Saturday, February 27, 2021

5 Challenges Blaster Casters Need To Prep For (in Pathfinder)

I said it myself back in Vulgar Displays of Power: Tips For Getting The Most Out of Your Magic in Pathfinder, but blaster casters often find themselves getting less bang for their buck when it comes to an effective use of magic. With that said, there are few things more satisfying than pointing your hand, barking a word of power, and watching as the troll's head explodes, or a rain of fire destroys an enemy squad.

If you want to be an effective artillery piece, though, there's a slew of things you need to keep in mind when it comes to what your enemy can do, and the challenges you're going to face with regards to your effectiveness on the field. Because it's tough enough channeling the destructive powers of the ether... there's no need to do it with a set of ankle weights on, too.

Challenge #1: Energy Resistance


Is that fire damage? Oh... that's too bad...

There is nothing that is a bigger pain in the rear than charging up your big gun, only to find that the enemy is going to knock between 5 and 10 points off your damage. Or, worse, that your enemy is immune to that magic because of the element you've chosen to use. This is the most obvious pitfall out there, and a lot of players are rolling their eyes reading this, but I've seen this scuttle blasters' effectiveness more than once with players who go all-in on a given element, and then find by mid-level that they're essentially casting with one hand tied behind their back.

As such, it's a good idea to make sure that you have a wide variety of tricks up your sleeve. Like I said in 5 Challenges You Have To Deal With in Every Pathfinder Adventure Path, that means you need to have several elements you can call on. Fire is the most common resistance to find, in my experience, but cold is right behind it, and electricity and acid comes along behind that. Sonic is rare to have resistance against, as is negative energy, but there are some creatures that possess it.

Whether you choose to keep a wide variety of spells on-hand, or you have a trick that lets you convert and change the energy descriptor of a spell like the Elemental bloodline does for sorcerers, this is going to be a primary issue you'll have to deal with from relatively low levels.

Challenge #2: Evasion and High Saves


Did you just throw a fireball at me, you pleb?

Area of effect spells have the same satisfaction you get from dropping a sledgehammer on a problem. And when they work, hoo boy do they work... but when they whiff it can take all the wind out of your sails.

Which is why it's important to use these spells in situations they're geared toward so you get the biggest possible impact.

Area of effect spells (fireball, lightning bolt, and other classics) work best when you are dealing with hordes of creatures rather than single targets (and are supremely effective against swarms), and when those enemies are in a formation that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Because if you roll 10d6, and hit about 30 damage on a given creature, that's not a lot of harm done... unless you did it to a mob of 10 monsters, in which case you spread quite a bit of damage around! The problem with area of effect spells is, of course, that a monster takes half damage on a successful save. And if they have evasion (or worse, improved evasion) then you're just throwing around fireworks for all the good you're doing.

The key is, again, variety. While you should try to jack your save DC as high as you can get it (I covered a lot of options in How To Increase Spell DCs in Pathfinder forever and a day ago), you should also have plenty of single-target spells that don't allow for a saving throw at all. Because that trio of rogues might be able to laugh off your fireball, but a scorching ray at your full power, or a bevy of magic missiles, is going to put them in the ground before they can get a chance to pull out any fancy tricks.

Also, don't keep hammering away at creatures with high saving throws that keep besting certain spells. Change tactics, and attack a different defense (their touch armor class, their Fortitude save, etc.). You need to attack their weak spots, not slam your fist into their strong defense and hope you get through.

Challenge #3: Spell Resistance


Fool! You have no power here.

Spell resistance is the absolute bane of blaster casters. While it isn't usually an immediate issue when a campaign starts, it's going to start cropping up as soon as your campaign deals with outsiders, dragons, and other powerful monster types... so you need to be prepared for it.

The first thing you need to do is boost your caster level as much as possible, and to take feats like Spell Penetration to be sure that spell resistance isn't an issue when you decide to cut loose. There are also rods that give you bonuses to overcoming spell resistance, and keeping one of those on your belt is always a good idea.

With that said, it is equally important to make sure you have at least a few spells up your sleeve that don't allow for spell resistance. They are few and far between, but they do exist. A lot of them aren't blasting spells (glitterdust is a perfect example), but you need to keep your options open for when the other bullets in your gun aren't going to get the results you want.

Challenge #4: Sight Lines and Effective Firing


Got you, you little bastard!

One of the simplest ways to take away a blaster's ability to affect you is to vanish. Whether it's into a cloud of smoke, by turning invisible, or ducking behind total cover, not having a line of sight/line of effect to a target can stymie you in some of the most frustrating ways. And it's going to happen sooner or later, so you need to be prepared for it.

If you have darkvision then you're already one step ahead of the curve. However, it's a good idea to invest in an ability to see invisible creatures, and if you really want to throw a monkey wrench into their gears use spells like the previously-mentioned glitterdust to mark them out for the rest of the party. Invisibility purge is another great trick to keep up your sleeve, though a simple smogstick is also a useful, alchemical solution to the problem. You should also keep gust of wind on hand, or consider investing in fogcutter lenses, or a goz mask, as both will allow you to see through fog, smoke, etc. Of course, these would also allow you to pop smoke yourself with an obscuring mist spell, and to fire with impunity at enemies who can't see you.

Just some food for thought, there.

Challenge #5: Actually Dealing Damage


These numbers just aren't adding up...

One of the unfortunate truths about blaster casters is that they just don't pack the wallop you want them to... and this only gets truer as you go up in level. As such, you need to tweak your load out to make sure that you are getting every point of damage you can out of your spells.

For example, a higher effective caster level (such as how the Sanguine bloodline increases your caster level for any necromancy school spell by 1) can be a boon. Blasting spells tend to do a certain amount of damage based on your caster level, and while they have caps, slinging around the most damage dice you can as fast as you can is a pretty big help. It also doesn't hurt if you can apply metamagic feats to your spells, allowing them to surpass the normal amount of damage they'd do, maximizing the damage without rolling the dice, etc., etc. Furious Spell, in particular, can be helpful for those who intend to cast while under the effects of some kind of rage. And, of course, make sure you target a creature's weaknesses in order to get bonus damage out of your spells (a creature with a weakness to fire, for instance, takes 1.5 times the damage from fire spells).

However, it never hurts to add every point you can.

As an example, the evoker gets to add half their wizard level in bonus damage on spells that deal hit point damage. The trait Volatile Conduit allows you to boost a fire, cold, acid, or electricity spell by 1d4 damage as a free action once per day. There aren't as many of these abilities, as most combat feats specifically mention they cannot be used with touch attacks (or they must be used with a physical weapon), but even stacking on an addition d4 here or +2 there adds up over time.

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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 alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, 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, February 22, 2021

Game Masters, Goal-Oriented Players Need Challenges (Or They'll Eat The Setting)

You thought things were going to be great at first. He was enthusiastic, and involved, and really following along with everything. It made you feel good to just let that energy wash over you, channeling it into the activity. The problem was that you left him alone without anything to engage him. He didn't have any toys to play with, or anyone else to spend time with... you thought it would be okay, but you didn't realize just how much destruction could be wreaked out of boredom, and the search for a greater purpose.

You were busy, so I may have, ugh, toppled the throne and assassinated the king.

While this is usually a concern that homeowners have for pets that require a lot of stimulation and play time to prevent them from becoming destructive, or for zoos who want to keep their animals engaged through enrichment activities, this metaphor also applies to a certain type of player. I say this as a goal-oriented player myself, pleading for the game masters out there to listen.

If you do not give us tasks to complete, we will make our own fun. And nine times out of ten, you're not going to like the direction we wander off in.

Also, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter yet, consider doing that! And if you missed my latest announcement, the first supplement for my new RPG setting is out. So grab your copy of Ironfire: The City of Steel for either Pathfinder or DND 5th Edition today!

Toss Us a Pumpkin, Already!


There's a variety of different players you'll share table space with, and no two of them are entirely the same. However, it has been my experience that goal-oriented players tend to be like high-energy herding dogs, or tigers in captivity; we need to have activities in order to keep us occupied and moving forward. I love story rich games, I greatly enjoy lore and setting, but for me to be engaged with a game I need to have a goal I'm expected to achieve... and if one isn't put in front of me, I'll go find one.

"What's in your mouth?" The Necronomicon... "No!"

To be clear, here, you can't just toss a goal-oriented player any old task and expect them to immediately be engaged in it. As a GM, talk to your player, review their character, and get a feeling for their skills, the arcs they want to pursue, and the stuff that will get the player's attention. Or use a Session 0 creation sheet, possibly using 10 Questions To Put On Your Character Creation Document as inspiration. Then figure out a way to tie it to the direction you want them to go.

As an example, if your goal-oriented player shows up with a big bruiser packing a greatsword, and your player tells you they want to get their character knighted for their deeds, find a way to dangle that carrot. If the game you're running is a political drama, don't let the hulk wander off to start bar fights or see how many city guard it takes to put him in jail. Instead, let the bruiser get involved in preventing an assassination attempt, and give them a title from a grateful lord as a reward. Once they did something using their skills and received a reward they'll be locked in more firmly, and as a bonus you now have an NPC mouthpiece you can use to give them more tasks to accomplish (sending them along as protection with the party, asking them to root out conspirators on behalf of their new lord, etc., etc.).

If you give goal-oriented players a chance to use their characters' skills to achieve their goals, they will turn all of that attention and energy toward solving the game's plot. Usually in the direction the reward came from, which is exactly what you want them to do.

The Arms Race


Something that's happened in several games I've been part of that were either extremely open-ended, or where certain players/builds simply couldn't participate by following the path as it was laid out, is what I call the arms race. Or to be more descriptive, it's an escalation of tactics and methods as a player attempts to participate in a meaningful way, despite road blocks and challenges being put in their path. Because while the GM might think they're discouraging the goal-oriented player, they're actually making the problem worse by unintentionally giving them what they want.

You know how they say kids act out to get attention? It's partly that, if the only way they can get time in the spotlight/interaction with the world is going against the grain of what's expected, but the other issue is that goal-oriented players need a challenge to overcome. So by handing them a challenge, you're giving them what they want... the problem is that if this isn't a challenge you want them to get past, all you're doing is frustrating your player as well as yourself.

There's an army over there? Like... how big of an army? This is getting exciting!

The arms race is frustrating for everyone involved, because when you're the GM you're trying to send the message, "This is the wrong way, turn back!" But when you're a goal-oriented player and you find a way around, over, under, or through the road block, it can feel like the GM is punishing you for succeeding when you did what it feels like they asked; you overcame the challenge they laid out. And if the GM just create bigger obstacles to try to send the message more clearly, the player is just going to keep meeting the challenges and getting more frustrated when they don't receive rewards for their efforts.

And it becomes a cycle of endless frustration for all parties involved.

So if you start seeing goal-oriented players going off in directions you didn't anticipate, or which are causing problems, don't just slap bigger threats in front of them. Sit down with the player, and ask what they're trying to accomplish. Work out a solution, and re-direct their efforts in a way you feel is helpful, and which gets things moving more in the direction you were aiming for.

If you want them to stop setting things on fire and carving out their own kingdoms, engage them. I promise you directing that energy will be worthwhile, and once you've got their noses pointed in the right direction it's full steam ahead!

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, 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 cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, 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, February 20, 2021

The Evil Warlock Die (A Cursed Relic From The Depths of My Dice Bag)

We all have dice that betray us at the worst moment. Sometimes they make us look foolish, or cause us to botch what should be our best skill. Sometimes they get our characters killed. For most of us those particular dice are regarded with suspicion, given to new owners, or in some cases locked away in shame jails or knotted dice bags, never to see the light of day again.

There are some dice, though, that do not learn their lesson. They do not repent. They steep in their own malice and spite, eventually becoming forces of chaos at the table. This is a story of one such die.

So much fear... over such a little thing...

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How The Evil Warlock Die Came To Me


I acquired this die very early on in my tabletop career. At the time I only owned two sets of dice, and had never gone past level 3 in a game. I was at the hosting player's house, and I noticed she'd been cleaning out her fish tank. While I'd noticed there were dice in the tank before, I'd always thought it was just decoration. When I asked, though, I found out that the tank was where the traitors went.

"Sleeping with the fishes," she'd said solemnly. "Nobody double-crosses me."

I noticed that all of the condemned were d20s. They'd been laid out and scrubbed along with the gravel, but one of them sat alone. It was a black die with red numbers, part of a standard Chessex opaque set the company still sells... but it seemed wrong, somehow. Sinister in a way the others weren't. I touched it, and turned it over onto another face, revealing the jagged scar that ran along the die. Its previous owner looked at me, and told me I could have it if I wanted it.

I wasn't sure I did, but I took it anyway.

Discovering Its Trigger Word


All magic items, even cursed ones, have activation terms. So it was with the Evil Warlock Die, as it came to be called (since DND 3.5 was the current edition we were playing at the time, and because the warlock happened to be the class I was playing). I'd been using the die for several sessions, getting mainly mediocre, lackluster rolls. The standard for any game I'm in, which is why I have to min-max everything so stringently; if I can't succeed on a 5, then I could go entire sessions before my character actually did anything useful.

It was while we were fighting an orc chieftain that none of us could touch that I discovered the activation terms for the die. I had to be swirling it around, either in my hand or a dice cup, and speak the phrase, "I have a stupid idea," before laying out my plan. In this case I wanted to instigate a grapple check (something my character was not trained to do), before laying my palm in a sensitive place (the chieftain had a rather elaborately described codpiece with a skull on the belt buckle), and letting off my eldritch blast.

Ain't no safety on this big gun.

The GM fully expected my crunchy caster to get his head stoved in by the orc's great club. I also fully expected this result. What happened instead was one of the most epic critical hits our table had seen in some time, confirmed with a second natural 20, and a pool of 6d6 to a rather sensitive place that almost rolled maximum damage. To paraphrase the GM:

"The orc takes a 5-foot step to the left, loses the will to live, and falls down dead."

This was the first recorded incident of this cursed item coming through in a pinch, but far from the last. The Evil Warlock die has been responsible for blindly activating epic-level magic items several levels early, giving the party access to wish in a very unintended way. It was the die that allowed a gunslinger to blow out a dragon's remaining eye, setting the GM scrambling because he'd expected us to run screaming from the wounded, but still high CR, monster. It seemed to take particular delight in ruining the plans of a punitive GM, allowing strategies that had no business succeeding skate by on the skin of their teeth due to obscenely lucky numbers.

However, the Evil Warlock Die is still a cursed item... which means there's a price to pay for its devil's luck.

I've lost count of the number of natural 1s this die has rolled on saving throws, confirmation rolls, and skill checks. It has taken its toll from my characters in blood, but yet I always have it set off to the side for when things get dire. Because there is another part of the formula that always plays into the power of this die... it only seems to grant its luck to my worst plans when they would have the largest dramatic impact.

If I want to do something silly in a situation with no stakes, I get a 1 or a 2 for my trouble. If I want to spit blood in the wizard's eyes to blind him so my allies can reposition themselves on the battlefield, or if I want to leap down from sprinting across a roof beam and spear the monster in the throat, tearing my way down its gullet sword first, this is the die I reach for.

Particularly if it's established that it doesn't care for the GM. Because, at least in this case, the enemy of GM is my friend.

What's Next on Table Talk?


That's it for this 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 hard-boiled cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, 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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Merciless Mechs, Ground-Shaking Stompers, and More Coming in "Machines of War"!

Anyone that's been on my blog for a bit knows I am a huge fan of the Savage Company setting. A game filled with monstrous mercenaries, blazing guns, and all the high-fantasy nonsense you could ask for. From books like the Savage Company Operations Guide (which provides pre-made modules and missions to send your squad on) as well as the Infantryman's Handbook (which gives you a bevy of high-caliber solutions to any problems a ground pounder might find on the field), this setting is pedal-to-the-metal nonsense in all the best ways.

And though there's currently a Savage Company bundle covering all their releases to-date, there's something new for this setting currently on Kickstarter. Something titled Machines of War!

Evocative, ain't it?

I recently got a chance to talk to the creators (Owen and Adam Martin) about what this book is, and what it adds to the game. So if you, like me, have wanted to see mechs, war bikes, arcane-drive tanks, alchemical artillery, and more, this is definitely something you should consider checking out.

And, of course, backing if you have the cash.

For those who want to make sure they don't miss any of my fresh content, make sure you sign up for my newsletter as well!

How would you describe Savage Company for players who haven't heard of it before? 

 

Adam: Savage Company is a campaign setting that can be used as a base for expanding into a player-driven homebrew world, or dropped into your favorite game world. It focuses heavily on militarized monstrous races and has tons of tools for expanding vehicles and firearms use.

 

Owen: Guns, monsters, and high-octane action. We set out to make content for military fantasy games that were still compatible with all the first party content that already exists. So you still have dragons and wizards, but you can add motorcycles and machine guns and all of them are equally good options. 

 

What does "Machines of War" add to the game setting and rules?

 

Adam: Machines of war adds large scale combat with walking tanks and also squads of smaller vehicles and units. Along with new class options and mechanics for allowing that to balance with classic RPG fantasy elements.

 

Owen: We’re expanding on all the things from the first book, races, classes, weapons, equipment, feats, spells, and vehicles, but the new wargame aspect allows you to play large scale, or mass combat quickly and easily. The wargame itself can be played competitively against friends or incorporated into your tabletop game, combining or switching between modes easily and fluidly. 

 

Do you have any other plans for expansion? Modules, adventure paths, etc.?

 

Adam: We are never without ideas, our next planned publication is an ambitious Halloween adventure that should be popular with horror fans, drama kids, and everyone in between. After that we’re going to write an entire AP that uses all the mechanics we’ve brought into the game and guides a group through a massive war against Hell, all the way to level 20. We’re aiming for about 48 4-hour sessions worth of game content, with all the varied narrative options we always like to include

 

Owen: Oh yeah, so many plans. I’ll just say it, the adventure is named “Curse of the Phantom” and it should take you about four sessions to complete. It can be approached with multiple different playstyles, there are many routes and multiple endings. It’s an adventure that offers new things with each playthrough. And Green Hell, that’s our big project for 2022. I hope people want a full 20 level AP for 1st edition Pathfinder because we’re really excited to write it. 

 

What sort of reception has Savage Company received, overall?

 

Adam: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive! In an era where anonymous internet critics are a dime a dozen, we’ve managed to cultivate a small but dedicated following of gamers. We like to keep them involved with previews and planning on our Discord server.

 

Owen: For being mostly unknown by the greater gaming public, those who do read our books like what we’re doing and offer a lot of constructive criticism, which we love. We try to listen to everyone and learn from that. I really like the group that has gathered on Discord and throws hard questions at us or joins the voice chat while we’re writing or working on art. Actually it was the Discord crew that came up with the idea for the “Chair” book and made it happen, and it has over 200 downloads now! 

 

Is the setting going to grow significantly with these additions?

 

Adam: With the addition of 4 new factions there will be some growth to the setting. We’re still trying to keep things unobtrusive so we’re not forcing groups into using our world, but eventually we may have to break away from canon sources and grow our own lore.

 

Owen: I don’t think it's a secret that the world of Savage Company is set in (NOT) Golarion™, we started there, but left all the larger aspects of the world unwritten to make it easier to place the setting into your own games. With the new factions and some of the other things we have planned, we’re going to have to start fleshing out more and more aspects of the world into its own thematically (and legally) distinct and unique place. We plan on writing in this setting for a very long time so we’re in no rush to fill up all the space right away. 

 

What drives this particular setting? What made you put it together?

 

Adam: We played a homebrew game for fun with a theme of Orcs with guns. It was so fun we kept playing it for years, eventually all the homebrew classes and firearm options became the backbone of our rules material.

 

Owen: In addition to our own desire to play things that didn’t exist, we also wanted to create a space for veterans to tell their stories. Everyone on the team is a military veteran or has worked in the defense industry closely with veterans, and we have an open call for short story submissions. Several vets who I have worked with in the past have sent in stories based on their experiences and we worked them into the greater narrative of the book. 

 

Is there anything I didn't ask that you want folks to know about your setting, Kickstarter, etc.?


Adam: Savage Company has always served to find a niche we liked that was underserved by 1st and 3rd-party material. We ask ourselves, “what do we want to play that isn’t there, or wasn’t done well, and how can we make a difference?” Everything we write is stuff that we desperately want at our table, and it turns out there are others that want it too.


Owen: In addition to the obvious “please check out our Kickstarter” I would encourage anyone interested to go look at our publisher page on DriveThruRPG, we have 6 books that are totally free for anyone to download including two adventures, so you can go check those out and get an idea what our stuff is like. Also we have a Discord server that is open to the public and we love talking to people about games and ideas, plus you get a lot of previews of what we’re working on. Thank you so much Neal for this opportunity, reaching new people is always the hardest aspect about being a new publisher and we cannot thank you enough. 


Links:

Kickstarter

Discord

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

DriveThruRPG


Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, 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 cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, 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, February 13, 2021

The Chosen (A Cleric Character Concept)

"But... why?" Gerald asked, the word coming out in a breath as he wrung his hands. "How?"

"Those are not our answers to have, Gerald," Constantine said, patting the young priest on the shoulder. "And they are, in the end, fruitless questions to ask. You should rejoice that our Lord has shown his favor to someone in our midst."

"Are we certain, though?" Gerald asked, his face still troubled. "She has no training. No schooling. She barely knows her letters. She was grubbing in a pig pen before the attack, and then-"

"And then the power manifested within her," Constantine said, cutting off his companion. "Our lord chose the steel, Gerald. It is not our job to question why, but to take up our rasps and cloths, and to shape and polish her until she reflects his light more completely."

"Of course," Gerald said, inclining his head. It was a contrite gesture, but his eyes said he was confused... and perhaps resentful. Constantine noted it. He would need to help Gerald douse those sparks before they grew into something worse.

"Now then, enough of this," Constantine said, taking Gerald by the arm. "Let us, instead, spend our energies where they may truly be useful."

She must learn control, if nothing else.

The Chosen


When we think of a cleric we usually imagine the character's class as their profession; a priest who is a living conduit to the god whose church they serve. After all, if a god needs someone to carry their power in the material plane, and to act as their representative, why wouldn't they choose from those who are near-to-hand who are ready and willing to accept that responsibility?

Well, perhaps it's because they are not the right tool for the job.

If a god needed a sword, there are plenty of priests who'd be willing to put their blood on the line for their faith... but perhaps it's the grizzled mercenary who has been tempered by years of battle that this god instills with their power. Perhaps they need a voice to spread their word, but rather than reaching to the pulpit, the god finds their vessel strumming a lute in a tavern and singing for whiskey shots and silver coins. There are many among the clergy who might be willing to travel and heal in their god's name, but a barber surgeon or bonesetter who has chosen that life to help others rather than to bask in the reflected glory of their deity's favor may be a better instrument for affecting change.

This is the idea of the chosen. Not that they have some great destiny ahead of them, or that they're instrumental in some grand design; they are, rather, the ideal tool for the job at-hand.

The bones have spoken!

The Chosen is a fun concept for multiclass clerics, or for those who have unexpected/unusual backgrounds, histories, or who don't seem to fit the role of a traditional, priestly character.

The go-to example is the cleric who has little to no knowledge of religious matters. They might be the person with calloused hands and rough speech, standing like a wolf among the sheep of dedicated holy men and women who've been brought up and educated by the clergy. They might be a scion of a noble bloodline who, to the surprise of many, has a glimmer of the divine right of kings that made them an ideal vessel for divine power. In some cases there may be no logical explanation for why a particular god chose a failed wizard's apprentice, a one-eyed orc warrior, or a butcher who seemed to be trying her best to just handle the demands of her trade.

Why these particular individuals were chosen is up to you, and your game master. Of course, if an immediate idea doesn't occur to you, or you prefer to leave the question up to the imaginations of the table, never give a concrete answer.

After all, the gods often work in truly mysterious ways...

Speaking of the mysterious ways of the divine, if you need a little on-hand mystery to drop, consider checking out 100 Random Oracular Pronouncements. And if you're looking for more ways to step outside the usual box when it comes to these particular divine casters, make sure you take a look at 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics, too!

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 game master.

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 alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, 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, February 8, 2021

GMs, Keep Your Threats De-Centralized To Maintain Long-Term Plot

There is a question I see time and time again from game masters and storytellers in RPG groups, and it applies across games and editions. While it comes in several different forms, the underlying query is always the same.

"My players went after the big bag, and killed him way sooner than I expected. What am I supposed to do now?"

What indeed. But Specter has many heads, why don't your villains?

What I would suggest is that you take a deep breath, let it out, and consider the idea of a de-centralized threat. Because you want your players to still have their victories, but if you want to keep the game going no matter which particular bad guy they pop in the eye, your villainous threat needs to be able to absorb the loss without crumpling beneath its own weight.

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Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, and More!


A lot of game masters and storytellers can get overly focused on a single bad guy. Whether it's the one evil wizard, the singular wicked queen, or the head corrupt priest, there is a particular villain who is going to be the end game threat. The story, in a lot of ways, is leading in a roundabout route to the PCs eventually having a showdown with that Big Bad Evil Guy (trademark), and then once that is accomplished the campaign story is complete!

As was just alluded to, though, the worst thing that can happen is if the PCs jump the gun with regards to the one bad guy. Maybe they unmask the shadowy traitor at court five levels too early, calling out the duke in front of everyone. Perhaps you wanted the big bad to cross swords with the party once or twice before the final bout, and they got absolutely wrecked by lucky criticals from the barbarian. Your party might have concocted a brilliant strategy that let them teleport into the villain's lair for a decapitating strike, skipping right over a dozen fights and two dozen traps to spike the big bad in the head before they could retreat out the trapdoor.

The solution, in this case, is not to hang the plot off of one NPC's shoulders.

To solve that issue, spread out the villains!

For examples you need look no further than games like Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Call of Cthulhu, or Changeling: The Lost. In these games players are a part of bigger, ongoing events that often affect them personally, but which you can't just barrel into and solve with the swing of a blade, or the pull of a trigger. While individual victories can be won (and should be won, in order to keep players interested), that one victory will not end the threat entirely, thus allowing you to keep the game going, moving onto a different plot point.

In Werewolf, players take on the role of shapechanging warriors who fight a secret, ongoing battle against the corrupting forces of the Wyrm; a creature that would cast the world down in darkness, and end life as we know it. Players will find themselves facing evil werewolves who've gone over to the enemy, corrupted spirits, mutant humans and animals known as fomori, as well as mortal threats like corporations that want to reap the planet for profit no matter what sort of harm it will cause. While bullets, blades, claws, and teeth can fight many of these threats, there is no one evil spirit, no singular monster, and no individual oil tycoon who is orchestrating everything; they're all a part of the same web of threats you have to deal with.

The same de-centralized threats are key to Call of Cthulhu and Changeling as well. In Call of Cthulhu, you cannot kill the old ones any more than a flea could murder a grizzly bear. You can disrupt rituals, kill or break up cults, and destroy items of power (sometimes), but these victories do not render the overall threat gone. In much the same way, Changeling has the forces of the True Fae arrayed against you and your compatriots. And though you may thwart the agents of a particular True Fae, outsmart a Huntsman, or reach an understanding with an antagonistic fetch, none of these things by themselves are going to undo the threats against the PCs, and their world.

Because these threats are so vast, so wide, and so varied, there's always going to be another head of the hydra to rear up when they manage to burn one off.

How Do You Apply That To Traditional Fantasy Games?


All three of the examples above are very different from your traditional, level-based games. However, that doesn't mean you can't take the lessons from those games and apply them to what you're trying to run.

The only thing you need is a little creativity.

And notes... copious notes.

As an example, let's take the traitorous duke. In a game of cat-and-mouse, the party is going to have to work their way up until they eventually discover his identity, leading to a final confrontation. You know how you stop early discovery from being an issue, though? You make it an entire cabal of traitors, not just one. So that way even if the PCs manage to uncover one, and kill him, that doesn't end the threat. There are still others in the court, each moving on their own machinations. Who they discover first, and what steps they take, will affect the actions the cabal takes as a whole, but one early discovery won't wrap up the entire plot.

The same thing can happen with the other scenarios. The villainous swordsman who thought he could take on the whole party at once? Well, what if he's just one black knight among a dozen, each with their own specialties, powers, and role to play? Even if the PCs manage to kill the one, that doesn't stop the others from enacting their overall plans... and it might make them particularly vengeful because the party killed one of their own. That wizard who got taken out by a lucky strike, or because the PCs evaded their traps and minions? That ceases to be an issue if there's a coven of eight wizards, and if the death of one triggers a warning to the others that something is amiss.

In the end, having one big villain behind everything is the same as expecting one big monster to go toe-to-toe with the party. A lot of the time it works just fine... but when it doesn't, it can lead to a seriously premature end to the fight, or to the entire campaign. If you want to draw things out, put more threats in the air so that even if the PCs unexpectedly manage to solve one, there are still others hovering that need to be taken care of before the credits can officially roll on this adventure.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, 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 cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, 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, February 6, 2021

What Does Your Character Do For Entertainment?

"This is what you're spending your night doing?" Albrecht asked, taking a sip from his thin beer.

"You didn't have to come with," Baren said, not even turning her head to look at him.

"You talked them up, figured I should at least give them a chance." The bearded man plucked a flask from an inside pocket, pouring a shot of stronger stuff into his mug.

Albrecht was about to say something else, when the lights went out. A cold wind went round the tavern, blowing out candles and torches, leaving the place in darkness. Out of the shadows, a rhythmic thumping came from the stage. It was joined by a cymbal, hissing like a metallic serpent in the dark. A whisper of strings under a bow, and then a rising note from an inhuman throat. The growl rose higher, and higher, and the dark was pushed back by bobbing, red globes. Standing on the stage, surrounded by wisps of acrid smoke, was a band from hell. Wild-haired and sharp-eyed, they were a collection of claws and teeth, horns and tails that looked like something out of a fever dream. Their lead smiled, flashing her fangs to crowd.

"Like to start you all off with one of our favorites," she said, her husky voice filling the room before Devil's Bargain launched into Good Intentions, one of their most infamous tunes.

"Well?" Baren said, grinning as the first song drew to a close.

"Hell of an opener," Albrecht said, though he was smiling behind his beard. "Let's see if they can keep it up."

And now, let's take it down a notch. This is Black Queen's Bargain!

What Does Your Character Do For Entertainment?


When we sit down to make our characters, we tend to think of them in terms of their skills, their role within the party, and their eventual goals. They're wizards, warriors, priests, and scoundrels, looking to make that big score, earn a knighthood, start their own business, or what have you. However, one thing we often ignore (or which just doesn't occur to us) is to ask what our characters do for entertainment. Whether it's out on the road, or when they finally get some leave in town, what do they seek out to blow off some steam? And what does that say about them?

Does going to the tavern count?

As an example, is your character a tourist who loves seeing historical sites? Even if it's something bland or boring to most people, do they seek out sites of battles, events of minor import, or just try to take in as many road side attractions as they can find? Is your character a foodie, seeking unusual cuisine like salamander steaks or shallow bay oysters (a few examples off the menu in 100 Fantasy Foods) to expand their palate? Do they have a tendency to pick up fresh tattoos to mark personal achievements, new levels, or just because they're in a unique location (like the Ketch's Knot or Fortune's Torc found in 100 Fantasy Tattoos, And The Meaning Behind Them)? Do they tour art galleries or museums, taking in the culture and looking at installments dedicated to particular artists?

Do they love live music, like Devil's Bargain in the story above, drawn right out of my 100 Fantasy Bands supplement?

This isn't just a downtime question, either. Because there's often a lot of time spent in transit when you're a PC, and that's a lot of time to get bored. So what does your character do? Do they like to play cards, either alone or with others? Do they prefer to shoot dice? Is there a game equal to chess, or checkers, that they use to pass the time? Do they read the equivalent of dime novels while they travel, just slouched down in the back of the cart while they wait for the party to get where they're going? Do they like to sing, whether or not their companions enjoy the performance? Do they like to spend the evenings fishing, or whittling, or sketching?

Everybody's Got Hobbies


We've all got hobbies, and things we enjoy spending our money on when it's time to unwind. And while there's nothing wrong with a good pub crawl (especially if you're hitting some of the bizarre bars in 100 Random Taverns to spend your share of the treasure), you can get a lot more out of your character if you dig a little deeper than that.

And it can get even more unique/unusual when you start embracing the weird, wild, and magical aspects of a game.

For example, did the wizard learn a game when she was still an apprentice using prestidigitation that's the equivalent of Pong that they play with the sorcerer? Does the tiefling enjoy cooking strange and bizarre things using their bare hands, because burns are a thing other people have to deal with? Does the druid plant fruit trees wherever they go using their magic to ensure the fruits grow, turning the entire world into their garden to ensure there's also fresh fruit along the routes they and other travelers follow?

While this aspect of a character might not define them in major ways, it can say a lot about who they are, and what makes them happy. Not only that, but it can make a character feel more organic, more real, and it's often these little details that can flesh them out, and add interesting details to the world as their hobbies carve out areas of culture and flavor that other folks may not have thought about.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Fluff post!

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 alley cat thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, 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!