Friday, October 26, 2012

Fiasco - Saturday Night '79


Today was the first time I ever played fiasco. I had the brilliant Derek, Kim and James as coplayers. It was a bit of a slow start at first, and the players were a little reticent, and since I had the strongest rules knowledge I facilitated the game. It didn't take long for the players to get into it. Kim and I were immediately in a criminal relationship (which she defined as "Muscle and Mouth", though neither of us could figure out which was the muscle and which was the mouth we set our need to "to get free... of our criminal charges). Kim and James were in a romantic relationship, with him obsessed with her (totally friend-zoned!), James and Derek were cops on overlapping beats (they were both detectives), Derek's relationship with me was Secret (faithful spouse and the other man/woman) - we interpreted it that Derek was a faithful partner to James' character. While on the take from me).  We determined an important location to be an Alley Behind a Sex Shop, and an important object to be a wad of twelve $100 bills ready to go.What followed was a strange tale of criminals on the lam, trying to pull together a plan to get out of the city before their trial and silence their accusers once and for all. Some highlights include: 

Tina Sparkles: Stripper and object of Detective Hank Doright's obsession accepting a wad of $100 bills but failing to realize that they were marked.

Rico Chavez slamming his car into Hank Doright in order to meet Detective "Catches" Craven.Then failing  to convince Craven to betray his partner. 

Tina Spakles coming up with the money, and the pair of them deciding that they would be better off bumping off the police chasing them. 

Detective Hank Doright convincing Detective Craven to kill off Rico, but failing to convince Tina to stay out of it and her swearing to kill Doright for threatening her partner.

In Act 2 Tina and Rico decide that Petrol Bombs (half tequila/half petrol) would be the best weapons. The police decided on automatic fire-arms. It was a complete fustercluck! (We had run out of white dice by the time the characters met in the alley so everything backfired). Tina threw a petrol bomb at Hank Doright, and his reflexes caused it to explode in mid-air covering Tina in flames. Doright turned in time to see Rico's sweet chevy driving into the alley and Hank opened fire, causing Rico's car to flip and slam into the nearby Detective Craven the flipped car of course exploded. Aftermath: Rico miraculously unharmed crawls out of the car, and races out of the alley; the two cops firing on him, one of the bullets catching him in the ankle.  Rico falls to the ground and gets arrested by Craven. Meanwhile Tina Sparkles in burning agony looks up to see Hank Doright pick her up just as it starts raining the cool water sweet on her skin. Rico went to prison, for the rest of his natural life. Doright ended up married to the terribly burned (mummylike) Tina Sparkles, selling heroin from the evidence room to pay for her expensive skin grafts. Craven was fired from the force for his role in the back-alley battle. Rico meanwhile built a criminal empire from within the prison, ordering a hit on the police who put him there. 
End 

The game was very whacky and could have gotten gonzo very quickly. We had some pacing problems by the end because I had accidentally put too many dice on the table (whoops). We loved how even characters who got what they wanted found it tainted, and those who got the opposite of what they wanted found some redemption. The game was super easy to play and I'm going to go ahead and play this again SOON. It's such a great rules lite story game, and so much whacky fun. Next time I think I want to try LA 1920s playset. I think we could have pulled the Object in a little better (it seemed to take significance but then lose it pretty quickly), but over all the dice forced some interesting decisions.

Games You Might Try II


Okay gang, it's been near a month since my last one of these so I'm writing another. I consider myself a big gamer, but I actually don't play a lot of games. I play games that I feel will be fun, or have something to offer. As always tastes vary, and if you trust my taste you might get to experience something new. So without further ado.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
http://www.xcom.com/enemyunknown/entry
(Available for Xbox 360 and PC)
I'm seeing all sorts of reviews and suchlike for XCOM, and a lot of them are playing the nostalgia angle. I didn't play the original XCOM, so I have the luck of being able to talk about this game purely for the game's merits. I'm a sucker for a certain type of small-squad strategy game. 4-6 brave soldiers facing the unknown in turn based combat, with base building in between. It's like something ripped directly from my brain. Sometimes I like to just sit there and look at the  battlefield and ponder my next move, before a flurry of clicks and choices. I highly recommend Iron Man mode no matter what difficulty you're playing. It means to take-backs for your choices, and sometimes your choices will be bad. When you lose a squad member you put significant time into levelling you feel responsible. I refuse to rename my squad members to anybody I know or I'd be unable to risk soldiers for victory.
That said the game isn't perfect, I'm playing on PC and sometimes the camera will be niggly and refuse to co-operate (learn the keyboard shortcuts folks) and there's a weird thing where whenever you uncover a group of aliens they basically get a free turn which is dumb (but not game-breaking). Just take uncovering the Fog-O-War slow and steady.

Zombies, Run! 
https://www.zombiesrungame.com/
(Available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
I've decided to walk for charity (http://www.starlightfundraising.org.au/mirvac_nsw I notice none of you slobs have donated for my run yet). Now as a bona fide fattie, fattie, boombalattie. I decided to at least do a little training before hand. I decided to try Zombies, Run! as a training tool. Tonight was my first run, the game itself is simple, keep your earbuds in and run. The story plays automatically and weaves into your regular playlist. I really got into the story, and found myself liking the characters involved. I am not by nature a runner, there's too many bouncy parts of me for that to be a comfortable proposition. But today I managed 5k in less than an hour. Maybe that's not fast for you, but for me it near brought me to tears. I was surprised that my body didn't aggressively attack me for trying to move so far so quickly. I'm sure I will pay for it tomorrow, and double the day after. Even so I'll keep you guys updated. My next target will be 5k in under 50 minutes, assuming I don't get eaten by zombies. OH! Also if you finish the mission before your run is over they have a survivor radio station. Pretty funny stuff. If you want something to make your afternoon walk more interesting give Zombies, Run! A go.

Pathfinder
http://paizo.com
(Avaliable for tabletops in PDF and book form)
I gave Fiasco its own post the other day so you can just go back in time and check that one out. I wanted to give Pathfinder a shout out because I am enjoying a wonderful glut of gaming. I am GMing Three Groups at the moment:
Kingmaker, always a pleasure things are getting pretty politically complex. Plus I got to use my Kermit voice for a village of Grippli.
Skull & Shackles, an unfortunate chicken incident had to put our game on hold this month, but my players are loving the piracy on the high seas.
Jade Regent, just enjoyed its first session and I got to attack the players with Goblins and out of control caravans, giant water bugs and shapeshifting psychos. This is going to be fun. Also playing with the narrative style a little bit. A GM gets the same joy that a comedian or a magician gets. Where you know what's about to happen and the players don't and you know their minds are going to be blown. The best part is the players get that moment too!
I'm playing in:
Rise of the Runelords: Seeing a new GM figure out where the rabbits are hidden is magical for me. It creates a sustainability to the game. Brett is becoming a great GM, if he offers you a place in a game snap it up.
Legacy of Fire: GREAT FLAAAAAAAMING EYEBROWS! Need I say more? Darren is a craftsman and always finds a different angle for combat.
Way of the Wicked: I haven't played this one in MONTHS. DANIEL >:(. My alchemist must perform his experiments. Daniel's a great GM and absolutely embodies the spirit of saying "Yes". Unless the question is "Are we playing this week?" :-P

Games You Might Try I


Hey folks, 

I'm just taking a breath here to write up some brief thoughts on games that I'm playing (both video and table-top). You might have heard of these games, you might not have. If you get a chance to play these games do so. They're mad fun. 

FTL 

Faster Than Light, is a wonderful little game (Find it at http://www.ftlgame.com/), a kickstarter success story and a GREAT way to spend a few hours of your life. The conceit is that you are controlling the crew of a space-ship travelling through the galaxy trying to deliver a message to the federation about dangerous rebels (who are chasing you the whole time), it's got flavors of Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars in a wonderful roguelike. Every game feels different and there's still mysteries to be solved. Odds are you've seen me tweet and post about FTL, because it's a game that asks the player to meet the game part way there. There's something wonderful and simple about the 16-bit graphics and abstraction. You'll care about your crew and the moments of tooth grinding tension, mixed with fist pumping victories make this a must buy. It's pretty cheap, and pretty fun. At around $10 you can't deny it's a good game. (I got my copy as a gift though, and am super thankful for it.)

Mark of the Ninja 

Be like unto a silent wind of doom. Flit between shadows and feel like a ninja master. Mark of the Ninja is a sneak 'em up done right. With just, beautiful animation and excellent art the team at Klei have completely updated the genre. The control scheme is masterful, at no point will you blame the controller for a screw up wherein the guards are alerted or alarms sound madly. Generous check-points make it easy to jump back if you make a mistake and the ability to freeze time in mid air so you can take out a light, distract a guard and zip into the cherry blossom branches simultaneously will make you feel like a master of the shadowed arts very quickly. The story is mostly a clothes hanger on which to drape the cleverly designed levels, but I know most of you love ninjas because of being raised on a steady diet of Three Ninjas, Ninja Turtles and Beverly Hills Ninja so I know story isn't really a concern. You can't help but be mesmerized by the beautiful art, and hot chocolate smooth gameplay.
If you've got an Xbox 360 you'll find it on the Arcade is definitely worth $20. 

Zombie Dice 

Some games are like appetizers, they're what you eat, before you eat to make you more hungry. Hungry for brains! Zombie Dice is an excellent risk vs reward game pitting your bravery and luck vs. the dice is a tricky preposition. The game is fairly simple you're a zombie chasing down  civilians, each dice has either a brain (worth 1 point), footsteps (for a reroll) or shotgun blast (take 3 and you're dead). Each turn you roll three dice, trying to accumulate brains before deciding to stand, but if you accrue three shotgun blasts first then all your progress for the turn is lost. You win if you're the first to twelve brains and nobody can beat you in the lightning round. It's fast paced, takes about a minute to learn and is a good way to get the game juices flowing before a table-top game or between board-games on game night. Give it a shot. Oh wow, and you can play it on your iPhone or iPad for free? Steve Jackson, you're crazy. 

Little games, but beautiful and smart and cool so don't complain to me about boredom because there's lots you can do.

Sticky Dead: The Walking Dead Review (SPOILER FREE)


In gaming there is a term known as "stickiness". The term refers to how long it takes before a player stops playing a game, multi-player adds to stickiness for example. Adventure games tend to have a low stickiness. Being puzzle games by nature, once a puzzle is solved there's not much replay value. Except perhaps for nostalgia, or the rare branching middle chapter (I'm looking at you Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis). Why am I talking about stickiness? Because I am beginning to wonder how well it applies to Telltale Games' "The Walking Dead". A huge tonal shift from previous adventure games, the Walking Dead may have the highest stickiness of any adventure game to date. The game is full of dialogue trees and difficult choices you can't just take back, and the big decisions are on a timer so you make those decisions fast! Sometimes you'll say something dumb and the person who you said it to might not back you up where you need them to. With so many choices the temptation is there to start a new game and decide differently to find out what happens if you moved in a different direction, adding a lot of stickiness. 

Then again, there's a part of me that likes the purity of my decisions. Good or bad. I've realised that some characters might have died unnecessarily, but I don't see me making any decision much differently. My first play through the decisions I make are the decisions I hope I'd make in those situations. Sometimes I disappointed myself by losing my temper, making decisions hastily (not helped by the timer the game places on every choice). I'm not sure if I have the heart to play the game all over again because the story so far has been deeply personal to me. I worry that playing again might dilute the impact the first play through had on me. Make no mistake this game does impact emotionally.

In fact the puzzles themselves aren't super difficult to negotiate, and in fact their simplicity serve as a sort of tension release valve, giving you plenty of time to puzzle out a solution. An incautious button press might alert the zombies if you jump for your gun instead of a handy melee weapon, but such puzzles are rare. So puzzle solving is a way of ramping back the tension, giving you a long moment to breathe and take in the weight of what happened. If anything the challenge of Walking Dead is negotiating the emotional problems and moral conundrums.

So, while I agonise over the wait for episode 5 (Telltale says November Release), I wonder if I could do it all over again would I change anything? I can't help but think, probably not. Then I ponder how much I'm thinking about a game even when I'm not at the computer and realise The Walking Dead: The Game, is much stickier than I could have imagined. 

- Johnpocalypse.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March of Evil - Part III: Interlude... of eeevil


Hey all,

Just a short blog today I'm super swamped under at work and really not feeling up to posting a long spiel about gaming, morality and the like.

So instead I'm going to try to write an encounter in less than 500 words that you can drop in to your own game. Sometimes challenging yourself to write a little goes a long way.



The Den of Stinking Evil CR 3 (low tier) CR 6 (high tier)
A stench permeates the walls of this roughly circular room, a ramp of refuse and rotting vegetable matter dominates the southern end of the room leading to a trap door in the ceiling. While the rest of the ground is ankle deep in fetid water, bits of trash and organic matter bob sickeningly when disturbed. Occasionally a trap door in the ceiling opens causing more feculent matter to rain into the room with heavy wet plopping noises.

This room is the Fleringen family's garbage disposal, and one of the reasons they've never been caught committing their sick human hunts. Those they capture are mostly eaten, and what scraps are left are thrown to the Otyugh. It has dined on so many bones since its childhood that its stomach has grown sensitive to the smell of humanoids causing it disgorge the bits of bone and skin that its body is unable to digest.

Hazards and Terrain: The room itself is ankle deep in sitting water, with bits of garbage, meat, vegetation and refuse. Treat the ground as difficult terrain. Characters who are tripped or otherwise submerged in the water must make a Fortitude save or risk contracting Filth Fever.

Monsters:

Low-Tier: CE Young Corpse Feaster Otyugh (hp 32) (CR 5)

High-Tier:
CE Corpse Feaster Otyugh (hp 51) and 2x Advanced Troglodytes (hp 17 each, equipped with Masterwork Flails; Attack +5, 1d8+3, x2) (CR 7)

Development:
Low-Tier: If the Otyugh hears the sound of combat coming from either the Hunting Lodge or the Secret Lab he immediately buries himself in the ramp of refuse, taking a 10 on his Stealth check in order to catch the PCs in Ambush. He vomits on the first round, attempting to catch as many PCs as possible. Fighting to the death to protect its lair and home.

High-Tier: If the the Otyugh and the Troglodytes hear commotion from the Hunting Lodge or the Secret Laboratory they immediately hide. The Otyugh buries himself in the refuse ramp, while the troglodytes take position behind some of the pillars. When combat breaks out the Otyugh allows the troglodytes to get into combat before bursting forth and blasting as many as possible with its Rot Vomit attack. The Troglodytes will use CMB and Aid Another in order to trip foes, and subject them to the filth fever.

Treasure:
Low-Tier: The Otyugh has been hording a small pile of gold and silver teeth, all that remains of the Fleringen family's victims. These masterfully crafted teeth are worth 50 gp in all. Furthermore the Otyugh has a potion of remove disease hidden in the refuse ramp (Perception DC 15 to find).

High-Tier: The trogs are equipped with masterwork tridents. Furthermore the Otyugh has a second potion of remove disease (harder to find DC 20 Perception).

Encounter Notes: A further +1 CR is given to the Encounters because of the monsters have favorable terrain.


494 words. Not bad, not bad at all.

In any case I hope you get to use the Den of Stinking Evil, at some point. If you do feel free to discuss it below, on my facebook page, or on This Thread at Paizo.com.

As always, good night and good gaming.

Your Dudemeister,
Johnpocalypse.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March of Evil - Part II: Corruption and Falling

The popular theory is that nobody starts out evil. We're all born adorable, pure souls unfettered by this world which slowly acts to corrupt us. Tell that to the evil baby who keeps stealing the attention of that pretty lady on the train. I'm on to you evil baby, you and your schemes.

In any case today's blog is all about falling from grace, exploring the issue on both sides of the GM screen. As usual I'll be discussing this under the assumption of the Pathfinder, or 3.5 rule sets, but any game that makes some nod towards objective morality and alignment can adapt the advice and rules options below.

Letting the Bad In

Many GMs don't allow Evil Alignments (some also don't allow Chaotic Neutral, or Paladins), and their reasons are simple. These alignments and options have a tendency to be disruptive to group cohesion. Essentially the person playing evil will get frustrated as his party members constantly thwart his attempts to do evil, or the party will resent the evil party member for his acts of blatant badness.

So like all hot button topics in a game, the group of PLAYERS (GM included) should discuss what level and kinds of evil they are comfortable playing with. The following is a list of things to consider when allowing evil party members.

1) How evil? Having a character that is willing to torture enemies, or raise zombie minions is a whole magnitude of evil different from a puppy killing, baby eating, sexual predator. Basically choose your taboo topics early. If as a group you can agree to a line that nobody will cross then there's one disruption nipped in the bud.

2) How to deal with blocking? There will be times when the evil guy will want to do bad things, it's part of the fun of playing such a character. Whether it's pickpocketing a soul for sale on the black market, or setting fire to an orphanage, the player who is evil should be allowed to indulge occasionally without fear of being kicked from the party or constantly thwarted. Conversely a party should not have to constantly put up with a back-stabbing public nuisance that can't be trusted. Below I give some tips on how to play an evil character in mixed company (containing Lawful Good types as well as other evil types). I recommend that as long as the evil character's actions further the party's goals it should be allowed.

3) The Sudden Yet Inevitable Betrayal? Sometimes an evil character will get an offer he'd rather not refuse, betraying the party and placing them in sudden peril. Betrayals happen regularly in popular fiction and they are effective for a reason, being the guy who sells the party out to the BBEG can be a lot of fun, but should be used sparingly. My recommendation is that if your evil character does make a major betrayal strictly for personal gain, then at that point he becomes an NPC under the GM's control. You should have a back-up character ready for this contingency (preferably one who is less inclined to evil and betrayal).


The Renegade Option, or Playing Evil in Mixed Company

Okay so the group has agreed to let you play evil. Now's your chance to put together that mad necromancer, self-serving monk or demonic cultist you've been itching to play. Now lets start with a few ground rules for your character:

1 - Your first loyalty should be with your fellow PCs. If you're Lawful Evil - You have a code that you value above your ambitions. If you're Neutral Evil you see these people as useful tools for your long reaching plans. If you're chaotic evil, destroying stuff is better if someone cheers you on while you do it.

2 - The ends justify the means. Unlike the other PCs who have to risk compromising their morality, you can safely indulge in torture or deals with lesser evils in order to achieve greater ends. When playing in a campaign or Adventure Path, as long as you work towards furthering the plot then you can be an utter bastard, you're saving the world after all.

3 - Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill every single person you meet. It does yourself and the party no favors if you act like a complete tool-bag to people who are offering your party quests, rewards or people you shop from. On the other hand, if anybody crosses you feel free to brutally, and efficiently murder them. Tell the coroner to put under Cause of Death: "Got in my way".

4 - Be indispensable. If you fill a niche the party relies on they'll be more willing to indulge some of your more annoying foibles. Some groups have trouble filling certain slots (healer, trap-finder or arcane caster I'm looking at you). Find the niche that your party lacks and then be excellent at what you do, the party might find it distasteful when you occasionally take blood samples from monsters you fight, but they'll let you get away with it if you can heal the hundreds of wounds they'll take across an adventuring career.

5 - Make a deal with the Paladin. If your party includes a paladin, then you'll need to hash things out early, I recommend a contract stipulating: A) You will commit no act of evil in the paladin's presence. B) You will not try to corrupt the paladin in any way. C) The Paladin won't ask awkward questions about your actions while not in the paladin's presence. D) The Paladin will not spend an inordinate amount of time trying to redeem you. This mutual non-aggression pact worked for a very long time for an assassin and paladin in my Curse of the Crimson Throne game.

If you follow the above considerations you'll have an evil character who doesn't attract the ire of your fellow party members or your GM.

Falling From Grace

Sometimes a player wants to undergo a corruption/redemption arc. Sometimes a GM wants to keep track of a player straying from their listed alignment. Often it can be difficult to keep track of a player's alignment especially from week to week. Mandating a sudden alignment shift can seem arbitrary and unfair to some players, the following is a simple method of tracking a PC's alignment shift using the all too fun: 7 Deadly Sins.

Each time a player commits one of the following sins give that player a Sin Point (make sure there's an obvious method of keeping track of Sin points on the player's character sheet). If a player accrues 7 Sin Points from any source their alignment moves one step further towards Evil (from Good to Neutral, from Neutral to Evil). The Taint of Sin never really goes away, and a character who commits a sin registers as an evil outsider equal to their hit dice for one hour after committing a Sin when seen under a Detect Evil spell. Doing good deeds does not wash away any Sin Points unless a character is committing an act of repentance. Such a penitent character will undertake a quest, or some act of personal sacrifice (following a Monk Vow without gaining any of the benefits for a full month (or session of game time), doing so removes one Sin Point (to a minimum of 1 sin). Alternatively they can be removed by the casting of an atonement spell. Gaining a full level without gaining a single Sin point also removes 1 sin point (to a minimum of 1 sin).

Lust or Lechery - If a character indulges in sexual talk or acts in such a way as to break the morals of their character/the church or perhaps is disrespectful to the object of their lust they may gain a Sin Point. (Don't be too heavy handed with this one, flirtation and banter shouldn't be discouraged after all).

Gluttony - If a character indulges too heavily in drinking or eating (being drunk during an adventure for example) the character may gain a Sin Point. (Don't be too heavy handed with this one, but if a character is trying to gain sin points by being a violent or mean drunk go for it).

Greed - If a character takes more than his fair share of the treasure, or demands payment for a deed from a poor man he is probably guilty of the sin of greed. This is particularly aimed at those adventurers who haggle on the price of their services when matters are urgent.

Sloth - If a character takes the easy way out, either by taking a deal with a devil or casting a spell with the [evil] descriptor he is committing the Sin of Sloth. Essentially that character is looking to take a short-cut like burn the dungeon down (risking property damage to nearby buildings) rather than going in and facing danger like a hero, or sending waves of zombie minions/demons etc to do the work they should be doing.

Wrath - If a character chooses a violent course of action when an obviously peaceful solution exists then they are guilty of wrath. Killing a village of cowardly kobolds might be worth easy xp, but if the kobolds are cowardly then how much of a threat could they have been? This particular sin is aimed at those characters who tend to execute prisoners without discussing it with fellow party members. Or those that tend to draw swords the second they don't like somebody.

Envy - If a character is jealous of his fellow PC's popularity, piety or treasure drop, or picks on his fellow PC for whatever reason he's probably displaying Envy. If a PC is racist towards elves, or dwarves or halflings and ignores or belittles anyone of such a race they are probably displaying envy (damn those pretty, pretty elves).

Pride - If a character treats NPCs like walking plot speakers, talks himself up and downplays the efforts of fellow PCs in the party then he's probably displaying vainglorious pride.

Other Methods of Gaining Sin Points: Destroying nature and natural creatures can be considered a sinful act especially if committed by Druids, Rangers, Barbarians or other nature based classes. Ignoring the tenets of a character's religion in character also counts as a sinful act. Breaking a code or vow as dictated by a class can also count as a sinful act at the GM's discretion.

A GM can give multiple Sin Points at once if a character commits multiple sins with one act.

Example: Shallo Graves, Neutral Human Necromancer, lusts for the bride of an NPC knight, so he uses a spell with an [evil] descriptor to create a group of skeletons to attempt to murder the knight. This act has Lust, Sloth, Envy, Wrath and Pride all wrapped up together. He gains 5 Sin Points for this particular act of maliciousness, possibly more at the GM's discretion.

In any case there is no perfect system for quantifying evil. The above is just a simple method of a GM and player to track their behavior from game to game and to act as a warning for players who chose to play certain alignments and have trouble sticking to it. The system can be gamed (commit 6 acts of sin and ask for an atonement badabing badaboom), but then if they aren't actually sorry atonement won't work. Essentially it's a trick that can only be pulled once, after that the PC needs to change their behavior and redeem themselves the hard way.

I hope you've enjoyed my exploration of the sinister path. On Thursday I'll cook up an evil NPC your characters will love to hate. Until then feel free to discuss this post either below, on my Facebook Page, or on This Thread at Paizo.com. Until then, feel the powah of the Darkside.

Your Dudemeister,
Johnpocalypse

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March of Evil - Part I: The Nemesis

The dark side, the left-hand path, evil.

With a glut of fiction glamorizing the bad-guys it's no wonder evil is seeing a popular renaissance on the player's side of the screen. Recently the Way of the Wicked Adventure Path by Fire Mountain Games has captured the imaginations of GMs and players everywhere. There's never been a better time to be bad, even Paizo's new Adventure Path Skull and Shackles promises to be "evil friendly".

So since everyone has evil on the brain, I thought I might dedicate to "The March of Evil", where I'll explore Evil on both sides of the GM screen. Everything from how to handle playing an evil character in mixed company (that is to say a party with goody-two-shoes paladins as well as your own bad-self), to how to give your villains the evil edge to get your PCs to really get their hate on. I'll also be statting up a couple of villains and a new evil monster throughout the month for GMs to use in their own home games.

At the end of the month I'll release another Mapkin Adventure that lets players really "be bad".

I spent the last two blogs yammering on about friendship and love, in relation to my NPC cards. Now I'm going to flip things around and give a players a tool they need to really hate a villains with a fiery passion. To let players pick their own Joker, Green Goblin or Justin Morris (that's right Justin Morris from year three, I'm calling you out!)

The Nemesis Rule

During an adventure a PC may spend an NPC to card to declare a villain their Nemesis. The player need not have met the villain personally yet, but as long as they are reasonably familiar with the villain's work, or have faced the villain's minions then the Nemesis Rule is in effect.

As long as that PC's Nemesis is free or alive, the PC gains a +2 bonus to attacks, damage, saves skill checks and spell DCs vs that foes minions/traps and skill checks on any adventure dealing with the villain's machinations. The PC may not declare a new Nemesis until that nemesis has been captured or killed. This represents the power of the character's single minded determination to get to their foe. A PC may not change their Nemesis until the Nemesis is killed or captured. Only one PC may declare a nemesis.

A Nemesis gains the following abilities based on the APL of the party.

APL Any: Live to Fight Another Day - The GM may give the PCs a bonus NPC card at their next session to allow the Nemesis to escape either via a secret passage, magical means or by sudden hostage in a trap.
APL 1-5: DR = APL Minimum 1 Maximum 10/Nemesis (attacks made by the PC who spent the card deal normal damage, a Paladin's Smite Evil ability does not ignore this DR).
APL 6-10: Additional Action (Once/round at the Nemesis' intiative count -10 the Nemesis may gain an additional move or standard action)
APL 11-15: SR = CR +5, if a creature already has SR it gains a 5 point boost for that ability (the PC who chose the Nemesis may ignore the bonus SR).
APL 16-20: Auto-Resurrection (if the Nemesis dies from any effect that the PC who chose him is not directly responsible for the Nemesis returns to plague the PC another day).

Design Notes: "Wait," you ask, "Declaring a Nemesis means I get a minor bonus, and the nemesis gains a suite of cool defensive abilities What the hey?"
It helps to understand the intent of a rule. The Nemesis rule allows a PC to experience that wonderful moment of catharsis when they get to be the one to smite their foe once and for all.
By impeding the attacks of the other PCs, it's important for the GMs to give other objectives for the other characters involving the nemesis, minions, traps, hostages and the like.


In any case I hope you enjoy the Nemesis rule. As always I hope to hear some discussion either below, on my facebook page, or on This Thread at Paizo.com.


Mwahahahahahahaa,
Dudemeister

Monday, February 27, 2012

Supporting Cast Part 2 - Love and Romance Hooks

I asked one of my players about a topic she'd like to see in my blog and she responded with: "do a post about romance".

Romance is a tricky topic to deal with in Role Playing Games for quite a few reasons. There are some great resources out there that already touch on the topic:

Spes Magna: Let A Little Love In Your Game (I highly recommend giving this one a read).

Also the excellent Jade Regent Adventure Path has some really interesting rules for Romances and Rivalries (there's a name for a spin-off RPG if I've ever heard one).

This post is something a little different from the above which primarily involve rules systems, that require tracking scores to determine how successful a romance is. The above are great systems and I even tried incorporating the Spes Magna rules above into my own Kingmaker game. The problem was that I tend to be a bit of a lazy GM particularly when it comes to note-taking (I make my players do that). So keeping track of a Romance Score became problematic especially when a romantic interest NPC left for a while and then came back.

Important note: I am talking about ROMANCE in RPGs, not Sex. That's a different topic and definitely deserves a blog-post all of its own.

This post is instead my advice and findings on how to handle romance in-game, and out of it.

First: Who wants this mushy stuff anyway?

Table-Top RPGs are such a strange hybrid of so many things, not quite board games, not quite improv exercise with a narrative element at its heart. It's hard to find a single movie, book or series that completely neglects some manner of romantic sub-plot, yet RPGs do it all the time. The same group can get together every week for years on end and have nothing more romantic than some flirtation with a bar wench to get a cheaper price on mead (because adventurers are spend-thrift bastards).

Yet few motivations and plots are more interesting than romance. There's even an entire sub-genre of fantasy dedicated to romantic fantasy (see also: Mercedes Lackey, and Green Ronin's Blue Rose RPG). A common complaint among GMs is that they find it hard to continue motivating their PCs beyond promises of wealth, title or the gods throwing lightning bolts if players don't take the plot bait. Romance, the quest for true love, the loss of love or maintaining an eternal bond make for excellent motivators to a group of players interested in it.

So if you let your players know that they can potentially gain some boons, quests and bonuses for taking an active interest in their PC's love life then maybe that might entice the more stubborn players.

Finding your Comfort Zone

The thing about romance is that it requires talking about all sorts of sensitive and weird topics like feelings and babies and sex (not necessarily in that order... what?). On top of which Role Playing usually involves pretending to be someone for a little while. So as always the major rule is to talk to your players openly and honestly and find out where the comfort zone is. Maybe the players at the table want to see the soap opera unfold, perhaps a player finds at weird when you as an NPC are flirting with their girlfriend or boyfriend's PC.

The thing about such a discussion is what people say and how people act can often be two different things. A player might be comfortable with the NPC flirtation right up until it happens, at which point they become uncomfortable.

Always be willing to dial it back.

The best level to be on is that of the least comfortable player, so everyone can be included.

Pro-Tip: If you start to feel uncomfortable stop speaking in "I" statements, use your character's name to indicate their actions, or as a GM ask for a social interaction skill roll to break the moment.

Example: Grand Diplomat Rosalina (PC) has just rescued Professor Hollow Graves Esq. (NPC) from the tomb of the Lich King.

Rosalina's Player: I walk up to Hollow and ask if he's okay.
GM: "I... I honestly don't know." He has a haunted look on his face.
Rosalina's Player: I hug Hollow saying "Everything's going to be all right."
GM: Hollow begins to weep on your shoulder, he has undergone some kind of trauma.
Rosalina's Player: I... er... that is to say Rosalina kisses Hollow to let him know she's not going anywhere.
GM: Uh, great, he seems comforted by your action. Uh, while those two are at that what are you other players doing.
Duke Thundershield: "LOOTING!" wooooo!

By removing yourself a little from your character's boots the description of the character's actions can be external to yourself and allow a little more leeway in how characters would act. As a player you can become observer or director rather than actor. As a GM keep an ear out for changes from "I" statements to "Character Name" statements, as that's your indicator that you've just hit the right note for the scene and unless you plan to complicate things you should move the spot-light elsewhere.

Establishing Romances

In my previous post I talked about how dangerous shoe-horning NPCs into a party could be. That goes double for shoe-horning in romantic leads. If a table-top RPG was a television series the PCs would be the awesome ensemble cast, and the NPCs would be the walk on guests. Great when the audience likes them, annoying when they become cousin Oliver. This means that it's up to the PLAYERS to decide whether or not they want to establish a romance with an NPC. Players can flag this in a number of ways, by flirting with an NPC, or taking an active interest but the best method is when they just flat-out tell the GM that they want to establish a romance with an NPC.

As a GM you might see an interesting interaction between an NPC and a PC, in which case you can make it tacitly obvious the NPC is interested in a Player Character (or just let the PC know out of game), at which point the player can either take the bait or refuse. Respect that player's wishes (unless of course it's a villain, in which case feel free to have the creepy NPC show up all the time and generate that precious hate that fuels a great Pathfinder session. There's going to be a future blog post for that I'm sure).

If the player chooses to establish a romance then like any other sub-plot be wary of taking up too much spot-light time from other players. Use the NPC to drive plot-hooks for the PC.

Early Romance Plot-Hooks

  • The NPC is a member of an elite class (nobility, religious, competing adventuring group), the PC will need to convince the NPC of their intentions. - This makes for great scene fillers or tension breakers. Diplomacy/Bluff/Performance Checks of increasing difficulty.
  • Before the NPC will take notice the PC must complete some difficult challenge to earn the NPC's respect. - Make this a difficult enough challenge that the PC will need the whole party to help complete it. You've just found an adventure hook for an entire night's gaming.
  • The NPC is a member of an elite class (nobility, religious, competing adventuring group), the PC will need to convince the NPC of their intentions. - This makes for great scene fillers or tension breakers. Diplomacy/Bluff/Performance Checks of increasing difficulty.
  • The NPC is seeking a specific McGuffin: Perhaps a rare flower, or a series of texts on ancient cultures, retrieving such a McGuffin would go a long way to putting a PC in that character's good graces. - This one is great if you don't want to steal time away from the main plot. Simply put the McGuffin somewhere PCs are going anyway, this provides an interesting opportunity to build a bonus encounter for a pre-made adventure.
  • There is a Rival for the NPC's affections, the PC must prove themselves. - This one works great if there are multiple players vying for an NPC's affections. Much like theelite class hook above, this an opportunity to dust off the opposed Diplomacy/Bluff/Sense Motive/Performance or Knowledge skills (although tests of athleticism are pretty traditional too).

Early Romance Reward: A PC who completes the Early Romance Quest gains an additional NPC card each session. If the NPC is following the party it may be used for any of the normal reasons listed, or can be used to re-roll a single d20 as long as the re-roll is inspired by love (be descriptive). If the NPC is not following the party then the player may spend the card to use a single item with a value equal to no greater than 10% of the Average Wealth By Level that their partner lovingly packed for them, or the re-roll.

Mid-Romance Plot Hooks

Once a Romance has been established, keeping it up (hur, hur, hur. Seriously, later blog post) can be a tricky proposition. While it's tempting to just say: "And they lived happily ever after" and write purple prose fiction about the happy couple on your Pathfinder group's Facebook page. The point of NPCs is to drive the story forward or use for adventure motivation. Much like a real relationship, the key is to keep things interesting. The interesting part of these hooks is that they are little mysteries that the PC must solve. Establishing the "Why" of these is more important than the "What". The following are only example complications.

  • Cold Feet. The NPC runs away or breaks up suddenly. Possible Reasons: The NPC is scared of all these intense emotions. The NPC has a dark secret and has left to cover it up. The NPC has gotten all they wanted out of the relationship and is looking for their next conquest.
  • Family Matters. The NPC or PC's family arrives in town and doesn't approve. Possible Reasons: The character is not part of the same species/social class/religion. The family already has a marriage arranged for the character. The family have been replaced by doppelgangers and need the character to complete "the set".
  • Betrayal! The NPC or PC cheats on/attempts to kill/steals from their partner. Possible Reasons: Something better came along. Mind-Controlling villain is trying to ruin everything. It's what they were after all along.
  • Your Princess is in another castle. The NPC has been kidnapped. Possible Reasons: An old villain wants to lure the PC into a series of fiendishly trapped castles manned by ravenous turtle monsters. The NPC is a victim of happenstance and happened to be taken along with a bunch of others.

Mid-Romance Reward: One Additional Card, furthermore the re-roll can be treated as a 10 if the character rolls below 10 on the re-roll.

End-Game Romance

The campaign is wrapping up, and so it's time to tie off those lose ends, or the player is interested in exploring another aspect of their character. It's time to wrap up this romance sub-plot once and for all. Many of the Mid-Romance Plots work just as well here, but they'll need an element of finality to them. Below are some sample Big Finishes, running the gamut from Bad Romance to Happily Ever After.

  • Noble Sacrifice. Circumstances come to light revealing that the PC or NPC must sacrifice themselves for the other. - This one is cliched with good reason. Players become incredibly invested in their characters over the course of a game, and asking a player to sacrifice their PC for the sake of an imaginary friend is a big deal. This one is best used near the end-game, or as an excuse to allow a player to re-roll a new character concept they've been thinking of.
  • Revenge of the Scorned. - If the PC has been through a betrayal arc, then this is a good finish for it. Have the NPC working for the enemy. The NPC would know the PC's weaknesses and might even call for a duel (have plenty of other baddies nearby to keep the other players busy). Perhaps one last empassioned Diplomacy check might turn their true love back to the side of angels?
  • Congratulations it's a squid! The PCs need to face the challenge of pregnancy and parenthood. - If the PC is female you must get permission to run this sub-plot first, since it's a very touchy topic. In a game that spans years of game time watching a PC's kid grow up can be really interesting. If not then protecting a pregnant lover can be a fun challenge in and of itself.
  • The Amicable Break-Up - The Campaign is going to take the PC from the region for a long time, and the NPC chooses to let their lover go and face challenges of the universe unfettered.
  • They Live Happily Ever After - The characters have made it through the campaign, through thick and thin to come out the other side happy and together looking forward to a bright future filled with fat children and an inn to retire to.

Mawwage Bwings Us Togevvah

I hope the above has helped you gain a better understanding of how to use romance in your table-top game as a spring-board for motivations and adventure ideas. I'm sure that there are heaps more that I haven't discussed here so please leave me your comments either below, on my Facebook Page or on This Thread at Paizo.com, I would love to hear your own Romance Hooks.

One Love,

Dudemeister Johnpocalypse

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Supporting Cast Part 1 - NPC Cards and the Dwarven Florist



So I promised a helpful NPC this week, and I had a bit of trouble motivating myself to write tonight, because I couldn't find a hook for this blog post without just blurting a stat block out onto the screen.

Fortunately for you, I've figured something out.

NPC Scene Stealers

One of the most universally reviled concepts in table top games is the "GMPC" and "Pet NPC" syndrome. Where a GM forces a party to take a tag-a-long NPC character, and the NPC either solves puzzles or steals spotlight from the players. Even GMs with the best of intentions can cause annoyance among their players because a lovingly crafted NPC won't die or fade into the background faster. As a GM you might believe you've crafted an awesome Captain Jack character, but in doing so you've forgotten your NPC is supposed to be Gibbs. The old guy with the side-burns who occasionally spouts exposition when the main characters fail a knowledge check.

Sometimes though GMPCs or NPC tag-alongs are a necessary "evil", they may fill a role the party doesn't have (such as healing or wilderness expertise), or might be plot vital (your quest is escorting the prophet Trippitaka across the country so no you may not leave him behind in the nearest tavern to go find hookers and blow).

Irrepressible!
Giving Players Control

Many games use some manner of Hero Point system nowadays, and this method is somewhat similar.

Essentially at the beginning of each session or adventure I ask the player which friendly NPC they'd like to have tag along with them, (my players in my Kingmaker games know how a party can fluctuate from week to week as they have alternate characters and I have a pool of players to draw from different members of which show up each game), they usually choose an NPC who can fill a hole in the party; "Latrecia has decent tracking and wilderness skills and everyone took their urban characters this session", but sometimes they make their choice purely for role-playing reasons; "I want to see how the Jhod reacts to finding a temple of the elder god!"

I then hand the players out a number of NPC Cards depending on how many players show up in a session:

Number of PCs - Number of Cards
3 - 3
4 - 2
5 - 1-2*
6 - 0.5-1*
*Depending on Session length, longer sessions merit more cards.

I usually use the Paizo Plot Twist or Face Cards to represent this, but they are just as easily represented by Poker Chips or M&Ms. (Eating the token counts as using it).

During any point in the session players may hand me a card in order to have the NPC do one of the following:

Attack - The NPC begins attacking foes to the best of their ability. If the PC makes a physical attack it counts as an automatic hit, and the player who spent the card may roll to confirm it as a critical hit. If a second card is spent this critical is automatically confirmed. NPCs do not attack for more than one round, or perform full attack actions. They do count as flank buddies though.

Cast - If the NPC is a spell-caster she casts a spell the player may choose any spell on that NPC's class spell list up to the maximum level they can cast. If a PC doesn't know what spell to cast they can ask the GM to decide. If a second card is spent then the DC is increased by 5, or if the spell is touch it is counted as an automatic hit. It is automatically assumed an NPC prepared whatever spell the PC selected.

Skill Check - The NPC can take a 10 on any skill they are trained in. If the GM doesn't have stats handy for the NPC assume the NPC has a bonus equal to APLx1.5 in that particular skill if it's on their class list or Equal to APL-2 if not.

Rescue - If a PC is at negative hit points the NPC can perform a rescue. Pulling the PC's body out of melee range of any opponents and feeding them a bottle of a Cure X Wounds (the exact cure spell determined by the PCs level (Cure Light 1-2, Cure Moderate 3-4, Cure Serious 5+). If two cards are spent its a Maximized potion of Cure.

Aid Another or Incredible Aid - A player may spend a card to have the NPC use the Aid Another action. If two cards are spent the bonus increases to +5. PCs must describe the manner of aid they want the NPC to provide.

Use a Class Feature - Sometimes it's handy to have a class feature that the players don't have covered available. When facing a wave of skeletons there's nothing like turn undead, and a bardic performance is always welcome. Any class feature which is measured in Rounds/Level lasts for a number of turns equal to the group's APL - 2.

Activate a Boon Ability - A Boon ability is a powerful ability unique to each NPC, unlocking such an ability requires the players to earn complete trust and friendship (or rivalry), or complete some manner of special quest on that NPC's behalf. Roughly speaking a Boon ability should be equivalent

Provisos and Limitations: Only 1 of the above functions can be activated a round, multiple cards can only be spent to boost an ability. A GM can veto any action he feels the NPC might disagree with or just not want to do, furthermore a GM can make a suggestion about what an NPC can do to help in a situation but the NPC will not act on the suggestion unless a player spends a card.

These are quite potent abilities and increase the player's arsenal by a lot. Consider though, that players can't just drag any NPC they meet along to traipse through deadly dungeons and fight dangerous monsters. NPC followers must be earned through role playing, taking an active interest in an NPC and recruiting them through the use of Diplomacy, bribery, guile, quests or friendship. By giving the PCs a tangible reward that has a game mechanic behind it the players feel rewarded for taking an interest in the NPCs around them and making friends with these imaginary people that populate your world.

Secondly, the cards are actually the player's way of telling you as a GM that they want an NPC to take the spot-light for a moment (2 cards means that players are incredibly invested in seeing an NPC succeed). It also adds an element of resource management to the party (do we spend a party now to have the NPC cleric cast cure serious wounds, or should we save the card in case there's more ghouls and we need a quick remove paralysis). As a GM you can use the NPC as the occasional mouth-piece or exposition-spouter without turning the NPC into a problem solver for the players unless that's what the player's want. Furthermore the more players spend their cards, the more an NPC is appreciated as they help out when the players need, and doesn't butt in when not.

When designing recruitable NPCs try to keep them within 1 or 2 levels of the PCs, if an NPC is higher level than the players they should not be recruitable until the players are of equal or higher level, and shouldn't level up until after the players.

In any case here's a couple of versions of Balley Keth N├╝ttonsdotter. Assuming a 5th level party.

Quick Balley Keth: Hp: (APL-2) x 6.5 (19); Attack Bonus = APL (+3); AC = 10 + APL (15); Skills: Druid List; Spells - Druid List 0, 1, 2. Spell DCs: (APL -2) x 1.5 + 10 (14). Special Boon: Plant Growth (Balley Keth can throw seeds and cast a modified entangle spell anywhere including indoors). Class Features: Druid 3.

Balley Keth N├╝ttonsdotter CR 2

XP 600
Female dwarf druid of the green faith 3
NG Medium humanoid
Init +1; Senses Perception +5

DEFENSE

AC 18, touch 10, flat-footed 14 (+4 armor, -1 Dex, +1shield) (+4 dodge vs. giants)
hp 23 (3d8+6)
Fort +5, Ref +0, Will +6; +2 against poison, spells, and spell-like abilities

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft.
Melee mwk club +3 (1d6+1/×3)
Ranged sling +1 (1d4+1) or club +1 (1d6+1)
Special Attacks +1 on attack rolls against giants, Boon Ability (Entangle Seeds - Can cast Entangle indoors or outdoors).
Domain Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd; concentration+6)

6/day—wooden fist

Druid Spells Prepared (CL 3rd; concentration +6)

2ndbarkskinD, fog cloud, tree shape
1stcure light wounds, cure light wounds, hydraulic push, entangle (DC 14)D
0 (at will)detect magic, guidance, resistance,stabilize

D Domain spell; Domain Plant

STATISTICS

Str 13, Dex 8, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 16, Cha 13
Base Atk +2; CMB +1; CMD 12 (16 vs. bull rush, 16 vs.trip)
Feats Combat Casting, Brew Potion
Skills Diplomacy +5, Heal +7, Knowledge (history) +4 (+6 dwarves or their enemies), Knowledge (nature) +6, Perception +5 (+7 unusual stonework), Profession(florist) +7, Survival +9, Spellcraft +4
Languages Common, Dwarven
SQ aura, giant hunter (replaces hatred), lorekeeper*
Combat Gear scrolls of longstrider (2), scrolls of magic fang (2), scrolls of obscuring mist (2), wand of cure light wounds (50 charges), tanglefoot bag; Other Gear hide armor, wooden buckler, masterwork club, sling with 20 bullets, healer’s kit, spell component pouch, holly, bag of roses 19 gp

PC Gear +1,350 gp

Description: This dwarf girl has long brown braided hair, and bright green eyes. She seems a little shy, but seems intent on selling her flowers to any who will buy.

History: Born in dwarven lands Balley Keth N├╝ttonsdotter has always been fascinated with the way things grow. Born the daughter of archivists her family pushed her towards books and study, but Balley would often find excuses to avoid class and stay out in the woods studying and cataloging flowers. It was in the woods near her mountain home where she met a human hermit, a wild lady with long grey hair named Avilon. The two struck up a friendship and taught Balley about the names of flowers, and how to unlock the most potent perfumes through the art of flower arrangement.
Her family was shocked to find out about this love of flowers, and forbade Balley from speaking with the old woman. Unable to survive in her stifling home environment Balley set off to find her own fate, and has taken odd-jobs in that time. Her dream is to open a flower shop of her own and send money home to her parents to prove once and for all that floristry is not some silly longshanks dream.

Meeting the NPC: PCs can come across Balley selling flowers anywhere in Middle Ground in Haighwall. If a PC buys one of her flower arrangements Balley grows quite excited as the PC is her first sale. She thanks the PC profusely and gives them her card with the address of the inn she is currently staying in case the PC might like more flowers.

Recurring Hooks:
If a PC takes a romantic interest in an NPC flowers might be a good way to woo him or her - Balley can put together a lovely bunch of flowers, but if the PC wants to go that extra mile Balley can give a PC the location of a rare flower that grows within Blackwode. She'll only share the location if the PC agrees to take her along.

A dwarven PC might take a romantic interest in Balley, in which case she is a shy girl who appreciates gifts of flowers, or hand-crafted items, but dislikes gaudy things like jewellery and stonework .

Balley might strike up a friendship with a female NPC, appreciating their choice in clothes or their style of hair, Balley's inexperience with human cultures might have her asking the PC's advice.

PCs might encounter Balley randomly in the city arguing with a conservative dwarf NPC, perhaps about her choice of wearing dresses and keeping flowers in her hair, open expressions of gender that stodgy dwarven culture is uncomfortable with.

Unlocking her Special Boon: If the PCs have made Balley friendly or helpful, Balley offers the PCs a quest: A rare flower grows high in the mountains to the East, The White Winter Blossom. This rare flower could he encouraged to grow domestically with the right kind of magic, but Balley needs a live specimen. Balley is happy to accompany the PCs on such a quest.

In any case, I hope y'all liked tonight's blog. Let me know what you think about this house-rule. Credit where credit is due, I did borrow ideas from these folks over at 4th Dimension Games. You can read the blog that inspired this idea here. As always you can always comment right here, or on my Facebook Page, or on this thread at Paizo.com, love to hear your feedback, critiques, praise or questions.