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Tabletop Takeaways: Ruling from the Throne

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Up is Down

Our heroes continue trekking through the Kodar Mountains in their search for the legendary City of Gold. It’s a winding trail flanked by ice floes, volcanoes, and jagged mountain rocks that creates a majestically sinister backdrop to their journey.

Paizo Publishing Kostchtchie
Alright, it’s not a glaive, but this art is incredible!

As they enter a narrow canyon, they notice the gargantuan silhouettes of two cloud giants standing up the cliff in front of a cave opening. Another giant steps out, wearing a tattered banner exhibiting a faded image of a parapet over crossed blades. This giant, speckled with frost crystals, wields a massive glaive in both hands.

The giant shouts out to the trespassers before leaping from the cliff and sliding down the mountainside. Fyn recognizes this giant from his past; it’s the giant that killed him.

As part of his history, Fyn was a part of the Korvosan Guard. One day, as they’re in the mountains, his entire squad is ambushed by a group of ranging giants, including this giant, Bjormundal. There were no survivors.

However, Fyn was brought back to life by the legendary Peacock Spirit. He pledged his devotion to this deity, as one should, but he never forgot the look of the giant as he was initially sent to Pharasma’s Boneyard. This is his moment to finally settle the lopsided score.

As a great opening salvo, Fyn casts Reverse Gravity. For those of you unfamiliar with the spell, it does exactly what you would expect: down is up and up is down. He centers the spell directly on Bjormundal, which should send him 160 feet up into the air.

With the spell, however, anybody caught in the line of fire gets a Reflex save to try and grab anything nearby that is completely secured, which would prevent them from flying upwards. If they make the save, the spell is really ambiguous (read: says nothing) about how to handle that scenario.

Long story short, the giant succeeds at the save, pushes himself out from the area, and deals an incredible amount of damage to Fyn with the glaive. It completely altered the combat by forcing the rest of the party to protect Fyn for a round, all because Bjormundal saved on a level 7 Wizard spell.

There was a bit of consternation at the table because the giant seemingly just walked out of an area that would be still pulling him upwards. In the moment, I used the reason that he’s a strong guy and since he succeeded at the save he would be able to push himself out of the area on his turn.

What I didn’t do, however, is force the giant to use any sort of action to do so; he just did this as a part of his normal movement. And this was probably where the objection came in, but the spell doesn’t offer any inclination as to what happens IF the save on Reverse Gravity is made. Everything, it seems, is up to GM Discretion.

The Takeaway

When you’re in the Gamemaster chair, couch, or ivory throne, you’ll often find yourself in the position to make a ruling on a situation. Despite the fantastic breadth of rulesets, especially when it comes to Pathfinder, there are simply interactions that require a little bit of research or someone to make a ruling for the group.

I sort of covered the ramifications of rulings in my Shadow of a Doubt Tabletop Takeaway, where you have to stick with your ruling. However, you can mention that you got something wrong or that you’ll handle it differently in the future, especially if you have some research to back up your reasoning. Players will usually respect that.

In this particular case, I want to talk about what it means to make those rulings when it’s literally just up to you to decide. As a GM, you hold the pseudo-power at the table. Players can make their cases and pull up Paizo threads where people weigh similar situations to make your ruling. Despite the abundance of resources out there, some things require an impartial decision and for you to go with your gut.

When there isn’t any text to really fall back on, it can be tough to make a call, but the table can’t move forward until you do. For Reverse Gravity, I am surprised that the spell text just ends where it does:

Provided it has something to hold onto, a creature caught in the area can attempt a Reflex save to secure itself when the spell strikes. Creatures who can fly or levitate can keep themselves from falling.

Reverse Gravity

At the same time, it really stinks in a combat for the main baddie to be incapacitated before they can even do anything. Especially when it comes to a story-specific character that’s from a player’s past. Now, I’m not saying to fudge things so that the creatures can get hits off. That’s no fun for the players or for the integrity of the game.

However, you could definitely say that there was some bias in my decision-making that, in this case, benefitted the monsters. In the future, I plan to be just as consistent with the spell ruling, regardless of who’s in the crossfire of the affected area.

This is how I would amend the text of the spell:

Provided it has something to hold onto, a creature caught in the area can attempt a Reflex save to secure itself when the spell strikes. A character who succeeds on their Reflex save must use a move action to exit the affected area, moving adjacent to the area of effect, or else they must make a Reflex save each round to remain secured. Creatures who can fly or levitate can keep themselves from falling.

Reverse Gravity

My reasoning behind this is that if a creature saves against a spell, usually that would result in half-damage for a Reflex save-orientated spell. This isn’t a spell that does any damage, so in that case there should still be an outcome that benefits the caster. A single action penalty doesn’t seem like a lot, but it prevents those devastating full-round attack actions, and provokes attacks of opportunity.

This is just my ruling, so you could even up the penalty to a Standard action if you really want to make things interesting. Or, require a second Reflex save when pushing out of the area with a move action to see if the character can stay upright, lest they fall prone.

My main point is that sometimes you have to make decisions that the rest of the table won’t agree with. They might play the rest of the session under protest or get upset with the ruling. Gamemasters need to try their best to be impartial, consistent, and fair in these rulings, and players should be understanding that every ruling isn’t going to benefit one side or the other.

I’m content with the ruling that I made because it led to a different kind of combat instead of the usual spell-slinging, sword-swinging actions by the players. They got creative, turning the combat into a defensive stance where they had to protect their own from further harm. From a story perspective, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Did Fyn get his full revenge? He didn’t land the killing blow, but it tells an alternate story about life; sometimes you try and try again, but your second attempt isn’t successful. It happens. However, you don’t always have to go through challenges alone; the people around you can support your endeavors.

As we near the end of this campaign, we’re wrapping up a lot of these loose ends. It’s going to be a fun ride to the finish.

Thanks for joining me at the table for Tabletop Takeaways! You can always read more campaign journal entries at Origami Goblin, or check out all of the other great GM tips on Nerds on Earth!

Here are all of the installments I’ve written thus far:

  1. Shadow of a Doubt – How to deal with rules mistakes
  2. On the Fly – How to stall and improve your improv
  3. Take the Shot – How to reconcile with tough GM choices
  4. Points of Interest – How to make overland travel interesting
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