Wednesday, 19 November 2014

P6 Dark Fantasy - Magic Is Limited

Gary Goldman as Combustion Man!

So, to make a Dark Fantasy game, magic can't be the be-all-end-all that it becomes in other games. It comes with costs, extra mechanics, and the chance that it could go tits up at any moment. There's a host of ways I could do it, but I'm going to utilise mechanics from other D20-ish products to ease the amount of work involved - after all, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then outright theft should be, like, way better, right?

I want to strike a balance between making magic a rare, difficult thing, and making it a somewhat viable choice for a PC to specialise in. Its a challenge, sure, but I'm willing to give it a bash.

WFRP is the archetypal "don't fuck with magic" system - its hard to attain, difficult to use, and if you don't use it correctly, you might get anything from a runny nose to exploding into a shower of gore and demons. However, the system relies on a series of die rolls that would be... awkward to transfer to Pathfinder. Some have tried, but it would be a little too weird. Plus, its rather intimately tied to the setting, so unless I want to adventure in the Old World, its a no.

Call of Cthulhu has an interesting variant, inversely tying Magic
Pictured: Average CoC Wizard
to Sanity - the more you know, the less functional you become. While this suits a darker game, I'd prefer the players to find such a system optional, rather than required - similar to Dark Sun's Defiling magic, which is way better and easier, but kills the planet slowly as you use it. The choice to sacrifice sanity of power should be a choice, not hard baked into the system. Makes things a little too grimdark. It does, however, give a starting point for a system... And ties the Insanity system into the game more than just as a penalty to adventuring.

The Black Company RPG has a very unusual system, based off of other Green Ronin products (True Sorcery, for example) which allows for a massive amount of flexibility - it's skill based, you can construct every spell from the ground up, even combine spells, and do just about anything. The problem is, it takes a huge amount of system mastery to get anything apporaching a reasonable useful spell, and recreating classic spells (even ones of limited utility) means bumping the DCs required to cast the spell to some pretty ridiculous levels. Its a really awesome system, but as I'm looking to make things a little easier, its just too much for me.

The Thieves World setting book does have a different, more limited magic system that's compatible with the greater D20 system, and it looks like a pretty good bet for me. It relies on extended spellcasting checks, the local magic levels, and a few other factors. There are ways around the limited nature of the system, but they require preperation, resources and time - all the factors that allow clever players to feel useful, and allow everyone to contribute. Just the way magic should be, in my opinion - a tool for the party, not just one player.

Hopefully, I can tie this into a Sanity/Madness system, or perhaps a Corruption mechanic (Hell, maybe both!), to make magic useful, but dangerous in large amounts. I'll post up the tweaks and hacks for it over the next few weeks, as I get more time to do so.

Next up - Magic Items!


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Pathfinder E6: Fitting The World To The System Pt2

So, I'm on a dark fantasy kick - from The Chronicles of The Black Company, through to Dragon's Dogma and The Song of Ice and Fire, I'm really digging the more gritty, down to earth fantasy deconstructions that are floating about.

One thing I will say - it's not about realism, as many claim. There's still magic, weird creatures, and other such things. Its a sense of versimilitude - that, while the normal rules don't apply, they make sense within the fiction of the game world.

As an example, much of the Forgotten Realms is saturated with magic, to the point where just about anyone can learn it, or even use a few spells - yet, few people have used it to advance past being shit-covered medieval peasants.

In the Black Company, wizards are feared as sorcerers and killers - because its the best way to survive being a wizard. Sure, you can become ridiculously powerful... But it generally involves doing terrible things, performing acts taboo across most nations, and then you catch the eye of other wizards, who are just as terrible as you are. Don't use magic - it only ends badly for everyone.

So, after my tangent, I want to make sure that my setting is accurate to the game mechanics I'm using, and vice-versa. So, there are many thing to consider when using E6 as a baseline...


  • Magic is Limited - seems like a no-brainer, but with limited magic, comes much less in the way of inter-planar travel and knowledge of cosmology. To me, this means that myth and legend will play a larger part than in many settings, as there's next to no one who has seen the past, the outer spheres, or the basic planes. Even the classic "A Wizard Did It" things like magically-crafted dungeons, flying cities etc. can't be done (at least, easily). To me, this means that magic users will be rare, scholarly types, with Warlocks and other less-savoury types driven by the idea of bypassing magics usual limitations. It also means that I might want a Ritual Magic system, for the bigger, campaign changing spells.
  • Magic Items Are Scarce - another thing to consider, most magic items cannot be crafted easily. A +3 sword is beyond the reach of mortal crafting under the usual system, and even a simple +1 sword requires knowledge of magic that most people simply don't have. To help remedy this somewhat, and to allow for some equipment advancement in lieu of usual advancement, I plan on porting over the Crafting system from the Black Company D20 RPG, wich allows regular craftsmanship to add minor bonuses to mundane items (instead of the usual Masterwork = +1). I'll post a little more about this later.
  • The Demographics Change Drastically - in terms of NPCs, at least. One does not become a king by virtue of being the highest level dude around - most people stay as 1st-level NPC classes, with PC classes representing the few, more experienced men and women, rather than just bumping them up levels. With such a limited span of advancement, a 6th level character is the peak of mankind, and should be treated as such - not guarding the King's vaults. Once PCs reach 6th level, they're the top dogs - in terms of skill amongst men, at least...
  • Monsters Are A Big Fucking Deal - imagine your standard setting. "Hey, random murderhobos, a gang of Ogres has taken up residence on the outskirts of the farmlands. Go rough them up a bit, eh?" A CR 3 creature is a pest, waiting to be exterminated. But, when everyone is a first-level warrior, it would take at least, what, ten men to one Ogre? A band of them might require a serious investment of military strength, and a horde of Orcs becomes a serious threat. Monsters become more than just part of the scenery - they become forces that shape and adapt civilisations. Don't expect to see too many humanoids up in Giant Country, and expect dragon attacks to take a serious toll.
  • Combat is Deadly - linked to the above, somewhat, characters don't have a lot in the way of hit points, magical defenses, even healing. Each engagement should be planned in advance, tactically sound, and the very idea of a fair fight should send shiver a down a man's spine. I had considered adding the reduced Massive Damage Threshold rules from the Conan/Thieves World/Black Company RPGs, but really - shit's deadly enough as is.
  • Resurrection Is Hard - barring powerful (and expensive) Ritual Magic, or perhaps divine intervention (yeah right), there's no way to bring the dead back. This makes assassination a useful political tool, rather than a nuisance (because what important person doesn't have a high-level cleric in their pocket?). For Clerics, there might be a chance to beseech your God for a miracle, but expect the cost to be rather... dramatic.
I hope to make a post about each of these over the next few days, focusing on each and discussing the implications and how I plan to implement each one. Stay tuned!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Pathfinder Minions - The Microlite Approach

I've been wanting to run something a little darker than the usual D&D fare recently, and I feel like Pathfinder might scratch my itch with a few modifications.

But if there's one thing I dislike about the D20 system and its progeny, its the idea that all monsters should be built like PCs. Skill points, feats, oodles of magical equipment to make sure they scale with the party... Its pretty nonsensical. I mean, with all its bells and whistles, a Pathfinder PC can be a little overwhelming at the best of times - now imagine having to run, say, six in an encounter, all with different classes and abilities.

Its fucking ludicrous.

So, I tried trimming the fat from a few of the PFSRD Beastiary entries, and here's an example of what I came up with:

Veteran CR 1/2
XP 200
Init +2; Senses Perception +2
AC 20 (+6 armor, +2 Dex, +2shield)
HP 14
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +3
Speed 30 ft.
Melee longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or warhammer +4 (1d8+3/x3)
Ranged heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness
Skills Heal +2, Perception +2, Survival +5
Gear alchemist's fire, holy water, oil (2), healer's kit (2 uses remaining) breastplate, heavy wooden shield, weapon, 20 bolts, bedroll, tindertwigs (2), whetstone, wooden holy symbol

And that's just the bare-bones combat stats.

Now, compare that with the original:

Superstitious Mercenary CR 1/2
XP 200
Human Fighter 1
Medium humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +2

DEFENSE

AC 20, touch 12, flat-footed 18 (+6 armor, +2 Dex, +2shield)
hp 14 (1d10+4)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +3

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft.
Melee longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or cold irondagger +4 (1d4+3/19–20)
Ranged heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)

TACTICS

During Combat The fighter fires his crossbow, then readies his sword and shield. He saves his alchemist's fire for foes he can't harm or can't hit with his sword.

STATISTICS

Str 17, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 8, Wis 13, Cha 10
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness
Skills Heal +2, Perception +2, Survival +5
Languages Common

Combat Gear potion of cure light wounds, alchemist's fire, holy water, oil (2), healer's kit (2 uses remaining); Other Gear breastplate, heavy wooden shield, cold iron dagger, heavy crossbow with 20 bolts, longsword, bedroll, tindertwigs (2), whetstone, wooden holy symbol, 3 gp

... I'll be honest, a lot of that comes down to formatting, and cutting bits out that don't suit the setting (I hate that every human-ish NPC carries healing potions). But for a 1st level NPC (not even a real threat to a 1st level party on his own), that's a shitton of space. Writing that out would practically take a character sheet of its own. And this guy is, what, some random thug? The higher level NPCs are atrocious. And don't get me started on casters, with spell lists, domain/bloodline/school powers... Total shitemare.

So I'm going to take a leaf out of an old favourite of mine: Microlite20.

Being a stripped down version of the D20 SRD, its almost totally compatible with PF, with but a few small tweaks. Here's a quicker version of said Mercenary/Veteran...

Veteran CR 1/2 XP 200
HD 1d10+4 (14hp)
AC 20 CMB +4 CMD 16 Saves +2
Longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)
Skills Phys +4, Subt +2, Know +2, Comm +0

... And that's it. Even then, I could simplify it further, bringing it closer to the old B/X statline, but for a single enemy goon, that's more than enough info for me. I don't need to know detailed combat tactic breakdowns, or what feats he has to give him +1 to this and that, or how many ranks he has in Underwater Basket Weaving - just enough to put numbers to a face.

For proper baddies, I'll be using the previous stripped down stat blocks, and maybe the BBEG will get a full stat block, but only if they're gonna hang around in multiple situations (like where their skill sets and feats might actually come up).

I'll be posting a few more rules hacks and beastiary entries over the next few days, so stay posted!

EDIT: Apologies for the formatting issues, turns out copy-pasting from the PFSRD turns everything into shit (there's a surprise...)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pathfinder E6 - Fitting The World To The System

So, I've mentioned the E6 idea before.

For those of you not in the know, E6 is "the game inside 3.5". Players can advance to levels 6, and after that, gain feats instead of further levels.

It keeps casters toned down, lets martial characters shine, and generally keeps the game at a sweet spot where everyone can contribute without the need for ridiculous amounts of magic gear and optimisation.

It removes some of the "zero to hero" charm of D&D, but it also brings forth the gritty nature of the lower levels. There's little in the way of resurrection, or city-levelling spells, or even planar travel. Things are just... Lower scale.

And as such, you can't just throw an E6 game into any old setting. Many have high-level NPCs running around, well-developed cosmologies that you can visit, and scads of ridiculously overpowered villains hovering around. Eberron is probably the closest match for E6, although Ravenloft would work really well too. Planescape... Maybe. It would take a lot of weird jumps and fits to manage it, but hey - that's Planescape in a nutshell, really.

The Forgotten Realms is right out.

So, in my mind, the best setting is one which takes the lowered level cap and grittiness of the rules and makes them integral to itself - a land based not on the assumption of super-powered murderhobos, but where even the greatest warriors can be knifed to death in an alleyway, where wizards can murder a village but are next to useless against an army, where dragons are A Big Fucking Deal.

I plan on making a setting on the blog, talking about various techniques you can use to tailor settings to mechanics and how I plan on doing low-fantasy Pathfinder.

Stay tuned for more this week!

TRIGGER WARNING: Tomb of Horrors

During the time that I was absent from blogging, I managed to have a holiday! And on that holiday, I picked up something dark and terrible...

Dungeons of Dread - a reprint of four classic AD&D dungeons, including the infamous Tomb of Horrors.

And, for some god-awful reason, the girlfriend decided she wanted to try and solo it.

Acerak have mercy on her soul.

PROTIP: He won't.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Once More Into The Breach...


So, once again I take a break from blogging...

I've had a lot going on, and, sadly, the blog is one of those things that sucks up time and can be easily forgotten when everything goes to pot.

That changes now things are settled down!

For a start, I'll try to stick to a more stick-to-able schedule than every (other) day as I've attempted previously. Work and life do get the better of me sometimes, and once you miss your first deadline, it's easy to justify missing more and more.

Second thing - I'll stick with one (maybe two) projects at a time. I have a bad case of Gamer ADD, always jumping from one thing to the next without finishing anything. Hopefully going to avoid that this time around.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 1: How I Got Started

To remind you:
 I guess my first exposure to D&D came from two sources - firstly, the D&D cartoon being rerun on British TV in the early 90s.

I think I must have been pretty young when I saw it - there's even a chance I caught it in the very late 80's, but I would have been well under 5 - so my memories of it are admittedly spotty. But I remember the Dungeon Master being creepy, Tiamat as a massive 5-headed dragon, and Presto the Hapless Wizard. It mus have started something, because I was in love with everything fantasy after it. From Willow to Legend to Pirates of the Dark Water, right up until the Big One - reading The Hobbit a the age of 10. I never looked back.

As for the second source, my older cousin was pretty big on D&D. I remember him running a game for me when I was too young to really comprehend what was happening (I suspect under 2e rules), possibly allowing me a seat in one of his group's games. One thing I do remember, however, was the Monster Manual.

As I said earlier, I soaked up sci-fi and fantasy like a sponge. I especially loved monsters - one of my most treasured possessions for many years was Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, which I got at a car boot sale for about 50p and read 'till the hardback covering fell right off. And, having eagerly read my way through it, I was looking for more.

So, I flicked through my cousin's Monster Manuals. Judging by what little I remember of the artwork, it was one of those 2e Folios. Looking back on it now, I have no idea how I would have understood any of it - between Hit Dice, THACO, and a million other factors. But reading about the physiology, ecology and weird and wonderful special abilities of these creatures filled me with the same wonder I felt holding that precious field guide to the wonders of space.

Sadly, it wouldn't be until I was in my late teens that I began gaming in earnest. I fiddled about with 3.5, running a few spotty games for friends.

And so began my misadventures I chronicle here...