Friday, September 21, 2018

"Adventures In Middle-Earth" review part 1 - overview

    Around 2011 the company Cubicle 7 released "The One Ring" RPG.  It was set in "The Lord of the Rings" universe (as you may have guessed from the title :) and used custom mechanics.  A friend of mine had it, and I read it over and thought it was rather complex.  We never did play it.  Then, about a year ago, the same guys released "Adventures In Middle-Earth" which was the same game but this time ported over to Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition.  I just got done running a third adventure with that system, and thought I'd add a review of the special mechanics it adds to DnD 5.  First, though, a couple of words about the game in general.
    "The Lord of the Rings" is a bit different from your typical DnD setting (which is funny given how much DnD is based on Tolkeen's work).  It is pretty low magic, yet at the same time magic is constantly talked about or the after-effects are felt.  There is not a lot of high-level combat, The Alexandrian has an awesome article about "D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations" that posits Aragorn would be only a 5th level character in 3rd edition.  And there is a lot of traveling and talking, two things most DnD versions have some troubles making interesting.  So I have been pleasantly surprised that AiME (as I'll be calling it) does a very good job with bringing the feel of Middle-Earth to Dungeons and Dragons, and I've been playing the adventures from one of it's campaign books ("Wilderland Adventures") which have been pretty well written (though, being me I've tweaked them in a few places).

    Quickly though, let me get the few things I have not been so fond of out of the way first.
    The classes are very much the standard DnD 5th classes, with only a few tweaks.  This does suck, I would have loved to see them try to build some new classes the might tie in better to the setting.
    There are no magic user classes, but there is a chapter in the Lore-master's Guide that talks about which spells from 5th could work - which leads to my second minor complaint: nothing from the 5th edition books are re-printed.  So you'd have to take the list of spells and then pull out the 5th ed Players' Handbook and work out the details yourself - same goes for skills and basic game rules.  I can see why they did this, it keeps their books smaller and thus cheaper, so it isn't a bad thing, but it is annoying to need to carry extra books at times.
    They did not really incorporate tool proficiencies.  This is a real pain, and again I think I get why.  In the original 5th edition books there was very, very little about tool proficiencies - kinda stupid since they make up half of the skill system.  It wasn't until years after 5th was released, with Xanathar's Guide to Everything that 5th got some good tool proficiency rules.  So this is really a ding at the 5th edition team for releasing incomplete systems, but the AME guys didn't try to fix it or patch it, they just dropped tools altogether, which can make for some tricky moments at the table.
    My only real complaints at the Wilderland Adventures campaign is that a lot of the adventures have a "cut-scene" moment, where stuff has to happen to further the plot.  I don't like that personally, all of the things described were things that the party could notice and interrcept, so I played them differently at my table.  Again, not a huge issue, some GMs really don't care about cut-scening the party, and it's easy enough to fix in your head.  And the adventures are meant to be only loosely connected, so you could run them as one-shots or weave them into your own larger campaign narrative, but the AME team didn't put in a sidebar here and there about how to tighten the adventures if you did want to follow their storyline, again quite fixable but something I wish they had addressed.

    So as you can see, overall my only complaints about the system are pretty minor things.
    There are a few new mechanics the AME team imported from their previous game, and I do think they are good additions to the 5th collection, but I also thing that all of them need some tweaking to make them really shine.  These I'm going to mention here, but I'll be covering in more depth in the posts to come:

  • Some extra travel mechanics that cover how dangerous the terrain is, put the party in fairly clearly defined roles, and handles random encounters.
  • Audience mechanics that expand on talking to people.
  • Shadow/ corruption mechanics for being exposed to frightening and evil things/ situations.
  • And a few other odds and ends.

You can find the rest of this series here

Pathfinder Ultimate Intrigue - Verbal Duels

    I'm back in the Ultimate Intrigue book for Pathfinder 1st edition, last time I looked at the "Pursuit" optional rules, and this time I'm looking at the "Verbal Duel" rules.  You can find my thoughts in the Pursuit rules here, but in a nutshell I think they suck.  The Verbal Duel rules I think are better, somewhat, but still very challenging to run.  As I did last time I'm going to go over the rules in general (from pages 176 - 181), provide an example of play, and then dig a little deeper into things I like and don't like.

Rules Overview
    The idea is simple, create a rules sub-system for "verbal combat" like the combat rules do for physical combat.  And I think it's a decent goal.  The fighters (including mages and such, who are fighting with magic mostly) get lots of cool rules and feats and class abilities to kill people with, but players who like to create and play talking characters have little to no love.  I have never liked running "talking" campaigns since there are so few concrete rules to do so.  Concrete rules are important, they give the players some expectations.  If we just "make everything up" then how is the player supposed to visualize what advantages, hindrances, and actions to take to navigate the "verbal battlefield"?  So my first thought on seeing these rules was positive.
    As they say though, the devil is in the details...

Part 1 - Setup
   The first thing the rules tell you to set up is the audience and stakes for the duel.  Verbal duels can be serious, persuading a King to go to war, or "These can be fun and whimsical affairs—two duelists may engage in an argument about the merits of competing operas or fencing defenses, and the loser has to buy the evening’s drinks."  If there is an audience they can somewhat influence how the system is played, but there does not have to be an audience.
    I think this is the first misstep, I am okay with the general idea of a system that can be flexible enough to handle a verbal duel between two people privately and in front of a group, but I really think that (with the way they wrote it) these rules should only be used when there is an audience.  If you're just trying to talk to or convince an individual, it would be better to use the basic skills or something like my RPG Conversation Map (which someday soon I will finish) - these rules have a lot of overhead and add a lot of complexity for a simple one-on-one conversation.
    You also might be under the mistaken impression that this is a simple sub-system that will just use the existing rules for your character.  Oh no, no no no.  This is the second, and the biggest, misstep in my opinion - instead of using a basic "contested skill check" mechanic, the winner of the verbal duel is the one with the highest skill roll.  This goes in "exchanges" so one side rolls a skill, then the other side chooses a skill and rolls, but they have to exceed the original roll or else they lose the exchange (which then starts another exchange).  Because the highest roll wins you very quickly run into a huge problem: the metric butt-load of skill modifiers in all the magic items, feats, spells and class abilities.
    From the published adventures I've read, most NPCs don't get statted out like characters, with the same class levels and "wealth per level" in magic items and feats to specialize in certain skills.  So PCs tend to have an edge on NPCs in non-combat situations.  Normally this is fine, the GM can just set any skill DC they think appropriate for Diplomacy rolls and the like.  But for a system that requires multiple back-and-forth exchanges that escalate in the highest number rolled, well, you have to make sure that the NPCs have a chance to actually beat the PCs.  Also, the flat-distribution of the d20 becomes a problem, since now random chance can easily make a conversation impossible to win.  In order to deal with these issues, you actually have to make a separate "character sheet" for a verbal duel, well, mostly for the skills.
    So how does this work?  Well, let me re-print the relevant rules here...

    Tactics are the weapons of verbal dueling. At the start of each duel, each duelist can assign her skills to tactics that have those skills associated with them. A duelist can only assign a given skill to a single tactic, so if a duelist assigned Perform (oratory) to allegory, she couldn’t also assign it to emotional appeal. For the purpose of a verbal duel, a character calculates her associated skill bonus by adding her ranks in the skill (including the +3 bonus for having ranks in the skill if it is a class skill) and her Charisma modifier (regardless of which skill she chooses, unless she has the Ironclad Logic feat; see page 85). If she has other modifiers to the skill, they grant her edges (see above) [I've put them below]. The bard’s versatile performance ability allows two skills to use the bonus from a Perform skill, and a character with that ability can assign all three of those skills to different tactics, even though he technically might only have ranks in the Perform skill.

    Edges are gained either by seeding a bias, using some trick of a verbal dueling tactic, when an opponent decides to end an exchange, or due to some other effect. A duelist can spend an edge to reroll an associated skill check for a verbal duel tactic. Sometimes you are limited as to when you can spend an edge. For instance, edges gained by seeding positive biases can only be spent when using the tactic associated with that bias.
    Gaining Edges From Skill-Modifying Abilities: Only effects and abilities that modify an ability score, modify ranks, or specifically affect a tactic apply directly to the associated skill check in verbal duels. However, effects that increase the modifier of an entire associated skill (not just circumstantial uses of the skill) grant edges instead. For instance, the spell glibness neither adds to the associated skill check nor grants edges because it only grants a bonus to some cases in which Bluff can be used, and does not increase the skill’s general modifier.
    For spells and effects that do apply to a verbal duel, such as a circlet of persuasion or Skill Focus, instead of the normal modifiers to skill rolls, they grant a number of edges equal to 1/3 of the total bonus they would otherwise grant. For example, a character with Skill Focus (Diplomacy) and 10 ranks in that skill would gain two edges instead of a +6 bonus. Total up all such bonuses before dividing by 3. All edges gained in this way are limited to the particular tactic associated with the skill.
    In many cases, using magic to enhance one’s verbal dueling skills is often considered gauche or even illegal. The more official the verbal duel, the more likely the chance magic will be restricted or even banned. This is often particularly true during the course of duels in a legal setting.

    This is kind of a pain in the posterior.  If you're making a low-level character, re-calculating all their skills isn't too terrible.  When I used these rules I had a level 10 PC, and it took a while.  I've got a kind of worksheet, which I will link to below, that helps - but it is still work to create a whole different set of skills for just one sub-system, and one that you might not use all that often.
    Also, in keeping with the "duel" motif, we need a way to do damage and some kind of hit points.  In this system your "hit points" are called determination...

    Determination: A duelist’s base determination is the average (rounded down) of her Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (minimum 0) + her total Hit Dice.
    Adjusting Determination: Circumstances and effects might increase this pool of determination points, at the GM’s discretion. For instance, for a particular type of verbal duel, it might make sense to use a single ability modifier rather than the average. For a longer verbal duel, especially at low levels, it might make sense to use the highest of a character’s three mental ability modifiers or even add two or all three together.
    One of the main ways to adjust determination is to consider if one of the characters has a social advantage or disadvantage. While the GM is free to determine the particulars of a character’s social advantage or disadvantage in a situation, the four default categories are extreme advantage, significant advantage, significant disadvantage, and extreme disadvantage. A character at an extreme advantage multiplies her determination by 2 and gains 5 edges. A character with a significant advantage multiplies her determination by 1.5 and gains 3 edges. A character at a significant disadvantage multiplies her determination by 3/4. Finally, a character at an extreme disadvantage multiplies her determination by 1/2 and loses 3 of her starting edges (minimum 0).

    There are a lot of judgment calls in that block of rules, which I am not fond of, but the basics are not too hard to grasp.  After you've played the system a few times then you should have a good grasp on how long a duel will take based on how much determination each side has.  I would say to keep the number at the lowest for the first few exchanges, this is not such a great system that you want to spend hours playing it out.
    So with your determination as "hit points" then how much damage do you do?  Well, each exchange sets the "ante" starting at 1 and going up by 1 for each counter.  So let's say you're level 3 and you have an average mental modifier of 2, for 5 determination total.  You start a verbal duel, setting the ante at 1.  Your opponent successfully rolls higher and counters, setting the ante at 2, you counter and are successful, so now the ante is 3, now if your opponent fails to roll higher than you did, they will take the ante in damage, so they lose 3 points of determination.  When they reach 0 they give up and the verbal duel is over.
     Here's a quick house rule I strongly recommend - when you explain this to your players call it "Credibility."  When you reach 0 hit points you are unconscious and dying, so it's pretty reasonable they you are out of the fight.  But when someone has said a few mean things to you, it's a lot harder to swallow that you are going to give up and hide in the corner.  This is just a change in semantics, but saying your character has lost the will to fight sounds worse (IMHO) then saying you've lost credibility with your audience, and thus can no longer change their minds.  Also, with the "Credibility" concept you can change determination to other attributes - maybe Orcs only respect physically strong characters, so your 'credibility' score is the average of your physical attributes instead of your mental ones (which could be a fun way to get the fighter to take the lead in negotiations, while the Bard disguises himself as an Orc to influence the audience).
    I like the idea of the ante system, how it "raises the stakes" with each roll.  I'm not sure I really like how it plays at the table, but it isn't a bad idea.

Part 2 - Audience
   So I started by talking about the changes you have to make to your character, since I think that is the most complex part of the system to get used to.  The book actually starts by talking about your audience (if you have one).  This is simple, so let's go over it real quick...

    It is also important to determine whether or not the verbal duel involves an audience that can be swayed. For example, if the duel occurs between the captain of the watch and one of the PCs, the PC could be trying to get a mob to attack the tower of a corrupt high priest, while the captain is attempting to convince the crowd to disperse. Crowds often have their own motivations and predilections, and certain tactics during the duel will have a greater or lesser effect on its members, which can affect the results. Determining the nature of such crowd attitudes and how to affect them can sometimes grant a powerful advantage.

Assessing an Audience
    A duelist and any of her allies who have at least 10 minutes to interact with the crowd before a verbal duel begins can attempt a check to determine an audience bias (see below). Succeeding at a DC 15 Sense Motive check allows a duelist or one of her allies to learn one of the crowd’s biases. Sometimes assessing an audience can have a higher DC if the GM feels the crowd is particularly tight-lipped or their biases are otherwise obscured. Once a character attempts a Sense Motive check to assess an audience’s biases, she can’t retry that check, even if she has more time to study the audience.

Audience Biases
    When a verbal duel features an audience that can be swayed, the GM determines any types of dueling tactics that the audience either favors or disfavors. If a crowd has a negative bias against a particular tactic, duelists take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using that tactic. If the audience has a positive bias toward a tactic, duelists gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using that tactic. Some audiences may have even stronger biases, imparting penalties and bonuses that range from –5 to +5.
    In cases where a verbal duel has no audience, there are no audience biases to track.
    The GM is free to create whatever biases she would like, but each bias should be both reasonable and fit with the attitudes of the audience. A group of hard-minded wizards might have a negative bias toward allegory but applaud logic, while a rowdy group of tavern-goers could have a very positive bias toward mockery but start booing and hissing at logic. A GM does not need to create biases for all tactics, but having a handful of them can make the debate more interesting and flavorful and allow the duelist’s allies to help affect the duel by assessing and seeding the audience.

Seeding an Audience
    Once she knows one or more of the crowd’s biases, a character can attempt to seed the crowd and gain benefits for her side of the verbal duel. A GM may rule that seeding a crowd is impossible or very difficult. For example, seeding a jury in a lawful society may be very difficult, and is probably illegal or even practically impossible. Audiences that can be seeded allow allies of each duelist to urge the argument in other directions.
    To attempt to seed an audience, a character must spend at least 10 minutes with members of the crowd before the verbal duel begins, choose one of the audience’s biases she knows, and succeed at a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check with a DC of at least 15. The GM may rule that the DC is higher due to the ally’s lack of familiarity with the crowd or other factors—as high as the duelist’s level + 15 or 20 for especially challenging situations.
    If the character chose to seed a positive bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge (see page 177) that can be spent when that duelist uses the tactic associated with the positive bias during the verbal duel. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that positive bias again in her duelist’s favor.
    If the character chose to seed a negative bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge that can be spent when that duelist counters the tactic associated with the negative bias. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that negative bias again in her duelist’s favor.
    Both sides can attempt to seed the audience before the duel begins and can even seed the same biases, but a given duelist can only benefit from a single successful seeding of a particular bias.

    Okay, so the audience might like or dislike certain tactics (which I'll talk about next), that's cool, gives the audience some character.  Letting the other party members influence the audience is also a good idea, it gives them something to do in a mostly one-character show.  From the wording, it seems to me that the other party members have to influence the audience before the verbal duel begins - I'm not so fond of that.  Since everything is so focused on the character doing the talking (usually one, multiple characters seem like they would be a hassle to play out) I would like it if the other party members could influence the audience after their PC teammate rolled - that way they could save a bad roll or boost a good one.  I'd make the DC lower for an audience-favored tactic and higher for one the audience didn't like - and add a stacking penalty for each influence attempt after the first.  This works as-written, I just think it could be improved.

Part 3 - Exchanges
   Okay, on to the meat of the verbal duel, the exchanges.
   One side opens, depends on the story and the GM who.  That character chooses a tactic to open with.  So let's talk about the tactics.  There are 10 total, and they represent how your character is framing their argument.  The tactics are...
  • Allegory "You use a fable or parable featuring an underlying message to frame the debate."
  • Baiting "You hurl taunts and barbs, or level false dichotomies, goading your opponent into a trap."
  • Emotional Appeal "You make an argument appealing to the emotional desires of your opponent or audience."
  • Flattery "You ingratiate yourself to your opponent, causing him to either let down his guard or to gain some other advantage."
  • Logic "When you use logic, you present facts, figures, and expert testimony."
  • Mockery "You use personal attacks, mudslinging, or creative insults to belittle your opponent."
  • Presence "You make a show of confidence or true nobility or you simply put on airs, and an opponent’s claims slide off and bounce back against him, leaving you unscathed."
  • Red Herring "You use this tactic to distract your opponent or the audience from the heart of the debate, avoiding the danger of the current exchange. While a red herring can’t be used as an opener, it can be used to quickly end an exchange that is getting too dangerous to continue."
  • Rhetoric "You use versatile debating tactics, applying advantageous rhetorical devices to squash your opponent’s arguments. Since rhetoric involves subtle word choices that most audiences don’t notice consciously, it is very rare for an audience to have a negative bias toward rhetoric."
  • Wit "You use humor or cleverness to gain an advantage over your opponent, but the tactic can backfire if your jokes and jibes fall flat."
    I really like this idea.  The real heart of a conversation is in how you say things, much more-so than in what you say.  Also having tactics means that you can develop strategies, like in combat, which makes building a talking character more interesting.
    Unfortunately, I don't think they implemented that tactics in a strong way.  Ideally tactics are all about trade-offs, the tactic of "power attack" in physical combat means taking a penalty to hit in exchange for a bonus to damage.  That makes for an interesting choice: is hitting or damaging more important right now?  That's a question that could change, against hard-to-hit opponents the answer's usually no, but in a desperate situation where you only have 1 HP left, it may be worth trying if the opponent has only a few HP as well in hopes of one-shotting the opposition.  With these verbal duel tactics however, some of them seem to be much more or less useful than others.  This is a very had thing to say, you can only really understand a tactical system by actually playing it out to get the feel for it - and I have only used these rules once.
    So the biggest thing about the tactics are how they interact.  Some tactics give a bonus to counter/ respond to others (for example Emotional Appeal has a penalty if countering Baiting, but a bonus if countering Logic), and some have special rules (if you win an exchange with Presence you regain 1 determination/ credibility/ hit point).  It takes some study to keep track of all the ways tactics interact.  And then the audience may like or dislike certain tactics.
    To recap again: one side picks a tactic and rolls, the other side picks a tactic, applies modifiers, and rolls (if they have any edges they can spend one to re-roll).  If they get higher the ante/ damage increases and it goes back to the other side.  If they get lower or equal, they lose the exchange and take the ante as damage.  When one side loses they start the next exchange.  The winning side gets a penalty to the tactic they won with (only the last winning tactic, not all of the ones used in the exchange) since "At that point, the audience and your opponent have both seen some of the best you had to offer with that tactic."  This is good since it forces you to use multiple tactics instead of relying on one really good score.  Likewise each tactic has to be tied to a skill, and there is a nice variety.  Knowledge (history) or (nobility), Linguistics and even Profession can be used along with the talking standards of Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Sense Motive.  This is also good since it lets more classes/ character types be effective in a conversation.  I kind of think the skills should almost tie into the audience, or at least the topic at hand, but I will grant that would be a super-difficult thing to work out given how many different types of conversations there could be.
    I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the tactics right now, but I'll revisit them later.

Part 4 - Continuation and Fallout
   So whoever loses the exchange loses determination, and whoever hits 0 determination (or just concedes) loses.  What happens next depends on the story/ situation.

Example of Play
   Okay, hopefully at this point you have enough understanding of the basics that a concrete example would help.  I'm going to do something a little different though, I'm actually going to give you two examples.  My first example comes from the book.

From The Book
    This is the exact example from Ultimate Intrigue, page 181...

    Lem has discovered that Meligaster is manipulating a group of nobles, and he hopes to expose his brother’s evil schemes. He calls his brother out for a verbal duel in front of the nobles. Meligaster, who knows he has a significant advantage and knows the nobles well, eagerly accepts the duel, seeding the nobles’ positive biases toward wit and flattery. Because of his significant advantage, Meligaster starts with 12 determination to Lem’s 8 determination, and Meligaster also possesses 3 edges from his advantages, as well as edges to use in each of wit and flattery.
    Lem starts the duel using logic, with a result of 20 on the associated skill check, starting the ante at 1. He rationally and factually explains some of the ways that Meligaster has been manipulating the nobles for his own devious profit. Meligaster responds by making an emotional appeal to the nobles’ pride and honor, raising the ante to 2 and redirecting the conversation away from the facts successfully with a 28 (including the bonus from countering logic with an emotional appeal).
    Lem decides to continue the exchange, raising the ante to 3. He tries to use rhetoric to expose Meligaster’s trick, with an initial result of 18 due to a low roll. He uses an edge he gained from his circlet of persuasion to reroll and manages 30, just enough to counter Meligaster.
    Meligaster knows that 30 is going to be tough to beat. He decides to raise the ante to 4 and uses flattery as his tactic, obsequiously singing the nobles’ praises. The nobles are positively biased toward it, he seeded that bias for an edge, and he chose to associate flattery with Bluff, so he gained an additional edge from his consummate liar class feature. Meligaster has to use both edges to reroll twice, but his third roll is a natural 20, for a result of 36, so he counters Lem.
    Lem realizes that he would be hard-pressed to beat that result, so he knows he’s about to lose the exchange. He has to choose how to lose it, though. Because Meligaster used flattery, when Lem loses, the ante will decrease by 2 and Meligaster will gain an edge. That means Lem has to decide whether to simply end the exchange, giving Meligaster a total of 2 edges and losing 2 determination, or raise the ante to 5 and try a skill check, losing 3 determination if he fails (thanks to his brother’s flattery). but allowing Meligaster to gain only 1 edge. In the end, since Lem only has 8 determination, he feels he can’t risk losing 3 all at once, so much to his dismay, he surrenders the exchange to Meligaster.
    Now Lem has 6 determination left. He can open a new exchange against Meligaster and try again, and at least Meligaster suffers a –2 penalty on future uses of flattery, so Lem doesn’t have to worry about beating another 36.

    This example sucks.  It is better than nothing, like the nothing they had for the Pursuit rules, but that's a pretty low bar.  The thing is, this is only the first exchange, this is like a combat example that ended after the first turn.  And there are no specifics on how the skills were assigned or any of the important details you are going to have to go through to use this system.

My Example
   So let me give you a good example.  Because I love you guys ;)

The Characters
    I don't really feel like making two characters form scratch, so I'm going to cheat and pull two from the NPC Codex.  I want some fairly low-level characters, because I don't want to spend hours writing out this example.  I'm also going to have 1 "generic party member" and 1 "generic bad guy" to help the talkers.
    My PC/ hero is going to be Eksel Mertand, a Human female level 5 Bard (page 28).  The bad guy is the "Charlatan" a Human level 4 Rogue (page 145).  I'm going to call him Bob.  So Bob the Bad Guy has infiltrated the local Mage's College and is trying to get them to look into Things Man Was Not Meant To Know on behalf of his dark master.  Eksel is trying to persuade the college (on behalf of the King) to leave well enough alone.
    So the first thing to do is work out everybody's tactics and determination.
    For Eksel her Int/ Wis/ Cha modifiers are (14) +2, (13) +1 and (18) +4, for 7/ 2 round down is 3, added to her level of 5 gives her 8 determination total.
    Each tactic has to be tied to a specific skill, and uses the ranks and Cha instead of the normal attribute modifier.  The NPC Codex doesn't give the number of ranks, so I'll have to look at the bonuses to figure that out.  Being a Bard means virtually every skill is a class skill, and her Cha mod is +4.  I'm going to allocate her skills as follows...

  • Allegory +9 (knowledge/religion)  -  she has a +9 bonus in the know/religion skill, it is class (so there's 3), her Int is +2 (for 5 of the 9), and she gets a +2 from her Bardic Knowledge class ability (for 7 of the 9), so I think she only has 2 ranks in this instead of the full 5 for her level (and tactics use Cha even though Knowledge is usually Int)
  • Baiting +4 (unskilled)  -  not trained in perform (comedy) and all the other skills are taken
  • Emotional Appeal +12 (sense motive)  -  her Bard ability of Versatile Performance is substituting for this skill
  • Flattery +4 (unskilled)  -  I'm using the other skills in other tactics
  • Logic +12 (knowledge/history)  -  I'm thinking she knows about the history of whatever the Wizards are meddling with
  • Mockery +12 (bluff)  -  she's not skilled in either intimidate or perform (comedy)
  • Presence +12 (knowledge/nobility)  -  she's not trained in intimidate, so only one other choice
  • Red Herring +12 (perform/oratory)  -  used bluff for mockery
  • Rhetoric +12 (diplomacy)  -  her Bard ability of Versatile Performance is substituting for this skill
  • Wit +4 (unskilled)  -  she's not proficient in either linguistics or perform (comedy), so this one is going to be unskilled - just a +4 for Cha mod

    She does have Skill Focus (Bluff), so she's going to get 1 Edge for Mockery.
    She also has the Bardic Knowledge class ability, which (if I'm reading Ultimate Intrigue page 177 right) means that she gets 1 edge in each knowledge skill, so she also has 1 Edge each for: Allegory, Logic and Presence.
    She doesn't seem to have any attribute-buffing magic items.
That takes care of the hero, now we need to llocate skills for the villian.

    Bob the Bad Guy has Int/ Wis/ Cha of (13) +1, (12) +1, (18) +4 for (6/ 2) 3 plus level of 4 = 7 Determination.
    Being a Rogue most skills will be class, his Cha is +4.  I'm allocating tactics like this...

  • Allegory +4 (unskilled)  -  not trained in any of the listed skills
  • Baiting +11 (sense motive)  -  sense motive is his only other good skill, I could put it in emotional appeal but I think he's a baiting kind of character
  • Emotional Appeal +4 (unskilled)  -  I've used his bluff and sense motive, he's not trained in oratory
  • Flattery +11 (bluff)  -  I'm thinking he does a Grima Wormtongue and ingratiates himself with others
  • Logic +11 (use magic device)  -  I'm going to say his UMD lets him make a compelling case for playing with The Thing, logic seems to be pretty flexible in terms of skill allocation
  • Mockery +4 (unskilled)  -  used bluff, not trailed in the others
  • Presence +4 (unskilled)  -  not trained in any of the listed skills
  • Red Herring +4 (unskilled)  -  used bluff, not trailed in the others
  • Rhetoric +11 (diplomacy)  -  used bluff for flattery and isn't skilled in any of the others, so only one choice here
  • Wit +4 (unskilled)  -  not trained in any of the listed skills

    He has the Deceitful skill feat, so he's going to get 1 Edge with Flattery.  No other feats, abilities or items.
    That takes care of the talkers.  Comparing the two, it definitely seems like my hero has the edge, so this is a pretty easy challenge overall.  If this was production (so to speak) I'd customize the bad guy to be a little more challenging, but since this is just an example I've already sunk more time into it than I want to spend.

The Audience
   Another way to adjust the "challenge rating" of the verbal duel is with the audience.  If they have a lot of negative biases or negatives to the ones the hero is strongest in, then it can make the fight harder.  Since my Bad Guy is kinda weak, I'm going to say that he has one henchman, who's seeding him an Edge for Baiting.
    I'm thinking the Wizards are smart but vain, so I'm giving them positive biases (+2) for Logic and Emotional Appeal.  I'm giving them negative biases (-2) for Mockery and Wit, they don't joke around much.
    Now, each character can only make a check to learn 1 bias, either positive or negative.  Since I'm 'playing' both sides of this however, I can't really help but make decisions knowing everything.  I'll try to play dumb if it matters I guess :)

Exchange 1
   I'll let the Bad Guy open, again since he's a little less powerful overall.  Not sure how big a deal it is though.  I'm using the online dice roller from Wizards of the Coast again even though it hated me last time.  So he definitely knows all the audience's biases (he has infiltrated them after all) and he wants to start strong.  I set the ante to 1 and he'll use Logic, for a 15 (roll) +11 +2 for bias and +2 for using logic as an opener = 30.
    That's a pretty good roll.  Now if you counter with the same tactic (logic in this case) you take a -2.  Allegory and Mockery also have a -2 when countering Logic.  Emotional Appeal has a +2 however.  Eksel has a +12 in Emotional Appeal, for 14 with the bonus, and no Edges however, so she'd need a (31 - 14 =) 17 or higher assuming she didn't know about the audience bias, or 15+ if she did.  Either way, not very good odds.  She's going to concede this exchange, taking 1 damage leaving her with 7 Determination.
    The Bad Guy won with Logic, so he has a -2 every time he uses it from now on.  He also gains 1 Edge for use with Logic (as part of the tactic's special rules).

Exchange 2
    Eksel starts the next exchange.  Now here's the thing, Bad Guy came out and won quickly, but now he has a penalty and he only did 1 damage.  So Eksel's thinking that she might actually want to start with one of her lowest tactics, let the Bad Guy win a counter or two, and then hit him with one of her strongest tactics.  Maybe.  Let's try it and find out.  She's going to open with Flattery, praising her opponent for making a good argument, sets the ante at 1 and gets an 11 +4 = 15 total.
    Bad Guy senses weakness, so he counters with Baiting, hoping to lure her into a verbal trap, the ante becomes 2 and he gets 10 +11 = 21 total, beating her roll.  But he decides to use his Edge from his henchman in the audience, to re-roll comes up a 13, for 23 total.
    A 23 isn't bad and baiting is a strange tactic because Allegory and Logic have a -4 to counter it, and all other tactics have a -2 to counter.  This is going to be a little tricky.  I'm thinking she would go with Emotional Appeal, successfully countering with it will increase the ante by 1, so it'll do more damage (gambling that she wins the exchange) and it's one of her strongest tactics - if she knew about the positive audience bias for it she'd definitely go this way, even if she doesn't it isn't a bad idea.  So she raises the ante to 3 and gets a 14 +11 +2 for bias = 27 beating his roll and raising the ante to 4.
    Bad Guy now needs a 28 or higher to continue.  No tactics have a bonus to counter emotional appeal, the best he could do would be to try Flattery - he'd need to roll an 18-20, but he does have 1 Edge from his feat.  That would be pretty risky though.  He decides to play it safe and take the damage, hopefully he can turn the tables in the next exchange.  His 7 determination - 4 ante leaves him with 3 Determination.
    Eksel won with Emotional Appeal, so she has a -2 to all future uses of it (well, for this duel at least).
Exchange 3
    Bad Guy opens this one.  He has a -2 to Logic for winning with it, but it still has a +2 to open with, the bias, and he has a Edge for it - so he's going to try Logic again.  He sets the ante to 1, rolls a 4, uses his edge, rolls 9 +11 +2 bias +2 opening -2 won = 22.
    Eskel knows Emotional Appeal has a +2 vs Logic, but she's got the -2 for winning with it.  She raises the ante to 2 and counters with Presence, rolls a 10, uses her Edge with it, re-rolls a 2.  Now, I don't remember it saying so explicitly, but I would think that you only take the roll for an Edge if it was better, so her original 10 stands, +12 = 22 which ties his roll, so she loses the exchange.  She takes the 2 ante in damage for a new total of 5 Determination.
    Bad Guy won with Logic, so he gains an Edge for it, and I don't know if the -2 for winning with a tactic is supposed to stack?  Let's say it does and he'll be at -4 for future Logic rolls.

Exchange 4
    Eskel opens again, and she's going to go weak again and hope to build up enough to knock him out this exchange.  She sets the ante to 1, and uses Allegory, rolls 3 +9 for 12 total.  She does have an Edge with it, but she wants to be countered.
    Bad Guy just needs a 13 total, so anything should work.  Presence is the only tactic weak at countering Allegory (except Allegory itself, -2 if you counter with the last tactic used on you).  He sets the ante to 2 and tries Baiting again (he's used it but not won with it) rolls 6 +11 = 17, which is good enough.
    Eskel sets the ante to 3, and I'm going to assume she knows that's enough to finish him off, so she's going to make this one count.  Baiting is hard to counter, as mentioned above, and she decides to go with Mockery.  Even if she knew about the audience bias, she's got a +12 in it and an Edge for it, so it should work out.  She rolls a 2, uses that edge and re-rolls a 14 +11 -2 bias = 23, beating his roll.
    Bad Guy is in a tight spot, if he concedes he loses the duel so he might as well try something.  The only tactic with a bonus to countering Mockery is Presence, but he only has a +4 in it.  He decides to go for Rhetoric, rolls a 5 +11 = 16, not good enough - so he takes the 3 ante damage, losing all his Determination, and the duel.
    Eskel celebrates as the Wizards decide playing with time and space might not be a good idea - for now at least...

What I Like About The System
   The tactics system is interesting, it's pretty good at the specific circumstance of swaying an audience, and while it is a fair amount to learn it isn't too hard to get a handle on.  Compared to the Pursuit rules this is much, much better.

What I Don't Like About The System

   Not much for the other party members to do.  Having to re-work all your skills and keep a separate list sucks.  Kind of long, for being a solo system, and not super intuitive (though it isn't horrible to learn).  Strangely balanced, some tactics seem to be more useful than others, though depending on how you allocate your skills that can change things.  While I find it playable, I'd really love to completely re-build it because I think there's a really good skeleton in there.

Closing Thoughts
   This has been another all-day project, so I'm not sure what I can add - my brain is turning to mush.  I hope this has been useful, and here are the links to my Google Drive and the Handout PDF I made...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pathfinder's Ultimate Intrigue - Pursuit Rules

    In most of my Pathfinder games we've just used the basic rules.  We did once use the rules for 'Performance Combat' from Ultimate Combat to make a really cool fighting/ talking hybrid adventure, but by and large even though we have a lot of the Pathfinder books we don't use many of the optional rules.  In my current campaign, however, one character made a Bard with the Wit archetype from Ultimate Intrigue.  One of the archetype's abilities directly uses the 'Verbal Duel' rules from that book, so I decided to also use them so that character would get all they were designed for.  I also decided to use the 'Pursuit' rules from the same book since in for a penny in for a pound - why not try as many rules as possible and see what they were like?
    Today I'm going to cover the Pursuit rules since they are the easiest to understand and run, and I have a clear and strong opinion about them.  So let me start by recapping the rules from pages 142 - 147 of Ultimate Intrigue:

Part 1 - Setup
    Now, the GameMastery Guide has rules for a 'Chase' - which is a short-term, foot or carriage or steampunk-car chase.  These 'Pursuit' rules are for much longer chases.  I think the book even mentions Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas chasing the Orcs who kidnapped Merry and Pippin, a pursuit that takes several days to resolve.  So this is a long-term action, not a quick and frantic scene.
    The first major distinction is weather this is a pursuit or a race.  In a pursuit one group (PC or NPC) is directly following the other, hoping to catch them, I'll come back to that.
    In a race both groups are headed to the same destination, and whichever gets there first wins.  A race is the easiest to set up and play, since one group's actions do not directly effect the other.  The GM does have to decide if both groups are taking the same path/ trail  (which could be dramatic as they might see signs of the other group being ahead or behind) or if each group is taking a different path.
    For a pursuit the biggest question is who's casing and who's being chased?  PCs pursuing NPCs or vice-versa?  I guess there could even be multiple groups, like the PCs trying to evade two hostile forces, but the rules don't directly mention that (that I remember) and I'm not sure if the added complexity would really add anything to the game.
    Another question is: how could the pursuit end?  The book mentions several ways...

Ending a Direct Pursuit: A direct pursuit can end in one of four ways. When the pursuers are on the same tile as the quarries and have made equal or greater progress than the quarries, the pursuers catch their quarries. When the quarries reach a location where they stop progressing (such as a safe haven or stronghold), pursuit ends and may turn into a siege. When the pursuers can’t possibly succeed at the Survival check to continue tracking their quarries and have exhausted any other tactics that might help relocate the trail, their quarries have eluded them. Finally, the pursuers can voluntarily give up the pursuit. Optionally, the GM can choose a distance at which the quarries are so far ahead that the pursuers have no real chance of catching up. For instance, the GM might decide that if the quarry group is five tiles ahead of the pursuers, they’ve escaped; this number might be smaller in jungles or other dense terrain.

    This is all reasonable enough, though I do hate the part about how the GM can set an arbitrary distance for the pursuit to end.  In a more rules-heavy game like Pathfinder this should really be some specific guideline or formula, not "whenever the GM feels like it."
    To measure progress each character uses their speed divided by ten.  So Generic Medium Creature with a base land speed of 30 feet has a base Pursuit Speed of 3.  The group is expected to stay together during this however, so the Group's speed is equal to the lowest speed of it's members.  This different speed is used because each 'round' of the pursuit is 1 hour long.  You get 8 rounds in a day, going off a generic length of daylight.
    Now, this is not explicitly mentioned when setting up the pursuit, but weather matters.  Rain or snow can make it harder to track somebody, so there is a sidebar that mentions the weather.  It has two main problems however.  First it does not mention how you determine if it might rain.  Roll percentile?  Okay, but what are the odds?  Should the odds vary depending on the season? The type of terrain?  I'm not sure if there is a 'random weather table' somewhere else, like the Core Rulebook.  I usually don't throw a lot of weather into my games.  But if there is a table I wish the book had mentioned where, if not I wish they had come up with at least a quick and dirty system.
    The next problem is that you need to know how long the weather lasts and who is in it, beyond it, or headed towards it.  This is all really complicated, and I'm not sure just how much it adds to the game.  Here's the whole sidebar...

    Bad weather, especially precipitation, can affect both the progress a group makes and the DCs of Survival checks required during pursuits.
    Progress: Heavy precipitation, strong winds, and other environmental factors might impede a group’s progress. For brief storms lasting one or two pursuit phases, reduce the group’s progress by 1 in each pursuit phase. If an entire terrain tile has particularly nasty weather (like a high mountain plagued by winds or a jungle during a monsoon), instead add between 4 and 8 to the tile’s progress to complete, depending on the weather’s severity. Increase the tile’s number of maximum advantages by 1 so the travelers have the opportunity to find a way to overcome the nasty weather.
    Tracking: If there is rain during a direct pursuit, increase the DC of the Survival check by 1 for every pursuit phase that it rained. If it snowed, increase the DC by 10 instead. To track the duration of the precipitation during a direct pursuit, mark down the tile where the quarries are and the amount of progress they have made when the precipitation begins, then mark down the progress they had made when the precipitation ends. When the pursuers are on that tile and have made an amount of progress equal to or greater than the lower progress value, use the increased Survival DCs. After the pursuers have passed the higher progress value, the Survival DCs return to normal. If the precipitation occurs before the quarries entered an area, the Survival DCs to follow the trail might be reduced since the ground becomes very soft mud or covered in snow.

   While I applaud them for thinking about weather changing the pursuit, this is such a damn cumbersome and clunky system.
   Finally, to end the setup phase the GM just needs to determine the path the quarries are taking.  This could be easy if there is already a hex-map of the area, or the GM just needs to pick out some terrain (from a list) that seems appropriate.  Then the GM needs to determine how far ahead the quarries are.
    With everyone in their starting blocks we're ready to begin the pursuit.

Part 2 - Terrain
    The primary factor in the pursuit is the terrain.  There are 14 terrain types.  Each has 3 core elements and some optional elements.  The core stuff is...

  • Progress - this is how hard it is to cross this terrain tile.  You subtract the group's speed from the tile's progress, when it hits 0 they move on to the next tile (which could be the same type of terrain).
  • Ground - this sets the Survival DC to make progress.
  • Advantages - this sets how many extra things you can do to progress faster.

     Progress is pretty easy to understand, it's how hard the tile is to cross.  Plains and Roads have the lowest at 8 and Jungle has the highest at 32.
    Ground is also an easy concept, it just sets the Survival skill DC.  These could be the standard ones of: 5, 10, 15, or 20.  If you make the DC you make progress, if you don't then you don't.
    Advantages, this is a little bit tricky.  There are two reasons I can see for advantages, one is based on 'realism'/ logic and the other on gameplay.  Basically an Advantage is a way to make extra progress, from a logical standpoint.  Plains and Roads have the lowest advantage numbers, at 0.  This makes sense because these terrains are so easy to traverse that you can't really make it any easier/ faster.  Jungle has the highest at 8, so if you can use your machetes to cut down the foliage you'll make it easier to travel.  Or of you can do something creative then you can make it easier (beyond just finding a good trail with Survival).  From a gameplay standpoint, the advantages give the rest of the party something to do.  A lot of travel becomes a one-player game with whoever has the best Survival skill rolling while everybody else takes a nap.  So this system tries to get everybody involved, with mixed success.
    Okay, we haven't actually started rolling dice yet, so let's go...

Part 3 - Tracking and Advantages
    I wish the book laid this out better, but basically each party member is going to be making one action/ skill check.  Each round is 1 hour long, and there are a default of 8 in a day (I don't think the book specifically mentions it, but I'd say the GM can change that if needed).  The party is going to be roughly split into two groups, those tracking and those advantaging.
    Trackers - so at least one character has to be tracking.  They make a Survival check based on the terrain's DC, that increases by 1 for each day behind the quarry they are, and decreases by 1 for every 3 characters in the quarry party.  And then the weather of course.  Any number of characters can choose to be 'assistant trackers' which is their one action for the round, and they make a normal Aid Another check.  All trackers and assistants move at half speed, unless they have a special class ability or item or something that lets them track and move faster.  Likewise, the only spells or actions that can modify this roll (or any for advantages below) are those that have a duration of at least 1 hour.  Also no one can take 10 or 20, or use an ability that allows only a single re-roll (since again this is a long-term action).
    Trackers and assistants also suffer a penalty, they only move at half speed.  I don't remember it sating if you should track fractions or round down or up - so a Medium Human of base speed 3 is either a 1 or 1.5 or 2 when tracking.
    Advantagers - the other action a party member can take is to create an advantage.  This is a little tricky though.  First, each terrain tile has a maximum number of advantages that are allowed.  The book does not clearly spell this out, but I feel safe in saying that each member of the group can create an advantage that number of times.  For example, a Forest tile has a max of 3 advantages.  So a party of 4 characters, with only 1 tracking, can make a total of 9 rolls (3 from the tile for each of the 3 party members not tracking).  There is a list of 10 different advantages, and 3 are tied to a specific terrain while the rest can be used anywhere.  They are all a little vague, enough so that the GM may rule that a certain advantage is not possible, or might have a higher or lower DC.
    Basically an Advantage is just a non-Survival skill check.  The book does not give any base DCs, it seemed to think you should just look the skill up in the Core Rulebook to work those out.  I was saying that the DCs for advantages was the same as the DC for the Survival check from the terrain tile, just because that was easier.  Also, while a failed Survival check from the trackers means you make no progress, the Advantagers checks work differently.  A successful Advantage check adds 1 to the group's progress (I'm assuming even if the Survival failed, just to keep things moving).  Failing reduces that character's speed by 1, unless they failed by 5 or more in which case they slow the whole group by 1.  This is a little weird since if the whole group has the same speed (all Medium creatures for example) and the slowest person sets the group's progress, then reducing your speed by one is going to reduce the whole group, which makes the distinction kind of meaningless.  I don't know, I just don't like how an advantage can either add or subtract to progress, I'd rather have even a failure just not add anything, like with tracking - maybe that's just me though.  Sine this is really designed to give the rest of the party something to do, I don't want to make a player feel like they shouldn't try to help since they might hurt the group as a whole.  While adding zero is not really helping, it seems like (with my players at least) psychologically it seems safer than knowing you could subtract from the others.
    Okay, so to recap, each round each player chooses to either track or advantage, and they make however-much progress until they leave the tile.  But, of course, there's one more potential complication.

Part 4 - Tactics
    While the action (tracking or advantage) says what each character is doing, there are also tactics to say how they are doing it.  There are both individual and group tactics, and there is no limit to how many each character or group can use except for the ever-elusive "common sense" or GM fiat.
    Tactics get kind of weird, so I actually want to cover them individually.  First up we have the personal tactics which each character can choose.
    Fast Tracking - a tracking character does not reduce their speed by half, but they take a -5 to the Survival check.  Some abilities let you track at full speed anyways, but the -5 is not a really big deal since the highest DC is 20, and 25 is doable for most mid-level characters.  Also this is only an individual tactic if only one person is tracking, any assistant trackers also have their speed halved, so remind them to take this as well to keep the group moving.
    Obscure Trail - Quarry Only - mark where the character starts and stops using this tactic, the character moves at half speed but add 5 to the tracking DC through the marked section.  Wow, I really hate this one.  Too many things say "mark this section" for my taste, this should be a simple system, not a ton of additional book-keeping.  Also the flat +5 DC is crap at higher levels, why not make it a contested Survival or Stealth vs Survival check? (though admittedly that's even more bookkeeping)  And, since this is an "individual" tactic, if each member of the group chooses to use it do the penalties stack?  That could be huge for a low-level party (three quarry could apply a -15 penalty, which might make it impossible to succeed) though it would at least be meaningful for a higher-level group.
    Recovery - a character can spend a round healing their allies with spells or items.  They cannot track or advantage for that round.  This seems like way too big a penalty.  I can see using the Heal skill taking enough of a chunk out of the hour to slow the character, but spells and scrolls and potions and items can all be used in one round of combat, wich is just 6 seconds long.  So helping 5 of your comrades takes less than a minute.
     And this one I hate the most, I'm going to print exactly what the book says...
Special Movement: A character with consistent access to a fly speed, swim speed, or the like for a full pursuit phase might be able to move particularly quickly over the appropriate type of terrain; though, for instance, a character flying above a jungle canopy would not be able to follow a trail below.

    WTF?!?!  Wow, what a way to gloss over something so important.  It's bad enough that these rules seem to be only written for two groups of people on foot, since there is no mention of horses/ mounts and how they effect speed, tracking or endurance.  So if I can fly the GM just makes up what happens?  I get that flying means I can't roll Survival to track someone through the jungle - but what about rolling Perception to spot the guys I'm chasing?  What's the DC?  How is that DC effected by the distance ahead of me they are and the terrain type?  All of this is just getting left up to the GMs imagination?  If that's the case, why did you bother writing rules for it?!?!

    Then there are the group tactics, which every member of the group has to agree to use...
    Forced March - the group takes a 9th round at the end of the day, but each member has to make a Con check or take nonlethal damage and possibly become fatigued - it references the rules on page 171 of the Core Rulebook.  This seems like a pretty small bonus, and also a trivial penalty at higher levels.  I'm not even going to bother reading the rules in the Core Rulebook, I don't care.
    Gather Information - Pursuers Only - okay, this is a weird one, let me cover it and then set off the rant-bomb.  So this is a Diplomacy check, it takes 2 rounds (they call them phases, whatever, and this is the only thing that takes more than one: that's 2 hours of 'real' time), and there have to be people around (no guidance on how to determine that) or you have to be able to talk to animals or plants or something.  Typical DC of 15, though that depends on "how sneaky the quarry are being."  Replaces the Survival check for tracking to make progress.  Holy bajolie there is so much wrong with this.  If this replaces Tracking, why the hell is it in the back with the Tactics and not in the front with the Actions like tracking and advantages?  How the hell am I supposed to determine (as the GM) if there are "enough people around" and "how sneaky the quarry are being" ??  What is the DC for talking to plants and animals?  Should it be lower in a Forest or Jungle tile where presumably there are a lot of flora and fauna and higher in a Road or Mountain tile???  This wonky mechanic should have been cleaned up in playtesting or proofreading - neither of which I think was actually done for this, or honestly any of the other new rules in Ultimate Intrigue.
     Here's another one I hate, and it's full description...
Hustle: This tactic is analogous to hustling during overland movement. A group using this tactic can double the progress they make during that pursuit phase. They can use it once per day without consequences, but using it again requires all members of the group to take 1 point of nonlethal damage and become fatigued. Each additional hour spent hustling deals twice the amount of nonlethal damage of the previous hour. A group can hustle during a forced march, but they take the nonlethal damage and conditions from both, meaning a healthy group usually becomes exhausted when they do so. Hustling is a useful tactic with fairly light repercussions, but the group spends all of its time moving. This means that the obscure trail, recovery, gather information, and set a trap tactics can’t be used when hustling. Unless an advantage is focused specifically on movement (such as climbing lead or fancy footwork), it can’t be gained while hustling.

    Okay, this thing is wonky since it interacts with everything else in the Pursuit system, and it's a bunch of weird book-keeping. The amount of non-lethal damage is trivial to a mid- or high-level party, so the fatigue thing gets thrown in there.  Again, what happens if the party is mounted?  Do all mounts take fatigue the same way characters do?  The speed gain is not at all worth it if you have Advantages left to use, so this is really meant for low/ no advantage terrain or after you've used your advantages up (which I wish it just said).  Having to track this every single round seems annoying, and if you're so focused on movement why don't you take a penalty to the Survival check to track (like a forced "Fast Tracking" tactic above), and if you do why doesn't it explicitly say that?  I get this as a tactic, and you really, really need ways to increase your speed since most living things move at the same rate, and the only way to go faster is tied to the Terrain's Advantages, which mean that again they apply to everyone involved.  But this seems way too complicated for what should be a quick and simple system.  Rolling each hour of 10 days' pursuit is a recipe for insanity, this whole mini-game is more grinding bookkeeping than meaningful decisions.
    I forgot about this one, it sucks too...

Intentional Hardships: A quarry group using this tactic chooses a circuitous or treacherous path to attempt to shake pursuers. This decreases their group’s progress by 2 as long as they use the tactic. Mark the terrain tile and amount of progress the group made on that tile when they start and stop using this tactic. While the pursuers are in the same area, their progress is reduced by 2, but their number of maximum advantages is increased by 2. Like advantages, this reduction applies after any multiplication or division due to tracking, hustling, and the like. For simplicity’s sake, the GM might want to require the quarry group to use intentional hardships when they first enter a terrain tile and stick to it throughout that terrain tile.

    Okay, so the quarry are forced to lose 2 progress, and the pursuit loses 2 progress, but gain 2 advantages, which means they can just roll (again trivially for a mid- to high-level group) to make up the loss that the quarry have no way to regain.  Whoever is stupid enough to use this tactic deserves to be caught.  Again too we have the minutia of tracking exactly where and when the quarry use this, so much that to book itself even points out that this is a bunch of stupid book-keeping you should simplify.  If the game designers saw that this was as stupid system why didn't they write a better one?
    The last two are really easy to work out, mostly.  First there is "Set A Trap" which means the quarry ambush or create a trap for the pursuit.  Which you just adjudicate normally when the pursuit reaches that point.  Sounds easy, though I don't remember the time and DCs to make an improvised wilderness trap off the top of my head, so might take some book-flipping to work out.  Lastly a group can "Split Up" into multiple groups, which is easy enough except for the extra work of tracking an extra party's progress/ speed/ advantages/ tactics so again even the book points out that this sucks and you might not want to do it.  A big question though, if the quarry split up because one of them has an item, and so they want to make the party chase down the wrong group (ideally), what roll does the pursuit need to make to determine how many groups they split into?  Say there are 4 quarry, only 1 has a stolen artifact.  They travel for a day and then split up (because they knew/ suspected they were being pursued?  a friendly raven told them to?)  - so when the pursuit reach that point do they need to make an extra Survival check to find how many groups they split into?  Do they automatically know?  Is there any way to figure out who has the stolen artifact?  And now if 4 pursuers also split up you've got 8 different people's progress and tactics and such to keep track of.  That should be fun.
    And that is the Pursuit system in a nutshell.
    Are you as exhausted as I am?

How It Played For Me
    Total s***storm.
    I made one huge mistake, I didn't pay enough attention when I read the rules, and so I ran this for a group of level 10 characters.  A maximum 25 DC is trivial for characters of that level.  So I ended up using the "fail skills on a natural 1" optional rule (that I never normally use) and I nerfed my NPCs skills so a couple of bad rolls made them loose progress.  It ended up being long, boring and stupid.
    So, instead let me create a sample group for you and we'll do a fresh playtest here.

The Situation
    A group of monsters have stolen an artifact from a church.  The PCs have been called in to retrieve it.  There will be 3 monsters with a 1 day head start.  There will be 5 PCs.  All will be considered to be low-level.  The monsters are headed back to their hideout, their path will cover 5 tiles: Forest A, Forest B, Plains, Hills, Mountains.  The Mountains tile will be considered Hard (DC 20).  Both sides will be considered to have enough food.  The monsters are taking advantage of a storm front, stealing the artifact just before it hits, so the PCs are going to have 4 rounds of bad weather at the start of the pursuit, the monsters will be past that section so they will be unaffected.

The Party
    Are going to be considered to be level 1, trained in whatever they need to do (ie, someone with Survival as a class skill is doing the tracking), with a +2 in the relevent attribute (this is just so I don't have to actually make some characters).  That means they will have a +6 bonus to whatever action they take (I'll assume they choose Advantages that they are likewise skilled in, for simplicity's sake).  They will all have a base speed of 30', which I'm going to round down to 1 progress for tracking.

The NPCs
    Are going to be considered "level 1" monsters, so about a CR 1/4 to 1/2 each.  I'm going to assume they are a little less skilled than the heroes, so they will only have a +5 to their rolls.  I'm also going to assume they are a little bit faster, so they will have 2 progress while tracking.

The Rolls
    The 3 Quarry gives a +1 bonus to Survival for tracking, while the 1 day's head start gives a -1, so they will cancel each other out.  I'm also rounding up that "day" - I'm going to say the monsters traveled for 4 hours to get ahead of the storm before taking a nap for the night, so I'm giving them 4 rounds of progress to set the lead.
    The first terrain tile is a Forest, with a DC 15 and 3 Max Advantages.  Since the monsters get 4 rounds of progress I'll let them take all 3 advantages, and 1 round with no advantages.  Advantages will be made off the same DC as the tile's Survival (again, for simplicity).  So let's roll, tracker first then the advantages (while they last).  I'm going to use an online dice roller (to lazy to reach for my bag :) from Wizards of the Coast - for the first round I get: 12, 19 and 17.  So the tracker failed, which gives the group a base 0 progress, and both advantages succeed for 2 progress total.  Round 2 is 10, 11 and 20 total, for 1 progress, which makes the total 3.  Round 3 is 7, 8, and 18, only 1 more progress for 4 total.  Round 4 is the last round of the head start, and all advantages have been used up, so it is just the tracking roll, an 18 means they get the base 2 progress for their speed, and a total of 6 progress.  The forest needs 16 progress, so they are still in the Forest A tile when the PCs join the chase the next day.

Round 1
    The monsters have used all their advantages for this tile, so it will only be the tracker rolling, but both of his buddies will aid another him (so they need to make DC 10s), I'm going to roll them first.  The aides get 25 and 12, so they will give the tracker a +4.  He gets an 11 even with their help (and his buddies are thinking about eating him) so they make no progress.  This leaves them in Forest A at 6 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    The heroes give chase.  They have 3 advantages, which they will use, but they are penalized by the storm (which I'm ruling by time and not distance, to simplify) which is going to reduce their movement by 1 for each round it's raining, it also increases the survival DC by 4 (the last 4 hours it's rained) which will increase by 1 for each of the 4 rounds it continues to rain.  However, it also adds 1 advantage making a total of 4.  One hero is tracking, the others will try for an advantage while they can.  Tracker first I get 9, with 21, 12, 14 and 13.  The 15 base survival plus 4 for the rain makes 19 total, which the 9 is way short of.  I'm also using the same DC for advantage (to simplify), so only 1 advantage roll is made, for a total of 1 progress.  The heroes are in Forest A at 1 of 16 progress, 5 behind the monsters, with 3 advantages.

Round 2
    Same 2 aid another checks and then survival for 10, 25 and 13.  The leading monster's blindness continues so they make no progress.  Monsters are in Forest A at 6 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    Heroes switch tactics, the rain penalty increases to 2, making the DC 20.  Given their poor showing last round they are all going to do aid another (DC 10) with 8, 24, 24, 26 for a +6 to the tracker who gets a 16 total, again no progress.  Heroes are in Forest A at 1 of 16 progress, still 5 behind the monsters, with 3 advantages.

Round 3
    Monsters are the same, 21 and 21 give the tracker +4, his 26 total finally gets them moving, for 2 progress.  Monsters are in Forest A at 8 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    Rain penalty increases by 1 again for DC 21, just one more round after this it will be raining.  Heroes will again aid and track.  The aides roll 24, 14, 25 and 16 for a total of +8 and the tracker rolls 18 so no progress.  Heroes are in Forest A at 1 of 16 progress, now 7 behind the monsters, with 3 advantages.

Round 4
    Monsters get 22 and 9, for a +2 to the tracker.  He gets an 18 which beats the Forest DC 15 (he's not effected by the rain), so they finally make 2 progress.  Monsters are in Forest A at 10 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    Heroes have the final round of rain, for DC 22 to track.  Others aid (DC 10) with 23, 17, 16, 11 for +8 to tracker.  Who gets a 28 so they finally move for 1 progress.  Heroes are in Forest A at 2 of 16 progress, now 8 behind the monsters, with 3 advantages.

Round 5
    With the rain over both groups now are at DC 10 to aid and Dc 15 to track or advantage.
    Monsters get 12 and 9, for +2 to tracker.  Who gets a 16 to make 2 progress.  Monsters are in Forest A at 12 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    Heroes go to 1 tracker and others take advantage, they get 15, 11, 15, 18, 19 - 4 successes for 4 progress.  Heroes are in Forest A at 6 of 16 progress, now 6 behind the monsters, with 2 advantages.

Round 6
    Monsters 25 and 10 for +4 aid.  Tracker 26 for 2 progress.  Monsters are in Forest A at 14 of 16 progress, with 0 advantages.
    Heroes same as last round, 23, 23, 26, 26, 24 for 5 progress.  Heroes are in Forest A at 11 of 16 progress, now 3 behind the monsters, with 1 advantage.

Round 7
    Monsters 19 and 7 for +2 tracking.  Tracker 18 for 2 progress.  Monsters are in Forest B at 0 of 16 progress, with 3 advantages.
    Heroes take their last advantage for this tile, with 22, 26, 21, 19, 24 for 5 progress.  Heroes are in Forest B at 0 of 16 progress, and they have caught the monsters!!!

    I've been working on this article all day, so I'm finishing this example here.  I was going to give the monsters a full 8 rounds of a head start, but shortened it in hopes of keeping the pursuit shorter.  As you can see, at low levels it can be pretty swingy, but when you go from 1st to 6th level, and those +6 become +11 or more, these DCs get pretty easy to hit.  Like an auto aid another and 4 or higher base, with 2 allies that becomes auto as well.  Which is the biggest problem with the system.  It relies on the swing of the dice to create leads and catch up, but if you reliably hit those DCs then it becomes impossible or incredibly long to catch up.
    It's hard for me to say exactly how long this would take to play at the table, but note that I've had to make 59 die rolls, assuming 3 seconds per roll with description that's just shy of 3 minutes.  So maybe 5 minutes tops to play this if you knew the system.  Not too long, but I wonder about it since all that happened was the players caught the monsters at the end of the same day even with having to navigate the storm.

What I Like
    I think there is potential here, a small grain of a good idea, that is buried under a lot of crap.

What I Hate
    Just about everything.  As I mentioned before this is really meant for low-level characters on foot.  There isn't a lot of depth to this.  It kind of involves the group but let's be honest, an "Aid Another" check does not really feel like you're involved.  The stupid "every living thing moves at exactly the same speed" of Pathfinder is really on display here, and why that is stupid.  It seems like a lot of rolling for very little return, it is not all that deep, dramatic, or tactical.  I guess it's better than nothing, but that's a pretty low bar.
    There are also Underwater, Water (surface), and Planar terrain types - which totally show the faults with the system.  How the heck do you make a Survival check to track someone underwater?  Where are the rules for ships with oars and exhausting the rowers, along with sailing ships and wind conditions?  What the heck good is a "Planar" terrain type when it just says "make something up or copy another tile" ?!

What I Would House Rule
    I would actually love to have a good pursuit system.  And this does have a decent core, after you burn off all the fat I think there's a skeleton your could build something useful on top of.  I am so not going there though, not right now.  I've got two campaigns running, one of which I am making a brand new and detailed setting for - so I don't have the time to try to fix this (to my liking at least).  Maybe someday though, someday...

    When I played this I decided to make some handouts.  I thought it would be better to have the Terrains and Advantages on cards that I could lay out and the players choose from.  So I'm dropping some links below to my Google Drive with those files in case you want to try it yourself.  I sized each 'card' to fit in some 66mm x 91mm clear deck protector sleeves.  After I ran this I thought it would be good to have a "tracker" for progress and all those weird effects that start and end at certain places, so I added that at the last minute.  This all kind of helped, one player did say she liked choosing from the cards.
    I have two files:

    So have you tried these pursuit rules?  What did you think of them?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pathfinder Playtest vs Pathfinder 1st - Elves

    Okay, while I have not been very encouraged from my reading of the new Pathfinder Playtest, I still can't seem to let it go.  So I thought I'd take a look at the new Elf Ancestry, and compare it to the old Elf race.  Why?  Why not?  So here we go...
    I'm going to pull this from the 1st ed Core Rulebook only.  Here is what they say about Elves:
Elf Racial Traits
    +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, –2 Constitution: Elves are nimble, both in body and mind, but their form is frail.
    Medium: Elves are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
    Normal Speed: Elves have a base speed of 30 feet.
    Low-Light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light. See Chapter 7.
    Elven Immunities: Elves are immune to magic sleep effects and get a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells and effects.
    Elven Magic: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on caster level checks made to overcome spell resistance. In addition, elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Spellcraft skill checks made to identify the properties of magic items.
    Keen Senses: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks.
    Weapon Familiarity: Elves are proficient with longbows (including composite longbows), longswords, rapiers, and shortbows (including composite shortbows), and treat any weapon with the word “elven” in its name as a martial weapon.
    Languages: Elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Elves with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Celestial, Draconic, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Orc, and Sylvan.

    Now, I'm omitting all the descriptive fluff since that will likely change in the Playtest going live.  So, what does the current playtest say about the Elves?...

Elf Ancestry
    Hit Points: 6
    Size: Medium
    Speed: 30 feet
    Ability Boosts: Dexterity, Intelligence, Free
    Ability Flaw: Constitution
    Languages: Common, Elven
    Bonus Languages: At 1st level, if your Intelligence score is 14 or higher, you can also select one of the following languages: Celestial, Draconic, Gnoll, Gnomish, Goblin, Orcish, or Sylvan.
    Traits: Elf, Humanoid
    Low-Light Vision: You can see in dim light as though it were bright light.

At 1st level, you gain one ancestry feat, and you gain an additional ancestry feat every 4 levels thereafter (at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels). As an elf, you select from among the following ancestry feats.

You move at a pace born from longevity that might infuriate your shorter-lived comrades but enhances your thoroughness. You can spend twice as much downtime as usual on a downtime activity to receive a +2 circumstance bonus to all checks related to that downtime activity. For more about downtime, see page 318.

You have accumulated a vast array of lived knowledge over your long life. During your daily preparations (see page 317), you can reflect upon your life experiences to become trained in one skill of your choice. This proficiency lasts until you prepare again. More about skills and proficiency can be found on page 142.

You have served in the fight to reclaim your homeland from demons, and thus you have learned to mitigate those fiends’ strengths and amplify their weaknesses. Your attacks treat demons’ resistances as if they were 1 lower and demons’ weaknesses as if they were 1 higher. If you use the Stride action on your turn, you instead treat demons’ resistances as 2 lower and their weaknesses as 2 higher until the end of your turn.

Watching your friends age and die fills you with moroseness that girds you against harmful emotions. You gain a +1 circumstance bonus to saves against emotion effects. If you succeed at a saving throw against an emotion effect, treat it as a critical success instead.

KEEN HEARING FEAT 1 (heritage, can only select at 1st level and cannot change or gain another heritage feat)
Your ears are finely tuned to even the slightest whispers of sound. As long as you can hear normally, you can use the Seek action to sense unseen creatures in a 60-foot cone instead of a 30-foot cone. You also gain a +2 circumstance bonus to sense unseen creatures within 30 feet that you can hear with a Seek action.

Your reflexes and lithe muscles are tightly honed. Your Speed increases by 5 feet. Additionally, when you use the Stride action, you can ignore difficult terrain in one square during that move.

Choose one cantrip from the arcane spell list (see page 199). You can cast this cantrip as an innate arcane spell at will. The cantrip is heightened to a spell level equal to half your level rounded up. You can learn more about spells on page 192.

Your mystic control and meditation allow you to resist external influences upon your consciousness. When you would be confused, frightened, or stupefied for at least 2 rounds, reduce the duration by 1 round. You still require natural sleep, but you are immune to effects
that would cause you to fall asleep. This protects only against the asleep condition, not against other forms of falling unconscious.

Prerequisites Weapon Familiarity (Elf)
You are attuned to the weapons of your elf ancestors and are particularly deadly when using them. Whenever you critically hit using a weapon of the bow or sword group, you apply the weapon’s critical specialization effect.

You favor bows and elegant weapons. You are trained with longbows, composite longbows, longswords, rapiers, shortbows, and composite shortbows. In addition, you gain access to all uncommon elf weapons. For the purpose of proficiencies, you treat martial elf weapons as simple weapons and exotic elf weapons as martial weapons. More about weapons can be found on page 178.

So what's the same?
    Well, both get bonuses to Dex and Int, with a penalty to Con.  Medium-sized, 30' speed.  Low-light vision.
So what's different?
    The 1e Elves have 4 abilities at 1st level: Elven Immunities, Elven Magic, Keen Senses, and Weapon Familiarity.
    The 2e Elves get only 1 Ancestry Feat at 1st level, chosen from 9 available feats.  "Forlorn" is not quite the same bonuses as the 1e "Elven Immunities," but pretty much is plus some if you combine it with the "Unwavering Mien."  Likewise "Otherworldly Magic" is quite different from the 1e "Elven Magic."  The 2e "Keen Hearing" is more limited than the 1e "Keen Senses," since the 2e only improves hearing and not all senses.  "Weapon Familiarity" is about the same for both.  The biggest difference is that in 1e Elves have these 4 abilities at 1st level, while in 2e it takes until 13th level to have the closest comparable abilities, and at 17th level the 2e Elf gets their final Ancestry Feat.

    I kind of like a few things in the 2e Ancestries.  Speaking of the Elves specifically, the "Ancestral Longevity" is pretty cool as it lets you gain training in a skill of your choice, that you can change every day.  Kinda works for the "been there, done that" of a very long-lived race without just giving them training in everything.  Also the "Weapon Elegance" is neat as it lets you build on being trained with racial weapons, even if you weren't a fighter-type-class.
    But then some of them are weird, like "Ageless Patience" that lets you take twice as long on a downtime action to gain a bonus on the skill check.  Is that a)so useful that it deserves one of your few (and therefore precious) feats? and b)is it worth a feat and not something that anybody should be able to do?  I would say no to both of those, but apparently the designers disagree with me.
    The really weird thing to me is the timing.  Let's say you take Keen Hearing at 1st level, which you pretty much have to due to it being a heritage feat.  Then at 3rd level you take Otherwordly Magic, which gives you one cantrip that you can cast at will.  Well, if you're a Wizard then you've just gotten your 2nd level spells, so how is the racial ability anywhere near the same power of the other class feats and skill feats?  And think about the difference at 17th level, when you could gain a racial cantrip at the same time you get your 8th level spells.  All the Ancestry feats are so low-powered that they are a very small, likely insignificant, ability at the higher levels (which is when your character moves from being a skilled mortal into being a demigod).

    I like the idea of customizing your race, but I don't think making the ancestries weaker at the start to slowly and incrementally increase over time is a good idea.  Plus Pathfinder already has a system for building or customizing a race in the Advanced Race Guide that one imagines could be streamlined and re-used instead of being thrown out for a whole new system.
    By comparison here is the Elf in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (again removing descriptive stuff):

Elf Traits
    Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
    Size. Elves range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium.
    Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
    Darkvision. Accustomed to twilit forests and the night sky, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
    Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
    Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep. Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
    Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish.

    Subrace. Ancient divides among the elven people resulted in three main subraces: high elves, wood elves, and dark elves, who are commonly called drow. Choose one of these subraces. In some worlds, these subraces are divided still further (such as the sun elves and moon elves of the Forgotten Realms), so if you wish, you can choose a narrower subrace.

High Elf
    Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
    Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
    Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it.
    Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write one extra language of your choice.
Wood Elf
    Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
    Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
    Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet.
    Mask of the Wild. You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.

Dark Elf
    Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
    Superior Darkvision. Your darkvision has a radius of 120 feet.
    Sunlight Sensitivity. You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
    Drow Magic. You know the dancing lights cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the faerie fire spell once per day. When you reach 5th level, you can also cast the darkness spell once per day. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
    Drow Weapon Training. You have proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.

    Overall I have to say that I like the Pathfinder 2e version the least.  Starting with fewer abilities and gaining them over a very long time, that are usually much weaker than the other abilities you'll be gaining - at 15th Level you can become Legendary in a skill, at 16th (or earlier) you can take the Legendary Skill Feat, which for Acrobatics means you can jump out of a plane and not take any damage (or orbit, it says that you take no falling damage from any height).  Then at 17th level you can gain a cantrip..... woo hoo.  Now, maybe and hopefully the finished 2e will have lots of higher-level Ancestry Feats, but even that is kind of a pain since you are constantly choosing feats at nearly every level.  Feats, feats, feats, feats, all feats all the time.  It really seems like too much customization, for something that I have a hard time understand how it works in the narrative of the game world, and doesn't seem like it's really going to define your character.  What is the reason for taking away abilities and scattering them over time?  And how are you developing your biological and cultural abilities while pursuing a career (Class)?  I don't know.  It isn't terrible, but I don't think it's better.