RPG Design – Feat Friday: Deathless

DeathlessDeathless
You can become so tough that it’s difficult to knit your flesh back together.
Prerequisite: Endurance, Diehard, Unstoppable*
Benefit: When you are below 0 hp, you can choose to gain DR 5/- until you have 1 hp or more again. However, if you use this feat, you cannot be healed by any cure spells or effects while you have the benefit.

*a Gamingmage feat.

Notes

A kiss/curse mechanic that can turn you into a monster. Great for parties without a healer, or warriors who need to fight on their own.

Enjoy!

-Max Porter-Zasada

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RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Flexibility and Failure

Battle FlexibilityTheme Thursday: Flexibility and Failure

Part of the genius of the Pathfinder RPG and D&D lies in the class system, providing instant fun and a role for players. However, that same genius can also be the game’s downfall.

Players tend to think of their role in the party first, and that’s perfectly reasonable; it’s better and easier, as well as more fun, to play a particular role. Specialization and focus make a party more powerful. However, the moment a player decides not to try something out of their comfort zone, whether because they’re dealing with monsters that resist their attacks or a social situation with high skill checks, that player has failed to be flexible.

Because anything can happen in a pen-and-paper game, a player needs to be up for anything. There will be all kinds of different encounters, and you have to keep in mind that just because your character doesn’t specialize in something, you shouldn’t ignore or avoid it.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is good.

Even if things don’t go your way, any story will be much more interesting (and amusing) if the characters fail occasionally. That’s the nature of storytelling; that’s how we know that the challenges are real. And everyone having more fun should always be your goal as a player, not just getting more powerful. If you design your character to do just one thing really really well, that’s fine unless you stand around doing nothing in every other situation. There are a vast number of ingredients in the stew that makes a good roleplaying game; being flexible and willing to fail really spices things up.

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Player-Controlled Dice

lucky-dice by Iron MittenTuesday Tweak: Player-Controlled Dice

The conventional wisdom is to have the GM roll dice in secret for the monsters and NPCs, and even keep some player rolls behind the screen. Rolling dice is fun, but for the GM it quickly becomes a chore, simply generating random numbers to plug into a system. The GM is already running a story, characters, and monster actions, all of which has to change suddenly and unexpectedly in response to the players’ actions. All of this takes time, slowing down gameplay and hindering fun.

The solution: Have players roll all the dice! They can roll against each other for monsters and NPCs, and keep track of these random numbers while the GM tracks other things.

Now, with this tweak, you’re going to lose a lot of potential excitement that comes with the secrecy and mystery of dice behind the screen. But be honest with yourself: when was the last time that was actually exciting, and not just annoyingly random?

I suggest having a separate set of dice called “fate dice” to differentiate and keep things cool, but whenever you have rolls in the open it really helps the players feel that the GM is honestly doing their best.

Let me know how this tweak works out for you!

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Magic Item Monday: Gimlet of Irresistible Mental Penetration

Magic item by Carlos celurian JorreblancaGimlet of Irresistible Mental Penetration

Aura Strong Abjuration; CL 17

Slot – ; Price 40,000 gp Weight 1 lb

 This gimlet is made of iron and gold, fashioned with a snakelike visage. Mind-affecting spells or abilities cast by the wielder of the gimlet negate half the targets’ resistance bonuses to Will saves.  

Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, mind blank, antimagic fieldCost 20,000 gp

An ancient cult sought to gain control over the mind of the king and his nobles with their dark rites, but were foiled time and again by the mind shielding magic of the royal wizard. After much praying and sacrificing, the forces of darkness taught the head priest how to create an item that could pierce the veils of magic. However, it had taken so long that the king’s paladins finally found the den of iniquity and destroyed the cult, taking their magic items for the royal college. 

Notes:

This item is very difficult to balance, because you don’t know how much resistance the target is going to have. It might be easier to just give the caster a bonus, but that just didn’t seem as fun. 

Enjoy,

–Max Porter-Zasada

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.

Enjoy,

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Motivation

dragon_battle_by_mobius_9Not-so-common Pitfall: Motivation

There’s plenty of great GM advice out there, and by now everyone has heard about railroading, saying yes instead of no, and DMPCs. However, there are all kinds of pitfalls, and what are GMs to do when they run into issues that aren’t so commonly talked about? Well, they come to Gamingmage. Let’s take a look at Motivation from both sides of the DM screen. This is a big one that the Pathfinder and D&D community doesn’t really talk about enough, because it’s very difficult to communicate about motivation well. In the case of railroading, the players know exactly how they feel. Lack of motivation is a vague beast, amorphous and transient. The players won’t be able to explain the problem. 

 Motivating the players is easy; all it takes is the promise of gold or an annoying villain who gets away. Motivating the players’ characters is not easy.  It is an incredibly difficult yet vital tool to immerse the players in the world and the story, to make them actually care a little bit about the events unfolding in your world and their role in them. 

Remember always that the specific beats the general when it comes to adventures. It will be an interesting adventure to save Brian, the one-eyed innkeeper with the sharp tongue who was stolen away by a demon disguised as his daughter. This adventure is fun because it is about something very specific, very personal. The End of The World, however, may not be enough motivation. If the players feel that someone else can or ought to save the world, it’s far too vague of a problem for them to get a grip on. It’s boring.

Motivation is a very tricky thing. It seems like a good idea to link the adventure you have written to the personal backstories of the PCs, and while that might work for one or two of them, the PCs without that backstory link will feel less motivated than ever: nothing could have less to do with them than another character’s mentor getting into legal trouble. The thing to keep in mind is the purpose of motivation: to keep the characters moving through the story or the world, keep them doing things other than pursuing the whim of the moment. 

Planning a PartyOne way to patch up the inherent weakness of the backstory-motivation is to insure that all of the characters have the same element in their past that they need to use moving forward. Avoid the antithesis of this principle, where you put in elements from every players’ unique backstory, as this will result in a scattered adventure with no real aim or purpose, further weakening motivation. Instead, backstory-based motivation has to come from the very beginning of the game. One design that works wonders is to require the players to take levels in a certain class or certain pool of classes at the very beginning of the game, and explain that the player must be from a particular region or belong to a certain organization to begin the game. This ensures that they have elements of backstory that they all share, and thus may all share a similar motivation. 

Avoid the ‘meet in a tavern’ beginning at all costs. It is the bane of good motivation.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: The Incorporeal Problem

ghost-handIncorporeal Rules

Well, this problem has always been a bit difficult to pin down.

On the one hand, the rules for ghosts and such in D&D and Pathfinder have always been mostly clear, if overcomplicated with all kinds of specific cases and applications. On the other hand, these rules are mostly a failure, in my estimation. While they do work, the rules for incorporeal creatures add zero flavor, richness, or realism to the game. It’s worth noting that Paizo came out with the Haunt rules so that ghostly events could happen without evoking the spirit rules.

Instead, we have ghosts and wraiths taking partial damage from spells and magic weapons and floating around on another plane of existence. There are even rules covering the inevitable “hide within the stone wall and attack people” rules exploit. These mechanics are fine if you just want to play extended encounters and tactical games, or find all kinds of ways to exploit corner cases and creative interpretations. However, if you want your spirits to strike fear into the players’ hearts or evoke an eerie mood, they need to interact with these monsters with a phrase other than “Hey, are you carrying that ghost touch dagger or did we sell it? This fight could be annoying.”

I haven’t yet worked out a system of mechanics for incorporeal creatures that evokes all the right feelings. I’m still experimenting. However, the first step to making a better rule is to identify what bothers us about the old rule and figure out the goals for a new one.

Any thoughts?

-Max Porter Zasada