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Hackfinder (Pathfinder)

Pat
user 8415259
Seattle, WA
Post #: 52
Players: Jerome (GM), Alex, Nathan, Erik, and Pat.

This was session 1 of a 4-session Pathfinder campaign that Jerome is GMing. Although Pathfinder is more of a traditional RPG than the games typically played at SGS, Jerome is hacking in a lot of neat shared narrative and "story gamey" elements (hence "Hackfinder").

The players were tasked with showing up to the first session with a 4th level character ready to go, sans backstory. In e-mail, we decided we wanted to try an all-rogue party.

Most of the first session revolved around collaborative world-building. We fleshed out the city we'd be based in, created a bunch of NPCs with intertwining relationships to inhabit it, and brainstormed several mysterious nearby occurrences and locations. After the world-building portion, we each came up with back stories for our PCs, inserted them into the plentiful plot-hooks we'd built up around the city, and finally role-played an intro scene (planning our first heist.)

The primary way Jerome shared the world-building task with us is through "Player Sheets". These were similar to a character sheet, but with stats representing each player's narrative control over different aspects of the fiction. There were a dozen "stats" like Governance, Religion, Local, Xenos, Spellcraft, Nature, etc. Jerome guided us through a conversation with questions (sometimes loaded) like, "What is the role of the clergy in this town? What religions are present? What are they?" He'd then prompt us all to roll our Religion stat. Whoever got the high roll had the final word on describing the town's religious profile, but everyone was encouraged to contribute suggestions. Since we each got to assign points to our stats at the beginning (18 points divided among 12 stats), players could weight topics they cared about more heavily. For example, I put all my points into 3 stats (6 points each): Governance, Engineering, and Business. As a result, I got more say in those aspects of our shared setting.

So far, the system has been working well for us. The city feels vibrant and alive, with far more potential plot hooks than we'll ever have time to address. I'm feeling very invested in what will happen with our adventure-- not just from the point of view of our PCs, but the city and the NPCs we created.
Caroline
user 11624621
Olympia, WA
Post #: 72
In e-mail, we decided we wanted to try an all-rogue party.


Oh man, do you have to stand in a circle at all times to prevent the back-stabs?

I like the idea of doing backstory after collaboratively working on the world--plot-hooks ahoy! Can't wait to read more :)
Nathan S.
user 59524552
Seattle, WA
Post #: 2
Edit: This looked a lot shorter when I was writing it in Word. I may shorten it. I don't want to blab on and on but I think the examples I chose were illustrative.

The map of the town was all laid out for us at the beginning of our second section. Around the perimeter of the map was each of the NPCs that we had created last time. Our intrepid GM informed us that each NPC had a piece of information that we could gather during this session, and that at any point we could also storm the rookery, the headquarters of those dastardly silversmiths.

Here’s how information gathering worked. Each NPC had a player that created him or her, and that person’s character would have to be present if we decided to go and talk to that NPC. Another player or two could tag along if they wanted. One of the players whose PC wasn’t in attendance got to play as the NPC, though sometimes Jerome took over. Jerome had a value for each piece of information, 10 for game-breaking, 1 for not important at all, and the player acting as the NPC had to protect the information according to its value. The player got to say how they knew the NPC, and also where they were meeting them. We rolled a diplomacy check at the beginning of each encounter to determine whether we caught the NPC in a good mood or not. We also could roll a sense motive check at any time to see if the NPS was lying to us for any reason. Some of the NPCs were secretive, and others more open, but for the more important pieces of information they had to bargain and get something in exchange from the PCs. In general, the player acting as the NPC didn’t get to read the secret until the GM had given him the nod. In the end, if the encounter was successful for the PCs, Jerome gave us a piece of paper with the secret written on it. Some of the secrets were lies however, and we would never know if we didn’t detect the true intentions or falsehoods of the NPCs. Additionally, some secrets had “GM” written on them that would prompt Jerome to call for a check or tell us more if certain other topics of conversation were brought up.

This took a little getting used to. I sat out the first encounter between Merisel and her tinkerer mentor/friend. Pat and Eric had a very well nuanced conversation that inspired me to send my character after the secret held by the head of the tailor guild. I was milking information from Mire like how I learn from my fellow officemates in real life, and Pat ably played along. My character was talking about how fascinating it was to consider how different groups can control trade through one way or another: whether it’s by owning the piers and controlling who docks on them like in our town, or by controlling drawbridges like in (I had to look at the map) that one place downriver, and so on. Of course, this is just a theoretical conversation, just for my own professional development purposes so I can learn from my elders. How would we bottleneck trade if we had the power to do so? After raising an eyebrow at me, Mire nodded and said that that was all very interesting, but then remarked how I wasn’t thinking basic enough. Raw materials can be important too. You would need a lot to build a fleet of ships in secret, wouldn’t you? “I guess so, you would need a lot of cloth to make…” Mire cut me off, “40 bolts”. Mire had lots of appointments after his meeting with my character, so I bid him ado. That’s how we learned that the silversmiths had ordered a substantial amount of canvas from the tailor guild. This was a two or a three in difficulty. It was very interesting to see one another adapt towards the direction the PCs were taking the encounters.

A more difficult encounter was when Alex’s character went to his local witch contact, played by Eric. The assistants ushered him into the tent, informal greetings were exchanged, and then Alex got to the business of explaining that he needed a big favor. Of course, since this would be a larger task he brought more than the usual payment. Eric made a waving motion and said something akin to, “Excellent, two goats then!” Alex was happy to oblige him. When he explained he wanted some powerful scrying done however, the witch was forced to admit that two goats wouldn’t cover the cost. Alex would have to get rid of someone that has been causing the witches trouble ever since he moved here. Would Alex promise to do this? Alex’s character Diego agreed with only the slightest hesitation. “You must send the Lord Protector down the river,” said the witch. Maybe that was a mistake? Jerome let us get the governor’s secret as well since the promise we made would be so costly. So the witch looked into her crystal ball and channeled a conversation that the Lord Protector was having. Then that faded from view and she read a mysterious prophecy. We learned that the silversmiths have promised the Lord Protector a fleet of ships if they had his cooperation, a fleet that he would then use to attack the neighboring kingdom of Canterwall. The prophecy was this: “The ship will run aground in the Shudderwoood. Caromarc will hold the silver key.” The Shudderwood is the wolf-infested place no one wants to go to. Caromarc is our local friendly vampire castle. Great!

We spent most of the evening talking to the NPCs in this manner. It was a blast. My character is committed to getting the family of his old drinking buddy out of town if something happens to him, Alex has to kill the Lord Protector, somehow getting through his enforcers and bodyguards, and I forgot what it is that Eric owes Captain Sally Black.

We got to a point where we thought the remaining NPCs would be too guarded. Head of the thieves guild? We didn’t have a plan for that. Same with the head silversmith. So we decided to put our information to use and get even more information by breaking into the headquarters of the silversmiths. That’s when the local bookie, rat-scum, thieves’-guild-liaison found us in our bar. He’s the one who had something over Pat’s character, forcing her to stay in town when normally she would have left long ago. He said he had a map and a way to get to the top floor of the headquarters, but he wanted a cut of the profit and he also wanted to know what we had learned already so he could report back to the thieves’ guild. We didn’t quite buy his story, he didn’t make a good impression on us, and we didn’t want him in our group, so Eric backstabbed him over Pat’s protests and my inaction. Problem solved! Now we had a map and a mysterious list of names.

We couldn’t come up with a plan for the break in, so we spent the rest of the session coming up with ideas and buying potions.
Erik H.
user 30994922
Seattle, WA
Post #: 23
Session Three

We were short Alex this week. Last week we'd pushed our contacts for intel on the coming heist. We hit most of the close contacts then, and were left with only a few, somewhat nasty prospects this time around, but we tried to mop a couple of these last ones up. Nathan and I tried to sound out the sister of one of our employers and I made a play at stoking family drama, but she (being played right by Pat) slammed the door in my face. I actually froze up for a few minutes and didn't come at her again. Nathan excused us and we fled without the info. Pat chatted up the military armorer in town and had better luck.

After that, we pressed ahead and infiltrated the tower, dressed as apprentices. There was a great deal of being pushed around by journeymen, a study party on beer Pat brought in to cause a distraction, a student bout of one-upsmanship that I helped stoke to escape the mess hall unnoticed, and then three invisibility potions later we were on the top floor. We had guards on us soon enough anyway, but we managed to con some accountants into believing we were the good guys, and they helped us hold the door while we searched for the manifest. We got out with only Pat's shin the worse for the wear--musket ball anyone?

This phase played out in a much more straightfoward RPG mode: dice rolling, combat rounds, feats, etc. But it was very quick and light. Jerome shifted gears very quickly when we did, and we all did fairly often.

Afterwards we had a meeting with the head of the Thieves' Guild. We rolled to see who got to dictate how he came to his job. It ended up being me, and I announced that the old Guild used to involve itself in human trafficking, and the current Master had infiltrated the tower of the Lord Protector to scrawl the then Master's name on the list, and had him shipped out of town in chains--which elicited shouts of "Hey, we're about to have to TALK to this guy!"

It was a mostly straightforward session--someone remind me if I missed something hack-y. I'll have some comments about Nathan's post when it's done. I think that session was VERY good and the NPC interrogation system we used was excellent and spurred some really great interactions.
Jerome
user 8261819
Seattle, WA
Post #: 15
Following are my basic takeaways from this game. I'm focusing mainly on the gaming techniques we used, rather than the specific plot. I think the other fellows have done a very nice job with that already.

*

The Pathfinder RPG (like D&D before it) represents a huge database. It’s essentially a massive library of mechanics, fantasy memes, and story concepts. And, of course, rules. Hackfinder is an attempt to better balance that resource with original, player-generated material.

Generally, Pathfinder is great at generating character action. The main characters are painstakingly detailed, and constructed to highlight their capabilities. They have a lot of power relative to the world around them, and they’re created from a fun pool of prompts. The system’s weakness is in generating plot content. Usually, the responsibility for creating the over-arching plot falls squarely on the shoulders of the GM. The only way the players can affect the plot is by using their characters, which is fundamentally limiting. I generally subverted that dynamic by implimenting a few simple hacks, with some very encouraging results.

*

For the first session, I introduced player sheets. Like character sheets, player sheets helped define the capabilities of the player to affect the fiction. If the group needed story content generated, the players rolled one of 12 “authorities” to determine who got to make the final decision. So, if we needed a church described, an NPC detailed, or a neighboring culture characterized, we had a system for deciding who made the call. It served as an able frame for some serious worldbuilding, which got everyone invested in the story.

After we had generated a very deep pool of content, I prompted the group to co-create a McGuffin. This came very naturally, given the number of plot hooks we had created throughout the worldbuilding portion. It was really just a matter finding the plot point with the most number of tie-ins. The group chose a mercantile angle, which was perfect for the all-rogue party.

*

For the second session, my goal was to do a lot of in-scene roleplay. Luckily, we had a flock of well-connected characters to work with. During the worldbuilding portion, we had created 16 NPCs, each with their own tie-ins. I inserted a single plot point into each scene, in the form of a ‘secret’ which the NPCs had about the McGuffin. Other than that, I stayed the hell out of the way and let roleplay occur freely. The players were total beasts that session, and we had a half-dozen really well-played scenes.

After the second session the players were invested, the world was immersive, the characters were tied in, and I had a pretty firm concept of the plot arc.

*

For the third session the PCs infiltrated the castle, fought off the badass gun-slinging wizards, stole the secret intel, and then teleported to safety. While falling in mid-air. And being set on fire. As you do.

*

After the third session, we were still pretty far from a satisfactory conclusion, so I went into serious plot-building mode. I used a lot of leading questions to prompt third-person narrative, and player rolls to make quick decisions. We also used a lot of skill rolls this session to determine whether/how the PCs would accomplish their secondary objectives. Once we caught up to the climactic final setup, we went back into character play.

For the remaining time, the group chose to follow up on a sub-plot that I hadn’t anticipated resurfacing, and I’m really glad we ran with it. We had a solid hour of involved character play, with excellent performances all around. We were able to detail some influential NPCs, and free play some very suspenseful scenes. Props all around for that failed assassination episode.

From there, was a simple matter of rescuing the smuggler queen, fighting some dragons, crashing an airship, stuffing our pockets with loot, and then partying ‘til dawn in the vampire castle. All in a day in the life of a PC.

*

Big ups to Alex, Nathan, Pat and Erik for showing some real burly chops this game. A flexible approach like this would have been impossible without their quick-wittedness and creative muscle. I could not have asked for a better party of players. Thanks a ton, gents!
Alex G.
user 58620202
Seattle, WA
Post #: 18
Since Jerome did such a good job of writing up the social and metagame aspects of this, I'm glad to report I finally finished writing up the actual story part of the last, epic episode. It was a lengthy and extremely enjoyable session, and I doubt I'll do it justice but I intend to try.

Our last Hackfinder session finally revealed the secret plan of the Silversmiths' guild, as well as providing a very satisfying fiasco of a climactic battle. After a successful heist to recover the shipping manifest, we had the last piece of the puzzle and were able to locate the secret launch site of the Silversmith shipping fleet. On the trek inland to locate it, we managed to ply one of their Transmutation wizards with ale and trick him into boasting about his prowess, which led to an impressive display of ale-based-antigravity. As we disguised ourselves as foreign wizards and snuck towards the encampment, we found that instead of building a fleet of ships as we'd suspected, they were actually constructing a single gigantic airship, a sort of zeppelin kept aloft by antigravity magic.

This is basically when things started to go south. My rogue, Diego, had previously acquired the unfortunate sidequest to either assassinate or drive out of town the Lord Protector, Grannis, so while most of our party was choosing suitable disguises with which to sneak aboard the airship, he and our best spy, Gurkha, attempted to hatch a last-minute plan to take the Lord Commander out. This led to a pretty lengthy but extremely tense and fun scene involving me disguised as one of the Lord Protector's three Mage-Knights--his closest lieutenants--and Erik's character Gurkha disguised as a common Dwarf laborer who had overheard a conspiracy to assassinate him, as Pat played the Silversmith Guild head, Gustav Sternhausen, who happened to be meeting with the Lord Protector at the time, and Nathan played.the Lord Protector himself.

Much tension was added because Jerome decreed that the airship would be departing within the hour, real time, so we had to race against the actual clock as well as trying to figure out a way to take down the Lord Commander--a seasoned knight himself--before he managed to summon his actual Mage-Knights. Bluff checks were made and fast-talk was talked, Pat had some excellent moments as Sternhausen where, after being Intimidated out of the room, he listened at the door and ended up busting back in to demand his own protection from the alleged assassination plot, but after finally persuading Grannis to drink a potion laced with Drow sleeping poison, he proved able to simply shrug off the measly 13 DC poison check without even noticing anything was wrong.

This is when things started to go even souther. The real Mage-Knghts show up, paranoid Sternhausen summons his own elite gunslinger-wizard duo, and Gurkha sensibly books it out of there, leaving me alone with pretty much the highest-level enemies in the entire region. Since my "plan" was to pretend one of the real Mage-Knights was the assassin, and there was no possible way my bluff was going to hold up under scrutiny (since I didn't even know the name of the guy I was impersonating) the only thing I could think of was to draw my sword as if to protect the Lord Commander and then pretend to get hit with a paralysis spell by one of them. I was hoping this would make the Lord Commander rush over to attack one of them and start a big Fiasco-style confusion battle, but instead he (being a career soldier) moved to secure his fallen "comrade". With tensions mounting and seconds to spare before I was unmasked by anti-magic, I made a last-ditch attempt to sneak attack the Lord Commander (from directly under him) and...

rolled a 2. After that it was pretty much trying to book it out of there before I was simultaneously eviscerated, incinerated, and obliterated. I managed to escape two out of three and left half my hit points dripping off the Lord Commander's longsword as I escaped into the confusion of the camp. By this point everyone who wasn't pursuing nigh-impossible sidequests was safely on board the airship, I managed to sneak on without incident as well since all the high-level guards were in the room I'd just left--just as I planned???

With all four rogues disguised and infiltrating the airship, we realized that we'd neglected to plan one thing--if we all switched into different disguises once aboard (which, of course, we all did) how would we possibly recognize each other or coordinate any sort of plan!? As it turned out the answer was that we tried implementing about five plans at once: Merisel and Gurkha headed down into the cargo hold and searched for a way to sabotage the crates of silver ingots, while Tal and I bumbled around the main deck. Of course we immediately found out that the Thieves' Guild had sent more competent operatives that ourselves along on the mission, as one of the Mage-Knights was discovered dead in the cargo hold, laid low by a poisoned dagger. The upper deck was heavily guarded, both by the two remaining Mage-Knights, the crew of generic thugs, and the six manned ballistae around the edges of the ship. We did some cursory checking around, seeing how the guards were positioned and how the balloon was secured (with enchanted chains). As long as we kept our heads and didn't make any rash moves, it looked like we had the situation under control.

This is when the dragons showed up.

A flock of Cloud-Dragons of unknown size came hurtling out of the night, snatching up crew and dragging them screaming off into the fog. Basically everybody started flipping out. The Mage-Knights sprung into action and got
into some seriously gnarly mid-air spell battles with the dragons while we rogues moved to infiltrate the captain's cabin, cut loose the cargo, and assassinate and replace some of the crew members. I ended up almost totally sneak-attacking a ballista gunner like a pro but didn't actually deal him any damage, so I had to unceremoniously boot him off the edge of the airship.

Gurkha burst into the captain's cabin and surprised the Thieves' Guild's ace operative, who had already knocked our her love interest, Cap'n Sally Black, and taken over the ship. Some tense negotiations followed, but this time everybody kept their poisoned knives to themselves. The end result was that the airship ended up changing course to go past Castle Caromarc and the Shudderwood, where the witches had previously prophesied it would go down. As we progressed Merisel continued to cut loose the crates full of loose stone and silver ingots in preparation for dumping it, Jaynestown-style, into the river. This plan met with a hitch when an enterprising dragon burst through the airship's rear hatch into the cargo hold just as Merisel was attempting to open it.
Alex G.
user 58620202
Seattle, WA
Post #: 19
Attempting to negotiate and split the booty with the dragon went about as well as you'd predict, but things were shaken up yet again when my character decided to use the ballista he'd commandeered to put some holes in the airship's balloon. Since it was filled with antigravity-enchanted water, springing a few leaks meant that the ship started a slow and inevitable descent, with the guards and Mage-Knights being too distracted (and... killed) by dragons to repair it. It quickly became apparent that, since we were approaching Caromarc, the vampire's castle, at the time, our angle of descent meant that we would be crashing directly into the castle wall.

At this point all the rogues sort of collectively looked upon the results of our various plans and thought "Okay, this is pretty much a result we can live with." and prepared to abandon ship. Pat's dismount was the most spectacular, as he ended up being jostled out of the ship entirely by the dragon only to loop his 50ft Silk Rope around its neck and, through a series of deft maneuvers, choke/ride it down to the ground. Erik and Nathan ended up variously teleporting and feather-falling down from the ship, and as I prepared to do the same I realized that the only feather-fall potion I had was one of the ones that I had previously doctored with potent Drow sleeping poison, so I would essentially be knocking myself out for a number of hours in order to get down to the ground without dying.

Fortunately Erik's character Gurkha had a spare, and high-fived it to me on her own way off the ship. As we all made our ways down and ogled at the sight of the gigantic airship crashing into the castle, pausing to dodge the debris raining down, it transpired that most of our enemies had either eliminated each other or perished in the crash, and the ruins of the silver-laden airship were nearly ours for the taking--except that they were on the territory of a powerful vampire. Of course "nearly" also meant that there was only one dragon left in the area, the rather irate specimen from whose neck Merisel had descended. Merisel and Tal used a combination of stalling and invisibility potions to try and deter the dragon from eating them while they maneuvered over to a fallen, still functional balista, Gurkha looted the battlefield, and I, landing nearer the castle than the rest, attempted to make contact with the vampire's servants in order to rouse them to our aid.

Since Lord Caromarc was himself convinced that he'd duped the humans into thinking he was also human, his conscientious, polite, undead servants were rather too busy explaining that their master was unavailable during the day for highly unspecified reasons to be truly useful in mounting a defense. Fortunately my character happened to be a minor member of the nobility back home and was thus allowed to take a walking tour of the castle, where I eventually chanced upon the massive, decorated set of double doors that could only lead to a vampire's bedroom.

The following scene was as painfully, deliciously awkward as it was petrifyingly dangerous, as the vampire Lord, awoken before his customary hour, tried his hardest to observe the social niceties while pretending he wasn't about to rip my throat out, eventually managing to hold out long enough to sate himself on a hastily concealed rabbit as I studiously examined the crown moulding. Meanwhile, the dragon outside was biding his own time as he waited for dozens of his brethren to make their way to the crash site, and through the combined efforts of the other rogues he was forced, with numerous perforations from dagger and ballista, to take wing and retreat. My audience with Lord Caromarc came to an end, and he sent his army of undead minions out to claim the silver, which made the advancing dragons quickly change their tune and abandon hope of seizing the haul.

Fortunately for us it turned out that Lord Caromarc, who was already undead and in possession of a well-appointed castle full of skeletal servants, had little interest in acquiring more material wealth, and he left us to divide the spoils as we saw fit. Having just gone through a lot together our rogues decided to split the wealth more of less equitably, while still avoiding the wrath of our now-former employers in the Theives' Guild and Shipping Guild. Merisel, true to her nomadic nature, took her portion and quickly drifted out of town. Finding a new solution to the problem I'd failed to solve by not murdering the Lord Commander, I drafted a proposal to have the witches move onto the vampire's estate to set up territory there, free from the Lord Commander's influence, and decided to settle down there.Gurkha got some new information from Lord Caromarc and, with her newfound wealth, set about achieving her lifelong goal of tracking down and taking revenge on her human father, with her rescued paramour Captain Sally Black coming along for the ride. Tal got back in his cart and accompanied her on her travels as well, but may have made Rogue history as he decided to actually follow through on the Plan to get one last big score and Get Out Of The Life, deciding to become a legitimate businessman. So despite all the ridiculous near-catastrophes and half-baked schemes, everything ended up working out pretty well for our nefarious band.

Since Jerome's already added a pretty extensive analysis of how the gameplay went I won't go over any of that again, except to say that it was an excellent experience and a really fun couple of twists on the standard D&Dlike formula.
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