Monday, September 28, 2015

Just How Adequate is "The Adequate Commoner"?

So, I was asked to review this product months ago, and every time I tried to get around to it a piece of the sky would fall, preventing me from doing so. So, today, I'd like to present my thoughts on The Adequate Commoner, which is a 3rd party Pathfinder book from Misfit Studios.

What could possibly go wrong?

What Is "The Adequate Commoner"?

All right, first things first. The Adequate Commoner is a handbook for players who want to de-power their games. This is a book for parties who think NPC classes are given entirely too much power, and who really want to achieve victory through nothing more than careful planning, the right gear, and a ridiculous amount of luck. It is a book that lays out class options if you want all of your PCs to have a terrible BAB progression, nearly non-existent weapon proficiency, almost no armor use, and barely more than average hit points.

If that's your kind of jam, then keep on reading.

The stated goal of the adequate commoner is to issue your players a challenge; can you still become heroes without all of the class abilities and swagger that come with adventuring classes? Can you stare death in the face, knowing that you are not powerful adventurers who've trained their whole lives, or been gifted with strange powers? And, of course, will all of this lead to deeper roleplaying experiences, new stories, and more compelling characters?

I don't know... maybe.

Does It Work?

The Adequate Commoner is full of flavor, and it shows a lot of ways you can make commoners surprisingly effective (especially at low levels). By focusing on skills, attributes, equipment, and racial abilities (items which the book argues are often afterthoughts for more traditional adventurers), this book forces players to find alternative methods to rise to the challenge of living in a dangerous fantasy world.

However, The Adequate Commoner should be thought of as a completely separate game from traditional Pathfinder. The reason for that is because everyone at the table has to agree to play commoners, and the DM has to be able to craft an adventure that suits these characters both thematically and mechanically. Commoners are people with average, everyday jobs, and an adventure needs to provide enough of a hook to make them leave their places in society in order to combat a threat, or chase a macguffin. You know, like defending their town from a goblin incursion, or throwing a magic ring into a volcano. You also can't be out adventuring with three commoners and a wizard, otherwise three quarters of the party are going to be the sidekicks to the one adventurer's quest.

It's a functional idea, and the book lays out creative solutions players may never have thought of before. It won't appeal to everyone, though, since not all gamers want to play Pathfinder on Nightmare mode. If it sounds like your cup of tea, though, then check out The Adequate Commoner for yourself!

As always, thanks for dropping in! Don't forget to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter if you want to stay up to date on my latest, and if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then all you need to do is pop over to my Patreon page to become a patron today!

Friday, September 25, 2015

10 Backgrounds for Your Martial Characters

Every group of adventurers is a team of specialists who bring separate skills to the table. The master of the arcane brings years of wisdom and knowledge, the servant of the gods provides protection and healing, and the canny dungeon delver offers a light touch along with the capability of bypassing the most ingenious traps. Sooner or later, though, the steel has to come out, and when that time happens every party is grateful for their warrior.

He makes your enemies bleed, so you don't have to.
One of the constant criticisms of the party combatants is that they end up with too much focus on their equipment slots and feat lists, and not enough focus on aspects that don't have a slot on the character sheet. That's why this week Improved Initiative is here with 10 backgrounds for your martially-inclined characters!

Also, keep in mind that these are not specific to any one class. If you see something you want to give to a magus, a paladin, or a multi-class swashbuckler/wizard, then embrace that idea and run with it. Lastly, I mention several characters as examples; if they're highlighted, it means I've done a Pathfinder character conversion for them, and you can see it by clicking the link.

Additionally, I've written a follow-up titled 10 Backgrounds For Your Scoundrels, for those who want to play someone a little on the shady side, or 10 Backgrounds For Your Spellcasters for those who want a big of magical muscle.

#1: The Champion For Hire

Dueling is an ancient way of settling slights, whether it's between individuals, towns, or even entire nations. It's also been tradition that instead of fighting the battle yourself, you may have a champion stand in your stead. The champion for hire is a mercenary who has carved a career out of winning duels, acting as a bodyguard, political tool, and legal instrument all at once. Whether the champion is renowned for his great strength and striking power (like Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane), or for his speed and canny fighting skill (like Prince Oberyn Martell, The Red Viper), those who know who he is will avoid getting into the ring with him at all costs.

#2: The Former Athlete

Speaking of stepping into the ring, another individual who takes to the adventuring lifestyle is the former athlete. Whether an injury has made it impossible for the character to continue competing, the sport simply lost its appeal, or some scandal led to a loss of face and a ban from the sport, their previous occupation is something they've chosen to forsake. However, the skills they mastered are greatly prized by adventurers who need someone capable in combat. Perhaps the athlete needs a greater challenge, seeks to prove himself, or simply needs money now that he can no longer win purses by competing in games and tournaments. Whether the character is a former tourney knight (which is totally a job you can actually have in the modern day, thanks to Knight Fighting Leagues), a martial artist, a javelin thrower, or even a professional wrestler, these characters are sure to find a welcome in the world of freelance adventuring. Depending on where the party goes, though, the competitor's reputation may precede them.

#3: The Performer

Similar to the athlete, the performer developed his or her skills for the pleasure of the crowd. However, while those watching the show saw an amusing diversion, none of them really understood the dedication and sheer skill it took to make that act look effortless. Perhaps the character was an archer who specialized in trick shooting (the original backstory of Hawkeye, from the Avengers), or she had a knife throwing act that required pinpoint precision. A former strongman, with his carefully cultivated physical power combined with showmanship and a force of personality, could easily act as a deterrent for foes who might think the party is easy prey. Acrobats, dancers, and aerial performers may also find themselves quickly embraced by a party of adventurers, assuming they can use their speed and grace with a sword or a spear.

#4: The Criminal

Those who study violence often get their on-the-job-training at the hands of criminals. From orc raiders and forest bandits to coastal pirates and syndicate enforcers, there is always a need for those willing to inflict harm on others when the boss says so. Perhaps your character is trying to leave that life behind, constantly reminded by the scars and tattoos that she was once a part of something dark and destructive. Maybe your character is still very much a member of a criminal organization, like the Aspis Consortium, but is given a freer reign to act in the field. Maybe the character is a freelancer, offering to protect adventuring parties for a share of the bounty with the same enthusiasm as he would crack skulls for a gang lord who offered the right price. A dark past, a new name, or a black reputation could all play into what twists and turns the story takes.

If you're looking for inspiration then you might want to start with 100 Random Bandits to Meet, as well as 100 Pirates to Encounter. Filled with established crews of brigands, there are plenty of blackguards to work with in here!

#5: The Squire

Your character's combat education began very young, indeed. Perhaps you came from a noble family, and you were sent to squire with a great knight. Maybe you came from a poor village, and the knight you studied under was only great in his own mind. Your tribe may have selected you to learn at the feet of one of its great warriors, or a renowned reaver took a liking to you and decided to teach you the ways of war. Whether your master was stern or kind, abusive or determined, you received an apprenticeship in the deadly arts from a master of the trade. Maybe you're seeking great deeds to earn a knighthood of your own. Perhaps you want to make your master proud of you. Or perhaps you're running away from the life you were expected to lead, even though anyone who watches you handle a sword knows you were no mere town guard or militia soldier.

If you're looking for noble families for your character to be trained by (or to be from), then A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families can come in handy! Or if you'd rather know which order of knights you squired for, then 100 Knightly Orders might be closer to your needs.

#6: The Soldier

There are countless reasons someone could decide to become a soldier. Maybe you were dazzled by the medals and honors, and wanted to be a great hero. Perhaps a lumpy bed and bad food was preferable to eating scraps out of the trash and sleeping in the gutter. The character could have been drafted, or volunteered for duty in order to wipe a crime off of his record. Perhaps he comes from a society where all citizens are required to go through military service, like you find in Lastwall or Mendev. Infantry, cavalry, scout, archer, crossbowman, whatever role the character filled, from rank-and-file to special operations, he was shaped by a war machine.

For those looking for for a force you could have fought with (or perhaps still belong to), 100 Random Mercenary Companies might be just up your alley.

#7: The Living Weapon

For some, fighting is a means to an end. Violence may be a necessity to protect yourself, aid your country, or just to get what you need to survive, but the violence is always a tool. For the living weapon, violence is the goal. The whistle of steel, the thrum of the bow, the bellow of the gun, these men and women live for the fight. Untamed berserkers who laugh as they slaughter, or silent swordsmen who move so precisely that time seems to slow around them, the living weapon can take many forms. Whether it's the savage victory of caving in an opponent's skull with your bare hands, or the pulse-pounding thrill when weapons are drawn and there's no turning back, these characters can be both an aid and a liability. Masters of their chosen arts, they are unparalleled on the battlefield... but when there's no one left to fight, who will they set their sights on next?

#8: The Slave

Slaves have long been given the most arduous, unwanted tasks, and no task is more detestable than the shedding of blood. From gladiators who live and die on the sands of the arena, to slave soldiers trained from birth to perfection on the battlefield (like the Unsullied), slaves can be deadly warriors. Once they're freed they may wish to lay aside their weapons, but quickly realize they have no other choice but to continue to practice the only, bloody trade they know in order to make a living.

#9: The Tradesman

Not all great warriors are trained in military colleges, or forged on battlefields. Some of them develop their skills from performing more common trades. A butcher is skilled with a variety of blades, and is unfazed by the sight and stench of death. Smiths are used to the weights of heavy hammers, and can wield them with astonishing speed and accuracy when called upon to do so. For a hunstman, bringing down a prize buck and putting an arrow into a zombie's skull is just a difference of fletching and range. Even headsmen, who are dedicated to the single, perfect cut, may turn to adventuring when more regular work is no longer available.

#10: The Warrior of Faith

While paladins are often seen as the swords of faith, these men and women are few and far between. However, militant faiths and armed religious societies are never shy about recruiting the faithful and sincere into their ranks. Dervishes devoted to Sarenrae may join battle in a whirlwind of steel, whereas the faithful of Gorum go to war sheathed in iron like their lord. Warriors of the church of Zon Kuthon may feel no pain and fight on long past when wounds should have killed them, whereas the faithful of Iomedae join battle with swords held high.

Warriors of holy orders may be sent far and wide in service to their faith. Crusades against encroaching demons, assaults on centers of religion, or just safeguarding important persons while they journey are all duties that might fall to militant members of a church or cult. And, of course, just because someone once fought for the faith that doesn't mean he or she hasn't since turned their back on those beliefs to strike out on their own.

Remember, Show, Don't Tell!

While it's really tempting to spill your guts about your character's cool backstory, it's a lot more fun to let it come out in RP. For example, if your character was a Taldan legionnaire, don't just tell people that. Instead, mention a unit tattoo on his shoulder, or drop details to characters familiar with the legions (bards, Taldans, soldiers who may have fought against Taldor) would recognize, like a detail of his equipment, or the specific way he fights. If your character was a champion wrestler from a region the party travels through, ask the DM if NPCs recognize him. Maybe fans who saw his matches want to hear about his latest journeys, leading him to talk up not just himself, but his allies. If you're a former bandit, include a detail like a missing middle finger, or a rope scar around the neck, insinuating that the character was punished for a crime in another jurisdiction once upon a time.

By doing a slow character reveal you let the table see different aspects as you go. For the first three or four levels they think of the gregarious fighter with the obsessively cared for bastard sword as Gregory Black, capable warrior, decent cook, and friend. Then around level seven they discover that the reason he became an adventurer was because he'd once been known as Black Hood, a despotic noble's headsman who did grisly work several times a day. How do they find out? Because his companion, someone he was supposed to execute but didn't, joins up with him as a cohort!

Remember, it's a long campaign. You don't have to dump all of your exposition by the time you hit level two.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used this tactic successfully in your games why not leave a comment below?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, 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, September 21, 2015

A Forum For Finding RPG Job Postings

For those of you who don't know, in addition to running Improved Initiative and doing freelance RPG design, I'm also an author. When I put on my fiction-writing hat (which is a green beret bearing a Celtic wolf, for those who are curious), I bill myself as the Literary Mercenary (hence the name of my author blog). And, as I said in one of my earliest blog posts over there, if you're good at something you should never do it for free.

That's why, this week, I'd like to let all my fellow RPG enthusiasts out there know there's a forum where companies post jobs, and it's a place where gamers just like you can become the game designers of tomorrow.

Time to start stacking GP, you know what I'm saying?

Where Is This Forum?

It's over at Paizo's homepage, since you ask. To prevent you from digging through the archive, and asking around until you learn the secret code word, here's a link to the forum in question. It may take you a bit of perusing to find a job that fits your skills, and you might not find a project the first time through, but that's no reason to despair. After all, new projects are coming up all the time.

For a primer on how to handle yourself before you dive into the shark tank, check out my previous post How To Get A Job Designing RPGs.

If you found this post useful, and you want to be sure you don't miss any future updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to toss some coins in the coffers to keep the updates coming, then go to my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Friday, September 18, 2015

4 Ways to Reduce The Amount of Sleep Your Pathfinder Characters Need

Sleep is one of those things we rarely think about in Pathfinder. Most of the time it's just a way to get back spells, repair ability damage, and put a tic in a box that another day on the road has ended. However, if you've ever been ambushed in the middle of the night by angry monsters, there's a good chance you started looking for ways to keep your characters functioning with less shut-eye.

Here are 4 methods that will reduce your need to sleep. While there are others, these common methods are open to a wide variety of characters, and don't require playing a particular race or template, or taking a particular class or prestige class. Also, while there are spells that reduce or delay your need for sleep, and purchasing them in wand or scroll form is fairly simple, this article will be focusing on more permanent methods.

Now, without further ado...

Method #1: The Ring of Sustenance

Actual appearance may vary.
Probably the most common method of reducing your sleep is to buy a ring of sustenance (Core Rulebook 483). For a mere 2,500 gold, and a week to attune the ring to the wearer, you no longer have to eat or drink, and you only need to sleep for 2 hours a night. If you ever take the ring off, have it stolen, or one may assume wander through an anti-magic field, it will take an additional week to re-attune to your body.

Still, it's a great way to make sure you don't end up in the middle of the desert without enough water.

Method #2: The Verdant Bloodline

Never be afraid to branch out to other solutions.
The verdant sorcerer bloodline (Advanced Player's Guide 141) grants you photosynthesis at level 3. This ability lets you snack on sunlight, reducing your need to eat, sleep, and drink as if you were wearing a ring of sustenance (and, one presumes, if you are in a place where you're getting plenty of light). The ability also gives you a +2 on saves against poison and sleep effects.

Before you start pointing out that I said I wouldn't be covering class abilities, I'd like to show you how you can get this power without being a sorcerer. All you need to do is take Eldritch Heritage and Improved Eldritch Heritage (Ultimate Magic 149 and 152), and select the verdant bloodline. This method requires a middling-to-high charisma score, and eats up a lot of feats, but it can work for those who are willing to pursue it.

For other useful things you can do with this feat tree, check out Powering Up Your Pathfinder Characters With Eldritch Heritage Feats.

Method #3: The Light Sleeper Trait

I think I heard the rogue. Down the hall, behind a locked door.
A trait I recommended in my Unsullied character build, Light Sleeper allows any character to gain the benefits of a full night's rest after sleeping for only 4 hours. While you could just play an elf with the elven trancing trait from Elves of Golarion, this trait allows you to gain the same, short-sleep benefits while expanding on the reasons for them. Is the wizard's consciousness attuned to the motion of the spheres, energizing her and setting her rhythms? Is the half-orc used to the brutal life of kill or be killed, and as such has learned to function on less sleep to remain less vulnerable? Or did the alchemist simply invent red bull, and it's altered the way his circadian rhythm works?

Method #4: The Awakened From Stasis Trait

Most players are going to get a louder-than-average "No!" for this option (something you're going to hear a lot whenever you try to take something out of People of The Stars), but this one is my personal favorite. Awakened From Stasis states that you woke up recently from slumber in a glass egg. You were in a cavern surrounded by other beings who were still asleep, and watched over by strange, silent automatons shaped like massive crabs. You gain a full night's sleep after only 2 hours due to your time in stasis, but you still have no idea where you came from. Are you from another plane? Another planet? Were you from the time of the Azlant Empire? And why were you chosen to be put in this bizarre bubble?

Perhaps if you go adventuring, you'll find out!

Bonus 5th Method! Restful Armor

Found on page 210 of the Advanced Class Guide, restful armor gives you the benefits of 8 hours of sleep in 2, and it allows you to comfortably sleep in whatever kind of armor you're wearing. It may be the only way to make a suit of plate armor as comfortable as a down bed. You can only gain this effect once per day, though, and you gain no additional benefits from further rest.

No Rest For The Wicked

That concludes this week's Crunch topic, but I've got a question for my readers. Do you prefer this listicle setup, or do you prefer broader topic coverage as with previous guides? Also, if you have alternative methods for shortening the amount of rest a character needs, feel free to leave them below in the comments. If there are methods I overlooked, but which are still generally available (not restricted by class or race), I'd be happy to revise the list to include them.

It's a big game, I'm sure I left something out.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! If you want to get all of my updates, then plug your email address into the box on your right, or follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today! $1 a month goes further than you might think, trust me on that one.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bob Kramer Creates Adamantine Kitchen Knives

Adamantine weapons are some of the most sought-after in fantasy roleplaying games. A seamless amalgamation of Earth-forged steel and star metal, these weapons have nearly mystical properties. Their edges are sharper, their cuts cleaner, and when given to a master smith the resulting weapons are worthy of the world's greatest heroes.

Or the world's greatest chefs, if you happen to live in our less magical, but apparently still awesome, reality.

In the hall of heroes, one man's deeds will never be forgotten.
What I'm telling you is that the idea of making nearly magical blades by forging steel dug from the heart of fallen stars is a gaming trope we plucked out of the real world. It isn't just something that blacksmiths in the ancient world did to jack up their prices, or because they hadn't invented advanced chemistry yet. There are skilled metalworkers still around today who make adamantine blades by hand. One of those skilled metalworkers is a fellow named Bob Kramer. Watch him do his thing in this video.

If you took 12 minutes out of your day to watch that video, chances are good you're already imagining a workshop like that in your fantasy or sci-fi setting. Whether your blades are forged with the aid of sentient steel presses, or with plasma cutters and laser polishers, there is no meat or vegetable in the world that can stand up to the wicked edge Bob puts on his blades.

Tests on whether or not they'll cut through damage reduction remain ongoing, and are funding by King Eggbert as he seeks the most outlandish dishes in the kingdom. Also, if you want to see the process the Vikings used to create masterwork weapons in the middle of the Iron Age, check out "Secrets of The Viking Sword" Is A Documentary About How To Make A Masterwork Weapon.

Thanks for checking in on this week's Monday update. If you want to be sure you don't miss anything Improved Initiative puts up, the plug your email address into the box on the right, or feel free to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support Improved Initiative, then drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread into my monthly jar. $1 a month goes a long way toward providing you with the latest, greatest content.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Littlest Titan (Explaining Massive Damage, and Massive Weapons)

We've all shared a table with one of those fighters at some point in time. During the days of 3.5 it was the guy who dual-wielded greatswords with the Monkeygrip feat. In Pathfinder they're the Titan Maulers, Titan Fighters, and any other melee specialist who looks like they're compensating for something by using a sword nearly as big as they are. In older editions it was the fighter with the tetsubo or the giant's bastard sword. Regardless of what form they take, though, these combat brutes combine overwhelming strength with the capacity to reduce most opponents to little more than cooling meat with a single swipe.

If you've been looking for a new spin on this archetype, though, I've got an idea for you.

Carry A Big Stick

In order to get the most mileage out of this idea, you need to pull out all the stops for your damage dealing capabilities. High strength, a barbarian/fighter combo with the Titan Mauler and Two Handed Fighter archetypes, Power Attack, Furious Focus, Vital Strike, all that good stuff. If you can wrangle an unusual race like an Ogrekin, then go for it. Any bloodlines, Rage Powers, etc. that will give you strength bumps, like the Infernal Bloodline for bloodragers, or just taking Dragon Disciple, are also options. If at any point you hear a voice that says, "yeah, I could take that feat to really buff my damage, and combine it with this class archetype that multiplies everything by two, but that feels like a little too much wooge," this is the time to ignore that voice and go for all the cheese. You're not just a fighter with a big sword; you're Memnoch the Sunderer, whose blows can cleave opponents in twain through even the finest armor.

You get the idea.
If you're looking for a way to crank up the damage, let me direct you Pathfinder's One Hit Wonders: Tips For Building A Bigger, Badder Brute. Also, due to a recent change in the rules, it seems that the Titan Mauler can, indeed, now use a Large-sized greatsword. So remember that.

The Runt of The Litter

To townsfolk, and even to fellow adventurers, the Littlest Titan is a Herculean figure. With an unbreakable, iron grip, and the strength to wrestle giants to the ground, his prowess and raw might are breath-taking. To the tiny titan himself, though, he never sees what he does as exemplary. It's always just good enough, or just barely acceptable, no matter how awe-inspiring or impossible the physical feat he just performed is.

The reason is because he was not raised among men, so he has no frame of reference for what men are supposed to be capable of.

That guy in red, for example, was flung halfway across the Inner Sea.
Who raised the Littlest Titan, and how, is completely up to you. Was he a deformed baby, left to die of exposure in the wilds, but instead adopted by a tribe of ogres who mistook him for one of their own? In which case he would always have been delicate and sickly, according to his adopted family, and he would always strive to be stronger, faster, or more skilled than they were, even if he would never grow to match their sheer, physical size. Maybe brutal treatment taught him brutality in kind, making him a vicious warrior who takes no prisoners, or who eschews all weakness as something that should be killed. Maybe it taught him compassion, and he defends those who lack even his "little" strength.

With the sheer variety of creatures and races in Golarion, this concept can be spun hundreds of different ways. A human with Ogrekin blood could, according to the chart in the back of Bastards of Golarion, display bulging muscles or a deformed limb that speaks to inhuman ancestry (if you want the flavor, but couldn't convince your DM to give you a full-on Ogrekin character). A tiefling might be taken from the crib, and forced to contend with devils and demons in possession of gifts and powers he would never be able to match. A child from the Land of the Linnorm Kings might be taken in by fire giants, shown how to work their forges until eventually his body raises to the challenge of wielding such large tools. Frost giants or storm giants may also work as a surrogate family, skewing the character's view of the world so that he constantly views himself as little more than a child in the face of what he expected to become. The blood of dragons flows through many, and those who were acknowledged by their sires may have grown up in the presence of power the likes of which few people truly understand. Elemental races like the Ifrit, or even the animalistic might of orcs, could lead to offspring who only share half their sire's blood, but who are determined to be accepted as strong by those who bore them.

It's also important to ask how the character acts, now that he or she is adventuring. For example, would the half-orc who was constantly towered over by bigger members of the clan be unable to turn down a challenge to prove his strength (no matter how ridiculous or obviously impossible)? Would the Oread boast loudly about his prowess in order to hide his insecurity, spinning the personal myth of The Mountain Who Slays as a way to insulate himself from the nagging voice that he'll never be more than a pebble?

It's your character, but with such a strange back story it's important for you to have the full road map of who they are, where they were, and what brought them to where they are now.

That's it for this latest installment of Unusual Character Concepts. What do you guys think? If you want to help support Improved Initiative, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss some change in my cup. If you want to keep up on my latest updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter too!

Monday, September 7, 2015

How To Get A Job Designing RPGs

People always say "do what you love," and "if you're good at something, then never do it for free." If you've decided you want to transmute yourself from a hobbyist into a professional when it comes to roleplaying games, good on you. Unfortunately you have a long, perilous road ahead of you.

Here's a map, and a few quick pieces of advice from a fellow adventurer.

"Here there be dragons," is not hyperbole.

And Just Who The Hell Are You?

Before we start digging, I should establish my bona fides.

My name is Neal Litherland, and I'm an author, and freelance RPG designer. I've worked for Paizo, TPK Games, Kobold Quarterly, and a few others as a hired troubleshooter. A few of the projects I've been part of are listed on my Amazon Author Page if you'd like to take a look at them. I'm telling you this because I want you, the readers, to know that I'm not just talking out of my ass here; this is what I've seen in the industry, and this is the strategy that's worked for me.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get started!

Step One: Create Something

The world of professional RPG design is a lot like picking up quests. If you're brand-new, you still have to prove yourself by raiding goblin warrens or going after petty bandits. If you've been around, and you have the experience, then bigger organizations will come to you, lay out their problems, and in exchange for your talents cut you a big, fat check.

So how do you get from first level to epic RPG designer status? Experience. And you get experience by making things.

A campaign is a good start.
What kinds of things can you create if you have no experience or connections? Well, you could start a gaming blog (not unlike the Creative Repository Blog by Simon Peter Munoz), or you could sign up with an article-based website like Infobarrel where you can write a series of gaming-based articles (which is where I host my Character Conversions like Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, The Hulk, Batman, and others). You could also enter competitions or open calls that gaming companies have, like Paizo's annual RPG Superstar contest, where winners are given a contract for a project with the company. Even if you don't win, you'll get eyes on your ideas and write-ups

When you create content, you are putting together your gaming resume. If your content gets popular, gaming companies may approach you and ask if you're open to contract work. Even if they don't, though, when you e-mail an RPG producer and ask if there are any openings, you'll have something for them to judge you by.

Step Two: Make Friends

Networking isn't just a buzz-word for empty suits looking to get some extra company stock and bigger benefits; it also applies to the publishing world. The more people you meet, and the more events you go to, the bigger and more diverse your network will become.

Like this, only less abstract.
Here's an example for you. Let's say you're at a gaming convention. You're walking the aisles, checking out products, and you get to chatting with the guy selling the books. Not only is he selling books, but it turns out he's the game's chief designer! So, you give him a business card and he says he'll call you if something opens up. You get an email, and a job offer for a small bit of flavor text. You complete it, take your earnings, and you're feeling pretty good. Then you get another email, and it turns out your paymaster has a friend who's working on a related game. He needs people with talent, but rather than just put out an all-call he's asking people he knows if they have recommendations. And you, my friend, just got recommended!

That's how most of the hiring goes on in the world of RPG publishing; you make connections, do a good job, and word gets around about you. For example, I got my first gig with Paizo because I saw a link on their homepage that said, "would you like to write for Paizo?" I clicked it, sent an email, and a few months later my short story The Irregulars was added to the Pathfinder Tales. When the fiction section filled up, I asked if there were any rules-style assignments open. I got a few thrown my way, and with those under my belt, started reaching out to other, third-party designers. After a while I didn't have to knock on doors anymore; companies who liked my work would come knocking on mine when something new came up.

Step Three: Repeat

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is your career. Even if you write a blog post that goes viral, showering you with attention and ad revenue, you can't rest on your laurels. Be proud, be happy, but know that once that check clears you're going to have to get back to work on the next project, or projects, in order to keep your career's wheels turning. Much like being an adventurer, your job is never actually done. You just progress from earning pocket money for writing a few monster descriptions, to rent money from writing an entire rule book worth of content.

Pictured: A great way to pay your landlord.
Now, this all seems pretty simple. So I'd like to leave you with a few tips to help you get to that mystical, magical X marking the end of the trail in one piece.

First off, be professional. Even if you're just starting out and all you have on your resume is that you did some free articles for an obscure RPG website or magazine, bring your game face to the table. Do the job you're asked, make edits when they're requested, and never lose your cool while you're on the job. Soldiering on through adversity, and being able to deliver solid content on time, are qualities that will get you really, really far in your quest.

Secondly, help everyone you can, as often as you can. As I said in my blog entry The One Phrase Every Author Needs To Know For Networking Success, sometimes all it takes is boosting someone's signal to earn you an ally. Other game designers, artists, bloggers, etc. are not people you need to get a leg over; they're people who may be able to offer you a hand up. Treat everyone accordingly.

Lastly, remember to have fun. Sure it can be frustrating pounding out feat text, or trying to balance new spells when your deadline is in 10 hours, but if you're going to be successful you need to be able to delve deep into every project. Enthusiasm mixed with dedication is a sure-fire tonic for success (even if that success doesn't happen overnight).

Well, I hope folks found this little guide to be of help. If you have additional questions about how to become a professional RPG designer, feel free to send me an e-mail, or leave your query in the comments. If you want to keep up on my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too. Lastly, if you'd like to support Improved Initiative (remember what I said about no overnight successes?), then leave some bread in my jar over at my Patreon page!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Saga of Majenko Part Five: Brother to The Shoanti

Before we get started with the latest installment, I'd like to remind readers that if you're not caught up yet, you should check out the rest of the Saga of Majenko before reading further. Technically you don't need to, but it will eliminate confusion if you follow the story from level one.
All caught up? Great. So, when last we left our intrepid adventurers...

Part Five: Brother to The Shoan-Ti

So, last time we met, our party had met up with a peppy priestess of Zon-Kuthon, become the undisputed champions of the new game Blood Pig, and stealthily smuggled out an artist being held captive by a madman who had dubbed himself the Emperor of Old Korvosa. Said artist, out of gratitude, tells us that the city's seneschal, Neolandis Kalapopolis, was being kept safe in the basement of the Arkona estate. The Arkonas, of course, are a major crime family that more or less runs this part of the city. So we hot foot it over there, only to find out that, while the family has indeed been keeping him down there, they don't actually know where he is. It's a labyrinth, and they sure as hell aren't going to tell a party of elite city watch the combination to their personal dungeon. If we want him back, we'll have to find him ourselves.

The screams stopped two weeks ago. He's probably fine.
With no time to lose, we head on down for the dungeon crawl. There's an angry elephant statue, a shambling plant monster, a couple of bizarre Vudran demons, a few magic symbols, and a rahshasa whose shit we have no time for. All in all, your average dungeon crawl. We find the seneschal, along with Vencarlo Oricini, the guy who is totally not Blackjack, who finally admits his secret identity to us. Once we rescue the two of them, we hop into a boat, and sail out of the Arkona's secret smuggling tunnel.

That's when Neolandis drops some solid street exposition on us. According to him, the queen is no longer the queen. The pretty young girl who slept her way to the highest position of the city was poking around in the chambers beneath the castle, and while she was there she found something she didn't understand. They were the fangs of Kasavon, and ancient servant of Zon-Kuthon. A dracolich of extreme power, his form and essence were cut into pieces and spread halfway across the globe to prevent him from returning to power. Now his soul has possessed part of the queen, and the only people who know more than that are the secretive Shoanti.

Fortunately for us, we did a favor for one of their elders a couple of levels ago. So we blow out of town to go collect.

Brotherhood and Blood

We stop at Kaer Maga to re-load, re-fuel. Our gnomish evoker decides to bugger off once he's clear of Korvosa, and we continue on with the cleric, the fighter, the duelist, and the magus all in the retinue of the great and powerful Majenko as they head off to save the world.

They're around here... somewhere...
We set off into the Cinderlands, looking for the Shoanti. We wander, and we wander, and then just for variety we wander some more. Due to great fortune, some eyes in the sky, and some pretty great survival checks, we find our way to the tribe of Thousand Bones, the elder whom we helped out when his grandson's body was stolen by a necromancer. We tell him our tale, and he agrees that the threat we face is grave. It could mean the rise of an ancient evil, a new age of darkness, and the deaths of untold thousands.

If only he could help.

I Smell A Fetch Quest!

Due to the complicated and distrusting nature of the Shoanti, us being outsiders to their tribe means that they won't share their knowledge with us. While they agree that the rise of Kasavon would be a terrible thing, if he is forcing his way back into the world it is the Shoanti's prerogative to fight him, not that of chamak (a Shoanti word for outsider that usually means those with shit for honor). So, we have a few options. We can throw up deuces, and go off to save the city our own way. We can kick down the doors, brutalize an already hunted and poorly treated native people until they give us the answers we demand, or we can start jumping through hoops to prove to them that we are serious about helping, and that we should be trusted as part of the tribe.

Being a good-aligned party with the capability of perceiving the writing on the wall, we opt for the third choice.

I still say we could take 'em.
It's at this point we find out about the legend of a man who was dead, and reborn. What happened was that he was so determined to leave behind the person he was, that he allowed himself to be eaten by a created called Cindermaw. When he emerged from inside the beast his past self was declared dead, and his new self was accepted as an official member of the Shoanti. So all we have to do is find a Truth Speaker (a position in Shoanti society whose word is accepted as fact), persuade said individual to walk out into the heart of the badlands, get eaten by a massive (and apparently immortal) creature, and then somehow survive the experience, before returning back to the Shoanti. If you're wondering what we're looking at, it's what's happening on page 84 and 85 of the Core Rulebook.

Piece of cake, right?

The Long Sleep of Cindermaw

So, after lifting a siege, defeating entirely too many monsters, an encounter with a tentacle beast in a forgotten crypt, and an ambush by four more red mantis assassins (two of which are handily dispatched by the pseudodragon's poisonous sneak attack), we manage to procure a truth speaker who agrees to watch us do something monumentally and suicidally stupid. So we truck out into the desert, until we manage to find the colossal, multi-mawed beast that may very well be the same Cindermaw from the original myth. It roars at us, and without any further discussion, we all run right into its jaws.

It's a party in your mouth!
So, we dive in, get swallowed, and are about halfway down the beast's gullet when we decide that's far enough for naturalization purposes. We start cutting a hole, trying to dig out way out like some terrible, internal Cesarean birth. The fighter is gouging with her dagger, the rogue/magus is cutting with his kukri, and Majenko is stabbing wildly with his tail. Cindermaw is not immune to poison, but its fortitude save is so ridiculous that there's only one way it will make any difference.

Hey look, foreshadowing!
Despite Majenko's intense potency, and Cindermaw's natural one, we cut out way out first. Covered in gore and ichor, the party stands triumphant. Egil promptly pours an alchemist fire over his own head to burn away the remnants of the creature, since if you're going to have fire resistance 5 you may as well use it. Cindermaw, deciding it had enough of over-eager food, sandwormed off into the distance. Once it was off camera it dug a pit, and went to sleep. For a while.

And Now We Set The Hoops On Fire!

So, we return to the tribe. The Truth Speaker tells the Shoanti what he saw, and we are inducted into the ranks. We are no longer Chamak; instead, we are members of the tribe!

But they still can't tell us what we need to know.

Are you fucking with me?
In order to get the rest of the legend, we have to become specific members of the Sun tribe, whose shaman is the one with the information we require. Exasperated, but not wanting to damage the good will we've already earned through displays of intense testicular fortitude, we ask what we have to do. Nothing big, really... just drag these three pillars up a steep slope to the top of a mountain, and put them in some rounded depressions. Then hold them up for three days and three nights.

No problem. Or, at least, there isn't a problem until we're attacked by three bullettes.

Majenko To The Rescue!

At first it seems as if we're going to do just fine, sleep-deprived as we are. Barriers hold them back for a little bit, and magic is flying from the cleric and the magus. The land sharks make it up the mountain, though, and that's when shit gets real. They're dealing on the cleric, and the tiefling goes down. In fact, if not for the troll styptic he slapped on himself, and the fast healing it gave him, he'd have been no more.

That's enough of that.
The cleric manages to charm one of the monsters, and the big gray beast now affectionately dubbed Shep starts savaging one of his previous brethren. The fighter is slashing and smashing, and Majenko curves around for a flank, stabbing it right between its plates. The beast not only fails its saving throw against his sleep venom, but falls off the top of the mountain and dies from the damage. The last remaining bullette succumbs to the assault of the rest of the party, and wonder of wonders we managed to keep the pillars relatively vertical.

So, we're alive, we have a (temporary) pet land shark, and we are now members of the tribe of the sun. Did they share the rest of the myth with us, and present the party with the next part of the journey? Find out next time on The Saga of Majenko: A Slog Through Scarwall!

If you have a gaming story of your own, whether it's an official adventure path or just something from a friend's homebrew, I'd love to put it up on Table Talk! Just send an email, and let me know. Also, don't forget to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up on my latest posts, and if you'd like to throw a little support behind Improved Initiative then stop by my Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar!