Monday, January 14, 2019

Don't Have Time To Waste With Your Games? Check Out First Five Reviews!

As most folks who follow my blog know, in addition to creating gaming content, I'm also an author and a regular convention participant. So when a friend of mine from con invited me to do a reading from my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife at the Gumbo Fiction Salon hosted at the Galway Arms in Chicago, I really couldn't say no.

If you're wondering what I read, check out the free sample!
The reading went beautifully, and when I and my fellow readers had closed our covers, I stood around talking with several of the other participants. One fellow I met, whose work I found intriguing, told me that he'd been working on building a YouTube channel for a while. The idea behind it was that, since no one working today's ridiculous hours has the time to throw away on playing games that may demand months of your energy, that he would find games that gave you quality over quantity. Games that lacked unnecessary filler, and which didn't string you along for two, three, or four unnecessary cliffhangers so you could feel like you got value out of your play time.

That idea intrigued me, which is why I'd like to tell all of your out there about First Five Reviews!

Games For People Who Have Stuff To Do

I remember back in the days of yore where I could sit in front of a television screen for five or six hours a day for weeks at a stretch, and find all the little puzzles, secrets, and story chocolates in an intricate RPG. Or where I could go through a fighting game and figure out how to win with every character on the roster so I got all the lore.

These days, you're lucky if I pick up a controller once in a blue moon. So knowing there is someone out there who also has no time for bullshit in a game makes this channel a valuable screening tool for what I do with my free time.

Also, since I've helped out on Dungeon Keeper Radio so much, I know exactly how hard it can be to build a following, and get the necessary view counts to get your channel monetized. So I figured I'd help a creator out with one hand, and show everyone this cool new thing I found with the other.

That's a thing you know about now. Go check it out!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you'd like to see more of my work, then take a look at my Vocal or Gamers archives. And if you're in the market for some books, head over to My Amazon Author Page to see what I've got to offer... like my novel Crier's Knife that I mentioned earlier!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a regular monthly patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps, trust me!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Any Class Can Be A Knight (More Thoughts on Outside-The-Box Character Presentation)

Something I've repeated time and time again on this blog is that your character class is just a word that describes a certain package of skills your character possesses. Those skills and abilities are neutral regarding your story, provided your story in no way goes against the description of your skills.

What does that mean in plain English? Well, just because your character is a monk, that doesn't mean you are required to play a fantasy Shaolin monk, or even have studied at a monastery. You could just as easily be a member of an elite group of soldiers rigorously trained in secret fighting techniques. You could be a defender of nature, tapping into the flow of the green's energy all around you to accomplish superhuman tasks by borrowing the powers of dangerous beasts (the self-healing of a lizard, the leap of a monkey, the stunning speed of a viper, etc., etc.). Hell, you could just be a back-alley bruiser who, through a lifetime of breaking bones and busting heads, has stumbled upon a kind of strange, violent zen that makes you more dangerous than any berserker.

None of this is new from me, and if you read my old piece What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity, you've probably heard this song before. And if you've seen my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks, then you might not be surprised by my example paragraph. However, there is a question I see time and time again on the groups I hang out on that I want to talk about. Something that I think could yield some truly legendary characters if we stopped and gave it some thought.

"What's the best character class for a knight?"

Depends... what do you want to play?
My answer to this question, and one that's gotten both push back and enthusiasm in almost equal measure, is simple; any class.

Have You Read Any Arthurian Lore?

As has been pointed out by memes no-doubt created by literature majors, the Knights of The Round Table were more than just a group of men trained to the sword and the lance. They were, in short, the front line of one of the most batshit anime teams you've ever seen.

We all know Lancelot, and the fact that as long as he kept his vows that he had the strength of ten men. That isn't an exaggeration, either; we're talking some Samson level destructive capacity, here. But what about some of the others?

Seriously, we NEED a series (or at least a comic) about this nonsense.
Take Sir Kay, for instance. You might remember him as Arthur's foster brother, and all-around bully in The Sword in The Stone. While later legends stated he was a braggart and occasional fool, Kay also possessed a heart of ice that made him immune to fear. He could go nine days and nine nights without the need to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe, and at will he could grow to the height of the tallest tree. Or what about his companion, Sir Bedivere? A man who was perfectly handsome but for his one missing hand, who killed men by the hundreds, and who was Arthur's butler and the steward of the royal court? Two lesser-known knights, Sir Marrok and Sir Gorlagon were both goddamn werewolves!

The list goes on and on.

But That's Not What I Meant!

One of the most common responses from the push back side of this conversation is that these players or DMs have a specific, unspoken set of skills their knight concept must possess. They're looking for a mounted warrior capable of using a wide variety of weapons, and moving about freely in heavy armor.

However, that isn't necessarily a knight. Ringo Starr is a knight, for god's sake.

Just in case you thought I was leaving the bards out of this.
You don't have to be a particular character class to be a knight, anymore than you need to be a specific class to be a priest, or a noble. Hell, the Blackbriar and Stonejaw families in my Baker's Dozen of Noble Families have just as many barbarians and druids in them as they do any other character class.

The reason why is simple; the words we're using to describe these concepts are not directly connected to the skill list of a character class. Anyone can be born into a noble family, or raised to noble status by a monarch. Anyone, once ordained, can be a priest regardless of any connection (or lack thereof) to the divine. Anyone can be a knight, as long as they're tapped on the shoulder and given their honor.

Because sure, a canny fighter who comported themselves with honor on the battlefield might be knighted. A squire might be raised to the position of knight after years of training and hard-fought battles... but why would a kingdom in a fantasy world not have evokers who were knights? Or warrior monks whose intense regimen and training made them ideal bodyguards in a room where no weapons were permitted? Or even warlocks or magi, who blend steel and sorcery into a single, deadly art form?

There's no doubt that, "Figure on horse in heavy armor with socketed lance," is definitely a (and I hate this term) realistic description of a historical knight. But our history is kind of irrelevant if we're playing in a fantasy realm that is not, and has never been, Earth.

So the next time you sit down to make a knight, you can make the stereotypical elite warrior who also acts as a lord and defender of the realm. But you're making a character in a fantasy world... why wouldn't that world embrace other options? Even if it's just a side step into playing a barbarian knight whose strength doubles when battle is joined, roaring so loudly they cow their opponents and growing thrice their normal size?

Because that kind of character also has their roots in the traditional myths that we're playing with. But if you want the best class options for a mounted warrior, or a melee specialist who wears heavy armor, then that is what you should ask for advice about. Because those things, at least, are directly connected to a class's skill set.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some creative wheels out there turning!

If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or, if you're in a mood to pick up some new fiction, you could jump over to My Amazon Author Page to grab one of my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to support me, consider leaving me a tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps me keep making content just like this!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Make Sure Your Character Is As Fun To Play With, As They Are To Play

We've all had to deal with that one social event that just ended up becoming too much of a chore to handle. You know, like when you first met up with this group of folks down at the local bar. They got together every Thursday, and had a good time. Then Brian decided to join you. He was Sharon's friend, and you figured you'd give him a chance, but you just don't like him. From the way he drinks too much, to how he can't hold his temper, to how he always expects someone else to cover his tab, he's just not worth the trouble.

At first you just felt more tired than refreshed after your night out. But then you felt actively stressed by it. You started skipping an occasional meeting, and noticing others doing the same. Finally, you just couldn't take it anymore, and made some excuse before you never went back again.

And that, friends, is why I walked away from that table, and never looked back.
Cool story, but what does it have to do with gaming? Everything, since you ask.

Because a lot of us have been Brian. The problem is that because we are having fun, we don't always look around and notice that no one else is. Whether it was that dashing swordsman Jacques who was constantly trying to get into the pants of the rest of the party, the vindictive priest Grumheld who refused to heal anyone unless he'd been praised or bribed, or that sour-faced thief with the cheek scar who never even told anyone his name, but stole everything that wasn't nailed down and blamed the rest of the party for the crimes when he got caught, you got so wrapped up in your own fun that you forgot this is a team sport.

Which is why it's important to look around, and make sure everyone is on the same page as you.

Is Your Character Someone You Want To Spend 4 Hours With?

Have you ever stopped, and asked how much time goes into a campaign? Not on the prep side, but just in how much time you're spending around the table with the rest of the group?

Time to break out the spreadsheets!
Let's be generous, and say that your group meets every other week, and that your sessions are roughly 3 hours long each. That doesn't seem like much, does it? But given that campaigns on that sort of schedule can run for up to two years, let's crunch the numbers.

That's 6 hours a month, 72 hours a year... so roughly 144 hours of exposure time.

Ask yourself if your character is someone the rest of your table wants to put up with for three hours at a time. Then ask if seeing this character month in and month out, and knowing that the player is going to have to deal with someone abrasive, rude, confrontational, or just plain stupid is going to be a good time for them, as well as for you.

Then, if you've identified a problem, find a way around it.

You Can Stay True To Character, And Still Be Fun

This is usually the point at which a lot of players with problematic characters will turn up their nose and demand to know why they should play totally different characters than the one they want to play.

Aside from the fact that ruining everyone else's gaming experience just to get your jollies in makes you kind of an asshole, you don't have to sacrifice your concept to play someone that's sunshine and rainbows all the time. Just file the rough edges off so you aren't constantly pricking everyone else at the table.

If you're going to be a little prick, at least be endearing about it.
If you have someone who is going to be a strain on the rest of the table's patience, the key is to turn that negativity toward the NPCs as much as possible, and to make it clear that even if your character may be hard to like sometimes, he does his job, supports the team, and helps everyone accomplish their goals.

Take your angry, grizzled, confrontational hard case (more commonly referred to as a Wolverine homage). To make this character easier on everyone else, find a reason to be on their team. Maybe you and the paladin go way back, and he saved your life from orcs in that trench, so even though you feel like you're babysitting most of this group, you still respect him enough to try to keep this team alive. Maybe the tough exterior shows a crack or two when one of your team goes down, and you go into a frenzy to save them before dropping to your knees to provide first aid, swearing a blue streak about how no one dies on your goddamn watch. Not anymore. Or perhaps when the wizard saves your bacon with a well-timed lightning bolt, you buy him a drink and give him a gap-toothed smile before telling him, "Ah, I guess you're all right for a wand-flicker."

You can use this same logic on any concept that causes friction at the table. Your thief's light fingers causing a problem? Make it a point that he never steals from anyone he works with. You could even give him an honesty streak, or make it a pride thing so that he would never even consider letting someone else take credit for his jobs... even the botched ones. Is your half-orc with rage issues causing too many messes? Consider that he's in a different culture, and he needs to understand how issues like this are solved here. Talk to a fellow party member and run a whole sub-plot where Garag Skull-Cleaver learns that the law of the jungle does not apply in towns, and he needs to learn the laws of this new land if he is to be a champion here. Or make him more child-like than actively aggressive, looking to his party members for the sign that it's time to play the fight game.

Whatever it is, make it so that the rest of the table can get in on the action. Whether it's, "crotchety grandpa dwarf decides we're all his adopted kids now," or, "Krunk learns to use his words," or, "that one time Black Fingers decided to steal presents for friends who couldn't afford them," the key is to make it so that it's not just you having fun and everyone else dealing with the fallout. Be a catalyst that lets everyone play as a group, and you'll find that your table will not be able to get enough of your characters; even the grim, dark, foreboding, or brutal ones.

If you enjoyed this, then you might also want to check out:
- 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing
- 5 MORE RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully it got some wheels out there turning. Anyone else have actionable tips? If so, leave them in the comments below!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Also, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, make sure to stop by My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Seriously, it's the best way to make sure I keep getting content just like this from my hands, to your screen!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Vile Bile (Something For Green Dragonborn Assassins)

Folks who stop by my blog know that Improved Initiative is more of a place to remix concepts and builds with existing rules than a place where I brew up totally new stuff. However, when it comes to 5th Edition, barely a session of the campaign I'm in goes by where I don't notice a big gap that is just calling out to be filled in with fresh content.

So this week I thought I'd present something I'm going to try out that other folks might like as well. I call it Vile Bile, in honor of the foul-mouthed, foul-tempered, hard-drinking, blackmailing, vicious, incorrigible maniac I'm currently playing.

The hell you looking at, softskin?
For folks interested in some of my other thoughts for 5th Edition, check out Method in The Madness (A Structure For Wild Magic Surge Rolls in 5th Edition).

Vile Bile (A Poisoner's Best Friend)

Green dragons are unique, in that no other breed can belch forth the clouds of noxious vapors they can foment inside their gullets. While most adventurers are not foolish enough to approach a full-grown green with the intent of harvesting the power of its breath weapon, it is possible for someone with the proper knowledge to get the necessary ingredients from the lesser children of these dragons.

If someone has access to either a willing green dragonborn or a green dragon, it is possible to extract a single use of their breath weapon for the day. The poison gas must be blown into a kettle or a cauldron with a sealed stopper. The vapors must then be alternatively heated and cooled over a two-hour process. The kettle will release terrible fumes, but while they will smell awful, they won't be deadly. At the end of the two hour process, the inside of the kettle will have a thin layer of highly poisonous resin in it. That resin can be smeared on a weapon, or if tea is made in the pot it can be infused into a drink (though the green tint may make some drinkers suspicious).

No, it's supposed to taste like that. Don't worry.
In either case, the person brewing the Vile Bile must make a DC 15 check using a poisoner's kit in order to properly craft the poison. Once it's been crafted, there are as many doses as there are d6's of the breath weapon that was used. The poison uses the same save as that breath weapon, as well, making the bile of powerful dragons and dragonborn much deadlier than that of younger, less-seasoned ones.

Only a single dose (1d6 of poison damage, with the appropriate save for half damage) can be applied to a single bolt or arrow at a time. Additionally, only a single dose can be put into a single cup of tea. However, up to two doses can be placed on light weapons, up to three on one-handed, non-light weapons, and as many as four on heavy weapons. No matter how many doses are placed on a weapon at a single time, all of them activate on the first hit made with it (so if you swing a greatsword with 4 doses of Vile Bile on it, then you add 4d6 of poison damage with the appropriate save for half damage). Once the poison has been spent, it needs to be re-applied, and every dose requires an Action to apply. Due to the nature of Vile Bile, as long as the weapon is not washed or scoured, the poison remains indefinitely.

The additional benefit of Vile Bile is that the specific dragon or dragonborn whose breath weapon is used as the base component is immune to its effects. This allows them to apply it to unarmed strikes or natural weapons without worrying about the toxin threatening them. It also means they can drink beverages brewed from their own breath weapons without damage; a trick that has been used by those with devious intent to get a drop on their foes before they know they're being attacked.

Would You Like To See More?

If you'd like to see more content like this from me, then let me know in the comments below! And it doesn't hurt if you share it around with your groups, either. The more eyes I get on something, the more likely I am to do a repeat performance.

Also, don't forget to check out some of my other 5th Edition creations!

- False Valor: The first module in the Critical Hits series, a murder mystery with a race against time to find the guilty party, and prevent an old war from sparking back to life!

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them): 13 rumors, each one meaty enough to build an entire session around, that you can weave into your campaigns lore, or play with as separate one-shots.

- 100 Bits of Miscellaneous Tat To Find: When you want to give out loot that's worth less than a gold piece, here's some cheap-as-dirt swag for adventurers to find.

- 100 Pieces of Flotsam and Jetsam to Find on a Beach: From wrecked ships, to buried bodies, to cursed coins, to lost fish familiars, there's a little bit of everything in this collection.

- 100 Encounters For On The Road or In The Wilderness: If your party is walking down the road, or cutting through the trees, what will they find? Bandits, lost shrines, buried treasures, and more!

- 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest: From half-mad oracles, to moving clearings, to tiny sentinels mounted on dragonflies, there is never a dull moment when you're traveling a fey forest.

That's all for this latest Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, remember to check out my Vocal, Gamers, and Dungeon Keeper Radio pages. Also, if you're looking for a new book to read, take a look at My Amazon Author Page where you'll find stuff like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help me keep making content just like this, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps, trust me on that one.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Get Your Hands on Some Tormented Artifacts! (Especially if You're a LARPer)

The Internet is full of crafty people who make strange, unusual, striking, and downright awesome stuff. The problem is that most of the time you only find them by accident. You happen to be scrolling through a group you don't go to much, or a friend shares a link, or the random numbers of the algorithm give you a brief glimpse at someone's work, and show you a door you could step through if you were intrigued enough.

Today, I'd like to be that door for folks who haven't heard of Tormented Artifacts.

Seriously, step through already! There's all kinds of goodies in there.

What Is Tormented Artifacts?

Tormented Artifacts is the place where you can get work by crafter Dmitri Arbacauskas, who makes some lovely, high-quality stuff. Not only that, but he makes unusual pieces that you won't typically find outside of a convention (and what's even better, he'll make custom adjustments to ensure his customers are happy with their order, though there may be a few extra bucks tacked on for additional materials, efforts, etc.).

Seriously, LOOK at this thing!
While there are plenty of fun accessories for those among us who like to stand out from the general populace, Dmitri's work is particularly good for folks out there who enjoy LARPing. From body braces, to hand wraps, to masks, to pouches, his leather is durable, high-quality, and formed with skill. Additionally, you can get pretty much any sort of symbol, crest, or unique marker burned into it, if you can provide the artist with something to work off of.

You get what you pay for when it comes to this artist, which is why I would strongly suggest everyone out there who wants that memorable piece for their character (or just a durable, everyday accessory that will be with you for years to come), that you check out Tormented Artifacts today.

I did, and I'm very pleased with the results.

And if you're looking for some other folks you may not have come across, you should also check out:

The former is more about armor, weapons, and other boffer accessories, while the latter is a costuming resource I recommend everyone know about.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Remember, small businesses are always there for our hobby, so show them some love and spread the word!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, my Gamers page, or stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio. You could also head over to My Amazon Author Page to get some of my 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. And if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, remember that you can tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar

The undead plague appears to have been contained, for the time being, but Foxglove Manor is a problem beyond the powers of Sandpoint's heroes to cleanse on their own. They decided to venture south to Magnimar to enlist the help of a priest, but also to investigate the strange letters found in the den of the creature that had once been Aldern Foxglove. Something is brewing in Magnimar... but what?

- 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

All caught up? Good... now, on with the story...

Corruption in Magnimar

The big city... where the horizon is wide, and the CRs are high.
After a brief stop to let Sheriff Hemlock know what's happening, and to make sure Chikara knows the danger hasn't passed yet, they mounted up for the brief ride south to Magnimar. The city of statues, Magnimar was a place of wealth, sophistication, and history. A place where no one, not Zhakar with his twisted iron gauntlet, Thok with his heavy shoulders and strange accent, Zordlan with his inhuman features, or Mirelinda and her belts of jingling coins drew so much as a second glance from most people.

Which was for the best. Hunters don't want to draw the attention of their prey.

The first order of business was to seek aid from the Church of Desna. Zordlan sought out the church, explaining the esoteric nature of what lurked in the basement of Foxglove Manor. He told them how it had been beaten, but that it would regain its power if it was not exorcised. While he talked with the holy men, Zhakar and Thokk reconnoitered the town house where Aldern had been living for the past several years. If there was going to be a clue about what bizarre scheme the young nobleman had been involved in, that was where they would find it.

Stalkers and Skinsaws

I figured he'd have been able to afford better than this.
Once everyone had come together again, they agreed that the smart thing to do was to breech the estate, and find out what there was to be found out. So, while taking care not to look either too suspicious or too heavily armed, they ducked behind the hedges, and slipped Aldern's key in the lock. As the door creaked open, though, they smelled something. Beneath the dust and disuse there was a sickly odor... something corrupt. Something wrong.

The door had barely closed at their backs when they saw a figure through a doorway. It looked like Aldern, but off somehow; as if his face were covered in mud, or heavy makeup. They had barely taken a step toward the figure, when another leaped from the shadows of a nearby room. It was like a twin to the first figure, but as they looked at him his face ran in rivulets, his features twisting and weeping away as the face sloughed off. Beneath was only a blank canvas of whorls and callouses, breath hissing through the slits that may have been nostrils as it brought steel to bear.

With the second figure rushing into the fray, there was no time to let surprise dictate the battle. Thok had left his spear behind in the close confines of the city, and he drew the hand-and-a-half sword he'd slung from his back, tossing the scabbard away as he traded blows with the melting horror that had rushed him from the shadows. Zhakar batted away the blade from the second creature, the spikes of his gauntlet shrieking as he reached for his short blade. Zordlan danced around the strewn furniture, seeking advantage while staying out of the thing's grasp.

The Faceless Stalkers were more than disturbing foes... if they laid their touch upon you, they could drain away your very life essence!

Her dark complexion going pale, Mirelinda stepped back from the fray, snatching the thin, bone wand from up her sleeve. A flick of her wrist sent jets of fire bursting along the hard knobs of the creatures' flesh, drawing thin whines of pain from their mouthless heads. Steel clashed, and black ichor flowed down Zordlan's blade as it slammed through one of the Stalkers from behind. Before it could turn to take vengeance, Zhakar smashed his fist into the side of its head, his gauntlet crushing the skull into pulp and fragments. Nearby, Bostwick attempted to distract the final foe, flanking it to buy Thok the opening he needed. Thok raised his sword over his head, gritting his teeth as the creature slammed a blow into his chest. He snarled, bringing the blade down and hacking deep into its body. Black ichor spurted, and it fell to the floor, twitching before it died.

Panting and bloodied, the companions paused to listen. No more enemies materialized from the darkness. Communicating in silence, Zhakar and Thok formed a hunter's pair, each covering the other. Bostwick snuck ahead, his small size and light frame making him all but unnoticeable. Zordlan brought up the rear, his rapier idly shifting like a restless serpent as he guarded Mirelinda's back.

They found no more foes, but they did find more papers. Letters written to Aldern, and sealed with a bizarre symbol. Also mentions of what sounded like a cult... and most importantly, a location of where one could go to find more members. People who had dedicated themselves to the deranged worship of Father Skinsaw, and who sought to set a light not just to Sandpoint, but the very foundations of Magnimar as well!

The True Face of The Blades

The clues found in the townhouse pointed to a sawmill on the docks. One that was easy to find, and which was also running with a full crew to judge from the sound. The front door, such as it was, had been locked. There was a lower door, though, and one out of sight to viewers on the street. It was locked, but hammering on it did bring someone.

I am just getting the strangest sense of deja vu here.
The man at the door seemed like a typical, workaday laborer. Shouting over the grinding wheels inside, he demanded to know the business of the motley group of strangers. While Zhakar tried to convince him they were there on behalf of Foxglove, the man simply wasn't buying it. That was when something crawled up Zhakar's spine; a sense of a familiar evil he had encountered before. In that moment, he could practically smell the darkness this man had dipped his soul in; a darkness more than mere, human wickedness.

Zhakar lashed out, driving a blow into the man's mid-section. For a moment he wasn't sure that his senses had led him correctly, but when the man raised his head, a madness gleamed in his gaze; the glazed, feral expression that proved his workman's manner had simply been another mask. He drew a pair of wicked war razors, and with a bloody smile leaped to attack.

The door was a bottleneck, but several more hammer blows drove the man to his knees, and the door was breached. Other workmen had taken notice of the scuffle, despite the noise, and they had taken a moment to don crazed hoods with a single, bulging, red eye. Symbols of Father Skinsaw, jagged and taut, they showed their true, murderous faces of his devotees.

Bostwick dashed over the narrow walkways with no difficulty, his fists smashing bone and bruising muscle as he slipped past the slashing razors. Zordlan contained the walkway, ensuring that the masked men couldn't mount an offense that would overwhelm his companions. Thok drew his bow, ignoring the roaring fury of the gears and sending shafts into any who wore one of the wicked hoods. Several fell into the grinding gears below, gone without so much as a chance to scream.

All The Way To The Top

The workers at the lowest level were far from the only ones in the mill, and all of them wore the same, deranged masks as their fellow cult members. All of them were scythed down, going to see what reward their Skinsaw Man gave to those who had done the dying rather than the killing.

But it wasn't until they reached the final level that they found something truly disturbing. A small room covered in bizarre prayers written in blood, all of them glorifying a bloody-mouthed god of murder. At first the room seemed empty, as well... but just as Thok turned to say there was no one there, something struck him, and sent him sprawling.

Who the hell? Piss off, ghost!
Standing in the room, the curtain of invisibility torn away, was a tall, powerfully-built man. With a gleaming buckler in one hand, and a blade in the other, there is something disturbing in his smile. A glimmering of someone whose madness was no less pronounced than his followers', but simply better hidden.

It couldn't hide from Zhakar, though. Seeing his friend bleeding and wounded, the head of this cult standing over him, a change flickered across his face. Something seemed to fill him, and he rushed forward. There were no battle cries, no threats... just the eerie silence of judgment, and the pounding of his boots.

Zhakar attacked like a man indifferent to his own wounds, as long as he slew his foe. His blade driving like a nail, his arm like a hammer, he plunged in past the man's defenses again and again. The figure's blood ran red, and though the man landed a blow or two of his own, Most of the gouges simply scraped away Zhakar's skin to reveal that smooth coating of steel just beneath. Thok drew himself to his feet, his sword joining his friend's as they backed the man further against the wall, denying him a chance to escape, or a chance to reach their other companions. For a moment it seemed like the cult's leader might try to flee, but then he gasped, and his eyes went dark. Zhakar held him for a moment, then dropped his body to the ground. His black hand was slick with blood, his sword wet from where it had pierced the man's heart.

Zordlan sheathed his rapier, and began a quick inventory of the room as the others regrouped. Zhakar leaned against the wall like a man trying to find his equilibrium after a storm-tossed time at sea, the rents in his skin slowly closing over. Thok clapped him on the shoulder, speaking softly in Hallit before cutting a piece of the dead man's tunic to wipe away the blood dripping from his friend's weapon.

That was when they heard a curse from Zordlan.

The dead man on the floor may have attacked them first. He may have been a madman, and a head of a cult dedicated to murder and torture. He may even have had a hand in the crimes of Aldern Foxglove, according to some of the notes in the bloodstained journal he kept. But he was also a judge, and one of great repute within the city.

Could things get worse for our heroes? Find out on the next Table Talk installment where they face the fallout, and uncover even deeper plots among the spires and shadows of Magnimar!

For more of my work, head over to my Vocal archive, check out my Gamers page, and give some love to Dungeon Keeper Radio! And 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 releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like 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, December 24, 2018

4 Tools To Help You Control Your Dice At The Table

There are few things more annoying than your dice making a break for it when you're in the middle of a tense situation. Whether your dice go wild, knocking over PC and monster minis on the map, or they fall off the table entirely, leading to the whole table shining their cell phones down into the shadows while you try to retrieve your fallen soldier, that can break the spell you're all collectively weaving.

Maybe you don't have a lot of room at your gaming table, or maybe you just want a neat, clean solution to keep your dice on their best behavior. These are the solutions I've found that work, and which can easily become a part of your regular gaming arsenal.

#1: Dice Cup

As opposed to a cup of dice, which is a totally different thing.
The dice cup might be one of the oldest known gaming accessories, next to dice themselves. Simple and straightforward, you toss your dice in, give it a shake, then upend the cup over the table. No dice go flying, and you can usually roll all your attacks in a round with a single pound. If you really want to save time, toss in your damage dice along with the d20.

If you have a bunch of old games on your shelf (particularly Yahtzee), you can likely scrounge the dice cup out of there and put it to use. Or, if you don't mind going super cheap, you can just use a hard, plastic cup from your kitchen (and if you're crafty you can glue some felt to the inside, and put a band of leather around the top for softer, smoother rolling). Even if you're not crafty, though, you can get a cheap dice cup for $6 or so. The one I'm currently rocking came with the Wiz Dice Cup of Wonders, which gives you a dice cup, and seven complete sets of dice for $12. Would highly recommend for anyone looking to kill two birds with one stone.

#2: Brick Roller

No, I didn't know these were called bricks, either.
If you've ever bought a new set of dice at your friendly local gaming store, then you're familiar with these clear, plastic brick cases. They're convenient for carrying a single set of dice, and you've probably used the clear plastic part to represent flying creatures a time or two on your battle mat (and if you haven't, well, there's a life hack for you). However, if you need a quick and easy way to roll your dice without risking them going too far, you can turn the brick into a simple die roller. Just empty it, put the die you want to roll inside, and close the brick. Voila!

I've used this trick in the past, but mostly I just used the d20, and rolled my damage dice out on the table. Fewer problems, but inconvenient if you like to use multiple sets of dice for a single character. If you don't have any bricks laying around, relax, we live in the future. You can order them online! Or, you know, just buy a few more dice sets...

#3: Dice Tower

Brings "keeping" your dice in order to a whole, new level.
I mentioned back in Towering Defenses Against My Bad Rolls that I'd been building some dice towers of my own. And, generally speaking, I've found that they're particularly useful for shaking off the bad juju when it comes to avoiding a slew of natural 1's. However, if you're going to go that route, it's helpful to build a dice catcher into the base of your tray. I put the blueprints and videos I used in that other entry, if you want to try your hand at making your very own tower.

If you're not feeling crafty (or you want something tough enough to stuff into your travel bag on your way out the door), then models like the Black Tower pictured above (which has dice storage in the base) will run you a couple of Jacksons. Or, if you're shopping on a budget and you don't want the spinning rims and awesome exterior, then a simple design like the Litko Dice Tower will certainly get the job done.

Handy, fun, and neat, you can roll as many dice as quickly as you want without having to police them back up once they stop moving. Even better, they don't take up anywhere near as much space at the table as you might think.

#4: Dice Tray

May the All-Father's Eye grant you battle luck!
A dice tray is, perhaps, one of the most ubiquitous solutions to the problem of your dice rolling further than you'd like. Not only that, but they are one of the easiest things to make for yourself. The first thing you need to do is go to your local craft store. Find where they keep the small, wooden boxes with slide-off lids. Buy it. Boom, you now have a dice tray!

If you want to spruce it up a bit, get some felt and glue it to the insides. This ensures a smoother roll, and it stops your dice from rattling quite so hard. If you're of a mind, you can also accessorize the outside with stain, paint, or even taking a wood-burning kit to the surface to make it a one-of-a-kind piece. Best of all, the lid lets you toss your dice inside, shut it, and put it in your bag without worrying about your stuff going all over the place.

However, if you want something fancy like Odin's Battlefield pictured above, there are plenty of options out there. But, as always, if you want something cheaper that will get the job done, then a folding leather dice tray is a solid choice, too. But if you go with either of those options, you'll still need your trusty dice bag to get your weapons from point A to point B.

If you enjoyed this piece, then you should also check out Need Cheap Minis? SCS Direct Has You Covered! to make sure you never run out of monsters at your table.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! Hopefully your December holiday of choice finds you well, and you have plenty of time to rest, relax, and roll some dice. If you'd like to see more of my work then stop by my Vocal archive, my Gamers page, and stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio to hear me put some snazzy shows together with fellow players and dungeon masters.

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support my work, tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Lastly if you'd like to check out any of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, just head over to My Amazon Author Page.