Monday, March 19, 2018

Dungeon Keeper Radio Needs Your Help!

If you're a regular reader on my blog, then you know I've got a dozen different plates spinning at any given time. One of those plates is Dungeon Keeper Radio, a YouTube gaming channel that I help out with, along with several local gamers I know. Our goal, when we decided to start it, was to have some fun, immortalize a few of our characters, and see if we could entertain other players out there. We also wanted to get the channel monetized, though, because while it's fun, there are investments that come with making this kind of content. There's the mic, trying to find quality software, and at the end of the day we'd like to offer our voice actors more than our thanks, and a few pieces of pizza. That's in addition to all the time, travel expenses, and work it takes to turn something from an idea into even a few minutes of audio/video content.

Sadly, our hoard isn't much to write home about.
The problem we've run into is that we thought we'd made our goal... but then the goal posts mysteriously moved on us.

Sorcery Most Foul

Back when we first started this channel about a year ago, before we even uploaded our first episode of Dungeon Hacks, we clicked through the fine print to figure out just how feasible it would be to get our channel monetized. According to the site at the time, for a channel to apply for monetization, it had to have a minimum of 10,000 views. That's a decent barrier to entry, especially if you're a relatively niche channel like a radio show that talks about tabletop games, but it was far from impossible to reach.

As evidenced by the fact that we reached it earlier this month.

Thanks for all the traffic! Your money is in another castle.
The problem, of course, is that by the time we hit that goal, the goal posts had been moved. You see, beginning 2018, YouTube decided that in order to get monetized, a channel must have 4,000 hours of views in the past 12 months, and it must also have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers.

Needless to say, that is not something we have at present. In fact, we are nowhere even close to hitting that goal.

Which is why, as we get ready to record our 18th episode of the show (Mythconceptions about clerics, for those who are interested), I wanted to do my part to reach out to my audience. We're doing all right in terms of viewing time (under the 4,000 hours, but we're gaining steadily as we increase our archive), but we are just under 310 subscribers at time of writing. Which means we are, at minimum, 31% of the way to the "new" monetization goal.

So please, stop in and check out what we're doing over on Dungeon Keeper Radio. And, if you like it, please subscribe to the channel. And tell your friends about us... that helps. And if you really like what we're doing, we have the Dungeon Keeper Radio Patreon page in addition to a Ko-Fi page if you want to give us a tip or two to help us along until we can get ads put on our videos... just like this one, our most popular video to-date.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. If you want more content from yours truly, you should check out my Vocal archive. To keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep bringing content straight to your door, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Reluctant Cleric

Gendrick tried not to listen to what was happening in the street. He tried not to hear the shouts, the jeers, and under them, the pleas. He sipped at his wine, but it had gone bitter in his mouth. He thought about ordering another, but he knew it wouldn't taste any sweeter. He wondered, and not for the first time, why of all the drunks in all the bars the world over, it had to be his problem. Then he sighed, and stood. He picked up his sheathed rapier in his left hand, and walked out of the tavern.

They had the rope thrown over a beam, the noose swinging loosely. The boy was beaten almost blind, whimpering through swollen lips. The mob was a dull roar as its leader spat vile curses, accusing the boy of the darkest of deeds. Gendrick raised his voice, a leather-lunged bellow that had cut through the din of a battlefield in its day.

"Pardon me, friend," he shouted, cutting off the leader in mid rant. "Do you have a cure for what ails me?"

The man turned, sputtering and raising his fist. Gendrick threw his sour wine into the man's face, and drew his sword, smashing him square in the teeth with the pommel as he drew. The mob turned, and stared at him. Gendrick smiled; the smile of a drunk who had tried to keep the bottle closed, but who was now filled with enough liquid courage to make him feel invincible. He spoke a word of power, and cords of light danced around his blade. This was the last time... then again, that was what he said every time.

Take one down, pass it around, 99 favored weapons on the wall...

The Gods Choose Who They Will

When people think of clerics, they tend to picture priests who have trained their entire lives to serve their god. In some circumstances they may even be laymen, or just people devout enough to warrant the god's attention. However, there are some for whom serving a god is a burden they do not want. Because while they may be the right tool for the job, they truly wish they were not wielded. But the gods move in mysterious ways, and when they do finally break down and pray, they are given the power to move mountains.

Or to slay the first born, you know, whatever.
The idea behind the reluctant cleric is that, for whatever reason, you have a person who has been made into a divine conduit who really does not want that power. Maybe they've run from it, trying to live a simple life. Perhaps, like Gendrick, they find the raw power of divine magic akin to a drug; something that feels amazing, but which they try (often unsuccessfully) to stay away from. They may even be someone who has served a god for a long time, but they feel they no longer need to fulfill that purpose. Such as a cleric of a god of war who fought on a dozen battlefields, but who now wants to leave the blood and iron behind him... though, like a trusted sword, his god simply will not sheathe him.

A reluctant cleric has to be someone that the god in question feels is a good tool (and this can extend to other areas, like warpriests, and even to witch patrons if you wish). That means they have to meet the alignment restrictions, and there should be something inside them that speaks to the god's purpose. Someone who lived a life as a woods' guide being chosen by a nature god, for instance, or someone who knows what it is to have loved and lost being chosen by a god of love. Someone who always tries to do the right thing being chosen by a chaotic good deity, or someone who tells themselves they're truly a good person, and that this isn't who they really are, being imbued with power by a neutral evil deity of lies, secrets, or even assassins.

The most important thing to remember is that reluctant clerics have an arc. They want to avoid using their powers, for whatever reason, but they shouldn't remain in that arc forever. Perhaps they embrace their true nature, and become the savior, the warrior, or the storm that their god intended for them to be. Or, perhaps, they finally fulfill their god's needs, and they are allowed to rest. To put down the burden of their power, so that it may be given to another.

The concept was even mentioned in the latest Mythconceptions episode over on Dungeon Keeper Radio... Clerical Errors!

If you enjoyed this concept, you might also want to take a look at The Sacred Sorcerer, and The Heretic.

That's all for this week's installment of Unusual Character Concepts. If you enjoyed it, and you'd like to see more from me, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and a bunch of other gaming geeks put together audio advice, skits, and other videos set in the world of Evora. If you want to keep up on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Humble Peasant, The Greatest BBEG of All Time

Lots of DMs wrack their brains for great bad guys. Villains that will make their table tremble in fear, and whose very name will only be spoken in whispers. However, there is a potential for truly horrifying antagonists all around them. All you need to do is read the tale of Humble Peasant.

Never get into an arms race with the DM. Never.
For those having trouble with the font in the attached image, the concept goes as follows. An arrogant adventurer tried to take something from humble peasant, because what is he going to do? He's just a peasant, after all. Well, humble peasant kills that adventurer for trying to steal from him, then keeps his magic weapons, armor, and associated gear. That adventurer's party tries to revenge itself upon the humble peasant, and through luck, determination, and the use of the first dead adventurer's gear, humble peasant slays them as well.

The problem is that humble peasant now possesses a huge amount of wealth, and high-quality gear. More adventurers come to try and take it from him. So humble peasant puts up fences, and traps, to keep them out. He buys exotic animals, and even makes deals with local monsters to protect his property. In time, humble peasant has accidentally become the lord of the black hill, where dozens of bands have gone to die.

Who Is Your Game's "Humble Peasant"?

You don't need to have humble peasant in place when your game begins (although that is totally an option). However, keep an eye on how your players treat the NPCs around them. Are they courteous, and kind? Do they give their gold to noble causes, and to help rebuild destroyed settlements? Or do they attack people for no reason, and get their way through bullying and brutality? Keep track of who your PCs wrong, and what patterns they display. Because those patterns may come around to bite them.

Who knows what lengths peasants will go to for vengeance?
As an example, say one member of the party got into a bar fight with a local over a disagreement. The local was unarmed, drunk, and not a threat to the PC, but he pulled his sword and ran him through anyway. The law was notified, and the party has guards looking out for them, but what kind of avalanche did that one action cause?

As a for instance, the peasant's son may have dealt with his grief by going off to war. Something he never would have done, were his father there to stop him. He molds himself into a great warrior, becoming an unparalleled scout, and a vicious slayer of men. After his discharge, he begins hunting for the adventurers who killed his father that night. Maybe he comes on them in the shadows, but he might befriend them first. Get them to trust him. Then, when he's on watch, he cuts their throats one by one. As Garrick the Great chokes on his own blood, he looks into the hard face that was so much like the forgotten drunk's as the son whispers, "Tell my father hello, when you see him in hell."

That's just one example. It's possible the dead peasant's wife takes all the wealth they have, venturing deep into the woods where it's rumored a powerful witch lives. She gives her everything to curse those who slew her love. Perhaps his daughter decides they can't rely on such bloodthirsty mercenaries as a nation any longer, and gets involved in politics. She eventually rises to a position of prominence, and uses all the resources of her office to hunt down the party who was involved in this crime. There are a hundred different courses a single action could end up taking. So watch who your party is kind to, and keep a tally of who they attack, who they kill, and what unkindnesses they perform. For it is those actions that will be the genesis of the antagonist once referred to as humble peasant.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it got some of the DMs' wheels turning, and it's got players going back over their PCs' actions in their heads. If you'd like more content from yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and fellow gamers offer advice, lore, and a few laughs along the way. To keep up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, you'll have my eternal gratitude, as well as some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Do Clothes Make The Adventurer?

The man sitting in the chair near the fire in the common room needed no introduction, if one had eyes to read the signs. His surcoat was green velvet, finely cared for and tailored to his frame. The shirt beneath was silk, the cuff links glittering with emerald chips. His boots were well-made, and had been re-soled a time or two. Most tellingly, though, was the symbol that adorned his breast. A black heart, with a fire burning inside it. That badge, combined with the signet ring on his right hand, marked him as the Maester Arcanum to Lord Blackburn. A man, and a position, not to be trifled with lightly.

Don't even get me started on his bodyguard...
We've all had those moments when we sit down at a table, and describe to the other players what our PC looks like. Problem is, most of the time it sounds like a police description rather than a heroic introduction. We get ethnicity, race, hair and eye color, height, weight, and general description of what they're wearing and carrying. Which gets the point across, but it paints a pretty flat image overall. So if you want your PC to stand out, look at what they're wearing. Now give it a little personality, and maybe an Easter egg or two for the people with Knowledge skills to roll.

Going Beyond The Basics

What you wear says something about you, but the devil is in the details. For example, say your PC is a man with a shaved head, wearing a brown robe, and walking with a staff. Sure, that tells us the broad strokes, but what else do we notice? Is the robe a rough weave, indicating it was made by hand for utility rather than looks? Is it new, or old? Does it fit well, or was it made as a kind of one-size-fits-all garment? Does it have any adornment, such as a cloak clasp on the chest, or large pockets in the front? What about his footwear? Does he wear pants with the robe, or is that his only garment?

Once you have the answers to those questions, ask what the sum of those answers means. Is this the way peasants and farmers dress in the outlying provinces of a particular nation? Or is this the uniform of an order of monks who wear only plain, functional clothes? Or is dressing like this the mark of a pilgrim, showing that this person is likely on a religious journey? Or an arcane tradition that focuses on the ephemeral and internal by eschewing luxuries?

And how well-recognized is this attire by those who see you?
Everything your character wears tells a story, if you include the right details. As an example, you might have a big man dressed in fine clothes, and wearing rings and jewelry. However, the fine clothes don't fit him well, and he looks uncomfortable in them. If you combine that with a rougher manner of speech, scars, and sword-calloused hands, then you may have someone who's been knighted, but who was clearly not born to the aristocracy. You could also have the reverse, where the one-eyed mercenary in the ragged cloak speaks just a little too well to have been born and raised as a common sellsword.

It's Not Just What You Wear, It's How You Wear It

There are a thousand little details in what your character wears and carries that you can use to help make it clear who they are. For example, say your character openly wears a rapier and dagger. Those choices of weapon make a statement, but what are the nuances beneath the obvious? Are the hilts fancy, or common? What sort of guards do they have? Do the weapons bear a maker's mark? Do you wear them forward on your hips, or back? Or do you wear the sword at your hip, and the dagger in an underarm brace for a faster, cross-draw? And are any of those things indicative of where the weapons came from, the style of fighting the character uses, or membership in any particular groups?

Every style tells a different tale.
The same is true for your armor, your jackets, your jewelry, and your other accessories; what do they say about you?

To help get your gears going, I'll give you a few more examples.

- Jerran Vand is easy enough to spot in a crowd, with her white breeches and cape. Cut high and tight, she strikes a dramatic figure. However, it's the braided red leather of her sword belt that gives most pause. The white marks her as a student of the Damari sword guild, but that belt names her a city champion who has blooded some of the most dangerous swordsmen ever to step in the square.

- Dane Hardwell looks exactly the way a man-at-arms should look. His tabard is clean, his boots shined, and his belt always square. His armor is always polished to a parade shine, and his face clean-shaven. It isn't all for show, though. Anyone who notices the medals stamped along his paldrons can tell at a glance that this man has seen his share of battles, and survived to tell the tale.

- Farran Emberwell is a squat, broad dwarf. Though he dresses in workman's leathers and wool, making him look almost like a common laborer, he wears a pair of ruby rings on the third finger of each hand. Those rings, clearly marked with the seals of Arendale, declare him a Master Transmuter.

You can include as many, or as few, of these details as you want. But before you tell the table that your PC is a tall human wearing a chain shirt and carrying a short sword, stop and ask for more specifics. What kind of chain is it, and is it being hidden or worn openly? What else is he wearing in terms of accessories? Does he have a hat? Ear rings? Bracers? A necklace? And what, if anything, do the things he's wearing say about his past, his religious beliefs, his status, or his membership in any organizations legal, illegal, or otherwise?

For other thoughts on how you can get more specific with your character's looks and habits, check out What Is Your Character's Everyday Carry? (And What Does It Say About Them?) and What Do Your Characters Eat?

That's all for this week's Fluff update. Hopefully it got your wheels turning, and you're thinking about what your character's outfits, accessories, etc. actually say about them. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other gamers put together all kinds of different videos. If you want to keep up-to-date on my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your help!

Monday, March 5, 2018

5 Tips For Playing Better Core Classes (The Complete List)

Way back in 2016, I started writing a series of articles with a fairly simple premise. I would take a core class, and then list five tips for overcoming stereotypes of that class, and give suggestions for how players could put new spins on the classics. Though the series had its ups and downs over the past year and a half (including being hosted on two different websites, now), I have finally worked my way through all 11 installments. So, from barbarians to wizards, I've got everyone in the Core Rulebook taken care of.

Assuming you don't multiclass, anyway.

The Complete Core Classes

The one problem I ran into while writing this series is that I can't go back and retroactively link the other parts of the series in older articles. This means that unless you start at the end of the alphabet and work backwards, it's tough to find the complete list.

Which is why I decided to link all the core class articles right here for easy perusal.

There. Now instead of digging through a search engine, or fishing in vain for the links in my archives, you have all of them right here, at your fingertips.

What's Next For The Series?

Despite how long it took me to get the series this far, I had a lot of fun putting it together. And, while the core classes are complete, there are still a lot of base classes I could write about if I wanted to continue. And though I've asked before on Facebook groups, I thought I'd put the question to all my readers. Would you like me to keep this series going, and to write "5 Tips" guides for the other base classes? Would you like me to stick strictly to Pathfinder, or should I branch out to 5E as well? Alternatively, should I branch out and write tips for building characters, which would be more mechanics focused instead of more roleplay centric?

I have no intention of stopping, but now that I've reached a little plateau, I figured I'd check to see what everyone else was interested in. After all, I create this content for you guys, so I thought I should check to make sure I'm giving you things you actually want.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday. If you've got opinions, feel free to contact me, or to leave a comment below. If you enjoyed those guides, why not check out the rest of my Vocal archive, or my other Infobarrel articles to see if something there also appeals to you? Alternatively, you might want to stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other gamers to offer advice, and bring the world of Evora to life. If you want to keep up on all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Delivering A Big Bang With The Underground Chemist

If you've ever sat at a table with me, you know alchemical items are one of my favorite things to use. To the point that I keep them around long past low levels, when most players sort of forget they're even a thing. While there have been more than a few occasions where a properly-utilized tanglefoot bag has put a serious monkey wrench into a DM's plan, most of the time alchemy stops being viable for anyone but alchemists by about fourth or fifth level (if we're being generous).

Which is why I love the Underground Chemist.

We're underground now, but don't worry, we'll be blowing up soon!
While the rogue gets a lot of hate (which has made my 5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues one of the best read articles in my 5 Tips series so far), the Underground Chemist is an archetype that lets you break a lot of rules. First off, at second level, it lets you draw alchemical items as if they were weapons, which opens up the possibility of using Quick Draw to get your full attack with acid, alchemist fire, and all the other goodies out there. You also get to add your Intelligence modifier to damage done with splash weapons, the same way an alchemist does. That's good times, right there. Secondly, at 4th level, you can sneak attack with a splash weapon. Provided it's your first attack of the round, that it's an attack on a creature and not a square, and that it meets all the requirements for sneak attack.

Those two things make flinging flasks pretty viable as an attack strategy. But if you combine them with a certain rogue trick, you can get a lot more bang for your buck.

Burn One Down For Me

In case you haven't dug through the lists of rogue tricks out there, there's one simply called Bomber. It allows you to make bombs as per the alchemist class feature, except that they deal damage equal to your sneak attack when they hit. And normally it doesn't allow you to add your Int modifier to the damage, but since you're an Underground Chemist, you have that as a class feature. Of course, the truly damaging part is when you catch an enemy flat-footed with your bomb. Because that is a two-for-one blowout.

So much for Vlacuul the Dread Necromancer. Next?
The sweet spot for this trick is when you can hit someone with one of your bombs under the conditions where it qualifies for sneak attack. Whether that's by having an insanely high Initiative modifier, downing a potion of invisibility, or just going for a target who can't see in the dark once you've snuffed the lights, you're essentially hitting them for double your sneak attack damage (once for the bomb itself, and once for the actual sneak attack with a splash weapon), plus your Intelligence modifier, in addition to any other feats and abilities you have. Even at 4th level, that can pack a punch. At higher levels, that could be on par with anything the evoker is going to throw out in terms of sheer dice volume.

Keep Your Options Open

While the combination of Bomber and Underground Chemist is a match made in some fiery, napalm heaven, it's important to remember that fire resistance is one of the most common varieties you're going to come across in the game. So remember to keep a variety of elements on hand, and to ensure you have an extra trick or two up your sleeve to ensure you're never out of options. Because, as any alchemist who's fought a demon will attest, you need something to fall back on.

That's all for this week's Crunch topic. While I haven't had a chance to put this particular trick into play just yet, I'm sure I'll share how well it worked. For more content, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to bring the world of Evora to life. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then either head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron, or Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your help.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Light A Candle, And Begin Your Epic Adventure!

We all like having a little ambiance at our tables to help get us in the mood. Maybe it's drinking from a mug instead of a can. Perhaps your DM plays a few hand-crafted tracks from Tabletop Audio to set the mood, and tone. And, sometimes, we like to light a few candles. However, if you're going to go for that last one, then you might as well get a wood wick candle from the Epic Adventure Candle Company.

Ho, villains! Beware my fresh, charismatic scent!

What Makes These Candles So Special?

I ran into the Epic Adventure Candle Company in the dealer's room at Capricon this year, and I stopped in my tracks. Firstly, because seeing a candle booth at a sci-fi con was an unexpected occurrence that I had to investigate. Secondly, because the candles had scents like Dungeon, The Rains of Castamere, and Butterbeer. Terra, the shop owner, noted my interest, and when I offered to help her spread the word, she gave me the candle you see above. After all, you can hardly write about a product if you never really used it yourself. Hard logic to argue with, especially when I was being handed a candle.

For my two cents, Epic Adventure makes some great candles. The scents are unique (I also picked up a Winter is Coming as a gift for someone), without being overpowering. More than that, though, they're are highly portable, since they come in a convenient can or jar with a top to stop the wax from getting all over your game books and dice. And, while I didn't think it would be that big of a deal, the wood wick actually does lend a kind of authentic crackle to the candle once you light it. That, and the candles burn a hell of a lot longer with a wood wick than with a more traditional one.

My DM didn't give me the +2 bonus at my next Friday game, sadly, but even without it I was pleased I'd brought my candle to the table.

Give It A Try!

So, while it isn't precisely the sort of gaming accessory a lot of folks feel compelled to have at their table, consider giving one of the Epic Adventure Candle Company's wood wicks a try. Or, if you're looking for a little something to show your appreciation to a fellow geek, they've probably got something in their size. Check them out over on the Epic Adventure Candle Company Etsy store, and follow them on Facebook to stay up on their latest doings.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. If you'd like to see more content from yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other talented gamers create all sorts of shows and skits for our viewers. Follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to stay on top of all my releases. If you want to support Improved Initiative then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or follow this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll be happy to send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you.