Thursday, June 30, 2022

Castles & Crusades: Mutliclassing

The multiclassing system is one of the best things about Castles & Crusades (C&C). Once you read this and understand the system, wow, this game is like very few others in the options and flexibility the game gives you. Not only in what you can combine but in the multiple ways you can combine them.

Many B/X games give you a class or a hybrid, and that is that. C&C gives you a box of types, treats them like Legos, and invites you to build the character you dream of playing. This isn't a GURPS-style point-buy system as we are still working with traditional classes, but being able to pick 2 or 3 and combine them in various ways gives me hundreds of ideas of unique characters I just can't get in other games quickly - or at all.

The Players' Handbook has 13 classes, while the Player Archive ups that number to 36, already an incredible number of standalone options, and this is more than a lot of B/X games deliver. And then the game turns around and invites you to combine them, allowing you to wonderfully simulate the hybrid martial-spellcaster classes of AD&D.

You can multi-class, which means you combine the XP-per-level (plus a little) of two to three classes and advance in them simultaneously. You can use class-and-a-half. Which gives you your primary class plus a half-level supporting class, perfect for the AD&D style paladins or rangers where they have a primary martial focus plus a slower-advancing supportive spellcasting class. The Player Archive adds more options, such as class-plus, dual-class, and reclassing.

Add this to a system that unifies all skills, feats, class ability, and saving throws under a unified ability-based system (SIEGE Engine). You have a more straightforward design than many B/X offerings, with less to write down and track on character sheets. I don't have to write down and reference arbitrary saving throws and attack matrixes. Everything is ability-based, which is instantly familiar to 5E players.

I had a few issues with the SIEGE Engine at first. Still, when I realized the system's class-ability and roleplaying uses, I started to appreciate the genius of what the designers did. Want to invent a new ranger class ability, such as Tree Ring Reading? Just develop an idea, talk it over with the GM, and tie it to an ability check based on your class level. You are freed from searching through and referencing endless lists of feats and skills, your powers are more situation-based, and the core system stays simple and clean.

This is a best-of-class OSR-style game that does a lot of what I love, keeps things simple like B/X, and invites you to get in and tweak to your heart's content.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Off the Shelf: Castles & Crusades

I had Castles & Crusades on one of my storage shelves and moved it to my main shelves. The SIEGE Engine felt inflexible in terms of what I wanted regarding character customization, like you made your choices at character creation, so I put it aside for a while.

Then I started reading other games and found out other games were a bit different. They only provided complicated layers of subsystems and incompatible mini-game mechanics that allowed flexibility as you improved your character.

They say they have choices and offer plenty, but as you advance, you slowly discover the game is balanced and designed for a minimal number of optimized builds. Even in Savage Worlds, a great game that offers infinite potential for customization, if you specialize in one of the game's focus areas, such as melee combat, you will discover you can optimize the system quickly.

And this choice to specialize happens when? During character creation.

Yes, I could force myself to broaden my character design choices, which is always good. But many dungeon games fall into this "hard optimization" lane and never get out of it. Either you are in the game's sweet spot for design and balance, ahead of the curve in the optimizer's area, or behind the curve in a place meant for jack-of-all-trades characters. In Savage Worlds, it is better to be the jack of all trades. In dungeon games, you are meant to optimize because the game's challenge curve is a part of the game.

This is why dungeon games have monster manuals and treasure tables; those are the points on a curve of the game's built-in challenge and progression system. You are not playing "a character." You are playing "the curve."

The SIEGE Engine is this "meta-choice" you make in the game that simulates all the time spent in other games buying feats, skills, abilities, and other powers in the areas you want your character to specialize in. In other games, you purchase diplomacy skills, negotiation, intimidation, seduction, smooth-talking, fast-talking, all sorts of social feats, and some social-focused class features - and then, after all that time and fiddling, you create a character that does well at most Charisma-based activities.

In the SIEGE Engine, you pick charisma as a primary, and you are done. All of the above is wrapped up into that one selection, and it also says, "as I level, I am going to keep making these character improvement choices focused on my charisma abilities." It puts character improvement on auto-pilot as you level. You don't miss out on a few Charisma-based activities because you were forced to make choices; you get them all.

In a game like Pathfinder 2, you read hundreds of carefully-designed options and pick the ones that match your playstyle and character concept. In C&C, you tell the game, "I make the best choices for Charisma," and then you decide what those are in roleplaying. Are you the smooth-talking halfling or the charismatic charmer? You decide. No sorting through lists and choices to optimize needed.

If you think of C&C as a version of a 3.5-based B/X that removes the clunky 3.5 skill, save, feat, and class ability system and replaces all those with a unified mechanic - you "get" the game.

This also means C&C is, by default, more party-based than other games since trying to solo means getting disappointed quickly. In GURPS, I can create a "lone survivor" easily. In C&C, you need a group with overlapping specialties, primaries, classes, and abilities to do well. Playing the curve in this game assumes party-based play.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Savage Pathfinder, Module Conversion

So one thing I wanted to do with the Savage Pathfinder system is play in the original Golarion setting, the official game world, but borrow classic AD&D modules and put them in the world. If I have the old modules, I am using them, so my world will be a strange mix of original edition content plus adventure paths.

I suspect this is what many people did when Wizards dumped 3.5 for D&D 4+; they kept playing their 3.5 worlds and adventures with the newer Pathfinder 1e rules and did not skip a beat. I also suspect many D&D 3.5 game worlds, including Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, got converted over, and the campaigns continued.

Plus, there is a lot of room in this world for fun places like the GDQ series, the B-series, the S-series, and the A-series modules. Put the Isle of Dread in the ocean somewhere; it would work.

Now, excellent idea, but is it practical?

Converting is Worldbuilding

I would grab my World Builder and Game Master's Guide for this one since this is a beneficial resource when converting anything into the game.

I would be careful with scripted adventures and use their content as guidelines. The Slave Lords modules in the A-series are good examples. Would I convert every room description, ensure every area and monster were accounted for, do a 1-to-1 map conversion, and ensure my adventure followed the exact same encounter and key matrixes as the originals?

We did this thing before with other games, such as D&D to Aftermath, a gigantic task that is rarely worth all that effort. After a while, things break down and begin to not make sense. The entire game turns into this hours-long slog where you realize if you had converted everything over loosely and not worried about the details, you would have never spent days of work prepping a module conversion that came out horrible anyways.

Often, there is just way too much to deal with. The encounters are too big, made for a game that simplifies combat and heavily relies on sleep, fireball, and other area spells to clear rooms.

Very Real Tournament

The Slave Lords A-series are interesting to study because one thing they did was convert these from simpler tournament modules to fully stocked dungeons and adventures to "add more value" to them. You will find the first two adventures expanded from simple and straightforward tournament maps to massive dungeons with many encounters and expanded content.

I dare say the more straightforward tournament maps look better for Savage Worlds Pathfinder to play since they capture the essence and narrative of the adventure, keep the number of encounters down, and avoid confusion and needless bloat. In the first module's tournament version, A1, you get all the classic encounters, the best areas, and the essential experience of the module without too much sidetracking or artificially lengthening things in that typical AD&D way using quantity over quality.

On a downside, due to tournament play, the modules are often a single track of encounters with no bypassing. Some caution is advised, but as a roadmap of the best the module offers, start with the condensed tournament content first.

They Are Not Perfect!

A reminder, the old modules are not perfect. They have a lot of flaws. If you look at the differences between the A1 tournament and vs. A1 expanded, you will see a vast "mapping challenge" in the expanded version. Many groups don't even "map" these days the way they used to. The number of rooms and encounters in all modules is significantly expanded, leading to many long combats and grinds. There are rooms to soak area-of-effect spells and resources. Places to burn divination spells. Lots of save-or-die parts. Plenty of slow hallway crawls with 10-foot poles in the lead. 

Some of this stuff is great for a B/X game, but a Savage Worlds game is different.

There is also this "video game" mentality. They will respond if an operation, like a slave-trading group, is hit. They won't casually sit in the dungeon waiting for the characters to return after they rest up and recharge spells. They may clear out and move elsewhere. They may follow the characters to town with some of the forces they have left and hit the party back before they rest. We were kids when we played these modules and cleared rooms like stand-alone videogame encounters to "solve." We allowed infinite resting in the town, even if the last room was the boss battle and the entire dungeon around them cleared. 

We were really dumb, but hey, we were kids.

From a  pulp-storytelling point of view, having the organization active in the nearby cities and a good amount of fights and encounters outside this dungeon makes a lot of sense. You could go all Indiana Jones and have a vehicle chase with a slaver caravan for a good time. Do not let the modules and maps constrain you. These are more story seeds than monsters and mazes.

And as far as I am concerned, that "respond to multiple incursions and make it harder" applies to all modules, even the Tomb of Horrors. What if, on the second foray in, things changed? That is true horror and makes venturing in there repeatedly a perilous proposition. If the groups and boss monsters had the magic and creativity to build these places and call them home, then they would have the same interest in defending them and self-preservation, especially once they know what they are facing. And if the dungeon is high-level enough, the boss must have a few wish or limited-wish scrolls lying about.

That 15-minute adventuring day should come with a considerable cost, with failure being just the most apparent price.

Railroad Crossing

One word of warning the tournament modules are very railroaded, so I would use them as guides only, and if the players found a way to bypass them, or there was a way to in the expanded version, I would let them. The entire goal here is to figure out what the essential encounters are in the adventure, what ones are needed to tell the story and build the Savage Pathfinder experience around those.

Like the World Builder's Guide says, less is more.

I would use this "pick the top 9-12 encounters" in every module conversion, even Tomb of Horrors. There are those signature moments you are trying to simulate and those memorable encounters you want to experience again, so why throw in the fluff? If the designers wanted to fluff out a fort with 6 extra rooms of hobgoblins, why put them in if there are already one or two great fights with them here? Let those signature moments tell the story of the adventure, and get rid of the extra filler.

Also, do not be afraid to "change the module" dramatically. If my group has been through the Tomb of Horrors so many times, they can recite the room descriptions and point to every trap and secret door like they were reciting lines from their favorite movies; well, it is time to change things up. Rooms will be shuffled, secret doors moved, new traps and puzzles laid down, and new deadly save-or-die horror moments added everywhere. The essence of the module is supposed to be a horror movie where the party needs to pay attention and figure things out, so make it your own and have fun.

And if you can't think of good traps, head on over to the Goodman Games store and pick up this:

Your players will not love you if you mix up Tomb of Horrors with some of these classics, I guarantee it. Even some of the ideas in this book can be combined with the traps in Tomb of Horrors to make the assumed solutions quite deadly. But allow clever play to figure things out. If someone tosses sand across the pit trap and discovers the wall of force, magical push trap, pane of invisible steel, or the illusion of a hallway over there, let them be smart. The sand won't set off the spring-loaded plate that shoves them into the spiked ceiling on the other side.

Take the solution they know works, and make it kill the characters.

And the suffering doesn't need to end with death; if a character "dies" in this dungeon, they wake up remarkably healed in a particular deeper part without their gear. With more traps that will kill them this time, or if they can figure out how - escape. Just trip that revelation to the "supposedly dead" party after the last one falls or flees and keep the fun going.

A big part of the module conversions is to simplify things to fit the pulp-action style of Savage Worlds. You can use that to add fun and your own ideas, so go ahead and make these adventures your own.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mail Room: Hostile Setting & Rules

The 2d6 system games continue to impress me. The Hostile setting and rules are better, more fleshed out, better "gamed," and better modeled hard sci-fi system than most anything I have ever seen. Yes, the "Alien" RPG is classic and great for those movie one-shots, but an extended campaign in that system feels like a stretch.

Cepheus Deluxe does a damn fine job of doing an open license 2d6 sci-fi system, and it is my top pick for a companion RPG for anything from Battletech to Car Wars. Cepheus does generic space opera the best with the Traveller style flair, and it can be dropped into any game, story, movie, universe and just work as a generic sci-fi ruleset. Because it does not have a galaxy, the game can be used anywhere for almost anything.

But let's say you wanted a more focused, thematic, and set near-future universe sci-fi experience. While Cepheus Deluxe works, Hostile does all that, plus more.

Hostile is every bit of an Earth-based near-future sci-fi setting, as I can imagine, and while yes, it does the entire "Alien" thing if you want it to, there is so much more here to play with. The whole 70's retro-tech vibe, the skepticism of the era, space adventure, mysteries of lost civilizations, space warfare, and experiences in the strange thing are handled perfectly in this game with lots of art, great layout, and a flair for that clunky tech and art that we love about this genre.

This is the sort of campaign and rules set up I wanted for Alien, a more sandbox style of game that scales from the personal survival experience to fleet battles. Alien feels unique, and it does not go outside of that; here, we have an entire universe that does not need xenomorphs to be exciting or even space monsters at all.

Note that you need both the rules and settings books for Hostile to play. I thought the setting book was optional, but it has player-focused content and personal gear.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Savage Pathfinder: Curse of the Crimson Throne

Yes! Savage Pathfinder and original edition fans, it is time to show some support for the next Kickstarter. We are getting the following adventure path, Curse of the Crimson Throne, converted over, and the Savage Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide in this release!

More stuff, the amazing line is continuing, and if we come out in force and support this, the chances are good these will keep coming. More bestiaries, please!

Spread the word, turn up, show our support, and let's make this happen in a big way.

I still support 2E, I cherish my 1e books, but I love seeing the original world and adventure paths find a new audience and love from the Savage Worlds fans - and I am one of them.

Pathfinder 1e Beginner Box

Digging through my garage, I found my original Pathfinder Beginner Box for the game's first edition.


This was a fantastic time.

The rules, the typical 3.5-isms, and I will say the 2e Beginner Box has a better presentation, fewer rules, and feels easier to learn. You had to learn a subset of the 3.5 combat and spell rules, and the basic set feels a bit heavy when feats and skills are thrown in here.

But the box, the art, and the presentation were incredible.

The game wasn't afraid; in ways, it spoke to the fans of fantasy with muscled warriors, beautiful heroines, sudden violence, and fantastic monsters. The art was kinetic. The game felt savage and unforgettable.

I loved this game.

My brother didn't.

We spent a lot of mornings arguing D&D 4 vs. Pathfinder 1e.

I wanted to go all-in, and since he was my primary player, he liked D&D 4 better, so we went with that. I was a fan of the battle-chess aspects and play of 4E, but not much else about the game captured my imagination. I had to build much of the lore and world myself, which was excellent, but Wizards let us down with unfilled promises and more broken promises. Pages of errata weeks after a book was released. The dependence on online tools. No official game world. Broken balance at high levels like the game wasn't even play-tested. Multiple balance revisions and an Essentials line felt like a 0.5 edition but needed the main books in a half-brained reboot.

Even he said in the end that D&D 4E let us down. It failed us.

We played a little Pathfinder 1e after the fact, and I enjoyed it. Still, the steam and our energy had lessened in fantasy due to the 4E disappointment, and it lasted longer than I expected, but it ground to a halt around the 6th level. We moved on to sci-fi which is where things ended.

But Pathfinder 1e was always excellent. Trapped in a bottle, it is still ultra-cool and still speaks to me. It screams adventure. It challenges you. It dares you to create heroes you would expect to see on the covers of fantasy novels. The monsters scream wicked, evil, fierce, and encompass the forces of darkness.

The game is Metal.

Today, I can't say the same about Pathfinder 2e Beginner Box. Even the art feels restrained and held back, and we have many pictures of people just floating in space. Mechanically the game feels better; everything is logical, streamlined, and well put together. But the game feels afraid of challenging us or upsetting us. When I say challenging, I don't mean difficulty, as 2e is the more demanding game, but the world and art feel overly filtered and safe. And there are very few action pictures in the 2e set urging me on.

On page 61 of the 1e Beginner Box Hero's handbook, there is a bottom page spread of the iconic bard shot full of arrows and bleeding out. On almost every page of this 1e boxed set, something damn cool is happening, an action picture in your face screaming, "This could be you!"

This could be you.

Just pick up the dice.

Pathfinder 1e had something to prove back in the day, and that came through in the art.

The use of light and shadow, negative space, shapes, and figures just sings to me. A lot of the new stuff seems mashed together, confused and muddled. Compare the beginner box covers. The dragon on the new one does not even feel like a threat; he is smaller than the characters and in the background. You don't need to explain the old cover much; you feel it.

Maybe I am asking too much, and there is no replacing the original art team. Maybe.

I suppose I am happy Savage Pathfinder is out because they use the original art, and all those initial feelings are back. I can buy the original adventure paths and have that old-school fun again. When I returned to Pathfinder 1e recently, I did not know why, but I feel I know now.

I still support and keep my subscriptions to Pathfinder 2 going, and I hope I can find that spark of inspiration with the new game again. I hope the new game's art and presentation go from mildly inoffensive to an epic metal band level. If I let the subscriptions lapse, I will regret not having the books someday. I am not pessimistic and have hope.

But I see Savage Pathfinder or even the original messy 1e rules, still capturing my imagination. I still have issues with Savage Pathfinder in the amount of conversion needed to make it work, but Savage Worlds is like that, hand wave the details off and have fun. Close enough is good enough.

The adventures and feelings that never really left us are back.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Rolemaster RMFRP Skills

I know all the attention is on HARP, either that or Rolemaster Classic (RMC). Still, Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplay (RMFRP) version is my high-water mark for presentation, and the designers trying to explain how the entire game is supposed to work. I still prefer Rolemaster Classic, just because this version went crazy on skills and spreadsheets needed to fill in skill values.

If filling out one spreadsheet for skills wasn't enough, the game has you fill out TWO for each character. Compare this to an average Rolemaster Classic character:

Um, we are talking at least an order of magnitude easier character creation for Rolemaster Classic versus Rolemaster FRP. The difference is that RMFRP became a skill-based system in the 1990s and tried to move beyond the combat and dungeon play of the 1980s RMC. If you want to "do more" and have fun skill challenges as a part of an adventure, I will lean towards RMFRP because the skill list support is there.

But be prepared to pay a hefty time and amount of work getting these skill values calculated, unless you spend time working up a spreadsheet that does all the work for you.

RMFRP's system lets you raise a category of skills by a level and increase several in an area, versus focusing directly on one skill and leaving the others alone. Do you really need that level of detail, though? It is like the difference between raising a base animal handling skill versus raising one skill, such as animal handling/dogs or animal handling/horses. We felt like rolling "animal handling" was enough in my games.

Plus, anytime a skill list got longer than a quarter-page, we felt the game was bloated on the number of skills the game expects players to manage. We always felt 9-12 skills on a character was a good number that should cover most of their primary and secondary specializations. Over 20 skills were a nightmare to manage, level up, track, and find during play.

It feels strange, as RMC feels too skill light, and in RMFRP, it feels like they way overdid it with skills.

Against the Darkmaster

I like the choices they made in Against the Darkmaster for skills. They kept the original simple skill level calculations but added skills that we have come to expect for various classes and backgrounds.

The skill list is tight, but it covers a lot of ground. There are five in most skill classes, and I can see uses for these on almost any adventure. There aren't narrow specializations under a category, such as acrobatics/tightrope. One thing the game does is it has optional specialty skills.

These optional skills are more accessible for non-magic-using classes to buy at cheaper rates of progression and for magic-using classes to buy at a more expensive cost. They offer a balance to high-level spellcasters with the rogue and martial classes. High-level mages can cast powerful magic, and high-level non-magic classes will have high levels of specializations.

And this list is just a sample; the game says you can make up your skills. Want a unique combat move, art skill, winemaking, rope tricks, dancing, bartender, seduction, juggling, camouflage, farming, wine-making, or another skill type? Get GM approval and add it to your sheet. I like this model of skill lists, a core list of skills the game supports, an optional list to get you started, and leaving the rest open to whatever your group wants and what your game would be enhanced by.

This avoids the "complete-ism" problem that RMSS and GURPS have, where every skill in the universe needs to be written down and rules created for, even if your group has no use or interest for 90% of the skill list. This also allows players to use unique skills to customize their characters, such as the group's blacksmith (or even blacksmith specialty skills, such as blacksmith/horseshoes, and forcing everyone's character to have that as an entry on their character sheets).

Massive Skill Lists are So 1990s

When the desktop publishing revolution came around in the 1990s, game developers could write forever, and we got a lot of games with bloated skill, power, spell, and gear lists. One of the problems of classic games is dealing with this bloat, and I like it when modern clones and games take serious looks at the skill and spell lists and pare things down to "what is the most essential and fun" for the game. Does the game need a dozen mind-control spells or just one?

While I love options and lots of choices, there is a point when meaningful outshines more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Against the Darkmaster: Revised Pre-Orders Open

Looks like Against the Darkmaster is getting ready to release a revised core rulebook in Q3 2022 and they are taking pre-orders now. This one was impossible to get a physical book for the longest time and it is good seeing them finally back in print and preparing a new version of the game. This one was on my unicorn games list and it is nice to have a pre-order put in and a book coming.

NOTE: The PDF they give you on the book pre-order is version 1.3, while the one on Drive-Thru RPG is up to version 1.5.

This game is sort of a "Middle Earth Role Playing" clone, so it has its roots in a sort of Rolemaster style of experience. What I love about this is it takes the entire "Tolkien-like" genre of "the quest to defeat a big bad guy" and it randomizes the entire experience. You generate a random "Darkmaster" who is the big bad of the current story and then create characters from a standard pool of archetypes and ancestries, and you set out on your quest to defeat them.

In a sense, almost any fantasy book that follows the Tolkien model, such as Wheel of Time, Dragonlance, Wizard's First Rule, Shannara, Riftwar, Dragonlance, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, or any other "zero to hero" sort of "rise up against darkness" story can be told. The world is a sandbox, your epic journey is the story, and you just set out and do heroic deeded until the final confrontation happens at the highest levels of the game.

I love this game makes the quest, villain, world, and what you need to do random and generic. It is almost like a sandbox game that can be started and replayed infinite times with a different story and characters but the same classic model of heroism and struggle holding the narrative together. Instead of a licensed IP, it focuses more on the genre and theme of the story being told and simulates that.

And the art and inspiration sources in the game are an amazing collection of resources and images. This is truly a top-notch product with a lot of effort and love put into it, and to see a revised edition coming is exciting.

The rules follow that simplified open-ended d100 roll standard and are not as complex as the games they took inspiration from. So if you liked MERP, Rolemaster, or HARP - you will feel at home here. This is one of those games that would replace my Rolemaster games and give me the same experience, along with following a more open and free model of game - so this one is a definite win for me.

This one I was waiting for for at least 2 years, and it is nice to see it coming this year hopefully in time for the holidays. If you were waiting because you could not get a book, now is the time to dive in.

Savage Pathfinder, part 3

I was sorting through my library and saying yea or nay, to different books on my shelf, and I came up with a few more to add to my list for the ones that would be helpful for Savage Pathfinder. 

Inner Sea Races

This is an odd one, low rated on the store because there aren't many rules here, making it great for Savage Pathfinder. This is the place to start if you want more lore-friendly race options. This is a beneficial book on lore, how their culture works, how others see you, and a lot of other soft data useful in roleplaying. You also get a wide variety of human subtypes and a great selection of the more rare races such as aasimar, tieflings, drow, and many others.

This is highly recommended just to get your mind out of generic D&D style races and into the Golarion and Pathfinder mindset for how everyone lives with each other and gets along. This is an excellent book and can be seen as the hidden "race expansion" for Savage Pathfinder. And if you dip into the race design rules of Savage Worlds and remember Savage Pathfinder races are 4 points instead of 2 - you can design them pretty quickly and have a vast expansion in both lore and options.

As a supporting resource for the Inner Sea World Guide, this is excellent. I would consider this book, the Inner Sea World Guide, and the Inner Sea Gods books as the three must-haves for running Savage Pathfinder beyond the core rulebooks. No other book puts you in a world like this and gets you excited to live there. This is truly an underrated gem of a book and a must-have for Savage Pathfinder.

Advanced Race Guide

The previous book's sister book, the Advanced Race Guide, has more variety, far fewer background data, and more rules. This is a good add-on book for the above if you want many options and subtypes. This is sort of the book the community wished for, more rules options, more powers, but way less on actual roleplaying and cultural data.

For Savage Pathfinder, the Inner Sea Races book stands head and shoulders above this one, just in the background data that excited you to get into the world and play. This one is more 3.75 rules-focused but has some rare and uncommon options that may appeal to some. Honestly, you could do without this book and be fine since it is a "more races" sort of "stuff book" that massively expands options and does not really do much for lore and roleplaying opportunities.

This is not on my supporting books shelf, but it is notable for the expansion of types and the discussion of subtypes offered. When I have my support shelf loaded up, I only want the best of the best. This is a third-tier reference-only book for me for running the game. If I were using Pathfinder 1e rules, this is on my second-tier list of nice-to-haves. For Savage Worlds, I look for books with less 1e rules crunch and more background since we have little use for the original rules.

GameMastery Guide

This one is easy to overlook, but the plethora of world-specific advice, adventure-building tips, world creation, NPC advice, rewards, play tips, and GM tips are excellent. And you get a bunch of random tables for ideas. While I would not say this one is a must-have, the book is mainly free of rules and packed with good advice in the Pathfinder style, so it will be handy in running your games. In its time, this is one of the better "dungeon master guides" out there and a handy book on running Pathfinder games, all while keeping the great art and style of the books that inspires me whenever I open it.

This is another that is heavy on the advice and inspiration, much like the Inner Sea Races book, but more for game masters and adventure creation. This is a nice-to-have, not critical, but a good resource and will improve your games and play.

I would be careful and still lean heavily on the original Savage Pathfinder GM section with this book since there are many Savage Worlds ceremonies to maintain and encourage the use of, such as dramatic tasks. I saw dramatic tasks used in the Rise of the Runelords conversion adventure, and  I was like, "Oh yeah!" So things like allies, chases, dramatic tasks, creative combat, downtime, fear, hazards, interludes, mass battles, networking, quick encounters, social conflict, and the travel/encounters system should all be encouraged and used by Savage Pathfinder GMs when appropriate.

I dare say even treasure and reward generation can be done with the deck of cards if one gets creative enough. This is the Savage mindset; if you see a "ceremony" type activity in another game, try and turn that into a Savage Worlds style minigame given the tools you have - dice, raises, tokens, cards, result charts, random tables, and all the other cool toys in your Savage Worlds toolbox.

There is a "corruption" system in the Pathfinder 1e book Horror Adventures that is pretty simplistic with just three stages, some saves, and some manifestations. I could pull open the old Savage Worlds Horror Companion and look for something that works there, or I could create a unique Savage Worlds ceremony around corruption using resistance rolls, a corruption token system, and random tables or cards to determine the specific corruption effect. Put a system in for removing the tokens through good deeds, penance, purification, or other things that could remove these tokens.

Now, instead of a ported in Pathfinder 1e system for corruption where you make a note of a number and move on, players are accumulating "corruption tokens" and worrying about what happens when they get the next one. They look for ways to get rid of them. Bonus points if you use little skulls, curios, or evil eye tokens from a craft store that look like they signify corruption.

Use your Savage toybox!

It is easy to go to this book first and lose your way in the Savage GM-ing style, so default to the original rules and use this book as a secondary inspiration source. A good exercise is to read this book and think about how the Savage gaming conventions can be used to make things work in a more Savage Worlds fashion from different sections of this book.

All in good jest, my friends! Now go and adventure!

And it is Aroden, the God of Game Masters approved. I am keeping this joke going because this is how my campaign rolls. In my game, he is the one responsible for all this.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Savage Pathfinder, Part 2

There is a lot to play with the Savage Pathfinder set, especially with Rise of the Runelords done out as a complete conversion, so that is six entire modules that your group has to start with, which is a heck of a lot. But where do you go from there?

Since Paizo still sells a lot of 1e content, let's fill up our PDF shopping carts and figure out the best books to buy to support a long-term Savage Pathfinder game. I suppose this is why we have Savage Pathfinder, so Paizo has people buying1e materials for a completely new game, and they can keep the older edition content earning money. It is an intelligent strategy, and I hope the Pinnacle and Paizo team does more adventure path conversions and possibly more bestiaries and supporting books for the system.

I will be there to buy.

More Kickstarter! Advanced Player's Guide, Bestiary 2! After that, the Ultimate collection and Bestiary 3! I am sure you guys could work up "seasons" of tiered content to make into boxed sets and Kickstarter them one at a time.

Please more!

Inner Sea World Guide

What else do you recommend first? Yes, some world information is presented in the Savage Pathfinder companion, but nothing beats having the original campaign guide to the setting to get the grand view of things. This is also one of those books heavier on raw information than its rules. As a general rule, I recommend against books that are more rules than information - unless you are grabbing a bestiary for inspiration and different types of monsters you could convert into. Maps, nations, history, geography, and setting info are all great and instantly usable in a Savage Pathfinder game, so this is an easy recommendation.

Inner Sea Gods

Another good book, especially if you are interested in pantheons and the world's religions, is the Inner Seas Gods book. This one is more info than rules and gives you a good overview of the world's belief systems if these will play a significant part in your game. This one is a little less useful than the World Guide but still compliments that book nicely with an overview of the divine pantheon.

Aroden, God of Gamemastery

And where else are you going to find the God of Gamemastering, Deadlands huckster, and the one responsible for this campaign, Game-Master of the Gods, Savage Aroden?

"Fun is what I decree, and fun is what shall be had by all! - GMG Aroden"

Location Books, As Needed

There are quite a few books focused on one location, and those will be helpful if your campaign swings by those places. These would be number three on my list to get, but only if you need them. They rank high because they are excellent guides to many areas, but I can't give a list since your game may be located anywhere in the world.

Get them and use them if they are helpful to you. Otherwise, they are skippable if you are just playing through adventures and not doing continuing campaigns in these locations. They will be more useful if you plan on flipping the adventure paths on their heads regarding outcomes and plots.

Adventure Paths, Great, Some Work Needed

From here, I would start collecting PDFs of other adventure paths. After you finish Rise of the Runelords, you will probably have a good idea of how to convert things and how to present a good challenge level to different ranked players and parties. And the paths never directly convert in one-to-one; the designers said if there were series of rooms bunched together, make them all one fight and sort of doing some intelligent optimization of encounters and fudge a lot if the challenge is too complex or too easy.

Treat them as stories to play through and settings to visit, and when an encounter comes up, you should make up a good and exciting fight without worrying about getting the conversion perfect. Reskin a griffon to be the hell beast monster you need, use those stats close enough, give it a breath weapon and some immunities, and done. Again, once you complete Runelords, you will have a better idea of balance, and those boss monsters can be reskinned and tweaked as needed to build challenges.

You have many to choose from, and while you could use the 2E adventures to keep the game classic feeling, I would stick with the classic 1e adventures. Luckily all adventure paths start at a low level and take you up in levels as you go, so they should scale and present a more straightforward progression of conversion.

And yes, the above is the "mythic" adventure path, but honestly, the story is more important than an "extra power" subsystem they tacked onto the base game. Just say, "the heroes are the heroes, " use the story, and don't worry about mythic power.

Beware the Railroads!

How I am running these is never to assume success. The adventure paths are always written in this single path mentality, and they tend to tell you "what happens if you fail." And typically, the next one in the series assumes victory over the previous. I will let players fail these adventures and continue their lives. Even if they wipe, bring in a new group on a new arc and continue the story another way.

With Savage Pathfinder and God of Game-mastery Aroden running the show, the fun will be seeing how everything gets derailed and off-track. This also creates a dynamic living world that does not assume success and solving all the problems.

[Spoiler] The Worldwound path also has this apocalyptic ending should the players fail, and even I would treat that as a possibility and not set in stone. Things will worsen in the area, but not to world-ending levels of campaign-wrecking destruction. 

There is one section where the demons fight the orc nations where they should have left room for the orcs to be the ones to go in and solve the demon problem, given help from the characters, and that would be an epic follow-up to a failed ending that the book never takes into account. 

They assume the orcs lose, and that is it, but it is much more fun to take the ending and turn this into a new beginning, and perhaps even an orc-focused campaign with Savage orc PCs, like a World of Warcraft Horde experience. [End Spoiler]

If the adventure path railroads an ending or outcome, kick it off the tracks and make up a better one that is savage, pulp, and fun. If the players go another way, let them go! 

Aroden decrees all shall have fun and experience grand adventure! Aroden also does not believe in predetermined outcomes! Now go forth, and be heroes! The world is yours!

Hardcovers, Use Care

I would use care for a lot of the hardcover rule books. The bestiaries are probably the best pickups of this group, but you will need to convert things. There are online tools to do some of the essential work to get you started, so you won't have to do a lot of heavy lifting, but you still need to account for special powers, attacks, defenses, and if the monster is a wild card.

The NPC Codex and Villain books may be helpful for basic types of NPCs, which should convert by their levels to the system pretty straightforwardly. The stats will be worthless, but the writeups, classes, and gear will be helpful. They may be beneficial as starting points and for pictures of NPCs, so get them if that interests you.

I would stay away from technology books since you got everything you need in Savage Worlds Core and Deadlands, gunslingers, and sci-fi gear. And this is if you allow any of it in your world, or you want to keep it more fantasy and down to earth. Personally, I am happy leaving Pathfinder 2 to the steampunk setting, and 1e is supposed to be a fantasy setting, and that is how I am keeping it.

Pawns, If Needed

If you play with pawns, I would recommend getting any you like. You can even use 2nd edition pawns in a pinch, so don't worry about picking up 1st edition ones unless you are collecting. Most of the time, you need something cool to represent PCs and close enough ones for monsters and NPCs.

That is if you are playing offline. If you are on a virtual tabletop, you will be doing something else entirely. You may have these from your other Pathfinder games, and you can easily make do with figures or pog-type markers.

Hard Data and Stories over Rules

Maps, world data, towns, NPCs, and other system-neutral background data should be a higher priority over rules. You can probably skip a gear, magic, and class expansion books. Stories are always great since those are what you will be retelling with the new system.

The basic Savage Pathfinder books are 90% of what you need to play. Everything else is background data or story content.

And remember, you are not "wasting money" if you have a total party kill, fail an adventure path, have things not come out how the adventure path says they should, or have the players devise a better way to solve something that changes everything. The rules system is already completely changed, so the adventures and outcomes should also be. Leave the adventure path half-resolved and come back to it later if you wipe. Make up a new part and insert a new group of heroes there.

"Next time, we solve it a different way."

Maybe team up with the bad guys. Maybe go Kingmaker on a path where you aren't supposed to. Maybe ignore everything and just adventure in the area. Maybe join a faction and mess things up, betray them, and take over yourself. We felt like preset computer game scenarios when we played these adventures, and we had to follow them beat-by-beat.

Not anymore.

The rules have changed.


The fun of a second playthrough is this: seeing how crazy things get, changing things, screwing everything up, breaking the adventure, finding new paths and places to explore, and generally making the experience your own over the module writer. This is like a second playthrough of Grand Theft Auto where you get silly and try to break everything and do new things, so have fun with these adventures, and do not be afraid to try something that ruins everything and forces the referee to take things in a new and fun direction.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Savage Pathfinder Character Sheets

If you are looking for Savage Pathfinder character sheets, the above is one of the best you can get. One of the nice things about this one, besides it being free, is in Acrobat Reader you can turn off layers, like the background graphics, page graphics, and logo; and they even included a printer-friendly text layer you can turn on instead of the artsy-text layer.

The end result is a super clean and toner-saving character sheet you can print a dozen of and not feel your printer is going to run out of ink or toner.

Savage Pathfinder, part 1

This is what I am going with.

I had a fun campaign going for Savage Worlds and the original Fantasy Companion, and it was a fun one. This was in the world of Savage Thule, and it was a sort of Conan-inspired game with survival and mysterious ruin exploration themes. It was a fun game that got me into the system. When I saw the Savage Worlds Pathfinder game announced, I backed the crowdfunding and kind of put the game on hold. At the same time, I checked out different games, such as Castles & Crusades, B/X versions, Pathfinder 2, and a bunch of other fantasy games that I wanted to read and experience.

Primeval Thule is a fantastic setting, a mix of Lovecraft and Conan sort of horror and pulp adventure with a nod to the open fantasy standards. It is sort of a world you can pick any spot and make your own, which is excellent and allows you a lot of flexibility when coming up with adventures. I have the Pathfinder version, but they do have a PDF version of this for Savage Worlds. I just want the maps and descriptions; I can do without many rules since I have everything I need.

If I go back to Thule, I get this feeling that I want the new Fantasy Companion in my hand to do it right. That leaves me with my current book in hand, Savage Pathfinder.

Would I stick to Golarion in the 1e version, pre-Steampunk 2e timeline? Honestly, this was one of the most incredible runs of a setting in roleplaying history when you consider every adventure path and book made for Pathfinder 1e. I love that the 1e world still feels like a fantasy world. We have not advanced into the Starfinder era of robots, machine companions, androids, anything-goes ancestries, technology, flying machines, guns, and modern technology replacements. The Pathfinder 2e world feels like fantasy Starfinder without starships.

Explaining Savage Pathfinder

If I do stick to Golarion, how do I explain away the whole Pathfinder 2 thing? Well, there is always this guy...


Well, the rumors about the god Aroden's death were greatly exaggerated. And he is a Savage Pathfinder fan. Being the god of history and innovation, he likes Savage World's ability to play in any historical era, and he also likes how innovative the rules are. Likely, he was off being a cowboy in Deadlands, giving the system a try.

...found you!

With the other gods distracted, Aroden discovered how to become the god of rules systems and gamemastering so he could impose his will on everyone and let the chips fall where they may. He walks around the Realm of the Gods like Matt Mercer and calls the other Golarion gods his players. He even narrates in the same way, "Your followers discover an evil plot to..." And yes, that pisses everyone off. But there is nothing they can do about it since without Aroden around, nobody plays anything.

Aroden's followers, who were left, became regional gamemasters of the world. I am guessing Aroden will not have an official church or religion. If they exist, they will operate in secret like a group of gamemasters secretly fixing rules, setting up adventures, and keeping abnormalities from messing up the new reality. You could have fun playing a religion that treats the Savage Worlds rules as a religion and treats bennies as a holy blessing, but then again, that is just describing most Savage Worlds fans.

Granted, with Savage Aroden back, many things in the timeline are changing. If you replay the adventure paths, I am betting things like the World-wound closing will not happen (or will end very differently) because of the war this guy returning will cause. You think, well, the ultimate good guy is back, things will be easy mode, right?

Not exactly. He is the new gamemaster in town, and things are gonna change. He sold all his 3.5 books and has moved onto a new system. He wants pulp adventure.

In this alternate world that follows Savage World rules, I am probably free to break all the plates and glasses, screw up the timeline, change the outcomes of adventure paths, make entire kingdoms fall, and raise holy hell with the timeline. Maybe because this guy returns, Asmodeus comes to  the world, makes himself King of Cheliax, and says, "Screw you, Aroden."

Nethys, god of Min-Maxing

Think of every god in the setting as a disruptive, obstinate, rules-lawyer, power gamer, flowery roleplayer, min-maxer, overly careful, or otherwise stereotype of a pen-and-paper gamer, and you will get how the gods act under this system. And then translate those behaviors to the plots they cause for their followers. And the players have to deal with all the chaos this causes. Adventure paths will be created just because of fights between "players" in the Realm of the Gods. This is Pathfinder 1e on crack.

Fun stuff.

I can create 100 first-edition Savage Pathfinder adventure paths just off the chaos this guy coming back and changing the rules of the game causes. No adventure path will ever end like you think it will. You are free to make the endings of each one make things worse in some way and create more adventures as the entire world slowly descends into madness and hell.

Crossovers will be fun since we will go to Deadlands, ETU, Flash Gordon, Sprawlrunners, Wiseguys, and other cool places instead of World War I. The rule is no crossover unless it is a Savage Worlds setting. Aroden wants to get some use out of his book collection, just like the guy running this campaign.

There will be those wanting to go back to the old ways (which will never happen, Aroden has a Deadlands ace up his sleeve); those who miss 3.75; those who know Pathfinder 2 is impossible now; those who lament the loss of Starfinder; those who know their 675 hit points and AC 40 are gone forever; and those who are just afraid of a new and uncertain future.

Let it rip.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Pathfinder 2 Solo Play

This is a game I really want to love, but I struggle with it. It feels like there is way too much to remember, way too many modifiers to track, way too many tags to keep track of and apply (at times in chains), and my brain says, "This is how you program a video game, please give me that."

And I do not struggle with Pathfinder 1e, GURPS, or even games like Champions or Aftermath. I like deep, complicated games where a lot needs to happen in my head at once. Many of those games are straightforward, where you are worrying about straight damage, and tags and additional effects are relatively rare. When you get higher level in Pathfinder 1e, you get into those other addon effects, but the lower level game feels very much like B/X and is computationally simple.

I do not want to remember and apply that many effects and tags for a party of four that I am running solo. I can't do it. I will miss half, spend 50% of the time flipping through a book, and never feel I am playing it well enough for all those rules to matter. It feels like buying a software package so complicated you never spend the time learning to use it because your mind just can't.

The character builds in Pathfinder 2 are these giant choice trees, and I just want a simple point-buy design system. Yes, the choices are simplified as you level. You are making a few choices, but I have a specific character in mind, and I find myself predesigning something to make sure I get what I want at a higher level. I am finding myself limited by these "scripted" class leveling systems even in Starfinder, where I want my space mechanic to change focus for a little while, and I feel he really can't because he will miss out on a few powers later on, or the character bloat would increase substantially if I am multiclassing.

I get in a system like Savage Worlds, GURPS, Champions, or other games that give you points to buy the character ability you want when you level, and I feel right at home. I want to increase my combat or piloting skills for a while; go ahead.

I still have the feeling this game is better with others. When you have 4 people around the table, each heavily invested in their class and knows their powers and abilities, I bet things run like a well-oiled machine. When the group learns the game together, and the referee can focus on managing the chaos and story instead of running characters, I bet things run great. The party synergies and action economy make this game awesome. The class choices as you level keep characters balanced without too much referee review. It all works great, and it feels designed for groups.

Some games work better than multiplayer games, which is where I feel Pathfinder 2 lands.

This is way too much for solo play and feels like standing in an empty World of Warcraft server. Sure, you can play a class and get some progression, and maybe you can get a few quest lines done, but ultimately you will never enjoy everything the game has to offer alone.

I am keeping my library and subscriptions up, I still believe in the game and company. It is just a hard choice unless I put some serious time into learning and working through all the concepts, which I don't have right now. I am probably moving to a simpler game for my Pathfinder experience.

D3: Vault of the Drow - Now in Print!

Some big news for POD module collectors today, D3 Vault of the Drow is now in POD. A whole lot of people have been waiting for this one since all of the other books in the series had printed options. You can finally have the entire GDQ series in print, and it is a happy day.

Good stuff.

If there are other books you are waiting for, post a comment, and let them know.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Savage Worlds: Fantasy Companion Alpha

For late backers and the original backers, the alpha PDF dropped today and is available for download. I don't want to do a review since this is an alpha, but what I was interested in were the differences between Savage Pathfinder (SPF) and the Fantasy Companion (FC) since there was a lot of overlap.

This is a nice book, and it presents a more general genre of fantasy than the more world-specific Pathfinder setting. You get a big box view of fantasy with a super broad view of fantasy races, classes, powers, and other material pulled from open-source fantasy games rather than sticking to the Pathfinder core material. If you have a world that is more kitchen-sink than Pathfinder, or a setting like D&D 4 with dragonkin, this is the perfect book to use to convert things into Savage Worlds.

A note here, the ancestries in the Fantasy Companion are at +2 points, compared to Savage Pathfinder's +4 points. They give you an option to add two points to these to bring them up to that "heroic level." I am betting this is to keep things in line with the original rules and balance level of the established settings. 

The races here are way more varied than the standard Savage Pathfinder collection, and you get a bunch of the new classics to play with, and some inspired by movies, games, novels, and even MMORPGs. If you ever wanted to play Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Elder Scrolls, Witcher, or Everquest, this is your book. You also get new racial abilities such as diminutive, dark vision, and breath weapons, so a lot more types of custom races can be created.

There are a few reprinted monsters between SPF and FC, but that is to get both games to a basic level of support without requiring the other book, and that is a good thing.

This works well on its own or with Savage Pathfinder as expanded content, so I am very happy with this. FC is more of a hacker and creator's guide to creating fantasy settings and games, whereas SPF is more of a specific game for a specific world.

More soon as this develops and gets even better.

Highly recommended and worth jumping in on.