In previous posts in this series, I showed the differences between fighter builds, and especially that “fast fighters” are a weak decision that is particularly bad for halflings and elves even though they are the more agile races. In this post I will approach the question of fighter builds from a different angle, that of the most effective choice of feats, armour and weapons for given attribute scores. Ultimately, the aim of this work is to develop decision models (expressed as flowcharts) for PC development. We will do this through a generalized version of the simulations run to date, in combination with classification and regression tree (CART) methods.


For this study a completely random character generation method was developed. This simulation program generated random races, ability scores, weapon and armour types and feats subject to the rules in the online Pathfinder System Reference Document (SRD). Weapons were restricted to three choices: rapier, longsword and two-handed sword. Armour types were studded leather, scale, chain shirt and chain mail. There were eight possible feats: improved initiative, dodge, shield focus, weapon focus, power attack, desperate battler, weapon finesse and toughness. Ability scores were generated uniformly within the range 9 to 18, and racial modifiers then applied: the human +2 bonus was applied randomly to the three physical attributes. Feats were assigned randomly, with humans having three feats and non-humans two. All fighters with a one-handed weapon were given a light wooden shield. Halflings were given size benefits and disadvantages as described in the SRD. Initial investigation revealed that ability score values were only important in broad categories: ability scores that gave bonuses greater than 0 were good, and bonuses of 0 or less were bad. For further analysis, therefore, all ability scores were categorized accordingly into values of that gave a bonus of +1 or greater vs. those that did not.

All fighters were pitted in one-to-one melee combat against an Orc, which had randomly determined hit points and the fully operative ferocity special ability. This happened in a cage deep beneath Waterdeep, so no one could run away. Winners were promised a stash of gold and the chance to buy a farm on the Sword Coast, but were actually subsequently press-ganged into military service in the far south, where most of them died of dysentery. A million fights were simulated.

Once data had been collected it was analyzed using classification and regression tree (CART) models implemented in R. CART models enable data to be divided into groups based on patterns within the predictor variables, which enables complex classification and decision rules to be made. Although it is more complex and less reliable than standard regression, CART enables the data to be divided into classification groups without the formulaic restrictions of classical linear models. Results of CART models can be expressed as a kind of flowchart describing the relationship between variables, with ultimate classification giving an estimate of the probability of observing the outcome. In this case the outcome was a horrible death at the hands of an enraged orc, and the probability of this outcome is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. CART results were presented separately by race, in case different races benefited from different choices of feats.

Some univariate analysis was also conducted to show the basic outline of some of the (complex) relationships between variables in this dataset. Univariate analysis was conducted in Stata, and CART was conducted in R.


Of the million brave souls who “agreed” to participate in this experiment, 498000 (49.8%) survived. Survival varied by race, with 55% of humans surviving and only 45% of halflings making it out alive. Some initial analysis of proportions suggested quite contradictory results for the different feats, with some feats appearing to increase mortality. For example, 47% of those with improved initiative survived, compared to 51% of those without; and 46% of those with shield focus, compared to 52% of those without. This probably represents the opportunity cost of choosing these feats, or some unexpected confounding effect from some other variable.

The three combinations of ability scores and feats with the highest number of observations and the best survival rate were:

  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +3 dexterity, +3 constitution, chain mail armour, rapier, weapon focus and desperate battler (15 observations, 100% survival)
  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +0 dex, +4 con, scale armour, two-handed sword, toughness and weapon focus (13 observations, 100% survival)
  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +2 dex, +3 con, studded leather armour, longsword, desperate battler and power strike (13 observations, 100% survival)

Despite the apparent success of Dwarves, a total of 55% of all unique combinations of ability scores, feats, weapon and armour types with 100% survival were in humans. The majority of the most frequent survival categories appeared to be in non-humans, however – this bears further investigation.

CART results varied by race. For humans, ability scores were most important; for dwarves, weapon type and armour type were important, while constitution was largely irrelevant. For elves and halflings, the only important feat was toughness; weapon finesse was only important for humans, and sometimes only as a negative choice. The key results from the CART analysis were that strength is the single most important variable, followed by dexterity for elves and halflings, or constitution for dwarves; and then by decisions about armour and weapons. Feats are largely relevant only for those with weak ability scores.

As an example, the CART results for humans are presented as a flowchart in Figure 1 (click to enlarge). It is clear that after strength and dexterity, heavy armour and constitution are important determinants of survival. Weapon finesse is only important as a feat to avoid for those with low dexterity – for those with high dexterity it is largely irrelevant. Toughness primarily acts as a counter-balance to poor constitution in those with high dexterity and strength.

Figure 1: Character creation decision model for humans

Decision models for other races will be uploaded in future posts.


This study once again shows that strength is the single most important ability for determining survival in first level fighters, and that feats are largely used to improve survival chances amongst those who already have good ability scores. In previous posts dexterity appeared to be irrelevant, but analysis with CART shows that the absence of a dexterity bonus makes a large difference to survival – those with no dexterity score bonus do not benefit from feat choices, while those who have a dexterity bonus can benefit further by careful choice of armour and feats. Although previous posts found that “tough” fighters have a very high survival rate, this post finds that constitution is not in itself a priority ability score. By following the decision model identified in this study, players can expect to generate a fighter with the highest average survival chance given their ability scores.

As part of my continuing exploration of the statistics underlying Pathfinder, I’ve been comparing mortality for different types of fighters under different types of character generation systems. The basic Pathfinder rules recommend a point-buy system, but also allow for 4d6 choose the best three. I’ve generated PCs under all four point buy systems, 4d6 choose the best three rolled in order, 3d6 rolled in order, and the purposive semi-random system I developed for previous posts on this topic. Between them these cover the gamut of possible ability score generation methods.

For the point buy systems, I spent the points under the following rules:

  • Spend as many points as possible on the most important ability score for the fighter type (strength for strong fighters, constitution for tough fighters, etc)
  • Spend as many of the remaining points on a secondary score: strength for non-strong fighters, and constitution for strong fighters
  • If any points remain, spend them on the last remaining physical ability score
  • If balancing between point allocation is necessary, wherever possible choose ability scores so that they are the minimum value required to achieve a given bonus (so 16 for a +3, not 17)

This guarantees maximization of bonuses and roughly orders scores in the strength/constitution/dexterity priority list.

I ran 1,000,000 simulations pitting a fighter against an orc, with all the orc ability scores randomly determined. Half of all orcs were ferocious (randomly determined). The fighter’s race, class type, and ability score generation method were randomly determined, to ensure a wide spread of ability scores across all types of fighters. Results were calculated as mortality rates – this is really just an addendum to previous research so more detailed analysis was not conducted.


The results are shown in Table 1, as mortality rates for the different ability generation systems for both Meek and Ferocious orcs. Mortality rates are given as percentages of all fighters who participated in the battle.

Stat Generation Method

Orc Type

Meek Ferocious
Rolled in order
  3d6 51 76
  4d6 best 3 36 62
Purposive Random 35 61
Point buy
  Low Fantasy 34 61
  Standard Fantasy 19 44
  High Fantasy 21 46
  Epic Fantasy 12 32

In a somewhat surprising result, 4d6 choose-the-best-3 has a similar mortality rate to the point-buy system labelled as “low fantasy” by Paizo. Mortality rates for fighters pitted against ferocious orcs only reach the 30% mark that one might expect of a CR1/3 monster in the Epic Fantasy scenario.


Rolling 3d6 in order significantly reduces survival rates compared even to a low fantasy point-buy system. Survival of these fighters against ferocious orcs does not differ between standard and epic fantasy builds, suggesting that these categories are essentially irrelevant. New boys fresh out of the village on their first adventure should only consider taking on an orc if they are confident that their genre setting is Epic. Otherwise, they should expect a bloody and gruesome end.

This weekend I continued my work on the epidemiology of Pathfinder, including an expansion of my programs to allow for different types of point buy. In the process I took the advice of some commenters at a related thread on the Pathfinder message boards:

I think for the non human fast fighters dropping weapon finesse makes no sense. Because they can hardly hit if they drop that. I would recommend changing it to dropping improved initiative for the fast non-humans.

In my original simulations I had built non-human fast fighters with improved initiative and weapon focus, but in this revision I changed this around so that non-human fast fighters drop improved initiative and keep weapon finesse. The results, though still not presenting a stirring defense of the decision to play a fast rather than a strong fighter, do bear out the suspicions of those commenting on that board, that for fast fighters weapon finesse is the most important feat to choose. Table 1 compares the results with weapon finesse that I generated today with the previous set of results that dropped weapon finesse in favour of improved initiative. The results in Table 1 are shown for combat with meek orcs (lacking ferocity) to be consistent with the previous post. Similar effects are observed against ferocious orcs, however.
Table 1: Non-human mortality with and without weapon finesse (revised)

Race No Weapon Finesse Weapon Finesse Odds Ratio
Dwarf 43.6 37.0 1.32
Elven Ponce 52.2 44.2 1.38
Halfling Loser 61.6 49.7 1.62

The odds ratios in Table 1 are provided to show which race suffers the most from lack of weapon finesse, and it is no surprise that it is the halflings. This is because they do the least damage, so the loss of hit chances affects them the most.

These results don’t change the fundamental conclusion that fast fighters are a very bad choice, but they do indicate that if one is going to pick this fighter build, weapon finesse is a very important feat to choose.

Continuing my series of posts exploring the epidemiology of Pathfinder, today I will report on the impact of adding ferocity to the orc stat block. Is the orc still a CR 1/3 monster when one accounts for ferocity, and just how tough does a fighter have to be to walk away from a fight with a single ferocious orc?

For this simulation (and all sims from now on) I am going to be using my updated and revised modeling program, which has been subject to some fairly severe stress tests and which I’m now fairly certain perfectly mimics a basic combat exchange between an orc and a fighter. I posted revisions here, showing the basic survival probability for three types of fighter and four races, for an orc with no ferocity. This is the basic program I’ll be working with from now on.


Previous analysis of survival in Pathfinder have studied conflict between fighters of the four main races and inferior breeds of orc, but it is likely that serious dungeoneering will bring adventurers into conflict with hardier orcs fighting near their lair. It is well known that orcs who maintain a close cultural connection with their tribe are braver and more determined fighters, and this is usually reflected in their ability to fight even when suffering serious physical injuries. For this analysis, this powerful additional trait of “wild” orcs, ferocity, is included in the analysis. Essentially this analysis compares the survival chance of a lone fighter against a lone orc isolated from its tribe, probably in a city, with a lone fighter in combat with a lone orc near its lair, where it will fight beyond death.


A set of 200,000 simulated battles between randomly-generated fighters and randomly-generated orcs was analyzed using poisson regression. Orcs and fighters were generated in the standard way, but orcs had a 50% chance of having the ferocity trait, which enables them to continue fighting until they reach -12 hps. A simple main-effects poisson regression model of survival was built, and the effect of orc ferocity on survival reported from this model; subsequently, a model with interactions between ferocity and all the main variables of interest (fighter type, race and ability bonuses) was also built. Results from both of these models are reported selectively for simplicity.


Mortality for the 100,000 fighters against meek orcs was unchanged, at 37.2%; but for fighters battling ferocious orcs mortality increased significantly, to 63%. Patterns of mortality differences by race and class type were similar to those seen previously, but mortality rates were higher in all class types and races. Table 1 shows mortality rates by race and ferocity type.

Table 1: Mortality rates by race and orc ferocity


Orc Ferocity

Meek Ferocious
Human 30.6 57.1
Dwarf 32.4 60.1
Elven ponce 40.8 65.8
Halfling loser 44.9 68.2

Note that, although survival patterns are maintained in battles against ferocious orcs, the mortality ratios decrease: from a 50% increase in mortality between humans and halflings against meek orcs, for example, to a 20% increase against ferocious orcs. The increase in mortality due to ferocity also varies, from nearly a two-fold increased mortality rate in humans and dwarves to only a 50% increased mortality amongst halflings.

In a simple main-effects poisson regression model ferocity was associated with an average relative risk of mortality of 1.7, which was highly statistically significant (Z=80.12, p value <0.0001). That is, the average increased mortality from adding ferocity to an orc stat block was about 70%. However, in a model including interaction terms between orc ferocity and all main variables (fighter type, race, and all three stat bonuses) the role of orc ferocity varied significantly across ability scores. For example, after adjusting for other ability scores, class type and race, the increased mortality amongst fighters with minimum strength bonus was only 20%, while it was 85% for fighters with a strength bonus of +5. This effect is shown in Figure 1, which plots the relative risk of mortality by strength score for meek compared to ferocious orcs. All relative risks are relative to a fighter with a strength of -2.

Figure 1: Mortality by Strength Ability Score for Meek and Ferocious Orcs

Essentially, strength induces a lower gradient of mortality improvements when fighting tough orcs, and combinations of high scores become more important. In fact, it seems highly unlikely that decent survival will be obtainable for fighters of any race and class type generated using Pathfinder’s standard point-buy systems. These systems will restrict most PCs to ability scores in the 14-16 range, which will not guarantee survival against even a single ferocious orcs.


Adding ferocity to an orc’s stat block significantly increases its lethality, with an average increase in mortality risk for fighters in one-to-one combat of about 70% after adjusting for race, class type and ability scores. Even the strongest and most unusual fighters, with ability scores above 18, have surprisingly poor survival of about 30%. Orc ferocity increases mortality across all races and fighter types, with halflings again copping the pointy end of Gruumsh the Bastard’s falchion and incurring death rates of up 70%. This is further evidence that orcs are not CR 1/3 opponents, and suggests that GMs who want to field orcs as cannon fodder against their PCs should judge numbers carefully, or consider treating ferocity as a leader-type trait. It also suggests that – just on the numbers – Pathfinder is the most lethal of the D&D incarnations, especially when ability scores are restricted by point buy options. This will be tested in subsequent analyses.

I’ve decided to begin a long-term research project aimed at understanding the underlying epidemiology of Dungeons and Dragons. This research project will consist of a series of (hopefully) increasingly complex simulations of battles between D&D PCs and various nemeses, to answer some key questions in character development and perhaps also to investigate some key controversies in the game. Once I have developed my simulations I hope to extend the project to Exalted, and I might diversify beyond that too.

The simple weight of experience in D&D means that most people know, or feel they know, how D&D works and how the roll of the dice determines a PC’s fate. I have noticed that sometimes our intuitive understanding of these things can be wrong, and I’d like to investigate D&D in enough detail to understand how it works. I’ll write a separate post about some of the principles of the research project, but in this post I’ll present the first analysis.


In this post a million battles are simulated between a million randomly-generated fighters and a single (unfortunate) Orc, Gruumsh The Bastard, who has 6 hit points and does 2d4+4 damage with his nasty falchion of fighter-crunching. Both Gruumsh and the million fighters were generated using Pathfinder rules as set out in the System Reference Document. These million battles were run in order to identify the effect of the three basic physical ability scores (Strength, Dexterity and Constitution) on survival for a standard fighter.

Methods Summary

Detailed methods are described at the end of the post. In essence, a million Pathfinder fighters were generated randomly and pitted against Gruumsh the Bastard in simulated battles. Fighter survival was analyzed using multiple logistic regression analysis by ability score. Survival probabilities by ability score are plotted in charts and summarized as Odds Ratios in the logistic regression analysis. No interactions or complex higher effects were considered. The distribution of hit points was summarized using a histogram, but doesn’t represent the true (practical) distribution of hit points for a fighter, since it includes fighters with unrealistically low constitution scores.


Things didn’t go well for the million fighters. Overall survival was just 26%, with 256,584 lucky fighters making it to the end of their battle. The remaining 743,416 fighters were smashed to ribbons by Gruumsh and, in many cases, eaten. The median length of a battle was 4 rounds where the fighter survived, or 3 rounds if Gruumsh won. Figure 1 shows the probability of survival by ability score, and shows some stark differences in effect between ability scores.

Figure 1: Probability of Survival by Ability Score

It is clear from Figure 1 that strength is the key determinant of survival for a first level fighter. Only 0.4% of the weakest fighters survived, compared to 55% of the strongest. Constitution has barely any effect on survival, and dexterity is only important at the extreme ends of its range.

Table 1 summarizes the results of multiple logistic regression of mortality. In this table, the odds ratio of death is given after adjusting for the other two ability scores, so removes the confounding effect of high or low values in other relevant ability scores. All odds ratios are given relative to the lowest value of the corresponding ability score, so for example those with strength 18 – 19 have an odds ratio of mortality of 0.003 compared to those with a strength of 2-3.

Table 1: Multiple Logistic Regression of Death by Ability Score
Variable Odds Ratio 95% Confidence Interval P value
  2 to 3


  4 to 5


0.06 – 0.66


  6 to 7


0.02 – 0.21


  8 to 9


0.01 – 0.10


  10 to 11


0.01 – 0.06


  12 to 13


0 – 0.03


  14 to 15


0 – 0.02


  16 to 17


0 – 0.01


  18 to 19


0 – 0.01


  2 to 3


  4 to 5


0.69 – 1.10


  6 to 7


0.61 – 0.94


  8 to 9


0.53 – 0.81


  10 to 11


0.44 – 0.67


  12 to 13


0.36 – 0.55


  14 to 15


0.3 – 0.45


  16 to 17


0.24 – 0.37


  18 to 19


0.18 – 0.28


  2 to 3


  4 to 5


0.73 – 1.11


  6 to 7


0.71 – 1.04


  8 to 9


0.68 – 0.99


  10 to 11


0.6 – 0.87


  12 to 13


0.52 – 0.76


  14 to 15


0.45 – 0.66


  16 to 17


0.4 – 0.58


  18 to 19


0.34 – 0.49


There is no difference statistically between a constitution score of 6-7 and a score of 2-3 – everyone with constitution scores in this range are purely at the mercy of the dice. In comparison, increasing strength from 3 to 4 reduces the odds of death by a factor of five, and fighters with a strength of 18 have an odds of mortality 300 times lower than fighters with a strength of three. Truly, fortune favours the strong.

Figure 2 shows the odds ratio of mortality for constitution with its 95% confidence intervals, as a graphical alternative to a portion of Table 1 (we promised Gruumsh we would describe his victory in pretty pictures).

Figure 2: Odds Ratio of Survival by Constitution Score

Figure 2 suggests that hit points are not as important to combat survival as the ability to smash your opponent into the dirt. Once the Toughness feat is incorporated into simulations, constitution is likely to become even less important, and should probably be treated as a dump stat by players. Given that choosing the Toughness feat is equivalent to making a large increase in constitution, but this increase in constitution gives a barely-statistically-significant reduction in mortality, it seems likely that this feat is not a very useful choice. If Gruumsh is willing, this will be investigated in subsequent analyses[1].

The distribution of strength ability scores under the 4d6 choose-the-best-three method is shown in Figure 3. This method shifts the scores significantly to the right: only 754 fighters had a strength of 3, compared to 16,141 who had a strength of 18. The mean strength was 12.24 and the median 12, a shift of three from a standard 3d6 distribution and a huge change to the extreme values.

Figure 3: Distribution of Strength Scores Under 4d6 choose-the-best-three

Nearly 5% of the sample had at least one physical score of 18; but this method is still not perfect, with only 3 of one million fighters having a score of 18 in all three physical attributes (one of these three, who also had an intelligence of 15 and a charisma of 16, was beaten to a bloody pulp by Gruumsh in just three rounds. His liver, apparently, was exquisite when grilled lightly and eaten on rye bread with a dark ale).

Figure 4 shows the distribution of hit points in this sample of 1 million fighters. This is not the distribution one would actually see in a sample of actual Pathfinder fighters, since in a real game most fighters will have non-negative constitution bonuses (unless their player has read this post, I suppose). This histogram shows an interesting effect, however: even when constitution is unrestricted, under a 4d6/choose-the-best-three system there is a heavy concentration of hit points in the range of 4 – 10. Median hit points in this sample were 6, and the average hit point total was 6.2: in fact, the hit point distribution looks remarkably close to a uniform distribution on the range 4 – 10!

Figure 4: Distribution of Hit Points

Survival was not strongly associated with hit point value: those with 1 hit point survived in 20% of battles, while those with 14 hit points survived in 50% of battles. This extra importance of hps relative to constitution is driven entirely by the extra die roll (the d10 for hps) which suggests that constitution would be of much greater importance if hit points were fixed at first level; equivalently, it may be that the roll of constitution is washed out by the random determination of hit points, and if so one can expect that constitution will be more important at later levels when the law of large numbers cancels out the random effect of dice rolls on survival. For the same reason strength will probably reduce in importance over levels, since its effect is not compounded with level as constitution is. This is an issue that will need to be investigated, although if survival probabilities are replicated at second level it’s unlikely we will have much of a sample size of high level PCs[2].


At first level, strength is far and away the most important ability score for fighters, and constitution is so insignificant as to be almost a dump stat. A fighter with strength of 18 has only 1/300th the odds of death of a fighter with strength 3 when fighting a single Orc. Overall survival rates were low even in the toughest fighters, and in the absence of feats it appears that Pathfinder is an extremely nasty environment for solo adventuring.

Future research will investigate the role of feats in enhancing survival, and their importance relative to ability scores. The results presented here are preliminary, but it appears that in min-maxing fighter PCs the wisest choice is to prioritize strength, then dexterity, then constitution. If one is developing a PC with the intention of long-term survival these findings may be reversed, but the experimental results have not yet been collated.

Finally, the results presented here suggest that the assignment of a 1/3 challenge rating (CR) to Orcs in Pathfinder may be unwarranted. Although data are not shown here, in the testing stage this simulation program was run on Goblins (also CR 1/3) and the fighter survival rate was much higher. It may be the case that Orcs are far more challenging than a CR of 1/3. It’s not clear how Pathfinder assign their CRs, but it seems natural to suppose that a creature with a more than 50% chance of defeating an average human fighter is more than CR 1. Are Pathfinder’s CRs accurate? In any case, basic advice to fighters in Pathfinder would be: hunt Goblins, not Orcs, they’re much lower risk for the same xps.


For this analysis the fighters were generated according to the following rules:

  • All ability scores were generated using 4d6 choose-the-best-three, rolled in order: This is not orthodox Pathfinder but enables simultaneous estimation of the probability distribution of ability scores under this commonly-used rule, and enables analysis of the effect of ability scores across their full range – not just in the high values that one would usually assign to a PC’s prime characteristics
  • No feats were assigned to the fighter: for this first analysis the effect of raw scores was the topic of analysis, so no special abilities were given to the fighters. These million meat-shields were cast into battle with only their raw talents at their disposal
  • All fighters had the same equipment: raising a levy of a million fighters takes only a minute in 64 bit R, but it’s clearly a costly imposition on the citizenry, so all fighters were assigned standard kit consisting of chain mail armour, a standard shield, and a longsword. If we can secure a sufficiently large research grant from Waterdeep, subsequent battles we will allow random variation in armour types in order to choose the best armour
  • Racial abilities were not tested: no racial ability score adjustments or size bonuses were tested. Only raw scores were used. In future battles, racial ability scores will be incorporated into the PCs. Anyway, who cares if a halfling lives or dies?

The results of all battles were summarized as two numbers: length of the combat in rounds, and whether or not the fighter lived or died (Gruumsh is a bastard, and his survival status is essentially irrelevant). Survival probability was plotted by ability score, and also analyzed using multiple logistic regression to assess the odds ratio of survival for any level of any ability after adjusting for all other abilities. Histograms of hit points and ability score (strength) were also obtained for reference purposes. The odds ratio of survival at different values of one score (constitution) was plotted with 95% confidence intervals.

No ethical approval was obtained for this study, and anyone with concerns about the ethics of the study can raise the issue with Gruumsh. Informed consent was not obtained from any subjects (though Gruumsh seemed pretty eager to participate, and said “smash human!” many times, so could probably be said to have given active consent). No medical care or counselling was offered to survivors of the battles, and no reward was offered. The lucky minority who survived probably went off to start a farm or something, but we don’t know because follow-up to assess general physical health or emotional needs was not offered. Experience points were not distributed to the victors, because if we did Gruumsh would have gained enough levels to take over the world and no one wants that. Gruumsh was allowed to feast on the remains of his vanquished foes, because culturally sensitive research techniques are very highly prized at the Faustusnotes Military Academy. All simulations were conducted in R version 2.15.0, and all analyses were carried out in Stata/MP 12 because R sucks for things like making simple tables. The analyst was not blinded to the participants in the study, but if you think he had any interest in scanning a million records of a .csv file looking for fighters to favour, you’re an over-optimistic fool. This study was also not registered with CONSORT, but it’s unlikely that it would get published in any public health journal, so there was no need, really, was there?

fn1: Actually, Gruumsh is unlikely to get a choice. We’ll just roll up the fighters and send them in his direction.

fn2: Actually, if we run a series of level-by-level simulations we could test whether the probability distributions of levels given in the D&D DMG are correct, and come up with empirical estimates of the true proportion of the population who are higher level!

When last we left our heroes, they were recovering from a horror ambush, in which gnomish guns almost beat them. However, having prevailed (and left one gnome permanently enveloped in a shroud of high-speed comedy stories, in response to which he could only ever laugh, laugh, laugh…) the characters were soon ready to push on down the valley towards the camp of the Gnomish thieves.

After another hour’s walk the characters emerged from the constantly-enveloping mist, and before them could see the valley stretching down to the green lowlands. They walked for another hour through the greening valley, until they came to a wider river valley. A river flowed before them, and on the far side lay the gnomish camp, a group of caravans arranged in a circle. The only way across the camp lay upriver, in a ford mercifully protected from the view of the camp by a copse of trees. After a little discussion, the characters decided to cross at the ford and wait until nightfall to investigate the camp more closely. They settled down to wait in the copse of trees until dusk.

At dusk Myuta the ranger crept forward to investigate the camp. He was greeted by a scene of anger and confusion. A group of gnomes stood around an empty pot in the middle of the camp, and an older gnome – obviously the leader – was hitting one of the watching gnomes on the head while ranting about his useless followers. Listening carefully, Myuta realised that the open pot was the prison for the Onsen fairy, and it had been delivered empty by the ring-leader’s thieves to his camp. The onsen fairy was missing! Myuta also learnt that this gnomish leader had gambled away the title to the onsen resort 10 years ago and, having finally made his fortune in the cities to the south, had embarked on a quest to regain by foul play the onsen fairy he had lost fairly all those years ago – now, when his health was looking less reliable, and perhaps he might have need of a captured sprite to lengthen his life. But the fairy was not in its cage. The leader’s followers assured him that they had followed his instructions to the secret room to the letter, and that there was no evidence it could be anywhere else. All were mystified, until the leader decided: Simple enough, we shall move to the resort in force and take the entire building, then search it from top to bottom.

Myuta returned to his group, and they hatched a plan. They had noticed that one of the caravans was topped by a very large version of a gnomish steam rifle, the discharge from which would be considerably worse than they had experienced so far. Any attack needed to avoid this weapon. First they tried casting light spells onto pieces of wood and throwing them into the river, to lure a few guards down to the river and kill them ahead. Unfortunately the river was infested with glowfish, which seeing the glowing bark pieces began themselves to glow, and the guard atop the caravan, looking through the scope of his steam gun, concluded the event was simply glowfish breeding. No one responded to the lure. So the characters moved up to the camp, and prepared an attack from multiple angles. They waited until morning, when the wind blows down the valley from the mountains and draws mist from the mountains with it. Yurianusu the sorcerer cast a fog cloud spell, and three of the characters drew close to the camp under cover of the fog, while the remainder drew up near the caravan with the steam gun, and prepared to sneak in.

Unfortunately, Myuta the ranger loosed an arrow early. This arrow flew into a cooking pot, bounced into a metal helmet, and then sailed through the air to strike a gnomish music box, which sprang open and began playing its annoying, inane music. Everyone in the camp woke, and battle was joined. The Barbarian charged straight to the steam gun, and Myuta began cutting down enemies with his bow while the remainder of the group attempt to prevent the gnomes from concentrating their attacks. Yurianusu used grease spells to keep gnomes from charging forward, and Isoda fought to keep the gnomes from overwhelming the barbarian. Once the barbarian had felled the gnome on the steam gun, and Yurianusu’s grease spell had caused a gnome to fall into the fire, then set the flammable grease alight, and Myuta had killed a gnome or two with his arrows, the leader stepped out of the shadows and called a halt to the battle.

So, the gnomes withdrew and the characters spoke to the leader. He explained his situation to them and told them he would withdraw from the battle, leaving them with the pot in which the onsen fairy had been stored. In exchange they would not follow him or fight him further, and would not reveal who he was to the onsen resort owner. Since his efforts had all come to nought so far, further attempts to pursue the fairy now would be a waste of time. He would withdraw peacefully, and in exchange the characters could keep the stupid pot.

The charactes agreed – in truth they had been starting to feel a little pressed in the battle, and unless the barbarian upped her slay-rate, someone was going to die. They took the pot and retired from the scene, lugging it back uphill to the onsen resort.

When they returned they went to find the owner of the onsen, to ask him why he had offered to pay them to recover a missing fairy that was never in the stolen pot. He wasn’t in his office, however, and even a cursory search could reveal that he had fled, taking his basic belongings and a lot of money with him. Further investigation revealed the title deed to the onsen – now easily forged into the names of the characters – and buried in some documents, about 10 years ago, a sale of “sundry goods” to a rich Southern landowner which netted a very significant amount of money, not at all consistent with such a lowly title.

The onsen resort owner had sold the fairy almost as soon as he took possession of the resort, and in the 10 years since the sale had been trading in the healing reputation of his spa without ever, actually, having anything magical or special to offer his customers.

The characters’ employer, obviously clearly vexed at such duplicity, began tearing apart the office in rage. The characters, of course, set their eyes on that property title, and the home of a certain now very-long-lived Southern landowner…

Reader note: this is a game report by one of my players, posted here for the Japanese players. It’s vastly superior than anything I could have written. It also contains pictures. Enjoy!



行ったゲームは Pathfinder RPG。言わずとも知れたD&D3.5の流れを組む、色々と面白どころ満載のシステム でありんす。

今日のテーム は。。。小さくて危ないひとだ!

場所は、別府駅近くのリングテイルさ ん。
参加者はflashy.san、リングテイルの店長さん、shiga、”の人、馬、ワタクシの合計六人。ワタクシと馬はPathfinderを プレイするのは初めてで、店長さんに到ってはTRPG自体が初めてという初心者満載、夢満載。
日本語でGMがんばるよ! と気合い十分のflashy.sanの音頭で楽しみました。



石つぶてを散弾銃のように発射する、凶悪な飛び道具で武装したノーム部隊に襲われた温泉施設テルマエ・ロマエ(笑)にて、とりあえずは襲撃を退 けたPCたち。
この温泉妖精の魔力で、普通の温泉に過ぎないお湯を、万病の癒しを可能にする優れものの温泉へと変えていたのだという。これを知った裕福だけど 傲慢な老人は、PCたちに温泉妖精の奪還を依頼(命じ)するのでありまして。
届く視界は僅かに20フィート(約6メートル)ほど。しかも場所によっては高熱の蒸気が噴出し、間欠泉すらあるかも知れないという危険地帯を、 レンジャーの足跡追跡だけを頼りに、逃げたノーム部隊の跡を追いかけていく。


何しろ視界は利かないし、主戦力たるバーサーカーは蒸気と魔法と奇襲によってノックアウトされ、ソーサラーの必中呪文《グリース》もあまり効果 を与えられない。
それでも何とかノーム部隊を削っていくものの、ノーム・ソーサラーの呪文によって「霧の中から更に大軍がやってくる」ような幻聴を聞かされ、 バーサーカーとクレリックがまともに混乱したことで更に長期戦の様相を呈し始めてしまう。

NPCの演技も気合いが入ってましたし、視界を遮る”温泉の噴気”や”石つぶての散弾銃”というギミックを、最大限に活用して印象づけた flashy.sanの手腕はお見事でした。




くま 「だが断る」
くま 「そんな史上最●の『両手に花』は、ワタクシには重過ぎます!」


As I mentioned in my previous post, I (slightly foolishly) offered to DM a group of 5 players, in Japanese. The game was last night, so here are a few notes.

We played at my friendly local gaming store (FLGS), upon which at some point I need to blog. The owner only has experience of warhammer games, and in fact the FLGS (called Ringtail, with a website here) stocks largely only warhammer and citadel miniatures. It’s the only store in Kyushu that stocks them, as far as he knows! Warhammer war-gamers are so rare that once a month the store owner visits Kitakyushu to play with a foreign (British?) chap. This chap also asked him to order in Warhammer Fantasy Role-play version 3, and he ordered an extra copy which he is willing to buy for himself to play, but which he would need me to DM (it’s in English). I advised him that he should try role-playing before buying a 10000 yen book from his own stock, so he agreed to a trial pathfinder game.

So we had five players, names and PC classes described, along with an outline of the adventure, here. We played upstairs in the wargaming room of the ring-tail store, at a long table big enough for about 10 people. As ever, Shiga-san brought his huge stock of miniatures, dice, multiple printed copies of the pathfinder rules, etc. – it took up half the room! As ever, Furudera san ate continuously. This time the group, which consisted of 6 people including me, contained two women – Furudera san and Era san, who was playing for the first time in a year because she has taken time off gaming since having a baby, which is less than a year old.

So my first note here is about the gender dynamics. I have never played in a group constituted entirely from within role-playing circles which had two women in it. I’ve managed to shoe-horn friends into a group with two women, but I’ve never met two women simply through the circles of gaming. It’s interesting that in supposedly sexist Japan this happens the first time I ever game here; and even more interesting given one of these women is a new mother, and shoe-horned her husband into child-minding their less-than-year-old child on a Saturday night so she could game. I’ve previously mentioned that I think maybe Japanese nerd culture is more gender-balanced than in the west, and this is further evidence in support of this tentative theory.

Also, further evidence that something interesting is going on in the gender politics of Japanese nerddom is the strange use of pronouns. Kuma-san, a man, refers to himself as “watakushi,” which is extremely formal language only usually used by women outside of Shinto ceremony; Era san refers to herself as “washi,” which is a pronoun typically used by older men. There’s some kind of gender bending going on here, and I think there must be some kind of gender politics that is particular to the nerd scene. There’s gotta be anthropological value in this…

This week, in addition to Shiga-san’s massive horde of stuff, we had lots of snacks. The Japanese role-player’s snack horde includes:

  • black pepper chips
  • “thin flavour” salted chips
  • orange juice
  • coke
  • oolong tea (a necessity for all Japanese women, who take it continuously)
  • potato croquettes
  • fried chicken
  • popcorn
  • pocari SWEAT, a type of rehydration drink that is really rather delicious

plus Furudera san’s infinite supply of food, which includes such mysteriousnesses as bread she eats crust-first, without toppings, and fresh spring rolls, and TWO full flasks of coffee. The room where we played was another “shoes off” room, of course.

Subsequent to the game, reading the social networking sites of the participants, there seemed to be some agreement about what was “surprising” or unusual about the game. Some players were expecting a different experience because the game was being GMd by a foreigner, but they seem to have been largely disappointed. However, it appears that they aren’t used to the following:

  • fighting in only a bath towel
  • extensive use of terrain for the ambush
  • describing their characters’ appearance at the outset (this didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though)
  • the DM employing voice and actions for the NPCs

Japanese people being generally extremely shy and diffident, I’m not surprised by the last two points – shy role-players tend to avoid this stuff where possible, and certainly Japanese people tend to be quite shy and retiring. I’m not actually a big fan of fussing around with terrain, so I hope they don’t think that’s part of my style – I only put it in because of the ambush.

These differences aside, from my point of view I really have to say that very little about DMing the group was different. I still occasionally had to pressure people to make decisions, they interacted in very similar ways to Western players (bar the politeness, of course), and they seemed to employ the rules and respond to the situation in just the same way. The only difference I really observed that there was less of a tendency for a single player to dominate the discussion, which is consistent with Japanese group interactions generally. Oh, and Furudera san and Shiga san played “scissors, paper, stone” (janken) to determine who should play the bard. There’s your moment of Japanese uniqueness right there…

Language-wise, a lot of interactions passed me by, but the core of it made sense, so everything flowed okay, and nobody seemed fussed when I had to look up words or check them, or correct myself or be corrected. No-one seemed to lose interest at any point and it didn’t interfere with the flow much. There were a few moments where I said words in English by mistake and people just kind of got it; or when I thought a word would be an English transliteration but wasn’t (like “rage”). The next day, Era san commented on how Japanese players of pathfinder don’t understand the meaning of the transliterated spells, and when they are translated the words and effects make more sense. That’s interesting, because it maybe means that the gamers here are using a book of several hundred spells which largely just sound like gobbledigook. And certainly when Furudera san said “hijius rafuta” it took me several attempts to work out that she meant “hideous laughter.” But we manage. Today, Era san looked up “Pathfinder” in her Japanese dictionary and was confused, because the Japanese translation sounds like “pioneer” in the sense of “settler” and she can’t understand why a role-playing game would be called “coloniser.” This language issue is interesting.

But at its core, the game flows the same, and feels the same. That, in itself, is fascinating to me.

Last night I DMd my first session of Pathfinder in Japanese. It was mostly successful, and I’ll be putting up my thoughts about the DMing in a separate post. This is a brief report of the session.

The adventure took place in an Onsen (hot spring) resort in the Steam Mountains. This resort is blessed with healing onsen, soaking in which can remove many mundane and supernatural diseases. The party have been hired to escort an old, rich man to the onsen, and the events of this adventure happen in early Autumn after he has already spent some weeks soaking in the rejuvenating waters of the resort.

The PCs are:

  • Akuni, human female bard (played by Furudera san)
  • Yurianusu, male elven sorcerer (played by Kuma san)
  • Isoda, female human cleric (played by Shiga san)
  • Nomai, female half-orc barbarian (played by Era san)
  • Myuta, male half-elf Ranger (played by Miyao san)

All PCs were 4th level.

The onsen resort is set in a small bowl-shaped valley deep in the Steam Mountains, many days’ walk from civilisation. A narrow valley to the south of the resort heads down to civilisation, and to the East is a second, even narrower valley constantly shrouded in steam from many onsens and volcanic fissures which run the length of the valley. The bowl-shaped valley of the resort itself is also misty, but not to the same extent as the Eastern valley, which is almost impenetrably murky. To the North and West, mountains shrouded in eery forest loom above the resort. For some reason in the Steam Mountains fireflies emerge in Autumn, so the night the adventure started was the night of the firefly festival, when all the patrons of the onsen gather on its western balcony to watch the fireflies dancing in the mist. The characters also gathered, except for Nomai, who was taking the opportunity of peace and quiet to bathe in the staff hot spring, from which she is otherwise banned on account of her race; and Myuta, who was required to be on guard and was standing in an inner garden keeping an eye on comings and goings.

So it was that when the resort’s two guards died noisily in the Eastern garden, only Nomai and Myuta were able to respond quickly. Myuta immediately dashed to their employer’s side and Nomai, grabbing a bath towel and her dagger, dashed to the garden. She was followed by Akuni and Isoda, while Yurianusu (who had been chasing fireflies for spell components) doubled around the resort’s outer wall to come at the garden gate from the rear. Nomai, entering the garden, was immediately struck with a full blast from a Gnome Steam Rifle, but could see nothing of the source. Only when Akuni arrived did anyone see what was happening – two gnomes were guarding the gate to the Eastern garden, and the two resort guards lay murdered by an open doorway leading into the staff area of the resort. As the characters entered the garden, the other gnome unleashed a burst of fire from his rifle, and the first gnome dashed away. Yurianusu, however, cast grease behind both of them, and the first gnome slipped over. The second fled in terror with the characters in pursuit. The Barbarian soon caught the gnome and overbore him, stabbing him into submission, then dragged him back. Meanwhile, Isoda, Myuta and Yurianusu subdued the other gnome, and they hung both from the gate while they tried to determine what had happened.

Investigating the room the guards had been “defending,” our intrepid heroes discovered the owner of the resort, crying about the end of his business. The gnomes had broken into the room, opened a secret door and taken something from inside a small volcanic pool that the room contained. The resort owner revealed that this spring had housed a special cage in which was held an imprisoned onsen sprite. This sprite grants the onsen waters their special powers, and without it the waters of the onsen are simply hot water. Without it, the man’s business is ruined – and by extension, the PCs’ employer’s health. And indeed, their employer, realising this, demanded that they recover the onsen sprite.

There followed a brief scene in which the PCs “persuaded” other guests and the boss into paying them money for their mission. They then “persuaded” the gnomes to tell them a little more about their mission. The gnomes quickly told them that:

  • they had come up the valley with two other gnomes to steal the sprite
  • their employer had told them about the secret door
  • their employer was waiting for the return of the sprite in a camp at the base of the narrow, steamy valley, which provided perfect cover to come stealthily to the resort
  • there was an ambush set halfway down the valley, in case they were followed

Knowing this, the characters set off down the valley, with Myuta’s tracking enabling them to identify when they were near the ambush site. Unfortunately visibility in the valley was only 20′, so though they knew where the ambush was, they could not spring the trap easily. Instead they blundered into an area in front of a jumbled pile of huge rocks, and 3 gnomes atop the rocks opened fire on them with steam rifles. Battle was joined.

Myuta the ranger took cover behind the only available rocks, while cleric, bard and barbarian charged forward to try and gain the relative safety of the larger rocks beneath the gnomes themselves. Akuni threw a tanglefoot bag, which failed to take effect; Isoda cast bless, while the barbarian charged around the rocks to try and climb up the far side and attack the gnomes. Unfortunately the gnome sorcerer behind the rocks was ready, and knocked her out with a color spray spell. Then a fighter charged out from the cover of the rocks to engage the Cleric, while the gnomes set furiously about gunning down the sorcerer, Yurianusu, who cast grease on the rock to no avail. Another gnome appeared from nowhere and surprise attacked Akuni the Bard, but missed; Yurianusu cast sleep on that gnome, and Myuta moved around the large rock to take on the sorcerer, who Isoda the cleric also now tried to attack. Yurianusu’s grease spells on the rock did not make the gnome riflemen fall, so he switched to using sleep, which did work: one fell off the rear and died, while the other slid forward from the rock and landed in the tangle foot bag, so that he hung, upside down and snoring, from the front of the rock.

The barbarian now recovered from her unconsciousness and laid into the fighter with a vengeance, but the sorcerer used ghost sound to trick her and the cleric into thinking that a new squad of gnome soldiers was approaching. With typical berserk single-mindedness, Nomai paid this little heed; but Isoda was fully suprised by it and distracted for a full round. The gnome sorcerer also attempted hideous laughter, which manifested as a phantasm of a strange-looking face which the viewer must surely be amused by; fortunately his target’s were all able to resist the lure of the funny face, until Myuta shot the gnome through the neck and put paid to further ensorcelments. Akuni then repeated this trick, casting hideous laughter on the gnome fighter. Akuni’s hideous laughter manifests as funny stories yelled into the ear of the victim; to all around the victim they sound for all the world like taped songs played at extremely high fast forward speed; but to the target they are heard as multiple fascinating, amusing stories which he is compelled to hear and be entertained by. Unfortunately for the fighter, Akuni’s magic was very powerful, and the spell became for him a curse that will never go away – wherever he goes the fighter will forevermore be laughing and accompanied always by the sound of songs in fast forward[1].

Thus the battle came to an end and, it being 11:30 pm on a Saturday night, and the remainder of the adventure will be played out at the next session. Thus endeth the report of the strange doings of the Steam Mountains.

fn1: saving throw fumble by me. Sorry, Mr. Gnome.

Note for my English readers: I’m now using this blog for communication with my Japanese players, just as I did for my English ones, so there will be occasional Japanese posts. In some cases I will also put English with them, in some cases not. My apologies if this causes your browser to render the site very very ugly.





  • スチームメプィットがのがれて、使用者を攻撃する
  • 散弾銃が使用者の変に爆発して、使用者は3d4ダメージを受ける
  • 散弾銃が爆発して、使用者の周りの10フィート以内の人が皆1d4ダメージを受ける



  • 価格:250gp
  • ダメージ(S):1d6+1
  • クリテェカル:19-20/x3
  • 射程単位:30′
  • 重量:5ポイント
  • タイプ:殴打
  • 弾薬:20発
  • 特別な攻撃:30‘x10’円錐形、中の相手は3d4ダメージを受ける(反応セーヴで半分)、反応セーヴが足りなかったら、怯え状態になる。セーヴ難易度は使用者の攻撃ロールである。


Because Gnomes are small, their normal weapons are unable to do significant damage. Because their own strength cannot be depended upon to achieve a good effect, they use mechanical weapons to increase the damage they do. But even normal mechanical advantage can be insufficient, so they often combine mundane engineering with conjuring to produce devices that can be used for various strange weapon effects.

This Gnome Steam Rifle is an example of a type of ranged weapon ideally suited to Gnome sorcerers and rogues. A small steam mephit is trapped inside the rifle, which uses a block of pre-fragmented stone or ceramic as its ammunition. The Steam Mephit hurls pieces of this pre-fragmented cartridge from the gun. Before using the gun, the ammunition needs to be pre-fragmented and shaped, which is easy for gnomes to do with their advanced stone-working skills; but it can also be bought from gnome weapons dealers. Reloading an ammunition case takes 1 round, but gnome rogues who use this weapon are automatically able to load the ammunition case as a free action.

The rifle also has a secondary effect. At any time, the user can choose as a standard action to fire all the remaining ammunition in a single cone-shaped burst. Everyone within the area of effect of the burst takes significant damage and is at risk of becoming shaken. This action uses all remaining ammunition.

The rifle also comes with a risk of backfiring. Anytime a 1 is rolled on an attack, one of the following may occur:

  • The Steam Mephit escapes and attacks the user
  • The gun explodes back on the user, dealing 3d4 damage (no save)
  • The gun explodes outward, causing 1d4 damage on all within 10′ of the gun

In order to use this gun, an exotic weapon proficiency is required. To learn the proficiency, one must seek out and pay an appropriate fee to a Gnome trainer.


  • Price: 250gp
  • Damage: 1d6+1
  • Critical: 19-20/x3
  • Range: 30′
  • Encumbrance: 5 points
  • Type: Crushing
  • Ammunition: 20 shots
  • Special attack: 30’x 10′ cone. Those within the cone take 3d4 damage (reflex save for half). Those who fail a reflex save are also shaken. Save DC is determined by the user’s attack roll.

Picture: The picture is the Sonification Rifle by Vladislaus Dantes.