Friday, 31 August 2018

DM Guidance

As a DM of 16 years this fall (2018) I have uncovered many things about running a game that may help others in learning to DM. There are too many tips and tricks blogs, web sites and famous people now on the band wagon giving advice and I did not want to do the same thing, so mine will have more of a twist on it. This will be more realistic guidance on how to run a successful game without the same generic quote answers.

Designing your game/encounter for the night

Your game is coming up and know full well that you won't be able to spend hours writing some extravagant story line for three to four hours of a game on Sunday night. So what's the best approach and what is the downside of spending hours writing for one game session?

Too much effort: In the beginning I used to write every detail, every outcome and how that one game will feed into the next and into the over all plot and plan way down the road. Here is why this is a bad idea. When you overwrite or over-plan you are basically writing a finished story. You have most likely read it over a few times and have been satisfied with the way you've now first experienced it and experienced it a second or third time. It is the same as reading a book or watching a movie, you've experienced the events and seen the outcome and it's time to move on. 

Too vague: You also do not want to under plan by using just a concept of how the game will go. (Example) The PC's will go to town to do their town stuff then meet someone who wants something back at a cave and we'll throw cave monsters at them. Being too vague will show as your struggling to come up with places, people and plausible reasons for the adventure during the game. The cave will be a series of monsters and traps with no outstanding or memorable point. You will need to flip around the book to randomly generate things on the fly and have no answers to any questions.



Mid ground: The best approach IMO is to start with a set of points of where you think the PC's will go, who they will talk to, where the action will take place, and so forth and then spend what time you have putting effort into the parts that make up the highest feelings of immersion. (Example) Write out a tavern concept (this can be vague such as dive bar and high end merchant trade bar), the details need to be based around who they will interact with to create a memorable RPG encounter. How the staff look (details on uniforms and attitude), a three item menu with a unique item that only this place has and what makes the place unique (again a small quick detail, this requires no big backstory, in fact keep this vague to allow the PC's to speculate as to the significance of an item, a saying, or such in a bar). Also list one NPC by full name, race, and a basic background detail as somehow, someway (don't over plan) the PC's will come into contact with this person.


For the encounter part have general concepts of the site or what most rooms are like but work on one major even taking place there that they can experience, but don't write any outcomes. Let them determine the outcome by interacting with the environment you've created. (Example) If the encounter concept for the night is that in this cave there is a large wall holding back a mass amount of water for some unknown reason, you've made an intriguing point and someone will want to know why it's there. Come up with some ideas behind why it's there but nothing permanent, let the PC's discussion and their ideas on why its there be the actual answer. If someone breaks it, have a basic idea of how the flooding will add fun to the encounter such as by sweeping the PC's into a new area or pose a threat of being pushed off a cliff. Either way don't go overboard writing all details on the encounter, who built it and why, what happens 100% and don't go to vague as in just writing a wall holding water, but go in the middle and have some specific thing that happen if the wall is broken and if the PC's want to figure out more information on the glass wall such as putting a wizard in who can dispel it to flood the cave in care of emergency or maybe an old journal by a skeleton of the wizard who's plan this was years ago.

The idea is to have details your familiar with that are seamless when questioned about the people, places and things in the world but not have a completely written out story on how your encounter or event is going to go.

For more on UPM Gaming check out our Facebook Page, Twitter (https://twitter.com/upm_gaming) and YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/dean8880).

Monday, 6 August 2018

Pathfinder Playtest - Character Creation

Building Penelope

*For the origins of Penelope and her party see The Cast

So I decided to build a character to see how the process goes for Pathfinder Playtest and what an exercise it is! It is no easy feat to build your character, the most cumbersome part of the process is what they call (or their version) of a proficiency bonus. In 5E it is a fixed number that goes up every few levels but stays the same throughout the game. However in Pathfinder Playtest it is not a fixed number, but based on how proficient you are, your level and changes for its interaction with each skill, ability, armor, weapon, etc, etc.

I have always loved the customization of Pathfinder and the Playtest has no shortage of that. I will try to give feedback about the parts I found to be very annoying such as the outrageous calculation for perception. Officially listed as this:
Perception modifier = wisdom modifier + perception proficiency modifier + circumstance bonus + conditional bonus + item bonus + circumstance penalty + conditional penalty + item penalty + untyped penalties. 
You have to be out of your mind if that has to be calculated on the fly each time the PC needs to perceive something.

TAC makes no sense, as the paragraph is written word for word the same as AC. This must be typo. Why would the same score needed to hit you in armor vs needed to just touch you be the exact same formula with the same bonuses, etc?

Also skills are going to be horrible to change as your proficiency bonus goes up and down based on your level and other factors. You really need to pay attention to how much that bonus effects everything. When you level many things are going to change in numbers, which would be an amazing things on an excel sheet as it auto calculates, but by hand . . . oh my.




Okay the build

1 - Name (Penelope)
2 - Ancestry: For this I chose "Human" but further I chose the "Ulfen" Ethnicity. Although this is a core Pathfinder Ethnicity, I am familiar with the Ulfen who are basically a race of nord, northmen, classic vikings or light skinned, fur wearing warriors. Upon choosing this I wrote down the following. HP8, Size Medium, Speed 25ft. Ability Boosts Free/Free, Languages common + one. Traits human / humanoid and it grants an extra feat so I chose Unconventional Weaponry, which fits Penelope's unusual weapons she carries.
3 - Background: I chose warrior as it fits her best. Being the member of a tribe of warriors from the north at one point and now independent. Choosing warriors grants her the following. Ability boosts strength or con and free. Quick repair feat, and the warfare lore skill.
4 - Class: Here I choose barbarian as that is what she is. This comes with "Rage" which is very detailed as there are two pages of rage types and things to do with rage. For her "Totem" I chose "Fury" as I did not like the animal, dragon, giant, etc. The fury grants her an additional 1st level barbarian feat as well. Her physical damage resistance while raging through fury applies to "All" physical types of damage. For her barbarian feats at 1st (since I get two now) I chose "Sudden Charge" and "Raging Intimidation". Her barbarian key abilities are strength, and hp 12 + con. Proficiencies are in perception  (expert). Saving throws - Fortitude (expert), Reflex (trained), and Will (expert). Weapons (trained) in all simple and martial weapons. Armor (trained) in all light and medium armor. Signature skills are Acrobatics, Athletics and Intimidation.
5 - Add ability scores: Str 18, Dex 12, Con 16, Int 10, Wiz 12, Cha 10. *How I got these are: All scores start at 10, then add in your proficiency bonus to your Ancestry Ability Boosts and Flaws (+2 str & +2 con), then add in your background ability boosts (+2 str, & +2 con), then add in your four free ability boosts (+2 str, +2 dex, +2 con, +2 wis), finally add in your One Class ability boost (+2 str).
6 - Apply your class: Basically at this point you total your hp from your Ancestry 8hp and your class 12 + con bonus (3) = 23 HP
7- Determine skill modifiers: This is where I had the hardest time and its very complex. Basically I added in Warfare lore (trained) skill from my background. My three skills + int mod (0) = 3 from my class (I choose as the book suggests my signature skills of Acrobatics, Athletics and Intimidation (trained). Also you would go through every skill and decide if its untrained (your level -2), trained (your level) or beyond. This I did not do, also keep in mind for example that these skills are categories of skills example. "Athletics" is the category name for the actual individual skills of: Break Grapple, Break Open, Climb, Grapple, High Jump, Long Jump, Shove, Swim, and Trip. These are all skills with actions associated to them.
8 - Buy Equipment: They start you with 150sp and the sp is the common currency. I like this much better than gold as its more realistic in what we've been told about the commoner and common goods all trading in silver. I picked up Penelope's Hide armor (20sp) as she wears hides (but I did not like it's -3 skill check penalty!), her trademark weapons Katana sword (20sp) and Battle Axe (12sp). Remember I took the feat Unconventional Weaponry which lets me take the Katana which is a Uncommon Martial weapon of which I am (trained) in.
9 -  Details: Age 19, Alignment CN, AC 15 (10 + dex (1) + 1 (trained) +3 armor bonus, TAC 15 *There is no difference in AC and TAC as the paragraph is identical in the book, this must be a typo. Bulk (didn't bother to fill in her carried gear weight yet), Deity (nor choose her god), Gender is female, Hero Points 1 (which everyone gets at start of game to a max 3), Melee strikes +5 (Proficiency +1 trained, +4 str). Damage - Katana - 1d8+4 and Battle Axe - 1d8+4 (weapon damage + str). Perception +3 (Proficiency +2 expert, +1 wis bonus). Resonace Points 1 (which is how many magic items you can have?). Saving throws Fort +5, Will +2, Ref +3 (+2 expert in fort +3 con, +1 trained in will +1 wis, and +2 expert in reflex +1 dex).

I will show this all on a filled in character sheet where is looks a lot nicer and is not as confusing. The sheets (3 pages) do make it more clear. This is just a quick build (did take me approx hour to hour and a half to do my first time).

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Starfinder

So where do we even start? This game is huge because it's about PC's in a space ship that can go to worlds. Think of all the years it took Ed Greenwood to make one world . . . one. All the places, all the kingdoms, all the history. Think of the drow below, adventures in the far east, adventures in the south, it's huge! Now take all that and do it like ten or so times for just worlds in like one solar system, right?

In Development May 2018

It's something no one could ever do. This is why many times people create "planets" or "worlds" that have a gimmick or theme that is only one city or one area and they say it's the world. Think of the real world, all the races, all the places that are so different from each other that even though they do exist on one world together you would expect them in fantasy to just define one world. Even in Mass Effect Andromeda a "world" is gimmick-ed as ice or desert, when in reality it would have both.

It's this thinking that blows my mind and makes me unable to even consider Starfinder. Do we do adventures on a space station like in the published adventures? What about on a ship like in Alien? If we go to a world is it just like fantasy dungeons and dragons versus space adventure? Reading the core book I got taken right out of sc-fi fantasy and space when I saw an image of a dwarf on page 9, YUK! This is horrible, because it's saying "Hey were still playing Pathfinder or D&D with classic fantasy races in space."

If we were just playing pathfinder in space, I would just have played the "Lords of Rust" adventure where the PC's as fantasy characters explore tech stuff. My home-brew had them (at one time) on spaceships via Spelljammer. But this is not what I am looking for in Starfinder, I am looking for Sc-fi adventures in space. With so many styles like Star Trek, Star Wars, Mass Effect, Alien, Dark Matter, EVE, the list goes on, so where do we start?

I was hoping to use the rules loose in a home-brew campaign that has nothing to do with the published adventures because I have seen the same game streamed a hundred times and I don't feel one published adv can cover all genres of space and sc-fi. As well why do we want to re-run the same published adventure we've seen run because no one knows where to start in Starfinder.

Thinking about what type of game I would want to run, what the plot would be, where we would go, and how the setting needs to feel (Star Fleet uniforms with regulations, or a mercenary feel with space jockey's in crappy ships evading an empire, etc) and what would be our goal. There is sooooooooo much that can happen that I have to start to nail down what I want to build.



Using the Starfinder book I wanted to roll up a character for fun, so here it is:

Step 1: Concept - A ship captain of  a small ship that is kind of junky and has seen battle a few too many times. I want her tough and able to negotiate with the locals while avoiding getting ripped off. She has a background of a maybe spoiled life left behind to find freedom and independence. She's a loner but has contacts at many ports who she can look up for information and such.

Step 2: Race - I guess human would be best as Android, while cool is not a real person. However human covers so much ground. She could be a sub race of a type of humans who have used technology to modify their bodies.

Step 3: Theme - Spacefarer seems to fit most, as a nice mix of Ace Pilot/Mercenary/Bounty Hunter would be fun, but the Spacefarer has the intuition and the exploration aspects. Ace Pilot is too much about being almost a car person but for ships, Mercenary seems to be only combat and bounty hunter is a tracker.

Step 4: Class - Operative is maybe a rogue, but she would not be a magic user and is there magic in space? Not a warrior, and so forth.

Step 5: Roll ability scores and add in extras. Str -10, Dex-10, Con-10, Cha10, Int-10, Wiz-10. Race ability points = +2 Any. Theme ability points = +1 Con. Plus 10 points for customization. Final scores Str-12, Dex-16, Con-11, Cha-12, Int-12, Wiz-10.

Step 6: Add in class features. 6+1 (7) Stamina Points, 6HP, Dex - Key ability score. Class skills - 8+2 (10) Acrobatics +2, Athletics, Bluff, Computers+1, Culture, Disguise, Engineering+1, Intimidate, Medicine, Perception, Piloting +4, Profession, Sense Motive +2, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Survival. Proficient in Light Armor and Basic melee weapons, small arms and sniper weapons. BAB = 0, Fort = 0, Ref = 2, Will = 2. Operatives Edge +1 (Initiative and Skill Checks), Specialization (Thief - Perception +3 and Sleight of Hand +3. Specialization Exploit - Holographic distraction), Trick attack 1d4. 

Step 7: Skills (added above) / Feats - x2 Human. Dive for Cover and Minor Psychic Power.

Step 8: Equipment with 1000 credits to buy. Semi Auto Pistol Tactical, level 1, -260 credits, 1d6 P (dam), 30ft (range), No crit, x9 rounds, 1 usage, Bulk L, Special Analog. Second Skin, level 1, -250 credits, EAC +1, KAC +2, Max Dex +5, Upgrade slot x1, Bulk L.     

Step 9: Details
Alignment - chaotic neutral
AC - EAC+14, KAC+15. Vs combat maneuvers +23
Attack Bonuses - +2 Melee, ranged, thrown. +3 Other ranged attacks
Carrying Capacity - NA
Deity - I don't think applies, too much like fantasy
Description - Black haired, young, athletic, smart mouthed, captain of her ship. Loves to explore and trade as well as break in and take things . . . from time to time.
Home World - Unknown
Initiative - +4
Language - Common, +2 other.
Resolve Points - +4
Saving Throws - Fort = 1, Ref = 5, Will = 2
Size - Medium
Speed - 30ft.
Starship - Pale Maiden

From "World of Alessia" Building the Universe.

That is making a character using the Starfinder rules, but let's do more creating on this game world. First what rule set do we even use? Do we go in using Starfinder as it is? I have too many issues with space elves and dwarves so I can't use it like this. I could homebrew tons of it, but that is a lot of work. Another thought is to use a custom rule set like "Fate" and have the adventure about story with the PC's using skills to overcome situations. Or just use old familiar the d20 system and a 5E rule set tweaked for space PC's? I don't overall want the game to feel like were playing our normal d&d in space, but I don't want it too complex that it's no fun so we are not creating a custom new rule set.

Next after we pick a rule set I want to focus on who lives in this universe. Are their empires? What are the factions? The cultures? Who are the villains? In EVE there are four empires who each have a region of space and in each there are three classes or races of people. There are no aliens, just humans, however the humans do have powers such as cybernetics, pisonics, etc. Some could even add Star Wars like magic (Force) which is limited spell casting. Androids would be needed. Chemists who can alter their state of size, skill level, make drugs that effect powers, etc. Geology could have people who produce heat, fire, or lava, which could also flip to people of ice and cold, or that can phase into void. Once we set this feel for who lives there we have to work on how things work.

How are physics involved? Geology of the universe and the planets, how does chemistry and magic work in this universe? More to come as I am in the early stages of developing "Stardelver A guide to beyond the pale moon". 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Rethinking running a public bi-weekly game

I thought it might be neat to try to run a game in the city at one of the hobby stores where they are boasting 10 player tables (meaning lot's of people are looking to play). However controlling 10 players is insane as well as only getting two hours to play is bad when combat runs with ten people. I thought I would have to go every week, but I recently seen a post where someone is running a table bi-weekly and got to thinking.

Things I would want to bring or do:
Have campaign guides (paper copies) available for $2.00 or so
Have the logo displayed on my steel book holder
Have business cards with the campaign info on them available
Be able to video record, audio record or live stream the game would be nice

If the table was large I could try splitting the players into two parties who are going for the same dungeon, at least to start off and have them competing to see who can get the treasure first. After this they can meet up and see what evolves.

Now as for the game where to start? I could run dungeons to keep things moving for two hour games, since that is the easiest solution. I don't mind the role playing, but with a group over ten it would not be possible. One person would hog the spotlight and more timid players would not get one word out all game with ten people talking (if the table is that high).

Also setting, we know it will be a UPM game and I always start in Ashura. Lately though I have been running a game north of Ashura along the west oceans coast in the Untamed North. I could all together also go to my most beloved place and just straight up run a Ravenloft game. So many ideas, but the one I pick has to be easy for many players in a short time span, so it can't be heavy investigation role playing for sure.

As I was saying earlier combat is an issue. Combat helps with large groups by getting everyone to have a turn and get into the fight, it also helps with a straight forward adventure of kill the things and find the loot, but it can also be the only thing that happens if the number of enemies needed to balance the large party takes all night to defeat. In that case we are having two hour combat games and getting nowhere. The fights would have to be easy and quick with maybe a long boss fight when called for.

As for dungeon exploration, with a large number of people they would surely have the skills to avoid things like pits, chasms and the like, any NPC they met would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the party and how many people are tying to talk to them that, that would fizzle out as well.

One of the dungeons I have been planning is a large dark souls, darkest dungeon type setting however again if we have a lot of players and one dies, the party will not go back to town they still have nine more party members and will go forward. This could leave someone dead all night as the dungeon picks off PC's who are non-essential for the groups success. This gives more opportunity to kill a PC in a large group instead of the classic four heroes surviving all encounters with one death which is immediately treated.

This all depends on the group size as well, the table might be smaller and then we can just run a game of our choosing, however I am looking forward to a large group and finding ways to run it that everyone can participate and have an interesting game going on as well.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Getting to the video

Took a good couple hours a night over a couple nights and then two hours and thirty minuets to render followed by a good two hours to upload, wow!

I decided to go back to the idea of posting the entire four hour game (edited down) in one video for a few reasons. I found that most of the footage was actually usable, it wasn't taken up by hours of arguing over Pathfinder rules like in the Pathfinder Mini's Videos and I like the feeling of settling in to watch an entire game (as long at the game can be entertaining). 

While we may get zero hits on the videos that are sitting at one hour and forty three minuets long (after editing and trimming), vs the good twenty or so hits on our mini's vids that sit around twenty minuets. I still think in the end it will be a better idea for this game in particular. 

Some of the old footage is best off as mini's, only showing the good parts, but this new series I wanted to show all I could of the entire game. I did cut a lot of combat since you can't see the map with the initiative board in the way and I've cut a lot of the parts where everyone is eating loudly at the table or crushing chip bags and the like (for your benefit), but the core of the game is there.

If you still can't sit through the entire length of the video, we just ask that you visit the page once or twice to give us hits as YouTube has taken monetization away for channels under 10,000 page views. We are asking for help (We can return help) in getting our page back to monetization status. You can watch the video here:
 

Along with the video, I have begun work on a map of the west coast area of the north known as the Untamed North. This is still in progress, but has the parts from the starter set that we need mixed into our world. These maps help to give more visuals to our world broken down as parts with more detail than our major over world map.

 

More videos and work on the Untamed North are on there way, it is just going to take time as these are very time consuming.

Stay tuned for more updates to come!


Monday, 16 October 2017

Back to a weekly game!

It's been months, but this autumn marks 15 years of D&D for me and I can't be happier to have the group finally rebuilding. After playing every other week with a group of three, we now gain two new players to build us to a group of five and get us back on track. This mixed with the ability to now once again play every Sunday night brings back our weekly gaming night.


 The new players are just getting into d&d so adding them in during the "Lost Mines of Phandelver" is a great way to welcome them to the game. As we've been playing the starter adventure, it's turned out to be a terrific journey so far and I can't wait to incorporate it into what comes next. The adventure has brought us all over the northern countryside and had us fight a good number of foes, we've lost party members and they have used their skills to uncover secrets.

One of the memorable moments was having a large ogre in the road walk off with the corpse of a PC wizard and eat him as the other PC's clinging to life ran for their lives after the creature fed. 

I like starting way up north where the lands are just below the snow covered elven lands and far enough above the metropolis of Ashura. It gives a unique perspective for the PC's as more of wilderness explorers and being able to survive in the wild vs. having grown up in the comfort of the large city. This mountainous, land full of thick evergreen forests, cold rivers, rain and mud adds challenge as the PC's battle nature it's self on a daily basis.



I have planned a series of adventures out in the wild until we either go into a linked published adventure such as "Storm King's Thunder" or some "Tales from the Yawning Portal". Either way, with all the books I have amassed now for 5E will give us a good couple years of material to play through.

In time I will have video of the games from the start posted up on the YouTube channel for watching. Still debating if it would be better as a podcast since the video is just of us playing around the table. More info to come as games go forward. 


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Campaign Guide Update

I am still working on our campaign guide and pulling inspiration from various sources where I can. The thing I hate about campaign guides is that many of them are full of nothing of value. They have a nice opening page that tells you about the world then drops off to a normal players guide with the same write up for all the races and classes with a few stat differences and some names of new gods as well as geography or things that happened but not how to incorporate that into a game.



That is all well and good for telling you a bit about the world, but does nothing for being a book you can use. I want mine to be full of stories that bring you into the mindset of the world though descriptive writing so you get a feeling of immersion of the world and to have actual usable content as in some small adventures and how to run them, tactical skirmishes and write ups on ideas for longer campaigns and how they should flow.

If I was to talk about races I would want them to be only focused on being unique and not  just a difference from the core books. I would want to again write up a story of how the race lives in most cases and what they go though daily to see how they fit the story. Maybe some fun way's to play them or how you should see them in our world. One thing I do not want to do is linger on for pages and pages about each race that has no difference or such from core.



I had a neat idea about new spells that are super fun for the first time ever. I came up with some new spells after reading a third party resource that values fun and description over coping the original spells and trying to make attacking spells that may be overpowered. These fun new options have to be tweaked, but are so easy with the new 5th format and focus on role playing and interpretation versus stats on a page.

Gods and deities are so boring and have ever been. I get a symbol of the god and a boring basis stat saying which domain they reign over, if your lucky you get a description of the god as to what they look like, believe or how their followers act. This has been ever hard for me to deal with because it is so boring. I can make my deities all have domains, etc, but how do the gods fit into the gaming world? Why do the PC's follow these gods besides just picking their domains or such? I was thinking about some boons to the players, how to pray or what is involved and how the deity will talk to the player during the game.

Until next time.