Friday, March 30, 2018

The Weird And Wild World of Outsiders (Exploring Alternative Aasimar and Tiefling Heritages)

Aasimar and tieflings are often thought of as two sides of the same coin. The dalliances, blessings, and curses of the celestial and the infernal, both mixed with the blood of mortals. This heritage grants their scions power, along with signs (some subtle, and others not-so-subtle) as to the origin of that power.

For most of us, though, these two native outsider races just means we get access to some fun racial feats, some resistances, darkvision, decent stat mods, and a spell-like ability. However, there is a whole slew of weird stuff that you can use to modify these outsiders. All you have to do is look at the tiefling and aasimar pages, paying particular attention to the charts along the bottom of the page with the alternative features.

99 Options

Each chart gives you 99 different options you can take, instead of the tiefling or aasimar's standard spell-like ability (darkness and daylight respectively). In some cases, the options aren't really all that great (gain a +2 bonus on a skill check or specific saving throw), while in other cases the options are pretty goddamn awesome (like switching out daylight for spear of purity, which is going to be a nasty little surprise for enemies who don't know you've got an offensive spell up your sleeve).

Say hello to my little friend!
If you're looking for specific abilities and concepts that would be enhanced by the alternative traits, I did come across a few that stuck out.

- You have oversized limbs, and can wield Large-sized weapons without penalty (tiefling).
- You gain spell resistance equal to 10+1/2 your hit dice (tiefling and aasimar).
- You can cast spear of purity once per day as a spell-like ability (aasimar).
- You can levitate yourself, plus 10 pounds, as per the spell at-will (tiefling).
- You have a natural fly speed of 20 feet (aasimar).
- Your body produces intense heat/cold/acid, and deals damage to those grappling you (tiefling).

These are just a sample of the abilities you can gain, without even needing to burn a feat slot. There's also the option for minor damage reduction, unusual abilities such as being able to turn on a halo for aasimar, or being able to eat ashes and cinders for sustenance for tieflings. There's an option that allows a tiefling to never need sleep, and one that allows an aasimar make any weapon they hold holy for three rounds as a move action once per day.

In most circumstances, these abilities provide a small bonus, or some additional flavor. Used for the right build, though, such as a titan mauler with large weapons, a grappler who specializes in burning his foes, or even an inquisitor who hunts demons and wants an extra edge on top of their bane, these little abilities can make a big impact.

Stranger Things in Heaven and Earth

Even though this is Crunch week, I'd like to take a moment to direct folks' attention to the two charts to the right of the aasimar and tiefling mechanical abilities. Because despite the infinite variety outsiders come in, it feels like our tieflings just look like nightcrawler with horns, while all of our aasimar look like cover models under perfect lighting.

There are so many more options than that.

Like this adorable little prince by Tamaj.
Just glance through some of the choices. Aasimar whose fingerprints always look like holy symbols. Translucent tieflings with see-through skin. Aasimar who make bells ring as they walk past. Tieflings with constantly smoking breath, or eyes. Aasimar with metallic lips and jeweled eyes. Tieflings with fingers that bend backwards.

All the examples I listed above are in the books for effects these native outsiders can possess. And that is just a small selection of the bizarre things their presence and anatomy can do just because they exist. Because while there is nothing that says you have to be a bizarre collection of inhumanly inherited features, there is also nothing that prevents you from being a bird-headed, gold-beaked, ruby-eyed peacock warrior with abnormally long legs. And if that's the sort of native outside that appeals to you, then my collection 100 Unusual Aasimar along with 100 Tieflings To Meet in Your Travels will both be right up your alley!

Just remember, next time you get a chance to play one of these native outsiders, feel free to go absolutely nuts with it!

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Want Cheap Minis? Wizards and Five Below Are Here To Help!

If you are part of any online gaming groups, chances are you've heard about Magic The Gathering's Arena of The Planeswalkers board game. It allows two to four players to take on the role of planeswalkers, gives you cards to play, map tiles to place on the board, and a small legion of minions to call upon in order to crush your enemies.

All in all, a fun way to spend a few hours.
While this game is just fine on its own, it's all the components that come with it that caught my eye. There the five planeswalker minis you can see on the front, but there are also thirty monster minis, map terrain, and a black D20. Which, for what I paid for it, makes it one hell of a haul.

That is some serious swag for $5.
If you've seen this game lurking around your friendly local gaming store, or up on a shelf in one of the few toy stores we still have, you likely saw a pretty big price tag on it. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a Five Below near you (which I do, and this tip was what got me to go in there in the first place), you might be able to grab one of these for a fraction of what it should cost.

So, whether you're just looking to add some monsters to your collection, get some cheap minis, or you genuinely want to try the game on for size, keep your eyes peeled for it. I don't know why it is so cheap, if it just didn't move copies or something, but it's at a bargain basement price now.

Also, if you don't happen to have it near you, it's possible to grab a copy over on Amazon. It's a little more expensive, but if you've got Prime, you can still get all this for a little more than a ten-spot.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. The Internet tipped me off to this find, so I thought I'd do my part to spread the word. If you'd like to see more of my work, go check out my Vocal archive, or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other local gamers get together to make videos on gaming advice, skits, and lore for the world of Evora. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, if you want to support my work here on Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll shoot you some sweet gaming swag as a thanks for your help.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

That One Time The Party Solved The Plot With A Legal Battle

It's said that even the finest battle plan never survives the first touch of actual battle. In much the same way, the most intricate and comprehensive plan by a dungeon master will never survive the ingenuity, resourcefulness, or sheer stupidity of the actions players are capable of taking. Sometimes a DM will try to force the party into taking certain options... and other times they'll just see where this new and unexpected path leads.

And this one went to pretty much the last place you'd expect... unless you read the title.
Which is why when one motley crew of renegades, rebels, and rogues ran into a problem too big for them, they decided to lawyer up.

Who Did What Now?

Let's back things up, and begin at the beginning. When the DM started his 5th edition game, set in a world of his own making, he asked for misfits, outcasts, and PCs who just didn't really fit in. Which is how we ended up with an Old One worshiping tiefling named Sophie, a furry kobold sorcerer named A.J., a wide-eyed half-orc monk who'd escaped what amounted to a penal colony named Hevvy, and a revoltingly mannered, slick-talking barbarian dragonborn by the name of Vile.

While they were of disparate races and backgrounds, this particular group of so-called adventurers had a few things they bonded over. Taste in drinks, a desire for easy money... and three of the four of them had rap sheets longer than their arms (while the fourth was traveling on an illegal visa, making his very presence in the country legally questionable, at best). But, despite their rather... colorful histories, there was no denying they delivered when they were given a task.

Which was how they found themselves on the road heading north, on the trail of a famous but retired jouster, at the behest of a man who wanted the former athlete to train his daughter for the upcoming games. While they found they guy they were looking for, there was one, small problem. He was defending an ancient fey forest from the axes of "progress" who wanted to put a magic, floating train straight through the heart of the wood.

Well... maybe "small" isn't the right word.

Can We Talk This Out?

When the jouster had retired from his public life, he'd come north, and found a new home among the ancient creatures of the forest. Satyrs, dryads, trolls, unicorns, centaurs, and the list went on and on. Many of them were rare enough that they didn't exist anywhere outside of this forest, and some were so old that their memories stretched back to the breaking of the world. The major problem was they cannot leave this forest, since their very lives were tied to it. And no one from the rail company was willing to entertain the idea that such a potent array of forces were arrayed against them, and that by forcing the issue they might be starting a war they would be hard-pressed to win (and that if they did win, they would definitely look like the bad guys in the eyes of the public).

The intense militarization of the rail company isn't helping, either.
Because the rail boss saw this as a few naysayers standing in the way of progress to protect, "a few pixies and sprites," the company went and hired a massive mercenary company called the Fortunate Sons (which inspired the entry Who Are Your Mercenary Companies? a few weeks back). A potent fighting force, if they were unleashed against the wood, it was going to be a bloodbath on both sides.

Which was why the party decided to try to be reasonable. They made their way into the camp, and tried to talk to the boss. She heard them out, then when they were finished, blew smoke in their faces, and told them that the rail would stop when the party presented her with notarized papers that told her it had to stop. Until then, the new world was coming whether the party, and whoever lived in those woods, liked it or not. Where the ley line went, the train had to follow.

Ask, And Ye Shall Receive

Between Vile, A.J., and Sofie, the party has run cons, extorted, assaulted, and destroyed property across four nations, and they were fairly familiar with the legal system of the country they were currently in. Run by wizards, and tended to by magistrates, it was a very law-and-order sort of place. Which was why, if you were going to be a criminal there, you have to be pretty good in order to stay one step ahead of the rope. No one had hung them yet, so they knew a thing or two about evading the inconveniences of the law when it suited them.

However, they also knew that for the law to work, it had to be available to anyone and everyone. Which was why while Vile, Hevvy, and A.J. had a private meeting with the captain of the Fortunate Sons to see if they could get the mercs to back off (or at least re-negotiate the terms of their employment, given what they were going to be made to fight), Sofie rode into a nearby town to find them a lawyer.

Shysters are always down at the bar, for those who are curious.
All it took was finding a half-drunk halfling barrister with a bit of a reputation, a desperate need for gold, and who perked up at the phrases, "precedent setting," and "trial of the century." She got him packed up, brought him out to the forest, and that was when he started filling out paperwork, and taking statements from the unicorn queen, the pegasus prince, and even from the hulking Mumbler, king of the trolls.

Then, in a few days time, the party went back to the camp, and served the rail boss with a cease and desist order. Rail construction was being officially halted until a magistrate could come out, and settle this current dispute.

Not Their First Rodeo

While this collection of hooligans, thugs, and blackmailers was perfectly comfortable in the thick of fighting, they were even more relaxed on the stand. They'd all done this dance before, except Hevvy, who listened very carefully when his party mates coached him on what to say, and what not to say. Especially when it came to keeping cool under harsh questioning. In addition to getting the party on the stand, though, the magistrate also wanted to hear from the fey royalty (who were close enough to the forest in our location to be all right), as well as from the ancient tree father whose next generation would be destroyed if the train followed its planned route (and thus ending the line of his people, and all his knowledge stretching back for an eon or more).

Then the magistrate listened to the rail boss, and to the workers who had survived things like troll attacks, magical sabotage, and other, assorted guerrilla attacks along the lines. Grisly, and stirring, but given that the fey creatures literally could not leave (and all attempts to contact the rail workers peacefully had been ignored or rebuffed), it wasn't quite enough to sway the onlookers.

I rule that this be taken to mediation.
Once both sides had a say, the magistrate asked very expressly if, now that all these facts had been aired, the two sides would be willing to come to the table and discuss what could be done. There was no undoing what had been wrought, but they had a chance to prevent future bloodshed, and to come to some agreement. Otherwise the case would have to be pushed further up the pipe, and that would mean results could take many more months. Perhaps even years, as more powerful legal figures ruled and decided.

So the boss and her head wizards sat down with the strange, ancient creatures that pre-dated this nation's government, and talked turkey. Which is how they found that, if they'd reached out and made allies in the first place, they could have shaved not just months, but years off their task. With the aid of the fey, now fully legally recognized as a township within the existing government, they could complete their transcontinental project without bringing more harm to anyone.

And that is what happens when three ex-cons and a border-jumping half-orc are faced with a situation that's too tough to fight their way clear of. Because it is amazing what a few affidavits, and the right barrister, will do for your cause.

That's all for this week's Table Talk update. If you've got a story of your own you'd like to share, feel free to send it along so you, too, can get featured. If you'd like more from yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out some fellow gamers with DM advice, player hints, and the occasional skit. To get all my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! There's some sweet gaming swag in it as a thank you, in addition to knowing you're helping me create more great content for readers like you.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dungeon Keeper Radio Needs Your Help!

If you're a regular reader on my blog, then you know I've got a dozen different plates spinning at any given time. One of those plates is Dungeon Keeper Radio, a YouTube gaming channel that I help out with, along with several local gamers I know. Our goal, when we decided to start it, was to have some fun, immortalize a few of our characters, and see if we could entertain other players out there. We also wanted to get the channel monetized, though, because while it's fun, there are investments that come with making this kind of content. There's the mic, trying to find quality software, and at the end of the day we'd like to offer our voice actors more than our thanks, and a few pieces of pizza. That's in addition to all the time, travel expenses, and work it takes to turn something from an idea into even a few minutes of audio/video content.

Sadly, our hoard isn't much to write home about.
The problem we've run into is that we thought we'd made our goal... but then the goal posts mysteriously moved on us.

Sorcery Most Foul

Back when we first started this channel about a year ago, before we even uploaded our first episode of Dungeon Hacks, we clicked through the fine print to figure out just how feasible it would be to get our channel monetized. According to the site at the time, for a channel to apply for monetization, it had to have a minimum of 10,000 views. That's a decent barrier to entry, especially if you're a relatively niche channel like a radio show that talks about tabletop games, but it was far from impossible to reach.

As evidenced by the fact that we reached it earlier this month.

Thanks for all the traffic! Your money is in another castle.
The problem, of course, is that by the time we hit that goal, the goal posts had been moved. You see, beginning 2018, YouTube decided that in order to get monetized, a channel must have 4,000 hours of views in the past 12 months, and it must also have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers.

Needless to say, that is not something we have at present. In fact, we are nowhere even close to hitting that goal.

Which is why, as we get ready to record our 18th episode of the show (Mythconceptions about clerics, for those who are interested), I wanted to do my part to reach out to my audience. We're doing all right in terms of viewing time (under the 4,000 hours, but we're gaining steadily as we increase our archive), but we are just under 310 subscribers at time of writing. Which means we are, at minimum, 31% of the way to the "new" monetization goal.

So please, stop in and check out what we're doing over on Dungeon Keeper Radio. And, if you like it, please subscribe to the channel. And tell your friends about us... that helps. And if you really like what we're doing, we have the Dungeon Keeper Radio Patreon page in addition to a Ko-Fi page if you want to give us a tip or two to help us along until we can get ads put on our videos... just like this one, our most popular video to-date.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. If you want more content from yours truly, you should check out my Vocal archive. To keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep bringing content straight to your door, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Reluctant Cleric

Gendrick tried not to listen to what was happening in the street. He tried not to hear the shouts, the jeers, and under them, the pleas. He sipped at his wine, but it had gone bitter in his mouth. He thought about ordering another, but he knew it wouldn't taste any sweeter. He wondered, and not for the first time, why of all the drunks in all the bars the world over, it had to be his problem. Then he sighed, and stood. He picked up his sheathed rapier in his left hand, and walked out of the tavern.

They had the rope thrown over a beam, the noose swinging loosely. The boy was beaten almost blind, whimpering through swollen lips. The mob was a dull roar as its leader spat vile curses, accusing the boy of the darkest of deeds. Gendrick raised his voice, a leather-lunged bellow that had cut through the din of a battlefield in its day.

"Pardon me, friend," he shouted, cutting off the leader in mid rant. "Do you have a cure for what ails me?"

The man turned, sputtering and raising his fist. Gendrick threw his sour wine into the man's face, and drew his sword, smashing him square in the teeth with the pommel as he drew. The mob turned, and stared at him. Gendrick smiled; the smile of a drunk who had tried to keep the bottle closed, but who was now filled with enough liquid courage to make him feel invincible. He spoke a word of power, and cords of light danced around his blade. This was the last time... then again, that was what he said every time.

Take one down, pass it around, 99 favored weapons on the wall...

The Gods Choose Who They Will

When people think of clerics, they tend to picture priests who have trained their entire lives to serve their god. In some circumstances they may even be laymen, or just people devout enough to warrant the god's attention. However, there are some for whom serving a god is a burden they do not want. Because while they may be the right tool for the job, they truly wish they were not wielded. But the gods move in mysterious ways, and when they do finally break down and pray, they are given the power to move mountains.

Or to slay the first born, you know, whatever.
The idea behind the reluctant cleric is that, for whatever reason, you have a person who has been made into a divine conduit who really does not want that power. Maybe they've run from it, trying to live a simple life. Perhaps, like Gendrick, they find the raw power of divine magic akin to a drug; something that feels amazing, but which they try (often unsuccessfully) to stay away from. They may even be someone who has served a god for a long time, but they feel they no longer need to fulfill that purpose. Such as a cleric of a god of war who fought on a dozen battlefields, but who now wants to leave the blood and iron behind him... though, like a trusted sword, his god simply will not sheathe him.

A reluctant cleric has to be someone that the god in question feels is a good tool (and this can extend to other areas, like warpriests, and even to witch patrons if you wish). That means they have to meet the alignment restrictions, and there should be something inside them that speaks to the god's purpose. Someone who lived a life as a woods' guide being chosen by a nature god, for instance, or someone who knows what it is to have loved and lost being chosen by a god of love. Someone who always tries to do the right thing being chosen by a chaotic good deity, or someone who tells themselves they're truly a good person, and that this isn't who they really are, being imbued with power by a neutral evil deity of lies, secrets, or even assassins.

The most important thing to remember is that reluctant clerics have an arc. They want to avoid using their powers, for whatever reason, but they shouldn't remain in that arc forever. Perhaps they embrace their true nature, and become the savior, the warrior, or the storm that their god intended for them to be. Or, perhaps, they finally fulfill their god's needs, and they are allowed to rest. To put down the burden of their power, so that it may be given to another.

The concept was even mentioned in the latest Mythconceptions episode over on Dungeon Keeper Radio... Clerical Errors!

If you enjoyed this concept, you might also want to take a look at The Sacred Sorcerer, and The Heretic. Additionally, if you're looking for more ways to step outside of the stereotypes clerics often fall into, take a look at 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics as well!

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, March 12, 2018

Humble Peasant, The Greatest BBEG of All Time

Lots of DMs wrack their brains for great bad guys. Villains that will make their table tremble in fear, and whose very name will only be spoken in whispers. However, there is a potential for truly horrifying antagonists all around them. All you need to do is read the tale of Humble Peasant.

Never get into an arms race with the DM. Never.
For those having trouble with the font in the attached image, the concept goes as follows. An arrogant adventurer tried to take something from humble peasant, because what is he going to do? He's just a peasant, after all. Well, humble peasant kills that adventurer for trying to steal from him, then keeps his magic weapons, armor, and associated gear. That adventurer's party tries to revenge itself upon the humble peasant, and through luck, determination, and the use of the first dead adventurer's gear, humble peasant slays them as well.

The problem is that humble peasant now possesses a huge amount of wealth, and high-quality gear. More adventurers come to try and take it from him. So humble peasant puts up fences, and traps, to keep them out. He buys exotic animals, and even makes deals with local monsters to protect his property. In time, humble peasant has accidentally become the lord of the black hill, where dozens of bands have gone to die.

Who Is Your Game's "Humble Peasant"?

You don't need to have humble peasant in place when your game begins (although that is totally an option). However, keep an eye on how your players treat the NPCs around them. Are they courteous, and kind? Do they give their gold to noble causes, and to help rebuild destroyed settlements? Or do they attack people for no reason, and get their way through bullying and brutality? Keep track of who your PCs wrong, and what patterns they display. Because those patterns may come around to bite them.

Who knows what lengths peasants will go to for vengeance?
As an example, say one member of the party got into a bar fight with a local over a disagreement. The local was unarmed, drunk, and not a threat to the PC, but he pulled his sword and ran him through anyway. The law was notified, and the party has guards looking out for them, but what kind of avalanche did that one action cause?

As a for instance, the peasant's son may have dealt with his grief by going off to war. Something he never would have done, were his father there to stop him. He molds himself into a great warrior, becoming an unparalleled scout, and a vicious slayer of men. After his discharge, he begins hunting for the adventurers who killed his father that night. Maybe he comes on them in the shadows, but he might befriend them first. Get them to trust him. Then, when he's on watch, he cuts their throats one by one. As Garrick the Great chokes on his own blood, he looks into the hard face that was so much like the forgotten drunk's as the son whispers, "Tell my father hello, when you see him in hell."

That's just one example. It's possible the dead peasant's wife takes all the wealth they have, venturing deep into the woods where it's rumored a powerful witch lives. She gives her everything to curse those who slew her love. Perhaps his daughter decides they can't rely on such bloodthirsty mercenaries as a nation any longer, and gets involved in politics. She eventually rises to a position of prominence, and uses all the resources of her office to hunt down the party who was involved in this crime. There are a hundred different courses a single action could end up taking. So watch who your party is kind to, and keep a tally of who they attack, who they kill, and what unkindnesses they perform. For it is those actions that will be the genesis of the antagonist once referred to as humble peasant.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it got some of the DMs' wheels turning, and it's got players going back over their PCs' actions in their heads. If you'd like more content from yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and fellow gamers offer advice, lore, and a few laughs along the way. To keep up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, you'll have my eternal gratitude, as well as some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Do Clothes Make The Adventurer?

The man sitting in the chair near the fire in the common room needed no introduction, if one had eyes to read the signs. His surcoat was green velvet, finely cared for and tailored to his frame. The shirt beneath was silk, the cuff links glittering with emerald chips. His boots were well-made, and had been re-soled a time or two. Most tellingly, though, was the symbol that adorned his breast. A black heart, with a fire burning inside it. That badge, combined with the signet ring on his right hand, marked him as the Maester Arcanum to Lord Blackburn. A man, and a position, not to be trifled with lightly.

Don't even get me started on his bodyguard...
We've all had those moments when we sit down at a table, and describe to the other players what our PC looks like. Problem is, most of the time it sounds like a police description rather than a heroic introduction. We get ethnicity, race, hair and eye color, height, weight, and general description of what they're wearing and carrying. Which gets the point across, but it paints a pretty flat image overall. So if you want your PC to stand out, look at what they're wearing. Now give it a little personality, and maybe an Easter egg or two for the people with Knowledge skills to roll.

Going Beyond The Basics

What you wear says something about you, but the devil is in the details. For example, say your PC is a man with a shaved head, wearing a brown robe, and walking with a staff. Sure, that tells us the broad strokes, but what else do we notice? Is the robe a rough weave, indicating it was made by hand for utility rather than looks? Is it new, or old? Does it fit well, or was it made as a kind of one-size-fits-all garment? Does it have any adornment, such as a cloak clasp on the chest, or large pockets in the front? What about his footwear? Does he wear pants with the robe, or is that his only garment?

Once you have the answers to those questions, ask what the sum of those answers means. Is this the way peasants and farmers dress in the outlying provinces of a particular nation? Or is this the uniform of an order of monks who wear only plain, functional clothes? Or is dressing like this the mark of a pilgrim, showing that this person is likely on a religious journey? Or an arcane tradition that focuses on the ephemeral and internal by eschewing luxuries?

And how well-recognized is this attire by those who see you?
Everything your character wears tells a story, if you include the right details. As an example, you might have a big man dressed in fine clothes, and wearing rings and jewelry. However, the fine clothes don't fit him well, and he looks uncomfortable in them. If you combine that with a rougher manner of speech, scars, and sword-calloused hands, then you may have someone who's been knighted, but who was clearly not born to the aristocracy. You could also have the reverse, where the one-eyed mercenary in the ragged cloak speaks just a little too well to have been born and raised as a common sellsword.

That particular tell shows up more than once in my 100 Random Bandits to Meet list, for DMs wondering where they could incorporate those moments of surprise insight.

It's Not Just What You Wear, It's How You Wear It

There are a thousand little details in what your character wears and carries that you can use to help make it clear who they are. For example, say your character openly wears a rapier and dagger. Those choices of weapon make a statement, but what are the nuances beneath the obvious? Are the hilts fancy, or common? What sort of guards do they have? Do the weapons bear a maker's mark? Do you wear them forward on your hips, or back? Or do you wear the sword at your hip, and the dagger in an underarm brace for a faster, cross-draw? And are any of those things indicative of where the weapons came from, the style of fighting the character uses, or membership in any particular groups?

Every style tells a different tale.
The same is true for your armor, your jackets, your jewelry, and your other accessories; what do they say about you?

To help get your gears going, I'll give you a few more examples.

- Jerran Vand is easy enough to spot in a crowd, with her white breeches and cape. Cut high and tight, she strikes a dramatic figure. However, it's the braided red leather of her sword belt that gives most pause. The white marks her as a student of the Damari sword guild, but that belt names her a city champion who has blooded some of the most dangerous swordsmen ever to step in the square.

- Dane Hardwell looks exactly the way a man-at-arms should look. His tabard is clean, his boots shined, and his belt always square. His armor is always polished to a parade shine, and his face clean-shaven. It isn't all for show, though. Anyone who notices the medals stamped along his paldrons can tell at a glance that this man has seen his share of battles, and survived to tell the tale.

- Farran Emberwell is a squat, broad dwarf. Though he dresses in workman's leathers and wool, making him look almost like a common laborer, he wears a pair of ruby rings on the third finger of each hand. Those rings, clearly marked with the seals of Arendale, declare him a Master Transmuter.

You can include as many, or as few, of these details as you want. But before you tell the table that your PC is a tall human wearing a chain shirt and carrying a short sword, stop and ask for more specifics. What kind of chain is it, and is it being hidden or worn openly? What else is he wearing in terms of accessories? Does he have a hat? Ear rings? Bracers? A necklace? And what, if anything, do the things he's wearing say about his past, his religious beliefs, his status, or his membership in any organizations legal, illegal, or otherwise?

For other thoughts on how you can get more specific with your character's looks and habits, check out What Is Your Character's Everyday Carry? (And What Does It Say About Them?) and What Do Your Characters Eat?

That's all for this week's Fluff update. Hopefully it got your wheels turning, and you're thinking about what your character's outfits, accessories, etc. actually say about them. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other gamers put together all kinds of different videos. If you want to keep up-to-date on my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your help!

And if you've got a hankering for a new book, you could head to My Amazon Author Page to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Delivering A Big Bang With The Underground Chemist

If you've ever sat at a table with me, you know alchemical items are one of my favorite things to use. To the point that I keep them around long past low levels, when most players sort of forget they're even a thing. While there have been more than a few occasions where a properly-utilized tanglefoot bag has put a serious monkey wrench into a DM's plan, most of the time alchemy stops being viable for anyone but alchemists by about fourth or fifth level (if we're being generous).

Which is why I love the Underground Chemist.

We're underground now, but don't worry, we'll be blowing up soon!
While the rogue gets a lot of hate (which has made my 5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues one of the best read articles in my 5 Tips series so far), the Underground Chemist is an archetype that lets you break a lot of rules. First off, at second level, it lets you draw alchemical items as if they were weapons, which opens up the possibility of using Quick Draw to get your full attack with acid, alchemist fire, and all the other goodies out there. You also get to add your Intelligence modifier to damage done with splash weapons, the same way an alchemist does. That's good times, right there. Secondly, at 4th level, you can sneak attack with a splash weapon. Provided it's your first attack of the round, that it's an attack on a creature and not a square, and that it meets all the requirements for sneak attack.

Those two things make flinging flasks pretty viable as an attack strategy. But if you combine them with a certain rogue trick, you can get a lot more bang for your buck.

Burn One Down For Me

In case you haven't dug through the lists of rogue tricks out there, there's one simply called Bomber. It allows you to make bombs as per the alchemist class feature, except that they deal damage equal to your sneak attack when they hit. And normally it doesn't allow you to add your Int modifier to the damage, but since you're an Underground Chemist, you have that as a class feature. Of course, the truly damaging part is when you catch an enemy flat-footed with your bomb. Because that is a two-for-one blowout.

So much for Vlacuul the Dread Necromancer. Next?
The sweet spot for this trick is when you can hit someone with one of your bombs under the conditions where it qualifies for sneak attack. Whether that's by having an insanely high Initiative modifier, downing a potion of invisibility, or just going for a target who can't see in the dark once you've snuffed the lights, you're essentially hitting them for double your sneak attack damage (once for the bomb itself, and once for the actual sneak attack with a splash weapon), plus your Intelligence modifier, in addition to any other feats and abilities you have. Even at 4th level, that can pack a punch. At higher levels, that could be on par with anything the evoker is going to throw out in terms of sheer dice volume.

Keep Your Options Open

While the combination of Bomber and Underground Chemist is a match made in some fiery, napalm heaven, it's important to remember that fire resistance is one of the most common varieties you're going to come across in the game. So remember to keep a variety of elements on hand, and to ensure you have an extra trick or two up your sleeve to ensure you're never out of options. Because, as any alchemist who's fought a demon will attest, you need something to fall back on.

That's all for this week's Crunch topic. While I haven't had a chance to put this particular trick into play just yet, I'm sure I'll share how well it worked. For more content, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to bring the world of Evora to life. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then either head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron, or Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your help.