Review: Ultimate Campaign – Part 4

Ultimate Campaign CoverThank you all for following me through the review of this mighty new addition to the core Pathfinder books by Paizo. It has been quite the journey. There have been tears, laughter, pain, sorrow, joy but it is now coming to a close with a review of the final chapter, Chapter 4 Kingdoms and War.

This chapter is paradoxically the smallest chapter in page size (around 50 pages) but dominates the table of contents at the start of the book. The Table of contents is a two column affair on one page and this chapter takes up practically all of the second column. Noting this I actually thought it was going to be a piecemeal affair that would irritate me to a large degree so with a cautious eye I moved into the Chapter and began to read.

Just before I give you any detail about the chapter I am going to have to warn you about something. I am declaring that I don’t really like the idea of a campaign that centers around kingdom building. It takes a certain type of GM and player to want to play this style of game. I see it too much as an administrative affair with a lot of extra work involved. I also see that in reality an adventurer would not be able to rule a kingdom unless it were a tribe of nomads or the like. Ruling a kingdom comes with responsibility and Kings and Queens do not get to simply wander off when they want. With that off my chest let us move back to some detail of the actual book.


The chapter starts with a focus on building a kingdom from scratch but is unusually organized. You read an introduction about how they want to approach the chapter and then they suggest if this is the first time that you have read the chapter, go forward and read a section on building a settlement before going back and reading from that point onward. I found this extremely weird. I did as they suggested and the chapter certainly flowed correctly by doing this but the question has to be asked. Why? Why not just put the section on Settlements at that point in the chapter. There is no major problem it causes on the second read through and I would prefer to read it in that order all the time. This is just a complete oddity of the whole book and the question distracted me from a lot of detail.

Ultimate Campaign ThroneThe kingdom building rules borrow a lot of ideas from Chapter 3 and Chapter 2 to build sort of a mini game that is Kingdoms. You follow a set Kingdom turn that is broken up into four phases representing a month of game time: upkeep, edict, income, and event. The upkeep is where you balance the kingdom’s resources; edicts allow you to declare actions for the coming month that could be good or bad; income is where you get to fill the treasury up again; and event is out of your control and covers events that you may have to deal with directly.

You get to build the kingdom up from scratch if you follow the default manner and you build your kingdom up in hexes as opposed to squares on a map grid. This follows the way the exploration is handled in the third chapter and I am wondering if these decisions have been influenced by the development of the Pathfinder MMO by Goblinworks. The blogs detailing the making of the Pathfinder MMO from last year are beginning to look eerily similar to the way they treat building a kingdom in here. The question is did the development of this book affect the computer game or did what the computer gamers want to do influence the book? Does it even matter?

The rest of kingdom building is similar to building a structure that is covered in chapter 2 and you have a bunch of buildings etc. that you can build up in settlements or expand your territory and the like. There are a lot of detailed rules (and then an optional rules section) that add a great deal of complexity to the system that kind of made me wish I was sleeping rather than reading a bunch more rules for an already rules heavy setting. But, and there is a but, I got through it and have to say I did not hate the section. In fact I thought it was quite novel and that it would probably be very valuable to the accountants of this world who like to role play as well. Here they can build their own kingdoms and exert control over vassals whilst balancing resources. All in all it is well contained and offers a good level of detail to this style of play. Don’t get me wrong, it is a section of the book I will likely never look at again but it is worth looking at if that is what you like.

Mass Battles

The next section was on war or mass battles in Pathfinder. I was actually quite keen to see what they had done with this as I have run mass battles in the game before but I had scripted them rather than used any type of mechanic. That said I have seen plenty of systems try to approach this subject and fail horribly by making systems that just fail completely to be intuitive and easy to use.

Paizo have come through with the goods on this system though. I started to read it and thought that it would be good if they did it just by providing something similar to the current combat system with a little less complexity (an army can’t grapple another army!) and that is exactly what they have provided. The system is intuitive as it uses concepts that are similar to the current roll 1d20 + a bonus with a target number of an AC system that currently exists.

They have added a nice usable morale system and given a good description of what this means to the unit. In fact this system is quite good that I may be using that in the one on one combats at times when I think creatures might make a run for it. Things like the commander can affect these rolls or give additional benefits. The commander gives certain boons to their army and will know certain tactics based on their level in Profession(Soldier) which I thought was also a great way of giving value to skills that players do not often take.

Finally, they cover loads of special abilities that the army made be able to use (what if you have a unit of regenerating trolls etc) and it just works. They teach you how to create a unit based on existing skill levels and then also give you a horde of army units that was a really good addition I had not overly expected. I have to say that the mass battles section of this chapter gets two big thumbs up from me and it will be something I refer to again!

The Book Overall

Now I have the content covered I want to say a few more things about this book. First and foremost it is very well presented, but I am pretty sure I don’t need to mention that. Paizo always make their books look remarkable with great artwork and layout. One thing that was a nice addition for this book was that they added a lot of forms for you to use with their system. If you look over the last month of posts you will find how I mention there is a lot more bookwork to be maintained with a lot of this material and they have done their best to give you the tools that you need to use.

Amiri ThroneIs this book the killer I thought it would be? Well, that is hard to answer as it is not the book I thought it would be. It is a book that helps with building a campaign but it is also a book that does not tell you how to build a campaign. It gives you a lot of systems that can assist you with looking at a lot of different things that some of your players might like to do. With the exception of the first chapter which is something I would like us all to adapt as GM’s (getting our players to get into background that is) the rest of the systems will work for some and not others so you need to pick and choose as you go.

I will say that this book has surprised me though. There are a lot of rules in here for you to read and go over. It is a long read too although it is only set at 250 pages or so the material can get a bit dry so you have to put away all the distractions to read some sections. But I am totally glad I did. This is an exceptional valuable sourcebook to me and will see a lot of use as I continue to pursue my craft as a GM. Some sections will never be used again but on a whole that is OK. You cannot please all of the people all of the time and we all have different focuses in game which is what this book represents.

So, to an overall score, considering everything I have read and fully understanding what this book is about. With its minor flaws and overall view I can’t give this book any less than five out of five castles overall. This is a great book to have in your collection. Save up your pennies and get yourself a copy!

One final footnote, just as I exit the long winded review mode I got an email telling me that my copy of Mythic Adventures is on its way to me. It is the next sourcebook for the core rules and is something that I have been long looking forward to! So there are likely to be more reviews in the near future! But until then, keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Review: Ultimate Campaign – Part 3

Ultimate Campaign CoverI thank you for bearing with me through the review of this book. There is just so much material packed into the 253 pages this book offers that I would have turned myself inside out trying to fit it all into one review. So we are moving on to Chapter 3 which is innocuously called Campaign Systems. So lets pull it apart in the penultimate (pun intended) review of this book.

Campaign Systems. The title of the chapter. I wrote many posts about campaign systems on my own blog and this one so I thought I had finally reached what I truly hoped this book contained. How to build a campaign! Excellent, the secrets of Paizo laid bare so I too can create my masterpiece adventure path. I was devastated to find I was completely wrong. This chapter had no insight on how to build your campaign from the ground up.

Of course that is because they have done it all before. In the core book and the Game Master Guide there is plenty of advice they give on these very topics. Perhaps not to the depth everyone likes but that is where I can fill in the gaps by writing blogs about different styles. In the chapter they cover numerous systems (meaning extra rules) to cover various concepts in game and how to manage them as a player and a GM.

There is good, bad, and ugly in this chapter. I was smiling with glee at stuff that surprised me. I wore a frown of confusion where I came across material that I think does not need rules (that is putting rules on it reduced role playing and increased complexity). Then I was left dumbfounded in several sections of the chapter wondering why on Golarion they had even bothered. I think a few of these systems really do depend on the style of game you play, although some of them would be much better suited to other games for sure.

The chapter starts with a fresh take on alignment. Well fresh may be a little generous, but it gives an alternative system that allows for shades of alignment. So you could be Lawful Neutral but closer to the Neutral end of Lawful and the Good side of Neutral. This introduces a mechanic which allows your alignment to shift with actions and time. Sometimes with repercussions, other times without. I rarely point to alignment in game (though I do where class powers depend on it) so this system is very unlikely to be used in my campaign. It is, on the other hand, a good basis for a system of alignment that may help people new to the game to understand it. They do try to redefine the alignments in a clearer manner also in this section but I do not think they are any clearer than the entries in the Core Rulebook.

Then they broke out bargaining which literally gave me a headache. Do not get me wrong, I love mercantile campaigns (I run one in Traveller) but Pathfinder? Really? The algorithms (solutions to the problem) are unrealistic, simplified and frustrating. It is very hard to follow the flow and I can see this coming to very little use. I really did wonder why they had included this section when the rules that exist with bluff, diplomacy, sense motive and the like all function quite well in this regard anyway.

Ultimate Campaign FollowersThen the next section about companions surprised me. Surprised me in a major way so much that I broke one of my personal rules and wrote on my own blog about this section prior to writing about it here. You can read that blog here if you want, but the following pretty much covers it. The GM should control some of the player linked companions! I have always played games where if you had a familiar, animal companion, cohort, followers then you dealt with them as the player. This system really turned that on its head for me. They suggest that animal companions, followers, and to some degree cohorts should all be controlled at some level by the GM. Reading through this section it made sense why and I was grinning from ear to ear that something had surprised me.

The section also went over followers (obtained through the Leadership feat) and what they meant in game which is something I never really fathomed. It was a brief description but it gave me a point of reference as I realised that a follower was kind of like a contact that had interest in you. There was some discussion on my blog that this should really be a role playing consequence but I see this as OK. if you get Leadership and you want to have an NPC that has been following your career in a town then why not. I do agree though that this style of contact should be limited to the Leadership feat.

Which lead me to the first real ugly section of the book. The next section was Contacts. I did not read this until after my blog discussions were over and I really wish I had. This section just completely devalues the Leadership feat that they had been describing by introducing a system for contacts. Come on! That is what the role playing is for if you do not want to take the Leadership feat. Why should there be a system that allows for a similar structure than what was just described. And if you aren’t going to describe how to make a campaign from scratch in the “Ultimate Campaign” guide because you have done that before why go over relationships with NPC’s when it is done in at least three books I can think of. This section seems counterintuitive, introduces a lot of bookkeeping to the GM and I just do not understand why it was even included.

You are probably beginning to realise there is a lot of “campaign systems” in this chapter and there are, fifteen to be exact. There are a couple more I want to talk to but I will sum the others that I am not going into too much detail with here. The Exploration, Honor, Lineage, Relationships, Retirement and Young Characters sections were entertaining and I may take some concepts from them into game. The Taxation and Investment sections should never have been included. Tax the characters? We are considering tax and percentage return in a fantasy system… No thank you. So that leaves me three sections to talk about. So I end on a positive note I am going to go from worst to best…

Retraining. There is a chapter here about how your character can retrain any change they have made in their character as long as you have time and gold. This is the most ludicrous waste of space of a system I have ever read. Six levels in and you realise you did not like becoming a necromancer? that is OK, take a holiday and become an evoker instead! Taken a Wisdom upgrade and realised Dex would have been a better choice, no problem! This is just a nightmare. In reality this is normally dealt with with a discussion between the player and the GM. Player: Look, I was a bit rushed last time I levelled and I think I should have taken x feat, can I change it? GM: Sure, you haven’t used the one you took in any major way, no problem. This entire idea of retraining devalues things like spell replacement in Sorceror (and other classes) and is like saying to a player not to worry about considering what you want to play because you can always change it later with a nominal sum of gold and a bit of in game time. If you can’t tell, this section really annoyed me.

Reputation and Fame. If all you have are the core books then this is likely to have some value for you. I collect Adventure Paths (AP) and also some campaign supplements (especially if they are mentioned in the AP as useful) and so this is about the fourth system I have come across that deals with this concept. And it is also the worst system of the ones that I have looked at. Why do they not just migrate the simplest system they have created and use it? To me it would be something similar to the system contained in the Faction Guide which was simple, transferrable and easy to understand. Seriously Paizo, look at what you have and stop reinventing the wheel time and time again.

Magic Item Creation. I loved the second half of this. The first half talks about how to stop min maxing players from exploiting loopholes in the system that exists and how you really should not alter a lot about the way things work (like rechargeable wands or making an intelligence modifying pair of boots). It made average reading and as I am playing a character that I am considering to use as a creator of magic items it was timely. the absolute best thing about this section was the bit that has potential for creating role playing opportunities! Think to (and try not to groan) Harry Potter where he gets his wand that has a strand of unicorn hair (or something similar in it) to make the wand. That is the cool stuff that you want to get involved in but most times for an item you spend your gold, roll the dice and make your item. In the final part of this system they talk about rare agents you can use to make COOL ROLEPLAYING OPPORTUNITIES WITH!!!!!!! Dragon heartblood! Dire animal brain! Giant squid ink and many more! Oh the possibilities. I seriously disagree with the writers that the cost of such items should be taken out of treasure hordes because you get this object as well but apart from that this is the stuff that I love to see in this book.

So, after sprinkling some stardust on my swords to grant them a light that you can search the dark places of the world with I think I had better sum up. This is the chapter where cracks in the overall coolness of this book begin to show. In summary let us look at these sections and put them where I consider they lay.

The Good: Alignment, Companions, Exploration, Honor, Lineage, Magic Item Creation, Relationships, Retirement, Young Characters.

The Bad: Bargaining, Investment, Taxation.

The Ugly: Contacts, Retraining, Reputation and Fame

The italicized section names are the best example of each category in my opinion. This chapter still has a lot of good in it, in fact more good than bad (or bad and ugly combined!) so it is a worthwhile read. I am majorly disappointed that this section did not take a close look at actually building campaigns from scratch with a modular or building block approach. With one chapter to go (final review next week!) there is little likelihood that it is going to occur. So next week we look at Chapter 4: Kingdoms and War. Until then, Keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Review: Ultimate Campaign – Part 1

Ultimate Campaign CoverIt is taking me a little time to get through my Ultimate Campaign sourcebook by Paizo for Pathfinder. It is not because it is a poor book, rather that real life keeps trying to get in my way. This morning I had a bit of a revelation anyway in that the sourcebook has four chapters with topics that take a quite different look at various parts of a campaign so I should do a review per chapter. In the final review I will bring it all together and give you my overall impressions of the book but this way I am able to give a bit more of an in depth look to each chapter as we go because they are quite meaty chapters.

Chapter 1: Character Background

This chapter is largely what I was looking forward to this book for. Many of you will realise that I am a big role-player as opposed to the roll-player. I like to take on large roles, or fill my games with them so that the drama does not necessarily need to rely on combat to progress. To play a large character you need to think not only about their motivations but also where their motivations stem from. That is right, the background of the character. I have a discussion about getting into backgrounds on my own blog, which you can reach from this link.

Pathfinder has made attempts to get players involved in character background through Traits that first arose as a free web supplement and then also got included in the Advanced Players Guide (APG). Feats also could be attached to your character background as well if you so wished to do so. But in reality the background of your character has been largely left to your own to develop (which is not a bad thing) while the game focused on how to handle “the now”. As a GM I have always needed my players to use the Trait rules from the APG, taking a trait that they want and a campaign trait (to the adventure path or from the APG). This of course has led to an array of characters who all choose the Reactionary trait as their free choice and a varying campaign trait. Few of these characters ever bothered to tie these into a background of sorts.

Well, enter Chapter 1 of Ultimate Campaign (UCamp), which is in its entirety here to offer a mechanic to build your character’s background with sixty-eight pages of advice and support. As that is more pages combined of the sections that make up the Games Master section of the Core Book I think the people over at Paizo have looked at the trend of story based games that are rising in popularity and are beginning to provide some assistance on how to build well developed characters before the first game is even done.


The chapter itself offers up a couple of different options to building your character. The first option is a structured brainstorming idea that helps you take on a character concept (with some really good ideas on what to do when stuck) that looks at the circumstances around your birth inclusive of family, the area, the characters social standing, exposure to magic and also a major event that is likely to be part of the formation of why the character took on a role like they did.

The brainstorm then moves you through adolescence including how you move from a child to an adult in your community, what friends, allies and influences affect you. It also asks you to think of a class event in that an event that led you to the training of your character’s actual class rather than social class, details of your first love as well as your duty and responsibilities. Then it leads into your adult life and the character you are now. It asks you to reflect on the past and how your character handles such things like their ordinary demeanor or conflict, what their vulnerabilities are, who their friends, associates and companions are. Once you have thought about this it then asks you to think about your trait choices and tying them into the background as a whole.

New Trait Mechanics and Drawbacks

The second option is a Background Generator which allows you to build a complete random background for the character. Before I discuss this I want to discuss the expanded traits that exist in this book and the new mechanics they have added to the character background. Traits have been greatly expanded in this new book. They have gone from an eight page section in the APG to a thirteen page inclusion (with all the traits from the APG included) in UCamp. The rules around traits are still that you may take two for your character. But now there is an addition to the rule where you can take three traits if you are willing to take on a drawback! New mechanic people! The drawback is something that limits your character in some way and they introduce some examples which are good but they are limited to two pages. I love this new idea as it becomes a source of conflict which adds drama to the game but only two pages of them? Come on! We want, nay need more Paizo. There are a world of flaws you can draw on and we get only a handful of good examples?

The Background Generator

The reason I covered the traits and flaws expansion before the random background mechanics is due to the fact that as you go through the Background Generator (BG) it ties results to possible traits that you should choose from so that the traits you choose are reflective of the events in your background. The BG is something that when I started reading I turned my nose up a little at it. I thought a character should come from within the player but the more I read the more I warmed to it. I thought of the characters that my players had run and how some of them had little to no background at all and thought this is a great way to show the importance of it. The BG is very old school in its approach. It is essentially a process of going to tables and rolling a percentile and finding the result. The tables go through three different stages (multiple tables in each stage.

Pathfinder TroopsThe first stage is the Homeland, Family and Childhood stage. It lays out tables explaining about your family, what life is like in your homeland and more. As you go through and role on these tables you open up access to certain traits that you may want to take in your allocation of traits. For example, if I rolled an 82% on the Circumstances of Birth table on page twenty I would gain access to the Blessed faith and Birthmark faith trait (there is a description to the roll but I won’t be offering spoilers). Now it is just gaining access to it which means at the end of the BG when all three sections are complete I will have a list of traits that fit my background and I will then go through them and choose up to two traits from the list or up to three if I am to take a drawback.

The second stage covers the character’s adolescence and training into their class while the third and final stage looks at moral conflicts, relationships and vulnerabilities. The third stage even has an alignment generator tied to the background of the character! How cool is that? Fancy your alignment being a product of your background!

Story Feats

The final thing that I want to say about this chapter is the final new mechanic in it called the Story Feat. These are fantastic! They can be tied into character background I believe at points during the BG as a suggested feat for the character. They in essence offer you a personal quest, which gives you added abilities (like a normal feat) while you are pursuing the quest and then, once complete, these abilities tend to become more powerful. These Feats can be taken by anyone that meets at least one of the eligibility criteria at the start of it, which means they are easily adaptable to existing campaigns. The Feats themselves offer a GM automatic secondary stories or plot lines to be incorporated into your game adding a beautiful depth to the story that will be pursued by the player! Get into these feats GM’s and players alike. if you sit around in game wondering what is going on, these feats will give you motivation to stay focused and find areas that can help you complete the feat. There are a healthy eight pages devoted to these feats.

Chapter 1 Likes and Dislikes

This sourcebook is shaping up to be a fantastic sourcebook for the Pathfinder game. It is working mechanics to give an in depth story. Chapter 1 on a flick through looks to be all rules and regulations for the game and may be a bit off putting to a player. But the essence of all these rules is to bring an enhanced, in depth understanding to the character and why they act like they do. The rules do not need to be memorized and are easily skimmed through as you make your character.

The thing I am most excited about is the Story Feat, which are just a brilliant idea. They add an in game reason for focus and plot development that the player has an increasing buy in to. I can see me developing may more of them for use in my game and I do hope Paizo has planned other story feats that might be linked to adventure paths or the like. The BG also looks to be a fun way to build a character background. If I ever have the opportunity to be a player in another Pathfinder game I am going to go all in with a completely random background for a challenge to roleplay the end result. It is a very old school way to achieve a background but I think it is going to be fun to see the variations from it.

The only criticism I have of this chapter are the poor amount of drawbacks. The ones there are okay but in one lot of characters you are likely to use most of them up. Drama comes from vulnerabilities and foibles and for this mechanic to be truly embraced we need a lot more drawbacks that can be used. Before I run my next game I am actually going to have to spend a good deal of time fleshing these out as my group will get any advantage they can (three traits, one drawback is better than two traits).

There are some of you out there that have probably read this sourcebook three times over by now but I hope that some of you will read some of these reviews and make your decision on if you should include it in your rules set. I am enjoying savoring the book as I read through it and I will bring a review of the next chapter to you next Monday. Until then, keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Council of Thieves Campaign

~ This post contains spoilers for the Council of Thieves Adventure Path. Do not read if you do not wish to be spoiled. ~

After we finished Kingmaker the DM and blog owner Jeff wanted a break. I stepped in and we talked about what Adventure Path to try next and we decided on Council of Thieves. It was my number one pick as I really enjoy city based campaigns. I did not do a lot of research on it to know what was going to be in store for us. I thought it looked fun and interesting and knew I could really make it shine. There will be spoilers so readers are warned. I’m not going to talk about everything in each book but I will discuss some things good and bad about the AP and some of the changes that I did.

To start with I encouraged my players to make skill based characters, as skills were going to be a bigger focus in the campaign. They chose an Inquisitor, Rogue, Urban Ranger, and a Bard. I wanted to limit spellcasting and that really did it. Also, the campaign is designed to go to 13th level, but I only advanced them to 10th level for the end. Magic was not a powerful factor for the players and it helped the game tremendously. The AP is the first written for Pathfinder and it shows. The stat blocks for the enemies were not well done. This how an adventure that went to 13th level could be completed by a group of weaker classes levels behind where they should have been. Also, the content in the books was lacking. We made it through most of them in two sessions verses the five to six sessions a Kingmaker book took us.

The main thing I did was help my players come up with good backgrounds for the setting and flesh out some NPCs they knew that I could use. I like to flesh out the setting and add in side plots for the PCs that don’t revolve around the main campaign plot but can cause complications and offer allies. I know many gamers don’t make backgrounds as the GMs never use them and they never serve a purpose. I always use them and if a player doesn’t supply the information I will supply it for them with their approval.

The Bastards of ErebusThe first book is the Bastards of Erebus. It defines some of the city. Westcrown used to be the capital city until the civil war and the Devil Worshipers took over. Sadly, the repression and evil government is not shown much and if I were to do it again I would do a better job of establishing that. Part of the city has been abandoned and that is where gangs like the Bastards have set up. I did move the events of the book as it starts with the group meeting a second society and then during that meeting bad guys come in and break it up. I don’t think PCs would go back to that group after the first time they almost get killed and don’t have any real ties to them. So, I set up some small adventures using some options the book provides to do afterwards and had them happen first. This established a greater connection between the PCs and the group so when the leader of the group needs rescued the PCs would do that.

One major change I did was giving the group a powerful item in their first adventure, a Helm of Brilliance. The city has a curfew because shadow beasts rule the night. People who venture out after dark have a habit of never being seen again. The problem has existed for over 30 years. I included more history of failed attempts to fix the problem then the books do because by the books the people of the city just accepted it. The Helm gives power versus the undead and some spell ability that can really damage and kill the things. But the Helm is a charged item so the group was conservative and made it last much longer than I expected.

The Sixfold Trial is book two and might have one of the most famous scenes from all the Adventure Paths in it: the Play. The characters are hired to put on a dangerous play in which the characters of the play are tortured through trials. The trials though are real so the PCs have to live through these potentially very dangerous trials. I thought it was fun. It introduced some great NPCs and allowed the players to do some things they don’t usually do in our games. I had each PC audition and have the director yell at them and it was fun. When we got to the play I was shocked that my group wanted to read through all their lines. I was really expecting some of them to refuse.  No one is going to win a Tony Award for our performance but I enjoyed it. Afterwards they are invited to the evil Mayor’s estate to steal stuff and sadly this wasn’t as good. I was shocked the PCs didn’t try to rob the house blind. Also the dinner party had other NPCs and my players at the time just didn’t engage them. It wasn’t an issue with the adventure or anything it was just an opportunity missed.

I really like that the dungeon crawls in here and short and there are not many of them. It is also a reason why the AP went as quickly as there is not a lot of filler that consume time. I inserted material from the setting books about the city and different NPCs from different sourcebooks that were part of the city. I even included a dragon that seems to be ignored now in the setting. Strangely, the PCs never realized it was a dragon. I kept track of different books I used for this AP and I think I hit over 60 Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder books that were referenced by me to enhance the campaign. It is the most work I’ve put into a campaign for using mostly printed adventures from start to finish.

What Lies In DustWhat Lies in Dust is the third book. The first half consists of gathering information and some oddly pointless fights leads way to one of the cooler places to adventure and that is an abandoned Pathfinder Lodge. It also featured our first really difficulty combat and one of the reasons the Helm of Brilliance was handed out so early in the campaign. The Lodge features some very cool and creative rooms the Pathfinder had. Much of it is creepy and magical and I would really like to see more places like this. The difficult combat was some Vampires that I did not foreshadow to keep them as a complete surprise. The NPC Paladin that was journeying with them was killed in one round by the vampires as by this time the group is only supposed to be sixth level (they were fifth) and the vampires have a great ambush place and class levels. Most of the NPCs are not well built, but these guys were especially for a group that did not have a Cleric. It turned into a great battle and was challenging and fun.

In the Infernal Syndrome, the fourth book, the Mayor’s house blows up. It was a fun scene of the PCs running through the city to get to the disaster and then trying to help. Our rogue had her favorite combat as there was a devil on a rooftop shooting arrows. She quickly climbed up attacked and then retreated. She knew she could not face the creature in hand to hand so used great hit and run tactics and made great use of her characters abilities. Then the group sees thieves going into the basement and that leads to what is probably the largest dungeon crawl in the Adventure Path. It is a large magical engine with a Pit Fiend as its battery. It is a neat idea and there are some interesting encounters and fun NPCs, but the last dozen or so rooms really dragged on making it tiresome by the time the group gets to the Pit Fiend.

My favorite encounter in here was a Lich (weak Lich, like the weak Pit Fiend) who used to be a former mayor of the city. He was of course Evil. He talked to the group and they talked back. He had good reasons for becoming a Lich. It wasn’t because he was evil but he knew that the only way he could live long enough to come back and rescue Westcrown from itself was to become a Lich. Every question the party asked him he came up with good and reasonable answers. They almost let him live which would have been just awesome and interesting. But one of my players realized what was going on and just attacked. It was pretty awesome and fun.

Mother of Flies is the fifth book. It has the only section that really takes the party out of the city. It’s probably less than a mile outside the city. A potential ally who happens to be an evil Hag is being attacked because she knows a secret. The group had fun planning out a counter attack and really getting in some larger scale tactics. The battle does not have to go that way but I have a player that enjoys that so we let him come up some plans and they executed them well. After that it is attacking a thieves’ guild headquarters. It went fast because I did not make the group do a room to room search because most of the rooms are empty. Also, most the opponents as written are painfully too weak. According to the AP the character should be level 10 and many of the normal thieves here had a measly +3 to attack. So, even with flanking they had a 10% to hit our Bard who had the worst AC in the group. There are some named NPCs here that can offer some trouble but mostly it was an easy book to complete.

The Twice-Damned PrinceThe series ends with the Twice Damned Prince. Up to this point the group was not sure who the mastermind was as I was purposefully making it so it could be one of two NPCs. This book instead of a set path, has a lot of small encounters that deal with some of the NPCs and events around the city. It is an interesting way to finish the campaign. The part I hated was by doing this the group collects points and then depending on the amount of points determines how the populace reacts to them. There just is not enough points to be gained to get what most groups would see as a happy ending. I knew I was tossing out that system but told the PCs about it and let them see what would happen if we used it and they got a Martial Law result. We went with a happier ending.

Over all the AP was a lot of fun and a lot of work. I know it is not seen to be as good as Kingmaker but I’d rank it near there, though it is very different.  In the campaign there is an artifact the PCs acquire and they still have it at the end. One of the reasons I just leveled the group to 10th level and had them play skill based characters was the idea they would go off into the world and find out how to destroy the artifact. With the artifacts history I did not change much to lead into the Serpent’s Skull adventure path. The Serpent Skull AP though just didn’t work out well for us.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Rage Quit!

Pathfinder BarbarianEver sat down at the village Inn after a hard day of cleaving Goblin heads from Goblin necks only to be told by the Innkeeper that you need to bathe before they serve you? Then the half-elf waitress makes some comment about meat heads pointedly at your expense and the next thing you know you are staring at an Inn full of dead folk all dismembered and you are holding a bloody axe? I hate it when that happens, as I am sure you do too. And I am sure that you realise you have just exited the rage that marks you as one of the fiercest fighters on the battlefield. You suffered from a Barbarian rage quit and made all the fools suffer for their arrogance.

If you have not quite guessed it yet, this is my post focussed on Pathfinder’s Barbarian class. The brute warriors with more focus on force than finesse the Barbarian throws defence to the wind in an attempt to deliver as much damage as possible in a short time. We will take a look at the abilities that make a Barbarian the formidable warrior that they are and also look at what options are available for them through the core rulebooks to make them all they can be. Conan wishes he were so good…


The core of a Barbarian is their rage. It is a wellspring that exists in them that they tap into when they loose themselves into a battle. The strength and constitution scores raise by 4 with a morale bonus increasing to hit bonuses and hit points (as well as fort saves) in the process. The Barbarian also gains a +2 to their will saves but the negative to all this is they suffer a −2 to their armour class. In game terms the Barbarian becomes wilder, stronger, a little more impervious but less focused on defending themselves as they hit their rage.

While in the rage the Barbarian can’t use skills that require them to think, consider, charm, or coordinate their body. It is seen as a period where the character goes into a wild frenzy led by their primal being. Because of this there is no in depth consideration they are capable of. The best they can do is some intimidation or acrobatic manoeuvres toward dealing the pain to their foes.

The Barbarian can rage for 4 + Con modifier rounds a day at first level and gets to add a further two rounds per day for each level they go up past first. These rounds do not need to be spent consecutively, though coming out of a rage (a free action) causes the Barbarian to become fatigued for twice the amount of time they were in the rage for. They cannot enter their rage again until the fatigue has gone.

Rage Powers

As the Barbarian progresses levels they learn to channel their rage into certain powers. The Barbarian picks up a rage power at level 2 and every second level thereafter. The powers range widely from such things as gaining a bite attack, re-rolling failed saves, extra speed, and even unexpected strikes where the Barbarian can make an attack of opportunity if an opponent enters a threatened square, even if the movement would not normally draw an attack of opportunity. Picking these rage powers allows you to differentiate your Barbarian from others and also allows you to theme the character to a style you like. The available rage powers increase with the Advanced Players Guide (APG) and the Ultimate Combat (UC) sourcebooks.

Greater Rage and Mighty Rage

The Barbarian makes some increases in his rage ability at 11th level and as his capstone power at 20th level. These powers both increase the bonus they apply to their statistics and their Will saves. These bonuses enable the Barbarian to become a much more potent foe at the right time in game to continue to making them relevant. The Barbarian is always a warrior in a battle that the foe needs to pay attention to. They can be unpredictable and become instantly more formidable the moment they give in to their inner anger.

Other Abilities

The Barbarian is not a great armoured warrior and their choice of armour only goes to medium armours. They are of course proficient with all except exotic weapons giving them a wide range of choices for how to deal this damage. Although a shield is not often a popular choice with many Barbarians (who tend to go damage over defence) they are proficient with them (excepting tower shields).

Kingmaker - BarbarianAt the heart of the Barbarian is their core rage power but there are surrounding abilities that make them an attractive option for a player or an NPC foe. Over the levels the Barbarian becomes increasingly harder to pin down, firstly unable to be caught flat footed and then later not even being able to be flanked. This relates to the Barbarian’s energy level as they are always moving and always in a state of awareness. They also are masters of battling as many opponents that they can so can handle being surrounded with little problem. This energy also allows them to react to traps quicker and they gain a dodge bonus against traps as they seem almost presentient to them when they trigger.

On top of their mobility the Barbarian is also resistant to physical damage and mental domination. They receive Damage Reduction (DR) at a moderate level of power and the amount of damage resisted is dependent on the level of the character. After some time the Barbarian also becomes mentally tougher receiving a bonus to their Will saves against any enchantment magic that is used against them.

Looking Beyond the Core Rulebook

The Barbarian is broadened in scope with a mass of new rage powers in the APG. These powers make it a lot easier to theme the character as you have a synergy that exists within some of the powers themselves. This synergy makes a Barbarian able to take powers that fit both thematically as well as sometimes with other power mechanics to mesh the character into a whole. There are nearly four full pages in this section all devoted to adding a variety of new Barbarian rage powers to the class making the APG the single most important expansion amongst the core sourcebooks for the class. The book also offers up 10 archetypes that allow you to modify your character from the standard Barbarian located in the Core rulebook. These archetypes are;

  • Breaker: Driven not only to destroy their foes but their environment as well
  • Brutal Pugilist: Focus on hand to hand combat and combat manoeuvres to bring their opponents down
  • Drunken Brute: Their intake of alcohol fuels their rage so don’t think because they are drunk they are an easy beat
  • Elemental Kin: Tied to elemental forces by tribal shamans the Barbarian uses the power of elemental forces to aid them
  • Hurler: Focusses his rage into throwing items at their foes
  • Invulnerable Rager: The Barbarian becomes much more resistant to damage of all sorts
  • Mounted Fury: A master of mounted war they ride down their foes
  • Savage Barbarian: Far from modern weapons this warrior has taught themselves battle in a unique and primal way
  • Superstitious: They develop their rage to warn of magic and mystical abilities and more easily defend against them
  • Totem Warrior: The Barbarian has a totem that they focus on, revering the powers that make them more like their totem 3

The UC sourcebook offers up another slew of rage powers for the Barbarian. There are quite a deal fewer than the APG but they fit nicely with some of the archetypes also included (another 7 options). The rage powers here work well together and do expand out the options for all Barbarians making this book a good read also if you are thinking of playing in the class. The added archetypes are;

  • Armoured Hulk: This Barbarian masters the use of heavy armours alongside their rage
  • Scarred Rager: These warriors are covered in scars, and each scar has a story!
  • Sea Reaver: Pirates and curs of the sea these warriors adapt their rage to open water
  • Titan Mauler: A warrior skilled in fighting oversized foes and bringing them down as quickly as possible
  • True Primitive: Tribes that live hidden away from the world tend to bring out the most primal Barbarian ragers
  • Urban Barbarian: Skilled at operating with the city or village as their territory these Barbarians are more civilised but just as dangerous
  • Wild Rager: These Barbarians become more like a beast as they give in to their primal nature

My View

The Barbarian is not a class that I am overly familiar with. I have a rudimentary knowledge of the class as I have had to NPC Barbarian’s only through the Serpent Skull adventure path. I have never played a Barbarian as a player and I have never had a player take on the role of a Barbarian although that may change in Reign of Winter as I have a player who intends to take a Barbarian should his current character die. Based on this I have little feeling for the class as a whole. From my experience NPCing the Barbarian’s in Serpent Skull I do know the class is not one that anyone should underestimate.

Barbarian FightThe class is brilliant at dealing damage. Their core mechanic is one that allows them to increase the amount of damage they do as well as increasing the likelihood that they will actually manage to hit on most occasions. It is the rage powers that add the subtle abilities to the class that I struggle to comprehend with the class and is a blind spot that I know I need to address. I have tagged the Barbarian as a class I would like to play to help me understand how they work in detail.

A Barbarian is a dangerous opponent and should not be written off as inconsequential. They have a multitude of handy powers that are too numerous to describe individually here but they can and will surprise you with these abilities so expect the unexpected.

I would love to hear from you all if your favoured class is the Barbarian. Hit us up in the comments and let us know what your favoured builds are. What is the best rage powers to equip your barbarian with and why? I have listed here only the core sourcebooks and the materials for Barbarians in those books, are there other books or sources that are a must if you are going to play a Barbarian? Until next week, keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

My Old Mate Al Chemist

No, I am not trying to introduce you to a drug dealer! Instead I am going to be taking a look at the Pathfinder classes one by one. It will be a theme that I return to irregularly at the Iron Tavern and so I have decided to do it in the time old tradition of alphabetically. I will cover all core rules base classes and then I may even go on to look at the prestige classes if it is a popular series. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Al Chemist.

Alchemist Damiel IconicThe Alchemist

“I awoke one morning to the sound of flame and explosion. Looking up I saw Seroquel literally grinding the eye of newt into a paste so he could add it to his boom boom juice. I have no idea what that is and I dislike the Gnome in his original form so I told him to wake me when he let Hank out to play.” Excerpt from Gelik Aberwhinge’s journal, Saventh-Yhi, Mwangi Expanse.

First introduced in the Advanced Players Guide the Alchemist class fills the needs of all those people who have a little mad scientist in them. They are a quasi-magical class with a range of abilities that can shape the character in a variety of different configurations. I have had the pleasure of being the GM to two Alchemist’s so far and I have to say that they are a fun class inclusion in a party. Both players though took the same path so I have seen only one configuration of the Alchemist played out and that is the feral or Mr Hyde variant.

The Alchemist class relies on infusions that are brewed every morning. Much like a mad scientist they must follow a group of formulae from a formula book and have the ability (or skill) to infuse a certain number of extracts per day. These operate essentially by applying or drinking the extract and using the body as a conduit for the alchemical reaction. The effect is like that of a spell, and in fact uses standard spells as the description for these extracts. The spell list for the class is pretty good but the spells are mainly those that operate on the individual themselves. You will see no overt ranged attack spells like magic missile or fireball amongst the allowable spells due to this fact. Also, all actions to “cast” these spells draw an attack of opportunity i.e. draw vial from backpack: move action that attracts attack of opportunity; drink extract: standard action that draws an attack of opportunity. With this in mind it pays to remain out of melee range if you are intending on making your spells the main focus of the class.

But spells are but one part of the Alchemist’s many stringed bow. The class also receives the ability to create a number of explosive devices, or “bombs” that are ranged attack grenades if you wish to think of them that way. The Alchemist creates a two part infusion, both inert unless mixed and are the only class that can mix these reagents together. These bombs are super effective against individual foes and also have a splash damage to those surrounding the target. They also gain in effectiveness with the more class levels the Alchemist obtains, adding more and more damage. They start as a base of fire damage but through the use of discoveries the Alchemist can actually vary the energy type when they make the bombs.

Alchemists Poster SheetThe discoveries that an Alchemist can make along the way may vary a lot about the class and it is through these discoveries that you can customise the character to a theme. As I stated in the introduction the two Alchemists I have GMed were of the type that followed a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde configuration. Mild mannered scientist who, upon drinking a mixture (called a mutagen) became a mighty fighter full of rage. The other stream of customisation actually takes the character more down the road of an expert bomber or demolitionist. It gives them a wide range of different energy types, delay explosions, smoke bombs and a bunch of other types. Some of these discoveries can only be taken at certain levels so there is a good range of powered abilities that the character can access through their career.

The second to last of the mad scientist abilities is the mutagen power. The mutagen is a concoction that the Alchemist can only make one of a day. When they make it they pick a physical statistic (strength, dexterity or constitution) that it will affect. Once the Alchemist drinks the mutagen they receive a +2 to natural armour as their skin hardens and a +4 to the ability that was chosen. The downside is one of the mental attributes (intelligence, willpower or charisma) takes a -2 hit. the choice is dependent on the statistic chosen to boost. It is like the Alchemist becomes a new, more feral version, of themselves and some Alchemists actually see it as a new personality and give them a name (as in the flavour text that headed this blog). The mutagen lasts for ten minutes per class level and can be an absolute life saver!

The last ability allows the Alchemist to use poison which in my opinion is not often used unless taking poison bombs. One of the Alchemist players I have GMed collected a lot of poisons but never really used them as it is a power quickly outclassed by many of the other special abilities that they pick up along the way. This power seems to be “tacked on” somehow and I am yet to see it truly benefit the class in play.

AlchemyUltimate Combat expands the Alchemist by providing new discoveries for the class, largely in the bombing area. It also provides two archetypes in the Beastmorph and the Ragechemist. Both of these classes target the mutagen powers to provide different abilities. The Beastmorph takes on animal features as they mutagen and some powers along with it. The Ragechemist is a Strength focussed class that creates a very angry alchemist indeed! Ultimate Magic provides a lot more discoveries with a much broader range from any of the previous rules sources. They do not just focus on bombs but on abnormalities too like vestigial limbs and a great variety of different powers that need to be investigated when playing the class. The book also provides no less than eight new archetypes that I will list but not go into. The archetypes are Chirirgeon, Clone Master, Internal Alchemist, Mindchemist, Peservationist, Psychonaut, Reanimator and the Vivisectionist. Needless to say, Ultimate Magic is a go to if considering playing this class.

The Alchemist is on a whole one of my absolute favourite classes. They are quirky, scientific and utterly weird which is exactly why I like them. I strongly suggest you look at the Alchemist if you are considering wanting to play a spellcaster as they really are an alternative to the arcane type spellcasters you can get. The opportunity for colourful role playing of this class is excellent and they will be embarrassing and weird, creating all kinds of fun in a group of bold adventurers. I would rate the Alchemist at 9.5 steaming beakers out of 10 for an enjoyable class to play in Pathfinder.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Building Your Own Campaign World – Part 2

Photo By Colin Smith

Photo By Colin Smith

Welcome back to part 2 of building your own campaign world. Last week we chose a hook, probably a world map (or at least a map of the nearby area) and a village or settlement that the characters can call their own at the very start of the campaign. Today we will look at how we inject some life into our village and also set some rules around the seed we created. We will get to the point today where we will be ready to design our first adventure which we will handle in next weeks post. Also, just to give you a heads up, I have preordered Paizo’s Ultimate Campaign addition to the Pathfinder range and when I get my copy (which normally takes a few weeks living all the way around the world from America) I will give it a good review here for you all.

Revisiting the Seed

The first thing that I need to look at after last week is put in place some mechanics to help facilitate the players life after death status should they happen to shuffle off their mortal coil on their first outing. As the idea largely forms around the character taking on the form of a ghost after being killed I check the entry for the Ghost creature in the original Bestiary for Pathfinder on pp.144-45. They already have rules for creating a ghost which on the whole are pretty good although I want to take away the idea of the ghost being a malevolent one. To do this I take away the option of it having a special attack (this could still be used if creating a ghost proper in game but for purposes of a player it does not fit with the theme of the campaign). Also I remove the requirement to change the Hit Die (as it causes unnecessary bookkeeping mid game) along with the changes to skills. The player may keep their Strength and Constitution scores intact though be considered for all intensive purposes to be able to use it only on other incorporeal creatures.

NPC CodexSo with a mechanic in place for my hook I consider what effect this might have on the wider game. In the world I want the idea of people becoming spirits after death to be a normal thing. Therefore there are some changes to the wider game that I need to make, especially in regards to the Cleric class. As written in the base rules of Pathfinder the Cleric must choose to channel negative energy if evil in alignment. However this notion that all deaths result in a spirit form coming forth could, and does, turn this concept on its head. I foresee there being temples where wounded spirits go to be healed by kind, caring clerics that have to channel negative energy to do so. Also evil clerics may now wish to eradicate the spiritual remnants of beings and channel positive energy to do so. Thus I change the requirement of channeling negative or positive energy to be a complete choice for the cleric, regardless of the alignment.

This leaves a few loose ends to clear up in regards to this new mechanic. The first is who does cross over in this spirit form? Does it happen to every living thing? The answer here would be no if I were running this. It would happen to any Neutral or Good intelligent creature. I would likely tie this to one of the Gods on my mind map from last week as a reward, perhaps Elethna, Mistress of the Harvest deciding not to reap the crop that has served her in times of need. How long has the spirit got before Elethna harvests them and delivers them to her sister Delta, Goddess of Death? I would put a year and a day time limit on this creating for some interesting roleplaying situations if the player wants to go it in spiritual form. Finally, does this mechanic alter any of the Raise Dead, Resurrection, Reincarnate etc. type spells? Only in the way that if one of these were used that the spirit ceases to be and becomes corporeal again. Also, some of those spell requirements like needing a portion of the body to be bought back could be altered so if the spirit is present and willing then that could be enough to bring them into being (just in case their remains got dissolved by a large ooze or somesuch).

Not all seeds are going to require as much of an alteration as the one I decided to lead with. In fact the seed itself may simply add flavour to the setting rather than needing to be catered for with rules. However if your seed does need changes, consider the longer term effects of those changes. Some seeds require base assumptions to come into question (like the change to Cleric) and so rules must be put in place to cover them. But you have to consider why those rules were there in the first place. Good Clerics channel positive energy and can heal people is a no brainer in most campaigns but as this one turns the idea of who Clerics may be required to serve on its head I had to change the ruling here. It has no long term effects that would break the system and is logical so it is OK and I went ahead and changed it. But you will notice that it is still a choice though, the Cleric does not get to do both types of energy so they must choose if they serve the dearly departed or the living. Remember, the rules are a guideline, if they need to be bent to suit your idea for the campaign world then bend away. Just make sure players are fully informed of any rules changes when they sit at your table to play the campaign.

Giving Dante’s Rest Some Life

The last thing that we need to do before we start to build an adventure or some encounters into our campaign world is to breathe some life into the village that the players are set to start in. Dante’s Rest, the village atop a bluff said to house the remains of the only mortal who had lain with a God… Sounds cool but without preparation it is just another dot on the map. You could draw a map of the town if you wanted to which will assist the players to identify various landmarks. I have only ever drawn a map of a town once in my Earthdawn campaign and it saw little use. I find if you prepare a few descriptions of local stores and homes that the players become more involved. I may use a nice picture to represent a few things (such as Dante’s Mausoleum) but description and feeling draw the players in.

Consider where you, if you were a player that had a level in every class, would want to go in the village;

  • Blacksmith
  • Inn
  • General Store
  • Temple
  • Apothecary
  • Village Commons
  • Village Hall

Now you have that list, write an evocative short paragraph that describes each location and its owner or NPC that is to be tied to the location. I will do one to give you an example. I look to my Village template from last week and start with some of the important NPC’s listed there;

You approach the Smithy whose open verandah stares out over the Village Commons and see a small plume of smoke rising from the rear. Seeing this you know the door to the store will likely be locked as Terran will be creating some new masterpiece. You try the latch on the red cedar door to find it locked and walk around back. Under a large area of canvas you smell the rich smoke of myrtle burning to coals. Terran is there carefully considering the glowing red tip of a short sword that he has been working on. The scene is almost comical as the ruddy faced portly blonde halfling manipulates the blade that is too big for his own hands. The spirit of his wife stands behind him telling him how things should look but you see that Terran has tuned her out as he admires his craftwork.

Halfling D&DThe above gives a nice description that will help the players get the feel of Terran, the Blacksmith shop and the idea of the seed with his dead wife nagging him as he works. Next time they visit you could have the store open instead and it will give the players the idea that it is a living breathing village. Past that they might come across Terran in the Inn after a hard day. Remember he is an important NPC so he will likely know the PC’s if they are local and may be a source of employment. To illustrate this we will apply an NPC template to Terran. Looking at the cast of NPC characters in the GM guide so I grab the NPC Codex and find details of an Expert Blacksmith. It is a Dwarf but with a few minor alterations we can change it into Terran the Halfling Smithy.

In essence you now simply need to go through your list of places and follow the same example as above to create some interesting places in your town. Once you have that done, consider fleshing out the town with a few more NPC’s that you would have in the town. We know that rumour is rife in the town so you may have a rumour-mongering elder who gets involved in everyones business, asking uncomfortable questions just at the wrong time. Have some local kids that are familiar with the players and have some brief descriptions for them. A guard or two from the Mausoleum as such an important place would definitely be protected and generic stats at least for the most important of these NPC’s, at the very least a detailed description.

With these portions of the town noted down you have created a vibrant, dynamic place for your players to begin their stay. You could now start building up some hooks for the locations of the town but in reality that is more a form of designing your first adventures so we will cover this next week as we build up our first adventure. The campaign will develop through these adventures and through exploration of the areas around their initial locale. As they reach further afield you simply need to repeat the process you have done here to create exciting places to adventure in and visit. Some places (e.g. larger settlements) may require a lot more work but the process is the same.

There are a bunch of different approaches you can take to making a campaign and I am attempting to present the most systematic and user friendly version here for you to work on. This version works well but if you want to explore some of the more advanced versions of campaign building have a look at my blog where I have shown a few of the variant options that people use to build campaigns over this past week. But back to our way of dealing with things.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

New Classics: Paizo Modules J1 and J4

Entombed with the Pharaohs and The Pact Stone Pyramid

Entombed with the Pharohs CoverToday I bring in a couple of my favorite Paizo modules both written by Michael Kortes.  One is a sequel to the other, though they can easily be played as separate adventures.  They share similar themes of pyramid exploration and bring in more than just the usual dungeon crawling.  I believe these are the best pyramid based modules since the Desert of Desolation series that I still need to run for my current group.  We did play through both of these modules and I believe my players had as much fun playing them as I did running them.

Both modules are set in the Golarion setting in the country of Osirion.  If you are not familiar, the country is a fantasy version of Egypt though not as dead on as say Green Ronin’s Hamunaptra.  The setting is important to both modules so it will reward groups that use it specifically in the Osirion country but the modules are not so attached to it that it cannot be pulled away and placed in a homebrew or other similarly themed setting.  When I ran them they were placed in my homebrew setting with zero issues of compatibility.

Both modules are also written under the OGL and before the Pathfinder RPG came out.  I think this might be one reason I rarely see mention of them or other modules from this period of Paizo’s publishing.  I ran these using 3.5 D&D so I did not have to do any converting but I don’t believe it would be difficult to convert these into newer or even older versions of D&D and like RPGs.  One aspect that makes them a little easier to convert is the modules are not very large.  Each module has a little more than a dozen different areas in the Pyramids with encounters that lead up to the actual pyramid exploration.  These days I think I prefer these smaller modules and the ease they can be completed in.  I think each of these took us a session or two to finish.  Entombed with the Pharaohs is for sixth levels characters and the Pact Stone is for eighth level characters.

Entombed with the Pharaohs

Entombed with the Pharaohs starts with some good pulp feeling adventure.  The bad guys are introduced at the beginning and there is an auction the PCs need to win to get clues on where the Pyramid is.  I like that it doesn’t just start the PCs at the base of the Pyramid, though one could easily ignore the first part of the module and do just that.  The module has great sidebars that tell additional information.  I like the one on the numerology. That one can be focused on to add more depth to the mystery for the PCs to figure out.  There is also plenty of information on what the bad guys are going to be doing so it is not just rooms waiting to be explored.  There is a race to see who can get the treasure first.  There is a good variety to the encounters with some just tough combats and others are minor puzzles.  There are some great references to planet watching and another planet in the Golarion solar system.  This is just hinted at in the module but would be easy to expand on especially since now there is a book on the other planets.  The module is self-contained but hints at a much bigger picture for DMs to have fun with.  For a small module there is a good deal of mystery and information that can be built on or ignored without damaging the adventure

The Pact Stone PyramidThe Pact Stone Pyramid

The Pact Stone Pyramid is quite different but the general themes are the same.  One could probably combine both pyramids of the modules into a much larger dungeon crawl or just have this be a tougher area in the first module.  But I like them as separate places especially with the hints and foreshadow of the first module to the second one.  Like the other module the Pact Stone Pyramid has a rival group that is there before the PCs, but having difficulties.  There is a lot of potential to bring back old NPC nemesis or allies here and introduce some new ones.  Getting into the Pyramid and by its initial guardians is a challenge and not the easiest thing to figure out for PCs that stop and delay trying to.  There are plenty of cool encounters and mysteries to be figured out.  Like the other module this one to hints at events larger than the module and between the two modules it seems to prophesize a large event that is coming soon and clever PCs can figure out exactly how long they have.

Both modules appear to still be in print and I’ve seen them occasionally at used books stores. It should be easy to pick them up for people interested in them.  They have a great pulp feel that could actually aid in converting them to other non D&D like games like Hollow Earth Expedition or Adventure.  Modernizing the rival factions but keeping the magic and fantasy elements of the modules could make for some fun 1920’s pulp adventures.  With the foreshadowing of something evil coming, the numerology, and ancient books that the modules reference it could make these a good starting point some Call of Cthulhu adventures or even a more modern Delta Green version.  Running the modules for these games would take a bit more work for the GM but would be a good surprise for players that might not be expecting adventures like these.  The modules have a plenty of potential to be used in fun and creative ways.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Do You Brew?

After last week’s post about why I prefer Pathfinder as a gaming system for my fantasy games I had a good discussion with some gamers about how much setting was involved in the core rulebooks and the Beginners Box. I had always been fairly close to the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) franchise through it’s various incarnations that the lack of setting material in these books did not surprise me at all. However there are a bunch of other games out there who apply a system and a setting in one main rule book so it got me to thinking about how many homebrew campaigns were out there for Pathfinder and who simply spent the extra money to get the PDF or actual books for the Pathfinder Campaign setting in Golarion or a third party setting.

Inner Sea World Guide CoverCampaign Setting vs. Rulebook

Let us unpack this issue a little and see what we have. Pathfinder’s core rulebook is aimed at providing you as a player or a Games Master (GM) the rules to the setting as a whole. It gives player classes, character creation tips, spells, traps, equipment, poisons combat advice and the like. It is largely a book of rules with very little setting. The rules are the open source material that have been built on top of the D&D 3.5 Open Source rule set. Stripping back the rules you find the small portions of the setting that are included in the setting which is the Intellectual Property (IP) of Paizo and therefore not open source. It is their copyrighted material that they will protect. If you want the clearest example of this and you have a Pathfinder rulebook handy, turn to the Cleric character class description. In this description you find a table that lists the major Gods of the Pathfinder Chronicles describing their portfolio, domains and favoured weapons. Look at the online resource Pathfinder Reference Document you will notice this table is nowhere to be seen.

The reasoning is that the material is the IP of Paizo and it is based on a setting that is uniquely theirs. They will be very upset if you handed their setting material out for free without their express permission. It is the main reason that none of the setting materials have been put up in a fashion similar to the PRD. They could, but they want you to get a taste for Golarion through the snippets they offer in the Core rulebooks (they are scattered through there liberally) and decide that this is a world you want to play in. Now the discussion I was having after last week’s post was with a couple of gamers who felt that this was an expensive process for players to get into the Pathfinder game. I found this odd as I always knew that the D&D model (and Pathfinder as well I suppose now) is that they provided the rules and guidelines on what to do with a setting and you made the choice. You could make your own setting or go buy another book with a prepared setting.

Ultimate Campaign CoverBuilding Blocks

I also realised in this discussion that the reason that the Pathfinder Rulebook is so large is that they try to give you all you need to create a setting. Building encounters, environments and NPC’s is all there for you to take a building block approach to your world and develop it. In the example of the Gods you are free to create your own Pantheon of Gods for your own setting. They never say that you must use those that are included. In a game that is all IP (both system and setting) like Earthdawn there is as much setting material and plot hooks in the main rulebook as there are rules. It presents itself as a package for play in their developed world using their system that goes with it. Further books in Earthdawn tend to expand the setting much more than the rules where further books in Pathfinder expand the rules much more than the setting (though new classes can give the setting a different feel).

This means there are two types of games. Pathfinder is definitely a builders game where the GM is going to have to do a lot of work in preparing their world if they do not buy a setting that is pre made. Earthdawn is a setting complete game where the GM is more likely to spend time ensuring the adventures she makes fall in line with the canon of the story.

Keeping Pathfinder Affordable

So, if you are not terribly creative and think that building a world is out of the question how can you keep the costs down to get into Pathfinder. It is apparently the most popular tabletop RPG at the moment but it can be expensive having to buy the rules and then buy the setting. So I have come up with some options of how to go about this.

  1. Don’t buy the rules! That is right, don’t spend a cent on the rules books. Use the online Pathfinder Reference Document website as your rules source. This way all the rules goodness that is Pathfinder is free of charge and at your fingertip (but without the art and beautiful new book smell)

  2. Buy a reduced price set of all the rule books. In this wonderful world of mobile computing if you have a smartphone (iPhone or Android) or a tablet (iPad or Android) there are cheap App options available to you. The prices vary depending on the part of the world you are in but you should be able to buy an App that contains all the Pathfinder core book rules for under $8 that is available wherever you take your mobile device without needing internet access

  3. Buy PDF’s of the books and use eReaders. You can buy all of the Pathfinder books from Paizo in the form of a PDF. These are a great deal cheaper than the hard copy books and contains both setting and rules

  4. Spend the money I just saved you on a setting! Be it Golarion from Paizo or one of the optional third party settings that have been released! Book or PDF.

  5. You can even buy settings from D&D 3.5 edition that people are selling over eBay (and the like) cheap because they are compatible as well, keeping the costs down!

Fictional WorldBuild Your Own

The other option if you are feeling creative is to build your own world! The main rulebooks give you all you need and more to create a world from scratch. What is more there is a wealth of information out there on the internet from people who do this as standard. Most of us call it a homebrew campaign or world. It is a world or country or land or village where things act in the form that you want them to.

It can be a daunting task building your own setting but it does not need to be. It is a rewarding experience to know that it all came from your imagination as a GM and I want to help this process. There are at least 101 “How to make your own campaign” guides out there on the internet so let us make it 102. Next week I will blog about how to make your own campaign world, with a slant on Pathfinder but also generic enough to be translated to any system. Don’t expect it to fit all in one blog, in fact it may be a fortnightly or monthly blog that we revisit regularly but it is an important one and one I hope you join me on the journey. In fact if you have any specific questions you want answered hit the comments and let me know! I’ll try to incorporate the issues.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Why Pathfinder?

Pathfinder RPG Logo

Of all the fantasy settings I could be playing I most commonly find myself reaching for my Pathfinder books. I run two Pathfinder campaigns, one in person and the other via Google+ Hangouts and play in a third one in person. I find this totally surprising as it was only a chance conversation that even made me aware of the game. Prior to this I had been running a “Play By eMail “ (PBeM) for the Earthdawn system and I also spent some time running in person Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) 3.0 games and was heavily into D&D 4.0 at the time Pathfinder got mentioned to me.

I think the reason that I missed the whole Pathfinder band wagon when it kicked off was that I ignored D&D 3.5 when it came out. I was not impressed with third edition which we had waited for with insane anticipation and rather than seeing 3.5 D&D as an improvement on the system I chose to (foolishly) believe it was another assault on our wallets. So as I was not hugely invested in D&D 3.5 material I missed the transition phase that lead into the D&D 4th edition and the branching path that Pathfinder took. In fact when 4th edition D&D came out a mate of mine and I were ready to give D&D a go again so with blind faith we bought the new books and started playing the tabletop board game with roleplaying elements that D&D had become. But it was a game we had invested heavily in so we persevered.

I live in a small rural town so when my wife and I went to Melbourne (Australia) for a weekend away I went on a journey to the game store that I get all of my RPG mail orders from. I bought a large pile of D&D books to take home with me when I met an old friend for a drink or two. We were talking about role playing at the time and I talked about how ordinary we thought 4th edition D&D was and he asked if we had considered Pathfinder. It was the first time I had ever heard of the game. Two weeks after getting home I had a copy of the main rulebook and I read it in a day. This was the game that 4th edition D&D should have been in my opinion and I soon had my players transferring their characters into Pathfinder having never opened a single one of the 4th edition D&D books I had bought on that trip.

So that is how I came to Pathfinder. I never looked back either and have now sold off every 4th edition D&D manual I had. But what was it about Pathfinder that made me turn away from a huge investment in books and time that I had with 4th Edition (and for that matter Earthdawn and a variety of other games)? In essence I can tell you that it was the fact that Pathfinder rules made sense. They resonated with me and were very easy to read. The emphasis was taken away from what you could do on a map (although there were map rules if you chose to use miniatures) to again being an open ended role playing game. You were free to imagine how a skill combined with a spell worked rather than being locked into a menu selection of abilities that you could choose from.

The benefit of this all was it basically was D&D as well. Thanks to the Open Source Licence of 3rd edition here was a game that felt familiar to roleplayers everywhere. Armour Class, Hit Points, Saving Throws! Familiar creatures were abundant as were the spells. Of course some of them lost their flavour text because it was Wizards of the Coast Intellectual Property and some vanished altogether (like Beholders grrr…) but on a whole it was a system that you felt you understood from the start. And what an impressive start! The core rulebook was where I began, 576 pages in glorious full colour with excellent artwork! It is a big tome of information but it is beautifully presented and professionally laid out.

The main rulebook has all of the races and the classes that you would want to see available! Also the main rulebook contains most of what you need to play. There is a Gamemasters Guide but it is not needed to run the game. It deals with information helping Gamemasters to build their worlds and make their NPC’s appear fleshed out. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great resource and contains some extra material that really enriches the game but it is not really needed to play. The only other book that is really needed to play in a Fantasy setting is the Bestiary. When I came to the game they had just released the Advanced Players Guide which I picked up as well. It contains some great options for the core classes and some great new classes to flesh out the game with and provide all kinds of options to players across the board.

New books continue to evolve the system and setting. Above I have only spoken about the Core rule books (which now include Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Equipment, NPC Codex, Bestiary 2, Bestiary 3 and the Advanced Race Guide) but there is so much more to the game. Each month they release an Adventure Path module, two whole adventure path’s are released in a 12 month period (6 modules per path) and numerous campaign support material books flow out of Paizo making it one of the most prolific, well supported settings that I have ever seen. The official Pathfinder has the core world of Golarion with an established Pantheon and area of play that has a great diversity of adventuring potential for all tastes.

pathfinder_core_coverIt is not just the materials that Paizo presents for its Pathfinder range but also the third party support for it. Being an open licence system there have been many other games and worlds that have aligned themselves with the Pathfinder Role Playing Game System (PFRPGS) and Paizo manage a store where the third party publisher can sell their own products along with Paizo’s own work. Paizo also freely advertise what they think are great additions to their game in their own products suggesting third party products along with their own if it enriches the game. I purchased a product from a third party publisher purely on the foreword of one of the adventure path modules where the Paizo employee explained how great the product made his game! This gives me the feeling that the people at Paizo are gamers making games for gamers.

Now for the final bonus. In a world that is driven by technology what do Paizo do? They release all the rules and guidelines from the Core rulebooks for free on the internet. No need for a subscription, all you need is access to the internet and a web browser. The complete rules set (less any Intellectual Property to the world of Golarion) is up for everyone to use at which means you can play this game without shelling out a cent for the books. There are apps that turn this website into an offline source of information for iOS and Android phones and tablets also meaning you need not lug all your rulebooks or computer around to wherever you play. I am a lover of books though and the quality of the art and the hardback books is in my opinion well worth the cost. I rarely use the books, relying instead on an iPad App but on occasion I love designing with all the books open around me or showing my players one of the excellent illustrations of a creature that is about to eat them.

So, in this world of Indie developed rules lite games many may call Pathfinder a bit out of fashion. The question also hovers about how D&D Next will affect what is now the most popular tabletop roleplaying game of the moment. I have just signed up for the playtest of D&D Next and from what I have read so far it will be an interesting time as release of 5th Edition D&D comes closer. To my eyes though Pathfinder has provided a wonderful setting backed by an excellent set of rules and a variety of play options. It may be rules heavy, but this aspect of the game never feels overwhelming which to me means they got it right. I just get the feeling that Paizo are going from strength to strength at the moment. They listen to the community carefully and they respond at an individual level.

So I challenge you. If you have not given Pathfinder a look yet, why not? Go to the Pathfinder Reference Document and have a poke around. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90’s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.