Damage Control

Elemental Warrior – Artist: Vincent Coviello

Is it: “The blast does 15 points of damage to Ogre #3.”

Or is it….

“Vocu draws deeply through the planar conduits in his body… and in answer the boiling power of the Elemental Planes launches from his fingers to sear the ogre’s shoulder!”

Damage. The Grail of the Beatdown. It is often the goal of many build guides, the fruit of the optimizer’s labor, and the core of bragging rights during out-of-game pretzels and beer. For some gamers it is the point of the session and for others a jarring mathematical train-wreck shattering their immersion. How you handle it can have serious implications at your table.  

The Downside of Adding Up.

Many TTRPGs are effectively games about art and math. Most of the art being used to describe the math to establishe verisimilitude. Most of the math being woven into the rules and balances of the “reality” you are creating by playing. Ogre Boss has 76 hit points. Sword does 12. Fire spell does 24. Backstab does 20. Ranger crits for 21. Ogre dies.

Combat’s goal is to end. So this is fine right?

Yes, using only this string of numbers could be an amazing efficient manner for running a combat. It is technically even a serviceable way to run fights. And it will bore many players into comas…

That isn’t all—raw numbers can evoke comparisons causing other party members, often in non-damaging roles, to question their contributions. They can draw focus to modifiers, circumstances, and other mechanics that may slow resolution and pacing to a crawl. Without narrative dressing they are rough edges, jagged corners, and abrupt anticlimax.

Just numbers, 76 – 77 = Dead, might be fast but it’s not all that fun.

Narrative Damage: Who’s in the Director’s Chair?

So if narrative damage instead plain numbers is a good way to build engagement, how does it happen at your table? There are a number of possible implementations. The DM/GM can weave the damage to narrate a cohesive tapestry of actions and resolution. The players can be empowered to render their own glorious moments of triumph. Collaborative techniques can allow players to tag-team on a friends action’s resolutions adding to the excitement. Which answer is the right one?

Narrative Damage Ownership: Pros and Cons

Classically, the Game Master Resolution method each action is a tried and true method of damage narration. The DM or GM has the unseen data and can extrapolate the final interaction with the least disruption to game-flow. There is less shift in attention from GM-to-Player-to-GM, which can lead to the next action faster, decreasing combat “lag” and maintaining narrative-momentum. This method isn’t without downsides. It relies on higher amounts of rules familiarity, improvisational skill, and confidence for the GM. Bad GMs kill games in this method. Also, this style can cause players to feel that they don’t have full control of their actions. It can cause unconscious minimizations of effectiveness in the narrative—A fireball, even resisted, often gets more screentime than a critical from a single arrow for instance.

Player Driven Resolution as a primary method of damage narration can be gratifying for many groups. Each player getting to contribute their own moments of success (or failure) in a combat can lead toward high degrees of ownership and investment in combat. Player intention in the narrative is cleaner and fewer misunderstandings threaten to derail the motion of combat. GMs aren’t required to exhibit as much system mastery as players shoulder some of the burden and more time opens during player narrations to verify rulings. It places responsibility for much of the fun of combat back on the player. This can lead to some issues though. Player Driven Resolution requires less of the GM and a GM who doesn’t have to focus sometimes doesn’t. This loss of GM engagement can derail narratives faster than the worst rules arguments you can imagine. Unprepared or players who lack creative confidence can disrupt narration as well.

Lastly, Collaborative Resolution can mix the above methods to pass narration to the most excited or interested person at the table. This method favors in the moment inspirations and tends to keep tables high energy. It diffuses ownership of rules elements and narration to more people and all for many “best” options to come into play. The expectation of collaboration can keep other players engaged in actions that are not their own to strengthen immersion for the whole table. This can also backfire wickedly. Diffused ownership may result in party favorites becoming “darlings” while less evocative characters become under-supported and lacking exciting narratives. Player agency may be overwritten or lack of sensitivity may result in more casual or insenstive players introducing problematic elements.

Checking Expectations: Being on the Same Battlemap

Regrettably, not everyone comes to your table with the same expectation of damage (or action) resolution. A Dungeon Master who is running an old school style narrative may be completely thrown when the rogue suddenly inserts an unexpected descriptive element to their scene, altering the flow or even physicality of the encounter. Players unused to being called on to explain their critical hit can go full deer-in-the-headlights and grind a game to a screeching halt.  Collaborative groups with shy members may find themselves leaning too much on the GM or specific players. Hijacking the narratives with so many Mary Sues or derailing the group into visceral grimdark territory. Getting clear on this method will reduce game lags and disruptions and maintain a slick, smooth narrative.

Damage Resolution Methods: Best Practices

Discuss It: This is mostly here for us old-school grognards. New players, Organized-Play gamers, or players who play multiple campaigns under other GMs are not going to know your jam. They aren’t going to assume or respect your “narrative-dominance” and a lot of them will be straight-up freaked out by it. Discuss damage narration if you have Session Zero, at the first combat, or whenever scouting new prospects to join the game. Set thresholds (“No gore!”) or expectations (“Drown me in the blood of my enemies!”). Do a little group work. It will save drama, we promise.

Respect It: Unless using a Collaborative Method, don’t change it until it’s broken. Constant shifts in narration style are inherently confusing. If you prefer a different method than the rest of the group has opted for, either adapt or find a new group. Constantly disrupting a method or asserting your preferred, unagreed one will upset other players. It probably won’t be a big deal. But it will bother them. Even if they are too nice to say anything about it.

Practice It: Damage resolution can be tough. Not all of us have a background in medieval weapons, global martial arts techniques, or cinematic fight choreography. Few players know what happens when every substance combusts or is electrified. Watching films, live streams, YouTube, or even anime can inspire inventive language. Hit pause and try to describe what you just watched. You might surprise yourself. If your group is all-in for narrative damage (and not everyone will be!) here are a few tips:

  • Character in Focus: Avoid using “your character,” “Mike’s druid,” or other language that puts a layer of distancing between the acting character and the damage. Name it. Make it personal.
  • Engage the Senses: Make it crackle with static to jar the hair on the player’s arms. Make them scent the copper tang in the air. Hit them with the blast of steam. Sear them with the furnace-like heat as it beads up sweat. Make them feel it.
  • Use Your Resources: Spell descriptions often have great springboard language to describe them. It is one of the reasons why many games default to magic getting “more” than weapon –based characters. Products like the “forbidden edition” or martial maneuver based systems have great text for practicing making melee and ranged fighters shine at the table when they damage deal.

Narrative Damage: Landing the Crit

Whether it’s a simplified numeric resolution or cinematic screenshot filled-up by ten-cent vocabulary words, finding a damage style that helps maintain a good balance of action and momentum is key for better games. What are your favorite methods and descriptions of damaging actions, spells, or attacks? Comment below or on Facebook.

You can also check out our martial options to get great abilities with pre-loaded descriptions for every hit-point and penalty: Here, here, and here.

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Codex of Blood is out!

Judow “Glasspunk” Warrior – by Dionisis Milonas

Thank you again for supporting us in bringing City of 7 Seraphs and the multiverse of planar adventure to life! Our exploration of Infinity continues with new martial options for the initiator system introduced by Dreamscarred Press. Two stand alone products for mystic martial mastery are now available:

The Voltaic – A warrior fueled by stamina, speed, and storm-like fury. With new archetypes and a discipline that allow you to find the Spark of Battle. (Get it here!)

The Codex of Blood: Parasites & Paragons – A new base class and 16 new archetypes with 3 new disciplines and expanded compatibility with the Dreamscarred Press releases. (Get it here!)

Spheres of Might more your martial moves? Don’t forget Lost Champions which will shortly be getting some new expansion material as well. Beyond this melee of magnificence, we have A LOT more content coming down the pipe. Secrets of the City. the Axial Libris, and more Akashic Realms!

Thanks so much for your continued support!

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Announcing: Akashic Realms – Emperors & Einherjar

Akashic Realms 1 Teaser Logo.pngStorm Hammer Samurai - Promo

Some people might expect us to be taking it easy after getting City of 7 Seraphs ready but that isn’t remotely the case. Today we announce Akashic Realms: Emperors & Einherjar! An exploration into the veilweaving and lore of two Realms of the Outer Spheres, this supplement brings new planar powers into the hands of your players:

  • A  new Zodiac cosmology for your solar and lunar champions to summon and equip themselves with.
  • New convergences to empower the planar might of the nexus
  • New veils including the powers of the Asgardian mythos and the sinister Dark Shogunate.

Get ready heroes, for some of us the adventure is just beginning!

Not on board the new age of planar adventure? You can get started with City of 7 Seraphs here:


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Release the Kraken! (PDF Release!)

City of 7 Seraphs - New Promo

The PDF release of City of 7 Seraphs is finally out! A new era of planar adventure awaits. And you can get it at these fine locations:


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The Stars Are Right!

“The Stars are my allies!”



Cover: Classes of the Lost Spheres: Zodiac – Art by Bryan Syme and Graphics by Liz Courts

Some of the City of 7 Seraphs team were so fast finishing their work for that book, they had to make another amazing thing already! Michael Sayre, the master of all-things akashic, joined artist Bryan Syme and the amazing graphic mastery of Liz Courts to give birth to Christen N. Sowards’ vision of a star-powered champion.

Two classes in one, choose the orbit of your zodiac – the martial solar or the supportive lunar – to match your personal play style. Customize your stellar conjurations with a dizzying array of stellar champions, weapons, and gear as you discover an entirely new way to use the universal energies of akasha.

Get your copy of Classes of the Lost Spheres: Zodiac today!

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Featured Artist: Bryan Syme

Telekinetic Blackblade

Blackblade Telekinetic – Artist: Bryan Syme, ©2018 Lost Spheres Publishing

As we continue to develop the City of 7 Seraphs book, we wanted to share some of the amazing artwork by project artist Bryan Syme. Chosen for his remarkable skills at presenting powerful figures, anatomical realities, and actualizing some VERY challenging art orders, Bryan is doing a lot of heavy lifting on populating the Districts and Parities of the City.

Mindblade Noble

Mindblade Noble – Artist: Bryan Syme, ©2018 Lost Spheres Publishing

Bryan has a huge body of work and has worked with some of the best companies and properties out there from Paizo to Kobold Press to Warhammer. We are overjoyed to have his work in the book.


Pon Pon Electrokinetic – Artist: Bryan Syme, ©2018 Lost Spheres Publishing

Check out more of Bryan’s work: Here.

And you can see all of his work on City by pre-ordering your copy: Here.

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Co7S at Norwescon!

Shadow Fey Ripper

Shadow Fey Ripper – Artist: Vincent Coviello

Greetings Backers and Friends!

Development is currently churning full-speed and things are moving along nicely. We will be taking a short break from that this weekend to do another playtest game at Norwescon to get a few more pieces of feedback on some of the new mechanics.

Christen will also be on some panels talking about the art direction for the project and other topics.

If you are at the ‘Con feel free to chat with us!

People can still Pre-Order the book here: https://co7s.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

Can’t wait? You can already check out our backlist here: RPGNowPaizo, and the Open Gaming Store on d20pfsrd.

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Lost in a Forest…

Ballista Tree - Preview.jpg

Ballista Tree – Art: Vincent Coviello

We are deep in the woods of development but wanted to take the time to remind people that it isn’t too late to be left alone in the dark! Instead you can join us in the City of 7 Seraphs by pre-ordering at BackerKit: Here.

Then you can be left alone in the dark with this guy! The combination of David N. Ross (designer of the Shadow Weaver) and artist Vincent Coviello delivers an amazing creature in the Ballista Tree!

Don’t wait too long though, we only have a couple months left to reserve copies of first print run of the hardcover release.

Can’t wait? You can already check out our backlist here: RPGNowPaizo, and the Open Gaming Store on d20pfsrd.

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Struck Dumb with Awe…


Aphos, God of the Faith Devoured – art by Nino Vecia

Our apologies for a silent season, but be assured we have been hard at work making the City of 7 Seraphs as great as possible. And art getting art like this back makes us all too happy to wait. Nino Vecia (illustrator of “The Warden’s Call“) renders Aphos the Hungerer to amazing reality in this portrait of the vampiric Eternal!

It is not too late to pre-order City of 7 Seraphs: Here.

Can’t wait? Check out our backlist here: RPGNowPaizo, and the Open Gaming Store on d20pfsrd.

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Stay (10 Random Tips to Help Games Reach 20+ level)

Sarrosian Mirror Slayer

Sarrosian Slayer – Artist: Vincent Coviello

While we toil away making City of Seven Seraphs progressively more amazing, here is a list of a few of our tips for GMs and Players who want to buckle-down for a full 1st to 20th level campaign:

10 Random Things for Getting a Campaign to 20+ level:

1) Check Commitment Levels (Everyone/Pre-Game): Make sure your entire group is willing to commit to characters for that length of time, At medium progression a PathfinderRPG game played weekly (in 4-6 hour games) takes just a little between 1.5 and 2 years to hit 20th level. That is around 80 game sessions people are agreeing to attend to. This is NOT a casual thing. If it looks like this might be an issue, consider Fast Track experience. Make sure everyone is REALLY interested in that length of a game. A lot of people are, but you might be surprised how many aren’t willing to lock-in to that.

2) Plan for Change (Everyone/Pre-Game): Make sure you have backdoors in your story to allow for change in both players and characters. 80 sessions at Medium Experience is a lot to play. Most players will think of this as a privilege and treasure it.  But, sometimes players make mistakes and over-commit. This can be to actual games or to a character concept that turns out to be less enjoyable to them than expected. Have a strategy for dealing with these situations. Don’t make any one character too important in the meta-plot of the game until you know how well the player’s experience is going. After a few campaigns you will probably know who you long term gamers are going to be and you can build stories with respect to those known levels of engagement. Also see 10.

3) Outline the Story (GM/Pre-Game): Have an adventure outline and story-arc in mind for a large share of the scope of the game. I highly discourage a newer GM from running a total sandbox game until they feel very comfortable with the system. Sandbox games tend to be more wild and unpredictable. However, also remember a campaign is NOT a novel. Player agency is crucial to most gamers’ enjoyment of the hobby. Make sure you get a player to have some degree of buy-in before you script out their “destiny.”

4) Check GM Intentions (GM/Pre-Game): Realize that most GMs want to be their own players. This is hard to grasp sometimes but every GM is by nature going to create the game experience THEY want to have. The key here is understanding that a GM does not run for themselves, they actually will get the least fulfilling “player experience” at the table and they should understand that their players might have different desires, wants, and even needs. This is VERY hard to learn. If you want to tell a story with a definite end and strict requirements of the cast of characters, write a novel instead.

5) Know Your Players & GM (Everyone/On-Going): Usually, a home playgroup is comprised of friends. But a lot of groups do start as strangers. The ability to come together over a game is a strong bonding agent. Sometimes people like each other rapidly and “jump in” to a long-term game without any real period of acquaintance or understanding. This can be amazing. Lifelong friendships can begin casually at a Convention or LGS. But sometimes we join forces with someone with radically different out-of-game views than ourselves. Make sure you can respect one another before trying to share a long-term game with them. Or institute a “table-only” protocol for a group of relative strangers and keep the game about the game.

6) Session Zero (Everyone): Have a Session Zero. It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to take all night (I recommend planning for that though). It IS a very good idea to do. Level set story expectations, level set description intensity. Confirm commitment. Discuss player agency. Verify that people understand your GMing style and preferences. Talk to players about the kind of game they want. Let your players talk to each other. Make sure the energy feels good. Be willing to identify problems and warning signs.

7) Tear Down Vacuum Builds (Everyone/On-Going): In the current metagame for Pathfinder there are a LOT of resources to aid in character construction. A common player pitfall is to dive into this advice as “bible.” Players commit to the “monk build” from so-and-so’s guide and carry another gamer’s opinions and baggage with them to your table. A player who knows nothing about your campaign. This in-turn can create dissonance with story-elements or cheapen the value of homebrewed rules content. Generally speaking vacuum characters are strong numerically and weak in terms of story integration.

8) Own Your Head-Cannon and House-Rules (GM/On-Going): It is vital as a game goes on to make changes for your table. The GM is final arbitrator of rules. Try to be aware of those changes. Log them if you need to. Nothing is more alienating to a new player than an established groups meta-myths and house-rules. If you have a lot of these consider codifying them. At the very least be willing to discuss them with new players and explain their origins without being defensive or overly “sovereign” about them. What works at your table WILL NOT work at every other table. Try to not rapidly “course correct” or overreact. Among a fantasy storytellers most important jobs is to create consistency and enhance verisimilitude. Changing rules weakens this fundamentally. So does hiding them. This also applies to alterations to a printed Campaign Settings history and storylines.

9) Let Go of Fear (Everyone/On-Going): Two years is a long time. Let people explore. Say yes to stuff. That can be new rules content for characters. It can mean letting them go off course for adventure. Let them ask you about the world you are creating with them. You might be surprised by your own answers. In my experience, people are too afraid. Afraid of losing control of games. Afraid of not being as powerful as another player’s character. Afraid to explore extremes of story or heroism because they are too worried about control or fairness or balance. If you want to build trust at the table, start by giving it.

10) Player Trajectory (Everyone/On-Going): Be willing to address the monsters AT the table. Problem players happen. Usually it is a misunderstanding or lack of setting clear expectations. But sometimes it is a person who has not been looking for friends. They’ve been looking for an audience or rivals or worst of all.. victims. Be aware of player intention. If you sense that a player is moving in a direction that is detrimental to the well-being of your table or your campaign… question it. It doesn’t have to be an interrogation. But it is totally ok to ask OOC why a player wants to do something that seems problematic. Once the motive is established it is easier to identify other work-arounds that work for everyone or to identify a damaging behavior earlier and dealt with it.

Look for more GM Advice here.

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