Week in Review: 2/19/2012

Art Courtesy chiaralily of flickr.com

Welcome to another installment of this week in review at The Iron Tavern. I like to use these posts as a way to sum up some things that have been going on that might not warrant a post dedicated to the topic.

Timeless Adventures – The Tribute

Carl Bussler of Flagons and Dragons fame has released his Pathfinder Adventure The Tribute for $4.99 for the PDF. I have been quite tempted to do a review on this product, but I was involved with some of the early feedback on the product as he was working on it and feel that could lean my review one way versus another. So I am including in this week in review post.

An adventure for 7th level characters with the Pathfinder system you find yourself at the village of Honningstad and facing the difficult choice of saving the town or rescuing some villagers taken captive from an envoy. The characters must make the choice of which task to tackle first and then see if they can do solve both in a very short timeframe.

In addition to being a well-written adventure it uses a tracking device called the Scroll of Omens to help track the passage of time in an interesting manner. It also allows the characters to visibly see as they proceed in the adventure that their actions have consequences in relation to the timeline.

This one looks like a lot of fun for the GM and the players alike. You can pick it up over at DriveThruRPG.com.

Kingmaker Campaign

The Kingmaker campaign I am running continues to progress. We are midway through book six at the moment and it seems to be going well. Book six of the Kingmaker AP gets a few complaints that it comes out of nowhere in comparison to the first five books in the AP. I believe in my campaign that I have done a good job of foreshadowing the events in book six and it feels more logical. I hope so as at the moment it is my favorite portion of the campaign from behind the GM’s screen.

Our last two sessions have been over Google Hangouts and Skype due to some scheduling issues on my side. Next week’s session will be face to face again. I thought it might be the finale session, but I am not so sure at the moment. Due to some technical difficulties last week we had a late start, so we might have more left than we can fit into one more session. In either case we are getting close.

Campaign Next

See what I did there? Once the above Kingmaker campaign wraps up I will get a break from GMing for our local group for a while. Our normal group’s GM is going to run Council of Thieves for us. I am looking forward to the campaign as it is always nice to just be the player. Our normal GM does an excellent job of weaving together interesting sub-plots. Given the setting of Council of Thieves he should have a plethora of tools at his disposal to do so!

Troll in the Corner

For those that might have missed it, I have become a regular contributor over at Troll in the Corner. I write an article every Tuesday over there. It has been a fun experience so far. Definitely check the site out if you have not done so yet, there are several talented authors over there that post on a variety of gaming topics.

Open Design – Journeys West

The Journeys West Open Design project is progressing nicely over at the Kobold Quarterly site. The major turn-ins are starting to happen and the early rough drafts of the current turn-ins are starting to surface. It has definitely been a learning experience over there for me, both in honing some writing and learning what makes for a winning pitch. It also gives some insight in what goes into a project from start to finish.

Gaming With Kids

I still have been running a Pathfinder Campaign using the Beginner Box rules for the kids. They have been having a good time with the game. For the past couple of weeks my son has actually stepped up to start GMing his own adventures which I have posted about here. He has done a really good job on that. He has run at least one more adventure since my post here about his first experience. We made it part way through that last week, it was another pretty solid adventure from the mind of an eight year old boy!

Weekly Wrap

And this concludes a weekly review at The Iron Tavern. As always I have been keeping busy!

Review: Pathfinder City of Strangers

Author(s): James L. Sutter
Audience: GM/Players
Price: Print – $19.99 / PDF – $13.99
Pages: 64

While I typically try to review items that have been released within the last two or three months, I am making an exception for City of Strangers. I picked up in preparation for an upcoming Play-by-Post game that is going to take place in Kaer Maga in the region of Varisia. I wanted to have some more information for my character build and this looked like the book to have. I am very glad I picked this one up, it does not disappoint!

Oh, and did I mention Kaer Maga sits atop a massive cliff and has been built in the ancient ruins of a fortress?  With six sides composed of eighty foot high stone walls, the city is an impressive sight sitting atop this massive cliff.

What is in this book

City of Strangers is a 64 page that is part of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting series of books from Paizo. This book is dedicated to the city of Kaer Maga which is located in the Varisia region of Golarion. The book includes a map of the city, history of the city, an overview of the city districts, the people of Kaer Maga, the area beneath Kaer Maga, a prestige class and a new monster.

Inside the front cover is a relatively detailed map of the city. The districts and locations described in further detail in the book are marked. The map was well done and helps the reader put things in relation to each other at a glance.

The first portion of the book is the introduction which delves into the history of the city and then moves into a look at the city from an overview perspective. The various districts are touched upon, brief mention of the Undercity and the stat block for the city is listed.

The next section begins the in-depth review of the city. We get a closer look at the geography of the city including a description of its location and the appearance of the city once inside. We learn more about the eleven districts of the city and how eight of them are in the ring or the wall around the city and the remaining three are in the open air core of the city. This section also covers the resources and economy of the city.

This chapter then moves into a more detailed look at each of the districts within Kaer Maga.  Each district receives attention to what makes it unique from the other districts, a brief mention of certain notable locations and a mention of influential NPCs in that district. Within this section are some sidebars that include a magic item, a closer look at slavery in Kaer Maga, city plot hooks, and more.

The next chapter covers the people in Kaer Maga. It leads with the various Pathfinder classes and how they fit into the city. A similar approach is taken with the races as well. Next up in this chapter looks at the government in Kaer Maga and the city’s relationship with cities and bordering regions, followed by a look at religion in Kaer Maga.

This chapter then moves into a look at key players and factions within the city. There is everything from arcane power groups to golem making families of power to rival gangs in the Oriat district and more. There are many factions at work within the city and this section of the chapter helps describe each of these to the reader.

The next chapter in the book takes an in-depth look at what lies beneath the city of Kaer Maga. Built atop towering cliffs there is plenty of room for an undercity. The first portion covers the Halflight path which is an underground trade route that works its way up to the top of the cliffs. Going on from there the chapter talks about the rest of the Undercity and includes a well drawn map to give perspective to each section. A full page random encounters chart helps the GM have an idea of what one is apt to encounter beneath the city proper.

A new prestige class is included in this book as well, the Bloatmage. The Bloatmage is a mage that has figured out how to get their bodies to produce more blood than normal to gain greater spellcasting abiltity.

A new monster called the caulborn are also included in the book. These creatures were one of the early settlers of this mysterious city that is mentioned in the history of the city.

Thoughts about the book

The artwork and cartography are both very well done in this book as I have grown to expect from Paizo products. The map on the inside cover of the book is very well done and the map of the Undercity later in the book really helps give a perspective as to how things are situated under the city itself.

This book is definitely heavy on the fluff side, which is a positive to me. There are so many things going on in this city that the plot hooks for running in this city just leap out at a GM considering running a campaign in or near this city. If for some reason these ideas aren’t leaping off the page at you there are sidebars to help jumpstart your creativity.

The districts and factions in the book are well detailed, but still leave plenty of room for a GM to work their own ideas into the city. This blend caters to both GMs wanting ready-made organizations and structure as well as the GM wanting to bring their own flavor to the table.  For some reason the rivaling street gangs in Oriat were particularly appealing, likely because it brought modern day gang issues into a fantasy setting.

I also really liked the imagery this city brings to mind. It is easy to picture it perched atop these huge cliffs above the valley floor far below, thick walls that hold entire city districts within them. Coupled with an undercity that spans multiple levels for those that want to adventure underground there is a lot to experience in Kaer Maga.

The Bloatmage Prestige Class had lots of flavor to it and could see it being useful for an NPC. Not sure I would ever consider it for a PC, but certainly some fun to be had for GMs. The caulborn monster was an interesting critter, especially given the history of Kaer Maga. One can always use more critters, right?

I would definitely like to continue to see treatment of various cities in Golarion as Kaer Maga received in City of Strangers. I was very impressed with this book and cannot believe it took me this long to stumble across it.

Final Rating

I rate this book as a 5 out of 5 for its fluff content. The content is well done, interesting and just jumps out at you with ideas as a player and GM alike. This book has a minimal amount of crunch in it and while I like the flavor of it I rate it a 4 out of 5. Overall I give this book a 5 out 5 tankard rating. All city supplements should be more like this one.

Tankard Rating

5 tankards out of 5 tankards

Kingmaker: The Plague

The Plague of Darkness by Gustave Dore

The Kingmaker Campaign I am running has finished book five of the Adventure Path. Looking back at some of my older posts here at The Iron Tavern it looks like we started book five in mid-December. Given the holiday schedule, not too bad to be moving into book six by early February.

The players have now waged mass combat against a threat to their kingdom which they handily turned aside. In addition they made an attack on a city that they believe were behind the attacks.

The most notable event during the siege was the druid unleashing the bubonic plague upon the city just prior to their infiltration. That ran its course for longer than they would have liked with some rather significant casualties within the city and even some spreading to the countryside around the city in question.

As the GM I tried to play out the effects of the plague in a manner that made it have significant consequences without being mean about it. So I looked over the disease in question and figured out the DC needed to avoid contracting it and the necessary number of saves to cure. It had a pretty respectable DC, which didn’t seem like it would bode well for the common folks in the city with a DC that high and the need to have two consecutive saves to cure it.

Another player with much more of a math mind than me helped me make some very rough, ballpark statistics on an appropriate percentage of death amongst the people that contracted the plague. For our approximations we split the types of people into commoners and experts, elite commoners and experts and warriors and then elite warriors. With a generic fort save modifier for each of those groups in mind the player in the group worked up his math magic and came back with some numbers.

First the very rough numbers on how many people would contract the disease if exposed to it.

  • Commoner: 16 in 20
  • Elite Commoner: 14 in 20
  • Expert: 16 in 20
  • Elite Expert: 14 in 20
  • Warrior: 14 in 20
  • Elite Warrior 12 in 20

Already it looks like the plague will spread pretty quickly. Next was to figure out about how many folks would die of the plague and if they were not receiving much if any aid – magical or otherwise. Those very rough numbers came out looking like this:

  • Commoner/ Expert: 40.96%
  • Elite Commoner/ Expert: 16.807 %
  • Warriors: 11.7649%
  • Elite Warriors: 2.79936%

Not a good day to be a commoner or expert!

It obviously did not take long for the characters to realize the gravity of the situation. Once they realized the plague was starting to spread and quickly they sent much aid to the city in question. They actually reacted pretty well. They had wands of remove disease sent, anti-plague medicine and boosted the ranks of healers in the city rather significantly. This was all in addition to a quarantine of the entire city enforced by the armies they happened to have around it.

So next up my math minded friend made some assumptions about the amount of healing and aid available and came up with a much improved death rate when factoring in the assistance.

  • Commoner/ Expert: 24.01 %
  • Elite Commoner/ Expert: 7.776%%
  • Warriors: 1.5625%
  • Elite Warriors: .16384%

While the commoners are still having a rough time of it, their odds of survival definitely increased.

Those numbers are all very, very rough and in a rather large ballpark. There were many variables we did not fully account for and possibly overlooked. But they sufficed for a quick work-up to help establish the large ballpark to play in.

Tomorrow night we make the transition from book five to book six. We typically handle kingdom activities on a set of message boards I maintain for the group. So many months have gone by in kingdom time, buildings and walls have been rebuilt and the kingdom treasury is nearly overflowing with wealth due to the magic item economy.

The 8 Year Old GM

Iron Tavern readers have certainly noticed I have written about the Pathfinder Beginner Box a fair amount. Everything from Beginner Box Anticipation, Hero Lab for the Beginner Box, mentions in weekly reviews and just earlier this week an actual play account of playing the Beginner Box. All of this has led to a final post about the Beginner Box, my eight year old son, whom we will call X, GMing his own adventure.

X has been studying the books in the Beginner Box since he received it in December. He will ask the occasional question out of the blue “What is DR?”, “Tell me more about alignments”, “Dad, why don’t black dragons deal acid damages with their bite too?” and several more over the past weeks.

A little over a week ago he started mentioning that he wanted to try to run an adventure. I told him we could take a week off our normal weekend game and he could run what he had come up with. I showed him how the creatures had challenge ratings and gave him a rough idea of how he could use those to gauge semi-appropriate encounters. He picked up on the concept and ran with it.

So this past weekend he announced he was ready to run his adventure. I built up a quick Dwarven Barbarian and advanced him to second level. His younger sister broke out her 2nd level cleric and we took along Merisiel as a pre-gen. While I put the finishing touches on my character he took care of rolling out my battle mat, getting the wet erase markers ready and picking out his pawns he would need for the adventure.

He started us off in Sandpoint with the mayor summoning us for some assistance. Apparently various weapons and minor valuables had been taken from people’s homes over the course of the past five nights. The mayor requested our help with investigating and tracking down who was responsible for these thefts. We did some dialoging with the mayor and then headed off through town to check out the most recent house that had been burgled.

We approached cautiously and observed the house for a bit to make sure it was not being watched. Then we approached and searched around and found tracks. The tracks were not human tracks he said and after a knowledge nature check we were able to determine they were lizard, web footed like tracks. We also found some scratch marks on the door from some sort of clawed hand.

We then talked to the owners of the house and asked to see the locations where things had been taken from. X did a pretty good job of playing this out and seemed to pick right up with responding to the questioning.

Soon we found ourselves heading out of town and towards the swamps. We traveled for a bit and found a roguish looking individual whom we spoke with. We dialoged a bit with him and learned of some lizard, frog like creatures off the main trail in the woods. Sounding like someone we might be interested in we headed off that way.

We traipsed through the woods a bit and came across an enormous tree where we encountered a few goblins, several of which tried to sneak up on us after we had already engaged the first few.

With those goblins dispatched we found a hole that seemed to lead into an area near the tree roots. My dwarven barbarian promptly went in and we encountered several giant centipedes. The fight was a bit on the tough side with Merisiel getting poisoned multiple times, but we were victorious.

Unusually enough we found two boggards who had been prisoner beneath these tree roots. We quickly realized their feet could have made the prints we found in town. With information from the two we found we plunged further into the woods.

We met a trio of people that we thought could possibly be bandits but it never came to blows, so we simply used information from them to further close in on the boggard camp. As we headed that way we did encounter an abandoned building of sorts which we checked for more clues, but found little else than a series of traps!

With that we reached the final encounter. Up until this point all of the encounters had been fairly balanced. It seems X is a chip off the old block and is a firm believer in tough final encounters. Turns out these six boggards had a boss. Their boss just happened to be a young black dragon!

We fought and we fought hard, but in the end the party fell one by one, finally losing our cleric which soon led to my barbarian falling in battle as well. We actually managed to take the dragon down, but the remaining boggards made easy work of a bruised and battered party at that point. I think this encounter worked out to the ballpark of a CR7/CR8 encounter. Just a tad much for us!

All in all X did a great job running this adventure. Frankly, given the number of mock battles he likes to play through on his own, I expected it would be one encounter of random monster after another. He surprised me with opening with an investigative scenario and handling the investigation questions pretty well!

From there he dropped in some roleplaying encounters on the road (ideas he said he picked up from the Game Master’s Guide) before reaching our first actual combat encounter. He chose interesting terrain for that encounter and the dug out opening under the tree’s roots was a nice touch. His dropping some boggard prisoners in there was a great link to the actual enemy who had been causing the town’s problems.

The final encounter was a little overwhelming, which I chalk up to inexperience. We’ve all been there I think where an encounter turned out a little tougher than originally intended. The fact the boggards had a big boss orchestrating the whole thing was great though!

To me this really helps show how awesome the Pathfinder Beginner Box is. It enabled an eight year old boy with an interest in the game to learn the rules to the degree of actually being able to run a session himself. He did this with only a few questions of me as he studied the rulebooks and pieced it all together himself. I fully consider the Pathfinder Beginner Box a success in bringing the game to people new to the hobby – both young and old.