Monday, February 18, 2019

The Frat Boy Wizard

"How are you going to get him to help us?" Tarwyn asked, her hand nervously hovering near her dagger.

"I told you, we go way back," Balthazaar said, shouldering open the door. "Trust me, will you?"

Inside the Iron Skull, the candles were black, and the fire roaring. Ale flowed, and smoke hung thick in the corners where water pipes bubbled, and strange lotus was smoked in deep lungfuls. Gathered round the center table were a dozen acolytes, their hoods thrown back and a gleam in their eyes as one of their number guzzled something thick and dark.

"Chug, chug, chug!" they intoned, pounding the table on every repetition of the word.

Standing at the head of the table, his lips peeled back in a wide grin, was a tall man with a thick head of honey blonde hair. Broad-shouldered, with a green-tinged black ring on his right hand, he appeared both amused and proud as he watched the unfolding binge.

"Bonesmen stand!" Balthazaar called out, his voice cutting through the air. The crowd's dull roar subsided, as all eyes turned to look at him. The tall man with the blonde hair smiled even wider, thumping his chest twice with his ring-bearing hand.

"May your party never die!" the blonde-haired man called out. He gestured toward the bar, already walking away from his table. "Pair of coffin-nails with a side of varnish, Jaren, and hammer 'em fast. Not every day my Eastern brother graces us with his presence!"

Skull and Bones is brutal... no one should ever practice necromancy that hungover.

The Fraternal Order of Wizardly Shenanigans

While it isn't required for a wizard to go to college, there are a number of settings where that is one of the most common methods of learning the ins and outs of arcane magic. Which, of course, begs the question of whether your wizard is a member of either a fraternity or a sorority, and what lessons they learned (or connections they made) as part of this organization?

Unlike a lot of my other character concepts, this one is pretty easy to translate from one game to another. It requires no special feats or unusual powers; as long as you're a wizard, you can make one of these Greek life spellcasters.

Crafting is brutal... but there's nothing worse than conjuration. Nothing.
What was your wizard's order meant to promote, and what experiences did they have that stuck with them? If they were a member of the Skull and Bones (an order of necromancers, natch), did they insist that all members speak a dead language when at official events? Did the Sigma Tau always know where to find the best parties because they could legitimately cast the bones, or gaze into a crystal ball, as a bunch of diviners? Were the conjurers in Selum Sidhe always trying to one-up the illusionists of Pharastine House when it came to who could pull the better practical jokes?

We all know that wizards spend a lot of time reading old, dusty tomes and cramming for practical exams... but what else went on during their school years? And have they stayed much as they were at the time, or have they changed between then and now?

As an example, is your wizard still the same ale-swilling, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants, fireball-preferring evoker they were during their school days? Or would anyone who knows Cassadil Flameheart credit the stories his old fraternity brothers have about this sober, serious-faced man who was once a hot-blooded, often-regretful young man who had a problem saying no to a drink, a dance, or a fight?

Who Did You Know (And What Doors Can It Open)?

If you ask anyone who's a part of Greek life, what you learn is only a small part of why so many people join these organizations. It's about who you can meet, what connections you can make, and what sort of contacts you can network with. The ever elusive, "who you know," that can help you out, get you jobs, etc.

Work that into your concept.

Is your wizard well-connected despite coming from humble roots instead of the aristocracy? Well, perhaps that was because she made so many friends among the Sisters of Meriphon, who adopted her and showed her the good things in life. Does your transmuter know someone even more skilled than himself who was the House Liege in the Order of the Rainbow, the only organization not divided by sex, as a transmuter's very goal is to transcend limitations and labels through transformation? Is the ring on your wizard's middle finger a universal symbol of the Brothers of the Aegis, an order of abjurers fostered by grants from the early kings of the realm, which commands respect and deference from those who see it?

There are all kinds of directions you can go in with this one. So if you want to skip the tried-and-true methods of a self-taught sage, or someone finally being raised to the level of journeyman by their master, consider rushing a frat and seeing what it does for your wizards!

Also, if you're looking for something fun to have at your on-campus bashes, consider these 100 Fantasy Drinks. Or, if your game is set in the far-flung future, 100 Sci Fi Cocktails instead!

That's all for this month's installment of Unusual Character Concepts! If you've ever played a concept like this, feel free to share the story in the comments below.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or, if you're more interested in picking up one of the books I've written, head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find things like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me you could always Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Even a little contribution goes a long way, trust me on that!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Want A D10 System That Does More Than Monsters? Try Era!

While I may not talk about them as much on this particular platform, I greatly enjoy White Wolf's games. While I have a preference for Chronicles of Darkness games like Changeling: The Lost (whose second edition just came out not too long ago, by the by), I'm still more than happy to roll some 10-siders in old world Werewolf or Vampire with the right crew.

However, one thing that always frustrated me was that the d10 system seemed so inherently tied to those games. While it was possible to translate it to another genre, it required you to do a lot of the heavy lifting as the DM.

If you've ever wanted to play a survival-based game, or to blast off into the stars with your d10s, though, then you might want to check out the Era system from Shades of Vengeance publishing!

Go on... give it a look. You've got nothing to lose but your life.

What Does Era Have To Offer?

Well, if you've wanted to break your d10s out for another ride, and you just haven't been in the mood to brood, then Era has several games that you should be able to pick up and play with relatively little adjustment.

Want a sci-fi game? Era: The Consortium has you covered! Want to try a d10 superheroes game? Well, then Era: The Empowered may be just what you're looking for! Want some gritty, highly-lethal survival based game play? Then Era: Survival should be right up your alley!

But how does it play?
While I made the White Wolf comparison above, that's really just a place to get started. Both systems have you roll a pool of d10s to determine your successes, and the formulas for generating things like your Health, your Defense, etc. are going to feel very familiar.

The game is far from a carbon-copy, though, even those some of the mechanics will feel familiar. And then you slather on the world-building (and hoo boy is there a lot of it; if you're a fan of complex worlds with a lot of backstory, then this is your lucky day!) and you'll have a game that definitely has its own, unique identity. But it also won't require you to get a new set of dice and other supporting tools, which is definitely a win for folks who want to take their game in a new direction!

Seriously, go check out Shades of Vengeance publishing, and take a look at some of the stuff they have on offer. It's definitely worth your time!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you'd like to see other work from yours truly, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, along with the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd prefer to get your hands on some of my fiction, stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps... trust me.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

How Do You Play A Character That's Smarter Than You Are?

Our characters are often different from us in a lot of ways. But while a lot of players have no trouble with characters who are stronger, tougher, or quicker than they are in real life, it's those more ephemeral attributes that can sometimes cause a problem. How do you portray a character with an 18 in Intelligence if you don't have a degree in higher sciences? Can you believably act out an 18 Wisdom while knowing all those bad decisions you'd make in this situation? And what the hell does someone with an 18 Charisma even do?

Relax. Take a deep breath. You've got this. You just need to look at it from a different angle.

There are many sides to any endeavor, remember.

Being Smart Has No Set Appearance

Brief personal story, here. When I was in college, I had a professor whose classes I adored. She was short, broad-shouldered, black, and had a rather thick Louisiana drawl. She favored well-worn, comfortable clothes, and she had a no-bullshit attitude along with a plain way of speaking. The first day in any class she taught the first thing she did was introduce herself, tell us that she was well aware of how she sounded when she talked, but she was the one with the doctorate and two masters degrees, so we had better listen up when she had some shit to say.

Verbatim quote, there.

You also got full credit if you quoted her use of profanity on tests.
The point of that story is that just because someone is very smart, that doesn't mean they have to be dropping five-dollar words every time they open their mouth. We see that all the time in movies about child geniuses, and in TV shows about brainy folks who don't fit into the real world, but you could just as easily have a sharp and incisive mind inside someone who uses common, everyday speech. The sort of person who only pulls out the technical terms when discussing something complicated enough to require them, but who even then might try to keep things simple so everyone in the party can follow what they're saying.

The erudite scholar from the Academie Magique and the well-connected thug with tattoos on his knuckles both have a 17 Intelligence. They both speak several languages, and they both have an array of unique skills. While the wizard speaks dead languages, or tongues of power, though, the rogue focused on trading languages, and mastering the subtle double-speak of the street. While the wizard's skills lie in spellcraft and arcane knowledge, the rogue has learned to school their face to make lies seem truthful, and to get under someone's skin to make them afraid. Both of them have learned the ins and outs of magical devices, though, which gives them at least one area of expertise they can put their minds together on.

You have the same kind of wiggle room when it comes to your wisdom, or your charisma scores. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to go for the air of the calm-hearted priest who sees to the core of an issue, or the wisdom of monks who have long contemplated the inner workings of the mind and heart. On the other hand, the dogged private eye who's seen it all and done it twice could just as easily have as high a Wisdom score. And while lots of us think of characters with high Charisma as beauty queens or handsome princes, the rakish rabble rouser heading up the biker gang, or the hollow-eyed sorcerer with that strange, compelling air about him could just as easily fit those high numbers.

Remember to Separate Attribute From Training

Something that can help in this process is to remember that, while a raw attribute might make you better at certain tasks, the ones you've been trained in are the ones you're good at. And that training might make someone with a lower attribute better than you at a given task.

Stick with me, I promise we're getting there.
Take someone with that raw Charisma score of 18. That gives them a +4 bonus on an attempt to Intimidate someone. That's not bad. Now take their party cohort, who only has a 12 Charisma, but who is trained in the skill. That gives them a +5 to their checks because they've studied how to do this. They may lack the raw force of personality, but they know which words to use, how to invade someone's personal space, and even what facial expressions to wear when delivering a threat. Everything from tone of voice to whether or not to have a weapon in-hand is something they've learned how to do.

This can also help some players, who get too focused on the raw attribute instead of how the character has been trained to use it. Because while one person might be very intelligent, they won't have the depth of knowledge regarding religion of someone who was schooled by priests and teachers of a given faith if that other person has the skill maxed-out. Someone might be naturally athletic, but that raw talent won't allow them to get higher results than someone trained in how to climb, swim, tumble, etc. for many levels. And while someone might have a great force of personality, they simply won't be able to haggle for better prices the way someone who studied the art of deal-making can.

So, in addition to asking how your character's Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma manifests itself, you should also ask how they wield that attribute. Because while your sorcerer might rely on their Charisma to shape magic, do they use diplomacy in the same way? Are they subtle, leaving the person thinking they got the best of the bargain? Or are they overbearing, attempting to wear down resistance until they get what they want? If your paladin intimidates a foe, do they deliver booming threats, or do they simply draw their steel, and allow their absolute lack of fear make their foes think twice? The cleric and the monk may both be very wise, and they might both be trained in sensing someone's motives, but do they do it in the same way? Does the cleric notice the changes in voice and where the person looks, catching a lie? Does the monk have a way of saying or doing things that unsettle the other person, making them slip up?

It's important to remember that there are dozens of ways you can depict these mental stats. So if one way just isn't working for you, or you want to try something different, don't be afraid to stretch outside the box. And just because you've got a lot of raw ability in one area, it's important to remember that training and investment beats talent every, single time.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment! Hopefully some folks out there found it useful, and if there are any tips you've found to help with the gap between PC and player abilities, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Also, to help support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit really does help!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Sometimes I Feel Like The Quigley of RPG Design

You ever seen Quigley Down Under? Aside from being the best Western that doesn't even pretend to be set in the Wild West, it is filled with memorable performances. Perhaps no scene is more famous than the ending, though, where it turns out our hero (who prefers the range and power of his rifle) is significantly more accomplished with a pistol than the villain would ever have believed.

If you haven't seen the scene, somehow, this is the one I'm talking about.

Sometimes I feel a lot like Quigley. Not because I possess levels of heretofore unknown badassery, but because for the past year or so I've had people looking at me in surprise and saying, "Wait, I thought you didn't make content for that game?"

And I'm over here like, "I said I preferred not to play it. Didn't say I didn't know how to design for it."

Something For All The Folks Out There To Think About

If you've read my blog, or seen the work I've contributed to other sites, then you know I have some very definite opinions about which games out there I like. However, just because I may not enjoy something in my free time as a player (or I may feel that game is choice four or five on a would-you-rather list), that doesn't mean I won't design content for it.

As soon as there's money involved, that changes the parameters completely.

Seriously, though, commerce takes precedent.
When I first proposed the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons module False Valor, the reaction from my contact at TPK Games was, "Wait, I thought you hated this edition?" Or when my recent Azukail Games supplement 100 Characters You Might Meet in a Star Port for Starfinder came out, and people were confused by it, asking me why I would design for a game I had personally described as my biggest gaming disappointment of 2017?

Two points here. First, I don't hate most games I criticize on here. I just feel that they're a bad fit for me, as a gamer, and I recognize that for a lot of people out there these flaws aren't as important. In some cases they may even be considered features. But I am currently involved in at least one 5th Edition game, and if someone offered me a spot at a Starfinder game, I wouldn't kick it out of bed.

Second point. Because I enjoy tacos and having the power company off my back, I'm usually amenable to working on games that I would prefer not to play in my free time. Which is why I read through so many RPGs, and try out so many different systems. Because the games I enjoy most might not be the top sellers, so if lucrative contracts get floated my way I need the skill set to snatch them up, and keep my client happy.

This is Where You Come In

So why am I talking about this in this week's Monday installment? Well, because I want to hear from you, my readers. In short, if you have wanted to see my take on something, I want you to ask me for it.

Seriously, I can't have too many ideas.
Have you wanted to see me talk about more 5th Edition stuff, like I did with my homebrew poison Vile Bile made from a green dragon's breath weapon? Have you wanted to see more homebrew stuff from me in general? Do you want to see more of my 5 Tips For Playing Better Fantasy Races? Would you rather I write more class advice guides? Should I branch out into the World/Chronicles of Darkness? Do you want to see me write more modules? Any particular guides/supplements you've wanted to see my take on?

If you have a request, I'm listening.

And if you're a publisher looking for a freelancer, this goes double. Even if I prefer not to play a particular system, that doesn't mean I don't know how. And even if I don't know how, you get me a pdf of the rules, and I'll figure it out.

Anyway, that's all for this Moon Pope Monday post! If you have something you've been dying to request, then leave it in the comments below, or shoot me an email through the contact button. Or, if you just want to see more of a particular series, tell me that, too.

If you'd like to see more of the stuff I make, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out. Or if you'd prefer to see my fiction, then stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Want To Do A Lot of Damage? Stack Your Dice, Your Bonuses, or Both!

One of the first questions players in RPGs often ask is how they can do a lot of damage. After all, there are few things as satisfying as the one-shot-kill.

Boom! Head shot.
There are generally two choices you have when it comes to finding a solution to this problem, and if you approach the game and all of its associated material with these things in mind you'll do fine. You either need to stack a lot of bonuses on your side (which ensures you always do a respectable amount of damage regardless of your damage rolls), or you need to make sure you're rolling a lot of dice when you actually hit (to be sure the sheer weight of the roll averages out to a big hit).

The Bonus Approach

Here comes the pain train!
Bonuses to your damage are reliable, and they help ensure that when you hit you always hit hard. Not only that, but you already recognize how this mechanic works, so the pattern is easy to spot.

For example, in a lot of games your Strength modifier is added to the damage you deal with melee attacks as a bonus. So if you want to make sure your target feels it when you hit them, you naturally want the highest Strength score you can get. And some games will even allow you to add 1.5 times your Strength score if you're two-handing your weapon. This means you can't wield a shield, but if maximum damage output is your goal, then that's a sacrifice you make.

If you look at your class options, you'll often find bonuses there, too. In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, barbarians gain a straight bonus to melee damage when they're raging. In Pathfinder, fighters can pick different subgroups of weapons to specialize in, giving them bonuses to hit as well as bonuses to damage when wielding those weapons. Evokers get a bonus to damage with evocation spells in Pathfinder, as well, based on their level, and paladins also get to add their level to the damage dealt to subjects of their smite. Many cavalier orders also grant you bonus damage when you use your challenge on a particular foe.

Then there are the bonuses from your gear, from your feats, and from spells or special abilities. For example, a Belt of Giant's Strength increases your Strength (at least in theory), and therefore your damage output with melee attacks. A magic weapon adds the "+" modifier to your attack and damage. In Pathfinder feats like Weapon Specialization automatically add +2 damage to strikes made with specific weapons, and Power Attack and Deadly Aim allow you to deal bonus damage while taking penalties to your attack roll. 5th Edition has feats like Charger, which gives you +5 damage if you move at least 10 feet in a straight line while taking the Dash action before slamming into your target. Then there are class features like bardic music, or spells like Deadly Juggernaut which improve your attack and damage.

The key is to stack as many of these in your favor as possible so that no matter what the damage die for your weapon rolls, the sheer amount of bonuses you're adding makes you a viable threat. Because sure, you rolled a 1 for the damage. But between a high Strength modifier, the right class features, ongoing spells, magic items, and feats, you could still deal more than 20 damage with that minimal strike.

The Swimming Pool of Dice Approach

Someone's gonna get it...
If you roll one die, you might get a bad result. But if you roll all of your dice, then the sheer amount of damage is going to add up. Or that's the basic theory, at least.

This method requires a little more deviousness, but is no less effective. For example, let's go back to that Pathfinder evoker. Now take a spell like fireball; it deals 1d6 for every caster level you have. Normally that's going to be your character level if you're a straight wizard, but you can bump that up with feats like Varisian Tattoo, adding even more dice to that pool by increasing your caster level for certain schools of magic. There are also metamagic feats that let you increase how much damage that spell could do over and above its normal cap, letting you throw 15 or more d6s onto the table instead of the usual maximum of 10.

There are also options like taking rogue levels to add sneak attack dice onto your attack. Because you might need to meet some specific circumstances in order for those dice to count, but when they do your short sword's 1d6 suddenly has 6 or 7 friends who want to come and play. This is also the idea behind paladin smite in 5th Edition; you blow a spell slot to supercharge your strike, adding bonus d8s based on the level of the spell slot you used, and on whether the target is undead or a fiend.

In addition to class features and feats, gear is often used as a way to grab bonus dice for non-spellcasters. Because a regular longsword deals a d8 of damage, but a flaming greatsword deals an addition d6 of fire damage. You could add shocking to that to stack a d6 of electricity damage, too, and so on and so forth.

Adding more dice also increases your minimum possible damage. After all, if you're rolling 6 dice, then your new minimum damage is 6. But the maximum goes up, too.

Of Course, You Can Combine The Two Approaches

If you want to really dole out the harshness, then you should look for ways you can combine these two philosophies in your character. For example, say you're playing 5th Edition. Give your rogue a single level dip in barbarian, and max out their Strength score. Then give them the Charger feat. If you Dash into battle and hit an enemy with advantage (or if they're being threatened by one of your allies), then you get to roll the damage die for your weapon, and your sneak attack damage, but on top of that you get to add your Strength modifier, as well as the bonus damage from your Rage, and the +5 from charging into the fray.

And that is something your target is going to notice.

Just hope it takes them out before they respond in kind.
Every game is going to be different, but as long as you keep these two approaches in mind when you examine how to put a hurt on your enemies, chances are good that you'll do just fine.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or, if you'd prefer to see some of my fiction, stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!