Archive for May, 2010

She Can Blow My Trumpet Any Day

May 30, 2010

Today’s entry in my critique of all the monsters in the Bestiary brings us to the last of the archons, as well as the strongest and best-looking of them. So without further ado, here’s the…

TRUMPET ARCHON

You know, I almost typed the word “trumpet” in that header with an “s” in front of it, and if you’re looking at the picture of this particular creature, I think you’ll understand why. Yes, we’ve officially come to Pin-Up Girl #2 – another monster that would make most adventurers say – to quote someone else – “man, I’d like to roll d20 to hit that.”

Leaving aside the dirty jokes that can be made about this monster – and believe me, there are many – I’m a bit disappointed that Paizo didn’t focus on the musical aspect of this particular creature more. I mean, her trumpet is a weapon that can not only play destructive music, but can also turn into a sword. Now, that’s not as cool as some other musical weapons, but still pretty badass.

And yet, the rest of her character doesn’t deal with this theme at all. There’s no powers about singing or dancing; even her spells are drawn from the cleric spell list, rather than the bard’s. Seriously, there’s no ingenuity here; given that (for reasons previously discussed), good creatures in general, and archons in particular, take a background role to help support mortals, I would have thought that they’d have made the trumpet archon fill a role like so:

You have to admit, our trumpet archon here is already dressed for this role. So I ask you Paizo, where are our Elite Beat Archons?

Advertisements

I’m Chaotic Neutral Good…ish

May 26, 2010

I’ll admit it, I have a bone to pick with Pathfinder’s alignment system. Oh, I know it’s not really Pathfinder’s fault; it inherited that from D&D, where issues with alignment go all the way back to the beginning of the game. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the creators themselves disagreed on the concept of alignment – Gary was for it, while Dave was against it. So really, it’s been one of those wedge issues for gamers since the game began.

Now, I won’t be discussing the absolute nature of alignment, something which should be relative, in this post. I won’t even be talking about the limitations of the good/evil lawful/chaotic axes (well, I sort of will, but bear with me). Rather, I’m going to be venting my exasperation regarding alignment’s reduction to just being part of the crunch.

To be clear, I’m a big fan of crunch – I’m rarely so happy as when I can sink my teeth into some new mechanics. But alignment just shouldn’t be part of that system; despite that, it’s everywhere now.

Alignment subtypes, alignment-based damage reduction, alignment descriptors for spells, and worst of all: alignment-specific effects for certain spells and magic items. It’s this last one, more than any other, that really makes me grit my teeth. Mostly because it reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was trying to get a D&D game together:

Player: So, I think I’m going to have my barbarian be Chaotic Neutral.

Me: I’d kind of prefer that you be Good. This is a game about being heroes, after all.

Player: Yeah, but doesn’t that leave me vulnerable to a whole bunch of evil spells like blasphemy and stuff?

Me:

I didn’t have an answer, because strictly speaking, that guy was right. Now, you can call that bad role-playing on his part (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but it doesn’t change the underlying fact that alignment – which should be strictly a role-playing consideration when making your character – had become a tactical choice.

That bothered me then, and it continues to now; good role-playing sometimes calls for making sub-optimal choices when making/running your character, but the game shouldn’t go out of its way to punish you. But when being good-aligned means being more vulnerable to several choice spells than you would be if you were Neutral, it really feels like it’s doing just that: punishing you.

Call it part of the necessary risks of being a hero. Call it a minor issue in terms of character-building (since there are only a few such spells like that). It’s still – at least to me – one of those aspects of the game that pushes players away from role-playing and towards roll-playing.

So I’m going to try and do something about it here. Let’s take a look back at a little-remembered “legacy rule” from previous editions…

ALIGNMENT TENDENCIES

In previous editions of D&D, some NPCs and even monsters would have “tendencies” in their alignments. These were (usually parenthetical) notations that, while the character was of a certain alignment, it was leaning towards one that was nearby. For example, a magister who cared only about enforcing the law as written might be Lawful Neutral. But if he also wrote laws that handed out harsh punishments for even minor infractions, and enforced them with rigid equality and no compassion, then he could be Lawful Neutral (with Evil tendencies).

While that’s interesting and all, what does it have to do with questions of alignment in Pathfinder? Well, I figure that if I can’t de-crunchify alignment in Pathfinder (which, let’s be honest here, would be quite difficult), I can at least make a new rule to try and strip out some of the mechanical penalties for being non-Neutral. Check this out.

A character with a Neutral part of their alignment may choose to have a tendency towards another alignment on the same axis. A Lawful Neutral character, for example, may have a Good or an Evil tendency. A character may only have a single tendency at a time.

A character is treated as their normal alignment in most respects. However, the character may use their normal alignment or their tendency, whichever is more beneficial, for meeting prerequisites for feats, classes (including prestige classes), and selecting clerical domains. Note that a character’s tendency does dictate whether they can channel positive or negative energy. Hence, a Neutral cleric (with Good tendencies) of a Neutral deity would channel positive energy.

A character with an alignment tendency registers to detect spells and powers, but their aura strength is always faint. So for example, a Lawful Neutral (with Evil tendencies) character would have a faint aura to detect evil spells and abilities.

And there you go. I suspect that the major result of using this rule in your game will be to encourage a lot of paladins who are Neutral Good (with Lawful tendencies), but I think that most campaigns can survive that.

Some may see this rule as a cop-out, letting you play a Neutral character who has the benefits of being Good without the disadvantages, but I think that this is actually rather palatable. It gives you some leeway in your alignment, can let you come up with some great character ideas for exactly why your character has this tendency, and most importantly, lets you be good without being so Good that you’re being blasted with blasphemy all the time.

Until next time, I hope this helps to realign your Pathfinder game!

Lighting the Way

May 22, 2010

Man, when you come down on Heaven, it really comes back to bite you in the ass fast! Less than a day after my razzing the hound archon, I found myself cast into a place of endless suffering and despair, where the howls of the damned filled my ears and sights of pure horror assaulted my eyes. I was, dear readers, thrown into the realm of…the Dungeons & Dragons movie.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie

Gaze into the face of Fear!

It took me six days to claw my way out of that hellish realm, but now I’m back, and remain undaunted! So long as there’s an ounce of strength left in me, I’ll continue to mock and roll! So without further ado, let’s continue through the Bestiary, moving on to…

LANTERN ARCHON

You know, for all my earlier blustering, these guys are actually kinda cool. Not so much for their special powers, which I’ll deal with in a moment, but more for how they appear.

Despite the artwork for them making them look like celestial butterflies, lantern archons are small glowing balls with no physical form – while the Bestiary doesn’t say so, I always pictured them as being the disembodied souls of mortals who died and went to Heaven. These guys are that aunt who you always loved to visit when she was alive – the one who always baked cookies just for you when she knew you were coming – reborn into a form with no corporeal woes or physical desires any more.

Interestingly, the Paizo people added a new ability to the lantern archon from its 3.5 incarnation. Nine of these creatures can form a gestalt, more powerful lantern archon for 2d4 rounds. That’s pretty cool, but they note that such a creature is basically a large air elemental, with a few changes noted.

Now, I’m something of a nitpicker when it comes to stat blocks, and while I can certainly understand where Paizo is coming from by just saying “for the gestalt form, use this monster, with changes X, Y, and Z,” but that just strikes me as rather offhand. I know it saves space, and really it doesn’t make that much of a difference for a creature that’ll exist for roughly 5 rounds…but it still irks me.

But fear not, I’m not just going to complain without offering any solutions. No, I’ve gone ahead and created a stat block for the gestalt lantern archon! Of course, I took a few creative liberties with the creature where Paizo’s hand-waving proved nebulous (showcasing the problems with such an approach). For example, does this creature having “all the powers and abilities” of a Large air elemental mean that it doesn’t have the base lantern archon’s spell-like abilities? Does it speak just Auran like an air elemental? Does it have a slam attack?

These are the sort of questions that can make a DM freeze up during play as they try to decide, flipping back and forth between the pages in indecision. I may not have official answers, but I think that the stats I’ve put together here are reasonable – they’re certainly functional – and will work for a DM who needs a gestalt lantern archon in play.

Gestalt Lantern Archon                                                              CR 5

XP 1,600

N Large outsider (archon, extraplanar, good, lawful)

Init +11; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +11

Aura aura of menace (DC 16)


DEFENSE


AC 21, touch 17, flat-footed 13 (+7 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural, -1 size; +2 deflect vs. evil)

hp 68 (8d10+24)

Fort +9, Ref +13, Will +2; +4 vs. poison, +2 resistance vs. evil

Defensive Abilities air mastery; DR 5/evil and magic; Immune electricity, petrification; Resist electricity 10, fire 10


OFFENSE


Speed fly 100 ft. (perfect)

Melee 2 slams +14 (1d8+4)

Ranged 2 light rays +14 ranged touch (2d6)

Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.

Special Atks whirlwind (DC 18)

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd) At will – aid, continual flame, detect evil, greater teleport (self plus 50 lbs. of objects only)


STATISTICS


Str 18, Dex 25, Con 16, Int 6, Wis 11, Cha 11

Base Atk +8; CMB +13; CMD 31

Feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Flyby Attack, Improved InitiativeB, Mobility, Weapon FinesseB

Skills Acrobatics +15, Escape Artist +15, Fly +21, Knowledge (planes) +5, Perception +11, Stealth +11

Languages Celestial, Draconic, Infernal; truespeech


ECOLOGY


Environment any (Heaven)

Organization solitary

Treasure none


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Air Mastery (Ex) Airborne creatures take a –1 penalty on attack and damage rolls against a gestalt lantern archon.

Cry Havoc and Let Slip…

May 16, 2010

Okay, finally returning to the review of monsters from the Pathfinder Bestiary. Here, we again return to the goodly creatures that populate the planes of existence. This time, we come to those exemplars of order and goodness, the archons.

While the angels represent Goodness in various ethical guises (law, chaos, or neutrality), archons are purely Lawful Good. This, of course, is where the Bestiary really starts to drag us into the “law vs. chaos” part of Pathfinder’s (inheritance of D&D’s) alignment system (warning: rant ahead).

Good vs. evil is fairly easy to understand; even if you can’t articulate it, you generally know it when you see it. Law and chaos, in terms of an individual’s slant towards one or the other – to say nothing of when couched in terms of goodness and evil – are more difficult to define. I think this is largely because it doesn’t have that same “intuitive understanding” that good and evil do, but really, there’s an even more fundamental reason for why law and chaos, as alignment choices, are so hard to define:

Good and evil are defined in terms of how characters relate to other characters. Law and chaos are defined in terms of how characters conduct themselves.

This is why law and chaos seem so messy; because anytime a character acts in a way that doesn’t seem lawful or chaotic at face-value, they’re open to getting slammed by the DM or other players. A lawful character who breaks local laws – even though he rigorously follows his own internal code of conduct – isn’t acting lawful, ’nuff said. It can be very frustrating, and given how the game also has alignment-based spells and effects, oftentimes can seem like one big hindrance rather than an aspect of your character.

So having said all of that, how do Pathfinder’s iconic Lawful Good creatures conduct themselves?

ARCHON

Archons are the ultimate in the “help mortals help themselves” philosophy. They prefer to provide subtle aid an encouragement for mortals to do the right thing, rather than just going in and solving problems. However, the Bestiary also notes that they prefer orderly fixes to things, such as trying to transform a dictatorship into a better government rather than overthrow it. So basically, these are the guys who are backing the rare honest politician with the reform program, rather than the radical revolutionary.

Booooring.

This stance essentially reduces archons to being teachers, rather than crusaders. And given that PCs are adventurers, I suspect that even the most lawful PCs are more inclined towards crusaders. So yeah, these guys have all the major problems of good-aligned monsters, and then some. I don’t foresee a lot of memorable archons in Pathfinder’s future, so let’s just get on with it.

HOUND ARCHON

Now, this guys here is the hound archon. While not the weakest of Heaven’s denizens, these guys are the foot soldiers of its celestial armies, and…um…

Is it just me, or does this guy look familiar?

Seriously, I could swear I’ve seen him before. Oh well, nevermind. Anyway, these dog-faced creatures are…

Wait a sec…could that be…?

It is! Holy crap! I almost didn’t recognize him, but that guy in the picture is Jock, from Lady and the Tramp!

No, really, take a look:

See? He’s shaved off his mustache and trimmed the bushy eyebrows, but it’s clearly the same dog. But what made Jock into a heavenly warrior? Well, let’s go over some things.

First, all dogs go to heaven. Presumably this is the reason why there are hound archons, but not other animal spirits like horse archons.

Second, Jock is already an established fighter. While the original movie only hints at it, he’s in fact constantly killing evil doers and burying their remains in a hidden location. Remember how Lady comes along and Jock hides the bones from her? Clearly, in life he was a secret warrior for justice, killing many evildoers (notice the size of those bones – it seems evil humans were his favored prey).

I guess this means I was wrong about there not being any memorable archons. The next time I need a good Outsider in my game, it’ll be Jock to the rescue.

Bitch be cantrippin’

May 14, 2010

One of the best changes that Pathfinder made was to make all 0-level spells able to be infinitely. Your cantrips, or orisons if you’re a divine caster, are always available to you no matter how often you use them. Like that rabbit-golem with the shaded spectacles and drum, they just keep going and going.

But really, the cantrips in the Core Rules are a bit…limited. It’s not that they’re necessarily bad, per se. It’s just that they’re stuck in the mindset of “all magic is focused on combat.” Seriously, there’s more magic in the world than attacking, defending, and battlefield utility, especially at low-levels, where it’s usually too weak to have any real martial effect.

It’s with that in mind that I’d like to do a spotlight on several great third-party products with a focus on 0-level spells. Now, most of these are for 3.5 instead of Pathfinder, and so some DM oversight will be needed (e.g. like how Pathfinder got rid of cure minor wounds, since it’d undercut most out-of-combat healing needs to be able to cast it without limit). But for the most part, these can be added as-is, and nicely fill out the lowest-level spells in your game.

Our first is Distant Horizons Games’ The Practical Enchanter. Now really, I’m underselling this by only noting it for 0-level spells; in fact, the spell templates here allow for many (if not most) of the spells it offers to be customized in terms of level and effectiveness. However, most of these can be downgraded to a 0-level effect, so they’re worth noting.

Also worth noting is a particular feat in here called Hedge Magic. This feat gives access to a plethora of low-level spells (most are cantrips, but also some 1st- and 2nd-level spells) that have no combat applications whatsoever. Spells to plow fields and keep small children out of trouble, for example. These aren’t detailed in the book, but can be found in a multi-part series over on the author’s blog. The first of the seven entries in this series can be found here.

Oh, and one more thing you should know: The Practical Enchanter is FREE!

Next, we come to a sourcebook known as Octavirate Presents Vol #3: Simple Tricks and Nonsense, by the eponymous Octavirate Games.

This book is impressive in what it offers. Not only is there a plethora of new 0-level spells here, but most are non-combat focused, but still have a mechanical impact on the game. That is, unlike most of the spells from The Practical Enchanter’s Hedge Magic, these spells are still going to give you a plus somewhere. Use an alter odor spell, and you won’t be worrying about being tracked by scent, or it can be used to try and stop a ghast’s stench, for instance.

But there’s more. It has things like feats to let non-casters toss out a few cantrips a day, a table to determine bonus cantrips for a high spellcasting key attribute (seriously, why don’t the Core Rules let your cantrips per day go up if you have a high Intelligence or Charisma?) and quite a bit more. It’s a great book, and is very helpful for your low-level spellcasting.

Finally, we have Silverthorne Games’ Minor Magicks. Like some of the other supplements here, it’s not exclusive to cantrips, but has quite a few of them. Split evenly between new spells and new magic items relying on said spells, it’s not quite as artful as the first two products, but still introduces a respectable amount of new material. Where else, for example, will you find a spell that removes pimples? Seriously, the mage with that must make a fortune on prom night.

If these all seem fairly useless, just remember that even if your PCs don’t use them, they lend verisimilitude to your campaign world. For the local wizard who never goes adventuring, or the solitary witch on the edge of town, spells that determine an orphan’s ancestry or cause temporary infertility (that is, contraception) are far more valuable to the neighbors and townsfolk than virtue. After all, which would an overworked housewife want someone to cast, acid splash or clean clothing?

The next time your wizard PC goes to the local mage and asks to copy what’s in his spellbook, have him open up to pages of 0-level wonders that unclog drains and quiet crying babies. That’s the sort of magic that ordinary people want, and should help to highlight how the PCs definitely aren’t ordinary people.

From Somebody Else’s Cutting Room Floor

May 11, 2010

So I picked up Paizo’s Classic Horrors Revisited the other day. For those who don’t know the “[monster theme] Revisited” line of products are basically a collection of ecology articles covering roughly ten monsters. It’s fluff-heavy, having only a small amount of crunch, but the writing and the ideas are top-notch.

It was in going over one such bit of crunch – a stat block for a sample derro NPC – that I noticed something. The NPC had two feats in her stat block that I’d never noticed before, called Derro Magic and Derro Magister. They weren’t in the book, or anywhere else that I looked, leaving me quite puzzled.

Eventually, some Googling turned up the following post from Sean K Reynolds, a Paizo developer who worked on the book, over on the Paizo forums:

Argh, we had to cut them for space, and I thought we caught all the references, including the changes to her stat block… but we left the feat names in her listing. :/Here’s what they’re supposed to do:

DERRO MAGIC
You have developed additional spell-like abilities from your unusual reaction to brain mold.
Prerequisite: Derro Magister, derro, Cha 20.
Benefit: Your caster level for all your derro spell-like abilities is equal to your total HD. You gain the following spell-like abilities.
At will—levitate.
1/day—deeper slumber, modify memory.

DERRO MAGISTER
You are particularly affected by the consumption of brain mold, granting enhanced resistance to magic and an intuitive understanding of vivisection.
Prerequisite: Derro, Cha 20.
Benefit: Your spell resistance increases by 5. You gain a +4 racial bonus on all Heal checks.

Like getting a mini web enhancement, isn’t it? I know I’m glad that the feat names slipped into the product, since otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten this bonus (and of course, a big kudos to Sean for being cool about reposting the content online for us).

Personally though, I’m still waiting for Paizo to publish a Fey Revisited book; here’s hoping for a full-page illustration of the inevitable nymph-dryad catfight.

Dirty, filthy ape!

May 9, 2010

Before, when I said that the next Bestiary creature we’d look at would be a return to the angelic creatures of the book, I got ahead of myself. I forgot that we’ve got a pair of persnickety primates to deal with. Given how they’re both on one page, with only a single picture, I’ll be going over both at once.

APE, GORILLA and APE, DIRE

You’ve got to give them credit – the gorillas in the midst of the game certainly have become more tame over the years. It was only a few editions ago that they were listed as “ape, carnivorous,” and attacked people because they were hungry for flesh. Nowadays, these guys aren’t so much looking to turn you into a snack as they are just seriously pissed off!

I mean, damn, look at that guy! Charging towards you, roaring and with a hand reared back…somebody is about to get seriously chimp-slapped.

The classical fear of gorillas is that they remind us of more primitive versions of ourselves. They’re bigger and stronger than us, and while not stupid per se, lack our level of cognitive sophistication – in other words, if it decides to attack you, you not only won’t be able to talk it down, but it’ll definitely kick your hairless ass.

Of course, that level of subtlety is somewhat lost in Pathfinder, where even the dire ape is only Challenge Rating 3.

Personally, I think it’d be much more fun to bust a standard gorilla down a few sizes until it approximates a chimpanzee, and then up its Stealth skill so that it can sneak into the PCs camp late at night and make off with the stuff they leave lying around.

…although, come to think of it, I said something similar about ants too. Clearly I have a thing about kleptomaniacal animals.

It does underscore a larger point, however – that for such weak and innocuous creatures (at least as far as the PCs go; most standard NPCs would run screaming from an ape), putting them into a combat role is going to be short-lived and unsatisfying.

Rather, I think it’s more fun to use them in a way where they inadvertently become annoying for the PCs, but not truly a threat. Doing so allows the PCs more leeway in how to deal with the irksome animal – will they just quickly kill it and move on, or take their time to try and resolve things peacefully since it’s just an innocent animal that doesn’t mean to be a nuisance?

That’s the sort of dilemma that can encourage the players to role-play what their characters would do (note to the DM: if they resolve the situation peacefully, give them full XP as if they had defeated the creature), which is always a good thing.

From Hero to Zero; and, a New Name!

May 7, 2010

You may have noticed, if you’ve been here before, that this blog is very much a work in progress. I’ve never had a blog before, so I’m only slowly going through and finding all the things I can toggle, tweak, and toy with to make this appear the way I’d like it to. Hence, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll see this site slowly change over time.

Today’s one of the bigger changes, that being the name of this blog. Don’t get me wrong, calling it “Alzrius’s Blog” was certainly doing what it should in terms of description – I’m Alzrius and this is my blog – but it just wasn’t poetic enough. So yeah, I’m taking my name out of the title, and instead changing it to its new moniker: Intelligence Check.

Why call it that? Well, because that’s sort of what I’m making each time I make a new post. I’m hoping to lend some new insight into something familiar, or even unfamiliar, and showcase things in a way that’s different from how they usually appear. Of course, other times I’m just trying to be entertaining…but calling this “Charisma Check” didn’t seem quite as catchy.

But enough self-aggrandizing, let’s move on! Today’s topic is another break from the Bestiary, to focus on something else:

ZERO-LEVEL CHARACTERS

I recently started thinking about 0-level characters after a conversation I had with the DM for my Pathfinder game. I was pressing him for stats about the town our characters were in, and he offhandedly replied that most of the town guards were 0-level characters.

Now, this made me blink since Pathfinder doesn’t have 0-level characters. The lowest you can be is to have one level in an NPC class. However, I cut my teeth on Second Edition, and though I’m not totally sure, I think it did have 0-level NPCs in it. Needless to say, that got me thinking about the what’s and why’s of having such characters in Pathfinder, and contrasting the idea versus low-level NPCs.

First, we need to define just what a 0-level NPC is. Okay, simple enough. It’s a character with no class (insert lame joke about being uncouth here). More specifically, it’s a character with no class features – specifically, no Hit Dice, no skill points, no Base Attack Bonus, no Base Saves, and no level-based things (like feats, which are gained at odd-numbered levels).

Now, some of this is a problem. A character with no Hit Dice has no hit points…and a character with no hit points is dead. So by default, we can’t have that. Instead, we’ll assign all 0-level characters a flat 2 hit points – this is because even the weakest NPC classes (which don’t, as I recall, grant full hit points at 1st level) have a d6 hit die, which has an average of 3 hit points (rounded down), so it nicely shows how these guys are less than even level one nobodies. They have more than 1 hit point because otherwise they’d die from a stubbed toe (let alone something really lethal, like a cat’s claws).

So then, what does our 0-level character’s stat block look like? Well, here’s an example. Remember, this affects only class, so all racial abilities apply. I’m also using base stats of 10 and 11, since no 0-level characters are noteworthy in any particular regard.

Joe Average, 0-level Human: CR 1/8; XP 50; Medium humanoid (human); hp 2; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10; Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 10; Melee unarmed strike +0 (1d3 nonlethal); AL N; Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0; Str 10, Dex 11, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 10, Cha 13; Languages Common.

And there you have it; that’s your base 0-level character right there. Of course, I can foresee a few questions about this build coming, so I’ll answer them here ahead of time:

Where are this guy’s skills and feats? They’re not listed, because he doesn’t have any. Remember, 0-level characters get no feats, and no skill points. Humans, you’ll notice, get their bonus racial feat and bonus skill point starting at 1st-level, which this guy hasn’t achieved yet. He likewise has no armor check penalty, no racial bonuses or penalties (being a human), no class skill bonus since he has no class skills (and no points to spend in them anyway), etc. Basically, the only thing this guy will get is a +1 to untrained skill checks that are Charisma-based, due to his 13 there.

Why does he have a Charisma of 13? You said all 0-level characters had stats of 10 or 11? I did, but any racial bonuses are taken into account. A Pathfinder human has a +2 to one ability score of his choice; this guy wanted to be a bit more charismatic than most people.

What weapons and armor is this guy proficient in? None, save for his unarmed strike (which everyone is always proficient in). Real proficiencies are reserved for people who actually gain a level in something.

Why is his Challenge Rating 1/8? Because that’s the lowest CR possible for a Pathfinder character. Simply put, this guy is about as unthreatening as you can possibly make a creature, short of removing things like the ability to attack altogether. As such, he deserves the lowest CR imaginable, since he’d never be able to seriously threaten a 1st-level character.

Can I play a 0-level PC? You can…but it’s a really bad idea. For one thing, just playing such a weak character is an invitation to wind up with a dead PC. There’s virtually no creature in the Bestiary or anywhere else that couldn’t kill such a character in one hit. Moreover, it’s tricky to have a 0-level character and keep to things like “no remarkable ability scores” since PCs would end up rolling for those anyway once they hit 1st-level; and that leads us to the final question…

How much XP does it take for a 0-level character to hit 1st-level? This is a tricky one, since normal 1st-level characters start off with 0 XP. Strictly speaking, I’d say a 0-level character shouldn’t be able to gain XP; they’re the background characters, the ones who don’t count for anything in any regard, so the idea of them bettering themselves and growing stronger is counter-intuitive.

That said, if you really want a value to level-up one of these guys, I recommend having them reach 1st-level at 50 XP – this is the value of another CR 1/8 creature (and hence, the value of another 0-level NPC). The implication here is that killing someone is enough to make you hit 1st-level; a grim message, though an apropos one for games like Pathfinder, which can be summarized as “kill things and take their stuff.” A quick tip though – if you have PCs going this route, don’t let them gain XP from doing dinky things like finding the most non-threatening animal they can (e.g. a chicken) and killing it for its XP.

Once they level up though, they can then roll (or purchase) their ability scores – which might be a bit awkward to explain how they’re suddenly so different, especially if some go down, so you might want to bend that rule and let them roll up their ability scores as 0-level PCs (after all, aren’t heroes a cut about the rest?) – and choose what class they want to take.

And there you have it! Rules for making characters who truly don’t matter. The next time it’s important to know anything about minor background characters, and you don’t want to bother calculating the skills or picking a feat for your commoner, just pull out a 0-level NPC. And if you’re actually going to try and run a PC this way, good luck…you’ll need it.

Beyond that, did I fail my Intelligence check for this post and leave something important out? If so, post a comment and let me know!

I’m very dis-ant-pointed

May 5, 2010

Looking at the title for this post, I really need to stop making such horrible puns if I want my readership to improve.

Today’s monster showcases once again why the creatures in the Bonus Bestiary are lame. Not only thematically, but also in terms of being cheap – case in point, the guys-o at Paizo couldn’t bring themselves to request two different pieces of art for these two monsters. Okay, maybe they did and it was just a page layout thing – since this is once again two monsters squeezed onto one page – but either way, there’s only one picture here.

Given that, I’m going to cover both of these things in one entry. So without further ado…

ANT LION, GIANT and ANT LION, MATURE (GIANT LACEWING)

According to Wikipedia, nobody really knows where the name “antlion” comes from (yes, it’s normally one word). That’s perfectly in keeping with the nature of this monster, since while it is a real insect (albeit much tinier), it’s also one of those ones that nobody knows or cares about. Very apropos.

So yeah, it’s a big predatory bug. It lays a trap of shifting sands. It matures into a dragonfly-like creature. Whoop-de-do. Other than the trap-laying part of its entry, which the giant lacewing form doesn’t even have, this is really isn’t anything you won’t find with yesterday’s giant ant. Likewise, the lacewing has nothing to recommend it – the giant wasp, for example, not only has poison, but is just scarier in every regard because it’s a giant frickin’ wasp!

I’m honestly very curious as to why Paizo wanted this monster done at all. It doesn’t seem to bring much to the table in terms of game-play value, and is hardly iconic in any sort of mythology, game history, or fiction. I have seen the rare giant antlion in some stories (for example, as an early boss in Final Fantasy IV), but it’s just not important enough to be noteworthy.

I’d say that the lesson to be learned here is that not everything that falls to the cutting-room floor is worth saving, but that seems like a very cynical lesson. After all, maybe there’s a gamer out there who has used the ant lion in his game, making it a rousing success of an encounter for their players? If so, please tell us all about it in the comments below!

This brings us to the end of our overview of big bugs (for now). Tomorrow, more do-gooder outsiders!

I Dream of Ants that can Sing and Dance

May 4, 2010

Continuing on with the monsters from the Bestiary, this time I change things slightly. Our next two creatures are being examined together. While I should say this is because of how bad I’ve been at updating lately, it’s really because they’re so similar as to be basically two different takes on the same creature. Certainly, the guys at Paizo must’ve felt that way, since both are on the same page.

Now, put your antennae together for the…

ANT, GIANT

It’s a very fitting irony that we have another big bug after everything I wrote about the ankheg; after all, everything I wrote there is true here also, more so in fact. The giant ant just doesn’t seem threatening in any regard because, well, common ants aren’t really more than a nuisance – a single ant is barely worth being noticed, even if it’s big.

In fact, I’d so far as to say that this guy looks rather adorable; he makes me think of “Anty” from Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Remember Anty? Certainly, the giant ant doesn’t seem overly threatening, and even the descriptive text doesn’t have any menacing overtones, noting how a nest of giant ants doesn’t have as many members as a normal-sized nest would.

By the way, anyone else think that the name of this creature is redundant? I mean, shouldn’t it be called the Gi-Ant?

*crickets chirp*

…yeah, that was incredibly lame, I admit it.

As far as adventure potential goes, however, I think that a giant anthill might just be the coolest dungeon ever. Remember how that ant farm you had as a kid looked? Imagine one of those on a human scale. I have no idea why the PCs would need to infiltrate one, or for that matter what treasure there’d be or what enemies they’d face (besides the obvious), but it really seems like a fun idea.

Ideally, I’d find a way for the giant ants to be sentient, and have them mischievously stealing food while singing a happy song. Not so for these next creatures.

ARMY ANT SWARM

Paizo’s inclusion of the army ant swarm is self-evident in its justification; these are the only kinds of ants that really evoke a sense of fear in people. Rightly so – army ants are the Nazis of the insect world.

Simply calling them “army” ants implies that there’s a rigorous sense of order to what they’re doing. These insects have a specific goal in mind, and are going to use force to achieve it. And of course, it’s no use fighting them; there are thousands of them to replace each fallen soldier, and each is a menace.

Just look at that picture to the left. That aggressive red coloring. Those soulless, angry eyes. The pincers spread wide as if about to attack. Clearly, we’re looking at a well-trained, ruthless killer. You can practically see the ranks, marching in formation, sweeping over any and all resistance.

I don’t know about you, but I can almost hear their battle hymn now…

Oh yeah – evil to the core, that’s what those things are.