RPG Design – Weapon Wednesday: Sawback Scimitar

Sawback Scimitar by Anthony Rosbottom 2003Sawback Scimitar

Exotic one-handed weapon. 55 gp. 4 lbs. 1d6 slashing damage, critical 18-20 x2.  Special: performance, see text

The vicious sawback scimitar is forged with a serrated edge. When you make a full attack with this weapon and score a critical on the first attack, you can sacrifice your remaining attacks in the round to draw the blade back in a sawing motion, horrifically wounding the victim. Every attack you sacrificed increases the critical multiplier by one.

The fighting pits are where the hardest-hearted warriors are born. The deadliest gladiators of the arena invented the sawback scimitar to combine a weapon that demands notice with the bloodiest kills possible. 

Notes:

This weapon involves a tradeoff that can really help against enemies with damage reduction. Great for a bloody-minded character who wants to make his critical hits really spectacular. Enjoy!

-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 – 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 – Magic Item Monday: Bracers of the Silent Stalker

magic_item_by_ianllanasBracers of the Silent Stalker

Aura Faint Transmutation; CL 3rd

Slot wrists; Price 2,000 gp Weight 1 lb

 These leather bracers are embossed with copper and animal designs. The wearer gains a +2 competence bonus to Stealth checks and a +2 competence bonus to initiative if she is allowed to act in a surprise round. 

Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, anticipate perilCost 1,000 gp

They say that deep in the darkest wood there lives a ranger gone mad. He stalks the silent trees, looking for civilized folk. When he finds someone, he demands they answer three riddles, all of which only a true woodsman  could answer. Those who answer incorrectly he hunts down mercilessly, firing arrows from the dark. To those who know the correct answer he gives a precious gift, a pair of bracers that grant a hunter’s skill.

Notes:

I had to take a sick day Sunday, but we’re back with a magic item. I think these bracers would work as well on a  Pathfinder Diviner as on a ranger. Enjoy!

–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

Theme Thursday: Creating Fun

Today’s theme has to do with making a game fun. How do you do it? These are The Five Commandments of the tabletop RPG.

The easy answer that most people might toss out there is that every group is different, but that’s hardly useful. The truth is, there are some good rules to follow that make most games fun.

1) First is the story arc. Even the most hack-n’-slash groups need a reason to delve into that deep, dank dungeon, and the order of monsters encountered in there will make the game either fun or boring. You need the smaller monsters first, then the big baddie at the end. It has to build. This rule is unbendable 99% of the time. The same goes for a game story. Start out innocuous, then build tension and conflict until the big finish and reward at the end.

2) To make it fun, you need a sprinkling of silliness. Sometimes people look up and say, “hey, I’m playing a game, and it’s funny!” Allow this to happen. However, don’t let an entire session or game story devolve into jokes and goblins in go-karts (TM). Let the story take a silly turn for an interlude, and give everyone’s brain a break from trying to figure things out and dungeon delving. Then, when the laughter dies down, begin building a dramatic arc once more.

3) Don’t allow game imbalances to derail your game. If you notice a player outperforming the others, you don’t have to mention it. Let the game roll on until a voice is raised against the injustice. You will exhaust yourself trying to make something perfect that is inherently interesting in its flawed state, which is the game design itself.

4) Nevertheless, be proactive. Put yourself forward to fix a problem before it happens, even if you don’t mention it. Throw yourself into a story, and inhabit a role as fully as you can, creating quirks of imagination as they come to you, and fitting them into the coherent world.

5) Congratulate others on creativity well done. Nothing makes a game good so much as communication of appreciation.

Good luck, and feel free to add commandments in the comments. 🙂

-Max Porter-Zasada

New Pathfinder Magic Item: Tantalizing Treasure

Magic Item Monday!

Tantalizing Treasure

Aura faint illusion; CL 3rd

Slot —; Price 1,000 gp

Description
This solid ball of dung appears as a much larger illusory treasure hoard when the command word is spoken. The ball is sticky, and can be placed on the edge of a pit or similar so that the illusion covers the hazard. Creatures studying or interacting with the illusion get a will save to disbelieve it (DC 12 to disbelieve.) However, if you spit on the ball of dung when placing it, the DC is 11+ your Charisma modifier.
Construction
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, Minor Image. Cost 500 gp

Notes

That’s right! Monster Monday is going to be Magic Item Monday from time to time! Now we’ve got just about everything covered, here at gamingmage.

Also, in case you were wondering, I really did use something like this in a game once. You should have seen my sister’s face.

-Max Porter Zasada