The Pathfinder game I play in with +Jeromy French+kung fu hillbilly , +Matt Sutton , +Joshua Taylor , and +James Stanton is working through Skull and Shackles. We had started playing using the Organized Play rules, but did not find them to our collective liking. So we made the campaign switch, and now are playing characters of the not-nice variety.

This is thus my second Pathfinder game, and I still consider myself a novice. Jeromy has been very kind to help me by suggesting the right character advancement pathways, since his knowledge and experience with Feats and the various class enhancements is better than mine.

My current character is a 4th level half-elf Rogue regrettably named Pelagiyel by cruel parents. He goes by Pel. I conceived him as a pirate from the start, where his role would be to sneak into towns, see what plunder is available or being loaded on to ships, possibly get on board said ships, and help take them down from the inside. Chaotic Neutral, baby. Thus, his key skills are Appraise, Stealth, Sailor, maybe some Climb and Swim, and the ever-popular Perception. When I got into this, I had no idea how skill-heavy Rogues are . . . something I’ll revisit in my Pathfinder read-through on Chapter 3: Classes. (Prelude, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 already published)

Previously, we’d been through what looks like the first subset of the adventure, having been press-ganged aboard a pirate ship with a notably nasty set of officers. The Captain was high-level but disinterested in the likes of us, leaving his stooges to deal with his crew. Harshly.

We’d previously done some faction-building, weathered a storm, fought off some monsters, and captured another ship. We were sent aboard that one, got lost in a storm, and had to stop at an island to replenish water supplies. Whereupon we returned, carried off a pretty slick mutiny with the aid of our resident alchemist and some sleeping potions, killed those opposed to our faction and preserved the rest. That glosses over a lot, but gets us caught up.

We were then severely understrength and undercrewed – even more than usual – but we managed to locate and dock at a local pirate haven, and set out to refit the ship into something a bit less obviously stolen. I think that’s about where we started off last night.

The adventure opened with what seemed to be a shopping trip, where we were spending some of our communal loot to get some cool/magical items appraised and purchased. Pel didn’t score anything worthwhile – he’s got masterwork chain shirt, rapier, composite shortbow, plus a few non-masterwork daggers for chucking, so he’s pretty well kitted up for now. He did make good use of 10 ranks in Appraise to get the value of some gems we’d found. Nothing much – a few hundred gold worth – but a spinel and some traded items were enough to secure +Matt Sutton ‘s PC (Malgrim, our notional captain: we voted and he was the most intmidating as a Hobgoblin Corsair/Summoner; with 10 ranks in Sailor, I became the bosun) some quality purchased loot – a magical weapon, if I recall.

After that, we were naturally attacked by a swarm of giant wasps that flew in from the wilderness. Wandering Monster indeed. We made short work of them, and Pel did his usual two-arrows-per-turn thing thanks to Rapid Shot. The dice were fairly evenhanded this game, and I managed to vacillate between being quite useless and quite effective this time, as opposed to a ludicously-unlikely string of the die-roller program having me roll a 2 on 1d20. So, managed to get and confirm a critical, and otherwise nail the wasps pretty hard. I needs to get me a magical bow. I was able to accomplish something pretty much every round, and the uniform d20 distribution was more uniform that day.

After that, we parlay’d (parlaid? parlayed?) with a newly arriving pirate guy, who recognized our ship and with a wink welcomed us, seemingly, into the world of dashing villainous scum. Woo hoo! We then decided to go plunder a town, to get into practice.

Pel used some alchemical awesomeness to swim to shore, checked out the place, and found out that there was a large amount of alcohol to be had, and maybe some grain. There were maybe five elders who might pose any sort of threat, and the rest were noncombatants.

We started to lay an elaborate plan to rush in and wipe them out. Given the nature of the opposition, I had flashbacks to Mystery Men, seeing us as the Red Eyes, pillaging an old-folks home for dentures and artificial limbs.

Malgrim suggested that rather than go that route, we get close to shore, go up and Intimidate the hell out of them, getting what we want by threat of force rather than something much like boxing with a six-year-old. 

We liked that plan better, and so we executed it, and then Malgrim crit-failed his Intimidate roll (see! the dice hates us!) and the elderly spear carriers mocked us. Two catapult shots later (one on target, the other landing perilously close to Malgrim; our crew needs more practice) we had the booze, the grain, and limped out to sea with the tattered remains of our dignity.

We thought the next-best plan would be to find another village, do some basic capitalism and try the buy-and-sell route, while also recruiting, we hope, the local Dwarven smith to join our crew. Meanwhile Pel would use our “trading” excursions to scope out likely plunder, both on land and at sea.

That was basically the session.
***********

So, game stuff and random observations.

I continue to be frustrated with the flat distribution of the 1d20, which especially for combat can make for a very aggravating day. The Armor Class of your foe, the roll you must beat to hit, seems to range from about 10-20, with 15 being a fairly common number. This means that you’re going to be looking at needing some serious skill ranks before you have a decent chance to hit. Pel has a Ranged attack modifier of +6, which is usually at -2 for Rapid Shot, but +1 since one of our bards is usually inspiring us to be more badass than usual. So at 1d20+5, twice, I can expect to hit with at least one shot 75% of the time, and both 25% of the time . . . but given a low number of rolls, the streakiness of the dice can be either awesome or render you ineffective.

I have grown used to the tactical flexibility of GURPS. I like the ability to aim for the head, or limbs, or whatnot. But that’s not how Pathfinder works, so that’s fine. WEG d6 Star Wars was “I shoot at the stormtrooper, I hit” as well, and it was still fun.

My solution to this issue works better for my class (Rogue) in non-combat areas, which is to build up so many ranks in the skills I care about that the dice can be my enemy and I still succeed. Thus, 14 ranks in Stealth and Perception, 11 in Disable Device, and 10 in Appraise and Sailor. The Stealth/Perception combo had a few rolls of 30+. Rogues are brutal with this. My INT isn’t that high at 14, but the +2 modifier I get means I get 10 skill ranks per level, plus another if I’m getting a rank within my Favored Class. I think I traded my other favored class (as a half-elf) for Rope Master or something like that. Still, as long as I play nicely within Rogue, I pick up 11 ranks per level. Yowzers.

Pathfinder has a pretty condensed skill list, maybe two dozen or so (a few more, since there are lots of Professional and Knowledge skills that do not overlap). This means with the right stats and a good selection of “class-skills,” it’s pretty easy to be good at things, and to cover the required adventuring specialties. I have to wonder if these can be turned into GURPS Wildcard skills pretty easily, for those who really don’t want to muck with the extensive skill list in GURPS. Hrm. Pyramid article or blog post?

Technically, the Skulls and Shackles Adventure Path is the second PF-style game I’m playing in. The other is Jade Regent, but using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. My impression of the Adventure Path thus far is that they tend to be a bit railroady. That being said, one of the reasons that GURPS pre-written adventures tend not to sell well is that in order to have an actual volume of material that can be used all at once, they have to be railroady. Still, my take-away (and this has been echoed by others) is that you get into a situation or a plot nexus, and find “there are eight things you can do. Five are useless or counterproductive, two circle around back to this same place, but if you pick that one, please turn to p. 134 and the plot can continue.”

Along this line, but in a nice way, though, I must say that Golarion seems to rock on toast. Lots of places to visit, a variety of cultures and races and adventuring prospects. It would make for a great sandbox in any game system. I see enough people converting Golarion to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy that there’s a fair amount of agreement here. A Dungeon Fantasy cross-licence with Paizo is unlikely for what I presume are a whole host of reasons, but it would make a great cross-platform item to bring a fragmented hobby closer together.

What else? Oh . . . whatever you may like or dislike about Class-Level systems, I will say that at least in my limited experience with the skill-heavy Rogue, leveling up simply rocks. There is a Tyrranosaur-sized difference between a Level N and a Level N+1 rogue. I’m not sure if the spell-based or feat-based classes feel the same way – perhaps the more experienced PF grognards can tell me.

Next weekend, the same GM will be playing his newly started and Firefly-inspired GURPS Space campaign, hopefully joined by both me and my wife. Tomorrow is GURPS Jade Regent. We’ll see in two weeks if our plan to rule the seas in Pathfinder Skulls and Shackles is successful or not . . .

This is the first real “meat” chapter in the Pathfinder RPG book, and it’s a short one. Still, it gives a flavor for what is to come from a game design point of view.

The chapter opens with seven individuals who can probably divide up 7% body fat between them. I’m not sure if that’s a good way to start, but it certainly gets one’s attention. Halflings never looked so buff (and half-elves never looked so, well, cold).

The first few paragraphs note that you mostly get to pick your race but once, while classes come and go. It also points out quite explicitly that some choices are more complimentary with certain classes than others, and makes no apology other than caveat emptor. 


Your choice of race will give you extra ability scores, and some special powers/abilities/talents that come along with it. It claims that each race is roughly equal and balanced with the rest. We’ll see.

Each race starts with a physical description, a discussion of the society the adventurer will have come from, discusses which other races or monsters that race tends to hate or like, mentions typical alignments and what Gods and religions are favored, and dedicates a paragraph to why a member of that race would go adventuring. It end with sample names for men and women of that race. After all that, comes the goodies: the list of bonuses, penalties, and abilities that you get by choosing that race.

Dwarves


Low sense of humor, high hatred of giants and goblins. Craftsmen and warriors, and “little hairy women.” ( – Gimli). Lawful good fighters and barbarians are set up as a natural match. Noted. Let’s check out the goody bag: It’s a long list.

Abilities: The attribute bonuses seem to all net out to +2, and in this case Dwarves get bonuses to CON and WIS (which is a stand-in for perception), but penalized for being gruff with a slap to CHA. Checking the skill list, the only thing they might care about there is maybe Intimidate. We’ll see what happens later; I’ve heard reference to “dump stats” where you can purposefully sink an ability score with little damage to your character’s abilities or survival – but we shall see.

Positives: they can see in the dark, bonuses to AC vs giants, boost to ability to value gemstones and craftsmanship, boost when fighting orcs and goblins, boost to some saving throws, boost to certain types of combat maneuvers, bonus to notice stone traps and such. And axes. Lots of axes.

Negatives: 2/3 normal movement (but even that has a benefit: armor and encumbrance doesn’t weigh you down).

Huh. Elves may be Just Better than You, but Dwarves seem pretty badass.

Elves


Long-lived (until eaten by orcs), standoffish, Just Better than You (see above). Fashion models who are also back-to-nature types. Would do well in Hollywood, apparently. Do not make good baby-daddies. Love of magic. OK, we get it. Now, let’s see if the Trope holds:

Abilities: Dexterous and smart, but frail.

Positives: Can see farther in dim light, immune to magic sleep and resistant to enchantments. Bonus to resisting spells in general and to identify magic items. Perceptive.

Negatives: None. (See? Just Damn Better than You.)

As an aside, am I the only one who looks at “immunity to sleep spells” and says “Oh, I gotta have that.” Seriously – I dislike it intensely when the bad guy waves his hand and you just decide to catch a few Z’s right there in the middle of the octagon.

OK, so elves wind up looking good as rangers and wizards, as the book plainly states. Bet they’d make decent rogues too.

Gnomes


Punk-rock midgets? Kender with ADHD? But they make good druids. OK. Rock on. After all that, you’d think druid or rogue/thief, but no . . . sorcerers and bards.

Abilities: Hardy and clever, but weak.

Positives: Small size gives AC and attack bonuses and a major boost to stealth. Good low-light vision.  Even more AC bonuses (presumably doesn’t stack) vs. giants, and they get a bunch of spell-like abilities if you have CHA of 11+, so you’d best do that. Bonus to hated foes, bonus to resist illusions, bonus to perception, bonus to craft or profession skills. This is a pretty big list of small-scale goodies.


Negatives: penalty to Combat Maneuvers, 2/3 normal movement. They don’t get any racial weapon stuff like Dwarves do with axes or elves do with bows.

Half-Elves


The elves have to amuse themselves somehow, and apparently making really hot offspring is it. Hot sulky and bitter emo offspring. Open to new relationships, lonely, less likely to turn to religion – and prone to playing RPGs, apparently.

Abilities: +2 to any one score, player’s choice. I might allow +1 to any two scores for fun, but no problem there. This makes them the same as humans and half-orcs – just pick a stat and be good at it.

Positives: Low light vision, an extra skill focus, immunity to magic sleep, and the elven resistance to enchantment. Boost to perception, and two favored classes with extra HP and skill points. Start speaking two languages.

Negatives: Maybe you can count that anything that impacts humans or elves hits them, but that’s pretty blah.

So they’re Just Half-Better Than You.

Half-elves don’t seem to be tailor made for any particular class . . . but since I actually play a half-elf rogue in the Pathfinder game I play with +Jeromy French , I’ll note that with the right allocation, the massive amount of skill levels you get adds with the bonus skill points to make for a metric crap-ton of skill points.

Half-orcs


Because what could be more fun than playing the child of overly-exuberant culture sharing between sapients? These guys are Darth Vader big, and channeled into jobs where that size is useful – mercenaries and enforcers.

Abilities: Odd. +2 to one ability score – any ability score. I’d have pegged it perhaps as +1 to STR, CON, and maybe WIS (for perception), with a -1 to CHA.

Positives: Dark vision, Intimidation bonus, some racial weapon familiarity, and some sort of oddball ferocity thing where you get to fight for one more round, but if you don’t get healing, you KO and start to die. Woo hoo. You do get to speak orc, though. Bonus.

Negatives: Not many. Orc blood, like elf-blood, makes you susceptible to things that hurt both orcs and humans.

This race seems lame to me. I’d maybe play up the orcish nature more; I’d like to know what orcs look like, but looks like unless I buy the Bestiary, I can’t find out. Huh, I’d have thought that some of the common monsters were included in the book, but when they say the Bestiary is required, they really mean it. Maybe even up the ante, with +3 STR, +1 CON, and -2 CHA (or even -1 CHA and -1 INT).

Halflings. Not Hobbits. We mean it.


The entire writeup screams “thief.” It’s hard to escape that, from the loyalty to friends, not nations, scrap and scrounge, etc.

Abilities: Dexterous, charming, but weak.

Positives: Size bonus to AC and attacks, +4 to Stealth due to size. Yow. Bonus to saving throws versus fear, and another generic bonus to all saving throws. Perceptive, nimble.

Negatives: penalty to CMB and CMD, plus 2/3 speed due to small size.

This is a nice set of packages, but doesn’t really sing to me.

Humans


Hey, that’s us. This is the jack-of-all races. Endlessly varied, can be and do anything.

Abilities: +2 to any score. This makes a bit more sense, though it would also be interesting to be able to (say) adjust any score by +1 or -1 so long as it nets to +2, or even any score by up to +/-2 so long as it nets to +2 as well.

Positives: An extra Feat when they start, and an extra skill rank every level.

Negatives: None.

Ballistic’s Parting Shot


The chapter on races contains the barest minimum of information to play the character and understand the overall society from which each non-human race derives. It then presents some variables by which to tweak your stats, but those don’t always appear to be balanced, and they definitely steer choices for later class selection. That may not be a bad thing, but it does suggest that while the book says “pick race, then class,” you’re more likely to do well by choosing a class you want to play, picking a compatible race, and then (if allocating ability scores by points) tuning your stats accordingly.

What about GURPS? GURPS is unapologetic point-buy only. You can do pretty much anything. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy makes heavy use of Templates, which aren’t exactly race and class, but can come darn close.

The whole point is to provide a limited set of interesting choices that provide variability without bewilderment. Racial packages in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy have an assigned point value to them. You may not like the point costs, but if you take a racial package (for example) that’s Just Damn Better than You, you’ll have fewer points to spend on skills and advantages and attributes.

The Pathfinder rules claim the races are balanced. With no decent accounting method to hand, I can neither dispute or affirm that claim. But given the lists of abilities, I think I will be playing a Dwarf next time. And given the art, I think I want to date that half-elf, but (a) my wife, a red-headed Human Sorcerer/Monk in real life, would pull out my pancreas through my nose, and (b) she’d be really hard to dance with, being all of 6’2″ or something.

*****

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

Actually, I’ll start with the Table of Contents.

Sixteen Chapters, about 572 pages to the index; compare GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition at . . . 569. Coincidence? I think not!

The first chapter is preceded by the Introduction, which is about what forces led to Pathfinder as a game. That’s an interesting read, and speaks to the difficulties and opportunities in tweaking an established game into a new form.

Un-named: Introduction to Roleplaying and Needed Stuff

After that, the Getting Started chapter starts into the inevitable and useful discussion of what is roleplaying, what you need to play, and a few tie-ins to some merchandising: flip-mats, miniatures, and a link to the Paizo website. I’m all for this – I think game books should tie in to other products, both as a good one-stop source for “stuff I want to have fun more easily” but also to keep game companies solvent. Perhaps this is less true for the 800-lb. Ogre of the game world (D&D and its derivatives), but we don’t exactly play in a hobby with weekly outlets as popular and pervasive as the NFL.

So, having armed yourself with dice, character sheets, friends, and if you’re the GM, perhaps a small assortment of other books – the game says the GM must have the Bestiary, and might want modules or adventure paths – you can get to it.

The game explains how to use the dice; and the roll-high concept.

[Edit: at this point, my daughter has asked me to write: OTTO. That’s her fish.  It is pink with white stripes. Otto. The fish. We now return you to your regularly scheduled read-through.]

It touches on character advancement, and then hits up Rule Zero in two forms: above all, have fun, and the rules can change to fit your needs. We’ll see if Pathfinder is as attached to “optional” rules as GURPS is; I doubt it, since the Pathfinder game/genre is not required to be as mutable. Still, the game gives the nod to house rules, the importance of communication, and cooperation to enhance the fun for everyone.

One interesting note: boy is it nice and convenient to have genre assumptions be relatively fixed. Slipped into this very first section (not sneaky, just assumed) are references to:

  • Noble knights, powerful evil, and conniving rogues
  • Rampaging dragons and lowly goblins
  • Advancement by gaining gold, magic items, and experience points; 
If you don’t know knights, rogues, goblins, dragons, and magic, you soon will. Not a bad thing, but the fact that the system is designed around a set of assumptions allows a level of specificity that is probably one of the reasons GURPS Dungeon Fantasy does so well.

Using This Book

At this point, the book goes into a text description of each Chapter. After Getting Started, we get four or five (if you include Equipment as part of character creation) chapters on character creation, plus another – Chapter 11: Prestige Classes – which is tucked between Spells and Gamemastering.

Combat is given one chapter, Magic, Spells, and Magic Items get one each. Gamemastering, the Environment, and NPCs get a solid wall of text for three chapters.  Finally, the appendices cover special rules and conditions, recommended reading, and a bit more marketing.

Tucked into the chapter explanations is a bunch more genre information. Races tells you that the relevant use of the word race includes elves, dwarves, humans, and gnomes, rather than the way we use it conventionally (a good thing). Classes are defined by ability differentiation and specialization. Skills are broken out to their own chapter, as are special rules-exemptions, often but not always combat-related, called Feats.

Chapter 7 seems to blend the last bits of character creation with how the character interacts with the game world, from alignment to movement to visibility.

Chapter 8 is Combat, which has always been a core bit of DnD and it’s spawn. Or, rather, it has always been a core bit of damn near every RPG ever,with a few exceptions to prove the rule.

Common Terms

Then three pages of Common Terms, a glossary of technical language used throughout the book.

One thing to note: I am reading this as a PDF, and throughout the book, it makes extensive use of cross-referencing and links. In the glossary entry on Ability Score, each of the six scores is linked to its section in the book, and another link to the section on determining and assigning Ability Scores, which is right there later in Chapter 1. Score 1 for electronic books. This is a great feature. Sure, you can get there with Search (and that’s how I do it in GURPS, plus having written for the system, I’ve memorized key page and section locations). But adding links to the Basic Set would be a nice bonus.

It’s here in the glossary where certain concepts hit you for the first time, so you’d better read this more than once. Combat rounds being six seconds long? It appears twice in the entire book – once is here in the glossary, the other is appropriately placed on p. 178, in the first sentence of the section The Combat Round.

This is also where you realize that you’re going to need an entirely new technical vocabulary to play the game. Actions seem to contain something like either eight enumerated, or maybe as many as fifteen or more types of things to do, which hopefully when we get to Chapter 8 aren’t all special cases with non-overlapping concepts.

Also tucked into this chapter is the notion, which is mentioned in the bit on Bonus as well as explicitly called out in the definition on Stacking, that many (but not all) bonuses do not stack together. I can see this being pretty contentious in play, at times. Either that or a commonly and happily ignored rule: stack ’em up. More bonuses = more fun. On the other hand, while bonuses are noted as not usually stacking, penalties are noted to usually stack. I love it when Murphy’s Law is codified in game mechanics. Talk about verisimilitude!

As noted earlier, it’s important to really read through and understand (or have these three pages on hand for reference) the Common Terms. They are key, lay down important caveats that will be assumed for most of the book, and are abbreviated occasionally in many places (AC, DC, Su, DR, Sp . . .).

Example of Play


The example of play is heavy on mechanics, pointing out the die rolls and targets and other things. It does successfully showcase the rules, choices, and special cases that can crop up (piercing rather than bludgeoning damage on skeletons, for example).

One thing that does pop out, but only implicitly, is just how high bonuses can get. “Harsk” fires a crossbow at a skeleton, rolls his d20, and adds 9 to his total in the example.

The example also ends with one PC declaring that he’s getting the hell out of combat (“RUN!”). Or attempting to. It’s a good place, early in the book, to note that all encounters aren’t “stand until dead.”


Generating a Character


Scores, race, class, skills and feats, equipment, details, done. This is where class- or template-based systems can really shine. Limit beginning choices, and get to the game faster.

Ability Scores


The book gives you five different ways to generate your key ability scores, which will define a lot of your bonuses that get tacked on to your d20 rolls, damage rolls, etc. It’ll be challenging to start with the old classic “you cheated” standby of “I rolled all 18’s!” using some of the options – especially the ability purchase option. Unless the GM gives you a lot of points, the best you can do on even “epic fantasy” level is a single 18, one 15, and one 11, the rest 10’s . . . unless you nab a dump-stat or three. For broadly above-average, you can wind up with Low Fantasy averages of 11-12, or Epic Fantasy averages of 14-15, enough for decent but not shattering bonuses (which top out at +4 in the range we’re discussing anyway).

After this, you hit a definition of each of the six key ability scores, and what they effect. While one may quibble with the assignments (your ability to hit and do damage in melee combat is based only on STR . . . except when it’s not for certain Feats), the definition of what impacts what is clear.


Ballistic’s Summary

Overall, the Getting Started chapter is quite well executed. All the basics are here, and enough reference is made to advanced concepts that you know they’re coming. Good use of the digital medium in the PDF file is made for cross-referencing, though I did find myself wishing I could travel backwards to where I’d just come from. That’s user-issue if that feature does exist in Acrobat Reader, though. Might not be a fault of the book.

Otherwise, you’ve got stats, basic concepts defined, and a decent sense of the game mechanics: roll some dice, add bonuses, and exceed a Difficulty Class, of which Armor Class can be considered a subset. Higher DC or AC is harder; higher bonuses and higher rolls are better. The universal applicability of “higher is better” has been asserted here; we’ll see if it’s true, but it would be  a fairly trivial thing to arrange for most mechanics. GURPS has “roll low for skills, roll high for effects,” which is a tweak, but a good one given the mechanics involved, since you roll directly against a skill which is a target. Possibly confusing? Meh. Not very.

Next post will move into Chapter 2, talking about Races.

******

Link summary:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be reading through the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and making comments. This serves two purposes – a very long series of blog entries, which since I like to post something fresh every day or so, is nice to have a go-to source for something to write. Also, I’ll be comparing it to GURPS a lot, since that is, and given my experience with Pathfinder thus far, will remain my system of choice.

Still, it will also help me learn Pathfinder, and since I play in +Jeromy French ‘s game, that can’t hurt.

******

Forward-looking links:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Today I got to play in +Jeromy French ‘s +Pathfinder Roleplaying Game  Pirates campaign.

My character is a third (now fourth after today’s session) level Rogue-based piratey type. My background for him was that he was a fairly neglected half-elf, whose father was a wandering Sea Elf (or some such). He fell to no good fairly early. He’s a bowman, rapier specialist, and does fairly well with a dagger, thrown or stabbity.

Important skill levels include Stealth +13, Perception +12, Disable Device +9, Appraise +8, and Sense Motive and Professional Skill: Sailor both at +7.  He’s also got 6 ranks in Merchant, Slight of Hand, Acrobatics, Bluff, and Escape Artist. Plus some onesy-twosies here and there.

I thought of him as going ashore in advance of his crew, locating departing ships, appraising whether their goods were worth stealing, maybe sneaking aboard or bluffing his way on as a passenger, and then helping to disable the target from the inside. Fouling sails at the last minute, cutting cords on ballistae and crossbows . . . that sort of unwholesome behavior.

He’s turned into the bowman of the group (duh, elf-kin) and while not exactly a front-line fighter, he holds his own. Well, when the dice don’t hate him. Which they do. A lot.

Anyway, Pelagiyel (he goes by “Pel”) got coshed on the head and stuck aboard a ship with a Big Important Pirate Captain, and a bunch of lesser thugs. We captured another ship, and were part of the caretaker crew with some really sadistic officers from the original ship.

Naturally, we mutinied, killed our former tormentors, and are now budding pirates. Arrr!

*****

The game is played over Google Hangouts, using webcams for telepresence. The game aid is +Tabletop Forge , and it seems to do a credible job, though I’ll admit I like +RPTools ‘ MapTools better for the game interface.

I really enjoy the face-to-face (or electron-to-electron) aspect of it, combined with the computer interface where everyone has access to the Evil Die Roller From Hell, we can all throw up links and jokes in the Chat window without disturbing the flow of the game directly, and it’s VERY hard for the GM’s cat (notional cat; I’m not sure if Jeromy has a cat) to jump up on the table and disrupt the tokens.

I do miss the beer and pizza sharing.

It’s a fun game, and a great group.

******

If only the game engine were more polished.

I’m a relative novice at Pathfinder. I’ll admit my last real experience with Dungeons and Dragon was a single session (maybe two?) of DnD 3ed from 2000-2005 or so (yes, it’s likely been that long), before that was probably a single game in 1997 before I finished grad school, and then before that I was a teenager or even a pre-teen.

Anyone who thinks GURPS complicated really needs to do a bit of a reality check. 🙂 Coming from decades of GURPSiness to Pathfinder, I find it a fairly bewildering set of special cases. The class/level system is off-putting, and the characters are pretty low-powered. The tendency to metagame is large (“What level is our pirate captain, approximately? Level 10? So basically he can wipe the floor with all of us and not break a sweat, even if we can sneak up on him? OK. New plan.”) though I’ll admit it’s a great shorthand for relative power level. Since combat skills go up level by level, it’s useful for understanding threat in a way that GURPS points usually are not.

The thing that really gets me, though, is the 1d20+X skill test system. The flat-distribution system is not my friend, and I don’t ever really feel that I have a good notion for what Pel can accomplish. It doesn’t help that the dice have been wickedly not my friend in this campaign. (No, really. In today’s game, it actually became perhaps the first group in-joke.)

That being said, if you treat the dice as a narrative rather than simulation aid, (though again, the old WEG d6 system is better for this than Pathfinder or GURPS) it helps a bit. I find rolling for initiative quite fun, and there is inherent satisfaction to leveling up.

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I don’t think I’d choose to RUN a Pathfinder game, though I’m sure I’d have an easier time finding players than for GURPS. But my experience here has reinforced an old bias:

It’s who you play with, not what you play, that drives the level of fun.