Monday, July 30, 2018

Is Pugmire Worth Playing? (Short Answer, Yes)

If you're a fan of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, then you're likely aware there are a lot of options out there beyond the base settings and books from Wizards of The Coast. You have The Scarred Lands, for example, or you could head over to Midgard and play around there instead. And, in addition to alternative settings, you get new classes, new feats, and new mechanical setups when you side step into work from other publishers. At the core, though, these games are all built on an edition that players have a standing familiarity with.

One of the most unique games using the OGL at the moment, though, is Pugmire from Onyx Path Publishing.

Or Dungeons and Doggos, as some folks might call it.
I've been playing through a Pugmire campaign for a bit now, and I thought I'd leave my thoughts on it for those considering picking it up.


Right off the bat, one of the first things that makes Pugmire so unique is its setting. It's a game where man has shuffled off the Earth, and many of the things we left behind have risen to claim it over the lost ages. Thanks to genetic tampering several species, like dogs, cats, lizards, badgers, and a few others, have evolved. And they have tried to build a society out of the wreckage of what was left behind.

Our protagonists are part o the Kingdom of Pugmire, a place for all good dogs. They have formed a simple religion based on the tenets man left behind (to be a Good Dog, to only bite when threatened, etc., etc.), and their society is ever-changing and growing. Though still recovering from a war with the Monarchies of Mau (the cat kingdom, for those who couldn't guess), Pugmire is a place that tries to be welcoming. Additionally, the Pioneers Guild offer opportunities for adventure! Groups are sent out to deal with monsters, find lost treasures, etc., and those who return often do so to praise, glory, and the potential of social advancement.

While the setting is relatively small (especially for players who are used to having entire continents of world to explore), it's so unique that I think keeping things small was really the smart way to go. That way we get to learn the main city, the surrounding area, and we get familiar with the customs, slang, and the threats of this new, strange world where man's best friend has moved into his old house, and is trying to make sense of all the things we left behind.

Whether you want to explore old tombs, fight monsters, or get involved in palace intrigues and politics, you can easily do all of those things on the stage that Pugmire sets for you. And you get to do it while being a Great Dane with a battle ax, if that's what makes you happy.


For a game based on the foundation of 5th Edition, Pugmire did something that really surprised me... it gives players a lot of options.

If you're a DND player, then you're likely used to just taking a class and advancing as you go up in level, maybe multiclassing for some bonus abilities. But Pugmire is by Onyx Path, so you have a setup that's a lot more familiar to players of World of Darkness games than those who stick with traditional, level-based RPGs. Which is to say that at creation, you pick your calling and your breed. Calling is like class, in that it's your shepherd (cleric), ratter (rogue), etc., while your breed is more like your race, though your options are things like Workers (strong), Runners (fast), Pointers (wise), etc. These things give you your hit die, your basic abilities (called tricks, because of course they are), and they modify your starting attributes.

When you gain a level, though, you don't get a new level of your calling, or get a chance to take a level in a different calling. Instead, you increase your number of hit die, your number of spell slots (if you had the ability to cast spells), the spells you know, and you may select a new trick from either your breed, or your calling. You can also refine tricks you already know, increasing their power and effectiveness.

All right, let's put that in perspective. Say you're playing a shepherd. You cast spells off of wisdom, and you get cleric spells. If you gain a level, you then get to choose which ability you add to your character sheet. For example, you could gain the Healing trick, which allows you to spend your own hit dice to heal others with a touch. Alternatively, you could gain access to 2nd level shepherd spells. Or you could choose to gain one of your breed tricks, instead. Or just get a new skill proficiency, and bump your stats up higher.

This gives players a lot of options, and they can advance their characters down whatever path they see fit. This ensures that even if you have two characters with the same calling, they probably aren't gaining the exact same abilities as they advance. Put another way, it's like you have a leveling buffet instead of a set box meal that you get whenever you hear that ping.

There are other, minor mechanical differences as well. There are fewer callings than classes, for example, and only two types of spellcasters. However, given that Pugmire is pretty explicitly running on the rule of, "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic," it wouldn't really make sense for sorcerers, warlocks, and others in this setting. All the magic we see is simply super-science, which comes with its own, unique rules.

Overall: Highly Recommended

Whether you just want to do something different, you're really intrigued by the setting, or you're a fan of what Onyx Path has put out in the past, all of these are great reasons to give Pugmire a try. You'll still need to read the book to find out what's changed from the base 5E, but if you're familiar with that edition's rules then Pugmire will take fairly minimal adjustment.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday. If folks have played Pugmire before, feel free to leave your thoughts on it in the comments! For more by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive (or to see just my gaming stuff, go to my Gamers author page). Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other gamers to make fun, insightful episodes all about gaming. To stay on top of all my new releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative you can either give me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you could become a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, free stuff and my eternal gratitude shall be yours!

Friday, July 27, 2018

5 "Modern" Ideas You Should Try Adding To Your Fantasy World

The devil is in the details, or so they say. So this week I thought I'd suggest a few, minor changes you could make to your game's world and setting that would make it feel more unique. After all, who doesn't love a fun little world-building exercise?

No one reading past this point, I'll tell you that much!
So, if you enjoyed previous posts like Introduce Some "Period" Technology Into Your Game, or the much more recent What Is Graffiti Like In Your World?, this one will build on some of the ideas put forth in there.

#1: The Highway Rest Stop

Oh... well isn't this lovely?
If you've ever been on a road trip, then you know exactly what a life saver a highway rest stop can be. It's your one-stop place for stretching your legs, refilling your water bottles, buying a quick snack, and getting information about the local area. You can even take a quick nap, if those highway lines are starting to blur together, and you need a bit of rest before you keep on trucking.

Given that we have all sorts of roads in our fantasy games, why don't we have pit stops like this every so many miles as a benefit of traveling along popular highways? If you want to go simple, they could be shelters that were built for use by travelers, and kept up by the same (introducing a whole cultural thing where it's considered good form to leave fresh firewood, make sure the doors are closed, etc. when you leave). Alternatively, if you're in deep woods, these locations might also be outposts maintained by a company of wardens. These woods guides could act as information sources, and they might be useful for quest hooks. Or perhaps these settlements have small enchantments on them, making them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, giving greetings using magic mouth, and other, similar luxuries.

The sky is the limit here! But they can make things a lot more interesting than, "Roll survival to find a bed of grass to sleep on tonight."

#2: Advertising

Drink at the Dirty Duck! Best pints in town!
When was the last time you saw advertising for something in a game world? Whether it was for a tavern, a curiosity shop, or even a pawn broker's where you could flog all your dungeon trash for drinking money? Probably never. Even in towns big enough to have more than one drinking hole, or a couple of different merchants, we never bother with one of the central conceits of capitalism.

So give it a try, and see what your players do.

If they're walking down a forest path, have them notice a huge painting on the side of a bounder advertising the Sunset Tap, fifteen miles north, take the fork at Durnhill. If your party is in a city, consider putting up actual signs, or have someone handing out leaflets (especially if paper is a fairly cheap resource that could be used for such "low" purposes). Or, if there is a lot of magic in a town, why not have an illusion that stumps for a particular place to eat, rest, get new gear, etc.? It might look like high fantasy Blade Runner, but who at your table would expect that kind of laser light show?

#3: Branding

Is that an ORIGINAL Ulfbehrt? Whoo, that must have set you back.
We tend to think of brand names as a modern conceit, but for goods manufacturers your brand has always been important. That's why smiths would leave their mark on something they'd forged, and why everyone from leather workers, to dress makers, to bakers would try to do something that stood out. In some cases, that mark became synonymous with quality and value, like the signature marks on the Viking Ulfbehrt blades that were made from crucible steel imported from the Middle East back in the iron age.

So what kind of brands exist in your setting?

For example, is the Ironcrest clan the standard for quality in dwarven steel weapons and armor? Are health potions brewed by the Godmouth Springs the equivalent of those who drink fancy, bottled water? Are there off-brand magic items that have drawbacks, but still work well enough under the right circumstances like some of the examples in Drawbacks on Magic Items Can Force Players To Make Tough Decisions in Pathfinder?

Even if the brand doesn't offer any inherit benefits to the user (though many of them might explain the masterwork cost, or be used exclusively for defining the forgers of particular magic items), they can add a great deal of flavor to your world. Particularly long-standing brands, such as those begun by nearly immortal races when early examples of their crafts are found in forgotten tombs, or ancient treasure hoards.

#4: Franchises

We tend to think of franchises as a uniquely modern thing, but they aren't really all that new. Especially when you consider that they could be built around a brand name from the section above, or they could be built around a particular service or creed. Like Crazy Olaf's Adventurer's Emporium, which prides itself on having every kind of gear an adventuring party might need, while offering trade-in value on anything they find in a dungeon. You can even get new and used equipment! While there are outposts for Crazy Olaf's all over, the ones in the hinterlands tend to transport their goods traded items into the big cities where people are more than happy to buy authentic goblin swords to hang on their walls, or to acquire a hill giant's club for use as a conversation piece (paying platinum for what Olaf got for a handful of silver). And then the expensive steel, magic items, alchemical weapons, etc., are shipped out to where such items are needed by monster hunters, rangers, militiamen, etc.

A franchise can be built around anything, though. Do Gillman's Stables offer the finest horse flesh? Do the Iron Riders guarantee that your letters and packages will get to their target safe and sound within a fortnight? Can you go to the furthest reaches of a trading road, and find a Stumble Inn ready and willing to put you up for the night?

It's a little thing, but it can add a lot of flavor to your world. Especially when it devolves into franchise v. local for your buying choices. Also, if you're looking for some franchises to put into your setting, you should check out 100 Merchants to Encounter from Azukail Games. I purposefully built several of them to act as widespread operations that can enhance any setting they're put in.

#5: Entertainment Options

We are Skullduggery! Now did you come here to rock!?
When we think of entertainment in most of our RPGs, we usually picture the local tavern. You can drink, get some food, and maybe play a few games of dice or cards in the corner tables. If you're lucky, there's a band playing to provide live music. And... that's about it unless your game specifically takes place during festivals, or in cities big enough to support a pleasure district.

While there's nothing wrong with that setup, consider expanding the entertainments on offer.

As an example, include an outdoor stage near the town, and post some goings on. Maybe the church does morality plays on their holy day, but traveling performers are welcome to use it as well. Everything from theater companies, to stage magicians, to insult comics. And, sometimes, well-known bands might set up their own show, complete with magical enhancements to play to bigger audiences (probably a festival-style audience).

Then there are sporting events. If a town has a team, then there should be regular events for the locals to follow. Whether it's Skrum (an orc take on rugby), Slammers (a kind of frenetic polo that requires both brutality and skill to play), or even more traditional sports like wrestling, boxing, or the joust, including those elements in the makeup of the local culture can make things more fun. Especially if the owner of the tavern supports a particular team or fighter, making it clear in their decorations who they stand with.

If you add in other potential entertainments, like curated arboretums, smoking dens, coffee houses, poetry slams, libraries, museums, and the latest novels released by retired adventurers telling the tales of their time in the field, then there's a whole plethora of background information you could use to fluff up your world, provide character hooks, or even include as part of your story arcs.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some wheels turning out there in DM land. If you'd like to see some more of my work, drop by my Vocal author page (or just click over to my Gamers archive). Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where Crazy Olaf and others make their homes. If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative you can either Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page

Monday, July 23, 2018

Avoid Submission Encounters (They Throttle Player Agency)

Being a DM is a lot like being a stage magician. You're trying to create a mystique, build an atmosphere, and to get your audience to do what you want without them knowing you influenced them. Which is why you need to remember that subtlety is your friend, and you're trying to finesse your group into following certain paths. Don't use a crowbar to lay down a railroad, making it clear there is only one way for them to go in order to continue the game.

I talked about this last week in More Than One Way To Skin A Cat, which was all about DMs avoiding trampling on player agency, but I thought this week I'd focus on a specific tactic that never works as well as you think it will when it occurs to you. Namely the idea of the submission encounter.

And the total CR for this encounter is... you know what, don't bother.

Why Submission Encounters Are A Bad Idea

A submission encounter is when, no matter what actions the players take, the end result has been pre-determined by the DM. Whether it's, "you're all going to be knocked out and captured so you can get shanghaied onto a pirate ship," or, "I want you thrown in the dungeon so we can do the cool jailbreak part of the campaign," the point is that the players have no real choice, here. It's, "stand and fight until we eventually go down," or, "try to run away."

You get two black marks if running away also leads to PCs being forced into the route you pre-ordained as the DM. Seriously, keep a chase deck on-hand, and don't be afraid to use it if they want to try getting away! More on the advantages of these decks can be found in If You're A DM, You Should Get Your Hands on a Chase Deck.

It's just one guy! Come on, we can take him!
The important, dividing line between a submission encounter and a difficult one is that even in the most difficult encounter the enemy has limits that were set by you before anyone rolled initiative. It has a set armor class, a set number of hit points, and all of its abilities are already on the sheet. If there is more than one creature in the encounter, then you know how many of them there are. If there are other creatures around who might show up to participate, you know how many groups there are, and what circumstances (combat is loud, war horn is blown, signal flare is lit, etc.) will bring them running at the PCs. All of that is fine. Even if the PCs are taking on impossible odds, like trying to fight a dragon while they're level 2, or storming into an encampment that they know has 300 orcs in it, that is not a submission encounter.

A submission encounter is specifically where you keep the fight going until the dice eventually roll in favor of your bad guys, and create the result you want, as a DM.

Go back to the dragon example. Say that your preferred outcome is the PCs being spared by the dragon, in exchange for doing it a service... the problem is that they're actually high enough level to take it. Not only that, but they score some serious critical hits using the right weapons, and by the numbers, this dragon should be seriously dead. If you choose to keep feeding that dragon phantom hit points until he eventually K.O.'s the party so you can run your cut-scene, that is a submission encounter. Ditto if you sent a squad of orc bounty hunters to capture the PCs, but they took that squad out, so you just have more and more orcs come streaming out of the trees until, eventually, the PCs are taken down.

What's the big deal, you might ask? If it's in the interest of the story, why would players object?

The simple answer is because they're here to play, not to sight-see. If the DM is going to declare that a thing happens, regardless of their input, abilities, or strategies, then why waste their time pretending they have free will? Most of the time the answer to that question is, "because if I just make this thing happen, I worry that my players won't have fun, or that they'll object to how I did it."

If that's the case, then stop trying to force a certain course of action to happen.

Instead, prepare an encounter that is likely to be challenging and/or which should accomplish your goal. If the players genuinely defeat it through the use of clever tactics, lucky rolls, class abilities you forgot about, or whatever else, don't take that win away from them. Let the players win, and accept that your plot was foiled with grace and dignity. Then, ask how it changed things overall. If the bounty hunters were sent by a lieutenant bad guy, does he step up his plans to capture them by sending a bigger goon squad next time? Or by sending a lieutenant to use different methods of capture? If the local big scary monster is killed, did it have allies who are looking for revenge on his killers? Or, if the goon squad that tried to capture them were sworn officers of the law, does their failure to apprehend the PCs now mean there is a general watch out for them, bringing every bounty hunter, man-catcher, mercenary, and glory-seeker out of the woodwork to try to find them to claim the reward (like some of the folks in 100 Random Mercenary Companies, for example, who specialize in this sort of thing)?

Remember, you don't have to make the thing you want happen the first time. Let events take their natural course, and see what happens. Even if your plans for a given encounter don't succeed, use that as fodder to make the next encounter they have to deal with. Especially if there were survivors from the first one who might carry word back to their masters about what happened.

Anytime there's an encounter, ask what happens whether the PCs win, or whether they lose. That way you already have a flow chart to follow, you can more easily roll with what's going on, and you won't feel the need to keep spawning monsters until your players figure out that you're just going to keep chucking baddies at them until they eventually give up, surrender, or run away.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday installment. If you agree, disagree, etc., then toss your thoughts in the comments below. If you'd like to see more of my work, head over to my Vocal profile (or just check out my Gamers archive). Alternatively, you could stop in at the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. To keep up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me so I can keep bringing great content straight to you, consider either Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to give me a tip once a month.

Lastly, if you have a hankering for a good book, head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can check out some of my work, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Where There's A Whip, There's A Way (Advice on Whip-Wielding Magi)

When it comes to exotic weapons, we so often overlook the humble whip. Given almost exclusively to bards, it has an impressive reach, but using it provokes attacks of opportunity if you're being threatened. Worse, it deals non-lethal damage, and can't hurt anything with a +1 armor bonus, or a +3 natural armor bonus. Given that it's just a bunch of leather strips bound into a cord, there really isn't much average characters can do with a whip.

A magus, on the other hand, can make the sound of a whip-crack into his enemies' personal nightmare.

How much could it hurt, they said. Watch this!
Also, if a magus isn't quite your bag, but you still want to use a whip, then might I suggest checking out my Tips For Building A Whip-Wielding Swashbuckler over on Vocal!

Building A Whip-Wielding Magus

For a magus, the weapon you're using is often a secondary concern; the real power in your strikes is going to come from your spellstrike, and other class features. And while a lot of people will just tell you to take a scorpion whip, we're actually not going to go that route (though you can, if you want to).

The first thing you're going to want to do is to take the kensai archetype for a magus. This isn't required (you can just go straight magus, if you wish), but it gives you proficiency in the whip at level 1, as well as free Weapon Focus in your whip. Both good things, since you're going to need your share of feats to make this concept really shine. In order to utilize all your class features, you'll want to go a traditional Strength-based magus, but it is possible to go a Dex-based route if you wish. If you go the Dex route, then for your first level feat you should probably invest in Weapon Finesse, since you'll need all the Dexterity you can manage when it comes to keeping your AC high. This one is optional, but not required. If you have a human bonus feat, consider Combat Expertise (Threatening Defender is a useful trait to have with this one) or Combat Reflexes (no your whip doesn't threaten at level one, but we'll get there, trust me. In the meantime, wear a spiked gauntlet, or a cestus, or something for people who get in your personal space).

At level 3, you choose your first Magus Arcana. Shield Arcana is great, but Wand Wielder is equally useful if you want to preserve your spells while still getting your licks in (especially if you stow the wand in your whip using the spell Weapon Wand). Alternatively, if you want to build yourself to trip, disarm, etc. with your whip, you might want to take Maneuver Mastery just to give yourself an edge.

At level 3 you also qualify for Whip Mastery as a feat. You no longer provoke attacks of opportunity with your whip, and you can deal lethal damage to any foe regardless of armor bonus. Now we're getting somewhere. So now your weapon of choice is lethal against any foe, you can wield it as you will, and you can deliver your spellstrike with 15 foot reach. Particularly useful for those who want to lash out with shocking grasp, deal their target a lot of damage, and then get the hell out without provoking attacks of opportunity.

At 5th level you gain your first bonus feat. If you went the Dex-based route, take Slashing Grace (though it should be noted that spell combat won't work with this feat, as it's the same as two-weapon fighting, so keep that in mind). For your normal feat, you might want to consider Combat Reflexes if you haven't taken it yet.

At 7th level you now qualify for feats as a 4th-level fighter. Improved Whip Mastery gives you 10-foot reach for the purposes of attacks of opportunity, though, so it should be something you invest in. Then at level 9 and 11 you should take Weapon Specialization (Whip), and Greater Weapon Focus (Whip). By level 13 you should have room for Greater Weapon Specialization (Whip) as well. Additional magus arcana that will help, including Arcane Accuracy, Arcane Edge, and Bane Blade (if you get that high).

But Whips Just Don't Deal A Lot of Damage...

A lot of people get turned off by the 1d3 of damage a whip deals, as well as the amount of time it takes to get lethal using these feats. Those are both fair points, however, it's important to remember your arcane pool, your dex modifier, and your spellstrike are what matters, here.

The whip's actual damage is just icing on the cake. The important thing is that you can deliver your spells from far enough away that your foes won't be in your face immediately, allowing you to maintain tactical distance. Between the bonus dice of damage your weapon abilities deal, the damage of your spells, and the sheer amount of hurt you can add using things like Arcane Edge or Bane Blade, that 1d3 is going to be insignificant.

Especially if you're hitting on touch attacks.

Bear with me here, because this is where things get a little sneaky. Because if you have an awesome whip that you've enchanted and kitted out to lay down a serious hurt, of course you're going to use that all the time. However, there are a lot of spells that create magical whips you can use. And these whips not only deal a slew of side effects, but they typically hit on your enemy's touch AC.

Which spells do I mean? Well, River Whip is a 2nd-level magus spell, and it creates a whip of water that hits on a touch attack. It also deals bonus damage to fire-based enemies, which is handy in a few distinct circumstances (and could you imagine a shocking grasp through a coil of water?). Rock Whip is a 2nd-level magus spell that creates a whip of crystal and stone that deals 1d8 bludgeoning damage, can pass through natural, unworked stone, and hits with enough force that you can make a free a bull rush attack that uses your caster level in place of your BAB, and your casting modifier instead of Strength. It doesn't work on outsiders of the earth subtype, but otherwise it's a handy weapon for slamming your enemies up and down the field. Whip of Spiders is not a magus spell (though you could get it with a wand or a magus arcana), and it turns a swarm of spiders into a whip that deals 1d6 points of damage, applies a spider's poison, and a swarm's distraction on the target, in addition to hitting on a touch attack. A bigger version of this spell (6th level) makes a Whip of Ants that deals 3d6 points of damage on a hit, plus poison and distraction, in addition to hitting on touch AC.

Then there's the chance that you get your hands on items like the Tracker's Whip (technological weapon that lets you entangle targets you hit) or the Whip of Life and Death (whip that absorbs positive or negative energy channels, and allows you to deal them as bonus damage against targets you strike). Or just your run-of-the-mill enchanted whips that pile on bonus damage from holy, flaming, frost, shocking, and so on, and so forth.

While it might take a bit of time to turn the humble whip into an instrument of death, remember that the investment is often well worth the wait.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment. Hopefully folks find something they like, and if you incorporate any of my advice into a character build I'd be happy to hear about it in the comments below. For more of my work head over to my Vocal archive (or if you just want more gaming stuff, go to my Gamers author page). You might also want to check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my work, consider Buying The Literary Mercenary a Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. A little donation goes a long way, and I appreciate any and all help you can give!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

More Than One Way To Skin A Cat (Avoiding Railroading At Your Table)

It's not easy being a DM. You have to keep track of an entire cast of characters, run a world, balance how much time every player gets dedicated to them, keep track of combats, and craft a tackle box worth of adventure hooks to get the PCs out of bed, the tavern, or the brothel. With all of that going on, DMs should be given a little slack if they get sort of myopic when it comes to how the party is supposed to get from A to B. However, if you find yourself constantly setting up plot points where there is one und only one way to solve the challenge you've put forth, you might need to back up a little.

And pull those ties up behind you on your way out.
Some doors only have one key, that's true. But you shouldn't be overly picky with how your group chooses to acquire the key, if you see what I mean?

Set The Stage, And See What The PCs Do

As a for-instance, let's say the first arc of your campaign is about a company of orcs raiding a small town for food, supplies, and treasure. Your goal is to have the PCs scuffle with the Red Hand, win a couple of smaller fights, and then move on the main force to roust them. Pretty basic, but there's nothing wrong with a setup if it works.

And it doesn't TPK the party right out of the gate.
However, what do you do if your players want to take an alternative course of action? For example, say that the halfling rogue wants to sneak into the Red Hand's camp during the night, and assassinate the commanders in their beds (perhaps while making it look like they were killed by a rival group)? How about if the bard and the paladin want to negotiate with the Red Hand, and see if they could be hired as mercenaries to protect the town and patrol the region (the logic being that these orcs are sentient beings, and thus they would see that being paid to do nothing but keep the peace is preferable to risking life and limb in raids)? What if the half-orc in the party wants to "defect" to the Red Hands, poisoning their cook pots and utensils so the soldiers are incapacitated?

What if, what if, what if.

Now, a good DM will look at the course of action proposed, and decide whether it is technically possible to achieve. For example, sneaking into the camp and killing the leaders in their sleep is doable, if difficult, provided the party all make the necessary stealth checks, and perform all the right actions. On the other hand, defeating a champion in single combat may be a notion that the Red Hands find childishly quaint. If they win, they'll insist on your side agreeing to terms, but there's nothing in their culture or code that says losing one duel means you have to pack up and go home. It's also possible that they're already being paid, and thus you'd need to outbid their current masters... that might not be possible, but it would mean the PCs' strategy failed for a logical reason.

A bad DM will just say no, none of those alternative ways will work because you have to do it this way.

It doesn't matter how high your Stealth check is, you won't be able to sneak into the camp, much less into the commander's tent. Even if you're invisible. No, the Red Hand will not talk or change their course of action, because they are not here for sensible reasons that could be discussed during the course of diplomacy; they exist only for the PCs to fight and kill them in order to gain XP and level up. Unless your solution is some form of, "We assault their camp," it will not work.

Tell The Players What To Do, Not How To Do It

There's an old piece of wisdom I once heard associated with the military. Captains give the orders, it's the sergeants' job to figure out how to fulfill them. Just as commanding officers are concerned more with results than with methods, so too a good DM should be more involved with the end goals the party is trying to achieve, rather than the specific methods for how they achieve them.

Because sure, you might need to acquire the Four Sacred Keys of The Great Winds to unlock the Gate of Aeons in order to stop some huge, encroaching threat. That's perfectly sensible. So the first goal is to get the four keys, cool. Don't micromanage how the party does that. Do they raid the temple Indiana Jones style? Do they pass the traditional test to prove themselves worthy? Do they pull a Mission Impossible and come down from the ceiling to steal the key from under the noses of the monks guarding it, sight unseen?

Who cares how they do it? As long as they make the rolls and their strategy follows the rules of the game world in terms of possibility, then let it ride. It will maintain the players' agency, and give you a lot more unique approaches in terms of how your players try to solve the problems you put forth.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully some folks out there find it interesting, and if you've got questions (or DM horror stories to share), leave them in the comments below. For more work by yours truly, consider checking out my Vocal archive (or just going straight to my Gamers page), and stopping in on the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To keep up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, you could make a one-time donation by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or give me a little every month by becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, there's free stuff in it for you!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle

After slaying the imp in the ruins beneath Sandpoint, our heroes know they have only touched the tip of the ice berg. It isn't long before they delve deeper, though, and once they have a direction to follow there will be no getting them off the scent.

For those who need a quick catch-up on earlier installments:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane
- Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry
- Chapter 14: The Taking of Fort Rannick
- Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam
- Chapter 16: Mad Lovers, And Lost Captains
- Chapter 17: The March of The Giants
- Chapter 18: The Taking of Jorgenfist
- Chapter 19: The Secrets Beneath Sandpoint
- Chapter 20: At The Gates of The Runeforge
- Chapter 21: Storming The Halls of Evocation
- Chapter 22: The Bowels of Necromancy's Tomb
- Chapter 23: The End of Runeforge
- Chapter 30: The Fall of Karzoug

We rejoin the party as they come back into the daylight, bloodied, but otherwise determined to find out what is happening in this small town.

The Hand Behind The Moves

Upon returning to Sandpoint, the first thing the band did was check on Ameiko. Mostly fine now, she's still shaken from what she witnessed in the glassworks. She also suggested that the town's defenders examine her sibling's journal. It has answers she doesn't like, but which she knows are necessary for stopping what's happening.

If it can be stopped.

Oh, he left a bookmark. How thoughtful of him.
As Zhakar read through Tsuto's journal, he discovered that a woman named Nualia Tobyn (an aasimar who had been adopted and raised by Father Zanthus's predecessor) was behind the goblin raid. Thought dead, Tsuto chronicled her obsession with shedding her celestial heritage in favor of something wicked. A talented artist, Tsuto's sketches show a beautiful young woman, her belly scarred by deep cuts, and her left arm twisted into a red, scaly monstrosity tipped with angry, black claws. As he read, Zhakar's right hand started tapping the tabletop... a steady tattoo of steel-shod fingers that seemed oddly nervous. Or excited.

Once he'd read Tsuto's journal, and given the others the chance to see what he'd seen, Zhakar set off for the jail. Hemlock wasn't in, and the deputy let them into the lockup to talk to Tsuto. Tsuto lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, ignoring them until Zhakar rapped an iron knuckle on the bars.

"Tell me how she did it," Zhakar said.

"What?" Tsuto asked, his brow furrowing.

"Her hand," Zhakar pressed. "What changed her?"

It seemed, for a moment, that Tsuto would answer. That he'd been caught so off-guard by someone wanting to know that in the face of everything else he'd put in his journal that it would escape his lips before he could think better on it. Then his mouth closes, and he swallowed whatever was about to tumble off his tongue. Zhakar glances at Thok, who nodded and leaned against the door so no one from the outer office could come in. Then he turns to Mirelinda and Zordlan.

"Not a word of what you are about to see," Zhakar said, his voice grave. When his other two companions nodded, he fished a key from around his neck, and unlocked his gauntlet. He unbuckled one strap, then the other, carefully sliding his hand from inside it.

The fingers were black, and hard with scales. The nails had grown into thick claws. The black scales grew red as they slid across the back of his hand, and along his wrist. It stopped there, the corruption reaching no higher than the lower part of his forearm. Zhakar raised the devil's claw, and wrapped it around the bars. The look on his face was raw, and a pulse of something dark rain through the hand.

"If I know how she did it, then I may be able to undo it," he said.

The Assault on The Nettlewood

Too stoic to answer, Tsuto gave no helpful aid to Sandpoint's heroes. So the only thing for them to do was to march north toward Thistletop, and demand answers from Nualia herself.

But first they had to get through the Nettlewood.

Nah, I'm sure there are no goblins here.
No more than a few miles into the wood, they found a carefully-constructed warren. Something meant for small-sized creatures to move through easily, but which is a hamper to larger ones. And as soon as they were inside it, a cackle rang out from the brush. The cackle was followed by balls of flame, and the roar of a charging fire pelt cougar!

Zhakar took the charging beast, batting aside its claws only to have the animal sink its teeth into him. Thok thrust his spear forward, crouching awkwardly in the tight confines. Zordlan shuffled around, pulling at a wand they'd found in the ruins. Mirelinda hung back, her fingers busy weaving through the air, sending bolts of magic into the fray. Meanwhile the beast's master, a goblin clad in ragged furs, laughed and howled, sending more fire to plague those who'd invaded his den.

Though it raked him more than once, the cougar was so focused on tearing through Zhakar's armor that it failed to see the deadly thrust coming from behind him. As the beast bled out on the end of Thok's spear, Zhakar advanced on the goblin. Enraged at the death of its companion, the goblin babbled and gnashed its teeth. Already wounded from a dozen spells, it took no more than two more blows to bring the creature down. Zhakar knelt, and touched it at the base of the skull. The goblin twitched, but its wounds ceased bleeding. They took his weapons, his spell components, and tied him thoroughly. When he came round, they questioned their captive.

Without his magic or his cougar, Gogmurt was far less brave than he'd been. He told them what lay between here, and Thistletop. Told them the demon lady was calling more to her cause, and that there would be goblins all around her. Goblins, and worse. She had a wizard, he told them, as well as a bugbear to do her bidding. An ugly pink with a big sword, too. Eager to share, Gogmurt would rather worry about Nualia's vengeance someday, than dying now next to his fire pelt.

Gogmurt's counsel proved helpful. A band of goblins and goblin dogs awaited right where he said they would be, and a nearby cavern proved to be filled with a few dangers. As well as a giant crab using a colossal helmet as a shell. Battered and bruised, the heroes found themselves on the doorstep of Thistletop. A foreboding place, there was a sensation of dread hanging over it. Something evil had been summoned in there... something they will have to return to whence it came.

That's all for this installment of Table Talk! If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below. If you've got a particular adventure path you think my group should play through so I can chronicle it, mention that, too. If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (or just go to my Gamers page if you want tabletop stuff only). You might also want to stop in on the Youtube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support me, Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time donation, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly contributor! Either way, every little bit helps.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The First Rule of Improv Often Applies to RPGs

Improv theater, for those who've never seen stuff like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is a kind of theater where actors get together, and start making stuff up off the cuff. Sometimes the actors are given a prompt from the audience, a general theme, or a prop they have to incorporate, but there's generally no script, and nothing is figured out in advance. In many ways it's similar to what happens around the table when we sit down with our sheets and our funny shaped dice. And there is a single rule that makes improv work, and which can help everything around the table move more smoothly.

Never say no.

With so many possibilities, don't walk around shutting doors.

"No" Kills Pace

If you watch improv, then you'll see that everything a performer adds to the scene is now canon. If one person declares it's Sunday in the scene, then it's Sunday in the scene. If someone says they're getting a call, then they're getting a call. And if someone asks how your character's trip to Montego Bay went, then you definitely took that trip (or, at least, you told them you were).

No matter how odd, unusual, or silly stuff gets, the only real ironclad rule of imrpov is that you don't say no. You can alter, modify, or mess with things as they currently exist in the scene, and you can invent new stuff, but at no point can you fold your arms and refuse to continue onward. Because to do that will completely destroy the suspension of disbelief that makes the improv work, and it brings the all-important flow to a screeching halt.

Often with disastrous results.
So, the next time you sit down, remind yourself that your game needs to go forward. And the only way for you (and the rest of the table) to go forward is by agreeing to participate in the scenario. If you ever find the phrase, "But my character wouldn't do that," rising to your lips, stop, and re-examine the scenario. Find a reason for your PC to participate.

Playing a selfish jerk who is thinking about refusing the request to do some pro-bono monster hunting to save an orphanage? Well, you may suddenly discover that this character has a soft spot for abandoned children, and he's willing to go to the mat for these kids so they don't have to face what he did when his parents were killed. Got yourself a hard case who thinks that going to the ball is a load of fru-fru bullshit? Ask if there's someone there he'd like to impress. Or, failing that, remind him that it's a party full of free food and alcohol. The sort of rich stuff only people with money can afford, as opposed to the hogwash down at the dive you've been hanging out in.

And so on, and so forth.

Your characters are under your control. Find a reason, and go forward. Otherwise it's like the DM pointed you at a door, and you refused to walk through it. Nothing is going to happen until you kick it open.

The Other Side of This Coin

With that said, it's important to remember that player agency is still very much a thing at the table. Which is why it's best for a DM to describe and present, without taking actions on behalf of the players, as I laid out in Some Thoughts On Player Agency.

Put another way, if you're the DM, present the players with the door. Trust that they will walk through it on their own, without telling you, "No." Because they have to be given a choice, otherwise you're just telling a story at them, which isn't fun. Preserve the back-and-forth, and everyone will be happier for it.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully there are some folks out there who found it to be helpful. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (particularly my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, then either become a patron over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, some sweet gaming swag will be yours as a thanks for your help.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The False Noble

Reginald "The Lightning" looked every inch the noble warrior. Clad in a shirt of chain that sparkled silver in the light, his long hair blowing in the breeze, he was a sight to behold. His sword rang as he drew it, and his cavalier smile was enough to set hearts ablaze... either with love, or with envy. He flourished the silvered steel, and bowed to his host. It was low enough to be respectful, but not so low as to make anyone think he was a servant.

"My lord, it is an honor to be a guest in your home," Reginald said, sheathing his blade without giving it so much as a glance.

"No, the pleasure is mine," Count Kargo said, clapping the younger man on his shoulder. "It is a rare thing, indeed, to have a visit from our brethren from the northern hills."

"And an even rarer pleasure to visit," Reginald said with a beaming smile.

"My lord," Shadrick Vain protested to the count. "I've been trying to tell you, there is no record of this man-"

"Shadrick, books are not all there is in the world," the count said, brushing off his seneschal's protests. "All you need to do is look at Lord Reginald, and see that we are of a kind, is that not so?"

"Indeed it is," Reginald said, the corners of his mouth curling roguishly. The seneschal was too perceptive by half... he would need to keep this visit brief, if he could.

Regrettably I can only stay a few days... oh provisions and an escort? Well, if you insist...

Talking The Talk

Fantasy is filled with noble heroes. And why not? Nobles are the ones who have all the free time to dedicate to learning the art of swordplay, mastering magic, or understanding the will of the divine. They have no crops to grow, no trade to focus on, and they tend to have access to wealth, tutors, and opportunities that others may never see. Not only that, but nobles are accorded respect wherever they go. Merchants show them the finest wares, innkeeps offer them private rooms, and in many cases people will shower them with gifts and praise in hopes that they will look upon them with favor.

Who wouldn't want that life?

The False Noble is a character who camouflages themselves so they can walk in the world of titles and prestige. Whether it's a common warrior putting on fancy armor and claiming a knighthood he was never given, or a silver-tongued sorceress using her magic and force of personality to slip into positions of power and authority, this concept can take several different forms. However, it also requires a great deal of thought to make it work.

First, you need to work out your cover story. Are you claiming to be part of an existing noble family, or are you going to make one up from whole cloth? If the former, are you claiming to be part of a very important family, or a more minor house? On the one hand, bigger lies are harder to get away with, but you are accorded a great deal more respect if people think you're the king's nephew than if they think you're the scion of a forgotten duke somewhere. Additionally, are you attempting to steal the life and identity of someone who already exists (the baron's wayward son whom you know is dead, and whose place you're trying to claim), or are you inventing yourself from nothing? Do you know the proper forms of greeting and speech, do you have the bona fides that validate your claim, and do you look the part? The last can be especially important, since you are attempting to fit a pre-conceived notion of what family you're trying to belong to. I mention a lot of stuff in 5 Tips For Playing Better Noble Characters that should put you on the right track!

It's important, in this stage, to also introduce a few inconsistencies to act as clues. For example, if you have a character who is unlearned in history and nobility, then you might be able to explain it away by saying that you spent little time in the library... but it should still be suspicious if you get caught out not knowing obvious things. A brand or tattoo might reveal your actual past, and thus would have to be covered. Even something like hair color or eye color might require regular disguise checks to keep under wraps so you can maintain your cover. This matters, because if you fit the role you're playing perfectly, then it's not really all that different from just playing a noble. The goal is to run a double-blind, where you're actually a low-born mercenary, a common farmboy, or a conman who is pretending to be a noble for their own purposes. Purposes which you should know, and which will need to dovetail into your campaign's themes and overall goals.

Lastly, you need to ask how you're backing up this scheme in game terms. For example, do you have a signet ring, appropriate clothing, etc. so that people think you're a noble before you open your mouth? Do you have the appropriate social skills and knowledges so that you're not caught off-guard by something a person in your position should know? Are you using magic to maintain this farce, keeping important people's minds foggy and their attitudes friendly? If so, how do you hide the spells you're casting? And what do you do if, one day, your target resists hard enough to break the illusion you've woven over them?

Most importantly, is this your first time running this claim, or are you known as a lord in other places? And does your history play in your favor, or against it, when you try to make this claim again?

The challenge of playing the False Noble is that you have a long-running secret. However, as with any other secret you keep in-game, you should also have some idea of when it will come out, and what impact that will have on the game. Because if no one ever finds out your secret, and it has zero impact on the game, then what's the point of having it at all?

Also, if you're a fan of the False Noble, then you might want to check out A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them), as there's an entire plot in it based around this character concept. This is a book I just finished for Azukail Games a little bit ago, and it contains 13 rumors that are substantial enough you could turn each one into a full session! They've also recently added my Baker's Dozen of Noble Families, if you're looking for a family to claim to be a part of, as well as 100 Nobles to Encounter, if you're looking for specific people to imitate, or to claim relation to.

Additionally, if you'd like to play genuine noble characters, you might want to check out the Inspired By Heraldry feats from Flaming Crab Games. These feats allow noble characters to gain powers derived from their family crests in an almost totemic like fashion, with natural attacks, natural armor, flight, and dozens of other potential powers on the list!

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!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

5 More RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

About two years and change ago, I wrote a post titled The 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing. I'd written some controversial posts before, but that particular piece exploded. Once the initial furor died down, little brush fires would start up from time to time when it got re-discovered and re-debated by people. Then Nerdarchy gave me a shout-out last year, basing a fairly popular episode on the five characters I put forth, and the resulting explosion made that piece my most-visited post ever.

Thanks again, guys!

I've been thinking on the concept of disruptive, frustrating, and all-around trying characters again, though. So I thought it was time to create a follow-up to that original piece, and talk about 5 more concepts that I would be glad to never see again... as well as some advice for making them functional, if you insist upon them.

And for those who have been fans of my more controversial posts, might I recommend also taking a look at I Don't Really Care What Gygax Had To Say as well as It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby.

Anyway... on to the new list!

#1: The Kleptomaniac

"Hey, Varas, have you seen my-" Gold? No, why? You think I stole it? I didn't, no one saw me!
Thieves have a long and storied place, both in the genre of fantasy as well as in tabletop RPGs. It was even the granddaddy of the rogue, for those who've been playing that long. There are some characters, though, who are not thieves in the professional sense of the term. They're kleptos. These characters must steal everything. This includes goods they could actually afford, the treasure they find in dungeons, and even the purses and backpacks of their companions while they sleep.

Some players think this concept is hilarious, and anyone who doesn't see the joke is clearly just a stick in the mud who doesn't know how to have fun. If the DM protects this character from having his hands cut off, it often sours the rest of the table. And if his victims are allowed to pay him back for his acts? Well, that often leads to a sulky player.

This is why so many DMs don't allow you to play a kender.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Just be a thief. There's nothing wrong with being a thief, and a party can really benefit from having someone who's light-fingered at the right time.

"At the right time" being the key phrase.

Generally speaking, this means that your fellow party members, friendly NPCs, and your allies, are off-limits. For maximum efficiency, only steal objects that are valuable, and only do it when it would have an impact on the game. Swiping a few coppers from the drunk at the bar isn't really worth the time or effort. Palming the dungeon key from your jailer, though, is something that will earn you a great many thanks from your fellow party members who would like to just walk out of their cell.

#2: The Proselytizer

"Excuse me, have you heard the good word?" Only a thousand times, Jerry.
There is an urge to model the fantastical off of the familiar. And when we attempt to model characters who genuinely believe they have been chosen to do the will of the gods, and that they are on the side of good and truth, we end up with a bunch of sanctimonious, stuck-up, self-righteous killjoys for some reason.

Paladins, clerics, and other servants of the divine come in a thousand different flavors. From the pious to the quiet, from the brooding to the jolly... but there is always that one character who wants to do nothing but tell you their good word. Who wants you to listen to them sermonize, who wants you to pray with them, and who will often withhold their aid from you if you choose to act in a way that runs counter to their own faith.

Whether it's the holy knight who guilt trips her companions who choose to celebrate with wine, or the cleric who shames his party-mates as they come out of the brothel, you are not winning any friends among the table.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

There is something admirable about someone who sticks to their own beliefs, despite temptation. The key to remember, here, is that your vows, your oaths, and your faith are yours. So if those vows aren't actually compromised by the company you're keeping (if you are a servant of the light, your god might frown on you for keeping company with Blitzrock Baby-Eater, for example), don't make a big deal out of who the rest of the table chooses to play.

By all means, roleplay your discussions about religion. Have long philosophical talks about the meaning of good and evil in your fantasy setting. If other members of the party follow your god as well, then discuss the vows you took, and the proper path you should follow. But if your faith declares you must give your wealth to the poor, or only eat simple meals, or do Crossfit every third Saturday, don't nag everyone else for not following your restrictions. Especially if them not following your restrictions doesn't actually hurt you in any way (losing your powers, being expelled from the church, etc., etc.)

#3: The Murder Machine

"Afternoon, sir! A fine day for-" I bury my ax in the innkeeper's face!
Combat is a healthy chunk of any RPG. Even in situations where you're trying to pull off a bloodless heist, or orchestrate a political coupe, there's always the chance that swords come out, and blood is spilled. However, there are some characters who exist only to leave a wake of destruction and death behind them. Every merchant they've ever met, every town guard who ever asked them their business in the city, and every bartender who ever asked what they were drinking was met with death threats... if the character bothered to speak at all before just running them through.

There is some exaggeration here, but if you've been round the gaming block before, you know a Murder Machine when you see one. Likely because you're constantly trying to stop them from pulling steel, or slinging spells, as a response to anything resembling conversation openers from an NPC.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The concept of a character who only comes alive in battle (or one who only feels comfortable there, since they know the rules of combat) is one that's quite common in a lot of different genres. But if you're going that route, you still need to flesh out who your character is off the battlefield, and what triggers their aggression response. Are they a socially-awkward hulk who gets angry when people laugh at them, so he tends to brood and glare in silence unless someone actively puts in the effort to get past his outer defenses? Is she paranoid, seeing violence or the threat of violence as the only thing that keeps those around her honest, and preventing them from thinking she's weak? Or does this character deal with a bloodlust that has to be slaked, which is why they don't come near civilized places unless they've had enough battle to get it out of their system?

There are all kinds of options, and all sorts of characters, that fit this mold. From warriors on a hair-trigger, to formerly brainwashed bodyguards, to sorcerers who have trouble controlling their tempers along with their powers, the easiest way to avoid going too far and becoming a Murder Machine is to make sure there is always a method to when your character decides that violence is necessary. And to make sure they have personality and presence when initiative is over, and it's time to play the rest of the game.

#4: The Square Peg

A dozen books full of character options... and this is the one you chose?
RPGs are a group-oriented activity. Everyone makes their avatar, and comes together to tell a cooperative story... but it only works if everyone is willing to work together. A square peg character, though, does not fit the game. Whether it's conceptually, or in the execution, it does not matter how hard you hammer that peg, it is not going to fit.

Anyone who's played for a while has examples of this one. Whether it's the sadistic, demon-worshiping child torturer who tried to join the party of holy warriors, the paladin plunked down in the middle of a gang of thieves and assassins, or the light-hearted bard who showed up to the grimdark game, these characters are like a sour note. It's like the player behind them is off in a totally separate game that no one else is playing, and it wears pretty thin pretty fast.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The easiest way to fix a square peg is to simply shave off the corners until it fits in the round hole. As an example, say you are the monster who tries to sign up with the party of holy warriors. You could be a repentant villain, attempting to undo your past wrongs with the skills you learned before your change of heart. Or you could take a few precautions to keep your wickedness hidden, ensuring your companions don't instantly sniff you out. If you're a bastion of law, but you find yourself surrounded by thieves and killers, ask how you came to be there? Do you attempt to use diplomacy and intimidation on their behalf, lowering the body count and achieving real results so that no one has to get hurt? Or have you turned your back on righteousness, and you're going your own way now?

And if you're the light-hearted minstrel in a world full of darkness and terrors, the easiest way to fit is to squat down in the mud and blood with your companions, light up a smoke, and drop your performer's cheer for a moment. Take a deep drag, and talk about how hard it is trying to keep the light burning in people's hearts when you live in a world full of rain. But someone's got to do it, and you're pretty sure they don't know how to handle a mandolin.

The core concept of most of these characters can be preserved, while shaping them to fit the game you're actually playing. But remember, not every character will fit in every game.

#5: The Rando

"My elf jumps off the bridge." But why would he- "Did I stutter!?"
Random chance plays a huge part in any given game. It determines how persuasive the judge finds your arguments, whether your shafts strike your enemy in the heart, and whether you manage to fight off that cold you contracted on the trail. But there are some characters who seem completely determined by the whims of chance. Everything, from how they feel when they wake up in the morning, to who they're friendly toward, to which enemy they attack in battle, is decided with a roll of the die.

This is both annoying, and potentially hazardous to the other characters, as well as the overall plot.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Don't... just don't.

As I said with The Misanthrope in the first installment, this kind of character doesn't need to just be played a certain way; it's incomplete. Whether you're actually rolling a d20 to determine every action the character takes, or you're choosing to make them behave in a truly random manner (not impulsive, or silly, but outright nonsensical) just stop. Sit down, and create a character who has reasons for their behavior, who has motivations, goals, drives, and a purpose.

That is not to say you cannot play the fool (such as someone who feigns getting absolutely fall-down drunk before an important mission, or whose zany antics are actually a cover for a cunning strategy), or that you must be serious all the time. Characters are people, and like people they can be complex or simple, clever or stupid, brave or cowardly... but the thing they have to be most is consistent. So figure out who your character is, and what makes sense for them to say, do, think, or believe according to the core of who they actually are.

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. Sorry it was a little late, but I was on the road most of yesterday, and didn't have time to sit down and bang this one out. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (especially my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out in bringing Evora to life. To stay on top of all my latest releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page or consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi!