Monday, June 27, 2016

RPGs Don't Require a Morality System

So, as most of my readers know, the major focus of my content on Improved Initiative is Pathfinder. That's partially because it's the game I play the most often, and thus the one I have the most knowledge about. It's also because, as one of the most popular RPGs on the market, it draws a lot more views than when I write about something like World of Darkness, or Call of Cthulhu. However, when I can spare some time (when I'm not running two blogs, writing books, attending conventions, and writing Infobarrel articles) I do like to try and check out new systems. Sometimes it's for work, and sometimes it's for pleasure, but I have noted a repeated problem in several systems that's been giving me barking fits.

If character morality has no mechanical effect in your game, then do not put a spot for it on the character sheet.

We get enough people micromanaging our alignments in real life, thank you very much.

How To Tell When Your Game's Morality System is Useless

Now, before any readers start crowing about how the alignment system (prominently featured in Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons, and other games) is a blight on RPGs, I'd like to point out that we're not talking about alignment here. Because, like or or loathe it, alignment has a purpose in games like Pathfinder. Paladins, clerics, inquisitors, and other classes use alignment as a way to gauge how well they're following their teachings and codes, which has a mechanical effect on the game. The same is true of spells, magic items, and traps which react differently to people based on their alignment.

Another candidate for bashing might be the Virtue/Vice system commonly used in White Wolf, but again, that system has a definite purpose in the game. It's meant to refresh your willpower, which can make a huge difference in what your character is capable of achieving. It's an integral part of the game, so it gets a pass as well.

So what are you talking about?
What I'm talking about are games that cling onto vestiges of morality systems, like alignment, but where those systems have no actual impact in a mechanical sense. For example, I recently read through a system that went into 9-point details of personal morality... but then never explained why it was necessary to apply it to your character. Your morality wasn't a test to see whether a god would grant you power, or to figure out whether certain forms of magic would treat you differently. It was a classless system, so your character's morality clearly wasn't to maintain any class features. It served no purpose aside from adding another label to a character during the generation process.

Fewer Labels, More Characterization

If you have a game that doesn't require a morality system (Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, etc.) then a change happens in the character creation process. Rather than picking a morality label, and then asking how this character fits within that label, players instead focus more on the gray areas of who this person they're piloting is. They ask what this character finds morally wrong, and what actions that person thinks are right and proper to take in response. They focus on their history, their knowledge, the places they've been, and the things they've done. Morality emerges as part of the process, but it does so without a label being attached to it that often limits the way a player thinks about right and wrong within the game world.

This can lead to terrible, terrible ideas.
What I am not suggesting is removing parts from your game's engine if those parts have a necessary function. Like them or hate them, many times a morality system is a part of how bigger, more complicated mechanics function. If, however, the parts are purely for looks, or entirely vestigial, then tear them off the same way you would a spoiler on a station wagon. It will smooth out your flow, lead to more thoughtful character creation, and free up a lot of space in the rule book.

Even better, you could fill that vacant space with helpful hints on making better characters. Things like fleshing out your character's family, job experience, their motivations, and all the other things that make them step, fully-formed, into the game world.

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out my Moon Pope Monday update this week. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? As little as $1 a month can make a big difference when it comes to getting more content straight to you. Even better, it comes with sweet swag just for being a patron! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, then what's stopping you?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Academic Sorcerer

Every member of the party is going on this treasure hunt for a different reason. Arnum Black, Brute of the Mistvale, signed on to fill his coin purse and wet his blade. Ameri Vaine is said to be the only thief to ever escape the Citadel, and you'll need that sort of skill if you're going to bypass the deadly traps and complicated locks that have stymied all other adventurers. Carnell Vino is rarely sober, but for bravery there is no holy man more willing to stand with his companions. Professor Alessa Greenbough is there as the expert on ancient lore and arcane knowledge... but her companions were expecting a wizened woman, half-lost in her robes and with spectacles that made her eyes look several sizes too big. The Professor, though, carries a presence with her. Striking and forceful, there is more to her than a great mind... there is power, roiling just beneath the surface.

Which kind of power that happens to be is up to the player.

The Academic Sorcerer

Because of the spontaneous nature of a sorcerer's power, most players assume they learn their magic in a hands-on way. After all, a wizard's spellbook is useless to a sorcerer, and if there's nothing to be gained in power from reading a book, then why would a sorcerer ever pick one up?

This is the soundest of logic.
It's important to note that sorcerers have Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device on their skill list. This is a practical concern, since a spellcasting class without these skills is going to be in deep shit quite quickly. However, for your story concerns, it's important to know how a sorcerer came by these skills.

One explanation is that your sorcerer went to school.

Consider the situation many sorcerers are faced with. They are born with power inside of them, and one day that power begins to manifest. These powers might terrify their friends and family, and could lead to witch hunts and lynch mobs as rumors about where the sorcerer's bloodline actually traces to. They may have no idea how to control it, and nowhere to turn. Of course, answers will lie at the institutions of great arcane learning, whose knowledgeable sages will be able to identify what is happening, and possibly shed insight into where a budding sorcerer's power actually comes from.

To the young sorcerer, the halls of academia may seem a refuge. A place where she isn't a freak, but rather someone to be respected. A student trying to harness a dangerous power, who is also seeking to solve the mystery of where said power came from. The sheer amount of research it would take to understand what she is would likely mean she'd gain real expertise in certain areas related to her bloodline (the undead, notable incidents of planar interaction and related offsping from infernal, demonic, or celestial heritage, arcane power and the functions of magic, the history of dragons and their dalliances with humans, etc.), as well. And, of course, the chance to study raw magic in its purest form might mean there's a hefty scholarship available if the sorcerer remains at the university, and at the disposal of the staff members.

With a lifetime of study, and knowledge gained through personal experimentation and exhaustive research, what institution wouldn't offer a place on their staff to a sorcerer with expertise? Especially if it meant the next time someone like them came through the doors that there may be even more help available?

Just One More Way To Play

You can't have just one.
As I pointed out in The Savage Wizard, we tend to get caught up in thinking of certain spellcasting classes in only one way. Wizards are erudite scholars, and sorcerers are wild cards. Those are valid ways to play them, but there are others. After all, why shouldn't your sorcerer be a learned scholar, with a great deal of knowledge in her specialized subject? If nothing else, it will leave your table scratching their heads while they try to figure out how sitting on a camp chair, listening to the bard play the violin while reading a book of poetry helps you prepare your spells for the day.*

*As I mentioned in What Does Your Spell Preparation Look Like, page 220 of the Core Rulebook clearly states that spontaneous casters like sorcerers, bards, etc., still have to go through a daily ritual to center, relax, and refresh themselves. It only lasts for 15 minutes, and you can do a lot with that quarter of an hour.

If you're looking for more inspiration, you should check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Sorcerers! Also, for those who are interested, Professor Greenbough has been featured on Dungeon Keeper Radio! If you liked the concept, take a listen to the Mythconceptions episode, "Scholars and Sorcerers."

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!

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, June 20, 2016

Cyborgs Aren't Just For RPGs Anymore

A while ago I wrote up a post titled Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder, and it's received a fair bit of attention since it first went up. However, anyone who's watched the news knows that we've had cybernetic prosthetic limbs for a while now. They're far from commonplace, and by the standards of most science fiction the technology we're working with is still in its early stages. The point is, though, that we have the technology to allow those who are missing body parts to replace them with fully-functioning robotic limbs, which are controlled via electrical impulses from the nervous system. There are even some models that provide feedback, letting the owner feel with their prosthetic limbs.

Then there's this guy.

That is not a cosplay. But if it was, it would be the most authentic one you'd ever seen.
That magnificent fellow is James Young, and according to IFL Science he had an unfortunate encounter with a train in 2012. This led to his left foot being severed and, to save his life, his left arm being amputated. Young is a biological scientist, and an avid gamer, which explains part of what happened next.

The Alternative Limb Project, and specifically designer Sophie de Oliveira Barata, gave James this new lease on life. The limb, which was designed in part with input from Konami, is meant to resemble the cybernetic arm sported by franchise leader Solid Snake. However, James's model also has a smartwatch in the wrist, and a drone that can launch from the shoulder.

While the limb is extremely impressive, and carries a $9,000 price tag, James is hoping to take things one step further. A procedure called an osseointegration will install a titanium implant that will adhere the prosthetic directly to James's bone. This would bring him one step closer to having two, totally independent arms once more.

If that's the sort of project you'd like to get behind, there's still a Go Fund Me going for this procedure.

In Other News

While Mr. Young sports an edgy, new future look, there is another amputee who's rocking something a little more old school. French tattoo artist JC Sheitan Tenet lost his right hand 22 years ago, and as such has done tattoos exclusively with his left hand. Or that was true, until he got together with an engineer friend of his, and designed something that might have come right out of New Avalon.

You didn't know how badly you needed a tattoo until just now.
According to Geek, this machine is fully functional. However, it currently lacks the fluid motion of a real hand. While adding a wrist joint and additional control may change that, the prosthetic is more than versatile enough for shading and basic line work. For more detailed stuff, the artist still has a fully functional, and extremely talented, left hand.

Thanks for stopping in to check out this Moon Pope Monday post. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to drop a little dosh in my bucket? All it takes is $1 a month to keep my lights turned on, and it gets you some sweet swag to call your own. Lastly, if you haven't done it yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Do Dwarves Surf? Tips For Diversifying Non-Human Fantasy Races

We all know dwarves. They're short, hirsute, and they're known far and wide for their love of ale, their craftsmanship, and their brusque demeanor. But what if, instead of living in a mist-shrouded mountain with a snowswept peak, you had a city of dwarves who'd made their home in a volcano on a tropical island? How would that location change dwarven culture, and the ways in which they demonstrate their inherent racial traits?

Never challenge the Tide Hearts... they'll sweep you under, and drown you.

As a quick for instance, would the dwarven love of wealth, mixed with their inherent toughness and difficulty to move, mean that pearl diving is a specialty among these islanders? Would tattoos be more common than heavy necklaces and bracers because of the heat, allowing dwarves to create fine artistry, and list their achievements proudly on their bodies for all to see? Do these dwarves still fight with heavy steel axes and hammers, or do they prefer to use lighter, more refined weapons like obsidian blades whose edges are equal to any steel weapon? Do they have a martial art that focuses on wrestling in the water, as well as on land? Do they use the banked heat of their volcanic home to forge items found nowhere else in the world?

Most importantly, do these dwarves surf?

Also, while we're on the subject, check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Dwarves!

Humans Aren't The Only Diverse Species in Fantasy

Too often we fall into what I refer to as "The Tolkien Trap" when it comes to fantasy RPGs. We acknowledge that humans come in a wide range of shapes, styles, colors, and cultures, but no matter where we go the orcs, elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes are always the same. The elves are always aloof and dismissive, the dwarves have thick Scottish accents and drink all the time, the halflings are stomachs with feet, and gnomes are random jokesters who don't understand why everyone is always so upset with them.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with having archetypes. But we see that human civilizations in different parts of our fictional world have different cultures, attitudes, and traditions... so why wouldn't the non-human races follow suit?

At what point do elves trade in their lutes for heavy metal ballads?
The easiest way to run the thought experiment is to do what I did above; take the non-human race out of its traditional element, and plop it down in a different location. How does this race change and adapt to fit this new environment, while still remaining true to the core of what it is (those mechanical bonuses you get for playing a member of this race)?

For example, we usually associate elves with trees. But how would their culture change if we took them out of the forests, and put them in the desert? Would they maintain their grace and stealth, blending in with shifting sand dunes, suddenly appearing and disappearing when it seems there was nowhere for them to go to or come from? Would they still wield bows, and if so, would they be the longbows we're used to, or would they wield shorter bows made from horn and heartwood? Would desert elves allow outsiders to see their faces, or would that act be something reserved only for close friends and family?

Another approach you could take is to shift an important aspect of the race's stereotypical culture, and then look at what ripples that would create. For example, what would be the result of a clan of orcs choosing to follow a god like Erastil, instead of depending on Gorum? While the Lord in Iron represents strength, power, and conquest, how would the values of community, family, and living in balance with nature alter a group, generation after generation? Would these settlements focus more on woodcraft, child-bearing, and living as good neighbors with those around them, using their in-born abilities and strengths to reach out hands of friendship, instead of the swords and spears of war?

Don't Be Afraid To Be Different

While the title of this section seems pretty straightforward, I'd like to include an asterisk. A big, fat asterisk. One which I will give its own name: The Dritzzt Exception.

You should have seen this one coming.
As someone who loves the versatility of fantasy as a genre, and who supports players in making characters which buck stereotypes, I do feel a need to point out that the burden is on players when they're trying to go against established canon regarding specific places and trends which already exist in their specific game world.

Let's look at Golarion, for example. If you want to play an orc or haf-orc from Belkzen, you have a pretty bad history to overcome. That nation has been at constant war, it's a savage wasteland, and the most common gods worshiped there are Rovagug, Lamashtu, and Zon Kuthon. The country is, on the whole, chaotic evil. Not only that, but it is the orc hordes of Belkzen who supported the lich lord known as the Whispering Tyrant in his bid to destroy life as we know it. That history does not force a character from Belkzen to be evil. However, players need to look at the context in which their character was raised, and then ask what lessons he took away from that rearing. And in a place where might makes right really is the law of the land, it's important for the player to be able to explain how a character with a lawful good alignment came out of that mess.

On the other hand, Golarion is a wide and varied world. An orc from the deserts of Osirion, the frozen peaks of the Land of The Linnorm Kings, or the depths of the Mwangi Expanse has none of the cultural baggage of the savage hordes of Belkzen. In fact, as has been expressly stated in books like Bastards of Golarion, orcs and half-orcs who fall outside the regions that have warred with Belkzen don't even experience the kind of racism orcs are assumed to be treated with in most fantasy RPGs. Because if there's no history of conflict between a nation and groups of orcs, then why would they be treated with suspicion?

Just some food for thought.

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out this week's Fluff post. If 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 per month is a big help, but more than that, it gets you some sweet swag as a new patron. Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Monday, June 13, 2016

6 Tournaments To Add Some Bloodsport To Your Campaign

There is nothing quite like a tournament. The pomp and circumstance juxtaposed with the speed, skill, and sometimes brutality, of combatants doing everything they can to be the victor. A tournament can often be the centerpiece of a campaign chapter, and winning one of them (or at least putting on a good show) is a phenomenal way for your party to get noticed. I recently completed a series of 6 tournaments for Kobold Press, and they're free for any player or DM to use.

If you like these, then you might want to check out the previous series I did for Kobold, 6 NPC Organizations to Spice Up Your Campaign.

Or if you're looking for some other pieces of lore to add to your campaign you should check out the supplements A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them) as well as A Baker's Dozen Pieces of Lore. Both pieces were authored by yours truly for Azukail Games, and they're full of urban legends, potential plot arcs, traditions, and local legends to spice up your setting.

6 Tournaments To Add Some Bloodsport To Your Campaign

#1: The King and Queen of Sharps

Where scoring "points" is a whole new game.
The King and Queen of Sharps tournament is a display of astonishing skill, and fast-paced swordsmanship. When your goal is not to kill your opponent, and where wounding them could lose your victory instead of clinching it, only those with a nearly supernatural skill will win the honor of being addressed as one of the Kings or Queens, and be given the right to carry one of the weapons awarded to the tournament winners.

#2: The Iron Fist

No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone.
When it comes to bare-knuckle brawling, no tournament is more brutal, or more revered, than the Iron Fist. A tournament by invitation only, participants have their lots drawn at random. They enter the arena with no weapons, and no clothing, fighting with strength, skill, and training to see who is the toughest. While some participants will only fight a handful of opponents, it isn't unheard of for one fighter to have to best a series of fresh, eager enemies with no more than a few minutes to catch their breath.

#3: The Arcane Masters

Never call it the battle of the bands... the bards take it personally.
Tournaments aren't only for the martially-inclined. Wizards, sorcerers, magi, and others all flock to the Arcane Masters as a way to prove their skill, knowledge, and power. However, the goal is not to do your opponent serious harm; the goal is to make them concede. This is where strategy comes into play, as many powerful spellcasters will try to keep their best spells and abilities a secret in order to throw off their opponents. Guile and strategy are often just as important as raw power when it comes to winning this tournament.

#4: The Labyrinth

It's around here somewhere... I think...
The Labyrinth is unusual among tournaments, in that it's not a test of battle skill... or not just that, at least. Every year the Labyrinth is different, and its location is set up so that only those in the know, or who are skilled at ferreting out information, will be able to find it. The challenges are kept completely secret, but participants need to overcome those challenges as quickly as possible. So, it's not a question of can they beat the Labyrinth... but how quickly can they do it?

#5: Blood on The Sand

A day at the beach, it isn't.
In the desert, water is life. Warring over water is expensive, though, which is why the tribal chieftains and nomadic caliphs came together, and created a way to determine who would control the oases. Blood on The Sand is often a battle to the death, but as the years have passed and the desert tribes have grown wealthy, the fighters have grown stranger. Mercenaries wielding bizarre weapons, mystics from faraway nations, and even inhuman creatures spawned from the desert's depths are all common sights in this tournament, but there's no telling who will win.

#6: The Devil's Dance

And your first opponent is...
Some tournaments are only available by invitation. Others are held in secret places, inaccessible to the common people. The Devil's Dance, though, is a tournament so secretive it's considered a legend by many fighters. Matches are held in a dark cavern before a masked and hooded audience, who never breaks their silence while fighters are pitted against fiends belched from the innards of some mad, despicable hell. Is the tournament real, or merely a figment in someone's imagination? And what prize would be worth fighting such inhuman creatures?

All right everyone, that's this week's Moon Pope Monday update. I hope you enjoyed, and found it useful. If you did, and you'd like to see more content just like this, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month nets you some sweet swag, and it will help me keep creating content just like this. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up with my latest releases?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

In Praise of Mage Armor

When it comes to Pathfinder, and even older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, we tend to get distracted by the shiny red balls. You know, those 9th-level spells, and 20th level class abilities that you rarely get to have for more than a session or two at the end of a campaign. However, as I pointed out in posts like The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party, sometimes we forget how truly powerful lower-level abilities and items can be, when properly utilized.

That's why, today, I'd like to talk about Mage Armor, and ask why it is we aren't abusing the holy crap out of it.

Come at me, bro!

What Makes Mage Armor So Great?

All right, let's begin at the beginning, here. So, we all know that Mage Armor is one of those bread-and-butter spells for spellcasters at lower levels. Wizards and sorcerers everywhere will take this spell because it grants them a +4 armor bonus to their AC, it lasts for hours per level, and it's a force effect, so incorporeal creatures can't ignore it. However, as you start getting access to more powerful magic items, better spells, etc., mage armor tends to fall by the wayside. You probably still pre-cast it on yourself, but it's far from your most impressive spell.

Of course, there's a lot of mileage you can get out of this first-level spell. Even if you're not a wizard.

This is where shit starts to get weird, isn't it?
On the one hand, it's important to remember that if you have two sources of the same bonus, like DR 5/- from being a barbarian, and DR 10/silver for being a werewolf, that you use the bigger bonus. However, it's equally important to remember that if the bigger bonus is ignored, the secondary one comes into play.

So, let's say you're a full-plate tank, but your party is going up against incorporeal enemies. You might not have the money for ghost touch armor, but having the wizard tap you on the head with Mage Armor (or getting a wand of it, since the spell lasts for hours per the caster's level) means that you still have a +4 bonus to your AC those ghosts can't ignore. If you couple it with Shield (cast from a spell-like ability, wand, or scroll, since its target is You), then you have a +8 bonus to your AC against those pesky ghosts. Sure, that won't come into play if you're just going toe-to-toe with a troll, but it can be a lifesaver if you're trying to avoid that bad touch.

And, let us not forget, there are a lot of characters who don't wear armor, but who still aren't spellcasters.

The monk is probably the most obvious candidate. After all, adding your Dexterity modifier, your Wisdom modifier, and your monk AC bonus together isn't bad, but why not add a floating +4 armor bonus that lasts for hours, doesn't count as armor, and has no negatives associated with it? The same is true for the swashbuckler, the gunslinger, and the duelist; the classes grant you additional bonuses based on wearing light or no armor, and if you're going to be leaping about making Acrobatics checks, the last thing you want is an armor check penalty screwing you up. And if you're a member of a class that doesn't get Use Magic Device as a class skill, just remember the Dangerously Curious trait is all you need to fix that problem.

Animal companions, mounts, and familiars can also make great use of this spell. After all, no one wants their pet wolf, or mouthy pseudodragon, to wind up getting skewered by the enemy. Which is why a simple tap on the head can make them that much harder to hurt, over and above the abilities they gain for being unique class features. Rogues also benefit from mage armor. They get all the bonuses they'd have from wearing a chain shirt, but they are free to be as sneaky and stealthy as they can be. What's even better, though, is that mage armor can be worn anywhere without giving it away. When you're in the pub gathering information, or at dinner with the duke, you can keep some protection going without worrying about committing the social faux pas of wearing a brigandine to the ball. Even barbarians who favor a shield, like the Savage Barbarian archetype, can combine their natural armor with Mage Armor to make them much harder to hit before they go a-raging across the battlefield.

How Do You Get Mage Armor?

Well, the easiest way to get access to Mage Armor (and Magic Vestment, if you want to stack the bonuses together), is by becoming good friends with the spellcasters in your party. At mid-level, the wizard or sorcerer would probably be more than happy to reserve a level 1 spell for you, assuming you've proven that keeping you alive is key to their survival and success. The cleric may do the same. However, not all spellcasters are willing to armor their allies instead of themselves. That's when you have to get creative.

Just how creative are we talking, here?
Well, one way you can make sure you have Mage Armor on hand is to buy a wand of it, shell out the extra gold to get it from a higher-level caster so you don't have to refresh it every hour, and be sure your Use Magic Device skill is up to snuff. That way you can pop yourself on the head, but you don't have to eat up your first action in combat. You could also use a ring of spell storing, or, if you have rogue levels, get the Major Magic rogue talent, and select Mage Armor as your spell-like ability. The advantage of this is that you get the spell at a higher caster level, even if you're doing a multiclass character.

Just One Tool in The Toolbox

It's important to remember that you have a plethora of options when it comes to your adventuring toolbox. Mage Armor, and similar low-level spells, might not be as shiny as the pneumatic head-crushers you get at higher levels, but sometimes you just need a claw hammer to get the job done.

Thanks for dropping in! I hope everyone found this week's Crunch topic useful. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar? As little as $1 a month gets you some sweet swag, and makes it that much easier for me to keep doing what I'm doing. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, why not start now?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why We Need To Pay What Games Are Worth

I've had this one on my "to-promote" list for a while now, and I finally found room for it. For those of you who didn't see it, I'm talking about the article Why We Need To Pay What Games Are Worth, Not What We Think They Should Cost by Christopher Helton. If you haven't read it, then I encourage you to click the link, and give it a read through.

Go ahead. I'll wait.
Finished? Good, because this article brings up some things that we, as gamers, need to talk about. And not just talk, but understand so we can continue to play our games responsibly, and understand where our money is really going.

RPGs Aren't Expensive (Once You Know What You're Buying)

People who've been into RPGs since Dungeons and Dragons burst on the scene in the 70s remember the days when you could buy a core book, and probably a module or two, for $20 or less. Even those of us who got into them before the turn of the last century remember being able to swoop in and snatch a gaming book or campaign for $30 or so, if they were on sale, or the owner of our friendly local gaming store owed us a favor. Today, though? When a base book can cost $60 or more, and supplements can cost just as much, why are RPG fans paying so much? What are publishers doing with all this dosh?

Yes... all $4 and change.
What most fans don't know is just how much money it costs to put together a rule book. For example, most big RPG companies (or even mid-list ones) don't have a staff of writers doing all the work. Those individuals often head the projects, come up with the ideas, and write the core sections (new classes, concepts, rules, etc.) but the rest of the content is done by freelancers. Those keyboard mercs, like yours truly, tend to get paid .02 per word on a project (sometimes less, sometimes more, but never that much more). While that isn't much for the publisher to pay, it's still a cost. A cost that has to be added to art, editors, formatting, printing, shipping, marketing, and, of course, the cost of saving up for the next project. And paying the regular staff, let's not forget that.

All told, an RPG company gets to keep about one-quarter of the retail price of its materials. Which means it has to sell a ton of copies just to keep its ink in the black.

It's A Fun Job, But It's Still A Job

Even after it's been explained how little many RPG writers, designers, and artists make, lots of fans fall back on the old, "you're working your dream job, just enjoy it," argument. After all, they have to slave away at a job they hate for a wage that sucks, so why should someone who likes their job make more money doing something that has to be more fun?

Because everyone should be paid a living wage.

Especially you, so you can buy our books when you get paid.
If you're plugged in to the RPG gaming communities online, then you know how hard it is for the creators of some of your favorite projects to pay for things like medical care, or to recover from personal disasters. That's because, even if they're well-known and successful, they simply don't have the scratch to get back up when something like that hits. Hence why it seems there's a new Go Fund Me campaign every other week to help an RPG creator who wound up in the hospital, got in a car wreck, or is dealing with some other form of ill fortune.

So, whether the views in this post, and in Why We Need To Pay What Games Are Worth, Not What We Think They Should Cost, changed your mind or not, think about them the next time you're looking at the price for an RPG supplement.

Because you get what you pay for.

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Also, if you'd like to do your part to help a game creator you're a fan of, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to help keep Improved Initiative going strong? All it takes is $1 a month, and you get some sweet swag just for becoming a new supporter! Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Broken Mirror Part Two: Through The Mirror Darkly

This week we delve deeper into the mysterious tale of The Talented Mr. Ripley, a darkling with no memory of who he is, or what he was. The Mirrorskin seems to be nothing more than a pale reflection of those around him, slipping into the background of any conversation or scene with total ease. Of course, there's more beneath his cracked surface than meets the eye, as we find out in the second installment. If you missed any of the previous installments, get yourself up-to-date with this list.

The Broken Mirror Part One: The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Broken Mirror Part Two: Through The Mirror Darkly
The Broken Mirror Part Three: The Dark Side of The Moon
The Broken Mirror Part Four: The Moon Court Madman
The Broken Mirror Part Five: Madness Comes Home to Roost

All caught up? Grand! Now then, to continue our tale...

A Cold Heart, and a Cold Job

Mr. Ripley has been lurking around the freehold, trying to find some way to establish himself. He's light-fingered, and though his presence barely registers, his honeyed words can often get people to change their minds, while still thinking it was their idea in the first place. He's surviving mostly as a grifter, changing his face and look whenever he needs in order to move unseen, and unnoticed.

He might have kept on like that, never really asking what was lurking beneath his surface. Of course, when money comes calling, empty pockets sit up and listen.

Dirty work always leaves the glass smudged, but the smoker's hands completely clean.
A Winter courtier in town, owner of several high-class establishments, had recently been hassled by a pack of bent cops. Business-as-usual in the Windy City. She tried to buy them off, but they wouldn't take her money. Humiliated, offended, and with her pride severely smudged, she wanted payback. She wanted to send a message, but she wanted that message sent by someone else.

Someone disposable.

As soon as he was alone with her, Ripley became little more than a magic mirror, reflecting calm chill as she told him what she wanted done. He nodded, and didn't turn so much as a hair when she offered him $10,000 per head to take out the lot of them. He asked for a small, up-front cost to cover his needs, and told her it would be done. They shook, and he walked into the night with murder on his mind.

Have You Done This Before?

Mr. Ripley was not a fighter. Thin and light, he was easy to mistake, or overlook. His hands knew their business, though, and as soon as he picked up a zip gun he examined the mechanism, checked the rounds, and slipped it up his sleeve. Next he acquired a vest, and a clipboard. Then he found out all there was to know about the targets he'd been assigned. Three of them were married, and lived in the suburbs. One was single, and had an apartment in the city. The four of them got together at least once a week for a night of garage poker.

The ducks were in a row, and all he had to do was burn them down.

Hello? Mr. Gas Man calling...
The apartment dweller was first. Ripley waited until he was home, and getting ready for his night out, before knocking on the door. The cop answered the door shirtless and in jeans, and when Ripley offered the clipboard he took it to examine the form. While he was reading, Ripley lifted the .22 street heater he'd bought off a gutter-dwelling gun runner, and double tapped him in the forehead. Two spurts of blood, two sharp cracks, and no witnesses.

Ripley stepped into the apartment, and tidied up. He dragged the body into the Hedge, leaving it there before he started dressing himself in the dead cop's clothes. Keys, wallet, badge, jacket, and especially his gun. Ripley stood in front of the mirror, and slipped into the other man's skin, checking every facet of himself until he fit just right. Then he drove across town to the poker game.

It was a typical guy's night. Scotch was being poured, beers were being drunk, and every round someone was putting in too many chips. Ripley kept his smile going, and kept the drinks flowing, too. He waited, and waited, but there was never a moment when the guys started getting really sloppy. So, when the host's wife was 20 minutes from home, Ripley got another beer. Then, distracting the table by setting it down with one hand, he started shooting with the other.

His card buddies were shocked, but they recovered fast. One went down with a round in the head, and another took two to the chest before he fell over. The third managed to put a slug through Ripley's shoulder before the Mirrorskin returned fire, emptying the rest of the clip into him. All the men dead, and Ripley just barely managing to hold onto his face, he stuffed a wadded shirt against the wound to maintain pressure, and drove with sirens blaring back into the city. Once he got there, he parked in an alley on the south side, and drenched the car in liquor. He opened the gas tank, stuffed the bloody rag way down into the fill hole, and fired it up.

Then he stumbled into the darkness, his face creaking and cracking. He didn't know it, but he was crying. If you'd asked him why, he probably wouldn't have been able to tell you.

This is, of course, not the end of the tale. Far from it, in fact. Next time, though, you'll find out that friends, and enemies alike come out of the woodwork when the blood starts flowing. So, stay tuned for The Broken Mirror: Dark Side of The Moon!

As always, if you liked this week's installment of Table Talk, then why not spread the word? Like it, share it, and tell all your friends about it. Also, if you're feeling generous, why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar? All it takes is $1 a month to keep the content flowing, and you get some sweet swag on top of it! Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too?