Monday, June 25, 2012

Expanded summon monster lists

The summon monster spells in Pathfinder are not exactly awesome. They have long casting times, making them hard to complete, the monsters you get when do manage to cast them are more nuisance than threat and if you want to commit to being a decent summoner (as opposed to a Summoner), you have to burn a precious feat slot on Spell Focus (conjuration) (a school with very few spells for which the feat is useful) and then take Augment Summoning. Adding insult to injury, for spellcasters whose personal morality forbids them from even temporarily unleashing the denizens of the lower planes upon the world, the choices for higher level summonings (when the spells actually start to get interesting) is quite limited, Indeed, for the 8th-level version of the spell, only an elder elemental is available for non-evil spellcasters. Oddly enough, even though we have had two new bestiaries added to the game since the core books were released, no effort has been made to incorporate some of the new monsters to the lists. These are all based on CR and have not been playtested, so I propose trying them out to see if any of them are game breakers.

Summon Monster I
no new entries

Summon Monster II
no new entries

Summon Monster III
lyrakien azata - PB2
cassisian (angel) - PB2
harbinger archon - PB3
augur (kyton) - PB3
cacodaemon (daemon) - PB2
silvanshee agathion - PB2

Summon Monster IV
no new entries

Summon Monster V
vulpinal agathion - PB2
ceustodaemon (daemon) - PB2

Summon Monster VI
legion archon - PB3
hydrodaemon (daemon) - PB2

Summon Monster VII
avoral agathion - PB2
shield archon - PB2
movanic deva (angel) - PB2
leukodaemon (daemon) - PB2

Summon Monster VIII
leonal agathion - PB2
monadic deva (angel) - PB2
interlocutor (kyton) - PB3
meladaemon (daemon) - PB2

Summon Monster IX
thanadaemon (daemon) - PB2


Update: Wouldn't you know it, one day after writing this post, I pick up a copy of the newly-released Advanced Race Guide and find a section in it that deals with some of the suggestions I just made. There is a new race called fetchlings, descendents of humans who got stranded on the Plane of Shadow. One of the racial archetypes is a Summoner called a Shadow Caller which includes a revised list of choices for monster summoning. Rather than enlarged lists, there are substitutions of certain choices for other monsters with a shadow theme. Interestingly enough, one of the monsters I added, the Interlocutor (kyton) is in the Shadow Caller revision, but is part of the Summon Monster IX list, even though it is CR 12.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Marvel Roleplaying Game

So recently I had a chance to look at the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. I only had time to skim through it quickly so I'm not going to say I completely understand how the combat works or I have all of the stat blocks memorized. It looks like it is a pretty good system for mimicking Super Hero comic books. The book is quite large (200+ pages) and contains a pretty good description of how the game works. It also includes a short adventure at the end.

Combat works with a token system. It uses the standard D20 set of dice but no twenty siders. Most rolls are checks against a fixed number but some are contested against an NPC's roll. What I find  really interesting is the use of tokens. As combat goes on, you can spent your tokens to be able to roll extra dice (using the most favorable results). The neat part is that you can earn more tokens by doing cool but not optimal things with your turn.

I recall one session in Pathfinder where our Barbarian whips out his weapon and tried to do a dazzling display to intimidate the enemy. Everyone at the table got mad at him because rather than do the optimal thing (kill the bad guy) at best he would have given the bad guy a small penalty to his next attack roll. In Pathfinder there is no mechanical reason to do something cool. Why would you throw a chair at a bad guy when you can shoot him with your bow. Pathfinder (and D&D in general) is all about taking out the bad guys as efficiently as possible. Except by GM fiat, there are no rewards for cool. I think it's great that there's actually a game system out there that tries to reward the heroic and the cool even if its not the most optimal option.

Monday, June 04, 2012

What I'm reading...

I ran out of steam in my effort to complete Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" trilogy about a third of the way through the last book, although I have every intention of getting back to it in due time. However, in the meantime, I am heavily immersed in something quite different. "Designers and Dragons" by Shannon Applecline is an exhaustive history of the tabletop roleplaying game industry documenting its humble beginnings in the basements and backrooms of wargamers like Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and Jeff Perren, through the golden age of the 80s, the rocky periods of the 90s and ending with the most recent developments of the late 00s. I'm guessing most gamers will find this stuff pretty uninteresting, especially those who didn't live through most of the eras covered, but I can't stop reading. I remember ads in Dragon magazine for a lot of the games discussed in this book even if I never played most of them. What I also find fascinating are the histories of some of the game designers themselves. Many times I've thought to myself, "Wow, I didn't know he worked for 'them' that long ago!" The author also fleshes out the details surrounding some of the more well-known controversies in the history of the hobby. I especially enjoyed reading about the fight between Steve Jackson Games and the Secret Service.

Applecline goes into a fair bit of detail on the evolution of game design throughout the various histories of the different companies. The wargaming roots of the hobby are described in the chapter on TSR. The impact of "storyteller" games are, of course, detailed in the White Wolf chapter and the indie movement is given its due in the chapter on Ron Edwards and Adept Press. The OSR is not discussed much, if at all. I suspect there are two reasons for this. First of all, the OSR movement was really just getting started at the time this book was being written and its impact was minimal. Secondly, the main theme of the book has been about the evolution of game design. Some smaller companies had been purposefully left out because they were not particularly innovative and didn't feature any prominent game designers. The OSR has not, historically, been big on innovation either, at least as far as game design is concerned. I would agree though, it has been influential in establishing a new model for tabletop rpgs as community, rather than as industry. I'm certain that, were this book to be published today, a chapter on the OSR would surely have been included.


D&DNext - more thoughts

I've been thinking a bit more about skills as presented in the D&DNext playtest package. A character will have a background which will include a package of skills. For example, the dwarf fighter pre-generated character has the Soldier background, providing a +3 bonus on Intimidate, Perception and Survival. That same character has a Wisdom bonus of +2 for a total modifier of +5 on perception checks. Therefore, on a natural 20, the character in question would get a 25, two points below the threshold of "Immortal". However, in D&D 3.x/Pathfinder, there are other ways to bump up the modifiers besides ranks. How about an eyes of the eagle, a potion of heroism and a headband of inspired wisdom +6 combined with the Alertness feat? Together, these give an additional +12. Now our dwarven axewielder only need roll a 10 to achieve "Immortal" perception. I guess this means we're going to see a radical redesign of magic items. I would guess this will be a case of drawing inspiration from past editions of D&D that didn't have skills. For example, the "old-school" version of eyes of the eagle allowed one to see 100 times further than would otherwise be the case. What that even means is open to DM's interpretation since vision is limited not be distance, but by line of sight. Still, I'm guessing magic items that currently give direct numerical bonuses to skill and ability checks will have to be either discarded completely or redesigned to grant some sort of ability that doesn't directly improve skill checks.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Wizard vs Fighter: Results

ok, we played out a couple of battles between a single level 20 wizard and a level 20 fighter. While it wasn't quite the blowout I expected it to be we came to the conclusion that the Wizard is only going to lose if he makes a big tactical mistake or rolls very poorly.
The Fighter basically needs a backpack full  magic items that can counter the wizards myriad of magical tricks. Miss one and he's dead. The fighter did win one battle when he reflected a Flesh to Stone spells and the wizard failed his fort save. That combat aside, the wizard tended to dominate. The only thing that kept the fighter alive for any amount of time was the constant use of Dust of Disappearance. The wizards biggest trump card is Gate. That one spell just opens up so many possibilities.

Another night we'd like to run a 3 vs 3 battle and try the same fight with level 12 characters. Level 20 wizards are hard to play - there are just too many options.

Friday, June 01, 2012

D&DNext - The Good, the Bad and the Meh

After a first go through on the D&DNext playtest package, I have found some things I like, some things I don't like and some things I am wholly indifferent about. First the Good, skills are cool. They still work a lot like Pathfinder skills, except they don't scale with level. A character will typically have a couple of skills from their background which will have a +3 bonus. An ability score modifier will also be added to the skill check, but that's it. No ranks. Imagine that, a low-level palace guardsman actually has a chance to not be totally bamboozled by a smooth-talking high-level bard claiming to be the King's long lost son. As one can guess, skill check DCs are much lower. DC 27+ is considered to be "Immortal" difficulty.

With the Good, comes the Bad, healing. I can't say enough about how much I hate healing surges. No single rule turned me off 4e more than healing surges. Well, they don't call them that anymore, but the effect is the same. Did you just get stabbed in the neck? Sit down for a few minutes and you'll be right as rain. Combined with another 4e "innovation", massive 1st-level hit points, and you've got pretty near unkillable PCs. If they don't ramp up the danger level in the final product, this will probably be a dealbreaker for me.

Last, and certainly least, the Meh, for me, is the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. I get it, sort of. To make up for the lack of scaling in skills, they introduce a mechanic to allow a bit more range of outcome. If the DM decides that the player has an advantage, he rolls two dice and takes the better result. If he has a disadvantage, he must take the lower result. In terms of the above example of the bard vs. the guard, if the bard attempted to tell a fairly believable lie, like he was an illegitimate son of the guard captain, he might enjoy an advantage. If, on the other hand, he was claiming to be the heir to the throne, that would certainly require a disadvantage, unless he had some compelling evidence to back up his claim. So, the mechanic works, I suppose. However, it feels sort of gimmicky to me and a bit too abstract and simplistic. Still, not a dealbreaker.

Overall, I'd say that while it's still too soon to say anything definitive, D&DNext looks promising.