Saturday, October 26, 2013

So, I Killed a PC Last Night in Our Pathfinder Game. Plus, PFSRD? And a PF Question

This is mostly me just thinking out loud before I've had my morning coffee, nursing a mild hangover, after a game where in the final moments a PC was killed, due to (IMHO) his own dumb-ass decisions and bad dice rolling.  So I'm in a thoughtful state of mind.  When a pc dies, I usually blame myself somewhat, or mentally grill myself to determine whether the death was due to some unfair thing that I did.  I'm not against killing characters, as a dm of the older school style of gaming, but if they die I do want to make sure it wasn't due to me being unfair in some way.  All I did was tempt him, he took the bait, looking for the reward, knowing the consequences.  He had ample warning every step of the way of the potential consequences.  Then, as always, he rolled like shit.  So in this case I think my conscience is clear.  Here's what happened--

We're playing G-2, the Remorhaz igloo on level 1.  Room 28 I think it was.   I'm converting mostly on the fly to PF as I go.  The party knows there is a white dragon in the place. One pc, polymorphed into a snow white owl, flies on top of the igloo.  Hears nothing.  Goes to the entrance, sees some black scaly thing moving, feels heat, sees pulsating red.  Since that character is played by my brother, and according to him I've killed his pc's more times than I've changed my underwear, and, again according to him always unfairly (hey, I was 15, what can I say, he may have a point), he says no way in hell is the owl heading in there to investigate further.

He flies back up to the group, and almost as an afterthought, as the game is ending, I give the druid of the group, a dwarf, whose greatest claim to fame was that he screwed some nasty old diseased bitch one drunken night in a tavern, and who is played as a big pussy by my friend Pete, a chance to identify the thing based on the limited description the owl gives.  He is currently in Air Elemental form.  I make it a DC 25 knowledge nature check.  He fails.  I tell him if he goes down to look I'll give it a better DC.  He goes down to the entrance, I make it a DC 20.  He fails.  I say if he goes into the beast's lair, he will have a better chance.  Goaded on by some of the other PC's, and perhaps a bit by me chanting "Pussy! Pussy!"  he says he will go halfway down.  I tell him that whatever is inside there will have a penalized perception check to detect him.  More goading, and more pussy calling ensues, and he goes in.

Now he knows from the past that anytime he went into a place as an air elemental to scout around it never worked out right.  He knows he is the suckiest roller in the group, so bad that I've considered sending him to a priest to cast an exorcism on his dice.  He admits afterwards that he thought the thing in there was a white dragon, even though I described it as dark and it pulsated red and heat come from the 30 foot tunnel leading to the igloo.  So whats he do?

He heads in of course. Who the fuck would go into a tunnel he thinks that a dragon is at the other end of?  May as well shrink yourself and walk down the barrel of a gun, knowing a bullet is at the other end. 

Sure as shit, he rolls almost as low as he can on a stealth check.  The Remorhaz rolls almost as high as it can, and it has a high modifier.  The thing detects him.  Initiative.  And you guessed it, Pete rolls like shit for initiative.  Remorhaz rolls high.  Remorhaz gets off the bite and the burn, then gets the grapple thing he can do.  In a couple more rounds of more shit rolls, the smelly dwarven druid who fucks ugly disease-ridden chicks is dead. 

All my dice rolls are out in the open.  My conscience is somewhat clear on this one, though I feel bad for the guy.

I'm going to rule next sesion that his animal companion, a big lion or something, feeling the loss of his master, goes insane and runs away.  That wil give the group the clue they need to think that the druid might be dead.

As I was typing this one of my other players typed a poem as a eulogy to his fallen comrade--I'll post it here:

An Ode to Cilrok:

Cilrok, Cilrok, the Dwarven Drood, 
Master of Kittens, Shapechanging Dood
Always supplying us with the best of weed, (I converted mistletoe in our game to marijuana)
Implanting the whores with his dirty dorf seed.
Greatly will you be missed, oh stinky one,
For your bones cannot be saved,
From the belly of the Remorhas,
That bit you in your hairy ass,
The one time you chose to be brave. at least I know his PC's name.  I've been calling him "The Sucky Druid" all this time.

And now, a question for Pathfinder DM's:

Do you usually have the Pathfinder SRD open in front of you electronically while playing the game?

I'm torn.  On the one hand, I can't stand having electronic stuff open by anyone in my face to face games.  It's hard enough with one player under 30 who is, like everyone of her generation, used to doing everything in life with while simultaneously texting or reading something on her phone.  It took us five sessions of mockery to get her to print up her character instead of using her iphone for it, after she was never able to find what she needed in a reasonable amount of time on the phone.

I don't want to encourage any more electronic interference with our game.  But on the other hand, it does make it ridiculously easy to find shit on the fly.  I'm running the old G series for the players, and we needed a winter wolf last night.  There wasn't one listed in the Bestiary I had, so one player looked it up on his phone and pulled stats from somewhere that I ended up using.  I don't know where the hell he got it, but it was good enough and worked.  Today I re-discovered the PF SRD, and holy shit.  It's a very well done thing, and I can totally see its usefulness at the table.  Wondering though, if you guys use a laptop or ipad at the table, do your players then feel like it is ok to use similar devices and break out the iphones and all that shit?

I guess I can just man up and say "No, only I can use a laptop while playing."  But who wants to be that guy, you know?  Plus, I hate electronic shit at the game table, like I said.  But the utility, you know? All thoughts on the matter appreciated.

Lastly, a question:  There will be one white dragon in the place.  I was looking up abilities, and the one I am considering using has something called Frightful Presence, as follows:

"This special quality makes a creature’s very presence unsettling to foes. Activating this ability is a free action that is usually part of an attack or charge. Opponents within range who witness the action may become frightened or shaken. The range is usually 30 feet, and the duration is usually 5d6 rounds. This ability affects only opponents with fewer Hit Dice than the creature has. An opponent can resist the effects with a successful Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 the frightful creature’s racial HD + the frightful creature’s Cha modifier; the exact DC is given in the creature’s descriptive text). An opponent that succeeds on the saving throw is immune to that same creature’s frightful presence for 24 hours. On a failed save, the opponent is shaken, or panicked if it has 4 Hit Dice or fewer. Frightful presence is a mind-affecting fear effect."

How do I determine if the effect is Frightened or Shaken?  They are two different things, as Frightened means you run , and shaken means you just shit your pants and get some penalties.  Panicked is if you are less than 4 hd, so I get that, and it won't affect my players since they are in the level 9 range.   I just don't get when the fail means frightened or when it means shaken.  Not clear, but I am not really that great with all the PF rules yet.  Any input is appreciated.

Off to make some coffee.


  1. Hey, Joe. Your experience with the PC death sounds about right for Pathfinder. It's hard to die in that game unless a PC really messes up and going to to toe with a rhemoraz sounds like just the ticket to death land.

    Regarding the srd open at the table, I think that's a fine idea. Pathfinder can be a bit fiddly, so I think it really helps. Fortunately, the srd is cross-referenced so well and it makes jumping from link to link fast and easy. The SRD and a tablet, I think, are a perfect marriage.

    As for that frighten/shakened thing, I believe a failed save results in frightened, while a successful save results in the shakened condition, or panicked if under a certain HD.


  2. I wandered over here from Zak's site and find myself appalled.

    The content and tone of your post suggest social dynamics at the table and between you guys that are horrific.

    I do not believe that anybody always rolls poorly. I do however believe that there are GMs who have it in for a player and like humiliating, goading and abusing their victim.

    I haven't ever written a drive-by-in-total-disgust-post like this, which should be telling you something in its own right.


  3. Thanks Christian for the input. That makes sense on the save thing now.

    To anonymous: Perhaps you'd be less appalled if you knew we have been playing dnd together on and off for close to 20 yrs and are great friends?

    If that doesn't make you less appalled that you can kiss my ass.

  4. correction: 4 of 5 of us have been playing together for close to 20 yrs.

  5. Well, if only 4 or 5 of you have been playing together for 20 years . . . LOL

    You were fair enough with the PC, although those calls of "I double dare you!" might have played a part. ROFL

    When you give them the: "Well, there are 20 different rooms in there, but we KNOW there's a dragon in one of them," you've been as fair as you can be.

    He entered at his own risk.

  6. Joe, if I may:

    Christian, if you read this, for some reason, I can no longer access your blog.

  7. Scholar: I had it down for maintenance, but now it's good to go.

  8. I find it deeply disturbing that a hippie with a persecution complex reads my blog.

  9. Joe, Seems totally fair. You may be a bit crass amongst your gaming pals of many years, but that's not really a bad thing.

    Really I'm not sure why the arctic death worm didn't have a chance to detect a)The entire party wandering into it's lair (I would have rolled every couple minutes while the players were chatting) b)When a tasty owl landed on it's sleepy time igloo. I am also baffled that the dwarf had to roll badly to die in a couple rounds vs. that thing, I have always been afraid of the Remoorrahaaz (or whatever). I am also confused about how druids turn into air elementals - but that's gotta be a system thing.

  10. Mystic: Yeah, 20 years man. And my brother read the post a couple hours ago and reminded me he and I have been playing together for 30 years.

    Zak I know, I figured that type was filtered out years ago.

    Gus the air elemental thing is a PF druid ability. Pain in the ass, frankly. They like PF though, so I DM it. We tried to make it more old school in nature as best we can. We don't use grids for combat and movement, and only a few things trigger attacks of opportunity, for example. I think the dwarf lasted a total of two tasty bites with the remorhaz. The burning is what really did him in. The whole party never made it down, just the owl and later the elemental. Thanks for the reminder for the snow owl tho, I coulda/shoulda maybe had the Remorhaz do a perception check when he was flying around the entrance if nothing else. I blame it on the rum. Plus the fact that I knew there was no way I would catch my brother falling into such an obvious trap like moving even an inch into it. He plays like an abuse survivor when I DM, always on his toes, suspicious of everything. Goes back to some particularly traumatic pc deaths I inflicted on his characters in our teen years. :)

  11. Joe: “This relationship can’t be unhealthy because it’s been this way for twenty years.” is not a particularly strong defense. I suspect you carried over the social dynamics from high school or college into adulthood and Pete has been your omega player / favorite doormat for all these years.

    Your further comments have just reinforced my first impression: It was obvious that you shafted Pete’s druid on the scouting thing and now I read you didn’t like those druid mechanics in the first place. What a surprise! I bet that on balance, Pete’s usually the guy who picks characters/feats/tactics etc. that you somehow don’t like – and also rolls poorly, ends up drunkenly screwing the “nasty old diseased bitch” etc. etc. What a coincidence!

    Zak: As you apparently think that working in porn is empowering for women, you are utterly disqualified from spotting abuse. I can’t speak to any specific individual in your group, but just how many of your female friends have been sexually abused as children or as teens or by their boyfriends (or pimps, as it were), percentage-wise?

    (“Uptight! Prude!” defense coming up in 3, 2, 1, …)

  12. Ha! Funny thing, in our group it is the stone loving dwarven druid, that often get's the group in trouble by not knowing when to shut up... What's up with this dwarven druids? ;)

    Oh, and if it is electronics on the table, I recommend Kyle Olsons Combat Manager. Has everything at a tip of your fingers. For free.

  13. Well I'm not getting involved in whatever's going on with Anonymous. Jeepers.

    When my group plays Pathfinder we do use the SRD in electronic form; most of us use an Android application called Masterwork Tools: pathfinder Open Reference either on our phones or tablets. We don't use technology at the table in other games but Pathfinder's so complex and legalistic that we find it useful to have the rules close at hand and easier to use in electronic form than in printed form.

    As for the Frightful Presence, this is one of the annoying aspects of Pathfinder; it is very detailed and complex but some of the details are ambiguous. It drives us bonkers sometimes!

    I think the bit about "frightened" at the beginning is flavour text that just happens to use a technical game term. So what I think it means is that if a character fails the save they are shaken unless they have fewer than four hit dice, in which case they are panicked. In the case of your level nine player-characters, they can only be shaken if they fail the save; otherwise there is no effect.

  14. If you don't know not to split the party, then you deserve what you get. Especially if your not a stealthy character or if your player is dice-cursed.

    In most of our games everybody has their computer out for character sheets and game stuff. The rule is that if the electronics detract from your ability to pay attention and participate in the game, then they go off. However, having something to occupy you when they are dealing with another character's business can be useful.

    As a GM, it's particularly useful to have a computer. It's a GM screen, module (assuming you have it on PDF), hyperlinked and errata'd rule reference, initiative chart, sound effect system, electronic dice for secret rolls that the PC doesn't even know about, and much much more.

    When I GM I only use electronic dice because I'm the opposite of your druid's player. I tend to roll better than average. If I DM'd with real dice it would be bad for the players.

  15. If you're worried about being distracted by the screen in front of you, or about erecting a physical barrier between yourself and the players, then don't put the screen in front of you. Instead, keep the screen off to the side somewhere, out of your line of sight. That way you can use it if necessary, but there is no temptation to fiddle with irrelevant electronic stuff or to use it as a shield.

  16. I think if a character who is already shaken gets shaken again, then they become frightened, similar to how fatigued + fatigued = exhausted.

    The death seems legit.

  17. All this; and instead of, "hey, thems the breaks"? Methinks, Joe, that you have fallen prey to second-guessing between what is real and what is false; and verbose remonstration is no cure for that.

    BTW, to the last poster, above. All deaths in a "fantasy" game are legit: they are legitimately fair or legitimately unfair.

    Have a nice day. Kill a PC! :)


  18. All this; and instead of, "hey, thems the breaks"? Methinks, Joe, that you have fallen prey to second-guessing between what is real and what is false; and verbose remonstration is no cure for that.

    BTW, to the last poster, above. All deaths in a "fantasy" game are legit: they are legitimately fair or legitimately unfair.

    Have a nice day. Kill a PC! :)



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.