Having missed the last several Vegas Game Days, I was pleased to attend the session on September 8 and be able to pick up where I had left off with my Pathfinder Society character Asir Al-Nimr. I also was eager to play in another Savage Worlds session with GM Jerrod Gunning, but this time instead of My Little Ponies, I thought I might get the chance to play as Brainy Smurf and practiced my Brainy voice on the drive down to the /usr/lib tech library near Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
Pathfinder Society PFS 00-02: Hydra’s Fang Incident
As one of my fellow Pathfinder Society tablemates dryly observed, perhaps there might be an incident involving the pirate ship, the Hydra’s Fang, for us to deal with in this PFS adventure. First though I had to pick a faction, something I had planned to do at the end of the In Service to Lore adventures once I’d been exposed to all of the factions through the series of introductory adventures (which I had yet to complete). However I was ready and quickly announced my intention to serve Osirion. In Pathfinder Society games, there are ten factions who have varying goals for each adventure. Completing your faction’s additional mission objectives earns you Prestige within the faction and also helps to determine the story arcs that Paizo writes for the Pathfinder Society. Even though Asir Al-Nimr is a warrior, he is a relic hunter and wishes to see Osirion restored to its former glory.
After a brief mission briefing from a lieutenant of a faction, we were on our way and then spent the next three and a half hours embroiled in one melee after another. In all we battled through four encounters with no puzzle-solving or creative problem solving to deal with in the Hydra’s Fang Incident, nor any involved skill checks for that matter. This was quite a change from PFS 03-11 In Service to Lore which was combat-light, but none of my five fellow players were complaining. Though one of our two Monks was Dying at one point, we successfully bested the evil DuMoire and his incompetent half-elven henchman with few scars to remember the battles.
Survival vs. Winning
This second game of Pathfinder Society confirmed for me that Pathfinder Society is more about surviving each encounter than actually accomplishing any goals, objectives, or “winning”. Even had I and my fellow Osirion agent not recovered the brass key from our foe, we still would have gained experience and gold and unlocked access to treasures assuming we defeated the various foes thrown at us in the four encounters. I rolled an astonishing four 1’s to attack throughout the four hour adventure and also spent four rounds asleep due to a Sleep spell so I slightly appeciated the fact that Asir Al-Nimr had to merely limp along through the encounter and soak up enemy attacks and survive to be one step closer to Level 2. Though Pathfinder can be brutal, if you have enough companions there’s no need to pull your own weight and you can just phone in your action for the turn, which can lead to loss of engagement with the game. This is further compounded by the fact that any extra actions or loot you try to take during an encounter will not carry over to any further adventures, which serves to reduce party arguments over treasure while also reducing motivation for some players or their characters.
Shedding Light on an Unusual Methodology
Though I had played with our Pathfinder GM before as a PC in his Hellas adventure and alongside him as a Pony in the Savage Worlds My Little Pony, I had never seen his setup until Saturday’s Vegas Game Day. Perry Snow had an elaborate rig set up alongside us and overhead with a projector hooked up to his laptop. He projected maps of our encounters down onto the tabletop using the MapTool software. A key feature of the software that Snow used was its control over environmental lighting and corresponding line of sight issues. Several times during the adventure the lack of lighting created problems for us and we had to either make light or choose different targets and actions. Consequently I think we valued our party’s Sorceror more because of his spell equivalent to Dancing Lights and our party’s non-humans probably relished their infrared vision or low light vision.
While I sometimes overlook lighting entirely both as a GM and a player, I thought it was interesting to see how much can be made out of a very small facet of gameplay. I have encountered issues with illumination and vision in the past, but I have never had a GM who cared about Encumbrance for any game system. At the end of the day, the matter of vision was a very minor one and only influenced a few play decisions for us, but it illustrates just how much focusing on a minor aspect can flavor a game. It could be converting currency from one nation’s gold coins to another, actually having to ration food and water for survival (as in Dark Sun games of yore), or dealing with nuances in spellcasting and having the right components or room to make the right gestures, but they all add detail and flavor. They also stand out though because the trend seems to be towards bigger, bolder storytelling and not trudging through minutiae. For me the bigger issue for the MapTool projection system was my preference for the tactile involvement of moving my miniature on the table, but I’m glad to have the chance to be exposed to different playing styles.
Smurf-Pocalypse Now… Or Not
I was scheduled on Warhorn to play Jerrod Gunning’s Smurf-Zombie mashup game using the Savage Worlds rules, but I turned out to be the only player. It also turns out tha I would not have been playing Brainy Smurf, Papa Smurf, or even Smurfette because the PCs for Gunning’s abandoned adventure were to be camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake which had become overrun with zombie Smurfs. As I waited to see if another player might be joining us, I selected one of the jock camp counselors to play, Lawrence Taylor. Gunning has always provided in-character name tags for his PCs to use and had run a game of Ghostbusters earlier using Savage Worlds rules in which the PCs encountered both Elvis and Michael Jackson’s ghost.
When no other player came by, Gunning and I created an archetypical character for me in the Savage Worlds RPG rules. Basically I expained that I wanted to create a generic character that was both competent and an obnoxious jerk. We came up with a character who had a high Dexterity, high Toughness, and a lot of skill in Fighting. I took the Vengeful and Overconfident disadvantages to ensure that I would plunge ahead into conflict and that I would take offense to any perceived slight. After some discussion I also took the Outsider disadvantage instead of the Quirk disadvantage to represent that I wanted to play a total chauvinist pig with a vein of racism. The Outsider disadvantage would represent the hostility I might meet depending on the culture or group with which I might be interacting.
Role-Playing the Rash, Brash Douche and Being “That” Guy
While Asir Al-Nimr is, in theory, a cunning fighter, why do I want to play so many reckless warrior PCs? The most attractive sort of class for me has always been an intellectual and manipulative magic user, but I think I’m choosing warriors for these public play situations because I have so little to lose. There has been little continuity and I’m not invested in the tough idiots I end up playing. I’m also attracted to playing a character so unlike myself, characters that act first and ask questions later and who insult and mock the villains and NPCs they meet. What do I have to lose? In fact, I may even want to play these characters in such a dangerous manner because I would find some poetic justice in their deaths. I even have some interest in dying just to have another aspect of gameplay to write about, if I’m being honest.
Going along with that, the other thing I’ve realized about my public play choices for characters and role-play is just how willing I am to be “that” guy at the table. The guy who ignores gaming conventions about disarming traps or party order. Part of it is my frustration at how damn pedantic and nerdy we can get as gamers, spending twenty minutes on something that should take five minutes at most. I’m totally willing to be the guy to open the chest or to open the door (and hopefully move on with the plot, assuming that there is one). In both Pathfinder Society games so far I have disarmed the traps simply by being exposed to them, but I’ve had so little to lose. Asir Al-Nimr, as it turns out, is also quite tough, nimble, and lucky. While I do think I’ll become more cautious as I gain levels and treasure, my impression is also that there’s not a lot my GMs can do to dissuade me. In a home campaign, the GM could have a series of deadly traps which would eventually kill my character, but in the public play setting adventures should be balanced in theory. It’s not like I open trapped chests when I am down to 3 HP; I do have some sense. Plus I think GMs love to see a trap go off. I know I do.