Tag Archives: d20

The Time For Experience Points Has Come And Gone

The WotC designers have just presented some polls about how XP progression should work in D&D Next and there’s a lively discussion on ENWorld about it.  I have mentioned in passing that none of our group’s Pathfinder campaigns use XP any more, but I thought this was a good time to unpack that a little and discuss why XP are an outmoded solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

Accounting Work

Some of the drawbacks of XP are obvious. It adds a significant amount of non-fun accounting to the game. Most of that burden is on the GM, who has to look up charts and add numbers like it’s tax time for the last 15 minutes of the session, and then all the players get to do some too. This is Dungeons & Dragons, not Accountants & Ledgers. The justification is usually that it’s a “necessary evil” as the only sound way to conduct character advancement; we’ll examine the falseness of this claim below.

It Makes Adventures Suck More

I was just listening to a Know Direction podcast where Amber Scott was talking about the process of working on an Adventure Path chapter lately, and discussed that some of the challenge was the changing/padding required to generate the ‘right XP budget’ and that the actual theme/story of the adventure had to be compromised somewhat to make that work. That sucks, and it illustrates how any published adventure has to make a lot of Hobson’s choices just to get the ‘correct amount’ of XP generated. I had a discussion with James Jacobs about a number of questionable, from the story and GM standpoint, decisions in the Dragon’s Demand module – it was giving out “story awards” to the tune of 200 XP for climbing a DC10 mount of rubble to enter the dungeon. He justified it by saying “Yes but we need people to get from first to sixth level over the course of this one module to fight our end dragon so we padded the shit out of it” (I’m paraphrasing :-).

RPGA/Organized Play adventures, from my experience there, suffer horribly from this problem.  I was a Living Greyhawk Triad and most attempts to innovate in adventures were squashed by the ever-dominant need to have “N encounters that generate X XP for levels Y-Z in H hours.” Of course the other layers of homogeneity required of OP on top of that make the problem even worse, but that’s a big part of it. And in the end, if there is a “correct amount” of XP to give, then why are you spending the effort to micromanage it?

So basically the adventures we play are not as good as they could be from other perspectives because of this unnecessary constraint.

It Makes Players Suck More

Here’s the deal – I like open-ended, in character roleplay, and the ability for PCs to innovate to reach their goals (often referred to as Combat As War in online discussions). XP for monsters (I’m not sure adding “for gp” really helps that) drives a playstyle where you confront everything head-on, grinding like it’s WoW.  If the goal is “save the princess from a castle full of bad guys,” you can’t just do that, because the ugly head of metagaming rises up and says “If you just scry and teleport in and grab her you won’t get as many XP as if you do a room-to-room fight with every orc…” Therefore you start making decisions based on metagame concerns instead of in-game factors. Of course as the GM you can try to give compensating story awards for solving it with different approaches – but then why are you tracking XP again, if there’s a “right number” to give?

I was in a team that took Silver in the D&D Open at Gen Con back in… Uh, the 1990s sometime. We didn’t get Gold, we were told, because we bypassed the penultimate encounter (a nuisance encounter of some humanoids) by flying over it to beard the BBEG directly. So even though our judge said we rocked the adventure and did it better/faster/cheaper (no character loss)  than everyone else, you know, we didn’t harvest enough souls. Lesson learned, we’ll shout our battle cry of “No Witnesses!” in the future.

The Theory

Obviously, the theory behind XP is that they are a needed reward system. Pavlov, Gygax, and Ayn Rand have worked together to come up with the ultimate system of motivating PCs to go out there and adventure, and it is both that and a semi-realistic way to reflect people getting better at what they do.

The problem is, these motivations are a thin lie to begin with, and don’t accomplish their desired ends in practice either.

First alleged reason to have XP, motivation.  Without XP  you don’t incentivize desired behavior in the game. I’m pretty sure we all play D&D to have fun, and adventuring is fun. If there weren’t XP, would our characters not go out and defeat the invading orc hordes? What degree of player and GM sucking must be required for such a low rung on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to kick in?

Second alleged reason to have XP, realism.  It models the growth of your character by getting better through experience and shepherds them through their Campbellian arc. OK, so the more goblins I murder, I get better at playing my lute? Ridiculous.  You could make this claim for a system like BRP where you “tick” skills you use and those skills advance, but the dull blade of XP as implemented in D&D and its derivatives can make no such virtuous claim to simulation.

Let’s look at XP in practice.  First, let’s assume you are running a story-oriented game, or using an Adventure Path or series of modules (that’s not a new idea, ahem, T1-4, A-14, GDQ1-7). To not have that go badly awry, you need the PCs to be at a certain level at certain times. So unless they successfully tread the primrose path on the adventure you’ve set up for them, you as the GM end up needing to accommodate that.  Throw in some random encounters, some story awards, role-playing awards, some side adventures, because you know you can’t send them to the Demonweb unless they’re at least approaching the right level.

But if you are trying to generate a ‘correct amount’ of XP then having XP is of no value, as it loses its lovely alleged Randian properties. It can’t motivate behavior if you’re trying to get them to the right number by any means necessary. You could argue that it provides the illusion of player agency, if your players are dumb, but in the end you have a predetermined outcome and are forcing yourself and your players to jump through more and more  hoops to realize it. Boo.

But XP also hurts sandbox gaming.  Why? It’s the Gygax Way, right, he wouldn’t have written it if it wasn’t the right thing to do? Don’t tell me about “OSR” like I’m a noob; I’ve been playing D&D since the original Red Box.

D&D is still a game full of murderous cretins, and the XP system is a lot of the reason for that. I find it hard to say that the behaviors XP drive are actually the desired ones. Even the D&D Next article I link discusses XP in terms of “how many goblins you need to kill to level.” As discussed above, actual innovative goal-achievement, one of the pillars of the OSR, is quite specifically countermanded by XP (unless, again, you adopt the “give them anyway” rubric, and get to do extra math to justify a predetermined outcome). A decent GM should be able to reward desired behavior in the game.  Do you get nothing for saving the princess or completing a quest besides XP, really? And if you get loot, isn’t that its own reward?

The Alternatives

Well, what we do is “level when the GM says.” Pretty simple.  Sure, this might be a problem in those first spazzy 12-year-old games we all had, where the  GM’s trying to screw the players and all – but how many pages of rules have been written trying to fix that lowest-common-denominator problem, and has it actually succeeded?  No, those who are playing “level 30 silver dragons!” or “being killed by cats!” type games continue to do so. This approach requires zero math and is very easy for the GM – pulling out a level 7 adventure you want to run?  You don’t have to throw weeks of grind at the PCs, just tell them “you level!” In my Reavers campaign, the PCs are like 7th level after four years of play, because I have plenty of piratey adventures appropriate for those levels to bring them!

Or… Now, this is super hippy-dippy, and I know that before I say it, but you could even just level by consensus, in a more sandbox game. If the GM cares about what level they’re prepping for, then the GM should level.  If the GM is just “whatever, I’m a judge OD&D style, hexcrawl yourselves into a coma” then maybe players should spend more time at the levels they enjoy.  I personally would usually vote not to level, as I enjoy the low/mid-levels best and over about 12 starts to suck.

Or, you could level by IRL time.  This is interesting because it allows you to set a goal as to how long a campaign should take, and since levels will vary it will vary the speed at which the PCs progress to naturally keep them on track.  Let’s say our gaming group says “OK, Paul is going to run Wrath of the Righteous next, and we want it to last a year and then go on to something else.” Then you set out a schedule – to finish out, PCs have to be level 16, so they need to get more than a level per month, say one every 3 weeks, to make that happen. So then level on schedule. This is kinda brilliant, because as you level up, earlier parts of the adventure get easier, and you accelerate – more encounters/day, more adventure/IRL week. If you get ahead, it’s harder, and you are slowed down accordingly.

You can somewhat mitigate the cost vs benefit equation here by using a simpler rubric, like “you level after X adventures/sessions/whatever”, where X = character level or a constant. This loses some GM control (especially if it’s “sessions”) but it’s a good compromise for, say, Organized Play setups where you need a way to track character leveling outside the bounds of a traditional campaign.

A very simulation-minded GM could derive their own way of character advancement – in-game time, whatever – easily on top of this framework.

XP As An Option?

Sure, but so, in D&D Next or whatever, can’t we just have XP as an option and “GM levels whenever” as an option?

As described above, XP forces compromise from both the adventure author and GM in terms of adventure design and the players in terms of in-character play. Having “the option” not to XP doesn’t help that all that much – we already have that option, but our adventures and players are still tainted by the XP-oriented mindset. So even those deciding not to use XP will get compromise adventures that had to be designed with that stricture in mind. Kill it with fire.

XP Should Be Buried Now

I know that it’s so “traditional” that it’s hard to accept, but after 30 years of gaming and some careful analysis I really can’t say that the many man-hours spent calculating XP (or worse, gerrymandering it as a GM) have had anywhere near a positive return on investment in terms of game quality or fun.

Dungeonbattle Brooklyn!

I ran my first game of XCrawl today, and here’s the play report.  Our normal gaming fell through since so many people were out of town, but I had a pick-up crew of three people come over and they were jonesing for some roleplaying, so I thought, “Well, what can I throw together real fast?” I had just bought a bunch of XCrawl supplements in the Paizo Black Friday sale and then coincidentally found the corebook at Half Price Books right after, so it was all in my recent-acquisition pile. I grabbed it and ran the first level adventure, Dungeonbattle: Brooklyn.

XCrawl, for the uninitiated, is standard D&D 3.5e rules set in a variant modern day setting, where magic is real and the Roman Empire never really fell, basically resulting in a “world much like our own, but more entertaining.”  The North American Empire is still top of the world, ruled by Emperor Ronald I – so it’s like if the 1980s and the Romans had a love child.  The hot new televised bloodsport is called XCrawl, a live action dungeon crawl equal parts American Gladiators, The Running Man, and Rollerball.  It mixes dungeon crawling, professional wrestling, and sports franchise management to good effect; besides the actual fighting you have to worry about grandstanding, sponsors, etc.

Our new aspiring team was dubbed the Terrible Triad (“Really?  Which one of you hunts Blaculas?”), consisting of three new first level XCrawlers trying to graduate from the Division IV “boffer leagues” to the big leagues.  The twist is that this year, the DivIV finals are Full Lethal, just like Division III and up! A dungeon design contest was held, and new DJ (Dungeon Judge) Seymour Blood designed the day’s festivities, held in an athletic center in Brooklyn. Our aspiring athletes were (we used Pathfinder for the characters, since 3e/3.5e/PFRPG are pretty much run-off-the-cuff compatible):

  • Kanaan “The Krusher,” a barbarian from Siberia (Kevin)
  • Shamus, elven Irish rogue (Patrick)
  • Bal Shem Tove, cleric of Apollo from Texas (Sam)

Sadly, they didn’t make it too far.  After their pre-game interview, they bested the first major room, a Ninja Warrior style obstacle course with some goblins shooting a tennis ball cannon at them, easily.  But then the second room was a surprise attack on five orcs – the orcs were watching the door, but the players come in through a trap door in the floor and have a chance to ambush them. They all snuck in, and the rogue even found the passage out in one of the four cages in the room (the other three held cheerleader “captives”). But sadly our dungeon crawlers hadn’t quite brought their A game – they futzed about a little about what to do and then just attacked en masse, with surprise but no real clever tactics. Then the rogue and cleric rolled natural 1’s during the surprise round. The barbarian managed to kill one of the orcs but the other four were unscathed and commenced a baseball-bat beatdown on the Triad.  Krusher killed another with his greatsword but he and the rogue were forced to spend a round drinking healing potions and during that the priest went down, and then the orcs just pummeled the other two PCs unconscious.

Post-game analysis: The priest’s player was used to 3.5e and not Pathfinder, so he didn’t channel heals, and the loss of a full round to potion drinking really hurt the Triad’s action economy. Also, it was bad luck with all the natural ones.  I could have removed one or two of the orcs since it was only a three character party, but we’ve all seen three first level PCs trounce five orcs (especially with surprise and free attacks on their side). They didn’t use the room to their advantage  – the priest could have locked himself in one of the cages and spammed heals, or they could have otherwise used the surprise round to try to make it so the orcs couldn’t attack effectively.  And when the priest went down, they didn’t try to get a healing potion in him, and instead just kept swinging.  So the game was called and the paramedics carted the players off to Brooklyn Memorial twenty rounds in.  Alas.

I enjoyed it.  I used a referee’s whistle from my daughter’s soccer team as a prop, whenever a ref told them they were go for a new room I let loose on it.  They didn’t use grandstanding or mugging for the camera (XCrawl rules additions), but to be fair they  didn’t have much chance to.  And their Mojo pool (teamwork bonuses) started out small and didn’t get a chance to build before they got iced.  We didn’t use minis or mats, though in retrospect using a whiteboard with X’s and O’s football style would have been awesome.

It was nice not having to worry in the back of my mind about repercussions of the PCs losing. It’s a competitive sport, and someone’s gotta lose!  They did get some lovely parting gifts.  And the “contrived” nature of the event means that you can put goofy Gygaxian crap into dungeon rooms and not have your sense of realism cringe – Tomb of Horrors would be a great Division 1 Finals event!  In general it seems to me that it would be pretty easy to convert a lot of lame dungeons over to fun XCrawl sessions with minimal reskinning.

And it would be tremendous for convention/Organized Play kinds of things – when I helped run the FORGE we did a lot of “Adventurer Olympics” type of events using straight D&D; when you’re not sure how many players will show up to a large event and want to spur some competitiveness among strangers, it’s a good format.

I’ll probably try to get people to play a bit more XCrawl, and it would be great to see it adapted for Pathfinder!  Or even Fourth Edition…  It’s a gonzo setting so it’s possible that a lot of the things I hate about 4e might be virtues for XCrawl… Maybe.  Hmm, well, with the super long combats maybe not…  Anyway, I really enjoyed XCrawl, give it a shot if you come across it!

Open Gaming Triumphs In The End

Back in 2008, Mike Mearls wrote about whether open gaming had been a success… Right before Wizards pulled the plug on it.  Death to open gaming was their clear intent, especially when they added a clause to the new very non-open GSL forbidding use of the OGL by people looking to use the GSL.

And now, by Wizards’ own  numbers, the people playing D&D has gone from 6 million in 2007 to 1.5 million now.  So is D&D dying?

Grognardia brought to my attention this post by Ryan Dancey (archtiect of the OGL) on the Paizo forums about his view of how the OGL succeeded.

In the end, D&D isn’t dying – it’s free.  Hasbro can jack with it now all they want, but it was freed once and for all by Dancey, and so Paizo and the OSR and everyone else can play D&D and spread it far and wide, regardless of what kid film licensed property some suit wants to push this year.

Let Hasbro make all the soda and tennis shoes they want, and we get to play D&D and safely disregard whatever flavor of the month they are peddling.  Power to the people!

Pathfinder Modern Pledge Drive Leaves Me Ambivalent

Super Genius Games is taking patronage money to fund a Pathfinder-ized version of d20 Modern.  They’re only at $8k of their $70k goal with a month to go.

Am I signing up?  No.  I would probably buy such a thing if it came out, depending.  I love Pathfinder but was ambivalent about d20 Modern.  If it was a better version, sure!  But I don’t get how people are insisting on these patronage models.  In this case, I worry…

1.  What if the game is just bad?  There’s good names behind it but there’s always a chance.

2.  What if the game is never delivered?  Or is colossally late?  I am still a sad pre-buyer of Sinister Adventures’ Razor Coast, and if it wasn’t for Lou Agresta and unpaid volunteers chipping in, it would never see the light of day.  The RPG landscape is littered with collapsed projects.  My general policy is to NEVER preorder stuff unless it’s something like a major book from WotC or Paizo and I KNOW it’ll ship within about a month of when it’s supposed to.  I let my Logue-mania from his Paizo work get me carried away for Razor Coast; I won’t do that again, I’ve been reminded.

I do subscribe to some of the Paizo lines, just because they have an unbroken track record of delivering quality on time.  But no one else has that going for them.

In general, who pays for things sight unseen, before the thing is even developed?  No one.  It seems like a bit of an unrealistic business plan.  It’s one thing to just take some pre-orders with “if you order real early you get to playtest or give input or whatever” – sure, you get the $$ early and give some access, that’s fine.  But making it contingent – bad plan.

I know Open Design has been doing this – but I haven’t bought into any of those, either.  In fact, there’s a couple of them I’d like to buy now (like Kingdom of Ghouls) but I can’t because of their closed patronage model – that’s throwing money away, and generally makes me grumpy and unwilling to buy in to such schemes on a personal level.

I’m glad people are innovating business models and all, and if they are working for people (or if they think they are) more power to them…  But this is one consumer who’s not into it.

New d20 Modern Patronage Project

Last month I wrote about the state of modern d20 gaming and mentioned there might be a project in the works to update it for Pathfinder.  Well, the project is up and taking donations!  It’s being done as a patronage project by Super Genius Games, which consists of Owen K.C. Stephens, Stan!, and R. Hyrum Savage.  They’re calling it “P20 Modern.”

Follow along and see how it goes!  I liked d20 Modern OK and think it could be done a lot better, and it’s a great time to take it on.

The Past Of Modern d20 Gaming – And The Future?

Conversation among our gaming group recently turned to “Hey, was there ever another edition of d20 Modern?”  It got me thinking about  modern gaming and d20 modern-type gaming, especially as there may be some new breakthroughs coming on that front soon.  (Teaser!  I’ll spill the beans later in the article!)

Generic Modern d20 Games

I thought d20 Modern was just okay.  It was serviceable.  I didn’t like the stat-based classes, I think that’s lame.  And I didn’t like the way they halfheartedly supported it – it’s like it wasn’t a real product, just a spoiler product to steal sales from Shadowrun, etc.  In my mind it didn’t compare well; they proposed d20 Modern Dark Matter and Star*Drive, for example, which pretty much were better using the Alternity system. d20 Past and Future were just insulting in how light they were.  “You could use this to replace a number of other existing games!  We won’t provide enough content for you to do it out of the box, but look, you clearly could do it!”   Not sure what they were thinking.

Two other major d20-based games tried to fill the gap – True20 and Modern20.  True20 is Green Ronin’s generic, somewhat simplified d20 system; they use variants of it in Mutants & Masterminds and Blue Rose.  I like it better than d20 Modern, but am not wildly enthusiastic about it.  I don’t like the wound system, particularly.  And there’s not a lot of direct support for modern gaming; it’s meant to not be purely fantasy-tied so you *can* do it but it seems spread thin.  Every support book feels like it has to cover fantasy/modern/future/etc. which means you only get a little of each in the Companion, class books, etc.  That’s a poor marketing strategy because it means if I want material for a modern warrior, I have to buy a book with fantasy stuff in it.  I’m sure there are 10 or so people out there so in love with True20 they want to buy everything, but normal people would like books focused around information useful in a specific game they’re gonna run.

Modern20, from RPGObjects, is more specifically modern focused, which is nice.  It still goes with a largely stat-tied set of core classes, though it tries to add a little more “zazz” to them.  They have supplements for horror, martial arts, etc.  Seems serviceable.

Specific Genre Modern d20 Games

Mutants & Masterminds, from Green Ronin, is a great superheroes game.  I love it – well, the first edition.  I felt like the second edition overcomplicated things and decided the book should read more like a dictionary than a gamebook.  I understand some people like that kind of “definition centric” format but I say bah.   Anyway, I really like M&M 1e.  Beautiful books, you can build beautiful Marvelesque characters, and fun gameplay.  Criticisms – the way damage works can be a little problematic sometimes and I’ve learned over time that games that give the DM action points to use for villains suck.  Anyway, it’s the best d20 supers game hands down and IMO one of the best supers games in any system.  But it’s pretty much just for supers, which is great for that genre and not relevant for others.

Spycraft was another excellent game – in its first edition.  It’s weird that I also don’t like its second edition; it’s super overcomplicated and also goes for that descriptor stuff, must have been a fad at the time.  It was an espionage game, but because of that could work perfectly well for modern action, crime, investigation, military, etc.  If you’re looking to play a “subtle” genre, d20 probably isn’t the right thing to use anyway.  But if you want to be a faceman, soldier, wheelman, or fixer, it’s the game to use!  For most traditional modern genres, though, in my opinion Spycraft 1.0 is the shizznit.  (I didn’t like their uber gonzo “G.I. Joe on meth” setting,  Shadowforce Archer, but all the class guides are nice.)  They went the ‘real class’ direction instead of the ‘stat class’ – heck, Spycraft 2.0 minimized stats to the degree where they did away with ability checks!   You can find all the Spycraft 1.0 stuff easily at Half Price Books etc.  I don’t know what the heck Crafty is doing with the game line now that they have 2.0 – their supplements are bizarre (convert to d20 Modern!  Add fantasy!  Book after book of new guns!).

Haven: City of Violence, from LPJ Designs, also seems like a good bet.  I haven’t played it, but it seems to stay squarely in the modern action/crime/etc and not try to add in psychic mutant magic-using bugbears or other crap like that.  Seems to be Grand Theft Auto in Sin City directed by John Woo.  I’d like to give it a shot sometime.

What’s New?

Well, there may be a Pathfinder version of Modern in the works!  People asked Paizo to do it from time to time but they said “we’re busy with the core stuff.”  Recently, however, on the Paizo boards, some names you may recognize – Stan!, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Hyrum Savage, who have formed Super Genius Gamesare seriously talking about doing a Pathfinder Modern, possibly as a patronage project.  Although I’m leery of patronage projects, as the RPGverse is full of long promised and never delivered products (Nick Logue and Razor Coast, I’m looking at you), it’d be interesting to get a new version of d20 Modern with the learnin’ of the last 10 years baked in.

Here’s what such a game should look like IMO.

  • Real classes, not “stat based” classes.
  • Vitality and wound points, not pure hit points or a True20 weird DC thing.
  • A general modern corebook, but supplements organized along specific genre lines.

Some Bonus RPG.net Reviews

Life In The Big City – Crowds and Mobs

In a city campaign, there’s many times where you need to reflect enough bystanders that representing them individually just doesn’t work – a pain with minis, but also it loses the crowd effect of slowing down runners, etc.

Luckily, The Alexandrian has some crowd and mob rules I found!  I’ll try these in an upcoming crowd scene and see if I want to mod them or not.

RPG Superstar 2009: Villain Round 2

The third round of RPG Superstar 2009 is to redo your villain and add a stat block.  I have to say, I do not have the patience to wade through stat blocks, but let’s see who improved their villain and do a top level check for awesomeness.

Sharina, Legend Singer (Female human bard 6)

The bard who gives the party fame and danger to leverage fame for herself.  She’s not that much changed in fluff, but she’s grown on me in that I’ve internalized that there’s more description of her schemes beyond “she starts a war!”  I don’t think she was perfect enough not to brush up the fluff.  The writer uses a few more commas than good grammar can stand.   Stat block’s OK but unremarkable.  I approve of trying a low level villain, though.  Overall she’s decent but I would hesitate to say Superstar material.  5/10.

Kar-En-Helit, Vessel of Moeris (Male human ghost wizard 18 )

This guy’s totally reworked and I liked the previous fluff better.  Now he’s a guy who’s waiting to ensoul his Osirian god-emperor ancestor ghost.  Concept’s fine, but the execution is a little confusing.  Especially as it splits focus between before he emerges and after, and there’s not enough info on either.  As for the stat block, I’m pretty confused about what are Kar-En-Helit’s stats, what are Moeris’ stats, and what are the stats of Moeris-in-Kar-En-Helit.  3/10.

Vashkar, the False Maharajah (Male vampire rakshasa Monk 8/Fighter 1/Eldritch Knight 4) *

Reworked from “generic rakshasa” to “demented vampire rakshasa who kills vampires and rakshasas!”  Much, much more interesting.  He starts to fall into the trap of not being in enough conflict with the PCs however.  The stat block is just huge.  I’m not so sure about legitimacy of the Eldritch Knight levels boosting his spellcasting (which is purely racial).  Triple class nonhuman with a template may be pushing it complexity-wise.  And even for CR20 this is a little buff.  AC50, SR40, multiple DRs.  24 special abilities goes over my line for what I’d like to deal with.  I think being a vampire rakshasa monk would be more than enough, especially with the new bloodline.  But you have to respect biting off such a huge task.  7/10.

Aelfric Dream-Slayer (male human reincarnated wood elf lich druid 15)

Was one of my favorites from last time.  He’s a druid who wants to stop an aberrant dream invasion by killing anything that can dream.  Fair enough!  Fluff slightly reworked and seems not as tight as last round.  I feel like the addition of the Rovagug reference is to be gratuitously Golarionesque.  And the stat block is kinda messy and error-prone.  Hrm.  5/10.

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RPG Superstar 2009: Villain Round

The Paizo RPG Superstar 2009 second round is in, and you can go read and vote on the villain entries from the top 32!

I am disappointed in these, especially in comparison to last year’s excellent entries.

What is it with druids and bards?  The two lamest classes.  Whenever my gaming group fights a bad guy and realizes they’re a bard or druid (or monk), we laugh, relax, and get to spanking them.

And the motivations this year – jeez! Everyone was a cliche. “I like to kill because…”

  • I’m EVIL!
  • I’m INSANE!
  • I’m a CULTIST!
  • I want WEALTH and POWER!

Here’s my thoughts in depth.

Phenyekashi (3/10)
A bone devil that just meditates but leaks corruption into the area.  Seems more like a plot device than a villain.  Could be an artifact instead of a creature and have the same “corrupt the locals” effect.

Bricius, The Wrath of the Forest (2/10)
An anti-civilization druid.  Pretty standard really, I’ve seen a dozen just like him before.

Sharina Legendsinger (4/10) *
An annoying paparazzi.  More of a plot device than anything, as all the proposed schemes/plots require the DM to assume social engineering succeeds on a level way past a 6th level bard’s capacity.  “She starts a war!”  Really?

Paradigm Theoguard (4/10)
A forceful pacifist.  OK, at least that’s different…  The name is awful.  And you’d better have a *really* good-aligned party, or else they’ll just catch his  minions stealing something and terminate them (likely legal in most medieval municipalities).

Montellan Corey (2/10)
A generic serial killer.  I’ve never seen one of *those* before.

Kar-en-haris (6/10) *
A thinking man’s cultist right out of one of the Mummy movies.  Still a bit of a stock character, but at least he has an agenda more interesting than “kill.”

Haldon Valmaur (4/10)
Well, it’s a little more colorful to want to kill elves rather than just kill.  But only a little.

Varrush (2/10) *
A generic rakshasa that sounds like every other rakshasa in the world.  Declaring a villain a mastermind doesn’t really make him more interesting.

Aelfric Dreamslayer (8/10) *
A pro-elf druidical lich.  OK, that’s interesting.  Heck, it might make Haldon an interesting character to be used as a foil.  Good staying power.  I like it!

Zelicia (6/10)
Crazy hot scorpion lady.  Interesting and memorable, though seems like a one trick pony for a standard adventurer “kill your way up the food chain” adventure.

Volner Tain (5/10) *
I liked the setup backstory but then he turned into “generic evil undead guy.”

Count Falconbridge (6/10) *
Hmm.  The execution’s not all I’d want, but I like the idea here, especially if unwound gradually enough and with enough plausibility to get the PCs initially on his side, ask themselves some hard philosophical questions…

Zavanix (1/10)
A killer pixie.  Like a generic serial killer but with more cliches sprinkled on him.  No thanks.

Boemundo (2/10) *
Just a monster, really.  “He used to have a personality, but now that he’s a wraith he done forgot all that.”

Derinogen (3/10) *
A good kernel of an idea that could have been very Nip/Tuck but instead just got boring.

Malgana (7/10) *
OK – more of a plot device or even object than a villain, and more helpful than really a villain, but it’s just so much FUN!  Assemble your own undead goblin!  She needs a better endgame than the lame “and then she’ll kill them” however.  Though I agree with all the other judges’ comments, this one at least interested me, unlike 90% of the other entries.
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RPG Superstar 2009 Round One – Results Are In!

Paizo Publishing is holding their second RPG Superstar contest to find some new talent out there in gamer-land.  The first round, where hundreds of folks submitted wondrous items for the judges’ perusal, is over and the top 32 have been selected!  Go check ‘em out.

Sadly, I’m not one of them.  So to avoid waste, here is my entry!  Taking prisoners is always so hard in D&D.  If someone may be a spellcaster, it’s hard to argue that they can be safely kept alive.  I’ve been in many a party that’s tried to interrogate a captured enemy; bound hand and foot, with a dagger to their throat in case they utter any arcane syllable.  Then can you really leave them lying around?  This item helps solve that problem.

SHACKLES OF SUBMISSION
Aura moderate abjuration, enchantment; CL 6th
Slot hands, feet; Price 13,000 gp; Weight 5 lb.

Description:
This linked pair of adamantine masterwork wrist manacles and ankle fetters traditionally has the symbol of Abadar stamped deeply on each of its four cuffs.
A creature bound by the shackles is considered to be entangled. These shackles magically silence a bound creature; this effect may be turned on and off by their captor at will. When not silenced, the bound subject is forced to give only truthful answers to questions as if inside a zone of truth. Lastly, the individual binding the wearer can issue suggestions (as the spell, with a six hour duration but no save) to the bound creature at will. These magical effects still function even if the leg fetters are removed (or both cuffs attached to one leg, a usual solution if the bound creature is required to travel under its own power).
They fit any Small to Large creature. The DC to break or slip out of the shackles is 30.

Construction:
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, silence, zone of truth, suggestion; Cost 6,500 gp

New RPG Superstar Contest

Paizo Publishing is starting a new RPG Superstar contest for the gaming community!   Basically, it’s open entry and you submit more and more complex items each round to get chosen as a potential author.

It starts with anyone who wants submitting a wondrous item – the judges and community discuss and pare that down to the top 32 entries.  Those 32 enter a villain concept, which similarly gets judged and pared down to 16, which stat up the villain.  The final 8 design a villain’s lair with map, and the final 4 submit a complete design proposal.

The rounds are slightly different from the 2008 RPG Superstar awards, for which all the content is still up on the Paizo boards.  The previous year had six rounds, and they were more unrelated – design 3 thematically linked monsters, design a country…  Some of the entries from last year were really, really great, just toally crackerjack.  Christine Schneider (the eventual winner) and Clinton Boomer’s were my favorites.  (See here for my posts covering the 2008 event.)  The country round was my favorite, too bad there isn’t another this year.  But the wondrous item round will be using Pathfinder RPG stats this time!

Want to show your chops?  Enter an item between 12/5 and 1/2!

Other d20 Clearance Stuff

As I poke around more, there are a lot of other d20 publishers doing sales on paizo.com – see their sale page. The economy sucks, make your dollar go farther by stocking up and using all this swag in your Pathfinder campaigns!

Atlas Games – their Penumbra modules were always my “second favorite” after Green Ronin in the heyday of d20.  (Now that Paizo is kicking butt they’re in #3 for me, but still very good!)  Also they have some innovative stuff like Nyambe: African Adventures (I have that already) and Northern Crown, set in a fantasy North America.  “Touched by the Gods” is a great supplement. It’s mostly 3.0-ey and not 3.5-ey but still good.

Don’t miss their miscellany “d20 Clearance” section – some Forgotten Realms stuff and other WotC, some Babylon 5, Oathbound, Eden Studios d20 modules…

And of course, PDFs of most of the Goodman Games “Dungeon Crawl Classics” adventures.  Not my cup of tea, I’m not nostalgic for 1e, but loads of folks love them.

There’s some other stuff but the discounts aren’t deep enough yet.  Come on d20 publishers, time to recoup a little cash!  I’m not gonna pay $10 for your random lil’ d20 book but I’ll pay $2-$5!