Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous: Sword of Valor: Part C

I was extremely excited to run this book as it meant we could play with armies ... something my solo player would be quite keen to do.  So when we grabbed the Armies Character Sheet and popped in the Heirs to the Wardstone paladin army and his custom tiny Rosethorn Army, we were excited to see how it played through.  I wasn't as sure about Part C as I tend to find dungeons quite boring but this one worked out pretty well.  My only petty gripe is that there were a number of blank rooms in the dungeon and I had no idea what they might been used for beyond defensive measures.  It wasn't such a big deal as I have a vivid imagination but it still made me occasionally pause to think.
I'll admit it.  I don't have a head for rules.  I can deal with the basics but I'm likely to forget the meaning of certain feats and spells.  Rather than have my head in a book for most of the game, quickly cross referencing and checking, I either ignore it, query my player (who has a better head for rules) or use the online SRD quietly while he's busy setting up his four characters' next actions.
That's right.  Four characters!  He doesn't roleplay them all, only Alfie and very occasionally the new guy when he can think of something snippy to say to the dragon (now a very young dragon rather than a wyrmling).  He does control them during combat and level them up occasionally.  Other than dealing with their inventory, he's enjoying it pretty well.  Taking Sosiel in the second strike at Castle Drezen tipped him over the line on occasion a few times but as that cleric was only Level 5, he was relegated to walking healer anyway.
So who was the magical fourth helper?
I thought this game was heavy on demons and light on celestials, so I threw in a Vulpinal as support - sent by Shelyn herself.  After all, why is the Worldwound *only* a mortal concern?
It's not a fault with the adventure path, which focuses on players actions after all, but I saw an opportunity so I took it.  My player therefore equipped the Vulpinal, Harri, with some of the loot that he found and the game progressed.
So the first strike at Castle Drezen found them badly affected by the fireballing brimoraks in the gatehouses and they only survived that because the Vulpinal teleported into one of the rooms and unlocked it from the inside, allowing them all to flee inside and heal up while the brimoraks came out of their room and entered from the outside.  They took out the vrock with better ease this time, in part due to the dragon's increase in damage die and number of attacks. 
They had to fall back after the encounter with the succubus - she managed to charm them all after suggesting that the vulpinal state she isn't evil and then commanded three of them to wait outside in case of enemy attacks while she had a conversation with Alfie.  She proceeded to try to find his resentment toward Drezen but, failing that, decided to simply seduce the fool.  She inflicted four negative levels before he managed to succeed on the Suggestion roll to stop kissing her.  Realising he'd been injured by her broke the charm effect and he grabbed her in a grapple and started damaging her.  It was a rough fight but he managed to kill her in a nook, using her as a defense against the charmed crusaders. 
They then headed back to base with Alfie feeling very sorry for himself - having lost his first kiss to a demoness!  Lex, the Umbral Dragon, didn't help when she regaled him with how those who die from a succubus' kiss are damned to the pit and their bodies rise again as undead.  She also poked fun at his obvious anxiety about discussing sex, calling Mendevians prudes.  Then she grew bored and went to sleep, leaving him to have a heart to heart with Eliska.  Eliska tried to coax out of him any aspects of his tiefling nature, but other than a destructive and impulsive personality, he was pretty good.  Gooder than good almost.
She pronounced him an aasimar in disguise and they had a little laugh about that, before she mentioned that she and her team were once Nidalese slaves who had been washed in negative energy as babes in their mothers' womb so that they could work a particular mine.  She was the most dhampyr of the lot of them (the others were a variant dhampyr of my construction - they gain darkvision and negative energy affinity but retain the bonus skills of a human).  She stated that their inhuman nature draws them to depression and suicide, which was a sobering thought.
Once fully healed and rested, they had to face a tiny army of man eating aurochs who were part of a herd just outside Drezen.  They won, easily, and Alfie took his team back into the castle - choosing the tower entrance rather than enter that gateway again.  The dragon flew up a knotted rope and it was an easy climb.  Once inside, Lex declared that she should be allowed three nights to sleep on all the treasure as payment for her work and that she should also be allowed to keep the tower.  Alfie promised her a new tower but she wanted that one.
I also realised that just as unintended evil actions pull someone toward evil, so should unintended good actions pull someone toward good, so since Lex was raised as a hatchling by Eliska and hasn't had much opportunity to do many evil things (other than take real sadistic pleasure in the kill as desecrating bodies can hardly be a sin to a carrion eater), I'm shifting her toward neutral.  She'll still have evil urges but they've been weakened by the wardstone.  She still thinks of herself quite proudly as Chaotic Evil, though.  I doubt she could ever become good.  She wouldn't see the point.
Anyway, they found the succubus who self-charms herself so that she can look like a charmed victim and swashbuckler tied to a bunk and chose to keep her in manacles but release her from the bunk and temporarily suppress the charm spell using Protection from Evil.  She trailed after them up until they defeated Joran's babau guards and were attacked by Staunton Vhane himself who rode in on his wasp (10 foot high ceilings, remember) and threatened to kill Joran for his weakness.
On the second turn, just before she would have attacked, she was approached by Harri with a clearly helpful look on his face as he reached out to cast Dispel Evil on her to help against the charm....  She failed her Spellcraft roll and thought he was about to release her from the manacles.  Instead she abruptly failed her save and was banished to the pit.  Surprise all round but it significantly prevented this battle from becoming a slaughter.
The next surprise was that after Staunton Vhane struck Lex for some crippling blows, he then failed his roll against Joran's suggestion to drop his weapon and flee the castle.  Lex and Alfie followed him, striking him in the back for two rounds before he came to his senses and attacked them in turn (as his previous command became obviously fatal).  The others focused on the two fiendish minotaurs but, proving how much weaker they were at combat than Lex and Alfie, they still needed those two characters help to end the battle.
Finally they all retired to Staunton Vhane's room to regroup, catch their breath and read Staunton's diary.  In desperation, Joran has thrown his lot in with them and renounced his god, Droskar, for failing to provide him with any real benefits.  And that's where I've left these daring heroes ... with Lex curled up on the bed, Alfie reading, Harri on guard, Joran moping on the edge of the bed, and Eliska reading over Alfie's shoulder but wishing she could just drink some dwarven ale and head to bed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous: Sword of Valor: Part A and B

The game proceeded well with Captain Irabeth explaining that the impressive actions undertaken by Alfie would likely draw Queen Galfrey's attention when she inevitably marched her armies into Kenabres.  He then spent the next week helping repair fortifications (largely by moving rubble) while Lex used her amulet of change shape to appear as a small child and Eliska established a small temple to her god not far from the Shelyn Temple's ragtag establishment. 

Eliska invited a few Shelyn acolytes (who had recently arrived from Vigil which is only a few days march away in my version of the game) to lurk in her temple so that those who came to make dark pacts with Zon Kuthon could be turned back to the light.  Meanwhile her allied Nidalese engineers (Expert 1, Rogue 2) turned their efforts to digging survivors out of the rubble with a precision and dedication that led some to wonder if they were truly Pharasmins instead.

Still the racial intolerance of the city reared its head and there continued to be mutterings about Alfie's success, some finding even that as a sign of some deeper demonic scheme.

When Queen Galfrey arrived, she immediately summoned Alfie to her side and requested that he lead a small army of paladins to lay siege on Drezen, believed to be weakened by the redistribution of demonic forces following the fall of that first wardstone.  He accepted the mission, nominating Commander Irabeth to lead the army.  He also sought out Eliska and Lex to join him - with Eliska came her 17 followers.  The Mongrelfolk also were willing to send fifteen forth to re-take Drezen (seeing it as connected to their history) led by Lann.  Finally the tiefling rogues he'd turned to Kenabres' aid saw it as an opportunity for greater distinction -- and failing that, plenty of loot.  They were led by Michael Rapscallion.

Basically his efforts and the plot so far meant he got a Tiny Level 2 Army ACR 1/2 that turned out to be quite handy in the battles ahead.

Due to a string of exceptionally lucky rolls, he kerb stomped the various armies with no casualties.  Funnily enough, his ragtag army (called the Rosethorn Army) kept gaining tactics and morale while the official paladin army (called Heirs to the Wardstone) gained no additional morale or tactics.  Sometimes the Rosethorns wiped out the opposing army during the ambush before the Heirs could even react - a good justification for why their morale wasn't as high.  They were being outdone by ragtag rogues!

The temple encounter worked a charm and was a nice break from the marching army tale.  So was the demoralised ex-paladin.  He even picked up on the shadowblood addiction though he didn't see *spoiler warning* Nurah do it.  He started running Lex and Eliska during combat as well and quite enjoyed using all three to great effect.

The swarm queen was more of a risk as it was CR 9 with several swarms for support so I had the Kuthites (expert level focused on alchemy and engineering) jury-rig a fancy alchemical bomb out of chemicals they had brought with them.  The bomb was terribly unstable, necessitating the characters use some of their previously acquired potions of invisibility to not set off a swarm early, but it dealt 8d6 Cold Damage in a 30-foot radius.  As Lex the Umbral Dragon is immune to cold damage, she was nominated to drop it off.  The swarms were wiped out and the chief queen was damaged but not too severely, allowing for a tight battle before the other swarms arrived (rolled a 7 on a 1d8).

Finally he arrived at Drezen shortly before nightfall and made camp.  he was immediately set upon by the ghoul army.  He managed to wipe them out before they could retreat.  At this stage I started creating mini-boss battles at the end of each army encounter to show what Alfie, Lex and Eliska were doing.  The only one that truly threatened him was the Vrock, Pozlixt.

The final encounter involving the watchtowers would normally be a party only affair but since he had a small army of rogues that could be split into three conveniently similarly sized groups (as he had added on an additional five tieflings - 2 from a conquered army, 3 were among 5 prisoners in the temple that I had added to the adventure; various high Diplomacy checks had made all but one of them friendly), he could have them attack the three other watchtowers.

I determined what the enemies would be rated as in terms of 4-monster armies and calculated the attackers as level 2 rogue / level 1 expert 15-person squads.  Since two of the groups managed their stealth check to catch their opponents unawares, they won without casualty.  The Kuthites failed and were attacked in turn, losing 2 of their individuals but managing to win through in the end.

Alfie had a significant battle ahead since Eliska couldn't climb the watchtower and had to be left behind.  She still had a part to play, though, because at one point Alfie took so much damage he turned invisible to hide from the bad guys and left it all up to Lex - who got damaged and had to fly down for healing from her (via inflict potions) before coming back up to finish the job.

Once the main party were down and healed up, I unleashed the Mythic chimera onto them.  Realising that he was a non-mythic Level 6 three-person (er, creature) party with only one level worth of bard / rogue abilities on top and they were going to be up against a CR 9 chimera with three Mythic tiers, I did some fancy thinking and realised that the Kuthite expert level in Rosethorn Army had an engineering focus.  I mean, heck, Rosethorn had their own siege weapon!

So naturally I allowed the four watchtowers (as some of them had crossed to the one Alfie had cleared) to make a hit with their standard catapults.  Three hit and did an impressive amount of damage.  Fortunately I forgot the creature's Mythic Initiative (i.e. two turns per turn) the first time around, which I later justified as it toying with them, and then had it play right.  It dealt loads of damage to them all, focusing on Lex to begin with but then wishing to keep the dragon as a toy for later, it attacked Alfie with both heads (dropping him to negative hit points) and then flying off with him.

It took him to the Eyrie, put him in manacles, and left him there as a trophy with the reasoning that he would slowly bleed to death while his armies fought in vain to get to him.  He stabilised, regained hit points through natural healing enough to wake up after a day, slipped his manacles, and used one of the +2 magical beast bane arrows with the +1 flaming longbow to coup de grace the sleeping mythic chimera (after making a stealth check).  The coup de grace just managed to kill it with but a couple points of damage to spare leaving Alfie in its treasure lair.

He quickly looted the place and upon hearing the sounds of battle outside, he climbed out onto the edge of Fort Drezen and started making his way back to them.  At this point, the player took control of the armies under the guidance of their two commanders (Rosethorn is commanded by Eliska due to her higher Charisma), and led the way to victory with another smashing success!  Damnable high rolls took down the other armies with ease.

And there ends Part A and Part B of this lovely adventure.  Next up ... some downtime and then Part C.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous: The Worldwound Incursion: Part C

So "Alfy" went out of Defender's Heart to track down the lost child only to find a sinuous reptilian creature munching on some dead cultists over the rubble of the Shelyn Temple.  It was small and I described it piecemeal as he stealth-circled around behind it and the fact that it was an Umbral Dragon meant I could focus on a few details (fine scales, paler belly) that one doesn't normally associate with dragons.  I blew the surprise later on by calling it a dragon, however....  *sigh*

Anyway, the dragon took flight the moment it noticed him and tried to goad him into digging his "master" out of the rubble for an epic fight.  A Natural 20 on a Sense Motive check ensured Alfy saw through the ruse.  The dragon didn't think it likely that he would attack her Master at all but wasn't being honest with him because a) it liked stirring trouble, and b) it was racist enough to assume that he lacked the focus and wherewithal to dig someone of the rubble if there wasn't something to fight under it.

So Alfy dug up the rubble and opened up a stairway into the Shelyn Temple's root cellar where a few dozen suspicious citizens were holed up with the Kuthites of the earlier adventure.  They weren't certain the Kuthites who had warned them of the demonic attacks weren't part of it but had taken shelter nonetheless from the first explosion.  They also weren't sure that Alfy hadn't dug them up to eat them - being a tiefling - and so threatened him with makeshift weapons for a bit.  All the real clerics and paladins of Shelyn had remained outside to help people so these were just congregants.

Alfy met his Master, the lead Kuthite who introduced herself as Eliska Zaitherin, an oracle of Zon Kuthon.  He offered to lead the congregants back to the safety but wouldn't take Eliska or her followers since the Chaotic Evil dragon kinda put her on his "Avoid" list.

When he finally set off to deal with the Gray Bastion of Part 3, he initially used a scale to pretend to be another tiefling cultist called Faxon.  After all, he was a single PC and a sixteen-year-old youth in the campaign so it would be illogical for Irabeth to actually send him in to try to take the bastion on his own. 

Unfortunately, the two demons by the front gate recognised him and attacked.  It was a tough fight but he was soon joined by none other than the small dragon (whom he'd glimpsed darting past through the night skies) and soon after that Eliska joined in with a glowing dire flail.  The three formed a truce and continued onward after Eliska revealed that she had been following him.

Eliska is an oracle with the same bonus feats, high stats, etc. that Alfy possessed.  She wasn't a GMPC and therefore her actions and dialogue are edited to ensure that the solo PC gets to make all of the major decisions and steal all of the thunder.  Since she was a dhampyr oracle, she wasn't particularly powerful and had little combat capability beyond her dire flail which bypassed damage reduction.  She certainly wasn't built for melee combat though I did justify Weapon Proficiency: Dire Flail as a feat that mysteriously awoke within her when she had found it among the rubble (it was a long sword at the time).

The dire flail was the sword of Radiance - which I had mistakenly thought he'd picked up in Part 2, declared stolen from Defender's Heart and which later turned out to be hidden in Part 3.  Since he finds it's actual physicality in the Gray Bastion, I made the dire flail she carried the spiritual reflection of Radiance.  While Radiance isn't meant to work for anyone who isn't a paladin, it was too cool to simply discard as a plot line, my solo PC is a monk and I liked Irabeth as a commander rather than a companion.

Eliska isn't great with it so it certainly doesn't draw the spotlight from the player and simply provides flavour for her.  As a worshipper of Doubral, the god who had been Zon Kuthon before his corruption, she takes the weapons' transformation into a dire flail rather than either a spiked chain (Zon Kuthon's favoured weapon) or the simple longsword (suggesting her god doesn't exist), fills her with hope.  The fact that she could wield the weapon at all is what made Alfy realise she must be good.

This entire book went beautifully well with the monk, oracle and wyrmling Umbral Dragon getting through the encounters with just enough difficulty.  Some of the battles against the regular tieflings were so out-classed that I let my solo player auto-defeat them with narrative description.  He took all of the humans and tieflings prisoner at the bastion, except for those tieflings who were gambling for severed fingers.  He took exception to those and killed them.  Naturally neither Eliska nor the Umbral Dragon, Lex, could deal subdual but they didn't deal enough damage to kill anyone outright and hung back when he dealt with the CR 1/2 encounters so that didn't become a problem.

At the very end, my solo player was amused to see the good energies suffuse the wyrmling and delighted in the idea of redeeming her.  With a lot of fanfare, my player joyously took apart the babaus with his temporary super powers with some support from Eliska and Lex.  Once that battle concluded, he returned to report on his success (minus Eliska and Lex who thought their involvement would draw undue suspicion) and then helped the priests until it was time for bed.

The Mythic Energies that suffused him also gave him the abilities and spells of a bard (i.e. bardic performance) and granted Eliska the sneak attack die and trapfinding of a rogue.  Lex didn't get anything material.  I'm basically going to treat it as her alignment becoming somewhat unchained from her body due to the saturation of good energies.  In other words, Lex will find it easier to become good.

Normally the energies from the wardstone are meant to grant actual Mythic tiers but I thought it might be a bit too potent so I went with increasing versatility (i.e. oodles of extra feats and additional class features) rather than outright power.

Alfy grabbed only a few of the actual Divine Points listed in this adventure book but plenty of his actions justified Divine Points later on - his wisdom in dealing with the Mongrelfolk, incapacitating rather than killing his foes, setting up a fallback point in the sewers, ferrying survivors back to the fallback point, treating everyone well despite their suspicions (justified considering the number of evil tieflings here), and redeeming a pack of tiefling thugs into rescuing survivors. 

Alfy also encouraged Eliska to clean and consecrate the zombie-filled room (which would need to be re-consecrated later), took all of the notes from one room back to Irabeth at the end, and took out the alchemist which were all worth Divine Points in the book.  I also gave him one for dealing with the Wardstone fragment quite cleverly ... he feigned being Faxon in that final room long enough to press the rod of cancellation against the fragment.

In the end, he gained the full benefit of those Divine Points (as did Eliska and Lex).  In my campaign, I'm treating the Divine Points as coming from Shelyn rather than Iomedae as I want Shelyn to be a bigger focus for this campaign.  After all, my solo PC picked her as his patron diety!

**Adventure Book Review**
Loved it!  It was an absolute smash.  I loved the little NPC roleplaying hints in certain rooms.  I loved the descriptions.  I loved some of the combats.  It was a great start to an awesome campaign!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous: Solo Worldwound Incursion

The tiefling "Alfie" is doing well so far.  Due to his very high AC most creatures can't hit him without rolling an 18 or above and that combined with his maximised hit die means that he's survived every encounter with only Anevia providing occasional arrows (i.e. not for every encounter) for support.  He started at level 3 and hit level 4 shortly before reaching the surface.  I'd given him full XP for each creature he'd killed alone, half if Anevia was involved, and a quarter of all story bonuses.

He also gained *a lot* of loot which he's determined to give to the Crusaders or the Shelyn Temple, whichever he finds first, as he can't use most of it - being a monk!

There were a few combats that got a bit dicey but nothing he couldn't handle.  I started hand waving some of the critters once he hit the surface because they couldn't do much to him.  I only used the interesting encounters listed and didn't bother with wandering monsters except to harry him by appearing and disappearing - making him paranoid that they would follow him to the shelter.

One interesting choice he made was to use subdual against every humanoid target, taking the time to deliver them down to the Mongrelfolk waiting in the sewers, and even grabbing some manacles from the nearby Southern Gate Tower (I reasoned there would be cells and manacles there) so that they could be better captured.  He didn't end up killing a single humanoid, which was pretty neat.

I chose to have the gods notice him from this point onward to give him a chance at accruing divine points from this moment.  He still won't be able to go over 10 but why not reward for *good* choices.  Especially since my choice to move Lastwall into Mendev means that he has a massive viable prison they can be returned to afterwards.

I also inserted a number of folks to save and took inspiration from the book on tieflings.  Basically there's this picture of a Chelish Hellknight wrapped in ropes and hounded by tieflings while another tiefling toys with his removed helmet.  I didn't want to just include tieflings cultists, after all, and so had them be ordinary thugs who'd reasoned that they were dead anyway regardless of whether the crusaders win (likely round up and genocide) or the demons (butchering or conscripting).  Since the demons couldn't tell a tiefling cultist from a random tiefling, they were able to walk around unmolested more readily than most.

"Alfie" talked them into releasing the Hellknight and even understood their reasoning - the Hellknight comes from Cheliax and Cheliax worships devils and why is that okay?  Though it turned out this particular Hellknight worshipped Iomedae (or at least said as much).  Using good reasoning and some Diplomacy checks, Alfie even convinced them to start rounding up innocent civilians and taking them to the mongrelfolk.  Once they released the Hellknight, he assumed command and oddly enough the tieflings followed (trio were Lawful Neutral devilbloods who would have been perfectly obedient lawabiding citizens if they hadn't been rejected by authority). 

Alfie heard the tieflings grumbling that they'd better get a medal for this otherwise they should cause havoc and leave once this mess gets mopped up.  So later when he found the half-orc paladin in charge, he made certain to mention them and recommend them for a medal.

Alfie also talked the rogues in the alchemy store into helping protect the safe place with the mongrelfolk - they weren't willing to risk their lives but were happy to find a safer spot with their loot and the 100gp each he promised them.  After all, they'd barely looted as much thus far.

He also saved a young girl from a random encounter I created who had basically hidden in her parent's home.  He spotted her glancing out at them and went in for her.  She hid behind a chair and held her dolly out at him menacingly but he managed to get her to come with him by talking her into sipping some holy water to prove she wasn't possessed - and more importantly to prove he wasn't a demon to do the same.

Anyway since he only took a day in the sewer, after he reached the safe place I gave him a few days to scout around the city looking for survivors and let him roll a 1d20 each morning and afternoon and declared that he located and saved that many survivors.  I thought it was a nice touch to help him feel all the more heroic and like he was doing something.  He ended up saving 82 additional people.

Haven't done the last part of the adventure but I can say that so far the creatures have been relatively weak.  Yes, he is a potent character but economy of actions should balance that out a bit.  I would just recommend that other GMs keep an eye on how their party progresses and if it starts becoming too easy they should simply maximise the occasional hit die here and there or boost their strength by 2 to give them a +1 to attack and damage which should make it smooth out without wildly swinging it in the other direction.

I will have the current half-orc captain of the crusaders (whose name I have currently forgotten) send Alfie into a side adventure where he must track down the missing child.  Since I want to play around with a potential redeeming Zon-Kuthon meta-plot (that may involve a couple campaigns to complete with different solo characters), this child is a shapeshifted humanoid-friendly Chaotic Evil wyrmling Umber Dragon. 

In other words, just like a workable Chaotic Evil party member, it attacks its enemies with a sadistic glee and is willing (and eager!) to use nasty techniques but has an otherwise good goal of helping close the worldwound (because killing demons is fun!) and a single good guiding principle (hurting the right people is important).  It has a neck collar that allows it to change its shape into that of an elf of the same approximate age but which punishes it for doing the wrong thing by giving it a blast of guilt that dazes it.  This has been affixed by the Nidalese bard who had hired Alfie to take them to this city in the first place.

The child spent time among the crusaders but quickly grew bored (and hungry!) and has decided to roam the city looking for undead and her bardic master.

Once Alfie has found the child I'll lead him into Part 4 by stating that the people in the base are wary of him and are growing suspicious that he might be working against them.  One of these agitators is actually a demon that can feign being human and does so to rile up the masses and cause divisions.  He'll discover that later when he actually marches with them in the 2nd book.

The most important part of this write up, however, is that I need a name for this wyrmling dragon and Nidalese bardic master.  Any ideas?  The bard is a Lawful Neutral aasimar wishing to become good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous - Solo Pathfinder Game

It's amazing what you can do with a solo campaign.  Basically I got the itch to run a game and have been eyeing off this adventure path for quite some time.  My husband is always present and available and one of our big hobbies involves running things for each other so I figured: "Why not?"

He created a Tiefling Monk called "Alfie" and was given a set of Base 14 stats where he could increase a stat by reducing another one by one.  And yes, it was a one for one basis so the cost of going from 17 to 18 was the same as to go down from 13 to 12.

I also gave him maximised hit dice (so that he had a full 8hp on a d8, or whatever it is that monk's get - I forget), three additional starting feats (though they couldn't all be pre-requisites for each other, no early stage chaining) and three traits. 

I also let him roll thrice on the tiefling special ability chart to replace his Darkness spell-like ability and even let him roll again when one of those abilities didn't make any sense.  He's meant to be a Good Tiefling, so cannibalism for hit points wouldn't work out for this type of campaign.  He personally chose to swap out his sorcery bloodline benefit for a mobile tail.

I even gave him a free Sin Rune - Rune of Resistance - and he was allowed to take it for one of his existing Resistance 5s and Acid Resistance.  This was connected to his backstory whereby he was used for some terrible ritual before being rescued at an early age and dropped off in Vigil (which I transplanted to Mendev for my own needs).

Other than that his equipment was selected by me and was all pretty ordinary.  Other than a Ring of Protection + 1 it was all very mundane.  Monks don't need elaborate weapons and armour anyway.

Finally I gave him an extra 2 skill points per level.

Oh, and he started at level 3.

So why did I do all of this?  Well, he has to play the role of four Player Characters for while there are allies included in this particular game, sometimes he'll be on his own.  I could just make him higher level, but I didn't want his saves / base attack / AC to wildly overwhelm the opposition so I made him smarter, harder to kill, with better stats and a slight boost in level at the beginning (later he'll probably only sit 1 level higher than the suggested CR).  So yeah, versatility over pointiness.

We're partway through the first Part of the first Book and it's working out well so far.  It's also a hoot as the NPCs are really well detailed and there's points in various rooms where they respond and react to things and it's all laid out on the page for me to follow (or branch off from where I need to).

I started him in my moved area of Vigil as I wanted him to have a stable base of operations and he got to have a rather ordinary time interrupted only by the arrival of some Nidalese Kuthites wanting to join the Crusade (or so they say) who did odd things like dropping in on the Shelyn Temple to pay their respects and who were hiring on a guide to Kenares (which is an easy three day ride away across a well-travelled and protected road).

"Alfie" was an orphan raised by the Temple of Shelyn whose destructive impulses have been channelled into martial arts training (since he can't quite do a monk-like aspect as he's too ADHD).  Other than being a real food glutton and a bundle of energy, he's a good kid as one of the chief clerics to Shelyn has managed to position him as an example of the redemptive qualities of goodness, so he gets given special treatment that does tend to irritate tieflings' with a rougher history.

Anyway, been loads of fun so far.  Just thought I'd share on the character creation changes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Rooting Fantasy Characters In The Mundane

One of the troubles with the Pathfinder / D&D method of creating classes is that people generally define their characters by that class.  This makes sense since as a player it's helpful to know what niches are taken and what powers are available.  It also makes sense that those categories would be available colloquially since people of particular classes function in effectively different ways within the game universe as well.

However that's not to say that you can't further define your character by what they spent their time doing before they took up adventuring.  Sure, they might have been adventuring since Level 1 or since being a commoner, and sometimes that may be perfectly fine, but there are other options even if the game itself will be a dungeon delve.

What if you were a merchant caravan guard?  Or a chronicler who writes the last day's activities next to your spell book?  What if you are an archaeologist (hence Engineering, Dungeoneering and History) who picks up spells from carvings on the walls (ask your GM to let you aesthetically flavour your auto-spell-known-per-level from this)?  Or maybe you were a pirate and lament being stuck in this place now?

And that's not even touching upon the jobs you might have had prior to being an adventurer.  Technically you could gain levels from any regular task, it just takes longer.  So perhaps the bard was a satirist whose satires got them chased out of town?  Or that rogue could actually have worked with law enforcement to get the dirt on the bad guys?  Or acted as a security specialist?

Was your barbarian a generally mild-mannered bouncer at an up-market establishment who chased off the unfortunate?  Or even just a blacksmith with a military history and one hell of a temper?  Your ranger could have bred horses back in the day or couriered messages across the land.

Even if you're a cleric whose task kind of connects with your class quite well, you could have a variety of different positions within the church: proselytizer, medic, almsman, protector of relics, administrator, or jack-of-all-trades as the solitary priest at the local church.  Do you have a preferred title other than cleric?  Are you a Father, Mother, Divine, Kezar, Whatzit?

I've found an easy way to develop your character and give them a bit more flavour be to give them an occupation in their history.  It doesn't need to be complicated.  It doesn't even need to come up much.  It just helps give off that feeling that your character existed and has a place in the world.  It also makes them more identifiable as we don't think of ourselves as Scientist, we think of ourselves as that health inspector that takes water samples from air conditioning units and examines shops for pests.

What are your thoughts?  Do you do this yourself?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Game Translation: Deadly Premonitions


this rather wacky comedy horror game where you control FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan through his investigations into the "Raincoat killer" who has been blamed for a murder in small town Greenvale. 

Firstly if you are running this with several players you should have them select one person to play the kooky one.  Everyone else can have mild eccentricties but you really need a mostly "straight man" group.  Too many kooks spoil the plot and will likely cause them to bounce off each other in plot killing ways.  While you can pull off a party of very serious and highly functional York-type people, it would be hard to get the alchemy right in a way that lets the group work well together.  If you've got 2 players, sure, give it a shot - though get the players to comment on how their character's deal with each other's strangeness. 

If you've got 4 - 6 players, well, I wouldn't recommend that player size for this type of game but if that's what you've got then no -- the odds that their issues won't clash and derail the game are very low.  You'd be better off creating a locked room with a few puzzles and letting them spend a session wrestling with each other's unusual behaviour rather than expecting them to semi-sensibly navigate the plot.

Also be sure you talk the kookiness through with the designated player so that they create someone who is highly functional in society.  It doesn't matter if they should likely be kicked off the force (since the FBI have high mental health standards).  What matters is that their off-putting social mannerisms should make them seem slightly unpredictable, make sense according to their own internalised logic, and not completely shut down all conversation with NPCs. 

In other words, occasionally talking to an invisible friend, talking about how you get assistance from someone who isn't there (and that you'll explain more about him later) as well as going off into a slight trance as your lips move (indicated that's what he actually does when he speaks to Zach) as well as telling people that you can find clues in your morning coffee is fine.  Screaming in someone's face, pouring cereal in your hair and accusing random people of being aliens from outer space is not.  Less is more.  Pick a couple traits and stick to them.  Think *functional*.

On that note, reward the one picked to play the York-like PC by giving him the occasional tidbit that makes sense according to his delusions.  Let him hear a hint in the television static or read a vague clue in the coffee.  Try not to use this to generate leads unless they're really stuck - instead be indirect enough that they're likely to only put it together after the fact (or shortly before it).

This game also requires you complete the mundane actions of life which adds a bit more of a human and realistic touch to an otherwise strange game.  The character has a hunger meter and tiredness meter, gets puffed out quickly when he runs too long, stinks out his clothes when he wears them too long and starts growing a beard as the days progress if you don't make him shave.  These little touches keep things human.

They're also easy things to enforce in the game world.  Most systems you could use to run a game has some form of penalty system.  Just whack on a -1 penalty or remove a dice if they go a certain amount of time without eating or sleeping.  Alternatively just keep pointing out how hungry / tired they're getting and if they leave it beyond a certain amount of time you can start stripping health levels.  The latter option is more in keeping with the style of game and adds extra tension.  Just be sure to give them opportunities to eat. 

As for stinkiness and beardiness, they should have no real penalty though the former issue might draw comment from people stuck in the car with you.

When entering the Other World, feel free to have the sensible characters go with the York-style one.  Here is where things are likely to get very trippy as York can adapt quite well to the strangeness (which he only partially believes is real, ironically enough, as seen when he confronts the second-to-last boss at the end).  The normally straight-edged characters get to shine by being out of their depth, confused and confronted.  Their sanity may fray, tempers may snap, and the normally kooky guy they have to guide and assist through the real world can suddenly become a core character able to help them muddle through. 

After the second or third time in the Other World, they're likely to have it all figured out but the first time should allow for some real roleplaying gold.

Pay attention to the time and call it out to the players so that they know that timing is critical.  Know when stores open and close.  Have a vague idea about NPC routines.  Tell the players if it takes them an hour to get to the hospital or that it's 10:30 by the time they locate the park.  Have a vague idea on timelines too.  If they take too long, people die and the plot progresses.  This adds an extra bit of tension.

"Zach, how do I heat up this coffee with my mind?"
As with any investigative game, it's best done with smaller player groups since having more than 3 people interview one witness tends to get pretty crazy and overwhelming for the witness.  You can get around this by having the witnesses surprisingly unfazed by having larger groups turn out *or* if the party splits, get really good at hitting things in a nut shell.  Get the players in tune with it, too.

A good starting point for this is to grab a 10 minute timer and get it going.  The scene ends when the ten minutes are up.  Forgive the absence of any social niceties and think of it more like a movie interrogation.  Things escalate quickly and wasted words are minimised. 

In a split party combat you should certainly do the same with rounds by asking the person on highest initiative what they do and if they don't answer within 5 seconds, go to the next one initiative down.  You don't have to skip their turn entirely unless they take so long that everyone else has their turn first.  If the person on the higher initiative figures it out by the third person in the queue, then they can go first.  Just don't let them interrupt the latest announced action otherwise it becomes it's own power and the players will make a point of waiting (unless that's a mechanic you want to have in your game).

Basically, most folks don't want to sit on their hands with nothing to do.  They're happy to watch if the gameplay is entertaining but long drawn out conversations, heavy with social niceties, and convoluted combat sequences with plenty of book references and umming and ahhing aren't very entertaining.  If you want the long drawn out psychological roleplay, wait until the spots where everyone can be involved.

As for how to plot for this kind of game ... well, go with something strange and esoteric and try not to make it too comprehensible.  It should be overly convoluted with a reasonable number of contrivances and some of the leads should be downright bizarre.  Once they have enough information to confront a witness, if the witness also happens to be on the hit list they should die.

One option (don't tell your players) is to avoid plotting it all out as you normally would do and wing it by swinging the plot in the most entertaining fashion possible.  Flesh out the town, have a map, know the general NPC schedules, but don't decide on the bad guy or their motivations until the moment of unveiling.  This requires a bit of finesse on your part but if you're good at winging things you'll likely find a meandering route to the most logical culprit anyway.  Does this mean that certain aspects won't add up?  Absolutely!  But that's kind of the point.  Things should feel slightly off-kilter in a surreal horror.

Anyway, a campaign based around Deadly Premonitions or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Investigators who will enjoy collecting clues, interviewing witnesses and basically being a cop.  There is a mystery to solve and so long as they can piece it together, they're happy.  If you've got any of these in your team, I'd recommend using both handouts and tapping into their own ideas.  If they want to search the sofa but you had the clue in the garden, is there anyway the dropped clue could be under the couch?  They may also have ideas for other sorts of clues - searching out tyre tracks in soft soil and other details.  Go with it.

Explorers will love the switch between Other World and Real World, as well as the odd and strange situations they will find themselves in with the somewhat eccentric NPCs that live within the town.  Often explorers like to feel like they're really there, so having to eat / drink / sleep / shave will certainly add to that so long as the process doesn't become laborious.  Make the food interesting.  Make when to sleep a choice.  Enrich the story with these requirements.

Communicators will love a game that has such rich psychological diversity within it and that really encourages strong roleplaying with vividly drawn NPCs.  Flash them some intriguing insights into the NPC minds and draw them into kooky conversations.

Action Heroes will probably enjoy it so long as they like their action relatively sensible.  This isn't a hi-octane yippee-kay-aye car chase type of game but plenty of action heroes are happy so long as they get to do something cool.  Stabbing and driving over monsters certainly qualify.  The slightly off-beat nature of everything else will likely keep their attention as well and allow more enjoyment.

Tacticians might not find enough to do here.  They may get frustrated seeking out the perfect use of time and hoard items that are better off spent.  They may also get irritable in any serial killing case if they give themselves the parameter "Keep everyone alive" and then beat their head against the wall trying to come up with a successful plan.  While a tactician may enjoy it, they'll need to relax and go with the flow a little, focusing on immediate tactics and techniques to deal with more obvious problems.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, or Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines).  If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it will be the latest Wolfenstein.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.