Friday, November 28, 2014

What To Do When Your Player Characters Become Gods

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

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

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

Issue #1: How Did The Characters Become Divine?

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

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

Issue #2: What Are They Gods Of?

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

So what are your PCs gods of?

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

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

Issue #3: Why Are They Gods?

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

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

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

Issue #4: Who Worships You? And Why?

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

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

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

Consider Very, VERY Carefully

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

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

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Monday, November 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Even MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3: Almost Everything Takes Precision Damage

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

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

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

#4: Perception Can Be Used To Identify Potions

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

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

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

#5: Being Flat-Footed Is A Thing

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

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

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

#6: Yes You Can Critical With Spells

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

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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

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

You can buy your own Lament Configuration.

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

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

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

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Friday, November 7, 2014

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

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

Smite you into next month, probably.

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

Wait, What?

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

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


What It Took To Be A Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Not All Nobles Are Knights!

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

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

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

Speaking of achieving goals...

Nobles Have More Reason to Adventure Than Anyone

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Want To Play A Noble Character?

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Teddy Bear Battles Nightmares In Short Film By Tyler Novo

For those who don't know the teddy bear was named in the early 1900s. President Theodore Roosevelt was out hunting and there just seemed to be a lack of deadly predators (perchance they had heard Teddy's mighty footsteps and decided to go elsewhere?). As a gesture other members of the party caught a small bear which was really more of a cub, tied it up, and offered it to the president for a trophy shoot. Roosevelt refused to do such a thing since it completely violated all ideas of sportsmanship. The news story exploded across the country, and a toy maker on the East coast had an idea of creating "Teddy" bears as a way to commemorate the event. The toys were a smash hit, and remain part of our culture today.

They're also why we have images like this one.

Teddy bears are immune to fear.
This picture has gone viral more often than I can readily count, but as cool as it is there are so many unanswered questions. What is that thing? Can the teddy actually take it? Are all teddy bears so awesome, or just a few? Can things like this be worked into games like Monsters And Other Childish Things or Grimm? I do not know. What I do know is that now we have a short film courtesy of Tyler Novo that is just as (if not more) awesome than the above image.

Since you're curious, here it is.

I know, right? Check out Tyler Novo's other work right here on Vimeo.

Hopefully you enjoyed this week's update, and if you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going then stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to get all of my updates then plug your email into the box on your right hand side, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.