Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Never Too Early For Cthulhu Christmas Carols

While some people may argue that Halloween is too early for Christmas carols, it's never too early for a Cthulhu Christmas! "We Three Priests" is brought to you courtesy of Morte Mcadaver, whose official website can be found here. Stop on by, and see what other dark delights this macabre musician has in store for you.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Bullyboy

Normally I end every article with a request for readers to help support Improved Initiative by spreading links to the articles here, and by remembering all of our funding comes from Google AdSense. This week I thought I'd try putting that at the top to see if more people saw it.

Now without further ado let us present this week's crunchy little build, The Bullyboy.

He said "what" again.
When it's time to roll initiative most skill checks go right out the window. Except for acrobatics to avoid attacks of opportunity, or the occasional bluff check to feint or hide, most players focus on swinging swords or slinging spells. The Bullyboy though is a character who uses personality like a hammer, leaving enemies unsure of themselves and flat-footed against incoming assaults.

Did You Say Flat-Footed?

I heard all the rogues in the audience squirming in their seats. Yes, the ultimate goal of the Bullyboy is to render as many enemies as possible flat-footed against your attacks. This makes the rogue a natural choice, but spellcasters and gunslingers (who use touch attacks almost exclusively) might find this strategy useful as well. This is especially true for multiclass mongrels like fighter/rogues, barbarian/rogues, etc.

What's The Trick?

The feat you're building up to is Shatter Defenses (Core Rulebook 133). It requires the character to have Weapon Focus (Core Rulebook 136), Dazzling Display (Core Rulebook 120), a base attack bonus of +6, and proficiency with the weapon you're wielding.

The way Shatter Defenses works is that any opponent you hit who is shaken, frightened, or panicked is considered flat-footed against you until the end of your next turn. In case you were wondering yes, if you have two attacks that means your enemy is flat-footed against your second attack as well as your entire next round. Take note that you don't have to use the weapon for which you have Weapon Focus, but if you took the feat for a +1 to hit, why not use it?

Crank Your Intimidate

The Bullyboy has a pretty simple, two-round setup. The first round you make your enemies afraid of you. The next round, while they're still shaken, frightened, or panicked, you attack. Once you land even a single hit on a scared enemy, regardless of your weapon, you've got an entire round where that target is flat-footed. That means a lower armor class (most times), and an inability to take attacks of opportunity against you. Unless you've got mind-affecting magic or a class ability that lets you cause a fear effect though, you're going to have to roll your intimidate check. For that roll you're aiming to get higher than the target's hit dice+Wis modifier+10. Not an easy task.


Your focus on fear should start at character creation. You get to pick two traits, and one of those should be a trait that gives you a +1 on intimidate, and which makes intimidate a class skill for you. Bully is the most popular, but others like Viking Blood have the same affect for characters that want a different background.

Recommended Feats

-Dazzling Display: This feat is required for the build to work, but it's also the easiest way to demoralize all enemies within 30 feet of you. Generally speaking, unless you're only fighting a single enemy, this is going to be the feat you lead off combat with.
-Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134): This feat gives you a +3 on a skill, and a +6 when you have more than 10 ranks in it. That's a good place to start (hint: half-elves get this feat for free at creation).
-Intimidating Prowess (Core Rulebook 128): This feat allows you to add your Strength and Charisma modifiers both to the die roll, which is a big bonus for characters playing bruisers who might not be comfortable putting a really big stat in Charisma.
- Gory Finish (Ultimate Combat 102): This feat allows you to take an attack action (a standard action) at your highest base attack bonus. If you knock your enemy into negatives you can take a swift action to intimidate all enemies who saw and heard what you did within 30 feet. Not a necessary feat, but it is a quick and dirty way to kill two birds with one stone.
- Persuasive (Core Rulebook 131): This feat adds a +2 to your Intimidate and Diplomacy checks. If you have more than 10 ranks in these skills, it adds a +4.
- Enforcer (Advanced Player's Guide): This feat allows you to make an Intimidate check any time you deal subdual damage to an enemy with a melee weapon, and it leaves them shaken for a number of rounds equal to the damage dealt if the intimidate is successful. Best when used with high-damage weapons.

Classes and Abilities

There are a lot of class combinations that can be used to make the Bullyboy work. Some of them are more effective than others though. Here are a couple of suggestions.

This is the obvious choice for the bullyboy. Barbarians are big, mean, uncouth, and often naturally thuggish when it comes to battlefield tactics. They also reach the +6 base attack bonus quite quickly. With the increase to Strength provided by Rage providing a slight boost to those who take Intimidating Prowess, and the benefits of Rage Powers like Intimidating Glare (Core Rulebook 33) which leaves an opponent shaken for a number of rounds equal to 1d4+1 per every 5 by which the barbarian exceeded the check by, they're a natural fit.

Rogues are masters of misdirection and nuanced untruth, but the best variant fit for the Bullyboy is the Thug (Advanced Players Guide). The Thug starts off strong right out of the gate with its first-level ability, Frightening. This automatically increases the duration of any shaken effect caused by the Thug by 1 round, meaning that enemies are shaken for a minimum of 2 rounds with a successful intimidate. Additionally, if the target is shaken for 4 or more rounds, the player can upgrade the effect to frightened. The rogue trick Strong Impression grants the character the feat Intimidating Prowess.

Other Classes
Other classes can have the Bullyboy's build applied to them. Sorcerers, for instance, have high charisma in addition to spells that cause fear. Fighters willing to take advantage of psychological warfare are another option. Alchemists who specialize in the feral mutagen and the beastly bonuses it offers might like to soften their opponents up mentally. Even gunslingers, whose strange, deadly weapons are a terror all by themselves (and who at higher levels can use abilities like Menacing Shot to cause fear) might find some use out of this build. Remember though, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Keep The End Goal in Mind

As with any other build trick, the important thing with the Bullyboy is not to lose sight of the end goal; namely to knock enemies flat-footed after the first round of combat and to keep them flat-footed (in addition to shaken) for as long as possible. It is just as important to ask yourself what you're going to do once your enemies are where you want them, however.

The most obvious answer is to sneak attack them. When combined with the Thug's ability, sneak attacking any intimidated opponent is a slam dunk. That's not the only benefit of having an enemy flat-footed though. It means their armor class goes down significantly, and if one is using a touch attack from spells or firearms, then the player is likely aiming for a 10+deflection modifiers. It also means the enemy's Combat Maneuver Defense goes down, which is a blessing for those who use maneuvers to control an enemy's effectiveness. That said, you need to look at what you can do, and what that ability means in terms of effectiveness on the battlefield.

Lastly, remember that for every trick there's a counter. Constructs, undead, mindless creatures, demons, devils, paladins, and others are all immune to fear of any sort. If you find yourself fighting these creatures then you're going to have to dig deeper into your bag of tricks, because scaring them off simply is not an option for you.

Don't Forget to Roleplay

When you get too caught up in numbers it's easy to forget you still have to roleplay. So you've got to ask yourself one question; how are you intimidating?

There's a multitude of ways to do it. Do you draw your rapier and make an elaborate bow which shows off your extreme skill with the razor-sharp steel? Do you sock the head of your mace into your open palm, idly looking at which of your enemies is getting his skull cracked first? Do you smile beatifically and explain who you're going to kill and in what order? Or do you give a long speech of all the fiends who came before this sorry group of adversaries, and who ended their lives stretched dead at your feet? Ask yourself how your character is intimidating, and in what way, before you throw that die. Who knows, if you put in a good performance your storyteller might even give you a roleplaying bonus on the attempt.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Taste is in the Eye of the Beholder

Ever have one of those meals that devolves into a gaming reference? Well, I did. Behold... the Beholder Roll!
Save versus delicious.
This week's Moon Pope Monday is brought to you by Steak and Shake, and co-sponsored by two in the morning. Only through the combination of these two things could the Beholder Roll be made possible.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Table Talk: That Time When My Paladin One-Shotted the Campaign's Final Big-Bad

We've all got a few of those stories. That one time where the dice were in our favor and we couldn't be stopped, that great exchange that left the room silent, or that session when the most ridiculous course of action worked for no reason other than you popped up a natural 20. Table Talk is the newest addition to Improved Initiative, and it's where we brag, boast, and perhaps share an embarrassing fumble or two. To lead us off I'm going to tell you a tale of how I accomplished the unthinkable; I one-shot killed the final enemy of a huge, published campaign.

I was pretty goddamn surprised, myself.
You Did What?

Okay, so this story's going to take a wee bit of background before we get to the good part. Several years ago a friend of mine by the name of Justin Duncan got his hands on the Carrion Crown adventure path. For those of you not familiar with it, it's essentially an entire campaign where you're facing nothing but undead horrors, eldritch abominations, and every blasphemous, squamous thing the Pathfinder bestiary can fling at you. I figured it would be a good time to stretch beyond my usual fighters and barbarians to try out a paladin. But not just any paladin; I wanted an Undead Scourge. Essentially a paladin so dedicated to fighting the undead that many of his abilities were ineffective on living, but undoubtedly evil, creatures, while at the same time wreaking pure havoc on the living dead.

Valgard Grimwald

Valgard was once a peasant farmer, living with his wife and working the cold, unforgiving ground of Ustalav. She died of a sickness one winter, and despite the frigid temperatures Valgard dug her grave and saw her safely beneath the snow. When spring came he found her grave had been defiled, and her body stolen. He roamed the mountains, following the signs and stink of the living dead until he found the necromancer who had been using his Ilyena for his own, twisted pleasures. That man was a long time dying, and once his wife had been placed back in her bower Valgard dedicated himself to wiping out the living dead by taking up arms in the service of Pharasma, goddess of death.

But Paladins Have to Have a Lawful Good Goddess, Don't They?

Yes, don't interrupt me. I asked Justin whether he would allow me to play a paladin who served a neutral goddess, provided I kept his alignment lawful good. I was willing to follow Iomede, or even Erastil, but I felt that for story reasons Pharasma made more sense. He agreed, and acquiesced to my request.

Back to the story. So we begin in the Town of Harrowstone fighting ghosts, move onto another town where a sentient flesh golem is being put on trial for murder, and the party eventually goes beneath the waves to fight a horde of horrors that would have been right at home outside Lovecraft's Innsmouth. In addition to Valgard we had a bard detective, a rage prophet, and a titan mauler who had picked up a lycanthrope template somewhere along the line. Not a party to be messed with lightly. In that place beneath the waves though, the DM decided to pull some shenanigans on my behalf.

I had made it known from the beginning that one of the goals I had for Valgard was to find him a holy avenger. It's possibly the most stereotypical paladin thing you could ask for, but I wanted to do it. Rather than just taking something straight out of the book (Justin's flare for the dramatic simply would not allow something so plebian), he decided to craft a relic that fit Valgard, as well as his goddess. What I got was a holy bastard sword that increased my lay on hands, dealt extra damage to anything undead, and which had disruption on it. I pointed out that disruption was sort of a blunt-weapon-only ability, to which he told me it's a relic, it has the properties on that sheet. I nodded, having done my duty as a conscientious player, and took the sword with something approaching unbecoming glee.

Then What?

Right. So the party hacked, slashed, diplomacized and intimidated its way through half a dozen books (the vampire chapter was particularly short, as we took on a CR 18 challenge at level 12 and came out the victors. That's a separate story all by itself), and we wound up at the final encounter of the whole campaign. A wizard on a mountaintop preparing to steal the power of the Whispering Tyrant, and to become the most powerful lich the ages have ever seen. As we advanced on him to stop the ritual (Spoiler Alert, in case you haven't guessed what the final boss in an undead-centric campaign is), a dracolich crawls around from the mountain peak and throws itself between us and the soon-to-be-lich king. Justin places a colossal size red dragon mini on the map, an excited grin plastered across his face. Roll initiative!

By sheer, stupid luck Valgard goes first. Since the dragon is flat-footed and its reach rendered moot, the paladin declares his smite, then charges with sword raised high and calling out to Pharasma to guide his hand. He swings, and hits only because of the +2 from the charge. First blood! I start gathering my dice, preparing to list out the way I'm using channel smite, and calculating how many dice I have to roll. Then I remember it's a disruption weapon, and off-handedly say, "Hey Justin, roll its fort save. Yeah I know it has to roll a 1 for it to matter but there's a 1 on every die."

Justin rolls, and the smile fades from his face. He's staring at a natural 1, an automatic failure. He takes the dragon off the table, and gestures to me. We sit there, stunned, staring at what just happened. In the game world the dracolich bursts into smoking bone shards and ancient dust, and when the cloud clears Valgard stands with nothing more than forty feet between him and the wizard who would enslave the world.

Don't go anywhere, this gets better.

The newly made lich, who is realizing that the odds have suddenly and drastically shifted out of his favor, goes next. He casts mage's dysjunction on Valgard's sword, which as an artifact gets all kinds of chances to save. It fails those saves, and is destroyed. The lich manages to keep his magic, but destroying an artifact of a deity has a chance to draw said deity's attention. Not much of a chance, something like 5%. So Justin rolls percentiles, high is good for us. 98%. Pharasma is now paying very, very close attention to what's happening in this pitched battle.

The rest of the party advances on the newly made lich, and things go very poorly very quickly for him. Holy energy is thrown through Valgard's fists, lightning brought down from scrolls by the bard, and sheer, brutal blows from the barbarian are cutting him to pieces. After the third round the lich falls apart, but we know he'll reconstitute soon. We also know that, for story reasons, destroying his phylactery could kill the person who does it. Valgard, who has sought nothing more than to be granted an afterlife with his wife, destroys the phylactery without hesitation. He sacrificed himself to save the country he loved, and Pharasma made him one of her eternal guardians.

This remains, without question, the most epic thing I have ever done with a set of dice.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Moon Pope Monday: The Great and Powerful Moon Pope!

My current party's cleric, the Great and Powerful Moon Pope!

Moon Pope Allows This
There is no explaining Moon Pope. Moon Pope was, Moon Pope is, and Moon Pope shall ever be. Much like the new feature for Improved Initiative, Moon Pope Monday. A simple post, it will be a video, a picture, or maybe just a man with a box on his head getting ready to make a will save.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

There is No "I" in "Party"

While it might be a stereotype that gamers don't play sports, like it or not a roleplaying game is a team-oriented activity. Every player has his or her character, and that character possesses certain strengths and weaknesses. In order to become more than the sum of its parts a party has to be willing to work together, to strategize, and to know what will and won't work.

It's pretty simple, when you get down to it. However there are certain things that can make this process harder, less fun, or both. If you want to make sure that your group survives and does so in the spirit of the game then you need to keep an eye out for some of the folks below.

The Backseat General

If you all just do what I tell you, then this will work out perfectly.
Anyone who's gamed more than once or twice has met this person. Chances are good you probably started coming up with entirely justified ways to kill off this player's character. The backseat general is the player who wants to hash everything out to the smallest detail, usually out of character, and typically right after initiative has been rolled. While this player may have a good grasp of the rules it often feels as if he or she would much rather be playing Warhammer or Axis and Allies than a roleplaying game. The solution to this situation is fairly simple, and it can both save time and help build the party up. Make a table rule that all discussions of strategy must happen in character, and in combat order if initiative has already been rolled.

This accomplishes multiple goals at the same time. On the one hand it lets everyone know that all interactions must be done strictly in character. On the other hand the role play can lead to back and forth between characters, and get everyone involved in the game. Ideally what it will do is allow the party to develop a battle rapport, with allies calling out to one another in the thick of it and adapting on the fly to the changing scenario. If everyone knows that's the goal it's much easier to get to.

The Showboater

Art thou upset, brother?
The bane of parties everywhere, the showboater is always ready, willing, and more than able to show off his or her combat prowess with little to no provocation. These players will typically ignore any sort of group strategy, simply going in face first with spells or steel bared and slugging it out as if it is truly they who is the main character of this story. Often they'll set off multiple encounters at the same time, or refuse to let allies into the fight in order to help. Variations of this include stealing everything that isn't nailed down simply because the character can, or using powerful abilities for purely cosmetic reasons. Whether the characters are heavily armored knights, loner rogues with a chip on their shoulders, or just really powerful evokers with a scorched-earth policy, they're sometimes more of a hindrance than a help.

The easiest way to teach this kind of player a lesson is to give that person exactly what he or she asked for; let them take on the bad guys alone. A truly well-built character can often stand up to a lot of abuse from enemies, but sooner or later it's going to become very, very clear that these players are in over their heads. If an entire party is made up of showboaters then chances are it will take a near total party kill to make the players understand that they have to work together to survive.

The One-Trick Pony

Well I haven't done any damage the past four times... I hit it again!
Generally speaking it's a good plan to gear your character toward accomplishing a certain goal. Whether it's dealing the most damage, being completely silent and sneaky, or acting as the party's alarm bell because no one can sneak up on you, a defining trick is often the mark of a character with a purpose. The problem is that sometimes that trick just isn't going to get the job done. Ideally if a party is well-balanced and made up of competent players and well-built characters, everyone should be able to participate in a meaningful way. The problem arises when a one-trick pony is so invested in his or her trick that the player just keeps on doing it even when it's been shown to be ineffective in a certain situation. If a player has chosen to use fire-based magic for instance, and the enemy is highly resistant to fire, the player will just keep casting spells and hoping they hurt enough to overcome the threshold. If the enemy requires a certain type of weapon or special material to hurt, the player will keep battering at the bad guy with the wrong kind of weapon, hoping for that natural 20.

If a character's signature trick has been rendered useless then the player needs to adjust his or her thinking for the fight rather than bitching and moaning that they can't do what they want to do. That doesn't help end the combat, and it can in fact poison the table's atmosphere. What will end the combat, though, is keeping a certain number of aces in one's hole.

To fix a one-trick pony the player needs to ask if my ability to do this is rendered moot, then what? A sorcerer fighting a golem, or a creature with extremely high spell resistance will find magic nearly useless. A fighter or a barbarian trying to take on an incorporeal enemy, or an invisible rogue, will have the same problem. To that end players simply need to plan ahead and have a backup plan for when that happens. For instance, a well placed alchemical item like a tanglefoot bag (to entangle enemies and lower their attack and defense), a smog pellet (which renders invisible enemies visible for several rounds), or holy water (which affects evil, undead, and even incorporeal enemies) should be kept in reserve. Magical ammunition can help archers and crossbowmen overcome situational problems, and spell casters focused on one element should always prepare a few spells, or carry a few scrolls, outside of their typical armaments. Lastly, don't forget the aid-another action (examined in depth in Aid Another is More Powerful Than You Think) and combat maneuvers (which can take away your enemy's advantages if done just right).

Tips and Tricks

I've been involved in a lot of games, both as a player and as a storyteller. From my experience there are certain things I highly recommend that players do in order to create cohesion as a party, and to get their strategy in order.

#1: Read the rules. This sounds simple and straightforward, but I don't mean to just read the rules about how your class abilities work. I mean read all the rules. Understand how combat maneuver checks work, even if you don't use them. Read about terrain modifiers and mounted combat, even if they haven't come into play yet. Knowing the rules will make it easier for you to adapt mentally to a situation, and you will be less frustrated because you didn't understand the ramifications of what's happening to you.

#2: Come together as a party. All too often players build characters who are so disparate, and so different, that they remain a group of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. While you don't have to make all of your party members bosom companions since childhood, attempt to bring them together through roleplaying. If someone was saved from bleeding out by the cleric, play up that reaction afterward. If a fighter got between the sorcerer and a monster, maybe that would play down the animosity of the academic toward the brawler. Have the monk discuss brewing strategies with the alchemist. Whatever it is, take the opportunity to let your characters mingle, and give them appropriate reactions to one another.

#3: Roleplay your combat. It's all too easy to just let combat devolve into a big pile of numbers; don't let that happen. If your ranger knows about a troll's weakness for instance, then he might shout "acid or fire, it can heal aught else!" on his turn. If the paladin's mount is pawing the ground and it's obvious she's going to charge have her call out, "clear a path, this demon is mine!" Keep in mind that a round happens more or less simultaneously, and it's happening fast. Make your words fit the danger or tone of the scene, and convey what you want in character. Lastly, know what you're doing and do it fast so that you don't slow combat down and lose the thread of the scene because you had to look something up for ten minutes.

#4: Remember your options. I mentioned alchemical items earlier (a great list is right here, by the by), along with the aid another action. Remember too that you can ready an action (essentially declaring a trigger for a single, standard action that reads if X happens, then I do Y) as well as delay. Delaying allows you to re-insert yourself elsewhere in the combat order, which can be a highly advantageous option if you want your actions to happen at a certain time. You know, something like I delay until after the wizard casts this huge, area-of-effect spell.

#5: Know your role, but don't be controlled by it. If you are a sneaky rogue who specializes in back-stabbing your enemies, it's very easy to get stuck in that role. If you're a cleric who casts only healing magic, then that too is very easy to fall into. Always look at what actions will be most in-character, and what will have the biggest effect. The fighter could stab the ogre, sure; it's probably what the fighter's built for, and it would do some damage. But giving a +2 to the nearby rogue with the aid another action could ensure a much bigger damage output and possibly end the fight earlier due to sneak attack, poison, etc. Is that the sort of thing the fighter would bank on, or would the martial professional insist on doing things mano a mano with the monster? If he helps the rogue then that could also be turned into a roleplay point. A fighting style where these two fall into a battlefield form regardless of how they feel about one another outside of the initiative order.

#6: Remember what languages you speak. Shouting out your plans right where your enemies can hear isn't always a great idea, but if you all speak a language that your enemy doesn't then you can converse openly without giving away what you're doing. Failing a common language your enemy doesn't know however, it's a good idea to come up with some party-only slang for who's taking what actions.

That's all for this week's installment of Improved Initiative. It was brought to you via the request of Kat Cichocki, and I wanted to thank her for being a loyal reader. As always I hope you find this useful in your games, and if you have a subject you'd like to see covered feel free to send it in. Also feel free to follow me on Facebook and Tumblr if you want to stay properly updated. For those more interested in my writing endeavors and who would like to see more fiction, check out my other blog The Literary Mercenary, and see what I have available on Goodreads. Lastly please remember this service is powered by Google AdSense. If you want to see more updates, then please support us and help keep the blog going!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Best Two Weapon Fighter Build in Pathfinder

We all know fighters. Love them or hate them, every party needs to have at least one. They're the muscle and the grit, the steel and the protection that the rest of the party depends on to stand between them and the horrors lurking in forgotten forests and ancient ruins. While they come in a lot of different varieties, one of the most popular is the two weapon fighter. This week on Improved Initiative we present you with the "best" build for one of these whirlwinds of doom in Pathfinder.

'Nuff Said
What We Mean by Best

It needs to be understood right off the bat on this blog "best" does not mean "right". There is no one right way to build a character; there are simply more optimized ways to achieve a certain goal. In this case the goal is to build a fighter that gets the largest numbers of attacks possible, while maintaining an extremely high defense. That's the goal; defend yourself optimally while at the same time smashing down anything in your path. The reason I feel confident in calling this build the best is because it is the only way to be a two weapon fighter and to take no negatives for at least some of the attacks you make when fighting with two weapons.

Sword and Board: Why You Can't Beat the Classic

The classic fighter archetype is a warrior with a sword, a shield, and the best armor he or she is capable of wearing. That's where we're going to start out for our two weapon fighter. We're assuming for this build that you're a human, that you have strength as your primary attribute, and that it's at least 17 or higher. Dexterity is secondary, and will need to be at least a 17 by mid-levels. It will need to be a 19 if you intend on taking Greater Two Weapon Fighting (Core Rulebook 126).

Your first three feats (1st level, Human bonus, 1st Fighter feat) are:
- Improved Shield Bash (Core Rulebook 128)
- Two Weapon Fighting (Core Rulebook 136)
- Double Slice (Core Rulebook 122)

At this point your level one fighter is off and running. You can take a full attack with both weapons (I recommend a light shield, and if you're all right with doing piercing damage upgrade it to a light, spiked shield), and still keep the defensive bonus from your shield. You can do your full strength damage on both attacks.

For levels 2-5 you should have:

- Shield Focus (Core Rulebook 133)
- Missile Shield (Advanced Player's Guide)
- Weapon Focus Sword (Core Rulebook 136)
- Weapon Specialization Sword (Core Rulebook 137)

We're still building on the basics here, and these feats should be combined with Weapon Training in the Close group of weapons. This will ensure that even though you've taken feats to make your main weapon (sword is the place holder) more effective, you're still getting a bonus to hit and damage with your shield too. In addition to becoming deadlier you've increased your armor class, and you can negate one ranged weapon hit per round. As per the rules in Ultimate Combat, this applies to bullets as well as to arrows, crossbow bolts, sling stones, etc.

For levels 6-10 take:

- Shield Slam (Core Rulebook 133)
- Disruptive (Core Rulebook 122)
- Improved Two Weapon Fighting (Core Rulebook 128)
- Weapon Focus Shield (Core Rulebook 136)
- Spellbreaker (Core Rulebook 134)

Level 10 is where the big parts of the build start coming together. At this point you have two attacks with your secondary weapon, you're posing a bigger threat to spellcasters, you get a free bull rush attack when you hit with your shield, and you're hitting a lot better with your shield (hint, take the Focus for heavy steel shield. Trust me). You should also have gotten to the point where you can take full movement in any armor, and where you've taken a second weapon training group for your main weapon. You're a pretty deadly combatant at this point. The next few levels is the icing on the cake, though.

Level 11- 13:

- Shield Master (Core Rulebook 133)
- Ray Shield (Advanced Player's Guide)
- Two Weapon Rend (Core Rulebook 136)

These three feats are the end game. Shield Master allows you to use any magical enhancement on your shield for attack and damage as well as defense, and you take no negative on any attacks with that shield (for those who want to be Captain America). You have the ability to deflect a magical ray attack with your shield as if it were an arrow, and if you hit with both weapons then you get to do additional damage as you rend your enemies asunder. Who needs whirlwind attack with that?

Notes and Recommendations

This build is meant to balance offense and defense in such a way that the two weapon fighter is protected from physical attacks, and gets as many attacks of his or her own as possible. That said if your goals vary then tweaking the feat list presented here isn't just a good idea, but a necessity.

Also important to note; not all of these feats need to be taken in this order. Many of the higher-level feats have prerequisites, but for many of the feats on this list all you need is a certain level of fighter. So if you'd rather take one feat before another, or swap out a feat that isn't an important part of the chain for something different (Power Attack comes to mind. Or perhaps Improved Bull Rush if you want to make Shield Slam as effective as possible) then that's also perfectly acceptable. The list is here to help you build a better tank; if something here doesn't do what you want, then feel free to change it up.

On the subject of weapons; high crit weapons are your friend. Bastard swords, scimitars, anything that can have keen put on it and give you a better chance of hitting vitals. You aren't likely to do a stunning amount of damage on any single hit; if you hit often and hit hard though, it won't matter unless you fail to overcome the enemy's damage reduction.

Lastly, remember there's a counter to everything. The two weapon fighter is deadly in a brawl or one-on-one with another big brute. This build even has a few tricks for protection against arrows and ray spells. If you simply cannot reach the enemy though, or if that enemy is a great deal more mobile than you are, then you might find yourself getting frustrated. Tanglefoot bags are a great alchemical weapon for holding enemies in place, or at least dropping their move speeds. What I'm saying is always keep an ace up your sleeve; just because you're the best there is at what you do, that doesn't mean the DM will let you steamroll every fight be serving it up on a silver platter.


I hope you enjoyed this little piece of Improved Initiative. Tell your family, tell your friends, and make your DM (or your players, I don't care if you put this on a villain) cry. If you're interested in following my updates then check out my author page on Facebook or follow me on Tumblr. If you'd prefer to check out the darker side of the literary world, hop over to my other blog The Literary Mercenary. In closing thanks for stopping by, thanks for reading, and if you want to see more like this then remember that we sort of run on advertising and high traffic around here. Check out the rest of the Crunch page for more articles like this one.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Seizing the Initiative

"Who takes Improved Initiative?"

This question, blatantly asked in The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, is one that most players voice at a table. Feats are a big deal after all, so why waste it just to help you go first when combat breaks out?

I'll tell you why.

If you go first then you have the chance to claim the battlefield, and to make the opening moves. You catch your enemies unawares, and you have a better chance of dealing out damage and dropping the threat before it can even draw its sword. The right spell, or the right alchemical item, can completely change the course of combat from that point onward. Characters who go first have the chance to strike hard, fast, and without mercy. That's the kind of player who takes Improved Initiative, and that's the sort of gamer we welcome with open arms.

What's This Blog About?

In the spirit of the title, this blog is here to share tips, tricks, and character builds for all those who are looking for a new and interesting twist on their mechanics. In addition to tuning up your sheet though, we'll also have articles for dungeon masters on the little ways to turn a good game into a great game, and to help players breathe real life into their characters. In between all of that we'll have great gaming stories, amusing pictures, character portraits, and maybe the occasional video that will make any gamer's day.

And Just Who The Hell Are You?

Since I've been using the royal "we", I'll tell you just who the hell I am and why you should listen to me. My name is Neal F. Litherland, and I am an author. I'm also an avid role playing gamer, a DM, and I've contributed to Paizo's Pathfinder game both on the fictional and mechanical sides of things. Before you ask, no, this blog isn't connected to Paizo in any way; these are my own thoughts and opinions about games I've played and that I've both loved and hated.

For those of you who still aren't quite convinced, I've got a couple of references that might pique your interest.

The Irregulars The Irregulars is my first contribution to Paizo's Pathfinder Tales. With Molthune gearing up to go to war, Andoran sends in a team of experts to gum up the works. A suicide squad of loose cannons and skull crackers, the Irregulars are the best and the brightest of the bottom of the barrel. Note that, though this was once free, Paizo has since put it (along with the rest of the Pathfinder Tales up on sale on Amazon... still, it's just a handful of change for a story that I think holds up pretty well!

A Guide to the Best Alchemical Items For those players who want to have a little ace in the hole, there's nothing like the right alchemical tool for the job.

More Bang For Your Bomb A guide I wrote for Kobold Quarterly to help turn your Alchemist into a walking conflagration.

The Laying on of Fists: Feats and Features for Battle Clerics and Paladins This title is pretty self-explanatory; another Kobold Quarterly piece.

Calling in the Cavalry: Mounted Mayhem in Paizo's Pathfinder After I played a Shining Knight, I just had to put this guide together.

50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Class Feature:  Because there's more to Rage than meets the eye. Remember that.

You're in the Army Now This is one for the DMs. Does your party fall apart like a soggy sandwich? Whip them into shape and give them a purpose!

Anything Else We Should Know?

I think that's about it for now. However, for those who are more interested in writing than roleplaying, check out my other blog The Literary Mercenary for tips and tricks on being a professional pen monkey. For even 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!

If my readers want me to discuss any particular game, or any particular topic under the umbrella of gaming, just drop me a line and I'll look a little deeper into it. If you have something you want to share, let me know and I'll consider people who are serious about guest posts.

Lastly fellow gamers, I leave you with these words of wisdom. Remember, it is always better to do a thing.