Monday, December 29, 2014

Make Your Own, Custom Minis at Hero Forge!

There are few feelings as nice as digging through your miniatures and finding that one figure that is exactly what you want for your character. It has the right cloak, the right pose, the right race, and even the right weapon! Sometimes though your character is so wonky, strange, or otherwise hard-to-conceptualize that you're sure the only way you could get the right mini for it would be to get a custom made one.

That's where Hero Forge comes into the picture.

Korvosa, here we come!
The screen shot above is a design for the tiefling I'm currently running amok with in the adventure path Curse of the Crimson Throne and with the exception of his tail and goatee I was able to make a figure that accurately captured both his look and his attitude in minutes at Hero Forge. For those who've never tried to find a mini for a fairly exotic race, the ease with which I located this made me extremely happy.

The site gives you more options than just fantasy though. Whether you're playing a modern game or an Old Western, a Sci-Fi shoot-em-up or even a combination of these archetypes Hero Forge has all of the different options you need to create really unique minis. From hair and expression to pose, gear, and even their smirks, you should check out what you can do at Hero Forge to make your next 1-20 level character a real experience.

If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then stop by my Patreon and become a patron today! All it takes is $1 a month to keep the content coming. Also if you'd like to make sure you get all of my updates plug your email into the form on the right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr!

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Pathfinder Build For A Dirty Trick Master

Anyone who's ever been in a fight, or even participated in sport combat knows that winning a fight is about more than who's the biggest of the strongest. It's often about technique, experience, and being able to predict your opponent and take advantage of the weaknesses you see. Some people, especially those who've come out ahead because they don't fight fair, are aware that a momentary advantage can be the difference between walking away from a brawl and leaving your blood on the pavement along with your dignity.

For those who want to duplicate this kind of experience in Pathfinder you should invest in a character skilled at using combat maneuvers against her enemies. More accurately you should invest in a character that specializes in the dirty trick maneuver.

Sign didn't say nuthin' about your eyes, though. Ain't much a fight if you can't see.

How The Dirty Trick Combat Maneuver Works

Before we get too in depth on mechanics I know that not a lot of players use combat maneuvers. Most players forget these maneuvers even exist until a monster uses one on the party, and for a brief instant in time players see how devastating a properly placed grapple, bull rush, or trip can really be. So here's a quick refresher on how dirty trick works.

Outlined in the Advanced Player's Guide a dirty trick maneuver can only be done in melee. It is a standard action where you roll a D20 and add your combat maneuver bonus to the roll. This provokes an attack of opportunity (unless you have the improved dirty trick feat), and if you are hit by the enemy then you add the damage you took as a negative to your attempt. If you beat the enemy's combat maneuver defense then you have succeeded, and may apply the blinded, dazzled, deafened, shaken, or sickened condition to the target for 1 round. For every 5 that you beat the target's CMD by the condition lasts for an additional round. The target can remove the condition as a move action, though.

So what does this look like? Well say that you wanted to blind your opponent; maybe you gouged him in the eyes with your thumb, or tossed your ale in his face. If you wanted to entangle your enemy maybe you undid his belt, or yanked on his armor lacings so they were out of true. If you wanted to deafen an opponent you might clap his ears, and if you wanted to sicken him you might kick him in the crotch.

Why Use Dirty Trick?

I'll tell you why; because there are lots of ways to win a fight. One of them is to debuff your enemy into next week.

Son, I'm afraid if you get up it's going to provoke an attack of opportunity.
If you're fighting a spellcaster and you manage to deafen her then that's a 20% miscast chance on any spells that aren't cast with the metamagic feat Silent Spell, and it's still serious negatives to notice anyone sneaking up on her. Add blinded to that and she can't target anyone specifically unless she has another means of sight. If you're fighting a swashbuckler or a rogue who depends on dexterity then leaving them entangled will reduce their dex by a -4 and any attacks by an additional -2. The list goes on and on, but if you combine the temporary status effects of dirty trick with other combat maneuvers like trip or disarm then you've got a character who doesn't need to be the best to win; he simply makes those he's fighting do so at an extreme disadvantage.

The Classes

Getting the best build for a dirty trick master isn't easy. But you're going to want to start off with at least one level of the Maneuver Master archetype (Ultimate Combat 58). This does mean you need to have a lawful character (and if you're trying to square "lawful" with "fights using dirty tricks" then you simply need to include something in the monk's credo to the effect of "there is a time for honor, and that time is not when my life and the lives of others are at stake"), and it means you won't be wearing any armor, so you're going to have to get creative. What the Maneuver Master gives you in addition to the unarmed damage, monk saves, AC bonus, and monk bonus feat (which can include any improved feat, so improved dirty trick is yours for the asking at level one) is something called flurry of maneuvers.

What makes this ability so special is that during any full-attack action a Maneuver Master may perform a bonus combat maneuver, regardless of whether or not it would replace an attack or require a standard action all its own to use. For this bonus maneuver the monk replaces his base attack bonus with his monk level for the purpose of calculating his combat maneuver bonus, but all combat maneuvers attempted in that round suffer a -2 penalty.

So say that you came out of the gate as a level 1 Maneuver Master with improved dirty trick as your bonus feat. You could also take combat expertise as your 1st level feat and improved trip if you were a human and had a bonus feat. With that build up you could take your full attack action, trip the enemy, and then kick him while he's down in order to make him sickened. You take a -2 to both combat maneuvers (which is canceled out by the +2 you get from the two improved feats), and you've got a pretty solid shot at putting at least one opponent in a pretty compromised position.

But wait, there's more!
While you can keep taking levels of Maneuver Master (because we know that monks are strongest when they're kept pure), you could also multiclass and start taking levels of the fighter archetype Cad (Ultimate Combat 45).

In addition to a full BAB and bonus feats, Cad gives your character a lot of bonuses and extra opportunities to get your dirty tricks in. While these fighters don't get access to medium armor, heavy armor, or tower shields, they do gain dirty maneuvers which provides a +1 bonus to disarm, steal, and dirty trick CMB and CMD at level 2, and every 4 levels thereafter. The cad also gets catch off-guard as a bonus feat, and gains the ability payback, which grants him an increased bonus to hit and damage any enemy that has attacked him since his last turn. There's a slew of other useful abilities, but one that's going to come in very handy is the level 7 ability deadly surprise, which allows you to attempt a dirty trick as an immediate action if you hit an opponent denied its dexterity bonus to AC with a melee weapon or unarmed strike.

The setup I would recommend is 1 level of Maneuver Master and 11 levels of Cad, though there are certainly other, legitimate ways to achieve good results.


The level recommendation isn't random, and though it might work for Pathfinder Society that isn't exactly the reason I assigned a 12-level build. The reason will be obvious when you examine the feat list below. This list works for any sort of build, and does not assume that a character is playing a human or include fighter bonus feats. Combat maneuvers other than dirty trick can be swapped out to fit your preferred play style.

- Level 1: Combat Expertise (Core Rulebook 119): Take negatives to your attack to gain bonuses to AC.
- Monk Bonus Feat: Improved Dirty Trick (Advanced Player's Guide): Gain a +2 to CMB and CMD for dirty trick maneuvers. Do not provoke AOO when performing a dirty trick.
- Level 3: Improved Trip (Core Rulebook 128): Gain +2 to CMB and CMD for trip maneuvers. Do not provoke an AOO when performing a trip.
- Level 5: Dodge (Core Rule Book 122): Gain +1 dodge bonus to AC.
- Level 7: Quick Dirty Trick (Ultimate Combat 114): May replace a melee attack with a dirty trick maneuver.
- Level 9: Greater Dirty Trick (Advanced Player's Guide): Gain an additional +2 to CMB and CMD for dirty trick maneuvers. The penalty now lasts for 1d4 rounds +1 round for every 5 by which you beat the target's CMD. Removing the penalties now requires a standard action.
- Level 11 (or whatever level you meet the prerequisites at): Dirty Trick Master (Bastards of Golarion 25): Cause the condition affected by any dirty trick maneuver to worsen. Dazzled becomes dazed, entangled becomes pinned, shaken becomes frightened, sickened becomes nauseated. This worsened condition replaces the initial one, and may be removed with a standard action.

*It's also a good idea to supplement your dirty trick with Gauntlets of the Skilled Maneuver (Ultimate Equipment), which provide a +2 to a single combat maneuver. The same bonus can be granted to trip or disarm attempts by simply using a weapon with one of those qualities.

The Goal

Once your character has Dirty Trick Master (a feat that I wrote for Bastards of Golarion, if I'm to toot my own horn) you are a threat to any enemy you can touch in melee. With your high BAB from Fighter and Quick Dirty Trick you can perform several dirty trick maneuvers, and to top it off you still get your bonus maneuver from Maneuver Master. You can pull a dirty trick on anyone you catch flat-footed or that you flank (or who is pinned, as per the increased condition), and even if an enemy does remove the condition you put on him it still takes a standard action; that's a round that enemy had their options significantly limited. And if you have more than one dirty trick effect that's been stacked on, it takes more than one action to remove them.

The Weaknesses

While every character build has something it's really good at, it will also have something that it's really bad at. While the dirty fighter we've outlined here is great for debuffing enemies in ways that will not give them a saving throw against the attack, the build does have some weaknesses. This character will have a very low AC (unless you toss the monk level and use bonus feats to get heavier armor or replace the monk level with another class, which is an option), and he will have issues with opponents that are very large, who remain out or melee range, or who are invisible/incorporeal. While this character will not have the biggest damage output in the party, those bonus feats can also be used to increase how hard he's going to hit once he's stacked status conditions onto the bad guy.

The key with the Dirty Trick Master (just like any other build) is to recognize what your weaknesses are and to have something else you can fall back on when your big gun doesn't work. Are you fighting enemies that are large sized and have multiple legs? Why not throw a tanglefoot bag at them to keep them tied up for a couple of rounds, and then either shoot from a distance or stick and move (assuming you invest in mobility and spring attack)? What do you do if an enemy is immune to being blinded or sickened? Well entangle and pin them instead, or ask if their enhanced senses are hearing based and deafen them. What if you want to avoid getting splattered all over the battle field? Well try using smoke sticks to give yourself concealment, or invest in a cloak of displacement.

Whatever your weakness is, you need to prepare for it so there are no fights where you're just sitting there doing nothing but pissing and moaning that your special trick won't work. Even if you're not single-handedly reducing the big bad into a buffoon who's got spit in his eye, his pants around his ankles, and a solid shot in the gut to knock the wind out of him, you can still do something to help out the rest of the party.

If you're looking for something to do with all those bonus feats then you might want to check out The Bullyboy and my Ultimate Aid Another builds. Remember that it's your character so make it into whatever you want!

If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then plug your email address into the form on your right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr to stay in the loop.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Making A Miniature Sword From A Nail!

As a quick reminder there's a giveaway going on this month! Check out the details in this post, or just email me using the form on your right to claim your free ebook from a Pathfinder Tales author!

Everyone loves those montages in epic fantasy films where our hero forges a sword. The ringing blows of a hammer overlaid with drums and raised voices, sparks flying in the darkness and the steam as the weapon is quenched of its fires speaks to something primal in all of us. Well this is just like that, except on a tiny scale.

A very tiny scale.
If you've ever wanted to turn your G.I. Joe into Conan the Barbarian then this video is just what you've been looking for. With a handful of basic tools, a little elbow grease and a lot of dedication it's possible to take any random nail you have laying around and to turn it into a broadsword fit for a true (though miniature) warrior.

Check out this video at Inspire to Make which started all of this crazed enthusiasm.

If that doesn't make you want to arm every toy in your possession, then I have no idea what will.

Thanks as always for dropping in, and if you'd like to support Improved Initiative then drop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you get all of my updates then follow me on Facebook and Tumblr too!

Friday, December 19, 2014

That One Time A Cheating Player Got His Comeuppance Via A Cyclops

Just a reminder that for the rest of 2014 I'm having a holiday giveaway! Check out the details in this entry, and if you'd like a free ebook from a Pathfinder Tales author then just send me an email using the contact form on this page!

Now then, where was I? Oh yes!

We all know those players. The people who make convenient math errors a little too often, who ignore the negatives their characters are suffering one too many times for it to be chance, and who snatch their natural 20's up off the table before the DM can get a really clear look at what was on the die. We're pretty sure they're cheating, but we're not sure if we're ready to stick our necks out and accuse them in front of the whole table like the world's geekiest courtroom drama.

Their own actions will eventually deliver the karmic crotch-kick we so desire. Or at least that's how it happened to a guy named Rob.

Short-sighted doesn't begin to cover it.
Those of you who've read the other entries in Table Talk will recognize Rob as the fellow who ran the Star Wars game that resulted in my getting an out-of-game job offer from a Sith Lord. Well he was a invited along with myself and several others by a DM named John who was going to put together a grueling game that would challenge our abilities, our courage, and our luck.

Needless to say, we were in.

The Most Pointless Cheat In The World

There were roughly 6 players in this group, which is heading toward the big side of a party. There was a paladin, a sorcerer, a rogue, a cleric, a fighter, and a monk. Because John is a foolish but interesting DM he told us to roll 4d6 and drop the lowest, and to re-roll 1s and 2s for our stats. He also had a caveat that said if you rolled all 6's then you got to keep the 24 for your stat.

Take a wild guess who got the 24.
Instead of rolling his dice carefully where the DM could see it, Rob's rolled a mysterious 24 when the rest of the table was engaged in a discussion over other rules. Because none of us had seen him alter the dice post-roll, though Rob's defensive facial expression and body posture said that was likely what had happened, John told him to take the 24. It was just easier than dealing with the argument that would ensue.

Here's where things get dumb. The paladin, sorcerer, rogue, and cleric all had understandably high charisma scores. After all, each of them has skills or class features that depend on that stat. My fighter, a black knight who'd cut ties with his noble family in Cheliax, also had a charisma of 16. Morvius Henderthrane was going to be recruited by the Eagle Knights, and I needed a high charisma for his prestige class. Upon comparison it's remarked that we are, "a very pretty party," with a 15 sitting as the lowest charisma score among these five characters.

Rob hears this and immediately decides to switch the 24 from his strength to his charisma. Why does a half-orc monk need a 24 charisma? Your guess is as good as mine dear reader, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was because he wanted to "win" what was never a competition in the first place as to who had the most striking presence.

The Comeuppance

The game starts with all of us at level five adventuring together. We're put ashore on the south side of an island and told that there is a hag leading an army of nightmare creatures in a cave up the coast. If we want to end the threat we need to take her unawares. We smash our way through a fight with some giant crabs, and start climbing the cliffs. Showing both strategy and variety, John throws some harpies at us. Once the harpies have distracted us, a cyclops crashes in from the woods, large-sized greatax raised and ready to swing.

Everybody chill. I got this.
Arrows and daggers are flying, and the party is getting slammed by the assailants. Morvius is even pushed off a small cliff. Non-plussed and seething he storms back up the rise, and splits the last remaining harpy from crotch to crown with a critical from his bastard sword. At almost the same time the sorcerer, the only other Chelaxian in the party, casts blindness on the cyclops. The DM rolls low, and the giant's single eye withers and drops out of its socket, leaving the potent foe significantly reduced.

Morvius being lawful and a knight calls for the cyclops's surrender. The giant agrees. It is at this time that the monk, who has done nothing useful to contribute to the fight up to this point, rushes up to the cyclops with the intention of striking a death blow on the helpless, surrendered creature. The cyclops hears the monk coming, and uses an ability that those who hadn't read the Pathfinder Bestiary in-depth to see how it was different from the Monster Manual didn't know about; the ability for a cyclops to declare any die roll a natural 20 due to a brief glimpse into the future once per day.

The result? The creature brings down its ax, and the DM rolls to confirm the critical. He confirms with a natural 20, and rolls enough damage to smash the orc down to -20 hit points.

He Chose Poorly

The entire table was silent for about five seconds. The silence filled up with the sounds of barely-suppressed laughter as the DM showed Rob the description of the ability, and Rob spluttered to try and find some way to save his dishonorable and mostly-useless monk. There is no way to save him, and so we're reduced down to a mostly-functional party size.

If only he'd put that 24 in Constitution...
Despite the player pouting and huffing about his well-deserved and totally-legal character death, the rest of the table used it to further the plot. Morvius and the sorcerer threatened the giant badly enough that it nearly killed itself running for its life down the mountain, and Morvius demanded that they stop and bury their fallen comrade. Only once the dirt had been thrown on it did he insist they continue, and give the half-orc an escort on his way to Pharasma's judgment.

He had plenty of company... enough so that we gained 2 levels in a single fight. But that's another story for another day...

If you have a gaming story of your own you'd like to tell, send it to Improved Initiative and we'll be happy to give you a moment or three in the spotlight! If you'd like to support the blog then stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you get all of my updates then follow me on Facebook and Tumblr too!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Improved Initiative is Giving Away Free Stuff This Holiday Season!

This Monday I've got great news for all of my readers; this post marks the first centurion of complete entries on Improved Initiative! Gaming geeks everywhere celebrate!

... yay.
Also, since it's the season for giving, I'm making all of my readers a special offer! Anyone who sends me an email through the form on this blog or on my sister blog The Literary Mercenary will be entitled to a free ebook! Several of my titles are up for grabs, including a number of ebooks that have recently gone out of print. Take it for yourself, or give the story to that hard-to-shop-for friend on your Christmas list.

For those who are iffy about giving me a try, remember that my work has appeared in the Pathfinder Tales (and that you can still read The Irregulars right here for free)!

Seriously, you won't want to miss what Sturgeon and his team pull off in Molthune.
In addition to this giveaway I'm also offering a free story to anyone who becomes a Patreon patron before the end of 2014. If you'd like to become a patron, help support Improved Initiative, and get some more free swag then check out my Patreon right here!

Thanks all, have a happy holiday, and follow me on Facebook and Tumblr if you haven't already!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Animal Companions, Cohorts, and Familiars, Oh My!

Your character is the way you interact with and affect the game world. Whether you're an ancient vampire running Wall Street or a holy warrior standing against a tide of evil you have only this single skin to wear when you step into the game world.

Or do you?

I am a polymorphed dragon, and I want to be your friend.
Almost every game has a mechanic that grants you some form of companion. Whether it's a magical familiar, a supernaturally loyal bear, or just a sidekick you've picked up along your adventures there are plenty of rules that grant you a little bit of backup. These companions and followers are more than just one more set of mechanical bonuses to be used and forgotten though; they are a huge opportunity to roleplay, and to deepen your character's back story.

Who And What Are They?

The primary questions you need to ask is who and what your companions are. If you're a level one wizard that raven on your shoulder is more than just a talking bird; it's a part of your magic. It's a part of who you are and the journey you've taken. You have to ask yourself where and how you acquired it, what language you've taught it to speak, and what sort of relationship you've had with it. For instance, did your aunt give you the Corvax from her own aerie when she heard you had been accepted to wizard's college? Did you teach it to speak the language of your homeland so that no matter where you go you have a reminder of home near to hand? Does your raven have favorite foods like eyeballs? Is it solemn or profane, quiet or strident? Does it like people, or are you the only one it tolerates? Has it ever run off or gotten hurt?

A lot of questions for a level one caster, right?

The questions only get bigger the more powerful your companions become. How did the druid manage to tame a tiger? Did she raise it since it was a cub, or is it the gift of nature magic and worship that allows her to command the animal's loyalty? Is the animal a totem of her god, or a conduit to the forces of nature? If you acquired a cohort, how did you do it? What does that cohort want, and why did he or she approach you? What sort of bond do you begin with, and how does it change over time?

How Does Your Companion Change You?

Adding companions to the story does more than put another mini on the table; it forces you to deepen your primary character's back story to include this other character. This gives you a lot of opportunity to flesh out parts of your character you may not even have thought about. Is the companion someone from the character's past? Does the companion challenge the character's way of looking at the world, or give them a higher standard to rise to? Does the companion instead represent something your character once did, creating a real sense of continuity in your adventure?

Hellooooo Leadership!
Let's try some examples instead of working in the purely theoretical, shall we?

Say you have your stereotypical barbarian; big, brutish, angry, prone to outbursts and to challenge those he feels are disrespecting him. He's been gaining a reputation, and one day a young woman from his tribe wanders into town. She's looking for him because she wants to come along on his adventures.

What happens now? Does the barbarian maintain his uncouth ways, or does he attempt to appear more like a hero because someone who knows him in a way no one else does is now there to witness his behavior? Does he try to impress her? Is he protective of her? Does she know any embarrassing stories about him, or does she have a childish nickname for him that he never quite outgrew? Does he allow her to believe the swollen stories of his deeds, or does he tell her the truth about what he did and didn't do?

Let's try on another example. Say your paladin's mount is slain in battle, and she is grieving for the loss of her friend. Would her god see this and attempt to ease that suffering by sending a divine creature to serve in the mount's stead? Would the paladin accept the gift gratefully, or reluctantly? How long does she have to train with her new mount before the two of them achieve the oneness of mind and purpose that the paladin had with her original mount? What sort of relationship develops over time; do they become close, or will they always be two creatures simply serving the will of their master?

Examine Your Relationship Dynamics Carefully

Unless your storyteller takes control of these secondary characters they are the only characters other than your PC whose motives and actions you can really control. That also means that you can add to the collective story with them in meaningful ways.

Don't forget that these secondary characters are still characters, though. They have goals and desires and arcs all their own.

Sometimes they just want to watch the world burn... which is still a goal.
I'll give you a spoilery example (avert your eyes if you're playing Curse of the Crimson Throne). Early on in the game you get a chance to save a pseudodragon from captivity, and if you do so you can make him your friend. Spellcasters (my character Egil is tiefling rogue/magus in addition to being a town guardsman) can even convince Majenko to become a familiar. I did, and the sheer number of combats this cat-sized monkey wrench had ended with his sleep poison has become nearly legendary at the table.

Majenko is much more than just a self-absorbed house cat with scales and a stinger, though. Throughout the course of the adventure he's become a bosom companion to my tiefling, and has even shared in his crusade to return his city to order. Majenko has also fallen in love with a silver pseudodragon (one of my other followers), and the two of them have a brood in the Shingles of Korvosa. I have essentially written in a whole subplot about a character who was freed from slavery and who has fought by his friend's side, and who had to leave his family behind in order to help his best friend on a quest. While it might seem like fun and games, Egil has made it one of his sworn vows to return his friend back to his mate and his children. In essence having this friend turned a demonic-looking batman-with-a-badge into a more fully-fleshed character who has more emotions, connections, and reasons to step up and be a hero.

That's what adding secondary characters to your game can do; give you surprise character growth in addition to a dedicated healer or someone who's always willing to be your flank.

Also, check out one of the great stories of how a cohort not only expanded a single PC's plot, but helped alter the course of an entire game by looking at The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone.

If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then share it with your friends and family! Also, stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you get all of my updates then plug your email address into the box on your right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr!

Monday, December 8, 2014

JBM Press- Gaming Tee Shirts You Really Want!

Most of you reading this have never heard of JBM Press. You might actually be wearing one of their tee shirts right now (particularly if you went to Gen Con), and not even know it. If you need a quick check though just look down at your shirt and ask two questions: Is it geeky? Is it awesome?

Are you wearing this? If not, then go here!
This is just one design created for JBM's Player Character series, featuring designs by the very talented Tony Steele (check out his galleries at his website SteeleWorks). In addition to PC tee shirts though JBM also offers Peaks ("I climbed" shirts that make references to everywhere from the Wall in Game of Thrones to Mount Doom), Saabs (like the car), Gamer, Seattle, North Bend, and Other.

No matter what your preferred area of geekdom, JBM has something that will make you click Buy fast enough to dent your left mouse button.

Original Geeks Creating Awesome Art

JBM Press can be found working a huge variety of conventions and events, and their website offers a slew of insights into how they came to be who and what they are today. Not only that but it lists the rates they offer for custom printing, deals on bulk orders, and you can check out the brief history of how JBM Press came to be.

Also their CEO's middle name is Adventure. It's on the Internet, so it must be true.

For all those who want to help support Improved Initiative drop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to keep up-to-the-minute with your updates then just plug your email address into the box on the right to become a follower, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Review of The Laying Waste Critical Hit System From TPK Games

Few things will make your heart go pitter-patter like a natural 20 on your die. You can already see your blade sinking deep into your opponent's neck, blood spurting as his eyes go dead. A lucky blow or great skill, it makes no difference when you're the one still standing and your enemy has gone down in defeat.

There's just one problem; your crits get less and less badass with every level you gain.

Wow, 2d6 instead of 1d6. Truly I am killed now.
While the thrill of scoring a critical hit never goes away, and some classes (*cough* Magus *cough*) can turn explosive critical hits into an art form, your average PC just doesn't get the same bang for a confirmed crit at higher levels. For those of you who were wondering if there was a cure for this there is... though it isn't for the faint of heart.

Well, What Is It?

The book you've been looking for is titled Laying Waste, and it's from 3rd party publisher TPK games. If you want to make your games truly vicious (both for the PCs and for the monsters) then the alternative system this game offers keeps things fast and furious.

Seriously, look at this goddamn thing!
I want to take a moment to make it very clear for players who are skimming; this is not part of the core rules, and no one is saying you must use these rules at your table. That said if you want to make your critical hits and fumbles (no crit fumbles aren't part of the core rules either, as I reminded folks in Playing By The Book: Rules Pathfinder Players Often Forget, but they exist in this book) a lot more vicious, this is the book for you.

So How Does It Work?

First of all take everything you know about critical hits and throw it right out the window. Under the Laying Waste rules there is no need to confirm a critical hit; if you hit your weapon simply does maximum damage. In addition to the weapon damage though you roll a d20, add your weapon's critical hit multiplier, and add the amount you exceeded the target's AC by. The result is then compared to a DC 20, 30, or 40 for the severity of the critical effect you deal. You then take the type of weapon you're wielding, and then roll on the appropriate chart. You could do anything from knocking a weapon out of an opponent's hand or temporarily reducing his dexterity to smashing in his teeth or cutting off an entire arm.

Improved Critical for the win.
Critical fumbles are more straightforward, but pretty disastrous. When you roll a one you roll on the chart for the potential fumble. You're given a saving throw (such as a Reflex of 20 to get a grip on your weapon again) and a condition (score a critical hit on an enemy to renew your confidence). If you make one or the other then the fumble either never happens, or the effect ends.

What Are The Advantages?

Despite the hate that a lot of 3rd party publishers get, Laying Waste has a definite upside. First and foremost it makes combat more dynamic (I'd hate to use the term realistic when talking about RPGs), and it keeps a genuine threat in every die roll. Even high level characters might be laid low by a lucky shot from a goblin, kobold, or even a commoner.

In addition to honing combat's edge, Laying Waste provides real benefits for martial classes at high levels (since they're the ones most likely to exceed an enemy's armor class by a large number to deal devastating critical hits). It makes critical hits a genuine threat, and a build based around critical hits can have an impact over and above a few extra points of damage on a given swing. It also makes things like concealment and cover more important to combatants, for those who want those kinds of mechanics to get more attention paid to them.

What Are The Disadvantages?

Aside from needing to learn a new mechanic, and then convince your DM (and the rest of the table) to institute this new rule, there are some issues with the system in Laying Waste. While critical hits are a lot more powerful with this system, some players might feel that random chance is taking over from solid character building. The idea of your next natural 20 decapitating the bugbear general is exciting, but if your DM starts dropping a lot of critical hits then a low CR encounter can quickly cut a party into little, bloody pieces.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Laying Waste completely unbalances a game, because it doesn't. But it can lead to serious problems based on chance rather than on the deliberate actions of players (more so than RPGs already have). It can also really slow down combat any time someone has a critical hit or fumble as pages are checked, additional dice are rolled (and re-rolled for when a given crit simply doesn't make sense or the DM feels is inappropriate).

All in all Laying Waste is a fun little post-market add on for your game. You don't need it to play, but it might be fun to try out. If you notice that it's creating more headaches than heroics though don't be afraid to strip the sprocket out and go back to your old-fashioned critical hits.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Not Your Imagination... Your Dice Really Are Rolling More 1's

We've all sat around a table and listened to that frustrated player who just can't catch a break. Whether it's Warhammer or Pathfinder sooner or later someone will bemoan that no matter what they do all they can roll is 1's.

Goddammit... not again.
You aren't imagining it, according to this study. If you're using the wrong dice you really are rolling more 1's than anything else.

Wait, What?

This study was conducted by an engineer that teaches at ASU. As a man with access to minions in the form of students, and an evil laboratory where all like table wobble and incidental dice collision can be controlled for he decided to try and improve his Warhammer 40K game with science. The study used groups of 36 dice, including the red and white GW dice, square dice with pips, dice from Chessex, and Las Vegas Casino dice. There were 144,000 total rolls that had to be conducted and recorded individually.

Has he ever considered it's because his space marines suck?
What the study found was that if you use Chessex or GW dice then you're looking at about a 29% chance of rolling a one. The Las Vegas dice averaged a 16.6% chance of rolling a 1, which is what they should have averaged. The square dice with pips on them came out to roughly a 19% chance of rolling a 1.

So let me ask you... do you feel lucky?

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Friday, November 28, 2014

What To Do When Your Player Characters Become Gods

The idea of player characters rising to godhood is not new. Practically any gamer who's bounced around between different groups has been in at least one game where the dungeon master thought this would be a great transition to keep the game going past purely mortal concerns. The book Deities and Demigods written for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 even provided rules for how you can do this, and much like drugs at a party even people who knew it was a bad idea had to give it a try.

Before we progress I'd like to give you a disclaimer: It is rarely a good idea to turn your PCs into gods. Ever. It might sound like fun, and the idea of cosmic adventure sounds appealing, but you can't put the genie back in the lamp. If you must play a game where the party achieves massive levels of power and advances to true divinity it is best to pick a game where that is the whole point.

If you've come this far and decided that you really must turn your party into gods then here are the main issues you need to contend with as the dungeon master.

Issue #1: How Did The Characters Become Divine?

The first question you have to answer is how did the characters become gods? Did they pass a grueling ordeal like Pathfinder's Test of the Starstone? Did the character sacrifice himself nobly in the service of a god, and is chosen to bear a part of that god's power as a result? Did the character kill a goddess, and in so doing absorbs her power Highlander-style?

You sure that was a reef you just hit?
There are a multitude of ways to become a divine being, but generally speaking they come with either triumph or sacrifice. Does the prayers and worship of an entire country push a national hero beyond truly human bounds? Is the character descended from a divine (or infernal) bloodline that can more easily step between the mortal and the divine? Whatever the reason is, you need to be sure it isn't just you made level 20, congrats, you're all gods now! Otherwise the achievement will feel less like a real milestone and more like just another power the character has acquired.

Issue #2: What Are They Gods Of?

Gods in games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder are largely based off of mythological pantheons, where every god and goddess has some area of influence. Gods of rain and storm, the hunt, hearth, the city, darkness, death, destruction, fire, battle, and so forth are the order of the day, and people will pray to a god in charge of a given area for aid or assistance with that particular portfolio.

So what are your PCs gods of?

The God of Metal, perhaps?
Sometimes it's easy to pick an area of divine influence. Say your party rogue is a master thief, and he always steals treasure without being caught. He might become known as the Black Hand, god of thieves and burglars whose favor grants dark nights and drunken guards. Perhaps your greatsword fighter is known for confirming critical hits and pursuing guilty parties making her the Bloody Headswoman, a goddess who will grant swift and terrible justice if you earn her favor.

You need to remember that being a god is more than just adding a template to your character; you have become an inextricable part of the world. You are part of the cosmology, with responsibilities you could never have imagined as a mortal. As such you need a legend capable of spring-boarding every character into godhood, and then you have to build on that legend as your players continue. That legend also needs to be unique to each character, which is why if you have two party wizards you should either make them very different (one god of knowledge and one goddess of pure magic, perhaps?) or make them a part of a dual deity (Rhyme and Reason, the Lord and Lady of the Arcane).

Issue #3: Why Are They Gods?

This is not a question of how the characters became gods, but rather a question of why your plot requires them to be divine. Divinity is not a prestige class or an obscure feat, and as such it isn't something you just allow willy-nilly into your game. If your players become gods in their own right then you need to have a game that absolutely requires that in order for things to work.

You know, something like this.
When your characters become gods mortal concerns are now beneath them. They're not fighting dark cults, but rather they're going toe-to-toe with the gods those cultists worship. PC gods are fighting against extraplanar entities like Nyarlathotep, or they're subduing rebellions in the abyss that could lead to the destruction of the mortal world. They're re-enforcing the prison keeping Rovagug locked away from the world, or they're hunting a being that's killing other gods and stealing their powers to put a stop to its activities.

In short you don't turn the party into gods as a lark or just to play with a new set of rules. You don't test drive a tank, and you only take it out when you're pretty sure you need it.

Issue #4: Who Worships You? And Why?

Gods are more than just beings of great power; they are subjects of adoration. You need to know who worships you, and you need to know how these followers know about you in the first place. Did you have a following before you achieved godhood? Perhaps you were a renowned paladin who regularly led armies against forces of evil, meaning that you might have hundreds or thousands of people that looked up to you. Did you use your new divine power to somehow benefit a group of people? Perhaps you single-handedly stormed the Black Tower and cast down the Red King, freeing his subjects and bringing hope to a hopeless land?

Even if worshipers aren't required for you to gain power (though if you're using the Deities and Demigods system they totally are) what kind of god would you be if you didn't do anything worth knowing about? As such you need to ask what your church is like, what your doctrine is, what sorts of favors you grant, and what actions you find holy and worthy. Do you consider prayer to be a mealy-mouthed form of whining, and only reward those who endure and fight on their own two feet? Do you accept sacrifices of animals and blood, or do you prefer tithes of gold and gems? Do you have holy days? What role does your clergy serve?

No one said being a god was easy, but if you ignore the trappings that come with it then all you are is an adventurer that's harder to kill.

Consider Very, VERY Carefully

It is possible to turn player characters into gods, if that's the kind of thing your plot requires. That said, ask yourself if it's truly necessary to bring in this aspect. Instead of making the party into gods you could instead grant them mythic levels (something else you should consider very carefully before bringing into your game), give them relic items, or simply tone down your plot so that it's less save all of the known universe and more save a nation of people.

Making a game more epic doesn't make it better. It does however mean that you need to have a lot more skill in order to maintain that suspension bridge of disbelief your party is walking across.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The World's Biggest Walking Robot is a 51-Foot Dragon!

According to Forbes, whom we should trust implicitly in matters of heartless, scaly beasts, there is a dragon that walks among us. This beast is 51 feet look from snout to tail, weighs 11 tons, and it's been terrorizing a town in Germany.

Is there a German word meaning suicidal-stupidity-confused-for-bravery?
What you are looking at is an actual scene from the play Drachenstich, which is part of an annual festival in the town of Furth im Wald. The play is about a dragon invading a town just as the knights are preparing to go off and do battle with another nation, and because Germany doesn't faff about it had this monstrous, radio-controlled dragon built. It is, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, the largest walking robot in the world.

For those of you who want to see it in action (read: everyone who got this far) here's a clip of the beast doing its thing.

You're not imagining things; the ground is trembling. Also, you peed a little.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Even MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

As has been noted by countless gamers on both sides of a DM screen Pathfinder has a lot of rules. I mean a lot of rules. Rarely does a session go by without at least one serious discussion over rules that sends a player to the library to better understand that little-known text on page 117. Even with all of these available rules though there are some that may be more important to your game than others. The series currently consists of over 25 rules, and the full list of updates includes:

Playing By The Book: Some Pathfinder Rules That Players Keep Forgetting
MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Even MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Still More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
5 More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

Some of these rules will be truly obscure. Some of them will be things you already know, because you read the book. But presented here are more rules players are likely to either not know, or have forgotten about (sometimes in a suspiciously convenient way).

#1: You Can't Put on Full Plate Alone

Full plate is the ultimate in medieval body armor. It turns any fighter into an unstoppable colossus, able to wade through the sword strokes of lesser men to arise victorious at the end of a battle. But there's a reason that knights have squires; you can't get the full armor bonus if you put the suit on by yourself.

Isn't it great having squires? Verily.
When donning either half plate or full plate according to the rules on page 153 of the Core Rulebook you need at least one other person to help you. Otherwise the armor is considered to have been donned hastily, which reduces its effectiveness by -1.

I told you some of these were obscure, didn't I?

#2: You Can't Win Arguments With PCs Via Diplomacy

The diplomacy skill, detailed on page 93 of the Core Rulebook is the bread and butter of certain builds. Sly rogues use this skill to open doors, and charismatic bards use it to make friends in every tavern and court they play. It's useful for the urban ranger gathering information, the paladin adjudicating a case, and dozens of other characters besides. It's even a key part of my Tyrion Lannister character build. But there's something you can't do with diplomacy, and that's convince the rest of the party to like you.

No matter how many NPCs adore you.
For everyone who's still angry that the DM let a diplomacy check affect your character's opinion toward the party bard, well you're rightly pissed. Diplomacy is specifically allowed only on NPCs. If you can't actually roleplay your way into your party-mates hearts then there's nothing you can do about it no matter how high your charisma is or how amazingly charming your dice say you are. It is a PC's prerogative to hate you if he or she feels like it.

#3: Almost Everything Takes Precision Damage

In Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 one of the biggest frustrations that came with playing a rogue was that so many enemies simply didn't take precision damage. No sneak attack, no critical hits, no nothing. Pathfinder changed that up significantly, but a lot of the old rules get mixed up with the new rules in players' heads when it comes to just how useful a rogue is in combat.

Everybody chill out; I got this.
Under the old rules everything from constructs and undead to plants and outsiders got to give rogues the finger. In Pathfinder though everything takes precision damage unless it says otherwise. That means undead, constructs, plants, devils, demons, barkeeps, and everything else you can sneak up behind.

There are still some things that are immune to precision damage. Oozes are one of the best examples, but anything that's incorporeal is also immune to your kidney-stabbing. There are other creatures immune to precision damage, but before you decide to preemptively not roll those extra 5d6 of sneak attack you've got you should ask the DM whether or not this thing is immune to your sneak attack.

#4: Perception Can Be Used To Identify Potions

Perception is one of those skills that you should always invest in. It's great for detecting ambushes, finding secret doors, locating traps, hearing invisible assassins, not getting your pocket picked, and the list goes on and on. Characters with extremely high perceptions can be a pain (which is why DMs should remember there's a -1 penalty for every 10 feet away from the source a character is, and that there are all sorts of negative modifiers that can be applied to this skill check), but they also have a nearly magic power.

They can identify a potion's powers by its taste.

Pick your poison! No, I'm serious, they're all poison. Don't drink them.
According to the chart on page 102 of the Core Rulebook a player can make a perception check of 15 + the potion's caster level to identify what its powers are by taste. It doesn't say the whole thing has to be drunk to make the check, but there might be some negatives for even tasting a given potion. On the one hand this encourages players other than spellcasters to get in on the action, and it can make for some interesting roleplay. It's also a good chance to throw a curve ball at players who test the safety of everything with their mouths.

#5: Being Flat-Footed Is A Thing

Also on the list of rogue problems is being caught flat-footed. Detailed on page 178 of the Core Rulebook the flat-footed condition is what you're suffering from in that first round of combat when you haven't gotten to act yet. You can't take attacks of opportunity, and you can't apply your dexterity modifier to your armor class. You also lose dodge bonuses, and a slew of class abilities and feats are adversely affected by this condition.

Most people know what being caught flat-footed is. At the same time it's the most commonly overlooked or conveniently forgotten rule in Pathfinder combat.

Ah hell... was that initiative?
Being flat-footed is something that's a minor inconvenience to a lot of PCs. To some though, such as the dancing rogue or the whirling dervish, it can mean being utterly vulnerable for a round. When it's the players going first though knowing that your enemy hasn't had time to fully react to combat can make a big difference in your strategy.

#6: Yes You Can Critical With Spells

If you confirm a critical hit with a spell that has an attack roll and does damage then it will do two times as much damage. If a spell does ability drain or damage then the drain or damage is doubled according to page 184 in the Core Rulebook. Lots of players forget this rule, but it's one reason that a critical hit with a spell like chill touch can leave enemies with more than a few d6 of extra pain.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jesus Wept, You Can Now Buy Your Own Lament Configuration!

With Halloween still a recent memory some of us are experiencing the urge to bring some real horror to tabletop games. Whether you're running Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, or another game entirely though, there is something you need to be made aware of.

You can buy your own Lament Configuration.

It has such sights to show you.
For those of you who don't know what this is, the Lament Configuration is the puzzle box used in the horror classic Hellraiser to summon the alien Cenobites; creatures of extreme sensation for whom pain and pleasure are indecipherable. It's a staple of horror and now there's a way for you to get one short of sneaking onto the set of the remake and stealing one for your very own.

All you have to do is go to the website for The Puzzle Box Maker (since that's not ominous at all) and place your order. Seriously, take a look at the details here.

Never have I more wanted to play a cleric of Zon Kuthon... if only these were big enough to keep a set or three of dice inside...

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Why You Should Respect Characters of Noble Birth (Before They Kick Your Ass)

There's a pervasive trend in roleplaying games that noble characters (whether they're PCs or NPCs) are somehow less effective than those of common birth. We've all seen them; the pampered sorceress who grew up in a castle, the foppish swordsman who can barely get into his own armor, or the blustery-yet-ineffective local lord whose messes the party always has to clean up. We've rolled our eyes and sighed, shaking our heads and wondering what these people would do if the party decided to just take over the town.

Smite you into next month, probably.

I'm just saying, that's how this is going to go.

Wait, What?

For those who got comfortable with their working class characters being the hardest-hitting heroes in the land, let me throw some names at you. Prince Valiant. Arthur Pendragon. Beowulf. Theseus. Charlemagne. Christopher Lee (oh yeah, he's nobility). Our stories going back for millenia have prominently featured protagonists who have some connection to power, and that power is most often held by a crown and a throne. Hell, even Tarzan is the Earl of Greystoke!

Why do we want to think nobles are all foppish and delicate? Part of it is that America has never had nobility as a society. We've had landowners, robber barons, the 1%, but generally speaking we've always valued the myth of the up-by-your-bootstraps, working-class hero. Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest example of this myth in action. We fought against a monarchy and won, so therefore those who've been born to power and servants just don't know the value of hard work, sweat, and a desire to truly succeed.


What It Took To Be A Knight

Knights are a big deal, I'm sure we can all agree on that? And while we all agree that to be a knight meant you were also a noble, it was not unheard of for knighthood to be granted to those who had fought valiantly, thereby raising those of common birth up into the gentry. That appeals to our sense of fairness; after all a soldier who'd learned to fight on the front lines had to be worth a dozen palace-born pretty boys at the very least!

Winner eats the peasant? Agreed!
If your chest swelled up with pride reading that, chances are you have no idea what went into being a knight.

Training started at age 7 when a young boy was taken to live with a local lord, which was typically a relative (however distant). These boys were called pages, and they were expected to train constantly for a future as knights. This meant that mornings were filled with rough games that ranged from putting on padded armor and fighting with training swords to riding wheeled horses during lance training. Afternoons would be filled with more weapons lessons, as well as teaching etiquette, history, letters, and more standard schooling. Pages would be given tasks and chores that ranged from caring for horses and tack to oiling weapons and caring for armor.

If a page made it to 14 then he might be given the privilege of becoming a squire. A squire was like the assistant manager of knighthood, and the squire would attend a knight who would train and hone him further. This included more combat training, additional horsemanship, and could be thought of as the high school to a page's elementary education. If one of these apprentice knights proved himself then he would be knighted, and be given the full rank and title that his achievement deserved.

How did a squire prove himself? Serving in combat with distinction, a command from a noble, or perhaps just his lord granting him title of his own in exchange for service. There were all kinds of ways, but all the squire could do was train, fight, and strive until a lord finally granted him what he wanted.

So if you find yourself squaring off with a 15-year-old squire in a tourney, keep in mind he first picked up a sword 8 years ago and has been training with it every day since then.

But Not All Nobles Are Knights!

And isn't that fortunate! It's true that a full-fledged knight is a canny and dangerous opponent, and we can assume that anyone who even completed a page's training can defend himself if he kept in practice. But what about all those noble characters who never underwent such training? You know those quiet, bookish types who don't know one end of a sword from another!

Pictured: Quiet and Bookish
It's true that not all nobles are martially inclined (even though they might be forced through a few years as a page just to be sure). That said nobles have the unique ability to explore their options for career paths; there are no crops they need to harvest, fences to mend, or other commoner concerns. Nobles are, for the most part, free to acquire the skills adventurers need very young. Additionally because nobles are powerful and well-connected they have the opportunity to ensure their children are given access to the very best teachers in the land.

Say that the duke's daughter wants to join the clergy. A normal young lady would simply dedicate herself to a local temple, but a noblewoman may find herself studying under a high priest and being given additional time and attention that deepens her knowledge. If the count's son wants to become a powerful wizard then his father could send for tutors, or ensure that his son is guaranteed a place in a wizard's college where his education will be seen to by those with a lifetime of experience. Money opens doors, and influence ensures that nobles are given a leg up when it comes to achieving their goals.

Speaking of achieving goals...

Nobles Have More Reason to Adventure Than Anyone

Well, almost anyone.
Commoners all have very specific jobs. Farmers farm, weavers weave, tanners tan, blacksmiths smith... you get the idea. Most of the time someone who is a commoner is also tied down to a form of livelihood (just like in real life). You can't just close up your shop to go adventuring for a few months, unless you have apprentices and family to watch it for you (meaning you're likely quite successful). Some commoners, like caravan guards, traveling singers, bounty hunters, and other exotic professions, can make a living looking for trouble, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

On the other hand, it is a noble's job to go and take care of problems when they rear their ugly heads throughout the lands. Bandits start razing and burning farmland? Send a contingent of men-at-arms led by a knight to stop them. Undead start rising and tormenting the countryside? Send the duchess who's achieved the rank of acolyte with the church to put them down. Demons coming through holes in the world? The count's son is the one with the knowledge of how to close those portals.

Commoners produce things that society as a whole needs. Nobles protect and rule the commoners, meaning that anything which threatens the land or the people is now a noble's #1 priority. Sure lesser threats might be farmed out to sellswords, mercenaries, and low-level adventurers, but they also make tempting proving grounds for noble scions who want to prove they're just as great as their parents.

Ever wonder why every main character in Game of Thrones is a noble? Because nobles are the ones with the power.

Also, check out this build for Tyrion Lannister if you're a big George R. R. Martin fan.

Do You Want To Play A Noble Character?

If you'd like to take a spin in one of these titled characters I highly recommend the experience. If you'd like to have a little extra fun with it though, why not roll for what kind of noble you are on this Pathfinder table? Put together an entire party and see who's related, who's closest to the throne, and make a name for yourself out of the shadow of your families.

Alternatively, you should check out 100 Nobles to Encounter, as well as A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families if you're looking for inspiration.

Finally, if you want more last-minute advice, check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Noble Characters.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday!

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