All posts by Shaun

Shaun Welch has been playing RPGs for two decades. He listens to a disproportionately large amount of music from Iceland, and currently lives in Maryland, where he works as a professional unicorn wrangler.

PDFs: Who Needs ‘Em?

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Some time ago I was invited to a Pathfinder game run by a friend of a friend. I wasn’t certain how things would work out; I had attempted to join a game some time last year and my schedule didn’t permit me to play very often so I dropped out. The only copy of the rules I owned was a PDF of the Core Rulebook I purchased from Paizo before the ill-fated game. After speaking with the GM I knew I wanted to play an alchemist or a witch, so I went the extra mile and got a PDF of the Advanced Player’s Guide as well.

The game is going well. Thing is, it took me three sessions to make my character. I knew his name and his base attack bonus and things like that, but all the fiddly bits like feats and skill points were a bit up in the air. I also wasn’t as comfortable with combat as I should have been. Every time I threw a bomb I found myself checking the “Throw a Splash Weapon” section of the Core Rulebook.

Each time I did, I would reach for another player’s copy of the book.

PDFs of roleplaying games are everywhere. Thanks to sites like DriveThruRPG they are accessible and affordable alternatives to hard copies of the books, and it is possible to find things that are no longer on store shelves. I myself have a pretty hefty folder of them that I acquired during a year abroad, which satiated my RP needs at the time. There is no doubt they provide a great convenience.

Yet, at the risk of being a Luddite, they simply don’t work for me at the game table. For Pathfinder, they haven’t even worked too well for me away from the table. PDFs are great for getting an overview of a game, or learning the basics, but I don’t absorb the information the same way I do when I have a physical copy of the book in front of me. It’s not just a technology gap, either; I own a NOOK that I use often.

Why isn’t this working?

Trying to reference anything in a PDF is a pain. Scrolling is slow. The search function takes time, and doesn’t always get me where I want. I can page through a book quickly, and I’m skilled at using indices. I imagine a tablet would resolve several of my issues, but I can’t afford one right now, and even then you still have to zoom in to read text. The layout for most RPG books is much larger than your average paperback. All that zooming and scrolling distracts me from the experience of the book itself. On the other hand, the typical eReader displays all its text on one screen and requires only the click of a button to progress.

I can’t argue that PDFs have their place in gaming. I got my first PDF when Monte Cook’s Malhavoc Press was new and released the Book of Eldritch Might to an uncertain digital market. I’m glad to have the titles that I do. At the table, though, PDFs just can’t beat a good book. I recently picked up both the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder in paper form, and since then my comfort with the rules has improved. I sit down with the books in my spare time and I read them. I am spinning the starting threads of my own campaign that may or may not see play. All-in-all, I am having fun.

How about you? Are you on board with the digital revolution, or are you still holding a buggy whip like me?

Under the Influence

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In his article “The GM’s Influence on Character” in Kobold Quarterly #22, famous actor Monte Cook jumps right on out there and says:

Past a certain point, the more influence a player has on character creation, the more boring the resulting character will be.

Heresy! What does an actor know about roleplaying games, anyway? Why I—oh, oh wait. The threatening e-mail the Stargazer has left in my inbox tells me I may not be entirely informed. Let’s try that again, shall we?

In his article in KQ #22, noted game designer Monte Cook says that the more a player influences the creation of a character, the more boring that character shall be.

Specifically, he is writing about the idea of the character build. You know, the one where your Pathfinder DM says “We are playing a level 12 campaign” and so you always give your paladin a holy avenger. Or at least you would, but you’re not playing a paladin because druids are way better.[citation not needed because it is true]

I’m aware it is a matter of personal taste, but I’ve always enjoyed 1st-level campaigns precisely for this reason. Over the course of a few levels I will inevitably make choices that are anything but optimal for my character’s combat abilities, skill rolls, or any other aspect. I tend to choose things because they are either cool, or they are useful at that particular moment in time. My characters acquire abilities like a tree acquires rings. Somewhere in that process, a story emerges. Continue reading Under the Influence

Review: Kobold Quarterly #22

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The cover of KQ #22, depicting a woman in plate armor with a glowing green sword astride a silver dragon Summer marches onward, scorching us with unrelenting heat. My only relief is the Summer 2012 issue of Kobold Quarterly. It has a pretty wicked cover of a dragon and its rider, and has “Preview: 13th Age” right there. Promising stuff. There is even a Castles & Crusades article, for the old school among you. Let’s see how it measures up.

Barbatos by Wes Schneider, art by Pat Loboyko and Callie Winter

Right out of the gate we have a very strong article about the Bearded Lord of Avernus, the uppermost layer of Golarion’s Hells. I am not well-versed in Golarion lore, so it is appropriate that Barbatos is the gatekeeper. Barbatos’s domains include Evil, Law, Magic, and Travel. Travel is what interests me most. His temples are animal graveyards, crossroads, stone circles, and unmarked graves. An interesting mix, to be sure, and it could offer up some excellent opportunities for side encounters during a campaign.

In my review of KQ’s previous issue, I said that when something mysterious is laid bare, it loses its allure. I don’t feel that happens in this article. We learn about Barbatos’s allegiances, rivalries, and some of his methods, but it does not delve too deeply into his history or his life in Avernus. More generally, it is not an ecology article. Much of the piece discusses Barbatos’s cults, haunts, and servitors (the utterly disgusting edavagors).

Continue reading Review: Kobold Quarterly #22