Further Thoughts on Digital vs Paper

I’ve written about this topic before, but with every new hardcover the Paizo produces, it’s something I have to think about: do I buy the considerably cheaper PDF, or wait and buy the expensive physical version? Now that I have bought a couple of hardcovers in PDF format, I have a much better idea of what works for me.

Ultimate Equipment. Although it is nice to simply type in the piece of equipment you want into the search bar, this means that you need to know what the item is called. I’ve found for use at the table, the physical version of this book works better. It allows both the game master and the players to browse through a specific section and find a suitable item, rather than having to guess its name.

Bestiaries. Although these are nice to page through while preparing a session, I almost never use these during play. They are simply too big to have open in the space I have. Usually I’ll find the monster on the PRD and print out its stats so I can make notes on the page. Sometimes I’ll use the book to show players what the monster looks like, but more often than not, I’ll try and find the image online anyway and show it on my tablet. I would love to have PDFs of these books so I could just print off pages as I needed them, rather than trying to squeeze stat blocks from the PRD onto one page for printing. Having the PDFs would also allow me to extract the images to show to my players without fear of them seeing the statblocks.

Monster Codex & NPC Codex. Like the Bestiaries, these are too big to use at the table, and printing individual pages makes it easy to make notes. I’ve made more use of my PDF of the Monster Codex in the short time it’s been out than I have of my physical copy of the NPC Codex.

Advanced Class Guide. This is not a book that I would actually need to use at the table, so a physical copy would be preferable for reading and preparing. The huge size of the PDFs (even the ones split up by chapter) means that it is quite cumbersome to navigate and so I usually end up looking up the rules online instead. The same goes for the other rulebooks.

Player Companions and Campaign Setting softcover books. The PDFs of these are pretty small and open easily on a computer and a tablet. I don’t see myself going back to physical versions of these.

Modules and Adventure Paths. I’m definitely leaning towards PDFs for these, for similar reasons as the Bestiaries and Codices, as I can print out relevant bits and make use of the images to show my players without exposing them to spoilers on the page. I do love my Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition hardcover, but it’s seen a little bit of wear and tear over the last couple of years of play, which conflicts with my neat freak tendencies.

Pawns. I’m happy to pay for the physical version of these, as they are good quality and come in a sturdy box. I’ve tried making my own pawns in the past, but that was really more trouble than it was worth.

These are all just my personal preferences of course. Do you lean towards paper or digital for certain types of books, or do you stick with one or the other? Share your thoughts below.


Thoughts on High Level Pathfinder: Part II

I’ve read before that the maths behind the Pathfinder (and similar) system starts to get a bit crazy around 15th level. Now that the party has reached level 15, some of those things I read way back when are coming to mind, particularly what I read about the way the maths starts to get out of control.

This is not true for every situation, but for characters like the monk and ninja, some skill checks and saves become totally pointless. Since critical hits and fumbles are only supposed to apply to attack rolls, this means that in many cases, several characters in the party are actually incapable of failing skill check and saving throw rolls.

It’s not a case of a particular player attempting to break the system, it’s just that the numbers accumulated over 15 levels have combined into rather insane totals. Our ninja is basically incapable of being hit by anything requiring a reflex save, and let’s face it, the ranger could probably track an invisible flying creature without so much as picking up a die. I rarely bother asking for Perception checks anymore, as there’s no way all 4 PCs would miss spotting or hearing the important thing in the room.

Acrobatics is another example of maths gone crazy. Except for vertical jumps, which do have significant DCs, most other Acrobatics checks are trivial to 15th level characters with high Dexterity. To give a specific example, our monk had just been blinded by an enemy. He wanted to get to the other side of the room to attack said enemy. The fight happened to be on a high walkway, so the most direct route would be a jump across the gap. The floor was slippery, increasing the Acrobatics DC a little bit. Being blinded added a few penalties, but even with all of those, rolling was really just a formality.

Although the description of the blinded condition suggests that the character should only be able to move at half speed without an Acrobatics check, the DC of that check is 10, which is laughable to a 15th-level character who has put a lot of skill points and other bonuses into that skill. While this sort of thing would make sense if the character was Daredevil, it certainly tested my suspension of disbelief in this particular instance. Yes, I could (or should) have ruled that he simply couldn’t make the jump while blinded, but when a character has been built to be really good at something, taking that away is not always the wisest course of action.

I’d love to hear about your experience, either as player or game master, of high level Pathfinder play.

Featured image by caiomm on DeviantArt.

The Festering Maze of Sloth

JordimandusRise of the Runelords Campaign Journal. Session Date: 17 April 2015. Continued from previous session

After spending several weeks in Magnimar resting and creating new magical gear, all that was left was to resurrect Nanali. The only cleric capable of performing a true resurrection was the high priest of Abadar, who agreed to lower his fee in exchange for a position for one of his clerics in Jorgenfist – bringing banking, religion and civilisation to the Storval Plateau.

Nanali’s resurrection went well, though a faint smell of smoke seemed to follow the shaman even after the spell was complete. She claimed to have spoken to ‘the spirits’ in the time she was dead, and insisted the party return to Runeforge to destroy all its inhabitants. The heroes didn’t need much convincing, and so they returned to Runeforge and entered the wing of sloth.

This wing of Runeforge turned out to be a festering maze of sewer-like tunnels, with an almost-overwhelming stench filling the entire area. The heroes encountered several disgusting demons and other creatures inhabiting these filthy tunnels. During these encounters they discovered that Nanali had learned some fiery new spells as she destroyed enemies with righteous fury.

In the depths of the maze, the heroes found a morbidly obese wizard with a heart of slime and tentacles, apparently being kept alive by noxious vapours from several pipes. He was not alone either, and was aided by four vrocks. Jordimandus used powerful spells against the heroes, and even managed to blind Nu, but once they worked out that his life force was tied to the coloured liquid in the pipes, they were able to cripple him, forcing him to flee elsewhere in the wing. Unfortunately his demonic heart could no longer sustain him without sustenance from his lair, and he was dead before the heroes tracked him down.

Thoughts on High Level Pathfinder: Part I

In my ongoing Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder campaign, the party has just reached level 15. I’ve written about the challenges of designing good encounters before, but high level play seems to have compounded the existing issues. Today, I’ll discuss a couple of combat-specific issues that have come up.

Combat takes forever. Combat in Pathfinder isn’t the fastest to begin with, and it has only gotten slower as the party has leveled up. With everyone having a multitude of abilities to choose from, the decision-making process takes that little bit longer (particularly on my side if I’m running a high-level spellcaster or monster with lots of abilities I’ve not used before). This either leads to players (and the GM as well) resorting to tried and true (but sometimes boring) options like attacking the enemy head-on, or slowing down the game by needing to look up and discuss unfamiliar rules.

Sometimes we’ll come across a weird situation we’ve not encountered before, with no easy-to-find answer in the rules – this, of course, slows things down even more. As the GM, I know I have to make some kind of decision in these cases, but I often feel like I don’t have enough experience or knowledge of similar situations to be able to make a call that I’m happy with. This has improved over time, but occasionally we’ll still get bogged down in discussion.

Slow combat leads to distracted players. The longer a combat round takes, the longer everyone has to wait between turns. This naturally leads to players fiddling on their phones or tablets, or zoning out, and as such not paying attention to what’s happening in the encounter. This means they’ll take longer to react when their character is hit in combat, or their turn comes around again.

Annoying Encounters. In our most recent session, which took place in the sloth wing of Runeforge, there was a maze containing two rather strange enemies, omox demons and chernobue qlippoths. Both had a good set of defenses, having quite a few resistances, immunities, damage reduction and spell resistance, so I reckoned they would prove to be a nice challenge for the party. While I didn’t actually use them as minions, they did serve to delay the heroes and allow the boss time to set up his defences.

Unfortunately, while these monsters had good defences, their attacks were another story. After a series of bad rolls on my side, and good rolls from the players, both sets of monsters ended up doing little or no damage to the PCs at all. Instead of challenging encounters with unusual monsters, we ended up with two drawn out battles that were just irritating: preventing the ninja from using her sneak attack, and reducing the effectiveness of the sorcerer’s fireballs led to a lot of frustration.

I’m not entirely sure how to solve the combat speed issues, but I’ll definitely be considering enemies more closely for future encounters. There’s a fine line between easy, boring encounters, and deadly ones. Finding that perfect balance is an ongoing quest for a game master.

I’d love to hear about your experience, either as player or game master, of high level Pathfinder play.

Featured image by helgecbalzer on DeviantArt.

Thoughts on the Pathfinder Monk

With Pathfinder Unchained on the way, I’m looking forward to seeing the new rules options and the improvements to some of the classes that are commonly considered problematic (particularly the rogue, monk and summoner). My only dilemma with regards to the new book is whether to go PDF or hardcover!

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the ‘normal’ monk. I’ve been running Rise of the Runelords at home for a couple of years now. The player characters are now 15th level and about to start the final chapter. The original party consisted of a sorcerer, a ranger, and a monk. The party currently also includes a ninja.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might also know that this campaign is my first as a game master. No doubt I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I’ve learnt a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in terms of running a Pathfinder game.

When we started the campaign, we built the player characters with ‘heroic’ ability scores – even the sorcerer had a base strength of 14. This made it quite easy for players to build very strong characters, which I felt was a good thing since there were only three players and they lacked a healer of any sort. As we played through the adventure path, the combination of only 3 PCs with item creation feats led to a high wealth, high magic party.

While this was not really a problem for the players since all three of them were equally powerful, it started to become problematic for me as GM because the encounters in the AP were too easy, despite the fact that they were written for a part of four. Around that time I started reading up about building challenging encounters and discovered that I wasn’t alone, and so I started modifying encounters so they would last more than one or two rounds.

What I found interesting in my reading was seeing all the complaints about the monk, when the main reason I had to modify encounters was because of the monk in the party. He had focused on Strength as his primary stat, meaning he rarely missed enemies, and as such, did a large amount of damage in any round that he was able to flurry. He did less damage per hit than the ranger with his greatsword, but generally their damage per round was comparable.

Then there is the monk’s armour. Even though he doesn’t actually wear armour, his high Wisdom score and decent Dexterity meant that he was all but unhittable, except by bosses and very lucky minions. At higher levels, the Scorpion Style feats allowed him to counterattack every time an attack missed him. Which, as I’ve mentioned, was often. Add in the monk’s insane speed and I had a monk closing the distance to enemies in a round or two and dispatching them in the following round when he could unleash a flurry.

I do think some of the monk’s abilities are kind of weird, like the ability to speak to animals, and I know the monk in my game has very good stats, allowing him to be really good at what he does – that is, pummelling things to death. It’s a running joke at our table that the monk is the master of overkill, as often he’ll only be able to unleash a flurry on an enemy who has already been beaten down by other party members, resulting in impressive negative hit point scores.

My point here is simply that with the right build and some good stats, the normal monk is not that bad. It may not suit everyone as is, but it suits what this player wants to do perfectly. I don’t like to ban options outright – the gunslinger is the only thing specifically banned at my table (love the idea, hate the gun mechanics). Instead I have used this as an opportunity to create all sorts of crazy and potentially deadly encounters.

If you have had positive experiences with often complained about classes like the monk, feel free to share in the comments!

Featured image: Pathfinder monk by TimKings-Lynne on DeviantArt

Fiery (NPC) Death

ThundercallerSession Date: Friday 27 March 2015. Continued from previous session

Having survived their encounter with the leader of the warriors of wrath, the heroes healed up and continued their exploration of the Halls of Wrath. They soon discovered a lab featuring numerous sinspawn and a vat of foul-smelling, twitching flesh. There were also about a dozen warriors of wrath in this lab, who were all too happy to have a break from their tedious work.

Although individually weak, the warriors of wrath had numbers on their side. They were tough enough to survive Ciaran’s first two fireballs, after which they reciprocated with their own. Radha and Cecil had no trouble dodging out of the way, but Ciaran and Nanali were not so lucky. Nanali was hit by 8 fireballs, which killed her instantly.

With their healer down. the heroes worked quickly to neutralise the threat before the warriors were able to throw more devastating spells at them. Ciaran eventually paralysed the last remaining warrior before disintegrating him at point-blank range.

With the warriors dispatched, the heroes returned to Athroxis’ chamber where the massive sihedron rune etched onto the ground, and finally figured out that it would absorb teleportation magic. They managed to open a portal to the mountain Rimeskull, in the centre of the circle of statues of the Runelords. From there they decided they had better return to Magnimar to resurrect Nanali – anything less would almost certainly cause a war with Nanali’s tribe.

The heroes also took the time to recover, upgrade their gear, and prepare to return to Runeforge and destroy its few remaining inhabitants. There were still three wings they had not yet investigated, but they were bound to contain evils to vanquish – and riches to claim for their cause.

The Halls of Wrath

highlady athroxisSession Date: 20 March 2015. Continued from previous session

After recovering from their encounter with the golem guarding the Halls of Wrath, and the statue of Karzoug, the heroes set about imbuing their weapons with the power of the Runeforge, creating dominant weapons that might be used against Karzoug.

Feeling prepared for whatever was waiting for them in the Halls of Wrath, the heroes ventured forward, ignoring the sense of unease they felt – the halls seemed too quiet. They stepped through one of the teleportation circles into a large hall, closed on one side by a wall of smoke. This wall turned out to be nothing but an illusion, but the enemy on the other side could see through it, meaning they were well-prepared for when the heroes finally stepped into the room containing a massive teleportation circle. This circle seemed to be the most likely way of escaping Runeforge, but it was well-guarded.

Highlady Athroxis was waiting for the heroes – it was the challenge she had been waiting for her entire life. She transformed into the guise of a fire giant and summoned a treachery demon to aid her. He in turn summoned two vrocks to face the heroes.

The fight was long and deadly, as Athroxis wielded both powerful spells and brutal melee attacks. Radha took a fatal blow from Athroxis’s flaming ranseur. Combined with the spores sprouting vines all over her body (thanks to the vrocks), Radha bled to death very quickly. Fortunately, Nanali had been watching the battle carefully, and dashed forward to cast breath of life on Radha before it was too late. By this time, Athroxis’s demonic minions had been dispatched, and Athroxis herself succumbed to the unrelenting attacks of Nu, Cecil and Ciaran – and Radha, before she fell.

All in all, the heroes were relieved to have survived facing the biggest challenge they had yet come across in Runeforge.