CanCon 2014

28 January, 2014

(NB: I am drinking at the keyboard again, so this post contains a little language)

CanCon 2014. I signed up to play PFS, this year.

Saturday, played the intro game with my new character, Zack Jackson. In the evening, DMmmed it at a table at which a couple of guys (at least) were themselves DMs. No pressure.

Sunday, played an afternoon session, but the noise was so bad I left the table. Could not, could not hear the DM. I’m a bit deaf, or something, but it wasn’t just me – he was reduced to playing D&D with the player sitting next to him, who would play chinese whispers to get the info around the table.

No fun, especially when PFS modules feature slabs of colour text which a DM is supposed to sit there and read out. I’ll tell you – when I ran games, I would print copies of that shit beforehand and just had it around the table.

Actually – I’ll go off an have a mini-rant about it. Here’s a typical example:

The Pathfinder Society has turned its attention to the Ruby Phoenix Tournament—a world-renowned fighting competition, held once every ten years in the city of Goka on the eastern continent of Tian Xia. More specifically, the Decemvirate is interested in the incredible prizes available to the tournament’s winner—a choice of treasure from the legendary vaults of Hao Jin, the Ruby Phoenix herself. As part of the preparations for the tournament, Pathfinder Society agents have been deployed across the Inner Sea and beyond to seek out forgotten lore, allies, and magical items to be used by the Society’s tournament representatives.
Venture-Captain Amara Li, leader of the Lantern Lodge and Goka native, has uncovered information about one such item hidden amid the reaches of the Wall of Heaven—an Iroran relic known as the Braid of a Hundred Masters. Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends to send a group of Pathfinders to the high mountain range in search of the braid’s ancient home: the Clouded Path Monastery. The two-week-long journey to the mountains began in the cosmopolitan city of Goka, passed through the surrounding villages and farmlands, and led thousands of feet up into the tallest mountain range on Golarion; all that remains is the final day’s journey up from the base camp.

This is box text. You are supposed to sit there and read it out to the players, like it’s fucking story-time for kids at the local library.

I mean, let’s take this bit:

Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends to send a group of Pathfinders to the high mountain range in search of the braid’s ancient home.

This is so wrong. How are characters supposed to know this? They just by magic know what Amara-Li’s long-term intentions are? This is DM background – absolutely should not be box text that you sit down and read out to the players.

And frankly, you sound like a dick reading it out. Nobody actually talks that way “Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends …”. Try it now. Look around, to see that no-one is watching, and read it aloud. You feel like a fool, right?

It’s a classic violation of the basic rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell. Box text should be limited to what players see and hear and know. If it must have background info, it needs to be in dot point form.

So module writers, you don’t make the DM read out “Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends …”. The right way to do this is to have as one of Amara Li’s possible answers to the characters’s questions: “Oh, I’ve been organising it from my base here for years!” You don’t say “As part of the preparations for the tournament, Pathfinder Society agents have been deployed across the Inner Sea and beyond to seek out forgotten lore, allies, and magical items to be used by the Society’s tournament representatives.” as box text to be read out – you let Amara Li say “We have pathfinders looking all over for something to give us an edge – lore, allies, magic items. All the other competitors have been doing the same, naturally.”

Fucking dreadful. As I said – I would copy that shit into a document, print out a couple of copies and hand it around the table. The intro stuff I would leave on the table before game for payers to look at while I was housekeeping.

Oh – off on another tangent – PFS modules have a nice way they use knowledge skills for background info. Here’s an example:

Diplomacy or Knowledge (local)
10+ Nobody has seen the monks of the Clouded Path Monastery in years. In the past, the monastery often sent a small group of them to the mountain’s base camp to trade for the goods the monks could not produce for themselves in the harsh mountain environment.
15+ A demon of ice and snow made flesh, called Shang Xu by locals, prowls the mountains. Since the monks disappeared, it has come down to raid the farms and villages on several occasions.
20+ The “demon” is not a demon at all, but rather a raving yeti that has established its territory well below the icy altitudes in which its kind normally hunt. With increasing regularity, the beast has attacked travelers in the low mountains and even settlements high in the foothills of Clouded Path Monastery’s peak.

I would print off a few copies on this on strips of paper. My attitude is that if you know something, you know it, and during briefing of course you are working with your knowledge. Making players guess that the specific K to use is K(Arcane) is bullshit – like the character has different DVDs in their head and just overlooked referencing the right one. Instead, I’d just tell the players to roll “K(local) or diplomacy”, “K(Arcane)”, or whatever the module specifies. If anyone got 20+, hand them a strip of paper. 15-19, I would just fold the paper under to hide the 20+ info and hand that out. Etc. Then the players can RP their characters pooling what they know about the situation. And I don’t have to sit there and read out box text which, I hope I have made clear, I despise doing.

So, getting back to CanCon 2014, we have a DM with a cold (conventions are disease vectors) attempting to read out torturous, narrative colour text in an environment which, from an auditory standpoint, I can safely compare to being inside a jet engine. I’m reduced to shouting at the player next to me “Purple? Did he say something about something being purple?”

Worst of all, the module was all about exploring a tomb and solving riddles written on the walls in ancient Orisani. You have to be very clear about the text of those motherfuckers, or you wind up decapitated.

When I noticed myself getting frustrated and pissy, about to stand up at the table and yell at the top of my voice at the DM “I’m sorry – did you say something as purple?” (as if the entire con is supposed to STFU because I’m trying to play Pathfinder), I cut my losses, packed up and walked out in the middle of session. Made sure to apologize after. I behaved badly. I feel bad about it. I wish I were a better human being.

I believe Venture-Captain Ben will be having words with the CanCon organisers next year. Not that it’s thier fault either: CanCon is a bit of a victim of its own success. The tables were too close together, but they were all full. Next year, they should grab one of the other Buildings at epic, too. Moving the roleplay groups (PFS and DWO) into the building with a bar would be utterly, utterly awesome.

And, that was it. That was CanCon 2014.

Shout out to Andrew, who permits me to exercise my amateur rigger skills most years (you want to tie down a load, speak to a truckie or a motorcyclist).

Durak becomes useful

19 January, 2014

Rise of the Runlelords SPOILERS!
Had to break the session kinda-sorta in the middle of a fight, Friday night. We haven’t dealt with the BBEG, but Durak was very handy against the mini-boss.

We took down a trio of bearded devils. Durak and Bahlek both failed a fort save, so something unpleasant is coming up.

The casters did some crafting – Durak now has a nice suit of +1 lamellar stone armour, a +1 double-headed dwarven axe, and Boots of Striding and Springing. The armour was enchanted by Aeona, so is covered with runes and designs of horological significance.

I’m becoming concerned that taking the cleave option might not have been the best choice. It’s great for move->hit things->move->hit things, but the stonelord stance means that Durak must be mostly immobile (although there is cheese to counteract that). With Haste, you are getting three attacks per round anyway, two at your top attack bonus, which is as good as cleaving. Great Cleave will give you N hits, but realistically you are never going to get more than two or three in a round.

Oh well. It’s cinematic, and it might work out ok. My plan is still Great Cleave followed by Orc Hewer. We will be up against giants eventually (not that he knows this), and needs to be fighting them enlarged. After Great Cleave at level 7, it would be fun to have a scene involving mowing down a room full of goblins.

Just sayin’.

We eventually wound up at a clock tower. Basically a lighthouse – hollow on the inside. Some fun environmental challenges involving rickety stairs.

The mini-boss on the ground floor was an awakened flesh golem. Our party bypassed it, but then it headed outside – screams of terror. Durak, paladin that he is, decided that an attack on actual people happening right now took priority over what might hypothetically be at the top of the tower. Goddamit. Bahlek stayed below, but everyone else was already heading upstairs. So, team dwarf.

Flesh golems are immune to magic and have DR 5/adamantine. So Durak was the perfect – Stone Strike makes your hits adamantine, and enlarged he is a pretty heavy hitter. He blocked the door, Bahlek behind plinking arrows into it which unhappily didn’t do much thanks to the DR. Worst of all, this thing was rocking a scythe and we are using the paizo critical hit deck. But we had a stroke of luck – it crit fumbled. We are using the crit fumble deck as well, and Durak grabbed the scythe off it – dropping his axe to do so. On his round, he threw the scythe out of reach over his shoulder, picked up his axe (AAO), and kept swinging.

Main problem was that our party was split and our healer had gone up the stairs. I wasn’t keeping track of my HP as I should and was running lower than I realized. Managed to stanch the damage with lay on hands when I realised what was happening, but it was closer than it ought to have been.

Oh – did I mention that it was a clock tower? Bad guys on the rafters above, dropping bells on us. Big bells. There were two fights simultaneously. Up above, Vik (a summoner with an eidolon that can fly) was bull rushing bad guys off the rafters. Splish. Zoran the swashbuckler neatly riposted a blow, and crit fumbled. You see, his practised riposte unfortunately involved a turn and sidestep and with a splendid “Ha ha!” he stepped off the rafter. He also splished, but has a few more hp than the average mook and survived.


Bahlek got the kill steal, but Durak had used a potion of Enlarge Person with no way to dismiss it, and had no way to get up the rickety stairs. Meanwhile, Vik confronted the real BBEG above and was promptly charmed – the BBEG suggested that she fetch Aeona and bring her upstairs for some healing.

However, the last thing that happened prior to this was that Vik had asked Aeona to cast Silence on her. Which, on her turn, she did. So Vik picked up Aeona and flew her up to the BBEG, who could not use her magic thanks to the silence. So it attacked – dispelling the charm/suggestion/whatever, and the two casters came back down to ground level, the BBEG retreating upwards.

(Part of this was that we had Protection from Evil on and the suggestion should not have worked at all. But magic, you know, is tricky and unpredictable.)

And that’s how things stand. We are back on the ground, badly beaten up, there’s something nasty in the top of the tower, and Durak weighs a metric ton and cannot ascend the stairs.

Zack Jackson, reincarnated

16 January, 2014

Zack Jackson is back! Halfling bard (archaeologist), absolutely useless in combat. All he can really do in combat is flank and assist. I took the ‘helpful’ trait for him, meaning that he grants +4 rather than +2 on an assist. Better than bard song, but a) you have to hit and b) only one enemy. Since he will be doing a lot of that, I really need to buff his AC.

I played ‘the frostfur captives’, which I have played before, so no risk/no reward.


The combat at the towers took too long. Our main melee guy was busy trying to open the doors, which was a mistake. Once he was in combat, he dealt with the guards handily.

The ‘getting the goblins across the ferry’ was fun. A social encounter, involving mollifying an irritable ice troll. There troll declared that he did not want dirty goblins on his ferry, and that the price would be 200gp. Zack offered that since the goblins-on-the-ferry was the sticking point, how about if we just dragged them behind the ferry on a rope? They needed a bath, anyway. The troll thought this was a great idea, and offered passage for 25gp, which ZJ negotiated down to 5gp on the basis that there were four of us and 4 onto 25 won’t go. (still an outrageous amount for a ferry ride, but meh – the pathfinder society is paying).

We skipped the creepy hut – walked around it without engaging.

In the final combat, two axe guys attack the storeroom, and the two dudes at the table – an axe guy and a priest – also attack. We had split the party. Zack has one spell. Grease. Zack Jackson greased the axe of the axe guy at the table, and he spent the next 10 rounds fumbling with it. It very effectively kept him out of the real combat.

At one point, Zack attempted to throw some mashed potato at the axe guy to blind him. Rolled a one. Our interpretation is that Zack grabbed a handful of mashed potato and gravy off the table, was about to throw it, then “Hmm! Good!”. He’s not a glutton, specifically, but he is a halfling.

Zack also dropped some grease on the floor (which only delayed the priest for one round) then while the dude was fumbling with his axe, ran around to the other side of the floor grease patch. Dude finally got his axe, ran at Zack, failed a perception check and rolled 1 on his reflex save.

Fun times.

I’ll continue to play him as comic relief and skill monkey, I think. I’ll look into dirty fighting rules, maybe take ‘agile manoeuvres’, equip him with some bolas if possible. And keep putting points into skills – nine per level. Utility and debuffing spells. I may trade off some Cha for more Dex or Int, dump his Str to 7-2(racial). Bad MAD, unfortunately:
Str – CMD
Dex – missile & skills
Con – to stay alive
Int – skill points & knowledge
Wis – perception, sense motive
Cha – Social skills, archaeologist’s luck

Absolutely will not dump Con under any circumstances. But I could bear having a laughably nonexistent Str. I can live with Wis 8.

On a more contextual note, we had two experienced players, two n00bs at the table. The experienced players instinctively sat next to the DM. This was also a mistake. Yes, it means that the more into-it players wind up shouting the whole game, but its worth it to make new players feel included.