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The Wounded World
Stay (10 Random Tips to Help Games Reach 20+ level)
Stay (10 Random Tips to Help Games Reach 20+ level)

1) Check Commitment Levels (Everyone/Pre-Game): Make sure your entire group is willing to commit to characters for that length of time, At medium progression a PathfinderRPG game played weekly (in 4-6 hour games) takes just a little between 1.5 and 2 years to hit 20th level. That is around 80 game sessions people are agreeing to attend to. This is NOT a casual thing. If it looks like this might be an issue, consider Fast Track experience. Make sure everyone is REALLY interested in that length of a game. A lot of people are, but you might be surprised how many aren’t willing to lock-in to that.

2) Plan for Change (Everyone/Pre-Game): Make sure you have backdoors in your story to allow for change in both players and characters. 80 sessions at Medium Experience is a lot to play. Most players will think of this as a privilege and treasure it. But, sometimes players make mistakes and over-commit. This can be to actual games or to a character concept that turns out to be less enjoyable to them than expected. Have a strategy for dealing with these situations. Don't make any one character too important in the meta-plot of the game until you know how well the player's experience is going. After a few campaigns you will probably know who you long term gamers are going to be and you can build stories with respect to those known levels of engagement. Also see 10.

3) Outline the Story (GM/Pre-Game): Have an adventure outline and story-arc in mind for a large share of the scope of the game. I highly discourage a newer GM from running a total sandbox game until they feel very comfortable with the system. Sandbox games tend to be more wild and unpredictable. However, also remember a campaign is NOT a novel. Player agency is crucial to most gamers' enjoyment of the hobby. Make sure you get a player to have some degree of buy-in before you script out their "destiny."

4) Check GM Intentions (GM/Pre-Game): Realize that most GMs want to be their own players. This is hard to grasp sometimes but every GM is by nature going to create the game experience THEY want to have. The key here is understanding that a GM does not run for themselves, they actually will get the least fulfilling "player experience" at the table and they should understand that their players might have different desires, wants, and even needs. This is VERY hard to learn. If you want to tell a story with a definite end and strict requirements of the cast of characters, write a novel instead.

5) Know Your Players & GM (Everyone/On-Going):
Usually, a home playgroup is comprised of friends. But a lot of groups do start as strangers. The ability to come together over a game is a strong bonding agent. Sometimes people like each other rapidly and "jump in" to a long-term game without any real period of acquaintance or understanding. This can be amazing. Lifelong friendships can begin casually at a Convention or LGS. But sometimes we join forces with someone with radically different out-of-game views than ourselves. Make sure you can respect one another before trying to share a long-term game with them. Or institute a "table-only" protocol for a group of relative strangers and keep the game about the game.

6) Session Zero (Everyone): Have a Session Zero. It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to take all night (I recommend planning for that though). It IS a very good idea to do. Level set story expectations, level set description intensity. Confirm commitment. Discuss player agency. Verify that people understand your GMing style and preferences. Talk to players about the kind of game they want. Let your players talk to each other. Make sure the energy feels good. Be willing to identify problems and warning signs.

7) Tear Down Vacuum Builds (Everyone/On-Going): In the current metagame for Pathfinder there are a LOT of resources to aid in character construction. A common player pitfall is to dive into this advice as "bible." Players commit to the "monk build" from so-and-so's guide and carry another gamer's opinions and baggage with them to your table. A player who knows nothing about your campaign. This in-turn can create dissonance with story-elements or cheapen the value of homebrewed rules content. Generally speaking vacuum characters are strong numerically and weak in terms of story integration.

8) Own Your Head-Cannon and House-Rules (GM/On-Going): It is vital as a game goes on to make changes for your table. The GM is final arbitrator of rules. Try to be aware of those changes. Log them if you need to. Nothing is more alienating to a new player than an established groups meta-myths and house-rules. If you have a lot of these consider codifying them. At the very least be willing to discuss them with new players and explain their origins without being defensive or overly "sovereign" about them. What works at your table WILL NOT work at every other table. To not rapidly "course correct" or overreact. Among a fantasy storytellers most important jobs is to create consistency and enhance verisimilitude. Changing rules weakens this fundamentally. So does hiding them. This also applies to alterations to a printed Campaign Settings history and storylines.

9) Let Go of Fear (Everyone/On-Going): Two years is a long time. Let people explore. Say yes to stuff. That can be new rules content for characters. It can mean letting them go off course for adventure. Let them ask you about the world you are creating with them. You might be surprised by your own answers. In my experience, people are too afraid. Afraid of losing control of games. Afraid of not being as powerful as another player’s character. Afraid to explore extremes of story or heroism because they are too worried about control or fairness or balance. If you want to build trust at the table, start by giving it.

10) Player Trajectory (Everyone/On-Going):
Be willing to address the monsters AT the table. Problem players happen. Usually it is a misunderstanding or lack of setting clear expectations. But sometimes it is a person who has not been looking for friends. They’ve been looking for an audience or rivals or worst of all.. victims. Be aware of player intention. If you sense that a player is moving in a direction that is detrimental to the well-being of your table or your campaign… question it. It doesn’t have to be an interrogation. But it is totally ok to as OOC why a player wants to do something that seems problematic. Once the motive is established it is easier to identify other work-arounds that work for everyone or to identify a damaging behavior earlier and dealt with it.

Look for more GM Advice here.
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You Ungrateful Punks!
Why with the blessings of Saint Cuthbert I have had a vision that I am in his favor and have been granted an additional Spell from his bounty. I am grateful.

Of course, I have had to march through swampy water, endure leeches of the most horrid variety, clouds of annoying insects and fight off a gigantic crocodile. Thank goodness for the lance training of Kilkennard. Forgive me, but if the old man thinks his son hasn't mastered the lance, he is quite mistaken. One charge, dead as a door nail. There was also that pair of two headed giants, too.

I keep thinking there must be a way to get back to a cushy academic appointment back in Verbobonc, with clean clothing, fine vestments and women, and wine to enjoy. The ladies certainly like a man of the cloth in plate mail. However, I will need to see our mission through. That boy has enthusiasm for battle that clearly stands between me and my appointment. I guess it might just be a form of penance. Sigh.
Session: Game Session #131 - Wednesday, Jul 12 2017 from 7:15 PM to 10:15 PM
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Tags: Level 6 , Level Up
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Posted by the GM
Tyranny of Dragons
Session 41 (16 March 2017) Thay
Thay turns out to be creepy and harrowing.

The party is met by another Red Wizard and a group of undead wights who escort them to a sumptuous set of apartments with an scrumptious banquet laid out in the common room. They are told that they will be called for on the morrow and are cautioned that, while they are no means prisoners, it would be unwise to leave the apartments as the halls are patrolled by undead guards who can be ... indiscriminate.

The eat and sleep. In the morning a delightful breakfast has been laid out: they eat that. They wait. And wait. A group of undead servants brings a delightful lunch. They eat that. And wait some more.

Finally, in mid-afternoon they are brought before the Tharchion. Rider recognizes that she is a vampire and offers her some of his blood - she declines remarking that if she wanted it she would just take it. The party is debriefed as to "the story so far" and they forget that they should always address a Thayan official by title. This among other things, notably their failure to permanently destroy the Thayan traitor Rath Modar counts against them and they are dismissed: they will be informed of Thay's decision in the morning.

That night each of them is subjected to the most horrific nightmare where they are alone in a boiling cauldron secured by chains and tentacles and surrounded by unknown Red Wizards who subject them to "enhanced interrogation techniques". The questions all dwell on their failure to destroy Rath Modar, the intention of the council and the weaknesses of the other members of the party. Some lie and some tell the truth but all are called "Liar!" and subjected to the most excruciating pain they have ever felt.

In the morning they awake to bloodstained sheets and are summoned to hear Thay's answer: no. With a wave of his hand the Red Wizard Nyh Ilmichh teleports them to a small farmhouse which they discover is about a mile north of Waterdeep.

Walking dejectedly back to the city they are accosted by a group of non-hostile dragon cultists who ask if the party will meet their "master" who represents a faction of the cult opposed to Severin and his ambitions for Tiamat. This master turns out to be a bone devil who styles itself Lord Volmer and informs them that it represents a number of the Lords of Hell who are, for their own reasons, opposed to Tiamat's release from Avernus. He offers the party a contract (8 encyclopaedic tomes in 8 point font) to enlist the aid of these devil's hosts in the struggle. The party decides this is above their pay grade and takes the contract to the Council for their lawyers to peruse.

Feeling pretty flat about their failure, the party makes their way to Xonthal's Tower ...
Session: Session 41 - Thursday, Mar 16 2017 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
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Posted by the GM
Tyranny of Dragons
Session 40 (9 March 2017) Waterdeep
The Cult lanches an all out assault on the party while they are relaxing between council sessions in Waterdeep. A group of cultists supported by a summoned demon and an adult black dragon that was either smuggled into Waterdeep polymorphed or teleported in charges into the tavern where the party is discussing their options.

Rider polymorphs into a T. Rex which lasts until damage from the dragon's breath weapon causes him to lose concentration, after which he uses the same spell on Krega. Magnus falls back on the old staples of Hasting Ella and Krega and dropping Fireballs once the civilians have run away. Krega rages - whether as a T. Rex or himself this is pretty scary. Ella tries unsuccessfully to banish the demon, who has a good run of saving throws, but who is ultimately banished by a heightened spell from Magnus. Krega takes down the dragon but not before it renders Ella unconscious. With the dragon and the cultists dead the party heals their wounds and monster the demon to death when it returns from its sojourn.

In the wreckage of the tavern they are met by Lady Laeral Silverhand who is very complementary that the party is obviously seen as a big threat by the Cult. She warns them that after this defeat they will probably try again - with greater force.

She and Leosin urge them to take the embassy to Thay. Even though it will be hazardous and Thay would prove to be a problematic ally: the Red Wizards are powerful and would be very useful in thwarting the Thayan exiles who are needed by the cult to perform the ritual for Tiamat's return.

Leosin describes Thay as a rigid hierarchical magocracy led by the lich Szass Tam and with everyone in the hierarchy being a mage, undead or both. The only point of common ground between Thay and the Council is they would both like to see an end to the rebel Red Wizards who are helping the cult, the so called "Thayan Resurrection".

The embassy is to a Tharchion named Eseldra Yeth who has ruled Lapendrar for nearly a century. The Thayan emissary, an Tharon named Nyh Ilmichh, will teleport them in and out. The Council will provide diplomatic warrants stating that they are representatives of the Lord's Alliance, The Order of the Gauntlet, the EMerald Enclave, the Harpers and the Zhentarim, however, in Thay these may only be worth the paper they are written on.

As always the party considers their options and opines: "Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?"
Session: Session 40 - Thursday, Mar 09 2017 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
Chapter 25: A Beacon in the Dark
The heroes fled down the road leading to Castle Ravenloft, reaching the upper gates as the sun dipped below the horizon. The sky was overcast and dark, lit only by flashes of lightning and the eerie blue balefire which danced among the gorse and heather lining the steep road. They found Strahd's black coach awaiting them. The silent coachman pointed to them with his driver's whip and the doors to the coach opened. The heroes declined to get in.

With a crack of his whip, the black horses burst into blue flame, consumed until there was nothing left but fiery skeletons drawing the black coach. It charged the heroes, attempting to run them down as the coachman gestured with his whip. A cold chill ran down the heroes' spines as it charged, but they fought back. Cira and Lupin managed to dodge the coach's wheels but Shokk, Volta, and Verity weren't so lucky. Zahar kept well back, and he peppered both driver and horses with arrows. Evan had vanished, along with the dragon's skull, protecting the precious relic. In the end, despite the half-orc barbarian nearly being run down, a blow from Volta's axe shattered the hip of one skeletal horse, sundered the front wheel of the coach, and sent the whole thing into a tumble. It vanished amidst a spray of churned up mud and earth, and the thunder of its wheels was replaced by the roll of the storm overhead.

Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me...

Barely pausing to catch their breath, the heroes made their way down the road towards Vallaki. They did not pass unmolested. Cira, Evan and Lupin provided light as best they could, but this became a beacon in the night. The group heard the flap of leathery wings overhead, and saw two giant bats descend, accompanied by swarms of normal-sized bats, all with shining eyes and glinting fangs. The two monstrous ones were mounted by warriors in the mail and livery of Strahd's household guard. Like the rest they had seen, these warriors were already dead, their withered flesh clinging tight to iron-hard bones. They brought bows to bear, but the heroes were ready with missiles of their own. Zahar proved to be as good a marksman as he claimed, and his arrows brought one down in a hurry. Verity used a favorite spell to create a pattern of hypnotic, swirling lights that lit up the darkness and brought the huge bats crashing to earth. Volta, Shokk, Lupin and Cira were quick to capitalize on the fallen wights, and brought them low in a hurry.

Giant bats descended from the night sky.

Stopping only long enough to grab the skull, the heroes pressed on to Vallaki. Some honeyed words from Verity got them through the front gates and across town, with the heroes only pausing long enough to bind their wounds and catch their breath. They continued past the Luna River crossroads, running into a shambling horde of zombies along the way! These unnamed dead, victims of tragedies along the road, were no doubt animated by Strahd's necromancy from afar. But Cira called on the holy power of the Morninglord and blasted them all to ashes and dust.

With hardly a pause, the heroes made their way up the long, forested road to Argynvostholt, the seat of the Order of the Silver Dragon. They would return the dragon's skull to its crypt, as they had promised the dead knights who still lingered in the ruined manor. But their way was not clear just yet. Several sets of lambent eyes shone out of the darkness ahead as they reached the front of the ruin. Dire wolves. What meager light came from the moon and the night sky was eclipsed as a shadowy, draconic form flew overhead. It was a dragon of shadow, a living darkness, no doubt called up from the pits of night by Strahd's foul wizardry. A figure sat atop it - a vampire, from the gleam of his eyes and sharp teeth - in dark robes. One of the devil Strahd's dark servants, sent to stop them.

The shadow dragon descended out of the night sky, seeking the dragon's skull and the heroes' deaths.

Exhausted and embattled, the heroes fought against the dire wolves and Strahd's fell servants. The shadow dragon flew in, it's breath a lance of lambent purple flame, searing and rotting flesh. Its wings, claws, tail, and bite tore at them, notably Caxius and Zahar, whose attacks seemed to cause it the most pain. The vampire warlock blasted them with fire and lances of force, but Cira blasted him back with radiant bolts of holy light. In the end, sword and spell laid the dragon low, and its shadow flickered into the dark as the vampire riding it crumbled to dust.

With the way clear, the heroes made their way into the mausoleum behind the manor house and placed the skull to rest. As they did, a beacon of silver light lit in the topmost tower of the great house, shooting skyward. They felt new hope surge into their breasts. As they made their way back into the main hall, Sir Godfrey Gwilym descended the steps. "You have laid my brethren to rest, even Vladimir Horngaard, whose sword you," he nodded to Shokk, "carry. With our master laid to rest, we can rest as well. What arms we had are yours. Seek them in the vault upstairs." With that, he crumbled to dust leaving only his armor behind. Among them they found a scythe-like polearm and a longbow, both enchanted, a shield that could warn its bearer of impending harm, and a breastplate of spell-forged steel. Re-armed and armored, the heroes rested until dawn. With hope in their hearts, they would make their way back to the castle soon enough - and put and end to Strahd!
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