Monday, March 24, 2014

Natural 20 Soaps: A Confirmed Critical Against Con Funk

The words "Gaming" and "Hygiene" are not often associated in the collective, pop culture consciousness. While gaming has come out of the basement, so to speak, and is experiencing a lot of popularity now that being geeky is considered sexy, there are still some folks who didn't get the memo. Fortunately there is Natural 20 Soaps, a company dedicated to fighting con funk wherever it raises its revolting, protuberant head.

Yes that is soap. Yes you can buy it right now.
Seriously though, take a look at their Etsy store right here and see some of this. We could wipe out the smelly gamer prejudice overnight if word got out a little quicker.

How It All Began

Natural 20 Soap, which is run by Emily Hawk and her business partner Douglas Menke, was inspired by two, separate conversations. The first conversation detailed a sneaky idea of putting a d20 inside a bar of soap, using it as bait to trick those possessed by con funk to wash in order to get the prize inside. The idea might have died there, except that a customer at Emily's knitting store asked if there was a kind of soap that would wash wool without harming it. Finding no affordable options on the market, Emily decided to produce her own in the shape of an adorable sheep. Along the way she and Doug also decided to take up the standard for hygienic geeks everywhere by bringing us Natural 20 Soaps, which sold its first soap in December of 2013.

And are we ever glad they did.

What Makes This Soap So Special?

Well, aside from the fact that it comes in a huge variety of patterns, shapes, and colors, from sheep-shaped soap and D20s to the stripes of Jayne Cobb's hat (seriously, check out the store!), these soaps are made using natural ingredients. They're nourishing for the skin, they get you cleaned up quickly, and best of all they can be made to one's specifications. Whether someone's looking for a vegan soap, a soap in the shape of a Templar shield, or just a soap that's so geeky only the gifter and the receiver will get the reference, Natural 20 Soaps can make that happen.

This cake is a lye.
With sleek, plastic cases that keep soap protected before it's used, and with new designs always coming out, Natural 20 Soaps has great presents for those who just don't know what to give the gamer in their lives. As of right now they're planning a superhero line up, and there's been talk of making soap with secret messages inside them using water soluble paper. For updates on what's going on with the company, and more importantly what conventions you'll be able to find them at, check out the Natural 20 Soap blog right here!

As always, thanks for dropping by Moon Pope Monday. Know something interesting, weird, or hilarious that your fellow geeks will find too cool not to share? Tell us! Also, if you want to keep up to date with everything Improved Initiative has to offer then enter your email in the upper right hand box, or follow us on Facebook and Tumblr. For those who'd like to help keep the site going feel free to leave a donation in the "Bribe the DM" button, or become one of our monthly patrons by checking out our Patreon Page!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Motivation: Why Your Characters Do The Things They Do

We've all had those moments. We're staring down at a character sheet and checking to make sure we didn't forget anything. Stats, check. Skills, check. Feats, armor, weapons, miscellaneous gear? Check, check, check, and check. The character's been named, we know the height, weight, alignment, eye color, size, hair color, and even what god receives this character's prayers. We're sure we must have forgotten something, but what could it be?

How about why your character isn't working a day job as an NPC?

The Spark of Life!
There's no spot for it on your character sheet, but character motivation is what pulls all of those different pencil marks together into a three-dimensional character. It will grant life to their actions, and make them more compelling not just for you but for everyone else at the table. Without it you have a pile of numbers with a face, but no drive to go out and accomplish much of anything.

How Do I Come Up With Motivation?

Motivation can be found in some of the strangest places, but it is often uncovered by why? Take a look at your 1st level human fighter. He's strong, tough, nimble, and he can wield a bastard sword with great skill. Why is he adventuring instead of enlisting in the town guard or joining a caravan to keep the merchants and goods safe? Why did he dedicate himself to the mastery of that one weapon? Why isn't he staying home?

Why, why, why. Perhaps the fighter in question is young and brash, and he feels that the boring job of a guard is too restrictive, and wouldn't be a good use of his skills. In this case he's adventuring because he wants something he can't get in other, safer professions; wealth, recognition, or just the freedom of being his own master. As to the mastery of that weapon, maybe it's a style that's been passed down through the generations and it's something he wanted to learn the same way his father and grandfather did. Maybe it was the biggest, meanest weapon he could get his hands on, and so he trained with it exclusively because that's the kind of warrior he wanted to be. As to staying home, maybe he was disowned for learning how to fight. Maybe he doesn't have a home to go back to, and he wants to leave that fact behind. Maybe he hates where he's from, and taking up the sword and a life of adventuring is him making a clean break with his past... whatever it happens to be.

That's just off the top of my head.
You could do the same thing with any character; look at what they're good at, and ask why the character possess that skill set and what he or she intends to do with it. Why does a wizard set out into the world of dangerous creatures? Is it to test his wits against the wickedness of the wild? To see the things he's only read about in books? Perhaps it's to find treasures and lore lost for centuries? Why does a cleric join an adventuring party? Is it to test her faith against darkness? Is it to provide aid and comfort to those who fight on the side of right? Or is it just to get away from the church to find faith out in the harshness of the world beyond the walls?

Ask What They Want

If your character has a background and a personality then the next question is to ask what they want out of life. Does your barbarian want to have a lifetime of battles interspersed with spending gold at every tavern and brothel she comes across? Or does she want to eventually find a mate and start a clan of her own? Is she looking for a stolen relic, on a spirit quest, or seeking strong companions to help her take back her homeland? All of these are viable options, and more than one of them might apply.

You don't want to know what this guy wants.
Some adventurers want to make more gold in a single dungeon delve than they could ever hope to earn in a lifetime of slaving away at an inn or a forge. Others want to make their parents proud, impress someone they're in love with, earn accolades, or just work off a debt by watching a friend's back for a few, dangerous weeks. Maybe your character has an insatiable wanderlust, has a bounty on her head that means she had to keep moving around, or is trying to make a new name for himself after narrowly escaping justice during a violent or criminal past. Whatever the reason it has to be something a character wants badly enough to seek out, and to work for.

Run it by The Storyteller

You want to do what now?
If you were just writing a story about your character you could do whatever you want... but sometimes players forget that they're each a smaller part of a bigger whole. While it's a good thing to know that your inquisitor has a fire in his belly about uncovering evidence of corruption among the city's elite, how does that convince him to join a party clearing out goblin warrens miles and miles away? Well, that is where the storyteller comes in and slips the player a note telling him that a contact thinks the goblins stole laundered records along with a bunch of other things. If recovered, those books could act as serious evidence against a corrupt official who might be willing to provide even more information.

Bam! Instant plot!

With that said though, players shouldn't expect a storyteller to stretch too far just to accommodate them. This is especially true if the players are on a pre-written campaign path where there's a very clear set of rails laid down throughout the plot. If you want to play a secret prince of an undersea realm who's in hiding on the surface and masquerading as a ship captain, then you are likely going to have to explain to the storyteller what use you are to the party and just how in the hell you fell into their path.

Yes that happened. No, you shouldn't ask. Also, if you want more information about character motivation you should check out these other articles I wrote on the subject: Loaded Dice: What's My Motivation? and this post from my author blog titled Under the Black Hat: Writing Believable Bad Guys.

As always, thanks for dropping by Improved Initiative! If you'd like to see us cover a particular game or topic then just drop us a line and say so. If you want to keep up with all of our updates just plug your email into the upper right hand corner box, or follow us on Tumblr or Facebook. Lastly if you want to help keep us funded feel free to use your PayPal by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button on the right, or drop by our Patreon page and become a donor today!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Korgoth of Barbaria!

For the past few weeks Moon Pope Monday has been putting on its academic cap and trying to give our readers some interesting history that ties in with gaming. This week we take a break from all that foolishness and instead give you something fun to watch that, if you haven't seen it before, we sincerely hope you'll enjoy.

This week we present Korgoth of Barbaria!

For those of you who've never heard of this show, it originally debuted in 2006 on Adult Swim. A parody of the sword and sorcery genre as a whole, this first (and only) episode includes Dungeons and Dragons references, anachronistic jokes, a destroyed post-apocalyptic world, heavy metal, and general fantasy ridiculousness. Though it remains a cult classic among lovers of animation and all the things this show makes fun of, the animation style was too costly and the audience simply too small for it to become a regular part of the Adult Swim lineup.

At least we got one good one, though.

That's it for this week! Make sure to follow us by joining out email list in the upper right hand corner to get all of our updates, or follow us on Facebook or Tumblr. If you'd like to keep Improved Initiative going then check out our Patreon page, or just leave a donation by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button on the top right.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to Get a High Armor Class in Pathfinder

It's possible to run a Pathfinder campaign without combat. A talented storyteller and fully engaged players can maneuver through a huge range of different scenarios using nothing more than guile, stealth, and their wits to solve problems while still managing to maintain tension and suspense. Sooner or later though someone is going to try and solve plot by grabbing somebody and beating the information out of them. When that happens it's time to roll initiative, and to hope that when the dust settles the party is still in one piece. The best way to come through in one piece is to have the highest armor class possible, which is what we're going to talk about today in Improved Initiative's crunch department.

Before you read on I'd like a disclaimer here; this entry is not in any way, shape, or form claiming to have every answer for building the best armor class. Nor will this list have conditional AC benefits like a paladin's smite, since that only works against evil opponents. This is simply a list of the high notes players should be aware of, and which they might want to look into when building a concept who can take a hit and keep on coming no matter who is throwing the punch.

Right then. Let's get started...

Class Abilities

Some adventurers rely on training and skill over magic and metal to keep them safe from the slings and arrows of their foes. While not all of these class abilities work for every build, they're important to know about.


Do not fuck with this guy.
Monks can't wear armor, and as a result they have other ways to compensate. The primary method of compensation is that a monk adds both her dexterity and wisdom bonus to her armor class. Additionally, every 4 levels the monk gains another armor class bonus just for being a monk. Also at 4th level a monk gains access to her ki pool, and may spend 1 point as a swift action to add a +4 dodge bonus to her armor class for one round. Dodge bonuses are one of the only kinds of bonuses that stack, which is what makes this important.

Duelist and Kensai

The pointy end goes into the other man.
Both the duelist and the kensai (a magus variant found in Ultimate Combat) gain the canny defense ability. When not using a shield, and wearing no more than light armor these characters add 1 point of intelligence modifier to their armor class per level. This ability is denied to characters who are caught flat-footed or who are denied a dexterity modifier, but it's a great way to fight smarter.

Stalwart Defender

Approacheth me, brother!
An entire prestige class designed around being a rock, the stalwart defender gains a huge amount of bonuses to not being hit in combat. Starting at level 1 the defender receives a dodge bonus at AC, and it increases to +4 by the end of the class. Additionally the defender can enter a defensive stance, which increases strength and constitution, while providing an additional +2 dodge bonus to AC. The catch, of course, is that the defender can't move from that spot while fighting, and once the stance ends there are penalties similar to barbarian rage. If you want to outlast a horde or go toe-to-toe with a giant though, the stalwart defender can help you endure round after round.

Dragon Disciple

If you can't beat them, join them.
While most players take levels of dragon disciple for the ability boosts and the draconic flight and breath weapon, it does grant natural armor as the character progresses. It doesn't offer much, a +3 by the end of the prestige class, but it does warrant a mention for sorcerers that are looking for a way to bulk up.

Savage Barbarian

Why did you say it twice?
While one of the less-played barbarian variants, the savage barbarian (found in the Advanced Players Guide) foregoes armor in favor of natural toughness. This provides minor dodge bonuses as well as natural armor beginning at 7th level and adding every three levels past that. It isn't much, but it does qualify for the list.


Magi never do look like much.
The magus is a favorite for those who want magic and melee in equal measure. When mixing it up it's important to think about the spell shield arcana. For a single point from the character's arcane pool the magus can gain a shield bonus equal to his intelligence modifier for a round. At mid levels that can be one hell of a bonus.


At least one of them has been here. Recently.
While they aren't known for their huge armor classes, alchemists do gain natural armor from drinking their mutagens. Some variants gain more than others (cough Ragechemist cough), but the combination of natural armor with an increased dexterity score can make a lot of difference when it comes time to start smashing.


No one ever seems to expect them.
Inquisitors, like alchemists, can do a little bit of everything. They can wear armor, carry shields, and their judgment ability can provide them a sacred/profane bonus to their AC. It's not much at lower levels, but at higher ones these holy harrowers can be a major threat that just won't be stomped out.

Fighter Variants

They'll be at this all day.
Fighters are one of the go-to combat classes, and there are a lot of varieties that focus on providing characters with a higher AC. For players who want to walk out of a fight relatively unscathed it's a good idea to try out the following:

Shielded Fighter: Gain dodge bonuses in place of armor training when using a shield. Advanced Players Guide.

Swordlord: These masters of dueling gain dodge bonuses when making full attack actions with a dueling sword, and they gain bigger bonuses with smaller negatives when fighting defensively. Inner Sea Primer.

Freehand Fighter: These fighters attempt to use mobility and focus on a single, one-handed weapon to be as dangerous as possible. Gain dodge bonuses and lose armor training. Advanced Players Guide.

Armor Master: The armor master has figured out how to apply her shield and armor bonuses to touch attacks in a limited way. They lose bravery, but are safe behind their steel shells. Ultimate Combat.

Tower Shield Specialist: Found in Ultimate Combat, the tower shield specialist gains bonuses touch AC, can wield a tower shield more effectively, and can increase the effectiveness of any armor worn. Not a variant to sneeze at when it comes to armor class.


Let's get this party started.
Feats are the heart and soul of most combat-heavy characters, but it's easy to forget that feats can provide bonuses to one's defense as well as offense. While not all feats are created equal, here's a quick list of the ones that will help players avoid blows that could put them in the ground.

Dodge and Mobility: Rarely seen apart dodge provides a +1 dodge bonus to AC, and mobility provides a +4 bonus to AC against attacks of opportunity. They're both in the Core Rulebook.

Combat Expertise: A friend of lightly armored combatants everywhere, combat expertise allows a character to take a -1 to attacks, and a +1 to AC. When someone's BAB reaches 4, and every 4 after that the negative and bonus increase. This feat can be used along with the fighting defensively option, which also provides a +2 AC bonus and a -4 to attack. If a character has 3 or more ranks in the acrobatics skill, the +2 changes to a +3, which can be a game changer. This one's also in the Core Rulebook

Ironhide and Improved Natural Armor: Available for dwarves, orcs, and half-orcs, ironhide provides a +1 natural armor bonus. Improved natural armor can be taken on a 1-to-1 basis to increase that natural armor as well, giving these characters extremely thick skins. They're found in the Advanced Players Guide and Bestiary respectively.

Shield Focus: For characters who carry a shield, shield focus increases the amount of protection it provides. Core Rulebook.

Deflect Arrows, Missile Shield, Ray Shield: None of these feats increase your AC, but they do give you a "get out of being hit free" card that can be worth burning the feat slots. Deflect arrows allows a character to slap projectiles out of the air if he or she isn't flat-footed, and missile shield allows characters to do the same thing with a shield. Ray shield allows the shield to catch ray spells, saving the wielder some potentially nasty magical hurt. These feats are in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Players Guide respectively.

Dueling Mastery: This feat from the Inner Sea World Guide is another benefit for players who want to try out an Aldori Swordlord. It allows the sword to be treated as piercing for the purposes of being a duelist, it provides the Swordlord with a +2 to initiative if the sword is in hand when the check is made, and it provides a +2 shield bonus as long as the dueling sword is being wielded one-handed. The shield bonus drops to a +1 if it's being used in two hands.


Some armor is worn in the mind.
You can only take armor class so far without the aid of the mystical. For some characters magic is really the only option for increasing that all-important AC score. For those looking for solid defensive spells, there are plenty to choose from.

Shield of Faith: A level one cleric spell, the subject gains a +2 deflection bonus with an additional +1 for every six levels the caster has. Core Rulebook.

Magic Vestment: This spell adds a +1 enhancement bonus per 4 caster levels to a non-magical shield, suit of armor, or suit of clothing. Core Rulebook.

Cloak of Chaos: This spell provides a +4 deflection bonus to armor class, and a +4 resistance bonus on saves. The lawful variant is shield of law. Core Rulebook.

Barkskin: Grants a +2 natural armor bonus which increases by one for every three levels above 3rd to a maximum of +5. This bonus stacks with the subject's existing natural armor, but not with other enhancers. Core Rulebook.

Cat's Grace: Increase the subject's dexterity score by providing a +4 ehancement modifier. Increases armor class as well as reflex saves and other uses of dexterity. Core Rulebook.

Shield: This spell creates a floating, invisible shield that absorbs magic missiles and provides a +4 shield bonus. Core Rulebook.

Mage Armor: An old standby, this spell provides a +4 armor bonus to AC. Core Rulebook.

Vestment of the Champion: Like magic vestment, but for alchemists, and it only works on the armor or shield the user is carrying. Ultimate Magic.

Haste: Along with all its other effects, haste provides a +1 dodge bonus to AC. Core Rulebook.

Silk to Steel: This spell imbues a scarf with the properties of steel. It can be used as a whip, or as a shield which provides a +2 shield bonus. Ultimate Magic.

Ablative Barrier: Provides a +2 bonus to AC, and the first 5 points of damage are converted to nonlethal. The spell also grants DR 5/- against nonlethal damage. It lasts for 5 points per caster level with a maximum of 50 points before discharging. Ultimate Combat.

Litany of Defense: While this spell is active all enhancement bonuses on the subject's armor are doubled, and the subject is immune to fear. Ultimate Combat.

Tactical Acumen: this spell enhances all bonuses gained due to battlefield position (high ground, flanking, etc.) by a +1 insight bonus. The bonus increases by +1 for every 5 caster levels above 5th level. Ultimate Combat.

Bullet Shield: Taget gains a +4 deflection bonus against bullets and ranged attacks with +1 for every five caster levels. It also applies against scatter guns. Ultimate Combat.

Magic Items

The most powerful of relics.
There are a lot of magic items characters can use to gain additional AC. Aside from the obvious choices of magic armor, magic shields, and defending weapons (which allow the transfer of the weapon's enhancement bonus to the wielder's AC), there are a slew of useful little tools that can really save someone's bacon in a fight.

Necklaces and Rings

There are a few amulets and rings that any adventurer who wants to avoid having her insides on the outside will invest in. A ring of protection +1 to +5 is a great option for those who need a deflection bonus to armor class, for instance, and a ring of force shield can also help provide a great +2 shield bonus for those who eschew more traditional, ironclad protection. An amulet of natural armor provides an enhancement bonus to one's natural armor from a +1 to a +5, which can truly come in handy.

Bracers and Belts

The belt of great dexterity (or any belt that increases one's dexterity) is a great way to increase a character's AC. Bracers of armor are a good addition for those who can't wear regular armor, providing an armor bonus between +1 and +8. If a character gains AC from different stats, such as a monk's wisdom bonus or a duelist's canny defense drawn from intelligence, then an additional stat boosting item can net someone double the AC increase.

Ioun Stone

The dusty rose ioun stone provides a +1 bonus to AC. It's a pricey item, but it takes up no slots and can make the difference between being hit, and not being hit.

Monk's Robe

The monk's robe allows any character with monk levels to treat them as 5 higher, including all bonuses to unarmed damage and AC bonuses.

Final Notes

Very final.
Having a high armor class is great, especially if one considers miscellaneous things like a size bonus for small characters. However there are two things that are important to remember when specializing a character to avoid blows at every turn.

The first is that unless it expressly says in the description, bonuses don't stack. Enhancement, insight, luck, divine/profane, size, alchemical, you take the best one you have. Dodge bonuses are the only ones that stack, and you've seen how rare they are. While it might be possible to achieve a ridiculously high armor class in the 40s, make sure you didn't accidentally count a few bonuses twice.

Secondly, a high armor class isn't really all that impressive. Yes, yes, you just read through a huge document and now you're rarin' to build the biggest, baddest tank you can. That's great, as long as your ST only has you fighting foes your AC can stop. What happens if invisible enemies start attacking your duelist, who loses all insight and dexterity bonuses against those thrusts? What if your armored colossus now has to fight a spellcaster who deals in touch attacks? There's always a way around what you've specialized your character to do, and you need to be aware of your weaknesses so when those fights do crop up you're not crossing your arms and accusing the storyteller of not playing fair.

Always have a back up plan. Always.

Once again, we hope you've enjoyed this week's crunch article, and that you use it to give your DM a headache. If you want to keep up to date with everything we're doing here at Improved Initiative then follow us on Facebook and Tumblr. If you'd like to help keep us in the black so we can keep giving you great content, then click "Bribe the DM" or visit our Patreon page to donate to us. $1 a month is all we ask, if you're interested.