Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You Don't Get Brownie Points For Building Ineffective Characters

This week's title is a bit incendiary, but it's an issue I think we all need to have an open, honest conversation about. Because, on the one hand, our characters are special to us. As players, we put our minds, and our hearts, into these constructs of lightning and imagination. We invest in their stories, and in many ways we view them as extensions of ourselves. When they succeed, we triumph. When they fail, part of that failure laps around our knees like a salty, lukewarm sea.

The thing is, though, this isn't a playground game of make-believe where you can just out-imagine the monsters to win. Roleplaying games are about story, but beneath that story is the underlying bones and muscle of the world in which we're playing. The same material that you need to build your characters from in order for them to function. And if you take all the gooey story-flesh, and slop it into a pile, it isn't going to stand up. You need to have the bones, and that is something a lot of gamers simply do not want to hear.

What do you mean I can't start this game with three dragons that do my bidding?

You Need One To Make The Other Work

I'm going to tell a story you've probably heard before. While the details may be different, you may even have a tale like this of your own.

Years ago, I joined a table that was running Shackled City in DND 3.5. I knew the others at the table casually, and I'd played with the DM before. I noted our lack of a front-line meat shield, and asked the DM if he would allow me to build toward the Frenzied Berserker, or if he thought that would be too broken. He gave me his assent, and I started going through the options, and assembling the usual suspects. Power Attack, Cleave, Combat Brute, Shock Trooper... we all know how this dance goes. The goal was to assemble a barbarian/fighter who could do his job, and buy the rest of the group time to do theirs. This was aided by a bullshit set of stats where my dump stat was a 10, but my Strength, Dex, and Con were all nearing superhuman levels.

That was when two options presented themselves. Options that shaped the flavor of the character, and explained his mechanical monstrosity.

You going somewhere with this, boy?
The first was that Arius wasn't, in fact, human. He was a half-orc who was passing as human (something my DM offered as an enticement because he wanted a half-orc in the party). The second was that this campaign gave us a background trait we could take. I took nightmares, which made me immune to the fatigued condition. So I had a barbarian who couldn't be fatigued.

Where does the story part come in? Well, Arius's mother had been captured by raiders, and had never told her husband what they'd done to her. Arius was born from that violation, and the boy suffered awful night terrors. He'd often wake up screaming and howling. His parents sent him to the temple of Kord, and though they didn't cure him, they channeled his energy into fitness and prowess. Arius was a prodigious weight lifter, a canny wrestler, and a brutal swordsman, because whenever he couldn't sleep, he would train. He didn't ask what kept him awake, and he didn't want to know the terrors that lurked in his mind. But when his Rage manifested, he fought in his sleep. The things in his dreams filled him, and made him a monster that knew no fear, no pain, and no mercy.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this story.

There was another fellow in the group who opted to play a cleric. A good choice, since every group needs a cleric, and they have a lot of options when it comes to what they can accomplish. He also opted for a non-human race, the problem was that the player chose a winged, half-bird race with an equivalent character level. For those not familiar with 3.5 rules, that meant he'd always have fewer levels than the rest of the party, because he gave up several levels in order to trade for the race. Much like how you could play a frost giant, but you'd be a level 1 fighter, while the rest of the party was level 14.

The primary appeal of this avian race was that he would, eventually, get functional wings. Eventually was the key word. This meant that the player gave up several levels of spellcasting in exchange for an IOU on flying a handful of levels from the start. That's not an inherent problem. It became a problem, though, when he expected to be able to waltz into a fight, and swing around the sort of numbers Arius was capable of. The cleric couldn't crack skulls the way the secret half-orc could, anymore than Arius would gain the ability to fly. But the player had an image of his character as a warrior priest, and he wouldn't be dissuaded no matter how many times he got his ribs kicked in when it came to melee.

The Unicorn of Optimized Fluff

In the above example, the player behind the cleric was getting quite frustrated after the fifth or sixth time he had to be fireman carried off the battlefield. So, when we had a gap in play, I asked why he kept rushing into melee, when he saw it clearly wasn't working. His reply was that his character was a fighter, and he was going to stand up for what was right. I asked what mechanics he was using to make that work, thinking perhaps I could make some suggestions on feats or strategy, and the response was a scoff. He was convinced that an out-of-the-box cleric, fighting with one arm tied behind his back, was the equal of a monster truck that ran on the blood of innocents.

And he just couldn't figure out why I was cleaving a bloody trail, while he struggled to take down a single enemy by the end of the fight.

You're adorable.
Rules matter. Even if your DM completely re-writes your game manual, and you have a 3-ring binder full of house rules, you still have to build your characters, and play them, according to those rules. And, while you should make a deep, compelling, interesting character, that doesn't excuse you from following those rules.

By extension, if you spend your resources frivolously, you don't get roleplay brownie points for it. Mistakes aren't magically transformed into roleplay decisions just because you did them for story reasons. You're shooting yourself in the foot, and then asking everyone else to tell you how brave you are for struggling on through your newly acquired disability.

Play To Win (But Not How You Think)

Player characters exist to accomplish goals. Whether you're raiding a fire giant stronghold, sniffing out a spy, or keeping the peace in the city's slums, your character has a job to do. As a player, it's your responsibility to make sure your character is built in such a way that they will be effective as a part of the overall team. Or, at least, that they have certain things they can accomplish which will explain their presence in the story, and as part of team protagonist.

The safety is coming off.
For example, you only have a certain number of skill points to spend every level in Pathfinder. Even if you have a high Intelligence score, and you play a class that gets a lot of skill points, you should make sure the points you spend are going into skills you're actually going to use. Say, for example, that your character is highly dexterous, so you invest points into Sleight of Hand. That's not a problem, but if you're spending those points, you are declaring that this is a skill you intend on using. Not just in downtime, or between the scenes, or just for flavor, but all the time. If you aren't the kind of character that will be picking pockets, or who intends to secrete weapons on his person in case you get captured, then this may not be a useful skill for you.

But what if your backstory is that you grew up as a pickpocket? Don't you have to spend ranks in Sleight of Hand to justify that? Not really.

This is where flavor and practicality come together. Say your character is a brawler who grew up on the streets, and she was a thief until she became a cage fighter. You aren't required to buy Sleight of Hand just because you were once a sneak thief. It would be far more likely that you'd have skills like Intimidate, Acrobatics, and Escape Artist. After all, you haven't been a sneak thief for a long time, and after countless matches your knuckles are more effective for cracking skulls than they ever were at riffling a purse.

Being "Well-Rounded" is Often a Defense of Poor Budgeting

One of the primary arguments on this topic is players who say they want to play "well-rounded" characters. That they would rather go into a game having a wider set of skills at a mediocre level, then one or two abilities that they excel at. That's a fair opinion to have, but ask yourself if you were hiring someone for a specific job, would you hire the guy with the specialized degree and field research, or the person who's worked in a bunch of different areas, and who has a smattering of skills?

Jeff is a great camp counselor... but I wouldn't hire him to re-wire my house.
No one character can do, or be good at, everything. The mechanics of any RPG are set up so that the choices you make when you invest your points define your areas of expertise. As such, you need to know what you want to do, and you have to realize what goals you have for this character.

We do this all the time at lower levels, but for some reason many players turn their noses up at playing the long-game. If you're a level 1 character in Pathfinder, and you want to deal a lot of damage in melee, the feats you'll take are likely Power Attack and Furious Focus for a Strength-based character, or Piranha Strike for a Dexterity-based character. If you're going to operate at range, you take Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot, whether you're a ray specialist, an archer, or someone with an unhealthy love of throwing axes. If you're going to multiclass as a spellcaster, then one of the best traits you can take is Magical Knack, because it helps keep your caster level on an even keel.

Does that mean there's only one way to play a character? Of course not! But you need to know what you're going to do, and how you're going to back-up that concept, if you are going to get the results you want. Can you play a hedonistic privateer on a mission from the gods who has a parrot familiar, and who is out to become the governor of his island in order to protect his people? Sure you can! But you need to know what abilities that character has to have, and you have to incorporate them into your concept.

Lastly, talk to your DM. Make sure your concept works the way you think it works, and be sure that what you want to make will actually be useful in your game. A swamp-dwelling druid who wrestles gators for fun might be a deadly grappler, but if you're playing a highly political game in the big city, with lots of backstabbing and innuendo, you might feel as useless as a fish with a new bicycle.

Thanks for reading through this week's Moon Pope Monday post. It's on the longer side, but I had a lot to say. If you enjoyed it, and would like to see more, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little support? Even $1 a month goes a long way, and there's some free swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, now would be a great time to do so.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Calistrian Dom

Sacred prostitutes have served the church of Calistria for centuries. While the goddess herself is depicted as an exemplar of elven beauty and grace, the church knows that attraction is in the eye of the beholder. Many of the church's servants would be considered homely, or downright ugly, by some. To others, the dark, deviant, or otherwise monstrous is what gets their blood bubbling. Which is why, in the private chambers behind the altars to the Savored Sting, it is far from uncommon to hear the crack of a whip just before a mewl of pleasure.

That's ten hail Mary's. This is Mary.

How would such an unusual profession make someone an ideal party member? Well, since you asked...

The Mechanics

Before we get into the hairy issues that can come with the character's story, let's start with the mechanics. Your two background traits should be Calistrian Prostitute (which gives you a +1 bonus on Sense Motive and Diplomacy, making one of them a class skill), and a trait that gives you a bonus to Intimidate. Bully, Viking Blood, and others are an option, and each can give you a unique twist on the basic concept of, "The Hand Who Holds The Whip."

Next, we're going to move onto class. Bard is ideal, since they get the whip as a starting weapon, they benefit from a high Charisma score, they have a huge list of skills including Diplomacy, Sense Motive, Bluff, and Intimidate, and many of their spells can play right into the flavor of this idea. From Charm Person, to Dominate Person, and with spells like Animate Rope, Enthrall, and Hideous Laughter available (yes, tickle torture is a thing for some people), you have a pretty good arsenal at your disposal.

Also, while we're on the subject, you should stop in and take a look at 5 Tips For Playing Better Bards.

Don't knock it till you try it.
The question you really need to ask yourself, when it comes to your character, is what's your focus? Because if you're going to focus more on your magic, you'll probably want feats like Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, Combat Casting, and the like. A focus on enchantment would likely serve you well. If you would rather focus on using your whip, then you might want to take feats like Whip Mastery, Improved Trip, Improved Disarm, and on in like vein. It's hard to kill someone with a whip, even a scorpion whip if you go that route, but you can force your enemies to fight under seriously negative circumstances, giving you a big bonus. Especially if you pair your attacks with something like Dazzling Display in order to demoralize all enemies within 30 feet.

For more on using Intimidate in combat, you might want to read through How To Weaponize Your Intimidate Check in Pathfinder. It's got some good advice you could apply to this concept.

Playing The Fluff

Despite the existence of sex and sexuality in the world of Golarion, not every table is going to rejoice at what they may view as a sexualized character concept. Even if you subvert the normal stereotype by playing your Calistrian Dom as a male instead of the more usual (and often lambasted) Dominatrix, you may still have some players who are uncomfortable with it. As any good Dom should do, gauge the table, and don't make anyone uncomfortable who doesn't want to be that way.

Some cuffs don't have padding specifically for that reason.
Flavor-wise, it's important not to get hung up on the fact that your character is a sacred prostitute. That's part of who they are, and likely a big part as it takes up a whole background trait, but it shouldn't be the entirety of your character. Nor should it be played out like a crass, offensive stereotype. We're trying to play an unusual character here, and we've all seen this done poorly too many times to count.

If you want to make it subtle, then you need to look for opportunities to work it into your performance. For example, if you have hostages that need interrogated, ask for some time alone with them. Make the appropriate checks, and work out a scene with your DM to see what sort of information you get. All the rest of the party hears is the whip crack, the rattle of chains, and other accouterments, but when the "session" is over your captives seem perfectly unharmed. Perhaps a little wrung out, and definitely sweating, but otherwise fine. Also, they've told you everything they know. They might even be your friends by that point, or on the way to considering changing churches.

You could give other, subtle clues to your character's true calling, without blatantly pushing it in the table's face. For example, you have an intense knowledge of rope and knots, and you refuse to carry hemp rope. Maybe you even acquired some fine, spider-silk rope as a gift, and you show off how soft and smooth it is against the skin, while still being hard as steel. Perhaps you know a great deal about leather, manacles, and about caring for wounds. Individually, these areas of know-how aren't suspicious, but when you put them all together, it can lead people down a subtle train of deduction until they discover your ecclesiastical training.

Most importantly, though, remember that this concept is not a free pass to go around demanding other players act a certain way. It doesn't work that way in real life, either. The Dom's job is to get under someone's skin, into their heads, and to play their emotions and psychology like a fine instrument, until that person dances to his tune with no more than a plucked string.

Of course, "Kneel," will always be a viable command for Dominate Person.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

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

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

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Carolina Game Tables Offers Tabletop Gamers Affordable Luxury

We've all seen the impossible luxury of dedicated gaming tables. Whether we saw them in-person at a place like Gen Con, or pictures were shared to one of our online forums, we've all had a good drool session over them. They tend to be one part high-roller, and one part hardwood, and we're tempted to reach for our wallets to shell out whatever they're asking. Until, that is, we see the actual price of some of these furnishings.

If you've found yourself in that predicament, I'd like to direct you to Carolina Game Tables. They've got the luxury you've been dreaming about, but at a price that won't make you sell off all your quest rewards at once.

Yeah, I want one, too.
So how does it work? Well, it's pretty simple. You pick the size of the table you want (though if you're going to pick Tablezilla, you'd better have a gaming room of appropriately epic proportions to match), the finish you want the table to have, and the fabric that covers the play surface. Your table will be produced by some of the finest cohorts in the land in 16 weeks, and if you live in the continental U.S., it can even be delivered straight to your door.

When your normal friends and family are around, it's just a high-quality, mahogany table. When it's time to play, though, the tabletop comes off, revealing the epic arena below!

Names (And Histories) You Can Trust

Carolina Game Tables is run by Clint Black and Jodi Black, who've been involved in other parts of the tabletop gaming industry for some time. They know the ups and downs, and the pain that comes when you want to have somewhere really nice to indulge in your heroic hobby. Fortunately for all of us, they also had the idea to design high-quality gaming tables, and the business savvy (along with the business contacts) to pull it off.

If you can make it at Gen Con, you can make it anywhere.
With four sizes, six fabrics, and four finishes, that's a lot of combinations for your gaming table. While Carolina Game Tables doesn't do custom orders, they are planning on expanding the options they have available based on the interest from their customers. Bypassing gimmicks, it's a company that doesn't cut corners. You're not just buying a gaming table. You're buying a high-quality adventure accessory that can do double duty when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other gatherings all rear their heads as well.

Seriously, go take a look at Carolina Game Tables. I have to go cajole my wallet out from under the bed.

If you feel for my wallet, and would like to help me get it out of hiding, why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month keeps the content coming hard and fast, and gets you some free swag while you're at it! I hope you enjoyed this week's Moon Pope Monday update, and if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, what's the hold up?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How it Changes Your Game

I've talked a lot about language on this blog, and how the words we use to describe things tend to shape our perceptions and our experiences. For example, in What's in a Name? How Your Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, I talked about how it's a mistake for us to assume that the name of your class is an absolute for your in-game appearance, history, and social standing. I've written A Guide To Swearing in Your Fantasy RPG for players who want to have unique, in-game curse words, and years ago I put together In Their Own Words: Finding Your Character's Voice to show that the way we speak often influences how a character is played.

This week I'd like us all to try another linguistic trick with our games. The next time you all sit down at the table, ban the use of the word adventurer.

Freelance incendiary artist is still a valid job title, though.

How Do You Stack Your Gold?

Ask yourself how many times characters at your table have been described purely by their class levels (class levels being a meta concept, and not something that we really see in-game). Now ask, if pressed, how many people would describe their profession as "adventurer"? For step three, ask what the word "adventurer" means in a practical sense. Because, generally speaking, it's a catch-all category that people use as a way to Spackle over the fact that they've left a huge part of their character's life and history vacant and empty. As if they didn't exist before level 1.

You're starting to lose me here... what's the point?
The point is that adventurer isn't really a job description. It's a placeholder. A placeholder you're supposed to come back to, and fill out with something a little more descriptive before the game really gets started.

To do that, all you have to do is ask, "How do you pay your bills?"

The answer should be informed by the character's skill set, but it's mainly a story question. Take the most basic character there is; a 1st level fighter. This character could be a military veteran, who either left the service, or was discharged; meaning he's a pikeman who needs work. Maybe he's a rough-and-tumble bruiser, who favors spiked gauntlets and short knives over fancier tactics. Is he a mugger? A legbreaker for a local gang? Or does the character use his prowess to keep the peace, either as a watch guard, or a bouncer at the local tavern? Is he a prize fighter, cracking teeth and breaking bones for the entertainment of a crowd? Is this fighter an archer? If so, how does he use that skill set? Is he a hunter? Does he perform as a sharpshooter with a traveling circus? If he has ranks in the Survival skill, is he a woods guide, eking out a living trading furs, and escorting merchants through rough country?

All of these vocations explain where the character's skills came from, and what the character does to earn money. Because, when you get right down to it, that's usually pretty high on any list of "adventurer" goals. Sure there might be motivations like revenge, or justice, or saving the world, but no one would ever fight a dragon if the dragon's hoard wasn't on the table. And, by knowing what you do for a living, you'll be able to explain why the party needs you before setting off on the current plot hook.

What Title Does Your Character Use?

We tend to label people based on what they do. And, when we're describing ourselves and our skill sets to other people, we tend to use professional labels as a short-cut. For example, Argon Lockbar is a 7th-level Rogue, a master lock and trapsmith, and he's traveled the world in search of lost lore and ancient relics, both for profit and because he believes it's what's right. If he's an erudite scholar, he might call himself an archaeologist, or a student of history. If he's a little more crass, or honest, he'd call himself a treasure hunter.

Vaults ain't gonna open themselves.
The title a character uses can sometimes upend your expectations for their class, as well. For example, Perine Hensdale is a 5th-level enchanter. Top of her class, she has potent magic at her command. When people ask what she does, though, she might answer that she's a bounty hunter; one who literally talks people into giving themselves up. She might also be a diplomat, keeping her magical skills hushed while secretly using them to secure peace treaties for governments, or just to settle trade disputes between unions. And just because it says 6th-level paladin on Herne Darkwood's sheet, that doesn't stop him from being a wandering sellsword. It just means that he might be willing to waive his fee, partially or entirely, for the right cause.

Motivation Dovetails With Your Job

One of the other major elements of your character is their motivation. But that motivation needs to gel with what your character is doing (and if it doesn't, you need an explanation for why that isn't happening).

Ugh... mastery of the arcane arts is so unfulfilling.
For example, say your character is an arcane scholar. He's a professor of history at one of the finer institutions, and always keeps his classes riveted with his lectures. But he, himself, craves being in the field. So he tends to take sabbaticals to go to dig sites, and to track down lost ruins or ancient mysteries. On the one hand, this is an adequate description of Indiana Jones. It's also a snazzy concept for a bard, a wizard, a sorcerer, or a witch, and it means that at no point in time will the answer to, "so what do you do?" be, "I'm an adventurer!"

So, hopefully folks enjoyed this week's Fluff topic. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, and make sure I've got the scratch to keep going, then please stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month gets you some sweet swag, and it helps me keep doing what I do. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, then why not change that today?

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Hit It With My Axe is Back! (Even MORE DND With Pornstars)

There are a lot of podcasts and YouTube channels out there where gamers big and small record their campaigns. Some of them are dark, some of them are hilarious, but it can be very hit or miss whether a campaign you're not part of sucks you in. Well, a little over a year ago I wrote up a piece about I Hit It With My Axe, which is a game that's unique in that most of the players are adult entertainers of one stripe or another. Sadly, the series went on a long hiatus (as some campaigns are wont to do), and it left both the die hard fans, as well as the passingly curious, wondering what was going to happen.

There were some of us who even questioned if it would be completed, dreading the answer even as we wondered.

Each of us for our own reasons.
Well, the wait is over! As you can see on the I Hit it With My Axe blog, the campaign is up, running, and fully watchable once more! And, if you need to catch up on all the old episodes before jumping into the new one, there's a recap available on Satine Phoenix's channel. And, if you want to keep up to date on all the latest happenings with the show, and the campaign it chronicles, then you should probably drop by the I Hit it With My Axe Facebook page, and give it a like.

I don't know about you all, but I have some catching up to do!

I know this week's Moon Pope Monday update is a little on the short side, but hey, Monday posts are always free, right? Also, before I sign off, I wanted to remind folks that if they want to help support Improved Initiative, the easiest way to do it (other than reading, liking, and sharing) is to go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a tip in my jar. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-the-minute on all my updates and new posts, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Friday, August 12, 2016

You Cannot Contain Power Players (So Try Working With Them, Instead)

Every roleplaying game out there is built on a foundation of rules. The rules decide how many points you get to spend on your attributes, how likely your attacks are to hit, what special abilities (if any) your character possesses, and how they work. And if you get a table of four players together, and you present each of them with the same options, there's going to be at least one of them who finds the right combination of abilities to make a character that's really good at his or her job. They didn't break the rules, or even twist them, but their character is definitely in the heavyweight category compared to the other players when it comes to spellcasting, skullduggery, swordplay, or any other tasks that start with "S".

These are your power players.

Time to meet the monster.
I would like to give an important piece of advice to all the DMs out there who see power players coming their way, and who try to tie them down with red tape and house rulings. Take a breath, and stop. Because whatever your power player has brought to the table, taking away one toy will just mean they go back to the toy box to find something else that will let them accomplish the same goal in a different way.

If There Are Rules, There Are Building Blocks

I'll give you a perfect example of how this situation tends to go. Mind's Eye Society, a group that ran and oversees World of Darkness LARPs, saw that too many players were building the biggest possible combat pools they could, and using these combat powerhouses to essentially take out other characters in a single hit. Instead of addressing things on the small-scale, however, the organization chose to institute a blanket ruling that put a cap on the amount of damage that could be done in a single hit.

This worked about as well as you think it would.
The theory was that if you made it impossible to build one-shot wonders, then players wouldn't use violence as a means to solve every situation. That was, of course, not what happened. Instead of building bigger brutes, some players invested in characters who could soak up inhuman amounts of punishment, since there was no cap on how much health you can have. That way they could simply outlast the other characters, tanking as much hurt as they could before walking away the victor. Other players invested in recruiting small armies of NPCs, which meant that instead of having one trigger to pull, a single player could have control of a dozen, highly-trained shooters at a time.

The point is, taking away the ability to build a character that could cave in someone's ribs and rupture their heart with a single punch didn't stop people from building combat monsters. All it did was create a detour, making players use different means to achieve the same end.

And, as a DM, that's what you're going to see if you start arbitrarily telling players who did their homework that they aren't allowed to use certain abilities, or create certain combinations. Because if the player hasn't broken any rules, it can feel like you're punishing them for being able to find, and use, the most effective options available.

Make Your Power Players Work For You

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; every game needs a Session 0. If you have a power player (or two, or three) at your table, you need to sit down with them, and listen to what they're planning on doing. If you have someone who's planned a multiclass shock trooper, capable of smashing through hordes of foes, then you need to ask yourself how that's going to gel with the game you're planning on running, and where that leaves the rest of the table. Because if the group is made up of a face man and two spellcasters, then that sort of muscle might be just what they need. But if there are already two other combat specialists, and you know they won't be able to keep up with the power player's build, then you should try to fix that.

But you don't fix it by just banging a gavel and denying one of your players a perfectly legal option. Instead, talk to them, explain that you appreciate what they're trying to make, and work with them to make something that will let them have fun, but which will help keep the game going in the direction you want, while allowing everyone else to enjoy it, too.

It doesn't seem that hard, does it?
Now, there will be some players who get offended that you'd ask them to change their concept because you feel it would be disruptive. Some players may even make a stink that you want them to "play down" to the rest of the table's level. If you present your case in a reasoned, thoughtful sort of way, and that's the reaction you get, un-invite that player to your table until they learn that this game isn't just about them, but that it's a cooperative effort among everyone.

That is the sort of understanding you need to foster, if you want a power player to give you a character that will not only do the job they were built for, but help build up the rest of the table at the same time. It takes skill, time, and dedication to learn how to match the right options together in order to build a powerful PC. But being able to do that without overshadowing anyone else, that takes cooperation, care, and more than a little help from the person behind the screen.

As always, thanks for stopping in to see what I had to say for this week's Crunch topic. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, even if it's as little as $1 a month, click over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every new patron, regardless of how much they choose to put in the tip jar, gets free books, and access to all my future giveaways! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, now would be a great time to start.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Are The Rules For Writing About Pathfinder?

So, as folks have pointed out, I write a lot about Pathfinder. And, while I try to make sure that as much of my content is system-neutral as possible, sometimes I have to get system-specific. Because, after all, Crunch topics that work in Pathfinder won't work in other systems. Aside from the fact that Pathfinder is one of the games I play most regularly, and one of the more popular systems out there, it also has an open game license. Not only that, but Paizo has put forth a list of rules regarding who can use their game content, and under what circumstances.

Those rules, if you're curious, are the Paizo Inc. Community Use Policy.

Take a minute and read it through, if you're curious.
If you've considered becoming a blogger, or you'd like to include Pathfinder content in your YouTube videos, podcasts, or even your own adventure paths and campaign modules, all you have to do is read through these use rules, and see if anything you want to do violates the community use policy or open game license.

For example, if you are going to charge people for access to your product (membership fee on a website, purchase price for a mod, etc.), then you cannot use any of Paizo's intellectual property in it. That means you can use Pathfinder's rule system, but you cannot take the gods, the countries, the history, etc. All of those things are off-limits if you're charging for them.

So where does that leave someone like me, or Simon Peter Munoz, the man behind the Creative Repository Blog? Well, we fall into a much safer place than people who are publishing and selling RPG content. Because our blogs are free to anyone who wants to read them, we don't have to worry as much. That's why you'll see articles specifically about world lore, suggesting particular nations for particular concepts, and talking about adventure paths and modules here in Improved Initiative.

The Rules Can Change

It's important to remember that the rules can, and will, change. So, if you're ever in doubt, it's a good idea to check the community use policy to be certain that you're still in compliance with it. Also, remember, that neither I, nor Improved Initiative, are endorsed by Paizo. I am just a guy with a blog, who talks about gaming. If you want to get a certain answer on whether your idea is going to be okay, legally speaking, all you have to do is email Paizo, and ask.

Seriously, it's that simple.

As always, thanks for checking out this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Also, as I said, this blog is free to everyone. So, if you'd like to leave me a tip to help me keep producing the content you want, why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and become a patron? As little as $1 a month makes a big difference, and it's enough to net you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too?