Friday, November 30, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House

The undead are roaming Sandpoint's countryside, threatening not just the town, but also their ability to feed themselves. If the ghouls aren't killed soon, and the ghast that created them stopped, then it could spiral out of control to threaten Magnimar, Riddleport, and the other prominent cities of Varisia. It was after slaying a pack of the creatures that our heroes found a key... a key that might unlock what's been going on out in the farmlands.

If you need to get up to speed, the previous installments include:

- 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

Caught up? Lovely! Because today our heroes get to the heart of the matter with...

The Horror At Foxglove Manor

Foxglove Manor, an aging mansion down a narrow and twisting walk from Sandpoint, was the ancestral home of the Foxgloves. Aldern, though, barely went there at all (or so he'd told the heroes when they rescued him), and spent most of his time in Magnimar. When they approached the house, it was easy to see why he preferred the city life.

"Haunted?" Haunted. "Weapons?" Weapons.
Foxglove Manor, a sagging edifice looming over a cliff face like it was considering jumping, reeked of the haunted, and the unnatural. The front door yielded, the lock recently oiled, but inside the smell of decay, and a kind of sweet corruption, hung in the air. Tapestries moldered on the walls, the boards threatened to give way underfoot, and it seemed like whispers shushed from every darkened room.

The house knew they were inside, and it was not pleased.

The manor seemed a thing alive, haunted by a thousand little furies. A stuffed firepelt cougar that seemed alive, but which hadn't moved at all after Mirelinda blinked at it. A portrait above the fire that seemed to wail sorrowfully, making Zhakar's cursed right hand clench. A woman's scarf that rose from a chair to try to strangle Thokk. Enemies not of flesh and blood, but of malicious spirit flooded the place as murders of crows gathered about the eaves.

As they went room to room, they began to build a picture of what had happened at Foxglove Manor. They found symbols of an esoteric order related to a strange, 7-pointed star. They also found hidden keys that led to a basement replete with arcane and alchemical workings. Someone, likely a previous generation of the Foxgloves, had tried to conquer death by mixing the draught to become a lich. They failed... but perhaps not entirely. Their soul lingered, after a fashion, in the very stones and wood of the house. Turning the crumbling manse into a kind of phylactery.

But worse things were found below.

Down In The Depths

Beneath the basement of Foxglove Manor there was a hole that led to a tidal cave. Though the cavern was filled with terrible creatures, including several more ghouls, it was what lurked at the bottom of the spiral stone walkway that was truly a horror. Aldern Foxglove, dressed in ragged finery, and whispering to himself at a fever pitch as he stared at his sallow reflection in a huge, polished war razor.

When he turned and saw Mirelinda, though, a change came over him. His eyes went black, and his tongue lolled obscenely from his expanding jaw. His teeth, cracked and filed to daggers, clacked, and he advanced, taking on the form of a full, mad ghast.

Undeath is not kind to the sanity of those afflicted.
While his obsession with Mirelinda was enough to drive his mad mind to the brink of collapse, the presence of such an anathema brought something out in Zhakar. That white light began to shine from his eyes once more, and the skin around those glowing orbs began to crack and flake away, revealing the gleam of steel beneath. He gripped his sword more tightly, and it burst into black flames. He closed with the creature, standing between the thing that Aldern had become, and Mirelinda. The ghast snarled and lashed out, but Zhakar turned aside his razors with his gauntlet, and the creature's teeth scraped against the steel beneath his skin. It raged and howled, slashing in a frenzy, but Zhakar barely seemed to notice as he stood his ground.

The creature's forward momentum halted, Thokk charged into its flank, driving his spear hard against it. The ghast seemed to dance away, the cuts barely harming its undead flesh. Zordlan hurtled a wing-backed chair trying to take the ghast in the flank. It hissed, snarling as it tried to dodge aside from yet another blade. There was only one of him, though, and every time Zhakar drove his longsword home, the cuts burned and bled with ichor. Aldern stepped away, trembling, and falling to his knees. He panted, and begged for mercy. He seemed, for just a moment, to be himself again. But then the madness that had consumed him reared up once more, and he surged to his feet with a roar of mad laughter.

Three blades that had been lowered pierced his heart, and left the ghast dead on the floor.

There was something else in that cavern, though. A strange, man-shaped patch of mold along one wall. It smelled... wrong. Worse, it reeked of disease, and wickedness. The remains of Aldern's elder, the ghost in the foundations, couldn't reach out and hurt those who had slain Aldern... but it couldn't be simply wiped away with holy water. It would need to be exorcised... something none present could do.

They found one other thing, as well. A letter from a mysterious contact in Magnimar. She spoke of pacts, of deeds, and of the seven-pointed star. They would need to venture south for aid in order to purify Foxglove Manor, but while they were there it seemed there would be other business to attend to as well. Business that simply could not wait if they were to get to the heart of who had unleased the undead plague on Sandpoint.

What lurked in the shadows of Magnimar? Tune-in for the next Table Talk installment to find out!

For more articles by yours truly, check out my Vocal page, or go to my Gamers archive to see only my tabletop stuff. You should also swing by the YouTube page Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I get together with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike!

To stay on top of all my new releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or, if you're looking for a new book, you could head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can buy books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Need Cheap Minis? SCS Direct Has You Covered!

If you're a dungeon master, then you know exactly how expensive miniatures can get. While there's nothing wrong with using tokens or cardboard minis (the sort you could download from Paper Forge, for example), there is something a little more real about using three-dimensional miniatures for your beasties. Especially if you want to assemble a small army of zombies at one end of the table, or you want to make it abundantly clear that the entire deck of the opposing ship is swarming with pirates.

Buying that many miniatures isn't cheap, though... unless you hit up SCS Direct, that is.

Roll initiative.

What Is SCS Direct?

You know how everyone always tells you to shop for minis on the Internet, because that's where you find good deals? Well, SCS Direct is one of those digital storefronts I found on Amazon that has all kinds of awesome minis. Not only that, but it offers you packs of them for less than $20!

A brief sample of the minis packs I found include:

- 100 Fantasy Creatures (with wizards, two-headed ogres, unicorns, dragons, and other sundries)
- 100 Zombies (with traditional zombies, zombie pets, graveyard terrain, and other undead things)
- 100 Glow-In-The-Dark Zombies (same as above, but in green, and glowing in the dark)
- Humans VS Aliens (an equal assortment of civilians, and Cthonian horrors ideal for aberrations)
- 52 Robots (a slew of mechanical monsters, ready to populate a sci-game game or tinker's dungeon)

No matter what kind of game you're playing, these minis are something most DMs can afford, and even better they're made from durable plastic. You won't have to worry about fragile parts breaking off every time you move a mini, and they're distinct enough that there's no worrying about separating the monsters from the heroes. A major advantage if you like to run hoard battle scenarios.

If you like more detailed minis then you might be a bit happier with the offerings in the Arena of The Planeswalker game produced by Wizards of the Coast, especially if you can find it and its additional packs like Battle For Zendikar or Shadows Over Innistrad at a fairly cheap price. But if you need bad guys to beef up your map, then the big buckets of goons might be just what the doctor ordered for your next campaign!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you've got a hot tip for getting cheap minis (or other bargain supplies for gaming) leave them in the comments below! If you'd like to see more of my work, head over to my Vocal archive, or just click my Gamers page to see only my tabletop articles. You should also consider heading over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I work with other talented gamers making videos for players and DMs 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 either Buy Me A Ko-Fi, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron, or check in at My Amazon Author Page where you can buy my books... like a copy of my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Toothpick Rogue

"Is he secure?" Walden asked.

"Yes, sir," Durgen said. "I turned the locks on his cage myself."

"Good, that's good," Walden said, relaxing noticeably. The warden turned the book around to face Durgen. "If you'll just make your mark here, the transfer will be complete."

"Of course," Durgen said. He reached into his pocket, and frowned. "Strange..."

"Strange?" Walden asked, the hackles on the back of his neck rising. "What's strange?"

"My pencil's gone," Durgen said, frowning. "I must have dropped it somewhere."

That was when they heard the screams. And worse than screams, the jaunty, whistling tune of Black Death Bellamy as he stepped over those who'd been set to guard him.

Anything is a Weapon, if You Care Enough

Precision damage is the name of the game when you're a hitman. You might not be able to deal in the raw power of a barbarian, or the perfect precision of a trained fighter, but you know how to hit someone where it hurts, and guarantee they aren't going to get back up once you've done your damage. More important, though, you don't need a massive sword, or a hand-milled dwarven ax to put a hurt on someone. All you need is a moment of opportunity, and something that will get the job done.

That's where the Toothpick Rogue comes in, so named because they're exceedingly dangerous with nothing more than a toothpick in their hands. All it takes is someone relaxing their guard for a moment, and this rogue will jam a pencil into your throat, cut a main vein with a broken glass, or do something unspeakable with that tea cup they're holding.

And with nothing more than a handful of large novelty sewing needles, he killed the entire enemy gang.
This concept won't be possible in every game, but it is fairly easy to pull off in Pathfinder. All you really need is the Catch Off-Guard feat, which not only removes your penalty with improvised weapon attacks, but it makes any unarmed person flat-footed against you. So if you were to, say, take the Improved Disarm tree, thus ensuring that you could readily disarm most foes with ease, you could spend the rest of your turn showing them exactly what you can do with a deck of particularly stiff fortune telling cards. You can even combine this with the Hairpin Trick rogue talent, allowing you to pick locks with greater ease, even with improvised tools.

The trick from that point onward is to figure out how you're going to get the most out of your schtick. After all, you might be able to take out on guard with that ruler you snatched off of a desk, but what about the second one? Perhaps your best bet is to invest in the Improved Feint tree, but you can also make sure you have a flanking buddy (either a fellow party member, or for the full John Wick, an animal companion dog). Being able to turn yourself invisible, or to hide in plain sight is also useful, but much harder to do at earlier levels.

It's also important to remember that not every game is going to suit the Toothpick Rogue. They work best in urban environments, or in places where improvised weapons will be the norm (prison campaigns, or palace intrigue, for example). Most importantly, to really be in their element, these characters need to be in a place where the bluff that they're "unarmed" is going to work. Because while these characters can technically venture out into the wilderness and crack an orc's skull with a thrown rock, or stab a werewolf to death with a silvered letter opener, those kinds of adventures typically assume you're coming loaded for bear. Unless you're traveling incognito, that doesn't suit this concept as well.
Also, don't forget to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues article. Or for more action hero nonsense, I have John Wick character conversions for both Pathfinder and DND 5th Edition!

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, November 19, 2018

5 Dick Moves That Probably Mean You're A Bad DM

Most of us who know what it's like to sit in that big chair at the head of the table have experience one of those moments. Whether it was just after you made a tough call, or while pondering the next arc of your campaign, you've wondered if you're really cut out to be a dungeon master. If you are providing the experience your players want, or if you're making big mistakes and ruining everything.

Well, every table's experiences are going to be different. However, these are the five biggest dick moves I've experienced in my time as both a player and a DM, so if you can avoid these issues, you're probably doing just fine.

#1: That Was Really Powerful... You Can't Do It Again!

It does HOW much damage? Uh-huh... well, we're gonna fix that.
This particular maneuver is commonly used by DMs who either aren't totally familiar with the game's rules, or who don't actually know how the PCs' abilities work. Either way, when they're caught off-guard by something a character can do, their first reaction is to figure out how to take it away from the player. Their rogue deals enough sneak attack damage to take out an important bad guy in a few hits? Clearly sneak attack is broken, and too powerful. The paladin's smite lays waste to an entire encounter? Well, it must be unbalanced if they can cake walk through such a tough fight because of it.

And so on, and so forth.

I'm not going to lie, you're going to get surprised sometimes. You'll forget that the bard can counter your bad guy's main ability, or that your evoker took primarily sonic spells that shatter your crystalline creatures. And you should definitely read the ability description to make sure your players are following the letter of the law when it comes to how their characters' powers work. But if they're following the rules, you don't make your game better by changing the rules so they can't win. Instead, make note of how many times a character can use that ability, and what situations it takes effect in. Then design your encounters appropriately. Because sure, the rogue could sneak attack his way through your hordes... if he could properly see them. Yes, the paladin's smite would destroy a demon, but what about the humans that demon is using as pawns who don't know what their master truly is?

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

Like I said, the best thing to do is to let your players have their victories and change up your strategy. Do not, I repeat DO NOT just say, "well, Geoff's favored enemy is demons, so I guess we're not fighting those anymore." But if you want a fight to be a challenge, understand that just tossing a few demons at the party isn't the challenge it would normally be if that's one character's jam. So add in some additional challenges like terrain, multiple enemies, and maybe a ticking clock element to add extra tension. You can still have enemies that the party isn't specialized in fighting, but don't completely negate their abilities just because it's inconvenient for your game.

If they have discovered a serious combo that breaks your game, or that you feel is causing a problem, talk to the player about it. Try to work out an agreement, and give them something different to make up for what you're taking away. And never, ever do it in the middle of the game, because that makes you look like you're just pulling out an everything-proof shield because you don't want to lose.

#2: Either Do What I Said, Or Die!

If this is your motto, you might be in the game for the wrong reasons.
We've all had those players at our tables. Maybe it was a casual friend who just won't take the game seriously. It might be that drop-in player who always plays against genre and tone just to be contrary. Or it might be that one player who acts inappropriately and makes everyone else uncomfortable. Part of you just wants to roll the dice behind your screen, pull a pained expression, and tell them their character is dead. If they want to make a new one, you would suggest making someone more in-line with the game you're actually running.

Don't do that.

No matter how satisfying you think it will be, as I said back in Killing Characters Won't Solve Out-Of-Game Problems, it isn't going to do what you want. All you're going to do is strengthen a player's resolve to make a new character who is just as irritating as the old one, perhaps even worse, just to spite you. And if you kill that one, you're just going to be the passive-aggressive DM who won't tell you no, but who will make sure your characters die if they don't meet the unspoken rules.

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

Don't. There is no way to do this without making yourself look like a royal douche nozzle.

Instead, what you should do is talk to the player you aren't seeing eye-to-eye with. Explain where you're coming from, and ask them what they want to get out of your game. Work with them to modify their behavior, and if you really want to save time and energy, put out some ground rules for character creation to nip problems in the bud. Characters who don't meet the stated, Session 0 rules won't be allowed, and that can eliminate as much as 85% of most problems you'd have. And if a player won't work with you, then officially un-invite them from your game; don't just keep bringing down the hammer and hope they'll stop showing up.

#3: Make A New Character... A Level 1 Character!

Exactly how many liters of piss are you taking right now?
When a player creates a character, they get invested in that character. They are the author of their story, they have goals, plans, and arcs they want them to complete. Having all those plans cut short because the gnoll captain scored a lucky critical with their battle ax is bad enough. But most players can soldier on, and bring a new character in to fill the old one's shoes.

Not if you make them do it as a level one PC, though.

This is a bad habit left over from the old days, and it makes your life hell as both a player and a DM. It's hard enough to present a fair challenge for a party when everyone is the same level, but if you have three members of the Avengers, and then Steve the farm kid with 11 hit points, anything that could remotely pose a threat to everyone else is going to splatter the new character against a wall. While that might not be the case if you allowed them to bring in a 4th or a 5th level character with a 6th-level party, there is no reason to make someone play at a handicap. You already killed them, what does making them play at a lower level accomplish other than adding insult to injury?

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

There are really only two circumstances I can think of this mechanic being used in, and it's if you're either going for a hardcore run, or if you're doing a kind of Dark Souls thing where the PC has to recover their lost spirit from where they died to get back their full level and powers.

Other than that, no. All you're doing is making it more likely that this one player is going to die again, making them feel singled out, and frustrating everyone else that they now have to contend with losing their bruiser, their stealth, or their nuclear power house, and have nothing to replace it with but a kid sidekick.

#4: No, I Promise, Sir Pendleton is Here To HELP You!

Isn't he just peachy? Good thing he was there!
DM player characters have a bad rep, and they have it for a good reason. Because when you're a player, the only means you have to interact with the world is your PC. You only have your wits, your stats, and your dice to accomplish great things. If the dungeon master puts a personal character into the campaign, though, that's like trusting the fox to keep the hen house safe. It's entirely possible that the fox will follow all the rules you've set out, and play fair. But you're probably going to keep a sharp eye on the chickens all the same.

Put another way, it's tough to trust that the referee can remain impartial when he has a personal stake in a particular character.

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

A DM PC is one of those things that should be offered, but never forced on the party. If they don't have a healer, then make a healer they can choose to take with them. If they need a bodyguard because everyone is playing wizards, then draw up a hireling mercenary they can bring with them (perhaps someone from the 100 Random Mercenary Companies written by yours truly?). Hell, give them a few options to choose from so the players don't feel you're trying to get them to take any particular character with them.

Secondly, the best thing you can do to make your DM PC work is to play support. If your paladin is always dealing the death blow, or your barbarian's armor class mysteriously fluctuates, players are going to feel like you're purposefully stealing their thunder. On the other hand, if your DM PC is a bard providing a handy background bonus, a healer keeping everyone on their feet, or a one-man shield wall giving the rest of the party space to cast and shoot, that lets you contribute without overshadowing the players.

#5: Who's The DM Here, Me Or You?

Hard to be a DM without any players. Just saying.
There is this common refrain among lots of people that the DM is god. It's a cute thing to say, like telling people the cat owns the house, but fluffy's name isn't on the mortgage. While the DM runs the world, provides the plot, and technically does portray the deities of the setting, they are not a dictator.

Or, at least, they shouldn't be.

Running a game is a cooperative experience. The DM sets up the scenes, and then the players take over, interacting with the scene and world through their characters. While the DM should feel free to make rules calls, and present results in accordance with the natural flow of actions and reactions, it's important to make sure they understand that they are just as much a player as everyone else at the table. It's just that their role is very different.

Regular ego checks are what keep DMs running smoothly.

But If You-

No. Just no.

Just as anyone who must declare himself the king is no true king, so a DM who abuses their authority will seem less deserving of that authority in the eyes of the rest of the table. So while it is tempting to pull this trump card out and throw it on the table, it's never going to work the way you want it to. If you need to declare a ruling, but players have objections, don't just write that off as, "I'm the DM, and what I say goes." You have to address your players' concerns, and make sure they feel you're treating them fairly. You don't have to do it at that exact moment, but when the session is over, or when the scene has wrapped, you need to talk it out and be sure everyone can reach a point of agreement. Otherwise you'll find yourself in the same position as France's nobility when the common folk started building guillotines.

Or they'll just leave and find another table. Real talk; DMs who abuse their authority are likely the #1 reason players who don't want to be dungeon masters end up taking on the mantle.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! If you have DM dick moves that didn't make the list, leave them in the comments below! And if you'd like to see more of my work head over to my Vocal archive, or stop in to take a look at my Gamers page if you just want to see my tabletop stuff. Also, head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to make videos for players and DMs alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to leave me a tip you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. Or, if you'd rather buy some of my books, you could have over to My Amazon Author Page to see what I've got available!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

DMs, Remember, Monsters Don't Have To Be MONSTERS

Before we get started, I've got some exciting news! My new novel Crier's Knife is finally out! So if you'd like to sink your teeth into some old-fashioned sword and sorcery, go take a look. The first few chapters are free, so you can try before you buy.

Now then, where was I? Oh yes!

Being Monsters Doesn't Make You MONSTERS

Real talk here, dungeon masters. How many times have you had a character at your table whose sole response to any situation is mindless violence? You ask them to politely hand over their weapons when going into the bar, they do their best to kill the bouncer. The merchant gives them a price total on their order, they try to kill them and take the goods. Enemies surrender, they go down the line execution style. An NPC says hello, and they deck them full in the face.

"Good afternoon, Sir! How are-" I take my surprise action to attack!
I'm exaggerating here, but only just barely. There is nothing worse for storytelling and immersion than someone who is clearly here only to kill things, regardless of if it makes sense in that situation, is true to the character, or destroys immersion.

Consider that frustration, and ask if your players feel the same way about some of the monsters you put in your game.


There are some monsters that are always going to turn to the PCs and start attacking, no questions asked. Mindless undead who have been set a task, constructs with specific orders, and animals whose territory has been invaded (barring a party with a ranger or a druid who can talk said beast down) are never going to be more than an opportunity to cross swords or a chance to use serious stealth skills. That's what you put them there for!

But what about the rest of the time? When you have intelligent creatures on the board who should be using their heads instead of just reaching for their weapons because, hey, we're an hour and a half into the session and it should be time to fight something right about now don't-cha-think?

"What you all doin' in my woods?"
Give you an example of what I'm talking about.

During my group's play through of the adventure path Rise of The Runelords, there's a bit where you have to go into a cavern network and deal with a bunch of stone giants in pursuit of a ranger's corpse. Now, a majority of the encounters we had went like this:

- Party sees stone giants.
- Stone giants see party.
- Initiative is rolled.

However, there was one encounter that went differently. There were three giant hags, all gathered round a cauldron. A dangerous situation, to be sure, but one that was approached differently. Party members who spoke Giant announced us, and made the proper, respectful remarks. The hags, all deeply amused at the little adventurers, asked if we were there to kill the king. We told them no, we'd just come for the body of the ranger. They cackled at that, and told us that the ranger had been giving them quite a time... lot of trouble, for a dead man. Sadly, we'd likely have to slay their ruler to get to the ranger, and then we'd have to kill the thing he'd become. Ah well, the "king" wasn't worth much, and they would rather go back to their nice, warm swamp anyway.

And then, just like that, they teleported out. Information gained, combat avoided, and the only NPCs who felt like a genuine part of the world in that whole cavern system were gone.

I wonder what they're up to, these days...

Make Your Adversaries Real Characters, Too

It's true that, a lot of the time, the PCs and their adversaries are in direct conflict with one another. They're raiding an orc stronghold, and the guards have to keep them out. They're confronting a death-worshiping cult, and the cult sees no reason to listen to outsiders. Etc., etc.

But what about all those other situations? What about when there are pirates who don't want to lose any men, so they open negotiations for surrender? How about evil fey who, despite their desire to crack your heads and drink your blood, are still bound by specific (if unknowable) rules of courtesy? What about orc war bands who hail your party, and demand to know their business instead of just attacking them on sight? Or trolls who demand to know the party's destination in their swamp?

These are all potential situations where, sure, combat could still happen. And you might argue that a monster revealing themselves and engaging the party gives up a key advantage in that the PCs won't be ambushed if combat does happen. Fair points... but what are you giving up by assuming that every interaction is going to devolve into initiative? What effect does it have on your game when you don't bother figuring out the motivations of your bandit leaders, or the situations under which your dragons would not only not attack the PCs, but actively listen to the case they're making?

What does your story lose when you shut off the potential for NPCs like hags, gargoyles, redcaps, giants, ogres, gnolls, and all the other creatures to actually contribute more than another notch on the PCs' belts?

Or their swords, depending on how hard the bad guys' armor is.
It's true that you'll need to do a little extra tactical planning if you make your bad guys less into static obstacles and more into real characters, but you'll notice something when you do. Your players will begin to realize that these NPCs are just as real as their PCs. That they aren't just challenges to be slain, but that if they are treated differently they could add completely different elements to the story. If they know those orcs have names and motivations, then they might try to become their leader (or patron, if they'll turn mercenary), turning them into a helpful NPC war band. If they know the hill giants are capable of reason (even if they are thick as mud), then they might try to broker a lasting peace with the regional towns instead of just trying to kill everything 10 feet or taller that they meet.

And so on, and so forth.

There are still going to be situations where it's shoot first, ask questions later. Enraged manticores aren't all that interested in the motivations of PCs too close to their nests, and hordes of shambling undead can't be turned aside with anything short of shattered skulls. But you'll get a lot more mileage out of all those thinking, feeling NPCs if you present the opportunity for the party to interact with them in meaningful ways outside of rounds.

Just saying.

Also, if you're looking for a handy chart replete with antagonists that are still characters in their own right, then you might want to check out 100 Random Bandits To Meet. It's from Azukail Games, and authored by yours truly!

That's all for this Fluff installment. Hopefully it got the wheels turning for some of the DMs out there who would like to see their players do more than sling steel or spells when they see a creature. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or look at my Gamers page to just see my tabletop articles. You should also stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I get together with other gamers to make fun videos for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support me then you can give me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, and if you'd like to become a regular supporter you should go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to sign up today! Lastly, if you want to buy some of my books, like my latest fantasy release Crier's Knife, you can go to My Amazon Author Page to see my entire library!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Warrior Spirit, A Fun Trick For The Pathfinder Fighter's Advanced Weapon Training

Fighters are one of my favorite classes because there are so many different ways to play them. Are you a tactician, using placement and teamwork to enhance your battle plan? Are you a brute, swinging the biggest weapon you can and leaving a trail of bodies? A nimble fencer who relies on pinpoint precision over power? An archer? A one-man barricade behind your tower shield?

The list goes on.

And let's not forget the prize fighters!
I thought I'd seen most of the tricks you could pull off with fighters. However, there's always a combination out there that surprises me. That's why I thought I'd share this one with all the other folks who enjoy this class as much as I do.

Unlocking Your Warrior Spirit!

Weapon training is something of a fighter's bread and butter. The ability to be extra dangerous with a particular group of weapons is a lot of where both your flavor and functionality come from. Normally when you hit level 9 you can opt to choose an additional group of weapons you're skilled with... but you also have the option to take an advanced weapon training special ability. This ability typically applies to any weapon in the group(s) you already wield, and they allow you to bend (and sometimes break) the rules for what a warrior should be capable of.

That's where the advanced weapon training option Warrior Spirit comes into the picture.

You ready to do this?
Warrior Spirit allows a fighter to pick any weapon from one of his weapon training groups, and unlock its true potential via a spiritual bond. Every day he can select one such weapon, and bond with it. The fighter gains a number of points equal to his weapon training bonus +1. While wielding that weapon the fighter may choose to spend one of those points to add an enhancement to his weapon equal to his weapon training bonus. These enhancement bonuses stack up to a +5 with any bonuses the weapon already has, and the fighter may choose instead to add one magic ability to his weapon in exchange for an appropriate amount of his bonus. The weapon must already have an enhancement bonus of at least +1 for that to work. This ability lasts for 1 minute.

What does that mean in common speech? Well, say that your fighter is 9th level, and picks up a regular old longsword, a weapon that is in their weapon training group. So in addition to their normal attack and damage bonuses they get with that weapon, they also have 3 points per day to activate this ability. So they can choose to spend one of their points to make that regular longsword a +2 longsword, or they could make it a +1 flaming longsword spending one enhancement bonus point to add a +1 magic ability to a weapon.

But what if the fighter already had a magic longsword? Well, then he could, say, make it a keen longsword by cashing in his enhancement bonus for that +2 magic ability. Or he could make it a holy longsword. Or add a +1 to the enhancement, and pick a +1 magic ability like shock, keen, flaming, etc.

In short, it allows the fighter to enhance their weapon the same way a paladin's holy bond or a magus's arcane pool would. However, unlike those classes, the fighter can add any weapon property they want, instead of picking off a specific list. Which is handy... but that isn't where this particular trick ends.

A Little Extra

This trick works best if you're going to focus on a single weapon group. Or, if you want to pick only a single weapon by taking the Weapon Master archetype, that works too.

So what you do is, as soon as you gain weapon training (5th level for standard fighters), you also take the feat Advanced Weapon Training. This allows you to add Warrior Spirit to your character at 5th level instead of 9th level, where you're going to get a lot more bang for your buck. If you're a Weapon Master, you can take this feat at 4th level.

If you want to add a little extra damage to your swings, you should also invest a few of your skill points into Use Magic Device (and if you're going to sling wands and scrolls, consider taking the background trait Dangerously Curious, too, to make it a class skill and to get a +1 trait bonus on your checks). Then at your next opportunity, take Weapon Evoker Mastery. This item mastery feat allows you to supercharge any elemental damage a weapon you wield deals. You spend a swift action to activate the feat, and then for the next round you add 1d4 of elemental damage to every successful strike (the element in question corresponding to whether your weapon deals acid, cold, fire, electricity, or sonic damage). The sheer number of attacks you can make as a fighter (and the number of types of elemental damage you can have on your weapon) can quickly add up... even if an enemy isn't weak against a particular element.

A Handy Trick

As with a lot of the mechanical tricks I have here in the Crunch section, this isn't something that will completely re-invent the fighter. And, at least by itself, it won't destroy an encounter. However, the ability to spontaneously alter your weapon to have the abilities you really need it to have when the chips are down is something that can pull your bacon out of the fire. Especially if you combine this trick with an already-solid build geared toward a particular fighting style.

Just a little food for thought!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to my Gamers profile to see only my tabletop articles. And if you'd like to check out some of the videos I've put together with other gamers, stop in and have a listen to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! If you'd like to help support me you can give me one-time tips by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or if you'd rather become a regular, monthly contributor you can sign up at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Lastly, you could also support me by going to My Amazon Author Page to buy some of my books... like my new fantasy novel Crier's Knife!

Monday, November 5, 2018

What's The Difference Between 3rd Party and Homebrew?

People might call me pedantic for this, but I like to be specific with my language. This goes double for language that describes a lot of what I do for a living.

That's why I thought I'd take a moment to point out what I see as a problem with how people tend to throw around the term homebrew these days... particularly when it's used as a pejorative term.

And especially because the right brew can perk your game up.

Core, 3rd Party, and Homebrew Explained

So what is the difference, you may ask? Well, let's start with core material. Core material is anything released for a particular game by the company that created it. As an example, take the supplement book Bastards of Golarion by Paizo. I contributed several things to this book, including a bardic masterpiece and the alchemical concoction silvertongue. These things exist as a part of the core game as written and added to by Paizo, in the same way that options from the Player's Handbook or Volo's Guide are considered core options for Dungeons and Dragons.

Following so far... when do we get to the homebrew part?
The next category of material is 3rd party stuff. This material is often professionally written, edited, tested, and packaged the same way that core material is... it's just released by a different company. Example of this include the Demonologist (a base class for Pathfinder released from Total Party Kill Games), or the Inspired By Heraldry feats (released by Flaming Crab Games).

All of this material is made for use with the Pathfinder RPG rules system. It was created by teams of writers, reviewed by editors, and assembled with panache to make it as attractive as possible. The only thing separating this from core material is that it was released by a different company. This makes 3rd party stuff kind of like an off-brand soda. It's still really good (even better, according to some enthusiasts), it meets all the same checks and requirements as the original product, and it's often for sale in a lot of the same places. The flavor might be subtly different, but sometimes that's the appeal.

So what's homebrew?

Well, homebrew is just what it sounds like; something a person made up at home. Homebrew material typically has a single creator, and it lacks a lot of the editorial oversight and presentation that 3rd party and core material have. To keep with the manufacturing example, homebrew material is that root beer your friend's dad makes in the basement, and always brings to get-togethers in the summer. My example for this is how I made up stats for Reinhardt's energy shield in my Overwatch character conversion article for him. While the stats might be usable, and some folks might want to try them at their table, it's just something I made up because there was a specific niche that none of the existing mechanics covered.

I would like to reiterate here that homebrew content is not inherently bad. There are a lot of creators like Clinton Boomer who make all kinds of fun stuff, and who also have professional bona fides. The lack of oversight and editorial review means that homebrew content doesn't have to pass a filter, though, and as such there is very little quality control beyond what an individual creator can do on their own. You might get something great, or you might get a half-baked ass waffle because some guy named Geoff thinks a samurai with the powers of a gold dragon needs to exist.

To any publishers reading this, I will create a balanced version of that class if you'd like me to.

Big, Small, and Everything In-Between

A lot of folks don't bother separating 3rd party content from homebrew content. To their way of thinking, if the material didn't come from the sovereign company, then it's all the same (and not in a good way).

I'm not saying to open your table boundaries and let people bring whatever they want to your game. However, there is a big difference between a product created by a professional game company with all the same experience (and often the same staff) as a company like Paizo or Wizards, and content made without those same resources, experience, or staff. I'd also like to remind people that money, personnel, and a publishing staff is no guarantee of quality. Sometimes big publishers stumble, while the little creators get it right.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday! If you'd like to see more of my work you should check out my Vocal archive, or click on my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop articles. Alternatively, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to see some of the videos I and other gamers make 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 help support me and my work, then you should head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave me a monthly tip, or you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi to leave me a one-time gratuity. Lastly, you could head over to my Amazon author page to buy some of my books... like my recently-release sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 8: Halfings and Ghouls

Sandpoint just can't seem to catch a break. No sooner is the threat of the goblins ended, than murderous undead begin filling up the countryside. With a handle on what's happening (if not who is behind it), or heroes mount up to try to put a stop to yet another brush fire before it can build into something bigger.

For those who aren't caught up yet, previous installments include:

- 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

All caught up? Good... because in this installment we're about to take another step down the rabbit hole surrounding the misfortune of one of Varisia's adventuring hot spots.

A New Friend, And A Whole Lot of Enemies

Returning from the asylum, and burying the unfortunate victim of the ongoing ghoul plague, Sandpoint's heroes found that the farmers had all come in from the outlying farms. The ghouls were rampaging, killing livestock, menacing the people they found, and it wasn't safe out there anymore. With everyone huddling behind stout walls, and the fields going to rot, it was only a matter of time before things grew worse.

Eager to set the cold thing in his guts to rights, Zhakar was only too happy to ride into the fields. Thokk came with to watch his back, and Zordlan came to help the people he'd known since they were born. Mirelinda groused about it, but her heart was only halfway in it. She knew there was no one else who could do the job, which meant she was part of the solution. The only one who remained behind was Chikara, who opted to make sure no threats attacked the town while the others went on the hunt.

Do you remember there being scarecrows? I don't remember there being scarecrows...
The first sign something was wrong was the silence hanging over the countryside... and the stink. A taint floated on the air, putting everyone on edge. There was no banter as they rode. None of the usual jibing or storytelling. Just grim purpose as they approached a scarecrow... and an ambush.

The ghoul masquerading as a farm distraction, leaped down, tongue lolling and claws at the ready. Two of its fellows stepped out of the fields, rushing into the fray. Though they were used to fighting farmers and peddlers, they weren't prepared for the assault they received. Zordlan parried the claws and fangs of a ghoul on the flank, running it through time and time again until he found the heart. Zhakar drove his fist into one's teeth, shattering them even as it tried to sink its fangs past the steel of his gauntlet. Thokk's bowstring thrummed, planting arrows into the creatures' flesh. When one fell and tried to rise, Mirelinda flicked a bone wand into her hand, and splattered its skull with a spray of glowing missiles.

When the dust settled, though, they heard another sound; a low groaning. It came from a scarecrow, but this one wasn't a ghoul. It was a halfling, tied to a crossbeam, with a bite mark at his neck. He had no fever, though, and the wound didn't seem to be festering or spreading.

Bostwick may no longer be welcome at the monastery he'd left, but disease had no hold over him. A fortunate advantage to have in ghoul country.

A Barnyard Brawl

With a new ally, and one who has a score of his own to settle with these creatures, they rode on. The oppressive feeling all around them grew, like an oncoming storm, and that was when they heard the moaning. It came from a barn, barred from the outside. There was a scrabbling, but nothing too determined. Someone had trapped a pack of the things before they fled.

Lovely... a target-rich environment.
They drew rein at the edge of the property, and Thokk reconnoitered the building. A dozen ghouls were pent up in there, listlessly shuffling this way and that. They looked half-starved, and particularly dangerous. Zhakar nodded, and drew his sword as he approached the gate. He and Bostwick would act as the bulwark, with Thokk and Mirelinda behind. Zordlan would act as support and a flanker, filling in gaps as they appeared. Once the plan was set, the bar was lifted, and the doors opened.

The ghouls snapped their heads toward the opening, charging in a single rush of mad hunger. Bostwick's fists flew, smashing a kneecap, and crushing another ghoul's pelvis. Zhakar's sword bit deep, tearing out streams of gore even as he parried claws and teeth. Every flick of Mirelinda's wand sent fresh streaks into the ghouls' ranks, and Thokk let arrows fly with impunity over Bostwick's head. Zordlan's song drove strength into his companion's arms, and his bow found more than a few marks of its own.

Beneath the sounds of battle, though, was another sound. A stranger sound; the grinding of claws against metal. Though some ghouls' blows were parried, and others turned away on Zhakar's shield, many of them struck home... or seemed to. The claws and fangs drug along the skin of his arms, his neck, and even the left side of his face, but no blood welled from the gashes. Instead, they revealed a layer of shining steel just beneath.

When the last of the ghouls fell twitching to the floor, it was Thokk who touched his friend on the shoulder. They conversed in Thokk's native language, one that Zhakar had learned during their long walks through the northern woods, but even as they talked the gashes seemed to knit themselves closed. The wounds, if wounds they were, gone as if they'd never been. Unsure of what to make of it, Zhakar rolled his sleeve down, and turned his collar up, before sheathing his sword. They needed to identify who was in that barn, and carry the news back to their families if possible. Whatever was happening to him would wait until that was seen to.

Who Is The Master?

Most of the bodies in the barn belonged to farmers and their families. But there was one that stood out... one that didn't belong. Its clothes had been finely made, once upon a time, and he still carried some of the tools of his former life. Along the figure's belt was a key wrought with a family crest... the Foxgloves.

Either Aldern was in trouble... or he was already far past saving.

That's all for this installment of Table Talk. What happens next? Well, you'll have to tune-in next month to see what happens to our heroes when they kick in the doors of Foxglove Manor!

If you'd like to see more of my work, stop by my Vocal archive, or just look at my Gamers page for all my tabletop stuff. Alternatively, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to check out the show I work on with other gamers to make content for DMs and players alike!

To stay on top of all my latest updates, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, become a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or if you're looking for some additional reading you could head over to my Amazon author page to Buy My Books!