[Pathfinder NPC] Little Tree Frog (vampire monk)

Little Tree Frog      CR 10
XP 9,600

Elf vampire monk (unchained) 9 (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 270, Pathfinder Unchained 14)
LE Medium undead (humanoid, elf)
Init +10; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +27
AC 29, touch 23, flat-footed 22 (+1 deflection, +6 Dex, +1 dodge, +2 monk, +6 natural, +3 Wis)
hp 90 (9d10+36); fast healing 5
Fort +9, Ref +15, Will +7; +2 vs. enchantments, +2 vs. enchantments
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +4, improved evasion; DR 10/magic, 10/silver; Immune sleep, undead traits; Resist cold 10, electricity 10
Weaknesses vampire weaknesses
Speed 60 ft.
Melee unarmed strike +15/+15/+10 (1d10+4 plus energy drain) or
slam +15 (1d4+6 plus energy drain)
Ranged +1 rope dart +13/+13 (1d4+11) or
mwk shuriken +13/+13/+8 (1d2+10)
Special Attacks blood drain, children of the night, create spawn, dominate (DC 16), energy drain (2 levels, DC 16), flurry of blows (unchained), stunning fist (9/day, DC 17), style strike
Monk (Unchained) Spell-Like Abilities (CL 9th; concentration +11)
barkskin (self only, 1 ki)
Before combat  When given sufficient warning, Little Tree Frog consumes a potion of mage armour, casts barkskin, and applies a dose of poison to her rope dart.
During combat Little Tree Frog prioritises other martial artists (typically brawlers, monks, ninjas, or anybody favouring monk weapons or unarmed strikes), ever seeking to test her  own martial skills. Little Tree Frog unorthodox to combat blends both ranged and melee attacks, using either her rope dart or shuriken to probe defenses, before following up  with a flying kick style strike (combined with her Opening Volley feat) to close gaps (and deliver negative levels). When facing opponents that make use of style feats, Little Tree Frog makes liberal use of her formless  mastery ki power.
Morale Little Tree Frog is confident in her superior defenses, mobility, and fast healing, only considering conceding a match if an opponent manages to keep her hp total below 20 for at least three rounds. Little Tree Frog does not consider retreat an option (unless dropped to or below 0 hp), but is not above conceding when obviously outclassed and may even ask for a chance to discuss martial arts styles, techniques, and philosophies with her opponents.
Str 19, Dex 23, Con —, Int 16, Wis 16, Cha 14
Base Atk +9; CMB +13 (+15 trip); CMD 36 (38 vs. trip)
Feats Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Deadly Aim, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Improved Trip, Improved Unarmed Strike, Lightning Reflexes, Opening Volley, Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Stunning Fist, Toughness, Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics +18 (+30 to jump), Bluff +10, Climb +8, Escape Artist +18, Intimidate +14, Knowledge (religion) +14, Perception +27, Sense Motive +25, Stealth +25, Swim +8; Racial Modifiers +8 Bluff, +10 Perception, +8 Sense Motive, +8 Stealth
Languages Celestial, Common, Elven, Goblin, Sylvan
SQ change shape (dire bat or wolf, beast shape II), elven magic, fast movement (unchained), gaseous form, ki pool (7 points, cold iron, magic, silver), ki powers (abundant step, formless mastery, qinggong power (barkskin)), shadowless, spider climb, style strikes (flying kick, leg sweep)
Combat Gear javelin of lightning, potion of displacement, potion of fly, potion of mage armour (2), giant wasp poison (2); Other Gear +1 rope dart, mwk shuriken (50), cloak of resistance +1, ring of protection +1, 919 gp


I created Little Tree Frog for my Hell’s Rebels group, which currently features two monk PCs. At the end of Book 3, the PCs hear about a cabal of vampires in Kintargo, led by the city’s high priestess of  Zon-Kuthon. At the start of Book 4, the PCs learn that the vampires allied with the AP’s big bad, and soon start encountering vampire assassins. However, other than the high priestess, the AP only calls for vanilla Bestiary vampires (which would make for unsatisfying encounters, given  the party’s surprising number of undead-blasting abilities. So, I created a handful of  vampire monks to serve as  minor recurring villains, with enough defensive abilities to give them enough staying power against the channeled postive energy,  sunbeams, and other undead-busters packed by the party wizard and cleric. In fact, Little Tree Frog was designed to directly counter some of the party’s more commonly employed tactics, which includes liberal use of style feats, rays, and mirror  images. Her AC is particularly high, so if you intend to use her against a less capable party, you may consider swapping out some of her defensive ki powers and/or dropping the potions.

Little Tree Frog regretfully  acknowledges that her background reads like that of a 5cp martial arts adventure book  villain. What is more clichéd than an elf, already gifted with a long lifespan, seeking to extend her life through undeath, to give her more time to pursue  her singular interest? It’s so… gnome-like. Still, she made peace with her decisions decades ago, and today continues to train, study, and seek out new martial techniques and philosophies.

Though her natural skills and vampiric abilities would make for the perfect silent assassin, unless operating under direct orders to kill, Little Tree Frog prefers straight-up fights, which gives her the time to simultaneously practice her skills and observe new skills. If given the opportunity, she prefers to engage in conversation first as she finds the philosophy behind one’s martial skills as important, if not more so, than the actual martial skills. She is particularly fond of working with the other vampire monks in her cabal, always looking for new ways to combine their different approaches to combat. If particularly impressed by an opponent, Little Tree Frog may offer the gift of vampirism and membership into her small, informal dojo.

[Pathfinder] Hell’s Rebels GM inspiration list (video game version)

Song of Silver

May include minor spoilers. </spoiler warning>

The Hell’s Rebels adventure path provides a framework with a variety of story telling and narrative tools, enabling (players-willing) an exploration of liberation politics, power, race and ethnicity, gender, and violence. At the end of Danced of the Damned and as one gets into A Song of Silver, the third and fourth books in the adventure path respectively, the adventure (can, pending group*) takes a dramatic turn, moving from a game of politicking and public relationship management to a game of gritty, street-level violence.

(* Some groups might just start in gritty, street-level violence mode.)

While preparing for A Song of Silver (which includes building a custom random encounter list for my players), I took the time to consider my sources of inspiration. The current South African and global political and higher education scene provides ample inspiration (covered in my last post about Hell’s Rebels), but I also wanted something that could speak to all of my players (not all of them are avid followers/students of real world politics). As one might expect from a  role playing group though, our interests often intersect along gaming lines. Thus, for this next chapter in our Hell’s Rebels, I’ve compiled a short list of video games which have all informed how I prepare for each session.

Streets of Rage

There are many side-scrolling beat ’em ups, but Streets of Rage tops the inspiration for Hell’s Rebels list. The plot (as detailed in Wikipedia): The once peaceful city has been taken over by a criminal syndicate, including factions of the police. Mass violence is now common and no one is safe. Adam Hunter (an accomplished boxer), Axel Stone (skilled martial artist) and Blaze Fielding (judo expert) are young ex-police officers who have quit the force to fight back against the syndicate.

I really nearly listed the Punisher here, but Frank Castle loses out to Yuzo’s fantastic Streets of Rage theme, which I feel captures the current spirit of my Hell’s Rebels group.

Street Fighter

My extended play group features many d20 monk advocates and half of my Hell’s Rebels PCs features at least one monk level. As a fellow monk advocate, I feel it necessary to customise encounters so that we can (more than) occasionally indulge in some classic high-action martial arts fight scenes. Thankfully, Cheliax (where Hell’s Rebels takes place on Paizo’s Golarion) features strong monastic traditions, providing ample inspiration for martial artist villains of all types. Though there are many fighting video games that fit the brief, Street Fighter’s character themes provides the perfect backing track for the upcoming kung fu battles.

This War of Mine

At its core, Dungeons and Dragons (and thereby Pathfinder), features a lot of violence. Violence is often presented as a solution at the table, just as it is in video games (including those listed above). Already, my players have ordered or executed assassinations, played with the ideas of arson and terrorism, flirted with falling, and pondered deals with devils. However, Hell’s Rebels also provides a fantastic city gazetteer, filled with NPCs and plot hooks, which can all be used to remind players that not everybody involved is a soldier. This War of Mine takes that message and presents it from the view point of civilians caught within the crossfire. As my players progress through Hell’s Rebels, they’ll discover that each of their decisions has an impact on the civilians they’ve sworn to protect.

[Pathfinder Guide] The Elven Reach Occultist

Occult Adventures

The occultist class, first introduced in Occult Adventures, provides an incredible chassis for a variety of character concepts, ranging from blaster casters, supporting casters, combat front liners, through to skill monkeys or anything in between.  However, regardless of build or  concept, the occultist suffers from one inherent problem: action economy. There is so much that the occultist can do, but it’s limited to only 1 standard action per round. This guide presents a build that helps get around this limitation: the elven reach occultist.

This guide was inspired by Brewer’s 2012 reach cleric guide, which first (to the best of my knowledge) formally introduced the benefits of Combat Reflexes and a reach weapon on a cleric. This build allows the cleric to contribute standard action spells on her turn, while potentially dishing out physical damage through attacks of opportunity, reach weapons, and size  altering magic outside of her turn. Further the addition of martial-focused options allows the reach cleric to conserve spellcasting resources, while still meaningfully contributing to the fight (compared to arcane casters throwing out acid splash and the like). You can find that guide here and discussion here.

This guide will be presented over a series blog posts:

Part 1: Introduction, ability scores, and feats (this post)
Part 2: Implements and focus powers
Part 3: Spells
Part 4: Archetypes and multiclassing, other races
Part 5: Gear and builds

This guide uses a revised Treantmonk colour guide: blue items are top tier choices, green items are solid choices, orange items are viable, but situational choices (based on build decisions), red items (really bad choices) are simply not listed.

For a broader occultist guide, the Dice Decide blog, has an excellent one over here.

Why an elf?

There are a number of good reasons, most notably:

  • The elf’s ability modifiers and spellcaster friendly racial traits
  • The fantastic favoured class bonus (1/2 a point of mental focus)
  • The occultist’s martial weapon proficiency which grants access to the elven branched spear, introduced in the Melee Tactics Toolbox
  • The Elven Battle Style tree, introduced in the Weapon Master’s Handbook, which allows our occultist to focus near exclusively on Dexterity and Intelligence

I shall discuss other races in part 4 of this guide, though you should already be able to apply the lessons from the reach cleric and occultist guides, linked above, to put a worthy reach occultist of any race together.


Strength: The elven reach occultist does not rely on Strength to deal damage, as the Elven Battle Style tree will allow her to add her Intelligence bonus to her melee damage instead. That said, we don’t want to dump Strength either, as we still need to make it through the first few levels. Also, a few builds might opt for Power Attack and its 13 Strength prerequisite.

Dexterity: The elven reach occultist has two primary attributes. She uses Dexterity for her melee attacks, ranged attacks (including energy rays), initiative, AC, Reflex saves, and a good selection of her skills. Depending on your build, this is either your tied highest attribute or second highest attribute.

Constitution: Everybody needs hit points.

Intelligence: This is  either your primary or tied primary attribute as it governs  your spellcasting and mental focus.

Wisdom: You could dump this, as your good base Will save and inherent racial traits should cover you. However, remember to carry some potions of remove fear for emergencies (remember, psychic casting has an emotional  component and fear can wreck your ability to cast spells).

Charisma: Your only real dump attribute, as your skill ranks (thanks Intelligence and 4  ranks-per-level class), selection of implements, and class features keep your Use Magic Device and, to a lesser extent, your social skills viable throughout your career.


Essential Feats

Elven Battle Focus: This allows you to use your Intelligence modifier instead of your Strength modifier on melee damage rolls.

Elven Battle Style: It’s a prerequisite for Elven Battle Focus. This turns green if you plan to combine it with Dirty Fighting.

Elven Battle Training: This feat serves as a prerequisite for Elven Battle Style, but also provides a few handy bonuses to CMD and provides an extra attack of opportunity per round, which can replace and/or stack with Combat Reflexes.

Weapon Finesse: This allows you to use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier for melee attack rolls.

Martial-focused Feats

Combat Reflexes: Elven Battle Training should be sufficient, but Combat Reflexes still allows you to make attacks of opportunity even when flat-footed.

Elven Battle Torrent: A very late game pick for a 3/4 base attack class, but good nonetheless.

Power Attack: Even at 13 Strength, the feat significantly boosts your melee damage. There are also several good feats which use it as a prerequisite, such as Furious Focus.

Caster-focused Feats

Augment Summoning: Summoning is always a strong option.

Combat Casting: You will find yourself in the melee.

(Greater) Spell Focus: It’s usefulness depends on your implement and spell selection. It’s worth noting that the base feat serves as a prerequisite for feats such as Varisian Tattoo and Augment Summoning.

(Greater) Spell Penetration: Even an elf needs help with spell resistance.

Metamagic feats: As spontaneous caster that caps out at 6th level spells, you probably get more mileage from metamagic rods, rather than metamagic feats.

Point-Blank Shot: It’s a prerequisite for Precise Shot, though many of your rays are limited to 30 feet.

Precise Shot: You’ll be able to land more ray-based attacks against foes in melee.

Miscellaneous Feats

Dirty Fighting: From the Dirty Tactics Toolbox, combines perfectly with Elven Battle Style. Additionally, it grants you access to many improved maneuver feats, which in turn allows you to extract more out of the telekinesis options available via transmutation implements.

Extra Focus Power: A single-classed occultist has more  than enough opportunities to pick up her chosen focus powers. A multiclassed occultist will get far more out of this  feat.

Extra Mental Focus: Even an elf needs more mental focus.

Magic Item Mastery feats: Also introduced in the Weapon Master’s Handbook, these feats allow you to expand your otherwise limited spellcasting options. This is especially handy for archetypes that sacrifice implement slots (such as the battle host). Of the lot, consider Dispel, Energy, Flight, Illusion, Telekinetic, Teleportation, and Vision.

Toughness: Though you’re not necessarily always in the thick of things, extra hit points never hurt.

[Pathfinder] Hell’s Rebels: A reflection of real world liberation politics

In Hell's Bright ShadowLiving in South Africa, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the country’s political discourse, be it about protest, liberation, corruption, the economy, violence, gender, ethnicity, freedom, privilege. Given our recent history—Marikana, #feesmustfall, #zumamustfall, ratings downgrades, a devalued currency, and the threat of a failed state—it can be challenging to see the positive. Yet, some still maintain hope that this country can overcome these challenges, that there is a brighter future waiting for us. It is within this real-world context, which is just a subset of our turbulent global context, that I began running Paizo’s Hell’s Rebels Adventure Path.

Despite working in South Africa’s higher education industry, I chose not to comment publicly (at least via social media) about the 2015 student protests (the mental controls, installed by my prior experience in the business continuity field, puts a certain value on formal crisis/emergency communication channels). Instead, Hell’s Rebels became the vehicle through which I considered the protests, reflected upon conversations, and tested my peers’ views and opinions against my own. The Adventure Path is set in the city of Kintargo, during a period of political upheaval and protest. The players are quickly thrust into key leadership positions of the only organised opposition against a freshly installed and apparently stereotypical corrupt Lord-Mayor.  The Adventure Path provides all the tools to run the rebellion as anything between an outright terrorist organisation to a politically astute movement based on discussion and non-violent protest to anything in between. It didn’t take long for my players’ differing views to emerge, often resulting in a mix out-of-character and in-character arguments and debates about the nuanced (and sometimes not-so-nuanced) differences between their personal contexts and views. Though we’ve had some tense conversations, bordering on shouting matches, the group keeps getting back together for the next session. There’s that something that keeps us coming back for more, despite the high possibility of confronting the uncomfortable topics of privilege, anger, otherness, -isms, and hate.

The Adventure Path blends a fairly linear story within a tremendously detailed sandbox environment. This allows a group to pursue its own unique approach to rebellion, as mentioned above, allowing anything from guerrilla warfare against the city’s police and military forces to street-level heroism, protecting the common folk against the rise of gangsterism and organised crime. In Hell’s Bright Shadow, the Adventure Path’s first installment, GMs are presented with a Kintargo gazetteer, which alone nearly makes the purchase worth it. The gazetteer sets out sufficient details that enables the group to build real emotional bonds between NPCs and PCs, which in turn adds far more meaning to the rebellion’s successes and losses. The abundance of NPC head shots and artwork just adds that little bit more to the whole experience. This “realness”, that’s what really makes this Adventure Path for me.

The big bad, initially portrayed as a buffoonish caricature of a despot, slowly introduces a series of clever political maneuvers meant to curb our heroes’ progress. Most recently, my PCs achieved one of their greatest victories, only to have it cheapened by an insidiously clever public relations stunt. This elevates the conflict between our heroes and the antagonist to the political level, wherein the PCs need to not only consider and picture a liberated Kintargo, but also consider a politician that is more sinister than his public persona would have you believe (probably not unlike real world politicians). A purely anarchist movement might be happy with simply overthrowing the current government, but my party consists of a good number of lawfully- and good-aligned PCs that are seriously concerned about the longevity of their liberation movement. This element of the game so powerfully lends itself to reflecting upon our post-apartheid South Africa and its current leadership challenges. Will my players (if they ever successfully overthrow the evil Lord-Mayor) heed the in-game and real world history lessons, or will they seek out their own brand of liberation? Will they be forced to take actions that might cheapen their brand? I can’t wait to find out. Perhaps it’s merely a product of timing, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been this invested in any sort of role playing game campaign before.

My Hell’s Rebels game runs in real space at the table, via e-mail, on the Paizo message boards, and with some back-channeling on Twitter too. I may post a few after-action play reports as we progress further along this Adventure Path.

[Pathfinder] The Weapon Master’s Handbook (and the fighting fan)

Weapon-Master's-HBWow. The latest offering in Paizo’s Player Companion line, the Weapon Master’s Handbook, coupled with this updated fighter weapon group listing, finally allows us to recreate several video game and wire-fu martial artists (previously denied to us under the monks and/or martials cannot have nice things clause). Sure, even beta allowed us to build a nunchaku or sai specialist, but (if we’re honest) such builds were mechanically sub-optimal. With the release of the Handbook, we’ve suddenly been give a tool set that not only enables weapon-based martial arts, but also introduces the means to create more self-sufficient martial characters, allowing them to compete at the higher levels of play with less reliance on consumables and/or friendly casters. Excellent stuff; I’m so excited about this book that I’m even allowing my Hell’s Rebels group to immediately rebuild as monks (though, to be fair, that option’s always available when I GM).

As with my other (ongoing) analyses of Pathfinder rule books, I find it useful to combine theorycraft builds and actual play reports. That said, I’ll be writing about the Weapon Master’s Handbook for quite some time to come. To begin though, I thought I’d see if I could recreate a war fan-wielding fighter, drawing on Anji Mito (Guilty Gear), Mai Shiranui (Fatal Fury), and Kitana (Mortal Kombat) for inspiration. I came up with the below build, blending the brawler’s snakebite striker archetype with the kineticist. This build uses the air element to best recreate Anji. Fire allows you to build Mai, while aether allows you to rebuild Kitana (bonus: aether actually allows you to “throw” the fans via telekinetic blast).

Human Brawler Kineticist

Str 18 Dex 14 Con 14 Int 08 Wis 10 Cha 12

Traits: Dangerously Curious; Monk Weapon Skill

Br01: Ascetic Style
Br01: Weapon Focus (fighting fan) (B)
Br02: Combat Expertise (B)
Br03: Improved Feint
Ki04: Infusion: Kinetic Fist
Ki05: Power Attack
Ki05: Utility Wild Talent: Air’s Leap
Ki06: Infusion: Extended Range
Br07: Greater Feint
Br08: Weapon Specialisation (fighting fan) (B)
Br09: Energy Mastery
Br10: –
BR11: Flight Mastery
Br11: Accomplished Sneak Attacker (B)
Br12: –

Anji_Mito_HeadshotThe brawler, combined with Ascetic style, enables us to really buff up the fan’s damage (it equals the brawler’s unarmed strike and can benefit from brawling armour, brawler’s strike, and an amulet of mighty fists, among other such goodies including its own enhancement bonus). The x3 critical multiplier just makes it that bit more attractive than the brawler’s naked fist. Of course, the distracting quality gives us a small boost to our Bluff checks, which increases the chance of a successful feint in combat by my reading of the distracting quality, if you dual wield fans, you get a +4 bonus). And for those times when you can’t sneak attack (and since I couldn’t find a slot for Shadow Strike), this build simply has a big fat plus to damage thanks to a high Strength and Power Attack.

The kineticist gives us several ranged options, some utility, and also allows us to use kinetic fist with our fans, allowing us to eke out a bit more punishment. Anji uses air blast, Mai use fire blast, and as mentioned above, Kitana uses telekinetic blast.

The magic item mastery feats are a really clever addition to the Handbook. Essentially, they allow a non-caster to twist the magic of her carried items into a selection of spell-like abilities. The above two feats allow us to cast fly, burning hands, and lightning bolt. The energy type, varies based on the item used, so we can cleverly use the shoes of lightning leaping to fire electric burning hands and lightning bolts, and also ride-the-lightning once per day. (Really smart players can simply load an AoMF with a variety of element-based +1 enhancements.)

I did consider single-classing the brawler, using more item mastery feats to replicate our video game character magical and ranged options. The build as presented above does have some weaknesses. Relatively low AC potentially coupled with burn does not enable a good tank. However, the snakebite striker’s ability to feint on the move means we can still dish out decent hits even when not full attacking (plus Greater Feint helps the whole party), which allows for a mobile striker, that could off-tank based on gear and element selection.

[Pathfinder Society] Change of Cape Town Venture Officers

PFS-YotS-Logo_360Cape Town’s Pathfinder Society history goes back to early 2012. As part of RPG Superstar, I was offered the opportunity to write a PFS scenario. I took the offer seriously and recruited my local play group into several sessions of then-recent season 2 scenarios to help me get a feel for the organised play campaign. Mike Brock, the campaign co-odinator at the time, noticed that we started reporting South African sessions and reached out to us. Soon thereafter, I was appointed as Cape Town’s first Venture Captain.

It’s been an interesting and rewarding three years, starting from a small once-a-month store game to now a more established Western Cape convention presence. From there, PFS spread throughout South Africa, with VOs now in Gauteng and Durban. We’ve been lucky enough to host visiting international players (I’ve also had the opportunity to run games for and play in games run by our Dutch counterparts (which is ideal, given the new regional VC structure). However, recent family and  career responsibility changes, followed by my relocation, have led to a reduction in my capacity to maintain my VC duties. As such, I tendered my resignation earlier this year, which was followed by a long-ish notice period wherein I wrapped up our local convention season, followed by a short holding period between Mike’s own resignation and Tonya’s appointment.

It’s now official: Cape Town has a new VC, Leon, who is sure to take the scene further. While we are still finalising the handover of our various tools, communication channels etc., you can still check in with the rest of the GM and player base at our Google Group. It’s been a good run and I look forward to joining in as a player, in the near future, wherein I shall attempt to once again prove that tengu remain the go-to choice for all PFS character builds.

[Pathfinder] Thoughts about the Monk Unchained – Part 1C

Dirty Tactics ToolboxWe’re now starting to see additional Paizo-published materials for the Pathfinder Unchained monk, including the monk of the mantis archetype from the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Interestingly, you can apply the archetype to both the core monk and the unchained monk. The archetype augments the Stunning Fist feat nicely with the core trading in wholeness of body, diamond body, and diamond soul (levels 7, 11, and 13) and the unchained monk trading in his level 6, 10, and 12 ki powers. This highlights some of my favourite unchained monk’s design decisions: the flexibility of ki powers combined with earlier access to a variety of character options. The archetype also picks up sneak attack, which changes how any build might prioritise it’s damage increasing feats.

As I mentioned in my previous posts about the Pathfinder Unchained monk, I plan to share a series of theory-crafted builds, coupled with the occasional actual play report. Today’s theory-craft build attempts to emulate cinematic representations of northern praying mantis, with a particular focus on Virtua Fighter’s portrayal of the martial art (dark secret: I used to main Lion in VF2). As always, the build’s PFS legal.

Unchained Monk of the Mantis

Str 18 Dex 13 Con 12 Int 10 Wis 17 Cha 08 (Racial bonuses on Str and Wis)
Human (Alternate Racial Trait: Dual Talent)
Traits: Quain Martial Artist; Reactionary

UM01 – Dodge (B)
UM01 – Improved Unarmed Strike (B)
UM01 – Mobility
UM01 – Stunning Fist (B)
UM02 – [Sneak Attack +1d6]
UM03 – Mantis Style
UM04 – Ki Power: Qinggong Power: barkskin
UM05 – Spring Attack
UM05 – Style Strike: Elbow Smash
UM06 – [Debilitating Blow]
UM06 – [Sneak Attack +1d6]
UM07 – Circling Mongoose
UM08 – Ki Power: Abundant Step
UM09 – Dimensional Agility
UM09 – Style Strike: Flying Kick
UM10 – [Debilitating Blow]
UM10 – [Sneak Attack +1d6]
UM11 – Extra Ki
UM12 – [Debilitating Blow]

I wanted to give the build a number of sneak attack enabling options and settled on the Melee Tactics Toolbox‘s Circling Mongoose feat. Circling Mongoose creates a powerful visual, which reminds me of Lion’s close combat style and the importance of side-stepping and circling in 3D fighters. But as a result, Circling Mongoose’s prerequisites dictated the early feat selection. You could also opt for Weapon Finesse and increased Dexterity, for a more defensive build (thankfully, sneak attack can help keep your damage up). If you do, you can choose to stick with Dual Talent and delay or ignore Mantis Style, Dimensional Agility, or Extra Ki and still net a similar play experience or opt for the extra bonus feat.

[Pathfinder] The New Master of Many Styles

Ultimate CombatLast week, Paizo released new errata for Ultimate Combat. Among the flurry of updates, the oft dipped-into and abused Master of Many Styles got a few updates aimed at rewarding single-classing. I’ve always liked the style feats, but managing their power level tended to be difficult with the old Master of Many Styles around. The new MoMS reduces that somewhat while adding some interesting build opportunities. In particular, you cannot use the bonus feats to get early access to the second and third feats in a style tree. However, you can now choose wild card slots instead of a bonus feat from level 6 onward. When you enter a style’s stance, you can use these wild card slots to gain the benefits of the second and/or third tier style feats of that style. It’s very similar to the brawler’s martial flexibility. Also worth noting, at level 8, you gain a bonus to attack rolls equal to the number of stances you have active. Nice.

Today’s build is yet another oddball tengu. It focuses on grappling with one hand while using a big one-handed weapon to deal damage during the grappling. Though predominantly a Master of Many Styles, the build dips into the strangler brawler archetype, which enables a Dexterity-based grappler and some fun martial flexibility + style wild card interplay. As always, it’s Pathfinder Society legal.

Tengu Brawler (Strangler) Monk (Master of Many Styles, Monk of the Sacred Mountain)

Starting attributes (20 point buy, after racial):  Str 12 Dex 18 Con 12 Int 10 Wis 17 Cha 07

B01 – Improved Grapple
B01 – Improved Unarmed Strike
B02 – Agile Maneuvers (B)
M03 – Kraken Style (B)
M03 – Celestial Obedience (Falayna)
M03 – Stunning Fist (B)
M04 – Grabbing Style (B)
M04 – Toughness (B)
M05 – Tengu Wings
M06 – –
B07 – Greater Grapple
M08 – –
M09 – Body Shield
M09 – Wild Card Style (B)
M10 – –
M11 – Combat Style Mastery
M12 – –

The tengu grants access to and proficiency with some big one-handed swords. Grappling to damage allows you to deal damage equal to an unarmed strike, natural attack, or an attack with armour spikes or a light or one-handed weapon. I’ll suggest a bastard sword for this build, with an estoc as a nice backup weapon when you’re facing an opponent that’s not worth grappling (martial flexibility for Weapon Finesse). Martial flexibility and wild card slots grant you access to second and third tier style feats (for more Kraken damage) and/or access to situational styles (such as Charging Stag or Dragon when dealing with difficult terrain). At level 4, we’re already dealing 1d10 (bastard sword) + 1 Str + 4 Wis (Kraken Style, level 4 attribute bump) + 2d6 sneak attack damage in a grapple.

Humans (especially dual talented humans) would work too, if you’re happy limiting yourself to a temple sword. You could consider swapping some of the early levels around a bit, based on your needs. Also consider swapping out Tengu Wings and Body Shield for other styles. You could also swap out the sacred mountain archetype for the drunken master and qinggong for a few other nice options. I just prefer sacred mountain’s ability to buff CMD. Of course, drunken master + sacred mountain + MoMS stacks quite well, if you want to power your ki abilities (like the +4 dodge bonus, which increases CMD) through drunken ki.

As an added bonus, this build actually allows you to combine Falayna‘s favored weapon with the grappling bonus granted by Celestial Obedience.

[Review] The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design

completekoboldguidegdThis isn’t the sort of review that I’m accustomed to writing. There are no game mechanics and balance considerations to critique, no RAW/RAI confusion to unpack. Instead, I think I’d rather really call this a recommendation; a recommendation for any RPG game designer, whether your designs be for publication and sale, solely for the enjoyment of your regular group, or anything in between.

Right, so what exactly is the Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design? At first blush, it’s a collection of 40 essays from RPG industry veterans (including Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, and Mike Stackpole), which delves into and discusses what makes RPGs tick, what makes the RPG industry tick, and the role that freelancers (like myself) play within the hobby and industry. This collection was first released in 2012, and though I had been freelancing for about a year before that and continue to do so, I often find myself rereading some of these essays to recall a piece of advice or to find a bit of inspiration when faced with designer’s block.

Again, since this isn’t a traditional RPG review, it’s not easy to simply assign 4 stars to that essay, 5 stars over there, and 2.5 stars to that one. Rather, as difficult as it was to decide, I picked the three essays that I most often return to or consider for a bit of extra discussion.

First up, Worldbuilding. One of my earliest lessons in adventure design came through the Paizo’s RPG Superstar judges’ feedback. Though I’ve carried many of those ideas with me, a single phrase from Mark Moreland still sticks out in my memory: “don’t hold back information from the GM”. Writing an adventure is not like writing a piece of fiction; you can’t save surprises for later. To me, that’s the crux of worldbuilding and scene-setting for gaming: it’s not like any other sort of writing. The Wordbuilding essay reinforces this idea and provides advice and illustrative anecdotes for the very many means of RPG worldbuilding (the individual designer, the GM and the published setting, and in-game collaboration with the players), which helps me structure not only long-term campaigns, but also individual gaming sessions.

Failure and Recovery, discusses the eventuality of failing and what to consider when it does happen. I’m really a risk-adverse individual and take many precautions before even sending a pitch to a publisher. Even so, I’ve still managed to stumble over a pitch that just went nowhere. But here’s the thing, though the advice in this essay certainly did help me overcome that particular failure, it’s also helped out at the gaming table. I’ve recently been blogging about my foray into Dark Heresy’s second edition. If you take the time to read some of the earlier posts, you’ll quickly notice that my group did not have a smooth start. However, with the group’s willingness to acknowledge and discuss the problems, we were able to turn those failures around and are now heretic-hunting quite happily (well, at least until I start handing out some corruption points (players hate corruption points)).

Finally, Buckets in the Sandbox, discusses sandbox, non-linear and event-driven adventure design. It provides a fascinating critique on the various forms of sandbox design and related pitfalls. Even though this essay doesn’t loudly proclaim to discuss player agency, there are still strong lessons about catering for predictable and unpredictable player actions, methods to transition a sandbox to a new chapter, and making players feel as if their choices have meaning. Since reading this essay, I have tried to adopt those ideas of player agency in my GMing, even when running very linear adventures. Player agency is a big deal for me when I play and it’s something I try to enable when I GM.

Those are my favourites, from a selection of all equally good essays. As I said in the beginning, this isn’t a traditional RPG review, so instead of an arbitrary star rating, I’ll simply state that I highly recommend the Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design to any GMs looking to up the quality of their campaigns and their interaction with their players and anybody interested in or currently working in the RPG freelance space.

[Freelancing] En World’s Trailseeker

This is the first post, in a planned series of two, about En World’s Patreon-driven Trailseeker. For those that don’t know, Patreon, according to Wikipedia, allows artists to obtain funding from patrons on a recurring basis or per artwork. In Trailseeker’s case, Patreon allows En World to obtain funding for short Pathfinder RPG articles and adventures. Today, I’m going to chat about freelancing for Trailseeker. In my second post, I’ll discuss Trailseeker from a patron’s point of view. But first, some history (the history portion is a bit long, but it explains why I found the Trailseeker freelancing model quite attractive):

In 2011, I placed in Paizo’s RPG Superstar’s top 4. Though I had been tinkering with 3.x mechanics for years already, RPGSS was my first real break into paid design work. Since then, I have contributed to several projects, most notably to three Pathfinder Society scenarios and to several Kobold Quarterly and Kobold Press projects. Through RPGSS, I had one publishing credit in the bag, but it wasn’t until I approached Kobold Quarterly, a now retired RPG magazine, that I truly engaged in the RPG freelancer life cycle, from first contact, to the pitch, through to contract, manuscript submission, developer and editorial feedback, to publication, and finally through to payment.

Fast forward to late 2013 / early 2014. I had just turned in Where Mammoths Dare Not Tread and was looking forward to my next project when my life changed dramatically: parenthood. Though it wasn’t unexpected, I didn’t have any real sense of how it would change my life, until it happened. Coupled with changing day job responsibilities, I decided to place my freelance career on hold. Now, in mid 2015, after a change in career to a less time-intensive, yet no less rewarding, day job, I found myself with some spare mental capacity to yet again explore design work.

After nearly 18 months since my last project, I wanted to start small. At first I considered self-publishing, spurred on by a friend’s recent and successful adventure in self-publishing. However, after crunching the numbers, even if I listed the cost of my input hours as zero on my budget sheet, even a small 2-page PDF would exceed 1000 ZAR for development, editing, layout, graphic design and one black-and-white piece of art (closer to 800 ZAR if I dropped the art and/or settled for stock). Now I wasn’t intending to make a huge profit on my designs, but I didn’t want to operate at a loss (child to feed and clothe). Once I had considered a price point, taking the e-tailer commissions into account, I would have had to sell near 200 units to break even. I decided against taking the risk.

Thereafter, I reached out to some of my old publisher contacts (no formal pitches yet). As I suspected, there wasn’t much going for small projects, but I did manage to identify several opportunities for medium to larger projects. However, I like to put in significant pre-pitch work before actively hunting for a publisher. This pre-work helps ensure that I’m ready to handle timelines the publisher throws at me, but delays getting contracts signed and projects rolling. So, while I tinkered around with bigger ideas, I was still on the look out for those smaller projects. That’s when I discovered Trailseeker.

Trailseeker aims to recreate that gaming magazine feel, similar in content type and feel as Dungeon, Dragon, and Kobold Quarterly. After reading their submission rules, I quickly realised that their 2000 to 5000 word articles sounded perfect for me. Further, the very nature of the project seemed to enable or reward experimentation as the Patreon model helps reduce the risks around individual articles. So, here was a publisher, with an audience, looking for short articles, while giving contributors freedom to define their own topics without having to cater for any specific setting, canon, or similar constraints. I could and did work with that.

As of writing, I have gone through most of the cycle with EN World, from pitch, to submission, editing, through to payment. I now just wait to see the artwork and final published version. En World pays 0.03 USD per word, which puts it somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to payment rates per word (depends which statistics you’d like to believe (read the comments to this article, there’s a lot of information buried there)). But, as a South African, I’m happy to take 60 USD (for a 2000 word article), which is >700 ZAR at the moment. Payment aside, there’s one additional nice thing in the contract: I do not have to cede my ownership rights. That’s correct, though EN World asks for one-year wait before republishing, I’m free to re-use and repackage my content should I desire.

Working with the EN World team was pretty straightforward. There was an initial delay between my pitch and their reply. However, I sent the pitch when Trailseeker went live, so I imagine that they may have been swamped by pitches and submissions (in addition to rolling out the first set of articles). Once my pitch was accepted, things really motored then and I submitted my material six days after completing the contract. My editor informed me that the manuscript didn’t require any revisions (so I can’t speak to the quality of feedback and revision cycle here).  Overall, other than the initial delay, the experience was good. I’d happily work with the EN World team again.