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 http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ 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.

Review: Adventure-A-Week

Adventure-A-Week LogoOver the past few weeks I had the opportunity to review some of the materials being put out by Adventureaweek.com. For those unfamiliar with the site, Adventureaweek.com releases a new adventure for Pahfinder and D&D 3.5 every week. These are not short, one or two encounters, but full adventures to run with your group. The adventures are in color and include maps and full layout design.

What You Get

The site is subscription fee based, for $9.99 per month you will receive one adventure per week and gain access to the back catalog of adventures already released. The adventures are available in web format or PDF. They are beginning to release their products in print form as well. In addition adventures come with maps for the GM, Players, and ready for VTT use. Hero Lab files are included for users of that tool. The web formatted versions are extensively hyperlinked and compatible with tables to ease running games from your table.

The Review

For my review I requested two styles of adventure – a city based adventure and a good old fashioned dungeon crawl adventure. Adventureaweek.com was readily able to provide me with a an example of each from their back catalog. My review is based on the PDF version of the adventures. For this review I am going to look at each of those adventures and then at the service as a whole. At the end we will touch on some of the other things Adventureaweek.com has going on in the future.

To Catch A SerpentTo Catch A Serpent

To Catch A Serpent was the example of a city-based adventure I received. The adventure is a 10th level adventure for 4-6 PCs. The PCs find themselves in the city of Tawwa amidst a series of murders. Drawn into the investigation the PCs find themselves moving about the city gathering clues that eventually lead to the sewers under the city itself. Within the sewers they seek to find out who or what is responsible for the recent events in the city.

For the GM the adventure opens with an adventure background and then a summary to quickly advise the GM how the adventure is likely to proceed. Several adventure hooks are also provided to help get things underway for the GM and PCs.

Sometimes investigative adventures with 10th level PCs is difficult to pull off. 10th level spellcasters have a myriad of resources available to them to “shortcut” an investigation rather quickly. This adventure has a section to help the GM with that, offering several valuable tips on how to handle some of the more powerful investigative spells 10th level casters will have. I think it does so in a way that won’t make a caster feel cheated, the divination spells will still be useful, just not reveal the whole basis for the adventure up front. Very handy section for this adventure.

Stats for the creatures are provided in both Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 versions. The stat blocks are included at the end of the adventure and are quickly accessible by clicking the appropriate link in the PDF in the encounter area. Clicking the link takes the reader to the back of the PDF where the full stat block resides.

The adventure itself is an interesting romp through the city and under the city to ferret out the source of the problems for the city. The characters will get to encounter several interesting creatures along the way as well.

Alagoran's GemAlagoran’s Gem

Alagoran’s Gem was the sample of a good old fashioned dungeon crawl adventure. This one was written for 4-6 PCs at levels 3-5. This one is a C-series adventure which is written to capture the “old school” feel in dungeon crawl adventures. A link to a post on Old School gaming is included in the preface to set the tone for this adventure.

This adventure is sure to be fun for anyone who enjoys the deadliness of a Tomb of Horrors type adventure. Deadly traps, encounters and such that challenge both the player and character are par for the course for this adventure. I would almost feel guilty running a set of established Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 characters through this one due to the deadliness. It would make a great one-shot though for an afternoon of deadly fun!

This adventure also opens with an adventure background, synopsis and hooks to get your characters to the dungeon. The map for this adventure is in color and very well done showing the expanse of this dungeon adventure. There is a nice mix between traps and creature encounters throughout the adventure.

I will certainly be tucking this one aside as an adventure to run on the fly at a convention or a time when I have need of a one-shot adventure to torment my players with. Though very deadly, I really liked the feel of this adventure.

Adventuress Overall

Looking at the two adventures overall, they are put together in a way to make them easy to run with minimal prep. Information the GM needs is handily called out in colored text boxes with icons to designate whether the block is a trap, skill check, read-aloud text, and such. This makes overlooking a key point while running the adventure much less likely. Very handy if trying to run the adventure on minimal prep.

As noted above, these adventures are for use in both Pathfinder and D&D 3.5. There are some differences between these systems. In encounter descriptions there are links to both the 3.5 and PF version of the monster. The GM only needs to click it and they are sent to the correct system stat block. This helps cut down on the number of stat blocks in the encounter text itself which would become unwieldy if two systems worth of stat blocks were embedded in the encounter area itself.

The maps by Todd Gamble are of very good quality. Having a GM map, player map, and VTT map is very useful for the GM.

I did take a look at the web version of Crow’s Rest Island as well. It is extensively hyperlinked to help with moving around in the document. It also includes some sound files to play during the course of the game to add to the ambiance. It is an interesting way to present an adventure and having the choice between a web format and PDF is great for the GM.

Overall Adventureaweek.com seems to be packed with value and a very regular release schedule. If you find yourself constantly looking for new and fresh adventures to run that your players have not already read or played, Adentureaweek.com is well worth checking out.

They do offer Crow’s Rest Island as a free preview to check out before signing up for a subscription. If you are curious about the service, start there and also be sure to check out the FAQ on the site.

Adventure-A-Week Extras

In addition to their different lines of adventures being released on a weekly basis, they set this all against their own campaign world. This world is optional as the adventures can be dropped into other published settings or your own homebrew. But if you are kicking off a campaign and do not have a setting in mind, Adventureaweek.com provides you with one as a backdrop for your game.

Adentureaweek.com is also accepting Adventure Submissions. The process and formatting requirements are detailed on their Submit my Adventure page. A possible way for aspiring adventure writers to get their start in the publishing world.

Rise of the Drow Kickstarter

Adventure-A-Week is also running a Kickstarter for their Rise of the Drow trilogy. This adventure is for both Pathfinder and D&D 3.5, just as the other modules part of Adventure-A-Week are for. The Kickstarter is to raise funds for a hardback book for these modules in full color and expanded content. They have well surpassed their initial goal and are charging through their stretch goals, adding content and art to the book with each goal. There are still 30 days left with this post, so plenty of time to check out this Kickstarter as well.

Interview: Dave Gross

Master of Devils CoverThis interview is a repost from a past interview I did for the Seekers of Secrets Pathfinder blog. The original interview on that blog is no longer accessible, I wanted to preserve the interview here at The Iron Tavern.

Seekers of Secrets recently had the privilege to interview Dave Gross, the author of the upcoming Pathfinder Tales novel Master of Devils. Pathfinder Tales is the fantasy fiction line published by Paizo. Master of Devils is the fifth novel in the line and is due for release on August 4th.

Dave Gross has a strong presence within the Pathfinder Tales line with his tales featuring Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan. Dave wrote the first novel to kick off the Pathfinder Tales novel line with Prince of Wolves. He also has written Hell’s Pawns (appeared in the Council of Thieves Adventure Path), Husks (appearing in the upcoming Jade Regent Adventure Path) and the short stories The Lost Pathfinder and A Lesson in Taxonomy which appeared in the web fiction published weekly on Paizo’s site. He also co-wrote Winter Witch with Elaine Cunningham.

Master of Devils finds Count Jeggare and Radovan in Tian Xia, the far side of Golarion on a mission for the Pathfinder Society.  The Count sheltering in the Dragon Temple and Radovan trapped in the body of a devil, held hostage by the Quivering Palm, learning the secret of conquering an immortal enemy culminating in an ultimate showdown with the Master of Devils. The book is an excellent read and certain to thrill fantasy readers of all types!

And with that, let the interview begin!


Your work for Pathfinder Tales is written from a first person point-of-view perspective and in addition alternates between characters with this style of perspective. What led you to choose this perspective in your writing? What advantages do you find this perspective brings? What challenges do you find this perspective bring to your writing?

When Paizo’s fiction editor, James Sutter, first talked to me about writing Pathfinder fiction, we batted around a few ideas, one of which became “Hell’s Pawns,” a novella that introduced the characters of Radovan and the Count.  My initial thought was to tell the story from the points-of-view of both characters, alternating between their experiences in low and high society. As the outline took shape, however, I began to feel there wasn’t room in six chapters to do that effectively, so I decided to limit the narrative to a single point of view.

I focused on Radovan, who in the pitch was a kind of Watson to Jeggare’s Holmes. Around that time I’d been watching a lot of film noir, so “Watson” soon became a tough guy in the mold of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. At that point it seemed natural to tell the story from only Radovan’s point of view—in first-person and in present tense, like a hard-boiled detective story.

When James asked for novel pitches featuring the same characters, I wanted to add Jeggare’s POV to the story. That way I could take the reader places where Radovan wasn’t welcome, and I could sometimes show the same scene from conflicting perspectives. Also, alternating POVs gave me another tool for building suspense.

After outlining Prince of Wolves, I wasn’t sure first-person would work for Jeggare, and I suspected present-tense was wrong for him too. In fact I wrote the first four or five chapters in third-person, once in present tense and once in past, before switching to the alternating first-person past-tense once I found Jeggare’s voice. The flash-forward prologue remains in present-tense, which I figured was a good way to establish that it appeared out of sequence. It was my idea of a teaser movie trailer.

What I like about the alternating first-person is that it lets me switch from hard-boiled detective to Merchant Ivory period dramas, both of which I love. It lets me emphasize with voice the different worlds in which Radovan and the Count live, and it helps me demonstrate their different reactions to the same characters and events.

One challenge I face with this approach is that I notice each character’s voice intruding sometimes on the other’s narrative. That’s the first thing I look to revise after the first draft, but every once in a while I try to use it to build the relationship between the two men. If I catch a high-falutin’ word in a Radovan chapter, for instance, I might rewrite the line ironically: “It was what the boss might call ‘copious’ bleeding,” for example.

Count Jeggare and Radovan and appear to be quite popular characters amongst the followers of Pathfinder fiction. What do you think explains their popularity among the Pathfinder Tales fans?

Varian Jeggare I can’t really speak for others, but what I like about them is that they’re the classic odd couple. Their differences offer me lots of opportunities for both drama and humor. And neither of them is a sidekick, even though Radovan is the Count’s employee. Either one could be the hero of his own story. In fact, one of the pitches for the novel that became Prince of Wolves was a Radovan-only novel.  I get the impression that while many readers like them both, most everyone has a favorite.

You note that your impression is that many readers have a favorite, Radovan or Count Jeggare. Are you willing to reveal your favorite?

Especially in the beginning, it seemed that Radovan got a lot more love, but over time I’ve heard from more and more people who prefer the Count and also from quite a few who can’t choose between them. It seems that Radovan still has the edge, but I wonder whether that balance will shift after Master of Devils, since some of the early readers have told me this book makes him more sympathetic.

I’m perfectly willing to reveal my favorite, except I truly don’t have one. I think Radovan is easier to like, but if you’ve known someone with Jeggare’s flaws long enough-or if you’ve had them yourself-he becomes more sympathetic over time.

I have heard you mention that a dollop of whiskey helps you write Radovan. What helps you write Count Jeggare? Who do you find it easier to write – Radovan or Count Jeggare?

Radovan is tons easier to write, and despite my joke at the reading, it’s usually four hot cups of black coffee and some death metal that gets me in the mood for writing his chapters.

That said, there are times when I’m just more in the mood to write from Count Jeggare’s point of view. I do sometimes approach his chapters with a glass of malbec and a classic jazz mix.

When you write, do you write several chapters as Radovan and then switch to Count Jeggare, or do you alternate between the two as you write, keeping the timeline more in sync as you go?

My intention is always to write the story chronologically, alternating points of view. But sometimes I wake up in the morning and just don’t “hear” the voice I need for that day, so I skip ahead. I can almost always call up Radovan’s voice, but Jeggare’s is fickle.

In Master of Devils especially, Count Jeggare’s story is more of a progressive arc, while Radovan’s is more episodic. Thus, I often went straight from finishing one Jeggare chapter to starting the next because it was more important to keep the continuity fresh in mind.

The voice of the third POV character didn’t come easily at first-as with Jeggare’s early chapters in Prince of Wolves, I ended up rewriting Chapter Five a few times. Also, for reasons you understand when reading the story, the voice evolves over its six chapters. So when I felt that I had that voice in my head, sometimes I wrote past the current chapter to keep it going.

Venture-Captain Jeggare is becoming quite the prolific character. Is there any possibility of him making an appearance in Pathfinder Society scenarios?

That’s something that’s never come up, but I suppose it could happen one day if the game developers wanted to do it. I love seeing elements of the novel appear in the game, but I’m seldom much aware of it before publication.

You’ve edited magazines for TSR, Wizards of the Coast and Paizo Publishing. What was your first big break into fantasy writing? How did you get involved with writing for Paizo Publishing?

My first real professional sale was a short story that I pitched in response to an open call for new writers by the TSR book department. I did that once or twice more before being invited to write a short novel, and that snowballed. My first full-length novel was Black Wolf (2001), one of the Sembia novels from Wizards of the Coast. I revisited those characters in Lord of Stormweather and a couple of short stories around that period.

A few years after I’d left Paizo, I ran into Erik Mona and Pierce Watters at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary. Erik told me of his plans to launch a Pathfinder Tales line, now that Paizo had some experience in book publishing via the (wonderful, fabulous, check them out now) Planet Stories line. I expressed enthusiasm, he put me in touch with James Sutter, and the rest of the story is in the answer to your first question.

Tell us a little about your gaming experience. Do these experiences color your writing?

A middle-school friend and his elder brother introduced me to D&D when they were still using the tan saddle-stitched rules. I was soon hooked and began DMing my own games throughout high school and college. The latter was probably my favorite period of gaming, since my group took turns DMing in our shared version of the Forgotten Realms setting.

Once I began working for TSR, I had less time for a regular game. But there my gaming experience broadened. When I worked for the RPGA, I was the guy who was happy to edit the non-D&D tournaments, so I fell in love with a lot of different games. And while editing the magazines, I often sat in on playtests. Among my favorites were those run by Lester Smith, whose love of dark and creepy games I share.

If gaming influences my writing, it’s probably in that I like many of the same things about gaming that I like in fiction. A good horror game can make the hairs on my nape stand up, so I like to go for a good scare in stories. I love romance and intrigue in both media. I love questioning the morality of the violence without sucking the life out of it. I love using familiar creatures and magic in unfamiliar ways.

Your upcoming novel, Master of Devils, takes place in Tian Xia, a region that has not been covered in Pathfinder Campaign setting materials to any significant degree yet. Did you find working in this relatively undefined region challenging? Did Paizo give you relatively free reign in this area for your work?

Working without more than a few sentences of source material was about 1% frightening and 99% exciting. The Pathfinder developers offered me huge trust and freedom once I narrowed the setting of Master of Devils to a single country in an area roughly analogous to a region in China.

It probably also helped that they believed in the pitch: “Radovan & the Count versus Every Kung Fu Movie Ever.” That set the action far from Minkai—the Pathfinder analog to Japan, where the latter half of the Jade Regent Adventure Path takes place—and established a different paradigm for what the boys would face. There was no question of my needing the as-yet-unwritten rules for samurai and ninja, because there would be no such characters in the novel. (That said, the serial novella “Husks” in the Jade Regent Adventure Path is full of both samurai and ninja.)

In Master of Devils you add a third perspective to the normal Count Jeggare and Radovan perspective we saw in Prince of Wolves. I found this perspective extremely enjoyable, what drove you to take on adding another perspective for this novel? Is this third perspective one we can look forward to in future novels centered on Count Jeggare and Radovan?

In kung fu movies, there’s a vast range of styles and settings, from fairly realistic war dramas to high fantasy. I wanted to include it all. Adding the third character gave me a little more room to show off the incredible variety of Chinese-style fantasy adventures.

RadovanThus, Count Jeggare’s story is more a journey of romance and intrigue. Radovan faces battle after battle with increasingly powerful opponents. And the third character travels in a world of reincarnated spirits, whispering spiders, cloud-eating goblins, and a few classic monsters you might recognize from your earliest RPG sessions. The three stories still take place in the same world, and there are elements of magic and action in all three, but each has a different sensibility.

Also, both Radovan and the Count are pretty flawed heroes. I wanted to add a thread of undiminished heroism through their story, and to my mind that third POV character is that kind of perfect—if unorthodox—hero.

While that third POV fits this story, I don’t know whether I’d automatically include it in a future novel. I love the idea of a third POV character to act as a foil to the boys, but who that is depends on the nature of the story. What seemed a good fit in Master of Devils might not work in another novel.

But never say never.

From reading your blog it seems Master of Devils was influenced heavily by kung fu or wuxia movies. For readers of the novel whose interest is piqued by this novel, what top three wuxia style movies would you recommend to someone relatively new to the genre?

My approach to the novel was to write it for readers who’d never seen (or even haven’t liked) a kung fu movie. I hope those who enjoy the book will check out some of the films I recommend at frabjousdave.blogspot.com. I’ve only about a hundred more to post.

Three of my favorite films representing different aspects of the kung fu genre include Hero, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and The Bride with White Hair. It’s hard to recommend just three, because there are so many other must-see movies, especially for gamers. I’ve written a “Kung Fu Movies for Gamers” article for Kobold Quarterly, and I’ll link to more such articles at my blog.

With Prince of Wolves we saw riffle scrolls introduced and Tian Xia seems continue to add to Count Jeggare’s bag of tricks. Do you enjoy finding new ways to use magic within your novels?

I definitely do, although I like it best when the magic is essential to the character—as it is with Jeggare and his fraught history as a wizard—and when it helps make the story more mysterious. If you use only magic whose rules your readers know by heart, it becomes ho-hum. I want the magic in these novels to feel as though it belongs in the Golarion setting but also to keep the readers guessing. Usually I have the game rules in mind, but I try to describe the effects in fresh terms. For example, when Azra heals Radovan in Prince of Wolves, she performs a dancing ritual that reveals a bit of her personality and hints at her unusual background instead of simply “casting cure serious wounds.”

With Master of Devils officially releasing at Gen Con Indy this year, what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

This month paizo.com posts “A Voyage to Absalom,” a free four-part mystery that takes place between Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils. Also, in the Jade Regent Adventure Path, Radovan and the Count follow a trail of bodies through a city in Minkai in “Husks,” the Pathfinder Journal.

The one other project I can mention is a short story in Robin D. Laws’s anthology Shotguns v. Cthulhu, coming out this fall from Stone Skin Press. My contribution is a twitchy little revisionist history centered on the destruction of a famous Seattle landmark in 2002.


Seekers of Secrets wants to thank Dave for taking the time to answer our questions. It was a pleasure interviewing him. Be sure to follow Dave Gross at his blog to learn more of his upcoming works and to hear more on his kung fu movie recommendations!  He has also posted his Gen Con schedule for those who will be at Gen Con. Be sure to swing by the Paizo booth at Gen Con and pick up a copy of Master of Devils and chat with him in person!

Review: Dungeons of Golarion

This review is a repost of my original review of this product for the Seekers of Secrets Pathfinder blog. The original review is no longer available on that site and I wanted to preserve the post here at The Iron Tavern.

Dungeons of GolarionPrice: Print – $19.99 / PDF – $13.99
Audience: GMs
Crunch: 3.5/5
Fluff: 5/5
Overall: 5/5 (not an average)

Dungeons of Golarion is a 64 page book that is part of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting series of books from Paizo. The book looks closely at six different megadungeons within the Inner Sea region of Golarion, the Pathfinder Campaign setting. These megadungeons include Candlestone Caverns, Gallowspire, Hollow Mountain, Pyramid of Kamaria, Red Redoubt of Karamoss and Zolurket Mines. It also lists 17 other dungeons within Golarion each with a short paragraph about the dungeon.

The six megadungeons each get ten pages that include an overall layout map of the dungeon, history, descriptions that cover the entrance and brief overview of each level, a section on denizens, traps, treasures and finally adventure hooks.

While the descriptions of each level are brief, there is plenty of information to help a GM discover the feel of each level. The balance between having the feel for the dungeon and being able to design your own level is excellent. Just enough information to get the ideas flowing rapidly without forcing the GM into being restrained by overly defined levels.

The book is heavier on the fluff side, but there is some crunch sprinkled in to keep the more crunch inclined interested. Amongst the chapters on the six megadungeons there are new denizens, new traps and new magic items and such to work with. For the Numeria fans there is also some information on robots that comes from the section on Red Redoubt of Karamoss.

The art and cartography are up to the usual Paizo quality. The maps and dungeon layouts look great, though one of the dungeon layouts includes a key that indicates each square is 10′ when really the map is not entirely to scale. Minor issue and does not affect the quality of the map itself. The art work has several images that are sure to inspire heroics within the dungeon!

I have very little to complain about in this book. While not a huge fan of the amount of technology in Red Redoubt of Karamoss with its Numeria based technology, it is a well done section and I am sure fans of technology from Numeria will enjoy it! And the book does warn for those that are not fans of the fantasy blending into technology it is might be best to avoid that dungeon or the book offers a couple of alternatives of how to scale down the technology if desired by the GM.

I found the Gallowspire write-up very interesting and certainly a dungeon to challenge the highest level Pathfinder characters. An interesting sidebar in this section notes that several of the levels in Gallowspire contain threats beyond levels the currently published Pathfinder ruleset cover with some levels going to CR24+.

I found the Dungeons of Golarion a very enjoyable read. It offers a plethora of plot hooks for all of these dungeons and really gets the GMs mind turning. There is enough detail on the dungeons to give a GM a solid start to designing a megadungeon to haunt their players for an entire campaign. And for those who might not game in Golarion the dungeons within could easily be dropped into your campaign world of choice.

I rated the crunch portion of the book a 3.5 out of 5 simply due to the amount of crunch in the book. What was in the book was good, but those looking for a crunch heavy book are apt to be disappointed. From the fluff perspective I rate the book a 5/5. There is history included behind each dungeon and enough plot hooks to keep a GM busy for a long time. This leaves me with an overall rating of 5/5 as I do expect the Campaign Setting series of books to be much more about the fluff than the crunch!

Review: Queen of Thorns

QoT_coverAuthor:  Dave Gross
Publisher:  Paizo Publishing
Price:  Print – $9.99 / PDF $6.99
Pages:   432

Queen of Thorns is the latest novel by Dave Gross in the Pathfinder Tales line from Paizo Publishing.This is Dave’s third novel for the Tales line, along with numerous short fiction pieces that grace the weekly Wednesday fiction blog post on Paizo’s site. In fact Dave’s work kicked off the Pathfinder Tales line with Prince of Wolves and later Master of Devils.

The trio of books has followed the same pair of characters half-elven Varian Jeggare and tiefling Radovan along with their animal companion Arnisant. The first novel found the pair in the nation of Ustalav within the world of Golarion. The next novel found them in the far reaches of Tian Xia.

The Story

This third novel finds the pair having reached Kyonin in efforts to have Varian’s elegant red carriage repaired from a previous misadventure. This seemingly simple task quickly transpires into an exciting journey amongst a web of elven politics through Kyonin in search of the missing druid who originally crafted the carriage.

Opening with their arrival in the elven nation of Kyonin, the reader gets a brief history of the elven race in Golarion as the story gets rolling. During the course of this introduction the reader is introduced to several elves that will play a role as the story unfolds.

Varian and Radovan quickly learn the person they seek is missing, and has been missing, from the elven nation for some time by the human count of years. An assistant to the druid remains behind however and provides a lead to track down the missing druid. With a small contingent of other elves to assist, the pair head off into the forests of Kyonin to search for the missing druid.

Demons have been stirring in the forests of Kyonin plaguing the journey of the search party along the way. During the course of these travels we learn a little more about each of the characters in the entourage that accompany Varian and Radovan.

The search moves from landmark to landmark as the group looks for traces of the missing druid. The search culminates in an area thought to be forgotten by many elves as events come together for an exciting climax.

How was it?

The third novel continues to use the first person form, alternating chapters between Varian and Radovan. This alternating style took me a bit to get used to when I first read Prince of Wolves. In fact I would have even called it jarring to me at the time. This feeling passed quickly and I have come to really enjoy this alternating view. I attribute a lot of this to how the author really captures the feel of each character in their chapters. Each character has their own very unique personality and the author is able to convey this quite well in each chapter through speech style, mannerisms and thoughts. I now find myself looking forward to this writing style in each of the Varian and Radovan books.

As a regular reader of the Pathfinder Tales line, it feels like coming home to pick up another volume by Dave Gross. Varian and Radovan feel very familiar now and I look forward to the banter and mannerisms between the two as the story unfolds. Queen of Thorns continues to deliver in this regards.

The pacing of the story keeps a steady, engaging clip throughout. From gaining insight to the elves of Golarion as we are introduced to the other key players and as the story leads us from Kyonin landmark to Kyonin landmark as the journey unfolds to its culmination.

Overall I would consider Queen of Thorns my favorite of the three Varian and Radovan novels. Whether that is due to the author really hitting his stride with this set of characters or whether it be my eagerness to read more about this pair I cannot be sure. In either case Queen of Thorns is at the top of my list when it comes to novels in the Pathfinder Tales line.

5 out of 5 Tankards

Review: Faiths of Balance

This review is a repost of my original review of this product for the Seekers of Secrets Pathfinder blog. The original review is no longer available on that site and I wanted to preserve the post here at The Iron Tavern.

Faiths of Balance CoverPrice: Print – $10.99 / PDF – $7.99
Audience: Players (and GMs)
Crunch: 3.5/5
Fluff: 4/5
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)

Faiths of Balance is a 32 page book that is part of the Pathfinder Player Companion series of books from Paizo. The Player Companion series of books have a player focus, but have a good amount of useful information for GM’s as well. This book looks at the major neutral gods in the Golarion setting as well as a brief look at some of the minor deities. Also included in the book are new character traits, feats, spells and magic items with a focus on those members of the neutral faith.

The book starts with covering the seven major neutral gods in Golarion – Abadar, Calistria, Gorum, Gozreh, Irori, Nethys and Pharasma. The Green Faith is also included in the major god section.  Each god receives two pages in the book that include a brief overview of the god, why adventurer’s might follow them, typical classes that follow them, goals, what identifies worshippers, the type of devotion, how other faiths get along with followers, taboos, two traits and a little about the church of each god.

The next section briefly covers eight minor deities with a short write up. A brief description of the deity is given, including their favored weapon and a new trait for a follower of the minor deity.

Next are organizations that claim allegiance to the major gods, though not officially sponsored by the church. Each major god has an organization covered in this section.

The last portions of the book include new religious feats, channel foci, minor magical items and new spells. A sidebar within the magical item section contains the paladin code for Abadar and the final section of the book covers religious holidays for each of the major deities.

This book is heavier on fluff than crunch, but with two new traits for major deity and one new trait for each minor deity and dedications sections for feats, magic items and spells there is plenty for a crunch-loving player to find in this book and not be disappointed.

Paizo continues with artwork that pulls a reader into a fantasy world, leading with a wonderful cover featuring Imrijka, the half-orc inquisitor, by Lucas Graciano. The artwork within the book is also of usual Paizo quality.

I found the major deity section full of ideas that would help any character have a better feel for their deity of choice. Whether it be more information on how followers of one deity would react to others to the types of classes drawn towards certain deities to information about the church itself. The information would help me play a accurate follower or as a GM help me shape my NPCs and give a more representative feel of the various neutral faiths.

The minor deity section will be useful to those who prefer to follow those deities, though the detail is brief concerning them. The information in this section could also prove useful to a GM that wants to work in a plot involving NPCs or followers of these minor deities.

The organization section of the book is a great resource for GMs who would like to introduce these loosely affiliated organizations into their game. I found The Companies of the Red Standard an order of mercenaries sworn to Gorum particularly interesting and several ideas floating around of how I could work brushes with this organization into a campaign. I am sure several other of the organizations mentioned in the book will provide ideas for GMs for their own game.

Of the new spells, magic items and feats I found myself most interested in the new channel focus items. Channel focus items were introduced with the Pathfinder Player Companion Adventurer’s Armory and is an object that can act as a holy symbol. The special ability of the channel focus item can be activated by the use of a channel energy.  I find this an interesting concept and liked seeing more items available for use. For some reason the whip just calls out for a divine follower of Calistria!

All in all I felt Faiths of Balance was another strong offering by Paizo. While geared towards use by the player I think a GM can find plenty of information to be useful to their campaign as well, especially if the neutral based deities were going to play a larger role in their campaign.

I rated the crunch portion of this book a 3.5 out of 5. Between the new spells, traits, feats and magic items there are several options to help get the feel you might want for your character with a neutral deity focus. I feel the book is stronger from the fluff perspective and offers much to both the player and GM to further understand the nuances of the neutral deities. I am rating it a solid 4 out of 5 on the rating scale. I rate the book as a whole a 4 out of 5 – another solid book from Paizo for players and GMs alike!

Feat Overload

Jigsaw PuzzleOver the weekend Keith Davies posted on G+ that between the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Ultimate Combat there were 704 feats. Think about that for a moment. 704 feats.

How Many Feats?

I did a quick check over at d20pfsrd.com and a quick check showed 650+ feats. I did not bother to see where our discrepancy was, even if the number had only been 500+ feats the number is a stunning amount of choices.

As Keith notes in his post, a character can only take so many feats over the course of the character’s career. Let’s take a 20th level human cleric. They can only make use of 1.7% of the available feats over the life of their character. You lose access to a feat if you do not play a human. If you play a 20th human fighter you can only make use of 3.4% of the available feats. Nevermind the fact that a lot of campaigns do not even reach 20th level.

I suspect those numbers go down quite a bit depending on the character. There are many feats that are assumed “basic” feats for a lot of character classes. If you want to play an archer type there are several assumed feats that come from the core rulebook an archer needs to have. This reduces the number of new feats the character can choose from other sources. The same applies for caster’s when you factor in metamagic feats and such they will want to pick up.

While we may have a plethora of feats to choose from, a list that seems to grow with every new product release, it does not change the fact the character cannot choose more feats. A typical character cannot gain access to 98.3% of the currently available feats. It does not matter whether a character is trying to add some roleplaying creativity or trying to make a stronger character – the majority of feats are going to be unavailable to a character due to limited slots.

More Options is Better, Right?

Many people will see this number of feats and say more options is always better. I do agree with the premise that more options for a character to choose from during the course of combat, roleplaying encounters or anything else can be a good thing.

However, I think as we see so many feats and mechanical options added to the game we actually limit a person’s options. By defining such specific areas of the game with feats dictating what you can or can’t do without it we have actually narrowed the scope of what a character can do. The GM loses his flexibility to let a player try creative things with his character as there is a greater chance a feat is required to accomplish that task.
Beyond this narrowing definition of what can and can’t be done by adding feats, there is the matter of option paralyzation. A person building a character today has 650+ feats to choose from. This is an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Where do you see your character in 5 levels, 10 levels, or 15 levels? Making sure you follow the right feat chains early on is important to not hindering yourself later.

Creative Options, Not Mechanical Options

I want to see the option for creativity from players. I do not want to see a multitude of mechanical options that actually define specific areas of the game so much that it in turn limits player creativity.

We need to move the rules up a level and away from this near microscopic zoom on player’s actions. Abilities should be broader to cover more general areas of expertise. Mechanics should be broader and less defined to give more space to play in creatively. Let the player’s say they want to try some dazzling action and let the judge adjudicate how that will happen.

A good example of this blending of broad mechanic with creative play with open spaces in the rules is the Mighty Deed of Arms mechanic from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. A warrior-type gets a “deed die” to roll along with their normal attack. The die scales upwards as the character levels. A character can declare a “special” action and if a result of 3 or higher comes up on the deed die the character can pull the action off to some degree.

This is a simple mechanic, gives a player some idea of how success will be determined, but does not restrict the player with needing narrowly focused feats to pull things off. Instead the judge and player use the dice roll to help determine the success. This mechanic probably replaces 100+ fighter type feats with one simple to use mechanic. Creativity is restored to the player to solve problems or do cool things during combat.

Find the System For You

I was a big 3.x D&D fan. The system really worked well for me and I feel it provided the framework I needed to run a fun game. Then the option books started coming, and coming, and coming. The system began to bog down for me. There were too many feats, too many builds, too many prestige classes. I started to feel constrained.

Then Pathfinder came along. I loved just having the core rulebook. My energy was back, it was like 3.x was before the ever churning supply of option books. But then Pathfinder started following the same path. More option books, more feats, more spells, more, more, more… It seems the time has come that Pathfinder has started to make me feel constrained again. It has become more about knowing the expanding ruleset than creating fun adventures and characters.

I am not here to change Pathfinder. There are a multitude of systems out there that do fit my changing style of play. I do not need to wage a campaign to change Pathfinder or any other system. I simply need to identify what type of mechanics frustrate me and look at any number of systems that seem a better fit for me. There are many such systems.

RPG Superstar 2013 Voting

RPG Superstar 2013It is the time year again for Paizo’s RPG Superstar contest. The deadline for first round submissions has passed. I’ve participated in previous years, but the inspiration for creating a Pathfinder Wondrous Item was not flowing for me this year and I did not enter.

This year the format is a little different. Usually there is a panel of judges that review all of the items that were entered and choose the top 32. This year the Paizo community gets to vote on the items and the more popular items will go before the panel of judges to be whittled down to the top 32.

The voting screen pops up two of the submitted items in a head-to-head vote. You read both items,decide which you think is best and vote for it. Voting multiple times is encouraged and after you vote you are presented with another two items to vote on.

I’ve been over there a time or two to vote on a few items. It has been sort of fun to see what other folks have come up with! Some ideas are really cool and others are sort of out there. Seeing how much attention is paid to the mechanics and format of the entry is interesting as well.

If you find yourself with a bit of spare time over the holidays, swing on by the voting page for RPG Superstar 2013 and vote on a few items. Make sure to read the FAQ (don’t worry it is short) and see if you pick up any ideas for your own game!

Pathfinder Online MMO

Kickstarter Background

Earlier this week Goblinworks announced their second Kickstarter for the Pathfinder Online MMO. This kickstarter has a lofty goal of raising $1,000,000 to speed up the production of the MMO. They have 45 days to raise this money.

Goblinworks did a Kickstarter this summer to raise funds for the Technology Demo. This demo was going to be used to show investors what the team was capable of and to show Goblinworks was serious about this endeavor. They managed to raise over $300,000 for that Kickstarter when they set out to raise only $50,000.

I was a backer of the original kickstarter, primarily because they lured me in with so many Pathfinder products – a module, flip-mats, and such. Those “perks” were what drew me to that Kickstarter more so than the burning desire to support the Technology Demo itself.

This current Kickstarter is another well-stated Kickstarter and does seek to answer many of the questions I have heard in various forums, podcasts, and other sources. They state why they are doing this one and exactly what they hope to achieve. They also list who they have working on this project. The FAQ at the bottom of the Kickstarter page really does do a good job of answering many of the common questions I have heard floating about in regards to this second Kickstarter.

A recurring concern I hear frequently is what MMO experience do they have on the team to get this product launched. Goblinworks has not hid this information in the past, nor do they now. The Kickstarter page addresses the credentials of the lead staff being used on this project.

There are several price points to buy in at, $35 gets you a digital copy of the game and access when open enrollment hits. $100 gets you the same, plus some supplement PDFs and early access to the beta. Many more backing levels exist, but those are the two major points of entry depending on how much access you want to the game.

Finally we have the target release dates. The beta is expected in the summer of 2014 and final release is expected in early 2016. Those dates are if the Kickstarter funds. Otherwise with the current investment levels they have the release dates are much further out.

My Thoughts

First, I think a lot of the questions surrounding this second Kickstarter have already been answered by Goblinworks. They have done a really good job of trying to answer most questions and be forthcoming about the motivation for this second Kickstarter. Many of the questions such as are there other investors, who has MMO experience, and such area already answered. Read the FAQ on the Kickstarter page.

The Kickstarter already has several excited backers with 1400+ backing as I write this and $157,000+ raised towards their goal.

My major concerns are simply the length of time until the rewards are realized. I am not comfortable locking up $100 or even $35 until the summer of 2014. I have a limited gaming budget. Taking the $100 or $35 out of the budget now to put towards this is less money I have to purchase RPG materials or video games that are already out. Money that is already scarce.

Of course this is tempered by the fact I am not craving a Pathfinder MMO. Certainly I will check it out when it is released, whether that be 2014 or later, but I don’t have a burning desire to put my funds towards its completion.

Beyond the hesitation of tying up funds for an extended period of time, I do wonder about some of the game design decisions. Certainly these will likely evolve over time.

First, it appears that all play is supposed to be on a single server. Putting everyone on one server seems like it could pose some issues. The first of which being server load. I am hoping they mean a single server cluster that can scale to the load of course. But given the number of MMOs that tend to spread the load across multiple servers and allowing them to have PvP, PvE, and RP servers I think even a single instance could be limiting.

The Player-vs-Player situation has me wondering as well. From the FAQ they state most of the world will allow PvP. I know I am getting older, but when I play MMO’s I don’t really feel like logging in to get beat down by someone that has more time to play and has built themselves up more quickly. It just isn’t my thing. I know some people enjoy the challenge of PvP and at one time that was likely more my thing. But today, I like to play MMO’s on the non-PvP servers.

I do wish Goblinworks well in this endeavor and it appears there are many people that are very excited about a Pathfinder MMO. I think that is awesome, this one just doesn’t seem like it is for me just yet.

What are your thoughts on the Pathfinder Online MMO? Or even this second kickstarter to help speed development up?

Mythic Adventures Playtest

Last Wednesday Paizo released the much anticipated Mythic Adventures playtest. The book is not due out until a Gen Con release in August 2013, but true to Paizo fashion they allow plenty of time for playtesting new rules.

I must preface the comments in this post as being based on a read through of the playtest document and not actual play. My comments are more an overview and overall impression of the new rules and less a dissection of what does and does not work at a finely detailed level. For people seeking to playtest the rules in their game, please read the announcement post and follow the directions there for a proper playtest.

Mythic Adventures will add significant power to your Pathfinder game through the additions of a mythic tier. Many D&D gamers are familiar with epic level rules that kick in beyond typical levels in D&D play. The mythic rules are a little different in that you could start a campaign with mythic powered at level 1 or your could apply them partially through a campaign or you could even apply them temporarily during your campaign.

I readily admit I have rarely had any interest in epic level play. I typically feel a D&D or Pathfinder character starts to become a little too superhero-ish in the mid-teens levels of play. It is fun for awhile, but mainly as a pinnacle of a character’s adventuring career. Playing extended campaigns at “epic” levels is not an area I have historically had a lot of interest in.

This is one of things about the Mythic Adventures rules that is really unique. They offer a way to apply these power boosts right at level 1. No need to play through 20 levels of play and then become “epic” or “mythic”. No need to build pre-gens at levels 20+ just to start there with “epic” or “mythic” level characters. I think the way Paizo has figured out a way to layer these mythic rules into play is quite significant.

I also like that for people like me, that don’t necessarily want to play a whole campaign at “mythic” levels can craft ways to add these rules in on a temporary basis. There are some examples of this in the playtest. A perfect way for players or GMs like me to make use of these rules without committing to an entire campaign at “mythic” levels.

Another tool for the GM is the option of only applying mythic rules to particularly noteworthy opponents or creatures. They could be applied to a human adversary or even an animal-like adversary if the GM saw fit.

There are a multitude of ways to use the mythic adventure rules in your game even if you do not want to commit to an entire campaign at that power level. Very flexible, much more flexible than I thought the rules would be.

The playtest is freely downloadable from Paizo for those that wish to see the details of the rules. So I am only going to hit some of the highlights without going into significant detail.

The mythic rules use ten tiers to scale the power level of the mythic character upwards. These tiers do not necessarily correlate to character (i.e. you could have a 10th level fighter that is only at the 2nd level mythic tier). Tiers are gained by lesser and greater trials.

Each mythic tier grants base mythic powers that are independent of the mythic path you choose. Base powers include things that make you more difficult to kill, flaws, mythic power itself, initiative bonuses, and more as you advance.

There are six main mythic paths a character can choose to apply to their character. Each is geared towards a specific genre of class. The mythic path is what more specializes your mythic power to your class abilities. The paths can include access to mythic flavored spells, feats, and such. Paths also include mythic abilities a player can choose as they advance tiers.

The playtest document also includes many examples of lesser trials mythic characters can choose from to gauge their advancement. The GM is welcome to create their own as well.

Tips on running a mythic game gets a chapter in the playtest document. These tips help show how versatile the system is. From running a game where only creatures can be mythic to temporary use of the rules to running a whole campaign with mythic characters and creatures.

Some example mythic magic items and monsters also get a couple of chapters in the playtest. Mythic magic items and monsters open up whole new realms of play to design in and craft clever challenges for your players.

The playtest document wraps up with a short adventure allowing a GM to tryout the playtest rules with their group. It also is another example of the flexibility of the rules for those GMs that only want to dabble in the mythic realms of power instead of running entire mythic campaigns.

The playtest document weighs in at 52 pages. The layout is excellent, even Paizo’s playtest documents ooze quality. There is some artwork peppered about in the document in the form of sketch art.

When I first heard about Mythic Adventures I was a little skeptical. But after reading through the playtest document I certainly admire the framework. It appears to be extremely flexible for GMs and players and has made itself readily usable by new campaigns and old campaigns already well under way. I am anxious to see how it evolves over time. It looks quite promising even at this early point in the playtest process.