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

Tournament Report: Austin Qualifier, 2009

The two playgroups in Texas that I have any experience with are the Dallas and Austin playgroup. At one point, when I first started playing in North Texas around 2005, both playgroups were of comparable size. Unfortunately, last year, the turnout and enthusiasm for the Austin playgroup began to wane. Come this year, it seemed that the entire playgroup had fallen off the face of the Earth. When asked who was going to be attending the Dallas Qualifier for North American Championship, Ethan, one of the players there, texted us, “Austin VTES is dead.”

That was unfortunate. VTES, like any collectible card game, isn’t much fun if there’s not a community to play with. With the failure of the Austin playgroup, Dallas stood as the only regularly operating playgroup in Texas that I knew of. Worse still, the Lafayette, Lousiana playgroup seemed to be following a similar fate. It’s understandable that CCG playgroups die, and quite frankly amazing that a game such as Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, which was originally published under the name Jyhad in 1994, is till being played at all. The vast majority of CCGs that came out after Magic: the Gathering have merely been splashes in the pan that died out shortly after introduction. I remember playing the CCG Netrunner, which was the third game published by Wizards of the Coast under the monicker “Deckmaster” and enjoying it a good deal, only to see if soon fade from play altogether.

Let’s face it. If Wizards of the Coast can’t get a CCG off the ground, it just doesn’t bode well for the viability of the genre. That’s not to say certain games don’t find an audience, they do. But the key seems to a small publisher finding, nurturing, and responding to the needs of a small market. In our case, the small market of VTES players seemed to be getting smaller by the month.

It’s can be discouraging to watch the player base decline. You start to wonder when you should just get out of the game altogether or find a new hobby. Of course, we in Dallas have also had some victories in attracting new players. So it’s not all doom and gloom. Still, I didn’t like seeing the Austin playgroup fall off the map.

Continue reading Tournament Report: Austin Qualifier, 2009

The Problems of the Tremere in VTES, Part II

It was a challenge to try to make a playable Tremere deck from Jyhad commons. As I mentioned in my last post, the Tremere have to have some sort of combat package: it helps to get your bleeds through and you won’t have to block as many actions if you torpor/burn the minions you do block. The combat options for Thaumaturgy in the basic Jyhad set are limited to:

  • Blood Rage or Blood Fury
  • Theft of Vitae
  • Walk of Flame
  • Drain Essence

Walk of Flame is a powerful card, but it (like Cauldron of Blood and Drain Essence) requires you to make it beyond the first round of combat, and that requires some form of press based combat. I found from play testing that Traps worked quite well with the overall combat package. You could drain off the opposing vampires blood with a Theft in the first round and, if all went well, burn the opposing minion with a Walk of Flame in the subsequent rounds. That makes for a fairly threatening combat package. It can’t deal with a strike to end combat, but that’s something the Tremere are notorious for having a problem with.

Having decided on a rough combat package, the next step was in selecting the crypt. The Group 1 Tremere vampires include: Continue reading The Problems of the Tremere in VTES, Part II

The Problems of the Tremere Clan in VTES, Part I

Vampire: the Eternal StruggleOne of my hobbies is the collectible card game, Vampire: the Eternal Struggle. It was the second collectible card game (after Magic: the Gathering) designed by Richard Garfield and put out under the “Deckmaster” label. Originally introduced in 1994, the game is still supported with new expansions today, which makes VTES on of the longest running CCGs outside of M:tG.

VTES was designed to be a group game. It doesn’t play well with only two players, and many players won’t bother with a 3-player game either. Four or (preferably) five seems to be the preferred number of players to capture the dynamics of the game. It has consistently been recognized as the best multiplayer CCG ever. That also means that it requires a decent player base in order for play groups to really thrive.

The economics of the game are also a bit unusual. Typically the first printing of a collectible are the most sought after and valuable. Not so with VTES. Wizards of the Coast, the company that introduced the game back in 1994, wasn’t sure how many cards to print for their initial print run. The only guide they had to go off of was how many M:tG cards they were selling, so they ended up printing a lot more VTES cards (which was originally titled “Jyhad”) that were actually demanded. The end result was that of all the VTES cards in circulation, the cheapest and most plentiful ones are the ones originally printed. Which is the opposite of what one would expect.

At the start of 2005, I challenged myself to do something with all these original printing Jyhad cards. You could practically get them just for the asking and it seemed a good opportunity for someone to do the classic business maneuver of adding some value to them by repacking them in a more desirable form. Of course, in the world of CCGs, one of the hardest things to come by is a good deck design. So I decided to design decks comprised almost entirely of original Jyhad card stock and make them as competitive as I could. Continue reading The Problems of the Tremere Clan in VTES, Part I