Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons "Influential" Admits New York Times

Yes it's Tuesday, and I'm just now getting Moon Pope Monday's entry put up. The reason for that is I've spent the last few days setting up my own online shop so I can create custom gear for my fans here on Improved Initiative, and over at the sister blog The Literary Mercenary.

You know you want one.
If you'd like to check out the fledgling store then click right here. I'll be creating more gear for gamers, genre-lovers, and fans of fiction in all varieties.

Speaking of fiction, that brings me to today's topic.

New York Times Admits Dungeons and Dragons Influence

According to this article right here there are now a huge number of authors, playwrights, actors, screenwriters, and other pen monkeys who produce the entertainment you love that grew up using Dungeons and Dragons as their first tale-telling building blocks. From Junot Diaz to Brent Hartinger, along with men like Stephen Colbert and George R. R. Martin the game has had a massive, wide-reaching influence on the fiction you see on the shelves today.

Your point is?
All right for most of us this really isn't news. We already know how influential roleplaying games are because we've been reading these books. Some of us (myself included; my Amazon page is right here after all), use these games to keep our character creation and plot-skills sharp. That's not the point; the point is that in a culture that's still ringing with echoes of the Satanic Panic, and where big swaths of the populace still believe video games, heavy metal, and violent movies all lead to sexual deviancy and higher murder rates a major news outlet has acknowledged that the only thing playing roleplaying games really leads to is a better understanding of how story mechanics fit together to create a compelling, engaging plot.

In short, my friends, we stand victorious in the culture wars. The naysayers have had their books and papers debunked (such as the pack of lies that is "Seduction of the Innocent" that claimed comic books were destroying the youth; more at io9), and it's been shown that the things we love are no more harmful than any other form of entertainment.

This week on Moon Pope Monday I declare Mission Accomplished.

Again, thanks for stopping in and checking out what's going down in the world of gaming with Improved Initiative! If you'd like to follow my posts then plug your email into the box on the top right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr. If you'd like to keep me going then buy a book from Amazon, stop by my store and check out some of the sweet gear I'm now offering, toss a tip into the "Bribe the DM" button on the top right, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Aid Another in Pathfinder is More Useful Than You Think

When I published my blog entry on 5 Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting there was a lot of positive feedback. There was one constant criticism though, and that was that the "Aid Another" action shouldn't have been on the list. Why? To paraphrase, "It's just useless. What's a +2 bonus worth anyway?"

My answer to all of those who don't think that Aid Another is worth looking at is to take a second look using this week's guide. You might be surprised at what you find.

What Is The Aid Another Action?

Quick, while he's not looking at you!
The Aid Another action, for those who don't want to look it up, is a standard action where one character helps another achieve a certain task. In combat a player and the target of the aid must both be in melee with an enemy; the player rolls an attack against an AC 10, and if he hits may grant the target a +2 to hit, or a +2 to armor class against the target they both threaten. Details for this action are on page 197 of the Core Rulebook.

The other way someone can use Aid Another is on page 86. It states that if two characters are making a skill check then one can aid the other. Simply roll the die, and if the character hits a DC 10 then he helps his companion with a +2 bonus. The bonus from Aid Another is untyped, and as such it stacks with everything. That's going to be important later on in this article.

The Complaint

The big complaint seems to be that sure, at level 1 or 2 a +2 to AC or to an attack is a nice bonus. The higher in level a party becomes though, the less useful such a bonus is. Even if the whole party goes in to give the fighter with the specialized weapon a big boost, that's only a +6 (assuming a 4 person party). It's nice, but how often will the whole party sacrifice their actions to give even this mediocre a bonus?

More often than you think, less often than you'd believe.
I'm not going to disagree that giving even a level 6 character, much less a level 10 or 12 character, a +2 is a pretty paltry use of one's turn. That said, Aid Another can be made a lot more powerful if you're actually planning on using it.


As with any other bit of mechanical wooge it's important to start stacking the numbers right from character creation. If a character is a halfling then he or she can take the helpful trait, which says that whenever the character successfully uses the Aid Another action that the bonus is a +4 instead of a +2. If a character is not a halfling then there's a universal helpful trait that allows them to provide a +3 instead of a +2.

Pro Tip: If you're willing to get creative with your backstory you can take adopted, which gives you access to traits for races you don't possess, and then take the helpful version that is usually only available for halflings. Adopted is in this case a placeholder, allowing you to pick the better version of helpful.

This is just the tip of the ice berg, my friends.

Classes and Prestige Classes

A surprising number of classes and prestige classes offer a bonus to the Aid Another action. Some are bigger than others, which is why it's important to keep your character's final destination in mind. Is this character a battlefield commander, helping his troops achieve victory, or is she someone who knows when she's out of her league and isn't shy about assisting others in getting the glory some of the time?

Something to think about.


Cavaliers (Advanced Player's Guide) are an often-underutilized class (lots of players aren't willing to bring mounted characters into a game that so traditionally is full of dungeon crawling), but one of the most under-utilized abilities is the bonus to Aid Another granted by the Order of the Dragon. Starting at level 2 the cavalier can provide an additional +1 when using the Aid Another action to assist allies with armor class, attacks, saving throws, or skill checks. For a cavalier with one of the two helpful traits that's either a +4 or +5 bonus at level 2. Not too shabby. This bonus increases by +1 at level 8 and every 6 levels after.


Surely an Aid Another bonus in a class as popular (and let's face it, necessary) as the cleric would have been noticed by now? Not exactly; you see the bonus comes from variant channeling (Ultimate Magic), which is something not a lot of players use. For clerics who take the Strategy option for variant channeling, and who channel positive energy, all Aid Another actions used by her allies during the turn add the cleric's channel bonus (+1 at level 1, +2 at level five, and increasing by another +1 every five levels) to the usual Aid Another bonus delivered. Certainly not something to sneeze at.

Pathfinder Chronicler

The very rarely played prestige class of the Pathfinder Chronicler (Core Rulebook 388) reflects the idea of a scribe, scholar, and tale-teller who accompanies great heroes and records their deeds. These Chroniclers also pitch in when needed, and that's where their improved aid ability comes from. At level 3 a Pathfinder Chronicler provides a +4 bonus when using the Aid Another action.

Steel Falcons

Andoran's Eagle Knights are famed far and wide for reasons that are alternatively good and bad. Because they must act together as a unit, particularly when facing slavers and other enemies of freedom, the Steel Falcons (Pathfinder Companion: Andoran, Spirit of Liberty) gain superior aid at level 2. This ability allows them to grant a +4 instead of a +2 on Aid Another actions.

Battle Herald

While it's out of order alphabetically, the Battle Herald (Advanced Player's Guide) is a class that is geared almost expressly toward helping the party achieve its full potential. A combination bard/cavalier (Order of the Dragon is a good base to work with, as well), the Battle Herald gains the Inspiring Command ability. While there's a laundry list of commands it's the Teamwork command that applies to this guide. This ability provides anyone using the Aid Another action with a competence bonus equal to the Battle Herald's inspiring command bonus, and if the ally is successful then the Aid Another bonus also increases by the Battle Herald's inspiring command bonus. That's an additional +1 at first level, and another +1 for every 3 levels after.

Magic Items

Seriously, just kiss it. It gives you a bonus.
Normally the meat of any build comes from feats, but in this case if someone really wants to add some solid numbers to their Aid Another the bonuses tend to come from magic items (and the above class features). The two items you're going to want on your side are:


This +1 enchantment (found in Ultimate Equipment) can be placed on both weapons and armor. When placed on a weapon it adds the weapon's numerical bonus to the Aid Another bonus that's provided on attacks. When placed on armor it has the same effect, but only for Aid Another actions meant to increase someone's armor class.

Ring of Tactical Precision

While it's hugely expensive, the ring of tactical precision provides a +1 to the bonus anyone wearing it provides through the Aid Another action. It also provides a +5 on profession (soldier) checks, and it allows a teamwork feat to be stored inside of it. 11k still seems a hefty price to pay, but if you find it in a horde you might not want to just pawn it at the local emporium glorium, sight unseen.

Gloves of Arcane Striking

While not typically used unless one is a straight caster, the gloves of arcane striking are useful for bards, magi, and others who intend to be using Aid Another. These gloves allow the user to transfer the bonus from the arcane strike feat as a bonus to Aid Another. That's a +1 for every 5 caster levels the user possesses, to a maximum of +5.

It All Adds Up

So how much of a bonus can you really give another player with the Aid Another action? What do the numbers really look like? Well, here's an example using the above rules and focusing on combat bonuses.

Let's begin with a halfling character who takes the helpful halfling trait. Right out of the gate he can provide a +4 bonus to his allies.

Take 3 levels of bard.

At level 6 take a level of Battle Herald. Learn the Teamwork Command for a +5 on Aid Another. This goes up to +6 at 10th level and +7 at 13th level.

Purchase a benevolent weapon (preferably a lance or whip so you can aid from a distance). If you have a +1 weapon at level 6 it provides a +6 bonus. If you advance this weapon to a +3 item then at level 10 you can provide a +9 bonus to your allies in combat. If you use your arcane strike to add onto your aid another bonus, that's more than a +10.

I cannot think of a single level where a +10 bonus to either attack or armor class is not a major game changer.

Post Edit Suggestion: Bodyguard

I continually thought this was part of the guide, but apparently it wasn't. The Bodyguard feat (Advanced Player's Guide) allows you to use attacks of opportunity to provide an aid another action to a party member you're adjacent to. Since the prerequisite is Combat Reflexes it's entirely possible that you can save the entire front line from a world of hurt without even taking up your actual action during the round.

You can also add Harrying Partners, which says once given, your aid another bonus lasts for a round instead of that single action.

Who's useless now?

As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Intiative's crunch section! If you'd like other helpful guides then check out this list of alchemical items every party should have. If you want to keep up to date with Improved Initiative and all of my other projects then feel free to follow me on Facebook and Tumblr, or to plug your email address into the box on the top right. If you'd like to help keep this blog going toss a tip into the jar by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button, or going to my Patreon page and becoming a patron today!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Knight Fighting Leagues: A Brutal Dream Come True

Sitting at a roleplaying table and rolling dice is the closest many of us get to strapping on a suit of armor and entering life-threatening combat with medieval weaponry. A lot of gamers will pick up foam weapons and play at being heroes in a LARP setting, and sometimes they pick up a few genuine skills in the endeavor. Some may even get up the cojones to join the SCA or another re-enactment group and compete in armored combat, but by and large these organizations always put fighter safety first. This means that weapons tend to be rattan or some other form of blunted material, the pace is meant to be less than full-speed, and there's a laundry list of maneuvers that simply are not allowed on the field. More often than not modern Western martial arts organizations are interested in history and fantasy, but not in leaving participants bloody and broken on the battlefield.

Then there's these guys.

No this is not a joke, or some illegal thing that only happens in the boondocks; that is a promo video for a Polish Knight Fighting League. It is a place where men put on full plate and helms, pick up blunted swords, axes, and polearms, then proceed to get medieval on each other until there's only one man left standing. Gauntlet punches, elbow and knee strikes, helmeted head butts, shield bashes and full-out bull rushes are all allowed, and judging from the crowd's reaction quite encouraged.

Approacheth me brother!
As with any sporting event combat is judged by referees. Landed blows count to determine the winner based on form, but knock outs are understandably common (there's a beautiful shot or two in the promo that shows what happens when a mace is applied to a helmet at around mach 2). In many ways it's like MMA or boxing... except worlds cooler. These events are understandably popular in Europe, but they have them in America too. There's also international leagues, for those who want to travel to the birthplaces of the knight and try to throw down heavy metal style in places where castles and banners are not that far in the past.

If you want more information these leagues have been featured both on Cracked (in this article here), and on i09 (in this post). To check out one of the American leagues, go to this link.

As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative's Moon Pope Monday feature! If you've got ideas, suggestions, or comments then please feel free to leave them right here! If you'd like to keep up with everything that shows up on Improved Initiative then by all means follow me on Facebook and Tumblr, or just plug your email into the box on your top right. If you'd like to keep the blog going so I can keep bringing you great content then share the posts, come back often, leave a tip in the jar by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button on the upper right, or stop in at my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone Chapter Three: Big Gay Half-Orcs and Utterly Destroying Plot

Because this particular gaming story saga is now complete, I thought I'd list all three chapters here for easy navigation. Yes, I know you're on chapter three, but it's an easier list to mass-produce so that every chapter has its very own links.

- 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

Caught up? Great, because today we're finishing this adventure off with the grand finale!

Chapter Three: Of Cohorts and Kings!

Time Travel and Leadership

When last we left our intrepid adventuring party they'd rescued one plot-relevant NPC and one non-plot relevant NPC from a floating city in the sky run by insane magical college deans. Our heroes return to their headquarters by a long and circuitous route, during which they are thanked for their service. When the NPCs tell the guild master and the royal family about what they heard while captives, our heroes are tasked with trekking into the center of a cursed city on the coast (which is conveniently a half-day's ride away) and investigating rumors of a potential legendary sword that could save the world.

Of course no one's been here in a thousand years... this place is creepy!
So, seeing where these rails are going, we saddle up and decide to go investigating. We ride up to the ruins of a once-great city, and find it mostly filled with rubble and poisonous smoke. We follow the open paths, very specifically staying away from the vapors while picking up a few odd coins here and there. We find a wishing well, Baldric throws one of the strange coins in, makes a wish, kills the water-double that comes out, and is gifted with a second gun. Overall pleased with my shenanigans we find the throne room. Seated in the throne room, to the surprise of no one, is a skeleton in the throne with a greatsword through its chest.

Nothing to see here, folks.
We walk the throne room a couple of times, and we have the central question of "do we pull it out, or do we leave it in?" Baldric is all for leaving it where it is, but our half-construct fighter pulls the sword. Right on cue the corpse re-forms into the ancient and powerful figure known as the Chaos Emperor, who immediately imprisons us all in huge shells of crystal.

Fast forward fifteen years or so...

We Slept Through The Apocalypse?

We wake up in a ruined city with no idea of what's happened. We make our way back to the capital, only to find that a decade and a half has gone by. The world's at war, the Chaos Emperor has taken over the Citadel, and roving tribes of raiders are everywhere.

Oh, and we gained a level.

So there's that.
It's at this point I decide to put something in play for another party member. Her character was a gay, male elf alchemist, and it had become a running gag that the only bi-curious NPCs he could find were half-orcs. I ask the DM if I can take Leadership and he okays it (for those DMs who don't know, that's a foolish thing to do). He lets me design my cohort, and I tell him that he was Baldric's apprentice back when he was still a fire bomber for an orc tribe. I trust our DM to work him in somewhere.

So what does the crumbling command faced with impossible odds ask us to do less than a day out of crio-stasis? Oh nothing big; just go and kill the Chaos Emperor.

Back to The Floating City in The Sky...

We truck back across the map with no idea of what the hell we're going to do or how the hell we're going to do it. We find a city-sized encampment at the base of the tower, along with the villain's three lieutenants.

One of whom looks strangely familiar...
Baldric recognizes his old apprentice, grown huge and having forced his way up the chain of command. That night he goes to meet him, and the two catch up on old times. They also get drunk... with alchemist fortitude saves. It isn't a pretty sight.

In the middle of the night the elf comes looking for Baldric, and finds him and his companion. Looks are exchanged, and Davor decides right then and there that he's going to switch sides to whoever that elf is fighting for. Lovely, not only do I have my cohort (who incidentally is how I field-tested my Incredible Hulk character build found here), but he happens to have information about the enemy. Wins all around!

All three of these characters are fetched to the base of the tower, and through a series of unfortunate events find themselves being magically transported up into the sky city itself.

Great Revelations

As I mentioned in the last chapter, Baldric's got a wishing ring up his sleeve. With that ring, and some clever shenanigans, we smash through the encounters our ST had meant to make challenging, leave the tower, and go on the lam back to the destroyed capital we'd come from.

While the 7-foot half-orc and the normally-reserved elf are making sheep's eyes at each other the rest of the party wants to know how the hell Baldric knows this guy. So he reveals his history as Brazen Red-Eye, a wanted war criminal responsible for the deaths of countless villages and all their inhabitants. There's some hemming and hawing from the other party members about this revelation, but ultimately Brazen decides he doesn't have time for it and informs the group what he's doing. The other two alchemists join him, and he marches up to the keep to demand a way to solve this whole convoluted problem.

And make it snappy, I'm sick of your bullshit!
The party is then given a series of combats, challenges, and fetch quests, the details of which blended together after a bit. The brute squad, with the support of the rest of the party, powered through whatever challenges were laid in front of them. They were eventually brought to a location that held a time machine. The goal of course is to send them back in time to stop this from happening. Because of course it is, why else would you slingshot a party into the future?

Most of the party is thrilled by this. They can go back, save their friends and families, and make the world how it was. For Brazen, he's finally found his friends and followers. He's in a world that makes sense, and he has a chance to rebuild it into something better and different than it was before. Here he's a man with a small army of followers, a strong right hand, and is a force to be reckoned with. Back there he's just another killer on the run from the rope.

A King By His Own Hand

The campaign was far from over, but it was very clear out of character that if this machine was going to render this future, horrible as it was, non-existent then Brazen, Davor, and probably Tirnel the elf would waste no time in blowing it straight to hell along with anyone who got in their way. Without this deus ex machina the game was over, and the epic final chapter would be impossible to reach without a lot of hand-waving and NPC magical bullshit.

As if we had any shortage of that in this game...
So our storyteller and the NPCs alike were quick to assure us that it wasn't linear time travel, but rather that this machine would punch a hole into a parallel timeline. A timeline that could still be saved. Brazen holstered his gun, folded his arms, and told them if they were getting they'd better go. He had shit to do.

Slightly confused, most of the rest of the party went. The players and ST alike were wondering what he was going to do, and so they ended the session by asking the $24 question.

Brazen Red-Eye purchased the cursed city and all of its properties from the Crown for a gold piece and a blot of ink. He took his cohort and followers (mostly alchemists, gunslingers, druids, and witches with a few barbarians and fighters for flavor), and rebuilt the city. He took in refugees of all stripes, and put them to work training for war, manning the walls, growing crops and assembling new structures. In time Lost Home became known as a place where anyone could find a a seat at the table if they were willing to work hard and follow orders. It established a college of alchemy and wizardry, as well as a gunworks where firearms and more dangerous weapons were built. In less than ten years it could field an army of warriors in construct armor, and an air force of dirigibles powered by alchemy and loaded down with smooth-bore cannons. Brazen Red-Eye ruled on the brass throne till the day he died, and he was burned with the honors of a great chieftain. His widow maker was placed in his hand, because wherever he was going he was going to need it.

And that, my friends, is quite possibly the most epic middle finger I have ever had a character give to a plot he was expected to keep following.

What's Next on Table Talk?

That's the end of this tale, but what would you like to see next time on Table Talk? Suggestions are always welcome!

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 hard-boiled cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, 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, July 14, 2014

5 Life Hacks For Your Roleplaying Table

Moon Pope Monday is usually reserved for amusing videos, funny images, or odd bits of historical trivia. This week we're going to vary that up a bit and give you 5 life hacks that you can use to make your tabletop experience a little more fun (and a whole lot cleaner- more on that later).

So without further ado, here are 5 useful tips and tricks you can use to make your next game just a little bit better.

Tip #1: Tab Your Books

No, seriously, give it a try.
While it might sound like something only an over-protective rules lawyer would do, hear me out on this one. Most players, even players who have been through a campaign or twelve, don't memorize the sections of their books. The index can sometimes be a saving grace, but why look something up in the back when you can just look it up by reading the handy, dandy label sticking out of the side? I can attest from personal experience that tabbing your books might be a sigh-worthy endeavor when you start, but the next time you need to find the exact text for fireball in a big hurry, or look up exactly what the text under Vital Strike says, you're going to be glad you took the time to label all the important sections.

Also, if no one else at your table tabs their books it will be quite easy to tell which ones are yours. This is exceedingly useful for conventions or other big events where books can easily wind up in the wrong bag because no one checks for names before walking on to the next event.

Tip #2: Use White Vinegar For All Your Clean Up Needs

All right, most of your clean up needs.
For those of you who've grown up using modern chemicals to clean your gaming areas, this next one is going to save you money and freshen your space. White vinegar, which costs $1 or less for a sizable bottle, has the ability to clean up spills, remove troublesome ink smears from your maps (it won't pull out stains, but it will get rid of more ink than just a little spray of water), cleans your dice (seriously, give them a good soak and see what comes off of them) and if you make a concoction of 1 part water to 1 part white vinegar, spray it around your game room, and leave it for a night you'll find that gamer funk will vanish like little elves had come in the night.

It's pretty awesome.

For handy white vinegar cleaning recipes check out this link.

Tip #3: Add Terrain (For Cheap)

Ship Combat, anyone?
Anyone who's experienced the difference between playing in a game with 3D terrain versus playing on a flat surface with red and blue lines can attest to the difference it makes. Anyone who's taken a look at the price tags that are attached to those dungeon set pieces can also tell you why only the most die hard gamers (who are also neurosurgeons that moonlight as CEO consultant billionaires) regularly make use of said terrain.

Fortunately for the rest of us there are much cheaper ways to get our hands on good terrain pieces.

The easiest way is to go out into your yard and pick up a couple of pebbles. If you find some that are just the right size then you have accurately represented boulders players can use to get a handle on what's happening. Grab some moss and glue if you want to have rocks that have been where they are for a while. If you have old bike tires and a box cutter then you can make convenient squares for difficult terrain as well. They're also great for marking areas covered by smoke, or which have been destroyed by an alchemist's bomb or a hastily dropped flamestrike. Do you have empty dice cylinders you're not using? Lovely, they make great platforms for enemies that are flying. Do you have unused sugar cubes in your house? Glue them together to form walls, and spray paint them gray for castle stone. Add a clear coat to keep them from crumbling, and you're good to go.

For those who want to get a bit more creative with their scenery without dropping a paycheck and a half at the game store, try heading to the Dollar Store instead. You already know it's the go-to place for minis and monsters (bags of green soldiers, throwaway wild animals, and plastic dragons for a handful of change is not to be sneezed at), but it's got plenty of options for terrain as well. Those bags of legos are a godsend, especially if you're willing to paint them so you have lengths of wall ready to go whenever you need them. Lincoln logs are another great thing to have; you can either make structures out of them, leave them strewn about for fallen trees, or stick them into a base of Playdough and say that they're trees.

Speaking of which, Playdough is your friend. It will eventually dry out into the shape you molded, and you can either add water to make it soft again, or put a clear coat over the dried stuff to make it permanent. Bridges, castle gates, or just chunks that you can use to identify terrain that's high enough for a +1 to hit are all options.

Also, squishable terrain. Everyone loves squishable terrain.

Tip #4: Use Your Markers To Keep Your Mat Rolled Tight

Yeah, I felt pretty stupid too.
I didn't own my own battle mat for the longest time. When I finally did manage to get hold of one from an acquaintance who was getting rid of it I found that no matter how tightly I rolled it up it would always come loose. It would usually stay leaning in the corner, but other times it would just fall apart completely. Add to that the markers I used tended to go AWOL when I wasn't looking, and it was a huge problem unless I had plenty of prep time.

Here's how you kill two birds with one stone. Roll your mat up tight, and then stick the markers into it so that the clips on the markers hold the mat in place. Your mat uses less space, it's always with your markers, and both of them are easy to carry.

Tip #5: Dice Boxes Are Your Friend

Seriously, control this shit!
There are a lot of small parts and pieces that can easily go missing in even the most basic tabletop game. Minis, markers, dice, pens, pencils, character sheets, etc., etc. If you want to keep all of that together along with your sanity then the key is to get organized.

Do that by getting a dice box. If you've got $5 and access to a craft shop then you, too, can have one of these handy, dandy items. Just wander the aisles until you find a simple, wooden box with a sliding top, buy it, and put your dice in it. Viola! You now have a dice box of your very own. If you add a bit of felt and glue it down on the inside you also have an absolutely ideal place to roll your dice without them slamming into other minis, knocking over set pieces, or getting lost for the eighth time under someone else's feet.

Don't lie; you've wanted to slap the person who screws up the map or has to go crawling on hands and knees every turn because they have to add a flick of the wrist just for good luck.

That's it for this installment of Moon Pope Monday! Big thanks to Kat Cichocki for letting me use a shot of her tabbed books, and to all of you for stopping by. If you'd like to keep up on the latest and greatest from Improved Initiative, as well as the sister blog The Literary Mercenary, then sign up by putting your email in the box on the top right, or follow me on Facebook or Tumblr. If you'd like to help keep us going tell your family, tell your friends, leave a donation by dropping a tip into the "Bribe the DM" box on your top right, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Gunslinger By Any Other Name...

At this point in time I've had the "gunslingers don't belong in fantasy games" conversation with an arbitrary number of people greater than 10, and somewhat less than 100. It is amazing to me the sheer resistance some storytellers have to the very idea of the gunslinger (while at the same time giving a free, no-questions-asked pass to the alchemist), despite its inclusion in both Pathfinder's Ultimate Combat and having these characters strongly represented in Golarion's canon. For some reason many storytellers don't even want to hear the name of the class, and they will disallow gunslingers entirely along with any and all variations that give other classes access to black powder weapons. I asked myself why over and over again, but I never came up with an answer until now.

Maybe it's the name of the class.

What's In a Name?

Everything, if you're the man without one.
This sounds like a silly, nit-picky thing to harp on, but consider it for a moment. The word gunslinger has very definite connotations in the minds of most Americans. It brings to mind Clint Eastwood and six-shooters, duels at high noon and flying lead. It also paints a 19th century world, which jars those who were trying to create something more Tolkien-esque. While there are fantasy gunslingers (Stephen King's character Roland Deschain comes to mind, as does Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane), they're few and far between.

Let's re-examine the class, then. Pathfinder's gunslingers have primitive, single shot flintlocks, blunderbusses, and most importantly muskets. They can wear light armor, and they have a knack for deeds of derring-do. They take great risks with little care for their own lives, trusting on luck to see them through. In the flash of steel and the boom of gunpowder these reckless combatants fight through to the bitter end with grit and skill.

You know what that sounds like? The Three Musketeers. Can you get more classic adventure than that?

I maintain that you cannot.

A Little Bit of History

For those who are still on the fence, here's something else you should consider.

What am I missing?
If you look through your Core Rule Book (or your Player's Hand Book, or really most other books for a medieval fantasy game) you're going to see an entry for a rapier. You know the sword; a long, fast blade popular among fencers (and supposedly elves) who fought with dexterity and precision over raw power? You typically pick it because it has a high critical hit range on it?

You know why the rapier exists? Guns.

As I illustrated in this article right here, nothing in warfare is static. As guns big and small became standard parts of the battlefield, old protections went the way of the dodo. Heavy armor and shields were no use against cannons, while maneuverability was. Without steel armor in between your sword and your opponent there was no reason to bring a heavy sword to the fight. Lighter, swifter weapons from cavalry sabers to trench swords became the order of the day.

Blades did not vanish overnight though. Bayonets turned muskets into deadly spears, combat knives were kept near to hand in case a charge didn't falter under a volley, and swords were still used more often than not when fighting got thick. The rapier became the weapon of choice for city-dwellers (making it an ironic choice for an elf), because armor was typically not worn while out on the town. While pistols were popular, they were also dangerous and chancy at best. Rapiers offered personal protection, speed, and they were also in vogue during the Renaissance.

Doesn't it seem a little silly to include weapons that came about because of guns, but to balk at the inclusion of the guns themselves?

The Uneasy Truce Between Science and Magic

There seems to be this strange notion that science and magic exist on a sliding scale. A low-tech world means there's plenty of magic to go around, but a high-tech world means that magic is on its way out. Time and again in popular fiction we see that technology and magic don't mix (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books are a solid example of this trope), or that they're somehow separate but equal (Harry Potter played with this, even though it never explains why wizards who work in London don't understand how technology works). I can't say where this trope originates (A Flight of Dragons is one of the oldest examples I can bring to mind), but it seems to be based on the idea that a world that embraces technology leaves behind its beliefs, its superstitions, and its sense of wonder at the world.

In short, it leaves behind its magic.

There's no mechanic that states this. There are no rules that say the presence of gunslingers suddenly means archmagi lose their spells, or that clerics have a harder time reaching their gods. It doesn't mean that magical beasts are any less of a threat (though it does mean you can head-shot zombies with style and swagger), and it certainly doesn't mean you can take on dragons and expect to win (though again, fighting a dragon with a gun does have a certain, gonzo charm that can't be denied). It just means there's a new class of fighter in town, and she's got a whole new brand of boom to add to the game.

Why Sometimes, But Not Others?

Perhaps one of the last lines of defense for storytellers is that gunslingers (whatever we choose to call them) simply aren't setting appropriate. If someone has created their own setting and disallowed black powder, then that's his or her prerogative. Gunpowder is astonishingly easy to invent, given the fact that ancient China had it, but the issue of whether or not the relatively basic building blocks for the material exist in a world to be harnessed is another matter for another day. The point here is that storytellers against gunslingers will say they have no place in dungeon crawls, or on open fields fighting demons.

But sailing pirate ships, that's perfectly okay.

I'd roll a reflex save, if I were you.
The logic seems to be that there are certain places where gunslingers are allowed, and certain places where they "don't make sense." Swashbuckling adventures in the Shackles, or in the blighted deserts of the Mana Waste are gunslingers' home turf after all, so it would be silly to disallow them. On the other hand if someone wants to play a paladin who captains a privateer vessel the way some of the Knights Templar did, or perhaps take an alchemist to study the peculiar origins of the Wastes, very rarely is that met with the same level of scrutiny as bringing a gunslinger to Varisia or into the mountains of the Land of the Linnorm Kings.

The more specific a storyteller is with when and where a certain class is allowed, the more acrobatics that need to be done for it to make sense. With at least two nations making heavy use of black powder weapons it simply doesn't seem logical to limit whether or not someone can wield them. As long as the player explains who they are, and where they acquired their training and weapons, it should be no more of a story issue than it is a mechanical issue.

And if a fighter having a touch attack screws up the whole campaign, it might be time to re-think how tough your monsters are.

As always, thanks for stopping in at Improved Initiative. Your continued patronage is quite valued, so if you want to see a topic covered then please put in a request. If you want to get all of my updates then put your email into the box on the top right, or follow me on Facebook or Tumblr. If you'd like to help keep me, and this blog, going then click the "Bribe the DM" button and leave a tip, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Slaughter Your World," A Hilarious Video From "Looking For Group"

"Looking For Group," is both a phrase for gamers looking for a table to join, and the title of an extremely popular comic. If any of that was new information to you then please take a minute and make sure that you're in the right place, and that you weren't looking for another blog.

Still with me? Lovely.

For those of you who haven't read the comic check out the Looking For Group homepage right here. If you have been there before, and if you're a fan, then chances are good you saw the 2007 video "Slaughter Your World" parodying the Little Mermaid. In case you didn't see it (or in case you'd forgotten about it till this very moment and now really want to see it) check out the official Blind Ferret clip here.

As always thanks for stopping in. As you know Improved Initiative is always in need of help, so if you'd like to become one of our valued patrons then stop by my Patreon page today! If you'd prefer to just leave a tip, then click the "Bribe the DM" button on the top right. As always if you want to keep up on Improved Initiative's updates just enter your email address into the box on the top right, or follow me on Tumblr and/or Facebook, whichever you prefer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Improved Initiative Needs Your Help!

I regret to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post, but this is a pretty important announcement.

Improved Initiative Needs Your Help!

Got your attention? Good.

Not quite what I meant, but you get the idea
First of all, hi! My name is Neal Litherland, and I'm the fellow who runs Improved Initiative. I'm a freelance writer and author, but most of you probably know me as the guy who provides interesting content on character builds, obscure rules, and roleplaying flavor. It's been my privilege and sincere pleasure to create content that makes your games better. I fully intend to keep doing that, but there's a slight problem.

You see, my monthly income just took a sucker punch in the face.

What Happened?

I'm glad you asked that bold, italic text. Some of you may have heard of Yahoo! Voices, but if you haven't it's a huge network that pays contributors $2 for every 1,000 hits their content gets. Some of you may have seen my Avengers character builds there. Recently my page views at Yahoo! have provided me with enough royalties that I thought I would be able to relax a bit, start saving, and focus more on blogging and writing a novel.

So, of course, Yahoo! Voices is slamming its doors closed forever August 2014.

Hold onto your nappies, it gets worse.
What This Means For You

When August comes around it means that all of my content (400+ articles at last count) is going to be deleted off of Yahoo's system. I'm currently running helter skelter to try and save the articles that are worth saving. You'll likely see my Avengers articles, as well as my Gotham Knights series (Batman, Robin, Huntress, etc.) showing up on here in the next few months. I'll also keep creating new content and trying to offer shiny, new ideas for your next campaign.

That said, the fact remains that I'm losing a big chunk of income from Yahoo's up-front payments, in addition to losing the royalty check that comes at the end of the month.

What I'm Asking

I need help, and before you start telling me you don't have any loose change, you don't need any. Here's a list of all the ways you can help, and I'm not asking anyone to do more than they're able.

Divine intervention is welcome, if you have a solid track record.
# 1: Become a Patron

Maybe you don't have any cash laying around, but maybe you're one of those folks who has a secure day job to support your gaming habit. If that's the case, and you'd be comfortable donating as little as $1 a month to keep the gaming articles flowing, the stop by my Patreon page by clicking right here and becoming a patron. It's pretty simple; you pledge a certain amount per blog (say $1), and then when I update my Patreon page it will charge you that $1. You can also set your maximum donation per month so that even if I updated this blog every day you'd only ever spend that single Washington on my behalf.

Make sense?

For those who choose to become a patron, you all have my sincere thanks. Since I know those aren't worth very much, I'll also throw in one of my ebook titles for free to sweeten the pot. Lastly, while I will be moving my articles from Yahoo! over to Improved Initiative, all the transfers will be done free of charge! Woo, more content for everyone!

#2: Leave a One-Time Donation

Maybe you never noticed it before, but on the upper right hand side of the page there's a little box titled "Bribe the DM". That tip jar connects directly to my Paypal, and you can choose to drop some spare in there whenever you have it. So if you've got a couple bucks this month, but you don't want to commit to a regular thing, I'll gladly accept any and all donations left in my virtual glass.

#3: Tell Your Family, Tell Your Friends, Tell Your Table!

This one gets an exclamation mark because it's the best way to help, and it requires nothing but your time.

Improved Initiative, like any blog that uses Google AdSense, makes money based on its ad clicks. When someone clicks an ad, that earns a fee. So the more traffic this blog receives, the bigger the chances are that my readers will see an ad that interests them. Also the more traffic I manage to get the better my page ranking will be, the easier the blog will be to find... you get the idea. If your website becomes popular then that very popularity has a way of sustaining itself.

What I'm asking you to do, valiant readers, is to help spread the word. If you see an entry you like, don't be afraid to share it on your Facebook or your Tumblr page. Hell, throw it up on Reddit if you feel compelled to do so. If you have friends looking for advice, send them over this way. Don't be afraid to dig through my archive to see what topics I've covered, and to share those too. In short there's no such thing as bad traffic.

Lastly, don't be afraid to submit your email on the top right and get my updates on the regular. The more followers Blogger says I have, the better I look, the more people see me... you get the idea.

What Do You Get Out of This?

I don't expect something for nothing.

That's why I'm a really shitty bank robber.
First and foremost, you get my sincerest thanks. Since I know precisely what that's worth, you also get my pledge to keep creating great content for your enjoyment and use. If I can manage 10 new patrons I will also do my best to increase my updates to 3 times per week with a Moon Pope Monday feature, a character build conversion, and one of my other features (Crunch, Fluff, or a Table Talk story on a rotating cycle) to fill in the rest of the week.

I think that about wraps it up. Thanks very much for your patience, and I hope next week to return you to your regularly scheduled awesome.