Monday, February 11, 2019

Want A D10 System That Does More Than Monsters? Try Era!

While I may not talk about them as much on this particular platform, I greatly enjoy White Wolf's games. While I have a preference for Chronicles of Darkness games like Changeling: The Lost (whose second edition just came out not too long ago, by the by), I'm still more than happy to roll some 10-siders in old world Werewolf or Vampire with the right crew.

However, one thing that always frustrated me was that the d10 system seemed so inherently tied to those games. While it was possible to translate it to another genre, it required you to do a lot of the heavy lifting as the DM.

If you've ever wanted to play a survival-based game, or to blast off into the stars with your d10s, though, then you might want to check out the Era system from Shades of Vengeance publishing!

Go on... give it a look. You've got nothing to lose but your life.

What Does Era Have To Offer?

Well, if you've wanted to break your d10s out for another ride, and you just haven't been in the mood to brood, then Era has several games that you should be able to pick up and play with relatively little adjustment.

Want a sci-fi game? Era: The Consortium has you covered! Want to try a d10 superheroes game? Well, then Era: The Empowered may be just what you're looking for! Want some gritty, highly-lethal survival based game play? Then Era: Survival should be right up your alley!

But how does it play?
While I made the White Wolf comparison above, that's really just a place to get started. Both systems have you roll a pool of d10s to determine your successes, and the formulas for generating things like your Health, your Defense, etc. are going to feel very familiar.

The game is far from a carbon-copy, though, even those some of the mechanics will feel familiar. And then you slather on the world-building (and hoo boy is there a lot of it; if you're a fan of complex worlds with a lot of backstory, then this is your lucky day!) and you'll have a game that definitely has its own, unique identity. But it also won't require you to get a new set of dice and other supporting tools, which is definitely a win for folks who want to take their game in a new direction!

Seriously, go check out Shades of Vengeance publishing, and take a look at some of the stuff they have on offer. It's definitely worth your time!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you'd like to see other work from yours truly, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, along with the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd prefer to get your hands on some of my fiction, stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps... trust me.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

How Do You Play A Character That's Smarter Than You Are?

Our characters are often different from us in a lot of ways. But while a lot of players have no trouble with characters who are stronger, tougher, or quicker than they are in real life, it's those more ephemeral attributes that can sometimes cause a problem. How do you portray a character with an 18 in Intelligence if you don't have a degree in higher sciences? Can you believably act out an 18 Wisdom while knowing all those bad decisions you'd make in this situation? And what the hell does someone with an 18 Charisma even do?

Relax. Take a deep breath. You've got this. You just need to look at it from a different angle.

There are many sides to any endeavor, remember.

Being Smart Has No Set Appearance

Brief personal story, here. When I was in college, I had a professor whose classes I adored. She was short, broad-shouldered, black, and had a rather thick Louisiana drawl. She favored well-worn, comfortable clothes, and she had a no-bullshit attitude along with a plain way of speaking. The first day in any class she taught the first thing she did was introduce herself, tell us that she was well aware of how she sounded when she talked, but she was the one with the doctorate and two masters degrees, so we had better listen up when she had some shit to say.

Verbatim quote, there.

You also got full credit if you quoted her use of profanity on tests.
The point of that story is that just because someone is very smart, that doesn't mean they have to be dropping five-dollar words every time they open their mouth. We see that all the time in movies about child geniuses, and in TV shows about brainy folks who don't fit into the real world, but you could just as easily have a sharp and incisive mind inside someone who uses common, everyday speech. The sort of person who only pulls out the technical terms when discussing something complicated enough to require them, but who even then might try to keep things simple so everyone in the party can follow what they're saying.

The erudite scholar from the Academie Magique and the well-connected thug with tattoos on his knuckles both have a 17 Intelligence. They both speak several languages, and they both have an array of unique skills. While the wizard speaks dead languages, or tongues of power, though, the rogue focused on trading languages, and mastering the subtle double-speak of the street. While the wizard's skills lie in spellcraft and arcane knowledge, the rogue has learned to school their face to make lies seem truthful, and to get under someone's skin to make them afraid. Both of them have learned the ins and outs of magical devices, though, which gives them at least one area of expertise they can put their minds together on.

You have the same kind of wiggle room when it comes to your wisdom, or your charisma scores. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to go for the air of the calm-hearted priest who sees to the core of an issue, or the wisdom of monks who have long contemplated the inner workings of the mind and heart. On the other hand, the dogged private eye who's seen it all and done it twice could just as easily have as high a Wisdom score. And while lots of us think of characters with high Charisma as beauty queens or handsome princes, the rakish rabble rouser heading up the biker gang, or the hollow-eyed sorcerer with that strange, compelling air about him could just as easily fit those high numbers.

Remember to Separate Attribute From Training

Something that can help in this process is to remember that, while a raw attribute might make you better at certain tasks, the ones you've been trained in are the ones you're good at. And that training might make someone with a lower attribute better than you at a given task.

Stick with me, I promise we're getting there.
Take someone with that raw Charisma score of 18. That gives them a +4 bonus on an attempt to Intimidate someone. That's not bad. Now take their party cohort, who only has a 12 Charisma, but who is trained in the skill. That gives them a +5 to their checks because they've studied how to do this. They may lack the raw force of personality, but they know which words to use, how to invade someone's personal space, and even what facial expressions to wear when delivering a threat. Everything from tone of voice to whether or not to have a weapon in-hand is something they've learned how to do.

This can also help some players, who get too focused on the raw attribute instead of how the character has been trained to use it. Because while one person might be very intelligent, they won't have the depth of knowledge regarding religion of someone who was schooled by priests and teachers of a given faith if that other person has the skill maxed-out. Someone might be naturally athletic, but that raw talent won't allow them to get higher results than someone trained in how to climb, swim, tumble, etc. for many levels. And while someone might have a great force of personality, they simply won't be able to haggle for better prices the way someone who studied the art of deal-making can.

So, in addition to asking how your character's Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma manifests itself, you should also ask how they wield that attribute. Because while your sorcerer might rely on their Charisma to shape magic, do they use diplomacy in the same way? Are they subtle, leaving the person thinking they got the best of the bargain? Or are they overbearing, attempting to wear down resistance until they get what they want? If your paladin intimidates a foe, do they deliver booming threats, or do they simply draw their steel, and allow their absolute lack of fear make their foes think twice? The cleric and the monk may both be very wise, and they might both be trained in sensing someone's motives, but do they do it in the same way? Does the cleric notice the changes in voice and where the person looks, catching a lie? Does the monk have a way of saying or doing things that unsettle the other person, making them slip up?

It's important to remember that there are dozens of ways you can depict these mental stats. So if one way just isn't working for you, or you want to try something different, don't be afraid to stretch outside the box. And just because you've got a lot of raw ability in one area, it's important to remember that training and investment beats talent every, single time.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment! Hopefully some folks out there found it useful, and if there are any tips you've found to help with the gap between PC and player abilities, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Also, to help support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit really does help!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Sometimes I Feel Like The Quigley of RPG Design

You ever seen Quigley Down Under? Aside from being the best Western that doesn't even pretend to be set in the Wild West, it is filled with memorable performances. Perhaps no scene is more famous than the ending, though, where it turns out our hero (who prefers the range and power of his rifle) is significantly more accomplished with a pistol than the villain would ever have believed.

If you haven't seen the scene, somehow, this is the one I'm talking about.

Sometimes I feel a lot like Quigley. Not because I possess levels of heretofore unknown badassery, but because for the past year or so I've had people looking at me in surprise and saying, "Wait, I thought you didn't make content for that game?"

And I'm over here like, "I said I preferred not to play it. Didn't say I didn't know how to design for it."

Something For All The Folks Out There To Think About

If you've read my blog, or seen the work I've contributed to other sites, then you know I have some very definite opinions about which games out there I like. However, just because I may not enjoy something in my free time as a player (or I may feel that game is choice four or five on a would-you-rather list), that doesn't mean I won't design content for it.

As soon as there's money involved, that changes the parameters completely.

Seriously, though, commerce takes precedent.
When I first proposed the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons module False Valor, the reaction from my contact at TPK Games was, "Wait, I thought you hated this edition?" Or when my recent Azukail Games supplement 100 Characters You Might Meet in a Star Port for Starfinder came out, and people were confused by it, asking me why I would design for a game I had personally described as my biggest gaming disappointment of 2017?

Two points here. First, I don't hate most games I criticize on here. I just feel that they're a bad fit for me, as a gamer, and I recognize that for a lot of people out there these flaws aren't as important. In some cases they may even be considered features. But I am currently involved in at least one 5th Edition game, and if someone offered me a spot at a Starfinder game, I wouldn't kick it out of bed.

Second point. Because I enjoy tacos and having the power company off my back, I'm usually amenable to working on games that I would prefer not to play in my free time. Which is why I read through so many RPGs, and try out so many different systems. Because the games I enjoy most might not be the top sellers, so if lucrative contracts get floated my way I need the skill set to snatch them up, and keep my client happy.

This is Where You Come In

So why am I talking about this in this week's Monday installment? Well, because I want to hear from you, my readers. In short, if you have wanted to see my take on something, I want you to ask me for it.

Seriously, I can't have too many ideas.
Have you wanted to see me talk about more 5th Edition stuff, like I did with my homebrew poison Vile Bile made from a green dragon's breath weapon? Have you wanted to see more homebrew stuff from me in general? Do you want to see more of my 5 Tips For Playing Better Fantasy Races? Would you rather I write more class advice guides? Should I branch out into the World/Chronicles of Darkness? Do you want to see me write more modules? Any particular guides/supplements you've wanted to see my take on?

If you have a request, I'm listening.

And if you're a publisher looking for a freelancer, this goes double. Even if I prefer not to play a particular system, that doesn't mean I don't know how. And even if I don't know how, you get me a pdf of the rules, and I'll figure it out.

Anyway, that's all for this Moon Pope Monday post! If you have something you've been dying to request, then leave it in the comments below, or shoot me an email through the contact button. Or, if you just want to see more of a particular series, tell me that, too.

If you'd like to see more of the stuff I make, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out. Or if you'd prefer to see my fiction, then stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Want To Do A Lot of Damage? Stack Your Dice, Your Bonuses, or Both!

One of the first questions players in RPGs often ask is how they can do a lot of damage. After all, there are few things as satisfying as the one-shot-kill.

Boom! Head shot.
There are generally two choices you have when it comes to finding a solution to this problem, and if you approach the game and all of its associated material with these things in mind you'll do fine. You either need to stack a lot of bonuses on your side (which ensures you always do a respectable amount of damage regardless of your damage rolls), or you need to make sure you're rolling a lot of dice when you actually hit (to be sure the sheer weight of the roll averages out to a big hit).

The Bonus Approach

Here comes the pain train!
Bonuses to your damage are reliable, and they help ensure that when you hit you always hit hard. Not only that, but you already recognize how this mechanic works, so the pattern is easy to spot.

For example, in a lot of games your Strength modifier is added to the damage you deal with melee attacks as a bonus. So if you want to make sure your target feels it when you hit them, you naturally want the highest Strength score you can get. And some games will even allow you to add 1.5 times your Strength score if you're two-handing your weapon. This means you can't wield a shield, but if maximum damage output is your goal, then that's a sacrifice you make.

If you look at your class options, you'll often find bonuses there, too. In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, barbarians gain a straight bonus to melee damage when they're raging. In Pathfinder, fighters can pick different subgroups of weapons to specialize in, giving them bonuses to hit as well as bonuses to damage when wielding those weapons. Evokers get a bonus to damage with evocation spells in Pathfinder, as well, based on their level, and paladins also get to add their level to the damage dealt to subjects of their smite. Many cavalier orders also grant you bonus damage when you use your challenge on a particular foe.

Then there are the bonuses from your gear, from your feats, and from spells or special abilities. For example, a Belt of Giant's Strength increases your Strength (at least in theory), and therefore your damage output with melee attacks. A magic weapon adds the "+" modifier to your attack and damage. In Pathfinder feats like Weapon Specialization automatically add +2 damage to strikes made with specific weapons, and Power Attack and Deadly Aim allow you to deal bonus damage while taking penalties to your attack roll. 5th Edition has feats like Charger, which gives you +5 damage if you move at least 10 feet in a straight line while taking the Dash action before slamming into your target. Then there are class features like bardic music, or spells like Deadly Juggernaut which improve your attack and damage.

The key is to stack as many of these in your favor as possible so that no matter what the damage die for your weapon rolls, the sheer amount of bonuses you're adding makes you a viable threat. Because sure, you rolled a 1 for the damage. But between a high Strength modifier, the right class features, ongoing spells, magic items, and feats, you could still deal more than 20 damage with that minimal strike.

The Swimming Pool of Dice Approach

Someone's gonna get it...
If you roll one die, you might get a bad result. But if you roll all of your dice, then the sheer amount of damage is going to add up. Or that's the basic theory, at least.

This method requires a little more deviousness, but is no less effective. For example, let's go back to that Pathfinder evoker. Now take a spell like fireball; it deals 1d6 for every caster level you have. Normally that's going to be your character level if you're a straight wizard, but you can bump that up with feats like Varisian Tattoo, adding even more dice to that pool by increasing your caster level for certain schools of magic. There are also metamagic feats that let you increase how much damage that spell could do over and above its normal cap, letting you throw 15 or more d6s onto the table instead of the usual maximum of 10.

There are also options like taking rogue levels to add sneak attack dice onto your attack. Because you might need to meet some specific circumstances in order for those dice to count, but when they do your short sword's 1d6 suddenly has 6 or 7 friends who want to come and play. This is also the idea behind paladin smite in 5th Edition; you blow a spell slot to supercharge your strike, adding bonus d8s based on the level of the spell slot you used, and on whether the target is undead or a fiend.

In addition to class features and feats, gear is often used as a way to grab bonus dice for non-spellcasters. Because a regular longsword deals a d8 of damage, but a flaming greatsword deals an addition d6 of fire damage. You could add shocking to that to stack a d6 of electricity damage, too, and so on and so forth.

Adding more dice also increases your minimum possible damage. After all, if you're rolling 6 dice, then your new minimum damage is 6. But the maximum goes up, too.

Of Course, You Can Combine The Two Approaches

If you want to really dole out the harshness, then you should look for ways you can combine these two philosophies in your character. For example, say you're playing 5th Edition. Give your rogue a single level dip in barbarian, and max out their Strength score. Then give them the Charger feat. If you Dash into battle and hit an enemy with advantage (or if they're being threatened by one of your allies), then you get to roll the damage die for your weapon, and your sneak attack damage, but on top of that you get to add your Strength modifier, as well as the bonus damage from your Rage, and the +5 from charging into the fray.

And that is something your target is going to notice.

Just hope it takes them out before they respond in kind.
Every game is going to be different, but as long as you keep these two approaches in mind when you examine how to put a hurt on your enemies, chances are good that you'll do just fine.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or, if you'd prefer to see some of my fiction, stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Big Stompy Robots: A Fun, Rough-Edged Minis Game For Mech Enthusiasts

Another Monday has rolled around, and like so many Mondays before it I'd like to take a moment to big-up the signal for a fellow creator. And not just any fellow creator... today I'd like to talk about my friend Nick Tockert's debut release that's now available on Amazon.

The minis game/RPG Big Stompy Robots... or BSR for short.

Good times all around.
I'd like to talk the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding this game. Though, if you just want a solid thumbs up or down, I'd say that if you wished there were more games out there that gave you the ability to pilot a mech without the need to grasp the intricacies of some game's hex grid tango, or to do the quadratic equation to figure out if you hit or not, then it's definitely worth taking a look at.

The Good

Let's start with the good stuff. First and foremost, Big Stompy Robots is as far as you can get from boring. While it might have mechs as the centerpiece of the cover art and game mechanic, there's plenty of other stuff going on here. From alien species that feel like something out of an upbeat anime, to megacorporations battling over resources on a faraway planet, to an aesthetic best described as the love child of Tank Girl and Mechwarrior, this game is a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them.

In addition to the scattershot tone that remembers sci-fi with giant robots in it is allowed to be fun, the rules of the game are fairly simple to learn. And if you've ever played a minis game before, then this one shouldn't take you long to pick-up. It's also fairly easy to teach to a new player, meaning you'll never lack for an opponent as long as you have an afternoon to go through a few test rounds.

The Bad

There are some downsides to this game, but they may be more or less important to you depending on your preferences as a gamer. If you plan to use it strictly as a minis game, one team of mercs versus another, then it gives you just enough story to use as a backdrop. If you're the sort of player who wants to make an RPG experience out of this, though, there really isn't enough material (or enough detail) to put together a fully-fleshed setting and campaign. That's to be expected, since this is the first book. However, the designer has said that if there is a demand for more that he has setting details and expansions in the works so that players can have all the factions, history, and plot hooks they could possibly want.

Additionally, since this game is as indie as you can get, there isn't an accompanying line of specific miniatures to go with this game. Not yet, at least. If you have mechs from other systems, or even minis like Heroclix, those will certainly do the job as placeholders... but miniature gamers may wish they had the right tool for the right job, so to speak.

The Ugly

Not going to lie, this game's independent nature certainly shows through. The art is all hand-drawn by the creator, and while the book is definitely legible and comprehensible it has its share of spelling and grammar mistakes that will jump out at you. None of them obscure the rules or setting, however, in much the same way a hole in the plaster doesn't make your apartment any less livable. But you're going to notice, so you should be aware that it's there before you get too ahead of yourself.

Aside from the lack of polish (there's only so much you can do when you're a one-man operation trying to wrestle Amazon's portal into submission), the game is nice and simple. So if you like garage-band games that have the potential to expand, while still giving you something fun to play right now, go give Big Stompy Robots a look. Especially if you're sick of how seriously games like Mechwarrior take themselves, as if the grimness of the game and setting somehow balances out the addition of, well, big goddamn robots.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update! If you'd like to see more work from yours truly when you're done giving this game the one-over, then go check out my Gamers and Vocal archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Lastly, if you're looking to get your hands on a new book, why not head over to My Amazon Author Page where you could find stuff like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife?

If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases and signal boosts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit seriously helps!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower

After uncovering a cult of madmen, and finding their leader was a prominent judge in Magnimar, our heroes might be in hot water. If they can stop the cult's plans before they come to fruition, though, they may find themselves on the right side of the law when all is said and done. Can they do it in time?

If you're just now joining us, here's what's happened up till this point.

- 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

So what do our heroes do, surrounded by bodies and spattered with blood? They do the natural thing, of course... seek out the mayor.

A Moment of Your Time, Lord Mayor?

Leaving the scene locked behind them, our heroes made their way into the more opulent district of Magnimar's social "servants," including the offices of the Lord Mayor. With a few deft words from Zordlan and Zhakar, they quickly found themselves standing in front of the jovial, though perplexed, mayor. Curious as to what would prompt such a motley band to be standing in front of his desk, he lit his pipe and asked them the nature of their business.

Please, make yourselves comfortable in my humble offices.
In response, Zordlan produced a letter found among Judge Ironbriar's possessions. A letter specifically mentioning that the Lord Mayor was the next target of the cult's assassination plans, and that they have a means of tracking the head of the order and preventing their attempt on the mayor's life. All he needs to do is to provide Zordlan and his companions with a writ, and to give them the next day or so to handle this problem for him. No city funds need be accepted, no questions need be asked.

Though he blustered about protocol and procedure, such things seemed much less important when it was his own life on the line. Providing the writ, he left with the group, taking care to avoid windows as much as possible while informing his secretary he was going to call it an early day. Appointments should be moved to the following morning, pending the outcome of a matter of importance.

Into The Shadow, as The Pigeon Flies

With the mayor's endorsement, the party returned to the mill. The machinery was silenced, and no recently resurrected men leaped at them from the shadows. Above the room where Ironbriar's cooling corpse sat in a drying puddle of its own blood, there was a coop. Taking a bird, the party gently carried it down to the street. Then they mounted, and released it.

Fly, you glorious plot fowl!
The pigeon made its way to Underbridge, fluttering onto the top floor of the leaning tower that nearly pressed up into the underside of the Irespan. A rickety and uncertain structure, there was no telling what awaited them inside... or even if the building itself would withstand a battle in its upper stretches. Though there was a gate on the ground floor, that seemed too obvious. There was a window half a dozen stories up, but even from where they were they could tell it was barred.

Drawing a wand from his bandolier, Zordlan crouched and tapped Bostwick's feet with it. Zhakar drew the dull gray longsword from his hip, and handed it to his small-sized companion. Bostwick scrambled up the wall, with a knotted coil of rope at his hip. Though the bars on the window were firmly stuck, the adamantine blade sliced through them like spun sugar. Bostwick slipped through, secured the grappling hook, and tossed down the rope.

Keeping an eye on the roof, as well as on the street, his companions followed. The stairs sagged beneath Thok's weight, and they quickly staggered themselves out wider to reduce the stress on the wood. With a flight or more of space between them, and lightly armored as they were, they managed to begin the ascent with relative stealth.

When one of the bells fell from the tower, clearly aimed at two of the companions, that was when they knew the element of surprise had been lost.

The Lady of The Tower

Though the ascent was dangerous, all of them gained the top of the tower without injury. They found themselves face-to-face, so to speak, with more of the faceless assassins they'd squared off with back at the Foxglove town home. The creatures fell without so much as a cry, twitching as their ichor dripped through the floorboards.

Past these guards the heroes found the second coop of pigeons that had been sending messages... and they found the individual behind the assassination attempts. It was not exactly what they expected.

And who are you to enter my domain?
The creature that signed itself Xanesha on its letters was curled round a plinth, looking down on the mortals who had tracked her to her home. She did not ask who they were, or why they had come to her. Such things were beneath her concern. She merely lashed out with her magic, intending to slay those who thought themselves her equal.

Thok leaped aside, his eyes narrowing as he took in the sinuous movement of the matriarch, and the way her armor seemed to glide with her. Zhakar raised his right arm, shielding himself from the worse of her spell. As arrows flew, and Zordlan slipped another wand from his hip, it was Bostwick who leaped onto her perch. With a focused shout, he drive his fist into the creature's side just below her armpit. Her breath caught in her throat, and the wicked-looking spear tumbled from her grip. She fell, stunned, to the ground.

It was their chance. Zordlan rushed forward, snatching the spear from the ground and hurling it over the side of the tower, his hands stinging from even that brief contact with the weapon. Thok charged forward, his spear leaping into his hand as he drove it into the creature's flesh. Zhakar wasn't far behind, his short blade slicing into her side. Then, just as it seemed she might rise, Bostwick leaped from above, slamming into her, leaving her stunned once more.

Before she could rise again, the light in her eyes was doused by cold steel.

What Else Is There?

With the creature that called itself Xanesha slain, and the back of the Skinsaw cult broken, Magnimar seemed safe. The machinations were brought to an end, and the head seemed to have been cut off the serpent, so to speak. But is there more lying in wait for the heroes of Sandpoint? And when it comes, what form will it take?

Tune in for the next installment of Table Talk to find out!

For more of my work, check out Vocal, Gamers, and the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! If you're looking for some books to add to your shelf, you could also stop in at My Amazon Author Page where you'll find reads like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

To stay on top of all my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me then Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Trust me, every little bit helps.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Understanding The Difference Between Story Freedom and Mechanical Freedom in RPGs

Today I want to talk about a particular way of describing games that I heard in a discussion a few weeks back. It neatly encapsulates a lot of the things I've been trying to say pretty much since I started this blog, and for all the other folks out there who haven't come across this term I want to take a moment to share it with you.

That term is mechanical freedom.


Story Freedom

Before we talk about mechanical freedom, you need to understand what story freedom is.

When most players hear the word freedom in terms of an RPG, they tend to think of story freedom. Story freedom is the ability to change, alter, or customize anything that doesn't actively change the mechanics of how the game works, or how your character works. Re-skinning, in other words.

The best example I have of this is the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons barbarian. At level one every barbarian's Rage cuts your damage from slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing in half, and you get some bonus damage, along with advantage on certain rolls that happen while you're raging.

Did somebody say Rage?
Now, you have total story freedom when it comes to how that Rage works. Are you going the traditional hulk/berserker route where you just lose yourself in battle fury? Do you grow cold and silent, showing no emotion and feeling no pain? Is your Rage a gift from the divine, or is it something that flows in your blood? Perhaps you claim storm giant blood, which makes your blows fall like thunder.

You know, the sort of stuff I talked about in 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring the Barbarian's Signature Ability.

Let's take that last example for a moment, and focus on it. There is nothing in the rules that stops you from giving your barbarian gray skin and blocky features, as well as white hair to look like a creature descended from storm giants. If they have maxed-out physical stats, you can easily flavor their giant heritage to be the reason.

However, no matter how good this story is, it doesn't change any actual mechanics on your character sheet. Your character gains no special powers listed in the storm giant creature entry, and if a magical items requires you to be a storm giant in order to wield it, then by the rules as they exist you simply can't. You don't have any special resistances to electricity, and so on, and so forth.

Story freedom is good, but it tends to be toothless. Because no matter how cool the reskin you've made is, it hasn't altered the fundamental mechanics of what's just beneath that skin.

Mechanical Freedom

When you have story freedom, you are able to change how things look. It's the equivalent of giving your car a new paint job, but no matter how cool or sleek the exterior is, it will not change the engine that's running inside the vehicle.

Mechanical freedom does change the mechanics, and it tailors them to do what you want.

Now we're getting somewhere.
Let's go back to that barbarian who claimed they were descended from storm giants. However, instead of 5th Edition, let's switch over to Pathfinder. Because in Pathfinder you can mechanically show that heritage in a variety of ways.

The first is to take Rage Powers that allow you to deal electricity damage, or to resist it when you are raging. At higher levels you can even absorb it, healing yourself or letting it out in a burst to show that you and this element are one. Alternatively, you could make a Bloodrager whose entire affinity for electricity may, indeed, have been inherited from storm giant forebears. Or if you take the feat Racial Heritage (Storm Giant) at first level (provided you're a human, a half-elf, or a half-orc), then you have it in writing that your character counts as both a human and a storm giant for any and all effects that depend on your creature type.

So if you get hit with a spell that only affects storm giants, then it affects you. If you need to be a storm giant for a stronghold's enchanted lock to open, then it opens for you. If you try to lift the maul of storms, which can only be wielded by the hand of a storm giant... well, if you can physically pick it up, it recognizes you as a storm giant!

The Difference Is Clear

The problem with story freedom is that it's flimsy. Story is important, but you don't get to just ignore the rules of the game because you made up a cool story. Otherwise you end up with a playground game of make-believe where you have players claiming they should win because they have a better idea, or a cooler concept, or an everything-proof shield gifted to them by their half-angel mother before she died gloriously in battle protecting them while they were still in the crib.

Mechanical freedom, though, means the rules are on your side. This means that you make statements about mechanical facts, instead of asking for special treatment because of the effort you put into your re-skinning.

It's the difference between saying, "I shouldn't take any of that damage, because my barbarian is descended from storm giants," and saying, "I don't take any of that damage because I have the feat Storm Soul, a storm giant feat which makes him immune to any electricity damage."

That one down there! That's my grandson!
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with exercising your story freedom. If you want to give your tiefling big, curly ram horns, sharp hooves, black claws, and a spiny tail, you are perfectly within your rights to do so. However, you don't get two claw attacks, two hoof attacks, and a gore attack that all do 1d4 to 1d8 of damage because of your description.

For some players, that's fine. They enjoy just being able to exercise their story freedom on its own. But for me, and for a lot of other players, this simple term can now explain why story freedom on its own often isn't enough, and why you'd like a little more.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! Hopefully some folks out there find this explanation useful, and this term goes into a wider circulation for those of us who had trouble putting what we found lacking in a game into words.

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