Pathfinder Solitaire: Iron GodsBy Will Thibault | 04.06.17 01.12.03
So recently I was struck by a pretty hefty bout of nostalgia for D&D 3.x / Pathfinder. I've developed a taste for smaller, leaner games, but I grew up on the d20 system so I was looking at having a go again.
I've had two major problems with 3.x games in the past. The first is their reliance on a grid with miniatures. Now, that's not insurmountable; I'm a fan of D&D 4e after all, and if anything that makes more thorough use of a grid. Still, I even grew fatigued with that.
The second is the amount of prep work that can go into properly running a game like Pathfinder. Especially if your players go off the reservation, so to speak, GMing in these systems can be a chore to prep for. Any sort of character-building or treasure-parceling is a lot of work, and the system's complexity can compound these sorts of problems when dealing with newer or less-invested players.
Now, none of that is stopping me right now; in fact, I've started two campaigns - the solitaire Iron Gods game this post is about, and a Carrion Crown game with a friend and an acquaintance. But before choosing to do those two games I had to address those problems.
I'm dealing with the battlemap problem in both games by making heavy use of Roll20. I remember being frustrated with it for laying out maps once-upon-a-time, but with this go Roll20's controls have finally "clicked" - I can actually get grids in ripped maps to line up! Not to mention recent APs have been better about providing high-quality maps, too - Iron Gods' in-PDF and interactive maps are especially good. Now, using Roll20 in this way is still work-intensive, but it's something I enjoy doing and I can frontload it - not like with physically-drawn maps and minis, which were always tedious in-game. When I'm in a position to play with the Carrion Crown folks in-person I'll probably still continue to use Roll20 (along with a big-screen television) just because of these luxuries.
The second problem - the complexity of the system - is its own thing, and I'm mostly dealing with it by avoiding it. For the Iron Gods game, since I'm the only actual person involved, I have a solid understanding of the system, and I'm simultaneously GMing it, I know the bounds of the campaign well enough to avoid running into stuff I haven't prepared for. Keeping the game solidly on an Adventure Path's rails will minimise a lot of my work. For the Carrion Crown game, meanwhile, I expressly told the players before we started I was going to stick religiously to the campaign in the books so I didn't have to put a bunch of extra work into the game. So far these are working swimmingly, though admittedly I'm not terribly far into either.
Yeah, this is definitely unconventional. It's mostly so I can get my playing fix and GMing fix simultaneously, and this whole thing started germinating in my brain well before the Carrion Crown campaign was even a possibility. Plus it's nice to play under my own house rules for once - I doubt I'd ever get a GM to just run with mine for me.
Basically, there exist systems like the Mythic Game Master Emulator. They're built as stand-ins for a GM that players can ask questions to; the players supply factors like odds or what is essentially the current position in a story arc and the emulator spits out a binary answer after a die roll. This was written with the assumption it would be used, as the name implies, as a replacement for the GM, but I've read of people giving it a slight tweak so it serves more as direction for how the players behave.
Now, I'm not simply leaving the PCs to be run on what is an admittedly sparse AI or anything; instead, I'll simply make decisions for each of the characters and turn to the dice if I'm not certain how the players would react. As a GM, I already have to juggle portraying and running most of the characters in a game; adding the PCs into that mix won't be much different.
The specific rules I'm using for player emulation are on the last page of the house rules document in the next section
The Iron Gods Campaign
So, that all covered, I'm going to be running Iron Gods for myself, and I'll be posting session reports here each time I pay one - running the game solo should make it easier to write session notes as I play, after all. Here is the campaign's resources; it's a Trello board I'm using as a wiki. It contains, currently, PC backgrounds, stats, and portraits, and links to my House Rules document. Anyways, I'm looking forward to playing this game and I hope some folks enjoy my game reports!