Friday, July 29, 2016

The Broken Mirror Part Four: The Moon Court Madman

This week we continue the story of the Talented Mr. Ripley, and the darkling's descent into corruption, and madness. When we last left him he was struggling with the discovery that murder came easy to him, and trying to reconcile his bloody deeds with the fact that the Moon Court had welcomed him with open arms. Of course, when you are praised for being a monster, you're likely to become even worse than you already were.

If you're not caught up yet, here's the full list of installments.

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

Ripley didn't remember who he was, or where he came from. His hands always seemed to know what to do, and the right words always came out of his mouth, but it was always a near thing. He had no personality, no desires... he was, quite simply, a dark reflection of whatever was near to him.All caught up? Lovely! Now then, where were we...

Broken Hearts, and Broken Faces

Some reflections are darker than others.
That began to change with his acceptance into the Moon Court. Doors started opening in his head, and fragments of the man he'd once been started oozing their way to the surface. He developed irrational hatreds of beautiful things, and took a special pleasure in the disgust of attractive women. He began carrying hidden blades, though he barely remembered secreting them on his person, and he took delight in stealing faces. Ruining the reputations of others became a treat for him, the way an awful child might pull the legs off a spider.

(As this was a LARP setting, I managed to convince one of the other players to get in on this joke with me. He went into the game in his own costume and makeup, playing Ripley masquerading as his character to ensure that no meta-knowledge from the other players ruined the scene. The confusion among those who were there to witness it was truly something to behold as the steadfast and stoic Eric Ymir flirted with other courtiers, drank half a bottle of whiskey, smashed the bottle across someone's face, then bolted from the room, laughing.)

That wasn't enough, though. Ripley had an itch he couldn't scratch. With all the faces he'd taken, he still didn't recognize his own. So he approached a Fall court Oracle, and begged her favor. She showed him who he'd been, and gave him the name he'd once carried. Tyler Glass, missing for a time as a sophomore, he was found wandering the road miles out of town, with no memory of where he'd been. That man, of course, wasn't Ripley. Ripley had been away. In a dark room with a queen who had caressed him when he pleased her, and smashed his face whenever he'd disappointed her. Until, in time, there was no one left behind those eyes. Just a malleable mirror, who could become anyone, and slip unnoticed into any place. A man who, one day, had simply winked out, like an evaporating puddle, and found himself back in a world he barely knew.

Gratitude, Madness, and Cannibalism

Ripley was grateful to the Oracle, and to the way she'd helped him. That was a thing that rarely happened. And, though he was stewing with unfocused rage that something else had been living his life, he also found himself changing. The role of the trickster, the deviant, the lunatic, had been one he'd played for so long that it had begun taking hold of him. Thick, black patches began erupting on his arms, spreading across his hands, turning him slowly but surely into something he didn't recognize. His tongue thickened, and lengthened, and the eyes that stared out at him from the mirror were going a hideous, awful red.

This is, really, the opposite of rose-colored glasses.
Something more important happened, though. Eric Ymir, the Summer courtier whom Ripley had played some of his best tricks on, vanished. Not just vanished, but had been murdered, and his body fed to a Fall courtier. Ripley was beside himself with fury. Not because he cared for Ymir, but because that was his toy. His life to ruin. And someone else took that from him. No one stole from him, and he was going to stick his blades into the killer until they saw the error of crossing paths with him.

Then he discovered the killer had been the very Oracle he held in such high regard.

That was when Ripley's already delicate psyche cracked, and schismed. She wouldn't do that... she helped him. She was good... but there was no doubt it had been her hand on the knife that had killed Ymir. Ripley couldn't reconcile these two things, but it was found that at the time of the murder, her clarity had been in tatters.

That was the answer, of course.

Jokes Falling Flat at The Funny Farm

In order to know why she had done what she'd done, Ripley snuck into a facility meant for the truly mad. Those afflicted with conditions that made them see what wasn't there, and hear words no one spoke. He delved into their dreams, plagued their realities, and sought the force of genuine Madness that threaded itself through them. Why? Well, he had a proposal for it.

He wanted Madness to come and dwell in him. To show him what the Oracle had seen, and to make him understand why she had hurt him so by breaking his favorite toy.

How did that go? Well, tune-in next time to find out, as we conclude the tale of the Talented Mr. Ripley!

Hopefully you're enjoying this latest multi-part tale on Table Talk. If you've got a story of your own to share, I'm always open to hearing them, and putting my readers in the spotlight. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 a month is a big help, and it gets you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who Wants Me To DM For Them At Gen Con?

So, despite my running a blog all about RPGs, and living in the state of Indiana, I don't make Gen Con anywhere near as often as I should. The last time I made it was two years ago in the summer of 2014, and that was my first year actually working for someone. This year I'll be back, and in addition to manning the booth for artist Brent Chumley in Artist Alley, (who I covered in my Monday posts that same year in Meet Brent Chumley... No, Seriously, You Really Should), I will be DMing a single session of a game for Kobold Press.

What am I running? Well, the game is called Gravebinder's Daughter, it uses Pathfinder rules, and it starts at 7:00 pm Thursday evening. The game goes to 11:00 pm, or whenever the group finishes the module before that. I need at least 4 players, and I can't take any more than 6. The ID for the event is RPG1694800, and it takes place in the Hyatt: Cosmopolitan Ballroom C.

Be there, if you've got the bones for it.
This will be my first time running a game at Gen Con, and my first time running something in Midgard. Hopefully it will be a memorable experience for all who show up. So, if you're someone who's a fan of my work, and you want to see what I'm like at the table, I'd recommend stopping in and taking a seat. Or, if you just want to say hello, it's always nice to meet the folks who fill my tip jar.

That's all I wanted to say in this week's Moon Pope Monday update. I won't be writing any posts during the time I'm actually at Gen Con (won't have time to sneak off the floor), but I guarantee that I'll be back on the job the Monday after, and ready to share any adventures I had. Speaking of my tip jar, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then I'd suggest stopping over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. All it takes is $1 a month ($12 a year), to keep the content flowing free, and if you become a patron there's a shiny thank-you gift in the mix for you. Lastly, if you haven't already done so, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up on my latest updates?

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Escaped Slave Wizard

There is no denying the power of the written word. Education opens doors, and makes things previously thought impossible into a reality. In fact, the right words can often be what sets you free. Especially if you happen to be a wizard, and no one around you suspects it.

Clearly a wizard.

Former slaves become adventurers all the time, but it tends to be a background we associate with martial characters. Barbarians and fighters may be former gladiators, or trained soldiers who fought so their masters wouldn't have to (speaking of, check out my character conversion for The Unsullied). Slaves who picked their own locks might become rogues (as we see in my Harriet Tubman character conversion), and those who hid in the forests or deserts from pursuers might take levels of ranger. In some cases a slave might be a sorcerer, whose powers awaken unexpectedly, which he then uses to escape his bondage.

But rarely do we give this background to wizards. Because, after all, wizards have to train and study intensively. They need to practice, and practice, and practice to get their gestures, words, and magic just right. Something that's hard enough to do under regular circumstances, and nearly impossible to do if you're in the fields working the land, carrying stones, or doing any other sort of forced labor.

The Words of "Nightjohn"

When I was in middle school, my teacher read us the book Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. For those of you who don't know the book, it takes place on a plantation in the pre-Civil War south. Not a nice place to be, especially if you are one of the people who make up the enslaved workforce. While I don't remember all of the book, I do recall an exchange between our protagonist, and a recently-arrived slave who is the Nightjohn of the book's title. It goes something like this:

John: "I can trade you for some of that."
Lead: "Trade me what? When they brought you in here you was naked as the day you was born."
John: "Girl, I can read. And I'll teach you."

Libraries are dangerous places, as any adventurer knows.
Though the rest of the details have escaped me, that scenario is one that could make a compelling wizard. You were just another slave, until a fateful meeting. Perhaps you were allowed to play with the master's children, and they taught you some of their parlor tricks. Your owners, infuriated, made sure you were kept far in the fields, and worked hard, but you never forgot what you learned. Maybe you snuck into the house on pretenses, and made off with old copies of the son's lessons. Perhaps you heard his instruction, crouching beneath a window. Or, it's possible that your teacher is, as in Nightjohn, one of your fellow slaves. He no longer has his spellbook, perhaps, but he still has his knowledge. Knowledge that, if imparted, may present opportunity.

What Kind of Wizard Would You Be?

This concept could be used for every school of magic. Did you find you have a knack for evocation, blasting off your chains and burning down your master's home? Or did enchantment come more easily to you, allowing you to simply ask your owners to unlock your chains so you could walk away? Did you create illusions to make them think you were all still in the field while you were really making a break for it? Or did you conjure allies from the ether, creating chaos in what had been an orderly world?

The other question you need to answer, though, is what did you do with your freedom? Did you enhance your learning? And to what purpose? Did you walk away, panting and relieved, or did you go back to give freedom to all those who didn't come with you?

If you're looking for further inspiration, 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!

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, July 18, 2016

Authentic, Handmade Calligraphy Tools From Green Man Calligraphy Supply

As folks know, my Monday updates are where I like to big up cool things I've found, and signal boost geeky folk I think my readers would get a kick out of. That's why, in the past, I've talked about the Dungeoncrate subscription box service, as well as Gargoyle Forge, which sells some of the highest quality boffer gear you'll ever find, along with dozens of other products and services the geek nation should know about.

That's why, this week, I want to tell you about Green Man Calligraphy Supply.

Now this is rocking it old school!
What you're looking at there are some of the genuine, no frills quills that Green Man Calligraphy Supply makes. A real scribe's pen that's meant for business, it's been stripped, scraped, trimmed, and made ready for your use. Made from only the finest goose feathers, these quills are ready for use right out of the box, though you can still trim and shape the tip if you find it not quite to your liking. Whether you're bent over your gaming table at home, or recording your latest adventures in-character at your favorite LARP, these pens won't fail you.

Of course, what good is a pen without ink? That's why, in addition to these fine quills, you can also buy hand-mixed iron gall ink. This ink, which is safe for all papers, and which won't damage a quill pen, or a metal-nibbed one (as long as it's cleaned after every use), is made using a personal recipe that gives you dark, smooth ink every time. Not too thick, not too watery, you'll find it's just right. Whether you're a fan of historical re-enactments, or you just want to make your handouts a little extra authentic at your table.

These are, of course, just the basics you'll need when it comes to hand-written, homemade calligraphy. They also offer Medieval-style reed pens, as well as red ocher pigment. With that said, though, you should regularly check back with Green Man Calligraphy Supply's Etsy store to stay up on the latest offerings. After all, if they get popular among a new wave of DMs who want to get some old-fashioned writing done, chances are good they'll expand their lines to include even more diverse products. Also, if you're truly interested in the history and art of calligraphy, check out Scribe Scribbling, the owner's blog all about how scribes did it back in the day.

As always, thanks for stopping by and checking out this week's Moon Pope Monday update. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar. $1 a month is a huge help to me, and it gets you some sweet swag as well! Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ethnic Homogeneity in RPGs (Or, Why So Many Burly White Adventurers?)

I've been a tabletop gamer for a little over a decade now. That's a lot longer than some players, and a lot shorter than others. However, I've also gamed with all sorts of groups, and in all kinds of settings. In all that time, there's this weird tendency I've noticed, and that other players I've spoken to have also noticed. It is, in short, a knee-jerk reaction to keeping our game worlds, and the characters within them, in strictly segregated boxes. Like kids who enjoy all the foods on their plate as individual things, but if they touch even a little bit then we freak out and refuse to eat any of it.

Get your rice away from my grits, or I swear to all that is holy I will flip this table.
While we see this in lots of aspects of RPGs, nowhere is it clearer than when someone wants to play an ethnicity that "doesn't belong" in a certain part of the world.

They're People, Not Dishes

I'd like you to try an experiment, the next time you come to your gaming table. Build your character exactly as you normally would, but make that character ethnically different from what's considered standard for the region. Make it clear that you aren't looking to bring aspects of another culture into this region, and that you don't want special access to treasures or skills from the other side of the world. Your character is simply the child (or grandchild) of immigrants, and this is the way he or she happens to look.

Now, if you're part of a relatively open-minded group, you probably won't get any negativity for this decision. Some of your fellow players might even file this idea away for when they play characters of their own in the future. If you are not part of an open-minded group, though, you're likely to catch more flak than a British bomber flying over Berlin. Why do you have to be a special snowflake? Why can't you just be like everyone else, and play someone who looks like they're from here?

It often causes less ruckus at a table if you choose to play a tusked boar-man covered in ritual scars than if you want to be someone who has a different skin tone than the rest of the party.

Every World Has Multiple Cultures

Fantasy worlds have more than one culture, ethnicity, and religion. That's what makes them worlds, and not just nations. Even Middle Earth, which I continuously harp on for being bland, has diverse races of men. From the wild men in the north, to the desert dwellers of the south, there are variations in ethnicity. While no one in the main cast happens to be part of those cultures, or descended from them, that doesn't mean they don't exist.

You see the same kinds of diversity in good RPG settings. Whether you prefer Midgard or Golarion, The Forgotten Realms or The Known World that is the setting for A Song of Ice and Fire, there are all kinds of people, in all shapes, shades, and sizes. Despite their existence in the canon lore, though, it's like we forget that adventurers from all cultures travel all over the world. That they have children, and choose to settle down in places they weren't born. Merchants, caravan guards, diplomats, historians, and even seekers of magical knowledge may find themselves on the other side of the world from where they were whelped, and just decide there isn't anything at home worth going back for.

Especially since most adventurers have had their entire families killed off, anyway.
Unless there is something in your game's lore that specifically says a given nation is sectioned off, and that its people are not found anywhere else in the world, then why would you limit the stories players can tell?

But What If They're Not From Here?

The human mind likes things to be in nice, neat categories it can easily process. It's one reason why, when we have a game set in a given nation or country, and a PC that isn't from that region shows up, our brains glitch. Sort of like how you get used to seeing your teachers in the classroom, and when you see them out in public having ice cream with their kids, you tweak. Because it is a situation that feels wrong, even though you can't explain why.

It's 7:00 in the evening... why isn't she back at my school?
This is why I would suggest that, if the idea of PCs not all being from the same five square miles of ground is a problem, you ask yourself why. Why does it matter how the party got there, as long as the party is there when the adventure begins?

Explaining how a PC got to this place is the responsibility of every player. Some players might go with the ever-popular, "my character lives here," which is the simplest method regardless of your cultural heritage or ethnic appearance. Others, who want to have miles between them and where they began, might have more of a journey involved. Perhaps the fighter did a stint as a caravan guard, and decided he wanted to take a rest from traveling. Now there's this new opportunity on his hands, and he can make a far more lucrative career in this new land. Perhaps the wizard came across a continent to attend the city's arcane university, and now that she has completed her initial study, wants to put that knowledge to the test. The bard is... well... a bard, and this happens to be where he showed up after he left that last town. For undisclosed reasons.

A Closing Note

This post is not to suggest that anyone who has ever disagreed with a character's country of origin or ethnicity is somehow a cross-burning racist. I am not saying players, or DMs, who have problems with these kinds of characters are bigoted. What I am saying is that when we are presented with what, to us, are new ideas, or ideas that change things from our normal comfort zone, we often react by demanding the status quo remain the same. It happens every time a new supplement comes out for a game we like; there is always a group of players who won't allow it at their table, and who claim the rules and flavor as they were shouldn't be changed.

Often, though, once they've had some time to reflect, and actually look at what this new approach could add to their games, they find something they like. Even if they don't feel it's for them, personally, they can see the appeal.

That is the point of this week's Fluff post. Not to accuse anyone of having wrong-bad fun, or to demand that we all change our characters and games right now! I am simply remarking on a trend I've seen, and suggesting that if this is an issue you have encountered, that holding it at arm's length and really looking at it could lead to some new and interesting concepts, and stories.

Lastly, if this is a topic that interests you from a historical perspective as well (or if you're just tired of hearing that people want games to be "reflective of the time period they're emulating"), you should check out Medieval People of Color on Tumblr. It will raise some eyebrows if you thought the Middle Ages was just a bunch of white folks walking around in Europe.

As always, thanks for stopping in to see what I have to say this week. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, then drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and it ensures you some sweet swag as well. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Would You Like To See More Pathfinder Character Conversions?

As my regular readers know, I have a side feature where I write two Pathfinder character conversion guides every month. Whether it's Tyrion Lannister, The Winter Soldier, or even Harley Quinn, I provide a full guide that starts with your attributes, race, and traits, and goes all the way through classes, feats, special powers, and other ear marks players can use to translate these character from their original mediums and into the Pathfinder RPG.

As of right now, I have 40 different character guides sitting pretty on my Character Conversions page.

Seriously, it's a rather crazy amount of conversions.
Now, overall, the response to my conversions articles has been positive. I write them with players in mind, and I keep to the Paizo rules without including any third-party books or wonky house rules. They're useful for DMs, too, in the event you want a ready-made bad guy like Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, or Killer Croc to throw at your players.

However, I'm running into a bit of a problem, and it's a problem I'd like to ask all my readers for help on.

If A Tree Falls in The Forest...

This project started as a one-off post when I wrote up a character guide for building The Incredible Hulk, showing how I had brought the green goliath as a cohort in a game I was playing. That was three years ago. The response from my readers was so popular that I wrote guides for the rest of the movie Avengers, and Loki as well. People seemed to really like it, so I kept up on the project, trying to put up at least one new character conversion every month.

The problem I'm running into isn't that I'm running out of characters or ideas (I could, in all likelihood, keep this feature going as long as there are people playing Pathfinder). The problem I'm running into is that the amount of response the articles is diminishing, and it's a little overwhelming when compared to the amount of time and effort that goes into researching and writing them.

This is the part where you all get to be big damn heroes.
 If you're a fan of my character conversions, even if you just found out about them, here's what I'd like you to do right now.

- Click over to my Character Conversions page.
- Find a character conversion article that you like.
- Share that character conversion on your social media pages (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.).

And... that's it, really. If you can help me spread the word about my character conversions by telling your friends, fellow players, DMs, and if we can get some of those fine folks to like and share them as well, then I'll be able to keep giving them the care and attention you've come to expect (since it's the traffic that pays the bills around these parts). And, best of all, this doesn't require anything from you but time, and a little effort.

Oh, and before I forget, you might also enjoy some of the other bonus gaming articles I've been putting out. As of time of writing, they include:

- 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins
- 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power
- Table Attorneys Vs. Rules Lawyers: How To Be Fair Without Bogging Down Your Game

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bored Playing Regular Humans? Try Racial Heritage on For Size

Humans are, without a doubt, one of the most common race choices in Pathfinder. It's hard to beat a bonus skill point and a bonus feat at first level. This is especially true in games where you're limited to the core races, where humans tend to win out more often than not. However, just because you might favor humans, there's no reason to play a vanilla human, especially in such a rich, varied world as Golarion where you can do (and be) almost anything you want.

Lord Bearington approves this message.
I mentioned a while back in How To Power Up Your Pathfinder Characters With The Eldritch Heritage Feats, that giving your character an unknown, or bizarre, heritage can lend you mechanical power, in addition to making your story that much more compelling. However, as I mentioned in that article, the Eldritch Heritage feats have both a feat tax (they require Skill Focus in the bloodline's skill), and they're only of use to character who benefit from a high Charisma. So if you're not a paladin, a swashbuckler, or one of the other charismatic classes, then you're going to find those feats aren't nearly as helpful for you, even if you love the flavor.

Racial Heritage (Advanced Player's Guide 168) doesn't have that kind of tax. All it requires is that your character is human (which means that half-elves and half-orcs qualify as well). This means you qualify as your race, and the humanoid race your heritage is linked to for the purposes of feats, traits, spell effects, magic items, etc.

What Good Does That Do You?

Well, that depends on what you're looking for. For example, say you're a first-level human, but you want to do a Tarzan concept as the human baby raised by orcs. Maybe you have a little orc blood in you, but not enough to matter. So, your first two feats are Racial Heritage, and Keen Scent. Then, when you take your traits, you might select Finish The Fight, which is typically for half-orcs raised by orcs, but fits right into your story.

Note: You may have to take the feat Additional Traits feat in order to gain the traits you want.

That is, of course, one of the tamer ways you could use this feat.

How ridiculous can this get?
Well, some of the possibilities can get pretty damn ridiculous.

For example, as I said in For A Change of Pace, Give Your Pathfinder PC Some Monster Feats, there are a lot of monster feats that require you to be a certain monstrous race. For example, you might take Racial Heritage (Storm Giant) in order to take the feat Storm Soul, which grants you immunity to electricity (and which is ideal for a Thor concept). You might, instead, take Racial Heritage (Stone Giant) in order to take the feat Stone Awareness, which grants you tremorsense out to 15 feet when in contact with earth or stone.

And if you have a DM that says you only gain the general subtype of a creature, you could take Racial Heritage (Giant), and take the feat Will of Giants, which makes you immune to enchantment effects that only target humanoids like charm person or hold person.

Giants are just one of the ridiculous options, though. You could combine goblin feats with a barbarian's fighting style, gaining benefits of the small race's tactics, while remaining a Medium-sized brute. Something like Burn! Burn! Burn!, which grants you bonuses on non-magical forms of damage would be ideal for a build that utilizes the Underground Chemist archetype, letting you tack a little more damage onto your alchemical attacks, over and above being able to deal sneak attack damage with them.

The combinations, while not endless, are pretty varied, and there is a lot of potential for discovering abilities you never knew you could bring to the table.

It's Not For Everyone

While a post like this shouldn't require this disclaimer, I'm putting it here because if I don't there will be brush fires all over the comments both here, and on social media. So, please, pay attention. And, if you want to, apply this to any other Crunch post I've made that focuses on potential combinations in any game.

Are you listening?
What I propose are only possible options. I'm going through the gigantic tool box that is the game system, and pointing out where little-known or less-used tools have been set aside, and showing that you can use them to achieve your goals. Can is, of course, different than saying you should use them, or that anyone who doesn't use them is somehow guilty of playing the game wrong. I'm just saying these are things you can do. If you like them, and want to use them in your game, more power to you. If you feel this doesn't fit your concept, or your gaming style, then don't. It's no skin off my nose. All I care about is that as many gamers know as many of their options as possible.

There now, with that said, thanks for checking out this week's Crunch post. As always, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then I'd ask you to please go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month gives you some sweet swag, and it helps me keep writing posts that will (I hope) improve your game. Lastly, if you haven't done it already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Why HeroQuest is So Great!

The Internet is home to entire reservoirs of great gaming humor. Whether it's the latest memes about murderhobos, or another round of dice shaming, there's no bottom to the chuckle bucket. However, in the event that you missed the Bardic Broadcasts video on why HeroQuest is so great, then you need to have it in your life. Seriously, click play. You can thank me once the video is over.

While entertaining for me as a lover of RPGs, I'd never actually played HeroQuest. Like so many other older games that hadn't found its way past the censors into my childhood, I thought I'd see if I could find a copy. What I found was that this game, cashing in on the fantasy boom in the 1980s and 1990s (1989 release in the UK and Europe, 1990 release in the U.S.), is extremely rare. This adventure game scion, produced by the partnership of Milton Bradley and Games Workshop back before they evolved into what they are today, can run several hundred dollars for a used copy. With missing cards. And broken figures.

And if you want a new version of the game, in mint condition? Then you had better have a pocket book that doesn't shrivel up when it hears you say words like mint condition.

Seriously, though, you've spent more on less from Games Workshop.
And that's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. I hope you all enjoyed it, and that you learned a little something about one of the cornerstones of fantasy gaming for older generations. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? All it takes is $1 a month to keep the content coming, and you get free swag just for signing up! Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter? That way you won't miss any of my future updates.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Broken Mirror Part Three: Dark Side of The Moon

When last we left the face-shifting amnesiac known only as the Talented Mr. Ripley, he had half a dozen holes in him, had murdered a handful of Chicago cops, and managed to make his escape into the shadows. It was a pivotal moment in his development, though he didn't quite know it yet. After all, his familiarity with guns, blades, and blood would be enough to worry anyone who had misplaced their memories, and when you're down in the gutter, any outstretched hand will do.

Even one that comes out of the sewer.

Before continuing on, make sure you're caught up on the previous installments of the story below.

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

Finished? Lovely! Because this is around the time that things start getting good... or bad, depending on your perspective.

A Carrot on a Stick

When I initially created the Talented Mr. Ripley, I had no real direction I wanted to go with him. He was a jack of all trades, and the only thing he was truly a master of was blending in and going relatively unnoticed. It was one of the few times I, as a player, allowed my character to be shaped entirely by the events that happened to him.

Then my storyteller opened his big, fat cake socket.

Once you're here, there's no going back.
Game had finished for the night, and we were all at a local restaurant getting fuel in us for the drive home. My storyteller, appropos of nothing, mentions that he's had a plot kit for months now, but no one has shown any interest. My ears perked up, and I asked what it was for. In an off-hand tone, he told me it was a kit for characters to get recruited into the Moon Court.

I jumped on that like Mario on a toadstool.

Life-Saving Initiation

Ripley, as someone who is a killer and not a fighter, is losing blood fast. Though he managed to escape, he passed out in a gutter somewhere. He awoke to the sound of rubber gloves, and to a man standing over him. Ripley's first instinct was to reach for his own face, which sent lances of pain through him. The man, wearing a bloody apron, just smiled at him.

Don't worry... everything's going to be just fine.
The back alley miracle worker, a mysterious man named Puck, said he saw Ripley's entire performance, and it would be a shame for someone like him to die broken on the busted concrete. Ripley was still raw, of course, but he showed talent. If someone could put an edge on it, then he could really come into his own. That was when he explained the philosophy of better living through Disgust, and told Ripley that if he wanted to find a place with open arms, the Moon Court would take him... once he passed a simple test.

Nothing hard, really. He just needed to play a trick or two to show his devotion.

A Dark Seed Grows A Twisted Tree

It was my goal, as a player, to see which of the courts would reach out to recruit Ripley as a member. Winter seemed the likeliest court, especially given his recent services, but they didn't rescue him from his predicament. Puck did. More importantly, though, Puck gave Ripley the most dangerous message the mirrorskin could have received; there's nothing wrong with you. Your broken face and murderous hands? Be proud of them! The filth and squalor you've been forced to sleep in? Don't hide that, it's a badge of survival! If other people see you, and recoil, that proves they aren't capable of handling your truth. The dark side of the playground is where the monsters hold sway, my friend, and we're all monsters who came back from that place.

Even Jeff. Especially Jeff.
It seems harmless at first... but Ripley's mind proves fertile soil. His entire perception of the world is like looking through a spider-webbed crack at the best of times, and now he's being told that he's right. Right to feel resentment for his treatment. Right to feel wrath at the smallest of injustices. Right to take what he needs without thought or worry, because that is what monsters do.

All he has to do is play a trick or two. It takes a few months, and just the right set of circumstances, but he manages. Accosted by a man with knock-out darts, Ripley does some bloody business with the knife he keeps up his sleeve. Of course, the stripling mirrorskin keeps his peepers open, while one of the Summer Court's heavy hitters is left unconscious and snoring on the ground. The big warrior is completely vulnerable, and has no idea what happened around him, so Ripley leaves a tiny note explaining both his dereliction of duty and cowardice, and walks away whistling through his own yawns.

That little piece of paper caused fires of rage to spread through the Summer Court, but it was rage fueled by shame. Trying to control it was like putting out a grease fire with a water bottle; all it did was spread it around.

Puck, slow-clapping and smiling, used that as a chance to officially induct Ripley into the Moon Court. It was the first step off of a long, long drop.

This is, of course, not the end of the tale. If you want to keep up on all my latest stories, or submit some of your own, make sure you check out the rest of Table Talk. And, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? All it takes is $1 a month to help keep the content coming your way, and all new members will receive some sweet swag just for choosing to support me! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, now would be a great time to change that.