Merric's Musings

Thoughts from an Australian Board Gamer and RPGer

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Thoughts on James Bond: Novels, Films and the RPG

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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I am currently waiting eagerly for the arrival of the latest James Bond film, Skyfall at my local cinema. Unfortunately this is still a month away, thanks to the staggered distribution of these films worldwide. However, it does give me the opportunity to reflect on my history with James Bond. It’s strange, but one of my clearest memories of my childhood is not knowing who James Bond was.

It was when I was in Grade 4 (Year 4 they call it now). The teacher instituted a competition of sorts for one of the subjects we were learning (Social Studies, I think), and decided to make it a “Super Spy” challenge. Each of us would be identified by a 3-digit number. As my surname comes up early in the alphabet, I decided to choose “007”, mainly because I thought 7 was a lucky number. And I was greeted howls of dismay and derision from the rest of the class because I’d chosen James Bond’s number. I had no idea what they were talking about.

Eventually I learnt. In 1985, three years later, I went to a small birthday celebration for one of my friends, and we went to see A View to a Kill. For my 12-year old self, it was awesome! And so, I was hooked. One of the results of seeing A View to a Kill was my acquiring and reading of a few of the James Bond novels, the other main one was the acquisition of the James Bond 007 RPG by Victory Games.

At this time in my life, money was very tight, so I only ever managed to get a couple of the supplements to the game, both adventures: not surprisingly, one was the adventure of A View to a Kill, the other the Goldfinger adventure. Along the way, my young self discovered I wasn’t very good at running James Bond adventures. I was, however, very good at playing them - and, more importantly, a neighbouring friend was very good at running them. So, I spent a happy summer playing several James Bond adventures. I can’t remember at this late stage if I created my own character or if I just ran James Bond; I rather feel it was the former, but I can’t even remember the character’s name if so.

The James Bond 007 RPG is unusual for a number of reasons. One of them is its use of Hero Points; perhaps not the first system to use them, but certainly the first I encountered. The game uses a skill system, where the skill of the character (generally a number in the range of 1-30) is multiplied by the Ease Factor of the check (typically 4, but it could be from ½-10) and gives the chance of success. However, really good rolls would get better Quality of Success results, so you ended up with Q1 (best) through Q4 (marginal) and finally a failure result. Hero Points could be spent to increase the quality of the result, four points being enough to turn a failure into a critical success. Or to protect the character from a villain, turning the villain’s success into a failure.

Crucially, Villains didn’t have Hero Points, they had Survival Points, which could only be used defensively; so a villain couldn’t kill a character with a poor roll. Survival Points kept the important villains alive longer. I once wrote a post on EN World about why I liked this asymmetrical design, which I ran across while researching this post.

One other part of the mechanics of the James Bond 007 RPG that worked incredibly well were the rules for chases. A year or two ago, I picked up the Paizo Chase Cards pack, which is a card version of the rules from their Gamemastery Guide. It was, for someone who had learnt how to run chases with the James Bond rules, underwhelming. What makes the James Bond system so great is that each round starts with a bidding war: the winner gets to choose the manoeuvre for the turn, but at the penalty of having a lower chance of success (you bid Ease Factors). There are a range of manoeuvres, and it also gives the opportunity for the GM to put obstacles into the chase that both need to overcome. The bidding war and subsequent skill checks (of the appropriate skill or ability) keep the tension high. And you could also shoot at the opponent...

In contrast, Paizo’s system just has obstacles. On your turn, you can try and get past the obstacles (a skill check), or you can stand where you are and do another action. I guess like casting a spell. It’s a poor man’s skill challenge, and not particularly well implemented.

Martin, as part of his “I don’t have enough room for this” purge, gave me his copy of a pack of James Bond 007 RPG adventures, the core rules (which replaced my fallen-apart copy) and the Thrilling Locations book. However, there was one key part of the system I didn’t have: the Q Manual, which is one of the great RPG sourcebooks, even if the gear it describes is now (ahem) thirty years old. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of that tome in an e-bay auction last week, so, though my James Bond 007 RPG collection is far from complete, it has the books I consider most essential to it.

And, of course, probably the most unusual aspect of the James Bond 007 RPG is that it plays one-on-one: one GM, one player. Although most of the adventures suggest 1-4 characters (one “00”, two Agents or four Rookies), this is a game where - due to the investigation and role-playing required - more than two characters becomes somewhat problematic. You can do it, but it becomes a different type of game.

It’s now about 25 years since I last played the James Bond 007 RPG, but I’d rather like to have another game of it soon. Along with a few other games that I haven’t played for ages (or not at all). I wonder if anyone here would be interested.

My history with the novels is also somewhat spotty. My father had a copy of From Russia With Love, which I read over and over and over and I adored. I also picked up a copy of Live and Let Die, which I also thought was really good. I was very disappointed when I finally got to see the movie, I can tell you; a pale reflection of the novel. I’m currently working my way through the movies again, so we’ll see what I think of it when I see it in a month or two.

Goldfinger, Moonraker, Casino Royale, Diamonds are Forever and Doctor No were found at local libraries, and I don’t know those books quite as well, although I do vividly recall the beginning of Doctor No where M questions Bond about his poisoning in the previous book - From Russia With Love. That, I thought, was cool: a novel that paid attention to the previous book in the series! Moonraker was a disappointment, although Casino Royale was great, despite Fleming having no idea whatsoever about gambling. One does not go into a casino and make a lot of money at the roulette wheel by a “system”. You get lucky, or you don’t. Mind you, if you’re at a crooked table, you’ve got a much better chance of making small sums of money.

Of course, the idea of winning big at baccarat is another problem with the novel. It’s an extremely random game, and there’s only one decision point (if you get a hand totalling 5, you can choose whether to draw or pass). As ties are won by the house, it’s not really a great game for making money on. The decision to replace it with Texas Hold’em Poker in the recent Daniel Craig movie was a great move, as poker is far more a game about reading your opponents and making meaningful decisions.

A few years ago, I finally picked up the other novels in the Bond canon, and I must admit I still haven’t worked my way through them all. The last few are sitting in a pile of unread books; a large pile. I’ve no doubt I’ll get to them at some stage, but I’ve been spending a lot more time on computers, watching DVDs and reading games than reading novels for the past couple of years.

I have all of the James Bond movies on DVD, save only Never Say Never Again, which I really must pick up one of these days. Of course, it’s a remake of one of my least favourite of the canon, Thunderball, which has one of the most tedious end sequences of any film. Underwater combat? Talk about dull. Never Say Never Again is better than Thunderball, but I’d far watch something else. I even have the David Niven version of Casino Royale, which I thought was incomprehensible when I first saw it on commercial television because they’d kept running it during the ads. I was wrong. It’s incomprehensible even without the ads; they hadn’t left things out! Probably. It does have a few star turns in it, especially Peter Sellers, but mostly it’s forgettable. One of the best things about it is a cameo appearance by John Le Mesurier in the first five minutes. Sigh.

I’ll get out some of my James Bond RPG adventures tonight and see how they read. Then I’ll watch a bit more of From Russia With Love. For a property that’s now almost 60 years old, it’s still got a grip on my imagination.
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Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:37 am
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Dragonlance Adventures

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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One of my at-yet-unrealised ambitions is to finally run all of the original Dragonlance adventures using the system in which they were designed. That would be the AD&D system, and it happens to be a system I'm currently running a campaign with (it's been going about 9-10 months), although I've dropped down to fortnightly sessions to allow some other campaigns (Rifts, Fantasy Hero) to run, and to allow me to play a few more board and card games.

One of the biggest problems with the Dragonlance settings to my mind is that, in the beginning, it was just a variant AD&D setting: you had kenders and draconians in it - and no orcs - but it basically used the AD&D rules.

This all changed with the release of the Dragonlance Adventures hardcover. DLA was basically TSR's first attempt to change the baseline rules of AD&D to fit another setting, including new classes, races and mixing things up even more, and it looks really, really cool - but, unfortunately, ends up creating a world that actually doesn't match what is going on in the novels or the original adventures. And then poisoned it for everything that came later.

DLA is also, in many ways, a preview of what would be going on with 2nd edition. Gary Gygax had included, in AD&D, "school" descriptors for the various spells, such as evocation. They didn't really have much effect. However, DLA actually decided to list all the schools and then limit the different types of Wizards of High Sorcery to certain schools of spells. Instant differentiation! Except, it's all sort of shit once you actually try to play those wizards. It also means that Raistlin couldn't actually cast a lot of the spells he does in the books, because a Red-Robed Wizard can't cast sleep (one of his signature spells in the novels).

The less said about the Knights of Solamnia the better, as they're meant to have all the cavalier abilities on top of their actual abilities. Yikes! The cavalier was one of the more broken classes out of Unearthed Arcana, and the write-up of the Knights manages to leave out a few rather key details. Not so good.

One good feature of DLA was the gathering of all the Non-Weapon Proficiencies from the Wilderness and Dungeoneering Survival Guides into one table. Not that I had the WSG at the time - I finally bought it last year. I think.

The original adventures and novels set, for me, the baseline of what Dragonlance should be. Beyond that, I'm not as interested - although I did play in a short-lived 3E Dragonlance game, which I enjoyed. However, I really, really want to run through the original saga at some point. There are twelve scenarios in it, and they should take about 4 sessions each; if I could do this as a weekly game, that'd be about a year to complete the entire thing. Two years if I had to do it on a fortnightly basis.

I'm fascinated to see how the players of today react to the adventures. There's a lot of scorn placed on the adventures today due to their railroading of players, but that's standard practice in the industry today. Paizo has made their business based on the back of railroaded adventure paths; so it shouldn't be an issue. Dragonlance doesn't make the mistake that the Avatar trilogy did of making the NPCs more important than the heroes; no, in Dragonlance, it's definitely the heroes that are at the front of the action.

The trick will be finding the players and the time. I'd say the optimal way of playing this would be using the original characters and a group-size of 6, with Flint and Tas being run by one player and Goldmoon and Riverwind by another. I wonder who would be interested?
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Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:56 am
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Prepping for Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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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
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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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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Musings on Reviews and Session Reports

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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My fourth session report on Dungeon Command should be going up soon. Alas, I was hit by illness last week and played nowhere as many games as I wanted to of Dungeon Command.

I intensely dislike writing reviews of board games that I haven't played sufficiently. What's sufficiently? At least 10 times is the normal number I use, but it depends on length of game, the number of variants involved, and so on and forth. Morrus might promote my original report as a "review", but for me it's a "first impressions session report with rules explanation". Of course, my initial report is probably as detailed as many reviews!

I was lucky with Lords of Waterdeep - I managed to play that game ten times before I wrote the review. It's going to be a lot trickier getting in the plays before Dungeon Command gets properly released. Can I even properly review it without experiencing warband-building? Well, I can, but it's going to be 'incomplete', and I hate that.

What I really, really want to do now is get a good boardgamer and play 3-4 games back-to-back with them to see how the game goes when I have an experienced opponent. Sarah might find herself in that role come Thursday night (when I'd probably prefer to be hitting her with Paths of Glory), but when I write a review, I want to do it right.

Of course, the "play ten times" goes out the window when I start reviewing role-playing games. "Play once" is hard enough. And how the heck do you evaluate a book like Martial Power? 4E has, in my opinion, the most rule elements of any version of D&D, and they can have very subtle interactions. Each class, despite its superficial similarities to other classes, is its own beast and even if the same power were to be given to two classes, it'd be used in different ways and have different implications to the power level of the class.

I never felt that way with 3E - I could happily write reviews of the Complete books. Ruleswise from the player's side, 4E is a lot more opaque to me. (This doesn't mean it isn't a game I really enjoy, because it is). Mind you, 4E adventures and DM supplements tend to be a lot clearer to me as to how they work!

Reviewing board games and reviewing RPGs are definitely two different things!
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Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:13 am
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Miniatures and Map Design

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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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
Australia
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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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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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Day of the Vorpal Sword

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
Well, I've done something in my AD&D campaign that I've never done before in 30 years of gaming. Yes, I've given one of the PCs a vorpal sword.

This wasn't any of your "choose a treasure package" or "wish list" items; this was one randomly rolled on the AD&D DMG tables. (A 0.11% chance or approximately 1 in 900 chance). The character who took the item is all of 5th level.

And I'm fine with it. Really, really fine. There's no doubt that the weapon - with a 20% chance of beheading any human-sized-or-smaller creature and a 15% chance of beheading any larger-than-human monster with each attack - is an extremely good one which laughs in the face of balance, but it's going to be fun and memorable in the game, and it's rather unlikely that another one will enter the game.

Probably.

If the blasted thing does become just Too Good and sucking the fun from the campaign, I'll take steps, but as I'm mostly running an old-fashioned Dungeon Crawl Campaign, at the moment it's the thing that distinguishes Paul's character from all the other half-orc fighters in the group.

We're sixteen sessions into this campaign, which at times has two DMs, and 22 players have played at least one session. The "core" group is about 12 players who split time between the AD&D game and other games (Dresden Files and Scales of War 4E).

Meanwhile, after a bout of Illness and Easter, we'll finally get to the third session of our Pathfinder campaign this Sunday. Looking forward to that. Even though it doesn't have a VORPAL SWORD in it.

Anyway, does anyone want to guess as to how long it'll be before I get sick of the Vorpal Sword in the game? (And create immune-to-vorpal monsters? )
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Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:00 am
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