The kingdom building rules are pretty interesting and we have only just scratched the surface of what we can really do with the system. Your fledgling kingdom begins with a single city and you must determine who will fill key leadership positions as well as what actions the kingdom will take so that you can improve economy, loyalty, and stability while maintaining a healthy amount of build points so that your kingdom can grow and prosper.

I must say that this adventure path is definitely what I have been looking for from a table top RPG for a long time. Kingmaker fulfills my desire to have my character have an actual effect on the world around him whether for good or bad. Historically I have not really liked pre-made adventures, but Kingmaker is very well written and has let a rather inexperienced DM run a game that has been one of the most enjoyable that I have ever played in.

In conclusion BUY KINGMAKER

Coins or Wealth

•June 24, 2010 • 1 Comment

Much of the life of an adventurer revolves around the accumulation of vast sums of treasure, long lost riches of ancient kings and great heroes from ages long forgotten. This brings up the question: “How do I keep track of all that?” To this there are two answers that I will discuss in this post count it all, and use an abstract system.

Count it All
The Gold Piece or “GP” is the standard unit of currency in D&D as well as PFRPG. Using GP as a basis for counting character wealth is a pretty good system it has numerous advantages.
* Immersive – You can have in-character discussions about gold pieces and the value in gp of various items in the world.
* Rewarding – People love getting big numbers and lots of points. “You find an ornate necklace with an inlaid black starfire gem and after examination you determine its worth to be 1,500gp” is a pretty good thing to hear.
* Easily understood – Anyone can count and the base 10 conversion rate between copper-silver-gold-platinum is very simple.
* Precise – You can tell just how much money your character has because you have a set amount of GP in their inventory

The Wealth Score
The wealth score is used in d20 Modern and True 20. It is basically a fluid bonus that represents your character’s purchasing power which is increased by finding treasure and using your profession while it is decreased by spending more than your wealth. Purchases smaller than your wealth do not change your wealth score and do not require a roll you can simply afford them. This system has several distinct advantages over using a monetary system like the GP

* Easier – You don’t have to track every single little purchase so a wealth score speeds up game play. Not many people want to spend a gaming session balancing their character’s checkbook, the wealth system assumes that the character manages his finances during downtime so the player doesn’t have to worry about it in detail.

* More Flexible – The inherent abstraction of wealth adds more flexibility to character options. Since you don’t lose any wealth for purchases that are under your bonus you can buy useful items without diminishing your ability to afford better weapons and armor. Also since you get to make a wealth check you can often afford things that in a hard currency system would be simply out of reach.

* Mechanically matching – The wealth system provides a modifier to the equation d20 + modifier and as such matches its mechanics with the rest of the game.

* Better representation – While the wealth system is less precise than using GP I feel that it is more representative since many small purchases can be overlooked by the nature of the mechanic. When using GP you are supposed to account for everything, but often the small purchases such as gate tolls, food, inn stays are all overlooked for the sake of simplicity and not diminishing players’ ability to buy better gear.

Both systems offer some unique advantages though neither is without disadvantage. GP’s disadvantage is that it sometimes takes a while to tally up expenditures especially when starting a high level character who has thousands of GP to spend on gear. My biggest problem with wealth is that from my experiences it is easily exploitable if one specs for wealth and has the quirk of “I can buy infinite (small item).”

Sub-optimal for the sake of Story

•June 21, 2010 • 2 Comments

Its the summer and due to vacations and other events my gaming schedule has gotten pretty interesting since not everyone can make it to the regular games every week. In response to this we have started up a few “fill-in” campaigns that we can play when certain players are not available. One such campaign called “Land of the Lost” involves the PCs being shipwrecked on an island that so far has proved to be full of angry dwarf eating dinosaurs.

The introduction to the campaign had the PCs on a boat that was attacked by a (The?) Kraken. We knew going into the fight that the boat would be sunk by the kraken and that it probably wouldn’t kill any PCs so that we could arrive at the island devoid of equipment and have to scavenge the wreckage to survive. During this kraken fight tentacles were wrapping around the deck and we had to fight to get them off so that we could save the ship, which we knew was impossible given the story, but was a lot of fun. The ship had a large ballista mounted at the bow so I decided to use that against the tentacles. The ballista was far less accurate and even more so less damaging than if I had decided to use my barbarian’s glaive in the fight which brings me to my point the age old debate between system and story.

Alright. So mechanically we’ve got the ballista that has an inherent -4 to hit but does 3d8 damage, it also takes two full round actions unless you are large or bigger. On the other hand we’ve got a glaive that deals 1d10 + strength and a half. My character in this case is a second level barbarian with STR 14, DEX 16, CON 14, so she can rage for 8 rounds a day and increase strength to 18. Firing a ballista she has a net +1 to hit (+2 BAB +3 DEX -4 penalty) and can deal 3d8 damage every 3 rounds or can attack with the glaive at +4 and deal 1d10+3 every round, if raging this increases to +6 to hit and 1d10+6 to damage for 8 rounds.

It is easy to see that the glaive has both a higher chance to hit each round and deals a greater die of damage and has a static damage modifier which gives a better minimum damage. Now from an “if I were really there” perspective I would think that using the biggest gun on the ship against the big tentacles would make more sense than using this puny little blade on a stick. Now were damage reduction a factor the higher average/max damage ballista may be the better bet but in this fight it was not.

Since this fight was guaranteed to be a loss for the party there was not any real penalty for using a “sub-optimal” combat choice I was free to take the more interesting route and create a more dynamic scene than would otherwise occur. Unfortunately it often happens that you need to be on the top of your game and exploiting every mechanical advantage just to survive a tough encounter. I feel that when these tough encounters come around they destroy the story focus of the game and make role playing harder since you are forced to think in meta-game terms in order to wring the most performance out of your character just to get by. Now I’m not saying that all encounters should be a walk in the park, but maybe they don’t have to be optimized to stress the party’s resources so much in order to allow more cinematic actions to take place.

How does your group handle story vs mechanics in situations like this?

New Materials: Obsidian

•June 12, 2010 • 1 Comment

In my last post I complained about the vast number of new weapons and armor that have been added to the Pathfinder SRD saying that most of them are redundant and don’t add much if anything to the game. Last night I had a discussion after finishing the Carrion Hill Horror about special materials and how they could be used to greater effect and how adding new crafting materials could create more interesting weapons and armor from the current stock rather than adding a bunch of largely redundant pieces. To this end I bring you Obsidian.

Obsidian
This dark volcanic glass can be carefully worked to produce blades sharper than any metal. Weapons made from obsidian have their critical threat range increased by 1, this bonus is added but does not get doubled when a weapon is made keen or if the wielder has the improved critical feat. Weapons made from obsidian have one third fewer hit points and half the hardness of a weapon made of steel. Due to its brittle nature the DC for craft checks when working with obsidian are increased by 2 and obsidian weapons are always considered to be of masterwork quality.

In case the threat range thing was not clear enough in the description above an obsidian longsword would have a critical threat range of 18-20 (add one) while a keen longsword would have a critical threat range of 17-20 (double), and a keen obsidian longsword would have a critical threat range of 16-20 (double and then add one). I still have not figured out a price or how it would interact with damage reduction yet, or if it can be used to make armor and if so what the benefit would be. As always discussion is encouraged.

A long sword by anyother name

•June 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Having taken a couple months off of DMing I had no real reason to look at d20pfsrd. Now that I’m back in a DMing mindset, eventhough I’m not running Pathfinder I have been poking around there and must say that I am quite disappointed by the sheer amount of extra bloat that has made its way there.

Most of my annoyance comes from the new weapons. Seriously do we really need more than 20 different types of arrows with only slight mechanical differences between them or the terbutje which is basically a macuahuitl. The metal version is identical to a long sword in all but price, it is more expensive. Is there really a need for all these extra weapons that are mechanically very similar if not identical to existing weapons? Why not just “re-skin” a long sword to fit the flavor of an Aztec style character? The armored kilt is another bothersome piece, it is armor that stacks with other armor, something that is not supposed to happen. There is parade armor which is simply studded leather in all but flavor text.

I’ve always felt that more books does not mean more fun. You simply cannot keep adding stuff without 90% of it being redundant or rendering previous material obsolete. Some cool things that were added is the adventurer’s sash, masterwork backpack, and wayfinder. They offer unique advantages over other gear while not being clearly superior. I especially like the masterwork backpack as it provides an intermediate step between the standard backpack and the haversack in terms of storage capacity and will definitely be invaluable in a low or no magic campaign.

I figure that this stuff wouldn’t get written if people didn’t like it enough to buy the books that contain it so what do you think about all this equipment bloat?