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Pathfinder Playtest Review – Back to the Future

Make sure to also listen to our one-hour discussion of the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook on the Roll For Combat podcast!

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure as well.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last several months, you’ve probably heard about the Pathfinder Playtest. If you listen to our podcast, you’re probably enough of a Paizo fan to be eagerly awaiting it already. Nevertheless, for the benefit of my hypothetical cave-dwelling friend who stumbled on our website by accident, the Pathfinder Playtest (which I will sometimes call Pathfinder 2 or PF2 because, frankly, it’s less to type) is Paizo’s attempt to cull, streamline, distill… whatever-other-sort-of-action-verb you like… a decade’s worth of Pathfinder gaming into a new beginning. The goal is “different, yet familiar” – something that keeps long-time players happy and feels like Pathfinder, but that also welcomes newcomers aboard the SS Swearing At An Inanimate Object Because It Rolled Three Straight 1s.

Well, I have good news for you. We here at RFC know a guy who knows a guy, and we got a copy of the Playtest rules in advance, so we’re able to give you some first impressions so you know what to expect when they’re released into the wild. There may or may not have been a midnight exchange at a bus terminal, but frankly, the less you know about that the better.

At first glance, the content in the Playtest seems to represent a mix of approaches. There are some concepts that are truly new to Pathfinder and are going to take some getting used to – some things are genuinely being rebuilt from the ground up. Some things are more of a repackaging of what was already there, to create new and more interesting choices. And though they’d be reluctant to admit it because they want both games to stand on their own as equals, there are some places where Starfinder’s Greatest Hits make an appearance (encumbrance: bye-bye “gold pieces”, hello “bulk”).

But what does that actually mean where the rubber meets the road? (Or, if you prefer, “hammer meets the anvil”.) Well, we’re here to at least start answering some of those questions for you. Part of me wanted to go “big changes first, work our way down” but playing around with it a little more, I decided to follow the basic chapter structure of the book itself. So grab a beverage and settle in, because we’re gonna give you as much information as you can handle on this thing.

Writing Roleplaying Systems Into Existence

Before we get into the gory details, I feel like it’s worth looking at the big picture. In the roleplaying game world, change is inevitable. You build a game system, people play it and love it, and all is good. They clamor for more; you give them more. They keep playing that stuff too. And it’s great.


Some of the new content contradicts the old content, and you didn’t realize it until three books later. Some of the new content is flat-out better than the old content, and nobody plays the old stuff anymore. There are a few things that never really worked quite right, but they’re too cool to errata out of existence. You think of a new mechanic six years in that’s really the way it (whatever “it” is) should’ve worked since Day One. If we’re being totally candid, there are problems that managed to exist for a decade without EVER being truly addressed. And you look up a decade later at a Jenga Tower of Strangeness (not a new wondrous item… yet) that probably works for the die-hards who understand how you got there and can house-rule around the awkward parts, but isn’t very inviting to the new player sitting down at the table for the first time.

At some level, what’s most exciting about PF2 is that it’s starting over with a real framework that can be expanded in a modular fashion, and not just a series of incremental additions attached with duct tape. In saying that, I don’t want to bag on original Pathfinder, but Pathfinder was a decade of upgrades to 3.5, which already had miles on the odometer when Paizo came into existence. Even Paizo’s best ideas had to be shoe-horned into what was already there. (This is something Paizo people have commented on interviews, so it’s not like I’m throwing them under the bus or anything by saying so.)

I also know that in the larger gaming community, 4th Edition made the idea of a “framework” a dirty word for a while by going too far in the opposite direction and making everything TOO similar. But there’s value to building on a solid foundation that can be expanded easily – game design has come a long way since Gygax did his thing. You want something that can grow seamlessly so that the new stuff and the old stuff fits together. Heck, you even want an environment that offers GMs a path to homebrew their own content without a lot of pain. A coherent system is what gets you there.

So we’re going to delve in and take a look at that system in what is hopefully the right level of detail. We recognize there’s a lot of curiosity, but we also don’t want to make your eyes glaze over, either. The easiest way to do this is to follow the structure of the book, which means we start with the first chapter…

A-B-C. Easy As 1-2-3. (Ancestry)

You’ll hear a lot about the “ABC” character creation system – Ancestry, Background, Class. The idea is that they’re trying to let you build a story for your character rather than just select options off the buffet. Additionally, they’re trying to steer people away from the cookie-cutter character by offering more choice along the journey.

Ancestry is race, only they found a word that starts with “A” to fit the theme. All of your traditional Pathfinder core races are here, with two caveats: first, goblins are upgraded to a core race; second, half-orcs and half-elves are no longer independent races but are considered a variant of humans. You unlock those by creating a human and selecting the appropriate ancestry feat for “half-whatever”. Your ancestry gives you starting hit points, a few stat adjustments, languages, movement speed, enhanced senses… all the usual stuff.

BUT… you also get an ancestry feat at Level 1, which is the first major change – race is no longer an attribute you pick at Level 1, translate into a package of skills, and forget about for the rest of the game; ancestry is an ongoing component of character development where you select a feat every 4 levels (1st, 5th, 9th, 13th, 17th). So your elf and my elf may already be subtly different based on which ancestry feats we took.

Backgrounds are back-stories for your character – what they were doing before they became adventurers. At the risk of letting the cat out of the bag, they’re a lot like Starfinder’s “themes”. Yes, the min-maxers in the crowd will be happy to hear backgrounds come with stat bonuses and train you in skills, but they also fill in the flavor of your character. Unlike ancestry, backgrounds are one-time setup choices; you don’t go back and revisit your background later.

I’m going to dig deeper into class in a moment, but at a high level, I’ll start by talking about the “feat-ification” of class skills. In Pathfinder, you pretty much picked your class (and maybe variant or archetype) at Level 1, and that pretty much dictated what you would receive every time you leveled up. Every rogue got Sneak Attack at Level 1, Evasion at Level 2, Trap Sense at Level 3, etc. In Pathfinder 2, there are still some static class benefits (rogues still get Sneak Attack out of the gate, for instance), but most of the class skills are now considered class feats, and you have multiple choices at various points in the process. Your rogue and my rogue may look and play quite differently based on which class feats we select along the way.

When it comes to actually “rolling” a character’s stats, ABC borrows heavily from Starfinder’s character creation system. I’ll be speaking of “boosts”, which are generally 2 point increments unless you go over 18. You start with 10s across the board. Ancestry lets you boost two scores and gives you a penalty in one (except for humans, who don’t receive the penalty). Background gives you boosts to two scores, your class gives you a boost to the primary score of that class, and you have four free bonus boosts. The only real restriction is that you can’t multi-boost the same stat within the same step – so you can’t put both your ancestry boosts or all four of your free boosts into the same stat. You can voluntarily lower scores for role-playing reasons, but you don’t get points back to use elsewhere – it’s not a point-buy system.

Why Don’t You Call Me Sometime, When You Have No Class? (Class)

I don’t know quite how to write about classes without writing a book about them, which… Paizo already beat me to the punch on that. If I get too granular I’ll be at this for hours; if I stay at too high a level, I’m not sure I’m telling you anything useful. So I think I’ll use this part to call out a few things that leapt out at me as interesting.

One of the single most dramatic changes for the better is to the classic sword-and-board (or “bored”) fighter. Remember “Beef Steelfist”, that fighter that was your first or second character, but you ditched him because it got real old watching everyone else summon tentacles or critting for 9d6 and you were still just swinging your sword? Now, he’s the undisputed master of clogging up the battlefield and protecting your buddies. He’s got a tactical role to play. First, fighters are the only class that gets Attacks of Opportunity as a class skill; a few others can take it as a feat, but fighters have it in their DNA. Additionally, a shield goes from an abstract bump to Armor Class to an active defense system – you can use one of those actions to raise your shield and if you get hit, the shield takes the hit for you. (Though the shield eventually breaks, leading to a three-beers-in discussion at PaizoCon imagining a fighter pulling a wagon of spare shields through the dungeon with him.). Put those together, and the fighter becomes a defensive machine.

I’m noticing that they did away with the notion of hybrid casters – either someone is a caster, or they’re not. Rangers and paladins no longer have the half-assed “well, you get a few spells, but not enough to really be useful” thing going on – pallies get a very specific subset of powers purchased as feats (rebranded as “Champion Powers”), and rangers pretty much lose casting entirely in favor of more woodland skills. Bards, on the other hand, get upgraded to full caster status with a full range of Level 1-10 spells.

The sorcerer is an interesting case, insofar as they don’t necessarily have to be arcane casters anymore. Backing up a minute, there are four different magic types, each of which has a primary dedicated caster class – arcane (wizard), divine (cleric), primal (druid), and occult (bard). Those are the four “traditions” of magic. The sorcerer’s tradition is derived from the bloodline he or she chooses, so they could end up as any of the four.

I love monks, so I’m excited about this one – the monk gets a little less stats-hungry, since you can now select STR or DEX as a primary stat. Do you want to be Luke Cage (What? He’s kind of a monk!) or Iron Fist? Also, some of the damage mitigation is farmed out to an “unarmored defense” skill, which Monks already start at Expert level.

I don’t necessarily want to just sit here reciting factoids about every class, but those are some of the things that struck me on the first read. I’ll also specifically come back to casters in more detail when we hit the chapter on Spells. For now, moving on.

What I Do Have Are A Very Particular Set Of Skills (Skills)

Most of the skills themselves are what you would normally expect from Pathfinder, though they took this opportunity to streamline things a bit. It does look “Perform (X)” skills are crunched down to a single “Perform” skill, and the “Knowledge (X)” skills are distributed out to other skills – “Recall Information” is an available action under several other skills. The “Craft (X)” skills are just “Crafting”, and some of the key skills (Alchemical Crafting, Magical Crafting) are just feats available once you have that skill. But the basics are still what you would expect them to be.

Buried on page 153 is something very interesting – a table for using skills to make money during downtime. Basically, between adventures, you would work with the GM to identify a job your character could perform and the GM sets a DC for the task. You then roll a skill check and if you make it, you make a certain amount of money for the amount of downtime you use.

The thing I really wanted to talk about is how you progress skills as a character. The days of picking 4-8 skills to rank up each time you level are gone. Begone, busywork! Skills now follow a tiered system: Untrained (roll modifier of -2), Trained (0), Expert (+1), Master (+2), and Legendary (+3). Your modifier in a skill is your character level, the relevant stat modifier, and an adjustment based on which tier you’re in. That’s it.

You get new skill bumps as you level where you can either train something you haven’t trained yet or move an existing skill to the next rank. Generally, these come every other level after 3rd, and there are a few restrictions – can’t take a skill to Master until 7th, can’t go to Legendary until 15th. There’s also the concept of “signature skills” being your most vital ones – and only your signature skills can go past a certain level (though there are ways to designate new signature skills as you go).

One thing that jumped out at me – what’s the mechanism for adding new languages? It seems like the main way – other than magic items – would be to take the “Multilinguist” general feat, which gives you two new languages each time you select it.

Well, what’s a general feat, you say? That brings us to…

The Thrill Of Victory, The Agony Of The Feats (Feats)

We’ve already introduced the concepts of ancestry feats and class feats. This chapter gives us a look at general feats and skill feats. General feats are obviously feats that are available to anyone; skill feats also technically general feats, but you have to actually be trained in the skill required for their use.

Your old pals like Toughness and Incredible (formerly Improved) Initiative are here but there are some new faces as well, particularly amongst the skill feats. There’s Trick Magic Item, which lets you attempt to use a magic item you normally wouldn’t qualify to use. There’s also Legendary Negotiator under the Diplomacy skill, which actually looks like it gives you a chance to stop a battle IN PROGRESS to try and negotiate. Battle Medic, based on Medicine, is an interesting one: if you succeed, it lets you do in-combat healing without spells, but if you roll a critical failure, you actually do damage to the person you’re healing. I’m imagining the first time someone goes to heal a fallen comrade and accidentally kills them – “sorry, was that your aorta?”. And OK, there’s also “Scare To Death” which lets you use your Intimidate skill to literally try to kill someone by frightening them. I thought the skill feats would be kind of boring, but there’s some surprisingly fun stuff in here.

Now that we’ve discussed all the different types of feats, I feel like this is the right time to mention this: I’m wondering if what they’ve done with feats might be a little bit of a polarizing issue. Obviously, in Pathfinder, feats were just feats, and you could pretty much take whatever you wanted, as long as you met the restrictions. Putting them in different silos like this may be a little controversial. I know WHY they did it – it forces people away from min-maxing and makes them create more well-rounded characters if they have to use a variety of different feats. Otherwise, some people are just going to max out combat feats and be done with it. On the other hand, I do worry that some people might feel penned in and feel like their choices are being artificially restricted. I guess we’ll have to see how it plays.

Stone Knives And Bearskins (Equipment)

There are a few interesting nuggets in this chapter, but the single most interesting is the crafting system. One of the bigger weak spots in Pathfinder was that it was way too easy to make things – unless there was an exotic material component, it was “here’s half the cost of the item… gimme”. Pathfinder 2’s crafting throws in a few wrinkles borrowed from MMOs that make it a bit more of a challenge.

First, you have to learn or buy a formula for the item before you can make it. There’s no “I intuitively know how to make a wand of cure light wounds” anymore. That said, if you have one of the items in question, you can try to reverse-engineer the formula by disassembling it. And as long as you don’t critically fail and lose the raw materials, you can then try and remake it if you succeed.

In the case of some items – particularly weapons and armor – you also have to deal with different material qualities. This kind of extends the whole idea of “masterwork” gear, but an item has to be Expert, Master, or Legendary quality to be enchanted (and higher level materials can hold more powerful enchantments).

The other wrinkle that makes the system more challenging is that items (and their formulas) have an associated rarity, and rare items won’t just be available in every town you visit. This idea that you can just go to the local Bob’s Magic Emporium and they just happen to have every magic item you’d be interested in always seemed like a bit of a kludge.

We’ll revisit all of this when we get to the later chapter on magic items – put a pin in it for now.

A couple other things worth calling out. The first is that the silver piece has replaced the gold piece as the standard coin of the realm. The whole economy has dropped down one denomination and a gold piece is now a lot of money. Worth remembering.

Also, as I alluded to earlier, Pathfinder 2 is going to be making use of the same encumbrance system Starfinder uses. If you haven’t played or listened to our podcast, here’s the basics of how it works. First, specific weights are done away with in favor of units of “bulk”. So a weapon might be 1 bulk; a particularly heavy set of armor might be 3 or 4 bulk, etc. Encumbrance is really simple to calculate: it’s 5+ STR modifier to be encumbered; 10 + STR modifier and you have to start dropping things. That number seems small, but this is offset by the fact that many items are considered Light bulk (L), and it takes 10 items to make one unit of bulk. (And that 10 is always rounded down, so you can have 9 healing potions and it counts as nothing.) The best part is it’s trivially easy to manage – no more “hold on, I have to lighten up by 8 gold pieces to get back to medium encumbrance”. (And yes, some items are considered negligible bulk and don’t count toward encumbrance at all.)

Let’s All Go To The Lobby (Intermission)

This isn’t a chapter. I just realize we’re throwing a lot of stuff at you, and wanted to give you a chance to catch your breath. Grab a smoke, take a walk around the block, throw a ball with your dog… whatever you do. The second half of the book will be here when you’re ready.

Pick A Card… Any Card (Spells)

This chapter is a big one, both physically – it’s the single largest chapter at almost 100 pages – but there’s a lot of meaty changes for casters.

The first is the ability to “heighten” spells by putting them into a higher-level slot. One easy example is something like Summon Nature’s Ally, where the slot you use determines how powerful the beastie you summon is. For direct damage spells, it tends to be more of a +N thing where you get an extra damage die for each level you add. (I heartily encourage players to yell “IT’S OVER 9000!” at their GM as often as possible when they heighten a spell because that will never get old.)

The ideas under the hood aren’t that revolutionary – it’s “just” streamlining multiple versions of the same spell with a layer of what used to be metamagic feats on top – but the net effect is far more powerful and flexible. Among other things, it means you don’t have to keep replacing the same spell multiple times in your career, which will hopefully lead to more diverse casters.

Another cool thing is that cantrips now scale automatically to the highest level you can cast. One of the things I actually really liked about 4E was the notion of “at-will powers” – that casters would never TOTALLY run out of spells and always have a few spells they could cast. Pathfinder cantrips gave you the idea of an at-will spell, but the damage spells didn’t scale, so doing 1d3 frost damage became worthless after a few levels. Now, a cantrip casts at the highest spell level you have access to, so (for example) a Level 10 caster with access to 5th level spells will be able to do a slightly more useful 2d8 + (modifier) points of damage.

They also gave casters Level 10 spells, but confession time: after an initial surge of excitement, I’m in the minority that felt like this was more of a This Is Spinal Tap “these go to 11” moment. OK… they’re the same spells, you just re-swizzled the lists so 10 is the top level. “Well it’s one louder, isn’t it?” Also, there just aren’t that many of them – each class only starts with 3 Level 10 spells (OK, occult casters get a fourth). I get the feeling heightening lower-level spells up to 10 is going to be more common.

As far as stuff that specifically caught my eye – primal casters seem like they have the most fun stuff here. They can turn into a dinosaur. Or a dragon. When they hit their Level 10 spells, they can turn themselves into a kaiju (Nature Incarnate) or turn their party-mates into a herd of mammoths (Primal Herd). Druid is looking pretty darn fun right about now. On the other hand, divine casters get Weapon of Judgment, where a giant ghostly version of your deity’s chosen weapon materializes out of nowhere and starts slapping people around with force damage. And I’ll have to read my contract and find out if I’m allowed to talk about necromancy, but the occult school offers us Vampiric Exsanguination, where you “draw blood and life force from creatures and shoot it out through your outstretched arms.” You know. For the goth bards in the house.

The spell chapter ends with Rituals, which are non-combat spells for the spell-less – they tend to be based on skills rather than magic ability, so they can actually be cast by non-casters. This is where you find stuff like Consecrate, Geas, and… the big one here… Resurrect. Yes, you can bring back a dead party member without any caster party members. It’s a little pricey (75g x character’s level, max 11th) but it’s an option.

Assistant To The Regional Manager (Advancement And Options)

Not sure there’s too much to look at here. There are some useful archetypes; particularly the multiclass archetypes for people who want to dabble in other classes. The material on animal companions lives here, which… seems a little out of place, but I guess it needed to be somewhere. And we (re-)introduce the gods of Golarion for the umpteenth time… “oh hi Desna!”. But let’s be honest… nothing that’s burning a hole in my pocket. I’d rather move on to…

The Game’s Afoot (Playing The Game)

There’s a lot of important stuff here because it’s the nuts-and-bolts chapter of how to run combat, and combat is the engine that ultimately drives the game. On the other hand, this is probably going to be sort of a grab bag where I’ll just hit on a bunch of different things without going into a lot of detail on any one thing. Welcome to the info-dump portion of our program.

The 800-pound gorilla of this conversation is going to be the changes to the action economy. The days of full-round, standard, move, swift, free… yeah, say goodbye to all of that. Now everything is an action and you get three of them. And I get that there’s a visceral “that’s too simplistic” reaction when you first hear that. I felt it myself before I sat down and played the Playtest at PaizoCon.

But here’s the thing. They didn’t really get rid of complexity, they just moved it to the other side of the equation by making a lot of your powers/abilities/etc. more flexible. Now, some of your abilities can be powered up by putting more actions into them. Take the old standby, the cleric’s channel: at one action, it’s a touch heal; two actions change it to a ranged heal, and three actions give you a group burst. So not only is there still room for complexity, but it comes with more interesting choices for the player. I actually think that this is going to work really well over the long haul.

And I know what you’re thinking: why don’t people just stand in front of each other and do three attacks every round? Well, besides the fact that the opponent can… you know… move, there’s the fact that each consecutive attack takes a -5 penalty, so good luck hitting that third attack with a -10.

If there’s a 400-pound gorilla, it’s that attacks of opportunity are going to be far less of a dominant force in combat. Paizo noticed that the fear of AoO’s locked a lot of combats into a dance of five-foot-steps – square-dancing with cutlery. In particular, mobile melees like rogues and monks faced a real uphill climb to use their abilities effectively. Now, only a few characters and some (but not all) monsters will be able to do Attacks of Opportunity, and the hope is that it will open up the battlefield a little more.

“Now the 200-pound gorilla”… OK, I’m going to stop with the rapidly-shrinking gorillas. Either I’ll run out of gorillas entirely, or we’ll end up at a 4-ounce gorilla, and you’ll all be saying “well, that’s actually kind of cute, can I have one as a familiar?”. (NOTE TO STEVE: 4-ounce gorilla plushie on the RFC store, ASAP. The kids will love it.)

You do need to know about critical hits and critical failures. First, critical misses are going to play an increased role in Pathfinder 2 – they’d existed around the edges when it came to skills checks, and some GM’s homebrewed them into their campaigns, but Pathfinder 2 makes the critical miss more integral to the game. Also, there’s going to be more than one way to get critical hits and misses. Yes, natural 20 or natural 1 will still get the job done; on the other hand, making your roll by more than 10 or missing a negative roll by more than 10 will also serve as a trigger. So if you roll a 16, modified to a 32 against a 14 armor class, that’s still a crit. (Reading the fine print though, if a natural 20 would not normally be a success, it becomes a success but not a critical success; similarly, if a task is so easy that a natural 1 plus mods would succeed, a natural 1 would be a failure but not a critical failure.)

The good news, combat-wise, is it will probably make trash fights go faster. If you can get crits from modified 14s or 15s, that’ll end those fights a lot quicker. But that same logic applies to your enemies – so if you go into a battle where YOU’RE clearly outmatched (like trying to farm a dragon at low levels), the bad guy’s going to probably get some easier-than-normal crits and you’re going to have a bad time.

Let’s also talk about death. Massive damage (2x your hit points) is still an insta-kill. Certain spells have a death effect which is also automatic. Anything else, you are unconscious, at zero hit points, and placed at the beginning of a four-stage countdown. You start at “Dying 1” and have to make Fortitude saves every round – if you fail, you move to Dying 2, Dying 3, and then Dying 4. Dying 4 is dead (though there’s a feat that allows you to go to Dying 5). And ohbytheway, a critical failure ups the dying counter by 2. So don’t roll a 1. Any successful save returns you to life at 1 Hit Point.

Lastly, Hero Points are another informal/homebrew thing that’s being formalized in Pathfinder 2. It’s fairly common for GMs to have a policy of rewarding Hero Points to players who do something exceptionally cool or roleplay a situation particularly well. PF2 formalizes this. A player can hold up to 3 Hero Points at a time, each player starts with 1 Hero Point at the start of each game session (yes you read that right… game session, not level), and they can be used in the following ways:

  • 1 Hero Point can revive from any point in the death cycle, even if you use it when you fail the save that would kill you. Pretty good motivation to keep at least one Hero Point handy at all times.
  • 2 Hero Points can be used to re-roll a single D20 roll. (If the second roll fails the check you’re trying to make, you get back one of the Hero Points you spent on it.)
  • 3 Hero Points lets you take an additional action (or reaction).

Oh Captain, My Captain (Game Mastering)

I think the most generally relevant thing from this chapter is introducing the three game modes. To some degree, this just creates some formal structure around the natural flow that already exists, but Pathfinder 2 breaks the game down into three game modes:

  • Encounter Mode: This is generally combat, though I suppose a campaign could break a social encounter or skill challenge into real-time as well. Everything has to be explicit, rolls have to be performed for most things, players need to make decisions quickly. Also, even if it’s not combat, encounter mode tends to work best in formal turns, so that no one person can dominate the action. In short, the game’s in high gear.
  • Exploration Mode: you’re in a potentially dangerous location where something could happen, but not every second of action has to be on high alert. People can kind of do what they want unless they do something that would move the game into encounter mode. Some dice roles can be fudged in the assumption that “you look around until you find it”.
  • Downtime Mode: the time spent in safety, usually between adventures. This is the mode where you can have people hand-wave hours or days spent on a particular task. Sometimes downtime mode tasks can even be performed outside the game – i.e. working on leveling up your character or preparing a shopping list between sessions.

The rest of the chapter is mostly tips for fairly novice GMs – how to assign experience and treasure, how to set up encounters, what sorts of special rules are involved with different terrains and environmental conditions. I’d have to defer to Steve as to whether there are any particularly important gems to discuss in here.

Shiny! (Treasure)

And now we come back to magic items and crafting.

I feel like one of the polarizing things in this section is the concept of Resonance Points, as relates to magic items. Magic items in original Pathfinder used to be a bit of a free-for-all, and wands in particular arguably got a little out of hand. (One can imagine a mule loaded down with Cure <X> Wounds wands and the party burning through 2 or 3 wands after each fight like they were those little fluorescent glow sticks.) Now, characters have Resonance Points (your character level + CHA bonus, so now everyone can get some benefit from Charisma) as a daily resource that are used to “power” magic items. The general rule of thumb is that things you use with a charge, it’s one resonance point per use; for things you wear, it’s one resonance point at the start of the day to “invest” it (i.e. put it on and power it up).

(I feel like I have to mention the wizards of the Harry Potter world would be absolutely screwed in this system. You got about, 10, 12 Expelliarmuses before you’re dry, kid… make the most of them.)

The positive of the system is that it comes up with a use for Charisma beyond “face of the party” stuff and prevents magic item use from getting too silly; the bad is that there could be places where you can’t use a simple healing wand because no one has resonance points left – there was something appealing about “fire and forget” consumables, even if it could be abused.

Slightly less controversial is the section on runes. Basically, runes are the mechanism that power the pluses and effects (flaming, freezing, etc.) on your armor and weapons. “Potency” runes are what give an item its plus; property runes are what makes that sword flaming or vorpal or whatnot. You can replace runes with more powerful ones, though – here’s the MMO-ish part – certain runes have an item quality restriction – i.e. you can’t make a +5 weapon out of an off-the-rack sword. Runes can also be transferred between weapons (for the frugal adventurer, it saves money over having to get a new one), or can be stored on and recovered from runestones. (Again, if you’re following Starfinder at all, runes are kind of like weapon seals.)

Set aside game mechanics: I like this on a storytelling level. There’s rich history in the fantasy genre of heroes having named swords that travel with them throughout their journeys, so the idea that you can keep upgrading your weapon and keep it with you from Level 1-20 has some appeal. After all, Gandalf didn’t trade in Glamdring because he found a +3 sword in the next dungeon.

Keep in mind that runes follow the same rules as other craftables – you have to find or buy the formula for creating a rune before you can use it, so it’s not just a simple matter of deciding you want your sword to be +3 and doing it. Heck, finding formulas might even create some interesting story hooks for possible adventures: you want that flaming rune? I guess you’ll have to go investigate that dwarven armory that was overrun by goblin hordes. We mainly play adventure paths in our group, but this could be fertile story material for a group that mostly runs homebrew content.

So What’s It All Mean?

I could keep going, grabbing thinner and thinner slices of rules to focus in on, but I don’t know what people are going to care about most, and I suspect you get the general idea. There’s a lot of stuff here, and it’s an interesting mix – something old, something new, something borrowed (from Starfinder), something blue (dragons, prismatic walls… the usual suspects). I think it’s all going to work out, but we’ll know more when we roll up our sleeves and start playing in the new system.

And that’s the big thing to keep in mind. The operative word is “Play-TEST”. The first few months of this are literally going to be testing mode. The first adventures are designed to stress-test particular aspects of the game, and I’m sure some things may not work as they originally planned them. So be patient, have fun with it and remind yourself that being in on the ground floor of something new could be exciting. When this hobby started out, you could be a wizard or an elf, but not both. Now the company that makes the game is inviting you to help be a part of making it better. To quote Roger Sterling from Mad Men, “you’re an astronaut.”

And if you really have to be a cynic… just don’t sell your PF1 library on Craigslist just yet.

Pathfinder Playtest is available for free at

Starfinder Armory Review – We Do We Get Those Wonderful Toys?

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure as well.

The Starfinder Armory is finally here. If the Alien Archive and Pact Worlds releases were mostly for the benefit of the GMs, the Armory is very much a book for the players – a world of new toys for your characters to play with.

The first big-picture question everyone’s going to ask: “is there cool stuff I’m going to want to run right out and buy for my character(s)?”. (Or, if you’re an alt-aholic like me, “make you want to roll up a new character that can use that piece of gear”.)

Short answer: yes, but that would either make for a really short review, or it would turn into that Chris Farley SNL sketch where I just list pieces of gear at random and say “that was cool” after each one. Neither approach strikes me as very satisfying.

Instead, I’d like to approach this from the standpoint of the questions I had in my head when I got to sit down with this book. I will probably come back around at the end and give you the Farley list anyway, but for the moment, let’s focus on a few more specific things that were on my mind.

GENERAL QUESTION 1: Does the Armory truly break new ground and expand the game content, or is it just N+1 versions of what’s already there? Particularly for a game system as new as Starfinder, I’d expect to see some new ideas getting introduced, not just “well this is the gun you already had but the laser beams are green now!”.

I’m going to go ahead and give the Armory a solid passing grade on this front. There’s nothing revolutionary – they didn’t backdoor a new class in or add an entirely different form of combat – but you wouldn’t expect that from an Armory book anyway. This is about the gear. What you do get is some good solid extension of the ideas contained in the Core Rulebook.

Take weapons. Yes, you get the MORE – particularly on melee weapons, where they’ve dramatically increased the options for energy-based melee weapons – but you also get weapons with the “conceal” trait, that can be more easily smuggled into places, or the “integrated” trait which lets them be mounted into an upgrade slot instead of taking up a hand. (There are even a few options for tail weapons for your vesk and ysoki friends!) There are profession weapons that can both act as a tool for use in the profession, and ranks in the profession can be used to obtain proficiency in the weapon. Weapon accessories give you the common real-world mods – scopes, silencers, and so on. Want a grip to hold your flashlight or a bipod for that sniper rifle? Done, and done.

Some concepts from core get more fully fleshed out in the Armory. Weapon materials are one such concept – the Core Rulebook listed the three traditional Pathfinder choices (adamantine, cold iron, and silver), but they’re almost all about overcoming damage reduction. The Armory adds six new options and the effects are more dynamic. Abysium is slightly radioactive so weapons made from it can apply the Sickened condition. Dzejet is more receptive to magic, making it easier to apply seals; armor made from it is caster-friendly, increasing the range and duration of spells. Horacalcum has weird space-time properties – on a weapon, it can create the Staggered effect; on armor, it helps with initiative checks and saves against Staggered.

Powered armor is another thing that goes from more of a placeholder treatment to a fully fleshed out category of gear. The Core Rulebook’s coverage of powered armor was kind of sparse – “here are five rather generic chassis options; customize them as you see fit”. It felt like they knew powered armor was something that was supposed to exist in a sci-fi game system (see also: Ripley cracking alien queen skulls with a cargo loader), but they hadn’t really decided what to do with it yet. Is it just the next armor after heavy? Is its own thing somewhere between vehicle and armor? The Armory gets deeper into it (17 new options, though a few are variants of each other) and comes up with options flavored for different cultures and different applications – here’s one that’s good for underwater use, here’s one that’s more oriented toward casters, this one has tools for cold weather environments. (And with the Stag-Step Suit, here’s one if you want to wear antlers on your head and feel like teleporting, because… well, who doesn’t?)

For another example, consider our friend the grenade. In the Core Rulebook, grenades were mostly about damage – how much and what type. In the Armory, they lean into a broader range of effects with hybrid grenades. A Diminisher Grenade can reduce the duration of ongoing effects in an area, a Microbot Grenade creates (essentially) swarm damage in an area, a Summoning Grenade warps in a creature to fight for you (Pokemon Go, but in reverse!). But the piece de resistance are Wonder Grenades. Roll a d100 and random stuff happens. Maybe everyone turns invisible! Maybe it creates a vacuum in the area! My personal favorite… maybe the area is filled with adorable, harmless Diminutive animals (tribbles?) that create difficult terrain.

In the “totally new” (at least in terms of usable items) bucket, we have the necrograft. Necrografts appear in the Core Rulebook as a throwaway line in the description of Eox – “some come seeking necrografts, undead prosthetics that are often cheaper than cybernetics”. Well… here they are. You can get a necrograft version of an existing augmentation, or the Armory gives you undead-specific choices, such as the Black Heart, which gives you the environmental bonuses of armor and increased saves against most things that affect the living (sleep, paralysis, etc.). Better read the paperwork, though – the minute you install one of these, you gain the necrograft subtype, which makes you kinda-sorta undead. (Ummmmm… Rusty? Is there anything you want to tell us?)

I could go on – there are new class options for each class, “domestic” drones that perform non-combat chores (including a robo-mule), the magic and tech items really feel like they focused on broadening rather than deepening, etc. – but to answer the question – yes, it does feel like more than N+1 gear.

GENERAL QUESTION 2: The second thing I wanted to see going in was whether they could still fit in the “stealth world-building”. One thing I really appreciated about the Alien Archive (in particular) is the way Paizo snuck in world-building lore around the edges, so it wasn’t JUST a laundry list of creatures. Were they able to do something similar with this book?

Again, I think they hit the mark pretty well. For a prime example, let’s go back to those necrografts. Did you know it’s possible to get a necrograft for “free”? Now that sounds good and all, but to do that, you have to participate in a “corpse lease” program where if you die, you’re agreeing to let the Eoxians harvest your body to create more undead. PAY IT FORWARD! That just brought a huge smile to my face: not just because it’s the nightmare scenario of not reading the Terms and Conditions, brought to life, but also that it really fleshes out (pun semi-intended) the Starfinder universe.

Another example: weapon manufacturers. There are a few pages at the end of the “weapons” section that talk a little bit about various arms manufacturers of the Pact Worlds. At a nuts-and-bolts level, you can pay a small bump in weapon cost to get the in-game effect offered by a particular manufacturer. Ereus Teletech is based on lashunta telepathy, so their weapons have a psychic signature and can only be used by the owner. Ichihara Holdings has perfected their use of modular parts to such a degree that their weapons are easier to repair. Zeizerer Munition specializes in ammunition, translating to larger ammo capacities. And so on. The in-game effects are certainly useful, but you also get this neat little dump of world lore that I find fascinating.

So yes, you get lore… maybe not galore (even though it rhymes), but they did manage to pack some tidbits around the edges.

Those were the biggest general concerns, and I think the Armory delivered pretty well on those. I also had a couple “pet peeve” issues that have cropped up over the past year playing, and I wanted to see if maybe the new gear in the Armory shed some new light on those things.

PET PEEVE #1: Healing

I am still not crazy about healing in Starfinder. At least for our Dead Suns group, I know part of it is our group’s fault for not having a Mystic. I acknowledge that Stamina points are fairly easy to replenish and you’re probably not “supposed” to get into Hit Points as much as we do. But the economy of healing still feels a little off. Mk 1 Healing serums don’t do much at all, but the other levels of serum get too expensive, and there’s no real equivalent of the healing wand.

Did they address this at all with the Armory? Well… sorta. There still doesn’t appear to be a one-touch option like a healing wand, but there do seem to be a few items that add a regenerative impact to the short rest, so that the short rest gives you back stamina and health. The “Medical Interface” armor upgrade is one such item, as is the Regenerative Blood augmentation. On the poison/disease side, they did go with more of a wand-like solution, the Nanite Hypopen – different colors for different effects and strengths. So they get partial credit for this – they didn’t add my dream item (no fire-and-forget Star Trek hypospray), but they also didn’t ignore the issue entirely.

PET PEEVE #2: Fusions

I’m also not sold on the whole fusion system yet. Maybe it’s just dumb luck that so far, the fusions we’ve run across as loot were ones we couldn’t use, but the whole item level/fusion level/weapon type dance still feels a little clunky and frustrating. Maybe once I get the right one for my weapon at the right level, I’ll feel differently, but for now… ehhhh.

The content in the Armory… well, it doesn’t really change my feelings about the system, but there are some cool concepts for seals here. The Tracking seal makes it so that once you’ve damaged an enemy with that weapon, you have tracking within 1000 feet (as long as you’re still holding the weapon). The Conserving fusion refunds your ammo if you miss. Bombarding is a seal for grenade use, and it’s pretty freaky – you attach it to another weapon, it copies a grenade into extra-dimensional space, and you can fire a mystic copy of that grenade once a day.

The ones that piqued my interest are the ones that play around with spatial relationships – the Continuous fusion lets you extend the duration of a line weapon’s shot until the beginning of your next turn, so in the meantime, anyone that wants to go through those squares gets hit. (Or, if your beam is stopped by an obstacle, a teammate could move that obstacle and give the beam a chance to hit new targets.) The Rebounding fusion lets you bank a shot off one surface at a -4 penalty, so you can potentially get around total cover by shooting off a wall. I’m not sure the math is great on a -4 and it seems like it treads similar ground as the Seeking fusion from the core rules, but it’s a total hero move. (“You missed!” *P-TING!* “Did I?” Enemy drops.)

So final analysis, I have to admit I’m still lukewarm about fusions as a whole. Maybe I’ll get there, but nothing in the Armory really served as a game-changer or cast it in a new light.


OK, having dispensed with my major points, I’m going to finish up by bouncing around the book and pointing out a few things that jumped out at me. You know – the jazz improv portion of the review, if you will.

  • Shell Knuckles: take a standard punching glove, load the knuckles with shotgun shells. Low-tech, but wonderfully violent.
  • Shadow Chains: chains that do cold/darkness damage. Originally weapons for Zon-Kuthon worshipers, but other people made copies that hopefully aren’t 100% evil. Very gothy.
  • Nanite Weapons: more of a class of weapon than a single weapon, you hit with these weapons, and they release nanites that burrow into the target and do damage. Some of them, you don’t even have to hit the target; if you get close, the nanites will cover the rest of the ground themselves.
  • Clearweave: more of a roleplaying thing, Clearweave armor can either be transparent (so people can see the outfit you’re wearing underneath) or can project patterns, logos, etc. Just in case you want your character to make money on the side renting out ad space.
  • Lashunta Mind Mail: armor that responds psychically to the user’s needs, it’s rigid when you’re about to be hit, flexible when you need more movement – that just strikes me as a cool concept no matter what the actual stats work out to.
  • Stag-Step Suit: Teleportation. It bears repeating.
  • X-Legs: An augmentation that lets you replace your legs with a four-legged spider-chassis. And yes, there’s a climbing version that lets you walk on walls and ceilings.
  • Restless Pineal Gland: an augmentation that lets you get your abilities back with 2 hours of rest, but only once per day.
  • Disintegration Hoop: It’s a Level 20 item that does 4d20 damage just putting an appendage in it, 14d20 if fully inside the hoop. I don’t need to know more than that, and neither do you.
  • Teleportation Puck: Activate the puck and throw it, and then you (and possibly others) can teleport to its location. Seems like it would be handy in combat to get flanking, or for overcoming certain obstacles (chasms, falls or climbs, etc.)
  • Software Imp: Think “sentient computer virus”. It’s an artificial personality that you can load on a computer that can cause all sorts of trouble – access information, can try to trick users into giving it further access, can run incorrect commands, etc.


In some form or another, if you’re playing Starfinder, you’re going to want this book on your shelf. If you’re a little skittish about paying full price for a fairly short hardcover (160 pages), the PDF at $10 is a total steal. Either way, get it and get started on all the characters you’re going to need to make use of all of this stuff.

Pathfinder Planar Adventures Review – The Good, the Bad, and the Astral

Pathfinder Planar Adventures PDF

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure as well.

“One last time. Relax, walk the planes with me. One last tiiiiiiiiiime.”

Let’s talk about Planar Adventures. Planar Adventures has the distinction of being the final scheduled hardcover release for the original Pathfinder system.

Now I must admit, when Steve first asked me to take a look at it, I was a little squeamish. First, we mostly play adventure paths these days, so homebrew planar stuff isn’t really in our wheelhouse as a gaming group. More importantly, my most vivid frame of reference for a book like this is the old AD&D Deities And Demigods, aka “Let’s Give the Gods Stat Blocks. So You Can KILL Them!”. Done poorly, planar gaming is the sort of stuff that can get out of hand and go spectacularly wrong.

Wisely, Planar Adventures seems to know this and is not that kind of book. Much like the Pact Worlds book I reviewed for Starfinder, Planar Adventures is more of a toolkit for GMs who want to play around with this stuff. It gives a framework for what a planar adventure might look like and tools to make it happen, but it also understands that the GM still has to build the game that’s right for his or her table.

Having just said this is mostly a book for GMs, the first chapter (“Planar Characters”) is actually for the players. You’ve got planar archetypes for several classes – some of these are pretty great. The Gloomblade intrigued me because it’s basically bringing Starfinder’s Solarian weapon into the Pathfinder setting – the fighter can summon a shadow weapon of his choosing, and it can be any weapon he’s proficient in. Feats are a mixed bag, but the most intriguing to me were the conduit feats, that can get anyone (even non-casters) access to magic abilities just by investing in Knowledge (Planes). One that made me drool a little was the Flickering Step feat, where for 9 ranks in Knowledge (Planes), you can use Dimension Door as a spell-like ability. The spells and magic items were a little more situational: a lot of the focus was on enabling planar travel – how to get there, how to get back, how to talk to the locals while you’re there, etc. – though some are more “planar-flavored” tools that would still add an exotic flavor to a more conventional campaign. But let’s be honest that the majority is designed to tug you in that direction.

The next chapter (“Running Planar Adventures”) is more of a high-level look at GM-ing planar adventures. First, there are the nuts-and-bolts discussions – how does time work, how does gravity work, how do spells work. Think “underwater combat rules”, but for the planes. Then more of a world-building digression into the actual theological workings of souls and what happens when characters die. Then the book gets back into the brass tacks – how do you enable this stuff in your stories? How do you get characters to and from the planes? What magical items can get them there? What story hooks do you place?

I will warn you the gods make an appearance here, but no, you can’t kill them. In fact, the only real tangible game impact is that each god has a “Divine Gift” they can bestow on their favored mortals. If you’ve been listening to our Starfinder podcast, Sarenrae is going to be particularly popular in our group – her divine gift is a prayer that makes all healing actions heal for the maximum amount for 24 hours. No more pesky 1’s to deal with!

The next, and largest section (“The Great Beyond”) is the Rand-McNally World Atlas of the planar universe.

Let’s first review the general structure of the planes as Pathfinder sees them. In the center is the Material World, which is where we adventurers hang our hats 99% of the time. The next layer out represents the various magical forces – the four elemental types, plus positive and negative energy. (Though there are also Material-Positive and Material-Negative boundary planes.) Now dunk all of that in Jell-O to fill in the gaps between planes – that Jell-O is the ethereal plane. (“Though really it’s metaphysical Jell-O that co-occupies the same space as the Materi… never mind.”). That ball of cosmological stuff is the “inner planes”.

But then that Inner Planes ball represents the core of a larger ball, like the nucleus of an atom or the core of a planet. The next layer out is the ethereal plane, which connects to the “outer planes”, which are alignment based afterlives/homes of the gods themselves. “Heaven” is the Lawful Good plane, “The Abyss” represents the Chaotic Evil end of the spectrum, and so on. Outside all of that, there are a few other general planar spaces (“demi-planes”) that don’t fit in the model, but that’s kind of the gist of it.

Feel free to take a “box wine and Cheetos” break and contemplate you or your character’s place in the universe for a few minutes. I’ll wait.

The book presents each of the planes in consistent fashion. There’s a “stat-block” for each plane that summarizes the bullet points of each plane – gravity, passage of time, alignment, who the major inhabitants are, etc. They then go through subsections:

  • Denizens: Who lives there on a permanent basis. The Denizens section is usually where they place an inset for a random encounter table for the plane in question.
  • Deities: Are there any gods here? As a quick cut, no for the inner planes, yes for the outer. The elemental planes have elemental lords that end up in this section, but they’re not really gods since they’re not generally worshiped by the humanoid races.
  • Locations: You don’t think of planes as having “locations” but most of them do. Sometimes these will be formal cities with population, government, notable NPC’s, etc.; other times, they’ll just be interesting map locations to visit. These represent the storytelling hooks a GM can build an adventure on.
  • Exploration: This is where any relevant game rules are discussed in further detail – all spells are twice as effective, map-making is impossible because everything is constantly shifting, penguins with death touch, etc.

There is also a subsection for “Demi-Planes and Dimensions” which covers a few places that don’t fit the model. Those write-ups tend to include the stat-block and a few paragraphs describing it, without the other formal categories. I thought the neatest of these was the Akashic Record also known as the “Reading Room” hidden somewhere within the Astral Plane that contains a psychic library of all knowledge, anywhere in the multiverse.

The final section is the Bestiary, which is… you guessed it… creatures relevant to the planar settings. (21 to be specific). As you would expect, most of the creatures are mid-to-high level threats – you’re not going to be sending new characters out to the planes – but I was surprised to find three races (Aphorite, Duskwalker, Ganzi) with rules for creating actual characters. Some of the creatures represent the “cannon fodder” species for a particular plane, but there are a few oddballs sprinkled in as well. You have the Sapphire Ooze, a good ooze that wants to help people – it will even allow itself to be worn as armor. There are The Watchers, these giant walking eyestalks that show up to observe the destruction of worlds – they’re invisible in plane… errr… plain sight unless you make a ridiculously high Will save and they aren’t there to attack… just watch. (And if you see one, shit’s about to get real.) And there’s the Wrackworm – all the fun of a traditional CR20 giant worm, but he can also bite dimensional portals into existence. But if you’re really cruel, there’s the Level 30 Leviathan – eye beams, bite that dispels magic, tail slap that can plane shift targets, and if you get eaten, its innards are a maze you have to escape. If you really need something god-like to fight, the Cosmic Whale is willing to be your huckleberry.

I think one “elephant in the room” question one has to ask this close to the Pathfinder Playtest is “how much of this stuff could be ported over to the new system?” You’re going to have some people on the fence because maybe they’re worried about buying books for a system that’s… it’s not going away, but it might be fading into the background a little. I think most of this stuff is written at an abstract enough level that it can be brought to the new system intact. I think the character stuff and the creatures might not survive the transition easily – though Paizo or the community may yet create a conversion path – but the general world-building and infrastructure stuff that comprises most of the book should survive intact. Or… just keep playing original Pathfinder if that’s your thing. There’s probably still some glutton for punishment playing blue-box D&D out there somewhere.

Since we’ve predominantly been a Starfinder podcast, this led to an interesting side discussion: could you use this material for Starfinder? And… after thinking about it, I’ll give that a “maybe” as well, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it over the official Starfinder releases. I mean, it’s clearly meant to be a shared universe, the races of the Pact Worlds worship many of the same gods. It’s not hard to imagine that maybe Drift travel is powered under the hood by planar forces, and if that travel goes awry, maybe you could find yourself on a different plane. I’d say the context is there if someone wanted to use it that way. On the other hand, maybe with the Starfinder system being so young, there’s a little danger in creating new lore in your own campaigns that could later be contradicted by a future official release.

So what’s my final analysis? I’ll put it this way: as a personal philosophy, I like my cosmos mysterious an unknowable, and I’m not crazy about reducing the planes to Just Another Place To Visit. But if I was into that sort of gaming, this feels like the right way to present it – it brings some level of order to the chaos, but without the excesses of god-killing, and still leaves the major decisions to the GM sitting at the table. If planar campaigns are your thing, this book feels like a good one to have.

Talking PaizoCon 2018: Sleep-Deprived In Seattle

PaizoCon 2018

I have to start with a bit of an apology. When we were boarding planes to head west to Seattle (or north in John’s case), the general plan was to be a bit more of an embedded reporter, giving you updates from the convention, and… well… that didn’t really happen. I chucked a few photos up on our Discord channel, but to be honest – and at the risk of gloating – there was a bit too much to do. I suppose I can blame a little bit of it on the timezone change kicking my ass, but truth told, we were running around too much to have a good solid window for writing.

So here I sit at the SeaTac airport, reflecting on my first PaizoCon experience. And I gotta admit it was better than I expected. A LOT better. Yes, the mental hamster wheel is already spinning in the direction of going back next year.

Speaking generally about the con, PaizoCon is – for better and for worse, but mostly for better – a much smaller, more close-knit thing than Origins or GenCon. Saying that sounds a little obvious: PaizoCon is just for Paizo products whereas those other cons are more general gaming cons. If a Borg cube carved out Paizo’s floorspace at a larger con and dropped it in a different city… that’s roughly the scale of PaizoCon. But what does that translate to in terms of real-world considerations?

On the good side, there’s more opportunity to really spend time with the people you meet. At a larger con, you game with someone once, and then they’re washed away in a sea of humanity unless you specifically try to make plans. At PaizoCon, the numbers are more manageable, you tend to randomly see people throughout the weekend, and there are enough public areas that you can take five and catch up on Sunday with that person you played with on Friday night. That gives it a more human feel.

Also, one focus means everyone is speaking roughly the same basic language. EVERYONE you meet likes some corner of this shared Paizo universe we all entertain ourselves within. OK, you might like Pathfinder and I might be more oriented toward Starfinder, but we’re at least on the same general wavelength, as opposed to a jumble of interests where the Catan people and the Ticket To Ride people never speak unless it’s to organize 3 am knife-fights in the parking garage? (I’m sorry… what?)

So what’s the small downside? There’s not as much surrounding to-do in the larger community. When you go to GenCon, the entire downtown business district embraces it – restaurants re-skin their menus with fantasy themes and put Game Of Thrones on the TV instead of sports; there’s a flotilla of food trucks; unrelated businesses organize their own events to welcome gamers to the city (and OK, dip their snouts in the tourist dollar trough). Here… it’s just another thing that’s happening. OK, the lady at Taco Bell was very nice, but she didn’t ask me if I wanted minotaur or griffin meat in my quesadilla, and frankly, I think she was a little concerned that a grown man would order a large Baja Blast at 6:30 in the morning three days in a row. EVERY MEAL IS FOURTHMEAL.


We didn’t really do any gaming on Thursday, but there were a few individual moments I wanted to share.

First, you should be aware CHDRR’s creator is firmly in your corner on the issue of THE BUTTON. I finally got the chance to introduce myself to John Compton and thank him, and pretty much the first thing he said was to give me a good-natured ribbing about my BUTTON Cowardice: “You do realize you’re doing a show where you’re entertaining people, right?”. So armed with a dose of tough love from John Compton, I’ll try to do better. Having said that, I’ll still go to bat for the partial defense that mechanic-drone action economy sometimes makes it hard to use. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

Second, Steve and I got to have dinner with the hosts of Know Direction (Jefferson Thacker aka Perram and Ryan Costello) and Patchen Mortimer (aka Patch), who runs the Daily Bestiary (it’s what it sounds like – a blog that posts articles about different monsters from Pathfinder on… you guessed it… a mostly daily basis). Since Perram would be hosting our panel later in the weekend, there were about five minutes of “work” preliminaries before we settled into Hawaiian BBQ and talking about gaming. You know… as we gamers do.

The other thing is that poor Chris rolled a 1 on Air Travel. The rest of Team RFC trickled in over the course of Thursday, but not Chris. First came the portion of the saga where they turned off the air-conditioning on the plane, so he got to sit on the tarmac slow-cooking for a few hours. Then they took him off the plane and let him hang out in the terminal. Then they had to get a different plane entirely. (Kind friend that I am, I texted him to ask if they were assembling a new Frankenplane from the parts of other broken planes.) I don’t think he actually got into Seattle until 1:30ish Friday morning.


We started our gaming weekend with Steve, Bob, and I playing a Starfinder Society game (#1-12, Ashes of Discovery). It’s a repeatable, but I’m still not going to say much about the plot itself since some of you might still want to play through it. Bob played Quinn, who you already know, though he didn’t roleplay it quite as heavily. Steve rolled an android technomancer name Zargon, which (among other things) made me throw out the android technomancer I had rolled. I didn’t really want two in the party, and Steve plays so rarely that I was willing to defer to what he wanted to play. Besides, Steve already had a T-shirt for his guy… you can’t compete with that. And then we had a non-RFC player (Brendan) who was playing in his first or second game of Starfinder with a pre-gen, and guess what… he went with the android technomancer anyway. So three REALLY would’ve been overkill. (Or high comedy… we may never know.)

I didn’t really want to play Nala because I’m saving her for the show. I thought about a straight-up Nala clone for a second (I got as far as registering “Reya Trienzi” on the Organized Play site), but my next-in-line concept was an Icon Operative: imagine Guy Fieri, if he uses his cooking show as a cover to take him around the galaxy doing black ops work – and with four arms, since he’s a kasatha. Thus was born Zegraal of “Clan” Tastebud Supernova (the name of his show).

The game itself was pretty straightforward, and I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, so what were the key moments? Zegraal did get to use his cooking abilities to help win a skills challenge, so that was useful. There was that moment when Steve’s character fell into a ravine and we realized that between three experienced players, none of us had thought to buy rope. Luckily, Steve had a flight spell, but still… oops. Brendan rolling a triple-4 on a magic missile to bring down a major bad guy was kinda cool. And while I don’t want to indulge in full-on schadenfreude, it was fun to see Steve in the player role – suffering through bad rolls with the rest of us, arguing with the GM… good stuff.

My next game was the much-anticipated (partly because it was the only lottery event I got into) Starfinder/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover. It was the core five GotG characters, plus Mantis (but more the badass martial artist version of Mantis from the comics than the movie version). I have to admit the translation worked pretty well. The Starfinder classes were a good fit – Star-Lord was the Envoy, Gamora an Operative, Drax a Soldier, Rocket a Mechanic. Making Groot a Mystic was a little bit of an odd choice at first, but they re-flavored some of the more exotic Groot abilities as spells and it worked. And yes, they named every one of his spells “I Am Groot”. The GM even whipped up a playlist of 70s/80s music to have running in the background, though he probably drifted a little too far into the 80s with some of the selections.

I got to play Star-Lord. Pretty standard Envoy build, though they set up his primary weapon (the Element Gun) to have selectable damage types, which was pretty nice. He also had conventional frag grenades and gravity grenades that either pinned enemies to the ground or pulled them toward the blast, depending on the saving throws.

The Guardians characters were set up as Level 10 characters, and the story was that the Guardians were pulled into the Starfinder universe to answer a distress call at Absalom Station because (spoiler!) Thanos had learned of the existence of the Starstone and figured one Starstone could do the work of the six Infinity Stones. The encounter itself was a series of battles (that’s my one minor complaint… almost no skills use involved; maybe one computer to hack to get things started) – facing a pack of beast-like aliens, a Sentinel, and Thanos himself. And… burying the lede a little here… I got the kill shot on Thanos! In fitting Star-Lord fashion, everyone else did the bulk of the damage, and I got a crit in the final round to take the last 10-12 points. Poor, poor Mantis though. She had climbed up a wall to fight Thanos while he was in the air, and he critted her, followed by 20 or 30 feet of falling damage – the grand damage total was somewhere in the 140s.

Friday evening was just one of those goofy con things where you start with “going to dinner with a couple people” and end up in a rapidly-growing amoeba of humanity. The plan was originally going to be dinner with Rob Trimarco, Jason Keeley, and two other people; on the way out of the hotel, we joined up with another group of Paizo folks (that included Patchen from the previous evening), and there was a third group of Paizo folks at the restaurant we ended up going, so we pushed tables together with them as well. So that’s how I “accidentally” ended up going to dinner with like 12 or 13 Paizo people and playing Mario Kart with them later. But, it’s a convention… sometimes that’s just how it is.


Saturday became my day to do touristy things, though it didn’t start out that way. I had originally picked up a Pathfinder game off the trade-in table (a table where people who can’t make an event leave their tickets so someone else can fill in), but what I didn’t realize is that pre-gens for that game cut off at Level 7 and these guys all wanted to play Level 10 or 11 characters. So this left me in a spot where at best I’d be a Leadership follower played by a live human, and at worst I’d be the one getting blamed if things didn’t go well. So I decided to walk away from that game and go into the city. I won’t bore you with those details too much, but… “Pike Place, Space Needle, Seattle Sounders game” covers the gist of it.

The evening events are tricky because they’re the sorts of things that could merit their own posts. The centerpiece of the banquet (besides eating large quantities of cow) was the presentation where Paizo revealed their plans for the various product lines, and after dinner, Jason Keeley ran us through an abbreviated version of the Pathfinder Playtest. (Still wearing a full three-piece suit no less. Classy.) On one hand, it almost deserves its own post; on the other hand, I don’t want to keep you waiting too long. So I guess I’ll throw you a few observations I found interesting, and maybe come back to it if there are still more questions:

  • As a meta thing, when they say “playtest”, they mean it. The first several adventures will be designed specifically to showcase and test different aspects of the game, and they’re going to be made available for free long as you offer feedback. They didn’t say what these aspects were, but within our little group, we took that as one adventure might focus primarily on skills and social challenges, another might feature a lot of spellcasting, maybe another would feature underwater or airborne action, etc.
  • The presentation portion mentioned character-building would follow the “ABC method” – Archetype, Background, Class – to make it feel more like writing a character’s story instead of just grafting numbers onto the chassis. It kind of feels like an expansion of Starfinder’s Themes, maybe with slightly more powerful abilities available. The demo used pre-gen characters, so we didn’t really get to test it – this is mostly extrapolating from Jason Bulmahn’s presentation.
  • They showed a page from the Druid class page showing the spell for DINOSAUR FORM. As someone who ran a druid, I might have gotten a little teary. And you’re damn right T-Rex was an option. How could it not be?
  • They’re basically flattening the action economy, or at least flipping the perspective a little bit. Now, you can take three actions per round. Period, end of sentence. If there’s granularity, it’s on the side of the abilities themselves – a spell might have a verbal action and a somatic action, so it will, therefore, count as two actions. A lot of it washes out with Pathfinder action economy – if you move and do a two-action attack, that’s still kind of like an attack and a move action – but it feels more flexible.
  • Following up on that previous concept, some spells can be beefed up and made more effective by putting more actions into them. For something like Magic Missile, it might just be “you gain more missiles for each action you use”, but it can be more multi-dimensional than that. I was playing the healer in our party: one action was a touch heal, two actions were a ranged single-target heal, and three actions was a group channel. (Also, channeling can now damage undead AND heal at the same time. About time.)
  • I also heard (but I honestly forget who I was discussing it with) that some spells might scale depending on what spell slot you put them in. That is, you wouldn’t have Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, etc. You’d just have “Cure”, and the spell slot you expended on it would determine how powerful the spell was. This feels like it would make for more interesting and versatile characters because you wouldn’t have to relearn more powerful versions of the tool you already have.
  • The answer to “well, why don’t you just get in someone’s face and attack three times?” is that subsequent attacks take a cumulative -5 to-hit penalty, so good luck hitting that third attack unless you have some sort of feat or class feature that helps. (Steve was playing a rogue, and his penalty was “only” -4, so there will clearly be mitigation for some builds).
  • For you melee types, shields go from a simple adjustment to AC to an active defense system – you use one of your actions to raise your shield and the shield can negates some/all of the damage of an attack. But if the shield takes too much damage, it’s damaged, and ultimately destroyed. Makes the sword-and-board fighter a bit more interesting to play because defense contains an active component instead of just giving your abstract tin can better stats.

I’m sure there’s more to be gleaned from the weekend, but those were some first impressions. You’re welcome to ask additional questions on social media, and we’ll answer what we can, or perhaps we’ll circle back around to it later with another Talking or a GM tip or something.

As a logistical footnote, the banquet and the Playtest session afterward was actually the only time during PaizoCon that the RFC crew was all assembled in one place, and as we thought about it, it was probably the first time in 10 or 15 years we were all in the same room together. Power of gaming, huh?


Sunday put us in the Way-Back Machine, as other than my Dads-n-Kids game, I haven’t played Pathfinder in almost a year. Specifically, we were playing The House of Harmonious Wisdom (#8-16), a quest-pack adventure set in the Tian Xia  part of Golarion. We all just played pre-gens for this one: John seems to have taken a liking to Seelah the Paladin, I took Sajan the Monk (I love monks once you get them a few levels; it’s just tricky to get them through the squishy low levels), and Steve took Crowe the Bloodrager.  We were joined by two guys who played a gothy brother-sister team of caster types – the sister was an Oracle, but I’m drawing a blank on the brother.

Highlights of this particular adventure? Well, the fact that no one actually spoke Tian Xia was… interesting, but we managed. One of the quests supplied my hero moment as it involved defending the honor of a martial arts school against its rival school – the non-fighters had to use stock moves taught to them by the NPC master, but I was allowed to use my full array of monk abilities (as long as I did non-lethal damage). So I was a bit of a ringer in that one. But the highlight was probably Steve’s 4th level bloodrager putting a guy into low-earth orbit with 90 damage in one shot. Enlarged + crit + rage + generally high rolls = that’s how a formerly imposing bodyguard gets swatted like a fly. And ohbytheway, it was an attack of opportunity, so the dude walked right into it.

Next up on the schedule was our actual LIVE IN PERSON appearance with Order of the Amber Die. I’m going to probably stay pretty general until it gets out there on the Internet and more people have a chance to listen to it, but let me just say I was really pleased with how it went.

I had two main concerns going in.

The first was chemistry with Order of the Amber Die. On one hand, they certainly seemed like kindred spirits from Steve’s interviews and we did get a chance to hang out with them at lunch before the event. So I didn’t think it was going to be a total disaster or anything. On the other hand, you never know until you sit down at the table and start doing it. And you know what? They were fantastic.

The other thing is doing this dog-and-pony show live. When we’re recording the show at home, Steve has the ability to make us look more clever than we really are after the fact – take out all the awkward pauses, remove that odd joke that didn’t really land, clean up any episodes of marble-mouth. You don’t have that luxury when you’re doing it with an audience in the room, and I suppose that was a little daunting. But that didn’t seem to be a problem either – I didn’t have any glaring episodes of mush-mouth and people seemed to be enjoying it and laughing in the right places, so… mission accomplished.

I do have to give credit to Steve for coming up with a pretty solid concept for the show. It would have been so easy to go Thunderdome and just have the two teams fight to see how combat worked between universes. (Though as we were chatting in the aftermath, we did say it would be fun to put together a real battle scenario between the two systems in a more fully-developed scenario.) But I think Steve’s solution – keeping it lighter on dice and heavier on role-playing – ended up being the right call.

PaizoCon 2018

With all of our obligations behind us, the last formal event was the Solstice Scar event Sunday night. Basically, this is an event where 300 people are playing the same adventure (still in tables of 6) as part of a larger campaign. Each table is scaled to the level of the party, so a Level 1 party might face zombies while a level 10 party might face vampires at the same point in the story. As each table hits certain milestones, that moves the overall story along to its conclusion. And there’s a cash bar.

Our table had Steve and Bob playing homebrew characters (an investigator and a heal-less cleric, respectively) and the rest of us playing iconics: I was running Seoni the Sorceress, John played Seelah again, Rob Trimarco took a spin with Crowe the Bloodrager, and Jason Keeley played Hakon the Skald. And, we had one of our contest winners, Shawn (aka GM Notmyideas on our Discord) as our table’s GM.

I can’t tell you much about the scenario because the beers were flowing pretty freely, but the penultimate battle had a wonderful finish. We were battling a baby dragon that was a tough kill because the cave had a lowered section with a ring around the outside, and the dragon was hovering over the lowered area, out of melee range. So first, Rob T. earned his Badass Stripes by jumping off the edge, making his Athletics check, and then making a successful attack that staggered the creature. If that wasn’t enough, Keeley then polished off the beast with an attack with a damn sling. (Needing an 18 to hit, no less.) I suppose I could be mad because I was up next in initiative and had a magic missile with the dragon’s name on it (kill-stealer!) but the whole thing was so damn impressive… how can you be?

(It later turned out there had been a math error and Rob’s shot should have killed the creature, but once you’ve got it on the record that you killed a dragon with a sling, that’s the story you stick with.)

The game wrapped around 12:15 and it was off to sleep for most of us, though a few people stayed up for 1 am games. Then next morning, off to the airport to get back to normal life.

That’s pretty much my PaizoCon adventure, but I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to give a special word of thanks to everyone who came out to Seattle to share the experience with us. Whether it’s wearing the shirts, coming to the live event(s), just stopping by to say hello… there are times where I don’t even know how to process it, except I know that it’s cool and touching. There are times it feels like hubris to even think we should have fans for doing something we love that we would be doing anyway, even if no one is listening. But it’s still immensely gratifying to know that other people are getting something out of it too. So honestly… thank you all.

OK, enough dopey sincerity… time for sleep. I gotta go back to work tomorrow, and at some point, I’ll have a new Talking to bang out as we get back to business as usual in the Dead Suns campaign. In the meantime, thanks for listening and reading, and we’ll see you again back in the jungles of Castrovel.

Win A Free Trip To PaizoCon 2018!


This year the entire Roll For Combat crew is going to PaizoCon 2018 and we want you to join us!

Here is what we are giving away:

  • Airfare to and from PaizoCon 2018! Arrive Thursday, May 24th and leave Monday, May 28th.
  • Free hotel room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels.
  • Free 4-Day badge and banquet ticket.
  • Possible chance to play Pathfinder Playtest with the Roll For Combat team!
  • All winners will be announced when the giveaway ends on May 1, 2018.

Ready to enter? Simply head on over to the entry form, fill it out, and listen to the show on May 8th and see if you won! Good luck!


Starfinder Pact Worlds Review – Let’s Meet The Neighbors

starfinder pact worlds

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure as well.

In the Alien Archive, Paizo decided to kick off its line of Starfinder supplements by looking deep into space and seeing what sort of creepy crawlies lived out in the great unknown. In their newest release, Pact Worlds, Paizo trades the telescope for a microscope and takes a deeper look at the worlds we’re already familiar with from the Core Rulebook.

Now, when I say “worlds” you have to take an expansive view of the word. Yes, you have traditional planets like Castrovel: fairly close to Earth-like, if a little hot and jungle-y. On the other hand, you also have planets that play around with planetary physics, such as Verces (doesn’t rotate, so it has a day side, a night side, and a thin habitable strip in the middle) or Triaxus (goes around the sun so slowly that seasons last centuries). It’s also got things that don’t count as planets at all – Absalom Station ought to be pretty well-known to even a passing Starfinder fan, the Diaspora is a series of colonies out in an asteroid belt, Idari is a space-ship that has been recognized as a planet, and ohbytheway, there’s a series of magically-protected bubble-cities inside the Sun itself. There’s a lot of different and surprising concepts – 14 in all.

Logistically, the book is organized into four major sections, though the real meat of the book is in the first and last parts.

The first, and largest, section is the information on the Pact Worlds themselves. If you like, think of it as Chapter 12 (“Setting”) of the Core Rulebook on steroids. Each of the 1-2 page planetary summaries from the Core Rulebook is expanded to a more fully fleshed-out description of each world. These generally include information on geography (including full-page maps of each), how society is structured, who their friends and foes are, plus a summary of various people and places of interest.

At its simplest level, it’s just a lore-dump, but what it really gives you framework on which the enterprising GM can build his or her own stories. Need a gladiator pit? Akiton has you covered. Want a story involving space pirates? Welcome to the Diaspora. Or, when in doubt, you can always send them to Eox and see what sort of shenanigans Zo! can inflict on them. (Think of Zo! – and yes, the exclamation mark is part of his name – as the undead version of Ryan Seacrest). A brief bone is thrown to players in the form of a planet-specific character theme for each world (to pick a few examples, the Diaspora gets the Space Pirate; the undead world of Eox gets the Deathtouched) but this part of the book is mostly for the GMs.

The players get theirs in the final chapter of the book. Gear, spells, feats… there are some of each, but they’re really the appetizers here. The big additions are six new archetypes (the core rulebook only had two) and six new playable races. I suspect the one that’s going to be a fan favorite is the SROs (“Sentient Robotic Organisms”) which are exactly what they sound like – robot PCs. If you want to play as HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic… Paizo’s got your back, meatbag.

The middle two sections are smaller and a little more specialized in nature. Chapter 2 offers a selection of various faction-specific spaceships. To pick a couple examples, Hellknight vessels (you may remember them from Pathfinder) are heavily armored and full of jagged edges and pointy bits, while Xenowarden vessels incorporate living plant material into the ship design. Chapter 3, on the other hand, lays out NPC generics – cultists, mercenaries, street gangs – in case your campaign needs some extra cannon fodder. These seem useful in the right situations but might not make it into every campaign.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of the book. The real question is: is it something your gaming table really needs? I’ll put it this way – I think anyone can enjoy it, but where it’s really going to shine is for the GM who homebrews his own stories – groups that predominantly play adventure paths may not get as much out of it. If you’re sticking to adventure paths… OK, it deepens the lore a little and gives you a few more character options, but there might be a fair amount of overlap between the lore available in Pact Worlds and the lore in any given AP. But if you’re looking to make your own adventures, this thing is an idea factory and it’s probably worth having at hand – it’s almost impossible to read all the world lore and not have some sort of storytelling gears start turning in your head.

The World of Warcraft Diary Sneak Preview!

World of Warcraft Diary 1

One of our very own Roll For Combat team members is kickstarting a book about what it truly takes to make video games!

John Staats, who plays Maurice “Mo” Dupinski in our Dead Suns Starfinder campaign, has written a book about his years at Blizzard and what it took to create one of the greatest video games of all time!

John was on the World of Warcraft team for over 10 years and his book is a VERY detailed look at how they made Vanilla WOW. He sent me an advance copy and I’m still reading (it’s over 300 pages), but look out for it on Kickstarter soon!

World of Warcraft Diary 2

While John was developing World of Warcraft, he took constant notes, created monthly updates, and interviewed his co-workers throughout the development of the project. I count 140 pictures (all with captions) in the book, most of which I’ve never seen before and they’re all very behind-the-scenes.

With hundreds of never-seen-before pictures and behind-the-scenes interviews, this is a must-read for anyone interested in video game development or the history of World of Warcraft!

World of Warcraft Diary 3

John’s been working this book for over for two years, and he recently got permission from Blizzard to use their content. Next week he’s launching his Kickstarter campaign where you can pick up a copy of this amazing book. If you’re into computer games, check out his webpage where you can read more about this book:

Good luck John, and look for more information in the near future about this amazing look into one of the most popular games in history!

Join the Loot Box of Wonder Revolution Today!

Roll For Combat Loot Box of Wonder

When we first started this podcast I wasn’t sure where we would end up, but getting a published title (even if it’s a small title) written was Thurton Hillman wasn’t really on my radar at the time. However, fate and chance are a strange thing, and we were lucky enough to get Thurton to create for the show a wonderfully fun Starfinder magic item that can be used by everyone!

Part video game loot box, part deck of many things, this magic item was featured in our latest Episode 23: The Mysteries of Lootboxing and you can now download this item for free at DriveThruRPG right here!

Some of its amazing features include:

    • Two Page Introduction (almost)! Don’t you hate it when you buy a new RPG product and it only comes with a one-page introduction … or no introduction at all? With the Loot Box of Wonder, you get two whole pages of introduction (almost), that’s quality right there!
    • Lesser Loot Box of Wonder! Specially designed to cause havoc for low to mid-level PCs of all kinds, the Lesser Loot Box of Wonder will amaze and mystify your PCs and their friends!
    • Greater Loot Box of Wonder! But wait, there’s more! With the Greater Loot Box of Wonder now you can unleash mayhem on even the highest level of PCs! Bring those high-level PCs down a peg or two!
    • Twelve Full-Color Pages! Unlike other inferior products with nine pages or less, this product has not 10 pages, not 11 pages, but 12 whole pages! And all in full-color! Value city!
    • Skittermanders! Everything is better with Skittermanders, and this product has Skittermanders galore!

Don’t miss out on this amazing off today and take part of the loot box revolution! Join now!

Help Roll For Combat Name Their Skittermander!


The guys at Roll For Combat are about to start playing some Starfinder Society and we managed to get our hands on a Skittermander boon (listen to future shows to learn how you can get a Skittermander SFS of your own!). We need your help in naming our Skittermander character.

Check him out! Isn’t he cute! Wouldn’t you like to hear a rough voice of one of our regulars playing a cute little Skittermander?

If you have an idea for a name for our Skittermander, please send your Skittermander name to:
. You can also enter your Skittermander name here as well. If you name is chosen, we’ll send you a custom Roll For Combat t-shirt and use your name on the show! Good luck!

Dungeons & Dragons – Stranger Things Style, Part 3

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out our weekly podcast, Roll For Combat, where a group of old-school gamers play Paizo’s new Starfinder RPG.

Also, make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

When we explored my Dungeons & Dragons treasures from a few weeks ago there was one item in my 1980 Trapper Keeper that I didn’t show – the 1981 TSR Hobbies Gateway To Adventure catalog! This catalog was released in 1980 by TSR and featured all of their new releases for the upcoming year.

My catalog was in poor shape but I wanted to show it in full as the treasures found in that book contain a dragon’s horde of awesomeness.

Luckily I was able to find a more detailed scan of this same book (in full color), so without further adieu, I present to you the “1981 TSR Hobbies Gateway To Adventure”. Enjoy!

Look at that graphic! It’s just begging you to open this catalog and delve into its pages! Today everything is so slick and professional. Back then you really needed to go that extra mile to ignite the imagination … I miss those days.


Let this sink in for a second … this 16-page catalog contained the entirety of the world of Dungeons & Dragons and TSR. Everything in the world of RPG at that time could be contained in these few pages. Look how far we have come!


This was the time when D&D was starting to enter the mainstream and TSR was getting more professional with its presentation. Both covers were created by the illustration god Erol Otus … I would dare say that without the Otus illustrations D&D might not be where it is today. One could spend hours looking at his fantastical illustrations, always finding something new, further drawing you in. His illustration of the Basic Set is legendary, but I always loved the Expert Set illustration which clearly conveyed that the Expert Set was an expansion of the Basic Set in the artwork alone.


Look at all those modules! All … four of them!


Here we go, the “Core Four”. You had/have these books, everyone you knew had/have these books, without these books there would be no D&D. The only question was did you have the original Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia with the Cthulhu and Melnibonéan sections … or the lame later editions which had these section cut? Only the cool kids had the original edition, and you were cool … weren’t you?


I original DM screen I still see people using at conventions from time to time. I wish I still had mine. It must be around here somewhere…


Here we go, the list of the “Advanced D&D Modules”. Back then there was so little D&D content I think everyone had nearly every module, even if you weren’t a DM. Just having them and reading them was fun … and is still is!


You don’t hear nearly as much about the TSR board games, but they were classics in their own right. Dungeon! was THE original dungeon crawl boardgame (it’s right there in the name!) and I probably played this game a good 100 times when I was a kid. I have heard endless stories about how great Divine Right was, however even though I own two mint copies I have yet to play it. One day…


In addition to D&D, TRS also published other role-playing games back then. Gamma World was probably the most popular of the bunch as it was basically D&D in a sci-fi setting. I played Top Secret and Boot Hill a few times, but they never managed to have the same hold on me as D&D. I never played Fight in the Skies, nor knew anyone who played it. I would be curious to know it was any good.


These are some of the more famous TSR boardgames. Snit’s Revenge! I never managed to find anyone to play with for some reason. The Awful Green Things From Outer Space on the other hand, is still in print today … and perhaps the hardest most random game in history. I love that game, but holy crap that game is hard if you play the crew. I never played 4th Dimension so I can’t speak to that game, but the art was always trippy.


The minigames were pretty popular back in the day and they were just that … boardgames that could fit inside a ziplock bag. For a few bucks, you could get an entire game – the rules were a small black & white booklet, the game board was a color piece of paper, a simple color board of unpunched cardboard consisted of the game pieces, and it also included a set of dice. Although I have all of the games listed, I never played them. They were so cheap that it was hard to actually play with the little cardboard pieces and the game board would never stay flat. I guess you get what you pay for.


Back in 1980 “random number generation, multi-sided dice” were still fairly rare. TSR had their own version “Dragon Dice” … and they were single-handedly the worst dice ever released. The dice were that terrible baby blue color, you had to color them in with a crayon, and the dice themselves were so brittle they would start to lose their shape after a few uses. What a piece of crap! I loved them!!!


Ah, Dragon Magazine. Perhaps my favorite magazine of all time. The covers had some of the best fantasy artwork found anywhere, the content was a treasure trove of D&D and role-playing articles. the cartoons were legendary, even the ads were awesome. When Dragon (and Dungeon) Magazine were canceled years ago I was emotionally crushed for months afterward. I still go through my old magazines to this day, I think everyone loved Dragon Magazine.


Holy crap, am I just learning NOW that GENCON had a sister convention GECON EAST in Cherry Hill, New Jersey?!? That was just a few hours from my house! As a kid, there was zero chance I could get to Lake Geneva, but I could have easily gotten to New Jersey! Crap!!! I wonder what I missed?


Look at those t-shirts! T-shirts from the 80s did not age well, even back then they looked like crap, but that is all we had so how did we know? Of course, nowadays you can get an exact replicate 80s t-shirt … for a mere $40!


Holy crap, those t-shirts were only $6 each? Plus shipping? Damn, get me that Fight in the Skies t-shirt right away!

If you have some D&D treasures from your childhood please send them along! We love unearthing these classic treasures when D&D was mysterious and only shared with friends at school.

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out our weekly podcast, Roll For Combat, where a group of old-school gamers play Paizo’s new Starfinder RPG.

Also, make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.