Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Simple Firearms Rules for Pathfinder

The Pathfinder firearms rules are complex. Obviously Paizo was going for a mix of balance and realism. That said, if you don't care about realism and you want, instead, a simple way of interacting with firearms, try this:

3 lb.

10 lb.

12 lb.

Range: Within a firearm’s first range increment, ranged attacks are made against a target’s touch armor class. Further range increments are treated normally (suffering -2 to hit for each subsequent range increment).

Misfire: Firearms misfire on a natural 1, gaining the broken condition and increasing the misfire value by 4. If a broken firearm misfires again it explodes, destroying the weapon and dealing weapon damage to everyone in a 10 foot radius. Broken firearms can be repaired with a gunsmith’s kit and a DC 10 Dexterity check over the course of 1d6 hours.

Broken: If the item is a weapon, any attacks made with the item suffer a –2 penalty on attack and damage rolls. Such weapons only score a critical hit on a natural 20 and only deal ×2 damage on a confirmed critical hit.

Scatter: This gun can shoot two different types of ammunition. It can fire normal bullets that target one creature, or it can make a scattering shot, attacking all creatures within a cone. Make a separate attack roll against each creature within the cone with a –2 penalty. Effects that grant concealment, such as fog or smoke, or the blur, invisibility, or mirror image spells, do not foil a scatter attack. If any of the attack rolls threaten a critical, confirm the critical for that attack roll alone. A firearm that makes a scatter shot misfires only if all of the attack rolls made misfire. If a scatter weapon explodes on a misfire, it deals triple its damage to all creatures within 10 feet.

Commonplace Guns: While still expensive and tricky to wield, early firearms are readily available. Instead of requiring the Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat, all firearms are martial weapons.


This has been copied and reworked from Pathfinder Open Gaming Content. While paring it down in just this way is my idea, I really can't claim authorship with a clean conscience, so I won't. Let's call it an open content rework or an OGL homebrew revision or something, hell, I don't know, call it Susan and feed it scones if you want.

If you've got a player who wants to run a Gunslinger, probably don't use these rules. Gunslingers want all the complex stuff and are probably unbalanced if you make things too easy on them. Otherwise, this is a way of including firearms in your Pathfinder game that doesn't require memorizing a whole new subset of rules or printing out twenty pages of reference material.

Monday, March 21, 2016

My Top 5 RPG Books

Right, so this is a collection of RPG books I recommend to everyone. No particular order. I don’t claim these books are “the best” or “essentials” or anything like that. They’re simply been highly inspirational to me over the past two decades of playing RPGs. 

Mechanically speaking, these books detail rules for AD&D and D&D 3rd Edition - the two RPGs I've played the most. And while there are other books and other systems I have liked more (I still think about you, sometimes, GURPS, and wonder at what might've been), these books remain the ones with the most long-term value. Even if I never check THAC0 again, I know I can still find a treasure trove of ideas in these books.

d20 Modern Core Rulebook (Wizard of the Coast, 2002). This book drives me nuts. It’s got OK core mechanics but it’s still somehow boring. I always want to fix it! So I do fix it. And my friends fix it. And we end up running vastly different games full of nuance and character off the same book, the same flawed rules we’re perpetually complaining about, perpetually improving, and man, it’s like magic. I have played in some amazing d20 Modern games over the years.

It's not a great book but it is a great catalyst. I honestly can't explain why.

Planescape Campaign Setting (AD&D, David Zeb Cook, 1994). I still don’t know if Planescape is better thought of as a work of fiction or as a one-of-a-kind campaign setting. Navigating the planes is difficult for players and DMs alike, but so rewarding. There is so much here to steal! Seriously, it’s an unguarded dragon’s horde and every gold piece is a brilliant idea. Even if you never play it as the Factols intended, parts of Planescape will slip into everything you do from here on out, forever.

Okay, that's blatant hyperbole, but I still highly recommend it. If, after reading, you're uninspired by Zeb Cook's weird prose and left cold by Tony DiTerlizzi's whimsical illustrations, well, I don't know what to tell you, other than you have inscrutable taste.

The Illithiad (AD&D, Bruce Cordell, 1998). Was it strictly necessary to make the scariest monsters in AD&D even scarier? No. Was it awesome? Hell yes! Back in the day, man, this book got used. We wrapped up long play-through of A Night Below around the time I purchased this book, so illithids and their society were a constant presence in our games back then. Mostly off-camera; we’d find their weapons, their slaves, and their incomprehensible treasures more often than we’d find actual mind flayers, but we lived in perpetual fear of having our brains sucked out.

This one might just be on the list for the sake of nostalgia. Even so, there are few books that go into so much detail with regard to a single antagonist. I still feel as though a dozen games could come crawling out of its pages.

The Book of Vile Darkness (D&D 3.0, Monte Cook, 2002). The perfect amount of evil. It manages to be graphic but not vomit-inducing. I have used this as a sourcebook for antagonists ever since it came out. The Blackguard spell list alone has altered the fate of several campaigns (Having both sadism and masochism active on a character with multiple attacks is a recipe for sheer terror).

Eberron (D&D 3.5, Keith Baker, 2004). I’ve only run a single campaign in Eberron proper. Without getting into details, I'll just say that the campaign was short, sweet, and very memorable. I’ve often thought about running Eberron again, and what invariably occurs is this: I open up Eberron, write a campaign synopsis, plot it out, and think, “Man, if I could just move the geography around a little, I could do this…” So I do. I change geography and monsters and villains and kingdoms. And then it’s not Eberron anymore, not really, but it’s better – it’s the seeds of my own campaign.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Some Clever Pun About Updates and Destiny

Sorry for the lack of updates. Got sucked into playing Destiny during my free time, and, well, it's really fun.

I also went on a short vacation to Washington DC with some friends.


So yeah, I'll get back to writing RPG stuff again in the near future. As soon as the lustre of being a badass murdermachine fighting for the fate of the Traveler wears off, anyway.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Chesterwick (Part 1)

Chesterwick is a fantasy megalopolis. Its history is an unedited, unfinished novel. Its sewers are a mega-dungeon. Everything in the city is stolen from someplace else: it's pure chaos, a glorious mess, and it keeps on growing.

Chesterwick is the capitol city of Meerlock. To appreciate that fact, one must know a thing or two about Meerlock.

Once upon a time, Meerlock was a tiny mountain kingdom (Switzerland is much bigger) with very little to recommend it. Before it could grow into the sprawling, irresponsible empire it is today, however, it had to be forged in battle and stolen from the orcs. (And also re-named Meerlock - the orcs called it Three Bloody Spikes but nobody remembers that).

Jonas Meerlock - a soldier of fortune (pronounced "12th level Neutral Evil Human Thief") - lead a rag-tag bunch of adventurers on a quest to kill the orc chieftains of Three Bloody Spikes, which he successfully completed in a year, and establish a city which would be his legacy, which he also did...  but not as successfully.

The city of Meerlock prospered thanks to fortuitous geography. The surrounding mountain slopes were covered with rare hardwood trees which could be harvested and floated downriver to Fallowmere, a wealthy city in need of quality lumber, while dwarf-clans to the east and west kept the vengeful orc-clans at bay. After all, the dwarves thought, if Meerlock prospered, it meant the dwarves could get luxury goods without traveling for weeks through poorly-mapped forests. Kill orcs and get access to cheap moustache wax? They were sold on the plan.

Two decades later, when some fool struck gold in the mountains, the population of Meerlock tripled in a year. Jonas was raking in so much money he started jokingly calling himself a king. When nobody corrected him, he kept on doing it. Then he levied taxes and made laws and everyone was like, "Sure dude. As long as we can get some of that sweet, sweet gold, you do whatever you want."

So King Jonas commissioned a map and depicted "The Kingdom of Meerlock" with generous borders and had it sent it to all the nearby principalities in a rather provocative gesture. He was shocked at the high cost of cartography, however, and never paid his cartographers - Melvin Chesterwick & Sons. Thus, Meerlock's eponymous capital city became Chesterwick, and colorful landmarks such as Mount Melvin, Cartography Island, and The Forest of Stunted Trees Which Remind the King of His Own Inadequate Member were established.

That was all ages ago, though. In the millennium since King Jonas' reign, Meerlock has grown into a vast empire with a vast capital.

Brandon the Second is the current Emperor. He lives an enchanted life at the Imperial Palace surrounded by all sorts of treasures. He's got a young wife and a gaggle of fawning courtiers and he wears a powdered wig all the time, like the barristers, but his wig is made from unicorn hair and powdered with moon dust.

Probably, anyway. Nobody's actually important enough to see the Emperor.

Art by Natalie Kocsis.
Due to an obscure custom, the Duke is actually the Mayor of Chesterwick. What was that? Tell you a long story? Well, you see, there was a Duke of Meerlock, once, who ruled Chesterwick because the Mayor died suddenly from an angry mob. He never bothered to re-appoint a Mayor, and left a mess of unanswered questions after his own death from overzealous flagellation.

Nobody cares what the Duke has to say. Well, unless you're trying to get a permit to zone a commercial business in a residential area and those twits at the City Planning Guild have denied you for a fifth time, but c'mon, that's not you.

The real powers are the Guilds.

There's a guild for everything and they'd all rather pay fines than do things properly.

For a span of about three months in 1306 IR, a necromancer calling himself "Bonesy" ruled Chesterwick with a ... well, actually, he was pretty fair. Much nicer than anyone expected. He annexed the neighboring country of Melinda in a day - really, the better part of an afternoon - using a team of elite shock-troopers and a teleport spell. It was a shock to everyone, especially considering that Meerlock wasn't even at war with Melinda.

Of course, nobody has ever bothered to give the country back...

Bonesy's most enduring legacies (so far discovered) have been a twenty-story granite wizard's tower build with zombie slave labor, and countless unsolved mysteries. He and his coterie disappeared - some say into the aetherial realms - shortly after his tower was completed. He left behind his tower, a horde of unemployed undead, and a bewildered nation.

Some of the mercenaries who founded Chesterwick became excited at the prospect of founding royal dynasties. After all, if Jonas could declare himself royalty, why couldn't they? The Elite Guard began as a single regiment of decorated soldiers and their underlings. It has, over the years, grown as large as seventy regiments and as sparse as one, but today, seventeen regiments of Elite Guard are recognized.

The 2nd Golden Lions have been campaigning against clockwork monstrosities in Zemria on behalf of the Aurloni people. They use prototype gnomecraft weapons to ensure none of the 'brass boys' get the chance to breech the city walls.

The 4th Men-at-Arms, the King's Green Dragons, is by far the most decorated regiment, being most recently credited with defending the city from an extra-dimensional horror called a century worm in an event thereafter known as Worm Day.

The 17th, the Sewer Rats, is tasked with maintaining order beneath the city. They're only noticed when they screw up.

Last summer, when my PC crashed, I lost a mountain of D&D history. It was so dumb and so preventable, but I never backed up any of my game writing. It wasn't until it was irretrievable that I realized how much I'd lost.

Chesterwick has been a part of my D&D experience since 2005. There's much more to it than the preceding paragraphs, but I've wanted to write down the interesting pieces of its history for awhile and, as incomplete, unpolished, and unfinished as they may be, that's what I've finally started to do.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2015-16 Pathfinder Campaign Review

Listed below are the modules I used to create my current Pathfinder campaign, slated to wrap up with the conclusion of Crypt of the Devil Lich in three weeks. I thought it might be fitting to present a brief write-up of my opinions on each module. As I've said before, the conceit of this campaign was simple: A linear series of adventure modules, strung together with brief "town phases" so you can sell your rubies and swap out hirelings before getting right back into the dungeon-crawl.

DCC #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings
Jacob's Tower #6: The Gauntlet
DCC #5: Aerie of the Crow God
The Warlock's Vault
DCC #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle
Pathfinder S1: Clash of the Kingslayers

The Ruby Phoenix Tournament
DCC #13: Crypt of the Devil Lich

We've been playing most weekends for the past six months. Our session lengths can vary wildly, but a median length is about five or six hours.

Beheaded by Satibalzane.
DCC #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings (3 sessions)
+ Somewhat nonlinear: Your players decide which "third" with which to engage.
+ Classic monsters (gnolls, lizardmen, etc). Everything's hostile and far from min-maxed.
+ Boss fights (ogre blacksmith, plague dragon, lizard king, witch) that yield cool treasures.
+ Good layout. If you're using a battle-mat, it's easy to draw stuff ahead of time.
+ Lots of future plot hooks. Great starting point for a campaign.
+ Several places to introduce new characters if PCs die mid-way through.
+ Stealth characters have their time in the spotlight... so to speak.
- Some treasures don't make sense (keen dire mace?)
- Some treasures are game changers. This isn't really a negative, but as a DM, you'll need to decide if you're willing to give the Fighter a sword that can cast lightning bolts. I kept it in and I'm happy I did.
- The lizardfolk shaman was an extremely weak mini-boss.
- Some better anti-Stealth mechanics in the Fortress would heighten the danger.
- Out of print
Overall: Recommended. I'd enthusiastically run this adventure again.

Jacob's Tower #6: The Gauntlet (1 session).
+ If you love Skills, puzzles, and a mixture of classic and obscure monsters, you're in for a treat.
+ Well-written, easy to play module. Requires very little prep.
+ Costs $1 for the .pdf and the designer gets all of it.
- Crushing wall mechanic isn't dangerous enough. Some of the drama wears off once they get a significant lead.
- Required a little exposition and some re-skinning to soften the edges and make it "fit" into the campaign world.
Overall: With a few minor changes, I'd happily run this adventure again.

DCC #5: Aerie of the Crow God (3 sessions)
+ Rooks are a clever re-design of Harpies. Instead of being seductive they cause fear. Fear effects stack in 3.5/Pathfinder, so your party is going to panic very quickly.
+ Very atmospheric.
+ Amusing NPCs.
- Dungeon layout is somewhat convoluted. It's unintentionally nonlinear.
- Most encounters are either very dangerous or very easy. If you don't have any way to mitigate fear, you're looking at a TPK on the first clutch of Rooks. Likewise, the 1d3 damage dealt by the juvenile scrags is laughably insignificant.
- As with DCC#17, some treasures are game changers (though even more so). I reduced the power level of "the Star Arms" and removed the adamantine punching dagger entirely. Also, the adamantine scimitar has a ridiculous "chop off your hand" ability that is just a rules headache waiting to happen.
- Out of print
Overall: I would not run this adventure again. Just browse it and use the good parts to add spice to your existing campaign.

The Warlock's Vault (1 session)
This was a homebrew death-crawl filled with gelatinous cubes, drow artifacts, and various sorts of shadow demons. Maybe I'll share it at some point.

DCC #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle (3 sessions) I've already written a review here.
Overall: Highly recommended. A fun adventure for mid-to-high-level characters.

Pathfinder S1: Clash of the Kingslayers (2 sessions) I've reviewed this one, too.
Overall: Recommended, but you'll need to spend a lot of time prepping it to get the most out of it. So if that's a dealbreaker for you, well, now you know. I would run parts of this module again - the Living Monastery maps are also quite good and could be easily adapted to something else.

The Ruby Phoenix Tournament (3 sessions)
+ Great concept. D&D meets Mortal Kombat.
+ Cool variety of fights and opponents. A few too many "solo vs. group" fights, but whatever, throw in a couple generic mooks if it looks too easy (stats handily included in the module) and you're set.
+ Optional side-events for those PCs who really want to show off their characters.
+ Defeating a party of enemy bards is comically fun, very easy, and emotionally rewarding.
- Poor layout / needless verbosity issues common to all Pathfinder modules
- Transparent subplot. "The Golden League is bad? Really?"
- The DM needs to keep track of a lot of spell effects. It'll give you a headache quickly if you don't prep. Make some notecards and stay sober while you're running it - You'll have more fun.
- The writers assume the PCs will succeed at everything. There is very little accounting for failure. For example, my players failed to rescue the kidnapped paladin. The module doesn't even acknowledge that possibility, nor suggest how the tournament will be changed by that outcome, so I had to be rather extemporaneous. It worked out, but given that they have 2-4 paragraphs of backstory for every single fighter, you'd think they'd include some details about stuff that's, y'know, relevant.
- The end-bosses are kind of a let down.
- The writer sort of assumes you won't murder people which is all kinds of dumb. Easy to fix, but c'mon, nobody likes a teacher's pet.
Overall: If you've been DMing for any length of time, you could easily do something like this on your own. If I were to run it again, I'd use the side-events as-is, cut the tournament down to three days, and then remake all the fights. Not because they're bad or anything - in fact, some of them were quite good! But because it's my game, and I maybe want my players to fight dwarf cavalrymen in wooden armor riding rust monsters...

Power by Satibalzane.