Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Differences between 3E and 4E combats

One thing that jumped out at me while reading over Edge of Anarchy was that many of the combats featured only one or two usually human or humanoid opponents. I'm all for fighting humans rather than "monsters", but having read through (and played through) a number of 4E adventures, it's obvious that 4E combats are meant to feature multiple opponents.

Actually, I ran across a couple of humorous (well, I think they're funny) images that purport to show the difference between a 3E encounter and a 4E one:

3E Combat

4E Combat

I can see that this will be one of the areas that will require the most work for the conversion. I think I will end up combining some encounters, adding in some, and adding more combatants (minions?) to others.

Random Encounters

On my first skim read-through of Edge of Anarchy, I noticed that there are a few places in the adventure that call for random encounters. This seems like it will play havoc with the amount of XP that the PCs will get over the course of the adventure, and mess up the balancing of encounters and the pacing of what level the PCs are at any given point in the adventure/AP.

My initial thought is to stat up each option in the random encounter table as a combat or skill challenge encounter, and give them all the same XP value. I'll then suggest that DMs either randomly roll or choose two of the options for their PCs to encounter. This will allow me to keep a handle on how much XP the party should have at any given time in the adventure, but still allow for some variance in the plot.

I'll have to give this some more thought as I continue my detailed reading of the adventure.

Harrow Deck

One of the recurring themes that runs through the whole CotCT AP is the Harrow Deck. The Harrow Deck is Paizo's equivalent of a Tarot deck, used by the Varisian people (thinly veiled Gypsies) for fortune telling as well as to play a card game called Towers (much as the historic tarot was used for gaming, and still is in some European countires).

I've got no problem with the Harrow deck. I think it's great thematically. Paizo makes an actual Harrow deck if you are into props (and I certainly am), but the adventure includes methods to simulate a deck using regular playing cards or even die rolls.

The problem with using the Harrow deck with 4E is that the deck is built around the traditional 9 alignments of previous editions. There are 6 suits of cards based on the six attributes (which remain the same in 4E), and each suit contains 9 cards based on the 9 alignments (which 4E has reduced to 5, dropping Chaotic Good, Neutral good, True Neutral, Neutral evil, and Lawful evil). The suggested system for doing card readings given in Edge of Anarchy even relies on a spread based on the 9 alignments and comparing the card's alignment with it's position in the spread to see if it is "misaligned" (reversed in normal Tarot parlance, although the neutral cards in Harrow don't have a "misaligned" reading). I happen to like the new streamlined alignment system (especially the "unaligned" option), but it makes using the Harrow deck with 4E somewhat problematic.

The Harrow desk is pretty central to the AP, with a reading occuring at the begining of most adventures, and "haunted" deck acting as a sort of "DMPC" throughout the path so that the DM can provide the players with hints, etc. Each adventure in the AP is tied thematically to one of the suits of the deck, and PCs get "Harrow Points" that they can use to re-roll rolls related to the suit/attribute which is the focus of each adventure. Given how central the deck is to the AP (and how much I like Tarot anyway), I'm loathe to drop it.

The easiest solution is to just use the Harrow system as presented in Edge of Anarchy without modification. Only the DM has to know about or deal with the 9 alignments. The players don't actually need to hear references to the alignments when the deck is used in play. This is easy, but I think it could create some disjunct for 4E DMs, especially those not familiar with the earlier alignment system.

Another option is to try and rework the reading spread to reflect the 5 new alignments, and possibly change the "alignment" of the individual cards as well. This is a bit of work (although very doable), but I think it would feel pretty kludged in use.

What I will probably go with is reworking the spread to drop all refernce to alignment at all. I'll keep the association of suits with atributes, and even the Harrow Point idea and the attendent re-rolls, but scrap the alignment stuff. The tricky part in this option is how to decide if cards are "misaligned" (I'm inclinced to go with the traditional tarot method in which the card is reversed if it is upside down to the reader, but this leaves the problem of the neutral cards which have no "misaligned" reading - I guess I'd just use the standard reading whichever way the were turned).

All in all, a minor problem that is more an issue of "feel" than mechanics, so I'm not giving up yet :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

OK, here's the first real post to deal with the conversion. After looking over Scott Betts' conversion of the first two parts of Rise of the Runelords, I came up with the following set of steps I plan to take in doing the Crimson Throne conversion:

1) Read through the modules and understand the flow of the plot, etc.
2) Work out how much XP the PCs should get for each module so that they end up at the desired level at the end of each module and at the end of the campaign.
3) Look at how the module as written breaks down into sections, and work out a rough XP amount for each section based on how many encounters (combat, skill challenge opportunities, quests) there are.
4) For the combat encounters, switch the monsters out for 4E equivalents (not necessarily the exact same monster, but similar roles), keeping in mind 4E design parameters (multiple monsters more common, monster roles, terrain, etc.) Write up any unique monsters in the encounter. Spend the XP budget you worked out in step 3 on the encounter, including traps, etc.
5) Write up the skill challenges, using the XP budget assigned in step 3 to help determine complexity and level.
6) Come up with quests based on the plot, and assign XP awards based on step 3.
7) Look over and tweak all of the above encounters.
8) Come up with treasure parcels and their locations.

I've started reading "Edge of Anarchy", the first part of Crimson Throne, and I'm already seeing lots of issues I'll have to deal with and some potential problems.

Next time: The Harrow deck, random encounters, and fighting one guy in a small room.


If you are not interested in a (not-so-brief) history of my relationship with D&D and the Pathfinder products, skip this one and go on to the next post where I actually start talking about the conversion.

I started playing RPGs in 1976. Unlike most folks, my first game was not D&D, but a very exotic game called Empire of the Petal Throne. My friends and I thought EPT was the only RPG in the world, so we were very surprised when we went to our first convention (Gencon South in Jacsonhville, Florida) in 1977 and found all of these people playing this "D&D" game.

We started playing AD&D in high school, buying the books as they came out. We played from about 1978 to 1982, at which point I dropped D&D in favor of the much more "realistic" Runequest... From that point on, I basically didn't play D&D for 26 years. I played plenty of other RPGs (I worked in a game store for 10 years, and played most everything that came out with the exception of White Wolf games), but no D&D, skipping right over AD&D 2E and D&D 3E.
I did pick up a copy of the 3E PHB at Gencon the year it came out (2000?), but my friend Les Hill and I sat down with the book after the con and tried to make up a character. At the time, I played a lot of very rules light and indie style games, and the dense wall of text and reams of charts in the 3E PHB were a total turn off, so I gave up and sold the book.

Fast Forward to 2008. A nice guy (Eric Williamson) I met at the local gaming meetup invited me to sit in on his 3.5 game. I played one session, and while the group were very nice folks, the game itself left me cold, so I once again wrote off D&D as a game I would ever play again. I ignored all of the build-up to the release of 4E, but happened to drop into the local game store on the day of it's release, and idly thumbed through the PHB. I was still a little curious, so I went online and started to read reviews/rants about the new version of the game. Pretty much every complaint about 4E that I read from 3.x players actually sounded like a great improvement to me, and my curiosity increased. I broke down and ordered the 4E core books, and read through them.

I found them very inspiring. My test of a new RPG is whether I come up with multiple characters I want to play while reading the book, and in this case it was certainly true. I was sold, and convinced one of the guys in my group (Shane Ivey) to run Keep on the Shadowfell for us. We recruited a couple of new players, and ended up playing for six months last year. It was the most fun I've had playing a RPG in years. I had fun with KotS, but after looking over more of the published 4E adventures from WOTC as well as the Scale sof War adventure path in Dungeon magazine, I felt that the adventures seemed a little too focused on straight dungeon crawling, which brings us to Pathfinder.

When the first Pathfinder Adventure Path (Rise of the Runelords) came out, I loved the look of it (especially Wayne Reynolds' art). I eventually bought everything for that series including the Pathfinder setting book. I never planned to play D&D again, and planned to convert the adventures to another rule set (probably Savage Worlds). But, with the advent of 4E and my dissapointment with the WOTC adventures, I went online to see if anyone had converted any of the Pathfinder stuff to 4E.

This search led me to Scott Betts' excellent conversions of the first two parts of RotRl. Reading over Scott's work, I was very impressed, and considered running the AP for my group once our current game is over. However, Scott's work also inspired me to consider doing my own conversion of one of the othe Pathfinder APs, and so, here we are. Obviously doing this kind of conversion is a lot of work, but I think it will be a great way for me to learn the 4E rules better, and get to run a fun series of adventures with a little more dpeth than a simple dungeon crawl at the same time.

What is this blog about?

This will be a project blog in which I will discuss my attempt to convert the Paizo Pathfinder adventure path "Curse of the Crimson Throne" (pathfinder issues 7-12) for use with D&D 4th edition. This project was inspired by the excellent conversion of the first pathfinder adventure path "Rise of the Runelords" found here: