Online Video: LoadingReadyRun’s Rarelywinter

Loading Ready Run Jeremy and Tally playing Dungeons and Dragons with Paul and FriendsI’ve been a Loading Ready Run fan for years now. (LRRmon for life!) I’ve always enjoyed their nerdy brand of sketch comedy, and it’s especially fun for me when their nerdiness culminates in a Dungeons & Dragons video. They’ve done a few before (and even a Pathfinder video once!) but those aren’t exactly news. This video was just posted today:

For the record, I’m pretty sure Jer is being a bad GM intentionally for the sake of comedy. But it still serves as a good example of what not to do. Here are all the GMing pitfalls I caught in the video:

  • Discouraging your players from jumping into their role play is a bad idea. As a GM, your goal is to help them get in character, not obstruct them from doing so.
  • Joking about wanting to kill your players is fine, every GM does it. But a GM’s job is to facilitate fun. Feeling as though you’re constantly in completely over your head, and dying because of it, isn’t fun.
  • When your players are facilitating their own in-character fun, never stop them. If your players want to name the dragon, let them do that for as long as it seems like everyone is having fun. (Out of character joking, on the other hand, should be corralled by the GM. You don’t need to ban it, you just don’t want it to take over the game.)
  • Of course there’s cheese in Neverwinter. As the GM, he should have come up with a name and given it to them. Not only does it make sense, and help facilitate the player’s fun (see my point above), but it ALSO ends the discussion on what to name the dragon, which is ostensibly what he wants anyway.

Again, I’m sure Jer knows all these things. The video was funny, I just thought I’d do a quick critique of the GM to add some content to the post.

This doesn’t count as your regularly scheduled Monday post, by the way. That will still go up later this evening, as normal.

WEG Star Wars: What It Was, and Why You Should Play It

West End Games Star Wars RPG Second Edition Revised and Expanded CoverI am a Star Wars fan. I’ve read every book based off the original trilogy at least twice. Some of them I’ve read five or even ten times. I keep the audio books around as well, which I’ve probably listened to hundreds of times each. At the age of 11, I wrote the editors with omissions I had found in the Star Wars Encyclopedia When I was 12 years old when I attended the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace, and despite how terrible that and Attack of the Clones both were, I was still at the midnight showing for Revenge of the Sith. I cried over the death of Chewbacca, and I cried harder over the death of Anakin Solo. And when Jaina Solo was forced to kill Jacen? That haunted me for days. I still break down crying every time I try to read through that chapter.

Star Wars is my great, lifelong obsession. And “The Star Wars Roleplaying Game” Second Edition published by West End Games is among the greatest tabletop role playing games I’ve ever encountered. You really don’t even need to read the rest of this post. If you don’t have it, you need to find it, and buy it, now. Once you have it in your hands, you can read the rest of this post to learn why the choice to make that purchase was the right one.

Platt Okeefe in a FirefightThe entire system is designed to keep game sessions fast paced and exciting. The rules are very simple, the character creation is minimalistic, and any actions which requires a roll are handled with one of two basic systems. If a player is attempting to do something to another player or NPC, the two make opposed dice checks (such as “shoot” and “dodge”) and whoever gets the highest succeeds. For any other kind of action, the GM just picks a difficulty number (based of a difficulty chart which GMs should memorize) and asks for a roll. Simply put, that’s it. Much as I love Pathfinder’s more complex rules, there’s something freeing about switching gears and running something with almost no rules at all. To put it in the words of the system’s designers:

Keep the Game Moving Quickly. Star Wars is supposed to be exciting. Laser bolts fly fast and furious, starships dodge around asteroids, and speeder bikes race through thick forests at frightening speeds. Keep the game moving as fast as the Star Wars movies!

Even the core rulebook is fast paced. Chapter 1 starts off with a solo adventure where the book plays the role of game master, and the reader takes on the role of a player. It plays out sort of like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book with dice occasionally thrown into the mix. In whole, the player’s portion of the rulebook is sixty six pages long, including the adventure at the beginning. In comparison, the D&D 3.5 Player’s Handbook has 317 pages. Pathfinder’s core rulebook doesn’t get past the player section until page 393! WEG Star Wars is a definitely a game which adheres to the old school role playing philosophy of keeping most of the mechanics away from the players to better simulate the fantasy.

General Aerin CrackenLike Pathfinder, WEG Star Wars characters have six basic attributes; Dexterity, Knowledge, Perception, Strength, Mechanical, and Technical. Each of these has a certain number of six sided dice attached to it during character creation. (WEG Star Wars only uses six sided dice.) For example, a human character gets 18 dice total, and has a minimum of 2 dice and a maximum of 4 dice in each of the six attributes. After filling the minimum requirements, players have 6 dice to spread between their six abilities. Once in play, any action which requires a roll will be associated with one of the six abilities, and the player gets to roll however many dice they allocated for that attribute. For example, hitting something with a blaster requires the ability to aim the blaster accurately, so you would roll your dexterity. If you went ahead and maxed out your dexterity, then you’d be able to roll 4d6 against your opponent’s dodge. And if he or she rolls lower than you did, the blaster bolt hits! And given how dangerous combat is treated in this game, there’s a good chance getting hit by that blaster bolt killed them.

There’s also a skills system for more specific tasks. Each character starts out with 7 dice to apply to skills. So even though you have 4 dice in dexterity, you could put another 2 dice in the Blasters skill, and be able to roll a whopping 6 dice whenever you try to hit somebody. Dice can also be split up. Each die counts as 3 “pips,” which is WEG’s code for bonuses. Essentially, if you’ve put 2 skill die into blasters, 3 into medicine, and 1 into starfighter piloting, and can’t decide where to put your last die, you can just break it up. Add a +2 to starfighter piloting (making the skill 1d6 + 2) and a +1 to blasters.

Rogue Squadron by Michael A Stackpole Cover ArtAll praise aside, there is one thing about West End Games’ masterpiece which I really don’t like. I can’t find anybody to play it. New players curious about the hobby are normally the most interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons. It’s probably the only game they’ve heard of, and it’s the one which drew their attention to the hobby in the first place. Others are wary of playing a Star Wars game, either because they don’t think they’re familiar enough with the mythos to keep up, or because they don’t like games based on movies/television/etcetera.

I did manage to play a few sessions of the game once. In the first session, my player (I only had one) managed to steal a ship, which he painted bright orange and christened “Stealth Ship.” He was too lazy to hire a crew for it, so I gave him a wookie communications officer. By the second session he had been hired by the rebellion to free some prisoners from an Imperial prison camp. One of them as it turned out, was his psychotic ex girlfriend, who shot him. By the time the second session ended, he had recovered, been chased around the corridors of an abandoned Star Destroyer by the same psychotic ex, and narrowly escaped form said Star Destroyer just before it exploded. We never got to session three, which is sad, because the rebellion was going to commission him to find them a new hiding place “now that the Yavin base has been compromised.” I was going to let him re-shape the original trilogy by becoming an incredibly important, off-screen character. It would have been glorious.

Buy the game. You will not regret it. And, once you have it, all you need to do is move to WA state so we can play it together…

…forever…

We Be Goblins! (You Be Food!)

Pathfinder module "We be goblins" cover art“We Be Goblins!” is a charming little Pathfinder module which Paizo has made available as a free PDF through their online store. I printed out a copy a month or so ago, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Despite the short length of only 16 pages, there are some remarkably charming touches which make this module memorable for me. The adventure is well designed with a good mix of challenges for the players. The pregenerated characters are interesting, and developed well enough to give players a baseline to role play from without being constricting. There’s a good sense of humor throughout the adventure as well, with a number of catchy songs scribbled in the margins. I must admit, I’ve recited a few of them to myself while driving. They are quite catchy:

We be Licktoads! We Make Raid!
Put the longshanks to the blade!
Burn them up from feet to head,
Make them hurt, then make them dead!

Cut the parents into ham,
Smush the babies into Jam,
All the rest in pot get stewed,
We be Licktoads – YOU BE FOOD!

Dungeons and Dragons 3.X Monster Manual Goblin

Which brings me to one of the biggest draws to this module: playing as evil goblins. Players have never been prevented from playing as evil characters, or from playing as goblins; the Monster Manuals and Bestiaries even have racial traits for goblins which players could use if they liked. But as I’ve discussed in the past, while not forbidden it’s certainly not encouraged. Despite that, something about Pathfinder’s version of goblins has caught hold of players. As any sensible company should, Paizo is cashing in on that with a number of products. The artist who designed Pathfinder’s Goblins can be thanked for that, I think. He or she somehow managed to take the most generic-of-the-generic fantasy monster, and reinvent them into something which is both classic and novel, adorable and terrifying all at once. The song above is a testament to all four seemingly contradictory traits.

Pathfinder Goblin Carrying a D20
On a lark last weekend, I decided I wanted to see how this adventure played at the table. What’s more, I wanted to do it with enough people for all four of the pregenerated characters to be in play. So during the week I conferred with the players from two of my gaming groups. Remarkably, each of them had Saturday free. Considering how difficult it can be to get either group together for a game, I thought it might be a titanic effort to get both together at once. But everybody was open to my first suggested date and time. So this morning I got up, cleaned my apartment, and was going over my notes just in time for people to start arriving.
The opening of the adventure is somewhat wordy for my tastes. My rule of thumb is three paragraphs. If I’ve got more than three paragraphs to read before the players get to start taking action and making choices, then I edit down. I may pride myself on my writing, but my friends didn’t make room in their busy schedules to listen to me read aloud. They came to play a game. All the same, the introduction didn’t go off too poorly. The players got a good sense of who and where they were. But to be honest, if I were to run it again I think I would cut a lot of the introductory crap and jump into the bonfire as quick as I could. That’s where the game really got moving.

After the goblin leader provides the PCs with their mission in the opening scene, the tribe has a bonfire celebration to, as cheif Gutwad says, “burn bad luck away from [the PCs].” Essentially it’s a big rowdy goblin party in honor of the PC’s upcoming quest. Here, I think, would have been a much better place for a lot of the exposition which happened at the start of the adventure. Rather than have the goblin chief tell the players to avoid the creature known as Lotslegs Eat Goblin Babies Many, the PCs could have overheard frightening stories about it from other goblins during the feast. But this is a minor nitpick at worst.

The content of the bonfire are four “dares,” as the goblins call them. To test the bravery of the PCs, the tribe presents them with challenges. If they succeed, they are rewarded with the right to borrow a few pieces of magical gear. If they fail, or refuse the challenge, they are mercilessly mocked. I must admit I was somewhat worried that this was the kind of thing which sounded good on paper, but wouldn’t work out in play, but I was wrong. It was during this more lighthearted, role-playing heavy activity that my players really started to get into their characters. I’m not often fortunate enough to have excited, in-character conversations going on between players. More on that later.Goblins Attempt to capture Squeally Nord

My players ended up succeeding at each of the four challenges without much incident. It was then that I began to realize that the pregenerated characters were extremely overpowered. I honestly cannot comprehend how the rogue managed to have a +16 to his stealth check at level 1. [Edit: Okay, I see. The Goblin size bonus, and the Goblin racial bonus, stack.] This ended up detracting from the game somewhat, as I never really felt the characters were in real danger. Though, in fairness, I did significantly reduce the difficulty of each of the challenges. Not to make things easier, but simply because I can’t make it seem exciting to ask players to make a DC 15 ride check three times in a row.

In the morning, the players set off on the grand one mile (1/6th of a hex) journey to the grounded ship marked on the treasure map, and the cache of fireworks it held. They were nearly there when they were accosted by Lotslegs Eat Goblin Babies Many, a giant spider who hungered for goblin flesh! Two of my cowardly players hid from the beast, the rogue succeeding at doing so despite the bells which another player had secretly attached to her clothes. The fight was brief, with minimal damage on the part of the players. Considering that this is probably the second most difficult fight in the adventure, I was somewhat disappointed in how quickly the spider was felled.

From there, the players moved on to reach the ship. And that is where things took a turn for the awesome. One of the four goblins is a cleric named Poog. According to his character sheet, Poog is ashamed of being one of the worst animal riders in the clan. The character sheet also says Poog is brave to the point of being overconfident. So when Poog was acting as a scout into the the muddy area surrounding the ship, and was charged by a rabid horse, Poog’s immediate response was:

“POOG WILL RIDE HORSE!” Complete with my player’s best goblin voice.

As it turned out, Poog failed to mount the charging beast, but managed to deal it a crushing blow by bracing his javelin in the mud when the horse came around for a second charge. From there on in, the events of the game took a back seat to the hilarious role playing exchanges between the characters. The woman playing the aforementioned rogue took it upon herself to goad Poog on. She heaped insults onto him, and quickly discovered that there was nothing she couldn’t get Poog to do by simply telling him that he wasn’t good enough to do it. And all of this simply goaded Poog onward, culminating “POOG CAN RIDE ANYTHING!” being shouted several times. In one combat, Poog and the Rogue actually took turns mounting and pushing each other off of a very confused dog which the other two party members were desperately trying to kill.

The climax of the adventure came when the four goblins were attempting to flee the ship with their firework booty. Just as they were about to escape, they were accosted by Vorka, the goblin cannibal whose fireworks they had just stolen. She had cast Spider Climb on herself before the party reached her, so her first action in combat was to walk up the vertical mast of the ship high enough so that melee attacks couldn’t reach her. Unfortunately, this prompted Poog to remember that he’d earned an Elixer of Dragon’s Breath during the bonfire challenges. Before the rest of the party knew what was happening, the mast was on fire, and Vorka was quickly jumping down onto the deck to avoid the flames.

The rest of the adventure proceded entirely without incident. Vorka’s rolls were so terrible that she was killed without much of a fuss. And despite my attempt to destroy the player’s fireworks by having the chest catch on fire, they were all dexterous enough to get the prized explosives to safety before they were ignited.Pathfinder Goblins raiding a town

Having now played through it, “We Be Goblins!” is an entertaining way to spend four hours. It suffers significantly from lack of challenge, though. When I run a one-shot game such as this one, my expectation is to see one or more players lose their lives. Since they’re never going to play these characters again anyway, what’s the point of coddling them? This failing is particularly bad since the game comes with its own pregenerated characters. If they knew how powerful the PCs would be, why couldn’t they make the adventure a little tougher to give it the edge it was missing?

I must reiterate that it was fun, though. It brought my group together and gave them a situation which they had a lot of fun with. I’d be a little wary of starting up yet another campaign, but I’m pretty sure everyone agreed that it would be fun to return to those characters (and that group) again someday.

Maybe I’ll run them through an edited version of The Sunless Citadel next…

Colorful Characters 5: Delana The Gravedigger

Delana the Gravedigger Peasant Woman DiggingDelana was born in the town of Obleton to a local widow. The widow, a seamstress by trade, had a brief tryst with an elven ranger who was passing through Obleton with his adventuring party. Though Delana’s mother never saw her elven lover again, she always spoke fondly of him to her half-elven daughter.

Like most half elves, Delana had a difficult childhood. As a member of a much longer lived species, she matured much slower than the other children in the village. A decade passed for her the way a pair of years passed for her fellows. Childhood friends matured quickly enough to have children of their own for Delana to engage with as peers.

One day, as a child of twenty, Delana was out with a hunting party. She was learning to track and to use a bow in an attempt to be closer to the father she had never met by emulating his craft. During the hunt, she came into a clearing where she found herself separated from her companions. In the clearing stood a shambling undead, which began inching towards her with hunger in its eyes. The young half elf fled and rejoined her companions, warning them of the nearby danger.

The group decided to find and kill the beast, but by the time they returned to the clearing, it was gone. Given Delana’s mental age, they assumed the child simply had an overactive imagination. Delana’s pleas for them to trust her fell on deaf ears. Later that night, Delana awoke to a wet smacking sound. The undead had returned, and was eating her companions. She screamed, and the creature turned to attack her. It bit her on the forearm, tearing away a large chunk of meat. The girl flailed, and somehow managed to escape, fleeing into the woods.

Delana was lost in the wood for four days, and lost a great deal of blood before she stumbled back into Obleton. Her mother and the townsfolk tended to her wounds and her exhaustion as best they could, but she was never quite the same. It was a full decade before she spoke a single word to anyone again, and when she did speak what she said was often cryptic. More disturbing still was that what she said could often be interpreted later as descriptions of events which had not yet occurred when she spoke.

Fifty years later, Delana’s mother passed away. Now a fully grown and developed half elf, Delana dug her mother’s grave, buried her, and set the tombstone in place with her own two hands. Every day for weeks Delana returned to the graveyard, visiting not only her mother’s grave, but each of the graves in turn. Shortly thereafter, she requested that the townspeople help her build a small home for herself near the graveyard, so as to free her mother’s larger home up for the next young couple to start a family in the village.

Delana has continued to live in the village of Obleton through the many decades and centuries of her life. The town has always been kind to her, and in her peculiar way Delana has worked to protect the town and its inhabitants. She very rarely speaks to anyone, but she is always kind when she does. Those who now live in Obleton (now a much larger town) are generations removed from anyone who knew Delana as a young woman. People often wonder why she came to their small town, never realizing that she has lived there her entire life.

The old woman still helps with the hunting occasionally, but it is a skill she never quite took to. Her livelihood is supported by the village. The only real work she does is in the graveyard. It is well known locally that when old woman Delana begins to dig, someone will be dead by the time she reaches six feet deep.

Personality

Delana is not crazy. She is, in fact, quite sharp for a half elf of such advanced age. Many of her mannerisms are eccentric, though. She does not speak much, preferring to listen. When she does speak, she is often cryptic. If pressed for a more firm answer, she merely chuckles as though her oblique answers are a joke which only she understands.

Delana does have two very strong convictions. First, if she believes that the village or anyone in it is in danger, she will bring all of her abilities to bear on the problem. She will offer help as clearly as she can, though, even when trying to be clear, her responses are often difficult to understand. Second, Delana has a great fear of, and hatred for, the undead. A lifetime of outliving friends has made Delana very comfortable with death, and the perversion of it which is represented by undeath enrages her.

She knows that the sorcerous powers which have slowly manifested since that first encounter with an undead creature include abilities which she views as abhorrent, and she has done her best to turn her focus away from them.

If faced with a choice between raising the dead and allowing Obleton to be destroyed, it is unclear which conviction would prove stronger in Delana’s mind. It is certain, though, that failure to uphold either would break the poor old woman’s mind.

Tactics

Delana is not a fighter, but if attacked she is more likely to fight with her shovel than with her few offensive spells. If Delana is reduced to below 50% health, she will begin casting Cone of Cold and other frost based damaging spells, as well as any non-evil necromancy spells.

Delana will never cast evil necromancy spells, such as Animate Dead, except under extreme duress. The guilt of doing so would likely either drive her completely mad, or cause her to commit suicide.

Thoughts on Use

Delana is intended to be a seer in the traditional fantasy sense. Goodly characters can seek her foresight and wisdom to aid them on whatever quest they are on. Delana’s cryptic nature allows the GM some room to toy with players by forcing them to puzzle out the meaning of Delana’s answer before proceeding further.

Interesting Facts

-Delana refers to graves as “beds,” and to death as a type of sleep. Something which she might say is “I make the beds for the long sleep we all must take.”

-As a joke, Delana refers to her trusty shovel by the name “Samuel.” She often acts as thought she believes the shovel is her husband.

-Delana can often be found walking amongst the graves mumbling to herself. Unbeknownst to the townsfolk, she is reciting the life story of those who are buried there. She has committed each to memory. For most of the graves, she knows the story because she was part of the life of that person. For others, she has used her divination spells to learn of their life, and taken care to memorize it accurately.

Delana, The Gravedigger (CR 12)

XP: 19,200
Female Half Elf Sorcerer 14
NG humanoid
224 years old (Venerable)
Init +0; Senses Perception +31


Defenses


AC 10, Flat Footed 10, Touch 10 [10 + Armor(0)]
hp 84 (14d6 + 28)
dr 10/- (Nonlethal damage only)
Resistance 10/Cold
Fort +5 Ref +4 Will + 16 (May Reroll Will 1/Day)


Offense


Speed 30ft
Melee Samuel The Shovel + 9/+4 (1d8 + 2/20 x2)
Sorcerer Spells (CL 14th; Concentration +18; +2 save DC for Divination spells)
7th (3/day)– Greater Scrying, Finger of Death
6th (5/day)– Legend Lore, True Seeing, Undeath to Death
5th (6/day)– Wave of Fatigue, Cone of Cold, Telepathic Bond, Contact Other Plane
4th (7/day)– Detect Scrying, Locate Creature, Scrying, Bestow Curse, Animate Dead
3rd (7/day)– Arcane Sight, Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Tongues, Gentle Repose, Vampiric Touch
2nd (7/day)– Detect Thoughts, Locate Object, See Invisibility, Blindness/Deafness, Scare, False Life
1st (7/day)– Comprehend Languages, Detect Undead, Identify, Cause Fear, Ray of Enfeeblement, Chill Touch
0 (at will)– Detect Magic, Detect Poison, Read Magic, Bleed, Disrupt Undead, Touch of Fatigue, Light, Ghost Sound, Ray of Frost
Bloodline Undead
Bloodline Powers
Grave Touch (7/Day) — touch attack causes living creature to become shaken for 7 rounds.
Death’s Gift — Cold Resist 10, DR10/- v. Nonlethal Damage
Grasp of the Dead (1/Day) — Skeletal arms attack foes. (See Pathfinder Core Rulebook page 77)


Stats


Str 15 (+2) Dex 10 (+0) Con 13 (+1) Int 13 (+1) Wis 21 (+5) Cha 18 (+4)
Base Atk +7/+2; CMB +9/4; CMD 19
Feats Eschew Materials, Skill Focus(Perception), Toughness, Iron Will, Still Spell, Silent Spell, Quicken Spell, Alertness, Improved Iron Will, Spell Focus (Divination), Greater Spell Focus (Divination)
Skills Perception (+31), Profession(Gravedigger) (+19), Spellcraft(+15), Sense Motive (+7)
Languages Common, Elven
Gear Rags for clothing, Samuel the Shovel, 17 copper

Spicing Up The Battlemat: Water

Ocean waves crashing against a rock, causing a spray of water. After my previous post about improving D&D/Pathfinder battlefield environments went up, someone asked me via my twitter feed what combat would be like in water. The thought made me cringe. Water is a difficult environment for a number of reasons. Chief amongst them is that attempting to perform actions in water can slow the movement of a game down to a crawl. There’s also the fact that it’s much more difficult to represent three dimensional movement on a battlemat, and the fact that water tends to be pretty uniform and uninteresting as a combat environment.

Despite those factors which make water a headache, there are times when water combat is appropriate or even required. Players love to do things like sail ships, or explore sunken cities, and in a world like Pathfinder’s, monsters lurk anywhere an adventurer might wish to go. So, with the hopes of making myself a better GM, I took some time today to consider water combat, and how it might affect gameplay. I divided the problem up into three sub categories: shallow water, deep water, and under water, each of which is detailed separately below. It also helps to be familiar with the swim skill (Pathfinder Core Rulebook page 108) and the water dangers section of the environment chapter (Pathfinder Core Rulebook page 445)

Keep in mind that these are primarily ideas for use on-the-fly by GMs. None of these are intended to be house ruled mechanics for water combat. Nor is are these lists intended to be a comprehensive gathering of everything which could happen to a character while fighting in or on water.

Shallow Water
A shallow water combat environment is defined as one in which the players are standing on their feet in some depth of water. Examples might include a stream or river, or near the shore of any larger body of water such as a lake or sea.

  • Speed: In water up to a character’s knees, speed should be reduced by 5. In water up to a character’s waist or higher should reduce movement speed by half. Keep in mind that different size characters will deal with these issues at different depths of water.
  • Strong Current: If there is a strong current present, the GM should be aware of it. Moving against the current could further reduce a character’s speed by 5, while moving with it might increase a character’s speed by 5. A character’s speed in shallow water should never exceed their land speed unless they decide to start floating and allow the currents to propel them.
  • Slippery Rocks: Underwater stones in shallow water make poor footholds. If a character is walking on slippery stones, moving at their full available speed, many standard actions such as attacking, or taking damage, should force them to make a reflex save (DC 10-12) or fall prone. Moving at half their available speed, or using a full round action to perform a standard action, gives a character enough time to find solid footing, which won’t require any save.
  • Stuck Foot: Any time a character makes a move action, there is a chance that the character’s foot may become stuck. Either by becoming lodged between two rocks, or sucked down into a muddy riverbed. When this happens, a character may either use a move action to free it, or if he or she is willing to lose their shoe, a swift action. Determining where a foot can get stuck is best handled by the GM making secret notation of which spaces can potentially snag a character, and rolling a secret reflex save (DC: 8-12) for the character when they pass through those squares.
  • Natural Caltrops: In a rocky area, or a fresh riverbed, there’s always the possibility that the player may encounter stones which have not yet been eroded smooth. In some cases these stones may even be quite jagged, and act as natural caltrops (Pathfinder Core Rulebook Page 155) which “attack” at a -2 penalty. Placement of these sharp stones is best handled the same way that “foot sticking spots” are described above.
  • Changing Depth: Keep in mind that depths change in all manner of water environments. Not only might there be sudden sink holes (which can be treated as pit traps which the character must make perception checks to be aware of), but even a gradual change in depth can be tactically significant in combat.
  • Forced Drowning: Even in shallow water, drowning is a possibility. If attempting to drown a character in shallow water, the attacker must first grapple the victim and pin them. As when being “moved” into a hazardous location, pinning an opponent in these circumstances grants them a free attempt to break the grapple at a +4 bonus. Drowning is then handled as detailed in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook on page 445.

Deep Water
A deep water combat environment is defined as one which the characters cannot touch the bottom, and must swim in order to stay above the surface. Examples might include a pond, lake, or sea. It is important to note that shallow/deep water is more dependent on character height than on water depth. four or five foot deep water may still be considered shallow for a human, but for a gnome or halfling it would be considered deep.

  • Concentrating On Swimming: Characters with less than 10 ranks in swim should lose their dexterity bonus to AC. Considering that a character in any significant armor would likely be unable to swim at all, any non-aquatic participants would likely have low AC due to this.
  • Distracting Yourself: Taking a standard action, such as attacking, while in deep water should require a DC:12 swim check to stay afloat, or the character will go under water as described under the swim skill (Pathfinder Core Rulebook page 108) This assumes calm water. DCs should be adjusted for more difficult water.
  • Forced Drowning: In deep water, attempting to drown an opponent requires less effort than in shallow water. A grapple check is still required, however rather than pinning the victim, the attacker need only “move” the victim down whilst pushing themselves up. As above, this entitles the victim to a free attempt to break the grapple at a +4 bonus.
  • Slow Moving: Attack and damage rolls for characters swimming in deep water should receive a -4 penalty for light weapons, and a -8 penalty for larger weapons.
  • Waves: When the water being fought in contains waves, they can easily interrupt combat. The combatants should be hit by waves every 2d4 rounds. When hit by the wave, characters are moved 1d4 spaces in a random direction along the wave’s path. Characters are also Dazed for 1 round. A character who uses a move action can avoid becoming dazed.
  • Currents: While currents are unlikely to move two combating characters apart, the characters will none the less be moved about by them. The longer the combat continues, the further away from their starting point they will be.
  • Splashing Obstruction: If there is excessive action, the air around the characters may become filled with splashing water. In that case, both characters are granted concealment. (25% miss chance on a successful hit.)

Under Water
Under water combat is actually what the question which sparked this post was about. Underwater action is easily the most difficult kind. By necessity, being underwater for extended periods of time requires something which allows the characters to survive without oxygen; whether it’s a potion they consumed, a primitive scuba suit, or even a unique kind of starfish which filters the air out of the water. For simplicity, I will assume that whatever mechanism allows the character to be underwater is unobtrusive.

  • Deep Water: Concentrating on Swimming, Slow Moving, and Currents as described in the Deep Water section above would likely work the same way when under water.
  • Three Dimensions: While this can be tricky to use on the mat, one of the biggest advantages to underwater combat. Foes can lie in ambush 100 yards above or below the PCs without being noticed, simply because the PCs aren’t used to threats from above and below. In combat, height and depth can be more easily identified by placing pennies on the battle mat. A character 4 spaces above the ground would have 4 pennies next to their character’s miniature on the battle mat. If the ground is significantly far away, define a baseline depth, and characters can use pennies for each space above that baseline, and dimes for each space below it.
  • Loss of Breath: Whatever allows characters to breathe underwater is a target. If it’s a Ring of Water Breathing it can be sundered. If there is a spell in place, it can be dispelled. Whatever the method in play, don’t be afraid to force your players to prioritize breathing above defeating their foes.
  • Blurry Vision: Most land-lubber eyes are not designed to see underwater. Unless goggles or some other method is being used, any attack made by a character whose species evolved on land should be subject to a 25% miss chance.

While using these, always remember that the point of role playing games is to have fun. If one of these mechanics is slowing down your battle and making everybody at the table bored, either don’t use it, or find some other method to speed things along so the players can start having fun again.

Why Hex Maps Need to Come Back

Hex Map Banner from The Endless StairAbove is a selection from the wilderness map created for “The Endless Stair,” a TSR module for 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons originally published in 1987. Prior to the release of third edition D&D by Wizards of the Coast, maps such as this were commonplace. With that release, for reasons unknown to me, Wizards of the Coast apparently thought it was best to completely sever the connection between D&D and the noble hexagon. As a tabletop role player who started with D&D 3.x, I spent a number of years vaguely aware that some people liked hexes, but had to context as to how they could be beneficial.

It was Trollsmyth’s superb series of hex mapping posts which finally drove home for me the importance of hex maps. They are not intended as a replacement for maps constructed using squares, but rather, are intended to supplement those maps in situations where squares are less appropriate. Squares work best for dungeons and other structures, where walls and rooms and corridors often snap neatly into a square grid anyway. In fact, the module I mentioned above, The Endless Stair, contains a number of dungeon maps printed on a square grid.

What hex maps are intended for is the outdoors. Squares have no place measuring nature. If any of my readers are old enough to have played the original Dragon Warrior game for the NES,Dragon Warrior 1 NES Worldmap they know what I mean. The game was great fun, but the squared-off overworld map looked silly even in those days of primitive technology. And while the righteous hexagon may not necessarily be a more ‘natural’ shape, it certainly approximates a natural shape more efficiently than its brutish cousin the square. Through the use of its two additional sides, the hexagon is more uniform in size than the square. The the distance between the center of a hex, and the center of any adjacent hex, is equal for all six sides. Whereas the square, with its 8 adjacent spaces, allows characters to travel much greater distances when moving diagonally than when moving up, down, left, or right. The only way to compensate for this extra distance is to penalize a character somehow for moving diagonally. And while this may be a simple matter on a small scale map (each space moved diagonally is counted as 1.5 spaces.), it becomes more difficult on a larger scale.

Which brings us to the next point regarding hexes: scale. Maps of dungeons or other areas which utilize squares are generally done on a small scale. The most common measurement is that 1 square is equal to 5 square feet. It’s simple, and when a room is only thirty feet square, it’s effective. However, wilderness travel require a larger scale by definition. No one in their right mind would try to map a forest, a mountain range, or a continent, in five-by-five foot increments. To even attempt it would be ludicrous. The standard size for a single hex on a wilderness map is six miles across from flat side to flat side. While a GM can use any scale he or she pleases, the six mile scale has a good balance. It’s small enough that overland travel can be measured in a meaningful way (with most characters being able to travel between 12 and 18 miles in a day), but large enough to allow a good sized continent to fit on a piece of 8 1/2 by 11 graph paper.

The largeness of a six mile hex comes with other benefits as well. At over 30 square miles*, it’s impossible for a party to fully explore every hex. They can mark down the primary terrain, and any items which they come across, but there will always be more. This means that even a hex which has already been explored can offer new challenges for players. From wandering monsters which they didn’t encounter the last time, to dungeon entrances, or perhaps an entire community or fortress which was 2 or 3 miles away from the route the party took last time they passed through. The blog “I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow” has a great post which gives you an idea of just how large this scale is.

For all the arguments I can make demonstrating the benefits of hex maps, there’s one which I keep returning to time and again. An argument which, in my mind, is irrefutable proof that the D&D community needs to re-embrace hex mapping:

We don’t have anything better yet!

It baffles me why Wizards of the Coast would abandon a perfectly good system without at least attempting to provide a replacement for it. But they did nothing of the sort! Wilderness travel was downplayed significantly in 3.x, and that hasn’t been remedied in Pathfinder. On the rare occasion that wilderness maps are included in adventure modules, the best they can do is indicate scale with a measuring stick. Take a look at this map from one of my favorite D&D 3.5 modules, “The Standing Stone:”

Map from The Standing Stone
What about this map is improved by the lack of a hex overlay? Nothing! Refusing to include an overlay of mighty hexagons forces the GM to add measuring tape to the already cluttered area behind the GM screen. And while it may be argued that the map is too small in scale for six-mile hexagons to be of use, I would reply that the map is perfectly scaled for three-mile hexagons. Wizards of the Coast had better options. Options which they chose to ignore for reasons I cannot even begin to guess at.

Hex maps provide us with the metric which makes world exploration possible. Without it, completely open-ended, sandbox exploration can seem like a daunting task to players and GMs alike. I know I certainly never had the guts to provide a world exploration game to my players before I learned about Hex mapping–despite being very proud of the maps I’d created! Nor have I ever been given much choice as a traveling player. Travel is always handled by indicating where I’m going, and then fading to black as I travel there. And you know what? That’s sad.

As the old saying goes: “The journey is more important than the destination.” Isn’t that the essence of an adventure?

*Yes, I am aware of the irony of using square miles as a measurement in a post decrying the use of squares as a unit of measure. Stop mocking me!

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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.