Monday, July 15, 2019

100 Kinfolk: A Werewolf The Apocalypse Project

If you've ever played Werewolf the Apocalypse, then you know there is a lot to take in when it comes to that game and its setting. There's the centuries-spanning lore of the world, hundreds of monsters of flesh and spirit alike, factions, camps, allies, threats, and all of the dark nooks and crannies of the World of Darkness that always seem to hide another rabbit hole for you to fall down.

One of the more interesting elements of the game that often gets overlooked, though, are kinfolk. The little brothers and sisters of the garou, these humans and wolves help pass on the potential to become a shapeshifter to their children, but they also act as the support staff (and in many cases the backbone) of the nation. They're the ones that run the guns, stamp the papers, move the supplies, and clean up the messes left behind by werewolf packs, and it's a largely thankless job.

Garou are the rock stars, but kinfolk are roadies, stage hands, mixers... you get the idea.
Something I noticed, as well, was that a lot of storytellers (and players if I'm honest) sort of forget that kinfolk are even there, except as a nebulous force that can sometimes help out. Like shoemaker elves. And even when people do try to include kinfolk, they can often feel at a loss as to where to begin with them. Who are they supposed to be, what are they supposed to do, and how is it supposed to help the nation?

Well, hopefully I've got some answers for you.

The 100 Kinfolk Project

I've been writing storyteller supplements for a few years now, and of all the disparate project I've put out, I noticed that the most popular ones were always lists of background characters. Characters the storyteller doesn't really plan for, because they aren't an important part of the current campaign, nor do they function as a set piece. Collections like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern, along with 100 Merchants to Encounter, for example, are the ones that have some of the biggest consistent sales.

You see a man sitting at a table. What's he look like? Ugh... he's... smoking...
Since I wanted to stretch my wings a bit, I thought I'd put together something that took that basic premise, but extended it into Werewolf. The idea was to create 100 unique kinfolk for every werewolf tribe, thereby ensuring that no matter who was at your table, or where your campaign was taking place, that there would be a list you could draw some background characters from. I reached out to High Level Games, pitched this project, and we got cracking on making some kinfolk!

So far the completed tribe lists includes:

At time of writing I'm elbow-deep in the Silver Fangs, and already making notes on the Shadow Lords. Additionally, if you don't see your favorite tribe up right now, check back later, as I'll be updating this list whenever a new collection comes out!

What Makes These Collections Useful?

When I first started writing NPC collections, I wanted to make sure they were more than just a general collection of names and descriptions; I required them to be useful in some way to the people who were bringing them to the table.

In my fantasy gaming collections that meant including characters with knowledge about the local area, who could lay out rumors, identify magic items, sell the party sundries, or who might be hired to tail a notable NPC. Some of them were meant to act as security, and a few of them were just for local color, but the majority had some purpose they fulfilled, and some use they could be turned to in order to help you keep the story moving forward.

I wanted to do the same thing with my kinfolk collections.

Sometimes you just need the right cog to keep your machine ticking away.
The kinfolk in these lists aren't here just for set dressing. From private detectives and tech gurus, to police officers, snipers, soldiers, and nurses, they're here to help make sure that any pack has support in its endeavors to fight the Wyrm. You'll find investigative journalists, stock brokers with insider information on enemy organizations like Pentex, and even models, entertainers, and diplomats who can all ease the red tape associated with getting into places that could otherwise prove to be quite a chore. Some of them can wield gnosis, and some of them are expert crafters, capable of furnishing garou with items they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.

And since many werewolves started their lives as just kinfolk before their first changes, these lists can also act as inspiration for people who aren't sure who their character should be.

What You Won't Find In These Collections

The World of Darkness is a horror setting. Full stop, no questions asked. It is a crumbling world where the shadows are deeper, the mean grow cruel, and where suffering has teeth. It's a world of blood and guts, where even a moment's distraction could send you howling into a blood frenzy, corrupting your soul in ways that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

However, those who read through these kinfolk collections will notice a decided lack of those kinds of themes. Instead you're more likely to find characters with tight communal relationships, who have living spouses, children they care about, and a decided lack of self-destructive coping mechanisms (for the most part, there are a few stand outs). You'll also find that, contrary to a lot of World of Darkness supplements out there, that characters in these collections are not shunned for their ethnicity, or punished for their identity. Nor will you find problematic allies of the sort who support atrocious causes or espouse hateful ideologies, expecting you to tacitly put up with them if you expect their help.

And you lost me...
Why do that, you might ask? Doesn't that seem like it would be the opposite of a supplement that would fit a horror game?

Well, there are two reasons.

The first, and most important, is that kinfolk still have the blood of the garou running through their veins. They are communal people (and animals), and what makes them different from normal people brings them together. They are part of a great secret, and that can be binding. They are tribal, and that means you defend your own. Especially when you're a rare resource that's precious for the continued existence of the garou nation as a whole. There are mechanisms in place to help kinfolk resolve their differences that aren't available to normal people, as well, ranging from mediation by garou, to bringing their troubles before their community elders. So while there are certainly resentments, frustrations, differences of opinion, and the occasional grudge, the kinfolk presented here are much more like average people who are banded together in a common cause.

The second is that kinfolk need to have something that's actually at risk to make it matter when they're in danger. If a character's entire life has been one long tragedy after another, and they've been kicked down the stairs at every turn, then it just isn't going to have any real impact when yet another terrible thing happens to them. That's true with PCs who try (often unsuccessfully) to walk that grimdark edge, and it's especially true for the supporting characters along the way. You want players to care about these NPCs, to want to protect them, and to feel responsible for them. Which is why a majority of them tend to be likable, willing to help (if not always eager), and why most of them are busy living lives filled with goals, drives, and plans.

Because cutting all of that short is a much bigger fall, and your players will feel a much heavier impact if the hammer comes down.

Also, while we're on the topic of World of Darkness stuff in general, and Werewolf in particular, you might find the following posts quite useful for your upcoming games:

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you do check out any of my guides, please leave a review once you've had a look!

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, July 12, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 17: The March of The Giants

While Turtleback Ferry is safe, for the time being at least, a greater danger is thundering down from the north like an avalanche. Sandpoint sits squarely in its path, and the giants are coming. It's a race against time, and the Companions don't have a moment to lose.

If you need to catch up on the story so far, take a moment to do some reading:

- 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
- Chapter 16: Mad Lovers, And Lost Captains

Up to speed? Perfect! Now, as we rejoin our heroes...

Shields of Sandpoint

Their final errand complete, the Companions returned to Sandpoint as fast as they could. Down raging rivers, and through nighted forests, they hoped to reach the town before the hammer of the giants fell upon them. And a good thing they did, as they arrived just ahead of the worried whispers of strange figures in the night, and black smoke rising on the horizon.

It still stands! We're not too late!
The folk of Sandpoint were startled by the sudden reappearance of their heroes, haggard and dusty from the road. The news that angry giants lurked just over the horizon, sweeping toward them, was almost enough to set off a panic. Zordlan did what he could to calm the townsfolks' nerves, while Zhakar asked for volunteers willing to stand and help. Even if all they had were a pair of sharp eyes and a loud voice, their warning might be the difference between victory, and defeat. Thok assigned people positions, explaining to them what he needed, setting up watchers, ambushers, placing archers, and talking to those who had some skill. Chikara, who'd been sitting for months waiting for something to happen in the town, gleefully took a whetstone to her greatax. Mirelinda and Zordlan began the process of evacuating the older residents, along with the children, intending for them to be escorted to Thistletop. The fortress wasn't fully rebuilt, but it was sound, and would keep them safe from the thick of the fighting.

They worked into the night, catching some rest in the wee hours once the watches were set, and the traps laid. It was as dawn was coming over the horizon that word was passed from the town's gate; giants approached, and they were girded for war.

Battle is Joined

A trio of stone giants approached the town, their war clubs ready, granite faces set. They made no effort to respond to Thok's shouts to talk, and they refused to stop when told. That was when arrows were nocked, and the first volley loosed.

Hitting them isn't the hard part, boys... it's hurting them.
Arrows punched into the giants' stony skins, but they showed no signs of stopping. Chikara, fed up with waiting for the creatures to come to her, leaped from the wall and charged across the open ground. Roaring with pure bloodlust, she sank her blade into the lead giant, slowing their advance. Thok and Zhakar feathered the other giants with shafts, and Mirelinda drew a pair of wands from her belt, letting fly with the spells contained within. It would be a fight of attrition, and there was no telling what the giants had brought to the fight.

When they heard a thunderous roar, and saw black smoke from inside the town, though, the Companions realized exactly what was happening. The giants had breached the bridge, and struck Sandpoint in the flank. Worse, they'd brought a red dragon to aid them!

No Time For Subtlety

Realizing they had a decision to make, the Companions elected to end the fight at the gates quickly. Mirelinda's fingers etched a burning symbol on the air, and as she crushed the glyph a great pit opened beneath the feet of two of the giants. Caught unawares, they fell into the hungry hole, their screams echoing up through the chewing tunnel. Their third companion managed to evade the hole, but not the blade of Chikara's ax, his body tumbling like a colossal tree felled in some strange, awful forest.

Right, great, celebrate later, there's a godsdamned dragon to take care of!
The body had barely finished coming to rest before the Companions were off, leaving the shaken townsfolk to guard the gate. They'd barely gone two blocks before they found a pair of ogres smashing through the fronts of buildings, stuffing terrified townsfolk into a sack, a stone giant watching for resistance.

Before any of them even knew what was happening, Thok had put two arrows into one of the ogres, surprising him into dropping the sack. Zorlan joined the fray, his longbow thrumming in the air as the giant kin drew their clubs and howled their defiance. Zhakar raised his black right hand, and his eye flashed with fire as he called down a pillar of infernal flame. The ogre and the stone giant roared, surprise and pain mingling as the black tongues burned into them. Disappointed that she'd only felled one foe at the gates, Chikara leaped back into the fray, her ax swinging. Zordlan ducked past the dueling figures, cutting the sides of the massive bags and getting the townsfolk out of the fray. Just as the ogre fell, choking on its own blood, and the stone giant crumbled with three of Thok's arrows in his heart, there was a roar from above. The dragon had found them, and set its sights on the Companions.

The first blast of fire seared the Companions, and the beast remained hovering over the street, out of the reach of the bellowing Chikara. Zhakar blasted it with a beam of blinding light, but the dragon's natural protections diverted the sunfire. It wasn't ready for Mirelinda's magic, though, and her spell punched through the creature's resistances, stealing its wits away in a moment. The cunning, ruthless red dragon became nothing more than a beast, lost to its impulses and instincts. It roared, launching itself at Zhakar in full ferocity.

Though the beast was still a young dragon, the full force of its raw might was nothing to be taken lightly. It smashed Zhakar's shield, raked along his ribs, and would have taken his head if he hadn't turned aside its teeth with a desperate smash of his gauntleted fist. Leaping over the lashing tail, Chikara buried her ax in the thing's side, howling an orcish war cry for it to face her. Mirelinda sent bolts of magic flying at the creature, but they broke against its scales like droplets of water. Zhakar drove his blade into the thing's throat, drawing spurting, burning blood. It was Thok's final shot, though, that splintered the dragon's skull. It lumbered to one side, fire bursting from its torn throat, before falling in a heap.

The First of The Fist

More than a dozen giants and their kin assaulted Sandpoint, and they were all laid low thanks to the warning the Companions managed to give. Though many buildings were smashed, and fires raged, relatively few members of the town's defenders lost their lives.

They even managed to take a prisoner.

Bound with a dozen ropes, held down by a two dozen older children who had snuck back to help (many of them holding the steel daggers Thok had given them after the goblin attack), a stone giant drew long, calm breaths. He was ready to parley, if the Companions wished. It not, then he was ready to die. Once the promise of his life was given, as well as the understanding that his footsteps would turn to the south upon release, he told the Companions that a great gathering of the giantkin was happening far to the north at the lost fortress of Jorgunfist. Thousands of giants strong, they would roll over the southern lands, and crush the world of men beneath their feet. Their leader was a potent wizard, and it was said that he had discovered an ancient horde of knowledge. They built their strength still, but a strike force had been sent to take Sandpoint. He did't know why, but they would expect their warriors to return soon.

The Companions, true to their word, allowed the giant to flee. As his steps receded, they made travel arrangements of their own. The threat from the north yet loomed, and they could not stand against so many giants. But if they cut off the head, then surely the snake would writhe, and die.

Or so they hoped.

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, July 8, 2019

The Inquisitor's Guide, A 5E DND Review

As I've alluded to before, sometimes the folks reading this blog happen to be game designers themselves. And when the stars align, I get a message asking me if I'd like to review their latest releases. I'm always down for checking out new material, and when I'm done giving it a look, I'll tell folks what I think of it.

And, honestly, I didn't expect what I found in The Inquisitor's Guide.

Because honestly, who expects this?

What Is This Supplement For?

As it says on the cover, The Inquisitor's Guide is basically a new paladin oath, a new background, and some detailed options for torturer's implements and skills. The new oath is presented clearly, the background is comparable with what you find in the rest of the game, and the rules for confessions... eh, we'll talk about that part later.

We always talk... eventually.
The rest of the word count is taken up with setting-specific flavor that will either help you a lot, or be less-than-useful for you. It's going to depend entirely on if you're running your game in the Forgotten Realms setting or not. Because if you are, great, this provides you a solid starting point for seeing how inquisitors can be organized, and the gods they tend to serve (it's Tyr, in case you were wondering). If you're running in another world with different gods... well, that part is largely going to be set aside for you. Though it's straightforward enough you could change a few names and cannibalize it if you want.

Honestly, I Expected More

It might have been a miscommunication when the creator was telling me about this project, but I thought it was going to be a lot more in-depth than this. When I saw it wasn't a guide for an entirely new class (as I love Pathfinder's inquisitors, and I was hoping to see some really expanded options for 5E along the same lines), and that it just gave a single option for paladins (rather than, say, one for paladins, one for clerics, one for rogues, and so on and so forth to give you a diversity in inquisitorial choices), I felt like an opportunity had been missed.

However, it is unfair to judge something by what it isn't rather than what it is. And what The Inquisitor's Guide is happens to be a useful, straightforward supplement that isn't going to break the bank, and provides you with a new option, and a little support.

What About That Torture Thing You Mentioned Earlier?

Oh, right. That.

One of the major selling points of this guide for some players and DMs is going to be that it details the use and DCs for torture implements. While the guide does take pains to point out that this kind of enhanced interrogation is an inherently evil act, and that those who serve good gods should be penalized for participating in it, these implements do exist, and they are available for those know know how to use them.

Which is a bit of a mixed message, honestly.

The supplement paints inquisitors as fanatical devotees of their gods, but also goes to some pains to assure the reader that the organizations who boast these members are usually good and just, only going to extremes when truly called upon. Which is sort of at-odds with the whole, "And here's how they torture people to extract information," section. And even apart from how dicey it is to have a non-magical means that accurately forces facts out of people (as torture isn't something that works, which is why on a practical sense it's a bad tactic), giving ostensibly good characters access to an in-the-text evil skill set is a problem.

Personally, I would have given that technique to another class archetype (perhaps an Inquisition rogue who was all about ferreting out lies and interrogation), or pairing it with a cleric who could detect lies at-will as an ability. Or, barring all of that, making the inquisitors more about getting results, and less about methods and goodness, showing them as wide-eyed, bloody-handed warriors that are seen by the faiths of the world as weapons of last resort. The ones given permission to lock the doors of hell from the inside if that's what it takes to keep the demons at bay, so to speak.

Overall, 3 stars. A solid start, and I would really like to see it expanded into some of the options I mentioned. But if it's not, I won't lose any sleep over it.

Interested in Other Stuff?

I've gone through a surprising amount of stuff over the past few years. If you're looking for more fun supplements to add to your table, might I recommend some of the following?

And if you've got something you'd like me to review, feel free to reach out! I'm always up for taking a look at new, unique stuff.

Like, Follow, and Stay 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, July 6, 2019

The Plague: An Antipaladin Concept

The bells were tolling again, the streets empty of all but the dying and the dead. The tavern was shut up tight, the doorman wrapping a butcher's mask round his mouth and nose before looking on the stoop. Everyone had to roll back their sleeves to show a clean set of wrists, the veins untainted by the bloodrot. Some refused, and others simply left, walking among the coughing wretches through clouds of incense that did nothing but sting the eyes, and cover up the stink of the bodies.

"Anyone find what's bringing it?" Shamus asked, his hands clasped around his cup of popskull.

"Probably in the water," Ginny laughed, hiccoughing slightly. "If that's so, then I'm safe."

"Doomsayers claim it's a curse from the dark ones," a stranger said. With his long, pale hair and his burning green eyes, he was certainly handsome. There was more to him, though. A presence lurked around him; an air of violence like a half-feral beast. He drank from his cup, leaving a few swallows behind.

"They always say that," Ginny muttered, tossing back the rest of her drink.

"They do," the stranger said. He plucked up his glass, and handed it to the barkeep.

"You want another?" he asked.

"No," the stranger said. "One for the all-sorts barrel."

"Damn waste," the keep said.

The stranger's grin grew wider, showing his strong, square teeth. "It's for luck."

"Gods go with you," the keep said, tossing the last of the drink into the communal barrel.

"I shan't need them," he said, pulling up his hood as the doorman unbarred the main door. "But my thanks all the same."

Careful... that barrel's got a bite to it.

The Plague

Antipaladins are the chosen warriors of the fell powers. Corrupt, wicked, and brutal, they are the hands of the dark lords and old gods who seek to quench the light of the world, and to topple the bastions that stand against the horrors that lurk in the shadowy places of the world. This much is known.

While there are some antipaladins who assault the foundations of civilization with sword and flame, bellowing their war cries and spilling blood in the open, others use more subtle weapons. For while all of these dark warriors are immune to the touch of disease, there are some who nurture these foul contagions at their bosom. These creatures spread pestilence with a brush of their hand, foul the air with every laugh, and a single kiss from their beautiful, corrupt lips could spell death for an entire city.

They are the Plague.

The Mechanics of The Plague

All antipaladins are immune to the damages and effects of disease at level 3, but these conditions still fester inside them, turning them into breeding grounds for sickness and rot. An antipaladin who purposefully inflicts diseases on themselves (either through exposure, contagion, or similar effects), becomes a walking repository of sicknesses. Everything from bubonic plague, to leprosy, to mummy rot lurks in their blood and on their breath, waiting for someone who gets close enough to touch them. Or even, in some cases, just to breathe the same air.

While any antipaladin can store disease within themselves, what makes a Plague different is that pestilence becomes their primary weapon against society. They come not as fearsome conquerors, but as travelers. As merchants. A simple soldiers of fortune. They clasp wrists with gate watchers, bed down in common houses, wash their hands in public founts, and make sure they rub shoulders during festivals. They bring corruption from within, allowing their disease to weaken a city, or even a nation, and for exhaustion and paranoia to set in.

Then, and only then, will a Plague descend. Either as a savior to take away the suffering in the name of their dark masters, or as a conqueror to spill the sickened blood in the streets, and to burn the bodies as a charred offering to the gods of illness and rot.

Do you smell that? It smells like about 3 Fortitude saves to me.
In addition to this underhanded, devastating strategy, a Plague is still just as dangerous when confronted openly. Those who spill a Plague's blood may find themselves riddled with disease, even if they are triumphant. And if the Plague can call on contagion with a touch of their hand, their battle may have a lasting legacy, turning the warriors who stood before him into bearers of his sickness.

One of the only notable features of a Plague is that they tend to work alone, or with others of their ilk. They may be immune to the ill effects of their own pestilence, but the same is not true of their servants and allies. So while they may be supported by servants of foul gods, or plague cults, they are just as harmful to any living allies as they are to their enemies. This rarely bothers most Plagues, though... those weak enough to be sickened will simply be made carriers in their unholy wars.

Advice For A Plague

If you're going to put together a Plague as a player character, the first thing I would suggest is reading 5 Tips For Playing Better Evil Characters. Because if you are a walking pestilence, you need to make sure you are not a hindrance to your allies just by being part of the same party. In these instances using pathogens that are bloodborne might be more useful, allowing you to pick and choose your infections carefully. You may also have more of a reliance on the Cruelties than a Plague set out as an antagonist, as it gives you greater control.

The other thing you should have, to really sell yourself as a threat, is a collection of allies who are helping you in your missions, or who know about you. Because a Plague isn't just your run-of-the-mill antipaladin; they are significant threats. They are the bearers of pestilence, and even if their true names aren't known, people will spin tales about them. The Red Lady with her sweet, corrupt kisses. Grinning Death, whose friendly smile and strong handshake steals the life and strength from anyone it touches. The Gray Man, who spreads rot in his wake, felling even the strongest of cities. Someone with that kind of rep should have allies (or at least acquaintances), which provides you avenues to seek aid through, and it also helps build up your Small Legend. More about that in Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend.

If you're looking for places to find some allies, you might want to check out:

- 100 Prisoners For A Fantasy Jail: Jails are perfect places for a Plague, as the closer quarters and inescapable nature allows them to spread their filth. Saving someone from your own pestilence could make them quite a loyal follower.

- 100 Pirates To Encounter: The black ship of the Plague Doctor would be an ideal platform for an antipaladin looking to spread their filth along the waves, and dozens of other crews would make potent allies for such a dark warrior.

- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: From the servants of the Darkskull, to the blackguards who follow the Man-Eater, bandits aren't always picky with their company. Greed and lack of morals can make them particularly useful for a Plague... especially if he takes over the gang himself, using them to spread his corruption far and wide along the roads.

Lastly, if you liked this character concept, then you might also want to check out The "Compassionate" Antipaladin, as well as The Pill-Popping Paladin. The latter, in particular, could be useful when combined with a Plague.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

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, July 1, 2019

Why I Think Paizo Releasing Content For 5th Edition is a Smart Move

Anyone who's been around here knows my views on the upcoming Pathfinder 2nd Edition (and if you don't know I summarized them pretty neatly in 5 Red Flags in Pathfinder's 2nd Edition Playtest). In short, I'm not a fan. For my two cents I feel like Paizo is essentially trying to reach across the aisle to court the DND 5th Edition audience by removing the 3.5 engine that Pathfinder is built on, and releasing a game that gives you fewer options, removing the mechanical freedom that marked the Pathfinder classic edition.

And since I feel that way, folks might assume that I would be equally down on Paizo's stated intention to release a DND 5th Edition compatible Bestiary with their anniversary edition of the Kingmaker adventure path. However, in this case, you couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I think that Paizo releasing straight-up 5th Edition content is an extremely smart idea, and it's something I wish the company would put more effort into.

Seriously, I think it's a much smarter play.

I Thought You Hated 5th Edition?

As I've said repeatedly, I have no beef with 5th Edition. It's a perfectly functional rules system, and it appeals to players who like a game where they can pick up and play without too much in the way of complexity. However, it is not a game that has a lot of mechanical freedom. I talked about this more in-depth in Understanding The Difference Between Story Freedom and Mechanical Freedom in RPGs a while back, but the short version is that mechanical freedom is when the rules of the game support your story in specific ways. In 5th Edition you can play a barbarian who goes Jekyll to Hyde when he rages, but in Pathfinder you can physically transform into another person with their own alignment, appearance, race, personality, etc. through the Master Chymist prestige class, or in several Vigilante archetypes. It's the difference between re-skinning a mechanic to look different, and actually have a mechanic that functions differently.

However, the more mechanical freedom you want in your game, the more mechanics you need to have. So players who want to keep the rules relatively light tend to stick to games that require a minimum of prep. And that's why, according to an industry contact of mine, over 80 percent of sales made on Drive Thru RPG right now are for 5th Edition-compatible content.

That's a market that's hard to ignore.
With numbers like that, it's no surprise that Paizo wants to try to tap the 5th Edition crowd. It's what I'd do in their shoes, and I don't begrudge them that in the slightest.

The problem is they've been going about it in the worst possible way.

Marketing Mistakes and Cash Grabs

First of all, let's get something straight here. Pathfinder's core base was formed by players who wanted to keep playing DND 3.5, and refused to move on to 4th Edition when it came out. Paizo gave us that, and it's why we bought book after book, year after year. That's the game we liked, and we wanted to keep getting new adventures, accessories, tokens, optional rules packages, etc. for that game.

And while there are a lot of DMs out there who complain about "bloat", or who argue that Pathfinder needed a new edition, coming out with one was always going to be risky. Coming out with one that essentially throws all the old content in the garbage, making it unusable in the new edition, was going to lead to deep, angry divisions. That was one, major reason that so many 3.5 players didn't move on a decade and change ago; they'd dedicated 3 shelves of space to monster manuals, player books, race guides, etc., and they were not willing to leave all that behind for a new game that would cost more money and give them fewer options than what they already had.

Looking at you.
That was exactly what the playtest did. It introduced a system that was just different enough that all the content players and DMs had invested in was no longer valid, wiped the slate clean, and set the stage for a new game entirely. And then the company sold bound copies of the playtest, which just looked like a naked cash grab, and didn't help the accusations that the reason behind this new game was more profit-driven than it was a legitimate demand from the market for a new game.

Will some players move on? Of course they will. The same way some players moved on from 3.5 to 4th edition, and were perfectly happy to do so. My prediction? I think this has a good chance of alienating 1/3 to 1/2 of the existing player base who will play through the material they have, and then either turn to 3rd party publishers to get their fix, or simply play a different game entirely.

But I was talking about 5th Edition.

By releasing existing content from the Golarion setting in a 5th Edition-compatible package, Paizo is making a very smart move. As I alluded to earlier, people are attached to the games they have, and more often than not they don't like being moved out of their comfort zone (and forcing a gamer out of their comfort zone by discontinuing support for their game of choice is how you get people who refuse to play anything else out of sheer spite). So the solution for how to get some of that sweet, sweet 5th Edition audience isn't try to making some bizarre hybrid game that's going to piss off a lot of your core fan base and which probably won't entice people who already like 5th Edition.

It's to just make 5th Edition content.

Two Birds, One Stone

Producing an RPG is expensive, and over the past decade Paizo has put out a lot of rock solid content, great adventure paths, and truly bonkers set pieces. Instead of trying to make a hybrid game that is too bland for one side, and too complicated for the other, the smart move is to just showcase their setting, their creatures, their adventures, and the raw, insane creativity of Golarion as a setting and repackaging it in 5th Edition form. This also has the benefit that 5th Edition players don't have to buy a whole new support network to try out your product, which makes it even more enticing!

Now you're starting to get the picture.
If you already have the content and the IP (which Paizo certainly does), it takes a lot less effort to convert it to 5th Edition, and put it in front of players who would happily buy it if only it was compatible with their game of choice. Whether it's introducing new archetypes for the existing classes, or giving players access to some of the nutso stuff Pathfinder players have had for ages that just doesn't exist in traditional 5th Edition. From gunslingers and oracles, to magi and vigilantes, there is all sorts of stuff you can do in Pathfinder that you just can't do in 5th Edition out of the box.

If you give players and DMs the option to use those things in the games they're already playing, they are a lot more likely to snap them up. Because now it's a fun accessory, rather than a huge investment of time and energy that a new game often represents.

This would allow Paizo to diversify its lines and tap into the biggest gaming market out there, but also help keep their core audience happy by not pushing them to accept a divisive game that many will just refuse to buy. Additionally, regular Pathfinder players could continue to act as the test market for new ideas, seeing which adventure paths, classes and archetypes, etc. are popular, and thus more likely to succeed in the larger 5th Edition market. And, of course, there will be 5th Edition players who want to see how their new favorite classes played in their original form, giving Paizo cascade sales as more 5th Edition players check out Pathfinder, since the converted content essentially got Paizo's foot in the door, and now they have an emotional investment.

Do I think that's what's going to happen? No, probably not. Paizo has gone all-in on making this second edition happen, and the only thing that's going to stop its forward momentum is if it tanks as a product (which is still possible, but I don't have the market numbers to say it it's likely). At this point I think the best we can hope for is that Paizo continues digital support for existing Pathfinder Classic content, while pushing this new edition as hard as they can.

But I think it would be a much smarter, more efficient move to just put a few splat books of occult classes, monsters, and some adventures in front of the 5th Edition crowd, and let the rich flavor of the setting and ideas speak for themselves.

Speaking of 5th Edition Content From Creators You Love...

For folks who haven't seen some of the goods, yet.
The shift toward 5th Edition's market share has affected all of us out there, yours truly included. Which is why I decided to diversify my offerings, too! As of right now two of my modules, False Valor and The Curse of Sapphire Lake are both available from Total Party Kill Games. Both of these one-shots can be played independently, or you can work them in as a starting point for a larger campaign if you want to.

And False Valor recently went Copper, which has me all kinds of excited!

And for the DMs out there who want something a little smaller than a full module, I've got something for you, as well. A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them) is ideal for injecting a little intrigue into your game. Meaty enough to work as a full session, if you want, these rumors can slot right into most campaigns. And if you're looking for a chart to keep on hand, 100 Encounters For on The Road or in The Wilderness also went Copper fairly recently!

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!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Are You Still Worthy? (An Alternative View on Alignment Restrictions)

Judging by the numbers, if you have a heartbeat, you've probably seen Avengers Endgame at least once. A lot of you reading this right now probably saw it several times. And while there were all sorts of awesome moments in it, one particular arc that captured audience's attention was Thor's journey. For the first time in all the years of his life, it seemed, he couldn't make something right by killing his enemy. His hollow victory over Thanos forced him to face failure, and the permanent loss of countless friends and allies. He secluded himself, sequestered away from the world with his grief, and punished himself for not being able to do more.

In the end, though, he was still worthy of the power that had been given him. It was only his will to use that power that he'd lost, and watching him rekindle that fire was a triumphant moment.

And let's be honest, one of the movie's most badass moments.
I've had this character arc on my mind for a while now, and between updating my Pathfinder Conversion Guide for Thor, and reading the conversations cropping up around my recently re-released 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins, I realized Marvel's take on Thor perfectly illustrates what an alignment restriction is supposed to look like, and how classes who live with one function.

Are You Worthy?

From Lancelot to Samson, literature is full of characters whose powers are entirely dependent upon their behavior. And, in these cases, that power typically comes from a source outside of that character. It isn't a part of them, and they have no ownership over it. They are a vessel that can be filled, or emptied, according to the terms and conditions of the source.

It's doesn't matter WHO cut my hair, woman, point is, it's cut!
This is where we get into the most common alignment-based superpower: divine favor. From druids and paladins, to clerics, warpriests, and inquisitors, these agents of the divine must live and act according to the strictures of that divine source in order to continually prove themselves worthy of the power that's been entrusted to them.

Put another way, it doesn't matter if you think you deserve those powers or not. That's how Thor felt when Odin cast him down in the first film for his arrogance and recklessness, but that anger and bitterness didn't help him lift his hammer again. It didn't matter if he felt he was justified in invading Nifleheim and potentially starting a war with the frost giants, because whether he was worthy wasn't his call to make. It was only by proving he had learned his lesson through selfless acts to save others that he brought himself back into alignment with the power he'd once wielded, and showed that he deserved to once more be allowed to lift Mjolnir, and the might that came with it.

That is the thing to keep in mind when it comes to classes that call on divine might that require the character stay within certain alignment guidelines. Those exist as a meta concept for the player to judge where the boundaries are, but at the end of the day the question is not if the character feels they were justified. It's whether their patron, the one who is granting power to that character, feels they still deserve it.

Because if they're deemed unworthy, their patron will strip them of their power, and cast them down. That's the price for using borrowed power; you need to follow the restrictions for using it, else it will be taken away from you.

What About Non-Divine Restrictions?

There are, of course, a few restrictions that have nothing to do with divine will at all. The most notable examples are that monks must remain lawful, and barbarians cannot be lawful.

I'd promise to kick your ass, but I don't want to risk my alignment.
These restrictions are, at least partially, a way to make sure that you can't mix and match certain concepts mechanically. However, thematically, they also represent the yin and yang of the superior warrior.

Or as most of us know them, Raven and Starfire.

If you're a fan of the Teen Titans, you've likely seen the one where Raven and Starfire switch bodies, and they're each trying to figure out how the other's powers work. Raven can only manifest her abilities through carefully controlled focus and tight emotional control. Starfire's powers, on the other hand, are directly tied to her emotional state. Her feelings are the fuel that feeds her abilities, and without those free-flowing emotions she's unable to so much as light a spark.

There's a similar feeling with these two classes. Barbarian Rage is not just anger; it's something deeper. Something more primal than that, and it can take many different forms. Whatever form it takes, though, too much control smothers the character's ability to give themselves over completely to that state of being. Whether it's the unfeeling wrath of the berserker, or the armored carapace of an abyssal totem, a certain loss of control is required to fall back into that pool, and to become one with Rage.

Monks, on the other hand, need to keep that tight focus in order to channel ki. While they might not be trained at a monastery, or even follow a widely-accepted doctrine, it is that intense focus that grants them their powers. Their ability to move more quickly, to armor themselves in speed, and to perform superhuman feats is precisely because they don't give in, and they maintain their laser-sharp edge that holds their mind, body, and spiritual parts in perfect harmony. That extends out into the rest of their lives, and it's why a monk will find their abilities falling away if they fall out-of-sync with their own inner spirit and ki.

Incidentally, for more on these classes, you might want to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians as well as my 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks.

What Does This Restriction Lead To in Your Character?

Alignment restrictions on character classes are often seen as killjoys, or as limiting what kinds of characters you can play. However, it's important to incorporate these restrictions into who your character is, and what makes them tick.

Was your cleric chosen by their god because they were already a good person, and so they were the ideal bearer of this power, or were they a diamond in the rough that's still being shaped away from darker impulses that marked their youth? Does your barbarian struggle with their Rage, simultaneously afraid of what it could make them do and hungry for the wild power it fills them with? Does your monk have trouble keeping their focus, needing to overcome inner challenges of doubt, wrath, or fear, and either leaving those challenges by the wayside, or embracing them so they are now assets rather than weaknesses?

I'm sorry he left you... maybe we can be friends, instead?
There's also the question of what happens when you step over the line... does your character try to re-orient themselves, to prove their worth and climb back up the mountain? Or do they embrace their change and continue on the path of their downfall? Does the divine champion find a new patron, one more in-line with their actions and methods? Does the failed monk embrace their inner turmoil and chaos, becoming a barbarian? Does the barbarian, locking their Rage away and refusing to give into it, instead become a monk or a paladin, driven by iron-clad vows and a deeper purpose?

How you remain within your initial boundaries is interesting... but what you do when you cross them also has the potential to lead to unique growth. Especially if your DM allows for retraining rules.

That's all for this week's Fluff post. If you've used alignment restrictions to create interesting story results, tell us how in the comments below!

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 24, 2019

DM Advice: Front-Load Prison Breaks in Your Campaign

There are few things more iconic in fantasy RPGs than the prison arc. Whether you're starting your game Suicide Squad-style and having your party all drawn out of the dock to go on an adventure to earn their freedom, or you want to do a daring prison escape arc that relies more on the party's brains and planning than brute muscle, this can be one of the best parts of any game if you do it right.

With that said, if any part of your campaign is going to take place in a conventional prison, then you need to front-load that part so you don't get a pipe wrench hucked into your gears.

What do you mean you got teleport as a supernatural ability last level?

It Needs To Be A Challenge

Rock and iron prisons are built to keep people inside. However, there are so many class abilities, spells, and other features that a party will acquire by mid-levels that it's just easier to make a prison escape arc an earlier challenge in your game.

Trust me, if you haven't done it by level 6 then it's best to just move on with the rest of the game.

Hey, new fish! Who you bunking with, huh?
When all the party has are some starting spells and abilities, as well as improvised weapons and tools, getting out of prison is a tall order. Whether it's locating the secret, monster-infested tunnels below the mountain, making a daring escape over the wall in the middle of the night by combining stealth, magic, and muscle, or just building up enough influence in the cell blocks to unite the gangs and stage a riot that cannot be contained, these things are a challenge when you're relatively low level and have a limited tool box.

By the time you can blast a door off its hinges with a wave of your hand, smash through stone with your bare fists, take control of someone's mind, or pickpocket the keys from a dozen yards away, the challenge of escaping a prison goes down significantly. And if you can just step through a hole in the reality, or turn yourself into a falcon and fly away, it becomes negligible.

More than escaping the prison, though, capturing a mid-to-high-level party peacefully and getting them in the prison in the first place can be nigh-impossible without some serious, hand-wavey shenanigans. When half the party is immune to poison, some can't be knocked unconscious, and some will just refuse to surrender when the bounty hunters or posse comes riding up to them, you've sort of backed yourself into a corner as an storyteller. And even if you do manage to lock them in, how do you keep them there? Anti-magic collars and shackles that block all spells above a certain level? Putting the prison in another dimension so you can't just pop out of it? Covering the walls with anti-magic runes and spell-dead zones so that every necromancer, evoker, and sorcerer in the block doesn't turn the place into an eldritch volcano of pent-up fury?

Can you theoretically imprison powerful spellcasters, iron-fisted warlords, and mind-bending enchanters in places like that? Sure, you can. But it's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of precautions to make it happen, and keeping that balancing act fair takes both some serious mechanics chops, and a lot of luck.

Then there's the question of player agency to deal with...

If It's Going To Happen, Don't Pretend They Had A Choice

Back in Avoid Submission Encounters (They Throttle Player Agency), I made the point that if players don't have a choice in what's going to happen, there's no point pretending they do. If you're just going to throw orcs, will saves, and knockout darts at the PCs until they eventually succumb, and there's no way to run from the fight, then you may as well drop the pretense and just say they're captured, tried, and sentenced in a cut scene.

And if you're thinking, "Wow, my players would be pissed if I just said they were captured, and didn't give them any chance to use their spells and powers to get away," then you're getting the point.

You say we're surrounded? I say we're in a target-rich environment.
A first-to-third level party might put up a good fight, but you can capture them through completely mundane means. You don't need to bring in anti-magic containment specialists, backed-up by hulking golems and alchemical snipers. In fact, you can probably narrate the scene with some text like, "The bartender says he has to go in the back to get your brews, but you hear the door lock behind him. A moment later a voice calls out, 'Gray Wardens, we know you're in there. Surrender now, or we will take you!' You fight hard, and leave your share of broken teeth in the street, but eventually they clap you in irons, and toss you into the back of a wagon." As long as you make it clear that they went down fighting, most players would simply accept that, eventually, their second-level barbarian or first-level wizard probably would have gone down under the slew of billy clubs and boot heels coming their way.

Could a low-level party fight their way free? It's possible, but they lack the ability to use a single power, or a couple of chained spells, to completely escape or just eliminate a mundane threat, which is what makes a similar scene happening to a higher-level party such a problem in terms of suspension of disbelief. After all, if the monk can teleport away at will, moving several hundred feet with a single action, then how did the bounty hunters capture him? If the druid can turn into an insubstantial puff of air and fly away, then how was she brought down? If the conjurer can grab the two martial characters and poof them miles away from where they were sitting in the inn, then why were they apprehended at all?

You get out ahead of all of these objections when the party is still low enough level that they don't have access to these tools. Because while they might be impressive by the standards of normal, everyday people, they haven't reached that superhuman standard where it takes a special force of hand-picked NPCs to bring them down, and a specially-constructed prison to hold them.

With that said, if you want your PCs to have to escape from an inter-dimensional jail, or break out of a genie's lock-up, you should totally do that. But as mentioned above, you might want to consider leading with that, instead of trying to find some contrived way for the party to all be thrown into the same prison. You should also work with your players to make sure they bring characters who would logically be in such a place.

Trust me, nothing is more annoying than bringing a guard captain paladin, and being told that no, actually, you're prisoner #57892. Even if you didn't commit the crime you were imprisoned for (a perfect reason to want to escape and bring the real party to justice), players should know they're walking into a prison break scenario so they can construct an appropriate story. Otherwise you run the risk of the game you're running not being the game the players thought they signed up for.

One last thing. If you're looking for a hot tip to get any and all PCs into a prison, then make sure there is something they have to achieve while they're in there. A piece of information they have to learn, a spy they have to break out, or someone they have to assassinate if you're running an evil game. The party then decides to get captured and sentenced in order to bring them closer to their actual goal, which tends to be easier to swallow as bitter pills go, and neatly solves this little dilemma for you. Especially if the PCs are imprisoned under false names, allowing them to hide things about themselves (like their in-born magical powers, for instance), which can be a huge advantage in the coming arc.

Remember To Populate Your Prisons!

A lot of DMs make the mistake of thinking all about the guards and the security when it comes to their holding facilities, but they seem to forget that prisons have, well, prisoners in them. These places are communities all their own, complete with slang, traditions, and cultures that don't exist outside the walls. Everything from gangs and tattoos, to rituals and currency is something you should think about.

And if you need some help seeding the cells, consider these handy supplements by yours truly:

Want More? Like, Follow, and Subscribe!

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!