On January 19 Vegas Game Day began its new schedule now falling on the third Saturday of every month and running from 9:00 AM until 7:00 PM at the /usr/tech library in the Emergency Arts building. Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning ran a packed table of Savage Worlds My Little Pony in the morning slot while games of Shadowrun and Settlers of Catan took place. Jerry Grayson brought out his Hirst Arts sci-fi set for his game of Colonial Marines using Fuzion rules, but I didn’t get to experience the 3D terrain directly as I had signed up for Pathfinder Society and Starcraft on Warhorn.net.
Pathfinder Society: PSS 04-01 Rise of the Goblin Guild
Properly supported by a cleric, I was like a god myself as I strode through the passageways under the city of Magnimar. Each hit of my great sword splattered goblin guts and heads. Pathfinder isn’t like World of Warcraft or D&D 4E where fighters get a taunt mechanic; instead I always have to verbally taunt the creatures into trying to attack me. While I wasn’t exactly tanking, I did attract the enemies’ attention. I shrugged off blow after blow and the damage I did take was healed by the wand of cure light wounds I had loaned to our party’s cleric. The five of us overcame all the obstacles that GM Ethan Cline threw at us with only one character ever down and dying, in part because we had chosen to play down on Rise of the Goblin Guild.
Playing Up or Down
Many Pathfinder Society modules are multi-tiered, capable of being played up or down. Rise of the Goblin Guild is for adventurers 1-2 in level and 4-5. Our group spent a good chunk of time debating playing up or down at the start of the game. If we played it for levels 4-5, there would be more treasure at the end of the adventure, but the opponents would also be much tougher. Since I only have my second level fighter Asir Al-Nimr, I voted to play down. Consequently, besides the Level 3 Wizard or Sorcerer, even at 2nd Level I was much stronger than the Level 1 PCs of the other players. Veteran players inform me that ideally a Pathfinder Society player should have a different character every four levels to make the most of PFS advancement and leveling. With a level 12, 8, 4, and 1 a player can play any PFS adventure.
Leaping into the “Hidden” Trap
The game also accidentally became an example of role-players deliberately ignoring out of game knowledge during a player’s movement on the square grid. As a player’s miniature was moved up by a different player, the GM announced that he had triggered a trap in a particular square. The player pointed out that he was not moving up that far and instead completed his action in a different square, which the GM accepted. Now we all knew where the trap was and I planned on entering it once my turn came up.
I had already mentally planned my route through that particular square to get up close to the enemy, I reasoned. Also as a GM, I would hate for the trap to be ignored or negated. However I made this decision at a full 20 Hit Points. If the game were very close or I was down to 4 HP with no healing available would I be so cavalier? Not only could I lose my character to permanent death, but I could arouse the real life ire of my fellow players by spoiling the mission or causing a Total Party Kill. I don’t know that I would enter the square in those circumstances.
As it was, the decision was taken out of my hands by the actions of our party’s rogue, who maneuvered into the square, falling victim to the trap. Had he forgotten that it was there or was he falling on the sword as I had planned to do? I really don’t know, but there was at least one angry sigh at the table at the rogue’s actions. It ended up not mattering much, but he acted with integrity, meeting with both approbation and disapproval.
Same Pathfinder Society, Different Day
In PSS 00-01 Silent Tide I encountered the wet slippery world of the Puddles, an evocatively-named slum of Absalom, the central city of the Pathfinder Society where so many Pathfinder Society adventures take place. But aside from the Puddles, the world setting of Golarion begins to blend together in PFS modules. We were in the kingdom of Varisia for this module, but it didn’t feel any different than Absalom. One of the rewards I’ve received in my five adventures thus far is a boon from the Chelish Embassy of Absalom granting me “one free use of the divination spell from a Cleric of Asmodeus.” The catch is that I have to be in Cheliax’s capital Egorian to use it. It’s a great concept and incentive to go on PFS modules that will take me to Egorian, but will Egorian really be all that different? But back to Varisia. What is Varisia? How is it different than any other setting? Rise of the Goblin Guild provides little idea so I turned to the Pathfinder Campaign Setting World Guide: The Inner Sea which is one of many Pathfinder books available at the /usr/tech library thanks to Paizo’s donation. It turns out that Varisia is more of a frontier sort of region, but even the Varisian entries in the guide were the stuff of generic fantasy.
The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment offered a great deal of flavor owing more to its setting in a temple of the peace-loving god Korada than anything Tian-related. The Tian seem to be Chinese analogues in the world of Golarion, but in the five adventures I’ve played in so far, Paizo has stopped short of creating any meaningful differences between ethnicities and nationalities around the Inner Sea. Aside from the S&M-practitioning Cheliax faction, Pathfinder plays it safe and boring with a conglomeration world akin to many areas in D&D’s Forgotten Realms and World of Warcraft’s Azeroth.
The joy of cultural differences and subtle thematic nuances fade when compared to the sheer glory of a master-worked great sword though. I dispatched goblin after goblin with the clock ticking down and finally managed the killing blow on the weakened big boss. With the end of the mission, Asir Al-Nimr is just one adventure away from Level 3.
Starcraft: Lost Detail, Once More
The last time I played the Starcraft video game was maybe back in 1998, but many of the game’s details are hard to forget. I knew I didn’t want to play a scummy Protoss or Zerg. In the RPG there are also Mutates, which I quickly dismissed. I’m Terran all the way. I repeated “Fire it up!” to myself a number of times during the quick character generation, but instead of a flamethrower-wielding Firebat, rolled a basic Marine, Private Mark Robbins.The Alternity rules from 2000 were quick, dirty, and random. I diced for some basic stats, got three skills (Rifle, Intimidate, and Brawl), and then even diced for weapons and gear! I wound up with a nasty radiation weapon, the Fusion Rifle, plus a Stun Ray Pistol, CNC Power Armor, and a Combat Shield.
GM Kris Anderson filled me in on my background story. I was a conscript who had been twice-imprisoned if not more. I had escaped human prison and been on the run when recaptured by Protoss bounty hunters, escaped again, and then been captured yet again by a different Protoss. I awoke with my gear shackled in the hold of a drop ship and was furious as the other PCs and my captor telepathically messaged me. The purpose of my captivity became clear: the assassination of the prisoner General Wayne Havelin within the walls of the prison on the frosty planet below. Think of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back and you have Daloth.
Unlike most other RPGs at Vegas Game Days, the Starcraft game had continuity and was picking up the action for the two other players in the party, a Terran Spectre and a Protoss Dark Templar. As we were about to begin we were joined by a fourth player who quickly rolled a four-armed Mutate who looked more like a Zerg than anything remotely human. Like the other two PCs, he also had major psionic abilities including telepathy and we eventually encountered him in his native habitat, burrowing in the snow.
We also quickly met a Protoss guard patrol and my Fusion Rifle was soon irradiating the crap out of them. Having taken my combat drugs, my Dexterity shot up to 20, which in turn boosted my Rifle skill to 21. I needed to roll less than this on a d20 to hit. Scratch one Protoss Zealot. The Fusion Rifle was less effective on the quadrupedal Dragoons and our GM had me making Intelligence check after Intelligence check each time I continued to shoot at one with my Fusion Rifle. The rest of the party all had crazy psychic powers including tornado creation, clouds of darkness, and maybe something like a red insect swarm of rage that would devour the Protoss units. The Protoss had their revenge when a second patrol showed up and got the drop on us. Armored suits exploded. I went flying through the air when a ball of plasma struck me from behind. PCs were killed, including Pvt. Robbins The two original PCs had alien artifacts though, rare amulets that could restore a person to life, but those too were soon exhausted in the furious firefight. Finally our Dark Templar actually used a Reverse Time ability to jump back a minute or two and we fought the battle again, this time with everyone surviving.
The second melee was no cakewalk though. Private Robbins had lost his armor, his Fusion Rifle rounds, and his sanity. I decided he’d had enough and was freaking out. I cowered under the smoldering remnants of one of the armored suits for several turns and then made a break for it, channeling Bill Paxton from Aliens. It was freezing and he’d had enough. My party members thought otherwise and successfully attacked me, knocking me out for quite a while.
After coming to, we headed towards the base, climbing a plateau and spotting more guard patrols and the base’s considerable defenses. We would need a clever plan of attack to get inside the prison.
The Ignored Voice of Pvt. Robbins
I thought I had some clever plans of attack, even if one was a major cliche:
- When I suggested our Dark Protoss and other Terran pose as bounty hunters and turn me, the escaped prisoner, in to the prison all I got were blank looks, before the other party members went back to talking about how hard it would be to get into the prison. It worked in Star Wars, but maybe it wasn’t being creative enough.
- What if, I proposed, our Dark Protoss dressed up in the Zealot’s yellow power armor, pretending to be one of the Zealots returning from patrol? This was shot down.
- I had another suggestion. Maybe the Dark Protoss could use his Mind Control power to take control of a Zealot and then have the Zealot punch in the code to enter the underground prison. Yes, his Mind Control would lapse once the Zealot was out of sight in the entrance tunnel below us, but the stealthy Spectre could drop in behind him and dispatch him with a quick strike. No, this too was ruled out.
- There was a huge orbital turret near the prison landing pad. Maybe the Dark Templar could teleport into or onto it and we could use it to target and destroy the Protoss units guarding the prison. Of my suggestions, this one actually was infeasible because such turrets are unmanned and automatic.
Now as I was suggesting these, I did find success with one listener: the GM. The GM actually had the other players make an Intelligence check or a Perception check or some other sort of check to listen to my ideas. There was even a bounty hunter ship on the landing pad tarmac! As trite as it would be, posing as bounty hunters probably would work. But I failed my real life Charisma check and the other players went back to their own discussion.
Ignoring Out of Game Knowledge Again
There was another plan that I had to simply ignore because it was based on out of game knowledge. While the four-armed Mutate was being rolled, I noticed that he had gotten a Feign Death ability. We could also infiltrate the prison by having the bounty hunters turn in the mutate’s corpse. Or the mutant could be left with the dead Protoss patrols and possibly be brought into the prison to be dissected and studied. Of course, while I knew this, my character did not, but it didn’t stop me from awkwardly hypothesizing about one of us playing dead. Sadly even this went ignored and unheeded.
In the end we had to leave the mission hanging because it was time to vacate the building in real life. The GM invited us new players to continue the adventure in the group’s regular campaign. While I was frustrated at not being able to assassinate the general or convince the party to go along with my plans, I had a blast playing a new game and meeting other gamers.