Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Difference Between Roleplaying Games and Just Playing Make Believe

Before we get started with this week's flavor post I'd like to draw my readers' attentions to a few new additions. I've re-arranged the Pages links on this blog, with the three most prominent sections along the top, and the rest in a column on the side. Also, as you can see, Improved Initiative now has a character conversion section! I'll be putting links to all of the Avengers and Gotham Knights builds I completed before Yahoo! Voices died, and I should begin work on a Game of Thrones series soon, so stay tuned!

What the hell is this wearable awesome?
What's that, you ask? Well, true to my word I'm creating new gear for Improved Initiative and the sister blog The Literary Mercenary. The above tee shirt is available right here if you want to let any and all potential aggressors beware that you were an adventurer before you hung up your staff to become a barkeep.

Now then, without further ado, I'd like to address something...

This, in fact.
Just stare at this image for a few moments and take it all in. Ignoring the sheer irony of someone who is clearly mad enough about a focus on combat to reach for a weapon, I'd like to talk about the sentiment represented here.

What You Think You're Seeing


Let's start with the obvious. The key part of roleplaying games is roleplaying; the whole point of sitting down with a bunch of funny shaped dice and a character sheet is so that you can pretend for a few hours that you and your friends are people from another world, engaged in doing things as far away from your daily grind as humanly possible. We in the literary field refer to this as escapism.

Okay, everyone else calls it that too.
Different players want different kinds of escapism. Players who have to spend all day playing by the rules of society and solving problems with their heads might enjoy a few hours spent as a hulking brute who does whatever he likes, or as a skulldugerous thug who takes what he wants. Someone who has to deal with the boring realities of the mundane world might look forward to spending time as a graduate of an arcane academy, or a net diver who can literally jack into another world.

I could go on for days, but the point is that we all want to be someone else for a little while. That's one of the fun things about roleplaying.

What You're Not Seeing


Let's all be honest with each other for a moment; even if there was little to no combat in a game there would still be some variety of mechanics involved. Instead of a huge attack pool players would focus on social skills like intimidate to socially cow opponents, or diplomacy to slip unseen through societal currents. Rogues would scale castle walls and sneak unseen through the bowels of a fortress, and spies would disguise themselves as servants or minor celebrities to infiltrate places of note. Instead of fireballs and lightning bolts wizards would charm opponents to make them open the doors to their strongholds, and sorceresses would beguile the weak-willed to make said mortals do their bidding.

Some of you are reading this right now and you're thinking Yes! That would be awesome! No more huge tanks stomping around just killing everything with greatswords! I could enjoy a game that's different, and fun, and which has all of the things I'm not getting right now. For those who were thinking that, yes I can read your minds. Also, I hate to break this to you, but the same frustrations you have right now would be present because it really isn't about combat.

It's about the rules.

Reading Between The Lines


No gamer has ever said, "You know that thing my character is really good at? Yeah, let's not do that any more."

Except this guy. George is hardcore with a die in his hand.
The point is that anyone can roleplay, and roleplay can happen at any time. You know those five day journeys you're taking in game? Why not narrate some of that? Talk about what your characters do in the morning to prepare for the day, and what they do at night when the watches are set. Have conversations while you all mount up and ride out to get to know one another a little bit better.

Also, try injecting a little bit of character into the heat of combat. Battle cries, shouted commands, last words of a character who thinks he's going to die, or the fevered whispers as dire forces are summoned to smite one's enemies. Describe how the barbarian steps in front of the sorcerer to take a hit for him because she's grown to respect the spellcaster over their journeys, or how the bard's song changes from one of glory to one of vengeance when he sees a lover struck down in front of him.

Combat is prime time for roleplay. So is sitting around at the corner table at the inn, or keeping watch during the night. You can roleplay while divvying up a dragon horde, and you can roleplay while you're recuperating from wounds after a mighty battle. If a player wants more roleplay in the game all he or she has to do is start the ball rolling. The more roleplay you introduce, the more back-and-forth you're going to get between the characters.

There's only one reason to shout that there's too much combat in your game; because your character isn't good at it.

But I Can't Do Anything!


Now we come to the heart of the matter. Combat is a part of roleplaying games because it's a part of stories. Whether it's an ancient warrior crushing his foes with a mace, a noble knight charging the dragon with his lance, a special agent sent in to take out a political target, or two empires at war in outer space, combat happens. What's more, history has shown that it is impossible to take violence off the table as a solution to a problem. Even if you can manage to create a peaceful society there is always a Mongol horde or a fleet of Conquistadors just over the horizon ready to sweep down and wreck red ruin.

It may be possible to create a game that is supposed to have little to no combat in it. Combat is always a possibility, though.

Always
Now, if you want to play a character who is not combat capable then I say props to you. Whether you're a diplomat, a specialized trap smith, or a healer with a vow of non-violence, if you know combat isn't your thing then there's nothing wrong with that provided you know what your skill set is and that it's going to come into play during your campaign regularly enough to make your character a necessity. You might also want to check out this list of useful alchemical items and this break down of Aid Another just to make sure you know all your options when you do eventually have to roll initiative.

If on the other hand you're frustrated because every time you try to participate in combat the only thing you succeed in doing is getting your character knocked into negative hit points, then you might want to re-examine your build.

Oh, So I Need to Min-Max My Character to Have Fun, Huh?


I hate how sarcastic italics can get when I let them out of the box.

I cannot count the number of players who have gotten offended when I've suggested that if they want their characters to be more effective in certain situations then they should take this feat, or focus on that skill. Almost every person has answered with something like, "I'm not going to power game just to have fun."

I agree, you shouldn't sacrifice good roleplay and a great character concept to play a soulless pile of numbers who may as well be an animated suit of armor. With that said though, if you don't back up your concept with rules then you're never going to be able to do what you want.

And you'll never have sweet statues built after your heroic death.
Let's use an example, shall we? Let's say that you have a wizard who's an officer in the city watch that specializes in investigating magic-related crimes. You give him all of the appropriate spellcraft skill to be able to identify spells and their residues, and to understand magic items. You give him knowledge of the arcane so that he understands the function of spells and what they can do. You even give him heal so he can examine wounds and bodies to make sense of what might have happened to victims.

You know what he can't do? Intimidate suspects. Or follow a trail. Or grapple hired muscle. He doesn't have any special knowledge of the local city and the important personas that dwell in it, and he wouldn't know a noble from a gnoll when it came time to make an arrest.

Know why he can't do that? Because that's not what he was built to do.

Your Character Isn't Special


The difference between roleplaying games and just playing make believe is the rules. The rules of the game create a framework that all players have access to, and which all players can use to build their concepts. The rules are what stop players from saying things like, "well my character's pretty, so you do what she says," or "well he's big and scary, so you're going to back down from him," because if a player wants to take an action that results in a conflict then there are methods in place to resolve that.

If you want your character to do something, whether it's bull rushing a goblin into a glass furnace or hacking through the computer security on the local vampire prince's personal computer, you can't just say you did it and move on. No matter how cool the image in your head of slipping past the werewolf's paw and planting your dagger in its eye is, you can't do it if your numbers aren't up to snuff.

We all love our characters, and we all want to see them succeed. We want to see them become great heroes (or great villains, I don't judge), and it's irritating when we feel they've been denied the chance to shine. Whether it's because of heavily armored enemies, damage reduction, a dungeon that's nothing but traps, or having to bamboozle guards with wit instead of steel characters who are not mechanically designed to function in a certain way have a much smaller chance of success. That's the only thing that keeps the game fair; you have access to the same rules and the same options as every other player.

Mechanics without story is boring, no argument. But story without mechanics is ineffective.

You need both if you want to get through the game.


As always, thanks for stopping in at Improved Initiative. If you want to follow my updates then submit your email address in the box on your right hand side, or follow me on Tumblr or Facebook. If you want to help support this page then check out the other tee shirt designs by clicking the link on your right, leaving a donation by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button over on the right as well, or by stopping in at my Patreon page and becoming a patron today!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet Brent Chumley... No Seriously, You Really Should

Given that it's Monday I'd normally have something clever or witty to post here. Maybe I'd offer a bit of obscure history, or just post a funny picture that made an obtuse gaming reference. However, I just spent the past several days as a booth assistant in Artist's Alley at Gen Con 2014. As such I'm too exhausted to offer anything insightful, funny, or even droll for your guys.

Check this guy out instead.

Yes, this guy.
For those of you who don't know who this is, well you're in the same boat I was on the morning of the 14th. This fellow's name is Brent Chumley, an he's an accomplished artist as well as a surprisingly well-rounded gamer. He was also my neighbor at Artist's Alley, and he's a very driven, talented artist. He's done a great deal of work for Legend of the Five Rings (as well as other companies and game systems), and his art is as diverse as his gaming tastes. From a traditional Asian spearman at rest after a battle to a biplane being chased through a clear blue sky by a dragon, he's got a little bit of everything.

Seriously, go check out his webpage right here. You'll thank me later.

I should be back on my game (so to speak) quite soon. Until then you know the drill; follow me by filling in your email address in the box on the right, or following me on Facebook and Tumblr. If you want to keep me going then buy a book, stop by my tee shirt shop, leave a tip by clicking the "Bribe The DM" button on the right, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Best (Non-Magical) Equipment For Your Pathfinder Party

Pathfinder is a game of gods and devils, magic and monsters, swords and sorcery. As characters begin fighting dragons, ancient liches, and powerful necromancers it's easy to get caught up in the spectacle of the epic. But take a moment and ask yourself how many times you've found your adventure stymied for want of something simple? Something really, really basic? Like a torch, some rope, a ball of twine, or a piece of chalk?

We're in the middle of the goddamn desert, and you didn't bring a canteen?
Every player has his or her list of equipment that is a necessity before setting out on an adventure, regardless of what level they're at. For those who don't want to scour the books for the most useful equipment that will often cost you less than a single gold piece, this list has some items you should really consider adding to your pack.

Pouches, Packs, and Utility Belts


Batman ain't got shit on this.
Have you ever been in the middle of a fight and realized you have the perfect item to turn the tide of battle, but it's buried in the bottom of your backpack? Sure it's just a move action to get it out of your pack, but doing provokes attacks of opportunity.

That's why it's a good idea to be careful with where you're keeping your equipment.

The bandolier (Ultimate Equipment) and the adventurer's sash (Seekers of Secrets) are both items that players should pay attention to. They both go across an adventurer's chest, and the former has eight pockets while the latter has six. Both items provide loops for weapon-like items, and pouches for flasks and vials. It is a move action to draw an item from either of them. So where's the benefit? Well if you're storing a wand or other weapon-like object (Core Rule Book 186) that's near to hand then you may draw it as if it were a weapon. That means no attack of opportunity for pulling out your wand. Which, under the right circumstances, is a handy thing to know. You still can't quick draw it, even with the feat, but you can draw it in all other respects as if it were a weapon.

For those who really want to get gear into their hands more quickly though it's a good idea to invest in either a wrist sheathe or a spring-loaded wrist sheathe (Adventurer's Armory). The former allows you to drop a dart, dagger, or wand into your hand with a move action, and the latter with a swift action. Neither action provokes an attack of opportunity, though cranking the spring-loaded sheathe back is a full-round action that does provoke.

Lastly, it's a good idea to invest in a weapon cord (Advanced Player's Guide). This two-foot length of rawhide goes around your wrist and lets you retrieve a dropped or disarmed weapon as a move action. Not as good as a lock gauntlet, but you can still drop the weapon in your hand and use something else (wand, drink a potion, etc.) without serious worry.

Light Sources


Because hell globes are hard to come by.
If you're fortunate enough to have a race with darkvision then you're going to be head-and-shoulders above fellow party members when you're eventually ambushed at night or have to skulk through a series of caves. If you're playing a human though (as so many players do) then it's a good idea to be able to see where you're going.

One of best backups you can have is a candle (Core Rule Book 158). A candle is considered a weightless item (so there's no reason not to carry half a dozen of them just to be safe), and as long as a character has some means to light it like flint and steel (Core Rule Book 158) or just a cantrip like prestidigitation, a candle can be the difference between wandering a maze in the dark and being able to at least see five feet in front of your face. A candle lamp doesn't provide any additional illumination, but it catches dripping wax and stops the candle from going out in a breeze.

For those adventurers who prefer traditional torches it's a good idea to invest in a shield sconce (Adventurer's Armory). This handy item is a metal frame that straps over a light, medium, or tower shield, and it holds a torch for you. A great item for armored tanks who want to lead the way into the darkness, but who don't have a free hand to hold a torch.

Alchemical Items


When it absolutely, positively has to be stuck in place, doused in acid, and set on fire.
I already created a pretty exhaustive list of great alchemical items in this post right here. That said, alchemical items can take out swarms, heal the party, light your way, stop your falls, let you bypass damage reduction, protect you from energy damage, and they can grant you concealment.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about these items. A requirement for any adventurer who wants to be ready for anything.

Tools of The Trade


Because it's better to have and not need, than to need and not have...
No thief worth her salt would be caught dead without a few sets of lockpicks on her person... but you've probably noticed that's the only tool set that most adventurers bring with them on the road. You may also have noticed that, nine times out of ten, you always wish you'd brought something else with you.

Perhaps one of the best tools for an adventurer is a simple crowbar (Core Rule Book 155). This bar provides a +2 to all strength checks to force open doors and chests, and it can be used as an improvised melee weapon if necessary. The much more common grappling hook (Core Rule Book 155) is a great investment, along with at least 50 feet of rope (hemp or silk, both are useful). It's often a good idea to bring a shovel or a pick (because you're going to have to dig a latrine at some point, or camp is going to get gross). If a party is traveling overland or under the mountains a compass (Advanced Player's Guide) provides a +2 bonus on survival checks (above ground) or knowledge (dungeoneering) checks (below ground) for finding direction. Manacles (Core Rule Book 156) are much better than rope for trussing up foes that you need to bring back alive (or if you have adventurers who are particularly lawful, good, or both in your party).

Seriously though, getting out of manacles is a DC 30 escape artist or DC 26 strength check. 35 and 28 for masterwork manacles. Your bounty ain't going nowhere.

Miscellaneous Gear


What the hell is this even for?
Some items are just so random it makes you wonder who would ever use them. Then you find yourself in a situation wishing you'd parted with those five silver pieces because that piece of equipment would come in really damn handy.

Take chalk (Core Rule Book 158) for instance. It's a cheap, no-weight item but it can be used to mark where adventurers have gone in an underground passageway. Chalk powder, flour, and other dusts can be packaged into thrown weapons that will reveal invisible creatures in a square (Advanced Player's Guide).

Another helpful item is a flask of lamp oil (Core Rule Book 158). While used as splash weapons for several editions, these items can be used to coat enemies (or the ground) in burning pitch. It does take a full round action to affix a wick though, which is something that should be kept in mind by adventurers with pyromantic urges. For those who need heat but not fire the ideal item is a heatstone (Inner Sea World Guide). It will heat a 20-foot square area even in extreme cold, but it won't give away a location with light. Also, you can't cook with it or hurt anyone with it.

Lastly, for those who've been involved in a foot chase, it's a good idea to have at least one bag of caltrops (Core Rulebook 155) on hand. A single bag covers a 5 foot square and they have the potential to lame creatures who run over them. A lame creature is reduced to half movement, and the penalty remains until the damage is healed. While you might not use them often, caltrops are often great when paired with smokesticks so that those who find them do so without warning.


As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative! We've got big changes coming up so be sure to follow me on Facebook and Tumblr, or to toss your email address into the box on your top right. If you'd like to keep this blog going then tell your family, tell your friends, leave a tip by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party

Alchemical items are one of the most overlooked tools available to adventurers in Pathfinder. These unusual creations may seem quaint, even quirky, but they can be the difference between character death and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Below is a list of some of the more useful items and groups of items that players will run into. In the descriptions you'll find the upsides, the downsides, and the appropriate levels to use these items at. Some of them are only good for starting parties, while others can be used all the way through epic level. It just depends on where your game is at.


Grenade Weapons

Athos, Porthos, and Inflammable
Everyone knows these items: alchemist fire, acid flasks, and holy water. Found on page 160 of the Core Rulebook they're the three musketeers of lower-level dirty tricks. Alchemist fire does 1d6 of fire damage to the main target, automatically setting it on fire and splashing out to do 1 point of fire damage to all adjacent squares. Acid also does 1d6 with splash to all adjacent squares, but no recurring damage. Holy water does 2d4 damage to an undead or evil creature, and can be poured out over incorporeal creatures which makes it a handy weapon at lower levels against ghosts and evil there-not-there enemies.
That said, none of these items are really much use past level 5, and most players dispense with them by level 3 or so. The reason is simple: not enough bang for the buck. They're great against swarms, who take double damage from grenade weapons, and they're a lovely touch attack against enemies with really high armor classes, but they take a move action to draw and a standard action to throw. Even Quick Draw can't solve this problem. As such players tend to stop carrying any of these except for emergency situations, or because they just plain forgot they had a grenade left over in the bottoms of their backpacks.

Smokesticks and Thunderstones

Ninja Vanish!
These two items are very undervalued for their strategic capabilities in a fight. Thunderstones have a range of 20 feet, a radius of 10 feet from the point of impact, and they require a DC 15 Fortitude save to avoid being deafened for an hour. That's a -4 to Initiative, a 20 percent miscast chance on spells, and a field day for rogues who only have to worry about keeping out of sight instead of being heard creeping up. This is a big boon, but the problem is that it comes with a relatively low save. A 15 is a terrifying proposition at lower levels, with even fighters and barbarians being at a 50/50 shot to avoid being deafened. As the threat levels increase and creatures get bigger, badder, and have Fortitude saves that would make PCs cry if they could see them, these stones may seem pretty useless. On the other hand, spellcasters are squishy at nearly any level, and the potential to lose spells makes one round spent to chuck a thunderstone seem like a pretty worthy endeavor when it could save you from a fireball or a flamestrike.
The thunderstone's companion, also found on page 160 of the Core Rulebook, is the humble smokestick. It creates a 10-foot cube of smoke as per the fog cloud spell, and unless the smoke is blown away by a strong wind (not common in dungeon settings) the cloud provides concealment. Said concealment works both ways sadly, but for those players who need to hide from archers, who need a distraction to make a stealth check, or who need a ninja-vanish for a retreat, smokesticks are a great way to Batman in or out of a fight.

Sticky Situations

Why am I dripping with goo?
Tanglefoot bags have become a phobia for several DMs, and for good reason. While players rarely use these items they are a great way to debuff a villain regardless of the thrower's class or combat capabilities. On a direct hit it requires a DC 15 Reflex save, or the creature is stuck to the floor. If the creature was flying the results on a failure mean that it crashes. Even if the target makes the save though, it's entangled for 2d4 rounds. That's half movement speed, -2 on attack rolls, -4 on Dexterity related checks, and a concentration check of 15+spell level any time it tries to cast a spell. While it doesn't work on anything bigger than Large size, a tanglefoot bag can be a huge pain in the butt for any enemy of the appropriate size.
Tanglefoot bags come in other flavors though! The tangleshot arrow (found in Elves of Golarion) is still a touch attack, but it has the ability to be drawn and fired like any other arrow complete with range (well, half the range anyway) and rate of fire. The trade off is that it's only a DC 10 Reflex save not to be stuck to the floor, and the concentration check is only DC 10+spell level. On the other hand, a barrage of these arrows can very quickly stick your enemies in their tracks. Also, for those who prefer the flavor of the friendly neighborhood web slinger, there's Spider Sac (found in the Advanced Race Guide). Spider Sac is, more or less, a 10 foot web-shooter that can be used when climbing, swinging through the air, falling, or it can be used as a lasso when a touch attack is made against an opponent. This leaves the opponent entangled, and at the end of your rope.

Weapon Blanches

Apply With Caution
Weapon blanch comes in a variety of shapes and styles. When applied to a blade it gives that blade the ability to overcome different kinds of damage reduction, or in the case of ghost salts the ability to hit incorporeal creatures. These items are typically considered useful until the players can start buying magic weapons, but it never hurts to keep blanch on hand for fighting creatures whose DR isn't going to be pierced by the weapon you've got.

An Ounce of Prevention, And A Pound of Cure

Because sometimes the cleric is the first to go down.
One of the most overlooked items that players can use are Antitoxins and Antiplague (the former in the Core Rulebook, the latter in the Advanced Player's Guide). These things give a +5 bonus to poison and disease saves respectively for an hour once ingested. They're great to keep on hand in case plague-born undead start reaching out from the streets for you, or in case an assassin with a trademarked poison has marked a party for death. They need to be used carefully, but a +5 bonus is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to staying healthy. Soothe Syrup (found in the Advanced Player's Guide as well) has a similar effect on sickened and nauseated characters. Lastly, for those who want to be prepared when battle breaks out, it's a good idea to take a draught of Troll Oil. This disgusting brew automatically stabilizes characters that have drunk it (for one hour), and it has a 50% chance to end any bleed effects.
Alchemical items can also fix you right up even if you don't take them before getting hurt. Bloodblock (from the Advanced Player's Guide) ends any bleed effect instantly, and provides a +5 bonus on Heal checks as if the person had used a healer's kit. Smelling Salts (from the Advanced Player's Guide) give players who are rendered unconscious or staggered by a spell effect a new save, and they automatically revive a dying character to consciousness. A handy trick if the fighter needs to drink a healing potion or the cleric needs to channel energy, but they're currently at negative hit points. For those who don't have access to magical healing, or for those occasions where the healer is dying, a dose of Troll Styptic (Seekers of Secrets) is a great field dressing. It automatically ends all bleeding effects and ongoing damage, granting the recipient 2d4 rounds of fast healing 2. It does require a Fortitude save of 15 to not be sickened while the dressing does its work, but being a troll is far from pleasant.

Miscellaneous Alchemical Items You Should Keep Around

Like a Canadian armory, you never know what you might need.
Sometimes it isn't worth stocking up on a certain alchemical item, but it's still nice to have in a pinch. Some of these include:
Ward Gel:
Made for particular elements, this gel acts as protection from energy 5 up to 20 points of damage for one hour. Great for raiding dragons and frost giants alike!

Bachelor's Snuff: Golarion birth control, this snuff renders male humanoids sterile for 2-3 days or so.
Smoke Pellets: The original ninja-vanish, these items are great for quick distractions that confuse enemies and allow for fast escapes (or assaults).
Everburning Torch and Sunrods: With so many characters that can't see in the dark, don't you want to have a few of these handy?
Clear Ear: It provides a +2 alchemical bonus on Perception and Knowledge checks, but a -2 on Charisma. Cranky rogues anyone?
Barbarian Chew: Side effects may include ugly red teeth, and an extra round of Rage if a barbarian enters it in the next hour after chewing.

Carrying it All


One of the biggest downsides of alchemical items is that they tend to ride in a backpack, or buried at the bottom of a bag of holding. For those who want to have them close to hand, along with wands and other useful items, it's a good idea to check out the bandolier, the adventurer's sash, and other great items listed right here in my guide to non-magical equipment.

You know you want one.

Why Bother?

It's true that the bonuses and usefulness provided by alchemical items can easily be provided, or exceeded by, magic. That's why few players bother with alchemical items past level 5 or 7. However, alchemical bonuses are one more category of bonus to add to a player's array, and what's even better is that they can't be dismissed or dispelled. They're great backup weapons, and they get around all those nasty immunities and resistances that many creatures have. They're also great holdouts for well-prepared rogues and combat characters who need to have a trick or two up their sleeves to make an impact on the big bads.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What is Chivalry?

Everyone's heard the word chivalry at some point in their lives. Some of us (paladin players, I'm looking at you) probably have delusions that we live our lives in a chivalrous way. We open doors for women, stand until the guests are seated, and we offer a hearty handshake while making eye contact. We don't lie, we don't steal, and we generally turn down monetary gifts offered to us by old women for helping them cross the street.

Generally
Whatever good things it is we do that we think of as part of a code tends to make us feel noble, at least for a moment or two. Knights without their shining armor, we are the errant servants of the realm. Without us the world would surely be a darker, danker place.

Congratulations, you have no idea what chivalry actually is.

All Right Smart Guy, What is Chivalry?


Well since you asked, I'll tell you.

The word chivalry that we know comes from the French word chevalier. The word cheval is French for "horse," and so a chevalier was the warrior who rode him. This word would be corrupted and bastardized until it became the English word cavalier. In short the original idea of chivalry (which came out under Charlemagne in the 700's and was codified in the 900's) was how good you were as a mounted warrior.

Chivalry, motherfucker, do you use it?
The chivalry that the mounted tanks of the Dark Ages knew was very different from the diluted code of noble conduct that many modern folks think of (more on that here). In its barest form it was a measure of bravery, combat skill, and battlefield valor. As time went on and the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries rolled around though the Romance genre was born.

We know what happens then.

So, What Happened?


Chivalry as a code of conduct had been evolving along with the knights of Europe and the culture they fought in. Originally a list of requirements for boosting one's reputation as a mounted warrior, it grew into a system codifying how a knight needed to behave sometime around the Crusades. It was mostly concerned with combat (over half of the rules referred to "warrior codes" as seen here), but there were also huge swaths of the code dedicated to the display of heraldry and what was appropriate to wear and show at what times. There were parts about protecting the weak and downtrodden, as well as refusing monetary rewards for services performed, but by and large they fell into the background. There were also codes in place for how knights should act toward women (noble women, at any rate), but they were generally concerned with making sure that proper titles, compliments, and etiquette were maintained. Because it seems that no matter what era we exist in, men have no fucking clue how to talk to women.

Anyway, what happened with the Romanticists (capital "R" on this one) got hold of it is pretty much what happens when your favorite gritty drama falls into the hands of fan fiction enthusiasts.

Shit
Yep, the same folks who gave us the softer parts of the Arthurian legend, and who whitewashed the 12 Peers along with knights as a whole (sort of like of Game of Thrones was written by David Eddings instead of George R. R. Martin) pretty much shooed away all the bits about dueling etiquette and which insults and offenses were considered worthy of bloodletting. Instead they focused on ideas of "courtly love," paying more attention to balls, dances, and the kinds of praise used by knights to flatter and uphold noblewomen. They also spent an unhealthy amount of time on stories about knights breaking all codes of chivalry to fuck their sworn lieges' wives, and thus was the romance genre as we know it born.

That's It?


Glossing over the finer details, yep, that's pretty much what it's about. So the next time you don't hold a door for someone and you get a roll of the eyes and a comment like, "looks like chivalry is dead," you should jaw jack them for questioning your honor.

Unless they're not Christian. Or of noble birth. I think at that point it is your duty as a chivalrous individual to slay them and carry the head through the streets on the tip of a bared sword to make your point. The French translation is sort of funny though, so check that last to be sure you're not supposed to use a cherry wood pole. That kind of mistake would be embarrassing.


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Friday, August 1, 2014

6 Crucial Tips For New Pathfinder Players

How do you know when people are reading your blog? Well mostly it's the numbers that your host is kind enough to feed you on a daily basis, but a good indication that people are reading it and like what you're doing is that they ask to guest post. This week we have a guest post from first-time contributor Jon Perry. Big thanks to Jon for stepping forward to fill this week's slot, and I hope you all enjoy what he has to say.

Also, apologies for the finnicky formatting. As always if you want to follow Improved Initiative just toss your email into the box on the top right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr. I'll make sure you get the updates.

Tough crowd, tough crowd.
6 Crucial Tips for New Pathfinder Players

Being new to the world of tabletop gaming can be intimidating; but every gamer from the casual hobbyist to the 30 year Dungeons and Dragons veteran had to start somewhere. If you're starting with Pathfinder then bravo! You’re immersing yourself in a world of lore and adventure, where the unthinkable can (and most likely will) happen. Listed below are a few tips for new players; following these tips will make for a rich and enjoyable experience. These tips apply to more than only Pathfinder players, though. Any player new to role playing can find some critical advice below.

  1. Don’t forget the back story!
This is one a must for all role players; most role playing games are as much a story as they are a game. A character that has a history organic to the world you play within is always more developed and rounded than one who is not. This is also critical to giving life to the character you’ve created.

Example: Raya Nesus is a level 1 Human Sorceress. That’s rather bland in itself, no? Where does her flavor come from? Perhaps she was born an orphan, was a victim to the slave trade, or her one true love abandoned her. A back story with detail will help create your character’s attitude, quirks, and motives in the campaign at hand.

  1. Make sure that your Game Master (or GM to-be) knows that you are new or inexperienced.
When you alert the GM you're new you're not making yourself look dumb or making yourself a target. What you are doing is making sure that he/she is willing to move slowly for you, and help you along during gaming sessions. The vast set of rules within the world of Pathfinder can be intimidating, and it can be easy for new adventurers to become overwhelmed quickly.

Example: Hey, Joe! I’m new to Pathfinder, and I just wanted to double check that it’s okay if I need a bit of help during the gaming session on Saturday.”
  1. Start Small!
As I’ve stated before, Pathfinder can be incredibly intimidating to new players. In order to minimize the effect this has on your experience, start small. That means that you’re better off starting with core classes, and core races. These are the classes and races presented within the Core Rulebook, all of which are simple and to the point (though still customizable).

Example: A Half-Dragon Wayang Wizard 2/Two Weapon Warrior 4/Celebrity 1/Scout 1?How about a Human Fighter 8?
  1. Accept the inevitability of character death
Characters, like people, die. The inevitability of death in our world is real enough, but in the dangerous world of Pathfinder it should be expected. Many gamers get angry or frustrated when a character dies, and that’s okay, but it shouldn’t negatively impact your gaming experience. The duration of a character’s in-game life is nothing compared to the quality of his adventures and personality. Sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for better things.

Example: ”Maximus Awesomus is dead! Agh, *insert angry slurs here*, he was my favorite character! Well, at least I had a blast playing him, and he was super memorable. Now, time to write up Maximus AwesomER…”

  1. Keep Yourself Involved in the Role Playing!
As stated earlier Pathfinder is as much of a story as it is a game, and your character is a protagonist of that story. How many protagonists sit back and end up having absolutely no interaction with the world around them? None, duh! It’s easy to get distracted during a long session, but making sure you stay involved is important. Don’t forget that YOU are helping to write the story, and you should have fun doing it! Not to mention, it makes for a more memorable and flavorful character.

Example: As the party sits in a tavern, you decide that your Orcish Bard is going to get himself a wench. As he goes around the bar, he asks women if they’d like to play his…flute. With disgusted faces, they all turn away or run. Poor Gronkl begins to tear up, he doesn’t understand why everyone dislikes him so.

  1. Last But Not Least, Have Some Fun!
Nobody plays a Role Playing game in 100% seriousness. Pathfinder is about having fun, and maybe escaping reality for just a bit. It’s okay to be caught up in the gameplay and mechanics, but when push comes to shove you should be having fun. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and make sure that your actions make the game enjoyable for everyone.

Example: “I can’t believe we actually did it! Best session ever!”


So here you have it, 6 simple, but critical tips for anyone new to Tabletop Gaming or Role Playing. With these tips in mind, your foray into the world of Pathfinder should be painless and easy. Trust me, you’ll find yourself enjoying the game in no time. Until next time, happy gaming!