Tag Archives: Pathfinder

Game World Building 101: “Hello. My name is Destrine Star’Rune, and I’m an Elven Alcoholic.”

NPCs are whomever we make them. The possibilities for the range of intelligence, humor, psychological issues, and so on are endless. Yet again and again we see characters that are stereotypes.

Swillbinge the Dwarf just downed his tenth tankard of ale. Five more and he’ll start to feel it, but he’ll be too busy mumbling in his heavy Scottish accent to care.

Thugg, the Half-Orc in the party, is right there with him though. Those nine mugs of ale were needed to wash down the entire turkey he just consumed (bones and all). Without the party’s help though he wouldn’t have the intelligence, or good graces, to pay his tab.

Klepto McBardy, the Halfling, is finding it all great sport. His songs and tales are filling the room with laughter…while his nimble fingers fill his pockets with “things he’s keeping safe”.

Only A’loof’n Pr’tenshus remains unamused. The Elven wizard barely glances up from her heavy tome as the party finds itself in a tavern fight with the highlord’s minions. With a reluctant sigh, she closes the volume and rolls initiative.

Even if I hadn’t identified the characters above by race, could you have guessed correctly based on their description? I bet you could. So why do these generic NPCs (or, worse, PCs) keep appearing?

We could start pointing fingers, at Tolkein and others, for making things this way. But, unless you’re playing in Middle Earth, who dictates the standard? It’s the DM’s world and it’s up to each of us to decide what works.

Try taking a step back and examining the mechanics of the race. Dwarves have darkvision so it makes sense that they evolved (or were created) in an area with no light. That fits the tradition of a race that lives in caves and mines. Such an environment also fits their stocky build; their low center of gravity helping them on shifting slopes.

But how are they making all this ale they are supposedly so fond of drinking? Not many barley fields a mile underground. And the Scottish accent? Well, there’s no “Scotland” at all but it sounds like it. While the DM might have to use an Earth accent just to keep things consistent for himself, why couldn’t the accent sound African or Spanish or pretty much anything but bad Gaelic?

Halflings? One of my worlds keeps the idea that halflings are socially clever and great with growing things. But, while some are farmers of the traditional sort, many others are farmers of a flower used to make narcotics. Using their agricultural skill, and a societal bent toward Evil for a change, the halflings rule a drug cartel that few want to cross. The halflings can be as clever with ways to deliver pain to their enemies; a swerve on the stereotypical Halfling creativity.

Of course, the whole point is to avoid stereotypes altogether. Not all Halflings should be good-natured Rogues or, for that matter, sadistic drug lords. In our own world we seek to eliminate racism and racial stereotypes. The same enlightened approach should be employed in the game world. But, just as there is a basis as to why certain characteristics are associated with humans on Earth, so too can we craft some basis for it on your game world.

The suggestion is to step back and look at the big picture of the world you want to create. Then focus in, designing your races’ nature in a way that fits that view without simply repeating the same old tropes.

You know who can often be the most helpful in this design process? Non-gamers.
Those who don’t play RPGs, and are not even lovers of fantasy movies and books, can have a very unbiased perspective on the whole thing. When you mention “elf”, they don’t think of Galadriel and Legolas. They think of Ernie, making cookies in a tree. Their thoughts, even if they don’t know how to apply them to a gaming situation, might just spark some creative ideas of your own.

Any way you go about it, you will benefit from a game world that feels a little bit fresh, even to longtime diehard gamers. It’s also a bit of a challenge for you as a DM, and that’s a good thing too. The end result is a more vibrant world that still adheres to any game mechanics you use but provides a setting your players are intrigued enough to explore.

“Who ordered the roast basilisk with honey served on a pine plank?”

(shrugs) That’s for you to decide. Maybe that’s a cultural delicacy for the humans in this town? The half-orc isn’t sure. He’s too busy calculating probabilities of success on the party’s next dungeon crawl. Orcs are renowned for their math skills, didn’t you know?

(co-written by R. Currence and Michael N., aka Navarre)

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Game Building 101: Downtime and Level Advancement

In a campaign world, the higher level a character (PC or NPCs) is, the less he or she represents the size of the population. For example, it may not be hard to find a 3rd level Fighter in the local town, but if you find a 15th level Fighter, she’s a pretty big deal.

So why is it that in most games (including my own), PC characters rise from 1st level to 20th level in usually a few months to a year of in-game time? Even if downtime is included, it is a random “Okay, you have two months of downtime. Tell me what you want to do.”  Then the game picks up the next session, incorporating some things from the downtime but not having too much effect on the overall game.

The PC says he’s going to research a spell and make a few wands, maybe even build a small wizard’s tower. It happens and, other than a few incidences for flavor, everyone jumps right back to the plot, probably leaving the tower behind.

Part of the reason this happens is because, from a meta-gaming standpoint, the game is too often about the plot. The DM has worked in his secret lair for weeks or months to craft the game so, clearly, the PC is there to defeat the overlord Ensydious Tyrent, not grow petunias in his back yard and take care of his son, Little Jimmy.

Players usually follow the same mindset, which might be part of the reason most PCs have parents and siblings (albeit missing or recent converts to Tyrent’s cause) but rarely have children or even spouses. Who has time to care about a family when there’s a +5 Dancing Sword out there with your name on it?

So the campaign speeds along as PCs jump from one adventure arc to the next, with a smattering of downtime thrown in to add any semblance of realism. Soon enough, the world is saved, the PCs are 20th level, and one of the party even had a single birthday during all that time. While the PCs are probably far above the norm, how does one account for such incredible level advancement in such a short amount of time?

Let’s try a different approach, one that makes the story about the characters and not only the plot. What if the campaign takes, say, fifty years of game time? I think it makes much more sense for a 1st level character who’s 20 years old to be 70 when he finally hits 20th level, not 21 years old.

It should be noted, of course, that fifty years is a long time to a human but “last Tuesday” to an elf. So one has to consider why all elves aren’t in the upper-teen levels as compared to humans.

Maybe the answer is as simple as, while the elf can have a lot of adventures over the course of her life, it isn’t simply the actions that matter. Wisdom is a reflection on our experiences, not the experiences themselves. Elves take longer to reflect and learn from their experiences because their perspective of time is so much different than that of a human.

Over the course of the PC’s fifty years, they will have varying periods of downtime. I will also suggest up front that the term “downtime” should be renamed. The name suggests it’s the less important time used for less important things, ie “not the adventuring job”. But just because a soldier or police officer is on leave doesn’t mean what happens in his daily life isn’t just as important to the entire scope of his life. So let’s call these time periods “intervals”.

The first adventure arc might encompass, for example, levels 1-2. Then the characters might have an interval of 3-5 years where they are doing other things. Whether they are running businesses, working their 9-5, starting a family, or whatever, these things matter.

Likewise, the rest of the world is moving on as well. When the adventuring party reconvenes (for whatever plausible reason) they reencounter the bartender at that first tavern where they all met (and had a brawl because that’s what taverns are for). The barkeep, Bart Ender, having seen years ago that tavern work is dangerous, quit bar tending. Bart went to trade school and got his private security license (with a minor in business management). Five years later Bart is the owner of “Behind Bars”, a security firm that maintains safety in taverns across the region; mostly by keeping an eye on any character found sitting at the shadowed table in the corner.

Maybe a PC has met a fine woman and they now have a three year old son. But the spouse’s father recently passed away, the mother-in-law has moved in, and she is quick to argue that no self-respecting father would go hunt renegade orcs and leave their wife and child at home.

Often, in comics or movies as well as games, these sort of things aren’t included. Part of the reason is that it is, actually, a challenge for Peter Parker to justify his adventuring ways when he has a wife (or if he had a child). But that is exactly the sort of thing that Parker has always done, even where it concerned his Aunt May. And, not only did he still put on the tights, but he is a more layered and interesting character for it.

During the intervals, the DM could have a session or two to cover events and RP that occur during the interval. The PCs are likely split up during this time so it may require shorter individual sessions. But the goal of the game isn’t to get to the end as much as enjoying the entire thing from top to bottom.

Work with the player to help them develop their life; the life they would try to live if they didn’t suffer the call to action that all heroes must suffer. If the PC’s time is spent researching then give them extra ranks in that Knowledge. If they decide to help the city watch patrol for those orcs then you likely don’t want to give them levels, as that would unbalance the group, but they certainly earn ranks in Spot, Listen, and Survival.

Each PC gains some number of Skill points, distributed based on their activities. They also gain RP connections to other NPCs that might prove useful during the adventure arcs. A good DM can easily incorporate the interval activities to the adventures themselves.

Then, after a couple weeks of real time as the players and DM work on the intervals, the PCs will be able to have a more realistic feel to the passage of time when the party gathers once again as Ensydious Tyrent’s forces are spotted in the western marshes. Peace has been a pleasant reprieve for the party but destiny calls.

It should be noted that the DM might have to take a different perspective on how their campaign is organized. A game with impending doom just around the corner doesn’t leave time for many breaks from the action. But, again, I assert that doesn’t have to mean 20 levels of non-stop adventure.

For all the things Frodo Baggins did during his trip from the Shire to Mordor, the time involved still wasn’t enough to account for 20 levels of advancement. If you look at Frodo from when he started to when he reached Mt. Doom, that arc might have been only five levels or so.
So think of these arcs as mini-campaigns that, together, comprise the breadth of the PC’s life. If the focus is on the characters living in a vibrant world, they will find no end of plots (which may even ultimately all connect together).

This cycle of adventure/interval repeats over the lives of the characters. Fifteen years after that first meeting at the tavern, the party now owns their own town and land. But those fifteen years have been enough time for Bazterd Tyrent, son of Ensydious, to grow up and seek vengeance against the party for killing his father years ago.

Decades later, the party (now Lords, Arch-Mages, and all-around heroes) meets in the flying crystal castle of their Fighter’s cloud kingdom. Maybe they will enjoy stopping by the Auld Lang Syne (formerly Bart’s Tavern) for one last drink and reflection on their fifty years together.

Someday, the elves and dwarves in the party will sadly move on, after the funeral of their less-long-lived comrades, still holding much adventure and intervals to come. But that is another story.

Extra: It should be noted that the Pathfinder SRD has information on the use of downtime.

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/other-rules/downtime

The rules seem rather too convoluted to provide the sort of story flow I am suggesting. But the concepts might be useful to a DM in handling the mechanics of events during the intervals.

(co-written by R. Currence and Michael N., aka Navarre)

Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast Episode 5

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Welcome to the latest installment of Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast! In this episode our players wrap up the fight with the goblins, and move on to the next adventure.

Please let us know what you think of the show. This is an experiment in podcasting for us, and the only way we can make it better is if you let us know how. Thanks for listening, and, as always, Enjoy the Game!

Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast Episode 4

Outright Gaming Logo

Welcome to the latest installment of Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast! In this episode our players wrap up the fight with the goblins, and move on to the next adventure.

Please let us know what you think of the show. This is an experiment in podcasting for us, and the only way we can make it better is if you let us know how. Thanks for listening, and, as always, Enjoy the Game!

Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast Episode 3

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Welcome to the latest installment of Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast! In this episode our players finish the fight with the goblin raiders of Stonehaven.

Please let us know what you think of the show. This is an experiment in podcasting for us, and the only way we can make it better is if you let us know how. Thanks for listening, and, as always, Enjoy the Game!

Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast Episode 2

Outright Gaming Logo

Welcome to the latest installment of Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast. In this episode our players continue to fight the goblin raiders of Stonehaven.

Please let us know what you think of the show. This is an experiment in podcasting for us, and the only way we can make it better is if you let us know how. Thanks for listening, and, as always, Enjoy the Game!

Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast Episode 1

Outright Gaming Logo

Welcome to the first installment of Outright Gaming: A Pathfinder Podcast. In this first episode our players start their grand adventure, and end up fighting some goblins.

Please let us know what you think of the show. This is an experiment in podcasting for us, and the only way we can make it better is if you let us know how. Thanks for listening, and, as always, Enjoy the Game!

Outright News: VOID Tabletop RPG Preview

VOID LogoWe’re not a large operation over here at Outright Geekery. Just a group of passionate and dedicated geeks wanting to share our creativity with the world. So, when I ran across a similar group of passionate geeks with their own unique and creative vision, I was immediately drawn to, and intrigued by, the development of the VOID Tabletop Role-playing Game. So much so, in fact, that I felt compelled to share this new and innovative take on the pen and paper RPG.

What is VOID?

VOID is a tabletop role-playing game, like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, currently in development. While the game is still currently being edited, the CORE Rulebooks are completed, with full game mechanics and a robust and detailed fantasy world already established. The creators of this game have spent years working on VOID, and they are finally ready to take their project to the next level.

What Makes VOID Different?

With so many pen and paper role-playing games currently on the market, the creators of VOID knew they needed to do more than just a cookie-cutter job on their product. And that was their point! They wanted deeper characters, more flexibility, and a more realistic combat system. And that is exactly what is being delivered! VOID does away with traditional character classes in favor of a less restrictive system that gives players opportunities to combine might, magic, sneaking and any other build direction imaginable. Players aren’t stuck on a single character path, and they don’t have to waste precious character levels on otherwise worthless options just to get that single desired perk. Additionally, VOID changes the game with its combat mechanics, does away with a lot of the turn-based style of “traditional” PnP RPGs, offering many actions available for players even when it’s not “their turn”. VOID also changes up the stereotypical elf, dwarf, and other races, promising something completely new and different.

VOID FlyerI know what you’re saying. “This is great, Gaumer, but we’ve heard it all before! Why the confidence in a game you haven’t even played?” I have confidence in VOID for one reason and one reason only: The creators of this game are passionate gamers! They’ve been working on VOID for over a decade, and they just love to play games. They created VOID in order to overcome the limitations they identified in other games, and if their creation wasn’t different and better in some way they wouldn’t be taking their wares to the public with a Kickstarter Campaign.

Why the Kickstarter Campaign?

If their product is so good, why do they need any funding besides sales? Good question, and the answer is: They really don’t! VOID’s Kickstarter Campaign is an attempt to fund the free release of the VOID Core Rulebook. That’s right! They want to give VOID away! But, they also want to give players the best product they can, and that means illustrations for the Monsters and other scenes, as well as the Amazon and Kickstarter funding itself. Additionally, while a PDF version of a role-playing guidebook is great, there’s nothing like having a quality paper tome to reference, and that stuff isn’t free. They’re offering some great and affordable rewards, too, so give them some attention and, if you can, become a backer.

The Verdict

This isn’t a review of VOID Tabletop Role-playing Game, it’s a preview, and I honestly know nothing about how the game actually plays once a group sits around a table and starts rolling dice and such. This is, however, a shining vote of confidence for a product that is still quite early in its evolution. Everything the VOID Team is doing – From the insightful changes, to the world-building, to their recently launched Kickstarter Campaign – stinks of unequaled passion for the entire genre of pen and paper role-playing games, leading me to strongly believe that VOID is going to be a fun and innovative take on a genre of games that has staled over the years. VOID is a game to watch out for, and now is a great time to jump on-board early in the entire process.

VOID World Map