Posts tagged Pathfinder

Linear Wizards, Quadratic Warriors

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Nope, the title is not a typo. I’m talking about the problem of linear wizards versus quadratic warriors. Sure, the other way around gets a lot of publicity, especially with Dungeons & Dragons 3.x and Pathfinder. And indeed, it is a problem when high levels warriors stab an enemy and only dealing a quarter damage while wizards conjure a firey malestrom that outright kills all the enemies.

But that pales in comparison to the travesty of linear wizards and quadratic warriors! I mean, what good is it to spend years with your nose in a book studying cantrips if your warrior counterparts are slaying gods? These problems do crop up occasionally in roleplaying games, but they are much more prevalent in other forms of media.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan the BarbarianConan the Barbarian for instance has warrior classes being severely overpowered compared to magic users. They have to spend days of preparation and ritual in order to pull of magic (although it can be impressive at times). But in combat, they’re just normal people in a robe that Conan can kill without them so much as get off a magic missile! Apparently in some of the later books, magic is said to be declining due to Conan setting up a kingdom based on logic and reason (or something). So Conan’s power grows while wizards’ power actually shrinks!

Lord of the Rings codifies the problem pretty well. Let’s face it; Gandalf did diddly squat with his magic throughout the series. He starts off by telekinetically shoving Saruman off his feet and using a Light cantrip in Moria. As he levels up in the series, he gains the ability to shine a magic flashlight against the Ringwraith to scare them off. You could blame this on the XP tax of getting resurrected, and in all fairness, he did manage to pull off exorcising Saruman from Theoden who seems considerably more powerful, but even still, Gandalf’s feats of magic are pretty weak.

Compare this to the warriors in the series. Gimli and Legolas start off killing just a few orcs in Moria, then advance to swathing through dozens and dozens of orcs on the battlefield, not to mention taking down an entire oliphaunt. Aragorn levels up to the point where he can take advantage of the Followers provided by AD&D 2nd Edition rules and gains an entire army of soldiers as well as an undead army, not to mention gains a fair amount of prowess in battle on his own. Even Merry managed to level up enough to be able to kill the Witch-King himself (which is even more ironic considering that a scene from the Extended Edition shows that the Witch-King handed it to Gandalf earlier in the film).

In fact, the only way that Gandalf is able to do anything remotely effective is to switch to his sword and become more like a warrior. He fights in battle this way and even kills the Balrog not by using his magic, but by stabbing it repeatedly. Clearly, Lord of the Rings has a problem with Gandalf advancing linearly (or flatlining) and everybody else quadratically outpacing him.

Gandalf decides that the only way to stay competitive is to take the sword and take the Longsword Proficiency feat.

Gandalf decides that the only way to stay competitive is to keep the sword he found as loot and take the Longsword Proficiency feat.

I’m really surprised that this glaring issue hasn’t received more attention. The various Lord of the Rings RPGs figured that nobody would want to play a wizard so they just make everyone the overpowered warriors. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire makes bounty hunters and smugglers pretty effective so I have to as: will they overshadow Jedi? Superheroes games like Mutants & Masterminds or even the Platinum Warlock’s own Cold Steel Wardens falls into this trap with Batman-type martial superheroes being on par with, if not superior to the X-Men?

We as gamers need to fight back! If you’re against linear warriors and quadratic wizards, then be concerned that the pendulum doesn’t swing to far and we wind up with linear wizards and quadratic warriors!

And yes, this is all a parody.

The Seven Deadly Sins of GMing

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When I play in a roleplaying game, sometimes I come across a bad GM. Sometimes, the GM is bad because they are inexperienced or there are circumstances out of their control. However, there are other times when GMs make mistakes that are, in essence, unforgivable. These mistakes ruin the game and make it no fun at all for a player. I’ve decided to label these “The Seven Deadly Sins of GMing.”

1. Unpreparedness

Not coming to the game ready to play. As a GM, you are the organizer, referee, storyteller, and entertainer. If you’re not prepared to do these jobs when you come to the table, then you and the group will suffer the consequences. Preparedness means something different to each GM (I for one feel like I’m completely prepared if I’ve got a detailed story in my head, while others feel that they must write everything down beforehand). This sin could encompass not bringing needed materials to a game (especially con games), as well as not reading the adventure beforehand, or even worse, not knowing the most basic rules to the system you’re running.

Personal Experience: I played in a con game, run by a member of an otherwise very well-respected gaming group, where the GM seemed to make up his own rules for Savage Worlds. Successful Fighting rolls directly deal damage? Enemies make Dodge Checks? The GM spends Bennies to make the players reroll? I’m convinced he looked at the rules for the first time just 15 minutes before the game.

2. Apathy

Not caring about the game you’re running. This is where the GM has little passion for the game and it shows. His or her excitement isn’t evident and the players have little reason to get excited either. In its most extreme form, the GM would rather do anything besides GMing. Generally this happens if they did not originally plan to GM or there was some incentive to running the game that was more important to them than the personal enjoyment of running the game.

Personal Experience: In my only game of Pathfinder ever, I walked in ready to play (I had heard that it fixed many of the issues in D&D 3.x and was eager to try it to see if it was the game for me). The game had loads of issues, but one of the worst was the GM who brought no enthusiasm to the game. He read the adventure text in a deadpan tone, didn’t bother to explain monster damage (he’d silently move figures, roll some dice, and then say “you take 9 damage”), and didn’t even try to allow for roleplaying. I found out at the end that the only reason he ran the game was to be part of Paizo’s GM rewards program. The game was so horrible for that reason (and many more) that I have never played a Pathfinder game since.

My personal experiences for Apathy and of Unpreparedness are both described further in GMs to Love, GMs to Hate.

3. Railroading

Dictating how the players should play the game. Most commonly, this is done by presenting a situation with a problem and only accepting a single solution, or otherwise failing to give them a choice on how to proceed. I should note that when I talk about it as one of the “seven deadly sins,” I’m talking about the more extreme examples. Sometimes it can be useful in a limited amount, such as in con games where you need to tell a story in a limited time period, but it’s best done if you at least give them other options (or use some techniques to give the illusion of choice). But when you’re running a whole game and dictating how the players should play every step of it, then you’ve gone too far.

Personal Experience: I haven’t experienced this one personally, but I have a friend who played in a game where the GM presented a murder mystery. There was one clue at each site with one way to find it and one interpretation of the clue and one place to go next. Interrogating subjects or trying alternate ways to catch the killer was vetoed, and there was nothing more to be done.

4. Lack of Focus

Not having the game at the center of your attention. This is when the GM is at the table, but their mind is not. They are being distracted by other things in the room, texting, or having personal issues in life that keep their mind off the game. It’s bad enough when a player is not paying attention to the game, it’s worse when the GM, the one coordinating the game, isn’t. Apathy could be the reason for this, although it doesn’t have to be.

Personal Experience: It seems that shortly before a con game of D&D 4e, the GM had some sort of relationship crisis with a girl he’d just received a phone call from. Apparently he didn’t have the willpower to force his issues out of his mind and, despite us telling him that he could cancel the game if he wasn’t up to it, he decided to go ahead and run with it. The GM’s mind clearly wasn’t on the game and there was one or two times when the game stalled because the GM didn’t keep the action moving. The game ended after one encounter of D&D 4e and the four hour game took a grand total of one and a half hours. Not the way I planned my con game to go.

5. Physical Neglect

The term “gamer funk” has been coined to describe the body odor that comes from a stereotypical gamer. This tends to be someone who is so geeky that they neglect personal hygiene and fails to shower or use deodorant. I also broaden the sin of Physical Neglect to include failure to get enough sleep and not eating right because those can have a detrimental effect on how to run the game.

Personal Experience: There was a GM who seemed unable to focus on the game and was somewhat…cranky. After about an hour and a half, his buddy stopped by and gave him a sandwich, which he ate voraciously. Afterwards, he did a lot better and was focused and entertaining. From what I could tell, he hadn’t eaten much at the convention and it was adversely affecting his ability to GM an enjoyable game.

6. Playing Favorites

Favoring one character over another. As a storyteller, there is a temptation to want to make certain characters be the heroes of the story, rather than having six or so characters equally be the heroes. Unfortunately, this results in players not having as much fun, as they are no longer the stars of the adventure. This comes in two flavors: Mary Sue characters where they are an NPC favored over the player charcters, or the Dungeonmaster’s Girlfriend where a certain player is favored over others.

Personal Experience: The worst time I’ve come across this is in the Deadlands Classic adventure Fortress o’ Fear, which is a below average ending to the otherwise phenomenal Heart o’ Darkness trilogy. The adventure is based around Jackie “Mary Sue” Wells, time traveler from the future who has a gun that is powerful enough to kill even Stone. Most of the scenario revolves around her bossing around the posse, then saving the day time and again by being so awesome she can’t be killed and doesn’t need to roll dice. This was perhaps the biggest reason why the adventure failed (although the backstory to the creatures in Devil’s Tower was just as bad). Completely excising her does make the adventure playable though.

7. Absence

Simply not showing up. Obviously, there are understandable circumstances for GM absence, such as personal illness and family emergency and if these are properly communicated, are fully forgiveable. But if the GM fails to show up with no explanation, then I say that they’re committing the worst sin of these seven. I would also include in this category canceling a game on short notice for a non-emergency reason. It’s fine to cancel for non-emergency reasons with enough planning so long as it doesn’t happen too often, but telling us you’re going to be absent mere hours before the next game isn’t.

Personal Experience: One thing I occasionally encountered in college was a GM canceling a game two hours before because they “have too much homework.” This always irked me because 9 times out of 10 the problem could have been avoided with proper planning. Generally I had done my homework ahead of time knowing full well that I’d be busy that evening, and so to suddenly have something I was looking forward to canceled because the GM failed to do the same left a bad taste in my mouth.

An Eighth Sin?

Interestingly, the Orthodox Church recognizes Eight Deadly Sins rather than the Seven that the Catholic Church recognizes (they add Despair). Is there an Eighth Deadly Sin that you think should be added to this list?

“Having One Eye is Purely Cosmetic”

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Long hair, fancy clothes, one eye. All a matter of style.

Long hair, fancy clothes, one eye. All a matter of style.

I realized something: in Dungeons & Dragons and its derivatives like Pathfinder, having one eye is purely cosmetic. There are no effects, positive or negative, that come from making a character have only one eye. They can spot enemies, shoot a bow, and jump over chasms just as well as their two-eyed counterparts. If their eye gets gouged out by a monster (or heaven forbid, they plan to use the Eye of Vecna), there are no lasting side effects. At the end of the day, having one eye is just as important as having blonde hair; it’s a purely cosmetic choice.

I’ve thought a bit about the reasons for it and here’s what I’ve come to the conclusion of:

No Way to Voluntarily Lose an Eye

I imagine that part of the reason for this is that, unlike other roleplaying games, Dungeons & Dragons does not have a set of rules for Hindrances or Drawbacks. During character creation, players don’t choose any flaws for their character, physical or otherwise. Without a way for a player to voluntarily make their character have a physical defect, one impetus for including such rules is lost. I’d hope that D&D Next would include a system like this, but alas it doesn’t seem likely.

Granted, you can gouge out your eye voluntarily to use the Eye of Vecna, but if you actually go through with it, you’re back to full sight (plus all the fun stuff that comes with it).

Death Has Historically Been Cheap

I imagine that the lack of such rules is largely because Dungeons & Dragons began as Chainmail, a wargame. In that game, you’re dealing with armies of soldiers who are all fighting fit because they would be discharged from service if they had only one eye or another hindrance that prevented them from effectively fighting. Furthermore, in the early days of D&D when death was cheap (and many low-level characters died from a single unnoticed trap), there wasn’t really any point to noting when they suffered a grave injury; you’re concerned largely about if they’re alive or dead, not about if they’ve lost an eye.

I think that this legacy has still continued to the day, even though the initial reasoning has largely gone. Even in Dungeons & Dragons 4e where characters are pretty hard to kill, a character can’t get their eye gouged out as an injury or lose a limb.

Hit Points Make it Tough

Back in the wargaming days, units were either alive or dead, and one hit took them down. When Gygax and Arneson created Dungeons & Dragons based on Chainmail, they decided that characters needed to be a bit more hardy to survive. Instead of taking one hit to go down, some unitswould take two or three hits to go down. They called the system “hit points.” Since then, the hit point mechanic has evolved into the system it is today (and pretty much every game and video game that uses hit points is indebted to this mechanic).

Over time, hit points became greater and characters became even hardier with changes to the rules on death. But the basic concept has stayed to the same. One side effect of this development is that your character can get all the way down to 1 HP and still fight just as well as they were at full health, and make a full recovery without even a scar.

HP. I still have one left.

Interestingly, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did try rules like this with their Unearthed Arcana book, which added optional rules for severe injuries, such as a broken arm. The implementation though was…poor. Basically your arm is a “bag of hit points” and if your arm gets to 0, it’s broken or worse. Most people found it too complicated and not really worth the called shot penalties it incurred, so those rules didn’t make an appearance in later versions.

A Possible Solution: Injury on Incapacitation

Yup, it’s totally ripped off from Savage Worlds, but it works. Why not just have this: whenever a character becomes incapacitated, they roll on a table for random injuries, indicating the damage they got from their last few attacks. The severity can be modified by the results of a Constitution roll (or Fortitude Saving Throw for 3.x systems). Then they’re stuck with the injury until they get fully healed, or permanently if it’s severe.

Injuries by default would add a penalty to some characteristic. A limp penalizes Pace and Agility, a gouged out eye penalizes Perception and Ranged attacks. And this solution works even with the current hit point system.

Ultimately though, I guess it all comes down to a matter of preference. Some people are totally fine with the fact that one eye is cosmetic. I on the other hand want things to be a bit more realistic in my games. Or at least let characters have flaws (which is a much bigger topic).

GMs to Love and GMs to Hate

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This week, I’ve decided to have my first forray into the RPG Blog Carnival, an organized event where once a month an RPG Blog poses a topic and other RPG Blogs write a post addressing it. Nevermet Press posed this month’s topic: “things to love and things to hate.” I’ve decided to write about GMs I’ve loved to game with and GMs I’ve hated to game with.

GMs to Hate

Now I’m using the phrase “hate” pejoratively because it’s part of the theme, but I really mean GMs who had a detrimental effect on the game. The book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering states that “at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants,” especially the interaction between the GM and the players. So I might say that those GMs I “hate” are those who ran a game that didn’t get anywhere close to a 70% success.

The GM Who Didn’t Bring Any Enthusiasm to the Game

My first (and so far my only) foray into Pathfinder was a convention game that turned into one of the worst convention games I have ever played. The GM wasn’t enthusiastic in the least. He read the text in a deadpan tone, didn’t give any eye contact to the players, and just went straight through the motions. During combat, he would move an enemy figure and, without saying anything, roll more dice and announce damage. The adventure’s only social encounter went like this:

GM:  In the middle of the room you see a dwarf hammering at the forge.

Player: I use Diplomacy. [rolls] 19.

GM: He tells you that he’s a prisoner here and the only way to free him is to destroy the necromantic altar on the floor above him. Do you guys want to go ahead and go up there?

Nothing at all inspiring about this GM. Afterwards I heard him chattting to one of the players saying that his primary motivation was the GM rewards program for the Pathfinder Rewards Program. Now I’ve got nothing against GM rewards programs, but clearly this GM didn’t have his heart in the game. Bottom line, a terrible game (and that’s not even bringing up the situation where a player pulled out the Pathfinder book to show the monster’s statblock and prove to the GM that he was using its attack wrong).

The GM Who Hated the System He Was Running

You would think that a GM would run a game with a system he liked. Not so here. This GM was part of a larger group which had a good reputation over all. I was excited to play in a game with a cross between some meddling kids, a dog, and an Elder God. The fact that it was run using Savage Worlds with Realms of Cthulhu made it even more appealing.

But apparently, the GM hated Savage Worlds. He said so himself as he was flipping through the books to something up. He didn’t know even the most basic rules either and had Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (ignoring Parry), bad guys who were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks,” and the GM spending bennies to make the players reroll. I really got the impression that the GM hated the system so much that he just did a quick skim over the rules an hour before the game.

Perhaps the GM was required to run Savage Worlds by the group he was part of, but it was no excuse to be running a system he absolutely hated. Too bad because I think it could have been a great game.

GMs to Love

Fortunately, for every horrendous GM, there’s a fantastic one. The ones that make you want to immediately come back and play next year (or even make you want to go run down to the dealer hall and buy the book for the system they are running). There’s a few experiences in particular that I’d like to point out:

The GMs Who Let the Rule of Awesome Trump Everything

Especially in one-shots, it’s important to let the players have fun with what they are doing and let them go with whatever cool ideas they come up with. The GMs from Matinee Adventures totally do that. I played in two games with them last Origins and they were probably the highlight of my con. One was a game was a 7th Sea game based on the Scarlet Pimpernel where we were musketeer-style nobles who went in disguise to save other nobles from the guillotine. The players had lots of great ideas and there were some really epic moments like jumping through a window in order to do a leap attack against some bounty hunters down on the streets below. The GM totally let us do those things and we all had fun!

Another adventure from Matinee Adventures was an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel using the Ubiquity system where we were teenagers (like in the show) who were saving a child from the Western Air Temple. The GM totally could have set it up where we were limited to only doing certain maneuvers with our elemental bending. But instead, he had us describe whatever we wanted to do, even if it was way over the top, and let us roll for it with some difficulty modifiers. Some really awesome stuff happened there too.

The GM Who Went All Out for His Game

There was a GM who decided he would make the best Stargate SG-1 game he could possibly make. So he used his incredible modeling skills and made this:

Doesn’t this just make you want to play? Now I probably should make it very clear that I am not at all expecting for every GM to make elaborate minis like this. I just want to show the amount of enthusiasm that this GM clearly has for his game. He created a great scenario and went all out to make it as fun as possible for everyone at the table, which for him meant creating great visuals. If you’re a Stargate fan and have the opportunity, definitely play in this guy’s games.

So those are some GMs I’ve loved and GMs I’ve hated. I think that both groups have certainly had an influence in me becoming the JourneymanGM that I am today.

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