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.


12 November, 2012

More war, but I think the last of our big battles. We had dealt with a couple of armies – another one to the north a day or two away, and were resting up to give the centaurs time to recover. But the Pitax army marched and attacked.

It was a major battle, and I think decisive. The Pitaxian giants mounted on mastodons, the wyvern flight, and two hordes of barbarians against our centaurs, kobolds, mercenaries and our regular army. We took down the wyverns first and I sent the mercs to fight the giants. We lost the mercenaries and the kobolds, we scattered the giants and one of the hordes, and finally we down to our centaurs and a few of the regulars.

(I sent the mercs against the giants because I rather thought that the fewer mercenaries left alive at the end, the better. It is usually the case that an army that wins with mercenaries has won nothing, because the mercenaries will then hold the kingdom ransom. But having them wiped out rather fixes that problem. Nasty, but that’s politics for you.)

Finally, we saw that it had all become very iffy, so we seven, the Court of Fredonia – entered the battle as well. His Grace and his bearer, Klael and mount and lance, Rainor with the Bow of Herne and Rainen, and me and my wand of Fireball (a sensible investment, that). The last of the regulars fell, the centaurs scattered, but we seven were able to carry the field. Qui stat uictor est.

It was damn close. Dave permitted us to enter as an army if we all spent an action point to do it. Level 14, a “tiny” army (so, CR 7), but with improved defenses: Stoneskin for everyone, improved weapons and armour, and other relevant buffs. We would have lost otherwise. Dave ruled that we were at 2/3rds hp and with most of the Stoneskin used up.

And finally all that was left was the opposing command. Three trolls – one with a banner – a mounted combaant and a weretiger. The weretiger shot at me (!) and then went invisible. She (and it was a she) was a specialist in hitting the weak spot. Like me, but rather better at it. Even with a See Invisible I couldn’t spot her. And then she attacked me from behind, grappling and clawing. I should have Dimension Doored out, but instead tried to slip out of her grip. Would have died if Klael had not lanced her and Rainor shot her.

But while this was going on, Jope had done for the other combatant (quite the battle, but I was rather too busy to notice. Weretiger.), and so we were just left with the three trolls. I had a second or two to finally cast Improved Invisibility, and then it was just mopping up. Both Jope and Klael had fire weapons, and I could finally be useful.

So. We were victorious. But I had been rather badly mauled by a lycanthrope. It’s a curse, you know, not a disease. But I am already cursed by Zon-Kuthon – why not be twice-cursed? And in any event the form of a weretiger, if you can manage the bloodlust, has definite advantages. Especially for one in my line of work. Already I am drinking blood at every opportunity, so why the hell not? How much worse could it be?

Try not to judge me, Michael.

Last night was the full of the moon. I felt it in my blood, the affliction, the curse. I felt my senses becoming keener, my bones trying to shift, felt the savagery, the freedom, the urge to hunt and kill. I was ready, Michael. I wanted to contend with the madness, to master the lycanthropy. I was eager for it. Weretiger! What’s not to like?

Then, a blue light. (Blue? Not exactly, but there is no better way to describe it.) And the cold of death. (I’m not just being poetic: it’s quite specific. I’ve been there, you know.) And a forbidding, a prohibition, a refusal, a ban:

Blood may serve only one master.

The god had spoken. I woke in the morning. The lycanthrope’s claw-marks had faded altogether to just an ordinary bruise. The power had gone, the were-taint. I was clean.


I have just got to get rid of this thing.

Skull and Shackles – Democracy in Action

8 November, 2012

Next day, lad, I prayed Besmara for a spell to help the lads underwater, and a right strange spell she gave me: to create a bubble of air around yer head to breathe [“Air Bubble“, of course]. There are better spells, but this one were simple enough for old Bob to cast. I were new to the religion game, back then. We made for the cove – stopping off on the way to ransack some sort of house in the swamp. There were a few vials of alchemists fire aboard, which would have come in right handy when we were fending off those insects, but no matter.

To the cove, and the sunken ship. Home to an eel it was, and gave the lads a nasty moment or two. But we had picked up a potion or three of Water Breathing – gave them to Vorak, Aliza, and Mork – so there was more than enough to deal with a single eel. Big though it were. After that, we headed into the cave. And were attacked by bloody stirges, damn little bloodsuckers. No joke, lad – those things will drink yer blood till yer die of it, and they run in swarms. Easy to kill, but you have to do it quick.

And what rotten luck – the caves were mostly sunken, with the odd air pocket. But three of us had Water Breathing, one of those a decent swimmer, so we tied a rope to one of the lad’s ankles and he scouted ahead. Two tugs, and we followed him in.

[this was last week, so memory a little hazy]

We came up into a cave with an air pocket – stale, but breathable. And full of grindylows. One of them with Sendara’s hat. We fought and beat them, and reclaimed Sendara’s hat and holy symbol, which I kept for safekeepin. The hat was magic – one of Besmara’s Tricornes. Made it easier to swim, among other things.

After that, we swam some more. There was a chamber with ghouls at the bottom, behind a grate. Ghouls are simple to create lad, you just lock some bad men up together without food until they turn cannibal. They die and rise as undead if they are wicked enough. Only way to stop it is if the men come from a place where cannibalism is an acceptable thing to do, or if the men cast lots to decide who gets eaten. Even then – a man who has decided in his heart not to abide by the result of the lot if he is chosen, and who eats his shipmate regardless can still rise as a ghoul. (Most men will fight once they have been chosen – that’s different and to be expected.)

But that’s by-the-bye lad – they were sensible enough to swim up for their priest treading water on the surface, and I swam below and called down the power. Once, then twice, and they were laid to rest. The lads had ripped out the grate, and a thing or two had fallen down.

We explored some more, untangling ourselves from the traps the grindylow had lined their passages with, and came to a chamber with a ledge and Besmara bless me Sendara and Maheem hanging from the roof on ropes, alive but unconscious, their feet ballasted with bars of silver. In a moment we were attacked – a grindylow giant (a giant of it’s kind, you understand) and another one, some sort of spellcaster. The giant swallowed Vorak in one gulp, but our sorceress blasted him with a Color Spray and knocked him senseless, it spitting up Vorak in the process. The spellcaster were wielding a magical spear of narwhal horn, which returned to the hand after it was cast. I never can picture in my mind exactly how she managed it, but somehow she speared her own head and killed herself.

It gets pretty random when you are rocking the Critical Hit and Critical Fumble decks

“Please,” she said as her last words, “do not kill my son!”. We gutted the abomination quick, before it recovered from Aliza’s spell, and made calamari of his tentacles.

Then we recovered Sendara and Maheem. There were a cage of ghouls below the water (where they would drop if they were loosed). Mork took care of them himself, which were foolhardy but no accident came of it. Maheem told us that Mr Plug fully intended to kill us when we made ship again.

Well now. Weren’t that a thing.

The rest of the cave had more grindylows, but with their queen dead they ran off right quick [Keegan was keen to wind up, I think]. There was a trap at one point, a spiked grate in the ceiling, which Vorak disabled by way of setting it off while he was under it. Nothing like a few holes in you to teach a lad to be more careful next time!

A few more bits and bobs, then we loaded the loot into the longboat and rowed back to the ship. We didn’t have the water, ‘o course, but between me and Sendara we didn’t really need it – were only Plug didn’t like the idea of spelled water.

What to do? Well, we were pirates. No point mucking about – we decided to simply attack and kill Plug and Scourge if we could. Almost all of the old crew were on our side. Mork, the well-spoken young half-orc, told us he had prepared something.

We made fast the boat and climbed the cargo net. Them Mork stepped up and accused Captn Plug of mutiny and drew his steel.

Funny enough, I think it were effective. Certainly it confused him for a vital second or two. We attacked him and Scourge, Havok with his greatsword splitting Scourge clean in two, and Vorok gutting Plug. Aliza has an interesting trick – firing mer magic missiles solid enough to tip someone over, which she used to fine effect. And I have a trick or two of my own: calling down the power ‘o healin but withholding it from one or two in the blast. Between us all, and with most of the older crew on side, the matter was over quickly. The other sailors cried for quarter, and that was that.

We decided to continue on to Bloodcove and rename the ship – the silver would more than pay for it. Now don’t give me that look lad. Yes, it were what Plug was going to do, but Plug had been given charge of the ship by Harrigan and then turned around and betrayed him like a scurvy dog. We, on the other hand, had pirated the ship from its captain fair and square, and so it were ours. And if that’s slicing the salt pork a little fine, no-one cared to object.

Sendara gave me the hat to keep, and part of its blessing be to improve your skills at sailing, so I were made ship’s master and got us underway. Vorak [I assume] turned out to be decent with a sextant, and set course for Bloodcove. We left off electing a captain for a bit.

And it were plain sailing for the next few days. And that be the tale of the Wormwood Mutiny, and as to whether it were us or Plug and Scourge who were the mutineers, only Besmara can judge.

Now see those two lads in the corner with the wench? Watch closely: in a moment the wench will start them fighting, then pick their pockets while … arr, there you go. Watch her hands, lad. It might come this way, so we should shift. If ye be here next week, I might tell ye the tale of the Raiders of the Fever Sea.