Friday, January 29, 2016

The "Compassionate" Antipaladin

A paladin's fall from grace is one of those stories we all dread, but simultaneously want to see. There's something compelling about someone struggling for perfection, falling short, and then deciding to embrace their moral terminal velocity to become a perversion of all the things they'd once stood for. Some paladins fall out of pride, some out of envy, and others because of greed, or lust. But what happens when a paladin takes the left hand path not because of a human failing, but because of a core virtue taken to an extreme?

That is the Compassionate Antipaladin, and it's where the story of Ezekiel Cairn begins.

You have to earn that black armor.

The Life (And Death) of Ezekiel Cairn


In life, Ezekiel was everything you would expect a paladin to be. Selfless, devoted, charitable, and he was always willing to extend a hand before reaching for his sword. He was loyal to his compatriots, fair in his rulings, and he understood the value of life. Whenever he was forced to fight, he dug his enemy's grave with his own hands. That way he never forgot the burden he carried on his hip, and in his heart.

As with many paladins, Ezekiel sacrificed himself to protect his friends. He passed with no regrets, and pleased that he had done his duty well. And, as one would expect from a virtuous man who had worked so tirelessly for the benefit of others, he was richly rewarded by his patron in the afterlife.

Long days on the beach, with nary a sunburn in sight.
Time didn't have much meaning in the after world, but it seemed like he'd only just allowed the weight to truly drop from his shoulders, when he felt a pull. His comrades were trying to resurrect him. Deciding that his duty wasn't done yet, Ezekiel heeded the call, and returned to his broken, bloody body, coughing his way back into the world to take up the fight anew.

Death Was Only The Beginning


Returned to life, and with renewed vigor flooding his limbs, Ezekiel stood with his compatriots once more. For a time, he fought all the harder, knowing for a fact what awaited him in the heavenly realms. Worldly concerns seemed lighter, and less important than they had before. Hardships were easier to endure, and even arduous tasks were easier to complete.

For a time, anyway.

An irritant slipped into Ezekiel's mind, though, and began building an ugly pearl. The heavenly realms were eternal, and pure. The gods meted out punishment and reward based on the actions of a mortal's life. Yet, for all the promise, the world was full of terrors, and pain. Children with empty bellies forced to steal, cringing from the hands of abusive parents. The weak violated by the strong, their screams answered only with harsh laughter, and sharp blows. Jealousy, hatred, envy, and greed ate away at the finest souls, turning virtuous youths into corrupt old men. All at once, the cycle of mortality no longer seemed like a beautiful promise. It was a punishment. A hobbling wheel full of unnecessary suffering and torment, where no one reached the end free of scars and blood.

His duty was clear. Ezekiel would break the wheel, and murder the world.

The Elements of a Truly Threatening Villain


We've all seen the villain who plans to kill everyone in the world, but rarely does that goal make sense. After all, if the villain destroys the world, then where is he going to live? In the case of the Compassionate Antipaladin, though, he's making the ultimate sacrifice, in his mind. He will commit the unspeakable horror of wiping out every life in the world, so that others can remain pure to attain their reward of heaven. Worse, he is knowingly sacrificing his spot in paradise in order to do this great and terrible deed.

Because when your path gets dark, you own that shit.
As an individual, the Compassionate Antipaladin is frightening. His zealousness, combined with an array of brutal abilities, is enough to give any group of adventurers pause. However, the idea that drives him, combined with his charisma and zealousness, can be hideously persuasive. The rhetoric could, all on its own, lead to horrors. Paupers who drown their children before hanging themselves. Riots as the poor are slaughtered in droves to send them to a safer, warmer place. The formation of an army of martyrs who want to take on the selfless role of shepherding the world's populous on to the place where everyone receives their just rewards.

That's where the true power of the Compassionate Antipaladin comes from; the combination of twisted logic, and the determination to continue on until the job is complete. As an individual, this kind of antipaladin is a force to be reckoned with. If he forms alliances, and gains a following, then it's possible he could take serious steps toward achieving his stated goal. Whether he's given a battalion of infernal creatures at the behest of a demon lord, resurrects a fighting force of the dead, gains the service of his own murder cult, or some combination of all of these, this sort of character could easily swing heavy as a campaign's Big Bad.

A villain with goals on this grand a scale is also notoriously difficult to put down, and keep down. Demonic overlords aren't likely to let someone like this stay dead for long, especially if he's a useful tool. So if your party does manage to kill the Compassionate Antipaladin, an evil resurrection with dire results (and possibly adding a new template for additional challenge) is an option. Or, if your villain refuses to stop, then he may become a Graveknight. For those of you unfamiliar with the creature, it's like a lich for melee characters, whose raw determination and refusal to be stopped by something as paltry as death, imbues their armor. Their spirit, trapped within the steel they once wore and able to regenerate from nearly any defeat, makes them nearly impossible to kill for long.

DMs, if you've been looking for a monster we can sympathize with, but who still has one of the highest-stakes motivations out there, have fun with this villain! Also, if you're looking for more tips on memorable bad boys, you might want to check out Under The Black Hat: Tips On Writing Believable Bad Guys, and Tips For Playing Evil Characters (Your DM Might Allow).

As always, thanks for dropping in to see what's going on at Improved Initiative. If you'd like to help support my blog so I can keep giving you more content like this, stop by my Patreon page, and consider becoming a patron. Even if you just want to tip me $1 a month for bringing more content to you, that can make a big difference. Also, if you don't want to miss any of my future updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Heckler & Koch Design Real-Life Boba Fett Armor

Boba Fett is remembered as one of the biggest badasses in sci-fi history, despite his complete failure to deliver on his reputation (check this list at Cracked for some of the others). There's just something about him as a character, from the nervous silence his presence causes, to the battle-worn look he boasts. If Star Wars taught us nothing else, it taught us that anyone hard enough to wear Mandalorian armor is not someone to be fucked with.

Which may be why you can now buy your very own set of ballistic armor, inspired by one of film's most infamous bounty hunters.

Wait till they get a load of me.
That isn't a prop test that got scrapped for a different design, either. According to Tribunist, that is real ballistic armor from firearms giant Heckler & Koch. H&K teamed up with AR500, SOG knives, artist Ryan Flowers, Armasight, and several other companies to create a field-ready suit of Mandalorian ballistic armor. The plates are contoured for comfort and protection, the helmet-mounted flip sight is a night vision monocle, and the suit will protect the wearer from handgun and rifle rounds. At time of writing there has been no word regarding the development of a jet pack to go with it.

If we needed any more proof that geeks have won the culture war, this is it. A big-name gun manufacturer is creating body armor based on a science fiction character. Now quit whining, strap on, and charge for the glory of Mandalor!

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out my Monday update. If you want to help support me in delivering the latest in geeky news, and gaming info, then consider becoming a patron by pledging your support on my Patreon page! $1 a month is all it takes to help keep the hits coming week after week. Also, if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing

The great thing about roleplaying games is that they provide us with escapism, and entertainment. And while everyone's escapism is different, there are certain character archetypes that show up again and again no matter what game you're playing. Whether you're dragon hunting in the newest edition from Wizards of the Coast, enjoying shadow politics in one of the incarnations of Vampire from Onyx Path, or gearing up to take on the multiverse in Savage Worlds, Rifts, GURPs, or any of a hundred other games, here are some PCs you should probably avoid bringing to the table.

#1: The Bigot


We've all seen this character. Maybe you're in an Old West or 1920s setting, and the player wanted to try being "authentic" to the time period. You might be in a fantasy setting, and one player at the table rolled a die to declare that he was actively prejudiced towards one of the base races of the world. Most of the time this decision isn't made to be offensive, but that doesn't change the fact that the results usually are.

White swans are inferior. Got a problem?
Think about that job you had for a while where one of your co-workers thought it was perfectly fine to talk about women's bodies right in front of them using crude, offensive language. Or that time you were stuck on a company road trip, and discovered your manager wanted to tell you he was surprised that you were unlike all the other Asian/Hispanic/African Americans he'd ever worked with, and then proceeded to list off his secret opinions of what an entire group of people was actually like. If you're lucky enough that you've never been in a situation like this, use your imagination. That is an uncomfortable position to be in, and it's never a good idea to purposefully bring a time bomb like that to a game where everyone's trying to have fun.

But, if You're Going To Do It Anyway...


If you decide that your character must be prejudiced in some way, it's your responsibility to sit down and put some heavy thought into why and how that came about. For example, you've decided your paladin is sexist. That's fine, but why? Is it because he was raised to view women as delicate, and to put them on pedestals (a white knight in more than one way), and he insists that his view of an entire gender take precedence over reality? If your dwarf has a noted prejudice against orcs and half-breeds, what form does that prejudice take? After all, if you've fought an enemy for decades, or centuries, there's no denying their courage, strength, and viciousness. So, does the dwarf instead believe that orcs lack discipline and control? Would this lead said dwarf to talk down to orc party-members, acting more like a disapproving father than a co-worker? Or does he believe orcs are stupid, and therefore ignores strategy and knowledge that is perfectly valid because of its source?

The biggest thing you need to ask, though, is how are you going to maintain prejudice that doesn't stand up in the face of reality? Prejudice, by its very nature, is a broad judgment of a people. If you believe gnomes are cowards, or that fae are all capricious, how will you alter your beliefs when they don't hold up? Characters need to develop, and the Bigot is one who needs more development than most.

#2: The Joke


This one is particularly problematic with newer players, who often confuse silliness with creativity. Maybe it's the guy who comes to Vampire, and uses his potent Disciplines to bend people's minds in order to make them re-enact The Emperor's New Clothes. It might be the new player who decided to play a thief who steals everything that isn't nailed down, purely because the image of a burglar with a bulging sack filled with her compatriots' belongings never fails to get a giggle from the player. At its basest form, the joke character is that guy who comes into game with a character who acts like a cat. It's amusing the first time, but like a 25 cent gumball, loses its flavor in a big damn hurry.

Yeah, it was very funny. Now hold still.
Characters should have quirks, and players should feel free to embrace personalities from all ends of the spectrum. Characters who are genuinely funny, or completely unique, should be encouraged. Joke characters, though, are neither of these things.

But, if You're Going to Do It Anyway...


If you really can't let the concept go, then you have to transform it from a joke into an actual character. Say, for example, you had a character who was a bard, but who was a terrible bard. Can't sing, can't dance, and all his music is off-key. Sure, that's amusing in a "wow, this guy really sucks at his job," kind of way, but the joke will only last until the end of the first character introduction. The question you need to ask is, if this character is awful at music, what is he good at? For example, was he a drill sergeant in the army before leaving, and his battle cries and strategy are unmatched, giving huge benefits to his allies when the swords come out? Is he actually a barbarian, who can shatter skulls with his lute, and then write a truly terrible tune about it afterward?

A joke is a one-note character. You need to write an entire song, and to figure out what's going to still be useful and endearing about the character once the joke's already been told.

#3: The Mute


This one always sounds like a good idea, ironically, but it is rarely as great as the player thinks it will be. In the player's mind, a mute character is sort of like Ariel in The Little Mermaid; we'll be paying more attention to them, because we'll want to know why they can't talk. In reality, though, mute characters tend to get sidelined because so much of the interaction at the table involves speaking. The result is that even if the player who brought a mute character thought it was a good idea, he or she will quickly get frustrated that everyone ignores them.

At which point they have to communicate in exaggerated expressions.
The most frustrating part of the mute character is that you might have a really cool story behind why you can't talk. Demon stole your voice in exchange for a boon, you're operating under a curse from a sea hag, or you're pulling a Silent Bob and just never talking until that one moment in the adventure where it will make everyone's head turn. But that moment isn't going to be in a few hours; it's going to be months until you get to drop that bombshell. If you ever do.

But, if You're Going To Do It Anyway...


If you insist that you can make your mute character work, there are a lot of things you should consider. The most obvious is a partner; a Jay to your Silent Bob, if you will. This could be another player at the table, or even a character under the storyteller's control, but the point is you have a mouthpiece that will keep you involved, even if your character isn't talking.

The other thing you need to think about is the point of playing a mute character. For example, say you're involved in a shadowy Call of Cthulhu game where you're playing a mute who is also an expert in mythos lore. However, you have a secondary role for the storyteller as the head of the local Cult of Hastur, and you keep silent around your compatriots so they won't connect that you are also the threatening voice on the phone trying to manipulate their movements. That kind of double-blind situation can be very rewarding, and you're plugged into the action because you're spying on what the party is doing. However, not being able to speak is a huge handicap that rarely pays off the way we think it will in our roleplaying.

#4: The Hedonist


We've all seen this character at least once, and it's one of the only kind that travels in flocks. It's the bard who decides to try to seduce the queen, in the throne room, while the king is delivering your quest. It's the changeling who decides he's going to just chill at the bar, and refuse to get on the plot bus unless it makes a stop downtown in front of his favorite watering hole. It's that one guy who comes along on your spy mission, and thinks it would be a topping idea to start shooting up medical grade amphetamines that actually hinder his prowess while trying to sneak into an enemy base.

In short, it's the character who should really be an NPC.

"The necromancer raises his staff, and-" I seduce him!
The Hedonist is all play, no work, and tends to make amazingly stupid decisions as a result. The best case scenario is that the character stays behind at the tavern. The worst case scenario is that you brought their scabrous, drunken ass with you into a place where you're actually depending on them to perform.

But, if You're Going To Do It Anyway...


The key to the Hedonist is the same as the Joke; develop past the one-note character trait. You have a drunken dwarf, who never goes anywhere without a supply of spirits. Okay, good for you. Add some drama to that situation by asking, why? Is it because the character is coping with the emotional trauma of making a living by putting his ax into thinking, feeling creatures in exchange for gold? Is it because the wound that got him dismissed from service, and brought shame to his family, still pains him, and he drinks to numb it?

These kinds of questions can deepen the character, and add layers of personality you weren't expecting. Everything from drinking and drugs, to sex and gambling can be made relevant in a character's story. As long as, that is, the character can still do his or her job when called upon to strap up and ride out.

#5: The Misanthrope


This is the character we all dread showing up at our tables. They have no interest in making friends, they don't care about teamwork, and generally give the impression that they would be much happier if tabletop games came with a single-player version. They're usually trying to reach for the essence of characters like Batman or Wolverine, but instead they just end up as surly murderhobos who will grumble and growl until it's time to kill more things.

No, I won't shower. I don't care what you think.
Misanthropes are one of two things. Either they're incomplete characters, or they're a result of a player forgetting that roleplaying games are a team-oriented pastime. Either way, the reaction to the misanthrope is going to be strained patience at best, or letting him get eaten by a dragon at worst.

But, if You're Going To Do It Anyway...


Don't. The proper answer to the misanthrope is to go back to the drawing board, and fill in the blanks until you have a character that can work with compatriots in order to achieve his or her goals.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to be friendly. It doesn't mean you need a ray of sunshine to shoot from your nether regions. What it does mean, though, is that you need to design a character that can act like an adult when it's time to follow the plot. Whether that's taking point on a government black ops team going after ancient cults in deep jungles, or working with a team of monster hunters trying to beard the local vampire prince in his own court, is up to you.

Easy ways to hammer a misanthrope into a more acceptable shape include making him part of an official organization (so the storyteller can simply order him into areas, as a commanding officer), attaching him to one of the other PCs (lifelong friend, trusted partner, or someone he owes a debt to. The misanthrope might not say it out loud, but he cares about this person), or simply making sure his aggression is pointed toward the enemy, rather than his allies.

You Can Make Any of These Work


As I've tried to point out, a good roleplayer can turn any of these archetypes into a complex, compelling character. However, most of us are nowhere near as good as we think we are, and the execution often falls far short of the image we had in our heads. Additionally, there are just certain concepts that fly in the face of a game's flavor, and canon. So, while I don't want to discourage players from stretching out, and trying new things, I would strongly caution against bringing monkey wrenches into a game.

If your character is going to cause a strain, whether it's because there's friction with other PCs, he won't follow plot hooks, or his concept simply can't pick up his share of the work load, it's time to go back to the drawing board. You won't have fun with it, and neither will anyone else at the table.

As always, thanks for popping in to check out my latest update. If you want to help support me and my blog, then consider bopping over to my Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 a month can be a big help, and it will keep content just like this coming your way. Also, if you don't want to miss any of my updates, then consider following my on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Are You Reading Chris A. Jackson? Why The Hell Not!?

So, you find yourself in that awkward place where you don't know what to read next. You want something pulse-pounding, but masterfully constructed. You want stories that are easy to get into, but which aren't simple. You want a little bit of the familiar, a little bit of the strange, and you've already read everything on my Amazon author page. Who's going to give you something like that?

This guy, since you asked.
The fellow whose picture you're admiring is author Chris A. Jackson, and if that name sounds familiar for some reason, it's likely because he wrote both Pirate's Honor and Pirate's Promise for Paizo's Pathfinder Tales.

Ringing a bell now?

More Than Just Golarion


While Mr. Jackson has contributed two, solid tales of adventure and grit to Paizo's ongoing series of fiction set in the world of Golarion, that's just one facet of the jewel that is his career. According to his website, he's written half a dozen fantasy novels of his own, a few sci-fi novels, and he's been a part of some seriously hard-hitting short story anthologies. Not only has he been a full-time author since 2009, but he's also an award-winning author, as well as a Kindle bestseller.

Trust me when I tell you that those aren't distinctions they just hand out along with your book cover.

I haven't read all of his books myself, but what I have read I will be more than happy to recommend to anyone looking for a new storyteller to follow. That's praise which doesn't come cheap these days, particularly given how restricted my reading time has become over the past year and change.

At least until the DA puts two and two together. Then I'll have 20 to life to catch up on books.
Don't take my word for it, though. Follow him on Facebook, or check him out on Twitter to see what he has to say. If you're a fan of solid adventure, thought-provoking fiction, and worlds that are whole and distinct, while being easy to slip into, you'll thank me for the recommendation. Whenever, that is, you finish the stack of books you'll likely end up with.

Thanks for stopping by for this Monday's update! If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then consider stopping by my Patreon page to become a patron. I work cheap, and as little as $1 a month can be a really big help. If you want to make sure you stay caught up on all my updates, then be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too, while you're at it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Marry Your Rules and Story in Pathfinder With Achievement and Story Feats

Story and rules are like a couple that can be perfect, under the right circumstances. Sometimes story gets too wrapped up in itself, and shouts down any complaints or arguments the rules have to make. Other times, the rules are so domineering and inflexible that story just curls up in the corner, trying not to be noticed. When the two of them set aside their differences, and agree to work together, though, the result is something that's bigger than the sum of its parts.

Significantly bigger.
Getting story and rules to blend seamlessly into one, cohesive whole isn't always easy. That goes double for players who find that they're just better at one than they are at the other. If you're playing Pathfinder, and you're looking for a solid way to make your choices feel like they have real effects, you might want to take a look at achievement feats, and story feats.

What The Hell Are Those?


Pathfinder is a very rules-dense game, and as such it's not unusual for things to fall through the cracks. Hell, I have an entire series on rules Pathfinder players keep forgetting, misremembering, or outright overlooking. Achievement feats and story feats, because they're off the beaten path, are things that most players either don't know about, or have never really looked into.

So, I thought I'd highlight them for everyone's benefit.

First, story feats. A story feat is a feat that can only be taken by characters who meet certain story-based requirements. For example, if your parents, childhood friend, or lover were killed by a powerful and challenging NPC (which accounts for roughly 35% of all characters overall, and 86% of first-time characters), then you could take the Vengeance story feat. It grants you a +1 bonus to all saves against a particular enemy, and his minions. If you meet the goal of the feat, which is to thwart that foe, the the benefit changes so you gain a +1 on all saves.

My name is Ernst Fireheart. You killed my father. You know the rest.
You can take as many story feats as you want and qualify for, but you can't have more than one of them whose goal remains unmet. So, if you achieve your Vengeance, you may decide to quest for an Object of Legend. And before you start thinking that story feats are just for heroes, there are story feats like Innocent Blood and Wretched Curator, which are about the murder of innocents and hoarding of evil spells respectively.


Now, moving on to achievement feats. An achievement feat is similar to a story feat in some ways, but achievement feats have much less nebulous prerequisites. The feat Relentless Butcher, for example, requires you to have confirmed 50 critical hits. If you take the feat, then from that point onward any time you confirm a critical hit your opponent has to make a Fortitude save or be stunned for 1 round.

Achievement feats don't have an inherent story attached to them. Someone with the Grave-Risen feat (died and been brought back twice) could be a noble paladin just as easily as a devil-serving assassin. Unlike regular feats, though, you're never quite sure when you'll be able to take achievement feats, short of some serious planning, or heavy-handed event forcing. Still, they're not feats that just any adventurer can write down on his or her sheet, and they're a direct reflection of something you have personally achieved.


Do You Need Them?


Of course not. Neither story or achievement feats are truly necessary for most character concepts. However, they can greatly enhance how much influence you feel your story is having on your mechanics (such as giving your dwarven giant-hunting ranger a bigger bonus than any other kind of ranger via the Giant Vendetta feat), and they can help you get more thoroughly under your character's skin, if that's something you want to do as a player.

And sometimes it's just fun to play with feats that most people never consider bringing to the table.

As always, thanks for stopping in to see what I had to say during this week's Crunch post. If you'd like to help support me, then consider stopping by my Patreon page to leave a small donation. As little as $1 a month can go a long way toward keeping the lights on, and the content coming at you. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then consider following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dungeon Crate Is The Subscription Box Service Gamers Have Been Waiting For

I've never had a subscription box service, even though I love the idea behind them. It's a little surprise to yourself every month, geared toward things you know you like. The problem I keep running into, though, is that even though there are thousands of subscription services out there, for everything from bacon and beard grooming, to horror movies and comic books, I've never come across something that grabbed me by the shoulders and yelled, "Come on, we're going on a goddamn adventure!"

At least, not until I stumbled across Dungeon Crate.

Take some initiative!
What is Dungeon Crate? Well, the simple explanation is that it's a crate subscription service geared toward tabletop gamers. That means when you pop open your monthly package, you'll get dice, set pieces, props, and all sorts of goodies that can kick your games up a notch.

The service hadn't launched just yet (at time of writing there's still nearly two days until Dungeon Crate goes live), so I reached out to Wayne Brekke, the Overlord of this enterprise. I asked him some questions, and I wanted to share his answers with you all, in case you were wondering why you should click that link and join up with the Dungeon Crate legion.

What are the sorts of things you'd like potential fans to know?


We built Dungeon Crate because we are gamers who love the various accessories that come with games. We love dice, tokens, minis, character sheets, and all the things that are out there that enhance role playing games. We thought others would like that too and we are working hard to give subscribers a monthly box that not only is more than worth every penny they spend, but also filled with items they will use on and off the game table.

What makes Dungeon Crate different from any other subscription service?


We want Dungeon Crate to be the top RPG subscription box available. The fact is, there are thousands of subscription box services, but not a lot that cater to role players and table top gamers. We will offer physical items, digital items, and exclusive items. We’ll also have an online store where folks can purchase items we create. We’re also tapping into the crafting community as it’s huge and both Bill and I are crafters and creators. So many people create terrain, paint minis, and make things to enhance their game, so we will be looking for vendors of things like brushes, paints, tools, and crafting accessories.

We have some great ideas that will make Dungeon Crate more than just a sub subscription box service. We want to create a multi-faceted business model that brings together gamers, inspires makers, and showcases other businesses in the gaming community.

Who are some of the bigger sponsors you have lined up?


We’re really focused on the smaller vendors at the moment. There are so many out there creating awesome gaming accessories. That said we are in talks with some larger vendors and will have announcements in the next few weeks. Right now we are working with Chessex, Shire Post Mint, Arc Knight Games, Knight Watch Games, and a few others.

When should people sign up?


People can go now and put in their email address to get on our list. We will be launching in a couple weeks and will publish an email to our list letting them know what day and time open enrollment will start.

Is this geared toward all gamers, or will certain people get more out of it than others? DMs, players, certain systems, etc?


Our goal is to provide a box where every product is used in some way. We are targeting players and DMs, and want to stay system neutral for the most part. We realize as adults, it’s tough to get players together, so we want Dungeon Crate to be an experience that inspires players and game masters, offering items that will be fun even in between gaming sessions.

We’re launching in January. Folks can go to Dungeoncrate.com and get on the list. Our site will be updated soon and we are planning to have an online store, video channel, and great resources for gamers. We’re also looking into an app that will offer easy access to vendors, our store, videos, as well as provide functionalities players and DMs can use in game. More on that to come!

Dungeon Crate is a small business and we’ll always be available to our subscribers for feedback, comments, and suggestions. We want to offer the highest customer service and personal experience possible.

If that doesn't get your attention, then I don't know what will. Seriously, go check out Dungeon Crate for yourself if you're not sold yet. I guarantee you won't leave without at least bookmarking the page.


As always, thanks for popping in to check out my Monday update. If you want to help support me and my blog, just stop by my Patreon page, and pledge as little as $1 a month. Seriously, it helps out more than you know. Also, if you don't want to miss any of my updates, then follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, too.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Saga of Majenko Part 9: The Assault on Castle Korvosa

We're finally creeping up on the climax of this sordid tale of bloodshed and betrayal! If you've enjoyed it so far, then please leave some comments, and share it with your friends. If you're just now joining us, don't worry, the previous eight installments of this telling of Curse of The Crimson Throne are linked below for your convenience.

Part One: Finding The Main Character of "Curse of The Crimson Throne"
Part Two: How Much Damage Could One Pseudodragon Do?
Part Three: Scourge of The Red Mantis
Part Four: Blood Pig Champion
Part Five: Brother to The Shoanti
Part Six: The Assault on Castle Scarwall
Part Seven: The Return to Korvosa
Part Eight: Re-Taking Korvosa
Part Nine: The Assault on Castle Korvosa
Part Ten: Down With The Queen

All caught up now? Fantastic! Now then, let me see, where were we...

Fake High

As any experienced gamer worth his or her salt can tell you, nothing changes the game more than the ability to fly. And since our aerial assault on Castle Scarwall had gone so smashingly in the last book, we decided to fall back on our old tricks and fly up to the top floor of Castle Korvosa.

After casting invisibility. We're reckless, not stupid.
The castle's attic is oddly abandoned, used for little more than storage. However, after some handy Perception checks, one of them made by the party's true leader and actual rogue, we find the ghost of a tiefling being kept in the attic. Apparently his body was hidden somewhere in the dungeons, and to grant him peace we need to find it. Seems legit, and something we should have plenty of time to handle in between swinging the hammer to bring down the city's powerful monarchy.

So, grisly task from an unquiet spirit collected and filed away, we make our way down a floor, and fight some devils. Once that errand is complete, we take another flight of stairs down, expecting to finally find that overdue helping of trouble we've been waiting for. Instead, we run into...

The Return of The Red Mantis!


Yep, one floor down, taking up a combination luxury penthouse suite and wicked dance club, were more of the insect-imitating assassins who had been dogging us for several books now. However, instead of just sending a few underlings, as they had in the past, this time they brought one of their captains with them.

Oooh, I'm shaking in my stinger... with excitement!
The is the first, real taste of combat our archanist has gotten, and it doesn't go well for him. Instead of letting Egil and Majenko do their thing (between the two of them, the red mantis underlings were little more than puppies, since they couldn't catch us flat-footed, nor could they sneak attack us), the arcanist decides to run into the mix, and start kicking open doors. This got him a kidney full of saw-toothed saber, though he managed to teleport himself out of harm's way with a cleverly used class feature. What he didn't do was heal himself. Instead, he chose to keep kicking in doors, which earned him a saber up the briscuit from the invisible captain.

So, the arcanist is out, and now the game has gotten serious. Sort of.

That's when Majenko decides to stop faffing about, and the rest of the standard red mantis members go down, either in death or in sleep. Egil steps up to try and face off with the Captain, and our cleric starts calling in assistance from the heavens above. The Captain summons creatures of her own, including some particularly nasty swarms. While she's fast, and hard to hit, a lucky shot here and there began to chip away at her. Before we can deal the deathblow, though, she manages to escape. Disappointed, and more than a little frustrated, we bundle up our dead companion, and Majenko scratches a message into the glass pane of the parlor wall.

You've already lost 11. Run now, and I won't chase you.

Infiltrate Low


After some begging, we manage to return our erstwhile arcanist to the Material Plane. And, knowing that our entrance from above must have been spotted, we decide to go in low for our second attack. You see, there's a secret passage Sabina told us about that will let us infiltrate right to the throne room if we're careful.

What could possibly go wrong?
True to her word, the passage is there. We slip in stealthily, and it appears the coast is clear. At least until the party gets blasted into next week! The arcanist is dead, Majenko has been turned to stone, Egil is insane, and the only one totally unaffected by what happened is the cleric. In the corner, where he had been lurking unseen to us, is the Bloat Mage. An evoker of terrible power, it's clear we won't be able to survive another round of his power unleashed.

Fortunately, the cleric has friends in high places. With a bit of inter-dimensional support, and a breath of life, she manages to get the arcanist back to life. Spells are flying, and soon the magus is back from the land of the mad. However, given that his familiar has been turned into a lawn decoration, he is far from pleased. Which is why he uses every trick he has to try to bring down the Bloat Mage. Continuing the pattern, though, the fat, floating bastard manages to escape. So we retreat again, noses bloodied, to repair our wounds and heal our allies.

No More Nice Party


It's around this time that the arcanist, whose chief job seems to be to get killed, decides to aid the revolution in other ways. He is replaced by a paladin, who is so by-the-book that his name has managed to evade mention in the annals of his own adventures. So, beefed-up and ready to stop pulling punches, we head back to the castle for another crack, though we are wondering why, at this point, there has been so little alarm raised. The castle has been penetrated twice by known heroes of the rebellion, and not so much as a whisper?

That should have been the first clue that shit wasn't right.
We find, much to our pleasure, that the Red Mantis haven't returned. However, we do find a strange statue that wants to eat us, along with a room full of Erinyes who try to turn us into unwilling pincushions. A little lower down, we find a full contingent of Gray Maidens in the throne room, along with what looks like the queen, getting ready for a throw down.

We quickly realize that what we're looking at is not as threatening as it at first appeared. The Gray Maidens, while highly trained and dangerous, don't have the resources to truly penetrate much of our defenses. And while the thing that looks like the queen is effective, its efforts are quickly nullified by a Silence spell. It turns into a puddle of slimy goo, and we deal with the guards, who refuse to stop fighting even though they've clearly lost this battle.

Of course, there are larger forces at work than we know. Such as the infernal creature lurking in the queen's bedroom, along with a rested and rejuvenated Bloat Mage, ready to give us everything he can.

The Power of Mind Control


Enchantment and compulsion are nasty things, particularly when most of the party succumbs to them. After the first two or three rounds, the paladin, the cleric, and Majenko all decided that it would be a better idea to report to their superiors about the presence of this awful thing than to actually fight it. While a dispell managed to keep Majenko on the scene, the brunt of our divine power just walked off the field. Fortunately, Balen was crazy even for a ranger, and charged right in to get some devil-slaying done.

It goes a lot better than expected, and soon the only threat left in the room is the evoker. He pulls the same trick he did before, and Majenko is turned to stone a second time. This wrings the last drop of what mercy Egil had left, and he pours all his remaining arcana, rogue tricks, and not-inconsiderable stock of wands into the mage's demise. It's a near thing, but when he can't escape the area of the silence effect, his head gets cut off by a dramatically-timed critical hit.

The Aftermath


With the cleric and paladin ashamed of their unwilling abandonment, we take the evoker's head back to our allies. While Majenko is still coughing out gravel from his second transformation back to flesh, we find out that the Bloat Mage had been enslaved to the devil. We also realize, thanks to some texts we located, that the queen is not in the castle, and hasn't been for some time. She's seeking a forgotten temple, where she'll be making a play for terrible power. And, while we need to stop that, we have one more errand to do first.

To find out how this game ended, tune in next time for the final installment, The Saga of Majenko: The Queen's Justice!

As always, thanks for joining me for Table Talk! If you have a gaming story of your own that you'd like to contribute, then contact me and I'll be happy to chat with you about it. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then consider heading over to my Patreon page to become a patron today! Also, if you don't want to miss any of my updates, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Are You Following Simon Peter Munoz? Because You Should Be

It feels strange to me, but after running this blog for a few years, a lucky break that let me contribute to Paizo's Blood of The Moon and Bastards of Golarion, as well as creating content for other 3rd party publishers, there are some folks out there who've begun to consider me an expert when it comes to gaming. Or, if not exactly an expert, who see me as an approachable professional that will give them the secret to working in the gaming industry.

I give everyone the same answer; hard work, the willingness to put yourself out there, and networking with everyone you know or follow who can help you get in on the latest projects.

No, seriously man, what's the secret?
Most people who ask walk away unsatisfied at the prospect of starting a blog and spending countless hours hammering out reams of text. A few people, though, realized there was nothing holding them back, and went for it. One of those people is Simon Peter Munoz, and if you're not following him yet, you really should be.

An Up-And-Comer With Great Ideas


If you've been to the Creative Repository Blog, then you've already seen some of Simon's work. If you haven't been there yet, you should take a moment to go check it out. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Take your time, I've got some stuff to take care of.
Finished your initial tour? Good! Then you know I'm not just talking out of my rear end, or trying to big-up one of my own connections by saying that Simon creates some really solid content. Not only that, but he puts it out at a break-neck pace that will keep you reading through the archives for weeks if you're serious about seeing everything he's put out. You should also check out the Feats of Legend series by TPK Games, since Simon worked on The Undead Feats and The Celestial Feats with yours truly. Quality offerings, there.

Given that it's been less than a year since Simon decided to go from long-term lover of RPGs to stepping up to help design them, he's made a colossal amount of progress. Simon intends to make 2016 even bigger than 2015, with more content, more projects, and even more perspectives on the games we all know, play, and love. To that end, he's recently started a Patreon page for the CRB. So if you're the generous sort of reader, and you want to show him how much you love his content, why not stop in to drop some bread in his jar?

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out this Monday's update. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then visit my Patreon page to become a patron today! All it takes is $1 a month to help keep my content coming straight to you. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my latest posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The "Paladin In Name Only"

So, I caused a bit of a stir last Monday with my post Concept Policing is Something Gamers Should Stop Doing. This wasn't, of course, meant to say that a DM has to allow every concept to come to a table, or that players should feel free to throw all sense to the winds to make the most ridiculous characters that come to their minds. What I had in mind was more along the lines of gamers, as a community, stopping their knee-jerk reactions whenever someone chooses to play against type in a way that creates a unique character who makes sense, and who obeys the rules, the canon, and the setting of the game you're in.

Characters like the Paladin In Name Only.

A little spit and polish goes a long way.
Let's set the scene. A figure approaches the party, dressed in heavy armor. The armor is bedecked with holy symbols, and figures of religious lore. The person wearing the armor, whether it's a man or a woman, has a forceful personality. A born leader, whose commands are law in battle, and whose suggestions off the field are given weighty consideration. The character has a deep knowledge of a certain faith, and is also a part of that church's military arm. This character prays every day, and follows a strict, ethical code that determines their actions.

Is this character a paladin? Well, they appear to be... but no one says they have to be.

The Mechanics


Nothing in the above description is completely unique to paladins. The description could fit a cleric or an inquisitor, but it could also fit a fighter or cavalier dedicated to a religious cause. Knights in shining armor come in a big variety of mechanical flavors, and just because they look and act in ways we typically associate with paladins, that doesn't mean they aren't just a mere mortal who aspires to follow in the footsteps of the righteous.

Every aspirant has to start somewhere.
There are all kinds of ways to mechanically support a hero of the faith concept, without actually taking paladin levels. For example, Bravery is one of the most commonly exchanged fighter abilities, but combined with a background trait that provides a bonus against fear, and feats like Iron Will, it's possible to appear all but fearless in the face of true evil. With the right feats, fighters can be deadly weapons against the enemies of a faith.

That's far from the only option, though. Cavaliers of all varieties gain the ability to challenge their foes, and to steel their allies' morale in the face of danger. Those sensations might, to the uninitiated, bear similarities to declaring a smite on an evil enemy, or spreading the force of one's divine light out to protect his or her allies. Samurai's Resolve allows them to move forward through sheer force of determination, shrugging off punishment and terrors in a way that might make them seem superhuman.

The point is, before you decide to play a Paladin In Name Only, you need to know what abilities you're focusing on to create someone who has dedicated his or her life to being a paragon of goodness. The further you get from being a divine spellcaster, the bigger the surprise is going to be when the party realizes, in-character, that it's faith without magic backing your sword arm.

Story


There are a thousand reasons for someone to aspire to heroism... what's yours?

Heroism comes in many forms, and for many reasons.
For example, you could take some inspiration from history and say that your fighter was the most powerful warrior in the land, putting him in a select order of holy knights. In case you didn't know, that was pretty much what the word paladin originally meant, since it referred to the 12 Peers of Charlemagne. Alternatively, your Paladin In Name Only might be a wandering do-gooder, traveling from town to town with nothing more than his armor, weapons, and trusty steed in order to help the defenseless and downtrodden. He may have found his faith in a fox hole while fighting against a demonic incursion, or she may have been raised by a holy order. Even if this character wasn't chosen to be the embodiment of divine rightness, and to serve holy judgment, that is no reason not to use characters who have as models for what kind of adventurer you want to become.

There's also the personal motivation a character has to dedicate their life to a cause like this. There's the born-again hero, who lived an ignoble life, but who saw real greatness and courage on a battlefield like the World Wound. That changed this character, and made them want to be better, tempering their talents for violence and helping steer them toward a more just course. Being a hero might be a family calling, the way some families all do a stint of military service, and the character isn't going to let a little thing like not being divinely chosen stop him from following in his ancestors' footsteps. Maybe the character grew up hearing stories of great paladins and their deeds, and holds that up as his or her highest ideal.

Why Do This?


The point of the Paladin In Name Only is not to pull a "gotcha" moment on the rest of the party, who suddenly realize they don't have a secondary healer. The purpose is to play with the expectations of what drives certain types of characters, how they act, and what it's like to share in their endeavors. It's also to show that just because there's no mechanical negative to breaking your vows and sworn oaths, that doesn't mean those things don't still matter to a character who took them. After all, they inform the character's view of the world, and of who he or she is... they're kind of a big deal. They might even be big enough for the Paladin In Name Only to go on a quest of redemption, even if it's only to make peace with not measuring up to an ideal that's all but impossible with divine grace, and even more difficult without it.

As always, thanks for stopping in! If you want to see more like this post, then check out my Unusual Character Concepts page for all the ideas I've put forth so far. If you want to help support this blog so I can keep giving you more posts like this one, consider heading over to my Patreon page to become a patron! Lastly, if you want to make sure you stay abreast of all my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.