Category Archives: Ask The Readers

What about Starfinder? A review….

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In early 2010 one of my first posts on this blog was a review of Pathfinder. It is only fitting that seven years and a few months later I review Paizo’s newest hit Starfinder.

Allow me to muse a little before I get to the meat of this review.

If you read my review on Pathfinder back then, I was really enamored with the system. Having tried and disliked D&D 4th edition, I was thrilled someone was continuing and expanding upon the 3.5 rules which all my gaming group enjoyed. Fast forward to now, and as much as I like Pathfinder, and continue to buy products from Paizo such as Pawns, Flip-Mats and Map Packs, I’m no longer playing the game. My current fantasy campaign uses the D&D 5th edition rules. Some of my players still play on Pathfinder campaigns and long for the character options and builds they can do in Pathfinder.

Over the past seven years I’ve come to appreciate simpler, more streamlined systems, and while Paizo does a lot to make running the game easier through tools and books like the NPC, Monster and Villain Codex, and their terrific Pathfinder Reference Document, keeping up to date with all the Feats, Spells, special rules, character classes, etc., is a daunting task. As a GM you don’t have to use them all, but you need to check character builds, make sure you create challenges appropriate to their powers, and fun for the players. I felt that running Pathfinder was too much of a hassle. I liked what WotC did with D&D 5th edition and moved on to that system.

Still I long for the kind of support Paizo gives Pathfinder, I know that my players want more options that the ones 5th edition offers, and I’d be more than happy to run Pathfinder 2nd edition if they cleanup and simplify the system. When Starfinder was announced I was sure this was a prelude to a new edition. Testing out the waters, fiddling around with the rules, and then using that for an updated version of the flagship game. I pre-ordered Starfinder, and thanks to Hurricane María, had some free time to read the book. Did I get what I expected? Read on and find out… Continue reading What about Starfinder? A review….

Devil’s Staircase Wrapping up the Jokers

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I have used Jokers several times if different aspects of Devil’s Staircase so I thought a post to bring all of them together may be worthwhile.

Jokers and Stats

You cannot have a joker for a characters stat. If a joker is dealt then it is added to the tally of jokers the character has and an alternative card is dealt.

Jokers and skills

I did not explicitly mention this is the post on skill resolution as it only came to me when I was thinking about tricks and special feats. Once a skill test has been resolved and the player succeeds then the player may choose to play a joker. The effect of the joker is that the character may request a specific outcome. The GM will then take that request into account and if it is possible then it will be worked into the story. For example, a character wants to climb up to the Señorita’s balcony. Having passed a skill test to climb a trellis against the villa wall the player uses a Joker and asks if he can swing silently on to the balcony without being seen. The GM thinks this is perfectly reasonable so it happens just as the player requested.

Jokers in Combat

When dealing out damage number cards do a single point of Endurance damage, picture cards do two points of Endurance damage but the player can choose to play a joker, after the hit or miss has been established. This changes the damage from 1 or 2 to a wiping out the targets Endurance and renders them unconscious. Jokers do not kill. This is a slight change from when the combat post was written as in that it was unclear when the Joker was going to be played. It is now consistent that jokers are always played after the skill test is complete.

Jokers and Special Feats

Special Feats are things like shooting the gun from someone’s hand, snapping a cigar from their lips with a bull whip or leaping a gorge on your horse. In all these cases after the skill test if the skill test succeeded then a joker can be played to get the special feat.

Surviving with a Joker

If the character is in a certain death situation such as being blown up with dynamite, going over a cliff in a stage coach or being trampled by a herd of buffalo then the character may sacrifice a Joker to somehow survive. This is really on a par with the ‘Saving Throw vs Death’. The GM can come up with a good reason for the survival and it does not have to leave the player unscathed! Being still alive should be reward enough.

These tweaks now make the joker consistent across all aspects of the game. They also create a Joker economy. Players will have a frequent need to spend jokers and will look forward to being dealt one. I can always remember the feeling one gets from rolling a natural 20 in D&D or rolling an open ended roll in Rolemaster. Half the time these did you no good, you would have made the roll of a 12+ so the 20 does nothing extra for example, but they gave you a buzz anyway. I hope the Joker system here will create that same buzz for the players but at the same time it puts the player in control, they hold the jokers and can choose when to play them. I can imagine a character with five jokers in their back pocket will walk a little taller and have a bit more of a swagger than one that is all out.

Next time I want to start looking at setting specific tweaks. Less about Devil’s Staircase and more about the Wild West side of things.

Devil’s Staircase Aces High

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This time I want to get some ideas out about character progression. I am certainly not a fan of games that use levels and experience points. I suppose there are two reasons. I don’t like the way that levels often come combined with new abilities. It can seem very binary one moment you can’t and then suddenly you can do whatever it is that your new level conferred on you.  I also don’t like the lumpy nature of levels and experience points. You can spend forever and a day accumulating enough experience points during which time you do not improve at all and then suddenly *poof* you level up then it all starts again.

Games with detailed skills systems can get around this by allowing you to improve skills individually which makes progress more natural and tied to the skills actually being used in play or trained. I have house rules for Rolemaster that scraps levels and development points after 1st level in favour of this sort of Runequest progression.

This is not going to work for Devil’s Staircase as the skill system is too simple and lacks the granularity to allow one part to progress when it has been used while other parts remain static. It also does not fit with the fast and light ethic of the game so far and it would be a pain to try and fit that in with a card deck system.

What I want to achieve is that more experienced characters have greater control over their destinies. This is what better skills confer in the same way that getting more hit points and an improved proficiency bonus does in D&D.

I think I have a system that does this.

High Aces

A character can earn a High Ace. This is recorded on the character sheet. The High Ace can then be used to change the value of an Ace in the Endurance hand from a 1 to an 11. The High Ace can only be used once per day for each High Ace that a character has.

Over time a character can earn more High Aces and so can apply this boost several times each day if they have the aces in their hand to apply it to.

I like this idea as it adds an additional element of strategic thinking to playing the character.

So where do the High Aces come from and how are they earned?

What I am thinking is that they will be awarded by the GM for completing major plot way points. My first thought was actually to give them to the major end of level boss type NPCs and when they are defeated then any unused High Aces pass to the character that defeated them. In the Wild West themed game that would work well enough but in “Devil’s Staircase Espionage Role Playing” or an equally subtle genre based upon political intrigue or diplomacy villains may never truly be defeated.

Using major plot or story way points does not send the message that every villain must be killed to get the bonus.

So now all bar an equipment list and a starting adventure I think we are pretty much ready to play. This is what a basic character record looks like. We can stick a few possessions on the back of the post-it note!

Devil's Staircase Character Record