Monday, March 28, 2016

Can We Stop Making "The Batman Argument" For Wizards?

Character classes are designed so that they each have something to contribute to a game. The goal is for a party to be able to handle any challenge that comes its way, and for the members to combine their efforts in order to be more than just a bunch of individuals. A party should, ideally, be a team that works together like a well-oiled machine to defeat the cult, slay the dragon, or accomplish whatever other goal has been set before them.

No matter how unsettling that goal happens to be.
Despite our tacit agreement that every class has its place, and that in the hands of a skilled player any class or class combination can be used to make a good character, there is still this inane urge we have to talk about the "strongest" classes. In what boils down to a "my dad can beat up your dad" style debate, a faction of players will insist with absolute authority that wizards are the most powerful class. When asked why they feel this way, the players will say that it's because a 20th level wizard, given time to cast and the resources for necessary spell components, is an unstoppable force. They'll throw out the ability to teleport across the map, or the power to summon creatures from the ether, or the ability to create pocket dimensions, but no matter the lyrics, the tune being played is always the same.

I am now referring to this protestation as "The Batman Argument," and I would like to ask anyone tempted to make it to take a moment to look at why it's ridiculous.

What is The Batman Argument?

Batman is one of the most competent characters in the DC comics universe, if not in all of fiction. A master detective with a genius intellect, and perhaps the world's most accomplished martial artist, Batman's writers have also created a rule for the caped crusader's stories over the years. The rule says that no matter how powerful the foe, if given enough time and resources, Batman can craft a solution that lets him emerge victorious.

Because all I do is win.
This is the sort of logic that some players will use to justify their opinion about wizards being the most powerful character class. Because, they will argue, a sufficiently accomplished wizard can alter time, permanently alter his form, and create small armies of followers while guarding himself completely against any outside threat.

Which sounds great... until you realize the same sort of argument can be made for nearly any class.
Also, before we go any further, here's your reminder to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards!

Every Class Is An Epic Threat At Level 20

If you set the same parameters for other classes that you do for a wizard (a huge budget, home turf advantage, and unlimited prep time), then you can create similarly difficult threats with any class, and a bit of creativity. A 20th level ranger claims a huge swath of forest, along with several strongholds inside it, and sets up traps to catch the unwary. Or a swath of desert, or a network of caverns, or even an entire neighborhood of a city. Within that area he can move like a ghost, springing deadly ambushes on anyone who enters his realm, and vanishing before his enemies can hit back.

Pick a class, and you can come up with similar arguments. A high-level rogue or ninja can ambush even the wariest of parties, picking them off in the night, or assassinating them in their beds, sneaking unseen past locked doors and booby traps. Give a 20th level fighter time to prepare for every contingency, and the equipment to handle it, and you'll find yourself hard-up against a master of war on her home turf. A 20th level barbarian is a storm of fury and frenzy, and even the lowly bard can create a deadly fun house that will have even competent adventurers jumping at shadows.

Of course a wizard that's allowed endless time to prepare, is given a huge budget, and is allowed to choose the place where the confrontation happens is going to be a gigantic threat. That's why so many end-of-campaign bad guys are wizards with a page and a half of precasts. But time and resources, put in the hands of any other class, can be just as dangerous.

Besides, how much harder is it to operate when you don't have the time and resources you need to prep? When you aren't given time to rest, and when you run out of fuel for your higher-level tricks? What then?

Everything Has A Weakness

Something that often gets overlooked in the pointless discussion of whose favorite class is better endowed than the other is this gaming truism; everything has a weakness.

Paladins are an unstoppable force, when you put them up against evil creatures that rely on fear effects. If you have them fight creatures that aren't evil, though, they're fighting with their hands tied. Rangers are a deadly threat when they're in a familiar terrain and fighting a favored enemy... when they're out of their element, though, they lose a lot of their power. Rogues who can't get their sneak attack off aren't going to do a lot of damage, and fighters or barbarians who can't overcome damage reduction or escape a colossal foe's grapple, are going to be in quite the tight spot.

What about wizards? Well, wizards have weaknesses just like any other class. As I mentioned in How To Shut Down Spellcasters in Pathfinder, wizards' primary weaknesses are refreshing and preparing spells, required components, familiars and bonded items, and concentration checks. If you can keep a wizard from getting the time required to rest and re-prepare spells, disrupt the spellcasting process by planting an arrow in the caster's shoulder, stealing a bonded item, or snatching away necessary material components (particularly important for high-level spells where the components can't be ignored with Eschew Materials), then you have taken the bullets out of the gun.

The other weaknesses wizards have to deal with is that they have to choose spells for the day, and they can only cast so many of those spells. Choosing the wrong spells for a given situation is just as disastrous as firing off one spell after another, until you're shooting blanks. And, lastly, a wizard needs to be able to get their spells off. Sometimes all it takes is a good initiative check for you to cripple your foes before they can harm the party... and sometimes all it takes is a bad initiative check for you to find yourself on the ragged edge before you managed a single somatic component.

Everything Is Situational

None of this is to say that wizards, or any other spellcasters, are weak classes. They simply have different pressure points than other classes do. And, while you should plan for those blind spots so you know what to do if they come up in game, people in glass houses ought not to throw stones.

No matter how badass your glass house is.
At the end of the day, though, how effective a character, or a party, is depends entirely on the campaign they're put in. For example, A brute squad made up of a front line of skull crushers, an archer, a battle caster, and a chaplain are going to decimate the enemy on the battlefield in a straight-up fight, but if they have to pursue a more subtle, political plot they'll be fish out of water. A powerful enchanter or illusionist might be able to defeat foes through trickery and domination, but if every enemy in a campaign is immune to their spells because their minds are beyond the reach of magic, these casters are completely out of their element.

At the end of the day, it's perfectly okay to have a favorite class. By all means, talk about the things you like, and why you like them. But if you ever feel the need to break out a ruler and start comparing sizes, just remember that you're not Batman.

I hope this week's Monday post didn't ruffle too many feathers! If you enjoyed it, and you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month will keep the content flowing. Also, if you haven't already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Just How Old Is Your Loot? Tips For DMs Trying To Spice Up Treasure Hoards

Your heroes have traversed the burning desert, evaded the traps in the bloody labyrinth, and fought their way to the throne room of the Ralthus, the vampire warlord. The undead warrior has been reduced to little more than dust and sand, and the party turns to his collections of treasures... which is around the time you start rolling on the charts, and tossing out whatever loot they find.

And you find *dice rattle* a +2 dagger, and 25 gold pieces.
If this part of the game always feels like a kink in your story's flow, you might want to take a moment to try and make your treasure feel authentic to where your party found it, and how long it's been there, instead of just rattling off a spreadsheet of valuables.

How Treasure Hoards Are Formed

Lots of creatures in fantasy RPGs have treasure hoards. Dragons are perhaps the most infamous for the practice, but trolls, ogres, goblins, kobolds, and even undead lords all have treasures in their lairs. The reasons why should be obvious, but we rarely think about it. You see, treasure accumulates either because the creatures seek out (or occasionally create) powerful items, or because adventurers have been killed by the creatures, and their enchanted items stayed where they fell.

This is the reason you find an ancient sword in a troll's lair, just laying on the floor. It's also why you find talismans of great power in the strongholds of necromancers. These items don't just magically appear when you win a fight; they represent the wealth (either purposeful or accidental) of the creatures you've defeated.

Which, as a DM, is a great storytelling hook that often gets overlooked.

Just How Long Has This Stuff Been Here?

I'm not suggesting that you lay out a hoard with the meticulous care that you do the dungeon the party has to go through to reach it. Down that road lies madness, However, by scattering a few details here and there when it comes time to reward your party, you can turn something that often devolves into a bunch of bookkeeping into a great roleplaying experience.
I found a WHAT now?
What sort of details could you throw around though? After all, treasure is treasure... right?

Well, if that treasure is only a few years old, then sure, it's going to be recognizable. But what about treasure that's been sitting in a hoard for decades? Or centuries? What about treasure that made its way to this hoard from a far away land, or which is from empires that don't exist anymore?

For example, let's say your mid-level party has descended into the corrupt necropolis, and smashed skulls until the dead went back to sleep, and the malevolent influence hanging over the tombs departed. What was left behind? Sure, there's probably gold and silver, but who minted those coins? The metal they're made of is good, but a coin with a face you don't recognize is an intriguing detail that will catch some players' imaginations. Especially if you can link those coins back to your world's history, or to your future plot, in some way. Perhaps there are weapons, but if those weapons were buried with the dead in ages past, what do they look like now? Are they pristine, their magic pushing back the forces of decay, or are they waiting beneath the ashes and dust to be discovered? And do these weapons look or feel different from the enchantments of today? For particularly potent weapons, especially named weapons, is the magic laced within them beyond what even the most powerful wizards could create in this day and age?

There are dozens of minor details you can add to your party's loot to make it unique, and to really bring across that the threat they defeated has not been challenged in many years. A shield whose crest belongs to a nation a thousand years in the dust, or armor whose protective enchantments are written in a dead language known only to a few scholars. A breastplate distinctive of a knightly order who is only known today in children's stories of long ago valor. Distinctive patterns of forging or creation thought lost to time (similar to the patterns of Toledo or Damascus steel) would make weapons even more unique, and give players a sense that they aren't just holding a pile of interchangeable numbers. They're holding a piece of the game world's history in their hands.

Don't Roll For The Important Stuff

Every DM has his or her own style, and not everyone is good at off-the-cuff description. Some DMs need to think things through, and write it down long before the party ever gets there. Which is fine. However, take my advice on this one; if you want to create unique descriptions for the treasure your party finds, come up with it in advance. That way you know what's in the room, and you have your descriptions primed and ready for when someone asks what they find.

Do you draw the serpent blade when you find it?
Also, if you're looking for more advice on this particular subject, check out my previous posts Alternatives to Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor, as well as How To Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane.

As always, thanks for stopping in to hear what I have to say. If you'd like to help keep the content flowing, you can support Improved Initiative by visiting The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and becoming a patron today! Also, if you haven't done so yet, you can keep up on all my latest posts by following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Monday, March 21, 2016

OffWorld Designs Has The Geek and Gaming Gear You Need

So, as you all know, I attend a fair number of cons every year. I'm a panelist, I often work a stint doing signings and book sales, and I network with all the other creative professionals who show up to engage the public the same way I do. Which means I meet a lot of other creative types, and companies, who are putting out some really cool stuff.

You know, stuff like this!

You know you want this shirt.
That design, in case you somehow got to this post without reading the title, is from OffWorld Designs. And, if you're pretty sure it looks familiar, that's probably because you've been to a geek or gaming convention somewhere in America at some point. They have a huge library of shirts, hats, bags, caps, and other gear bearing your favorite characters, clever designs, and in-your-face declarations. They even have an entire section dedicated expressly to Cthulhu and Lovecraft references!

You thought I was exaggerating, didn't you?
In addition to being the bearers of cool stuff, though, OffWorld Designs was kind enough to give me a few secrets to share with you, my weekly readers. The first, which will soon be no more, is the promo code 16SpringClean. Just enter it while you check out, and it will get you 50% off on any clearance shirt you buy (at a minimum of $10), until March 27th. The other bargain, which doesn't have an expiration date on it, is the code 15conpc. This code gets you 20% off your next Internet order, assuming you haven't used it before. Be warned, though, it has no power over convention souvenir items. Everything else, though, is fair game.

As always, thanks for tuning in to see what news is afoot this Monday! If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? As little as $1 a month can be a big help, and it will keep the content coming straight to your screen. Also, if you haven't yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Natural Attacks Can Turn Your Pathfinder Character Into a Monster

The party has battled its way through the blighted forest, scaled the cliffs of the blackened reach, and now finds themselves in the den of Flame Breaker, the ancient red wyrm. The adventurers manage to survive the great beast's breath, but those who rush in foolishly find that the dragon has other, more personal weapons at its disposal. After two claws, two wings, a bite, and a tail slap, those members of the party who aren't dead are going to spend the rest of the round ducking for cover and trying to heal.

Should have brought your A-game, my tiny morsels.
While the sheer array of natural attacks a dragon can rain down on a party is impressive, it's far from the only monster in the manual that gets so many powerful strikes. What a lot of players either don't know, or totally forget about, though, is that natural attacks aren't a toy reserved for the DM. You can add them to your character, as well, and often to truly devastating effect.

What Are Natural Attacks (And How Do They Work)?

Since we're crossing into territory a lot of players never enter, let's begin at the beginning. A natural attack is when a creature has some variety of natural weapon they can attack with. This might be a bite attack for a wolf, or a slam attack for a golem, a gore for a minotaur, you get the idea. All the different types of natural attacks, and their damage by size, are listed in the Universal Monster Rules.

With me so far? Good.

There are also two types of natural attack; a primary, and a secondary. A primary natural attack is made with the creature's full base attack bonus, ability modifiers, feats, bonuses, etc. just like a regular attack would be, and it adds the creature's full strength modifier to damage. If a creature only has one natural attack, it is considered a primary attack, and it adds 1 1/2 times its strength modifier to damage. A secondary attack is made with the creature's base attack bonus -5, and only adds 1/2 the creature's strength modifier to damage.

So bite is good?
Some of you are probably nodding along, but you're not sure where this is going. Sure, getting to add 1 1/2 your strength on a bite attack is great, but your bite only does 1d4 points of damage, and you could swing a greatsword to much bigger effect.

Remember the dragon example above? All creatures with multiple natural attacks get to take all of them as part of a full-attack action. No matter what level you are.

Time For Some Examples

All righty, let's reach for some low-hanging fruit. Let's say you're playing a 2nd level alchemist, and you take the feral mutagen discovery. This grants you a bite attack that deals 1d8 damage, and 2 claw attacks that deal 1d6 damage when you imbibe your mutagen. All of these attacks are listed as primary attacks. So, even though you're only level 2, you can claw, claw, bite as a full-attack action, with each attack getting your full bonuses, tearing someone to shreds like Lon Chaney on crystal meth. Not only that, but natural attacks can be modified by feats like Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Power Attack, etc.

But wait, there's more!
You're probably thinking sure, natural attacks sound pretty cool for lower-level stuff, but once I get a magic weapon they just aren't going to keep up. Hold onto your hats, folks, because you don't have to choose between your iterative attacks (the ones with weapons we're all so familiar with) and your natural attacks.

You see, you can choose to make a full-attack action using both your iterative attacks, and your natural weapons. The only catch is that, when you do this, all your natural attacks are considered secondary attacks.

How does that work? Well, let's say you're playing a level 2 barbarian with the Lesser Fiend Totem Rage Power. This means that, when you Rage, you grow a pair of horns, and gain a gore attack with them. But, because you raided a sweet dungeon, you also have a flaming greatax. No problem! First, you take your regular attack with the greatax, adding your full BAB, bonuses, etc. Then you take your attack with your horns. They're now a secondary attack, instead of a primary, so you subtract 5 from your total.

There is a caveat here, though. You cannot make natural attacks with a limb that is holding a weapon. So, the alchemist we mentioned earlier could swing a mace, then take a bite, and a claw attack, both as secondary attacks, if he wanted to, but he can't make two claw attacks because one of his hands is holding his bludgeoner. Make sense?

Of course, this can get really crazy when you start playing a brawler or a monk, and your character has several natural attacks as well. A brawler with a bite attack and two claws, for example, could declare his iterative attacks are kicking his enemies, and then he could take his three natural attacks, albeit as secondary attacks, to become a whirlwind of death. Or when you have a tiefling who's a two-weapon fighter, who also gets a gore attack, and two hoofs because of his goatish inheritance.

The Limitations of Natural Attacks

Before you get too excited, putting together a half-human, half-beast death machine, it's important to remember that natural attacks have limits in what they can do. For example, lots of spells that grant weapon bonuses do not grant those bonuses to natural attacks. When you buy magical enhancements, you'll need to get an amulet of mighty fists in order to add magic to your strikes. Additionally, you may need to eat up several feat slots taking things like eldritch claws or improved natural attack and multiattack (the latter two are found in the Bestiary under "Monster Feats") in order to make sure your attacks keep pace with the monsters you're fighting.

Whatever they happen to be.
It is important to remember, though, your natural attacks aren't something that can be disarmed, and you always have them with you. Also, they benefit from class features like favored enemy, smite, and sneak attack the same way any other weapon would. So if using a lot of natural attacks is something you want to do (especially in conjunction with two-weapon fighting to get all the attacks in), you might want to see how you can turn your body into a weapon.

Some Ways You Can Get Natural Attacks

For those of you who've read this far who are wondering how to make natural attacks a part of your character, there are a lot of ways you can acquire them. Here are just a few of the more common ones you won't have to beg your DM for too hard.

- Rage Powers: Powers like the lesser fiend totem, beast totem, and animal fury grant you natural attacks while raging (gore, claws, and bite respectively). It's also worth noting that the greater beast totem grants you pounce, which could be a nightmare for anyone caught at the end of your charge attack.

- Mutagen: The feral mutagen mentioned in the example above is another great way to get a full bevy of natural attacks. If you're planning on taking levels of Master Chymist, it also allows you to hit harder, and hurt more, with those natural attacks.

- Class Features: Several sorcerer bloodlines grant natural attacks for a certain period of time at lower levels. Draconic sorcerers, or those who take levels in Dragon Disciple, will gain claws and a bite for a certain amount of time during the day. Druids who use their wild shape will gain the natural attacks of the creatures they become. Rangers can choose to take the natural weapon fighting style, which doesn't grant natural attacks itself, but it does give you access to feats which do, like Aspect of The Beast.

- Racial Features: This is where most natural attacks come from, because to have them all the time you've got to be born with them. Races that gain natural attacks, or have the option to gain natural attacks include orcs and half-orcs (bite), catfolk (claws), tieflings (variety of natural attacks, with racial feats), skinwalkers (bite, claws, or gore, typically), Tengu (bite, and sometimes others), and goblins (bite). There are other available races that get, or can get, natural attacks, but these are some of the more common ones.

- Magic Items: Though not common, there are some magic items that grant natural attacks. The Demon Hand, in particular, grants you a natural claw attack that's one size category bigger than you. The only requirement is that you have to replace your hand with a demon hand. This was one of my favorites mentioned in Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder.

- Feats: There are a lot of feats that grant natural attacks to certain races or classes. Aspect of the Beast lets druids gain natural attacks, while Razortusk gives orcs and half-orcs a bite attack if they swapped out the racial feature.

For those who've been missing my long-winded crunch lists, hopefully this week gave you plenty to chew over. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? For as little as $1 a month, I  can keep the faucet open, and the flow coming straight to you. Also, if you haven't started stalking my updates yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Calm Down, No One is Taking Your Games Away

I've been running this blog for a few years now, and I've been fortunate to attract a much bigger audience than I ever thought I'd manage. Also, because keeping my readers happy is something I like to do, I pay attention to the comments and feedback my posts generate. Especially the ones that end up with a lot of views, and which generate a lot of attention. Because while I love gaming, I also have bills to pay. There is something I've noticed, though, and I'd like to address it here. Something that I would like everyone who sees this to read, internalize, and remember the next time I say or publish something you disagree with as a player or a DM.

Now listen very, very carefully.
I am a yutz on the Internet with a blog and an opinion. I have no power over you.

So do your best Fonzie impersonation, and chill the hell out.

No One's Taking Your Games Away... Least of All Me

One of the most common negative comments left on my posts goes something like, "it's SJWs/overthinkers/politically correct/negative adjective people like you who are ruining gaming. Shut up, and stop trying to take away my fun."

Now, those kinds of comments are usually left on controversial posts like Sexuality Matters in Roleplaying Games (And Here's Why), or The 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing, but sometimes they're left on more innocuous posts. Posts which are expressly suggestions for how you could play a class, or which offer alternatives to the traditional views we've had of certain fantasy RPG mainstays. Posts which aren't telling anyone to do anything, but simply pointing out that there is often more than one way to do something, especially if you think outside the beginner box.

Like how I can rock 9 samurai levels like it ain't no thing.
Here's the truth of the matter, ladies and gentlemen; nothing I say has any authority behind it. I am not the lead designer or creator on any of the games I talk about, and I don't have the ability to force anyone to play any RPG in a certain way. I am simply writing my thoughts on gaming down on this blog, and hoping that other players and DMs find them helpful.

If you find what I have to say really helpful, then take it and run with it! If you don't find it useful, then that's fine, too. If you feel compelled to have a discussion over an article I've written, or you want to express your own opinion to me, that's what I have a contact button for. But if your breast swells with outrage, and you think that proclaiming I'm "wrong" because that's not how you do it at your table will have an effect, then please stop.

You're only making me more powerful.

The Irony of Outrage

I'm guessing most of my regular readers don't read my sister blog, The Literary Mercenary. If you have and you've already seen the post How to Make Money as a Writer (By Embracing Your Inner Troll), then you've already learned the lesson I'm about to lay out. If you haven't, and didn't click-through to get the full explanation, here's the cliff notes version of why slinging your outrage into the comments section (especially on social media) is a terrible idea.

If you want to hurt, not help, my numbers, anyway.
Here's how the process of being a blogger works. I write a blog post, edit it, and then publish it. The next day I post it up in the forums and social media pages which have proved receptive to my work in the past. People who approve of the posts will like them, share them, and leave comments on them. That last one is important, because whenever there are new comments on the Paizo forums, or on a Facebook group, my post is pushed up to the top of the order. That means more people are going to see it, and the views it gets go up. In fact, social media sites like FB will also inform the commenter's friends, which will give them a chance to see what it is that caught Ralph's attention.

Now, if you see something you don't like, the best way to make sure it doesn't get any bigger is to walk on by and ignore it. Sort of like Freddy Krueger, content creators lose their power when no one knows who they are. If, on the other hand, your first reaction is to immediately post a whole bunch of comments about how the poster is just out to steal your fun, and they're playing the game wrong, and they're pushing politics into your storytelling circles, all you're doing is making that post more visible. If you add to the mess by sharing the link on your own page, possibly with the message of, "it's assholes like this that are what's wrong with gaming," then all you've done is increased the number of people who've seen the post. And the more page views the post gets, the more money the creator gets, and the more people know about that person's blog.

It is in my best interests to court outrage at every turn, because it's good for my pocket book. But I think it would be better for us, as a community, to step back, take a breath, and ask why we feel the need to lash out when someone suggests we could play differently? Not that we have to play differently, but that we can if we want to.

As always, thanks for stopping in to see what I have to say on my Monday updates. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? All it takes is $1 a month to help me keep the content flowing. Also, if you haven't already, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on my latest creations.

Friday, March 11, 2016

That One Time I Brought Calvinball to a Changeling LARP

So, we finally finished The Saga of Majenko (all 10 parts of it), so I thought this week we could all use a Pathfinder palate cleanser. For those who don't know, in addition to slinging dice across a tabletop, I'm also a fan of World of Darkness live-action games. I've been an on-again-off-again player in Mind's Eye Society's Changeling: The Lost venue. While I currently play in the Chicago venue, the story I'd like to tell took place in DeKalb, back when it was a hopping place to be. And, I like to think, it shows the sheer willingness of some members of the ST staff to run with any concept that came their way.

No matter how oddball it was.

And boy did WE have a doozy.

Of Changelings and Calvinball

For those of you unfamiliar with Lost as a game, let me give you the crash course. You are a mortal who was stolen by a being of god-like power called a True Fae. While in their realm, you were twisted and altered to become something else. You managed to escape, in time, and find your way back to the real world. What you find is that the world has become strange to you, and you now have to make a new life for yourself, altered as you are by faerie magic.

So, it's basically a modern-day fairy tale with a heavy dose of cthonian horror. Solid? Solid.

As a player, one of the things that appealed to me most about Changeling in the new World of Darkness setting was that you could do nearly anything. You want to play a comic book character who finds himself in the real world, and uses his powers to fight injustice? You can do that. You want to play a slick-talking businessman whose words can cloud people's minds, and who can read the skeins of fate in order to turn every investment into solid gold? You can do that too. Psychotic homeless shapeshifter? Bounty-hunting wolfman? Dragon who is also a prosecuting attorney? These are all concepts you can make right out of the gate, with no special permissions from the storytellers, and no paperwork required.

The idea I had was a little stranger, and I got two friends to go in on it with me.

Don't hate the players, hate The Game.
One of the big things that Lost took from Irish mythology was that True Fae love games. Games are how a lot of mortals end up getting taken in the first place, and it's also how a lot of changelings end up escaping their keeper's clutches. What I wanted to do was to create a sport that would appeal to the nonsensical, solipsistic nature of the True Fae. A game where the rules could change from one breath to another, and where players would need to operate at a level of superhuman skill in order to follow all of the constant fluctuations of fouls and goals. A game where winning once would be a triumph of will, and where never losing was all-but-impossible.

In short, I wanted to play Calvinball, from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

To drive the ridiculousness of the idea home, the team of players we had were serious business. Two ogres and an elemental, all of them rippling with muscle, and with a fanatic devotion to their sport typically only seen in certain World Cup games. They called it The Game, and were confused no one else had ever heard of it. The Summer Court, who was in full attendance, wanted to play.

The three players agreed, handed the referee's whistle to the mute Harlequin from the Winter Court (because who else would we possibly give it to?), and we all turned to the storyteller.

This Was Where The Magic Happened

Some storytellers would look at this, and shake their head because it wasn't serious enough. Others would look at the backstories, realize that one of the unshakeable rules of The Game in Arcadia was that the losers were put to death, and decide this was too serious (even if the Aztec-style victory celebration was no longer a requirement now that they'd escaped). The storyteller running this particular game gave us a huge smile, and said, "All right, let's do this!"

Queensbury rules, motherfuckers!
The storyteller added up each team's physical stats, athletics dots, and bonuses gained from activated powers, as well as kith and seeming blessings. Then he pulled randomly to decide how the rules were going to affect each team. We were tied. Then we started spending Willpower. When that was said and done, we were still tied. Then, before there could be a deciding victory one way or another, an outside force (another player who wasn't in the competition at all) swooped down, and stole the ball.

For the first time in the history of The Game, there was a tie. Not only that, but in a venue where outsiders are looked upon with distrust (and occasionally with outright hostility), three new PCs with no ties and no history were immediately embraced as if we were all long-lost friends.

Which really goes to show that sometimes all it takes is a zany idea, crazy players, and a brilliant storytelling staff, to create some truly remarkable memories. Also, in case you were curious, that was not the last time The Game was played in that particular venue.

As always, thanks for stopping in to listen to my ramblings! If you're more of a Pathfinder or tabletop player, rest assured, I've still got one or two more stories up my sleeve. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 a month for me to keep getting hot, fresh content right on your screen. Also, if you want to stay up-to-date on my latest, then follow me at Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Check Out Chaotic Animations For Classic Animation With Attitude

So, as a resident of the stranger corners of the Internet, I run into a lot of cool projects that no one's heard of. Recently I came across a small animation group who's trying to provide all of us with stories we want to hear, and to present them in a tone that will jangle our nostalgia bells. If you've ever been a fan of old-fashioned Disney cartoons, then you need to check out The Forgotten Toon.

Now, that little video is just a proof of concept from Chaotic Animations. And while they'd love to do more with both this story, and with others they have waiting on their drawing boards, it takes a lot of time, effort, and support to create full-fledged animation. Way more than it takes for almost any other kind of project out there. Which is why I'm doing my part to help boost their signal, and asking my readers to check them out. If you like what you see, then become a subscriber to stay on top of their latest offerings. If you find their videos amusing, rate them, and share them with a few friends. If you're feeling particularly daring, say something nice in the comments. Trust me, it takes serious fortitude to step out onto that no-man's-land with a positive attitude.

We have someone offering encouragement... permission to engage?
For those of you who really want to see where Chaotic Animations is going, though, you can also check out their Patreon page. Every little bit helps, as I like to remind folks.

Speaking of helping, if you'd like to keep Improved Initiative going, then stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page as well. As little as $1 a month will keep my posts coming right to you, and I never charge for these little Monday updates. Also, if you want to stay on top of all my latest updates, then be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Unexpected Barbarian

Alvin Dragonborn is one of the most infamous of the realm's crown princes. A tall, broad-shouldered youth, his handsome face is nearly as famed as the powerful sword arm he loves to show off at tournaments. That dragon on his shield and armor isn't just for show, however. Those who've come to grips with the princeling in field melees have said that when the horn blows and battle is joined, his eyes glow bright within his helm. Scales and claws spring out over his arms, and his roars are more those of a beast than of a man.

Because, contrary to popular belief, you can find barbarians anywhere. If you look hard enough for them.

Sometimes you don't even have to look very hard.

How Can You Do That?

The example I opened with isn't some unusual archetype, or some multiclass concept. As long as you take a feat like Noble Scion at level one, or even a trait like Prince/Princess, you have the character's noble background taken care of. At that point all you need to do is take barbarian levels, the same as you would with any other warrior of passion.

I can hear the clearing of throats, and the, "actually, you can't," warm-ups already, so allow me to quote Pathfinder's core rule book. On page 31, the barbarian class description boasts this line, "These brutal warriors might rise from all walks of life, both civilized and savage..."

What that means, ladies and gentlemen of the dice cup, is that there is no restriction on where barbarians come from. While you can take the Urban Barbarian archetype if you want to change-up your Rage, you aren't required to do so just to play a city character with barbarian levels. If you want to play a back-alley bruiser, a war hero, a noble champion, or even a fist of the church (a role typically fulfilled by a paladin, warpriest, or cleric), you can do it with the barbarian class. In fact, with the right traits, and perhaps a level dip in another class, it's possible to make up for the barbarian's lack of skills, while still enjoying Rage Powers, a banging Fortitude save, decent armor proficiencies, and the ability to swing one hell of a big ax.

It's also important to remember that the barbarian class isn't reserved specifically for humans. Sure, we've seen our share of barbarian half-orcs, but what else could you do with it? Make a dwarven shield captain, whose Rage Powers are all about goading his enemies into attacking (which is a nasty combination when put together with the Stalwart Defender prestige class)? Perhaps you'd prefer an elven dervish that's part of Kyonin's elite guards, and who turns into a whirlwind of steel when battle is joined, sundering enemies' shields and armor with hammer blows from her curved blade? Perhaps a tiefling barbarian enlisted in the Worldwound crusade, turning his passions and deadly inherited powers, against the forces of the abyss who helped birth him?

Barbarian is Not a Job Description

As I mentioned in What's in a Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity, no one goes around calling himself a barbarian. This is especially true if someone says, "so, what skills do you bring to this endeavor?"

There are so many different ways you can describe yourself.
The thing that barbarians all share, based on the class description, is a passion, and a fury, that is only truly unleashed in combat. However, the places barbarians come from are as wide and varied as the forms their Rage takes, once it's let loose to ravage the battlefield.

If you enjoyed this post, but you're still looking for inspiration, you might want to check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians, as well as 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power.

Also, for those who are interested, Prince Alvin Dragonsborn is now a part of Dungeon Keeper Radio! Check out his debut in the first episode of Mythconceptions monthly, "Barbaric Assumptions."

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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