Friday, May 19, 2017

The Search For The Mummy's Mask Part Seven: Needle in A Haystack

The Desert Falcons have braved hordes of undead monstrosities, uncovered a mystery cult, and are trying to locate the remnants of a powerful, lost pharaoh. One member has fallen to a fell trap, and they are heavy with grief and rage. Deep in the desert's empty quarter is someone deserving of those frustrations... if they can find those they seek.

If you're not caught up, check out the previous installments below:

Part One: The Desert Falcons, and The Littlest Pharaoh
Part Two: Undead Children, and Resurrected Puppies
Part Three: Enemies on All Sides
Part Four: Fight Night at The Necropolis
Part Five: Who is The Forgotten Pharaoh?
Part Six: No Harm Ever Came From Reading A Book...

Caught up? Good! Because it's into the furnace blast of the empty sands we go...

Finding The Needle In The Haystack

The Falcons left Tephu with a camel, supplies, and the remnants of their departed companion Caladral. They also hired a mercenary on their way out of town, a broad-shouldered archer with a good deal of orc blood in him. They headed south of the city to an oasis, where caravaneers from across Osirion were trading gossip, news, and goods. Gnolls were taking slaves, a Roc was entering its nesting season, and there were rumors about strange doings deep in the desert where few living people ever ventured.

The DM looked around the table, and laid out a huge hex map. Each hex was a day's worth of travel, and the men we sought were somewhere out there. We were each allowed to gather information, and to then randomly select a single hex that we had learned about. With over 70 possibilities, Mustafa took his index finger, and prodded a seemingly random location...

I see something shiny!
... which just happened to be the exact hex where the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh has summoned a small army of undead diggers to unearth a lost tomb.

With their destination located quickly, the Falcons packed up, and headed out across the dunes. They had no time to waste.

A Short Distraction

A week into the desert, no more than a day away from their destination, the Falcons were set upon by a pack of gnoll slavers. They mistook the Falcons for defenseless prey, and were sorely mistaken. While picking through their packs, though, the party discovered something strange. An urn of royal jelly... the sort used to feed the royal larva of the thriae, an insect race not too far to the north. So, as they're in the neighborhood, they decide to return the stolen property before continuing on their quest.

After a tense standoff with thriae soldiers, the Falcons are welcomed in, and given some horrific news. The queen is dead, and the larva were made off with by a group of slavers... a far larger group than the ones who attacked the Falcons in the night. They went to the south, and might be as much as a week in that direction. Longer if the Falcons veer around a noted Roc nesting in a spire of stone.

The tomb has been buried for a thousand years or more. The babies may not be able to wait.

Slavers... why did it have to be slavers?
There is no decision to be made in the minds of the Desert Falcons. They depart, moving fast on the trail of the kidnapped grublings, not even bothering to swing wide of the Roc's nest. The huge bird attacks, but doesn't even have a chance to come within melee range before it's brought down by a storm of arrows, and a hail of fire. Unperturbed, they continue on, pushing through the night until they see the lights of the gnoll encampment. Ra'ana recons it, and brings back an estimate of their numbers.

The solution? Walk right in, and let everyone go free.

The guards watching the desert night barely had time to get a shout in edgewise before they fell beneath the threshing blades of Ra'ana and Umaya. Those who tried to run were shot down by the archer. One managed to stumble into the chieftan's tent, and he and his lieutenants joined the fray. Cowardly and vicious, the gnolls tried to use the slaves they'd taken as human shields. The combined arcane might of the Chelish exorcist and the Osirion firebrand made short work of them, and once their captors were dead, the slaves were released. The grublings were crying, hidden in the tent.

A good deed done, the Falcons started the slow trudge back across the sands. They butchered the remains of the Roc, poured water from the air, and sent the kidnapped victims on to the oasis before returning the tiny princesses to the thriae. They had made allies of the hive, and the thriae assured us that if they could repay the favor we had done them, then they would.

What Awaits Beneath The Sands?

With so much time spent, the Falcons set off on the end of their initial journey to confront the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh... what awaits beneath the sands? Well, join us next week to find out whether the time spent on side quests doomed their efforts, or if they still managed to come upon the cult before they found the treasure they sought.

That's all for this week's Table Talk installment. The rest of this campaign is going to move pretty fast from here on out. Don't miss a single installment by following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 to buy my everlasting gratitude, as well as some sweet swag of your very own!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Is The CIA Using RPGs As Training Tools?

What comes to your mind when you picture CIA training? Probably a lot of physical action, like trail running, hand-to-hand combat drills, and hours upon hours spent in the hazy cloud of gun smoke that fills the firing range. Agents have to learn to recognize patterns, to understand motivations, and most importantly, to learn the value of dissembling.

According to i09, though, the Central Intelligence Agency has a rather unexpected set of tools in its training bag now. Roleplaying games.

You can't drive this until you hit 12th level.

Gamification With A Security Clearance

As I said way back in 2015 in The Very Real Benefits of Playing Roleplaying Games, there are all kinds of reasons to grab some funny-shaped dice and sit around a table. But while socialization and entertainment are two of the big reasons for most of us, organizations like the CIA seem more concerned with other uses RPGs have as a learning tool. Things like risk assessment, problem solving, team building, and other useful applications. And what to do when the deck is stacked against you, and you've got limited options.

Murder, evidence destruction, body disposal, arson... the CIA, or your game's party?
At 2017's SXSW, there were a few examples of the games agents play in order to get their minds going in the right directions. There was a board game called Collection, which was a Pandemic-esque game where players had to work together to stop a global threat. There was a card game version, as well. There were even more intricate games where agents dealt with more variables, and more intricate missions. The goal was to get them used to functioning in a group dynamic, to help them think outside the box, and to achieve common goals.

Who says RPGs are just for kids?

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday update. It's a little short, but hopefully it makes for some good table talk when your group next gets together. If you want to keep up to date on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All I ask is $1 a month, and that buys both my everlasting gratitude, as well as some sweet swag.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Heretic

The folk of the region have learned to avoid the Crag Woman. They say she's mad. Dangerous. Touched by the gods, or whispered to by devils, no one can seem to agree on. But when someone gets ill, or hurt, or there is danger too great to be dealt with, someone always climbs the mountain to beg her for aid. Sometimes she even gives it, coming down from the peaks and bringing a healing touch, or smiting those who stand in her path. Those who've seen her claims she has a birthmark in the shape of their god's symbol... but others say she was branded for her wickedness.

Oddly, most of those in the latter camp seem to be part of the church. But as much as they may deny the Crag Woman serves their god, they cannot deny the power she wields.

She comes like a storm... when she wants, rather than when you are ready.

The Separation of Cleric and Church

Clerics, as we all know, are granted powers by the gods. They have personal relationships with these deities, and they are granted magic, as well as other powers, by their patrons. More importantly, though, if a cleric steps too far outside the bounds of what their god deems acceptable, they can have their powers stripped from them.

What is not required, though, is for clerics to be members of the church. While we typically associate clerics with organized religion, in much the same way we associate paladins with knightly orders, that is not a requirement of the class, nor a feature they're granted mechanically. As I said in my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics, while you can play a cleric who is also a priest, the two are not necessarily the same thing.

This leaves some interesting doors open for roleplay purposes. Because what happens when the official position of a religion differs from the one espoused by someone who has literally been chosen by that god? Does the church choose to listen to the wielder of divine power? Or would they ostracize someone who doesn't toe the line on doctrine, because their example could loosen the power of an organized church? Regardless of whether or not the person in question is, or was, once an official member of the clergy?

How Did You Step Out Of Line?

A heretic stands out in some way from the general views other followers accept as true. For example, if you follow a god of war, what happens when you seek peaceful solutions to problems in a way everyone else can see? What if you were just a common soldier, a miller, or a woodsman, and you were chosen to wield divine power instead of a priest who dedicated their lives to the worship and glory of a god? What if you were ex-communicated by the church for breaking an oath, or a vow, but rather than abandoning you, your god chose to leave their power in your hands.

Any one of these situations could be a PR nightmare for a church.

Or are you just part of a sect the wider church tries not to associate with?
This concept allows players to step outside the typical bounds we see clerics being played with. You don't necessarily have to go through seminary, or be anointed by an organization to gain the favor of a god. But when you lack the ceremony associated with that faith, that could lead to serious butting of heads between yourself and people who consider themselves higher authorities than you.

Common people may mistrust that you truly represent their god, ostracizing you unless they need your aid. A church may turn you out if your reputation is known. If an area is particularly religious, it could even lead to torch-wielding mobs who blame you for the fact they've been abandoned by their god, when in fact it was the god in question who sent you to make things right.

That's a lot to overcome, but it can lead to a lot of plot. And someone being cast out like that would need powerful allies... which could conveniently result in joining a party!

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concept post. Sorry it's so late getting out, but I've had a hell of a busy weekend and didn't find time till today. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you never miss one. Oh, and if you want to help support Improved Initiative, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to make a pledge today. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference to me, and it will guarantee you some sweet swag.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The "Naked In Prison" Test For Your PC

We've all seen builds for extremely powerful player characters. You know, the wizard who can destroy an entire army with the wave of a hand, or the fighter who can wade through an entire gauntlet to challenge a god. We hear about these characters, and we stand in awe of their powers, wishing we'd come up with that build first.

However, there is a test I'd suggest we all put our characters through. I call it the "naked in prison" test.

The name is pretty self-explanatory, really.

How Well Do You Do Without Your Toys?

As I said way back in The 4 Major Flaws of Character Building, one of the most common mistakes players make is to assume they'll have all the necessary toys to make their concept function at all times. This might be one of the only old school things about my gaming experience, but I always expect the DM to screw with my necessities as soon as they recognize I need those tools in order to properly function.

Call it unfair, against the spirit of the game, or hitting below the belt, I call it a perfectly legitimate strategy. And if I'm trying my best to hamstring the monsters, why shouldn't I expect the monsters to play that same dirty game right back at me?

Put another way, if I build an armored tank, I expect at least one enemy to sunder my shield. If I play a wizard, I am always waiting for the moment I'm told to make a Reflex save for my spellbook. If I have a barbarian specialized in great ax fighting, it's only a matter of time before an enemy takes the field with a tricked-out version of shatter to ruin my day. Or, at the very least, I expect to be ambushed in the middle of the night, or to wake up in prison after someone took us all by surprise.

It was why, for the longest time, I would never specialize in a single weapon.
It goes without saying that every character is more effective with their ideal choice of gear and tools. The question you need to ask, though, is how easy are your tools to take away from you? Not using sneaky, DM-ex-machina, hand-wavey stuff, but just with the standard rules in the game itself?

Put another way, how big is the chink in your armor?

We Are A Lot More Vulnerable Than We Think

It is remarkable how vulnerable most of our character concepts are. We're just lucky that our DMs are either not mean enough, or devious enough, to pick us apart piece by piece.

If your PCs are giving you grief, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.
Wizards and clerics are powerful character options. But what happens if your bonded item/holy symbol is stolen or sundered? Or if someone just yanks it out of your grasp? Which spells can you no longer cast with your focus component missing? What do you do if your spellbook is destroyed or stolen, or your spell components are taken away from you? There are ways around these problems, like the Eschew Materials feat, making sure you have backups for spellbooks and components, and taking traits like Birthmark, which give you a holy symbol that's part of your body... but if you don't prepare, it's easy to get caught with your pants down.

The same is true for non-casters as well. What do you do if your sword and board fighter finds he's been stripped of his weapons in hostile territory? Or, perish the thought, you get ambushed by a rust monster? What happens to the ranger when his bow is smashed, or he runs out of arrows? Well, you need to have a backup plan. From improvised weapons to teamwork and ambush tactics, your success can often depend on how creative you get when your primary options are taken away, or simply do not work for the task at hand.

It's true that if you have 10 rounds to cast all your buffs before the combat starts, you're wearing your ideal armor, you have your ideal weapon, and you are in an environment that doesn't give you any penalties, of course your characters are going to carry the day. But you need to ask what happens when you don't have all those things in your favor. Or when it's exactly the opposite. When you're ambushed without any prep time, when you don't have your armor because you were sleeping, or you've lost important pieces of your artillery... what will you do then?

Because you don't have the time or the resources to limp back to town, take a week of bed rest, imprint a new familiar, buy a new spellbook, and custom make a new suit of armor. The cult is summing the Old Ones now, and it's your time to shine whether you have your best toys on hand or not. So be prepared.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully it gave everyone, players and DMs alike, some food for thought. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. $1 a month makes a big difference, and it gets you some sweet swag to call your own.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What is Your Character's Moral Code?

Fewer things start more fights at a gaming table than talking about alignment. Like it or hate it, though, there is something it does do fairly well. It boils down a complex set of characteristics, views, beliefs, and moralities into a simple, two-word description. Which is fine for NPCs, for monsters, and for other characters who are only on stage for a little bit. Player characters, though, are the stars of the show. They're in every episode, their actions drive the plot (more often than not, anyway), and we explore them more than we do any other characters in the story.

Which is why it's important to dig past that two-letter abbreviation to find out more about who your character is. What do they believe? What is right to them, and what is wrong? What offends their moral sensibilities, and what won't so much as trouble their sleep?

You've got to have your priorities in order, after all.

Honor Among Thieves?

The difficulty with alignment, as I said back in Absolute Good, Absolute Evil, and Alignment in RPGs, is that alignment is viewed from a meta perspective. We know that the duke is evil, because his alignment says so, but we also know that no one really thinks of themselves as evil. People don't sit in doom fortresses laughing maniacally, thinking about how they are the most villainous of villains. Most people, by and large, see themselves as just trying to do what's best for themselves, and those they care about. Even people who, when viewed from the outside, are clearly the big bads of a campaign.

This statement, of course, excludes beings of unknowable evil, the mad, and the twisted. Generally speaking, we're talking about characters we can identify with in some way, shape, or form, and who have a rational understanding of themselves, and the world.

You know, like the people who SUMMON Yog-Sothoth.
Let's start with someone good. After all, good sometimes feels self-explanatory; you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Arend Brandt was a soldier, and when he was honorably dismissed from service he swore his sword to the church. A holy warrior, he patrols pilgrimage paths, and tries his best to uphold his vows.

That's pretty straightforward, but there are questions that need to be asked. How did Brandt come to the faith? Was he raised with it, or did a career on the front lines make him crave answers about right and wrong in life? Does he agree with his vows in their entirety, or does he feel certain edicts are out of date, or were created by men rather than the divine? Is he punitive, believing that punishment should be swift and harsh, or does he believe people can be redeemed? Does he view some crimes as worse than others? Does he make excuses for himself when he lapses, or does he hold himself to the same standards he does everyone else?

Now, let's change gears and look at someone evil. Duke Farnam is the stereotypical corrupt nobleman. His laws are harsh, his taxes bankrupt families, and he indulges his own whims over and above his duties. But does he still have rules? Does he have things that, corrupt as he is, he still upholds as moral?

The duke may not, for example, bat an eye at stealing. Whether it's from the crown, or from those in his fiefdom, thievery is the cost of doing business. Despite that ugly worldview, though, he still loves his wife, and his children. He makes sure they have the best of everything. He may also feel that other crimes, especially violent crimes, must be punished. So while he might have no personal feelings about forgery, or pick pocketing, highwaymen and bandits are things he will not tolerate. Not because they steal... but because they hurt people. Violence against his subjects won't be condoned because it is his duty to protect them. Or, at least, to protect them against those kinds of threats.

Ask Specific Questions, Get Specific Answers

One habit to unlearn is using your character's alignment as a justification for their morals and actions. "Well, Siegfried is chaotic good, so he believes X," is typically how it's phrased.

Do not pretend you know me.
The key to figuring out your character's moral code is just like figuring out your own; ask how they feel about certain ideas, crimes, and actions. Ask how the character came across those feelings, then incorporate that into their worldview.

For example, ask how does this character feels about lying. Are small lies all right, but not big ones? Is it all right to lie unless you gave your word? Is your promise ironclad, or is it just your way of saying you'll do your best? Now ask those same questions about other issues. Is prostitution wrong? Is slavery? Is killing someone? What makes those actions right or wrong?

This kind of nuanced thinking can reveal aspects of a character you may not have considered before. For example, did your former bandit walk away from his gang because they just started killing people because it was easier than robbing living travelers? Does the holy man with the vow of chastity believe that all sex is wrong, or does he feel that his choice is his own, and he has no say over how other people live their lives? Does the town guardsman let small criminals go in order to catch bigger ones, or does he judge each according to their deeds?

Some of the answers to those questions might feel like they go against the grain of a character's alignment. The chaotic neutral barbarian, for example, might be willing to go to the ends of the earth because he gave his word. The chaotic evil serial killer might rescue a little girl instead of killing her. The assassin has a strict code of ethics that says no women, and no kids when it comes to who he'll target. The career thief will only steal from people who are wealthy or powerful, even though those are the people who can afford good security systems, and elite guards.

People are more complicated than an alignment. So figure out who they are first, and once you have all the nuances, ask which of the nine big boxes they generally fit into.

That's all for this week's Fluff post. I hope some folks enjoyed it, and I look forward to spirited discussions about it. If you want to keep up to date on all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Pledge as little as $1 a month to get my everlasting gratitude, as well as a thank you basket filled with sweet swag!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Looking For A New Podcast? Check Out Tabletop Game Talk!

Given that my recent Monday posts have led to a lot of vitriol (particularly two of my April posts titled Want to Have More Fun at Your Table? Stop Playing With Jerks! and "Broken Stairs" Are Something We Need To Address in The Gaming Community respectively), I figured I'd do a signal boost for some fellow content creators as a kind of palate cleanser for my readers who'd like a controversy break.

So, if you've been looking for a new podcast to follow, check out Tabletop Game Talk.

It's all about games... just like this one!

A Passion For Playing

I met Chris Steele (@GameMasterChris for you Twitter lovers) at a sci-fi convention in Chicago some time back, and we got to talking about our mutual love of games, game design, and our favorite tabletop past times. That was when I found out he's been running a podcast for nearly a year all about his love of gaming, and he runs it with co-hosts Josh Phillips, and Kitty Langley. Between the three of them, they all have quite a lot to say on the subject of games, gaming, and that whole corner of geek culture.

So I thought I'd tell you all about it. As readers who come to check out my humble corner of the Internet, it's clear to me that you both have taste, and enjoy folks who genuinely love the topics they cover.

As for Tabletop Game Talk, well, they cover a bit of everything. From board games, to Dungeons and Dragons, to industry happenings and personal experiences, there's quite a bit to work through. Which is helpful, for those who've been looking for a new podcast to put on while they do housework, paint their minis, or take care of some single-player action.

What have you got to lose? Take a gander at their home page, or head over to their YouTube channel to see if their passion plays well with yours!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Short, sweet, and to the point. Next week I may have another rant prepared, or I might tell you about another cool thing I found in the circles I move in. If you don't want to miss it, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Also, if you want to support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to buy my everlasting gratitude, and to get some sweet thank-you swag from yours truly!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Can't Get Enough Traits in Pathfinder? Try Taking a Drawback!

One of the unique features of Pathfinder as an RPG is the idea of background traits. While every player is supposed to create a unique character with a unique story, background traits offer you some tasty bonuses to help bridge the gap between your story and mechanics. Say, for example, your character was a child soldier, and is always poised on the verge of a fight. Giving them the Reactionary background trait grants them a +2 trait bonus to their initiative. If your character was raised in part by a magical creature, who helped nurture their magical skills, then Magical Knack gives them a +2 bonus on their caster level for a single class, up to their character level (an ideal choice for multiclass spell casters).

Choose wisely. Bonuses you don't use are bonuses you may as well not have.
There are hundreds of these traits to choose from, and there are only a few rules guiding your choice. First and foremost, unless expressly stated, you cannot stack trait bonuses. So you can't take Outcast and Reactionary in order to get a +4 initiative bonus... it's one or the other, and be happy with your +2. Additionally, you cannot have more than one trait of a single type. Which means that even if you're torn about which two Magic traits to give your new wizard, you have to make up your mind because you only get one. Ditto your barbarian when it comes to Combat traits. Lastly, if you're playing an adventure path, it's typically required for your character to take one of the traits specifically geared for that campaign, which are called Campaign traits.

That sometimes sucks. Especially if none of the story tie-ins or bonuses those Campaign traits offer fit with your character concept. But rules are rules, as I so often say.

That's why I thought I'd let folks know there is a way to get three background traits. If you're willing to take on a drawback, that is.

Trait Drawbacks Might Give You An Advantage

Drawbacks, many of which come from the book Quests and Campaigns, are essentially traits in reverse. they lay out something negative about your character, and give you a drawback in a certain situation. Do you have powerful family members who might call on you to perform onerous duties while you're trying to adventure? Are you wanted by the law, and thus your very face warrants negatives on Diplomacy checks with folks who recognize you? Does your sense of pride make it impossible for you to deal socially with those who have wronged or insulted you?

All of those things fall under drawbacks. Check out the handy list!

There are even drawbacks for being an insufferable prick!
Of course, for every drawback, there has to be an advantage. Only the mad will purposefully hamstring their character in one situation without getting something for it. So what do you get in exchange for a drawback? Well, you get to pick a third background trait.

This third trait, though, has to follow all the rules that come with traits. So you can't double dip in the same category, and you can't stack bonuses. But if you find yourself in a situation where you had two traits you really wanted, but now you have to take a campaign trait for this adventure path, well, you have the option of having all three. In exchange for a minor negative, that is.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment. Short and sweet, but it's relevant to a character I'm putting together at present, so I figured I'd share in case some folks hadn't heard of these rules. If you want to make sure you don't miss out on any of my posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me so I can keep this blog going, please head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is a pledge of $1 a month to earn yourself some sweet swag, and my everlasting gratitude.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Use Character Build Guides If You Aren't Familiar With The System

Thanks to the Internet, it's now possible for players to do more research than ever before when it comes to how to build their ideal character concept. We can talk with other players on social media, chat in forums, ask questions in discussion groups, and get references for everything we ever wanted to know. Additionally, we also have players writing their own guides for how to execute ideal character concepts. If you've ever been to my Character Conversions page, you've seen all 48 of the guides I've written for everything from Game of Thrones, to The Avengers, D.C. comics characters, and badasses of history.

Like this crazy son of a bitch right here!
A fun fact about all those conversions... my Character Conversions page is the most visited page on this blog, closely followed by my Crunch page. That makes sense, though. Since I primarily write about Pathfinder, and Pathfinder is a rules-dense game, readers are turning to me to point out the sections of interest. The bulk of my regular traffic comes from gamers who are looking for a guide to machete their way through this jungle of text, rule books, and minutiae.

That's fine, from where I'm sitting. I like knowing that my fellow gamers trust me enough to look at my thoughts, share my guides, and come back week after week to see what I'm doing now.

With that said, there is something I feel needs to be addressed. A caveat to all the content on my blog, in my guides, and on the Internet from other creators. There is nothing wrong with a player reading through these guides to find information that will help them build better characters. There's nothing wrong with just building the character as it's laid out in a guide. However, if you don't understand the mechanics in the post you're reading, do not bring that character to your table.

If you can't drive stick, don't get behind the wheel.

There Is No Shortcut to System Mastery

I will reiterate, a build guide can help you find your way to executing the character concept you want. But you need a certain amount of system mastery (which is a fancy term for saying you understand the rules, and you can apply them to your character) in order to use a guide properly.

I sense an example would help, here?
Let's take a basic example. Say you're talking with Dave, who's never played Pathfinder before. Dave wants to play a fighter, but he doesn't want to be one of those big, armored tanks. He wants to be a human who is light on his feet, and whose speed is what makes him deadly. You, as an experienced player, can tell him that he should take Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus, and Slashing Grace as his three 1st-level feats, then he'll want to take Piranha Strike as his 2nd-level feat. Now imagine Dave nodding, and writing all that down.

The problem is that he has no idea what any of that means. Sure he can look those feats up, and read their wording, but if he's never played the game before, and he has no experience to draw on, he might not know what this text really means. Worse, he might get the wrong idea of how it works, which means he'll then have to unlearn his first impression. If you don't walk him through it, and explain it to him, there's a chance he's just going to be confused.

Now imagine that same scenario, but Dave is instead reading a guide that plots out a character from level 1 to level 15. He isn't getting the experience of building a character himself; he's just writing down what someone else told him without any real understanding of what these words mean, or how they go together. That's going to lead to problems sooner, rather than later.

We Can Be Wrong, Too

Here's a thing that a lot of players sometimes forget... we aren't special. Those of us who create content are players, just like you. Some of us are more experienced, or we spend more time reading the books, but we're just players. Sometimes we misread something, or we forget rules, or we just don't find out about an errata that has said no, that combination is not legal. We are only human.

If you are not familiar with the game system you're playing, though, you won't catch our mistakes. You may not see, for example, that a character with Slashing Grace can't also use his secondary natural attacks in the same round he benefited from that feat. We might have missed that a particular sorcerer bloodline power is listed as an extraordinary ability, instead of a spell-like ability, meaning it can't be modified with feats like Quicken Spell-Like Ability.

Our advice isn't perfect. Sometimes it's downright wrong. But if you aren't familiar enough with the system in question, then you won't know. And even if we do get everything right, you need to be able to take the advice we've given you, and properly apply it. For example, say that Dave decided he was going to play that greatsword-wielding tank after all. So he takes Power Attack, and Furious Focus. Problem is that when he hits level 6, and gets two attacks, he forgets that Furious Focus only removes the negative from the 1st attack he makes. It doesn't stop the Power Attack penalty from affecting his second attack, his attacks of opportunity, etc.

It's A Tool, Not A Cheat

When I was in high school, I used to tutor younger kids for pocket money. A problem I ran into time and time again was that my students just wanted me to give them the answers. The problem is that's like paying a personal trainer to work out for you. Sure, the work is still being done, but it isn't actually benefiting you.

I'm trying to teach you how to fight, because I'm not at your table to throw the punches for you.
So, if you want to use guides you find on the Internet for inspiration, go right ahead! I will never say no to more traffic on my Character Conversions or Crunch pages. However, what I recommend is that you take what I (or anyone else) has to say with a grain of salt. Look up the rules we're quoting, the feats we're suggesting, and the class abilities we're talking about. Make sure you can take those building blocks, and construct them into a character you understand how to play. Talk to your DM, and make sure they know what you're bringing to their table, and that you can explain to them how your abilities work.

If you can do that, then you're probably good to go.

We all make mistakes. If you're a newer player, or you just aren't familiar with a certain class of rules, don't just take a guide you found online at face value. Break it down, check the math, and make sure you can actually drive it once you bring it to the table.

Because we might have given you a Porsche, but if you don't have the system mastery, all you're going to do is grind gears on your way out of the parking lot. That's not what you want.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully some folks found in helpful, or at least insightful. We were all new once, so don't be afraid of a little book diving. It does you good. To keep up to date on my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page today. Pledge $1 a month, and you'll get both my everlasting gratitude, and some sweet swag, too!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

That One Time A Group of Imperial Regulars Made The DM Cry

And now, a brief interruption in The Search For The Mummy's Mask. That story is far from finished, but I've got a guest submission this week that I thought you all might like as a palate cleanser. This one comes to us courtesy of Chicago author Vincent Cross, and it was the seed for his latest release The Terror From Titan.

And now, a tale about how giving your players too much prep time can actually destroy your campaign.

Hang on... this one gets painful.

The Immortal Deathwish, and Victor's Valkyries

I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest gamer in the world. I've played my share, but they were mostly just one-offs with friends we did to pass the time. Part of it was that I just didn't have the time to dedicate to that kind of habit, but a bigger part of it was the stories my dungeon masters were trying to tell. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, and there's only so many times I could have someone say, "so, you're all at the tavern," before I just wanted to burn the world to its foundations.

With that said, I've got a dark little corner of love for Warhammer 40k. I don't have any armies of my own (again, I don't have the time or money for that kind of addiction), but I love the world, and the lore. Which is why when I was in college, and my friend Greg told me he wanted to run a 40k RPG, I told him I'd be there. Bells optional, depending on what he needed from me.

Trust me folks, it goes downhill from here.
These days, most people would think I was playing Rogue Trader, but at this point in history that game wasn't around in my neck of the woods. So what Greg had done was cobble together a D20 Modern and D20 Future bastardization, and slapped a 40k skin on it. I wasn't complaining, though. Greg was a big enough fan of the world that I trusted him to get the details right. Problem was that the only other player who'd taken him up on his offer was another friend of ours named Brian. Still, a two-man show wasn't that bad.

The trouble really got started when he asked us his first question as our DM.

So, Do You Guys Wanna Play Space Marines?

Greg had a huge hard-on for space marines of all kinds, but Brian and I could really take them or leave them. Their lore was great, and they were awesome in a minis game, but he and I were on the same wavelength when it came to what we wanted to do with a story. So when Greg asked us our preferences, we told him we'd rather play imperial regulars.

This was the first of several times Greg had to stop and re-think his strategy.
Greg hadn't planned for that, but I could see in his face that he didn't want to tell us what characters to play, now that he'd opened up the floor. So, as a compromise, he told us we were playing imperial officers, and we each had 20 standard soldiers under our commands. Brian put together a tough-talking, cigar smoking career sergeant called Dog, who often played dead to lure the enemy in before letting loose with everything he had. I created Victor "Deathwish" Thanatos, a man who wanted to serve the emperor, and who was always the first through the breach. Leading from the front was the only way he knew how, and he had the scars to prove it.

Greg rolled percentiles for Brian, telling him his troops were split 60/40 between men and women. Then I remarked I'd find it interesting if everyone under Victor's command was a woman. Greg decided he liked that, and that was how it was. And that is how Victor's Valkyries were born.

We spent the next hour or so doing character creation, but the thing I remember most was assigning names and stories to all the soldiers in my command. Functionally they were all pretty identical, but I was bringing my a-game to this endeavor. That was how characters like Voodoo (a middle-aged sniper), Boom-Boom and Turntable (an inseparable pair of boot-mates who were my demolition and explosives team), Cross (my medic who had a secret crush on Victor, but who didn't want to endanger either of their careers), and Mercy "Machine Gun" Kelly (so-called for her surname, as well as the fact she was the heavy weapons expert) were born.

Superior Numbers Guarantee Nothing

Once we were all ready to go, Greg laid out our first mission. There was a distress call on a tiny, dirt ball of a planet that we were being sent to provide relief to. So, off we went. What we found was a small, stone fort with two squads of space marines, and a small handful of regulars. They're all tired, worn, and living in fear of incoming attack (well, except for the marines, since fear wasn't really a thing they did).

Attack from what? Orks, of course.

Not quite, but you get the idea.
We had five days to fortify this place, and get ready for a serious attack. So we got to work, and did some Home Alone shit to this base. This included planting caltrops (both large and small), digging ditches to break up charges, and making sure the fort had a moat full of something noxious and flammable. We outfitted war cycles with heavy wheel scythes, ensuring that if we rode against the grain of a charge that we would cut enemies in half. We even found used cooking oil, and kept it boiling on the second story to be sure no one who approached would get away clean.

As the sun went down on the fifth day, the Orks came over the hills. They didn't have any big guns, and they had only a few tanks, but what they lacked in tech they made up for in raw numbers. That was when the dice came out.

Unfortunately, the dice decided Greg was going to lose, and lose badly.

The first wave of orks fell almost entirely to our passive protections. They were slowed by the caltrops, smashed in the ditches, and burned in the moat. The few pieces of heavier artillery got stuck, and one blew up, killing two dozen troops around it. The space marines, hidden in the field as a surprise measure, didn't even have to flip their safeties off.

The next waves didn't fare much better.

Those who managed to get through our steel thorns, and over the flaming pits, found themselves getting cutting cut to raw meat by the marines. They withdrew from their initial spots, firing the whole way, drawing enemies in greater numbers toward a single section. Once the orks were charging, we roared out of concealment, and drove along the ditch with scythe blades spinning. Victor even decided to show the enemy how he'd earned his name, pulling the pin on a satchel charge and jumping off his bike as it ramped into a knot of enemy troops. The resulting explosion took out over 50 orks.

A team of 42 regulars, with help from 10 space marines, killed over 500 orks before we were forced to take the high ground inside the fort itself. Lead started flying, mortars punched holes in the ranks, and boiling oil made sure no one managed to get up their siege ladders. Even a mutant colossus, who managed to get halfway up the wall, got Victor's trench sword buried in his back. Before Victor could be killed, though, Voodoo put a high-powered round through the thing's brain pan, finishing it off in front of its own troops.

Their fighting spirit broken, the orks limped away as fast as their legs could carry them.

Then, For An Encore...

By the time the first session was over, Brian and I were responsible for the death of several thousand enemy troops. Even better, we hadn't lost a single soldier under our command. Most of the marines were dead or in traction, but that came with the territory. Victor was the only one who'd been injured in the siege, and his hurts were easily repaired with the finest in Grim Dark technology.

Of course, the orks had gone somewhere. When we came back for the second session, we decided to find out where. So we loaded up in a pair of armored personnel carriers, locked, loaded, and set off on a scout patrol.

Nothing bad could possibly come from this decision.
We're several hours out from the fort, when the bloody trail the orks left disappears down a canyon. We know a kill box when we see one, so instead of going down the canyon, each of us designate a team to climb the sides, and recon from the top. While that's happening, Boom-Boom and Turntable bury some three-dozen landmines at the mouth of the canyon. They even improvised a remote to blow them all at once, if necessary.

The A and B teams make their way along the high ground, also planting land mines as they go. Also rigged to blow on a remote signal. We continue on about two miles down, and that's when we find a force of chaos troops. Several thousand strong, with several hundred corrupted marines, they're well-armed, heavily armored, and are executing the last of the orks who had thought they'd found a safe refuge.

We were probably supposed to tuck tail and run. Instead, Voodoo took her shot at the chaplain. She missed, and that was when our position was given away. They returned fire, and thousands of black-clad madmen came boiling down the canyon thirsty for blood. That was when we triggered the bombs along the walls. Greg rolled to see how well-placed they were, and we were all staring at 100 percent.

To make a long story short, we literally dropped a mountain on them.

Every, single member of the enemy force died, but there was a trump card left up their sleeves. The chaplain exploded in blood and gore, as a demon of chaos used him as a portal to manifest. The hulking thing roared in unbridled fury, running toward the few imperial soldiers who'd dared to stand in its way.

At least until it hit the mine field. Which Greg had somehow forgotten until his bad guy stepped in it.

The sheer number of high-explosive and flechette rounds cut the big boss down to size in a single round. Hacked off at the knees, it got a chance for a single attack. He gored Victor through the shoulder, but before it could do more damage, Mercy leaped onto the demon's chest and cut loose with a heavy bolter. The critical hit ripped the thing's ribcage open, and pulped what was left of its internal organs.

Lessons Learned

We never got together for another session, mostly because Greg said he couldn't deal with how insane we were, but I learned a lot of lessons in those two games. The first is that for me, as a player, I get a lot more invested when my numbers have faces, names, call signs, and personalities. The second was that brute force and sheer numbers will only get you so far. Good strategy, and ruthlessness, will clear the field every time.

And sometimes it leads to more than a blog feature.
Third, I learned that even short-lived games can give rise to great stories. Which was why I wrote The Terror From Titan, starring some key members of Victor's team as they respond to yet another distress call. It is, of course, not a part of the Warhammer-verse.

Still, if folks take a look at it, now they'll know where these characters came from.

Thanks once more to Vincent Cross for his Table Talk submission. For more about him and his work, check out his Facebook page, Vincent Cross Books. If you have a story you'd like to put in the limelight, feel free to reach out with it! If you want to make sure you don't miss any updates from Improved Initiative, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Pledge at least $1 a month, and you'll get some sweet swag in addition to my everlasting gratitude!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Broken Stairs" Are Something We Need To Address in The Gaming Community

How many times have you joined a new game, and before everything gets rolling one of your friends pulls you aside to give you a friendly warning. Maybe it's about Don the DM, who is going to try to see down your shirt. Just ignore him, he's harmless. Perhaps it's about Darren, who always seems to play Lothario-style characters in this LARP, and who is going to come up to lay down pick-up lines. Some of them are going to be pretty lewd. Just ignore him, it's something everyone has to deal with.

For some of us, these are just situations that happen. Things to be dealt with, and which we warn other people who don't know about them. The same way you'd let someone about to walk down a flight of stairs know, "hey, be careful, the third step from the bottom is broken."

Thanks for the warning... I guess...
While we all take it as a point of courtesy to warn players what they're walking into, it does beg the question... why aren't we fixing the broken stair? Because even if we all know about it, sooner or later someone is going to forget, or misjudge, or think maybe it's not as bad as everyone says, and break their leg on it.

So instead of warning new players away from problem players and storytellers, why don't we repair those problems so there's no warning necessary?

A Hard Look at a Common Problem

I've been thinking about this issue thanks to a post on Nordic LARP titled 19 Truths About Harassment, Missing Stairs, and Safety in LARP Communities. The post covers a lot of interesting topics, including how real-world norms seep into our games, toxic masculinity in geek culture, and the age-old trick of covering one's own repugnant behavior by claiming it was just what their character would do. It's a long list, but these truths can act as red flags for any game you attend, whether it's at a table, in a LARP venue, or even online.

I don't care how great your friend says this game is, I'm not staying.
There are two important things I want to reiterate, though, other than suggesting that we all read that article. The first is that in the gaming community we should all strive to work out our issues, to be open and honest with each other, and to genuinely try to make our community a better place. We're all here to have fun, and as such we should have a big table with room for everyone's dice whenever we can manage it.

The other, which is something I mentioned in my earlier post Want To Have More Fun At Your Table? Stop Playing With Jerks! is simple. Sometimes, even if you come at an issue with the best of intentions, you are going to find people and venues who cannot be reformed. It doesn't matter how many times you tell Simon he makes other players uncomfortable by invading their personal space, or how many times you make reports about harassment in some venues. No change is going to happen, because those people and places do not want to be changed. They might apologize, and claim this won't happen again, but when it does, the cycle cannot be allowed to just start over again.

The first step is identifying there is a problem with a player, storyteller, or venue. The problem, or problems, have to be laid out clearly, and they need to be understood. Once you know what's wrong, make it known somehow. If possible, talk to the person you have the issue with, and make it clear their behavior is not something you are willing to tolerate. If that isn't possible, perhaps because you feel unsafe confronting the individual in question, tell someone else. Tell a friend, tell the DM, or make a report to someone in a position to step in and handle the issue.

And, I am going to repeat myself here, if this problem cannot be fixed, don't be afraid to drop the ax.

By that, I mean that we should learn how to recognize our own problems within the gaming community. Maybe Jeff is a great guy outside of game, and you've known him for years. But if he cannot keep a rein on his temper, and his outbursts make other players feel unsafe, do not let him play. No matter how great Louis is as a storyteller, if he has a string of reports from players that say he sexually harassed them, kick him off the staff, and ban him from the venue. And if the entire staff has been told about an issue, and they see no reason to address the stair that's broken so many ankles already? That's when you leave. You leave, and you bring as many friends with you when you go. Because if that's the only stairway to the place you want to go, it's time to make you own. One with safe stairs, where players don't have to worry about that third one from the bottom tipping its trilby and catcalling them as they go by.

Hopefully, if enough of us decide that broken stairs aren't something we're willing to put up with as a whole, those staircases will either reform, or fade away as newer, safer options rise to prominence.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Next week, something a little more upbeat... probably. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All you need to do is pledge at least $1 a month to buy my everlasting gratitude, and to get yourself some sweet swag, too!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dweren Dragonsblood, The Goldsniffing Dwarf

So, last Fall I decided to try something a little different in my Unusual Character Concepts posts. Rather than writing up a general idea that players could put their own spin on, I decided to put together a post all about a specific character. Gaspar Dell'Amore, the Black Rose of Edme, was a two-fisted enforcer with the divine on his side. Folks seemed to like him, so I figured I'd give the format another try.

Allow me to present Dweren Dragonsblood, the Goldsniffing Dwarf.

Mmm... smells like a Chellish cache. They cut their coins with lead to maintain weight.

A Nose For Treasure

Some dwarves are known for smithing steel and iron, but the Dragsonsblood clan are renowned for their skill with gold, silver, and other precious metals. Their mines yield only the purest of noble metals, and their artisans possess a near supernatural skill. Even the members of the clan who aren't smiths, though, tend to work in the precious trade. Security experts, forgery detectors, gem cutters, merchants, and miners give the Dragonsblood clan a firm hold from the time the ore is found, until it is put up at auction.

The legend goes that the clan draws its name, and its prowess, from a smattering of draconic heritage. Though where that heritage comes from depends on whom you ask. Rivals to the clan claim their need for dominance, their arrogance, and their greed tie them directly to the worst examples of dragonkind, whom they have made ancient pacts with. The clan itself tells several different tales. Some may tell you they were blessed by a good dragon they once aided, others that they uncovered an ancient artifact that is used to bless the clan's children, and still others will say they are, in fact, descendants of a forge-keeper dragon.

So, when Dweren was born, he was expected to follow in the family's trades. Broad-shouldered and strong, his hands were too blunt for the fine work of gem cutting, and he wasn't suited to gold or silver smithing. Ever since he was young, though. Dweren had a nose for treasure. The fine scent of gold was like spun sugar in his nose, and chaste silver was the candy smell of honey cakes. All he had to do was hold an ingot to his nostrils to tell whether it was cut with lead, or if there was an impurity. And if he was walking down a tunnel? He could smell the veins of metal, and find them with uncanny accuracy.

Check the bodies, they've got gold on them. No I don't know where!

Chasing The Dragon

The easiest place to start off with Dweren is with the alternative dwarf trait Treasure Sense. It gives you scent regarding precious metals, and replaces stonecutting and stability. Then you give him a few levels of fighter to represent the rigorous training dwarves go through to determine which ones will make good soldiers, and which ones should pursue other trades. Familiarity with the military pick gives him a weapon of choice that always feels comfortable in his hands. And if that weapon happens to be made of adamantine, well, then there is no stone it won't breach.

Of course, he may have more dragon's blood than he knows in him. While sorcerer is not an ideal class for a dwarf, given their racial negative to Charisma, it is a good place to begin manifesting his heritage. Especially if the goal is to eventually enter the Dragon Disciple prestige class, which allows you to mix martial might with magical muscle. But which of the myths are true? Are they the noble descendants of gold dragons? The domineering children of reds? Or something else entirely? Only the scales on his arms, and the weapon in his breath, will say for certain.

And then the dragonslayers come.
So what is Dweren's job? Well, when his family needs his nose, he seeks out new lines of ore, and he helps them detect forgeries. With his magic, his inherent toughness, and the gifts of his draconic forebears, though, he is an ideal enforcer on treasure hunting missions. Even better, though, there is no mimic that can fool his schnoz unless it chooses to fill itself with treasure.

Fortunately for him, most shape-shifting chests really aren't that smart.

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts entry. Tell me what you think, and if you would like to see more of this particular format. Or if you like the idea of the Dragonsblood clan, let me know how you use them in your game. If you want to keep up on all my latest updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Or, if you would like to support Improved Initiative, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is a $1 a month pledge to help me keep doing what I do, and to get some sweet swag for yourself.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Want To Have More Fun At Your Table? Stop Playing With Jerks!

So, as I've said in previous posts, I spend a lot of time on gaming forums. I lurk around FB, I spend time on Reddit, and I think I might be in the top five most-disliked people on Paizo's forums. In these and other spots, I run into a lot of people looking for solutions to their gaming problems. The mechanical problems are easy. Whether they're looking for ideal feats for a two-weapon fighter, or they want to build a character that resembles someone from pop culture (often one of the 48 entries on my Character Conversions page fits nicely), I can usually provide some solid guidance.

It's the other problems that are more difficult to solve. Like when a player wants to know what to do about the rest of the table ignoring them, or demanding they play their character a certain way. Or a DM who has a player that purposefully brings serial killers to a game about shining heroes. Even what to do about the player who will argue for half an hour about a rules call, and torpedo a session whenever they don't get their way.

Look, I'm just saying that my character is the best, and you should just admit that already.
Since we're adults, and we're here to enjoy some cooperative storytelling, the first thing to do is to communicate your feelings. Talk to your DM if you feel they're being unfair, talk to the other players if they're making you uncomfortable, or if there's a big issue going on, talk to your group. You can do it in-person, over a group chat, or even on Skype. As long as you make your feelings clear to your group, and open a dialogue, you can solve a lot of your problems. If you're a DM, then having a Session 0 where players can talk about what they want out of a game, and what they expect from you, you can head off a lot of problems.

Sometimes you can't, though. Sometimes you're sitting at the table with someone (or several someones) who's a jerk, and part of the fun for them is being a jerk. In that situation, you are playing chess with a pigeon. All your logic, careful explanation of the rules, and appeals to being a better gamer won't change anything. The pigeon will just take a crap on the board, knock over your pieces, and strut around like it won the argument.

When that happens, walk away. Seriously, just walk away.

You Don't Need That Kind of Game in Your Life

Perhaps the most common reason people don't walk away from gaming groups populated by jerks is they have no other options. Jeff runs the only game in town, and it's either show up to his game where my character is made the butt of every joke, or don't play at all. Or maybe the only game you can find is the local organized play at the one gaming shop in the region, where you have never finished a module on time due to the constant bickering over rule calls.

If you find yourself in that kind of situation, ask yourself this question. If there was another game you could go to, any other game at all, would you go? If the answer is yes, then walk away.

No, seriously, you have other options.
Finding a new game is a huge pain in the ass, I won't argue there. And it might cause some hard feelings if you do have friends at the other table, but you exit stage left. If you are not having fun, and nothing you've done has made the problems you're dealing with better, though, then you're sticking it out for nothing.

So what can you do? Well, the most obvious solution is to pop online and see if anyone's running a game in your neck of the woods. With social media and gaming-specific forums, it's entirely possible for you to meet new gaming friends whose paths you'd otherwise never cross. If you have a friendly local gaming store, check the cork board, and ask around to see if there are other groups that meet there, or if anyone is looking to pick up a new player. Post a notice yourself, if you have to, and pitch yourself to groups in the area who might see it.

If you can't find anything in-person, you have the option of playing online. While it isn't for everybody, online games can be great if you have a group willing to include you. Thanks to advances like Roll20, it's now possible to play with people nowhere near where you live.

Of course, it's possible there are no local games, and that you aren't the online gaming type. What you really want is a game that's local, where you can play with friends, and have fun in a positive atmosphere. And as they say about books, if no one is doing the thing you want, then it's your turn to step up and do it. Even if that means you need to recruit a new group of friends into the hobby just so you have some new folks to run with.

Seriously, Though, Don't Break Rule 0

Now, to clarify where this advice is meant for, I'm not talking about groups where you have occasional disagreements, but you're all friends at the end of the night. Nor am I talking about groups where, though play styles may clash, you still have fun and enjoy the game. I'm talking specifically about games bad enough that players (or DMs) who describe them sound like someone talking about being in an abusive relationship.

Sounds harsh, but if you go down the checklist, it might be accurate.
We hear people talk about how, "we're here to have fun," or, "it's just a game," but it's also a social interaction. Those come with rules, and standards, unique to our subculture. One of those standards is that even if we disagree, we should respect the other folks at our table, and we should do our best to work together to find solutions so we are all getting what we want. If you are talking, but no one is listening, it's time to find a new group. Or to start your own, with blackjack and hookers!

An Edit: Those For Whom This Advice Doesn't Help

It has been brought to my attention that there are several sub-groups of gamers this advice does not help, or will not work for. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders, those with limited social currency, and players for whom giving up and moving on seems like too big a task.

Now, I'll be clear here. This advice is just like all the other advice on this blog. If you like it, take it. If you don't, or it doesn't work for you, you know your situation better than I do. I am just some yutz on the Internet with a blog, and an opinion.

The point is not to make some free-market, vote-with-your-feet statement. The point is, rather, that just because you spent a lot of time or effort making a mistake, that's no reason to cling to that mistake. If you are in a group that isn't giving you what you need, or is actively taking away your energy, you don't need me to tell you that it's toxic. And walking away might mean not participating in your favorite hobby if you have barriers to finding new groups, or starting your own.

If I find a solution for that problem, rest assured I'll share it.

That's all for my thoughts on this Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, or at least thought-provoking. If you'd like to stay on top of my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like me to keep making content, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. If you pledge at least $1 a month you'll not only buy my everlasting gratitude, but I'll send some swag your way as a thank you!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Dwarven Raised Drow? Yours For The Asking, With The Adopted Trait!

In Pathfinder, every character gets two background traits. They give you little, mechanical bonuses, but they're also supposed to represent your character's unique history. If you have Viking Blood, for instance, then it traces your heritage directly to the Land of The Linnorm Kings. It also gives you a +1 bonus on Intimidate checks, and makes Intimidate a class skill for you. Reactionary represents someone who has lived a life on the edge of violence, and it gives you a +2 bonus on Initiative checks. One of the most unusual traits in the game, though, is called Adopted.

In short, Adopted says you were raised by a race not your own. The benefit is that you can immediately choose a race trait you normally wouldn't have access to because you are not a member of that race.

Belkar always knew there was something different about his big brother. He could never put his finger on it, though.
That benefit is fun, but there is another advantage to this trait; it gives you a probable explanation for unusual races being found outside of their typical haunts. Even better, though, it lets you explain why you have a member of a particular race that just doesn't seem to fit their usual mold.

A Halfling Village Raised WHAT!?

We know halflings as open-minded, kindly, neighborly folks. They like their food, their pipe weed, and a fairly simple life. While not all halflings we know fit that Tolkien stereotype, imagine an idyllic village that does. There are small-sized lanes, small-sized farms, and homes built right into the rolling landscape. But at the end of the village, there's a huge hill that's been hollowed out. More of an artificial cave, it's made of raw timbers, and huge stones that dwarf the rest of its neighbors.

And sitting on the porch, a thumb tucked behind his suspenders and his pipe in his mouth, is Boram Broadback. And while he might dress like his neighbors, talk like his neighbors, and act like his neighbors, it's pretty clear he isn't like them in a significant way. Boram is a bugbear.

Annalise! It's eating your last serving platter!
While Boram still has violent urges, and he was a rowdy child, the patience and caring of his adopted parents, along with the value the village placed on his sheer size and strength, turned him into a chaotic good character who values friendship and community as much as a barrel of ale, and a thick haunch of beef. As well as a chance to crack skulls, when necessary.

This sort of scenario is a great way to justify your unusual PC race, and to make something that isn't bound by the conventions of a given race's culture. For example, say you want to play a drow. Was this drow raised by surface elves, who cultivated her like a tree to make sure she didn't grow in certain directions? Or was the drow raised by dwarves, and thus took on their characteristic brusqueness while also learning their values and industrial talents? Perhaps you want to play an ogre. Were you taken in by a group of human soldiers who raised you as their unit mascot until you eventually grew into a capable fighter on your own? Or were you taken in by a traveling family? Perhaps raised by a witch who made you his surrogate son?

If you're interested in unique story, it's also important to remember that more common races can also be adopted into uncommon situations. For example, you might want to play a human raised by orcs, creating a kind of Tarzan situation where the wayward child has to compete with an adopted family who is bigger, faster, and stronger than he is. This might lead to him becoming superhuman by the standards of most average people. Or, say you were a gnome adopted as a kind of pet by a drow household. Your value as a trickster, and a spy, could completely alter that gnome's views and understanding of the world, in addition to granting them a unique racial trait.

Make Something That Fits Your Game

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when contemplating the possibilities of the Adopted trait, and the associated stories it could bolster, is that you need to make a character for the game you're playing. For example, the drow raised by dwarves would fit quite well into a game that will go to the Darklands. You might even be able to pull a reverse Old Testament and reveal that this drow is a long-lost child of a powerful noble house.

However, that's a situation where your peg can be tailored to fit into a round hole with the party. If you can't cut the corners off a square peg, though, then set the concept aside, and wait for a game where it would make more sense. At the same time, though, don't be afraid to shake up the traditional formula. Just because classes and races have certain archetypes associated with them, that doesn't mean you can't blaze your own trail.

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