Season 5 prep

20 November, 2012

My glamorous co-DM and I playtested the Seas of Blood rules for tactical ship movement and mass crew combat.

The consensus was: tactical ship movement suffered the flaws of turning the game into a chess/wargame, and that of being between one player (the captain) and the DM – much like the “Crime Pays” game add-on that I have discussed before. D&D is about encounters. They can be social/skilly sort of encounters or they can be combat, but maneuvering ships around a grid is not D&D.

The group combat rules were fine, though. The entire “crew” is turned into a single stat block, and the two crews fight one another while the players have their fight with the bosses. The crew’s hit dice serve in place of hp, and if one crew is much bigger than the other, it gets bonuses to hit and damage. The upshot is that the crew combat happens at pretty much the rate that the player’s fight happens.

The great advantage of this system is that as players whittle down the mooks in their boss fight, you can pull them out of the general crew-on-crew melee. Your crew has 20 HD left, the opposing crew has 24. Pulling out 3 second-level fighters into the player’s melee means shaving 6 HD off the opposing crew. No probs. You could have two of those guys already beaten up on half hp, say, and only take 4 HD off the opposing crew. You can do cinematic things – the boss fight is already in progress, say, with good and bad guys. As the players enter the fray, those guys peel off and join the general melee.

The mass combat integrates nicely with the actual game and avoids, on the one hand, having to manage stats for each of a dozen or more crew; and on the other, having the player’s fight occur in some eerie parallel dimension or bubble that’s unconnected with the more general fight.

The “Book of the Sea” system for mass combat looks like too much work. Way too war-gamey. A “unit” has a number of “faces” – one attack per face. Opening a face is a move action. To move you need to “close” all but one “face”. You can be in skirmish formation, close ranks formation, and so on. Meh. Cool and playable, maybe, but not D&D.

This week I think we two need to look at overland movement. It’s also not as exciting as combat, but I think it helps give a feel for the world having size and scope. Paizo published a set of rules for moving around the island of Smuggler’s Shiv in the “Serpents’ Skull” campaign, and we might be able to re-purpose those. Maybe there was more detail than we want – stuff about making camp and foraging. The islands in this part of the world are mostly civilised – wandering through and making camp in most places will earn you a visit from the local samurai. But it would be cool if it takes two days to bush-bash across an unpopulated island on foot, and a ship can get from one side to the other in four hours. As in “this is why people invented ships in the first place”.

Most of the Paizo modules have minigames with auxiliary rules. It might be nice if Paizo could do some sort of omnibus volume integrating those rules from all of its adventure paths – factions and fame, money and trade. Kingmaker’s rules for city building, and war. It’s the book that the Game Mastery guide should have been, and isn’t.

Having a little work done

16 November, 2012

The old man … no, that’s not right. “Older”, perhaps. Silver haired, but not snowy, not yet. Brown and weathered, but spry. Vital. And – to those with an eye to see – radiating the aura of chaos and looty piratical danger that marks a cleric of Besmara, the pirate goddess. To those without such vision, there is a clue nevertheless: an unmistakable skull-and-bones on his left cheek. No tattoo, this, but a birthmark – the goddess staking her territory, marking her claim. “This one”, it said, “this one shall reave the seas”.

But not this evening. This evening he is ashore in a dockside tavern, some weeks since he was last ashore. He is gambling, and winning. A fight breaks out between two of the players – fists flying. A brief break in the game, in other words. And then daggers are drawn, the fight gets serious. Game over, it seems. Salty Bob repairs to the bar. And there a familiar face.

“Arr lad! Ye be back! Good to see ye. Now where were we? Arr – I were telling ye about the Fever Sea. Pull up a share, ye and your mate, and I’ll tell ye a mite more”.

Need to read Treasure Island. SB is just a generic healer at this point, but Besmara is goddess of strife and war. Her clerics need to be dangerous, bloodthirsty cutthroats, and I’m not playing SB that way.

We hove the Mann’s Promise into Rickety Squid’s, and the man himself came out on a boat to speak to a likely customer. A direct man, he was – he knew what we were there for, and we knew that he knew. He gave us a bit of a price list and lad, owning a ship is not for the faint of heart. Just his basic price was an even two thousand gold – more than most will see in a lifetime. More if you wanted extra.

But we had the loot aboard the Promise, as well as some coin and various bits of magic we has found on the cursed island, chief among them being a whale’s skull scribed with spells. Between all that we had enough for the basic package and more besides.

Rickety Squid offers 50% base for items, and 30% (negotiable) for loot. Between Salty Bob’s diplomacy and Vorak’s appraise, we managed a good deal.

The whales skull was clearly loot intended for a wizard – I play a wizard in Kingmaker and reflexively started to drool. It had half a dozen low-level spells on it, and could be used as a scroll. The real value of it was that you can scribe the spells into your book. But our arcanist is a sorcerer, and the skull was not really a lot of use – just some one-shot spells on a skull too big to conveniently carry. Far more useful as loot.

Silk sails we put on her, improvements to the rudder and rigging. Oh, Rickety had prices to fit her out as a warship, but we would be raiding and went for speed. We decided to name her the Alestorm.

And a couple of smuggler’s compartments, but Old Captain Bob is not going to mention that.

We struck hands, and Rickety Squid and his men took the ship in charge. We repaired to the accommodations, which was part of the arrangement.

Well, we were ashore for a week or so. First night Vorak told the story of our mutiny, which did not make much impression. But second night, he told ’em about the haunted isle and was impressive. That, lad, was the very first night our fame began to spread, right there in Rickety Squid’s tavern.

The campaign has an infamy/reputation mechanic, which I will not detail. Bigging yourself up at every opportunity is important.

We had our first sign of the troubles to come the very next day. We were spinning yarns with a group of the locals fishing the river, when something grabbed a line and yanked one of the fishers into the river! A river naga it was, and he were raving mad – screaming and yelling. I summoned a squid to cloud the water so that we could get the fisher ashore. One or two of the lads jumped in and made rescue – “Get ot of the water!” I yells, but Havok has his blood up and dives back in. A few more bolts, and Havok with his dagger, and the Naga is done for. Rickety hears the rukus and comes over. Seems he has a deal with the nagas – actually knows the one we killed. We all decide that he was driven mad by the drought.

Next day, or was it the day after? No matter – next day, a half dozen wasps each the size of a horse come out of the jungle. We take down three of them, and then two more try to carry away one of our workers. We attack them, too, and I discover for the first time the power of the weapon Besmara had seen fit to give me – greyfire, lad, holy greyfire.

Keegan has given us each a character-specific item.

And as we finish the two wasps, another ship comes into port. Now, this be quite the breach of politness, as Rickety Squid’s customers like the privacy. But stap me vitals if it weren’t Captain Insert Name Here. Aye, lad – that Captain Insert Name Here. I didn’t know at the time, being new to the trade, that he was one of the free captains. But Vorak and Havok did – natives of the area y’ see.

Campaign trait

He were a right (insert nautical synonym for top bloke) and offered to christen our ship. That’s right lad – the Alestorm were christened by Capt’n Insert Name Here, and that story be true, even if most of the others ye may have heard are stretching it. Just as well we didn’t back down from the wasps and there’s the lesson lad, if lesson ye need: ye lose every fight ye run from.

If we had hid out and let the wasps attack, it would have gone very badly for our reputation. Don’t know what campaign effect having our ship christened by a notable captain will be, but it’s got to be good.

Notes on movement and area of effect in pathfinder.

16 November, 2012

Pathfinder does not use the 4th ed rule that a diagonal move is the same as a horizontal or vertical move. Instead, the rule is:

“Every second diagonal move counts as two squares.”

Oh, rather than the abstract “squares”, we say “five foot”, so the rule is:

“Every second diagonal move counts as ten foot.”

The effect of this is that bursts and ranges have a much more natural looking circular shape (actually, it’s a slightly wonky octagon, but whatever).

So, no more square fireballs.

Lets say you have a 30′ move. If you are moving in a straight horizontal line, you count off the distance:
“five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twentyfive, thirty”

If you are moving in a diagonal line, you count it off like so:

“five, ten-fifteen, twenty, twentyfive-thirty”

If you are moving along a path to get around an obstacle, well, you have to keep track of whether your previous diagonal move was five or ten. But jeez – it isn’t all that difficult!

Spell areas of effect – bursts and blasts – are similar. A spell is taken to originate from a grid line intersection, not from a square. This means that a “radius 5” spell hits 4 squares.

The template for bursts looks like this. Note that the horizontal cone shape is slightly adjusted, but otherwise it’s pretty normal.

For line effect spells, you nominate an intersection on the foundry of your character (for normal size characters, that means on of the points on your square), an end point, and we draw a line.