Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Holy crap. Finally had the chance to really read some of Mythic Adventures after snapping it up at Gen Con and it is AWESOME.

I was afraid that it was just going to be a heavily altered version of 4e D&D in an attempt to appeal to those whose favorite system is on the way out. And while these mechanics can indeed appeal to the folks who want to play a mega-badass right out the gate, it is certainly not an either/or situation.

You don't need to run a full blown "mythic campaign" to use this book. Here's a quick overview of what I found -

Mythic characters mostly start off as average PCs (or villains) who do something awesome or come into contact with something awesome that gives them a moment of "ascension". Blammo! Welcome to Mythic tier 1. Have your cool new Mythic feat and host of spiffy new abilities. You are now probably more badass than someone who is a regular level higher than you are. Maybe even two!

Gaining Mythic tiers isn't something that happens automatically as you level up, though. Instead, the GM has to put "trials" in front of you. The first bump up a tier is one trial, then the next is two trials, and two more after that on to the next, then three, and so on. Every time you go up a tier you get some new cool stuff, and it can go all the way to tier level 10, when you pretty much become the Highlander.

The book also has Mythic versions of monsters that run the gamut from low to "holy crap" CRs. All of these are challenging and interesting spins on things that the PCs may think that they've got totally figured out, but their new abilities all gel with the theme of the base creature to the point where it feels like a natural extension.

I.E., a mythic Bone Devil has an ability that directly attacks the skeleton of anybody who messes with them. NEAT!

One thing that I love about this is that the mythic progression is VERY story driven. A GM -could- just say "wow that was a hard fight. Here you go - have a mythic tier", but you're really encouraged to make each step along that path a major Thing all its own.

I really encourage you guys to check this book out.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

(A new GM flattered me recently by asking my advice on how he might best start off running his own games. He said he had an idea for something that involved the PCs doing battle against demons and orcs and ghosts to save a town, but hadn't planned much beyond that. What follows is the response I sent, which got so long that I figured I might as well just turn it into my bi-annual blog post!)

One thing I always suggest is that new GMs take a look at existing adventure modules to get an idea of the industry standard for layout and pacing. Writing a story is great, but when it's time to start rolling dice you want your players to be really excited and engaged with the sort of challenges you put in front of them.

That isn't to say that the story you want to share isn't a big part of the game, but you never want your players to feel like the things their characters do matters less than the narrative their GM is trying to tell. Keeping the right pace helps with that.

Also, keep a certain amount of focus. Demons and ghosts and orcs are all awesome, but do they have a reason to work together apart from being bad guys? Though all of them are chaotic evil, they all make for very different kinds of encounters, and probably wouldn't get along well under most circumstances!

Demons are probably the most challenging of the bunch to play, because they get all sorts of dangerous abilities - not least of which is the ability to summon MORE demons! Add to that DR and SR, along with generally terrific stats, and you've got some of the meanest monsters in the game. Further, they can operate in a myriad of different ways. While some of them aren't much more than rampaging monsters, others are subtle manipulators that you might never know are even demons until it's too late.

They also come from a place called The Abyss (in most campaign settings, that is), which is an infinite place of chaos and evil that will spawn infinite numbers of demons. It's difficult to see large amounts of demons bothering to work with orcs or ghosts.

Ghosts are also tricky, given their "nature". They are often tied to a particular location, and are incredibly difficult to destroy due to their rejuvenation ability - and once the heroes manage to destroy one for real, it's often the end of an entire chunk of the campaign.
Building your own ghosts also requires understanding of how templates work, and having a solid grasp on CR.

Orcs are easier to work with, but their tactics can make them just as deadly as the other two. They advance as characters rather than gaining monstrous Hit Dice, which means that you can essentially put your PCs against other adventurers of various levels - even equal to or higher than what the PCs are, sometimes!

I'm not saying that you can only ever use one sort of monster, but it's a good idea to hammer out where exactly the bad guys are coming from and where they hope to go.

Instead of rampaging nasties all over, what if a single Glabrezu ( was banished from the Abyss because he angered his demon lord? The fiend (be sure to give him a cool name!) is amassing an army of orcs, ogres, harpies, and hill giant cultists to try and turn the home of the PCs into his own little piece of the Abyss...maybe he'll even try to become more powerful than his old master! Don't show all your cards at once here - in fact, don't even reveal the demon at all until you begin dropping tiny hints after several sessions in.

Maybe the PCs find his name but don't know what it means. Maybe a note here or there, or the orc cultists who worship him as a god dressing up with wolf heads on their helms and giant crab shells for armor. Knowledge: Planes checks, everyone!

Just off the top of my head: I'm sure you have your own cool ideas!

Be sure to challenge the players, but be prepared to let them be awesome. If they solve a problem you didn't expect them to solve, or come up with a solution to something that wasn't quite what you had in mind, try to think of a way to roll with it! That isn't to say that you should be a softie and keep from killing any PCs, of course. The game is only tense when people know they might fail.

I hope that this was useful! Let me know how the game shapes up.

Best regards
Kevin Mickelson

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Personae Malevolent 14 - Turducken v2.0

(Original posted nearly 1 year ago here)


CR 5
XP 1,600
N Small magical beast (5d12 lbs)
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +10

AC 17, touch 15, flat-footed 13 (+4 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 37 (5d10+12)
Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +6

Speed 60 ft, Fly 40 ft, Swim 20 ft

Peck +5 (1d4+1)
2 Spur Claws +7 (1d6+2)
2 Running Claws +5 (1d4+1)

Special Attacks: Warble, Pounce

Str 14, Dex 18, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 20, Cha 6
Base Atk +3; CMB +2; CMD 17 (21 vs. trip)
Feats Multiattack, Weapon Finesse
Skills Perception +10, Stealth +12, Survival +7


Warble (Su)
Once every 1d4 rounds as a standard action, a turducken can
generate a mind-affecting effect by warbling "Gobuakuk!". Every
non-turducken  in a 60 foot radius takes 2d6 points of nonlethal
damage and is fatigued as though they had not eaten for 3 days, and
are therefore starving (DC 16 Will save for half and no fatigue). The
save DC is Constitution-based.

Nonlethal damage from thirst or starvation cannot be recovered until
the character gets food or water, as needed—not even magic that
restores hit points heals this damage.

Leap (Ex)
When a creature with this special attack makes a charge, it can make a
full attack.

Environment - Forests and low hills
Organization - Solitary, mated pair, or grand feast (3-9)
Treasure none (Unspoiled carcass is worth 500 gp)

The turducken is a chimeric beast along the same lines as an owlbear
or hippogryph. They only appear near human settlements around
harvest time each year, and it is rare to find more than one at a time.
A majestic comb crowns its head like a jaunty pompadour, matching
nicely with its rather dapple waddle and aerodynamic beak. When
swimming, the four front legs fold in close to the body to allow the
webbed feet from the rear to paddle.
Elusive beasts, turduckens trust in their natural camouflage to keep
them out of sight when hungry humans are about. If it becomes
evident that escape will be impossible the turducken will launch itself
heedlessly into battle against its pursuers, upon whom it will unleash
the primal fury that has slumbered within the hearts of turkeys, ducks,
and chickens for generations.


These beasts are much prized by the finest chefs in the land. A cook
must prepare a turducken with a DC 20 Profession: Chef check to
unlock its hidden potential.

Everyone that eats at least 1/4 lb of turducken meat receives a +1
morale bonus to all saves for 2 hours, and doesn't need to eat again for 24 hours. If more than two portions are consumed in the span of one day, the imbiber must succeed at a DC 20 Fort save or fall unconscious for 1d4 hours.

Anyone who eats one of the turducken's legs receives the effects of a
Cure Light Wounds as cast by a 1st level Cleric.

Turducken meat will never ever spoil.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I have words.

I think the real reason our country has been so viciously divided this election is the inclusion of social media - mostly Facebook - into the equation. 
There is a certain anonymity that comes with posting online, (this is especially true for people who use message boards) and even though our faces and names are attached to what we say over Facebook, we feel more empowered to type our ideas, opinions, and (most dangerously) beliefs into a little magic box.

We do this not with the express intent to upset or offend people who are ostensibly our "friends" (or so we'd hope!), but to show how good and valid our ideas, opinions, and beliefs are as they relate to the current trending topic.

This c
an be quite rude on its own when that topic is divisive. It is possible for several groups of intelligent and well-informed people of good moral character to reach very different conclusions about the most moral and intelligent way to look at something. Touting your unsolicited opinion in mixed company when you know that there are probably people present who strongly disagree is simply in bad taste, and certainly not something most of us would normally do. 
But it doesn't stop there. There is no faster way to escalate something than to put it on the internet. There are always extremists and pundits willing to put energy and money into cranking out hateful propaganda. Somebody makes a funny picture poking at the other guy, who makes a picture he thinks is funny to poke back, but actually sort of pisses guy A off, so he finds a picture that is all about calling guy B stupid, or bigoted, or (gag. hurk.) ignorant.

That word has been forever ruined for me. . 
Now instead of just looking for ass-pats about how good their ideas, opinions, and beliefs are, they've moved on to saying that people who disagree must be unable or unwilling to think properly; and all the while they themselves are unable or unwilling to see the vulgar arrogance they've have fallen into. 
I remember people being private about their votes.  Then if and when things didn't go their way, they were able to shrug it off. They could go have a coke with the people whose candidate had carried the day, because there was a great chance that neither had ever gotten angry with the other in the first place.

Now I see good people from both sides who belong to Facebook groups that encourage and feed off of vile, racist, hateful rhetoric. Romney supporters have sour grapes, and Obama supporters are smug. I expected as much, given how nasty things had gotten. But I was not ready for "I can't believe how absolutely retarded people who voted that piece of human trash back into office are!" or "Cry more white man. Your tears are delicious and Romney is an evil corporate predator,".


I ended up hiding so many feeds from so many really cool people, and I plan to get busy un-hiding soon. I hope we'll all consider, though, that there is absolutely no reason it ever needs to go this way again. We don't need to spread the ready-made vitriol that small, angry people like to circulate. We should never insult the intelligence or integrity of our friends by condescending or pontificating to them. 

To everyone who voted for Mitt Romney, hey. It was a good try, and an extremely close race despite what the electoral college would have you believe. The sun rose today and it'll be here tomorrow, and even the people that disagreed with you won't stand for seeing actual harm come to you or your loved ones - so what's really so awful?

To everyone who voted for President Obama, congratulations. He's got a hell of a challenge ahead of him, and since he's your guy you'll probably feel a sense of responsibility for decisions he makes over the next four years. Be sure to help him by bridging some of the  gaps that formed during all the electoral fervor.

To everyone who voted for Gary Johnson, congratulations. The fact that people know his name in this two-party system of ours is exciting, and a victory in itself. We might be ready for a third, fourth, and fifth perspective before too many more elections!

To absolutely everyone - If I said or did anything upsetting during the past few months (as it pertains to politics, at least), I am sincerely sorry. I try not to show my hand too often, and intend to show it even less next time around. I hope you'll consider joining me when that time comes. =)

God bless.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Personae Malevolent 13 - Curcubiter

Prepare for a very Frightful Time!

Curcubiter (Chaotic Evil)

Looking for all the world like regular plump orange pumpkins (at least until they open their eyes and mouths), cucubiters have ambitions of world conquest swirling about in their loamy brains. Though initially created when regular pumpkins were pollinated by fiendish bees, they are able to breed true. Woe betide any who should behold a patch of these villainous vegetables rolling downhill in their direction!

Initiative +3; Speed 20 ft. (4 sq.); CR 1; HP 9
Senses Darkvision (60 feet), Low-Light Vision; Perception +1
AC15, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex,  size, +2 natural)
Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +1
Immune paralysis, sleep, poison, polymorph, stunning
Melee Bite +5 (1d4+1/20/x2) and
Vines x2 +5 x2 (1d3+1/20/x2)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks Rolling Charge (As a full round action, draw all vines into body and charge in a straight line up to 80 feet to make a slam attack. +7 to hit, 1d8+2. Any target struck by a rolling charge is subject to a trip attempt.
Str 12,  Dex 17, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 14
Base Atk +2; CMB +3; CMD 16 (immune to trip) 
Skills Perception +1, Sense Motive +1, Stealth +7
Feats Weapon Finesse
Hypnotic Gaze (1/1d10 rounds) (Ex) Hypnotize a single target using gaze attack. The target takes no hostile actions, and moves toward the curcubiter at their regular move speed to attempt to place the curcubiter on their head as a full round action. DC 13 Will negates. A new save may be attempted at the beginning of each of the target's turns.
Domination Once a curcubiter is on someone's head, the target falls under their complete control. Use the original creature's physical stats with the curcubiter's ability bonuses added as enhancement, while using the curcubiter's mental statistics. The curcubiter is still able to use its bite attack, though it loses the use of its vines, rolling charge, and gaze attacks.
Darkvision (60 feet)
Plant Traits
Light Blindness (Ex) Dazed for 1 round if exposed suddenly to bright light.
Low-Light Vision

Environment - Gardens, forests, low hills.
Organization - Solitary, pie (2-4), or patch (5-50).
Treasure none, or whatever a possessed creature carries.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What a difference a few months can make!

When I first started to network on facebook, it was with some vague idea that I could put to use all the time I spent DMing under difficult circumstances, and offer advice (and free random encounter content) to other DMs that I wish I'd have had access to. Remember when we'd have regular Personae Malevolent updates?

Yeah, me either.

It was mostly a lot of fun, though of course whenever you get involved with any large group over the internet while letting your opinions hang out, there will inevitably be some amount of hilarious drama. My favorite was when a lady accused me of claiming to have written the Tomb of Horrors (???), though there will always be a special place in my heart for those who decided that not liking their favorite version of D&D meant that I was simply not worth talking to, and the dude that insisted that I wanted to engage in sexual congress with a horse because I think the new My Little Pony cartoon is pretty rad.

However, things got very real very fast at the tail end of this year's May. I'd just finished another semester of spinning my wheels in college and was starting to get excited about being a freelance writer with TPK Games (thanks in no small part to a recommendation from my pal Richard A. Hunt) when Ben Dobyns let me know that the Mask of Death was going to happen, and its Kickstarter campaign (which would go on to be funded in 6 hours) would be a prelude to the Hands of Fate. Could I have it all wrapped up in two weeks?

The Mask of Death was a project that I had been fiddling with for a long, long time. Back in late 2010, Zombie Orpheus Entertainment was promoting a re-release of The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. As this is one of our all-time favorite movies, Amanda and I were happy to kick in a few bucks to see the Dungeon Remastered Edition (no price was too great to get rid of Lodge's infamous "No you don'T. ..Tuh."). During this promotion, I asked their facebook wall if there would be a re-release of the mythical Goodman Games version of The Mask of Death, of which there are only about 200 copies that were sold at GenCon 2005 (3 years before the movie even came out)! I received the response that, sadly, they had asked "as many times as would be polite", and Goodman would absolutely positively not be doing a reprint.

That night I got into bed and stared at the ceiling for about half an hour before hopping back online and asking if they'd just like somebody to write a new one for them. When I woke up the next morning, it turned out that the answer was "yes", and Ben Dobyns had dropped me a line asking to see my chops. He liked the stuff he saw (largely from this blog!), and the gig was mine.

Fast forward back to June of this year. Ben introduced me to Brian Clements, who would be my editor. It was this poor man's duty to tell me things I didn't want to hear about a book I'd been writing on and off (and had once had to entirely rewrite due to accidental deletion) for a little bit over a year. We'd grapple with the huge stack of virtual paper I'd accumulated, and try to bang it into a somewhat manageable 48 pages.

 Oh well, 60 is almost 48, right?

Somewhere in the middle of all this, it was decided that Amanda and I would be making the pilgrimage to Washington to attend Paizocon, and also get together at Dtwenty Games with a celebrity group of ZOE gamers to do a final playtest on the module's rough. 

                                       She painted all of the miniatures herself, because she is awesome.

From The Gamers franchise, we'd be meeting with Scott Brown, Nathan Rice, Brian Lewis, Andy Dopieralskim and Ben Dobyns. Also attending would be Joanna Gaskell and Edwin Perez from Standard Action.

This was our first gaming convention ever (and my first convention period!), so there was a lot of excitement and nervousness leading up to it. When we finally got to the Redmond Marriott, we were amazed by the friendly and open atmosphere. Within our first few minutes of hanging out in the lobby, we found a group of guys who helped us get set up for society play out of the goodness and enthusiasm of their hearts. We made several new friends, gamed alongside a few published authors, and shot the breeze with the Reynolds', who were both absolutely great.

                                                                   Yes, that Reynolds.

We got the chance to hang out with Joanna Gaskell, Edwin Perez, Rob Hunt and Carla Miller; stars, director and set designer of the very awesome webseries Standard Action. We met them in line bright and early in the morning to try to get into Society play, and then met again that night for a preview playtest of The Mask of Death that went about three hours longer than expected. Edwin (who claims to have never played a bard before despite the role he plays in SA) turned Flynn the Fine into an absolute killing machine, much to the awe of everyone at the table. We did so much laughing and got on so well that it was like gaming with my home group - so much so, that when I woke up the next day I was so hoarse that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to GM the official playtest

Luckily this was Washington, so we hit three Starbucks for tea with honey during our four-block sojourn to the drugstore for cough drops.

The day of the playtest, Scott Brown picked us up in the hotel lobby. He was chatting it up with Sean K. Reynolds when we came down, and...yep, this was about the point where I had checked right the hell out of reality as I had come to understand it.

Next thing I know, we were having lunch with Scott Brown at Claim Jumpers. Not "a" Scott Brown, but THE Scott Brown. With a "C" in there. We hit it off really well and actually stayed longer than we meant to at the restaurant, so we arrived late to the play test, where we were introduced to Andy, Ben, Brian, and Nathan.

The game went amazingly well, and in no time flat we were getting along like we'd been gaming for years.

The conclusion of the evening's adventure was a thrilling showdown between our heroes and Mort Kemnon's bodyguards, who were overcome when Flynn the Fine (played by Scott) thought outside the box and saved the day! We hung out with Scott and Brian for a little while after the game, and then hitched another ride with Mr. Brown back to the hotel. By the time we were headed back to Duluth, we'd already planted the seed for another ZOE project, and spent a good portion of the trip home discussing how we'd get ourselves to our next Mask of Death related obligation.

That's another story, though...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You ever stumble across somebody at a con that you just can't quite figure?
At Gen Con we played PFS with a very nice group. This one fellah in particular was running a samurai, and he and I (with my cavalier) got along really well. In game he was helpful and willing to take more than his share of the risks, and out of game he was gregarious and enthusiastic. When I lost one of my con-exclusive Pathfinder buttons, he helped me look and seemed really concerned.

But then we got into a situation (I don't want to ruin the scenario) that we ended up fighting against some warrior women that were duped into serving the bad guy. He (while in character) started calling them "bitch!" (always with the emphasis on the "bi" part; the word had its own little rhythm) every time he'd address them when trying to persuade them that they were in service to evil.

*Bad guy turns into a big drooling monster. Duped shieldmaidens stare in horror.*
"Now do you believe us, BITCH?!"

Well yeah dude, I sort of think she might.

Most of the time I can just distance myself from a generally unpleasant gamer, but this guy was extremely chill apart from this one somewhat tourettsesque foible.

Nobody really seemed uncomfortable (I'll admit I immediately looked at Amanda to see if I'd need to don my shiny white armor), so I just let it slide. But it certainly colored my impression.

It's important to always be aware of the fact that you can't know what strangers are used to or comfortable with, even if you share interests. Religion, potty-talk, and politics (in descending order of cleanliness) aren't appropriate for mixed company; keep this in mind, and everyone will feel welcome and comfortable!