Friday, February 26, 2016

Amazing Pathfinder Humble Bundle

Check this out:

$354 of Pathfinder books for $15? Granted these are PDF copies, but wow, what a deal. Up the price to $25 and you get a physical copy of the Pathfinder Beginner box AND all these PDFs.

$1 gets you:
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GameMastery Guide
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Digital Beginner Box
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Player Character Folio
  • Player Character Folio
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Class Guide
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GM Screen (digital copy)
  • Pathfinder Adventure Path: In Hell's Bright Shadow (Hell’s Rebels: 1 of 6)

$15 gets you the above, plus:
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Magic
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Campaign
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Combat
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 2    
  • Pathfinder Adventure Path: Dance of the Damned (Hell’s Rebels: 3 of 6)
  • Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Poster Map Folio (digital copy)
  • Pathfinder Society: Year of the Sky Key Scenario Mega-Pack (with 23 adventures)

Pay more than the average (currently around $17), and you get the above plus:
  • Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea World Guide
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Strategy Guide
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Equipment
  • Pathfinder Society Scenario 7-01: Between the Lines
  • Pathfinder Adventure Path: Turn of the Torrent (Hell’s Rebels: 2 of 6) 
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Player's Guide

Pay $25, and you get all of the above, plus a physical copy of the excellent:
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box (Physical Copy - shipping not included)

Wow. An amazing amount of roleplaying goodness for this cheap of a price with a leading system? If I didn't have all of these already I would be jumping all over this.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Our Pathfinder Game and Hero Lab

We play Pathfinder basically as a best-of-the-best compendium of Hero Lab modules, including:
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook
  • Advanced Player’s Guide
  • Ultimate Combat
  • Ultimate Magic
  • Advanced Class Guide
  • Occult Adventures
...with Ultimate Intrigue coming later, or course. The add-on books are kind of spotty, with the following being considered core for us:
  • Advanced Race Guide
  • Pathfinder Unchained
  • Inner Sea Gods
  • ...and I want to add Inner Sea Races soon, maybe
These are optional, since they are less-character focused (Campaign, Gamemastery, NPC Codex, and Equipment), or game-changing (Mythic):
  • Ultimate Campaign
  • Mythic Adventures
  • Ultimate Equipment
  • NPC Codex
  • Gamemastery Guide
Monsters are needed!
  • Pathfinder Bestiary 1
  • Pathfinder Bestiary 2
  • Pathfinder Bestiary 3
  • Pathfinder Bestiary 4
  • Pathfinder Bestiary 5
  • Monster Codex
  • I also use Tome of Horrors Complete to throw in unpredictable 3rd party wild-cards
  • ...I would like to add Tome of Horrors IV and Advanced Bestiary as well
The following third party spell add-ons are also used, I feel they are must-haves to add extra spell and class options:
  • 1001 Spells
  • Deep Magic
  • Gothic Campaign Compendium
The following two are optional class add-ons, they have some good options but they need some work integrating into everything:
  • Secrets of Adventuring
  • New Paths Compendium
Everything else is a nice-to-have item, if we have it, great, and it adds color and options. We also use the following worldbooks and adventure design books for extra color:
  • Inner Sea World Guide
  • Rise of the Drow
  • Tome of Adventure Design
  • ...I would like to add some of the mega-dungeons as well:
    • Rappan Athuk
    • The Slumbering Tsar Saga
We add as we go, and the game world morphs and takes on its own shape and form. I like the third-party additions, and they keep things unpredictable and off the standard Paizo railroad tracks - especially the trio of Gothic Campaign Compendium, 1001 Spells, and Deep Magic. These three (yes they have some unbalanced spells) take magic-based classes and give them a really cool and wonderful custom flavor and feeling.

Races are whatever you want, we have this crazy, almost World-of-Warcraft meets Star Wars creature cantina view of races where anything cool you can come up with using race design with the Advanced Race Guide is cool with us. Our Jade Regent game seen races derived from the Zodiac populating those lands, so we have ratlings, snakemen, rooster/birdmen, dragonmen, and all sorts of other crazy animal-hybrids populating those lands. Why? Just for fun, and the adventure path never laid out what was there so we ran with it. Race design is cool, and while it leads to some crazy races and combos, it is very cool and lets all sorts of strange characters appear in our games. A top-hat wearing bear-man investigator of crimes committed by undead with a crab-man kung-fu monk sidekick?

Go for it. Have fun. Do not take yourself seriously. But...please take the rules and playing seriously.

And this list never stays really the same for long. If something new comes out, we collect it, and figure out a place for it. Once you accept the throy and fun of modding, and open yourself up to the possibilities, you begin to see the strength of an open system such as Pathfinder and all of the crazy, wonderful, and insane creations you can build with all of these books. This openness, plus a desire to let player's imaginations go, is what makes the game special for our group, and keeps us playing despite other games being out there and waiting for our attention.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pathfinder as Skyrim

This to me sums up my feelings about Pathfinder and its current state nicely. Having modded Skyrim with over 230 mods, creating merge patches, bash patches, leveled lists, and all sort of other techo-wizardry, I have my custom version of Skyrim running well with all sorts of lovable insanity happening on the roads and wilds of this maniac world, with unpredictable chaos happening around every bend and strange dungeons in places one would never expect. There is also the enemy of survival against the bitter cold, where a lack of preparation against the elements can kill you just as easily as a unique and named draugr in a crypt somewhere.

It is also a finely tuned custom game, with over a year and eighteen versions tested and improved upon, there are mods we like and those we don't, some that are heavy and others that are not, and lots of tweaks and settings to get it working just the way we like things. Modding Skyrim is a hobby for us, much like one would take up model railroading, and the results are satisfying and tragically chaotic and wonderful as we get hours of enjoyment out of that game.

I should say yes, we are looking forward to Fallout 4 and the mods there. We have a similarly modded version of Fallout 3 we have yet to explore, so we have plenty to play with and we are patient. I do look forward to the modding community of Fallout 4 and eagerly await the wonderful pieces they put together there for us to assemble and use in our mod collections.

Pathfinder is the same way for us. Heavily modified with books like 1001 Spells, Deep Magic, and other class compendiums (supported by the wonderful Hero Builder program) it is a big-tent game with options we would never, ever get to explore in a thousand lifetimes, but they are all there for us to enjoy and wander through. Books like Rise of the Drow, third party mega-dungeons, and others make our world a unique place, not exactly how Paizo ships it, but recognizable enough on the surface, much like Skyrim's cold and bitter lands when modded and tweaked with new dungeons and environs. Five monster bestiaries, plus many third party ones make our world a dangerous and unique place filled with the unexpected and unknown. It is as heavily tweaked and customized as our Skyrim version, the modding of the pen-and-paper world and its rules systems every bit as carefully crafted as our electronic world.

D&D 5, at this point, feels a bit like Diablo 3 to us. A fun game, but up until this point it is pretty much the same experience as everybody else's world, minus the stories and unique choices every group makes. The starting point is the same, and while yes you can customize, there simply isn't the fun options that out Pathfinder game has been crafted with over the years. Also, like Diablo 3, D&D 5 is a game that you can easily jump into, so there is that 'instant fun' factor that comes into play. Skyrim, like Pathfinder, can be a complicated beast prone to bugs and finicky problems, but once you get it running great, nothing else comes close in options or the random, chaotic world filled with enemies that pull powers and deadly attacks and combos from books players never had the idea they were coming from. Of course, with D&D 5 it is early, and they just released the game's core under the OGL, so time will tell what we have to play with in the future.

With Pathfinder, if it is published somewhere and included in our 'mod mix' it is fair game, so it takes a special player (and referee) to survive and excel in this environment. With this amount of mixed up madness, you can bet there are exploits, but part of the fun is finding the cheese and house-ruling a fix, just as we would come up with a way to make two conflicting Skyrim mods find a way to work together without breaking things. We are mature enough to know if something is really broken that it needs to be fixed or outright ignored, usually the former, but sometimes the latter and we will revisit it in a later version of the game by removing books or option we don't like, just like a pesky Skyrim mod that never seems to play well with others (randomized and increased world spawns and incredibly long load times in Skyrim).

With us, it is not the question of 'which game is better' for us, it is a question of modding and which game is the better hobby for us. Right now, Pathfinder is our modding game of choice. D&D 5 is a good pick-up-and-play game, but then again, so are many of the retro-clones as well, such as Basic Fantasy or Labyrinth Lord. It is about choice for us, really, and part of the hobby of this game is modding and tweaking, which we enjoy just as well as playing.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rules Design: Say It Once, Keep It Simple

I was working on the next version of SBRPG and doing clean-up work to the document. What struck me were the places where something was said once, restated in a second place, and further expanded upon in an area it shouldn't have been. We have always had a golden rule when designing rules:

Say it Once, and in One Place

If you change it, you don't worry about breaking something else somewhere else. The D&D 3.0 and 3.5 rules felt like they had this problem, especially in the skills, where you had to hunt down special cases in skill descriptions and ruling on what CR applied to what action in skill X given action Y.

When you design, you tend to use your rules document as a collection of ideas. Things get worked out, you start making rulings on different actions, and you come up with mechanical procedures. It is all good, and you need that free-form creativity and room to experiment and do the messy work of game design. You are going to get lots of repetition in a draft rules document because you are working through things.

There is an equally important step after you design, and that is refinement. I wished Paizo would have went more along the direction of their Pathfinder Beginner's Box with that simplification, that boxed set is a really well-designed and streamlined game, and a standout in the entire D&D 3 rules history of presentation and simplification. They took a lot out, and I feel the game runs better as a result.

You don't need that many special cases most of the time. If you eliminate a rule and make it unnecessary, that is just as important as designing a new rule for a new special case - and often it is more important to streamline and simplify. D&D 5 did a bunch of that and the game runs better as a result (it is less options that Pathfinder, but you give some to get some).

Refinement and simplification are excellent ideals, and a step where I feel many rules designers skip. The goal shouldn't be to design rules that cover every little case, with exceptions and one-off rules for a multitude of special cases. It should be for broader rules that cover more situations, and handle many situations with a broader and all-encompassing guideline. Special cases in rules should be seen as places where the base mechanics fail and need to be patched. Ideally, the special case should not exist, and the general case should handle every situation.

Perhaps there isn't a simple way to handle a special case, and you need the special one-off case ruling. Perhaps this is tied to some specific mechanic that you want, so the extra complexity is worth the time. I am just a big believer in elegant and simple core game mechanics, where how something is handled is self-evident and easily discover-able by players. If X works like Y, then Z should follow suit. You shouldn't have to hunt for a special case in a skill description. There shouldn't be long lists of special to-hit modifiers for every conceivable situation. Elegant is simple, and simple is elegant.