Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Times

Sunday was the first time PJ played in a group rpg. It was also the first time for me to run Pathfinder. I think overall, things went well. Here’s the break down.

Greatest Hits
• All of the people playing had played before, besides PJ.
• One of the other players hadn’t played in awhile.
• No one at the table had played Pathfinder before this session.
• Scenario and setting are mine, not pulled from anyone else.

A Night at the Opera
PJ decided she wanted to play an half-elf sorceress. We also had an half-elf rogue (female player), human cleric (female), gnomish ranger (male), and human fighter (male).

The player of the rogue, the two guys, and I have all played various forms of D&D, including 3.X editions (but not D&D5e).

The player of the cleric (Lori from Marimba and Ice) had not played in quite some time and also needed assistance. Not a problem for this group of players. In fact, gamer_girl from Girly Nerdy Gamer as the rogue immediately took over keeping PJ and the Cleric on target with their abilities. This was nice to see, as she had been somewhat quiet in my previous game.

The downside of having the two most inexperienced players at the table playing magic users was that there was not much spell-slinging at the table. Even when reminded why her character was being hit by goblins, PJ chose to attack and not cast Mage Armor on herself. Given PJ’s aggressive personality, this does not surprise me. I wish I would have done a better job reminding the two of them of their buff spells, but such is life.

Steve from Kaijuville did an awesome job as the human fighter and looking for the tropes I used in the game. I’m not big on using standard fantasy tropes, but he knew I would be using a few of them. He went after them hoping the spell casters might follow along.

El Ranchero from Meanwhile, back at the Ranch did a great job with the gnome. I have enjoyed playing with him in all of the games we have played together. He does a wonderful job pulling out character from the sheet.

The Game
I’ve heard Pathfinder described as D&D 3.75 and D&D done right. I think the first is definitely apt, I’m not sure about the second. I haven’t touched it enough to figure that out and I am also not sure it is a phrase I would ever use, not being the world’s biggest fan of D&D.

The books are great to look at and feel really good in hand. The page count for the three main books is in the thousands. Picking up the basic book reminded me of picking up a copy of Champions.

The basics of the system are the same as D&D 3.X rules. The last version I read was 3.0. I ran it for about 3 years using the core books, the basic class books, and a couple of handouts. I played it for a year or so, as well. That was over ten years ago, if my memory serves me correctly. Jumping into the rules would prove easy enough.

Character creation still works the same. Paizo (makers of Pathfinder) added flavor to the races and classes to make them their own. I think they round out the classes a bit better. I think it helps balance out the low level characters or at least make them more useful in combat.

It feels as if characters do not get as many skills per level that they should receive. However, taking ranks in your class skills gives you an additional bonus. That helps characters really excel at doing what their class should be able to do well. It looks weird on paper to me, though.

Basic “tests” still work the same – roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers.

Combat has a few tweaks, but nothing that wasn’t easy to pick up on. I like how combat maneuvers work in Pathfinder more so than 3.0. You receive a bonus to your attack that is the same for each of a list of maneuvers. The enemy’s defense will be the same for each of those maneuvers. These numbers are calculated for you on the basic character sheet so you know what yours will be when and if you ever decide to use them.

Feats are similar with tweaks, including when some are available due to either level or prerequisites. Nothing too outstanding here.

There was not a lot of spell use in the game. I chalk that one up to unfamiliarity of how they work (system), not sure when to use them (new to gaming), or how to use them (system and setting, per se). Clerics have access to a laundry list of spells. There is simply no way a newer player is going to pick up on how to use each one from memory at the first sit down. That’s expected. I mentioned PJ not remembering to cast Mage Armor earlier. That’s a pretty standard action that I am sure she would have done within a game or two. If not, she may have learned the hard way by needing to create new characters, if it was a killer GM game, or by the other players yelling at her to use her spells instead of stepping up into combat (wherein she rolled more d20s than the rest of the table combined). When I talk about how to use a spell, I mean what is the time and place for it? You have to know how the spell works, the effects of the spell, and how it will interact with your scene. A good example from the session was whether or not to cast Detect Magic at the crime scene. Detect Magic is all about whether or not there is something magical right there with you. You can expand out the distance a bit and the time frame can be stretched, but that’s it in a nutshell. By not knowing how old the crime scene could be with only blood, a chair, and two dead bodies in the room, it didn’t seem pertinent to let the party lose a spell for the day by casting the spell. Could have I done so and let them “learn on the go?” Yes, absolutely. However, this was a one-shot amongst friends; it was not a Pathfinder Society Game or a long-term game I was planning to run. It seemed more prudent for me to influence them to not use it. Instead, I let them think about the situation and follow the simple clues that were on-site.

Combat itself ran smoothly. In fact, I think it ran more smoothly than I remember 3.0 running. That could be learning curve on my part, though. It could also be than the people I ran 3.0 for had yet to play it or to my knowledge, any D&D recently before the 3.0 campaign. It probably helped that PJ and I created the characters and that the scenario was designed by me for the characters.

I think the system sets out what it intends to do: fix up some holes in D&D 3.X and add in flavor for the Pathfinder setting.

The Miracle
The setting was a combination of two other games. The deities were from one of my old rpg settings called “Origins.” There are ten on the side of light/good/neutral and ten on the side of darkness/evil. I set it up that the players would have no knowledge of the dark deities without a Knowledge (Religion) check of 30+. I want those deities to be old, forgotten gods from a time of darkness. Those deities would also not be important to this scenario. If I ever use them in a Pathfinder game, they will stay barely known. What information the cleric gleamed from making that roll at one point was little. It simply pointed them in a direction they could have jumped to without it.

I did not want to use the Pathfinder deities for two reasons. The first is that I wanted the deities to be in the background. By making the deities familiar to me, but not my players, I found it easier to gloss over the details. Second, by making them deities with familiar names, but not found in the book, I didn’t have to worry about anyone sticking their nose in the book all session or nerding it up by quoting specific items from the book that I may have missed.

The land is actually my modern Port City setting, but done in fantasy style, with one addition. I even printed out major NPCs from Port City that could be used if needed. Port City is a coastal town, in this case the head of a barony. Nearby towns of Lanark, the Village, Rivertown, and Fog Warren all made appearances. Rain Town was somewhat represented on the map, but not in the game.

My main use of Port City was for a police drama I ran called ISU #3 (Investigative Special Unit Number 3). It was a great game whose major influences were the TV show Millennium, friends from the Abyss Group (I had worked on Kult-related materials with them), and letting my mind go gonzo when needed. This game is probably the number one setting I would resurrect from my gaming past if I could do so. The tension and dynamic at the table was awesome. It also included two of the players from my Yeti Private Investigation game, which also included Lowell from Age of Ravens.

The additional material I added to the setting was the inclusion of the Winter King. While he and his kingdom didn’t make an appearance in the game, they were on the map and briefly mentioned in one scene. I thought I had something about him posted here in the blog, but I can't seem to find it. I will have to find it and post it.

Using a predesigned setting like this made the set up much easier. I was able to work through what kind of activities would be going on where and which NPCs would be available for interaction. This cut down on some of the prep-work for setting up the game. While I only used locations from the map, it gave me an idea of the world and made it easier for me to figure out who was what was where.

Up next: the scenario and notes!</>

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

GM & Player Badges

Stuart at Strange Magic has posted GM Badges, designed to tell potential players about your games. It looks like a fun idea, so here's what I came up with about my games. Keep in mind, there are categories I'm not including here, as I've used multiple techniques from the selections and they would conflict with each other.

The idea here is to display for potential players what type of games you like to run...or conversely for players to show which games they enjoy playing.

My games will tell an interesting Story

My games will be scary

My games focuses on Exploration & Mystery

I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game

My games include Disturbing content

My games focus on interesting Characters and Drama

I'm sure everyone's experiences in my games differ and aren't completely represented here. However, if I think upon my best run games and those games that I enjoyed the most, this is the list that is most representative.

Interestingly, The Warlock's Homebrew has posted a Players version of these badges.

Hack and Slash! I like to kill things and take their stuff!

I like to role my character. I am my character!

Keep me away from torches and barns.

My character's actions are not for kids under 17 or sensitive ears at the table. Yeah, I'm that guy.

I like to explore the wilderness.

Wine, women and songs! Towns are for me!

I enjoy gritty pulp adventures!

It's all in fun and just a short bout of thinking.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Running a 1:1 Game for Someone Who has Yet to Play

PJ (my fiance) has wanted to try out roleplaying for a few months, now. She's never done so, despite having friends that have and a brother that is in to World of Warcraft. It started as a joke, but eventually became a serious thought. I tossed the idea of what to around in my head for quite some time.

She's read Shelly Nazzanoble's Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress, which uses Dungeons & Dragons as reference points. Due to that, I thought the best bet for PJ's first gaming experience should be a d20-based, fantasy game. I don't own any of the current incarnations of D&D. I own several 1st ed. products, as well as some of the retro clones in .pdf format. Alas, I did not own any core books. I've heard nothing but bad about 4e and remember very little awesomeness to WotC's 3.X product lines. So, I picked up Pathfinder. Several friends play it and enjoy it.

We worked through making her first character as a first level sorceress. It took a couple of hours and was painful at times. From there we moved through making up the rest of the party that will be accompanying her. We did a couple per night and spread it out over a week's time. We created characters of various races, arcane magic users, divine magic users, a rogue, and a fighter. She is by no means a master at character creation, but she gets it.

PJ wanted to get to know roleplaying before playing in a group setting. This would help her learn as many of the rules as possible and make her more comfortable come time for the big show on Sunday. I'll be running an one-shot for her and some friends.

I decided that for her 1:1 sessions, I would have her make up a gestalt style character. she went with a cleric/rogue. This would allow her to function in city situations, cast magic, and have some fighting abilities.

I also decided that I would use one of my own settings, instead of using a produced setting. My thinking is that I can tailor everything I need to fit where I need it to fit. I don't have to worry about what really belongs where and who is actually this person or that person.*

Important Notes:
I have noticed that I tend to gloss over details that we history & arts type nerds know by rote. These very details can be very important to setting the scene. I know how far apart towns and villages would be and why. I know why different arms and armors would exist, what would lead to their development, and which cultures might even eschew them. All of my players do not.

You cannot assume that the player will know any of the conventions of the setting (or any setting). We all know that when you stay in the inn at the edge of the big, scary forest, you have to eat dinner in the common room. After all, you don't hear the good rumors or get in a fight by staying in your room eating your trail rations.

New players don't know to ask to roll to see if they know any local history. Therefore, they don't know that the big, scary forest, is a big, scary forest until they arrive at the big, scary forest and you describe it as a "big, scary forest."

Let them control the story. Let them describe some of the set peices in scenes. It gets more buy-in from them and makes them feel involved. With a 1:1 game, it also shares the responsibilities (and talking) in the game.

The first session went okay, after I got the story moving. I think she had fun, after all, she wants to play more this week and is looking forward to the one-shot on Sunday.

My game mastering in a recent game was lacking. Part of it was due to my waning interest. Another may have been that I had forgotten that while the above notes are very important to a new player, they're still important to seasoned players, as well. There were other reasons, to be sure, but these two may have led to my personal downfall in the game.

*And I can put my goblins wherever I damn well please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catching My Wind

Well, it's almost over. Vacation, that is. I've been off work since last Tuesday night. I go back tomorrow, Wednesday. As always, it's too short.

I've spent little time being productive in a written manner. I've wanted to, but I just haven't spent that much time here in front of the computer. What time I have spent has been checking out more of Google +s features and cleaning up this blog. There are some things I'm still trying to figure out on Google +, and the mobile app for the iPhone is helping me understand it better. This blog had a lot of old crap in it that I cut out. I've also gone through and labeled, then re-labeled, and then labeled yet again posts. I think I have it at the level I want it at, for the time being. I also added that nifty new picture. The picture is of a Mexican wolf at the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. I took it while there on vacation.

I hope to find time to talk about and show you my vacation. There was the zoo, the Elevator Room for steak and beer, comics to be be read, and friends to be visited. I could talk about cleaning the house, but do you really want to read that? I'm not Anne Rice, I simply cannot dedicate 20 pages to describing how I vacuumed up dog hair.