Kickstarter: RPG Tees

Some people like to keep their geekery on the down-low. Others wear it on their sleeves... or the front of their tees. If you happen to be in the latter group, Tom and Catherine Thrush may have just the shirt for you. Check this out...

Random side note... if you like drow as much as I do, you might like this shirt.

Situational Modifiers for Intimidate

A few times in the last few weeks, I have not followed the rules for the intimidate skill as strictly as the rules as written would suggest. Of the social skills in the Pathfinder game, I think it is the worst as far as its execution. Both bluff and diplomacy have modifiers based on the context of the conversation. Telling a far-fetched lie, for example, is much more difficult than telling one that is believable. Intimidate, on the other hand, only factors in hit dice and wisdom modifier (and sometimes size) no matter the circumstances. Personally, I think that's ridiculous. Here's a set of modifiers for the intimidate skill that I'll be using in my campaign...

You and What Army?
When you try to intimidate someone, numbers matter. Allies can make an "aid another" roll to increase the chance of intimidating, so in some groups it isn't that difficult to rack up an extra +6 to +8 just because your buddies are standing around. But what about the target's allies? Shouldn't they similarly be able to bolster their buddy's confidence? Instead of making dozens of rolls, this simple modification to the intimidate rule should represent this effect without having to make any additional dice rolls:
DC = 10 + HD + Wisdom modifier +1 per ally in sight that could help prevent the threat
This makes it much tougher to intimidate the leaders of large groups. Whether it's because they actually don't feel threatened or because they just can't show it in front of their followers, leaders are much less likely to respond well to threats, especially when they are being observed by those who look up to them.

Size Matters
Even though this is already written into the skill, I think it's a little too simplistic. The difference is always plus or minus four regardless of size difference. Apparently, a colossal creature is just as easy for a human to intimidate as a large creature as long as they have the same number of hit dice. We already have a table that represents some numerical differences between size categories. If it applies to attack rolls and armor class, why can't it similarly apply to bluff checks? If the size of the creature using the intimidate skill affects the DC of the check and the size of the target affects the bonus to the roll, we have size-based modifiers that don't require learning a new table.

Yeah, Right
If a paladin threatens to turn you into a toad if you don't obey, you probably shouldn't be too worried about it. If a witch says the same thing, you might want to consider following her directions. How credible the threat seems to the target should play some role in how it responds. Thus, I don't think it's too far fetched to apply the same modifiers for the bluff skill to intimidate DCs. Just take this table and replace the word "lie" with "threat."

Are there other situational modifiers that make sense to add in?

How Much is "By the Book"

Last week, I read the description of an NPC's death straight from the module. It was the first time I had read anything straight from the book in quite some time, and it was noticeable. I probably should have just summarized it from memory instead of disrupting the "flow" of the game. In any case, someone asked later on in the session how long I had been running a published adventure. The answer to that question is complicated. In some ways, we have all along... but not exactly. I have drawn upon ideas from various modules, but there have been very few sessions that have been "by the book." Here's a quick rundown:

  • I started the campaign with a published adventure from Dungeon Magazine, Within the Circle. For the most part, I ran this as written, except I gave Jern more background and made Belig a bugbear.
  • I used the dungeon levels from Beneath the Twisted Tower, but I took out all the gibberling nonsense and stuck to monsters that I actually liked.
  • I used a modified version of the main map from Perils of the Underdark, the second book from the Night Below adventure/campaign. 
  • I borrowed a great deal from Book Three: The Adventure, part of the Menzoberranzan boxed set.
  • Everything else has been drawn from the actions/backgrounds of the PCs, or entirely my own design... or hinting at material from a module that just hasn't come up yet.
Of course, it is rare that I run a module as-is, so even if my players found all of these modules ahead of time, I doubt they would have too much of an advantage. Most of them are from 2nd edition so I have had to update the stats to Pathfinder, but that's not where my customization stops. These are some of the changes I make on a regular basis:
  • At times, I found it easier to switch a monster to something else entirely rather than update the stats to Pathfinder.
  • I like using miniatures, and I will often switch a monster if I don't have a mini to represent it well.
  • I create my own battle maps using a combination of Dungeon Tiles and Pathfinder Map Packs. Occasionally, I use one of the larger flip mats. Regardless of what I use for a particular encounter, they almost never match the maps in the module.
  • Pretty much anytime I see a monster with an underpowered feat (Deceitful, for example), I swap it for something that helps keep them alive longer in combat... especially since we have a certain dwarf barbarian that likes to charge everything.
  • I typically go into optimization mode with "boss" monsters and redo them entirely. When I run the big baddies straight from the book, I am usually disappointed in how challenging they are to the players.
  • I've been dropping some clues about a major villain whose plans are in the works, but I'm pretty sure I've been vague enough that none of my players have put all the pieces together thus far. 
And that, I think, should give a little more insight into how much of our campaign has been "by the book."

Underdark Campaign Log #16

We join our heroes this week on their way to Mantol-Derith, employed as caravan guards by the drow merchant Hadrogh Prohl.

More of Jake's artwork here.
  • Blue, Human Fighter (Jake) 
  • Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson) 
  • Mercy, Half-Orc Ranger (Jammie)
  • Temerith, Tiefling Wizard (Andrew)
  • Himo, Drow Fighter/Cleric (James)
  • Rasa, Nagaji Cleric (Rurik's Cohort)
  • Beltin, Aasimar Summoner (Temerith's Cohort)
Not long after their encounter with an illithid and its illithid grafted servants, the group met with a drow noble named Dwillisith Millithor. They traded pack mules for pack lizards, and the noble teleported away. Hadrogh and his guards, including a drow named Himo who had come with Dwillisith, continued onward to Mantol-Derith, while goblin slaves led the pack mules back to the surface.

Six sided dice represented pack lizards. A few d12's
were placed under floating drow nobles as a reminder
that they were above the fray.
They traveled several days through the wilds of the Underdark without disruption, but were then ambushed while traveling through the bottom of a chasm. Four drow warriors assaulted the front of the caravan, while a pair of drow nobles hovered overhead raining spells down on the group. All four drow warriors perished, as did one of the nobles, but the other disappeared into a maze of Underdark tunnels. 

When they finally arrived at Mantol-Derith a few days later, Hadrogh tied up the pack lizards and lied down for a nap. Meanwhile, most of the group scattered about the cavern either to drink or to make contacts among the merchants. Mercy and Himo stayed behind, however, and were there when someone dropped a globe of magical darkness over Hadrogh and everything else in a twenty foot radius. The rest of the group came running when they saw the supernatural darkness, but arrived too late to help. When the darkness faded, they looked down on Hadrogh's lifeless body... a black bladed dagger sticking out of his good eye and his body turned to stone.

Some poking around in Mantol-Derith led to a drow vendor who suggested they travel to Menzoberranzan to get the best price for their goods in the Black Claw Market. However, the group had no interest in traveling to the drow city, so they spent some time selling the goods for what they could get in Mantol-Derith and headed back toward the surface. Before leaving, though, they took the time to take care of a few important details...
  • They cast detect magic on Hadrogh's goods and located a flute hidden inside one of the casks of wine. It had snake symbols carved into it and radiated strong magic. 
  • They chipped the petrified bag of holding off of Hadrogh's statue with the intention of returning it to normal later and retrieving its contents.
Next time we'll see if they can survive the long journey back to the surface... or if they can find an earth node and teleport back to the old dwarf's cabin. 

Khans of Tarkir Spoilers

As excited as I may be about playing Garruk, Apex Predator, we're starting to see spoilers of the set that will be released this fall: Khans of Tarkir.

Here's the basic set info from Wizards:

Set NameKhans of Tarkir
BlockSet 1 of 3 in the Khans of Tarkir block
Number of Cards269
Prerelease EventsSeptember 20-21, 2014
Release DateSeptember 26, 2014
Launch WeekendSeptember 26-28, 2014
Game DayOctober 18-19, 2014
Magic Online Prerelease EventsOctober 3-6, 2014
Magic Online Release DateOctober 6, 2014
Magic Online Release EventsOctober 6-22, 2014
Pro Tour Khans of TarkirOctober 10–12, 2014
Pro Tour Khans of TarkirLocationHonolulu, Hawaii, USA
Pro Tour Khans of TarkirFormatsSwiss:
  • Standard
  • Khans of Tarkir Draft
Top 8:
  • Standard
Official Three-Letter CodeKTK
Twitter Hashtag#MTGKTK
Initial Concept and Game DesignMark Rosewater (lead)
Mark L. Gottlieb
Zac Hill
Adam Lee
Shawn Main
Billy Moreno
and Ken Nagle
Final Game Design and DevelopmentErik Lauer (lead)
Doug Beyer
David Humpherys
Tom LaPille
Shawn Main
and Adam Prosak
with contributions from Matt Tabak
LanguagesEnglish, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Available inBooster Packs, Intro Packs*, Event Deck*, Fat Pack*
(* - Not available in all languages)
Since that info arrived back in May, we've gotten a few more gems of information... but the Comic Con Magic Panel revealed quite a bit yesterday. Here's a summary:

If that isn't enough info for you, check out for the most up-to-date spoilers out there.

Friday Link Dump 7/25/2014

In case you missed the memo, Marvel Comics is giving access to their online archives for just 99 cents. Definitely worth a look, I'd say.

If you've ever taken a Myers-Briggs test and want to know the truth - not just the nice things they say about you to make you feel better about yourself - you should probably check this out. Apparently, I'm similar to a babbling old woman at an inconsequential town hall meeting, but I'm in the same category as Tolkein, so I guess I'm okay with that. RPGPundit pointed me to this one.

Here's an interesting concept: a revised version of the D&D 3.5 system. I know, I know... we already have Pathfinder. Still, could a second look at the same system be that bad? Maybe Trailblazer by Badaxe Games is worth checking out.

Kickstarter: Chronicles of Ramlar RPG

This product is not just a new setting for the Pathfinder RPG... it includes totally new game mechanics for things like experience, character development, and combat. I'm not sure if I want such an overhaul for my personal campaign, but anything this innovative is worth a look for ideas if nothing else.

Check out the Kickstarter here.

Encounter: Kobold Checkpoint (CR 6/8)

For this week's Pathfinder encounter, we have a kobold checkpoint. In this set of encounters, the PCs go through a shakedown, where kobolds demand a tribute (basically a toll) in exchange for safe passage through their tunnel. Unfortunately, these kobolds expect travelers to pay with magic items, which most PCs will not want to let go of!

Check out the encounter here.

Beyond Pathfinder: Minions from 4E

With all the fuss about 4E going away and 5E's release, our little Pathfinder campaign keeps chugging along as it has for months without any major changes. I wonder, though, if it might be worth it to incorporate some rules from other systems, and this series will explore some ideas from other RPGs that I have considered using. We'll start with the idea of minions from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Minions from D&D 4E For the Uninitiated
Minions have all the stats of a typical monster of a given challenge rating except for hit points. They only have one hp, but they only die when you actually hit them (none of that "you still deal damage even if you miss" nonsense will knock down a mighty minion!).

I have to be honest here. As a DM, minions were one of my favorite parts of 4th Edition D&D. If you have twenty orcs in your collection of miniatures, why shouldn't you throw them all on the table at the same time? Am I right? Of course I am! Four minions are the equivalent of a single standard monster, so you can pile a lot of them into a regular encounter.

In my Pathfinder campaign, I still incorporate minions - low level monsters that swarm you and get in the way - but mechanically there are two major issues with them.

  1. They have more than one hit point. That might not sound like a big deal at first, but there are times when a not-so-combat-inclined PC whacks one of them but it survives. Then I have ten identical or nearly identical miniatures on the board with different hp totals. It's tough to keep track of... and honestly, I know I get it wrong sometimes. "Are you sure that's the one you hit two turns ago? They've moved since then..."
  2. Their attack bonuses aren't high enough to matter. This is mitigated somewhat by numbers. If you roll enough dice, some of them will come up 20's. Still, sometimes they seem like more of a hassle to keep up with than they're worth.
The minions mechanic solves both of these problems, taking away the need for the DM to keep up with hit points and making their combat statistics high enough to matter. 

Aside from breaking the norm as far as mechanics go, I don't think this is one that would be disruptive in a typical Pathfinder game. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's one that can be used as-is, and your players might not even know the difference at low levels. At mid to high levels, it will probably get suspicious, as most monsters don't die to just any hit, and when the rogue rolls a "1" for damage on a turn that he doesn't get an sneak attack bonuses, your players will be sure to catch on. 

For parties that are unbalanced or for newer players, the minion mechanic might emphasize the need for controller too much. Without a character in the party that can do damage to more than one opponent per round (area effect spells, iterative attacks, etc), minions can be overpowering in the right situation.

Underdark Campaign Log #15

After a near-catastrophic encounter with a purple worm last session, our heroes found themselves deep in the Underdark with no clear route back to the surface. With few other options, they continued onward.

More of Jake's artwork here.
  • Kjell, Dhampir Inquisitor (Andrew) 
  • Blue, Human Fighter (Jake) 
  • Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson) 
  • Mercy, Half-Orc Ranger (Jammie)
  • Temerith, Tiefling Wizard (Andrew)
  • Rasa, Nagaji Cleric (Rurik's Cohort)
  • Beltin, Aasimar Summoner (Temerith's Cohort)
After resting in a tunnel and being lucky enough not to be stumbled upon by a wandering monster, the group traveled deeper into the Underdark. After a long walk, they happened upon a pile of bodies littered about the floor, and a pair of lizardfolk sitting on a ledge, chatting with one another casually.

The group approached cautiously, but the lizardfolk seemed friendly enough, despite arguing with Rurik after making some derogatory comments about their more savage kin who had passed through earlier. The other characters managed to keep the dwarf barbarian from charging, though, and a battle was avoided.

Just a bit farther down the tunnel, a lone kobold stood in the group's way. It sheepishly asked for tribute, and seemed to think the group would know exactly what he meant by it. It didn't take long to realize that the kobold and its friends behind arrow slits in the walls, wanted a respectable magic item as payment for safe passage.

Each time the group offered an item, they had to hold it up in front of one of the arrow slits, where a spellcaster on the other side examined its aura and determined if its enchantment was strong enough to suffice. As they offered nearly-drained wands and other inconsequential items, over and over they were told "no." Finally, a figure on the other side suggested Rurik's axe as payment, and the rest of the group knew that if something wasn't done soon, the dwarf would start swinging that very axe.
Kjell started talking, but it turned out that Mercy was actually more influential with the kobolds. They had come to realize in conversation that a drow had been allowed to "go downstairs" just an hour or so earlier without payment, and Mercy convinced the creatures that they should be invited downstairs as well since they were friends of the drow who had just arrived.

Locked doors were opened, and a single kobold led them down a knotted rope into a cavern full of resting kobolds. As they descended, a giant bat with glowing green eyes stared them down, but made no move to attack. In the next cavern, they passed by several groups of guards and were led to the lair of a humanoid serpent, where it was holding a conversation with a drow. 

Although they attempted to talk down the yuan-ti, it refused to hand over its prized tribute payments, and eventually Kjell declared that they were at an impasse. Blue and Rurik sprung into action, trying to push two of the guards into a crevasse separating the heroes from the snake man, and one fell in. Meanwhile, the drow backed out of the room. 

In the end, the yuan-ti and his guards fell one by one, and the heroes found the magical bag Hadrogh had sent them to recover. As they looted the room, they heard a voice from below, calling for them to look down into the crevasse. Rurik recognized him as the old dwarf who healed him not too long ago, and he immediately hopped down.

The rest of the group followed, and the old dwarf led them to a formation of crystals, which he touched and teleported them to his cabin on the surface - one of the few earth nodes close enough to the surface to use for such methods. Once there, he chided Rurik for passing the ruined dwarf city as they chased the lizardfolk into the Underdark. He had asked Rurik to recover several relics from the ruin, and expected him to stay loyal to his fellow dwarves rather than chase the favor of a drow. He went on to explain that he had been having visions of darkness in the daytime, and drow taking over the world. These visions had started when he was young, but were growing in intensity, and he was just sure that whatever events were about to unfold, they would be catastrophic... and those relics might just save the world. Although some in the group found it difficult to take the old dwarf seriously, Rurik vouched for him.

They finally agreed to seek out the relics, but decided to take Hadrogh's job first after returning his bag to him. They headed straight to Dagger Falls, and met the half-drow merchant in a barn outside the city, where he had kept the group's mounts while they tracked lizardfolk below the city. He frowned when he peered inside the bag, and explained that not everything was still there, but that what they brought back would suffice. Without further delay, they were off, along with several other guards Hadrogh had hired to guard his caravan. 

Kjell, however, stayed behind. He had decided on their trek through the Underdark that his order was suffering from his absence, and it was time for him to move on. He bid the rest of the group farewell, and went on his way.

Not long into their journey as caravan guards, Hadrogh sent the heroes ahead to scout, and they happened upon a scary sight: mind flayers attacking a pair of Underdark travelers. Seeing an opportunity to get close while they focused on the two newcomers, the heroes charged into melee and cut down the aberrations rather easily. After the short battle, the two newcomers decided to join the group, at least for a time.

Next week, we'll find out where Hadrogh's caravan is going, and whether or not it will be as lucrative as he believes.

Friday Link Dump 7/18/14

Palladium Books is really close to releasing Rifts Megaverse in Flames, a supplement I've been waiting to read for what seems like forever. Everything in Rifts is completely over the top... what happens when a war between demons and deevils* spills over into a post-apocalyptic world filled with giant robots, wizards, dragons, cyborgs, and pretty much anything else you can imagine? Things get even zanier than they were before, and it sounds like a ton of fun. I haven't actually run a Rifts game in years, but every new Rifts book makes me feel all nostalgic. It isn't out yet, but you can pre-order it here... and if you haven't played Rifts at all, I would suggest you pick up a copy of the core rulebook. Even if you never actually play the game, reading through the setting is just... I can't think of a word for it at the moment, but trust me, it's good stuff.

*No, I didn't misspell that. It's a Palladium Books thing.

18 Most Rewarding 3e D&D Books for Pathfinder GMs is a cool series of posts. Even though I disagree on several (I thought Ghostwalk was pretty terrible), and I think it's a shame that a few of my favorites were left off (no Complete Mage!?!?), you could do much worse with a few spare minutes than reading these posts.

The Elder Scrolls Online is now on Steam, so I'm slightly more likely to play it. Unfortunately, the monthly fee will continue to keep me away for the foreseeable future. When it goes free-to-play, which people claim it will do eventually, I'll give it another look. Still interesting, though.

Kickstarter: After Reset RPG Reboot

I haven't played the After Reset RPG, but it's inspired by Fallout and I love the flavor. I hope I can scrounge up $20 in the next 34 days to join and get instant access. This looks awesome...

Encounter: The Dark Son of Tiamat (CR 5/5/7/8)

This is an encounter area for 6th level characters that I devised for our Underdark campaign. I am drawing on the Night Below setting for a lot of inspiration, and decided to put a very different spin on Fandruzsch and the troll caves. Instead of two large and separate areas that aren't really tied to our campaign's story, I condensed them into a handful of encounters in a single cave system. In our campaign, the dragon is smaller, there are fewer trolls, and the dragon has convinced the troll shaman that he is the son of Tiamat.

See the encounter area here.

A few notes:

  • I think I'm going to start sharing encounter areas from my campaigns on a more regular basis, generally a week or two after I use them. I mean, I'm designing these encounters anyway, right? Why not share them?
  • For this encounter area, I used different stats for the dragon that those that are hyperlinked in the document above. I upped his constitution a bit to make for a more interesting fight, as a few of my players have ridiculous damage output sometimes. Raising hp makes monsters more survivable without making players feel useless when their attacks don't even hit. I also made his breath weapon negative energy rather than acid, since I was using a shadow dragon miniature. I realized right before he used it that it would actually heal our dhampir PC rather than doing damage!
  • This was my first encounter area that I used DM David's Dungeon Tile advice for, and I loved it. Pulling the right display board out of a bag is so much quicker than assembling the tiles on the spot... and even though they aren't present in the picture, I was much less hesitant to use decoration tiles (in addition to floor plan tiles) than ever before. If you haven't read his tips on Dungeon Tile use, you should do so immediately... or at least before you use yours again.

3.5 Jackpot at the Used Book Store

I posted a few months back about how used book stores can be treasure troves for RPG fans. Here's a fine example.

My wife and I strolled into Downtown Books and News last Saturday with some books I was looking to get rid of... partly because I want to clear some room in the man cave for more goodies, but mostly because my wife and I are both avid readers, and combining our personal libraries last year was rough. Basically, we needed to make some room for non-book items.

I drop off the books on the counter and go browsing. I know where to look, though, because I've been here before... this section:
Note: This pic was taken after I had already pulled
several goodies off the shelf.
The lady who had been counting my trade-in books found us, and gave us our quote. We managed to buy four 3.5 books that were on my wish list, as well as some stuff for her art classroom... and spent only $4 of real money. I picked up these goodies:
Complete Adventurer, Races of Stone, Dungeon Master's Guide II, and Miniatures Handbook

Underdark Campaign Log #14

Blah blah blah

More of Jake's artwork here.
  • Kjell, Dhampir Inquisitor (Andrew) 
  • Blue, Human Fighter (Jake) 
  • Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson) 
  • Mercy, Half-Orc Ranger (Jammie)
  • Sindri, Wererat Rogue (NPC, controlled by Andrew)
Our heroes suddenly found themselves in the middle of a domestic dispute between the svirfneblin scout who helped them and his wife, who was clearly upset at him for bringing strangers into their home. When she grabbed the map and Rurik tackled her, the scout drew his swords, Kjell tried to intimidate everyone into calming down, and Mercy ended up having to magically entangle the whole room in order to stop the madness.

Once everyone calmed down, they agreed to take a copy of the map instead of the original, with the home of the gnomes left off so that their location wouldn't be given away if it fell into the wrong hands... but in return, the heroes would need to clear out some nearby trolls that were making the scout's life difficult.

Inside the troll lair, the heroes dispatched several of the beasts quickly, and even defeated a troll spellcaster without much difficulty. To their surprise, the troll spellcaster had a bunch of "scrolls" of animal hide, and seemed to be a worshiper of the dark son of Tiamat. This oddity turned quite dangerous when they continued exploring the lair, finding that this "dark son" was not a deity at all, but a real shadow dragon who intended to make them its new minions... or its lunch if they refused.

While Mercy seemed unsure what to do, and Kjell tried to convince the dragon that he was its father, Rurik outright refused to be a minion and threatened it. Meanwhile, Blue bowed down to the creature and even moved as if to defend it from Rurik, but turned on the dragon at the last minute as he and the dwarf charged at the same time. The dragon was fierce, and killed poor Sindri with its dragon breath before it finally went down, but the party found themselves victorious in the end, and in a room so full of coins they couldn't possibly transport it all.

After deciding to bury most of the coins (and bury Sindri as well, though in a different location), they headed back to the svirfneblin town and showed off their troll trophies to the scout. In return, he handed over the map, as promised. They headed out toward the City of the Glass Pool, and decided to take the path through the lair of the grells rather than try to make it through the razor rock unscathed.

What they found in the grell lair was unexpected... the creatures had already been killed. After carefully searching the cave, they found little to explain who killed the grells, but it was clear that there were two sets of footprints leaving the area: a single set of human-sized boot prints heading back the way they came from, and lizardfolk footprints leading down the tunnel in the direction of the City of the Glass Pool. 

Naturally, they followed the lizardfolk footprints, since they have the bag of holding that Hadrogh (their employer) so desperately wants back. Unfortunately, their path carried them through the lair of a creature they were ill-equipped to face, a purple worm.

After just a few seconds of the fight, the group decided on a tactical retreat. Several characters were significantly injured, and most of their initial attacks failed to penetrate the worm's chitinous plates. After a few moments of indecision, they decided to charge through the tunnel as a group, and hope they could get though before it snagged anyone.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the purple worm from
War of the Dragon Queen. There are other options out there,
(this one, for example), but this one is my personal favorite.
The plan failed... at least initially.

Blue was the first to charge, willing to put himself in danger for his friends in heroic fashion. While the rest of the group sprinted by, Blue was bitten by the worm, lifted from his feet, and swallowed whole.

Luckily, he was able to cut himself out from the inside, and run down the tunnel to join his friends on the far side of the purple worm's tunnel.

Next time, we'll see if the group can finally catch up to the lizardfolk and retrieve that stolen bag of holding.

Friday Link Dump 7/11/2014

While browsing through stuff I want to buy someday, I stumbled onto Paizo's Critical Hit Deck. I still haven't picked it up, but whenever I manage to scrape together some spare change, it's pretty high on my wish list.

My wife gets something called a Birchbox in the mail every month, and it has all kinds of promotional girly things - makeup samples and stuff. Apparently, there's a similar product for gamers called Loot Crate. Sign up, and they'll send you all kinds of game-related goodies every month. I haven't tried it, but it does sound interesting.

For some reason, I really want one of these tables for the man cave. Maybe it's because it makes me think of miniature terrain.

Simplified Stat Block for Pathfinder/3.5

There is something about creating stats for Pathfinder monsters and NPCs that I find really appealing. Unfortunately, the task is quite time consuming, and most of the information is useless. I mean, how often do you need to know that drider's knowledge (arcana) bonus? or that it can cast mage hand? For me, sometimes that information is worse than useless... it's distracting during a game. If I only used Pathfinder materials and I memorized the stat block, this probably wouldn't be an issue, but since I use 3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder materials... sometimes I spend far too much time looking for the modifier I need rather than just rolling some dice and getting on with the game.

In an effort to simplify things, I'm going to start using the following stat block at the table for every monster that isn't special in some way. Here's an example:
Because every post needs a drow wizard...

Monster (XP)
Special 1
Special 2
Special 3

For most monsters, I'm pretty sure this is about all you need. Here are some explanations for why my stat block looks the way it does. Keep in mind that for the moment I have CR 5-7 monsters in mind because characters in my current campaign are 6th level. The numbers might not work out for, say, CR 20 monsters.

Where's Initiative?
This doesn't scale with level. Most characters have roughly the same initiative score at first level as they do at 20th. Sure, dexterity based characters will get a marginally higher bonus as their ability score improves, and somebody will take Improved Initiative along the way, but for the most part it doesn't change. My solution: If it's fast, give it a +5 bonus or half its HD, whichever is higher. If it isn't, it gets a +0.

Personally, I don't think keeping a list of spells memorized for a monster is worth the time it takes to create it. Unless this is a creature that fights almost exclusively with spells and it's very durable in combat (a rare combination), just treat spells like special abilities and pick the top three.

Special Abilities
Some creatures don't have any of these at all, while others have a laundry list. However, most creatures don't survive long enough in combat to use more than a handful anyway, so why bother with the rest? Pick a few and list them (along with appropriate DCs and damage), but don't bother with the rest.

Skills and Everything Else
These come up from time to time, but not often enough to justify taking the time to figure out a typical monster's bonuses. Instead, make a judgement call at the tabletop as to whether or not the monster would be good at whatever skill check you need. If it's really good at it, give it a bonus equal to double its HD. If it would be terrible, give it a +0. If you can't decide, go with a bonus equal to its HD (or maybe half its HD).

I'll be using this for the first time in my game tonight... but before I do, is there any advice people can offer? Can this be simplified even more? Is there a key stat or bonus that I'm overlooking?

Kickstarter: John Avon's "Journeys to Somewhere Else"

If you're a fan of fantasy art, particularly art from Magic: The Gathering, you probably already know the name John Avon. If you happen to be a fan of his work (really, who isn't?), there's a really cool opportunity to snag a collection of his work in the form of a book. Check it out here:

Themed Pathfinder Pawn Sets

I would love to see sets of Pathfinder Pawns that focus on environment types. The Pathfinder Pawn sets for each Adventure Path are pretty close (there's one for the arctic, one with pirates for the high seas, etc), but not all of the Adventure Paths have gotten the pawn treatment. Still, I don't think it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see pawn sets by theme. I'd love to see...
  • Underdark Pawns
  • Fiendish Pawns
  • Undead Pawns
  • Goblinoid Pawns
  • Elemental Pawns
Maybe these sets would be too specific to sell well? I'm not sure... in the meantime, I'm just hoping they'll go back and do a pawns set for Second Darkness!

Underdark Campaign Log #13

In this week's session, we picked up with our heroes chasing lizardfolk kidnappers through the sewers of Dagger Falls, hoping to catch the lizardfolk before they escaped with their employer's treasured bag of holding.

More of Jake's artwork here.
  • Kjell, Dhampir Inquisitor (Andrew) 
  • Blue, Human Fighter (Jake) 
  • Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson) 
  • Mercy, Half-Orc Ranger (Jammie)
After the group dispatched the tendriculos that attacked them, Rurik headed straight for the passageway he had seen lizardfolk head into. Crashing through the door, he found a room with eight other doors, two ladders leading to trap doors in the ceiling, and a stairwell up to yet another door. With no enemies in sight, he headed up the stairwell and smashed into that door as well. After several tries with the door not budging at all, Mercy finally convinced him to follow her lead: the ranger could tell exactly which door the lizardfolk had gone through.

Through the door Mercy suggested, they encountered a trio of lizardfolk in a room full of practice dummies, bashing the wooden mannequins with their clubs. The group sprang into action, and felled two of the lizards before they even realized that this room was connected to another with more of the lizards heading their way. A second wave of lizardfolk included spellcasteres. Moments later, the giant-sized lizard king burst through a nearby door, coming to defend his lair after hearing the sounds of battle.

When the dust settled, the heroes found themselves in a barracks of sorts that was clearly not built for these lizardfolk, but found no exits from the area, no kidnapped citizens of Dagger Falls, and no bag of holding.. They spent some time searching the room, and then going back through the other areas, where most of the doors they passed were actually traps set for anyone not familiar with the layout of the place.

In their searches, they kept noticing a large rat scurrying about. They ignored it at first, but Rurik eventually decided to try to catch it. When he did, the rat began transforming in his grasp, and he found himself rolling around on the floor not with a giant rat, but with a man-sized rat-like humanoid. "Let go of me, you fool!" it kept crying out.

Of course, Rurik didn't comply, and it took a command spell from Kjell to get him to let the creature go. When he did, it immediately retreated to the corner of the room and drew a sword, but just held it out defensively between itself and the dwarf. The rat man went on to explain that he had been watching them since they came in, and that if they were enemies of the lizards, they were friends of his. The lizardfolk had invaded his home and killed all of his friends. The only reason he escaped was because he turned into a rat and was able to hide. Since then, he's barely been able to survive, eating scraps and trying his best to avoid the lizardfolk. While scurrying about as a rat, he learned that the captives were being ferried downstream in boats.

Kjell invited him to join the party, and he accepted, agreeing to travel with them for a time. He had been trying to escape the lizards for some time, but with powerful allies at his side, he might be able to exact some revenge.

The group took to the boats, which were tied to a dock in the same room the tendriculos had attacked them. They traveled downstream, and eventually the sewer system connected to a cave where other sources of water converged and diluted the sewer muck. Several other groups of lizard men attacked them as they traveled, but each time the heroes emerged relatively unscathed.

Farther down the path, the stream flowed over a cliff, and into a lower chamber. In the room below, the water flowed over the edge of a large hole in the floor, and could be heard crashing into a larger body of water somewhere below. Beyond the hole in the ground, another giant lizardfolk stood over the bodies of several dead humans. This one wore robes, and had several other lizardfolk spellcasters at his side in addition to guards. As soon as he saw the heroes who had been pursuing him, he fired a fiery ray at Kjell, and Rurik charged.

During the fight, Blue, Rurik, and Sindri (the wererat), were all paralyzed for a time by the spellcasters' magic. Unfortunately for Rurik, he found himself paralyzed near lizardfolk who weren't able to attack anyone else, and they took the time to make sure he didn't wake up. The battle ended as the lizardfolk leader escaped by leaping down into the hole. With a man down and feeling quite weary, the group decided it would be safer to return to the surface and rest.

Kjell "convinced" Hadrogh the merchant (through intimidation) to use his connections to have Rurik raised from the dead, agreeing to forfeit Rurik's share of their pay in order to pay for the spell. The next morning, with the dwarf walking at their side again, the heroes headed back down into the underdark.

The water falling through the hole in the cavern collected in a deep pool in a chamber below, and not long after they entered, a curious fellow greeted them. This svirfneblin (deep gnome) seemed to walk through the wall itself before speaking to them, and seemed to know that they were the ones pursuing the lizardfolk. He explained to them that the lizards worked for a much greater evil, and that he was worried they might stir it up and cause trouble for his people. However, if they could defeat it, this region of the underdark would be far safer, and given their successes against the lizards so far, he was willing to risk giving them a hand.

The heroes followed him through a long tunnel, and finally arrived at the home of the svirfneblin, a small town of giant hollowed mushrooms concealed by an illusionary wall. Inside their guide's mushroom hut, the gnome told of how he had been scouting the nearby underdark, and that he could provide them with a map of the area. He produced a piece of parchment with this drawn on it:

Next time, we'll pick up with the group and their new map. Will they be able to track down the lizardfolk?

Friday Link Dump 7/4/2014

Let's start this week's link dump with an obvious one. If you haven't been living under a rock, you probably already know that Basic D&D is a free download on the WotC website. Still, it seems wrong not to mention it here. Just click this little link to go check it out. 

The last few game sessions, I've been using Paizo's Thieves Guild Flip-Mat, and I am very impressed. This battle map is high quality and easy to use. I'd buy the whole line if I wasn't broke as a joke!

If you're a fan of the Deck of Many Things, you should at least give Analog Games a look. They've got a deck that sounds pretty amazing.

Just remember... no matter how bad your day has been, this guy's was probably worse.

Dungeon Tiles Gallery

I just stumbled onto an amazing resource:
DM David's Complete List and Gallery of Dungeon Tiles Sets

Not only does David have a gallery of all the sets so you can find what you need (among your own tiles or in a set you have yet to purchase), he also has tons of info on the best ways to use them. I'm impressed... and I really wish I had found this in time to use some of his tips for tonight's session.

Now if only I could find a similar gallery of Pathfinder Map Packs, and Pathfinder Flip-Mats.

Staying Organized as a GM

For years, I always played RPGs in the old man cave, where all my gaming junk is sitting around on bookshelves, in the closet, in storage containers... and scattered about on just about any flat surface I could find. I go through various stages of cleanliness in the old man cave, but no matter how messy it is, I can usually find whatever I need pretty quickly.

However, my current campaign is being played at our FLGS, so I can't just reach over to the shelf and grab a new map if the players go off course. I have to be prepared for improvisation, but I can't lug around all my miniatures and maps. That means being more organized than I normally would be, so I have adapted over the last few months of playing in a space where all my stuff isn't within arms reach. Now I get by with just what will fit in a small duffle bag.

Here's what I carry:

  • Old beat up laptop
  • Pathfinder Core Rulebook
  • GM Screen
  • Bestiary Box
    • I don't bring all the miniatures from the set. This box is just for transporting the maps and minis for the encounters I prepared for that session. I started out using card boxes, but they're an awkward size. Then I switched to the Dungeon Tiles Master Set, but Bestiary boxes are a lot sturdier and the lids are less likely to pop off in transport.
    • Miniatures for 1-2 encounters per hour of play, organized in small sandwich bags except for solo monsters
      • At least one of these is always a "generic" encounter - one that doesn't depend on them being in a specific place at a specific time. That way if they go off course, I can throw in a "wandering" monster for them to fight while I figure out how to tie their side trek into the main storyline.
    • Dungeon Tiles, Map Packs, and occasionally a Flip-Mat organized in Ziploc bags according to which encounter I'll need them for. Sometimes Pathfinder Pawns go in these Ziploc bags with the maps, but miniatures tend to scratch up the tiles, so I store them separately.
  • Extra dice
  • Extra pencils
  • Note Pad
  • Miniatures for any players who don't have their own
With these things handy, I can handle just about everything my players throw at me... and rearrange the board pretty efficiently as well.

Mapping the Underdark

The Underdark is often described as an endless maze of twisting tunnels, which makes it a little intimidating when it comes to mapping. I've toyed with the idea of trying to combine maps that others have already created... I'm a big fan of the Lower Broken Lands from the Mystara setting and their corresponding maps. I've also considered hex maps, as well as skipping the mapping altogether and using a more abstract method. In the end, I get tired of these ideas really quickly. They're either too abstract for my tastes, too much of a rip-off of someone else's work, or far too time consuming to bother with. Geomorphs might be the perfect solution, though.

If you increase the scale so that tunnels are much larger (which, in my opinion, often makes for more interesting combats that tight quarters), you could use any of these geomorphs to plot out large sections of cave systems quickly, so at least the major tunnels will be ready to go. Then you can add the smaller side passages as needed.

I particularly like the style that Thomas Denmark uses here, although I'll probably create my own. Since characters in my current campaign are about to embark on their first true Underdark expedition, now is the perfect time to get a decent map ready.
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