I have been badly neglecting this blog: Other than the post about Resource Points for Pathfinder (which was supposed to go live last August but apparently I did not schedule it properly), I haven’t posted anything in a very long time.
In the interest of building good habits, I thought I’d post a little about my current writing projects.
The first and most important is the story of Indigo, a seventeen year old girl who discovers her heritage and the magic that comes with it. I’m envisioning the novel as a sort of magical girl/wuxia mashup. Some who know me well think it’s a little odd for a guy like me to write magical girl YA, but the larger series will be better described as high fantasy with magical girls in it. The magical girls just seemed like the best place to start.
Tieflings at Every Level
As a Game Master for homebrew Pathfinder campaigns, I frequently find myself in need of stat blocks that just aren’t available–particularly since I tend to place a heavier emphasis on humanoid enemies than on monsters in my campaigns. My extensive use of Virtual Table Tops only compounds the problem with the way that they make improvisation so…inelegant. To this end, I’ve decided to build up a library of NPC stat blocks that I have what I need already at hand, whatever level the players happen to be. While I’m at it I figure I might as well publish what I produce, since I can’t possibly be the only GM who has this problem.
The tentatively named Tieflings at Every Level will be the first such collection I produce. My thinking is that the book will contain NPCs of three or four different class builds, specced out at all twenty levels, plus more powerful named NPCs and information on an organization that ties them all together and offers a number of adventure and campaign hooks, while being generic enough to fit in any campaign.
As a GM, one of the problems I have with Pathfinder is the way wealth and equipment are handled by the game. The game is designed with the assumption that the characters will plunder a certain amount of wealth in monster’s lairs and dungeons during the course of their adventures, and that they will spend that wealth on magical equipment that will enhance their performance.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have a lot of fond memories from my younger days of playing as a 2nd edition fighter on weekends and finding hoards of glorious loot at the end of a good fight. Unfortunately, even then I noticed a tendency for the game to spiral out of balance if the players found too much or too little wealth. Later versions of the game, such as Pathfinder, doubled down on this problem by assuming a healthy wealth curve was just another part of your character’s progression.
4th Edition felt like the worst of the lot because they hung a lantern on the problem with their parcel system and the way it subsumes the equipment bonuses into everything, not just weapons and armor. Now that I think about it, however, it occurs to me that maybe I’m being to hard on the edition. 4th Edition’s solution rubbed me the wrong way at the time, but at least they took a frank approach to the matter rather than hide it in the background.
My friends and I currently play Pathfinder, which gives the Game Master guidelines about how much wealth the player characters should have at any given level. That’s helpful, but my own personal experience with the matter is that in practice it takes a lot of bookkeeping to keep the system on track; worse, that bookkeeping takes up time that I’d rather spend on other aspects of the game—assuming I have that much time available to start with.
I recently came up with a solution to this problem, Resource Points. Rather than fuss over how much loot there is to find over the course of an adventure, I’ve assigned each character a pool of resource points equal to the gold piece value listed for that character’s level on the Character Wealth by Level table. This pool of points then becomes a pool of renewable resources that the character spends just like they would spend gold and expands appropriately when they gain a level.
In the case of expendables like potions or scrolls, the RP spent on the item stays spent after the item is used, but is replenished when the character gains a level.
For example, a second level character would have a resource pool of 1,000 RP. If that character were to spend 800 of it on reusable gear such as armor and weapons and the remaining 200 on potions of cure light wounds, then that character would still have a total of 1,000 RP, but they would all be tied up in the character’s gear. If the character were to drink 3 of those potions during the course of adventuring, then the 150 RP the character spent on them would remain tied up in them until the character reached level three. At level 3, the character’s pool of RP would increase to 3,000 and the 150 RP spent on the consumed potions would become available to the character, while the 850 invested in the weapons, armor, and remaining potion would still be invested in those items.
If the characters finds loot that they want to keep, they may keep the item for free until the character gains a level and gains a larger pool of RP, at which point the character needs to invest RP in the item to keep it. This Resource Point system assumes that the sale of unwanted items is part of what replenishes the character’s pool of RP at each level.
If a character wants to change out some or all of his or her equipment, then the Game Master should allow the character to sell old gear at the full value of RP that he or she invested in it.
Personally, I would use this Resource Point system in conjunction with conventional gold pieces, but keep gp awards fairly small. In this way, you can still use gold as a carrot for leading the player’s where you want them to go, without having to devote a lot of play time to looting the dungeon and selling unwanted gear. In this case, gold pieces should have a relationship with resource points that is is similar to the relationship that temporary hit points have with standard hit points.
Furthermore, I’ve found that this option pairs well with the Automatic Bonus Progression rules from Pathfinder Unchained which alleviates the need for PCs and NPCs alike to carry around a lot of basic gear. If this is the case, requiring the players to invest in items the’ve found and want to keep can probably be waived, since they’ll encounter much less magic lying and the magic they do encounter will be more limited, they won’t be encountering a +3 scimitar of speed with a value of 72,000 gp, but rather a scimitar of speed valued at 18,000.
By way of disclaimer, I prefer to run games that emphasize story but don’t feature much conventional dungeon crawling. If your game does feature lots of dungeon crawling, then you’ll probably be better off using the conventional Pathfinder wealth model. This approach deemphasizes the loot found during the course of an adventurer’s career, whereas loot is one of the great rewards of a dungeon crawl.
At this point, most of my gaming happens on virtual tabletops which is an interesting challenge as I tend to be a “by the seat of the pants” sort of
Dungeon Game Master. As it turns out, running games on virtual tabletops strongly favors those who plan ahead.
I’ve been experimenting with building my own maps with an eye toward building up a library of maps I can just drop into the campaign when I need them. This map is an example of what I’m coming up with. I’m afraid that it’s a simple cut and paste job done in Photoshop, though it doesn’t look too bad. This it a map of town-houses and alleys along a city street. You are welcome to use it in your own game, but please comment on how you are using it and what might make it (and future maps) better.
My regular gaming group and I play Pathfinder for the most part, but one thing that never quite sat right with me was the way the game handles magic item creation. Specifically, handling all magic item creation through the Spellcraft skill seems like a waste when the game includes a robust Craft skill subsystem that is largely allowed to become obsolete. As a solution to this, I put together this rough draft of an alternate system, that gives Craft skills a bigger role in the game. Keep in mind that this is still a rough solution—consider this post a Request for Comment.
First the item creation feats will be removed from the game. Instead, the magic items that can be created by a given character depends upon whether or not that character can make the Craft checks most appropriate to the type of item he or she wants to create. The DC of the checks involved depends upon the type and caster level of the item to be created, and the necessary craft skill depends upon the item created as well.
To create a magic item, convert the base price of the item to silver as with other uses of the Craft skill. This number represents the total progress necessary to create the item.
The creator makes one Craft check and two Spellcraft checks per eight hours of work against the DC of the item to be created. The creator may not take 10 or take 20 on these checks.
The creator may be joined by up to two collaborators, to whom the creator delegates one of the Spellcraft checks. For each check the creator does not delegate, each of the checks he or she makes suffers a −2 penalty. In addition, the creator and each of his collaborators may have up to two assistants, who may contribute by using the Aid Another action.
For each successful check, multiply the item’s DC by the check result to determine the amount of progress made during that eight-hour period.
Creating magic items is a continuous process and new checks are made at the end of each eight-hour period until the item is completed, but manipulating the forces involved is a grueling endeavor. At the end of each eight-hour period, the creator and both collaborators must make Fortitude saves against the item’s craft DC or become fatigued and suffer a −2 penalty to all saves and checks made at the end of the next period. If a second Fortitude save is failed, the character becomes exhausted and the penalty increases to −4. If a character fails a third save, that character looses consciousness—checks are made and progress is calculated as normal, but if the item is not completed at this point, the attempt fails and all progress is lost. If this last save is failed by 5 or more (or rolls a natural 1), the character dies instead of loosing consciousness.
There are two ways around this: 1) At the end of each eight-hour period, the creator can assign any of the three checks to any character involved, including fresh collaborators or a fresh creator. 2) The creator may suspend the ritual for one eight-hour period. One character must remain active in the ritual to keep it going, but no saves or checks are attempted and no progress is made.
If any of the three checks fail, no progress is made for that check during the eight-hour period. If the Craft check fails by 10 or more, the ritual fails and half of the raw materials are lost. If a Spellcraft check fails by 5 or more, the ritual may proceed as normal, but the item’s Instability increases by 1 (for every 5 by which the check failed).
At the end of the creation process, the GM makes an Enchantment Stability check for the item by rolling 1d20 against a DC equal to 2 plus any Instability accumulated during the crafting process. If this check fails, the GM rolls on the Magic Item Instabilities table to determine what quirks, flaws, or outright curses the item acquired during the creation process.
Or maybe the GM rolls 1d100 plus the item’s Spellcraft DC for each instability to determine what quirks, flaws, or outright curses the item developed during the creation process.
Classes with Item Creation Feats
Characters of a class such as Wizard that gain item creation feats as bonus feats may instead choose a metamagic feat or a Skill Focus feat for a skill appropriate for creating magic items.
I recently built a character for a friend’s Shadowrun campaign. It’s my first time playing Shadowrun and so far I generally like the system, but one thing that bugged me was the primacy of the katana.
In the core rulebook for the 5th edition, swords of all stripes from the roman gladius to the monstrous flamberge are all lumped together as a single weapon; except for the katana. For some inexplicable reason, the mighty and awesome katana does more damage and has better armor penetration than any other sword. This annoys me somewhat: if a rapier and a claymore are both similar enough to a tulwar or a jian to merit having the same game stats, why in the world does the katana stand out? It makes no sense in my mind. The katana just isn’t that different from other swords.
Pathfinder has the opposite problem. Between the core rules, all of Paizo’s official supplements, and all the third party content, Pathfinder has accumulated dozens of weapons with differences so minor and arbitrary that it seems like the only reason for it is to pad out the equipment section of the latest book.
It seems to me that a better approach would be to create a list of general weapons based on rough size and usage, and allow the player buying the weapon to customize it by adding certain features like hooks or back spikes.
I was running Trial of the Beast in Paizo’s Carrion Crown adventure path for some friends. The characters were working toward the endgame of that particular adventure when they encountered a rope bridge.
This particular bridge was a rickety suspension bridge that spanned a 200-foot drop to the river below. Like the stone bridges elsewhere in Schloss Caromarc, it lacked any sort of handrails (apparently the homeowner had some psychotic aversion to handrails). It swayed in the wind, required a DC 10 Acrobatics check to cross safely, and featured a summon monster trap in the center to summon an Erinyes if anyone tried to cross.
I’m sure that the idea was for the encounter to be a challenging fight, with the Erinyes sniping at them with her bow while they tried to cross this treacherous rope bridge. In practice though, the rogue’s checks were sufficient to disarm the trap almost before he knew it was there, and it looked as though the party would bypass the encounter with no trouble.
Alas, DC 10 proved too high for the cleric and the barbarian alike. Two hundred vertical feet later, the cleric’s unconscious body slipped beneath the river’s surface under the weight of his plate armor, while the barbarian struggled in vain against the current which drew him inexorably toward the 50-foot waterfall just downstream. The rogue, a kenku with the ability to fly, joined them on the following round in an ill-advised attempt to save the cleric’s life. Instead, he discovered that the current was too much for him, even without the extra weight of his armored companion. In the end, the rogue swam just well enough to endure the falls and drift downriver until the current lessened, the barbarian’s unconscious body washed ashore by GM fiat (his regular player was absent that night and I won’t kill a PC whose player is absent), and the cleric’s body was never recovered.
The arcanist, who could only watch in frustration while his friends died, walked away and didn’t come back.
What’s the point of this tale? Hazards can be hazardous.
One of the things I like best about roleplaying games like Pathfinder is that there is a clear and present danger: not only can your character die, but he or she can die stupidly if you do something stupid. Unfortunately, this goes hand in hand with one of the things I like least about the game: your character can die because of a single bad die roll. I won’t get into a discussion about monsters that have save-or-die effects right now, but this is where hazards like the bridge can be hazardous to the game itself, not just the characters in it. If a hazard can end the characters with one stupid die roll, then it doesn’t belong in a heroic game.
This is not to say that the bridge had no place in the game. The same goes for the 200-foot drop. For the barbarian and the rogue, this was an awesome thing to have happen. The barbarian plummeted into the river because of an unlucky roll, then fought the current valiantly for several rounds before succumbing. The rouge acted to help his friends—entering danger knowingly and heroically to wrestle with the angel of death before emerging alive, if not successful. Even in the case of the cleric—who failed a single skill check, fell 200-feet to sustain enough damage to render him unconscious, and died of drowning the following round—it’s not a big problem.
The problem was that a single, trivial challenge brought the campaign to a halt.
It’s difficult to say what can, or even should be done about this. As I see it, the principle goal of writing adventures for games like Pathfinder is to challenge the players without bringing the game to such an abrupt end.
I recently read The Silent Sea by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul and learned something valuable about writing from it. I’m not shy about spoilers so read on at your own risk.
The Silent Sea was a thoroughly entertaining adventure novel that follows the exploits of Juan Cabrillo and his mercenary crew. It had everything you’d expect of an adventure novel (everything I’d expect anyway) and was very well done overall. With that said, the storytelling had a key weakness. The plot depended upon a coincidence in the second act.
In the first act, Juan leads his team on a covert mission in northern Argentina, during which they happen upon the wreckage of an old airship flown by treasure-hunting brothers from Washington. Act two begins with Juan’s trip to Washington to inform the treasure hunters’ surviving brother of the fate of their expedition. At the end of this interview Juan is just leaving when another guest arrives—the Argentine major who led Juan’s opposition in the first act. The adventure proceeds from there as leads are followed, derring do is done, and the villain’s plans crumble around him.
This coincidental meeting between Juan and the Argentine major in Washington was the weakest point of the novel. The rest of the novel pulled me through quite efficiently, but this scene threw me out of the narrative. It took some time to get past the fact if the Argentines major and his squad of goons had an extra hour’s layover in Mexico City, the hero would never even have gotten involved in their plot.
Thinking back on other examples of the action genre that I’ve read or seen; I realize that this sort of coincidental connection is a staple. This strikes me as a problem: the meeting in Washington was the one event in The Silent Sea that kicked me out of a narrative that otherwise kept me turning the pages.
Thanks to Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul for teaching me this lesson.
Welcome to the website of N. H. Bradson, a writer of fantasy and science fiction. It isn’t much to look at right now, but I’m planning a number of regular features that should be entertaining for writers, readers, and gamers alike in addition to updates on my own work as a writer and a game designer. All of this begins on July 4th, so check back then.