Sunday, December 03, 2017

Pathfinder's strange treatment of spears

The spear is arguably the most effective melee weapon in human history. Simpler to use than the axe or sword and cheaper to produce, the bulk of virtually every army from antiquity to the development of gunpowder has been comprised of spearmen. Probably the most iconic of history's spear wielders were the Greek hoplites.

The hoplite spear, called a dory, was 7 to 9 ft. long with an iron, leaf-shaped tip and counterbalanced with a bronze butt-spike. It was intended to be primarily a melee weapon, wielded with one hand in conjunction with a shield. Yet this iconic weapon does not exist in any form in Pathfinder. The only one-handed, hafted stabbing weapons in the core rulebook are the shortspear and the trident. Obviously, the trident is something different, but what is a shortspear? It is described as being three feet long and may be thrown. This description is close to the iklwa, the short, stabbing spear of the Zulus,

but definitely not the Greek dory.

The other two types of spear in Pathfinder are the "spear" and the "longspear", both of which are two-handed melee weapons. The former is 5 ft. long, while the latter is 8 ft. long and both may be braced against a charge (although 5 ft. seems too short for such a purpose). Most importantly, neither may be used in conjunction with a shield, without the assistance of a feat. Also, there is no entry corresponding to what we typically think of as a pike. The longspear is about the length of a hoplite spear, but a pike is 10 to 25 ft. in length. Perhaps, if the longspear was extended to 10 ft. and the spear to 8 ft. and made into a one-handed melee weapon, we would have a more realistic treatment of this most important and underrated weapon.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Iron Gods - The final showdown

We conclude our Iron Gods adventure path - spoilers ahead.

After a day to recover from the devastating battle against Ophelia, the party returned for the final showdown against the mad AI Unity. They entered the interface centre which housed devices called mindmelders that would allow them to enter the Godmind, Unity's virtual domain. Casandalee agreed to accompany them into the Godmind and would fight beside them. Upon entering the mindmelders, they found themselves standing on a balcony of a cathedral overlooking an idyllic pastoral tableau. Guarding the entrance to the cathedral, a pair of angelic figures. They offer to accompany the party to their audience with Unity. Deciding to play along for now, they follow the angels into a large open nave. The great walls of the structure were alive with digital codes and cyphers constantly changing and moving. In the centre of the nave was a colossal ice linnorm who watched the party intently, but did not immediately attack. Nonetheless, the party felt threatened by the massive dragon and began to prepare for battle. The linnorm and the angels responded in kind and battle ensued. The linnorm started it off with a frigid blast of cold breath, catching the entire party in the cone of frosty death. Several party members were seriously injured. Still they fought on. Casandalee put up a wall of force, giving the party a brief window to concentrate on the angels and heal up, before turning once again to the linnorm. Relentless laser fire, combined with deadly spell and melee attacks eventually brought the beast low.

At this point, a large radiant angelic figure coalesced, seemingly out of thin air. It was flanked by four lesser beings, similar to the angels they had just defeated. They knew immediately that this was Unity. It congratulated them on their success and offered them great power if they joined him. The company responded with an immediate attack. Unity stepped up and tore into Casandalee, the former lieutenant that betrayed him. Meanwhile, his bodyguards engaged the rest of the party. The fight was intense, but timely successful resistance against a couple of Unity's more powerful spells proved the difference. Unity was destroyed and he and his guards and the entire virtual realm shut down. The company was shunted back to the interface centre, although Casandalee was not among them. For a few moments, they celebrated their victory. When the monitors in the room came to life and Casandalee's face appeared, they cheered. However, the festivity was short-lived. Casandalee said something was wrong. Unity was not destroyed. She worked intently to get internal systems back online in order to locate the AI. Eventually, she located it in a powerful robot chassis and it appeared to be searching for something, possibly allies. Augusto was able to locate the robot and the party quickly teleported to its location in order to finish off Unity once and for all.

Unity had installed itself in an overlord robot, a powerful frame with a force field, slashing claws and an integrated laser rifle. The mad AI had added a couple of potent additions of its own, a vorpal battleaxe and a gravity bomb launcher build into its one large eye. Nils opened up with his deadly laser fire, which passed effortlessly through the force field and blasted the robot chassis. Unity responded by tearing into Nils with claws and axe, badly mauling the inquisitor that had caused him so much misery over the last few weeks. Nils was down, bloody and hovering on death's door. At the same time, Unity launched a gravity bomb at Targus and Smangtooth. Both were slammed for massive damage and Targus was entrapped in a sphere of force. It was Smangtooth's turn. The enraged barbarian tore into Unity with her adamantine-toothed chainsword. The force field held momentarily, but the onslaught was too great and sparks began to fly as metal bit into metal. Augusto added his magical prowess, slippery Targus quickly escaped his confinement to join the fray and Hala worked tirelessly to keep his comrades from joining the Choir Invisible. The battle was brutal and a couple of the company almost didn't make it out alive, but finally the killing blow was struck. The robot collapsed in a shower of sparks and the evil AI god Unity ran out of options.

Epilogue: Casandalee took over control of Divinity and with the groundwork done by Unity, soon ascended to godhood. Her own personality as well as the installation of certain AI-modifying devices which the party had collected along the way led to the moulding of Casandalee's divine profile. She was lawful, with an interest in artifice and the void. She also saw herself as the patron deity of androids and other synthetic beings.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Iron Gods - The Divinity Drive 2

We continue our Iron Gods campaign journal - spoilers ahead.

Sensing a need for haste, the party decided to move on without seeking out Deacon Hope. They found another monorail station which provided them access to the security deck. They battled undead security personnel in the monorail hub, interrogation centre and surveillance control room, before moving on the security administration area. This area was guarded by several director robots. After destroying them, the company assaulted the control centre. A pulsepounder golem stood guard outside, but despite its fearsome appearance, it proved little threat to the party.
Once inside the control centre, the company encountered one of Unity's top lieutenants, a noqual golem robot called Bastion. Combining the magic resistance afforded by its noqual construction and two integrated gravity rifles, the towering robot proved a powerful opponent. Nonetheless, Nils' laser rifle once again proved equal to the challenge and Bastion was destroyed.
Sensing that his lieutenant was defeated, Unity finally made direct contact to the party by way of viewing screens in the control centre. He offered them the opportunity to join him, before promptly destroying the computer controls. It was time to confront Unity.

Casandalee provided the party with instructions on how to get to the command deck, which would lead to the computer core and the virtual realm where Unity awaited. They battled a group of cyber-gargoyles, priests of Unity, for control of the command deck, then defeated an ancient vortex dragon who served as mercenary and astrogator in support of Unity's plan for world domination and ascension to full godhood. The last defender standing in the way of the party's final showdown with the mad machine god was the high priestess, the cybernetically-enhanced leader of the gargoyle cult named Ophelia. Protected behind a wall of four evaluator robots, she fired at will with her rail gun. Nils responded with his laser rifle, but Ophelia was prepared and she had cast protection from fire on herself. Meanwhile, the rest of the party battled the robots in melee. Switching to his zero rifle, Nils was able to do some damage, but Ophelia had cold resistance as well, so it was slow going.
As Ophelia's situation grew more desperate, she cast a quickened irradiate spell to devastating effect. Jols and Hala suffered massive radiation poisoning and Jols was killed. Luckily the party had a cardioamp available which pulled their deceased comrade back from the jaws of death. Still, both stricken party members were gravely ill. The rest of the party finished off Ophelia and they retreated for some much needed rest and magical healing. Unity would wait for now.


Monday, September 04, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 2

Since Kolrez is a mystic, alignment and deity are defining aspects of his character, so some thought has to go into making these decisions. I wanted Kolrez to be most at peace among the stars, so Ibra, god of the cosmos, seemed the best choice. Ibra is true neutral, so I decided Kolrez would be also.

At this point, I should say a bit about gods in Starfinder. Some of the gods are familiar from Pathfinder. These include Iomedae, Sarenrae, Desna, Abadar, Phaerasma, Zon-Kuthon and Urgathoa. Other Golarion gods such as Asmodeus, Calistria and Lamashtu still exist, though in different and less powerful forms. In addition, there are many new gods and goddesses, some adopting portfolios previously held by other gods of Golarion, while others are completely new such as Triune, god of artificial intelligence and Oras, god of evolution and natural selection. Although the Dark Tapestry, which played such a large, though indirect role in Iron Gods, is not mentioned by name, the Outer God, Nyarlathotep is now a core deity with responsibility for conspiracies and forbidden magic.

At 1st level, mystics select a connection, which is very similar to an oracle's mystery class feature from Pathfinder. A mystic selects only one connection which provides insight bonuses to certain skills, bonus spells and class abilities with increasing levels. For Kolrez, I choose the Star Shaman connection which gives him Piloting and Perception as associated skills as well as the Walk the Void (Su) ability, allowing him to survive exposure to vacuum without harm. As a 1st level mystic, Kolrez also gains Healing Touch (Su), allowing him to heal an ally up to 5 hp/level, once per day. Finally, like in Pathfinder, the character starts with a feat at 1st level. I choose Great Fortitude.

All that remains is to choose spells, skills and equipment and Kolrez is ready to go. Both the mystic and the technomancer have a 0-6 level spell table. Kolrez starts out knowing 4 0-level and 2 1-level spells. He also gains an additional one from his connection. He selects Mystic Cure and Lesser Remove Condition as his 1st level spells and gains Shooting Stars (Magic Missile for mystics) as his connection spell. This makes him a formidable healer with a bit of offensive magic thrown in as well. For skills, Kolrez takes Piloting, Perception, Sense Motive, Mysticism and Diplomacy. The skill list in Starfinder has a lot of overlap with Pathfinder, although there has been a fair bit of streamlining. For example, the Mysticism skill now incorporates both the Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana) skills as well as any Craft skill needed to make magic items.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 1

The much-awaited Starfinder Core Rulebook is finally available at your FLGS and I have my copy. This will be my first in a series of posts on the new game. I will be looking first at character creation. The first step in this process is to conceptualize your character and select your race, theme and class. Pathfinder players will certainly be familiar with race and class, but theme is something new.

Starting with races, there are humans, androids, two subspecies of lashuntas, kasathans, ysoki, vesh and shirrens. Anyone who has played the Iron Gods AP will have some familiarity with androids, kasathans and lashuntas, although the lashuntas have been altered somewhat. The ysoki are simply space-faring ratfolk. The vesh and the shirrens are your obligatory reptilian and insectoid races respectively. The other Pathfinder races such as elves, dwarves and halflings are not core races, but it has been hinted at that they will be introduced later*.

Classes are mostly self-explanatory. They are envoy, mechanic, mystic, operative, soldier, technomancer and solarian. The envoy is the party "face". The mystic and technomancer are the cleric and wizard respectively. The operative is the rogue, while the solarian is a sort of space monk, like a Starfinder jedi.

Themes are aspects of your character that reflect background and/or motivations. The options available in the core rules are ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, xenoseeker and themeless. Somewhat counterintuitively, there are no restrictions regarding combinations of themes and classes, so it is possible to have a priest mechanic or a mercenary mystic. Clearly some combinations will require exotic backstories. The purpose of themes is to provide a starting ability score bonus to one stat and a few minor boons to the character as he gains levels.

I decided to try out the character creation procedure by making a kasathan spacefarer mystic named Kolrez. After making those preliminary decisions, it is time to get to the number-crunching. The point buy system is a bit different in Starfinder as compared to Pathfinder. You start with straight 10s, then adjust your ability scores based on race and theme modifiers. Kolrez gets +2 STR and WIS and -2 INT for being a kasathan and +1 CON for being a spacefarer. So his starting ability scores are: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 11, INT 8, WIS 12, CHA 10. You have an additional 10 points to spend on a 1-for-1 basis, although no ability score can exceed 18 at this point. Note that ability modifiers are the same in Starfinder as Pathfinder. With that in mind, I distribute my additional points to improve CON, INT, WIS and CHA as follows: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 12, INT 9, WIS 18, CHA 12. You cannot transfer points from one ability to another.

Next, we look at hit points (hp), stamina points (sp) and resolve points (rp). Stamina points represent general toughness. They are lost first and relatively easy to recover. Hit points indicate actual capacity to endure injury. Resolve points represent willpower and are used to activate certain class features and regain resources such as stamina. None of these points are rolled, all are fixed based on your character race, class, ability modifiers and level. At 1st level, Kolrez gets 4 racial hit points and 6 class hit points for a total of 10 hps to start. At 2nd level and each level beyond, he only gets the 6 class hps. Stamina points are based on class and CON modifier. Kolrez starts out with 6 class sp and 1 CON sp for a total of 7 sp. Finally, resolve points are equal to half your level (minimum of 1) + modifier of your key ability score. Since Kolrez has WIS 18, he gets 4 + 1 rps.

In my next post, I will discuss class features of the mystic, gods and alignments.


*Edit: There is a section in the back of the core book which provides some information on Pathfinder races for those wishing to use them to make Starfinder characters.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Iron Gods - The Divinity Drive 1

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign - spoilers ahead.

The party headed up to a cavern known to both Casandalee and the Technic League that provided entry to the buried spaceship. Zernebeth could only provide limited information as to current League activities within the structure since Zaidow had been very secretive and his only confidants were now deceased. Still, the company was confident they could handle whatever lay ahead.

That confidence would be tested almost immediately, however. As they passed through a glaucite door in the wall of the cave, they entered a large assembly bay. Awaiting inside was a fully-functional annihilator robot. The annihilator immediately attacked, strafing the company with its twin chain guns. As the party scattered and dove for cover, Smangtooth charged forth. What followed was a display of martial prowess that will go down in the annals of Golarion lore. Braving the annihilator's plasma lance, Smangtooth darted beneath the massive robot. Her chainsaw cut deep into its structure, overcoming first its force field and then its armour-plating. The adamantium teeth ripped at its interior components, cutting power conduits and overloading circuits. Before it could respond, a second slash of Smangtooth's chainsword cut through its tail, severing the plasma lance. As it staggered and collapsed, Smangtooth thrust her chainsaw once more into its smoking ruin and the annihilator was destroyed.

With confidence at an all-time high after Smangtooth's victory over the annihilator robot, the company moved on. They would soon encounter a small group of Technic League operatives led by a technomancer named Sila Desaulis. She explained that her group had become trapped here when some force had taken control of all the robots in the ship. The exit was blocked by the annihilator robot and a large section of the deck was being irradiated by lethal radiation. She was happy to hear that the annihilator was destroyed and she was eager to leave. She offered the group a gravitic key which they could use to start up a graviton reactor that the annihilator had been guarding. It would allow them to power up a monorail transport to explore deeper into the ship.

The group took to the monorail to a deck called Habitation Pod 1. The deck appeared to be a self-contained jungle environment, complete with appropriate flora and fauna as well as flowing water and high humidity. As they exited the monorail station, they were immediately set upon by several dwarf-like humanoids (lashuntas) riding dinosaurs. Though tough, the lashuntas were quickly dispatched. The party moved on, bypassing a small village with more lashuntas and eventually arrived at a water-pumping station. Inside, they found a service elevator which they took to another deck.

This new location turned out to a recreation deck. After battling several viper vines in an overgrown section of a park, they entered a market square. Dozens of humanoids wandered about talking idly to one another in small groups. Though at first glance they appeared human, upon closer inspection, they were revealed to be androids. They made brief acknowledgements of the party and would reply if addressed, but they seemed remarkably unperturbed by the rough-looking adventurers that just appeared among them. They also offered little insight when questioned, mostly referring repeatedly to someone named Deacon Hope and some future event they called the "Great Advent to Come". Although they did notice a small number of the androids seemed to pay a bit more attention to them than the rest, there was little to alarm the group and they quickly got bored.

Leaving the square, they found a holotheatre. Perusing the selection of available holovids, they found little of interest, although it was clear most of the library had been rather crudely deleted. Looking around, they found a passage to a backstage area. What they found was a nightmarish abattoir of humanoid body parts and viscera strewn about and arranged in a depraved artistic display. A pair of interlocutor kytons, attended by a pair of sacristan kytons were adding to the carnage. The disgusted company slaughtered the vile fiends. They would also find a shrine to Unity and an android creche guarded by more kytons and a particularly powerful kasathan fighter who wielded two chainsaws. With the minions destroyed, it was time to find this Deacon Hope.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Iron Gods - Palace of Fallen Stars 4

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign - spoilers ahead.

With the party refreshed and prepared, and the dybbuk still weakened by the previous battle, round two turned out to be anti-climactic. The dybbuk was quickly dispatched and the company was ready to take on the Technic League. They located the secret door to the tunnel and made their way to the Technic League compound. After dispatching a couple gearsman battleguards manning the entrance at the other end of the tunnel, they began searching for a stairwell leading up.

Following a brief, but tense battle with a pair of tarry demodands in a geothermal reactor room, they found a stair. It led up to the courtyard of the complex. They used dimension door to cross the courtyard without drawing the attention of several human and robotic sentries and slipped in through the main door of the Technic League headquarters. Through scrying and communication with Zernebeth, the company had a pretty good idea of the layout and made a rapid advance toward the main tower where they expected Ozmyn Zaidow to be found. They battled several gearsmen and a powerful iron golem, but it only took a few minutes to make the top of the tower.

Smangtooth broke through the door and Ghartone, Ozmyn and a myrmidon robot awaited.

The mymidon blasted away with its laser rifle while its quantum lashes slashed at Smangtooth. Ghartone supported the robot with fire bombs and Ozmyn cast spells while invisible. Ozmyn quickly found himself out of allies and temporarily blind. He had no choice but to teleport away.

Frustrated by the escape of their quarry, the party set about looting Ghartone's remains and Ozmyn's chamber. After a couple of minutes, the party heard the sound of screaming from the stairwell. Following the sound, they burst into Zernebeth's chamber. Ozmyn had returned and he'd brought allies. A woman and several kytons surrounded Zernebeth, preparing to kill her while Ozmyn watched and waited for the party. Most powerful of the kytons was an interlocutor named Krimox the thrice-flensed. He was a collaborator with the woman, Gryne Rasik, another captain of the Technic League and ally of Ozmyn.

Early on, the fight went well for the party. Smangtooth's chainsaw and Nils' laser rifle managed to gravely wound the kytons and Ozmyn. However, that allowed Rasik to successfully affect Smangtooth with a flesh to stone spell. There was a moment of shock as the half-orc barbarian turned into a fierce-looking statue. The desperate battle resumed around the petrified half-orc; laser fire, slashing claws, blades and spells. In the end, the company prevailed, Ozmyn Zaidow was slain and Zernebeth was rescued. With cooperative leaders on the throne of the Black Sovereign and in the office of commander of the Technic League,the party was now ready to take the fight to Silver Mount and the mad godling, Unity.