Friday, February 28, 2014

That One Time I Had So Much Fun With a Horror Game I Published a Story About It

Every gaming group has its traditions. Maybe they start off as a zany idea, or you're all bored so you come up with a game that is a slam dunk which demands to be repeated. A friend of mine created such a tradition in my gaming group we refer to simply as a horror movie game. A simple, one-shot cinematic with a complete story where everyone dies at the end (unless that character becomes a monster in his or her own right). This week on Table Talk I'd like to tell you how this whole thing got started.

In The Beginning

The idea started because our DM Rob (yes, the same Rob who inadvertently got me a job offer from a sith lord) was getting really burned out. As a group we needed to take a break and get our juice back. My friend Alex offered to run a one-shot game in the tradition of some of his favorite horror movies, and the novelty alone got us all to agree.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Setup

We were told to make 1st level Call of Cthulhu characters using the 3.0 version of the player's handbook. For those who've never done this you choose a profession instead of a class, and aside from the skills and feats players receive from their day jobs, everything else is pretty standard. You're just normal people after all, and very easily broken. The only other instructions we were given was that the game was going to be set in a desert-style town, and that we should look to the movie Tremors for our inspiration.

Yeah. That's about what I said too.

The Cast

We are so screwed.
Christine, who was not a fan of horror movies and thus was a little out of her trope, designed the ideal "girl who lives" in the form of a graduate student out with her class on a field trip to study some unique flora and fauna. Rob, for reasons we shan't discuss, decided he was going to play a gun nut survivalist who lived in the foothills and made spare cash as a guide. If you've seen the movie, he was a younger, single Burt Gummer.

I wasn't sure what I was going to play at first, but I knew the guy's name was Mac. I was kicking around ideas at the table, and I said maybe I'd make him a Vietnam Vet. Just an old army cook, the sort of guy who liked his own cooking a little too much, you know? Rob insisted that I should make him some kind of special forces, behind-enemy-lines green beret type who used that as his cover, and out of spite I definitely made Mac just a cook. A cook who, when he got back state-side, opened the only restaurant in the little podunk town where this game took place.

Shit Gets Real

The day starts off normally enough. The grad students are all out in the open air, exploring and prodding stuff. Then they discover something weird... really weird. It looks like a bizarre goo, but further exploration suggests it might have once been an animal. The kids get the hell out of there in a big, big hurry, and hole up at the hotel attached to Mac's cafe. Their guide ran back home and barricaded himself in his underground bomb shelter, for reasons.

Nothing happens for a few hours in game. Everyone goes to bed. Mac is making a sandwich when he's attacked by bizarre, burrowing worm creatures the size of his middle finger. Three of them burrow into his leg, and he digs them out with a knife, courtesy of some fortunately timed natural 20s. Mac passes out. Our college student is likewise attacked, fails a sanity check, and goes completely comatose. The gun nut's basement explodes, and he's engulfed by something before he passes out.

The Party Comes Together

This won't look like a tree by the end of the story.
Our gun nut wakes up, snatches his biggest caliber solution, and jumps in his jeep before tearing ass for town. Mac comes to, and finds the hotel and his restaurant covered in blood and dead bodies. Our grad student snaps out of it, and almost loses it completely by what she's looking at. Mac grabs the girl and his rifle from under the bar, stepping out onto the porch. The jeep is in sight, but as it's driving the road starts erupting. Even with some creative driving, our survivalist takes a tumble and has to duck into the hotel on foot just as the worms start exploding out of the ground.

Worms, some as long as a grown man's arm and others the size of a car, come smashing out of the ground. Our party takes a few pot shots, but sprints up the stairs to the second floor of the hotel to wait for help. They wait. And wait. And wait.

No one comes.

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

You saw that coming.
Since it became quite clear no help was coming, we did what desperate people all over the world have done for centuries; we tried to kill it with fire.

With a couple of molotov cocktails and an open gas valve we blew the roof off the hotel, scurrying out the back before the creatures could react. We ran across the street, hoping the dead worms and the burning building would buy us some time. We crashed into the supermarket, and managed to kill two more of the bigger ones before we pause and take stock of the situation. Mac, bloodied and bruised, pulled down a couple of common, household chemicals and put together some party poppers a friend of his showed him how to make when he was in the jungle. We sneak out the back door, and as luck would have it find a huge RV with the keys in the ignition just ready to tear ass out of town.

That Escalated Quickly

Did it ever.
We're on our way onto the road, trying to avoid running over any of the worms, when our survivalist has to make a fortitude save. Because Rob is, well, Rob, he rolls, snatches the die up, and informs the DM he rolled a 19. The DM asks for a second check, same result.

The gun nuts stomach bursts as the eggs laid in him earlier while he was unconscious hatch. A failed save would have resulted in vomiting them up, no harm, no foul. The college girl fails her sanity check, and goes comatose. Mac just keeps on driving, or at least he did until a worm the size of a buick smashed in through the side window. Faced with such a monstrosity Mac fails a sanity check. He has a PTSD flashback (I don't know why, but that's what was rolled on the table), and attacks the thing with a knife. It eats him, but the pressure of the worm's swallowing makes the improvised grenades on Mac's belt explode, killing the creature who killed him. The college cutie snaps out of it, and tries to run. She's brought down by worms and dragged off.

This is where things get strange. All the worms are gathered around a lake making a high-pitched keening sound. Something urges her to go forward, but a natural 20 on a will save says no. She limps away, and makes a second save, also a natural 20. She falls into a crevice big enough for a train, and crawls through the dark going she-knows-not-where. At the end of it are stairs, a door, and a survivor from the grad student party who's having psychic conversations with these worms. Those who are gathered descend on her as she screams, and the screen goes black.

The Literary Aftermath

When I created Mac I wanted him to be as normal as possible; just an aging vet who runs a respectable business. After some of the things he pulled off, and some of the crazy results he managed, I wondered what else there was to him. To find out I wrote and published a story about Mac titled Jungle Moon. The story is currently part of my latest collection The Rejects, which is up on my Amazon Author Page.

You know you wanna check it out...

Next Time on Table Talk!

This week we had a bit of a break, but next time we should be back to the Sandpoint Companions, and their adventures in the Runeforge! So, make sure you come back for the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Oldest D20 Ever Discovered

Next to murder, thieving, and whoring, dice games are perhaps one of the longest-lived passions we share as a species. From Louisiana riverboats, to the courts of decadent nobles, all the way to the campfires of ancient, savage nations, dice have never been far away from the gambler's limelight. And while you might think the funny-looking, twenty-sided die familiar to any lover of roleplaying games is simply the latest in a long line of evolving dice, you'd better think again.

Turns out the D20 might just be the patriarch of gaming as we know it.

You ain't ready to roll with this.
Do you see that die up there? The one with the old-school runes and the "roll me if you dare" attitude? Well, that die was relatively common around, and has been dated to, the Ptolemaic Period. That means this die was carved sometime between 300 and 30 BCE, according to i09 and The Mary Sue.

This die is older than god.

Not only that, but it's entirely possible that the D20 is the third oldest die in any given set. The only die types that are older than the D20 are the traditional six-sided dice which were around at least since 900 BCE, and the infamous D4 which was created sometime around 3,000 BCE. None of these dice had Roman numerals; they're older than the Roman Empire. Hell, they're older than Ancient Greece, and in some cases at least as old as the Torah.

Did ancient peoples play games where they took on the storytelling roles of great hunters and powerful shamans? Did they draw epic tales in the air, with the cast die changing the fates of the gods and heroes every time the story was told?

Probably not. It is cool to think about, though.

As always, thanks for dropping by Improved Initiative and checking out this week's Moon Pope Monday. If you'd like to see more historical/factual articles like this, leave us a comment, or subscribe to us by filling out the box in the upper right hand corner. If you'd like to help keep us going, please click the "Bribe the DM" button, or check out our Patreon page (all we ask is $1 a month to bring you solid gaming entertainment). If you want to keep tuned in to all our updates then just drop by our Facebook or Tumblr pages. May the weight of the ages guide your dice!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tips For Roleplaying Monstrous Characters

Roleplaying games are all about escapism, and one of the most extreme forms of escapism is playing a monstrous character. Whether it's a vampire living out an immortal existence in the shadows or an orc war-chief seeking blood and glory, monstrous player characters have a certain appeal to them. For players who really want to get into the inhuman spirit though, it's important to really develop that persona. This week Improved Initiative would like to provide a few helpful hints.

See through their eyes. Or don't, if you don't have psychotropic drugs handy.

What Can They Do?

The easiest way to really make characters pop is to look at their abilities and ask how that would show up in day-to-day life. Monstrous characters are, well, monsters, and what they are shapes the way they view the world.

Let's start off with an easy example; take the tiefling. A tiefling with a prehensile tail will not move in a human way because of the additional balance this limb provides. Since the tail can draw items from a belt the character might use it to grasp objects in daily life without a second thought. Alternatively, a player might create a whole system of etiquette regarding the tail. The tail drooping might be a sign of submission, whereas whipping it back and forth could be a sign of aggression. The tail curled around the waist, or wrapped around the leg, might be a sign of fear or comfort. There could even be a sort of secret sign language amount tailed tieflings.

Let's try a few others. An ifrit naturally has fire resistance 5, and we may assume that's been the case since birth. How has that affected the character's outlook? Does she sit on stoves or sun herself on hot rocks? Does she rub a hot coal across her forehead when she has a headache, the way other races might use ice? Does she cook without utensils, simply plunging her hands into hot coals to take out meals without a second thought?

If someone is playing a dwarf, does that characters read or play cards in the dark since having darkvision makes the need for a light source moot? Do elves reference events from generations past, and then remember abruptly that may have been two or three generations before the rest of the party was even alive (sort of like how your grandparents will talk about what a building was fifty years ago like it was yesterday)? If a character has the ability to scent like an animal, will he refuse to go into certain places like low-quarter taverns or perfume shops because of his sensitive proboscis?

Whatever a character can do, if it's part of his or her nature ask yourself how it shaped that person's worldview and how it might make them act very strangely when compared to more regular humans.

Where Do They Come From?

After he was demoted though, we summered in Acheron. Lovely hot springs.
If you've ever been to another country, or even to an event like Gen Con or the Pennsic War, you've experienced culture shock. Things you didn't even know you took for granted, like running water or the fact that no one in the room would understand the game references you're making, are thrown right out the window.

Now ask yourself what kind of cultural norms inhuman characters grew up with.

How would a vampire who was originally born and raised in the time of William Wallace adapt to the world around him? Or one made during the reign of Vlad the Impaler, or during the voyage of Leif Erikson? Would the paranoia and casual brutality of the Middle Ages, or the cultural cornerstones of the Roman Empire just fall by the wayside, or would those habits cling for life? Unlife... whatever.

If you don't want to do a bunch of historical research, then how would characters from different planes of existence act? Would an Aasimar raised on the celestial plane be able to lie? Or steal? Would the character understand concepts like hunger, or want? How would monstrous characters who grew up segregated among their own kind act, particularly if the common culture of the world is still foreign to them? Would a half-orc raised by orcs take meeting one's eyes as a challenge, thus forcing him to punch people who were only trying to be friendly? Would a creature with djinni blood, or natural lycanthropy be confused that there are people who are born without the abilities they possess? Would they keep those abilities to themselves out of politeness or the fear of being mocked? Might they instead look down on those who couldn't change their form, or float on a gust of wind?

Once you understand the culture that spawned your character, it leads to a lot of interesting twists. Don't be afraid to get creative either.

What's The Character's Primary Language?

You wanna say that one more time, real slow, in English?
I've harped on this one before (right here in this blog entry, in fact), but the language your characters speak influences so much about who they are, how they think, and how they act. You see this all the time in real world languages and professional jargon. There is a Russian slang term whose rough translation means "I love you, but hate you in this moment." One word. German has a word that means "to enjoy someone else's misery." These are more than funny linguistic turns; they inform the sort of outlook your character might have on the world.

Here's a personal example. I was playing a dwarven paladin, and the elf triggered a trap that dropped large rocks on her head. The dwarf laughed, and I belted out a completely made-up sounding word. The party asked what it meant and I explained to them it was a dwarven word which meant to have large rocks fall upon one's head in a tunnel that otherwise looked safe. I proceeded to explain other words, and built a culture around the idea that every kind of accident involving stone, from huge cave-ins to single rock injuries had a specific word in dwarven. There were over forty-five by the time I finished my aside. They had one word for sky though, and they took it from Common. Their subterranean culture simply had no need for a concept they rarely had to face.

Non-human characters tend to get racial languages for free; the concepts of these languages can shape perspective. If one learned Infernal before common, is there a strict, grammatical order that must always be followed for every concept? How many different words are there for the different parts of a negotiation? Would that lead to a clipped, precise manner of speaking? If someone learned Elven first, does that character have a lilting accent and a slow style of speech? Do words tend to refer to concepts as a whole, reflecting the elven view that all things are connected and cannot be individualized? If someone speaks goblin, are there personal pronouns? Or would a goblin have to use her proper name, or a phrase like "this one" because she comes from a brood-style society where individuality doesn't matter as much?

In The End

At the end of the day what makes monstrous characters unique is the same things that make human characters unique; a distinct sense of personality, feelings, and a compelling story. While some players might not look twice at a human character who seems to be a little too similar to the man behind the character sheet, people might start rolling their eyes if the half-ogre starts talking and acting just the like player who gave him life.

As always, thanks for dropping by Improved Initiative. We have a snazzy new button, so if you want to keep updated just give us your email and you'll never miss a beat. If you'd like to help keep us going, please click the "Bribe the DM" button to donate with PayPal, or go check out our Patreon page. For more updates check us out on Facebook or Tumblr.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Out of Context D&D Quotes: Submit Yours Today!

This week on Moon Pope Monday we'd like to direct your attention to something that is both hilarious and user-friendly! For those of you with a Tumblr page (we're all very grateful you made it over here, by the way), or who just like the idea of Tumblr then check out Out of Context D&D Quotes! It's great fun, you can submit quotes from any game you're currently playing, and peruse the list for a few that make you really wonder what the hell was going on in that other game.

Yeah... so... ummm... I know folks are used to an image set or a video with these updates. All I had this week was a link. So have this instead!

This car runs on nightmare fuel.
This is the latest anthology to feature one of my stories ("Double Feature" is the title and it's a fantastic romp through the freaky 50s for those who love period pieces). If you think it looks cool, or you just want to know why the hell there's a giant tentacle reaching for a Cadillac on a rainy road, just go here and pre-order your copy for less than $5.

That's all for me, but stay tuned for another piece later this week! As always feel free to click "Bribe the DM" in the upper right hand corner, become a patron at our Patreon page, and as always to follow us on Facebook and Tumblr.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Seen, Not Heard: Tips and Tricks for Stealth-Based Pathfinder Characters

One of the glorious things about roleplaying games is that players have a slew of options for solving problems. Do they approach the villains under a flag of truce and attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the problem at hand? Do they kick in the doors with steel swinging and magic blasting? Or do they sneak in, take what they need, and vanish like a shadow in the night?

I was never here.
For players who prefer the last option on the list for getting past plot and reaching the goal ahead of the curve, it's important to be as stealthy as you can be. This week on Improved Initiative we lay out a course for players who want to make sure the DM never sees them coming.

Race and Traits

For true stealth experts, you have to begin at the beginning. For those who want to play medium-sized characters the best stalkers are half elves and humans. The former because they receive Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134) as a bonus feat, and the latter because they can take any sort of stealth-related feat as a bonus feat. For players who are all right playing a small-sized character such as a halfling, gnome, or even a goblin, all of them receive an inherent bonus to stealth because of their size.

Lastly, take at least one trait that offers a +1 stealth bonus, and which makes stealth a class skill for your character from that point onward. Conspiracy Hunter (Council of Thieves) is one example of an ideal trait for a stealth-based character.


Technically speaking any class that offers stealth as a class skill can be quite stealthy. However, it's wise to choose a class that gives you additional, stealth-based abilities that will make you that much harder to find when enemies start rolling dice.

There are four rangers in this picture. One is the tree.
Perhaps the ultimate camouflage expert, the ranger is the master of vanishing into the wilderness and never being seen again. In addition to all of the ranger's shiny feats and tasty tracking abilities, she gains camouflage at 12th level, granting the ability to hide in any favored terrain, and at 17th level the ranger gains hide in plain sight in any favored terrain, allowing her to hide even while being observed.


'Nuff said.
The king of undetected entrances and unseen exits, the rogue is typically the first choice for a stealth-based character. A rogue's power comes from the rogue tricks these characters know. Tricks like fast stealth which allows a rogue to move at full speed without penalty, are useful, but pale compared to the advanced rogue tricks such as hide in plain sight, which duplicates the ranger's ability.


Didn't expect that, did you?
While not typically what one thinks of when it comes to stealth, the inquisitor can move unseen with the best adventurers. While the class has no inherent stealth-based powers, inquisitors do gain invisibility spells, and they can gain additional concealment abilities based on their domain or inquisition. The darkness domain and ambush domain in particular can make moving around stealthily much easier on the individual adventurer. When battle is joined though, the inquisitor won't be left wanting.


There are 27 ninja in this picture.
Arguably the heavy-hitters of the hide-and-don't-seek game, ninja are some of the hardest characters to find when they don't want to be found. With access to rogue tricks like fast stealth, and class abilities like no trace (which makes a ninja harder to track) as well as light steps at 6th level (where a ninja can move while barely touching a supporting surface) they're a cinch for the forerunner. Clinching the victory are the ninja tricks like vanishing trick which grants invisibility, and the advanced trick ghost step which turns the ninja incorporeal for a single turn.


Don't ask... just don't ask.
The end game of characters who like to play in the dark, the shadowdancer prestige class requires nothing more than 5 ranks of stealth, 2 ranks of perform (dance), and the feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, and Mobility. These characters can vanish in an empty room with hide in plain sight active as long as they're within 10 feet of an area of dim light (excluding their own shadows), and it gets even more ridiculous with abilities like shadow jump, which allow the shadowdancer to turn any area of dim light into a dimension door. No lock picking or guard knock-outs required.


As with so many other areas of Pathfinder, feats are what transform a competent character into a paragon of ability. Stealth-based characters are no different, and it could be argued they need feats even more than some other builds in order to achieve peak performance.

Two more levels, and they'll never find me.
Skill Focus and Stealthy

Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134) provides a +3 to the skill selected for it, which in this case is stealth. Stealthy (Core Rulebook 135) provides a +2 bonus on all stealth and escape artist checks. When the character has 10 ranks in stealth the bonus provided by Skill Focus goes up to +6, and the bonus provided by Stealthy goes up to +4. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Hellcat Stealth

Hellcat Stealth (Cheliax: Empire of Devils) allows players to make stealth checks in bright or normal light, even when observed, at a -10. This feat requires Skill Focus (Stealth), as well as 6 ranks of stealth, but it's a game changer for those who find they're always moving about in broad daylight.

Magic and Alchemical Items

Natural ability will only take you so far. That's why it's a good idea to stack the deck just a little bit in your favor by getting your hands on just the right tools for the job.
No I don't know what it is. Don't put it on your head.
Shadow Armor

Whether it's Shadow, Improved Shadow, or Greater Shadow armor (with a +5, +10, or +15 respectively), this armor helps make it that much harder to see and hear the wearer. This armor provides a solid bonus that makes previously impossible burglaries and sneak thievery quite possible.

Cloak of Elvenkind

A go-to item inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this cloak (Core Rulebook 507) provides a +5 competence bonus on Stealth checks. It's important to remember that competence bonuses don't stack though, so pick the one that provides the biggest boost to your sneak score.

Dust of Disappearance

Rarely carried except for extreme circumstances, this dust is pricey for 2d6 rounds of greater invisibility. However, it renders the dusted creature completely undetectable by magical means, which is something that players should keep in mind when spending cash on backup items.

Scent Cloak

The only alchemical item to make the list (a more complete list of useful alchemical items may be found here), scent cloak makes someone harder to track by scent. They receive a +10 to avoid being tracked by scent, and if a creature does pinpoint the character in person the scenting creature can't determine an individual, unique smell. They know something is there, but not what or whom.

Closing Notes

This doesn't cover all a player's options for creating stealthy adventurers; but there's plenty of material here for a solid base. That said, players need to know what they plan to do with their obscenely high stealth scores in order to actually get anything out of these build suggestions.

Being able to sneak into an archmage's bedchamber undetected, or to vanish without a trace from a prison cell is a useful ability to have. Not every situation calls for such extreme stealth though, and the silent stalker will still have to figure out how to coordinate with the rest of the party. Make sure, before dumping so much time and effort into building a ghost, that your concept is going to fit into the game and that you'll get to do the things you've built your character to do. Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

Before you go, we're running a giveaway this month! Like my author page on Facebook, the blog on Tumblr, or Improved Initiative's sister blog the Literary Mercenary, and get a free ebook all your own! Lastly, if you want to help support us just click the "Bribe the DM" button in the upper right hand corner of the screen, or check out our Patreon page today!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Starbarians!

Up until this point Moon Pope Monday has been a relatively clean, and pretty family friendly feature. This week we're pushing that line with episode 1 of The Starbarians! Created by Harry Partridge (whom you might want to follow on Youtube here if you enjoy this particular clip), this is just the beginning. Unfortunately it also tends to be what an adventuring party will become, if you give them too much free rein.

Also, while we're all here, Moon Pope Monday might be expanding its scope the in the near future. We're still focusing on the amusing and the awesome, but we might also throw in the occasional feature about amazingly geeky places that you really need to know about. So stay tuned, and if you have something you think should be shared with the rest of the geek world feel free to submit it! Finally, feel free to follow us on Facebook and Tumblr if you'd like to keep up to date on what we're doing here at Improved Initiative.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Roll a D6

Yes I did almost forget it was Monday. Fortunately I remembered with about 15 minutes to go, and I remembered just the thing. While you might not be seeing it until Tuesday, this great song parody is sure to have you head-bobbing along.

How do you roll? If you'd like to support Improved Initiative then follow us on Facebook or Tumblr, and don't forget to click either the "Bribe the DM" button in your upper right hand corner, or check our Patreon page. Merry gaming to all!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Table Talk: Don't Ever Field a One-Eyed Dragon

Do you have a gaming story of your own? Well we'd love to hear it! Contact Improved Initiative with your best tabletop tale, and we'll feature you on Table Talk. Make your friends jealous, and grab a little bit of the spotlight. You totally deserve it. Also, if you'd like to follow us, drop by Tumblr or Facebook.

Also, this story is part one of a trilogy, which is now complete! Here's the full list of The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone.

Chapter One: Don't Ever Field a One-Eyed Dragon
Chapter Two: Why You Never Give Your Party The One Ring
Chapter Three: Big Gay Half-Orcs and Utterly Destroying Plot

Now, onward to this week's tale...

Being the new guy in an established game isn't easy. Most of the time you haven't met the other players, you don't really know what's been going on with the story, and you're not always sure if your character is going to gel with what's happening. However, not long after I published my short story "The Irregulars" with Paizo (you can still read it here) I was invited to join a campaign. It was a home-brewed affair that had been going on for some time, and I was told to put together a level 8 character.

Boy, did I ever.

The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone

Have gun, will travel.
The character I created for this game was a reformed villain with a secret history. To all appearances he was a human gunslinger/alchemist by the name of Baldric Brimstone. A quick draw specialist who relied on speed and overwhelming firepower to see him through most situations, he was a fairly good fit in a generally chaotic, and generally neutral, party. However, despite his human-like appearance (I burned a feat slot to take Pass For Human for this back story), he was actually a half-orc.

Bred to a savage tribe for quick wits and fast hands, he had been a fire-bomber who left little standing on any raid he was part of. A disagreement with the tribal chief, who got lit up like dry kindling in a lightning storm, led to this alchemist fleeing, lest vengeance be visited upon him. A frontier family found him half-starved and exhausted, along with some broken bones and no few deep cuts. They took him in and helped him recuperate, and that was his first brush with a culture where "might makes right" wasn't the whole of the law. He learned the trade of gunsmithing, and decided to try and make up for some of his dark deeds by taking up the cause of good. Nothing like a Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Good switch to grant you plenty of motivation.

So, Baldric shows up as a new recruit to a mercenary guild of adventurers. He's assigned to a party, and told to go and deal with a dragon problem.

Hunting Trouble

It should be mentioned that before this game session began I asked the DM very specifically if he first, allowed advanced firearms if the player could afford them, and second, if he allowed called shots. He did, and he did. This needs to be mentioned up-front.

So, the party finds its way to a village that looks like something out of my character's past. Houses are burned to the foundation, people are scattered, and there's little enough left standing. The party is given directions to a certain mountain, and we pick our way along to a cave that looks big enough to house a dragon. We enter, weapons drawn. We see a horde with an unconscious child atop it; no dragon in sight.

So the party, being an adventuring party, starts exploring. We don't find hide nor hair of the dragon, but as soon as the mysterious orphan on the horde awakens a red dragon lumbers in. He's big enough to be full grown, but whether it's a juvenile or a young dragon it's still several challenge ratings higher than the party. However, the DM mentions that the dragon looks wounded. It's covered in deep cuts, it's limping, breathing hard, and one eye has been completely destroyed.

Don't get ahead of me, now.
Because we aren't commanded to roll initiative immediately, the bard begins to parley with the dragon. Most of the party speaks draconic, including Baldric, but he feigns that he doesn't. There are exchanges back and forth, rolls are made, and mechanically speaking the negotiation is going about as well as a thing like this can be expected to. After the third or fourth exchange though, I turn to the DM and declare a readied action. The readied action in question is to draw my pistol, and make a called shot to the beast's remaining eye.

Bulls-Eye.. Er... Dragons-Eye

Despite the out of character knowledge that the negotiation is going well, all Baldric is hearing is that we, the heroes, are negotiating with a creature responsible for destroying lives and attempting the murder of an entire town. So, butting into the negotiation, he demands to know why the red dragon in question decided to just attack the town.

Its response? "Because I felt like it."

Polyphemus, eat your heart out.
I cannot emphasize this enough; no one at this table has seen me game before. For some of them this is their first campaign. We are facing a threat somewhere between 2 and 5 challenge ratings higher than we should be, and before anyone can stop him Baldric drags iron, pulls the trigger, and rolls an 18 on the die. After all the negatives were calculated, that was a 19 on a touch attack against a flat-footed opponent.

I hit.

The Aftermath

Fortunately for yours truly I had built a character with a very impressive initiative. Unfortunately for most of the rest of the party, the dragon went directly after me. I took another shot, and got out of the way. The dragon, being evil, blind, in pain, and a dragon, blew fire all over the cavern. The blast torched most of the party, and dropped a goodly number of them. Baldric remained untouched and kept shooting.

For three or four rounds this fight continued, with flung alchemical weapons and flying lead peppering this already injured creature. The still-standing members of the party got in on the action, and some of the bombs were having a noticeable effect. Before the dragon could be dropped though, it took wing and got the hell out of dodge. The party's in shambles, and standing over them is a lunatic with a smoking gun who not only hasn't taken any damage, but is reloading his pistol and demanding to know if they're going to let that thing get away.

You want us to what now?
I had never seen that many looks of dumbfounded disbelief at a gaming table before. First that I had an extraordinarily stupid idea, and then that it worked out in my favor. Also, the DM learned a valuable lesson that night; no matter what you put on the table, or how powerful it is, someone in the party is going to try and kill it. Always be prepared for that.

The truly funny thing about the whole situation? This was only the second game where I had to roll out hit points for my character. I did not roll well. I was at the controls of a glass hammer who was getting by on little more than a high initiative, brass balls, and a decent intimidate check. Baldric's hit points didn't dramatically improve as he gained levels, either. Despite that he not only survived the campaign, but became a king by his own hand, building an empire from ashes with little more than a fast hand and a can-do attitude.

In time this story shall also be told...