Saturday, April 29, 2017

Can't Get Enough Traits in Pathfinder? Try Taking a Drawback!

One of the unique features of Pathfinder as an RPG is the idea of background traits. While every player is supposed to create a unique character with a unique story, background traits offer you some tasty bonuses to help bridge the gap between your story and mechanics. Say, for example, your character was a child soldier, and is always poised on the verge of a fight. Giving them the Reactionary background trait grants them a +2 trait bonus to their initiative. If your character was raised in part by a magical creature, who helped nurture their magical skills, then Magical Knack gives them a +2 bonus on their caster level for a single class, up to their character level (an ideal choice for multiclass spell casters).

Choose wisely. Bonuses you don't use are bonuses you may as well not have.
There are hundreds of these traits to choose from, and there are only a few rules guiding your choice. First and foremost, unless expressly stated, you cannot stack trait bonuses. So you can't take Outcast and Reactionary in order to get a +4 initiative bonus... it's one or the other, and be happy with your +2. Additionally, you cannot have more than one trait of a single type. Which means that even if you're torn about which two Magic traits to give your new wizard, you have to make up your mind because you only get one. Ditto your barbarian when it comes to Combat traits. Lastly, if you're playing an adventure path, it's typically required for your character to take one of the traits specifically geared for that campaign, which are called Campaign traits.

That sometimes sucks. Especially if none of the story tie-ins or bonuses those Campaign traits offer fit with your character concept. But rules are rules, as I so often say.

That's why I thought I'd let folks know there is a way to get three background traits. If you're willing to take on a drawback, that is.

Trait Drawbacks Might Give You An Advantage

Drawbacks, many of which come from the book Quests and Campaigns, are essentially traits in reverse. they lay out something negative about your character, and give you a drawback in a certain situation. Do you have powerful family members who might call on you to perform onerous duties while you're trying to adventure? Are you wanted by the law, and thus your very face warrants negatives on Diplomacy checks with folks who recognize you? Does your sense of pride make it impossible for you to deal socially with those who have wronged or insulted you?

All of those things fall under drawbacks. Check out the handy list!

There are even drawbacks for being an insufferable prick!
Of course, for every drawback, there has to be an advantage. Only the mad will purposefully hamstring their character in one situation without getting something for it. So what do you get in exchange for a drawback? Well, you get to pick a third background trait.

This third trait, though, has to follow all the rules that come with traits. So you can't double dip in the same category, and you can't stack bonuses. But if you find yourself in a situation where you had two traits you really wanted, but now you have to take a campaign trait for this adventure path, well, you have the option of having all three. In exchange for a minor negative, that is.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment. Short and sweet, but it's relevant to a character I'm putting together at present, so I figured I'd share in case some folks hadn't heard of these rules. If you want to make sure you don't miss out on any of my posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me so I can keep this blog going, please head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is a pledge of $1 a month to earn yourself some sweet swag, and my everlasting gratitude.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Use Character Build Guides If You Aren't Familiar With The System

Thanks to the Internet, it's now possible for players to do more research than ever before when it comes to how to build their ideal character concept. We can talk with other players on social media, chat in forums, ask questions in discussion groups, and get references for everything we ever wanted to know. Additionally, we also have players writing their own guides for how to execute ideal character concepts. If you've ever been to my Character Conversions page, you've seen all 48 of the guides I've written for everything from Game of Thrones, to The Avengers, D.C. comics characters, and badasses of history.

Like this crazy son of a bitch right here!

A fun fact about all those conversions... my Character Conversions page is the most visited page on this blog, closely followed by my Crunch page. That makes sense, though. Since I primarily write about Pathfinder, and Pathfinder is a rules-dense game, readers are turning to me to point out the sections of interest. The bulk of my regular traffic comes from gamers who are looking for a guide to machete their way through this jungle of text, rule books, and minutiae.

That's fine, from where I'm sitting. I like knowing that my fellow gamers trust me enough to look at my thoughts, share my guides, and come back week after week to see what I'm doing now.

With that said, there is something I feel needs to be addressed. A caveat to all the content on my blog, in my guides, and on the Internet from other creators. There is nothing wrong with a player reading through these guides to find information that will help them build better characters. There's nothing wrong with just building the character as it's laid out in a guide. However, if you don't understand the mechanics in the post you're reading, do not bring that character to your table.

If you can't drive stick, don't get behind the wheel.

There Is No Shortcut to System Mastery

I will reiterate, a build guide can help you find your way to executing the character concept you want. But you need a certain amount of system mastery (which is a fancy term for saying you understand the rules, and you can apply them to your character) in order to use a guide properly.

I sense an example would help, here?
Let's take a basic example. Say you're talking with Dave, who's never played Pathfinder before. Dave wants to play a fighter, but he doesn't want to be one of those big, armored tanks. He wants to be a human who is light on his feet, and whose speed is what makes him deadly. You, as an experienced player, can tell him that he should take Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus, and Slashing Grace as his three 1st-level feats, then he'll want to take Piranha Strike as his 2nd-level feat. Now imagine Dave nodding, and writing all that down.

The problem is that he has no idea what any of that means. Sure he can look those feats up, and read their wording, but if he's never played the game before, and he has no experience to draw on, he might not know what this text really means. Worse, he might get the wrong idea of how it works, which means he'll then have to unlearn his first impression. If you don't walk him through it, and explain it to him, there's a chance he's just going to be confused.

Now imagine that same scenario, but Dave is instead reading a guide that plots out a character from level 1 to level 15. He isn't getting the experience of building a character himself; he's just writing down what someone else told him without any real understanding of what these words mean, or how they go together. That's going to lead to problems sooner, rather than later.

We Can Be Wrong, Too

Here's a thing that a lot of players sometimes forget... we aren't special. Those of us who create content are players, just like you. Some of us are more experienced, or we spend more time reading the books, but we're just players. Sometimes we misread something, or we forget rules, or we just don't find out about an errata that has said no, that combination is not legal. We are only human.

If you are not familiar with the game system you're playing, though, you won't catch our mistakes. You may not see, for example, that a character with Slashing Grace can't also use his secondary natural attacks in the same round he benefited from that feat. We might have missed that a particular sorcerer bloodline power is listed as an extraordinary ability, instead of a spell-like ability, meaning it can't be modified with feats like Quicken Spell-Like Ability.

Our advice isn't perfect. Sometimes it's downright wrong. But if you aren't familiar enough with the system in question, then you won't know. And even if we do get everything right, you need to be able to take the advice we've given you, and properly apply it. For example, say that Dave decided he was going to play that greatsword-wielding tank after all. So he takes Power Attack, and Furious Focus. Problem is that when he hits level 6, and gets two attacks, he forgets that Furious Focus only removes the negative from the 1st attack he makes. It doesn't stop the Power Attack penalty from affecting his second attack, his attacks of opportunity, etc.

It's A Tool, Not A Cheat

When I was in high school, I used to tutor younger kids for pocket money. A problem I ran into time and time again was that my students just wanted me to give them the answers. The problem is that's like paying a personal trainer to work out for you. Sure, the work is still being done, but it isn't actually benefiting you.

I'm trying to teach you how to fight, because I'm not at your table to throw the punches for you.
So, if you want to use guides you find on the Internet for inspiration, go right ahead! I will never say no to more traffic on my Character Conversions or Crunch pages. However, what I recommend is that you take what I (or anyone else) has to say with a grain of salt. Look up the rules we're quoting, the feats we're suggesting, and the class abilities we're talking about. Make sure you can take those building blocks, and construct them into a character you understand how to play. Talk to your DM, and make sure they know what you're bringing to their table, and that you can explain to them how your abilities work.

If you can do that, then you're probably good to go.

We all make mistakes. If you're a newer player, or you just aren't familiar with a certain class of rules, don't just take a guide you found online at face value. Break it down, check the math, and make sure you can actually drive it once you bring it to the table.

Because we might have given you a Porsche, but if you don't have the system mastery, all you're going to do is grind gears on your way out of the parking lot. That's not what you want.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully some folks found in helpful, or at least insightful. We were all new once, so don't be afraid of a little book diving. It does you good. To keep up to date on my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page today. Pledge $1 a month, and you'll get both my everlasting gratitude, and some sweet swag, too!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

That One Time A Group of Imperial Regulars Made The DM Cry

And now, a brief interruption in The Search For The Mummy's Mask. That story is far from finished, but I've got a guest submission this week that I thought you all might like as a palate cleanser. This one comes to us courtesy of Chicago author Vincent Cross, and it was the seed for his latest release The Terror From Titan.

And now, a tale about how giving your players too much prep time can actually destroy your campaign.

Hang on... this one gets painful.

The Immortal Deathwish, and Victor's Valkyries

I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest gamer in the world. I've played my share, but they were mostly just one-offs with friends we did to pass the time. Part of it was that I just didn't have the time to dedicate to that kind of habit, but a bigger part of it was the stories my dungeon masters were trying to tell. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, and there's only so many times I could have someone say, "so, you're all at the tavern," before I just wanted to burn the world to its foundations.

With that said, I've got a dark little corner of love for Warhammer 40k. I don't have any armies of my own (again, I don't have the time or money for that kind of addiction), but I love the world, and the lore. Which is why when I was in college, and my friend Greg told me he wanted to run a 40k RPG, I told him I'd be there. Bells optional, depending on what he needed from me.

Trust me folks, it goes downhill from here.
These days, most people would think I was playing Rogue Trader, but at this point in history that game wasn't around in my neck of the woods. So what Greg had done was cobble together a D20 Modern and D20 Future bastardization, and slapped a 40k skin on it. I wasn't complaining, though. Greg was a big enough fan of the world that I trusted him to get the details right. Problem was that the only other player who'd taken him up on his offer was another friend of ours named Brian. Still, a two-man show wasn't that bad.

The trouble really got started when he asked us his first question as our DM.

So, Do You Guys Wanna Play Space Marines?

Greg had a huge hard-on for space marines of all kinds, but Brian and I could really take them or leave them. Their lore was great, and they were awesome in a minis game, but he and I were on the same wavelength when it came to what we wanted to do with a story. So when Greg asked us our preferences, we told him we'd rather play imperial regulars.

This was the first of several times Greg had to stop and re-think his strategy.
Greg hadn't planned for that, but I could see in his face that he didn't want to tell us what characters to play, now that he'd opened up the floor. So, as a compromise, he told us we were playing imperial officers, and we each had 20 standard soldiers under our commands. Brian put together a tough-talking, cigar smoking career sergeant called Dog, who often played dead to lure the enemy in before letting loose with everything he had. I created Victor "Deathwish" Thanatos, a man who wanted to serve the emperor, and who was always the first through the breach. Leading from the front was the only way he knew how, and he had the scars to prove it.

Greg rolled percentiles for Brian, telling him his troops were split 60/40 between men and women. Then I remarked I'd find it interesting if everyone under Victor's command was a woman. Greg decided he liked that, and that was how it was. And that is how Victor's Valkyries were born.

We spent the next hour or so doing character creation, but the thing I remember most was assigning names and stories to all the soldiers in my command. Functionally they were all pretty identical, but I was bringing my a-game to this endeavor. That was how characters like Voodoo (a middle-aged sniper), Boom-Boom and Turntable (an inseparable pair of boot-mates who were my demolition and explosives team), Cross (my medic who had a secret crush on Victor, but who didn't want to endanger either of their careers), and Mercy "Machine Gun" Kelly (so-called for her surname, as well as the fact she was the heavy weapons expert) were born.

Superior Numbers Guarantee Nothing

Once we were all ready to go, Greg laid out our first mission. There was a distress call on a tiny, dirt ball of a planet that we were being sent to provide relief to. So, off we went. What we found was a small, stone fort with two squads of space marines, and a small handful of regulars. They're all tired, worn, and living in fear of incoming attack (well, except for the marines, since fear wasn't really a thing they did).

Attack from what? Orks, of course.

Not quite, but you get the idea.
We had five days to fortify this place, and get ready for a serious attack. So we got to work, and did some Home Alone shit to this base. This included planting caltrops (both large and small), digging ditches to break up charges, and making sure the fort had a moat full of something noxious and flammable. We outfitted war cycles with heavy wheel scythes, ensuring that if we rode against the grain of a charge that we would cut enemies in half. We even found used cooking oil, and kept it boiling on the second story to be sure no one who approached would get away clean.

As the sun went down on the fifth day, the Orks came over the hills. They didn't have any big guns, and they had only a few tanks, but what they lacked in tech they made up for in raw numbers. That was when the dice came out.

Unfortunately, the dice decided Greg was going to lose, and lose badly.

The first wave of orks fell almost entirely to our passive protections. They were slowed by the caltrops, smashed in the ditches, and burned in the moat. The few pieces of heavier artillery got stuck, and one blew up, killing two dozen troops around it. The space marines, hidden in the field as a surprise measure, didn't even have to flip their safeties off.

The next waves didn't fare much better.

Those who managed to get through our steel thorns, and over the flaming pits, found themselves getting cut to raw meat by the marines. They withdrew from their initial spots, firing the whole way, drawing enemies in greater numbers toward a single section. Once the orks were charging, we roared out of concealment, and drove along the ditch with scythe blades spinning. Victor even decided to show the enemy how he'd earned his name, pulling the pin on a satchel charge and jumping off his bike as it ramped into a knot of enemy troops. The resulting explosion took out over 50 orks.

A team of 42 regulars, with help from 10 space marines, killed over 500 orks before we were forced to take the high ground inside the fort itself. Lead started flying, mortars punched holes in the ranks, and boiling oil made sure no one managed to get up their siege ladders. Even a mutant colossus, who managed to get halfway up the wall, got Victor's trench sword buried in his back. Before Victor could be killed, though, Voodoo put a high-powered round through the thing's brain pan, finishing it off in front of its own troops.

Their fighting spirit broken, the orks limped away as fast as their legs could carry them.

Then, For An Encore...

By the time the first session was over, Brian and I were responsible for the death of several thousand enemy troops. Even better, we hadn't lost a single soldier under our command. Most of the marines were dead or in traction, but that came with the territory. Victor was the only one who'd been injured in the siege, and his hurts were easily repaired with the finest in Grim Dark technology.

Of course, the orks had gone somewhere. When we came back for the second session, we decided to find out where. So we loaded up in a pair of armored personnel carriers, locked, loaded, and set off on a scout patrol.

Nothing bad could possibly come from this decision.
We're several hours out from the fort, when the bloody trail the orks left disappears down a canyon. We know a kill box when we see one, so instead of going down the canyon, each of us designate a team to climb the sides, and recon from the top. While that's happening, Boom-Boom and Turntable bury some three-dozen landmines at the mouth of the canyon. They even improvised a remote to blow them all at once, if necessary.

The A and B teams make their way along the high ground, also planting land mines in the canyon wall as they go. Also rigged to blow on a remote signal. We continue on about two miles down, and that's when we find a force of chaos troops. Several thousand strong, with several hundred corrupted marines, they're well-armed, heavily armored, and are executing the last of the orks who had thought they'd found a safe refuge.

We were probably supposed to tuck tail and run. Instead, Voodoo took her shot at the chaplain. She missed, and that was when our position was given away. They returned fire, and thousands of black-clad madmen came boiling down the canyon thirsty for blood. That was when we triggered the bombs along the walls. Greg rolled to see how well-placed they were, and we were all staring at 100 percent.

To make a long story short, we literally dropped a mountain on them.

Every, single member of the enemy force died, but there was a trump card left up their sleeves. The chaplain exploded in blood and gore, as a demon of chaos used him as a portal to manifest. The hulking thing roared in unbridled fury, running toward the few imperial soldiers who'd dared to stand in its way.

At least until it hit the mine field. Which Greg had somehow forgotten until his bad guy stepped in it.

The sheer number of high-explosive and flechette rounds cut the big boss down to size in a single round. Hacked off at the knees, it got a chance for a single attack. He gored Victor through the shoulder, but before it could do more damage, Mercy leaped onto the demon's chest and cut loose with a heavy bolter. The critical hit ripped the thing's ribcage open, and pulped what was left of its internal organs.

Lessons Learned

We never got together for another session, mostly because Greg said he couldn't deal with how insane we were, but I learned a lot of lessons in those two games. The first is that for me, as a player, I get a lot more invested when my numbers have faces, names, call signs, and personalities. The second was that brute force and sheer numbers will only get you so far. Good strategy, and ruthlessness, will clear the field every time.

And sometimes it leads to more than a blog feature.
Third, I learned that even short-lived games can give rise to great stories. Which was why I wrote The Terror From Titan, starring some key members of Victor's team as they respond to yet another distress call. It is, of course, not a part of the Warhammer-verse.

Still, if folks take a look at it, now they'll know where these characters came from.

Thanks once more to Vincent Cross for his Table Talk submission. For more about him and his work, check out his Facebook page, Vincent Cross Books. If you have a story you'd like to put in the limelight, feel free to reach out with it! If you want to make sure you don't miss any updates from Improved Initiative, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Pledge at least $1 a month, and you'll get some sweet swag in addition to my everlasting gratitude!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Broken Stairs" Are Something We Need To Address in The Gaming Community

How many times have you joined a new game, and before everything gets rolling one of your friends pulls you aside to give you a friendly warning. Maybe it's about Don the DM, who is going to try to see down your shirt. Just ignore him, he's harmless. Perhaps it's about Darren, who always seems to play Lothario-style characters in this LARP, and who is going to come up to lay down pick-up lines. Some of them are going to be pretty lewd. Just ignore him, it's something everyone has to deal with.

For some of us, these are just situations that happen. Things to be dealt with, and which we warn other people who don't know about them. The same way you'd let someone about to walk down a flight of stairs know, "hey, be careful, the third step from the bottom is broken."

Thanks for the warning... I guess...
While we all take it as a point of courtesy to warn players what they're walking into, it does beg the question... why aren't we fixing the broken stair? Because even if we all know about it, sooner or later someone is going to forget, or misjudge, or think maybe it's not as bad as everyone says, and break their leg on it.

So instead of warning new players away from problem players and storytellers, why don't we repair those problems so there's no warning necessary?

A Hard Look at a Common Problem

I've been thinking about this issue thanks to a post on Nordic LARP titled 19 Truths About Harassment, Missing Stairs, and Safety in LARP Communities. The post covers a lot of interesting topics, including how real-world norms seep into our games, toxic masculinity in geek culture, and the age-old trick of covering one's own repugnant behavior by claiming it was just what their character would do. It's a long list, but these truths can act as red flags for any game you attend, whether it's at a table, in a LARP venue, or even online.

I don't care how great your friend says this game is, I'm not staying.
There are two important things I want to reiterate, though, other than suggesting that we all read that article. The first is that in the gaming community we should all strive to work out our issues, to be open and honest with each other, and to genuinely try to make our community a better place. We're all here to have fun, and as such we should have a big table with room for everyone's dice whenever we can manage it.

The other, which is something I mentioned in my earlier post Want To Have More Fun At Your Table? Stop Playing With Jerks! is simple. Sometimes, even if you come at an issue with the best of intentions, you are going to find people and venues who cannot be reformed. It doesn't matter how many times you tell Simon he makes other players uncomfortable by invading their personal space, or how many times you make reports about harassment in some venues. No change is going to happen, because those people and places do not want to be changed. They might apologize, and claim this won't happen again, but when it does, the cycle cannot be allowed to just start over again.

The first step is identifying there is a problem with a player, storyteller, or venue. The problem, or problems, have to be laid out clearly, and they need to be understood. Once you know what's wrong, make it known somehow. If possible, talk to the person you have the issue with, and make it clear their behavior is not something you are willing to tolerate. If that isn't possible, perhaps because you feel unsafe confronting the individual in question, tell someone else. Tell a friend, tell the DM, or make a report to someone in a position to step in and handle the issue.

And, I am going to repeat myself here, if this problem cannot be fixed, don't be afraid to drop the ax.

By that, I mean that we should learn how to recognize our own problems within the gaming community. Maybe Jeff is a great guy outside of game, and you've known him for years. But if he cannot keep a rein on his temper, and his outbursts make other players feel unsafe, do not let him play. No matter how great Louis is as a storyteller, if he has a string of reports from players that say he sexually harassed them, kick him off the staff, and ban him from the venue. And if the entire staff has been told about an issue, and they see no reason to address the stair that's broken so many ankles already? That's when you leave. You leave, and you bring as many friends with you when you go. Because if that's the only stairway to the place you want to go, it's time to make you own. One with safe stairs, where players don't have to worry about that third one from the bottom tipping its trilby and catcalling them as they go by.

Hopefully, if enough of us decide that broken stairs aren't something we're willing to put up with as a whole, those staircases will either reform, or fade away as newer, safer options rise to prominence.

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!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dweren Dragonsblood, The Goldsniffing Dwarf

So, last Fall I decided to try something a little different in my Unusual Character Concepts posts. Rather than writing up a general idea that players could put their own spin on, I decided to put together a post all about a specific character. Gaspar Dell'Amore, the Black Rose of Edme, was a two-fisted enforcer with the divine on his side. Folks seemed to like him, so I figured I'd give the format another try.

Allow me to present Dweren Dragonsblood, the Goldsniffing Dwarf.

Mmm... smells like a Chellish cache. They cut their coins with lead to maintain weight.

A Nose For Treasure

Some dwarves are known for smithing steel and iron, but the Dragsonsblood clan are renowned for their skill with gold, silver, and other precious metals. Their mines yield only the purest of noble metals, and their artisans possess a near supernatural skill. Even the members of the clan who aren't smiths, though, tend to work in the precious trade. Security experts, forgery detectors, gem cutters, merchants, and miners give the Dragonsblood clan a firm hold from the time the ore is found, until it is put up at auction.

The legend goes that the clan draws its name, and its prowess, from a smattering of draconic heritage. Though where that heritage comes from depends on whom you ask. Rivals to the clan claim their need for dominance, their arrogance, and their greed tie them directly to the worst examples of dragonkind, whom they have made ancient pacts with. The clan itself tells several different tales. Some may tell you they were blessed by a good dragon they once aided, others that they uncovered an ancient artifact that is used to bless the clan's children, and still others will say they are, in fact, descendants of a forge-keeper dragon.

So, when Dweren was born, he was expected to follow in the family's trades. Broad-shouldered and strong, his hands were too blunt for the fine work of gem cutting, and he wasn't suited to gold or silver smithing. Ever since he was young, though. Dweren had a nose for treasure. The fine scent of gold was like spun sugar in his nose, and chaste silver was the candy smell of honey cakes. All he had to do was hold an ingot to his nostrils to tell whether it was cut with lead, or if there was an impurity. And if he was walking down a tunnel? He could smell the veins of metal, and find them with uncanny accuracy.

Check the bodies, they've got gold on them. No I don't know where!

Chasing The Dragon

The easiest place to start off with Dweren is with the alternative dwarf trait Treasure Sense. It gives you scent regarding precious metals, and replaces stonecutting and stability. Then you give him a few levels of fighter to represent the rigorous training dwarves go through to determine which ones will make good soldiers, and which ones should pursue other trades. Familiarity with the military pick gives him a weapon of choice that always feels comfortable in his hands. And if that weapon happens to be made of adamantine, well, then there is no stone it won't breach.

Of course, he may have more dragon's blood than he knows in him. While sorcerer is not an ideal class for a dwarf, given their racial negative to Charisma, it is a good place to begin manifesting his heritage. Especially if the goal is to eventually enter the Dragon Disciple prestige class, which allows you to mix martial might with magical muscle. But which of the myths are true? Are they the noble descendants of gold dragons? The domineering children of reds? Or something else entirely? Only the scales on his arms, and the weapon in his breath, will say for certain.

And then the dragonslayers come.
So what is Dweren's job? Well, when his family needs his nose, he seeks out new lines of ore, and he helps them detect forgeries. With his magic, his inherent toughness, and the gifts of his draconic forebears, though, he is an ideal enforcer on treasure hunting missions. Even better, though, there is no mimic that can fool his schnoz unless it chooses to fill itself with treasure.

Fortunately for him, most shape-shifting chests really aren't that smart.
And before you go, if you haven't taken a look at it yet, don't forget to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Dwarves!

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, April 10, 2017

Want To Have More Fun At Your Table? Stop Playing With Jerks!

So, as I've said in previous posts, I spend a lot of time on gaming forums. I lurk around FB, I spend time on Reddit, and I think I might be in the top five most-disliked people on Paizo's forums. In these and other spots, I run into a lot of people looking for solutions to their gaming problems. The mechanical problems are easy. Whether they're looking for ideal feats for a two-weapon fighter, or they want to build a character that resembles someone from pop culture (often one of the 48 entries on my Character Conversions page fits nicely), I can usually provide some solid guidance.

It's the other problems that are more difficult to solve. Like when a player wants to know what to do about the rest of the table ignoring them, or demanding they play their character a certain way. Or a DM who has a player that purposefully brings serial killers to a game about shining heroes. Even what to do about the player who will argue for half an hour about a rules call, and torpedo a session whenever they don't get their way.

Look, I'm just saying that my character is the best, and you should just admit that already.
Since we're adults, and we're here to enjoy some cooperative storytelling, the first thing to do is to communicate your feelings. Talk to your DM if you feel they're being unfair, talk to the other players if they're making you uncomfortable, or if there's a big issue going on, talk to your group. You can do it in-person, over a group chat, or even on Skype. As long as you make your feelings clear to your group, and open a dialogue, you can solve a lot of your problems. If you're a DM, then having a Session 0 where players can talk about what they want out of a game, and what they expect from you, you can head off a lot of problems.

Sometimes you can't, though. Sometimes you're sitting at the table with someone (or several someones) who's a jerk, and part of the fun for them is being a jerk. In that situation, you are playing chess with a pigeon. All your logic, careful explanation of the rules, and appeals to being a better gamer won't change anything. The pigeon will just take a crap on the board, knock over your pieces, and strut around like it won the argument.

When that happens, walk away. Seriously, just walk away.

You Don't Need That Kind of Game in Your Life

Perhaps the most common reason people don't walk away from gaming groups populated by jerks is they have no other options. Jeff runs the only game in town, and it's either show up to his game where my character is made the butt of every joke, or don't play at all. Or maybe the only game you can find is the local organized play at the one gaming shop in the region, where you have never finished a module on time due to the constant bickering over rule calls.

If you find yourself in that kind of situation, ask yourself this question. If there was another game you could go to, any other game at all, would you go? If the answer is yes, then walk away.

No, seriously, you have other options.
Finding a new game is a huge pain in the ass, I won't argue there. And it might cause some hard feelings if you do have friends at the other table, but you exit stage left. If you are not having fun, and nothing you've done has made the problems you're dealing with better, though, then you're sticking it out for nothing.

So what can you do? Well, the most obvious solution is to pop online and see if anyone's running a game in your neck of the woods. With social media and gaming-specific forums, it's entirely possible for you to meet new gaming friends whose paths you'd otherwise never cross. If you have a friendly local gaming store, check the cork board, and ask around to see if there are other groups that meet there, or if anyone is looking to pick up a new player. Post a notice yourself, if you have to, and pitch yourself to groups in the area who might see it.

If you can't find anything in-person, you have the option of playing online. While it isn't for everybody, online games can be great if you have a group willing to include you. Thanks to advances like Roll20, it's now possible to play with people nowhere near where you live.

Of course, it's possible there are no local games, and that you aren't the online gaming type. What you really want is a game that's local, where you can play with friends, and have fun in a positive atmosphere. And as they say about books, if no one is doing the thing you want, then it's your turn to step up and do it. Even if that means you need to recruit a new group of friends into the hobby just so you have some new folks to run with.

Seriously, Though, Don't Break Rule 0

Now, to clarify where this advice is meant for, I'm not talking about groups where you have occasional disagreements, but you're all friends at the end of the night. Nor am I talking about groups where, though play styles may clash, you still have fun and enjoy the game. I'm talking specifically about games bad enough that players (or DMs) who describe them sound like someone talking about being in an abusive relationship.

Sounds harsh, but if you go down the checklist, it might be accurate.
We hear people talk about how, "we're here to have fun," or, "it's just a game," but it's also a social interaction. Those come with rules, and standards, unique to our subculture. One of those standards is that even if we disagree, we should respect the other folks at our table, and we should do our best to work together to find solutions so we are all getting what we want. If you are talking, but no one is listening, it's time to find a new group. Or to start your own, with blackjack and hookers!

An Edit: Those For Whom This Advice Doesn't Help

It has been brought to my attention that there are several sub-groups of gamers this advice does not help, or will not work for. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders, those with limited social currency, and players for whom giving up and moving on seems like too big a task.

Now, I'll be clear here. This advice is just like all the other advice on this blog. If you like it, take it. If you don't, or it doesn't work for you, you know your situation better than I do. I am just some yutz on the Internet with a blog, and an opinion.

The point is not to make some free-market, vote-with-your-feet statement. The point is, rather, that just because you spent a lot of time or effort making a mistake, that's no reason to cling to that mistake. If you are in a group that isn't giving you what you need, or is actively taking away your energy, you don't need me to tell you that it's toxic. And walking away might mean not participating in your favorite hobby if you have barriers to finding new groups, or starting your own.

If I find a solution for that problem, rest assured I'll share it.

That's all for my thoughts on this Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, or at least thought-provoking. If you'd like to stay on top of my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like me to keep making content, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. If you pledge at least $1 a month you'll not only buy my everlasting gratitude, but I'll send some swag your way as a thank you!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Dwarven Raised Drow? Yours For The Asking, With The Adopted Trait!

In Pathfinder, every character gets two background traits. They give you little, mechanical bonuses, but they're also supposed to represent your character's unique history. If you have Viking Blood, for instance, then it traces your heritage directly to the Land of The Linnorm Kings. It also gives you a +1 bonus on Intimidate checks, and makes Intimidate a class skill for you. Reactionary represents someone who has lived a life on the edge of violence, and it gives you a +2 bonus on Initiative checks. One of the most unusual traits in the game, though, is called Adopted.

In short, Adopted says you were raised by a race not your own. The benefit is that you can immediately choose a race trait you normally wouldn't have access to because you are not a member of that race.

Belkar always knew there was something different about his big brother. He could never put his finger on it, though.
That benefit is fun, but there is another advantage to this trait; it gives you a probable explanation for unusual races being found outside of their typical haunts. Even better, though, it lets you explain why you have a member of a particular race that just doesn't seem to fit their usual mold.

A Halfling Village Raised WHAT!?

We know halflings as open-minded, kindly, neighborly folks. They like their food, their pipe weed, and a fairly simple life. While not all halflings we know fit that Tolkien stereotype, imagine an idyllic village that does. There are small-sized lanes, small-sized farms, and homes built right into the rolling landscape. But at the end of the village, there's a huge hill that's been hollowed out. More of an artificial cave, it's made of raw timbers, and huge stones that dwarf the rest of its neighbors.

And sitting on the porch, a thumb tucked behind his suspenders and his pipe in his mouth, is Boram Broadback. And while he might dress like his neighbors, talk like his neighbors, and act like his neighbors, it's pretty clear he isn't like them in a significant way. Boram is a bugbear.

Annalise! It's eating your last serving platter!
While Boram still has violent urges, and he was a rowdy child, the patience and caring of his adopted parents, along with the value the village placed on his sheer size and strength, turned him into a chaotic good character who values friendship and community as much as a barrel of ale, and a thick haunch of beef. As well as a chance to crack skulls, when necessary.

This sort of scenario is a great way to justify your unusual PC race, and to make something that isn't bound by the conventions of a given race's culture. For example, say you want to play a drow. Was this drow raised by surface elves, who cultivated her like a tree to make sure she didn't grow in certain directions? Or was the drow raised by dwarves, and thus took on their characteristic brusqueness while also learning their values and industrial talents? Perhaps you want to play an ogre. Were you taken in by a group of human soldiers who raised you as their unit mascot until you eventually grew into a capable fighter on your own? Or were you taken in by a traveling family? Perhaps raised by a witch who made you his surrogate son?

If you're interested in unique story, it's also important to remember that more common races can also be adopted into uncommon situations. For example, you might want to play a human raised by orcs, creating a kind of Tarzan situation where the wayward child has to compete with an adopted family who is bigger, faster, and stronger than he is. This might lead to him becoming superhuman by the standards of most average people. Or, say you were a gnome adopted as a kind of pet by a drow household. Your value as a trickster, and a spy, could completely alter that gnome's views and understanding of the world, in addition to granting them a unique racial trait.

Make Something That Fits Your Game

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when contemplating the possibilities of the Adopted trait, and the associated stories it could bolster, is that you need to make a character for the game you're playing. For example, the drow raised by dwarves would fit quite well into a game that will go to the Darklands. You might even be able to pull a reverse Old Testament and reveal that this drow is a long-lost child of a powerful noble house.

However, that's a situation where your peg can be tailored to fit into a round hole with the party. If you can't cut the corners off a square peg, though, then set the concept aside, and wait for a game where it would make more sense. At the same time, though, don't be afraid to shake up the traditional formula. Just because classes and races have certain archetypes associated with them, that doesn't mean you can't blaze your own trail.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. If you want to make sure you don't miss out on any of my future updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Lastly, if you want me to keep producing great content just like this, consider becoming a patron of mine. Head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and pledge at least $1 per month. This helps me keep the train rolling, and it will get you some sweet swag to boot!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Rare Elements Foundry Makes Amazing Fantasy Coins

As any long-time reader knows, I love conventions. The gathering of geeks in one place allows me to meet folks from all across the spectrum of interests, and to discover all kinds of glorious things I had no idea even existed. From the dragon heads of David Lee Pancake, to the art of illustrator Brent Chumley, there is something around every corner.

It was a few years ago while I was at C2E2 (which gives away free 1-day Friday passes to industry professionals if you apply early enough, by the by) that I discovered Rare Elements Foundry. So I thought I'd share their work with you today... because look at this damn thing!

What would you even buy with that?
Just imagine, for a moment, that you're running a game. The party comes across the body of a man who's been horrifically mummified in what looks like a few moments. His clothes are fresh and wealthy, his skin dusty and dry to the touch. Holding down the scrap of his tongue is a coin. When the players ask about it, you flip them this from behind your screen.

That's going to make an impact.

Serious Props, For Moderate Money

The model pictured above is called the Smoke Behemoth, and it costs a pretty penny. $22 for a single coin. However, not everything Rare Elements does is quite that pricey. The same cost, for example, could get you a 10-count of the Wraith, or the Gnoll. In some cases you can get even more coins for the cost of a Jackson, and two Washingtons.

The Wraith, in case you were curious.
These coins are useful for tabletop games, but where they really shine is in a LARP setting. Do you want to make your players carry around their in-game wealth in a meaningful way? Get a big bag of the multi-denomination coins to add in a touch of realism. Do you want to have a mysterious prop in your murder mystery? Put a pair of these coins over the eyes of a murder victim. Do you want to mark someone for death? Have the old fortune teller force a Wraith into someone's hand, and every time the player throws it away, or tries to leave it somewhere, make the coin return to their belongings somehow.

The possibilities are endless! And with the high-quality metals used by Rare Elements in all their designs, these coins can last for years. Not only that, but a little wear and tear might make them look even stranger, and more authentic. In some cases, they might create a whole new legend... especially if a figure's features grow smudged, or the numbering becomes difficult to comprehend. Hell, you could turn that into an entire plot point, if you were of a mind.

So, check out Rare Elements Foundry today, and take a look around. You never know what strange adventures await, freshly minted and ready to go.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. If you want to keep getting updates like this, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support Improved Initiative so I can keep bringing you content just like this week after week, why not head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? If you become a patron, and pledge at least $1 a month, then I'll send you some sweet swag to go along with my undying gratitude.