The Games We Played In 2019

2019 was always going to be full of Pathfinder, and it pretty much was. Early on, we ran through a chapter of Strange Aeons, the pathfinder adventure path with heavy Cthulhu influences. This is one where we all playing quite non-standard characters (not a single fighter, cleric, wizard or rogue in the party), and is interesting from that point of view. Whether a Pathfinder adventure path really supports this style of adventure I’m not sure. It’s working from an enjoyment point of view – but the cost of character death/insanity in Pathfinder is either much higher, or lower, than in a traditional Cthulhu RPG.

Higher, because if you die the difference between a 10th and a new 1st level character is considerable, whereas in Call of Cthulhu there isn’t much difference between starting and experienced characters (well, there is, but not one that makes much difference in combat).

Lower, because as soon as you get to the point where raise dead becomes possible, death is almost irrelevant.

Following on from that, I started the final chapter of Rise of the Runelords, which was our first ever Pathfinder campaign which we started way back in 2014. It’s taken a long time to finish it, mostly because I run a chapter, then we break to do other things for a year. Usually it takes a month or two to run through a chapter, though we did get the 2nd chapter (The Skinsaw Murders) completed in two days over a New Year.

It took about 30 weeks (one 3-4 hour session a week) to get the final chapter completed. High level Pathfinder (or any D&D I’ve ever played) slows dramatically when it comes to combat. Using Roll20 to manage things as GM made things a lot easier, with tokens on tabletop maps for the players to see.

The campaign was successfully completed, with the defeat of Karzoug. The take away for this is that if I was to run another adventure path, then I’d be a lot stricter on what feats and options characters could take. Some feats and abilities were seriously overpowered, and I’d look at ways to prevent some things such as armour class getting so high.

Having said that, I do enjoy the range of options that are available in Pathfinder (and I really do like the Inner Sea setting). What I’ve seen of D&D 5th seems to go too far in the other direction for my tastes.

Virtual Gaming

Our Friday night gaming on Roll20 continued for most of the year. The beginning of the year saw the end (or at least, pause) of my other Pathfinder campaign – the City of Monuments. This was more of a sandbox game set in the city of Magnimar, with an emphasis on more social and investigatory adventures. With a reduced availability of wealth and magic items, and experience coming from achievements rather than defeating things, it had quite a different feel to a typical adventure path.

The end of the campaign was a big party, with a lot of people to interact with and talk to, making heavy use of the influence rules from Ultimate Intrigue. I mechanised a number of mini games to give individual characters side plots to follow (which may have been simply getting drunk, or sneaking around the mansion they were in).

The outcome of the party was a short investigatory adventure exploring a long abandoned village and crypt, with concluded at the beginning of the year.

I then took a break to prepare for Rise of the Runelords, and so we switched to some Delta Green instead. This is a much lighter weight system than Pathfinder, with again a lot more social and investigatory activities compared to typical D&D like games. This gave me a long break from GMing, and was a lot of fun. Though there is some overlap of players between our face to face Monday night group, and the online Friday group, the Friday group tend to be more interested in the investigatory games.

I did run a one shot game of Cthulhu Confidential, which is specifically designed for one on one (one GM, one Player) adventures. It was interesting, but I think I’d rather use a more standard system for this sort of game. I’ve run quite a few one on one sessions, and never had any of the problems that Cthulhu Confidential claims to solve.

Once Rise of the Runelords was wrapping up on Monday nights, I started running Blades in the Dark on Roll20. This is a game quite unlike the crunchier games I’m used to running. It’s not just that it’s not crunchy, but it’s geared towards a certain style of narrative play which we’re not used to. It’s been interesting to get my head around though, and the players seem to be having fun with it, so we’ll be continuing it in the near year.

Finally, we’ve been continuing our monthly game of Serpent’s Skull. This is another Pathfinder campaign, which has been going on for almost as long as the Rise of the Runelords game (we recently completed our 64th monthly session). We’re on the final chapter, and hope to finish it sometime next year.

Games that never happened

I had been hoping to run Eclipse Phase 2nd Edition sometime during the year, but not only did Pathfinder take up far more of our time than I had expected, but also I still haven’t received the books from the Kickstarter for it. Apparently they are in the process of being shipped, so it’s possible I may get a chance to run that next year.

I had talked about running the Iron Gods adventure path (another Pathfinder campaign) after Runelords. There was no time left in the year to do this, and I now have concerns about running another full adventure path. Given the number of adventure paths I have, I’d like to make use of them at some point – but it probably won’t be next year. We’ve also discussed possibly editing them down a bit, so we can get through them quicker. The one’s we’ve done have felt that they’ve had a lot of content which is just there to provide combat and experience points, which adds nothing to the plot.

I also had a vague thoughts to run some GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, which never happened. At some point I’d like to try a number of other fantasy rules which aren’t D&D-like, to use as a common system for a potential variety of settings, and Dungeon Fantasy seemed like one possible option.

In the end, Pathfinder took a lot longer to run than we all expected, both in terms of Strange Aeons and Runelords. The only new game I’ve done this year has been Blades in the Dark, which I really hadn’t expected to run but which seemed like a good light weight option which would be good for Roll20.

So there’s been lots of gaming this year, but not much variety. Hopefully we’ll be able to get in a bit of variety in 2020.

Samuel Penn

Samuel Penn