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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Kickstarters

Is anyone else as sick of kickstarters as I am? I hate to be the bearer of the ring of doom, but could we just possibly tone it down a bit? I realize that begging and the selling of relics were real professions in the middle ages, he says tongue in cheek, but enough already. I realize that advertising and hyperactive capitalism is also the American way but. quite frankly, I'm starting to feel like I need to take a shower after reading some of these kickstarters that promise the world on sticks with cash and prizes. I'm wondering if anyone has seen anything really good come out of a kickstarter yet anyway? I'm not saying I haven't, but how long does it take to see returns on a kickstarter, beyond the prizes you get for donating your beer money?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

At Odds with the World

I think I'm at odds with the world in most things which of course extends to roleplaying games. I just don't seem to share the opinions of a lot of people in so many areas. I'm not sure if it's just a result of my age or for some other reason. I do know that I'm pretty conservative when it comes to what I will and will not allow in my games. I think opening the flood gates and allowing every possible character option, feat or even piece of equipment is sort of disastrous. Sometimes it's just as simple as making it more difficult to calculate challenge ratings while at others it just seems to break the theme or pattern of the campaign. A big example of this is the monk.

I generally prefer a campaign from the "pseudo-Western European" point of view. If I wanted to play with ninja, Bushido, or samurai, then I'd run a campaign set specifically in those cultures. I don't like them mixed up because to me it just creates a confusing goulash  The exception is if my own fantasy "Japan" just happens to be off the coast of my fantasy "France." Point is, it has to make some sort of definitive logical sense or I can't create the kind of campaign depth I prefer. I don't run "comic book" (in the sense that every superhero coexists in the same reality) or "pulp" campaigns. I don't want my Star Trek mixed with my Star Wars and I don't really even care for my Aliens to be mixed with my Predators (though at least both are from outer space). You might as well pull out all of the stops and have a spaceman, next to a cowboy, next to a dino-rider. You get the idea. All of that just isn't my cup of tea. I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I have to allow monks to run around with my paladins. Okay fine, but if you wanna play a ninja then let's either play in a setting that makes it even thinly plausible or let's run an Asian campaign entirely. Don't make me redesign my world or make up some lame excuse for why a samurai is running around "London." He isn't going to like the fish and chips...

This attitude pretty much extends into even the game rules. There are some pretty crappy supplements on the market, many of which I just wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole much less a D20. I won't name them because I don't want to hurt anyone's bottom line. There are also a precious few I actually wish existed, but probably never will. I love the concept of elementalists from the old 2E Tome of Magic, but they don't exists in Pathfinder. I've always wanted to make elementalism the "old way" of magic in a campaign world and make the schools of magic the "new way," but there just aren't any base classes or even any prestige classes (most of which are just filler you'll never use anyway) to support the idea. (Mongoose publishing has a few for D20, but they don't seem "pure" or aligned very well.) No one else gives two balls of dragon dung about the idea either, so it's up to me I guess. I also don't want it to come down to just a list of spells with the right elemental descriptor and finally I'd like there to be more than four elementalist types (ice would be... cool).

I've come to the conclusion that I should make no apologies for my preferences, age or no. It does get rather frustrating being told "you're wrong" all the time in one way shape or form though. I usually try to accommodate players who want to play a particular concept or make it fit, but really I've gotten to the point in my life where I really don't care whether I'm at odds with the world or not. I guess I don't care whether I fit in or not. It's liberating, but lonely. I find myself (perhaps arrogantly) wondering if the "old world" artists, musicians, and other geniuses felt this way...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

More on the Serpent's Skull


I had to add a kamadan to part two, just to liven things up...
The first adventure, "Souls for Smuggler's Shiv," is a perfect sandbox adventure. It's well written, well organized and it was a pleasure to run. I did make a pretty major mistake in running it though, because the temple and the weird stone that opens its front doors was a bit confusing. The party arrived earlier than the author intended because I tend to consider what can be heard in the distance. For example, in the city you can hear police car and fire truck sirens. You're not going to pick up and walk to them, but you can still hear them. Outside the temple is a big waterfall and I figured the party would be able to its roar from the jungle trail nearby. So, although the adventure's encounters were designed to be played in any order, my game went right to the intended end of the adventure. The party also managed to open the temple with just a DC 30 activation roll, which I found disappointing. So, the Serpentfolk temple, the supposed end of the adventure, was nothing to write home about.

The lighthouse where the cannibals live actually ended up becoming the high point. I used the situation to creep my players out at one point as they sneaked into the lighthouse, at night, past all of the tribal guards. As they headed up the stairs, I told the party they could hear a rhythmic thumping noise (no, not war drums). Waiting for a bit, they eventually determined from my description that the chieftain was having a good old time with his nude cannibalistic concubines. Yep, they broke into the room to find them in coitus. They fought the naked, red-headed chieftain and his three nude wives, all of whom had sharpened teeth and it became a session to remember.  We still refer to it now and again and it totally gives my players the willies to picture these weird cannibals bumping uglies at the top of the light house.

The second part of the AP was somewhat disappointing; it was dry and pretty dull and none of the events in it were all that memorable. I played up the only interesting NPC, but she and her dinosaur just didn't click much with the party. The only things the became memorable were those that I added because things were too "realistically" dull. I think the adventure goes too far in trying to be just like having an adventure in real world Africa. The author watched too much Discovery Channel I think.

Anyway I added a wyvern shadowing the party which attacked and was dealt with pretty easily, though in the end it got away. I added a kamadan which intrigued the players so much that they went to investigate its lair, which I made up on the spot. They found kamadan cubs which they couldn't bring themselves to kill, even though it was clear the party had just killed their mother and had orphaned them. I like interesting situations. This adventure just didn't fizz much without a lot of help and I had to liven things up. This part is pure filler and could be skipped entirely in favor of going right to the lost city of Savith-Yhi. Pity too, because I actually like overland adventure, but this one was just damned dull.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Serpent's Skull and Adventure Paths

"Temple of the Serpent" from the Serpent's Skull AP.
I really dislike this adventure path and for so many reasons that it might be worth it to me to delineate them so I can record my own dissatisfaction as a reminder of what to look for in the future. This also isn't a slam against Paizo, 3E, or the Pathfinder RPG. I'm a fan of all three, so put your swords and shields away please! It actually pains me to continue...

Before I go into more detail about my dissatisfaction with this AP, let me offer some key tips for anyone considering running any sort of adventure path-type product, whether authored by Paizo or a 3PP. First, check their forums to see what issues other people are having with the product from a practical stand point. Had I done this, I would have learned that *at least* the third part of the AP is considered unfinished (in general).

If you're still on board with the AP after checking the forums, I highly recommend reading the entire path before committing to it. This is something I've had difficulty doing because we're talking about reading 600 hundred pages, if you read all of the bonus material as well. Who has time for that these days? Anyway this also doesn't fit the "serialized" subscription model Paizo has set up, so if you're a subscriber (I'm not because I want to pick and chose), you'd either have to wait 6 months to review a brand new path (assuming there are 6 parts, which is the usual) or pick a path that's already complete. Otherwise you're trusting that the publisher's next issue is worth playing. Honestly, you can *usually* trust your favorite brand. The Serpent's Skull is an exception...

There's also another few good reasons to read ahead. Even though you're buying a product of this type to save time, you'll still have to prepare for each session and knowing what epic end the path has in store will allow you to decide if that's the direction you want your campaign to go. APs also seem to have a lot of "filler" encounters and by knowing ahead of time what those are you can trim out non-essential details or stuff you just flat out don't like. This also let's you know where to put in your own player-personalized campaign or plot material. Replacing a bad guy with a player's misguided cousin can make players feel more a part of their world, increasing the depth of play. They'll be more engaged if the campaign has that sort of depth. Finally, you'll know what the balance is between combat and roleplay encounters if you read ahead. If you prefer more roleplay, you can reduce or replace whatever encounters don't fit your vision or style of play.

Abandoned wealthy merchant's
mansion in the lost Azlanti city of Savith-Yhi.
Be aware that APs are usually designed for a certain advancement level, usually moderate, middle or whatever it's called (lol), and a certain number of characters, usually four (aside: which is sort of dumb because I don't think I've ever run a campaign with that small a party and older versions of "D&D" were meant to run larger groups. using a party of four as the base is a relatively recent idea. I've heard that Mr. Gygax, ran games with 20+ people and a lot of the older AD&D modules were typically designed for 6-8 player characters. Of course, we can't please everyone... my optimal party size is 6, including NPCs.). If you play the fast advancement track and/or have more players, again you'll want to trim away some of the fat from the AP or add some opponents. The CRs are precalculated for a party of four though so keep that in mind. By the way, this information is excluded from the pages of all APs because, the logic being, why print that same information over and over?

Finally, if you use dungeon tiles or other special effects, consider the maps in the AP and whether you have the materials you need to represent the maps they present. If you use a plain old vinyl mat or game paper, consider whether you can draw what the AP has in store. Very often I find that the flashy garbage around a lot of the maps in APs makes it harder to translate during play, but then I prefer function over form whereas most people seem to want more flash than function.

That's it for now... I'll decide whether to layout my dissatisfaction with this particular AP in blog form, if I get any responses...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Risk

If you feel funny taking risks you're probably doing it right. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? That probably goes for players too, now that I think about it. I often find myself overstepping or stretching my game master muscles. Risk in the real world feels funny, though the feeling is far worse because it's real risk, not fantasy risk. Just think about what might be involved in starting your own business and you can instantly feel the fear and panic start to well up inside. Success in the face of risk is absolutely exhilarating though, even if it only lasts for a little while. (Human beings seem to consume "new things" like locusts then move on to the next new thing.)

Fantasy risks can give the same sort of thrill without much real risk, the loss of a favorite character perhaps. Folks seem to miss out on this thrill though by being overcautious just as they would with risks in the real world. As a matter of fact, I saw a discussion on changing how death works in the Pathfinder RPG. Why? Because people whine even about fantasy risk... they just don't want to "lose the game." It's almost like dying is some sort of personal affront. I don't know.. or perhaps it comes in part from this rather oddball age we live in where everybody on the baseball team gets a trophy, even the losers. I really don't know, but life has winners and losers and a trophy isn't going to change a loser into a winner, though the self-deception involved probably makes losing hurt less. Mind tricks don'ta work on me...

It's difficult to make any kind of sense out of the illogic and non-sense that roleplaying games seem to be headed for down the road. Seems like folks are expecting the same experience from the online roleplaying games versus the old fashioned table top roleplaying games when the two just are not the same (they're cousins, but that's as far as I am willing to go). Anyway I sense a trend to redesign table top roleplaying games so they can be better represented online, thus the discussion about changing death in the Pathfinder RPG from the Paizo forums. It doesn't mean that designers are changing things as we speak, it just means customers are whining and if they whine loud enough, they'll get that stupid self-deceptive trophy even for those who don't want it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Too Much Abstraction

I found myself uttering these words during last Friday's game and they bear repeating: "ignore the dice, don't rely on them. Use your imagination to decide what to do, not the dice." Perhaps the expression of roleplaying games these days, as with everything else in our society today, is so over-described so the lowest common denominator can comprehend. I don't really know... just a theory. I do know that too much abstraction does get in the way of simply imagining. Case in point, the party was in the midst of a starting encounter when I described: a sharp temperature drop in the area, a stench of death, and the tiny hairs on the back of their necks standing up. The response was for one of the players to eventually and directly ask me, "is it a ghost?" I of course declined to answer.

No where in the rules does it say a ghost causes these things to happen, but I found the need to offer some mythological hints, so as to "play fair" with my less experienced group. Is it that we become so reliant on rules that we can't do what we used to do in the days of AD&D and refer to our own body of common knowledge or even physics? I also had to decide if a pteranodon could carry an extra 200 lbs. worth of character (a druid/monk). She'd decided to to take a wild ride. Sure, I could have looked on the silly carrying capacity tables, but ultimately it was more fun to say yes and just allow the druid to attempt the ride and use her wild empathy to befriend the pteranodon. I did make it difficult for the monster to ascend though. I didn't need the rules to decide for me.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pathfinder Random Treasure Generation

I'm a little ticked off at Pathfinder this morning. This past Friday my group encountered an adult green dragon with horde. I had planned to set about generating the dragon's treasure so I could post it to my group before next session and save some admin time. I decided to try the "official" treasure generation method only to find out that there really isn't one. There isn't even an attempt at a straight, easy process in any of the books. Being that I'm still relatively old school in my approaches, I usually have no trouble just winging it or using tried and true methods from prior editions. However, my inner perfectionist would really like to have one method to rule them all.

So, after opening the books this morning and discovering the lack of a real process, I decided to take a look back at a random treasure generator I built and used when playing D&D 3.5, which mirrors the process in the D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide with but one exception. The tables are open ended rather than fixed, which means I can add items from other sources and still use a general randomization process. The odds of one item versus another are pretty much even. I could certainly fix it up for my Pathfinder games, but I'm more inclined to design my own and ignore the character wealth by level table and the treasure values per encounter table altogether.

I'm not sure what I'll do at this point except that it looks like I'll spend some time building a dragon's horde by hand this morning...

(As a side note, I have looked at other generators online such as this one, but I'm still not truly satisfied, though the developer did an excellent job of culling bits and pieces from the rules to build something that at least makes uniform sense.)