Saturday, December 28, 2013

Frozen made my daughters cry

As the father of two young girls, I am fully immersed in the world of Disney princesses. Go ahead. Test me. I know them all, from the classics like Snow White and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty to the uninitiated) to the modern heroines like Mulan and Merida. The latest to join the sorority are Elsa and Anna from Frozen, which we went to see today. I admit, I rather enjoyed it, except for the music which was annoyingly modern and not at all in keeping with the ambience of the film. However, my daughters, especially the younger, were not pleased. [Minor spoilers ahead] The usual themes of betrayal, estrangement, and tragically premature parental demise that we've come to expect from Disney animated features were present in full measure. There were sequences that were very intense and probably not appropriate for younger children. My two daughters are very close and the forced estrangement of the two princesses was particularly unsettling for them. The happy reunion at the end did little to alleviate their anxiety. Just a word of caution if you have sensitive children (especially girls).

One more thing, what's up with the new naming trend of one-word adjectives for Disney princess movies? First there was Rapunzel in Tangled, then Merida in Brave and now Anna/Elsa in Frozen. I think we could retroactively rename older pictures similarly. How about Snow White in Gullible or Cinderella in Oppressed?


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Way of the Wicked 9

This was a very productive evening where  we got through many more encounters than I expected. After the frustration expressed by some about the last session I left most of this sessions encounters as written, although ironically the one I modified turned out to be probably the easiest.

The former contributor to this blog Derrobane brought his new PC all done up beautifully on a fancy character sheet. It was thick paper, with pictures and it was all laminated. The other guys teased him and said he jinxed himself which turned out to be true.

A few days passed this the last adventuring party hit but no messages were arriving from Farholde. Leaving the necromancer cleric in charge of the ritual, the party set out to see what was going on. Farholde seemed quite and both the Antipaladin's minions and the White Raven's claimed to have sent messages. On the way back the party disguised themselves as messengers. The last in the line was Derrobane's new cleric.

Charging out of the bushes came a massive tiger which then pounced on the guy in the back. The horse went down, Derrobane's PC went down and the dire tiger ripped into her (female PC). She was severely injured but still alive when someone at the table pointed out I'd forgotten to roll the rake attacks.

Yes, I had "forgotten" to roll the rake attacks but since you've reminded me...

And that was the end of Derrobane's brand new Cleric on the fancy character sheet. Killed on the surprise round of the first combat encounter. The tiger tried to haul his new kill away from the rest of the party but they were having none of it and attacked the beast. The beast went down in a snarl or bloody and charred fur. The brand new warrior who had just shown up (replacement PC) tracked the tiger back to its lair and found what little remained of the tigers previous meals including a number of messengers and Boggards.

Messages began flowing from town again including word that a silver dragon had been spotted flying over the town. Defenses were prepared but the dragon was a no show. Word did come back about an Inquisitor being in town. Defenses were hastily prepared at the Horn and the Inquisitors party was spotted approaching. They vanished and were found the next deep in Level 3. A surprise assault was readied and the villains caught the Inquisitor's party unawares and took them down quickly. The cleric with the Inquisitor's party was knocked unconscious since a follower of Mitra was required for the sacrifice at the midway point of the ritual.

The next week after the sacrifice a boggard with limited knowledge of the common tongue came and asked for assistance against something that was eating the tribe. It turned out to be another plant monster which was killed with minimal trouble although much hatred of plant monsters was expressed (at least it wasn't a swarm).

The final challenge of the evening came in the form of yet another adventuring party. This one was somewhat woodsy and did their best to get the villains to come outside. The battle began and the villainous Bloodrager traded blows with the dwarven barbarian, an archer fight occurred between the evil cleric and the goody ranger. The sorcerer charmed the halfling fighter and asked him to go pick some flowers and then Held the  evil wizard. A bird landed in the middle of the battle and shape changed into an Allosaurus (druid). It moved over to finish off the wizard.

Things did turn in the villain's favor. The Bloodrager disengaged from the barbarian and murdered the gnomish sorcerer. The wizard broke free from the Hold Person spell but still had an Allosaurus towering over him. The evil elven cleric tried to rescue the wizard but the wizard was trapped over by the cave mouth away from his companions. The druid ate the wizard but elsewhere things were not going well for the good guys. The barbarian was finished off by the Bloodrager, the cleric shot down the ranger as she tried to flee and then the druid was killed. The villains stood victorious but for the loss of their wizard companion.

Going through the loot they found a journal written by the gnome. It seems that the White Ravens gave this adventuring party as much recon as they could in the hope of them defeating the 9th Knot.  Now, the villains are pretty pissed about this betrayal and are planning vengeance on the White Ravens. What will they do? Come back next time to find out.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pathfinder: Prestige Classes

In D&D 3.5 Prestige classes were great. Maybe a little too great. There certainly a bazillion of them. It was a different design philosophy. Base classes tended to front load abilities and Prestige classes tended to be stronger than base classes so it made no sense not to multiclass into a Prestige Class. Some of the results made no logical sense (story-wise) but from a power-gaming point of view they were the only way to go.

Pathfinder changed things up a bit. The base classes were improved, giving players a reason to stick with the class over all 20 levels. Archetypes were introduced for more variety, but Prestige classes were not really changed. They certainly were not improved and in many cases they were made worse.

Looking back at all of the PCs I've seen since we started playing Pathfinder, there have not been too many Prestige classes in use. A little bit of base class dipping here and there but I would say in general people are sticking to one class. Prestige class usage is quite rare.

Let's take a closer look at the Prestige Classes (PrC) in the Core Rule Book and see why.

Arcane Archer: This PrC did get buffed a bit and had its racial restrictions removed. Its actually not bad. Its great for an archer that wants to dabble a bit in magic. Most of it abilities are mutually exclusive and not terribly useful. It is a cheap way to get Fire or Holy on your arrows and get a few spells while keeping full BaB.

Arcane Trickster: This one looks awesome until you actually play it. You can sneak attack with spells! That sounds awesome until you realize that your BaB is so terrible touch attacks are your only option if you want to hit anything. Then we have the problem of doing ranged sneak attacks. The easiest way to do sneak attacks is with a flanking buddy which won't help you since spells don't threaten. Luckily at some point you should get Greater Invisibility which is great but you are getting it quite a bit later than a straight wizard would. Then you realize that sneak attack really isn't that much damage anyway if you are only doing it once per round. You quickly realize you are probably better off to play a wizard if you want to be anything other than super sneaky and a Rogue or one of its better variants if you do.

Assassin: why is this even in the Core Rule Book? It is a NPC class. Most of its abilities are of little use to your typical PC. It pains me to type this but even the Rogue is better than this garbage. Assassin is a cool class name though.

Dragon Disciple: I always see lots of interest in this PrC but I can't figure out why. It looks great with lots of attribute boosters but then you actually try and build one and you quickly realize that it is a little bit of everything that adds up to nothing. The entry requirements scream Sorcerer but this PRC loses a lot of spell casting ability but doesn't become good in combat. So its just a crappy fighter and a crappy caster. Seems like a strong path to me (/sarc). There may be some class combination that works with this but I haven't found it yet.

Duelist: This is another PrC that was upgraded from 3.5 and is actually decent but very niche. This class allows for unarmored fighters to have great AC and ok damage. It still suffers from terrible Saving throws. You are probably better using base classes to fill this concept. We'll see how the new Swashbuckler class turns out.

Eldritch Knight: The biggest problem with this Prestige class is getting into it. For a few levels you will be a crappy fighter and crappy caster. At very high levels the EK is probably a stronger class than the Magus but you will pull your hair out to get there. Unless it is a high level replacement PC, Magus is usually a better way to go.

Loremaster: The wizard doesn't really get much after level 10 so the temptation is high to leave the class. The Loremaster's prerequisites are probably things you will have anyway so that's not a problem. The biggest weakness of this PrC is that it is pretty weak. Since it keeps full casting I can see why they could not give out any big treats but as it is, why bother taking it?

Mystic Theurg: This is another PrC that looked so awesome when I first started playing. What can be wrong with having both wizard and cleric spells? Well it turns out that there is quite a bit wrong. Lower caster levels, lower level spells, low DCs on your spells. You basically end up with a ton of low level spells. If you want to be a poor healer and a decent buffer than this class is ok but it is a long way from great cosmic power like most full caster classes are. Play a Bard instead.

Pathfinder Chronicler: NPC class. Seriously, what is this? If you are in a campaign that has little to no combat then this class is ok otherwise avoid it.

Shadowdancer: This PrC grants great utility to a sneaky character but its not worth more then a 1 or 2 level dip - 4 at most. The ugly prerequisites limit its use even more. If this PrC was rebuilt as a full base class I could see it being quite useful and popular, now it is just a dip for HiPS.

Other PrC's that deserve mention:
Red Mantis Assassin: Love the imagery of this PrC but i haven't found a good way to build out a PC that uses this Prestige class. I find Ranger works best but RMA casts off Int and the Ranger uses Wis. Maybe the slayer will work well with this? However you roll it, this PrC has serious MAD issues.

Horizon Walker: In the right circumstances (you know you are only going to be playing in one or two environments), this prestige class is immensely powerful. Use Rogue talents to stack up a ton of Favored terrain bonuses and then go to town when you get Terrain Dominance and all creatures native to that terrain become your favored enemies. For an Urban campaign it would not be too hard to get a +10 bonus to hit and damage by level 10 to everything that lives there.

Rage Prophet: These Gish PrC's just don't work. They just dilute the original classes and end up being underwhelming. If you want to cast and smash, go play the new BloodRager instead. They are awesome. Otherwise, stick with either Barbarian or Oracle.

If anyone can point me to a great build that uses any of the PrCs I would be grateful. I like the flavor of many of them but I just can't get them to work in my lab. There are just better ways to do the same thing. To get into many of these PrCs you have to gimp your character for a few levels as you stretch to meet the prerequisites. Often the cool stuff the PrC grants takes a few levels to kick in so there are several levels which can translate into months where you can be unhappy with your PC.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Paizo Advanced Class Guide: Second Impressions

So earlier this week they released v2 of the new base classes that will be found in the Advanced Class Guide. Here are my thoughts:

Arcanist: It is still a full arcane caster so its going to be insanely powerful. The new arcane exploit mechanic is a fun tool to play with and there are some interesting ideas there. I like the idea of counter-spelling but never actually find a use for it in game. Hard to say "no" to boosted caster level and save DCs as well. 

Bloodrager: Only minor tweaks here. Some of the bloodlines are still way better than others. This one just needs a bit of polishing.

Brawler: Lots of people seem to like this class but its just not for me. It seems to do what its meant to do ok but its just not a concept I care for.

Hunter: I like the tweaks to this class. The Hunter can now buff his pet and himself. I just feel this class is still weaker than its two parents - the ranger and druid.

Investigator: Ugh. Super nerf. The new Studied Combat/Strike mechanic is great conceptually but is piss poor in execution. It has way too many limitations. You need an 18 int for it to do anything, duration is ok but it ends as soon as you make a single Studied Strike (which does less than a sneak attack would). AND you can't use it against the same opponent for another 24 hours.As a skill monkey this class is still great with its variety of skills, inspirations, and extracts. It just sucks even worse in combat than before. The crappiness that is the Rogue class is dragging it down.

Shaman: Now with Druid casting with some sweet Cleric spells thrown in. This is a class with some awesome potential. Not a great healer however.

Skald: They made it more martial oriented with more weapon proficiencies and medium armor casting but I'm still not sure I like it. The Rage song is much better now but this class still doesn't appeal to me. There are better ways to make a Gish. 

Slayer: Last version was way better than a Rogue but still worse than a ranger. The gap between ranger and Slayer has closed and the slayer is now the ultimate combat rogue since it gained more skills, access to ranger combat styles, trapfinding and poison use through Slayer Talents (which are improved). The ranger's spells give it more flexibility and but these too are pretty close in terms is goodness now.

Swashbuckler: I still have mixed feelings here. I strongly disagree with the design team not giving this class dex to damage. Precision damage is lame even it the bonus is higher since it doesn't work against all creatures and isn't multiplied on a crit. The Swashbuckler has rogue saves (terrible) but lots of neat tricks. I'm still hoping they change their mind on Dex to damage but with more polishing this class will be decent. Seems to be ok defensively (especially with Crane Style) but has only moderate damage capabilties.

Warpriest: A few small changes have made this class much better. Ferver is a cool new mechanic but this class still suffers from MAD. I haven't played around this the revised class to much but it seems pretty good now.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Way of the Wicked 8

This game session got a bit controversial. The PCs were now level 8 and started off at the Baron's 105th birthday party. They picked up some gossip, ran a few errands around town but over all the visit rather rather uneventful.

Things got exciting quickly as a few days after the bash a party of adventurers showed up unannounced at the Tower.  With both the Anti-paladin's newly expanded evil organization working in town as well as the White Ravens watching, what happened to the party's intel?

This adventuring party was  pretty badass. They were basically level 8 versions of a bunch of characters I'd been working on and this session gave me an opportunity to try them out. They were a veteran group of adventurers that were used to working together and I had a few strategies all worked that would prevent them from getting blown away by round 3 which has been the norm up until now.

The party scouted using a very specialized eidolon while everyone else stayed back. This allowed them to dodge most of the traps and evade the first ambush the villains laid for them. While the party was massacring the boggard tribe, the villains decided to strike. They disguised themselves as boggards and attacked.

It took a couple rounds for the NPC party to realize that these were a different class of boggards and to start actually trying. The summoner and Mindchemist stopped standing on watch and all came together to try and buff up. By this point however things were not looking so great. The villainous Bloodrager and Antipaladin had already engaged and the Barbarian and Monk were already severely injured. A Fog Cloud spell was thrown up to provide cover from ranged attacks but then the villains dropped a few AE spells on the cloud hoping to hit the invading party.

The battle continued to rage inside the cloud but those outside quickly got bored after they'd used up their Area Effect attacks. The Cleric, Wizard, and Rogue didn't want to wander into the cloud to avoid the risk of running into the heavy hitters. After a few rounds the the BloodRager and AntiPaladin were dropped and only the Monk and the Summoner were left standing on the invader's side.

The summoner made a run for it while the Monk tried to get revenge. The wizard ended the summoner's run for freedom with a Blindness spell while the monk slew the Cleric and Rogue. The wizard was able to drop the monk with Magic Missiles one round before he himself would have been skewered.

In the end only the Wizard and Antipaladin lived (The Antipaladin had been rendered unconscious but not killed). The dice were very swingy all evening and really effected the flow of things. The cloud rendered all non area-effect spells and the rogue useless although it didn't seem to hurt melee attacks as no one rolled the 20% miss chance the entire night. There were lots of made saving throws but the MindChemist kept missing hers and she died before she was able to make any offensive moves. The Antipaladin made a great move in disarming the monk. She was still a beast but not nearly so scary when she's not sporting a x4 crit weapon. The Minotaur skeleton proved to be rather useless, and the cleric was limited by line of sight issues. The wizard had similar troubles since he specializes in ray spells. The Rogue could lay down some decent smackdown in the right circumstances but between the cloud and a bad call on my part on how stealth works, he wasn't as effective as he should have been. The bloodrager was fearsome as usual but needs some more defenses (you can cast Mirror Image!). Trading blows with a barbarian is fine until his buddy a Battle Oracle starts to join in.

So the difficulty level for the night was turned up to 11. Aside from my bad call on stealth I'm not apologizing but at the same timer the difficulty level will return to normal. I kill enough PCs on default.

So a quick analysis of my NPCs:

Monk (Sohei): Was surprisingly effective. I forgot she can always act in surprise rounds but the Rogue probably would have beaten her initiative anyway. Crane style is awesome although holding your two handed weapon with only one hand means you can only make AoO with your unarmed strikes. An awkward set-up and if I were to play this PC I would probably switch to something less cumbersome like a temple sword. She had the best gear of the invaders but even then it was well under what PCs get.

Oracle (Battle): This guy could hit almost as hard as the Barbarian and only slightly harder than the monk.  His spells really didn't come into play as he spent most of the fight engaged with either the Minotaur or the Bloodrager in melee combat. He really needed to buff to be super effective and in this battle never got the opportunity.

Barabrian (Invulnerable Rager): This build was all about offense and DR. Had he been buffed by the Mindchemist as I had planned he would have been an unstoppable force with ridiculous hit points, and crazy damage. As is, he was merely nasty.

Summoner: This was definitely a support character which I added in last to fill some of the party deficiencies. It mainly focused on a non combat eidolon (the table erupted in calls of fear of "Oh god, no. Not Frosty!" when they found out there was an eidolon present - Frosty was my eidolon in Kingmaker). The summoner was not very effective in combat being built around buffs and spent most of the battle using UMD to keep the Monk alive. The eidolon annoyed the wizard a bit but otherwise skulked around the battle unseen doing nothing.

Alchemist (Mindchemist): She was going to use Infusion to pass her extracts to other party members, then use force bombs to knock down the villains or use entanglement bombs to glue people to the floor or bring down flyers. She was meant to stay in the back but got stabbed once and nuked a few times and died before she could do much. I'm not sure if my concept was flawed, I played her poorly, or if she was just unlucky.

So anyway the ritual has passed the 1/4 mark. The villains still have time to gather what they need to complete the midway ritual (a devout follower of Mitra) and the final ritual (a descendant of the Victor).

Friday, December 06, 2013

Banned! And I Complain about the Rogue class

There is currently a thread on the Paizo boards that made me both sad and rather annoyed - to the point I stopped reading it. There are a lot of people out there that I'm glad I don't have to game with. They don't like something so they ban it from all of their games. It isn't necessarily over powered or "broken" or imbalanced or bad flavor. They just don't like it so its banned. These people come across to me as being narrow minded which is a big reason why I have not posted on that thread but rather making a post here.

I play with a pretty open minded group of people. Nothing is banned! Now we do tend to rotate DMs so maybe this helps as well. With that being said  there are some limitations we try to stick to whether they are written or unwritten.

Alignments: This tends to be pretty relaxed in most games but most APs have a certain flavor too them and it doesn't work as well playing evil in a heroic campaign or playing good in an evil one.

3rd party material: The general rule here seems to be let me look it over first and then go for it. It it becomes disruptive you may have to change it. In fact this general rule seems to apply to most things.

Classes: People can play what they want. No one has tried a gunslinger yet but I think that has more to do with lack of interest than anything else.

Flow of the game: Early levels this isn't an issue but after a while combat turns take forever and it can be over 30 minutes between turns. With this in mind we have a gentlemen's agreement in place that tries to keep things moving as fast as possible. Pet classes are frowned upon, summoning multiple creatures is a no-no, wide area long duration spells that involve checks each turn like black tentacles are best avoided. In boss fights it tends to be anything goes, but if someone is summoning 10 creatures every time a bunch of goblins show up they are going to get a lot of dirty looks from the other players. Leadership is usually not a valid option.

Flavor: This is probably the loosest restriction. The DM usually has some idea about how the PCs are going to fit into the campaign and it is is supposed to be very elf-centric and the party are a bunch of random obscure races, its probably not going to work so well. On the same note lots of DMs like to keep the Asian flavor out of Western fantasy (no Ninjas!, although why you can't just call the class something different is beyond me). The monk class is already a bit of an oddball here.

So that's it. I like a nice wide open game with few restrictions. I don't like heavy handed DMs who ban stuff just because they don't like it. If there is an agreement that something has become disruptive then I'm OK with that. Disruption usually comes into play when several factors come together. The Witch class can be OP in a very humanoid-centric campaign but is pretty much useless in an undead-centric campaign. The Witch class should not always be banned just because it is very strong against certain classes of enemies.

A final thing that pisses me off is people that ban classes or archetypes because they are better than another class. "I ban the Vivisectionist archetype for the Alchemist because its is better at sneak attacking than a Rogue". Dude, I hate to break it to you but the Rogue class sucks. Banning something because another class is better is going to get everything but the monk, rogue and fighter banned. And for that matter most of the monk archetypes will be banned because almost all are stronger than the base class.

I'm getting off topic here but I don't see why people are so hung up on class names. "I love being a Rogue". Why? They have terrible saves, sneak attack doesn't work most of the time, they can't hit in melee, they can't do damage at range. Let's see: they have lots of skills, have a cool class name, and trap finding. Why not just take another decent class/archetype that actually does everything a rogue can do but better and call it a Rogue? Archaeologist bard, Trapper ranger, or Crypt breaker alchemist are all very roguish but have a lot more options available to them. Play one of them and call it a Rogue.

Maybe its just me, but why be mediocre in a heroic game? Why do you want to be good at just sneaking and disabling traps, when you can be good at sneaking and disabling traps as well be able to buff the party, throw bombs, and have decent defenses? I just don't know.

Don't give me any BS about role-playing either as the mechanics of your character have a limited at best connection to how you role play them.

And I did spend a campaign playing a Rogue. Even being over the WBL guideline I still was over shadowed in combat by the martial characters and didn't shine especially bright in any other areas of the game.  I optimized like mad to make him an effective combatant and in the end realized that it wasn't worth the trouble. Other roguish classes can have the same flavor and be twice as effective with half the effort. So yes, I've tried to make an awesome rogue. Unless you are playing a very restricted type campaign where everyone is playing a rogue, I can't see any reason to play one.