Monday, December 31, 2012

Mercenaries Continued: Part 1

So apparently my mercenary company idea is popular. How neat is that? Since I like it too, I think I'll continue the concept and flesh it out a little more and throw it into Hekinoe somewhere. There are lots of empty places on Hekinoe, so I have plenty of room to throw another continent. This post is going to bounce around a lot and is basically a written journal of me coming up with campaign ideas and forming a campaign. If it gets too long, I'll break it up into a second post.

So since the focus of the campaign is a mercenary company, I think I'll make that a main feature of the continent of the campaign. I'm picturing a fairly aged and decadent collection of empires. Basically a lot of money and resources and power, but without high populations. A war in this situation would be very disruptive to trade and that sort of thing, so the various kingdoms and city states settle disputes over territory and that sort of thing with mercenary companies that wander off to places far away from valuable farmlands and innocent civilians to bloody each other's noses. So you'd have various mercenary companies wandering around guarding things and getting contracts and that sort of thing. Some would be legendary companies with a lot of prestige and very lucrative longstanding contracts with the city-states, others would be cheaply bought bastards with a reputation for switching sides and reneging on contracts, others would be new companies trying to get prestige so that can charge what the legendary ones get. The campaign would likely center around a new company trying to make a name for themselves. Maybe they make a name for themselves by saving the world or just surviving some nasty fights. Dunno yet, just rolling around ideas.

I'm thinking that an environment like this would have very formal rules and guidelines for paying mercenary companies, so the fees would be fairly standardized. The company makes X amount of gold per task with a bonus dependent on your company's reputation and level of skill. I'm thinking something like a bonus to cash where the bonus is equal to your company's reputation as a percentage bonus or penalty. So if your rank, reputation, prestige, whatever is 5, you make 5% more when you guard a place or whatever. If it is -5, you only make 95% of the normal wage. I think the reputation would also serve as a gauge of how much recruiting you can do. Like you start with a company of 20 or so and as your company grows in reputation, you can manage more members. It would also perhaps be used to do recruiting. A negative rep might make it easier to recruit bloodthirsty cutthroats, but more difficult to recruit decent folks, while a positive one would reverse it maybe. I dunno, still kind of batting things around here. Getting some ideas though.

So I'm thinking that in addition to the standard mercenary work that the mercenary companies and those that hire them engage in sort of an annual games, kind of like gladiatorial combats and that sort of thing to show off their talents. This is a way to gain reputation and popularity, and also kind of a way to pick up job offerings and that sort of thing. I'm thinking that the mercenaries operate out of one specific city and are overseen by like a guild of veterans or something from companies or something. I'm not entirely sold on that idea there, but I feel like there would be some sort of oversight to a situation like this where mercenaries are such an integral piece of the politics and whatnot of a continent. Hmm, I keep thinking about this aspect, this mercenary oversight committee, not really liking it. Maybe instead it's just a bunch of vets that decided to set up a watering hole for fellow mercenaries and the games are held there and various nations have embassies so they can do hiring and whatnot. Maybe lots of these places exist scattered across the continent.

Ok, so I have the basic structure of the continent down. What I have here allows a fair bit of political and battle focused mercenary work. But what about adventure staples like ancient tombs and that sort of thing? So these very decadent, civilized empires of this continent would likely have schools and museums and that sort of thing. So maybe there is this chunk of the continent with some fallen empires in it where universities hire mercs to guard archaeological digs to recover artifacts and that sort of thing. What brought this civilization to ruin? Magical disasters always work, but I think I've touched on that enough with the fall of Kaleshmar, so maybe something natural? I'm suddenly remembering the Fallen Empires set of Magic cards and the kingdoms of the elves. The elves created thallids out of fungus and they eventually gain sentience and overran the elves. So maybe something like that happened, fungus destroyed the empire. I like that. It's weird and not precisely ye olde hand waved magical disaster that changes the world.

Alright, we have this ancient empire full of ancient stuff. I don't want to make them magically or technologically superior, there are enough of those in Hekinoe. I'll make them psionic and I'll make psionics kind of a lost art among the rest of this continent. So the reason all this stuff is fascinating and worth digging around fungus stuffed tombs for is because psionics aren't unreliable like magic. I think the race will be called the Shale. The Shale are actually a race from a campaign I was creating a year or two ago, maybe more, when Lance, Shawn, I were talking about doing some DnD. Never happened, sigh. Anyway, so the Shale are these big stony guys prone to deep thoughts and slow to action. I think that fits well with a race of Psions and Monks. I think I am channeling Eldumans too much though, so to change them up I think I'll make them a dimorphic race, so they have two types of the same race. We'll go with half the race being more methodical and stone like, with the other half being somewhat quick to anger and action, we'll call them Stonehearts and Firehearts or something. They'll both have stony skin, but perhaps the Firehearts will have a tendency for their veins to look like webs of lava running through their stony skin. Fuck, maybe they'll bleed fire, I dunno. These are just the broad ideas here. Anyway, so we have this race and this fungus. The Shale are stone and metalworkers and psions. Their cities are made of stone and crystal and metal and they live kind of in a cooler portion of the continent. I'm thinking there is a lot of moss and fungus hanging around in the cool damp of their stone buildings and maybe this fungus gets where it shouldn't and somehow becomes psionic (so basically I am going with the psionic variant of ye olde hand waved magical disaster that changes the world). Again, these are just broad stroke ideas. So now we have this crazy psionic fungus that ends up devouring the empire of the Shale and the Shale end up coming close to extinction with their empire falling apart completely and their only advantage over the far more numerous other races being the closely held secrets of psionics. I think initially, Shale would not be a playable race, but they would be recruitable at some point via special circumstances and you could play one eventually. I think that the Fireheart Shale would likely outnumber the Stoneheart, what with the fiery blood and all being somewhat useful against the fungus.

So earlier in that previous paragraph I said something about magic being unreliable. Magic is unreliable in most places in Hekinoe, with Orcunraytrel being a very very special case. The reason magic works fine there is very very bad, much worse than a measly 36% chance of misfiring meteor storm. Anyway, with this continent of the Shale and mercenaries, I don't want the unreliability of magic to overshadow everything else, so we'll just go with a simple 1% rate of misfire per spell level with cantrips having a 0% chance, and intuitive casters adding a 1d3-1 to their caster level and misfire chance. This rate is a little bit lower than The Known World and is actually the "normal" rate of magic unreliability in Hekinoe, which means all the stuff that is janky and causes mutations in The Known World is working properly in this mercenary continent. Divine magic is the next question. Do I allow it? No. Gods still don't exist in my world and I have already played with the "we're gods but not really" thing with the Immortals of Orcunraytrel, no need to revisit it here. If the concern is healing and such, read back a few weeks and read the post about healing. Now, I've said that the Shale were the masters of psionics and have guarded those secrets from the other races. I think what I'll do is make Wild Talent available to all races, and that gives access to psionic feats (which have some cool abilities), but the Shale have a monopoly on actual psionic classes. Perhaps I'll institute something like the ability to use psionic classes as a reward for services rendered to the Shale or something. I think I'll restrict the use of the Monk class as well, just as I do in The Known World where most races have to pick a trait when they start at level one that allows them to play a Monk.

Alright, I think this post is long winded enough. We'll call this post part one and I'll pick this up Friday or next week.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Phil Spiderman: Adventurer

(Phonetically, that should sound like Fill Spidermun)

So Eric and I were talking the other day about Spiderman and how player characters and heroes in DnD are basically the fantasy equivalent of superheroes. We got to talking and decided to come up with Spiderman in DnD terms.

Race, not sure. Drow seems most appropriate, heh. Probably anything would work though, as most of the character's abilities would need to be loot based. Obviously, something with a Dexterity bonus would help. For the purposes of this part of the post, we'll be talking about basing it on gear. Primarily gear of a magical nature.

Class-wise, I think Monk is the best bet. Spiderman does a lot of jumping and acrobatic things along with some lurking about, and Monks can do that. However, Monks have a bunch of supernatural abilities, and Spiderman does not. So we use the Martial Artist archetype, which focuses on punching people, which Spiderman does do from time to time. With proper feat selection you can make a pretty good mobile combatant, and the flurry of blows can simulate Spiderman's agility a bit. The only problem I see right off that bat is that Spiderman is a quip guy, always with the one liners and jokes. So Bluff might be an appropriate skill for him to have, and Monks do not have it as a class skill. Oh well, you can still make jokes in dialogue without ranks in Bluff, and Bluff is more about deceit anyways. His quick wit and humor would need to be role-played. Unless you want to be lame and do something like make Perform (One-Liners) checks during a fight instead of talking.

Rogue could also work, and you'd get more skill points to put into stuff that Spiderman does. However, you'd need to take the improved unarmed fighting feat from my world and Tome of Battle, and also my Unarmored Combatant feat, to simulate Spiderman's punchiness and lack of armor. Uncanny Dodge and Evasion would also be very fitting for him to have, as they could simulate his spidy sense. Actually, looking at the Rogue, it makes a lot more sense than the Monk. Rogue Talents like Expert Leaper, Ledge Walker, Nimble Climber, Peerless Maneuver, Positioning Attack, Rope Climber, Wall Scramble, Defensive Roll, and Improved Evasion are all super fitting abilities for Spiderman to possess.  Much more fitting than flurry of blows and that sort of thing.

Ok, so with that Rogue stuff, we have Spiderman's agility and flippy bounce around stuff. What are we lacking? Super strength, web shooters, and wall clinging. Since Spiderman is known for webbing his foes up, the first step is tanglefoot bags. They cost 50 gold a pop, so it might be prudent to take ranks in Craft (Alchemy) to make your own, like Spiderman does in most incarnations. The easiest way to make him strong in Pathfinder is to just give him lots of Strength (which is impractical because if you spend points on Strength, you're not spending them on Dexterity), or use a Belt of Giant Strength. Slippers of Spider Climbing can duplicate his wall crawling, if poorly, as they are only limited to 10 minutes total per day with a minimum of 1 minute of usage per use, so that's not optimal. A more practical way of achieving it would be a wand of spider climb, but that is 4500 gold and each charge would only grant a half hour of spider climbing. You could keep a pile of spider climb scrolls on you as well, but that is cheaper in the short term only. Honestly, I'm not sure how to get the wall clinging ability beyond these methods. There's probably a magic boot or glove or something somewhere that'll handle it, but I don't know where it is. 

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a perfect build by any means, but it is a good starting off point. I'm looking at d20pfsrd and there are definitely a few Rogue archetypes that would suit a Spiderman build. As would the 3.5 prestige class Thief-Acrobat. I dunno, it was just a silly little discussion and this is what I ended up coming up with. I suppose you could also try some sort of Magus or Sorcerer build to duplicate the loot abilities, that way you're not relying on expensive gear. Magi have access to both web and spider climb, so that's a pretty solid chunk of Spiderman's capabilities right there. 

I dunno, whatever. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Campaign Ideas: The Mercenary Company

So Lance and I were talking about lethality recently. He enjoys the save or die effects and the unflinching bloodthirstiness of some earlier editions of the game, and I do as well. The problem is that as the GM, I have a responsibility to all my players to ensure they enjoy themselves. If I kill Eran or Karl, Lance and Eric are going to react internally in a very different fashion. They'll both set to the task of creating a new character, but I imagine Lance will be excited about trying a new character and coming up with something cool while Eric will be bummed and upset that Karl has died after spending so much time playing him. These are both normal and reasonable responses to character death. When Kethranmeer died, I barely restrained myself from having a big fat hissy fit, and I am the one that killed him. Which isn't so much of a reasonable response.

Talking with Lance kind of got me thinking about a more lethal style of game. Something with traptastic traps that offer save or die effects instead of save or oh the giant rusty spike in the point only graze you, take 2 damage. So I started considering a campaign style that wouldn't offer a complete disconnect when your character bit it. Something where you have a roster of characters to choose from. The most convenient method of doing this is like an adventurer's guild or mercenary company. Characters die, but you have more characters to pick from as needed. You can also have bench warmer characters built for crafting or other non-adventuring stuff. The fact that you are playing a mercenary company kind of maintains the sense of continuity between characters.

So the way I am conceiving of it is you start out with the command structure, these are the big boys, the veterans. Have them at 3rd - 5th level. Each one is in charge of some aspect of the company. One handles scouting, magical support, ranged support, black ops, healing, etc. They all have their department and their underlings. These are also the role-playing guys. They'll be the ones the players RP while they figure out what jobs the company takes and where the company goes, or what cause the group involves itself in.

Everyone else in the company is a level one character. Before each mission (and a mission could extend more than one scenario) the players choose their characters. The rest of the company could be precisely defined, or just made as needed, whichever the players want (but it would probably be prudent to have a spare or two set up beforehand if we go with the lethal nature). You choose your character, even one of the higher level head honchos, and play the scenario or arc of scenarios with those characters. If someone dies, you send for reinforcements. If everyone lives, huzzah! Loot is communal and shared by the company, so you'll always have access to that +1 longsword (no need for character wills like in earlier editions of the game).

This style of game would be more hostile to life than Pathfinder normally is. Save or die effects would exist. A trap might kill or maim your character on a failed save. A pit of acid might fuck up your Charisma a bit or a called shot to your back might cause Strength damage. Most of this would be resolved with Rule 0, i.e. because I say so and think it makes sense and want to add lethality to the campaign.

Now, you have what is essentially a limitless number of troops and you can send for reinforcements. So maybe you start thinking you can tackle scenarios like they did the Tomb of Horrors back in the day and just herd bodies (the folktales say sometimes this was goats and chickens and stuff, other times it is hirelings) at it to set off all the nastiness and pick up what is left after all the traps have been tripped. Smart move. However, as members die, you'll need more recruits to fill the ranks and new recruits will start back at level one. Leveling will be handled kind of oddly. Everyone gains experience points at the end of an adventure. So if the scenario nets you 5000 experience points and there are five players, you add the 1000 experience points to the command structure's experience point total, the rookies, everyone's total. It makes for a bit of bookwork remembering who is at what level (more of just a list really), but I'm ok with handling that, as it offers incentive to keep your company from having their lives spent like currency to trip traps or something. I'm also thinking of something like a reputation meter for the mercenary company that affects a die roll to determine how many bored adolescents sick of plowing fields decide that it'd be cool to be all scarred and tough and whatnot. As way of also instilling this, and to compensate for the excess gear that piles up from it being picked up by newer members when older members die, I would also keep the difficulty increasing, so if you spend lives stupidly and have to rebuild the company from a bunch of levels one characters, you could end up facing CR 6 enemies. Hopefully you are lucky and had a pile of left over loot and cash in the coffers to compensate. 

I can see this kind of campaign style having a lot of merits for our group. Eric can use the benchwarmers to do crafting, Lance can enjoy the lethality reminiscent of earlier editions, and Jason could do some management style stuff that he seems to enjoy in our Orcunraytrel campaign. For instance, the mercenary company can operate out of their own fortress or city or something of that nature. Cary seems to like being the talking man of the group, so perhaps he would enjoy some of the more talking aspects of managing a mercenary company, bargaining with potential employers and that sort of thing (Cary, if you're reading this, sorry, I don't talk with you enough to really know what you especially like about your DnD).

Part of this campaign concept is inspired by my love of Glen Cook's The Black Company novels. Those are some really really great books with lots of cool and fun characters in them. Man, I should reread them some time. Reading those books you get the sense that though the company as a whole is ancient and all of the current members have no relation whatsoever to the founders, there is still an element of pride in their traditions and the survival of the company as a whole. That would be kind of what I am going for, pride in the company and their reputation, rather than how much you like each of your individual characters. There would be a focus on the glory of that company, rather than how much loot and experience points your character can amass. I dunno, I was talking with Lance and got to thinking and kind of thought this would be a neat campaign concept. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Class Based Frustrations

Normally, I like class based systems. But then, I've been playing one for seventeen years, and nothing else. I've said before that the first time I looked at a game book that didn't have a class based system (Shadowrun 4th Edition) I was utterly mystified as to how one would play the game. There were no classes (there were templates of suggested abilities like Street Samurai), and without classes, how do you have a character? It was inconceivable to me that a game had no classes. In fact, as much as I love the concept of Shadowrun's setting (fantasy + cyberpunk), I was so shaken I immediately closed the pdf and stepped away from the computer. Later I fell in love with GURPS.

I used to love classes. I attribute this to Stockholm Syndrome. I've ever only played DnD, perhaps the king of class based systems, if not pen and paper RPGs. Nowadays, I find myself wondering about other systems and styles of game, narrative driven rules light systems like FATE, heavy rules heavy versatility like GURPS, Goldilocks systems in terms of versatility and rules load like Savage Worlds, etc, etc, etc.

My beef with class systems, Pathfinder/3.5 in particular, is  a major one and minor one at the same time. The classes. I like the combat and skills and feats and race construction, all the rules basically, except the classes. Specifically the structure of those classes. I'll use my knife fighter Hobgoblin Arak to explain this.

Arak is a knife guy, he has lots of them, and is really good at sticking them into other people and swirling them around on their insides. He is good at close up work and he has the muscle and heartiness to back that up, but he's a Hobgoblin and they're generally smaller than a human and kind of wiry and quick. They're bigger, tougher Goblins that aren't terrified of horses, dogs, fire, and the written word, basically.

Now Arak uses knives because he has quick hands and he thinks that the easiest way to surprise a big bruiser with an axe is to look unarmed and then suddenly be bristling with sharp pointy things that make a nice thunking noise when they end up in sensitive or important areas of a body.

Seems like Arak would do well as a Fighter or Rogue, right? Problem is, I don't need skill points or Rogue talents or trapfinding or uncanny dodge and none of those things fit with Arak's background. The only thing I need from Rogue is the sneak attack. Problem with Fighter is that I don't need all the access to heavy armor (Arak has always found it is better to just not get hit in the first place, rather than to strap on fifty pounds of steel and stumble around a dark alley in it waiting to get hit and have your armor stop the blow), I don't need anything from Fighter but the base attack bonus and combat feats. Luckily, Jason is cool and made a Rogue/Fighter combo feat that enables me to get what I need from both classes without sacrificing anything other than six hit points, a +1 of base attack bonus, and having me take this feat. Now this particular build works out pretty well because of Jason's help and my archetype selections, but it is a simple build so it's not exactly a complex thing with a bunch of fiddly bits that need to mesh together.

If I wanted Arak to be good with knives, surprising his enemy with them, and also able to magically hop around a battlefield to add to his general shifty hard to pin down and hit nature? Now I need 6 levels of Sorcerer or Wizard, or 10 levels of Magus or Bard. Those classes have nothing I need though beyond this one ability. Arak didn't go to Hogwarts, his cousin was a battle wizard and had this spell that he used that could hop around short distances, and Arak wanted to learn it too. He has the brain power for it (dimension door is a 4th level spell, Arak's Intelligence in this exercise is 14). With the class based system, Arak could spend six years trying to learn to pull off this one spell, but it is impossible because he doesn't have six or ten levels in one of those classes. Getting this ability would completely fuck up the other two facets of his combat style, he'd lose hit points he needs to survive melee, feats he needs to be good with knives, base attack bonus to strike well with knives, and sneak attack dice to hit hard with his knives. Magus seems like the best of the bad choices. So what would he get instead of this stuff central to his character? A bunch of spells he doesn't need/want, the ability to use those spells in heavier armor, the ability to strike with those spells through a weapon, and the ability to cast the only spell he wants once per day. Plus, with Jason's rules, he'll have a chance of going insane.

Another example I can use is Lance's character Eran. Eran is a Ranger. He is kind of a hunter explorer type of guy. Rangers have animal companions. Eran has never been RPed in such a way that would indicate to me that he has a strong affinity for animals and frolicking among the woodlands befriending aminals and taking them home and cuddling and petting them and loving them forever. An animal companion is a key feature of a Ranger though, so to not utilize it represents kind of a loss of power on the part of the character, so Eran has a wolf because magic. As far as I know, there aren't any Ranger archetypes that lose the animal companion for something else, though I did let Jason trade in his monkey familiar for a feat or something. I am actually thinking of losing the Ranger class from Hekinoe completely and throwing the 3.5 Edition class Scout from Complete Adventurer into the roster. The Ranger always comes off weird to me. Like a Druid/Fighter that is passable at two-weapon fighting or archery (Pathfinder does add a few other options for combat style) and also dislikes some people. It's kind of all over the place. The Scout is much more competent at representing a hunter scout type character in my opinion.

So this dimension door Arak just doesn't work. I have to sacrifice a lot of what I want to do for small taste of other stuff I want to do and a whole bunch of what I don't want to do. This is not optimal. I am sure I could make Magus Arak work. At the very least I could just shocking grasp the fuck out of everything he tries to knife. But that isn't what I want to do with Arak. I want Arak to be the shifty guy slinking around the edge of the fight until he finds a choice target that he can move up next to (or teleport next to) and plunge a dagger home into. If he does get into straight up melee, I want him to use deft knife work to throw his opponent off his game to make his hits more optimal (i.e. feint + sneak attack).

An additional problem are the connotations of taking Rogue levels and what the Rogue class implies. Oh, he's a Rogue, he's a skill guy. No. Arak is not a skill guy. He won't be unlocking doors or finding traps and disarming them. He has no experience with that stuff and will have no ranks in disable device and perception will only have a few because being able to notice your surroundings is smart. Because he's a Fighter there is a certain expectation that he'll be a front line combatant. Arak can do that, but it is not his style. He has no desire to go toe to toe with Johnny the Orc Barbarian and his axe Lucille. He will in fact spend his first round circling away from and around Johnny so he can come at him from behind or the side. Axes hurt and Arak wants to avoid them. Someone else can draw the attention of the axe while Arak works on stopping the brain that moves the muscles behind the axe.

There is a certain expectation of what a character of a certain class can and will do as part of a party. This is easily solved by explaining your character concept to fellow players and GMs, but still there is the expectation. I think we ran into it one time when we expected Karrak to unlock something because he is a Rogue.

Point of post: Classes are restrictive and make it hard for you to tailor a character to what you want to do with them and instead forces you (most of the time) to do what the game designers expect you to do with them. This is usually fine because you expect this going into DnD, Rogues do one thing and Fighters do another and you kind of build your character along those assumptions and it isn't a big deal unless someone decides to make it into one. But once you've seen the cool stuff you can do with a versatile system like GURPS, it can make it hard to reign in the creativity at times.

As a side note, Arak in GURPS would look something like Warp (with limitations like short range, magic, and costs fatigue), Unusual Background to justify the Warp ability, DX+2 - +4 in small blades, and a technique that buys off some of the heavy penalties to skill level for targeting vital areas of the body. Arak built that way would almost definitely come in at under 200 character points.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Campaign Ideas: And Time Stood Still

So I was watching this mini-series on Netflix called Neverland. Kind of a prequel to Peter Pan. Peter and Hook live in the 1900s in England and get transported to Neverland. Come to find out that the reason no one ages in Neverland is that it is a planet that occupies both the center of the universe and the corners of it (wtf?) so time never moves there. The series isn't great, seems pretty low budget, but still kind of neat as it gets into the why and how of Peter and (Jimmy) Hook and how they end up in their normally depicted forms (Hook with one hand, Peter flying about, etc). Plus, giant ass eight legged crocodiles are always pretty swell. Anyway, the whole no one ever aging in Neverland got me thinking about a campaign idea. 

Imagine a world where time stood still. Like seriously still. Just completely paused. No one aged, no one grew, etc. Everyone and everything is stuck in a moment of time. If there was a flood or a storm, that flood or storm continues forever. A fire burns eternally, all magic spells are essentially permanent, etc. Living things can still move, trees still shake or are uprooted in the wind, fire and such can be extinguished or started, but they don't consume fuel because time is frozen. It's kind of a weird situation, but it can work. 

So you never age and you never die, wounds don't heal, once you're affected by disease or poison, it is always affecting you, but never getting worse. Obviously clerical magic can circumvent some of the issues that crop up from those, but raise the dead spells become completely unnecessary because if you take damage you'll never die, just be stuck forever at way negative hit points just shy of complete death. 

I don't think this would ever be any sort of viable campaign, too many complications from spells that never end and that sort of thing, but it leads to some interesting thoughts on the effects of paused time on a campaign world. One side of a planet stuck in perpetual daylight, the other darkness, but neither suffering the effects of temperature extremes because time is paused. How would ocean navigation be changed? Whichever way the wind blows is the way it stuck blowing for eternity, whatever parts of the ocean are windless doldrums are stuck that way for eternity, a very good defense for an island nation. What about crops that never grow and trees the never grow back after you chop them for lumber? You don't need food or water because time never moves to the point where you get thirsty or hungry. But, you still used up energy moving around and such so I guess you would still need to eat, maybe? I dunno. Magic. 

I dunno, just an interesting concept idea that popped into my head that has no real application. 

Friday, December 14, 2012


Everyone seems to kind of want to become an Immortal in my campaign. Which is fine, it is always a legit goal for a character to want to become a demigod or other powerful entity in a DnD campaign. I figured I would run down a little bit of what goes into being an Immortal and what kind of power it bestows on a character. Most of this is going to be information the players can get through idle conversation on the topic of Immortals with like Gob or something, so it can be used as character information, within reason. 

So the first step to Immortalhood is getting to The Black Mountain, which is entirely on the opposite end of Orcunraytrel from New Haven, which is about 1000 miles as the crow flies. The mountain is also "protected" by a range of mountains inhabited by some crazy hermits that call themselves the Druids of The Black Mountain (which is a misnomer as they are composed of Witches and Druids, not just Druids). After that, they have to get up it, which sounds easy, but it is so tall it can actually be seen on a clear day from the top of Fort Jagged Tooth's tower. Mind you, the base of the mountain is about as wide as the state of Indiana. The trials of the mountain are also not precisely physical in nature. They are a trial designed to test the strong and kill the weak. Because of that, flying to the top seems perhaps like it might not be quite as easy as one would hope, and perhaps will have some unforeseen impact upon the trials. 

Once atop the mountain, one must deal with the nameless entity found there. Specifically, to make a pact with him. The entity delights in suffering, so some aspect of the pact almost certainly offers the aspirant some manner of pain and anguish and will likely restrict their lifestyle in some way. Oftentimes, the pact also encompasses a purpose the aspirant must pursueo in exchange for power. The most clear cut example of this is Lotharium II having to dedicate the rest of his unending life to undoing everything his father, Lotharium the God-King, built in his mortal life. He's about halfway there, just so you know. 

That is about as specific as I can get in terms of becoming an Immortal. It isn't exactly a clear cut process and depends entirely on the individual and the mood of the entity at the time you speak to it. The trials might be physical, or they might be mental, more likely both. The pacts, well, I know what the pacts are, they're all written down for each of my players. They are unkind, as is their purpose.  

Now, what does becoming an Immortal do? I've basically built them as a race using the race construction guidelines found in the Advanced Race Guide with some additional stuff to fit in with the pseudo-god type of creature they are. 

  • Immortality, i.e. you don't age to death and become immune to aging effects. They also no longer require food, drink, sleep, or breathing. However, they also cannot be raised or resurrected or otherwise restored to life should they meet an untimely death via dismemberment. 
  • +2 to saves vs. poison, disease, mind-affecting effects, exhaustion, and fatigue. 
  • +2 to each ability score.
  • +2 bonus on saving throws made to resist death effects, saving throws against negative energy effects, Fortitude saves to remove negative levels, and Constitution checks made to stabilize if reduced to negative hit points.
  • Spell Resistance of 6 + character level, this becomes Power Resistance if the character is a psionic character. 
  • You also gain 6 race points with which to purchase additional abilities from the Advanced Raced Guide. However, these abilities must be in a theme. Like if your Immortal is the Earth Lord or some such, you could buy burrowing speed, ferrous growth, and fertile soil. You can also take weaknesses like light blindness and such to offer up some extra race points if you need them. 
  • The ability to now take divine classes (Paladin, Oracle, Cleric, etc, Druid is still an arcane class) and may convert levels in previously taken classes into those new classes. If you do this, you may also grant spells you have the capability of casting to followers if they are a divine class. Basically this allows you to form your own priesthood, but it is limited by how many levels you have in divine classes. In the case of followers, you cannot control them or speak to them over vast distances or anything like that, but you can turn their powers that come from you on and off at will and are never vulnerable to them in any way (a Cleric you grant power to cannot harm you with spells you've granted him). Making a priesthood is a little involved, so I'm not going to run down the whole thing here. 
  • Become a Tier 1 Mythic Character. 

So that is kind of the run down of the effects of Immortalhood. Kind of like a god, but much more limited in power and still relatively easily killed. These powers may change as I get more ideas and such, but I'm pretty confidant this is what they'll look like by the time the guys get around to climbing the giant mountain at the north end of Orcunraytrel. 

Now, Mythic Characters. Paizo is currently working on a book called Mythic Adventures. There is an open playtest pdf available on the website to be downloaded. Essentially, it is Pathfinder's equivalent of epic level characters, but doesn't necessarily mean 21st level and higher play. It is still in playtest until it is released some time next year, but assuming the rules remain similar it basically amounts to ten levels of super adventurer. For instance, a Mythic Archmage has the ability to up a spell's damage by 50%, double its duration if it has one, penalize saves against it by -4, and ignore spell resistance and elemental resistances. There are ten tiers of mythic power, they're kind of like levels but not. You don't advance via experience points though. They have these things called lesser and major mythic challenges. Basically you have to do a bunch of really difficult things to advance to the next tier. Lesser trials are simple stuff related to the individual, like kill an enemy in one hit with a sneak attack or death attack type ability, the sort of thing. Major trials are challenges of more concern to the world at large, the GM determines those. 

So I hope that is a clearer picture of Immortalhood and what it entails. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Heroes & Villains of The Known World: Bald William

So I had a thought the other day. Most game worlds have lots of heroes and villains. There are these two 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms book entitled the Heroes Lorebook and the Villains Lorebook (or something like that, too liquored up to care too much at the moment) and they were two of my favorite books back in 2nd Edition. Just page after page of legendary heroes or villains from Faerun. Drizzt, Elminster, Artemis Entreri, Finder Wyvernspur, Alias, Dragonbait, Bruenor, and so on and so forth. It was grand.

Now, I do have an NPC section in my campaign book. But it is small and only has a few guys in there. The majority of them are now retired (or dead, or cloned) player characters from the Rebellion Arc campaign. I think I am going to start doing a series of posts about heroes and villains of The Known World that aren't directly connected to my players or me. I think it'll help me flesh out the campaign world. I've always felt that The Known World is fairly light on history, so this is in part an excuse to throw out some myth and legend I guess. I dunno, we'll see. I'll play around with stuff until I get bored or distracted. What I do complete will get added to the campaign book. 

Bald William
68 year old Elduman Descended Uncout
Fighter (Armor Master) 7/Barbarian (Armored Hulk) 13
Strength: 19
Dexterity: 12
Constitution: 21
Intelligence: 11
Wisdom: 9
Charisma: 12

Bald William was once Lord William of Lakeside in The New Empire. He was at one time one of the most trusted and well respected knights of The New Empire. He served Lord Menglen of the South Duchy with honor and much renown.

Lord William was something of a rogue among the knights and lords of The New Empire, as he eschewed the use of cavalry. His infantry were well trained and considered veteran warriors among the armed forces of The New Empire. They were not poorly armed and armored serfs that had exchanged their plowshares for swords. His infantry were heavily armored warriors typically clad in the heaviest plate available and wielding heavy maces.

In the year 9972 DK, William of Lakeside was ordered by Lord Menglen to capture Lord Menglen's eldest son. Lord Menglen's son was something of a rogue and sociopath and typically spent his time riding from town to town in the South Duchy tormenting serfs while drinking heavily and generally making a ruckus that disrupted the serfs and their work in the service of The New Empire. This had been his way of life for years, he was a noble's son so little could be done to curb his activities. Until he set fire to the town of Koren and its surrounding fields. Homes could be built and serfs could always be replaced, but the grain was irreplaceable in The New Empire's poor soil and strained economy. King Ranmel demanded action from Lord Menglen, and Lord Menglen had no choice but to send out his most loyal knight to recover his son.

William in turn called upon his most trusted men to enact his lord's will and they set out to bring this rebellious son to task. In a short time William and his men found Lord Menglen's son and his collection of sycophants and wastrels and put them to the sword, keeping the son alive. However, during the melee William took a blow to the skull that nearly shattered it like a melon and almost slew him. William had always been a hearty warrior of robust health and his lord dispatched his physicians to William's estate in the hopes of ensuring his survival. The convalescence was long, taking the better part of three years, but eventually William was recovered enough to once again bear armor and sword in the name of his lord.

After his recovery, William's head was a tangled mass of scars that no hair would grow from and he took to being called Bald William. In battle he would often descend into fits of screaming rage, his skill and toughness undiminished, but his tactics and foresight almost crippled. When out of battle, he was often found staring off into space or muttering under his breath while his fingers and hands tore some close at hand object apart. Physicians could do nothing for him, his wounds were healed and it was a miracle he could walk and talk and still manage his estate. For this behavioral development, they had no cure.

Over time, William's condition worsened and worsened, spending more and more time staring off into space or muttering bloodthirsty mumblings. In the year 9980 DK something snapped within William and he slaughtered his wife and children and set fire to his own estate. Most of Lakeside burned in the fires that followed, and a good portion of its serfs were murdered in the ensuing chaos, as most of William's men at arms assumed the serfs had revolted and that was why William was slaughtering them like some bloodthirsty reaver.

Some time after daybreak, William return to a close approximation of sanity and realized that the bloody ruin he had made of Lakeside would draw down the wrath of his lord and his king. He still had a few loyal men, granted, they were the more amoral ones under his command, but they were loyal and would follow him wherever he led. So he led them out of The New Empire and into The Wild Lands. William and his men were chased, but they'd reduced all of Lakeside to an ashen ruin, so a few more soldiers and psions of The New Empire put in their graves were nothing to really lose sleep over at that point.

Having no clear plan in mind, and not really being a planner anymore, William led his men west through The Wild Lands and into The Beast Lands. Being outsiders, they ran afoul of the Uncout and Greenskin Abraxen tribes dwelling there, and across the paths of a few of the great beasts as well. William was no longer a planner, but he and his men were still veteran warriors and they survived all their battles, though they did take casualties. 

After about six months of some very intense camping, William and his men crossed paths with Cenn the Reaver and his band of warriors. Bloodshed quickly followed and the furious melee left most of Williams men dead, but enough of Cenn's fell that the immortal warrior's interest was piqued. Cenn and  William quickly brought the battle to a halt and began a parley. At the end of it, another melee ensued and William and a few of his men fought their way into Cenn's band. 

A few bloody years of reaving ensued then, with William becoming a integral part of Cenn's warband. His leadership and skills in melee were still sound and his durability made him something of a legend to many in the band and he grew to have a strong following among them. In time William came to be third in command in Cenn's Reavers, with only Laram of Volungshemle and Cenn himself superior to him. 

When Cenn died at the hands of bards in 9996 DK his warband split up into many different factions. Laram of Volungshemle took all Children of Volung with him and he did not let any other races join his band. Other smaller chunks broke off from the mass as well, however one whole quarter of the band followed William. These reavers began calling themselves Baldy's Boys and work primarily for Kusseth in the constant warfare with the Vyanth around Camp Osfell. 

Friday, December 7, 2012


I like monstrous races. I don't know why, I just do. I used to really love elves a lot. I mean, any time I made a Baldur's Gate character or just a pc I wanted to play someday, he was inevitably a Lucanesti elf (Krynn elves that have desert sand and opals stuck to their skin, they're extinct now) named Claudanthalas Baneblade. Eventually that just kind of faded away. Possibly because I stopped reading Dragonlance. I've never wanted to play a human, aside from the min/maxing standpoint of a bonus feat, extra skill points, and a +2 bonus to put to any ability score. My Gunslinger for Eric's campaign was a human, but that was in part because I know nothing of Golarion and I can play a human without too much research. Dwarves, halflings, etc, meh. Gnomes, once in a while I get the urge to play a gnome, but that's because they like badgers and I had an idea for a crazy Gnome Ranger with a dire wolverine animal companion. Actually, it was a herd of wolverines led by a dire wolverine.

I've always just liked the more monstrous, savage, humanoids. Orcs and goblins and gnolls and whatnot. Planar races are cool too. I especially like Pathfinder's Plane of Shadow dwelling Fetchlings. Anyways, yay monstrous races. I've always thought they're cool. So I decided to play a Hobgoblin in Jason's campaign. A Hobgoblin knife fighter named Arak.

I don't have too many details figured out at this time, beyond the fact that he'll be buddies with Eric's drunken rager Orc Barbarian. But I do like the idea of a knife fighter. He'll be a Fighter/Rogue and I'll be focusing on the Fighter more than the Rogue. Actually, I should end up as a Fighter 17/Rogue 3 at 20th level. So basically just a Fighter with a smidge more skill points and a bunch of sneak attack due to a feat Jason came up with that stacks Fighter and Rogue levels for determining sneak attack and qualifying for Fighter specific feats.

He'll be using a two-weapon fighting Fighter archetype and a knife fighter Rogue archetype. I was going to use kukris, but kukris can't be thrown (at least not any better than an improvised weapon) so I'll just be using daggers to keep myself versatile for range and melee. The sneak attack damage coupled with some handy feats and two-weapon fighting abilities (one of which allows me to attack once with both hands as a standard action instead of a full round action) should allow me to get sneak attack damage in on almost every successful hit, unless of course we are fighting something that is immune to precision damage.

This is not a skill use character. He'll have ranks in stuff like Bluff and Stealth, but only because I intend on using those skills. This is a kill shit character. His sole purpose is to end people. He doesn't even have trapfinding because the knife fighter trades it for one of his alternate abilities. My current build has ranks in Craft (Alchemy) because Jason says alchemy will be much more common in his campaign. And because poison is made with alchemy and slipping a few Constitution damage based poisons on knives could be super handy.

Oh my brain just exploded. Monk/Rogue focusing on stunning fist abilities and flurry attacks. Flurry somebody with stunning fists until they fail their save, every following attack is a sneak attack. There is a 3.5 Monk/Rogue combo feat, but it only stacks the levels for unarmed damage, not flurry of blows or sneak attack. It does increase the DC of a stunning fist dealt with a sneak attack though, but the whole point of such a build would be to stun to get a bunch of flurried sneak attacks. Though I suppose if you have a flanking buddy, you can sneak attack with a stun and just whittle an enemy away. That splits the focus though, you need Monk levels to keep the flurry of blows improving, but you also need the Rogue levels to keep the sneak attack improving. But a 3rd level Rogue has +2d6 for sneak attacks, which is basically a hit from a greatsword already, so I don't think you need to do a full 10/10 split of the levels, maybe 15/5. In theory you have six attacks with the potential for 5d6 damage each (2d6 unarmed plus 3d6 from sneak attack, plus Strength modifier) with that level split. 10/10 has four attacks of 1d10 + 5d6 (potentially) and if everything hits and sneak attacks has a damage potential of 24-140. The 10/5 has six attacks of 2d6 + 3d6 (potentially) and if everything hits and sneak attacks has a damage potential of 30-180, plus the flurry has better bonuses to hit. Again, this is all potential in a perfect theorized world of no critical failures and nothing ever being immune to precision damage. Heh. That math is off actually, I didn't calculate the unarmed strike damage based on Monk and Rogue levels adding up. Whoops. Regardless, this build has definite potential, but not what I am looking for. Potential potential potential. The word has lost all meaning to me.

Anyway, I don't have too much thought put into Arak's personality. He's a Hobgoblin Fighter/Rogue, and they are a highly disciplined race of slavers and warriors, so he is probable not a nice guy. I have no intention of R.A. Salvatoring it and making him a bleeding heart incapable of withstanding the cruelty of his race. I think I might just make him a slacker actually. He didn't like the discipline of Hobgoblin society so he loaded himself down with thirty or so daggers (seriously, mother fucker has about twenty or thirty pounds of dagger on him, imagine the scene in the second Batman film where commissioner Gordon is going through the Joker's jacket, it's like that) and peaced the fuck out. He's good at putting things in their grave, he's just a lazy little git.

I dunno, I guess more will develop as Jason's campaign world take a clearer form to me. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Traps Are Fun

I consider myself to be a GM of middling skill. I can build worlds like nobody's business. I excel at that aspect of it I think, and I do tend to have a pretty extensive knowledge of the mechanics of the game and an ability to make them work to my advantage to get what I want out of the system. I can build characters too. I mean, if my players ever leave somebody for dead and they're not actually dead and they recover and move from faceless mook status to unique vengeance seeker status, well, the guys'll be in trouble. Plots, eh, I do ok, but in this campaign there isn't a very clear plot. Partly because it is a sandbox and partly because they have such a narrow view of what is going on in Orcunraytrel. If the characters were Orcunraytrel characters and not The Known World characters, I could come up with like fifteen or twenty "Go do this now!" campaign ideas to snag their interest with. The the pirates, it is a little more difficult to give them anything beyond what they want to do, because the pirates and Kusseth are more interested in securing their foothold than anything else at the moment. Though I do have some plans about how that gets interesting in the future. We'll see if they go anywhere though.

To continue, my combats are...lackluster. I'll be honest. I try to add environmental effects (thanks for that insight 4e) to spice it up sometimes, but the terrain is so barren in their chunk of Orcunraytrel that I don't have much to work with beyond, "That pile of rocks is harder to move through." Also, the enemies they've been fighting are like CR 1 & 2 and they're 5th level (6th level now) and have an NPC well above that with them. So that may have something to do with it. Hehe. Additionally, my enemies tend to be straight forward. My sneak attacking zombies were fun, but most of my enemies walk right up and hit the guys, or hang back and shoot them. I've been feeling for a while that my enemies need to be more tactical in nature. I just feel like if I make their enemies too tactical or tough, it basically amounts to me trying to kill them instead of challenging them. But, I'm not really challenging them in the first place, so I suppose I am already doing it wrong. 

Traps, I don't really use traps at all. Which is a failing of mine.

Have you ever looked at shit like White Plume Mountain or The Tomb of Horrors? What the fuck man? Who comes up with this shit? I have an old Dragon Magazine from 2nd Edition era that has some additions to the Tomb in it. One of them is a really small entrance to a larger room. There is also like a wand of shrinking or some such to be found elsewhere in the area protected by a baddie. Through the very tiny entrance the players can see a pile of loot. So the play is that you use the wand and go in and get the treasure. The room isn't trapped or full of burny death and the treasure is legit and not an illusion, and there is a lot of it. However, there is an anti-magic aura centered on the room. Guess what, your shrink ray no longer works and now you are stuck. Welcome to starving to death as a rich rich man. 

My brain works in a pretty direct fashion, there isn't a lot of subtlety

Oh. Oh Dog. My cat just farted on my lap. Oh it's foul. I might throw up. 

To continue. My brain works in a pretty direct fashion and combat is about as direct as you can get in DnD, so that is what I throw at my players. I tried mysteriousness and secrecy and questions last campaign, but it came to an abbreviated end when I signed up for the paramedic class, which I didn't end up taking. Although, it probably would have broken up anyways, what with the whole situation that developed with the girlfriend no one liked and whatnot. Anyway, I didn't get to experiment a lot with subtlety and secrecy and general tricksieness.  

So in a grand departure from form, I am focusing on traps in the next scenario. This actually works out well, because I was going to stuff the place full of monsters, but that makes very little sense given the nature of the place they'll be hanging around in. In the fifth scenario of the campaign, I put in a few trapped doorways in the mansion of The Grog Guzzling Grenadiers, but those basically amounted to tripwires setting off explosives. Not exactly creative or mold breaking. In this scenario I am trying to be a little more interesting and I've got to say, it is kind of fun. 

Now, I'm not saying it is save or die every ten feet, or even that these are sneaky traps. I'm just saying that it is kind of fun to step out of my norm and make something a little different than I'm used to. We'll see what the players think of it next month.