Path Finder

Post 10 (Jared)

Please note that this entry covers two sessions.

As the semester draws to a close we find ourselves with a new gamemaster, Travis, and with him a rather new style of gameplay. The focus of things has shifted away from combat encounters and more onto adventuring and exploration. This first of our two session with him, in fact, was our first ever in which we didn’t engage in combat even once (Well, that isn’t technically true, since we did at one point begin a combat encounter with some manner of swamp beast. It turned out early in the encounter, however, that he (it?) was not actually hostile. The bulk of our play session was actually spent conversing with the brute, in what seemed to be futile attempt to figure out precisely what his motivations were and if he could aid us in our current adventure in any way.) The second session did include more combat, but against less traditional enemies (giant leaches and a very angry sentient vine).

I’m not going to go into further detail on our final sessions, however, as this is likely my last entry and I want to use it to make some closing comments on my semester-spanning Pathfinder experience.

So, after all this time playing Pathfinder (the first time I’ve played a tabletop RPG with any regularity), what are my closing thoughts? What I find my self thinking about the most is that it represents a very unique gaming experience that harkens back to childhood games of make-believe. In fact, thinking of it in this way raises some interesting ideas that I think are worth bringing up here. I’m making this argument without any empirical evidence (and would be curious to hear your thoughts on it, Ted), but I’m going to attempt it nonetheless.

There seems to be an an evolution of the types of games we play as children, progressing from completely open-ended make-believe games to progressively more rule-structured, organized affairs. Schoolyard games seem to follow (very roughly) an evolution that cuts out fantasy and freedom in favor of added structure, moving from things like pure, unstructured make-believe, to more organized role-playing like ‘cops and robbers’, and then on to organized sports games without any fantasy elements. Now of course I make no claims that this applies to every child, nor that this pattern is anything close to set in stone, but in general there does seem to be a move away from fantasy and role-playing elements in the games we play as we ‘grow up’.

I’m painting with some pretty broad strokes here, but I would argue that as kids grow up, they are conditioned to engage in social activities that supplant creativity and imagination in favor of organization and order. Consider two examples: playing on a soccer team and playing a make-believe game of knights and dragons with some friends. Both are social activities, and clearly games, but the first (in my mind at least) is far more directed at preparing kids to work in a rigidly-structured team environment. One could make the argument, then, that games like organized sports (and highly rule-structured social games in general) are more ‘practical’ in terms of life preparation, and I wonder if this implicitly responsible for some of the stigma against fantasy gaming.

But even when we grow up, we maintain the urge to ‘pretend’, to roleplay, to imagine ourselves in the shoes of an exciting hero or heroine. We’ve always done this, but traditionally it has been a personal activity (i.e. reading novels) or only minimally social (watching a movie). But this changed with the development of tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons (which is essentially the same thing as Pathfinder). These games, I think, represent our desire to go back to our childhood games of make-believe, to make pretending a social activity again.

Unfortunately making a fantasy game like Pathfinder or D&D that still maintains some sort of systematic rule-structure is necessarily complex, and this explains the less-than-widespread popularity of such games. But now that videogame developers are able to build RPG and fantasy elements into their games in a more accessible way, it seems that ‘make believe’ is regaining popularity. We still see that videogames in this genre tend to be single-player, but more and more we find RPG elements sneaking their way into games that have not had them in the past. I’ve seen this phenomenon mention in Travis and Jim Cummings’ work, but I believe that this desire to turn make-believe into a social activity again represents a new piece in the puzzle.

I hope that his final entry has not become too rambling, but in reflecting on these ideas and actually getting them down on paper, I’ve come to realize that games like Pathfinder hold a very special place in the evolution of play, and I’m happy that I had the chance to experience one of them.

Post 9 (Jared)

Today marked the end of the principal storyline we’ve been following through the campaign thus far (meaning that next time when Travis takes over the game-mastering duties, he’ll have to take the campaign in a new direction). We finally worked our way completely though the caverns we’ve been exploring, facing off with a series of enemies culminating with Nuelia, the half-human, half-demon troublemaker behind the whole goblin scheme we’ve been dealing with. As such, this was a fairly combat heavy session, and exposed us to some new mechanics we hadn’t faced previously.

The most interesting of these was facing an enemy (some sort of bat-like flying creature) that could turn itself invisible. Implementing such a situation in a tabletop game like Pathfinder is obviously not simple to do (if it’s going to be fun and interesting, at least), and caused us a fair amount of confusion. Not surprisingly, combating an invisible creature is dependent on being able to detect where it is, which is of course related to the perception skill. But it’s not a simple matter of getting a good roll on the perception DC. Passing a DC 20 perception check only lets you know that an invisible creature is somewhere in a 30-foot radius, and pinpointing its exact location is “practically impossible” according to the rulebook, requiring a “+20 DC” perception check (which I must presume means 20 on top of the 20 required to just sense its presence, though this is unclear in the rulebook). The 700-plus words the rulebook dedicates to explaining combat with invisible enemies go on to itemize a series of modifiers to the required DC (e.g. -20 if the creature is speaking or in combat, +15 if its behind an obstacle, +1 per 10 feet of distance between the PC and the enemy, etc.). Some of these modifiers don’t make a whole lot of sense, however. Consider, for instance, that the reduction in required DC for an invisible enemy is the same when it’s running or charging as when it’s in combat or speaking; doesn’t it seem like the latter case should entail a more forgiving DC? The really surprising (well incoherent and ridiculous might a more accurate description) thing, however, is that if the DC reduction if the invisible creature is not moving is -40! If I’ve understood things correctly – I and I read through this section of the rules several times – this means that a stationery creature can be pinpointed with ANY perception check. How does that make any sense? If a creature is invisible and holding perfectly still, that seems like the MOST difficult circumstances under which to localize it.

I realize this digression on one very specific rule may be tiresome, but it really highlights the price of designing a game that attempts to give players freedom at the level of Pathfinder. Much like when designing a sandbox videogame (like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, for instance), the designer is faced with finding a balance between gameplay that becomes redundant (making the sense of ‘freedom’ very hollow) on the one hand, and dealing with contingency after contingency on the other. Pathfinder has taken the second route, it would seem, and it has led to a bloated rulebook that is often difficult to make sense of.

Post 8 (Jared)

And so we forge deeper into the caverns, discovering new challenges and adversaries.

Luckily for us, a new player (a friend of Jackie’s who was curious to try Pathfinder) has joined our ranks. It of course doesn’t make sense for a new party member to simply appear out of nowhere, so our GM came up with a little backstory to tie him into the story, namely that he is the half-brother of the barbarian in the group. After a long time searching for his long-lost kin, he’s finally caught up with our group and joined us in our adventures.

Like myself, our newest addition is a ranger, but I must admit I’m a bit jealous of his stats. He was apparently quite lucky when rolling for his stats during character creation, and has strong numbers across the board (especially in strength and dexterity), making him a considerably more formidable archer than myself. Of particular is that he has a +4 strength modifier makes him something of a super-powered archer when combined with what’s called a composite longbow.

There are two types of longbows in Pathfinder, standard and composite. The first cannot be used while mounted, but requires no strength modifier to use. The composite bow, on the other hand, can be used on horseback, but forces a -2 attack roll penalty on anyone with a negative strength modifier. Things get really interesting, however, if you can afford to shell the extra gold to get a composite bow with an increased strength rating. For an extra 100 gold pieces per strength point, the bow can take advantage of high strength modifiers, such that it deals extra damage up to the value of your strength modifier. I’m not quite sure how he possibly afforded it (this would have cost the 100gp base price of the bow, plus another 400gp in strength point bonuses – I’m pretty sure it involved a misreading of the rules), but he now deals 1d8+4 damage every time he connects with an arrow. Needless to say, this makes him quite effective in combat, especially since he also has a high dexterity modifier (+3, I believe) that lends itself to strong attack rolls with ranged weapons.

But enough about that; I should actually be talking about events in the our play session. The most interesting challenge we faced was a flying creature (a gargoyle) with a dangerous screech attack ended up paralyzing all but one member of our party. Unfortunately, the one man (halfling, actually) left standing was Travis’ character, a rogue who is not at all well-suited to ranged combat (the only means of hitting the gargoyle as it flew about). The paralysis was to last three rounds, so Travis was planning on trying to draw the creature away from our now immobile party until the effect wore off. His efforts would not be necessary, however. The GM, seeing that we were in what could be a dicey situation, decided that a ghost hostile to the gargoyle would choose that moment to appear, eliminating it and saving our skins. I won’t go into the details of how she explained its presence (it was a bit contrived, to say the least), but I must say I have mixed feelings about the course of events. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I’m reminded here of the extreme level of freedom granted to the GM in this game. While the flexibility this affords can lead to some really fun and interesting situations, it can at times leave things so open-ended and up to the GM’s whim so as to cause a certain reduction in engagement. An open-ended game can be fun, but I still contend that a major appeal of games is that they offer a controlled world governed by concrete rules – a world we can make sense of. To see the rules so easily upended can sometimes be less than pleasing.

Post 7 (Jared)

I finally made it to level two!

Forgive my excitement, but even after this one session (which was actually rather short, consisting of a bit of exploration and a single, though substantial, combat encounter), I can see how my character is finally coming into his own.

This largely hinges on my having obtained my next combat feat, precise shot, though leveling up also granted me some other perks that have improved my character. These included bonuses to my base attack bonus, saves (fortitude, will, etc.), HP, and skill points. I’ve mentioned this feat several times in previous entries, but realize I haven’t elaborated on exactly what a feat is. Unlike skills, which simply provide bonuses to DCs on different attempted actions in the game, feats represent specific abilities a character otherwise could not perform. The general character progression gives a player a new feat at every other level (1,3, etc.), but as a ranger I receive bonus combat feats at several points in my character progression. Unlike the standard feats received every other level, however, there are limits to which feats I can take in these instances. More specifically, I must choose one of two possible combat tracks, either archery or two-handed combat (I clearly have taken the first route), each of which permit a subset of related combat feats (some of the more interesting ones on the horizon are rapid shot, which allows me to make two ranged attacks in a single phase of combat, and manyshot, which allows me to fire two arrows simultaneously…very Legolas, no?). Overall, the variety of feats, combat and otherwise, is quite large, but in the specific case of precise shot, it allows me to ignore the -4 attack roll penalty normally incurred for firing into melee (that is, firing on an enemy who is engaged in combat with a friendly).

This has been incredibly helpful, and finally makes me useful for providing long-range support to our party. Before leveling up, I ran into the problem that my companions prefer melee combat, so in most encounters they would be directly engaged with our enemies, meaning the probability of hitting any of them with a ranged attack was significantly reduced. Thus it ended up that I rarely was able to act effectively as an archer at all, instead attempting to engage in melee combat. It’s not that my character is useless in such situations (especially if I managed to get a flanking bonus or similar), but I definitely was not in my element. Now that I don’t face that penalty, I can hang back behind the rest of the group, allowing those who are skilled at melee combat to rush into combat while I provide support from a safe distance.

This is precisely what I did this session when we faced a feisty mutant goblin with three arms and a nasty blood/vomit/bile attack with a twenty foot range (see? I said it was nasty). Despite the risks, the barbarian in our party charged in to face the creature mano-a-mano while I kept my distance. Moving along the edge of the cave in which we were fighting to stay out of the goblin’s range, I fired arrows on him without putting myself at any risk. With my +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls against goblins (my favored class), I single-handedly dispatched him without much difficulty. I must admit it’s satisfying to find myself a valuable asset to the party for a change.

Post 6 (Jared)

We continue to find clues in our investigation of the goblin situation, descending into the caverns beneath the city we’ve been exploring throughout the campaign (Sandpoint). We learned at the end of the preceding session (after defeating a key player in this whole affair) that the goblin raid we dealt with in one of our first sessions was merely a distraction to allow the goblins to steal a body from the local cemetery. It would seem they are planning to use it in a demonic ritual that will aid in the transformation of their human leader into some sort of powerful monstrosity. We’ve discovered that said leader is hiding out in the caverns under the town, and have begun our search for her there.

The point of this journal is not to summarize story developments, though unfortunately this latest session was a bit on the short side, and consisted mainly in straightforward combat as we moved through some underground tunnels and into what looked like an abandoned prison of sorts (with an unnerving assortment of corpses and torture implements). We did encounter some interesting new combat mechanics, however, when we faced off against a new and rather imposing (if the picture in the bestiary is anything to go by) new type of creature – the sinspawn.

Sinspawns are some nasty buggers, and unique from a game mechanics perspective for two reasons. First off, they’re the first enemies we’ve encountered who are allowed two attacks per turn. Every time their turn to attack rolled around, they were able to perform both a standard melee attack (slashing with their claws) and a bite attack. This definitely made them intimidating opponents, and offers a taste of what’s to come when our own characters reach higher levels; at level six we gain a second attack, as evidenced in the character progression tables (this pattern actually continues as players progress towards level twenty, gaining a third attack per turn at level eleven and a fourth at level sixteen). The second interesting thing about the sinspawn is that it is the first enemy we have faced with an attack capable of dealing more than standard attack damage. Its bite attack had the capability of putting its victim into a rage, causing him to attack any and all adjacent creatures indiscriminately (even his own allies) for several rounds. Anytime a sinspawn connected with its bite attack there was a chance of this happening, but only if the target failed a fortitude check (luckily the one time a sinspawn did hit me with a bite, I passed the check and did not suffer the status effect).

There was not too much else interesting to speak of, mechanics-wise in this last session, but it is of note that our GM has been settling into her role more and more. As we play more, it becomes increasingly clear that a good GM must be sensitive to the experience of the players, and Jackie is really getting the hang of it. This session was a good case in point, as she deliberately tweaked our encounters in the tunnels so we would face more sinspawns, which grant a hefty amount of experience points. She knew that we were all antsy to reach level two (well, I know I was at least). Such a decision may have things prohibitively hard for us, so to compensate she made sinspawns the favored enemy of our NPC companion (a ranger) to make things a bit easier for everyone. All in all this ended up making for a fast-paced series encounters that granted enough experience for us to move up to level two and keep us excited for our next meeting, where we’ll have a chance to field our now more powerful characters.

Post 5 (Jared)

Our last Pathfinder game session had us continuing our exploration of the glassworks I mentioned in the previous post, seeking more clues as to who’s been organizing the local goblin tribes and why. As we descended into the lower levels of the structure, we found ourselves in an environment that severely restricted how we could move about. This of course had implications for our combat strategies, and for the first time allowed me to see how the Pathfinder combat mechanics operate in close quarters.

We essentially found ourselves in a long, narrow corridor, facing three enemies. The passage was only one square wide, which meant there was no way to move around an enemy without going through his square, but did form a loop such that it was possible to make a complete circuit and attempt to flank enemies. It might seem that this was, strategically speaking, a good position to find ourselves in, but the reality was a bit more complicated. This was for three main reasons. First, the loop formed by the corridor was so long that looping around entailed sacrificing an attack. That is, since making the circuit required more than two move actions (using up the limit of two standard actions per turn), moving to flank an enemy meant dedicating an entire turn to movement. Faced with this new situation, we learned about the “overrun” combat maneuver (in which a creature attempts to charge through an opponent’s square). Attempting the maneuver requires a CMB check, however, and automatically gives the enemy an opportunity attack. This means that the success rate for the move is not terribly high, and it also bears the risk of taking damage from an enemy’s “free” attack (which is especially dangerous for characters like mine, who lack a high AC). We (the GM included) discovered after the encounter that the acrobatics skill would have provided an alternative, lower risk solution to this problem. Our ignorance actually made the battle easier in the end, however, since it turned out that the most powerful enemy we faced had a high acrobatics skill level that, properly wielded, would have given him quite the advantage.

The second issue this encounter brought up was how to deal with line of sight for the purposes of ranged attacks. As an archer, it typically makes sense for me to hang back, out of the range of melee attacks, and fire arrows at my enemies. However, in the narrow space we were in, this would firing through squares occupied by my allies, and it is not at all clear if this is permitted. We searched the rulebook thoroughly, and though “line of sight” is mentioned several times, it is never explicitly defined. It’s permitted to move through a square occupied by a party member (presumably they move aside so you can pass), so why shouldn’t you be able to fire an arrow through their square? I can imagine there being a penalty involved under these circumstances (as when you fire into melee, assuming you don’t have the “precise shot” combat feat), but it being disallowed completely seems unlikely. As far as we can tell, Paizo has left “line of sight” open to players’ interpretation.

Last, we found ourselves unsure if trapping an enemy in a corner constituted flanking him. According to the rulebook, you are a flanking an enemy if you are adjacent to that enemy and can draw a straight line from the center of your square to the center of a square of an ally who is also adjacent to that enemy. When we had cornered the final enemy in the “L” formed by the 90-degree bend in the passageway, we were not explicitly satisfying the rulebook definition of flanking. Remember, however, that the corridor was only one square wide, so only two squares existed that were adjacent to the enemy (and both were occupied by members of our party). For our purposes, the GM allowed this to count as flanking, but it remains unclear what the official word on this would be.

This encounter evidently brought up several areas in which the Pathfinder rulebook is less than perfectly explicit, but I would argue that this is an almost unavoidable consequence of designing such an open-ended game. And to be fair, the problems that arose were relatively minor, and the game does put the power to interpret and modify rules in the GM’s hands. That said, this can create issues for new players (and especially first-time GMs), as it clearly did for us.

Post 4 (Jared)

In class Monday we briefly discussed how, in games with complex rulesets, players will often spontaneously settle on a simpler ruleset as they begin to play, gradually incorporating more rules as they learn the complexities of gameplay. This this in the context of Command and Colors: Ancients, but I find it happening in Pathfinder, as well. One look at the games massive core rulebook is enough to see that mastering the rules in their entirety is a monumental task, yet our relative lack of familiarity with the rules has not been a serious detriment to our playing the game and learning it as we go.

As an example of this, only at the end of our last play session (our fourth), did I realize that I had not been taking advantage of a valuable strength of my character, namely having a favored enemy. To elaborate, the storyline our GM has us on so far has centered around an unlikely truce between several tribes of goblins (it would seem someone is pulling their strings, but we have yet to figure out who). Needless to say, this has resulted in a good deal of combat with goblins, and it turns out that, as a ranger, I get a favored enemy type against whom I receive a hefty +2 bonus on both attack and damage rolls (so, not only would I be more likely to land blows with my weapons, they would deal significantly more damage). And wouldn’t you know that when I created my character, I selected goblins as my favored enemy?

I felt rather foolish for not taking advantage of this feature of my class, especially after facing our most elaborate combat encounter so far in the campaign (a complex battle in a glassworks, with a large number of goblin enemies and environmental dangers/obstacles), but the important thing to note here is that my not being aware of this aspect of the rules did not seriously impede my ability to play the game. I can’t say how deliberate of a design consideration it was, but Pathfinder is structured such that it allows players to jump right into gameplay with a rather cursory understanding of the ruleset (at compared to the breadth of the complete rules). It’s an impressive design feat to build a game that can both accommodate novice players and provide a challenge to experts under the same rule structure.

I presume this is largely due to the freedom Pathfinder gives to players. Unlike most videogames and simpler board and card games, players literally create the game as they go, and it is therefore very flexible to rule manipulations (or simple oversights, like mine.) We’ve discovered similar problems throughout gameplay, such as Mark realizing that reloading his crossbow requires a standard action, meaning he cannot move, reload, and attack all in the same turn, or discovering that our party had been taking unnecessary damage in an encounter with ravens and rats, which we had been treating as if they were standard-sized enemies. As tiny creatures, they have a reach of zero, which means they can only attack if they occupy the same square as their opponent. By extension, they must provoke an opportunity attack any time they force their way into one of our squares. Needless to say, the encounter would have been much easier for us of we had fully understood the implications of facing off against “tiny” creatures from the get-go.

In any case, it’s a rewarding experience to go through the game, learning lessons such as these while still being able to progress through the story and build up our characters. Even when we discover that we have made serious oversights, there is no sense that we have had a play experience that is somehow “empty”.

Post 3 (Jared)

Another day, another string of bad luck with my rolls…

I admit that during our last meeting (Tuesday) I was beginning to doubt the statistical reasonableness of my rolls – I consistently rolled below 5 on attack rolls with my bow for the first half of the evening. I shouldn’t complain, though, since later on I ended up rolling a natural 20 on a melee attack with my scimitar that felled a goblin with a single blow. I have some thoughts on criticals that I want to discuss, but I’ll return to that point in a moment.

Moving on to more serious matters, Tuesday’s game went a little more smoothly then previous sessions, since we’re all starting to get comfortable with the flow of gameplay. Combat was still far from fluid, however, and we only got in one complete battle encounter (it was admittedly more challenging than what the GM threw at us last time), in addition to some general progression of the story. What I was happy to see is that we’re all starting to settle into the idiosyncrasies of our characters, learning where they specialize and what their weaknesses are. Pathfinder is game that strongly rewards an effective division of labor, so to speak, between party members, with different players settling into distinct roles that complement each other in combat. We have a ‘tank’ (a barbarian with a devastating attack roll bonus and a great axe dealing 1d12 damage), a healer, a rogue who’s weak in head-on combat but extremely effective at sneak attacks, and myself, an archer with high dexterity that gives me solid ranged attacks. I’m very much looking forward to reaching level 2, however, since that will grant me the ‘precise shot’ combat feat, which will allow me to fire on enemies engaged in melee without penalty.

It’s worth noting that trial and error has been a big part of learning how to use our characters effectively. The biggest lesson of Tuesday? Protect the healer. She got right into the heat of the action, and with her low HP level was taken out very quickly. We ended up stabilizing her, but unfortunately she was forced to waste all her daily spells healing herself, a rather inefficient allocation of our party’s abilities. As for my own character, I’ve definitely learned the value in keeping my distance and using my longbow – it’s range is huge compared to any other weapons we’ve encountered so far. Luckily my strength is sufficiently high that I can get involved in close-quarters combat from time to time and be of some help (though I don’t have a whole lot of hit points, so I do have to be cautious.)

Back to the subject of crits. It’s definitely VERY satisfying to land a crit, dealing double or triple the typical amount of damage, but I do question the game mechanic. The probability of actually landing one is quite low (there’s a 5% chance of rolling a 20, but then you must make a second attack roll exceeding your target’s AC, which I’ll generously estimate to occur 40% of the time, meaning there’s only a 2% chance of landing a true critical hit), but then again the reward is extremely great. I just wonder if it would be better to implement some slightly less powerful bonuses that can be achieved with higher probability. This seems especially important for weaker characters, who can sometimes feel like getting a crit is the only way to deal any real damage. I suppose, however, that this will be less of an issue as our characters level up and further specialize, but it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about. If nothing else, the ever-present chance (small though it may be) hope for a 20 does make the sometimes monotonous dice-rolling much more exciting.

Post 2 (Jared)

Last Saturday was the second meeting of our Pathfinder group, but the first in which we dove into real gameplay. The previous week was largely devoted to character creation, though we did play through a brief practice scenario. This is my first time playing Pathfinder, and while I have played a few games of Dungeons and Dragons (perhaps 3 or 4) in my day, I still very much consider myself a ‘noob’ when it comes to this kind of game.

Let me begin with a word on character creation. I’ve played my fair share of console RPGs, but this takes things to a new level. Even some of the more advanced systems (Fallout 3 and Final Fantasy X come to mind) don’t seem anywhere near as complicated as making a Pathfinder character. I suppose, however, that this is largely due to the fact that the complexities of ability scores, skills, and other stats must all be managed by hand, while videogames can of course automate this whole process (with hidden digital analogs to skill checks, attack rolls, and the like). I know of some software alternatives to manual character creation (at least for D&D), but I found that the experience of making a character by hand is surprisingly engaging. It gives players access to a deeper level of game mechanics than is available in videogames, connecting them directly to the mechanisms underlying how characters interact with the game world. This extends to all aspects of gameplay, and while all the dice-rolling, comparisons of attack rolls against AC stats, and so on can at times be monotonous, there is something fresh and intriguing about having all gameplay mechanics visible on the surface. It’s becoming rather clear to me now why this game was selected for class. Now of course Pathfinder is based on rules developed before computerized automation of complex game mechanics was even technically possible, so its rule structure was a matter of necessity, not pure design. Nevertheless, for someone like myself who grew up playing videogames, it has been a surprisingly enlightening experience.

Back to our first real game session. We’re beginning our campaign with an official Pazio adventure path, Rise of the Runelords, a good choice considering that both myself and our gamemaster, Jackie, are both new to the game. Seeing how we’re still learning the intricacies of combat in Pathfinder, our first session was almost entirely occupied by two fairly simple encounters (fighting groups of goblins, to be specific). What were the two most important lessons of these first battles? First, randomness is a huge part of this game. Despite tuning my character specifically to being an effective archer, I ended up hitting my target only once across both encounters (dealing a paltry two hit points of damage). I could have done a whole lot better in principle, but had really bad luck with my rolls. Presumably this is in large part because my character (like the others) is only at first level right now, and will grow more powerful with time, likely becoming less sensitive to the randomness of dice rolls. But I imagine this will come hand in hand with encountering more powerful enemies (though the GM obviously has a lot of discretion here), so I’m curious to see how the game balances keeping things challenging while still giving players the sense of becoming more powerful. The second lesson learned was that combat is just plain complex. I’ll admit it was slow-going to the point of sucking a lot of the fun out of it at times (though I look forward to it improving as we become more comfortable with the rules). There’s HP to track, initiative governing the order of attacks, and a slew of other rules to keep in mind. In theory, the GM bears most of the responsibility here, but since it’s her first time in the role, keeping track of everything became a bit of a team effort. This did really emphasize to me just how much responsibility the GM takes on in a game of Pathfinder. This makes the game incredibly flexible, but has the unfortunate side effect of giving it a steep learning curve, especially for the GM. Luckily, two of our number (Mark and Travis) have experience in the GM department, so we should make steady headway.

Character background - Caladreus Streichen

[character background in prose, gameplay related comments in brackets]
Caladreus was the unlikely offspring of an elven scholar and a human warrior. His father, Antreus, served as the bodyguard to a human ambassador to the small elven nation of Truvold, and began a surreptitious romance with a young (by elven standards) court scholar named Tessara. They were able to keep their relationship a secret for several years, but the conception of Caladreus would be the lovers’ downfall. An elf of high status, pregnant with a half-human child, was a disgrace in the orthodox, traditional court of Truvold, which would not tolerate half-bloods among its ranks. When her pregnancy became known to the court, Caladreus’ mother-to-be was banished. The controversy was a strain on relations between Truvold and the human ambassador’s homeland, and Antreus, too, fell from grace. The lovers were forced to set out on their own to find a new home and raise their half-elf son.

They settled in a village in the mountains far from their homelands. The townsfolk there were mostly human, and ambivalent towards the mixed-blood family. Luckily, Antreus was an expert archer, and ran a successful shop selling and repairing bows and arrows. Tessara’s years of scholarship had given her skills in the way of potion-making, and so they also sold those at the shop. A certain tension underscored the relationship between the family and the locals, but the couple’s skills were well-respected, and – at least for a time – allowed them to live in peace.

As Caladreus grew, he developed into a well-rounded [note balanced, mid-high range ability scores] young man, learning the way of the archer from his father, while developing a taste for scholarship and knowledge of the magical arts from his mother [as a half-elf, I get 2 favored classes, and plan on developing a ranger/wizard multi-class character]. From a very young age, he showed a near preternatural agility and finesse [DEX=15], becoming proficient with weapons of all sorts, but especially the bow. Graced also with keen vision, even by eleven standards [note development of perception skill – I have a +10 modifier at 1st-level], he quickly became an expert with the bow under his father’s tutelage, and knew from a young age that he was to follow the path of the arcane archer [I am designing my character with this prestige class in mind, tuning my ability scores, class choices, feats, and skills to this end].

But all was not to remain peaceful. One family in the village – the Galagrond clan – had long despised the elves, and the only thing worse than an elf in their eyes was a half-blood. As Caladreus grew older, tension with this family heightened, until one day a disagreement over payment at Antreus’ shop exploded into violence. The ensuing brawl left many Galagronds, who were no match for the bows of Antreus and young Caladreus, dead. But by the battle’s end, both Antreus and and Tessara had suffered mortal wounds. Caladreus, age 17, was orphaned, and though some townsfolk took pity on him, few could look past the fact that he had killed several humans. Like his parents before him, he was cast out of his home [the GM could bring in members of the Galagrond clan – perhaps seeking revenge – in a future storyline].

And so Caladreus began a life of solitude, a half-blood scorned by both humans and elves. His childhood and the experiences of his parents have led him to distrust most forms of authority, but even more to detest evil in all its incarnations [he worships no deity and is of chaotic-good alignment]. This perspective on the world, combined with his skills as a ranger and archer, have allowed him to pursue a lucrative career as a bounty hunter. With his skills, he has established himself as one of the best in the business, though his unwillingness to accept contracts on moral grounds has at time been a source of tension with his employers. He refuses, however, to be the pawn of powerful men consumed by hate or lust for power. Less principled bounty hunters might call this attitude squeamish, but his near perfect record on contracts and ruthless dispatching of those who have tried to manipulate him have proven him to be a force to be reckoned with [though this of course may have earned him a few enemies, another story opening for the GM].

Despite the difficult beginning to his life, Caladreus has managed to forge some measure of satisfaction out of his station, finding honor in bringing evildoers to justice, and using his rather nomadic lifestyle as a means to pursue the love of knowledge instilled in him by his mother. He revels in the chance to learn the magic, history, and science of different lands and cultures. Yet there remains a part of him that yearns for the sense of home and belonging that he never truly experienced.


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