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.

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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.

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

Random Musings: Role Models

Chatting to one of my high school classes a few weeks ago, somehow (I’m not entirely sure how) the conversation came to a point where I mentioned the character Piper from the TV series Charmed. The blank looks I got made me a little bit sad, though I am getting used to the fact that the students I now teach weren’t even born when I was watching awesome shows like Charmed. That being said, my husband is the same age as me and he had never watched Charmed until I got us the first season on DVD for Christmas.

What I took away from that conversation with my students, however, was the feeling that I got when mentioning Piper Halliwell to them. Watching season 1 of Charmed recently helped remind me of the strong influence the Halliwells had on me growing up. I often think of Buffy and Xena as both my favourite TV shows and my role models growing up (I was particularly obsessed with those two shows), but of course those weren’t they only TV series I watched.

I watched a lot of TV shows growing up, and still do. There’s something about the way characters can be developed over multiple episodes that movies just can’t replicate in the span of two hours. Currently I am really enjoying the Marvel Avengers films, as all the sequels are allowing for some nice character development. But if I think back on the really big influencers in my teenage years, they are almost all from TV shows. There’s Buffy, Xena (and Gabrielle of course), Scully, Samantha Carter, Captain Janeway, and of course the Halliwell sisters (Piper being my favourite)… all of them strong female role models.

I did watch stuff that wasn’t fantasy or science fiction, and that didn’t have female leads, but I don’t think they had as big an impact on me as the characters mentioned above. I believe they helped shape who I am today. Xena, the redeemed character constantly haunted by her dark past; Gabrielle, the ever faithful sidekick who would do anything for her friend; Piper, the woman who managed to have a family and a job plus cool supernatural powers; Sam Carter, smart and tough at the same time… I should probably mention Queen Amidala too: even though she’s not from a TV show, when I was 14, the idea of a 14-year-old queen standing up to all the people who wanted to use her as a pawn was pretty awesome.

I do wonder what kind of role models teenage girls have today. There do seem to be a few more options in movies these days, with Bella in Twilight, Katniss in Hunger Games, Tris in Divergent, and so on, but I must admit I don’t know what TV shows there currently are for teens. Are there characters they will remember 15 years from now and realise what a big impact those characters had on them?

Do you have favourite characters or TV shows from your childhood that really stand out in your mind?

10 Things The Sims 4 has Done Right

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Last week on 4 February, The Sims franchise celebrated its 15th anniversary – quite a milestone. They also released a trailer for the first Sims 4 expansion pack Get to Work (coming in April), which looks like an awesome combination of the Sims 2 Open for Business expansion and the Sims 3 Ambitions expansion. I’ve put the trailer at the bottom of this article. Even if you’re not a Sims fan, it’s a pretty zany trailer that starts out as something that looks like The Sims meets Theme Hospital. They also added family trees to the game last week.

Seeing all these awesome Sims things was great, but when I scrolled down and made the mistake of glancing at the comments, I was reminded of all the negativity that has surrounded The Sims 4 since before its launch. Personally, I have found the more I play Sims 4, the more I enjoy it. But rather than delving into why people feel compelled to complain about everything (or so it seems on the Internet sometimes) or demand things from game developers, I decided to have a look at the things that I feel The Sims 4 has done right.

10. Unlockable content

I really enjoy unlocking new furniture and clothing through career advancement – it gives players something to work towards and some really special items to decorate with.

9. Ability to age up or change aspirations at any time

These two features are great – age up that baby early or change your Sim’s aspiration when it’s clear that you’re not going to be completing it. The ability to see the requirements in advance is also really handy.

8. Free content updates

Although there were normal bug-fixing patches for previous games, adding new clothing, careers, ghosts and pools to Sims 4 as free updates is a first. (Personally, I am indifferent about pools and ghosts and am perfectly happy without toddlers in my game. The new careers and overhaul of the career advancement system, on the other hand, were very welcome additions.) It also shows the developers do listen to what fans want. I just hope they don’t get pressured into changing the game for the worse.

7. Emotions

The emotion system really makes Sims feel more like real people – they are no longer just slaves to their energy/hunger/bladder bars. Although these things still do affect Sims, there are now tons of other factors that come into play, like the objects in a room or events that have happened recently. I think this is a great improvement on the moodlet system.

6. Room system

Building is easier than ever before with the way rooms work as entities that can be moved around a lot or deleted entirely. Being able to upload them to the Gallery is also rather handy. The room system makes redecorating a breeze. The included ready-made rooms that you can just plop down are also a great time-saver.

5. No more launcher

Origin might not be perfect, but it is superior to the Sims 3 launcher in terms of getting updates for the game and having all expansions, game packs, etc. listed in one place.

4. Online Features (Gallery)

The built-in Gallery of player-created content is just fantastic. It’s simple to upload any Sim, room or entire lot to the Gallery, and just as easy for someone to download it. The actual download part literally takes seconds, even with my relatively slow Internet. Also, the game doesn’t take forever to log in like Sims 3 did.

3. Create-a-Sim

The Sims 4 features the most intuitive, easy-to-use Create-a-Sim system of all the Sims games. You just click on the part of the body you’d like to change, and away you go. The way hair (and hats) work is also noteworthy as it opens up a host of new outfit options that were simply impossible before. The ‘styled look’ feature is also great for when you just want your Sim to be dressed with one click.

2. Build Mode

I’ve never been the most creative builder, as I rarely have the patience to create a magnificent mansion when I could be playing in Live mode. Now, in the new combined Build and Buy mode, it’s possible to create great looking houses with ease. Roofs in particular are easier to construct than ever before.

1. Load Times & Performance

Definitely the best thing to happen to the Sims franchise in its 15 years of existence. While the open world of Sims 3 was nice, it still often took longer to travel across town than a short load screen would have. Load screens of 5-10 minutes each were pretty normal in all previous games in the franchise, and actual game performance, especially in Sims 3, was terrible. These two factors meant that I rarely left my home lot in the previous games. The Sims 4 has changed all that by using very short load screens and only loading one lot at a time, keeping the game running at a good speed as well. I’m hoping this system means that the game won’t get slower and slower as more content is added – as was the case with its predecessors.

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The Sims 4 may not be perfect, and it may be lacking content that some people consider essential, but it also doesn’t have 5 years worth of expansion packs – yet. I imagine just about every feature from previous games will be added over time, and probably some totally new ones. I really look forward to seeing what the team has in store for us.

And here’s the Get to Work trailer I promised:

Guild Wars 2: The Return?

Guild Wars 2 recently announced their first expansion pack, nearly two and a half years after the game’s release. The trailer, which I’ve included below, looks pretty awesome, and it got me and my husband interested in getting back into the game. (Hubby had never actually played the game much, even after I bought the game for him a while back.)

At one stage I was playing the game every day (and writing about it a bit), but after a while, with over 600 hours on the clock, I decided that I was done. Since then, I’ve played other MMOs, including Rift and Tera Rising, as well as some other, less awesome ones. I particularly enjoyed Tera‘s fun combat and the beautiful environments, character models and armour sets that you could get. Eventually, though, life got in the way, and it’s been quite a while since I played any MMO.

Recently, though, we set up hubby’s Guild Wars 2 account, made him a character, and dived back into the world of Tyria. I decided to create a new character as well, and try a new profession; given the huge number of hours I’ve put into my max level characters, I wanted to do something a bit different. I’m not sure I needed to worry about that, however, as there have been a lot of changes since I played back in 2012/2013.

Besides the new ‘Living World’ content (I’m a little bit sad I missed most of that, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up on that before the expansion arrives), there have been tons of improvements to how the game works. Yes, the core mechanics are the same, but things that would have been so awesome when I was playing every day have been added. Though it’s a little annoying that those features didn’t exist back at launch, it’s also good to see the game has grown and improved over time.

There’s now a daily login bonus with decent rewards, currencies are account-wide and the special dungeon currencies aren’t taking up space in your bank any more, dye colours are account-wide too (probably my favourite improvement!), and there is an account wardrobe where you unlock skins of weapons and armour that you pick up. This does mean I now have to collect many armour sets again, but it also means I can free up space in my account bank where I was previously storing ‘pretty’ weapons and armour. There are a lot of other things too, like an improved trading post and achievement system, not to mention the wealth of gem items available for sale (and yes, I’ve already purchased yet another makeover kit to reinvent my sylvari elementalist. Again.).

Perhaps the biggest improvement that I’ve come across while leveling a brand new character is the way the leveling system is now handled. It’s much more beginner-friendly, which a compass pointing you towards your next objective at all times, and staggered unlocks of new abilities when you level up. This means you’re not overwhelmed with dozens of options and can take on this huge game one level at a time. I think this will ultimately make the game much more accessible to the host of new players the expansion will probably attract.

So, will I be spending another 600 hours in Tyria? Possibly not, as I don’t really have that much free time in my life anymore, but I can see myself sinking a fair number of hours into the game, especially now that I’ve finally convinced hubby to join the game. Plus my little Asura warrior ‘Joxxa the Mighty’ is really fun to play!