Of Forgotten Lore and Ancient Sourcebooks

Forgotten Tomes of Ancient LoreHuh…for some reason, I find it somewhat intimidating to actually sit down and type up a post on the new site. Which might have something to do with breaking 100 hits in a single day for the very first time, largely thanks to a link from Hack & Slash. Hello new readers! Hope you’re enjoying yourselves.

I’m Pathfinder player and a Paizo fan. I think that much has been made pretty clear on this site. I am also a firm believer in being open about criticism. Criticism drives improvement. If we don’t criticize the things we love, then any changes made to what we love will be based on the criticisms of someone else. Besides, no one who is genuinely interested in creating something they can be proud of ever shies away from good criticism. On the contrary, it’s a highly sought upon treasure. When I ask someone to critique my writing ninety-nine people out of every hundred will tell me it’s “great.”

I know it’s not great. I want it to be great. That’s why I asked you to tell me why it’s not great.

Last week, I criticized modern game developers for failing to include any time management in their games. A criticism which ended up going on so long that it spawned a follow up post that same week. In the past, I’ve also criticized modern game designers for the lack of information on hex mapping. These are just two amongst a sea of criticisms I have for Pathfinder and the various modern iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The common thread which connects these two criticisms, though, is that both of them used to be part of the game, but were dropped for no cogent reason I can discern.

 Unfortunately, there are numerous game elements like this. Mechanisms which have, for whatever reason, fallen out of use. I’m sure it always sounded like a good idea at the time, and that’s okay! Elegance of design is important, so if a game’s developers thought they were streamlining gameplay by dropping superfluous systems, then good on them. But in many cases it seems to me as though they were wrong, and ought to start reversing their mistakes. I’ve already written on the topic of time management and hex maps, here are a few other gameplay mechanics which RPG designers used in the old days, and which modern RPG designers really ought to be talking about.

Combat Facing

Have I mentioned I like rogues? Because I like rogues. I play so many rogues, that the one time I didn’t play a rogue, I had to multiclass into rogue, because my GM was conditioned to fill his adventures with opportunities for sneaking and lockpicking. I’m trying to branch out into other classes, but rogues will always have a very special place in my heart.

Flanking and Sneak Attacks with Combat FacingPart of the reason I love rogues as much as I do is their reliance on a large variety of skills, most of which are not well suited to combat. At least not face-to-face, even-steven, Combat As Sport style combat. Rogues function best when you’re not quite sure what they’re doing. If they just ran behind a tree, you don’t know if they’re trying to lure you into a trap, retrieve a hidden weapon, disappear into the bushes, climb the tree so they can leap down on you from above, or something entirely different which you haven’t even considered. Any class can play this way, but it is a rogue’s specialty. And it’s a play style which is severely hampered by D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder’s “360 degree field of vision.”

Characters in these modern incarnations of tabletop RPGs are not considered to be “facing” in any particular direction. They are always looking all around them at all times. No matter where you’re standing relative to a character, you are in that character’s full view, unless there is something between you. The idea was to simplify combat, which seems rather silly, since D&D 3rd edition added a number of largely superfluous rules.

In fairness, combat facing has not been completely neglected, but an optional rule in a supplemental book is not good enough. This should be part of the core combat system, no question.

Wizards Learning Spells at Random

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about an alternative to the current methods by which Wizards learn spells in Pathfinder. I’ll freely admit it’s not one of my better posts, but give me a break. I was severely sleep deprived and wrote the whole damned thing in a rush before work. My hope was that by removing the Wizard’s ability to automatically learn two new spells upon leveling up (and placing a larger emphasis on other methods for learning spells) we could partially overcome the vast power gap between casters and non-casters which has plagued this generation of games. I still think it’s a solid idea, but shortly after posting it, -C of Hack and Slash informed me that balance was less of an issue in older editions because Wizards didn’t get to select which spells they would learn, but rather, learned new spells at random each level.

I hold to my initial reaction upon learning this: that it doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds incredibly awesome. On the one hand, it seems silly to me that a Wizard would ever not be aware of what he or she was studying. Wizards (or “Magic Users” in the more traditional terminology) are scholars, they learn magic through something akin to the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, theorize. So if a spell which a wizard has mastered is a “Magical Theory,” shouldn’t they figure out which spells they’re working on in the “observation” or “experimentation” stages?

That having been said, there’s an undeniable charm to the idea. Being thrown a completely random grab-bag of spells, and then being forced to figure out how to use them most efficiently, sounds fun to me. I doubt future incarnations of Pathfinder will revert back to randomly determining spells. Nor do I think they should. But it’s certainly something which we should be talking about. Maybe as a house rule, or perhaps something which we could use for the sorcerer, to further differentiate it from the Wizard.

Incidentally, there’s an entire post about this issue over on Hack & Slash.

Monster Activity Cycles & Diets

These are extremely minor, which makes it all the more strange that I even need to talk about them. In old editions of Dungeons and Dragons, each monster had both an “Activity Cycle,” and a “Diet” listed in their stat block. The purpose of these is pretty simple. The activity cycle let GMs know when a creature was active. If it was nocturnal, the GM knew not to have it attack during the day, if it had an activity cycle of “any,” then the GM knew it didn’t matter, and so on. In most fantasy books or films, night is a particularly dangerous time when particularly vile monsters are on the prowl, so it makes good sense for GMs to be aware of when monsters can be active.  The diet of a monster is, of course, what they eat. Also useful, since herbivores are unlikely to try and eat adventurers, yet may still pose dangers for other reasons.

I wouldn’t say that either of these rank high enough on the “usefulness” scale to qualify Pathfinder as severely flawed for lacking them. However, I can see no reason not to include them. If the choice is between knowing when my players are in danger from trolls, and knowing which feats a typical troll has, then I would much rather know the activity cycle.

Experience Points based on Gold Pieces

Now, personally, I’m a fan of my Simple XP system. It has improved my game by an immeasurable degree. But if we’re going to be using large experience point rewards, why not use the original system wherein 1 gold piece granted a character 1 experience point? I’ve never personally played with this system, nor have I researched it in great detail, but on the surface it seems simple and logical. If experience points are a measure of the useful experience your character has gained, then why do we only really receive it for defeating monsters? If the goal of adventuring is to find treasure, then we should reward equally all methods of acquiring that treasure. The group who cleverly sneaks around a monster, or convinces a less intelligent monster to give them the treasure freely, deserves just as much credit as the group who kicks down the door and stabs everything around them until there’s nothing left between them the shiny shiny gold.

More Supplements for Game Masters

Paizo Pathfinder Game Mastery GuideLooking over the various first edition Dungeons and Dragons stuff I’ve got, I notice that very little of it is aimed towards players, most of it is aimed towards GMs. Whereas when I look at my extensive collection of D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder books, I notice that most of them are geared primarily towards players.

It makes good business sense, really. For every GM, there are what? An average of three players? Four? More? There are more potential customers for a player’s handbook than there are for a dungeon master’s guide. I’m sure the shift in priorities has made a lot of money for the developers of these games, and that’s cool with me. I would never ask a company to focus on a less-profitable demographic simply because it is my preference. Though I would question whether or not it is a more profitable demographic. In my experience, Players own the core rules, and mooch off the GM for everything else.

But even if it is more profitable to market to players, I’d like to see more books for Game Masters out there. Pathfinder has taken a step in the right direction with their excellent Game Mastery Guide, which is easily my favorite Pathfinder supplement thus far. I’d like to see them take it further with a Game Domination Guide, then perhaps a Game Supremacy Guide.

Remember this, Paizo: the collective of Game Masters are 100 times more effective than any marketing department. We’re the ones who find new players, and draw them in. The better we are at running games, the happier our players will be, and the more likely that they’ll purchase your products.

Are there any other oldschool game mechanics you’d like modern game developers to be learning from? Let me know in the comments! If nothing else, I can better educate myself.

Welcome to Papers & Pencils!

Papers & Pencils Logo by Melanie TetroIf you’re reading this, you’ve made it! Welcome my friends, to Papers & Pencils! The new website has all the posts and comments from the old site, and I won’t be slowing down at all moving forward. I’ll continue writing and posting on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Weekend schedule. So please update your links and bookmarks, and for those who link to my blog, or any of my specific posts, on their websites, I would consider it a personal favor if you updated your link to redirect here. However, if you don’t, I will be leaving up the old site indefinitely as an archive. So links to old content will remain good–there just won’t be any new content over there.

I must confess to a bit of nervousness taking this site live. I’ve been designing websites since I was 14 years old, but I’ve never put one of my designs up for hundreds of people to see. Not that I can take full credit for the design, most of the heavy lifting is done by WordPress, the Mandigo theme, and a number of plugins. However, I’ve spent the last three months fiddling around with the code. There’s nothing you can find on this site which wasn’t modified by me in some way.

I sought advice from a lot of people in putting this site together, and I’d like to make sure each of them receives the proper thanks for the time they spent correcting my mistakes, and giving me tips on how to proceed forward.

The remarkably talented Melanie Tetro provided me with the kickass Papers & Pencils logo and topbanner. And not only did she keep me involved in the design process throughout, allowing me to give my input on the nitty-gritty details of the design, but she was fast! The whole thing was done several days ahead of schedule, and she kept working with me to make sure I had everything I needed for several days after we were done. All for an extremely reasonable price.

Noëlle Anthony, Todd Williams, and Tim Hunting each spent a lot of time giving me detailed notes to help me improve the site’s design. I had originally made a number of design faux pas which probably would have remained in place without their advice. I really can’t thank them enough for their significant time investments, writing emails and having conversations about the finer points of web design.

Jennifer L. Davis gave me the benefit of her significant experience both as a writer, and as a blogger. Not to mention giving me a bit of legal information which I had previously been unaware of.

Pike had a lot more to do with getting this site going than she probably realizes. Not only did she spend years telling me I ought to start writing a D&D blog, but she was a large motivating factor in getting myself off my ass and actually starting Comma, Blank_ in the first place. She also saved me from weeks of work by pointing the Mandigo theme to me, which is a much better starting point for the design I was aiming for than the theme I was working with before that.

Shane S. gave me a lot of technical advice, actually diving into the way the site was coded. I am not skilled enough to implement all of the suggestions he gave me, but his input was invaluable in streamlining a few of the site’s elements.

I also need to thank Amber, Cynwise, Jeremy Dearing, Vitaemachina, Karethdreams, and my girlfriend Morrie, each of whom helped me to get this project done. Whether it was going over background images with me, letting me know my visited-link colors were off, or proof reading my posts, their contributions to the project were important. I thank you.

There’s still a lot to do, I’m sure. The website can be polished, the code cleaned up, and other improvements made. I’ll likely continue tweaking things here and there forever. And if you come across any problems, or have any suggestions for how to improve www.PapersPencils.com, leave a comment on this post, or visit the contact page to drop me a line directly.

Now that this whole deal is out of the way, I’ll return to writing about sitting with friends and pretending to be dorfs.

Comma, Blank_ Has Moved!

Comma, Blank_ LogoThis will be my final post on Comma, Blank_, because I now have my own domain! All new posts can be found at:

www.PapersPencils.com

Comma, Blank_’s  entire archive of RPG posts has been successfully ported over to the new site. I have also transferred each and every one of the post comments by hand, including links back to each commenter’s profile, because I put a high value on the feedback you, my readers, leave for me. However, no new posts will be posted here after this one. And I will not be monitoring comments on this site any longer. So update your bookmarks, feed reader, or whatever it is you use to access my writings! I consider it a privilege to entertain my readers, and I would hate to lose even a single one of you in this move.

This site has been of immeasurable value to me, and I must confess I’m sorry to leave it, even if I’ll just be doing the exact same thing on the new site. Before I started this site, I was not very happy with my life. A quick peek at the first post on the blog, entitled “Worthlessness,” (which is one of the few non RPG posts here, and will not be moving to the new site), might give you a bit of an idea of just how down on myself I was. Truth be told, that’s not even the half of it. I was struggling through more emotional distress at the time than I want to bother talking about here. Suffice to say, my life was not going well, and I had very little hope that it would ever get better.

The blog trudged along lazily through August and September. I was aiming to put up 3 posts every week, but I was failing, which was business as usual for me. In my mind, it was a foregone conclusion that eventually I’d get bored of the blog, and go back to being an “aspiring writer,” who thinks a lot about writing, but never actually does it. I felt shitty about myself, and to be honest, I should have felt shitty about myself. I have no pity for the faults in myself which are rooted in my own lack of will. During a moment of courage in early October, I decided I was going to push myself harder. I was going to get 15 posts done that month, I decided. On October 10th, 2011, while driving my girlfriend Morrie to the train station in the morning, I told her that I was going to try to put up 15 posts in October. She snickered.

“No you’re not.” she said flatly. The comment stung, and I think she sensed that. She quickly qualified her statement. “I mean, you’d have to do a post what…every night?”

Don’t judge her harshly. It was an off-the cuff response which she has repeatedly apologized for in the time since. I almost didn’t even mention that it was her who said it, but I want to make clear that this was the opinion of someone who matters to me. The comment stung. I got angry. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that a dismissive comment, or a rejection, is what motivated them to keep going. I never understood the sentiment until that day. As soon as I got to work I pulled a calendar off the wall and began marking off days. I figured I shouldn’t write every day, since that would just burn me out. I would, instead, write every other day during the week, on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. I have the weekends off, so decided I should have plenty of time both to rest, and to write on Saturday and Sunday. By that schedule of 5 posts a week, I figured out that I could have 19 posts done by the end of the month. That was plenty. Over lunch that day I started working on Magically Generating New Adventures, which remains one of my most popular posts. I started keeping tally marks for how many posts I had for the month. I was going to prove Morrie wrong. I was going to hit 15 posts. I could even skip 4 days if I wanted to.

I didn’t want to.

My Halloween Costume. I wasn't going for "The Joker," I was more going for "Ability to scare children with crazy eyes and grunting sounds."I kept to my schedule exactly. Even on Halloween, my favorite holiday, I was answering the door between writing paragraphs of The Problem With Feats. I tapped away at my keyboard despite a finger which I had severely burned on an ultraviolet light. Despite the fact that my hair kept getting in my face, since having it down was part of my costume. Despite the fact that I had already reached my 15-post goal. The goal didn’t matter anymore. Proving Morrie wrong didn’t matter anymore. I owe her a lot for that single insensitive comment, because without it I don’t know if I would have managed to forge the self discipline which has allowed me to devote myself so fully to this writing project.

I continued my 5-posts-a-week schedule through November, which proved harder. By the end of November I had decided two things. First, writing a Comma, Blank_ post five days a week was too much for me. I started to worry that I was going to burn out, so in December I officially dropped down to only one post over the weekend, bringing my work load down to only four posts per week. Second, I decided that it was time to devote myself more fully to the writing project. So, in early December, I did some budgeting, and some brainstorming, and registered the www.PapersPencils.com domain, and purchased two years of hosting. Yeah, I’ve been working on this for almost three months. What can I say? I’m a busy guy.

Since starting Comma, Blank_, I have missed only 2 posts, which were over the Christmas holiday. My life is better in countless ways. I feel like I’m improving myself a little bit with every word I write. And my readership is growing as well. During the month of February, there has not been a single day where traffic was lower than the corresponding day of the previous month. It kinda makes me want to continue using the old site until Wednesday just to see if the trend actually continues throughout the whole month. But, to be honest, it has been a serious pain in the ass to format everything post twice–once for Blogger, and again for WordPress. I’m eager to be done with that. Besides, in 25 days of February, I’ve already surpassed the traffic during the 31 days of January by over 200 unique hits, and broken the 1000-hit-per-month barrier for the first time. And I don’t intend to stop there. I’ve got so many plans for future projects and improvements–you have no idea.

Monthly Comma, Blank_ Traffic from August 1st 2011 to February 25th 2012

So thank you, my readers, and everyone who has ever linked to me. Thank you to my friends on Twitter, and to my girlfriend Morrie. Thank you to -C of Hack and Slash for sending me several unique hits ever day, and to /tg/ for giving me years worth of scintillating conversation and inspiration, and to every RPG blog I’ve ever read which has given me an idea or caused me to question my preconceived notions. Thank you to my friends who play these tabletop RPGs with me, who have been very patient with me when I’ve allowed writing about games to distract me from running games. You all rock.

By the way, if you were wondering, this blog was called Comma, Blank_ because I originally envisioned it as a project “in between” the major projects of my life. The idea was that looking back, the stuff I worked on before this blog would be considered significant, and the stuff after this blog would be significant, but this blog was likely to be somewhat forgettable. That’s what I thought at the time, anyway. Thus, this blog was the comma between the things I did in the past, and the things I would someday do in the future. Ironic that it ended up becoming a project which I used to redefine who I am. For three days, the blog was actually titled simply ” ,_ ” but I started to feel like too much of a hipster douche for my own taste.

I figured I ought to tell that story, since I likely won’t get another chance.

See you on the new site, friends!

-Nick “LS” Whelan

Merciless Monsters 2: Bloody Avenger (Bloody Mary)

Bloody Mary looking out of a MirrorI recently became rather intrigued by Bloody Mary folklore. I’ve always been a fan of undead creatures. In particular, I’m fascinated to learn about the reality of humanity’s fear of the dead. Pop culture is so inundated with movie monsters these days that it’s easy to know everything about zombies of vampires without ever learning the reality which inspired the fantasy. In fact, it was the trailer for the movie “Paranormal Activity 3” which first got me interested in this folklore. I find it hilarious that a movie trailer failed to convince me to see the movie, but succeeded in motivating me to do some reading. Even if it was just Wikipedia, and a handful of other websites.

Each of us is a student of popular culture, whether or not we realize it. But there’s so much more to these creatures. Historical information, which filmmakers never passed down to us. Did you know that while Catholics in Western Europe took a slowly-decomposing corpse as a sign of sainthood; Catholics in Eastern Europe took it as a sign that the corpse was waking at night as a vampire? It’s true. Likewise, Zombies originate from Afro-Haitian superstitions, where “sorcerers” would use psychoactive chemicals to place a victim in a highly suggestible state, then order that victim to do their bidding.

Interesting stuff.

Hoping to find some similarly interesting revelations for Bloody Mary, I did some looking around. I haven’t found a ton of solid information on the tale’s origins–it seems to be a relatively recent, and particularly fractured piece of folklore. However, the sheer volume of completely different accounts of this mirror-dwelling creature make it a curiosity to me. And as I looked for additional sources of information, I began to wonder if Mary had ever been converted into a monster for gaming. I flipped through the various incorporeal undead in my Bestiaries and Monster Manuals, but didn’t find anything which seemed specifically based on her. Since I find the folklore so fascinating, I thought I’d go ahead and create my own.

As an aside, in my study of Bloody Mary, I learned a word which should be very useful to game masters and world crafters. Catoptromancy; Divination by use of mirrors, or other reflective surfaces.

Lady Gaga Fan Video for Bloody Mary 1

Bloody Avenger

At first all that can be seen is the dripping blood, falling apparently from thin air. Once one looks upon vengeful specter’s crimson form, the black pits of its eyes widen, and it gurgles a curse from a blood filled mouth.


Bloody Avenger; CR 10; [Undead(Incorporeal)] [Urban] [Any Climate] [Nocturnal]


XP: 6,400
CE Medium Undead
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +12


DEFENSE


AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 14 [10 + Dex(3) + Dodge(1) + Incorporeal Deflection(4)]
HP 90 (9d8 + 45)
Fast Healing 2
Fort +3 Ref +6 Will +12
Defensive Abilities Incorporeal
Immunities Undead Traits


OFFENSE


Speed fly 30 ft. (Perfect)
Melee Lacerate Face + 14 (4d6 + 4)
Special Attacks Death’s Gaze, Share Guilt, Expose Guilt, Bloody Chains


STATISTICS


Str Dex 16 Con Int 6 Wis 15 Cha 18
Base Attack +6/1CMB+9 CMD 19
Feats Improved Initiative, Dodge, Ability Focus(Death’s Gaze), Iron Will, Toughness, Natural Weapon Focus (Lacerate Face)
Skills Fly (+12), Intimidation (+21), Perception (+12), Stealth (+20)
Languages Common


ECOLOGY


Environment Most commonly in urban homes, but they can strike wherever a mirror is nearby.
Organization Solitary
Activity Cycle Primarily nocturnal, but do not tire, and can function wherever there is low light.
Treasure Standard

Lady Gaga Fan Video for Bloody Mary 2


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Invisibility(Sp) A bloody avenger may cast Invisibility (as the spell) at will.

Catoptromancy(Su) A bloody avenger can enter any mirror, and exit through any other mirror on the same plane. Broken mirrors do not affect the creature’s ability to travel through them, however, a mirror covered with a cloth cannot be traveled through. The creature can do this while invisible. Note that this ability works only for mirrors, surfaces which are incidentally reflective cannot be used for this, or any other mirror-related ability of the Bloody Avenger.

Lacerate Face(Ex) Bloody Avengers are compelled to destroy their victim’s faces. It is not entirely clear why they do this, but it is surmised that it is based on the creature’s intense feelings of guilt, and a desire to destroy its own identity. This is a melee touch attack which deals damage equal to 1d6/2 hit dice. A Bloody Avenger’s charisma modifier is considered a weapon bonus for the purposes of this attack, and can be added both to the attack and the damage roll.

Death’s Gaze(Su) 3 times per day, as a standard action, a Bloody Avenger may show a target opponent their own death. This is the death which they are currently fated for, though their fate is not immutable. However, the individual who sees this image of their death will know, inherently, that it is not an illusion. The fear this causes is profound. The target becomes immediately Panicked, but is entitled to a will saving throw [DC 20 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha + Ability Focus)] to be only shaken. Targets can repeat the will save on each turn until they succeed. The Shaken condition lasts 3 rounds. In order to be affected by this attack, the target must look either at the Bloody Avenger, or at any mirrors.

Share Guilt(Su) Once per day a Bloody Avenger may pass through a target creature by moving through a square which that creature occupies. The target is entitled to a reflex saving throw [DC 17 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha)] to take an immediate 5-foot step out of the way. If the Bloody Avenger successfully passes through the target, then for the next 24 hours, any damage inflicted on the Bloody Avenger will be inflicted on that target. This effect is treated as a curse, and any ability which removes curses will end this effect.

Expose Guilt(Su) Once per day, a Bloody Avenger can select a target. As a standard action, the Bloody Avenger shares the target’s greatest unknown sin to all of that target’s allies within 60ft. Any moral boosting effects which that character granted to his companions ceases to function, and all opponents within 10ft of the character take a -1 penalty to all rolls. This effect lasts for 24 hours.

Bloody Chains(Su) Once per day, a Bloody Avenger can cause four blood-soaked barbed chains to emerge from any mirror within 60 feet, and grapple with a target. The chains are treated as having the Grab ability, so they do not provoke an attack of opportunity when they attempt to grapple. The chains have an effective CMB of +14, and can extend a maximum of 30ft from the mirror. The chains immediately begin attempting to draw a grappled target into the mirror (requiring a successful grapple check each round to move the target at half of the chain’s speed of 30). Each of the 4 chains has hardness 10, hp 5, and a break DC of 26. Each chain destroyed reduces the chain’s overall CMB by 2.

If the chains successfully move a target to a space adjacent to the mirror which they came out of, then on their next turn they may attempt a final grapple check to pull their target into the mirror. (This is considered a hazardous location, granting the target a +4 on their grapple attempt). If the target is successfully drawn into the mirror, then they fall out of another mirror somewhere on the same plane. This mirror could be elsewhere in town, in another nation, or even on another continent.

Death Rattle(Su) Upon its destruction, a Bloody Avenger lets out a piercing wail of anguish. Characters within a 60ft radius of the destroyed Bloody Avenger, who are not wearing protective ear coverings, take 10d6 sonic damage from this wail.

Lady Gaga Fan Video for Bloody Mary 3


SPECIAL WEAKNESSES


Distraction All Bloody Avengers are created from a death which resulted from the death of someone else–whether or not they are guilty of it. They are fixated on that event, and seek indiscriminate revenge for it. However, if they are presented with someone who reminds them of whomever’s death caused their own, the Bloody Avenger may become distracted. For example, a mother who went mad and died after the passing of her child may, as a Bloody Avenger, become distracted by a young child, believing it to be her own for as long as her distraction is not interrupted.

Summoning If an adventurer looks into a mirror and speaks the true name of a Bloody Avenger three times, then confesses to causing the death for which the Bloody Avenger is seeking vengeance, then the Bloody Avenger is immediately transported to that mirror.

Forced Medium Bloody Avengers can be used to discover secrets which may otherwise be impossible to discern. Once one is encountered or summoned, the party or individual who encounter it must not meet the Bloody Avengers eyes, nor harm it at all. For 1 minute (10 rounds) the Bloody Avenger will attack the party normally, however, unless the party meets the creature’s eyes or attacks it in return, it cannot use lethal force. After a minute has passed, the Bloody Avenger can no longer attack the party. The party can, at this point, ask to speak with a specific dead person. They need not know the person’s name, but must know something about them. “The person who designed the ruins of Aomur,” or “The little boy who was killed by Joey Grills four years ago” would be sufficient. The Bloody Avenger will then retrieve the soul of this person with unerring accuracy, assuming they are dead, their souls still exist, and the phrasing of the question did not specifically exclude the intended person (Such as if Joey Grills killed a girl).

The soul is then compelled to answer any questions the party has for it. This bypasses any of the normal restrictions on the Speak with Dead spell. Three conditions cause this effect to end: 1) if the party meets the eyes of, or attacks, the Bloody Avenger, then the dead spirit disappears, and the party must combat the Bloody Avenger normally. 2) If the party tells the spirit it can go, then the Bloody Avenger will also excuse itself by exiting through the nearest mirror. If the mirror has been covered, the Bloody Avenger will attack the party. 3) after 10 minutes, the Bloody Avenger is released from its compulsion, and will release the spirit and attack the party.

Lady Gaga Fan Video for Bloody Mary 4


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


Background A Bloody Avenger is a very particular manner of ghost. In life, the creatures who eventually become Bloody Avengers all suffer greatly from the horrible death, or loss, of someone dear to them. Such as a mother whose child goes missing, a man whose mother is murdered, or a child who watches another child fall down a well. The exact manner of the loss is irrelevant, so long as the person feels guilt over the loss. It matters not if the person in question is actually responsible in any degree for the loss, so long as they feel guilt over it.

That guilt must then drive the person to their own death, or dominate the rest of their life. To use the above examples, if the mother who lost her child went mad, and eventually committed suicide, that would qualify. If the man mentioned above had murdered his mother himself; and was then tried and executed for the crime, that would qualify. Even if he denied his guilt, it is likely that he still felt that guilt on some level. Lastly, if the young child lives a long life, yet is always haunted by feelings of guilt for the other child’s death, then even dying of old age would not save him or her from qualifying. Any of these people might potentially rise as Bloody Avengers.

Bloody Avengers remember very little of their lives. They wander, only half aware of the world around them, while the other half of their attention is constantly reliving the moment which caused their guilt. This leaves them angry and violent, and poised to attack anyone who disturbs them.


REFERENCE


  • The Undead Type is described on page 309 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • The Incorporeal Subtype is described on page 312 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • The Incorporeal Trait is described on page 301 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • Information on the Bloody Mary legend drawn from the Wikipedia entry, and the Snopes.com entry (oddly enough. Do ghost stories really need to be verified?)
  • Images for this post taken from a remarkable fan-video for the Lady Gaga song “Bloody Mary”

Suppositions on Tabletop RPG Time Tracking

Day and Night, Passage of TimeSince Monday’s post on time management, I’ve had four separate people ask me how keeping track of time would work in a game. This may not seem like much, but it’s probably the most universal response I’ve received to a single post. Normally I don’t even get that much feedback on a given day’s writing, and when I do, it’s pretty varied. So to have four people ask the same question is unusual, and warrants further attention. I thought I would use tonight’s post to look into time management further. Specifically, to look at how it might be applied to a Pathfinder game. I would like to make clear before hand that I’ve never actually kept track of time in a game–at least not in the ways I’m about to delve into. This post is, at best, educated speculation. If nothing else, the following will be a solid outline for what I will be attempting in the future, and I can do another follow up post with what I learn.

Before I get started, lets go over some basic definitions. As mentioned yesterday, I think the best way to scale time tracking is to use the same definitions Pathfinder establishes for movement on pages 170-172 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Tactical Time is something any Pathfinder player will be familiar with. It is built on the 6-second round, and is what we use to measure the passage of time in combat, or in other severely time-critical situations. Local Time is for exploration, such as when the players are delving into a dungeon. The six second round would be far too short for this, and slow down gameplay to a ridiculous degree, so for Local Time, we will use the 10 minute turn, which can also be divided into 1 minute fragments. Overland Time can be measured in days. If the party is simply traveling from point A to point B across a great distance, breaking things down into a unit smaller than a day would be tedious. Lastly, the Hour can be useful as a unit of measure for both Local, and Overland Time, when the situation warrants it.

SundialWith our basic units of measure established, we need to know how they fit into one another, and how they eventually build into a year. This may seem somewhat silly at first, but consider: the Gregorian Calendar (the calendar most westerners use) is as confusing as the endless layers of the abyss. Largely due to the fact that it is an imprecise attempt to force a variety of natural phenomena into logical time-measurement boxes. By taking advantage of the fact that we’re playing a fantasy adventure game, we can easily redefine the way units of time fit into one another so that we can more easily keep track.

For most of the smaller measurements, it’s simpler just to keep them consistent with the real world, to avoid the need to alter game rules. Casters need to rest 8 hours to recover their spells because 8 hours is 1/3 of the standard day, so changing the standard day would upset the balance of the game. However, larger units of measure can be toyed with at will.

6 Seconds = 1 Tactical Round
10 Tactical Rounds = 1 Minute
10 Minutes = 1 Local Turn
6 Local Turns = 1 Hour
24 Hours = 1 Day
7 Days = 1 Week
5 Weeks = 1 Month (35 Days)
10 Months = 1 Year (350 days)

Keeping a week at 7 days means that the few spells which have a 1 week cooldown are not unintentionally weakened or empowered. Making each month a consistent 5 weeks means you can avoid any confusion by having a single week bridging two months. And 10 months to a year keeps the everything close enough to our reality that the players won’t feel detached. Everything is uniform, which will be helpful later on.

Now that we’ve established our definitions, lets talk about movement. A character’s speed is already listed on their character sheet for use in combat. The speed which is listed on a character sheet is the distance, in feet, which a character can cover in a 6 second round. (The “move action” in combat is treated as a hustle, rather than a walk, which is why it takes less than the full round). This means that a character with a speed of 30 can move 30 feet in a round, 300 feet in a minute, and 3000 feet per 10 minute turn. This may seem ridiculous, but consider that the average human can walk a mile in 13 minutes. A mile is 5280 feet, which actually breaks down to a little over 406 feet per minute, so Pathfinder actually underestimates our movement speed.

Wouldn’t this be easier if we were using metric?

Considering the size of most dungeons, players will likely be moving in 50-100 foot spurts, rather than moving in increments of 300 or 3000 at a time. So I think the simplest way to handle time tracking within a dungeon will be to mentally keep track of how far your players have moved. Your figure only needs to be a rough estimate. Every time the players have moved about 300 feet, make a tally mark on a piece of paper. Once you’ve got 10 tally marks, make note that a turn has past. Bear also in mind that often players will not be moving at walking speed. Sometimes they will be hustling (in which case, they can move 600ft per minute), and other times they will be tapping every cobblestone with their 10ft pole. (There is no official rule on this, so lets just say they’d be moving at 1/3rd their normal pace, at 100ft per minute).

Dungeon Hallway

This sounds like a huge pain, doesn’t it? I know, I’m thinking the same thing. But think of how much depth you can add to your game by having your player’s torches burn out, or having time sensitive events in your dungeons, such as secret meetings that begin 3 turns after your players enter the dungeon, and end 2 turns later. Maybe your players will find them and be able to listen in, or maybe they won’t! That’s part of the beauty of tracking time.

Overland Movement should be much simpler to track. A character with a speed of 30 can move 24 miles at walking speed in a given day. A day, in this case, being 8 hours, which is the maximum amount of time a character can travel without requiring a constitution check. This amounts to precisely four hexes, if you’re using the standard six-mile hex. If you’re not using a hex map (like me, in my current campaign, where I haven’t yet converted the world map yet) you’ll need to figure out how far 24 miles is in some other way. One thing you’ll definitely want to keep in mind is how your player’s traveling speed might be affected by obstacles such as mountainous terrain, swamps, etc. It would probably be beneficial to establish a baseline speed difference between traveling on roads and traveling through the wilderness as well. Perhaps road travelers can move and even 30 miles, or 5 hexes?

Movement isn’t the only thing which takes time. Players don’t simply walk from their home base to the dungeon any more than they walk from the dungeon entrance directly to the treasure room. There are things to explore, battles to fight, an traps to disarm. So how do we measure those in our time tracking system?

Combat is obviously going to be the most frequent interruption to movement–particularly if you’re fond of random encounters. When working with Overland Time, their interruption can be largely ignored. Unless the party faced a large number of encounters in a given day, the amount of time a battle takes should be negligible. Whilst using Local Time, however, the length of combat is much more significant. Regardless of how long combat takes, you should probably round the time up to the next minute. Gygax even recommends that “they should rest a turn [LS: 10 minutes] after every time they engage in combat or any other strenuous activities.”

Other activities can include any number of things. Dealing with a trap, discussing a strategy, negotiating with a monster, exploring a room, opening a locked door, bashing open a locked door, the list goes on. GMs will have to use their judgement on a case by case basis to determine whether an action should be considered negligible (such as glancing around a room), a minute long (such as opening a relatively simple lock, or busting down a door), or longer (negotiating a truce with a hostile creature, or thoroughly exploring a room). I would advise against trying to track increments of time smaller than a minute. Either put a tally mark down for a minute, or don’t mark anything at all. It’ll even out eventually. Chapter 4 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, “Skills,” notes what type of action each skill requires. This can be helpful to determine how much time you want to mark down, though your players will probably hate you if you check the action-typeevery time they make a skill check. Some GM arbitration is called for here.

Outdoor Survival Game BoardThe number of events which consume enough time to be counted as relevant on an overland scale are few and far between. Sleeping tops the list, followed by crafting, and perhaps a few other activities which have their time requirements listed as hours. Overland time might also be consumed by switching to local time for a significant period. For example, if a party can travel 24 miles a day, then the party might travel 12 miles, discover a village, switch to local time, spend 10 10-minute turns in the village, then continue on their way. They could still make it the full 24 miles (since that distance is traveled in 8 hours of the day), while the time they spent in the village would be rounded up to 2 hours, leaving them with 6 hours of rest before needing to sleep for 8 hours.

Tracking time in towns is tricky. As best I can tell, most GMs don’t even bother with it. However, I think there could be some real value to it if you pulled it off. Often, as a GM, one of my players will want to do something in town, while the rest are content merely to wait. This, to me, seems silly. If the player who has something they need done takes 3 hours, then what is the rest of the party really doing? Sitting at a bench next to the town gate waiting? It strikes me that if I actually turned to them and said “What would you like to do during your 1 hour turn,” that might encourage players to engage with the world around them.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on long-term time tracking, which is actually what I’ve found the most information on. The common wisdom seems to be to print out calendar sheets using whatever number of days you have in a month. Many GMs seem to simply mark days off as they pass, which would work fine. However, I think the calendar is a good opportunity to enhance your campaign record keeping. Simple notes such as meeting an important NPC, engaging in a major battle, or recovering a valuable treasure could be notated on the calendar. And, if you’re like me and want to create a living world around your players, you can make notes for things the players didn’t witness, such as the day two nations went to war, or the day your villain recovers the Big Evil Thingamaboo which will allow them to summon demonic servants. You could also use the calendar to plan future events–keeping in mind that you may need to erase them if your players avert those events from happening.

Once again, these are just my musings on how I think I’ll try to track time in my upcoming game sessions. I haven’t done it before, and I’ve found a remarkable lack of information on the Internet about how to do it well. So if any more experienced GMs out there would like to set me straight on something, please comment!

Either way, I’ll be gathering notes on my success and failure, and will revisit this topic once I have a little more experience.

Time Management

Gary Gygax on the cover of Time Magazine. Get it? TIME management?Allow me to be clear; I play modern tabletop games. Pathfinder is my game of choice, and I believe Paizo is a company with the potential to be a driving force of innovation within the gaming industry. I love rulebooks which are heavy enough to break your toe if you drop them, I love having mountains of build options for my characters, and I love a game which has functional rules for making detailed monster builds. Sure it’s a waste of time if you’re doing it for every monster in every game, but who says you need to? And no, modern rules are not perfect. I think I’ve made that clear with posts like The Problem with Feats, and Stuff Which Never Works. I’d like to see some serious revisions to the way modern game developers look at games.

I also believe in the importance of learning from history. Whether you are trying to run a nation, a classroom, or just a game table, history can be your greatest teacher. Our forebears were, believe it or not, just as smart as we are. They didn’t have all the tools we have today, which is why we sometimes forget just how clever they were. But if anything, lack of tools only made them more ingenious, until one of them was so ingenious that they made a tool so that the given task would never be quite so difficult ever again.

Now, do not mistake me: I do not look into the past with rose colored glasses, as some do. Anytime I hear someone rambling about how things were ‘better’ in the ‘old days,’ I have to roll my eyes a little.* More often than not the speaker in question is just allowing nostalgia to cloud their perceptions. However, the fact that things have, overall, improved, does not mean that our very clever forebears didn’t have amazing ideas which never reached us. And the best part about those clever people being in the past is that we can look around and see for ourselves how their ideas worked out. So even though I do consider myself a modern gamer, I frequently look to the works of Gygax, Arneson, and others who worked on games in the early days.

First Edition Dungeon Master's GuideAnd in reading these early works, I’ve frequently come across the concept of time management. Specifically, that it is important to track time not only in combat, but out of it as well. It is necessary, according to Gygax, for a Dungeon Master to keep track of in-game time throughout the entire session. This is mentioned a number of time throughout the numerous iterations of D&D’s first edition, but nowhere is it more clear than in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide–universally regarded among the most authoritative works on the subject of role playing games.

TIME IN THE CAMPAIGN
“Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their base of operation–be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time stricture pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters, and likewise number their days of game life.

One of the things stress ed in the original game of D&D was the importance of recording game time with respect to each and every player character in a campaign. In AD&D it is emphasized even more: YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.”

-Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master’s Guide

The emphasis, by the way, is not mine. That’s Gary Gygax throwing up caps, because this is that important to him.

When I first read about how important Gary considered time management, I was taken aback. On the one hand, I couldn’t understand how time management was even supposed to work. And on the other hand, I was offended by the thought that every campaign I had run in the past was not “meaningful,” simply because we didn’t keep track of time. I’ve run some damn good games in my years as a GM. Why does the fact that I’ve never even attempted to keep track of time invalidate that?

Then I took a deep breath, remembered that I pride myself on being rational, and tried to stop throwing an internal hissy fit before anyone caught me in the act.

The fact that I’ve never attempted time management before doesn’t invalidate all the good games I’ve run. They were good games, everybody had fun, and nothing will change that. The question is whether those games were good because of, independent from, or despite my lack of time management. And if I’m being honest with myself, I can think of a lot of things which would improve if I was better at tracking in-game time. And even though I can’t think of an easy way to manage in-game time, the fact of the matter is that Gygax did it, and many other game masters do it, so it must be possible. I am simply ignorant of the methodology, and that can remedied with learning.

OSRIC Rulebook CoverSo I did some more reading. First through Gygax’s Dungeon Master’s Guide, then through the OSRIC manual, since clarity was not always a strong point of Gary’s writing. I also refreshed myself on the movement rules as stated on pages 170-172, 192-194 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, since movement is one of the core elements time management affects. Pathfinder divides movement into Tactical, Local, and Overland, which I think functions as a good basis for a modern system of time management.

Tactical Time is managed in the basic units which we’re all familiar with. A tactical (or ‘combat’) round is six seconds long. In these six seconds, every combatant gets a turn. Ten rounds make a minute, sixty minutes make an hour, etc. Local Time is what you might use if you’re delving into a dungeon, or exploring a town. Taking a page from OSRIC, it seems like the best unit of time for Local Time is 10 minutes. That’s long enough that it shouldn’t significantly slow down the players as they try to get things accomplished in game time, but short enough that it shouldn’t need to be divided further for players to complete small actions. Overland Time is tricky. I’m not sure whether it should be measured in hours, or in days. I think the best solution is to use days and hours both as units of measure, depending on what the players want to do. If they’re just traveling in to a destination, days will work fine, but if they’d like to spend part of their day exploring the area they’re already at, and the rest of the day traveling, then breaking things down into hours could be helpful.

I haven’t tried this yet, so I have no idea how it will play out in a game, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like time management is actually an awesome idea. Casters will actually have to be careful with their spells if the party doesn’t want to stop to rest simply because they ran out of spells within the first few hours of the day. And if a caster does run out of spells, this could give non-caster classes a real opportunity to shine. Potion durations and non-magical hit point recovery become relevant! The players could actually be forced to make decisions based on how much time something will take, or be faced with time-sensitive goals! The very notion that I’ve never done this before begins to seem ludicrous.

I have no idea why modern games stopped emphasizing time management, and why they never developed better systems for implementing it. It seems to be the same problem I discussed a few months ago in my “Why Hex Maps Need to Come Back” post. For some reason, modern gaming developers decided to arbitrarily throw something away without coming up with a replacement for it. And us poor kids who were raised on D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder are stuck with an incomplete picture of how role playings games can best be played, until we start looking back through gaming’s history for guides.

As I stated in the opening of this post, I have a lot of faith in Paizo’s ability to be an important force for innovation in RPGs. They should start by bringing back some of these senselessly abandoned concepts.

*To clarify: this is not always the case. Occasionally people will have well reasoned arguments for why they prefer something old over something new. For example, members of the Old School Roleplaying/Renaissance community have some very solid reasons for preferring 1980s style tabletop RPGs over more modern games. Likewise, I like to think that I have some very solid reasons for feeling that recent expansions of World of Warcraft have reduced the game’s quality in many ways.

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