Posts Tagged ‘new rules’

Finding a Path to the Dinner Table

January 22, 2012

Last weekend I got the latest issue of Knights of the Dinner Table in my mailbox. If you’re reading this blog, then KoDT should need no introduction. I’ll say only that it’s the longest-running comic about a group of gamers, and quite frankly it’s hysterical. If you’re not reading it, you’re doing yourself a disservice (and you should check out the free web strips to see what you’re missing).

Part of what makes Knights of the Dinner Table so hilarious are the personalities of the characters. Rarely are real people so over-the-top as Dave, Brian, Sara, and Bob. Another aspect of the amusement comes from the game they play, HackMaster (a pastiche of D&D that’s now an actual RPG). Over the years we’ve seen the Knights’ characters perform a variety of unorthodox strategies that would likely never come up in a Pathfinder game. These are areas where the rules are silent, simply because the actions they take are so outrageous; for that reason alone, you’re not likely to see these happening at your game table.

So of course, we need to change that.

Presented here are Pathfinder rules for three of the outlandish strategies that have seen use in the pages of Knights of the Dinner table. None of these are presented as feats, class abilities, or other “purchasable” abilities, simply because the game already has enough of those, and because there’s no good way to practically reflect the in-game nature of having these be purchasable abilities (e.g. only select people with specific training can do them).

Taking a Chaser

A character is able to swallow a Fine-sized object, keeping it hidden within his body until it passes through his digestive system, at which point he may retrieve it. This is usually done to keep hidden something that would otherwise be found on a rigorous search.

The inventor of this hallowed technique.

A character may have a number of Fine-sized items hidden in this manner equal to his Constitution bonus at any one time (characters with a Constitution bonus of +0 or less have too weak a system to abuse like this). Characters that swallow items in excess of this amount are nauseated for 3d10 minutes before vomiting the excess item(s) back up.

Swallowed items cannot be located with a Perception check, and remain in the character’s body for 1d20+10 hours before they can be retrieved. Handling an item after retrieving it requires a DC 30 Fortitude save to avoid contracting filth fever; thoroughly washing the item for 1 minute reduces this to a DC 10 save, while thoroughly washing it for 10 minutes removes this danger altogether.

Swallowing something under these rules essentially removes the item from play for a time; it’s impossible to find, and not even the PC can access it until enough time has passed. That is the balancing factor here; enemies can’t get to such an item while it’s swallowed, but neither can the PC.

Since the rules generally disallow things to be put into or removed from a character’s body – otherwise it’d be too easy to teleport someone’s heart out – the only way to actively retrieve an item swallowed like this is to kill them and then cut them open.

Spell Tattoos

There’s no reason that a wizard’s spellbook must be a “book” per se. Any surface which can be written upon can record a wizard’s spells, including flesh. Thus, a wizard’s friends and allies may have spells written on their bodies as backup should anything happen to their spellbook.

A Medium-size character’s body may have up to thirty pages’ worth of writing tattooed on it, while a Small-size character’s body may have up to half this much. The cost of tattooing spells onto a character in this manner cost the same as inscribing them into a spellbook, and take the same amount of time. These tattoos act exactly as a character’s spellbook in all regards, save below.

Slashing or piercing damage, as well as fire, lighting, or acid damage, has a chance of disfiguring a tattoo, ruining its use in preparing spells. If the attack roll for such an attack succeeds, or if a saving throw against such an attack fails, the character must make a Fortitude save (DC equals the damage dealt) or have one randomly-determined page obscured by the damage.  Note that magical healing repairs this damage, restoring the tattoo to its pristine state.

An erase spell used against a character with spell tattoos has a 90% chance of successfully targeting them (a touch attack may be made instead, as per the normal rules of using a touch attack spell, to ignore this percentage chance). On a success, the affected character may make a Fortitude save (DC calculated normally for a spell) to resist having their tattoos affected. Otherwise, two pages of magical text, chosen by the caster, are erased. Magical healing does not restore tattoos lost in this manner; they must be re-scribed.

Characters with spell tattoos may hide them with a Disguise check. However, they take a penalty to this check equal to the number of pages they have beyond half (round down) the maximum number their body can have. For example, a Medium-size creature with nineteen pages of spell writing tattooed on his body would take a -4 penalty to Disguise checks to hide them (since half of the maximum number they can have is fifteen pages’ worth), while a Small-size character with ten pages of tattoos would take a -3 penalty (since half, rounded down, of the maximum number they can have is seven).

There was a feat in 3.5, from one of the later issues of Dragon as I recall, that let a wizard tattoo spells on his own body, but I’ve never seen anything to let a character tattoo spells on another.

Mechanically, there’s no particular reason not to allow this, as it costs the same as it would for scribing a spellbook normally. Likewise, the trade-off for having a “spellbook” with such little room for writing is that characters are actively trying to defend themselves, and so are more durable (and less likely to be stolen).

The damage rules regarding spell tattoos do place the “spellbook” in greater danger than a normal spellbook would usually be – and worse, the extra Fortitude saves can slow down game-play – but the rules regarding magical healing fixing ruined tattoos generally allow these problems to be ignored; it’s not necessary to make a character roll Fortitude saves every time they take damage if the cleric is just going to heal them after the battle.

Finally, a wizard may tattoo spells on himself the same way he would any other character. Likewise, it should be noted that these rules work for all characters that use spellbooks, such as a magus.

Keistering

Similar to taking a chaser, keistering is allowing a character to store a single Fine-size item “back there.” Storing an item in this manner requires a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity, while removing it is a standard action that also provokes an attack of opportunity.

Handling an item after retrieving it requires a DC 30 Fortitude save to avoid contracting filth fever; thoroughly washing the item for 1 minute reduces this to a DC 10 save, while thoroughly washing it for 10 minutes removes this danger altogether.

Keeping an item keistered grants a +20 bonus to Sleight of Hand checks made to hide an item on your body (characters without any ranks in Sleight of Hand are presumed to have made a check result of 20 plus their Dexterity modifier). A searcher that conducts a body-cavity search negates this bonus when making his Perception roll.

On the surface, keistering an item is similar to taking a chaser. The big difference is that you can retrieve the item when you need it, rather than having to wait for it. This is balanced by the fact that you can only keep one such item keistered at a time (taking multiple items as chasers spreads them out through your digestive system, while a keistered item is held right at the end of it).

While Pathfinder doesn’t recognize any mechanical difference between men and women, a GM may allow a female character to keep two items keistered at once, since, as someone else once said, “women have more hiding places than men.” In this case, the second item is treated the same as the first for all of these rules, save that the Fortitude saves against disease are reduced by to DC 20 when initially retrieved, and DC 5 after 1 minute of washing.

More rules inspired by the antics of the Knights will be posted in the future; until then, if you’ve got a request for a particular bit of KoDT craziness that you want to see Pathfinder rules for, let me know in the comments section.

We're not doing this one, though.

Until next time, dear readers, may you never need to flip your game table!

The XP Train(ing)

December 30, 2011

Have you ever looked, I mean really looked, at the NPCs in the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide? Specifically, at the NPCs listed under the “Villagers” heading in Chapter 8: NPC Gallery? Yeah, it’s fun to laugh at the village idiot entry, but what about the others?

More specifically, take a look at the entries for the farmer and the mayor. It doesn’t bother a lot of people, but it’s always rubbed me the wrong way that the farmer has not one, but two class levels; this is to say nothing of the mayor having ten. True, they’re all NPC class levels, but the salient question remains: how did these guys ever get the experience points necessary to level up?

It’s unlikely (though possible, albeit far-fetched) that these were the results of story XP awards. I find it hard to imagine exactly what the story there was, however. Perhaps the mayor got an XP award for winning the local mayoral election? But what would the farmer’s XP awards look like? “You survived another unbelievably harsh winter! Gain 100 XP!”

It’s only slightly more plausible that these characters gained XP the same way most adventurers do: by killing things. Partially this implausibility is due to how ridiculously weak both characters are (the mayor is a CR 8 character, but she wasn’t always that high-level). It’s hard to imagine a level 1 commoner wracking up enough kills to advance in level. True, he may fend off the occasional rat (100 XP) or two, and perhaps the rare goblin (135 XP), but those are still a long way from the 2,000 XP necessary to hit 2nd level on the medium XP track.

What I’m trying to get at here is that these NPCs likely gained XP in a way not covered by the Core Rules: training.

Training Troubles

Training as an XP activity is something that’s usually left out of most Pathfinder – and other d20 – games. The usual reason for this is that most GMs don’t see a need to include a nod to verisimilitude in regards to a meta-game function like earning experience points; particularly when doing so often seems to leave the system open to abuse. In other words, it offers too little gain for the headaches that come with it.

Because it only deals Charisma damage.

These headaches are usually found in a player saying that they want to have their character spend some drastic amount of down-time training, then hand-wave away that time having happened, and re-introduce their character now that they’ve leveled up (“okay, so I spend the fifteen years at the monastery, and when I come out I’ve gained eight levels of monk! Let’s go adventuring!”)

To be fair, it’s easy to shut this particular problem down at the beginning of a campaign (e.g. the GM says “No, you’re not starting with a 45-year-old graduate of the war college. You’re just like everybody else, a teenage knucklehead just starting out!”). The problem often comes after the campaign has started, when the GM has already laid out the training rules, and it’s suddenly harder to hand-wave things away (“We saved the village right? Why can’t I buy a house there and teach magic at the local mage’s college for a while? Let someone else rescue the duke’s daughter.”)

All of these issues, however, are actually symptoms of a single problem: the GM is making training too good.

Rate of Return

The solution here is simple – training grants XP at such a low rate that it shouldn’t ever be worth it to your PCs. The rate of return should be so abysmally small that it’s never worthwhile to contemplate if there’s any other avenue of XP acquisition available (and, for your PCs, there always is).

So what rate is so horrifically low that it’d scare off your players? There’s all kinds of rates you can set, but the one I usually stick to is that one day of training grants 1 XP. Given that – plus the fact that no one can realistically train every single day – most characters would need around six years just to make it from 1st to 2nd level (using the medium advancement track). It’d take roughly another eight years to make it from 2nd to 3rd, and about twelve years to go from 3rd to 4th. At this point, your character has spent a quarter-century training, and hasn’t even made it to casting third-level spells yet.

Can you spot young Elminster in this photo?

One interesting side-effect of this system is that it gives demi-humans (that is, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, etc.) a plausible reason for being generally higher-level than humans…though not much. They’ve had more time to train; the diminishing rate of returns, however (as it takes more and more XP to gain a level) ensures that this will keep most demi-humans from having super-high levels from training alone (getting to 6th level using this system would take almost one hundred-fifty years of training!).

Of course, this brings up a salient point – if it takes lifetimes just to earn a couple of levels, how do guys like the aforementioned mayor get to be 10th level? Ah, but that’s the nice part about NPCs not needing to earn their levels through actual play – you can say that she actually did earn them fighting monsters or winning story awards. Perhaps the mayor personally lead the charge against an invading orc horde, despite having no military training (and killed several, earning XP). Or perhaps she uncovered political corruption in town (for a story XP award). At 10th level, the mayor should have some sort of noteworthy background.

Ironically, these low-XP training rules can be of help to PCs as well. Perhaps if the PCs find themselves just 200 XP short of the next level, they decide to take six or seven months off from adventuring to train and earn those last few experience points. That’s fine; remember, our goal is to stop the training rules from being abused, not make them absolutely useless. This is also a nice way to prevent your adventurers from going to 1st to 20th level in less than a year (something that seems to happen a lot).

Work Hard, Game Hard

Most likely, at some point while reading the above, you wondered to yourself, “why use training rules at all? If we’re keeping the PCs away from these, I can just make my NPCs whatever level I want.”

Leaving aside how, as mentioned above, these rules aren’t meant to repel the PCs but simply discourage abuse, the last phrase is true; there’s no reason the GM can’t set their NPCs with whatever level they want. The training-for-XP rules aren’t meant to shackle the GM; they’re meant to be a good shorthand for measuring a character’s age-to-expertise ratio, where their age is how long they’ve been training and their expertise is how much XP they’ve gained for it.

This guideline lets you quickly determine that a character that’s been a farmer for thirty years has about 10,000 days of farming, which means he has about 10,000 XP, which makes him about 4th level. Once you’ve got that, you can easily adjust the totals by providing other reasons for how he got his experience. Suppose you want your farmer to be a younger fellow, but still 4th level. Then he must have gotten some of his experience another way – did he go adventuring for a bit and then retire for some reason? Is he a local celebrity for having performed some incredible deed? Just like that, the training rules have helped stimulate our back-story for an otherwise-ordinary character.

Training, and providing a means by which ordinary people improve without killing monsters or completing quests, helps to flesh out the world just a little bit more. In doing so, it makes the game world a little more vibrant, and thus more fun, for everyone involved.

Gib Nuf

November 26, 2011

My first collectible card game was Magic: the Gathering, which my mother bought for me when I was a kid. She’d noted my growing obsession with D&D and thought that I’d get a kick out of this new fantasy card game that she’d heard about.

I, of course, was intrigued by the new game, and played it thoroughly…for a few months. My love affair with Magic ended before it really got off the ground, however, when I saw an ad in Dragon magazine saying that, if you sent them your Magic: the Gathering deck, they’d send you a two-deck starter set of their new D&D CCG: Spellfire.

I didn’t even have to think twice. Magic was out, Spellfire was in.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see just how flawed a game Spellfire really was. For the most part, this was because its initial run of cards were lacking in special powers, save for a relative few, which made them comparatively worthless against those cards which did have a special effect. Later editions of the game corrected this, but by the time they did it was too late for the game, which had failed to upset Magic’s growing hold on the CCG market it had created.

I didn’t know any of that at the time though, and enjoyed the hell out of the game, both in play and for its presentation of the many different characters, places, and things from D&D. I also, naturally, collected like mad, particularly the limited set of “chase” cards. These were cards that were outside the usual numbered set, and always had powers…usually greater than those of non-chase cards with powers.

Some of the most famous of the original chase cards were the Gib cards. There were three to begin with, those being Gib Ekim (1st chase/4), Gib Evets (1st chase/11), and Gib Htimsen (1st chase/13). Obviously these were “Big Mike,” “Big Steve,” and “Big Nesmith” all spelled backwards, being the names of people who worked on Spellfire. Still, it was a quirky, and endearing, trio of characters; so much so that the Gib cards eventually became de facto representatives of Spellfire itself, and as the booster packs continued, more and more Gib cards would be unleashed.

Of those first three though, Gib Htimsen was the most interesting, and as you can see on the left, it’s not hard to figure out why. In addition to an arresting picture, Gib Htimsen also had an impressive – for when the game first came out – set of immunities. He was pretty well immune to almost anything you threw at him! He was one of Spellfire’s most fearsome champions in the game’s early years.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I found myself thinking about Spellfire, and while mentally comparing over how certain facets of D&D were translated to Spellfire, I came to realize that the reverse wasn’t true – that many of the things original to Spellfire had never been officially brought over to D&D.

In particular, none of the Gib cards.

Well, as a fan of both D&D and Spellfire, I couldn’t let that stand! I immediately set out to convert the Gib cards to D&D and unleash them upon the world. Of course, I play Pathfinder now, so those are my stats of choice for bringing these classic cards into your game world.

Here’s the first, and greatest, of the Gibs: Gib Htimsen. I’m hoping to eventually convert all of the Gib cards, but since there are (with the official online booster packs) fifteen of them altogether (and a few other cards that specifically affect the Gib cards, to boot), it’s anyone’s guess if I’ll manage to convert them all. Of course, a direct conversion isn’t feasible, but I’ll do my best to keep the stat blocks true to the spirit of the original cards.

And besides, it’s the very least that these characters deserve after all the oddly-named fun they gave me over the years.

GIB HTIMSEN

This nether monstrosity is the size of a small forest, complete with dozens of tree-sized serpentine heads!

Gib Htimsen CR 25

XP 1,638,400

NE Gargantuan magical beast (extraplanar)

Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +30

DEFENSE

AC 43, touch 6, flat-footed 43 (+47 natural, –4 size)

hp 562 (25d10+425); regeneration 25 (acid and fire)

Fort +31, Ref +16, Will +10

DR 20/good; Immune magic; Resist acid 30, fire 30

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft., swim 30 ft.

Melee 25 bites +35 (3d6+13/19-20)

Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.

Special Attacks pounce

STATISTICS

Str 37, Dex 10, Con 45, Int 2, Wis 11, Cha 9

Base Atk +25; CMB +42; CMD 52 (can’t be tripped)

Feats Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Diehard, Endurance, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Attack (bite), Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Power Attack, Staggering Critical, Stunning Critical, Weapon Focus (bite)

Skills Perception +30, Swim +21; Racial Modifiers +2 Perception

SQ hydra traits, regenerate head, relentless

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Hydra Traits (Ex) Gib Htimsen can be killed by severing all of its heads or slaying its body. Any attack that is not an attempt to sever a head affects the body, including area attacks or attacks that cause piercing or bludgeoning damage. To sever a head, an opponent must make a sunder attempt with a slashing weapon targeting a head. A head is considered a separate weapon with hardness 0 and 25 hit points. To sever a head, an opponent must inflict enough damage to reduce the head’s hit points to 0 or less. Severing a head deals 22 points of damage to Gib Htimsen’s body. Gib Htimsen can’t attack with a severed head, but takes no other penalties.

Immunity to Magic (Ex) Gib Htimsen is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance.

Regenerate Head (Ex) When one of Gib Htimsen’s heads is destroyed, two heads regrow in 1d4 rounds. Gib Htimsen cannot have more than twice its original number of heads at any one time. To prevent new heads from growing, at least 25 points of acid or fire damage must be dealt to the stump (a touch attack to hit) before they appear. Acid or fire damage from area attacks can affect stumps and the body simultaneously. Gib Htimsen doesn’t die from losing its heads until all are cut off and the stumps seared by acid or fire.

Regeneration (Ex) This regeneration applies only to damage inflicted on Gib Htimsen’s body.

Relentless (Ex) Gib Htimsen does not need to breath, eat, or sleep. Additionally, it treats all ability drain as ability damage, and regenerates 1  negative level and 1 point of ability damage to each ability score per round. Gib Htimsen is immune to fatigue and exhaustion.

For one of the deadliest creatures in the cosmos, very few know of Gib Htimsen’s existence. Perhaps that is fortunate, for if the creature was more widely-known, then it would surely be brought forth much more often by those wishing to spread havoc and destruction throughout the multiverse.

Gib Htimsen’s origins are unknown, though its clearly from one of the evil Outer Planes. Some have speculated that, given its hydra-like qualities, it’s perhaps the original hydra from which all others sprang. Others put it as kin to Demogorgon, citing a  vague resemblance to the Prince of Demon’s twisted offspring, Arendagrost. A few hold that it was the prototype of the monstrosity known as Demodragon.

Whatever the creature’s beginnings, Gib Htimsen’s existence is one of unending rage and devastation against all within its reach. Unsleeping, the creature ceaselessly wanders, never failing to destroy anything that falls within its gaze. This eternal rampage seems without cause, for the creature does not even eat what it kills. It simply ravages everything it can find.

Those with the courage to fight this engine of annihilation usually don’t live long enough to regret their error. Most find out too late that Gib Htimsen is immune to virtually all magic, and that it quickly shrugs off even the most egregious of wounds. Those who try to hack its myriad heads from its body usually find themselves ripped to pieces before felling more than a handful.

More Than A Healing

October 29, 2011

One of the best parts of the RPG blogosphere is the endless array of ideas it presents. Even a casual perusal of a fraction of the blogs devoted to our favorite pastime is often enough to present a bevy of interesting options and directions to take your game. It’s just such a blog-inspired idea, for example, that’s the genesis of today’s post.

An older post over on Playing D&D With Porn Stars talks about a goddess of healing and medicine…an evil goddess of healing and medicine who is also a goddess of mutation and flesh-warping. That’s a pretty cool idea, simply because healing is almost-universally the domain of good-aligned deities.

Of course, the first thought I had when I read this idea was “Hm, so maybe her healing spells cause flesh to warp and twist, healing the person but also deforming them.” But the major problem then became how to reflect that in the rules, because although it’s certainly possible to just have that be a descriptive element, adding a mechanical aspect helps to drive the point home in game-play.

The answer came in the form of this slightly-tweaked spell:

FUSE FLESH LIGHTLY

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 1, bard 1, cleric/oracle 1, druid 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1, ranger 2, witch 1

This spell functions as cure light wounds, but the healing takes place via painful twisting and deformation of the body, causing 1 point of Charisma drain.

Now THAT’s the sort of healing spell you’d expect of an evil deity!

Of course, there’s more to this than just a single altered spell, so here are the alterations for the other classic healing spells:

FUSE FLESH LIGHTLY, MASS

School conjuration (healing); Level bard 5, cleric/oracle 5, druid 6, inquisitor 5, witch 6

This spell functions as mass cure light wounds, but the healing takes place via painful twisting and deformation of the body, causing 1 point of Charisma drain to each creature affected by this spell.

 

FUSE FLESH MODERATELY

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 2, bard 2, cleric/oracle 2, druid 3, inquisitor 2, paladin 3, ranger 3, witch 2

This spell functions as cure moderate wounds, but the healing causes terrible scarring and mutation, causing 2 points of Charisma drain.

FUSE FLESH MODERATELY, MASS

School conjuration (healing); Level bard 6, cleric/oracle 6, druid 7, inquisitor 6, witch 7

This spell functions as mass cure moderate wounds, but the healing causes terrible scarring and mutation, causing 2 points of Charisma drain to each creature affected by this spell.

 

FUSE FLESH SERIOUSLY

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 3, bard 3, cleric/oracle 3, druid 4, inquisitor 3, paladin 4, ranger 4, witch 4

This spell functions as cure serious wounds, but the healing is agonizing and misshaping, causing 3 points of Charisma drain.

FUSE FLESH SERIOUSLY, MASS

School conjuration (healing); Level cleric/oracle 7, druid 8, witch 8

This spell functions as mass cure serious wounds, but the healing is agonizing and misshaping, causing 3 points of Charisma drain to each creature affected by this spell.

 

FUSE FLESH CRITICALLY

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 4, bard 4, cleric/oracle 4, druid 5, inquisitor 4, witch 5

This spell functions as cure critical wounds, but the healing causes unbearable pain and horrific disfigurement, causing 4 points of Charisma drain.

FUSE FLESH CRITICALLY, MASS

School conjuration (healing); Level cleric/oracle 8, druid 9, witch 9

This spell functions as mass cure critical wounds, but the healing causes unbearable pain and horrific disfigurement, causing 4 points of Charisma drain to each creature affected by this spell.

 

GRIM SURVIVAL

School conjuration (healing); Level cleric/oracle 5

This spell functions as breath of life, but the subject pays a horrific price for their flirtation with death, as this spell effects torturous alterations to their body so that it continues to function, causing 5 points of Charisma drain.

 

ANGUISHING HEAL

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 6, cleric/oracle 6, druid 7, inquisitor 6, witch 7

This spell functions as heal, but the spell wreaks havoc on the target’s body, wildly reshaping it while repairing damage, causing 6 points of Charisma drain.

ANGUISHING HEAL, MASS

School conjuration (healing); Level cleric/oracle 9

This spell functions as mass heal, but the spell wreaks havoc on the target’s body, wildly reshaping it while repairing damage, causing 6 points of Charisma drain.

 

IMPERFECT REGENERATION

School conjuration (healing); Level cleric/oracle 7, druid 9, witch 7

This spell functions as regenerate, but the regrown limbs and organs are incorrect for the affected creature, (though they still function normally), causing 7 points of Charisma drain.

Of course, just having these spells is only half of the equation. After all, these are the spells of twisted healing that an evil deity of fleshwarping and mutation would use, right? Well, in the Pathfinder pantheon, that would fall to Lamashtu, the Mother of Monsters.

If mama ain't happy, then ain't nobody happy!

Except…Lamashtu is an imperfect fit. Yes, she’s the patron deity of twisted and warped creatures, but there’s no healing aspect to her; for her it’s about birthing malformed creatures rather than twisting existing creatures to become that way. She doesn’t even have the Healing domain.

It’d be slightly cumbersome to add a completely new deity just for this, particularly when Lamashtu is so close to what we’re looking for already. Luckily, there’s a way to have our cake and eat it to – by taking a page out of Alluria Publishing’s Cerulean Seas sourcebook/campaign setting, we can create a new dedicated to an aspect of Lamashtu that’s different from her “traditional” aspect.

DIMME

Alignment NE

Domains Animal, Evil, Protection, Strength, Twisted Healing

Subdomains Fur, Defense, Ferocity

Favored Weapon natural weapon or dagger

Symbol Variations A smaller animal skull, held (but not crushed) in the jaws of the larger animal head

Originally a minor deity devoted to motherhood, primarily raising and protecting one’s children, Dimme was devoured and subsumed long ago by Lamashtu (similar to Curchanus). Now Dimme is still a goddess of maternity, but in a twisted and savage way. She teaches that children must suffer pain and hardship in order to become strong, and that those who die in the process are weak and unfit to live (since, after all, a mother can always have more children).

Cults to Dimme persist among primitive races and societies, usually with oracles, druids, and adepts, rather than clerics, mending to the faithful. Teaching that the entire community is a symbolic child of Dimme, they encourage a savage lifestyle where the strong oppress the weak; this mindset engenders much hatred towards sorcerers, who are seen as gaining unnatural strength and subverting Dimme’s natural order. Sorcerers are thus “purified” by having healing spells used on them over and over until they are cleansed of their “unholy” powers (that is, until they take enough Charisma drain to be unable to cast spells).

You may have noticed that one of Dimme’s domains is Twisted Healing. That’s the variant of the Healing domain that uses the above spells, and alters the domain powers in line with the above changes:

TWISTED HEALING

Granted Powers: You are able to mend bodies, though doing so is painful and renders them warped, but functional.

Painful Revival (Sp): You can touch a living creature as a standard action, healing it for 1d4 points of damage plus 1 for every two cleric levels you possess, but also inflicting 1 point of Charisma damage. You can only use this ability on a creature that is below 0 hit points. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Effective Reshaping (Su): At 6th level, all of your cure spells are treated as if they were empowered, increasing the amount of damage healed by half (+50%). The amount of Charisma drain dealt also increases by 1. This does not apply to damage dealt to undead with a cure spell. This does not stack with the Empower Spell metamagic feat.

Domain Spells: 1st — fuse flesh lightly, 2nd — fuse flesh moderately, 3rd — fuse flesh seriously, 4th — fuse flesh critically, 5th — grim survival, 6th — anguishing heal, 7th — imperfect regeneration, 8th — mass fuse flesh critically, 9th — mass anguishing heal.

Of course, the above presumes that you’re adding this to an ongoing Pathfinder game where, for divine spellcasters dedicated to most deities, healing works as per normal. But if you’re working on a new campaign, you can change the tone of the entire game very easily using what’s here. Just slow down the rate of natural healing, make the above the only type of healing magic available (perhaps good clerics automatically gain the Turn Undead feat instead of being able to channel energy), and maybe remove or nerf spells that undo ability drain, and all of a sudden your PCs will be much more careful about taking damage in combat!

Until next time, here’s to healing not being taken quite so lightly.

When Playing by the Rules is a Dick Move

September 18, 2011

There’s a lot to be said for running a Pathfinder game by the (Core Rule)book. While supplements and house rules can add a lot to a game, there’s a simplicity to running things by the Core Rules only that can be refreshing, both for the ease that comes from sticking to the rules that everyone (presumably) already knows, and for the fun that comes from working with a limited set of tools (which tends to heighten creativity). As they say, “simple is best.”

And yet for all of that, there are several areas of the Core Rules that are routinely ignored in many, if not most, Pathfinder games.

Now, that statement has likely left you scratching your head and wondering just what the hell I’m talking about. Surely there aren’t entire sections of the rules that are ignored by everyone, are there?

Well actually, yes. Yes there are.

You're Not Just Wrong. The Rules Also Say You're A Dick!

Because I couldn't find one where it had the rules saying you're actually right, but also a dick.

These are the parts of the game that tend to get ignored because players don’t want to be subject to them, and GM’s are wary of pulling them out, since they tend to be upsetting to the point of killing the fun. In fact, it seems to have gotten to the point where there’s an unconscious-but-understood “social contract” between the players and the GM that these things won’t be used in the game at all. That’s an overstatement, of course, but these rules do seem to be generally ignored.

Today, we’re going to shine a spotlight on these oft-ignored parts of the game and examine them in more detail. We’ll also cover why they shouldn’t be so readily dismissed, and hopefully make a good argument for why they deserve to be used as much as any other parts of the game.

Say hello to the dick moves of the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game.

Broken Gear

This one is a classic among the things you’re Not Supposed To Do To The PCs. Character death is tragic, even after leveling to where you can be reliably raised from the dead. But destroying a character’s items (both magic and mundane)? That’s just mean.

The above sentiment is fairly pervasive among Pathfinder players, despite the fact that destroying gear is built into the rules at myriad points. Beyond even the rules on item hit points and hardness scores, we have example upon example of the rules giving characters ways to break stuff. From the sunder combat maneuver (and Improved Sunder) to the shatter, disintegrate, and mage’s disjunction spells (despite the latter being neutered in Pathfinder) to the rust monster, it’s pretty clear that this is a very viable tactic.

It’s also a tactic that no PC is ever willing to use themselves. After all, notwithstanding experience points, treasure is the reward they get at the end of the adventure, and a significant portion of that comes from the gear that enemies are using. When you’re 3rd level, that masterwork longsword that the villain’s wielding is too valuable to be shattered. And who in their right mind sunders the enemy’s metamagic rod of quicken? Just kill him instead and take it!

Spellfire - Mordenkainen's Disjunction

The greatest and most feared of spells.

The problem is that, as mentioned above, a lot of players seem to think that because they don’t engage in this tactic, they don’t deserve to have it pulled on them. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning applies meta-game logic to decisions that are made in-game. It might make sense for a demon to disintegrate the party’s cubic gate so that they can’t escape a fight that’s going badly, but the players will still likely be ticked (and that’s a utility item – heavens help you if it happens to weapons and armor!) and likely will be upset with the GM for doing it, even though it made sense for the NPC.

It’s here that we need to talk about a subset of this particular dick move – one that’s extreme enough that it needs to be talked about specifically: targeting the wizard’s spellbook.

You can lose material components, or (divine) foci, but nothing seems to say “@#$% you, buddy” like having something happen to the wizard’s spellbook. Right?

But even this seems to be implicitly acknowledged within the game itself. Traveling spellbooks are still on the equipment list (albeit kicked over to the Advanced Player’s Guide). There are clear rules on the monetary and time costs of copying spells. Scribe Scroll is a 1st-level bonus feat for wizards (all the better to copy those backup scrolls you made into a new spellbook). And of course, there’s the Spell Mastery feat. All of this functions as backup for a wizard should their spellbook be lost or destroyed.

And yet, should that happen, the wizard’s player will often act like you just crumpled up their character sheet.

This is another one of those areas where players feel like they should have “script immunity”; that is, where something like this simply shouldn’t be in the cards. Enemies will never even think of going for the wizard’s spellbook, let alone do so if they have the opportunity. It’s just expected.

The problem with all of these assumptions is that they rest upon the more fundamental assumption that the PCs shouldn’t ever be crippled – that is, nothing should happen that puts a damper longer than a few rounds on their ability to function.

This assumption is flawed. Deeply, heavily flawed. The PCs enemies – the ones with the intelligence, means, and mindset to do so – should go for whatever means of winning they have, and if that means taking away the PCs tools, then that’s what they’ll do. After all, if you’re willing to kill someone, is it really worse to break their toys?

Alignment/Ethos Violations

Of all of the Pathfinder no-no’s listed here, this one is perhaps the most personal. Ironically, it’s also the one with the least in-game penalty (sometimes; see below).

Virtually everything else on this list is an in-game interaction between characters that creates a point of friction. But the GM telling someone that they’re not acting like their listed alignment is basically the same as pointing at them and saying

Calling someone out on alignment violations isn’t that far off from calling them out as a bad role-player, in other words. It doesn’t help that alignment is probably one of the most contentious parts of the game (hence why I prefer to play without it).

For what it’s worth, the Core Rules do broach this topic:

In the end, the Game Master is the one who gets to decide if something’s in accordance with its indicated alignment, based on the descriptions given previously and his own opinion and interpretation—the only thing the GM needs to strive for is to be consistent as to what constitutes the difference between alignments like chaotic neutral and chaotic evil. There’s no hard and fast mechanic by which you can measure alignment—unlike hit points or skill ranks or Armor Class, alignment is solely a label the GM controls.

It’s best to let players play their characters as they want. If a player is roleplaying in a way that you, as the GM, think doesn’t fit his alignment, let him know that he’s acting out of alignment and tell him why—but do so in a friendly manner.

The GameMastery Guide goes into this a little further, but really, that’s about all you can say. Given that alignment changes don’t carry a penalty, however, there’s little reason that – so long as the GM doesn’t do so nicely – an alignment change can’t be mandated.

Of course, this is a much bigger problem when the alignment change takes a character out of the acceptable alignment for his class (e.g. a barbarian acting lawful). In that case, the GM is essentially levying a penalty, one that ranges from not being able to take further levels in that class to losing all of that class’s powers.

Things are pretty well the same in regards to an ethos or code of conduct. These tend to be expressly called out for paladins, druids, and some other classes, and most divine spellcasting classes have an implicit set of religious tenets that they’re supposed to follow too. Breaking this ethos tends to be similar to having your alignment change to one that’s out of bounds for your class, in that there are tangible penalties.

These can be pretty hefty, but there’s still no reason to necessarily avoid them if they’re warranted. After all, the player knew about those restriction when he had his PC take that class, and how the character acts is (mind-affecting effects notwithstanding) completely under the player’s control. Hence, there shouldn’t be any hesitation on the GM’s part to go there if it’s necessary.

Besides, repentance is only one atonement away anyway.

Independent Hench-NPCs

You’ll have to forgive the imprecise terminology here. “Hench-NPCs” are those NPCs whom the PCs get as part of a class feature, feat, or other game mechanic. I’m talking about familiars, animal companions, cohorts, etc.

It's better than a red shirt...I guess.

There’s been a long-running debate over who gets to actually run these characters, the player or the GM. Honestly, both sides have some merit, but here at Intelligence Check we tend to side with the idea that the GM should control NPCs, including those that are gained because of a game mechanic.

The reason for this is that players have a tendency to treat these characters as being extensions of their PCs. Now, in some cases (e.g. familiars) that’s true, and the NPC’s primary motivation may be “obey the PC and work towards his/her best interests.” But for most other characters, that won’t be true – they’ll follow a PC for the in-game reason given in the mechanic, but it’s not some sort of absolute.

Take, for example, animal companions. These are actually a LOT more limited than most players give them credit for. I like to look at this article over on the Emergence Campaign Weblog that points out a little item that was in the 3.0 SRD (adjusted for readability), and was in the 3.5 DMG (but, oddly enough, not the 3.5 SRD) that seems to have vanished entirely in Pathfinder:

The lists of possible animal companions assume that the character spends most of her time in the animals’ home territory and treats it well. If she spends most of her time at sea, in cities, or otherwise in places that her companion doesn’t like, her companion will soon desert. Remember, animal companions are loyal friends but not pets or servants. They won’t remain loyal if being the character’s friend becomes too onerous.

The animal is still an animal. It’s not a magical beast, as a familiar or a paladin’s mount is. While it may have learned some tricks, it’s still no more intelligent than any other animal of its kind, and it retains all its bestial instincts. Unlike intelligent followers or cohorts, animals can’t follow complex instructions, such as “Attack the gnoll with the wand.” A character can give a simple verbal command, such as “Attack” or “Come,” as a free action, provided such a command is among the tricks the animal has learned. A more complex instruction, such as telling an animal to attack and pointing out a specific target, is a standard action. Animals are ill-equipped to handle unusual situations, such as combats with invisible opponents, and they typically hesitate to attack weird and unnatural creatures, such as beholders and oozes.

Left to its own judgment, an animal follows a character and attacks creatures that attack her (or that attack the animal itself). To do more than that, it needs to learn tricks. An animal with an Intelligence of two can learn six tricks.

So yeah, druids and rangers, along with cavaliers, samurai, and even paladins are likely to have a bit of a more difficult time than they thought with their animal companion.

Similarly, the Leadership feat says you gain a cohort and a number of followers, but fails to say why you gain them; there’s an implication that they’re following you just because you’re that cool that they’re hoping some of your greatness just sort of saturates into them, though that’s iffy. But far more iffy is if you need to pay them, if they automatically replenish when some of them are killed, through what hardship they’ll follow you (“No, I really meant it. Tonight, once we go through this portal, we will literally dine in Hell.”), etc.

The problem here isn’t with the game rules, per se. Pathfinder may be utterly silent on these issues where older editions were more forthcoming, but the silence isn’t the issue. The issue is that, in absence of any guidance on this, there’s become a general assumption that hench-NPCs just sort of accept that their lot in life is to serve their master’s (the PC’s) will, which they automatically know and faithfully execute.

Now, even this is usually underscored with the understanding that the PC will at least try not to put them in harm’s way. But even that tends to be undercut when these characters are gained as a result of a class feature or feat, simply because if they’re lost if leads to the complaint that “this is something I earned via levels/feat slots, and you [the GM] are making my character function at sub-optimal strength.” Remember what we said above about how PCs hate having their characters take long-term penalties? It’s that syndrome all over again.

Coup-de-Grace

A bit of a misnomer here, this actually refers to when an NPC focuses on killing a particular PC in combat. Now, on the surface, that sounds like a nonsensical statement. After all, aren’t all the enemies that the PCs engage in combat with trying to kill them? Yes, but they’re trying to kill the PCs as a group, rather than focusing on a particular individual.

To put it another way, when the PCs engage with enemies, they tend to expect that the enemies will vary their targets over the course of the combat. A single enemy (or smaller group than the PCs) will tend to switch up their targets every round or two, never concentrating on one character to the exclusion of the others. Groups of enemies will split up, dividing themselves evenly against the PCs rather than ganging up on a single character or two.

The rationale here is that no one likes feeling picked on, and that’s what it feels like when the monsters tend to single you out. Now, that’s a justifiable response if there’s no reason for it…but there’s usually a reason for the monsters to do that. Sometimes it’s for a reason that the PCs can understand, e.g. the horde of ghouls knows that the cleric can do the most damage to them. But it could be for something more arbitrary, such as knowing that it’s just smart tactics to reduce the number of enemies you face as a whole, rather than gradually trying to wear down the entire group at once.

And besides, these are the tactics that the PCs use all the time, so why shouldn’t the bad guys play by the same rules?

That about sums it up.

It’s worth noting that this section also covers how, a lot of the time, monsters don’t seem to finish a downed character off. A PC that falls below 0 hit points but hasn’t yet died all too often gets ignored by the enemy that just dropped it, giving the character an opportunity to receive healing from another party member. This is usually justified by saying “with the immediate threat down, the monsters turn to the next one.” That’s plausible, but so is saying “the monsters knew to make sure a downed character stays down.”

Some GMs don’t want their NPCs to make a coup-de-grace, in the above situation (AoO’s, after all), and have that be the reason why the creature that was trying to kill the character mere moments ago is now not delivering the death blow. This ignores that the monster can still make a normal attack against a downed character (which will almost certainly hit, due to the PC being prone and having massive Dex penalties from being helpless) which will likely finish them off.

All of this isn’t to say that the GM should try to wipe out the party; just that there’s good reason for the deadly foes the PCs face actually be…well, deadly.

Attacks of Inopportunity

A regrettable pun it may be, this section’s title refers to those attacks that happen when the PCs aren’t expecting them, with a particular emphasis on when they’ve made camp for the night.

Now, it’s not hard to see why this one gets frowned on by the PCs. After all, a sleeping character is the very definition of helpless (literally, where the game rules are concerned), and even if they don’t just get coup-de-grace’d by their enemies, the PCs are still in a very disadvantageous positions. Most defensive spells will have run out, and it can take a long time to get armor on (not to mention the actions just spent grabbing gear).

Attacked in the middle of the night by the forces of Hell? Put on the Armor of God! It only takes four minutes and two helpers to don.

Again, though, using this tactic isn’t going out of bounds. There’s a plethora of defensive spells in the Core Rules, from alarm to dimensional lock, so that attackers can’t get the drop on the PCs. If they don’t use them – or any other basic tactics, such as posting a guard on duty or taking Endurance to sleep in medium armor (and then buying some mithral heavy armor) – then they’re once again asking for script immunity to anything unpleasant happening. If the PCs think that the whole “scry/buff/teleport” combo takes the fun out of things, then let them be on the receiving end for a change.

As a bonus, here’s a new rule for characters who are concerned about staying safe when roughing it on their adventures.

New Rule: Sleeping in Trees

A character may wish to sleep in a tree in hope of remaining out of reach should enemies find him while he’s asleep. A character that settles down to sleep must make a Reflex save (DC 10), with success meaning that he stays in place all night. On a failure, the character falls out of the tree at some point during the night, taking appropriate falling damage.

And Finally…

None of the situations that we’ve talked about here are inherently unfair, or beyond the spirit of the game. Some of them do place the PCs at a disadvantage, and may even result in some character deaths, but that’s part and parcel of playing Pathfinder, as it is with almost any other RPG. Using themselves, using these rules doesn’t constitute a dick move.

What does constitute that is if you, the GM, are using them to punish the players. Not the PCs, but the players. The characters may not know why something’s happening, but if the players can understand the reason why bad things are happening to their players – even if it’s something like “yeah, that archmage really hates you” to “bad luck” – then it’s nothing personal, it’s just how the game goes. But if you’re using these to try and steer the players in a certain direction, or let them know that they’re not gaming “the right way,” then they’re going to get pissed, and rightly so.

In short, using the rules is never a dick move if you’re not a dick.

Rightness of Thought and Action

September 3, 2011

Here at Intelligence Check, we try to keep up with what our readers are looking for. While popular opinion doesn’t decide what articles we put out, we do try to spotlight things that are popular among Pathfinder fans. We write this stuff for you guys, after all.

While our last article, Bringing Back the Sexy! was our most popular to date, a few people mentioned that they felt uncomfortable by the nature of the subject matter. Well, we listen to our readers, and so this article is dedicated to those who didn’t care for the previous material. This is for you.

DETECT BAD THOUGHTS

School divination [lawful, mind-affecting]; Level inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Components V, S, DF

Duration 10 min./level

The thoughts people have affects their attitudes and behavior, which in turn affects how they deal with others; hence, bad thoughts can lead a person down the path to wickedness, and harm the community. This spell allows for the detection of such thoughts early on.

This spell functions as detect thoughts except as given here. This spell only detects thoughts that you would consider objectionable, such as blasphemy against your religion, gratuitous profanity, sexuality, and violence (in other words, things you wouldn’t want children to hear). Other thoughts are not detected by this spell.

DETECT BAD THOUGHTS, GREATER

School divination [lawful, mind-affecting]; School paladin 2

Duration 1 hour/level

This spell functions as detect bad thoughts except as listed here.

While this spell is active, whenever a paladin uses detect evil to concentrate on a single individual within 60 feet he also picks up any bad thoughts the creature is having as if having studied it for 3 rounds. While focusing on one individual with detect evil, the paladin does not detect bad thoughts in any other individual within range.

PROTECTION FROM INFLUENCE

School abjuration; Level cleric 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1, sorcerer/wizard 2, summoner 2, witch 2

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 1 round/level (D)

Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

Inequality in a relationship is inherently damaging to the non-dominant participant, regardless of their personal feelings. Moreover, the very existence of such relationships suggest to others that they’re somehow legitimate, causing further harm to the fabric of society. This spell removes such bondage from a creature for a short time, allowing them to act freely.

A creature under the effects of this spell has all charm and compulsion effects suppressed for its duration. Moreover, they cannot make any sort of mental contact with another creature (e.g. telepathic bond). This spell suppresses the “link” and “share spells” special qualities when used on animal companions and eidolons, and the “empathic link” and “share spells” special qualities when used on familiars.

Summoned creatures are affected by this spell as though they were the subject of a targeted dispel magic.

Note that this spell does not affect a creature’s attitude. It may still choose to help someone it’s bonded to of its own free will.

If this spell is used against a sekirei, their “bonded” and “norito” special qualities are suppressed for the spell’s duration.

PURIFY SENSES

School abjuration [lawful, mind-affecting]; Level cleric 2, inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 min./level

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

Objectionable imagery causes objectionable thoughts and opinions in people, which in turn leads to objectionable actions. This spell protects against that by making sure that those it wards cannot see or hear anything that would offend their sensibilities.

A creature affected by this spell is unable to see or hear anything offensive, obscene, lewd, or otherwise objectionable. The exact manner in which this spell stops such material from being sensed by the affected creature tends to vary between castings; images tend to be covered with a black bar or become distorted by a mosaic, while sounds are covered with a “bleep” noise, or are simply selectively muted. The exact nature of what a character finds objectionable varies, but for most creatures tends to include blasphemy against their religion, gratuitous profanity, sexuality, and violence (in other words, things that they would not want children to see or hear).

Bluff and Intimidate checks that incorporate objectionable elements automatically fail against a creature protected by this spell. Likewise, creatures under this spell gain a +6 resistance bonus against spells and effects that include objectionable elements.

The spell’s determination of what is or is not objectionable is measured by the sensibilities of the creature upon whom this spell is cast, not by the spell’s caster.

This spell made be made permanent when cast on yourself, requiring a minimum caster level of 5 and 1,000 gp. Despite the hard work of many clerics, inquisitors, and paladins, however, no way has yet been discovered to make this spell permanent when casting it on others.

[This spell was inspired by the Purify Sight spell used by Piffany the cleric in the hilarious comic “Nodwick,” by Aaron Williams.]

It should be noted that, from a strict rules standpoint, the purify senses spell is fairly out-of-whack. After all, it’s a low-level spell that grants total immunity to two skills, and a hefty bonus against spells and effects…some of the time, since when it applies is vague and not strictly defined in the game’s rules terminology.

It’s precisely because of that imprecise applicability, however, that the spell’s effects are so disproportionally powerful for its level. Using this spell means that the GM has a great deal of leeway over when its effects kick in and when they don’t. As such, it’s entirely possible for this spell to not grant its bonuses depending on how a given effect is role-played. The reward for using such a spell is that when its effects do kick in, they make themselves worthwhile.

UNRELENTING RIGHTEOUSNESS

School enchantment (compulsion) [mind-affecting]; Level alchemist 1, bard 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 minutes

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell makes a creature supremely confident in the correctness of their beliefs, gives them the courage necessary to tell people with differing opinions exactly why they’re wrong, and the conviction to keep the debate going until they’ve shown the other person the error of their ways (or at least gotten the last word).

A creature under the effects of this spell may use Diplomacy to make Intimidate checks.

On the surface, this spell doesn’t look very useful. After all, Intimidate is used to make a creature more helpful towards you, which Diplomacy already does. However, Intimidate can make a creature helpful no matter what its starting attitude is, whereas Diplomacy can only raise a creature’s attitude by two steps. Likewise, the DC to beat is calculated differently. And of course, this lets you demoralize an opponent with Diplomacy as well.

Until next time, may you be made of sterner stuff than the other guy!

Bringing Back the Sexy!

August 28, 2011

If you hadn’t heard, there’s been a few developments lately for those who enjoy sex and romance in their Pathfinder game.

The big development in this department is that Paizo released the free player’s guide for their new Jade Regent Adventure Path. Tucked away in their are a set of new relationship rules for how your characters can relate to the four major NPCs in the campaign. This is divided into two possible paths: friendship or rivalry, but with a small notation that if you get your “relationship score” gets high enough, you can eventually start a romance with that NPC.

The need for mechanics like this is something that we’ve blogged about before here on Intelligence Check, so it’s nice to see Paizo following along. No worries that they didn’t credit me for the original idea, of course; I’m just happy to contribute something to the community. *knowing wink*

In all seriousness though, these relationship mechanics are good, but strike me as more of a foundation than anything else. There is some room to grow here, and it’ll be interesting to see if any third-party publishers step in to build on these (and if they don’t, you may just seem some expansions here).

The second half of this equation is that the Pathfinder-compatible version (or rather, the “PFRPG version,” due to the restrictions on Paizo’s compatibility license) version of Sisters of Rapture has been released! If you recall, this particular sourcebook has also been featured here on Intelligence Check, so this really goes to show that we’re ahead of the curve on predicting the next big thing!

It’s in the spirit of these new releases that today’s post focuses on bringing a sexy new element into your Pathfinder game. Of course, being gigantic nerds, we’re going to make sure it has lots of rules and mechanics as well. After all, nothing says “hot” like numerical modifiers to polyhedral die rolls, am I right?

Disclaimer

Here at Intelligence Check, we like to think that our stance on sex as part of the game is pretty clear. After all, it’s been blogged about here twice before. Now, in case you don’t want to go read those posts again, it’s easy enough to summarize: adding a sexual dimension to the game world is perfectly fine, so long as it makes sense. It’s when it starts to become gratuitous that things go off the rails.

Having said that, there’s also something to be said for the occasional bit of self-indulgence. After all, rules were meant to be broken. It’s in that spirit that we’re going to completely ignore our own advice and present something erotic entirely for your character’s own gratification. After all, it’s a fantasy role-playing game, so why not throw in a sex fantasy too?

As such, we present: the sekirei.

Sekirei

A bit of background. “Sekirei” is a manga (Japanese comic) that’s currently published in Japan (though if you look around, you can find English translations online easily enough). Set in contemporary Tokyo, it’s of the harem genre, and is pretty stereotypical in what it portrays (e.g. the leading male is rather spineless, the women fall into typical personalities like “tsundere,” “perky ditz,” etc.).

As they say, "I'd like to roll d20 to hit that!"

What’s notable for our purposes here are the eponymous sekirei themselves. While the Japanese word “sekirei” literally means “wagtail,” a kind of bird, in this series the sekirei are a race of pulchritudinous humanoids (mostly female) with special powers. And in a rather pokemon-esque twist, they also need to find a human master to bond with, who then has them compete with other bonded sekirei.

…if it sounds kinda crazy, well, it is. There’s more to it, of course, but really you’re mostly reading it for the T & A anyway, as the girls in this series can’t seem to keep their clothes on very well.

Bringing things back around, what we’re going to do here is present Pathfinder stats for the sekirei race, so that your character(s) can have one or more sekirei of their own!

Sekirei Pathfinder

Okay, so now we’re going to go through and convert the sekirei from the manga into a Pathfinder race. This will be fairly easy to do, since it’s already been done…sort of.

A little while ago, mostly for crits and giggles, I asked Thoth of the Emergence Campaign Weblog (over on my blogroll!) to make up sekirei stats, and that’s just what he did. However, his conversion used the rules from Eclipse: the Codex Persona (of which he’s the author), a d20 point-buy sourcebook. Now, I should mention that I’m quite enamored of the rules in Eclipse, as they make virtually any character idea possible – I’ve mentioned the book here on Intelligence Check more than once. However, for someone looking to enjoy a straight Pathfinder game, the rules presented there can seem fairly arcane, and thus difficult to use with the material in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook.

Hence this blog post. While I’d wanted to go through and translate the Eclipse rules into Pathfinder rules step-by-step, that’d make for an incredibly long blog post, and I figure that most of you would probably just want to skip to the end results anyway.

As such, we’ll go ahead and post the end results:

SEKIREI

Sekirei are a young race, having been brought into existence within the last twenty years. Created by mortal magic to be the perfect companions to humans and other mortal races, sekirei care for little save for finding a master to bond with, which they call their “ashikabi.” Once they’ve bonded with someone, they become devoted to that person, putting them first for the rest of their lives.

Physical Description: Sekirei look human on close examination. One can tell a bonded sekirei, however, by the pink crest that appears between their shoulder blades, showing the silhouette of a bird in flight. The only other commonality in a sekirei’s appearance is their beauty – there are no ugly sekirei.

Society: Sekirei have no society of their own. Their compulsion to find a master to bond with keeps them much more focused on individual needs rather than forming any stable groups. Bonded sekirei inevitably become part of whatever society their master belongs to.

Relations: Sekirei treat all races equally, looking for an ashikabi among any race that will take them, though this only applies to humanoids. Once they find a master, however, they’re submissive and worshipful towards them, living only to please their ashikabi. Sekirei don’t tend to get along very well with each other, as there seems to be an innate drive to fight amongst themselves, though multiple sekirei bound to the same master can learn to get along.

Alignment and Religion: Sekirei can be of any alignment. They tend to find a master with a matching alignment of their own, though this doesn’t always hold true. As sekirei tend to focus entirely on their bonded master, they have no use for religion of any sort, and virtually never take up worship of a deity.

Adventurers: Sekirei don’t become adventurers unless their master is also, in which case they journey to protect their ashikabi. Many sekirei who are searching for a master to bond with tend to fall into adventures inadvertantly.

SEKIREI RACIAL TRAITS

+4 Charisma: All sekirei are beautiful.

Medium: Sekirei are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.

Special Powers (Sp): Each sekirei has a thematic special ability, such as “super-strong” or “master of a single weapon” or “manipulates plants.” The GM should assign a sekirei any number of spell-like abilities, of 3rd-level or less, which can be used at will or are constantly in effect, that fit with this theme. Damage-dealing powers deal quadruple damage against inanimate objects. The caster level is set by the GM (usually caster level equal to their Hit Dice).

Norito (Su): As a full-round action, a bound Sekirei that starts their turn adjacent to their ashikabi can use one of their special powers with increased potency. By kissing their ashikabi (as part of the full-round action) a sekirei gains four levels of metamagic that can be applied to one of her special powers. These levels of metamagic may be put into Empower Spell, Maximize Spell, or Selective spell. Multiple feats may be used this way. Using a norito causes wings of light to momentarily appear on the sekirei’s back as they kiss their ashikabi.

Some sekirei gain five levels of metamagic that can be applied to the above feats when using a norito. However, these sekirei always take 1d6 points of damage per level of metamagic modifier, taken after the norito is used (e.g. using Empower Spell would cause 2d6 points of damage). This damage cannot be reduced by damage reduction. The choice to use this option must be made at character creation, and thereafter cannot be changed.

Empathic Link (Su): A bound sekirei shares a link with her master; this link functions over any distance, so long as both are on the same plane. The master can communicate emphatically with the sekirei, but cannot see through her eyes. Because of the link’s limited nature, only general emotions can be shared. The master has the same connection to an item or place that his sekirei does.

Bonded (Ex): A sekirei’s bond with her ashikabi is her life. If her ashikabi dies, a sekirei bound to him immediately dies also. A bound sekirei that has died cannot be resurrected if her master is not alive.

A sekirei’s bond may be forcibly broken, but only by another bound sekirei. In this case, one bound sekirei must touch the crest on another’s back and recite the words of her norito. This is only possible if the sekirei’s back is bare and the crest visible. This requires a touch attack, which provokes an attack of opportunity. On a successful touch, the sekirei being attacked must make a Fortitude save (DC 30) or die. On a successful save, the sekirei has managed to twist away before the attacker finished reciting her incantation, and so avoided the attack. This attack does not work between sekirei bound to the same ashikabi.

A sekirei that has not yet found an ashikabi does not have this trait. However, each day an unbound sekirei must make a Will save (DC 20 + 1 per previous successful save) or go looking for a suitable ashikabi (someone with the Bind Sekirei feat, see below).

Languages: Sekirei begin play speaking Common. Sekirei with high Intelligence scores can choose any languages they want (except secret languages, such as Druidic).

It’s worth noting that a few sekirei are far stronger than their peers. These are covered below:

ELDER SEKIREI

Elder sekirei are the original sekirei made, before the process was refined to allow for their mass creation. As such, these sekirei are more powerful than their younger siblings.

Elder sekirei use the same racial traits as sekirei, but with the following modifications: They may have spell-like abilities of up to 5th-level for their special powers. They gain two +2 ability modifiers that may be placed on any attributes (including the same attribute, if desired); once this choice is made it cannot be changed. They also gain two bonus feats.

Now, the above captures what’s unique about the sekirei in-and-of themselves. However, we see them with other abilities that are clearly far and away above what normal humans can accomplish. Hence, the original article presented them with a suite of powers that were considered basic for anime/manga characters.

Since some people may find these to be a bit over the top for a Pathfinder game, we’re going to separate these. Hence, what follows is the anime template:

Anime Template

The anime template is an inherited template that may be applied to any humanoid (hereafter referred to as the base creature). The base creature uses its normal stats and abilities except as noted here:

CR: +1.

Defensive Abilities: The base creature gains resistance to acid 5, cold 5, electricity 5, fire 5, and sonic 5. They also gain damage reduction 10/- against falling damage only. Finally, the first 5 points of damage from any attack that deals hit point damage (that isn’t stopped by their energy resistance or damage reduction) are converted to nonlethal damage.

Weakness: An anime creature is treated as one size smaller for the purpose of calculating their CMB and CMD.

Speed: Same as the base creature +30.

Special Qualities: An anime character gains the following:

Flashy (Su): An anime character has flashy special effects that appear when necessary, though these have no mechanical impact.

Immortal Vigor (Ex): The base creature gains 7 bonus hit points.

Limited Fast Healing (Ex): When injured, the base creature gains fast healing 1. This heals up to a maximum of 36 hit points per day.

Makeover (Su): An anime character’s personal appearance (hairstyle, scuff marks, etc.) is always cleaned up between scenes.

Quickness (Ex): May take a Move Action using Acrobatics once per round as a free action. This may be used as part of an Acrobatics check to avoid attacks of opportunity.

Void Sheathe (Su): An anime creature may conceal a personal weapon that belongs to them on their person, regardless of its size or what they’re wearing (or not wearing). This item cannot be found by Perception checks.

Ability Scores: +2 Cha.

Skills: An anime character gains a +10 enhancement bonus on all Acrobatics checks made to jump.

As presented in the source manga, their racial traits alongside this template make up pretty much everything most sekirei can do. There are some particular things not covered here, but most of those are individual special qualities rather than universal abilities.

However, there are still a few tropes of the given series that aren’t answered. A big one is the fact that clothes come off a lot during the course of the series. And most of the time that happens in fights. Now, by itself that can simply be declared as a sunder attempt (most clothes have a hardness of 0 and 1 hit point), that still requires a check, provokes an attack of opportunity, etc. In order to make this a little more applicable (remember, attacking a sekirei’s crest – in the “bonded” power above – requires that it not be covered), we’ll have to institute a new rule:

Optional Rule: Wear and Tear

When making an attack roll with a weapon that deals slashing damage (or, at the GM’s option, piercing damage), you can compare the result to the target creature’s CMD. If the attack roll is greater than the target’s CMD, one piece of clothing that they wear is shredded. For every 5 by which it surpasses the target’s CMD, one additional piece of clothing is destroyed. This does not work against armor or magic items – only mundane clothing is affected.

An unarmed character may, as a combat maneuver, attempt to rip off another creature’s clothes. This provokes an attack of opportunity. On a success, one piece of clothing is torn off. For every 5 by which it surpasses the target’s CMD, one additional piece of clothing is destroyed. This does not work against armor or magic items – only mundane clothing is affected.

So that about covers it (or not covers it, as the case may be). Let’s close things out with an example.

Musubi

She she must have a lot of this outfit, considering how often it gets shredded.

Musubi is the leading lady of the Sekirei manga. As such, we’ll write up her stat block as an example of what a typical sekirei would look like. Note that we’re using a few materials (an archetype, and a feat) from Paizo’s Ultimate Combat sourcebook.

The girl in front of you is dressed rather outlandishly, wearing a monk’s gi, a short skirt, thigh-high pink stockings, and combat gloves. Despite her odd dress, however, she’s very attractive, having pale skin, brown hair that’s cut short save for a long ponytail and a cowlick sticking up, and the largest breasts you’ve ever seen. She peers at you for a moment, blinking, and then exclaims, “Ah! Are you my ashikabi?”

Musubi CR 2

XP 600

Female anime sekirei fighter (unarmed fighter) 3

NG Medium humanoid (sekirei)

Init +3; Senses Perception +2


DEFENSE


AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 11 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +1 shield)

hp 40 (3d10+19); fast healing 1 (limited; 36 hit point maximum per day)

Fort +6, Ref +4, Will +2 (+1 vs. exhaustion, fatigue, staggered, and temporary ability score penalties)

Defensive Abilities convert 5 lethal damage to nonlethal per attack; DR 10/- (falling only), 1/- (nonlethal and grappling damage only); Resist acid 5, cold 5, electricity 5, fire 5, sonic 5

Weaknesses bonded


OFFENSE


Speed 60 ft.

Melee unarmed strike +8 (1d6+4)

Special Atks norito

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd; concentration +8)

Constant – bear’s endurance, bull’s strength, cat’s grace, stone fist


STATISTICS


Str 19, Dex 16, Con 17, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 20

Base Atk +3; CMB +6; CMD 19

Feats Dodge, Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Iron Will, Snapping Turtle Style (B), Weapon Focus (unarmed strike)

Skills Acrobatics +6, Perception +2; Racial Modifiers +10 Acrobatics (jump only)

Languages Common

SQ empathic link, flashy, immortal vigor, makeover, quickness, void sheathe

The above statistics represent Musubi at the beginning of the story; she hasn’t yet developed any of the powers she’ll gain later.

And One Other Thing

Of course, all of this up until now has ignored one salient detail: there’s no listing for how your PC can actually gain a sekirei of their own! Technically, you could get one with the Leadership feat, or even just role-play having a devotee follow you around, but let’s go a bit further. The following new feat allows you to gain a sekirei:

Bind Sekirei

You have become the ashikabi of a sekirei, sealing her to yourself with a kiss.

Prerequisites: Character level 7th, Charisma 14.

Benefit: You become the ashikabi of a sekirei. Your sekirei begins play with three levels in a PC class, but their statistics are generated by the GM. Your sekirei gains experience points normally, but can never have more levels than your level -2. You may take this feat more than once.

Of course, binding an elder sekirei is much more difficult:

Bind Elder Sekirei

You have managed to become the ashikabi of a powerful elder sekirei.

Prerequisites: Character level 11th, Charisma 16.

Benefit: You become the ashikabi of an elder sekirei. Your elder sekirei begins play with five levels in a PC class, but their statistics are generated by the GM. Your elder sekirei gains experience points normally, but can never have more levels than your level -2. You may take this feat more than once.

Taking those feats five times isn't a lot, right?

That last part, about sekirei gaining experience normally, is something of a deviation from the manga. Later on, it’s revealed that a sekirei’s powers grow in direct proportion to the strength of their (emotional) bond with their ashikabi. To better represent this in your game, here’s an optional rule:

Optional Rule: Ashikabi’s Devotion

Bound sekirei do not gain experience points. Instead, when their ashikabi gains experience points, he may choose to give up a certain amount of XP. This sacrificed XP is multiplied by the total number of sekirei that he has, and can be distributed among them in any amount.

For example, Minato has four sekirei. He gains 3,000 XP from a story award, but decides to give it all to his sekirei. In that case, it becomes 12,000 XP (1,000 x four sekirei), and he gives half of it to Musubi. The remaining 6,000 XP is distributed evenly among the remaining sekirei; 2,000 each.

Note that this method of distribution isn’t in-character; rather, it’s representative of the ashikabi exercising their bond with their sekirei.

Until next time, dear readers, may all of your PC’s companions be cute young things!

Death of a Die Roll

July 17, 2011

One of the most difficult things to chart in a role-playing game with as rich a history as Pathfinder (since I see it as having a direct connection to previous editions of D&D) is a shift in attitude that gamers as a whole seem to have toward the game…and indeed, the attitude that the game seems to have about itself.

That such a shift has happened at all is fairly self-evident; the existence of the Old-School Renaissance is proof enough of that. However, identifying exactly what values and characteristics these differing attitudes have is something that no one really seems to be able to agree on. Some say that it’s about the mechanics, while others say it’s the play-style of the GM and/or the players. Others say it’s both to some degree. Still others have some other definition altogether.

Were I to guess, I’d say that everyone’s right to some degree. Likely, the change in rules changed how people looked at the game over time, though in ways that are difficult to articulate. However, I think that one of those changes was perhaps more fundamental than anyone’s given it credit for – the method of generating character attributes.

From Rolling Dice to Counting Beans

Back in the days of Second Edition (when I started playing the game) you rolled your ability scores. Now, my memory of 2E is largely fogged by over a decade of not looking at that edition’s Player’s Handbook, but I don’t recall there being a point-buy option presented there; even if there was, it was pretty clearly de-emphasized. You just rolled 3d6 and assigned them to your ability scores.

This attitude – that you randomly determined your attributes and had to make do with what the dice gave you – is one that I think set the tone for the whole game. You certainly had an idea for who you wanted your character to be, but that idea was then modified by your attributes (and, since this was in the day when classes had ability score requirements to take levels in them, you could very well need to radically change your character concept if you didn’t get the scores necessary to joining a given class), and you re-shaped your character accordingly.

Don't mock it; that kid went on to become the Gray Mouser.

It was rare, from what I remember, that this forced a player to completely abandon a given idea for a character. Being able to assign the numbers you generated to your ability scores meant that you could put your highest score towards a given class’s prime requisite (the attribute most directly tied to the class, and usually with a minimum score to take levels in it). However, it did require some fine-tuning – if you described your character as being exceptionally cunning (Wisdom), very personable (Charisma), and quick on his feat (Dexterity; all traits a good rogue would have), but then found you only had two good ability scores, you’d have to rethink your character a bit, since he wouldn’t be all three of those.

This had broader repercussions, in the form of the sort of thinking it encouraged about your character. PCs were shaped by the events of the game, and didn’t always get to pick-and-choose everything about them as they leveled up. Your ability scores, for example, were pretty much set at the time of character creation – there were extremely few ways to raise them. Magic item shops didn’t exist, and crafting magic items was difficult and draining (the one making them permanently lost points of Constitution in doing so), so you pretty much had only what you’d earned in dungeon delves.

It’s also important to remember what wasn’t there. Feats hadn’t been thought up yet, and the closest things to skills were “proficiencies” which were much more binary – you either had them or you didn’t.

All of this added up to the idea of your character as being – from a mechanical standpoint – a fairly static creation. Hit points and saves went up, as did your ability to hit things and prepare spells, but by and large your character defined him- or herself through what happened in the context of the game world. Your plans for your character consisted of the things he wanted to do, rather than the mechanics you wanted to take.

That doesn’t seem to be quite as true now. In an era where sourcebooks have proliferated wildly via the OGL, where there’s a robust point-buy system for character creation, and where the mechanics of building PCs have taken front-and-center, the mentality of the game has changed as well. Not being able to play a particular character concept to a “T” has changed from being seen as part of the game to being a flaw. Before, the adversity in developing who you wanted your PC to be was part of the fun – now it’s seen as something that takes away from said fun.

At this point, fans of Pathfinder might think I’m picking on it. After all, the Core Rulebook describes many different methods of character generation, with the point-buy method being just one among many. Similarly, issues of magic item shops and magic item creation feats are fairly easily solved house-ruled at the game table. The issue isn’t that Pathfinder itself is bad in any way, just that it lends itself to a certain style of gaming. Other styles require some tweaking.

Old-School Pathfinder

So how then would you go about tweaking the game to give it more of an “old-school” feeling? I’m no member of the OSR, but I’d recommend the following list of changes.

  1. Roll for ability scores – the exact method of dice-generated ability scores is less important than using it at all, and allows for degrees of freedom here. From 3d6 to 4d6-and-drop-the-lowest to a pool of 24d6 and assign a number of dice to each ability score before rolling, there are a lot of ways to let fate determine just who your character will be.
  2. Close off easy access to magic items – Eliminate magic item shops in the game world. PCs may still buy and sell magic items, but that’ll be on an individual basis with NPCs they meet, rather than being perfunctory shopping. Likewise, remove item creation feats from the game. This essentially makes every magic item a minor artifact (and requires some in-game explanation for how these magic items were made in the first place), and similarly requires the GM to think much more carefully about what magic items are placed where (alternately, just use randomly-generated magic items if you really want to let the dice fall where they may).
  3. Eliminate ability score boosters – Buffs that inflate ability scores are one of the easiest ways to power-up characters. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it tends to devalue other things – like a barbarian’s rage or the ability point gained every four levels – that provide bonuses at greater cost. Eliminate the ability score buffing spells like cat’s grace, owl’s wisdom, and magic items that grant similar bonuses.
  4. Assign ability score prerequisites to character classes – this one is likely to be somewhat controversial, as it has the possibility of closing off class choices a player may want. The list of ability score prerequisites below is entirely generated by me, and also includes two other rules. First, a character’s favored class is always the class they take at 1st level. Second, if a character wants to multiclass into another class, they must have ability scores at least 2 points higher than that class’s ability score prerequisites…splitting your focus takes incredible dedication, and is not easily done. (e.g. a fighter under this system who wants to multiclass into wizard would need an Intelligence of at least 14, rather than 12.)

Ability Score Prerequisites by Class

Alchemist: Intelligence 14. Requiring not only insight into arcane forces but also blending them into physical concoctions, an alchemist must have intelligence without peer.

Barbarian: Strength 14, Wisdom 12. Barbarians are powerhouses, but at the same time have a strong will that allows them to contain or unleash an overpowering rage as they desire.

Bard: Charisma 14. Bards are well-known for being exceptionally outgoing and personable.

Cavalier: Strength 12, Charisma 14. A leader of men, the cavalier requires the personal appeal to lead men into battle, and the muscle to fight alongside them.

Cleric: Wisdom 12. Those who would serve the gods need the insight necessary to understand their will.

Druid: Wisdom 14. Serving the inscrutable forces of nature, an abstract force rather than a sentient deity, requires a greater understanding of both one’s self and the world.

Fighter: Strength 12. Fighters need to be tougher – albeit not too much tougher – than ordinary people in order to be effective combatants.

Inquisitor: Wisdom 14, Charisma 12. Inquisitors must have a deeper understanding of their religion to be able to spot heretics, and require a degree of personal insight to find hidden corruptions of the spirit.

Magus: Strength 12, Intelligence 14. A magus must have a strong arm to be a proficient martial master, and and even greater intellect to not only learn spellcasting with a split focus, but also blend their magic into their swordplay.

Monk: Dexterity 12, Wisdom 12. Monks are fleet of foot and strong in spirit to follow a life of personal asceticism and discipline.

Oracle: Charisma 14. Unlike clerics, oracles are picked by the gods to be their servant, and made to suffer a curse for their power. They must have a strong personality to endure their curse and understand why they were chosen.

Paladin: Strength 12, Wisdom 14, Charisma 14. Paladins are paragons among men, having not only strength of arms, but great wisdom so as to better understand the will of their god, and great personal magnetism to let them better serve as a shining example among their fellow man.

Ranger: Strength 12, Wisdom 14. Rangers mix the martial prowess of the fighter with the druid’s insight of nature, blending them into a deadly whole.

Rogue: Dexterity 12. Among those who’d make their living in a questionable manner, those who aren’t quick tend to be among the dead.

Sorcerer: Charisma 12. Being able to tap into the power of one’s bloodline first requires that you have the strength of personality to know yourself.

Summoner: Charisma 14. A strong personality is necessary to have one’s best friend be a conjured monster.

Witch: Intelligence 14. Few are those who can understand the secrets taught by a familiar on behalf of an unknown patron, and learn the ways of ill-understood hexes and curses.

Wizard: Intelligence 12. Being able to study and master eldritch forces demands an intellect above that of the common man.

One question that might come up is what about the people in the game world who don’t meet any of these class prerequisites – after all, none of these have a score lower than 12, but the average ability scores are 10 and 11. The answer is simple: those people take levels in NPC classes, as those have no prerequisites.

Seriously, for me that shirt would be all 18s.

In the event that a player happens to roll so low that they can’t take any class (that is, they don’t get a score higher than 11), allow them to discard that character and roll up a new one. You can have the previous attempt be an NPC they knew or something similar.

Finally, in the event that something happens to a PC’s ability scores (e.g. ability damage or ability drain), nothing happens to their class abilities. It’d be too difficult, and too punitive, to have them lose access to their class abilities in the event that their ability scores were reduced.

Building Character

Virtually all of this article has focused around eliminating ways for PCs to inflate their ability scores. That isn’t meant to imply that higher attributes are the source of problems with the game, just that they tend to suggest a focus on power-building rather than letting the character’s experiences shape who they are (a focus that many good gamers can and do ignore, for what it’s worth).

By making these changes, hopefully you’ll be able to take some of the spotlight off of how powerful your character is, and instead help to encourage just what they can do. They say that heroes are made, not born…but at the game table, heroes aren’t made by mix-maxed ability scores and careful magic item purchases – they’re made from adventures.

It’s A Kind of Magic, Part 4 – Language

July 4, 2011

One of the most notable parts of spellcasting is the verbal component. Yes, there are dramatic gestures and it’s surely odd to see someone waving around random junk, but the shouted words are the most dramatic part. From “abracadabra” to “expelliarmus,” what we remember is the verbal incanting that triggers the spell.

But what’s the significance of the words? Does the language really matter? And for that matter, what language is it, exactly? For all the different ways to look at the language of magic, Pathfinder is silent on the issue. So then we’ll have to insert a few choice words in hopes of actually saying something.

Here is the language of magic in your Pathfinder game.

A Word of Warning

In previous instances of this series, we were looking at ways to describe the in-game nature of how magic is described in the Pathfinder game rules. This time around, things are going to be a little different. For this article, we’ll be looking at some alternate game rules to help promote the in-character changes we discuss.

For the most part, the game-world fluff changes in this article can be used without any major mechanical changes. Rather, the alternate rules we’ll be talking about help to reinforce the importance of the alterations we’ll be making. Pathfinder, like any role-playing game, works best when the fluff and the crunch support each other; hence these tweaks.

Foreword

Before we get into issues of the language for how spells are verbalized, we need to take a step back and look at how language itself is treated in Pathfinder, which lays down the foundation for verbal spellcasting.

Unfortunately, the results aren’t very promising. While abstraction is a natural part of the game, language in Pathfinder is, in a word, gimped. Reduced to a single skill, with each skill point spent earning spoken and written fluency in a given language – to say nothing of magic that makes communication quick and easy – is only half the problem. The other half is that the languages themselves are reduced to little more than near-universal racial tongues, with no sense of interconnectedness or development.

So yeah, we’re going to have to make some changes.

The Mechanics of Talking the Talk

For this section, there’s a particular third-party product that I turn to for inspiration. Ars Lingua, from Tangent Games, is a 3.5 product that nevertheless works great in Pathfinder. We’re going to be looking to it for inspiration in regards to how to make languages have a bit more variety.

The first thing to do is throw away and replace all of the mechanics that de-emphasize the importance of language in the game world. That means ditching the Linguistics skill. In its place, we’re going to import the Speak Language and Read/Write Language skills.

Moreover, each of these skills is separate for a given language. That is, when you first take a rank in one of these skills, you note which particular language it’s for. Having 5 ranks in Speak Language (elven) doesn’t count for anything towards Speak Language (dwarven), and certainly not towards Read/Write Language of any given language.

Now, a few caveats must be made clear with this system. First, these are trained-only, Intelligence-based skills. Second, all characters who had Linguistics as a class skill have both of these as class skills (optionally, NPC classes – and barbarians – only have Speak Language as a class skill if they had Linguistics as a class skill). Third, at character creation, each character receives a number of bonus skill ranks in Speak Language and Read/Write Language equal to their Intelligence score, for each skill. This denotes their native language (again, NPC classes and barbarians may choose to omit the free ranks in Read/Write Language). Finally, both of these skills officially have no cap on the number of ranks you can have – your ranks may exceed your level without penalty.

A few more things must be said about these replacement skills. First, you are considered fluent in these skills when your total skill bonus reaches +20 (which will usually mean you reach full fluency with less than 20 ranks). Second, most functions of the discarded Linguistics skill are used with the relevant Speak Language or Read/Write Language skill check. For example, trying to detect a forgery written in Elven would be a Read/Write Language (elven) skill check.

And this is all I have to say about somatic components

One other thing worth noting is that Ars Lingua does showcase tables for standard DCs for both of these skills to showcase how much you understand on a given check. For example, it’s a DC 5 Speak Language check to understand simple phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” On the other hand, it’s a DC 25 Speak Language check to use technical terms for a special area of knowledge (e.g. being able to speak and understand medical lingo). There’s more to this, but I’ve already given away quite a bit of the book’s material.

Having done all of that, we’re also going to get rid of the spells read magic, comprehend languages, and tongues, as well as all related magic items (e.g. the helm of comprehend languages and read magic). It makes little point to play up language if we’re going to have magic negate all of the intricacies of it, after all. However, you may want to keep monstrous abilities that bypass language – such as truespeech and telepathy – if you want your monsters with those powers to seem otherworldly.

Okay, so now that we’ve created a subset of rules that lend more weight to languages in the game, how do we make the game world reflect this?

The Fluff of Talking the Talk

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to be done with reskinning the existing languages in the context of the game…right? Well, no, not really. First things first, the naming conventions for languages are pretty silly. In the real world, languages are largely named based on their country or region of origin, i.e. they speak German in Germany. But in the Pathfinder RPG, languages are racial. Elves speak Elvish, no matter where they were raised.

So the first thing to do is ditch racial languages; instead, appoint various languages as the major languages for the various countries/regions in your game world. Don’t worry if you want to appoint more than one, several countries in the real world have two or more major languages. Likewise, this doesn’t set what your character has to have as their native language; plenty of families, often immigrants, speak another language and raise their children to speak that one first.

The next step is trickier. This involves charting language families and determining what languages are related to each other. This is important because it will (at the GM’s discretion) allow a bonus on Speak Language and Read/Write Language checks for related languages. For simplicity’s sake, you can have all related languages use the same alphabet so that the written forms keep the same degree of similarity. Don’t be afraid to have languages that are completely divorced from all other languages. Finally, sketch out some dead languages for good measure.

 Loquamancy

At this point, you might be wondering just what all of this has to do with the verbal component of casting a spell. That’s a fair question, so we’re going to bring things back around to that point now. This part of this article was influenced from some of the ideas found in Wild Hunt Studio’s book The Way of the Magus – On Language and Research.

First, we’re going to operate under the assumption that the spoken words used to cast a spell aren’t some sort of special magical language – in fact, we’re going to go one step further and presume that the actual language used in spellcasting really isn’t that important; one works just as well as another.

What’s important to take away from this, however, is that various magical traditions (usually geographically-based) will use one specific language – oftentimes a particular ancient, dead language – as the language of spellcasting. For example, the wizards of Draedoria might teach their students only in Estic, a language that has been dead for over a thousand years. Hence, when spellcasting, wizards from Draedoria speak Estic as their verbal component, despite their normal language for everyday speech being Veltine.

The game mechanics of this are reflected in that characters taking their first level in a spellcasting class – just like new characters – gain automatic ranks equal to their spellcasting ability score (e.g. Intelligence for wizards, Charisma for sorcerers, etc.) in Speak Language and Read/Write Language for the language of their spellcasting class. Optionally, classes that don’t need a written source in order to prepare spells (e.g. a sorcerer) may not get the Read Language ranks.

The reason for this is that it creates a sense of regional (or other group) identity among spellcasters. Realizing that someone is speaking a given language while casting a spell gives you a clue to their identity. It’s worth noting that the nature of the organization the spellcaster belongs to varies depending on what sort of spellcaster they are. Wizards might be regional, but clerics will use a given religious language as taught in their church.

Finally your spellbooks can be more intricate than this.

Sorcerers, it should be noted, are generally hinted at being persecuted in the game world for their spontaneous magical powers. Using these rules adds an additional reason for it – unlike studious wizards, who learn their country’s language for spellcasting, sorcerers just suddenly start speaking a particular language when their powers manifest. If it’s from a hostile country, for instance, or is known as the tongue of parts of the Abyss, then it’s no wonder people look askance at the powers sorcerers command!

Bards, by contrast, would also likely know a foreign tongue for spellcasting, but in this case people would likely forgive them that simply because they’re itinerant by profession, so it’s natural that they’d have picked up their spellcasting somewhere else. This isn’t absolute, of course; if a bard’s language for spellcasting is that used by wizards of a nation that’s at war with another nation, people in that other nation won’t be too keen on that particular bard (if they hear him cast spells).

One idea that characters may have is to, since the actual language used isn’t too important when spellcasting, try casting in a foreign language. This is possible, but extremely difficult, since the character needs to precisely and quickly rattle off what’s likely a difficult set of verses, all in a foreign tongue. This should likely be a Speak Language check at a high DC (perhaps 15 + double the spell level), with failure meaning the spell is lost.

Meaning

One thing that hasn’t been addressed so far is the actual meaning of the words being spoken, regardless of the language their spoken in, when casting a spell. In fact, this isn’t very important; the metaphysical nature of shaping ambient energy into specific effects likely means that the words spoken will be esoteric in nature. Though there’s doubtless a connection between the words and why a spell acts like it does, that’s more philosophical than practical.

One of the best examples of this is found in the anime Bleach (yes, yes, it’s an anime reference for table-top role-playing; just move on). The verbal incantation to invoke the black coffin spell, which apparently crushes an enemy with gravity, is as follows:

Seeping crest of turbidity.

Arrogant vessel of lunacy!

Boil forth and deny!

Grow numb and flicker!

Disrupt sleep!

Crawling queen of iron!

Eternally self-destructing doll of mud!

Unite!

Repulse!

Fill with soil and know your own powerlessness!

Now THAT’S what it should sound like when you incant a spell. Just put that in a foreign language, and it’s appropriately strange and mystic enough to sound like you’re working real magic.

A Few Words More

Although it goes beyond the scope of language in magic, one further way to emphasize the difference between spellcasters of different countries, religions, and other groups is to make thematic spell lists for each such group. This is a lot of work, of course, but it lends a great deal of cultural distinction to magical practitioners. If the fireball spell is known as an invention of Draedoria, and you see somebody cast that spell while speaking Estic, you can bet where that wizard was trained, which can lead to all kinds of intrigue.

Making spell lists that are customized by country (or other boundary) is tricky, however. Don’t trim them down too narrowly or the PCs will quickly go beyond the spells that are considered “patriotic.” This especially means don’t theme them by school, since that virtually guarantees that characters will learn spells that are outside of the national paradigm for spellcasting. It might be a good idea to establish a large number of spells as universal – that is, they’ve been around so long that they aren’t regarded as belonging to any particular group – and make the cultural spell lists smaller.

Afterword

With this, we conclude the It’s A Kind of Magic series of articles. Hopefully it’s given you some good material for your home game, and if not then I hope you at least enjoyed reading these ideas. Remember, spellcasting in Pathfinder might be mechanical to us, but to your characters, it’s magic!

By Way of Apology…

June 26, 2011

So, once again, blogging is getting away from me. As much as I want to keep things up here on Intelligence Check, I keep failing my saving throw vs. managing real life.

As such, simply to get something out there, allow me to present: Arthraktus!

Arthraktus is the name I’ve given to my attempts to stat the creature in the above picture, which is the basis for the current What Is it? Contest by Spes Magna Games (who now appear on my blogroll). I have no idea where this picture originally came from or who drew it, but they’re a monster artist without peer whoever they are. That thing is the stuff that even the most fiendish of monsters would be scared of.

Having said that, I’ll be doing my best to get this blog back on track with regular updates very soon. In the meantime, unleash this monster on your overconfident high-level party and teach them some humility!

ARTHRAKTUS

Coughing and choking on the deadly mist, you manage to open watery eyes enough to glimpse something massive striding through it…and a moment later wish you hadn’t. Larger than a mountain, the thing is something from your worst nightmares. Its six-legged body is covered in spiders, scorpions, and other vermin, all as large as a house, hiding the colossal body beneath. Only its head is uncovered, showing a maw bristling with pincers and randomly-placed eyes darting to and fro independently…until one locks squarely onto you.

Arthraktus CR 25

XP 1,638,400

CE Colossal aberration

Init +6; Senses darkvision 120 ft., tremorsense 200 ft.; Perception +38

Aura deadly fog (200 ft., DC 33)


DEFENSE


AC 45, touch 25, flat-footed 42 (+15 natural, +2 Dex, +1 dodge, -8 size, +25 circumstance)

hp 984 (48d8+768); regeneration 30 (fire or lawful)

Fort +42, Ref +30, Will +19

Defensive Abilities vermin armor; DR 20/epic and lawful; Immune mind-affecting effects; SR 35


OFFENSE


Speed 60 ft., climb 60 ft., burrow 60 ft., swim 60 ft.

Melee bite +43 (6d6+15 plus poison/19-20) and 6 slams +43 (4d6+15/19-20)

Space 30 ft.; Reach 30 ft.

Special Atks earthquaker, trample (4d6+22, DC 49)


STATISTICS


Str 41, Dex 14, Con 43, Int –, Wis 16, Cha 9

Base Atk +36; CMB +59; CMD 71 (79 vs. overrun and trip)

Feats Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Diehard, Dodge, Endurance, Greater Sunder, Greater Vital Strike, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Critical (slam), Improved Initiative, Improved Lightning Reflexes, Improved Natural Attack (bite), Improved Natural Attack (slam), Improved Sunder, Improved Vital Strike, Lightning Reflexes, Mobility, Power Attack, Spring Attack, Staggering Critical, Stand Still, Stunning Critical, Vital Strike

Skills Acrobatics +37, Climb +58, Intimidate +34, Perception +38, Survival +38, Swim +58

SQ biologically adept, extremophile, fog walker, substantial form


ECOLOGY


Environment any

Organization solitary (plus spawn)

Treasure none


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Biologically Adept (Ex) Despite having no mentality as it is commonly understood, Arthraktus is a canny being, able to respond to tactics with astonishing strategy. Despite having no Intelligence score, Arthraktus has feats and skills (skill points are determined as though it had an Intelligence of 10).

Deadly Fog (Su) Arthraktus’s foul body constantly excretes a foul musk, surrounding it out to 200 feet in all directions. This functions like the spell cloudkill (DC 33), save that it does not harm nor hinder Arthraktus or its spawn (see below) in any way. While the thick nature of this fog requires a windstorm (51+ mph) to disperse, it does not sink to the lowest level of the land. This fog penetrates underwater, forming a cloudy murk. Dispersed fog re-emerges at a rate of 20 feet per round. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Earthquaker (Ex) As a standard action, Arthraktus may rear up and slam itself against the ground, causing a massive shockwave. This is treated as the spell earthquake, save that it is centered on Arthraktus and has a 400 ft. radius spread.

Fog Walker (Su) Arthraktus is able to walk upon the deadly fog it exudes. It is treated as though constantly under the effect of an air walk spell. Should its deadly fog be removed, it falls until it is able to re-excrete the deadly fog around it.

Extremophile (Ex) Arthraktus is able to survive, and thrive, no matter how harsh the environment. It never takes damage or penalties from environmental conditions, including planar traits. It is not impeded by water or rough terrain. Arthraktus does not need to eat, breathe, or sleep.

Poison (Ex) Bite – injury; save Fort DC 50; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 2d6 Strength damage; cure 2 saves. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Substantial Form (Ex) Unlike most aberrations, Arthraktus has good Fort and Reflex saves, and poor Will saves.

Vermin Armor (Ex) Arthraktus is constantly spawning huge vermin from its body, which crawl upon it and act as a living barrier between it and harm. At any time, it has 25 huge vermin (treat as deadfall scorpions and ogre spiders) crawling on its body; each vermin grants Arthraktus a +1 circumstance bonus to its Armor Class.

When hit by an attack or single-target spell or effect, as an immediate action, Arthraktus may have the attack strike one of its vermin instead of it. This causes the vermin to drop from Arthraktus’s body (taking no damage from the drop, but suffering the full effects of the attack or spell normally) in an adjacent square. It may then act on Arthraktus’s initiative normally. For each vermin that drops off in this way, Arthraktus’s circumstance bonus to AC is reduced by 1.

Alternately, as a swift action, Arthraktus may fling one of its vermin up to 60 ft. away from it. This causes no damage to the vermin, which may then act on Arthraktus’s initiative normally. This reduces the circumstance bonus to Arthraktus’s AC as described above.

Arthraktus spawns a new vermin every hour. Excess vermin spawned in this way automatically drop into an adjacent square as a free action, with no affect on Arthraktus. Arthraktus’s vermin spawn are not harmed nor hindered by Arthraktus’s deadly fog (see above).

An abomination in the truest sense of the word, Arthraktus is anathema all life and civilization. Its appearance is marked by apocalyptic destruction, as the creature ranges far and wide, killing and destroying all that it comes across. Though it has no sentience that has ever been demonstrated, it seems drawn to where it can do the most damage. Similarly, when facing creatures that can present a legitimate threat to it, it has displayed a cunning far beyond that of a mindless creature.

The origins of Arthraktus are unknown, though most presume it to be the misbegotten spawn, or even an avatar, of the God of Destruction. Some have theorized that it originated on a distant world or plane of existence, though there is no proof to support any theory. Indeed, even the gods seem reluctant to speak about Arthraktus, with divinations about it providing strong warnings to avoid the creature.

Arthraktus’s lair, if it has one, remains a mystery, simply because the monster’s wrath is so great that it slays anyone close enough to witness its emergence or retreat. Indeed, it may not lair at all, but simply burrows to distant lands to continue its carnage there, simply relocating its never-ending frenzy of death and destruction