Friday, August 31, 2018

Mathfinder is on the ropes!!

Inspired by this, let's collect all the hacks, chops, floggings and punches I've delivered to the otherwise bloated body of Pathfinder. 



Some skills are useful, plenty are garbage. I cut maybe 1/3 of the skills and simplified others. Basically I'm following the example set by Hack and Slash and Papers & Pencils.

I cut PF's base skill points awarded by class in half. There are fewer skills to spend points on, so characters should have commensurately less points to spend.


Appraise: What a waste of time.
Disable Device: Have you MET me??
Disguise, Intimidate, Bluff: Rolling to avoid the fun.
Sense Motive: Look into my eye and figure it out.
Escape Artist: There is already a sleight of hand skill!
Fly: Casting the Fly spell isn't enough...?


Diplomacy: Now a passive skill called “Sociable.” I use the reaction rules from Labyrinth Lord, and the CHA modifiers listed there. You can't spend points in this except to offset CHA penalties, up to +0.

Linguistics: Doesn't teach you a brand-new language with each point. If you want to learn a new language, find somebody to teach it to you. Make a roll to understand bits & pieces of languages related to ones you know. Spend points on it as normal.

Profession: Maximum 1 point at 1st level. This is your background (villager, woodsman, carpenter, etc). Could be useful for general questions relating to that background, but maybe take knowledge or crafting skills if you want to do more useful things.

Perception: Passive skill. I'll roll it for you (do you see people sneaking up on you?). Discover things in the world by poking around and asking questions.

Spellcraft: Many magic items’ general purpose is identifiable by a character of the relevant class after 10 minutes of examination. In Epic 6 this hinges on the item's caster level - if it's above CL 6, it's beyond mortal beings, more or less an artifact. These will require research, questing, consulting sages, etc. to identify.

The other functions of the skill we can keep for now - recognising spells as they're cast, crafting magic items and the like.

-1 or less: can’t swim
0: can avoid drowning, paddle along with help
+1 or more: fine swimmer

-1 or less: climb at ¼ speed with help (friends and gear)
0: climb at ¼ speed OR climb at ½ speed with help
+1 or more: climb at ½ speed

Armour check penalties still apply. Can spend extra points to offset penalties, but no mechanical effect beyond +1.


Acrobatics, Craft, Handle Animal, Heal, Perform, Ride, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Use Magic Device: Nothing wrong with these as far as I can tell.

Knowledge: Has utility in my setting for dealing with strange monsters beyond the Barrier. Maybe you read something in an old book about this little green guy you just met?

Survival: Huge in a wilderness hexcrawl that's totally uncharted by civilization! The PCs need this to find food and water and avoid getting hopelessly lost. 


FEATS: Cutting out feats altogether for a more 'old-school' feel runs counter to the entire point of Epic 6. I will be approaching this ad-hoc, and deleting feats that seem pointless or dumb case-by-case. Some 'epic feats' need to be added later if/when the PCs reach 6th level.

Item creation may get its own post, I am going to make it a more involved process: magic items should be rare and hard to find, doubly hard to make yourself. Selecting the feat is only the first of many steps.

ENCUMBRANCE: Why mess with it? You can carry one significant item per point of strength. The sum of all your miscellaneous stuff counts as one significant item (subject to eyeballing if you have lots of stuff). medium armour counts as two items, heavy armour counts as three, same goes for shields.

Example: A totally average fighter with 10 STR can wear plate mail [3], a tower shield [3], a sword [1], and bring a bag with some food and stuff [1] without being encumbered [8/10]. If he wanted to carry a lot of treasure out of the dungeon he might have to leave his shield or downgrade his armour. As it is, he should probably content himself with bringing a spare weapon or two!

This seems pretty fair to me, and reminds me a bit of Dark Souls. When your inventory system is simple enough, you can actually MAKE DECISIONS about what to bring, because the units are small enough to think about.

EXPERIENCE: Multiple ways to gain XP: exploration, treasure and defeating monsters.
COMBAT: Simplified and streamlined where possible. Attacks of Opportunity are minimised except in specific cases (a wizard getting hit while he tries to cast). This is one place I haven't dug too deep, mainly because my players don't know the rules that well. I just run combats the way I'm used to doing, and it seems to work out alright. As they gain levels and things get a bit more complex, this will require more attention.

MONSTERS: I flat-out fucking refuse to write up brand new monster stats for this game. I have shit to do. This isn't really tough since the Tome of Horrors and other books abound, except that nobody has written up Pathfinder stats for Fire on the Velvet Horizon. I have yet to reach a solution for this. I suppose I must poach and reskin stats from existing monsters as I see fit.


I'll add more to this as I come up with it or find cool links. Eventually PF will be easier to use, less annoying and make more sense, but retain the absurd variety of options that makes it so much fun. 

In the meantime: 


Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Best D&D Film Ever Made

We need to have a serious conversation, folks. A conversation about one of the best movies ever, and why it's so fucking D&D it hurts. A movie crammed with forgotten tombs, lethal traps, untold riches, vicious monsters and magic items!! 

Of course I'm talking about:

The first 13 minutes of this film are supreme, but today I want to focus on the TRAPS. I think the record will show they are all supremely D&D-able, and we could all learn a few lessons here. Also, since some other people were discussing traps recently, it comes at a topical moment (completely by accident)!

Watch as I outline the traps, how Indy deals with them, what makes them cool, how I would run them in my game, etc.

***** CAST *****

Indiana Jones - archaeologist

Satipo - craven hireling


Nobody else has returned from the dungeon alive, but Indy has a few good reasons to get in there. He wants the idol and to know what happened to another treasure hunter who never made it back.

Observe him getting his stuff ready to go inside the dungeon. Torches, and... sand?

I'm sure there is a good reason for that. Indy is no novice adventurer, as we'll see shortly.


Walk through a giant spiderweb, you might get some giant spiders on you.

This is good because although it's scary the characters aren't in any danger if they just stay calm and don't freak out. You can see Satipo trying not to shit himself. Imagine if they had flailed around like the other PCs in one of my groups, smashing out as much damage as possible as quick as they can? Might have killed each other before the spiders did.

Room description: These webs are home to dozens of fist-sized poisonous spiders [stats here]. They are sleepy and passive unless provoked by rapid movement or loud noises. They are hard to see when resting in their thick webs, especially in dim light. 

Clue: Giant fucking spiderwebs.


One of my favourite traps. Indy is in pure D&D mode here. He knows something's up. Cautiously approaching, he waits to interact with it until he thinks he can test it safely and then springs it. The fate of the incautious is death, as we learn what happened to the last dude.

Room description: This trap is a vertical line of spikes that extend 6' from the wall, [some damage]. They are triggered by anything casting a shadow on the rocks. A dead adventurer is impaled on them right now. After a minute, they will reset back into the wall. 

Clue: A beam of light coming into the dark dungeon. (this one is a bit more obscure, but... pay attention to the details or perish!)

Next up is a well-loved classic:


This is genius. I have used the 'already open pit trap' to tremendous effect in the past. Why bother with garbage like "this pit is based on a cantilever design, originally developed by Archimedes..." whatever. Fuck you.

Just make the pit already open! My players spent who knows how long trying to get down to the bottom and then up the other side, sweating bullets as they wait for me to dish up a random encounter where goblins can push rocks down on their heads.

Room description: come on man.

In this case Indy has his trusty whip, but this sets the stage for further difficulty. Leaving your adventuring gear behind for later use can be a smart move, but now you have a 'supply chain' of sorts behind you that you must protect.


Satipo, ever the clueless boob, almost gets the party killed here because he thinks it's safe to stroll forward. As usual, caution and information-gathering are the order of the day. Indy tests the waters:

Room description: The floor on the lower level [note that the idol's pedestal is on a slightly elevated area] is covered with pressure plates. Stepping on one of these will trigger a poison dart from one of the carved faces on the walls. They are worked into a pattern on the floor - the triggers are diamond-shaped stones [include picture of floor pattern here, or don't]. 

Clues: Carved 'spitting faces' on the walls, strange pattern of flagstones.

With the danger established he creeps up slowly, avoiding the pressure plates, until he's within reach of the prize:

What do?

He's made it past the poison darts, the pit, the spikes and the spiders. Indy knows this thing is trapped. He's thinking like an adventurer should! 

Room description: This trap is based on a weight sensor. If the idol is moved, lifted, etc. the dungeon begins to collapse! This also sets of the sliding stone door and the boulder trap by the entrance.

[Indy's DM will have to evaluate the chance of his improvised sandbag working. Is it 50/50? Does Indy make a DEX check? Roll for his Knowledge: weight of a lump of gold? All of these are possible. In Pathfinder he would roll Disable Device, and trying to avoid that shit is why I'm writing this article in the first place.] 

Clue: shiny golden idol on a pedestal totally untouched, weak-looking support pillars [knowledge roll or inspection to detect flaws], sliding multi-layered pedestal [seams covered by grasses, careful inspection required].

Indy has the right idea but doesn't execute it perfectly. It's comforting to know even he can't make every single roll.


Now we experience the whole dungeon in reverse, and you can see how the traps change not based on what Indy "rolls", but how he acts.

IDOL ROOM AGAIN: He sprints through the spike trap, dodging clouds of darts from left and right. Obviously he is making his saving throws because he's the hero and it's a movie, but any PC could meet a grim end right here.


If I did this to my players they'd probably tar & feather me, but it doesn't get much more exciting!! 

A tough negotiation, a ticking clock, everything is against our hero. Interacting with this 'totally inert' open pit has become a complex problem. Your basic "zap" pit trap doesn't provide this. Of course this only works before your PCs have ready access to Fly, but when does that happen anyway? Stop giving them so many magic items.

The sliding door is just *one* of the ways Indy could get trapped here forever. In your dungeon you should probably leave some other way for the PCs to get out... right?


What an idiot! So focused on running away that he completely forgot the trap was there. This is what I'm talking about: Satipo was warned about this and he done fucked up.

I have in past days relied on the players remembering a warning I gave them half an hour before. A common viewpoint is this is unfair, although I don't know why. Since Satipo is a hireling he doesn't get a warning, but depending on the situation I might remind the players "hey guys, while you're sprinting away, who remembers those spikes?" Season to your own taste.


Either he gets crushed, or he avoids the boulder and it gets stuck in the cave entrance, sealing him inside. It's a double-ended trap.

This would be great if your PCs dithered during the open-pit negotiation, or took their time coming back past the spikes because their idiot hireling hadn't set them off accidentally. 


It's easy to look at this dungeon in a certain light as a screw-job. Your players might blunder through it getting chopped into bits if they make some bad calls or don't pay close attention. However, if you look back, you'll see that every trap had some kind of clue or odd element to telegraph that something was up. Indy doesn't just walk down a featureless hallway, only to *zap*, fall down a pit. That would be cruel AND boring.

These are the kind of traps I like to use. They give you a chance to make decisions, and are interactive without resorting to 'I roll my Solve Problem skill.' YOU can be a treasure-hunting adventurer, whatever the numbers on your character sheet. All you need is a well-designed dungeon and your wits about you!



Now check this out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

REVIEW: Gardens of Ynn

Heck. I have 26 posts in various stages of 'draft', might as well write a new one!


by Emmy Allen
from Dying Stylishly Games

Gardens of Ynn isn't so much an adventure as a bizarrely semi-infinite dungeon. Locations and features that are rearranged and recombined every time, a small horde of monsters and some great treasure and tricks all come together to create a lot more playable content than it seems at first glance. 

I can picture the PCs in my group heading into the gardens for delve after delve, hunting around, getting lost, finding cool new items, barely getting out alive and then getting ready to dive back in later on. 

Or quitting in sheer terror and adventuring somewhere else!

Everything is done with tables, which I thoroughly love. It goes like this: when the PCs enter the gardens, you roll for the starting location on a table of rooms. As they explore, rolling on the table generates new rooms on the fly. You don't know what will come up next, and every visit to the gardens is different. There are 35 rooms, plus another table of 35 details, which includes things like 'rumbling,' 'hypnotic,' 'smouldering,' or 'predatory'. This changes the lay of the land on every delve, and adds to the replayability of the gardens. 

Last time you explored the well-maintained orchid houses, but this time it's the INVERTED orchid houses?!

After these two rolls, you roll for 'events,' which includes random encounters, weather, strange sounds, treasure, and brand-new paths that can take you much deeper into the gardens or provide quick ways backwards. 

Downside: I fear it could be too much dice-rolling in the middle of a dungeon for each new area, and flipping back and forth, and thinking about how to describe what the characters see, since you don't actually know what it'll be until the PCs get there. I can picture this slowing down play unless you pre-roll a few or are quick on your feet. More to come on this when I run it for my players (probably in, like, 2028).

The monsters are all good and span the range from 'somewhat normal animals' like moss-rats, to wild stuff like the puddings (which are actually puddings and cakes!), and again there are some awesome tables to roll on for some of the monsters, giving them TONS of variety: you could EASILY keep your players on their toes with "what the hell is this monster?" for multiple adventures.

The best part of the book, which sent me scrambling to open up a blog entry and write this review as soon as I was done reading the pdf, is at the end in Section 5: Useful Tables! 

Horticultural Styles, Unusual Flora, Ynnian Alterations (mutations that make you more like the residents of the gardens), treasure tables which include a whole table of special abilities for the magic weapon you just found, I search the body, I search the flowerbed, Stored Food, and tons more...

I feel like you could learn a lot about a campaign world by reading its Stored Food table. This one certainly gave me the flavour of the place. All these tables are great and 100% worth the price of the book all by themselves. Every one is jam-packed with just plain COOL ideas.

Really, if you are into well-written adventures, or you want some great tables, some new monsters, good treasure or just a handful of neat new ideas, you owe it to yourself to buy this. I just noticed that it's now available in a print-on-demand version. Better believe I ordered that, and BOTH of you reading this can go buy it here.


Now just before your PCs get jacked by some plant-skeletons, play this: