The Girl and the Granite Throne: Chapter Two

The Girl and the Granite Throne Chapter 2Erin’s eyes fluttered open and glanced out the window. It was still dark out. She started to roll over to find a comfortable spot to drift back to sleep, but the mechanical alarm Master Immar had placed in her room sounded a shrill ringing sound, abrupt enough to cause her to start. She reached out to silence the monstrous thing, cursing it to the depths of the 9 Hells as she did every morning. Moving slowly, with all the eagerness of a 12 year old who had chores to do, Erin pushed back the covers and dropped down from her bed.

Bare footed, she padded across the stone floor, which was pleasantly cool on her feet compared to the warmth of the summer’s night. She washed her face at the wash basin next to her door, paying special attention to the creases and folds caused by her scar. Once that was done she pulled on her simple leather breeches and boots, along with her loose white shirt.

Dressed, Erin darted out of her room to get about her duties cleaning her master’s laboratory. First, she dusted, using chairs and ladders to get to the spaces she couldn’t reach. Following that she swept. By the time she was half done with the mopping, the rising sun’s light was making its way down the wall opposite the east window. According to the system she had worked out, she had until it reached the floor to finish her chores and meet her master downstairs. She hurried her way through a cursory inventory of the available spell components, noting that they were running low on Bat Guano, Obsidian Orbs, and Birch leaves. By the time the sun reached the floor she had placed the list on her Master’s desk and was darting for the spiral stairs.

Immar often reprimanded her for sleeping in too late to get all her chores done, but what did he know? Every task was complete–at least complete enough that she probably wouldn’t be scolded–and she’d gotten plenty of beauty rest. Erin was descending the stairs two at a time as she rounded the final bend. Only to find Immar had gotten there first. He was looking right at her, biting the inside of his cheek the way he always did when he was annoyed with her.

Maybe she should get up earlier.

“Erin,” Immar began.

“Yes sir?” she replied, sheepish.

“What have I told you about being late for morning prayers?”

“I am sorry, Master.” Erin whispered, head bowed. Not so subtly, the Wizard rolled his eyes and sharpened his tone to emphasize his annoyance.

“I don’t buy your false regret for an instant. If you’re going to lie, make it better than that.”

“Yes, Master” Erin replied, the injection of remorse mostly gone from her tone.

“Now get inside, Child. Priestess Argetta is waiting for us.”

Erin did move quickly to enter the small chapel, and wondered (not for the first time) why she had ended up apprenticed to the only Wizard in all of Regalia who made time to serve the gods. Most were too busy unlocking hidden mysteries of the universe to bother with kneeling on a stone floor breathing bad incense and regurgitating the cryptic teachings of some far off deity. Master Immar not only spent time on religion, but had devoted an entire floor in his modestly sized tower, to worship. When she was a wizard, Erin wouldn’t waste time on such nonsense.

Still, she was expected to chant along, so she obliged.

“Knowledge is the root which grants the fruit of power.” she droned. The words had been heard so often that she didn’t even acknowledge their meaning anymore. “Hidden beneath the flesh of the fruit lie the secrets–the seeds which grow and grant evermore knowledge, evermore power.”

She listened half-asleep as the old crone, Argetta, told the story of the battle of Fleeth, and the lessons to be learned regarding the value of forgiving one’s enemies. Erin had heard it all before, and so far it had not become more compelling as she aged the way master Immar was always telling her it would.

As the short service began to wind down, Erin heard a loud murmuring. It was like a dozen voices all shouting at one another. But the sound was muffled. It was as though the shouting was happening two rooms away, shaving the words down into indecipherable sounds. She looked around to see if anyone else had heard, but wasn’t surprised to see them all still intent on the end of the service.

Argatta loudly slapped her hand over her eye, ceremonially ending the service, and with it, the murmuring.

Erin wasn’t too terribly concerned about the sound. It was hardly the strangest thing she had encountered in Immar’s tower. The constant use of magic had a tendency to cause random minor effects in the area. None the less, she resolved to ask Master Immar about it during their morning study.

She skirted out of the chapel with as much speed as she thought she could get away with and still avoid a lecture on reverence. Once outside, she dashed back upstairs to her the laboratory, and began pulling the last book of spells she had been studying off of the shelf. She was halfway through deciphering the diagrams and runes which made up the “Orb of Acid” spell, when Immar finally made his way up the stairs. Erin stood, making sure she marked her place before doing so.

“Can we study evocation today? I really think I can avoid setting anything on fire this time!”

“No.” Immar said, his voice flat.

Erin’s face fell a little, but she pressed on.

“Well…maybe we could do some conjuration? It’s kinda similar, and it would give me practice!”


Erin screwed up her face, an expression which her scar made a just little more creepy than cute.

“What will we study today, then, Master?” Erin asked, refraining from allowing any hint of exasperation into her voice. Immar was a kind enough man, but her sharp tongue had earned her more than a few switchings over the years. She wasn’t eager for more.

“We will study nothing today, apprentice.” Immar said. “Today, you will leave the tower, and you will not return until you have correctly summoned a familiar.”

“But sir!” Erin wailed in a tone she was starting to get too old for “I’ve tried that four times already! I can’t do it.”

“You can, and you will. It’s long past time for you to get this over with. Now off with you! I’ve got work to do, and I can’t have you underfoot.” The wizard then turned and sat at his work bench, gesturing for a tome which drifted through the air and opened in front of him.

Erin wanted to argue, but she knew it would get her nowhere. She gave a deep, sarcastic bow to her Master’s back, then bustled down the stairs to get ready to leave. She realized that, in her frustration, she had forgotten to mention the murmuring to her Master. But she was too upset with him to stomach asking him for any help right now. Fifteen minutes later she walked out the door at the base of the tower and into the surrounding forest. She wore a large hat to protect her from the sun, carried her tiny (and still nearly empty) book of spells in one hand, and her spear in the other. Around her waist was a belt containing what components Immar said she would need, and a few more she’d managed to slip off with in the hopes of trying them out herself.

Lacking any specific destination for the ritual, Erin decided to make the trek two miles north, to a small clearing where she sometimes came to read. Once there, she began using the red mud from her spell component’s pouch to make the summoning circle on the surface of a large rock. It was an hour before she was finally satisfied that each and every line was perfect, every arcane word conjugated correctly, and every intersection at the precise point indicated as ideal by her studies.

Stepping back, she tossed a handful of dirt, a feather, a pebble, and a bit of tinder into the circle with one hand, while furiously signing the gestural elements of the spell with the other. She began to mutter the verbal component of the spell as well, but stopped when she saw the items she had tossed into the circle fall naturally to the surface, instantly destroying an hour’s worth of labor as it marred her circle. Not that it mattered, if the spell was going to succeed the components would have been suspended in the air above the circle for a moment to allow her enough time to speak the words.

“Curse the Blackleafin’ luck!” she shouted, relieved that Immar couldn’t hear her gutter mouth.

After gathering her things, Erin began to wander through the woods again, nose deep in the spellbook she had brought. Her circles had been right, she had no doubt of that. She had checked them, and checked them, and checked them a dozen times over. That was far more precision than the spell even called for, so it couldn’t be the problem. No, her problem was somewhere in her selection of material components. She knew she needed the dirt, but the rest of it was a bit of a puzzle. She’d tried making the circle out of tree sap, water, even bear feces. Nothing had channeled the arcane energies correctly to allow the other components to work.

A half hour of wandering and reading later, Erin arrived at a small lake where she sometimes swam. The sight reminded the fisherwoman’s daughter that she hadn’t had time to break her fast yet. She was famished. It was the work of twenty minutes to spear a fish, and only twenty more to cook it over a simple fire made with the flint and tinder in her spell component pouch.

As Erin ate, she thought about the spell. It wasn’t the most complex spell she had ever tried to cast, by a long shot. Yet the exact method for casting it eluded her. For every other spell she’d ever learned, everything was very specific. The gestures, the words, the materials, all were specified in exact amounts by whatever spell she was casting. The caster could vary amounts slightly, or even substitute similar gestures or materials to create different effects, but the essential elements of the spell were always there. By contrast, the spell required to summon a familiar left several important spaces blank. Supposedly the intent was for the spell to be more personal, yet Erin didn’t see how it could be personal when all the items she had selected had failed.

“Wait a moment!” She shouted, causing a squirrel to flee from a nearby bush. It was obvious! The spell being “personal” was not an invitation to try any elements which struck her fancy. The components had to be personal in order for her to form a personal bond with a creature.

Leaving her fish half eaten, she found another flat rock and knelt in front of it. Using the tip of her spear she made a small cut in her palm, wincing as she drew blood. Using the index finger of her opposite hand like a quill, Erin dabbed blood onto the rock, reassembling the summoning circle just as she had created it back in the clearing. She moved much more quickly now, less concerned that she had been missing some mistake now that she had latched on to this new hypothesis.

When the circle was completed, she began to glance around, trying to figure out what materials she could cast into the circle to be consumed by the spell. She tore a strip of cloth from her sleeves, then grabbed a few bones from the fish she had just caught. Finally, she used a rock to chip off a tiny splinter of wood from the shaft of her spear, then clumped all three into a ball of dirt. She repeated her actions from earlier, throwing the ball into the circle with one hand, while gesturing with the other. This time, the ball of dirt and everything in it did not succumb to gravity. Instead, they formed into a whirlwind, obscuring her vision of the circle. Erin grew excited, but didn’t allow her voice to falter as she uttered the verbal portion of the spell.

“Arcanacus chryot zho uleer!”

A sudden gust of wind blew past Erin, whipping her hair into her face. She quickly brushed it back, only to see that the wind had carried everything away. Even the circle of her own blood was completely gone, as though it had never been there. And, in its place, sat a toad.

Grinning from ear to ear, Erin knelt and held out her hand.

“Hello there, little Loattie!” Erin said, having decided a long time ago that she would name her familiar after the stuffed toy she had loved as a younger child. “My name is Erin!”

The toad obediently hopped towards her waiting hand. The moment it touched her, the murmuring returned. It was louder now, like it was coming from just behind her. And now that she wasn’t in a wizard’s tower, it suddenly seemed to Erin a much more serious thing. She whirled around, holding Loattie to her chest, but saw nothing there which could have caused the cacophony of sound.

The murmuring began to change. The dozens of voices became one dozen, then half a dozen. Each voice seemingly merging into another, until there was only one voice left. One remaining voice which spoke int a terrifying, rasping sound. One whose every word seemed to slice through the word before it.

“Well done, Erin.” the voice said. The murmuring returned when it–‘he,’ she now recognized–spoke, repeating his words over and over again in tones which seemed even more frightened of the original voice than Erin was.

“Who…what are you?” Erin shouted, trembling.

“Be not afraid, child.” spoke the voice. “I am here to guide you.”

Erin couldn’t say she was relieved by that. “But who?!” she shouted.

“I have been with you all your life, child. And with your deepening powers of the arcane, I am now able to speak to you more easily.”

Erin was feeling bolder now. “To the Nine Hells with all that, I asked you who are you?” She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard the voice laugh.

“You know me, child. I am The Whispered One, The Secret Holder to whom you offer your insincere prayers each day.”

Erin’s eyes widened, and she nearly dropped Loattie to the ground in shock. She let her feet drop out from under her, landing hard on her knees.

“My…my lord I am so sorry…” she began.

“Save your apologies, I have no stomach for them. Nor do I care for your prayers.”

Erin nodded, speechless.

“What I want is you. To groom you, to grant you the opportunity to earn the right to be my chosen representative on the Material Plane. I will mold you, if you are worthy.”

Erin remained silent. This was too much to take in. But then…the favor of a god could only help her…right? She raised her head, though the voice–the god–had offered her no form to meet eyes with.

“Yes, my lord Vecna. I will prove myself worthy of your favor.”

Pathfinder: First Thoughts, Part 3 (Classes)

Merisiel the Pathfinder RogueEarlier this week my assessment of the core classes presented in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook ended up running long, so I split it into two parts. The last six classes (From Monks to Wizards) are covered here. If you want to read about any of the other core classes, the previous post is just a click away.


Monks have received a lot of small buffs. Their flurry of blows now starts at -1/-1 and ends with the best attacks at 18/18, whereas in 3.5 it began at -2/-2 and ended at 15/15 for the best attacks. The AC bonus is also slightly improved, ending at +5 instead of +4. Some class abilities, such as fast movement, also come a level earlier than they did in 3.5.

Part of the improvements to monks are the large number of advanced unarmed combat feats. And while these feats are not monk exclusive, they’ve obviously been designed with monks in mind. Monks even receive a number of these feats for free as bonus feats while they level. As an example, at level 1, Monks get “Stunning Fist” as a bonus feat, which stuns the target for 1 round on a successful attack.

Not surprisingly, Monks also receive a number of bonuses to their Combat Maneuvers. Combat Maneuvers are one of the biggest improvements of pathfinder, replacing a number of more complicated systems in 3.5. Most notably, the justifiably loathed grapple rules.


Without question, the largest improvement to the Paladin class is that the class’s character portrait no longer looks completely ridiculous. Seriously, compare the two:

Comparison of Alhandra and Seelah, the Paladin characters for D&D 3rd edition, and Pathfinder

I think there’s a reason Alhandra was never included in any other drawings, in any other D&D book that I’m aware of. What the fuck kind of armor is she wearing? It’s just hanging there on that piece of twine. And her hair is some kind of throwback to the 1980s. Shallow as it may be, this picture alone turned me off to paladins for a long time. Seelah really makes the class look good.

There’s actually a lot to talk about with paladins. In 3.5 they had 8 (out of 20) levels in which they received no class abilities. In Pathfinder, that number has been reduced to 0.

One of the big changes is the new class-defining ability, Mercy. A little bit like the Barbarian’s Rage Powers, Mercies are abilities which modify the Paladin’s Lay on Hands ability. They are selected from a list every few levels, and the paladin can add all of those effects (every one she has) anytime she lays on hands. Most of the mercies do things like remove fatigue & remove disease (replacing the “Remove Disease” ability which 3.5 paladins eventually got on a weekly basis.)

At the same level a 3.5 paladin received “turn undead,” Pathfinder paladins unsurprisingly receive “Channel Positive Energy” as a cleric does.

At 5th level, instead of getting a mount, the Paladin gets “Divine Bond.” This is another ability which gives players a choice between the classic 3.5 class skill, and a new ability of similar power. In this case, the choice is between a special mount, and the ability to call the upon the power of your god to empower your weapon–to greater and greater effect the more paladin levels you take.

Perhaps taking a page from Blizzard, Paladins also posses a number of “Auras” now. I won’t go into them in detail, but most of them are active simultaneously so long as the Paladin is conscious. As examples, Aura of Resolve grants +4 morale bonuses on saves to the Paladin, and anyone within 10 feet. And Aura of Justice allows the paladin to expend two uses of Smite Evil to instead grant Smite Evil to all allies within 10 ft.

At level 20, the Paladin can actually banish evil outsiders with the user of her smite evil. Which, to me, is a fantastically flavorful ability to give the class. The idea that my Paladin could knock a demon back into hell with her sword is just badass.


Rangers received one of my favorite buffs of any of the pathfinder classes: favored terrain.

I’m sure anyone familiar with 3.5, upon hearing the name of the ability, has already figured out what it does, and realized just how much it was needed. But allow me to give the specifics.

At 3rd level, a ranger may select a type of terrain from the Favored Terrains table. The ranger gains a +2 bonus on initiative checks and Knowledge(Geography), Perception, Stealth, and Survival checks when he is in this terrain. A ranger traveling through his favored terrain normally leaves no trail and cannot be tracked (though he may leave a trail if he so chooses.)

At 8th level, and every five levels thereafter, the ranger may select an additional favored terrain. In addition, at each such interval, the skill bonus and initiative bonus in any one favored terrain (including the one just selected, if so desired) increases by +2.

Yes. Yes. Ten thousand times yes. A million times yes. This is perfect for rangers. Thank you, Paizo.

Ranger HD has been increased from 8 to 10, which I fully approve of. If Aragorn was a ranger, they deserve as much HD as a fighter gets for sure.

Rather than an animal companion, players can choose between an animal companion, or the ability to grant half their favored enemy bonus to allies within 30 feet. I do like the idea of Rangers having animal companions, but I like having options, so bravo on this one as well, Paizo.

The “Combat Style” paths available to Rangers in 3.5 (Dual Wielding, or Ranged) has been replaced by “Combat Style Feats.” Which is a small list of feats which the ranger can select from every few levels. Again, it would be possible to use this ability to do the same thing 3.5 offered, but you also have the option of doing something a little more personal for your character.

Rangers also have a cool new ability called “Quarry.” Essentially, it allows them to designate a target, and essentially swear to kill/capture/something that target. The ranger gains bonuses on tracking their Quarry, attacking their Quarry, and critting against their quarry.

At level 20, Rangers gain the ability to potentially one-shot a favored enemy once per day.


Rogues are my favorite class, easily. I don’t get to be a player as often as I would like, but I can count the number of times I’ve played a non-rogue on my fingers. On one of my non-rogue characters, I even had to multiclass into Rogue, because the GM was having trouble designing challenges for me due to the break in pattern.

First change to the class is that it’s bumped up from D6 HD to a D8. Woo!

Rogues were already a class which got a new ability at very nearly every level, but Pathfinder has still mixed things up a bit.

The biggest change to the class are Rogue Talents. In 3.5, starting at level 10, and every 3 levels thereafter, the Rogue was able to choose from a list of special abilities which functioned a little bit like rogue-only feats.

In Pathfinder, the Special Abilities have been renamed Rogue Talents, you get your first one at level 2, and you get a new one every 2 levels after that. This is a massive boost for the class.

A few abilities which Rogues used to get as they leveled have been turned into Rogue Talents to balance out this buff. But, as with many other classes, it’s not hard to build a rogue based on the 3.5 progression model.


As I mentioned with the Cleric, Spellcasters were the big problem in 3.5, with regards to class balance. After the first few levels, they simply outpaced the other classes. So for the most part, casters haven’t been buffed. Both Sorcerers and Wizards have had their HD increased to D6, and gotten a few more options for themselves. But beyond that, they are largely the same.

Sorcerers have lost the ability to summon familiars. They can, if they like, take a feat which would allow them to regain this talent.

The big change with Sorcerer’s is Bloodlines. In the 3.5 fluff for the class, it said “Some sorcerers claim that the blood of dragons courses through their veins.”

Paizo apparently thought that was a good idea, because every Sorcerer now selects a “Bloodline.” These indicate what kind of crazy creature fucked one of the sorcerer’s ancestors, thereby granting them their powers.

The bloodlines are extremely varied, and very cool. Everything from “Aberrant” to “Undead” is represented in the choices, and every one of those comes with a large variety of character options.

To discuss just one of those here, below is some information from the “Elemental” bloodline.

*Knowledge(Planes) is granted as a class spell.
*Bonus spells at odd numbered levels based on whatever type of element the sorcerer is related to.
*Bonus Feats (for scheduled bonus feat levels) include dodge, empower spell, improved initiative, lightning reflexes, and others.
*You can change elemental spells to match your chosen element. (ie. Fireball becomes Iceball)
*Bloodline Powers:
*–Elemental Ray: Starting at first level, you can release an elemental ray as a standard action. Deals 1d6 +1/2lvl damage of your element type.
*–Elemental Resistance: At 3rd level, you gain resist 10 against your energy type. At level 9, it becomes 20.
*–Elemental Blast: At 9th level, you can blast a 20ft radius with your elemental type, dealing 1d6 damage per level.
*–Elemental Movement: At level 15, you gain a type of movement based on your element. Air elementals, for example, get Fly(60)(Average)
*–Elemental Body: Immune to sneak attacks, crits, and any damage from your element type.

Now that I think about it, that’s actually a pretty huge buff compared to the 3.5 Sorcerer class. >.>


Wizards are exactly the same, except for two small changes.

First, Wizards now get a choice. They can either have a familiar, or if they prefer, they can have a “Bonded Object,” such as a staff, talisman, or wand. If the wizard has a bonded object, then they MUST have that object in order to cast any spells. And, once per day, it can be used to cast a spell which the Wizard did not prepare.

The other small difference is school specialization. Wizards can still opt out of specializing in a school if they wish. The 3.5 bonus of specializing is retained, though the 2 sacrificed schools are no longer “banned.” They simply cost 2 spell slots to prepare.

Specialists also gain some small bonuses from specializing. Nothing on the level of a Sorcerer’s bloodlines. But, for example, an Abjurist gains 5 energy resist against an energy type chosen every morning, which increases to 10 resist at level 11, and a complete immunity at level 20. They can also create a protective shield in a 10 foot radius which lasts a number of rounds equal to their INT modifier, and they also eventually gain energy absorption 3.

And that’s it! That’s all the Pathfinder classes, and what I think of them when compared to their 3.5 counterparts. The improvements are, almost without exception, huge improvements. I cannot wait to switch over to Pathfinder for the next game I run.

I’ll be taking a small break from my Pathfinder: First Thoughts series. Soon, though, I’ll move on to the other chapters of the book.

Pathfinder: First Thoughts, Part 2 (Classes)

Ezren the Pathfinder Wizard examining an alchemical mixture

As promised, here are my thoughts on the alterations made to the various classes between D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. Recurring themes will include: increased power, particularly to non caster classes; increased variability, allowing players more involvement in their own progression; and fewer boring levels.


The first thing I noticed is that Illiteracy has been removed. This is one change which I’m not particularly fond of. Being illiterate was an interesting bit of flavor for the barbarian which, in the end, hurt them very little if they were playing with a party. And if it was a problem for a player, then 2 skill points out of 4+Int every level is hardly the end of the world. But this is the kind of thing which can be houseruled in & out of a game easily.

“Rage Powers” are the big new thing for Barbarians in Pathfinder. They’re part of the increased versatility which is enjoyed by all of the core classes. Essentially, Rage Powers are similar to feats which can only be used while the Barbarian is in a rage. Abilities include automatically confirming critical hits, immunity to sickness, and battle cries terrifying enough to leave enemies shaken.

The amount that a Barbarian can rage has also been fiddled with. In 3.5, the number of times per day which a Barbarian could enter a rage was determined by level (1/day at 1st level, 2/day at 4th, 3/day at 6th, and so on.) The amount of time the Barbarian could rage was 3 + CON. Pathfinder has improved on this system thus:

Starting at 1st level, a barbarian can rage for a number of rounds per day equal to 4 + her Constitution modifier. At each level after 1st, she can rage for 2 additional rounds. […] A barbarian can enter rage as a free action. […] A barbarian can end her rage as a free action and is fatigued after rage for a number of rounds equal to 2 times the number of rounds spent in the rage.

So, simply put, you used to use this ability X times per day for a short amount of time. Now you have a large amount of time which you can start & stop using at will, but that time needs to last you the whole day.

Overall, the class has been improved.


Fuck you. I like Bards.

Bards, like all the classes which had either a D6 or a D4 HD in 3.5, have had their HD bumped up a notch. Which means bards now have D8 HD. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this for awhile, fearing that the game had lost some flavor by making classes with low HP more beefy. However, when I consider the D8 HD classes which Rogues & Bards are joining with this change (such as clerics, and druids) I can’t honestly say that I feel they have any good reason to be beefier than Rogues and Bards.

So raised HD is tentatively approved.

The big bard change is the sheer number of bardic music abilities. The list took up less than 1 full page in 3.5, and now covers almost 3 pages. All of which a bard can access as he levels up.

Like all spellcasters, a Bard’s level 0 spells no longer have a daily limit, which is fun, though it really doesn’t significantly alter the power level of the class from what I’ve seen.

Bards have also received four completely new abilities. Versatile performance allows a bard to use a perform check in place of a related skill check (for example, he could use a Perform (acting) check in place of a Disguise check.) Well Versed helps resist other Bard’s music. Lore Master allows a bard to take a 10 or 20 on Knowledge checks. And finally, “Jack of All Trades” allows a bard to use any skill, even those which require training.


As a spellcaster, Clerics were among the most overpowered classes in 3.5, eventually dwarfing other classes as levels progressed. As such, they’ve actually suffered from the noticeable nerf of no longer being proficient with heavy armor. Medium Armor and a shield is the best a cleric can do now, without taking additional feats.

One huge change for the cleric, which I absolutely love, is the removal of Turn / Rebuke undead. Those abilities have been turned into feats, and in their place, Clerics now have “Channel Energy.”

Just as before, clerics choose Positive or Negative energy. Only now, rather than being restricted to targeting that energy towards undead creatures, it comes out as a massive AoE which deals Xd6 points of energy damage/healing to a radius of 30ft. And there are a veritable truckload of feats which modify the ability so it can affect different alignments, elemental traits, or other miscellaneous things.

Additionally, cleric domains now have a much larger affect on the player. Instead of granting very limited abilities, and one aditional spell per level, a cleric’s selection of domains can now significantly alter the abilities of the character. For example, clerics of the Animal Domain can speak with animals, gain an animal companion as a druid would, and treat knowledge (nature) as a class skill. (class skills is another much improved system which I’ll talk about when I do the skills chapter.) And to top it off, they’ve retained the 3.5 “domain spell” system.


Druids were a class that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with in 3.5. None of my players ever played one, I never felt like playing one, and I never had need of an NPC druid. I will do my best to compare the two.

The Animal Companion class ability has been made into an option, with the other option being the player’s choice of one of several nature-related cleric domains. This is a theme repeated several times with other classes. Many of the defining class abilities of 3.5 have been made less important, with the player being able to select an alternative ability in its place.

The progression of Wild Shape has been modified. It now becomes available one level earlier than before, and uses-per-day increase at a more staggered rate. In the end, a Pathfinder Druid will be able to use Wild Shape more often than a 3.5 druid. And, at level 20, it becomes an at-will ability.

Other than that, the druid appears very much the same.


Oh my goodness FIGHTERS! FIGHTERS! The forgotten child of 3.5, the class only fools would play due to how horribly underpowered they became compared to nearly every other class. It has been reborn in Pathfinder, and I can’t wait to roll one.

First off, Bonus Feat frequency has been increased significantly. When combined with the increased rate of standard feats, a fighter now receives feats at every single level.

Since bonus feats was the only thing available to fighters at all in 3.5, this change alone would be an improvement. But the wise men and women who designed Pathfinder didn’t stop there. They knew the Fighter needed more. And boy did they give fighters more:

Bravery – Every 2 levels, a fighter gains an additional +1 to saves against fear. They will look into the gullet of Cthulhu and just grit their teeth.

Armor Training – While wearing armor, the fighter reduces the armor check penalty, and increases the max dex bonus. Unlike most scrubs who wear armor, the Figher now knows how to look good doing it!

Weapon Training – Essentially this is the Favored Enemy system Rangers use, but for weapons instead. Pick a weapon, get +1 on attack and damage rolls with it. A few levels later, pick another weapon to get the bonus, and the previous weapon you picked goes up to +2 on attack and damage.

Armor Mastery – At level 19, fighters get Damage Reduction 5/-

Weapon Mastery – Pick a weapon type. All weapons of that type auto-confirm all crits, and their critical multiplier is increased by 1. Also, can no longer be disarmed.

Fighters are, by far, the most improved class in Pathfinder.

This post is really starting to get long, so I’m going to end on that high note of fighters. I *think* should be able to finish all the classes in the next part, and then finish the rest of the book in another 2 parts or so. But we’ll see…I keep writing far more than I intended.

Thanks so much for reading!

Pathfinder: First Thoughts, Part 1

For those not in the know, this is Pathfinder:
Pathfinder Core Rulebook Cover
Pathfinder is a role playing much like Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, in many places, it is word-for-word exactly like the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons. For, you see, a few years ago, Wizards of the Coast (the Hasbro subsidiary which owns Dungeons and Dragons these days) decided to “improve and update” the classic role playing game, moving it from 3.5 to 4th Edition. And, to be blunt, a lot of us players think they did a shit job. But I’m not going to go into that.

Here’s where Pathfinder comes in, though. See, there is another company called Paizo which had been working closely with Wizards of the Coast on projects such as “Dungeon” and “Dragon” magazines. They decided to take advantage of D&D 3.5’s use of the Open Game License to make a game which would appeal to those of us aforementioned gamers who felt that D&D 4th Edition strayed too far from what we liked about 3.5.

To put it simply, Pathfinder is Dungeons and Dragons 3.75. Though perhaps “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3.5” might be somewhat more apt.

Pathfinder has been around for a few years now, but I only just picked up the Core Rulebook & Beastiary recently. (Though I did go over the rulebook when it was being beta tested back in 2008 or so.) The changes intrigued me right off of the bat, so I’ve been steadily and methodically pouring over ever page, committing the new rules to memory and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

To be honest I’m not quite done with the book at this point, but I’m through most of the interesting / important stuff, and I’d like to give some of my first impressions, before I start doing any playtesting. Below I’ve broken down my thoughts by chapter first, and by chapter subsection where appropriate.

Chapter 1: Getting Started

There’s not a lot to this chapter. It does include an introduction from Monte Cook (one of the people who did a lot of work on D&D 3.0/3.5) which I thought was a very nice gesture.

One thing mentioned in this chapter which I don’t recall seeing in other sources (though it may have been in Unearthed Arcana or something) is the “dice pool” method of ability score rolling. Essentially, you get a certain number of dice total, and assign a number of dice to each ability score (minimum 3). Using 24 dice, the character has no more available dice than a character using more traditional ability score rolling, but the player gets to direct the values a little better than they might get from a random roll.

For example, if you’re playing a barbarian, you might use 6 dice for Strength and Constitution (giving you a higher probability of getting high scores there) and use the minimum of 3 dice for widsom, charisma, intellect, and dexterity (since the player would deem those abilities less important to the character he wants to play.)

The best part, in my mind, is that there’s a small chance that barbarian might end up with an 18 Intellect by complete random chance, creating an interesting Role Playing opportunity.

Chapter 2: Races

This is where the differences in the game really start to shine through. In a lot of games, including D&D 3.5, choosing a race grants advantages certainly, but the impact of a race choice seems to be intentionally minimized so as not to force players of class A to select Race #4 in order to be effective. And while that’s all well and good, It’s almost always overdone.

The Pathfinder races have all been buffed significantly. Dwarfs, to use the first example provided, now receive a +2 to Constitution, a +2 to Wisdom, and a -2 to Charisma. This, I think, gives the Dwarfs a greater racial identity than the D&D 3.5 method of simply giving them +2 Con -2 Cha. They’re not just stalwart and gruff, they’re stalwart, gruff, and pragmatic.

Additionally, the choice to give an improvement to the race without forcing an additional penalty (which was done for all 7 basic races) means that players interested in optimizing their characters no longer look at Dwarfs as an option only for classes which focus on CON, and have no use for CHA.

I’d also like to give a special nod to the way Pathfinder handled Humans. They’ve always been the “jack-of-all-trades” race. Which, in D&D 3.5, meant they get no ability score bonuses or penalties. In Pathfinder, they’ve given humans a +2 to any ability score, chosen at character creation.

This theme of “buffing” is maintained all throughout pathfinder. It’s a controversial choice for a game based on a game which had already been criticized by some for leading to characters which became too powerful too quickly. But I, for one, feel that so long as the challenges scale to meet the abilities of the players (level 1 Kobolds might have 20 HP instead of 10 for example) then balanced buffs are perfectly justified.

I would also like to give props for the fantastic racial artwork. Of course, as a consumer, I would love to have more of it. But at least Pathfinder has full color artwork, as opposed to the rough sketches in the Hasbro-owned Dungeons and Dragons core books.

Chapter 3: Classes

The changes to the classes are some of the biggest in the game. It should be no surprise to anyone, particularly those who have played a game like World of Warcraft, that class balance is not a simple thing. And it’s not exactly easy to patch a game which comes in book form. So the changes to the classes in Pathfinder are meant to address a litany of balance issues which have come to light over the decade that Dungeons and Dragons 3.X reigned.

There are two things I’d like to point out right off the bat as huge improvements over 3.5.

First is the new Favored Class system. In 3.5, each race came with a predetermined “Favored Class.” To use Dwarfs as an example once again, the Dwarvish favored class was Fighter. This meant that if a Dwarf Fighter decided to multiclass, his levels of Fighter didn’t count towards his experience point penalty while multiclassing. This was part of the pointlessly complicated system which 3.5 used to punish players who wanted to level a character as more than one class (as if designing a multiclass build that doesn’t suck isn’t difficult enough.)

Pathfinder wisely avoids using punishment to discourage people from multiclassing. In Pathfinder, every time a character takes a level in their Favored Class, they get 1 bonus HP, or 1 bonus Skill Point. This pattern of using the carrot instead of the stick is repeated all throughout Pathfinder. And all I can say is Thank Vecna for that.

Oh, and the best part about the new favored class system? They dropped the race-based bullshit. Players now choose their character’s favored class at first level.

The second thing I want to mention before getting into the classes themselves is the new rate of feat acquisition. In 3.5 characters earned feats at a rate of one every three levels. And for the entire time I played 3.5, I complained that this was simply too slow. As I repeatedly put it: individual feats simply aren’t good enough for me to look forward to them for three levels.

In Pathfinder, the rate has been bumped up to one new feat every other level. And while this might not seem like much, it’s exactly what I think is needed to make feat acquisition move at a pace which doesn’t feel overly slow. A fact helped, I think, by the fact that feats have been buffed a little as well. But I’ll discuss that later.

I’ll discuss individual classes in Part 2.

The Girl and the Granite Throne: Chapter One

The Girl and the Granite Throne: Chapter OneImmar Twistfinger strolled casually through the countryside, dressed in a blue robe, with a pointed, wide brimmed hat. It was a ridiculous outfit, but he found that it occasionally helped to look the way most peasants imagined a wizard ‘should’ look. And today was likely to be such a day. While speaking with a priest this morning, Immar had been advised that his god wanted him to meet someone on the Shildhaven trade road today.

Sometimes he thought the gods took pleasure in being cryptic, just to amuse themselves watching their followers fumble about trying to follow their instructions.

It was nearing mid day now, and Immar had been strolling since just after breakfast. He’d passed a few travelers, but none seemed to him worthy of a deific message. There had been a young woman shapely enough to be a celestial creature, but Immar doubted his libido was a matter of divine concern.

As he passed through a small fishing village he’d not visited before, he saw a small group of children standing around, and heard indistinguishable shouting from the tiny mob. In all likelihood they were throwing bones or partaking in some other childish pastime. Immar remained only vaguely aware of them as he scanned the rest of the village for anything which stood out. As he continued down the road, though, Immar saw that what the children surrounded was not a game, but another child. A young girl, unless he missed his guess.

The other children were hitting her with sticks, and kicking dirt on her. The kind of simple minded cruelty reserved for goblins, and children. Immar had just resolved to frighten the little cretins away from the poor child, when a man from the village interceded before he could, shouting loud enough that Immar could hear him.

“You little beasts! Leave her alone before I tan every one of your hides and drag you to your parents by the scruff of your necks!”

The children complied without argument, collecting into smaller groups and moving off in different directions and, Immar hoped, less cruel forms of play.

With the children now gone, the wizard could get a better look at the young girl, and could see why the children tormented the poor creature. Her face was a mess. A large, unnaturally puffy scar took up most of the left side of her face, devouring her eye, her ear, and large tufts of hair, leaving her red locks thin enough that her scalp was visible on one side.

Immar slowed a bit, impressed by the sheer brutality of her disfigurement. What could possibly leave that kind of horrible mark on a child?

Then he noticed one of the larger boys from before come out from behind a nearby tree and move slowly up behind the girl as she was pulling herself to her feet and dusting off her dress. The boy pushed her to the ground, and Immar was close enough now to hear his taunting.

“Pretty girl, pretty girl, you’re so beautiful.” His tone was beyond sarcasm. It was contemptuous, even hateful. The girl lay on her face, and she appeared so defeated that Immar quickened his pace to teach the little brat some manners. But before he could reach her, the boy grabbed her shoulders, spun her around–and got stabbed in the eye with the pointed stick the girl was clinging to like a dagger.

With her other hand, the girl grabbed the boy by his tunic, and pulled her face close to his, whispering something the wizard couldn’t hear. She then pushed off of the boy, knocking him to the ground before he scrambled to his feet and ran off towards the village. The stick was still stuck in his eye, which bled freely. The organ was probably ruined.

Immar stopped dead in his tracks, stunned. He was only a dozen paces from the girl now, just staring at her back as she watched her attacker flee. If her appearance had not intrigued him before, her quick minded and decisive ferociousness most certainly had. Moving close enough to speak without shouting, Immar asked,

“What did you say to him?”

The girl jumped and turned around, startled.

“Who are you?!” she shot back, clearly distressed by an adult presence so soon after she’d half blinded the boy. Rather than answer her, Immar said

“He deserved what you gave him. I won’t tell anyone. But what makes you so sure he won’t?”

“Everyone will make fun of him if they know.” the girl said, appearing to relax as she shifted her attention to examining the wizard. Immar was silent as she did so, and after only a moment she spoke again. “You’re an Illuminan.” She stated, without any question in her tone.

Before, Immar had been stunned. Now he couldn’t help but let his mouth drop open for a moment. Most humans had never even heard of Illumians, assuming that the lighted runes circling Immar’s head were the result of his wizardry, not his heritage. None the less, he corrected her.

“It is pronounced ‘Illumian.'” he said.

“I knew that!” the girl shouted. Immar didn’t press the point.

“How do you know about Illumians?” he asked instead.

“Vicar Tolkris lets me use his library sometimes.” she replied, gesturing towards a small stone building with the symbol of the god Pelor on the door.

Once more Immar was taken aback. Most peasant humans he had met were barely literate, yet this child apparently took an interest in study, and at an age of no more than seven or eight! The wizard had no doubt that this remarkable girl was the one he had been sent to to meet.

“I’m still curious; what did you say to that boy, after you wounded him?”

The girl’s eyes dropped to the ground, her fear of Immar as an adult apparently returned. He guessed she had been punished for a sharp tongue before.

Nervously, she said “I told him that now he can be pretty too.”

Immar had to suppress a boisterous laugh at that, and knelt to put himself at eye level with the girl.

“What is your name, young human?”

“Erin.” she said simply.

“Well, Erin, how would you like to be a wizard?”

Erin’s mother was more difficult to convince than the girl herself had been.

“She’s seven summers old!” the woman shouted, becoming distressed as Immar continued to press her.

He gritted his teeth as subtly as he could manage. He had to take this child as his apprentice. If not for the will of the gods, then simply because she deserved it.

“How long can your daughter be happy with the books at the chapel?” Immar asked.

“He’s right, Mother.” Erin chimed in, not one to be left out of adult conversations.

“And even if she could be, what future is there for her in a village this small? The boys who throw rocks at her now won’t show her any more love when she becomes a woman.”

“Hey!” Erin shouted, turning on Immar angrily. He pressed onward.

“And how effective can a one eyed fisherwoman really be, anyway?”

“HEY!” Erin shouted again, louder this time. “I’m the fourth best spear fisher in this village!”

Immar turned to look at her.

“I really must learn to stop being surprised by you. I apologize for assuming.” he said, before looking back to lock gazes with Erin’s mother. “But that only goes to demonstrate my main point. Erin is made to face greater challenges than those offered through the eternal struggle between fish and fisher. Let me give her the tools to do that.”

“Please mom!” Erin begged.

Her mother looked back and forth between her daughter, and the wizard who wanted to take her away. Tears began to appear on the woman’s eyelids.

“Is this really what you want, Errie? You know you can’t change your mind once you do this.”

Erin seemed a little surprised by that, and turned to look at Immar for confirmation.

“It’s true.” he said. “I live very far from here, and I am a very busy wizard. I cannot be bothered with an apprentice who is not dedicated to her craft.”

Erin’s face was as serious as a seven year old’s face had ever been. But it only a took her a moment to return her gaze to her mother.

“Yes, mom. I want to.” uttered with the solemnity of a soldier.

The woman stepped back until her feet met the edge of a chair, and slumped into it, bringing her hands up to cover her face. When she removed them, Immar saw her try to hide the tears she wiped away.

“Alright.” she said, sounding suddenly lonely.

Immar nodded, and moved to the side of the room to begin casting a spell while Erin and her mother made their goodbyes. He heard the woman telling her daughter to be good, and not to forget that she was loved. By the time the woman’s heavy sobbing had quieted, the spell had completed, creating a portal in the center of the room.

“Come, Erin.” Immar said.

“Just a moment!” she shouted, and ran into the next room. She returned shortly with a bag slung over her shoulder, and a fishing spear in one hand. Immar could see the leg of a stuffed toy sticking out of the bag. The wizard nodded, approving. Nothing about wizardry discouraged a fondness for possessions.

Immar then placed his hand on Erin’s back, and turned once more towards her mother.

“You are giving her a great gift. She will always thank you for that.”

Before the woman could respond, the wizard and his apprentice stepped through the portal, into a tower several days travel away.

“Welcome home,” Immar said.

The Girl and the Granite Throne: Prologue

The Girl and the Granite Throne TopbannerAlong a muddy road through the woodlands of Shieldhaven province trundled the black caravan. Three carriages pulled by six spindly horse-shaped figures shrouded in black cloth. Guiding the horses were human-shaped figures–no less spindly in their frame, and so buried beneath black robes that no other distinguishing feature between them could be found. The only sound as the caravan passed was the squeaking of the six axles, and slosh of hooves moving in and out of mud. Those who saw it pass thought it to be part of some funerary rite. A few even removed their hats and bowed their heads as the carriages passed, out of respect for the dead. In a manner of speaking they were correct to do so.

For I was very much dead.

As the last dim light illuminating the clouds faded into darkness, I flung open the door of my casket, and took a deep breath of air I no longer needed to function. I climbed out of my carriage and onto the roof to get a good look at our surroundings. I recognized them. The fishing village we were approaching was not far from the hidden mountain pass which would lead to my stronghold–the stronghold of Vecna’s power on the material plane. With my tireless skeletal minions marching ceaselessly, I would arrive long before I needed to sleep through another day. Long enough, in fact, that I had time to stop and satisfy my hungers here in this small, and delightfully defenseless village.

Instantly my form disintegrated, leaving behind a swarm of buzzing mosquitoes. As one, guided by my consciousness, the swarm moved into the air to grant a better view of the people below. There appeared to be an informal gathering in the center of town. Torches stuck in the ground, and bonfires over which food was being prepared provided light to the few dozen people sitting, talking, and drinking around tables. I eyed them one by one, wishing my form had lips I could lick in anticipation.

My gaze came to rest on a voluptuous young woman flirting with a boy about her age. I slid my many hundreds of eyes along her graceful curves slowly, savoring her casual sensuality. I would have lusted for her in life. I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but the ones I want to fuck always taste the sweetest.

Single minded, I guided the swarm in a steep descent towards my meal. As the flitting insects began to skirt in and out of her vision, she waved them away with her hand as though they were any other bug. As they grew in number she turned to look, and at the sight of the cloud of insects gathering behind her, she screamed in terror. That gave me more pleasure than a dozen such girls could have given me in life.

I wrapped her in my swarm before coalescing into my “natural” shape–the pinpricks my bugs had made in her neck widening to accommodate my teeth. She struggled valiantly, screaming curses and calling for her nearby friends and family. But my unnatural life had granted me unnatural strength. She would have had more success struggling free of iron manacles than against my grip. And by the time her form grew limp, and grey in my arms, her fleeing boy was only two dozen stumbling steps away.

Spitting the woman to the side like the shell of a nut, I leapt into the air, alighting three paces in front of the boy. I heard him fumble to a stop, and turned just in time to see the oaf fall on his ass. I scowled, and held out my hand to the side. From the darkness, a cloud of bats appeared, and flew around my hand in a frenzy. When they dispersed, I held a great sword. So large a dwarf would have needed two hands to wield it.

“Coward’s blood is too bitter.” I said, before bringing the sword down to cleave the boy through from shoulder to hip.

The group was fully alert now, some grabbing rocks and sticks, the slightly wiser among them grabbing the torches mounted in the ground. The wisest ran to the houses, calling the town to arms as if it would do them some good. I took a moment to look around. The young lady had done an admirable job satiating my hunger for blood, and her lover my lust for slaughter. But the night couldn’t end without causing someone a pain I knew would last long after I left.

Then I saw the woman with the baby, hiding beneath the table.

Moving at no great speed, I walked towards her. I opened fatal wounds in four brave–but foolish–attackers in the space it took to reach her, without breaking step. The mother locked eyes with me, and I could see the panic fill them as she realized I was coming for her. She tried to climb out from under the table to flee, but a kick from my boot sent the table spinning, and knocked her to the ground.

I knelt, ignoring several large rocks as they bounced off my back and head, and took hold of the baby’s leg. I held the child in front of me as I stood. It was a girl, couldn’t have been more than six months old. I grinned, baring my teeth at the mother. She stared at me from the ground, frozen in suspense and terror. She jumped with fright when, suddenly, I threw my great sword to the side, burring it hilt deep in a young woman charging me with a sword. Apparently they’d found some weapons, useless though they might be.

Slowly, deliberately, I drew Vecna’s dagger from its sheath at my hip. The pommel was shaped like a dismembered hand, clasping an eye. And from the eye shot the blade, a glare made of steel. The dagger is sacred to the followers of Vecna– intended for sacrifices offered by only Vecna’s highest ranking cleric on the material plane: myself.

I held the baby high then. I couldn’t see, but I was sure that the cattle surrounding me were lowering the weapons in fear of what they were about to behold. Slowly, I brought the tip of Vecna’s Glare to the baby girl’s left eye, not quite touching it yet. I wanted everyone to see this.

The crackle of the fires was the only sound in the terrified silence the moment before I plunged the dagger up to its hilt in the child’s eye. And for a moment after that, the silence continued, the villagers too shocked at first to respond. But shock quickly became rage. In the moment before they charged, I dropped the child, letting gravity pull it off the blade. Just as the first blade swung through my form, I became again a swarm of insects, flitting off into the darkness to rejoin my carriage for the ride home.

It wasn’t until months later that I would notice the tiniest of flecks of metal missing from the blade of Vecna’s Glare, and wonder where it had gone to.

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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.