Thursday, March 26, 2015

Denizens of Freeport: Bryn Cooper

By Tim and Erika Emrick

Bryn Cooper

Bryn Cooper grew up in Drac's End, the daughter of two coppersmiths. Her older brother, a diligent, humble craftsman like their parents, inherited the struggling business after their deaths, but Bryn chafed under this humdrum existence. Her rebellious streak led her to fall in with a local gang, who she served as a messenger and spy. Her curiosity and natural intelligence led to her befriending a number of students from the Freeport Institute, and she used these contacts to earn a scholarship to study there herself for a time. Thanks to a brief romance with an infatuated bard at the Institute, she picked up a great deal of knowledge about magic, though she never learned to cast more a couple minor spells herself.

Throughout her studies, Bryn maintained her criminal contacts, and expanded upon them as her interest in academics waned. She found that her strengths lay in acquiring secrets, whether through casual conversation, eavesdropping, or the occasional kidnapping and interrogation. (She carries a sap and merciful bolts at all times, just in case she needs to "take someone aside for a little talk.") She took up the adventurer's life for a while and amassed a small fortune in the process, but she prefers to work from the shadows and let others work for her. She now has a wide network of informants--mostly street urchins, beggars, fortune-tellers, and food vendors--scattered through Drac's End and other districts.

Bryn is a pretty but otherwise nondescript blonde woman in her mid-20s. She prefers plain, drab clothing so that she can blend easily into a crowd anywhere in Freeport. Her glamered armor allows her to instantly change her wardrobe as needed, and she will choose more impressive garb when the occasion calls for it, such as when she is meeting with a powerful client or spying on the city's elite.

Bryn is naturally secretive, and usually takes pains to not draw attention to herself. However, when dealing with her contacts or potential clients, she can appear outgoing, even chatty, in order to get what she wants. Occasionally, she will join a lively conversation just for the joy of banter and to feed her insatiable curiosity--and she can do so in nearly every major language spoken in Freeport. But woe to those who experience her other side. She can project a quiet menace with a few well-chosen words (or crossbow shots), and she is a skilled and ruthless interrogator.

Secrets, Goals, and Plans
Between the size of her operation and her skills at gathering sensitive information, Bryn has come to the attention of both Finn and Mr. Wednesday. She has no interest in overseeing petty crime or running a cartel, and will gladly do business with representatives from both crime lords. So far she has successfully avoided making herself appear as a threat to either of them--at least, as far as she knows.

XP 12,800
Female human rogue (crime boss) 11 [Freeport: The City of Adventure 390]
CN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +4; Senses Perception +18 (+23 locate traps)
AC 24, touch 17, flat-footed 20 (+6 armor, +3 deflection, +4 Dex, +1 natural)
hp 64 (11d8+11)
Fort +5, Ref +12, Will +4
Defensive Abilities evasion, fortification (25%), improved uncanny dodge; Immune ring of mind shielding
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 rapier +13/+8 (1d6/18-20) or mwk sap +13/+8 (1d6-1 nonlethal)
Ranged +1 seeking crossbow +14/+9 (1d8+1/17-20)
Special Attacks dispelling attack, snap shot, sneak attack +6d6, sniper's eye
Rogue Spell-Like Abilities (CL 11th; concentration +13)
3/day--detect magic
2/day--ray of enfeeblement (ranged touch +12)
Str 9, Dex 18 [16], Con 12, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 22 [18]
Base Atk +8; CMB +7; CMD 21
Feats Crossbow Mastery, Improved Critical (light crossbow), Leadership (17/25), Point Blank Shot[B], Precise Shot, Rapid Reload (light crossbow), Weapon Finesse
Skills Appraise +16 (+18 mwk tool), Bluff +20, Diplomacy +20 (+24 vs. 16+ HD), Disable Device +25, Escape Artist +8, Intimidate +23, Knowledge (local) +16, Linguistics +16, Perception +18 (+23 locate traps), Sense Motive +13, Sleight of Hand +8, Spellcraft +13, Stealth +18, Use Magic Device +22
Languages Aquan, Azharan*, Common, Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Mercenary Tongue*, Orc, Semaphore*, Thieves' Cant*, Valossan* [* Freeport: The City of Adventure 405]
Traits Ambitious [Ultimate Campaign 59], Classically Schooled
SQ cohort (Kasha Kneebreaker), dangerous reputation (+3) [Freeport 390], major magic, minor magic, trapfinding, underworld connections [Freeport 390]
Combat Gear +1 merciful bolt (20), scrolls (10 1st-level spells of GM's choice), wand of cure light wounds (10 charges), wand of identify (10 charges); Other Gear +2 glamered light fortification mithril shirt, amulet of natural armor +1, ring of protection +3, +1 rapier, mwk sap, +1 seeking light crossbow and 40 bolts, belt of incredible dexterity +2, cloak of resistance +1, efficient quiver*, figurine of wondrous power (silver raven) named "Burble," handy haversack**, headband of alluring charisma +4, lesser bracers of archery, ring of mind shielding

* Efficient quiver holds bolts and wands (see above), everburning torch, javelins (10), quarterstaff, spears (2), sunrods (2), and a 10-ft. pole (can be detached into two 5-ft. sections; 50 gp).

** Handy haversack holds deck of cards (2: one marked, one unmarked), mwk fortune-teller's deck (superior; 50 gp), magnifying glass, merchant's scale, silk rope (50 ft.), superior loaded dice, waterskin, a set of clothing, and 167 gp.
Kasha Kneebreaker is Bryn's personal bodyguard. Like her employer, the halfling woman tends to dress in unremarkable clothing, with her armor hidden beneath loose outerwear. She is a thug, pure and simple, and will eagerly beat to a pulp anyone who she or Bryn decides needs punishing. Kasha owes a great debt to her boss--though only the two of them know why--and she can be trusted to put herself in harm's way to protect Bryn.

XP 4,800
Female halfling rogue (thug) 9
CN Small humanoid
Init +2; Senses Perception +13
AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 15 (+5 armor, +2 Dex, +2 dodge)
hp 62 (9d8+18)
Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +4; +2 vs. fear
Defensive Abilities evasion, improved uncanny dodge, offensive defense, underfoot
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 morningstar +11/+6 (1d6+4) or mwk sap +9/+4 (1d4+3 nonlethal)
Ranged mwk sling +10 (1d3+3)
Special Attacks brutal beating (4 rounds), low blow, powerful sneak, sneak attack +5d6
Str 16 [14], Dex 14, Con 14, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 12
Base Atk +6; CMB +8; CMD 20
Feats Bodyguard, Combat Reflexes, Counterstrike [Freeport 413], Dodge, Improved Dodge [Freeport 419], Intimidating Prowess[B], Weapon Focus (morningstar)[B]
Skills Acrobatics +14, Disguise +13, Escape Artist +14, Intimidate +16, Knowledge (local) +11, Perception +13, Sleight of Hand +14, Stealth +18
Languages Common, Halfling
SQ fleet of foot, frightening, strong impression, weapon familiarity, weapon training
Combat Gear dust of tracelessness, escape dust [Advanced Race Guide 67], potion of cure moderate woundsOther Gear +1 mithril shirt, +1 morningstar, mwk sap, mwk sling and 20 sling bullets, belt of giant strength +2, 190 gp

Design Notes 

  • Bryn was my wife Erika's character in a v.3.5 ("3rd Era") Freeport campaign. She was originally a rogue/diviner who intended to become an arcane trickster. During play, she tended to rely on her rogue skills much more then her magic, so we've converted her to Pathfinder as a straight rogue and given her a more focused schtick (a crime boss specializing in information, whose fighting style focuses on ranged attacks from a safe distance).
  • Bryn's CR equals her character level, rather than CL-1, because she has PC-level wealth and uses the High Fantasy purchase level. 
  • She has the maximum number of followers for the Leadership feat. 
  • Her cohort, Kasha, is a new, original NPC, though she owes her name to another past character of Erika's.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What I've been playing

When my wife Erika and I moved from Boston to Kentucky a year and a half ago, I had to put my v.3.5 Freeport game on hiatus. Fortunately, two of the other three players in our group--my wife's co-worker and best friend, and her husband--were making the move with us due to the job relocation. This meant that the four long-term members of the group would still be able to play together (as we have for over 10 years), and we could continue the same campaign in some form or other.

I delayed restarting Freeport for a while, in large part because Green Ronin had announced a Kickstarter for a new Pathfinder edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure. I had started to look at that system shortly before then, and liked what I saw, so I pitched the idea to my players of converting our game to Pathfinder when we resumed play. The book was delayed for some time, so I eventually decided to go ahead and convert things as best I could with the core rules and a couple supplements, and wait for the Freeport book's release to do some revamping as needed. Early, backer-only drafts of the book became available as we worked on those conversions, which saved us a great deal of work with setting-specific things like my wife's azhari corsair. 

We continued to game in other ways during that long hiatus (which ended up lasting almost exactly a year). Erika continued the Earthdawn game she had been running for us on and off before the move. We used Google Hangouts to include our fifth member, who remained in Massachusetts. We also introduced our children (ages 9 and 10) to Earthdawn, though it quickly became clear that they lacked the attention span for the level of commitment we adults regularly put into our games.

Chris, one of my other players, ran some Pathfinder for us--specifically, "The Shadow's Dungeon," from the Kickstarter for The Gamers: The Hands of Fate--so that we could all get more practice with the system. We also introduced the kids to this system, though they dropped out of the module after the first session or two.

We started looking for new recruits to make up for the loss of our fifth player (who would not be continuing in the Freeport game for a number of reasons). By the time we finally restarted Freeport this past fall, we had made some new local friends who were looking for a game to join. One had been gaming for some years, while her fiance was new to tabletop but had a lot of experience with D&D-based CRPGs. With the group's consent, I invited them to play a one-shot adventure with us: the short, low-level Pathfinder adventure Risen from the Sands, which I had acquired through Free RPG Day earlier that year. This would give them a gaming fix and give us a change of pace, and we could see how well they fit in with our playing style. That session was an unqualified success, and we warmly welcomed them into the group. They created characters for my Freeport game, which we had resumed playing a session or two before this. 

As the holidays approached, my job entered its annual crunch-time. One of our new players (the tabletop newbie) offered to run some D&D 5th Edition during this time to give me some time off while work was crazy. That game wrapped up last month, but Tim, the DM (AKA "Tim the Younger," to distinguish him from me), promised to run more for us someday. At the moment, though, our new players are buried under wedding planning and writing their dissertations. We will be resuming Freeport when their schedule settles down a bit, hopefully within the next month or two. Before we dive back into the City of Adventure, however, Chris will be running a high-level tower defense-style Pathfinder one-shot, just to give us all a chance to play with 20th-level characters for a change.

Next up in Freeport will be one last, lengthy adventure to give us a spectacular finale before we shelve the Freeport game again (indefinitely this time). After that, we will finally start the "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign that I've been tinkering with for ages (in various editions, but we've settled on Pathfinder). I'll be posting a great deal more about that game as we gear up for it and start play. I've already started a separate game for my children set in that world, but far from where the adult group will be starting. I'll post more about that later, too, but we've only played a couple sessions so far.

Erika plans to run more Earthdawn again sometime this year, too, without our original fifth player but including our two new recruits. That system just had a Kickstarter for a 4th edition, so we'll be converting to that when we start again. (We continuing players are already doing so for our characters.) Thankfully, that transition will involve far, far fewer changes than a new D&D edition does!

And through all this time, I've continued running "The Kynthiad," the solo BESM Third Edition game for Erika that we started years ago. It's set in the Bronze Age, and based on the myths and history of Greece and its neighbors in the Mediterranean and Near East. I'll blog more about that in time, too.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The characters who become a part of you

Every gamer has their favorite characters--the ones we tell war stories about for years, even decades, after we stop playing them. We invest a great deal of thought and emotion into creating and playing these beloved characters, and we take pride and joy in what we accomplish with them. It's only natural for them to stick around in our heads like old friends.

In some cases, we may even end up with part of those alternate personae hardwired into our own psyches. I associate many pieces of music with certain characters, in some cases because the lyrics resonate with the hero's story, or because I used the song to get into his or her head space before game. Whenever I hear one of those works being played, I relive part of that character's history.

One of my past characters is particularly notorious for waking up and talking to me when these mental associations get triggered. Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast was one of my two primary characters in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer series that I played in from 2005 to 2009--and later returned to in a play-by-post continuation of the game from 2012-2014. She was a skilled drummer, so while I was playing her, I trained my ear to pay closer attention to the drum line of any music I listened to. This habit became permanently ingrained, and still influences my tastes in music. Now, whenever I hear a really cool piece of percussion, my brain always chimes in with thoughts like, "Wow, Trick would love this!" or "I can see her learning to play that."

Now add that to the songs that remind me of her personality and her in-game history--Meredith Brooks's "Bitch" was her personal anthem for most of her career, and I still can't hear a P!nk song without being reminded of Trick's angst-ridden love life--and I end up with a very noisy, opinionated, old friend who pops in for a chat on a regular basis.

At this point, it seems highly unlikely that I'll ever get to play her again and be able to channel some of that head-noise into any form of game. She would certainly lose too much of her identity if I took her out of the context of that Buffy game to play her elsewhere (for one thing, she finally got to become a Slayer near the end). Which is too bad, because despite all the spectacular messes she made and the frequent headaches she gave both me and the GMs, she may very well be the character I've had the most fun playing in all my 30+ years of experience with RPGs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ezren's Magic Stick

This past year, I acquired the Free RPG Day adventure Risen from the Sands, for the Pathfinder system. I had been running D&D v.3.5 for years (since 2003, in fact) and only recently decided to investigate Pathfinder as an alternative for my next long-term campaign. At the time of Free RPG Day, my regular group had agreed to convert my Freeport game to Pathfinder for a trial run with the system, but we hadn't yet implemented the change. (The fact that Green Ronin was working on a huge new Freeport sourcebook for Pathfinder heavily influenced that decision!) We had also found a couple potential recruits to replace a lost player, and needed a good one-shot to test how well they fit into our group. Risen from the Sands--a short, one-session adventure for 3rd-level characters--fit that need perfectly.

I decided to use pre-generated characters rather than spend part of our valuable play time in character creation. We were all still fairly new to the system, so I didn't want to use the ones provided with the module, which were built using the soon-to-be-released Advanced Class Guide. Instead, I used the original Core Rulebook iconic characters, whose 1st-level stat blocks are available on the Pathfinder Reference Document website. With some help from my wife (who loves building characters), I advanced these heroes to 3rd level while the players decided what classes they wanted to play. A few days before the game, I emailed them copies of their chosen characters to look over: Amiri the barbarian, Lem the bard, Lini the druid, Merisiel the rogue, and Ezren the wizard.

Ezren's player was perplexed that the wizard had a club (cane) as his bonded object--if he was going to choose a weapon, why couldn't it be something more impressive? This prompted me to review the wizard class more carefully, in order to weigh his options. As a wizard, Ezren is only proficient with the club, dagger, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, and quarterstaff. He is a universalist, giving him the hand of the apprentice feature. This ability requires a melee weapon, which reduced the list from five weapons to three. Of these, the club and quarterstaff do more damage, and are effectively identical except for how many hands they require. A staff is a stereotypically wizardly prop, but as a two-handed weapon, Ezren can't wield it and cast spells at the same time, and he would be hopeless at wielding it as a double weapon. This makes the lowly club the best choice for his bonded weapon.

Naturally, an elf, dwarf, or half-orc wizard would be able to choose a more deadly weapon--imagine the terror value of a half-orc wizard with a flying greataxe!--but that benefit would be at the cost of the bonus feat and skill ranks that Ezren receives as a human. Much of the reason that I chose the iconics in the first place was because I knew that they were heavily playtested to be well-balanced, highly effective examples of their class. My players will have plenty of opportunities to explore other builds as we gain experience with the system and move on with the converted Freeport game, my upcoming "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign (which I'll say more about in future columns), and the occasional new one-shot.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cactus Leshy

I'm currently preparing for a new Pathfinder campaign that will start in a desert frontier setting. The druids of this region are very different from those in other lands, so I'll be using the desert druid archetype (Advanced Player's Guide 99) and other means to distinguish them from their forest-dwelling brethren. Inspired by my children's obsession with Pokemon, and my family's recent introduction to HabitRPG (which also has plant companions), I decided to create a new type of leshy more suited to this hot, arid environment. See Bestiary 3 176 for general information on leshies.

This small plant person is covered with thickly ridged skin and innumerable sharp spines.

XP 600
N Small plant (leshy, shapechanger)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +6
AC 14, touch 13, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +1 natural, +1 size)
hp 13 (2d8+4)
Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +2
Defensive Abilities spines; Immune electricity, sonic, plant traits
Speed 20 ft.
Melee 2 claws +2 (1d3)
Ranged needle +4 (1 plus staggered)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 4th; concentration +6)
Constant--pass without trace
Str 10, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 7, Wis 14, Cha 14
Base Atk +1; CMB +0; CMD 11
Feats Combat Reflexes
Skills Perception +6, Stealth +5 (+9 in deserts), Survival +3 (+7 in deserts); Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth and Survival in deserts
Languages Druidic, Sylvan; plantspeech (cacti)
SQ change shape (Small cactus; tree shape), verdant burst
Environment any desert
Organization solitary or patch (2-16)
Treasure standard
Special Abilities
Needle (Ex) A cactus leshy can fire a needle from its body as a standard action. This attack has a range increment of 10 feet. If it hits, the attack deals 1 point of piercing damage (this damage is not modified by Strength). Anyone struck by a needle must succeed at a DC 13 Fortitude save or be staggered for 1 round from the intense pain of the wound.
Spines (Ex) Any creature attacking a cactus leshy with a light or one-handed weapons, natural weapons, or an unarmed strike takes 1d2 points of piercing damage. A creature that grapples a cactus leshy takes 1d6 points of piercing damage each round it does so.

In desert lands, leshies prefer to manifest in hardy bodies cultivated from rare species of cacti and other succulents, which allow the spirit's vessel to better survive the harsh environment. These creatures act as guardians of desert flora and fauna, working to maintain the often fragile balance of life in these arid regions. Cactus leshies tend to be suspicious and irritable towards strangers, but those who manage to overcome their prickly demeanors find them to be excellent wilderness guides, skilled at navigating trackless wastes and locating water sources.

Spellcasters among the saguaroi (see Bestiary 4) grow cactus leshies to the exclusion of all other types. Non-druids who encounter the two races together often mistake the leshies for juvenile cactus-folk, which typically annoys the leshies but amuses the saguaroi.

Growing a Cactus Leshy
A cactus leshy grows best in sandy soil in bright sunlight. Proper watering of the growing leshy is essential, so that it can begin storing water in its tissues as a reserve against the long dry periods common to its environment. A cactus leshy constantly grows new needles to replace those lost in combat.

CL 8th; Price 2,500 gp
Requirements Knowledge (nature) 5 ranks, plant growth, thorn body (Advanced Player's Guide 248), summon nature's ally II; Skill Knowledge (nature) DC 14; Cost 1,250 gp

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Advanced Bestiary: Puss in Boots

This past fall, Green Ronin released a Pathfinder edition of the Advanced Bestiary, which was originally published as a v.3.5 sourcebook. This book is a collection of templates, designed to increase the value of any other bestiary you own by letting you alter and customize those monsters. The first Advanced Bestiary was easily my favorite Green Ronin title outside of their Freeport product line, and this new edition promises to hold a similarly cherished status in my gaming library.

I've decided to show my appreciation for the new book by updating some of the creatures I created using the old version's templates. The first of these applies the manimal template to a cat to create a creature inspired by the fairy-tale character Puss in Boots, especially as portrayed in the Shrek movies.

XP 200
Manimal cat warrior 1 (Advanced Bestiary 197; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 131)
N Tiny monstrous humanoid
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +5
AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 size)
hp 3 (1d8-1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +1
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +5 (1d2-4), bite +5 (1d3-4), or rapier +5 (1d3-4/18-20), bite +0 (1d3-4)
Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Str 3, Dex 15, Con 8, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 11
Base Atk +1; CMB +1; CMD 7
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +6, Perception +3, Stealth +14; Racial Modifiers +4 Climb, +4 Stealth
Languages Common
SQ animal blood
Environment temperate and hot plains or urban
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3-12)
Treasure NPC gear (rapier, other treasure)
Special Abilities
Animal Blood (Ex) A manimal counts both as an animal, monstrous humanoid, and humanoid for the purposes of spells, abilities, and effects that specifically affect creatures of specific types. See the manimal template.

A  manimal cat resembles a normal cat that walks upright and has prehensile fingers on its forepaws. The differences in body types are minor enough that manimal cats can still walk around on all fours, and pose as normal cats if necessary. However, these felines are quite proud, and prefer to walk as humans do, and even wear scaled-down human-style clothing. They lack human modesty taboos, but find it undisgnified to be seen in public without at least a pair of shoes or boots.

Due to their small stature, these felines avoid honest fights with larger creatures, preferring to stalk enemies to gauge their weaknesses before attacking with surprise.

Manimal cats speak Common. Those with high Intelligence tend to learn the languages of either Tiny or Small races (Gnome, Halfling, Sylvan) or very large ones (Giant).

Manimal Cat Characters
Like normal housecats, manimal cats tend to be solitary creatures but will team up with members of their own or other races if they see profit in the alliance. The cat will always try to dominate such a relationship, whether through trickery, charm, or intellect.

Manimal cats lack racial Hit Dice. Instead, the have Hit Dice appropriate to their class and level. Most are warriors or experts, but leaders are most often rogues. Other common class choices include bard, ranger, and sorcerer. They rarely have the aptitude or inclination to become clerics, druids, or wizards, and lack the physical prowess for the barbarian and fighter classes.

XP 800
Manimal cat rogue 4
CN Tiny monstrous humanoid
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +7
AC 18, touch 17, flat-footed 13 (+1 armor, +4 Dex, +1 dodge, +2 size)
hp 25 (4d8+4)
Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +1 
Defensive Abilities evasion, trap sense +1, uncanny dodge
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +9 (1d2-2), bite +9 (1d3-2), or +1 rapier +10 (1d3-2/18-20), bite +4 (1d3-2)
Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks sneak attack +2d6
Str 6, Dex 19, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 13
Base Atk +3; CMB +5; CMD 13
Feats Dodge[B], Mobility, Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics +11, Bluff +8, Climb +9, Escape Artist +11, Intimidate +8, Perception +7, Perform (dance, sing) +6, Sleight of Hand +11, Stealth +23; Racial Modifiers +4 Climb, +4 Stealth
Languages Common
SQ animal blood, rogue talent (combat trick, ledge walker), trapfinding
Gear +1 rapier, boots of armor +1

Puss in Boots is a trickster, thief, and sometimes assassin. He wears an expensive rapier, a plumed silk hat, and his signature high boots, all scaled to his size. When not skulking in the shadows, he walks with a swagger that puts the cockiest human to shame. He shamelessly flirts with attractive females of all races, and has been known to challenge much larger creatures to duels over trivial insults. These habits frequently land him in trouble, which he trusts to his luck and reflexes to get him out of.