Tag Archives: Pathfinder

Monster XP as Treasure

Most versions of D&D provide XP values for monsters, usually awarded for defeating the monsters in combat. The Third Edition (and Pathfinder) manuals also give explicit prices in gold pieces for every enchanted item. Here is an idea for modifying how advancement is handled using those numbers. XP value specified per monster is converted into GP. This is the value of the monster’s treasure (and equipment). XP is given for GP spent, as I have been doing in my Vaults of Pahvelorn game. Additionally, magic items can be purchased as is commonly expected (I think) in many Third Edition games.

In a game like this, I still wouldn’t make magic item shops common. Instead, I would put together some sort of system to rate sellers of enchanted items (cunning folk, wizards, specialist merchants, demonic patrons, and so forth). The rating could either be a flat GP threshold (this NPC can sell magic items of up to 1000 GP value) or it could be something like an inventory saving throw (this wizard has a stock number of 11 — roll 1d20 against that target number, modified by desired magic item level). This is somewhat similar to an idea I had for rating sages, which I should probably also write a post about. This creates a motivation to quest for NPCs that are better able to provide powerful items. Particular famous items of power might be the purview of specific individuals.

The entire advancement system could even be replaced by item acquisition, for a slightly lower power game. So, for example, fighters wouldn’t ever get attack bonuses, they would just get more powerful weapons. Wizards wouldn’t prepare spells, they would buy (or create) scrolls and other enchanted devices.

The interesting aspect of this proposal is that it maintains most of the expectations of the 3E/Pathfinder advancement system (assuming that standard class progression is also maintained) while only modifying the specific action incentive. The standard benefits of XP for GP are preserved (rewarding clever planning as opposed to straightforward combat). Obviously, this system would result in a setting with more common magic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Cantrips as Encounter Powers

Some time ago, I bought a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box (reviewed here, here, and here). I still think about running it as a complete (E5-style) low power game, perhaps with a d20 supplement such as The Lost City of Barakus (that might be a fun G+ campaign). The one thing that I have decided that I absolutely must change is how at-will magical powers work. The same is true of the recent D&D Next playtest materials. The chassis is something I would enjoy playing, but I really dislike limitless powers, from both style and gameplay standpoints.

First, I would just remove cantrips that solve resource problems (such as light). Second, all other cantrips would require a short rest to prepare. Five minutes each, so two cantrips could be prepared per turn (important for things like torch duration and wandering monster checks). Diegetically, cantrips would be exactly the same thing as other vancian spells; they would just require less work to prepare. In game terms, they would function like Fourth Edition encounter powers. Thus, your PFBB wizard would get one free force missile (or whatever it’s called; I can’t be bothered to look it up right now) per combat.

I readily admit that this is not meaning first design, but it is “meaning based” design. And yes, this decreases the power of the magic-using classes. I don’t see that as a bad thing. In essence, there would be two kinds of vancian spells: the kind that require deep concentration and a fresh mind to prepare, and the minor cantrips that can be prepared given a few minutes.

Pathfinder Beginner Box 3

Now for the physical product. There are a number of extras in the box that I figured would be useful to me no matter what. Extra battle mat, cardboard miniatures, set of dice. The miniatures especially will helpful as I am still running my 4E-derived game, and my players love their tactical combats. They are heavy enough to feel like they won’t be falling over all the time during play, unlike anything I would be able to print out and make on my own. These were popular enough that Paizo is planning to release a standalone Bestiary Box this summer. The only downside is they did not include as many bases as minis, so you have to swap the bases around, which I imagine might wear out the cardstock after a while.

The box itself is very nice, and I don’t mean the cover art (though that is good too). It feels very sturdy, and is quite deep without being bulky. I might even start using it to transport my gaming materials as I have been trying to reduce the quantity of stuff that I bring to sessions. I like making arbitrary rules, so I give you THE PATHFINDER BEGINNER BOX RULE: everything needed for a gaming session must fit inside the Beginner Box such that it closes entirely. This includes notes, dice, campaign notebook, miniatures, writing implement, etc. It could easily fit a set of hardcover D&D core books in terms of the depth, but for some reason the dimensions are such that it is a bit too small (even for Pathfinder-branded hardcovers, which seems like a strange design decision).

If I was going to buy an intro RPG product for someone, and I thought they could handle it, I would buy them the LotFP Grindhouse Edition. The Pathfinder Beginner Box would be my second choice, I think, despite the risk of embedding the combat grid in a new player’s consciousness.

Pathfinder Beginner Box 2

My first post about the Beginner Box focused on the Hero’s Handbook, which contains the rules for creating PCs. Here I am going to talk about the referee side of the set, the Game Master’s Guide. It starts out with a simple dungeon adventure which is not bad, despite the fact that the map really does look like a set of video game screen shots. However, later on in their section on creating dungeons, they do use a more down to earth map that looks like it was drawn by hand and even make the following remark on page 31:

Your dungeon maps don’t need to look professionally drawn like the map for Black Fang’s Dungeon—the hand-drawn map of Raven’s Watch works just as well.

This is a strategy used several places in the Beginner Box; they lead with glitz and then qualify their recommendations further on, and it works well most of the time.

Excerpt from Black Fang’s Dungeon

There is a decent selection of monsters (forty-something) and some of them are moderately high CR, but there is not as much variety or content as the old basic sets. Each monster entry takes half of a page. The higher-CR monsters include salamander (CR 6), medusa (CR 7), manticore (CR 5), mummy (CR 5), ghost (CR7), and black dragon (CR 8). There is a bias towards enemies that can be defeated directly, but at least they included some stretch targets. And poison is so weak now. If you fail your save against giant spider venom you get all of a -1 on attack and damage rolls (cumulative if you get hit again). Seriously, that’s it.

The XP rewards for defeating monsters are off the charts! A ½ CR zombie gives 200 XP. I guess that’s what happens when you take away treasure XP, but I would think that some of the slack would be picked up by XP for solving puzzles, surviving traps, and achieving other goals. I think OD&D gives 100 XP per hit die, but those monsters are far deadlier. Using the rules as written, I bet PCs would level really quickly.

Just like the weapons chart that I mentioned in the previous post, these monster listings also somehow gave me the feeling of old console RPG supplements, like the Dragon Warrior poster below.

Dragon Warrior Monsters

Much info is presented in random table form, including adventure seeds, magic items, and most importantly encounters. This is another case where they wrote something (on page 84) that made me cringe:

By using the random encounter tables for that terrain, you can create fun battles for the PCs without putting in a lot of work.

But then corrected it it shortly thereafter (same page):

Although these tables are filled with monsters, you can have interesting non-combat random encounters, such as a strange statue, corpses from a battle, religious pilgrims looking for a shrine, and so on.

It would be nice if they had emphasized that not all monster encounters need to be combat either. Speaking of which, I really feel the lack of the traditional social mechanics. There are no rules for retainers, encounter reactions, or morale. This is the single biggest shortcoming of Pathfinder. Of course, it would not be that hard to house rule them in, though you would need to make up appropriate morale numbers. I also miss the “number appearing” and “percent chance in lair” info.

I think it might be fun to use literally nothing outside of the Beginner Box for a game. Use the town of Sandpoint and the surrounding hinterlands. Populate them using all of the entries on the d12 table of “dungeon storylines” and the seven sample “additional quests.” And make sure all the monsters have a place. Maybe roll for enmities. Another attractive option that comes to mind is to use the Third Edition Necromancer Games world and modules, but still cap the PC level at 5. So, if the player’s want to take on the harder challenges, they will need to be very creative.

Pathfinder Beginner Box 1

I recently picked up a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I’ve been curious about this product for a while as a sort of rules-lite version of Third Edition, perhaps also playable as a complete game (a sort of E5). The very positive reviews from many parts of the OSR have also played no small part (for examples, see OD&D Discussion here, Babbling Bane here, and Tenkar here).

My exposure to Third Edition is very spotty. I missed the 3E years almost entirely. So this is also a more systematic and thorough introduction to the 3E lineage for me. In this post, I will focus on my initial impressions and on the contents of the Hero’s Handbook (the player facing part of the rules). Most of this will be from the perspective of someone who already knows how to play tabletop RPGs and just wants to use the rules, but I will also note in passing that this might be the best introductory set for a new player as well (up there with Mentzer Basic D&D and the LotFP Grindhouse Edition).

The visuals are not bad. I’m not a huge Wayne Reynolds fan, but I like the level of detail in some of his illustrations, and his work for the box cover is quite good (the two adventurers facing off against the black dragon). I’m also fond of the example fighter picture. Valeros looks like a badass, but is still grounded in reality. In terms of game aesthetics, the overall effect is reasonable. The heavily stylized “dungeon punk” look is subdued, though there is a bit of a fantasy seventeenth century vibe. There is only one silly fantasy weapon (the starknife, which is sort of like an oversized shuriken with a handle in the middle so that it can either be wielded as a melee weapon or thrown).

The graphic design is reminiscent of a video game manual, and somewhat surprisingly that is a positive thing. I remember paging through the strategy guides for early Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy games and using them as inspiration for my tabletop games. It is that feeling that I get looking through the Beginner Box manuals.

Dragon Warrior Explorer’s Handbook

I really like how the class descriptions and spells are presented in “level-up” blocks, but the power inflation is notable in comparison to TSR editions. Each class has a few extra goodies (like the wizard’s “arcane bond” feature which gives the character a magic item that allows casting one spell per day without preparation). Hit dice are d10 (fighter), d8 (cleric and rogue), and d6 (wizard). (People can’t seem to stop bumping the thief’s hit die up.) Full HP are granted at first level. In terms of complexity, the caster classes take up 6 pages each (this includes all spells available for the levels covered) and the fighter and rogue take up two pages each (though half the fighter class is hidden in the section on feats and half the rogue class is hidden in the section on skills). In general, this feels manageable and flexible. This level of power advancement is not a problem if you top out at 5th level.

Both of the caster classes are unfortunately a bit bland, and not in an the archetypal “imagination fuel” way. The available wizard schools are universalist, evocation, and illusion (boring) and each grant a few extra powers usable several times per day (for example, the illusionist can use a magical disguise once per day and the evocation specialist gets a free daily burning hands and some force missiles). Cleric “orisons” (that is, at-will powers), include light, read magic, and detect magic. That’s right, as long as you have a cleric, you never need to worry about light sources. Wizard cantrips (at-will powers, in Pathfinder), include detect magic, mage hand (minor telekinesis), ray of frost (1d3 damage with 30 foot range), and read magic. This is a bit more than I would like characters to begin with, but I can work with it. The augury spell (available to clerics at third level) is an abomination and should be excised.

The fighter, wizard, and rogue are all recognizable takes on the traditional classes, though the rogue is significantly more combat-focused. The cleric, however, bears less relation to the traditional mace-wielding undead-smiting holy warrior. This seems like a strange choice for an introductory set. None of the gods resonate with me; they all seem like generic invented fantasy gods.

Demihumans keep getting bigger and bigger! Dwarves are described as on average about a foot shorter than humans. So, dwarves must be around 4½ to 5½ feet tall. That is much larger than I have ever pictured dwarves in a fantasy world. And elves are described as taller than humans. There’s nothing really wrong with these changes, I just think they are odd choices for default archetypal fantasy races. These are minor aesthetic details, but still worth noting.

The overall impression I get from the Beginner Box is that the system is tractable, and this is a very good thing. It seems like it would be possible to understand relatively completely without an obscene time investment. Character generation, though still more complicated than I would like, is not too cumbersome. As Zenopus says, the Pathfinder Beginner Box really is an homage to the classic basic sets, and it includes many nods to the style of traditional D&D as well, though many of them are contained in the Game Master’s Guide and so will be covered in another post.