Archive for the ‘4e’ Category

Review: Ultimate Psionics

March 10, 2014 Comments off

psionicsOne of the Kickstarters that I had been waiting for excitedly and impatiently was Ultimate Psionics by Dreamscarred Press.  The original Kickstarter back in 2012 was to combine Dreamscarred’s Psionics Unleashed and Psionics Expanded into a single hardcover.  With all of the stretch goals achieved, the book grew even larger with more content that took this book to a level that I was not expecting.  I purposely did not partake in the forums or even read the previous editions because I wanted to be introduced to psionics for the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game in a bold and fresh way.  Psionics have always intrigued me and I backed this one without hesitation.  And I am glad I did.

The content of this book is very informative and provides options for anything that a player may want to play.  The races, classes, skills, feats and powers run from the very simple to the more complex to be used easily by both beginners and experienced players alike.  Advanced options, such as archetypes, alternate racial traits and prestige classes, fit seamlessly with original and psionic character concepts.  Psionic weapons, armors and other items in the equipment chapter provide a few new options for any character, psionic or not.

The only drawback I could see is if you are not prepared for a psionics campaign.  Specifically targeting a player could lead to problems, but on the other hand there has to be ways to counter psionics.  A GM will need to be able to balance that effectively.

Let me just finally say that Ultimate Psionics is a beautiful book.  I was unable to get the full-color version of the book, but the art inside is top notch.  Dreamscarred did a great job with their artist pool and the gorgeous Wayne Reynolds cover ties it all together.

My recommendation?  Buy this book for your Pathfinder campaign.  Do it.

It was during the D&D 4th Edition Encounters season that introduced the Player’s Handbook 3 and I created the infamous Banglor Granitehide, dwarf battlemind.  It was during this time that I met the rest of the Skyland Games fellas.  After the end of the season we decided to keep our adventures going and create a campaign where each of us played a dwarf.  Sort of a bit of nostalgia for me; now back to Banglor.

Banglor Granitehide was a tough son-of-a-dwarf and I longed to convert him into Pathfinder, but there was no real way to do that, until now.  During his adventures in 4th Edition, he was basically untouchable as a battlemind (except for falls from ladders and beholder’s death rays) and even received an Elan body.  Keeping all that in mind I set about re-creating Banglor for Pathfinder.

I decided to go with the Elan race, but take the ‘failed transformation’ alternate trait to signify his origins as a dwarf.  I then chose to go with the Aberrant archetype of the Aegis class to give him the incredible resiliance he was known for.  Finally, I decided to level him to where he could take the Warmind prestige class, which closely matched the Paragon Tier he achieved in 4th Edition.  His character sheets are below; the first is just regular and relaxed, the second is focused and armored up.  I did this all by hand and I only found 2 mistakes (Will save is 1 too high and I think the Power Points are off).  I cannot wait until the Hero Lab files are released!

BanglorGranitehide BanglorGranitehideArmored


April 15, 2013 2 comments

Players give ‘life’ to their characters with traits that are usually extensions of themselves in some way.  Even while playing games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics or Traveler which uses a prolific amount of random character generation tables, players cannot help give personalities to their characters.  Other games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, use a more detailed character generation system that allows more customization in which players put much more of themselves into their characters.  This results in players becoming attached to their characters and factors such as naming their character, customizing options and achieving higher levels contribute more to this attachment.  But we all know what inevitably comes to any character – death.

I used the widely-known Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5 Step Model, also known under the acronym DABDA, as a basis to help explain player behavior when character death occurs.  Although Kubler-Ross initially applied these principles to those suffering from terminal illnesses, we can easily modify the principles for this article.  It is wise to remember that some players will not experience every step and if they do, it may be only briefly (as in seconds; think of any console game where you re-spawn).

1.       Denial – “Wait, what just happened?  No way!” 

In this first stage, players may deny that their character even died.  As a defense mechanism, some distance themselves from other players around them by becoming extremely quiet or sulking. 

2.       Anger – “That’s not fair!  That’s bull!” 

This stage usually manifests as a brooding anger instead of as an outburst.  Sometimes you may witness a player outburst, but that is usually not in a public setting such as a convention or at your local game store.

3.       Bargaining – “What if I do this, will that save him?”

Players hope to delay, postpone or reverse their characters’ deaths by reviewing what happened to get them killed.  Negotiations with the higher powers (game masters, judges and sometimes deities) are conducted thoroughly and this is usually where the resident ‘rules lawyer’ shines.

4.       Depression – “I sure do miss Rangaar, but who cares?”

At this stage, players actually grieve for their character.  They tend to reminisce about achievements, comedic exploits and general good feelings that this particular character gave to that game world.  Players usually do not dwell too long at this stage as they usually move quickly to the last stage.

5.       Acceptance – “I’m dead.  Can I roll up another character?”

In the last stage, players finally accept the loss of their character and move on.  They either need to re-spawn, get raised or roll up another character because ‘life’ goes on.

Many Sheets or One? The Character Builder Conundrum

September 14, 2012 5 comments

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in quite a few campaigns in the last 3 or 4 years. Some of which spanned 10-20 character levels. In 4e and increasingly in Pathfinder, the easiest way to level up your character was to open up the character builder, hit the “level up” button, and choose the appropriate options for your character and print it out. I think 4e was a worse offender in this arena, but often the character sheets were between 5-10 pages per PC. On Herolab for Pathfinder, if you’ve got an animal companion or heaven forbid a spellbook, the characters can easily get in to this range as well. My main problem with this is every time you level up, your printing again. If not, you have a game table filled with laptops and all the distractions they can bring.

For the Pirate campaign, I wanted to stop the madness. I printed out a Pathfinder Character sheet, double-sided, that I would use for the duration of that character’s existence. It’s easy on first level. Just run down the requirements for your given race/class combo, buy your gear and start rolling! As the levels progress, things get more complicated. You start getting more bonuses from magical loot you’ve found, or through feats and increasing your ability scores, and a standard character sheet can become a jumbled mess. My character in the pirate campaign is a elven ranger/rogue, and I have about worn a hole in both the ammunition spot on the sheet for my arrows, and the hit point area for when he takes damage.

Overall, I am really enjoying just having the one character sheet. I have kept notes on it from previous sessions, and it just feels more authentic to how I feel like a veteran character sheet should look. That being said, I had one session last week in which I forgot my sheet. I borrowed Steve’s laptop and did my best to recreate him in herolab as quickly as possible. It was wonderful to see all the options that applied to my character all laid out in front of me, allowing me to carefully way my decisions and draw from several source books worth of material quickly and easily. At the end of the process I printed him out: four pages. It would have taken me a lot longer to open all my books to the appropriate pages, evaluate the options, and add them to my existing stats. Even making a first level character with only Pathfinder books, a character sheet and a pencil can take hours if you consider all the possible archetypes and race/class combinations. It would have ground the session to a halt.

So what is the answer? Is one way better than the other? I suppose it comes down to personal preference. For me, I play role-playing games as an escape. I enjoy pouring over the books, and the art in those books. I like finding new things in them like a wizard discovering knowledge in a tome of ancient lore. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference: ease of use and a fair amount of waste, or piles of books and maybe missing out on the best option for your character while your sheet gets dingy with eraser marks and quickly scrawled notes. It all comes down to how you want to roll. How do you role/roll? One sheet or many?

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, Pathfinder, Pirates, Tips

ARRrrrpg – Pirate Campaign 2

April 23, 2012 2 comments

Our 4e pirate campaign fizzled after a few sessions. Mostly because of the announcement of 5e and the group discovering the wonders of Pathfinder Society play. Our precious few hours of gaming a week became dedicated to learning about Pathfinder, and the fun of organized play. And yet, we felt like we had unfinished business in the Pirate department.

Luckily, Paizo has seen fit to release an adventure path with a pirate theme! Everybody wins. So your trusty Skylanders embark on a new pirate voyage to archipelago known as The Shackles! The adventure path is called Skull & Shackles and we’re in the process of rolling up our crew now! We’ve had a great time with society adventures, but long for building a cohesive party around a cohesive storyline. That can be pretty difficult in any kind of living/organized campaign. We’ll let you know about our experiences as the adventure path plays out.

I’m rolling up a Ranger with the Falconer archetype from Ultimate Combat. Being that this is a pirate campaign, my “falcon” will be a mangy grey parrot named Blackbeak. Ahoy, mateys!

Have you ever tried a Pirate Campaign? How’d it go? Let us know in the comments!

We won D&D

April 13, 2012 3 comments

I forgot to mention we totally killed Tiamat the other day. I got a little too excited about DCCRPG. I’ve been playing the Scales of War 4e adventure path for about two years now, and on Monday we completed it. PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD. The last module was an assault on Tiamat’s fortress, complete with slaying pregnant brood mother dragons on our quest to confront her in her scrying chamber.

At this point we had been through 20 levels together. We started at 10th, and playing consistently almost every week, it still took us more than two years to reach level 30. After the final battle we talked about all the characters and climactic and memorable battles we had throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, I felt the actual battle with Tiamat wasn’t one of them. This was no fault of our excellent DM, but mostly the fault of epic play being ridiculous. By the time we reached 30th level, we were so powerful it was pretty much impossible to threaten us. Many of us had chosen powers that would allow us to come back if we were dropped to zero hit-points. I don’t think any of us had to use them. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some great times. Honestly, I probably built it up too much in my head. Despite that, there are some questions that remain: Previously, Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, Lord of Justice and everything Good, had been slain. Luckily, we were traveling with this girl, that happened to be his phylactery/horcrux, so we were able to resurrect Bahamut. What prevents Tiamat from having something similar, and furthermore, wouldn’t she need to come back to preserve the balance? There was a bit of box text explaining how greed had been extinguished from the world, but if that was true, wouldn’t the world turn in to some hippy-dippy commune? I mean, a lot of greed is bad, but it can be a motivator, and is certainly an agent of change. It seemed a bit anti-climactic, at what should have been the most climactic event ever. Also, there was this big concern when Bahamut was slain that the balance of power was all out of wack. No mention of that when we defeated the Queen of Darkness. At the same time, how do you wrap up a muli-year campaign and make it a satisfying ending? Here is what I would have done:

“With the final head taking it’s last shuddering breath, the massive five-headed form of the Goddess of Greed collapses. In a shimmer of black fire, the huge carcass burned away to reveal the crumpled form of a bruised and bloodied raven-haired woman. In a shimmer of radiance, Bahamut, in the form of a wizened old man in white robes steps through one of the scrying portals. He smiles kindly at the heroes as he stoops to pick up the battered form of Tiamat. ‘Dear, dear sister. We can finally be together again.’

In a blinding prismatic flash of color, the forms merge and grow into a dragon that looks as if it was made of starlight, it’s skin a swirling mass of ever-shifting colors. ‘I am Io, the beginning, the end, the all. You have done well in reuniting my spirit. I shall guard the balance of creation henceforth. If you wish, you may join me at my side as my exarchs. Thank you for what you have done. You have earned a well deserved rest. However, there is much to be done to maintain the balance. Will you join me?”

Bam. Epic.

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Epic Tags: ,

Check out our Free Downloads!

March 20, 2012 Comments off

Because who doesn’t love free stuff? I’ve compiled a list of all the free downloads we’ve offered since starting this crazy blog about 6 months ago. You’ll find some 4e holiday adventures, a massive combat resolution system, and a pretty awesome fumble chart for when you roll a one in a 4e skill challenge.

Soon you’ll be able to download our One Page Dungeon for the One Page Dungeon Contest.

The Free Downloads page will live at the top of our blog, just next to the ‘Contact Us’ tab. Enjoy!

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Tips

Delving Dungeons Doesn’t Disappoint

March 14, 2012 Comments off

It’s the oldest and most iconic form of fantasy RPG adventure. A bunch of adventurers of varied skills and backgrounds stumble across a hidden cave, or an entrance to an ancient tomb. Traps and foul creatures stand vigil over gleaming piles of treasure, long forgotten.

I’m prepping for tonight’s Pathfinder Society game. Tonight, I’m GMing one of the PFS intro scenarios, which are free, and pretty awesome. The second one in the series “To Delve the Dungeon Deep,” is about as classic as a dungeon crawl can be. I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to play it (including the guys tonight!), but this little delve has got it all; traps, mysterious lairs and runes, creatures, and plenty of options for PCs to make choices. Which way? Attack or parlay? Poke it with a stick or run screaming?

Recently, I adapted The Lost City for 4e. A classic D&D module, it proved to be one of the most fun 4e experiences I’ve ever had. My sincere hope is that DnDnext or 5e gets back to the classic feel of exploration and mystery. 4e as written seemed to get bogged down on the numbers side of things, (making sure encounters were balanced, treasure parcels were level appropriate, etc.) and lost some of the magic that came from not knowing what was behind the next door (let alone if the door was trapped!).

If you don’t have access to any old D&D adventures (I’m talking late 70s, early 80s) I recommend downloading Part 2 of the PFS intro scenarios. Heck, you might as well download them all. Even if you don’t play Pathfinder, the style of this delve can inspire a GM for any system. Things to consider: What is the history of the location of the delve? Who used to live there? Who calls it home now? What did the previous inhabitants leave behind? What have the new denizens added? Try and tie them all together with a cohesive theme, a goal for the adventurers (perhaps the classic MacGuffin?), and you will have at least one awesome night of gaming ahead of you! If it has been a long time since you’ve explored a forgotten place with a group of adventurers, grab a torch and a ten foot pole and conquer the unknown!

Characters with Character

February 24, 2012 4 comments

There are several different schools of thought when it comes to making a character for an RPG. Two of the bigger schools are the min/maxers and the character actors. A lot of people fall somewhere in between, but first let’s look at the two extremes. I’m about to make some really broad generalizations.

Min/Maxing a character generally refers to people who put their highest numbers in their key abilities, and use a “dump stat” or take penalties to abilities they don’t feel are important for their character. The classic example of this is the dwarven fighter with high strength and constitution and low charisma and/or intelligence. It can also refer to players who scour the rulebooks for the most powerful combination of race, class, feats, equipment, and other bonuses to make the most effective abilities without regard to a character’s personality or backstory.

Character actors generally feel like they should play a fairly average joe with no dump stats as this may reflect a more balanced “real” person. They may have pretty good numbers in their key abilities, but won’t take a penalty in another stat to boost their key scores higher. They also usually have an extensive backstory and have a reason for just about everything on their character sheet, as it relates to their personal narrative.

I personally feel that either approach is fine, as long as you are happy with the character that comes from it. I try and take a hybrid approach, in that I feel any hero should have a weakness, and a reason for that weakness. I’m not one to create a huge backstory for my characters, but I like to have a few key events (dead parents? cliché, yet classic), maybe some distinguishing features and mannerisms, and a short synopsis of how they got into the adventuring game. I feel like if you go over two paragraphs you’ve done too much. Here are some examples:

One of my current characters is a charismatic bard who’s big mouth occasionally gets him in trouble. He was once enslaved, and has vowed to do all he can to eliminate slavery after being liberated by the Eagle Knights of Andoran. He has dark hair, a crooked smile and piercing green eyes. He also has scars around his wrists from being manacled for years. Stats:

Bard 3
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 14
INT: 12
WIS: 8
CHA: 18
Faction: Andoran

Another character of mine is a troubled half-elf who just barely escaped when the orphanage where he was staying burned down. Horribly scarred, he had a troubled childhood, until he was taken in by monks, and taught how to channel his anger. He has a natural affinity with magic, and was drawn to the holy symbol of Nethys, a mask that balances darkness with light. Generally reserved and shy, he joined the Pathfinders to discover forgotten magical lore, and provide his eastern wisdom and burning rage to gain further prestige for his monastery.

Monk 1/Cleric 1
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 18
INT: 12
WIS: 16
CHA: 7
Faction: Lantern Lodge

If you’re going to have a dump stat, not only justify it in your background, but make it part of your roleplaying experience. When I’m playing my bard, I’m the first to try and negotiate or bluff our way out of any social encounter. When playing my monk/cleric, rather than try to be the “face” of the party in social encounters, I’ll try and observe NPCs with perception or sense motive while someone else does the talking.

Whatever type of character you end up creating, make them memorable, and enjoy the game!

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Pathfinder, RPGs, Tips

Balancing Epic Scales

February 21, 2012 3 comments night was another Scales of War session. We’re wrapping up the penultimate module, and while we started at level 10, getting to level 28 has taken more than 2 years of pretty regular gaming. Monte’s recent article and the Weem’s recent post were perfectly timed, as I had them fresh on the brain while playing last night.

As I’ve mentioned here before, playing Epic 4e takes not only an Epic GM, but Epic players who know their PCs cold. Most of our character sheets are somewhere in the range of 10-14 pages, and we don’t even currently have a wizard in the party. That spell book eats paper like no other type of character. There are a number of challenges when playing at high levels for both the DM and PCs.

One of the main ones is encounter balance. It is extremely hard to challenge a well-built epic party. At the beginning of the session last night, we had to figure out if we had just completed an extended rest last session, because several of the party members weren’t down any surges, and weren’t hurt. Not a scratch. Turns out we had been through at least one fight, as some of the guys had used surges, but with the ability to slough off even the most debilitating effects and defenses in the mid to high 40s (my warlord has a fortitude of 53), its very difficult to challenge the party. In the module we are currently playing we encountered an ancient black dragon… as a wandering monster. In a regular game that would be the ultimate encounter and any of the party would be lucky to survive. Using party synergies and team work developed over the last few years of play, we spanked him like a misbehaving wyrmling.

A lot of great ways to counter this and make it challenging using 4e mechanics are detailed in Sly Flourish’s Running Epic Tier D&D Games. One of the best points in there, and one used to great effect in the last fight of the evening, is that big enemies should have auras of vulnerability. Some of the minions were only  doing 10 damage a hit, which at epic level is next to nothing, but then when we stepped up to the big bad, and were vulnerable 25 fire, suddenly the minions were doing 35 a hit; Not insignificant, even at level 28.

We are approaching the ultimate battle with Tiamat herself. It looks to be the very epitome of epic play for 4e. Of course, once we defeat her (and we *will* defeat her), won’t the balance of good and evil be thrown out of wack and cause a dragonlance-like cataclysm? We’ll see.

In the end though, I think I was hoping for something more. Sure, we’re rolling a big pile of dice for any major attack, and my head-math skills have improved appreciably because of it, but shouldn’t our near god-like heroes be something more than just bigger numbers? We’ve got enough feats to allow us to break every rule in the book (Flanking? No I don’t grant combat advantage. Oh he’s got cover? Great! I’m more accurate if they have cover than not.) So why have those puny ‘mortal’ rules at all? I think the Weem has got the right idea. If you stick with it long enough, your hero should ascend to the heights of a pantheon, and when he does, a lot more than the size of the numbers should change.

Categories: 4e, 5e, Adventure, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips

RPG Blog Carnival – Things to Love, Things to Hate about Organized Play

February 6, 2012 1 comment

Courtesy of Nevermeet Press

This month’s theme for the RPG Blog Carnival is Things to Love, Things to Hate. It seems like a fairly broad topic, as nerd devotion/rage towards RPGs knows no bounds. The host this month, Jonathan Jacobs of Nevermet Press, suggested we focus on game system or adventures that we love or hate and why.

We’re going to take a little different angle and talk about what we love/hate about organized play. This is mostly going to be about Pathfinder Society, as that has been the majority of my organized play experience. I met the other guys that make up Skyland Games through the D&D Encounters program. I’ve had a little Living Forgotten Realms play, and I know some of the other Skyland guys have extensive Living Greyhawk experience. If they want to chime in, all the better.

First let’s talk broad generalizations about organized play, and things that are pretty common occurrences regardless of system. I really enjoy meeting other players, and observing a lot of different play styles and picking up tips. One of our more popular articles about tracking initiative and speeding up combat was something I observed the guys doing at a D&D encounters game. It’s great to get to know other gamers in the community and talk about RPGs.

The flip-side of this is meeting a problem player. Problem players can manifest in many forms, but most commonly those who excessively arguing with the GM, excessive rules-lawyering, trying to find some rules loophole to make a “broken” character, selfish players that act in ways that may be “in character” but their character is a bastard to the party, hogging the spotlight, random egregiously evil acts, the list could go on and on. In a home game there are several ways to deal with problem players: taking them aside and talking to them, calling them out in game, and finally if all else fails just not telling them when your group gets together. A public game is a bit different. People may not know each other very well or may feel uncomfortable calling out somebody who is causing a problem for everybody. In extreme cases, one of our FLGS has a list of banned players who are not allowed to game in store. Its a shame when it comes to that, but can be a relief to the rest of the organized players.

Another potential pitfall is a problem GM. This tends to happen less frequently, but can happen quite a bit at larger conventions when perks are given to GMs, and they are unprepared, unfocused, or “phone it in.” This can also be a problem at regular organized events if the GM is just doing it for perks given by publishers for running organized games. This is an even more difficult situation to deal with because it maybe very difficult to approach an organizer and say, “Hey, your GM sucks,” without bruising some egos. The best alternative is to probably start your own thing, at either another game store, or playing a different system. If you’re motivated enough, get your own group going. Enthusiasm is contagious, and before you know it, you can have a big group of eager gamers coming back week after week.

I’m not a big fan of Living Forgotten Realms. I’ve played a few modules with friends and I think “hate” is probably too strong a word but there are aspects I dislike. For one, story lines that link some modules together can be several levels apart. Oh, did you like the first part of this story line on level one? Hope you can remember all these NPCs and what the crap was going on when you reach level 7 and play part two! Boo. Also, at the end of every adventure, the loot can endlessly replicate. Did the big bad guy have a Raven Cloak that lets you reroll a save once a day and give you resist 5 cold and necrotic? Super! Now everyone in the party has one! With #DnDnext LFG is a long forgotten after thought, but it never was very well supported in the WotC community pages, and the official LFR WotC pages themselves. I think I can figure out why.

I’m a bit of an evangelist for Pathfinder Society. Most of my feelings for PFS are going to fall squarely in the love category. Paizo seems to have this pretty well figured out. Modules that have multi-parts can be played in order, and have multiple level tiers. Once you’ve played that module you have access to the treasure from it, but must by it with the ample gold awarded at the end of each session. If you don’t have enough for the item you want, save up after a few more modules and by it later. The more modules you play, the larger your inventory of available gear. Experience is also brilliantly easy. Completed three modules? Level up. Want to let your friends catch up to your character so you can play the same modules? Take the slow-track advancement at your next level, and only gain a level after 6 modules. The faction missions and prestige points add some awesome roleplaying opportunities, as well as a mechanical way to express your characters growing renown in the world of Golarion. You can earn prestige points by completing faction missions, which are different for each faction on each adventure. Turn in prestige points to call in favors from your faction for magic healing, or items. It’s awesome! If there isn’t a game around you at your FLGS or bookstore, look in to starting one. Its been the best organized experience I’ve ever been a part of.

We’re all going to have things that we love and hate about organized play. In the end, it can be a great way to grow the hobby and meet some fun people. Let us know some of your best/worst organized experiences in the comments!