The problem with Use Magic Device in Pathfinder

aka Another Reason for a Unified Magic System

I’ve never liked the Arcane/Divine divide in magic in what is now Pathfinder. It worked OK in first first and second edition D&D because there were really only two spell-casting classes, but as third edition D&D attempted to take the classes and make them into certain metrics such as Base Attack Bonus and Reflex Save bonus that are additive, the divide became increasingly wonky. For one, now that we had a skill system that was the same across classes, you had skills for sneaking around. If you multiclassed between different classes, your ability to sneak was related to how many skill points you continued to put into your stealth skills. Thus skills of the traditional Thief class from prior editions of D&D were now nicely delineated and could be treated as discrete parts of a greater whole.

The skill system attempted to do that with magic by giving one Spellcraft skill that related to your ability to determine magic regardless of it’s source, but in so doing they created a wonky element to their magic system because the skill itself was not, in any way, related to the actual working of magic. One could be a completely proficient high level wizard or cleric and not have a single rank in Spellcraft. So it was really just a knowledge skill, but why have one knowledge skill that represents two very different forms of magic when you have other knowledge skills that represent the different between knowledge of local events and knowledge of which crest belongs to the local noble? Continue reading The problem with Use Magic Device in Pathfinder

Having Fun With the Sinking of the Lusitania


As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there are a number of conspiracy theories regarding the formation of the Federal Reserve. Edward Griffin’s book “The Creature from Jekyll Island” contains most of the more colorful ones. My personal favorite out of that book is that then Secretary of the Navy Winston Churchill arranged for the sinking of the Lusitania by ordering it to sail through an area where a U-boat was known to be operating without naval escort.

The idea that political figures have knowingly allowed civilians to be targeted in order to incite war is not new. Many people believe that FDR allowed the Japanese to sneak attack Pearl Harbor in order to bring the United States into the Second World War. More recently, many suspected George Bush of allowing the terrorists to destroy the world trade center on 9/11 in order to bring on wartime conditions to launch a campaign for war in the Middle East. It seems that whenever events seem to play a contributing factor towards moving the United States to war that people suspect that there was a conspiracy behind these events.

In the case of the Lusitania, it’s impossible to rule out that Winston Churchill wanted the Lusitania to be sunk, be it seems highly unlikely. As another blogger points out the British warships were not equipped for submarine warfare and really presented more of a target than a deterrent. So the lack of assignment of a warship to escort the Lusitania is not the smoking gun that it might seem to be. Furthermore, numerous warning were sent to the Lusitania telling it to be on the lookout for German U-boats, but the most interesting detail in this drama was that the Lusitania received a message ordering it to alter course and sail for Queensland in order to avoid a potential U-boat attack.

Continue reading Having Fun With the Sinking of the Lusitania

A More Unified Magic System for Arcana Unearthed

My favorite thing about Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed rules, is the magic system. It’s a magic system that makes a lot of sense and is a huge improvement over the traditional D&D 3.x magic system with it’s separation of Arcane versus Divine magic, separate spell lists, etc. In the Arcana Unearthed system, magic is magic. There is not a separation between arcane and divine magic. It’s all magic and it comes from the same well.

Instead Arcana Unearthed has a the traditional D&D Spell Levels, with each spell assigned to a Spell Level. What Monte Cook does to give more advanced magic classes a more advanced “spell list” is instead to have spells sorted into simple spells, complex spells, and exotic spells. A Mage Blade (which is as close as Arcana Unearthed gets to a cleric) has access to all simple first level spells, whereas a Magister (Arcana Unearthed’s version of a Wizard or Sorcerer) has access to all simple and complex spells of the same level.

For multiclassing, you simply add all the spells that you can cast at a given spell level and gain access to all spells of that spell level that any of your classes would give you. Thus, if a Mage Blade took one level of Magister, he’d have access to all complex spells of first level, even for his Mage Blade “slots.” I love this concept, but I feel it doesn’t go far enough. You see, the martial classes add to each other rather nicely. If you had a level 20 character who had taken five levels of each of Fighter, Barbarian, Ranger and Rogue, you’d still end up with a pretty decent 20th level fighter. Granted, he may not be the best optimized “build” for a 20th level martial character, but he’s still be able to bring the pain in a combat. Continue reading A More Unified Magic System for Arcana Unearthed

Converting Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed Feats to Pathfinder

As I mentioned in a prior post, I’d like to integrate Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed ruleset with the recently released Pathfinder ruleset. I really like the magic system and the flavor of the world is not to be missed. One of the first things that I felt needed to be integrated is the feat system, so I went throw the rulebook feat by feat and compared the feats to what is currently offered under the Pathfinder Rules set.

Monte Cooke had introduced a couple of new concepts in his Arcana Unearthed rules: Ceremonials Feats and Talents. The world of Arcana Unearthed utilized a lot of ceremony and ritual, and Monte classified these feats to codify the rule significance of going through certain ceremonies. From a rules point of view, these feats don’t really pose any problem being directly translated over to Pathfinder rules. Monte Cook called for giving every race an additional ceremonial feat at first level, but that’s not because Ceremonial Feats were categorically weaker. Ceremonial feats are just as powerful if not more powerful than the other feats, so they pose no problem in doing a straight across feat for feat integration.

Talents, however, are a different story. In the Unearthed Arcana rules system, a talent was a feat that could only be taken at first level. Because of this restriction, he made a talent slightly stronger that other feats. For instance, Monte’s version of Skill Focus gives a +3 bonus to the selected skill, while the talent Affinity with Skill gives a +4. Note that the Skill Focus feat was one of many departures from the existing 3.0 D&D rules (which only gave a +2 bonus for Skill Focus at the time) that would later be officially added into the 3.5 or Pathfinder revision. Unearthed Arcana has a many such ideas that, even today, represent a significant step forward for the Pathfinder rules set; my absolute favorite among them is a completely unified magic system.

For the Pathfinder Rules, Monte Cook’s talent feats are actually very simply to integrate because Pathfinder has, essentially, adopted their conventions. In the Pathfinder Adventure Path: Council of Thieves #1 – The Bastards of Erebus, there is an extensive right up on tieflings that includes a few feats that allow you more variation in the character creation stage. These tiefling-related feats have to be taken at first level, which makes then exactly the same as talents. Furthermore, Pathfinder has added traits, which are essentially “half feats” that must be taken at first level. Since Pathfinder recommends two traits (or half-feats) at character creation, you can easily add Monte Cook’s talent feats as simply “double traits.” That is, instead of getting two traits, you’d get one of the talent feats.

With these conventions, you can adopt the entire Unearthed Arcana feat system under the Pathfinder rules. Continue reading Converting Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed Feats to Pathfinder

Campaign Journal: The Council of Thieves


Tonight I ran my first game of Pathfinder. I started the just released “Council of Thieves” adventure path. For those of you who don’t know, an adventure path is a series of scenarios that are designed to take starting level characters all the way to level 20. The scenarios are written to tell a continual story that progresses as the characters progress. The first such adventure path was “Shackled City” and set in Forgotten Realms.

The adventure path concept has proven popular because it unites the play sessions into a continual story arc unlike the random episodic feel that players experience if the DM is running one scenario after another that are by different authors and (typically) taking place in totally different gaming worlds that the DM has to put together on the fly. The results of which have become fodder for D&D cliche jokes:

DM: You each get a letter from the neighboring Kingdom of Barovia inviting you to come meet with Baron Stradh. The letter says that he has heard of your great daring in recent adventures and has need of you.

Player#1: But my character is brand new.

DM: Well the Baron must have heard of the adventures that your character completed in your backstory.

Player#2: I thought we were in Waterdeep. There’s no nearby Kingdom called Barovia.

DM: Will you people just work with me?

The players I had assembled had been players I had all played with before: Auby, my girlfriend; Morgan, a female computer programmer who often brings her lesbian partner, Liz, to game with us (but she was out of town tonight); and Rob, your typical mid-thirties D&D lifer. Morgan and Rob had negotiated with each other to play Rogues who grew up in an orphanage together and developed into a compatible duo: she the brains and he the brawn. As a result, Rob’s character Milton is the only first level rogue I’ve seen with a strength of 18. Auby, after much deliberation, decided to play her usual character, a sorceress. She’s not particularly familiar with the D&D rules system and the sorceress’s limited spell selection proves a blessing to her. In essence, she has three or four different solutions to various problems that are all listed out on her spell list: if she can’t solve the problem with Burning Hands, Charm Person, or Knock (for instance) than she declare the problem beyond her. It may not be the most imaginative roleplaying, but it gets her involved.

Tonight, however, Auby took a more active role in making decisions regarding character creation. She’s been working through some personal issues and has discovered that she has a lot of anger inside from growing up. I suggested to her that she play a tiefling since the setting (Cheliax) for the Council of Thieves adventure path is full of them. The “Bastards of Erebus” is actually a reference to tieflings, and the module contains a nice four page spread of different ability modifiers, dark gifts, and physical appearances that tieflings can have. She chose an descendant of a Khyton (a chain devil) because that variation actually gives a bonus to charisma (which is important for a sorceress) as well as a roleplaying description of being sadistic (which Auby enjoys playing).

Once given this concept, Auby actually sat down and decided how she wanted to spend the 20 points of attributes I had given her and each of the other players. This was something she had never done before and was an encouraging sign that she was becoming more invested in the character. She then decided on each and every spell she would have, another thing she had never done before.

The actual amount of time we spent adventuring was rather short. The PCs were invited to join a rebellion against the harsh, tyrannical government and they accepted. Their meeting place was then surrounded by Hellknights and they had to flee into the sewers. The sewers ran then through enough encounters to get them the second level before they escaped (with the traditional fare of skeletons and first level fighters). They then escaped the sewers and the game session ended soon thereafter. When they come back, they have to formulate plans to rescue the captured leader of the rebellion that the just joined. The players seemed to enjoy it.

Auby was unsure as to how to dedicate her second level. Should she multiclass or stay a sorceress? Of course, more experienced players know that’s a no-brainer: you should continue to advance in your primary spellcaster levels and perhaps consider a prestige class down the road. To instead dabble in a level of wizard here, sorceress there, and a bard or two, is extremely counter productive because the magic caster levels don’t stack. I feel that’s an un-necessary flaw in the system and have been considering adding a characteristic to the magic classes called spell progression level.

In essence, for the primary casters such as wizards, clerics and sorcerers, you get a spell progression level of .5 per level or advancement. A first level wizards has access to first level spells, but a third level wizard has access to second level spells. Therefore, the wizards spell progression level is .5. For the classes that cast magic as an secondary ability such as the Bard, you could have them have a spell progression level of half that of the wizard. Thus, this would allow multi class casters to build towards a coherent spell arsenal while dabbling around in magic classes the way a fighter can do with martial classes or a rogue can do with their skill list and various classes they dabble in.

Updating Monte Cooke’s Unearthed Arcana for Pathfinder Rules: Part I


I occasionally enjoy playing roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. When the third edition of Dungeon’s and Dragons was released I was very enthusiastic about it, but not so about the latest fourth edition of the game. My largest problem with it was that it was a complete rewrite of the rules system, almost from the ground up. Consequentially, it was completely incompatible with prior editions of D&D.

Nothing against Wizards of the Coast, but I was not happy with this decision. Gamers develop a library of game supplements and scenarios over time. In previous editions of D&D, the new edition would make prior editions modules obsolete, but you could still change them over pretty easily or just do it on the fly. The new edition rewrote the power structure of the classes and engineered an entirely new framework to put character actions in. This rendered fourth edition incompatible with all previous incarnations of the game. Which meant that my whole library of game rules, scenarios, and supplements was declared obsolete. What was further aggravating was making this move only five years after the release of an update to their third edition (dubbed 3.5).

Continue reading Updating Monte Cooke’s Unearthed Arcana for Pathfinder Rules: Part I