RPG Design – Feat Friday: Punching Dagger Feats

Annah_-_Character_PortraitSo I was thinking about how there’s all these weapons that are rarely used but are really cool, and wondering how to design a reason to use them. I was pretty happy with the Spear Feats post a while back, and I wanted to expand on that idea with the punching dagger. This weapon is neat, and has a really satisfying feel to it, but won’t really stand out much as it lacks a lot of the versatility of the dagger and only stands out with a x3 critical.

I hope you enjoy these feats for punching dagger mastery!

Stabbing Uppercut (combat)
You know a trick to shove your dagger under an opponent’s defenses.
Prerequisites: Power Attack, proficiency with punching daggers, BaB +3
Benefit: A number of times per day equal to 3 + your Dexterity modifier, you can make an opponent flat-footed against your attack with a punching dagger.

Throw Your Weight Into It (combat)
You are skilled at putting your whole body behind your blade.
Prerequisites: Stabbing Uppercut, BaB +6
Benefit: A number of times per day equal to 3 + your Dexterity modifier, you can throw your weight into an attack with a punching dagger. You are considered to be wielding it with both hands for the purposes of damage bonuses from Strength and Power Attack. You can’t use this feat with an off-hand weapon.

In the deep jungle, the undergrowth is too thick for standard weapons, and the lizardfolk developed punching daggers to compensate.


-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 – Theme Thursday: Designing Apocalypse

Theme Thursday: Designing Apocalypse

A classic setting of fantasy and adventure, the magical apocalypse can be extremely difficult to get right. The difficulty lies in the way that an apocalypse challenges the assumptions that everyone normally has. In any game, players have certain needs; in Pathfinder, they need to shop for magic items, sell their loot, and rest to regain spells.

However, the point of designing an apocalyptic setting is to challenge the assumptions of a normal world. A player needs to feel that things are drastically different, and the best way to achieve that sense of loss is to do away with the perks of civilization. However, at the same time, a setting can’t be so frustrating and difficult that no one wants to play.

Unfortunately, most apocalyptic settings tend to fall to the other extreme and make most amenities available in some form, only using the apocalyptic setting to justify new powers and abilities. This often makes the characters into unstoppable badasses roaming the landscape as they please, since the rest of the world has been hit harder by the end of days. This kind of thing can be fun in its own right, but doesn’t really accomplish the goal of a world-ending setting.

To achieve the right feel, you have to make frustration work for you instead of against you. Make limitations, but make things available. Instead of a magic shop, there’s a mad old peddler with cracked teeth; he sure as beans won’t have the selection of one of the old magic emporiums, but every now and then he’ll have some unusual, crazy-strong item that someone really wants. Let the players feel like they got a little something in return for everything the apocalypse took away. Let the players feel like badasses only in comparison to their bleak surroundings.

The manner of the apocalypse might well affect the characters’ options. If it was an arcane explosion, perhaps some magically protected locations survived. If a flood, or divine fire, or icy doom befell the world, then certain creatures may have survived; the point is to remember that anything that survives the apocalypse becomes much more important as a result.

Perhaps that’s how the characters become heroes.


Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Monster Monday: Kroskling

Kroskling                             CR 5
A mysterious figure in a brown cloak reveals his true nature with three twitching blue-skinned tails that end in needle-sharp spines. 
XP 1,600
CE medium outsider (native)
Init +8; Senses Darkvision 60 ft; Perception +11 Aura darkshards 15 ft.
AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 15 (+4 Dex, +5 natural)
hp 57 (6d10+24)
Fort +6, Ref +9, Will +7
DR 5/silver; Resist fire 10
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 3 tentacle rakes +11 melee (1d4+4 plus darkshard poison)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th)
At will–produce flame
           3/day–charm person, invisibility
           1/day–black tentacles
Str 19, Dex 19, Con 18, Int 13, Wis 15, Cha 20
Base Atk +6; CMB +10, CMD 24
Feats Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (tentacle)
Skills  Climb + 13,  Bluff +11,Perception +11, Sense Motive +7, Stealth +11
Languages Celestial, Common, Abyssal, Infernal
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or rustle (3-10)
Treasure standard
Special Abilities
 Darkshards (Su, aura): A kroskling’s magic tattoos cause it to be surrounded by a 15-ft. aura of whirling black shapes that can imprint themselves on a creature’s skin unless they make a will save. Creatures that fail this save take a -2 penalty on saves against the kroskling’s spell-like abilities and its darkshard poison. On a success, that creature cannot be affected by this kroskling’s darkshard aura for 24 hours.
Darkshard Poison (Ex): Tentacle–Injury: save Fort DC 17; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d3 Dex, cure 1 save. This strange poison causes a victim’s skin to break out in dark shapes like tattoos. Creatures that become immobile due to losing all of their dexterity slowly become krosklings over the next 24 hours.
Mercurial and wholly evil, krosklings live to cause pain and discord. No one knows where they came from, though the oldest krosklings speak of dark fissures in the earth that lead to other, stranger worlds. Though they normally stalk the fringe of society looking for victims, krosklings occasionally band together to convert entire villages into places of suffering and madness. More than one ghost town lies in the wilderness with strange bloody marks on the walls of empty houses, painted by newly converted krosklings mad with the sadism of their new existence.


I love monsters that bewilder and bemuse the players, or make them squirm at strange forms of evil.

This monster’s art was created specially for me by my brother, Israel Pesach Porter Zasada! Doesn’t it look gorgeous?


-Max Porter Zasada

Feat Friday: One Eye Open

One Eye Open
You can sleep and keep watch at the same time, which is creepy but effective.
Benefit: Instead of taking the normal circumstance penalties to perception checks while sleeping, you only take -2. In addition, you get a +2 bonus on saves against spells and effects that cause you to lose consciousness.



If this feat or something similar already exists, I couldn’t find it. I love the idea! A great option for rangers or rogues, with their propensity for being alert. Perfect for anyone who wants their character to be the consummate sentinel.

Have fun being creepy and effective!

-Max Porter-Zasada


Theme Thursday: Pathfinder Relationships

In the world of the Pathfinder RPG and DnD, most games will not have truly deep and meaningful relationships between characters. And that’s fine; the game isn’t really designed to handle these kinds of things with great depth, and it’s left up to the GM to have a free-form style.

But what if you want to go there? What if you want to have a relationship in a campaign, in the manner of the Jade Regent adventure path? Well, then today’s theme is for you, because you aren’t going to find a whole hell of a lot of useful advice in the player’s guide for that campaign.

Feel free to mix the three methods outlined below to suit your campaign and your group.

Relationship Scores

This is the way they do it in Jade Regent, and it is a cool way to get the players involved with the interesting characters. I don’t really like the specific choices made in the design of this feature in the adventure path–it’s possible to gain a lot of bonus xp, which leads to strife between players and problems with challenges in the adventure path.

A MUCH better way to handle Relationship Scores would be to grant small and specific bonuses to skills and abilities. Getting close to someone with great tracking skills could give you a +1 bonus on Survival checks when they’re present. Avoid wide-reaching blanket bonuses (like +1 to all Charisma-based checks) because this leads to devaluing the relationship in favor of the bonus. In other words, people have more fun when they find themselves getting a very specific benefit that clearly comes from a choice they made. It’s much less fun to get a general bonus without an easily remembered source.

The Staring Method

Not all the most memorable parts of a role-playing game have to contain a direct incentive to make the players participate. The truth is, if your players are interested in relationships and you’ve created interesting characters (see this post for advice),  they will seek out interesting stories on their own. The key is to maximize the key role-playing moments for dramatic effect. When your player demands to negotiate with the king, wraps a comforting blanket around the escaped witch, or tries to trade stories with the local bard, leap on that opportunity.

Lock eyes with your player. Speak slowly and dramatically, without being funny (unless it’s a funny moment, of course). Use deliberate hand gestures to emphasize your words, and pitch your tone at a low but carrying tone that will literally force your players to lean forward intently. Even if you suck at acting, your players will respond. They can’t help it; once they’ve initiated this kind of encounter, your manner will draw them into the scene irresistibly. The staring method makes players remember characters and epic events in a powerful and visceral way.

Critical Backstory

This is the method I find myself using the most often. It requires a little initial work, but can often enhance a campaign in a thousand ways you never expected.

When the PC’s come across a character you’d like them to have a relationship with, make sure that character has a backstory which is critical to the development of the plot. Your players will make knowledge checks this person, seek them out in conversation, and seek to befriend or antagonize them. Everyone hates to leave a stone unturned when they care about a story, and so long as you keep the game moving when a character turns out to be a dud, your players will engage with every interesting character they meet.

The former rival that holds a piece of the Starstaff, the tavern keeper whose son is a fey changeling, the girl who told no secrets and was turned into a raven–these are the people woven into the story of the game who the players will desire to know intimately, and who will ultimately define how much they care about the game.

Go forth and expand your game’s horizon!

And hey, leave me a comment about awesome or terrible in-game relationships you’ve had!

Max Porter-Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Expert Flanking

Pathfinder Design again! Well, it’s been a while since the last time, unfortunately. But we’re back now in full force, so please come back and let me know what you think!

Tweak: If you have a Dexterity score of 13 or better, you can flank in a position other than standard. You can flank a creature when in one square offset from the position you’d normally need to be in to be considered flanking.

I’ve played an entire campaign arc using this tweak in DnD 3.5, and it worked out just right. However, that campaign was a rogue-themed story, and all the players were in need of additional flanking rules. You may wish to keep this tweak for a similar situation. However, it’s good for realism under any circumstances.


Max Porter-Zasada