June 2, 2018 Adventuring Isn't Just A Young Man's Game (5 Questions You Should Ask For Older PCs)
If you're playing a middle-aged or older adventurer, that can be a very different experience from the young bucks and spit-shiny apprentices a lot of players typically start with. So take a moment, and ask what being older means for characters like this.
May 20, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Summoners
The list goes on, and I thought I'd set my sights on one of Pathfinder's most controversial base classes. Love them or hate them, these are my suggestions for playing deeper, more interesting summoners.
May 4, 2018 Did Your Character Have A Former Life?
Some PCs are just what they look like... but others had a life before this one. Whether you're a palace runaway, or a former bandit, it can be fun to have a secret life the rest of the party doesn't know. Assuming it comes into play at some point, that is.
April 20, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Alchemists
Despite the announcement of Pathfinder 2e, I figured I'd at least hit one of my favorite classes for this series. Alchemists are ridiculously powerful, and they can be played in all sorts of different ways. Here are some of my suggestions for getting the most bang for your buck.
April 7, 2018 The Non-Problem of Making Monks Fit Your Setting
One of the most common complaints I come across from DMs is how to make monks fit their setting. This strikes me as either really lazy, or really just not wanting any of that "Eastern" stuff in your "Western" game. So, here's how to solve what really isn't a problem, but a lot of folks seem to think is.
March 9, 2018 Do Clothes Make The Adventurer?
We all have an idea of what our characters wear... but the devil is in the details. So think about it, and ask about materials, make, style, cut, and what accessories they have on. Then ask what, if anything, that says about who they are, where they come from, and what others who see them will know based purely on their look.
February 9, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards
The final installment in my 5 Tips series for the base classes, I finish up strong with my advice for playing better, and more interesting, wizards.
February 9, 2018 Who Are Your Mercenary Companies?
There are always people willing to trade their steel for gold. In fact, it's one of the most common jobs for PCs to have. But what mercenary companies exist in your world? And what makes them unique?
January 26, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Sorcerers
The second-to-last installment for the core classes, sorcerers always end up feeling like a wizard with training wheels. Here are some good ways to make them more unique in their own right.
January 13, 2018 What Food Do Your Characters Eat?
We all know our adventurers eat... but what do they eat? What are their preferences? Do they like spicy foods, or bland ones? Are they vegetarians? Do they drink, or not? Do they like foods from other planes? All of these questions can add a little more depth to your PC.
December 19, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Rangers
My 5 Tips series continues, and though I'm drawing close to the end of the core rulebook I don't plan on letting these articles stop any time soon. This time we're talking about rangers, and how to avoid the stereotypical ways to play them.
December 15, 2017 "Games Orcs Play" or "Real Fantasy Sports"
When you hear the term fantasy sports, you probably think of made-up dream teams of football players whose stats alter with real-world games on your phone. But what about the sports played in your campaign setting? Games like siegebreaker, dog runner, mudhole, or stone's throw? After all, if you're going to make fantasy sports, pull out all the stops with it.
November 21, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks
If you've been wondering how to get your monks to stand out from the pack, and step outside the usual box, here is a simple guide to get you started.
November 20, 2017 De-Coupling The Idea of Race And Nation in RPGs
How many times do you hear about the elven nation of this, or the orc country of that in RPGs? How does a force that large, with that many resources, stay so completely homogeneous? Well, it shouldn't, which is why I'm giving my thoughts on why we should undo so many barriers that box-in races in RPGs.
October 20, 2017 Why So Many Sad Backstories?
Have you ever noticed that we tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to our PCs backstories? Dead parents, missing siblings, war-torn nations, etc., etc. But why? Do we need them? Or is it just habit?
October 4, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Fighters
The latest in my "5 Tips" series, this week I'm talking about fighters. If you want to be more than a suit of armor that occasionally rolls initiative, here's some of my recommendations for how to do it.
September 24, 2017 What is Your Character's Everyday Carry? (And What Does It Say About Them?)
The gear your PC carries in the depths of a foray into the Underdark is probably a world away from what they carry when they're just walking around town, or attending court. So what gear do you leave in your room at the inn? And what stuff never leaves your side, no matter where you are?
September 12, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Druids
Another in my "5 Tips" series, and the second one to appear on Vocal, I'm taking a look at everyone's favorite shape-shifting, beast-summoning, leather-clad badasses. So if you've wanted to make your druid stand out, here are some tips to help you along in your journey.
August 26, 2017 What Do Your Wands, Scrolls, and Potions Actually Look Like?
We go through a lot of limited-use magic items in our games... but how often do we really think about what they look like, or what they feel like? They can be potent, and even life saving... but how often do they just fade into numbers on the page? Here are some simple ways to prevent that.
July 29, 2017 Fun With Raise Dead, Resurrection, and Reincarnation (In Pathfinder)
The three R's of shaking off the reaper are pretty commonplace in most campaigns. However, being dead, and coming back, can also be a big part of your story. So take some time to think about where you went... and who, exactly, the person that came back is.
July 17, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues
Rogues are one of the most commonly stereotyped classes in the game, and that's largely because they started life as the thief. But if you want to stretch beyond the narrow confines of your traditional role, here are some ways you can do just that.
June 30, 2017 How Do Your Warriors Prepare?
We're used to the spellcasters taking their sweet time getting their mojo ready, but while they're studying and chanting, what are the martial characters doing? Mechanically, they don't have to do anything, but when it comes to flavor, wouldn't it make sense for them to limber up as well?
June 2, 2017 Hygiene in Fantasy RPGs
Hygiene is one of those things we seem to forget about when it comes to our sessions. However, if you've ever been to a historical re-enactment or a LARP, you know how hard it is to keep clean when you're out in the woods in armor. So, the question remains, what sort of hygiene does your PC have?
May 6, 2017 What Is Your Character's Moral Code?
Alignment is good for a lot of things, but not for nuance. For that, you have to crack your knuckles, and do the heavy lifting of figuring out who the hell your character is, and what they really believe.
April 8, 2017 A Dwarven Raised Drow? Yours For The Asking, With The Adopted Trait!
If you have a DM who always turns down monstrous or unusual races, remember, there's a way to fit them into the normal culture of the world. Just have them adopted, and raised by someone else. Seriously, it opens all kinds of doors, and presents a whole new world of possibilities.
March 19, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics
The "5 Tips" series continues, and this month we're talking about clerics. The soul of most parties, and the most common healers, clerics tend to wind up in the missionary position a lot of the time. Here are 5 ways you can shake up the routine.
March 10, 2017 Where Do Your Characters Get Their Standards of Beauty From?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... but in RPGs it often has a stat of its own. So it pays to think about what your character views as attractive traits, and how they embody them, or don't embody them, and how they feel about that.
March 7, 2017 Alternative Adventures: 6 Adventures That Aren't Your Average Dungeon Crawl
Most adventures fall into one of two camps: dungeon crawls, and combat slogs. If you want to break up the routine, though, you should check out these 6 alternative plots written by yours truly, and published over at Kobold Press.
February 9, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Bards
The third installment in my "5 Tips" series, I'm debating whether to expand into all the base classes. What would you like to see, as my readers?
February 3, 2017 Your Alignment Isn't Your Motivation
Too often players will choose alignment, and then figure out how a character acts. I would suggest you do the opposite. Figure out who they are, and what they want, and then tick which box they fall into. Above all, remember that characters all have motivations and goals aside from what's written in their alignment box.
January 7, 2017 Tattoos and Scars... What Do They Say About Your Character?
Body modification is extremely common in fantasy settings, and if you want to indulge in it it's a great way to create a character with a truly unique appearance. You can also use your relatively simple character design decisions to send a message about who you are, and organically weave yourself into the lore.
December 9, 2016 Ethnicity and "Half-Breeds" in Fantasy RPGs
Whenever we play a character with mixed heritage, we always tend to default to a Tolkien-esque look for them. Why do that? With so many ethnicities and cultures in today's fantasy worlds, there are so many other options we aren't exploring!
December 2, 2016 1d12 Intimidate Checks To Keep Up Your Sleeve
I wrote this piece some time ago for the Open Legend RPG blog, and it seems I never linked it here. So, I thought it was time to make it an official part of the Improved Initiative archive.
November 10, 2016 Make A Dating Profile For Your Character (Seriously, It Helps)
Some players have no problem creating a whole character from the ground up. Others, though, find it hard to get more than the bare bones. If you want more details from your players, then ask them to create a dating profile for their PCs. Seriously, it works.
October 14, 2016 Who Raised Your Character, and How Did That Shape Them?
Every character, no matter how badass, was once a squalling baby. Someone had to take care of them long enough for them to grow up to care for themselves. So who did it for your PC? And what did they learn along the way?
October 13, 2016 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians
The barbarian is one of the most consistently pigeon-holed character classes in RPGs. If you've been looking for a way to really stand out, this checklist should help.
September 16, 2016 Your Story Progression Doesn't Have To Be Linear (Even if Your Levels Are)
Character progression in level-based RPGs is linear. You start off at level one, and when your earn more XP, your level goes up. However, while you can tell your story in a linear fashion as well, you aren't required to. This method may not work for all groups, but it's worth a look if you've wanted to spice up your characters and table.
August 19, 2016 Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How it Changes Your Game
Too often we rely on words that become crutches in our games. The word "adventurer" is a nice, catch-all category, but it's a pretty meaningless word. If you roll up your sleeves, and ban its use, you'll see a lot more nuanced character histories showing up at your table.
July 15, 2016 Ethnic Homogeneity in RPGs (Or, Why So Many Burly White Adventurers?)
Have you ever noticed how resistant to characters from other nations we are at our tables? If not, you're likely part of a good group. This week, I wax on the subject, and examine why we seem to have a thing against immigrants in our fantasy worlds.
July 9, 2016 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins
The paladin is a lightning rod for controversy when it comes to more gaming tables. This simple list is meant to help players new and old alike look at the class in a different light, and make decisions that will avoid arguments, while preserving the class's strengths.
June 19, 2016 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power
Rage is an ability lots of players, and even DMs, pigeonhole. After all, it's called Rage, what else could it be besides berserk fury? Well, here are 50 potential flavors. Some go with the theme of primal fury, and others take you on a decidedly different course.
June 17, 2016 Do Dwarves Surf? Tips For Diversifying Non-Human Fantasy Races
Have you ever noticed that while humans come in all shapes and sizes in our fantasy RPGs that the other races are assumed to be the same pretty much the world over? Here are some thought experiments that can help you shake up those stereotypes.
June 14, 2016 6 Tournaments to Add Some Bloodsport to Your Campaign
These 6 tournaments, which originally appeared on Kobold Press's blog, are great for adding to your plot. They could be in the foreground, with members of the party participating, or they could be background events, influencing what's going on in your game. The choice is up to you!
May 20, 2016 You Don't Have Any Actual Authority, Just Because You're A Paladin
Too often we forget that classes like paladins, samurai, etc. don't have badges. Levels in base classes don't grant you de facto authority to go around enforcing the law... that is a power granted as part of your story, and it has to be agreed to by your DM.
April 23, 2016 What Does Your Spell Preparation Look Like?
Spell prep is like all the walking we do in game; largely hand waved away. But if you're looking for great ways to show, rather than tell, your character's story, these rituals are a great insight into who they are, and how they operate.
April 4, 2016 6 NPC Organizations To Spice Up Your Campaign
A while ago I wrote up several NPC organizations for Kobold Press. This week I'd like to gather them all in one place for DMs who are looking for some sweet, free content to make use of.
March 25, 2016 Just How Old is Your Loot? Tips For DMs Looking to Spice Up Treasure Hoards
So, your party has defeated the beast, and now lays claim to its treasures... that's great. But if you find yourself getting bored just reading out a stream of items found on the treasure chart, maybe it's time to spice things up a bit. Here's a simple guide for how you can do that.
February 26, 016 Want to Play a Ninja, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling it "The Agent" Instead
We make all sorts of assumptions about classes based on language. While the samurai takes the brunt of assumptions, the ninja gets a lot of unnecessary banning as well. So take a moment, and think about why it isn't being allowed in a game. Is it because the abilities are too powerful? Or is it because of the name?
January 24, 2016 The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing
So, you're trying to decide what kind of character to bring to your next game. Well, go down this list real quick, and make sure your characters don't fit one of the 5 concepts on this list. Trust me, your table will thank you.
December 26, 2015 What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?
If you want your spellcasters to stand out, then you need to dig a little deeper than the surface. A good place to start is making your spells distinct, offering more than a simple, "I cast fireball," before picking up your damage dice.
November 27, 2015 The 1st Level Badass (Freeing Your Backstory From Level Restraints)
There's nothing more frustrating than having a big, sweeping backstory for your character, and then being told you're starting at level 1. That doesn't mean you have to make someone different... it just means you have to get creative with why they aren't bringing the full force of their power to bear.
October 24, 2015 Sexuality Matters in Roleplaying Games (And Here's Why)
The discussion of diversity and inclusiveness in RPGs has attracted a lot of shouting. One of the most commonly heard phrases you hear, though, is "Why does this matter to the game?" If you were ever legitimately curious, here's the answer for you.
September 26, 2015 10 Background For Your Martial Characters
People complain that martial characters are just stacks of stats with no story to them. So, here are 10 backstories you can use to start fleshing out your combat-inclined hero or heroine.
August 28, 2015 How To Keep A Positive Attitude At The Table (Even If You're Rolling 1's)
No one likes rolling badly, but it happens. If it takes you out of the game, and you start wishing you were somewhere else, though, try these suggestions on for size. They might be just the thing to tune you back into the action.
August 7, 2015 What Services Exist In Your Fantasy World (And Do You Use Them)?
We get so caught up in slinging spells and shooting arrows that a lot of the time we forget there's more to the world than just our party. What happens when you need to send a letter, heal a particularly grievous disease, or get to a far away place? Here are some examples of organizations that might fulfill those needs.
July 19, 2015 What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity
All too often we put on blinders when it comes to our character's flavor because of the class we gave them. Here are some fun things you can do to take those blinders off.
June 27, 2015 What Does Your Character Do When Not Adventuring?
Most of what we see our characters do involves chasing the plot... but that isn't all they are. They're more than spells and swords, and when you fill in all those blanks you'll see that you've got a lot more potential than you thought you did.
June 5, 2015 The Dangers of The Phrase "I'm Just Playing My Character"
All too often we consider the phrase, "I'm just playing my character," to be an immediate argument ender regarding a character's actions. But do we use it as a shield to hide behind when we're legitimately called out?
May 15, 2015 The Defining Moment: An Easy Way to Get a Handle on Who Your Character Is
Life is full of odd moments that can change the course of our decisions. If you're looking for a way to make your characters a little bit deeper than the archetype they're fulfilling, you might want to consider adding some of these moments to his or her back story.
April 26, 2015 Undoing Character Death: Unique Methods of Resurrection in Pathfinder
Character death happens. Whether it's an unlucky roll of the dice or the price someone pays for foolhardy actions death is always a possibility... but in a world filled with magic it's possible to escape the reaper's grasp. If you're willing to get creative, anyway.
April 4, 2015 Want to Play a Samurai, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling it a Knight Instead!
For a game about fantasy people can sure get hung up on pigeonholing classes as a result of preconceived ideas. For example, if your DM told you that you can't play a samurai because the game is not set in Tian Xia, try explaining to them that a knight is really just a western samurai.
March 14, 2015 How To Roleplay During Combat
Even the best groups will completely shed their RP when combat breaks out. It's like a weird glitch that says if you're using abilities or swinging a sword you don't have time to roleplay anymore. That's not the case, and here are some ways to inject your RP back into your combat.
February 20, 2015 Why We All Need Diversity In Gaming (And How You Can Start)
Diversity in gaming is a big issue for a lot of people. While the conversation is largely focused on video games there is something to be said for attempts to be more diverse in your tabletop games. While you might resist stepping outside your comfort zone, there are definite benefits to doing so.
January 24, 2015 Fleshing Out Your Background or How To Avoid To Becoming A Murder Hobo
There is a character that shows up in every game, if you let it. A character whose only purpose is to kill the bad guys and take their stuff, but for no reason except to move on to killing the next thing. The murder hobo is a blight on a game, and this simple guide will help you make sure that you inject real pathos and plot into your characters.
January 1, 2015: A Guide To Swearing In Your Fantasy RPG
How many times have you gone to drop a four-letter-word into your game and remembered at the last moment there are children present? Or how often have you used a modern curse word that just doesn't feel right in the fantasy setting? Well this week we're here to help you liven up your language, and make it a touch more authentic to your characters.
December 12, 2014: Animal Companions, Cohorts, and Familiars, Oh My!
Adding secondary characters under a PC's control is a great way to bring more power to your game, but it's also a fantastic RP opportunity. If you want to recruit followers then remember you need to ask yourself how being a leader changes who your character is, and why.
November 28, 2014 What To Do When Your Player Characters Become Gods
The idea of turning PCs into gods isn't new; lots of people have done it. You shouldn't. You really, really shouldn't. There's no reason to. However, if you feel that you must then here are the major issues you're going to face.
November 7, 2014 Why You Should Respect Characters of Noble Birth (Before They Kick Your Ass)
There's a trend that paints nobles as lace-wearing buffoons or hapless middle managers of a country. History, and even our older stories, all point out that this seems to be a relatively new fear of ours. From Dracula to Tarzan the dangerous, cunning, and powerful have nearly always come from the ranks of the nobility.
October 24, 2014 Tips For Playing Evil Characters (Your DM Might Allow)
Playing an evil character is not as easy as DMs make it look, as evidenced by the sheer number of games that outright ban characters of an evil alignment. However, if you have your heart set on putting together a good evil character (however that works), here's a guide breaking down the basics.
October 11, 2014 All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Non-Monetary Rewards For Your RPG Party
Loot in an RPG is pretty by the numbers; XP, gold, and magic items. What else is there? This week's post gives you some alternative rewards that will surprise and delight your players. Especially those who love outside-the-box presents.
September 24, 2014 Alternatives to Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor
Magic weapons and armor are part of many roleplaying games, but it gets a little staid just buying them like you would a mug of ale or a cask of salt pork. Instead, why not re-think how your players get magic items? See if changing things up lights a new spark in your arms race.
August 26, 2014 The Difference Between Roleplaying Games And Just Playing Make Believe
The battle lines between RP and mechanics have been drawn. It's time to end the civil war, and for both sides to realize that without the other, they're useless.
July 10, 2014 A Gunslinger By Any Other Name...
The gunslinger has led to more arguments with DMs than practically any other class. For some reason storytellers have a staunch refusal to allow characters who use guns into their worlds. Here's a different way of looking at the class that might help those who are firmly against it see the other side of the issue.
May 28, 2013 Using Religion in Your Roleplaying
Religion is an important part of any fantasy RPG, particularly for classes who draw their strength and power from the divine. For those who want to add another layer of depth to their characters, here are some suggestions that might take a leap of faith.
April 23, 2014 How to Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane
After a while magic items just feel like props with more numbers stacked onto them... unless, that is, you breathe some life into them. Whether as a player or a storyteller your weapons, armor, and tools can really add to your character's story. The more epic it grows, the happier everyone will be.
March 21, 2014 Motivation: Why Characters Do The Things They Do
While there's no spot for it on your character sheet, motivation is one of the most important things you can know about your character. Here are some tips and suggestions for figuring out why it is your characters are out adventuring rather than working a job as an NPC.
February 23, 2014 Tips For Roleplaying Monstrous Characters
Monstrous characters and exotic races are always a fun experience for roleplayers. For those who want to really bring across the inhuman nature of their characters though, it's important to dig a little deeper than the abilities on a character sheet.
January 24, 2014 Avatar Games: When Players Play Themselves
We've all seen that one player who only knows how to play characters just like him. However, when that's done on purpose, and characters are supposed to be their players, it can be a fun and adventurous romp. Or it can be a terrible, crash-and-burn experience. It all depends on how you run it.
December 27, 2013 Dungeon Master Alchemy: Turning Stats Into Story
Ever have one of those games where all people talk about are numbers? Well, here's a list telling players and storytellers alike how to convert arithmetic into art.
December 2, 2013 How to Build Your Campaign: A Step-By-Step List
It isn't easy building and running a campaign. However, if you get organized you're making it a lot easier on yourself. Here's a checklist.
November 2, 2013 In Their Own Words: Finding Your Character's Voice
Characters are more than just numbers on a sheet. They have personalities, thoughts, and opinions. How they express them though is the mortar that keeps players in-character.
October 15, 2013 Keeping it in Character
Sometimes it's hard to keep people's heads in the game. However, if you set a couple of basic ground rules, and more importantly you set the proper tone, then players will be constantly trying to one-up each other with how in-character they are. Try it, you'll see.
October 11, 2013 There is No "I" in "Party"
While a party might look great on paper, it's very easy to fall apart as soon as an actual challenge shows up. If combat is giving you a run for your money, your strategy and strengths might be the issue. Here's some tips.
April 4, 2013 You're in the Army Now
While it's good to encourage players to make characters they want to play, in the end it's important to form a party. Not just a gaggle of adventurers who can get the job done, but a team. A unit, one might even say. Enlist today, and solve your party problems!