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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Underplaying your hand as a DM

I must confess I made a big mistake the last time I DM'd for my Pathfinder group.  Currently, I'm running the Feast of Ravenmoor, which will probably be remembered as one of the classic Pathfinder Modules.  The module takes its cues from Steven King's Children of Corn, and the Wicker Man.  The PC's are sent to a small town in the middle of nowhere to investigate the disappearance of a flakey tax collector.  The sister-in-law who sent them tipped her hand that he was a bit of a flake and maybe ran off with the tax money.

The module begins with an encounter with a stirge on the edge of the village of Ravenmoor.  The PC's hear a small boy calling out for his pet, and then a stirge emerges from the bushes and attaches to (but doesn't bite one of the PCs).  Of course, the stirge had 4 or 5 hitpoints and went down on the first action of Folly the ninja.  Then the boy came around the bend and started bawling his eyes out at the sight of his dead pet, and ran off with the dead stirge's body  The boy's father confronted them about their actions, and was fairly hostile.  When the PC's asked about the tax collector, he got angrier and told them that the village had paid the taxes and that the tax collector had been rude and left early in the morning on the road *away* from the tax collecting city.

The PC's immediately proceeded to the Mayor's house, where they met the mayor's older brother, who told the PC's they should just leave town since they didn't belong.  He was very hostile, but the PC's assumed it was because they got right out of the gate by killing one of the villager's pets.  Then the mayor showed up and told them that he had paid the taxes, and that the tax collector had raided his liquor cabinet and fled in the wrong direction (again away from the tax collecting city).  He volunteered to scrounge up the owed taxes (500gp) but fussed a bit about how difficult it would be for the village to get by that winter.

Here is where I really underplayed it.  He didn't actually complain to them about the taxes, he just said something about how it would probably take a few days to scrounge up the cash, and mentioned that he had already done it when the missing tax collector had been in town.  The PC's felt (1) terrible that they had killed a pet, and (2) sympathetic to the plight of this poor town.  They volunteered to search for the missing tax collector in the city in the opposite direction and were preparing to leave immediately.  Here's where I started making mistakes.  Now this Module is designed as an investigation, but my PCs immediately bought the false story about the tax collector.  I was trying to keep them from leaving the village (which is the home of an evil cult to Ghulander), but instead of using my NPCs (probably the Mayor) to convince them to stay, I told one of the PC's that he was getting a feeling from his God that something wasn't right in this town.

None of the PC's had even suspected the mayor enough to actually roll sense motive.  They mentioned it, like maybe we could roll sense motive, but they decided to trust him.  In retrospect, I wish I had let them form their plan to leave town immediately, and then convinced them with the Mayor to stay in town overnight for the 'Founder's Festival.'  This would have made it very startling when they were attacked in the middle of the night by a band of cultists, and probably the module would have been more creepy for the successful facade.  Oh well.  I guess I was surprised by how well I portrayed the Mayor.  My NPC skills didn't use to be that high and so I hadn't planned for the PC's to be trusting as they made their way through this module.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DCC: Review after first session

I had the chance to play as a band of four PC's in Erik Tenkar's DCC arc yesterday night.  I always appreciate the chance to play in someone else's game, and as a regular DM, I know how difficult it can be.  So thanks are of course in order.  I am normally a Pathfinder DM and Player, so my review brings some of those newer sensibilities to look at DCC.

Onto the game.  I think that we probably should have taken time to introduce our gaggles of 4 lowly PC's.  Most of the party had clear favorites (both of mine made it out), and some clearly despised characters with abysmal rolls.  I think that it would have made the eventual deaths of these unloved PC's a bit more fun if we had done a short intro to our PCs.  There are a lot of reasons why it might not have worked as well as I'm imagining last night--for one we were a new party of strangers, and for two we were all new to the ruleset.  I'd just like to point out that my two PC's who died were named 'Fumbleface' and 'Mike Mearls'.  If I was DM'ing this in the future, I would probably encourage this minimal level of 'backstory'.  I mean seriously, how awesome would it have been if 'Fumbleface' had kicked things off with a string of critical hits and survived through to the end of the adventure.

Erik ran us through the introductory dungeon in the DCC book, and I must say I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a bit bigger.  We managed to defeat the stuff in this dungeon with 8 or 9 PC's left, out of a group of 16.  With the emphasis on the funnel I was expecting that we would end up with a group of 4 barely alive PC's struggling out of the dungeon.  With the number of PC's each person had, we were essentially always in control of where our favored PC's were (i.e. never in harm's way).  The only significant risk that my favored PC took was at the beginning of the game, where she knocked a magical tome out of the hands of a fire-shooting statue.

I'm working on leveling these guys up right now, and I'm thinking that I might end up liking my Dwarf guy more than the conniving ropemaker lady (who I had originally envisioned as my 'main' PC).

She has really good stats, a plus one in everything but agility, and a plus 2 in luck.  I guess I originally saw her as a thief, but I ended up not being a huge fan of the thief class when looking at it in the DCC pdf.  I looked at this class for long enough to realized that my ropemaker was probably not going to end up as a thief.  I don't have any specific criticisms of the thief class per se.  In fact, I think that my ropemaker would have made a perfectly fine thief on paper.  She's got bonuses to almost every score, so she really could probably have ended up as a Warrior too.  But because her character creation wasn't purely mechanical, in its inclusion of 'actual play', I realized that although she would mechanically fit into any of the three classes, she's probably a magic user.  But something feels weird about that class to me.  I don't know if I really *want* to invoke a patron.  The spell-caster in this game feels a bit more Lovecraftian than traditional D&D, and I'm not a huge fan of that (as a PC).  I actually really like the flavor, it just feels *dangerous* to be a wizard, and I'm not sure I want my character to go insane from using magic.  I'm not sure what felt 'wrong' about this classe to me, but my gut is telling me that as a 3.x and higher player, I like options for my PC's that give me control.  Whereas, the Wizard Class is determined almost entirely by luck (rolling on a table for the spells you know, and then rolling on a table for the weird effects).  So I'm hesitating to level the ropemaker, because I think that she's clearly going to become a caster (and would probably make a pretty kick-ass one), but I'm worried that she'll roll a bunch of crappy spells, or weird 'mercurial effects' for them.  In Pathfinder, of course there wouldn't be any of this hesitation.  But I'm not a huge fan of how Magic in Pathfinder loses some of its magical flavor by mundanifying its spells (like for instance, who actually tracks spell components--for anything other than Wish, Miracle or Resurrection?).

I really like all of the Dwarf's features, and I think he has a plus 1 to strength, so he'd make a perfectly fine fighter.  I also really like the 'sword and board' feature that the dwarf has built in.  This class does feel right to me as a Pathfinder player.  I didn't look at the Warrior class (except to read the 'deeds' section), but this class feels min-maxed in all of the right ways for Dungeon Crawling.  I mean they don't have any skills except for 'Dwarven Stonecunning' type stuff.  Dwarf is a race that min-maxes itself, and since I have a bonus in strength and stamina, I feel like it doesn't matter that I have negs in luck and Int.  I really like the dwarf here, it feels like a dwarf, and it looks like fun to play. (also I don't have to make any Faustian bargains to get that power, nor to roll on a table for my class powers.

The one other thing I wanted to mention briefly was how awesome it was that everyone had only a few pieces of random mundane equipment.  Combined with the fact that we were all weak, made everyone look to squeeze every bit of advantage out of the tools we were given.

I'm considering running funnels for future Pathfinder RPG's with the simplified 3d6 in order and use the NPC class commoner for the PC's.  Seriously, as I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking that we Pathfinder DM's should develop the random generation charts for PF so that we could use the funnel for beginning Pathfinder adventures.  The funnel was a lot of fun, and I really do like the way that it incorporates actual play into character generation.  I didn't realize how much that would inform my later decisions for leveling, but with my ropemaker, my initial idea of her was as a thief but the dungeon made me see her more as a magic user.

Anyways, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG was a lot of fun and I'd like to thank Erik again for running it.   I'm looking forward to playing again next week.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kingdoms of Kalamar: A Review

I recently celebrated my 24th birthday.  My wonderful wife got me a whole plethora of D&D goodness to celebrate, including one of the D&D Adventure Board Games (Legend of Drizzt), two of the core books for 4e Essentials (Heroes of Fallen Lands and the Rules Compendium), and a bunch of Campaign settings which I have had on my Amazon wishlist for a long while, including the Kingdoms of Kalamar.

I hadn't heard anything about Kingdoms of Kalamar prior to recieving the campaign setting, but I'm quite impressed by it.  Ever since I started DM'ing about a year ago now I've been running the default Pathfinder Setting of Golarion.  I really like Golarion, but I didn't really realize how pulpy it was until I started to read Kingdoms of Kalamar.  Some might call this 'Generic' Fantasy, but honestly this book is a very strong vibrant campaign setting, and has a really fun feel to it.  The box hypes the 'realism' of the setting, as far as geography, ethnography, weather patterns etc go, but those categories don't make a good game world on their own.  

The 'realism' I noticed most in this book was how realistic the motives of major NPC's feels.  I've only read the first section of the campaign setting (Brandobia), which has 4 human nations which once were part of a great human empire.  These humans settled on the Northern continent of Telene long before other Human races migrated north from the "cradle of Civilizations" and were taught the ways of Magic and archery by their elven predecessors, and of agriculture and other civilized ways by the halflings.  The Brandobians soon forgot their debt to these cultures and attempted to overtake the Halfling and Elven domains.  The Elven kingdom repulsed the entire human nation's attack, embarrassing the King greatly.  The King blustered about the elven nation, and when the Elven King heard about this, he 'blessed' the King with fertility.  Shortly thereafter, the queen conceived three sons.  These sons grew up to manhood and when their father died, they quarreled for the right to become king.  Brandobia was split into three Kingdoms.   As I was reading this section, I was mentally comparing it to a similar story in the Eberron campaign setting.  Both stories are similar, and provide a lot of fun roleplaying potential for the PCs.  The story of the Kingdom's fall in Kalamar reminded me strongly (in a way that Eberron did not) of the tales of elves and fae in European history. It read like a fairy tale.

Over all my impressions of this book so far are very favorable.  It feels like a campaign setting for the Hobbit before the Lord of the Rings, a traditional fantasy world in every sense.  I've seen some reviews which use this to stigmatize the setting, as a boring generic world.  Kalamar doesn't seem boring to me at all, it is very close in feel to an old fairy story like Hans Christian Andersen or the Hobbit in many parts.  As I've begun to read the next chapter, on the fallen empire of Kalamar however, I'm seeing more gritty influences that reminded me of the War of 5 Kings in the Game of Thrones series.  This campaign setting is really good reading so far.  I would highly recommend it for browsing, or for running a campaign.