You can learn so much from the extra stuff #RPG #Pathfinder

I love my fantasy role playing. I love how there are so many different directions you can take it. And a good system lets you do that. It allows you to play a down and dirty gritty game setting. Or play a Super High Fantasy where you can walk into a Magic Weapon Shop and order a +5 Hackmaster sword off the rack (along with a phase blaster in the 40-watt range.) Lately, I have been singing the praises of 5E, and I stand by everything I wrote.

But there is something to be said for Pathfinder as well. It is an equally versatile system. And a lot of fun. So yesterday when I saw a link to a Humble Bundle for Pathfinder I thought I would check it out.

Pathfinder Humble Bundle

This an astounding deal. I immediately jumped at it. And made sure to share it with a work colleague who runs her own Pathfinder game. And best of all you can actually designate a portion of what you are willing to spend to go to a worthwhile charity.

Why would I buy all of those? Aren’t I the same guy who was gushing about the Open Gaming License, the ability to read all of the rules on the website, and an iOS App that contains all of those rule books? Why would I want to own copies of all of those books?

And you are correct, I can and do have free access to the rules already. So I don’t need a PDF file of all the rule books. But with this, I could share the PDF file with other folks if I wanted to. And I could even print some of them (although that is unlikely.) But the real reason to buy this is all the extra material, the adventure’s and world settings.

Because you can learn a lot about a game by reading the fluff. And the adventures tell even more of the story. That is why I have been reading some 5E published adventures as well. Because seeing how these official publications apply the rules can give you a lot of context for what the real intentions are behind the game design. And intentions can also guide you as the player and also provide the GM some clarity on rules questions. Reading an adventure can help you see what the real design intention is behind the application of certain skills and Feats.

Not to mention that I now have nearly 30 pre-made adventures on hand in case I find myself in a situation where I get a request to run a one-shot game, with no time for preparation. Or when Jimmy decides he has a group that he wants to run a game for. I cannot complain anymore about not having adventure ideas.

Now if only the website traffic would just calm down enough for me to actually download the files!


Preferring one does not mean dislike of the other #DnD #Pathfinder #RPG

Thinking about my Denver game of Pathfinder this weekend. Thinking about my character, what could I do to make him better, and things like that. And it occurs to me that one of the issues I have with Pathfinder is the escalation of target numbers. And what I prefer about 5th Edition. But just because I like the solution in one game does not mean I don’t like the other. It is a matter of preferences.

Here’s the thing about Pathfinder. After a certain level the target numbers get kind of crazy. Let’s say that an Easy task has a target number of 10, a Hard is 15, Difficult is 20 etc. Now those numbers make sense below a certain level. But currently my character is 10th level, and between skill points, ability modifiers, and magic items my most used skills are sitting at a base level of 16, which means he makes Hard stuff look Easy, Difficult is really only moderate etc. So what does the GM do in that situation? They either say that the players can perform pretty much every task he sets in their way with ease. Or they adjust the modifiers along with the players skill levels, but the draw back is that someone without that skill now has no chance of being able to get lucky. Which means that people are forced to specialize in skills, and then everyone in the party has to stay alive in order to address any difficulty, there is no room for a generalist. Which means that at any given point more than half of the party becomes on lookers instead of participants, and that is no fun.

The D&D 5E solution to this was to simplify things, and get away from the gradual escalation of skills. So that even the untrained characters have some chance at any given test. Which makes things easier for the GM, because they do not have to constantly adjust the difficulty levels.

But, and this is funny, you can do so much more with the Skills and Feats in Pathfinder than you can in D&D 5E. In that sense I prefer Pathfinder, as someone who spent a large number of years playing skill based systems like GURPS, Shadowrun and Savage Worlds I like Skill systems. Even though our GM doesn’t necessarily give us much chance to do so I like the idea that if we ran into a situation where we needed X skill that my character could step up.

See, I think that you either keep skills general like 5E, with a set target number. Or you go whole hog and have everything become a skill based system like a GURPS. Pathfinder is kind of an odd middle ground. But I could easily see how you could run a game with the system that played up the skills far more than we do.

You could easily see this as a critique of Pathfinder. And I certainly see that. But Pathfinder is a far more complex system than 5E. There is so much more that you can do with the system. It certainly is easier to adjust the monsters. And I really like the concepts behind magic item construction (of course there effectively are no rules for that in 5E.) So it is not a question of one being worse than the other, they are just different. It is just that certain solutions to problems work better for me in one system than another.

Lessons I am learning, and need to keep in mind #DnD #RPG #Pathfinder

There’s an old saying: easier to ask forgiveness than permission. And I think there should be a corollary for role playing. And it is one I plan to put into practice this weekend, future games I run, and most importantly, next time I play in Denver. That lesson is:

The GM can only tell you no if you ask

This is a big deal in my opinion, because it has an effect on how everyone plays the game. Now you can look at that phrase as being negative, as saying that asking if you can do something is going to result in a negative answer, so just go with the flow. And I will be honest, that’s how I played for years. And it is not illegal or wrong to play this way.

For example, on Sunday, my character is the group archer. And is built for speed and finesse, kind of like a Legolas type of character. But on Sunday when the combat began here is the general summary of my actions:

Round 1: I shoot at one of the crocodiles while standing behind the priest of Thor who is enlarged. No movement, just shoot the biggest thing I can see.

Round 2: Seeing that our main healer on the other side of the line was in danger of being flanked, I swap bow for shield and scimitar and run to attack the skeleton champion.

Rounds 3-8: I stand in the line and fight skeleton champions and undead Dire crocodiles.

That was it, no movement, no attempts to gain any advantages by moving. Granted, we were next to a river, on a raised road, in sunlight, so there were not a lot of places to hide and snipe from. But here is a list of things I could have tried:

We had time to set up an ambush, so I could have placed myself in the swamp, in hiding, and shot from there. 

These were slow creatures, so there was no question that I would have been able to stay ahead of them (my move was double theirs.) So I could easily have shot, then moved, shot again, and then maybe hide.

We realized halfway through the battle that I could have accessed and used the undead destroying mace that our priest carries (but never uses.)

I essentially wasted a good chunk of my skills and Feats in this battle. And this is not the first time I have done this. And you know why I do this? It is because the way our GM sets up battles, and the way the other players act, I fall into an old fashioned way of playing. And I expect the GM and other players to tell me no, don’t do that, so I never ask or try. But the reality is that I could very easily have gotten away with some of these things, been more helpful to the party, and without pushing the rules envelope.

Now part of that also has to do with the old joke among players, never split up the party, the GM can do more damage that way. Having my character move out alone is dangerous, and a recipe for getting him killed, and also slows down game play.

But I need to get out of that mind set. And remind myself that the GM can only say no if I ask. I need to do more as part of the battle plan, take advantage of my skills. He can only ask me to make a roll, or at worst say no.

And as a GM I need to take the same advice. Instead of just saying: “okay, roll to attack”, instead “What do you want to do? Okay, for that you need to make this roll”. Obviously if they ask to do the impossible I can say no, but it might be more interesting to give them the chance first.


Diving back into it, and a Merry Geekmas! #DnD #RPG

Tonight we return to the boys campaign. I am excited to play again, especially since I left things off at a somewhat cliffhangerish point last time. They were in the depths of a dungeon, and I didn’t say they were resting, just that they had just finished off some bugbears. So who knows what sort of things they will encounter tonight (well obviously I know, but they don’t, and I can’t reveal as I think my son occasionally reads this blog.)

It should be fun to dive into this adventure. And the best part is that I am pretty far ahead in my planning, with the next arc already started, so I am fully prepared for tonight. I have ran through the next point over in my head a few times, enough that I should have no problem just diving into it tonight.


Let me say I am glad to be running D&D 5E though. I enjoy playing Pathfinder, and there are a lot of resources there. But I think there is almost too much to work with, it is daunting. Plus I prefer my systems to be a little more elegant. I used to love the real granular systems, I loved GURPS for years, and Shadowrun is really good. But over the years my preferences when it comes to running a game have changed. I like a little less crunch, and a little more elegance, a simpler system where anything can be resolved with a simple dice roll.

I picked up the rule book for the Mutant Chronicles role playing game yesterday. And from what I have read it is an interesting system. And the rule book is pretty extraordinary. But it is one of those systems where there is a rule for everything. And to be honest that can be a little daunting, a little hard to just dive into.


Last, the one thing that is on everyone’s mind, and the question most people ask me: when am I going to see Star Wars? I’m not sure yet to be honest. I have the time next week if I can convince Kim that we should go see it. But she is not nearly as excited as I am about it. But I do know I will see it, and probably sooner than later.

That being said, go ahead tell me what you thought. I can take it. Like Patrick Swayze says about pain in Roadhouse, Spoilers don’t hurt! I know this is not some movie like Sixth Sense where the whole movie rests on a final reveal at the end. This is Star Wars, I go to see the characters, to see them blow crap up with blasters and slice things up with lightsabers. Nothing they can include in the movie will ruin that experience for me.

Because when it comes to Star Wars, I am looking for one thing: entertainment. It is why I am not as offended by the prequel trilogy as some people might be. Because they were fun for the most part. And that is all I ask.

It is why I absolutely loved Wil Wheaton’s turn on Big Bang Theory last night. Hey guys it’s just a movie, when I see it, and come out, I will get in my car, go home, and wake up the next morning the same person I was when I enter it. I am way past the point where spoilers bother me in any form of entertainment. The story is the thing, the pictures on the screen, the dialogue, the words in the book, they all form a whole. It is why I re-read books I love, re-watch movies and TV shows I like. Did it matter that Vader was really Anakin? No, I still enjoyed all of the original movies.

The perils of the support character #DnD #RPG

Viper was looking forward to the journey to the new lands. A chance to free new areas. To continue the hunt for this vile scum Armando. It would also be interesting to travel over the sea instead of trekking overland, even though the snake is not by nature a sea creature.

It was also pleasing to have the chance to do some good, to free the merchants of whatever perils were endangering the shipping lanes. And continue to prove the might of the Heroes of Clermont, if for no other reason than it helped to pay for the drinks and lodging wherever they went. Although celebrity was not exactly a thing sought by the Great Serpent,  the chance to do good will on behalf of the Great Serpent was welcome.

Fang was not pleased to be on the ship, finding a place to curl up and sleep the entire voyage if possible. Viper enjoyed the warmth of the sun after the treacherous journey down from the snowy mountains.  So he was on the deck when a great creature surged forth from the sea, grabbing the ship with 2 great tentacles. While it’s other arms sought to sweep the deck clear of any who dared attack the tentacles.

Viper tried to help cover Braveheart as he hacked at the tentacles. But the swaying of the deck caused his arrows to go awry, and then he was busy staving off the attacks of one of the vile sea creatures that had landed on the deck to prevent the heroes from attacking the large tentacles. He did what he did to counter the creature, and then stepped behind Elly when she came to fight as well.

He was buffeted repeatedly by the vast arms of the Kraken, but he stayed erect, trying to find a place to make himself helpful to those doing the hard work on the huge creature. He saw his chance when the sea creatures leader made himself visible, he cast a spell to make it impossible for it to hide behind it’s invisibility spells again. And then called upon the power of his quiver to send a deadly arrow into that leader.

In the end the attacks of Thorvald, Braveheart, Qualiki and Elly were enough to slay the giant creature and send it back to the ocean depths whence it came. Viper made certain that Fang was well and then did his best to care for the party members and the few sailors that the creature had not killed. He knew that this was not his best fight, his contributions were minimal, and realized that the open sea was not the place for a snake.

Continue reading “The perils of the support character #DnD #RPG”

Who says there have to be humans everywhere? #DnD #RPG

If you pick up a Fantasy novel, watch a Fantasy movie or television show what do you see? Humans, humans everywhere. Even if the story is centered on other races, like the Hobbit, they end up in ‘human lands’ and having to defend human kingdoms. My question is, how did the humans get there?

With some exceptions the majority of fantasy fiction is centered on humans. And even in the cases where a story is centered on non-humans, the world is still mostly populated by humans. The big cities are populated by humans, and the nations are for the most part humans. Yes there are exceptions to this rule. There are places where there are dwarven nations, elven nations, etc. But even in those worlds humans dominate. That’s just the way it is. That is okay, no big deal, it makes the things accessible.

But I have questions, and it comes from my academic background, how did this happen? How did these humans come to dominate and control the world? I am talking beyond generic myth making. I am more interested in exploring the history and sociology behind humanities expansion.

That is why my game for the boys is instead based on a world where humans are just beginning to explore a part of the world. They have slowly ‘civilized’ and populated part of a continent. But the majority of the continent is still unknown. The land where the group starts is a frontier. The humans and halflings there are settlers. Just establishing farms and ranches.

There are ‘native’ races and tribes, non humans who are already settled on the land. And it is up to the group to be the first explorers of this land. They might be peaceful explorers, a la Lewis and Clark. Or will they be Conquistadors, there to establish human rule, bringing their Gods, and the natives need to just get out of the way.

But my vision is that this is not some dawn of human ‘civilization’ time. The Kingdom is closer to a late Middle Ages, early Renaissance type of culture as far as military practices. They are not just roving bands of primitive settlers coming into the land for the first time. They are serious new settlers on the level of explorers to the New World. Only instead of native, ‘primitive’ humans in the land there are instead strange non human races.

I know that this is a different approach. There are not as many humans in the land. And when the group explores they are encountering a new land, a land that is not settled in any way that they recognize. I am excited for this campaign. Because they never know if the next group they encounter will become enemies of the Kingdom, or allies.

Another reason for this approach is that there are 2 ways to GM a game. You can take existing settings (and the pre-written modules for those settings) and drop the players in there, and go from there. But to some extent this relies on the players knowing something about that world. If I run a game in the Forgotten Realms my players will want to go to Waterdeep, or the Vale or Cormyr, etc. Or at least that is the ideal.

The other approach is to create your own world, your own setting. That is usually more fun, but is far more work. And not just for the GM, but also for the players, because they have to buy into that world. But what makes that work is to start somewhere. I choose to start in a small town, and then move out from there on the frontier, exploring the new world. And it makes a lot more sense to me for the characters to be truly exploring, instead of being just another group of wanderers in the middle of a ‘civilized’ land.

And this way I don’t have to expect my players to know everything about this world, which countries are they at war with, which gods do they follow, what cities should they avoid. And without a lot more source material to fall back on, like in a published setting, it is hard to explain all of that to the players. So it is time and work saving to go with this approach. But it is more ‘realistic’ considering the players don’t know anything about the world, there is no consensus starting point like if we ran a Lord of the Rings game or Star Wars. They get to be explorers in a strange new land. And everything they run into, and eventually choose to build on is foreign.


Thinking about inspiration, rules, and alignment #DnD #RPG #Books @TheAngryGM

Once again @TheAngryGM has done it, written a post that I feel compelled to link to, Alignment in D&D 5E: S$&% or Get Off the Pot, and then talk about how I deal with the subject and why. Because this is a very interesting topic, and an interesting follow up to my talk about D&D and symbolism.

First of all, some background. D&D 5E is for me an extension of story telling. And it is inspired by the books I have read. In some ways I wonder if I would have been as ready or excited about D&D had a couple of things not happened when I was young. First, I had the Hobbit read out loud to me when I was in 1st or 2nd grade by a talented actor who taught at the hippy school I attended. And my older brother, who was in many ways an idol, got me into reading the books myself. And he had posters and calendars that were prints of the Brothers Hildebrandt illustrations of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. So I was about as in deep with Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings as I could get at an early age. Second, I found when I first started playing D&D, that reading certain books enhanced the games, this was well before there was ‘official’ D&D fiction, so I was reading Lloyd Alexander, Conan, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, etc.

But there were two series and writers that probably had the biggest inspiration for my D&D. First, Michael Moorcock’s Elric series, and other similar books like the Chronicles of Corum. The concept of a vast battle between Law and Chaos was the essential element in those books. And how Gods played an almost every day part in this battle on the mortal plane. Second, was the Thieves World series, which was a terrific fantasy series that if you can get a hold of I strongly encourage reading. Again, one of the essential elements of that series was Gods using mortals as proxies in their battles for supremacy.

So, books are by far my biggest source of inspiration for D&D. I get ideas from the books. And I draw general concepts from the worlds that the books are set in. And most of my fantasy reading was done well before the branded D&D novels came out. So certain concepts like Alignment were just not that big of a deal. It was either a case of being the Heroic good guys, a la Tolkien. Or amoral figures just trying to get by in a world where Gods toyed with mortals, a la Conan and Thieves World.

Given those sources of inspiration, is it any wonder that I have no problem following the first of Angry’s pieces of advice? Just toss out Alignment altogether. I admit I am also influenced by having spent a lot more time playing games without alignment like GURPS, Shadowrun, Deadlands. And that leads me to the last point (and the central one.)

If I were to reorder the Player’s Handbook for 5E I would make one big change. I would move the section on Personality and Background between Races and Classes. Because I think that you should pick out (or randomly roll) things like that before choosing your character class. I think that if you have all of that on your sheet, and stick to it, it can do a better job than the Alignment stick of dictating your characters actions.

Here is an example from the boy’s campaign. One of the boys rolled the following characteristics after choosing the Urchin background, and they are doing a much better job of shaping his character than just saying that he is Neutral, Chaotic, Lawful, Good or Evil.

Personality Trait: I bluntly state what other people are hinting at or hiding

Ideals: Retribution, the rich need to be shown what life and death are like in the gutters

Bonds: I escaped my life of poverty by robbing an important person and now I am wanted for it.

Flaws: I’d rather kill someone in their sleep than fight fair

Now that is far more interesting than just saying that someone is Neutral Good, don’t you think? In many ways that is almost like reading the ideals of Conan, especially the Conan from the books, this Conan:


Now we all know that Conan can be a hero, kill the bad guys, rescue the weak etc. But that doesn’t mean that he has to be of the purest intentions. That is your essential ‘Anti-hero’. And I think it makes the game more interesting using things like this to shape your character than generic labels like alignment. That set of characteristics would definitely result in someone being labeled ‘Evil’ in an alignment system, but few people (other than his enemies) would call Conan evil. Which is my point, alignment is far too broad and generic in my view.

Now the big question, that Angry pointed out, is what to do with the Priests, Paladins and Warlocks without alignment. Simple: they will be forced to follow a code or approach based on their deity or patron. One could be a Paladin of the Death God (although not much fun to hang around with) or a Warlock of the Fairy Queen, and have to follow certain rules laid down by the Deity. It doesn’t mean your deity is Good or Evil, they just are, and have their preferences. I think that makes for a more interesting campaign, not relying on broad alignments for the Gods and their followers.

In essence, I am writing this as a support for those who want to do what Angry suggests as an option: trash alignment. Toss it out for the players. And really only use it as a tool for the ‘monsters’ to determine which ones are ‘bad guys’.

The goal is to think in 3 dimensions #DnD #RPG

I was reading the latest excellent article by @TheAngryGM, about how to run a fast, fun combat encounter in D&D, when a thought struck me. That there should be more to role playing combat than a 2 dimensional chess game.

The first time I was playing in Denver with this group and they rolled out the big hex map for combat and began setting out figures I was struck by how cool that was. Because it turned the battle into a far more interesting game for me. And when I began doing the same with the boys it was fun, and made things more interesting for them. But after a while some parts of this began to lose their appeal for me.

So when I started up this new campaign for the boys I moved away from the hex map. Instead I just have the ‘felt’ I used for Warhammer rolled out, and I place terrain and then miniatures. I did this for visual reasons, but then today, reading that article, it occurred to me, I don’t much like the grid maps. I understand that they are handy to deal with things like reach, range, effects.

I have played a lot of table top miniature games over the years. And played a fair amount of the old cardboard chit strategy games before that. And those games are fun. But to me the thing that separates role playing from a war game is the extra dimension(s). And playing on a grid or hex map ties you down to 2 dimensions.

Your combats, and then by extension other interactions, become just little figures on a grid. Almost like playing chess. And then in combat you get players who act like every move is the final rounds of a grand master chess match. Thinking, maneuvering, lining things up just right. It can become quite tiresome. And it slows the game down.

Angry suggests including as much narrative in the combat as possible to get people to think about what they are doing. Which should have the effect of getting them to move quicker. But if the battle is a set of grid lines, and I have to think about things like how many squares I can move, and where should I move to maximize the size of this spell it creates a disconnect.

But, if I am just looking at my figure, and there are other figures, and pieces of terrain to move into or out of then things change. I start to say things like: ‘I run over and hide behind that tree’ instead of saying ‘I move 4 squares to get behind this covered square’.

And then this leads itself into more ‘role playing’ instead of ‘roll playing’ outside of combats. If the party is walking in the woods, even if there is no battle, you can still set the mood with the figures. Get the players out of their chairs and get them to think bigger picture, and even interact more with each other and their surroundings.

Essentially, the third dimension is ‘being in character’. To think about combat beyond, ‘I roll to hit, here’s my damage, okay wake me next round’. And I think that using the open felt, terrain pieces, and figures will do that far better for the boys game. And I think would help with the sometimes excessively chess like Pathfinder game in Denver as well.

Developing and working, yes that is what is fun for me in Pathfinder #RPG

Viper had made his commitment to the Great Serpent while deep in the bowels of the Tomb of Jubla Khan. But now that he had returned home to Clermont he could truly do those things that would make him one with the Serpent.

A snake is logical, rational. A snake does not seek danger. A snake attacks from hiding or in mortal defense. A snake seeks to avoid conflict, except on his own terms. A snake relies on fear, intimidation and trickery to keep those who would harm it away.

It is with those things in mind that he began to acquire and add those things that would become closer to that ideal. He had the Mark of the Snake magically added to his skin, to allow him to converse with snakes at any time, and strike fear in those he chose. He purchased the Cobra Amulet, giving him greater powers of resistance and protection. He added to his existing armor, giving it an improved ability to hide and avoid his enemies. 

He would still travel with these odd people, and help in their quest to bring balance to the world. Ridding it of the terrible forces of undeath. And he would find a way to help them in battle, so long as that help did not require him to lead them into or seek out battle. Now was the time to think, to assume the guise of the Snake, and hunt their prey, and fight it on their terms, not the terms of the enemy.

Continue reading “Developing and working, yes that is what is fun for me in Pathfinder #RPG”

It really helps to get the big picture in your head #DnD #RPG #Pathfinder

Running a role playing game is different now than when I first started out. There is a science and art behind the mechanics. And it is really important to grasp those when creating and running a game. And it is important to understand the differences between thos in different games if you are going to be occasionally borrowing.

A couple of weeks ago @TheAngryGM posted a video where he explains some basic concepts behind D&D 5E. You can see it here:

Angry Explains

He gets into a few different things here but the most important take away for me was this:

  1. Pathfinder as a system is based on an escalating mechanic. Everything your character can do get progressively better. And this also means the monsters have to follow the same escalation path. So long as this is consistent across the system it can work. My character keeps getting better at hitting things, and doing more damage when he does so. And his saves improve, along with armor and skills, everything goes up as you level up. Again if it is consistent it can work. But you do get to the point of crazy math, ‘I am +15 to hit, except this is undead which means I have another +4, and I am shooting at 30′ for another +1, and then my damage is 1d8 + 4, plus magic, plus bane, plus 2 d6 for bane, etc.’ I don’t mind it, and it does reward the players who know the system and as a result figure out how to maximize the math potential.
  2. D&D 5E is different now. The only things that should really go up is damage inflicted and the ability to take damage (hit points.) You will not have to pull out scratch paper or a calculator for all the many calculations involved as you go up in level. It is consistent as far as I can tell. So you will not see monsters and high level characters who are unhittable, instead it is a matter of being able to absorb the damage and then turn around and give it back.

Why is this important to me? Well I am working from a home brew campaign. And I have already mentioned that I am creating my own monsters. Well if I have grokked those points above I will do a much better job of creating those new monsters. That’s really important, I want the monsters to fit into the game, not stand out.

But another really important point is that when I start customizing the bad guys, giving them classes, adding abilities etc. I want to be sure that they fit into the overall game. It can be done correctly, so long as I follow that template.

And the last point is this. Since what differentiates the low level challenges from the high level ones is damage, inflicted and absorbed, I can run a battle better. It will not dismay me as much when the players hit my monsters, that’s just part of the game. What makes a difference is can my monsters take the hits. And conversely, expect my monsters to hit the characters, so the damage inflicted is a bigger deal.

Add it all up and it becomes a deadlier and bloodier game. There will be damage, do not be surprised by that. The smart players and GM’s plan for that and either take actions that will minimize attacks against them, or be prepared to get hit and have healing available.