Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Dark Horizons: A Post-Apocalyptic 1d10 Gaming Review

It's been a fair bit of time since I took one of my early week posts to review an RPG, so I figured it was well past time for another installment. And if you're one of those players or Game Masters who wants a game that is relatively simple to play, but which still gives you a lot of options for customization and game options, then you should definitely check out the 1d10 gaming system by GG Games.

And if you've been craving a game set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia that's notably different from the one we live in day-to-day, then you should definitely give Dark Horizons a look for yourself!

Gas mask optional, depending on table vaccination status.

Before we get into it this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

The 1d10 System, And The End of The World


Folks who know me know my opinion on rules light games. Generally speaking I don't really enjoy them, as I like games that provide players with a lot of options and choices so they can meaningfully customize the characters they're playing, and interact with the world in a myriad of ways. However, the 1d10 system by GG Games is something I haven't come across since Savage Worlds; a game that feels like a rules light game, but which doesn't skimp on options and customization.

There's a lot beneath the surface, is what I'm saying.

As an example, take Dark Horizons, the game that was sent to me for review purposes by the publisher. The book is meant for those who want to run a post-apocalyptic RPG, but there isn't a specific meta attached to this game. So whether you want to run a zombie apocalypse, a plague world, a nuclear hellscape full of rad mutants, or any other kind of setting, this book is meant to help you do that. Beyond that, though, making a character is extremely simple. You have three stats (Social, Mental, Physical), a handful of skills, your character species, and bam, you're off to the races! Not only that, but all you need to play the game is a single, 10-sided die. Roll the die, add your bonuses from your attribute and/or skill, any special abilities, and you're done!

At this point I was beginning to feel some trepidation. I'm all for games that don't introduce needless overcomplication, but that seemed a little simplistic for a full RPG. It was almost simple enough you could do a board game with it, a la Hero Quest. But then I looked up and realized I was less than a third of the way through the book. That was when the ride started picking up speed!

Because not long after this initial run down of starting attributes and skills, the game started going into the Features you could add to your character. Similar to feats in Pathfinder, or merits in World of Darkness, these Features gave you all sorts of interesting abilities you could use to really customize your play style, power set, and abilities. In addition to the Features you have Mutations (since mutants are an old standby of the post-apocalyptic genre), and these provided a whole new way for you to add abilities and unique powers to a character. Lastly, in addition to the basic starting character species, there's a whole slew of alternatives Game Masters can make available based on the type of apocalypse they're running, ranging from aliens, to androids, to fey creatures, and more!

Lots of Options, Not a Lot of Numbers


The actual numbers you deal with in Dark Horizons are relatively small. Unless you gear every aspect of your character to being good at particular tasks, it's unlikely you'll ever have a bonus in the double digits until you're approaching the end of the campaign. However, while the game has a leveling system, it simply gives you a certain amount of points each level to distribute as you wish to. So whether you want to add new mutations to your character, increase your starting attributes, acquire a new Feature, etc., those decisions are left up to you!

This provides a unique experience, and it's one that definitely hits all those sweet spots for me as a player. Because there's nothing like knowing you can make your character as simple and straightforward, or as batshit nuts, as you want to get with it!

End of the day, I would highly recommend this game. Especially if you're the sort of Game Master who likes an RPG that fits a genre, but doesn't want to limit you too much when it comes to world building, setting, and the specifics of the game you're actually running.

But wait, there's more!

If Dark Horizons isn't your jam, though, don't worry! GG Games has other options for you, each of which contains the necessary rules and system overview to play without needing to buy a base book as well. So if you're in the market for any of the following genres, check these out!

- Wild Frontiers: A Wild West RPG with focus on gambling, reputations, duels, and dime novel legends!

- Uncharted Territory: A pulp-era RPG, mysticism and adventure run rampant between these pages!

- Distant Lands: Fantasy done differently... try this one if you want something different than D&D.

- Beyond Terra: Sci-fi in all its myriad forms! Cyborgs and aliens, to high-tech low-lifes.

- Galvanic Adventures: Victorian fiction in all its dark and dreary details. What lurks in the darkness of the hearts of the world's cities?

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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Players, Be Specific When Asking For Help With Your Characters

As someone who has run my share of RPGs, and who spends most of my time on forums and social media pages dedicated to various games, I've lost count of the number of players I've seen asking for advice on how to make a "good" character. What feats do you take to make a good fighter, what spells do you need to make a good wizard, what rogue talents make me the best rogue, and so on, and so forth.

The reason these requests always generate so many disagreements, though, is lack of specificity. Because what is "good" to one person giving advice is going to be useless to another, and vice versa. So if you take nothing else away from this week's update, remember this. Be specific when you ask for advice, and you might actually get tips that are useful for accomplishing your goals.

Narrow your goal, and you'll get targeted advice.

Before we get into it this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

What is "Good" Anyway?


The problem you'll run into when you ask for advice for making a "good" character (not capital-G Good, that's alignment, morality, etc.) is that there is no universal definition of what makes a character effective. Consider the age-old example of judging every animal by how well it can climb a tree... great if your goal is climbing trees smoothly and quickly, not so good if your goal is doing anything other than that.

I appreciate you can swim really well... but I need to leap this chasm.

Before the metaphor gets away from me, consider the question of what spells do you take to make a "good" wizard? You could ask a dozen different players, and get a dozen different answers. Some will lay out the best metamagic feats and evocation spells that will let you deal massive amounts of area-of-effect damage. Others will focus on spells that destroy single targets one at a time. Still others will lay out wizard spellbooks specifically made to weaken and debuff opponents, while different players will have a list that's entirely built to buff and protect their allies from harm.

All of these are valid options. The problem is that "good" is completely subjective here. One player heard it as, "make the biggest fireball/lightning bolt you can," while another heard, "reduce the enemy effectiveness so your allies can more easily mop them up." Another player heard, "one spell, one kill," while another interpreted it as, "turn your allies into titans!" None of these are wrong, but whether the listener's definition of a "good" build meshes with the definition of the person asking for advice can be sort of hit-or-miss.

That's why it's a good idea to think about what you actually want your character to be able to accomplish before you ask for advice. Whether you're going to a forum of 100k players, or just asking your Game Master for their input, results are always better when you ask specific questions.

For example:

- How do I deal the most damage with a melee weapon?
- What methods can I use as X class to increase my defense?
- What feats and archetypes for a cleric should I use to maximize my healing spells?
- What feats and rogue talents increase my ability to use the Stealth skill effectively?

You could get even more specific than these, or a little less specific if you have a particular goal (deal the most damage with a greatsword, for example) but you haven't locked in any specifics like class, species, etc. At the end of the day, however, you need to provide the parameters for what kind of advice you're actually looking for to be sure that you and your responders both have the same goals in mind.

You're probably still going to get your share of responders who ignore your specifics and just post what they think is a better solution (the "yeah, I know you're looking for fighter advice, but what you really want is a rogue/barbarian/alchemist with X, Y, and Z combos for this," folks) but it's easier to ignore them when they stepped outside the bounds that you laid for your request.

Speaking of "Better" Builds...


If you're looking for fresh tricks, I've got you covered.

I talked about this splat when it first dropped, but I don't want it vanishing into obscurity just yet. Sellswords of Sundara details 10 mercenary companies, providing their histories, uniform styles, combat doctrine, notable NPCs, as well as whispers and rumors about them to really add mystery to the game. And since we're talking about achieving specific goals today, each company has an archetype or subclass (depending on if you prefer the Pathfinder Classic or Dungeons and Dragons 5E version) that gives you unique abilities.

From characters who can be resurrected using animate dead, to monks that can punch spells out of the air, to old soldiers who can turn their age negatives into bonuses, there's all kinds of fun things in here you should check out. If you want a more in-depth discussion, take a look at my last Crunch post Breaking Down The New Tricks Available in "Sellswords of Sundara"!

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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!

Monday, April 25, 2022

River Games, Somewhere Between The Sandbox and The Railroad

In the eternal debate between Game Masters regarding the ultimate style, there are two major camps; sandboxes and railroads. Either you have an entire world set up and waiting for your players to explore at their own pace, or you have a tightly-plotted story that will run on time to get where you want it to go.

However, anyone who's sat in the big chair long enough knows that it's rare for any game to be entirely one of these things, or entirely the other. Even the most unstructured sandbox is going to have some plots happening apace, and even the most streamlined railroad is going to have layovers and stops for side quests. So what might be more useful is the term river plotting.

We'll get there when we get there!

Before we get into it this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

What is a River Style Game Master?


The idea behind a river style game was proposed by MerionLial on the RPG subreddit (link to the original post). In short, this setup proposes thinking about games in a different way than we usually do, where they're either all structure or all freedom.

There is room between these extremes, however.

When thinking about a river style game there are certain aspects that are fixed, and certain aspects that are in free flow. A river game has a fixed starting point, which is the source of the game (a beginning event, a starting conflict, or something else that operates as the wellspring of the story). It also has an ocean that it's trying to get to (which represents the eventual end of the game, and what players are all trying to achieve). In between the beginning and the end, though, the river might form lakes (representing downtime arcs), branch off into tributaries (which best represent side quests and additional story hooks), and the river could even change direction dramatically before it gets where it's going (the party ends up working for the campaign's final boss for a time).

This allows us to think of our games not as either a set of railroad tracks we walk straight down, or as a big, sprawling expanse where the players make their own fun. More importantly, though, this operates as a useful middle ground for GMs who find themselves on either of the extremes. If you're more of a sandbox GM, then a river setup allows you to create some fixed points while still keeping the freedom in the middle. If you're a railroad GM, this allows you to focus more on what your players are doing instead of managing the specifics of how they're going to do it. The river moves toward the ocean, and you'll get where you're going sooner or later.

For more GM advice, consider checking out the following supplements!

- 100 Tips and Tricks For Being a Better Game Master: This one is basically what it says on the tin. Whether you're new or experienced, there's going to be at least a few tips in here for you!

- 100 Superstitions For a Fantasy Setting: One of my more popular pieces, this is particularly useful for Game Masters who want to add a little bit of interesting flavor into their worlds.

- A Baker's Dozen of Pieces of Lore: If your setting needs a little extra lore, whether it's to use as a jumping off point for a side quest or just to fill in the background, this supplement has you covered!

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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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, April 23, 2022

Breaking Down The New Tricks Available in "Sellswords of Sundara"

Normally when I settle in for my Crunch update I talk about combinations I've already discovered in a game's system, or I offer a new way to look at strategy using a game's rules. As some folks around here may already know, though, my Sellswords of Sundara splat recently dropped for both Pathfinder Classic and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. And while there's a lot of fun story and engaging world building in there for my Sundara: Dawn of a New Age setting, there's also 10 archetypes/subclasses in this book that each come with their own, unique tricks.

So I wanted to take a moment to break it down and talk about what I was trying to do with each, unique mercenary company, their fighting abilities, and the opportunities they allow you to bring to your game.

In case you needed some extra wooge up your sleeve!

Before we get into the details this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

#1: The Band of The Godless Hand


Where is your god now?

Holy wars can be devastating, but even those with the gods on their side fear this mercenary company. Disciplined and zealous, they were formed to stop those who sought conquest and bloodshed in the name of the divine. Their unique arts make them quite effective against those who depend on outsiders as allies, or who wield divine magic.

Pathfinder: A cavalier archetype, the Godless gain large bonuses against fear, spell resistance against divine magic and channeled energy, and they deal increased damage when they charge foes.

DND 5E: A fighter subclass, the Godless roll with Advantage on saves against divine spells and abilities of outsiders, gain immunity to the Charmed and Frightened conditions, gain bonuses to fighting outsiders, and eventually can kill even powerful outsiders without needing to use magic weapons to do so.

#2: The Scarlet Company


The Scarlet Champions have never lost a duel.


The champions of Ironfire: The City of Steel (the first of the Cities of Sundara that came out for Pathfinder Classic and DND 5E), this mercenary company has a standing contract with the Dragon Forge. Some of the most terrifying duelists in the iron trade, the Scarlet Company receive deference even in a city awash in mercenaries of every stripe.

Pathfinder: A cavalier archetype that focuses on 1-on-1 duels, Scarlet Champions always act in the surprise round, gain the ability to reserve their attacks to parry and riposte in a way similar to the duelist prestige class, and their scarlet cloaks act as banners that grant them increased morale while their lightning speed allows them free opportunities to intimidate foes.

DND 5E: A fighter subclass, Scarlet Champions cannot be surprised, and even if they haven't acted may use their Reaction to make opportunity attacks. They gain a parry and riposte, eventually become immune to the Frightened condition, and they may even use their swirling, scarlet cloaks to give allies who are Frightened fresh saves to snap out of it.

#3: The Risen Legion


One cannot fight against death.

A mercenary company with connections to the fallen city of Moüd (for both Pathfinder and DND 5E), before it was re-discovered and repaired by the Silver Wraiths guild, the Risen Legion commands the powers of the undead. While there are treaties and agreements that disallow the use of risen corpses in many forms of war, even the still-living legionnaires often undergo strange transformations from their exposure to the amount of necromantic energy running through the ranks.

Pathfinder: A fighter archetype, Risen Legionnaires gain Necromantic Affinity, healing from negative energy as if they were undead, but also healing from positive energy (though they must save against both positive and negative channeled energy meant as an attack rather than to heal). They gain immunity to fear, and may ignore penalties from ability damage and drain, though still die if the penalties grow too severe. Additionally, they can be resurrected by animate dead, rather than more costly resurrection spells.

DND 5E: A barbarian archetype, Risen Legionnaires gain Necrotic Resistance when raging, and if they make a save against any effect that deals necrotic damage they instead gain the damage they would have taken as healing. They may also be resurrected by animate dead, and they gain Immunity to Charmed, Frightened, and to the negative effects of Exhaustion. They also gain Resistance to Poison and Cold damage, as well as Immunity to the Poisoned condition.

#4: Cloud Hammers


What could be worse than dragons? Sky privateers!

Hoardreach (available in Pathfinder and DND 5E) is known for many things, but aside from being ruled by a cooperation of 5 dragons, it is also where the first sky ships have been built. While these vessels take a great deal of time and resources to construct and field, they are slowly growing more common... and this mercenary company is built from those who have served among the cloud fleets. Named for the founding captain, this free company provides unique services including air dropping troops, and bombarding targets on the ground from beyond the reach of even the most powerful longbow.

Pathfinder: A gunslinger archetype, aether privateers gain the ability to negate enemy Dex bonuses to their armor class through unique aiming deeds, as well as the ability to shoot lines, belts, and connecting straps with pinpoint accuracy to disable vessels and opponents alike.

DND 5E: A rogue subclass, aether privateers gain unique bonuses on ranged attacks, the ability to make called shots, and to make trapping shots, where they can nail targets to the ground, a wall, etc., by putting bolts, arrows, axes, or daggers through armor, shields, or clothing to hold an enemy in place.

#5: Jackdaws


They're out there... somewhere...

A mercenary company that began because a young boy wanted to go bird watching, their founder Harrington "Jackdaw" Leeds was able to sit undetected for hours by wildlife and enemy scouts alike. A trainer for rangers and outriders, he eventually agreed to help found this free company in his later years. Though he's been dead a long time, his methods and skills live on.

Pathfinder: A ranger archetype, the Jackdaw Scout allows you to alter your favored terrain to suit whatever environment you find yourself in. Additionally, these scouts can grant their bonuses to allies within a certain radius, allowing them to keep everyone on their toes, and moving silently through even the most rugged terrain.

DND 5E: A ranger subclass, the Jackdaw Scouts may shift their favored terrain with some time and effort. They also gain message at-will while within these favored terrains, and they may use the Help action at up to 120 feet for Stealth checks, or for attacking enemies from ambush. Additionally, Jackdaw Scouts deal devastating damage when attacking from surprise while within a favored terrain.

#6: The Widowmakers


We're the bad men who do bad things.

Some mercenaries maintain codes of honor, or rules of conduct... the Widowmakers do not. Brutes, brigands, killers, and cutthroats, this mercenary company is made of some of the worst of the worst. Serving the Widow, a woman whose grief at the loss of her husband led her to end a war by recruiting some of the most dangerous individuals silver would buy, these mercenaries' reputation precedes them... usually for the worst.

Pathfinder: A fighter archetype, the Widowmaker Enforcer loses out on heavier armor, but gains more skills, bonuses to initiative, sneak attack, and the ability to inflict status conditions on opponents they can hit with their sneak attack.

DND 5E: A fighter subclass, Widowmaker Enforcers gain limited sneak attack, the ability to render opponents blind or deaf, and later on the power to deal sneak attack more than once in a single turn.

#7: The Fists of Kormmuz


Iron hands can endure anything.

A unique fighting force, the Fists of Kormmuz are one part monastic order, one part warrior cult, and one part mercenary legion. Responsible for some legendary feats of fighting prowess, they're most known for their signature weapons; heavy, steel gauntlets. Because while they are as deadly bare-handed as many other monks, once their fists are sheathed in iron they become truly devastating as foes.

Pathfinder: A monk archetype, the Fists of Kormmuz may deal their unarmed damage with gauntlets, cestus, brass knuckles, or a spiked gauntlet. Not only that, but these weapons allow the monk to be treated as a size category larger for their damage dealing. They gain Cut From The Air and Smash From The Air as bonus feats, and may eventually parry attacks with their gauntleted fists. Their capstone power is smashing spells out of the air with perfectly-timed blows from their fists.

DND 5E: A monk archetype, wearing a gauntlet, spiked gauntlet, brass knuckles, etc., increases the Fist of Kormmuz's unarmed damage type by one die. They gain the ability to parry and counterpunch attacks coming at them, as well as the ability to strike spells out of the air.

#8: The Brotherhood of Broken Banners


You going to get up, or stay there in the dirt?

Another favorite from 100 Random Mercenary Companies (where many of these groups were first conceived), the Brotherhood of Broken Banners is a mercenary company that takes in those who were on the losing sides of wars and conflicts. Those who have no homes, no lands, no families, will always find a place among other veterans of conflict... and even those who were once bitter rivals may find themselves closer than blood among this band.

Pathfinder: A cavalier archetype, a Broken Bannerman gains resistance to fear effects (always treating themselves as shaken rather than more potent effects), and they gain immunity to any charm or compulsion that would force them to flee the battlefield. Additionally they gain a battle cry that strengthens their allies' sword arms while putting fear into their enemies.

DND 5E: A fighter subclass, the Broken Bannerman gains immunity to the Frightened condition, and they roll with Advantage on enchantment or illusion effects. They gain a battle cry that boosts allies and frightens enemies, and they may deploy their banner to grant inspiration to themselves and their allies.

#9: The Grayblades


I've forgotten more about war than you will ever know.

Old soldiers never die... those who don't fade away, though, often join the Grayblades. While known as trainers and teachers, those who would discount this mercenary company due to their age have learned the hard way that experience mixed with viciousness is often more than enough to carry the day.

Pathfinder: A fighter archetype, Grayblades must start at a higher age category, but they gain increased skills and skill ranks as a result. They may use their Intelligence or Wisdom bonuses for initiative instead of Dexterity, and they gain initiative bonuses as they level. They gain bonuses to Aid Another, as they are used to coordinating soldiers under their tutelage, and at higher levels they can ignore their age penalties for a time. As a capstone, those age penalties instead become bonuses as, for a brief time, they fight like they were back in their prime.

DND 5E: A fighter subclass, Grayblades gain increased skills and proficiencies for their experience. Grayblades may use the Help action from further away, and they can affect more than one ally with it at a time. At higher levels they may double their physical bonuses for a brief period of time, cutting loose with all the skills they've learned over their careers.

#10: Nightwatch Dragoons


The night is dark, and full of terrors.

Dangerous beasts and awful monsters lurk in the corners of the world, but there are those who study them, track them, and slay them. Infamous monster hunters, the Nightwatch Dragoons are known far and wide for their indigo uniforms and silver hilts. Mysterious, and more than a little unnerving, they take bounties on creatures that most would have wagered no mortal man could slay.

Pathfinder: A slayer archetype, Nightwatch Dragoons can study the tracks, stories, and spoor of creatures, and declare them studied targets without ever laying eyes on them. Additionally, they can learn all kinds of insights about these targets from studying their sign. They can also reduce studied enemy's damage reduction, allowing them to deal lethal blows to creatures thought immune to mortal weapons.

DND 5E: A ranger subclass, Nightwatch Dragoons roll with Advantage against favored enemies, and deal bonus damage on all attacks against them. Additionally, they may switch their favored enemies to new kinds of creatures with an appropriate Intelligence check. This can later be done just by studying a creature's spoor, and without making an Intelligence check. Favored enemies eventually lose Resistance to the kind of weapon used by a Nightwatch Dragoon, and if they had no Resistance they gain Vulnerability instead.

Like, Share, and Follow For More!


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, April 18, 2022

What Do You Want To See Next in "Sundara: Dawn of a New Age"?

Regular readers know that since 2021 I've been releasing content for my own fantasy RPG setting Sundara: Dawn of a New Age. This setting is available both for Pathfinder Classic, as well as for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, and my goal with it was to upend a lot of the old stereotypes and conventions that come with fantasy RPGs, but without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

While I covered some of this in my blog What is "Sundara: Dawn of a New Age" All About?, the short version is that I wanted to make a game setting that tossed out monolithic aspects by adding more organic details, and which focused more on embracing new solutions and ways of doing things instead of feeling like it was constantly trying to re-capture some lost, mythic golden age.

Some of the things I've already done include:

- Removing alignment entirely.
- Making the gods more mysterious, and variable.
- Expanded non-human species so they are just as (if not more) varied than humans.
- Removed the concept of countries as we know them today, making power structures more varied.
- Added a bunch of weird guilds, technologies, and uses of magic across the setting.

Stuff is getting strange as the setting spreads out.

While I have plenty of ideas that I could spin up going forward, I wanted to take this week's Monday update to ask what you, the readers, would like to see?

Before we get into it this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

What Would Get You More Interested in The Setting?


When I started this series off it began with Cities of Sundara, providing guides for places like Ironfire: City of Steel and Moüd: City of Bones. After I'd established several of these locations I put out a guide to how gods and the divine work in the setting (which is a lot less structured and established than in many other settings I've seen, where the mythology we hear is often taken as fact), and then moved on to Species of Sundara where I laid out broader diasporas and cultures for dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, and the Blooded (a combination of so-called half-elves and half-orcs). The most recent release, Sellswords of Sundara, covered famous and infamous mercenary companies, and soon there will be a collection of 10 towns with full details.

My question for you, as a Game Master or a player, is what would you be interested in seeing more of going forward? Not just in a, "This would be neat," sense, but in a, "I would pay money to support that," sense.

It's what makes the wheels turn, after all.

Current possible plans include:

- Expansion of locations in the setting (more town and city guides).
- Expansion of species guides (with more creatures and unique player options for them).
- Campaign modules (so players could actually explore some of the setting in more detail).
- World detail guides (moving on from mercenaries to guilds, cults, and other organizations).

While these aren't the only options, there are two projects that are not currently on the roster, and that's releasing a full-sized setting guide, and releasing a full pre-written campaign. The big reason for this is not because I wouldn't be interested in these things, but because this is a one-man show, and those kinds of projects take a lot of time to put together. So, generally speaking, anything that can't be completed in 1-2 months isn't feasible with the audience size Sundara currently commands. If audience demand grows then those things might be possible down the line, but not for the immediate future.

Which is, incidentally, the main reason so much of this content is designed to slot into homebrew games as well. Because if you just want one or two aspects, you can pluck them out of the setting without requiring a bunch of strings to come with it.

Well, most of the time, at least.

Also, for added clarity, I am not the publisher for this setting. I'm just the writer; Azukail Games is the one who's putting out all these splats. So I'm not just asking you what folks would like to see going forward because I want to sell more copies (though that is part of it). It's also because I need to be able to show growing interest in the setting, and to create a track record of positive sales, in order to get further books approved for writing and release.

So tell me what you want to see! Leave a comment below, or reach out to me on social media, but my ears are open for what would get more folks interested in checking out this setting as I add on to it.

Lastly, if you're not familiar with the releases to-date, I've linked them all below with a general description for you. And if you do choose to check them out, I hope they surpass expectation! Don't forget to stop by the Azukail Games YouTube channel, as well, where I have several videos talking about Sundara, the philosophy behind it, and covering some of what I'm trying to do with this particular world. Consider subscribing, as well, as we need to hit 1k followers there, and we haven't even broken 300 yet.




Take a Look For Yourself!


I took a brief break on making new Sundara content at the start of the year, but I'm already back on the wagon! Sellswords of Sundara (available for Pathfinder Classic as well as DND 5E) is full of unique archetypes/subclasses for mercenary companies that come with their own themes, histories, NPCs, rumors, and more, and that should be coming out shortly. Coming soon you'll also have Towns of Sundara, so that folks have some smaller places to put between the cities that are just as interesting and unique in their own ways (and which acts as a good follow up to 10 Fantasy Villages, which kicked this whole project off in the first place).

Cities of Sundara


The setting first began with the Cities of Sundara splats. Self-contained guides to some of the larger and more powerful centers of trade, industry, arms, and magic, these unique locations provide plenty of fodder for character generation and plots. Not only that, but each one comes with unique, mechanical goodies for players and GMs alike to take out for a spin!

- Ironfire: The City of Steel (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Built around the Dragon Forge, Ironfire is where the secret to dragon steel was first cracked. The center of the mercenary trade in the region, as well as boasting some of the finest schools for teaching practical sciences, Ironfire is a place where discovery and danger walk hand in hand!

- Moüd: The City of Bones (Pathfinder and DND 5E): An ancient center of trade and magic, Moüd was lost to a cataclysm, and then buried in myth. Reclaimed by the necromantic arts of the Silver Wraiths guild, this city has once again become a place teeming with life. Despite the burgeoning population, though, it is the continued presence of the undead that helps keep the city running, ensuring that Moüd is not swallowed up once more.

- Silkgift: The City of Sails (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Built on the cottage industry of Archer cloth (an extremely durable material used for sails, windmills, etc.), Silkgift is a place that prizes invention and discovery. From gravity batteries that store the potential of the wind, to unique irrigation systems, to aether weapons, the city positively churns out discoveries... and then there's the canal they cut through the mountains that makes them a major center of trade across the region.

- Hoardreach: The City of Wyrms (Pathfinder and DND 5E): A center of power across an entire region, Hoardreach is ruled over by a Cooperation of five different dragons. A place for refugees and outcasts of all sorts, Hoardreach boasts some of the most unusual citizens and creations from across Sundara. Infamous for their sky ships, which require the cast-off scales and unique arcane sciences of the Dragon Works to take to the air, one never knows just what they'll find in this city built atop a mountain.

- Archbliss: The City of The Sorcerers (Pathfinder and DND 5E): A floating city in the sky, Archbliss has been a refuge for sorcerers for thousands of years. It's only in relatively recent years that the city has allowed those from the ground below who lack the power of a bloodline to join them in the clouds. However, while there are certainly amazing wonders to behold, there is a darkness in Archbliss. Something rotting away at its heart that could, if not healed, bring the city crashing to the ground once more.

Gods of Sundara


Gods of Sundara (available for Pathfinder and DND 5E): In a world with no alignment, and where the gods are often genuinely mysterious forces that are far too large for mortals to truly comprehend, the divine feels genuinely strange and unknown... something that really does have to be taken on faith. This supplement provides a sample pantheon for Sundara, but also provides instructions on how to easily make your own gods in a world where you can't cast a spell and tell whether someone is good or evil.

Species of Sundara


Sundara is filled with creatures that many of us recognize, but I wanted to give greater depth to their cultures, and a wider variety of options. After all, humans always get 15+ ethnicities, languages, and unique histories, while elves, dwarves, orcs, halflings, etc. are almost always left with footnotes, or maybe with a handful of offshoots. So, in short, I wanted to give all the fantastical creatures the treatment that humans usually get in our games.

And there is no human book yet. If readers demand to know more, then I may sit down to pen one... but I figured that humans didn't need to be front-and-center in this setting just yet.

- Elves of Sundara (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Elves are one of the most quintessential fantasy creatures... but if you want to see more than just high elves, wood elves, and elves of the sun and moon, then this supplement has you covered!

- Dwarves of Sundara (Pathfinder and DND 5E): The children of the primordial giants who were meant to fill in the details of the world they'd made (or so the myths say) there are as many kinds of dwarves as their are kinds of giants... and possibly more, depending on who is keeping count.

- Orcs of Sundara (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Supposedly a creation of the elves, none can say for certain exactly how or why orcs have been made. What most agree on is that these creatures are far more than most may think at first glance.

- Halflings of Sundara (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Little cousins to the dwarves, halflings are tough, clever, and not to be underestimated. From living beneath the hills, to taking up residence in the deep forests, halflings in Sundara come in quite a variety!

- The Blooded (Half-Elves and Half-Orcs) [Pathfinder and DND 5E]: When orcs and elves mix their bloodlines with other creatures, the result is one of the Blooded. This inheritance takes many forms, and it can even wait generations before manifesting when the right combination of individuals come together to have a child.

- Gnomes of Sundara (Pathfinder and DND 5E): Gnomes are strange creatures, found in places where the spirit of the land has coalesced and made children of its own. The sons and daughters of the ancient nymphs, they are the stewards of these places, and they change as often as the weather and the land.

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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!

Monday, April 11, 2022

Surprised Paizo is Releasing 5E Content? You Really Shouldn't Be

For those who've been paying attention to gaming news, it seems that Paizo (the company behind Pathfinder) will soon be releasing one of its older adventure paths for 5th Edition DND players. So if you're a 5E main who's been looking for something to really sink your teeth into, soon The Abomination Vaults will be ready and waiting for you to dig right in!

Incidentally, you might also want to pick up something like the Abomination Vaults GM's Guide, as keeping megadungeons flowing is far from the easiest trick to manage, whatever edition you're playing.

I'd forgotten about this one, so I may try the original recipe.

Some people have been loudly asking what I think is a very silly question. It boils down to, "Wait, isn't Paizo like the Sega to Wizards of The Coast's Super Nintendo? Why would they release content for the game that is their main competitor?" While I'm not the first person to answer this question, as someone who deals with this setup in a microcosm as a creator, I figured I'd add my voice to the growing stream.

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

Why Is This Happening? Money, And Audience Share


I am not the oldest creator in the game, but even I've been around long enough to understand something very important when it comes to making RPGs as your job. First, there's a limited audience you're playing to. Even with the huge surges in interest the hobby has seen, RPGs are still a niche part of the publishing industry. This is why pay rates are so low, and why budgets tend toward the shoestring, and why risk is a word most folks in charge don't like to hear; long and short, even "successful" RPG companies don't have a lot of spare cash in their war chest if something tanks, unless they're part of a parent company that can bail them out when something goes poorly.

And let's not forget, we're talking about companies here. Players love these games. Designers love these games. Companies make decisions based on bottom line, risk, and return on investment. Given that viewpoint, I'm honestly surprised it took this long for Paizo to start porting their content to the 5E system to try to get a bigger piece of the pie.

Make no mistake, this is a very smart business move.

As regular readers know, I've been releasing content for my own setting Sundara: Dawn of a New Age for a little over a year at time of writing. While I originally planned and designed this setting to run on the Pathfinder system, I was more or less required to port every release I had to Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition as well. Why? Because numbers that I've seen peg DND 5E as being something like 80% of the total RPG marketplace. That game system has the fastest growing fan base, the largest number of players, and it represents the biggest pool for designers to go fishing in. So while a lot of content for my setting is a bastard and a half to translate to 5E in any meaningful way (given that PF has a vastly more complex and robust rules system that my world design sort of revolves around), not doing it would make the project a non-starter for my publisher, who'd like to actually make money off the content I design.

Same deal for Paizo, but on a larger scale.

Because Paizo has spent more than a decade developing a complicated, interesting setting. There's a massive variety of classes and archetypes, dozens of fully-written campaigns, and a staggering number of smaller modules out there which all take place in Golarion. This is intellectual property that Paizo already owns, and which it is already selling. However, by translating this content to a 5E compatible version they're making all of this older work accessible to players who previously may never have had a reason to check it out for themselves, or who are leery of leaving the comfort zone of their preferred system, Paizo stands to snag a large group of players who never would have tried their products otherwise. While it could lead to players buying additional PF Classic or PF 2E books and content, that would be more of a fringe benefit. The primary purpose would be to re-use all the assets Paizo already paid for, but to sell them to a new audience, thus making a tidy profit with less initial investment.

Incidentally, before moving on here, you can find a full list of all the splat books I've been releasing listed in Speaking of Sundara (My Latest Video Series With Azukail Games), if you're interested in checking out what I've been putting together, whether you prefer PF or DND 5E at your table.

This Isn't an Either/Or Situation


A final thing I feel should be made clear here (and which most designers who do this for a living already understand) is that this isn't a one-or-the-other setup when we're talking about a company as big as Paizo. They have the ability to hire freelancers and recruit designers to keep several plates spinning at a time in order to tap multiple markets. So while they seem to be testing the waters with this release, it would be entirely possible for them to keep releasing new content for their existing players with one hand, while converting their older content to a different edition with the other.

However, if you're someone who's worried that Paizo is going to stop supporting your favored edition of the game, then make sure you're voting with your wallet, and doing what you can to big-up the signal to spread the word. Buy copies, leave reviews of what you get, start conversations, get people interested, and so on. When companies review the charts are the end of the day, they're looking at what products got a big response from the audience, and that's where more effort and energy is going to go.

Keep that in mind, because it's the voice of almighty dollar folks tend to listen to when making decisions about what they're going to produce next.

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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!

Monday, April 4, 2022

World of Darkness STs, Don't Overuse Your Big, Nasty Threats!

There's an old truth when it comes to horror movies; the less you see of the monster, the scarier it is. From the giant shark in Jaws, to the alien trophy hunter in Predator, to the xenomorph in Alien, every time we're left alone with our own imaginations we end up making something far worse than whatever the director and the special effects team could put up on the screen in front of us.

Part of this is that our brains seek out danger, and when lighting, tone, tense music, etc. tells us there's a danger, and we can't see it, it makes us anxious as we try to spot the threat before it sneaks up on us. However, familiarity breeds contempt. When you see a monster for the first time it can be horrifying, repulsive, and chilling. When you see it for the hundredth time it can be familiar, and even comforting in a strange way.

That's why if you're running a World of Darkness game, you should strive to save your game-specific big bads. Build them up. Make your players really sweat about them. Because if they're constantly showing up, pretty soon whatever edge they had is going to get pretty dull.

Consider using smaller, in-between threats to fill in the cracks instead.

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

True Fae, BSDs, and Antediluvians, Oh My!


Every sphere of the World of Darkness (and the Chronicles of Darkness, as well) has different iterations on the same theme. There's which family you belong to (clan, tribe, seeming, etc.), which political organization you're affiliated with (court, order, covenant, etc.), which special pocket realm only your kind can access (the Umbra, the Hedge, and so on), and what special resource you harvest to power your magic (gnosis, blood, glamour, and so forth). However, there is one other category that often gets overlooked, and it's which special monster is your creature type's personal big bad?

If you're playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse then the one that's front-and-center are the Black Spiral Dancers, as they're a dark reflection, showing all the savage and corrupt things the garou could become. In Changeling: The Lost the True Fae are the Keepers who stole them, and the little gods who torment them, looming as large as a child's bogeyman. Vampires have to cope with the ancients of their kind whose power makes even the strongest of young bloods feel weak and frail, and mages in Mage: The Ascension have to cope with the Technocracy, who uses their immense power to take away freedom from others, sacrificing it for safety and security... or so they tell themselves.

Oh... oh we are in deep.

A problem I've seen a lot of Storytellers run into is that they see these personalized antagonists, and they focus on making what should be an end-of-arc villain, or something with a lot of build-up, into the garden-variety threat that their players are dealing with on a regular basis. And the effect is basically the same one you get in movies where the monster is in plain sight, standing under bright lights in more than half the scenes of the film.

Put bluntly, it loses its mystery. And without mystery, it's got no power over the imaginations of the players.

If you're going to use these big bads to raise the stakes of your game (which you should, it's what they're for), you need to take the time to actually draw out their legends. Keep them in the shadows, and let the PCs learn about them slowly. Have them move around one another in a tightening circle, but without coming to blows until there's been enough buildup that the tension is really starting to show on the players' actions.

Give Me an Example?


Let's say that you are running a Werewolf: The Apocalypse game. Your players have formed a relatively young pack, and they're hungry for glory. What better way to give them that glory than for them to defeat a noted Black Spiral Dancer (or an entire pack of them)?

That's your goal as the Storyteller... but that's not where you start the game. That's where you want to end things. Once you have that end game, you work backwards.

It's easier when you know where you're going.

Start at the end. Who are these infamous villains, and what relationship do they have to your young werewolves? Is one of them an uncle, aunt, parent, or brother who fell to the Wyrm, and a PC needs to slay them in order to put their soul to rest and purge its corruption? Is one of them a former mentor? Or for a more thematic connection, is one of them a dark mirror of a particular PC, showing what they could become... and maybe deep down what part of them wants to become?

It's a concept very similar to The Anti-Party, it just happens to work really well with werewolves.

Once you know who your villains are, build up their history. Give them a reputation, like I talked about in The Small Legend, and figure out what your players will learn about them.

For example, the head of the pack may have been noted Silver Fang Konstantin Romanoff, considered a shining light among his tribe. In his desperation for victory, and to prove himself, he traded his pride and his morals a little at a time. Now he fancies that his eyes are open, and that he has become the true king he was meant to be. A Wyrm Lord who will rule the polluted ashes of the new world... a werewolf Dr. Doom, if you're looking for a simple, gothic comparison. At his side the former Get of Fenris champion Ragnar Thorsson, whose brutal rages consumed him from within until eventually he declared his fealty to a power that never asked him to hold back. Den Mother Lorna Dane pledged herself to end the hostilities, and to spare the lives of the young, becoming a twisted version of the gentle soul she'd once been. And so on.

Once you know what your villains are, and what their reputations are, plant clues in the game for your PCs to learn more about them. Figure out which NPCs are going to be knowledgeable about these villains, and who will big-up their legend. If they have a personal connection to the PCs, ask if the villains were thought dead, but it turns out they're alive, but wicked. Then, once you have all of that information, ask what your PCs have to deal with before they even find out who and what the true villains of the story are!

It's all connected!

If your pack of Black Spiral Dancers are the big bads, chances are they have corrupt kinfolk working under them. They may have purely mortal servants, attack teams of fomori, first response teams from a Pentex subsidiary, or a dozen other servants carrying out their plans, as well. While individual pack members might be considered lieutenant villains of different arcs of the story, have the PCs come across clues about them. Maybe they're tracking down a group of dangerous kinfolk to question them, only to find them torn apart to the last man, expended shell casings all over the ground and silver slugs in the walls showing that whatever did it simply would not stop. Or perhaps the PCs find a powerful ally mortally wounded, and the ally tells them about the creature that hurt him so badly. Lower-level villains might talk if they're captured, or the big bads might even send messengers or communications to the PCs, either threatening them or congratulating them for their strength and cleverness in foiling their plans.

Once you have all of that set up, let your players work their way up the chain of command, getting in the way of the villains' plans, learning about them, and building up to a big conclusion. But do not skimp on the reveal of the bad guys' legends, or the presentation of what they're capable of. Let your players marinate, and really drink in exactly how much of a threat this could be for them.

While the above example uses corrupted werewolves, you could do the same thing with the True Fae in changeling, Methuselahs and Antediluvians in Vampire, or most other big bads that a game provides you with. If something is supposed to be a serious threat, and a major force to reckon with, take your time with it. Spool out their legend, let the players explore, give them little bits of story here and there, and show how other NPCs fear and respect these forces. Much like how most of the cast of a film talks about John Wick, you need to make these baddies your bogeymen.

And the less you have them physically there, but still present in the narrative, the more effective they tend to be.

For More World of Darkness Content!


If you enjoyed this week's post, and you'd like more World of Darkness or Chronicles of Darkness content, consider some of my supplements below!

Vampire: The Masquerade


If you need secondary villains and minions to pepper your story with, consider the following titles:


And those who are looking for a unique method to get information to their players might want to check out this piece, along with the audio drama of its introductory short story below!




Werewolf: The Apocalypse



Perhaps the game line I've created the most content for to-date, those looking for unique NPCs should check out the following bundle, which has all 13 tribes, Black Spiral Dancers, as well as kinfolk for the mokole!


Those who need additional villains (especially villains that can be used in multiple genres of the World of Darkness) should consider:


Lastly, if you're a fiction fiend, I was part of a Werewolf anthology not long ago. Check this one out if you'd like to see even more tales told across the setting by myself and fellow contributors:


Changeling: The Lost




The game I've been doing the most work on lately, the ongoing tales from these supplements are also getting their own audio dramas! So if you enjoy listening to them, consider subscribing to the Azukail Games YouTube channel so I can keep the publisher greenlighting them!




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, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!