Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pathfinder Second Edition

I was initially a bit disappointed to hear of the second edition. But after some though I realized that Pathfinder 1 has some issues and maybe a new version could fix them up. After all In some ways Starfinder has made improvements over Pathfinder so it would just be a matter of finding the sweat spot between the two.

If you had asked me a  month ago what I didn't like about Pathfinder my list would look something like this:

1. Christmas Tree Effect: Most classes need magic items to be effective. This is especially notable in that usually these items are usually the same for everybody. Cloak of resistance, Belt of physical stats, Headband of mental stats, ring of protection, amulet of natural armor and apparently a 6th item I'm forgetting.

2. After level 10 you are pretty much guaranteed success or failure. Pathfinder rewards specialization so you are either so good at a task you don't fail or the DC is so high you'd never bother to attempt it.

There are a few more but these are the big ones.

Starfinder does a pretty good job tackling my first issue. Stat booster items are rare and strictly limited. Most magic or tech items give you an ability you didn't have before and might let you do something cool like fly temporarily, or get a breath weapon. Power level of these items seems appropriate. Stat items are not needed because of the healthy increases every 5 levels.

Pathfinder 2E takes this limiting to a whole new level by introducing resonance. Each magical item usage costs resonance points on a per use or daily basis. I'm not really sure what problem this is trying to solve. CLW wands allow parties without a healer to function in 1E. Starfinder takes care of this issue with the Stamina/Rest system. 2E just nerfs healing altogether. Unless you have a cleric that wants to only use healing spells get used to having a short adventuring day.  It seems like really poor game design to me and huge step backwards from everything they've done before. Not everyone should need a healbot in their party. It sucks when that healbot is you.

After seeing 2E's solution to point 2, I'm not so sure if it's a problem worth solving. In 2E optimizing really doesn't seem possible with the Beta rules. Your rates of success are always relatively fixed. There's really no sense of progression. You hit 50% of the time at level 1 and 50% of the time at level 20. The flip side of this is that even things you've never invested in at all you still have a 30% success rate.

For me part of the fun of 1E was coming up with a character concept and then digging through the myriad of splat books trying to find the right combination of options and bonuses to make it work. In 2E you can't do this. The classes are all very rigid and any sort of bonus is very rare and often limited to obscure situations.

A lot of the class options seem to fall into this area. You get a +1 bonus when performing this rarely used skill on the third full moon of the year.I think over all the power level of 2E is much lower than 1E. Most class options felt under powered, rarely useful, or just bland and boring.

And why is everything a Feat?

Goblins as a player race? Really? Goblins, that eat dogs and children. Goblins that think written words are evil. How do they get a +2 to charisma? They are stupid little anarchist devils.

It's not all bad. I like the new action system. Bards, rogues and fighters all seem pretty good. The cleric seems like the strongest overall (probably to entice people to actually want to play a healer). The ranger options and weak and limited. Why anyone would play one is beyond me. So far they are this edition's Rogue. Paladin is pretty bad too. Alchemist is unplayable until they fix resonance. I haven't really looked at the druid. Barbarian seems ok but many of its options fall into the useless/corner case/boring categories. And Superstition, wtf were they thinking there? Being unable to use magic in exchange for a tiny bonus? The same applied in 1E but only when raging and the bonuses were good enough to make it worth the risk. This is just a terrible waste of page space.

Sadly that's what a lot of the options seem to be to me. A waste of page space. I seriously wonder if you took a level 10 character with no class feats (/ugh, shiver) and compared them to level 10 character with class feats and see the difference in performance. I think it would be very small.

Starfinder has straightjacket classes as well but at least the options are varied, useful and interesting. When you look at all of the available options and don't like any of them, the game has a serious problem.

For Paizo's sake I hope they turn things around. They've done good things in the past so I have some faith that they'll turn things around. But from looking at the the design choices so far it looks like they are trying to build a game I have no interest in playing. Which isn't so bad. I still have lots of unused character ideas for 1E and as more things get added to Starfinder hopefully I'll find that system as enjoyable as some people in my gaming group already do.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Starfinder: Creature Creation

For the last couple of days, I have been playing around with the creature creation rules in the appendices of the Alien Archive book. I decided to have a go at recreating a babau demon for Starfinder. The first step is to select an array. You may choose a combatant, expert or spellcaster array. Since the babau is described as an assassin demon, I chose the expert array since it would require a fair number of skills. The babau is a CR 6 monster in Pathfinder, so that is what I used to acquire EAC, KAC, HP, save modifiers, skill modifiers, ability modifiers and number of special abilities from the array. This results in somewhat lower ability modifiers than the Pathfinder babau and an oddly high Will save, but otherwise reasonable results. We have the option to switch save modifiers to better match the creature concept, so I switch Fort and Will.

Next steps are creature type and subtype grafts, in this case, outsider and demon. The former provides darkvision and some save and attack bonuses, while the latter provides certain immunities, energy resistances and the ability to summon allies. Skipping over class and template grafts, we get to the assignment of special abilities and promptly crash into a brick wall. The Pathfinder babau has a number of abilities not covered under its grafts, including spell resistance, damage reduction, spell-like abilities, natural weapons, multiattack, feats and its unique protective slime ability. However, a CR 6 monster only gets two special abilities according to the array. I believe there is some sort of error here, since there are plenty of monsters in the Alien Archive with far more special abilities than are indicated in the arrays. So, I decide to drop the multiattack, since the babau prefers to use melee weapons anyway. I also drop the feats and spell-like abilities (except summon which is granted by the demon graft). I keep the SR, DR and protective slime ability from the Pathfinder stat block.

Demon, Babau  CR 6
XP 2,400
CE Medium outsider (demon)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60ft.; Perception +13

Defense  HP 80
EAC 18; KAC 19
Fort +11, Ref +5, Will +5
DR 10/cold iron or good; Immunities electricity, poison;
Resistances fire 10, cold 10, acid 10; SR 17

Speed 30 ft.
Melee spear +15 (1d6+11 P) or claw +15 (1d4+11 S)
Spell-Like Abilities [CL 6th]
1/day - summon allies (1 babau 35%)

Str +5; Dex +1; Con +3; Int +0; Wis +0; Cha +2
Skills Stealth +18, Acrobatics +18, Athletics +18,
Sense Motive +13
Languages Abyssal, Celestial, Draconic, telepathy (100 ft.)
Gear cold iron tactical spear with durable fusion

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair or gang (3-6)

Special Abilities
Protective Slime (Su) A layer of protective slime protects a babau's skin. Any creature that strikes a babau with a natural attack or unarmed strike takes 1d8 points of acid damage from this slime if it fails a DC 18 Reflex save.

Overall, it seems to be a reasonable build. The protective slime ability loses some of its effectiveness because the hardness of advanced materials used in Starfinder is too high to be damaged by the acid. Also, the loss of many of the spell-like abilities did nerf the creature a bit. I might be inclined to give some of those back. One weird observation I did make, the choice of how to assign the ability modifiers seems to have very little effect. The save and skill modifiers are set independent of the ability modifiers that apply to them. Only the damage bonus to melee attacks and initiative modifier change depending on ability modifier assignment. It certainly speeds things up, but is somewhat counterintuitive and makes the assignment of ability scores rather pointless.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Starfinder: Earth and the Cthulhu Mythos

As we prepare to start our first Starfinder campaign in a few weeks, I have been thinking more about the Starfinder setting. There are a lot of pretty cool things in there and I will talk about a few of my favourites in later posts. Right now though, I am going to discuss the planet Earth and its place in the Starfinder universe. We know that Earth exists in the Pathfinder universe. There are at least two APs I am aware of in which characters either travel to Earth directly or encounter evidence that ties to Earth. The version of Earth described in these examples is not necessarily our own, but it is certainly a reasonable facsimile with historical figures, places and events in common with our world.

This relationship becomes more interesting when you consider that the Cthulhu Mythos is very real thing in the Pathfinder/Starfinder universe. This implies that the authors of the Mythos; H.P. Lovecraft mainly, but also August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Ramsay Campbell and others, exist in the universe and that, rather than being fiction writers, they are actually seers and oracles. Their writings are not merely pulp stories, but are, in actuality, prophecies. So consider for a moment, the number of Great Old Ones who slumber in the dark recesses of our world. Cthulhu sleeps in the city of R’lyeh, somewhere in the depths of the South Pacific. Tsathoggua languishes deep under the American plains in the lightless cavern of N’kai. Ithaqua stalks the Arctic wastes and Gla’aki watches from a murky lake in the Severn valley of Gloucestershire. Still others, Atlach-Nacha, Zoth-Ommog, Y’golonac, Einhort, Cthylla and Ghatanothoa may be found hidden away in forgotten tombs underground or deep below the waves. Most of the Great Old Ones on Earth came from elsewhere and many are imprisoned by the Elder Gods, awaiting a time when “the stars are right” to escape their incarceration.

Now, consider that the period of “present-day” Golarion corresponds to the time when WWI is being fought on Pathfinder Earth. I won’t spoil where this information comes from, but suffice to say, a little research into Pathfinder APs will reveal it easily enough. This would also be the time that Lovecraft began his writing career. At this point, we come to “the Gap”, the millennia-long period of lost memory that even the gods won’t discuss. All we know is that some time during that period, Golarion disappeared, to be replaced by Absalom station. We do not know when this period began in the time reckoning of old Golarion, but it is intriguing to consider that a connection between the Gap and some cataclysmic event leading to the escape of so many Great Old Ones, as foreseen by the great oracle of Providence. It should be noted that Nyarlathotep is now a core deity in the Starfinder universe. What role did the Crawling Chaos play in the events obscured by the Gap to earn such a prominent place in the new order?


Monday, February 19, 2018

BLS in Calgary

Last Saturday night was a big night for metal in Calgary, with Sabaton returning to The Palace and Black Label Society playing at the University of Calgary. I already had a ticket for BLS before I was aware Sabaton would be in town, but I saw Joakim and the boys from Falun last year, so I was happy with my choice. BLS had Eyehategod and freakin' Corrosion of Conformity opening for them. I would've paid to see CoC as a headliner. Sadly, I missed pretty much all of Eyehategod's set waiting in line to get through security. That's what you have to put up with when you take in a show at the U. Nonetheless, the rest of the show was amazing.

Fronted by the immortal Pepper Keenan, CoC played a solid set that leaned heavily on their classic albums from the 90s. I especially enjoyed Vote with a Bullet, Albatross and Who's Got the Fire. Now I'm really hoping for that on-again, off-again Down reunion.

Then it was time for Black Label Society, with frontman and guitar god, Zakk Wylde.

Zakk Wylde is an absolute madman, pounding his chest and his guitar in equal measure. BLS played for over two hours with many songs bleeding into one another such that at times you weren't sure what they were playing. The set combined songs from their new album Grimmest Hits with an excellent selection of older stuff, especially from the albums 1919 Eternal, The Blessed Hellride and Mafia. It was at times poignant, such as the performance of In this River in tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell. Other times, it was sheer madness, especially when Zakk went on a ten minute guitar solo playing Fire It Up while walking through the crowd with a train of roadies following behind him carrying his audio cable aloft. The virtuosity of this man cannot be overstated. He is arguably the greatest heavy metal guitarist in the world today. Great show and one more thing off my bucket list!


Monday, December 25, 2017

My favourite things of 2017

Let's face it, 2017 has not been a great year. Our friends to the south seem to be going through a bit of a rough patch right now and nerves are frayed everywhere. Still, it's not all bad and in this little corner of the internet, we like to concentrate on the positives. In that spirit, I am going to highlight my favourite movie, music and game releases of the year.

I saw quite a few movies this year. Some were very good (Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049). Some were enjoyable, but flawed (Justice League, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kong: Skull Island). Some were immediately forgettable (The Dark Tower). But for me, the best movie of the year was...(drumroll please)...Logan. Man, did this movie speak to me. Having recently entered my second half century, I could feel every ache and pain Logan endured in his daily life. I don't have an adamantium claw that keeps getting stuck, but my knees are shot and I have an old shoulder injury that hasn't stopped hurting in five years. The struggle of dealing with an increasingly demented Charles Xavier and an uncommunicative "daughter" resonated with own life navigating fatherhood and aging parents. Logan was gut-wrenching, but I was feeling every minute of it. A superhero movie for Generation X.

It wasn't a great year in music, although seeing Sabaton in concert was certainly the highlight for me. As far as new releases go, I am going to divide up my picks into three categories, both because they cover the three kinds of music I love most; rock, metal and country, but also because the three best albums of the year fit this categorization. In the rock category, you have to look at newcomers, Greta Van Fleet. This foursome made up of the brothers Kiszka (Josh, Sam and Jake) and drummer Danny Wagner are the reincarnation of Led Zeppelin. I'm not kidding, these guys really sound like Zeppelin. Listen to Highway Tune or Safari Song from their 2017 double EP From the Fires and you'll swear you were listening to some unreleased Led Zeppelin B-side from the 70s.

In the metal category, wow, 2016 was awesome, huh? Metallica came back with a vengeance. And speaking of vengeance, Avenged Sevenfold had a pretty awesome album drop too.  Wait...oh right, this is 2017. Hmmm, Mastodon had a new album out that some people liked I guess. Kind of slim pickings this year. For me, I will go back to that Sabaton tour and a little known band from Finland called Battle Beast that opened along with Leaves' Eyes and damn near upstaged the headliners. My metal album of the year is Bringer of Pain by Battle Beast.

As for country, it was Chris Stapleton all the way. Following up his 2015 chart-topping debut Traveller, Stapleton released two albums in 2017; From A Room: Volume 1 and From A Room: Volume 2. It is from this second 2017 release that I select my 2017 Song of the Year: Scarecrow in the Garden, a haunting ballad sung by a farmer in West Virginia lamenting the state of the land today compared to when his father and grandfather worked it, and his fear that the biblical End Times may be coming soon.

We've all been waiting for this one and really, is there any doubt? The game release of 2017 is, of course, the Starfinder Core Rulebook. Not only is this the biggest new release by Paizo since the original publication of Pathfinder, but it has also been a source of much speculation regarding a future new edition of the game. Could the game mechanics of Starfinder serve as a template for some future Pathfinder 2.0? Now that would be cool!

May we all have a safe and prosperous 2018.


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.