Monday, November 28, 2016

Where Dr. Strange's Somatic Components REALLY Came From

If you've seen Doctor Strange (and really, who hasn't at this point?) chances are good you walked out of the theater with a serious Jones to play a spellcaster. Part of that was the great performances of the cast, and part of it was probably because of all the work that had been put in to really sell the spells. Not just the great SFX efforts that went into the production, but the choreography that went into making the spells actually look like something the casters were putting real effort into.

You know what I'm talking about.
If the hand motions used by the Sorcerer Supreme and his fellow magic users look familiar, they should. The movements are called tutting, of finger tutting, and the style is closely associated with street dance. Even if you're not part of that scene, though, you've seen tutting in the Samsung commercial "Unleash Your Fingers". You also saw the choreographer for Doctor Strange if you've seen that particular viral ad. His name is Julian Daniels, but his performing handle is Jay Funk, and you can see more awesome examples of his work on his YouTube page.

He was also the man in the opening scene of the film who forms the magic whip, according to director Scott Derrickson.

Sell The Magic, You Sell The Story

One of the things Derrickson said about Dr. Strange was that he didn't want the magic to feel like anything audiences had seen on-screen before. You know, the usual flick of the wrist, a single word, and then you get a result. The magic in Doctor Strange had to feel old, the techniques and devices steeped in tradition and ancient knowledge. They also had to feel like something that could have existed in secret in the modern world Marvel has been building. And though it's a relatively small detail, these gestures are something that really makes the adherents stand out.

In a good way.
As I brought up previously in What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?, the more effort you put in to stand out, and be unique, the more it feels like you aren't just casting out-of-the-book spells. Just like every swordsman has a unique style, and every brawler has her own approach, your spell components are what reflect your character's unique magical tradition. Because while the effects of the spells may be universal, what you do to create them can make your character really stand out.

And, of course, if you want some simple performance art that you can do without disrupting the table, finger tutting is always an option.

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative so I can keep content just like this coming right to your screen, then drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and you get some sweet swag if you put at least that much bread in my jar. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, why not start now?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Search For The Mummy's Mask Part Two: Undead Children, And Resurrected Puppies

When last we left the Desert Falcons, they had discovered a city of tiny clay people in the basement of an ancient general's tomb. The Littlest Pharaoh chose to accompany them... but what adventures did they find after leaving the dusty depths of their first crypt?

If you missed the first installment, catch up by clicking the link below.

Part One: The Desert Falcons, and The Littlest Pharaoh
Part Two: Undead Children, and Resurrected Puppies
Part Three: Enemies on All Sides
Part Four: Fight Night at The Necropolis
Part Five: Who is The Forgotten Pharaoh?
Part Six: No Harm Ever Came From Reading A Book...
Part Seven: Needle in a Haystack
Part Eight: Lamias and Genie Lords
Part Nine: The Mind of The Forgotten Pharaoh
Part Ten: The End of The Forgotten Pharaoh

All caught up? Good, because things get shambling in the next chapter...

A Night of Celebration

So, we managed to escape relatively unscathed (physically, at least) from the general's tomb. We emerged with the Littlest Pharaoh stowed away among Mustafa's material components, and we turn over the significant treasures we found (the war chariot, and most of the gilded tomes) to the church leaders, as per our agreement with them. The city was discovered, of course, but it was preserved as historical art, rather than as a city of tiny, living clay people. We go back to the inn, we rest, have some hummus, drink a little wine, and rub elbows with our fellow adventurers. The tiny majesty watches in secret, and spends the rest of his time in our rooms.

So, what did you find in the necropolis?
It's really a rather merry bunch. Caladral is offering toasts and buying drinks, performing the unique magic of turning gold into liquor at a rapid pace. Ra'ana and Umaya are nursing their own drinks, washing the dust from their throats and keeping eyes out for trouble. Mustafa is involved in deep discussion with a pair of witchy sisters regarding portents and spells, their conversation dense enough that no one not steeped in mysticism would be able to follow it. And Yana is sharing a tankard with a rambunctious halfling by the name of Mad Dog, who goes adventuring with naught but a pack of hounds to watch his flanks.

After a night of rest, during which Mustafa unpacks his wizard's spellbook and prepares some arcane might to complement his divine power (and everyone else takes a second level in their existing classes), we are given a new assignment. A huge, walled manor that's been marked with Pharasma's spiral, and which is merely unexplored instead of unexplored and forgotten. It is deeper in the necropolis, though, and as such we should be sure we are prepared.

Then Undead Children

No sooner do we walk through the gates than we are beset by visions from the ancient past. The sounds of shuffling mobs, and the smells of burning and blood. A horrific callback that has lingered throughout centuries, leaving us shaken, and on edge. Then we stepped into the manor's side yard, and found it was full of mewling, shambling creatures.

I'm starting to get a "heart of darkness" theme here... if there were zombie babies.
These tiny corpses, reduced to little more than bones, pose no threat to our bodies. But what they represent is awful, and it sets something off in both Umaya, and Ra'ana. The two of them methodically destroy each creature, bringing their weapons down without malice, or rage. Every swing is heavier than the last, though, and when they reach the small slave quarters they find a half dozen restless dead still chained to the wall, left there for untold centuries. With a wave of his hand, and a quick prayer, Mustafa blows out their dark candles, and let their bones rest.

Filled with a horror that is has become a slow-burning anger, we enter the house, and find something worthy of that wrath. A snarling, bestial ghoul the size and shape of a Large dog, and with several, rotting heads full of too many teeth. Beneath Ra'ana's whirling blades, and Umaya's falchion, the thing doesn't stand a chance. Mustafa and Yana don't even need to bring their magic to bear, simply allowing the two warriors to spend their impotent frustration on the abomination that lurked in the upper floors.

Aside from the bizarre hound, though, there was nothing noteworthy in the house. Around the other side, though, we found a huge, skeletal creature waiting to snap up unwary prey. Umaya was unwary when it ambushed her, but its bones were ill-prepared for the assault of her flail, or for the bolts of acid and disruption that lanced into it as Mustafa and Yana threw back their sleeves, casting in near unison. Bloodied, but with no serious hurts that a brief prayer beneath Sarenrae's bright sun could not fix, we found a crypt.

The crypt's guardian, something that looked like a mummy but which was anything but, did not die easily. In fact, it nearly escaped, and was halfway up the wall before a handful of hurled flame from Mustafa brought it down, where its skull was pulped by a panting Umaya. Further down, hordes of undead cats came snarling and hissing from the shadows. Mustafa held out his hands, and sent wave after wave of positive energy crashing over the beasts. They fell, and crumbled. There were hundreds of them, though, and we couldn't figure out why.

Until we opened Schroedinger's coffer, that was...
Far in the back of the tomb there was a bizarre device. A coffer that held a single kitten. A kitten who, Mustafa determined after examining its box, had been kept alive for thousands of years by the sacrifice of the horde we had destroyed. So, capturing the cat (who was far from pleased at being snatched and put in a bag), we carried the strange coffer out of the tomb, and tried to decide what should be done with it.

A Hangdog Face, and Crocodile Tears

When we return to the inn, we find Mad Dog sitting at a table, surrounded by empty glasses. There are only two dogs with him now; one lying on the floor, dejected, and the other with her head in his lap, whining up at him. He'd lost the others, all for some stupid magic sword he didn't even want. It was a heartbreaking scene, and after the tragedies of the day, we decided to do something about this one.

Did you do what it sounds like you did?
Upon careful study and consideration, Mustafa pronounced that he believed they could bring one of Mad Dog's hounds back to his side. The pint-sized pack master retrieved the body of his big male, broken and bloody from its engagement, and handed it gingerly to us. We placed it inside the coffer, and carefully closed the lid. Mustafa offered prayers to his own goddess for guidance, and beseeched Erastil to look with favor upon Mad Dog's plight. To let this hound, a creature of both the wilds and the home, return to its master. We placed the hissing cat in the other part of the coffer, and asked that it be granted the end it was meant to have so many thousands of years ago.

Then, hoping for the best, Mustafa filled the thing with as much positive energy as he could generate, and Yana activated the coffer. The result? Mad Dog's hound leaped out, tongue wagging, and looking around eagerly. He seemed bigger than he had, more muscular, and perhaps with a sharper gaze, but it was the same dog all right. Mad Dog wrapped his arms around it, and cried into his fur. Then he thanked us with all his swelling, drunken heart. We accepted his thanks, but kept a wary eye on what we had done.

It seems that someone heard our prayers, though. That hound's forehead was soon bedecked with a pair of antlers, and it began prowling the town's back streets, sniffing out undead and dastardly threats to those who lived there. Deciding not to test our luck, we handed the coffer over to Hakar, under the condition that he not sell it to someone who would use it for evil or nefarious ends.

As if he would ever do such a thing!

What feats did the Desert Falcons achieve next? Tune in next time when I share the ambush at the square, and the awakening of the dead!

That's all for this week's Table Talk. Hopefully you enjoyed. If you have a tale of your own you'd like to share, feel free to get in touch, and I can give you your own moment in the spotlight! If you'd like to support Improved Initiative, and keep content just like this coming your way, then why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave me a tip? As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and there's some sweet swag in it for you as well. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, well, why not start today?

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Realism Police Are Coming!

We've all been in one of those games. Everything is going fine, we're having fun, but then someone objects to a particular mechanic. Not that the mechanic is unfair, or that it isn't functional, but that it isn't realistic. Why does the fighter with the greatsword get to attack at the same rate as the rogue with a dagger? Why can someone reload a heavy crossbow as a free action with the right feats when humans are lucky if they can fire three bolts from one of these weapons in a minute? For that matter, how can a gunslinger reload a black powder firearm in seconds when even the fastest soldiers could barely manage that feat in half a minute? How the hell can a rogue or a monk use evasion in a 10 foot by 10 foot room that's filled with a fireball?

Because that's what makes the game work.
I would like to reiterate what I said over on my author blog a few weeks ago on this subject in Internal Consistency is What Your Novel Needs (Not Realism). Fictional worlds do not need realism in order to function. What they need is internal consistency, and that is often why rules are written the way they are.

RPGs Aren't Written To Be Realistic

Anytime you start a sentence with, "well, in the real world," you should just stop there. Because it might be true that commoners never saw a single gold piece in the actual Middle Ages, or that it is perfectly possible to tumble while wearing armor that meets the description of "full plate," but that doesn't matter. Because RPGs are not interested in recreating reality in exacting detail. Rather, the rules of an RPG are there to create systems for solving conflict within the story you're trying to tell.

Whatever form that conflict takes.
That is the purpose of every rule in an RPG. It's the reason why there's a mechanic for deciding how high your Diplomacy check has to be to persuade an NPC to see things your way. It's also why there's a limit regarding how many steps you can move an NPC with a single check in a 24 hour period. There's also a reason behind the use of a static number like armor class that someone has to meet or exceed in order to confirm a hit. These systems, in short, exist so you can say definitively whether the action you took succeeded, or failed as a way to continue the narrative nature of the game.

Now, are there games that address some of these "not realistic enough" complaints? Yes, there are. Scion, for example, has an initiative system that measures different actions with different ticks, so it is possible for someone who uses smaller, faster weapons to get more attacks in on a given turn. There are also game systems where different firearms will take longer to reload, or be harder to aim, depending on the accessories used, the type of ammunition a character loads it with, and the amount of training the character possesses. There are even some game systems, like Metal Magic and Lore, where every attack is one character's attack versus the target's active defense, meaning that everything is a roll-off. Some games even get detailed enough that they assign a limb for the attack to hit, and take into account how much damage is absorbed by the armor, and how much damage the armor takes when it's struck.

Rather than complain that a system isn't "realistic" enough, instead look at the game as it exists, and ask what it was meant to do. How was it balanced? For example, in Pathfinder, the trade-off between bows and crossbows is that bows can be fired faster, but crossbows are a simple weapon usable by any class. So crossbows have an action economy penalty in the form of reload time that classes which get martial weapon proficiency (or take feats to use martial weapons) can avoid. Alternatively, it is possible to reload a crossbow as a free action (and thus negate the action economy penalty) by taking the right feats. That isn't because the designers are trying to recreate how these weapons work in exacting detail, but rather because they want there to be advantages and disadvantages for the choices players make.

That's the sort of logic you should be using the examine a game's mechanics. Because mechanics are not based on opinions of how things work in the real world. They're based on game balance and conflict resolution. Evasion doesn't say the rogue needs cover, or an open space to step into to negate an effect that requires a Reflex save. Instead, the ability uses something along the lines of action movie logic; our hero was fast enough to roll out of the way of the blast, and therefore he isn't hurt by it. It doesn't matter if there was nothing to hide behind, because having something to duck behind isn't listed as part of evasion's mechanics.

Learn The System, Before You Complain ABOUT The System

There's no such thing as a perfect RPG. Every game has weak spots, oversights, and things players simply will not agree with. And, as it says on the first page of pretty much every RPG on the market, you can take or leave as much of the mechanics you want, and run your game however you please. However, when you fiddle with the game's engine, chances are good that the little change you make is going to have ripples.

Don't believe me? Create a rule that says all crits automatically confirm in Pathfinder the same way they do in DND 5e. Then watch as every character loads up on critical hit feats, and starts cutting a wider swath than you ever expected to see.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it helped someone out there who was looking for a way to express this particular opinion, or who was looking for a different take on this argument. If you'd like to help me keep creating content just like this, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little bread in my jar? Even $1 a month can make a big difference. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, why not start now?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Pill-Popping Paladin

Farran had cleaned the blood from his sword, and smoothed the nicks from the blade with a whetstone. He washed the sweat and stink from his body. He polished his armor and shield until they shone, and the dents from the day's battle were little more than irregularities in the steel skins. He said his prayers. When all was said and done, though, he could not banish the sound of the demon's roar from his mind. The madness in its gaze, and the hunger as it tore at his shield even as ichor spilled across the temple's floor, were seared into his mind like a brand. He raised his pipe, lit it, and breathed deep.

The smoke filled his lungs, and it quieted the memories. He would sleep tonight, and with the blessing of the gods, his sleep would be dreamless.

The gods were good, to bless us with such bounty.

Drugs are one of those mechanics that most players simply don't toy with, excluding the sheer number of PCs who get completely hammered before, during, or after an adventure. But while ale and wine flow commonly in most games, it's fairly rare for player characters to touch the harder stuff. Why? Well, because it gives you a temporary benefit, but it damages one of your stats, and has the potential to cause addiction.

Of course, paladins have ways around that.

The Pill-Popping Paladin

Hard drugs in Pathfinder can give small, but effective, bonuses. Silvertongue, invented by yours truly, gives you a 1d2 bonus to your Charisma score for an hour, for example. Zerk provides a +1 bonus to your initiative, and +1d4 to your Strength, for the next hour. These drugs also do 1d4 and 1d2 Constitution damage, respectively. Also, as I pointed out in The Best Drugs in Pathfinder, every time you take a dose of one of these substances, you have to roll a Fortitude save to avoid addiction. That can be problematic, because drug addiction can have crippling effects on a character.

It's important to remember, though, that drug addiction is considered a disease, and can be cured by applicable magics. Paladins are immune to diseases both normal and magical as of 3rd level, however, which renders the Fortitude save a moot point. Even better, paladins who cast spells (since there are archetypes that give up spellcasting) have the ability to restore ability damage. This gives them the ability to reap the benefits of drug use, without all the negatives that come with it.

Antipaladins are worse. So much worse..
But even though paladins can do this, mechanically, are they allowed to thematically? After all, drug use is one of those things we tend to think goes against a paladin's code... but why would it? Especially if the substances a paladin is using, like elven absinthe or harlot sweets, are not illegal to buy, or use, and there are no proscriptions against those substances in that paladin's faith?

The closest argument that could be made regarding drug use is that it may be seen as dishonorable to give yourself an advantage with a performance-enhancing substance. However, if that is true, then where do you draw the line? Is wearing enchanted armor, or wielding a magical sword, giving you too much of an advantage for you to still be honorable? Is using magic against a creature who cannot cast spells using an unfair advantage? Are you allowed to accept morale bonuses from the bard, or transmutation spells from the wizard, to help in the heat of battle? Are you allowed to drink strong coffee to stave off the penalties from fatigue (which is an actual ruling)?

What Drives The Drug Use?

The mechanical quirk is fun, but hardly game breaking. The benefits gained from imbibing drugs are small, variable, and they do cause damages that have to be healed. Even if you get a free pass on the addiction roll, there's still the question of why your paladin feels the need to shoot up.

Is your paladin a front-line warrior, who prepares for every possible situation? In much the same way he'd carry healing potions, and alchemical weapons, why wouldn't he pack battlefield drugs to help him keep going when the chips were down, and lives were on the line? Does your paladin take drugs to help stave off the long-term effects of staring into the abyss of horror and damnation that he took vows to protect others against? Or does your paladin take drugs in order to reach a higher state of consciousness, communing more clearly with the gods in an altered state of consciousness?

Are the drugs a crutch, or a tool? An escape, or a prison? Those choices are yours to make, and they remain particularly interesting choices.

For more inspiration, check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins!

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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.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

A Rebuttal to The "Hack" of Using Spells to Control Your Alignment

So, as we all know, Pathfinder now has rules in Horror Adventures that state expressly that casting spells with an alignment component can change your alignment. I covered this weeks ago in my Crunch post Horror Adventures Settles The Argument About Evil Spells and Alignments. However, as I've said before, absolutely no mechanic in gaming causes more vehement (and occasionally incoherent) arguments than alignment does. This was no exception. And the most common argument I heard for why this was a poor decision was that it meant spellcasters could now regulate their own alignment through the spells they used. Eaten too many babies? Don't worry, I'll just cast this good-aligned spell a few times, and there we go, back to neutral. Uh-oh, I used soul harvest as a way to get past a bad guy... guess I'll just use angel cuddle until I've been redeemed.

That's not how this works... that's not how any of this works...
Now, mechanically, that scenario (ridiculous as it is) is possible. However, by suggesting that's what players are going to do in order to somehow "game" their alignment ignores a lot of other facets.

Why This "Hack" is Pointless

In order for this sort of alignment maintenance to happen via spellcasting, it requires a spellcaster of a certain alignment to learn spells of an opposing alignment. If you're a good-aligned spellcaster, why would you learn animate dead, for example? And if you're an evil-aligned spellcaster, why would you learn celestial healing, particularly when infernal healing is an option? Perhaps a neutral spellcaster would know them both, and use them when appropriate, but why ensure that you cast an even number of good and evil spells? Because that's not, exactly, what "being neutral" means.

Seriously, this isn't a rhetorical question.
While it is possible for you to "atone" for your one evil spell with good spells, it's on the player to explain A) why the character would have spells from both ends of the spectrum, and B) why that character would feel the need to play one step forward, and one step back? Alignment is a meta concept, after all, which means that the characters are often unaware of where they sit on the spectrum without some form of highly-specific spell to tell them where they are.

More importantly, though, a player should ask why the character would even feel the need to bounce back and forth. Aside from the player's own, personal desire to fit squarely into a good or evil bracket that, as far as their characters know, doesn't even exist.

If a character is not a member of a class for whom alignment is important (such as a wizard, a magus, or even a bard), then there's no purpose to using spells to "cheat" the alignment rule that would make you good or evil for dipping your fingers into pools of liquid malevolence or beneficence. If a character is a member of a class for whom alignment is important (clerics, warpriests, inquisitors, etc.), then the question should be why would this person blatantly reach outside the alignment they're supposed to be maintaining to use tools that are outside their toolbox? This is particularly true for divine casters. Because while it's true that a good-aligned cleric could pray for spells with the evil descriptor, why would a good-aligned god grant those spells to them in the first place?

Roleplay Your Changing Alignment

The big question that playing footsie with your alignment by casting spells should ask, though, is what are the roleplay and story implications for that kind of flirtation? Does the wizard, who thought all magic was just a tool, develop a taste for true darkness? Does he begin relying on evil spells, even when he doesn't need them, just for the sickening rush of power? Will his reputation, and legacy, be twisted as he refuses to let go of his corruption?

Why did I change my seal? No reason, really.
The same is true from the other direction. What happens when the evil necromancer learns good-aligned spells in order to trick his opponents, but ends up seeing the light when he uses them too many times? Does he try to go back to his old ways, but the things he's done, and the person he was, are so revolting to him now that he can never understand how he once performed such awful acts without thought or care?

Lastly, it's important to note that a changed alignment doesn't wipe your slate clean as a character. For example, an evil character who, for some reason, becomes good-aligned through use of a good-aligned spell doesn't get to shirk responsibility for all the evil acts they may have committed. Their deeds were still done, and the enemies they made are still their enemies. There's also the question of what's going to happen when their masters find they've wandered off the proper alignment path. How hard will the character fight to maintain its new outlook on life when it knows that cult leaders, demon lords, and others have invested a great deal in them remaining evil?

Your alignment is an important aspect of your character, but it is not a get-out-of-jail free card. You can be good-aligned and still be wanted for crimes. You can be evil-aligned, and still find a way to never stray into illegitimate areas of the law. Finally, yes, you can alter your alignment by using good or evil spells... but the real question you should be asking yourself is what purpose does that kind of metagaming serve?

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday entry. Hopefully it helps some folks who've been grappling with this issue, and it stops some arguments at your tables. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to make a small donation. Donate at least $1 a month, and there's some swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start today?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Make A Dating Profile For Your Character (Seriously, It Helps)

There are some players who have no trouble getting into character. All you need to do is ask, and they'll tell you everything of significance that happened to their PC from childhood, up to their introduction at the table. They know how the character looks, how they sound, their goals, their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. That isn't true for all players, though. Sometimes a player will just have a bare bones skeleton of class, race, and gender. Maybe you get a vague backstory out of them, but anything more can be like pulling teeth.

There's an easy way to get more info out of your players, though. Have them fill out a dating profile for their PCs.

Enjoys crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him, and hearing the lamentations of the women.
This sounds like a joke, but I'm quite serious. If your players are having trouble giving you the detail you need as a DM, have them fill out a dating profile for the character in question. It asks all the right questions, and it will get players to talk about the mundane, average things, as well as the big, important details.

I Don't Want My Character Dating Anyone!

Don't get mixed up, this isn't about figuring out who your PCs are going to be shacking up with. I already covered that topic in Sexuality Matters in Roleplaying Games (And Here's Why). That isn't what we're talking about here. Because a dating profile isn't just about who you want to get romantic with. It's about giving a total stranger a snapshot of who you are. It shares your pertinent details (age, height, weight, ethnicity, gender, if you have kids, if you have pets, birth sign, etc.), and it allows you to tell people about yourself. Which is what a DM needs in order to understand the driving goals, history, and wants of the characters coming to the table.

5'10", enjoys long walks on the beach, and hopes to one day break the chains of oppression.
This idea can be altered, depending on the campaign in question, too. For example, if you're running a game like Spycraft, you could make up an agency dossier for each character instead of a dating profile. If you're playing a game like Vampire, then you could write up a history entry detailing the life and times of the bloodsucking immortals in question. Or, if you have certain things you personally want to know as a DM, then make up your own questionnaire to get your players thinking.

No matter what form it takes, though, the goal is always the same; get your players to fill in the details. Get them to think beyond race, class, height, weight, and weapon of choice. Ask what these characters do for fun, what their favorite food is, what their hobbies are, and if they're married, single, separate, or divorced. Were they raised by their parents, or by a sibling? Do they have an extended family? Do they smoke, or drink, and how often? How many tattoos and piercings do they have? What do they mean?

And, if you want to, describe what they're looking for in a partner. You know, just to round it out.

That's all for this week's Fluff topic. If you liked it, and you want to see more topics just like this one, why not drop a little change in my jar by becoming a patron? Just visit The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and donate at least $1 a month to get your free gift! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, what's stopping you?

Monday, November 7, 2016

What is a Grognard?

If you've been in the RPG community for any length of time, you've likely come across the term "grognard" before. The term, as you see according to this Urban Dictionary entry, refers to a gamer who prefers an older edition of a game to any newer ones. This preference is often intense, and it may come with long diatribes about how their edition, despite being older, is superior to any games that came later. Sometimes it's used to refer to players who prefer the style of old-school RPGs over new-school ones, as well. Players who, for example, believe that the DM should be the creator and master of everything in the game, instead of a referee who simply interprets the rules as they exist in the book.

Back in AD&D, we got one spell, and we were happy!
Now, if you know me, you know that I have a special place in my heart for etymology. It's why I've written articles like What is a Swashbuckler? and What is a Paladin?, which both explore and explain the linguistic origins of these words, and how their original meanings were quite different from what we picture when we hear them. So, when it came to grognard, I was curious about where it came from, and how it came into use.

According to Merriam Webster, the primary definition of the word is, "an old soldier." Which makes sense when you think about it. After all, when we talk about gamers who have been in the community for some time, we often refer to them as the old guard. There is a more specific definition, though. When capitalized, the word refers to the original imperial guard formed by Napoleon. The old guard which led the final charge at the Battle of Waterloo, in fact.

There's a metaphor there, implying that grognards are the soldiers of a lost cause. The remnants of an empire whose time has passed, but who refuse to leave their posts. Whether that's an implication we meant to bring with the word, and if it's a veiled dig at gamers who always talk about the editions they first started playing with, I can't say. But it is something you might want to think about before you use this term, whether you mean it as a compliment or an insult.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday update. While it was short and sweet, I do hope there are folks out there who enjoyed it. If you would like to support Improved Initiative so I can keep making posts like this one, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little bread in my jar. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, what's stopping you?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to Finesse a Katana in The Pathfinder RPG

When Ultimate Combat came out, it gave us a lot of new toys to play around with. Toys like the gunslinger, their attendant firearms, and even cannons. Things that DMs, by and large, put under lock and key, then made their players fill out a permission slip in triplicate for before they were allowed to use them in game. Almost as big of a problem as guns, though, were the Eastern weapons. And of all the Eastern weapons, few of them have caused as many East V. West debates as the katana.

Especially for fans who think it is, for some reason, underpowered in Pathfinder.
Now, I've give my opinion on this weapon as a fictional trope in "Zen and The Art of Lazy Writing" or "Why You Should Stop Giving White People Katanas", but there are some advantages to using the katana in Pathfinder. It has the deadly property, for one thing, but it also has an 18-20 crit range, which can make it a tasty acquisition for someone who likes the idea of a bastard sword that crits like a rapier.

However, there are some players out there who are frustrated they can't use the Weapon Finesse feat on a katana. They want to capture the graceful fighting style that was a necessity in using these blades without shattering them, and it can feel like the rules are getting in the way.

Well, here's a simple method for achieving your goals.

How To Finesse a Katana in The Pathfinder RPG

The first thing you need to do is realize that feats will not allow you to accomplish this task in Pathfinder. The Weapon Finesse feat only works with light weapons, and those specifically listed in the feat's description like the spiked chain, whip, and rapier. What you need is a class ability, and it is not a class ability given to the samurai, or the ninja.

What ho, my friends!
The key ability you need is Swashbuckler's Finesse, which you receive as a 1st-level swashbuckler. This allows you to finesse any light or one-handed piercing weapon sized for you, applying your Dexterity modifier to your attack rolls instead of your Strength modifier. And though it takes the Exotic Weapon Proficiency to wield in one hand, it can be done the same way you could wield a bastard sword in one hand.

A katana is, however, a slashing weapon.

No worries. All you need to do is take Weapon Focus for the katana (because if you're going through all the effort to finesse it, why wouldn't it be your main melee weapon?), and then take the feat Slashing Grace. This not only allows you to treat the katana as a piercing weapon for your class features (like Swashbuckler's Finesse), but it also allows you to apply your Dexterity modifier to your damage.

This does mean one of two things, though. Either you are going to play a multiclass character, by taking at least a single level in swashbuckler, or it means you need to see if you can do all the things you want to do with the swashbuckler class. Choose wisely, though, because both options have their strengths, and both options have their weaknesses.

That's all for this week's Crunch post. Hopefully some folks out there found it useful. If you'd like to help Improved Initiative keep delivering more content just like this, then stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave some bread in my jar. As little as $1 a month goes a long way, and it gets you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start now?