Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Encounter Design, Pt. 3: Effective Use of Mooks

It's been a while since last time (sorry, I've been busy)! Last time we looked at how to deal with lots of enemies with lots of abilities in high level encounters. Today I'm going to discuss using lots of weak enemies in higher level games.

When used creatively, mooks can challenge and inspire players.
Due to the way scaling in d20 games such as D&D or Pathfinder works, a lot of people think that using low challenge-rating creatures quickly becomes pointless in challenging or entertaining players. Today I'm going to challenge that idea during our encounter design. Let's get started!

Defining a Mook
Before we go any further, I'm going to be using the term "mook" a lot in this article so it's important that I explain what I mean when I say "mook". In this context a mook is any antagonist who offers little to no threat to the party on their own. Specifically, a mook is an enemy who's much lower in level/CR than the protagonists. Mook is a relative term. A 1st level orc warrior may be a formidable opponent in its own right to a 1st level party, but it's likely well into mook territory by the time the party is 5th level, and little more than a speed-bump in the path of an 11th level character. Suffice to say that mooks rarely pose much of a danger to the protagonists on their own.

Mook Misconceptions
It's commonly believed that mooks are not good tools for the GM to use to challenge his or her players in most d20 games like D&D 3.x or Pathfinder. This belief isn't entirely unjustified. The basic theory is that as player characters advance in experience and power their statistics reach a point where low level enemies pose less of a threat. An orc who threatened to injure a character 50% of the time may have no more than a 5% chance to injure the same character several levels from now (as characters improve their armor and wear magic items like amulets of natural armor or rings of protection), so when the enemies are dispatched easily and no longer seem to offer a threat with simple attacks it can seem like they are no longer useful.

In a sense, this is true. An orc that has a +4 to hit is a great danger to a low level character, but once their AC is 24 or better, the orc can barely injure them on its own, and will probably be effectively brushed aside by the character it's fighting.

But what's important to remember is that this lone orc is not meant to be the same kind of challenge that it was at low levels. What kind of challenge it is varies depending on its role in the scene you want to present and the level of the characters that it is meant to challenge, and who it is working with.

The Strengths of the Mook
By its very definition a mook cannot be very strong individually. However the mook is a strong tool in the GM's arsenal. Mooks work best when used in groups, often when they can support one or more stronger lead antagonists, though encounters consisting entirely of mooks can be both challenging and rewarding if played right. Mooks are also very good at setting a scene or making your players feel and rejoice in their advancement as they see enemies who were once dangerous falling to the might of their newfound strength and skill, which can make mooks a useful tool for encounters where you want the players to feel awesome.

Mooks function as excellent filler enemies for encounters. Since they are worth relatively little experience points to parties they can be used as a sort of action-prop for encounters. You can often throw mooks into the mix to spice up an encounter without overloading the difficulty or experience point rewards for the event.

Mooks are expendable. Players are intended to be able to dispatch mooks quickly and efficiently. They can be used to "soak" attacks and spells of the players. When an individual mook drops in combat there is no great loss on the side of the antagonists (though you can feel free to ham it up, especially if the mook is still somehow significant to one of the more powerful antagonists, such with Au'hare and his daughters from the previous article).

Mooks can be dangerous in numbers. The thing about mooks is they can often take advantage of some tactics that are especially effective in large numbers, including using actions like Aid Another, or "dog piling" enemies with alchemical weapons, nets, flanking, and so forth. Since the addition of Teamwork Feats like Allied Spellcaster and Precise Strike the tactical options available to mooks are now much stronger and in some cases can cause them to be dangerous in their own right.

Mooks are great at supporting more serious threats. In a high level encounter, mooks can support more powerful antagonists by slowing down the protagonists, covering the big bad, or in some cases forcing the party to make tough decisions about whether to take out the mooks first (giving the big bad more time for his or her machinations) or go for the big bad first (which may give the mooks free passes to antagonize, pester, or even threaten the lives of the party themselves). In some encounters, that choice is a lot harder than most would expect!

It looked smaller in the distance...
Making Mountains out of Molehills
One of the objectives when using mooks is to use their numbers and surroundings to their advantage. Mooks are excellent targets for consumable magic items, wide-reaching buffing spells, and just throwing lots of enemies at the group at one time. Even in small packages, these little guys can pack a punch!

Let's look at a few low CR groups of mooks and their tactics. These basics, once learned, can be applied to all kinds of encounters.

Madam Elsa and her Cats (CR 1): Madam Elsa is a creepy old lady at the edge of a village. A widow whose husband died mysteriously, she now keeps lots of stray cats from the neighborhood. She seems the kindly sort, especially to strangers, though she keeps to herself. She has eight cats that stick around her house and herself. Little does the party realize she's actually an evil hedgewitch that preys on the unsuspecting travelers whom she offers a warm bed to. She uses the bodies of her victims for some dark rituals to some evil hag goddesses, and keeps their eyes on a pickle jar in her downstairs study (which remains locked).

Madam Elsa is a venerable 1st level Adept with twenty cats. However, the crazy witch has used her Handle Animal skill to train all of the housecats to be vicious killers (no really, the cats are trained to kill people) and guard her home for her. When the reveal is made, Madam Elsa commands her cats to attack her victims. During the encounter she casts bless to grant herself and her kitties granting each a +1 bonus on attacks. She then casts spells such as cause fear on key enemies.
Something like this, but angrier!

When Madam Elsa gives her command, the cats rush the party. Each cat tries to enter the space of a PC to begin scratching them. Any cat that takes 1 or more points of damage becomes spooked and flees the encounter for its life (the cats only have about 2-3 hp). Using alchemical splash weapons or spells like burning hands can be handy in this encounter.

In this encounter, the cats are the mooks. Each cat is something of a joke combatant. However, each has a +4 bonus to hit (+5 with bless), a decent AC, and three attacks per round (each dealing 1 nonlethal damage if they hit with an attack). In large enough numbers, these cats can actually be dangerous to some unsuspecting players, especially if a surprise round begins with the cats dog-piling a victim (no joke intended). Each cat is expendable, and the party must defeat no less than twenty one opponents which means that even counting opportunity attacks taking out the kitties, the encounter will probably result in more than a little catscratch fever.

Notice: The key thing to learn from this encounter is that numbers can matter. Even if every member of a four person party drops an enemy on their turn, they're still outnumbered and taking fire. Further, though it might seem mild, the simple act if casting bless can make these weenies land far more attacks.

Update: I was recently made aware that Cats actually have a monetary value in Pathfinder, which can be found here. Apparently they were listed in the Adventurer's Armory. As a result I updated the CR to being only 1, for Madam Elsa plus three cats and included the rest of her cats as part of her NPC gear. The encounter is better this way I think because CR 3 was a bit much for an old lady and her eight cats. Now there's more cats (which means more fun during the encounter) and you can assume the Madam has a few trinkets lying about her house in which to pester the PCs with (using the remainder of her 1st level NPC gear to account for them). For a gold piece Madam Elsa could own up to 33 cats, so you can feel free to add more in if you like. It won't even scratch her NPC wealth.

Orc Shaman and Goons (CR 1): A simple trio of orcs on patrol, this group consists of a single orc adept and two orc warriors. The adept has the bless spell prepared and a few cantrips, carries a longspear, wears studded leather armor, and keeps a sling handy. The adept also has a few flasks of alchemist fire the orcs call "dragon piss". The orc warriors are wearing splint mail, and wielding glaives, and each carries a flask containing a potion of enlarge person or "og'jog juice" as they call it.

Their tactics are simple. The adept casts bless on them, the orcs drink their potions, and the two big ones fight everything with their expanded reach and massive strength (when under the effects of enlarge person and bless the orcs have a 19 Strength, a +6 to hit, 20 ft. of reach with their polearms, and deal 2d8+6 damage per swing with a x3 critical damage multiplier), and can flank with each other in many cases due to their extended reach (giving them a net +8 to hit when flanking). The adept after casting his spell can use his own longspear to poke and prod at enemies while the bigger orcs protect him, or he can use Aid Another actions to give the bigger orcs another +2 bonus to hit against an enemy, or try to help line up flanking attempts.

This is a simple CR 1 encounter. The whole thing could be easily dealt with with a sleep spell or with ranged weapons (or by running long enough for the potions to wear off), but we can see that with their shared tactics and good use of consumables they would probably be taken seriously even by 5th or 6th level player characters, or should be, since they can still hurt you really bad.

Notice: The key thing to learn here is teamwork and choice in tactics can greatly influence an enemy's threat potential. By using such synergistic tactics (buffing their already impressive strength and reach, as well as improving their chances to hit with spells and actions) they are demanding the fight be fought on their terms.

Kobold Commandoes (CR 1): A quartet of kobold insurgents scurry about the small tunnels of their lair, having arrived to deal with some pesky adventurers invading their home. These kobolds are used to guerrilla-warfare style combat and skirmishing, so each has the feat Point Blank Shot instead of Skill Focus (Perception), and each carries a few flasks of alchemist fire as part of their arsenal of NPC gear.

Let's not get carried away now...
Using Stealth to its fullest potential, when combat breaks out the kobolds attempt to dogpile an enemy within 30 ft. with their alchemical bombs. Thanks to Point Blank Shot, each flask has a +1 to hit and +1 to damage, and they're throwing them at the victim's touch-armor class (so armor and shields are not helpful). The four kobolds together can inflict up to 4d6+4 fire damage to a single victim, who will burn for another 4d6 fire damage on the following turn.

Notice: The key thing to learn here is that using dogpile tactics can make things that would hurt a little bit hurt a lot. Having multiple mooks use attacks that are easy to hit with, or deal some damage regardless of the success of their hit (such as with spells like burning hands or fireball or even alchemical splash damage), or can hinder their foes (weapons such as Nets which entangle foes or tools such as tanglefoot bags or caltrops), can all be very potent in large numbers.

Using Mooks In High Level Games
The basic tools of the mooks are the same. However, smart players will all but immunize themselves to low level mook strategies by high levels (which is a good thing, because the mooks could easily kill them if they didn't). For example, the kobolds throwing alchemist fire would be deadly, except the party has equipment granting them fire resistance 10, making them harmless. Throwing nets and tanglefoot bags may be pretty pointless when your party's ranger has freedom of movement keeping him going. All the potions in the world might not help against a party filled with superheroes.

But that's okay, because like I said before, mooks are relative. At 17th level, a party could easily consider an erinyes to be a mook (she's about 10 Challenge Ratings beneath the party's level, and by herself wouldn't even be worth experience points), but she can be excellent support to a large big bad and very dangerous in large numbers (she can cast unholy blight every round for 5d8 nonelemental damage, save for half, which can hurt if you get pelted with enough of them, and could make concentrating on spells very difficult).

Once parties have gotten to high enough levels, the very low level mooks (such as orcs and goblins) can still be used as narrative tools or even in encounters, just not as true combatants. Instead, they can be used as support, using Aid Another for their masters, or preferably by giving players objectives and choices in combat. For example, when the 11th level party is fighting the big bad, perhaps the villain shouts "Release the Kraken!" or something equally terrible, and then lots of goblins begin making their way up a long staircase to reach a lever to release a big monster from a pen. Now the party has to decide whether or not to split their attention trying to pick off goblins moving up the stone stairway in single file or deal with the current threat and hope that they're ready for whatever comes out next!

Putting it All Together

So let's take everything we've been reading here and put it all together into a high level encounter utilizing mooks. In today's plot, we're going to have a powerful drow priestess  and an entourage of drow adept acolytes who use dogpile tactics, and an assortment of drow warriors who pester and hinder the party until they are dealt with.

CR 14 Encounter (38,400 XP Budget)
  • CR 12 x1: Level 13 Drow Cleric priestess x1 (19,200 XP)
  • CR 4 x12: Level 9 Drow Adept acolyte x12 (14,400 XP)
  • CR 2 Trap x1: Intelligent magic trap that casts a random 2nd level spell chosen from a list each round x1 (600 XP)
  • CR 1/3 x 30: Drow warriors x30 (4,050 XP)
Total XP: 38,250 XP (150 XP floating)

The Scene
The party storms the underground temple to the spider goddess where the high priestess and her handmaidens carry forth their dark rituals in an attempt to call forth a champion of their goddess to bring ruin to their enemies. When the party arrives the portal is already being opened and dangerous magic spurts and sputters from the opening gateway. Now the party must attempt to close the portal before it is too late!

Enemy Tactics
The Priestess and her Handmaidens: The high priestess leads the ceremonial ritual along with her hand maidens. As a 13th level cleric she is a formidable foe on her own and relishes engaging her enemies with the unholy power of her goddess. She is going to use spells like divine power and righteous might to take the fight to her enemies, while bolstering her forces with spells like animate objects cast on a huge stone statue of the spider goddess herself that stands within the room. If she gets into trouble, she will also cast heal on herself if she falls below half her hit points (or if her foe is dealing enough damage that she might die if she doesn't).

"You're too late adventurers. The ritual is complete."
Her handmaidens or acolytes are 9th level adepts. While not necessarily powerful spellcasters in their own right they are more than capable of supporting their mistress. Each of them has a pair of lightning bolt spells prepared, as well as having several scorching ray spells prepared. Most of them ready actions to cast these spells at enemy spellcasters to interrupt their casting. So if a non-allied caster begins to cast a spell they can easily expect to see a few lightning bolts or scorching rays coming their way. At 9d6 damage per lightning bolt or up to 8d6 per scorching ray it can be near impossible to not lose your spell unless you're warded against lightning and fire with spells like resist energy or protection from energy or through items like a ring of energy resistance. The adepts could also (at your discretion and depending on the environment you want to run the encounter in) have web prepared instead of a scorching ray to hinder enemies.

The Portal "Trap": The "trap" is actually the portal that the drow have opened and it is steadily growing. The dark forces on the other side of the portal are channeling magic across the planar border to throw spells around. For the purposes of mechanics were are treating it as a chaotic evil-aligned Intelligent resetting magical trap (and we'll give 5.5 HP per caster level or  71 HP, AC 5, hardness 10, and a +8 saving throw bonus) that can cast the following spells once per round at a 13th caster level: acid arrow, blindness/deafness (DC 13), enlarge/reduce person (DC 11), magic missile, or summon swarm. Each round the portal attempts to open itself further as a move-action, while spurting magic out at anyone who would seek to stop it as a standard action (1 round casting time spells like summon swarm or enlarge/reduce person can be seen charging one round prior as the portal charges up, though they cannot normally be interrupted like spells can). When the portal has opened itself ten times (taking a minumum of 10 rounds) then it opens and the ritual is complete, starting a CR 17 encounter with a Marilith with spider-like features like multiple eyes, dressed in webbing).

The portal can be disabled or slowed in several ways. Firstly it's treated as a magic trap, so spells like dispel magic can suppress it for 1d4 rounds which forces it dormant and causes it to reset when it comes back up, meaning it must start its expansion over again. Mage's disjunction eliminates the threat and causes the portal to become dormant for several minutes and may destroy it outright. Alternatively the portal may be damaged enough that it can no longer hold its form and collapses in on itself. If reduces to 1/2 HP it gains the broken condition and must use a full-round action to expand itself, which means it cannot unleash magic on those rounds. A character with the Trapfinding class feature (such as a Rogue) may even be able to disable it with a DC 27 Disable Device check.

While the trap effects (the 2nd level spell once per round) is only a CR 2 encounter, preventing the ritual that is attached to the effect should award a CR 10 story-award in addition to the XP value of the trap. Failing to stop the portal may result in a total party wipe if the party cannot dispense with the priestess and her mooks before the Marilith joins the encounter. Especially if they refuse to flee if the encounter turns against them.

We're here to do more than look pretty.
The Drow Warriors: The priestess keeps a retinue of thirty drow warriors within her complex. When the encounter begins there are a group of ten of them guarding the priestess and her handmaidens (though this assistance is for little more than protocol as individually these soldiers could scarcely guard themselves from their master). However, they are loyal out of a combination of fear and religious upbringing, and so they are apt to fight for their masters even against overwhelming odds.

Each of the warriors is lightly armored (studded leather) and carries a few spidersilk nets (just treat as normal nets) and some alchemical weapons (each has a single tanglefoot bag, and a pair of alchemist fires). Their weapons are serviceable rapiers but they are more decorative than mastercraft (their weapons are mundane).

When the battle breaks out, the drow warriors attempt to use their nets on any enemy up to large size that they can, inflicting the entangled condition on their foe. Since it takes a full-round action to escape a single net, characters who are hit with multiple nets may very easily end up entangled for the entire encounter unless they are willing to spend several rounds trying to escape all of them.

They will also take turns hitting enemies with their alchemical weapons whenever they can. Their objective is to slow, hinder, or harass enemies as much as possible. Dog piling alchemist fire on enemies is a favorite tactic against enemies with particularly high armor classes (such as those in plate mail) or against enemy casters (particularly clerics and druids who may have difficulty casting through all the continuous damage).

As the battle progresses, 4 more soldiers arrive on the scene from deeper in the complex each round until all 30 warriors have arrived or have been dealt with. Since the mooks are spread out, it makes it more difficult to crowd-control or kill all of them with area of effect spells such as black tentacles or fireball. This keeps them flowing.

They'll also not hesitate to be living shields, since allies behind them gain soft cover (+4 to AC), which can mean that a pawn can be sacrificed to avoid an enlarged barbarian's opportunity attack (you can't make opportunity attacks against creatures with cover). They can also use Aid Another and flanking to grant their priestess some really goofy attack and armor class bonuses as well. They can also cover the priestess or their adept sisters, forcing martials to bull-rush through them to reach the chewy spellcasting center.

It's an animated object, honest!

My next encounter design blogpost is going to fly in the face of everything I've mentioned up until now (okay, maybe not everything). Why? Because, it's going to be about using single big bad evil guys, and is going to take a look at what makes for a great solo-encounter enemy and examine what kinds of creatures or tactics to avoid when making a solo-boss.

Look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, game on Alvenians.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Encounter Design, Pt. 2: High Level Encounters

In the first article of this series, I went over using multiple NPCs, and drawing players into encounters using terrain, skills, and their surroundings. Today I will be discussing some of the nuances of higher level play. High level encounters are some of the most complex and bewildering of encounters for many GMs, both new and veteran alike, so let's try to tackle some of that today.

Today I'd like to give another shout out to Umbriere, Icyshadow, and Magnuskn of the Paizo Messageboards for getting me to start these articles, and a shout out to my gaming group for all the horrors I put them through with my encounters. ^_^

You may want to split the reading into multiple portions if you can't handle reading a lot at once.

Player Characters From Low to High Levels
Pathfinder (and D&D 3.x) changes dramatically as characters advance in level. Characters become inhumanly tough, capable of doing god-like things, and have a much wider array of options open to them when deciding how to solve problems. This is true for both sides of the fence (both PCs and NPCs) and as a result combat changes at high levels into something deeper and more tactical (but very rewarding I think).

The one on the left, is the dangerous one.
Characters move faster or have new ways to move. Most characters by high levels can afford things like boots of speed, but many will also have steady access to flight in some form or another (magic items like celestial armor, carpets of flying, or spells like overland flight spring to mind), or even more exotic ways to move about (there are methods to obtain swim or even burrow speeds, where even the earth itself is no obstacle), or even shed their bodies entirely with effects like gaseous form or ethereal jaunt. Or characters may forgo moving entirely and simply be where they wish to be with spells like dimension door or greater teleport, allowing them to move around virtually any obstacle and often at great distances.

Meanwhile, characters are much more durable. Assuming players have not neglected their defenses, they should have statistics like Armor Class and Saving Throw bonuses in abundance, lots of hit points, and likely resistances or outright immunities to several attack forms (such as poison, diseases, or various types of energy damage such as electricity or fire). Attacks that would have outright killed or ended their existence at lower levels can be absolved in an instant (if a gorgon turns one of your characters to stone, likely your party can cast stone to flesh on the character, possibly even during the same combat, allowing the player to resume their activities)!

Finally, characters have much greater offense. Not merely in the scale or amounts of their damaging abilities, but also in the wealth of options they have for being offensive. Characters can deal damage, stun, daze, paralyze, petrify, hold, confuse, throw, drain life force, or even banish enemies from existence! Chances are if one method of attack isn't working, a high level party can try several more until the opponent cries uncle.

In pretty much every way, characters are bigger, badder, and more potent.

High Level Encounter Basics
For the most part, the advice given in part one of this guide applies more or less directly to high level combat. Like at low levels, we want our encounters to be dynamic, full of energy, with lots of stuff going on, and with many antagonists to interact with the party. That much is the same. The biggest hurdle is just learning to think with some creative flair and take into account the wealth of options that high level monsters and NPCs have.

Dealing With Lots of NPCs and their Abilities
As an example, let's look at the Succubus. The succubus is a CR 7 creature and one of the first things you'll notice is that it has a lot of unique abilities. Besides her resistances, natural flight, shapeshifting, and special perks like profane gift and energy drain, she also has a wide variety of spell like abilities which allow her to do things like accurately teleport, turn ethereal, or control the minds of others. She even has an offensive option with her vampiric touch spell-like ability (which can be delivered through a claw attack by the way).

By herself she has a lot of tricks, but what if there were several of them and a Rakshasa? When you start getting into multiple creatures at once you don't want to stop and have to decide what each creature is going to do individually. That takes time that should generally be spent progressing the flow of your game. So how do we handle this?

1. Assign Roles. When dealing with lots of NPCs, you will want to get a basic idea as to what that character should do during an encounter. Assuming the succubi + rakshasa combo above, we decide that the succubi will flutter about the encounter with their flight or teleportation and try to harass the party while being as hard as possible to pin down (and by harass I mean constantly trying to charm cohorts, animal companions, and PCs, while occasionally sucker-punching casters with vampiric touch delivered through a claw attack). Meanwhile the Rakshasa can engage the party more directly with melee or ranged weapon combat while supporting the group with whatever sorcerer spells he knows.
You'll be running encounters like this in no time!

By getting an idea of what each creature's role will be during the combat it allows you to condense all those cool abilities down into a sort of manageable goal.

2. Plan Ahead. When I say plan ahead, I'm not talking about GM prep-time in the traditional sense. I mean have an idea as to what each creature is going to do on their turn before their turn comes around. Don't wait until it's succubus #3's turn to know what she's going to do. This can be done tactically a few turns in advance, generally a few rounds in advance, or even conceptually before the fight ever begins. For example, we did some of this when deciding their role (when we decided they would harass the party's minions with charms and/or try to sneak up on the party casters while they are dealing with the rakshasa). So when her turn comes up you can have her act and move on to the next character.

This is good advice for dealing with summoned creatures, familiars, animal companions, or even player characters. With a little practice, even large encounters with lots of NPCs and player henchmen (including cohorts, animal companions, familiars, and undead) can move along really quickly.

3. Have an Initiative Strategy. One thing that's important when running lots of NPCs is deciding how to handle their initiatives. If you have a digital initiative tracker (as with some online tabletop programs) this can be less of an issue. If you're running a traditional tabletop game or lack such a digital tool, you have a lot of options available to you.
  • Roll initiative before combats. You can roll and mark initiatives for NPCs at any time before the combat begins. If you're using statblocks you can mark the NPC's initiative roll on their sheet.
  • Use average initiative. The original D&D 3E basic game used average initiative for everyone, which is where you assume the NPCs rolled a 10 + their initiative bonuses (so a +2 Init becomes a 12, and you can roll a d20 to break ties). This can be useful for dealing with large numbers of mooks but some might complain that you can't take 10 on initiative. Still, my players have never complained when I've used this method (in fact, we have played games where we dispensed with rolling initiative entirely using this method).
  • Use grouped initiative. If you're using groups of enemies you can roll for the group instead of the individual. For example, in our sample encounter of succubi plus a rakshasa you might roll 1 initiative for all of the succubi and one initiative for the rakshasa. This is especially good for big combats where you'd like groups of enemies or mooks to all act as kind of a horde or unit.
Any of these methods can greatly cut down on dealing with initiatives during combat and keep the game progressing smoothly.

Putting It All Together
Now let's build a high level encounter. I'm going to progress on with the Rakshasa and the succubi because it sounds like a fun encounter. Drawing on what we learned in part one, we're going to try and make an exciting and dynamic encounter.

XP Budget
We're going to aim for a CR 16 encounter with approximately 76,800 XP worth of enemies. We spread our budget like this:
  • 16 CR 1/2 Enemies: 16 Tieflings (3,200 XP)
  • 7 CR 7 Enemies: 7 Succubi (19,200 XP)
  • 1 CR 15 Enemy: 1 rakshasa eldritch knight* (51,200 XP)
Total XP Value: 76,800 XP

The Location
We set our scene in an underground throne room in a complex beneath the streets of a major city, with an entrance from the "Beautiful Sins" nightclub owned by the Rakshasa. A truly terrible creature named Kili the Auburn Hare or "Master Au'hare" as he is identified in his human guise. Beneath his club is a living compound best described as a den of absolute inequity where he sees to his dear "family". A master manipulator and powerful even by the standards of Rakshasa, he is supported by an entourage of succubus concubines who serve as his lovers, spies, and assassins. He has a hand in many forms of vice and illegal dealings in the city, especially in the area of trading slaves.

At the center of this complex is a long room filled with burning incense, lavish black and white roses, and erotic paintings and tapestries adorning the walls. This beauty is contrasted by small chimes and sculptures made of humanoid bones, with bead-like strings of teeth hanging like curtains. Doors line the walls of each side, presumably leading to other areas of the underground mansion. At the end of this seemingly impossibly long room sits a silk-padded throne studded in the bones of monsters. Atop the throne, a very well-dressed human man (our Rakshasa Au'hare in his human form) who could be described only as physically beautiful sits drinking from a gem-studded goblet made from a goblin's skull. Surrounding him are a pair of beautiful women with clearly demonic features that only seem to enhance their appearance in a strangely exotic way.

The entire area is lit with nothing more than lots of candles and burning incense. This leaves the entire complex lit with little more than dim light, which imposes no penalties on Au'hare and his family who all possess darkvision.

Wandering the hallway and other portions of the complex are female tieflings that would seem physically attractive to most humanoids if not for strange and creepy features like elongated teeth, strange animalistic eyes, rabbit-like ears of various colors, and fur-like hair. These tieflings are Au'hare's daughters and lovers, born from the coupling of Au'hare and his special "guests" that he finds in his nightclub (which he eventually sells off as slaves when he grows bored with them if they don't succumb to the hunger of him or his succubus concubines). Au'hare's daughters are fiercely loyal to their father as he has raised them to practically worship him and takes great pleasure in spoiling them by showering them with gifts and attention. Au'hare has sired many more children by his indulgences but he kills all the male children born so as to prevent any rivals for power or attention from his daughters.

Au'hare's Family
  • Daughters: Angel, Beauty, Compassion, Dignity, Emotion, Freedom, Holiness, Integrity, Justice, Love, Mercy, Parish, Righteous, Salvation, Truth, and Virtue
  • Succubi: Varilexa, Violencia, Sixtixa, Loss, D'Philia, Marotep, Harvexa
The Scene
"Daddy, I want to play with this one!"
When the party arrives, Au'hare in his usual confidence welcomes them to his home. Inside his throne room are his daughters Dignity and Virtue who are playing violins in an upbeat tone which has Au'hare nodding his head in rhythm. When the party arrives, there is an eerie semblance of family life going on at first glance. Au'hare insists on introducing his family, telling the party that their business can wait. "Oh please, put your weapons down and meet the family, Dignity, Virtue, say hello to our guests." he insists when the party arrives. Dignity and Virtue are especially fascinated with the strangers and smile warmly, revealing rows of sharp teeth as they curtsy with dancer-like form. Virtue takes a special interest in one of the party members (chosen for whichever the GM thinks would be the most creepy) and remarks "Oh, I like you. Daddy, can I have this one?" she comments.

Thanks to the telepathy of the succubi, his other daughters emerge from doors around the compound to meet the party. Au'hare introduces each. Each one with similar twisted features. After he introduces his daughters, he then introduces the succubi as his wives.

Au'hare is soft-spoken with his daughters and enjoys spoiling them. When Virtue asks to have one of the party members, he responds with something like "Maybe sweetest, we'll see." which can allow the party to simultaneously feel objectified by these strangers and imply the level of arrogance present in Au'hare.

Au'hare is not particularly fond of combat and enjoys playing with his guests instead. If given the opportunity he'll flirt with female members of the party, which will draw obvious jealousy from his daughters who get noticeably angry and try to draw his attention back to them by making passive-aggressive comments about their appearances such as "But her hair isn't as pretty as mine, right daddy?" or "Her skin can't be as soft as mine daddy, and I know you love soft skin". Au'hare continues displaying his pride for his home, and will even do strange things like invite the party for dinner as though they were somehow friends (though he's just toying with the party as long as they will go along with his little games).

The objective in this scene is to draw attention to the twisted mockery of a family. It is in this that his Rakshasa taboos can be found, and it is in this that ingrains the scene into the memories of the players.

The Plan
Au'hare is an overconfident bastard, and he knows that he is nearly untouchable in his dark sanctum here. His entire complex is guarded by permanent mage's private sanctum which prevents people from spying on his affairs with spells like scrying. He usually has his favorite succubi (Varilexa and Violencia) close at hand with him at his throne and the others reside elsewhere in the complex. Each of them can alert the others to the presence of intruders and give them play-by-plays of what they're perceiving with their Telepathy, and all of them willingly fail their saving throws to resist Au'hare's constant detect thoughts which allows them all to do organize their nightmarish activities in perfect synchronization if they are near each other.

If combat breaks out, the succubi immediately alert the other five succubi who begin using their summon spell-like ability to summon as many Babau demons to join in the fight as possible (statistically speaking all the succubus combined should summon around 3-4 babau). After that, they use their greater teleport to join the fight, flying out of reach of melee characters when possible and using charm monster to harass players or henchmen (such as cohorts, animal companions, familiars, etc) and attempt to use their strong Charisma scores to force their victims to turn on their friends. If they see any spellcasters left unguarded they will cast vampiric touch and charge them on the following round to deliver the spell with their claw attack (see holding the charge) to inflict some heavy burst-damage and put them in position to harass the casters.

Any summoned Babau will simply attempt rush into combat as fast as possible, relying on their damage reduction and acidic slime to protect them, and using their longspears to set up flanking positions where they can sneak-attack. When the tieflings or they use their darkness spell-like abilities, they take great glee in ambushing anyone who cannot see in the darkness (leaving them blind and very vulnerable to their sneak-attacks).

Au'hare's daughters are not very strong but they are very loyal to their father both out of adoration and fear. Though they pose little threat on their own, they each can cast darkness as a spell-like ability and will blanket the area in this darkness, and will try to fight with the party until they realize it's hopeless (likely after one or two of them has been effortlessly dealt with, either by being injured, disabled, thrown aside, or slain) at which point they try to keep their distance out of fear. They don't wear armor but each carries a bag with alchemical items like tanglefoot bags, acid, and alchemist fire, as well as a single masterwork melee weapon gifted to them by their father (usually a dagger, rapier, short sword, or other light or finesse weapon). If Au'hare begins taking excessive damage, his daughters betray their love for their father and attempt to throw themselves in the way of incoming attacks using Aid Another to grant him bonuses on armor class or saving throws, shouting things like "Leave my daddy alone!" or "Remember me daddy!".

Au'hare himself prefers to begin combats with mind fog to soften up enemies for his many enchantment spells like mass hold person. He takes a special fondness of using terrible save-or-die spells as finishing moves when he gets a successful critical hit (his favorites are mass hold person, persistent flesh to stone, persistent baleful polymorph, persistent hold monster and persistent slow) in addition to blinding his foe with Blinding Critical. He will not hesitate to activate his boots of speed to haste himself, and if given the opportunity he prefers to buff himself with improved invisibility and greater heroism in that order.

Au'hare is flamboyant and egotistical. He enjoys toying with enemies he feel are weaker than himself, but his mood turns excessively sour if someone strikes his daughters or insults the appearance of himself or his girls. If one of his daughters is slain he immediately targets her killer with as much hatred and reprisal as he and his succubi can muster. Au'hare is too self-centered to fight to the death however and will attempt to escape if the battle turns against him by using teleport or shadow walk to flee to the countryside with the intention of seeking terrible vengeance in the future.

Au'hare / Kili the Auburn Hare
NE Medium outsider (native, shapechanger) eldritch knight 10
"It looks like we have company, ladies."
Init +12; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +24
AC 30, touch 18, flat 23 (+4 armor, +8 dex, +9 natural)
Hp 330 (20d10+220); Fort +21, Ref +21, Will +14;
DR 15/good and piercing; SR 25; Immune mind blank
Speed 40 ft., Fly 40 ft. (good manueverability)
Melee +1 rapier +22/+18/+13/+8 (1d6+23/15-20), bite +9 (1d6+8)
*: Includes a -6 to hit and +18 to damage from Power Attack)
Special Attacks detect thoughts, spell critical
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 16th, Concentration +27)
8th (3/day) -- mind blank*

7th (6/day) -- insanity (DC 26), mass hold person (DC 26)
6th (7/day) -- flesh to stone (DC 24), greater heroism, shadow walk
5th (7/day) -- baleful polymorph (DC 23), overland flight*, hold monster (DC 24), teleport
4th (8/day) -- lesser globe of invulnerability, dimension door, greater invisibility, bestow curse (DC 22)
3rd (8/day) -- haste, slow (DC 21), vampiric touch, dispel magic
2nd (8/day) -- mirror image, blindness/deafness (DC 19), ghoul touch (DC 19), hideous laughter (DC 21), see invisibility
1st (8/day) -- charm person (DC 20), mage armor*, shield touch of gracelessness (DC 18), corrosive touch
Cantrips -- detect magic, detect poison, light, mage hand, prestidigitation
*: Already cast (included in statblock).
Str 18, Dex 26, Con 30, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 24
BAB +20, CMB +24, CMD 42
Feats Power Attack, Weapon Finesse, Combat Casting,  Improved Initiative, Improved Critical (rapier), Heighten Spell, Spell Focus (Enchantment), Greater Spell Focus (Enchantment), Persistent Spell, Toughness
Bonus Feats Critical Focus, Blinding Critical, Blind-Fight
Skills Bluff +34, Diplomacy +13, Disguise +28, Perception +24, Perform +20, Sense Motive +24, Stealth +21; Racial Modifiers +4 Bluff, +8 Disguise
Equipment +3 cloak of resistance, +2 gloves of dexterity, +2 vest of constitution, +1 called adamantine rapier "Black Phantom", boots of speed, 1,670 gp worth of additional items.
Languages Common, Abyssal, Infernal
SQ change shape (any humanoid, alter self)
Detect Thoughts (Su) A rakshasa can detect thoughts as per the spell of the same name (CL 18th). It can suppress or resume this ability as a free action. When a rakshasa uses this ability, it always functions as if it had spent three rounds concentrating and thus gains the maximum amount of information possible. A creature can resist this effect with a DC 22 Will save. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Profane Gift (Su) Au'hare is the beneficiary of a +2 profane bonus to his Constitution score due to his relationship with his succubus lovers. A profane gift is removed by dispel evil or dispel chaos. The succubus can remove it as well as a free action (causing 2d6 Charisma drain to the victim, no save), but will not willingly do this to unless magically compelled.

I hope you enjoyed today's blogpost and the creepy kinks of the Auburn Hare! Next time I'm going to talk about using low level creatures in encounters with high level players (you didn't think those orcs were going to just disappear when you hit 11th level, did you?)!

See you next time Alvenians. Until then, game on!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Help My Game! - Encounter Design, Pt. 1

Recently I was asked by my friends Umbriere, Icyshadow, and Magnuskn to write a guide to designing encounters in Pathfinder (though most applies for Dungeons & Dragons 3.x as well, though the math may be a little different in some places) and so here we go!

Encounter design has become one of my favorite parts of the game and I've talked a lot about encounter dynamics on forums like the Paizo forums. However, I've never wrote anything in-depth on the subject on the forums. Rather, instead I generally gave individual help advice. Today, we're going to try and tackle ALL the encounters you will ever want to design in your games (and we'll do it with a nod to flair and excitement)!

You may want to split the reading into multiple portions if you can't handle reading a lot at once. ^_^

Encounter Building - Overview
In an RPG "encounter" can mean a lot of different things. For the purposes of this guide, an encounter is a scene that is intended to be challenging, exciting, filled with action, or somehow function to draw the player into your game and your story. We'll begin with combat encounters and then later move on to other kinds of encounters in later articles.

Encounter Building - Combat Encounters
One of the biggest hurdles to jump as a new GM is building a good combat encounter. It is as much or more an art form as it is mechanical formula. It's also where most people make their first mistakes with the CR (challenge rating) system. Firstly, let's look at what we generally do not want or look for in an encounter.
The owlbear stood up and roared ferociously, bearing claws and a sharpened beak that could have snapped trees or severed steel. It takes a swipe at the young warrior before it and its claw glances across his armor, leaving little more than a memorable scratch. Then...the party goes, and the owlbear is dead. The combat is over in one-round. Turns out 4 players each pounding their name-brand into the owlbear results in a dead owlbear pretty quickly. The combat ends shorter than expected and it wasn't very epic. You're not sure why. It was a CR 4 creature. The party was CR 4. What happened?
The above scenario is all too common (and I don't mean owlbears are overused). The GM chose a monster based on its CR, and expected the lone monster to make excitement happen, or to be challenging enough to make for an interesting combat encounter. Unfortunately, there are a few things wrong with this fight.

1. The fight isn't very dynamic. It's really just one brutish monster versus the group. This means that it's already veering towards "uninteresting" because it's pretty strait-forward. This is what you might call a routine encounter, in that it doesn't require the party to make any special considerations or think tactically beyond avoiding getting smacked around a little.
It's not fair! I've only got two claws!
I can't fight ALL of them!

2. The monster is at a disadvantage. Though never mentioned in the rulebooks, something scholars of the game refer to as "action economy" is a very real thing. In short, action economy is the relation between how many actions the protagonists have versus the antagonists (like our owlbear). In this case, the owlbear was by itself. It had 1 set of actions to take. The party was 4 players, so they had literally four times the actions during this combat. So the battle quickly became one-sided as the 4 teamed up on the 1. This is often multiplied further in effectiveness due to team synergy (if the wizard buffs everyone else, his action makes the value of the other actions that much greater).

The owlbear is pretty much on par with other creatures of it's challenge rating. It's worth its experience. The catch is that due to the sheer number of players versus the monster, it's very likely that the owlbear never gets to really interact with the group much.

Now let's look at an encounter that gives samples of the things we do want to look for.

The party wanders through the forest. It's dark as the canopy filters the sunlight into eerie beams of light piercing the darkness (dim light). There are no real trails this deep, so the ground is overgrown in many places making movement somewhat more difficult off the beaten path (difficult terrain in many places, especially the root systems of large trees). The forest is still...perhaps too still. Suddenly the sound of rustling leaves and the snarling of monsters echoes through the forest, bouncing off the tree trunks. Worgs are upon you! They rush in from hiding, taking you by surprise (with a surprise round even). A pair of them slowly circle the party, snapping at them with their jaws and using both the party and the trees to make it difficult to shoot at them. The worgs speak, shouting "Haha, look my lovely mate, at what meal we have lucked into this day!", "Oh yes my dear! So much more flavorful than deer again...the pups will enjoy eating out their eyes!"
"We'd like to invite you for dinner!"

The dim light of the forest grants everyone without low-light vision concealment (20% miss chance), but the worgs have low-light vision (as do elves and gnomes). The worgs ambushed the party because they were taking 10 with a +9 stealth modifier and a +5 bonus from being 50 ft. away from the party when the encounter begins, so the party didn't notice them hiding along the trail ahead. The worgs charged that 50 ft. during their surprise round over what terrain wasn't difficult, possibly knocking down the flat-footed party members with their trip ability when they bite them! As the combat starts in earnest they can either press their advantages gained during their surprise or use their speed to dart around despite the difficult terrain in the forest (moving at 25 ft. per move action rather than the 15, 10, or even 5 ft. of the player characters). When the wolves move, the concealment and often cover (from the other PCs or trees) make it difficult to take shots at them from a distance (but it's still probably the safest bet). The battle will likely rage on for a few rounds before the worgs flee, shouting "My dearest, I believe we have picked more than we can chew today. Let us flee until we have the strength of the pack to bring them down!", or if one of the worgs was slain "My dearest!? You two-legged mutts will pay dearly for this! I will stalk you to the ends of the earth until I tear our your still beating heart with my fangs!".
Let's examine this encounter a bit. It's similar to the owlbear encounter in many ways. It's in the wilderness, it's in a forest specifically (owlbears live in forests too), and the encounter is also CR 4 (two worgs are equivalent in XP value to a single owlbear). So where is the difference really coming in?

1. The encounter is more than just the worgs themselves. It takes the entire scene into account and that makes it more likely to be ingrained into the minds of the players. It incorporates the very ground, trees, and dark glow of the forest into the encounter. The warrior or wizard who feels fear because moving through undergrowth to safety, as well as moving forward to press advantage on the worgs, is difficult and draws even more attention to the worg's quadrupedal speed (it also means moving into the undergrowth makes it impossible to 5 ft. step/shift out of the worg's reach without risking getting bitten). The very trees can be allies or enemies (as you take cover behind them to hide, use them to prevent the worgs from charging you, or curse them for blocking your arrow fire).

From a mechanical perspective, it's taking lighting, distance, skills, and perceptions into account. It's taking terrain into account (with areas of normal terrain that you can charge and move across easily, and areas where movement and vision is troubled). It takes into account the abilities of the worgs and translates them as how they would use them to hunt in a living world.

2. It draws attention to the uniqueness the characters and their circumstances.
The elf who can get a clear shot because her eyes adjust to the dim light will feel more gratified and happier about being a elf. The worgs using their natural habitat to their advantage makes it feel like you are being hunted on their turf, which is scary as you are out of your element and inside theirs! The worgs would have a sense of personality even if they weren't speaking, but their ability to speak and their cunning further draws the attention to their uniqueness and the severity of the situation. It also opens an opportunity to allow the party to try to parlay with the wolves instead or even strike a deal with them: "Hold worgs! Eat us and you'll eat for a day! Aid us, and I will ensure you grow fat on ox a day for a week!"

3. The encounter is more dynamic. You'll hear me use the word "dynamic" many times throughout this guide. Being exciting and conveying a sense of energy and life is what we're going for with our encounters. While slugfests have their place in a game (sometimes it's just downright fun to trade full attacks until one guy cries uncle), there is more going on here. The enemies are moving, biting, tripping, taunting, and in a sense interacting with the players in more ways. This keeps the action more exciting, and ultimately helps to draw players and GMs alike into the excitement of the story.

4. More IS more. I love solo-encounters with a big bad. They really set the feel for when something is big, bad, and awesome. But they should really be the exception, not the rule. One of the biggest changes from the owlbear scenario to the worg scenario was the number of enemies doubled. That means the antagonists were doing more, even if what they were doing was less powerful individually. They are taking more actions which draws more attention to them. If one of them is downed, the other still continues to progress the excitement (either by vengefully taking a few more shots at the party until wounded, or by cursing the party as he foreshadows a vengeance that may or may not ever occur).
"I say ol' man! Cry havoc and let slip the hounds of war!"

Nine out of ten times more enemies means more to an encounter than more powerful enemies because of their ability to work together or to make a fight more dynamic. A battle with 6 orcs and a pair of riding dogs is almost guaranteed to be more packed with action than any single CR 4 enemy (especially if those orcs make use of their NPC wealth and use things like nets, reach weapons, alchemical weapons, and perhaps has an adept spellcaster amongst them or something).

Putting it All Together
Let's try building an encounter from scratch. And for this exercise I'm going to use nothing more than the PF Bestiary plus one custom NPC, to show that you don't need to spend hours and hours prepping for games (mostly generic statblocks will be fine). Plus it gives everyone a nice NPC to add to their collection at the end of the blogpost.

In our example, we'll assume that our party is 7th level. That's high enough that a lot of GMs begin getting bewildered by the capabilities of the PCs (casters have 4th level spells, and martials can break down walls with their fists). It's also a level where synergy from parties is getting really strong and players will seem to have more and more powerful resources and can go longer and longer. So with that in mind we're going to build a CR 8 encounter (a challenging encounter) to be a climactic battle at an outpost during one of their adventures. Pretty standard affair really.

We decide that our story involves a group of orcish mercenaries working alongside a goblin tribe under the banner of a powerful hobgoblin warlord. Under the hobgoblin warlord is a group of witches who are either helping him to achieve is goal or guiding him for their own purposes from behind the scenes. So now we have some antagonists, so let's put together a grouping of them!

XP Budget
At CR 8 we have approximately 4,800 XP worth of enemies to account for. So we divide it up like this.
  • 5 CR 1/3 Enemies: 3 orcs warriors, 2 goblin warriors (675 XP)
  • 4 CR 1/2 Enemies:  4 hobgoblin fighters (800 XP)
  • 1 CR 1 Trap: 1 20 ft. wide pit trap that's 20 ft. deep (2d6 falling damage, DC 20 negates)
  • 1 CR 2 Enemies: 1 rat swarm (600 XP)
  • 2 CR 4 Enemy: 1 owlbear (1,200 XP), 1 9th level hobgoblin adept* (1,200 XP)
Total Value = 4,825 XP

The Location
For our climactic scene (probably a battle, but players can surprise you), we have an outpost with a spiked palisade wall with a pair of tall but rickety wooden towers similar to the crow's nest on a ship. In those towers is a pair of goblins who serve as lookouts and snipers with their shortbows (with their NPC gear, we also arm them with a few alchemist fires they can toss over the side at enemies).  Towards the center of the outpost is a large building made out of brick with small windows and murder holes, with some wooden spikes sticking out of large sections of the walls (mostly to deter battering rams, but could be a stage-hazard if someone is thrown into them).

The hobgoblin forces have dug a pit trap and filled it with ravenous rats near the entrance of their little fort. The rats serve a dual purpose as a trap and as a garbage disposal as they eat virtually anything that's thrown down to them. The trap is activated by a lever on the inner wall of the fortress, which one of the hobgoblins typically mans. When not opened, the pit trap looks like a training platform for warriors to practice their skills on.

Inside the largest building in the center is Reiga, our 9th level adept and her Imp Familiar (gained by the Improved Familiar feat) Xalxor. She typically remains inside out of the hot sun and typically is busy playing with her chemistry set. She is mostly left alone by her underlings out of fear of her magical powers and prejudice against the tribal witches in her clan. She is responsible for the outpost but would rather be hunting elven men to add to her harem that she has been amassing to the disgust of her fellow hobgoblins (who don't like elves at all).

The second largest building in the center of our little fort houses Rex, Reiga's pet Owlbear. He's been in locked in his pen in time out after he ate one of their goblin scouts. Despite his extremely irritable nature, Rex is trained for combat and will obey any hobgoblin, giving Reiga priority should their commands conflict.

Three orcs patrol the camp at any given time, while three hobgoblins are at post inside the main building near miss Reiga. Most of the hobgoblins keep their bows at the ready and the orcs with their falchions. The hobgoblins each have a few alchemist fires on hand in their NPC gear totals, and the orcs are each armed with a single skull-flask of Jujama Juice (a potion of enlarge person) that is said to make their body match the size of their rage.

Scattered about the camp are smaller huts made from brick. These huts are similar to stone in their hardness but are vulnerable to bludgeoning attacks which can knock them apart (bludgeoning attacks deal double damage to them).

How it All Plays Out
If the PCs try to lay siege on the camp from the air (such as with fly + fireball spam) then those not indoors and still alive will take refuge inside the huts (which are extremely resistant to things like fireball and lightning bolt), and will wait out any aerial attacks of the sort. If the PCs bring the battle to the ground, the warriors will attempt to draw some of the PCs over the large pit trap, and then one will throw the lever to drop any unsuspecting PCs. Alternatively, a hobgoblin may ready an action to flip the switch to catch a PC in the trap during a charge or some situation where the trap would be harder to avoid or ruin the PC's action.

If the goblins are left unbothered in the towers, they will take pot-shots at the PCs with their shortbows and throw alchemist fires from their nests, with a special attention to blasting anyone who's in heavy armor (who are more likely to resist their arrows). The towers could be caused to fall down by dealing 20 points of damage (hardness 5) to the wooden poles suspending them, causing the goblins and the towers to tumble over (causing the goblins to take 3d6 falling damage and likely go splat).

The orcs juice up on their potions growing to large size and swing their falchions around with reach. Their armor class in this case is terrible but their threat quite high, and these savage warriors fight until dead through their Ferocity racial ability.

If combat is going poorly for the soldiers, Reiga will emerge with to see what all the commotion is and call Rex to deal with the intruders (and Rex is a little cabin-crazy from being in time out and wants to play). Her familiar Xaxel is of particular cunning and will attempt to harry and harass anyone casting spells while his mistress deals with the rest of the party. He will also us suggestion to attempt to coerce warriors into jumping into the rat pit if it's open. Mistress Reiga has no patience for insolence and will begin blowing everyone up with her most powerful spells like lightning bolt, but will try to avoid killing any human, elf, half-elf, or halfling males so that she can capture and play with them later and decide if she wants to add them to her harem of exotic mates.
"Mmm, I want to know what humans taste like."

Reiga's Statistics
LE Female hobgoblin adept 9; Senses darkvision 60 ft., Perception +12; Init +5;
AC 12, touch 11, flat 11 (+1 armor, +1 dex); Hp 49 (9d6+18); Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +7
Adept Spells Prepared (CL 9th)
3rd - lightning bolt (DC 16) x2
2nd - invisibility, mirror image, scorching ray
1st - sleep (DC 14), obscuring mist, protection from good, comprehend languages
Orisons - create water, detect magic, mending, purify food and drink
Str 8, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 8, Wis 16, Cha 12
BAB +4, CMB +3, CMD 14
Feats Improved Initiative, Toughness, Spell Penetration, Improved Familiar, Combat Casting
Skills Craft (Alchemy) +12, Perception +12
Equipment +1 cloak of resistance, silken ceremonial robe, scroll of raise dead

That pretty much wraps up part 1 of this guide. Next time I'm going to discuss building high level encounters, how to deal with lots of NPCs at once, and how to avoid getting overwhelmed by the sheer options available to each NPC and PC! Until then, game on!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Event Based GMing

Today I'm going to talk about what I've coined as "event based GMing". But first, let's look at another form of GMing really quick. It's one I'd bet every GM has thought was the correct way to GM at one point or another and has been disappointed in (probably leading to the widely accepted belief that "GMing is Hard").

It happens to the best of us...
You plan that the queen of a country is to be assassinated, but you want the party to discover that there is something afoot. You want to set up a series of clues that bring the party to the throne room to try and save the queen in a climactic battle that should gain the party some notoriety and report should that succeed.
In essence, the party is going to try to figure out who's going to kill "Mr. Body" before the deed is done, and the party doesn't know it yet. The case is afoot.
You spend many hours figuring out exactly the trail that the party should find. You stat out each NPC in the castle meticulously. You figure out which rounds the NPCs are going to be making in the castle, and you plot everything in great detail. It takes a while, but you put computer programming levels of detail into the plot. You know that at 10pm the assassin will meet Matilda the maid in the garden and exchange the key to the the royal chamber for the cure to her son's illness. Good job!
So much for your notes...
However for some reason the PCs don't do as you expected. They didn't go from the dining hall to kitchen. Or they asked the wrong questions. Or they decided to post some of the party near the NPC to be assassinated and set up a communication system to quickly alert the other party members of any threat (even if it's just a light spell and a steel mirror from a window). They never make it to the garden to overhear the assassin exchanging the cure for the key. If they manage to be a part of the plot at all it's out of sheer luck. If they see it unfold, they won't know what they're seeing to enjoy it. The plan falls apart and you're forced to improvise. Your time is wasted, and the look on your face betrays your confusion as your mind tries to stick to the script that is being burnt to ashes in front of you.
Many GMs, new and old alike, end up making this mistake at least once. It's an easy mistake to make. It's an alluring mistake. But what is that mistake? Over preparation. The above scenario shows a GM who is clearly trying to create a rich adventure for his players to be a part of. The GM put a lot of effort into it, probably in an attempt to ensure everything was perfect and special. In reality, the GM was ensuring that the opposite of what was desired was accomplished. Confusion, frustration, and wasted time.

Event Based GMing
Event Based GMing (at least that's what I call it as I've never seen or heard of this style elsewhere) is very different from the style described above. It specifically avoids the pitfalls of a tightly scripted adventure and emphasizes simplicity to run, while maximizing the efficiency of having a human mind behind the screen to adapt the adventure. It's not improvisation, it's flexible preparation!

But enough beating around the bush. Event based GMing is, at its core, a story or scenario broken down into smaller portions called "events" (though you could call them things like "scenes" or "encounters"). These events are key points to the story or adventure you want to share with your players. They are then arranged somewhat spontaneously and placed ahead of the players from behind the scenes. In practice, it appears like it was all meticulously planned out from the beginning, creating a wonderful feeling of a living, breathing world while keeping the players involved. Let's look at the same plot mentioned above, except this time we will be looking at it prepared as an event based game.
Event List
0. Party arrives at the castle for *insert reasons here* and meets some of the staff. Consider dropping hints or red herrings as to which members of the staff might be shady.
1. Party overhears Matilda the maid and the assassin.
2. Party discovers the assassin is one of the staff members.
3. Party discovers some of the staff members are missing.
4. Assassin gets wise to the party and tries to increase suspicion on a red herring.
4a. Party investigates suspicion, add a short subplot.
4b. Party doesn't investigate, ignore subplot.
5. Assassin or assassins make a move against the queen. Multi-level attack. Poisons food, disguises as unassuming NPC, sets up an escape route, bribes disloyal guards for assistance, creates diversions, attacks when guard is lowest.
6a. Party fights off assailants, heals queen. If assassin is captured, make mention of a more powerful individual behind the attack. The party must now find the culprit.
6a. The party fails to stop the assassination. Some clue is gained from the attack. An assassin is captured or slain + speak with dead, or queen's servants use divination spells to find a clue. The party must now find the culprit.
Now we can play out the scenes in what I call event-based GMing. In the beginning you give the PCs some backstory on their surroundings and introduce them to some of the cast members (event 0). You know that at some point during the adventure you want them to hear Matilda the maid doing something shady, so you simply have her show up at a convenient time (maybe outside the bathroom when one of the party members is bathing, not realizing the PC is nearby, or it could be in the back corner of the mostly unused library while the party wizard is examining some books, or some other situation that seems reasonable). Rinse and repeat.

The benefits for this method of GMing is it's quick and free flowing. It rewards your own ability to be imaginative. It's also reactive to what the party is doing (and parties should be pro-active, not merely led around by the nose). You can also modify the events as the party goes on. If one of the PCs is rummaging around in the kitchen, consider having them find some poison stored amongst the spices. If you want, feel free to adjust the plot on the fly. Maybe the party does something completely unexpected and decides to assassinate the queen themselves! Be ready for anything, and remember that it is always going according to plan -- because there is no plan.

Instead, there is a series of points that you want to "bring up" during the story. Now one of the beautiful things about event-based GMing is that it's incredibly fast in terms of game preparation. Get a rudimentary idea as to the plot you want, break it down into what events you envision for the party to get involved in, then grab your trimmings (NPCs, treasures, etc) and go. This style also allows you to very comfortably create both linear or sandbox games (which I'll talk about more fully in one of my next articles) or merge the two seamlessly. You simply place each event into the game like placing a puzzle piece down, and those puzzle pieces build the road to adventure.

One Event At A Time

Friday, March 1, 2013

New Downloads Page!

Hey everybody! For those of you who haven't noticed there's a new section on the left sidebar. You can click the PDF Downloads link to see our New Page for downloading free pdf stuff I've put up on the site! Doing so helps support my writing and thus the blog so consider downloading and checking some of the stuff out!