Demon Hunter’s Handbook Review

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Disclaimer: I purchased this from Petrie’s (my FLGS) and am not being paid to review this product.

Wow, my goal was four reviews over four days.  This is it, the final review of this wave of Paizo products.  Don’t get me wrong, I love reading Pathfinder books, and I enjoy writing reviews.  But this week taught me two things.  One – just because all the books come in at the same time doesn’t mean I have to review them all in one week.  Two – Mix it up.  I am now reading Prometheum Exxet for Anima, and it has been a great change. 

So here we are.  We have covered Mythic Adventures, The Worldwound Incursion, and Demons Revisited already this week.  But those are all books really geared at the Gamemaster.  Paizo is not going to give all that ammunition to the GMs without handing out some shielding to the players.  With demons invading Golarion, they have given us this month’s Player Companion: the Demon Hunter’s Handbook. 

Demon Hunter’s Handbook

With the launch of a demon focused Adventure Path and that same focus being present in the new season of Pathfinder Society, this book seems like a major boon to players. It is a 32 page book that focuses on those that would take up spell and sword against the invaders from the abyss.  Paizo put a lot of information in here.  Even the inside covers have great information on common demonic cults and what spells summon and components should be used against specific kinds of demons.

Introduction

The book starts off with a brief explanation of what classes this player’s companion focuses on: Barbarians, Inquisitors, Paladins, Rangers and Wizards.  But it also lets you know what is in here that is for everyone (gear, knowledge, campaign traits) and questions for your GM to help you prepare to get the most out of this book.  There is a one page rules index at the beginning which is always very helpful.

Content

The book is then broken up into two page sections that cover all manner of content.  A lot of this content is fluff.  It is designed to expose you to all the lore of demon hunting, as well as give insight into the mind of the monsters your character will be hunting.  The writers talk about what combat rules are useful in against demons, what demons are resistant or immune to, and how to get a demon ready for interrogation.  The middle of the book is a visual guide to the ten demons listed in the Demons Revisited book, along with some tactical information.

The second half of the book covers demon hunting organizations, and primers on the Worldwound and the Abyss.  When you are hunting demons you should be prepared to follow your quarry anywhere.

The mechanical bits are spread evenly throughout the book.  We see new equipment kits, Barbarian rage powers, demon hunting feats, Ranger traps, an archetype for Inquisitors, teamwork feats, magic items, spells of lost Sarkoris and new roles.

Conclusion

The player companion series are smaller, less expensive splat books that are character focused dealing with a narrow band of information.  We have seen race books, country books, faith books and organization books.  Demon Hunter’s Handbook continues in this tradition.  If you are planning on playing in this season’s Society games, or if your GM is talking about running Wrath of the Righteous, or if you just want to play a demon hunter this book is definitely for you.

 

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Demons Revisited: Review

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Disclaimer: I purchased this from Petrie’s (my FLGS) and am not being paid to review this product.

Continuing with Paizo’s theme of all things Abyssal this month, and with great synergy to their adventure path and Worldwound releases, we have Demons Revisited by James Jacob himself.  In this bestiary he looks at ten of the most iconic Demons from the world’s oldest roleplaying game.  This books covers: Babaus, Balors, Glabrezus, Hezrou, Invidiaks, Mariliths, Nabasus, Nalfeshnees, Succubi, and Vrocks

Rather than do a chapter by chapter breakdown of this book, as each chapter is laid out identically but covers a different type of demon, we are going to take a look at what you can expect from the book as a whole. 

Introduction

Each entry is six pages long and starts with an introduction on the demon type in question.  You receive an overview on what kinds of souls birth these demons (for in Pathfinder, demons are sinful mortals souls sent to and warped by the Abyss), and some insight into the classification as a whole.

Physiology

Each entry contains a brief description on what the demon looks likes, it physical characteristics, and powers.  It provides some great flavor for GMs to use when describing these creatures.

Demonology

Here we find out more of what these types of demons do on Golarion.  How do they interact with cults?  How can you summon or conjure them?  Why would you want to summon or conjure them? What kind of tasty and depraved materials appease or placate these demons.  It is a strange section to be sure, but does give GMs lots of information on how to play not only the demons but those who would call them into the world.

Campaign Role

This section covers how to use this demon in a game.  You will find advice on how to run them in combat, what kinds of ways they typically advance (for example if standard Balors don’t work for you what about one with levels in barbarian or alchemist?), and other advice on how this demon could appear in your game.

Treasure

Demons are magical, chaotic evil, immune to a variety of substances and energies, and possess natural armor.  But most still like magic items.  Each entry contains a paragraph on what items each type of demon would most likely have or want to possess.

Side Bar 1: Half-Demons

The Pathfinder Bestiary lists a half-fiend template for all your half-demon gaming needs.  Each chapter in this books also provides a more detailed half-demon template.  It is a modification of the half-fiend template to bring the template more in line with the actual creature in question.  It gives the base creature a number of new abilities and switches out some of the spells granted by the half-fiend template for more flavor appropriate ones.

Side Bar 2: Additional Notes

Each chapter has a second side bar.  This side bar is completely different for each of the demons.  Balors have new Balor Lord powers, some chapters have new specialized feats to refine a demon’s special abilities, new spells or just new abilities that the demon can gain by advancing.

Notable Demons

The last part of each chapter contains a look at famous demons of that type from throughout Golarion.  I did like that if they were speaking of a demon that had already appeared in a Pathfinder supplement, you received the name of the book and page number for that creature’s stat-block.  Each chapter also includes one fully-fleshed out demon, complete with stat-block and history.

Conclusion

If you like the chaotic evil that demons bring to a game, this book is for you.  While you still need the Bestiary for statistics on the basic demons, the book is a great aid for adding verisimilitude to your use of these creatures.  As I said above, it is a great tie in product with the new adventure path, almost like Paizo planned it that way.

 

 

Wrath of the Righteous #1 – The Worldwound Incursion

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Disclaimer: I purchased this from Petrie’s (my FLGS) and am not being paid to review this product. Also, it is my goal to provide a spoiler free review (aside from what is spoiled on the back of the book).

It seems like only yesterday that I finished writing up the review for Witch Queen’s Revenge, the end of the Reign of Winter.  Looking at the post date it seems that it was more like a week, but here we are at the start of the first ever Mythic adventure path.  The Wrath of the Righteous adventure path will take players into the Worldwound and the heart of the Abyss and give them the opportunity to truly save the world.  The Worldwound Incursion is just the first step along this epic storyline, and I was very excited to start digging into it. 

Part One: The Worldwound Incursion

Wow.  The adventure starts in medias res in the city of Kenabres, which is just over the border from the Worldwound.  It starts hard and fast and just keeps moving throughout the whole story.  Something happens before the start of the adventure which leaves the PC’s trapped underground racing to get back to the surface.  And this race is massive.  This adventure takes PC’s from level 1 to level 6, compared to the Snows of Summer (the first Reign of Winter AP) which got the PC’s to level 4. 

During the course of this adventure, we meet a number of NPC’s that (we are told) will be important to the whole AP.  According to the writers this AP is not just tackling the addition of Mythic to the rules.  We will have complex relationships with multiple NPC’s and will be using the downtime and mass combat rules from Ultimate Campaign.  When you add in the themes that they state they want to explore, that what someone looks like is not a good judge of character and redemption, you have a number of very ambitious goals for this adventure path. 

Two things stand out about this first adventure.  The first is that if you were expecting the story to have the Mythic rules available right from the start, it doesn’t happen.  In fact the Mythic power doesn’t descend on the players till the very end of this adventure.  Interestingly it mentions that if you don’t want to run Wrath of the Righteous with the Mythic rules they will support that option, you will have aid in the upcoming books on how to de-myth the adventure.

The second is this AP is written for a ‘good’ party that wants to go save the world.  Let your players know.  While you could run this differently, with demons as the main enemy, there will be enough treachery and backstabbing built in.  The free players guide for Wrath of the Righteous goes into this aspect of the adventure for your players.  I highly recommend handing it out to them if you are going to run this AP.

Part Two: NPC Gallery

The NPC gallery is comprised of the four long term NPC allies that your players will meet over the course of this adventure.  You receive in-depth backgrounds on all of them, as well as their stat blocks.  My one concern is that as the AP progresses, these stats will either need to be updated (taking space in future books) or become obsolete. 

Part Three: Wrath of the Righteous Treasures

As usual, this section gives you the information on the new magic items for this adventure.  We have a couple of interesting ones.  The sword Radiance is a legendary item, such items are described in Mythic Adventure.  It seems like this sword will play very heavily into the AP. 

I can’t say more about the other items I want to talk about, as they are tied to some pretty heavy plot points.  That being said, the scales and the shards are pretty interesting and their story/plot value are very high.

Part Four: Kenabres Before the Fall

This section makes this book worth it for GM’s who are not going to run Wrath of the Righteous.  This chapter is a ten page gazetteer for the city of Kenabres.  You have the history of the city that serves as a launch point the Mendevian Crusades, a great map, district information, factions and NPC information.  All in all a nice level of detail on the city.

Which, as the title of this chapter may suggest, is not that useful for this Adventure.  Remember the story starts in the middle, some events have already happened via read aloud text blocks!  But this chapter can provide some background for the GM as the players re-enter the city.  On top of this, according to the introduction, it could provide a foundation for some of the downtime actions of your players in the future as they try to rebuild the city. 

Part Five: Pathfinder’s Journal: Sweet Ichor 1 of 6

This was a descent short story about a Pathfinder tracking down a demon hunting bard.  It sets up the next chapter nicely with a bit of cliffhanger.   That being said, if you have read Robin Laws’ Worldwound Gambit novel, this story is amazing. 

It picks up that story an undisclosed amount of time after the events of the novel.  The Pathfinder is tracking Calliard, with the intent of using him to get to Ged.  Calliard’s addiction is fully manifested and it promises to bring back all the characters you loved from that Pathfinder Tales novel.

Part Six: Bestiary

Three monsters and a Demon Lord make up this chapter of the book.  It seems that we will be seeing one demon lord, with stats, in each part of this adventure path.  I was disappointed to only get four creatures, but with an adventure for levels 1-6 it is an acceptable trade off.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this book.  It sets the stage for a very epic adventure path, as well as an introduction to Mythic Golarion.  The Worldwound has always interested me, and seemed to have a lot of story potential.  But for Paizo to have their first mythic adventure path not only take the players and GM into the Worldwound but have the potential for it to close or rip open is very cool.  Shut up and take my money Paizo.

Mythic Review

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Mythic Adventures

Let the week of reviews start!  Kicking off Paizo’s releases for the second half of the year is their new Mythic Adventures book.  This supplement is designed to take your PCs out of the realm of farm boy heroes and into the realm of demi-gods.  This has been a release that I have been anxiously awaiting since its announcement and open playtest.  See more at the end of this post for the reason why!

Disclaimer: I purchased this from Petrie’s (my FLGS) and am not being paid to review this product.  Note: as these reviews go up on the Petries’ website, I tend to write them towards someone unfamiliar with RPG products in general. 

Overview

Mythic Adventures, to be called Mythic for the course of this review, is the newest in Paizo’s hardcover core rules supplements.  At 253 pages, with full color pages and chalked full of great art, it is a gorgeous book.  Wayne Reynolds’ cover art is amazing as usual.

Paizo’s core rules supplements bring a new set of rules, optional rules, and rules overlays to your Pathfinder game.  In the case of Mythic, these rules are designed to shift the feel of your game from the realm of the mortal to the realm of the epic.  Why was this necessary?  Didn’t this already happen at higher levels in Pathfinder?  To an extent yes, as players level up they do get more powerful and are capable of greater deeds. 

Mythic is more than just a jump in power level, which it does contain.  It is about changing the feel and scope of the game.  No longer are you just some kid who picks up his father’s old sword and goes into the world.  You are the children of gods, the children of destiny, whom even the gods recognize have potential.  Basically it shifts you from Forgotten Realms to the Iliad. 

It should be said that these are not Epic levels rules, ie: rules that take the game above level 20.  They instead offer a parallel path to power for players, while allowing GMs to present encounters that range into higher than 20 challenge ratings.

Chapter 1: Mythic Heroes

Paizo did a great job of making the new rules an overlay to the current system.  When you decided to add mythic power to your game, your players just have to select a mythic path.  The mythic paths are templates or overlays onto existing characters.  The paths tier up, providing a gradual gain in power that is similar to the class progression already present in Pathfinder.

Each path is an archetype of mythical power.    The Archmage possesses a powerful ties to the arcane side of magic. The Champion is a mythical warrior capable of felling any foe.  The Guardians can survive punishments that would destroy lesser men.  The Hierophant taps the power of the divine directly.  The Marshal is a leader that inspires men to follow them into the Abyss and back.  And the Trickster is the one who can steal fire from the gods.

Simply by becoming mythic, characters are harder to kill and gain ‘hero point’ mechanic called surge, which allows them to take more control over the randomness of the 20.  Characters also gain a mythic power pool which is spent to fuel surge, mythic abilities, feats, and spells.  Each path gives access to a variety of path abilities that alter current abilities to make them more versatile or powerful or skew the rules in the player’s favor.

Paizo decided to not tie mythic progression to the XP track, and I feel this was a great move.  It is instead governed by a narrative progression known as Trials.  Basically, each player must complete a number of trials to advance in mythic tier.  These are epic encounters or adventures that show the characters have truly risen above the realm of mortals.  Trials are on par with the Labors of Hercules as opposed to stopping goblins from raiding a village… unless they are a ravenous pack of mythic goblins.

Interestingly, included with each path is a side bar on mythic builds for that path.  For example: the Champion Path has six mythic builds: Armored Warrior, Death Dealer, Furious Fighter, Maneuver Champion, Nimble Warrior, and Smasher.  Like an MMO build, each one consists of a group of abilities that allow the player to maximize their mythic potential.  It was an interesting addition to this section and while helpful seems out of place.

Paizo provides a simple 2 page character sheet add-on to help players track the evolution of their mythic potential.

Chapter 2: Mythic Feats

Paizo does a good job of keeping Mythic in line with their current rules.  Adding Mythic into a game is more about access to a new tier of power than learning a new rules set.  This is most clearly seen in this chapter.  Mythic characters gain mythic feats as they tier up.  The majority of these feats are upgraded versions of the standard feats, and require the regular version of the feat as a prerequisite.  Some mythic feats also include a way to boost the feat by expending mythic power.

For example the Weapon Focus (Mythic) feat requires Weapon Focus.  It doubles the bonus a player receives from Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Focus, and if you spend a mythic power, you gain an addition bonus to hit equal to half your mythic tier.

Chapter 3: Mythic Spells

Similar to Mythic Feats, Mythic Spells are just more powerful and augmentable versions of the standard spells.  Spell casters much have access to the regular version of the spell to learn the mythic version, and may cast either version, with the Mythic version requiring an expenditure of mythic power.

For example, Mythic Magic Missile does 2d4+1 damage per missile and bypasses non-mythic versions of the Shield spell. 

Spell casters may also expend additional mythic power to make spells potent (making them harder to resist) or resilient (making them harder to dispel).  Or they may expend 3 points to cast a potent, resilient mythic version of a spell.  It adds a lot of versatility to the standard Pathfinder magic system.

Chapter 4: Running a Mythic Game

Adding Mythic to a campaign fundamentally changes the scope of a Pathfinder game.  Paizo does a great job of supporting GM’s in making this transition.  They explain what the change in scale entails, walks GM’s through the mythic story structure, and even give references to the Monomyth.  (If you don’t know about Joseph Campbell and his theory of the Monomyth, please stop reading this review Google the Monomyth.  It contains a lot of good information that every GM should be exposed too.)

This chapter also describes how to design mythic encounters and trials.  It also gives you some campaign and adventure seeds for mythic games.

One thing that has changed from the playtest was the moving of mythic flaws to the optional rules section of this chapter.  If you want as the GM, you can have each character pick a mythic flaw.  These are crippling flaws that hinder the character in a very specific way.   As my players will attest, I love these kind of mechanics, and they are very true to the feel of Mythic as a way to recreate the heroes of myth and legend.  These are Mythic flaws, no just mere disadvantages.  When you look at the classical heroes, they all have a major character flaw that can and often does prove to be their down fall.  I would definitely include these in most of my games.

Chapter 5: Mythic Magic Items

This chapter is full of new magic items, artifacts and a new type of magic item: legendary weapons.  I am going to speak specifically to the legendary items as the rest of the chapter, while on a new power scale, is very similar to the magical items found in other Pathfinder supplements.

Legendary items allow the players to craft an item that is linked to their legend, awakening new abilities as they climb through the mythic ranks.  They require the player to invest some of his mythic potential into the item by spending a path ability on it, but can eventually elevate their chosen item to artifact status.  Legendary items aid in surges, bond with their wielder and grant amazing abilities in addition to the standard bonuses of the magic item. It allows you to craft items on par with Excalibur, Narsil, or Mjolnir.

Chapter 6: Mythic Monsters

Heroes are measured by the adversity they overcome.  This chapter gives a GM plenty of adversaries to work with.  It is full of great new templates to easily make any monster mythic, as well as mythic versions of the lich and vampire template.  The sampling of mythical monster is a good mix of standard Pathfinder creatures; such as the skeleton, ettin, and dragon, and classical mythical monsters such as the cyclops, hydra and minotaur. 

Also included in this section is a revision of the Monster Statistics by CR chart, now going up to CR 30.  This chart gives GM’s the statistics they need to craft their own monsters at the far end of the Pathfinder power curve, appropriate for those level 20/tier 10 mythic parties.

Chapter 7: Fire Over Blackcrag

Mythic Adventures wraps up with sample adventure that introduces players and GM’s to the mythic tier.  It does a great job of following the advice talked about in chapter 4.  While I would not run it, it is more that I have more than enough ideas of how to include Mythic in my game, than a deficiency on the part of the adventure. 

The writers did a great job of providing a sample adventure that ties in the previous 200 pages of this book, and it is a great road map for people who pick up this book.

Conclusion

My first thought on finishing this book was “Well done Paizo”.  I am a huge fan of the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the classical myths and legends, and Paizo does a great job of bringing this type of game to their Pathfinder rules system.  This is a great addition to any Pathfinder library and opens up a huge new venue of game play.  If you like the feel of games like Exalted but haven’t wanted to branch out into a new ruleset, check this book out.  It is a simple addition that will radically change the way you play.

So why was I anxiously awaiting the release of this book?  A number of friends and I have been developing a campaign setting and series of adventure paths since 2008.  Numerous playtests have been happening during this time.  We initially developed our world to release using the Hero System, because we could recreate the mythic feel that we wanted easily. 

But as the development has moved along, and as there have been a variety of shake ups in the gaming industry, we have shifted focus towards Pathfinder.  But there was a major disconnect on how we wanted the game to play vs. the Pathfinder rules set.  Mythic was our one hope of making this work.  I am excited to say, Paizo fulfilled this hope beyond our wildest dreams. It feels tailor made to Ta’nar (our world) and our play style.  With this book now in our arsenal, we are ready to start talking more about it.  Stay tuned over the rest of the year for more updates and reveals on this new world.

Monday Monday

Alright!  All the craziness of the last two weeks has finally bled out.  I have a busy week of getting back into posting on my online games, and getting more articles up on here.  Over this week and next I have the following posts planned: a gaming update on my home games, four reviews of new Paizo products, the Outlands gazetteer, and if it everything comes together a post about the gaming world I am developing for publishing.

Should be a wild and crazy week.

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Reign of Winter 6 of 6: The Witch Queen’s Revenge

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Disclaimer: I purchased this from Petrie’s (my FLGS) and am not being paid to review this product. Also, it is my goal to provide a spoiler free review (aside from what is spoiled on the back of the book).

Here we are at the final part of the Reign of Winter Adventure Path.  Although I only started reviewing this AP with the fifth part (Rasputin Must Die!) I have read through all of them and have started a group of adventurers playing through the Snows of Summer.  It always intrigues me to see how other writers wrap up their campaigns.  This is what this book is, the glorious conclusion where the PCs battle to free Baba Yaga and save Golarion from entering a new ice age.  Sounds epic, at least from what is written on the back cover.

 

Part One: The Adventure – The Witch Queen’s Revenge

The PCs are still stranded on Earth, in Russia (see the last adventure).  Having recovered the matryoshka doll prison from Baba Yaga’s son, Rasputin, they still must free the witch queen. The introduction to this book makes a very good point.  What if your players don’t want to free the evil Baba Yaga?  Well, it seems that she is the key to stopping her daughter from icing up Golarion.  So it is a choice between the more immediate of two evils.  Yes Baba Yaga is the bigger threat, but she is not the threat that is happening right now. 

So the basic impetus of the adventure is seeking out pieces of Baba Yaga’s essence, which she had hidden away, to open the next layer of the doll.  The PCs must travel through multiple demi-planes hidden in the Dancing Hut to recover her: fate, power, death, life and blood.  It is a very cool concept, and while GMs are told they can mix up the order, it would be a chore to adjust all of the challenge ratings for the different planes.  After the amazingly open adventure in Rasputin Must Die!, this one seems a little more straightforward. 

Each demiplane has a unique feel and gives the players insight into the origins of Baba Yaga.  Of all the demiplanes, the Island in an Endless Sea was by far my favorite.  It is set up with both location encounters and timed event encounters.  The final demi-plane, the encounter with Elvanna, and the campaign wrap up were very well done.  The ending to the Reign of Winter was quite satisfying to read as a GM.

Part Two: NPC Gallery

Here we have the stat blocks for the major NPCs of the Witch Queen’s Revenge.  We of course see Queen Elvanna, Baba Yaga’s daughter and the major villain of the Reign of Winter.  As I stated last time with Rasputin, read her stat block multiple times and create some sort of spell/feat cheat sheet.  She is a level 20 spell caster, so without a game plan on how to use her spells, the final encounter could be a less than epic conclusion for your players.

The other NPC is Vigliv which strikes me as odd.  While she is a major NPC ally to the party, and a unique creature from Earth’s and Baba Yaga’s past, fighting her is a major derailment to the adventure.  It seems weird to me to give her a full statblock complete with combat advice.

Part Three: Reign of Winter Treasures

Back firmly in the realm of fantasy, these items are more standard in design than the magical WWI items of the last chapter in Reign of Winter.  However, as this is the end of the adventure path, the items are quite potent.  Three of the six items listed here are artifacts, with two of the remaining three being powerful items in their own right. 

Part Four: Continuing the Campaign

This section gives advice on what to do now that your players have finished the Reign of Winter AP.  This section was amazing.  It gives adventure advice for a variety of different fall outs from the AP.  If your players are keen on ridding Irrisen of the perpetual snows that enslave it, or tackling the bigger evil that Baba Yaga represents, this section has you covered.  It also references the new Pathfinder book, Mythic Adventures, quite heavily.  This makes sense because…

Part Five: Baba Yaga

Replacing the deity section from the previous books is an in-depth look at the mythical adversary Baba Yaga.  And Mythic she is.  She receives the same treatment as the other deity write-ups with lots of information on her history. Her stat block, as a CR 30 mythic witch, does reference the new Mythic book.  But if your PCs are keen on taking out the Witch Queen, this chapter supplies them with more than enough rope to hang themselves.

Part Six: The Ivory Tower

I have yet to go back and read all the short stories as a whole.  While a lot of the mystery of this story is unresolved, that is ok.  Irrisen is a land of strange magics and mysterious witches, so I feel it is appropriate to have some questions unanswered.  It did wrap up the story of a Pathfinder who was sent to discover the mystery of the Bonedust Dolls, so you are given a resolution.  I may feel differently if I sit down and read the six parts as a whole, as opposed to one chapter a month for half a year.

Part Seven: Bestiary

We wrap up this Adventure Path with a number of new creatures.  What surprised me most of all was the wild variance of challenge ratings that appears in the last chapter of this path.  I was expecting all CR 15 monsters and up.  However, the writers supply us with five monsters ranging from CR 3 to CR 15.  It increases the usefulness of this AP, in my opinion, by providing a GM a number of monsters for future games.

Conclusion

At this point, I have to assume that anyone looking at this adventure already will be buying it as they have the other five in the adventure path.  As a stand-alone module, I don’t feel there is enough in this book to buy it on its own merit.  However, when viewed as the end of the whole Reign of Winter Adventure Path, as it is intended, it is a fantastic end to this wintery ride.

 

Pacing

My life is crazy right now.  Last week was jury duty, which was a lot of waiting punctuated with furious activity.  This week, my family is out visiting, so the normal rhythm of my week will be thrown off.  These two events, plus last week’s gaming sessions got me thinking about pacing.  In my mind there are two important types of pacing at a table: Story Pacing and Session Pacing

Story Pacing

Story pacing is an important skill in the GM’s arsenal.  I define this as: how quickly the scenes unfold in your game.   Basically as the GM how much force are you applying to the players to get them to the next scene?  This skill helps set the tone of the story.  Quick pacing gives an action movie feel to the game, with scene after scene being thrown at the players in rapid succession.  Slower pacing gives the game a more dramatic feel, with the players feeling out and soaking in each scene.  Too much speed and the story zips by the players without allowing them time to absorb any information, while too little speed can leave the players bored and floundering.

I struggle with this kind of pacing as a GM.  I default to quick pacing in my games.  I feel like part of this is due to the fact that I never want my players to feel bored.  My games tend to have a very action/adventure feel to them.  I have to consciously slow my pacing down when I am running games like Mage, as it is an investigation game.  The players need time to stew in the story and to explore each scene fully to gather the information they need and to have character development.  Pacing also was a problem in our Game of Thrones game, where I realized that I needed to slow down due to the nature of a political game.  At first I slowed down far too much, and the players felt trapped in scenes.

So, as the GM, how do you control pacing?  Speeding things up is easy.  I put interrupt cues in scenes.  You intrude on the current scene with the next one, once the goal of the first scene is complete.  Basically, when the players discover/encounter ‘x’, ‘y’ happens a ‘#” of rounds or minutes later.  This can be anything from a cell phone call from an ally, cyborg ninja zombies kicking in the door, or a giant death trap sending a rolling ball of doom at the players forcing them to run. 

Slowly a story down, as I said above, is something I am not really great at.  I am toying around with an idea, and I will share how it works in Mage as I try to apply it.  The basic idea is to add a player door to the scene.  The scene has a definite ending point, but it is activated by the players.  So the players  have control more of when a scene is over.  Allies are waiting to aid the players when they are done, the next door of the dungeon is on the other side of the room, or perhaps the villain will be at a certain spot all night.  This gives the players, in theory, more control of their scene emersion, giving them the time they need to complete their goals to their satisfaction.

Session Pacing

Session pacing is less an important skill, and more an important responsibility of a GM at the table.  This is defined as making sure that your players are engaged throughout the evening.  We had a session of a game recently, where out of the two hours of play, half of players had less than 15 minutes of screen time total.  There were a variety of reasons for this including a long combat with the other half of the group.  But it ended up that those players who were not actively engaged left the table to stand and talk off to the side for a lion share of the time.  I left the table, I was one of the players who got little play time, feeling like that while my scene was interesting, it could have been covered in an email or recap and I could have stayed home.

In my mind, this is never a situation that you want to find yourself in as a player or a GM.  I feel although my players may feel differently, that I do a great job with this kind of pacing.  It is all about keeping your players engaged at the table, and feeling like their turn is just around the corner.

There are many ways to do this.  If the group is together, it is easy.  Make sure you don’t let one player dominate, and give each player something to do in the scene both help with this kind of pacing.  When the group splits, it gets much more difficult.  I am a huge fan of cut scenes in this instance.  In a recent Legends of the Five Rings game, the group was at a tournament, and each player was in a different competition or they were investigating the castle.  I ran one round for each player and then jumped to the next scene.  So the archer fired at his first target, the duelists squared off, then the first round of insults happened in the Sadane contest, etc.

I tried to run it like a combat, with each player getting a turn, even though they were all in different places doing radically different scenes.  Keeping everyone engaged is one of the items in my GM checklist of a good session.

 

That wraps up the pacing discussion. Let me know if you have anything to add or any thoughts on the matter.  This week, as I said, will be crazy.  But I will have another review for you this week.  I am also working on the Outlands Gazetteer, and hope to have a post on what the Burning Wheel group decided about the final organization, the Church.