Laughing? Well I’m very happy at least

9 12 2009

This is not a specific review about the recent Paizo play-test for new classes to add to the Pathfinder game.   Although it is their Cavalier class that got me excited, I am more inclined to pen something about character creation.

The reason I needed to write was that I’ve just created a character for a PbP Pathfinder game and the GM said it was OK for me to try the Cavalier.  I had toyed with being a paladin, but as someone who used to love playing a Warhammer Templar, I was keen to try out what the Cavalier could do.

Of course, the more representative class for Templar will be unveiled next year as the paladin will get new options – and apparently among them will be the opportunity to play a ‘Paladin’ that’s not LG.  But I digress.

I can honestly say that creating my cavalier was the most fun I’ve had with character creation in a very, very long time.  I accept that part of this is down to the class, but moreover it gave me the chance to create a character I had in my head – a wannabe ‘Paladin’ that is a bit shaky about her faith and goes off to search for divine inspiration – not because of it.

As I’ve said before, I’m no fan of min-maxing.  I’m even a player that avoids optimising my character (surely that’s min-max in a different language?).  No, I like to have an idea and then see it through onto paper.

Just like my assassin that is created as a rogue – but using all the right skills and feats to make her a sneaky sort that can get up close to her kills before delivering the telling blow – my Cavalier (I notice I’m using a capital ‘C’ but never mind) was based upon a Paladin that doesn’t have divine righteousness.

And as my character was built, I could see it forming in my mind.  I chose feats that suited the character – not ones to make me an optimal fighter.  I invested heavily in horse armour.  I figure I’ll never get to see it used – but that’s what my character would have done.  I’ve spent money on musical instruments and the like because it fits in with the faith – not because I ever expect to use them in anger (or even leisure).

Because that’s what role-playing means to me.   It’s about playing a role.  Not rolling dice.  Not killing lots of creatures – but rather I’m keen to get talking to the NPCs and the other PCs.  In essence, I rolled a character that fitted the religion – warts and all.  And getting to role-play it is what I’m so excited about.

And the better news is that if I pick a different religion, I can go through the process again and end up with a fundamentally different character each time.  Different skills, feats and trappings.  And the back-story can come from some nugget in the Paizo Gods and Magic sourcebook which devotes two pages to each major religion.    

So, as much as I can’t wait to play by Cavalier (still a capital I see), I also can’t wait for a chance to play a different one!

Setting the rules prior to play

2 12 2009

I rarely – if ever – claim to have an original thought.  My strength is typically either putting lots of thoughts together into one cohesive thought – or to take an idea from one area and apply it somewhere completely different.

As I often wax lyrical about how players and GM should agree what sort of game is being played prior to gaming (ideally prior to recruitment if it’s play by post) and the following tool has always been at the back of my mind.

So I went searching for it on the Internet and thought I’d reference it in passing.  Except I couldn’t find it.  I knew it existed but tracking it down was a challenge.  So I thought I’d abbreviate it here for GMs and players to consider.

I’ll start by giving the rightful praise to two sources.  Firstly the  Superhero Summit podcast Fistful of Comics – which introduced (as far as I’m aware) the concept of  the COMIC continuum scale.  I also must give praise to the excellent 3.5 Private Sanctuary podcast, where I first heard of the scale and it is probably closer to their interpretation that you’re going to read.  Apologies to one and all for how I describe it – but it’s how I see it.

COMIC is an acronym.

(As an aside, acronyms are a bugbear of mine.  An acronym is an abbreviation.  It is specifically an abbreviation where the first letters of each word form a new word.  Like scuba or laser or even PIN.  FBI and CIA are not acronyms, they are initialisations as you pronounce the letters and don’t create a new word.  OK, digression over)

COMIC stands for (at least for this version) Colour, Origins, Mystery, Innocence and Carnage.  The idea is that GM and players discuss each of these in turn (or perhaps the GM lays down the law – that’s OK too) as to what level applies to each aspect.  You typically have four levels for each one that are pre-defined.  It applies to any role-playing game, not just hone-brew rules and I can best describe it as:

 C = colour

Or you could call it tone.  Level 1 would be like a comic.  Not realistic at all.  2 and 3 are either side of ‘reaslism’ i.e. our real world.  4 would be very over the top.

O = origins

As this came from a super-hero game, other genres might prefer to consider this as ‘options.’  It is around the subject of what source material the game will use.  A 1 would only be the core rulebook.  2 might represent the mainstream expansions but not the really specific campaign ones.  A 3 would include the campaigns and any 3rd party offerings.  A 4 would include any homebrew rules. 

M = Mystery

This is best defined as how readily accepted magic and monsters are.  A 1 says that to the average person they are myths.  A 2 means people have heard of some things but they are not common.  A 3 would mean that they are common and most things have been heard of.  A 4 is very common and everything is heard of.

I = Innocence

This relates to how NPCs react to PCs.  A 1 would be very defensive, NPCs assume the worst.  A 2 would be unfriendly, but PCs can earn their trust.  A 3 means NPCs are usually friendly and tend to trust PCs.  A 4 means that PCs are welcomed with open arms.

C = Carnage

Just how bloody is your game?  A 1 would be a non-lethal world.  Fights end in disabling NPCs, not killing them.  PCs never die.  A 2 means heroes rarely die but villains do.  A 3  and anyone can die.  A 4 and death is all too common.

Many gamers would never need this tool.  Many don’t think they’ll ever need this, but at the very least, the GM should review this prior to a new campaign or adventure and check that the world the PCs are about to inhabit at least fits into the usual game world.  If the GM decides that this time, some villages will be antagonistic, it’s not fair to the players to find that out when one of them is dead.

I see it being most useful for new gamers to a group and for PbPs.  This is where the players and GM might have different versions of the game world in their head.  If so, now is the best time to make sure they air those preconceptions and agree on a mutual way forward.

The Tome of Secrets (a review)

1 12 2009

My love of Pathfinder is already documented on these pages.  But that doesn’t mean I will always praise Pathfinder related content – I will always write it as I see it.

I was a little surprised to see a hard copy of The Tome of Secrets in my local store – as I live in England and the nearby stores aren’t exactly RPG-centric.

That said, I saw a copy and immediately grabbed it (without checking the contents). 

My first overall observation is that with the Paizo produced stuff so far, just about anything within their covers is allowable in the game.  OK, I have a house-rule about attacks of opportunity and players have to check with me if they want to take a trait from a supplement or the web-document – but pretty much anything is fair game. 

This is rarely the case with third-party sourcebooks and Adamant Entertainment’s offering is no different.  Having started with something of a negative, I’ll balance that by saying that overall it is worth the purchase price.  Doubly so as you get a free PDF once you have bought it.

The sections are well laid out and cover:

  • Three additional races
  • Eight additional classes
  • Drawbacks
  • Occupations
  • GM Options

Some Specifics

I like the fact that Adamant Entertainment worked with Paizo to ensure that anything that goes in here doesn’t contradict something Paizo will put out later.  So the races and classes and mechanics won’t clash.

The races are…interesting.  Not sure if I’d ever play one but they give a significantly different option to the Paizo core races.  The classes are good too.  One or two appeal (the Spellblade and Warlock in particular) and the rest serve a purpose.

I really like the drawbacks and the fact that a player is allowed a skill bonus to offset taking the  drawback.  Some drawbacks are very specific e.g. Cold Aversion only affects you at certain temperatures and some are generic e.g. Bad Shot means a -2 penalty on all ranged attacks.  As a GM I’d be sure players only took sensible drawbacks.  Taking Cold Aversion for a desert campaign would be vetoed at once!

Occupations considers what your PC did prior to becoming an adventurer.  There are rules on wealth creation, some random tables if you just want to trust chance (and these are grouped by region e.g. rural, marine etc.).  Each background occupation gives specific skills that can give both flavour and some helpful abilities.

The GM section covers a range of topics and the GM can pick’n’mix whatever aspects he wants to add.  So there are sections on the mechanics of a range of aspects, e.g. stunts, morale and enchantment.

My favourite section is all about chases.  With standard movement rates, in the typical game mechanics you either never catch someone or you do.  This depends on your relative movement rate.  One human will never catch another human.  So the mechanics here allow for variety in that scenario – and a whole new aspect of adventuring can begin – the chase.

Next up there are some random generation tables for magical items and some mechanics for modifying standard monsters to create something new for your players.  There is a random adventure generator and finally a section on gunpowder weapons.   

What could be improved

My first observation is the artwork.  None is poor but many artists have contributed and for me at least, I like a high degree of commonality.  So some is OK, some is good but I don’t get the feeling I’m reading from one source – rather a few that have been put together.  But then I’m awkward.

I think that not every page will appeal to every player or GM but then that should not put people off buying it.  There is enough for any group to justify the price – with over 180 pages of information to use.

You’ll like this if:

  • You like Pathfinder and want some extra dimension
  • As a GM you want to try some different mechanics
  • You like the idea of ‘chases’
  • You’d like a way to develop backgrounds for your PCs and NPCs

You won’t like it if:

  • You’re on a limited budget and Paizo produce as much as you can afford each month
  • You want a huge amount of depth on one specific subject – this book offers a lot of different topics
  • You’re of the opinion that if Paizo didn’t want to publish it, you’d rather ignore it

Overall I’d recommend it to anyone who is serious about Pathfinder.  Would I recommend every player had a copy?  Perhaps not but every group should have access to at least one copy.