Cycling between campaigns

As I have mentioned a few times, my gaming group is currently playing through two homebrew campaigns with the occasional adventure path offshoot.  In the first video blog I produced, I asked a question about how, those of you who are playing multiple campaigns at the same time manage or cycle through those various campaigns.  I wanted to bring up that issue again and discuss it a bit further.

The initial idea behind the two campaigns we were running was to give the GM from our main campaign a chance to play as well as time to prep.  Since it is a homebrew campaign it takes longer to prep since they have to come up with everything.  We would play one for a bit and then move back to the other.  This worked fairly well for a while.  However, due to a relatively high kill count in the initial main campaign, and the secondary campaign’s GM letting us spitball it quite often, the secondary campaign quickly became an additional main campaign.

We were all thoroughly enjoying the second main campaign and we finally completed a major story arc (something about stopping a beefed up Glabrezu from destroying our country… you know, typical day’s work).  However, this meant we were playing the second main campaign for a year, without going back to the other one.  On top of that, one of the other players really wanted to run Mummy’s Mask, on the promise that we would only run it for a few weeks to get through the first book.

Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94vv?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-80-Empty-Graves
Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94vv?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-80-Empty-Graves

Those few weeks turned into a couple months.  While we all still had a lot of fun (well, some of us, two characters I made did die), we weren’t sure which main campaign we would be going back to once our Mummy’s Mask adventure was done.  We took a vote, and since the GM from the initial main campaign was really looking forward to running again, we went back to it.  This brings me to the main issue I had and am looking to get some suggestions or answers to; how long should you go between playing major campaigns?

We went a whole year without playing one of our main campaigns and I am now thinking that that is just too long.  Almost none of us remember what was going on before we broke for the other campaign.  I didn’t remember anything about my character.  We did ask for and the GM did put up a summary of what happened, which did help refresh our memories.  But, again, I am of the mind that a year and a half (we almost went two years we think) of a break from one campaign is just too much.

So, I am personally thinking, and will be bringing it up with my gaming group, that we try to aim for three to six months of sessions (factoring in that we play every week), or shorter, before jumping back to our other campaign.  I think this should allow us to get some stuff accomplished and move the story along, and allow us to keep our other characters and what they’ve done still within memory.  Granted, I am not a stickler that would demand we hop over to the other campaign once the six month limit has been reached.  I just don’t want to go another 18 months without playing one of our main campaigns.

What do you think?  Is this just par for the course when playing multiple campaigns?  Do you think three to six months in one campaign before switching is a good idea?  Do you have other ideas or suggestions on how to handle hopping from one campaign to another?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

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Pathfinder Character Creation

While I was out on vacation, a misfortune befell me.  I made a classic mistake of not leaving my character sheet before I went out of town, knowing that I was going to be missing a session.  So, needless to say, while I was in Boston and New York City on vacation, my fighter was killed.  He was a Viking archetype fighter and I really enjoyed playing him, but now I have to make a new character.  This video is a brief look into the process I go through when making a new character.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have all the necessary books available in some format before you start making your character.  I find Ultimate Equipment to be an awesome, must-have book, but even more important than that is having the Core Rulebook.  The character I am going to make is a 20 point buy, level 5, two trait fighter.

The first thing I come up with, when creating a new character, is a concept.  For this build I am going with a two-weapon fighter named Comm Red (yes, like comrade), who is going to fight with a hammer and sickle (yes, this is a reference to the Soviet flag…I couldn’t help myself).  He’s going to use the sickle to trip you and then he is going to hit you in the head with a hammer.  After I come up with the concept, then I start building the actual character.

For this character, instead of starting with the stats and building everything on down, I am, instead, going to start with the feats.  The feats are going to be the most important thing for this build that I need to focus on because I need to make sure I get the correct ones.  There’s a whole tree for two-weapon fighting, so I am going to start there.

I am happy that I looked at the feats first because the start of the two-weapon fighting feat tree, Two-Weapon Fighting, requires a Dex of 15.  Had I not looked at this first, I might not have put enough points into Dex and would have needed to redo my stats.  The other feats I need to focus on are those for tripping, since that is a major part of my fighter’s concept.  The start of that tree is Combat Expertise which requires and Int of 13, which I probably would have also skimped on.  I am really glad I looked the feats first instead of building my stats, because I would have made several mistakes due to my unfamiliarity with two-weapon fighting.

Even though I mentioned I would post this on Friday or Saturday, that was 12 days ago.  I reference my vacation in the video and decided I was going to post the two videos I took on vacation first.

As I mentioned in the video, there might be an archetype for a two-weapon fighter.  There is.  It’s in the Advanced Player’s Guide and called Two-Weapon Warrior.  Instead of going with that archetype, I just built a straight up two-weapon fighter.

As promised, here’s the scans of my Happy Camper character sheets.

First page of my fighter's character sheet
First page of my fighter’s character sheet
Second page of my fighter's character sheet
Second page of my fighter’s character sheet
Third page of my fighter's character sheet
Third page of my fighter’s character sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did make a mistake with my armor choice, as having Armor Training 1 allows me to move full speed in medium armor.  I will be looking for medium armor to rectify this error, though doubt I will be able to get any before we tackle the final dungeon in Mummy’s Mask book 2.

I also double dipped into Weapon Focus.  First one was to give me a +1 to trip with my sickle.  The other was to open up Weapon Specialization for the hammer as Weapon Focus is a prereq.

To give you an idea how crazy I am with my extensive character sheets, my Magus, which I mentioned in the video, covers seven character sheets.  Yes, I am insane.

What do you think about the Happy Camper character sheets?  Do you think I did my feats correctly?  Are there any I should have taken?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Thoughts from Central Park

Some of my thoughts on tabletop roleplaying as I sat down for a brief rest while walking through Central Park.

To me, making a character in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is very different from Pathfinder.  I found the transition from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder to be very seamless and easy and the order of everything is the same or very similar.  With 5E, I felt that I was flipping back and forth between the sections a lot while generating my bard.  This is mainly related to the background that you generate for your character.  While I do like the background system, I didn’t realize that there were more specific backgrounds depending on what class you were playing; this is good as the generic, random one I generated initially made zero sense.  However, having the “archetypes” closer to the class section would make more sense to me, and would have helped streamline the character building process.  This disjointed feeling is most likely due to lack of experience with 5E.

One definite positive for 5E is the stunningly beautiful artwork found throughout the books.  To me, 3.5 lacked art.  There was plenty in the books, but, especially with the monster manuals, you could go a few pages before seeing a picture of some hideous beast.  A good GM could fill in the description holes, but having a picture is very nice.  Pathfinder did an incredible job with this; every monster has a picture so you know exactly what you are dealing with.  Pathfinder also did an incredible job keeping all the information on a monster on a page.  You don’t have to flip pages to get the rest of the description nor are multiple monsters described on the same page; this is very handy.

However, the artwork put into 5E is another notch above the rest.  Wizards did an amazing job with it, and a lot of my friends, on their first flip through the books, commented on how beautiful it was.  I think this beauty is a definite boon for tabletop roleplaying books.  If someone is on the fence about what system they want to play, they will most likely choose a book with good artwork.

This brings me to my final thoughts; all the systems that are currently out there.  I primarily want to try several systems, Monte Cook’s Numenera specifically.  Whenever we have a break from one of our lengthy campaigns, I always want to fill the gaps with one offs or short campaigns from other systems.  Unfortunately we always seem to settle for more Pathfinder.  Not that there is anything wrong with Pathfinder, I just want to branch out more.

For those watching that have played numerous systems, how do you do it?  Have you found a method that works for playing different systems simultaneously?  Do you play, say, Pathfinder one week and then Numenera the next and rotate between the two?  Do you play one for a month or so before switching over to another for another month?  Please let me know if the comments.

GM Style

When people look towards playing in a Tabletop Roleplaying campaign, they tend to mostly think about what kind of character they want to make and what the setting of the campaign will be.  While these are very important, they may not be the most important thing to consider.  Since several of us, myself included, know and are friends with at least one other person that will be involved, so we tend to overlook the GM.  Specifically, we do not really spend much time thinking about the GM and how they will run the campaign.

I recently read an article on things GMs need to not do and this got me thinking.  How the GM will run the campaign is vastly more important than what you and everyone else are going to play.  The GM is the most important person in the campaign and they have absolute control over what does or does not happen.  Their style can make or break the campaign regardless of how interesting the story or how awesome your character is.

Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy8dqh?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-Kingmaker-Players-Guide
Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy8dqh?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-Kingmaker-Players-Guide

Back in college when I first started gaming with a now good friend of mine, another of his friends ran our Shadowrun campaign.  I thought that they were a pretty good GM and had a lot of fun playing in their campaign.  They didn’t pull punches, and some crazy stuff did happen (a fireball being lobbed at a bed with dozens of grenades on it comes to mind…yum, chunky salsa).  But nothing felt unfair or geared specifically to kill a player (though the exploding grenades did kill one of us).  I did count this GM as one of my friends after this campaign.  So, when this friend moved back into town and mentioned that they wanted to run the Pathfinder module Kingmaker, I was fully on board.

I am not sure what happened between the Shadowrun campaign and Kingmaker, but they became the most cruel GM I have ever had.  If we didn’t, in their mind, properly plan for a fight, sometimes because we would have needed to metagame the proper knowledge, we would get punished severely: player-killing severely.  If we spent a ton of time planning out exactly what we were going to do, making sure we had all the proper provisions necessary, we were punished severely: all rations destroyed severely, and the GM was very strict with regards to rations.  It was basically damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Now, Kingmaker is fairly highly regarded as a good Pathfinder module.  Under a different GM it might have been.  But this GM, with his style, completely ruined any enjoyment any of us had in the campaign.  Instead of looking forward to my gaming night, I started dreading it.  We all continued coming because we were all friends, but this is a very large red flag that should not be ignored.  If you aren’t having fun in a session or campaign due to the GM’s behavior or style, leave.  You are under no obligations to continue.  We all game because we like it and we get enjoyment out of it.  No one is forcing us to play, so we shouldn’t force ourselves.

Have you ever played in a game where the GM’s style completely ruined the experience?  How did it end?  Did you confront the GM, or did you soldier on?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Rolling stats vs Point Buy

Here's a couple examples of stat rolling I did.  They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.
Here’s a couple examples of stat rolling I did. They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.

When I first started playing D&D, everyone always rolled for their stats.  Depending on the DM, you might get three or four d6s to roll and taking the highest values; you might even get to reroll 1s once.  For both of these, we would then get to decide which results go to which stats.  Others make you assign your results in order and thus what kind of character you would play would also be determined from your stat rolls (it just wouldn’t make sense to play a wizard with an INT of 10).  For several years, this is always how I generated my character’s stats.

Point buying is the other way to generate stats for your character.  For D&D 3.5, all stats started at an 8 and you had to buy your way up (Pathfinder starts at 10).  When I first started, I didn’t like this because 18s were extremely expensive, and all of your other stats suffer because you cannot afford to buy them up as well.  So, in my opinion, you only could have mediocre characters.

Here's a quick 20 point buy process I did, starting with STR and working down.
Here’s a quick 20 point buy I did, starting with STR and working down.

After a particularly nasty TPK (Total Party Kill), when we were all rerolling our stats, I got hit by the balance train.  You see, I had rolled amazing stats.  I think my lowest roll was a 15, and I had at least one 18 and two 17s.  When you put my rolls into the point buying system, they had a value of around 52, which is well outside the realm of typical point buys.  Most point buy campaigns are around 18 to 20 (in Pathfinder anyways) with epic fantasy being a 25 pint buy.  My numbers were crazy huge, but I did feel that my character was going to kick all kinds of tail.  Another player, who rolled the second best stats, had a point value in the mid-30s.

However, as someone in our party is wont to do at any given time, terrible rolls were made.  I think their highest score was a 12 or 13 and they had multiple rolls below 10 (and these were the better set of numbers as we got to roll stats twice).  They were going to be extremely weak, especially when compared to my character.  I looked over their numbers, looked over everyone else’s, and then looked at mine.  I could not, in good conscious, play my character when everyone else would be considerable weaker.  If everyone else also got into the mid-30s with their rolls, I might not have complained to the DM, but it was more than night and day between me and everyone else.

So, I flat out said to the DM that we have to switch over to a point buy system.  This started us on the point buying train and we have been on it ever since.  While I still like the idea of rolling stats, there’s just too much volatility in it where some characters will be awesome, stat-wise, and others will be awful.  Point buying allows everyone to start off on equal footing, which I believe is necessary for a group game like D&D or Pathfinder.  I think that you set yourself and your character apart from the others by how you play them and the personality you give them; not by playing Superman while everyone else get to play regular citizens of Metropolis.  I do prefer Pathfinder’s point buy system over D&D 3.5 as I feel 10s are a better starting point than 8s.

What do you think about rolling stats vs point buys?  Do you prefer one system over the other?  Have you had an experience similar to mine where you rolled awesome (or terrible) stats compared to everyone else?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Adventure Path or Homebrew?

I have been thinking a lot about the new adventure path my Pathfinder group is playing, Mummy’s Mask.  The reason I am thinking about it is because this is the first adventure path I have played that I have actually really enjoyed.  Not saying that the others were bad, as Kingmaker and Rise of the Runelords are not bad modules.  However, adventure paths are a completely different beast than homebrew campaigns.  And, if followed rigidly, feel like plot train where everyone is going to the same destination regardless of whether or not they want to.  But, if the adventure path is followed loosely, with several options put forth for the players to choose from, all reaching the same destination differently, then it no longer feels like we’re on a train.

Generally, I prefer homebrew campaigns a lot more than I do adventure paths.  There’s just something about knowing the DM came up with the world and story all on their own and that we, the players, are a major force within said story and world.  There, of course, is the overarching plot, if you will, that we do have to contend with, but we are essentially given carte blanche on how to get there.

The DM caters every week based on what we did and what we discussed the week before.  This makes it pretty much impossible for the DM to plan several sessions ahead, but it gives the players much more say in what goes on.  There’s almost infinite choices and paths to trek down.  There’s hidden gems distributed throughout the world and story for us to stumble upon and discover.  I absolutely love this aspect of homebrew campaigns.  Everything is completely unknown at the time, and if I was so tempted (which, thankfully, I never am) there’s no material I can dig up, anywhere, that will give me hints as to what’s to come.  So, when given the choice, I would play a homebrew campaign 11 times out of 10.

Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94qz?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-79-The-HalfDead-City
Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94qz?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-79-The-HalfDead-City

However, that is not to say that adventure paths are boring.  If done properly, as I mentioned above, they give the players the notion that their choices do matter.  This brings me to the current campaign I am in (technically, we have three active campaigns going on, with DMs rotating when they get too busy at work or are too tired to prep), Mummy’s Mask.  I have played in a homebrew campaign with this DM before, and it was quite fun…until the Big Baddies continued to become bigger and badder at a faster pace than us.  So, needless to say, I was a tad hesitant when they said they wanted to run an adventure path.

My trepidations were unfounded.  They have proven to be most adept at running an adventure path.  They decided that there were going to follow the path very loosely, yielding a lot of control to the players.  If we decide not to do something, it is completely skipped.  Instead of dwelling on all the stuff we did not do, the DM just moves us forward.  To make up for some of the skipped parts, the DM throws some extra stuff into the road we are currently travelling.  This makes it feel less plot train-like and more spontaneous; it’s just another encounter we have to overcome.  At this point in the path, and we have definitely jumped all over the place, I have no idea what is actually coming from the module and what is coming from our DM.

This, to me, is how an adventure path should be run.  Follow the overarching storyline, but allow room for the players to get there their own way.  You truly stop thinking about it as another adventure path and just run with it.  It has completely changed how I feel about the numerous adventure paths that Paizo puts out for Pathfinder.  I might even consider running one someday.

What is your take on adventure path vs homebrew campaigns?  Which do you prefer?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Team Collaboration with Tabletop Roleplaying

I have discussed tabletop roleplaying a few times on this blog.  I’ve talked about how it has helped me break out of my shell, and how it helps me reduce stress.  I have also talked about how it can, by playing someone entirely different from yourself, give you a new prospective.  However, there is another aspect that I haven’t talked about yet; team collaboration.

My recent Pathfinder session last Friday, which you can see a short clip of on my “About” page for this blog, got me thinking about how tabletop roleplaying encourages complete and full team collaboration more than anything else (in my opinion at least).  During our session, we had to come up with a plan on how we were going to handle our meeting with some drug dealers that were selling a rather dangerous drug (it’s called mumia and has the side effect of eventually killing you and turning you into the undead).

We had encountered mumia before and discovered not only its side effect, but what the evil forces behind it were going to do with the sudden influx of undead.  We were also working with the Church of Pharasma, a god who despises the undead, so we were trying to come up with a plan to destroy their operation.  However, we didn’t exactly know how we were going to do this.  Enter team collaboration step 1: Planning.

Image credit: http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/11/7193647/dragon-age-inquisition-pc-ps4-impressions
Image credit: http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/11/7193647/dragon-age-inquisition-pc-ps4-impressions

Each of us, in turn, discussed what our objectives were and how we best thought we could achieve them.  We didn’t rule or shut anyone out; it was going to take the full party to handle this.  We compared and contrasted what each character could do ability-wise and how best to utilize those abilities.  We came up with a few ideas on what we were going to do.  We put specific people in charge of specific aspects of the plan and came up with a kind of “in case of x do y” contingencies.

Since my character is the only foreigner, and I had met with a patsy before to try to get a meeting, we decided to continue that rouse.  I would go to the meeting with my guides from before, which were other party members, and another party member was going to be our expert on the drug.  The last member of our party, who excels at sneaking into places, was going to do just that.

Even though this plan seems simple, we debated it for several minutes.  We couldn’t just storm the place with swords and maces a swinging, we had to be delicate; we didn’t know if the high ranking member of the criminal organization would actually be there.  So we decided to act as though we were serious about procuring the drugs, and then try to ambush them when their backs were turned.  In the end, it did work out quite well, though there were numerous times when we all thought we were going to die.  But, that’s what tabletop roleplaying is about sometimes.

The fact that everyone got a say and no idea was turned down without debate and analysis is the key.  We were able to come up with a plan we all agreed upon because we allowed everyone to have a say, to be invested in the plan if you will.  Since this was a unique scenario, there weren’t any past events or plans we could pull from to help us.  We had to build our plan from scratch in a timely manner (no one wants to spend all night coming up with a plan only to run out of time before implementing).

This same kind of team collaboration works in the real world.  Whenever you have a unique problem, get the appropriate subject matter experts into one room and open the floor for suggestions.  Remember, one of the keys for this to work is that no idea is thrown out without examination.  Not only will this give every member of the team a stake in the outcome of the agreed upon plan, but it will increase team cohesion.

How do you handle planning operations in your tabletop roleplaying adventures?  Does everyone get a say, or is there usually a point person?  Have you tried implementing something like this where you work?  How did it go?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.