Monday, October 21, 2019

Learning To Speak Multiple RPGs Allows You To Translate For Newer Players

If you've ever walked by a table running a game you haven't played before, it can sometimes sound like they're speaking a different language. Between the jargon used to shorten game terms, and mentions of specific rules and aspects, it can sound more like a spirited court battle on a foreign television station than a roleplaying game at times. However, if you sit down and listen, following the action, it starts to feel like that scene out of The 13th Warrior where our Arabian poet learns conversational Norwegian from watching and listening to his new companions for weeks on end.

That is the last time Ragnar talks shit about my horse!
This is a thing I've run into several times. When you're a gamer, you learn the language of the games you play. Sometimes that gives you enough parlance to make yourself understood in closely related games (most editions of DND are like romance languages, for instance... if you're fluent in one, you can pick up another pretty easily), but not all games translate easily. More than just the language of the mechanics, though, are the themes and concepts of RPGs.

Because if you want to get a new player excited, you need to be able to explain it to them in a way they understand.

How I Sucked a Werewolf Player Into a Dark Sci-Fi Dystopia


If you've never heard of Mutant Chronicles, it's a sci-fi fantasy game set in a galaxy-spanning far future where megacorporations have colonized the planets, and constantly fight for supremacy, market shares, and control of resources. The world is being inundated with a dark force that's corrupting everything it touches, destroying technology, warping humans, and spreading like a cancer that the corporate overlords have been slow to believe, and even slower to respond to. Whether you want to play warriors spreading across the stars, cops in the gritty back alleys of Luna, or nearly anything in between, you can probably pull it off in this game.

World's on fire, may as well go out with some sparkle!
For those of you who are thinking this sounds a lot like Games Workshop's signature Warhammer 40,000, you're definitely not wrong. However, the setting is unique enough to avoid lawsuits, and it provides a different kind of flavor than you can get with games like Rogue Trader or Dark Heresy. The other thing that made this Modiphius game unique was that it had a sample module and rules set, so I figured I'd download the Mutant Chronicles free quick start, and run it for a group to see what we thought.

One of my players, who's usually down to try out anything with dice, was having a hard time wrapping her head around the setting. She's not a 40k player, and generally sticks to more fantasy than sci-fi. I was having a hard time trying to find a purchase to pull her in, but when I mentioned the corrupting forces of the Dark Symmetry, I could almost see it click in her head.

"Oh," she said, nodding. "It's like how the Wyrm is trying to destroy everything in Werewolf!"

That was when I remembered that Werewolf: The Apocalypse was this player's main game. She'd played several different systems and settings, but she'd been an organization head for Werewolf, and she knew its lore back-to-front. And what had been a difficult process for me quickly became a snap of my fingers as I found direct thematic correlations between the two games, bringing across that Mutant Chronicles had that same feeling of struggling grimdark, but instead of being shape-shifting spirit warriors you were now front-line soldiers and psychic weapons trying to turn back the tide of cosmic evil.

Once I found some familiar ground for her to stand on, she was in with both feet. If I hadn't had that ability to translate the idea into a format she understood, though, I likely wouldn't have been down a player when I tried to muster my table.

Play Widely, Run Widely


We've all got games that are our mainstays. Things that we know inside and out, back to front. But it's important to spread out, and to change up your gaming diet from time to time. Partly because you might find some games that provide settings and experiences you'd never have otherwise... but also because it helps you meet gamers who speak a different language than you do.

And you can never know too many languages when it comes to finding something that makes everyone at your table happy.

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Do Content, Happy People Hunt Dragons? (More on Character Backstories)

Take it in. Digest it. This is what we're talking about today.
If you're on gaming forums, chances are you've seen this particular image already. Honestly, for the first week it made the rounds I saw it ten or twenty times a day, typically with conversations attached to it going into hundreds of comments in length. While I avoided participating in those conversations, there was a regular theme running through them that I wanted to talk about. That theme essentially being that only the disturbed, the damaged, and the deranged would ever choose the life of a professional adventurer.

And sure, any dangerous profession is going to have its share of thrill-seekers, rage cases, adrenaline junkies, and people who simply can't function in "normal" society. However, by and large, I think that a lot of folks focused on the wrong part of the issue.

The issue isn't that people who are well-adjusted/happy feel no need to go on adventures... it's that people who are content don't.

Never Be Complete, Never Be Content


In the scenario above, Jerry clearly has his life together. He's got a new bride, and a winery he's running that's making him a good living. The impression we get is that this was his goal all along. He's achieved a thing he wanted, and that for him to then leave that all behind to go hunt vampires would be an act of existential madness. Especially if said vampires are not actively trying to attack his spouse, or ruin his business, as those are clearly the things he's put his time into building up.

No, Alexi, for the last time, I'm not taking over the hunter's trade. I don't care what my father wants!
The issue here is not that the character in question didn't have a traumatic childhood filled with darkness, horror, or tragedy... but that what they want to achieve is not in line with the goals of an adventure. And sure, as I said in Why So Many Sad Backstories?, the easy way to change that is to slap the character in the face with something that makes it personal. It is, however, far from the only way.

So what you need to ask is not, "Why would this character avoid the adventure?" Instead, try asking, "What ambitions or goals does this character have that are fulfilled by following this plot?"

Avoiding Doom and Gloom (But Not Magic and Mayhem)


Let's get back to Jerry. Jerry is enjoying his winery's success, and his wife is pregnant with their first child. He's relaxing by his own fireplace, his feet up, and a glass of the last winter grape that went into the barrel the first year he was in business. Life seems pretty good, all in all. There's nowhere he'd rather be, and he's worked hard for this.

I'm sorry, my friend... we need your help.
But when Alexi comes calling to his home in the dark of the night, Jerry can't just send him away with a clear conscience. Not when he knows he can help. Vampires stalk the countryside, and if Jerry turns a blind eye to this problem now, his family will be safe. Tonight, at least. But maybe tomorrow night, or the next harvest moon, this black sea will be lapping at his doorstep. And by then, it won't be a problem that one man with a stake and his faith can solve... by then, it would take a holy army to turn back the tide.

He can't let that happen to other people. Not if he wants to sleep well, and be able to look his children in the eyes when they ask why he let other hunters bleed, and possibly die, in his place when he had the skills they sorely lacked.

The key here is that all characters need a motivation that speaks to who they are, and what they need. Take Jerry, for instance. He has good land, and one presumes a good home life. But in the scenario pictured, he also has the skills necessary to help hunt a dangerous undead monster that threatens the living. Why does he do it? Is it because, as stated above, he's a good person with a conscience that won't let him rest? Alternatively, is he actually missing the thrill of the hunt, and the feeling of danger that he had when he was still building up his foundation, or doing dangerous deeds to get the treasure he needed to acquire his land? Or, if we altered the location slightly, are the vampires threatening his land, their very presence souring his grapes even as they prey on his workers, and the townsfolk?

Because as long as the challenge being presented is going to pull on the character's motivations, hell yes they're going to become a part of it. Even if, from the outside, it would be far safer for them to stay at home and let some of the aforementioned loose cannons take the risk.

What Does Your Character Not Want?


Or, just as potentially useful, what does your character not want? Because if you're reaching for the low-hanging fruit, a character may go out on adventures for the money, for the fame, or because they feel it's their duty (or it's actually their duty, in the case of knights, officers of the crown, etc. sent to deal with demonic incursions, undead manifestations, etc.). But sometimes preventing an outcome you don't want to happen provides you just as much motivation as trying to bring about one you do want to happen.

Goddammit Alexi, you are NOT taking Igor on this mission. The kid's a glory hound, that's why. Let me get my coat...
As an example, say that a posse is being formed to cleanse the forest of the Cut Man's men (featured in 100 Random Bandits to Meet for those who are interested), and it's going to be led by "Hangman'" Sheriff Valdor. No, your character doesn't really need to get into the thick of things and clear out the bandits... but maybe he doesn't feel that stealing some silver from a few merchants means a man should swing by the neck without a trial, as Valdor's known to do when he decides a man is a bandit. The Cut Man, with his necklace of ears, needs to go... but the others deserve a chance to defend themselves in front of a judge. Or, if you want to sink it a little closer to home, perhaps you've got a niece whose lover runs with the gang, or a friend you parted ways with... they're on a bad path, but they can still be brought back. If Valdor leads a goon squad into the forest, though, all that's gonna come of it is fire and blood.

It's easier to have your characters do things because they want to (collect the bounty, get knighted, impress that NPC they have a crush on, kill the monster they have a personal grudge against, save their town from being wiped out, etc.) but it's important to remember that sometimes characters don't suit up because they want to. A lot of the time it's because they have an obligation.

Say your character is just living their life, enjoying time on the farm. They lived their crazy life, but they got land and a family to raise out of the experience, and they're okay with that now. But what happens when an old buddy from the army comes by, and calls in that favor they still owe? For that one time they took the rap, or stepped in front of a crossbow for them? Maybe your character has no interest in this supposed treasure, or in lost relics, but they owe a life debt, so they belt on their sword one more time to pay up. Perhaps you've been engaged in quiet study as a regional wizard, but when your dying mentor shows up and asks you to take up a task they couldn't complete, will you keep your word to them? Even though you left the church and its holy wars behind, is there still enough zeal in your heart to get you to stand in front of the defenseless one more time? Are you a vassal of the local lord, or perhaps the local noble yourself (A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families is a great place to start looking if this intrigues you), so the duty to investigate a rumor, or handle a problem, falls to you whether you will it or no?

Now, there's nothing wrong with a brooding character who still stares into the fire and thinks about the Black Tusk raiders who burned her village, or the sorcerer with a scar over their heart that never really stops hurting as long as their corrupt father is still alive, but the idea that these kinds of characters are the only ones you'll find out in the world is patently ridiculous. Because for every squad of amoral mercenaries working on their personal grudges, there are those in it for the thrill, for the fun, for the curiosity, for the greed, and even because it's their job.

Takes all kinds to make an interesting story.

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used this tactic successfully in your games why not leave a comment below?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Stop Marking On Your Character Sheet (Seriously, There Are Better Ways)

When you first fill out your character sheet, it looks pristine. The sheet, like your PC, is newly-minted, as yet unscarred by the ravages of goblin blades, or the crippling touch of a shadow. But once you've gone up a few levels, you start to notice the dark marks, and ragged edges. The places where your damage isn't quite erasing the way you want, or how your stats are progressively tougher to read thanks to the ravages of ghouls, succubi, vampires, and other awful creatures you've had the misfortune to encounter.

Look at it. So neat. So clean. If only it could last...
Of course, you can just get a fresh character sheet and re-write the whole thing every couple of levels, if that's your bag. Or you can keep a digital character sheet, if you're willing to fully embrace the age of digital gaming. But for those of us who like to have the same sheet for an entire campaign, there is something to be said for keeping your shifting tallies somewhere other than on your permanent record. And in today's day and age, there's a unique way to do that.

Scratch Paper in The Digital Age


This is going to sound obvious to most players, but it didn't occur to me until recently that just because there's a space for damage, spell slots, etc. on your sheet, that doesn't mean you need to use it. Especially if it means you're going to constantly be marking and erasing, possibly several times a session. That's just how most groups I've played with rolled, and it didn't occur to me to change it up until one of my DMs got a thank you present from his job. At first I thought it was just a clipboard, but when he took out the stylus and started jotting the initiative order, NPC notes, and other things on it, I realized it was actually an electronic notepad.

Basically, this thing.
This LCD writing tablet is simple, durable, and it's got some serious staying power since it runs off of a basic watch battery. It's great for tracking damage, stat boosts/hindrances, pools of points that constantly shift (looking at you, swashbucklers and gunslingers), and most importantly keeping track of what spells or spell-like abilities you've used that day. Best of all, there's no worries about keeping it charged, and needing to get it prepped before game night; it uses so little power that a single watch battery can keep it running for years of gaming without incident.

On the one hand, it can be argued that this tablet doesn't do anything that a simple piece of paper doesn't do. And if you have a pad of scratch paper on-hand (as any good gamer should, really), then you can basically keep track of everything in a small notebook. I'm not denying that, as I basically have small pads of paper I keep in my character folders for exactly this reason... however, the tablet has one major advantage; it saves serious travel space.

And if you're a player who is going to someone else's house, or a DM who's running in an organized play style setting, that can be a serious advantage. Especially if you just want to leave said tablet in your bug-out bag so that you've always got it ready to record the results of the latest carnage.

Also, if keeping yourself organized at the table is your thing, you might also want to check out my previous post Organize Your Spell Cards With A Portable Spellbook!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Armored Kineticist: A Force to Be Reckoned With

Though I haven't gotten around to doing full breakdowns and tips regarding the tasty classes we received in Occult Adventures, I have had a lot of folks ask me what I would do with a kineticist. While they've got a lot of moving parts, and a lot of path options, there is one thing that I would greatly enjoy doing with this particular class... making them as tanky as possible.

I wouldn't reach for that initiative die, if I were you.
While their Constitution modifier is one of their most important stats, given that it adds to damage and the saves against many of their class features, it's how their abilities function that really got my brain turning. Because as I mentioned in Add Some Spell-Like Abilities to Your Character For an Ace-in-The-Hole, being able to use your magic while encased in steel is pretty damn awesome.

A Heavily-Fortified Gun Emplacement


As a brief reminder, for those who have skimmed rather than reading into the fine details, a kineticist's abilities are either supernatural, or spell-like. Neither of these will use somatic gestures or verbal components, and neither of them will require material components. While occasionally treated the same way as spells in terms of whether they function in magic dampened areas, you never have to worry about what armor you're wearing when you're using these abilities. Or even the shield you're carrying.

They called him the Dragon Prince... but he burned hotter than any wyrm.
This means that, with a little work, you can take your kineticist, wrap them in the most heavily enchanted armor you can find, give them a shield, stack some spells on them (via magic items or party buffers), and then add in some defensive wild talents, and you'll be able to wade right into the maelstrom of battle.

The most obvious choice for this is the Kinetic Knight archetype, found in Pathfinder Player Companion: Psychic Anthology. While this archetype gives you medium and heavy armor proficiency, as well as shield proficiency, and allows you to Gather Power while carrying a bonded shield, it also gives you a significantly more rigid power progression. And a lot of the powers it assigns you are melee-oriented, in addition to the fact that it limits your ability to use some of your powers to when you have your armor on.

For my two cents, you're better off just taking a single-level dip into fighter, and eating the loss of a kineticist class level. It ensures you get to keep your freedom, you get a bonus feat, some nice boosts to your saves (though it can adversely affect your Will save, so watch for that), and you get the necessary armor proficiencies along with some snazzy weapon proficiencies on top of it! And if you want some extra cheese you could take something like the Unbreakable fighter to get Endurance and Diehard at level one, just to eke a little more out of the deal.

This puts you on a pretty solid defensive path. You can now wear the best armor you can find (which is helpful for those who only have a middling Dexterity score), and boost your AC even higher with shields when you want to. Though you will need to drop your shield to Gather Power, or eventually invest in something that dances to free up your hands. Or you could invest in a Ring of Force Shield, which can be turned on or off as a free action specifically for situations like this.

In addition to all that heavy metal, though, you've got your defensive wild talents to huck into the fray, too. The water kineticist's shroud can act as your shield, the wood kineticist gets a natural armor bonus, the telekinetic kineticist gains temporary hit points from their force field, along with utility talents like Kinetic Cover to provide full cover against attacks and magic.

And, of course, once you've got your ironsides in place, all that's left to do is blast away to your heart's content.

The beauty of the kineticist is that they are always ready for action, as long as they haven't reached their maximum burn (and even then, they can still use their powers without going over that tolerance level). And when you combine their ability to blast away endlessly with their movement powers, such as air walking on ramps of ice like one of the X-Men, or blowing themselves into the air on their own explosive beams, things can get pretty heavy metal pretty quickly.

Things To Watch Out For


Of course, no build is perfect. In addition to the sheer prep time and resources you need to get your kineticist up to their full fighting strength (armor costs, using magic items for buff spells, activating your wild talents, etc.), there are some notable chinks in your armor. Your poor Will save is going to be one of the biggest problems, but you should also keep an eye on your touch AC. Just because you're swinging heavy in plate mail surrounded by a shroud of freezing water doesn't mean you aren't easy to pick off with ray spells. Lastly, watch your saves. Some abilities just require you to hit, but pay close attention to which ones are regular attacks, which ones are touch attacks, which ones allow saving throws, and which ones don't.

Being a big gun ain't easy.
Also, it's important to ask what sort of organization such an unusual warrior might be a part of. The Knights of the Glass Sword from 100 Knightly Orders, or the Acolytes of Arannis in 100 Random Mercenary Companies are great places to get started if you're looking for inspiration!

And for those who are interested in more fun things you can do with the occult classes, you may want to check out Advantages and Disadvantages of Psychic Magic (in Pathfinder)!

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That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Feast of Legends... Is Wendy's New RPG Really Worth It?

If you're a fan of tabletop RPGs, then you've no doubt heard about Wendy's latest release Feast of Legends. And if this is the first you're hearing about it, no, this isn't a gag, or a joke, or a publisher with an oddly similar name... the fast food chain Wendy's, known mostly for their square patties and snarky Twitter feed, has released a legitimate, 100-page tabletop RPG that's free to download. Not only that, but it comes with it's own campaign that takes you through the kingdom of Freshtovia, and lets you experience play from level 1 to level 5 as you become heroes of the land.


This game has, of course, been all over the social media feeds and RPG forums for days. People have called it everything from a sure sign that gaming is now completely mainstream, to a cheap corporate stunt as a fast food chain tries to use our favorite hobby as a way to get us in the door to buy a frosty. However, a bigger question we should all be asking is, "How does it play?"

The short answer, silly, but fun.

Simple Enough Anyone Could Play It


If you crack the cover, and read through this RPG, you'll see that some genuine thought, effort, and polish went into making it playable. Additionally, you'll find that it's more like a stripped-down version of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition that puts it closer to the level of a board game like Hero Quest. Which is not to say that it isn't fun, but that it was designed for people who either didn't want a game that's super simple, or for those who've never played an RPG before. Perhaps both.

Either way, it puts you into a fully-realized world that is clearly a corporate gimmick, but it's still giving it all its got to make it fun.

But how does it play?
I didn't make that HeroQuest comparison lightly, and this game basically feels like someone tried to either reduce 5E down to board game level, or beef up a fantasy board game until it was a legitimate RPG. So while you have your attributes, your movement speed, and your class powers, as well as a bevy of weapons and magic items to choose from, that's about it. There's no multiclassing, no feats, not even any skills to bother with. There's no XP, either; you gain your next level when the included campaign tells you that you do. And while familiar mechanics like critical hits, advantage, and disadvantage show their faces, they're sort of all you've got when it comes to the rules.

Now, not being a complex game doesn't necessarily make it a bad game. It is extremely silly, filled with puns and creating an entire tongue-in-cheek setting with areas like the Temple of Panda, the domain of the Creepy King, and the Deep Freeze wherein lurks the Ice Jester and his minions. And if you can get yourself into the spirit of the game, it's got the potential for a lot of fun. Especially if you need a palate cleanser, or you're looking for something super simple to induct some of your inexperienced friends into the hobby.

But How Are They Making Money Off Of This?


All the folks decrying this as a marketing stunt aren't wrong. Wendy's has a track record for doing all the usual corporate wickedness, and I'm not saying they created this out of the goodness of their hearts or the love of the game. Feast of Legends exists to make them money, pure and simple.

But if they give it away for free, how do they make money off of it? Especially since the game clearly cost some cash to write, commission art for, and to format into a professional-looking game?

Because it is happening, mark my words.
Well, the first way it's working is through exposure. Because let's face it, this went off like a bombshell in the RPG community, and it's been all anyone's talking about for days now. Critical Role played through the game, and got everyone in their audience watching. And with Wendy's firmly front and center in a lot of people's minds, at least a few of them got a craving for a Baconator.

However, there is another gimmick built right into the rules system. You see, there's a rule about what you eat at the table, and the bonuses it gives you. You eat Wendy's menu items, you get bonuses. Eat other fast food items, or just snacks, you get negatives. And sure, a lot of us would just hand wave that away, but there are going to be at least some people who play with that rule enforced. And with a 5 level campaign that can go on for months, that means a lot of players may suddenly find themselves getting Wendy's once a week. A habit they might stick with, even once they switch to a different game.

So yes, this is a blatant marketing exercise. But just because it's a marketing gimmick doesn't mean you can't have fun with it. Especially since it's free to download, and if you never buy anything from the fast food chain then you can just enjoy playing with the free toy they gave you.

Speaking of toys, though, I think Wendy's should have given away PC minis with their meals so you had some ready-made game pieces for use in this (and other) games. If the folks in corporate are listening, make that happen, and you'll notice a lot of folks suddenly lining up to get the meal deal that comes with the free prize again.

Also, if you're in the market for more free gaming stuff, then you might also want to check out my previous posts Consent in Gaming (If You Haven't Downloaded This Book Yet, You Really Should) as well as Can't Get Enough of Free RPG Day? Dig A Little Deeper on Drive Thru RPG!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 20: At The Gates of The Runeforge

With the buried poison beneath Sandpoint put back to rest, the Companions realized the clock is ticking faster than they'd hoped. One of the Runelords, at least, appeared hellbent on waking from his slumbers to unleash his magic upon the world. To stop a being of such power, they'll need the proper tools... but a runeforged weapon can only be found in one place. So they made their preparations, and set off to arm themselves for one, last battle.

To catch up on how we got here, check out:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane
- Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry
- Chapter 14: The Taking of Fort Rannick
- Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam
- Chapter 16: Mad Lovers, And Lost Captains
- Chapter 17: The March of The Giants
- Chapter 18: The Taking of Jorgenfist
- Chapter 19: The Secrets Beneath Sandpoint

And after all that, the Companions headed north again... into the crags of the forgotten mountains, looking for a place buried by time.

The Gateway To The Runeforge


Reading and re-reading the notes left by the Scribbler, the Companions begin to piece together the bizarre history and purpose of the place they seek. Like the Runelords themselves, the Runeforge appeared to have been created with something of a noble goal, when it was first founded. A place for arcane scholars to come and study, it was a place of magic and learning... and only those with the proper spells could enter it.

Fortunately, we brought some arcane experts with us.
The journey was arduous, and cold. The Companions didn't speak much, each focused on what lay ahead, and for some what roiled within them. Mirelinda read her cards every day, the fortunes only growing worse the closer they came. Danger, the cards said... but what form it would take they didn't so much as hint at.

When they finally found the gate, it seemed almost underwhelming. Ancient standing stones atop a plateau, each marked with runes and left filled with magic. Keys to the gateway that, if opened at the proper time, would show the way to the Runeforge... or so the made writings of the trapped Scribbler had said. Mirelinda and Zordlan examined them, prodding the stones with cantrips until they felt the eldritch mechanisms unlock. Rumbles in the stone as tumblers turned. One, then another, then another. It seemed that Runeforge wouldn't be as hard to get into as they'd feared... until a shadow fell over them, and a scream of fury split the air.

On Winter Wings


From the sky, frost hissing from its gaping maw, came a huge, white dragon. Fully grown and enraged, it swooped down on what it seemed sure was an easy meal. Thok's eyes went wide, and he dashed for cover to get away from its curving, raptor talons and piercing gaze. Bostwick skipped aside, spreading out so it couldn't get everyone. Zordlan swore, and Mirelinda ducked behind a standing stone. Even Chikara retreated a few steps, raising her bow.

Zhakar shrugged his cloak off his shoulders, and unfurled his wings. When the thing came down, he rose to meet it.

Well shit, they don't usually do THAT!
The dragon's breath raked the circle as the Companions dove aside, trying to return fire with spell and bow. Zhakar shook off the frost, and blasted a blinding beam into the dragon's eyes. It roared, eyes white and scaled from the burning light. It shook its head, listening for what it could no longer see. Shocking arrows thumped into its hide, and it roared. As Mirelinda prepared another spell, it dove, snatching her up and flying her high into the sky. It tossed her, and she spread her arms as the air slowed her descent. Confused, and angered, the dragon circled to within reach of Zhakar's pick once more. Instead of an easy meal, it found the steel digging straight through its scales, spilling its freezing blood onto the plateau below.

Crippled and wounded, angry and unable to conceive of how close to death it was, it was only a matter of time till the dragon came back to earth. Turning to meet the charge from above, it didn't expect the rest of the Companions to descend upon it. Chikara's ax bit deep, and Zordlan's blade punctured its underbelly. Hellfire bloomed, and it screamed as the black flames burned away what life remained in it.

Rimed, But Triumphant


Chilled and shaken, but very much alive, the Companions rested, healed, and then sought the dragon's lair to be certain it didn't have a mate. It didn't, but it had a hoard. Filled with treasures stolen over hundreds of years, ranging from potent magical weapons like a Flametongue, to enchanted armors and wands, the creature had been sitting on the very weapons that would have been ideal for slaying it. But it had no mate that they could see. Sorting the wheat from the hoard, the Companions began the ritual opening once more. They ascended the stairs to the top of the path at speed, thanks to Zhakar's wings, and despite the crumbling drops, found the gateway into the what they assumed to be the Runeforge. Guarded by two constructs, the gateway yawned before them... leading into dangers untold.

What was in the realm beyond?

Next Time on Table Talk!


Will the Companions survive the horrors of the Runeforge? Will they find the weapons they seek, or is it all just a deadly trap? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

Monday, September 30, 2019

5 Rumors About Your Character (A Simple Trick For Quickly Establishing a PC)

Getting information about your character front and center in any game can be tough, and as a result it can be difficult and time consuming to get the party together when you first start playing. One tool that I've been on both ends of as a player and a DM, though, is the idea of rumors, and the power they have to immediately convey who your character is, and what the rest of the party has heard about them. Because as I said back in Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend, just because the other PCs don't know you personally that doesn't mean they don't know of you.

So tell them what they know.

Seriously, my dude, don't target the dog. Trust me, I've heard the stories.

4 (Mostly) True Rumors, and 1 Lie


I've seen lots of DMs shuffle the numbers on this strategy, and you should feel free to play around with it to see how many rumors fits your ideal play style. My personal recommendation is a total of 5 rumors, where 4 of them are at least mostly true, and where the 5th is a lie (and typically one that reflects badly on your PC).

As an example, take Gard Hardacre. Tall and bald except for a braided tail at the back of his head, he has the look of a tough man who doesn't scare easily. That's enough to get a picture of what the party is looking at, but what have they heard about him? After all, he's a PC... surely someone is talking about him in this town?

Well, the rumors the others hear are:

- They say he fought for the black coats, back during the war. They offered him a promotion and a knighthood, but he was so disgusted by what they did he walked away and never looked back.

- He's even most of the time, but he's got a temper to beat the devil. He once beat an innkeep till he could barely see just because he didn't get him his food quick enough.

- No one's quite sure what his tastes run to. He's pleasant enough, but no one's ever seen him with a man or a woman, orc, elf, dwarf, or otherwise. He pays more mind to his sword and armor than company.

- His sword's one of the best around, but he can't keep gold in his purse for nothing. He gambles and drinks, sure, but he's a sucker for a sob story. Urchins, whores, and beggars know him by sight.

- No one's ever seen eyes like his. A green so dark they're nearly black... no one in this country has eyes like that but the Dredgers. He don't look like one of them swamp lords, but he handles that blade better than any foot soldier I've ever seen.

Starting to get a clearer picture now?
The reason I suggest five rumors is so you have flexibility. Part of their benefit is that they help you create your character, but the other part is that you can hand them out however you please. Do you hand out one rumor per session per PC? Does every player get a different rumor about a fellow PC in the first session, so they have to talk to each other in order to spread the gossip and figure out who their fellow party members are? Or do you post them in your group's Facebook page after the first session, and leave them to decide which rumors are true, and which ones are false?

There's no wrong way to go about this, but it is key that at least one rumor is a falsehood. And for those who are curious, the second rumor on my list was the lie. The innkeep was slow bringing Gard's meal, that's true, but he'd found out the man was beating his wife. So Gard decided to give him a taste of his own medicine to see if it taught him a lesson. He never bothered to try to stop the rumors because he knows what really happened, and that's all that matters to him.

Looking For More Inspiration?


Crafting rumors off the top of your head isn't always easy. Fortunately, I've written some stuff that can help get the wheels turning if you're looking for a push start.

- A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families: This one has the Dredgers that I mentioned above in Gard's rumors, along with 12 other noble families, their history, reputation, and heraldry. Whether you want to have a secret son of a noble house off adventuring, or a rumor that your PC is a bastard child of the line, this is a useful thing to have on-hand.

- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: Mercenaries are a copper a dozen in many fantasy settings, but if you want it rumored that your character once fought for an elite (or cursed) band, then this collection is quite useful. Especially if you have insignia, weapons, armor, etc. that ties you to a particular free company, since those symbols will get tongues wagging.

- 100 Knightly Orders: Much like free companies, knightly orders carry a lot of weight with them... sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Whether your PC is a member, or is only rumored to be, this list should spark its share of ideas.

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumors (And The Truth Behind Them): This one is more for DMs than players, as each of the rumors in here can be stretched out to fill an entire session. However, since we're on the subject of rumors, I felt I should include it in the list.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Living Weapon

My Child, Be A Sword



My mother was a hammer. My father was a forge. And when I lay down in the cold, they whispered, 'Child, be a sword.'

Some want their children happy. Some want them safe and calm. Others, though, will scrape their bones, and sing them songs of war.

My mother's milk was blood. My father's love was pain. And in the dark I heard them whisper,
'Child, be a sword.'

A sword will never hurt. A sword will never cry. And if you keep it sharp, then a sword may never die.

A sword is not a comfort. A sword is not a friend. A sword has but a single task; to tear, and cut, and rend. But a sword won't be forgotten. It won't be cast aside. For a blade as sharp and cruel as you will be very hard to find.

So put away those dreams, and clear them from your head. They will do you naught but harm down the road that you must tread. For it is with great care we hurt you, and with malice grind your edge.

For good steel's hard to come by, but even harder still. To turn it to a purpose with a true, unbending will. While others dream of love, and sing of face and form, those things my dear are not for you.

My child, be a sword.

Sleep well, child. Death comes in the morn.

The Living Weapon


I originally wrote this poem as a piece of background for a Fianna ahroun I was contemplating playing in a Werewolf: The Apocalypse game, and since I spent the last month working on my 100 Fianna Kinfolk with High Level Games, it's been on my mind quite a lot. Because it represents a piece of inspiration for a certain archetype that I come back to time and time again in both my work, and in my play; the Living Weapon.

A Living Weapon is a character for whom violence is second nature. Whether they were trained by warmasters from birth, bound to deadly spirits of bloodshed, or they've been dedicated to a spirit of destruction, these characters are deadly, to be sure... but they are also ripe for engaging arcs of character growth.

As one example...
Living Weapons are most at-home in the thick of brutality and violence, and it's why they're so often thought of as badasses. But once the battle fades, they retreat into themselves. They're quiet, often uncomfortable, and at times they can even have a child-like fear of things outside their very specific niche. They may be surprisingly gentle, or they may lash out in a way that's completely out of proportion if they're scared by something. And gods help the person who hurts someone the Living Weapon considered a friend, because there is no measuring the lengths they will go to in order to make it clear what a mistake that was.

The difficulty with this concept is that it is very tough to get below the surface, and to bring all the feelings bubbling up so the roleplaying can be put on display for everyone else to see, and get involved in. That's why I recommend going one of two ways with it, in order to make it really stand out at your table.

The first is to make sure the character has a minder. The minder is the person who ensures the Living Weapon follows certain rules, stays involved with the group, and they can act as the can opener to help give others a peek beneath the carapace. If the Living Weapon is trying to be good, then the minder might be a gentle influence, keeping them calm and trying to introduce them to simple pleasures. They can also help bring the Living Weapon out of their killer's state, if something trips them and they go back to their old ways. On the other hand, if the Living Weapon is an evil character, the minder will be the one who holds their leash, and gives them their orders. In this case they become the mouthpiece for the Living Weapon's raging Id, though if you want to do a redemption arc then the minder could also act as the manifestation of the Living Weapon's worst impulses. If that's the case, I'd recommend making them an NPC, rather than a PC, as death is quite likely for the minder in this scenario.

The second way is to let your setup do the talking for you. I mentioned this back in Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend, but if your character was part of a certain organization, tradition, tribe, or cult whose reputation is well-known, then you can get a lot of mileage out of that. A perfect example is Todd in the film Soldier. Everyone in that setting knows that Soldiers are dangerous, trained to fight and kill from birth. They know enough to know what he is, but not enough to understand who he is... which is the goal. Set up the backstory for your Living Weapon, such as making them a member of the mercenaries known as the Sons of War, who are all trained from childhood by older members of the company, or by making them a knight of the cursed legion the Howl (these are found in 100 Random Mercenary Companies and 100 Knightly Orders respectively), and you've cemented their reputation. Add some rumors about how people like them only speak with their swords, or how they're like rabid dogs once you get their blood up, and the stage is set. Once your PC starts disproving some of those rumors, and the rest of the party learns who they are as an individual, they can become a part of the Living Weapon's growth and change.

Either way, it's important to remember that it's not enough to have the pathos and character development going on beneath the surface with this concept; you need to put it out front for it to mean anything. Otherwise you just look like the sort of character who only wakes up when it's time to fight, going silent the rest of the time. Let everyone join in on the Living Weapon becoming more than just a blade... or following their descent into monstrous depravity. Whichever direction you're going, make sure everyone at the table is along for the ride.

Also, remember what I said in 10 Backgrounds For Your Scoundrels and 10 Backgrounds For Your Spellcasters; not all warriors are traditional, martial characters. A Living Weapon might be an assassin trained to deliver death with a flick of their wrist, or a sorcerer who was bred and raised to become a weapon of mass destruction. These are also options if you want to try something a little less traditional with this archetype.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!


That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Affordable Metal Minis? Nano MetalFigs Has You Covered!

It's been a while since I've talked about my weekly craft night projects on here, but I started one recently that I'm pretty pleased with. Partly because it's my first ever miniature project, but also because it involves something I picked up at a local Dollar Tree. Because I was just grabbing some necessities one day, and I decided to swing by the toy aisle to see what they had on-hand... when I noticed they had a diecast figure of the Undertaker! At just over an inch and a half tall, and for about $1.50, there was no way I wasn't going to take him home. I was barely out the door before I was scrolling through my mental archive, and trying to decide which character I was going to use him for.

After making sure I had a very small brush (which got trimmed even smaller to get into the nooks and crannies), and borrowing some green paint, I got to work on modifying this figure to show up at my table. While it might not be much, I'm still pretty pleased with how it's turned out so far.

Never talk shit about a greenskin inquisitor, my friend.
While the photo isn't great (sadly, all I have on-hand for taking them is my phone), all I did was paint the face, neck, and chest the virulent green we tend to associate with orcs. A few coats of that paint, and then a sealer, and bam, I had a shiny, metal mini all my own to bring to the battle.

There was, however, one more modification I needed to make. The bases for these figures are pretty wide, and tend to stick out past the single square we're used to using. However, if you have a dremel tool in your work space you can quickly shave those sides down with no real trouble. As long as you keep them even, you're good to go in maybe twenty minutes or so (less if you're used to this kind of mod).

Turns Out, There's More of These Figures On The Market


I kept poking my head in at the store for a few weeks after, seeing if any more of these figures had come in, but it seemed I grabbed one of the last ones. However, since I was curious, I popped onto Amazon to see what models were around, and how much work they'd take to get them ready for some action at a game of mine.

Ask and ye shall receive, I suppose...
Turns out that not only are there a lot more figures like the one I found out there, but they're not really all that expensive if you're looking to get your hands on them (particularly considering what metal minis tend to run, if that's your jam). A full set of WWE diecast figures goes for just over $25, coming out to about what I paid for my one individual mini. Of course, if wrestlers aren't your jam, then you might find the Marvel hero figures or the X-Men figures to be more up your alley.

One problem you'll run into with some of these figures is that the wide base is really needed to accommodate their pose, so you won't be able to just shave down the base to make it fit. However, plenty of figures don't need such a wide surface to stand on, and they hold up just fine with a quarter of an inch or so ground off either side. While you might need to rough up the finish on the figure if you want to do a more extensive paint re-touching, if you just want to add a splash of color here, or change a detail there, it's surprisingly easy.

And, for my two cents, it's a lot less intimidating than getting a totally blank mini and trying to do a ground-up paint job on your first try. Might just be the way my brain works, but making small alterations to a mostly complete piece gave me a lot more confidence than trying to do a full figure on my first try.

Though I might still try that out in the future. More on that later if I decide to dive down that rabbit hole!

Interested in More Gaming DIY?


If you're interested in more tabletop DIY (or just finding cheap ways to get a lot of figures, dice, etc. for your table), then you might want to take a look at some of the following posts:


And, of course, if there's a topic I haven't covered yet that you'd like to see show up, feel free to leave a comment below!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Why Does He Do That? (Thinking About Your Character's Habits)

"Why's he doing that?" Jeren asked, nodding his head toward the corner table.

"What?" Kyros asked, glancing where his drinking companion indicated. A dark elf sat in the corner, the hood of his cloak pulled up. His eyes glimmered in the candlelight, and he ran a steel dart through his fingers, walking it from one end of his hand to the other, the sharpened tip flashing.

"That," Jeren said, adding emphasis as if it should be obvious. "Looking all mysterious and playing with that sharp. He think it's scary, or something?"

"He's from the Dark, idiot. The moon is brighter to him than the sun is to us. The fireplace is practically enough to blind him if he's not used to it." Kyros looked at his companion for a moment before sighing, shaking his head, and tossing back the rest of his drink. "And if you'd ever traveled outside this little burgh, you'd know they don't use coins down where he's from. That spider walk is something kids learn to keep their fingers agile. I had to guess, it's probably something he does when he's nervous."

Jeren glanced back at the dark elf, who dabbed at his eyes. Sure enough, they were starting to water. He favored them with a small smile, and nodded.

"Also, he can probably hear us," Kyros said, getting a fresh drink. "So you're aware."


Seriously, how do you see in here? It's so damn BRIGHT!


Some Adventurers Are More Different Than Others


You've probably seen Marvel's Avengers by now, and if you haven't, go watch it. Seriously, it's worth the time, I won't be mad.

Now, if you watch Mark Ruffalo's performance of Bruce Banner, you'll notice that he purposefully shrinks himself down. He keeps his arms close, and often holds his hands together like he's trying not to break anything. If you've ever had a friend who was on the bigger side, these are all mannerisms of someone who is very large, and very strong, who is trying to be careful around delicate things. It shows that, even when he's in his weaker form, Bruce is keenly aware of the power he contains in himself, and that one wrong move might turn this whole thing into the proverbial rampaging bull in a China shop.

Incidentally, I have a Pathfinder conversion for Hulk, for those who are interested.
This mannerism makes perfect sense when you track it back to its source, and it's a fun exercise in character building. That's why, when you sit down to make a character, ask yourself why they speak, act, fidget, or believe a certain thing. The answers you find are often surprising, and can make for some fun character moments.

For example, if your character is a gnome, they've had the ability to talk to animals their entire life. It might not even occur to them that other people can't do that, especially if they were raised in communities where magic was common. Does this lead to them being unusually sensitive to the moods of animals around them? Are they confused when people treat nature like a tool, rather than a living thing? Do they have opinions about animals that are wildly different from those held by other races, making them seem like a tiny version of the crocodile hunter?

You can pick almost any racial modifier/ability and apply this kind of logic to it. Elves get a bonus on Perception, for example, but does that also make the world around them unbearably loud beyond the quiet boundaries of deep forests? Is this why an elven character might speak softly, or keep their hood up, providing their sensitive ears some protection against the violence of the louder world? Tieflings and ifrit both have natural fire resistance, so does it feel good for them to drink scalding tea, or to relax into a fire the way other people would enjoy a sauna? Goblins are capable of eating spoiled and rotten meat, but does what smells and tastes putrid to humans instead have a more nuanced palate to this sharp-toothed race? And is a food or fruit humans would find sweet something that tastes rancid to a goblin, their tongues not being built to handle that flavor?

And that's before we get into the weirdness of cultural norms.
Even if you're playing a bog-standard human, though, you can find unusual tics, quirks, and attitudes in the cultural norms of where they grew up. Everything from fashion, to forms of address, to food, to language, to little rituals that have clung for life can make them seem odd or strange... and every one of them can add some flavor to who your character is, and why they are they way they are.

As an example, did your character come from a culture with a strong warrior ethic, where even childhood games were meant to make you a canny fighter (such as how the wrestling martial art Glima was sort of a national pastime among the Norsemen)? Alternatively, was your character raised in a communal society where everyone was referred to with familial terms since the whole village raised the next generation? Were weapons seen as a taboo where you came from, or were they to be displayed proudly? Did you pray to the spirits, to the elements, to your ancestors, or to the gods? Do you wash, groom, and comb yourself every day, keeping a razor and comb in a kit on your belt? Or do you go for days, maybe weeks, between full baths without noticing?

Every Habit Started Somewhere


No matter who your character is, they had a life before they show up at the table. If they have a quirk, ask where it came from. Is it something they picked up during their stint with the militia? Was it something their uncle taught them? Or is it just how they deal with having sharper eyes, feeling less pain, or living in a world made of cardboard?

As a note for readers, I cover a lot of aspects like this in articles like 5 Tips For Playing Better Tieflings and Aasimar and 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins, and I keep the full archive of these tips over on my 5 Tips page. So stop on in, check it out, and see if you find yourself some inspiration!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used this tactic successfully in your games why not leave a comment below?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!