Monday, August 22, 2016

Carolina Game Tables Offers Tabletop Gamers Affordable Luxury

We've all seen the impossible luxury of dedicated gaming tables. Whether we saw them in-person at a place like Gen Con, or pictures were shared to one of our online forums, we've all had a good drool session over them. They tend to be one part high-roller, and one part hardwood, and we're tempted to reach for our wallets to shell out whatever they're asking. Until, that is, we see the actual price of some of these furnishings.

If you've found yourself in that predicament, I'd like to direct you to Carolina Game Tables. They've got the luxury you've been dreaming about, but at a price that won't make you sell off all your quest rewards at once.

Yeah, I want one, too.
So how does it work? Well, it's pretty simple. You pick the size of the table you want (though if you're going to pick Tablezilla, you'd better have a gaming room of appropriately epic proportions to match), the finish you want the table to have, and the fabric that covers the play surface. Your table will be produced by some of the finest cohorts in the land in 16 weeks, and if you live in the continental U.S., it can even be delivered straight to your door.

When your normal friends and family are around, it's just a high-quality, mahogany table. When it's time to play, though, the tabletop comes off, revealing the epic arena below!

Names (And Histories) You Can Trust

Carolina Game Tables is run by Clint Black and Jodi Black, who've been involved in other parts of the tabletop gaming industry for some time. They know the ups and downs, and the pain that comes when you want to have somewhere really nice to indulge in your heroic hobby. Fortunately for all of us, they also had the idea to design high-quality gaming tables, and the business savvy (along with the business contacts) to pull it off.

If you can make it at Gen Con, you can make it anywhere.
With four sizes, six fabrics, and four finishes, that's a lot of combinations for your gaming table. While Carolina Game Tables doesn't do custom orders, they are planning on expanding the options they have available based on the interest from their customers. Bypassing gimmicks, it's a company that doesn't cut corners. You're not just buying a gaming table. You're buying a high-quality adventure accessory that can do double duty when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other gatherings all rear their heads as well.

Seriously, go take a look at Carolina Game Tables. I have to go cajole my wallet out from under the bed.

If you feel for my wallet, and would like to help me get it out of hiding, why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month keeps the content coming hard and fast, and gets you some free swag while you're at it! I hope you enjoyed this week's Moon Pope Monday update, and if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, what's the hold up?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How it Changes Your Game

I've talked a lot about language on this blog, and how the words we use to describe things tend to shape our perceptions and our experiences. For example, in What's in a Name? How Your Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, I talked about how it's a mistake for us to assume that the name of your class is an absolute for your in-game appearance, history, and social standing. I've written A Guide To Swearing in Your Fantasy RPG for players who want to have unique, in-game curse words, and years ago I put together In Their Own Words: Finding Your Character's Voice to show that the way we speak often influences how a character is played.

This week I'd like us all to try another linguistic trick with our games. The next time you all sit down at the table, ban the use of the word adventurer.

Freelance incendiary artist is still a valid job title, though.

How Do You Stack Your Gold?

Ask yourself how many times characters at your table have been described purely by their class levels (class levels being a meta concept, and not something that we really see in-game). Now ask, if pressed, how many people would describe their profession as "adventurer"? For step three, ask what the word "adventurer" means in a practical sense. Because, generally speaking, it's a catch-all category that people use as a way to Spackle over the fact that they've left a huge part of their character's life and history vacant and empty. As if they didn't exist before level 1.

You're starting to lose me here... what's the point?
The point is that adventurer isn't really a job description. It's a placeholder. A placeholder you're supposed to come back to, and fill out with something a little more descriptive before the game really gets started.

To do that, all you have to do is ask, "How do you pay your bills?"

The answer should be informed by the character's skill set, but it's mainly a story question. Take the most basic character there is; a 1st level fighter. This character could be a military veteran, who either left the service, or was discharged; meaning he's a pikeman who needs work. Maybe he's a rough-and-tumble bruiser, who favors spiked gauntlets and short knives over fancier tactics. Is he a mugger? A legbreaker for a local gang? Or does the character use his prowess to keep the peace, either as a watch guard, or a bouncer at the local tavern? Is he a prize fighter, cracking teeth and breaking bones for the entertainment of a crowd? Is this fighter an archer? If so, how does he use that skill set? Is he a hunter? Does he perform as a sharpshooter with a traveling circus? If he has ranks in the Survival skill, is he a woods guide, eking out a living trading furs, and escorting merchants through rough country?

All of these vocations explain where the character's skills came from, and what the character does to earn money. Because, when you get right down to it, that's usually pretty high on any list of "adventurer" goals. Sure there might be motivations like revenge, or justice, or saving the world, but no one would ever fight a dragon if the dragon's horde wasn't on the table. And, by knowing what you do for a living, you'll be able to explain why the party needs you before setting off on the current plot hook.

What Title Does Your Character Use?

We tend to label people based on what they do. And, when we're describing ourselves and our skill sets to other people, we tend to use professional labels as a short-cut. For example, Argon Lockbar is a 7th-level Rogue, a master lock and trapsmith, and he's traveled the world in search of lost lore and ancient relics, both for profit and because he believes it's what's right. If he's an erudite scholar, he might call himself an archaeologist, or a student of history. If he's a little more crass, or honest, he'd call himself a treasure hunter.

Vaults ain't gonna open themselves.
The title a character uses can sometimes upend your expectations for their class, as well. For example, Perine Hensdale is a 5th-level enchanter. Top of her class, she has potent magic at her command. When people ask what she does, though, she might answer that she's a bounty hunter; one who literally talks people into giving themselves up. She might also be a diplomat, keeping her magical skills hushed while secretly using them to secure peace treaties for governments, or just to settle trade disputes between unions. And just because it says 6th-level paladin on Herne Darkwood's sheet, that doesn't stop him from being a wandering sellsword. It just means that he might be willing to waive his fee, partially or entirely, for the right cause.

Motivation Dovetails With Your Job

One of the other major elements of your character is their motivation. But that motivation needs to gel with what your character is doing (and if it doesn't, you need an explanation for why that isn't happening).

Ugh... mastery of the arcane arts is so unfulfilling.
For example, say your character is an arcane scholar. He's a professor of history at one of the finer institutions, and always keeps his classes riveted with his lectures. But he, himself, craves being in the field. So he tends to take sabbaticals to go to dig sites, and to track down lost ruins or ancient mysteries. On the one hand, this is an adequate description of Indiana Jones. It's also a snazzy concept for a bard, a wizard, a sorcerer, or a witch, and it means that at no point in time will the answer to, "so what do you do?" be, "I'm an adventurer!"

So, hopefully folks enjoyed this week's Fluff topic. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, and make sure I've got the scratch to keep going, then please stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month gets you some sweet swag, and it helps me keep doing what I do. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, then why not change that today?

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Hit It With My Axe is Back! (Even MORE DND With Pornstars)

There are a lot of podcasts and YouTube channels out there where gamers big and small record their campaigns. Some of them are dark, some of them are hilarious, but it can be very hit or miss whether a campaign you're not part of sucks you in. Well, a little over a year ago I wrote up a piece about I Hit It With My Axe, which is a game that's unique in that most of the players are adult entertainers of one stripe or another. Sadly, the series went on a long hiatus (as some campaigns are wont to do), and it left both the die hard fans, as well as the passingly curious, wondering what was going to happen.

There were some of us who even questioned if it would be completed, dreading the answer even as we wondered.

Each of us for our own reasons.
Well, the wait is over! As you can see on the I Hit it With My Axe blog, the campaign is up, running, and fully watchable once more! And, if you need to catch up on all the old episodes before jumping into the new one, there's a recap available on Satine Phoenix's channel. And, if you want to keep up to date on all the latest happenings with the show, and the campaign it chronicles, then you should probably drop by the I Hit it With My Axe Facebook page, and give it a like.

I don't know about you all, but I have some catching up to do!

I know this week's Moon Pope Monday update is a little on the short side, but hey, Monday posts are always free, right? Also, before I sign off, I wanted to remind folks that if they want to help support Improved Initiative, the easiest way to do it (other than reading, liking, and sharing) is to go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a tip in my jar. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-the-minute on all my updates and new posts, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, August 12, 2016

You Cannot Contain Power Players (So Try Working With Them, Instead)

Every roleplaying game out there is built on a foundation of rules. The rules decide how many points you get to spend on your attributes, how likely your attacks are to hit, what special abilities (if any) your character possesses, and how they work. And if you get a table of four players together, and you present each of them with the same options, there's going to be at least one of them who finds the right combination of abilities to make a character that's really good at his or her job. They didn't break the rules, or even twist them, but their character is definitely in the heavyweight category compared to the other players when it comes to spellcasting, skullduggery, swordplay, or any other tasks that start with "S".

These are your power players.

Time to meet the monster.
I would like to give an important piece of advice to all the DMs out there who see power players coming their way, and who try to tie them down with red tape and house rulings. Take a breath, and stop. Because whatever your power player has brought to the table, taking away one toy will just mean they go back to the toy box to find something else that will let them accomplish the same goal in a different way.

If There Are Rules, There Are Building Blocks

I'll give you a perfect example of how this situation tends to go. Mind's Eye Society, a group that ran and oversees World of Darkness LARPs, saw that too many players were building the biggest possible combat pools they could, and using these combat powerhouses to essentially take out other characters in a single hit. Instead of addressing things on the small-scale, however, the organization chose to institute a blanket ruling that put a cap on the amount of damage that could be done in a single hit.

This worked about as well as you think it would.
The theory was that if you made it impossible to build one-shot wonders, then players wouldn't use violence as a means to solve every situation. That was, of course, not what happened. Instead of building bigger brutes, some players invested in characters who could soak up inhuman amounts of punishment, since there was no cap on how much health you can have. That way they could simply outlast the other characters, tanking as much hurt as they could before walking away the victor. Other players invested in recruiting small armies of NPCs, which meant that instead of having one trigger to pull, a single player could have control of a dozen, highly-trained shooters at a time.

The point is, taking away the ability to build a character that could cave in someone's ribs and rupture their heart with a single punch didn't stop people from building combat monsters. All it did was create a detour, making players use different means to achieve the same end.

And, as a DM, that's what you're going to see if you start arbitrarily telling players who did their homework that they aren't allowed to use certain abilities, or create certain combinations. Because if the player hasn't broken any rules, it can feel like you're punishing them for being able to find, and use, the most effective options available.

Make Your Power Players Work For You

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; every game needs a Session 0. If you have a power player (or two, or three) at your table, you need to sit down with them, and listen to what they're planning on doing. If you have someone who's planned a multiclass shock trooper, capable of smashing through hordes of foes, then you need to ask yourself how that's going to gel with the game you're planning on running, and where that leaves the rest of the table. Because if the group is made up of a face man and two spellcasters, then that sort of muscle might be just what they need. But if there are already two other combat specialists, and you know they won't be able to keep up with the power player's build, then you should try to fix that.

But you don't fix it by just banging a gavel and denying one of your players a perfectly legal option. Instead, talk to them, explain that you appreciate what they're trying to make, and work with them to make something that will let them have fun, but which will help keep the game going in the direction you want, while allowing everyone else to enjoy it, too.

It doesn't seem that hard, does it?
Now, there will be some players who get offended that you'd ask them to change their concept because you feel it would be disruptive. Some players may even make a stink that you want them to "play down" to the rest of the table's level. If you present your case in a reasoned, thoughtful sort of way, and that's the reaction you get, un-invite that player to your table until they learn that this game isn't just about them, but that it's a cooperative effort among everyone.

That is the sort of understanding you need to foster, if you want a power player to give you a character that will not only do the job they were built for, but help build up the rest of the table at the same time. It takes skill, time, and dedication to learn how to match the right options together in order to build a powerful PC. But being able to do that without overshadowing anyone else, that takes cooperation, care, and more than a little help from the person behind the screen.

As always, thanks for stopping in to see what I had to say for this week's Crunch topic. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, even if it's as little as $1 a month, click over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every new patron, regardless of how much they choose to put in the tip jar, gets free books, and access to all my future giveaways! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, now would be a great time to start.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Are The Rules For Writing About Pathfinder?

So, as folks have pointed out, I write a lot about Pathfinder. And, while I try to make sure that as much of my content is system-neutral as possible, sometimes I have to get system-specific. Because, after all, Crunch topics that work in Pathfinder won't work in other systems. Aside from the fact that Pathfinder is one of the games I play most regularly, and one of the more popular systems out there, it also has an open game license. Not only that, but Paizo has put forth a list of rules regarding who can use their game content, and under what circumstances.

Those rules, if you're curious, are the Paizo Inc. Community Use Policy.

Take a minute and read it through, if you're curious.
If you've considered becoming a blogger, or you'd like to include Pathfinder content in your YouTube videos, podcasts, or even your own adventure paths and campaign modules, all you have to do is read through these use rules, and see if anything you want to do violates the community use policy or open game license.

For example, if you are going to charge people for access to your product (membership fee on a website, purchase price for a mod, etc.), then you cannot use any of Paizo's intellectual property in it. That means you can use Pathfinder's rule system, but you cannot take the gods, the countries, the history, etc. All of those things are off-limits if you're charging for them.

So where does that leave someone like me, or Simon Peter Munoz, the man behind the Creative Repository Blog? Well, we fall into a much safer place than people who are publishing and selling RPG content. Because our blogs are free to anyone who wants to read them, we don't have to worry as much. That's why you'll see articles specifically about world lore, suggesting particular nations for particular concepts, and talking about adventure paths and modules here in Improved Initiative.

The Rules Can Change

It's important to remember that the rules can, and will, change. So, if you're ever in doubt, it's a good idea to check the community use policy to be certain that you're still in compliance with it. Also, remember, that neither I, nor Improved Initiative, are endorsed by Paizo. I am just a guy with a blog, who talks about gaming. If you want to get a certain answer on whether your idea is going to be okay, legally speaking, all you have to do is email Paizo, and ask.

Seriously, it's that simple.

As always, thanks for checking out this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Also, as I said, this blog is free to everyone. So, if you'd like to leave me a tip to help me keep producing the content you want, why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and become a patron? As little as $1 a month makes a big difference, and it's enough to net you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too?

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Broken Mirror Part Four: The Moon Court Madman

This week we continue the story of the Talented Mr. Ripley, and the darkling's descent into corruption, and madness. When we last left him he was struggling with the discovery that murder came easy to him, and trying to reconcile his bloody deeds with the fact that the Moon Court had welcomed him with open arms. Of course, when you are praised for being a monster, you're likely to become even worse than you already were.

If you're not caught up yet, here's the full list of installments.

The Broken Mirror Part One: The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Broken Mirror Part Two: Through The Mirror Darkly
The Broken Mirror Part Three: The Dark Side of The Moon

All caught up? Lovely! Now then, where were we...

Broken Hearts, and Broken Faces

Ripley didn't remember who he was, or where he came from. His hands always seemed to know what to do, and the right words always came out of his mouth, but it was always a near thing. He had no personality, no desires... he was, quite simply, a dark reflection of whatever was near to him.

Some reflections are darker than others.
That began to change with his acceptance into the Moon Court. Doors started opening in his head, and fragments of the man he'd once been started oozing their way to the surface. He developed irrational hatreds of beautiful things, and took a special pleasure in the disgust of attractive women. He began carrying hidden blades, though he barely remembered secreting them on his person, and he took delight in stealing faces. Ruining the reputations of others became a treat for him, the way an awful child might pull the legs off a spider.

(As this was a LARP setting, I managed to convince one of the other players to get in on this joke with me. He went into the game in his own costume and makeup, playing Ripley masquerading as his character to ensure that no meta-knowledge from the other players ruined the scene. The confusion among those who were there to witness it was truly something to behold as the steadfast and stoic Eric Ymir flirted with other courtiers, drank half a bottle of whiskey, smashed the bottle across someone's face, then bolted from the room, laughing.)

That wasn't enough, though. Ripley had an itch he couldn't scratch. With all the faces he'd taken, he still didn't recognize his own. So he approached a Fall court Oracle, and begged her favor. She showed him who he'd been, and gave him the name he'd once carried. Tyler Glass, missing for a time as a sophomore, he was found wandering the road miles out of town, with no memory of where he'd been. That man, of course, wasn't Ripley. Ripley had been away. In a dark room with a queen who had caressed him when he pleased her, and smashed his face whenever he'd disappointed her. Until, in time, there was no one left behind those eyes. Just a malleable mirror, who could become anyone, and slip unnoticed into any place. A man who, one day, had simply winked out, like an evaporating puddle, and found himself back in a world he barely knew.

Gratitude, Madness, and Cannibalism

Ripley was grateful to the Oracle, and to the way she'd helped him. That was a thing that rarely happened. And, though he was stewing with unfocused rage that something else had been living his life, he also found himself changing. The role of the trickster, the deviant, the lunatic, had been one he'd played for so long that it had begun taking hold of him. Thick, black patches began erupting on his arms, spreading across his hands, turning him slowly but surely into something he didn't recognize. His tongue thickened, and lengthened, and the eyes that stared out at him from the mirror were going a hideous, awful red.

This is, really, the opposite of rose-colored glasses.
Something more important happened, though. Eric Ymir, the Summer courtier whom Ripley had played some of his best tricks on, vanished. Not just vanished, but had been murdered, and his body fed to a Fall courtier. Ripley was beside himself with fury. Not because he cared for Ymir, but because that was his toy. His life to ruin. And someone else took that from him. No one stole from him, and he was going to stick his blades into the killer until they saw the error of crossing paths with him.

Then he discovered the killer had been the very Oracle he held in such high regard.

That was when Ripley's already delicate psyche cracked, and schismed. She wouldn't do that... she helped him. She was good... but there was no doubt it had been her hand on the knife that had killed Ymir. Ripley couldn't reconcile these two things, but it was found that at the time of the murder, her clarity had been in tatters.

That was the answer, of course.

Jokes Falling Flat at The Funny Farm

In order to know why she had done what she'd done, Ripley snuck into a facility meant for the truly mad. Those afflicted with conditions that made them see what wasn't there, and hear words no one spoke. He delved into their dreams, plagued their realities, and sought the force of genuine Madness that threaded itself through them. Why? Well, he had a proposal for it.

He wanted Madness to come and dwell in him. To show him what the Oracle had seen, and to make him understand why she had hurt him so by breaking his favorite toy.

How did that go? Well, tune-in next time to find out, as we conclude the tale of the Talented Mr. Ripley!

Hopefully you're enjoying this latest multi-part tale on Table Talk. If you've got a story of your own to share, I'm always open to hearing them, and putting my readers in the spotlight. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 a month is a big help, and it gets you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who Wants Me To DM For Them At Gen Con?

So, despite my running a blog all about RPGs, and living in the state of Indiana, I don't make Gen Con anywhere near as often as I should. The last time I made it was two years ago in the summer of 2014, and that was my first year actually working for someone. This year I'll be back, and in addition to manning the booth for artist Brent Chumley in Artist Alley, (who I covered in my Monday posts that same year in Meet Brent Chumley... No, Seriously, You Really Should), I will be DMing a single session of a game for Kobold Press.

What am I running? Well, the game is called Gravebinder's Daughter, it uses Pathfinder rules, and it starts at 7:00 pm Thursday evening. The game goes to 11:00 pm, or whenever the group finishes the module before that. I need at least 4 players, and I can't take any more than 6. The ID for the event is RPG1694800, and it takes place in the Hyatt: Cosmopolitan Ballroom C.

Be there, if you've got the bones for it.
This will be my first time running a game at Gen Con, and my first time running something in Midgard. Hopefully it will be a memorable experience for all who show up. So, if you're someone who's a fan of my work, and you want to see what I'm like at the table, I'd recommend stopping in and taking a seat. Or, if you just want to say hello, it's always nice to meet the folks who fill my tip jar.

That's all I wanted to say in this week's Moon Pope Monday update. I won't be writing any posts during the time I'm actually at Gen Con (won't have time to sneak off the floor), but I guarantee that I'll be back on the job the Monday after, and ready to share any adventures I had. Speaking of my tip jar, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then I'd suggest stopping over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. All it takes is $1 a month ($12 a year), to keep the content flowing free, and if you become a patron there's a shiny thank-you gift in the mix for you. Lastly, if you haven't already done so, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up on my latest updates?