Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Pathfinder Bestiary 5

Bestiary 5 for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is out now!  But should you buy it?  As a general rule of thumb for Pathfinder Bestiaries or D&D Monster Manuals, the higher the number in the title, the less useful it is.  This is something I learned before I ever started playing D&D.  When I went over to my friend Marc's house in junior high school, I would flip through his monster manuals and marvel at the strange collection of beasts therein.  I soon realized that, while there were some pretty weird creatures throughout all the books, it was the higher-numbered ones that were more likely to contain cheesy, dumb, or downright bizarre monsters destined never to be included in a random monster table or emblazoned on some knight's shield.  It was Monster Manual IV, after all, that famously gave us the ice-skating dragon.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with weird monsters; beholders and rust monsters are pretty darn weird, but they are also iconic, interesting, and truly threatening monsters that are easy for GMs and players alike to grasp.  A monster can get away with being weird if it has been around for a long time, or if its underlying concept is really engaging.  I knew Bestiary 5 was in trouble when I opened to a random page and saw this:

© Paizo
That's a dwiergeth, and its name is just as much of a random jumble of consonants and vowels as its body is a random jumble of monster parts.  But Bestiary 5 isn't all dwiergeths and aatheriexas, it is also packed with beasts from Greek, Egyptian, Mapuche, Inuit, and Slavic mythology (and many more), plus crazy sci-fi creatures and and odd occult horrors.  As I read on, I knew I had to create a metric that I could use to review each monster individually and compile them to get a sense of how useful the bestiary was overall.  The results are below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monster Monday: Ketos, Sea Monster of Divine Retribution

Today's Monster Monday is the ketos, an ancient sea monster from Greek and Biblical mythology.  This is the monster that Poseidon sent to eat Andromeda, and that Perseus petrified with Medusa’s severed head.  The ketos is also frequently shown as the sea monster that swallowed Jonah in late classical and medieval depictions of the story.  In both cases, it is a monster sent by a deity to punish the impious by eating someone.

Andromeda liberata da Perseo by Piero di Cosimo, via Wikimedia
Herakles, appropriating the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, apparently also rescued a princess from a ketos, doing so in true herculean fashion by leaping into its mouth and slaying it from within.  In 58 BC, the Romans put the bones of what they believed to be the ketos that Perseus slew on display during gladiatorial games.  The bones were described as “forty feet long, with ribs taller than an Indian elephant, and spines eighteen inches thick.” 

"Hercules Slays the Ketos" from vase painting in Athens, Stavros S Niarchos Collection.
Many medieval depictions of the inside of the whale emphasize its overwhelming heat, to the point where at least one such depiction has Jonah going bald from the heat.  In a late tenth century tale recounted by the French monk Letaldus, with parallels to the story of Jonah, a fisherman named Within is swallowed by a great whale and kills the whale by setting his boat on fire and attacking the creature’s insides with his sword.  After four days and five nights, he is washed up in the whale's carcass and emerges hairless.  The whale that swallows Within is likened to Scylla and Charybdis, and described “with snake-like teeth and with an ever gaping gullet, a gullet that could tumble entire cities to the underworld.”  

Photo by wmpearl, via Wikimedia
Jonah Cast Up, 280-290 CE, marble, late Roman, Asia Minor, Cleveland Museum of Art
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 5 - Heavy Armor

This is part 5 of my ongoing series on improving the armor tables.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these changes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

This week's subject is heavy armor.  This is the armor for those who can afford it, for while it may be more restrictive and, well, heavier than other armors, the protection it provides is second to none.  In the category of heavy armor, we have banded armor, bronze plate, mail-and-plate, heavy mail, bronze panoply, plate, and full plate.  This is armor for your characters that can take a beating and give one back in return: your stalwart legionnaires, your axe-wielding sea-raiders, your shining knights errant, and your bloodthirsty horsemen of the steppe.

Fans of plate armor will be pleased to see that, in these tables, plate and full plate offer more flexibility than they do in Pathfinder or D&D 3.5.  This is some of the best armor ever made, worn by the wealthiest warriors of Europe.  They would not have fought in it if it restricted their movements and limited their ability to fight.  It may have been heavy, but the way it was made and worn distributed its weight across the whole body, making it feel lighter than mail.

Read on to see the stats for all these armor types and learn more about them.  As before, I have provided some historical information with each armor entry in order to aid the GM in determining which armors would fit best in a particular campaign setting.

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Traps 103 with Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.

Paramount Pictures
Welcome back, class! I know it's been a while since our last two sessions, so I hope you took good notes.

Today I'll be talking about how a GM can make detecting and disarming traps more interesting in-game.  I won't be using so many examples from the Indiana Jones movies this time around, because I can only think of one time Indy makes a Disable Device check.  When he is approaching the Breath of God trap in Last Crusade, he ducks, grabs a rope, and hooks it onto a spinning wheel, causing the trap to grind to a halt.

Paramount Pictures
Last time around, I closed by talking about making complex death traps that seem more like puzzles in how the players interact with them.  So why don't we expand that principle to all traps?

I've noticed that in my games, both as a player and as a GM, traps are not always well integrated into the play experience.  A typical trap encounter might go something like this:
Rogue: I open the chest!  Wait, first I should check for traps.
GM: Roll for it. 
Rogue: *rolling* 13... so that's a... 27 all together. 
GM: Alright, you're pretty sure that if you open the chest it will stick you with a poisoned needle. 
Rogue: *rolling* I got a... 31 to disarm. 
GM: Wow.  Okay, you stick your thieves' tools in there and disarm it.  
That's a pretty boring interaction.  Most of it is just calling out numbers, which is not something the in-game character would even be aware of.  This is a failing on my (the GM's) part.  When I include a trap encounter, I need to set it up through description.  To do that, we'll need to delve deeper: