Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gearing Up for Memorial Day Weekend!

My family, my parents, and my sister and brother-in-law are all getting ready to head down to lovely Shelbyville, IL for some holiday camping. We have cabins, so it's kind of like luxury camping. In preparation, I have dug out X2 - Castle Amber, and printed up some player copies of Labyrinth Lord (first 60 pages).

I've had this module printed out for some time, but now that I'm actually reading it, I'm pretty excited about the whole thing. It's a really fantastic adventure, and is right in line with the sort of things I like (tons of W E I R D!)

I'm going to try to get my dad to play, too. That should make for some good times!

I'm going to do my best to just play straight by-the-book LL rules, since we've never really done that. I'm going to give characters 20,001 xp to start, which will be level 5 for everyone except elves (level 4) and thieves (level 6). The only thing I'm not real clear on is what sort of magic items to start people with, if any. Most modern games have guidelines as to how much magical treasures a player should have at a given level, yet old-school games have no such guidelines, and I suspect that this varies wildly from DM to DM.

So, I'm open to any suggestions. Also, if you have any experiences to share concerning this particular module, I'd love to hear them!

I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Sandpoint Sandbox, Sessions 6 & 7

Sessions  6 and 7 of our Pathfinder game happened on May 14th and 21st, respectively. As alluded to in a previous post, I have shifted my approach to running this game dramatically. The campaign started out with book 1 of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, but I've set that content aside in favor of a more open-ended, player-driven, sandboxy style.

First, I have to give a lot of credit to Paizo. Sandpoint is an excellent little town with enough going on in it to keep the players engaged at all times. Here is one of the 50 entries for the town, contained in the adventure path book:

8. Sage
The sole occupant of this ancient building is a cantankerous old man named Brodert Quink (NG male human expert 7), a balding expert on Varisian history and engineering. Brodert claims to have spent two decades of his youth studying with dwarven engineers at Janderhoff and three decades as a cataloger at the Great Library of Magnimar, and is continually baffled and enraged that his learning and obvious intelligence haven’t afforded him more prestige. Brodert has been studying ancient Thassilonian ruins for the past several years and has  recently become obsessed with the Old Light. No one believes his theories that the tower was once a war machine capable of spewing fire to a range of more than a mile.
There are some much more flavorful entries, such as the one for the Pixie's Kitten brothel, but this one is a good example of how the seeds of adventure are sprinkled throughout the town. Having already played 5 sessions, the group was already familiar with a number of NPCs, and a number of events had already taken place that were easy to build upon.

So basically, these two sessions added up to about 15 hours of play. As far as prep, I did very little. I created two encounter tables - one for the surrounding wilderness, and one for dungeons. One of the encounters I put on the table was "rival adventuring party", so I statted those up. I grabbed a few dungeon maps from Paratime Designs and tossed them into my binder, but I didn't even bother populating them, and probably won't until I know for sure where the party is going. I wrote down a short list of things that were happening around the town, some interesting, some not so much. I did do a great deal of thinking about the game in the two weeks leading up to it, but I wrote very little down, and to be perfectly honest, I was pretty scared about how it was going to turn out.

One thing I did do was read a lot of fiction during the time I'm normally spending reading the next adventure path book. I can't stress enough how well this paid off in play. I had just finished reading a REH book of stories, and I have been reading the Clark Ashton Smith book you see pictured over to the right. When we got down to playing, I was astounded at my ability to give vivid descriptions of events and roleplay a wide variety of NPCs. I am not an imaginative person - at least I've never fancied myself as being so. Yet, all the reading I had been doing awakened a long-dormant part of my brain, and contributed to what turned out to be some really great gaming.

I usually put in a metric shit ton of prep time whenever we play this game, so this was all like a wonderful brand-new world for me. I no longer had a personal investment in steering the party in a certain direction, and was able to achieve a level of indifference and impartiality previously unknown to me. As an added benefit, the levels of anxiety and stress I normally experience when actively running a game were lowered almost to the point of non-existence. It was like I had reached a state of Dungeon Master zen. In a word, it was fucking awesome!

This is definitely the lazy man's way to play, and furthermore, it was a lot more fun for me as well. This was because I had just as little idea what was going to happen in the game as the players did, and I was very interested in seeing how it all played out.

One unexpected thing that happened is the roleplaying went WAY up. There were only two combats across these two sessions, with the second session lasting 10 hours and being completely devoid of combat. What can I say? There were eight random encounter checks with an encounter happening on a 1 or 2, and it just never came up. I don't think anyone minded though, with the notable exception of our powergamer half-ogre barbarian. He was just squirming and itching to roll that d20 the whole time. Oh well, he will get his chance soon enough.

So right now, the party has explored the first few rooms of the shrine from Death Frost Doom, in search of a powerful sword they learned about from the local fortune-teller. They've had about a million hints that going there would be a bad idea, and still they press on. The barbarian even walked a mile with Zeke Duncaster hanging on his back screaming, "NO NO NO! YOU'RE ALL DOOOOOMED!" I read the adventure several weeks ago, so I was a little foggy on some of the details, but I didn't find it difficult to run at all by simply glancing at it while we were playing. Now that I know they intend to see things through in there, I can read the rest of it over again before the next time we play.

In addition, the party has been short on cash, so they have already exchanged three future favors for goods and services. Between those future favors being called in, and all the stuff happening in Sandpoint they don't even know about, this party won't be found "wondering what to do next" for some time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

DMG Score

I stopped at Half-Price Books this afternoon, as is my occasional wont, and found a pretty clean copy of the original efreet-covered DMG. The binding was solid, not much wear, and most impressive of all, the pages were white, rather than the usual yellow or brown. Also, not a single pen or pencil mark throughout.

Note: not my actual copy

Now I've never been a big AD&D guy, but a lot of people list the AD&D DMG as their most treasured D&D book. I'd like to have a copy as well. The only issue was the sticker price of $20. These books are all over the place, and I think $20 is a bit steep. Furthermore, it had a Toys R Us price tag sticker on it from 1980-something listed at $10 and change!

Thus, I set out to make a deal. I went to the counter and asked the young man working there what he could do about the price. He looked at me like I was crazy, and said, "That's just the price, we don't change it." I asked to speak with the manager in a very casual non-confrontational way. He called her up and told her I wanted to "dispute the price." I clarified, saying that I was not disputing anything, and I was simply hoping to get a better deal on a widely-available book.

She went and looked up the sales data, and told me that based on the data she was confident she would have no problem getting $20 for it, but she was willing to give me $5 off anyways. I thought about it for a moment. I could certainly get a cheaper copy, but one this clean was probably going to be relatively rare. I agreed and am now the proud owner of a rather handsome copy of the original DMG.

The moral of the story: negotiation is a lost art here in the states. We often fall into the thinking that the sticker price is just the price and take it or leave it. You'd be surprised what you can do if you just ask, even at a retail chain. Give it a try some time!

New Player

We got a pleasant surprise last week when my 10-year-old cousin played with us in our regualr Pathfinder game. He has tried to play with us once or twice before, but never made it past the 20-minute mark. Sitting in once place can be difficult for a 10-year-old, I suppose.

I helped him make a character using Microlite20 rules. In the beginning, the party was doing inventory management/shopping and so forth, and he decided he wanted a ninja mask. This is the sort of thing I love and try to encourage. At one point, he was about to try to assassinate the rival adventuring party by himself, with the rest of his party several hundred yards away. I'm glad he ended up deciding against it, as I wasn't too keen on killing him so early in the game. However, if it came down to it, I would have done it. It's important for any player to learn the mortality of their character, and that I'm not running a superhero game.

Bakna, the Hobbit Thief with ninja mask and a bandolier full of daggers
Early on, I made a point to let him know that the game contains adult content. This was partially to warn him, as the other players have been known to mutilate their enemies and do a lot of really unsavory things, but the main reason was that I just wanted him to feel like he was participating in a "big kid's game". His brother chimed in calling it "M for mature". A few hours and several penis jokes later, he says, "I thought you said this game was M for mature. More like D for dork!" He won the memorable quote award with that one!

We are playing again this weekend, and he won't be able to make it this time (he is a very busy 10-year-old man-about-town), but I hope he joins us again. He seemed to enjoy himself, sneaking around and spying on people, and it's always refreshing to have someone at the table with no preconceived notions or ability to metagame.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Company of the Black Flag

I took the time to do full stats for the rival adventuring party that started to come to life in the last session. Believe it or not, I actually had fun doing it. I know, it's a sickness! For your viewing pleasure, I present the Company of the Black Flag:

Male Human (Chelaxian) Fighter 5
LE Medium Humanoid (Human)
Init +7; Senses Perception +1


AC 22, touch 14, flat-footed 19   (+7 armor, +1 shield, +3 Dex, +1 deflection)
hp 44 (5d10+5)
Fort +5, Ref +4, Will +0
Defensive Abilities Bravery +1


Spd 30 ft.
Melee +1 Longsword +12 (1d8+8/19-20/x2) or
Two-Weapon Fighting +1 Longsword +10 (1d8+8/19-20/x2) and +1 Shortsword +8 (1d6+5/19-20/x2)
Ranged Masterwork Shortbow, Composite (Str +3) +9 (1d6+3/20/x3)
Special Attacks Weapon Training: Blades, Heavy


Str 16/18, Dex 17, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 8, Cha 10
Base Atk +5; CMB +9; CMD 23
Feats Combat Expertise +/-2, Double Slice, Improved Initiative, Two-weapon Defense, Two-weapon Fighting, Weapon Focus: Longsword, Weapon Specialization: Longsword
Skills Acrobatics +6, Climb +8, Escape Artist +1, Fly +1, Intimidate +7, Perception +1, Ride +1, Stealth +1, Survival +5, Swim +8
Languages Common, Varisian
SQ Armor Training 1 (Ex)
Combat Gear +1 Longsword, +1 Shortsword, Masterwork Shortbow, Composite (Str +3), +1 Breastplate; Other Gear Alchemist's fire (flask), Backpack (empty), Belt of Giant Strength, +2, Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, Ring of Protection, +1


Armor Training 1 (Ex) Worn armor -1 check penalty, +1 max DEX.
Bravery +1 (Ex) +1 Will save vs. Fear
Combat Expertise +/-2 Bonus to AC in exchange for an equal penalty to attack.
Two-weapon Defense +1 to AC while wielding 2 weapons. +2 when doing so defensively.
Weapon Training: Blades, Heavy +1 (Ex) +1 Attack, Damage, CMB, CMD with Heavy Blades
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Male Tengu Rogue 5
NE Medium Humanoid (Tengu)
Init +4; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +12


AC 20, touch 15, flat-footed 15   (+5 armor, +4 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 38 (5d8+5)
Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +3
Defensive Abilities Evasion, Trap Sense +1, Uncanny Dodge


Spd 30 ft.
Melee +1 Frost Sai +7 (1d4+2/20/x2) and Masterwork Cold Iron Sai +7 (1d4/20/x2),
   Bite +2 (1d3/20/x2) 
Ranged Masterwork Shortbow, Composite (Str +1) +8 (1d6+1/20/x3)
Special Attacks Sneak Attack +3d6


Str 12, Dex 19, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 8
Base Atk +3; CMB +4; CMD 19
Feats Dodge, Exotic Weapon Proficiency: Sai, Rogue Weapon Proficiencies, Two-weapon Fighting, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus: Sai
Skills Acrobatics +12, Bluff +7, Climb +5, Disguise +3, Escape Artist +8, Intimidate +3, Linguistics +12, Perception +12, Sense Motive +9, Sleight of Hand +12, Stealth +19, Swim +5, Use Magic Device +3
Languages Azlanti, Boggard, Common, Dark Folk, Goblin, Shoanti, Strix, Tengu, Thassilonian, Tien, Undercommon, Varisian
SQ Trapfinding +2
Combat Gear +2 Shadow Studded Leather, +1 Frost Sai, Masterwork Cold Iron Sai, Masterwork Shortbow, Composite (Str +1)


Evasion (Ex) If you succeed at a Reflex save for half damage, you take none instead.
Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.
Sneak Attack +3d6 +3d6 damage if you flank your target or your target is flat-footed.
Trap Sense +1 (Ex) +1 bonus on reflex saves and AC against traps.
Trapfinding +2 +2 to find or disable traps.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex) Retain Dex bonus to AC when flat-footed.
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Male Human Sorcerer 6
CE Medium Humanoid (Human)
Init +0; Senses Perception +1


AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10
hp 44 (6d6+18)
Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +6
DR 5/lethal; Resist cold 5


Spd 30 ft.
Melee Masterwork Dagger +4 (1d4/19-20/x2)
Spell-Like Abilities Grave Touch (3r) (8/day)
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 6, +3 melee touch, +3 ranged touch):
3 (4/day) Fly
2 (6/day) False Life, Web (DC 17), Summon Swarm
1 (8/day) Chill Touch (DC 17), Cause Fear (DC 17), Ray of Enfeeblement (DC 17), Color Spray (DC 16), Expeditious Retreat
0 (at will) Daze (DC 15), Detect Poison, Read Magic, Message, Light, Detect Magic, Ray of Frost


Str 11, Dex 8/10, Con 15, Int 15, Wis 12, Cha 20
Base Atk +3; CMB +3; CMD 13
Feats Additional Traits, Combat Casting, Eschew Materials, Spell Focus: Necromancy, Toughness +6
Traits Deft Dodger, Suspicious
Skills Appraise +11, Bluff +9, Diplomacy +9, Escape Artist +3, Fly +9, Intimidate +9, Sense Motive +11, Spellcraft +11, Use Magic Device +9
Languages Abyssal, Boggard, Common
SQ Undead
Combat Gear Masterwork Dagger; Other Gear Backpack (empty), Belt of Incredible Dexterity, +2, Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, Potion of Gaseous Form, Robe of Bones, Scroll: Deep Slumber, Obscuring Mist, Dispel Magic, Wand of Magic Missile


Combat Casting +4 to Concentration checks to cast while on the defensive.
Damage Reduction (5/lethal) You have Damage Reduction against non-lethal damage
Damage Resistance, Cold (5) You have the specified Damage Resistance against Cold attacks.
Eschew Materials Cast without materials, if material cost is <= 1gp.
Grave Touch (3r) (8/day) (Sp) Melee touch attack leaves target shaken for 3 rounds or frightened for 1 round.
Spell Focus: Necromancy Spells from one school of magic have +1 to their save DC.
Undead Some undead are susceptible to your mind-affecting spells. Corporeal undead that were once humanoids are treated as humanoids for the purposes of determining which spells affect them.
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Male Ghoul Cleric 3
LE Medium Undead
Init +3; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +10


AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16   (+4 armor, +3 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 52 (5d8+25)
Fort +9, Ref +5, Will +12
Defensive Abilities Channel Resistance +2; Immune ability drain, bleeds, death effects, energy drain, exhaustion, fatigue, physical ability damage, disease, mind-affecting, non-lethal damage, paralysis, poison, sleep, stunning, Undead Traits


Spd 30 ft.
Melee Bite (Ghoul) +6 (1d6+2/20/x2) and Claw x2 (Ghoul) +7 x2 (1d6+2/20/x2)
Special Attacks Bleeding Touch 1 rounds (8/day), Destructive Smite +1 (8/day), Paralysis (1d4+1 rounds, elves are immune) (DC 17)
Spell-Like Abilities Bleeding Touch 1 rounds (8/day)
Cleric Spells Known (CL 3, 5 melee touch, 6 ranged touch):
2 (2/day) Hold Person (DC 17), Death Knell (DC 17), Spiritual Weapon
1 (4/day) Protection from Good, Command (DC 16), Cause Fear (DC 16), Obscuring Mist, Bane (DC 16)
0 (at will) Resistance, Detect Magic, Bleed (DC 15), Guidance


Str 14, Dex 17, Con -, Int 17, Wis 21, Cha 20
Base Atk +3; CMB +5; CMD 18
Feats Command Undead (DC 16), Selective Channeling, Weapon Focus: Claw
Skills Climb +6, Diplomacy +13, Heal +13, Intimidate +13, Perception +10, Sense Motive +13, Spellcraft +7, Stealth +11
Languages Abyssal, Celestial, Common, Infernal
SQ Aura (Ex), Channel Negative Energy 2d6 (8/day) (DC 16) (Su), Cleric Domain: Death, Cleric Domain: Destruction, Disease (DC 17) (Su), Spontaneous Casting
Combat Gear Mithral Shirt; Other Gear Cloak of Resistance, +1


Aura (Ex) The Cleric has an aura corresponding to his deity's alignment.
Bleeding Touch 1 rounds (8/day) (Sp) Melee touch attack deals 1d6 bleeding damage.
Channel Negative Energy 2d6 (8/day) (DC 16) (Su) A good cleric can channel positive energy to heal the living and injure the undead; an evil cleric can channel negative energy to injure the living and heal the undead.
Channel Resistance +2 +2 bonus to save vs. Channel Energy.
Cleric Domain: Death Granted Powers: You can cause the living to bleed at a touch, and find comfort in the presence of the dead.
Cleric Domain: Destruction Granted Powers: You revel in ruin and devastation, and can deliver particularly destructive attacks.
Command Undead (DC 16) Channel energy can take control of undead.
Darkvision (60 feet) You can see in the dark (black and white vision only).
Destructive Smite +1 (8/day) (Su) You gain the destructive smite power: the supernatural ability to make a single melee attack with a morale bonus on damage rolls equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). You must declare the destructive smite before making the attack.
Disease (DC 17) (Su) Ghoul Fever: Bite-injury; save Fort DC 13; onset 1 day; frequency 1/day; effect 1d3 Con and 1d3 Dex damage; cure 2 consecutive saves. The save DC is Charisma-based. A humanoid who dies of ghoul fever rises as a ghoul at the next midnight. A humanoid who becomes a ghoul in this way retains none of the abilities it possessed in life. It is not under the control of any other ghouls, but it hungers for the flesh of the living and behaves like a normal ghoul in all respects. A humanoid of 4 Hit Dice or more rises as a ghast.
Immune to Ability Drain Immune to ability drain
Immune to Bleeds You are immune to bleeds.
Immune to Energy Drain Immune to energy drain
Immune to Exhausted You are immune to the exhausted condition.
Immune to Fatigue You are immune to the fatigued condition.
Immune to Physical Ability Damage Immune to ability damage to your physical abilities.
Immunity to Non-lethal Damage You are immune to Non-Lethal Damage
Paralysis (1d4+1 rounds, elves are immune) (Fort DC 17) This special attack renders the victim immobile. Paralyzed creatures cannot move, speak, or take any physical actions. The creature is rooted to the spot, frozen and helpless. Unlike hold person and similar effects, a paralysis effect does not allow a new save each round.
Selective Channeling Exclude targets from the area of your Channel Energy.
Spontaneous Casting The Cleric can convert stored spells into Cure or Inflict spells.
Undead Traits Undead are immune to death effects, disease, mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, morale effects, phantasms, and patterns), paralysis, poison, sleep, stun, and any effect that requires a Fortitude save (unless the effect also works on objects
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Those are some serious stat blocks!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Movie Review: Solomon Kane

So the other day I found out there was a Solomon Kane movie, which I had never heard about, so I decided to check it out. Basically, it was fucking awesome. It starts out straight away with some badass action and creepy demon shit. After that, it does drag for a while, and I kept thinking to myself, "When is he going to get his damn hat!"

I've only read a handful of stories concerning Solomon Kane, and the movie definitely seemed a lot more super-heroic than the stories, but it was a fine film nonetheless, with a healthy dose of creepiness to it. Also, I don't recall any of the movie's content in any of the stories I've read, so I can't say what sorts of liberties were taken. This may well have been a benefit, as I am generally disappointed by a film when I am well-acquainted with the source material.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend checking it out. As with any film based on well-loved literature, try to judge it based on it's own merits, as a standalone thing, rather than comparing it to it's source material.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

d20-Style Saving Throws for Labyrinth Lord or B/X D&D

If you are interested in adding d20-style saving throw categories to your Labyrinth Lord or B/X game, I've devised the tables that will allow you to do so.

How it works: These saves work exactly like the standard saving throws for B/X in that they are target numbers that the player needs to meet or exceed in order to be successful. Ability modifiers affect saves in the following way:

  • CON bonus/penalty applied to Fortitude saves
  • DEX bonus/penalty applied to Reflex saves
  • WIS bonus/penalty applied to Will saves

It should be obvious which save is applicable in a given situation. Fortitude saves are for poisons, diseases, surviving resurrection or transformation from stone to flesh, etc. Reflex saves are for dodging lightning bolts, dragon breath, wands and so on. Will is for resisting mind-affecting spells such as charm or fear.

The process for generating these was simple. I just started with a base save target of 15, and improved the values based on the charts in the d20 SRD. A normal save progression is improving at a rate of 1 every 3 levels, while good saves start out at +2 and improve at every even-numbered level.

There are a couple of things to note. First, the ability modifier range for B/X is -3/+3, so if you are going to use these for OD&D, where the modifiers only range from -1/+1, you may want to change the base save number to 14, but I will leave that up to you. Secondly, I use separate race and class, and no level limits on demi-humans, so I don't give them ridiculous save bonuses; they simply use the save tables based on their class. However, I would likely give them minor bonuses to keep with tradition. For instance +1 to all save rolls for the lucky little bastard Hobbits, and +2 vs. poison/+1 vs. magic for Dwarves. I will leave these racial bonuses, if any, to be determined by the referee, since whether or not demi-human level limits exist in your game should be a big factor in determining what those bonuses might be.

I only advanced the tables to level 10, since that should cover 99% of the games happening out there, and I've only play-tested these at level 2-3. In the event you use these for your game, and need to go beyond level 10, you should know better than anyone if the saves should continue to advance at the same rate, stop advancement completely, or advance at a slower rate. It all depends on whether or not the party has a lot of items that are giving bonuses to saves or boosting abilities beyond 18, etc.

One final note is that one of the main strengths of the original saving throw categories is the evocative names they were given. Let's face it, "SAVE VERSUS DEATH RAY" is way cooler than "Make a fort save". That being said, the save categories I present here can always be renamed in order to keep that flavor. I am not so creative when it comes to such things, but I am interested to hear what you guys might come up with.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Thanks for the Basic Fantasy RPG

Note: Be sure to read to the bottom to retrieve your reward!

One of the first OSR-type games I came across was Basic Fantasy RPG. It is not a retro-clone, per se, but it is it's own thing, based on the d20 SRD and injected with the simplicity of B/X D&D. It is a very cool and easy to learn game, is 100% open (except for the art, I think), and 100% free. It is available on Lulu in 3 different formats at cost. In addition, it is hosted on a well-maintained site, which also includes tons of free user-created adventures, rules supplements, and other stuff like reference sheets, character sheets and GM screens.

Out of all of the "open" games available, I'd say that BFRPG is the most open. All the documents are available in both PDF and OpenOffice format, so it is a great platform for creating a customized game of your own design, with most of the heavy lifting already done for you.

Mythmere's post brought my attention to the fact that I have never thanked Chris Gonnerman, and all the others associated with the project for all the hard work they've done in bringing a very high-quality free game to us. Matt started a thread over on Dragon's Foot to thank Chris, so if you've made use of his work, head over there and drop him a note.

I've used BFRPG to play games, and also as reference material for personal projects. Below is a photo from a BFRPG game I played with my sister and brother-in-law, in which they were assaulting a mommy dragon and her two brat children that were causing trouble in the region.

Crazy zealot cleric just charges right in!
They won the battle by the skin of their teeth - one or two guys were lost in the battle. They were rewarded with much wealth, a flying carpet, and an efreeti bottle. They just happened to get lucky on the roll for the efreeti bottle and were granted 3 wishes. I'd tell you what the wishes were, but they're not really appropriate for public consumption!

Below is a pic of my homemade copy of BFRPG. I printed it at home on my laser printer, included a few supplements, made a custom cover on cardstock, and had it spiral-bound at Office Depot.

Acetate cover flipped over to reduce glare
The cover features the art of Kevin Mayle (used without permission), a favorite artist of mine. I tried to make a cover that would reflect the clean simplicity of the game itself, and I believe I accomplished that. If you like the cover, you can download your own copy here. Consider it a small token of my thanks and appreciation to the folks that brought us this most excellent game!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bringing Some Old-School Principles Into Pathfinder

Disclaimer: As usual, there are probably no revolutionary ideas here. Just my thinking out loud, mostly.

This Saturday we will have our 6th session of our Pathfinder game that was started using the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. Last session the group completed the first of the six volumes in that adventure path and reached level 4.

On the side, we've played a few sessions of B/X D&D, and I've tried to get the players excited about it. They have graciously humored me, but so far they still have a definite preference for Pathfinder. I don't really blame them. Pathfinder has tons of options to help you build an awesome character of your own design, and those options translate into actual game mechanics that support your favored style of play, which legitimizes it all in the mind of a lot of players. The drawback is that the GM has to have a high level of rules mastery in order to keep the game flowing and minimize interruptions for rules lookups. Having been playing the game for 6 months, but with no previous 3.5 experience, I am getting there, but there are still plenty of gaps.

Enter the old-school.

I've been consuming vast quantities of information pertaining to the OSR on forums and blogs since last fall. I've purchased (or otherwise aquired) and read OD&D, Holmes, B/X, Swords & Wizardry (all 3), LotFP, OSRIC (haven't actually read that one haha) and tons of other homebrew house rules documents. As a result, I feel I have gained a lot of insight into what sorts of things I like and don't like, and what works and doesn't work at the table, and I will be injecting a lot of the results of those lessons into my Pathfinder game.

Step 1: The "Adventure Path" is no longer. I will still mine the books for content and a potential overall story, but the players will no longer be led by the nose in a "hey, the adventure is over here!" manner. Luckily, the setting we are in is actually extremely supportive of sandbox-style play, and we will be going much more in that direction, with the players deciding where they want to go. The next session will begin with each player being given an index card with a rumor on it that they've learned in town since arriving back from their last adventure. They can learn more rumors by interacting with people around town. The writeup for the town of Sandpoint in the first issue of the adventure path is decidedly old-school, as it is just a keyed map of the town with a few sentences describing each location and the NPCs that can usually be found there. It even features it's own "huge ruined pile", which most people mistakenly believe to be an ancient lighthouse. Stonehell Dungeon is going in under that sucker!

Step 2: Sprinkle in some modules. As mentioned, I will be placing Stonehell underneath Sandpoint. The party has already discovered some small dungeon spaces underneath the town, and the adventure path implies that there is more, it just doesn't go through the trouble of fleshing it out. Mega-dungeoneering will become an option for the group if they are interested. I'll also be placing Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent in the Mushfen swamps to the south. I also have plenty of one-page dungeons and things like that in my campaign binder to use as resources if needed. Vornheim is on it's way, and I definitely plan to use it should the adventurers find their way to Magnimar, Kaer Maga, or Korvosa. But the one I'm most excited about is that I've placed Death Frost Doom in the Devil's Platter, not far from the town. Last session the party got their asses handed to them by a greater barghest in the lower levels of the dungeon they were in, and were lucky to escape with their lives. I have a strong feeling they are going to want to exact revenge on the monster, and they are likely to learn of a powerful sword long lost in the ancient shrine of a death cult of Urgathoa that would help them get it. The hook is perfect. The hardest part is going to be for me to not railroad them into it, so strong is my desire to see those events play out. I even bought a Bag O Zombies, just in case. I have no idea how they would approach the events in DFD.

Step 3: Add randomness. I was surprised to see that the Bestiary already had random monster tables in the back (although the Bestiary 2 sadly does not). In the adventure path, there is little to support the use of wandering monsters and random happenings, and honestly for a beginner GM in Pathfinder, wandering monsters are a bad idea. The stat blocks are too complex to be able to expect a new GM to flip to a monster entry without ever having seen it before and run it in a meaningful way. However, I think I've reached the point where I am comfortable enough to use random monsters, and I've created the following table for the wilderness surrounding the town, a.k.a. the Sandpoint Hinterlands:

The Local Wilderness
Encounter Type (d6)
1-4 = Monsters
5-6 = Other

Monsters (d12)
  1. Army Ant Swarm (Bestiary 16)
  2. 1d3 Winter Wolves (Bestiary 280)
  3. 1d6 Giant Wasps (Bestiary 275)
  4. 2d4 Goblins plus 1d3 Goblin Dogs (Bestiary 156-157)
  5. Owlbear (50% chance it is 2 Owlbears making sexytime with each other) (Bestiary 224)
  6. Young Green Dragon, "Xaldraxis" (Bestiary 96)
  7. Dire Boar (Bestiary 36)
  8. 2d8 Bandits, one has a single-shot gun (GameMastery Guide 258)
  9. Ettin (Bestiary 130)
  10. Ghost (Bestiary 144)
  11. 1d4+1 Gnolls plus 1d2 Hyenas (Bestiary 155, 179)
  12. 1d3 Amphisbaena (Bestiary2 25)
Other (d10)
  1. 3d10 Aurochs (Bestiary 174)
  2. Varisian (Gypsy) Caravan
  3. Robbery Victim
  4. Roadside Shrine
  5. 1d6+6 Brownies (Bestiary2 49)
  6. Lyrakien (Potential to give the party some sort of buff) (Bestiary2 138)
  7. Senile Old Lady, wandering aimlessly and talking to herself
  8. 1d12+2 Blink Dogs, only speak Sylvan (Bestiary2 47)
  9. Dead Guy with a map in his pack
  10. Rival Adventuring Party! (need to stat these guys up)
Step 4: De-emphasize the focus on balance. Despite what many think, just because Pathfinder has challenge ratings (CR), doesn't mean the party needs to be spoon-fed level-appropriate encounters. The CR is simply a tool to give the GM an idea if an encounter is going to shit all over the players or not. This is reflected in the tables above. Some of the encounters are easy. Some will have a 99% chance of TPK if the party tries to fight the whole way through. And some could go either way depending on how many creatures the dice say are there. Those numbers aren't mine, either. I was actually surprised to find numbers in the bestiary in the style of OD&D/AD&D's "No. Enc." There they were, staring right at me. I had just never noticed it before. Here is the entry for Gnolls:
Organization solitary, pair, hunting party (2–5
gnolls and 1–2 hyenas), band (10–100 adults plus
50% noncombatant children, 1 sergeant of 3rd
level per 20 adults, 1 leader of 4th–6th level, and
5–8 hyenas), or tribe (20–200 plus 1 sergeant of 3rd
level per 20 adults, 1 or 2 lieutenants of 4th or 5th
level, 1 leader of 6th–8th level, 7–12 hyenas, and 4–7
That's so totally AD&D, I was floored to see it. It's just that so far I have only run games from the adventure path books, and they have each encounter laid out with an exact number of creatures, so I was oblivious to this info in the Bestiary.

In addition to this, I will be making some use of old-school Morale rules wherever I deem it appropriate to do so. It will help shorten some combats, and possibly save the party's ass on occasion.

Step 5: Add hirelings/henchmen. I'm not sure if there's rules for this or not in PF - I'll have to take another look. But in the last dungeon the party was in, they found a mercenary guy, and I think it would be cool to have him tag along with the party, and probably eventually die a horrible gruesome death, or serve as a catalyst for new adventures, since he is actually a wanted man. I just think these guys add a lot to the game, and also give the opportunity to inflict horrible things on the party with little actual ramifications to the player's beloved characters.

Step 6: Don't be afraid to make a ruling. In past sessions, I often spent a great deal of time looking shit up, because I wanted to do things by the book, else I felt I was Doing It Wrong. All this really did was slow the game down and create a situation where it was very easy for the players to become disengaged. Although I may not have then, I feel that today I have a much better understanding of the overall philosophy of D&D since it's origins, and am better equipped to make on-the-spot rulings. Is the DC 12 or 15? Who the fuck cares, just roll a die and if it's a good roll you succeed, if it's a bad roll, you fail. It's not like the Pathfinder Police are going to come take me off in cuffs for disregarding certain rules that only come up maybe once per 500 hours of play. There is a lot of advice in the GameMastery Guide about giving your game a more "fast and loose" style, and I would do well to pay more attention to that advice.

Step 7: Not every combat has to involve minis. Our group uses minis, both plastic and metal. We love them. Collectively we have probably spent well over $1000.00, perhaps much more, on minis in the past year. Thus, we will likely never abandon the use of them completely. However, I do want to do some experimenting with doing mini-less combat occasionally, just to see how it goes.

I think that covers enough for now. The game is next Saturday, so I'll be reporting on how it went afterwards.

When I first sat down to start working on this approach, I thought I was some kind of mad genius. Turns out, Pathfinder really does have a lot of support already built-in for sandbox-style play, I just didn't notice since that wasn't the mode my mind was in. Even in the adventure path books themselves, there is advice on expanding, modifying, and otherwise making the material your own. The GameMastery Guide is chock-full of tables and tools to support off-the-cuff GMing. The thing is that I think you need to already have a certain level of familiarity with the rules before you have enough brain bandwidth left over to run a sandbox in this system, and thus it's not something someone new to Pathfinder could easily jump into.

The Inner Sea World Guide also does an AWESOME job at painting the world with broad strokes - just enough little tidbits of ideas to spark a GM's imagination. Basically the country of Varisia, where we are currently playing, is littered with ruins of an ancient empire that was run by crazy sorcerers. Pretty much nothing is known about the ancient empire of Thassilon, but they sure left behind a lot of cool stuff for adventurers to explore!