Saturday, May 30, 2015

How To Create a Character Conversion in 4 Simple Steps!

Those who've been regular readers of my work for the past two years know that one of my favorite RPG hobbies is character conversions. For those who haven't been reading me that long, now you know. All you need to do is stop by the Character Conversions page, and you'll see my takes on the Avengers, Gotham City's vigilantes, and on a pretty big swath of the Game of Thrones cast.

Some swaths are bigger than others.
Since I started writing character conversions I've gotten a lot of praise, some thoughtful additions, and one recurring question; how do you make a character conversion?

It's harder than it looks, but I guarantee you it's easier than you think it is.

Step One: Choose Your Character

This seems self-explanatory, and at least some of you reading this had a character in mind before you got to this step. That's good. Now ask yourself, can I play this character?

Also, just because you CAN, that doesn't mean you SHOULD.
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. After I finished my most recent character build for Loras Tyrell, the Knight of the Flowers a Reddit user asked me how I would build Prince/King Joffrey. I answered that I wouldn't, not because I find Joffrey to be a repugnant human being, but because he doesn't fit the mold for a player character.

In an RPG the character you're playing has to have both the ability to act, as well as the desire to do so. The problem with characters like Joffrey Baratheon, his mother Queen Circe, and even (it could be argued) Tywin Lannister is that they are not characters that do, they are characters who have it done. While these characters might make ideal NPCs for a game, their preferred methods of "order an underling to do my bidding," makes then passive participants.

Put another way, M is a necessity to MI-6, but I'm pretty sure you'd rather play James Bond.

Step Two: Identify That Character's Traits

Characters are known by their traits. Think about the Hulk. He's inhumanly strong, durable, brimming with rage... oh, and he normally looks like this guy.

A character's defining traits are what make them who they are, and as such they represent the core ideas you're going to have to convert. Whether it's how Sir Lancelot was a knight who only kept his legendary strength as long as he remained true, or how Wolverine has adamantium claws, the nose of a tracking hound, and a regenerating anatomy, you're creating a list of things your final conversion needs to have in order to accurately represent the character's abilities.

Step Three: Represent Those Traits

It seems pretty easy, at a glance. Once you have your complete list of traits all you have to do is figure out some way to translate them into your game world. The question you have to ask yourself at this point is what things must be translated in a certain way in order for the conversion to work, and which things can be re-skinned or hand-waved simply to give you the feeling of the character?

I feel an example coming on...
Thanks to the power of movie magic (and the charisma of Robert Downey Junior), Iron Man is one of Marvel's most popular characters. With three movies all his own, as well as appearances in two Avengers movies at time of writing, Iron Man has inspired somewhere between dozens and hundreds of gamers to try and create their own armored titan in their games of choice.

If you were to go to Paizo's forums and post the question, "How Do I Build Iron Man in Pathfinder?" you'd get a dozen different suggestions within the hour. You might also start a flame war that will get the question shut down pretty quickly, because everyone has an opinion on this issue. The most common suggestions you're going to get are:

- Play a straight Magus. Stark is a genius, and this class lets you cast in full armor with no penalties pretty fast.

- Play a Summoner with the Synthesist archetype. This lets you summon your eidolon and wear it like armor, allowing you to wreck shit at level 1.

- Play a Wizard/Fighter/Eldritch Knight. You'll be able to fight and cast spells without really losing the access to what you can do as a wizard, and you'll be able to craft your own armor.

- Play a 3rd party class. This thing was specifically built to have an Iron Man feel to it.

Now, none of these are inherently wrong. If you examine the motivation behind the choice, though, you'll find different players are interested in different aspects of the character. For instance, the Magus players often feel that the ability to use magic while wearing armor is enough to accurately portray the character, especially since magi draw their power from their intelligence. Summoners, on the other hand, often feel that Iron Man should be a powerhouse, and that they should be able to throw their weight around at level 1 instead of building up to the armored Avenger by level 15 or 16. The third option is typically offered by players who take a long-game view, and will re-enact a fantasy version of Stark discovering and refining his armor, instead of simply being a spellcaster who can do his thing while encased in steel.

Players who suggest 3rd party material often feel that if someone has already gone to all the hard work of creating a class that is meant to let you play this specific archetype, thereby rendering conversion on your part minimal, why not do that?

When I decided to write my Iron Man Pathfinder conversion I had a single goal for it; actually creating the armor. That was why I advocated a wizard with all of the feats and skills necessary to forge magical construct armor, which protects the magic user inside, and grants the wearer all sorts of additional strengths and powers. Flight? Sure. Durability and strength? Covered. Gauntlet loaded with wands for disposable searing ray? Yup, got that, too.

Step Four: Whip Cream, Cherries, Enjoy!

The last step in a character conversion is figuring out how much of the initial character's story gets poured into the new mold. For example, if you want to make Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, how much of him are you putting in? He's monstrous big and monstrous strong, yes, but is he also a knight? Is your version a brutal killer, or is he a misunderstood monster who uses his size to stop problems so he doesn't have to pull steel?

Do you go all the way, find a halfway point, or scrap the story entirely and create one of your own?

Lastly, remember how I said there's no wrong way to do a character conversion? It's an extension of the rules that says there's no wrong way to enjoy playing a character. While there are some conversions that are more accurate than others (making your Hulk a Master Chymist who actually changes forms when he hulks out according to game mechanics, instead of simply playing a barbarian who has a mental schism when he rages according to player flavor, for example), how much accuracy you need for the conversion to be complete is entirely up to you as a player.

As always, if you want to support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss even a single update then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter to stay plugged-in.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Legend of Conan, Coming Soon!

Conan is perhaps one of the most iconic characters in the world of fantasy. Most of us have, at some point or another, tried to emulate the model set forth in Robert E. Howard's stories for a barbarian (whether we knew we were doing it or not), with varying degrees of success. An archetype that pre-dates Lord of the Rings, Conan's mythos has been contributed to by famous authors like Robert Jordan, as well as some other big names.

Pictured: Other Big Names
While a lot of gamers have devoured the tales left by Howard and his successors, perhaps the biggest exposure Conan received was in the 1982 film Conan The Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie was a blockbuster, but it also brought the epic feel of Howard's world to the big screen on a scale and grandeur that's never been truly repeated.

Doesn't mean they aren't going to try, though.

The Legend of Conan

Conan gained his initial fame through serialized pulp fiction stories in magazines like Weird Tales, and the goal with his film franchise was originally to do something similar. The people behind the movie wanted to create a sword and sorcery James Bond, whose stories weren't a series in a traditional sense, but whose career as an adventurer we could follow until he had trod the kingdoms of the earth beneath his sandaled feet, and sat on the jeweled throne of Aquilonia.

As most of you know the second movie was kind of a bust, and Conan lay dormant for many years after that. Until recently there were stirrings of Schwarzenegger returning to one of his most iconic roles, but now according to this source it seems that Legend of Conan is just over the horizon! While we've skipped the meat of Conan's life as an adventurer, this story picks up where the novel Conan the Destroyer began; with Conan as king, and who is looking for a last adventure so he doesn't fade away like the besotted King Osric (the king played by Max Von Sydow in the original film).

While Arnold is trying to breathe life back into many of his iconic roles, it's possible that his age and experience will be his greatest strengths in Legend of Conan. It seems we'll have to wait a little bit longer, though.

If you're a big Arnold fan, then check out this list of True Facts About Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As always, thanks for stopping in. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative then visit The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! Also, if you want to keep up on my latest posts and updates then make sure you follow me on, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Android Barbarian

Typically on Table Talk I will share a story about something that I, or one of my generous readers, has done in game. Sometimes these table top tales serve as an object lesson, showing what can happen when either DMs or players make poor decisions. Sometimes they're just fun, sharing a touch of creativity and letting readers see what other players are up to. This week I'd like to try something different, though. I'd like to tell you, my readers, about a character concept I have not yet played (but would like to).

That concept, as you've likely guessed, is...

The Android Barbarian

Nuts and Bolts

Androids, along with other examples of highly advanced technology from Numeria, have gradually made their way into the Inner Sea region. Investigated by the Pathfinder Society, sought out by powerful wizards, and recruited by armies and adventuring parties alike, androids are regarded as curiosities by some, and dangerous war machines by others. These artificial creations may look like people, move like people, and even bleed like people, but they aren't human.

Androids, like any other race in Pathfinder, can choose any class. Being what they are androids are immune to sleep and paralysis effects, as well as to fatigue and exhaustion. They cannot receive morale bonuses either (unless you take the empathy feat from Pathfinder Player Companion: People of the Stars), which may make barbarian a strange choice. However, even if your DM bans you from taking empathy you still gain access to Rage powers, damage reduction, fast movement, uncanny dodge, and any archetype abilities, even if you wouldn't gain the bonus from the Rage itself. And, as the icing on the cake, you never get fatigued from your Rage.

It does not feel pain... or fear... or remorse... and it absolutely will not stop.
That's the mechanical side of the equation, and the idea certainly seems over-powered to many people. Fatigue is how you rein in low-level barbarians after all, even though at mid to high levels the number of rounds of Rage they have means their fury is going to last through even a drawn-out combat slog.

That's nowhere near the fight you'll get over the flavor side of this choice, though.

Heart and Soul

One of the arguments that crops up over and over again in fantasy RPGs is that this is a no sci-fi allowed club. So if we have to let android characters in, then they have to take roles that make sense for them. Fighter? Sure, that makes sense. Wizard? Of course, walking, talking computers should be masters of the arcane if that's how they're programmed. Rogue, alchemist, cavalier? Sure, no problems there.

As soon as you mention barbarians, though, DMs will start shouting about how you're not a person, and you don't have emotions. What would an android know about the fires that burn inside a barbarian, fueling their fury?

That isn't armor... that's actually an android.
I'd ask you to set that preconception aside for a moment, and to picture an android that looks like a fairly average human. He's strong, tireless, and has a curiosity that drives him toward the adventuring lifestyle. Perhaps he feels compelled to seek out dungeons, constantly examining ancient armors for reasons even he doesn't understand. Except for the bio-circuitry tattoos along his back and arms, and the sheen in his eyes at just the right angle, you'd never even know.

Until he glitches.

Fighting doesn't trouble him, and he is more than capable. Swords, axes, maces, they're all equally comfortable in his hands. But when the enemy poses a genuine threat to him, or to his allies, his eyes flicker, and the emotion drains from his face. His eyes snap open and glow red, and his empty voice echoes with three, blood-chilling words.

Omega Protocol Initiated

Once the Omega program comes online his tattoos glow, and he alters. His blows are brutal, terrible things, delivered with precision and power that leaves a trail of bloody bodies in his wake. He attacks without remorse, without hesitation, and without fear until all his enemies are dead. Then, once the threat is over, he twitches, blinks, and the emotion bleeds back into his face. He's confused, wondering what happened. The terrible strength he wielded, and the strange powers he displayed, gone as if they'd never been.

The Questions

This setup is interesting all by itself, but it asks a lot of questions. Was your android a war machine whose true programming is battle and destruction, and whose moments of compassion and sentience are actually the malfunction? Was the Omega Protocol simply programmed into him as a means of self defense, in the event he was threatened? How much of the person he thinks he is actually exists, and how much is just a product of what he was made to be?

I... am not... a gun...
The end result is that you have a character with a unique race, who can endure some hardcore adventuring, and who has a unique theme. Where you choose to go with the idea from here is up to you!

You might also want to check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians, as well as 50 Shades of Rage: Tips For Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power if you're looking for additional inspiration.

Thoughts, Feelings, Opinions?

So, what did you guys think of this feature? Would you like to see more unusual character concepts mixed in with gaming stories? Would you like to see this kind of post get its own section on the blog? Or should I stop doing this entirely and go back to what I've been doing? Leave a comment, or if you'd like email me your opinions on the topic.

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 dungeon master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, 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, 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, May 18, 2015

Beyond The Barrier- An RPG Web Series By Initium

When Dead Gentlemen Productions gave us The Gamers we all sat up and took notice. While the project was a little silly, more than a little campy, and definitely under-funded, there was a soul behind it. Something that made gamers of all backgrounds smile, nod, and think yeah, I've been there.

Thanks to Youtube, quality camera phones, and free editing software it's become easier than ever to make your own web series about your campaign. Also, while a lot of people have tried to follow in the footsteps of what Dead Gentlemen have done (the flip-flopping between the world we live in and the world the campaign is happening in), it's a hard formula to get just right. While they haven't perfected it, Initium is certainly aiming for the right stride and the right spirit.

Seriously, check this out...

For those of you who didn't watch it, or who were distracted by trying to figure out what part of the world the cast's accents are coming from, that's the pilot episode of Beyond the Barrier. In case you were wondering the thespians portraying their gaming selves are from the Netherlands. So now you know, and you can stop searching Youtube for how to capture that accent at your own gaming table.

Now, as I mentioned, this is just the pilot episode. While the Initium crew has a full plot arc they want to finish out, they're looking for a little help. That's why if you want to see the potential this campaign has come roaring to life you should check out their current Kickstarter campaign! It's got everything I just told you about, along with additional information, stretch goals, and what you can expect from this new, level 3 campaign.

As always, thanks for stopping in! If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and even on Twitter!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Defining Moment: An Easy Way To Get A Grip On Who Your Character Is

Before I get to today's topic I'd like to take a second to remind all my readers that May is National Short Story Month! If you'd like to dedicate some of your reading time this month to taking in some short fiction, then might I recommend my recently released collection of steampunk noir New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam!

The first two stories are free, go take a look!
Anyway, now that I've done my duty as an author and informed you of that, let's get on to today's topic, shall we?

Who is Your Character?

We all know certain things about our characters. For example, we know how strong and smart they are, along with how wise and how charismatic they tend to be. We know what their classes are, and we know what skills they excel at. If you want to use the random tables you can even figure out their ages, heights, weights, and other personal statistics with the rolls of a few dice. You probably have an idea of what they look like, and you know what gear they're carrying.

But who are they? Beneath the broadswords and longbows, and behind the gray eyes and con scores, who is your character?

And what in the HELL is he DRINKING?!
Now, chances are good that when you bring a character to a table you have a few, broad strokes about who they are figured out. For example, you have a pick-pocket who grew up in the dock ward. She pretended to be a boy until she got too old for that to work, and then supplemented her income with burglaries and other crimes. She joins adventuring parties as a way to make money without having to worry about looking over her shoulder for the law, since stealing from dragons and aeons-dead sorcerers is hardly stealing.

Whether you're a glory-seeking barbarian warrior, an erudite master of the arcane, or a pious wanderer seeking to heal the sick and help the needy, you've got a basic archetype you can fill. For some players, though, getting past that cardboard cut-out can be troublesome. After all, what more is there to Brand Savage, Warden of the Kingswood, except that he's a ranger who likes the peace and solitude of the forest, and wants to serve his king and country?

Well, there's...

The Defining Moment

Think about where you are in life. Think about what your job is. Or your passions. Why those things? What led you to choose those paths over anything else you could have dedicated your life to? Chances are good you can think of a particular event that stands out in your memory that acts as a signpost for that particular decision.

Those things are defining moments.

Sometimes a man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do... or something...
Again, character flavor works best with examples. So here's a few to illustrate what I'm talking about.

- Karela the Red was the gunsmith's daughter. Her mother died in childbirth, so her father taught her his trade the same way he would have a son. When their home was attacked by bandits she snatched up her father's blunderbuss, but it misfired and the bandits killed her father. From that day onward she's kept her weapons fastidiously clean and ready for action, knowing that sometimes putting it off to tomorrow means there won't be a tomorrow. And she always, always has a back-up.

- Erik Alder loved listening to his uncle's tales of sailing the world. The exotic lands, the strange creatures, and the adventure were something he never got tired of hearing about, despite the old man's missing eye and the stump where his hand had once been. Erik went to sea himself at 14, and that sensation of the salt in his lungs and the wind in his hair is something that has drawn him ever-onward since that day.

- Glenda Hammerhand always loved the stories of the gods. She liked the idea of being a priest, but all the reading and remembering was a task infinitely more complicated than smelting gold or swinging a hammer. The first time she felt the brush of divinity moving through her, though, and the smile of the boy whose broken leg she healed, she knew that the clergy was truly where she belonged.

Do you see? While a life is complicated, full of important choices and banal decisions, some of them have the potential to truly shape what a character feels or believes. These moments can be good, they can be bad, or they can be downright cynical. The soldier who defended her brethren during a surprise attack, only to be thrown under the cart wheels when the captain demanded to know whose fault the failure was might adopt a "looking out for myself" policy before becoming a mercenary. The paladin who defends the right of all creatures to make their own decisions might see one too many victims become monsters, and fall from grace when he becomes a tyrant in order to save people from themselves. The half-orc, ostracized by his community may still defend them when they're threatened. The gratitude of those he saves is second only to the feeling of pride he has in using his strength and ferocity to protect something he feels is truly his.

A Character's Career is Full of These Moments

A character should have at least one defining moment before coming into game (typically the one that made the character an adventurer in the first place). That said, these moments will also occur throughout a campaign. The half-feral ranger may bond with the bard, showing the singer a world he never knew existed, and at the same time remembering what human companionship is like. An aristocratic cleric might believe the barbarian is a savage in need of education, but when he sees the complexity of the "savage's" beliefs he realizes there are more perspectives than his own to share.

By learning to recognize (and occasionally push) defining moments you'll be able to develop a deeper character whose motivations and actions become crystal clear. Not only with this make RP easier, but it will often lead you to develop your characters in ways you didn't plan for.

As always, thanks for stopping into Improved Initiative, and if you'd like to help support this blog just stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then all you have to do is follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or even on Twitter.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Obscure Belts Look Like Something Adventurers Would Wear on a Dungeon Crawl!

Have you ever stopped to consider the role that belts play in an adventurer's life? From sword and gun belts, to the baldrics that keep their treasures secured, there's a reason fantasy mercenaries and sci-fi explorers always seem to be a little strapped-in.

If you'd like something that looks this cool while still being practical you should check out Obscure Belts.

Do you have what it takes to unlock The Enigma.
Obscure Belts was started in 2005, and the company's stated goal is to make belts that are truly different. Unlike other fashion designers who will just change the buckle, Obscure Belts is dedicated to making a complete product that is unlike anything you've ever seen before. The brain child of Bryan Schultz, these belts capture the imagination in ways basic, practical belts simply don't.

Seriously, check out their collection!

I ran into Obscure Belts at this past C2E2 2015, and my brain immediately started building character concepts to represent each belt design I saw. It's only through a miracle that I managed to walk away from their booth with nothing more than a brochure. Still, I found these belts unique enough that I wanted to tell my readers about them, and provide a signal boost for a company producing something so unique just a few hours north of Chicago.

As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative, and if you'd like to support this project just stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! In order to keep up to the minute with all of my updates make sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How to Shut Down Spellcasters in Pathfinder

Magic is perhaps the most potent force in fantasy roleplaying games. From the sheer destructive power of evokers, to the mind-twisting subtlety of enchanters, to the holy wrath of clerics and oracles, there's a reason your final boss often ends up being a human bursting at the seams with spells. After all, what could be more deadly?

What indeed?
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parties have met their ends when facing masters of arts mystical and arcane. If you want to make sure your party isn't numbered among them, here are some tactics you should keep in mind the next time you have to beard a necromancer in his lair.

Alchemical Aids

I mentioned a lot of stuff that could save your butt in my guide The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party, and in between the swarm-killers and troll styptics I pointed out several items that can make a big difference when it comes time to throw down with magic users.

Top of the list are tanglefoot bags. These sacks of goo don't do any damage, but their actual effects can be game changers. Targets who are hit with a tanglefoot bag (a touch attack) have to make a DC 15 reflex save or be stuck to the ground. Even if they make the save they're still entangled for 2d4 rounds, which means a -2 on all attack rolls, a -4 on dexterity, and casting any spell requires a concentration check. That can have disastrous results for any magic user. You should also keep Spider Sac in mind. While the negatives aren't as bad, it acts like a lasso. In short, if your target wants to get away then he or she has to take a standard action to break the goo rope you've just stuck to them. A great method to keep magic users from running away.

Another great monkey wrench to throw into a caster's plans is a thunderstone. Again, these items do no actual damage, but if those in the area fail a DC 15 fortitude save then they're deafened for an hour. A deaf spell caster has a 20 percent chance to blow any spell with verbal components, which can be a life saver for parties who want to strip an enemy's capabilities. This strategy works best with wizards and sorcerers due to their low fortitude saves, and traditionally low Constitution scores.

There's one other bottled solution that can be a serious aid for you; alchemist's fire. While typically used against swarms, alchemist fire provides 1 round of recurring damage. We all know that casters who are injured during a spell must make a concentration check equal to 10 + damage taken + spell level in order to not lose the spell. The same is true for recurring damage, except the check is 10 + 1/2 damage taken + spell level. It doesn't do you any good if the caster is immune to fire, but if he isn't then you might cost him a spell in addition to doing a greatsword worth of fire damage.

Fighting Dirty

There are a lot of ways you can trip up a spell caster. Perhaps the most basic is to ready an action until you see the magic user putting a spell together, and then to attack (this usually requires some kind of ranged weapon). As we all know getting hit during a spell requires a concentration check that adds the damage you do into the DC. That's going to be a big problem for most casters, unless you do minimal damage or they have some truly huge bonuses on concentration checks.

The dirty trick combat maneuver is often overlooked by players. After all, what does it do but allow you to give someone a handful of minor status effects lasting between one round and a few rounds?

Ow! Ugh... all right, which of you is hurt? I can't see shit...
While it requires you to get into melee with a spell caster (something that rarely lasts for more than a round or so, if you can manage it) you can do a lot of damage to that enemy's strategy in a short time. Boxed ears or spit in the eyes can make the caster deaf and blind respectively, and if you have the Dirty Trick Master feat (not to be confused with my post A Pathfinder Build For A Dirty Trick Master) you can make a spell caster sickened and then nauseated, which means he or she can't cast spells at all for that round.

Even if you opt not to use the dirty trick combat maneuver, you still have grappling available. Spell casters tend not to have terribly high combat maneuver defense scores, which means grappling them should be pretty easy (assuming they haven't cast freedom of movement on themselves). A grappled spell caster has to make a concentration check to cast while grappled, and if a caster is pinned it's impossible to cast any spell with a somatic or material component. That can take away a magic user's options in a big hurry if they aren't prepared for it.

The disarm and steal combat maneuvers are another smart move, since you can use them to yank away a spell caster's holy symbol or material component pouch. Of course taking eschew materials or one of the many traits that gives you a tattooed holy symbol or a birthmark holy symbol will render such attempts less useful, they're still a solid bet if you can get close enough to rip out the spell caster's batteries, so to speak.

Additionally, if you're a fighter (or a class capable of taking feats as a fighter would be) the Disruptive feat (Core Rulebook 122) is something you should keep in mind. When you get to a certain level casting defensively becomes a formality in combat, but if you have Disruptive you add +4 to the DC the caster has to beat. Add in the Spellbreaker feat (Core Rulebook 134) and you get to smack any casters you threaten when they fail their checks.

It might also be a good idea to take feats like Step Up (Core Rulebook 135) so that when a caster (or anyone else) attempts to step away from you, that you get to follow. That way they still have to make the concentration check to cast, which can be an issue at low levels, or under adverse conditions (like a sword in your face).

It's also a good idea to keep a net or a lasso on hand. These cheap, common items allow you to render an enemy entangled, and if you have the lasso you can make it harder for them to get away. It's easy enough to break, but that's just one more thing your enemy will have to spend an action to do.

Lastly, monks and brawlers looking for their time to shine should put their Stunning Fist and Knockout features to use against spell casters. Since these abilities require a fortitude save, the chances of being able to hit an arcane caster's reset button is fair-to-middling. That can be a combat ender if the rest of the party can dog pile on the individual.

Fighting Fire With Fire

One of the most potent ways to shut down enemy spell casters is, of course, to bring your own. While it might sound like a nuclear deterrent sort of situation, there is a lot of strategy that goes into nullifying the threat posed by an enemy magic user.

Never underestimate the power of a bard.
The counterspell mechanic (Core Rulebook 207) is something we almost never use as players. It doesn't seem like a good economy of action, since you have to ready an action to counter a spell, and if the enemy caster uses Silent Spell, Still Spell, or does something other than cast such as use a magic item, your action was wasted. Even if the enemy does cast a spell there's still a lot of chance that goes into it. Do you have the exact spell prepared that your opponent is casting? Do you have dispel magic prepared, and can you beat your enemy's caster level? Do you have the right feats or class abilities (like Improved Counterspell, Varisian Tattoo, or the Counterspell Wizard School) which mean you're going to make a perfect foil?

Maybe you do, and maybe you don't. Still, if you are going to walk into a fight with a powerful spell caster it would behoove you to be able to both stop him from casting any new spells, as well as to dispel any buffs he already has cast on himself. If you want to go this route examine the Counterspell Wizard School, and the counterspell abilities you can take as an Arcanist.

Even if you are not a counterspell specialist you have options available. Silence, even if it's cast from a wand, can strip an enemy spellcaster of options and force him to move where you want him to move (in addition to protecting you from any sonic effects, or effects that require you to be able to hear the caster speak). All you have to do is cast it on an item or in space, rather than on the caster himself; items you're holding and points in space get no saving throw. Obscuring mist can make it impossible for an enemy spell caster to target you, but you can still target them if you have an item like a goz mask or fogcutter lenses, or the 9th level ability of the Boreal sorcerer that lets you see through mist and fog. I made this very recommendation in my Batman character build. Wall effects can give you some breathing room, or cut off your enemy's maneuverability, essentially letting you re-draw the map in your favor instead of your enemy's.

There are also spells like pilfering hand, which allow you to use disarm or steal at a distance. It's the same move mentioned for your martial classes, but you can do it safely from further away. It doesn't do you much good when you're facing creatures that have spell-like abilities, or the aforementioned tattooed clerics or sorcerers, but it's a handy strategy when that isn't the case.

I'm going to repeat it, because it bears repeating; do not overlook the importance of dispel magic. If you pump your caster level up it will become simple for you to grab whatever spells your foes are casting, or which are already in effect, and wrench them away like they'd never existed.

There Are No Guarantees

Given all of these different options it seems like spell casters would be no challenge for a properly prepared party. One or two rounds to render the caster de-buffed into the ground, a knock on the noggin from the monk, and the combat's over.

If only it were that easy.

Baleful Polymorph is always an option...
While good strategy is a big part of triumphing over an enemy spellcaster, it's important to remember that for every move you make there is a counter your enemy can make (or become). For example, spell casters that have tremorsense know where you are even while they're blind and deaf as long as you're touching the floor. Spells like true seeing, or arcane sight can pick you out of thin air, even if you'd otherwise be hidden or concealed. Undead casters like liches and vampires are immune to nearly anything that requires a fortitude save, and if a caster uses grease or freedom of movement then getting a grip on them becomes somewhere between difficult and impossible. If your enemy starts flying then it's impossible to get in melee with them unless you've got some method of getting yourself up to them.

That's why it's so important for you to have a big bag of tricks. If all you've got is one or two gimmicks then you're going to end up bringing a cestus to a gun fight. The more options you have available to you, the better your chances of being able to pull out a win even when things look grim.

Thanks as always for stopping in to check out this week's Crunch topic! If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative just go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to be sure you don't miss any of my updates then make sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Would You Like To See More Character Conversions?

This blog has grown a lot since I started it more than a year and a half ago. I've touched on some great RP strategies, I've developed a more in-depth knowledge of several systems, and (if my inbox and comment sections are to be believed) I've helped a lot of fellow gamers and DMs make their games better. Over the past year or so one of my most consistently popular endeavors has been my character conversions, where I've shown players how to create the heroes from the Avengers, the vigilantes from Gotham, and now some of the fan favorites from the cast of Game of Thrones.

If you haven't stopped by to check out my character conversions page, go take a look. I'll wait.

You done yet?
So, as you can see I've built up a goodly list of builds. I'd like to do a lot more, though. What are some things I'd like to add to the list? How about Batman's Rogues Gallery, which will of course include several members of the Suicide Squad? I'd also like to do a Disney set or two (one for heroes, one for villains), pulp action heroes like the Green Hornet and the Shadow, the Knights of the Round Table, as well as a set dedicated to mythological heroes for players who want a legitimate reason to crack open the mythic rules.

Why haven't I done that yet? The answer is simple; time.

You see, at the moment I only have enough spare time to do a single character conversion a month. That isn't a lot, and at this rate it will take me nearly a year to finish up my Game of Thrones series to the point that I'm satisfied with it. That's because in order to pay my rent I still have to write ad copy and do freelance work for half a dozen hours a day.

You can help me change that, though. If you want to.

How Can I Change That?

I'm glad you asked.

All you need to do is go to my Patreon page and become a patron today! If I can add 10 new patrons by the end of the month of May that will allow me to dedicate more time to my character conversions (and to my blogs in general). That means I'll be able to add two character builds a month, averaging out to one every two weeks or so.

If I can double my current patrons (I only have 22 at the time of this writing) then I'll go one step further. I will write one character conversion per week. I'll be able to do that because I'll no longer have to spend most of my day writing catalog entries about lingerie, and faux user success stories about Ukrainian dating sites.

I'd like to say there was serious money in that, but I'd be lying.
It's my goal to give my readers what they want, and if what you want to see are more character conversions let me know by clicking the Support Improved Initiative link on the top right of the page, or leaving a donation at my Patreon page. It doesn't take much, so let me know what you want by becoming a patron today, as well as leaving stuff you'd like to see in the comments or by emailing your thoughts right to me using the form below.

As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative! If you want to make sure you're getting all of my updates then make sure you're following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Saga of Majenko Part Two: How Much Damage Could One Pseudodragon Do?

Two weeks ago I shared with you how my group discovered the true protagonist in Curse of the Crimson Throne. If you missed it the post was The Saga of Majenko Part One: Finding The Main Character in Curse of The Crimson Throne. Now I'd like to tell you what the tiny titan did with his freedom once he was released from the Spider's clutches.

Also, the Saga is now complete! Here's the full list of installments, if you want to read them in order.

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

From Comic Relief to Most Dangerous Party Member

About one in every four groups I've talked to who have played Curse of the Crimson Throne decided to bust Majenko out of bondage. Most parties keep him as a fun little NPC friend; kind of like a party mascot. Pseudodragons are small, clever, and they have a taste for things sweet and buttery. They're also telepathic, and have a tail sting with a potent sleep venom. They also have a standard 15 hit points, which means that Majenko is quickly relegated to the back of the party.

Unless you play in my games, it seems.

Tell the barbarian to get out of my way.
For a couple of small quests that's what happened, too. When we had to go underground to fight a crazed necromancer in the Gray District, Majenko kept watch at the gates. When we snuck into the sewers beneath the docks to fight a wererat gang lord Majenko stuck around to let us communicate silently, but he flew to get help when we started going down.

However, the little guy got sick of playing second fiddle around the time Korvosa's plague started getting serious. When we found plague doctors experimenting on people who were already sick? Majenko put them to bed. When the gray maidens charged in to kill us for doing that, Majenko took them out. When we found one of the doctors who had been kidnapping Varisians and purposefully giving them bloodveil to try and figure out why some were naturally harder to infect, he got knocked right out. Even Doctor Nicholas Cage, her majesty's personal physician found himself at a loss as he tried to fight the tiefling and the pseudodragon with a human-bane rapier.

Your clever plan, you did not think it through.
When all was said and done Majenko was responsible for locating 2 invisible assassins, rendering a dozen plague doctors unconscious, knocking out no fewer than three gray maidens, and assisting in the capture of several surgeons and doctors performing illegal experiments on citizens of the city. Because of Majenko we had a much easier time taking down this huge, criminal enterprise, and we saved countless members of the city who would otherwise have been used like lab rats. We also did it without killing them, as all we had to do was gag and manacle them once they'd been rendered unconscious. We were also made aware of the brutal torture and horrendous scarring that all of the gray maidens went through before they were encased in their armor and turned loose on the streets of Korvosa (something most groups don't find out until later when Sabina Merrin, Captain of the Gray Maidens, joins your team).

Did I mention this little pseudodragon had 15 hit points and a +3 to his attack the whole time he was busy being awesome? While he got a lot of flanking bonuses, as well as a hefty benefit from the Eversmoking Bottle we'd found in a treasure horde (an item that is one half of a devastating combination used by every graduate of the Batman school of crime-fighting in my character conversions section), the biggest reason Majenko became the Korvosan guard's #1 enforcer was because it seemed enemies just couldn't make a simple poison save. Even CR 6 and CR 7 enemies.

When In Doubt, Max it Out

Level 7 is where things got completely and totally crazy. Egil, the straight man of the Egil and Maenko pairing, was the smartest creature in nearly any room he stepped in. With a naturally devious disposition and a knack for exploiting the rules of man and magic he and Majenko put their heads together. At level 5 I took the Improved Familiar feat, even though I didn't meet the caster level just yet. With the DM's permission I essentially reserved that slot for when my caster level was high enough for a pseudodragon. Due to the magus/rogue combination, and some other wooge on the side, that happened to be level 7. I also got a new feat for reaching an odd level, and a new magus arcana that gave me a familiar.

Why does that matter?

Well, that escalated quickly.
Level 7 is when I qualified for a feat that is typically kept under nuclear lock and key by DMs. Leadership. I checked through the books and through the errata I could find, but I saw no expressly stated rule which said you could not gain a cohort and then make that cohort a familiar (or vice versa, if you wanted to do it that way instead). Practically speaking it was a mess, but it was a mess that didn't seem to have an explicit ban to it.

The result of all this mechanical jargon? At character level 7 Majenko was my familiar, as well as a 5th-level rogue. This gave him several d6 of sneak attack, along with trapfinding, uncanny dodge, evasion, and a few rogue tricks of his own. Since character levels granted him feats he also gained a heightened DC on his poison (it was now a 16), flyby attack, and a few other goodies (you know, like real hit points). Not only that, but the condition that finally persuaded the DM was that all of my other followers granted by the Leadership feat would also be pseudodragons.

How did this madness develop? Well, tune in next time for part three of the Saga of Majenko: The Scourge of the Red Mantis!

Thanks for checking out Table Talk, and if you have a gaming story of your own you'd like to share just contact me! If you want to support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! Lastly, if you want to make sure you're getting all of my updates then be sure you're following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.