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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 1:45 pm 
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So, for those who don't know me, allow me to take a very brief moment to introduce myself. My name is John Ling. I've been gaming - almost exclusively D&D and d20 - since the early 80s, when a friend got me started. My first character was a human fighter / magic-user (yes, totally against the rules back then), and I've been gaming since. Even when I had breaks from actively gaming, I was still buying products just to read them. I've been working as a freelance writer in the RPG industry since 2005 (Dragon Magazine 330 was my first credit). In December, I was hired by Frog God Games as their Lead Pathfinder Developer.

So there's the "me in a nutshell" summary. If you want to know more, just ask! Let's dig into the actual topic. It'll be almost like a Reddit AMA, but with a few restrictions (because there are some things I can't answer). Ask me anything about working in the game industry - how to get started, what it's like, what I'm most proud of, why certain rules exist, etc. Or ask me about my gaming experiences - best adventure I've ever played, what it's like going to a Con, my favorite system, my favorite class, etc. As long as it's not one of the exceptions below, if you have a question go ahead and ask it. If you hit on a topic that requires a new exception, I'll apologize and let you know, and also update the list so others can avoid it going forward.

Also, I'm not interested in just the ask-and-answer format. That's fine, but I like discussions better. So by all means, let's have discussions around the questions - follow-up questions, counter opinions, and so on are great. If this makes things too crazy, we'll see if we can find some way to bring order to the chaos, such as maybe splitting some question-and-answer sections out into their own thread; but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

And that, I believe, means the last bit I need to toss out here to get things going is a list of "off-topic" stuff. I'm going to try and keep this list as short as possible, because I want as much discussion to talk about as we can.

The following are things that I won't talk about at all:

  • Unannounced products from Frog God Games. Presumably this is obvious as to why.
  • General business about Frog God Games. It's not my place to talk about sales numbers, costs and other expenses, etc. I understand that "costs" associated with publishing can be interesting to some people, but it's going to be off-topic here. (There are some publishers who are willing to talk about this sort of stuff, if it interests you. I would recommend digging into past comments from Rite Publishing and Louis Porter Jr. Design. I know both of them have been open in the past. [And full disclosure, to be as fair as possible: I've done work for LPJ Design, and I'm friendly with the owner of both companies - Steve Russell and Louis Porter, respectively.])
  • "Will you review this feat/spell/magic item/etc I created?" For a while now, I've stopped reading fan-made content posted on the internet. Back in the day, I used to regularly read homebrew stuff posted on the WotC D&D forums and offer feedback and advice. But ever since I started taking the freelance thing semi-serious (around 07-08 or so), I've stopped. For two reasons. First, I don't want to accidentally steal an idea from somebody. That is, I don't want to read your cool new spell and then six months later get what I think is my own unique idea when really it's just my mind remembering yours. Second, I don't want to create a situation where I can be accused of doing do. Avoiding them in general just feels safer to me; it's not unheard of for writers to come up with ideas that match up pretty well with things that were posted on various message boards and such. While some might be idea stealing, unfortunately, most of it is just coincidence. I'd rather be in the coincidence bucket.

And the following are things I'll tread carefully on:

  • "Who sucks?" I won't throw anybody - individual or company - under the proverbial bus. So if you ask your question seeking that sort of info, you won't get an answer. I am, though, willing to talk about negative experiences as much as positive experiences. So if your question is worded in such a way as to allow me to give an answer that doesn't require names, we can probably go there.
  • Rules questions. I'm not going to say no to the idea, but I may in some cases redirect your question elsewhere. For example, a real simple question could go into the Simple Q&A For Pathfinder Rules thread. Similarly, extremely complex questions about rules probably make sense as their own threads. But there are certainly some rules - particularly in Pathfinder - that are all about game design. Those are great for this thread. In the end, if you're not sure then go ahead and ask.
  • Unfortunately, my gaming experience - and especially my writing experience - is limited to D&D / d20 / Pathfinder. So I probably can't answer deep questions about games such as Mage, Warhammer, Shadowrun, etc. That doesn't mean they're bad questions; it just means I don't know. If your questions is something like, "How do you think other systems such as Mage and Shadowrun affected D&D?" then that's a great question. So it's going to depend on the question. As with the last point, if you're not sure just ask. If I lack the knowledge to answer, I'll say so.

And then one final rule. The RPG industry is rather small, relatively speaking. Over the years, I've become friendly with many writers, developers, editors, publishers, artist, cartographers, and so on. As such, I would like to request that you please refrain from using this thread as a soapbox to rail against a designer, publisher, etc. "What was Bob Smith smoking when he wrote <Book X>?" or "What the hell is wrong with <Company Y> that caused them to release errata that completely :censored: a good thing?" Questions worded in such a way will simply be ignored. In some cases, you can salvage your question by removing the vitriol and getting to the point. And if you can't, then perhaps it wasn't worth asking.

That should leave an awful let of territory for us to delve and explore. So let's have at it! Hit me with your questions and we'll see if we can develop some good conversations.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 1:51 pm 
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Hey John! Thanks for doing this thread, should prove to be quite interesting, looking forward to see what sort of questions people come up with as much as seeing your answers to them.

What was the main drive behind going from a player to a designer/developer/writer?

As a player/DM were you doing a bunch of homebrew and thought "Hey, I could be getting paid for this stuff!"? Or had you been working as a writer previously on other topics and as your got more into Tabletop Roleplaying you decided to simply merge the two? Just interested to see what sparked the start and how that ended up turning RPGs into more than just a hobby.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 6:16 pm 
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Aside from the nature of the OGL, why did you settle down on Pathfinder? If you have tried other systems, which ones appealed the most, and why did you ultimately reject them?
I somewhat expect the nature of the answer to be popularity, and it's hard to fund 3PP content to other systems, but I'd be curious to other reasons if they do exist.

What homebrew rules do you use in your Pathfinder games, if any?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 8:08 pm 
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@Bounty Hunter:

The two questions are a bit intertwined. Yes, I did homebrew before writing for money. I started off like a fair few do with smaller stuff - feats, a couple spells, etc. Then some fiddling around with "design contests" on some message boards I visited at the time. When I started a new 3.5 campaign in late 2003, I had a few players who wanted to do some different things. (This is the campaign "documented" in the Laughing Hand story down in the Creative Corner.) My wife wanted to play a "divine trickster" even though it's a fairly weak combination - and there wasn't a prestige class at the time. So I wrote one. Another player wanted to play a Warmaster from Sword and Fist. I liked the concept of the class, but thought the mechanics were pretty poor. So I wrote a new version for him. Finally, I had a player who was interested in the arcane trickster, but she wanted it to lean more towards arcane stuff. In addition, I was looking for a way to - within the rules - let the players identify magic items more easily. The idea of just saying, "You find a ring of swimming" didn't really appeal to me at the time, but I also didn't want to have to dump dozens of 100gp pearls into the treasure so the wizard could use identify. And so I rewrote the arcane trickster to lean more toward arcane (it still had sneak attack, but allowed identifying magic items via Knowledge (arcana) checks, gave "detect magic" as an at-will spell-like ability, gave mage hand as a SLA, and a few other things). So I wrote a variant for that. The game was a rousing good time, if I do say so myself.

So, now fast forward to the summer of '04. I was going to my second GenCon. My best friend, who lives in Edmonton so I don't get to see much, was also going. She was planning on going to the "Writing for Dragon" seminar that Paizo - a new company at the time - was doing. She asked me to go, so I went, mostly figuring we'd sit in the back and make snarky comments. On the way out, she told me she thought my ideas were good enough and I ought to send in a query. I told her she was insane. She talked me into it eventually, and I sent off a query. I sent three ideas, and got a green light to write a sorcerer specialization article - a mechanic that allowed sorcerers to specialize in a "theme" (fire, cold, acid, etc) rather than a school. After having it accepted, the editors asked me to submit more ideas. And that eventually snowballed into having 13 articles published in Dragon before the print version went away. (I had a few others that were accepted but never printed, too.) And then that lead to work with other companies.

So the TL;DR version: I started off just homebrewing, and ended up writing for reals on a dare from a friend who thought the homebrew was good enough to publish.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 8:20 pm 
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@Mown:

I settled on Pathfinder almost entirely because of opportunity. I actually resisted converting to PF for a while after it came it, sticking to 3.5 for my home game at the time. I had a bit of work still in 3.5, but it quickly vanished. So unlike a lot of freelancers who were in on PF from the start, I got tossed into the proverbial deep end and had to learn the differences quickly - and there are some subtle ones.

I've been a mostly "D&D" guy my entire gaming life. Way back in the 80s, I played some WEG Star Wars, but found their d6 mechanic clunky even back then when I was barely a teen. I've played and done some work in d20 Modern, I've played Mutants and Masterminds, I've done some work in True20 (a d20 knockoff), and I did some work in the World of Warcraft RPG (which was a d20 system). I've played some Mage and some Changeling, but just never felt comfortable with White Wolf's game. The books are fantastic, but there's some disconnect between the books and actually playing for me, that I've never been able to quite put my finger on.

As a freelancer, the d20 boom was huge (though it also caused a lot of sucky material to get out there). For the first time, really, a gaming company acknowledged that their rules weren't copyrightable or trade markable, and so instead of fighting with everybody they instead basically said, "OK, guys. If you avoid this small handful of things we think of as intellectual property - deities, beholders, mind flayers, etc - we're OK with you using everything else. And just to prove we mean it, here are free text files with all the rules and a license you can use that we can't ever revoke." That was huge - it let all sorts of companies into the market. Some, like White Wolf, were already on the scene but now had reason to use a different system. Others, like Green Ronin or Necromancer Games (which became Frog God Games eventually), were totally new and had to fight with everybody else to make their way in the market. It was a huge market with a ton of work available.

Then WotC announced 4e. Those were Dark Times is an overstatement, but maybe not by much. Suddenly Dragon and Dungeon magazines were gone (at least how they were known); and 3pp publishing was up in the air, too. Everybody knew WotC was going to revoke the d20 license; that was their right under the terms. They couldn't revoke the OGL, though. And so the big question was whether 4e would be OGL or "closed." They dragged their feet for a long time (I think intentionally) and eventually published the GSL. The GSL was supposed to be the new OGL/d20 license, but it sucked hard. Most serious publishers scoffed at it. In the meantime, Paizo was doing Pathfinder. And PF was OGL, so everybody knew the publishing aspect - the terms, etc that they had to meet. I actually played 3.5 well into Pathfinder's existence, but as a writer I had to pretty much convert if I wanted work. My options were: stop writing, go Pathfinder, go 4e, or find another system. Pathfinder offered the most opportunities, so that's the path I went.


As for house rules, I don't have any at the moment. My group stayed 3.5 for a long time, and then I didn't have a group for various reasons for a while. Last summer I finally managed to pull some friends together and we started using Pathfinder. Since it was my first time actually GMing the system, I wanted to go with the base rules so I could see them in play. Despite starting late last summer, the group is just hitting second level (scheduling 7 adults is harder than I expected!), so for now there isn't anything I want to house rule away / change. (And my players aren't the type to abuse gate, wish, mage's disjunction etc, so I don't have to worry about those sorts of things.)

Hope that answers; if not, just ask a follow up.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 10:21 pm 
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Why a pint of Guinness as your avatar? (shut up BH, it's an important question.... okay, not really)

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 6:51 am 
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Do you still randomly Tackle-hug people, or was that only your Castle of Fun persona?

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 11:02 am 
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Why a pint of Guinness as your avatar? (shut up BH, it's an important question.... okay, not really)

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Why not? ;)

So way, way back in the dark ages of the internet (early 2000s) I joined the WotC forums. You had to use their avatar list, which was fine. At WotC I was a very active poster (and eventually "GM") on the Castle of Fun forum. The Castle of Fun was a freeform play-by-post that was basically D&D + loony tunes + The Three Stooges. When I first wandered into the forum, the first "place" I went was the Bar and Grille. And so, not quite getting the idea of freeform roleplaying at the time and do a good chunk of real life bled into my character - including drinking Guinness and eating hot wings (though the character was hyper-exaggerated on both counts). So when I joined other forums that I allowed people to use their own avatar, I needed something. So I found a pint of Guinness and started using it. I've been using it since.

Aaarrrgh wrote:
Do you still randomly Tackle-hug people, or was that only your Castle of Fun persona?


I still tackle hug when I see somebody I haven't seen in a long time, generally with people who posted at he CoF and so will understand. Just like the Guinness and hot wings, the tackle hugging and flirting are a part of who I am, but were hyper-exaggerated on the CoF for effect.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 1:31 pm 
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I miss the CoF. I was really disappointed when I returned after my long hiatus only to find it had fallen to ruins. Maybe we could restart it over here?

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 1:39 pm 
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So, basically a free-form-RPG game? We have one, but no one ever started a quest. I'd be willing to "DM" a free-form-RPG if people just wanted a world to screw around in.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 2:44 pm 
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Well, the CoF was very free-form. It was mostly just people hanging out, but in character. I seem to recall a disturbing amount of Fireballs...

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 2:53 pm 
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Yeah, it just seemed like the one here ran out of gas because no one was willing to actually make anything happen. I was just kinda figuring that having a "DM" who could make random announcements for the players to react to would help.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 4:09 pm 
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What is your favorite or most memorable encounter that you've been a player in and whats your favorite that you've written? Feel free to spoiler block as necessary.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 5:43 pm 
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As Frog God Games Lead Pathfinder Developer I'd hazard a guess that you have more than a passing familiarity with the crunch and mechanics of the Pathfinder systems. So my question is this; if you had the ability to effectively change any single aspect of the core rules what would you change and why?

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 12:34 am 
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Will you be joining more (/ any?) of the Play by Post games hosted here on NGA?

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 1:40 am 
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Will you be joining more (/ any?) of the Play by Post games hosted here on NGA?

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Squinty is asking the hard hitting questions. I like it.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 2:02 am 
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Hey, I figured it was gonna be, like, the first or second question asked. I just think it'd be awesome if John decided to participate or run a game!

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 3:41 am 
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Aaarrrgh wrote:
I miss the CoF. I was really disappointed when I returned after my long hiatus only to find it had fallen to ruins. Maybe we could restart it over here?


When we were putting the site together, I was offered space to rebuild the CoF. I declined. I loved the Castle of Fun. I met great people, I had a grand time posting there. But it's run its course, and (in my opinion) it was best left as a memory. That doesn't mean we can't have silly freeform RP here, of course. I'd suggest popping into The Tavern by the Crossroads and smashing a pie into somebody's face, if for no other reason than to see the reaction. ;)

Arcturus wrote:
What is your favorite or most memorable encounter that you've been a player in and whats your favorite that you've written? Feel free to spoiler block as necessary.


As a player, two come to mind.

1) I played in a one-off Mutants and Masterminds game at GenCon with a bunch of friends. I played The Braun. He was a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks former Marine who was experimented on by the government as part of an effort to make an elite killing force. It made him even dumber, but gave him incredible super strength. One of my other friends played a telepath. At one point during the night, he and I played "catch" with a minivan to wipe out a slew of minions. (And it's probably worth pointing out we weren't so much superheroes as we were super-not-quite-as-bad-as-the-bad-guys.)

2) The other one, interestingly, was also at GenCon. It was 2003, and 3.5 had just come out. There was a group of about 10-12 of us, and so we decided we were gonna test out the rules. So we all made 5th level characters, then split into three teams. The idea was we'd run a brawl between the three groups and see how it worked out. My wife, as she is wont to do, made an elven wizard. She won initiative, somehow, and so popped out her favorite spell - fireball. With everybody clustered together because of being at the start, she figured it was easy pickings. She picked a spot on the map, dropped her spell in the middle, and told everybody the save DC. Then she rolled her 5d6 damage - and got 5 ones. Then the rogue in that group rolled his Reflex save - and rolled a 1, so took the full 5 points of damage. "And you know what? I don't really care, because with damage that low it feels like I made my save anyway."

As GM (even though you didn't ask about it) I have two more.

1) I ran Richard Pett's The Styes. If you don't have a copy of Dungeon 121 I think it's worth picking up just for this adventure. It oozes with flavor, and has a creepy factor cranked up to 11. (Also, the cover is one of the sexiest I remember from Dungeon, for whatever that's worth.) Running that adventure for my players was the first time I was able to elicit raw emotion -disgust, in this case - from all the players at my table. My game group is often more "beer and pretzels" style gaming than anything real serious. But that one adventure I laid it on thick, with constant descriptions of what was around them, roleplaying different NPCs. (Normal for my group: "He looks at you and tells you that the offer isn't good enough. He needs more gold." I ran this one different, acting out what the NPCs were saying.)

By about 2/3rd of the way through the adventure, everybody at my table was creeped out by the surroundings.

2) Same group, actually. I once made a player cry. Her character had a dream about a terrible itch, and no matter what she did the itch wouldn't go away. She was tearing her long sharp claws into her flesh trying to rip out the itch, to no avail. Then a man whose face she couldn't see offered her this foul-smelling green goop. She felt comforted by the man's presence and dipped a finger into the goop, and the itching stopped in that finger. She slathered it on, and the itching stopped. And then the man, whose presence had been a source of comfort, starting cackling madly. She looked down, and her skin was sloughing off her bones.

She woke screaming. When she calmed down, she noticed her arms and face were scratched and bleeding. (The player told me it gave her a real nightmare. I felt bad.)

Tuck that aside for four months or so. Give her other little odd things that make her feel like the character is losing her mind. Hearing mad cackling noises. Seeing shadows dance in ways they shouldn't. Having moments when food and drink loses all taste. More weird dreams. I messed with her mind for a good long while. Finally, they were in a zone where all sorts of madness was taking place. The sky was purple; odd-shaped creatures were all around. (They didn't know, but they were just animals with the pseudonatural template applied.) They fight they're way to the center only to find... her mentor, the man who essentially raised her. malformed and disfigured, he had tapped into the Far Realm and had gone mad. Epic battle takes place. For one of the few times in my life, I fudged dice to keep the mentor alive. As he lay dying, he scolds the character, asking why she didn't help before he was driven beyond the edge. She says she didn't know.

Then I give her the final piece. All her weird dreams. All her weird sensory issues. They were his fractured mind, trying to reach out to her for help. The player bawled. I simultaneously felt fantastic for pulling it off, and like a prick for making her cry.

And finally, fair is fair so here's two encounters I've written that I really like. Spoilered for spoilerific information.

Fractured Phylactery from Gaming Paper


The Skullcrackers from 0one Games


More answers tomorrow - way, way past my bedtime...

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 10:22 pm 
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As Frog God Games Lead Pathfinder Developer I'd hazard a guess that you have more than a passing familiarity with the crunch and mechanics of the Pathfinder systems. So my question is this; if you had the ability to effectively change any single aspect of the core rules what would you change and why?


This turned out to be a tough question. And so, this will likely be a longer answer than you expected. Maybe.

Pathfinder certainly has its flaws; it's based on a flawed game, after all. I think the flaw that gets the most digital ink is fighters vs. wizards - also known as, "melee can't have nice things." If you've never seen the discussions, it goes something like this. Every-other level, a wizard gets a new spell level. It gives her things like glitterdust or web or hideous laughter or deep slumber or vampiric touch or haste or... well, time stop or gate eventually. Wizards can make you save or die; she can make you save or suck; she can pop out the utility belt and see things that invisible, identify magic items, or allow you to fly, teleport you over amazing distances. If she gets bored of those things she can make walls of stone, fire and ice appear and control the battle. And on top of all that, she only pays half as much for her gear. Fighters, in comparison, get... a half a feat per level.

Pathfinder closed that gap a little bit; first, they got rid of the dead levels, which just by itself is great. Then they gave fighters cool things - reduced armor check penalties, bonuses to saves, weapon groups, and so on. It's an improvement, no doubt. But really, it's all just a pile of numbers. Wizards still have far more cool stuff - there are so many cool spells that let the wizard do so many different things. Fighters, really, are still just feats and - now - some bonus numbers.

But overall, "melee can't have nice things" doesn't bother me too much, for pragmatic reasons. Groups that are smart enough to have batman wizards and CoDzillas are also smart enough to implement their own fix; and, despite what you may gather from internet chatter, those groups are a minority. The majority of groups think fireball (plain ol' fireball, no metamagic or other tricks) is a perfectly good spell choice for a 5th level wizard. In those groups, the fighter and the wizard have a bit of a symbiotic relationship. The fighter becomes the "meat shield" for the wizard, and the wizard tosses out some buffs, nukes the zombie horde, etc. Everybody's happy, and the game goes on without a hitch. So while it would be tempting to dive in and fix it, I think it can be left alone and the game can continue on.

So, after some thought, the thing I would "fix" would be the skirmishing fighter. Two-Weapon Fighting probably should just be one feat, rather than a tree; Vital Strike ought to work during a Spring Attack. Hell, Spring Attack should be more interesting for a fighter than, "I hop in, poke him once with my pointy stick, then hop away." WotC had the scout, and I think t was a pretty good starting block for an effective skirmishing fighter. And I think that's an opportunity Paizo missed out on a bit. The light skirmisher changes game play by making combats more dynamic. They don't stand there and trade blows with the monster or the evil mastermind; they don't sit in the back like the archer or wizard. They spend the encounter moving around, constantly looking for a tactical advantage, through movement, positioning, flanking, etc.

Given that Paizo set out to keep their core classes the same as 3.5's core classes, the best opportunity for this sort of class probably would've been to rewrite the monk (even more than they did). They improved flurry of blows, for sure. But with features like fast movement and ki strike (where they can get an extra attack), the class was ripe to go in a new direction and become the tactical skirmisher class the game needs. He should be able to move and get a full attack - a monk version of pounce. He should be able to "super spring attack" - mix attacks into his movement, flitting about the battlefield punching and kicking three or four different people in a round. He should be able to do a Vital Strike-like attack, and be able to trade a full attack for one massive hit. He should be able to - if he chooses - become a master of tripping, disarming, etc.

So that's where I would've gone. I would've rewrote the monk entirely, making him a battlefield skirmisher and giving the player oodles of options based around movement. In my opinion, that sort of class being available is a game changer.

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John Ling
Lead Pathfinder Developer, Frog God Games

Note: unless specified otherwise, the opinions and ideas in my posts are my own and not those of Frog God Games.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 10:32 pm 
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Will you be joining more (/ any?) of the Play by Post games hosted here on NGA?

~SE++


Not counting mafia? ;)

In theory, I would join as a player if the right one popped up. My big problem right now is a lack of time, coupled with my employer's new firewall and filter blocking the site. So that throws browsing NGA into the same "pile" of free time as my FGG work, watching movies, reading articles on Cracked.com and losing hours of my life, and so on.

GMing is less likely, but I wouldn't rule it out. I would have to have an idea I'd want to run that wouldn't fit easily into my home game, and find the time to do it right.

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John Ling
Lead Pathfinder Developer, Frog God Games

Note: unless specified otherwise, the opinions and ideas in my posts are my own and not those of Frog God Games.


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