All posts by Sunglar

Welcome reader, thanks for taking the time to find out just who I am! My name is Roberto, although in the Internet I usually go by the name of Sunglar. Long time pen & paper RPG player, mostly a GM for the better part of that time; some will say that’s because of my love of telling a good story, others because I’m a control freak, but that’s debatable… I was born, raised, and still live in Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean, with a small but active gaming community.

I’ve played RPGs for 30 years, and for most of that time I played D&D in all its various permutations, including Pathfinder and I'm currently playing D&D 5th edition. Other games my regular gaming group has played over the last few years include Mutants & Masterminds and Savage Worlds, but I have played many other games through the years, and plan to play many more. I am a compulsive homebrewer and rarely play a campaign I have not created myself.

You can follow me on Twitter as @Sunglar, and find me in Google+ also as Sunglar. I'm very active in Facebook where you can find me posting regularly in the Puerto Rico Role Players group. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Driveby Nerfing! The recent Wizards of the Coast update to D&D 4th edition…

D&DA friend of mine actually got me writing this post after she shared the link to Wizards of the Coast announcement of their update to the D&D game…

Mind you I don’t play D&D 4the edition anymore. But the decision to stop playing D&D was a hard one for me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it was akin to a divorce for me. I was really invested into D&D, it wasn’t only my favorite game, but my favorite pastime, and while it may seem silly to some I agonized about giving up the game. Of course I play Pathfinder now (and I wrote about it before) and the notion that seemed so hard at the time now is a little silly.

Then something like this comes along and causes an instant reaction in me. I’ll try to be dispassionate about it, but it may be hard, so forgive me if this comes of like a rant!

My friend complained, a little tongue in cheek I imagine, that Wizards took a nerf bat to her character sheet. So I had to go and look at the update. My first impression was WOW, 88 pages of updates. Righteous indignation set in and I was ready to cry foul and condemn Wizards for their actions. But then I took a deep breath and read the document. While I don’t play I have a grasp of the rules and understood what they were talking about. The update covers 14 books, which come to about 6 pages per book for 88 pages (I didn’t check how many pages are devoted to each book I just made a quick calculation.)

I am fully aware that D&D 3.5, the game I used to play, had copious amounts of errata over the life of the game, and some may say that quickly addressing broken or difficult rules is a sign of responding to the fan base concerns and a willingness to admit t when a mistake has been made. It certainly becomes a necessity for their current business model. The use of online tools and the immediacy of the Internet age mean that fans expect their concern to be addressed, and addressed now. I don’t doubt the designers are addressing the problems to make what they believe to be a “better” and more “balanced” game.

AD&D had errata. Years after I switched from AD&D 1st edition to 2nd edition I learned that TSR had published errata for Unearthed Arcana in Dragon #103. The Cavalier and Barbarian were clearly “broken”, terribly overpowered when compared with classes from the Player’s Handbook and many of the rules in the book needed clarifications, but I never got the errata. I played with the rules as they were, and had fun. While some were in fact “broken”, that never affected my enjoyment of the game.

Likewise AD&D 2nd edition had errata but even after I discovered it, I don’t think I ever incorporated it into my game. The fun we were having and the stories we were telling were far more important than the minutia of the rules. It wasn’t until D&D 3rd edition came around, and I began to use the internet for news, visiting forums for discussions, that errata became part and parcel of my games. I copied it, printed it out for my players, made sure I was up to date, and in all sincerity it became too much of a hassle.

I understand Wizard’s current business model. The use of online tools, character powers and their structure, making elements from CCG and miniature integral to the game as to create a continuous revenue stream makes sense from a corporate point of view. But it also becomes a trap because things like this become a necessity and they have to make this type of overhauls to the game system. If I’m a player who just picked up the book, don’t spend time online on their site and sit on a table to play I may suddenly be told that the book I purchased no longer contains the “right” rules. If I don’t subscribe to the DDI the value of my book is diminished. 88 pages of rule changes in a year and a half…

We may delude ourselves into thinking RPG design is a science, but it’s not, it’s an art. We may accuse designers of doing a poor job, of not being thorough enough, but they are human and no matter how much they playtest things will slip by. I think what really get’s to me is our expectation that things will be fixed quickly and to my satisfaction. We truly have become a culture of instant gratification.

The game I currently run has errata and I don’t ignore it, but I refuse to be trapped by an unending quest to know about every “broken” rule and combo and worry if my game is balance. I just want to play and have fun.

End of rant!

What’s your take on all of this? Thanks for reading….

What about Pathfinder? A review…

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has been out for a while, since August 2009, and it’s made me a happy gamer so far! So if you want the short of it there you have it. Interested in a little more detail? Ok read on…

Pathfinder RPG Cover Many people have reviewed the game and I don’t intend to rehash that here. I’ll give you my experience with the game over the last 32 sessions of my weekly campaign. We actually began playing with the Beta Test rules. The publisher, Paizo, carried out a lengthy play test listening to player feedback and fine tuning the game to the likes of the community. Like any endeavor by committee not everybody involved was pleased with the result, but I think the game is better for it.

In case you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of years, the Pathfinder RPG carries on the proverbial torch for D&D 3.5. While Wizards of the Coast published a new edition of D&D, Paizo attempted to improve on the existing edition. Pathfinder is still a d20 game, close in form and methods to its roots. The complexity and detail in D&D 3.5 are still there and one of the stated design goals was backwards compatibility with older material, making converting material from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder relatively easy. There is even a Conversion Guide!

What they have improved on are the fiddly bits in the system, details that made some aspects of the game difficult, needless complexities and attempted to “balance” classes. Let me give you some specific examples:

Calculating Skill ranks has been greatly simplified; no more half ranks and the tedium of skill selection when creating a character above 1st level, and forget if this was a multiclassed character! Now you simply put your ranks in skills, if it’s a Class Skill you get +3, no more fuss! There are also no pesky multiclassing penalties, instead characters a pick favored classes and get small bonuses when they select levels in that class. Some skills have been condensed into broader categories and Feat options are expanded and varied.

The classes have been cleaned up, every class has something to offer at every level, and every class has a special ability at 20th level to entice players to stick to one class all the way through. They tried to reign in spell casters, a common complaint in D&D 3.5, by boosting other classes and modifying magic to bring it more to par with other abilities. So there is definitely a power creep in all classes and races which bring them to levels comparable to classes published in later D&D 3.5 books, but I’d be careful when adapting those to a Pathfinder game some might be pretty straightforward, others might require more work, but fans have done a great work of this in the Paizo Forums, so search there for your favorites.

Save or Die spells are a thing of the past, spell casting in combat is much harder, now simply a Caster Level check (rolling against a difficulty and simply adding your level in the spell casting class) which has been the hardest pill to swallow for my players who like to play spell casters. Most combat maneuvers like grappling or disarming that had different rules for each specific instance have been folded into a unified Combat Maneuver mechanic that is easy to follow and makes sense. Creating magic items no longer requires the expenditure of XP and the new costs for creating magic items has worked well so far in my game.

On the Game Master’s side encounters are now created using an experience point budget and it’s easier to build them quickly and include more opponent variety in the mix. Likewise assigning treasure has been simplified and creating and equipping simple NPCs has also been made simpler. Key NPCs still require a little more work, but the run of the mill opponents can be created with ease. Prep time for Game Masters is reduced, it still require some time, but far less than before. There are three different experience tables for those of us that thought characters just went up in level too quickly.

Feats Opener The book is massive, 575 pages big, and combines all the rules for Players and Game Masters. Beautifully illustrated, there is some of the  fantasy-punk art some people hated during the D&D 3rd edition phase, but I an not bothered by it so be aware. The book has some mistakes and the inevitable errata is available for the 1st printing (the copy I own) but nothing that makes the book unusable.

If you liked D&D 3.5 but had some problems with certain issues this game may be for you. If you are a fan of D&D 3.5 and want to see what can be done to improve it, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try. If you want a rules-light game this is definitely not for you. I don’t think this is a game that new players will be able to pick of the shelf and play without some help, it’s not a gateway game, but with help from someone with experience in the game it can be whole lot of fun. I’m actually going to run a demo game for the system this Sunday for players who have not tried it out and some players who have no idea what an RPG is!

The game is OGL and the folk at Paizo have provided a System Reference Document for the game, and the game is available in PDF format for $10 so you can try it out at a reasonable price. The rules for monsters are in their own book, the Pathfinder Bestiary, and while you could play with the older monster books, the reworked monsters are closer to the power level presented in the Pathfinder RPG rulebook. There are also many great third party products available for Pathfinder so it’s a good time to be a Pathfinder fan.  I am confident this system can survive alongside D&D 4th edition and cater to those of us who did not find the new edition to our liking.

My campaign is still on relatively low levels, 6th and 7th, so I have not experienced higher level play, one particularly troublesome area of D&D 3.5 where combat typically dragged on, and one round took forever. So if there is any interest out there I will revisit this topic in a couple of months when my players have reached mid levels.

Thank your for reading and have a great weekend!

“You had me at hello…”

Hello all! Since I’m part of the new team of contributors around here, I thought my first post should be about something related to the idea of “new” and I settled upon this: Introducing new characters to an ongoing campaign.

Recently I had a new player join my five person group the session after two characters had died in combat. Suddenly I found myself having to introduce three new characters into a six character campaign. That’s 50% newness for the math-phobic out there! Some may look at this as a challenge; I saw it as an opportunity…

The two players who already were playing the campaign, after deciding not to magically resurrect their characters (which would have been no easy feat!) set about creating their characters. Having played the campaign for over six months now they knew its tone and feel in a way that no amount of pre-campaign discussion can set up. Sometimes you just need to try something out to really wrap your head around it. So they had the advantage of creating new characters that fit not only with the dynamics of the group, but where the campaign is headed.

The new players presented a very different challenge. Although I’ve known him for many years he had never played with our group. The campaign I’m running, while relatively new (only six months) takes place on a world we’ve been playing on for seventeen years, and some players have been there for most of that time, so I wanted to ease him into the game without overloading him with information.

I sat down with him and talked about the campaign, introduced some concepts and gave him some very short hand-outs and then the other players helped him develop his concept and create the character. It worked great because it fostered a sense of camaraderie between the players and the new player has a support system in place to help ease him into the game.

That took care of creating new characters, but what about introducing them to the ongoing plot? As much as I love the movie The Gamers I wanted to avoid the “You seem trustworthy!” line and just have the new characters integrate with the group without rhyme or reason. I had the advantage of introducing the three new characters together, alternating between short vignettes; some focusing on the three older characters already in the game and some on the new characters until they met about halfway through the session.

Since the characters were created FOR the campaign inserting motivations and plot hooks into the game was easy. I was sad to see some of the dead characters go away, I had some plotlines and ideas for them but just like in real life, in games you have to adapt. Some ideas I’ll recycle or change to other characters, others will simply fade away. I am happy to inform you that the new characters have been with the group now for four sessions and I must admit that despite my trepidation, I like the composition of the group now much more than I did before. So I guess the old adage is true, change IS good!

Now I’d like to know, how do you handle new characters in your games?

PS – Before I go, I would like to thank Stargazer for the opportunity to participate in this wonderful blog he’s put together. He and my good friend Daniel have dragged me kicking and screaming into the blogosphere. Thank you!