Monday, December 28, 2015

Concept Policing is Something Gamers Should Stop Doing

We've all had those moments. You're preparing for an upcoming game, and your brain has hit on an idea. It's a little different, and a little unusual, but you've read and re-read the rules, and you see nothing in your game that actually prevents you from making it work. So after days of hammering it out, you finally get a chance to tell someone about it. Then, once you've finished laying it all out, that person tells you your concept won't work. You ask why, and you're met with a shrug, coupled with the phrase, "because that's not how that works."

Or is it?
Sometimes you really did overlook something, and your concept isn't something you can pull off in your current game system. For example, alignment restrictions stop you from fully realizing a barbarian/paladin in Pathfinder, because you're going to lose access to one of the class's abilities. While you could play a thin-blooded vampire who walked in the daylight in Vampire: The Masquerade, the same option isn't available in Vampire: The Requiem (though there are alternative methods in place). The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons doesn't have firearms, so you can't bring a gunslinger to the table.

Those are all mechanical reasons a character concept won't work in a given game. When a player imposes his or her own personal beliefs about what classes/characters should and shouldn't be with no backing from the rules, though, that's called concept policing. And really, it's something we should all learn not to do.

If The Rules Don't Prevent It, Why Should Your Opinion?

This bears repeating. If the only objection you have is, "that isn't how I picture that class/race/archetype looking or acting," then that is not a legitimate reason to tell someone else they can't play a certain concept. Disagreement is fine, and we should all feel free to discuss the merits of concepts openly and respectfully, but if the only reason you feel a concept won't work is that you disagree with it, then that is the weakest excuse you could give for why it shouldn't show up in a game.

There is no room for weak sauce at the gaming table.
As I mentioned in What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity, it's very easy for us as players, and even as DMs, to get wrapped up in what we think a certain character has to be. For example, rogues don't have to be dexterous sneak thieves who pick pockets. They can be, but they aren't required to be. The same goes for the knights in shining armor we typically think of when paladins come to mind. We could just as easily have a chivalrous, god-fearing fighter with a strict code of ethics inside that suit of plate. Alternatively, the foul-tempered, disreputable-looking woman in boiled leather and chain with the longbow might actually be the one with paladin levels, doing noble deeds with no need to boast or brag.

There's also the important point that your class is a meta concept. We know, as players, what someone's class levels are. But those class levels, indeed the very concept of a class and levels, is something that doesn't exist in the world we're looking at. So, while the king's bodyguard might be a hulking northerner with a war ax on his belt, his sheet might declare he has 9 levels of samurai. And while the party's face man may seem unremarkable, barring his silver tongue and winning smile, he might boast levels of ninja. Not because he wears black pajamas and throws shuriken, but because he's a spy who's received government training in the arts of infiltration, combat, and when necessary, assassination.

The Flip Side

On the other hand, it is important for players to remember that their concepts need to follow the rules. That includes the established rules of the game system, as well as the declared rules of any pre-generated adventures, the established canon of a setting, or the house rules in play at a given table. If the DM has clearly stated things like, "no evil PCs," or, "no races other than the base races in the core book," then you can't claim your concept is being policed when you want to play a lawful evil Drow necromancer.

Or, really, any kind of lawful evil necromancer.
Also, there's a big different between having your concept policed, and having it criticized. Ideally, criticism will examine aspects of your concept, and question why it has to be a certain way. Things like, "who taught your character this obscure martial art?" or "if your character's family was killed in an orc raid when she was five, then who raised her to adulthood?" Criticism can point out flaws and underdeveloped sections in your story, or offer alternative ways to make the concept even stronger. Policing is someone saying, "I don't agree with/like this, therefore it is wrong, and you can't do it."

Keep An Open Mind (And Open Ears)

With everything that's been said, the key is for all of us to listen to each other. We're all working together to try and have fun, tell a story, and create something with our own, unique spin. With all the creativity we have as gamers, why limit our character concepts beyond what's already being imposed by our systems and setting of choice?

Also, while we're on the subject of characters that defy the norm, you should check out my Unusual Character Concepts page, if you're looking for new ideas to bring to your table.

Thanks for stopping in to check out my Monday update! If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then why not check out my Patreon page? And, if you want to make sure you stay on top of all my latest releases, make sure you follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?

In most D20 fantasy roleplaying games, spells have three components; a verbal component, a somatic component, and a material/focus component. These are the things every spellcaster needs in order to turn their willpower into reality, whether they're charming the town guard to let them pass, or summoning aid from the far reaches of the ethereal planes. Clerics and wizards, druids, sorcerers, and others all have these three requirements in common.

However, if you want to make your magic user truly unique, try describing what these components look like to your fellow party members.

"What did you cast?" What does it LOOK like I cast?

In posts like How To Roleplay During Combat and Dungeon Master Alchemy: Turning Stats Into Story, I recommended that players with spellcasting PCs describe the effects of their spells instead of just saying the name of the spell. However, the effect is just one half of a magic user's action. In fact, focusing on the effects instead of the components is sort of putting the horse before the carriage.

Develop Your Spellcasting Style

If you were playing a martial character, you'd ask yourself certain questions. Questions like:

- What is my weapon of choice?
- Who taught me to fight?
- How long have I been doing this?
- Do I use a particular fighting style, or did I make up my own?

Just because your weapon of choice happens to be the primal forces of the elements, or psychic attacks on the free will of your enemies, that's no reason you can't go through the same steps.

That isn't how wizard's duels work!
For example, say you're playing a wizard in Pathfinder. You've examined the prominent wizard colleges in Golarion, and you decide your character graduated from the abjuration program in Nex. So, you have an established school, with a long history of both powerful tradition and innovation in the magical arts. Your instructor was a pragmatist, who often tested your reaction times by flinging objects at you, and then when you were more established, throwing magic at you without warning. You were average in power, but developed a unique flair for deflecting elemental spells. Because you were used to reacting quickly, your somatic components are short, sharp gestures instead of wide, sweeping ones.

Alternatively, say you were a conjurer who graduated from the arcane college in Korvosa. An arrogant caster, your imp familiar is imperious and impatient, a tiny reflection on your soul. A master linguist, you make sure to always use the correct language of the plane you're summoning your creatures from. Infernal for devils, celestial for heavenly beings, and abyssal for when you need a slavering demon horde to come to your aid. Perhaps your imp intones the spells simultaneously, adding an echoing resonance to the magic as you connect a space on the material plane to the far reaches of the ether where you are calling forth minions from.

Stand Out From The Other Casters

There are so many different flavors you can add to your magic. If you want to make your next experience unique, or just jazz up your current one, you might consider using some of these spices.

- Language: The language you use for different spells can make a big difference. You could also use language as a way to reflect certain metamagic feats. For example, you might speak your incantations in Ignan in order to let loose with a maximized burning hands.

- Directing The Magic: When you move your hands, what are you doing? Do you mimic the motions of the spell, or do you simply direct it as if you were practicing a more martial art form? When you cast Black Tentacles, do you jam your fingers upward, mimicking the motion of the conjured tendrils? When the cinder flies from your finger when you cast Fireball, do you open your hand violently to trigger the detonation? Or are your motions more like a kata, using your entire body to summon, control, and direct your spells?

- Special Effects: A spellcaster's power comes in a variety of different flavors, and that can add some tell-tale signs that power is about to be unleashed. For example, if your magic user has arcane tattoos, or a divine birthmark, do they glow when she casts spells? Does the air stir around the sorcerer as he unleashes bolts of raw power? Do a warlock's features distort, taking on a cast similar to her heritage when she calls upon the dark power of her pact?

Presentation matters.
These are just a few ways you can stand apart from other spellcasters when it comes time to showcase a unique art. Everything from casters who speak their spells in rhyme, to those who incorporate their motions into an interpretive dance, are an option. So, if you want your casters to stand out, give us more than a twist-and-flick when it comes time to make your magic.

As always, thanks for popping in this week! If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then why not stop by my Patreon page to become a patron today? Seriously, as little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and help me produce more content just like this. Also, if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me at Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why Character Optimization Isn't Bad (The Stormwind Fallacy)

So, there is a term I came up with a while ago to describe certain types of RPG players. That term is the Fluffkin. A Fluffkin is a player who is concerned solely with non-mechanical aspects of a character (appearance, history, etc.), and who believes that the "fluffier" aspects of their characters should excuse them from following certain rules in a game. For example, someone has brought a dashing swordsman to the table. He's charming, quick-witted, and fast on his feet. During combat the player declares he wants to grab an enemy, spin him around, and shove him out of a window. The character doesn't possess the feats to do this, and gets frustrated when informed that that action would take a minimum of two turns (one to reposition, one to bull rush), and it would also draw two attacks of opportunity.

In short, Fluffkins are players who want to treat this game like a novel, with them taking the pen away from the DM whenever it's their turn.

Plot Twist!
Don't get me wrong, I completely advocate players being unique, creative, and putting a lot of work in to create characters with depth, complexity, and soul. However, I am also the sort of fellow who gets irritated when the character that exists in the player's imagination is not the character who exists on the sheet. There needs to be a marriage of rules and imagination, because you are sharing this space with several other people, and everyone needs to be on the same page regarding what they're looking at. However, I have found there are lots of players out there who recoil from discussions of mechanics like Bela Lugosi from a crucifix.

"What do I look like, some sort of rollplayer?" they ask, explaining that anyone who reads through a game's manuals to find the most mechanically optimized method of creating a character is stripping the soul out of the roleplay.

I found out there's a name for this kind of attitude. Apparently, it's called The Stormwind Fallacy.

What is The Stormwind Fallacy?

Well, the full description of this logical fallacy can be found right here. However, here's the short version:

"If you are a player who mechanically optimizes your characters, you therefore cannot be a good roleplayer."

That's not how this works... that's not how any of this works!
Now, let's break that down. Mechanical optimization and roleplaying are two completely separate skills. Some players can do one, some can do the other, and some can do both. More often than not, players can do both, but are simply better in one arena than the other. Like how Mary can churn out heavy-hitting fighters with no sweat, but struggles to play more than the one personality, or the one backstory. Or how Mike is great at coming up with a huge variety of backstories, cultural quirks, and clever motivations for his characters, but anything past level 3 or 4 just makes him seize up as far as his mechanical plans go.

There are two generalizations we can draw from realizing this is a fallacy. The first is, obviously, that someone is not inherently a worse roleplayer if he or she can mechanically optimize characters. The reverse is also true; being unable (or unwilling) to optimize characters does not make someone an inherently better roleplayer.

Always Bring Your "A" Game

Every player should bring a character he or she is comfortable with, and which is something they want to play. However, the rules are how we interact with the game world. That's why it's important to have a character concept, and then to use the rules that allow that concept to do what you want it to within the game world. For other articles you may find helpful, check out How To Build An Effective RPG Character Every Single Time, and The Reason Rules Matter in Roleplaying Games.

Thanks for stopping in on today's Monday update! If you want to make sure you don't miss out when I post, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support me, and make this holiday a reason to rejoice, then please stop by my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder

Being an adventurer is dangerous. Between ravenous undead, hack-happy goblins, exploding evocation, and easily-tripped traps, no one gets out without a few scars. Not all adventurers get off so lightly, though. Some of them lose fingers, hands, legs, or eyes. Sometimes they decide to take the hint, and get cushy jobs as town guards or militia captains. Sometimes, though, they grin, and head right back into the storm, looking for riches, renown, and revenge, in no particular order.

Is what's in that chest really worth your life?
Some adventurers will gladly trade their gold, or their services, for powerful spellcasters to regrow their missing limbs. Others, though, will seek out alternative replacements. Replacements which, in many cases, are far deadlier than the limb that was lost in the first place.

How Do You Lose A Limb in Pathfinder?

Well there are a few ways, actually.

The most common way to lose a limb, mechanically, is to be the unfortunate victim of a debilitating blow on a Called Shot (assuming, of course, that these variant rules are in play), or under the Scars and Wounds rules (which are also optional). Most of the common ways people lose limbs, though, are due entirely to judgment calls on the DM, and obscure, extremely powerful, abilities. For example, if a character is turned to stone, and falls over, the DM might rule that a hand broke off, or an arm shattered. If someone was dragged away by a troll and not rescued soon enough, then perhaps they lost a leg to their captor's appetite. And, in rare circumstances, the PC might sever the limb on their own as a way to escape a trap.

What I'm saying is, if your character loses a limb, it's typically because your table agreed to play in Hardcore mode, rather than because of any rules found in the Core Rulebook.

A Normal Prosthesis (For The Low-Level Adventurer)

High-level adventurers are made of stern stuff, hardened by years of battle and trials, and possessing abilities far beyond those of average men and women. Low-level adventurers, by contrast, tend to be made of wet tissue paper, apt to get knocked unconscious if an owlbear so much as sneezes in their general direction. While your DM, and the dice, may be kind, chances are good you'll need a prosthetic limb long before you can afford the good stuff.

Masterwork stuff ain't bad, though.
You see that image? That's the iron hand of Gotz Von Berlichingen, a German sellsword and all-around badass who needed something to punch people with after he lost his right arm to a cannonball. The hand allowed him to wield a sword, hold his reins, grasp a goblet, and probably gave him a slam attack, too. Given the ratchet and spring mechanics of the hand, it would probably be considered a masterwork item.

So what options do you have as an adventurer who lacks a castle, and a small fortune made from fighting other people's battles? Well, you have the option of the hook hand (Pirates of the Inner Sea), or the peg leg trait (Skull and Shackles), which are both functional, though the latter is a creation requirement. You could get masterwork items, and enchant them, if you so desire. A transformative hook hand that could alter itself into other weapons might seem like an unnecessary expense, but ask yourself just how great it would be in the right circumstances.

Also, if you're a wizard, you might want to invest in a wizard hook, which can fulfill somatic components, and bolster the power of your touch spells.

Magical Prosthetics (For The Discerning/Crazy Badass)

In a world of magic, it's completely possible to regrow a lost limb, if you have the gold, and you can seek out a powerful practitioner of the mystical arts. You could even preemptively invest in a Trollblood Elixir, which allows you to re-attach severed limbs which are still relatively intact. No word on if you could use this to steal other people's limbs or not, though. Of course, if you're already missing something, you could find a replacement that is superior to your former limb. Stronger, tougher, and better able to hold up to the rigors of your adventuring life.

I have always wanted to crush a man's skull with one hand...
If you're that kind of adventurer, then you have a couple of options available to you.

The two most common, found in Dark Markets, are the clockwork prosthesis, and necrografts. Both of these options are permanent additions to a character's body, and both of them will do Con damage, and require a DC 18 Fortitude save in order to make sure the graft takes. Once the limb is in place, you have a handy piece of enchanted augmentation. Clockwork limbs can be enchanted with additional powers, and it's been rumored that many of them have the capacity to transform into weapons, should the owner need them to. Necrografts grant powers of their own, but they also make it more difficult for you to benefit from morale bonuses, and they reduce magical healing for the host. This makes them a difficult option, but it should be noted that not all necrograft recipients are willing ones.

If you want something that's functional, but not overly ostentatious, you could even invest in a Demon Talon, which simply replaces your hand with a demon's hand. Of course, just how under your command the scaly, gnarled limb is remains to be seen.

There is another option, as well. Something less permanent, and a little more customizable for heroes who want something very special. Page 115 of Ultimate Magic lists a modification that can be put on Small or Tiny constructs called Construct Limb. This allows you to pull the construct over your arm, and control its actions as part of your own. A construct limb uses all the special attacks of the construct, so if you make it out of something like an Iron Cobra, you could put a poison attack into it. What isn't said, however, is whether a construct limb can be used to replace missing pieces of an adventurer. However, if you're missing a hand and a lower arm, wouldn't you take the opportunity to replace it with a steel cobra, sectioned off into shimmering fingers, that provides you the bonuses of a heavy steel shield? Especially since you can, technically, use any sort of animated item or construct of the proper size, modified in this way.

Well, that's it for this week's Crunch topic! If you liked it, leave a comment, and share it with your friends! If you want to make sure you keep up-to-date on all my posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you're looking for some sweet swag, then visit my Patreon page, and become a patron! I'll send you two ebooks, no strings attached, as long as you make a pledge of any size before 2016.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Want More Fae in Pathfinder or 5e? Help Support The Faerie Ring!

EDIT: For those who came across this recently, the campaign is over, and the book is now available! If you want to check out The Faerie Ring, it's up at RPG Now, and other fine retailers. There's also a campaign guide for Along The Twisting Way if you're looking to increase your adventure!

There are certain monsters you just expect to see in your average campaign. You're going to see devils and demons, you're probably going to have to deal with goblins, orcs, or kobolds, and some variety of undead. And, if you're very good, or very lucky, you're likely going to have to fight a dragon at some point. Depending on how angry you've made the DM, there may be a template or two on said dragon.

But what about when you're tired of all that? You've slain half a dozen lich kings, slaughtered a clutch worth of great wyrms, and you've upholstered your furniture in demon hide. Where can you go to get some adventure back in your game?

The Faerie Ring, of course!

Come dance in the circle... what's the worst that could happen?

What's The Faerie Ring?

I'm glad you asked!

The Faerie Ring is a Kickstarter going on right now from Zombie Sky Press, and the goal is to fully flesh out the fae as a race, and to give you more than the occasional quickling or redcap to add in to your campaign. The Faerie Ring gives you fae overlords, and details their realms and cities both on the material plane, and off it. It provides histories of these great lords and ladies, as well as the origins and tales of how the lesser fae races came to be. The book provides all the lore you could ask for, and then some, while also providing new creatures, templates, and even playable fae races for those who want to do something truly different with their games. More than just a bloodline and the few traits you're used to!

Who wouldn't want to get in on this action?
Also, just in case all that sweet, sweet world building wasn't enough to entice you, The Faerie Ring will also provide adventures for your players! Players who, unless they have a love of Celtic mythology and a rapacious appetite for Irish folklore, will be entering a world they're almost completely unfamiliar with.

Not only that, but this content is brought to you by some heavy hitters in the game design scene, including Monica Marlowe, Wolfgang Baur, Scott Gable, and Clinton Boomer!

Really, why wouldn't you want something this unique sitting on your game shelf, tempting players with truly unusual adventures in the realms unseen? All you have to do is help Kickstart it, and to do that, just check out the campaign and pledge today!

Well, that's my Monday update for those who want to stay in the loop regarding the coolest updates in gaming on the market today! Thanks for stopping in, and if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my future updates, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you're in a funding sort of mood, why not help keep Improved Initiative going by stopping by my Patreon page to become a patron before the end of 2015? You can get a lot of content for as little as $1 a month, and there's free books in it for you if you squeak by before January.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Intimidating Wizard

Before we get started on this week's unusual character concept, I'd like to get some news out of the way. First is an announcement that I'll be doing two character conversions a month, instead of just one, for the foreseeable future. Apparently you guys like them, and I try to keep doing things you like. This month's first conversion was Syrio Forel, the dancing master from Game of Thrones. Who will the second conversion be? Stay tuned to find out, but I'll warn you now, the character isn't from the Song of Ice and Fire series.

The other thing I'd like to bring up is that it's the holidays. If you're really into the giving spirit, I'd greatly appreciate your patronage. Just stop by my Patreon page, and give any amount you're comfortable with. You'd be amazed at how far as little as $1 a month will go, and how much it would be appreciated. And, because it's the season of giving, all of my patrons have the opportunity to get two ebooks from yours truly, no strings attached. Just pledge, and I'll contact you with the titles so you can choose your free gift!

Okay, I think that about covers the big news. So, let's move on to this month's Unusual Character Concept. What do I have for you?

The Intimidating Wizard

So, does everyone remember that scene in The Fellowship of The Ring? The one where Bilbo, in the grip of the ring's madness, started accusing Gandalf of trying to steal it for himself? Gandalf's response, that deep-voiced, booming rebuke, was enough to break the hold of a magic addiction that had been going for decades, and to bring Bilbo back to his senses just in time to stop his bladder from letting go.

Do not trifle with me, boy, or I'll have you vomiting spiders for a month.
Because really, when you think about it, why shouldn't wizards be terrifying? They are people who have mastered the arcane secrets of magic, and even a relatively weak wizard is capable of sapping your strength, enchanting your mind, conjuring fire and lightning from thin air, and putting themselves behind invisible barriers of force. That kind of power should terrify anyone who would cross a wizard, to say nothing of the common folk who might see them as something near to gods when they come into their full power.

But as most of us know, Intimidate is a charisma-based skill, and wizards tend to be short on charisma, as well as on skill points. So what is one to do? Well, if you're playing Pathfinder, this should get you started.

The Mechanics

To make this idea work, mechanically, you need to start with your traits. The trait Bruising Intellect is a must-have, since it both makes Intimidate a class skill, and it allows you to use your Intelligence modifier when you make intimidate checks. If you pair that with a regional trait like Viking Blood, or the combat trait Bully, both of which give you a +1 to Intimidate, then you're definitely on the right track. If you want to add a feat like Persuasive to the list, to say nothing of Skill Focus, then you'll start stacking some big numbers in a big hurry.

But what's the purpose of a high Intimidate? Well, when you're not throwing magic around, it can help you open doors and gain information. If you follow the advice of guides like The Bullyboy, you can use it to render enemies flat-footed. Given that your spells are already touch attacks, that's a big benefit for you. Assuming, of course, you're willing to eat the feats that lead you to abilities like Dazzling Display, and higher iterations like Disheartening Display. If you're intending on pursuing that strategy, it's a good idea to take the trait Magical Knack, and dip two levels into a class with a higher BAB and bonus feats, like the Fighter. It may also be a good trick for Magi, or for those who are considering pursuing the Eldritch Knight prestige class.

The Flavor

So who is this wizard who uses his tongue as a weapon? Is he a hulking Ulfen mage, whose mastery of storm and sleet is nothing compared to the cold contempt he brings down on those who earn his ire? Is she a battle caster from Nex, who can dress down soldiers so thoroughly and completely that they wish she'd simply hit them with her magic instead? Or is your wizard an illusionist, who uses tough talk to back up the seemingly impossible things that happen when he's confronted?

All of these are solid options, but they're far from the only ones. For example, a spellslinger who's won a dozen duels might let her reputation do the talking, instead of relying on raw spell power. A learned abjurer might look down his nose at his enemies, his raw confidence that they cannot hurt him enough to make them think twice about trying. The sly necromancer, knowing full well the legends and rumors that swirl around practitioners of her kind, may remind those who stand in her way that death is not the end of things, but merely the beginning of service.

"You there! Open that trapped door!" Urghgazzagl...
Of course, the method of intimidation your wizard prefers is just one part of the equation. The other question is why do you rely on browbeating others? Did you develop this habit when you were at university, and you realized that you were so much smarter than your classmates that it was quicker to just bark at them to do what you wanted instead of taking hours to explain your train of thought? Were you born in the gutter, and your brains allowed you to climb to the head of a gang, and you realized that it was only their perception of how smart you were that kept you on top? Did you cow your siblings with the capacity of your mind long before you'd ever cast your first spell?

For whatever reason you chose to use your brain to make people more compliant, and to strike terror into your foes, you should ask when the character started, and how it shaped the way they cast their spells. Perhaps an evoker with a flare for the dramatic (pun intended) builds up his spells before casting them, relying on the ignorance of those on the receiving end to have no idea what it was he cast, and how he cast it. A transmuter may use big, sweeping gestures to add a touch of theater to her spells, as if the reactions of those she touched weren't impressive enough.

Is intimidate just another tool in this wizard's toolbox, or has it become so much a part of them that magic is similar to a sword; scary, even if it isn't going to be used to hurt someone?

And, if you're looking for more inspiration, you should check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a game master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Your Fantasy Armor May Be More Historically Accurate Than You Think

While it shows up in The 5 Totally Useless Statements You See in Every RPG Discussion, we still can't seem to stop ourselves from talking about historical accuracy. Hell, I've fallen prey to those moments, like when I wrote articles about how the word swashbuckler referred to an unskilled, brutish swordsman, or about how rapiers were made popular partially because of guns becoming more common.

Don't get me wrong, these conversations can sometimes go to interesting places. The discussion of how useless armor that bares your mid-rift is, for example, is one that I never get tired of joining in on. However, the next time someone tries to tell you that your spiked plate mail, engraved with skulls and howling demons, would never have been worn in battle, you might want to direct them here.

i09 Puts Elaborate Helmets Front and Center

The folks over at i09 have never been shy about bringing up unusual, mostly forgotten facts about history. This article about The Weirdest and Fiercest Helmets From The Age of Armored Combat is just what you'd expect them to come up with.

Look at this goddamn thing!
That helmet is called the Toothface Helm, and it was made by an unknown Italian artist in the 17th century. Sure, it looks like something you'd wear in a tournament, but the point is this wasn't a decorative piece of equipment. Someone actually strapped that thing on, mounted up, and bore down on an opponent with their head inside that terrifying steel visage.

The Toothface isn't the only example in the collection i09 dug up, either. There are helmet shells (which were meant to be worn over a plain helmet to make them look fierce or frightening, but which would likely smash under an attack) in the shape of lion head, a sallet helm oil painted with the face of a toothed beast, and half a dozen other unusual, bizarre pieces.

So, the next time you're debating whether or not to go into the elaborate description of your fighter's helm, which bears the roaring beast of his family's noble crest, don't worry that you're breaking some unspoken rule. First of all, if it fits your fantasy world, there's nothing wrong. Second, if you need reassurance that actual history wore similarly elaborate head cases to mark out wearers and terrify enemies, then i09 has your back.

Also, check out this rapier hidden inside a snake bracelet, or this actual iron hand worn by a Renaissance-era German mercenary, if you want more cool ideas for your next game plucked from the pages of history!

To keep up on all my posts, make sure you follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, and earn some sweet holiday swag, then go to my Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 a month can make a big difference.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Saga of Majenko Part Eight: Re-Taking Korvosa

Curse of The Crimson Throne is one of the older adventure paths Paizo put out, but that doesn't make it any less fun. Especially if you managed to rescue the main character, and turn him loose on the rest of the plot! We're nearing the end of this epic saga, and this week I relate how our heroes took back the streets of Varisia's capital city.

Also, here are the previous installments, in case you want to catch yourself up.
Part One: Finding The Main Character of "Curse of The Crimson Throne"
Part Two: How Much Damage Could One Pseudodragon Do?
Part Three: Scourge of The Red Mantis
Part Four: Blood Pig Champion
Part Five: Brother to The Shoanti
Part Six: The Assault on Castle Scarwall
Part Seven: The Return to Korvosa
Part Eight: Re-Taking Korvosa
Part Nine: The Assault on Castle Korvosa
Part Ten: Down With The Queen

And now, without further ado...

Re-Taking Korvosa!

So, our team of adventurers returned from Scarwall with a relic of the goddess Iomedae, ready to take on the thing the queen had become. We found the city had been placed firmly under the monarch's boot heel, and her personal army of Gray Maidens prowl the city streets. We were accosted by thugs, "saved" by the new hero of the city, and then we found out to the surprise of no one that the supposed hero was, in fact, an efreet meant to distract the people of the city to keep them complacent. We survived that fight, panting and sweating, but relatively whole.

That was when the DM threw a dragon at us.

The actual fight is on page 176 of the Core Rulebook.
Here we are, walking off a big battle and trying to re-calculate our odds of successfully assaulting the castle, when out of the sky comes a savage-looking black dragon. As if dealing with a black dragon assault in the street isn't bad enough, it's being ridden by a gray maiden. So, round one starts, we all ready our weapons of choice, and that's when we need to make Will saves versus the dragon fear.

Guess who had rogue saves?

And who remembers which rogue saves are weak?
So Majenko, seeing that we obviously don't need any help here, rockets off to a rooftop, putting a sturdy chimney between himself and the mostly feral monster he shares some genetic ties with. Egil Manages to land a blow, and to get through the spell resistance, while the arcanist starts blasting, and the cleric summons a celestial ally. Said celestial ally also decides we can handle this, and flies away to join Majenko, where the two of them have coffee and talk about how they wouldn't want to show us up by taking out that creature that totally doesn't terrify them.

That's when the battle takes a turn for the unexpected. The rider dismounts, draws her falchion, and starts attacking her mount! That's when we realize that Sabina Merrin, the queen's personal bodyguard and rumored lover, has just mysteriously switched sides. While the dragon is flailing and gnashing, we manage to slay it with the aid of our new friend, at which point we run down the nearest alley, and use a scroll of mage's magnificent manor to lie low, heal, and replenish ourselves after the two unexpected ambushes we've survived. Once the dragon is dead, Majenko settles back onto his perch on Egil's shoulder as if nothing had happened.

Majenko The Grief Counselor?

We step into the palatial dimension, bind our wounds, and hand our equipment off to the invisible servants for cleaning and polishing. We eat, and as we eat, Sabina tells us her story. She and the queen were lovers, back when the queen was still a mortal woman. Before the crown of Kasavon's fangs had taken over her mind, and tainted her soul. From that point onward Sabina was tossed aside, given duties that made it impossible for her to escape, and even having her influence over the Gray Maidens transferred to more hard-line loyalists. In time, Sabina was tethered to the hateful brute that was her mount, her safety not even an afterthought to the woman who'd once claimed to love her.

Wow... that's harsh.
This is an awkward situation for our party to be in. We have a cynical tiefling cop, a battle cleric who finds her comfort in armor and doctrine, and a pretty selfish arcanist who doesn't quite get non-elf problems. Balen is Balen. We just barely got over treating a potential enemy as a new ally, and none of us are prepared to help her deal with her grief, as well as the awful stress of being kept prisoner in a role she once took pride in.

Well, except Majenko.

The rest of us went off to recuperate, heal, take long baths, sleep, and re-memorize our spells. We gear up, come downstairs, and Majenko is sitting at the table with Sabina. There are cherry pits and crumbles of chocolate, as well as what look like the dregs of ice cream. He's patting her hand and saying that it's going to be fine. He's sure there are plenty of nice ladies in Korvosa, and once we're done with the revolution she can find someone and settle down. He also insists that she come and visit him and Aeofa, and meet their clutch. The babies are adorable, and they could use some exposure to people, since they'll need to learn to deal with them sooner or later.

Minutes before the spell wears off, we step back into the dingy, dirty alleyway. The dragon's corpse is gone, of course, and the street is totally dead. Deciding that it's a good idea to regroup before assaulting the castle, especially if there are more ambushes waiting for us, we sneak our way back to the Gray District. We present our new ally, who in turn offers to lead a raid on the prison/training facility where the gray maidens are all given their unique facial scars, and undergo all their other procedures. Before she leaves, Sabina also tells us about a secret way into the castle.

We part company, and decide it's time to beard Kasavon in his own, stolen den.

Will our heroes succeed? Find out next time on The Saga of Majenko: Showdown in Castle Korvosa! If you want to stay up on all my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, and if you'd like to help support my blog, then stop by my Patreon page and consider becoming a patron today!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The 5 Totally Useless Statements You See In Every RPG Discussion

As a fan of RPGs, there's nothing I love better than sitting down and having a long talk about my favorite games (except, you know, actually playing them). I'll talk about rules, I'll talk about stories, and if I've got a receptive audience I'll even talk about how to subvert the accepted tropes of a given genre to do something unexpected. However, I also spend a lot of time on the Internet, and while I love the RPG community as a whole, I would take it as a huge, personal favor if we could remove these five phrases from our lexicon when it comes time to express our views on the games we love.

Just as a preface, this article is not meant to attack anyone specific. I am not calling out anyone, nor am I demanding that everyone do things my way. Just pointing out some things I've seen over the past few years, and why I think these behaviors are total nonsense.

All right, starting at the top...

#5: Every Table Is Going To Do It Their Own Way

For good, or for ill.
This is one of the first lines people whip out whenever there's a nuanced or controversial subject under discussion. When I first posted Sexuality Matters in Roleplaying Games (And Here's Why), this phrase was legion in the comments sections. It was as if, somehow, hundreds of my fellow gamers had forgotten that I'm just some schmuck on the Internet with a blog and an opinion, and that I have no ability to declare, rule, or mandate that any game out there be played a certain way.

This phrase is appropriate in one context: someone is going on a One, True Way to Game rant, and insisting that anyone who does things in a manner other than this one, prescribed way is playing the game wrong. If that isn't happening, then this phrase serves no purpose except as a placeholder.

Every Table is Going to do it Their Own Way is just like That's What My Character Would Do; a phrase we usually hold up as a shield when someone has made a suggestion, or asked us to re-examine our opinions on an issue. If you have an opinion, state it. Instead of a meaningless, "well, everyone has to make up their own minds," say, "in this situation, I would prefer a game that X's over Y-ing, and here's why."

Don't remind us that everyone has an opinion. We know that already, and you're breaking up the flow of the discussion.

#4: The DM Can Just Change That Rule, If He Wants

Yeah, I can... wait what?
This is another dandelion that sprouts in otherwise verdant lawns. This one typically crops up whenever someone is asking a question about a certain game mechanic, particularly one that falls into a gray area because of wording. Some gamers will insist that a mechanic works one way, and others will point out that because of the wording it could work a different way. Then someone stands up in the middle of the discussion and says, "It works however the DM says it works."

Again, this phrase is inherently true. It is the DM's job to adjudicate the rules, and to interpret them in a way that the table is satisfied with. It is also within the DM's purview to change rules, with the consent of the rest of the table, in order to make the game more enjoyable.

Bringing it up contributes nothing to the conversation, though, unless the person asking the question is somehow unaware of Rule 0, which gives the DM such power. Not only that, but if someone is asking for legitimate input on how a given rule has been run at other people's tables, or if a rule should function with X or Y interpretation, then saying, "just do whatever you want" wastes space, distracts from the conversation, and makes you look vaguely like an NPC yelling out stock lines while the main characters are trying to solve the plot.

#3: This is So Unrealistic!

I know, right? Magical fireballs conjured from the ether should TOTALLY do more damage.
I know that most people who use this phrase when it comes to RPGs don't realize the sheer irony of calling games that allow you to play immortal bloodsucking badasses, demon-tainted barbarians, or wizards who can conjure lightning from thin air unrealistic. But it is. It is not only ironic, but it is ironic in the most painful, eye-rolling, head-desking way.

No, it is not realistic that a gunslinger can reload a musket in a bare few seconds. It is also not realistic that you can use that musket to shoot a necromancer raising an army of the dead to do her bidding. It's also unrealistic that a level 1 fighter can take a critical hit to the face and die, but a level 10 fighter taking that same ax to the bridge of his nose would barely even bleed. It is not a roleplaying game's job to simulate reality as we know it. A roleplaying game's job is to act as a conflict resolution system and storytelling tool.

Note that this is not a, "magic exists, therefore no complaints are valid," argument. Simply that the way physics work in the game world is not bound by the laws of how physics, damage, or chemistry work in the real world. The system for falling damage should be enough to explain that, but sometimes we need to be reminded. Yes, we know that the actual long range of traditional longbows, period crossbows, etc. isn't what it says in the book. We know that rapier fighters can attack faster and more often than someone swinging a greatsword. The book also lets you play as a hulking, tusked brute who can see in the dark. Perspective, people.

#2: It's So Broken!

Assassins... not even once.
There is a trend in video game criticism where some players will use the phrase, "this isn't a real video game," as a way to deride games they personally don't like, or which do not cater to the things they want from a game. The phrase "X is so broken," is essentially that, but with RPGs.

Again, this phrase has its uses, and there are time when it is appropriate. For example, if you begin your post with, "X is so broken," and then go on to explain why you feel it is that way, using examples from the game and pointing out instances where the "broken" thing in question creates real problems, you will be given a pass on my complaint. If you can show that you have a full grasp of what the rules say, and that you have carefully thought through your opinion about why a given ability exists the way it does, then you may have a point that it is not properly balanced. However, if you're just shouting about game mechanics you don't like, then you're not helping anything.

Put another way, if you just want to shout that you don't like a thing, scroll on by.

#1: That's Historically Inaccurate!

Ridiculous! Ducks didn't harness the power of magic till 1582, 200 years after this campaign is set!
This one gets the top honor because it is deep-fried bullshit on a stick on multiple levels. The biggest one, though, is that if you are playing an RPG that takes place anywhere other than the Earth you actually live on with unchanged history from the way things actually happened (which means no secret vampire cabals, no hidden mage sanctums, and no behind-the-scenes war between heaven and hell), this argument is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

Now, the closer your game world is to Earth's actual history, the more these complaints may become valid. However, you cannot argue that the trends in real human history are at all valid when your game is set in another world that has never shared any of its history with the one you live in. Social structures, religion, ideas about freedom, and how the economy works are independent from your experiences in this world as soon as you set foot in Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Golarion, or any of a dozen other settings.

So, before you make the "historically inaccurate" argument, ask yourself the reason why you're making it, and look at the context of the thing you're objecting to. Then ask yourself if the argument you want to make is valid, based on the history of the game world where the campaign in question is happening. If it isn't, then tuck your objection back in the box, and close the lid, because it won't contribute to the conversation being had.

And if someone is having a conversation about how historically inaccurate the pseudo-medieval fantasy RPG world full of wizards and dragons is when compared to the actual history we experienced, just walk on by. Even if it's meant as a joke, there are going to be all kinds of terrible things jumping into this bait-filled swimming pool.

All right, that's all I've got for this Monday. Hope you at least had a few moments of amusement, and that none of my bile splashed on your shoes from up here on my soap box. If you want to make sure you keep up-to-date on my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you would like to get into the holiday spirit, you can drop a few dimes in my jar by becoming a patron right here on my Patreon page!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The 1st Level Badass (Freeing Your Backstory From Level Restraints)

There are a lot of complaints about starting a campaign at level 1. The most common complaints are that low-level heroes are made out of cardboard, armored in aluminum cans, and that they can be taken out by a lucky critical hit from a goblin, or a moderately successful spell from a kobold shaman. This complaint is often followed by the fact that low-level PCs don't have any of their really shiny red balls yet, and so can't string together deadly feat combos that can clear the battlefield in a single round, or cast spells that shake the mountains and split the heavens. And, as much as we might look down our noses at that complaint, there really is nothing like watching the minis fall over when you did that thing you built your character to do.

All right, my action is over.
Another complaint that we often hear from around the table is that 1st level characters are inherently limited in the story they're allowed to have up to that point. After all, you can't very well be a champion of the realm, a hero of a great war, or an infamous death-dealing assassin if you're starting off at level 1...

Can you?

Creating The Level 1 Badass

I'll be the first to admit that it's frustrating when you have an epic character idea, but you still have to start that character from square 1 mechanically. After all, in your head, the Dragon's Bastard is a terror to behold. A warrior without peer, whose heritage is writ large across his body, there's just no way to bring across the raw physical and magical might of a feared mercenary captain with the blood of great wyrms flowing through his veins at such a low level.

Except there is. But it requires a little thinking outside the box.

You have my attention.
My best example for how to do this was my character Brazen Red-Eye, a half-orc gunslinger/alchemist whom you might remember from Why You Should Never Field a One-Eyed Dragon in the Table Talk section. The character was a war leader, the right hand of a sprawling orc tribe, and he had been single-handedly responsible for the destruction of several towns and settlements, in addition to the raids he'd led on larger areas and cities. The problem was that the abilities he needed to justify that kind of swath of destruction (in particular the combination of fast bombs with the enhanced destructive power of certain gunslinger deeds and higher BAB) meant that I was looking at a character who, in his pre-game background, was level 10 or 12. While it's true that he came in at level 5, and not level 1, that's still a big discrepancy in power level.

So what did I do? Well, he was in hiding. You know, for being a wanted war criminal, and all.

Just like that, poof, I had a character whose displayed level of power made total sense. It wasn't that he didn't possess the higher-level abilities that he'd used to rampage in his backstory; it was that he simply could not use them because they were part of his old life's calling card; anyone who saw him fight like that would recognize him as surely as they would if they saw the brands of rank across his chest and upper arms.

It Really Is Easier Than You Think

There are all kinds of ways you can swing this idea to make it work. I've included a few below, in case you're looking for further inspiration.

- Amnesia: While it's tropey as hell, if you have forgotten you used to be a great warrior or powerful sorcerer, then it will take time for your memory to return. Your capabilities are still there, though, and they may manifest in a kind of spiritual or muscle memory.

- Left That Life Behind: This is a variation on the story I told above. For example, say you wanted to play a paladin/rogue/assassin. Assassins are, by the requirements of the class, evil. However, your backstory can shift the timeline around by saying you were once an assassin, but you allowed yourself to be redeemed and have since walked in the ways of the righteous. Thus when you take assassin levels mechanically, you aren't just learning these skills; rather, you've had them this whole time, and simply not used them because that's not who you are anymore... or is it?

- Was Never Worth My Full Power: Whether your character is an accomplished warrior, a learned wizard, or a sorcerer with a particularly potent bloodline, the justification for your badass backstory is that you are significantly more powerful than any foe you've ever faced. Even when you are, mechanically speaking, pulling out all the stops at level 4, in-character you're just barely flexing. And if your character gets beaten down, taken out, or nearly killed? Well, it wasn't because the foe was too strong, but rather because you were too arrogant. It won't be until you've reached the pinnacle of your mechanical build that you decide to give it your all. This is similar to Superman's "World of Cardboard" speech, suggesting you've been holding back till you found a worthy foe.

- Blending In: This applies to more than just characters with criminal or formerly evil backgrounds. For example, you might be a prince of the realm, famed far and wide for your skill with a dueling blade. You could be a famous war hero, or even a minor celestial being. For whatever reason, you're trying to move undiscovered among the common folk. This might mean that you sometimes throw fights, or that you have to take careful precautions to disguise birth marks, so that no one knows who you are. When the stakes are down and your friends need you at higher levels, though, it's time to drop the charade.

- Cursed: You are a character who possesses great power, but you're prevented from using it until your curse is lifted. Perhaps you're able to access it in small doses, such as when your barbarian/alchemist rages and downs a mutagen, along with a potion of bull's strength, allowing out a minor aspect of the titan you have locked inside yourself for a scant few minutes. Whether your arrogance has driven a deity to teach you a lesson through struggle and strife, or you once wronged a powerful hag who laid a quest across your shoulders, there is more to you than you can sometimes bring to bear.

These are, of course, just some of the more obvious methods of playing characters with more experience, and more power, than is written on their sheets. While there's certainly nothing wrong with the wide-eyed farm boy hero, the barbarian away from her tribe for the first time, or the freshly-minted paladin out to take on the world, sometimes you want to do more than that. That kind of ambition should be rewarded, and be given a place in the story.

As always, thanks for stopping in and checking out what I've put up this week! If you'd like to make sure you don't miss any updates, then please follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support this blog so I can keep bringing you content just like this, then stop by my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Undead Feats Are Now Available From TPK's "Feats of Legend" Series!

I mentioned awhile back that I was working on the Feats of Legend series with TPK Games. The first one to bear my name is The Infernal Feats, and is already out like I mentioned a few weeks ago. However, the next one in the series has been released, and it's one that players and DMs alike will have a ball with.

What is it? The Undead Feats, of course.

You were expecting something less necrotic?

What's In The Book?

The latest installment in the Feats of Legend series has 22 feats, brought to you by myself, Brian Berg, and by Simon Peter Munoz (who runs the Creative Repository Blog, which you should check out if you haven't already). These feats are for characters who are undead, who hunt undead, or for characters who have access to the undead bloodline.

What do they do? Well, there are 22 feats, so there's a lot of nasty tricks in this book. You'll find feats that let you poison undead, feats that increase your knowledge of undead, and feats that allow you to hide from undead. You'll also find feats that increase undead creatures' natural armor, feats that allow the undead to gain fast healing whenever they kill a living foe, and even feats that allow the undead to resist their greatest bane; positive energy!

If you want to throw your players a curve ball, or if you're a player who wants to really make the most of your character's undead heritage, The Undead Feats is definitely a book you should have on your shelf.

As always, thanks for stopping by! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support my blog, then please stop by my Patreon page to become a patron today! Even as little as $1 a month can make a big difference.

Friday, November 20, 2015

5 More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

Apologies to all my readers for the skip week, but I was at Windy Con in Chicago last Friday, and between travel time, panels, readings, and networking just didn't have the time to put up a new entry. However, I'm back now, so I thought I'd add on to what has been one of my most popular series thus far by pointing out even more rules Pathfinder players tend to forget, mis-remember, or just flat-out not know.

Previous entries in this series are:

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

What didn't I cover in the first four installments? Well...

Rule #1: You Can Charge As A Standard Action

Time to bring the pain!
This one actually requires a bit of clarification. Under the charge rules on page 198 of the Core Rulebook, if you are limited to taking only a standard action on your turn (as you would be when staggered, like when you're below 0 hit points and have the Die Hard feat, or if you're acting in the surprise round), you can make what I refer to as a partial charge. It's the same as a normal charge attack, except you can only move up to your movement speed, and you can't draw a weapon during the charge unless you have Quick Draw. Just the thing for that suicidal barbarian who wants to wager it all on a single roll of the die.

Rule #2: Damage Reduction and Energy Resistance Are Different

Damage reduction and energy resistance are both traits we tend to associate more with monsters than we do with PCs, but there are a lot of class archetypes and playable races that will get one, or both, of these abilities. And they seem simple, but judging from the posts I see in the groups I frequent, they're often confused. So, here's the simple run down you need to know when you have these powers.

Energy resistance is for energy damage (like fire, cold, acid, etc.). It doesn't matter if it's magical or mundane. If you get hit with alchemist's fire, or a fireball, and you have fire resistance 5, you take 5 off the damage you would have been dealt, according to page 562 of the Core Rulebook.

But what about damage reduction?
Damage reduction, the barbarian's best friend, applies only to normal attacks (normal in this case being from weapons, as opposed to being hit by something that deals elemental damage or untyped damage from a spell) according to page 561 of the Core Rulebook. So, if someone hits you with a longsword, and you have DR 5/-, then you take 5 points off that damage. If that longsword has the flaming quality, though, the fire damage still goes through, unless you also have fire resistance.

It should be noted, though, that spells which specifically deal bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage are subject to DR. As mentioned in Paizo's FAQ, spells like ice storm, which deal bludgeoning damage, will still be blocked by a zombie's DR 5/slashing.

Rule #3: You Can Take A 5-Foot Step During Your Readied Action

The 5-foot step is the best friend to adventurers everywhere. It allows you to get some breathing room before casting a spell, or to back up before shooting a zombie in the skull. But the villains also have access to the mystical 5-foot step, and there is nothing worse than your readied action becoming useless because your target backed off 5 feet before triggering your action.

It's okay, just follow him!

Your clever plan, you did not think it through!
According to page 203 of the Core Rulebook you may take a 5-foot step as part of your readied action, provided that you have not moved during that round, and provided that your readied action isn't a move action. So if you took a move-equivalent action like, say, standing up from your seat in the tavern, and you ready an action to deck the spellcaster if he tries anything, moving 5 feet back from you won't save his face from your fist.

A handy thing to know for all the tacticians out there.

Rule #4: You Can Totally Catch Falling Party Members

We've all been there. The party has to climb to the top of a chasm wall, or go up a chimney in harpy-infested territory, and no one has any means to actually fly. So you break out the pitons and the rope, knowing that as soon as you're high enough for the stakes to really matter, someone's going to fall. And when they do, you'll have to recruit a new party member.

Or will you?

Not if you have very good arms.
According to page 91 of the Core Rulebook, if someone climbing above you or adjacent to you falls, then you can make a melee touch attack to grab them. The falling character can willingly forego his or her dex bonus to AC in order to make the grab easier. Once you've snatched your falling party member, you have to make a climb check equal to the wall's DC + 10 in order to stay in place. If you fail by 4 or less, you lose your grip on your party member, but don't fall. If you fail by 5 or more, you lose your grip on both. Also, said party member and all the gear that person is carrying can't exceed your heavy load, or you automatically fall.

Again, you want the brawny fighter at the bottom to be sure you catch the falling wizard.

Rule #5: Invisible Creatures Gain Bonuses on Attacks

This one is for both DMs, and for lovers of ninjas, rogues, and dastardly magi. We all know about the ridiculous bonuses you get to stealth while you're invisible, but if you are invisible and attacking sighted opponents, then you also get a +2 to attack rolls. This is over and above the benefits you get for ignoring the dexterity bonuses to AC your targets receive. All of this according to the description of the invisible condition on page 567 of the Core Rulebook.

Good news for the 15 invisible kobolds who won the initiative order.
And that, my loyal readers, is the latest installment of this particular series. As more books are released, and more games are played, I'm sure I'll have even more fun things to share with you. Until then, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to get all of my updates, and if you want to help me keep producing content just like this, then consider visiting my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Iron Hand of Gotz von Berlichingen

Germany is a country with a reputation. Its tribes stopped the advance of the Roman legions, its swordsmiths created a two-handed rapier, and if certain schools of musical thought are to be believed, gave birth to the ancestor of heavy metal with creation of Richard Wagner. It's a nation whose mythology is bloody, whose fairy tales are terrifying, and whose warriors are legendary.

With that said, Gotz von Berlichingen is unique even among the hardcases coming out of Germany in the 1500s. He started his career around the turn of the century as a mercenary, and he was marked as a particularly tough man. Good if you were the one paying him and his company, not so good if you were on the receiving end of things. According to Atlas Obscura, in 1504 Gotz lost his hand, courtesy of a cannonball. He did not, however, let such a minor inconvenience get in the way of his continued, paid-for rampages.

So he did what any self-respecting, hard-bitten soldier of fortune would do. He stopped by the blacksmith, and told him to make an iron hand so he could keep pummeling the living hell out of his enemies.

Years later some British guy is going to write a heavy metal ballad about this shit.
The model you're looking at above is the second installment, which Gotz had made for him after he'd roused a significant number of rabbles, collected a metric butt-load of plunder, and along the way gotten himself knighted. While the initial hand was little more than a crude metal clamp holding his sword, the later model could hold a quill, his reins, and perform a range of other tasks as well.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyway, in addition to smashing teeth, wielding a sword, and likely doing some awesome saluting, this iron fist became Gotz's symbol. He, and his hand, grew so popular that it was made a part of his home city's flag. Because they wanted to advertise to anyone who thought about starting trouble that they would have to bring some serious A-game to survive an encounter with the man who lived there.

And if that name sounds familiar to you as a fan of anime, then you might recognize the similarity to Guts, the protagonist of Berserk... iron hand and all. While there's no historical record of the German mercenary knight keeping a cannon in his arm, there is a character build for the animated character at How To Build Guts From (Berserk) if you'd like to see my take on it.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

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

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!