Archive for December, 2010

The Antisocial Network

December 21, 2010

I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently GMing a Kingmaker game for my players. A while ago, one of my players (occupying the position of the kingdom’s Spymaster) indicated that he wanted to set up an intelligence network in their nascent kingdom; in his words “the CIA/FBI of the game world.”

It's just like this, but with a crossbow.

I’ve neglected that up until now, largely because all of the sourcebooks I’ve consulted on the issue weren’t very helpful with trying to build an organization from the top down. Almost all of them were concerned with joining a pre-existing group and working your way up the ranks. The few that weren’t were too tightly-focused (e.g. a thieves’ guild in a city) to be applied to an entire kingdom.

They say that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Hence, I’ve generated my own set of rules for setting up networks to gather intelligence both foreign and domestic.

Domestic Spying

A kingdom may come up with an intelligence-gathering service to keep tabs and monitor activities occurring within its borders. This organization has no power to police the citizenry or fight battles – the people who make up such an organization are ordinary citizens, working ordinary jobs, who’ve agreed to keep their eyes and ears open for relevant information and pass it on.

An Intelligence network is purchased per hex of farmland, or per city district within cities. Each such purchase increases the kingdom’s consumption by 1. Within this hex/district, the kingdom gains a number of loyal informants equal to the Spymaster’s Charisma modifier (minimum 1). Each informant has a total number of character levels equal to 1/3rd the Spymaster’s level, and uses the basic ability array for their attributes (13, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8). The GM determines the specifics of the NPC’s statistics.

For example, a Spymaster that was a 7th-level rogue with a Charisma of 15 would have two informants in a city district. The GM determines that one is Borrus the Begger (N male human commoner 2/Str 10, Dex 12, Con 9, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 8/Diplomacy +2, Perception +6, Stealth +3) and Irvus Stratheim, the third son of local noble Baron Stratheim (LN male human aristrocrat 2/Str 8, Dex 11, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 13/Bluff +6, Diplomacy +6, Knowledge (local) +5, Knowledge (nobility) +5, Linguistics +5, Sense Motive +4).

Informants always have a starting attitude of Friendly towards characters who occupy a leadership position within the kingdom. If a kingdom leader makes a Diplomacy check to gather information while in a district/hex with informants, the amount of time to needed to perform the check is halved. When using informants in this manner, they cannot aid another on the Diplomacy check (in a sense, they’re already providing aid by cutting down on the time necessary to make the check).

For example, the kingdom’s Warden has entered a city district to make a Diplomacy check to gather information about a recent crime spree in the area. Putting the word out to the local informants, his Diplomacy check takes 1d4 hours, rolling a 3. Since this is halved thanks to his informants, he gets the results of his Diplomacy check in an hour and a half.

Alternately, a kingdom leader may remotely make a Diplomacy check to gather information regarding a district/hex that has informants; that is, they may make such a check without actually being there. The character makes a Diplomacy check like normal, but the time to complete the check takes 1d4 hours +1 hour per district between the leader’s location in the same city and the district being checked, or +6 hours per hex between the leader and the hex being checked. A Diplomacy check made in this way cannot have any aid another actions used to improve it, and takes a -2 circumstance penalty due to having proxies investigate on the character’s behalf.

A Diplomacy check to gather information cannot be made remotely if the leader making the check is not currently within the kingdom.

For example, the kingdom’s General wants to make a Diplomacy check to gather information regarding an outlying farm in their kingdom (6 hexes away from her current location in the capital city) that was recently raided. However, she doesn’t want to travel all the way out to investigate personally. Luckily, that farmland hex has informants there. She makes a remote Diplomacy check, which takes 1d4+36 hours and suffers a -2 circumstance penalty.

Informants will also make skill checks and provide other services if requested by the kingdom’s leaders so long as doing so does not require them to spend money or enter combat (if the PCs supply the money, the character will perform the relevant service). They’ll always provide the “aid another” action for free (though they won’t enter combat to do so).

In order to found an intelligence network the kingdom must have the Spymaster position occupied. If the Spymaster position becomes vacant, for every month of vacancy another hex or city district’s worth of informants abandon this service, lowering the kingdom’s consumption by 1 but increasing Unrest by 1.

Bring new levels of subterfuge to your game!

Of course, this only applies to domestic intelligence-gathering. The above allows the PC leaders to keep their eyes and ears open for things going on inside their own kingdom. This covers internal intrigue…but what about external? The following rules deal with how to send spies into other kingdoms.

Foreign Spying

Spying on other nations is a delicate, and difficult, process. It requires skilled agents (whether foreign nationals who can be turned, or domestic agents sent abroad) who must be exceptionally well-compensated for their actions, as they face severe punishments if they’re discovered. Worse, a captured spy can be turned against their nation, providing disinformation or even casus belli – cause for war.

Having a spy in another nation increases a kingdom’s consumption by 4. A kingdom may have any number of spies in any number of nations, but each such spy increases a kingdom’s consumption by 4. A spy has a number of character levels equal to the 1/2 the Spymaster’s level, and uses the heroic ability array for their attributes (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8). The GM determines the specifics of the NPC’s statistics.

Whenever a spy performs espionage, the kingdom they’re spying on behalf of makes a Loyalty check against its Control DC. The GM should perform this check in secret rather than letting the players roll it. On a success, the clandestine activity is successfully performed without discovery, finding relevant information. For every 5 by which this check beats the Control DC, another piece of relevant information is found. If the check fails by less than 5, no relevant information is discovered, but the spy is not caught. On a failure of 5 or more – or on a natural 1 – the spy is caught. Whether they’re executed, used to send disinformation, or something else is up to the GM.

Spies tend to perform espionage of their own accord, sending information they think is relevant (e.g. at the GM’s discretion). However, a kingdom’s Spymaster can order a spy to look for specific information. This allows the Spymaster to direct the spy to seek out information on a single topic; what information they find is up to the GM (note that some information may not be discovered even on a successful check). Receiving information typically takes 1d4 weeks, but for distant countries may require up to 1d6 months. Only one such directive can be issued per spy per month.

Spies and Mass Combat: A spy may attempt to locate plans regarding an enemy army. Military plans are closely guarded, however, and the Loyalty check for this takes a -8 penalty. On a success, however, the spy is able to relay one piece of information about an enemy army, such as the tactic it will use in the next battle, one resource that it’s outfitted with, or a special ability that it has. For every 5 by which this check exceeds the Control DC, another piece of information is learned (e.g. one resource that the army has and what tactic it will use in the next battle, or the tactics that two armies controlled by that nation will use in their next battle, etc.). Because all spies understand the timeliness of military espionage, such information typically takes 1d6+1 days to arrive (though for distant kingdoms, this may be increased to 1d6+1 weeks).

Locating Spies: While most spies are caught in the act, a kingdom may deliberately set up counter-intelligence operations. Each such attempt costs 2 BP to undertake and increases Unrest by 2. Only one attempt may be made per month.

Counter-intelligence is made as a Stability check versus your kingdom’s Control DC. On a success, you locate a number of individuals who may or may not be spies equal to the amount by which your Stability check beat the Control DC +1 (on a natural 20, treat the check result as normal, or as if you got a score 20 above the Control DC, whichever is higher). On a failure, you do not locate any possible spies. This check may be made by the players.

The people caught as a result of this check are possible foreign agents. Whether or not they are actually spies must be determined individually, person by person (as a rule of thumb for the GM, there’s usually one actual spy for every five people rounded up in this manner). This can be role-played, or handled as opposed skill checks, with the players making Sense Motive checks against an NPC’s Bluff (for spies) or Diplomacy (for innocents) checks. Presume that NPCs have skill bonuses of +10 (for low-level character; e.g. 1-5), +15 (for mid-level characters; e.g. 6-12) or +20 (for high-level characters; e.g. 13+).

Spies can only be commissioned, directed, or searched for if the kingdom has a Spymaster. If the Spymaster position becomes vacant, the kingdom loses 1 foreign spy per month (this happens concurrently with losing domestic informants) lowering the kingdom’s consumption by 4 but increasing Unrest by 2.

"New rules are all well and good, but where's the cone of silence wondrous item?"

So, what do you think? Do these add a new level of intrigue and international drama to your Kingmaker game? Or are they clunky and impractical in what they bring to the table? I’m going to playtest these with my group soon enough, but if you’re putting these rules to use also, please let me know! Until next time, put your best cloak and dagger forward!

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Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Three: Monsters

December 13, 2010

Monsters don’t usually present as many alignment problems as other parts of the game. Outside of sticking points like “are these baby orcs inherently evil?” it’s usually enough to know that the creatures inhabiting the dungeon are meant to be killed. Yeah, that’s meta-gamey as hell, but that doesn’t make it any less true. After all, whether it’s a Neutral gelatinous cube or a Neutral Evil daemon, it’s an enemy that’s trying to kill you, so why equivocate? As I mentioned last time, even the Bestiary has far too many monsters for me to go over them all individually (as shown by how little progress I’ve made in my series of articles that critiques each Bestiary monster). So instead, we’re going to look at the major areas where alignment is a concern for monsters, and discuss what’s involved in removing it.

Alignment Subtypes

Remove all alignment subtypes from creatures that have them. The major mechanical impact of these subtypes is to denote that these creatures’ natural weapons strike as that subtype’s alignment for purposes of bypassing damage reduction. Since we’re removing aligned damage reduction (see below), they then become totally superfluous.

Damage Reduction

Damage reduction in Pathfinder is largely defined by how it’s defeated; this allows us to view all types of damage reduction as falling into one of four broad categories.

The first category is damage reduction that is overcome by magic weapons (e.g. DR X/magic). This is also the broadest type of damage reduction seen among Pathfinder monsters. Epic damage reduction also falls here, as it requires a magic weapon with an enhancement bonus of +6 or more to overcome DR X/epic (in the whole of the Bestiary, only two creatures – the solar angel and the Tarrasque – have this type of DR).

The second category of damage reduction is material-based DR. That is, types of damage reduction that can only be overcome by weapons made of a particular type of substance, specifically cold iron, silver, or adamantine. It’s notable that a given material is generally used with specific types/themes of monsters (though exceptions abound) – cold iron overcome the DR of demons and fey, silver overcomes the DR of devils and lycanthropes, and adamantine overcomes the DR of constructs.

The third category is alignment-based damage reduction. Mostly limited to outsiders, weapons usually fulfill this requirement by having either a specific magic weapon property (e.g. a holy weapon will bypass DR X/good) or by a creature having a specific alignment subtype (as noted above).

Rather oddly, it should be noted that most monsters have aligned damage reduction that will be overcome by the creatures they’re most likely to fight anyway, making this type of DR questionable in its usefulness. An angel with DR 10/evil, for example, might as well not have any damage reduction at all when it fights demons and devils, since those creatures naturally strike as though their natural and held weapons were evil-aligned. But if the angel fights neutral creatures, or even other good creatures, then it’s DR will be much more useful.

I can understand the reasoning behind why this was done – playing up the “everything is weak against its natural opposite” idea – but it can make for some odd practical applications. Would not an angel best know how to harm another angel, since they’re the same sort of creature?

The fourth and final category is a catch-all for remaining DR types, since the few that remain are used so rarely that they don’t really count. Some of the better-known examples of this category are how skeletons and zombies have DR based on damage-type (e.g. DR X/bludgeoning for skeletons), or the unbeatable damage reduction (e.g. DR X/-) of barbarians.

So why does this matter? Largely because we’re phasing out the third group, and so to fill the void we need to turn to one of the first two (DR/magic and DR/material). We won’t be using the fourth group because, despite how rarely they’re used, the major types of damage reduction it has are generally too good to be viable choices; making all demons have DR/piercing, for example, punishes virtually everyone who isn’t using a spear (this is even more true than someone who isn’t using a specific material or aligned weapon against those types of DR, since those have spells and magic items that can temporarily mimic those properties).

Given the above, what’s the actual process for replacing aligned damage reduction? Well, we have something of a leg up since most creatures who use aligned damage reduction are outsiders, and as we saw before, they tend to have specific materials associated with their various sub-groupings. We’re going to expand on that slightly. The basic guideline to follow is: If a creature has aligned damage reduction, replace it with DR/silver if the creature is lawful or DR/cold iron if it’s chaotic. If it already has one of those as part of its damage reduction, replace the aligned DR with DR/magic.

For example, a Chaotic Evil vrock has DR 10/good. Under this system, this becomes DR 10/cold iron. Likewise, a Lawful Evil pit fiend has DR 15/good and silver; since it already has a special material to its DR, we change this to DR 15/magic and silver.

It’s important to remember that we’re making this change based on the creature’s alignment, not the type of alignment in its damage reduction. In the above examples, the vrock and pit fiend both have DR/good, but we changed them to different substances because one was a chaotic creature while the other was lawful.

By now, canny readers will already have noticed the flaw in this system: we have replacements for chaotic and lawful creatures, but what about good and evil creatures? The problem here is that we’ve got two remaining alignments to replace, but only one remaining special material.

Now, this isn’t a major problem simply because most creatures with aligned damage reduction are either of a chaotic or lawful bent – you’ll rarely meet outsiders who are Neutral Good or Neutral Evil…but it does happen. In this case, it’s probably best to replace the aligned DR of good creatures with adamantine (so a solar angel, for example, will have DR 15/epic and adamantine). Why use adamantine for good creatures and not evil ones? Mostly because there are more Neutral Good creatures with aligned DR (mostly the angels) in the Bestiary than Neutral Evil ones. This will be more of a problem when the Bestiary 2 (with its attendant daemons) comes out later, but for now it’ll have to do.

Some suggestions for what to do when the daemons do arrive, however, are that you can invent a new type of special material to use against them, have them only be subject to a specific damage type (e.g. DR X/slashing), or halve their existing DR value and make it unbeatable (e.g. a daemon with DR 10/good would have DR 5/-).

Holy and Unholy Water

So refreshing it's heavenly!

Holy water, and its unholy counterpart, aren’t monster abilities per se. However, since they only work in relation to monsters, lets include them here for the sake of completeness.

In looking these items over, some oddities quickly come to light. The first is how lopsided they are; most aligned effects have an equal level of applicability, just over different areas – here, however, holy water is clearly better than unholy water. The former affects not only evil outsiders, but undead as well. Unholy water, by contrast, affects only good outsiders.

Also strange is that these items deal damage based around positive and negative energy, yet only damage creatures of certain alignments. Why would the positive energy of holy water harm evil outsiders when a positive energy effect (like channeling positive energy) heals them? Why doesn’t the negative energy in unholy water damage all living creatures?

Personally, I’d like to completely rewrite how these two effectively work, but these articles are meant to remove alignment with the least amount of disruption possible. Hence, we’ll make the following alterations: Holy water damages undead, and outsiders with the daemon, demon, devil, and qlippoth (from the Bestiary 2) subtypes. Unholy water damages outsiders with the agathion, angel, archon, and azata subtypes.

Now, these do narrow the applicability of these items somewhat. Other kinds of nefarious (or benign) outsiders will be unaffected under this rule – that barghest, for example, will find holy water to be little more than a refreshing drink. Perhaps this can be thought of as only certain types of outsiders have enough inherent positive or negative energy for these waters to harm them; other such creatures aren’t “outsider” enough.

Spell-Like Abilities

Any creature with a spell-like ability that uses an alignment-based spell has that replaced with its unaligned counterpart (as seen in part two of this series). If this lists that a given spell has been deleted, remove the corresponding spell-like ability from the creature (don’t worry, it won’t affect it’s Challenge Rating).

In Conclusion

This concludes our look at how to remove alignment from your Pathfinder game. By expelling its influence from character classes, spells and magic items, and monsters, you’re now able to run Pathfinder with as many shades of moral-gray as you like. No longer must your characters fall into rigid strata of good or evil, lawful or chaotic, but rather can chart their own course without falling into objective ethical identifications.

If you use these alternate rules to run an alignment-free Pathfinder game, please take a moment to post about it here. I’d love to hear how well these alterations worked (or didn’t work) and how they changed your campaign. Until then, good gaming, and I hope that you enjoy your new-found moral freedom!