Monday, December 28, 2015

Concept Policing is Something Gamers Should Stop Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flip Side

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

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

Keep An Open Mind (And Open Ears)

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?

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

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

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

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

Develop Your Spellcasting Style

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

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

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

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

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

Stand Out From The Other Casters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is The Stormwind Fallacy?

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

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

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

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

Always Bring Your "A" Game

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder

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

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

How Do You Lose A Limb in Pathfinder?

Well there are a few ways, actually.

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

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

A Normal Prosthesis (For The Low-Level Adventurer)

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

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

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

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

Magical Prosthetics (For The Discerning/Crazy Badass)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

The Faerie Ring, of course!

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

What's The Faerie Ring?

I'm glad you asked!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Intimidating Wizard

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

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

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

The Intimidating Wizard

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

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

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

The Mechanics

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

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

The Flavor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

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

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

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Your Fantasy Armor May Be More Historically Accurate Than You Think

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

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

i09 Puts Elaborate Helmets Front and Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Saga of Majenko Part Eight: Re-Taking Korvosa

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

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

And now, without further ado...

Re-Taking Korvosa!

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

That was when the DM threw a dragon at us.

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

Guess who had rogue saves?

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

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

Majenko The Grief Counselor?

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

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

Well, except Majenko.

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

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

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

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