First Rule

THE STORY COMES FIRST


Discussion about this issue

Proposed House Rules

UPDATE: I have addressed most of the issues on this page with a few new rules, designed to make things more fun. We will play test them for a while and see if it working. Please give me feedback HERE.

Ok. Here is the skinny.

Pathfinder is a set of rules.

I run a game, a story – not rules. And as such, I am officially throwing the RAW (rules as written) out the window, but only when the rules start interfering with the story. Which they have been doing in our campaign lately.

Now in part, I am to blame for much of the turmoil. I love low-level parties and adventures. When we hit above 6th level or so, things seem to get out of hand. There is a power surge and/or deficiency. And not until recently have I understood the reasons. I am not going to get into all that here and now, save to state that Pathfinder RAW is a numbers crunch, specifically with power levels and expected party magic versus the CR of RAW encounters and creatures. Those “numbers,” or how characters need to have certain magic items in order to combat the ever-growing power of other creatures, does not coincide with my campaign world, nor my sensibilities as the DM. Up until now, I have been fighting the problem by trying to tweak things, and earnestly listening to the complaints about how overpowered the villains are, and how underpowered the characters are.

That stops NOW.

If you are unhappy with the game, feel free to find a different DM who puts little time into the story and runs really cool, well-balanced combats. That, my friends, is not me. No harm, no foul. No hard feelings.

From now on, I will do my best to continue to give you quality stories, with one heck of an epic challenge ahead of you. But the STORY will win out against the rules every time. You have to trust me. You also have to use your heads.

I stated in the very beginning of this campaign, that not every encounter was Challenge Rating appropriate. I said that you would have to judge the enemy, and discover ways around the conflict, not purely with a sword or spell. I am reminding you NOW that it was said then, and it will continue to apply. Just because an enemy is more powerful than you are does not mean it cannot be defeated somehow. Part of what you need to do is figure out how. Discover the thing’s weakness, and exploit it. Perhaps you can role-play your way around the obstacle, or maneuver another creature to do your dirty work, as it were.

With that said, below are a few items to think about (and at the time of this writing, I am still trying to set my intentions into words. Please bear with me).


LOGIC

I know this is a fantasy world. But things must be logical to me. They also must be consistent. One attempt at consistency on my part has been to put all of my house rules on this wiki so we can reference them. I have shit-for-memory sometimes. I really would love for actions of every character to have logic and premeditated thought behind them. I try to give all my NPCs such rationale. I find that sometimes, the RAW breaks my sense of disbelief in the world, and so to that end, the world and the story will take precedence.

Things may seem askew, logically speaking. That fact may be a clue. If a person suddenly starts behaving suspiciously, don’t just think the DM is having an off night. I may be giving you clues. Also, the world in my mind operates a certain way. And again, I created my world. Paizo created Pathfinder. My world is what I want to be consistent and logical, and I don’t want to conform the ideas of the world to fit the cookie cutter box of the RAW. For instance, the holy magic of the RUS priests behave differently than those of the Free Kingdoms. They do not follow the RAW. So you may be affected by a power that gives you no save. I promise that such things are not meant to be deadly.


CONSEQUENCES

For every action there is a reaction (maybe not equal and opposite). Like motivations, I try to take into consideration the reactions of all the major players in the NPC world. If you cut me, do I not bleed? If you wrong me, do I not seek revenge (if it within my means)? Folks will not turn a blind eye to offenses and rudeness. Customs will be honored, traditions upheld. Just because a character(or player) has an idea or makes an assumption of how a culture “is” or “should be” does not mean that is how it truly happens to be. I see a lot of folks making statements of assumption. Many of which are dead-on, but just as many are inaccurate. There are ways of discovering information, within the RAW and also through role playing. If it is important, you may want to think about having the characters do some research. I commend you all, however, for role-playing your characters’ flaws and cultural bias. I try to award it as well.


HERO TOKENS

Compensating for inadequacies in the system, or to help you defeat certain seemingly undefeatable enemies is one of the reasons I give you Hero Tokens. They are compensators, and as we all have witnessed, they make a huge difference when you are outgunned. I have also seen them being used for more trivial matters, earlier in the session, and not saved for the big finale. I suggest you all think more closely about spending the tokens early on. Hero tokens for Will saving throws are a particular use that I think may be over played. Part of the game, part of the story, and part of the fun in my mind, is that sometimes if a character is affected by a power early on, then once they recover (Will effects usually are), the enemy may have tipped their hand regarding that power. Failed saving throws in general, are part of the fun of the game, no matter if it is the PC or the enemy who fails the roll.


MAGIC ITEMS

I want to state that I will still be handing out magic items. Most of the items I give you are going to be IMPORTANT ones. Perhaps I know that in 4 sessions you will be coming across an outsider, and I give you an item that is effective against them. You may not know its value. Don’t just dump it in the nearest town for cash. Also, an item may have a hidden power, one that needs to be researched and activated in order to use. Not every +1 sword is JUST a +1 sword. When bathed in the blood of a hippogriff it may become a +2 sword. By sacrificing twelve virgins and drinking their blood from the strange goblet, one might achieve immortality. But the goblet may just radiate a faint aura until it starts containing that precious blood.

Potions and scrolls will likely remain unchanged. They are the bread and butter of the game, and I have no issues with the power levels/impact to the story. Additionally, I will introduce potions and scrolls that are not in the Pathfinder canon. They will do different, maybe even more powerful things. They are not something that a character can create. They are remnants of an older time, an ancient magic lost to the world.

The buffer items still exist. I just don’t feel in my world that every player, when they reach X level, should have X stat booster items, X magic weapon bonus, X Armor Class enhancers, etc. This is a serious issue I have with the RAW, and the system in general. I will not be stocking all the 4th level henchmen with +1 weapons, +1 armor and potions of whatever. I find it cumbersome that you all have been carrying around all that gear looted from so many folks without really taking account of what it was you lugged from town to town (see LOGIC above).

Magic items may be for sale, but not by using RAW settlement rules. I have found some tools to help me determine what may be available. You may seek a long time for a specific item. It would be better and easier for you to find someone to craft it for you.

I am removing the Loot Wishlists pages. Not because I don’t care about what you want, but because having it makes folks think hard on how to tweak their characters to optimum effectiveness. Sorry. Optimum effectiveness is rules-lawyering and does not have a place in my game. It does not have a place in most stories I have read or seen on the screen. Removing your characters weaknesses by replacing them with abilities or magic items can be very frustrating (and also taken as insulting) by the DM. Fighters, for instance, have low will saves. Seeking out a Wisdom booster item to compensate (especially when the character may have an average WIS score to start with) has absolutely no context in the logical world in which the game is set. If you know a villain is a caster who manipulates the minds of his victims, send in the cleric or wizard to deal with him, or have one of those casters use their own spells to make the rogue less of a target so he can sneak in and catch the villain by surprise.

Please think about depending more on your characters and your own intellect, rather than to supplant the need for cunning and planning with a trove of “things.” Or perhaps seek out a certain item that might help you overcome a specific enemy, not a general booster.


CHALLENGE RATINGS AND ENEMIES

The RAW Challenge Rating system depends on that Christmas Tree effect, and in order to make things challenging, you all need to have buffer stuff and wazoo magic to handle challenging creatures. Low CR dudes have a low AC and low attack scores. They have their place, but they are not the beefy dudes. I created the Mooks rules so we wouldn’t spend all night fighting shitty guys only to have the big guy run away, or worse, kill you all after you have used all your resources on the peons.

I am going to be trying some things out soon. Again, please be patient. I don’t want to make more house rules, it just bogs things down. But at the same time, I really don’t like that the higher level we all get, the longer it takes to finish a simple combat. Like I said, I hate long combats. They don’t advance the story until they are done.

As far as CRs are concerned, I am tossing them out. I will be awarding EXP based on the APL (Average Party Level) from now on, and based on how the individual fight went, not the actual CR of the encounter. If you breeze through a group of goons, who in RAW added up to CR 8, and your APL is 8, I will award EXP based on a lower CR equivalent. Likewise, if you get your asses handed to you by a CR 7 baddie, you will earn perhaps CR 10 or 12 EXP (given that you succeeded in defeating it).

As a baseline, because you won’t have the christmas tree, when I construct an encounter, I am going to assume that a RAW CR creature of 2 less than the APL is a challenging encounter. You will likely not encounter creatures with a RAW APL above your own, if I expect a straight on fight. This means if you see a creature that may be listed in the RAW as 2 or 3 CRs higher than your APL, and you are rules-lawyering, that you should probably run the heck away (see GENERAL PATHFINDER CANON STUFF below). If I have time, I will tweak the monsters to be a better fit to the current party makeup, and even if I am winging it, I will make allowances so that TPKs don’t happen. When all else fails, I will cheat (see CHEATING below).


CINEMATIC COMBATS

I would love to get away from this:

You: I roll a 17, that hits AC 22.
Me: You hit.
You: Sixteen damage.
Me: He has 5 DR and so he takes 11. He hits an AC of 12.
You: Miss.
Him: (other PC) I move up, can’t flank. Well, You can take a 5 foot step on your next turn.
You: I move 5 feet and flank with the rogue. I roll a 19 to hit. Oh, thats a threat. My follow up is a 16.
Me: (sigh) OK, you crit him. The chart says Spinal Tap – double damage and 1d6 Dex damage.
You: Awesome. I roll a total of 23 damage and 4 Dex.
Me: Insult to injury, the damage killed him outright.

And start doing more of this:

You: Bill (the PC) takes a wide sweep, trying to get under his shield. I hit a 22 AC
Me: Nice one. That hits close to where you aimed it. How bad did the blow hurt him?
You: Sixteen damage.
Me: It seems that the blow didn’t bite as deep as you wanted, but it left a nice cleft under his right arm, oozing blood. He gives you a surly look, his pain steeling his determination to kill you. He swings wildly, the pain must be getting to him. I assume a 12 does not hit?
You: Nope. I sneer back at him and say tauntingly (so as to distract him so Rodge can move up) “Is that all you’ve got?”
Him: Rodge carefully sneaks up, but can’t get into a flanking position. He gives Bill a nod and a tilt of his head, indicating that Rodge will skewer him next time.
You: Now that Rodge (the rogue) has moved up, I sidestep and insult the foe again as I press the attack. Hopefully soon, Rodge can get in a good blow. I am going for the same spot as last time, but as I make my move, my attack comes in high, then sweeps around below that shield again. I roll a 19 to hit. Booyah! thats a threat! My follow up is a 16.
Me: Wow, you indeed bit deeper into that same wound. In fact, you think you may have felt your sword contact his spine, right though the ribs. (rolls on table) Double damage and 1d6 Dex damage.
You: Awesome. I roll a total of 23 damage and 4 Dex.
Me: His eyes lose focus and his legs give out from under him. You wrench your sword free just as he drops, as if he has no control over his legs. You think you may have killed him.
Him: (Rodge’s Player) “Dangit Bill, you always kill them right when finally get into position.”

I know it will make combat take longer, but I am trying to implement a few other things to speed it up. Here are some ideas, and we can talk about it at an upcoming session.

  • Hero Tokens Whenever you use a hero token, you must describe the heroic action you are taking, or the lucky result of spending the token.
  • Cinematic Banter When you role-play combat, you can do extra damage. The more cinematic, the more damage. Remember that each swing of the weapon or blast of the spell is not really causing wounds. When a character hits 0 HP, they fall, and are taken out. Be creative and get extra damage, or maybe also earn more hero tokens. Hero tokens for being heroic? What wacky world is this I am running?
  • Automatic Effects You describe what you want to happen, spend a token (maybe) and then it happens. No need to roll for anything. Or maybe a roll, but it takes out the guy. As long as it is heroic, and cinematic. I am thinking that this option is not for a main villain, but for Mooks.
    • Throw the cook pot in his face, he screams and runs away, covering his face, in pain from the searing stew.
    • Flinging myself off the rampart, I want to land on the wyvern’s back and plunge my sword into the base of his neck.

Let me know if you come up with other ideas. We can also wing it at a session and jot down the results, adding them to the rules at a later time.


GENERAL PATHFINDER CANON STUFF

Hey, I just leveled. I take the Spectacular Super Tough Flingy Feat from the Penultimate Adventurers Handbook.

Not without checking with me well ahead of time.
I don’t care if the RAW says it exists. It may break game balance for me, or simply not work with the LOGIC of the world. This goes for spells, feats, and character abilities (such as rogue talents). I don’t want to deny you out of hand. But I do want to make sure that it meshes with my world.

Rule of Thumb:

Core Rulebook Generally Known You don’t have to ask, but a heads-up would be great
Other Pathfinder Books Obscure Knowledge The item in question must be seen, heard of, or researched. Some special schools teach specific things. Like when Dorak had to go to Venchenzia to learn the cool feat.
Pathfinder 3rd Party Localized/Specialized As above, but even more rare. Training would take much longer.

I will entertain any notion. Some 3rd party stuff is cool, and it fits right into my world theory. Just don’t ever assume, and we will be ok. Plan your next level(s) ahead of time. Get the training before you have the EXP for the level. Make it sensible that your character WORKED and SPENT TIME acquiring the new talent. Logic, please. Same goes for spells.

Monsters will NOT be as written. I will add stuff, take stuff out. The Troll you fight today may well not take permanent damage by fire, and the troll you fight tomorrow my not only be harmed by cold, like the one yesterday. Much of the mystery I enjoy when running a game is ruined by the fact that so many ppl know the rules inside and out. Fireballs are a 20’r spread, they do 1d6 damage per caster level. Why does every wizard and sorcerer cast the same spells? Because they are in the book. From now on, please do not assume that what you know from canon is in fact what you are facing. I will likely intentionally mix things up. It is a bit more work for me, but I want you on your toes. I want your characters to have wonder and fear about the foes they face. I know some of you don’t pour through the books, so you won’t even know.

Think of the Crimson Skies world as a Pathfinderish world. With common features. Common themes. But not exactly like Golarion or any other published world, or system for that matter.


CHEATING

I cheat so you don’t have to. I weave the combat like an art. If it is going too rough on you, my rolls sometimes back off. If you are walking through a tough encounter, I may hit more often. You need to trust that I am not doing this out of ego or spite, but to weave the tapestry of combat, creating a cohesive work of art when all is said and done.




As I said before, I will try to be consistent. I will try to be fair. I don’t want to kill you out of hand. I don’t want to simply screw you over. And I know you don’t want any of those things for me. But… I AM the DM. I made the world, from scratch. Part of that is because I kept running into the “canon” trap with other worlds like Forgotten Realms. The last thing I want to hear, when I have a clear idea or concept of a thing in MY world, is a quote of canon, rule, or whatnot. I need you to trust me. I try to earn that trust.

If you have read this far, thanks.

I just want to run a better game, loaded with more fun and less rules crap.

If you don’t like all this, and plan to quit the game, please talk to me before you quit. I’d appreciate that.

I WANT feedback. I am not trying to say “This is MY sandbox and if you don’t like it, get out!” But I know my limits as a GM, and as a rules connoisseur. Rules should be like the stock in the soup. The ingredients are the story seeds and character, locales and quirks. Those are the meat and vegetables of this gaming stew. I really don’t mind if you throw in a little pepper or thyme, as long as we can agree upon it.

Thanks,

~Mark


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