Saturday, June 16, 2012

First House Rule for Pathfinder

I know I haven't put the after action report up yet but this is the one thing that already stands out to me:

Characters heal 1 hit point per level per long rest, 2 hit points per level if they're being tended to by someone with the Heal skill.

That is just terrible - you can say I've been spoiled by 4th Edition but I hated this rule back when I was running and playing 3rd and I was surprised to see that it had not changed. To me it's this terribly slow rate of healing up in between encounters that makes a cleric essential, not combat healing. Anyone can carry a few healing potions for combat healing, but the benefit for resting up is pathetic. A 5th level fighter with 40-50 hit points gets 5 back after resting? Maybe 10 if he has help? So going from knocked out to good-to-go takes 5 - 10 nights of recovery? If your adventure has any kind of ticking clock then the party is screwed after one serious fight - unless they have a cleric. I see that the cleric's healing capability has been beefed up in Pathfinder, and that's fine, but I really don't like the total dependency on one class to make "adventuring" viable. So here's my first take at fixing that:

A Good Night's Sleep: Recover your level in hit dice - roll the dice, recover that many hit points

A Good Night's Sleep while being attended to by a healer: roll one extra hit die for recovery and add it to your total.

So the 5th level fighter would now roll 5d10 for hit point recovery after a long rest. If he's at more than half hit points then he's probably fully recovered the next morning. If he was beaten down to zero then it may take two or three days to fully recover.

I had to think about how to handle the Heal skill bonus.

  • I originally thought that Roll 2 dice for each level and take the highest would be a good option. Unfortunately, it forces the player to roll out two dice, level by level - that's very clunky - and it is a pretty big boost to my already boosted healing rule. 
  • I then thought of scaling it back and saying add 1 to each die when rolling for recovery, but that doesn't have as much impact for the characters with the most hit points who also tend to be the ones who need healing the most often.
  • My final solution (for now) does the most good at the lower levels, becoming less and less of a boost as the characters level up. I considered changing it to a fixed die type like a d10 but this keeps it simpler and consistent across all classes.
Some additional reasoning on this: Beyond the heavy clerical dependency, I hate multiple rest days in a row while in a dungeon. Going all the way back to AD&D I've seen this: party beaten up and cleric has burned all healing so everyone rests for a night in the dungeon. They recover a tiny number of hit points while the cleric gets his spells back, then he casts everything he has to heal up most of the party. Everyone rests again, cleric repeats, and now the party is healed but the cleric is out or almost out of spells again so they spend yet another night recovering and then set out again the next morning - that's 2-3 days of game time wasted in an administrative exercise of rest-memorize-heal-repeat and we shouldn't have to take a multi-day break in the middle of our fantastic swords and sorcery adventure to camp while we go through this healing cycle!.

Believe it or not in Pathfinder this is also a Close Blast 6 Heal for 1d6 + 1d6/two levels!
In my mind there's enough dependency on the cleric and healing magic in combat already, and that's where he should be an asset. Recovery when they are not in immediate danger shouldn't require spell accounting. There's a psychological thing at work here too because most players won't push forward until they reach their personal hit point threshold where they feel that it's OK to continue. If we can make that easier to achieve with non-magical healing then that's a win.  

Also, without this rule guess what happens when the cleric gets killed? In my experience, everyone finishes off the last few healing potions and then heads back to town, or they push forward anyway and likely end up in a TPK. Either way, once again there is a long delay in the adventure (in game-time terms) and possibly unnecessary character deaths as any fight becomes much more deadly.

So yes, this is an area of personal pain and annoyance that I want to handle up front - and the above rule tweak is how I intend to do so.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Apprentices, Pirates, and ... Pathfinder ?!

Where to start ... the Apprentices have been asking about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay over the last two weeks because they really liked it after trying it out for a bit. However, I've run into a problem in that ever since 3rd Edition came out (a very different game, sort of a mix of board, card, and RPG by Fantasy Flight Games) I've had a hard time finding copies of the core rulebook for the second edition game. Well, difficulty finding it at prices I'm willing to pay, since I need two of them at least. I pick up at least one spare copy of the main book for most games I plan to run but I never got one for WFRP 2E - I'm wishing I had now. Regardless, right now it's an impediment to play. I'm also not sure I want to dig in to that game with them because it tends to have a very different atmosphere and different themes than a typical D&D campaign. It's pretty gritty, you tend to deal with a lot of ugliness, characters die easily, and I'm not sure it's the best way for the teens & tweens to spend their limited RPG time over the summer.

So I started looking for alternatives. They've asked about playing a pirate game for about a year now driven mainly by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the Savage Worlds powered Pirates of the Spanish Main. I'd really rather run 50 Fathoms for them which is just as piratey with more fantastic elements added in. I do like the system. The "plot-point" books are really handy for the DM to run as they have an overarching adventure running through them but they also have a ton of side adventures and random generators in the book along with a complete sandbox world to roam around in. So it's a full-on campaign in one book. The only downside here is that we would have to set aside another game as we have a lot of irons in the fire and not as much time as I would like.

Additionally they expect to have a recurring D&D game and we do have our 4E ToEE game going, but the combat time is a problem on weeknights, making it harder to fit in. They aren't as keen on Basic as they once were, and the Next playtest left them unexcited. So we're looking for a good D&D option here that we can play on a weeknight.

I've also been hearing almost universally good things about the Pathfinder Beginner Box. It has a lot of nifty components and is playable up to 5th level. I was looking for a way to introduce them to 3rd Edition last year and gave up in frustration at the prices for 3.5 PHB's and the lack of a good character generator as they do like their computer-made character sheets - they've been spoiled by 4E. Hero Lab just happens to have a free downloadable character generator for the Beginner Box - how convenient! A reasonably-priced currently supported version of third edition D&D that has a free chargen program - that's pretty much what I was looking for! Then I saw the latest Adventure Path:

It's Pathfinder Pirates, with the PC's starting off as press-ganged crew members on one pirate ship and then rising up through the ranks (and the levels) to do all sorts of cool things. That pretty much sold it for me.

So tonight I am surprising them after dinner by breaking open a brand-new box set and playing through the initial adventure to get them familiar with the system. We will likely use some of the supplemental adventures from the Paizo site as well and build up a small crew of low-level characters in the small town of Sandpoint. Once we've run through that I will offer them the pirate campaign option and that will likely be one of the main games for July.

What if they don't like the system? What if I don't like the system? Well, then it gets converted to 4th Edition (though I'm already doing a lot of converting) or maybe Savage Worlds (or maybe I chuck it and go ahead and do 50 Fathoms anyway), but my intention is to proceed as planned and see if we can run through the entire campaign by the end of the year. If that works out, well, the town of Sandpoint in the beginner box is the starting point for the Rise of the Runelords adventure path which is getting a shiny new anniversary edition in the near future. If it works out REALLY well, then maybe I won't have to run that one - maybe I'll get to play it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wednesday Quick (Critical) Hit: A Podcast

Just a short one today - there is a very good 4th Edition D&D podcast that I want to share.


It focuses on actual play but there are some side episodes that discuss some mechanics and some of the metagame choices made by the DM and the players. Some of the things I like:

  • The DM is very patient and is clearly having a good time
  • The players come together in the first few episodes as their characters join the adventure and they get along very well
  • It's not a polished example of play - they forget things pretty regularly and admit that freely, so it sounds like a real group actually playing and not a script-reading.
  • It's newbie-friendly - things are explained as they come up, whether it's mechanics, D&D-isms, or story elements of the campaign.
  • The episodes tend to be around an hour long, up to about an hour and a half and that's exactly what I want from a podcast. I don't get the 3-4 hour marathon shows that some podcasts release on a weekly to biweekly basis. Pace yourselves, do some editing, cut one sessions into multiple shows - just don't drop 200+minutes of unbroken running show on us constantly. Critical Hit has a very good sense of when to break up a session
I am about 30 episodes in and I am really enjoying it so far. They're up to about 150 shows now so I have not heard the most recent material, but I figure 30+ shows of consistent quality is good enough to share. I thought the campaign premise was pretty interesting so I recommend that you start with Episode 1 and go from there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Few More Observations on Next

One of the interesting things in RPG's outside of playing them is the turning of the wheel in how abilities, classes, skill systems, task resolution, and all of the different parts that go into a game change over time and sometimes end up curving back almost to an earlier point in RPG development. For example, so many of the things we were eager to shed about early D&D (like level limits) are now viewed as essential parts of those games by many in the OSR. Outside of the OSR I'm not sure if some of these things are retro or just cyclical but there's a big  "changeback" coming in Next.

In Next we witness the re-ascension of the Ability Score - something once so atrophied that M&M 3 dropped it entirely (making the bonus the "score" that goes on the character sheet) is now the primary method of task resolution in D&D Next. Conversely Character Level, which had become a dominant mechanical feature by 4th Edition seems to be declining in prominence with Next.

In Basic and AD&D we used ability scores for quite a few areas where the game was not specific. Between things like the old Bend Bars/Lift Gates percentages and Saves vs. Poison there weren't a ton of physical activities that demanded it but it did come up sometimes. Early on I know we used 3d6 vs. the score but this was quickly deemed to be pointless as there were so many 18's floating around in those days. We jumped to the d20 pretty quickly and stayed there into AD&D 2nd edition, which pretty much formalized that system with non-weapon proficiencies mostly being a similar approach - roll against the relevant attribute. 

Once Third Edition unified the bonuses and everything was modifier + a d20 vs. a DC some started to question whether we needed ability scores any more. With 4th Edition it evolved into modifier + level (or half level) + a d20 vs. a DC. and then especially with point builds for all characters it all seemed to point to the original ability scores disappearing. It escalated in 4th to the point that "Level" was the single most important number on the character sheet - even ability scores (and thus modifiers) went up as the level increased. In contrast, an AD&D fighter with 18/00 Strength  had a pretty strong signature feature regardless of level. 

Next appears to be de-emphasizing level in a big way and in a strong contrast to 4th Edition. Assuming that skill levels do not increase significantly with level (something we have not yet seen) and that ability scores do not rise significantly with level then it's definitely a flattening of the power curve. A 1st level character with an 18 score and the relevant skill could be just as capable (and possibly more capable) as a 6th level character with a 12 in the same score and the skill - this would not be the case in 4th. Also, Abilities are now used defensively as well as the game drops the triad of Fortitude/Reflex/Will and just uses abilities as saves against specific effects - Constitution for poison, Dexterity for lightning bolts, etc.

It seems like a pretty obvious path in some ways, but they could have gone the other way and dropped the 3-18 ability score altogether as some other d20 games have done. I never thought it was likely - one of D&D's stronger tropes is the 18 ability score - but I don't think any of us saw some of 4th Edition's mechanical changes coming either.

So I'm not sure where it will end up but Next is clearly heading down a different path than 3rd & 4th. Right now (despite my several posts) the detailed mechanics of this one aren't my primary interest as much as the willingness to embrace the past that I'm picking up in WOTC's communications. I'm interested enough to ride along and see what happens next.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Quick-Hit

There's a new article on monster design for Next here. It looks to me like they're moving in the right direction. I do agree with some of the commenters though as the first thing I thought of was "how do I know that it's a 5th level type opponent?" - I am assuming these kinds of things will be worked out as we all go forward.

Motivational Monday