First Know Direction Blog Post

So the news has been out for a little while now: I’ll be blogging every two weeks for Know Direction.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be killing this blog…I’m already hit and miss posting over here so this won’t be a reason to dump this blog. I’ll keep intermittently posting here and begin making regular posts there.

In the meantime here’s the link to my first post on the Know Direction Network:

Watch for me on every other Tuesday.


House Rule: Revised Searching

So spoiler alert, there are a lot of traps and secret doors in the Emerald Spire. Normally I don’t like spoiling adventures like this but it’s a dungeon crawl…saying there are traps and secret doors inside is like saying there are monsters inside. So it’s not really a spoiler I guess. Anyway, both of these elements are well represented inside the spire and my PCs are being careful when they can. The problem is the system of rolling for search we’ve been using is putting a whole lot of extra dice rolls on the table.

And play is slowing down.

So, I’m going to experiment with some variant search rules somewhat inspired by other player’s descriptions of 5e’s passive perception and the current Armor Class rules. Note this augments the current Perception skill it isn’t intended to replace it. If a PC wishes to examine a particular dungeon feature or item they’ll roll perception normally this rule is more for moving through a dungeon with the sort of care that will (hopefully) help them find things in a more generalized area.

So starting tonight my PCs will have a Search Rating: Basically just Perception + 10. Whenever they encounter a trap, secret door, sneaking villain or whatever I’ll roll Stealth for adversary against this DC. Since traps and secret doors don’t have the Stealth skill so I’ll need to get them an equivalent number. To do this I’ll simply take the Perception DC and subtract 10.

Now sure, I could roll for the players in secret but I’ve never been a fan of that. I may be weird but I don’t like rolling for the players. Against them sure but rolling for them feel like I’m taking away some of their agency.

Now while we’re talking player agency let’s talk about Searching carefully. The above rules work fine for normal passive perception but let’s talk about giving the players some options. If a player wants to search carefully she gains a +4 to her Search score but may only move at half-speed.

I think this will speed things up and allow me to give my players some choices even if I’m the one rolling the dice.

House Rule: Revised Initiative

I recently posted about variant XP and Hero Point rules I wanted to use in my Emerald Spire campaign. Today I’d like to share a simple house rule I’m using to speed up combat in that same campaign because sometimes it’s the little things you do behind the screen that make the game run smoother.

First of all, I like to have combat sheets for every encounter. I keep full statblocks for every NPC and monster my PCs will encounter. Sometimes I’ll include rules and spell descriptions. This does take considerable time to put together but I have all the rules references I’ll need right at my fingertips.

Lately, instead of having the NPCs roll for initiative I’ve assigned each NPC an Initiative Score and placed that on the statblock instead of the normal modifier.

The Initiative Score is typically equal to 10 (or 11 in the case of named NPCs) + the character’s initiative modifier. Situational modifiers might adjust the current score up or down. In this system, PCs roll initiative normally and the NPC acts on the same count as his or her initiative score. It’s that simple.

What this does for me is by removing this single die roll I can focus quickly on getting all the PC’s initiatives logged and then dive right into combat. This is even better when there are multiple NPCs.

Using this house rule isn’t a big change but so far it has really helped me keep combat scenes moving along quickly.


Heroic Experiences

Variant Experience and Hero Point Rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

My group and I have been playing with hero points, action points or some similar house ruled variation since Second Edition. As I begin to plan my next campaign (The Emerald Spire Superdungeon), I’m looking at what house rules and optional rules I’ll employ. Hero points and experience points are the first two systems I’m going to address for this campaign.

So, why tinker with these two systems? Because I want to change what the game rewards a little. I’m looking to reward exploration, heroism, and story development rather than just the kill it and take all the stuff that Pathfinder normally focusses on. Not that isn’t fun, the format of a superdungeon already rewards much of that style of play by design. This is an experiment to see what happens when we vary the player’s rewards.

Variant Experience Points

For a while now especially when running adventure paths, I’ve been hand waving advancement based largely on how far through a given book we’ve come. But for The Emerald Spire, I want to actually offer XP that rewards the behavior I want the character’s to pursue. So while progress through the book and the dungeon are important it isn’t the only thing I want to reward.

Borrowing from Pathfinder Society advancement I’ve chosen to work from a simple framework of 1 or 2 XP earned each session for things such as:

  • Major discoveries, such as gaining access to deeper levels of the dungeon.
  • Completing any of the quests detailed in the adventure.
  • Completing character milestones or similar story objectives.
  • Overcoming specific challenges.

Unlike society play, however, players will require 5 XP to advance from one level to the next. The wider margin allows me to pace awards to prevent players from exceeding the normal APL for each level of the dungeon.

Additionally, players may spend an experience point to regain a spent hero point (see below).

Players may also spend 1 XP to add a Pathfinder Society boon from an adventure or dungeon level to their character sheet. During play this boon may be activated by spending a hero point.

Variant Hero Points

The rules governing hero points are largely unchanged from those that appear in the Advanced Player’s Guide except in some of the specifics of how you can earn and spend them.

Starting and Maximum Hero Points

As with the original rules, players begin play with only 1 hero point and have a maximum of 3 hero points. Players will be allowed to select any of the hero point feats including Heroes Fortune which increases a character’s maximum number of hero points. Players cannot opt to make their characters’ Antiheroes.

Earning Additional Hero Points

As stated above, a player may spend an XP to gain a hero point but heroes are truly defined by their deeds. As such, once per session a character may attempt to earn an additional Hero Point by performing a selfless act of heroism or a cinematic stunt. The player describes the action and the GM decides on the type of check required and its DC. If the character succeeds she also regains a Hero Point. If the task would normally be impossible without the expenditure of a Hero Point, in addition to the point earned the point risked to initiate the action is not lost.

Example: The GM just rolled lightning bolt damage for Monica’s already injured PC, Maeve. The resulting damage will kill her PC. Scott asks the DM if he can spend his last hero point to cross the room and knock Maeve out of the path of the lightning bolt and take the blast in her place. Since this is his last Hero point he also asks if he can attempt to regain a Hero Point with this action and the GM agrees. The DM decides he may attempt an Acrobatics check with the same DC as the lightning bolt to charge the distance and absorb the blast. If he’s successful he’ll take full damage but Maeve will be safe and he’ll have 2 Hero Points.

Spending Hero Points

Most of the ways you can spend hero points are unchanged from the ones that appear in the Advanced Player’s Guide what follows are the new and modified options.

Activate Boon: You may spend a hero point to gain a use of a boon you previously purchased.

Bonus: You may spend a hero point to gain a +1d8 luck bonus to a d20 roll. Alternately, you may spend 2 hero points to gain a +2d6 luck bonus. You can spend hero points in this manner to grant this bonus to another character, as long as you are in the same location and your character can reasonably affect the outcome of the roll (such as distracting a monster, shouting words of encouragement, or otherwise aiding another with the check).

Reroll: You may spend a hero point to allow any player to reroll any one d20 roll just made. They must take the results of the second roll, even if it is worse. You may use your hero points in this manner even if your character is not in the immediate vicinity. If you spend a hero point in this manner for another player it doesn’t count against the maximum you can spend in a turn.

Teamwork: At the beginning of your turn, you may spend a hero point as a free action to gain the benefit of a teamwork feat an ally has but you don’t. You must meet the prerequisites of the feat. You gain the benefit of this feat until the beginning of your next turn.

#Pathfinder #RPGs #Gaming #rules #EmeraldSpire #MarloweHouse

Gaming with the Kids: Let Me Tell You About My Character

Next week my oldest friend (who is also named Andrew),  Monica, and I will sit down with our kids and play Pathfinder. Now Monica and I have played with the kids a number of times but we haven’t really played Pathfinder so this will  be a little new for our kids. Andrew’s kids have played a little Pathfinder so they’ll have a better handle on the rules as we start but they’ve never played with more than one adult (who was the GM). So while this won’t be an entirely new experience for any of us it will be interesting and hopefully a lot of fun.

Having played with my children on a number of occasions I know it can be hard for them to feel like they have the authority to make decisions.  In the past we’ve handled this a number of ways this time I decided I wanted to try something different. In the past we’ve played games where no one really talked about their PCs age and everyone was just treated as if they were generally equal on other occasions the PC’s including my wife’s were all children. Now Andrew had suggested maybe I should play something unusual such as a faerie dragon. He also offered to let me play a little higher level if need be. I took his advice but a little more mundanely.

I’ll be playing an awakened cat (slayer), who thinks of himself as some sort of knight…

I call him Ser Fidelius Felix, aka Shadow. Shadow is the name on his collar but he knows his name is Fidelius and is almost as certain he is a knight.  Not a human sort of knight he is first and foremost a cat just a supernatural one. Now from a story perspective I like Fidelius because, he can offer advice but he has no thumbs and largely won’t be taken very seriously by any NPCs we should meet which means the other character’s will have to take up some of the cat’s slack.

While I’m sure we’ll still have to coach the kids a little I’m hoping this approach encourages them to take center stage  and lead us into (and out of) whatever trouble Andrew has in store for us.

  • The party right now:
  • Human Sorcerer (Katie)
  • ??? Sorcerer (Andrew’s eldest)
  • ??? Fighter (Andrew’s second child)
  • Human Monk with a little Captain America flair (Thomas)
  • a Cat Slayer (me).
  • And a total unknown probably some sort of cleric. (Monica)

If you’re interested in the build I used to make my awakened cat PC here he is:

Ser Fidelias (aka Shadow)

Male cat slayer 2 (Pathfinder RPG Advanced Class Guide 53, Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 131)

N Tiny magical beast

Init +5; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +8


AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 12 (+5 Dex, +1 dodge, +2 size)

hp 17 (3 HD; 1d8+2d10+3)

Fort +6, Ref +10, Will +2


Speed 30 ft.

Melee bite +9 (1d3–2), 2 claws +9 (1d2–2)

Space 2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.

Special Attacks studied target +1 (1st, move action)


Str 7, Dex 20, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 8

Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 14 (18 vs. trip)

Feats Dodge, Weapon Finesse[B]

Traits dirty fighter, self-taught scholar, student of philosophy

Skills Acrobatics +11, Appraise +4, Bluff +3, Climb +15, Diplomacy –1 (–6 to improve other creatures’ attitudes towards you), Disable Device +10, Escape Artist +7, Intimidate –1 (–6 to improve other creatures’ attitudes towards you), Linguistics +6 (+7 to decipher unfamiliar language), Perception +8 (+9 to locate traps), Stealth +22, Survival +7 (+8 to track); Racial Modifiers +4 Climb, +4 Stealth

Languages Catfolk, Common, Skald

SQ condescending, slayer talent (trapfinding[ACG]), track +1, trapfinding +1

Other Gear collar with name tag marked “Shadow”

Special Abilities

Condescending  You take a –5 penalty on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks to improve other creatures’ attitudes toward you.

Dirty Fighter When you hit a foe you are flanking, you deal an additional 1 point of damage (this damage is added to your base damage, and is multiplied on a critical hit). This additional damage is a trait bonus.

Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.

Scent (Ex) This special quality allows a creature to detect approaching enemies, sniff out hidden foes, and track by sense of smell. Creatures with the scent ability can identify familiar odors just as humans do familiar sights.

The creature can detect opponents within 30 feet by sense of smell. If the opponent is upwind, the range increases to 60 feet; if downwind, it drops to 15 feet. Strong scents, such as smoke or rotting garbage, can be detected at twice the ranges noted above. Overpowering scents, such as skunk musk or troglodyte stench, can be detected at triple normal range.

When a creature detects a scent, the exact location of the source is not revealed – only its presence somewhere within range. The creature can take a move action to note the direction of the scent. When the creature is within 5 feet of the source, it pinpoints the source’s location.

A creature with the scent ability can follow tracks by smell, making a Wisdom (or Survival) check to find or follow a track. The typical DC for a fresh trail is 10 (no matter what kind of surface holds the scent). This DC increases or decreases depending on how strong the quarry’s odor is, the number of creatures, and the age of the trail. For each hour that the trail is cold, the DC increases by 2. The ability otherwise follows the rules for the Survival skill. Creatures tracking by scent ignore the effects of surface conditions and poor visibility.

Student of Philosophy You can use your Intelligence modifier in place of your Charisma modifier on Diplomacy checks to persuade others and on Bluff checks to convince others that a lie is true. (This trait does not affect Diplomacy checks to gather information or Bluff checks to feint in combat.)

Studied Target +1 (move action, 1 at a time) (Ex) A slayer can study an opponent he can see as a move action. The slayer then gains a +1 bonus on Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival checks attempted against that opponent, and a +1 bonus on weapon attack and damage rolls against it. The DCs of slayer class abilities against that opponent increase by 1. A slayer can only maintain these bonuses against one opponent at a time; these bonuses remain in effect until either the opponent is dead or the slayer studies a new target.

If a slayer deals sneak attack damage to a target, he can study that target as an immediate action, allowing him to apply his studied target bonuses against that target (including to the normal weapon damage roll).

At 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels, the bonuses on weapon attack and damage rolls, as well as the bonus to slayer ability DCs against a studied target increase by 1. In addition, at each such interval, the slayer is able to maintain these bonuses against an additional studied target at the same time. The slayer may discard this connection to a studied target as a free action, allowing him to study another target in its place.

At 7th level, a slayer can study an opponent as a move or swift action.

Track +1 A ranger or slayer adds 1/2 his level (minimum 1) to Survival skill checks made to follow tracks.

Trapfinding +1 A rogue adds 1/2 her level on Perception checks to locate traps and on Disable Device checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Campaign Seed: Ravenstone

When last I blogged I apologised for the long delay in the release of a blog series detailing a campaign setting from a village out. No sooner than I hit post I knew the setting I wanted to detail. I won’t promise I’ll be back to this project soon but I hope there is something here you find inspiring.


Village of Orphans and Nightmares

The black, slightly avian, crystal monolith that towers eighteen feet over the center of Ravenstone’s town square once drew scholars wizards and sages from across the world. These experts in occult and ancient history sought to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Ravenstone but instead helped to found one of the region’s most prestigious academies of higher learning and a thriving town surrounding the university.

The Terrors began suddenly with a lunar eclipse but have continued for five long years. That night every child became trapped in a terrible nightmare until the first faint light of dawn touched the town. Unfortunately, waking did not end the children’s nightmare. The children found they were alone every adult fifteen and older had vanished.

Around the village’s perimeter a dense mist shrouded forest appeared overnight. As the older children ventured into new forest they discovered the fate of the adults. Every tree nearest the village had grown around some neighbor or loved one so that the corpses partially trapped within the trees. Even now five years later the trapped skeletons are still visible. Bleached white skulls stare silently out of the dark bark into the menacing depths of the forest now known as the Blightwood.

Since the start of the Terrors the orphans of Ravenstone have been unable to sleep without suffering deep ensnaring nightmares. As time has passed the nightmare curse has grown stronger. Sleepers are unable to waken from their dreams unless touched by sunlight. Many of the orphans try to remain awake as long as possible while others surrender to the nightly horrors. Only fools or madmen wander into the dark of the Blightwood for any length of time that would require sleep.

That is until recently. A few townsfolk (including the PCs) have been receiving dream messages attributed to the Ravenstone itself. These messages seem to be encouraging them to explore the Blightwood and find a way back to the normal world. But first they’ll need equipment, resources and answers that may only be found in the ruins of the university. Unfortunately, not every member of the community wants an expedition into the wilds. Many fear the monsters such an expedition may rile up others fear the loss of personal prestige.

Over the last five years the orphans of Ravenstone have tried to preserve some sense of normalcy and society. They have had some success although it is a fragile arrangement with numerous factions vying to influence the direction of the village.  This balance is further complicated by the loss of every member of the local clergy and nearly everyone trained in arcane magic.

Ravenstone is a village setting intended to be the starting point for a human centric horror themed campaign. Isolated from the rest of the world, Ravenstone is home to the three-hundred some orphans of the university town’s twelve hundred original residents after magical tragedy claimed the lives village’s adults. While the campaign is intended to occur about five years after the start of the Terrors. A GM could run a horror survival campaign that begins when the children first awaken from their first nightmares.

The principle themes of a Ravenstone campaign include isolation and impotence. The heroes are children and young adults who have been effectively abandoned by every authority they knew: adults, gods, and even the natural world. In time the PCs will discover what caused the Terrors and what role the Ravenstone played in it. Ultimately in order to get home the PC’s will have to face not only the power that caused the Terrors but also the forces of darkness that threaten both the village of Ravenstone and the whole world.

Ravenstone For Pathfinder

A Ravenstone campaign can be run with human PCs and standard heroic classes or for a more horrific feel you could opt to run it with NPC classes only at least to start. My recommendation is for the later and allowing the adept class to cast spells from the adept class list as psychic spells.

PCs younger than 16 are viable character options in this setting. You should at least apply the ability score modifiers from Ultimate Campaign. [Detailed here.]

I also suggest you use the Sanity and Madness rules from the Game Mastery Guide. [Detailed here.]

Low-level Adventure Ideas

  • [A Prelude or Day After Adventure] The town needs to secure new food supplies. An expedition is mounted to head into the Blightwood to see if the nearby Adler’s farm survived the disaster. Either to find help or to bring back needed food stores. Along the way the PCs encounter a number of threats stalking the Blightwood.
  • The PCs nightmares reveal a secret from before the time of the Terrors that may unlock a secure vault beneath the university. What secrets and dangers lurk in the sealed tunnels?
  • A young boy has wandered into the Blightwood at the behest of voices only he can hear. His older brother and sister beg the PC’s aid in finding him. The PCs soon discover his route through the thick underbrush and it leads to an ancient ruins and a small tribe of goblins.
  • The skeletons in the trees around the village begin screaming. Despite the lack of sun every sleeper in the village wakes.

An Apology

Okay so confession time. Sometimes I’m a terrible human being.

While I try not to…Like everyone I make bad choices and commit to things I shouldn’t like a regular blog. Back in January I said I’d start trying to build a campaign here on my blog. I indicated I’d start with a small community and build out.  It was a great plan and I could visualize where things might go and I was swept up in the moment and I committed here to my readers a new campaign. It was a bold and exciting plan except that I’m not a very good blogger.

I’m bad about scheduling it for one. And I’m noit the kind of person who should commit to a single ongoing theme. I had thought it would force me to blog more often…but if it were that simple I’d be blogging more often without it. Once I realized I had overstepped my abilities and over-promised I began to feel guilty about not writing which ironically made me less interested in blogging. Almost immediately I fell into bad habits of avoidance I had thought I’d broken years ago.

Because you my (admittedly very small) readership are not a specific person I was worried I would let down by not meeting a deadline obligation, it was all too easy to ignore this blog and by extension you. That was more unfair than admitting maybe the campaign plan was a little a lot overblown.

So let me sincerely apologize for failing to deliver the promised campaign and for being the terrible human being who let this go on for nine months without a word or apology. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean I should have treated you with less respect.

–Andrew Marlowe

Trying to be a better person today than I was yesterday.