Monday, October 29, 2018

Endless Realms: Infinite Possibilities, Unnecessary Complication

For folks who stop by my Monday posts on the regular, you know I occasionally like to present a review of RPGs you may not have seen before. Sometimes I get lucky, and people who make games reach out to me, and ask me to take a look at what they've made. This week is one of those scenarios. If you're in the market for something fantasy-oriented, and you're tired of the usual Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons options, then you might be the sort of player who'd get into Endless Realms.

It is, if nothing else, a very pretty game.
However, before you immediately click to see what it's all about, I'll give you my take on what's good about it, and where it falls short.

A Unique Set of Realms

The thing that first caught my eye about this particular RPG is the feel of its setup. It gives you multiple realms to play in right from the get-go, and presents a unique cosmology that feels distinct from most other standard fantasy RPGs out there. It puts me in mind of Final Fantasy, and in a very good way.

This one, in particular, just with less future tech.
In addition to giving us a unique setting, as well as a very different view on magic and the origin of a lot of class powers (particularly for those who are used to the age-old arcane and divine divide), this game also hits us with a fairly unique plethora of starting races. They're colorful, unique, and completely bypass the usual elves, dwarves, and orcs in favor of tiger warriors, small, immortal women covered in downy fur, saurians, and a slew of other, more unusual offerings.

When it comes to doing something really different, and presenting us with a cool, fun setting, Endless Realms gets a big thumbs up from me.

The problem is the actual game part of this roleplaying game.

A Mechanical Mess

I like to think I've never shied away from learning a new system, and I've seen my share of different offerings over the years. The games that have always gotten me engaged, though, are the ones that provide a simple framework, and which then offer me a wide variety of bricks to fit into that framework to build whatever sort of character I want.

The framework this game uses, though, is frankly a mess.

"Have you assigned all your attributes?" Wait, what's the difference between agility and dexterity again?
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. In RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness games, and even Call of Cthulhu, you have a single set of attributes. These attributes represent the inherent qualities of your character, and they're usually variants on how tough, strong, dexterous, smart, wise, and charismatic you are. Sometimes we throw in a few extra ones, or we change the name, but the idea is that these are your raw numbers. This game gives you 4 separate sets of stats that you have to buy at character creation; trainable stats, inherent stats, vital stats, and unique saves. That logic follows through with the core of the design; nothing is given a single, broad stat when it can be broken down into a dozen different categories, each of which needs to be tracked and managed separately.

That's bad enough on its own, but then it's combined with what feel like extremely arbitrary rules, and linear sets of advancement paths. For example, barbarians are banned from ever becoming literate due to... reasons, I guess? Not just starting out illiterate like in the 3.5 days, but if you learn to read then you lose your patron's favor, and your powers. Not only that, but if you don't kill an enemy in combat at least once a week, boom, lose your powers. Even patrons in Werewolf: The Apocalypse were rarely that ridiculously demanding when it came to bloodshed.

That's bad enough, but when you combine that with being forced to pick an advancement path (the same thing that locks you into one, specific character path that you see in both the 4th and 5th editions of Dungeons and Dragons), and you have a game that commits one of the worst sins for me as a player; one that is needlessly complicated when it comes to tracking your attributes, but which then slaps your knuckles and tries to put you on specific paths for playing your character.

Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't seem all that hard to make base classes, and then to make archetypes of those base classes that give you additional options should you want to do something a little different, rather than following what feels like an MMO-style setup right from level one.

One Man's Feature is Another Man's Flaw

With all of that said, I'm well aware that I am not the only kind of gamer out there. If all the stuff I mentioned up there is right up your alley (and let's face it, there are some folks out there who loved the Pathfinder 2.0 playtest, and if that's your jam then I think you'll adore this game), then give Endless Realms a look to see if it's what you've been looking for.

For my two cents, it's a very pretty game with some unique ideas, and an engine that I wouldn't touch with a fifty-foot pole.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. If you're still on the lookout for new games to try, you should check out my thoughts on Pugmire as well as on Dice & Glory.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just click through to my Gamers page if you only want to see my tabletop stuff. You should also stop in to check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Or, if you're in the market for something a little different, you could go by my Amazon author page to Buy My Books!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Aging Badass

The room grew silent as Harran grinned. He was pleased with himself, and at the wit that had flown from his lips unbidden. Dorovich slowly turned, and looked at him. The old man's expression hadn't changed, and he wiped one, arthritis-swollen knuckle along the side of his nose.

"What did you say?" Dorovich asked in that slightly wheezy way he had of speaking.

"Are you going deaf, too?" Harran sneered, stepping closer. "I said-"

Harran had drawn in breath to repeat his earlier verbal barb, but before he could Dorovich slammed a fist into his stomach. Harran doubled over, one hand protecting his gut, the other scrabbling for his dagger. A cloudy glass, still half-full of beer, slammed into Harran's face. His nose broke with the sound of a pine knot on the fire, and blood jetted down his front. His knees folded, and he fell bonelessly onto the taproom floor. Dorovich tossed the remains of his glass on top of Harran, and turned back to the bar.

"Another," the man once called the Hammer of Dry Lake said. "He's paying for it."

Seriously, adventurers only get more dangerous with age.

The Aging Badass

We're all familiar with this kind of character. He's Logen Ninefingers in Red Country, both Riggs and Murtaugh in the later Lethal Weapon movies, and pretty much every member of the first generation Expendables team, and every protagonist in RED. These characters may be old enough to have grandchildren, but they are still canny, capable, and dangerous. Even if it takes them a little longer to bounce back from a brawl than it used to.

There are some characters you'll note who are absent from the list of examples; wizards and witches. Because while nothing says those characters have to be old and gray, it isn't unusual  to find a Gandalf or McGonagall look-alike wielding great power, and then using their relic staff as a walking stick. What is unusual, though, is finding a character with a more martial skill set who is still breaking teeth and wrecking house long after most folks figured they would have hung up their baldrics.

Making Your Age Work For You

If you're playing a system like 5th Edition DND, this is purely a flavor thing. To the best of my knowledge, age penalties are something Wizards chucked in the bin when they stepped away from 3.5. However, if you're playing a Pathfinder game then you take penalties for middle age, old age, and surviving long enough to become venerable.

Make that work for you.

For example, an aging swashbuckler may not have the raw Dexterity they once did, but their enhanced Charisma means they can make better use of their deeds now. A venerable paladin may seem to be just an old man past his prime, but when it comes time to smite an evil creature he suddenly becomes a titan both in his damage output, as well as in his attack and defense. An aging bloodrager may not be able to crush a man's skull in one hand like she used to, but the raw, potent force of her bloodline's magic is more than enough to make up that difference. Even an aging assassin may not have the grace they once did, or the ability to blend quite so seamlessly into alternative personas, but they know more than a dozen of their younger protoges combined, and surviving their death stroke is nearly impossible once it's been delivered.

One of my favorite combinations for this is an aging barbarian with the Spring Rage power. A titan in their youth, when the fresh wind blows again all their raw, physical power comes flooding back into them... for a little while, at least. If you combine this with an Intimidate-based build to make use of your heightened Charisma due to age boosts, you can have a potent mixture on your hands.

If you enjoy this concept, then you may also want to check out my post Adventuring Isn't Just A Young Man's Game (5 Questions You Should Ask For Older PCs).

But Why Wait So Long?

There's a common misconception that all levels gained are done so in a linear fashion. It's why so many PCs are young and fresh; they're first level, and they have no experience.

Toss that idea right out of your head for this concept!

If you're an older character, and especially one who's been around and done their share of stuff, feel free to embellish their history and talk about how badass they used to be. Just keep in mind what I said in The 1st Level Badass (Freeing Your Backstory From Level Restraints). Just because you were amazing then doesn't mean you kept all of that prowess and skill. You might need a refresher, and a little time to work the kinks out before you get back to your former glory.

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, October 22, 2018

Dungeon Masters, Do Not Add Insult To Injury (Without Consent)

There is this bizarre need that many dungeons masters have to take any bad situation, and make it worse for their players. A missed swing in combat is never just a miss; it always makes you do something disadvantageous, like screw up your footing, or damage your weapon. And if you roll a 1, hoo boy, that's when the real knives come out! That's when the blade your fighter depends on suddenly snaps, when the rogue stabs themselves in the thigh, or when the wizard scorches their fingers and takes a Dex penalty. All because a die happened to hit on that 5% chance.

If you roll a lot of these, you may as well commit seppuku.
I dedicated an entire category to this kind of DM in my recent article 5 Bad Dungeon Masters You'll Meet Throughout Your Gaming Career; the Punisher. A DM for whom, unless that natural one ends in disaster for the player who rolled it (or at the very least the potential for disaster), they feel like they're being too generous. As if, somehow, they allowed a player to break a rule without being punished for the act of trying to do something, but having uncooperative dice.

Let's be crystal clear, here. If your game already has critical fumbles built into its existing mechanics, that's fine. If you can point to the page in the rule book with the chart and effects, then you're just playing the game as it exists. On the other hand, if you feel the need to add fumble rules to your game, whether it's with the Paizo Critical Fumble deck or just with a random chart you made up yourself, then I would ask why you're doing that? How does this enhance your game, and how do you deal with the fact that it punishes your players a lot more than it punishes your villains?

But I Run It Fair; PCs and NPCs Both!

Equal isn't the same as fair in this case, because the burden is going to fall a lot harder on the players than it will on your monsters.

Because that 5% chance has a longer-lasting effect on players than on you.
While it's true that you and the players are both rolling D20s, and that you may even roll substantially more than the players do (and thus you will have to deal with more critical fumbles on average), the important point is that you have a never-ending stream of characters. The players have only one, and those characters have limited resources that can be easily wrecked by pure bad luck, quickly shifting their chances of progressing the story.

Take one of the most common crit fumble rulings ever; the broken weapon. Your sword snaps, your bowstring breaks, what have you, but your main weapon is now either crippled or useless because you had a particularly bad roll.

Now, say this happened to a monster you were running. Oh no, the goblin's sword broke, or the giant's club snapped in half. Is that monster totally out of options? Probably not. Chances are good they have some kind of back-up option like natural attacks, or they have additional weapons on their person. And even if they don't (say your PCs were ambushed by footpads in a city chase), did you expect those NPCs to survive the fight anyway? Probably not. In fact, a majority of the characters who get involved in combat on your side of the line are meant to get defeated. Even if it's a big boss, like the minotaur in the middle of the maze, or that necromancer you've been saving for a big fight, do you honestly want those characters to win? Especially if it means they kill the PCs, meaning that now everyone has to start over again?

You want your fights to be a challenge, because that's what makes winning all the sweeter. But critical fumbles don't make things more challenging; they turn combat into a disheartening slog.

Let's take that same broken weapon situation from the PC perspective. Your paladin charges in, sword held high, and when he brings it down, oops, it breaks. That's bad enough at low levels, but what about when your party has enchanted gear? Does it break just as easily as common steel? Or does it just impose a negative while you wield it until it's repaired? Either way, that character may not have a back-up option in the same sense that the monsters do. Sure he can punch with a gauntlet, draw his knife, or shield bash, but you took away their main fighting option for no reason other than hey, you rolled the 1 big guy, you should have known better. And that is going to last for the rest of the dungeon, which may consist of dozens of fights, in addition to the big, climactic battle.

There is no scenario where this kind of action feels like a challenge, instead of a slog. The archer's bowstring breaks, so now they have to take an entire round or two of combat to re-string their bow (assuming they even have a spare bowstring on hand). The rogue slips in spilled blood and goes down prone while surrounded by ogres who now all get bonuses to hit them. The barbarian loses their grip, and their ax goes flying, making them a sitting duck until they get it back. These feel like dick moves on the DM's part because players are being punished for trying to do something. Even if their strategy is sound, and their tactics are good, that natural 1 doesn't just make them fail; it slaps them across the face for even trying.

Aside from the fact that it feels like random punishment (because let's face it, you're being punished based on a random die roll), there's also the question of resources. How many weapons do you expect your warriors to carry because they know any die roll could break one? How many spare bowstrings do you expect bowmen or crossbowmen to have? And if we look at the more serious crit fumbles, what do you do if a party gets crippled (lost eyes, reduced stats, etc., etc.) due to bad rolls, and is now unable to be a legitimate threat to the big boss? Or they have to blow potent healing resources that were meant to carry them through, but instead they're out of bullets less than halfway through the night?

Why Add Insult To Injury?

Rolling a natural 1 is already a punishment in and of itself. Whatever you were trying to do, there's a pretty good chance it isn't going to work. You failed, and your action had no serious impact... that's disheartening enough. You don't need to randomly have your future effectiveness penalized as a result.

Hey, you shouldn't have rolled a 1 on your polymorph. No, I don't know how you'll undo it, either.
If you want to make your players feel challenged, then don't give them random negatives. Instead, bring your A-game when it comes to your own strategy and tactics. Engage them, and provide opportunities for them to succeed or fail not because of a quirk of fate, but because they came up with a plan and executed it well (or because they failed to anticipate your plan, and had to scramble to counter it).

When you lose in a game of chess, you lose because the other person out-played you, you made mistakes, or some combination of both. No one is ever in the middle of a strategic game, then suddenly loses the ability to move their queen because they rolled a 1, and considers that a refreshing challenge. It's just a pain in the ass, and it does more to harm PCs than it ever will your villains in the long run.

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

With all of that said, if you are hell-bent on using your 5th Edition critical fumble deck fresh from Critical Hit Publishing, far be it from me to tell you how to run your game. However, there is something that you should definitely do that will stop roughly half of the problems you find with introducing critical fumble rules to games where none exist.

Get your players' consent first.

Seriously, consent makes all the difference.
If you're going to be adding a rules set to the game that is not actually in the core rules, don't just assume that everyone at the table is cool with it. Ask your table, preferably during Session 0, if they want to use critical fumble rules at all, and if yes, if they want to use charts, or a deck, or whatever your preferred tool is. Another good question to ask is if they only want temporary negatives like one-round drawbacks, or do they also want the serious stuff that can shatter their equipment, give them permanent negatives, etc. Some folks who'd be okay with the former may balk at the latter, after all.

You need to be prepared for either a yes or no answer. Because if everyone is on board with those critical fumbles (even if, in the end, they do them more harm than good on average), then shine on you mad bastards! On the other hand, if there are players who don't like the odds of using critical fumble rules, or who are outright against the idea, then you might want to save that deck for another day. Because everyone has to play the same game, and what do you gain from bringing in additional house rules that your players don't want?

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday! If you'd like to find more work from me, you should check out my Vocal page, or just click my Gamers archive to see all my tabletop stuff. You could also go to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I make videos with other talented gamers.

If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a small, monthly tip in my jar.

Or you could go to my Amazon author page and Buy My Books!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

What Holidays Are Celebrated in Your Game?

Holidays are one of things we don't usually think about, but like a thousand everyday details they can make your world feel truly alive. Not only that, but you can often use them as a way to provide insights to religions, to cultures, and to characters who celebrate (or who choose not to celebrate) these particular days of importance.

Come on, hon, we don't want to miss the ritual sacrifice!
Even more important than these days existing, though, they can often be used as a kind of shorthand to explain what matters to a culture, and to give players something to grab onto for additional characterization.

Making A Holiday

The easy version is to look at real-world holidays, and just change the names. But if you want to make something more memorable for your game, I'd recommend going through the steps and doing the heavy lifting.

Step One: Why this day? Typically a holiday marks an anniversary of some event, or it represents a particular milestone that is worth noting and celebrating. Something like the founding of a nation, the start of a new year, or the resurrection of a particular deity are all examples.

Step Two: How is this day celebrated? Are there feasts? Competitions of skill? Are gifts exchanged? Or is this a day to be spent in quiet prayer and reflection? Is there fasting? Different holidays will have different rituals and trappings associated with them, and you should know what those are.

Step Three: What is the significance? Sometimes the significance of a day is basic; this is to remind us we've been an independent nation for 100 years, for example. Other times this significance can be deeper, and is tied into the day's traditions. A harvest festival near the solstice may mark the end of another growing cycle and the true start of winter, for example, but it also marks the closing of the year and the final chance to send the souls of all those who have died onto the next world. The celebration, then, is one part funeral, one part celebration of life, and a send-off for loved ones and enemies alike.

Once you have these questions answered in the broad strokes, you can move on to what makes these holidays unique to the cultures, religions, and countries in your setting.

For Instance...

To help get the juices flowing, I thought I'd provide a few examples of holidays you could use to get started. And to all the DMs out there, feel free to use these!

Light a lamp for every soul so they may find their way to the other side.
- Among the Joruwen elves of the Skytop Mountains, lunar eclipses are events of great import. Members will carve prayer candles, putting small pieces of paper in the wax. On the day of such an eclipse, the candles are lit at dawn. As they burn, the prayers are eaten by the fire. Then, on the night of the eclipse, members take the stub of their candles outside, and blow them out. The smoke drifts to the sky, carrying their prayers to the sleeping goddess Malis. After the candles are blown out, the Joruwen light fires to welcome the return of their goddess, and they share their prayers with one another. Prayers are not to be judged by others, but if you would not admit what you prayed for to your friends and neighbors, then the common wisdom says you should not be asking your goddess for it in secret.

- The Bannock tribes of orcs (an umbrella term for several tribes who live in the Gorand Hills) mark every spring equinox with an entire week of games, competitions, boasts, and mock raids. This is a time where no war is to be made, and spilling blood outside the rules of the competitions is a great taboo. This week of peace is called the Haran-Gar, and it has been a tradition for celebrating the coming year, settling disagreements peacefully whenever possible, and letting off the tensions of long winters without causing blood feuds. Weddings that take place during this period are considered particularly blessed, and many matches are made to stop disputes between different tribes.

- In Baragor it is tradition to light the longest night of the year with fires big and small. From candles to bonfires, the Devil's Night is brightly lit to keep away the agents of evil who might try to steal among them in the darkness. Celebrations begin at sundown, and stretch all the way until dawn. Characterized by feasting, storytelling, garish costumes, love making, and competitions, the night's excesses are seen as a way to show that the city's people will not succumb to the night, and to re-affirm that they do not feel winter's teeth.

These are just a few examples of how the combination of celebration style, specific time, and cultural purpose can create a unique holiday. You can add as much detail as you want, and even base entire sessions around exploring what happens on these days (or using the taboos of the days to complicate certain adventure hooks). Big or small, these days can add a lot of detail to a character, and to a setting.

Also, if you enjoyed those examples, then you might also want to check out A Baker's Dozen Pieces of Lore as well as A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them). Both supplements are by yours truly, and they're meant to help DMs add more flair and flavor to their settings without straining anything.

That's all for this week's Fluff topic. Hopefully it gets the gears turning for all the players and DMs out there. Also, if you have cool holidays you want to share, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal profile, or click my Gamers archive to see only my tabletop stuff. To see my books, head over to my Amazon author page. And if you prefer some audio stuff, check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I make videos with others gamers for both players and dungeon masters alike. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Seriously, every little bit helps!

Monday, October 15, 2018

I Make Stuff For 5th Edition Too, You Know

Most people associate my blog with Pathfinder, or with general gaming advice. The same can be said of a lot of the projects I work on, and the content I produce. However, I've been doing more and more stuff for 5th Edition this last little while, and I thought I'd take this Monday's update to draw some folks' attention to it.

Particularly the readers out there who enjoy my ideas and flair, but who aren't about that Pathfinder life.

Critical Hits: Total Party Kill Games

Come on, you know you're curious.
I've written for Total Party Kill Games in the past, but this summer I embarked on a new project for them. The goal was to write smaller, one-shot modules with engaging stories you can either run on their own, or fold into a bigger campaign. Each adventure is unique, setting-neutral, and can be run in a handful of hours with minimal prep work on the DM's part.

The series is being called Critical Hits, and the first one to come out is False Valor. For DMs who are tired of dungeon crawls, or hack-and-slash setups, this module gives your players a murder to solve. A young girl has been killed in a way that hearkens back to a war settled for several generations now... but if her death isn't solved quickly then that old tinder might spark back up!

There will be other installments in this series, as well as a few miscellaneous projects I've got in the works. Still, I wanted to make sure everyone knew where to look if they needed a solid one-shot.

Azukail Games: DM Supplements Galore

Seriously, how many times would this have come in handy?
I've been creating content for Azukail Games for a little over a year now, and I even wrote about some of the supplements I'd done back in May when I posted Random Tables, Courtesy of Azukail Games! Well since that update, I've been asked to generate some 5th Edition-specific stuff (both writing new guides and converting old ones). And since it's been a tic, I thought I'd update you on what we've brought out recently.

- 100 Bits of Miscellaneous Tat To Find: A collection of treasure and swag that's all valued under 1 gold piece, this was my first supplement for Azukail Games. After a bit of re-tooling, it's been re-released for 5E play.

- 100 Pieces of Flotsam and Jetsam To Find On A Beach: Whether it's a great lake, an inland sea, or the edge of the ocean, this guide is full of odd encounters, weird treasures, and grisly finds that PCs can find along the beach. Another oldie, re-tooled to make 5E DMs' lives easier.

- 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest: If your party is traveling through a fey domain, there are all kinds of weird things they might see, hear, or be subject to. This guide gives you some ideas for encounters, only a few of which are combat-oriented, that can help spice up their travel.

- 100 Random Encounters For On The Road, or in The Wilderness: Another collection of encounters, this one is also relatively light on the combat. From hidden treasures, to forgotten ruins, to riddling statues and wandering merchants who may not be all they appear, the wilderness is full of potential for odd or unusual encounters.

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them): An ideal supplement for DMs who want lore, rumors, and a clear path to set their players on, each of these installments is beefy enough that you could run an entire sessions around getting to the truth. Or you could just fold them into your existing setting/campaign if all you need is a little extra meat in case your players step off the beaten path.

There's More On The Way

When it comes to gaming supplements, modules, guides, etc., I've always got something new coming out. These are just my most recent releases geared toward 5th Edition. If you're curious, check 'em out. If you like them then please leave a review, and tell your friends about them! The more folks make it clear that they like what I'm putting out, the more stuff I'll get green-lit in the future.

And if you've already got any of these, feel free to leave recommendations in the comments!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. If you'd like to see more from me then check out my Vocal archive, or go to my Gamers page just to see my tabletop stuff. You might also want to check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and gamers alike! To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me work, Buy Me A Ko-Fi to leave a one-time tip, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron.

Lastly, you can Buy My Books if you'd like to check out some of my fiction!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My Final Thoughts on The Pathfinder 2nd Edition Playtest

As most everyone knows, Paizo put out a playtest for their second edition of Pathfinder a while back. When I first heard it was coming out, I made some predictions in What Pathfinder 2.0 Means For Me Personally, and Professionally. Then after I downloaded my own copy of the playtest rules, I gave my thoughts on them over at High Level Games in the post 5 Red Flags in Pathfinder's 2nd Edition Playtest (And What They're Pointing At). Now that I've played through as many of the modules as I and my group could stomach, I wanted to give you my final autopsy on what's going on here, and why this Frankenstein's creature is a flawed, barely-functional attempt that Paizo should be ashamed of.

Let's get started, shall we?

Part One: What This Playtest Is

I said this in my High Level Games review, but this playtest is pretty nakedly an attempt to give 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons the same treatment Paizo gave 3.5 when it was dropped in favor of 4th Edition. And while it is true that the two are not the same game, it is quite clear what popular game Paizo had its sights set on with this playtest. Everything from switching to a proficiency-based system, to altering the way death saves work, to adopting things like weapon attributes shows that the base component of this smoothie is Wizards' extremely popular RPG.

It's not the only thing, but it's the biggest thing.
What Paizo added to that base was an attempt to mix in some of their signature flair and complication. For example, you still have a flat-footed status condition, which is something 5th Ed lacks. In this playtest, your proficiency also adds to your armor class, allowing you to maintain scaling defenses as you level rather than arbitrarily sticking you with lower numbers the way 5th Ed does. They altered the basic actions in combat so that instead of Action, Bonus Action, and Movement, you now just have three Actions to do with as you please. They even tied that to spellcasting so that different spells would have different effects the more Actions you dedicated to them.

Now, before we move onto the next section, I'd like to point out some things that I believe were good ideas, that were not directly lifted from Wizards, or from Pathfinder Classic.

- Racial Hit Points: Depending on your creature's ancestry, you gain a number of bonus hit points at creation. This allows you to avoid accidentally TPKing the whole party at level one, and is generally smart.

- Anathema: Laying out specific things your god does not allow you to do makes for fewer arguments over whether or not your broke a tenet, and should be punished.

- Scaling Paladin Code: Paladins are still LG, and their code explicitly scales now. So if a DM tries to put a player in a Catch-22, the paladin simply upholds the most important tenet, allowing that to guide them. If protecting the innocent is above obeying legal authorities, then you are completely within your right to kick the crap out of that slave owner to stop him from beating his slave, even if that breaks the legitimate slavery laws of the country you're in.

And that's about it.

Part Two: Why It Doesn't Work

The basic idea behind a second edition, if you believe the hype, was that Pathfinder Classic had grown too complex. There were dozens of base classes and prestige classes, hundreds of archetypes, and just so much stuff that it was easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Not only that, but the 3.5+ rule set needed to be slimmed down and adjusted to get rid of some of the unnecessary complication.

I don't buy it, but that was what the claims were.

It ain't broke, but we're gonna fix it anyway!
This wasn't an inherently bad idea. After all, the whole reason behind 5th Edition's much-touted success is its sheer simplicity. To paraphrase a fellow at my table, it's a beer-and-pretzels RPG. The rules are there, but they're so simplified that you can teach anyone to play this game in maybe half an hour or so. That kind of broad appeal, and its pick-up-and-play simplicity, is why 5th Edition is riding high when it comes to market share. Period, full stop, end of story.

The problem with this playtest is that it doesn't simplify Pathfinder in any meaningful way. It's not even the same game, any more than 5th Edition is the same game as DND 3.5. Worse, it only adds complication that has no actual meaning, and which doesn't offer you tools to create additional character depth or customization.

What does that mean in layman's terms? Well, let's look at feats. In Pathfinder Classic there are hundreds of feats for you to choose from, but the point is that feat is a category that means something very specific. In this playtest you have ancestry feats, you have class feats, and you have... uh... feat feats? In Classic you get a feat every odd level. In the playtest you get different feats of different types at different levels. Why? What does this add other than giving you three different lists of stuff to remember when you could previously just pick what you wanted when you qualified for it?

This kind of needless complication happens all over the place in this playtest. You now have a bulk system instead of carrying capacity. So now you have to figure out your total item bulk, and run that through a formula to figure out how much bulk you can carry. In the Classic edition you just look at your Strength score, and that tells you how many pounds of stuff you can haul. Simple, straightforward, no problems. The playtest gives you resonance points that you now have to use in order to activate and use magic items, potions, etc. All this does is limit your ability to use magic items you find or buy, and give you yet another pool of points to keep track of for no reason. In the Classic edition your race gives you certain inherent characteristics (half-orcs can see in the dark, elves are immune to magical sleep, etc., etc.). These are things you are born with, and are an inherent part of you. In the playtest these abilities are parceled out to you as you gain levels... because I guess it takes a certain amount of combat before your half-orc's eyes spontaneously function in pitch blackness?

Also, half-elves and half-orcs are directly connected to humans in this playtest, which makes it clear in this edition those are the only possible races your parentage could have come from. Another limiting of your options and creativity for seemingly no real reason.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not shy about rules complexity... but those rules need to add an aspect to the game that is worth pursuing, or which adds to your options as a player. Practically every decision in this playtest is to take a simple system, chop it up into multiple pieces, and then present those pieces as if they are somehow easier, or more useful, than the single, functional, unified whole it was before. Or, even worse, new systems and point pools are introduced to limit your options.

Part Three: What Was The Goal?

The question that kept recurring to me as I read the book, built characters, and played through the modules was simple. What is this game trying to do?

The stated goal of the playtest in many corners was to simplify Pathfinder as a game. But when you compare the two editions core book to core book, the Classic edition is just a lot simpler to understand and explain. It gives you more options, things are less restricted, and there is just more you can do. Not saying it's a simple game, but compared to the playtest it's at least sensical, and easy to follow. Some of that is likely due to the playtest being a rough draft, but that can't explain all of it.

So the next question is did this playtest simply get carried away and fail in its goal to be a simpler, easier-to-play game? Personally, I don't think so.

I don't think the problem was, "Our game needs to be simplified." Paizo built their entire following on gamers who like 3.5, and who refused to pick up 4th Edition DND (and 4th Edition was super simple to play). Rather, I have a sneaking suspicion that the question was either, "How do we steal some of 5th Edition's thunder?" or, "How do we sell a whole crap ton of books?"

Wait, I've got it!
It's true that you could just download the free PDF of the playtest, read it, and play from your phone or tablet. But Paizo put up both softcover and hardcover copies of the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook for sale. I'm going to repeat that. Paizo put out for-sale copies of a book that will never be used in official game play, and which is guaranteed to be obsolete as soon as the playtest is over and the actual edition rules come out.

That is not a good look for a company. It makes you look less like you're trying to provide your player base with the best product you can, and more like you're trying to make a quick buck off of their good faith effort to test your game. And I get it, publishing isn't cheap and there are costs involved... but game books are already a big investment. Selling a version that's going to be obsolete in less than a year? Why?

But let's talk about that other question. Because for a while there, Paizo was king of the heap while 4th Edition was a screaming garbage fire, numbers and popularity wise. But then Wizards regrouped, and they made a game that had broad appeal to a specific base. Their genuinely simplified game allows anyone to play, and it appeals more to players who want bare bones rules, ease of use, and who are more focused on the other aspects of the game. If you're a Pathfinder player, and you are one of those folks who genuinely prefers it over simpler systems, that isn't going to sell you! Because chances are good that you, like me, love the wealth of options and creative potential the 3.5+ engine offers you.

5th Edition already exists. It has a huge fan base. It has that fan base because it is simple, straightforward, and easy to play. It has lots of flaws and failings, but those are the strengths that make it popular. If you want to appeal to that fan base, and try to siphon off players from that game, more power to you. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what appeals to the audience you already have, the brand you've created, and what people playing your game expect in your product.

If I wanted to play 5th Edition, I would play 5th Edition. While I won't say that Classic is perfect and can't be improved, I can say with authority there is no reason for anyone to play this 2nd Edition as it stands over either the Pathfinder we know, or the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It gives you all the negatives of both, but without the strengths of either.

That's all for this Crunch installment. Apologies if I got any bile on you, but this is likely the last I'll have to say about this edition for a while and I wanted to be sure it was all out. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just go to my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop stuff. Also, you should check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to make content for dungeon masters and players alike. To stay on top of all my releases be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support my work, consider leaving a tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page.

Lastly, if you'd like to check out my fiction, my Amazon author page is always growing!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Why Are Games So "Politically Correct" Now? (Hint: It's Money)

I know we usually talk about games that involve funny-shaped dice, but I'd like to take a second to talk about a game that involves throwing a weirdly-shaped ball. A game that we're all familiar with, at least in passing, where people can become millionaires if they're good at playing. A game that has been a source of great controversy, not for its inherent violence and massive, wasteful spectacle, but due to one man's protest that started back in 2016.

Don't pretend you don't know who I'm talking about.
According to The Undefeated, Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem started back in 2016. In his own words, the quarterback was using his platform and his position to speak out against how black people are treated by police, particularly the fact that so many of them are killed by police officers who never face any consequences for their actions. This protest sparked backlash from a lot of quarters, and support from others, and has raged like an untended wildfire for a number of years now. And the controversy has led to Kaepernick not being picked up to play for any teams, despite general agreement that he's more than good at his job.

Fast-forward to just a little bit ago. Nike, the colossal sportswear corporation named for a goddess of competition and victory, chose Kaepernick to be the face of their recurring "Just Do It" campaign that they've run for years now. The idea behind the campaign is to feature inspirational figures, and by choosing Kaepernick Nike pretty much backed what a lot of detractors refer to as the "SJW horse" in this race.

Why did they do that?

Well, it isn't because Nike is a high-minded entity with a bleeding heart who agrees with the spirit of Kaepernick's protest. Let's not forget that this is a massive corporation who still uses child slave labor to save on production costs while fattening their profit margins on overpriced tee shirts and shoes. Nike is in the business of making money, and its marketing and PR team is tasked with finding every possible way they can make themselves look good, increase their social currency, and keep people buying their products. Their marketing wizards cast the bones, crunched the numbers, and their conclusion was that in order to endear themselves to the younger generations of buyers (the ones that will be making them profits for the coming decades), it was a smarter move to endorse Kaepernick in a showy way than to come down in opposition to his protest, or to ignore him entirely.

And you know something? It worked. While there were viral videos of people burning their shoes or mutilating their shorts (Nike products they'd already paid for, mind you, so it had no effect on the company's bottom line), the real numbers were in their stock price and sales. Nike made huge sales in the immediate aftermath of this decision, and though there were a lot of existing customers who swore never to buy their products again, those customers were replaced several-fold by new ones who swore to buy Nike products today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

What Does This Have To Do With Tabletop Games?

I told you that story to tell you this story.

You see, hardly a day goes by where I don't see at least one gamer shouting in a forum or on social media about how RPG companies are, "ramming political correctness down our throats!" Examples of this typically include having multiple important depictions of non-white, non-male characters, references to a wide variety of sexualities and genders, and generally changing up the white male hero mold that's been standard since Tolkien. This happens in particular when it's announced that Dungeon and Dragons may have elves who can transition their sex, or when Paizo releases an adventure path where there's a sidebar about the half-elf bartender and her wife.

And these frustrations are typically met with a trumpeting war cry, "Who cares about any of this!?"

Aside, you know, from characters who are all about justice and inclusion?
From the perspective of the angry gamer, no one could possibly care. This is all just niche fluff that companies are wasting their time with. However, the real answer to, "Who cares?" is, "All the people invested in these issues, and who make buying decisions because of that."

The truth is that by including these elements that so many gamers object to, RPG companies are making a point to include things that were never previously seen in mainstream games. Things which are often ignored or left out by their competitors. This differentiates them, adds a unique selling point, and it sends up a signal flare to gamers who may have some of these qualities, and who wish they could get more representation in the medium. Gamers who think it's just dandy that lesbian elves can now just exist without being there for titillation, or as a running joke. Gamers who want to see characters who look like them, but who aren't a limited-edition, because-this-isn't-a-fantasy-European-setting option. In short, by including this bigger variety, RPG companies are increasing the size of their audience by increasing their in-game, in-world representation. They open doors to players who may feel unwelcome, and assure them that it's perfectly fine for them to play characters who aren't traditional fantasy mainstays.

Maybe these companies do it because they do, in fact, have a political agenda they're backing. Maybe they do it as a cynical cash-grab because they know it gets them attention and makes them more appealing to a bigger audience, and increases their sales volume. Whatever the reason, though, companies make decisions like this based on ROI; return on investment. Hell, that's one reason I put characters of varying ethnicities, genders, and sexualities in 100 NPCs You Might Meet in a Tavern. Because by explicitly acknowledging these aspects in your game, it both offers representation, and makes the thing you wrote stand out from the pack of competing products.

So if you are one of those gamers who threatens to jump ship, burn your books, or never buy products from a particular company again because too many NPCs were women, were gay, or had a specifically non-Caucasian appearance, remember this; there are plenty of other people who are buying it, otherwise they wouldn't make those decisions. By all means, be bothered by it, but realize that companies generally don't care about a screed left on Facebook. They care about numbers, and as long as your no is worth less than a dozen other people's yes, give me all of it, this direction of being specifically inclusive is not going to change.

And while you're thinking about that, maybe stop for a moment, and ask why you're so bothered by these things. After all, they haven't said you can't play the character you want to, so what's the big deal?

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully it gave folks something to think about. If you'd like to see more of my work, then take a look at my Vocal archive, or just click my Gamers profile to see only my tabletop stuff. Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I'm always working with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, and if you'd like to help support me then you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. Or, if you want, you could drop by my Amazon author page to check out my books!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 7: Murders at The Mill

After the battle at Thistletop, and the breaking of the goblin alliance, Sandpoint seemed safe. Thokk was growing restless, having been in one place for so long. The same could be said of Mirelinda, who was used to the regular ebb and flow of the seasonal trading roads. Though the town's gratitude was generous, Zhakar couldn't help but feel a growing tension between his shoulders. Nothing ever went well for long.

And, unfortunately, he was right.

To keep up on the ongoing campaign, check out the previous 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

All caught up? Lovely!

Murder At The Mill

And a bloody murder, at that.
Sandpoint's peace was shattered when, just as it seemed the threat had passed, a grisly murder was discovered at the mill. A green-faced deputy came to the Rusty Dragon, asking Zhakar to see if he could help. Mirelinda was off, and Zordlan nowhere to be found. When the deputy revealed the reason for his visit, Zhakar belted on his sword, and found Thokk. The two of them approached the mill, steeling themselves for what lay beyond.

What they found was brutality. A young woman had been not just murdered, but rent to shredded meat. A man, suspected to be a lover she'd come there with, was practically in pieces. Blood and viscera were spread around the scene with frenetic abandon, and a symbol had been left on the wall, as well as in the flesh of the murdered girl; a seven-pointed star they'd seen in the depths of Thistletop.

"There is not enough of them," Thokk said after a long moment. He pointed at the viscera, and at the patterns of the wounds. "This was not steel. Animals kill like this. Animals also eat like this."

"Beasts do not delight in slaying so," Zhakar said, frowning. His pupils dilated, and he sniffed the air. "But whatever did this was no man."

Thokk nodded, but he was only half listening. He followed the spatters of blood, the claw marks, and the small traces of what had been left by... whatever had killed them. The trail led through the river doors, and onto the dock. The creature that had slain the lovers, whatever it had been, looked to have come from, and returned to, the water. And after finding a boat to cross them, the hunters found plenty of strange tracks. Tracks that looked like they'd been left by a man... if he had talons that could rend flesh, and stank of unholy corruption.

"What is it?" Thokk asked his friend.

Zhakar's mouth tightened, and something cold bloomed behind his eyes. "An eater of the dead."

A Plague On The Road

While tensions were running high, and blame was being thrown, the truth of what occurred at the mill would be even worse. As Thokk and Zhakar gathered the others, another deputy came with ill tidings of his own. Travelers had been attacked on the road, and viciously slain. There had been a survivor, and though he was wounded, he'd been transported to a nearby asylum. According to the word the deputy had heard, he was worsening with every passing hour.

Then we had best ride quickly!
Once the others had been rounded up, they mounted and rode to the asylum. On the way Thokk and Zhakar brought them up to speed on what had happened, what they had seen, and what they suspected. If there was a ghoul loose in the countryside, then it could do untold damage if they didn't find it quickly. The day was just beginning to sour as they pulled rein, and approached the front entrance. A writ from the sheriff was enough to gain them entry, but the head of the asylum was emphatic that they were not to disturb his patient. The man had been placed under a huge amount of stress, and he was already having a difficult time hanging onto himself as it was.

When the orderlies showed the man in, he looked a sight. Tightly wrapped in a restraint jacket, his skin was graying, and his eyes sunken. He seemed to have trouble telling where he was, or even who he was. He seemed more confused than scared, and answered the questions he was asked with little fuss. As the questions got closer to the attack, though, he began acting strange. He stared at Mirelinda, scenting her. Then he began to speak about how the Master had chosen her. How she was to be his... and that he would bring her to him!

Monsters and Slaves

The man tore apart his restraining jacket, baring fingers that had grown long, sharp claws. His tongue swelled and blackened, hanging from his jaws and running with black ichor. The orderlies screamed, running for the door as the creature lunged for Mirelinda. Thokk leaped onto the table, keeping it back with the point of his spear. Zordlan, startled into action, attempted to flank the snarling ghoul. It slashed at him, vicious claws ranking against the steel of his rapier as they fought.

Zhakar just looked at the thing, and the warmth bled out of his face. In its place was that cold, hard creature that had seen the destruction of the mill. He drew his blade, and stepped forward. He rammed his short sword into the thing's ribs, and said in a soft, implacable voice, "No." The ghoul rounded on him, dragging its claws across Zhakar's armor. Zordlan stepped forward, driving his weapon into its back. Mirelinda, whispering incantations of power, lashed it with acid that ate away the shredded remnants of its coat. Bloody eyes stared round, and teeth sought flesh. All they found was more steel.

The ghoul stumbled away, falling to its knees. It raised its head, and in its eyes was the barest flicker of the man it had been. It puts its arms down, and whispered it was sorry. Zhakar stepped forward, put his hand on the man's head, and drove his sword in behind the man's collarbone. He watched as he died, and made sure he would not rise again.

The doctor was goggle-eyed at what had happened, and once Zhakar wiped the blood from his blade, he told the white-coated physician that he was taking the body. He had died a man, and deserved to be buried as a man. The doctor had some small objection, but Thokk put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. It was enough to still the protest.

He deserved better.
Zhakar took the man's body, and found a warm place on a hillside that faced the rising sun. He dug silently, tossing dirt with the quiet efficiency of a soldier in a trench. When it was deep enough, he lowered the body, and folded the arms across the chest. He tried to speak, to say something meaningful, but words failed him. Instead he took the tiny silver longsword he'd worn round his neck since he was a boy, and hung it round the dead man's throat.

"Take it," Zhakar said, patting the corpse's chest. "You need it more than I do."

He stood, and shoveled the grave full. He placed rocks atop it, then returned to his horse. Once he was in the saddle again, he eyed his companions.

"Ghouls don't make slaves. Ghasts do. If there is one of those things here, then this will get worse before it gets better." Zhakar clenched his teeth, and drew a hard breath. "I don't want to dig another grave if I don't have to."

That's all for this installment of Table Talk! To get more on this campaign, be sure to check in next time. Also, if you have your own gaming story you want to tell, feel free to reach out!

If you'd like to see more of my work, then check out my Vocal archive, or just click my Gamers page to see all my tabletop stuff. Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to create content for players and dungeon masters alike! To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help me keep making content just like this, then consider either Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Either way, there's a boat load of free gaming swag in it for you!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Towering Defenses Against My Chronic Bad Rolls

I mentioned a couple months back in my post about Alistair "Lefty" Rockhammer that my group gets together on Thursdays to do crafty stuff. Sometimes it's related to gaming, and sometimes it's just drawing, hot gluing, or beading our way through the evening while we shoot the breeze. While I've been doing some character artwork, the main thing I've been doing with these weekly get-togethers is trying to find a solution for my terminal ill-luck with dice.

Which is why I started building dice towers.

You gonna roll initiative, or just stand there and bleed?
Now I'm not that crafty of an individual, but I had some parts and pieces lying around, and the results are better than I expected them to be. So I thought I'd share what I've managed to put together this week.

The Diceman's Box

Tumble the ill-fortune from your bones.
The first piece I made, the Diceman's Box is a simple, stable box that's easily transportable. The top even opens, with one half of it meant for dice storage, and the other side filled with angled wedges to make sure your dice get quite a tumble before they're spat out the bottom end.

I have been contemplating turning this little box into a segment for Dungeon Keeper Radio, and the new show we're debuting soon called Exploring Evora. The priests of Se'da, a two-faced god of chance and luck, carry these boxes with them. Using special dice carved from knuckle bones and blessed in holy rites, they can predict someone's fortunes, and divine the future.

If that sounds like a feature you'd like to see get made, leave a comment below telling me so I can work on the script! Also, if you'd be amused at an expanded history of the other two towers, let me know that as well.

Thornwood Hall

A day without a corpse on the thorns was a day the lord had not been displeased.
Thornwood Hall, though simple in design, went in a different direction. More of a traditional tower, it uses what I call the plinko method to tumble dice (which means there are several sticks pushed through, and the die bounces off of them before hitting the angled floor, where it rolls out). At first I thought about trimming off the protruding spikes, but I decided to leave them in order to give the tower kind of a bargain basement Hellraiser feel.

The resulting structure, known as Thornwood Hall, is a rickety pile of stone that was the ruling seat of Lord Horace Thornwood. A brute and a bully, Horace often insisted on heinous punishments for crimes both real and imagined. He would often impale those who displeased him outside his hall, as a sign of his strength. One morning he was found impaled on the tallest spoke, a look of enraged disbelief on his features. No one knows who put him there, but even in death the Lord of Thorns refused to cede his seat. Now haunted and bloodstained, few will risk the dangers of this place.

Rookwood Hall

You take the queen? Sure, roll for it.
My most recent tower, Rookwood Hall used the same basis as Thornwood Hall (which is to say, a Pringles can), but inside are half a dozen plastic tumblers. And instead of trying to paint over the exterior, as I did with Thornwood Hall, Rookwood got a full complement of foam masonry. A little uneven due to a forced change in materials, the stone coating and gloss helped. Additionally, adding a simple base to weigh it down meant that there was no need to hold the tower while the dice tumbled through. The final touch was the bronze elk skull above the exit.

Built and established by Cerene Rookwood, the hall was originally a place for hunters and rangers to keep eyes on the forest around them. While the tower fell into disrepair over the years, and its lady grew old and gray, it still stands firm. Some say the great skull atop its entrance is part of what sustains it, granting the tower the protection of some fey lord whose name has been long forgotten, even if his pacts have not.

Do They Work?

A lot of folks consider dice towers to be just one more thing cluttering up the table, and adding unnecessary terrain to a player's space. However, I'll be the first to say that now that I have a tower of my own, I'd be loathe to game without it.

If you've thought about making your own tower, this video from Blue Shark is the one I used to get a grip on the basics. If you would prefer assembling your tower from a kit, instead of making your own from scratch, then you might want to check out this Dice Tower Kit from Blue Panther, or the Mini Dice Tower Kit from the same company. Or, if you'd prefer something that's a little more than just the basics, you might want to take a look at The Ultimate Dice Tower from Fat Dragon Games.

That's all for my Moon Pope Monday installment this week. Next week I'll get back to deep thoughts about player agency, or talking about how to be a more open-minded DM. For now, though, I just wanted to do something fun and simple.

If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just head over to my Gamers page to see only my tabletop articles. You could also drop in on the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other gamers and creators in making videos for players and dungeon masters alike. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me, then you should consider either Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Either way you'll get a lot of sweet gaming swag, as well as my thanks for helping me keep the lights on.