Saturday, June 22, 2019

Getting The Most Out of The Heal Skill (in Pathfinder)

The Heal skill is one of those aspects of Pathfinder that most people just ignore. Aside from using it to tell how injured someone is, or how a particular corpse in a dungeon died, it seems like something that just isn't going to come up. However, like many skills in the book, you can do a lot with the Heal skill if you're willing to invest in it.

And sometimes it can be what saves your party.

Stop squirming, I need to get this thing out before you get a negative level...

The Heal Skill: What Can It Do?

Skills aren't magic, and while the Heal skill can restore hit points to a PC, you can't do it quickly. This makes it a poor choice for combat healing (most of the time, more on that later), but there is a lot of stuff you can use this skill for.

Stuff like:

- Provide First Aid: As a standard action you can make a DC 15 Heal check to stabilize a dying character, or to stop them from bleeding due to a bleed effect.

- Treat Poison: While tending a character who has been poisoned, every time they roll a save against the poison, you roll a Heal check. If your check exceeds the poison's save DC, then the subject gets a +4 competence bonus. Particularly useful for those who don't have other means prepared to neutralize a poison.

- Treat Disease: This works similarly to treating poison, and it can be a life-saver at lower levels when you can't cure disease with a wave of a hand just yet. It also takes 10 minutes as an action, so it's not great for in-combat use.

- Treat Deadly Wounds: This one takes a full hour, and expends 2 uses of a healer's kit. If you succeed, you restore a number of hit points equal to the creature's level, and if you beat the DC 20 by 5 or more then you add a bonus number of hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier. You have to do this within 24 hours of the wounds being delivered, and you can only do this once per day per target.

There are a few other uses of this skill (treating wounds from caltrops, long-term care, etc.) but these are the four most common uses. And chances are that most tables have only ever used the first-aid option. It's easy to think of this skill as one that falls by the wayside as you gain more expedient means of curing hit point damage, neutralizing poisons, and dealing with deadly wounds... but if you really want to invest in it, you can rev this skill up to the next level.

It's All About The Right Feats...

The feat you need to really juice this up is Healer's Hands, and it's found in the book Planar Adventures (the same book that gave us Magic Trick from How To Turn Floating Disk Into a Battlefield Spell). All you need is 1 rank of Heal and 1 rank of Knowledge (Planes), and you can take this feat. In short, it allows you to:

- Treat deadly wounds as a full-round action (instead of taking an hour).

- You don't take a negative for not using a healer's kit.

- You can use this action on a creature more than once per day, and if you beat the DC by 10 or more (it's a check of 30, for those keeping track), then you also get to add your ranks in Knowledge (Planes) to the hit points you heal.

You feeling better there, Jim?
Now, as a caveat, you can only use this feat's benefits a number of times per day equal to your ranks in Knowledge (Planes), and it only works on creatures that could be healed by positive energy. But say you're a level 10 character, you invested all the skill ranks, and you've got a high wisdom. Every time you treat deadly wounds on a fellow party member (without even needing a healer's kit, mind you), that's probably between 23 and 25 hit points you're giving them back (10 for their level, 10 for your ranks in Knowledge (Planes), and 3-5 depending on your Wisdom modifier).

At 10 times per day, that essentially gives you between 230 and 250 hit points you can restore without magic every day. Not a bad ability, eh? Especially if you add things like Healer's Gloves for that +5 competence bonus on your checks to make sure you hit that DC 30 reliably.

Then There's Skill Unlocks...

I'm the first to admit that there are not a lot of DMs who are willing to give players skill unlocks. First debuted in Pathfinder Unchained, they are an optional rule, but if they're in-play at your table then you can crack the Heal skill wide open.

And why is that, you might ask?
What you need to do is, when you get 5 ranks in the Heal skill, you take the feat Signature Skill. This gives you access to the skill unlocks for Heal, which start at 5 ranks. And every 5 ranks beyond that, you unlock another signature ability. Those are:

- Target recovers additional hit points and ability damage as if they'd rested a whole day.

- Target recovers additional hit points as if they'd rested a whole day with long-term care.

- Target recovers hit points and ability damage as if they'd rested for 3 days.

- Target recovers hit points and ability damage as if they'd rested for 3 days with long-term care.

We're going to have to do some math here to work this one out to its full conclusion. Because when you rest for a full day, you recover double your level in hit points, and 2 points of temporary ability damage. When you rest for a full day with long-term care, you recover at twice that rate.

So let's look at that level 5 unlock.

Assuming you make the DC 20 check on your fellow party member, you're automatically going to heal them for 5 hit points (their level). But with this skill unlock, you now heal them double their character level instead (10 points), and 2 points of temporary ability damage, as well. If you made the DC 25 check and you have a Wisdom modifier of +5, then you'll have healed them another 5 points, for a total of 15 hit points as a full-round action. 20 hit points if you manage to hit that DC 30 (unlikely, but possible with the right built).

And you'd be able to do that 5 times per day... putting your healing capacity at between 50 and 100 hit points, as well as 10 temporary ability damage, you could heal per day with no magic and not even a healer's kit!

The numbers just get more gross from there, my friends.
So what about at level 10? Well, the skill by itself heals them for 10 hit points. With the skill unlock, though, they recover 40 instead of 10, because it's treated as if they had a day of rest with long-term care (quadruple the normal healing). They also gain back 4 points of temporary ability point damage. Then if you hit the DC 25 check, you get to add your +5 modifier to bring that up to 45 hit points, and if you hit the DC 30 modifier you could bring that up to 55.

So the total here is between 400 and 550 hit points worth of healing in a day, as well as 40 points of temporary ability score damage.

The math only gets more nuts from there. At level 15 we're looking at more than 900 hit points per day of straight healing, and more than 70 points of temporary ability damage. At level 20, assuming your game goes that far, you could in theory heal over 2k hit points per day, as well as fix more than 200 points of temporary ability score damage.

Who says every party needs a cleric?

Useful, or Broken?

On the one hand, it could be argued that the skill unlocks provide you a meaningful way to make skills a bigger part of the game, and in this case to meaningfully heal fellow party members without the presence of a divine caster or potion spammer. However, when combining the skill unlock rules with this extraplanar knowledge of healing, you may find yourself dealing with a party that is all but immortal if they survive a given fight.

Tis but a flesh wound... have at thee!
Independently, the feat and unlocks are okay, if not great. My two cents, if you intend to use a system like this to replace the need for clerics and divine casters except in instances of permanent ability drain or negative level drain, then limit the number of times the character can use the feat Healer's Hands to their Wisdom modifier times per day (or perhaps double their Wisdom modifier per day, if you're feeling generous). That gives them the ability to meaningfully heal fellow party members with a skill, instead of magic, but doesn't give them the ability to wade through battle after battle for a full day without once casting a healing spell.

Just my two cents on finding a middle ground with this trick!

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Can't Get Enough of Free RPG Day? Dig a Little Deeper on Drive Thru RPG!

This past weekend was Free RPG Day, and I remember several years ago it was one of my favorite days to be a gamer. I'd pop down the street to the local gaming/comic shop, play a demo, grab some splat books, and maybe even score a cheap mini or a free d20, if the gaming gods were kind to me.

Choose your weapon!
Sadly, over the past several years, the options in my little corner of the state have all but dried up. There's only one comic/gaming store in convenient travel distance (others that I once visited have shuttered their doors), and they have opted not to participate in this yearly ritual. As such, I spent this year at my work desk, wishing I had a convenient way to get my hands on a lot of free games.

That was when I got the urge to look up a game I played years ago with an old roommate of mine. Back in the pre-digital dark age of gaming, the game was Mutant Chronicles, and I half expected it to have totally vanished into the ether... but low and behold there was a free Mutant Chronicles quick start right there on Drive Thru RPG!

I got a bit of a grin out of that, downloaded the guide, and started flipping through it. I'd never played a Modiphius game before, and I've been having fun trying to get my head around their 2d20 system base. But as I browsed Drive Thru RPG, I noticed something else... there is a veritable treasure trove of free gaming content on there!

If you're willing to look for it, that is.

Try Before You Buy!

I'll be up-front here, most of the free content you're going to find browsing through the site are quick start guides, and similar samples of bigger, more involved games. These guides give you a taste, and usually a scenario you can run for your group using some pre-gen characters to try and get a sense of how the game plays before you invest $20 for the full PDF, or even $30 or $50 for a physical rule book. It's a risk-free way to dip your toe in, and to give the game a chance to sell itself to you.

Some of them are, admittedly, more complicated than others.
Rather than telling you to just go and slog through the entire archive, though, I figured I'd shoot you a few interesting, totally free things I found that I'm going to be flipping through over the next few days. After all, I'm sure I'm not the only one who didn't get any swag this weekend, and who doesn't love checking out a new game for the low cost of absolutely nothing?

- The Entropic Gaming System: This quick start guide gives you a line on the Entropic Gaming System, which is meant to work with any game, any theme, any genre, any era. It's got an escalating die system, and in some ways it reminds me of Savage Worlds. A fun read so far, but not one I'm done with by any means.

- Frozen Skies Jumpstart: Speaking of Savage Worlds, this particular free guide is all about getting you hooked on the setting. Full of sky pirates and aerial bandits, it's set in a dangerous, grim frontier where all you have to rely on are your gunners and your skill, this one has definitely peaked my curiosity.

- Is It A Plane!?: If you told me there was an RPG out there that replaced dice with Pictionary, I would have told you that you were a crazy person, but Psychic Cactus Games has an RPG out there that does just that. I have not tried this one out with my group just yet, but the concept of drawing your actions for the Editor to interpret was surreal enough that I felt it had to be mentioned.

- Bloodlines and Black Magic: The City of Hauberk: This setting really grabbed my attention, because it combines the familiar rules systems of both Pathfinder and 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, but it gives us a secret, modern world setting full of shadowy corners, corrupted bloodlines, occult secrets, and dangerous power players. A solid intro, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a read.

These are, of course, just a start when it comes to the demos, quick start guides, and huge troves of free stuff out there! My advice is to pop over to Drive Thru RPG and to use the terms, "free," "demo," or, "pay what you want," and to see what comes up. There are all sorts of older editions on there that are now free for the asking, and it feels like practically every game line big and small has a demo for you to play or a setting guide full of rich content to convince you to take a chance on the full-scale game.

My two cents, if you find something you like, try it out of an off-night. The sort when the whole party can't make it, or when you'd just sit around playing a board game. It can make for a refreshing palate cleanser, and it might be enough to really spark your group's interest!

Also, as a closer, if you're looking for some additional, inexpensive swag, then check out my list of contributions on Drive Thru RPG. From NPC lists for fantasy games, to unusual feats for Pathfinder, to one-shot modules for Dungeons and Dragons, I've got a bit of everything for folks looking to expand their lists of gaming options!

Like, Follow, and Keep in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed the film, and it provides you all with the same sort of inspiration it did me!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 16: Mad Lovers, and Lost Captains

Turtleback Ferry was on the verge of being overrun by hidden forces of wicked intent... but with the ogres slain, the Black Arrows rescued, and the dam preserved, it seems that Sandpoint's Companions have once more saved the day... but when a rider in black comes to town with a dire message, it seems there is something else on the horizon. A task only they are truly qualified to handle.

For those who want to get up to speed, check out:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane
- Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry
- Chapter 14: The Taking of Fort Rannick
- Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam

Just as the heroes were preparing to leave, they're told that something is going wrong in the forests beyond the Black Arrows' fortress. Something... disturbing.

Lost Loves, and Stolen Bodies

Tired from their many battles and adventures, the Companions weren't willing to leave any potential loose ends in the town of Turtleback Ferry. So they rode to the edge of the forest, guided by one of the elite Black Arrows. The trees there were old and heavy with years, and they seemed to hang under a great weight. Silence filled the air, and no birds nor beasts stirred within. It was as if the entire wood were holding its breath, and waiting for something.

Well, nothing good could possibly come from this.
The horses balked at the edge of the wood, and would go no further. Taking that as a sign of danger, the Companions dismounted, and headed deeper into the expanse of trees. The light grew dimmer, and the air colder. Mist curled around them, taking on the shapes of faces frozen in mid scream. The spirits of animals fled the heart of the wood, running past the Companions as if they were running from a great fire. All of it in complete and utter silence.

After several hours of walking, the first living creature they'd seen in hours peers out from behind a tree. A small, terrified fey, it informed them that her mistress was ahead. She was in great pain, and mourning, but if the Black Arrows sent the Companions then perhaps they could help. Confused, and more reluctant than before, the Companions approached a clearing with a clear, half-frozen pool of water in the midst. Zordlan and Mirelinda took up positions behind heavy trees, while Zhakar and Thok approached the pool.

That was when the Lady of the forest burst forth from the water, shrieking like a mad woman, glowing brighter than the sun. Thok was struck blind, falling to a knee. Zhakar stood firm, raising his voice to be heard over her screams of grief. He was there to help her, if she would but tell him how.

Though it took some convincing, the Lady lowered her blinding light, and told the Companions through her tears that her lover had been slain, and his body stolen. She had tried and tried to bring him back to her, to reincarnate him, but she couldn't. Which meant somewhere to the north, atop the frozen mountain, he had been remade into a hideous thing... an undead husk, bound with putrid energies. The only way for her to find peace would be for the Companions to return him to her. They swore they would, and when she returned beneath the waters of her pool, left her realm.

The Giants of the Mountain

As they journey northward, into the frozen peaks of the mountains, the Companions remembered they'd uncovered a strange trove of letters in the Black Arrow commander's bedroom. They had seemed intensely personal and out of place at the time, but on reflection, it was likely that his frequent jaunts into the forest to rendezvous with his Lady love were one reason the ogres took the fortress by surprise.

And for our trouble, we now have to climb this sonofabitch.
The climb into the mountains was rigorous, but with clever mountaineer's tricks from Thok, and some unique pathfinding by Zordlan, the Companions made good time. They found sign of giants, as well, so when they finally found the cavern entrance at the top of the mountain, they were not surprised to find it guarded by a pair of ogres.

The ogres, though, barely had time to be surprised before a volley of arrows and carefully slung spells left them staining the snow.

The true challenge lay inside the mountain, though. The ogres had been the lowest rungs on the chain of brute force, and it was why they'd been left outside. Inside, the caverns were filled with stone giants. While there weren't many of them, perhaps seven or eight all told, that was more than enough to prove a challenge; even with Thok's lifetime of experience training to hunt giants among the northern kellids, Zordlan's knowledge of the world's monstrous races, and Mirelinda's ever-growing sorcerous abilities.

It was when the Companions stumbled across a coven of colossal hags, all gathered round their cauldron, that they sheathed their weapons, and spoke. Thok stepped forward, and asked the Mothers where the man we sought was. It had been a long time since they'd been offered northern courtesies, and in their own tongue, which they found deeply amusing. They had also grown tired of the stone giant who'd crowned himself king, and they told the Companions the creature they sought lay beyond the throne room. There was danger enough there, though, as a recent acquaintance of theirs awaited them.

Lamias and Giant Kings

After giving their guidance, the three huge hags vanished in a cloud of smoke. Oddly comforted, knowing that at least something around here was normal, Thok led the others to the throne room. What the Companions found waiting for them were a pair of stone giant guards, and their king seated upon a granite throne. Standing at his side was the lamia matriarch they had driven out of Fort Rannick mere days ago.

Second verse, same as the first.
The giant who had dubbed himself king was halfway through a prepared taunt when the lamia, threw up her hands to protect her face. With a dispassion rarely seen from him, Zhakar advanced, raising his hand. He blasted another brilliant ray, catching one of the royal guards, the matriarch, and the self-proclaimed ruler in the brilliant ray. While the matriarch managed to preserve her regained sight, the stone giants were not so lucky. One swung his club madly, smashing it into the walls, the stairs, and the ceiling, while the king screamed, hurling spells blindly about the room.

With the momentum thus gained, the battle was nearly won. The sighted giant fell to Bostwick's iron fists, and the blinded one was put out of its misery thanks to Thok's precision archery. The lamia attempted to stand, but with Mirelinda's spells seeking her out, and Zhakar advancing on her, she vanished once more into the ether, abandoning her erstwhile allies to their fate. Hearing that he was alone, the king held up his hands, and offered the Companions anything if they would only let him live.

They stripped him of his spellbook and his bonded item, as well as his headband and his enchanted bracers. Bound and under guard, they demanded to know what was happening. He told them stone giants were marching south from the stronghold of Jorgenfist, and that they would sweep their enemies before them. The giants had marshaled their kin, and were merely waiting for forward positions, like his, to be established. Once he'd talked himself out, they asked what had happened to the commander of the Black Arrows.

The giant king went, if possible, more pale than he already was. That thing lurked deeper in the frozen caverns, and it had slain half a dozen of his warriors. The man had been a danger in life... as a frozen wight, he was a plague upon the mountain.

The Dance of Ice and Fire

Though leery of their prisoner, the Companions paused in the throne room to rest. The wind howled through the crags, and the chill of the place wrapped around them. They built up fires, and watched the rear entrances of the room nearly as carefully as they watched the broken king. Once they had caught their breath, and readied their weapons, they set out to do what they'd come there for.

This is gonna hurt.
As the Companions entered the caverns, a chill far deeper than the rest of the mountain washed over them. An unnatural chill of the grave, and of things that defied it. A shudder passed through most, but flares of heat started to flash from beneath Zhakar's gauntlet. The skin around his right eye chafed, and when he rubbed it, flaked away. The steel beneath was still strong, but darker; blackened, as if by fire. Before Thok could ask his friend if he was all right, a hunched figure in tattered, black garb reared up and howled at them. Its hands were black from congealed blood, and its eyes glowed blue in the darkness. It still wore the signet chain of the Black Arrows' commander, but there was nothing else left of the man he'd once been.

Chaos erupted as each of the Companions snatched at scabbards, or reached for spell components. Zhakar merely held out his right hand, and gestured toward the creature. A pillar of black fire erupted around it, bursting from a rent in the air. It roared with a sound beyond the normal whoosh of evocation, and somewhere in its depths were the screams of the realm of the damned. The creature added to the cacophony, the flames eating away at the chill that sustained its life.

As the hellfire faded, the creature charged at Zhakar, swinging the sword it had wielded in life. Zhakar caught the blade on the spikes of his gauntlet, his right eye glowing with that inner, furnace light as his skin began to bubble and peel away. Thok sank his spear into the monster, attempting to push it away from his friend. Zordlon began to circle around, drawing his rapier as he sought an advantageous position. Bostwick caught it in the side, his fist cracking ribs the creature no longer felt. Mirelinda drew breath, preparing a spell to slow and bind the creature.

Then Zhakar took a single step back, pivoted, and loosed another beam of pure, white radiance. The beam caught the creature full-force, and it shrieked as the dark life inside it was ripped away. The hate in its eyes winked out, and it fell. First to its knees, then over on its side, smoke rising from its open mouth and empty sockets. Thok poked it with his spear, rolling it over. The body was just a body once more. Thok turned to Zhakar, asking in the harsh, Hallit language of his homeland if his friend was all right. Zhakar shook his head, the flesh already beginning to knit back up on his face, covering up what lurked beneath. The smoke faded as the afterimage of power left his hands.

"Let's get this back to the Lady of the Wood," he said, tightening his gauntlet another notch. "The sooner her lover comes home, the happier she'll be."

Lost and Found

The journey back was quiet. Almost somber. Though the woods were no livelier this time, they seemed hopeful, rather than bleak. And as some of the few remaining creatures saw what the Companions brought with them, word went ahead. This time when they reached the pool the Lady was waiting for them. Nervous, she was still a creature of terrible beauty.

Thok and Zhakar laid the body out before her, clutching the sword and wrapped in a clean cloak. She knelt, brushing the corpse's waxy forehead. She didn't speak, but leaned down to kiss her lover. When their lips met, a light flashed. The body was gone, as was the Lady. In their place, a strange, unreal-looking faun stood. Unsteady on its feet, it loped into the forest.

The mourning pall was gone... but so was the madness that had nearly consumed this place, and its guardian.

There was more to do, though. If what the self-proclaimed king had said was true, the giants were coming. And Sandpoint stood squarely in their path.

What is around the next corner? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

Monday, June 10, 2019

5 Common Disruptive Actions in RPGs (And How To Counter Them as a DM)

When we sit down to play, most of us are here to have fun telling a story. Sometimes that story is dark and serious, and sometimes it's light-hearted and a little ridiculous. A lot of the time it's somewhere in between. And while everyone should be allowed to contribute to the story in ways that make them happy as players, there are those times when your players push the Don't button. Sometimes it's an accident, sometimes they don't know any better... and sometimes they do it just to see what you'll do.

Your move, "Dungeon Master."
Ideally, if someone keeps poking at that button, you'll be able to sit down and talk to them as an adult and to explain why it's becoming a problem in game. However, sometimes you need to be able to roll with the punches as they come your way. The most common punches I've seen, and methods of rolling I've found effective, are as follows.

#1: My Character Wouldn't Be Interested in That

I'm just gonna sit here in the bar. Drinking. Alone.
This is one of the most common irritations in gaming for a dungeon master. You spend a lot of effort putting together the story, the enemies, the plans, and then when you drop the hook in front of the party one player decides, nah, I'm not biting that.

It's hard to get the game going if someone isn't willing to get on the plot bus, and it's generally seen as good form for a player to find some reason for their character to go out with the rest of the party even if it's a bit outside their wheel house. Whether it's the money-driven mercenary deciding he wants to show the town that he's not such a bad guy, or the usually timid cleric finding his spine when other people are putting themselves in danger, sometimes you need to stretch a bit to keep the game going.

How To Roll With It...

Ideally, this is something you should take care of beforehand by making sure everyone's character has proper motivations that are driving them toward your game's goals. I even provide this for DMs who pick up my Critical Hits modules False Valor and The Curse of Sapphire Lake by making sure a "Why Are You Here?" section is the first thing in the module, after the introductory text. This ensures that everyone who is at the game table has some motivation to immediately jump in, and avoids this behavior entirely.

If you don't have that luxury (sometimes you just don't get a chance to preempt a problem), then take the player aside and ask what would motivate them. Ask for some knives, like I mentioned back in Build Your PC Backstory Using Knife Theory. If they're a merc, ask them if they owe anyone a favor, or have an outstanding tab anywhere in town; it might be as simple as the barkeep offering to wipe that bill they owe that gets them off their butt and into the game. If they're a noble PC who decides this isn't their job, you can literally pull in someone of higher status who tells them to go do it.

And so on, and so forth. You can even find examples of outfits to use, and NPCs to bring in, with 100 Random Mercenary Companies or 100 Nobles to Encounter.

Sometimes players have only thought of one, specific thing that will jump start their PC's actions. Sit down with them and try to get them to provide two or three, assuming you can't work up a personality profile that will let you know what strings to tug on before the game starts.

#2: It's Not Illegal, I'm a PC!

Haters gonna hate!
There's no two ways about it; the player characters are the central figures of the story you're telling. Whether they're heroes, villains, or somewhere in between, they are the individuals we're focusing on in this collaborative exercise. And sometimes players let that go to their heads, assuming that they can do what they want without repercussions.

One of the most common versions of this is the thief who steals anything that isn't nailed down. They pick every pocket they come across, and spend all of their time scheming on how to rob shopkeepers blind. Alternatively you have the hulking barbarian, the entitled fighter, or the haughty sorcerer who believes that they can crush any NPC who doesn't give them the respect they feel they're due.

This isn't always a problem, depending on the situation. But when it becomes a pattern of behavior, it can very quickly grow into a major headache for you as the DM.

How To Roll With It...

The first thing you should do, as a DM, is to give players who want to do what I call a Grand Theft Auto run a single warning. Even if it's just as simple as, "You want to punch a member of the town guard because he told you to peace bind your weapon? Even though you can clearly see there are a dozen soldiers at this gate?"

Nine times out of ten, a player will get the message letting them know that if something is a crime in the real world, it's likely still a crime in the game world, and it will be acted on accordingly.

Sometimes players will nod, accept your warning, and attempt to go through with their action anyway. When this happens (and it will, sooner or later), you should let it. And then follow the natural consequences of the action the player chose to take.

I talked about this in Let Them Reap What They Sow (Actions and Consequences in RPGs) a while ago, but it's worth repeating. Players need to have agency, and that includes agency to do things that are ill-advised, or which you find annoying. But the actions they take should have appropriate consequences. The thief might get away with stealing a purse or two, if they roll well, but if they get caught stealing, make sure there are consequences for that. If the party bruiser decides to beat up the innkeep because he didn't like the man's tone, ask who saw that, and what other dominoes start to fall. Do the party find there's a bounty on their heads, and that they need to flee the town? Do merchants refuse to sell to them? And so on, and so forth.

Actions have consequences, good and bad. Make sure your players know that before you start, so they aren't surprised when things happen.

#3: I Seduce It!

What's a lich like you doing in a crypt like this?
This is one of those old jokes that, deep down, has some truth in it. Maybe it's because a player is new, and didn't get that this bardic trope is not how you're supposed to play the character. Maybe it's because your player has an inappropriate understanding of your game's boundaries, and figures what's the point in having a huge, ugh, charisma if you can't throw it around a little bit?

Whether you are willing to allow this sort of action to work in a place where it fits the game (the sorceress acting as distracting arm candy so the rogue can work the room and steal the major's dungeon key, for example) is up to you. However, if this is becoming disruptive, you should probably have a talk with the player about it.

How To Roll With It...

Aside from having that talk with your player, the other thing you should make clear is that seduction is a very personalized thing. Just because you have a high Charisma score, or a baller skill check, that doesn't mean you can get an NPC's interest. Especially if they're really not into the sort of thing you're offering (the NPC is attracted to another gender, is asexual, or simply prefers a body or personality type that a certain character doesn't fit). And in the case of some of the more ridiculous scenarios (the ones involving vampires, demons, hydras, etc.), simply make it clear that no matter how high the player rolls, that isn't going to work.

Social skills aren't mind control, and they don't allow the PCs to tug NPCs strings like puppets. If your player wants to go with a femme fatale sort of PC, or a smooth-talking secret agent, don't rain on their parade... but make sure they understand the limits of their build, the game's rules, and the tone you're going for.

#4: That's Not How That Works!

According to the errata on page 116...
I will fully admit that when it comes to players who read rule books from cover to cover, I am definitely one of those folks. More often than not, I'm the person the rest of the table asks about how certain mechanics work, because it's sort of my job to know those things at this point in my life. However, there's a difference between being asked how a certain thing works, and telling the DM how something works. Especially because you, as a player, don't have the entire picture from your side of the screen.

On the other hand, if you are running a game mechanic differently than it's written in the book (or ignoring an ability that a player has which can interrupt or alter what your monsters are doing), then that isn't something you want to shout-down or ignore. It can quickly erode trust in you as a DM, and it can make the players feel like the rules don't matter. Striking a balance can be difficult on this one.

How To Roll With It...

That doesn't mean it can't be done, though.

The best thing you can do in this instance is to set some ground rules for how the back-and-forth on this goes. It may even be necessary to go back to your classroom days and ask that a player with an objection or a question raise their hand, and wait for you to call on them so you aren't constantly getting interrupted by, "Actually, according to..." from the other end of the table while you're in the middle of resolving something or trying to do math.

The other thing I recommend (which has worked out very well at my tables) is to insist that before a player raises an objection that they look up the associated rule or ability first, and re-read it. This cuts out all arguments resulting from a player mis-remembering something, and often times the refresher is important. It also means they have the chapter and verse right there for you to look at when they raise their objection.

Lastly, make a ruling based on their question. Sometimes it might simply be, "Yes, according to that ability description, you should take half damage from fire. The fire from this particular salamander, though, deals you full damage." This lets them know you didn't forget or overlook a rule, but there is something at play behind the screen that they don't know about.

All rulings will stand until the end of that night's game. If it turns out you made a mistake (say the PC instantly died, but really they should have simply been knocked out), then you can work with the player to rectify it. But in the heat of the moment is not the time for an argument, and after the, "Question, relevant section of the book, ruling," steps have been taken, that's it. No more objections, no buts. That conversation will (and should) happen later, preferably between game sessions if possible.

#5: But That's What My Character Would Do!

Yolo, scrubs!
This is, without a doubt, the most irritating thing you can hear out of someone's mouth as the DM. As I said in The Dangers of The Phrase "I'm Just Playing My Character", most players who fall back on this defense are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They get the fun of doing something mean-spirited, selfish, stupid, or otherwise disruptive, but they want to hold it at arm's length and claim they weren't really responsible.

After all, it's what the character would do.

How To Roll With It...

No. Straight up, flat out, no.

Staying true to your character is all well and good, but you, as a player, are the one who decides their actions. You are also the one who chose to bring that character to this game. And, as with the, "my character wouldn't be interested in that," example up top, you can almost always find a reason for your character not to do whatever mean-spirited, selfish, stupid, etc. action you're about to take if you think about it.

Fiction is filled with these little moments. The Phantom shows mercy, and allows Christine to escape with Raul. Frankenstein's monster sits at the side of the creator he loves and hates, mourning his passage. Jonah Hex decides to clap a bounty in irons and haul him back to town thinking what the hell, let's try bringing someone in alive for once.

Complex characters are capable of being many things. If the character you brought to the table is solely motivated by being a jerk, causing problems, or taking the piss out of other people's fun, that's on you for choosing to play that character. And as a DM you should make it clear that players don't get to sidestep blame when they're the ones behind their character's actions.

In Closing

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed the film, and it provides you all with the same sort of inspiration it did me!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Fallen Hero

"That can't be him," Arabelle said, shaking her head.

"I'm telling you, that's him," Thoran said. "Look at the mark on his hand!"

The figure half-slumped against the bar didn't look like much. With a ragged coat and unkempt hair, and a growth of stubble just starting to turn into a beard, he looked like any of a dozen other surly drunks lost in their cups before the mid-day bells. There was no denying that the mark on the back of his left hand looked like a raven in flight, though upside down it was hard to tell. Thoran approached cautiously, sliding onto a stool a little ways down. If the man noticed, he gave no indication.

"Sir," Thoran asked quietly. "Is your name Benton?"

"S'what if is?" he asked, grunting as he poured another shot.

"Benton Ravenkill?" Thoran asked.

He stopped pouring, and frowned. While his gaze was still bleary, there was a spark in his dark eyes. A glimmer of something. He put the bottle down hard enough to make Thoran jump, and slugged back the whiskey.

"That man's dead," Benton said. "He died at the Battle of White Thrush. And I'm gonna drink to his memory until I forget him true."

Thoran had his mouth open to say something, when a big man shoved him out of the way. Three others rattled the boards behind him, heavy weapon belts criss-crossing their hips. Their buckles were worked with the bloody hawk of the Emberhearth.

"Couldn't help but overhear, friend," the leader said, baring his teeth. "But it sounds like you're the hero we've been looking for."

"I'm no hero," Benton said, taking the bottle by the neck. "Just a man, drinking alone."

The man grabbed Benton's shoulder, hauling him around. Though he looked half dead on the stool, Benton found his feet, smashing the edge of the bottle hard into captain's face. His nose cracked like frost-split stone, and a second blow drove the broken bone deeper. As he fell, Benton's whiskey-loosened fingers snatched the dead man's sword. The mark on his hand was darkling, drawing light from the room around him, casting the ragged drunk in a half shadow.

"You're looking for Ravenkill?" he snarled, wheeling on the soldiers and raising his stolen steel. "Congratulations, you found him!"

Don't push me... you won't like it when I push back.

The Fallen Hero

All too often we assume that our characters start off a game as blank slates. That whatever adventure we find them on is their first time out in the world, whether it's the farm boy hero trying to make a name for himself, or the duke's daughter fulfilling her obligation to protect her lands with spell and sword, first level characters haven't really done anything notable.

I laid out why that shouldn't necessarily be the case in Your Story Progression Doesn't Have To Be Linear (Even if Your Levels Are), but the Fallen Hero takes this idea a step further. Fallen Heroes used to be heroes... then something happened to them. Something knocked them off their pedestals, and they fell down hard enough that they haven't gotten back up. Until now, that is.

No one ever won by lying in the dirt.
The first step to putting this kind of character together is figuring out who you used to be. Were you a great war hero, such as a knight who defeated an enemy champion in single combat, saving the lives of everyone under your command to do it? Were you a powerful wizard, renowned for your skill and knowledge? Perhaps the leader of a gang of renegades who stole from the wealthy, and shared the take among the needy of the city? Some good places to look for background inspiration for some of these are 100 Random Mercenary Companies for the war heroes, 100 Random Bandits to Meet for scoundrels, and A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families if you're looking for a high-born kind of legend.

Once you know the hero you used to be, ask what knocked you down. This could be nearly anything, so feel free to get creative! For example, did you take a wound that nearly killed you, crippling your powerful sword arm and taking you out of the spotlight? Did the strain on your mind when using advanced magic send you into a fit, leaving you afraid to dip your fingers back into even simple spells for years afterwards? Did you swear an oath never to take the field again to a spouse or a parent, and you've tried to keep that promise even if they're no longer with you? Or for all the glory and honor heaped upon you, were you just tired of seeing your companions die around you needlessly?

Whatever happened, it caused you to stop. You put away the trappings, and went into forced retirement. Maybe you crawled inside a bottle, selling off everything you'd fought for to pay for one more round. Perhaps you tried to live a quiet life, telling yourself that all the bloodshed was behind you. You might have found yourself in an institution, or a prison cell, while the adventurer you once were grows ever more distant.

For folks who want to play a version of Thor from Avengers Endgame, this is the concept you're looking for. If that's the case, you might find How To Build Thor in the Pathfinder RPG a useful resource to start with.

The third stage, and the final one, is asking what brings you back. What lit that spark back up inside you, and gave you the courage to start the climb back to who and what you once were? Is it having the fight come to your doorstep, and feeling those old instincts come back? Is it the inability to stand by and watch others come to harm when you know you could do something about it? Or is it an old friend (or the child of an old friend) who comes to you to ask for help?

Somebody has to stop you from getting yourselves killed.

Who Do You Become?

The most important question with a Fallen Hero is asking what you become when you finally get back up. Do you become a version of the hero you used to be? Or do you try to become someone different?

If you used to be a flashing sword on the battlefield, hungry for glory, are you now more of a mentor figure? Does some of that old cunning you showed in your days as a master thief flash out from time to time when you're all planning a stealthy mission into the necromancer's fortress? Does your wizard, who barely speaks after the things she saw in the Void, slowly warm to the subject of ancient history, and helping educate her compatriots in the ways of spellcraft?

There are all sorts of options out there, and they're completely up to you!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Like Urban Fantasy? Take 6 Minutes To Watch "As They Continue To Fall"

As some regular readers have no doubt noticed, there's been a spike in the amount of content I'm writing for more modern, urban fantasy games on this blog. Stuff like my post Want to Run Better World of Darkness Games? Then Watch John Wick!, for instance. Simply put, I needed a bit of a break, and you all seem to enjoy those posts. As such, I figured I'd make an effort to put a few more of them out there.

That's why this week I figured I'd provide a little inspiration for all the fans of modern, secret-world style games. All you have to do is take a couple of minutes to watch the short film As They Continue To Fall.

Intriguing, right?

What The Hell Did I Just Watch?

That video stuck with me the first time I saw it, leaving me full of questions about what strange world I just caught a glimpse of. It was written by C. Robert Gargill, the pen behind Doctor Strange, and directed by Nikhil Bhagat. Sadly, though it feels like a tantalizing taste of something bigger, there was never a full film made for this project (though there was a Kickstarter, which has since been deleted), so this is all we're going to get... for now, at least.

Personally, every time I watch this short it makes me want to start a Hunter: The Reckoning or a Hunter: The Vigil game. Not overly picky, as anything that would let me play a wandering, unseen badass in a crumbling city full of unseen monsters would go down just fine after that little film.

The other reason this particular short came up recently is that I've been working on my 100 Kinfolk project with High Level Games, and I'm elbow-deep in the Bone Gnawers list at the moment (so far I've finished the Get of Fenris, Black Furies, and Glass Walkers over the past few months). So if the idea of people wandering the fringes of society with a blade up their sleeve and a blessed bullet in their pocket is the sort of thing you want to see more of, stay tuned for that as well!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed the film, and it provides you all with the same sort of inspiration it did me!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

What Is Your Profession? (Character Creation From A Different Direction)

It's all too easy to get lost when it comes to the various aspects of our character sheet, and how it reflects on our characters' identities. Do we focus on their race and heritage? Is it all about their class? Their skills? The particular background or background traits we picked? The spells they know, the weapons they wield, or do we define them primarily by their alignment?

There is something we often miss, though, and it can provide us a lot of clarity when it comes to finding a cornerstone of a character's identity. And for inspiration, we turn to one of the most memorable quotes in the film 300.

"What is your profession?"
This one question cuts quickly to the core of who a character is. If a person is defined by their actions, then one of the bedrock aspects is that person's profession. That, and how their skills, abilities, and even beliefs are tied into, and support, that profession.

You Are What You Do

As I said back in Any Class Can Be A Knight (More Thoughts on Out-of-The-Box Character Presentation), it's entirely possible to start from a social position or profession, and then spiral out into asking how different classes and builds would fill that role, and perform those functions.

So many choices...
As a prime example, take the basic profession of the soldier. Your job is to fight for the kingdom, and to safeguard the realm. Even if we just confine our options to the infantry, making you a foot soldier, there are so many different ways that profession could interact with, and be bolstered by, your class decisions to make a unique character.

The most obvious options (though by no means the wrong ones) are the fighters, the barbarians, and the rangers. Characters with physical prowess and skill who can march all day, and still show up ready to fight. But what about the non-standard foot soldiers who bring something else to the game? Like the long-faced half-orc Gariel Branch, whose leather-lunged bellows fill his squad's sword arms with strength, and whose bawdy tales make even long marches rest more lightly on their shoulders? Or Lessa Lightfoot, who fights as hard as anyone else, while also healing wounds and speaking prayers that invoke the very forest around her squad? Or Dane Drakhar, a brooding figure who has a bit of a problem with authority, but whose destructive magic makes his squad mates more than glad he was assigned to their unit.

While a bard, cleric, or sorcerer might not be the first classes that come to mind when you think of a foot soldier, they're still options. By the same token you might not think of a wizard as a diplomat, a druid as a town's mayor, or a paladin as a ship's doctor, but you can totally play any of those character concepts. More to the point, by assigning a profession you now have a lens to view the character's other attributes, skills, and abilities through. And that can often lead to more interesting stories when people ask how someone like that wound up in this particular line of work.

Be As Specific As You Can

Another tip I'd suggest, for those who want to put this particular tip into practice, is to be as specific with your profession as possible. I mentioned this back in Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How It Changes Your Game, but it's worth repeating here. Don't just toss out some general profession and leave it at that; once you know what your job is, ask who you've worked for specifically, where you've worked, who taught you the trade, and what sort of title you use to describe yourself. Even if you're not employed by a particular person anymore, that work history (and all the details surrounding it) can say a lot about your character.

You ran rooftops for Red Eyes Falcone? I suppose we could find a spot for you.
As a for-instance, don't just say your character is a mercenary. That's a good start, but what else is there? Do you have any unique tattoos or weapons that mark your place of origin as a veteran, or a member of an elite organization? Do you have a specialty (monster hunter, bodyguard, bounty hunter, etc.)? Are you now, or were you in the past, a member of a particularly free company (you can find a slew of them in 100 Random Mercenary Companies, by the by)? If you were, what is the reputation of that outfit, and how does it reflect on you now? Were you allowed to leave, or are you on the run from your former sword brothers? Did you ever perform a great deed for an important employer, such as saving the duke's life, making you famous throughout his lands?

You should ask these questions about whoever you used to work for, or what you've done up until now. If you were (or are) a thief, for example, were you a pickpocket? A burglar? A confidence artist? A grave robber? Did you work with a gang, or did you operate solo? Did you fall afoul of the bigger, more organized outfits, or were you ever caught and punished? If so, do you have a brand, are you missing fingers, do you have a rope scar, or something else people might notice? Or do you just have a network of people you know (such as some of the folks in 100 Pirates to Encounter as well as 100 Random Bandits to Meet), and access to unusual skills that folks on the right side of the law don't typically possess?

The more specific you can get with your profession, your work history, and the people it has put you in contact with (former employers, former co-workers, noted achievements or failures, etc.) the more that can add to your character. Even if it's as simple as the party's wizard showing up in a hard-worn red robe, a clear sign of the commanding officers on the losing side of the Cadasian War, who refuses to back down or apologize for fighting for the losing side.

After all, just because they lost, that doesn't mean they were in the wrong.

That's all for this week's Fluff post. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how it went for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!