Monday, August 31, 2015

"Tournament of Rapists" Creates Unpleasant Wave of Sick in The RPG Community

Gaming, as a community, has been going through some serious growing pains over the past few years. A big part of those pains have been how open and welcoming it is to women, minorities, the transgender community, and other communities who have not exactly experienced big hugs from gaming in the past. There have been arguments (some of them vicious) over just how women are treated in the community, or whether or not it's okay to make certain jokes, or to allow certain kinds of themes into a game.

The latest controversy is Tournament of Rapists.

If you experience extreme discomfort, just look at this silly goat for a bit.
So, if you're not familiar with the latest kerfuffle in the community, here's what happened. Skorched Urf Studios released a third-party supplement titled Tournament of Rapists. The rule book introduces players to a world where "An assortment of superhumanly powerful and inhumanly misogynistic men," compete in a fighting tournament where the loser is killed, raped, or some combination of the two. Given that this was created for the Black Tokyo campaign setting (according to the creator, who spoke about it on The RPG Site), the supplement seems like it's meant to tap into the fetishization of rape found in certain kinds of anime.

It should be clear that the players in this game are supposed to take on the role of the heroes, who are uncovering this brutal underground fighting ring and opposing the aforementioned super-misogynists. Even with that caveat, though, the supplement sounds like a terrible fan fiction playing on a loop in the darkest depths of a teenage sex offenders subconscious after watching too much body horror and doing peyote. While there is a market for this kind of fetishization (if the listings on hentai sites are to be believed), the reaction to it being put into the RPG market has been violently negative. It has even led to reputable RPG stores striking the game from their archives, making it much harder to find or purchase. Beside Notepad has more information on the sale of the game and some of the details.

That should be the end of it, right?

The Defenders of The Game

To be clear, this game wasn't something like Pie Shop, where rape might be an element associated with a single character's psychosis, or a game like Shadow of The Demon Lord where visceral horrors should be expected. In those examples rape is an element that can show up in the mix. In Tournament of Rapists, rape is the entire point. Sure, it's being done by the apparent villains of the game, but it is a necessary and central part of the overall premise. If you exclude rape from the game, you take away part of the title.

The goat required reinforcements.
As callous and poorly-presented as the subject is, there are people who have risen from the muck and the murk to defend it. A game like this, they may argue, is a test of the community's tolerance and respect for the first amendment. In order to prove how loyal they are to their ideals, it's paramount that we let this thing exist. And besides, we're clearly misunderstanding that if a game's villains are horrible rapists, then it's okay to have it featured so prominently in the game.

That sounds like a straw man argument on my part, but check some of the 4Chan forums about it and you'll see opinions that aren't too far off. Let's be clear here: this game is repugnant. As a product it sends all the wrong messages. Messages which the gaming community at large has demanded to be stricken from the shelves.

Which is, pretty much, how the first amendment actually works in practice. The top slot on the bill of rights stops the government for punishing you for what you say. No one from homeland security is coming down on the game designer's head for this. The publisher created a product, and that product has come under heavy criticism from customers, which have demanded it be taken down. When customers aren't happy, they demand changes. RPG sellers want to keep customers happy, so they get rid of games with the word rapist in the title.

Sorry I didn't have something more uplifting to report this week! If you want to get all of my updates (both the good and the bad), then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then drop by my Patreon page to toss a few crumbs in my jar.

Friday, August 28, 2015

How To Keep A Positive Attitude At The Table (Even When You're Rolling 1's)

There is no experience like being at the table when the group is rolling hot. Swords are swinging, spells are flying, and the heroes are experiencing some of their finest moments. When that happens the excitement is fully-tapped, and even if you're not at center stage it's impossible not to feel the thrill as the story unfolds in front of you. Then there are those other times. The times when the fighter just can't get through the damage reduction, or the sorcerer's spells keep fizzling against the demon lord's resistance. The rogue's usually nimble tongue makes a diplomatic mis-step, or the ranger ends up getting hopelessly lost.

Artist's Rendition
These things happen. The key is that when they happen to you, you need to rise above them in order to keep the game going strong, even if the story isn't going the way you'd like it to go.

Moods Are Infectious

Have you ever been at work, and one guy on your team is just being shitty? He drags his feet, complains about everything he's being asked to do, and as soon as attention is no longer on him he goes back to messing with his phone? Even if you were having a good day, and positive things were happening, that attitude will eat through your defenses like acid until you start losing your energy as well.

People with shitty attitudes are vampires, is what I'm saying.
The same thing happens at the table. Dave's been swinging heavy with his fighter's mace, but when the party comes up against a lieutenant bad guy with DR 10/piercing, suddenly Dave loses his enthusiasm. He keeps going for a few rounds, but instead of switching to a dagger or a spear, he just keeps hammering away with his blunt weapon trying to do enough damage to make a dent. After a couple of rounds he tunes out of the game, talking about something out of character to another player, sending a text to his girlfriend, and only looks up once you've called his name three times. He rolls a d20, and maybe he hits, or maybe he doesn't. Either way his enthusiasm for the game is clearly gone, and that doldrums can infect the rest of the table. Even if the druid is owning the minions, keeping them off of the party, and the cleric is rolling maximum numbers on all of her healing, Dave's attitude is an anchor that can drown everyone.

So, the key is to make sure that, even when you're feeling discouraged, that you keep pushing forward.

How Do I Do That?

Well, the first key is to make sure that you come to the table with a plethora of options to hand. While every character is going to have something they're best at, players need to look for the gaps in their characters' skill sets, and fill them. That way even if your character's main trick is ineffective in a given situation (say, trying to fight ghosts with a non-magical sword), you can still do something to contribute (like pouring holy water over the specter).

Glad I invested in that goblet of endless holy water!
Even if you plan for every possible contingency, though, you're going to have those nights where luck just prevents you from doing what you want to. And if you fail often enough, it's going to take its toll on your mood. That's why instead of viewing the game as a simple pass/fail, you need to create a third option; the dramatic telling.

The Dramatic Telling: For DMs AND Players

I mentioned some of this in my post How To Roleplay During Combat, but I'd like to add some clarification via example.

Let's go back to Dave. He learned his lesson about carrying different weapons, but the party finds itself going up against a werewolf. Dave isn't carrying silver, but he gives it his best shot. He smashes his mace into the monster's jaws, cracking bone and knocking out two teeth. Even as he watches, though, the beast's flesh knits itself closed, re-aligning what was destroyed as it focuses its eyes on the man who struck it.

Now it's my turn.
Now, mechanically speaking, Dave did 12 damage in that blow. After the damage reduction, it only took 2. But how much less discouraged would a player feel knowing that he did something significantly cooler-looking than 2 damage, even if that's what gets marked down on the damage counter after his turn?

But what about when you miss? After all, even when you hit, you're still doing something.

All right, let's wind it back a bit. Let's say Dave swung, but his numbers just didn't add up. The DM should compare the attack against the enemy, and craft an appropriate response. For example, did Dave get close enough that it was only the monster's natural armor that saved it? Then the DM should tell the fighter that his blow struck home, but it glanced off the monster's thick fur and heavy, bony skull. What if Dave rolled lower, say, not even high enough to hit the werewolf's touch AC? In that case the description should be about how the monster jerked aside with animal quickness, or how it dropped down to all fours as the weapon whistled just above its back.

Neither of these descriptions actually changes the result of what's happening, which is that the fighter missed. However, by acknowledging that the player is doing something, and by crafting an appropriate response you are more likely to keep that player tuned in to what's happening. The reason is because you aren't just saying, "all right, Dave failed, who's next?" Instead, you're incorporating both successes and failures into the game's narrative.

And before you get the idea that this is all on the DM, players are not off the hook for this.

So, across the table is Steve. Steve is playing a grenadier alchemist, and his big schtick is his bombs. But it's one of those nights where Steve's dice just will not cooperate. He throws a bomb, and not only does he miss, but he misses badly. Natural 1 kind of badly. Instead of slumping back in his chair and gesturing for the next person to go, though, Steve adds details to his action. Maybe his alchemist grunts, saying something like "Goddamn wind shear!" to explain his lack of accuracy. Maybe the alchemist, jazzed on adrenaline and mutagen, is having a nasty reaction, and his hand is shaking. He is creating an explanation for why a mid-level, battle-hardened veteran didn't get the job done this round.

Once Steve contributes his bit, the DM should feel free to add onto it. Perhaps the bomb explodes behind the werewolf instead of striking it, dealing it minor splash damage. The wolf howls, backlit by the gout of fire, and murder shines in its eyes as it glances toward the alchemist. Action resolved, they move on to the next player's turn.

Keep The Story Going

The easiest way to avoid dropping out of the game is to contribute to the story in some, important way. How you do it is up to you, but finding that niche can be what keeps your enthusiasm up.

Impress me.
Let's go to the third member of the table: Debbie. Debbie decided to play a swashbuckler, and though her attacks are swift and deadly, she's just not hitting the big boss's AC tonight. On the other hand, he's having the same problem hitting her. So, while her flashing blade isn't drawing any blood, she could turn this stalemate into a vibrant battle scene, as she deflects the werewolf's teeth with the rim of her buckler, using the hulking creature's own momentum against him by guiding his claws away with her slender sword.

You can even add good story if you're on the wrong end of a beating. Tammy decided to try out the warpriest, but despite her high defensive stats, the DM is just laying into her. Tammy could describe how her devout priest of Gorum reacts to being hurt. Does she bellow in defiance? Spit blood on the floor and keep fighting? Do her eyes go dead as she keeps coming after the werewolf, showing no fear, or pain, or emotion as blood leaks from the rents in her armor?

If you've kept your RP focused only on one area, you might want to mine these others as well. If nothing else, it will help members of a TPK feel like they died nobly, and heroically, instead of just being backhanded by a plastic die and some unfortunate math.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and if you want to make sure you don't miss out on further installments of Improved Initiative then plug your email into the box on the right, or follow me at Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to keep this blog going, toss some bread into my jar by going to my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Actual Lawyer in New York Demands Trial By Combat (Because It's Not Illegal)

Trial by combat is an ancient practice that's one part myth, and one part history. A combination of honor duel, fate, and political machinations, the idea is that if you are accused of a crime, then you can demand a fight to settle it. In this ultimate, legal version of "might makes right," the challenger may step into the arena himself, or may select a champion willing to stand for him.

Of course, if you're a Game of Thrones fan, you already knew that.

Pictured: A Westerosi law degree.
What may surprise you is that, while dueling was outlawed in America around the time Andrew Jackson was getting comfortable in the White House (and participating in a whole lot of duels with people who crossed him), the concept of trial by combat is not specifically illegal in the U.S. It's not one of those bizarre "still on the books, but god knows why" laws, we just never declared it illegal.

That's why Richard Luthmann, an attorney from Staten Island, demanded a trial by combat earlier this month.

What The Hell?

Luthmann, who is accused of helping a client commit fraud, says that the challenge he's issued is not to be taken at face value (though it does make you wonder what would happen if the other side picked up the gauntlet). Instead, Luthmann claims that the charges are so ridiculous that he wants to show just how silly they are through his challenge.

Will it work? I have no idea... but it's fortunate that Halfthor Bjornsson is currently tied up with other commitments, otherwise we might have one hell of a legal battle.

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out my Monday update. If you want to keep up to date on all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to toss some bread in my jar, and help keep Improved Initiative going, then head on over to my Patreon page.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

4 Common DM Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

Being a DM isn't easy. The players only have to keep track of one complete character history and roster of actions (two or three at the most), while you have to keep the entire world spinning around them. Everything, from the political intrigues in the Iron Towers, to the raiders encamped in the shadowy depths of the Fangwood, are all under your authority. Not only that, but you need to come up with threats that will challenge your party without turning the game into a slog, or arbitrarily taking away their victories.

It ain't no thing.
It's not an easy balance to keep. However, here's a list of some definite steps you should take to make sure your players have fun, and to make things easier on yourself.

Mistake #1: Taking Away PC Abilities

There's always one player at the table that drives the DM nuts because of his or her character's abilities. Maybe it's the wizard who can charm her way through any fight, or the barbarian who can cleave any enemy in twain with a single blow. Maybe it's the paladin whose smite destroys every demon who comes near him, or the rogue whose masterfully applied poison brings down every foe in mere rounds. Whatever the trick is, you're sick and tired of dealing with it.

Maybe it's Stunning Fist... never mess with Stunning Fist.
No matter how frustrated you get, though, it is a mark of bad storytelling to simply render class abilities null and void. The most obvious form of this faux pas is to drop an anti-magic field down for no reason other than you are tired of the wizard's shit, or suddenly giving every enemy you fight DR 15/- just to make the fighter sweat. These things do exist in the game, and you can use them, but they need to be used sparingly, and only when dramatically appropriate.

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of just throwing down your DM fiat, you should instead do something that challenges the player without totally removing his or her character's abilities. If your rogue is a known poisoner, for example, then enemies should carry antitoxin on them in order to increase their saves. That doesn't render the poisons obsolete, but it means they're less likely to win the day on their own. If your wizard is noted for fire magic, then an enemy should prepare for it with proper protections, or even counterspells. If your fighter is specialized in destroying a single enemy, then provide more enemies than that warrior can dispatch to create an additional challenge.

Do not simply slap your red button and say, "you can't do that thing anymore." Instead, adapt to your players in order to keep up with the challenge their PCs represent.

Mistake #2: Saying "Just Play Whatever You Want"

If you grew up with strict parents, chances are good you always swore that when you had kids you'd let them do what they wanted. Some DMs had similar experiences, and when players ask them, "what should I make?" the DM responds with, "I can roll with whatever!"

No. No you can't.
This scenario never works out well for the DM. Within an arc or two you're going to be posting in your gaming community of choice going, "hey, so I have this party with nothing in common, no reason to work together, and they're all ridiculously overpowered. How do I make this work?"

What You Should Do Instead

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this case you can prevent most of your party problems by presenting very clear limits, and making sure everyone is on the same page regarding the tone and feeling of your campaign. Simon Sez covered this in his blog post Making A Character For The Game You're In, but it bears repeating; communicate with your players.

If you want to run a game about noble heroes of the realm fighting a great evil, that's cool. If you don't tell your players that's what's happening, though, you're likely to end up with an antipaladin, a vampire cleric of the goddess of undeath, an assassin, a paladin, and a drunken halfling mercenary along for the ride.

Mistake #3: The Single-Enemy Fight

The "party vs. lone villain" tradition is deeply rooted in RPGs. So deeply rooted, in fact, that most DMs never even think to question it. Instead, they tear their hair out trying to figure out how any lone villain could possibly stand up to the well-oiled machine of the party. Do they add in more hit points so the bad guy lasts longer? Give them DR? Spell resistance? Make the bad guy invisible, or fly, or teleport away at the last moment so the party has to chase him?

I could give him a 52 strength... is that too much for a 5th level party?
Stop. You are overlooking the easiest ways to solve your problem.

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of trying to make that one bad guy so powerful, maybe you should ask why there's only one bad guy in the first place.

For example, if your party is opposing a demonic warlord, why isn't he attended by less-powerful-but-still-threatening guards? If the party is stepping into a necromancer's den, why aren't the dead warriors of ages ready to step to their master's aid? If they're fighting an illusionist, why doesn't that illusionist create false doubles so that it isn't just the party ganging up on one person? You could even fight a ranger in his wooded sanctuary, which he's rigged with traps and hidden weapons in order to make every battlefield maneuver a risk. After all, falling trees and trip-wire crossbows could turn a boring old boss battle into a triumph you'll be telling stories about for years.

While there are situations where the 4-on-1 scenario is appropriate (dragons, giants, huge-sized golems, etc.), they should be a rarity. If you're stressing about how to make a fight more threatening, never be afraid to put a few more carefully chosen minis on the map.

Mistake #4: Purposefully Frustrating Your Players

There is a fine line between a refreshing challenge, and a frustrating slog. Sometimes it's all about how you present something, and sometimes it's about the luck of the dice. Sometimes, though, a DM purposefully sets out to make things as hard on players as possible by waging a war of attrition.

Tie them to the rails... full speed ahead!
Don't. Just don't.

What You Should Do Instead

The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to ask yourself what your reaction would be if you were seated on the other side of the screen. Once you've assessed that, though, you need to ask yourself if your party has the capability of countering this thing you're doing. For example, if you are going to make your bad guy invisible, does the party have a means to find you? If they have access to spells like glitterdust, see invisibility, or even alchemical items like smog pellets (or a familiar with blindsense to point out what square the bad guy is in), then invisibility is a viable option. If, however, there is no way for your party to locate you except by sheer luck, it's likely a bad move.

That's how you should assess every tactic you plan to use; is it possible for the party to counter this, without making anyone feel left out? If they'd have to roll a 20 to overcome what you're trying to do, whether it's giving your villainous general an armor class that's impossible to strike, or your infernal queen an SR that can't be penetrated by anyone in the party, then it might be a good idea to either scale it back, or use a different tactic.

Lastly, and this is crucial, the party needs to feel like it's making progress. Whether it's a dungeon crawl, a horde battle, or solving a riddle, the key is to keep players engaged without making them feel like you're punishing them.

Do you have any additional DM mistakes that should be added to the list? If so, toss them in the comments below. If you want to make sure you're up to date on all my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then go to my Patreon page to throw a little bread in my jar.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Nobel Prize Winner Peter Higgs Answers Your Dungeons and Dragons Physics Questions

How many times does some smartass at the table decide to try to bring physics into your game? Whether it's arguing that small-sized fighters can't possibly have that kind of damage output, that there's no way anyone is fast enough to dodge lightning, or that the force of gravity would totally kill you after that fall, nothing is more irritating than trying to invalidate game rules with real-world facts. Particularly since these same individuals have no trouble accepting frost giants, half-orcs, and wizards at face value.

Fortunately, Nobel Prize Winner Peter Higgs has fielded all your RPG-related physics questions!

Finally, I can settle this stupid baleful polymorph debate!
Now, some of you likely clicked the link before you read further. For those of you who decided to stay on this page, though, I've got a spoiler warning for you: the link is by McSweeney's Internet Tendency. For those of you who have never visited their site before, they're purveyors of satire, humor, and fine examples of people who re-post without reading the fine print.

The point made repeatedly by the "award-winning" physicist in the article is a good one, though; science doesn't matter in roleplaying games. Neither does the actual forms and skills used in armored combat, the real intricacies of brewing beer, or ethnic makeups in our world's actual history. These worlds are ruled by what the designers have created, and whether those rules jive with the way things work in the real-world doesn't matter. If the book says you can reload a musket in three seconds, you can reload a musket in three seconds.


As always, thanks for stopping in for my Monday update! Mondays are free to everyone, but if you'd like to help keep me funded, think about stopping by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to put some bread in my jar. If you join by the end of August, there's even some sweet swag in it for you! Lastly, if you want to catch all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Barbarian Samurai

This entry marks the third in my unusual character concept series, along with previous titles like The Barbarian Android and The Risen Antipaladin. So, would you like to see this continue as an on-again-off-again feature on the Table Talk page, or would you prefer to see Character Concepts as a page unto itself with more regular updates? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts on this potential alteration to Improved Initiative's lineup.

And now, without further delay, let's talk about...

The Barbarian Samurai

Rarely are two classes considered more at opposite ends of the spectrum than these two. On the one end, we have warriors with the wrath of totemic spirits and ancient powers flowing through their veins, and on the other we have disciplined soldiers who have spent a lifetime mastering the arts of war. They're lions and tigers... and the Babarian Samurai is the terrifying liger you get as a result.

Don't make him angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
Let's start with the mechanical end of this concept. Contrary to popular belief, samurai can be of any alignment. Their loyalty to their lord doesn't require them to obey any other laws, which means that a barbarian's ban against a lawful alignment is not a barrier to this mash-up.

Now, as with any other classes, you will get the most power by taking a straight samurai, or a straight barbarian. By mixing the two you're going to have weakness in your reflex and fortitude saves (which you may want to offset with feats and/or magic items), and your class-dependent abilities (certain Rage Powers and class features like Mount or Challenge) are never going to reach their full potential. Your base attack bonus won't suffer, though, and several of your abilities are going to fit together like a hand and a glove.

Specifically your two big Rs: Rage and Resolve.

Rage, as we all know, is a barbarian's bread and butter. It boosts your strength, gives you access to additional Rage Powers, and gives you temporary hit points. It does, however, leave you fatigued after you've finished. While you could take the Roused Anger Rage Power to Rage while you're fatigued, you're going to be exhausted for 10 minutes per round you raged when you come out of it. An easier solution is to burn your Resolve to remove the fatigued condition. This lets you cycle back into fighting form a certain number of times per day without any draw back.

While that's the main trick for this combination, there are other benefits. For example, the extra damage you deal from your increased strength, combined with extra damage from Rage Powers, combined with extra damage from feats like Weapon Specialization (thanks to the Weapon Expertise ability of the Samurai) is going to quickly make you a terror on the battlefield.

With all of that said, it is very important for you to figure out which class you're going to take more levels of, and why. For example, you might only take 4 levels of samurai, and take the rest of your progression in barbarian to focus on gaining the Spirit Totem Rage Powers. Maybe you decide to take two levels of barbarian for Uncanny Dodge and a Rage Power that has a simple, flat use (like Smasher, Advanced Player's Guide 76, which lets you ignore an object's hardness when making a sunder), and build the rest of the character as a samurai. That decision is up to you, and it will depend on what you want to accomplish with your character's story.

Honor and Glory

So, now that we've explored the mechanical benefits of this multiclass concept, how would you make it work in your campaign? After all, these two archetypes don't really make sense together... do they?

You've obviously not read this book, BUT YOU SHOULD!
As I said in What's In A Name? How Your Character Class Is Limiting Your Creativity, we tend to get hung up on what we think a class should be because of the name. No one in your game world goes around describing someone's job as a barbarian, and just because someone introduces himself as a samurai, that doesn't mean he isn't just a noble from Tian Xia with nothing but Magus levels on his sheet. So let's leave the labels aside, and ask what someone who possesses great battle fury, dedication to a leader, and who draws strength from honor could be.

Is this character, for example, a sworn sword to a barbarian chief or orc warlord? Characters like Khal Drogo's blood riders in A Game of Thrones would fit this mold quite nicely; mounted furies who fight with their own strength, and for the strength of the man they've sworn their allegiance to. Perhaps the PC is young, and has been sent on a quest by his leader to prove himself, which gives the DM a more than adequate plot hook to pull the character into the plot, even if his lord is from a far-away place.

Let's flip the coin and look at it from the other angle. Say that your character is a sworn soldier in the service of the emperor, fulfilling the look and feel of a traditional samurai. While he has personal discipline, and follows orders, there is something that lives in him that fuels his sword arm beyond Honor and a desire to serve his liege. Perhaps it's the spirits of his ancestors (made manifest by the Spirit Totem Rage Power), or perhaps it's an ancient bloodline traced back to the oni who dwell in his family's lands (represented by the Fiend Totem Rage Power). The emperor values him for his strength and his strange gifts, even if those very powers make his commanders whisper behind their hands, and his allies look at him askance. This is the kind of warrior who would be sent on missions alone, trusting to his fury and bizarre abilities to complete missions where lesser men would fail.

Or, perhaps you do away with the Eastern iconography entirely and follow the suggestions I made in my post Want To Play A Samurai, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling It A Knight Instead! After all, there are very few reasons for someone to come to the Inner Sea all the way from Tian Xia, but it would be pretty common for a mercenary from the Land of the Linnorm Kings to be risen to knighthood in Taldor for his deeds in the field. Nidalese field commanders may well be trained and tortured until they have merged brute ferocity with sheer determination, becoming black-clad heralds of the agonies of Zon Kuthon.

If you like this concept, you should also check out the following posts for additional inspiration:

- 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians
- 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power

Wrapping Up

In short, there is a lot of cool flavor you can get from merging these two classes. Maybe you want to play a ferocious mounted warlord, but don't care for the Mounted Fury archetype. Maybe you want a barbarian with a katana who specializes in single-stroke kills. Or perhaps you haven't quite doped out where you want to go, but you think this mix has potential.

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!

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Feats Reforged IV From TPK Games is Now Available!

Third party content is one of those things you need to evaluate on a piece-by-piece basis. Some of it, like the Midgard setting from Kobold Press, can be a lot of fun. Some of it, which I shan't name, introduces unbalanced classes and abilities that can destroy the sense of challenge, confuse DMs, and overall lead to an unsatisfactory playing experience. One of the more popular series from TPK Games has been Feats Reforged, which I talked about over at Crit Confirm in the article Feats Reforged: An Interesting Way to Make Feats Scale With Character Level. If you don't feel like clicking away, the idea behind the series is to add a new ability to a feat every 7 levels or so after you meet the prerequisites in order to keep up with player characters as they grow in power.

Feats Reforged IV: The Magic Feats is now available. And if you're wondering why you should care, it's because I'm the one who wrote most of it.

You know you're curious.
If you're a fan of the work I did for Paizo's Blood of the Moon and Bastards of Golarion, or if you just enjoy the content from my Crunch section and you've wanted to see me create mechanics instead of just working within the established canon, then this book won't let you down. It contains all of the feats from Ultimate Magic, and they've been juiced up to keep your spellcasters rolling hard until you hit the end of the campaign.

So, if you've been looking for a way to boost your magic users, this book may be just what you're looking for. Don't take my word for it, though, go have a look for yourself!

A game designer's work is never done. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, and get some sweet swag in the deal, the stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Also, to keep up on all my latest updates, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.

Friday, August 7, 2015

What Services Exist in Your Fantasy World (And Do You Use Them)?

Before we get started on today's topic, I'd like to remind all of my readers that I'm giving away tasty, tasty stuff this August to all my new Patreon patrons. If you'd like to support me, and keep Improved Initiative going, you can check out all the details in this post, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page to become a patron today!

All right, now that that's out of the way, let's get on with this week's Fluff topic...

The Service Industry In Your Fantasy World

Your party of heroes has assembled, and you've been given your latest quest. You need to reach the city of Aergon, near the Bay of Scoundrels. It's a long, perilous journey for adventurers traversing the wilderness, even for a hearty, deadly band like yours. Despite that, you accept the responsibility of this job, leave the tavern... and immediately book passage on an air ship so you don't have to deal with all that nonsense.

Come at me, random encounter table!
That example seems silly, but it hits on a serious issue; we often completely ignore the fact that the service industry exists in our games apart from inns and the occasional restaurant. Just take a look at page 159 in Pathfinder's Core Rule Book. The chart on the far right lists prices for passage on a ship, the cost of a carriage trip, the cost of a messenger, and the cost of hired spellcasting services.

Let me ask you something; how often have you used any of those features?

Digging Deeper Into Your World

By deciding the services available in your world you aren't just laying traps for your party to waste precious coin on; you are adding another layer to the depth of your game. You may also be simultaneously clearing up a problem your adventurers have, but which they aren't dealing with.

Here's a simple scenario for you; gold. At level one most adventurers barely have a few coppers to scrape together for an ale, and even truly wealthy starting adventurers could wear their entire fortune around their necks in leather pouches. After you've delved a dungeon or two, perhaps collected a reward on a marauding band of orcs or turned in a certain number of bandits, though, you have enough personal wealth that the barbarian has to carry the bard's share. Even changing your gold coins for platinum ones (if such a thing is possible where you happen to be) isn't going to make the burden you're carting around substantially less.

So what do you do? Well, you either buy a cart with an iron-bound chest built into the back, or you do what a normal person would do and open a bank account.

It's safe as a... you get the idea.
The Church of Abadar is one of the most common institutions throughout Golarion, and in addition to being a church, every place of worship is built like a vault. They keep balances for the wealthy and common alike, which may be of particular use for those who want a safe place to leave their wealth while they're out adventuring. They also tend to finance projects for the public good, which may very well mean the Church of Abadar is your paymaster if your party is clearing out aberrations from the sewers, or ensuring that goblin raids stop.

You could take this a step further, as well. Say, for example, that you have been given a commission by a lord to undertake a dangerous assignment. Killing a dragon, slaying a horde of giants, etc. You may be able to do it on your own, but you'd find the job significantly easier if you had a keen-edged sword, or a staff of evocation. You don't have the money up-front for these things, but if you have a reputation as an adventurer the bank might provide you a loan for the item, with terms that say you have to pay the cost upon completion of the job, along with an additional percentage of any treasure you find on your adventure.

Communication, Transportation, and Healthcare

There's more to adventuring than gold, though (or at least there is for a lot of adventurers). For example, if you have a paymaster in another city, how do you get word to them when circumstances change? Or if you want to send a letter to your family up north, telling them of your great deeds, how do you get it to them? If you come limping back to town with the necromancer's head in a bag, but suffering from a wasting curse he put on you before he died, who do you turn to?

What if you could just pop in at the corner apothecary?
All of these tasks, and others besides, should have some kind of service your party can use. For example, an enterprising bard might have founded an organization called The Wanderer's Way. It operates as a kind of volunteer postal service, carrying word far and wide for no more than gratitude and a few coins. Waystations are found at prominent inns, as well as churches dedicated to gods of travel. Traveling circuses, caravans, and even adventurers may pick up a few letters as they go, bearing the badge of Wanderers (the silhouette of a traveler holding a staff) on their cloaks.

Adventurers who intend on going to dangerous locales might hire the services of the Iron Horsemen. These experienced coachmen drive heavily armored carriages that will keep adventurers safe, and its been rumored that some of the carriages have been enchanted so that they're spacious and comfortable on the inside. These expert transporters are commonplace in cities that deal in secrets and assassination, as they provide top-notch security, but branches are often found near the borders since fearful merchants or savvy adventurers will engage their services so they don't have to worry about the dangers of the road.

The Order of the Healing Hand is a group of dedicated healers. Aspirants are trained in the medical arts, as well as magical ones, giving them the tools to provide services for those who need them most. While low ranking members of this organization are little more than apothecaries, bone-setters, and barber surgeons, chosen members of the order can heal more grievous wounds and carry away diseases with the touch of a hand. Some even whisper of dedicated resurrection men among the order, whose knowledge of life and death is so great they can call back the soul.

These are just a handful of organizations you could throw into your world, but remember that not every business or charity is international. Maybe there's a small courier service that works in a region, but won't go further, which is why your party is contracted to deliver a package. Perhaps the area your party is in happens to be on the frontier, a place risky enough that better-established security services won't take jobs there. Will your reputation as a problem solver earn your party job offers from the Harrigan Agency, originally founded by a retired knight who wanted to protect all the people instead of just the nobles?

Most importantly, if these services don't exist in the world, will your adventurers create a place to fulfill that need? The Greenscar Alchemical College, educating the finest students of the next generation in tested incendiary dungeon clearance techniques? The Barracks, an organization known for taking recruits and turning them into unbeatable soldiers? Will you form a counter-thieves' guild to train guards and detectives in your methods, or will you raise a new church to minister to the people who have come to know your deeds?

As always, thanks for stopping in! If you want to get all my updates on Improved Initiative then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Get Great Pathfinder Content From Raging Swan Press

Third party content is a lot like an I.E.D. Sometimes you get military-grade stuff from a smaller, more local source, and sometimes you get an unstable, poorly-wrought concoction that blows up in your face. That's why I've made it a personal interest of mine to check out more third party publishers, such as TPK Games (whose content I've covered in posts like Feats Reforged: An Interesting Way to Make Feats Scale With Character Level) and Kobold Press, who both create well-balanced, lovely content for their users.

This week I'd like to direct your attention to somewhere new; Raging Swan Press.

There's a new Dungeon Master now.
What is Raging Swan Press? Well, it's a third party Pathfinder publisher that produces unique settings, adventure packages, stat blocks, and reams of other content for busy DMs who want to diversify their behind-the-screen toolboxes. Everything from unique hill tribes of barbarians to forgotten dungeon denizens is right at your fingertips, and it can save you dozens of hours of prep time.

In addition to all that tastiness, though, Raging Swan also has a regularly updated blog on their homepage that's full of helpful hints. Not only is it useful, giving you tips and tricks like plot hooks and character archetypes, but it doesn't cost you a dime! There's also a page dedicated to free resources that anyone can download and use! So for all of you DMs and players on a budget, feel free to stop in and take a look around.

If you are a fan of what you see, why not follow Raging Swan on Facebook? Also, if you're a fan of Raging Swan's products and designs, then you should consider donating to their Patreon page so they can offer their freelancers a better rate of pay to make even more stuff. Also, if you're in a giving mood and want to see a freelancer pay his bills, why not support Improved Initiative by stopping by the Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? Also, don't forget to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!