Structuring an Investigation, Part 4

February 23, 2021
I've talked a lot recently about how to structure an extended investigation. An example of one is in my PF1 adventure, A Lucky Morning (which you can get right here).

To be more than a little bit spoilery, that adventure is about an evil necromancer getting revenge on a former adventuring group that shunned him. He's killing off the group's former members, and he doesn't care who he kills along the way. The adventure begins with the heroes waking up in the private rooms of a big inn, coming downstairs, and seeing that everyone else in the inn has been killed in a strange way. They've all been killed by a wraith, though that isn't obvious right away. An investigation begins!

There are two "must" clues here among the dead:

1) A pair of ex-adventurers (the bard and the barbarian) have a drink ticket to the bar they normally frequent with their former adventuring companions. Getting this clue requires "Environment Interaction" (as I described the term in my last post).

2) A prospective thief is in town to interview with a third member of the former adventuring group (the thief). Getting this clue is requires a successful "Character Skill."

There are lots of "might" clues here:

1) The heroes can learn that a wraith (or something akin to one) killed everyone here. Getting this clue requires "Character Skills."

2) Dead dockworkers lead to an oracle by the docks; getting this clue requires "Character Skills." 

3) There's a sign indicating that the attack was a personal vendetta. This is an "It's Just There" clue.

4) Some clues indicate the timing of the attack and that a desperate but one-sided fight was involved. Some of these are "Environment Interaction" clues, but others are "It's Just There."

The two "must" clues lead to their own separate acts in the adventure, as does one of the "might" clues. I also included another act about what happens if the heroes do nothing--such as running to get the town watch the instant they see the dead people and don't investigate.

Must #1: Following up on the prospective thief leads the heroes to a safe house for the town thieves' guild. They can engage in some "Character Skills" or "Environment Interaction" to find that the leader of the thieves' guild, the thief ex-adventurer, has been killed just like everyone in the inn. This is ultimately a dead end, but it puts some of the plan into clearer view.

Must #2: Following up on the ex-adventurers' tavern results in "A Fight," but "Environment Interaction" uncovers a big picture of all five ex-adventurers together and hints that someone's getting revenge on them all. This is another "must" clue, as it's how the heroes learn that there's another member unaccounted for (the party's sorcerer); seeking her out leads to the linear chain of 3 acts that concludes the adventure.

Might #1: The dockworker's "might" clue leads to a different act, too, because the heroes can get information that a wraith is involved AND gain a lead to the ex-adventurers' bar requires more "Character Skills," but if the heroes are polite, this is practically "Environment Interaction." I put this in there to make sure that players who went chasing off on this wrong track could be nudged back to the main plot.

Do Nothing: If the heroes don't do any investigating, or if they return to the scene of the crime after leaving it, the town watch is there. They take the heroes to the watch station automatically, as an "It's Just There" clue. While in the watch station, the heroes narrowly avoid another wraith attack that kills the watch captain (the fighter of the former adventuring group). They discover this death with some "Character Skills," but if they just fail at those, "It's Just There" gives them the clue anyway (to avoid a skill wall that traps the heroes in the watch station for good!). 

So it's likely that the heroes will do lots of running around, but will land on the necessity of finding the retired sorcerer. In case this isn't crystal clear, though, I've included an encounter where the necromancer tries to kill the heroes in a straightforward trap. There's also a limerick involved; I'm not sure what I was thinking. This is technically "A Fight," as traps are included under that header, and it points the heroes toward the sorcerer. If they didn't know to go there, they learn it; if they already knew to go there, it confirms what they know and assures them they're on a fruitful path.

The adventure concludes with a dramatic combat against the villain, but there's a lot of investigation to get to that point. The fight is the payoff for the heroes discovering what's going on and intentionally inserting themselves into the evil plan to prevent it.

This investigation adventure isn't perfect; I knew I had too many "skill walls" when I wrote it, and my solution was the suboptimal trick of setting some target numbers crazy low rather than just giving the clue without a check. But this adventure contains a lot of interconnectedness that means no group is going to play it the same way, and that's a sign of a well-connected extended investigation.

Robust investigations take some work, but they're worth it!
 

Structuring an Investigation, Part 3

February 18, 2021
We’re building an extended investigation scene! In Part 1, I talked about how to break down the investigation items into things the heroes must learn, and things the heroes might learn. In Part 2, I talked about the work to support the GM: ensuring your investigation meets your XP and treasure budget, and the best order to present things to make it easier on the GM. Now, we’re getting to how to present things for the players.

This is the step that takes the longest, because it involves th...

Continue reading...
 

Structuring an Investigation, Part 2

February 12, 2021
When I last posted, I described how to structure an extended investigation. In short, you need to start with your core adventure design. Decide what things your heroes must learn in the investigation; your adventure simply can't proceed unless they learn these two or three (or however many) things. Then decide what things they might learn in the investigation that would be helpful but not mandatory; maybe there's two to four of these. You made your list of "musts" and a list of "mights."

What...

Continue reading...
 

Structuring an Investigation, Part 1

February 2, 2021
It's often fun--and sometimes necessary--to put an investigation scene into an adventure. You're going through three layers to create one:

* Your adventure design, which requires the heroes find out one or several things.
* Your presentation to the GM, who must understand how to get the players to what they need to understand.
* The players, who must find the investigation engaging and useful.

This is not easy! 

It helps to work on these from top to bottom, and I'm going to talk about writing each...

Continue reading...
 

A Helpful Bard

January 28, 2021
I've been making up some NPC stat blocks for Pathfinder Second Edition, and I kind of kept running with it and made up an extra one. Here's a bard you can use as an ally for your low-level heroes, or as a foe to bolster the enemies they face.

Note that in Pathfinder Second Edition, as in Starfinder, NPCs aren't built the same way that player characters are. They look and act more like monsters, and have some impossible-for-normal characters-to-replicate statistics. Frankly, we try to avoid cal...

Continue reading...
 

Building Fun Scavenger Hunts

January 22, 2021
A very common type of quest in RPGs is a scavenger hunt: go get these three (or four, or five, or ten) things. For example, the heroes might have to go get four kinds of herbs for a poultice, or bring back the heads of five different monsters. I'm developing an adventure right now that has the heroes collecting bugs; in an adventure I recently developed, they need to get parts of a magical key. There are lots of things to go look for, but the general trend is "go get these things then come ba...
Continue reading...
 

Okay to Screw It Up a Little

January 11, 2021
I was talking to my friend John Godek yesterday for our biweekly chat about Starfinder and our lives, Digital Divination (which you can listen to here). There, we sometimes talk about our Starfinder actual-play podcast, Intrepid Heroes (which you can listen to here). One of the key elements of our podcast that we wanted to include was mistakes. Not that we wanted to screw things up on purpose, but we wanted to keep in the mistakes in math or rules that we make, instead of editing them out to ...
Continue reading...
 

I Want to Help!

January 8, 2021
Aiding other characters in what they do is an important part of any roleplaying game--it's a team game, after all. The basic rule in Starfinder and Pathfinder First Edition is this: if you want to help someone do X, roll X as though you were doing it yourself, and if you succeed at a DC 10 (no matter what the actual difficulty is; 10 is the DC for the helper check), you give them a +2 to what they're doing. There's no risk to aiding. That lets the GM limit the potential bonus by limiting the ...
Continue reading...
 

Why Easy Encounters Matter

January 5, 2021
I'm deep in the development of Paizo's sixth Adventure Path for Pathfinder Second Edition, but in some ways we're still learning what works and what doesn't. We've carried over a lot of lessons from First Edition, but we're learning that some of them aren't as true in this edition. An example is encounter difficulty: people are finding Moderate encounters in PF2 to be a little more challenging than Average encounters in PF1. We used to put a lot of Average encounters in our PF1 Adventure Path...
Continue reading...
 

Lost in the Maze...at Paizo.com!

December 31, 2020
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my blog pace here has slowed a bit because I'm blogging for the "big leagues" by making weekly blog entries on Paizo's front page! This has been a lot of fun for me, because I have very focused assignments but a lot of flexibility in how I approach them. I've done mini-encounters, new alchemical items, NPC write-ups, new downtime activities, and more! There are a total of 12 of these blogs, and about 8 (maybe?) have already been released. Near the end of Januar...
Continue reading...
 

Bombs Away!

December 9, 2020
Based on my analysis from last week, here are seven new bombs for Pathfinder Second Edition!

Acrid Vapor Bomb — Item 1+

Uncommon, Acid, Alchemical, Bomb, Consumable, Poison, Splash
Usage held in 1 hand; Bulk L
Activate [[one-action]] Strike

The substance in this bomb is a weak, sticky acid that sublimates into a debilitating toxic gas when exposed to the air. An acrid vapor bomb deals the listed acid damage, persistent poison damage, and splash damage. On a hit, the target is sickened 1 (sickene...


Continue reading...
 

Examining Some Bombs

December 1, 2020
I've been taking a close look at the alchemical bombs in Pathfinder Second Edition. It's nice to have so many neat tools for alchemists, and that they cover so many types of damage, but I've seen some commonalities that allow you to play with the numbers and create more fun toys that go boom.

First, let's lay out what the rules already give, broken down into four categories: damage the bomb does, persistent (that is, ongoing) damage the bomb does, splash damage the bomb does, and other effects...
Continue reading...
 

Where's the Blog?

November 24, 2020
So, I've been light on blogging here for the last few weeks, but that doesn't mean I'm not blogging! I've started a blog series on Paizo.com, about a dozen posts in all. They're all connected to the town of Otari, which is the setting for the Pathfinder Beginner Box (which I helped write), the Troubles in Otari adventure (which I helped write), and the Abomination Vaults Adventure Path (which I developed). Paizo is doing a lot of fiction set in and around Otari as well, called the Shroud of F...
Continue reading...
 

Not Very Good...Yet

November 10, 2020
I have a friend who's interested in getting into the RPG business; he's quite young, and wants some advice about how best to get started. In talking things out with him, I realized something about myself. Here's my realization:

My Six Griffons Haunt adventure for Pathfinder (which is retooled as Ghosts of Sparwell Lodge in Pathfinder Second Edition) isn't very good. I mean, it's totally playable and has interesting characters and such, but it's still not very good.

Why? Because nothing you writ...
Continue reading...
 

The Force is With You

October 28, 2020
I want to talk about the force in Starfinder, and I'm not talking about solarians, who are TOTALLY NOT JEDI despite being lightly-armored mystics who fight with laser swords.

Instead, I want to talk about force damage. It's sort of in a weird place in Starfinder. In similar games (here, I'm thinking of Pathfinder First Edition, Pathfinder Second Edition, and Dungeons & Dragons 5E), "force" is just another damage type. It's a damage type that usually affects ghosts and other such creatures more...
Continue reading...
 

So Many Little Monsters, Part 2 of 2

October 20, 2020

Last week, I talked about the basic rules that swarms of smaller creatures have in many systems. Today, I wanted to give you a neat reskinning trick! You can turn lots of monsters into swarms by overlaying the swarm rules on top of an existing stat block.  

Let’s start with a new D&D 5E monster, a swarm of acid wasps! These nasty, intelligent critters lurk in acid pools, deadly swamps, and caustic areas throughout the lower planes. They’re malicious and durable individually, and together t...


Continue reading...
 

So Many Little Monsters, Part 1 of 2

October 16, 2020
It's interesting to me how games handle swarms of things: bugs, piranhas, spiders, birds, and so on. They're a classic threat, but the rules to support them vary widely between systems. Here's what's generally the same:

* They fill an area like a bigger creature. Even though individual swarm members are really small, the swarm itself is the size of a large creature (sometimes, its squares can bend around a lot, so long as they're contiguous).

* They can fit through small spaces, and other creat...
Continue reading...
 

Transparency in Games and the Torg Decision

October 9, 2020
One of the way Torg feels different than a lot of other RPGs is in its transparency. Simply put, mechanical information (such as the difficulty of a check) isn't secret. Here's how the game's rulebook puts it:

Transparency
Mechanical information isn't meant to be secret in Torg Eternity. How many Possibilities a foe currently has, what an enemy's various defenses are, and what modifiers apply any given DN [Difficulty Number] should all be apparent or freely shared if the players ask. All four s...
Continue reading...
 

It's Rontober!

October 5, 2020
It's always a thrill when something I've been working on comes out to the public. It's even more thrilling when several things hit at once!

First of all, here's the October product announcement for Paizo. I worked on the first book listed (Lost Omens Pathfinder Society Guide), and I wrote BOTH of the adventures premiering this month: Dominion's End for Starfinder, and Assault on Hunting Lodge Seven for Pathfinder. Both are great adventures, but they're very different. One is an ultra-high-leve...
Continue reading...
 

Number 14

September 30, 2020
Well, after an exhausting push through this weekend and into this week, I've completed and turned in my Starfinder Adventure Path volume kicking off an as-yet-unannounced Adventure Path. I think it's among the best Starfinder AP volumes I've written; it had the potential for being really scattered and disjointed, but I had a few overall framing things and interconnections that I think tie it all together well. My developer will be the first judge of that, and the players will be the second.

I ...
Continue reading...
 

Where New Monsters Come From

September 24, 2020
The Pathfinder Bestiary and Pathfinder Bestiary 2 have a ton of great monsters in them. There are old standbys, like giants and golems and froghemoths and stuff, and there are Paizo creations like goblin dogs, reefclaws, and sinspawn. But there are also plenty of brand-new critters in there as well, like the ostrich-like cauthooj and the limb-ripping mukradi. Where do these monsters come from? 

The alphabet.

I'm not just being glib. If you look at the placement of these new monsters--all of whi...
Continue reading...
 

The Bland Background Makes the Heroes Shine

September 21, 2020
I was talking to another freelancer recently. She was populating a settlement in something she's writing and was asking how two unusual ancestries might interact with each other. I didn't know, but I saw a larger issue and asked how many of the NPCs were human. She said not many, because there are so many interesting ancestries available, and asked how many should be human.

My answer? Just about all of the NPCs should be human. Definitely at least 50 percent. Maybe more like 90 percent. This h...
Continue reading...
 

Will of PCs

September 15, 2020
I talked recently about removing "the" from your writing to avoid "othering" certain groups, but this is only one of several words I search for when tightening up some text. Here are three more:

Will: RPG writing is in present tense. You don't say, "the count will reveal his plan to the party," or "if the party stops fighting, the ogres will listen to what they have to say." Put these in present tense: "the count reveals his plan to the party," "if the party stops fighting, the ogres listen to...
Continue reading...
 

The Bricks You Need

September 10, 2020
I'm writing another Starfinder Adventure Path adventure. It's not announced yet, but I don't think I'm doing the company any harm by saying I'm writing for them again. I don't think anyone is betting that Starfinder is going to quit doing Adventure Paths, or that they're going to quit arranging for and assigning them behind the scenes, before a public announcement. So I can't yet say what it is, I can say I'm writing a Starfinder adventure.

I just turned in my milestone--about half my total wo...
Continue reading...
 

More CUP Updates

September 2, 2020
I wrote recently, right here, about Paizo updating its Community Use Policy (or CUP). This is the policy that lets fans use their rules and their intellectual property, so long as the end user isn't charged for them. Functionally, it's about giving guidelines and comfort to creators of fan-made websites and videos (and other content, but this seems to be their new thrust).

They've made some further changes to it, although the specifics are tucked into a forum post. I want to walk through these...
Continue reading...
 

Avoid the "The"

August 27, 2020
Here's a quick tip today: I've been learning a lot recently about the phenomenon of "othering," which is setting a specific group apart because of its differences, almost always to treat them badly or dismiss their opinions or values. This is particularly damaging when applied to real-world people, because it's been used to justify all kinds of odious abuses (to ethnic minorities, to the physically or mentally disabled, and so on). Language that "others" is subtle but pervasive.

Here's a trick...
Continue reading...
 

The Opposite of Balanced Isn't Balanced

August 25, 2020
I'm doing some freelance writing for an upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition book that is going to have lots and lots of spells in it. My assignment is to write lots and lots of spells.

Although I have plenty of neat and thematic new spell ideas, I like to look over existing spells not only to make sure I'm not reinventing the wheel, but to see whether any of them spark any further ideas. I thought I had found a particularly good design space in creating an aggressive opposite of the longstandin...
Continue reading...
 

Paizo Updates the CUP

August 12, 2020
Paizo has two overall licenses for people to use:

The Compatibility License allows you to make products that use their rules and charge money for them; you can't generally use their intellectual property (proper names, etc.). Those of us producing 3PP (Third-Party Press) materials, like Run Amok Games, use this license. 

The Community Use Policy (or CUP) outlines how you can use their rules and their intellectual property for fan-made stuff. You get to use their intellectual property and even s...
Continue reading...
 

Six Sentence NPCs

August 7, 2020
Including NPCs in a game seems easy: you just slap a name on a stat block and you're done. This is Gobgor the goblin, who fights the heroes. This is Shopkor the shopkeeper, who sells stuff to the heroes.

I'm not going to get into naming NPCs well; I'm actually not very good at it. But there are easy steps to make any NPC evocative and useful at the table. This is particularly important when you're writing adventures, because the NPCs need to be simple (because some GMs and players will blithel...
Continue reading...
 

Paizo Licenses, Very Quickly

July 28, 2020
I was explaining the differences between the two licenses Paizo offers to a friend of mine the other day, and I thought a quick summary of them would be helpful.

The Compatibility License is for professional publishers who want to make money from their products. This lets you use the Pathfinder (or Starfinder, which has its own similar license) rules and claim compatibility with the game. You don't get to use any intellectual property (or, properly, "Product Identity") in them. So you can writ...
Continue reading...
 

About Me


I'm Ron Lundeen, developer for Paizo, Inc., active gamer, and RPG freelancer. I've recently had products in print for Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, Raging Swan, Open Design, Headless Hydra Games, and Rite Publishing. I'm still taking freelance writing assignments, but also focusing on writing for Run Amok Games.


 

Make a free website with Yola