DMming PFS

13 June, 2013

Well! My first week running a PFS game. Went well, I think.

One character death, due to the party splitting up and scattering in an area they knew to be dangerous. As a result, they came at the BBEG one at a time like the bad guys in a martial arts movie, with the usual result. The final combat was great, though, and their dropping of the boss was cinematic. I’m especially pleased how the samuari’s “you get one final round after being dropped below 0” came into play. He got the killing hit, after it had been softened up by the sorcerer. The player has good reason to be pleased with how his character performed.

Got it right: I used my iPad to access the paizo site to make the record of the session. This means that the players don’t get that delay waiting for the DM to put up the record – entered the PP and XP straight away at the end of session.

Got it wrong: I was missing two items that I should have brought with me – pregen sheets and my map eraser.

Permit me to record here what you need to run a game, both for you and for my own benefit next fortnight.

General source materials
Core Rulebook & Monster Manual
Rookie error to forget these. The modules don’t have statbloocks for standard monsters. You must have these books.
I think I’ll print these out and laminate. This means I can reuse the sheets.
PFS rules
Didn’t need these on the night, but I out to have brought hardcopy of the character creation rules, at least.
World maps
When playing, I like to know where I am, and I assume the players want the same. I had a map of the continents of Golarion, the inner sea map, and a map of Xian Tia. Laminated for reuse. Ultimately I’ll wind up with a collection.
From the scenario:
the scenario itself
nasty moment there, when I though I had missed this
chronicle record sheets (8)
eight of these. I wound up with six players at the table, which is more than I expected, and you may need a spare.
GM record sheet
Didn’t need this, because I use the iPad and went straight to the site. Want to get myself a small bluetooth mouse/keyboard.
Faction missions (handout)
One of each is enough.
Major colour text (handout)
Didn’t actually use these, but I’d prefer to be able to hand out the mission briefing than to have to read it multiple times, if payers have questions.
Knowledge checks
I like having these as a handout. Just print each set in a column (c/p into a word document with narrow columns), cut out pre-game and at the table fold under the sections that the players didn’t get a good enough knowledge score to know. This means that the players can RP sharing what they know (or not, if their characters are of a secretive bent).
Scenario artwork
A pic of the venture captain, and the BBEG. Over time, hopefully, players will come to recognise the venture captains they have worked with, and this will provide a sense of continuity.
I find that on the mac, a copy/paste from preview grabs everything on the page, but the adobe reader will permit you to select the underlying images. This means you don’t have to edit the image to remove text.
Items for running encounters

Map, pens, eraser
I use a few a1 sheets which I prepared fairly cheaply. Generated a grid, printed them off at Officeworks at the cheaper “plan printing” rate, stained the paper with coffee, then took it back and had them laminated. About $20 each, all up. Brad at Good Games is kind enough to allow me to keep them at the store.
I mark maps with whiteboard eraser, which comes off the map with one of these weird chux sponge things. They are slightly abrasive, but don’t score the map excessively. Clean the map after the session! The whiteboard marker becomes difficult to remove if you let it sit for a week.

For the monastery itself, I had a Paizo map, borrowed from Ben.

For the monsters, and a few assorted ones for PCs and NPCs. I actually had a couple of my minis repainted for the purpose (I have a stack of wizards minis).
Dice, pencils.
Spare dice in case your players need them. (EDIT) but a better solution, when playing in a games store, is to point the players at the shop counter.
Spare paper
Always a good idea.
For the chronicle sheets. Buy a pack.
I dislike those fiddly magnetic initiative boards, I prefer to mark out the numbers 25 to 0 on the edge of the map and write in initials – blue for PCs, red for monsters. Everyone knows where they stand. If people’s initiative changes, it’s a simple matter to scribble out the initials and write them elsewhere in the order.

(I tend to get a little brusque with “Oh? Is it my turn? Hmm … I wonder what to do.” My response to this is “Delay. Next!” Inexperienced players get cut some considerable slack, of course, but it’s not fair for one player who should know better to waste six other people’s time. Especially when time is tight, which it tends to be in organised play.)

Things you need to do
Register the session on the paizo website
Makes everything run more smoothly
Read the module
Do I even need to mention this?
Pick out minis for the encounters
Bookmark monsters in the MM
I like post-it flag notes
Review rules
This means monster special attacks that you are unsure of, spells that you are unsure of, rules (such as altitude sickness) that you are unfamiliar with, condition effects that you are going to need to know.

I’m sure I will refine this list, but this is how it stands at the moment.

Overland game

22 January, 2013

You know, for a while I’ve been wondering how to do overland game, game that’s mesoscale.

In a computer game, you just have a big map. But you spend a fair amount of time just trudging from place to place. And in tabletop it just doesn’t work – asking players to move from one hex to the next. Actually, Kingmaker does make it work, but only because there’s an in-game excuse to visit every single hex.

Last night, I found myself saying to my players “Well, the main road through town clearly leads further up the hill and down into the surf”. Even in my dungeon, rather than draw out the rooms (because it was all pretty large scale) I was just saying “the hall has two exits, one sloping down, one on the level”. It was sounding a lot like a text adventure.

Bam! you know, that works. Divide your ruins, or forest, or island into regions. Encounter zones. Graph the connections (you know – the dual of the zones themselves). A road. A forest trail. A difficult pass between rocky hills. A gentle slope down to a river.

Yeah, I suppose it’s obvious, but my head was at “map the whole region”. With software, it’s possible to do that, to generate a detailed map. But it’s pointless, unless you want to play one of those games where you spend all your time holding down the “move forward” key to do overland travel.

Some campaigns actually divide the overland map up into difficult terrain with roads. The serpent’s skull game did that for Smuggler’s Shiv and for whatsisname town at the end of module 2. It works, it’s a shade obvious.

The mud-map with encounter areas will suffice for CENSORED, which the GG party will have to explore. The place needs to be big enough that we can have two parties exploring it without making synchronization a hassle (oh, it’s still before lunchtime at our table).

In fact – I’d say build the encounters first. First design what the players need to do, then fill in more detail about where it has to be done.

GG5 – Week 2

18 December, 2012

A good second week, I think. The encounters were beefed up considerably – someone at my table one-shotted a 3HD Orc (Fighter/Rogue/Fighter). I had 3 characters down, Alix had 4 down, everything going great. I thought I might have to nerf things a bit, but no – they came back. Then it was 11PM and I didn’t get to run the third encounter for the night. Pity, ’cause it involved something cool. As it was, my table just did orc sailors and a couple of elf samurai.

Oh – and someone’s animal companion decided to jump onto a ship of enemy sailors all by himself (tiger). Got creamed. Druid goes “give fluffy back” as the ship is pulling away, and dude goes “? Ok! Men – throw that tiger overboard.” We all found out about the pathfinder drowning rules. Turns out being submerged while you are unconscious is bad news. Second encounter, someone else decided to jump onto a ship full of enemy sailors, all by himself. Got creamed.

The cleric also discovered why you take “selective channel”. A few of the sailors were unconscious, not dead.

As for me – “how high is the ship’s railing above dock level?” – (thinks “Fuck, I dunno”). It’s what happens. I was giving people DC 10 (or 15) acrobatics checks. In retrospect, the entire point of a pier is that it is at about deck height. I always find that I don’t think things through far enough before the game.

The big meeting – all the long-time players were jerking me around, man. It was the newb who said “so one group gets the dude, another group brings the ship around.” I mean – everyone had already worked out that that was the plan, they were all just being deliberately obtuse about it to screw with me. Pricks.

The broader point is that this campaign looks like being a bit railroady, and it is railroady at the moment. I’ll have to work out what to do, there.

Still haven’t figured out how CR relates to EL. So we just went “ok, everyone is second level”. Six encounters – probably about right.