Saturday, October 20, 2012

GMing Pathfinder Adventure Paths - Advice and Tips

I think I did things around the wrong way.. 

When I first started playing roleplaying games back in the '80s I made up my own adventures first and foremost.  I enjoyed the writing process and making up my own maps moreso than using what TSR was publishing at the time.  In fact I missed DMing all those old D&D 'classics' that people go on about; whether it's 'Keep on the Borderlands', 'Against The Giants', or whatever.. 

Fast forward thirty years and I no longer have the time or the inclination to run my own adventures as my time is much more valuable.  Fortunately I don't need to, as there are hundreds of great published adventures available; notable being Paizo's excellent Adventure Paths (APs) - 6-part campaigns that are published monthly and take a group of 4 characters from 1st level to somewhere in the mid teens. 

The thing is that running published adventures is different from running your own adventures.  There is a myth that no preparation is required; that you can just pick the book up, read it once, and you're away! Certainly, you can just open the book and run the adventure, but the experience is likely to be less than either you or your players are hoping for.  You'll also end up confused, frustrated, and may even give up altogether!

So, without further adieu, here are my 10 tips on running Pathfinder Adventure Paths..

(Most of these tips are relevant for any written adventure, and all are relevant for running published campaigns.)

1. Read the whole AP before you start

Ideally you will read the whole AP before you start running the first part.  That may not be possible if you want to start playing before all six parts are published (as might be the case with Pathfinder APs), but even if you can't, make a point of reading them as soon as you can.  
This is because the parts are written by different authors and, though guided by an editorial team, not all the subtltes  of the story will be clear to you from just reading the first part.  Reading the whole path gives you the chance to understand what the overall story is, the relevance of certain story aspects that might not be initially clear, allow you to better understand where you should change the plot to suit the needs of your group or link the plot elements together, and much more. 

This is by far the most important advice to making your running of an AP as enjoyable as possible.

2. Foreshadow

Every great campaign benefits from foreshadowing the plot.  In your own adventures it's notoriously easy to do it - hell, you can just make something up on the spot and weave it in later! That's not so easy when the plot isn't yours and you might even 'break' something by doing so, and you end up forcing yourself to step away from the plot of the published adventure because of your initial foreshadow.  
In an AP, and once you've read the whole thing, you can now foreshadow future events. You don't need to go overboard, but a few subtle hints will better integrate your PCs into the story and will pay off later in the game.  
Once you've read the whole AP, make a list of cool things you want to foreshadow and then find places to insert them into the plot.  This is especially true of APs where the Big Bad End Guy (BBEG) isn't immediately obvious (Council of Thieves and Kingmaker spring to mind).  You need to be careful with this, just a few hints can help the game, but you don't want to send the PCs off after their Nemesis too soon.

3. Understand Stat boxes

Make sure you take the time to read through and understand the thinking behind the stat boxes for the opponents in the AP.  This is especially true of BBEGs, important NPCs, and later (books 4-6) when the level of the opponents invariably means that they have many more options (including a list of feats as long as your proverbial arm!)

Things to look out for:
  • Defensive Abilities:  Is there a DR? SR? Any immunities? Make sure you understand what these mean.  DR comes up a lot in the game, so you need to be comfortable.
  • Special Attacks: Make sure you understand the rules to these.
  • Spells:  Things get complicated with high level spellcasters.  If there isn't one already (and there usually is something), consider the tactical use of the spells listed. Make a list that you know you'll want to use, and keep the page numbers to hand.  Read up on each of them.
  • Feats: Don't forget feats! A lot of high level opponents will have things like Imp Vital Strike, Power Attack, etc. so make sure you understand how these will affect the combat.  If you don't use the feats you are really underplaying the opponents; espcially if they are fighter-types.
  • Tactics:  Most stat blocks in Pathfinder APs include 'Before' and 'During' Combat information.  Take time to read both.  Pay attention to spells cast before combat, as these are usually reflected in the stat block for you - it's worth checking this though, and understanding what will happen when a PC casts a Dispel Magic!

Don't forget to use a highlighter pen to mark the important things in the book.  Some people are against this, but I think it's a valuable thing to do.  Sure it permanently marks your book, but APs aren't there to sit pristine on the shelf, they are there to be used.  Makes notes the margin as well! Just think of the fun you'll have flicking through the book in 10 years time and coming across all your personal bit of gaming history..

4. Maps

Take your time when reading the AP to look at, and understand, how the maps relate to the text.  Some of the maps are complicated and if you wait until you're actually running the game before you understand them, you WILL trip up or make a mistake.  Don't take the maps for granted; there may be mistakes and clarifications you need to explore. 

Photocopy the maps from the book (or use/print the optional AP Map Packs) and staple them together.  You'll find it easier to read the book, as you won't have to keep flicking back to the map, and you'll find it far easier when you're running the game to have the map to hand and not hidden away in pages of text.  I find this particularly relevant when I have to draw the map out on the battle map for my players, and don't want to carry the book with me.

5. Use the Bestiarys

When you're reading the AP initially, keep the Bestiarys to hand so you can read the creature stats, and understand their abilities and feats. You might want to consider photocopying the pages of the monsters so you have them to hand or, if not, use PostIt notes in the pages so you can find them easily when you're playing. Don't be afraid to change the colouring, the weapons, or aspects of the creature to enrich the game - or to keep your players guessing!

The important think is that you are 100% happy with what the monster can and will do in combat, and that referencing the stats from another source doesn't detract from the game.

6. Paraphrase, don't read

'The boxed text curse oh how I hate thee..'
We've all been there.  The GM is happily ad-libing and then we enter a new location, or an NPC arrives with a quest or some story exposition, and suddenly the GM is head down and droning out the text of a box.
It feels so false, you hate it as a player, so DON'T do it as a GM! 

As part of your prep, read the boxed text out to yourself.  Mark the aspects of it that are important, and anything else you would like to ensure is described to the PCs.  In play, paraphrase the content instead of reading it out like some Dalek. Allow yourself to be interrupted with questions, or expand on what an NPC has said.

Ideally the players should never know that there was boxed-text at all, and your game will flow better.

8. Extend and Expand

There isn't a single Pathfinder AP that doesn't have room for you to expand by adding your own adventures, or even integrating a standalone adventure that you think will work well.  In fact some of the APs suggest specific modules that you might want to add in, and even offer suggestions on how to do it.

Once you've done that important read through, you can go back and consider where you would like to add additional side-adventures. 

Take a look at the appropriate Pathfinder Chronicles guide for the area of Golarion that the campaign is set in and mine it for information to expand the game.  Remember that the space in the AP is limited and there's always more that can be done to make the setting come alive. 

The recent Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition has much supplementary material available for it in the other products released, and it's not the only AP like that. 
Expanding an AP can really make it your own and the beauty is that the line between someone elses work and your own blur so much that the whole thing feels very personal to your group, as it should. 

Other ways you can expand the AP is filling in the little gaps:  
Give all the NPCs (no matter how minor), names and a trait or two - you can use the NPC Tables in the Pathfinder Gamesmastery Guide to assist you with this. Suddenly those hordes of mooks will appear at least to be more significant, and therefore more memorable.
Give magic items a name and a bit of background.  You obviously don't need to do this for every one (though you can!), but finding out that the +1 Ring of Protection was orginally worn as a wedding ring by an ancient Thassilon lord makes it more than just a minor item.  You can even consider integrating these a little into the plot of the adventure.

9. Personalise for your PCs

Many players invest a lot of time and effort in developing the background of their PCs.  They will intentionally, or unintentionally, provide you with story hooks. They may even have a mystery that they want to explore in the campaign. 
In a published campaign it's too easy to forget about the PCs backgrounds and just run the game as written, but that's a bit unfair on the players.  
If my character has come to the region on Golariion where the AP is set, because my investigations into the murder of my parents has led me here, then I would hope that the GM will find a why to weave that into the plot. 
Of course the background hooks don't need to overshadow your campaign, but by finding a way to integrate them will really pull your players into the story, and you'll find it easy to keep their attention.

10. Use the Messageboards

Finally, Use the Paizo Messageboards! Every AP has it's own forum and there's always a wealth of information, clarification, ways to expand the campaign, pitfalls to avoid, encounter tips, errata, the list goes on. The Paizo staff and authors regularly post answers to questions raised, and you'll even find additional unpublished material added from time to time. 
If you're serious about running a Pathfinder AP, take an hour just to check out the messageboards and take a few notes.  You won't regret it. 

Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you find that these enrich your GMing experience!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roll A D6

This has been around for a while now, but is so brilliant that it deserves constant re-watch...

Roll A D6!

Here's the lyrics as well so you can sing along:

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we do it right, candles flicker
Fighting dragons in my mind, (in my mind) just for kicks (kicks)
DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Gimme perception check (check)
Make your dam roll worthwhile
Players love my style, at my table gettin' wild
Got these schemes a plottin', I got my map and my cloak
Got the players' heads a poppin', someone get me more Coke!

Hell yeah!
Level up! Lev-level up!
Goblins all around me I be hackin' 'em all up!
I be hackin' 'em all up!
I be hackin' 'em all up!
When there's goblins all around me I be hackin' 'em all up up up

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we think we fight giant lizards
Getting treasure piled high (piled high), like the rogue, Nyx
Steal a wallet from that guy? Roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now Steal a wallet from that guy, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now Steal a wallet from that guy, roll a D6!

Keepin' it, keepin' it wild, in the forest I got style,
I'm a level 30 ranger, I been playin' for a while
This is how we live, every single night
Necromancer raise the dead, and let me see them fight (ight ight ight)

Hell yeah!
Raise 'em up, raise, raise 'em up!
Zombies all around me I be hackin' 'em all up
I be hackin' 'em all up
I be hackin' 'em all up
When there's zombies all around me I be hackin' 'em all up up up

Sittin' down here with these mice, I'm a wizard
When we play we go all night, eating Twizzlers
Got my spell books piled high, (piled high) learning new tricks
Shooting lightning to the sky, (whispered) roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
A ha ha ha ha shooting lightning to the sky, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
A ha ha ha ha shooting lightning to the sky, roll a D6!

It's that dungeon crawlin' beast make you put yo shields up
Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
It's that dungeon crawlin' beast make you put yo shields up
Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
Hell yeah! Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
Hell yeah! Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we do it right, candles flicker
Fighting dragons in my mind, (in my mind) just for kicks (kicks)
DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Ha ha ha ha ha DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Ha ha ha ha ha DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Gaming Podcasts

I play RPGs twice a week but it's never enough, and so to help me through the rest of the week I've started to listen to various podcasts.  These range from 'roundtable discussions' on roleplaying and related subjects, to actual play recordings for various RPGs.  Here's my current play list:

1. Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast
If you play Pathfinder you really need to check this one out. It's long (some episodes are 6 hours+) but full of goodness, with interviews, rules clarifications, extensive 'spoilerific' reviews and more.

2. Gamerstable
A round table discussion podcast on a variety of roleplaying and gaming related subjects.  Usually entertaining and fun to listen to.

3. Idle Red Hands
Similar in style to Gamerstable, Idle Red Hands usually serves an interesting discussion on the latest games as well as playing them.

4. The Unspeakable Oath
If you enjoy Call of Cthulhu, and especially Delta Green, then this is the podcast for you! Interviews with Dennis Detwiller, and Adam Scott Glancy, as well as the latest developments with Delta Green should be all the reason you need to check this one out.

5. YSDC: For Lovecraft & Cthulhu
Made up of two different shows; News from Pnakotus and The Silver Lodge, the Yog-Sothoth podcasts are great resources and entertainment for CoC fans.

6. HP Literary Podcast
Now ended - but all the shows are available for listen to.  If you enjoy reading HPL you probably know about this show already, and if you don't, where have you been, The Great Library??

7. Haste - The Official Obsidian Portal Podcast
Not only is Obsidian a great tool for gamesmasters, they also do a podcast, and it's well worth listening to; focusing on gaming news in the most part.

All the podcasts can be freely subscribed to via iTunes if you use that (which I do), just do a search in the store.

I'm sure there are other amazing podcasts out there, but these are the ones I take time to listen to at the moment.  If you have any others you would recommend, please let me know!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Life is too short

I was recently putting some things away in my attic and I came across a number of boxes brimming with roleplaying books dating back to the 1980s, when I started playing.  Some of these books were very worn, but others looked like new, and I remembered that some hadn't even been read! 

I felt guilty on a number of levels. Firstly that there reems of paper/trees lying there; an obvious waste. Secondly that I felt disrespectful to all the authors, artists, playtesters, et al, that had spend their developing the products just so that on a whim I would buy them and then store them away. Thirdly, that I had 'wasted' money on something that could have been better spent on something for more useful.

The problem is that it doesn't end with the books in my attic. They are like the not-so-squeeky penguin in Toy Story 2; relegated to the 'top-shelf'. I have others that I'm more optimistic about my chances of using, books that are collecting dust in cupboards and bookshelves in my house.  These are the works that stare at me every day accusingly waiting for me to pick them up and read them or more importantly use them in a game. 

I love Call of Cthulhu, but I never get a chance to run adventures as often as I want, and I have pretty much every major CoC campaign published since the 80s.  Staring back at me from my shelf sits 'Masks of Nyarlathotep', 'Beyond The Mountains of Madness', 'Tatters of the King', and many others. I've read some, but not all, and based on the speed at which I'm running them, am likely to retire and/or die before I get a chance. That's just one game, and I have lots of games.

That's quite a sobering thought really.

Part of the problem for me is that I'm passionate about buying books. I love browsing through them, so I suppose I really shouldn't get too hung up on the fact that they are not all going to be played any time soon. I can't stop buying them either. I've slapped down my pledge in for the new Horror on the Orient Express, just like thousands of other gamers, and I know that I will enjoy it, just not necessarily be running the campaign anytime soon.

As I look over at the books on my shelf today (and recall the other books in the attic that I saw yesterday) I think to myself that they each require my attention, but there are so many now that I just don't know where to start.

Roleplaying is one of the greatest hobbies.  Its boundaries are truely limitless, as are the potential for new books supporting it, and there are so many stories I want to tell, so many shared gaming experiences left to try. My bookshelf, like many others I'm sure, is a testament to that, and I'm running out of time. 

Life is too short. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Review

There's been quite a lot of buzz about the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game recently.  It won Gold in the Best Rules category of the 2012 Ennies, as well as two Silvers for Product of the Year, and Best Game. 

It's worth mentioning that I am not a massive comic-book or Marvel fan.  I used to be though and my attic is full of 1980s comics and graphic novels, including classics like Watchmen, Batman Returns, Ronin, etc.  I also have very fond memories of playing the original TSR Marvel RPG (FASERIP anyone?!) as well as sessions of the DC Heroes RPG and Golden Heroes RPG. It's fair to say that I've played a few in my time (though, strangely, never touched Champions). But all that was a long time ago and it's been an age since I looked at them.  It's also worth mentioning that I generally played a PC rather than GMed, as I never enjoyed making up superhero plots.

The awards the new Margaret Weiss published version received, as well as my own peeked interest (as much because of the recent brilliant Avengers Assembled movie, as anything else) made me decide to check out the game.

So what's it all about then?

The Marvel Heroic RPG (MHR for short) Basic Edition comes in a 228 page softbound book, which is divided into three main sections; the Operations Manual, The 'Breakout' Event (scenario), and Datafiles (Heroic characters for the event)
The rules for MHR are detailed in the Operations Manual and they are pretty and very flexible.  The central mechanics of the rules are the Dice Pool; a collection of dice of various sizes (from D4 to D12, there is no D20 or D% used in this game), which you then roll, the Doom Pool; a resource pool of Dice that the Watcher (aka the GM) uses to indicate the danger of the situation and to counter the PCs, Plot Points; the game 'currency' that PCs use to do cool things.

Here's how they work in play..

The Dice Pool Mechanic
Your hero has a number of traits that you use to build up your pool.  The first is your Affiliations which is an indication of how well you operate either as a Solo hero, with a Buddy, or in a Team. The second is your Distinctions which are typically defining your background, personality etc. and can be used positively for D8 or negatively for D4 (more on that later).  You then have your Power Sets which indicate what you can do with your amazing powers, and finally you have Specialities; skills and knowledges.
To act, you describe what you want your hero to do (being as descriptive as possible!) and the desired effect, and pick appropriate dice from each of your traits to roll. Let's do that will Captain America (check out the link for a copy of his datafile):

The Capt is on his own and comes across a HYDRA agent up to no good. He wants to slam the agent with his shield..
He starts with D6 from his Solo Affiliation (not great, but Capt is at his best in a Team situation where he gets a D10).
Looking at his Distinction we decides that 'Sentinel of Liberty' indicates his desire to see Hydra defeated, and we use this in a positive way to give us a D8 die.
Captain America has two Power Sets 'Super-Soldier Program' and 'Vibranium-Alloy Shield' and he can use one trait from each by default so we'll pick Enhanced Strength D8 and Weapon D8.
The Capt is one of the worlds best fighters so it's no surprise that we have 'Combat Master' D10 to use, and we do...

The Dice Pool then is D6, D8, D8, D8, D10.  That's a good dice pool to roll!

We declare that we want to cause Physical Stress.
We roll the dice pool and and we get  4, 1, 7, 8, 8 respectively.
Now we build the result.  Firstly we set the 1 to one side; we can't use that. When a 1 is rolled on the dice it's called an Opportunity and can be used by the Watcher (GM) to increase the Doom Pool.
We then have to decide which 2 dice we are going to use for our effect total and decide to pick the D8 roll of 7 and the D8 roll of 8. We add them together for an effect total of 15. Nice!
Finally we take one of the remaining dice (we have a D6 and a D10 left) to use as our Effect. We choose the D10.  For the effect the number on the dice is irrelevant; is the size of the dice that indicates the level of the effect.
So Capt America has swung his shield at the Hydra agent and rolled an effect total of 15 with an effect dice of D10.

To counter the Capt, the agent would build his own pool and roll the dice. If he doesn't roll over Capts total then he's hit for D10 of physical Stress - Ouch!

The Doom Pool Mechanic
The Doom pool is used exclusively by the Watcher to fuel the actions of his characters, as well as an indication of how much challenge or danger there is.  The dice in the pool can be used to add dice to bad guys dice pools, to roll against the hero's actions if there are no bad guys present (Can Collosus pick up that truck? Roll against the Doom Pool), or to do a number of other cool things like creating Scene Distinctions ('the room is now on fire - Burning Room D8') which people can then use in building the dice pool.
Under normal circumstances the Doom Pool starts at 2D6.  When a PC rolls a 1 on a dice (as Capt America did above), the Watcher can activate that opportunity by giving the player a Plot Point and either increasing the Doom Pool by a D6 or increasing a dice in the pool by one step; say from D6 to D8. As you can imagine as the action progresses the Doom Pool gets bigger and the game gets harder.

Plot Points
Plot Points are the players' 'currency'; they are gained and used up throughout play and, like the Watchers Doom Pool, can be used for a number of things; adding extra Effect Dice, performing Stunts, etc. PPs are only ever used by players as the Watcher has his Doom Pool to use instead.  Plot Points can gained easily by using a Distinction in a negative way. For Example Captain America could have used his 'Sentinal of Liberty' distinction when fighting the HYDRA agent if we describe it that Capt is attacking before giving the agent a chance to surrender which is something he's uncomfortable doing. Doing so means he uses a D4 instead of a D8 in his pool but does gain 1 PP.

These mechanics can be used for everything in the game, and it's worth noting that the emphasis is on collaborative narrative play.  There are no figures, no maps, and both players can the Watcher can creative assets ('I pick up the car and throw it at him'), complications ('Carnage wraps you in his tentacles'), or Scene Distinctions ('Narrow Hallway D8')

Intiative, Scenes, Events and More
There are a number of other aspects that make the rules system interesting.  Who acts first is decided by the Watcher and then that person decides who acts next; allowing players to chain their attacks (Collosus: 'I'm picking up Wolverine and throwing him at the Sentinel [a Support Action to generate a 'fastball special' Die for Wolverine to add to his Pool], and now it's Wolverine's turn!'). The game uses two types of Scenes - Action and Transition to construct Events which makes it easy for the Watcher to make their own scenarios.  The use of the Pool mechanic for emotional and mental challenges as well as the more typical physical challenges is great, and Milestones which encourage the Players to role-play to gain XP, which can be used to add PPs, unlock special events or new heroes to play.

Breakout Event
Included in the Basic book is the 'Breakout Event'; a short (two Act) scenario which allows you to recreate the story from New Avengers comic issues 1-6.  It includes all the datafiles for the villains you'll need, as well as un-lockables and milestones that players can take at the beginning to tie their PCs closer to the story ('Round up the fugitives' for example).  It makes a good introduction to the MHR system and is likely to last a couple of sessions of play, with options to extend it much further should you want. 

Finally the MHR basic game ends with a number of Datafiles.  These are complete PCs for players to use and include a number of icons (Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spiderman, to name but a few).  It's clear that these are really included specifically for you to play through the Breakout event with and if you're looking for the stats for Deadpool, you're going to be disappointed (and will need to wait for the Civil War Event book). There are though, enough datafiles included to keep most people happy and anyone that would want to play a Marvel superheroes game in the first place is likely to know someone. 
The data files highlight one of the great aspects of the MHR game. Though there are various power levels, it's quite possible for Black Widow to stand alongside Iron Man without feeling like a fifth wheel.  The power levels, coupled with the narrative nature of the game, allow everyone to be able to have an impact.

The Marvel Heroic Role play game is not perfect (though it's pretty close!)  The rules are very simple and might be too simple for those gamers that need books and books of detail (D20 and D&D players, I'm looking at you...)  In play the narrative nature is open to interpretation and possible abuse in the wrong hands; something the Watcher will need to look out for.  The Operations Manual reads well first time, but isn't easy to use as a reference guide later on and in play I found myself struggling to find a rule. The Experience System isn't really about improving your hero, which again might not be to the taste of gamers used to more obvious character progression. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Dice Pool mechanic takes up quite a lot of time in play as the player has to describe the action they are going to perform and the Watcher has to describe a reaction. There's nothing really wrong with this, but action scenes do take some time to resolve; at least initially. Finally, whilst there are rules for character creation, it's quite clear that the designers really want you to play Marvel heroes from the comics. 

My issues with the MHR system are minor in reality.  The fact is that this game is one of the best systems to come out over the last couple of years and it well deserves the awards it received.  It encourages colloborative narrative story telling supporting by an extremely flexible ruleset. Many of the rules mechanics are fresh and inspired (I'm thinking of stealing the Initiative rules for other games!) and I can easily see this game being used to introduce new gamers to role-playing. It really is that simple and well..FUN!
It won't be for everyone. I'm still not sure that it will sustain a long campaign (though I would love to try out the Civil War Event book) and the style of play might take some time to adjust to, but I'm personally loving it. As a game MHR captures the comic style perfectly, it's easy to understand, fun to play, and doesn't require heavy investment in maps and minis (you will need a bucket full of dice though!)
Marvel Heroic Roleplay is a great game. It deserves to be hugely successful and I hope to see many supplements for it. If you have a passing interest in superhero games, like narrative storytelling, or are just looking for something to pass a few hours and have fun with some friends, you HAVE to get this.

HIGHLY recommended.

Rating 5/5 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Stag Lord - Terraclips Style

I have one box each of the six currently available Terraclips sets (Streets, Houses, and Sewers of Malifaux and the newly released Dungeon Rise: Vaults of Ruin, Dungeon Essentials, and Prison of the Foresaken) and I've been looking for a good reason to bring them out and create something.  Well my Kingmaker Pathfinder game is coming to the end of the first book and the PCs are on their way to take out the Stag Lord.  Seemed like a perfect opportunity to see if I could take the map of the his fort and recreate in Terraclips.

Well it took me a couple of hours but I'm pleased to say that I managed to do it! I've used some creative license, and of course, have been constrained by the parts I have available as well as the limitation of Terraclips scenery (not a criticism, just a fact).

Let me know what you think!

This is the view the PCs will have as they approach the fort.  Obviously I've made the entrance a little more grandiose and the barracade isn't as high (I don't have enough parts to make it 15 feet).
Notice the bandit looking out from the watchtower.

This is an elevated view of the front of the fort/  From here you can make out the crumbling central tower. 

Looking down at the corner.  You can see the two watchtowers as well as a couple of bandits on lookout.
 A closeup of the damaged floor where Aurochs makes his home.
 The back of the fort.  Another way in.
The roof off and the steps up to the watchtower. I used a pillar to support it's weigh

The side of the fort with the walkway over the owlbears lair. 
The fort on the gaming table.

The Stag Lord in his room, probably drinking away his sorrows..

Looking down at the ground floor.  The bandits are playing cards, but ready to release 'Beaky' at first alarm

I'll post of review of the Dungeon Rise Terraclips when I get a chance, but suffice to say I'm very happy with them and can't wait to see what my players make of the fort!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Horror on the Orient Express - Kickstarter!

Pretty much every man and his dog familiar is using Kickstarter these days to crowd source the funding for, well, everything!  I tend to avoid them like the plague because 1. I know I would spend a stupid amount of money in pledges on 'cool stuff I don't really need' and 2. I don't have a lot of spare money. 

Still, when I heard about that Chaosium had a Kickstarter to re-publish the old 'Horror on the Orient Express' campaign I pretty much slammed by pledge down and said "where do I sign!"  HotOE is one of those classic campaigns that I never got a chance to pick up and play when it was released originally. and I can't wait to play it. I've seen PDFs of course, but I really (REALLY!) want the boxed edition that the company is planning - with as much addition 'stuff' as I can get my mitts on! 

It will come as no surprise to know that Chaosium made their $20,000 goal and went onto over $100,000.  If you're interested (and well you should be!) check out the Kickstarter.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Based on a True Story!!

I was at the cinema (or Movie Theater if you're American) yesterday to see the Total Recall remake (slightly above average 3/5 if you're interested) and I saw the trailer for the new Sam Raimi flick 'The Possession'. Splashed across the screen was the message 'Based on a true story..';  a statement that seems to be mandatory for any ghost/demon movie these days that is hoping to do well commercially and one that immediately makes me suspicious - especially when it comes to tales of a supernatural nature. So much so that I quipped to the person next to me "so I presume it's based on experience of someone that bought a box once..' 

Long after I'd left the cinema (and forgotten most of the detail of Total Recall - oh the irony!) I remember that line in the trailer and it got me thinking about it's usage to sell a obviously fictional story. 'Based on a true story' gives a movie, or book, or whatever, a grounding in reality; something tangible to the viewing audience.  I suppose it can make it more engaging, perhaps fire the imagination, and make the drama more 'real' since it might have happened, and it can draw in the audience.

Basically exactly what a GM is trying to do at the gaming table.  

Anyone that has GMed for any length of time is sure to have seen advice on basing stories on real life - stealing plots from the all over the place, but I wonder how many people make a point of telling the players this?  Admittedly this is unlikely to have the right impact in your typical D&D Fantasy game, but if you're playing a game like Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, or similar, then I reckon there might be significant impact to be had through silently, and without explanation, holding up a sign at the beginning of your first introductory narrative, that simply says 'Based on a True Story'.

Of course, for your own credibility (because you know the players will ask later) it's kind of important that the adventure is 'based' on a true story - or perhaps 'inspired' by it at least! But there are enough mysteries for you to easily pluck a story from the popular media and use that as the basis of your story. Adding tentacles, sea monsters, or aliens later doesn't stop your story being 'based' on a true story does it?

Yes it's a bit of a party trick, but so it a lot of effective story telling and if it engages your players then there's no apology necessary. Just don't do it all the time as it does become a cliche..

In case you're interested The Possession is apparently based on the story of The Dibbuk Box. I'll leave it to you to decide whether that is a good thing.. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Developing the Kingmaker Sandbox

I've been GMing the Pathfinder Adventure Path 'Kingmaker' and, though we're still in the middle of the first part 'Stolen Land' I'm already looking ahead for ways I can extend the campaign.

What makes Kingmaker different from the adventure paths that precede it is the very 'sandbox' nature of the campaign story.  Though there are events that take place, and a climax against dangerous opposing forces, the GM has far more opportunity to make the campaign their own.  This got me thinking about how I might want to extend Kingmaker and I've decided to introduce a couple of other stand alone Pathfinder adventures into the mix, as well as extend the back story; in fact foreshadowing to one of my player characters before the game began, as well as hinting at the nature of the bad-guys from the outset of play.

So far I've decided on two Pathfinder adventures to add into the campaign (though not for a few levels yet!)  The first is 'The Realm of the Fellnight Queen', a particularly appropriate scenario that can easily be incorporated into the wooded area that makes up a substantial area of the lands in which Kingmaker is based.  The plot of the scenario also fits very nicely in the overall 'feel' of the Kingmaker campaign, and it's also a good read!

The second adventure I'm intending to add is 'The Harrowing', a unique adventure that takes the PCs 'inside' a Harrow Deck - the Pathfinder equivalent of Tarot cards - in a very much 'Alice in Wonderland' style adventure.  I think it will make for an interesting departure of the King-building nature of the campaign.

Another reason for adding these two scenarios though is my concern that my players are used to being reactive to the plots they are presented with - rather than 'proactive' and going out to build their own adventures.  This is just how we've always played really, and even the 'hexploration' (exploring the hex-grids that make up the 'Stolen Lands' has been something they are only slowly getting used to.

It will certainly be interesting to see how they get on with the Kingdom-building rules. I'm pretty convinced that some will love it and others loathe it.

I think the 'issue' (if you can call it that) is that the gamers in my group enjoy the 'narrative' aspect of roleplaying and that is something that is possibly down-played a little in the Kingmaker adventure path.

Only time will tell.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pathfinder Condition Cards Review

Until recently I've probably been a bit of a roleplaying 'purist' (if such a thing exists), which means (in my head anyway) that adding card, chits, clips, pogs, and other paraphernalia to roleplaying just seems to detract from the actual game.  However my view has changed recently, and I now feel that used appropriately these things can compliment or add to the gaming experience.

Such is the case with the Pathfinder Condition Cards from Paizo. There are loads of conditions in Pathfinder and they are part of what makes the game interesting.  Unfortunately they are another book-keeping thing to keep track off and can be easily forgotten in the heat of combat by both the GM and players.  The Condition Cards aims to solve that by giving you a pack 'playing-card' sized cards that you can hand out to players (or use yourself as GM) to help you track them.  

There are 52 double-sided cards; basically 4 of each type, so 13 different kinds of cards.  Each of them illustrated with a Pathfinder goblin suffering the effects of the condition, as well as the in-game effects.  The effects on each side of the card is related so, for example, you have 'grappled' on one side and 'pinned' on the other. The cards are even colour-coded to make it easy to pick them out.  Great!

In play the cards work really well, even if you know the rules, having the card in front of you really helps you remember the presence of the condition. My players like them so much that when they get a condition they shout 'gimme the card gimme the card' and as a GM it just makes life so much easier. Additionally it's worth noting that you really only need 1 pack per gaming table - unlike say, the Buff Deck (which I've recently bought and will probably review in time)

The Condition Cards aren't quite perfect though, there are a few minor rules errors, and it would have been nice if they could have included the page numbers to the rules in the PFRPG book, but these are genuinely minor quibbles.  

I'm of the opinion that these are an essential purchase for any Pathfinder group. They are cheap ($10.99), colourful, fun and very useful.  Highly Recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5 (they drop .5 for a couple of little rules mistakes and no page refs)

2012 Ennie Nominees

Well, the 2012 Ennie Awards Nominees are out and always make interesting reading, if nothing else it's a great way to discover new games, podcasts, blogs, et al!

Check them out at

No surprise to see the Pathfinder Beginners Box on there (as well as 'We be Goblins' which is an essential download in my opinion).

Moose Hunting?

Or something...

This dates back to 2007 but I've only just spotted this (and I don't play WOW), but it makes fun reading!!

Hans Jørgen Olsen, a 12-year-old Norwegian boy, recently survived a moose attack by feigning death, "just like you learn at level 30 in World of Warcraft."

HAHA! Nice one Hans! Lucky you weren't a Mage in WOW though - that could have been a bit embarrassing.

Still I suppose it's better than killing 65 million boars.. ;)

New Terraclips

Oooh!  New Terraclips have been announced! Check out
I'm a new fan of Terraclips and currently have one set each of Buildings, Streets, and Sewers of Malifaux. They aren't cheap but are a real centrepiece to any gaming table and my long term players were wowed by them.  Of course, it takes time to put them together, and you have to accept that you're not going to get an accurate version of your map - unless you use the Terraclips as inspiration, which is easy because they very cool.
The new sets 'Dungeons..' look great, and yes I'll be getting them as soon as they are available in the UK. 

Check out these previews -

The Kingmaker Sandbox

Well, I've not posted in months.  That's mostly because I'm crap, and I've also been busy.  Anyway, I've finally started GMing the Pathfinder Kingmaker Adventure Path.  It's quite a lot different from what my players are used to, being a sandbox game.  I'm not saying that were expect to railroaded, but generally speaking there is a distinct plot and they are generally reactive.
In Kingmaker, though there is a plot, it takes a long time to really appear (and isn't that deep), so most of the emphasis is on the PCs to make the plot themselves.  This is great, IF you have the group that want to do that, otherwise it's going to be boring and tedious I suspect. At the moment I'm still not sure whether my players are going to enjoy it - they've just got to 2nd level and are in the process of 'hexploring' the map.  Let's see how it goes I guess.

The most annoying thing for me is that I'm not getting any chances to use my new Terraclips! :D

You can follow the 'action' at my campaign at Obsidian Portal.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Suffering Fools

I don't suffer fools well. Not in 'real life' and certainly not at the gaming table.  This can make me GM that rarely gives a sucker a break (sorry, but 'they had it coming') and it also means that I find myself 'facepalming' when my fellow players do something painfully silly.

Gosh, that sounds rather arrogant, and it's really not meant to. I don't think I'm one of those 'difficult' players than GM bemoan (but then I would say that, right?) and would like to think I'm a team player.

Take tonights game as a perfect example of having to suffer fools amongst the people at the table (and I apologise to my friend - but you really did deserve that title tonight).

Picture the scene.  We're fighting some nasty fungoid-skeleton things that hit rather hard with their scimitars. My Paladin of Iomadae (we're playing D&D 3.5 BTW, and the Pathfinder AP 'Curse of the Crimson Throne') is up front battling away.  The party is spread out acros a rope bridge and the Halfling Rogue is in a bad way.  One of the skeletons is after him.

The halfling is hit for 13HP which puts him on 0HP.  He's conscious but any standard action will cause 1HP and cause him to fall over unconscious and start to die.  He tumbles away to safety (a move action), and says

Rogue: "Oh! I don't have any healing potions!" (it's worth noting at this point that the same rogue was sent out the previous day by the party to buy every oil of Bless Weapon he could find in Korvosa..)

Me: "What?!"

Rogue: "Yeah I gave my last one away" (to our cleric of all people, and from a Neutral rogue, of all people..")

Me: OK....*shaking head slowly*.

The next thing the rogue does (from his place of relative safety now), is use his Cloak of the Mounteback to dimension door back into the middle of combat - a standard action (activating the item), which means he falls over and starts dying.  One of the the characters (our bard) then has to use a spell to save him.

Me: *facepalm*

See?  I just don't know what to do with some people!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Interesting NPCs

The moment a PC says 'what does the weaponsmith look like' some GMs start to panic.
NPCs make a game come alive, but also are perceived to require a lot of work. It doesn't have to be like that. Here's a few tips to help.

1. Names! Spend 10 minutes on Google and you'll have list of names appropriate for your setting.  Print them off and keep them close to hand.  When you need a name, don't flounder, just pick one.

2. Quirk.  There are loads of resources; for Pathfinder the Gamesmastery Guide has a number of tables. Roll a couple of dice and let the NPC build himself.

3. Make notes.  Write down what the NPC is like. Just a few scribbles will do especially if you have the time later to write them up. Nothing emerses the players in the mundane more than that weaponsmith (you know, the old guy with the burnt forearm) says 'so, killed anything with that masterwork sword I sold you?  I put a lot of work into that...'

NPCs are supporting characters in your novel.  Have a read of this for some inspiration -

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rules Rules Rules

Roleplaying games are crazy.

As I look at my bookshelf now I see loads of books filled with rules; Pathfinder Core Rules alone has nearly 600 pages of the things!  And yet us roleplayers don't bat an eyelid at them; we just seem to suck them up and then vom them out all over Internet forums to get one over some other loser that's also sucked them up with the same intent.

I play board games and bolt at the sign of a rules pamplet more than 6 sides, and yet I will happily wade though half a tree of rules for an RPG and long as they 'make sense' (whatever that means).

If IT books were as 'easy' to suck up I'd probably be darn sight better at my job!

Sunday, March 4, 2012


After years of drawing on tactiles for D20-based combat I bought some Terraclips 3D scenery.  This stuff is pretty cool actually - very sturdy and makes some awesome multi-tiered environments. In my excitement I forgot to take any picture though.

The dungeon was a multi-level mausoleum and worked rather well I thought.

I try to remember next time - and there will be a next time!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Watching the progress of D&D..

I'm not a 4E fan, but I am a D&D fan. It was my first love blah blah, and for many reasons the hobby can't afford for it to fail.

A healthy D&D is a healthy roleplaying industry.

EN World has a good page of the latest 'what we know' news.  Check it out at

Can they do the impossible? 'Cause at the moment it's looking like it's going to need a Miracle to deliver all the design goals, and we all know there aren't that many Clerics that can, or will, knock that spell out on demand..

Interesting times.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why 4E = Fail

There are loads of opinions.

For me it can summarised in one statement - "They included Agro Management"
Anyone who plays MMOs will know what Agro, or Threat is.  For the uninitiated/people with lives, it's a very simple (in principle) mechnanism in a computer MMO which controls which person a MOB (that's a critter/monster/bad guy) attacks.  There's no intelligence behind it but the appearance is that there is.

Simply put - The MOB attacks the person it 'hates' the most.

Or to but it another way, it will attack whoever 'threatens' or 'aggrevates' it the most. So if you do alot of damage will attack you unless someone else does more for example. This is really only noticeable in group play of course.  Computer RPGs will has classes specifically designed to create a lot of threat to ensure that the MOBs attack them; leaving the rest of the party free to do their thang. Agro managment is a defining part of MMO gameplay and understanding it forms the basis of every fight in the game. 

In a pen and paper RPG (like D&D) the DM controls what or who the monsters attack.  It's a defining principle of those games (and the opposite of MMOs) and a part of what makes them as special as they are. Like the fact you, as a player character, can try to whatever you want - it's up to the DM with the help of the rules that decide the result.  That's why roleplaying is better than a board game in many respects; that sandbox approach, limited only your imagination.  The bottom line is that you don't need to introduce agro management mechnics to the game, and you shouldn't. Real life isn't constrained by such basic things and never should a monster in a game.  If a particular goblin really hates elves (because elves killed his family etc etc), then why should he be forced to attack some random Paladin when there's a horrible elf over there pewing pewing him?

But they did in 4E. Why?  I don't know, but the fact that they did in the first place shows that the designers had lost touch with what makes a P'n'P RPG different from a Computer RPG/MMO.  The mindset rippled down throughout the entire ruleset and is a perfect example of why 4E fails as a roleplaying game. The Agro mechanic was not absolute; they didn't screw it up that badly, but it was it was enough to make combat more forced, and less believable as a story telling element.  That hurts a roleplaying game, and in 4E - killed it.

Note, I'm not saying it's not a good game. It IS a good game, but it's not a good roleplaying game, and that's why it failed.

When did Monsters become MOBs?

Or conditions become 'buff's?

I've been P'n'P roleplaying for decades but it's only recently that I've noticed that we've started to refer to monsters as mobs (which I thought was game from MMOs e.g World of Warcraft).  Also my wife noticed that we were also calling spells like 'Haste' buffing spells! That seems to have happened as well.

I'm not sure when it started in our games, and I'm not against it, but it's interesting how the lexicon has gone full circle from P'n'P > MMO > P'n'P.

Don't get me started on the game play! (4E anyone?)

Cthulhu Rises

I'm a Lovecraft fan. Have been for decades. I've run Call of Cthulhu rpg for 20 years and love it.

Currently though my focus is Pathfinder RPG and it's interesting just how clear Jacobs and co are on assuring that the Mythos is alive and well in their 'universe' (which they have confirmed in the Secrets of Pathfinder Adventures session at PaizoCon 2011 as actually our universe - in that you could space travel from Golarion to Earth). BTW if you've not listened to it check out the D20 Radio Pathfinder Chronicles. You want the Seminar Special part 2 - you can download it directly or get it via iTunes.

Cthulhu does get everywhere doesn't he?  Sanity defying when you consider he's supposed to be stuck in R'lyeh!

There's a part of me that says 'cool' and a somewhat smaller part that goes 'hmmmm ok...' about the integration.  I think for it to work the GM and players need to accept it and understand why it works (same universe), otherwise it just comes across as cheesy (like finding Elminster wandering around your Shadowrun campaign just because the GM is a Realms fan!).  There needs to be appropriate context for me, there's no point just have Mythos monsters just because they are 'cool'; for a world to work it needs to go beyond that for me.

I've not run Part 4 of Carrion Crown yet (heck, I'm still on part 6 of Council fo Thieves and have Kingmaker to go through first!), so I will see how it lands with my players.

I like it HPL in Pathfinder in principle, but I'm cautious...

Monday, February 27, 2012

D&D 5E

Apparently Wizards of the Coast are going to give up on 4E (embarrassed much?) and start working on 5E

I want to say I don't care, but I do. A lot.

No seriously

Firstly you should know that I'm not a fan of 4E. Not. One. Bit.  DMed it, didn't like it. Gave up.
This is from someone whose been playing AD&D/D&D since the early to mid-eighties.

4E made me move to Pathfinder - like a lot of people I suspect, and I've no plans to move back to 5E (PFRPG is great and the strength of the Adventure Path products are a great part of that).

So, why do I care about 5E?  Because D&D needs to be a success in some form for the health of the roleplaying industry.  Without D&D in a good place, I think that the smaller publishers, and even some of the larger ones with suffer and possibly die off.  I don't want that.

So bring on 5E.  Make it work and make it popular. Sure, I'll buy it (I have all the others, so it would be rude not to), but it's not likely I'll play it. I'm a Pathfinder convert now.

Just don't make it like WOW again please...

Why the Title?

I hate coming up with names for things like blogs.  It's a bloody nightmare.

It has to be relevant (apparently)

It has to stand out (apparently)

It has to-

Well you get the picture.

'Loot The Corpses' Doesn't matter what our alignment is (would you like a Paladin with that sir?) we still jump in and rape the corpses of anything we can get 1/2 gp value for in our nearest NPC pawnbrokers.

Well...all those masterwork rapiers add up right!?

Still.. In my next game I might through in a NPC party stripping a load of dead bodies, covered in gore, just to remind my players what it really means to gather all the parts for the +1 Chainmail..

So 'Loot The Corpses' then.  It's unsavoury, but it's something that is probably worth doing then.

Bit like this blog I guess! ;)

So whose going to be the Cleric...?

Anyone? Anyone?!

That's how most of my games start, so it seems appropriate for my first post.

Why is it that no one wants to play a Cleric anyway?  That's how it always seemed to be to me, since I first started on AD&D in the mid-eighties.  Cleric was basically the healing-bitch right?  Doesn't matter how you played it, the expectation was that you would be there with the Cure Light Wounds to pick up the pieces after the fighter 'accidentally hit that troll'.

Pathfinder (my current game of choice) makes it better for the lowly walking WOCLA, with Channel Energy, and I have to say that the healing out put now is MASSIVE.  BOOM! Everyone get back 30hp. Nice!

Still, being the Cleric still seems (for my group at least) to be a necessary evil (ooooh the irony!).