Friday, February 27, 2015

I'm Not A Doctor (But I Played One In A LARP Once)

While my readers know that I'm an avid gamer almost regardless of system or edition (we all have our favorites and least favorites) some of you might not know I also enjoy LARP whenever I can make a game and pay the site fee. While it surely isn't for everyone there's something to be said for melting into a character and a world in a way you just can't when you're looking at a map grid and arranging your dice. There is something I've noticed over my years of gaming though, and it's something that transcends tabletop... no one wants to play the healer.

Was It All A Dream?

Our story begins when I was visiting a friend and got invited to come along to a session of their Changeling: The Dreaming LARP. I'd played the new World of Darkness version, Changeling: The Lost, but never the original. So I settled in for a two hour car ride with the base handbook and started reading. I figured it would be easy to learn, given all of my experience and knowledge of White Wolf's games both old and new. Anyone who's played Changeling: The Dreaming knows that it's the special snowflake of the old World of Darkness. Just trying to explain the concept to other people (even other gamers) makes you sound like a crazy person.

Do you want anti-psychotic sprinkles with your nuts today?
For those who haven't played the game before I'll try to give you a summary. In the long ago and far away the fae folk lost their home, a place called Arcadia. Trolls and ogres, redcaps and sluagh, and all the other creatures of myth and magic were reduced to little more than spirits. These spirits live in human bodies, and they have to find a balance between being true to themselves and living in  the banal world of mortality. The skinny twelve-year-old kid with the soul of a giant will duck his head when entering doors, for instance. These delicate scales allow the changelings to keep their powers and their essences while they try to live their lives and hopefully find a way back to where they came from.

So it's kind of like otherkin on acid, if that combination gave you superpowers.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

I finished the broad sweeps of the game in relatively short order, and managed to wrap my head around it by the time we'd driven about 75% of the total distance. So all I had left was to fill out his sheet and give him a back story. I decided to make him a troll with all of the traditional merits that increased his toughness and strength. Then, on a whim, I decided to make mental traits his second-highest column. He informed me that despite his appearance he had a medical degree and had chosen to earn an additional doctorate in mental health after being a general practitioner. Never one to argue with the characters my gray matter spawns I decided that sure, I was going to play the biggest goddamn medical practitioner the world had ever seen.

Now turn your head and cough.
I talked over my concept with the storyteller and he told me it sounded solid. No objections to any of my ideas and that he was sure I'd fit right in. I did toss him a curve ball by suggesting the flaw Cyclical Court have an unusual trigger; whenever something stressed him a storyteller should flip a coin. Heads he stayed good (seelie) tails and he went bad (unseelie). All the muscle and medical knowledge, but with the morality subtracted.

You're All HOW Many Months Along Now?

Game began, but I was in the other room letting the players get the ball rolling while I finished up some last-minute corrections and asked a few questions of one of the assistant storytellers. I got my hook for showing up, shouldered open the door and ducked under the lintel. That was when I realized the game was full of characters in desperate need of my assistance.

Do I get bonus XP for this?
Somehow in a game with more than 20 players in it I had built the only formally-trained medical practitioner who had both expertise in pharmacology and access to the strange magics of the fae. Out of that double-digit venue three characters were pregnant (not the players, thankfully), and all three of them were getting close to the delivery date. With retinues of concerned friends all trying to find them help I was in game less than five minutes before I had rolled my sleeves up and gotten elbow-deep into RP.

Given the typical incursions from dangerous monsters, random combat, and unforeseen mayhem and madness I was busy for the entire game. Whether it was shouting down redcap brothers so I could tend to their mother or setting bones (with no small amount of wicked glee) I went from "the new guy" to "the resident doctor" in a really short period of time.

If You Want To Be On The Plot Bus, Be Sure You Have A Ticket

Getting involved in a LARP's plot is rarely an easy thing to do. Even if you are the baddest sum'bitch to ever roll in out of the darkness, or the most enchanting face to ever grace the game, you need to have a schtick. You need a skill set that is necessary to the game, and you need to be able to do something no one else is doing in a way that means other people will seek you out. It isn't easy to do, but this particular game taught me one part of a three-part solution.

If you want to join a LARP and be immediately pulled into the plot, no matter what that plot is you need to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a cop. No matter the game and no matter the setting or system these are three roles that are rarely played, and their rarity will immediately make you an important character in the game. Characters are going to get hurt, they're going to get in legal trouble, and they need the force of the law on their side to help bludgeon plot to death.

If you can do any one of those three things then you, my friend, are in.

Do you have a gaming story you think deserves some time in the spot light? Contact me today and I'll see about getting you a spot in the next Table Talk slot that comes up! If you want to support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and consider becoming a patron today! Lastly if you want to make sure you get the latest updates then be sure you've followed me on Facebook and Tumblr as well.

Monday, February 23, 2015

VICE Investigates Dungeons and Dragons' History of Ingrained Sexual Harassment

It's one of the horror stories we tell around our gaming campfires. We know a guy who once played in a game where the DM made the story revolve around the sole female player having sex with one of his NPCs. Often several times. In some of the worse stories we hear all about how that lone female PC gets raped for no purpose other than to appease the DM's need for vicarious thrills. We all shudder and clutch our Mountain Dew tightly, and we wonder how something like that could ever happen in the past time we all know and love so much.

Well according to VICE Dungeons and Dragons has a long and ingrained history of misogyny.

Such shock. Much surprise.
According to VICE's investigation that the boy's club environment of tabletop RPGs is no accident. Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons who passed away several years ago was on the record as saying that male and female brains were simply different, which is why games meant to involve women had been failures. These attitudes permeated the game's creation as well as the early culture surrounding Dungeons and Dragons, which might explain why less than 3% of gamers were female at the game's outset.

Dungeons and Dragons, like all games, has evolved and changed since its creation though. With more women (and minorities, and people who aren't straight, white dudes) playing the game than ever before issues that were once given a pass are becoming a battleground between those who see nothing wrong, and those who want attitudes to change. I covered some of this in my last flavor post Why We All Need Diversity in Gaming (And How You Can Start).

Will rapey DM's and objectified female players one day be looked on as relics of the past? Things like slave collars, Jim Crowe laws, and bell bottoms that we can't explain, and that we really wish we could have avoided? Here's hoping!

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Why We All Need Diversity In Gaming (And How You Can Start)

For those who don't know I spent Valentine's Day weekend at Capricon in Chicago. I was selling books, doing readings, sitting on panels, shaking hands, and meeting new people. I met a lot of great folks like Mark Oshiro (whose blog Mark Reads Stuff I mentioned earlier this week), but I was also privileged to make the acquaintance of Tanya DePass. For those of you who don't recognize that name Tanya is responsible for the creation of the hashtag #INeedDiverseGames (and you can find her on Tumblr at Why I Need Diverse Games and on Twitter @cypheroftyr). A vocal critic of the lack of diversity in video games she and the rest of my fellow panelists made a lot of solid points about the media we see and how it influences the stories we tell.

I'm not ashamed to say I felt a little uncomfortable. Not because I was a white guy on a panel about diversity (I knew what I was getting into when I volunteered), but because the conversation was largely centered around video games. With all of the time, money, and sheer code that goes into developing a video game it can add more than a few 0's to the end of a project if you want to offer more character skins, more plotlines, more NPCs, etc. In a tabletop game all it takes is your DM to decide to include a more diverse cast.

So why don't we do more of that?

What Are You Talking About?

What I'm talking about is how companies like Paizo will put in a huge amount of time and effort to craft flavor for games that addresses issues of diversity. If you flip through the books you'll see female characters in real armor instead of chainmail lingerie, you'll see characters of varying ethnicities, and you'll find reams of information about cultures, religions, societal norms, and history. You'll even find transgender characters and gay characters, issues players often bring to the table but that designers and developers don't often take initiative on.

Despite that though a lot of tables have the color and gender spectrum of your average rugby scrum.

Presented without comment.
There are all sorts of reasons we could point out for this. One is that J.R.R. Tolkien is seen as the godfather of high fantasy, and since his books are full of white men that's become the default in many players' minds of what an adventuring party should have. Another justification is that most geeks are white men (they're not, but it's a common perspective), and so that's what they play. They want to have characters they can identify with, and whose stories they can get invested in.

Let's try an experiment though. Play a character outside your comfort zone and see what it does to your gaming experience.

The Time I Played A Different Kind of Barbarian

To help make my point I'm going to tell you a story about my own experience with stepping outside my comfort zone at a gaming table. It isn't pretty, so you might want to brace yourself.

Several years ago a friend of mine was running a sword and sorcery style game using DND 3.5 rules. I decided I wanted to play a barbarian, but I wanted to do something different from the broadsword-wielding Conan knockoff or the greatax-bearing Viking. Then out of nowhere I wondered why it was barbarians were always huge, Germanic characters with flaxen hair and blue eyes... why couldn't they come from another culture entirely?

This was sort of what I had in mind.
I'd like to say that I got out an encyclopedia and did some research on African tribal customs. I'd like to tell you that I researched specific religious beliefs and that I progressed into this concept fully aware I was a white guy planning on putting my voice into an African character. Sadly, that isn't what I did. Maybe it was because I was at a table with a bunch of other white people and I knew no on would call me on things I got wrong. Maybe it was because I was lazy, or because it was just a game and who was going to know or care? Whatever reason it was I began this game with a character that, while there was a good deal of thought put into him, had more than a few stereotypes in his makeup. Some of the dick jokes in particular stand out in my memory.

Something happened the more I played Motumba though (yes, that was the name I gave him). What was a character skin sewn together from what little knowledge I had of tribal culture and totemic religions began to grow organically. The character showed me a different set of cultural norms, and even in my head patiently explained who he really was and what he was doing. He had been a hunter with several wives and many children in his tribe. He'd been set upon by slavers (since we opened with the party being dragged to the auction block), and his goal was to return home to them. I learned that his ritual scarifications had a deeper meaning to him, and that despite his mediocre common he spoke a dozen other languages fluently. I learned he had tolerance for changing ignorance, but none for stupidity. In short the more I stepped into this character's skin the less he became a joke and the more he became someone whose story I was invested in.

What It Made Me See

I had not started that game with the intent of exploring diversity at my gaming table, but the result was that I got tuned in to a frequency I hadn't noticed before. I looked back at the origin of the character and winced at the parody he'd begun as, even though Motumba had grown and matured into a concept I was actually rather proud of. I also realized that there are a lot of gamers who make similar mistakes. Guys who play female characters that look and act like sex objects is a good start. Gamers who think it's funny to make a character flamboyantly gay are another. While it doesn't happen as often today (I hope) tabletop gamers have an unfortunate habit of playing caricatures instead of characters.

But I think that we should put more effort into being less Tolkien.

And what does that mean?
It means that you should stop tromping through the woods every now and again to explore the deserts and jungles of the world. It means we should try playing characters who don't share our political leanings, our religions, our ethnicities, our sexual orientations, or our genders every now and again. By branching out and attempting to see another perspective you will invariably have unique experiences you never would have had with characters you were more comfortable with. Not only that, but you'll be able to see your own actions from a different perspective, which can have a major effect on how you treat other gamers specifically, and people in general.

Reading increases empathy (Scientific American says so), and creating your own stories with a wider array of characters can have very similar effects.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Mark Reads and Mark Watches Are Two Blogs You Should Really Check Out

So for those who aren't familiar with my convention dates I travel to Capricon in Chicago right around Valentine's. I'm typically there for the entire convention handing out business cards, sitting on panels, selling books, doing readings, etc. It's one of the best cons I've ever been to, and I'd highly recommend anyone looking for a good time to stop on in and take a look around.

One of the big benefits of going to Capricon though is the people you get to meet. People like this guy.

For those of you who have no idea who this person is the name you're searching for is Mark Oshiro. He's the owner and proprietor of Mark Reads (which is all about book reviews done chapter-by-chapter) and Mark Watches (which is the same sort of review, but for movies and TV shows instead of books). Unique and wry Mark provides a perspective that can keep you from wasting your time on material that isn't worthwhile, and give you a great insight to the stuff you should be watching.

Seriously, go check it out. Right now.

As always if you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going then stop by the Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and consider becoming a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then follow me on Facebook and Tumblr as well.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Very Real Benefits of Playing Roleplaying Games

People play roleplaying games for all sorts of reasons. There's the love of the setting (Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, The World of Darkness, Shadowrun, Star Wars, etc., etc.) for one. There's the enjoyment of story telling, and the socialization with friends. According to this article from Life Hacker though picking up an RPG might be good for you in ways you've never even considered.

Better than job training, according to the experts.
What are some of the other benefits of tabletop RPGs though? Well this list includes:

- A Shared Activity: Playing RPGs is just like any other hobby; it comes with a built-in social network. Whether you're moving to a new town or just looking to make friends you have an activity you can participate in to easily meet new people.

- Enhanced Creativity: Roleplaying games bring out creativity in unusual ways. The more you play the more likely you are to learn how to think creatively.

- Team-Building: You don't have to get involved in a sportsball team to learn how to work together as a team. Roleplaying games can teach you valuable skills that all the dodgeball and group projects in the world won't manage to hammer home.

There are a slew of other reasons to play RPGs which may or may not include pattern recognition, increased math skills, and telling more interesting stories. If you want to check out the list for yourself then read the article.

If you like this week's update consider supporting Improved Initiative by stopping by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and becoming a patron today! If you want to make sure you get all of my updates then be sure to follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Some of The Best De-Buff Spells in Pathfinder

Magic is one of the most potent weapons in Pathfinder, but as the great and wise TreantMonk once said there are three types of spellcasters that will win the day for their party; the battlefield controller, the buffer, and the de-buffer. Today Improved Initiative is going to bring some spells to your attention that every de-buff lover should have on them at all times. You've never experienced true victory until the villain's attacks are rendered moot not because of the rogue's poison or the barbarian's greatsword, but because of the penalties you are forcing him to fight under.

These spells might not be the most debilitating out there, and they might not be the most powerful, but often the spells you use most won't be. Some of them ignore spell resistance, provide no saving throw, or offer a partial negative even on a successful save. Read the descriptions and I'll not only tell you what they do, but tell you why you should have them. Also, while they're separated by a single class make sure you check your class's spell list to see whether or not you gain access to them as well.

Also, if you're looking for even more de-buffs you might want to check out my Dirty Trick Master Character Build as well as this list of The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party.

Without Further Ado...

Look for touch of idiocy later on in the list...

Magus Spells

Frostbite (Ultimate Magic 221) [also Bloodrager, Druid, and Witch]

At first glance frostbite seems like your typical, low-level damage dealer. 1d6+1 point per level of non-lethal cold damage to the target. The spell also makes targets fatigued without a saving throw, meaning is a -2 to a lot of things, but it also shuts down a barbarian's rage immediately if they can't rage while fatigued. For that alone it's a good trick to have up your sleeve.

Snowball (Pathfinder Player Companion: People of The North) [also Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard, Summoner and Witch]

Your basic 1d6 per caster level (up to 5d6) this spell is useful since it ignores SR. Not only that but if you hit your target has to make a fortitude save or be staggered for 1 round. Ulfens don't fight fair.

Mudball (Advanced Race Guide) [also Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard, Witch]

You conjure a ball of mud that flies at a target's face, blinding it on a hit. On the target's turn it may make a Reflex save to shake off the mud, or use a standard action to wipe it away. This debuff is a delaying tactic, ensuring the target is blind for part of a round with the added benefit of making it waste its standard action to clear its vision if it fails the save. Not a bad spell for a wand, useful at low levels

Frigid Touch (Ultimate Magic 221) [also Bloodrager, Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard]

This spell deals 4d6 of cold damage, and it leaves your opponent staggered for 1 round with no will save (SR does apply). If you strike with a critical hit (something a magus with a keen scimitar has a good chance to do) then you will leave the enemy staggered for a minute instead. That can be a combat killer when you take away the enemy's ability to perform full round actions.

Wizard and Sorcerer Spells

Ray of Enfeeblement (Core Rulebook 329) [also Bloodrager, Magus, Witch]

A favorite of necromancers everywhere this spell fires a black ray at a target as a touch attack that will inflict a penalty equal to 1d6+1 per two caster levels, maxing out at 1d6+5. What makes this debuff so great is that even if the target saves they still take half of the penalty. So if you're a level 10 caster and roll minimum on the penalty, and they save that's still a -3 to strength. If they fail and you roll max that's a -11, which can be a combat ender right there if the target is depending on raw might to carry the day.

Touch of Gracelessness (Advanced Player's Guide 250) [also Bard and Bloodrager]

This spell is a lot like ray of enfeeblement, except that it's a touch attack and it reduces the target's dexterity. The target still takes half the penalty on a successful save, but if it fails then the target's flight skill is reduced by one step, and if it moves more than half its speed the target falls prone. Hilarity will ensue if you smack the target and then acrobatically tumble away only for it to fall down chasing you.

Color Spray (Core Rulebook 256) [also Bloodrager and Magus]

Every low-level party's friend, Color Spray is a cone that can leave your enemies stunned, unconscious, and blinded. At higher levels (if your enemies have 5HD or more) it will only stun them for a round, and since it's negated by a will save it's a good idea to pick up a wand of it at level one, use it up, and then move on to more practical de-buffs after level 5 or so.

Chill Touch (Core Rulebook 255) [also Bloodrager, Magus, and Witch]

This one is a favorite of magi who can deliver spells through their weapons. Every touch delivered does 1d6 of negative energy, and has the potential to deliver 1 point of strength damage. You get one touch per level, so if you've got even a halfway decent caster level you can reduce an enemy down to nothing in relatively short order. And even if you don't get the strength damage, you still get that extra d6 of negative energy. It's also handy for driving off undead.

Animate Rope (Core Rulebook 242) [also Bard and Artifice Domain]

This one often gets overlooked, but it can be a lifesaver for bards who drop their whips. As long as you can get a rope, or something rope-like, near an enemy you can render them entangled, or trip them. This is particularly nice for spellcasting foes, since in addition to the penalties that come with being entangled they have to make a concentration check to cast any spells. That can be a major life saver when the cleric of Zon Kuthon loses three spells because she's all tied up. It also allows no spell resistance, which is another great bonus.

Glitterdust (Core Rulebook 290) [also Bard, Bloodrager, Magus, Summoner, Witch]

Nothing can screw over a party faster than enemies that can become invisible at will, and there's nothing more embarrassing than being a high level party where no one can find the villain as he chips away at you. In addition to making your enemies David Bowie levels of fabulous, though, you've got a chance of blinding them. What makes glitterdust such a great de-buff spell is that it ignores spell resistance, which can be a life saver when SR keeps blocking your magic. That, and if there's a big enough group someone's going to fail the save.

Touch of Idiocy (Core Rulebook 360) [also Bloodrager and Witch]

This spell reduces your target's intelligence, wisdom, and charisma by 1d6. There's no saving throw (but there is spell resistance), but if you can slap this onto a wizard or cleric who's giving your party grief then you have just lowered the saves on that caster's spells, and you might get lucky and strip out some of their big guns. A definite necessity if you're ever going to fight enemies who need those stats.

Ray of Exhaustion (Core Rulebook 330) [also Bloodrager, Magus, Witch]

If you hit the target with a ranged touch attack and the target fails its save then it becomes immediately exhausted. If the target succeeds though it's still fatigued, which means that as long as you hit you still do something bad to the subject. Where this spell gets devious though is when you combine it with another effect (like frostbite) that makes the target fatigued already, because if a target is already fatigued and makes the fortitude save they still become exhausted thanks to this ray.

Enervation (Core Rulebook 277) [also Bloodrager, Witch, Loss and Undead Domain]

If you've never found a staff of necromancy in a dungeon then you don't know the sheer joy reducing your enemies by 1d4 levels can bring. There's no saving throw, which means all you have to do is penetrate spell resistance to start putting harsh negatives onto your foes.

Heatstroke (Pathfinder Player Companion: Sargava, The Lost Colony) [also Druid]

This spell operates just like ray of exhaustion, except that it does 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. A pretty snazzy addition for those who don't want to use necromancy, or who have bonuses for evocation magic that makes the save higher.

Fear (Core Rulebook 281) [also Antipaladin, Bard, Bloodrager, Inquisitor, Witch]

This cone makes creatures in it tremble in fear if they fail a will save. Even if they succeed they're still shaken for 1 round, which isn't a bad consolation prize if you're stacking negatives.

Calcific Touch (Advanced Player's Guide 208) [also Bloodrager]

Once per round (the duration is 1 round/level) you can deliver a touch attack that does 1d4 points of dexterity damage and slows the target. A fortitude save negates the slow, but if you keep slapping the target with this spell until its dexterity hits 0 it becomes permanently petrified.

Waves of Fatigue and Waves of Exhaustion (Core Rulebook 368) [also Witch and Toil Domain]

Both of these spells are cones that make targets in the area either fatigued or exhausted. What makes it particularly good is that there's no save versus these spells; just spell resistance. So if you know your enemies don't have SR and you need them debilitated quick, fast, and in a hurry these spells are ideal ways to accomplish that.

Icy Prison (Ultimate Magic 224)

You trap the target in ice that's 1 inch thick per caster level. On a successful reflex save the target is only entangled. It takes 1 point of cold damage per caster level every turn until it breaks free... so even if they make the save, they're still hobbled.

Resonating Word (Ultimate Magic 235) [also Bard]

This spell offers partial fortitude saves and SR, but it's a 3-round effect that does damage and leaves the target stunned on a failed save. Three separate saves for a single spell is pretty good, especially since you can cast this spell from over 100 feet away.

Prediction of Failure (Ultimate Magic 232) [also Witch]

If the target fails its save on this spell it is permanently shaken and sickened due to visions of every failure it will ever endure. Even if the subject succeeds it's still shaken and sickened for one round per level. Just to add insult to injury spellcasters who fail their saves gain a minor spellblight.

Irresistible Dance (Core Rulebook 303) [also Bard and Witch]

As the name implies this powerful spell makes a subject caper in place, taking a -4 to AC, taking away shield bonuses, imparting a -10 to reflex saves and provoking AOOs. It normally lasts 1d4+1 rounds, but if the target makes a will save it still has to caper for 1 round.

Polar Ray (Core Rulebook 323) [also Ice Domain]

The main reason to use polar ray is that it does a d6 of cold damage per caster level, but it also does 1d4 of dexterity drain. Yeah... the bad kind. No saving throw, but SR applies.

Cleric Spells

Sound Burst (Core Rulebook 346) [also Bard and Oracle]

Sound burst is a 10 foot radius burst that does sonic damage and might stun your opponents. It makes the list because unlike the spell shout sound burst does full damage even if your enemies save. If they don't, well, they're just standing around like gormless mooks for a round.

Prayer (Core Rulebook 325) [also Oracle, Inquisitor, Paladin]

You give all your allies a +1, and all your enemies a -1 in a 40 foot burst. There's no save, but it is affected by spell resistance. Sometimes it's the little bonuses/negatives that make the difference.

Aura of Doom (Ultimate Magic 207) [also Oracle]

This spell allows spell resistance and a will save, but as an aura effect it's worth the investment. Especially since if enemies leave the aura and come back they have to save again, and any enemies that fail the save are shaken. Shaken enemies are some of the best kinds of enemies, especially if you're going to cast more spells that have saves, because the enemies will take negatives.

Spit Venom (Ultimate Magic 240) [also Oracle, Druid, Witch]

You spit venom as a touch attack, and if you hit the target is blind for one round. That's a guaranteed condition. The target also has to save against black adder venom, or gain that poison and all of its negatives as well.

Terrible Remorse (Ultimate Magic 243) [also Bard, Oracle, Inquisitor, Sorcerer/Wizard]

You fill a creature with awful remorse for what its done. If it fails a will save then it's compelled to harm itself. Even if the creature saves it's paralyzed with sorrow, rendering it staggered and reducing its armor class by 2 for a round.

Debilitating Portent (Ultimate Combat 227) [also Witch]

The target is surrounded by a green aura, and every time it makes an attack or casts a spell it has to make a will save or deal half damage. The spell lasts for 1 round per level, and it can be dismissed as an immediate action to negate a critical hit scored by the target. The attack still happens, but it deals half damage like a regular attack.

Druid Spells

Tar Ball (Ultimate Magic 243)

Tar ball is one big glob of nastiness. You fling a burning ball of tar at an enemy (no save, no SR), and it deal 1d4 point of fire damage plus your strength modifier. It deals an additional 1d4 of fire damage for the next 1d4 rounds, and while it's in place the target has a -2 penalty to dexterity. The tar can be cooled with a DC 15 reflex save, or by pouring a gallon of a non-flammable liquid onto it. If you stop, drop, and roll you get a +2 on the reflex save.

Sirocco (Advanced Player's Guide 244) [also Magus, Sorcerer/Wizard, Storm Domain]

This spell creates a cylinder of furnace-hot wind that deals 4d6+1 point per caster level to creatures in the area. A successful save cuts the damage in half and means they aren't knocked prone, but all creatures who take damage become fatigued. It allows spell resistance, but if you want to give a whole bunch of characters a status condition, and nullify a raging horde, this is a good start.

Euphoric Tranquility (Advanced Player's Guide 219) [also Bard, Cleric, Oracle, Sorcerer/Wizard]

This spell puts a creature in a totally blissed-out state of being. It abhors violence and treats everyone as friends. If the creature is attacked it gets a save to act normally for a round, but if it fails will simply retreat. No initial save, though it does allow SR.

Bard Spells

Deafening Song Bolt (Advanced Player's Guide 214)

This evocation spell ignores spell resistance and offers no saving throw (two great things). It turns three notes into actual bolts, and when they strike a target each individual bolt does 3d10 damage. The recipient of a bolt is also deafened for 1d6 rounds, and that means penalties on initiative, 20% chance of spells with verbal components being miscast, etc., etc.

Stunning Finale (Advanced Player's Guide 247)

If you have a bardic performance in effect you can end it with a shocking flourish. This spell allows for spell resistance, but three targets who can see and hear the performance must make a fortitude save. On a failed save they're stunned for 1 round, and on a successful save they're still staggered for one round.

Inquisitor Spells

Castigate (Advanced Player's Guide 210)

This spell makes a living being cower and beg for forgiveness. It allows spell resistance, and a will save. On a failed save the creature cowers in fear. On a successful save it's shaken for a round. Every round it can try a new save, but if you're fighting something with a low will save it could be begging for quite some time.

Blistering Invective (Ultimate Combat 224) [also Alchemist and Bard]

You unleash personal vitriol so hateful that enemies who hear it actually catch fire. While being able to insult someone till they burn is useful, the spell also lets you make an intimidate check to demoralize all enemies within 30 feet of you. Being shaken is no mean thing, especially when you can do it without being within melee reach.

Paladin Spells

Fire of Entanglement (Advanced Player's Guide 221)

When you attack a foe you've used your smite evil on that creature is wreathed in flames that entangle it. If it starts its turn in a square adjacent to you it's considered stuck to you and can't move. The duration is one round per level, but if the creature makes a reflex save it's only entangled and stuck to you for one round. Still that's one round it can't fly away or leave that set of squares.

Witch Spells

Ill Omen (Ultimate Magic 229)

This spell makes your enemy roll a d20 twice and take the less favorable result. You get an addition double-die roll for every five levels. No saving throw, but if the enemy figures out what you did then he can take a move action to whisper a prayer of luck to negate a single double roll. Then again, that means no full-round actions, which is pretty good for you if you can get through the spell resistance.

Woo, That's A Lot of Magic

I'm not going to lie, this week's installment took a lot of book scouring. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative then why don't you go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page (which is where I get my funding) and become a patron today! Also if you want to get all of my updates on the games you love make sure you're following me on Facebook and Tumblr!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Familiar As A Balloon Animal

Despite being a partial shut-in who lives in a basement whose main source of socialization is a Friday-night Pathfinder game I occasionally get to meet some really interesting people. One of those people is Sandra Seymour, an amazingly talented balloon artist who was kind enough to share her art with me. She asked for a challenge, so I told her the tale of Majenko, a pseudodragon familiar that has become the main character of the Curse of the Crimson Throne game I play once a week. When the tale (which will eventually make its way onto this blog) was told she had just one question.

"Do you have a picture of him?"

This is the standard pseudodragon, illustrated by Kevin Yon. It's how I figure Majenko looks, except redder.
Sandra took a look at a similar image, pursed her lips, and started pulling out balloons. In less time than it took for me to relate this pint-size rogue's adventures she had created for me a relatively life-sized model out of nothing more than latex balloons and sheer skill.

Having been running this poisonous encounter-killer I know well what that stinger is capable of.
I was, and remain, as delighted as any child seeing a piece of my fantasy rendered real. While balloon art is by its very nature temporary I wanted to make an official post so that the Internet at large (and those who are fans of geeks and art in all forms) are aware that for a time I had the best balloon animal a player could ask for.

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