Invitation to the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path

Once every couple of weeks, myself and a group of like minded gamers get together to experience a fantasy version of Africa. Put another way, we get tother to play Paizo’s Pathfinder “The Serpent’s Skull” Adventure Path. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is an outgrowth of the old Dungeons and Dragons RPG and many would argue (myself included) that it is the purest incarnation of the original Dungeons and Dragons rules set and flavor.

I am part of a gaming group that get’s together routinely to play Pathfinder, and this is the third “Adventure Path” which we are attempting- my second at Game Master. Amongst the Adventure Paths (which are a series of adventures designed to take a group from level 1 to level 12-15 or so), the Serpent’s Skull is one of the more maligned of Paizo’s Adventure Paths and has gotten little third part love. I must confess I started the Adventure Path with rather low expectations.

Our player group had dwindled down due to natural attrition so, with the help of our recently formed Meetup.com group I started the new path. I got a huge response, and we thought of dividing the group into two based on factions (which Serpent’s Skull naturally provides). Thus far, however, our group has hovered around the 6-8 range which is not quite enough two run two groups of 4 with 2 GMs. However, I did involve one of the other players as a co-GM.

It turns out, Rick, my new co-GM, is quite ruthless when it comes to combat. Furthermore, he’ll check the minions intelligence level and, if it’s intelligent, he’ll assign them tactics to react to the players. As he puts it, “I play the monsters as though they actually wanted to live!”

Well it turns out that this combination of Rick running most of the combats and breaking in some new players who had never played Pathfinder before caused the combats to be rather deadly. It didn’t help that the Serpent’s Skull AP had some very tough monsters. The AP started ship wrecked on a deserted island which was occupied by cannibals that were level 1 Barbarians with a strength of 18. With opposition like that, low level characters can start dropping like flies.

We are now on our 10th session, and so far we have been averaging 1-2 PC deaths a session. A series of adventures this deadly is certainly not for everyone, and we’ve had some players never come back once their character died. For others, however, they found they enjoyed the challenge. They would sit down a player new to Pathfinder with a sub-optimal character, have it die after a few sessions, and return with a better optimized character. This only added to the Darwinian “battle of the fittest” theme which was  present in the AP anyway.
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The Barbed Wire: Ventrue Deck Sweeps a Jyhad Online (JOL) Game

They mocked my commons decks once… once. I endeavored to construct decks from Jyhad commons that would fare decently in actual play against a group of regular plays. This project started in 2005, and, since the official death of the game, the demand from my decks has, ironically, increased a great deal. This must be, no doubt, because the official starter decks are no longer in supply as the game is defunct.

At any rate, I recently played my Barbed Wire: Ventrue deck against a group of veteran JOL players- and I swept. The deck itself is little changed from the rough draft I posted to usenet seven years ago.

If you’d like to buy the deck, here’s the button to buy it with domestic shipping.








For international customers, here’s a button to buy the deck with international shipping.








To commemorate my victory, here’s the log:

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Eclipse Board Game Strategy: Eridani Dreadnaughts

I’ve recently fallen in love with the Eclipse board game. Well, really, I should say that I’ve fallen in love with a board game entitled, Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy. The reason I have to be so specific is that if you go to amazon and type in Eclipse Board Game, you will quickly discover that there are two separate Eclipse board games. One is the one pictured to the right.

While the other is a board game version of the sparkly vampire genre. That game I’m less crazy about.

Part of the strategy for the non-sparkly vampire Eclipse game is to chose your which race you want to play. The race that is recognized as the hardest to play are the Eridani. They start the game with two fewer influence disks than the other races and therefore are severely restricted in the number of actions they can take. This is why they are the most disliked of all the alien races.

I devised a strategy for them that seems to work reasonably well. It involves taking the middle in as little as three turns using as few moves as possible. Possessing the middle gives you a tremendous amount of resources and costs precious few of your already scarce influence disks. Once there you can hopefully hold the middle as well as use it to start moving against your more vulnerable neighbors.

The Eridani suffer not only from a lack of influence disks, but also disks, their problem is compounded by a lack of minerals. The middle tile does have a mineral spot as well as another advanced mining spot. I have finished entire games having these be my only populated mineral resources on the board. Those games are never pretty, but holding the middle can still pull you through some games.

The scarcity of resources means if you ever suffer significant loses in a fleet on fleet battle then it’s very difficult to recover. Therefore, Eridani players should be particularly careful not to engage opposing fleets unless they are a solid favorite. It also means that you need to carefully shepherd your starting interceptor. You poor resource production means you have to squeeze the most life out of your starting interceptor you possibly can.

So if we’re gonna take the middle on turn 3, we need to have some idea of how to build toward that. Fortunately, there are a few programs on the internet that will allow us to simulate Eclipse combats and give us a probability of success. First we need to understand that the Eridani love Dreadnoughts. Dreadnoughts are the only ship design where the Eridani get any bonuses (the one built in power). They are also the most survivable ship to build, and the Eridani’s restricted influence disks means they can’t move mass number of smaller ships efficiently.

So if the most likely initial battle fleet the Eridani can build is comprised of their starting interceptor and a dreadnought, then let’s see the best course of action to take with that fleet.
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Examining Socialist Myths: Tax Cuts Don’t Stimulate the Economy

Aw Hell. It’s election season again. As someone posted, “It’s a great time to pare down my Facebook friends.” I’m sure a fair amount of that goes on. As an acquaintance of mine recently described it, “Political beliefs are largely an echo chamber. Election season is an invitation to everyone else to enter your personal echo chamber.”

I’ve gotten better about things. I enter fewer political discussions on Facdbook and have greatly reduced my objectives. The truth is that as a Libertarian, I disagree politically with well over 90% of the voting public. So if I responded to every invitation to enter a political argument, I’d never have any to time to myself.

And some arguments are really subjective and not worth discussing. If you think Obama’s the best President in history, good for you. If you think Mitt Romney is the voice of sanity in the political wilderness, good for you. I’m not here to debate things like that. I’m never going to win the argument, first off, because these beliefs are not subject to change. They are part of political identity that people have absorbed and they’re sure as hell it giving them up for me.

But then, sometimes, I just can’t help myself. Sometimes political beliefs are so out there that I just can’t help myself. If a NeoCon is arguing that invading the entire Middle East will usher in a new American Golden Age, I just have to wade into the fray. I can’t say I have any success in converting people, but occasionally people do tell me that they find discussing things with me enlightening.

Which brings us to today’s political Facebook discussion, “Do tax cuts stimulate the economy?” I find it strange that this is a real question, but I am going to treat it as legitimate and go forward from there. Continue reading Examining Socialist Myths: Tax Cuts Don’t Stimulate the Economy

A Couple of Back-to-Back No Limit Hands

So I’ve been running poorly and am down a bit in a $200 buy-in NL game. I’ve been there for hours. The people there know I’m only playing the good hands. I pick up Ah Kd with $270 in from of me and decide to isolate a early limper. I raise to $20 (BB is $5), and get one caller after me, the SB, and the limper. Together the 4 of us see the flop with $80 in the pot.

Flop is As Qc 8h.

It’s checked to me and I bet out $35 into $80. That flop hits my raising range and these players, fishy as they are, realize it. There’s not much to draw to, so I feel a relatively small bet is in order. The player after me folds, and the SB (who has me covered) raises to $110. The player in the middle folds and it’s back to me.

My instincts and experience tell me that my hand is no good here, but I saw this flop with an SPR of just over 3, and at some point I feel the SPR just demands that you get it in. Should I fold here with an SPR of 3? I guess in hindsight, maybe I should.

Anyway, I put the money in bad versus the small blinds AQ and suck out a King on the river.

The SB had $47 left after paying me off. So that brings us to the next hand. A grinder with $200 in front of him raises to $20 from UTG. I look down at JJ. I pretty much flat my entire range against him because I want the weaker players to take the flop with me, because I feel I make my money from the soft spots in the game and not the good players. So I call. It folds to the button, the guy I just beat, and he’s steaming. He puts in his $47 all-in. The blinds fold, and the grinder makes it $110.

This feels like an AK move. He wants to shut me out and take his hand heads up against a weak hand with my money as a sweetener. I ponder if he could be making this move with AA or KK, and it just doesn’t seem likely. I feel like he’d want me in the pot in that case. So I move all-in. He calls with AQ. The button has 69 of clubs. My Jacks hold up, and now I’m up for the day.

I’d make the moves I did willy nilly. I had reasons for why I did them, but I am open to discussing them if you have any questions or comments.

Running the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path for a Large Group

We just started Paizo’s Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path. Over the last couple of years my group has finished the Counsel of Thieves AP, and almost completed Kingmaker before we had to put the game on hold because the GM got too busy. So now the baton fell to me once again to run something. I decided I’d run the Serpent’s Skull AP, because I was already familiar with the material. In general I liked the flavor of the AP: an expedition into the dark heart of Mwange (fantasy Africa) to explore a lost city 1000s of years old. It beats your typical dungeon crawl in terms of flavor.
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Sparky the Sorcerer: A Player Versus Player Pathfinder RPG Build

Next weekend we are going to try our first player versus player scenario. We are going to organize into teams with whoever shows up and go at it. You have to make a character using the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and you have 20,000 gp to spend. Rick, the GM running it added the further condition that one shot items costs 5x as much since most one shot items have far more importance when the entire scenario is guaranteed to play out in a single battle.

Player versus player (PvP) is a setting I’m inherently comfortable with. I was never one to generate a multipage history for a new character, but rather one to show up as one of several already explored tropes. PvP is where we leave the RPG behind and go back to the game’s miniature war game roots. These characters don’t really need a story, in fact, they don’t even need to make sense, like a Wizard with no Spellcraft. It’s just a miniatures war game at this point, and there probably won’t be a lot of uses of Spellcraft in the coming battle.

Take Sparky, the Sorcerer I just put together. He’s a Sorcerer, but Charisma is not his highest stat. That’s because he’s going to attempt to break precisely two spells in this battle: Shocking Grasp and Scorching Ray. Since neither spell allows a saving throw, having a high Charisma doesn’t really benefit me. So I gave him a 14 Charisma so that he would get his two bonus spells and left it at that. No, what this character needs is the ability to make his to-hit roll to inflict a lot of damage on an opponent, which means he needs lot of Dex. We are using Epic Level point buy in the Core Rulebook, so I gave Sparky the following stats: S7, Co15, D18, I14, W8, Ch12. Since we start at level 5, I can use my one point increase to move Con up to 16. Now if I make him a halfling, his stats become: S5, Co16, D20, I14, W8, Ch14. Perfect! Note: I gave him a high Int, because it gives a AC bonus to my Spectral Hand spells.

Since I’m really trying to break Shocking Grasp, I’m going to make him a Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer and chose a bonus with electric spells. This will mean that my Shocking Grasp does 5d6 +5 points of damage, for an average of 23 points. Now I’m going to spend the 20,000gp on two Metamagic Rods of Empower, which allows me to cast six spells and shell out damage at a 50% bonus. So now I’m looking at 5d6x1.5 + 5 = 5x(3.5×1.5) + 5 = 28.25 points of damage per casting. Combine that with Spectral Hand, and I can hit a target at a range of 150 feet with one Empowered Shocking Grasp every round. The theoretical maximum of a PvP character would be a Barbarian with an 20 Con (24 when ragging) for 76 points. Assuming said Barbarian charged me starting at 150 feet and moving 80 a round, he would be dead on the third application of Shocking Grasp. When means he would get precisely one swing at me before he went down. Most characters aren’t going to have nearly that many HPs, and so two rounds of Shocking Grasp should clean their clock.

To help me in the hitting department, I took the feats of Weapon Finesse, so that his Dex applied to his natural attack rolls instead of his strength, as well as Weapon Focus (Natural). So, when it’s all said and done, if the character is wearing metal armor, I get a +3 bonus for the Shocking Grasp spell, a +2 bonus for Spectral Hand, a +5 Dex bonus, a +1 Weapon Focus bonus, and a Base Attack Bonus of +2, and my +1 size bonus for being small, which equals +14 to hit, and that’s on a touch attack! MUHAHAHAHAHA.

The History of the Titanic

Overview
The Titanic was an Olympic Class ocean liner owned and operated by White Star Lines. She hit an iceberg two days into her maiden voyage and foundered on the morning of April 15, 1912. The Titanic carried the number of lifeboats required by law, but that was only enough for roughly a third of her 2200 passengers and crew. The remaining 1500 passengers and crew that stayed on the ship perished, making in one of the deadliest peacetime, maritime disasters in history. Note that getting an exact person count in disasters such as these are difficult. Different sources give slightly differing numbers, so these numbers are rounded.
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