Merric's Musings

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Rules and my Roleplaying

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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I find that as I get older, I get a lot less tolerant of having large rulebooks with lots of rules. This isn't to say that I'm against all rules, but I much prefer, as a DM, to need to remember as few rules as possible. It's one of the reasons I've enjoyed 4E so much: it's actually a very light system at heart, with plenty of complexity added through easily digestible chunks. Monster design is a particular case in point: to run a 4E monster, apart from the base game rules, I just need to know what the conditions do: everything else is in the statblock.

This is in particular contrast to the Pathfinder RPG, which, I'm astonished to find, has actually made the job of running a monster significantly harder than 3.5E. There are a lot of good things I can say about Paizo's adventure and world design. However, Pathfinder has hit a level of rules complexity that I don't care for at all. I ran two full Pathfinder APs over the last year (Council of Thieves and Kingmaker) and all the flaws of 3.5E were there in spades, and then things were made worse by Paizo's stance to rules design. I didn't fight so hard to put the group back together after I had a run of cancellations in large part that I didn't want to have to struggle with Paizo's rules any more.

I'm thus somewhat disappointed that two new RPGs that I've been looking forward to: Edge of the Empire (FFG's Star Wars RPG) and Shadowrun 5E have horribly big rulebooks, both just shy of 500 pages. They might warrant such large book sizes, but I have quite a lot of other things to do apart from working my way through these tomes.

My AD&D campaign has now been running for about 19 months. It's still incredibly popular; I had nine players at the last session, and I dread to think how many will turn up this weekend! One of the lovely things about AD&D is that because I'm so familiar with the system, I can happily let the system get out of the way and I can concentrate on all the things that are - to me - fun. Interesting tricks, NPCs, exploration and the odd combat or five.

It's a completely different beast to my 4E Greyhawk game, which has now been running almost five years. (When did 4E come out? Since then). It's been delayed by various illnesses and other catastrophes, but we're moving towards the endgame with the group having hit 24th level, and the final foe (Tharizdun) having been revealed.

The biggest trouble with 4E is just length-of-combat, which takes away from exploration, NPCs, and interesting tricks. I'm having fun at the moment as I'm able to put in lots of references to classic adventures. The group are on their way to Verbobonc at present, following the trail of a lot of cultists that have power over elemental creatures. I wonder how many of the group are familiar enough with D&D lore that they get the reference? I believe there wouldn't be that many; I think I'm pretty unusual in my group with my fascination with early D&D lore.

I'm experiencing D&D Next mainly through the D&D Encounters program at present. I made a couple of attempts to play it in place of one of my regular other games, but eventually decided that it wasn't complete enough (this was a few playtest packets ago) and I really wanted to properly complete my 4E game. My experience with Next is coloured by the problems that Encounters brings to the table, as well as a player population that is happy to play Next as long as they don't have to read the rules.

There seems to be a very big gap between the capabilities of a 4th level and a 5th level character at present. It's at that level that Deadly Strike comes into play, which significantly increases the damage the martial characters deal. The group almost got completely slaughtered by chitines last session, but, in retrospect, it was mainly due to the fact that the group almost all have 4th level PCs. Character creation in the playtest documents is nowhere near as clear as it will get in the finished product, and I think the players are struggling with it. Personally, I don't have trouble with it, but then I'm an extremely experienced player of RPGs.

The other game I'm playing in is Martin's Deadlands Noir game, which is using the Savage Worlds system. We're two sessions in at the moment, and it's been heavily biased towards role-playing. The system itself is very basic - well, as much as I've seen of it, which has generally been skill checks. It's not a great distance away from the Serenity RPG, with the major difference being that Savage Worlds works while Serenity didn't. My character does break the system somewhat - he's both Attractive and Charismatic, which gives a +4 bonus to Negotiation checks. When you consider that a standard roll is "roll d8 and d6, take the higher", that bonus is astonishingly good.

The last session had only Peggy and Sarah playing in addition to myself, which was the three skill characters as opposed to the combat characters. We thus did a lot of role-playing and investigation; there was one (short) combat, which I ran away from and Sarah demonstrated how dangerous she is with a flower pot - although, unfortunately, not to the other side. Peggy and Sarah are much better at immersive role-playing than I am, although I can do okay for short periods. As I tired, I wandered back into the more descriptive style of role-playing ("I convince her that...") rather than the immersive style I started in ("Miss Jones, I'm desperately concerned that...") There was one great moment when I was completely tongue-tied and then got the giggles; Peggy and Sarah rather liked that moment. Despite both of them being better immersive role-players, I was the one leading the investigation for most of it... and thus doing a lot of the talking.

Apart from the two big books of Shadowrun and Edge of the Empire (the former only virtual, admittedly), I also picked up The First Doctor Sourcebook for the Doctor Who RPG by Cubicle 7. I'm planning on writing a review of it Real Soon Now, but before I did so I wanted to see what other people thought of the book. There's a good review on rpggeek in which the reviewer has found a couple of mechanical issues with the book. I didn't even notice! Part of this is due to the unfortunate fact that I haven't been able to play the game yet, and thus the mechanical elements aren't that familiar to me. A larger part is that I just don't care that much any more, especially as the book does one thing very well, and that thing is very important to me: it gives great advice on creating good RPG adventures and stories.

Are mechanics important? They certainly are, but I'm no longer obsessing over them as much as I once did. When they work, I'm happy. When they don't work, I'm sad, but I'm even less a tinkerer now with rules than I once was. There are systems out there that I'm very happy with and will run. D&D Next might see me not changing to a new version of D&D for the first time (I've gone from AD&D to 2E to 3E to 3.5E to 4E), but it won't annoy me if it's not to my taste; I've got systems that will work for various groups. My feeling is that Next will probably still work for me, but I won't be shattered if it doesn’t.
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Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:43 am
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A regular weekend's gaming

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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This weekend saw my regular gaming habits continue: D&D on Friday night and Saturday, and boardgaming to fill out the holes. I feel quite fortunate to be able to regularly play games with my friends, and it was really good to have Adam join us again on Friday night.

Yes, after a gap of a few months, Adam has rejoined my 4E Greyhawk game, as his situation still hasn't quite resolved itself enough - he's not in Melbourne full time and is still commuting from Ballarat. Thus, being in a Melbourne rpg group is a bit difficult. Getting his character, Max, back into the group was really good, especially as Josh couldn't join us and Adam allowed us to have a group of four. There's also a strong likelihood that Greg will join in as well, but this weekend ended up not being a good one for his family and he was unable to attend. From worrying about the state of the group I've suddenly gone to six players - if everyone can attend at once, which seems unlikely; it was a major problem with the campaign in recent months.

As a result, I can move into what really will be the endgame of the campaign. I've been running this game since 4E came out, and the group is now 24th level. It's been a very interrupted game at times, but there have been some great stories coming out from it. We finished off the 4E version of Tomb of Horrors two weeks ago, with Acererak being destroyed. My major change to the adventure was instead of having the final encounters be on the plane of the dead god Nerull (who is quite alive in my game), I placed it in a place sacred to Tharizdun. I've been building up to this point for a very long time, and so revelations in Friday's session that the Doomdreamer elementalists that have been annoying the party for many, many sessions worship Tharizdun was not such a surprise to the group.

It's funny: I'm not a fan of the conflation of Tharizdun and the Elder Elemental God that occurred through 2E and 3E, but I am very much a fan of the 4E cosmology (which I've adopted wholeheartedly for my Greyhawk game, though the gods remain as they were in my 1983 boxed set). Thus, it seems that elements of the 2E/3E version are making their way into the game. I had Archibald (Adam's old PC, now a major NPC villain) turn up again, and the session ended with the group chasing him - and the Doomdreamers - off towards Verbobonc. My group doesn't have the Greyhawk lore that I do, though they're familiar with the bits they've played through, so the full implications of that place aren't immediately apparent to them; I'll make sure they are in the next session. There's a little village nearby that I think they'll be visiting soon...

Saturday afternoon was given over to playing boardgames. Jack was unexpectedly there, so Rich, Sarah, Jack and I played through two of AEG's Tempest line of games - Mercante and Courtier. Sarah found Mercante frustrating, but mostly because she was unfamiliar with the play of the game and the distribution of goods in shipments. She still won; I played a horrible game. I'm quite fond of games with auctions, and this one is a very elegant design. It isn't without flaws, but I've enjoyed the two games I've played of it.

In comparison, I really understand Courtier, and I ran away the winner of it - something like 32 points to 17 (Jack and Sarah), with Rich a long, long way behind. It's not a natural fit for Rich at all, and he's as bad at playing it as I'm as good. The Queen got arrested very early into the game, so it wasn't long at all.

The evening AD&D game saw nine players around my table; that number didn't include me as DM! Callan was away, as were Shane and Brodie, which meant that Callan's Rifts game would have taken away... one player. I would have still had eight players. Madness! I hardly expected the game to be so popular when I began it a year and a half ago, but it has proved to be so.

Due to having quite a few new players, the last few sessions have been lower-level games (with the experienced players taking the part of their henchmen), and we've gone through Castle Caldwell and the Lost Island of Castanamir. I'm really looking forward to returning to my proper campaign; I've put the PCs on fairly high XP gains so they'll be ready. 4th level characters can join an 8th level AD&D game and contribute; 1st level characters are just a bit too fragile.o o

I've also moved entirely to running the game using the reprint books, although I certainly have a lot of original books at home, the newness of the books speaks for a lot. I really like the cover designs as well (and those of the adventure reprints). I've now twice used dndclassics.com to download adventures for the group as I wasn't originally expecting to be running low-level PCs. Having my new Surface Pro has been an absolute boon, as it's so easy to use in place of a printed module; certainly in comparison to my laptop. Last session, I brought in the printed version of C3, which is still more convenient, but I didn't have it with me when I began the game.

D&D Next I'm playing primarily through D&D Encounters at present. The current season is massively more entertaining for me than the last; the mere fact that there are different factions struggling over the staff and that the players HAVE BEEN ABLE TO FIND THAT OUT means a hell of a lot. The holidays and midwinter have impacted our numbers somewhat, but we're still regularly getting two tables and might get back to three in the near future. The biggest problem we've been having relates to DM availability; one of my DMs hasn't made it for four weeks and another now has a job that conflicts. I still have two other options, but as we rarely have good notice, we're often running the sessions without good preparation. (Thankfully, they haven't been that difficult).

The D&D Next system still has problems, but they mainly relate to the maths. I'm very worried about the number of high-damage Area Effect spells the NPCs can cast; which, when coupled with the difficulty of saving throws, can cause a party to go from fully healed to dead with a poor initiative roll. I'm hoping the D&D Next team manages to fix this in the next packet.

It's really interesting how much I'm enjoying AD&D (and I look at Next through those eyes). I also really like 4e, with the exception of how slow combat can go. 3E is something of a dead system to me at the moment, though I think a very large part of my disenchantment with it is due to Paizo's philosophy of encounter design, which often boils down to "do you have spell X? If so, you can win. Otherwise, you'll lose". That's part of 3E in general, but my experiences with Paizo adventures is that they take it to extremes.

With any luck, Next will avoid that trap. (I don't mind monsters you need specific ways to take down; I hate them when taking them down is required by the adventure and it's a common occurrence).
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Mon Jul 22, 2013 4:45 am
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Now running "Way of the Wicked", and a year with Pathfinder!

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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I noticed recently that my Pathfinder group has now been running for more than a year. That's a bit terrifying, especially as Pathfinder is more of a system that I endure rather than actually like. I run it mainly for the players, and so that I can see how good the adventures are. We've finished both the Council of Thieves and Kingmaker adventure paths, and now we're playing through the Way of the Wicked, an adventure path for evil characters by Fire Mountain Games.

So far, we've been having a lot of fun with it. We're approaching the end of the second adventure, the group is 8th level, and enjoying fending off adventurers as they attempt to complete a ritual. The adventures have required a lot of adjudication from me as the judge, because actually running combats between the intruders and first level minions belonging to the group is something I don't particularly want to do, but a little common sense goes a long way - as well as thirty years of experience with D&D.

I'm very happy to see that the sixth part of the adventure, The Wages of Sin, is finally available. I was terrified that it would be released after we reached it, but such is not the case. Indeed, our recent sessions have been very disrupted by holidays, work and travel. One of my players is in England at the moment, so we've just lost three sessions in a row!

As is my standard procedure with the Adventure Paths now, I'm happily ignoring any mention of XP and just giving levels to the players so they stay at about the right place. I see that there are a few subsystems for running evil organisations as well, but - again - I'm happily ignoring them. My experience with such rules (Fame Points in Council of Thieves, the Kingdom rules and Army rules in Kingmaker) is such that I expect them to be badly developed, if they were at all, and winging it would be better. They occasionally make a useful first approximation, but not much more than that. Rules that are really a game into themselves require a lot of testing, and most role-playing companies don't have the time - or the skill - to do it properly.

Because the group are evil, I'm actually not so worried with the lack of balance against the monsters, although a group of good adventurers did manage to give them some trouble. The lack of balance between actual characters is, at this point, something that the players can worry about rather than me. The only player who really seems to be pushing the boundaries is Michael, with his fighter dealing about 25-35 points of damage per round. It's not so bad now, but it was when he was first level and his damage was still very high. He's achieving the damage through a two-handed weapon which he power attacks with, without power attack penalties to hit and with bonus damage. Only one attack per round, but 2d12+20 or thereabouts is pretty impressive.

My 4E campaign should soon enter the ultimate section of the Tomb of Horrors, and my AD&D campaign is reaching level 9. So, all's good in my gaming world.
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Tue Apr 9, 2013 8:02 am
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One Size Fits None: Pathfinder Craft and Profession skills

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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One of the questionable decisions made in 3E and carried over into Pathfinder was the inclusion of the Craft and Profession skills. The trouble with these skills comes less from a character being able to take them, but rather with what they can do with them once they have them.

Consider one character, a barrister. Another character is a farmer. Both have the appropriate skill at first level, say at +6. Which means that both make, on average, 8 gold pieces per week.

Which is basically, crap. It's not how the world works at all. What we have here is a gamist construct just so we can give some usefulness to the Profession skill - but doesn't actually represent the world at all.

Likewise, the Craft skill requires immense amounts of time to make items, in no way related to the real world time taken to craft them. It's a artifice for the game, just so we get a value, rather than it being realistic.

So, what use are these skills? Basically they're there to make us feel good. "Look, ma! I'm a lawyer!" And for the very occasional check when being a lawyer actually matters and the DM can set a DC that has some relation to the difficulty of the task. Possibly.

The Perform skill has much the same problem; except it's actually linked to a class's abilities, so - because the Bard wants to max out Perform - it becomes basically meaningless. Why not just pay attention to the Bard's level?

When a skill's mechanics fall over in such a manner, it's time to reevaluate why the skill is in the game. And, frankly, the level-based skills of 3E and Pathfinder don't really gel well with the world outside the dungeon.
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Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:45 am
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Prepping for Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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After our run through one of the weaker Pathfinder APs (Council of Thieves), my players have joyfully settled on the Kingmaker AP as their next challenge. This should be interesting. I've got the Kingmaker adventures, the pdfs, the player guide and the map folio - and the PCs have happily embraced the Advanced Player's Guide to create their characters. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, lots, but just at the moment it hasn't!

Oh, Dave wants to play an Assassin and Greg wants to play a Paladin? Well, that didn't last long.

(I'm going to relax the alignment restriction on the Assassin to allow them to be neutral. Not that we've been paying that much attention to alignment in any case).

Unlike my running, Council of Thieves, I'm hoping to take a much more active role in balancing the adventure to fit my players. The problem with doing that is (a) I don't really have much time to do that and (b) Pathfinder is still a system that I'm not that familiar with. 14 sessions of PF - even with all my 3.5e experience - isn't quite enough. Mind you, the players are a LOT more familiar with how to deal with PF creatures like devils and grappling monsters, so the TPK from poor tactics/monster unfamiliarity shouldn't occur. No, just from Overpowered Monsters.

The PCs the group are talking about include an Alchemist, a Oracle (Life), a Paladin, a Rogue (eventually Assassin) and an arcanist of some sort; Lee hadn't decided last time I saw him. Characters will be slightly more powerful than standard point-buy, so I really should adjust a couple of monsters to compensate. If I knew exactly what to do. Oh well!

One very unusual aspect of Kingmaker is its exploration focus. I'm not sure how this will affect the game's speed; we went through Council of Thieves extremely quickly (14 four-hour sessions), but Kingmaker covers more levels and has a lot of small encounter areas. I'm hoping for a slightly slower progression than CoT, but I do tend to cut to the chase on the story and encounters: role-playing exists, but it serves the plot rather than being an end in itself. And I run combats very, very quickly.

I'll give the PCs the blank hex-map from the Player's Guide to write down the exploration status and encounters in each hex (there's no chance of getting lost, is there? That happened in my most recent AD&D session... ), but I'll also have the poster map from the KM Map Folio on the table so they have a much, much better idea of what's going on. I've run enough "blank hex" adventures recently (notably Isle of Dread) so that I don't really need another one: it's the contents of the hexes that are more important than the terrain types.

If anyone has any pointers for the first adventure (Stolen Land), I'd appreciate them. We begin this Sunday, and we'll be playing weekly. Onwards to the first session!
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Fri Jul 27, 2012 1:27 am
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Pathfinder NPC Fail in Council of Thieves

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
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One of the lovely things about Pathfinder and 3.5e is that they allow the players a great deal of scope to build their characters. Occasionally too much, but if the player has an idea of what they're doing, they can have a lot of fun with what is possible.

4E is more constricted, but - at this late point in the system's development - it's got a lot of options available. And, what's more, they're pretty balanced and fun to play. Mostly.

I've just finished running the first true-Pathfinder adventure path, the Council of Thieves. I've got a lot of session reports on RPG Geek and EN World about our progress through the campaign. A campaign from 1st to 13th level that took us 14 four-hour sessions. Not entirely sure, but that seems a bit fast for me.

Overall, I'm not very impressed by the campaign. There are some lovely ideas in it, especially the Murder Play of The Sixfold Trial by Richard Pett (one of my favourite writers for roleplaying adventures), but it is wildly inconsistent in how it is balanced. Combats tended to be walk-overs or near-TPKs with little room between. After playing through the HPE series of 4E adventures, these Pathfinder combats left me very disappointed.

However, the most disappointing thing came from a lot of the high-level threats the party had to face. In particular, the Council Captains; the elite 11th level NPCs that the BBEG had working for him. There are a *lot* of them in the final adventure, and it's worth pointing them out because it really shows the drawbacks of the 3E/PF system of NPC/Monster creation. Basically, PF says "if you follow all these steps, the final numbers will end up as a CR X encounter." Compared to 4E saying, "these are the numbers for a CR X encounter. Go and customise as you like."

And here's the thing: 3E got it wrong, and PF just continues the problem.

Here are the important stats for the Council Captain:

Human Rogue 8/Assassin 3 - CR 10
AC 19, hp 79, F+5, R+13, W+3
Melee: +11/+6 (1d6+3)
Ranged: +14/+9 (1d6+3)
SA: Sneak Attack +6d6 +6 bleed
Ft: Deadly Aim, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Vital Strike

and here are the stats that the Pathfinder monster manual says should be about where a CR 10 monster should be:

AC 24, HP 130. Attack +18, Damage 33-45 per round, Ref +13, F+9, W+9

Notice quite a bit of a gap there? Yeah, there is. The Ranged attack is also a bit of a problem, as it's very, very likely in this series for there to be cover, making it 4 lower.

If you made up the stats of the Council Captain and then assigned a CR, the actual value you'd get based on the average stats would be about CR 6. No wonder the 12th level party had no problem with them.
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Thu Jul 26, 2012 2:15 am
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The Problem with Ability Score Bonuses in D&D and Pathfinder

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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D&D has come a long way since its original presentation. Back in those days, the difference between a fighter with an 18 Strength and a fighter with a 9 Strength was the rate they gained experience points at; there was no modification to attack rolls from high strength.

Dexterity did allow a modifier to missile attack rolls, but it was at most a +1/-1 modifier.

In D&D 3E, it was possible for a character to reach a 34 Strength by 20th level, and thus gain a +12 bonus to attack (and a +18 bonus to damage if using a 2-handed melee weapon). How far we've come!

A lot of the trouble in 3E (especially) and 4E (to a lesser extent) come from the insane bonuses given by ability scores. Quite frankly, getting more than a +4 bonus is going to break the game, because it's so out of whack with your lower scores.

D&D revolves around the tension between Attack, Defense, Hit Points and Damage.

In AD&D, Attack overwhelms Defense for physical attacks for the most part as you go up in levels (though PCs tend to get better defenses than most monsters at high levels), but Defense wins against Attack for magical spells. It needs to, because low-level magic is just variant damage spells, but high-level magic is "save or die".

In 3E, Attack overwhelms Defense for all attacks, except when you break one of the defenses. It was extremely easy to break AC - I had a couple of characters that on-CR creatures needed 20s to hit, although they could hit the bard and magic-users of the group on rolls of 2. The overwhelming of Defense was a much bigger problem in 3E due to "save or die" spells still being on the lists.

In 4E, Attack and Defense *mostly* keep up with each other, except for stat-pairs you don't care about. A cleric's Reflex save is laughable at high levels. At least there aren't so many "defend or suck" monster powers.

But 3E and 4E both suffer from the "I'm a thief with a high Dex, my Reflex is great!" but "I'm a thief with a low Wis, my Will is horrible." At higher levels, you're looking at a gap of 8 for those defenses *just from ability scores*. Given that the "good" defense is often hit about 50% of the time, the "bad" defense is hit 90% of the time. (3E is actually even worse: the gap can be between a 34 and an 8 at level 20, or a massive 13 in bonus value and thus defense score).

3E "dealt" with this problem by making the game into "get the right magic" - so Freedom of Movement, Death Ward, etc. are required at higher levels just to stop all the Save or Suck spells, because no character has the ability scores to deal with all the attack types they might be hit by.

Limit ability bonuses to a maximum of +4 and you kill a lot of the problems the mathematics of the system throw up.

The real trick is working out what OTHER things will allow bonuses - something that the 3E designers failed to do. Having scores vary is great, but you need to understand how big the difference can be. +6 works great when ability scores are the only thing adding to defenses/attack, but much less well when feats, class abilities, magic items and spells also allow bonuses.

It's the entire package you need to look at. How poor should a low defense be and how good should a high defense be? Understanding that part of the mathematics is key to designing a new edition of D&D.
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Wed Jul 18, 2012 3:33 am
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Miniatures and Map Design

Merric Blackman
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The release of Player's Option: Combat & Tactics was an important step in the development of embedding miniatures combat into D&D. It was the first time that D&D explicitly had rules for manoeuvring miniatures around the battlefield. I ran a Player's Option campaign using the C&T minis rules, and I really, really liked them. It didn't matter that I didn't have that many miniatures, because I'd proxy and having rules that let me adjudicate area of effect spells like fireball and sleep was just really nice.

So, having the D&D 3E rules come out with good support for miniatures was also nice. It also made two decisions about Large monsters: one good, and one bad.

The D&D 3.5E rule reversed the decisions made by the 3E team: the good one became bad, and the bad one became good. In fact the good one becoming bad wasn't something I realised at the time. It took Paizo to make me realise how problematic it was - mainly because Paizo pay very little attention to miniatures when they design their adventures.

As to the bad decision that became good: it relates to facing.

Facing is a tricky subject in games, because miniature figures are unnaturally static in games (you generally can't change facing as a reaction, or if you can, it's really slow. If you can change facing at any time without penalty, then you might as well not have it). BattleTech works with facing, by making it hard to turn. D&D? Doesn't like facing so much.

The 3E solution to facing was to remove it, but to have the "attacked from the rear" condition to become "flanked" - if you have an enemy on either side of you, then the assumption is you split attention, trying to keep either from being to your rear too much, but giving both a lesser bonus. It's a great rule.

And it made perfect sense, up until you got to the horse. If something has no facing, you shouldn't be able to determine which way it's facing. Obvious, huh? But the Horse under 3E rules fills a 1x2 rectangle. Obviously, it's facing in one of two ways and not in the others.

Monte Cook defended the rectangle horse, but it's an argument that holds no water with me: either you have explicit facing and the 1x2 horse, or no facing and a 2x2 horse.

(Heroclix uses 1x2 horses with no facing, and it doesn't make much sense there either).

However, the change that 3.5E made that adventure designers at Paizo don't seem to have worked out yet is that the large Ogre, which was a 1x1 square (with 2 square reach) became a 2x2 square.

This has particular importance when you're designing an adventure because 2x2 creatures are significantly less manoeuvrable than 1x1 creatures. I've played using Huge and Gargantuan miniatures, and combat becomes a pain because there are so few places they can move on the map. One thing I really, really wish 3.5E had not done was put Ogres on a 2x2 base.

Paizo's Pathfinder and their miniature line has enshrined this decision, of course.

Why do I say Paizo hasn't worked out the ogre is a 2x2 creature? Mainly because Paizo is brilliant at creating maps that are beautiful, realistically proportioned... and that are horrible to use for miniature combat.

Lots of 5 foot corridors? Check. Ten-foot wide rooms holding large creatures? Check. Small rooms with lots of large creatures? Check.

Consider the map for a party of five PCs vs four Achaierai...
From gallery of MerricB


It's one of those combats where manoeuvre is taken almost completely out of the picture. Put the large creatures as 1x1 on the grid, and the combat suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.

The 4E solution - let's have very big maps - works a lot better for playability, but a lot worse from the perspective of realism. I just wish that large creatures would go back to 1x1 squares, but that probably won't happen in D&D Next, due to the current scaling of ogres in the miniature lines available.
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Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:29 am
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Stupid Adventure Design from Paizo

Merric Blackman
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I've decided that one of the things I hate most about the "Council of Thieves" adventure path is the way that the Paizo writers and editors have such a hand-wavy attitude to time pressures.

In "The Sixfold Trial", the group use the distraction of the mayor's party to sneak into the Asmodean Knot, where they need to finish the dungeon *before the next dawn and the mayor and his guests wake up*.

Except that the adventure says, "oh, here's another way out, or you could bluff your way past... even if it took two days". This is not something the party knows going in.

In "The Infernal Syndrome", the group is told a Pit Fiend is about to escape (and they know there are other factions trying to help him escape). Except there is actually no time limit on the adventure; the Pit Fiend won't escape unless the DM wants him to. And, at no point does the group get told that it might be a week or more until the Pit Fiend escapes; it's all "very soon". So they don't know they can rest if they need to. Or go and prepare if they come up against a stupidly hard encounter.

And the renegade Council of Thieves are depicted as some of the stupidest foes the PCs can come up against. They want to negotiate with a Pit Fiend... so why do they send in all these weak henchmen? Do any of them actually have a hope of reaching the Fiend? (And if the group reach the cage, what's stopping them from freeing him whilst the group go back to buy adamantine weapons... unless they're actually incompetent and shouldn't be the major villains of the AP).

ARGH!

If you set up a situation, you have to follow through with it. The corollary of that is that you shouldn't set up a situation you don't want to follow through with.

The first case, in Pathfinder #026: The Sixfold Trial should have a small dungeon to go through so that the group can easily make it in and out in the same evening. Or, at least have the group's allies inform them that it doesn't matter how long they take.

The second case, in Pathfinder #028: The Infernal Syndrome, should have the PCs being aware at the outset of how long they've got. "No longer than a week" would have been good. The adventure *does* have consequences for the pit fiend escaping (and they don't wreck the AP), so why not play fair with the players?
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Wed Jun 20, 2012 4:27 am
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Problems with Pathfinder and Paizo

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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Microbadge: Ultimate Session ReporterMicrobadge: AD&D fan (1st edition)Microbadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: Geek of the Week
After five sessions of running the Pathfinder Adventure Path: Council of Thieves, I've been reminded of a lot of reasons why I changed to 4E as my primary FRP system. (And I'm also reminded that 4E still has a lot of problems).

Paizo get a lot of credit for their adventures. I'm not sure it's always deserved. Certainly they have plot, interaction and puzzles, but mechanics-wise, Paizo is a company that I don't trust to get them right. Editing? Urgh.

The second adventure of the Council of Thieves AP is The Sixfold Trial. It has a brilliant first half, where the party become actors and perform a murder play. It's the sort of role-playing brilliance that Paizo occasionally display in their adventures that make them so memorable. The Prince of Redhand (Dungeon #131)) also provided such an experience. (Written by the same designer as The Sixfold Trial, Richard Pett - I love his RP scenarios).

And then the group got to the dungeon - which is nicely constructed - and met the monsters. Pretty much every single one of them had Damage Resistance 5. Some of this could be overcome (silver or good), some of it couldn't (elementals). And at that point, I was looking at a group that couldn't sufficiently damage the monsters. Consider the party:

A halfling monk/rogue who flurries with Sneak attack to gain... 1d4+1d6 damage
A ranger/wizard who Rapid Shots to get 1d8+2 damage
A sorcerer who has to overcome Spell Resistance (50%) on many of the monsters to get his 2d4+2 magic missiles to take effect
A elf cleric with low Str, high Dex who does 1d8 damage
A rogue that can hit for 3d6+2 damage, but exposes himself with fairly poor hp and AC to all the attacks as he's the only threat.

Did these characters have silver weapons? No. Oh dear.

Sigh. It's one of the big things that 4E changed: you have to really work at it to make incompetent characters. Exactly why a halfling monk should be a bad idea isn't clear, but it's very much so in Pathfinder.

Added to that is the dreadful editing of this adventure. Here's a very important line in the adventure: "She tells them that while the PCs have been otherwise engaged over the previous week, the Children of Westcrown have been gathering more information about the mayor and his home. What they have found out so far is detailed below."

If someone has the adventure, could you tell me exactly what they found out? Because, as far as I can tell, there is no such text. If there was ever any such text, it's been edited out. Good job, team!

Because, what it *needs* to say is "there are undead and devils within the Knot. You'll likely need silver and magic weapons to deal with them." I can say that now in retrospect. Just "devils" wouldn't be enough - my players wouldn't have recognised that as "need silver", because they're unfamiliar with the Pathfinder rules.

Likewise when it comes to dreadful editing, you have the appearance of a tiefling assassin. Her introductory text notes, "This adventure assumes that Sian waits for the PCs to reach area B21 before she makes her move, and thus her statistics are presented there."

No, they aren't. They're just after that text, and B21 makes no note of her at all. I happily ignored her altogether as a result. (The sooner the party left this frustrating place the better, but if B21 had noted that Sian will probably attack here, I would have remembered).

The final monster was also pretty good for causing a TPK. Here are the key details:
AC 18, hp 63, DR 5/good or silver, SR 16
Attacks: +8/+3 (1d8+6/17-20) plus +7 (1d8+2/19-20) plus +5 (1d8+2) plus +5/+5 (1d6+2), reach 10', 15' with last two attacks.

The thief, of course, needs to get into melee with it, and he has an AC of about 17. So, the average damage he takes each round is about 20 hit points. And the first three are infernal wounds, which gives bleed 2 and means that the cleric needs to make a caster level check (DC 16) to even heal him!

Sigh. I fudged this adventure massively to allow the PCs to survive. I'm 99% sure that Dave's monk will be retired for the next session as it's Too Weak To Live and Greg's archer isn't far behind it. As it turned out, the party did VERY well at avoiding a lot of superfluous encounters in the dungeon (and are now under-XPed as a result), so being smart and not being drawn into unnecessary encounters also penalises them. I just said "you're fifth level" at the end.

I'll write up a more formal session report soon; I just wanted to vent a bit first.
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Tue May 8, 2012 2:49 am
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