Saturday, May 18, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam

With Fort Rannick retaken, the threat to Turtleback Ferry seems to have passed. Or has it? Because as the companions return to the town at the foot of the mountain, they find it awash in water. Worse, something has been awoken... and it's laying waste to the town!

If you need to be brought up to speed, the story so far:

- 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

Ready? Good! Because...

The Return of Black Magga!

Along with the waters, something has crawled out from behind the walls of the Skull's Crossing dam. Something dangerous, primordial, and hungry. A creature that seems to bend reality around itself, its powerful tendrils slipping sideways through dimensional rifts in order to rip and tear at the flesh of any who seem appetizing. A creature legends named Black Magga!

This is WAY above my CR!
Unaware of what, exactly, this creature was, the companions rushed into the fray to save as many of the townsfolk as they could. Arrows flew from Thok's bow, and Zordlan joined in the harry the creature. Mirelinda invoked a power none could pronounce, sending her magic against the beast's hide. Zhakar breathed deeply, and sent a blast of blinding light straight into the monster's face, burning out its eyes. Though hungry, and enraged, Black Magga quickly decided there was easier prey elsewhere in Golarion, and slunk back into the lake to lick her wounds.

Bloodied and harried, the companions tried to figure out what could have happened in the past day or two that would have let such a horror loose. The town's nominal mayor didn't know, but he was sure the answers could be found up at the Skull's Crossing dam. A place that, despite its continued existence being of major import to Turtleback Ferry, no one had been to in years. It had been overtaken by trolls, or so they said, and from that time onward no one had the courage to investigate.

It seems they sent letters to Magnimar for aid, but that aid never came.

A Relic of The Old Times

Above Turtleback Ferry, along a path through the mountains, was an ancient, stone dam. Covered with colossal skulls, the stones were too large, and far too old, to have been placed by anyone living in the valley today. A great work of ancient Thassalon, the dam had stood, holding back the waters of the river for more than a thousand years.

And there were ogres trying to tear it down.

Destruction without a permit? Can't have that.
The crew of ogres, who were apparently unaware of what befell their comrades at Fort Rannick, were less than pleased to be interrupted just as their work was starting to really get underway. Though steel clashed, and battle roars rang through the pass, the ogres were quickly scythed down before the steel and spells of the companions. They knew that even a slight delay might be enough to doom the town below, and the integrity of the dam on which they stood.

The labor crew were, of course, not the only ogres in the dam. Nor were they the only threat!

There was a second crew of ogres within the dam, exploring the interior, and deep within there was a creature called (in the primitive pidgin giant the ogres wrote in) Wet Papa. The skragg awaited in a pool of scummy, filthy water, but even its regeneration wasn't enough to save it from the fire and fury that fell upon it when it attempted to harry the companions. A skulltaker awaited in one of the other rooms, as well; a bizarre, mechanized contraption that pinned its enemies to the floor before removing their heads. A device that had seen its share of intruders, to judge from the number of skulls it bore.

Bloody and bedraggled, the final room they explored held twin binding circles... and one very old, very tired pit fiend.

The engineers of ancient Thassalon had indeed found a way to power the colossal dam... by using the life essence of the damned. For centuries this fiend and another had been trapped... but it was dead now, and there wasn't enough life left in the remaining fiend to reseal the dam. Without hesitation, Zhakar extended his corrupt hand into the other field. Pain slammed up his arm, and something sucked away at the essence that filled him. The fiend closed its eyes, sighed, and collapsed into dust. The dam raised, and the waters ceased to flow. Turtleback Ferry had a reprieve... for now, at least.

There was more to do, of course. Because it seemed that while a lot of pieces were moving, it was the same hands directing all of them. Hands that, if the companions were to safeguard themselves, their friends, the nation, and perhaps more, would have to be stopped.

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, May 13, 2019

The Mutant Sorcerer

Before we get started with this week's Unusual Character Concepts post, I wanted to take a moment to draw your attention over to the right side of your screen. You should see an ad for my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

If you're interested in seeing more of my fiction, keep an eye on that spot. Whenever I come out with a new book, that's where I'm going to put the cover and link. Since I've got something in the works right now, and I just finished my latest giveaway for Crier's Knife, I figured I'd give folks who hadn't read it yet a chance to grab a copy before the new release hits.

Anyway, on with this week's post...

No there's nothing weird in my family... nothing!
The boys had left with their heads held high, spears in hand, each bragging they were going to find the greater glory on the field. Only half of those who left returned, and none of them came back the same. Some were missing arms, hands, legs, or eyes... others had changed in ways that couldn't be seen from the outside. Until something happened.

Chase sat at the corner of the bar, hunched over a cup of spiced tea. He had his hat pulled low, and he kept his eyes down when people came in. Some nodded, or offered a hello, but no one came close. Until the outsiders arrived. Loud and crude, with the air of soldiers of fortune, they spent gold on anything they saw. Drink, food, and they even attempted to spend it on the girl waiting their table. She laughed as if it were a joke, but the strangers didn't care for that. They pulled her close, refusing to let her up. While they laughed and jibed, the air in the tavern grew thicker... like the closeness before a storm.

"Let loose," Chase said to the men. He hadn't gotten up from his seat, or turned to face them, but there was no one else he could have been talking to.

"Or what?" the captain of the little mob asked, rocking to his feet. He stormed across the boards, and grabbed Chase by his collar. "What are you going to do about it?"

There was a flash, and a boom as the air was split asunder. The captain stumbled back, clutching at his hand. He screamed like a gelded horse, the flesh of his sword hand charred black, smoke rising from the bones poking from the wound. Chase stood, turning to face them. The air was growing thick again, and sharp sparks split the air with the sound of cracking pebbles.

"That is what I'll do," he said, staring at the men with eyes that had seen the elemental wizards of Bardan-Brashen, and which carried the marks of the storm lords power in the old scars he'd brought home from that battle.

The Mutant Sorcerer

Sorcerers are generally thought of as the progeny of powerful bloodlines, whose magics manifest as the sorcerer grows and matures. Those whose ancestors once lay with dragons or djinni, or who have inherited the raw power of the elements, or the wild potential of unbound magic. There are some sorcerers, though, who have no such ancestors. Instead, they survived strange, uncanny events, walking away from them changed in ways that are hard to explain, and even harder to control.

They came out of the experience... mutated.

She could hear the voice of the stars... practically reach out and touch it.
Mutant sorcerers can be caused by any kind of exposure to powerful essences, whether that exposure was accidental or purposeful. Whether the character was a caravan guard accidentally exposed to a potent magical blast when her cargo was commandeered, a warrior who managed to withstand the spells of an archmage, a baby in the womb when their mother was swathed in the fell energies of a necromantic ritual, or someone who was the subject of unusual alchemical tests and trials, there are a hundred different ways a sorcerer may have acquired their mutation.

Just look into a comic book, and you'll find all sorts of inspiration.

The degree of mutation can be subtle, or it can be crazy, whatever makes you happy as a player. Someone with ice running through their veins might feel chill to the touch, their once black hair now shot through with blue-white streaks. Someone who died, went to hell, and was resurrected may have brought a little hellfire back with them, turning one of their eyes black and leaving a slow crust of red scales crawling up one arm. An apprentice who was caught in a blast when their master's tower exploded might find themselves filled with the raw potential of wild magic, but lacking the knowledge (or guidance) to actually control it. This might cause their hair, skin color, eye color, or a slew of other features to shift and change the more they dip into their weird admixture that now lives inside them.

Who Takes A Mutant In?

Mutant sorcerers may be even more unusual than traditional ones, lacking a pedigree to establish who you are or where your powers came from. You might find yourself shunned and feared, especially if your mutation gives you a strange or unsightly appearance in addition to powers others don't understand.

So another question you should ask is where do you go if your old life can no longer support you after your change? Do you withdraw into a monastery, attempting to find guidance and routine to help you control the power burning within you? Do you seek out an arcane school, risking a fate as a laboratory subject if it means they can help you... or cure you, if your mutation is something that has made it impossible to return to the life you had? Do you try to find others like you, who've survived terrible ordeals and found themselves changed by them?

Alternatively, do you turn to the renegades, rebels, and rogues of the world, hoping your powers may garner you a place among their ranks? Groups you might find in:

- 100 Mercenary Companies: Whether you can call down lightning, or breathe acid like a dragon, there are few free companies that would pass up the raw power of a sorcerer, any sorcerer, in their ranks.

- 100 Bandits: Whether you ride with the Darkskull, or count yourself among the Tin Men's ranks, might makes right in the world of highwaymen and robbers. A show of arcane force is often enough to stop resistance before it starts, making you a valuable member of any gang.

- 100 Pirates: Buccaneers and river ruffians need all the muscle they can muster, and a sorcerer (even a mutant with a disfiguring scar from the ordeal that empowered them) can be a potent weapon on the seas. Not only that, but a pirate's life might be the cause of your mutation, bringing you to cursed islands, ancient treasure hoards, or forcing you to fight denizens of the deep.

There are all kinds of twists and turns you can take with this particular concept. Just remember that you are limited only by the stats you roll up, and your imagination when it comes to who your sorcerer is, and what led them down this particular path.

Closing Links and Other Places You Can Find My Work

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!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

If A DM Wants Personal Investment, Their Game Needs Personal Stakes

Being a DM is not an easy job, I'll be the first to admit that. You need to wear a dozen different hats, several of them at the same time, and keeping all of those balls you're juggling in the air is no mean feat. However, there is a problem that a lot of storytellers run into that I wanted to talk about today.

Put simply it's that if your plot doesn't affect the PCs personally, then your players will feel like completing that plot is a chore rather than an adventure.

You want results, you need to build in motivation.

Make it Personal, And Players Will Never Want To Stop

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen DMs make (and I've made it a time or two myself), is to use a general plot hook to motivate the entire group to go do the thing you want them to do. You throw down a big reward for those who capture the bandits, maybe, or you make it clear that the big bad is going to wipe out the town/country/world, thus stopping him is now everyone's problem.

Do these work? Sure, and you can get away with them once or twice without too much trouble. But these plot hooks are impersonal, and they do nothing to enhance a PC's story or involvement in the world. If you can find a way to make it personal, though, then your players are going to champ at the bit to go do the thing, rather than needing you to coerce them out of the bar.

Bandits? Eh, who cares. Wait, they kidnapped WHO? Let me get my coat...
Let's go back to that bandit-hunting hook. It's one of the oldest low-level plots in the book, and it's a good way to get your party to establish themselves, earn some loot, and get some combat under their belt. It is, however, a pretty weak plot. After all, what do you do if someone is uninterested in the reward being offered? Or they don't care about the fact that the highways are dangerous? How do you convince them to go and fix this problem?

Make it personal.

Take Adan Skar, a half-orc from the mountain clan hold. He doesn't care if the people of the region are too soft to defend themselves, and he has no need for the reward being offered. But what if someone mistakes him for one of the bandits because they have the same scars and tattoos as he does? Could the gang member they call Clipped Ear be the clan blood he's been searching for? If so, he needs to find him before someone else takes his head, and convince his clan brother to move on to a place where he doesn't have a price on his head. That could lead to using his relationship to avoid certain fights, and even making an ally if the party wants to ambush the bandits, and get Clipped Ear clemency for his past actions as part of the deal.

Do the same for every member of the party, and make sure that this plot isn't just a grind quest for them. If the fighter is looking to make a name for himself as a champion, then suggest that defeating the Red Brand's best warriors in a duel would boost his reputation significantly. If the wizard is more interested in arcane studies than solving the problems of commoners, suggest that magical tomes and items were waylaid by the bandits, thus making them ripe for reclamation to whoever can lay hands on them. If someone is of noble blood, has a tie to a warrior church, or membership in the local militia, use that as a way to assign them to this problem. This makes your life easier as the DM, but it also means you're incorporating that PC's background in a meaningful, interesting way.

Nurture Their Connections, And You Won't Have To Work

Forever and a day ago I wrote a post titled If You Want A Better Game, Give Your PC Connections To The World. The idea was that by tying your character to the setting and the story you're specifically in, your DM has all of the strings they can tug on to both get you involved, and to reward you in a meaningful, personal way.

If you're the DM, you need to make sure your players follow this advice, but then you need to do your part and actually use the information they give you!

Yes that's a lot of information. Apply it at every opportunity!
This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to re-structure your campaign so that every bad guy is a long-lost brother, or is responsible for kidnapping someone's best friend. But you need to keep in mind who the characters at your table actually are, what they've done, and how the world reacts to them. Because if you let them put down roots in the world, they are going to start growing on their own.

As a for-instance, if one of the characters has in their background that they're a mercenary, don't just leave it at that. Ask who they've fought for, what sort of reputation they carry, and if they have any identifying marks that would make people treat them with respect, or specifically offer to hire them to do a job (you could find ideas for this in 100 Random Mercenary Companies, if you're looking for inspiration regarding who a particular character might have worked for). If another character is from a small town, don't let it just be some generic town; give it a name, a popular trade, a location, even an accent. Then when that PC is traveling, have some folks recognize the region, and talk about when they've traveled through there before. Mention the reputation of the farmers, woodsman, fishermen, etc. from the area, and show that the player's choice had impact on how they're treated in the world. Even if it's just how certain NPCs react to them.

One of the biggest things you should do as a DM is to help your players form connections with the NPCs they interact with. Whether it's their regular waitress at the tavern, the merchant they like to do business with, or a particular church or esoteric order they've worked with, those are all real, tangible connections you can pull on to help motivate your PCs. Because a general, "Oh no, the Rhadoran Cartel is threatening the area," might be a blip on the radar, but if a group of thugs tries to put the squeeze on Doc and the bar the PCs have claimed as their own personal watering hole, now they're invested.

Personal Rewards Are Often Just As Important

I talked about this in Are You Not Entertained (5 Tips For Engaging Your Players), but it bears repeating; random loot and generic rewards are never going to make players as invested in your game as personalized stuff that gets them closer to their goals.

Arise, Reginald, a champion of the realm!
Most DMs roll up random loot according to a chart, or they give the players a metric ass ton of gold and just let them buy what they want. However, that has the same problem as the generic plot hook; it doesn't feel special. That's why it pays serious dividends to always make the rewards personal, even if the initial hook wasn't.

As a for-instance, take the glory hound fighter we mentioned earlier. Sure, he likes gold as much as the next person, but when he single-handedly defeats Banor Fell, the Brute of the Bilewood, that draws the attention of Lord Henton Cross. An older man, now, he lost a son to Fell's gang of brigands, and the PC's actions have brought him peace. As a token of esteem, he presents the PC with a castle steel sword, marked with the raised fist of Cross's house. This sword marks the fighter out to nobles as a chosen man, boosting his fame and reputation as the tale is told and re-told. Perhaps Lord Cross calls on him and his companions when his lands are threatened, thus acting as a plot hook. Eventually the fighter (and perhaps those who fought with him) are raised to knighthood, given lands and honors by Lord Cross for their service.

All you did was hand the character a masterwork weapon that fit with his preferences... but showing that his actions had very specific and very personal consequences draws the character in, and it's the sort of thing players respond well to.

Keep that in mind when it's time to reward players for their efforts. Because sure, everyone loves a little extra wooge and some gold. But making rewards personalized hooks a PC hard right now, and often provides you an even stronger line you can tug on later when you want them to go in a particular direction.

Before you go, you might also want to pop over to my author blog The Literary Mercenary and check out the post Don't Put The Whole World on The Chopping Block. It's all about stakes, and how to raise them without reducing their impact on the audience.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how your personalized your game, and what you'd recommend others do to get the best results!

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, May 3, 2019

What Organizations Does Your Character Belong To?

When most of us make characters, we focus on who they are as individuals. Krogar the Brute, with his thick mane of black hair and massive great ax, for example, is a feared mercenary and a native of the Western mountains to judge from his accent. Brisheen Fairhair, veiled in silks and able to twist the mind with no more than a glance and a whisper, has a past shrouded in mystery. Hadrick Coster, a light-fingered dwarf with a knowing smile, and a touch of mischief in his one, remaining eye.

No man is an island, though, or so the old saying goes. Every character has someone who raised them to adulthood (whether it was a parent or not), everyone has had friends (or at least casual acquaintances), and most folks had a mentor or teacher of some kind to help them master their particular skill sets. Whether your relationships with these other character are good, bad, or complicated is up to you, but those characters should exist in some capacity.

There is another aspect of who a character is that we often overlook, as well... what groups or organizations they belong to.

Knights of Columbus, perhaps?
While there is no rule in a game saying your character can't fly solo, you can get a lot of mileage out of asking what groups they owe their allegiance to... and if they've turned their backs on those groups, why they did so.

Born, Sworn, and Otherwise

One of the most basic ways that a character ends up becoming a member of a particular group is that they're born into it. If your parents are nobles, then you're a noble as well... whether you like it or not. If you're part of a hill clan of barbarians, or the child of an infamous bloodline, then you have a birthright that sticks with you. Maybe you embrace it, maybe you run from it, but it's there and should contribute to your character's history.

Valgard, what's this symbol on your ring mean?
There are also organizations you find yourself part of that you didn't choose to join, but which you weren't exactly born into. A good example is if your character was taken for mandatory training when they were young. Whether it was like the Spartan agoge, or simply a requirement that all children who show magical talent be trained in its proper use in your home nation, that organization was a huge part of their early life, and likely shaped them in important ways. Alternatively, if your character was taken in off the streets by a gang, or shanghaied onto a pirate ship that acted like a surrogate family, then that will also give you some experiences and allegiances you didn't exactly choose, but found yourself stuck with.

Sworn allegiances, on the other hand, are any groups that you voluntarily chose to join (though in some cases you may have been pressured due to circumstances). Whether you served with a particular military unit, fought beneath a mercenary company's banner, you were a graduate of an arcane college or tradition, or you were a member of a particular religious sect or esoteric order, all of these can play into who you are, how you act, what your goals are, and most importantly what your place in the world is.

If you're looking for inspiration for some groups you could work into your character's history, you might want to check out:

- A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families: From the swamp-dwelling clan fam of the Dredgers, to the deep pockets of High Hall, these 13 noble families are fleshed out enough that you can easily make your character a member.

- 100 Nobles to Encounter: For those looking for siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and rivals, there are all kinds of nobles in this one. Some of them even go outside traditional aristocracy, such as elven High Boughs, or orcish war dukes.

- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: From the warrior wizards in the Acolytes of Arannis, to the black-clad battalions of the Harbingers of Sorrow, each of these companies offers unique ties for those who signed up for a tour of service.

- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: Filled with gangs, brigands, thugs, and blackguards, this collection is ideal for those who lived that bloody life. Maybe you're still in it, maybe you're trying to get out, but either way there's plenty to work with here.

- 100 Pirates to Encounter: The same as bandits, but on the high seas! With dozens of captains, ships, and odd crew members from the Skull Island Coven, to the galley known as the Floating Forest, this will certainly help spice up your back story.

The important thing to remember is you don't have to have just one of these allegiances throughout your character's history, either. You may have been born a noble, and trained as a knight, only to be on the losing side of a war. Stripped of lands and title, you joined a mercenary unit where you flew your old banner and family colors, defiantly refusing to admit that the past was truly dead. Perhaps you lost your parents early in life, and were adopted by a gang of street thieves. You picked up some skills here and there, but when your talents for magic manifested you used them as your ticket out of that life. While you might be a respected scholar of the arcane now, that tattoo on the inside of your wrist reminds you that once a Red Brand, always a Red Brand... and some of the cutthroats you once called friends haven't forgotten the promises you made to each other more than half a lifetime ago.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Organizations can say a lot about characters, and often enhance (or deplete) their social currency. If you wear the armor of a Genarian Templar, people may overlook your ill manners and poor hygiene. Even if you left the brig behind years ago, and you've totally reformed, those who see the brand of piracy on your arm beneath the blag flag tattoo of the Blood Tide may fight shy of you. Whether you're up-front about which organizations you belong to (or used to belong to, in case you're trying to keep it on the down low), think about why and how you made those allegiances in the first place.

The results might surprise you!

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!

Monday, April 29, 2019

The "I Know A Guy" Strategy For Adding NPCs To Your Game

When you're a dungeon master, it can sometimes be a huge pain in the ass to add NPCs to the game on the fly. This is especially true if you're party is just looking to gather some information, or to find something of interest to them that might not exactly be plot related. While you can write entire notebooks full of characters, or keep guides like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern or 100 Characters You Might Meet in A Star Port close to hand behind your screen, there is an easier way to fill out the roster of background characters at your game.

Simply ask the players if anyone's character Knows A Guy...

Yeah, I know a guy. He owes me a favor after that time in Brightwater...

How The "I Know A Guy" Strategy Works

The way this strategy works is pretty simple. When the players want to look for something, and you don't have an NPC planned who has that information (or you have one planned, but the players' course of action isn't going to let them cross paths with that particular person), take a moment and ask one of the players if their character would know someone who could help them out. If the first person you ask can't think of anyone, they could pass their turn to another player and ask if their character Knows A Guy who can help them out.

"We could ask Stratus, I guess... just follow the sounds of the fighting."
This strategy does two things for you as a dungeon master. On one hand, it frees you up of having to come up with all the minor NPCs so you can save your brainpower for the bigger, more important parts of the game. On the other hand, it gives your players some control in expanding the setting, and it allows every person at the table to add in other characters connected to their PCs who can help advance the game in unusual ways.

If you need to find an invitation or two to the duke's ball, perhaps your fighter once served with the captain of the guard, who could pull some strings on the party's behalf. If you need someone who knows the legends of the dragon Barnathus, it's possible that the ranger regularly lit a pipe with a traveling historian who had a fascination with dragon lore. Your bard might not know exactly where the black market operates in the city, but they used to perform with a singer who was more than a little on the shady side, and he might be able to make some introductions.

And so on, and so forth.

The idea behind this strategy is that everyone knows someone, and those friends, family members, and former associates may show up in odd or unexpected places. Just because your barbarian is hundreds of miles from their home, that doesn't mean they won't run into someone whose tattoos and scarification they recognize as a cousin from another tribe, or someone they share a cultural connection to. Unless the whole point of the game is to put the party in a location where they have no connections and no contacts to draw on, you should let them add some of these detailed flourishes to free up your time as the dungeon master.

A Final Caveat

There is one thing that needs to be added as a caveat to this strategy; all instances of I Know A Guy need to include an element of quid pro quo.

As a for-instance, if your rogue happens to know an unscrupulous wizard who deals in otherwise illicit magical weapons, that is a perfectly good way to grant your players an opportunity to buy cool gear and upgrades. It cannot however, be used as a way to just get a bunch of free stuff because the rogue saved that wizard's life off-screen in the backstory somewhere.

The more you need the NPC to do for the party, the more the party needs to do for that NPC. If you need some information, talk is cheap and it's probably no big deal. If you need a small favor, well, you might have to go on a brief fetch quest of your own, or perhaps owe that character a favor in return that you'll be made to pay back later. Your former comrade-in-arms gets you an invitation to the ball, but a few months later he comes to you because there's something fishy going on that he can't have anyone investigate officially, so now you need to pay him back. And if someone in your party is dead? Well, that old crack-brained sorcerer you've heard of will bring them back to life, but only once you make it clear you're going to go ruin the prince who fired him, and sent the miracle worked into exile.

Of course, if you're looking for a few bonus supplements of NPCs to keep around so your players don't have to do all the work, I'd recommend the following:

- 100 Merchants to Encounter: From sword belts to cursed items, fairy favors to mechanical servitors, there's a bit of everything in this collection of marketeers.

- 100 Nobles to Encounter: Whether you have friends or enemies in high places, this list will give you plenty of both to draw on.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. 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!

Friday, April 26, 2019

In Defense of The Humble Sling (in Pathfinder)

Every now and again I'll see someone claim that a class, a spell, or a weapon in Pathfinder is useless. "Why would anyone waste their time with this thing?" is the typical question, and it's led me to write posts like Aid Another in Pathfinder is More Powerful Than You Think (one of my highest-viewed posts, by the by) in defense of certain aspects of the game. Recently I came across a post of someone bad-mouthing the sling. Why would anyone use such a stupid weapon when crossbows and longbows are available?

Well, ask a stupid question...
Since I hadn't used a sling as a PC before, I figured I'd look into this complaint and see how valid I thought it was. And hoo boy do I have some new character plans after doing this bit of research.

What's The Big Deal About A Sling?

All right, we'll begin at the beginning. A sling is a simple weapon that has a 50 foot range, and it can be fired (though not loaded) with one hand. You can apply your Strength modifier to damage with a sling, which gets a lot of folks' ears to perk up. It takes a move action to load, too, which is where a lot of players start edging away from it. It has no crit range and only does 1d4 damage for a Medium sling, and 1d3 damage for a Small sling. Not great, but the ease of use means it's something any character can pick up and use when they need a ranged weapon.

Most of the time a character has a sling on them as a back-up weapon, or as something cheap to use at low levels when they had no gold left after hitting the armor shop.

Of course, there are ways to make it better.
The big benefit to a sling is, of course, that you can add your Strength modifier to your damage. The negatives are its relative lack of oomph when it comes to damage, and the reloading time. So before we get to the first concern, let's address the second one.

When it comes to re-loading a sling, there are two major solutions:

- Warslinger halfling trait: This halfling trait lets you reload a sling as a free action. It replaces sure-footed, but reloading still takes 2 hands, and provokes an attack of opportunity.

- Ammo Drop and Juggle Ammo: Ammo Drop allows you to load a sling or one end of a double sling as a swift or move action using only one hand. Juggle Ammo lets you reload as a free action, giving you full rate of fire with a sling.

Both of these options might seem like a lot of work to get the most out of a weapon that only deals 1d3 or 1d4 damage, depending on your character's size. However, if you're willing to invest in them, you then have the task of figuring out how to get the most out of your sling.

Beefing Up The Sling

If you want your sling to do more damage, the first thing you need to do is to take the usual battery of ranged attack feats. Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, etc. Rapid Shot is something that will take some work to get off, but you could also use it with a stone bow if that's your jam. That one is a fun weapon too, and worth looking into if you like bullets but don't want to deal with the restrictions of the sling itself.

Your class features are going to be one of the big ways you beef up your sling damage. Fighters can choose the sling's group as a favored weapon, increasing their damage and accuracy with it. The barbarian archetype Savage Technologist alters your Rage to boost your Strength and your Dexterity, which makes it a lovely dip for slingers who want you really put their shoulder into a shot (though higher level abilities are meant more for firearms). A rogue's sneak attack can be devastating when delivered with a sling, as well.

You didn't see that coming, did you?
The other thing to consider with the sling is how you can modify its damage with magic (either magic used by someone in the party, or from a handy magic item). Some of the spells and magic items that I recommend for a slinger include:

- Magic Stone: A low-level spell that lasts for half an hour, it makes 3 pieces of ammo into +1 weapons that deal 1d6 points of damage. 2d6+2 against undead, which can get heinous if you can rocket off all three shots in one turn against that lich.

- Alchemist's Bullet: This +1 magic bullet can be merged with an alchemical item, and both items hit at once. Useful for when you want to deal additional damage with alchemist's fire or acid over and above the normal bullet. Bonus, if you miss with this item, you can retrieve it and use it again later!

- Boulder Bullet: A shrunken piece of artillery, as soon as it's fired, these bullets grow to be significantly bigger. Like Ant-Man, the joke never gets old!

- Soakstone Sling Bullets: These porous stones can be filled with poison or lamp oil. If the former, a hit delivers the contact poison. If the latter, they deal 1d2 fire damage on a hit. Not great, but hey, every little bit counts!

- Frostbite Sling: A +1 frost sling that, 3 times per day, lets you fling a magic snowball that does subdual damage, and makes the target fatigued. A handy little debuff.

These are just a few of the handy things I came across when tricking out a sling. The major problems, aside of course from cost, are that lots of feats and spells that normally increase the damage on ranged attacks (Rapid Shot, Gravity Bow, things like that) just don't apply to slings. On the other hand, feats like Sling Flail allow you to make melee attacks with a loaded sling, dealing whatever the damage of the enchanted ammunition was in addition to treating it as a flail. A handy feat for pinch-hitting fighters, if that's what you're built around.

Useless? No. Great? Eh...

If you want to build your character around using a sling, it is totally possible for you to do that. With the right feats, enchantments, magic ammunition, and other stuff, you can even do some seriously impressive damage with a sling (boost your strength score, enchant the bullets, get a magic sling, use class features to do more flat damage, etc.). However, wielding a sling takes a lot of resources and dedication; it's not something you're going to slay with right out of the gate, contrary to what David would tell you.

Then again, if you're a half-orc with a medium-sized sling and a +5 Strength score, then then 1d4 from the bullet is just gravy, really. And if you add in weapon training and other bonuses, it will be pretty respectable by the time you hit double digit levels.

Just know there's a long road ahead of you on this one.

Final Thoughts

Building a sling-based character is already a little unusual... but consider all the possibilities you could explore with it! Rather than your usual shepherds and local, small-town heroes, perhaps ask if he used to be a pirate (particularly with the burning bullets mentioned above)? Was your slinger part of a mercenary legion, using this unexpected weapon to devastating effect? Or perhaps he used to be a bandit, carrying such a common weapon to make sure no one could pick him out of a local crowd?

If any of those sound appealing, you should check out:

Each of these supplements is by yours truly, and they're full of NPCs you could tie your character and background to, helping you fully flesh out an adventurer with such an unexpected weapon of choice.

Just a thought!

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, April 22, 2019

5 Horror Board Games You Should Have on Your Shelf

As much as I love RPGs, sometimes I just don't have the energy for a full dungeon delve or battle with the outer madness from beyond the stars. But I still want the opportunity for a fun game I can play with a few friends that can lead to some memorable experiences. Last month I wrote a post titled 5 Fantasy-Themed Board Games You Should Have On-Hand (For When Players Don't Show), and I thought I'd follow it up by talking about some scarier games this month.

Because I'm an avid fan of spooky things in general, and these are some games I always enjoy playing.

#1: Betrayal at House on The Hill

You knew this one was coming.
I fell in love with this game the first time I played it (that story is in the entry So I'm Related to an Ax Murderer for those who are interested in reading it), and no matter how many times I've played this game I've never had the same experience twice.

The short version, for folks who've never played, is that your little party are going up to the creepy old house on the hill to poke around. Mediums and curious kids, college athletes and old priests, the layout of your party changes almost as often as the floor plan of the house itself. Once you enter, you need to look for items while avoiding dangerous happenings. When the omens are right, though, the haunt begins! Will it be a ghostly murderer, an ancient hag, an angry beast from the bowels of the earth, or a werewolf on the rampage? All of these, and more, are options depending on what room you're in when the final omen reveals itself.

While the original Betrayal at House on The Hill is great, I recommend grabbing it and the sequel Widow's Walk at the same time in order to maximize your options. While I haven't had the spare dosh to get my hands on a copy of Betrayal Legacy yet, I am very interested in seeing what it brings to the table.

And, of course, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate allows you to get all Dungeons and Dragons on this game, for those who still want at least a fantasy setting with their horrific monsters.

#2: Zombies!!!

Seriously gross, and seriously fun!
The first time I ever played Zombies!!! was when two players didn't show up for a game night, so we set aside the campaign and brought out this little piece of zombie survival goodness. The idea is simple; you're all in a town that's been overrun by zombies, and you need to get to the helipad in order to escape. In addition to being filled with the walking dead, though, the town is just packed with weapons, health kits, and even extra ammo to help you keep whacking zombie skulls while you stay on the move.

While the basic version of the game gives you a full town, and several modes of play (competitive, cooperative, etc.), I'd really recommend shelling out for the full package with all the extras if you like the game. You don't need everything in The Ultimate Collector's Box, but with super soldiers, zombie clowns, zombie dogs, a mall, a university, and army base, and dozens of other areas of play and optional rules, it really does give you everything you could ask for.

Except a bigger table to hold it all, that is.

#3: Arkham Horror

Mmm... now with 350% more cultists!
I love H.P. Lovecraft's work, problematic as many of the old pulp stories are, and I particularly enjoy games that draw on the Cthulhu mythos. And while I don't personally own a copy of Arkham Horror, one of the best ways to get me to sit down in the game room at a convention is to offer me a seat for playing a round of this game.

A branching path game where you can assemble your team of investigators to try to stop the strange cults, aberrant monsters, and awakening gods of the mythos, this one is always an absolute ball. Even when everyone dies, goes mad, or both in no particular order, it's still a good time had by the table.

#4: Coma Ward

Now we're getting serious.
I remember seeing a video for Coma Ward when it was first coming out, and it immediately hooked me. Because while I love horror-themed RPGs, they can be a little intensive in terms of time and effort over the long-term. But a board game where you all wake up in a coma ward with no memory of who you are, and have to piece it together while dealing with horrific hallucinations and other threats to your body and sanity that will only last a few hours can keep the screws nice and tightened.

I will say that this one runs the risk of getting silly and campy if folks aren't invested, and playing it straight may not be to everyone's taste. Still, if you like the sort of stuff that makes your skin taut and your hair stick up at the back of your neck, this one can be a lot of fun.

#5: The Last Friday

And last, but not least...
I have a thing for slashers. And for those of you who care about such things, I'm a die hard Jason Voorhees fan (I wear a hockey mask ring when I'm out and about, just so other horror fans know). So, while this game is a blatant, Sam's Club Brand Horror version of Crystal Lake, that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

If anything, it enhances the amusement factor.

The Last Friday is a pretty simple game. One player takes on the role of the musclebound maniac trying to kill everyone, and the rest of the table are the camp counselors scrambling to stop him. As their friends die, though, the counselors dig deep, and become hunters, banding together to put a stop to the slasher once and for all... or to die trying!

And, if you're curious, there's a sequel game, too. Last Friday: Return to Camp Apache deals with a new horror being unleashed... a demon that tortures and slaughters people in their dreams. And while the illustration on the cover looks more like Wolverine than everyone's favorite burned-up child killer, every horror fan out there couldn't help but see the colossal wink that comes with this one.


Well, you've had your five recommendation, but wait, there's a couple of bonuses for you! If you're a fan of both cheesy B horror films, and you like digging through resale shops looking for out-of-print games, then you should keep an eye out for Grave Robbers From Outer Space! I wrote a longer article about it subtitled The Best Card Game You'll Never Play for The Dead Walk a little while ago, and serious horror game enthusiasts should definitely keep an eye out for a copy while they're on the prowl.

Also, if you're a fan of all things horror (in addition to gaming in general), then you might want to take a look at some of the articles up on my Horror archive. It's small for now, but it won't stay that way for long!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday! Do you have a recommended game I missed? If so, leave it 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!