RPG Design – Feat Friday: Hold Charges

Hold SpellHold Charges
You have increased control over the forces of magic at your command.
Prerequisite: ability to cast spells, wis 13
Benefit: When you cast a touch spell you can hold the charge for up to one hour and can even cast other spells while holding the charge, although you cannot use that hand for anything else.


Feats like this one are fun partly because they let you do something that you really want to do, but can’t because of certain somewhat obscure rules. I think this feat is pretty powerful, and maybe it should have another prerequisite, but I couldn’t think of a good one. Any suggestions?


-Max Porter-Zasada


RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Influence of Video Games

BardThe Video Game Influence

Plenty of words have been written about the influence of pen-and-paper RPGs on video games. But what about the other way around? Even if you’re still playing 2nd Edition or some such, your GM’s style has had influence from video games in some small way, and if you’re playing a more recently released game then the influence is more pronounced. Even if you deplore video games for some reason, don’t be afraid to take good ideas and use them. A good GM never lets a good idea go to waste.

The central similarity of video games and traditional RPGs is clear: they are both interactive storytelling. There are advantages and disadvantages to both media, but we’re more interested in the cross-pollination. So, you should ask yourself, what can we learn? What pitfalls can we avoid?

Positive Factor: Encounter Design. There may be as many encounter styles as there are people who play games. Everyone likes things a little bit different. That said, there are some broad trends we can identify and use. The encounters you might term “video-gamey” can be extremely fun. This kind of encounter design entails highly pre-planned encounters, with special rules or specific events that the players have to figure out how to trigger. A couple examples might include deadly mushrooms in an underground lair that can be attacked from range to explode, or magical standing runestones with various helpful auras placed around the battlefield.

The point is to have clearly defined, exciting events in the encounter that the players can enjoy figuring out without being too creative themselves, and thus focus more on the tactical fun. This can be a really fun, memorable encounter, although it’s perhaps not the best idea for a truly climactic, story-ending battle; the story part of the encounter tends to feel a bit thin, because the strategy comes from the GM, not organically from the players. That’s more than fine for less story-critical encounters, however, and can be a really fun thing to design!

Pathfinder AlchemistNegative Factor: Calcification. One of the most amazing things about playing Pathfinder or D&D occurs when you realize that anything can happen, and any player can interact with any object or person in any way. Yes, it’s probably not going to be very good for the game if your character paints themselves pink and jumps off the nearest cliff or attempts to murder all the other party members at the start of every game session, but the possibility that your character could do that brings an incredibly powerful aura of realism and engagement in a character or story that no video game can ever quite replicate–although video games have their own amazing qualities and advantages. By their very nature, video games cannot do everything that pen-and-paper RPGs do. A preset game needs to have a limited number of outcomes to any story or battle or any interaction, whereas a human GM can allow anything to happen. Video games are therefore designed with an “intentional” way for the players to interact with everything in the world–even if the players discover other options, there’s definitely a way that things are “supposed” to work, because there has to be. 

The negative influence of video games on pen-and-paper games is that they make players calcify their thinking. Because people are becoming used to the idea that interactive stories have a way they’re “supposed” to play out, GMs tend to think in those terms, and players tend to either “game” an encounter by manipulating a rule to their advantage or brute force their way through. It’s not that simplicity is a bad thing–many adventures are the better for being simple–but it’s not good to be simplistic. Not every story point or adventure decision should come wrapped up in a nice, neat little package (or be aimlessly nasty). Leave room for players or GMs to breathe by looking for creative possibilities in every aspect of the game. Keep in mind the mantra that anything can happen. And sometimes, events venture into unexpected territory.

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Weapon Wednesday: Blade Bow

Rough_Bow_designs_by_carlos1170Blade Bow

Two-handed exotic ranged weapon. 1d8 piercing damage. x3 critical. 5 lbs. 205 gp. Special: see text

This longbow is fitted with extra braces and blades so that it can be wielded in hand-to-hand combat. It can be wielded as a two-bladed sword that does 1d4/1d4 damage. However, at the beginning of your turn you must declare whether you are using the correct hand position to wield the weapon as a melee or a ranged weapon and that choice holds until the beginning of your next turn. Even if you are using the blade bow as a ranged weapon, you can use the blades to make a melee attack, but it is considered to be an improvised weapon and you do not threaten squares with it.

Developed by the warriors of the plains to battle their centaur enemies, these bows give several options to a master archer or dervish, who can change his manner of fighting in the space of a moment. 


Exotic weapons should be truly unusual or strange, and give special power to the Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat.

Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Handling Diplomacy

diplomacyIn Pathfinder and D&D, the Diplomacy skill is almost a joke. The immutable DCs presented with the skill are clearly bunk; they are high enough so that in the first few levels it’s practically impossible for players to affect an NPC, yet scale slowly enough that with a little bit of investment in later levels players can easily convince the biggest, baddest villains in the game to be their best friends. Worse yet, there’s very little guidance on what the levels of hostility or friendship actually mean, making the skill seem like magical mind control as a default. The whole system is a complex thing that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. Here are the best ideas I’ve been able to find out there on the wild frontier of the internet about changing the Diplomacy rule:

Justin Alexander gives an incredibly thorough analysis of the problems with Diplomacy here

Rich Burlew, creator of Order of the Stick, has this somewhat over-complex but solid idea, which has become quite well-known

An excellent rule idea called Social Combat, which makes some major changes to the way roleplaying skills work, can be found here.

Alternatively, one of the simplest things you can do is to make Diplomacy opposed to some other skill, such as another character’s Diplomacy or Sense Motive roll. Have players make checks every time they want to convince someone to do something (just like how it works with Bluff), and you’ll solve many of the inherent issues with the skill.


–Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Magic Item Monday: Subtle Charm

Amulet of GreedAura Faint Transmutation; CL 5th

Slot Arm; Price 500 GP per charm

Each of the several kinds of subtle charms fits on a silver charm bracelet, lending its power to the wearer. No more than six charms may be worn on a single bracelet. Each charm’s power can be expended once per day, when making a Bluff check, under specific circumstances, for a +5 bonus.

Subtle Charm of Aggrandizement: This grinning face can be activated when making a Bluff check that makes false claims about the high importance or power of the wearer, such as great social stature, physical might, or great wealth.

Subtle Charm of Scorn: This gold disk with a suspicious-looking face molded into it can be activated when making a Bluff check to convince someone that another person cannot be trusted.

Subtle Charm of Nondescript: This tiny silver hood can be activated when making a Bluff check to convince someone that the wearer is of no consequence, not worth the trouble to notice.

Subtle Charm of Belonging: This small pearl carved in the shape of a shield or coat-of-arms can be activated when making a Bluff check to convince someone that the wearer belongs to a particular social group, such as a club, gang, order, or neighborhood.

Construction Requirements glibness; Cost 250 GP per charm

Adries the master thief was a smuggler who became famous for the enormous quantity of goods he got across enemy lines repeatedly throughout the old war. His face was never well-known, but as the enemy became aware of his constant shenanigans Adries had to come up with ever-changing tricks to save his countrymen and collect his massive rewards. An accomplished spellcaster as well as a thief, he developed the subtle charms to ensure that he always had a new trick (literally) up his sleeve. 


I prefer items that strongly suggest roleplaying ideas or new adventures while also bringing a gold-efficient option to the table. Every time  a player uses this item they should feel rewarded for their investment, even if the Bluff check fails.

Something about February inspires me to create new RPG elements again. Stay tuned as we make some changes to the website!

–Max Porter-Zasada