My writeup of Chapter 3: Classes for Pathfinder is about half done. Six classes down, and it’s already over 2,700 words.
Breaking it into two parts for sanity.
My writeup of Chapter 3: Classes for Pathfinder is about half done. Six classes down, and it’s already over 2,700 words.
Breaking it into two parts for sanity.
I was reminded by a friend’s facebook post about putting socks and shoes on about the dialog between Sinclair and Garibaldi in Season 1 of Babylon 5. Due to sheer greatness, I’ll post the entire bit of dialog from WikiQuotes:
Garibaldi: This is the part I hate most: the waiting.
Sinclair:Hmm. (There’s a moment of silence.)
Garibaldi: Mind if I ask you a question?
Garibaldi: Okay, it’s morning, you’re getting ready for work, you pull on your pants –do you fasten and zip, or zip and then fasten?
Sinclair: What kind of question is that?
Garibaldi: Well, look, we’ve got two hours to kill —
Sinclair: Forget it.
Garibaldi: Just a question.
Sinclair: Why do you want to know?
Garibaldi: Why do I want to know? Because I think about these things sometimes. I was getting dressed this morning, I couldn’t remember how I did it, and I started thinking about it. Does everyone do it the same way? Is it a left-handed/right-handed thing –?
Sinclair: (incredulous) You think about this stuff a lot?
Garibaldi: Yeah. Look, okay, I’m sorry I asked. You’re always so serious all the time. Not every conversation has to be the end of the world as we know it.
Sinclair: I didn’t mean to —
Garibaldi: Never mind. It’s okay. I’ll just — watch my console. Don’t worry about it. (After a long pause, Sinclair sighs.)
Sinclair: Fasten, then zip. You?
Garibaldi: Fasten zip. (Sinclair chuckles.)
Sinclair: How much longer?
Garibaldi: One hour, fifty seven minutes. (pause) Want to talk socks?
Garibaldi: Just a question.
Sinclair: I’m not having this conversation.
Why is this even a tiny bit relevant?
Let me get back to you on that.
Still, I was reminded that the plotting style of Babylon 5 was my model of a successful roleplaying campaign for years, and it was easy to understand why it served that purpose.
Even now, in my dreams when I have time and a group to actually run a game again one day, I aspire to that level of integration, from character to macro story, in my campaigns. The above wasn’t any particular campaign, but B5 served as a checklist of how to try and think of how plot arcs fit together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
He makes some good points, and partly, this ties into penetration and injury GURPS-physics.
Impaling damage, by and large, is assumed to result from a deep, often narrow, penetrating injury that gets into your gooey center and punctures important bits.
Piercing damage, by and large, is assumed to result from, er, a deep, often narrow, penetrating injury that gets into your gooey center and punctures important bits.
OK. WTFP? (What are The Factors at Play?)
The difference seems to be that impaling damage assumes a relatively low ratio of energy to momentum; piercing damage seems to be mostly relegated to bullets and stuff that have very little momentum, but penetrate very well.
There are special cases. Bodkin arrows (as defined by GURPS, not hoplologists) change to a (2) armor divisor and pi damage . . . but their energy-to-momentum ratio is no different than the impaling arrows (presumably broadheads . . . and yes I know there’s controversy that the “armor piercing” Type 16 arrows are decidedly not bodkin-points, which seem to be harassment-style flight arrows. Deal with it.).
That being said, here’s a link to an image of some arrow typology. You can see, there’s a lot of them. Some of them (like the Type 9a) are pretty boldly squarish in cross-section, and supposedly make better plate-piercers. Though you still need a wickedly strong bow and a hardened lozenge-shaped arrowhead to even think about it, and accomplishing it requires a few things to go your way, including thinner armor, a properly orthogonal strike, and maybe even poorly heat-treated plate. People will assert that types 7 and 8 are designed to slip through mail, but properly riveted mail is pretty darn strong, and while you may get a narrow puncture, it may also be quite shallow. Ironically, the arrows that have been reportedly confirmed to be hardened through-and-through are the Type 16 compact broadheads (my term). Still, period writings contain censure against smiths who produce improperly soft arrows, so who the hell knows?
Bleargh. Not meant to be a treatise on arrows – but it’s hard to say why GURPS would classify any of the arrows pictured as piercing rather than impaling, though a few are some bastard child of cutting and impaling, it would seem.
But let’s take a “realistic” war arrow: 1400 grains (0.2 lbs., or twice the weight of a standard arrow in GURPS!) fired from a 150-lb bow. GURPS pegs this at about ST 18, or about 1d+4 (or about 2d). Using my rules from The Deadly Spring, it clocks in at 1d+1. In either case, the arrow will have about 160J of energy and about 5.4 kg m/s of momentum. Both arrows are impaling, so they wound like 2d+2 and 2d+8.
Let’s take a .22 LR and a .45ACP, which do 1d+1 and 2d penetration, respectively. With bullet size modifiers, they will wound like about 1d-1 and 3d. The .22LR has only 130J of energy (less than the arrow), the .45ACP has 450J (slightly less than 3x more). The bullets have 0.82 and 3.66 kg m/s of momentum (with the .45 having more), both are less than the arrow.
Wounding? The .22LR is a worse wounder than all others considered here by quite a bit; the .45ACP is either slightly better (by about a point) than the arrow using my “realistic” scale, or quite a bit worse using the GURPS thr-based, more cinematic scale (nearly 4d+1 injury equivalent for a 1d+4 imp arrow). A war arrow can be about the same diameter as the .45ACP, so 3d or more injury isn’t far wrong.
Arrow: 160J and 5.4 kg m/s momentum. KE/MV = 29.6 m/s
.22 LR 130J and 0.82 kg m/s . KE/MV = 158.5 m/s
.45 ACP 450J and 3.66 kg m/s . KE/MV = 123.0 m/s
As it turns out, the .45 ACP has the lowest KE/MV ratio of all the modern bullets I have. Maybe there are some heavy black powder loads with lower KE and higher MV. The upper end seems to be about 500 for the ratio, until you get into saboted projectiles (the M829 tank projectile is nearly 1000!).
But you can see that if “impaling” is for lower velocity ratio stuff, maybe less than 50(?) then there’s really no good reason to distinguish between a GURPS bodkin (armor piercing) point and a regular one. A better division is probably that the AP point is heavier in point and shaft and more expensive with shorter range, the regular point is, well, regular, and you can buy flight arrows with an armor divisor of (0.5) with very lightweight shafts with poor penetration but longer range.
All would do impaling damage. Assuming you have such a thing.
Every now and then people talk. Usually on game forums. And they say things like:
“Oh, yes. I like my flying dragons that eat starships and crap magical poop to be realistic.”
“Familiars that grant powers are not realistic in any case, no matter what the powers are'”
But as noted in a previous post, believability isn’t really an axis of gaming. If something is un-believable, likely the game grinds to a halt. Can you have something that’s believable but unrealistic?
A human NPC gets shot in the chest with a .50 caliber machine gun bullet (a .50 BMG, for those keeping score at home. This is Gaming Ballistic, after all). This person dies. Messily. Realistic, right? OK. Believable? Totally.
Captain America is said to have the strength of ten men, or be the peak of human ability. Depends on the source you go for; comics are notoriously inconsistent with such. Can probably squat or press 800-1000 lbs, since that’s a world-record. If he’s truly super-human, with the strength of 10, maybe he can even squat something like 1500-2000lbs. OK, great. Now stuff all that strength into a 115-lb girl. Call her Buffy. She’s got at least a 10-1 strength to weight rato . . . how fast do you think she can run? How high can she jump? I’d bet on the order of 10-20 feet in the air (1). Straight up. That’s . . . not realistic.
But it’s believable. Or, in the language suggested by a commenter, it has plausible verisimilitude. It plausibly gives the appearance of truth.
I think the language people use to communicate about the topic – sometimes including my own – gets pretty muddled. So for the purposes of discussion, to wrap my own mind around the issue, and to set the tone for future posts on the issue, here’s my own way of looking at things. This assumes most people either want or require believability in a game, as per my previous post.
That’s really what makes stories sing. Not necessarily realism, since so much of gaming is beneficial and/or entertaining escapism/fantasy. But a level of action-reaction that conforms with the expectations of what should happen given the situation involved.
So is the opposite of realistic, then, cinematic gaming? That often seems to be how things are expressed.
But I don’t think that really works.
I think the harsh end of this particular (un-named) axis is probably gritty. The other is likely something like heroic. And those two descriptors are really both talking about consequences. If I can get my statistics on for a moment: it’s about where in the probability distribution of (potentially plausible) outcomes our event lands.
A gritty tale has the outcomes be from the “normal” outcome of an event to “pretty damn harsh” along the consequences scale. The guys getting riddled with bullets on Utah Beach? Charging a machine gun nest, and getting taken out, as the expected outcome? That’s gritty.
Now, surely you can’t have realistic and heroic, right?
Of course you can. Out of respect for the man, I reproduce in full the following:
Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
It’s very heroic; the Medal of Honor citations are pretty much the definition of military heroism (there are lots of other kinds, of course). It’s also cinematic. I know this, because they made a movie out of it.
So Major Murphy (his rank when he retired) did realistic things, as a real man, and had an outcome of which stories are told, and movies are made. I think it’s the outcome of the various axes that wind up being described as cinematic.
What’s the point? Most fantasy roleplaying thus lies in the realm of believable storytelling with cinematic results. Even the stuff with funky powers, or men dressed up as a bat. But you can wind up with a cinematic tale even with gritty outcome expectations, based in the real-world.
So, is realism not an issue? Of course it is. Some don’t want a game with funky powers or dimension-hopping in the multiverse or fire-farting dragons, who may or may not eat spaceships. I think another axis other than gritty-heroic is something like mundane – fantastical. This is the realism axis.
Realism is more or less the probability you can find a given person, place, thing, or action in the world as we know it today, or as we can potentially project with what we know. As the probability of finding invented (unreal?) plot elements in the game world goes up, the setting becomes more fantasticial. You could pick another word. Exotic might do.
I don’t want to get into fantasy vs. science fiction discussions here. Most FTL travel is “fantastical” in that it doesn’t conform to what we know, though it’s probably less fantastical than some other fictional conceits like magic, since there are at least people, often serious people, talking about warp drives. I always thought Stutterwarp, that is, macroscopic quantum tunneling from the old 2300AD game, was a clever justification for FTL travel that allowed people to believe (!) in the technology.
I think it’s perfectly plausible to have a fantastical game that is also gritty. If you made healing harder in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, so that the consequences of getting hit with that 3d+8 (2) cut weapon were pretty instantly and uniformly grisly, you could have a game that is described as both fantastical and gritty. The high point values would provide pretty cinematic action, but much like a George R. R. Martin novel, no one is truly safe.
Note that neither of these two axes really touch on the capabilities of the characters themselves. Low point value characters (in GURPS) are not automatically gritty and mundane (though it’s going to be easier). High point value characters, to a certain point, are not automatically fantastical. Navy SEALS and billionaires and professional athletes are likely pretty high point-value realistic characters.
That means we have a third axis – capabilities, which could be a low-medium/average-high scale, but it can also be some level of breadth as well. You can have relatively low point value characters that are very, very capable in one particular area. The oft-repeated warning about not assuming that a 50-point NPC is a mook (you can have ST 12, HT 11, and Guns (Rifle) -15 on 50 points; this will be a one-dimensional but credible threat if armed with any number of TL7+ weapons). The higher the GURPS point total, the higher the skill levels can be. As the total gets still higher, you can either go for breadth (either through more skills, or stat increases) or start picking out Advantages that enhance capabilities or mitigate potential penalties in circumstances (like Catfall for balance, Weapon Master for Rapid Strikes and damage, Combat Reflexes for surprise and defense).
GURPS’ character generation is large and varied. “First depth, then breadth” is one way to go about it, but there are infinite other choices. However, with a large enough point total, you almost get to stop choosing. The Black Ops templates, when I converted them for Fourth Edition, were about 1,000 points, and made use of some newly invented (at the time; this was years ago) wildcard skills too. There’s a basic capability with nearly everything for every op; there are merely some areas in which they are awesome.
Wrapping this up, I’ve picked out three axes to describe a game. I’m sure there are other ways to look at it, though:
1) Background reality: From mundane to fantastic
2) Character capability: In the broadest sense, from a barely specialized focus in a few skills and mostly average stats, to a broadly competent (or super-competent) polymath with loads in stats, advantages, and skills
3) Consequences of risk-taking: from gritty (mistakes are costly and likely permanent; high-risk activity tends to focus on the cost of failure) to heroic (outcomes of high-risk behavior tends to be success-focused, and the game usually has metagame mechanisms to enforce this, like Luck or Destiny Points).
It’s very possible (check out Sean Punch’s weekly GURPS game, The Company) to run a game that’s mundane, with broadly competent characters, but that’s also gritty. The outcomes are highly cinematic (movie-worthy!) stories, but believable, since the stories posit what would happen if you could get a group of special-ops or higher level of characters, trained exquisitely in real-world skills with real-world equipment, carrying out dangerous missions.
The trick, I think, about having discussions about “realistic” versus “cinematic” gaming – and why people fight about it – is that realistic-cinematic really isn’t a good axis. Realism is one aspect of a gameworld description; cinematic is the outcome of the stories. But there’s much more to it, and it’s easy to talk past each other.
(1) Showing my work. Call it 1750 pounds of force, exerted over maybe 1.5 feet. Buffy probably weighs in at 100-120 pounds, tops. Energetically, Force x distance = Weight x height, so that’s about 24 feet, straight up. 1000 pounds over a one foot range exerted on a 100-lb. girl gives you about a 10-foot vertical leap. Karch and Eric? Bite me.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a bit of a design gripe, though I don’t know if any of my potential solution brainstorms are worth the hassle of doing anything about it. Still, we’re all entitled to a few disgruntled moments over not much, right?
I’m not a big fan of the impaling damage type. There are two benefits to it, as far as I can tell: it’s a precision strike, so along with piercing and tight-beam burning damage, you can target chinks in armor, the eye, and the vitals. While Martial Arts changes this a bit, expanding it to crushing damage as well. Also, impaling has a x2 damage multiplier to certain areas like the torso (but lower damage to extremities).
The reason I don’t like it is the assumption that you automatically hit something nasty with your small, pointy blade. And it is usually a blade.
I’ve toyed with forcing a certain minimum damage, maybe “more than HP/4” or something, before a larger modifier kicks in. That would make stabbing dinosaurs in the vitals a lot harder, which is a good thing. I’d change the damage type to cutting, mostly, since by and large if you’re being impaled, it’s by an arrowhead, a spear, a sword point, or a pickaxe/warhammer head. But that makes me want to find a way to have, much like piercing, small cutting, cutting, large cutting, and huge cutting, with the same multipliers, perhaps, from piercing types: 0.5 on the low end to x2 on the high.
Dunno; maybe if you do more than HP/4, any size blade is treated as x2; if you also reach the vitals, it’s all treated as x3. Another way to go might be to leave the HP alone, but treat this sort of wound that exceeds HP/4 as bleeding much worse than usual; apply the x2 or x3 multipliers only to bleed rate and frequency.
I get what impaling is trying to do. I don’t even necessarily think it’s a bad goal. I’m not sure my thoughts would make a better game. But there’s something I find inelegant about it.
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.
I was going to post this one today. But after 36 hours traveling and very little sleep, I realized that I had it wrong. At length.
I’ll be revisiting this, most definitely. But I will say this:
I was going to set up “believable” as an overall goal that people who clamor for “realism” actually want.
After thinking about this a lot, I don’t think it’s true
I think believablility is a bit like “rule zero,” which can vary in expression, but is basically what I’m getting at here. Playing RPGs is supposed to be fun. (What I refer to as the Wendler-Dell’Orto Rule of Awesome is a corollary to Rule Zero: To enhance fun, be Awesome.
So, “realistic” isn’t really properly substituted by “believable,” as I originally was going to write. You can have perfectly believable games that are, nonetheless, over-the-top if the consequences of what happens are self-consistent and well explained by in-game or metagame logic.
I think what I realized in contemplating believability is this: If the game and situation is not believable, you probably aren’t going to be playing for very long, if at all. Rules arguments, boredom – all can be consequences of unbelievable games.
As an example: I played in a DnD 3ed game in grad school. My archer (1st level) was shooting at a bad guy. I hit, but didn’t do enough damage to kill him. Bad guy was able to cross what seemed to me to be a ludicrous amount of terrain on his turn, hit me, and kill me. Boom, dead.
I had a real problem with that. My character just stood there for probably six seconds while this guy, arrow sticking out of him and all, closed the distance and put an end to me.
Now, there are probably many things I did wrong. At the time, I was still a GURPS and WEG Star Wars guy (now I’m like 90% GURPS, 10% Pathfinder, but only as a player). So there are probably things I could have done to make that not happen. Maybe shoot and then move backwards.
But it just seemed unbelievable, and thus not fun, and really not Awesome. I didn’t play DnD again for years.
I suspect many game-digressions where rules and outcomes are in dispute can be put down to believability-clash – also known as expectations mismatch. This isn’t always willing in-game immersion. It can be “you’re disrupting my solo-narrative with shared-narrative” too.
But I digress. For now, I’ll leave realistic and cinematic and what axes they’re on to another time.
But for the moment: a game that wants to be successful, and sufficiently immersive to be definitely fun and potentially awesome had better be believable.