Recent thoughts on Unfair but Beatable.

I have been playing a lot of a very specific board game recently.  Kingdom Death:  Monster.  It’s a glorious game.  I’m going to break it down a little.  (I keep talking about it, so I figure I might as well make a blog post about it).

The game comes in three phases:
A Showdown Phase, where 4 humans fight a heinous monster.  They survive and return victorious with spoils.  Or die, and people starve.

A Settlement Phase, where the players decide how to use resources and supplies to best  a fighting chance against the trials beset upon them.  There is a lot of strategy here in either trying to out breed the things that kill you or out power them.

The Hunt phase, where 4 humans track down another monster to kill and eat for basic survival.

What is most applicable to Role-playing games is the Showdown Phase.  The Showdown phase has 4 humans square off a Single Monster.  The Single monster is going to wreck your face.  It just happens.  Even if the monster is a Level 1 monster (the weakest kind of monster in the game), it can tear apart a veteran crew if the cards and dice are just right.  The fights are always hard won.

The monster fights are always memorable, and always a challenge.

I want to bring this to The Pathfinder Role-Playing Game and other role-playing games.  However, to really do this you have to analyze WHAT makes the fights so different.  There are a large number of differences, mostly a board-game vs a role-playing game here, and after weeks of analysis (I seriously can’t stop playing this game, I might need help) The key element here, is the monster has a chance, albeit a rather large chance,  to “react” to the player’s.  The reactions are as powerful as a normal turn for the monster.  The players attack the monster, the monster gets hit… the monster swings back in response.  The player gets trashed, but in return the players as a whole are closer to it’s goal.

To accomplish this “feeling” I’ve created a small number of feats, and a special class that is compatible for The Pathfinder Roleplaying game.    Using this class, and a few of these feats, will definitely change the feel of the game for your players.  I suggest if you use these, you use them sparingly, and perhaps only once to seal in just how special the fight is.  These are designed for encounters with a Single Dominating Threat, also known as, the Big Bad Evil Guy.

I will bring you the class here first.  And Wednesday, I shall bring you the first of a series of feats called playfully Reaction Feats that are intended to be used in conjunction with this class.  I give you:  The Egomaniac.

Egomaniac
Toiling away into the dim hours of the night, recklessly pursuing a goal that even the most bold of adventures dare not attempt. They do not stop, they will not yield, and they always move forward. Dying isn’t in the plan, and quite frankly, they do not have time for what is not in the plan. Meticulous in what they do, it’s this planning nature to which they draw all the endurance, patience and necessary reserves of strength or cunning to deal with whatever might attempt to thwart the plan.
Not quite a god, and defiantly beyond mortal, any individual who pursues this path is obsessed with a specific goal, and blind to all else. Each step is calculated, thought through, and then executed regardless of outside consequence, as long as the goal gets closer. Egomaniacs they are called, but that does not concern them. There is no price to which they will not pay to meet the goal, and perhaps that is the deciding factor of what makes that person enduring, so driven, and so unendingly persistent.
Role: The Egomaniac is a villain that simply refuses to stop. Perpetually attempting to further goals, the egomaniac does not care whom or what is damaged in the course of accomplishing the goal, making it the perfect villain to a group of PCs.
Alignment: Typically lawful people make up the Egomaniac, following on the very nature of themselves, reinforcing the plan with codified actions. However Neutral people do see the draw, and are often adaptable enough to see a plan-able course of action take place. Chaotic Egomaniacs are perhaps the rarest and most effective,
Hit Die: d8
Class Skills: Bluff, Climb, Craft, Diplomacy, Escape Artist, Fly, Knowledge(history), Knowledge(local), Knowledge(nature), Knowledge(nobility), Linguistics, Ride, Sense Motive, Survival, Swim, Use Magic Device
Skills Per Level: 4 + Int modifier<Class advancement table is above>

Class Features
Weapon and Armor Proficiency
This class is proficient with martial, simple weapons and with light and medium armor and light, heavy shields.
Age Resistance (Su) — At fifth level, the egomaniac absolutely will not die until its grand work is done. The egomaniac ages at roughly half the rate of a normal person once they completely dedicate themselves to a cause. An egomaniac will gain the benefits of aging, but does not gain the penalties until it has completely aged through the category. The age at which the Egomaniac will die naturally is delayed 50%.
Bonus HP (Ex) — An egomaniac is particularly difficult to put down, and as such gains bonus HP every level. Each level of egomaniac gained, the character gains 8 additional HP.
HD Boost (Ex) — The egomaniac’s ability to put his goal above all else is staggering and the egomaniac’s unrelenting force of personality refuses him the ability to yield in the face of adversity. At third level, and every odd level thereafter, the egomaniac gains a 1 bonus Hit Die for the purpose of spells or spell-like effects. Each of these bonus HD may be traded when the egomaniac suffers damage or fails a saving throw to completely ignore effects of the spell or attack. The bonus HD traded in this way comes back when the Egomaniac are recovered each time the egomaniac rests.
Mimic-Class (Ex) — The egomaniac is all about the adapting itself to a specific goal. At first level, the egomaniac may select a single other class. The class must be a core class. The egomaniac may choose a single feature granted to the selected class at level 1, and mimic that class feature in every way. The egomaniac’s level is counted as the selected class for the purposes of advancement along the class. An egomaniac may pick a spell-casting to be mimic, in which case the egomaniac uses the spell list provided by the class that is mimicked, as well as the relevant required attribute for spell casting.
Example: A 5th level Egomaniac who chose the sneak attack class feature to mimic from the Rogue class, counts as a 5th level Rogue for determining Sneak attack.
Follow up Example: A 9th level egomaniac counts as a 9th level wizard for spell-casting purposes should the egomaniac pick spell-casting. The Egomaniac uses his Intelligence for spell casting, just as if he’s a wizard. The Egomaniac’s caster level would be 9, and would gain new spells as a wizard.
Ultimate Reward (Su) — The egomaniac’s goal is so close at hand, truly grand things will occur. The egomaniac simply cannot die, and its soul will not leave the mortal realm until the goal is attained. Death granted to the egomaniac will simply cause the egomaniac to rise 1d10 days later, almost as if a lich. This comes at a cost, the moment the goal is realized, the egomaniac is all but assured. The egomaniac loses all class features and all HD beyond the first upon reaching a conclusion to its grand plot. Often times, this leaves the egomaniac nothing but a corpse.
Last Ditch Escape (Ex) — Perhaps a large part of planning is part of the fact that egomaniacs are perhaps so difficult to stop, and not just rugged resilience. Starting at 2nd level the egomaniac can escape any situation that leaves its body intact. If the egomaniac has less than 1/4th its hit points, and it is able to use the stealth skill either due to low-light, concealment or blocked line of sight, the Egomaniac may enact a plan to leave the situation.  Enacting the plan is a swift action that moves the egomaniac 50 + 10 feet per character level.  The egomaniac must be able to see the end square of the movement to get there.  The Egomaniac may move as if he had teleported to the location.
Villain Feat — Often in the attempt to attain the goal despite all incoming obstacles, a character creates a vast quantity of powerful foes. These foes have the resources, and they have the skill, but they are weak. They will forget the egomaniac, and they do not have the drive to mirror the egomaniac’s drive. At every even level the egomaniac may select a Reaction Feat. This feat can be substituted with any general feat, or combat feat if the egomaniac does not meet the perquisites.
Any general or combat feat gained through this class feature may be replaced by a Reaction feat when the egomaniac attains a new level.

 

Designing without Fear for balance!

A game is an experience. Specifically, it is a vehicle for delivering an experience that is fun and engaging. Fun and engaging are the key phrases of that sentence. I’ve been trying to write RPGs for years, and all my privately shared experiences in that the most memorable experiences are always the ones that bend rules in FUN or CHALLENGING ways. People today talk about games I ran when I was a teenager, and that is a badge of pride in my book. I’m going to break down one of the MOST memorable.

-The Tower of Bosses-

Forgive the name, I was a young teen and I was unabashedly ripping from video games. However, one thing I will tip to my younger self, I Did not care ONE IOTA for balance. That was, actually a good thing for me. Because I cared about something that made this particular segment VERY memorable.

There were 5 floors. Each floor had a ridiculous boss I had concocted, and a ridiculously built room specifically to make the boss more difficult. This was the fortress to fight my villain (…Snort… General Gallows, and his enslaved angels, did I mention I was the BEST at names as a teenager), and to get to him, you had to get through his minions.

His 1st floor was guarded by his “invincible” bodyguard. He was in such heavy armor that no combat spell or weapon could pierce. He swung once a turn, but that was all he needed had a large furnace in the room that he would avoid, but he would activate to fling fire into the room to damage people who were lined up stupidly. His gimmick was simple: He was stupidly loyal.

The PC’s had a hell of a time dealing with him… until they cast a desperate dominate spell on him, and had him jump into the furnace. His gimmick of being stupidly loyal meant he would do anything if commanded, regardless of danger to himself. The PC’s won. There was much rejoicing.

The 2nd Floor was guarded by a monk. The monk had a pool of water the pool of water hasted the monk and refilled his HP to full. The monk would jump kick out of the water, pummel the PCs, and get pummeled and jump back into the water… Repeat. The SECOND time that happened the group wizards was like “Oh hellz no” and decided to boil the water. The group dragon decided “No no no… we are not letting him get HP everywhere in this room” and used his frost breath weapon to freeze the water.

Turned the battle into an interesting Ice-Rink of the Monk sliding around ninja kicking people until the group fighter tripped him, and kept him prone and stabbed. There was much rejoicing.

The 3rd floor was not hard: but it was a completely open portion of the tower. There was a dragon man who was flying out of the tower and through the tower lancing people, but the tower had four supports that the PC’s could easily knock out. Which they picked up on right away… and caused the tower to crash down on the poor dragon man and squish him flat.

The 4th floor was not very memorable, it was a traditional brawl but the PC’s won. This is a key bit of information to hold onto later.

The 5th floor and then the big ol battle. It was 4 level 15 pc’s versus 1 enslaved fallen angel, and 1 very evil general, who was a “master” (read unfair) tactician.

So… the Enslaved Angel had very few HPs, a low AC, and a small saves. However, the first turn of combat, I reduced all the PC’s to a Level between 1 and 4. (I had them roll a D4 for what level they were set to) and the General’s turn was dead last. They had to quickly kill the Angel to get the levels back, and they knew it because the memories, skills and spells were visible on the Angel. The angel reduced levels every turn, that’s all it did. Not negative energy damage. No… they had to revert spells, and levels, and class features.

The General didn’t have many attacks in a round, or even interesting or broken feats. He didn’t need any… He was going to rock some worlds right now, and the PC’s really hated him. To this day they still talk about his “bullshit”. However, they still talk about it, they still engage in conversation about it. SOME even still talk about how they could have gone about that battle better.

And to this day, some get bored with more conventional encounters. Some of my encounters today are borderline unfair, but they are still all winnable. That is what I took away; keep it unfair, but winnable. The PC’s after all, are supposed to be heroes. They need to feel like they can win, they just need to feel the imminent threat of death.

 

Why am I bringing up this old game? To bring up how bad of a GM I was as a young teen? No. Actually, it’s the pattern of rooms. Each room with a gimmick was easy to remember. It was memorable: the solution to the problem at hand was a clever one. The blow-by-blow isn’t recorded (With exception of that particularly brutal last room) but the feelings intense and enjoyable remain.

What was curious to me was that floor 4 was a void in my memory. It was not the “Good time” that the players enjoyed. It was not the floor that was enjoyable. I remember it as a regular ol slug-fest that didn’t even have memorable NPCs. That is what is the take-away here.

The key is to creating excellent, engaging and fun content is to make it memorable. After-all a game is all about delivering an experience, we might as well make it one worth keeping. Over the next few posts, I’m going to be posting some Pathfinder and/or RPG mechanics to attempt to build those “Completely unfair but beatable” villains. I’m going to create feats, classes, and maybe a few new spells that have the goals of completely throwing off PC’s and make GM’s question how they run games. I’m not saying these features are balanced. In fact, I dare say they are not. They are not intended for PC’s to get ahold of, or to use. And that is of course what will make the players remember it all the more.