52-in-52 Review

Owen CK Stephens was a designer style Paizo Publishing, led the Starfinder team, and is currently hosting Know Direction Beyond. He’s also the brains behind 52-in-52, a weekly subscription that gets you a concept in four game systems: D&D 5e, Pathfinder 1e, Pathfinder 2e, and Starfinder. I subscribed to see what this might look like, and now I’m going to tell you.

The Experience: each week you’ll get a set of short pdf’s on a particular topic. The e-mail gives you a link and you can download whichever ones you would like. The PDFs are all two column text and contain a reasonable number of illustrations. So far topics covered include Rune Magic, different types of magic weapons which scale with character level, and ways to trick out your crossbow. Each one includes some suggestions about incorporating them into a campaign and provides enough rules support that these done-in-ones can be added in to an existing game without too much effort.

What’s overwhelming (as in awesome)? My favourite thing so far is the Rune Magic and Rune Caster releases: I anticipate using them in a kind of Rise of the Runelords prequel/sequel campaign. I also really like the Crossbow Gadgets.

What’s whelming? So far (it’s week 7) many of the releases are types of magic items or equipment. On the one hand, it’s easy to add items; on the other, I’d like to see some different design space explored. (Side note: check out Owen’s blog and Patreon for all kinds of great stuff.)

What’s underwhelming? I’m not disappointed in anything at this point, but in a 52-weekly product set, not everything is going to be equally impressive. There are some products that are rather similar (Soul Sword, Sword of Kings, and Runeblades) but in terms of value, my price per concept is still very low; I wouldn’t use these items together, but will probably use on or more at a time.

My recommendation? If you don’t have the 52-in-52 Bundle, it’s full of ideas and most of them are easy to incorporate into your campaigns. It works with both versions of Pathfinder, Starfinder, and D&D 5e, and battle mechs are coming in March. I’d say buy, or at least cherry lick when the individual ones you want are released at the Open Gaming Store.

Blog relaunch?

I’ve been having trouble keeping this blog up for a couple reasons, but mainly because for a stretch I’ve not been playing Pathfinder. I am also thinking about rebranding, and publishing some Rpg materials, but The Lost Muse is too close to another company’s trademarks.

What I’m going to do is this: publish under another name, and keep the Lost Muse as a fan site. I’ll be switching it to use Paizo’s community licence soon, which also lets me play in Paizo’s playground. For you, dear reader, all this means is that you’ll be getting the same kinds of content I’ve already been posting: thoughts about subsystems, reviews of Pathfinder Second Edition products, and some campaign recaps.

I’m also working in a set of comics, but won’t announce anything until it’s more solidly confirmed.

Happy gaming,

The Lost Muse

Pathfinder Second Edition GM Screen Review

The Pathfinder Second Edition GM Screen is basically everything I want in a screen. It’s in landscape format, on a very durable stock, and has a set of very useful tables.

Good Things: almost every table I want or need is here. Conditions. Basic Actions. What each skill does. Skill DC’s and how to adjust them.

Medium Things: The inclusion of the XP Awards and Encounter construction tables feels a touch off for me, but that’s a me thing. I’m not in the habit of following the Party-Level Encounter guidelines from first edition, and don’t generally use a screen in my game prep. That said, about 80% of the screen is really quite good, and even the less useful charts still present some at-table utility.

The art is technically full-panel (I won’t buy a screen which isn’t) but cheats by having a column and terrain features on the hinges which somewhat divide the panels. It has a bunch of iconics doing iconic Pathfinder things, and sets the tone well. It’s not my favorite piece, but does the job.

Bad Things: I have no significant complaints. There’s a few charts I won’t use, but a lot more that I will.

Overall, I highly recommend this screen for Pathfinder Second Edition GM’s, if only for the panel listing out all of the conditions. If you’ve got condition cards, however, the utility of the screen decreases somewhat. I won’t call it an essential play aid, but I anticipate it being very helpful in my next campaign.

Encounter Sheets

One of the things I don’t like about running combat encounters? Keeping track of all of the stat blocks. Somewhere along the way, I started creating tables that listed the stats for the creatures I was including in combat, along with some notes about what actions they would be taking in combat. And now, I’ll share this handy technique with you.

First, click here to access a copy of the Encounter Sheet.

Then, fill in the stats for the creature or creatures that you are going to include. I like to print these out, and they don’t take up much space, but do let me have a variety of creatures all together on a single page. With the first edition, I would sometimes summarize, or leave off information I wasn’t going to use, but it sure helped with big set-pieces to keep everything straight.

Campaign Plot Structure: Resolutions

It’s the end of the road for this series (next week I’m going to start working through an adaptation of The Tempest to Pathfinder Second Edition that you won’t want to miss) which means we are talking resolutions.

The resolution in a narrative is the reestablishing of the status quo, and one big thing that impacts the kind of resolution we want is the genre we are working in. For a serialized fantasy game, the resolution might simply introduce the next challenge the player characters have to overcome as they do their heroic things to ultimately triumph over a major antagonist. In The Lord of the Ring films, this is Sam and Frodo having survived their travels and arriving at the edge of Mordor, Aragorn resolving to hunt orcs, and Boromir’s body going over the falls. On the other hand, in horror games the release of something people were not meant to know (either creatures or knowledge) is deferred but the increased experience the player characters have of what’s really going on (perhaps The Lacanian Real) leaves them changed. In Marvel movies (which I love), the post credits scenes typically introduce the next part of an ongoing saga. All of these are kinda of resolutions.

In Pathfinder Second Edition and other role playing games with levels, levelling up is a kind of resolution: through a series of challenges, the player character has struggled, succeeded, and now grows in strength. On a session by session basis, I typically avoid having much explicit narrative resolution. The climactic challenge of a session as represented by combat is in some senses self resolving when the player characters may finally rest and heal. (Quick tip: one way to increase tension is to prevent the party from resting too often; scarcity of resources will increase narrative tension.) But a campaign as a whole should have a resolution: in my last campaign, I gave each player a quick summary of what happened after: one went to hell and rose through the ranks, another fell attempting to fight the Quiet Lich Imprisoned in Paizo’s Campaign Setting, and a third discovered a lost city in the mountains and prevented an ancient wizard from escaping. These were well received, and helped to create a sense of continuity rather than just ending with all the characters dying.

I think we can distinguish, then, between narrative resolution and systematic resolution. Narrative resolution should be reserved for the ending of a plot arc. At this point, The Simpsons might discuss what they’ve learned, while Captain Cisco stares broodingly out into space and expresses his thoughts via voice over. Asking things like “how does CHARACTER feel about this?” could be appropriate, or you might just narrate that particular ride out into the sunset. Systematic resolution, on the other hand, uses game mechanics to reset the status quo. This might be healing and getting spells back, or could be levelling up, spending character points, or some other way the system presents of dealing with the accumulated wear and tear your player characters have experienced. This kind of end of session resolution can also involve dividing up treasure, engaging in downtime activities, or gaining new intelligence.

So, my advice with resolutions is this:

  1. Don’t try to make a narrative resolution every session, using game mechanics is ok too.
  2. Do have a clear resolution at the end of a plot arc.
  3. Try to use resolutions to imply continuity, even if the actual campaign is over.

Happy gaming!

Campaign Climaxes

We’ve talked exposition, complication, crisis, and it has all been building to this: the Climax! From a narrative standpoint, this is the thing that the whole campaign is about, but Pathfinder Second Edition games can be tricky to plan climaxes for: just because I as the Games Master have some sense of what will happen, does not mean that it will happen. In my initial campaign, I planted a scroll of Fireball for the party to find because I had planned for the session to end with a mob of monsters attacking the village the party was in.

They accidentally set it off attempting to copy the spell. (If you’re wondering how, it has to do with the Natural 1 rolled in that attempt.)

In terms of campaigns, there are two kinds of models we can follow: serialized storytelling and episodic storytelling. In a serialized campaign, there is a set of overarching plots which run over the course of the campaign; on the other hand, in an episodic campaign the events are not necessarily connected from session to session. These are not mutually exclusive. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural have ongoing storylines while also featuring monster-of-the-week episodes.

As a rule, I like to plan an overall shape of the campaign, and then revise session by session, eventually reaching a climax for the campaign. But, I also like each session to go through the phases of exposition, complication, crisis, and climax. I find that in practice, it’s tricky for me to get through all of these stages in a four hour session. The genre requirements of fantasy role playing use combat – or at least conflict – as a way to signify progress in the plot in the same way that musicals use songs to signify progress in the plot. These conflicts take time to resolve; in my previous campaign using Pathfinder First Edition, I could generally get two combat encounters and a handful of social encounters through in an individual session of 3-5 hours.

Practically, this means that exposition and complications take the form of some introductory scene-setting and a short combat encounter, and that the crisis (the event leading into the climax) is some kind of news leading into the second longer combat encounter. (I’m not saying they have to be fights, but Pathfinder has a whole lot of rules about fighting. Other systems are much better at facilitating other kinds of conflict resolution; Gumshoe games, for example, focus on investigation rather than combat.)

All of this leads into a resolution – the establishing of a new status quo – which is something I’ll deal with next week.

But back to the climax. To achieve a climax, a couple of things need to happen:

  1. A climax is conclusive: while the plot may not be over, somehow progress must occur. This could be facing down a boss, achieving some kind of quest milestone, or engaging with some kind of objective, but the party needs to be able to do or achieve something meaningful.
  2. A climax is significant: whatever the conflict is over, it needs to be important. It could be capturing a Macguffin, it could be stopping some part of the enemy’s plan, it could even be failure, but there need to be consequences rippling out from the climax or it is less than climactic.
  3. A climax is earned: the players need to work to reach the climax of a session, and they definitely need to work to reach the climax of a campaign. The climax is the moment when obstacles are overcome, and it is necessary to have resistance to meet the point of the climax for it to achieve the feel that a climax should.

I can’t really write about my sequel campaign as an illustration because I don’t want my players to know in advance, but I can tell you that next week I’ll be discussing resolutions. Happy gaming!

Favourite Things

Last week, I recommended Pathfinder Wiki. This week, I’m recommending the Pathfinder 2 Easy Action Tree. This is simply the best organized online rule reference for Pathfinder Second Edition that I’ve seen anywhere. It appears to be comprehensive, and I just really like it a lot. I used the Pathfinder SRD a lot during first edition, but before finding the tree, I wasn’t happy with most of them.

NPC / Monster / Hazard Creation Rules Preview

Paizo posted an excerpt from the upcoming Gamemastery Guide Monster and NPC creation rules, and since I’m signed up to use the compatibility licence (you can tell because I’ve got the fine print and logo at the bottom) I got a heads up in my e-mail! (If you’d like a copy of your very own, click here.)

If you’ve read through Pathfinder Unchained or the monster creation rules for Starfinder, there shouldn’t be any surprises here. Basically, there are a bunch of modifiers listed by level and categorized as Extreme, High, Moderate, and Low, and then you add on relevant abilities. Keywords have abilities attached to them, so if you’re creating an Aeon of some kind, you can make sure that they don’t feel left out when they go to the meetings. Suggested patterns of modifiers are also suggested for different roles of creatures.

These rules look much easier to use than the monster creation rules from Pathfinder First Edition – seriously, I made some creatures and had to find software to manage the numbers – largely because instead of using the same rules for PC’s monster creation is here focused on what players are most likely to notice. One section advises specifically against giving monsters invisible abilities (like Bless) since those raise stats but are not necessarily interesting.

The list of rules systems in the Gamemastery Guide is also previewed, and I think I’m going to buy a copy. Lots of optional rules systems will appear in it, and since I’m playing in Paizo’s sandbox, I won’t try to come up with my own entire systems, when I can look at additions and modifications of theirs.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll create some monsters and NPC’s using these rules and post the results on The Lost Muse Gaming Blog. At first read, I like it a lot. It looks like it will be easier to use, and let me spend more time working on plot and characterization rather than doing math problems. (Fun math problems are still math problems.)

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