Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide

26 10 2010

OMG. It may be old news but I love the APG.
For me, the old Paizo quality is there to start with. The number of pages, the quality of the artwork, the fact that they’ve listened to the fans. They all say Paizo to me in a way that other RPG companies don’t. Am I biased because of the system? Actually no. I was never a huge fan of 3.5 (don’t get me started on the attack of opportunity rule, let alone grapple). No, it’s the quality of the product and the enthusiasm of the publishers and fans – no, it’s the partnership of Paizo and players that hooked me.
Not every offering has been awesome. I’ve bought most titles since the core rulebook came out. The wins have certainly outweighed the losses.
What appeals to me about this book is in many ways that it isn’t complete fantasy. OK, I’d better explain that one. What I mean is that they haven’t introduced six weird races. Rather, they have given ways to make humans, dwarves and the like unique. Now, you don’t just have six races that aren’t really distinguishable. Now you can flavour your gnome in so many ways.
The classes we’ve seen before to be fair, but the variants on the core classes are another welcome way of differentiating your standard fighter without having to create a whole new class that becomes an oddity.
The feats are a welcome addition – and you’d expect new spells and equipment to be fair.
The prestige classes build on what I’ve already said. Good without being weird.
The new rules I’ve yet to form a strong opinion on, but at least we’ve not been overwhelmed with optional additions.
I think you’ll love this if you like the core game and want more of the same.
You’ll find it wanting if, in my opinion, you want radical new things, like weird and wonderful races, classes and rules.
It won’t take a genius to work out which side of the fence I sit on.


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.

Mouse Guard (a review)

13 10 2009

mouse_guard_rpg_coverMouse Guard is a roleplaying game where players assume the role of mice (no surprise there) from the comic books of the same name. 

The rulebook is lovely and for someone like me that likes to create characters, it was awesome – but more of that later.

The mice in the game are, to all intents and purposes, like humans.  They stand on their hind legs and perform human type activities.  The Guard are the ones that protect the communities from all threats – from crows to weasels.  To conclude the background, it is set in a medieval world but there is no magic – nor do you encounter any humans. 

If you know Burning Wheel, you know Mouse Guard.  If you don’t it doesn’t matter.  The book starts with a background to the world and role-playing in general before moving on to characters.

Character generation was, for me, almost a game in itself.  Unlike many role-playing games where one warrior is much like another, there is no excuse with Mouse Guard to play the same character twice.  But I’m getting ahead of myself gain, character creation doesn’t come just yet.

An interesting aspect of the game is the emphasis on beliefs, goals and instincts.  Your mouse has a code that they must live by, a goal that is set before each adventure and an instinct that your mouse automatically follows.  Experience points in part depend on how well you role-play these.

There is a section on missions (adventures) and here is where my love affair started to wane.  I will say up front that I don’t know how much of my disappointment with playing the game was down to the GM and how much was the rules .  I have spoken to another player who waxed lyrical about the game, so perhaps my experience wasn’t typical.

The role-playing aspect of the game is based upon missions.  For missions read obstacles.  The obstacles are weather, wilderness, animals and other mice.   Typically two of these comprise a mission. 

The way the game runs felt to me more like a board-game than a role-playing game.  The GM takes a turn, and then the players take a turn.  To me this felt wrong.  And the turn options were awkward for me.  More than half the time my turn consisted of offering a bonus to the leader of my group – as did most of the other PCs. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of options available but my experience differed from the theory.  Actions are typically opposed and continue until there is a winner and a loser. 

There are sections on the ‘world,’ other animals and the weather (a significant aspect of this game).

Getting back to characters, one interesting choice the PC has is, how close to natural mice behaviour do you want to be?  Closeness leads to benefits in mouse-type skills – like hiding or foraging.  Going against your nature gives more opportunities for skill progression.

The creation of the character is heavily slanted towards their background.  What your parents’ did for a living for example will enable you to take skill ranks in an associated area.  Characters also have ‘wises’ (areas of knowledge) and traits (special abilities).  Traits, by definition, have a positive and a negative side to them.  Being alert helps spot things but can make you anxious.

The character generation is actually referred to as recruitment.  Depending on your choice of rank and background – your lifepath – your points to allocate to things like skills and resources vary considerably.  Youth has benefits – as does age.  It’s all about the sort of mouse you want to play.

And this links to my second concern.  One mouse is typically the leader of the group and I found I spent a large proportion of my time supporting him – as the leader – rather than developing my own character.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know how much of my misgiving is down to the game and how much is down to the GM.  Will I try it once more?  Yes, but I’ll take some convincing.  That’s not to say this is in any way a poor product. 

 I can see huge appeal to younger players, new to role-playing (plus the fact that death is rare) and to groups wanting something different (and who have an inventive GM).  But I do think this is a Marmite product – people will either love it or hate it.

Dark Heresy – the almost game…

19 09 2009

When I finally found somewhere to role-play again (something I’ve discussed at length before), the first game I was offered was Dark Heresy.

As my desire to role-play was so intense and as the game seemed based upon the Warhammer Fantasy RolePlaying game of which I was familiar, I jumped at the chance.

There is an old saying about fools rushing in.  I spent an evening with the GM and other players creating a character.  The day after I agonised about my decision and wondered if I’d chosen correctly.  I subsequently spent c. £120 (almost $200) on the Core Rulebook, The Inquisitor’s Handbook and Disciples of the Dark Gods. 

I then spent the next two weeks rolling this character and that one.  I took basic characters and  also added background packages.  After about 50 characters, I ended up with the one I really wanted.

I was an assassin, with a background of being a member of The Moritat.  I had a full background mapped out.  I knew my character backwards.  All I needed was a game to play in.  And that was the rub.  The game never materialised.

Meanwhile, I have 50 or so character sheets, three pristine rulebooks and nothing to do with them.  One day, I will GM the game – but not within the year.  Despite this, my love for rulebooks stops me from being too disheartened and when/if Rogue Trader gets published, I’ll be at the front of the queue to purchase a copy.

But what of Dark Heresy?  If you like the Warhammer mechanics and enjoy sci-fi you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of the game.

What do you need?

In theory you can get away with just the Core Rulebook.  Players can generate characters, you have all of the main rules and enough background to the ‘world’ to get underway.  The artwork is of excellent quality.  There are a fair few monochrome pictures within but even the colour ones tend to be dark.  It’s reflective of the game.  This mean, evil, dirty and violent.

Players can choose from a number of homeworlds but are essentially human.  Anything non-human is seen to be cannon-fodder.  Each homeworld gives different advantages e.g. Void Born PCs don’t suffer from space travel sickness and automatically know how to navigate and pilot spacecraft.

Next the characteristics are rolled.  The usual Warhammer fare are represented here (although there is no magic in the game – at least not legally).

Next the PC chooses a career path.  It is expected the player won’t switch classes often.  Choices include Clerics, Abritrators (space FBI), Guardsmen (warriors) and Psykers (instead of magic you can be a psionic).  Each career has associated bonuses and weaknesses e.g. Tech-Priests start with implants.

The player then spends XP on developing skills or improving characteristics (based upon what their career path allows).

The rest of the book discusses the definition of the skills, has an equipment guide, covers the core rules, has a GMs section and then gives a fairly detailed background to ‘Life in the Imperium’ and other background chapters.  There is also a full adventure to follow.

The basic premise of the game is that you live in the 41st Millenium.  There is a war against chaos, and your PC has been chosen as an Acolyte for the Inquisition.  Your task is to root out heretics, aliens and witches.  Combat is risky early on as most weapons do more damage than you have hit points. 

The Inquisitor’s Handbook is really a player’s guide.   It covers more advanced character creation.  In introduces four new worlds to originate from and explores some unique planets you could hail from. 

It also introduces background packages.  Rather than spend all of your starting points on skills, you can spend some on a background package that both develops a back-story and also gives some different skills.  Some really enhance your character, whereas others just make them fun to play.  Personally, I loved the option.

There are future career paths (rather like Prestige Classes) that you can aspire to.  I hoped to become a Moritat Reaper when I grew up! 

There is more equipment to choose from and a section on Religion and Superstition.  There is also a chapter on ‘Life as an Acolyte.’  Overall, this is a worthwhile addition to the Core Rulebook for players and GMs alike.

I also own the sourcebook Disciples of the Dark Gods.  It was billed as a, ‘collection of cults, secrets and conspiracies.’  It’s a solid book but I wouldn’t rush out to buy it until you’ve been playing for a while.

In terms of character creation (which is why I bought it) the additional material isn’t for the beginner.  It does add new Psychic Powers and offers the option of the ‘corrupting path of sorcery.’  This is a background book more than anything else as it talks about various cults – although it does contain another full adventure.  This is a GM’s book rather than a player’s book.

Overall, I like the game.  OK, I haven’t played it but I understand the mechanics because of Warhammer and I like the setting.  If you’ve ever played Warhammer 40k, you already know the world.

Some basic pluses are:

  • It’s similarity to the Warhammer system
  • The depth of the background material available
  • Building on the knowledge of the 40k world
  • The Core Rulebook is enough to play the game

My main gripes are:

  • If you don’t know 40k, it’s a lot of background learning for the GM (players can learn slowly by having a background that’s from a backward world)
  • If you don’t like Warhammer FRP, you won’t like the game mechanics
  • It can be too dark for some (but not me)

My overall review advice is, if you’re thinking about it – get it.

I waited decades for this?!

16 09 2009




Yes, my long awaited return to the GM side of the screen happened last night.  It was not without hitches.  Firstly my wife said she wasn’t feeling well – so could I stay home.

Having circumvented that stumbling block, I arrived on time (not early as I’d hoped) and started to set up.

Most of the players were on time but one was an hour late.  The assembled crew filled in the time tweaking their characters and buying all sorts of unneccessary stuff.

The ‘rules guy’ cast his eyes over the character sheets to make sure they were OK.  He’s been reading the beta rules for Pathfinder forever and knows the game better than I do (especially as he’s the group’s D&D GM).

Finally we started.  I felt I was doing a lot of description at the beginning.  I didn’t mind as I knew the first session would be a few battles and limited role-playing.

So how did it go?  The pluses were:

  • The players stayed around until the end
  • I kept control (mostly)
  • I enjoyed it (and they seemed to)
  • The campaign is awesome

What could have been better?  Well:

  • The group didn’t like the attack of opportunity rule.  More specifically, they didn’t like it that a player could go a roundabout route to an encounter to avoid one. Having reviewed the concerns, a house rule will come in next week.  In the heat of battle, a ‘will check’ is required to not fight in straight lines.  A success means the PC has remained calm and collected and has enough wits about them to avoid the attack of opportunity by taking a less direct route
  • Some of the rules confused me at times.  That will take practice I guess
  • The PCs did stuff I didn’t expect.  I winged it OK, but I could have been better prepared
  • The space of the GM is small and a lot of stuff I had prepared, I couldn’t find in the heat of the moment.  I will revise my preparation for next time
  • Spellcraft – this gave me the most headaches and I’ll have to work harder on this

Overall it was an OK session.  Room for improvement – but that’s always the plan.  I fudged a few rolls to make the game work and that’s what GMing is to me.  I’m not against the players.  I want them to succeed 100% – but by the skin of their teeth.  The first couple of encounters got them lazy but the third encounter woke them up – and that’s how it should be.

The best bit I can’t share without spoiling the adventure.  Suffice to say there is an aspect of the story that the GM has to shoehorn one of the PCs into.  As luck would have it, a player is being exactly what I want I need – so no shoehorn required.

I may talk some more about the game tomorrow – or I may go to one of my prepared topics.  I’ll just have to wing it.

One day to go

14 09 2009

As it’s only a day now until I GM, I thought the next few blogs should be taken up with what I’m doing to prepare and some more insight as to why I’m playing the Pathfinder game.

I’ll start today with the in-depth reasons I’ve chosen Pathfinder. I’ve briefly mentioned that I like it because it’s a ‘brand new game’ and that (most of) the players are eager to role-play this game. I stated that I also happen to like this game – so I think now is a good time to elaborate.

Oddly, I’ll start with a negative. I don’t like AC. There, it’s out in the open. It isn’t logical to me and I’m keen to write a house rule to get around it – but that will be a topic for another day. Now I can focus on the positives.

Firstly I love the genre. As much as I like other RPGs, I love the fantasy setting. And I also really like what Paizo have done with the Golarion setting. This is one world with a diverse landscape. D&D always seemed to me to be many different worlds and felt disparate to me.

I like the fact that the game is a logical development of 3.5 rather than a brand new start. This keeps 3.5 players relatively happy and new players (like me) equally happy.

The classes and skills work for me. Again, they’ve broadly taken what works with the 3.5 game and updated what was broken. Similarly I like the feats and spells etc.

Pathfinder7_PaladinThe intangibles I love include the fact that the game is the product of a massive play test. I know they’ve changed things that they’ve obviously spent a lot of time on because the players tell them it didn’t work.

I love the Core Rulebook and the quality of the artwork. Despite all of those positives, the thing that tipped me towards the game was the quality of the additional resources. The historical sourcebooks have been excellent and the campaigns are truly excellent for me.

The interesting aside is that I’ve never played Pathfinder and now I’m going to GM it. How will it work out? Wait for Wednesday’s blog to find out – and I’ll be able to give honst feedback as to how the game actually plays.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the sort of house and table rules I’m looking to put in place.

The pros and cons of the Internet for role-players

10 09 2009

If you’ve read my blogs for this month, you’ll already have an inkling for my dilemma on this subject.

On the positive side, the Internet allows me to do so much:

  • Post questions and queries on forums anywhere in the world.  No longer do I have only the combined knowledge of the group around the table.  I can get rules advice, recommendations for campaigns – the options are limitless.
  • I can interact via forums 24/7.  Any time of the day or the night, I can go online and expect a response quickly.
  • I have access to so many resources on-line.  From alternate character sheets, to dungeon crawls.  From new spells to intersting magic items.
  • PDFs.  The plus with PDFs is that I can see a book I want and download it immediately.  I don’t have to wait for the local gaming store to open for me to get a copy.  I just buy it online and it’s delivered immediately.
  • Cheaper prices for materials.  With large online shopping sites comes price comparison and therefore price competition.  Unless you really wanted to, you’d never have to pay the cover price ever again.  Plus you can have delivered the next day without having to make a journey. 
  • Better choices.  The online stores tend to carry more titles and hold more copies.  You don’t make a journey to your local store – only to find they’ve got no copies left of the book you wanted.  Yesterday I visited a big gaming store  with a list of c. thirty things I wanted.  I left with precisely two.  As it cost me £5 just to visit the store, that represents poor value for money.

Philosophers will tell you about balance.  For every positive there is a negative.  Some of the negatives of the Internet are specific, and some are linked to the positives above:

  • Piracy.  Free stuff on the Internet seems like a good idea – but it’s killing the industry and especially the small game shop.  Trends to only offer content online – or provide special dice to play games (at an extortionate cost) are ways that gaming companies are protecting themselves.  In the long run, piracy hurts you and me.
  • PDFs.  As much as I love the immediacy of the download, I need paper in my hand.  This means I print it off (often more than once as I lose a copy – bad for the environment I know) and cut out the local gaming store.  
  • The demise of the local gaming store.  For reasons outlined above including online competition, PDFs and piracy, the local gaming stores are reducing in numbers.  The frings shops that also carried role-playing are either exiting the product line or reducing their stock.  This means we are more likely to go online, the local stores suffer some more and the cycle continues.  
  • No browsing (no pun intended).  How many times have I gone in search of a new game design, only to flip the pages and be disappointed.  Back on the shelves it goes.  Without a local store to see the product, I have to buy on reputation alone. 

This is by no means an exhaustive argument for and against the Internet in terms of role-playing.  It has both positives and negatives.  The downside for me is that the positives are actually contributing to the negatives.