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Occult Adventures Review

August 10, 2015 1 comment

In October and November of 2014, Paizo conducted a playtest of six new classes all themed of the occult. During the playtest, players were encouraged to test and report all of the things they encountered and ways to help the classes improve. The playtest was then closed and players started the speculation about how the final product would turn out.

Fast forward to the release of Occult Adventures at GenCon 2015. People are estactic. The book is beautiful and fully loaded with everything needed to introduce the psychic and occult into players’ campaigns. Between the new classes, their archetypes, archetypes for existing classes, feats, equipment and psychic magic, this book has it all. All of this is new and it does not feel like a rehash or reskinning of established material. Combined with Pathfinder Unchained released a few months ago, Paizo is hitting on all cylinders and is putting out some quality books.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and look at what is really important – the classes. We will take a look at what we saw in the playtest, what was changed and what we can expect from these classes in players’ hands. This may be a long article this week, but there are some interesting tidbits in there (and, of course, characters at the end).

Kineticist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “With a connection to the elements, a kineticist can bring forth energy in the form of kinetic blasts. Instead of casting psychic spells, the kineticist uses unique psychic spell-like abilities called wild talents to manipulate elemental energy and matter.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: This class got the most attention out of all the occult classes. The appeal and nuances of this type of genre is popular and will drive this class for quite some time. Being able to understand, use and apply ‘burn’ will be one of the challenges of this class as will the amount of material this class encompasses. There are 20 pages devoted to this class (24 if you count the archetypes) and there is simply a lot to cull through to get what you want. Understanding the different types of blasts and how they are delivered remain the same with an added bonus of full damage to swarms creeping in there. This class looks like a lot of fun and with the right group, you could have campaigns builts around these types of characters.

Archetypes and Feats: The archetypes for the kineticist are interesting with the Elemental Aescetic (monk-like kineticist), Kinetic Chirurgeon (healing kineticist) and Overwhelming Soul (replaces constitution with charisma as the kineticist’s key ability) leading the way. The Overwhelming Soul will definitely see the most play since so many of the races that players enjoy have charisma bonuses.

As for feats, notable ones includes Parting Blast, giving a character a heroic, self-sacrificing death, and Delay Blast, sort of a I’m-over-here-but-I-hit-you-from-over-there trick.

4 out of 5 Rating: The concerns from the playtest (one-trick pony) are still there and even with feats and archetypes available, it just does not bump it up to a five.

Medium – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “By contacting spirits in places of power, the medium allows the personalities of legendary heroes to overcome his own, vastly changing his abilities and spells. He holds seances to benefit himself and his allies.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: This class was almost totally rebuilt. It is less confusing and much more interesting. Like in the playtest, the medium is very versatile and can take on any role with little preparation, but the spirits are much simpler. The medium channels entities not from the alignment axis (good/neutral/evil/chaotic/lawful) but from legendary spirits from the Astral Plane. The bonuses a medium receives from the spirits are thematically on point and the versatility is unparalleled. Even spell progression improves when certain spirits are selectd. The only confusion with this class may come from the influences and taboos that each spirit impart on the medium.

Archetypes and Feats: The archetypes of the medium are some of the best out of the entire book with all of them actually being used by someone. The Kami Medium gives an oriental flare to the class while the Spirit Dancer lends a Varisian (or gypsy) theme to the medium. Only the Spirit Focus is noteworthy; it adds +1 to the spirit bonus for a specific type of spirit.

4 out of 5 Rating: This is a complete turn around from the playtest. This version is so much simpler, yet versatile. This was a huge improvement and a great find in this book!

Mesmerist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: ” A mesmerist’s piercing stare lets him insinuate himself into other people’s minds. A master of enchanement and illusion, the mesmerist controls and influences the behavior of others.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: Still the consummate ‘face’ of the party, the mesmerist excels in this role. Still able to stare down its enemies and implant ‘tricks’ into party members, granting them protections and abilities. The mesmerists stare abilities are impressive, but lacking. There is some versatility where the mesmerist provides temporary hit points as healing, but when dealing with something without a mind, he is useless. At that point he must rely on ‘tricks’ to boost himself or party members and just try to survive. On the plus side, the mesmerist does have the capability to get Improved and Greater Feint without the Combat Expertise and intelligence score of 13 prerequisite. Mesmerists are tricky guys and gals.

Archetypes and Feats: The only two archetypes meaningful to the mesmerist are the Spirit Walker (who can actually affect the minds of the mind-less undead) and the Vexing Daredevil (a combat feinting mesmerist). Feats that work for the mesmerist include those that give more ‘tricks’ per day or add more effects onto their stares.

3 out of 5 Rating: This class is lackluster. Even from the playtest, the mesmerist had problems and they were not addressed fully. Players will have to find alternative ways to deal with ‘mindless’ problems.

Occultist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “To make use of his powers, an occultist channels psychic energy into a varied collection of antiques and mementos with storied pasts. Every type of implement allows him to use a different school of magic.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: Was a fan of this class already, now even more. The spell lists were fleshed out and implements available for use were expanded. Other changes include being able to use mental focus without being afraid of losing power in an implement. During the playtest, players would not use mental focus because, when empty, it would cease functionality. Now the focus is placed and keeps the charge even if you use the mental focus to power other abilities. The only real problem now will be action economy. Using standard actions to activate abilities (like legendary weapon or aegis) take time from combat and keep them out of the fight a little longer.

Archetypes and Feats: Occultist archetypes and feats are actually the most lackluster element of the class. Honestly, they do not add much to the dynamics of the class. The best is Battle Host because it makes an excellent combatant and only one implement is needed, but the problem is that it is a masterwork weapon/armor/shield. You get this item for free at first level and youcan upgrade it as need be. Masterwork fullplate at level one, anyone? Granted you are stuck with it permanently, but still.

5 out of 5 Rating: The occultist wins. It does pretty much everything from the playtest and more. It has the versatility and the power to effect the outcome of any situation, even with action economy being low.

Psychic – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “With her incredibly potent mind, the psychic can cast spells that are more powerful than those members of any other occult class. She accesses these spells though a specific discipline, and can bend and amplify psychic spells as she casts them.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: The psychic has arrived! Pure psychic power is on the table and it tastes good. The final product is excellent. The spells are there and there are more disciplines. Once you master how psychic magic works (undercasting and such), this is probably the most powerful class in this book. Just make sure you choose the ‘Will of the Dead’ phrenic amplification as soon as possible so that you can affect mindless undead with mind-affecting spells.

Archetypes and Feats: Unfortunately, the archetypes do not do this class justice. Period. With the different spells and disciplines, they are not really needed. The different psychic and chakra feats are very, very interesting, but that is another article entirely.

4 out of 5 Rating: This class came a long way from the bare-bones playtest version. It is so much better, but something there is still lacking. It just just cannot get to five yet.

Spiritualist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “Attuned to the spirits of the dead, a spiritualist forms a bond with a phantom – a returned spirit that has unfinished business but did not become undead. This spectral ally can alternate between forms, emerging from the safety of the spiritualist’s mind to take on an incorporeal form or an ectoplasmic body.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: There are so many similarities between the playtest and final versions of the spiritualist that it may as well be the same. The class has many of the same capabilities as before and could have been released on its own not as a playtest. More spells and phantom emotional foci have completely rounded out this class and it is now one of the best in the book. Expect to see level dips in this class, especially for the Dedication focus. While in the spiritualist’s consciousness, the phantom grants Skill Focus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive and Iron Will to the master. A single dip right there is a total of 10 skill points, +2 to Fortitude save and +4 to Will saves. And you have a sometimes-incorporeal creature that can run errands for you (scout, etc.). GMs will have their hands full with this class. It can definitely take over a game and utterly break it.

Archetypes and Feats: Sad to say that the archetypes are not super-exciting, but the Onmyoji does stand out for flavor (oriental) and spellcasting (divine instead of psychic). Feats are very close to the same feats that are available to summoners.

4 out of 5 Rating: Care has been given to this class and it is very well done. Power creep is the only problem that I see slowing rearing its ugly head.

Other Class Archetypes

Included in Occult Adventures are archetypes, cavalier orders, bloodlines and patrons for the other established classes. There are several very interesting ones to note: Promethean Alchemist (alchemist that brings a homunculus to life), Ghost Rider (cavalier with a spectral mount), Esoteric (tattooed magus monks), Mindblade (magus that forms weapons from psychic energy) and the Psychic Sorcerer Bloodline. Some of these archetypes and bloodlines convert to psychic magic. Remember that characters use thought and emotion instead of verbal and somantic components and there are inherent advantages to this magic (cast while grappled, etc.).

Stay tuned for tomorrow when a group of Occult Adventures playable characters appear. This time they aren’t dwarves…

Pathfinder: The State of Core

July 21, 2015 1 comment

Almost six months ago Paizo released a new ‘mode’ for players in its Organized Play program. This Core Campaign, as it was called, only allowed the resources of the Core Rulebook of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This new mode of play did a couple of things for Paizo’s Organized Play program.

First, it allowed new players to join and not be overwhelmed and needing all of the options of the Classic Campaign. New players keep Organized Play fresh with new perspectives and, of course, money. As some veteran players leave because they are bored or for greener pastures with other RPG systems, new players inevitably make the switch to the Classic Campaign and buy new source materials (books, PDFs, etc.) to use for their characters.

Secondly, it allows veteran players to replay scenarios and modules that they have already completed for credit once more. With the Core Campaign’s limitations on player options, veteran players seem to also use this opportunity for a challenge. Since many of the more recent scenarios are created to challenge those playing in the Classic Campaign (who have options galore), Core characters are challenged even more.

As a proponent of the Core Campaign, we have been building a consistent player base in town that consists of both veteran and new players. Before the Core Campaign came along, it seemed harder to get players to come but ever since the release of Core, the growth that we have had at our FLGS has been consistent. It has been good to our players as it has allowed organizers to form cohesive story lines from modules and scenarios instead of the popular question asked every week “Have you played this yet?” The smattering of scenarios fractures the multiple story lines into tiny bits and the majority of the time players do not recognize them. The Core Campaign takes care of that.

With Core being new (sort of), we wanted to know what players were thinking and doing. We wanted to know what classes and races players preferred, what attributes, skills and feats were most important to them and what piece of equipment is a must-have. With almost sixty responses and an eighty-percent completion rate, we found out what players were trying to do; survive and adapt.

Before we listed the survey, we thought that players, as in the Classic Campaign, would want to have the highest damage capabilities to finish off any threats as quickly as possible. While that is somewhat true, players have seemed to gravitate towards surviving since the potential for ending encounters quickly is much lower and versatility because you do not know what other characters will be at your table while adventuring. Here is the key data that we culled from our survey:

  • Classes Played: 33% Clerics (25% Wizards)
  • Races Played: 50% Humans (Equal Mixture of Other Races, except Half-Elf)
  • Most Important Attribute: 25% Constitution (Intelligence, Dexterity)
  • Most Important Feat: Toughness (Power Attack)
  • Most Important Skill: Perception (Diplomacy and Spellcraft)
  • Most Important Equipment: Cloak of Resistance (Wand of Cure Light Wounds and Alchemist’s Fire)

Judging from this data, we found that players are definitely trying to survive as long as they can, which makes sense because Organized Play does not operate like home games where you can usually swap out characters due to death. Clerics heal with spells and channeled energy while providing, most times, versatility within the party, depending on their deity’s domains. Wizards were close behind due to the versatility provided by their spell books. Players want more hit points, denoted by their choice of higher constitution scores and the Toughness feat. Perception was, by far, the most important skill, keeping enemies from getting the drop on players. Humans were the most popular choice for race. This is most likely due to their bonus feat and extra skill points, giving something extra over and beyond regular class abilities. The market for cloaks of resistance is strong as they provide the only real boost to a character’s saves, while wands of cure light wounds provide an extra healing element easily available to parties and alchemist’s fire is an effective tool to deal with those dreadful swarms. Survivability and versatility is the name of this game.

So what kind of character are players shying away from? A half-elf monk with a higher wisdom score! All three of those elements of a character like this were at the bottom of their respective categories. Half-elves are versatile with some of the abilities of elves and humans, but their bonus feat is Skill Focus, thus limiting the versatility otherwise enjoyed by humans. Monks need help from feats and archetypes which are not available in the Core Campaign. They lack several key components best left for discussion elsewhere (like here – Pathfinder Unchained: Monk). And players just thought that wisdom was not as important, comparatively, as the other attributes.

We have looked at what the Core Campaign is, what it is accomplishing and what players think is important in the campaign. So, in conclusion, we offer two pre-generated characters on the opposite ends of the spectrum; one made to be the perfect character to play and the other taking the least desirable traits and making something happen. Here they are:

  • Annastias the Beloved – Seemingly loved by everyone she meets, the tough, raven-haired beauty Annastias joined the clergy of Sarenrae and then the Pathfinder Society under the tutelage of her cousin. Driven by her thirst for knowledge and the preservation of ancient history, she routinely travels Golarion in hopes to find some obscure lore that the Sapphire Sage, Amenopheus, hinted at finding.
  • Grilayne Ashenoak – An outsider of sorts, Grilayne tries to rally others to his causes. Whether the cause may be calling for the town to present its taxes to the nearby temple of Abadar or for the local magistrate to end a bloody feud, it seems as though he is never welcomed in any civilized stronghold. Practicing a rigorous and unforgiving set of daily disciplines, he uses the ideals of Abadar as a basis for his beliefs. Now, as a member of the Pathfinder Society, he has decided to bring civilization to the heathens of the world, wherever they may be.
Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

RPGs in Peril?

January 2, 2012 8 comments

Recently I’ve been reading the articles about the state of DnD and RPGs in general. In my own little RPG-filled bubble it seemed to me that RPGs were doing just fine. While having a niche audience, they seemed healthy enough. Even in our little town of Asheville, NC we have three Friendly Local Gaming Stores. Or I should say had.

The articles about the contraction of the hobby really hit home when I read yesterday that Blitzkrieg games would be closing for the winter. They played host to our fledgling Pathfinder Lodge, and had one of the most pleasant gaming retail spaces I had ever seen. Their facebook post indicates they’re just closing for the winter, but who knows what that really means. If they couldn’t afford to stay open, how could they afford to pay rent in downtown Asheville? I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst.

In the meantime, I’ve convinced a lot of the other Skyland guys to give this Pathfinder Society thing a try before we head down to SCARAB, and now we’re looking for a venue. Hopefully one of the other shops will step up to the plate, but judging by their schedules they may not have room for us. Saturday is filled with Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Warhammer 40k, etc.

This also made me think of the average age of RPG players. I’m about to turn 31 in two weeks, and I’ve been on the young end of the spectrum at many gaming tables. I’m the youngest guy at Skyland Games.

Does this represent a microcosm of the gaming industry as a whole? Fragmented, aging and contracting? What can we do about it? I think the best thing we can do is spread the love of tabletop RPGs to the next generation. A lot of kids who grew up in the 80s heyday of D&D and RPGs in general are now having kids. When mom and dad have a bunch of weird looking dice, and a shelf full of monsters and creatures of all types that can have a big influence on their kids and that kid’s friends.

MMORPGs, incredible console games, flash games, and casual games provide more distractions than ever. Its important to remember that its not a binary choice. Just because you play one type of game doesn’t mean you will never try anything else. Many people who play pencil and paper RPGs have played world of warcraft or skyrim because we love the genre. The most important thing we can do is make sure that option is available to the next generation and keep inspiring imaginations. Host an event at the library, start a blog, or show a kid what a d20 looks like. The future of RPGs is up to us.

Categories: DnD, Lore, News, Pathfinder, RPGs Tags: , ,

Pathfinder Society – Organized can be awesome!

December 12, 2011 10 comments

I played Pathfinder for the first time on Saturday, and had a blast. Scott, (the Skyland Games guy who brought you Fog of War and his distaste for fire giants) called me up and let me know that one of our Friendly Local Game Stores was hosting a Pathfinder organized play night. My previous experience with organized play was Living Forgotten Realms which I personally didn’t really enjoy, but a lot of people in the gaming community are raving about the Pathfinder beginner box, so I decided I’d see what this was all about.

The short review of it is that it was excellent, do yourself a favor and seek out the nearest game.

For the long review read on: It was a first level adventure, and we had a party of five Pathfinders. In organized play, the PCs are part of the Pathfinder Society, which to me, seemed a bit like a bounty hunter organization. The reason the party is thrown together is they are charged with a mission by a venture-captain. The captain charges the group with a task, and gives them some information to track down an artifact. Boiler-plate RPG adventure so far. However, in Pathfinder organized play, when you create your PC you also choose one of ten factions. Factions tend to be from different geographic locations and kingdoms, and have their own motivations. At the beginning of the adventure, we were each handed a faction mission that we had to try and achieve during play. Doing so gains your PC prestige, which unlocks boons and bonuses as the season progresses.

The idea of each faction having its own mission within the mission provided a lot of interesting moments, and encouraged role-playing and engagement in the scenario. For example, I was playing the pre-generated scimitar-weilding cleric Kyra. We encountered an abandoned logging outpost and were immediately set upon by beast-men. I started carving them up, when Scott’s character, a halfling paladin from a different faction then mine, told me to spare them as they were acting against there will and were innocent loggers changed by a dark ritual. Of course, that was a lot to get out in the middle of a fight, so by that time I had one cut open at my feet. Being the cleric, I spent a turn stabilizing and healing him before jumping back in the fray.

My faction’s mission was to plant a note in the evil druid’s lair to make other druid enclaves turn against this one, once the note was found. Not as involved as Scott’s but it earned me some Prestige points. Almost every PC in our party was part of a different faction, so we were all looking for different opportunities during the session. It really added a lot to it.

Beyond that, it was my first time playing Pathfinder or 3.5, and some of the rules were nuanced in ways I couldn’t have anticipated coming from DnD 4e, but a lot of the skills translate easily. I’m one of those that missed out on 3rd edition entirely, growing up playing basic DnD, then AD&D 2E, then picking it back up when 4th edition came out. Granted, it was 1st level play, so combat was fairly simple, quick and deadly, but if Saturday night was any indication, I’ll be playing a lot more Pathfinder in the future. Go find a game! You’ll be glad you did.

So Many Great Systems – So Little Time – pt. 3

December 8, 2011 1 comment

Technoir was one of the most successful RPG Kickstarters to date.  Author Jeremy Keller put together a really slick pitch video, and backed it up with a really cool futuristic game with such an adaptable system, it can be used for a lot of variations that he brilliantly used as stretch goals. Though from what I can tell, Mechnoir, Hexnoir and Morenoir are still in development at this time.

Similar to the Cortex System instead of rolling or assigning numbers to your protagonists characteristics, you allocate dice. Rather than different denominations of dice, Technoir only uses regular six-siders. The character generation system is pretty interesting in that you pick “programs” to describe your character’s background such as bodyguard, soldier, doctor, engineer, or investigator and depending on which programs you choose determines which “verbs” or statistics you increase. You also choose adjectives to describe your character (some are suggested, but you can make up your own) and attribute those adjectives to your programs.

In an interesting twist, the characters need to choose connections or contacts for a given transmission (adventure module). This means your character will have some sort of relationship with some of the NPCs in the adventure before the first die is rolled. Players are also encouraged to develop connections between characters in the party. The gear available to characters is decidedly futuristic, including cybernetics and drones.

The game evolves as players are given a mission, and press their contacts for information or other favors. The action resolution system involves rolling a pool of d6’s depending on which verb is being tested, and how skilled the opposition is. Like many film noir movies, the line between classically “good” and “bad” guys is blurred at best. It has a lot of potential to tell some really interesting stories.

Get a taste of the action in the Technoir download section with the player’s guide.

Wandering Monster High School – Kickstarter RPG

November 14, 2011 2 comments

Taylor Made - Iron Golem Cheerleader

Wandering Monster High School is a creative kickstarter that allows players to take on the role of a monster in high school. If the new revised and updated version is anything like the version the author created for 24 Hour RPG, expect some light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek character creation and game play.

It brings to mind the old MTV show Clone High, in which DNA was harvested from famous people throughout history and secret government agencies made clones of them. This allowed for situations in which the clone of Joan of Arc loves Abraham Lincoln who tries to date Cleopatra who keeps breaking up and getting back together with JFK, and they’re all high school age. Its a hilarious show!

Instead of historical figures, in this RPG you pick a monster as your “student,” the game master is the Headmaster, and your group is your homeroom! Where normally you would have stats for your attributes, in WMHS you’ll have grades on your “report card” which is your character sheet. According to the kickstarter, the new version will feature a better dice mechanic, new student goals, new art, a campus map, and expanded rules.

Just imagine classes full of goblins, kobolds, bugbears, ogres and orcs. It looks like the system could adapt for just about any monster you could come up with! I really like the idea of playing as monsters. I imagine the homecoming game vs. the Adventures Guild Academy would be an awesome hook to a hilarious night of gaming.

Taking a look at the previous version, Caoimhe Ora Snow has done a great job at combining elements that are typical to high school life with those that would be important to a growing monster such as grades, a class schedule, and extra-curricular activities, Lair Economics, Magic, Occult, Defense Against the Forces of Light, and Advanced Looting.

Unlike previous kickstarters that Skyland Games has reviewed, this one is still actively seeking supporters. I can’t wait to see the final version and get a homeroom going to start exploring campus. The goal is modest, but the time frame is pretty short. Act fast to get in on what is sure to be a fun break from your average dungeon delve. See you in homeroom!

Categories: Books, kickstarter, News Tags: , , ,

Combat and Clothespins – DnD 4e Combat Speed Tips

November 3, 2011 14 comments

I know this was the hot topic a few months ago, but Skyland Games didn’t have a blog back then, so you get our 4e combat speed tips now. @slyflourish had mentioned on twitter that removing the DM screen can really open up the table and give you a better view as to what is going on. I tweeted back that I had been rolling in the monster vault box and tracking initiative with clothespins. He requested some pictures of the clothespins system, and I figured I would turn it in to a full-blown post.

"Tap" a pin on that person's turn

Tracking initiative with clothespins helps speed up 4e  combat (really any RPG with init) in a few ways. The biggest advantage is that if clipped along the top of the DM screen or edge of a rolling box, the entire table can see the play order, and can plan their turn accordingly. Once a player has had their turn, the DM taps the clothes pin to one side or the other to show the entire table where we are in the round at a glance. This is also a great cue for the DM to announce its the next person’s turn, and keep combat moving at a brisk pace.

Another great advantage to using clothespins is when a character (or monster) chooses to delay. Once the player announces they are going to delay, the DM just takes their clip off and puts it on the end. I usually try to put it at a different height to remind myself the character is delaying. When they “un-delay” you just drop their clip in the order whenever they act.

The biggest advantage I’ve found using the clothespins system as a player is planning my turn while the another player is up. This became most important as a controller when trying to judge whether you’ll have the right position to pull off that sweet Area of Effect daily that’s burning a hole on your character sheet. You can also request the striker delay until you can set him up for combat advantage.

If a PC delays, you can set their clip aside

Having that visual aide of the initiative order can also have more subtle advantages to speeding up gameplay. As a player, you need to know whether you’ve got time for a bathroom break, or to grab a drink from the fridge; check the initiative order and either plan out your next awesome turn, or take care of whatever you need to and jump back in to the action closer to your pin. No more waiting on players for the little things!

We write our actual names on them, as we play multiple systems with multiple different characters, but clothespins are cheap so you could write the PC’s name on them to help everyone remember the names of their fellow party members. For multiple types of monsters going on different initiatives, we typically use Roman numerals to indicate the different groups. The DM can just make a note next to the stat block of which number pertains to what creature.

There are a ton of great combat speed tips out there, but I felt this is one more that tables could really benefit from. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Scott is angry at the Fire Giant

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,
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