Tuesday, July 17, 2018

More Than One Way To Skin A Cat (Avoiding Railroading At Your Table)

It's not easy being a DM. You have to keep track of an entire cast of characters, run a world, balance how much time every player gets dedicated to them, keep track of combats, and craft a tackle box worth of adventure hooks to get the PCs out of bed, the tavern, or the brothel. With all of that going on, DMs should be given a little slack if they get sort of myopic when it comes to how the party is supposed to get from A to B. However, if you find yourself constantly setting up plot points where there is one und only one way to solve the challenge you've put forth, you might need to back up a little.

And pull those ties up behind you on your way out.
Some doors only have one key, that's true. But you shouldn't be overly picky with how your group chooses to acquire the key, if you see what I mean?

Set The Stage, And See What The PCs Do

As a for-instance, let's say the first arc of your campaign is about a company of orcs raiding a small town for food, supplies, and treasure. Your goal is to have the PCs scuffle with the Red Hand, win a couple of smaller fights, and then move on the main force to roust them. Pretty basic, but there's nothing wrong with a setup if it works.

And it doesn't TPK the party right out of the gate.
However, what do you do if your players want to take an alternative course of action? For example, say that the halfling rogue wants to sneak into the Red Hand's camp during the night, and assassinate the commanders in their beds (perhaps while making it look like they were killed by a rival group)? How about if the bard and the paladin want to negotiate with the Red Hand, and see if they could be hired as mercenaries to protect the town and patrol the region (the logic being that these orcs are sentient beings, and thus they would see that being paid to do nothing but keep the peace is preferable to risking life and limb in raids)? What if the half-orc in the party wants to "defect" to the Red Hands, poisoning their cook pots and utensils so the soldiers are incapacitated?

What if, what if, what if.

Now, a good DM will look at the course of action proposed, and decide whether it is technically possible to achieve. For example, sneaking into the camp and killing the leaders in their sleep is doable, if difficult, provided the party all make the necessary stealth checks, and perform all the right actions. On the other hand, defeating a champion in single combat may be a notion that the Red Hands find childishly quaint. If they win, they'll insist on your side agreeing to terms, but there's nothing in their culture or code that says losing one duel means you have to pack up and go home. It's also possible that they're already being paid, and thus you'd need to outbid their current masters... that might not be possible, but it would mean the PCs' strategy failed for a logical reason.

A bad DM will just say no, none of those alternative ways will work because you have to do it this way.

It doesn't matter how high your Stealth check is, you won't be able to sneak into the camp, much less into the commander's tent. Even if you're invisible. No, the Red Hand will not talk or change their course of action, because they are not here for sensible reasons that could be discussed during the course of diplomacy; they exist only for the PCs to fight and kill them in order to gain XP and level up. Unless your solution is some form of, "We assault their camp," it will not work.

Tell The Players What To Do, Not How To Do It

There's an old piece of wisdom I once heard associated with the military. Captains give the orders, it's the sergeants' job to figure out how to fulfill them. Just as commanding officers are concerned more with results than with methods, so too a good DM should be more involved with the end goals the party is trying to achieve, rather than the specific methods for how they achieve them.

Because sure, you might need to acquire the Four Sacred Keys of The Great Winds to unlock the Gate of Aeons in order to stop some huge, encroaching threat. That's perfectly sensible. So the first goal is to get the four keys, cool. Don't micromanage how the party does that. Do they raid the temple Indiana Jones style? Do they pass the traditional test to prove themselves worthy? Do they pull a Mission Impossible and come down from the ceiling to steal the key from under the noses of the monks guarding it, sight unseen?

Who cares how they do it? As long as they make the rolls and their strategy follows the rules of the game world in terms of possibility, then let it ride. It will maintain the players' agency, and give you a lot more unique approaches in terms of how your players try to solve the problems you put forth.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully some folks out there find it interesting, and if you've got questions (or DM horror stories to share), leave them in the comments below. For more work by yours truly, consider checking out my Vocal archive (or just going straight to my Gamers page), and stopping in on the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To keep up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, you could make a one-time donation by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or give me a little every month by becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, there's free stuff in it for you!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle

After slaying the imp in the ruins beneath Sandpoint, our heroes know they have only touched the tip of the ice berg. It isn't long before they delve deeper, though, and once they have a direction to follow there will be no getting them off the scent.

For those who need a quick catch-up on earlier installments:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit

We rejoin the party as they come back into the daylight, bloodied, but otherwise determined to find out what is happening in this small town.

The Hand Behind The Moves

Upon returning to Sandpoint, the first thing the band did was check on Ameiko. Mostly fine now, she's still shaken from what she witnessed in the glassworks. She also suggested that the town's defenders examine her sibling's journal. It has answers she doesn't like, but which she knows are necessary for stopping what's happening.

If it can be stopped.

Oh, he left a bookmark. How thoughtful of him.
As Zhakar read through Tsuto's journal, he discovered that a woman named Nualia Tobyn (an aasimar who had been adopted and raised by Father Zanthus's predecessor) was behind the goblin raid. Thought dead, Tsuto chronicled her obsession with shedding her celestial heritage in favor of something wicked. A talented artist, Tsuto's sketches show a beautiful young woman, her belly scarred by deep cuts, and her left arm twisted into a red, scaly monstrosity tipped with angry, black claws. As he read, Zhakar's right hand started tapping the tabletop... a steady tattoo of steel-shod fingers that seemed oddly nervous. Or excited.

Once he'd read Tsuto's journal, and given the others the chance to see what he'd seen, Zhakar set off for the jail. Hemlock wasn't in, and the deputy let them into the lockup to talk to Tsuto. Tsuto lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, ignoring them until Zhakar rapped an iron knuckle on the bars.

"Tell me how she did it," Zhakar said.

"What?" Tsuto asked, his brow furrowing.

"Her hand," Zhakar pressed. "What changed her?"

It seemed, for a moment, that Tsuto would answer. That he'd been caught so off-guard by someone wanting to know that in the face of everything else he'd put in his journal that it would escape his lips before he could think better on it. Then his mouth closes, and he swallowed whatever was about to tumble off his tongue. Zhakar glances at Thok, who nodded and leaned against the door so no one from the outer office could come in. Then he turns to Mirelinda and Zordlan.

"Not a word of what you are about to see," Zhakar said, his voice grave. When his other two companions nodded, he fished a key from around his neck, and unlocked his gauntlet. He unbuckled one strap, then the other, carefully sliding his hand from inside it.

The fingers were black, and hard with scales. The nails had grown into thick claws. The black scales grew red as they slid across the back of his hand, and along his wrist. It stopped there, the corruption reaching no higher than the lower part of his forearm. Zhakar raised the devil's claw, and wrapped it around the bars. The look on his face was raw, and a pulse of something dark rain through the hand.

"If I know how she did it, then I may be able to undo it," he said.

The Assault on The Nettlewood

Too stoic to answer, Tsuto gave no helpful aid to Sandpoint's heroes. So the only thing for them to do was to march north toward Thistletop, and demand answers from Nualia herself.

But first they had to get through the Nettlewood.

Nah, I'm sure there are no goblins here.
No more than a few miles into the wood, they found a carefully-constructed warren. Something meant for small-sized creatures to move through easily, but which is a hamper to larger ones. And as soon as they were inside it, a cackle rang out from the brush. The cackle was followed by balls of flame, and the roar of a charging fire pelt cougar!

Zhakar took the charging beast, batting aside its claws only to have the animal sink its teeth into him. Thok thrust his spear forward, crouching awkwardly in the tight confines. Zordlan shuffled around, pulling at a wand they'd found in the ruins. Mirelinda hung back, her fingers busy weaving through the air, sending bolts of magic into the fray. Meanwhile the beast's master, a goblin clad in ragged furs, laughed and howled, sending more fire to plague those who'd invaded his den.

Though it raked him more than once, the cougar was so focused on tearing through Zhakar's armor that it failed to see the deadly thrust coming from behind him. As the beast bled out on the end of Thok's spear, Zhakar advanced on the goblin. Enraged at the death of its companion, the goblin babbled and gnashed its teeth. Already wounded from a dozen spells, it took no more than two more blows to bring the creature down. Zhakar knelt, and touched it at the base of the skull. The goblin twitched, but its wounds ceased bleeding. They took his weapons, his spell components, and tied him thoroughly. When he came round, they questioned their captive.

Without his magic or his cougar, Gogmurt was far less brave than he'd been. He told them what lay between here, and Thistletop. Told them the demon lady was calling more to her cause, and that there would be goblins all around her. Goblins, and worse. She had a wizard, he told them, as well as a bugbear to do her bidding. An ugly pink with a big sword, too. Eager to share, Gogmurt would rather worry about Nualia's vengeance someday, than dying now next to his fire pelt.

Gogmurt's counsel proved helpful. A band of goblins and goblin dogs awaited right where he said they would be, and a nearby cavern proved to be filled with a few dangers. As well as a giant crab using a colossal helmet as a shell. Battered and bruised, the heroes found themselves on the doorstep of Thistletop. A foreboding place, there was a sensation of dread hanging over it. Something evil had been summoned in there... something they will have to return to whence it came.

That's all for this installment of Table Talk! If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below. If you've got a particular adventure path you think my group should play through so I can chronicle it, mention that, too. If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (or just go to my Gamers page if you want tabletop stuff only). You might also want to stop in on the Youtube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support me, Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time donation, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly contributor! Either way, every little bit helps.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The First Rule of Improv Often Applies to RPGs

Improv theater, for those who've never seen stuff like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is a kind of theater where actors get together, and start making stuff up off the cuff. Sometimes the actors are given a prompt from the audience, a general theme, or a prop they have to incorporate, but there's generally no script, and nothing is figured out in advance. In many ways it's similar to what happens around the table when we sit down with our sheets and our funny shaped dice. And there is a single rule that makes improv work, and which can help everything around the table move more smoothly.

Never say no.

With so many possibilities, don't walk around shutting doors.

"No" Kills Pace

If you watch improv, then you'll see that everything a performer adds to the scene is now canon. If one person declares it's Sunday in the scene, then it's Sunday in the scene. If someone says they're getting a call, then they're getting a call. And if someone asks how your character's trip to Montego Bay went, then you definitely took that trip (or, at least, you told them you were).

No matter how odd, unusual, or silly stuff gets, the only real ironclad rule of imrpov is that you don't say no. You can alter, modify, or mess with things as they currently exist in the scene, and you can invent new stuff, but at no point can you fold your arms and refuse to continue onward. Because to do that will completely destroy the suspension of disbelief that makes the improv work, and it brings the all-important flow to a screeching halt.

Often with disastrous results.
So, the next time you sit down, remind yourself that your game needs to go forward. And the only way for you (and the rest of the table) to go forward is by agreeing to participate in the scenario. If you ever find the phrase, "But my character wouldn't do that," rising to your lips, stop, and re-examine the scenario. Find a reason for your PC to participate.

Playing a selfish jerk who is thinking about refusing the request to do some pro-bono monster hunting to save an orphanage? Well, you may suddenly discover that this character has a soft spot for abandoned children, and he's willing to go to the mat for these kids so they don't have to face what he did when his parents were killed. Got yourself a hard case who thinks that going to the ball is a load of fru-fru bullshit? Ask if there's someone there he'd like to impress. Or, failing that, remind him that it's a party full of free food and alcohol. The sort of rich stuff only people with money can afford, as opposed to the hogwash down at the dive you've been hanging out in.

And so on, and so forth.

Your characters are under your control. Find a reason, and go forward. Otherwise it's like the DM pointed you at a door, and you refused to walk through it. Nothing is going to happen until you kick it open.

The Other Side of This Coin

With that said, it's important to remember that player agency is still very much a thing at the table. Which is why it's best for a DM to describe and present, without taking actions on behalf of the players, as I laid out in Some Thoughts On Player Agency.

Put another way, if you're the DM, present the players with the door. Trust that they will walk through it on their own, without telling you, "No." Because they have to be given a choice, otherwise you're just telling a story at them, which isn't fun. Preserve the back-and-forth, and everyone will be happier for it.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully there are some folks out there who found it to be helpful. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (particularly my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, then either become a patron over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, some sweet gaming swag will be yours as a thanks for your help.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The False Noble

Reginald "The Lightning" looked every inch the noble warrior. Clad in a shirt of chain that sparkled silver in the light, his long hair blowing in the breeze, he was a sight to behold. His sword rang as he drew it, and his cavalier smile was enough to set hearts ablaze... either with love, or with envy. He flourished the silvered steel, and bowed to his host. It was low enough to be respectful, but not so low as to make anyone think he was a servant.

"My lord, it is an honor to be a guest in your home," Reginald said, sheathing his blade without giving it so much as a glance.

"No, the pleasure is mine," Count Kargo said, clapping the younger man on his shoulder. "It is a rare thing, indeed, to have a visit from our brethren from the northern hills."

"And an even rarer pleasure to visit," Reginald said with a beaming smile.

"My lord," Shadrick Vain protested to the count. "I've been trying to tell you, there is no record of this man-"

"Shadrick, books are not all there is in the world," the count said, brushing off his seneschal's protests. "All you need to do is look at Lord Reginald, and see that we are of a kind, is that not so?"

"Indeed it is," Reginald said, the corners of his mouth curling roguishly. The seneschal was too perceptive by half... he would need to keep this visit brief, if he could.

Regrettably I can only stay a few days... oh provisions and an escort? Well, if you insist...

Talking The Talk

Fantasy is filled with noble heroes. And why not? Nobles are the ones who have all the free time to dedicate to learning the art of swordplay, mastering magic, or understanding the will of the divine. They have no crops to grow, no trade to focus on, and they tend to have access to wealth, tutors, and opportunities that others may never see. Not only that, but nobles are accorded respect wherever they go. Merchants show them the finest wares, innkeeps offer them private rooms, and in many cases people will shower them with gifts and praise in hopes that they will look upon them with favor.

Who wouldn't want that life?

The False Noble is a character who camouflages themselves so they can walk in the world of titles and prestige. Whether it's a common warrior putting on fancy armor and claiming a knighthood he was never given, or a silver-tongued sorceress using her magic and force of personality to slip into positions of power and authority, this concept can take several different forms. However, it also requires a great deal of thought to make it work.

First, you need to work out your cover story. Are you claiming to be part of an existing noble family, or are you going to make one up from whole cloth? If the former, are you claiming to be part of a very important family, or a more minor house? On the one hand, bigger lies are harder to get away with, but you are accorded a great deal more respect if people think you're the king's nephew than if they think you're the scion of a forgotten duke somewhere. Additionally, are you attempting to steal the life and identity of someone who already exists (the baron's wayward son whom you know is dead, and whose place you're trying to claim), or are you inventing yourself from nothing? Do you know the proper forms of greeting and speech, do you have the bona fides that validate your claim, and do you look the part? The last can be especially important, since you are attempting to fit a pre-conceived notion of what family you're trying to belong to.

It's important, in this stage, to also introduce a few inconsistencies to act as clues. For example, if you have a character who is unlearned in history and nobility, then you might be able to explain it away by saying that you spent little time in the library... but it should still be suspicious if you get caught out not knowing obvious things. A brand or tattoo might reveal your actual past, and thus would have to be covered. Even something like hair color or eye color might require regular disguise checks to keep under wraps so you can maintain your cover. This matters, because if you fit the role you're playing perfectly, then it's not really all that different from just playing a noble. The goal is to run a double-blind, where you're actually a low-born mercenary, a common farmboy, or a conman who is pretending to be a noble for their own purposes. Purposes which you should know, and which will need to dovetail into your campaign's themes and overall goals.

Lastly, you need to ask how you're backing up this scheme in game terms. For example, do you have a signet ring, appropriate clothing, etc. so that people think you're a noble before you open your mouth? Do you have the appropriate social skills and knowledges so that you're not caught off-guard by something a person in your position should know? Are you using magic to maintain this farce, keeping important people's minds foggy and their attitudes friendly? If so, how do you hide the spells you're casting? And what do you do if, one day, your target resists hard enough to break the illusion you've woven over them?

Most importantly, is this your first time running this claim, or are you known as a lord in other places? And does your history play in your favor, or against it, when you try to make this claim again?

The challenge of playing the False Noble is that you have a long-running secret. However, as with any other secret you keep in-game, you should also have some idea of when it will come out, and what impact that will have on the game. Because if no one ever finds out your secret, and it has zero impact on the game, then what's the point of having it at all?

Also, if you're a fan of the False Noble, then you might want to check out A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them). This is a book I just finished for Azukail Games a little bit ago, and it contains 13 rumors that are substantial enough you could turn each one into a full session! Check it out, and let me know what you think of it.

That's all for this month's Unusual Character Concept! Hopefully it gave some folks out there a few ideas. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive (or just head to my Gamers page), and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter! Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep making great content for you, become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, there's some sweet swag in it for you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

5 More RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

About two years and change ago, I wrote a post titled The 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing. I'd written some controversial posts before, but that particular piece exploded. Once the initial furor died down, little brush fires would start up from time to time when it got re-discovered and re-debated by people. Then Nerdarchy gave me a shout-out last year, basing a fairly popular episode on the five characters I put forth, and the resulting explosion made that piece my most-visited post ever.

Thanks again, guys!

I've been thinking on the concept of disruptive, frustrating, and all-around trying characters again, though. So I thought it was time to create a follow-up to that original piece, and talk about 5 more concepts that I would be glad to never see again... as well as some advice for making them functional, if you insist upon them.

And for those who have been fans of my more controversial posts, might I recommend also taking a look at I Don't Really Care What Gygax Had To Say as well as It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby.

Anyway... on to the new list!

#1: The Kleptomaniac

"Hey, Varas, have you seen my-" Gold? No, why? You think I stole it? I didn't, no one saw me!
Thieves have a long and storied place, both in the genre of fantasy as well as in tabletop RPGs. It was even the granddaddy of the rogue, for those who've been playing that long. There are some characters, though, who are not thieves in the professional sense of the term. They're kleptos. These characters must steal everything. This includes goods they could actually afford, the treasure they find in dungeons, and even the purses and backpacks of their companions while they sleep.

Some players think this concept is hilarious, and anyone who doesn't see the joke is clearly just a stick in the mud who doesn't know how to have fun. If the DM protects this character from having his hands cut off, it often sours the rest of the table. And if his victims are allowed to pay him back for his acts? Well, that often leads to a sulky player.

This is why so many DMs don't allow you to play a kender.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Just be a thief. There's nothing wrong with being a thief, and a party can really benefit from having someone who's light-fingered at the right time.

"At the right time" being the key phrase.

Generally speaking, this means that your fellow party members, friendly NPCs, and your allies, are off-limits. For maximum efficiency, only steal objects that are valuable, and only do it when it would have an impact on the game. Swiping a few coppers from the drunk at the bar isn't really worth the time or effort. Palming the dungeon key from your jailer, though, is something that will earn you a great many thanks from your fellow party members who would like to just walk out of their cell.

#2: The Proselytizer

"Excuse me, have you heard the good word?" Only a thousand times, Jerry.
There is an urge to model the fantastical off of the familiar. And when we attempt to model characters who genuinely believe they have been chosen to do the will of the gods, and that they are on the side of good and truth, we end up with a bunch of sanctimonious, stuck-up, self-righteous killjoys for some reason.

Paladins, clerics, and other servants of the divine come in a thousand different flavors. From the pious to the quiet, from the brooding to the jolly... but there is always that one character who wants to do nothing but tell you their good word. Who wants you to listen to them sermonize, who wants you to pray with them, and who will often withhold their aid from you if you choose to act in a way that runs counter to their own faith.

Whether it's the holy knight who guilt trips her companions who choose to celebrate with wine, or the cleric who shames his party-mates as they come out of the brothel, you are not winning any friends among the table.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

There is something admirable about someone who sticks to their own beliefs, despite temptation. The key to remember, here, is that your vows, your oaths, and your faith are yours. So if those vows aren't actually compromised by the company you're keeping (if you are a servant of the light, your god might frown on you for keeping company with Blitzrock Baby-Eater, for example), don't make a big deal out of who the rest of the table chooses to play.

By all means, roleplay your discussions about religion. Have long philosophical talks about the meaning of good and evil in your fantasy setting. If other members of the party follow your god as well, then discuss the vows you took, and the proper path you should follow. But if your faith declares you must give your wealth to the poor, or only eat simple meals, or do Crossfit every third Saturday, don't nag everyone else for not following your restrictions. Especially if them not following your restrictions doesn't actually hurt you in any way (losing your powers, being expelled from the church, etc., etc.)

#3: The Murder Machine

"Afternoon, sir! A fine day for-" I bury my ax in the innkeeper's face!
Combat is a healthy chunk of any RPG. Even in situations where you're trying to pull off a bloodless heist, or orchestrate a political coupe, there's always the chance that swords come out, and blood is spilled. However, there are some characters who exist only to leave a wake of destruction and death behind them. Every merchant they've ever met, every town guard who ever asked them their business in the city, and every bartender who ever asked what they were drinking was met with death threats... if the character bothered to speak at all before just running them through.

There is some exaggeration here, but if you've been round the gaming block before, you know a Murder Machine when you see one. Likely because you're constantly trying to stop them from pulling steel, or slinging spells, as a response to anything resembling conversation openers from an NPC.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The concept of a character who only comes alive in battle (or one who only feels comfortable there, since they know the rules of combat) is one that's quite common in a lot of different genres. But if you're going that route, you still need to flesh out who your character is off the battlefield, and what triggers their aggression response. Are they a socially-awkward hulk who gets angry when people laugh at them, so he tends to brood and glare in silence unless someone actively puts in the effort to get past his outer defenses? Is she paranoid, seeing violence or the threat of violence as the only thing that keeps those around her honest, and preventing them from thinking she's weak? Or does this character deal with a bloodlust that has to be slaked, which is why they don't come near civilized places unless they've had enough battle to get it out of their system?

There are all kinds of options, and all sorts of characters, that fit this mold. From warriors on a hair-trigger, to formerly brainwashed bodyguards, to sorcerers who have trouble controlling their tempers along with their powers, the easiest way to avoid going too far and becoming a Murder Machine is to make sure there is always a method to when your character decides that violence is necessary. And to make sure they have personality and presence when initiative is over, and it's time to play the rest of the game.

#4: The Square Peg

A dozen books full of character options... and this is the one you chose?
RPGs are a group-oriented activity. Everyone makes their avatar, and comes together to tell a cooperative story... but it only works if everyone is willing to work together. A square peg character, though, does not fit the game. Whether it's conceptually, or in the execution, it does not matter how hard you hammer that peg, it is not going to fit.

Anyone who's played for a while has examples of this one. Whether it's the sadistic, demon-worshiping child torturer who tried to join the party of holy warriors, the paladin plunked down in the middle of a gang of thieves and assassins, or the light-hearted bard who showed up to the grimdark game, these characters are like a sour note. It's like the player behind them is off in a totally separate game that no one else is playing, and it wears pretty thin pretty fast.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The easiest way to fix a square peg is to simply shave off the corners until it fits in the round hole. As an example, say you are the monster who tries to sign up with the party of holy warriors. You could be a repentant villain, attempting to undo your past wrongs with the skills you learned before your change of heart. Or you could take a few precautions to keep your wickedness hidden, ensuring your companions don't instantly sniff you out. If you're a bastion of law, but you find yourself surrounded by thieves and killers, ask how you came to be there? Do you attempt to use diplomacy and intimidation on their behalf, lowering the body count and achieving real results so that no one has to get hurt? Or have you turned your back on righteousness, and you're going your own way now?

And if you're the light-hearted minstrel in a world full of darkness and terrors, the easiest way to fit is to squat down in the mud and blood with your companions, light up a smoke, and drop your performer's cheer for a moment. Take a deep drag, and talk about how hard it is trying to keep the light burning in people's hearts when you live in a world full of rain. But someone's got to do it, and you're pretty sure they don't know how to handle a mandolin.

The core concept of most of these characters can be preserved, while shaping them to fit the game you're actually playing. But remember, not every character will fit in every game.

#5: The Rando

"My elf jumps off the bridge." But why would he- "Did I stutter!?"
Random chance plays a huge part in any given game. It determines how persuasive the judge finds your arguments, whether your shafts strike your enemy in the heart, and whether you manage to fight off that cold you contracted on the trail. But there are some characters who seem completely determined by the whims of chance. Everything, from how they feel when they wake up in the morning, to who they're friendly toward, to which enemy they attack in battle, is decided with a roll of the die.

This is both annoying, and potentially hazardous to the other characters, as well as the overall plot.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Don't... just don't.

As I said with The Misanthrope in the first installment, this kind of character doesn't need to just be played a certain way; it's incomplete. Whether you're actually rolling a d20 to determine every action the character takes, or you're choosing to make them behave in a truly random manner (not impulsive, or silly, but outright nonsensical) just stop. Sit down, and create a character who has reasons for their behavior, who has motivations, goals, drives, and a purpose.

That is not to say you cannot play the fool (such as someone who feigns getting absolutely fall-down drunk before an important mission, or whose zany antics are actually a cover for a cunning strategy), or that you must be serious all the time. Characters are people, and like people they can be complex or simple, clever or stupid, brave or cowardly... but the thing they have to be most is consistent. So figure out who your character is, and what makes sense for them to say, do, think, or believe according to the core of who they actually are.

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. Sorry it was a little late, but I was on the road most of yesterday, and didn't have time to sit down and bang this one out. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (especially my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out in bringing Evora to life. To stay on top of all my latest releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page or consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi!

Friday, June 29, 2018

What is Graffiti Like in Your World?

The urge to leave our mark wherever we go is as old as humanity itself. Whether it's a poem about defecation in a bathroom, spray painting Frodo Lives on a back alley, or scratching Halvdan was here into the Hagia Sophia, graffiti is something individuals and cultures have been practicing for centuries.

So, stop a moment, and ask what kinds of graffiti you might find in your setting. Especially if that game has elves, dwarves, trolls, and all kinds of magic that could do things even modern paints never could.

Just wait... hundreds of years from now, people will think this is important.

Defacement, Art, and Everything in Between

While we might like to think that ancient peoples had deeper thoughts and keener realizations than we do today, if you translate the graffiti, you see a lot of similar messages. People saying they were here, people carving messages of love, and people talking shit. Although, in some circumstances, graffiti was also used as an advertisement. Particularly for services like brothels... if you could interpret the message, that was.

Well, according to this, there should be a tavern around here somewhere.
Graffiti can have a lot of different purposes, and fulfill a lot of different roles. For example, in urban areas, graffiti could allow someone familiar with local signs to track gang influences, and to see where the invisible turf lines have been drawn. Secret signs might also indicate where thieve's guild holdouts are, or mark certain places as neutral ground. Particularly for communities like orcs, who may need to leave clan marks indicating where safe spaces for their people are. Alternatively, graffiti might be used as a way for artists to build their reputations... especially for illusionists whose graffiti will vanish, in time.

In a dungeon, graffiti might give clues to what's happening. Marks written by ogres could warn the party of dangers, if they can read the crude language. Hobgoblin marks could leave a trail, allowing the party to piece together what happened to a previous party, and figure out the dangers they faced... or to be warned that the "treasure" is a myth, and only death lurks beyond.

Even if graffiti doesn't serve a greater purpose in your setting, it can be used as a way to add extra details to your world. After all, if the tavern tables or privvies have graffiti on them, then that speaks to the quality of the establishment. If public works are being defaced, that speaks to the climate of the city. However, if graffiti is encouraged as an art form, then that could make for a unique and colorful setup.

And it gives you a handy way to sneak in some useful information... if that's what you need to do.

That's all for this week's Fluff post. For more work from me, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me, become a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi. Either way, my eternal gratitude and some sweet gaming swag will be yours for the asking!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Barbabyan- Some PCs Start Early

I'm a sucker for animation featuring barbarian-style characters. It's why one of my earliest installments on Moon Pope Monday was the pilot for Korgoth of Barbaria, and why it wasn't long before I shared The Starbarians as well. If you missed when my Monday posts were more about cartoons and fun Kickstarters than about super-serious DM advice, then you can consider this week's post to be a throwback.

Allow me to present a short from Nick Animation... Barbabyan!

Sadly, I can't link the video directly, as it's not on YouTube. Just click the above link.

What Is Barbabyan?

Created by Paul and Patrick Noth, Barbabyan is a just-over-three-minute short story about an uncivilized toddler who finds himself being escorted to a daycare and finishing school by his older brother. Barbabyan is having none of it, though, and his sheer uncivilized nature leads him to discover his destiny atop the climbing wall.

There isn't much to the episode, but what there is proves to be a lot of fun. And for those who enjoy Barbabyan, there are a lot more shows where that came from on the Nick Animated Shorts Facebook page. While I'm still hoping this gets turned into a regular cartoon, I'm not going to hold my breath. It seems my barbarians rarely get past shorts and pilots these days.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday. It's short and sweet, but I just wanted to share a little laugh with everyone out there. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support all my endeavors here, drop some change in my cup at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, both my eternal gratitude and some sweet gaming swag shall be yours!