Archive for September, 2010

Into the Stone Age: Classes, Part Two

September 18, 2010

Picking up where I left off, here’s the analysis of the remaining classes (minus the magus class from the upcoming Ultimate Magic supplement) in Pathfinder for a Stone Age campaign setting. While it’s not too far back, I’ll link to part one of this feature anyway.

Inquisitor: The inquisitor is the person who fights enemies of their god/religion – not so much a holy warrior as a dedicated slayer of heretics. Unfortunately, in a prehistoric period, “organized” religion doesn’t yet exist – there’s no set of religious dogma and practices for people to follow, meaning that there’s no need for an inquisitor who punishes those who don’t follow them. Like many classes, this one is based around ideas that won’t happen for quite a while after the Stone Age. Verdict: banned.

Monk: While you can certainly have lawful cavemen, the idea of a monk in the Stone Age just doesn’t work. Concepts of martial arts, enlightenment, and internal ki energies won’t be developed for a while, which undercuts the thematic basis for this class. Verdict: banned.

Oracle: Even with a casual glance, the oracle is a superb class for a Stone Age Pathfinder game. This class has the character being chosen by the gods, rather than the character choosing them, and the gods strike the character with some sort of personal defect even as they grant them strange powers such laying down curses and learning revelations. This is what being a divine spellcaster in a primitive age should be like – that makes the oracle the class of choice for PCs who want to play a divine spellcaster in a Stone Age campaign. Verdict: allowed.

Paladin: Even moreso than the cleric, the paladin carries a lot of thematic baggage. Beyond simply having an inherent reverence for religion that dispels the fearsome awe it carries in the Stone Age, the high-minded morals of the paladin clash with the “life is a struggle” attitude that’s universal in the Stone Age. When you’re worried about hunting and gathering, finding shelter, protecting yourself from natural predators (which people surely still have in a fantasy Stone Age), is chivalry really going to be a concern? As such, this class just doesn’t fit. Verdict: banned.

Ranger: The ranger is a toughie. On the one hand, it’s a class that specializes in functioning in nature (without worshiping it like a druid), something quite appropriate for the Stone Age. Even its animal companion can be overlooked if we treat this as something aberrant that only a ranger can do – a precursor, perhaps, to true domestication practices. However, we then start tacking on divine spellcasting (remember, gods/spirits are to be feared and placated more than worshipped), and specialized fighting styles (can you really elect to two-weapon fight when it’s all rocks and sticks at this point?) and that’s some truly impressive baggage weighing the class down.

This is made more difficult if we take a hard look at the ranger options in the APG, which can potentially fix several of these problems. A ranger with the spirit ranger archetype, and using the natural weapon combat style goes a long way towards being appropriate for a Stone Age game. However, that’s a pretty tight needle to thread. Ultimately, the ranger is undone by small elements that alone aren’t any big deal, but altogether make it (in its basic incarnation) inappropriate for a Stone Age campaign. Verdict: banned (but may be allowed if given appropriate alternate class features).

Rogue: The rogue is like the fighter in that it’s one of those classes that covers such a broad theme that it can make getting a good read on this class difficult. A rogue seems to be anyone with a penchant for numerous skills, striking from an advantageous positions, and learning a variety of “tricks.” That’s pretty nonspecific, isn’t it? Given that, it seems fair to say that a rogue can be flavored however you want it to be, which certainly makes it allowable for a Stone Age character. In fact, the rogue makes a good stand-in for the absent ranger (since it has enough skills to devote several to wilderness prowess), as well as an alternative combat class to the barbarian (since the fighter is also banned), making them highly useful in a primitive game. Verdict: allowed.

Sorcerer: The sorcerer is often played up as some sort of mutation; a character who develops their magical powers spontaneously, often as a result of having a “tainted” bloodline. In a savage setting, where gods and spirits are seen in everything, and the entire world outside of your small tribe is a scary and poorly-understood place, the sorcerer fits right in. Like the oracle, these are people who’ve been touched by unknown otherwordly powers, and have gained strange abilities because of it.

Personally, I wish that the sorcerer’s bloodline abilities played up their physical mutations more. In 3.5, I enjoyed using Octavirate Games’ Octavirate Expansions: Feared and Hated which used “sorcerer domains” (a precursor to Pathfinder’s bloodlines). These limited a sorcerer’s possible spells known down to a thematic list (e.g. fire, speed, etc.), but provided other powers, which came with various physical alterations. This let you really play up the “sorcerers as freaks” angle. In a world where quasi-religious overtones are given to everything that people don’t understand (which definitely includes magic), that works great. Verdict: allowed.

Summoner: The summoner is a spontaneous arcane spellcaster, with powers related to summoning creatures, particularly his eidolon. This is a problem, because while summoning creatures doesn’t clash with the ideas of a Stone Age campaign per se, this class doesn’t really add anything that the sorcerer isn’t already doing better. The sorcerer’s spellcasting can already include summons (as can the witch’s), and the sorcerer plays up how this power is strange and frightening, since it warps him. By contrast, the summoner pays no such price. Moreover, the inherent awe that comes with summoning a creature from thin air is diminished when the summoner does it so often.

This class isn’t really a bad fit with the ideas of a Stone Age Pathfinder game; it’s just that it’s not filling any particular niche. A summoner and his eidolon could certainly be portrayed as a sort of shaman and his personal demon, whom is the religious focus of the tribe, for example. But that’s nothing you can’t really do with another arcane spellcaster who knows a summons or two. There’s just not enough here to really make the summoner worthwhile. Verdict: banned.

Warrior: Like all of the NPC classes, the warrior is a fairly mundane class with very little feel to it. These are people who fight, but have no training for it (though there’s no such training available in the Stone Age), and can’t summon up the fury of a barbarian. As such, the warrior can conceivably fit into the same background role of a Pathfinder Stone Age game as they do in a normal game; they’re the combatants who exist because they fill a need, but they never grab the spotlight. Perhaps, if commoners are the background members of the tribe who don’t fight, then the warriors are the ones who do; the “hunters” to the commoners’ “gatherers.” While not quite as distinctive from commoners as I’d like, they’re still different enough that their inclusion helps to flesh out the NPCs of a setting. Verdict: allowed.

You just know that in her tribe, nobody wears fox-fur.

Witch: Described as gaining her power from an unknown, otherwordly source, and delivered to her via her familiar, the witch fits seamlessly into a Stone Age campaign. The witch is perhaps an even better arcane spellcaster in this regard than the sorcerer. The mysterious nature of her powers, the fact that they’re delivered via an animal (which haven’t been domesticated yet, remember), and her ability to lay down hexes all make her a powerful presence in a tribe, and play up the feel of a mysterious, unexplored, and poorly-understood world. Verdict: allowed.

Wizard: The wizard is, to put it bluntly, too studious, too scholastic, and overall too civilized for the Stone Age. Their approach to magic is like that of a scientist – studying it, performing experiments, creating things with formulas and theorems – it’s all too modern for a savage age. The fact that wizards need to use a spellbook rules them right out – books haven’t been invented yet; for that matter, writing itself hasn’t been invented yet, which means that you can’t even swap out the “book” of a spellbook for something else (e.g. no mystic tattoos…not that tattooing’s been invented yet either). Wizards just take the mysticism out of magic, and as such aren’t appropriate for the Stone Age. Verdict: banned.

It’s worth noting that, of seventeen PC classes and five NPC classes, we’ve kept – between both parts of this article – only six of the former (barbarian, druid, oracle, rogue, sorcerer, and witch) and three of the latter (adept, commoner, and warrior). For PCs, this can seem monstrously restrictive, as they’ve lost about two-thirds their possible class choices!

However, it’s really not as restrictive as it might seem at first glance. There’s still two divine spellcasters, two arcane spellcasters, a martial class (the barbarian, though a rogue can conceivably work in this role also), and a skill-user. This covers all four of the traditional roles in a Pathfinder game, and even allows for some variation if two players want the same role (e.g. a sorcerer and a witch if both players want arcane spellcasters).

Also, don’t forget that a Stone Age game is limited by its very nature. As we get further into this series of articles, we’ll see how a lot of the things that are taken for granted in traditional medieval fantasy simply aren’t present here. It’s part of the challenge of the setting, and overcoming those challenges is part of the fun.

Next: Skills of the Stone Age!

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Walkin’ in a Winter Wasteland

September 14, 2010

In my Kingmaker campaign, the PCs are about halfway through the first adventure, “Stolen Land.” They’ve explored roughly the northern half of the overland map, and by my calculation, they’ve spent about three months of game-time doing so.

Now, I didn’t keep track of exactly what season it was when they started the campaign; I didn’t give it any thought, which in hindsight seems like a bit of an oversight on my part. I say that because I’ve been rolling on the weather table in the Pathfinder Core Rules (p. 439) and so far they’ve been mostly getting fair weather with the occasional thunderstorm.

Which seems easier? A wilderness adventure through here...

However, after three months, they’re now adventuring in a new season. That’s not such a big deal if they started the campaign in, say, early spring – now they’re in early summer. But if they started in the summer, it’s now going to be getting cooler as autumn rolls around. And if they started adventuring in autumn, well then…winter is here.

Running an overland adventure in the winter changes things, especially if the PCs are low-level (as mine are). Snowfall, cold temperatures, freezing winds…all of these things add challenges to the game that aren’t there during the warmer months. It can be a great tactic to turn nature itself against the players when they’re used to dealing with enemies that they can bludgeon to death.

The problem with this particular idea is that, for all its virtues, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook doesn’t have a good layout for these sorts of environmental hazards. To be fair, it does a fairly decent job, as most of the relevant sections are close together (collectively found in Chapter 13: Environment), but there’s room for improvement. Mostly, this is because sections tend to be artificially divided, and rules refer to other rules on other pages, making it somewhat difficult to get all of the relevant effects in an easy manner.

For example, the effects of snow are listed under the “Weather” section of the chapter, while exposure to cold temperatures is later on under “Environmental Rules.” In the former section, it notes that heavy snowfall has the same game effects as snowfall (and the entry for snowfall says that it has a lot of the same game mechanics as rain), but also the same game mechanics as fog, which is a few pages further on, etc. Page-flipping and cross-referencing galore.

As such, I’m going to spend this blog entry reposting the rules for snow and other cold-related environmental effects, along with taking out cross-references so that each entry is complete unto itself.

The first thing I’m going to do is divide up the environmental rules for winter into four sections: ground conditions, snowfall, wind, and temperature. Why do this? Because each of these has a different effect on the relevant mechanics – conditions on the ground affect movement, snowfall affects visibility, wind affects ranged combat and flying, and temperature affects a character’s hit points. Each section reprints all of the relevant rules, so this way you won’t have to skip back and forth from section to section (in one or two places, however, this is unavoidable; likewise, two of the snowfall conditions also necessarily include wind conditions). Finally, other relevant hazards are listed at the end.

...or here?

With this, when your PCs are adventuring during the winter, you can just grab the relevant condition (if any) from the four sections below to create the weather conditions for their location. Now you’ll know what to do on a day that has heavy snowfall on the ground, light wind, no snow falling, and is severely cold, versus what it’s like on a day with no snow on the ground, no wind, light snowfall, and (normal) cold. Easily done!

Note that I’ve made some small changes to these entries where the rules didn’t make sense, or contradicted themselves. For example, heavy snow grants concealment (because it references the fog rules), whereas snowstorms and blizzards just offer penalties to Perception and ranged attacks – hence, I had them also grant total concealment. Little things like that help to make the rules more consistent and easier to use.

GROUND CONDITIONS

Snow: It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a snow-covered square. A day of snowfall leaves 1d6 inches of snow on the ground. Snow counts as very soft ground for purposes of tracking creatures with Survival. This is the ground condition created after a snowstorm (q.v.).

Heavy Snow: It costs 4 squares of movement to enter a square covered with heavy snow. A day of heavy snow leaves 1d4 feet of snow on the ground. Snow drifts, 1d4 x 5 feet deep, are also possible. Heavy snow counts as very soft ground for purposes of tracking creatures with Survival. This is the ground condition created after a blizzard (q.v.).

Ice: Characters walking on ice must spend 2 squares of movement to enter a square covered by ice, and the DC for Acrobatics checks increases by +5. Characters in prolonged contact with ice might run the risk of taking damage from severe cold (q.v.).

SNOWFALL

Snowing: Falling snow reduces visibility ranges by half, resulting in a -4 penalty on Perception checks and ranged weapon attacks.

Heavily Snowing: Heavily-falling snow obscures all sight beyond 5 feet, including darkvision. Creatures 5 feet away have concealment (attacks by or against them have a 20% miss chance). Heavy snowfall has a 50% chance of extinguishing small, unprotected flames, such as candles. Ranged attacks and Perception checks suffer an additional -4 penalty.

There is a 10% chance that heavy snow is accompanied by lightning, which can pose a hazard to characters without proper shelter (especially those in metal armor). As a rule of thumb, assume one bolt per minute for a 1-hour period at the center of the storm. Each bolt causes between 4d8 and 10d8 points of electricity damage.

Snowstorm: A snowstorm reduces visibility ranges by three-quarters, imposing a –8 penalty on Perception checks. Ranged weapon attacks become impossible, except for those using siege weapons, which have a –4 penalty on attack rolls. Creatures 5 feet away have total concealment (attacks by or against them have a 50% miss chance). It automatically extinguishes candles, torches, and similar unprotected flames; protected flames, such as those of lanterns, dance wildly and have a 50% chance of being extinguished. Fly checks take a -8 penalty.

Medium creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Small and smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying small or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

A snowstorm leaves snow (q.v.) on the ground afterward.

Blizzard: A blizzard reduces visibility to zero, making Perception checks and all ranged weapon attacks impossible. All creatures have total concealment (attacks by or against them have a 50% miss chance). Unprotected flames are automatically extinguished, and protected flames have a 75% chance of being doused, except for those using siege weapons, which have a –8 penalty on attack rolls. Fly checks take a -12 penalty.

Large creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Medium and smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying medium or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

A blizzard leaves heavy snow (q.v.) on the ground afterward.

WIND

Light Wind: A gentle breeze, from 0-10 mph, having little or no game effect.

Moderate Wind: A steady wind, from 11-20 mph, with a 50% chance of extinguishing small, unprotected flames, such as candles.

Strong Wind: Gusts, from 21-30 mph, that automatically extinguish unprotected flames (candles, torches, and the like). Such gusts impose a –2 penalty on ranged attack rolls, Perception checks, and Fly checks.

Tiny creatures or smaller are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Severe Wind: From 31-50 mph, in addition to automatically extinguishing any unprotected flames, winds of this magnitude cause protected flames (such as those of lanterns) to dance wildly and have a 50% chance of extinguishing these lights. Ranged weapon attacks, Perception checks, and Fly checks are at a –4 penalty. This is the velocity of wind produced by a gust of wind spell.

Small creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Tiny or smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying tiny or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

Windstorm: From 51-74 mph, this is a snowstorm (q.v.).

Hurricane: From 75-174 mph, this is a blizzard (q.v.).

TEMPERATURE

Cold: Cold weather (40-0 degrees Fahrenheit) requires characters to make a Fortitude save each hour (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold-weather outfit does not need to make a save against the effects of cold temperatures.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

Severe Cold: Severe cold (-1 to -19 degrees Fahrenheit) requires characters to make a Fortitude save every ten minutes (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold-weather outfit only needs to save against severe cold once every hour.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

Extreme Cold: At-20 degrees Fahrenheit and below, a character takes 1d6 points of lethal damage per minute (no save). In addition, a character must make a Fortitude save (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold weather outfit reduces this duration to once every ten minutes.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

OTHER HAZARDS

Avalanche (CR 7): An avalanche can be spotted from as far away as 1d10 × 500 feet by a character who makes a DC 20 Perception check, treating the avalanche as a Colossal creature. If all characters fail their Perception checks to determine the encounter distance, the avalanche moves closer to them, and they automatically become aware of it when it closes to half the original distance. It’s possible to hear an avalanche coming even if you can’t see it. Under optimum conditions (no other loud noises occurring), a character who makes a DC 15 Perception check can hear the avalanche or landslide when it is 1d6 × 500 feet away. This check might have a DC of 20, 25, or higher in conditions where hearing is difficult (such as in the middle of a thunderstorm).

A landslide or avalanche consists of two distinct areas: the bury zone (in the direct path of the falling debris) and the slide zone (the area the debris spreads out to encompass). Characters in the bury zone always take damage from the avalanche; characters in the slide zone might be able to get out of the way. Characters in the bury zone take 8d6 points of damage, or half that amount if they make a DC 15 Reflex save. They are subsequently buried. Characters in the slide zone take 3d6 points of damage, or no damage if they make a DC 15 Reflex save. Those who fail their saves are buried.

Buried characters take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage per minute. If a buried character falls unconscious, he must make a DC 15 Constitution check or take 1d6 points of lethal damage each minute thereafter until freed or dead.

The typical avalanche has a width of 1d6 × 100 feet, from one edge of the slide zone to the opposite edge. The bury zone in the center of the avalanche is half as wide as the avalanche’s full width.

To determine the precise location of characters in the path of an avalanche, roll 1d6 × 20; the result is the number of feet from the center of the path taken by the bury zone to the center of the party’s location. Avalanches of snow and ice advance at a speed of 500 feet per round.

Love: Now in New Triangular Flavor!

September 10, 2010

A little while ago, Mxyzplk – of the blog Geek Related, which is over to the right in my blogroll – made a comment regarding my post about the context of sex in an RPG. Specifically, he noted “One of the major lacks in d20 is an overall relationship mechanic beyond the very limited “make them friendly with Diplomacy” one.”

At first, I was skeptical about the idea of having a “relationship mechanic” in Pathfinder. The whole idea seemed to suggest that interpersonal dynamics between characters (PCs and NPCs, that is) shouldn’t need to be role-played; you can just come up with a mechanic to roll-play them. However, after some thought, I started to come around on the idea.

After all, how people relate to each other isn’t always something that’s consciously decided upon; sometimes you get swayed by someone else. Mxyzplk makes some good arguments for this by showcasing an instance of his own character being propositioned by an NPC as well as making a more generalized example out of James Bond and Pussy Galore. Pussy’s initially not very impressed with James, but when he really turns on the charm, she’s suddenly switching sides for his sake. While it’s conceivable that a player and GM could role-play something like this, it’s difficult to do since it requires the characters in this situation to be fleshed out very thoroughly – so much so that the people running them can anticipate how those characters will react to any given situation. That may be fine for a PC, but asking for that level of character immersion for NPCs will almost always be too much.

Okay, so there is a need for some sort of mechanic to define relationships. But don’t we have that already in the form of the Diplomacy skill?

As it turns out, not really. Diplomacy in Pathfinder isn’t about relating to other characters so much as it’s meant to make them more amenable to what you want for a short period of time – notice how the skill won’t let you improve an NPC’s attitude by more than two “steps,” and the effects tend to last for only 1d4 hours. Further, there’s a series of modifiers depending on what it is your requesting; this gives away what the skill is really trying to measure, which is how well you can entreat someone for something and have them accede to it.

In fact, the skill itself isn’t at all disingenuous for what it’s meant to do. It’s called “diplomacy” because it’s meant to measure how diplomatically you can ask for things – it was never meant to function as measure of interpersonal relationships. On a side note, I much prefer to use Rich Burlew’s (of Order of the Stick fame) alternate diplomacy rules, which are tailored more specifically to asking for favors.

So given that we’ve established a need for a relationship mechanic, and determined that we don’t really have one in current Pathfinder rules, how do we make one?

Well, I don’t know, but I do have a pretty good idea of where to start.

One Hundred-Eighty Degrees of Love

A little while ago, while clicking through Wikipedia, I stumbled across the Triangular Theory of Love, which is pictured below. I won’t restate the entire article here, but to summarize: the theory measures love in three different aspects – intimacy, passion, and commitment. Different combinations of these feelings in regards to someone forms different “types” of love between people (e.g. intimacy by itself is true friendship, whereas intimacy and passion is romantic love, etc.). Obviously, the highest sort is the kind that combines all three.

Given that half of the problem with creating a relationship mechanic for an RPG is figuring out what exactly it is you’re measuring, using this three-fold breakdown – intimacy, passion, and commitment – seems like a good place to start.

Given that, we’ll measure a character’s feelings for another character in each of these listings, probably by using a numerical rating. Purely for simplicity, let’s use a scale of 0 through 20, with 0 being that you don’t feel any of that particular emotion for somebody, while 20 is that you’re completely overcome with that emotion for somebody.

Hence, when measuring the feelings that the paladin Ordirius the Great has for his wife, we’ll rank them as Intimacy 12, Passion 7, and Commitment 18. In other words, he feels markedly close to his wife (intimacy), and is extremely devoted to her (commitment), but there isn’t much excitement/attraction/a spark between them (passion).

Now, I fully admit that this isn’t so much a mechanic as a measurement system. After all, it’s cumbersome (each person needs to chart these three scores in regards to everyone else they feel close to), it doesn’t allow for anything besides types of love (which may be a problem if you want a relationship mechanic that encompasses things beyond loving relationships), and it doesn’t present a method for task resolution (e.g. changing someone else’s scores in regards to yourself or someone else).

Beyond that, more definition would need to be given to what these numbers mean. At what commitment score will someone cheat on their significant other? Does having a high passion score towards someone make it easier for them to seduce you? Without better determining what the range of numbers actually represent, the system remains a vague one.

Still, I think that this is a good basis for creating a relationship mechanic for Pathfinder (or another RPG). What do you think? Do you have a great idea for how to turn these scores into an actual set of checks and results? Or is this a bad effort that won’t produce a workable sub-system? Sound off below!

Apparently, Dying’s Not So Bad After All

September 9, 2010

Last night in my Pathfinder game, the rogue kicked the bucket (coup-de-grace’d by a mite, of all things). While the player was slightly miffed to lose a PC he liked, he quickly got started on rolling up a new character (another rogue, much to everybody’s chagrin).

"Now I am become Death, the inconveniencer of PCs."

This was the third character death we’ve had in the four sessions we’ve been playing so far. It’s been an interesting experience for me, since I haven’t GM’d a regular campaign in a long time, and the issue of what happens when PCs die and make new characters (rather than trying to resurrect their existing characters, since they’re too low level to have access to that sort of magic) has brought up some unexpected complications.

For example, relative XP for new characters – compared to the surviving characters – is something I hadn’t anticipated. This is a two-fold issue:

First, there’s a question of how to divide experience points among the party when some characters have died. Our group has six players; two sessions ago, two of them died in the climactic battle of the night. As we wound down and I tallied up the XP the group had earned, the awkward question came up of how to divide the XP – four ways or six?

The problem here was that while the fallen PCs had certainly pulled their weight in battle, their characters were no longer alive to gain the requisite XP from their efforts. Likewise, giving it to their new characters seemed a bit too far-fetched from an in-game perspective (even considering that XP is, in and of itself, a metagame issue), since those characters hadn’t even met the party yet. No one was sure how to divvy up the XP that night, including me.

The other problem with XP when bringing in new characters is that it creates lop-sided XP totals among the party. When a player in our game makes up a new character to replace a dead PC, the character is created at the same level as the other party members. However, after last night’s game, the surviving party members were now less than a thousand XP away from third level. If the new rogue came in with just enough XP to be second level, then the other PC’s have a not-insignificant jump on him as far as XP goes – it’s likely that they’d make third level next session, whereas the rogue almost certainly wouldn’t. In essence, since XP is always divided evenly among party members, the rogue would always be lagging behind the group (admittedly this gap would grow smaller and smaller in comparison as time went on and the XP totals rose higher and higher, but for now the gap seems pretty big).

Finally, this same problem raises it’s ugly head once again when it came time to determine the new character’s starting gold. Being a second level character, the obvious answer seemed like giving him the standard, average amount of gold for new characters as listed in the Pathfinder Core Rules (1,000 gp). However, the other party members cried foul, since, having only made second level themselves last session, that was more than any of them had yet – nobody liked the idea of a new guy who just entered the game with more personal treasure than any of them had earned in adventure after bloody adventure.

Eventually, we reached a compromise on all of these problems. We decided that XP would always be split six ways (the size of the party) and that the total XP for a character would always be of the group average. So the new rogue entered the game with exactly the same total XP as the characters who’d survived since the very first session. The issue of starting gold was messier – he ended up with triple the starting gold of a 1st-level rogue (a little over 400 gp).

However, I found that (at least as far as XP went), this seemed to undercut the threat of death by a large amount.

The impact of death in my game.

Now, fear of their characters getting killed is still plenty strong. PCs are attached to their characters naturally, and there’s always the issue of a dead character diminishing the party for at least the rest of that session, putting the others at greater risk by default (since that character’s actions aren’t there to hurt enemies, nor is he there to draw enemy fire). But beyond that…there’s no real loss for dying.

Simply put, if a new PC that’s brought in a replace a dead PC has the exactly same XP total as the dead NPC would, then it’s really like there’s no net loss. Admittedly, there is the issue of gold and gear, but overlooking that, is character death really that much of an impediment when you get to bring in a new PC at the exact same point of progression that your old PC had? Hell, even a resurrected character takes a few penalties for being brought back into the game (at least until you get the higher-level life-restoring spells).

And so I ask you, dear readers, how do you deal with this issue in your games? Do you institute penalties (or at least, not soften issues that arise) with new PCs who replace dead ones? Or do you make sure that new characters start on the exact same footing as the surviving ones?

What’s the impact of bringing a new PC into your campaign?

Unstructured Spellcasting

September 7, 2010

A few days ago, I reviewed DragonCyclopedia: The Mage, from Glen Taylor Games, over on RPGNow. I won’t say anymore about the class here, since my review takes care of that, but it got me thinking about how spellcasting works in Pathfinder.

Now, to be clear, I like Vancian “fire-and-forget” spellcasting. It’s part of what makes Pathfinder (and D&D) what it is, at least to me. I’m certainly not saying it’s a perfect magic system, and it’s not for everybody, but I don’t have a problem with it. Conversely, I have no particular animosity to other ways of using magic in RPGs either.

Traditional Vancian spellcasting in Pathfinder is either prepared, or spontaneous. Typically, the former have less spells per day but can fill them with pretty much any spells they want, while the latter has more spells per day, but these are chosen on the fly from a hand-picked sub-list of spells. Okay, no surprises there, right?

However, the aforementioned Mage – with its largely unstructured method of spellcasting – made me think about a less restrictive form of Vancian magic for Pathfinder spellcasters, and I came up with the following idea.

Basically, what if you removed individual “slots” for spells per day, and instead pooled the total levels of spells a character would have, allowing them to allocate those levels as they saw fit?

For example, a 5th-level wizard with an Intelligence of 16 normally has three 1st-level spells, two 2nd-level spells, and one 3rd-level spell, plus one bonus 1st-level spell, one bonus 2nd-level spell, and one bonus 3rd-level spell from his Intelligence bonus. Now, let’s add those spell levels together – his standard spellcasting progression gives a grand total of 10 spell levels (three 1’s, two 2’s, and one 3), and his Intelligence bonus adds another 6 (one 1, one 2, and one 3). So he has a grand total of 16 levels’ worth of spells.

Now, let him prepare any combination of sixteen levels’ worth of spells that he can. For example, he could prep five fireballs (each level three) and one magic missile (level one). Or sixteen magic missiles. Or any combination thereof.

In other words, spellcasting characters aren’t bound by needing a set number of spells of every given level; they can allocate their totals as they see fit.

In every other regard, spellcasting works the way it usually does in Pathfinder. Spell DCs are determined the same. Characters still only gain the ability to cast certain levels of spells at certain class levels (notice that our example character doesn’t cast any spells higher 3rd-level), and need the requisite high ability score to do so. Preparatory spellcasters must prepare their spell allocations ahead of time, while spontaneous casters choose them on the fly. Metamagic’d spells require an extra amount of levels added to them, etc.

Now, there’s no denying that this is a power-up for spellcasters. With this much flexibility, PCs (and NPCs) will be sure to optimize their spell selection to a given situation – typically, this will mean (like our example character) using most, if not all, of their slots to prepare spells of the highest level they can cast. Those are the strongest spells they have, after all, and they’ll want more of the big guns rather than sticking with their weaker spells.

Still, it’s an interesting idea, and I wanted to throw it out there to see what people think. If by chance you should elect to use it in your game, please let me know how it works!