Monday, December 31, 2012

Spicing Up Encounters: The Animal Pit

    The Animal Pit requires some set up, but adds a lot to an encounter.  It is best for low level characters who do not yet have access to teleport or flight.

     In this encounter, one or two party members have been captured, stripped of their items, and thrown into a 30 foot deep animal pit.  The animal pit is a 25 by 25 foot square, and it has a heavy grate on top that prevents anybody from climbing in or out.  The grate is locked in place, though a DC 15 disable device check will unlock it, after which a DC 15 strength check will move it.  The grate also provides partial cover to anybody on the other side.

     The animal in the pit should be difficult for one or two party members to take on, its CR equal to the party member's level.

     The rest of the party is at ground level, fighting whomever threw their buddy in the pit.  One of the enemies up here has the key to the grate.  During the fight, the heroes can try to unlock and lift the grate, assist their buddy in the animal pit, steal the keys and open the grate, or kill the person who has the keys.  The rest of the party should do this before the hero in the animal pit succumbs to the monster in the pit.

      Simple, easy to run, and makes for some nice drama!

Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Run an Epic Battle

      Many great adventure paths and stories have epic battle between two (or more) gigantic armies.  These battles are often crucial to the plot, and serve as a climax to whatever scene they are in.  The question becomes how to incorporate a game like pathfinder, which focuses on a relatively small group of individuals, into a huge battle.  Well, there are a few points to remember.

Allow the Players to Scheme

      Although Pathfinder is a Role Playing Game, most players will latch onto the opportunity to utilize their Real Time Strategy skills.  In the weeks leading up to the battle, the players will want to build more towers, train the troops to withstand a cavalry charge, instruct the mages on the best uses of stone to mud, or make a fence of immovable rods.  You should allow and encourage this.

      During the actual battle make sure that the player's plans either come to fruition or are dashed, but make sure to address them.  Their preparations should have real and concrete effects on both the battle as a whole, and the skirmishes that the players take part in.

Break it up into Parts

      No matter how grand a battle, the end result will be boring if you don't break it into parts.  Instead of one long combat of wave after wave of enemy, divide the heroes' role into manageable subsections.  These sections should be distinct, meaningful, and realistic, and they should have a visible impact on the rest of the combat.  A few examples are detailed at the end of this post.

      Large battles should have at least 3 different segments to show just how immense they really are, but feel free to have epic battles with far more segments.

The Larger Battle Affects the Heroes

      As our heroes run around the battlefield, the fighting around them should affect what they do.  There are a few ways to accomplish this.  The simplest way is to adjust the number of enemies or obstacles in each combat depending on how the battle is going.  Attack the players with catapults until they take out the catapult.  Give the players healing if they lower the drawbridge, allowing the clerics across.

      A more complex method is to employ a variation of the performance combat rules.  Assign a score to how the battle is going for our heroes, from -3 to +3.  This score is known as a "Tide of Battle" score, and is applied as an untyped bonus to our heroes during attack rolls, CMB rolls, skill checks, and saving throws.  It represents not only the morale boost of winning, but also shouted warnings, "invisible" flanking partners littered across the field, unseen arrow volleys, and general strategic advantage.  As our heroes accomplish or fail at tasks, make sure to adjust the tide of battle score.

      Some characters, such as bards, clerics, and spellcasters are able to affect a large number of creatures at the same time.  For heroes using these abilities, for example a bard using inspire courage or a sorcerer using stone to mud under a horde of enemies feet, apply temporary adjustments to the Tide of Battle Score as you see fit.  After all, imagine how much more effective a bard is if he is giving bonuses to 50 people instead of 5.

Example:  Storming A Castle

      Before the battle, our heroes must make two diplomacy checks to pump up the troops, then two intimidate checks to warn them what will happen if they fail.

      The battle begins, but almost immediately there are problems.  The large gate in the outer walls is guarded by a group of trolls, and none dare go near them.  Our heroes must fight these trolls, then plant and arm a small bomb on the gate to blow it open.

      Within the first wall is a moat, and the drawbridge is up.  Our heroes must make swim checks to swim across the moat, then climb checks to get to the drawbridge controls.  Every round of checks is another round of arrows that our heroes must deal with.

      Within the drawbridge control room, there is a token force, and a puzzle for our heroes to figure out (Knowledge Engineering helps greatly).  When they have pulled the correct levers, the drawbridge comes crashing down.

      The drawbridge is lowered, but a gigantic magical siege engine is tearing our troops apart.  Our heroes get to the siege engine, and must endure infinite waves of enemies until they deal the siege engine enough damage to destroy it.

      Enough is enough.  Our heroes decide it's time to end this battle and kill the king.  Our heroes weave their way through chaotic streets, first making stealth checks to avoid arrow fire, then making perception checks to locate the king.

      The fight against the king and his guard is straightforward.  Once he is killed, our heroes may take his head and ride through the streets, making intimidate checks to cause enemies to throw down their weapons.

Example:  Defending A Castle

      Before the battle, our heroes must make two diplomacy checks to pump up the defenders, then two bluff checks to let them know that the odd are in their favor!

      The gate is holding, but the enemy has brought siege ladders.  Assign each hero onto siege ladder, and give them five rounds of one mook a turn.  At least the heroes know exactly where the mooks are coming from.  Fire or a good strength check will destroy a ladder or push it off into oblivion.

      Here come the siege towers!  Our heroes have 2 turns to destroy the approaching structure, or else out pop a band of ogres!

      Our commanding general has taken a poisoned arrow.  Make acrobatics checks to get to him in time, then defend him against infinite enemies as a party member treats him.  This only ends when his poison is cured or he dies.

      The combat on the walls has gotten intense, and those defending the cannon have fled.  A fighting retreat has been ordered, but the heroes may take a few turns of Disable Device or Knowledge Engineering to transform the remaining gunpowder into a bomb.  For each attempt, the heroes must deal with another round of arrows.

      Defend the King!  Our benevolent ruler finds himself face to face with the BBEG, and it is up to our heroes to defend his highness.  Our heroes are halfway across the battlefield, but a couple of riderless horses are milling about.  Fly, run, ride, or teleport, but get to the king as quickly as possible and defend him!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Skill Uses

Ever wish that you had a table explaining the basics of each skill?  Now you do!

Skill Table

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Should the Paladin Fall?

         There are a lot of questions about when a Paladin should fall, and with good reason.  The rules are intentionally vague.  They describe a roleplaying situation, not a mechanical situation, and so are best left to DM and player scrutiny.

"A paladin who ceases to be lawful good, who willfully commits an evil act, or who violates the code of conduct loses all paladin spells and class features."
         The most important part of playing with a Paladin is communication.  Before even considering the fall, you must determine what the Paladin's codes are.  Does he follow the rule of law, or his own personal code?  Does he favor the greater good or the immediate good?  What God does he follow?

         I offer up the following five criterion for determining when a Paladin should fall.  If a Paladin meets all five of these criterion, he should fall.  If a Paladin meets the first two, and at least one of three, four, or five, he might fall.  If a Paladin does not meet both one and two he should not fall, regardless of all else.

1:  Did you warn him?

       If you did not warn him, he should not fall.  This is the most important rule.

       The fall of a Paladin should never come as a surprise.  It is the DM's duty to warn the Paladin of any wrongful course, should the player (if not the character) be unable to see it.  Pathfinder is a cooperative game that is about having fun.  Players will have a bad time if they feel that their powers are taken away without warning or apparent reason.  The DM must warn the Paladin that he is stepping down the wrong path, and perhaps suggest a better one.  If you forgot to tell the player that he may lose his paladin abilities, then his character should not fall.

     However, if you told a Paladin that his actions were likely to lead him down the path of darkness, and he took them anyway, then tally one against the Paladin.  However, take a second to consider what exactly an act worthy of falling is...

2:  Was there an obviously better alternative?

        Lose/Lose situations are not grounds for falling.  The Paladin should only fall if he knows of a better alternative.

        Every once in a while, a DM will place a paladin, intentionally or not, in a situation without a clear correct path.  Let's take the most basic possible example.  There are two children trapped in a burning building.  The Paladin only has time to save one.  Either way the Paladin will have the death of a child on his hands, and so he should not be penalized for choosing one or the other.  There is no better alternative, so the Paladin should not fall.

        Now, let's say that the Paladin has in his possession a wand of create water capable of putting out the blaze and saving both children.  However, the player or the character are unaware of the nature of the wand, and so does not use it.  This wand is not an obviously better solution, as the Paladin is unaware of it, so the Paladin should not fall.

      For the sake of argument, lets say that the Paladin is again faced with the burning building.  Instead of saving either child, he decides now would be a wonderful time to pull out his bag of endless marshmallows and make a s'more.  There is an obviously better solution, so this may be grounds for falling.

3:  Was his act unlawful?

      Pathfinder describes the relationship between lawful and chaotic:

"Lawful characters tell the truth, keep their word, respect authority, honor tradition, and judge those who fall short of their duties. Chaotic characters follow their consciences, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over tradition, and do what they promise if they feel like it."

       In most games, there are two ways to play lawful characters.  Those who follow the law of the land, and those who strictly follow their own personal code.  The DM should ask what kind of Paladin the character is playing, and then use that information.  Often, the law and code will conflict.  When they conflict, don't hold law-breaking against personal-code Paladins, and don't hold code-breaking against rule-of-law paladins.

      Let's consider an example.  The Paladin Charity believes that she should give money to the poor.  Charity finds herself in the Land of Nice, where giving alms is mandatory.  She gives half her money to a beggar.  This is clearly a lawful act, as she is following both the law of the land, and her own personal code.

     Next, Charity wanders over to the Land of Mean, where it is illegal to give money to the poor.  The King of Mean is a wealthy jerk who kicks kittens every morning.  Charity decides to follow the rule of law, and she refrains from giving alms.  If Charity is the kind of Paladin who favors rule-of-law, then this is perfectly acceptable behavior.  If Charity is the kind of Paladin who favors personal-code, then this might be grounds for falling.

     After spending a few weeks in Mean, Charity has a change of heart, and wants to give money to the poor.  However, all of her money has been taxed away.  She decides to steal from the King of Mean, and give the money to the poor.  If Charity is the kind of Paladin who favors personal-code, then this is wonderful.  If Charity is the kind of Paladin who favors rule-of-law, then this might be grounds for falling.

     After successfully sneaking in to the castle, she comes across the treasure trove.  The mounds of gold open her eyes, and Charity decides to take it all for herself.  This is clearly an unlawful act.  She is breaking the laws of Mean by robbing, and she is breaking her own personal code.

4:  Was his act "un-good"?

       Pathfinder describes the relationship between good and evil:

"Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit."

       Some acts are clearly good (such as petting a puppy).  Some are clearly evil (such as killing a puppy).  Most of the confusion comes from greater good and immediate good.  Find out if the paladin favors greater good over immediate good.  Often, these two ideas will be in conflict, and when they are make sure to favor the paladin's reading of it.

       Paladin Smartz goes after a werewolf who has been terrorizing a village.  He tracks the werewolf back to its lair, and finds that the werewolf is a poor, defenseless boy who cannot control himself.  Luckily Smartz can remove the curse.  This is clearly a good act.  He is serving the immediate good by saving the boy, and he is serving the greater good by protecting the townsfolk.

       However, there is some bad news for Paladin Smartz.  Remove curse does not work.  Smartz raises his sword to strike the boy down.  If this is a greater good Paladin, then this is the right move.  Killing the boy will prevent any further attacks on the village.  However, if this is an immediate good Paladin, then this may be grounds for falling, as killing an innocent boy certainly feels like an evil act.

       Paladin Smartz slowly lowers his sword.  He cannot kill the boy, but his adventure would have no room for him.  Instead, he will bring the boy to the town jail, and force the town to work on his cure.  If this is an immediate good Paladin, then he has fulfilled his objective.  The innocent boy is not dead.  However, if Smartz is a greater good Paladin, this may be grounds for falling.  He is endangering the lives of every civilian by letting the werewolf live.

      The conundrum is too much for the Paladin.  He slays the boy, then returns to the village.  Smartz is angry at the mayor for placing him in such a delicate position, so he returns to town hall and slays the mayor.  Then all the witnesses.  Then everybody else in town.  This is clearly an evil act, as it serves neither the greater good, nor the immediate good.

5:  Was his act against his God?

       The fifth criterion is the one where you can have the most flexibility, and the most fun.  Why?  Because you are the Paladin's God.  You get to make the rules. You can even change the rules – Gods, even Lawful Good gods, are notably fickle.

       Paladin Hare worships BunnyLord, Lord of Bunnies.  He favors rabbits, hates oozes, and is pretty relaxed about out-of-wedlock hanky-panky.  When Hare is faced with a possessed rabbit, he chooses to capture the creature and perform a complex exorcism rather than simply kill it.  When he is given the choice between killing dragons and killing oozes, he kills oozes every time.  And when he finds his wife in bed with the mayor, he lets them both off with a warning instead of taking more serious action.  Paladin Hare is a great follower of the Bunnylord.

       Paladin Roast also worships the Bunnylord, Lord of Bunnies.  When Roast is faced with a possessed rabbit, he slays the beast to prevent further damage.  When he is given the choice between killing dragons and killing oozes, he goes after the red dragon that has been causing more damage than any ooze.  And when he finds his wife in bed with the mayor, he takes them both to a court of law for adultery.  Even though none of these acts is non-good or non-lawful, the Bunnylord may still be displeased.  Probably not grounds for falling, but the Bunnylord may have a stern word with Paladin Roast.


       A Paladin can be many things, and it is important to know exactly what a Paladin is before passing judgement.  To wrap up, let's consider the following example.

        Paladin Triky is greater good paladin, who follows a strict code of "destroy all demons" and worships the BunnyLord.  He is faced with a possessed rabbit who has been terrorizing the villagers.  But the villagers have been unable to kill it due to strict no-poaching laws.  He decides to destroy the rabbit as quickly as possible.  Should he fall?

       Well, you may want to ask Triky.  Triky was preserving the greater good by saving the villagers, even at the expense of the life of an innocent bunny.  He also broke the no-poaching law in favor of his own personal code.  However, that's all consistent with who Triky is as a Paladin.  True, he went against the BunnyLord's wishes, but with good reason.  Paladin Triky should not fall for killing the bunny.

      Paladin Conflikt is an immediate good Paladin who follows the law of the land and worships the Oozelord.  He decides to save and cage the bunny, wasting time and resources searching for a cure.  Should he fall?

     Well, you may want to ask Conflikt.  Conflikt was favoring the immediate good by saving the bunny, even at the potential expense of all those around him.  He preserved the no-poaching law, even against the OozeLord's wishes.  Paladin Conflikt should not fall for saving the bunny.

     Here's the take away:  What might make one Paladin fall is the right choice for another.  Know your player's Paladins.  Don't place them in unwinnable situations, or, if you do, don't penalize them.  And above all, let them know if a certain action will lead to a fall.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Class Should I Play?

         It's a good question, and now we have the answer!

         Open up this Google Doc, and make a copy.   Then, in the column that says "Want or Do Not Want" place number 3 to -3, depending on what you want in your character.  Three means strongly want, -3 means strongly do not want, 0 means ambivalent.  After you do that, numbers will appear next to the classes - the highest number will indicate the class that best suits your playing needs!

What Class Should I Play? Questionnaire

Alternatively, looking for what class would best round out your party?  Check out the

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to Make a Good Campaign Wiki

         A good wiki or website can add a lot to your campaign.  It can store information about your world, story, and characters.  It can help players keep track of loot and exp.   It can provide a place for between-session roleplaying.  But most of all, it can keep players interested and excited about your campaign.

         Let's look at the aspects of a good campaign wiki.  You can see an example side-bar off to the side of this post.

A Good Hosting Site

         A lot of people use Obsidian Portal for their campaign wiki.  This is not surprising – Obsidian Portal is made for running table top RPGs.  There are many features that make life easier, such as pre-generated blank character sheets.  However, I have found that Obsidian Portal is a bit limiting in what they will let you do (at least without upgrading).  For example, they only allow you to have one map – problematic for us map lovers out there, and for most sandbox games.

         Instead, I suggest PBWorks.  It's free, easy to use, and very, very flexible.  It will require a few more minutes of set-up (they obviously don't provide you with character sheets), but once you get the format you like, making changes is very easy.

Player Characters

         I require my players to keep their up-to-date on the wiki.  This has a number of bonuses.  It allows me to audit player extremely easily, and without making anybody feel uneasy.  It allows me to put them up against enemies that they may find fun and interesting.  It allows me to see who is under equipped, and provide them with some nice loot in the next adventure.  It allows me to quickly review a character's backstory.

        It also allows other players to look at each other.  This encourages fun group dynamics and teamwork, as well as minimizing player overlap.  Most of all, as with every page on the wiki, it gets players to the wiki and thinking about the campaign between sessions.

Adventure Log

         After every session, I write up what happened in an Adventure Log.  I tend to run fairly intricate games, so reminding the players what has happened is crucial.  Make sure to give individual characters credit for what they do.  Players love reliving glorious or dangerous moments.

Group Loot

         Dividing up group loot can be difficult for some groups.  Clarifying exactly what's what often helps.  A group loot page should not only list the items that are up for grabs, but also have a comments section for players to discuss who should get what.

Character Chat

         The Character Chat is perhaps the most important part of a wiki.  This is where players can have in-character discussions in between sessions.  The Character Chat is a fun and exciting place for your players to be engaged in the game when they are not actually playing.  It keeps enthusiasm up and is a great opportunity for roleplaying.

World Information

         If you are running a homebrew game, then you probably want to tell your players about the world.  This is a section for you to explain everything that you players should know, from geography to religion to NPCs of note.

Everything Else

         Of course, you should feel free to write up anything else you like on your wiki. I lay out my House Rules on the wiki, so everything is clear with the players.  I keep track of crafting on my wiki, as it tends to get rather complicated.  I also keep track of real world information – for example, who paid for dinner a particular night.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Heroic Favor

         Sometimes, heroes need a helping hand. I award heroic favor to my player for good roleplaying or heroic deeds.  It is a powerful and rare resource, and should be saved up for the most dire of times.

Gaining Heroic Favor

         Each player starts off the campaign with one point of heroic favor. Heroic favor carries over from session to session. However, a player cannot have more than five points of heroic favor at any one time. If he does, he is not eligible for more heroic favor.

         At the end of each game session, the GM will choose one player who has demonstrated the best roleplaying ability, and award him with one point of heroic favor at the end of the session. This means that he has made choices not based on optimization, but rather on background and personality, sometimes to his own detriment. It also means that he has taken the initiative in out-of-combat situations. Note that a character being taciturn or reticent is not an excuse for a player not to be engaged. In such cases, there are still plenty of roleplaying opportunities.

         Additionally, any character who posts at least twice in the campaign wiki's character chat between sessions will automatically gain a point of heroic favor.

         If your character is not up to date on the campaign wiki, you are not eligible for gaining Heroic Favor.

Using Heroic Favor

         Heroic Favor is very powerful. Whenever it is used, it must be accompanied by a bit of flavor. Only one point of heroic favor can be used each round. Heroic Favor can be expended for one of three things:

         1: If you are at positive hit points, and an attack would kill you through damage, then you may spend one point of heroic favor to ignore all damage from the attack. Instead, your HP drops down to negative half constitution. You are not stabilized.

         2: You may spend one point of heroic favor to transform a natural 20 rolled against you into a natural one. You may also spend a point of heroic favor to transform a natural one into a natural 20.

        3: If you are at negative or 0 hit points, and an attack would kill you through HP damage (negative con), you may spend two points of heroic favor to ignore all damage from that attack. If you were stabilized, you resume bleeding out.

      4: You may use a point of heroic favor at the start of your turn to attempt remove any condition you may have. Re-roll whatever save you made to get the condition. If you pass, the condition dissipates, and you may act this turn as if you did not have the condition. If you fail the save, or there was no original save that gave you this condition, the condition leaves you at the end of your turn. You may use this for bleed, blind, confused, cowering, dazed, deafened, entangled, exhausted, fascinated, frightened, nauseated, panicked, paralyzed, shaken, sickened, staggered, or stunned. You may not remove broken, dead, disabled, dying, energy drained, flat-footed, grappled, helpless, incorporeal, invisible, petrified, pinned, prone, sinking, stable, or unconscious.

You may only use these die rolls on yourself! You may not use them to improve or save others.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Handling Crafting

          Crafting can be complicated and difficult to manage in a campaign.  By far the best way to handle crafting is to have a good crafting page on your wiki.

         A good crafting page will have the following four items:

         1:  A table of craftable items

         2: A Basic description of how crafting works*

         3: A Log of how much time crafting time passed during each session, and the level at which that session was played

         4: A Table logging what items were made when.  The Table should have:  Session Number, Item Requested, Materials Cost, Craft DC, Skill Bonus, Time Devoted, Die Rolls with Bonus, And Result in Percentage and Result.

        5:  A Fancy Crafting Calculator like this one.

* To determine how much time and money it takes to make an item, follow these steps.

  1. Find the item's price in silver pieces (1 gp = 10 sp).
  2. Find the item's DC from Table: Craft Skills.
  3. Pay 1/3 of the item's price for the raw material cost.
  4. Make an appropriate Craft check representing one week's worth of work. If the check succeeds, multiply your check result by the DC. If the result × the DC equals the price of the item in sp, then you have completed the item. (If the result × the DC equals double or triple the price of the item in silver pieces, then you've completed the task in one-half or one-third of the time. Other multiples of the DC reduce the time in the same manner.) If the result × the DC doesn't equal the price, then it represents the progress you've made this week. Record the result and make a new Craft check for the next week. Each week, you make more progress until your total reaches the price of the item in silver pieces.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Injecting Horror into your Game

1:  Ignorance is Bliss (Or Terror)

        This is the most important rule.  Horror is ignorance.  Keep your players in the dark (literally as much as possible) about everything.  Who they are fighting, how things got so bad, why things are happening the way they are.  Dungeons should be dark, with plenty of places for creatures to hide.

2:  Take it Seriously

        Some games are very casual, and that's fine.  However, if you are running a horror game, you must keep things serious.  You should not joke during the game, and you should not encourage your players to joke.

3:  Use Descriptions, Not Mechanics

        Avoid calling things as they are.  Instead of saying "A Giant Spider steps into the cave."  Explain it's a "a gigantic, many legged monstrosity" or "some hulking creature, its many black eyes gleaming..."  If the PCs deal it damage, tell them that they have lopped off some piece, but it keeps coming.  When it dies, perhaps it will squirm around a bit.  Don't tell them that it's dead - say "the creature drops to the ground, squirting vile red juices across the floor.  It's black eyes start to melt across its face..."  Don't take them out of initiative unless they ask to be taken out.

4:  Slow Burn, Not Cheap Thrills

        Don't try and scare your players by having things jump out at them.  It won't work.  Instead, give them long descriptions and slowly build tension.  Horror takes a while to fully develop, so don't expect to give it to them all in one dose.

5:  Use New Enemies or Mechanics

        Meta-gamers or long time plays won't be scared by a zombie or skeleton.  They have seen each of these hundreds of times, and know how to deal with them.  Instead come up with a new enemy, or some brand new mechanic, and thrust it on your players.  If you like, simply refluff old enemies, giving them a new look and feel.  This will put even veteran players out of their comfort zones.  These aren't zombies, they are writhing, human shaped piles of internal organs (with the same mechanics as zombies).

6:  A Dash of Confusion

        Things happen for no reason.  Strange, but small, occurrences are just unexplained.  Players are used to solving puzzles - give them puzzles they can't solve.  Confusion is scary, but it can also be frustrating.  Go easy on it.  Players can only immerse themselves so much, and if the game becomes too confusing they will get annoyed and may take it out on you.

7:  The World is Scary

        When world building, make it inherently scary and try to avoid common tropes.  Perhaps there is always the threat of strange invasions from the unknown, perhaps the dead linger, perhaps children transform into monsters in the dead of night.  Give the players little to no control over some events, and make sure that they are weak in the face of many threats.

8:  Fleeing is Better than Fighting

        The objective should not be to take out the enemy, or to retrieve the lost artifact, or to save the king.  The objective is to survive.  If players are fighting for something besides their own skin, they may feel emboldened.  Place them in some fights against obviously unbeatable foes, and kill their allies in front of them.  Make the encounter about escaping from something, rather than overcoming it.

Here is an example of a horror themed dungeon.  To really up the ante, remove some of the puzzles, including Room 4, 5 and 6. Jacob's Tower, Level 7: Gothic