One of the things more industrialized settings sometimes do for an rpg campaign is open up new avenues of adventure. While there is nothing at all wrong with tuning an abandoned mall into a dungeon, or a wrecked spaceship into a haunted house, or treating an alien progenator as a dragon in its layer, sometimes it’s fun to play with new possibilities as well.
And if you have a setting with multiple homeworlds drawing together in a confederation with representative officials from different worlds, each with its own method of selecting said officials, that means politics.
While in some games PCs might actually be candidates, and some system of determining who wins an election might be useful as a subsystem, the idea of political action adventures can be introduced without going nearly that far. Much as you don’t need a subsystem on fighting epidemics in order to rush antidotes to a plague-ridden city and don’t need rules on the impact of an alpha predator on an ecology not designed for it to hunt down the bullette destroying a forest, you can do a lot with politics as a motivator without ever getting into voting, caucuses, poll taxes, or even issues.
As with many RPG-related adventure ideas, you can borrow heavily from fiction for inspiration. While these are by no means an exhaustive list of movies with politics-driven action plots, and it’s certainly not a commentary on the quality of any of these movies, they are things that a good GM should be able to easily borrow from to throw some political adventure into a modern or science-fiction campaign. All of these have at least some elements where it’s easy to envision PCs of any level getting involved, either accidentally, as catspaws, or as a politically appropriate measured response. While it might be important in some cases to downgrade the action from centering around a chief executive to simply a minor representative who’ll cast a decisive vote on something, the core ideas are still easily lifted.
And obviously, I leaned towards those movies with cool ideas and set-pieces over those with believable politics.
Air Force One
Bridge of Spies
Enemy of the State
Escape from New York
The Hunger Games tilogy
In the Line of Fire
The Manchurian Candidate
Olympus Has Fallen
The Pelican Brief
The Purge: Election Year
Speaking of Politics
Well only sort of. But politicians need supporters… and so do I! I have a Patreon, where I have set up pledge levels to explain how much you’ll actually be charged (within a few cents) even under Patreon’s weird new pricing scheme. Check it out!
I’ve been toying with what it would take to create a different kind of d20 game. One where just a few key choices, that don’t take a ton of planning or prerequisites and that don’t require *exactly* the right tactics to use, can make a major impact on who a character is and what neat, exciting things they can do.
I posted about it some yesterday.
So, of course, now it’s stuck in my head. There’s TONS of stuff I’d have to do to make this overall vision work (like rewrite all classes so they all have three lines of abilities, two tied to one ability score each and a third not tied to any ability score)…
But for now I’m still just exploring interesting revisions to feats many people tell me are either terrifyingly dull, or actively frustrating.
Agile Maneuvers (Combat, Revised)
You’ve learned to use your quickness in addition to brute force with performing combat maneuvers.
Benefit: You add your Dexterity bonus to your base attack bonus and Strength bonus when determining your Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Bonus. When a creature attempts a combat maneuver against you and fails, it provokes an attack of opportunity from you (separate from any AoO provoked when it attempted the combat maneuver, and even if it the attacker doesn’t provoke AoO when attempting a combat maneuver). However, you can only use this attack of opportunity to attempt your own combat maneuver (which does not itself provoke an AoO). You can only perform one AoO per round using this feat, even if you have multiple attacks of opportunity each round.
Alignment Channel (Revised)
Choose chaos, evil, good, or law. You can channel divine energy to affect creatures with this alignment.
Prerequisites: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: Instead of its normal effect, you can choose to have your ability to channel energy heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element. You must make this choice each time you channel energy. If you choose to heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element, your channel energy has no effect on other creatures.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a new alignment element. Whenever you channel energy, you must choose which alignment element to effect, or a combination of elements. For example if you have selected chaos and good, you can choose to affect all chaotic creatures, all good creatures, or just all chaotic good creatures.
Arcane Armor Training (Combat, Revised)
You have learned how to cast spells while wearing armor.
Prerequisites: Light Armor Proficiency, ability to cast 1st level arcane spells.
Benefit: You do not suffer arcane spell failure from light armor. When you cast an arcane spell that gives you an armor bonus while wearing light armor, you may choose to increase the armor bonus of either you light armor or the spell by 1 for the duration of the spell. If you can cast cantrips, you can also use magic to put on or remove your light armor as a move action.
Augment Summoning (Combat, Revised)
Your summoned creatures are more powerful and robust.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast a conjuration (summoning) spell that conjures a creation.
Benefit: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains a +2 enhancement bonus to melee attacks and damage and +2 hp per Hit Die. Additionally, if the spell has a duration of 1 round/level, it increases to 1 hour/level when outside of combat. But if the creature is in a combat (even if it neither attacks nor is attacked) each round of combat reduces the spell’s duration by 1 hour.
About my Patreon
I have a Patreon, and normally I’d link directly to it from here. It seems small, but it’s an important part of my income. My patrons allow me to do less formal freelance writing, which gives me time to do more, longer, better-considered articles and essays here.
But there have been changes to how Patreon charges my patrons.
As a result I wrote a blog post discussing some changes I have made, and while I would love for you to choose to support me, at the moment I’d ask you go check out my thoughts on how to handle changes to Patreon before you go pledge. 🙂
I’ve literally been playing and writing for d20 system games since before D&D 3.0 came out. That long experience has led me to not really fear overpowered characters. If characters are overpowered it’s actually very easy to upgrade encounters in a consistent manner until they’re challenge, and the vast majority of things that cause groups to decide a specific build or ability is overpowered are tied as much to play style as objective balancing of rules.
What I AM afraid of is characters that are boring or frustrating. Players will put up with a lot if they find their character interesting, including a GM modifying pre-written encounters in a possible slightly haphazard way, if they enjoy and are engaged with their characters. All too often, however, feats become a source of both frustration \(as long lists of prerequisites, carefully worded language that excludes numerous combinations, and situational bonuses that may never come up in play cause a player to interact with feats negative far more often than positively. While having a predictable power curve is good for designing adventures and trying to get all players to have equal spotlight time, if brakes built into a game to provide that predictability slaps down players more often than it enables them to do something exciting it reduces fun instead of facilitating it.
Ideally, I’d like to see a d20 game where characters are defined by their feats as much as by their class and race, but only because a few feats are enough to give a character a wide range of new capabilities or augment them enough that their performance itself provides a new play experience. Such a system might well have to affect other subsystems such as bonus acquisition, action economy, and featlike powers from other sources (such as traits, favored class bonuses, alternate race traits, and even archetypes), but it also has to redefine feats to a player envisions a character being notable different in play with even a single feat.
While I clearly can’t tackle ever feat in the core rules in the space of a single blog post, I though a selection of revised feats, all based on d20 feats that are regularly derided for being useless or boring, might provide a good example of the kind of design space I am envisioning. These are just a starting point, and a game build around them would have to make some other hard choices to keep frustration levels down and ease of character design and advancement up.
Your ability to notice things is almost preternatural.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Perception had Sense Motive, and both of these are treated as class skills for you. (You gain an additional +1 bonus to each skill if it is a class skill for you as a result of some other option.) You automatically gain one rank per level in each of these skills, though this cannot give you more total ranks than your character level (if you had already point skill ranks into these skill prior to gaining this feat, you can spend those skill points on other skills). You gain each skill’s unlocks (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained) appropriate for the number of ranks you have +4 (so you gain the 5 rank skill unlock at 1st level, and the 10 rank skill unlock at 6th level).
Combat Expertise (Combat, Revised)
You are a master of increasing your defense at the expense of your accuracy.
Benefit: When you fight defensively (see Chapter 8, Combat) you take only a -1 penalty to your attack rolls. When your base attack bonus reaches +4, and every +4 thereafter, the dodge bonus you gain from fighting defensively increases by +1. Your dodge bonus from this feat is limited to +2 or your armor’s Max Dex Bonus, whichever is greater.
When push comes to shove, you can depend on your ability to succeed at a given skill.
Benefit: Select one skill. You gain a +3 bonus to that skill. Once per day when you fail a skill check with this skill, as a free action you may immediately instead change your die result to a 20. This feat must be selected for each Knowledge skill separately, but if taken for Craft, Perform, or Profession it applies to all of those skills.
Weapon Focus (Combat, Revised)
You are highly skills with a class of weapons.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with one weapon in the category, base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Select one fighter weapon group. You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls with every weapon in this group with which you are proficient. At 3rd level, you also gain a +2 bonus to damage with such weapons. When you base attack bonus reaches +8, your bonus to attacks increases to +2. When you base attack bonus reaches +12, your bonus to damage increases to +4.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take it, you must select a different fighter weapon group.
Special: If you have at least two levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +1 bonus to attack rolls with the selected weapons. If you have at least three levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +2 bonus to damage rolls with the selected weapons.
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Spurred on by a discussion where someone suggested monster tactics as a product line, I took a quick pass at looking at some tactics for iconic monsters, to see if I think they can be useful and generic enough to make a good product. I’m not convinced wither way yet, but sharing my first draft seemed a great way to test the waters. Thus, here I present my ideas for ogre tactics. As the first giants PCs are likely to run into, ogres make a good stand-in for all Large humanoids, though obviously things like spell-like abilities and rock-throwing may give true giants better options. (Or you could use this with ogres that have orc ferocity, and call them orrocs!)
First, many GMs intentionally give ogres terrible tactics because they have an Intelligence of 6. But remember that this is three times as smart as a wolf. Would the smartest wolf you can conceive of make the bad tactical choice you are considering? No? Then neither should an ogre. Further their typical Wisdom of 10 and the fact they have Perception as a skill suggests ogres can recognize and analyze a situation even if they may do a terrible job describing it with good grammar. Certainly an ogre can recognize a spellcaster, see the issue with allowing foes to heal, know when to press the attack o have one unconscious foe and one healthy foe as preferable to two injured foes who can both fight back, and so on.
Indeed, recognizing spellcasters will often drive ogre tactics. With reach (which you can augment with various options below) an ogre has a decent chance of being able to strike a spellcaster in melee, and an ogre should know that they let their guard down when they cast spells, so desire to keep spellcasters close enough that they must cast defensively to avoid provoking attacks of opportunity from the ogre.
If facing foes without reach, an ogre with no adjacent enemies can safely attempt combat maneuvers against foes 10 feet away without provoking attacks of opportunity, and their Large size and high Strength makes them reasonable likely to succeed. Tripping foes can help with battlefield control (especially as the foe is likely to provoke an attack of opportunity when it stands), and disarming an enemy at least reduces the chance of suffering a full-attack action.
Some tactics are more like customizations, in that they move the ogre away from the base stat block of the bestiary, while staying a legal monster build.
Even if using slow progression, an ogre should average 550 gp of treasure, There is no need for this to all be gold and gems it hoards away in a pocket to be looted off its body. An ogre can have some of its treasure as gear it might use. As simple a choice as allowing it to carry a Large longspear (10 gp) gives the ogre an impressive 20 foot melee range, and it can drop the weapon and draw its greatclub if needed. With that much reach melee foes might well feel the need to risk a charge, and that means the ogre can brace to receive charge. (If this seems likely, consider a boar spear, which costs the same and gives a bonus to AC in that situation).
Similarly a Large heavy crossbow (100 gp) may only fire once every two rounds, but it gives the ogre a much heavier, longer-range initial punch. Since an ogres hide armor proves it is proficient with medium armor, upgrading to a Large breastplate (400 g, though it can save by not also buying Large hide armor for 30 gp) gives it +2 AC. A cure light wounds potion, thunderstone, tanglefoot bag, or other alchemical weapons can also increase it’s flexibility in battle, and are useful to 3rd level PCs as treasure.
If using multiple ogres, one throwing javelins and one with a boar spear can be an effective ranged-combat options until PCs manage to close in. If you have three or more ogres, you might consider giving one a kumade (which is a simple weapon with the grapple special weapon property) or a sickle (a simple weapon with the trip special weapon property) to keep foes worried about combat maneuvers.
If considering adjusting the ogre’s feats, Toughness can generally be swapped out for better choices. Improved Iron Will makes the ogre less likely to be defeated with a single bad Will save, or Power Attack gives it an excellent trade off of damage for a little reduced accuracy. If your campaign allows retraining, consider having two or more ogres with the Crowd Control teamwork feat to make it harder for foes to get inside their reach. If an ogre is going to be alone, the Desperate Battler feat may be useful.
And Now, A Tactical Mention of my Patreon
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