Monday, January 28, 2019

Big Stompy Robots: A Fun, Rough-Edged Minis Game For Mech Enthusiasts

Another Monday has rolled around, and like so many Mondays before it I'd like to take a moment to big-up the signal for a fellow creator. And not just any fellow creator... today I'd like to talk about my friend Nick Tockert's debut release that's now available on Amazon.

The minis game/RPG Big Stompy Robots... or BSR for short.

Good times all around.
I'd like to talk the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding this game. Though, if you just want a solid thumbs up or down, I'd say that if you wished there were more games out there that gave you the ability to pilot a mech without the need to grasp the intricacies of some game's hex grid tango, or to do the quadratic equation to figure out if you hit or not, then it's definitely worth taking a look at.

The Good

Let's start with the good stuff. First and foremost, Big Stompy Robots is as far as you can get from boring. While it might have mechs as the centerpiece of the cover art and game mechanic, there's plenty of other stuff going on here. From alien species that feel like something out of an upbeat anime, to megacorporations battling over resources on a faraway planet, to an aesthetic best described as the love child of Tank Girl and Mechwarrior, this game is a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them.

In addition to the scattershot tone that remembers sci-fi with giant robots in it is allowed to be fun, the rules of the game are fairly simple to learn. And if you've ever played a minis game before, then this one shouldn't take you long to pick-up. It's also fairly easy to teach to a new player, meaning you'll never lack for an opponent as long as you have an afternoon to go through a few test rounds.

The Bad

There are some downsides to this game, but they may be more or less important to you depending on your preferences as a gamer. If you plan to use it strictly as a minis game, one team of mercs versus another, then it gives you just enough story to use as a backdrop. If you're the sort of player who wants to make an RPG experience out of this, though, there really isn't enough material (or enough detail) to put together a fully-fleshed setting and campaign. That's to be expected, since this is the first book. However, the designer has said that if there is a demand for more that he has setting details and expansions in the works so that players can have all the factions, history, and plot hooks they could possibly want.

Additionally, since this game is as indie as you can get, there isn't an accompanying line of specific miniatures to go with this game. Not yet, at least. If you have mechs from other systems, or even minis like Heroclix, those will certainly do the job as placeholders... but miniature gamers may wish they had the right tool for the right job, so to speak.

The Ugly

Not going to lie, this game's independent nature certainly shows through. The art is all hand-drawn by the creator, and while the book is definitely legible and comprehensible it has its share of spelling and grammar mistakes that will jump out at you. None of them obscure the rules or setting, however, in much the same way a hole in the plaster doesn't make your apartment any less livable. But you're going to notice, so you should be aware that it's there before you get too ahead of yourself.

Aside from the lack of polish (there's only so much you can do when you're a one-man operation trying to wrestle Amazon's portal into submission), the game is nice and simple. So if you like garage-band games that have the potential to expand, while still giving you something fun to play right now, go give Big Stompy Robots a look. Especially if you're sick of how seriously games like Mechwarrior take themselves, as if the grimness of the game and setting somehow balances out the addition of, well, big goddamn robots.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update! If you'd like to see more work from yours truly when you're done giving this game the one-over, then go check out my Gamers and Vocal archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Lastly, if you're looking to get your hands on a new book, why not head over to My Amazon Author Page where you could find stuff like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife?

If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases and signal boosts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit seriously helps!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower

After uncovering a cult of madmen, and finding their leader was a prominent judge in Magnimar, our heroes might be in hot water. If they can stop the cult's plans before they come to fruition, though, they may find themselves on the right side of the law when all is said and done. Can they do it in time?

If you're just now joining us, here's what's happened up till this point.

- 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

So what do our heroes do, surrounded by bodies and spattered with blood? They do the natural thing, of course... seek out the mayor.

A Moment of Your Time, Lord Mayor?

Leaving the scene locked behind them, our heroes made their way into the more opulent district of Magnimar's social "servants," including the offices of the Lord Mayor. With a few deft words from Zordlan and Zhakar, they quickly found themselves standing in front of the jovial, though perplexed, mayor. Curious as to what would prompt such a motley band to be standing in front of his desk, he lit his pipe and asked them the nature of their business.

Please, make yourselves comfortable in my humble offices.
In response, Zordlan produced a letter found among Judge Ironbriar's possessions. A letter specifically mentioning that the Lord Mayor was the next target of the cult's assassination plans, and that they have a means of tracking the head of the order and preventing their attempt on the mayor's life. All he needs to do is to provide Zordlan and his companions with a writ, and to give them the next day or so to handle this problem for him. No city funds need be accepted, no questions need be asked.

Though he blustered about protocol and procedure, such things seemed much less important when it was his own life on the line. Providing the writ, he left with the group, taking care to avoid windows as much as possible while informing his secretary he was going to call it an early day. Appointments should be moved to the following morning, pending the outcome of a matter of importance.

Into The Shadow, as The Pigeon Flies

With the mayor's endorsement, the party returned to the mill. The machinery was silenced, and no recently resurrected men leaped at them from the shadows. Above the room where Ironbriar's cooling corpse sat in a drying puddle of its own blood, there was a coop. Taking a bird, the party gently carried it down to the street. Then they mounted, and released it.

Fly, you glorious plot fowl!
The pigeon made its way to Underbridge, fluttering onto the top floor of the leaning tower that nearly pressed up into the underside of the Irespan. A rickety and uncertain structure, there was no telling what awaited them inside... or even if the building itself would withstand a battle in its upper stretches. Though there was a gate on the ground floor, that seemed too obvious. There was a window half a dozen stories up, but even from where they were they could tell it was barred.

Drawing a wand from his bandolier, Zordlan crouched and tapped Bostwick's feet with it. Zhakar drew the dull gray longsword from his hip, and handed it to his small-sized companion. Bostwick scrambled up the wall, with a knotted coil of rope at his hip. Though the bars on the window were firmly stuck, the adamantine blade sliced through them like spun sugar. Bostwick slipped through, secured the grappling hook, and tossed down the rope.

Keeping an eye on the roof, as well as on the street, his companions followed. The stairs sagged beneath Thok's weight, and they quickly staggered themselves out wider to reduce the stress on the wood. With a flight or more of space between them, and lightly armored as they were, they managed to begin the ascent with relative stealth.

When one of the bells fell from the tower, clearly aimed at two of the companions, that was when they knew the element of surprise had been lost.

The Lady of The Tower

Though the ascent was dangerous, all of them gained the top of the tower without injury. They found themselves face-to-face, so to speak, with more of the faceless assassins they'd squared off with back at the Foxglove town home. The creatures fell without so much as a cry, twitching as their ichor dripped through the floorboards.

Past these guards the heroes found the second coop of pigeons that had been sending messages... and they found the individual behind the assassination attempts. It was not exactly what they expected.

And who are you to enter my domain?
The creature that signed itself Xanesha on its letters was curled round a plinth, looking down on the mortals who had tracked her to her home. She did not ask who they were, or why they had come to her. Such things were beneath her concern. She merely lashed out with her magic, intending to slay those who thought themselves her equal.

Thok leaped aside, his eyes narrowing as he took in the sinuous movement of the matriarch, and the way her armor seemed to glide with her. Zhakar raised his right arm, shielding himself from the worse of her spell. As arrows flew, and Zordlan slipped another wand from his hip, it was Bostwick who leaped onto her perch. With a focused shout, he drive his fist into the creature's side just below her armpit. Her breath caught in her throat, and the wicked-looking spear tumbled from her grip. She fell, stunned, to the ground.

It was their chance. Zordlan rushed forward, snatching the spear from the ground and hurling it over the side of the tower, his hands stinging from even that brief contact with the weapon. Thok charged forward, his spear leaping into his hand as he drove it into the creature's flesh. Zhakar wasn't far behind, his short blade slicing into her side. Then, just as it seemed she might rise, Bostwick leaped from above, slamming into her, leaving her stunned once more.

Before she could rise again, the light in her eyes was doused by cold steel.

What Else Is There?

With the creature that called itself Xanesha slain, and the back of the Skinsaw cult broken, Magnimar seemed safe. The machinations were brought to an end, and the head seemed to have been cut off the serpent, so to speak. But is there more lying in wait for the heroes of Sandpoint? And when it comes, what form will it take?

Tune in for the next installment of Table Talk to find out!

For more of my work, check out Vocal, Gamers, and the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! If you're looking for some books to add to your shelf, you could also stop in at My Amazon Author Page where you'll find reads like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

To stay on top of all my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me then Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Trust me, every little bit helps.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Understanding The Difference Between Story Freedom and Mechanical Freedom in RPGs

Today I want to talk about a particular way of describing games that I heard in a discussion a few weeks back. It neatly encapsulates a lot of the things I've been trying to say pretty much since I started this blog, and for all the other folks out there who haven't come across this term I want to take a moment to share it with you.

That term is mechanical freedom.


Story Freedom

Before we talk about mechanical freedom, you need to understand what story freedom is.

When most players hear the word freedom in terms of an RPG, they tend to think of story freedom. Story freedom is the ability to change, alter, or customize anything that doesn't actively change the mechanics of how the game works, or how your character works. Re-skinning, in other words.

The best example I have of this is the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons barbarian. At level one every barbarian's Rage cuts your damage from slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing in half, and you get some bonus damage, along with advantage on certain rolls that happen while you're raging.

Did somebody say Rage?
Now, you have total story freedom when it comes to how that Rage works. Are you going the traditional hulk/berserker route where you just lose yourself in battle fury? Do you grow cold and silent, showing no emotion and feeling no pain? Is your Rage a gift from the divine, or is it something that flows in your blood? Perhaps you claim storm giant blood, which makes your blows fall like thunder.

You know, the sort of stuff I talked about in 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring the Barbarian's Signature Ability.

Let's take that last example for a moment, and focus on it. There is nothing in the rules that stops you from giving your barbarian gray skin and blocky features, as well as white hair to look like a creature descended from storm giants. If they have maxed-out physical stats, you can easily flavor their giant heritage to be the reason.

However, no matter how good this story is, it doesn't change any actual mechanics on your character sheet. Your character gains no special powers listed in the storm giant creature entry, and if a magical items requires you to be a storm giant in order to wield it, then by the rules as they exist you simply can't. You don't have any special resistances to electricity, and so on, and so forth.

Story freedom is good, but it tends to be toothless. Because no matter how cool the reskin you've made is, it hasn't altered the fundamental mechanics of what's just beneath that skin.

Mechanical Freedom

When you have story freedom, you are able to change how things look. It's the equivalent of giving your car a new paint job, but no matter how cool or sleek the exterior is, it will not change the engine that's running inside the vehicle.

Mechanical freedom does change the mechanics, and it tailors them to do what you want.

Now we're getting somewhere.
Let's go back to that barbarian who claimed they were descended from storm giants. However, instead of 5th Edition, let's switch over to Pathfinder. Because in Pathfinder you can mechanically show that heritage in a variety of ways.

The first is to take Rage Powers that allow you to deal electricity damage, or to resist it when you are raging. At higher levels you can even absorb it, healing yourself or letting it out in a burst to show that you and this element are one. Alternatively, you could make a Bloodrager whose entire affinity for electricity may, indeed, have been inherited from storm giant forebears. Or if you take the feat Racial Heritage (Storm Giant) at first level (provided you're a human, a half-elf, or a half-orc), then you have it in writing that your character counts as both a human and a storm giant for any and all effects that depend on your creature type.

So if you get hit with a spell that only affects storm giants, then it affects you. If you need to be a storm giant for a stronghold's enchanted lock to open, then it opens for you. If you try to lift the maul of storms, which can only be wielded by the hand of a storm giant... well, if you can physically pick it up, it recognizes you as a storm giant!

The Difference Is Clear

The problem with story freedom is that it's flimsy. Story is important, but you don't get to just ignore the rules of the game because you made up a cool story. Otherwise you end up with a playground game of make-believe where you have players claiming they should win because they have a better idea, or a cooler concept, or an everything-proof shield gifted to them by their half-angel mother before she died gloriously in battle protecting them while they were still in the crib.

Mechanical freedom, though, means the rules are on your side. This means that you make statements about mechanical facts, instead of asking for special treatment because of the effort you put into your re-skinning.

It's the difference between saying, "I shouldn't take any of that damage, because my barbarian is descended from storm giants," and saying, "I don't take any of that damage because I have the feat Storm Soul, a storm giant feat which makes him immune to any electricity damage."

That one down there! That's my grandson!
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with exercising your story freedom. If you want to give your tiefling big, curly ram horns, sharp hooves, black claws, and a spiny tail, you are perfectly within your rights to do so. However, you don't get two claw attacks, two hoof attacks, and a gore attack that all do 1d4 to 1d8 of damage because of your description.

For some players, that's fine. They enjoy just being able to exercise their story freedom on its own. But for me, and for a lot of other players, this simple term can now explain why story freedom on its own often isn't enough, and why you'd like a little more.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! Hopefully some folks out there find this explanation useful, and this term goes into a wider circulation for those of us who had trouble putting what we found lacking in a game into words.

If you'd like to see more of my work, check out Vocal, Gamers, and Dungeon Keeper Radio! Also, consider stopping by My Amazon Author Page, where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Any help you can give is greatly appreciated!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Bearer of Legacy

A murmur went through the crowd as the young man stepped into the circle. He was tall and rangy, with the dark hair and craggy face of a northerner. Though he was dressed in leather, it was the soft, supple sort worn by scholars and chieftains, rather than the rough hides of warriors. There was no mistaking the ax in his hand, though. It was old, and though marred from hard use, the runes along the steel were etched with acid, and scarred dark with fire.

"And who is this, that he has earned the right to carry such a Ka-Gar?" Arnault jeered from the other end of the dueling circle. "I see no Ravager before me. Only a pup!"

The young man smiled, and spoke a single, sharp word. The ax flew from his hand, whistling as it spun. Arnault didn't even have time to draw his sword before the edge slammed into his chest, biting deep between his ribs, and shearing through the organs beneath. He fell into a heap, blood spilling from his lips. The ax wrenched itself free, and spun back to its master's outstretched hand.

"Just because I don't fight like my father, doesn't mean you can best me," Skarne Spellhand said. With the bookmakers paying out wins and changing odds, the wizard stepped back out of the circle. He slid his father's Ka-Gar back through the loop on his belt, patting the weapon's old, heavy head. It had kept the old man safe... it would do the same for him.

Many warriors have wielded this weapon. And their names are written in blood.

The Bearer of Legacy

Most of us have played a legacy character at some point in our gaming careers. Even if it was just bringing in our hero's "son" because our first character got one-shot-killed in the first session, and all you did was change the name on the character sheet. However, to execute a child of legacy concept you need to be the latest chapter in an ongoing story. And while you don't have to play through the characters who came before them, it's important to have the legacy in place as part of the game, and to have it represented by something special, unique, or unusual about your character.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to give them something that's been passed down by a previous member of the legacy. A weapon, a connection to a particular totem spirit, a secret fighting technique... something that brings with it immediate consequences for anyone who sees it, and understands what it means.

For example, take the Godrick Hammer and its bearers. Named for Aemon Godrick, a common mercenary who rose to the nobility, he refused to take the sword of a knight as it was that blunt, brutal tool that had stood by his side and led him to victory. His first-born son Daedron chose the sword, but his second-born joined the clergy. As a parting gift, his father entrusted him with the hammer that had been his companion for so many years. Daedron wielded that weapon in the service of his deity, and in time the thunderous, bone-crunching sounds of that warhammer became the drum beat of fear in his foes' ranks. When Daedron's daughter Eliza was born, she was always fond of the weapon... but it wasn't until the strange powers of her blood fully manifested that Daedron realized his sorcerous offspring had bonded with the hammer, and that it was now more a part of her than a mere weapon.

And no matter how many times her father asked, she wouldn't stop cracking nuts with it.
While both of the above examples are familial legacies, those are far from the only options available to you. Learning an obscure fighting style taught only to a single champion (a la Iron Fist), or being chosen as the banner-bearer of your order to be given a sacred duty (only those who are pure of heart and accepted by the goddess can awaken the true strength of the Dawnblade). You might even be the most recent arcane student chosen by an immortal outer being to serve as its herald and companion (and if it takes a new form with every host, it might be trying to figure out how long its been since it was last on this plane, and what has changed).

Alternatively you may have a familial legacy, but have no idea who your family is. Your sorcerer's powers may bear the hallmarks of a bloodline thought wiped out, or which is only found on a distant shore. You may find that a sentient black blade has fallen to you as the last branch of a bastard line in a family tree. You may even find that due to promises your great-great-great forebears made, you are now saddled with fighting on behalf of a fey patron you didn't know existed, and which you can barely understand, but to whom your life has been sworn before you were even born.

The point is that the legacy's story, your character's story, and the ongoing plot story all have to tie together in some way, and have an impact on the world around you. And just like in Did Your Character Have A Former Life?, that legacy has to matter... otherwise it's got no teeth.

If you're bearing a notable weapon, for example, then it should get recognized from time to time. People might mistake you for one of the previous legacy bearers, or try their hand to see if you're really worthy to carry on that legacy (think how the Afro Samurai was attacked everywhere he went because he had the headband that told the world he was the second-deadliest fighter out there). Those who witness the manifestations of your strange magical heritage, or bond to a little-known outsiders, might spread the word that there is a new bearer. This could bring new allies to your side, or new enemies looking to destroy the legacy once and for all.

Inverting The Legacy

Legacies can change, too. Every bearer adds their own chapters, for good or ill, and you can flip it on its head if you try.

For example, say your sorcerer's powers bear the hallmarks of the ruling powers of hell. There is a long, dark legacy of tyrants, warlords, mad cult leaders, and wicked despots who came before you, all the way back to Azu-Sharack, Duchess of The Damned... but you will be different. Though these dark energies flow through you, you will use them to slay demons, to liberate townships, and to turn the very fires of hell against those who have caused untold misery, and brought so much darkness.

Of course, power is seductive. Perhaps those who came before you started out with noble intentions as well, but found themselves in hell with all the others.

Lastly, remember, you don't have to show up at level one as the new inheritor of this mantle. If there's a particular class feature, magic weapon, outsider bond, etc., etc. that would represent you officially stepping onto the legacy's path, you can enact that plan when you reach that point. Just be sure there's still plenty of play time left for that story arc to show up, cause trouble, engage the rest of the party, and hopefully to find resolution when all is said and done.

Until the next link in the chain of legacy steps up to the table, that is.

For those seeking further inspiration, check out A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families for some potential legacies you could pick up and run with!

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, January 14, 2019

Don't Have Time To Waste With Your Games? Check Out First Five Reviews!

As most folks who follow my blog know, in addition to creating gaming content, I'm also an author and a regular convention participant. So when a friend of mine from con invited me to do a reading from my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife at the Gumbo Fiction Salon hosted at the Galway Arms in Chicago, I really couldn't say no.

If you're wondering what I read, check out the free sample!
The reading went beautifully, and when I and my fellow readers had closed our covers, I stood around talking with several of the other participants. One fellow I met, whose work I found intriguing, told me that he'd been working on building a YouTube channel for a while. The idea behind it was that, since no one working today's ridiculous hours has the time to throw away on playing games that may demand months of your energy, that he would find games that gave you quality over quantity. Games that lacked unnecessary filler, and which didn't string you along for two, three, or four unnecessary cliffhangers so you could feel like you got value out of your play time.

That idea intrigued me, which is why I'd like to tell all of your out there about First Five Reviews!

Games For People Who Have Stuff To Do

I remember back in the days of yore where I could sit in front of a television screen for five or six hours a day for weeks at a stretch, and find all the little puzzles, secrets, and story chocolates in an intricate RPG. Or where I could go through a fighting game and figure out how to win with every character on the roster so I got all the lore.

These days, you're lucky if I pick up a controller once in a blue moon. So knowing there is someone out there who also has no time for bullshit in a game makes this channel a valuable screening tool for what I do with my free time.

Also, since I've helped out on Dungeon Keeper Radio so much, I know exactly how hard it can be to build a following, and get the necessary view counts to get your channel monetized. So I figured I'd help a creator out with one hand, and show everyone this cool new thing I found with the other.

That's a thing you know about now. Go check it out!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you'd like to see more of my work, then take a look at my Vocal or Gamers archives. And if you're in the market for some books, head over to My Amazon Author Page to see what I've got to offer... like my novel Crier's Knife that I mentioned earlier!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a regular monthly patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps, trust me!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Any Class Can Be A Knight (More Thoughts on Outside-The-Box Character Presentation)

Something I've repeated time and time again on this blog is that your character class is just a word that describes a certain package of skills your character possesses. Those skills and abilities are neutral regarding your story, provided your story in no way goes against the description of your skills.

What does that mean in plain English? Well, just because your character is a monk, that doesn't mean you are required to play a fantasy Shaolin monk, or even have studied at a monastery. You could just as easily be a member of an elite group of soldiers rigorously trained in secret fighting techniques. You could be a defender of nature, tapping into the flow of the green's energy all around you to accomplish superhuman tasks by borrowing the powers of dangerous beasts (the self-healing of a lizard, the leap of a monkey, the stunning speed of a viper, etc., etc.). Hell, you could just be a back-alley bruiser who, through a lifetime of breaking bones and busting heads, has stumbled upon a kind of strange, violent zen that makes you more dangerous than any berserker.

None of this is new from me, and if you read my old piece What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity, you've probably heard this song before. And if you've seen my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks, then you might not be surprised by my example paragraph. However, there is a question I see time and time again on the groups I hang out on that I want to talk about. Something that I think could yield some truly legendary characters if we stopped and gave it some thought.

"What's the best character class for a knight?"

Depends... what do you want to play?
My answer to this question, and one that's gotten both push back and enthusiasm in almost equal measure, is simple; any class.

Have You Read Any Arthurian Lore?

As has been pointed out by memes no-doubt created by literature majors, the Knights of The Round Table were more than just a group of men trained to the sword and the lance. They were, in short, the front line of one of the most batshit anime teams you've ever seen.

We all know Lancelot, and the fact that as long as he kept his vows that he had the strength of ten men. That isn't an exaggeration, either; we're talking some Samson level destructive capacity, here. But what about some of the others?

Seriously, we NEED a series (or at least a comic) about this nonsense.
Take Sir Kay, for instance. You might remember him as Arthur's foster brother, and all-around bully in The Sword in The Stone. While later legends stated he was a braggart and occasional fool, Kay also possessed a heart of ice that made him immune to fear. He could go nine days and nine nights without the need to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe, and at will he could grow to the height of the tallest tree. Or what about his companion, Sir Bedivere? A man who was perfectly handsome but for his one missing hand, who killed men by the hundreds, and who was Arthur's butler and the steward of the royal court? Two lesser-known knights, Sir Marrok and Sir Gorlagon were both goddamn werewolves!

The list goes on and on.

But That's Not What I Meant!

One of the most common responses from the push back side of this conversation is that these players or DMs have a specific, unspoken set of skills their knight concept must possess. They're looking for a mounted warrior capable of using a wide variety of weapons, and moving about freely in heavy armor.

However, that isn't necessarily a knight. Ringo Starr is a knight, for god's sake.

Just in case you thought I was leaving the bards out of this.
You don't have to be a particular character class to be a knight, anymore than you need to be a specific class to be a priest, or a noble. Hell, the Blackbriar and Stonejaw families in my Baker's Dozen of Noble Families have just as many barbarians and druids in them as they do any other character class.

The reason why is simple; the words we're using to describe these concepts are not directly connected to the skill list of a character class. Anyone can be born into a noble family, or raised to noble status by a monarch. Anyone, once ordained, can be a priest regardless of any connection (or lack thereof) to the divine. Anyone can be a knight, as long as they're tapped on the shoulder and given their honor.

Because sure, a canny fighter who comported themselves with honor on the battlefield might be knighted. A squire might be raised to the position of knight after years of training and hard-fought battles... but why would a kingdom in a fantasy world not have evokers who were knights? Or warrior monks whose intense regimen and training made them ideal bodyguards in a room where no weapons were permitted? Or even warlocks or magi, who blend steel and sorcery into a single, deadly art form?

There's no doubt that, "Figure on horse in heavy armor with socketed lance," is definitely a (and I hate this term) realistic description of a historical knight. But our history is kind of irrelevant if we're playing in a fantasy realm that is not, and has never been, Earth.

So the next time you sit down to make a knight, you can make the stereotypical elite warrior who also acts as a lord and defender of the realm. But you're making a character in a fantasy world... why wouldn't that world embrace other options? Even if it's just a side step into playing a barbarian knight whose strength doubles when battle is joined, roaring so loudly they cow their opponents and growing thrice their normal size?

Because that kind of character also has their roots in the traditional myths that we're playing with. But if you want the best class options for a mounted warrior, or a melee specialist who wears heavy armor, then that is what you should ask for advice about. Because those things, at least, are directly connected to a class's skill set.

And if you're looking for some truly unusual knightly orders, from the mourning colors of the Grave Wardens to the mismatched finery of the Dishonorable Fellows of The Black Standard, then you might want to take a look at my recently-released 100 Knightly Orders from Azukail Games!

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That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some creative wheels out there turning!

If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or, if you're in a mood to pick up some new fiction, you could jump over to My Amazon Author Page to grab one of my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to support me, consider leaving me a tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps me keep making content just like this!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Make Sure Your Character Is As Fun To Play With, As They Are To Play

We've all had to deal with that one social event that just ended up becoming too much of a chore to handle. You know, like when you first met up with this group of folks down at the local bar. They got together every Thursday, and had a good time. Then Brian decided to join you. He was Sharon's friend, and you figured you'd give him a chance, but you just don't like him. From the way he drinks too much, to how he can't hold his temper, to how he always expects someone else to cover his tab, he's just not worth the trouble.

At first you just felt more tired than refreshed after your night out. But then you felt actively stressed by it. You started skipping an occasional meeting, and noticing others doing the same. Finally, you just couldn't take it anymore, and made some excuse before you never went back again.

And that, friends, is why I walked away from that table, and never looked back.
Cool story, but what does it have to do with gaming? Everything, since you ask.

Because a lot of us have been Brian. The problem is that because we are having fun, we don't always look around and notice that no one else is. Whether it was that dashing swordsman Jacques who was constantly trying to get into the pants of the rest of the party, the vindictive priest Grumheld who refused to heal anyone unless he'd been praised or bribed, or that sour-faced thief with the cheek scar who never even told anyone his name, but stole everything that wasn't nailed down and blamed the rest of the party for the crimes when he got caught, you got so wrapped up in your own fun that you forgot this is a team sport.

Which is why it's important to look around, and make sure everyone is on the same page as you.

Is Your Character Someone You Want To Spend 4 Hours With?

Have you ever stopped, and asked how much time goes into a campaign? Not on the prep side, but just in how much time you're spending around the table with the rest of the group?

Time to break out the spreadsheets!
Let's be generous, and say that your group meets every other week, and that your sessions are roughly 3 hours long each. That doesn't seem like much, does it? But given that campaigns on that sort of schedule can run for up to two years, let's crunch the numbers.

That's 6 hours a month, 72 hours a year... so roughly 144 hours of exposure time.

Ask yourself if your character is someone the rest of your table wants to put up with for three hours at a time. Then ask if seeing this character month in and month out, and knowing that the player is going to have to deal with someone abrasive, rude, confrontational, or just plain stupid is going to be a good time for them, as well as for you.

Then, if you've identified a problem, find a way around it.

You Can Stay True To Character, And Still Be Fun

This is usually the point at which a lot of players with problematic characters will turn up their nose and demand to know why they should play totally different characters than the one they want to play.

Aside from the fact that ruining everyone else's gaming experience just to get your jollies in makes you kind of an asshole, you don't have to sacrifice your concept to play someone that's sunshine and rainbows all the time. Just file the rough edges off so you aren't constantly pricking everyone else at the table.

If you're going to be a little prick, at least be endearing about it.
If you have someone who is going to be a strain on the rest of the table's patience, the key is to turn that negativity toward the NPCs as much as possible, and to make it clear that even if your character may be hard to like sometimes, he does his job, supports the team, and helps everyone accomplish their goals.

Take your angry, grizzled, confrontational hard case (more commonly referred to as a Wolverine homage). To make this character easier on everyone else, find a reason to be on their team. Maybe you and the paladin go way back, and he saved your life from orcs in that trench, so even though you feel like you're babysitting most of this group, you still respect him enough to try to keep this team alive. Maybe the tough exterior shows a crack or two when one of your team goes down, and you go into a frenzy to save them before dropping to your knees to provide first aid, swearing a blue streak about how no one dies on your goddamn watch. Not anymore. Or perhaps when the wizard saves your bacon with a well-timed lightning bolt, you buy him a drink and give him a gap-toothed smile before telling him, "Ah, I guess you're all right for a wand-flicker."

You can use this same logic on any concept that causes friction at the table. Your thief's light fingers causing a problem? Make it a point that he never steals from anyone he works with. You could even give him an honesty streak, or make it a pride thing so that he would never even consider letting someone else take credit for his jobs... even the botched ones. Is your half-orc with rage issues causing too many messes? Consider that he's in a different culture, and he needs to understand how issues like this are solved here. Talk to a fellow party member and run a whole sub-plot where Garag Skull-Cleaver learns that the law of the jungle does not apply in towns, and he needs to learn the laws of this new land if he is to be a champion here. Or make him more child-like than actively aggressive, looking to his party members for the sign that it's time to play the fight game.

Whatever it is, make it so that the rest of the table can get in on the action. Whether it's, "crotchety grandpa dwarf decides we're all his adopted kids now," or, "Krunk learns to use his words," or, "that one time Black Fingers decided to steal presents for friends who couldn't afford them," the key is to make it so that it's not just you having fun and everyone else dealing with the fallout. Be a catalyst that lets everyone play as a group, and you'll find that your table will not be able to get enough of your characters; even the grim, dark, foreboding, or brutal ones.

If you enjoyed this, then you might also want to check out:
- 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing
- 5 MORE RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully it got some wheels out there turning. Anyone else have actionable tips? If so, leave them in the comments below!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Also, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, make sure to stop by My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Seriously, it's the best way to make sure I keep getting content just like this from my hands, to your screen!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Vile Bile (Something For Green Dragonborn Assassins)

Folks who stop by my blog know that Improved Initiative is more of a place to remix concepts and builds with existing rules than a place where I brew up totally new stuff. However, when it comes to 5th Edition, barely a session of the campaign I'm in goes by where I don't notice a big gap that is just calling out to be filled in with fresh content.

So this week I thought I'd present something I'm going to try out that other folks might like as well. I call it Vile Bile, in honor of the foul-mouthed, foul-tempered, hard-drinking, blackmailing, vicious, incorrigible maniac I'm currently playing.

The hell you looking at, softskin?
For folks interested in some of my other thoughts for 5th Edition, check out Method in The Madness (A Structure For Wild Magic Surge Rolls in 5th Edition).

Vile Bile (A Poisoner's Best Friend)

Green dragons are unique, in that no other breed can belch forth the clouds of noxious vapors they can foment inside their gullets. While most adventurers are not foolish enough to approach a full-grown green with the intent of harvesting the power of its breath weapon, it is possible for someone with the proper knowledge to get the necessary ingredients from the lesser children of these dragons.

If someone has access to either a willing green dragonborn or a green dragon, it is possible to extract a single use of their breath weapon for the day. The poison gas must be blown into a kettle or a cauldron with a sealed stopper. The vapors must then be alternatively heated and cooled over a two-hour process. The kettle will release terrible fumes, but while they will smell awful, they won't be deadly. At the end of the two hour process, the inside of the kettle will have a thin layer of highly poisonous resin in it. That resin can be smeared on a weapon, or if tea is made in the pot it can be infused into a drink (though the green tint may make some drinkers suspicious).

No, it's supposed to taste like that. Don't worry.
In either case, the person brewing the Vile Bile must make a DC 15 check using a poisoner's kit in order to properly craft the poison. Once it's been crafted, there are as many doses as there are d6's of the breath weapon that was used. The poison uses the same save as that breath weapon, as well, making the bile of powerful dragons and dragonborn much deadlier than that of younger, less-seasoned ones.

Only a single dose (1d6 of poison damage, with the appropriate save for half damage) can be applied to a single bolt or arrow at a time. Additionally, only a single dose can be put into a single cup of tea. However, up to two doses can be placed on light weapons, up to three on one-handed, non-light weapons, and as many as four on heavy weapons. No matter how many doses are placed on a weapon at a single time, all of them activate on the first hit made with it (so if you swing a greatsword with 4 doses of Vile Bile on it, then you add 4d6 of poison damage with the appropriate save for half damage). Once the poison has been spent, it needs to be re-applied, and every dose requires an Action to apply. Due to the nature of Vile Bile, as long as the weapon is not washed or scoured, the poison remains indefinitely.

The additional benefit of Vile Bile is that the specific dragon or dragonborn whose breath weapon is used as the base component is immune to its effects. This allows them to apply it to unarmed strikes or natural weapons without worrying about the toxin threatening them. It also means they can drink beverages brewed from their own breath weapons without damage; a trick that has been used by those with devious intent to get a drop on their foes before they know they're being attacked.

Would You Like To See More?

If you'd like to see more content like this from me, then let me know in the comments below! And it doesn't hurt if you share it around with your groups, either. The more eyes I get on something, the more likely I am to do a repeat performance.

Also, don't forget to check out some of my other 5th Edition creations!

- False Valor: The first module in the Critical Hits series, a murder mystery with a race against time to find the guilty party, and prevent an old war from sparking back to life!

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them): 13 rumors, each one meaty enough to build an entire session around, that you can weave into your campaigns lore, or play with as separate one-shots.

- 100 Bits of Miscellaneous Tat To Find: When you want to give out loot that's worth less than a gold piece, here's some cheap-as-dirt swag for adventurers to find.

- 100 Pieces of Flotsam and Jetsam to Find on a Beach: From wrecked ships, to buried bodies, to cursed coins, to lost fish familiars, there's a little bit of everything in this collection.

- 100 Encounters For On The Road or In The Wilderness: If your party is walking down the road, or cutting through the trees, what will they find? Bandits, lost shrines, buried treasures, and more!

- 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest: From half-mad oracles, to moving clearings, to tiny sentinels mounted on dragonflies, there is never a dull moment when you're traveling a fey forest.

That's all for this latest Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, remember to check out my Vocal, Gamers, and Dungeon Keeper Radio pages. Also, if you're looking for a new book to read, take a look at My Amazon Author Page where you'll find stuff like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help me keep making content just like this, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps, trust me on that one.