Today we’re here with GM Leonidas300 to talk to him about his Pathfinder game set in the legendary world of Greyhawk: A Manifestation of Chaos. Tune in below for the Q&A session about this truly awesome campaign!
First off, feel free to tell us about the man behind the GM screen. What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Let us know!
I am 37 and began gaming in 1982, when my older brother bought the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (pink box). Outside of the game I am an accountant for the Department of Veteran Affairs. I am unmarried and have no children. I spend most of my non-game time reading or watching TV.
Tell us about A Manifestation of Chaos in a nutshell.
I had the initial idea for A Manifestation of Chaos about 4 years ago; after gaming in the Forgotten Realms for a couple years I wanted to return to Greyhawk because it has always been my favorite world and its history offered a grittier and more open setting in which to adventure. The base idea revolves around a connection between Tharizdun and Cthulu. I always liked Call of Cthulu for its feel and wanted to implement that sense of evil and forbidding into a fantasy campaign.
The connection I made is that in my campaign Tharizdun is not native to Greyhawk; he is, in fact, the Oerthian aspect of Cthulu. Thousands and thousands of years ago on a distant plane, Cthulu’s original worshippers were Illithids and there was a civil war between two factions of Illithids. One faction were the logical and disciplined Illithids that we all know and love, and the other faction were their progenitors, whose mental abilities were just as strong but chaotic in nature. The logical faction won out and expelled the chaotic faction from the Illithid home world. The chaotic faction ended up in the Underdark shortly before mortals were freed from Aboleth domination by the gods.
The lore of Tharizdun (a draconic translation of the Illithid tongue) remains much the same. He was bound in slumber by the gods of good, neutrality and evil. So little is known about Illithids that no one really knows what happened to the chaotic faction after the imprisonment of Tharizdun. Somewhere along the line, Suelosian wizards discovered an ancient text from the Chaotic Illithids and went about safeguarding the text. This text was unearthed again in an exploration of Suelosian ruins. When the tome was found and read, it brought down a force that should not have been loosed. The characters are aware that they are dealing with an ancient god but they have no further knowledge than the traditional understanding of Tharizdun.
How regularly do you play, and where do you play?
We play 2 or 3 sessions every month on Sundays. We play at my house in what has affectionately become known as “The Lair” (Housed within its walls is a comprehensive and meticulous collection of D&D stuff ).
Is your campaign “pure” Greyhawk or have you taken the setting and ran with it? If so, what have been your major influences with those changes? I see a lot of warhammer mini figs and a few cthulu-esque touches here and there as well!
We play in the traditional Greyhawk world, but as an accustomed stage, it also serves as the background for new touches, such as connecting Tharizdun to Chthulu. To service these plot lines, I needed to develop some special monsters that my players would not immediately recognize from prior gaming. There are three distinct subspecies of Illithids which have alternate psionic abilities based on Arcane and Divine magic. The mechanics of the monsters (Dubbed Chaos Creatures) was relatively easy. I needed adaptable creatures so I used the Summoner’s Eidolon as a base for the creatures. Between their evolutions and a system I developed to integrate spell effects as alternate evolutions, I have managed to create versatile and unpredictable, haunting creatures that embody Chaos. So far the players have only faced one of these guys, but he was only one glimpse into looming villains.
As a long time Warhammer 40k player, I have always loved the look of the Tyranid models. They have just the right degree of malevolence, and I knew that they would make awesome-looking foes (as testified by the priceless look of panic that appeared on one player’s face while being swarmed by lesser creatures of chaos, i.e., Tyranid genestealers). I am lucky enough to have a group member and excellent friend, Maelstrom808, who is both an avid Warhammer 40k player and talented miniature painter. His paint jobs on the miniatures are fantastic.
How long have you known your players and how long has your group been together?
I have know most of my group members for the better part of a decade and many of them have been members of other groups that I have run or been a member of. We like a larger group, so because of the size factor, real life tends to snatch one of us away every so often, and we usually will bring on a new person every 6 to 8 months or so.
How long has the campaign been going on?
The current group was brought together in late January 2011. The campaign has really been rolling along well since August of last year.
I’ve just recently started running pathfinder myself, is there any particular reason why you chose this system for your game?
Our group tried 4e first, immediately after it came out, but we missed the feeling of 3rd edition and did not get much traction in 4th before we decided to look elsewhere. I have to say that Pathfinder impressed me from the get go (our group went over when Pathfinder Beta came out). The channel energy concept for the cleric revolutionized that class and made waves through the whole game.
3rd edition was sprawling too much for our tastes by the end, and Pathfinder offered a focused system without the challenge of managing a vast sea of options. They made the core classes more interesting, so that people did not need to have a billion and one prestige classes to go to. They also cleaned up the skills and simplified combat maneuvers quite a bit. It also did not hurt that it is basically fully compatible with the mountain of 3.0 / 3.5 material out there.
How does Obsidian Portal help you the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki as well?
We have done a tremendous amount of work for the campaign and where the Obsidian Portal helps us most is that it gets everyone on the same page. It really is one stop shopping. It is phenomenal, because before the portal we did everything via e-mail and it was such a hassle between trying to make sure everyone read everything and seeing if what you sent via Word or Excel was compatible with whatever they had. It was just a drawn out and painful process to develop communications. Now, we can just say “look at this”.
I am very lucky as almost all of my players regularly contribute to the wiki – as you can see we have done a variety of large scale projects and without their help a lot of these would still be on the ‘wish list”. (The Latin Spell Translation in particular). Even the players who cannot actively contribute as much come through by being active on the forums and keeping their characters up to date. I have an excellent group of guys.
Speaking of old settings like Greyhawk, were you excited to hear about WotC digitally re-releasing their back catalog of materials?
Yes, I was glad to see the re-release as it will allow me to pick up one or two things that I can use in lieu of the original. Plus, with these, now we can clear the record for future generations to see that, technically, the Drow originated on Greyhawk, not the Forgotten Realms. But in all seriousness, it gives gamers a much-needed way to look into how the roots of the game when it can be pretty hard to get in touch with those original materials. Almost all of the 1st edition Greyhawk modules were classics. A lot of what has been developed for Greyhawk has been an inspiration for other worlds, and it can continue to be an inspiration for gamers who experience it.
Just because I feel compelled to ask, how do you feel about this whole “D&DNext” thing so far?
Other than reading the material; I have only sat in on one play test session. My thoughts on it are that I instantly like it more than 4e, but I think it will be hard-pressed to really compete with Pathfinder.
I like some of the thoughts behind it though and feel the system will have merit. But I also think that one of the biggest hurdles it will have will be Hasbro themselves. In truth they could learn a lot from the way Paizo handles things.
Ultimately, I think that when it comes out my group and I will give it a fair shake but it would have to be awfully good for us to make a permanent switch away from Pathfinder.
I see a few mentions of “portal night” in your campaign forums? What exactly is portal night?
Portal Night is a night every 3 to 6 weeks that we try to get together and map out group projects, talk about improving our page and more importantly it is where my players Gilnaeus and Siddartha teach me how to do a lot of the coding stuff.
What would you say the single biggest highlight from A Manifestation of Chaos has been so far?
One of the spontaneous highlights was a session when the party wizard charmed a high official into granting a bunch of favors, including securing the release of some captured players. It wasn’t really clear how the party was going to get back on track after a couple guys got themselves in trouble. The wizard tracked down a high-ranking authority in that district of the city (an elderly chap) and cast the spell. The wizard shared in a geriatric banter with the old man, but whenever the old man would get on his soap box, the wizard would take no offense and just agree and facilitate him in a friendly way. When the official finished his speech, the wizard would mention another thing that would help, just another useful request for another favor, and the official would just sort of assent with consideration, because he had gotten a turn to gripe to his “friend”. But then, granting that favor would prompt the official to ramble in a pedantic or rancorous way on another subject, and the wizard just patiently waited to beg another favor. The stream of conversation was totally realistic and done in character very well, and the players were all changed from nervous wrecks wondering how they were going to get out of the situation to rejoicing, because after the charm spell, the party came out ahead.
Your character XP meters and such are absolutely awesome, do you do all of this stuff by yourself or do you have help?
I definitely have help! Gilnaeus is the man behind the graphs. The tables are derived from a tables posted by Gunn on the forums, I have just added to it and adapted the model for other situations.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
I think perhaps the best piece of DM advice I can give is this:
A good GM should not wholly buy into the idea that they are always right or they are god. As a GM you should want to get your players invested in the game and in my experience the best way to do that is give them some ownership of the game.
First step is sandbox campaigns; let the players decide what they are going to do. If they want to walk out of the dungeon you spent 20 hours prepping, let them. (The game has got to be about the players not the GM.) Players have reasons for doing things, and some of the best sessions I have run were when the players decided to go off-script.
Second step is consult with them on rules and house rules. In my own campaigns there are things that I just flat out won’t let fly. However, there are easily just as many things that I allow even though I did not intuitively like it, because after I took the time to talk to the players and get their thoughts on it, I saw how it could fit into the game and enhance their experiences. This kind of conversation, more than a lot of things, lets the players know that it is their game too.
As GM it is our vision but we can only share our vision if we have players.
I would like to end with giving some shout outs to:
Prior CotM winners, Killervp, Twiggyleaf and StephenWollett all whom have shown a great willingness to provide guidance along the way.
The OP organizers who literally built the site
I would also like to thank the most important people, my players who make the game what it is.
That’s it for this month folks, be sure to let us know which campaigns are CotM material in the forums and we’ll catch you right back here next month!