Monday, November 19, 2018

5 Dick Moves That Probably Mean You're A Bad DM

Most of us who know what it's like to sit in that big chair at the head of the table have experience one of those moments. Whether it was just after you made a tough call, or while pondering the next arc of your campaign, you've wondered if you're really cut out to be a dungeon master. If you are providing the experience your players want, or if you're making big mistakes and ruining everything.

Well, every table's experiences are going to be different. However, these are the five biggest dick moves I've experienced in my time as both a player and a DM, so if you can avoid these issues, you're probably doing just fine.

#1: That Was Really Powerful... You Can't Do It Again!

It does HOW much damage? Uh-huh... well, we're gonna fix that.
This particular maneuver is commonly used by DMs who either aren't totally familiar with the game's rules, or who don't actually know how the PCs' abilities work. Either way, when they're caught off-guard by something a character can do, their first reaction is to figure out how to take it away from the player. Their rogue deals enough sneak attack damage to take out an important bad guy in a few hits? Clearly sneak attack is broken, and too powerful. The paladin's smite lays waste to an entire encounter? Well, it must be unbalanced if they can cake walk through such a tough fight because of it.

And so on, and so forth.

I'm not going to lie, you're going to get surprised sometimes. You'll forget that the bard can counter your bad guy's main ability, or that your evoker took primarily sonic spells that shatter your crystalline creatures. And you should definitely read the ability description to make sure your players are following the letter of the law when it comes to how their characters' powers work. But if they're following the rules, you don't make your game better by changing the rules so they can't win. Instead, make note of how many times a character can use that ability, and what situations it takes effect in. Then design your encounters appropriately. Because sure, the rogue could sneak attack his way through your hordes... if he could properly see them. Yes, the paladin's smite would destroy a demon, but what about the humans that demon is using as pawns who don't know what their master truly is?

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

Like I said, the best thing to do is to let your players have their victories and change your strategy. If they have discovered a serious combo that breaks your game, or that you feel is causing a problem, talk to the player about it. Try to work out an agreement, and give them something different to make up for what you're taking away. And never, ever do it in the middle of the game, because that makes you look like you're just pulling out an everything-proof shield because you don't want to lose.

#2: Either Do What I Said, Or Die!

If this is your motto, you might be in the game for the wrong reasons.
We've all had those players at our tables. Maybe it was a casual friend who just won't take the game seriously. It might be that drop-in player who always plays against genre and tone just to be contrary. Or it might be that one player who acts inappropriately and makes everyone else uncomfortable. Part of you just wants to roll the dice behind your screen, pull a pained expression, and tell them their character is dead. If they want to make a new one, you would suggest making someone more in-line with the game you're actually running.

Don't do that.

No matter how satisfying you think it will be, as I said back in Killing Characters Won't Solve Out-Of-Game Problems, it isn't going to do what you want. All you're going to do is strengthen a player's resolve to make a new character who is just as irritating as the old one, perhaps even worse, just to spite you. And if you kill that one, you're just going to be the passive-aggressive DM who won't tell you no, but who will make sure your characters die if they don't meet the unspoken rules.

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

Don't. There is no way to do this without making yourself look like a royal douche nozzle.

Instead, what you should do is talk to the player you aren't seeing eye-to-eye with. Explain where you're coming from, and ask them what they want to get out of your game. Work with them to modify their behavior, and if you really want to save time and energy, put out some ground rules for character creation to nip problems in the bud. Characters who don't meet the stated, Session 0 rules won't be allowed, and that can eliminate as much as 85% of most problems you'd have. And if a player won't work with you, then officially un-invite them from your game; don't just keep bringing down the hammer and hope they'll stop showing up.

#3: Make A New Character... A Level 1 Character!

Exactly how many liters of piss are you taking right now?
When a player creates a character, they get invested in that character. They are the author of their story, they have goals, plans, and arcs they want them to complete. Having all those plans cut short because the gnoll captain scored a lucky critical with their battle ax is bad enough. But most players can soldier on, and bring a new character in to fill the old one's shoes.

Not if you make them do it as a level one PC, though.

This is a bad habit left over from the old days, and it makes your life hell as both a player and a DM. It's hard enough to present a fair challenge for a party when everyone is the same level, but if you have three members of the Avengers, and then Steve the farm kid with 11 hit points, anything that could remotely pose a threat to everyone else is going to splatter the new character against a wall. While that might not be the case if you allowed them to bring in a 4th or a 5th level character with a 6th-level party, there is no reason to make someone play at a handicap. You already killed them, what does making them play at a lower level accomplish other than adding insult to injury?

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

There are really only two circumstances I can think of this mechanic being used in, and it's if you're either going for a hardcore run, or if you're doing a kind of Dark Souls thing where the PC has to recover their lost spirit from where they died to get back their full level and powers.

Other than that, no. All you're doing is making it more likely that this one player is going to die again, making them feel singled out, and frustrating everyone else that they now have to contend with losing their bruiser, their stealth, or their nuclear power house, and have nothing to replace it with but a kid sidekick.

#4: No, I Promise, Sir Pendleton is Here To HELP You!

Isn't he just peachy? Good thing he was there!
DM player characters have a bad rep, and they have it for a good reason. Because when you're a player, the only means you have to interact with the world is your PC. You only have your wits, your stats, and your dice to accomplish great things. If the dungeon master puts a personal character into the campaign, though, that's like trusting the fox to keep the hen house safe. It's entirely possible that the fox will follow all the rules you've set out, and play fair. But you're probably going to keep a sharp eye on the chickens all the same.

Put another way, it's tough to trust that the referee can remain impartial when he has a personal stake in a particular character.

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

A DM PC is one of those things that should be offered, but never forced on the party. If they don't have a healer, then make a healer they can choose to take with them. If they need a bodyguard because everyone is playing wizards, then draw up a hireling mercenary they can bring with them (perhaps someone from the 100 Random Mercenary Companies written by yours truly?). Hell, give them a few options to choose from so the players don't feel you're trying to get them to take any particular character with them.

Secondly, the best thing you can do to make your DM PC work is to play support. If your paladin is always dealing the death blow, or your barbarian's armor class mysteriously fluctuates, players are going to feel like you're purposefully stealing their thunder. On the other hand, if your DM PC is a bard providing a handy background bonus, a healer keeping everyone on their feet, or a one-man shield wall giving the rest of the party space to cast and shoot, that lets you contribute without overshadowing the players.

#5: Who's The DM Here, Me Or You?

Hard to be a DM without any players. Just saying.
There is this common refrain among lots of people that the DM is god. It's a cute thing to say, like telling people the cat owns the house, but fluffy's name isn't on the mortgage. While the DM runs the world, provides the plot, and technically does portray the deities of the setting, they are not a dictator.

Or, at least, they shouldn't be.

Running a game is a cooperative experience. The DM sets up the scenes, and then the players take over, interacting with the scene and world through their characters. While the DM should feel free to make rules calls, and present results in accordance with the natural flow of actions and reactions, it's important to make sure they understand that they are just as much a player as everyone else at the table. It's just that their role is very different.

Regular ego checks are what keep DMs running smoothly.

But If You-

No. Just no.

Just as anyone who must declare himself the king is no true king, so a DM who abuses their authority will seem less deserving of that authority in the eyes of the rest of the table. So while it is tempting to pull this trump card out and throw it on the table, it's never going to work the way you want it to. If you need to declare a ruling, but players have objections, don't just write that off as, "I'm the DM, and what I say goes." You have to address your players' concerns, and make sure they feel you're treating them fairly. You don't have to do it at that exact moment, but when the session is over, or when the scene has wrapped, you need to talk it out and be sure everyone can reach a point of agreement. Otherwise you'll find yourself in the same position as France's nobility when the common folk started building guillotines.

Or they'll just leave and find another table. Real talk; DMs who abuse their authority are likely the #1 reason players who don't want to be dungeon masters end up taking on the mantle.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! If you have DM dick moves that didn't make the list, leave them in the comments below! And if you'd like to see more of my work head over to my Vocal archive, or stop in to take a look at my Gamers page if you just want to see my tabletop stuff. Also, head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to make videos for players and DMs alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to leave me a tip you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. Or, if you'd rather buy some of my books, you could have over to My Amazon Author Page to see what I've got available!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

DMs, Remember, Monsters Don't Have To Be MONSTERS

Before we get started, I've got some exciting news! My new novel Crier's Knife is finally out! So if you'd like to sink your teeth into some old-fashioned sword and sorcery, go take a look. The first few chapters are free, so you can try before you buy.

Now then, where was I? Oh yes!

Being Monsters Doesn't Make You MONSTERS

Real talk here, dungeon masters. How many times have you had a character at your table whose sole response to any situation is mindless violence? You ask them to politely hand over their weapons when going into the bar, they do their best to kill the bouncer. The merchant gives them a price total on their order, they try to kill them and take the goods. Enemies surrender, they go down the line execution style. An NPC says hello, and they deck them full in the face.

"Good afternoon, Sir! How are-" I take my surprise action to attack!
I'm exaggerating here, but only just barely. There is nothing worse for storytelling and immersion than someone who is clearly here only to kill things, regardless of if it makes sense in that situation, is true to the character, or destroys immersion.

Consider that frustration, and ask if your players feel the same way about some of the monsters you put in your game.


There are some monsters that are always going to turn to the PCs and start attacking, no questions asked. Mindless undead who have been set a task, constructs with specific orders, and animals whose territory has been invaded (barring a party with a ranger or a druid who can talk said beast down) are never going to be more than an opportunity to cross swords or a chance to use serious stealth skills. That's what you put them there for!

But what about the rest of the time? When you have intelligent creatures on the board who should be using their heads instead of just reaching for their weapons because, hey, we're an hour and a half into the session and it should be time to fight something right about now don't-cha-think?

"What you all doin' in my woods?"
Give you an example of what I'm talking about.

During my group's play through of the adventure path Rise of The Runelords, there's a bit where you have to go into a cavern network and deal with a bunch of stone giants in pursuit of a ranger's corpse. Now, a majority of the encounters we had went like this:

- Party sees stone giants.
- Stone giants see party.
- Initiative is rolled.

However, there was one encounter that went differently. There were three giant hags, all gathered round a cauldron. A dangerous situation, to be sure, but one that was approached differently. Party members who spoke Giant announced us, and made the proper, respectful remarks. The hags, all deeply amused at the little adventurers, asked if we were there to kill the king. We told them no, we'd just come for the body of the ranger. They cackled at that, and told us that the ranger had been giving them quite a time... lot of trouble, for a dead man. Sadly, we'd likely have to slay their ruler to get to the ranger, and then we'd have to kill the thing he'd become. Ah well, the "king" wasn't worth much, and they would rather go back to their nice, warm swamp anyway.

And then, just like that, they teleported out. Information gained, combat avoided, and the only NPCs who felt like a genuine part of the world in that whole cavern system were gone.

I wonder what they're up to, these days...

Make Your Adversaries Real Characters, Too

It's true that, a lot of the time, the PCs and their adversaries are in direct conflict with one another. They're raiding an orc stronghold, and the guards have to keep them out. They're confronting a death-worshiping cult, and the cult sees no reason to listen to outsiders. Etc., etc.

But what about all those other situations? What about when there are pirates who don't want to lose any men, so they open negotiations for surrender? How about evil fey who, despite their desire to crack your heads and drink your blood, are still bound by specific (if unknowable) rules of courtesy? What about orc war bands who hail your party, and demand to know their business instead of just attacking them on sight? Or trolls who demand to know the party's destination in their swamp?

These are all potential situations where, sure, combat could still happen. And you might argue that a monster revealing themselves and engaging the party gives up a key advantage in that the PCs won't be ambushed if combat does happen. Fair points... but what are you giving up by assuming that every interaction is going to devolve into initiative? What effect does it have on your game when you don't bother figuring out the motivations of your bandit leaders, or the situations under which your dragons would not only not attack the PCs, but actively listen to the case they're making?

What does your story lose when you shut off the potential for NPCs like hags, gargoyles, redcaps, giants, ogres, gnolls, and all the other creatures to actually contribute more than another notch on the PCs' belts?

Or their swords, depending on how hard the bad guys' armor is.
It's true that you'll need to do a little extra tactical planning if you make your bad guys less into static obstacles and more into real characters, but you'll notice something when you do. Your players will begin to realize that these NPCs are just as real as their PCs. That they aren't just challenges to be slain, but that if they are treated differently they could add completely different elements to the story. If they know those orcs have names and motivations, then they might try to become their leader (or patron, if they'll turn mercenary), turning them into a helpful NPC war band. If they know the hill giants are capable of reason (even if they are thick as mud), then they might try to broker a lasting peace with the regional towns instead of just trying to kill everything 10 feet or taller that they meet.

And so on, and so forth.

There are still going to be situations where it's shoot first, ask questions later. Enraged manticores aren't all that interested in the motivations of PCs too close to their nests, and hordes of shambling undead can't be turned aside with anything short of shattered skulls. But you'll get a lot more mileage out of all those thinking, feeling NPCs if you present the opportunity for the party to interact with them in meaningful ways outside of rounds.

Just saying.

Also, if you're looking for a handy chart replete with antagonists that are still characters in their own right, then you might want to check out 100 Random Bandits To Meet. It's from Azukail Games, and authored by yours truly!

That's all for this Fluff installment. Hopefully it got the wheels turning for some of the DMs out there who would like to see their players do more than sling steel or spells when they see a creature. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or look at my Gamers page to just see my tabletop articles. You should also stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I get together with other gamers to make fun videos for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support me then you can give me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, and if you'd like to become a regular supporter you should go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to sign up today! Lastly, if you want to buy some of my books, like my latest fantasy release Crier's Knife, you can go to My Amazon Author Page to see my entire library!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Warrior Spirit, A Fun Trick For The Pathfinder Fighter's Advanced Weapon Training

Fighters are one of my favorite classes because there are so many different ways to play them. Are you a tactician, using placement and teamwork to enhance your battle plan? Are you a brute, swinging the biggest weapon you can and leaving a trail of bodies? A nimble fencer who relies on pinpoint precision over power? An archer? A one-man barricade behind your tower shield?

The list goes on.

And let's not forget the prize fighters!
I thought I'd seen most of the tricks you could pull off with fighters. However, there's always a combination out there that surprises me. That's why I thought I'd share this one with all the other folks who enjoy this class as much as I do.

Unlocking Your Warrior Spirit!

Weapon training is something of a fighter's bread and butter. The ability to be extra dangerous with a particular group of weapons is a lot of where both your flavor and functionality come from. Normally when you hit level 9 you can opt to choose an additional group of weapons you're skilled with... but you also have the option to take an advanced weapon training special ability. This ability typically applies to any weapon in the group(s) you already wield, and they allow you to bend (and sometimes break) the rules for what a warrior should be capable of.

That's where the advanced weapon training option Warrior Spirit comes into the picture.

You ready to do this?
Warrior Spirit allows a fighter to pick any weapon from one of his weapon training groups, and unlock its true potential via a spiritual bond. Every day he can select one such weapon, and bond with it. The fighter gains a number of points equal to his weapon training bonus +1. While wielding that weapon the fighter may choose to spend one of those points to add an enhancement to his weapon equal to his weapon training bonus. These enhancement bonuses stack up to a +5 with any bonuses the weapon already has, and the fighter may choose instead to add one magic ability to his weapon in exchange for an appropriate amount of his bonus. The weapon must already have an enhancement bonus of at least +1 for that to work. This ability lasts for 1 minute.

What does that mean in common speech? Well, say that your fighter is 9th level, and picks up a regular old longsword, a weapon that is in their weapon training group. So in addition to their normal attack and damage bonuses they get with that weapon, they also have 3 points per day to activate this ability. So they can choose to spend one of their points to make that regular longsword a +2 longsword, or they could make it a +1 flaming longsword spending one enhancement bonus point to add a +1 magic ability to a weapon.

But what if the fighter already had a magic longsword? Well, then he could, say, make it a keen longsword by cashing in his enhancement bonus for that +2 magic ability. Or he could make it a holy longsword. Or add a +1 to the enhancement, and pick a +1 magic ability like shock, keen, flaming, etc.

In short, it allows the fighter to enhance their weapon the same way a paladin's holy bond or a magus's arcane pool would. However, unlike those classes, the fighter can add any weapon property they want, instead of picking off a specific list. Which is handy... but that isn't where this particular trick ends.

A Little Extra

This trick works best if you're going to focus on a single weapon group. Or, if you want to pick only a single weapon by taking the Weapon Master archetype, that works too.

So what you do is, as soon as you gain weapon training (5th level for standard fighters), you also take the feat Advanced Weapon Training. This allows you to add Warrior Spirit to your character at 5th level instead of 9th level, where you're going to get a lot more bang for your buck. If you're a Weapon Master, you can take this feat at 4th level.

If you want to add a little extra damage to your swings, you should also invest a few of your skill points into Use Magic Device (and if you're going to sling wands and scrolls, consider taking the background trait Dangerously Curious, too, to make it a class skill and to get a +1 trait bonus on your checks). Then at your next opportunity, take Weapon Evoker Mastery. This item mastery feat allows you to supercharge any elemental damage a weapon you wield deals. You spend a swift action to activate the feat, and then for the next round you add 1d4 of elemental damage to every successful strike (the element in question corresponding to whether your weapon deals acid, cold, fire, electricity, or sonic damage). The sheer number of attacks you can make as a fighter (and the number of types of elemental damage you can have on your weapon) can quickly add up... even if an enemy isn't weak against a particular element.

A Handy Trick

As with a lot of the mechanical tricks I have here in the Crunch section, this isn't something that will completely re-invent the fighter. And, at least by itself, it won't destroy an encounter. However, the ability to spontaneously alter your weapon to have the abilities you really need it to have when the chips are down is something that can pull your bacon out of the fire. Especially if you combine this trick with an already-solid build geared toward a particular fighting style.

Just a little food for thought!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to my Gamers profile to see only my tabletop articles. And if you'd like to check out some of the videos I've put together with other gamers, stop in and have a listen to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! If you'd like to help support me you can give me one-time tips by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or if you'd rather become a regular, monthly contributor you can sign up at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Lastly, you could also support me by going to My Amazon Author Page to buy some of my books... like my new fantasy novel Crier's Knife!

Monday, November 5, 2018

What's The Difference Between 3rd Party and Homebrew?

People might call me pedantic for this, but I like to be specific with my language. This goes double for language that describes a lot of what I do for a living.

That's why I thought I'd take a moment to point out what I see as a problem with how people tend to throw around the term homebrew these days... particularly when it's used as a pejorative term.

And especially because the right brew can perk your game up.

Core, 3rd Party, and Homebrew Explained

So what is the difference, you may ask? Well, let's start with core material. Core material is anything released for a particular game by the company that created it. As an example, take the supplement book Bastards of Golarion by Paizo. I contributed several things to this book, including a bardic masterpiece and the alchemical concoction silvertongue. These things exist as a part of the core game as written and added to by Paizo, in the same way that options from the Player's Handbook or Volo's Guide are considered core options for Dungeons and Dragons.

Following so far... when do we get to the homebrew part?
The next category of material is 3rd party stuff. This material is often professionally written, edited, tested, and packaged the same way that core material is... it's just released by a different company. Example of this include the Demonologist (a base class for Pathfinder released from Total Party Kill Games), or the Inspired By Heraldry feats (released by Flaming Crab Games).

All of this material is made for use with the Pathfinder RPG rules system. It was created by teams of writers, reviewed by editors, and assembled with panache to make it as attractive as possible. The only thing separating this from core material is that it was released by a different company. This makes 3rd party stuff kind of like an off-brand soda. It's still really good (even better, according to some enthusiasts), it meets all the same checks and requirements as the original product, and it's often for sale in a lot of the same places. The flavor might be subtly different, but sometimes that's the appeal.

So what's homebrew?

Well, homebrew is just what it sounds like; something a person made up at home. Homebrew material typically has a single creator, and it lacks a lot of the editorial oversight and presentation that 3rd party and core material have. To keep with the manufacturing example, homebrew material is that root beer your friend's dad makes in the basement, and always brings to get-togethers in the summer. My example for this is how I made up stats for Reinhardt's energy shield in my Overwatch character conversion article for him. While the stats might be usable, and some folks might want to try them at their table, it's just something I made up because there was a specific niche that none of the existing mechanics covered.

I would like to reiterate here that homebrew content is not inherently bad. There are a lot of creators like Clinton Boomer who make all kinds of fun stuff, and who also have professional bona fides. The lack of oversight and editorial review means that homebrew content doesn't have to pass a filter, though, and as such there is very little quality control beyond what an individual creator can do on their own. You might get something great, or you might get a half-baked ass waffle because some guy named Geoff thinks a samurai with the powers of a gold dragon needs to exist.

To any publishers reading this, I will create a balanced version of that class if you'd like me to.

Big, Small, and Everything In-Between

A lot of folks don't bother separating 3rd party content from homebrew content. To their way of thinking, if the material didn't come from the sovereign company, then it's all the same (and not in a good way).

I'm not saying to open your table boundaries and let people bring whatever they want to your game. However, there is a big difference between a product created by a professional game company with all the same experience (and often the same staff) as a company like Paizo or Wizards, and content made without those same resources, experience, or staff. I'd also like to remind people that money, personnel, and a publishing staff is no guarantee of quality. Sometimes big publishers stumble, while the little creators get it right.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday! If you'd like to see more of my work you should check out my Vocal archive, or click on my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop articles. Alternatively, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to see some of the videos I and other gamers make for dungeon masters and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support me and my work, then you should head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave me a monthly tip, or you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi to leave me a one-time gratuity. Lastly, you could head over to my Amazon author page to buy some of my books... like my recently-release sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 8: Halfings and Ghouls

Sandpoint just can't seem to catch a break. No sooner is the threat of the goblins ended, than murderous undead begin filling up the countryside. With a handle on what's happening (if not who is behind it), or heroes mount up to try to put a stop to yet another brush fire before it can build into something bigger.

For those who aren't caught up yet, previous installments include:

- 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

All caught up? Good... because in this installment we're about to take another step down the rabbit hole surrounding the misfortune of one of Varisia's adventuring hot spots.

A New Friend, And A Whole Lot of Enemies

Returning from the asylum, and burying the unfortunate victim of the ongoing ghoul plague, Sandpoint's heroes found that the farmers had all come in from the outlying farms. The ghouls were rampaging, killing livestock, menacing the people they found, and it wasn't safe out there anymore. With everyone huddling behind stout walls, and the fields going to rot, it was only a matter of time before things grew worse.

Eager to set the cold thing in his guts to rights, Zhakar was only too happy to ride into the fields. Thokk came with to watch his back, and Zordlan came to help the people he'd known since they were born. Mirelinda groused about it, but her heart was only halfway in it. She knew there was no one else who could do the job, which meant she was part of the solution. The only one who remained behind was Chikara, who opted to make sure no threats attacked the town while the others went on the hunt.

Do you remember there being scarecrows? I don't remember there being scarecrows...
The first sign something was wrong was the silence hanging over the countryside... and the stink. A taint floated on the air, putting everyone on edge. There was no banter as they rode. None of the usual jibing or storytelling. Just grim purpose as they approached a scarecrow... and an ambush.

The ghoul masquerading as a farm distraction, leaped down, tongue lolling and claws at the ready. Two of its fellows stepped out of the fields, rushing into the fray. Though they were used to fighting farmers and peddlers, they weren't prepared for the assault they received. Zordlan parried the claws and fangs of a ghoul on the flank, running it through time and time again until he found the heart. Zhakar drove his fist into one's teeth, shattering them even as it tried to sink its fangs past the steel of his gauntlet. Thokk's bowstring thrummed, planting arrows into the creatures' flesh. When one fell and tried to rise, Mirelinda flicked a bone wand into her hand, and splattered its skull with a spray of glowing missiles.

When the dust settled, though, they heard another sound; a low groaning. It came from a scarecrow, but this one wasn't a ghoul. It was a halfling, tied to a crossbeam, with a bite mark at his neck. He had no fever, though, and the wound didn't seem to be festering or spreading.

Bostwick may no longer be welcome at the monastery he'd left, but disease had no hold over him. A fortunate advantage to have in ghoul country.

A Barnyard Brawl

With a new ally, and one who has a score of his own to settle with these creatures, they rode on. The oppressive feeling all around them grew, like an oncoming storm, and that was when they heard the moaning. It came from a barn, barred from the outside. There was a scrabbling, but nothing too determined. Someone had trapped a pack of the things before they fled.

Lovely... a target-rich environment.
They drew rein at the edge of the property, and Thokk reconnoitered the building. A dozen ghouls were pent up in there, listlessly shuffling this way and that. They looked half-starved, and particularly dangerous. Zhakar nodded, and drew his sword as he approached the gate. He and Bostwick would act as the bulwark, with Thokk and Mirelinda behind. Zordlan would act as support and a flanker, filling in gaps as they appeared. Once the plan was set, the bar was lifted, and the doors opened.

The ghouls snapped their heads toward the opening, charging in a single rush of mad hunger. Bostwick's fists flew, smashing a kneecap, and crushing another ghoul's pelvis. Zhakar's sword bit deep, tearing out streams of gore even as he parried claws and teeth. Every flick of Mirelinda's wand sent fresh streaks into the ghouls' ranks, and Thokk let arrows fly with impunity over Bostwick's head. Zordlan's song drove strength into his companion's arms, and his bow found more than a few marks of its own.

Beneath the sounds of battle, though, was another sound. A stranger sound; the grinding of claws against metal. Though some ghouls' blows were parried, and others turned away on Zhakar's shield, many of them struck home... or seemed to. The claws and fangs drug along the skin of his arms, his neck, and even the left side of his face, but no blood welled from the gashes. Instead, they revealed a layer of shining steel just beneath.

When the last of the ghouls fell twitching to the floor, it was Thokk who touched his friend on the shoulder. They conversed in Thokk's native language, one that Zhakar had learned during their long walks through the northern woods, but even as they talked the gashes seemed to knit themselves closed. The wounds, if wounds they were, gone as if they'd never been. Unsure of what to make of it, Zhakar rolled his sleeve down, and turned his collar up, before sheathing his sword. They needed to identify who was in that barn, and carry the news back to their families if possible. Whatever was happening to him would wait until that was seen to.

Who Is The Master?

Most of the bodies in the barn belonged to farmers and their families. But there was one that stood out... one that didn't belong. Its clothes had been finely made, once upon a time, and he still carried some of the tools of his former life. Along the figure's belt was a key wrought with a family crest... the Foxgloves.

Either Aldern was in trouble... or he was already far past saving.

That's all for this installment of Table Talk. What happens next? Well, you'll have to tune-in next month to see what happens to our heroes when they kick in the doors of Foxglove Manor!

If you'd like to see more of my work, stop by my Vocal archive, or just look at my Gamers page for all my tabletop stuff. Alternatively, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to check out the show I work on with other gamers to make content for DMs and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest updates, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, become a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or if you're looking for some additional reading you could head over to my Amazon author page to Buy My Books!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Endless Realms: Infinite Possibilities, Unnecessary Complication

For folks who stop by my Monday posts on the regular, you know I occasionally like to present a review of RPGs you may not have seen before. Sometimes I get lucky, and people who make games reach out to me, and ask me to take a look at what they've made. This week is one of those scenarios. If you're in the market for something fantasy-oriented, and you're tired of the usual Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons options, then you might be the sort of player who'd get into Endless Realms.

It is, if nothing else, a very pretty game.
However, before you immediately click to see what it's all about, I'll give you my take on what's good about it, and where it falls short.

A Unique Set of Realms

The thing that first caught my eye about this particular RPG is the feel of its setup. It gives you multiple realms to play in right from the get-go, and presents a unique cosmology that feels distinct from most other standard fantasy RPGs out there. It puts me in mind of Final Fantasy, and in a very good way.

This one, in particular, just with less future tech.
In addition to giving us a unique setting, as well as a very different view on magic and the origin of a lot of class powers (particularly for those who are used to the age-old arcane and divine divide), this game also hits us with a fairly unique plethora of starting races. They're colorful, unique, and completely bypass the usual elves, dwarves, and orcs in favor of tiger warriors, small, immortal women covered in downy fur, saurians, and a slew of other, more unusual offerings.

When it comes to doing something really different, and presenting us with a cool, fun setting, Endless Realms gets a big thumbs up from me.

The problem is the actual game part of this roleplaying game.

A Mechanical Mess

I like to think I've never shied away from learning a new system, and I've seen my share of different offerings over the years. The games that have always gotten me engaged, though, are the ones that provide a simple framework, and which then offer me a wide variety of bricks to fit into that framework to build whatever sort of character I want.

The framework this game uses, though, is frankly a mess.

"Have you assigned all your attributes?" Wait, what's the difference between agility and dexterity again?
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. In RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness games, and even Call of Cthulhu, you have a single set of attributes. These attributes represent the inherent qualities of your character, and they're usually variants on how tough, strong, dexterous, smart, wise, and charismatic you are. Sometimes we throw in a few extra ones, or we change the name, but the idea is that these are your raw numbers. This game gives you 4 separate sets of stats that you have to buy at character creation; trainable stats, inherent stats, vital stats, and unique saves. That logic follows through with the core of the design; nothing is given a single, broad stat when it can be broken down into a dozen different categories, each of which needs to be tracked and managed separately.

That's bad enough on its own, but then it's combined with what feel like extremely arbitrary rules, and linear sets of advancement paths. For example, barbarians are banned from ever becoming literate due to... reasons, I guess? Not just starting out illiterate like in the 3.5 days, but if you learn to read then you lose your patron's favor, and your powers. Not only that, but if you don't kill an enemy in combat at least once a week, boom, lose your powers. Even patrons in Werewolf: The Apocalypse were rarely that ridiculously demanding when it came to bloodshed.

That's bad enough, but when you combine that with being forced to pick an advancement path (the same thing that locks you into one, specific character path that you see in both the 4th and 5th editions of Dungeons and Dragons), and you have a game that commits one of the worst sins for me as a player; one that is needlessly complicated when it comes to tracking your attributes, but which then slaps your knuckles and tries to put you on specific paths for playing your character.

Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't seem all that hard to make base classes, and then to make archetypes of those base classes that give you additional options should you want to do something a little different, rather than following what feels like an MMO-style setup right from level one.

One Man's Feature is Another Man's Flaw

With all of that said, I'm well aware that I am not the only kind of gamer out there. If all the stuff I mentioned up there is right up your alley (and let's face it, there are some folks out there who loved the Pathfinder 2.0 playtest, and if that's your jam then I think you'll adore this game), then give Endless Realms a look to see if it's what you've been looking for.

For my two cents, it's a very pretty game with some unique ideas, and an engine that I wouldn't touch with a fifty-foot pole.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. If you're still on the lookout for new games to try, you should check out my thoughts on Pugmire as well as on Dice & Glory.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just click through to my Gamers page if you only want to see my tabletop stuff. You should also stop in to check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Or, if you're in the market for something a little different, you could go by my Amazon author page to Buy My Books!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Aging Badass

The room grew silent as Harran grinned. He was pleased with himself, and at the wit that had flown from his lips unbidden. Dorovich slowly turned, and looked at him. The old man's expression hadn't changed, and he wiped one, arthritis-swollen knuckle along the side of his nose.

"What did you say?" Dorovich asked in that slightly wheezy way he had of speaking.

"Are you going deaf, too?" Harran sneered, stepping closer. "I said-"

Harran had drawn in breath to repeat his earlier verbal barb, but before he could Dorovich slammed a fist into his stomach. Harran doubled over, one hand protecting his gut, the other scrabbling for his dagger. A cloudy glass, still half-full of beer, slammed into Harran's face. His nose broke with the sound of a pine knot on the fire, and blood jetted down his front. His knees folded, and he fell bonelessly onto the taproom floor. Dorovich tossed the remains of his glass on top of Harran, and turned back to the bar.

"Another," the man once called the Hammer of Dry Lake said. "He's paying for it."

Seriously, adventurers only get more dangerous with age.

The Aging Badass

We're all familiar with this kind of character. He's Logen Ninefingers in Red Country, both Riggs and Murtaugh in the later Lethal Weapon movies, and pretty much every member of the first generation Expendables team, and every protagonist in RED. These characters may be old enough to have grandchildren, but they are still canny, capable, and dangerous. Even if it takes them a little longer to bounce back from a brawl than it used to.

There are some characters you'll note who are absent from the list of examples; wizards and witches. Because while nothing says those characters have to be old and gray, it isn't unusual  to find a Gandalf or McGonagall look-alike wielding great power, and then using their relic staff as a walking stick. What is unusual, though, is finding a character with a more martial skill set who is still breaking teeth and wrecking house long after most folks figured they would have hung up their baldrics.

Making Your Age Work For You

If you're playing a system like 5th Edition DND, this is purely a flavor thing. To the best of my knowledge, age penalties are something Wizards chucked in the bin when they stepped away from 3.5. However, if you're playing a Pathfinder game then you take penalties for middle age, old age, and surviving long enough to become venerable.

Make that work for you.

For example, an aging swashbuckler may not have the raw Dexterity they once did, but their enhanced Charisma means they can make better use of their deeds now. A venerable paladin may seem to be just an old man past his prime, but when it comes time to smite an evil creature he suddenly becomes a titan both in his damage output, as well as in his attack and defense. An aging bloodrager may not be able to crush a man's skull in one hand like she used to, but the raw, potent force of her bloodline's magic is more than enough to make up that difference. Even an aging assassin may not have the grace they once did, or the ability to blend quite so seamlessly into alternative personas, but they know more than a dozen of their younger protoges combined, and surviving their death stroke is nearly impossible once it's been delivered.

One of my favorite combinations for this is an aging barbarian with the Spring Rage power. A titan in their youth, when the fresh wind blows again all their raw, physical power comes flooding back into them... for a little while, at least. If you combine this with an Intimidate-based build to make use of your heightened Charisma due to age boosts, you can have a potent mixture on your hands.

If you enjoy this concept, then you may also want to check out my post Adventuring Isn't Just A Young Man's Game (5 Questions You Should Ask For Older PCs).

But Why Wait So Long?

There's a common misconception that all levels gained are done so in a linear fashion. It's why so many PCs are young and fresh; they're first level, and they have no experience.

Toss that idea right out of your head for this concept!

If you're an older character, and especially one who's been around and done their share of stuff, feel free to embellish their history and talk about how badass they used to be. Just keep in mind what I said in The 1st Level Badass (Freeing Your Backstory From Level Restraints). Just because you were amazing then doesn't mean you kept all of that prowess and skill. You might need a refresher, and a little time to work the kinks out before you get back to your former glory.

That's all for this installment of my Unusual Character Concepts! If you've had an older character of your own (whether they started that way, or just ended the campaign at a venerable age), leave it in the comments below! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just click my Gamers profile to see only my tabletop stuff. You should also drop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I make videos with other gamers that are meant for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, then you can leave me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can leave me a regular, monthly tip by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Lastly, consider heading over to my Amazon author page to Buy My Books, if you're in need of a good read!