Monday, May 23, 2011

Ultimate Writers Cramp

I've been meaning to post for a few days now, but life seems to conspire against me.  Or maybe I conspire against myself.  I've had few ideas, and the ones I have I'm not sure I want to write about.  But here's the number one on my list.

I stated on Paizo's boards a couple of months ago that I was done buying Paizo material for a while.  But I broke my own (vow? no, not really a vow, more a pronouncement) statement and went ahead and bought Ultimate Magic.  I pre-ordered it from The Gopher because I believe in supporting my FLGS.  By pre-ordering it, I got a nice discount that would just about cover the cost of the PDF, because I've been trying to buy my PDF's lately instead of just bootlegging them all outright.

Ultimate Magic has had some fairly bad pre-press, as most of the content got posted up on a fan site a couple of weeks early.  (Fan site not named as I'm still petty about the fact that they lifted all of their initial content from a site that I created.)  People started going through and finding some of the content as being either unbalanced, or just plain bad.


The feat Antagonize.  This feat has no prerequisites (the fan site misquoted this and said that it required 13 Dex.  There is no actual prerequisite, only making the feat that much more broken.), but allows the character to make an intimidate or diplomacy check against a ridiculously easy DC (Target's HD + WIS modifier.  You get a bonus to the check equal to your CHA mod with an easy to make Sense Motive check).  If successful, the target of the feat is either forced to attack the character in melee (if intimidate was used) or to suffer -2 to any action that isn't on attack on the character (if diplomacy was used). Here's the actual text:


Benefit: You can make Diplomacy and Intimidate checks to make creatures respond to you with hostility. No matter which skill you use, antagonizing a creature takes a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity, and has a DC equal to the target’s Hit Dice + the target’s Wisdom modifier. You cannot make this check against a creature that does not understand you or has an Intelligence score of 3 or lower. Before you make these checks, you may make a Sense Motive check (DC 20) as a swift action to gain an insight bonus on these Diplomacy or [sic] Intimitade checks equal to your Charisma bonus until the end of your next turn. The benefits you gain for this check depend on the skill you use. This is a mind-affecting effect.

Diplomacy: You fluster your enemy. For the next minute, the target takes a –2 penalty on all attacks rolls made against creatures other than you and has a 10% spell failure chance on all spells that do not target you or that have you within their area of effect.

Intimidate: The creature flies into a rage. On its next turn, the target must attempt to make a melee attack against you. The effect ends if the creature is prevented from reaching you or attempting to do so would harm it (for example, if you are on the other side of a chasm or a wall of fire). If it cannot reach you on its turn, you may make the check again as an immediate action to extend the effect for 1 round (but cannot extend it thereafter). The effect ends as soon as the creature makes a melee attack against you. Once you have targeted a creature with this ability, you cannot target it again for 1 day.

What's wrong with this feat?  Hmm.  Several things:

1) It's mind control with no save.
2) The DC is very low.  The check is very easy.  A 10HD enemy with a +3 WIS mod is a DC 13 check.  A 1st level character with Intimidate as a class skill, and a +3 CHA modifier who makes the Sense Motive check, starts with (1 [rank Intimidate] + 3 [class skill bonus] +3 [charisma bonus] + 3[additional charisma bonus from sense motive check]) +10 to the check.  Which means that he needs to roll a 3 on the die to succeed.
3) If successful, the enemy is forced to attack him in melee.  Never mind if the enemy is a ranged combatant, or a pure spellcaster.  The enemy must attack in melee.  Even if this isn't an autokill for an enemy sucking up attacks of opportunity on the way to the feat-user, it still ties him up for at least one turn.
4) If the enemy cannot get to the feat-user, the feat-user can spend an immediate action to extend the effect for one round.  Thus tying up the enemy completely for another round.
5) Petty point, but they even fail to spell "intimidate" correctly.  They spell it "intimitade" in the text of the feat.

There are a few other glaring problems in the book so far, but by far this seems to be the biggest sore spot.

So you might be saying to yourself (or me), "What's the big deal.  There's lots of material in the book, and there's bound to be a few errors that slip through.  Look at the 90+% of the book that isn't screwed up and watch them fix this in an errata sometime. (I've seen this argument on the Paizo messageboards.)

And this argument really pisses me off.  Here's why.

1) The presence of spelling errors indicates a lack of even basic editing.  Every word processing program on the planet at this point has a spell-checker.  Unless you happen to be using Notepad as your text editor.  I think even vi has a spell checker at this point.  {just looked.  Vim does.  Vi may not.)  Aitch E Double Toothpicks, the blogger software I'm writing this on has a spell checker.  To allow spelling errors through is simply unacceptable, and is indicative of a break down in the quality control process somewhere.  (If the spelling mistake is of a homonym that is misused, I can almost forgive as the spell-checker probably won't point it out, but even then, the human editor should notice such things.)

2) This company is a publisher of printed material.  And has been for some time.  I've worked for an employer where part of my job was producing written material for publication.  And every single word that was published went through a sign-off process where the writer would submit his text to an editor.  The editor would review the material and send it back with a markup indicating what needed to be changed for clarity and correctness.  Once the writer and editor had both come to an agreement on the text, it then went to a senior reviewer for his comments or changes.  Once the senior reviewer was satisfied, the material was able to be published.  None of this really took a lot of extra time, and I found, as a writer, that my work got better after I had seen how the editor wanted form to be.  When writing, I would include "Hmm, John is going to want to know how I got this number.  I should include it now.  He'll also not like my use of the passive voice here, and tell me to rewrite it.  I'll just write it how he wants it now." My work would tend to match that form the first time I submitted it, and the amount of suggested changes gradually decreased.

By the time anything was published, it had been signed off on by the writer, the editor, and the senior reviewer.  Project proposals that I would submit to an outside funding agency were also reviewed by our finance department for correctness, and were also reviewed by the head of the department and his head of section.

It's inconceivable to me that Paizo does not have something similar in place to manage their editing.  None of this actually affects the ability to get projects done on time, it simply means that you need to plan the pipeline and make sure that things get done when you need them done.  (My project proposals has something like a six week turn-around time from the date the funding agency announced they were going to accept proposals until they were due in-hand at the agency.  This means I had two to three weeks to figure out what I was going to propose, to write the proposal and develop a budget.  And then I had two to three weeks to get the write up entirely through the editing/approval process.  And I was the lowest of the low on the totem pole when it came to assigning projects priority.  (I was a scientific researcher without a degree competing for state research money with teams of PhD's.)

3) Power Level/Balance - I'm not sure how anyone at Paizo didn't recognize the insane power level of this little feat.  Does this mean that it was a throw-in at the last minute, or that they simply didn't playtest this product?  Similar power level issues occur with at least one spell that breaks the very guidelines for spell construction that are part of the new material in the book.

4) The "lots of stuff, bound to be a few errors" argument doesn't hold water for me.  The idea behind quality control is that if you implement correct QC procedures, you make it impossible for mistakes to get through to the final product.  It's like saying "That car you bought has 7000 parts.  It's inevitable that a couple of percent of those parts are going to be badly designed."  This would amount to something like 140 parts in a car being of poor design.  In fact the opposite is true.  When something is found to be of bad design in a particular car, it's generally a big enough deal that the car company fixes it for free.  And they look at how something like that got through and how they can avoid it in the future.   There's a whole field of Quality Control/Quality Assurance designed around preventing bad design items from slipping through.

So overall, I'm in a quandry with this book.  I've got one DM saying that nothing in it will even be considered until it's posted on Paizo's PRD.  I've got another DM that I'm not sure I want to even approach about using material out of until it's had time to go through errata.  Which leaves me with $40 worth of doorstop for now.  Looking at what Paizo's own campaign allows, it carves out a fairly large chunk of the book as not worthy of being included in their shared-world.  No words-of-power.  None of the alternative options.  But they do allow the above- mentioned Antagonize (I spelled this wrong initially, and my spell-checker caught it.  Hmm.  Spell-checkers in 2011?  Amazing!) feat. So I'm pretty much wishing I hadn't bought the book, or that I had only bought the PDF.

Wow, I sound like I'm bashing Paizo.  Maybe I am on this one.  KEJR made the point that people who only cheer for Paizo do them a disservice, as they give the false impression that everything is fine instead of rightly pointing out where Paizo could do better.   I once worked for a company that had made big money in the early 80's by putting out a product at the exact right time.  No matter how badly they managed the company, they still made money hand-over-fist for years, because of their initial timing.  They got to the point though where they thought the money proved that all their bad decisions were good ones because no matter what they decided they made money.  (They were getting false positive reinforcement on bad decisions which warped their future decision making process.)

I've said before that I really hope Paizo does well as a company.  I still hope so.  But if UM is an indication of where the company is headed, then I'm afraid that they might have some hard lessons ahead.  As for me, I'm going to hold off on any more purchases until I start seeing a change.


Under the heading of "If you know so much, then you fix it", this was my first pass at a fix in an email back and forth to KEJR, trying for something more balanced that still might have similar effect:

Whether with biting remarks or hurtful words, you are adept at making creatures angry with you.

Prerequisites: Skill Focus (Intimidate) or (Diplomacy).

Benefit: You can make creatures respond to you with hostility. Antagonizing a creature takes a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity.  You cannot affect a creature that does not understand you or has an Intelligence score of 3 or lower. The result of this action is dependent on which skill you have Skill Focus in.  If you have Skill Focus in both skills, you may select either effect.  In either case, the target may make a will save (DC is equal to 10 + your charisma modifier + 1/2 your hit dice). This is a mind-affecting effect. Once you have targeted a creature with this ability, you cannot target it again for 1 day.

Diplomacy: You fluster your enemy. For the next minute, the target takes a –2 penalty on all attacks rolls made against creatures other than you and has a 10% spell failure chance on all spells that do not target you or that have you within their area of effect.

Intimidate: The creature flies into a rage. On its next turn, the target must attempt to make an attack against you. (The form of the attack is of the target's choice, but will generally be typical of his type or class). The effect ends if the creature is prevented from attacking you, or attempting to do so would cause unavoidable harm to it. If it cannot attack you on its turn, you may make the check again as an immediate action to extend the effect for 1 round (but cannot extend it thereafter). The effect ends as soon as the creature makes an attack against you.


  1. Ergh. As much as I love playing diplomancers, it's hard to make an argument that that isn't just broken (RAW, not your version). As with 3.5, there's some sort of 'clay golem effect' with every book they publish--there is a cumulative 1% chance that it contains significant problems. I haven't found a group here in Springfield yet, so I definitely miss playing pathfinder (they've made a really great game!), but I have to say that outside of core and (most of) the APG, with which I have less 'crunch/balance' problems and more 'THAT's how you make an alchemist?' problems--I'm not really that impressed by a lot of their other stuff. They need to tighten the publishing nozzle.

  2. I'm playing a bard in KEJR's Council of Thieves game, and if I took this feat (theoretically, since he's not going to allow it as written), I could auto hit anything in the AP with my current level 8 character. (Standard Action - Antogonize(Intimidate) Move Action - move away!) Next turn (Immediate Action - continue effect, Standard + Move - Double move away!!) - there. I've tied up the BBEG for two rounds while everyone on my team can pile on.)

    I understand the drive to get printed material out to the book buying public, but if the quality suffers then it's going to have a net negative effect on future releases. (Unless I'm thoroughly mistaken and there's something about sales reputation that I just don't know. Maybe Tome of Battle:Book of Nine Swords was a genius move on WOTC's part, and Richard Baker is god of sales? He still works there, even after all the layoffs.)

    BTW, Caliban's Meat Cart showed up last week at the game.

  3. Caliban's Chunks! Hmm, this is actually starting to sound like a Realms-y sort of oath or swear.

  4. I'll have to remember that "Caliban's Chunks" exclamation. Our "Sit Thine Five Dollar Ass Down Before I Maketh Change" battle cry didn't catch on the way I had hoped.

    I liked that golem berserk percentage analogy. ;)

    Also, I don't think the archetypes for the Summoner or the Alchemist made them any more logical in my mind. I kind of liked the ability that swapped out bombs for sneak attack, but its tied to an archetype that let's you make anthropomorphic animals . . . sigh.

    Oh, and you may not want to look in Ultimate Magic. Saurian Shaman archetype for druid. But they don't get Ice Armor for free or anything . . . ;)

  5. Assuming I'm the "other DM" who you're waiting on errata for, I agree. There are some great things in UM, but I can't blanket approve it at this point. Definitely still not approving anything in the book until I do some mock-ups of characters ("super optimized" for my purposes, any suggestions via email would be perfect).

    Oddly, I'm a fan of SOME of Bo9S, but not all of it. Something tells me that UM and UC are going to be "great ideas" but not "entirely awesome books." This is something that will be a hard lesson for Paizo, once they realize this.