Friday, July 26, 2013

Using “Yes, but…” and “No, but…” in Pathfinder

One design aspect of games like Apocalypse World, Warhammer 3rd and FU: the Free, Universal Roleplaying Game that I find amazingly cool are the non-binary results. Besides with the traditional success/failure (or critical success/success/failure/critical failure), you now have the “Yes, but…” and the “No, but…” results.

Basically, a “Yes, but…” result is a success with a cost. For example, if you’re attacking the ogre, you manage to hit it, but your sword is now stuck. If attempting to persuade an NPC, he agrees to help you but only if you do a favor to him before.

A “No, but…” is still a failure, but one that gives you some kind of compensation. For example, you spear charge fails but the target loses his balance (he can either become flat-footed for 1 round or be forced to spend a move action to prepare his weapon). In a diplomatic meeting, you fail to convince the king to help your cause, but one of his hot-headed generals will help you clandestinely (good luck leaving the palace with the troops without be seen). “No, but…” results open new directions/goals. You still fail, but you get new opportunities to win instead of just failing.

As you can see, these “half-results” are lot more interesting than just a simple success or failure, especially from a narrative point of view, because they force the players to make choices at every turn (and the Gamemasters to think out of the box). They also present a solution to break the boring routine of “I hit”, “I miss”, “I hit” etc during combats.

Actually, as many other narrative tools, they aren’t strictly necessary. In fact, many Gamemasters already use these techniques ad hoc, by “eye-balling” the dice results. If a target succeeds a difficult 15 check by getting a 15 or 16, maybe that is a “Yes, but…” result. If he fails by rolling a 14 that could be a “No, but…” result. The Gamemaster’s style, the adventure’s circumstances and the campaign’s tone usually will dictate if these things will come or not. Some Gamemaster use “No, but…” for checks were it just doesn’t make sense for the PC to completely fail.

Now, a cool aspect of some modern RPGs is that they place the choice of accepting these “half-results” at the hand of the players.

An actual play example (from my friend Kazê, a Pathfinder GM): When one of his players fails a check but he believes that success is still an option (or its just more interesting), he offers that player a “Yes, but…” result. If the player accepts, his check is a success, but he must drawn from the Critical Fumble Deck and suffer its effects. The choice itself lends tension and fun to the game.

If you want this kind of complication there’re lots of ways of implementing it.

You could define that a positive margin of success of 1-3 is a “Yes, but…” result, while a negative margin is a “No, but…” effect. These margins could be bigger (-5 to +5) or could be somehow affected by a PC’s Charisma modifier. Or maybe the PCs could have a number of daily Luck (positive Charisma) and Complication (negative Charisma) points. Spending a Luck Point allows you to turn a failure into a “No, but…”, while Complication Points would be used by the Gamemaster to trigger “Yes, but…” results.

You can easily change the above “currency” to Hero or Action Points. You could allow players to spend a Hero/Action point to change failures to “No, but…” and offer such points in exchange for “Yes, but…” results (almost like the game economy of FATE).

Or just let things run random. For example, roll a 1d4 with each check. A “4” indicates a “half-result”. Or use Fudge Dices, Warhammer Dices etc.

You could even use these “half-results” as a sort of modifier. If things seen messy or very confused, don’t inflict a check penalty (the universal -2 modifier), but declare a margin of complication (like a critical threat range). Any success or failure by that margin generates a “Yes, but…” or “No, but…” result.

Finally, you can go further and establish that certain classes like Rogues (maybe through Talents) and Bards (alternate class features) can activate/ignore “half-results” a few times per session (or daily). It can also be used to represent skill mastery. Maybe such character simply can’t fail at a check (unless impossible) and the worst he gets is a “No, but…” (it’s a more interesting option than giving PCs bigger mathematical bonuses).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Pathfinder interlude (or a “System Matters Post”)


Let me share my random thought of the month.

Does the rules system used at your table matters?

This discussion must be as old as our hobby (probably older due to wargames). In 80’s, with AD&D 1st, Rolemaster, Champions, GURPS etc. one could say that system was all that mattered. In the 90’s, ruled by White Wolf’s Golden Rule, system didn’t mattered. The only thing that mattered was the story, the characters, the drama… blablabla. Then we got the 2000s (and the Forge) and system matters (again).

So, what is the verdict? Does system matters?

I don’t know.

In my gaming experience I saw Gamemasters doing awesome stuff without any notion regarding the system they’re using. I also played in games where the rules system gave us great moments of fun.

However, it’s hard to deny the fact that – as a player – I would rather have a great Gamemaster with a lousy system than the opposite (and yes, the perfect scenario is a great GM and a great system, but I can count in one hand how many times that did happen in my life).

But I’m digressing and this post isn’t about that discussion (so lower the pitchforks and dump your torches). This post is about a Pathfinder interlude.

You see, the catch for me is that even if system doesn’t matter, it does impact (a lot) on the way we interact and “feel” the imaginary world of our campaigns/games. Its, after all, our interface with the setting/adventure. A good GM can cheat through that interface, of course, but things feel a lot more fun and “organic” if everything in the adventure happens due to the player’s choices and interaction with the rules system. That’s the feeling that I get when I had a great game and the GM rolled all dice in our sight (the now famous Burning Wheel rule of “Let the dice fall where they may!”)

Anyway, what I mean is that the best way (for me) to get a “fresh” game experience without hassle is to invite my group to play in their most beloved settings, but using a different rules system.  I’ve played Forgotten Realms using AD&D 2nd and GURPS and they were remarkably different (and exciting) experiences. I also have run the Realms with other systems, like Savage Worlds and FATE, and I was surprised to see my players doing things that they would never try in Pathfinder. 

Use this to your advantage. Really, do this. Forget your pet system, or wonderful house system that you’ve been running for decades. Try something different, just to light things up a little. To get a different perspective, both as a GM and as a player. But keep your preferred setting.

Some of my best game experiences were due to one-shots (or mini-campaigns) where I run well known campaign settings with different rules systems. These games not only were a good change of pace, but also (re)awakened my players’ interest to new rules, tactics and roleplaying opportunities. Yes, roleplaying. When you see your old setting through new lenses, you’re motivated to try new approaches (like playing with that concept/race/class that you would never had dare in Pathfinder).

A few examples: Savage World is a rules system perfect for parties filled with hirelings, cohorts and allies. It also has a rules light mass combat system. When I run a D&D setting with Savage Worlds, I always give tons of NPCs to my players. Savage also has rules that clearly distinguish between heavy armored and swashbuckling types of fighters. It’s not just AC. [Bizarrely, Savage Worlds also is – so far for me – the best system to simulate “D&D fiction”. If, for example, I wanted to run I game where Drizzt and Artemis would clash, I would use Savage. Those fights with tons of strikes and parries, feints and acrobatic stuff, are the norm for Savage. Maybe because of the system clear Pulp-y roots.]

Now, if I wanted to run a social-heavy D&D adventure (like intrigue among Harpers or the divine-blooded nobles of Birthright), where the social aspects were supported by mechanics, I would use FATE. FATE is excellent for games where you want an open approach to magic (like the Arcana Age of Forgotten Realms or the weird magic of Glantri). Games about mystic quests, enlightenment and esoteric goals also are great for FATE – like Planescape entire cosmology of “Belief shapes the Multiverse”. An adventure among Sigils’ Factions using FATE is awesome.

If I really wanted a low-magic or gritty approach to some D&D settings I would use BRP, GURPS or HARP/Rolemaster. This works greatly for a “grunt view” of the world (I remember writing a one-shot where the PCs were soldiers in a famous NPC army or lowly hirelings of an adventure party). I can’t say why but I always felt that the Greyhawk Wars would be a great setting for these systems. These systems also do wonders for a horror-inspired setting, like Ravenloft (also Lankamar).

Changing systems may open your eyes to adventure/story opportunities that you’d never have dared with d20. Of course, you can always customize the various d20 systems to your needs, but sometimes I prefer to try something really different.

Finally, I also believe that there’re things for which D&D is just perfect. I can’t imagine, for example, running Mystara without the Rules Cyclopedia, or Dark Sun without AD&D 2nd Edition. I know that there’re good alternatives out there (I heard really good things about an AGE conversion for Mystara and D&D 4th version of Athas).

So, try to mix things. Do crazy shit with your settings and rules. Hell, mix rules systems. Steal Aspects from FATE, Krâsses dice from DK2, Bonds from Dungeon World, the Stunt Die from AGE, or even the entire Vampire the Masquerade Kindred for your D&D games (an old brazilian RPG magazine did this last one and it was a lot of fun).

Make stuff and see what happens.

Have great games! 

Edit: Another idea that came to my mind. Want to play deities in D&D but don’t want to use the Deities & Demigods messy stats (or the cool rules from Immortals boxed set of Basic D&D)? Try Heroquest.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bestiarum vocabulum - Drake (New Race)

While I’m busy with a thousand things (mostly study, job, raising my little goblin, more study etc.) here’s a new race for Pathfinder, based on the drakes from the awesome Fantasy Craft d20 game (another inspiration was, I guess, Castle Falkenstein). This is just a (very) rough draft. After all, playing with dragons is cool.


+2 Strength, +2 Intelligence, –2 Dexterity, –2 Wisdom: Drakes are strong and keen of intellect, but clumsy and arrogant.

Draconic beast. Drakes are creatures of the Dragon type. Because of their anatomy, drakes aren’t tool users. They can use their wing claws to hold 2 items like a Small creature or their mouths to hold 1 item like a Medium creature. Any attempts to wield or manipulate tools/objects suffer a -4 penalty. Drakes can’t be trained or buy ranks in skills such Sleight of Hand unless they spend a feat to negate this racial penalty.

Large size. Drakes get bigger with age.

Speed: 20 feet, fly 60 feet (poor).

Fang and Talon: Drakes deal 1d8 points of damage with their bites. They can spend two secondary natural attacks with their claws (1d4 each) and one tail slap (1d6). They can buy Monster feats to improve their natural attacks.

Scales: +4 natural armor.

Draconic Girth: due to their size and mass, drakes gain double their hit dice (but not their Con modifier) at 1st level. Drakes can’t be trained or buy ranks at Acrobatics, unless they spend a feat to negate this racial penalty.

Brutal: drakes melee attacks receive a +2 racial damage bonus.

Monstrous Nature: drakes suffer a -4 penalty in Diplomacy check against humanoids, monstrous humanoids and intelligent magical beasts. These creatures start with an unfriendly reaction. Drakes have a +4 racial bonus on Intimidate checks against them. Animals and unintelligent magical beasts are scared by drakes and usually flee or attack them on sight. True dragons consider drakes their slaves and servants and treat them likewise.

Voracious: drakes must eat three times more than a normal medium humanoid. However, they don’t need to eat and are never thirsty.

Old Scar: drakes are slow healers. Their natural healing works on weeks, not days. Healing spells work with half their potency on drakes.

Dragon Senses: drakes have a +4 racial bonus on Perception checks.

Greed: drakes receive a +2 racial bonus on Appraise skill checks made to determine the price of goods or to determine if a particular item is magical.

Mimicry (Ex): A drake can perfectly mimic familiar sounds, voices and accents. This ability does not enable the drake to speak languages they can’t normally speak. To duplicate a specific individual’s voice, a drake makes a Character level check + their Int. modifier; a listener familiar with the voice being imitated must succeed on an opposed Sense Motive check to discern that the voice isn’t genuine.

Languages: Common and Draconic.

Favored Class: Sorcerer.

Drakes and initial Weapon/Armor Proficiencies.
At 1st level, a drake can replace can replace their proficiency with Light and Medium Armor to improve their natural armor bonus to +6; if they have access to Heavy Armor, they can replace all their Armor Proficiencies to improve their natural armor bonus to +8.

Drakes can’t acquire any Armor or Shield Proficiencies, unless they learn first to assume a humanoid shape.

A 1st level drake spellcaster can replace all their Armor proficiencies for the Natural Spell feat (even if he doesn’t meet the normal requirements).

Want more dragon powers?
If you want more draconic traits to your Drake you have to buy Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline) levels. You follow all the class rules, except for Bloodline powers, which follow the rules below:

Claws (Su): you don’t gain this power. Instead of it you gain:

Draconic Senses (Ex): you gain Scent and the ability to roll Perception checks even if sleeping. At 7th level you gain tremorsense 30 ft. At 11th level you gain blindsense 30 ft.

Dragon Resistances (Su): as written.
Breath-weapon (Su): you gain this Bloodline power at 5th level. You gain additional uses at 9th, 17th and 20th level. You can suffer the Exhausted condition to increase by one step the damage dice of your breath (from d6s to d8s). While Exhausted you can’t flight.
Wings (Su): you don’t gain this power. Instead of it you gain:

Skymaster (Ex/Su): at 9th level you gain average fly maneuverability and can keep flying indefinitely, without tiring, even while sleeping (usually by circling around an area). This last type of sustained flights allows you to rest on air and is a supernatural ability. At 15th level, you can withdraw as a move action if you fly.

Power of Wyrms (Su): you don’t gain this power. Instead of it you gain:

Draconic Might (Ex): at 20th level you become of Huge size. Your Strength increases by +6, your Constitution by +4 and your Natural Armor by +1.