Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game - Adding ROLE Playing to the ROLL Playing

As you can tell I don't update much these days :)

So Paizo just released Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a game I've been eagerly awaiting since I heard about it back in June. I've had it for a couple of days and have a chance to run it solo. It's cooperative card game so it's definitely easy to play solo with one character or two. I'm having a lot of fun with this one and its  worth checking out if you are looking for a board game with RPG mechanics.

It captures a tabletop RPG feel very well. All of the classic FRPG tropes are here: D&D spells, basic armors, weapons (long sword, short sword etc), D&D classes (thief, magic user, fighter, cleric, bard, ranger, sorcerer). It has a campaign adapted from the Pathfinder campaign "Rise of the Runelords", a character advancement system that is actually quite advanced and surprising for a card game. All of the cards have great bits of text that give a great sense of the world. - descriptions of locations, allies, items, monsters, and obstacles. I grew up with HeroQuest, played all the D&D adventure board games (Wrath of Ashardalon, Castle Ravenloft) but I can confidently say that this is the first RPG/Board game hybrid that actually kind of feels like a tabletop RPG.

Anyway this is not a review.

For more info and play examples check out this video:

or read this:

I would recommend watching the video to get a brief overview of the game so that what I say below will make more sense to you.

The game is definitely a ROLL playing game. So any plot that exists is alluded to but never explicitly stated - there is no text other than the initial setup, and descriptions on the cards that has anything to do with a story. But the game is ripe for filling in the blanks and creating a narrative. The obstacles you face are varied and there are many different ways to overcome obstacles based on what cards you have and what type of character you are. There are a lot of decisions to make in this game. The game essentially acts as a GM for you and I've found it pretty easy to treat this as genuine solo gm-less rpg.

Here are ideas that I've been messing around with to make this game have more of story and feel a bit more like a tabletop RPG session. This will work solo (how I've tried these ideas out), or even with others (probably best with children, or people who love storytelling).

I got some inspiration from some RPGs like Dungeon World and Old School Hack. Check them out at RPGgeek.

Here are some ideas for fleshing out a narrative for a session.

Idea #1

Creating Descriptions.

The main part of most turns consists of exploring a location.

After drawing the card, describe what happens in two descriptions.

1) Describe what you're character is doing, where they are at, and how they get drawn into the conflict, and yes Boons are conflicts too. This would be equivalent to a GM describing some immediate danger that is threatening the PC or why something looks dangerous.

2) Resolve conflict, toss your dice, choose which card(s) to play and then describe what happens in the conflict.

Lets imagine I'm playing the first adventure "Brigandoom" and my PC is Marisel the Elf Rogue. I've decided to explore the Farmhouse. The first card I draw on my exploration phase is a bandit henchman.

I could describe my first turn like this:

As night descends, I creep cautiously out of the shadows of the covered bridge towards the edge of the farm. Sitting on the stairs of the front porch, sits a cloaked man smoking a pipe and staring off into the distance. I draw my dagger and sneak as silently as I can from tree to tree. Perhaps if I get close enough, I can quickly rush him before he is aware of what is happening.

I then describe what I do and what happens

(I use my dagger card. I need to pass a combat check of 8. With a dagger I can use my dexterity (d12) + (d4) if I want to use my dagger again)

I get 6. So I obviously I'm not successful and I take 2 damage (lose two cards from my hand).

The second description would be this:

As I reach the edge of the porch, I hide my slender frame behind the corner post, count silently to three and rush as fast as I can. Unfortunately the beams on the porch are old and my first step causes a loud creaking sound. The bandit jumps to his feet, dropping his pipe, and drawing his short sword, turning in time to parry my dagger and deliver spinning elbow to my chest causing me to crash through the porch railing. Instantly I spring to my feet and turn the corner of the house. There is a grove of trees at the edge of the house and I quickly rush into the thicket. I hear shouting from the house. Damn, I've alerted them

Describe how you get engaged with the threat, describe the conflict and resolution. Obviously each turn feeds the narrative of what happens next. Build the events and justify the mechanic results in terms of what is happening in the narrative. Lose your check by a lot and that sends you to your next danger. Win by a lot and you succeed with flair. Barely win and you describe close calls and your character having to fight for victory maybe at a slight cost.

The purpose of all this description is to create a cool story that gets you more engaged with the events of the game and your character.

Ally cards could literally be someone that is with you, or describing a flashback of how you learned something from the ally and how that helps you in the conflict. This also can be applied to when a character helps you by playing a card. Either they are physically there, or you remember something that they taught you or advised you to do. Or maybe there magic is affecting you and describe that.

Blessings of the gods for example could be describing how something happens during a conflict check that you gives you some kind of luck break rather than describing "I feel the power of the GODS which drives me to cleave my enemies in half!"

Idea # 2

Think of each location card as a series of areas within the location.

The Farmhouse could be:

a covered bridge
front yard
grove of trees
small cemetary behind house

Basically anything you come up with. You don't need to list these (although you could for reference to give you ideas as you explore).

Each turn as you "explore the location" you find yourself in a new area. So for example in my last turn I ended up in the grove of trees at the side of the house. Determine where you are based on the next event. So if I drew a zombie, maybe in the thick grove of trees, the bandits have dumped the bodies of the farmers family. So:

As I look back towards the house with my dagger drawn, suddenly something grabs my foot as I spin around I see the decaying body of a groaning woman pulling me down towards her!

Maybe this time, I decide to use my cal-traps which allows me to defeat an enemy of combat value 9 or lower:

As I reach into my side pouch, I am able to kick away from the zombies grasp. It crawls towards me with an inhuman like ferocity, I toss a handful of the cal-traps on the ground of the opening to the thicket as I back away through the opening. The crawling body is tangled up in the spikes. To silence its angry screaming, I give a swift kick, knocking her head off into the bushes.

To sum up this idea here, areas directly impact how you describe each encounter and really do give a sense of exploring a location. Also by drawing a zombie, I justified where I was that made sense to encounter a zombie.

Idea # 3

Get even more specific with location to add even more variety to the narrative. Old School Hack is great little RPG. I've stolen a lot of ideas from and the arena types (on page 12 of the rule book, freely downloaded here: )can again give much more variety to story (and have a slight mechanical influence to the game)

Every time you 'explore a location' roll a d8

1-4 neutral area
5 tight
6 hazardous
7 open
8 dense

If I rolled a 6 (hazerdous) and drew "mercenary' (the bandits have hired help!) for the next round. Maybe I'm cornered in the grove of trees by a rushing mercenary who must have come from the house - I break through the brush and find myself right at the edge of rushing river. I hesitate for a second then plunge in attempting to escape across. As I glance back the mercenary plunges in after me sword drawn. I have no option but to turn and fight.

Heavy weapons (I will try to post a list of cards I deem Heavy weapons and other categories as well by editing this post, didn't have time to look through all the cards, you can also of course just use your common sense) get a -2 to combat checks in a hazardous area while long weapons get a +2.

Your main weapon used in a combat check will be affected in this way:

Tight: Light +2, Long -2
Hazardous: Long +2, Heavy -2
Open: Ranged +2, light -2
Dense Heavy +2, ranged -2

Examples of area types from Old School Hack:

Tight: Narrow corridors, stairs,
balconies, back alleys,
doorways, tunnels, closets, etc.

Hazardous: Crumbly rooftops, floors next
to open pits, thin ledges or
planks over precipices, spiky
areas, murky swamps, foggy
or smoky room with poor
visibility, etc.

Open: The open sky (for flying), large
chambers, big caverns, open
water, courtyard or town
square, an actual gladiatorial
arena, etc.

Dense: The crowded shop, the thick
forest, the thatch village, the
store room or warehouse, the
deck of a ship, the clockwork
chamber, etc.

Combat spells could also be categorized as 'ranged'.

Neutral of course has no penalty or perk.

Idea #4

Use Rory Story cubes to inspire your narrative even more. So along with your d8, also toss a d6 at the beginning of your exploration phase.

1-3 no story cube needed
4 - story cube needed and used to influence first description
5,6 -story cube used to describe conflict/resolution.

Rory Action cubes I think are nice to use. The dice represent verbs.

Voyages story cubes are great too since they have more of fantasy theme. If you have more than one set, mix them all together in a cup and draw a dice at random when needed.

For my first exploration phase listed above maybe I roll a 5 on my d6 and roll a picture of the stick figure building a wall from the action set.

I describe in my conflict that as I rush the bandit he quickly attempts to use the chair sitting next to him as shield, in order to "build" a barrier between us.

Or if I rolled 4 on my d6 and rolled a picture of a stick figure knocking. Maybe I could describe in the moment I jump onto the porch, that I end up knocking a unlit candle off that was sitting on the railing, and it falls to the ground making a loud noise due to it "knocking" against the ground.

The important thing is not to be literal and just to take quick inspiration from the story cubes to generate random story bits that you might not come up with otherwise.

If you would prefer your games not to get weighed down with too many details, maybe limit each part of the two part descriptions to one sentence. Long sentences will occur but this may help to keep the game moving.

To encourage storytelling, maybe everyone's votes for the "best storyteller" at the end of the game (similar to the Tales of the Arabian Nights storytelling variant). The winning storyteller could be rewarded somehow (a +2 token to any check for the next scenario?).

There is a lot of great solo adventuring to be had in this game. Using some of the ideas and playing through the first scenario, Brigandoom, I had a lot of fun. Based on the descriptions I was generating, I crafted a narrative that after torturing the bandit henchman in the bedroom of the Farmhouse I was tipped me off that Jubrayl was last seen down at the docks. After escaping out through the window, I begin burning the house down with the candle that had dropped on the porch. The mercenary, who had been inside trying to break the bedroom door down to rescue his pal, came rushing out in blaze of flame but was unfortunately struck down with a dart to the neck since I was hiding behind the cart ready for him to escape. I then went down to the docks to investigate. In the storage area of a ship I discovered 'Blast Stones' and realized that Jubrayl Vhiski was planning to blow up the Mayor of Sandpoint's mansion that night.