Monday, February 25, 2019

The Best Design Idea White Wolf Ever Had (Villain Theory 101)

Though it may not be the titan of roleplaying games that it once was, White Wolf still stands as one of the best-known brands, and creator of some of the most engaging games out there. Because if you didn't start your gaming career slinging spells and steel in Dungeons and Dragons, chances are good your first experience was baring your fangs in Vampire the Masquerade, howling at the moon in Werewolf the Apocalypse, or navigating the fine line between the impossible and the banal in Changeling the Dreaming.

Changeling: The Lost has a very special place in my heart.
While these games (and the half dozen or so I didn't mention) were all unique spheres within the ever-growing world of dark fantasy and bleeding horror found in the shadows, I'd like to talk about one idea that sprang up in several of the game lines. One idea that is a godsend to the storyteller, and that you should add to the arsenal you keep behind the screen to help when designing campaigns.

The idea of the Ever-Present Threat.

What Is The Ever-Present Threat?

The short version is that the Ever-Present Threat is something that hangs over the game, and that affects every character at the table. They may respond to it in different ways, and take different actions to deal with it, but the Ever-Present Threat is not a single foe that can be vanquished. It is something that is so powerful, or so de-centralized, that it can never truly be said to be defeated. While it might sleep, or be staved off for a time, it will always be back in the end.

I'd like to take a look at two of White Wolf's games here, and how one is (at least in my opinion) greatly hampered by the lack of an Ever-Present Threat, while the other is enhanced by that threat being up-front and in your face. All right, so, let's begin at the beginning with Vampire.

In Vampire, both Masquerade and Requiem, you are a vampire. It is now your job to navigate the shadows of the world, find allies, avoid repercussions from your enemies, and to play the games of power, influence, and prestige that may devolve into brutal savagery and bloodshed.

You know, vampire shit.
The trouble with this setup is that if you're the storyteller, then you have to work extra hard to corral a bunch of players toward the same goal. Even if their interests align for the moment, or they have some other reason to work together, the setting is fluid enough that it can feel like herding cats. Especially when, because you're immortal, you could go to sleep until today's problem is no longer a problem.

Now, contrast that with the Werewolf the Apocalypse setup. If you've never played the game, well, you're a werewolf. However, every tribe of werewolves is on the front lines of a secret war with the Wyrm, a force of corruption, chaos, and destruction. The end times are coming, and if you don't push back the tide of the Wyrm and its servants then the world will burn, and everything will be destroyed.

THAT is a setup that immediately gets you invested. Not only that, but it makes it clear that even if two characters don't like each other, they're both proud members of team Save The World when all is said and done.

After all, what really IS the alternative here?
You don't have to go that extreme with it, either. As another example, in Changeling the Lost, you are a changeling. You were, at some point, stolen by an otherworldly, god-like being from another dimension, and changed in fundamental ways. You managed to escape back to the real world, but you still bear the scars and powers you were given. And you know your Keeper is out there, somewhere... even if you killed yours, there are Others aplenty, always eager to retake one who got away.

In both of these examples, the Ever Present Threat is something that is big enough that it affects every character at the table, but also vague enough that you can't simply charge the stronghold to try to slay it. It hangs over the game, helping set the tone, but it can also be used by the storyteller to help create cohesion between the characters, and to create challenges players are instantly invested in, or afraid of. Your pack of werewolves bickering amongst each other? Well, they're sent on a mission to slay a corrupted boar that's been sighted in the ruins of Chernobyl. Along the way they have a common foe, and they learn to work together to get over their issues. Or if your changelings are getting a little too complacent behind their walls of money, private security, and mortal barriers, that's when they awake in the middle of the night to find a messenger of the Raven Queen. She has sent an invitation... refusing would lead to dire consequences, but accepting may not be that much safer.

And so on, and so forth.

Cultists, and Cthulhu

I'd like to switch gears for a second, and mention the Call of Cthulhu setting as a way to tie this up. Because the Great Old Ones are foes that exist, and their colossal, cosmic presence lurks in every corner of the mythos setting. And while they can be defeated (typically by disrupting rituals, strengthening ancient wards, or in some cases committing suicide before your mind can be used as a gateway), you don't fight Cthulhu. Even with the most potent of modern weapons at your command, and a score of ancient, eldritch talismans, if the Sleeper awakens, it's game over.

Oh hell... who let Wilbur make a call?
You aren't supposed to kill the cosmic gods of the mythos, though. You're supposed to solve their mysteries, and while you may be able to kill their cultists (if you're a hard-bitten team of Delta Green enforcers, for example), and you might be able to slay a mythos monster with some good dice rolls and the proper ritual, that's as far as you go.

The trick here is to give your players victories against the Ever-Present Threat, but not to defeat the threat itself. You close the door, you seal the gate, you bargain with Dormamu, and you emerge victorious. Possibly broken, bleeding, and mad, but victorious nonetheless. That's important, because making progress against an unending threat can light a fire under players to do more. But if you emphasize that nothing they do will make a difference in the grander scheme of things, then they're going to wonder why they bother rolling the dice in the first place.

Unify Your Players, Provide Instant Motivation

Your Ever-Present Threat can be a lot of different things. It might be the zombie apocalypse that's swept the world. It might be the demons that lurk, trying to peel open the gates of hell enough to escape. It could be Cthulhu, or the True Fae, or the Wyrm and its minions. It could be the Titans and their servants, if you're a fan of Scion.

Whatever your Ever-Present Threat is, it immediately gives your players context for the fight they're in, and why they need to step up to do their part. Because an Ever-Present Threat has touched everyone's lives in some way. It isn't something you can just sidestep, and carry on with your day. It is something that affects every decision a character makes, and which is always there in the background; constant storm clouds, making you wonder if today is the day that lightning strikes.

You can't fight the storm... but every day you hold it off is another day you've won. Which is why, if you've ever found yourself asking, "Well, now what do I do?" once your players have completed a particular arc, you might want to consider using one of these Threats. Because it reacts, moves, and changes, providing constantly new challenges to the PCs, and it saves you so much effort stringing your campaign together.

Additional Reading

For folks who are curious about additional topics, or even supplements, that build on these ideas, consider the following:

- 5 Tips For Running Better World of Darkness Games: The World of Darkness is dripping with atmosphere, and it can be hard to get your game just right. So check this one out if you want to make sure you avoid the obvious mistakes for this setting.

- 5 Tips For Creating Fantasy Towns and Cities: I've been doing a lot of settlement design, particularly for supplements like Towns of Sundara. So check this one out if you want your settlements to feel more organic and lived-in!

- 100 Tips and Tricks For Being a Better Game Master: Pretty much what it says on the tin. I've got 10 years or so if the advice I've field-tested myself, all condensed into a single, easy-to-read supplement for Game Masters new and old!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, 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 cat noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection 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!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 12: Demonbane

It seems, for the moment, that the strange conspiracy wrapping its tendrils through Magnimar has been slain. Its leaders lie dead, its plans smashed. Sandpoint is safe, and all of the troubles appear to have come to an end. But this was the same sort of calm our heroes felt after Nualia died, and it wasn't over then, either. Still, great deeds call for great rewards... though some rewards are stranger than others.

To bring yourself up-to-date, check out the previous parts of the story:
- 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

With the monsters slain, and lives saved, the only logical thing to do is, of course, to raise a glass!

The Gratitude of Lords

Through deft explanations and saving those who pull the levers of power a great deal of face, the Lord Mayor and many others were able to take some of the credit for stopping the heinous actions of the Skinsaw Cult. With the lamia lying dead, the Lord Mayor hosted a dinner in honor of the heroes who had come from the north to stop this menace. An affair that had more than a few rewards planned by the night's end.

Not all cults have treasure in their vaults, after all.
The night's notables swirled around the heroes, eager to brush up against the greatness of the hour. Zordlan told the tales of their adventures, embroidering them as he sipped his wine to the delight of his audience. Mirelinda was hung on by young men and women alike, all of them curious as to how one of Varisia's native people fell into such unusual and eclectic company. Zhakar was approached enthusiastically by many, but more than a few felt the strange, pulsing emanations crawling through him... like the fever twisting his hand was growing worse, instead of better. Bostwick avoided the spirits, as well as the finery, but was still given his share of thanks for his part in protecting the city. And Thok, who had chosen to garb himself in more traditional clothing, found himself being treated more like an exotic animal than a man.. particularly by one noblewoman who felt a night with him would be well worth the scandal.

It was as the meal was finishing, though, that the Lord Mayor drew everyone's attention to the head of the table. In exchange for the companions' service, he felt it was appropriate to show gratitude in the way that Magnimar felt was most genuine; with coin of the realm. An expensive bounty was given to each companion, an iron-bound chest holding the gold. Enough to prove that the city of statues did, indeed, value what they had done.

Echoes of a Dead God

With no demands on their time the following day, Zhakar found himself accompanying Mirelinda as she headed through the massive marketplace of one of the biggest cities in the nation. With his own gold locked firmly in a vault in the church of Abadar, and noting that Zordlan and Thok were both otherwise occupied, he wanted to be sure the young sorceress didn't fall afoul of any cut purses. Or worse, ardent admirers.

It was in the midst of the marketplace when Zhakar's eye fell on a strange structure. The stone was old, and the stairs worn from use, but the building looked all-but-abandoned. Above the single door he could just make out a winged, all-seeing eye... the Eye of Aroden, worn away to nearly nothing. Much like the dead god's worship.

A place of worship... now little more than a tomb.
Without thinking, Zhakar stepped between the stalls, and found the old path. Mirelinda, confused, followed him. They stepped into the dimly-lit interior, and saw the hollowed-out husk the church had become. Like a riverbed in a drought, it had been carved by belief and faith, but now it was empty. A few ragged tapestries still hung on the walls, but the floor was thick with dust, and the air with silence. The place had been a path to the divine, but it was no longer a place where the divine could be felt.

Mirelinda had her hand on Zhakar's arm, about to say they should go, when a figure emerged from the rear of the church. Older, with a gray beard and a single, blind eye, the priest smiled at them.

"We see few enough in these troubled times," he said, leaning against the stone that had once been the altar. "And rarely heroes who save the lives of the city's wealthy."

A Forgotten Weapon

The old priest offered a wry smile, and shook his hand to dispel the air of mystery. He lived in Magnimar, and though he was half-blind, there was nothing wrong with his ears. He recognized the swordsman with the iron gauntlet, and the jewel-bedecked companion with him. It wasn't until Zhakar mentioned he'd felt a pull into that place that the old man's smile grew sad, and he nodded.

"They have waited long to find a new champion," he said. "But if they were to call one, it would probably be one such as you. Wait here."

You will not be the first to wear them... and I hope you are not the last.
The priest ducked into the back room for a moment, and emerged carrying a rosewood box, with a strange lock on the front of it. Removing the all-seeing eye from around his neck, he placed it into the aperture, and turned slowly. The lock opened, and he carefully lifted the lid. Sitting on a blue velvet cushion were a pair of vambraces. The steel was dull and worn, the leather straps dark and supple. There was a hum about them, though, that made Zhakar's hair stand on end.

"Your arm, young man," the priest said. Zhakar extended his left arm, and the priest reverently lifted one of the vambraces out of the box. "They have had many names. The Devil's Lash, when they were worn by Sharai Trentwater in the days when Cheliax stood as a bastion of righteousness. The Crucible when they were given as a gift to Conran Skullsplitter for his friendship and aid in our cause."

The old man fastened the vambrace smoothly, as if it were a task he had performed a thousand times. It was snug, but not uncomfortable, hugging Zhakar like a second skin. A shine went over the steel, and it began to alter. A pattern of feathers etched into it, bright light shining from between them. A steel plumage that turned into a smooth grain that shone with a mirror polish. The priest beamed, nodding.

"But when I wore them to the Worldwound, they were known as Demonbane," he said.

He reached for the second vambrace, but before he could touch it, the steel flew out of the box, wrapping itself around Zhakar's right forearm. The steel blackened as if it had been blasted by fire, the straps snapping around his arm. The steel twisted and ground, the pattern of feathers turning into a kind of dark membrane, run through with deep red veins. Zhakar stared at it, horrified. The priest backed away, tears running from his blind eye. Zhakar slowly raised his left hand, making a placating gesture. He slipped a brass key from his belt, and laid it on the altar.

"For your generosity," he said, quietly. The priest said nothing, his pulse beating hard in his neck. Zhakar nodded, and left the church. As he walked, the vambraces seemed to mold tighter to him. As much a part of him as the strange changes happening just beneath his skin.

"What just happened?" Mirelinda asked as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"You're the one with the cards," Zhakar murmured, idly touching the blackened steel embracing his right arm. "You tell me."

What strange adventures await Sandpoint's companions? Are they being guided by a force greater even than themselves? Or is there darkness at the end of their journey? Stop in next time on Table Talk to find out!

And if you have a guess as to what magic item it was that sought Zhakar out, leave it in the comments below! It is in the core game.

For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, or head over to Dungeon Keeper Radio. If you're looking to check out some of my fiction, then go to 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. And if you'd like to support me and my work, you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or if you'd rather be a regular, monthly patron go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Every little bit helps.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Frat Boy Wizard

"How are you going to get him to help us?" Tarwyn asked, her hand nervously hovering near her dagger.

"I told you, we go way back," Balthazaar said, shouldering open the door. "Trust me, will you?"

Inside the Iron Skull, the candles were black, and the fire roaring. Ale flowed, and smoke hung thick in the corners where water pipes bubbled, and strange lotus was smoked in deep lungfuls. Gathered round the center table were a dozen acolytes, their hoods thrown back and a gleam in their eyes as one of their number guzzled something thick and dark.

"Chug, chug, chug!" they intoned, pounding the table on every repetition of the word.

Standing at the head of the table, his lips peeled back in a wide grin, was a tall man with a thick head of honey blonde hair. Broad-shouldered, with a green-tinged black ring on his right hand, he appeared both amused and proud as he watched the unfolding binge.

"Bonesmen stand!" Balthazaar called out, his voice cutting through the air. The crowd's dull roar subsided, as all eyes turned to look at him. The tall man with the blonde hair smiled even wider, thumping his chest twice with his ring-bearing hand.

"May your party never die!" the blonde-haired man called out. He gestured toward the bar, already walking away from his table. "Pair of coffin-nails with a side of varnish, Jaren, and hammer 'em fast. Not every day my Eastern brother graces us with his presence!"

Skull and Bones is brutal... no one should ever practice necromancy that hungover.

The Fraternal Order of Wizardly Shenanigans

While it isn't required for a wizard to go to college, there are a number of settings where that is one of the most common methods of learning the ins and outs of arcane magic. Which, of course, begs the question of whether your wizard is a member of either a fraternity or a sorority, and what lessons they learned (or connections they made) as part of this organization?

Unlike a lot of my other character concepts, this one is pretty easy to translate from one game to another. It requires no special feats or unusual powers; as long as you're a wizard, you can make one of these Greek life spellcasters.

Crafting is brutal... but there's nothing worse than conjuration. Nothing.
What was your wizard's order meant to promote, and what experiences did they have that stuck with them? If they were a member of the Skull and Bones (an order of necromancers, natch), did they insist that all members speak a dead language when at official events? Did the Sigma Tau always know where to find the best parties because they could legitimately cast the bones, or gaze into a crystal ball, as a bunch of diviners? Were the conjurers in Selum Sidhe always trying to one-up the illusionists of Pharastine House when it came to who could pull the better practical jokes?

We all know that wizards spend a lot of time reading old, dusty tomes and cramming for practical exams... but what else went on during their school years? And have they stayed much as they were at the time, or have they changed between then and now?

As an example, is your wizard still the same ale-swilling, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants, fireball-preferring evoker they were during their school days? Or would anyone who knows Cassadil Flameheart credit the stories his old fraternity brothers have about this sober, serious-faced man who was once a hot-blooded, often-regretful young man who had a problem saying no to a drink, a dance, or a fight?

Who Did You Know (And What Doors Can It Open)?

If you ask anyone who's a part of Greek life, what you learn is only a small part of why so many people join these organizations. It's about who you can meet, what connections you can make, and what sort of contacts you can network with. The ever elusive, "who you know," that can help you out, get you jobs, etc.

Work that into your concept.

Is your wizard well-connected despite coming from humble roots instead of the aristocracy? Well, perhaps that was because she made so many friends among the Sisters of Meriphon, who adopted her and showed her the good things in life. Does your transmuter know someone even more skilled than himself who was the House Liege in the Order of the Rainbow, the only organization not divided by sex, as a transmuter's very goal is to transcend limitations and labels through transformation? Is the ring on your wizard's middle finger a universal symbol of the Brothers of the Aegis, an order of abjurers fostered by grants from the early kings of the realm, which commands respect and deference from those who see it?

There are all kinds of directions you can go in with this one. So if you want to skip the tried-and-true methods of a self-taught sage, or someone finally being raised to the level of journeyman by their master, consider rushing a frat and seeing what it does for your wizards!

For more food for thought on this topic, don't forget to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards! Also, if you're looking for something fun to have at your on-campus bashes, consider these 100 Fantasy Drinks. Or, if your game is set in the far-flung future, 100 Sci Fi Cocktails instead!

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, February 11, 2019

Want A D10 System That Does More Than Monsters? Try Era!

While I may not talk about them as much on this particular platform, I greatly enjoy White Wolf's games. While I have a preference for Chronicles of Darkness games like Changeling: The Lost (whose second edition just came out not too long ago, by the by), I'm still more than happy to roll some 10-siders in old world Werewolf or Vampire with the right crew.

However, one thing that always frustrated me was that the d10 system seemed so inherently tied to those games. While it was possible to translate it to another genre, it required you to do a lot of the heavy lifting as the DM.

If you've ever wanted to play a survival-based game, or to blast off into the stars with your d10s, though, then you might want to check out the Era system from Shades of Vengeance publishing!

Go on... give it a look. You've got nothing to lose but your life.

What Does Era Have To Offer?

Well, if you've wanted to break your d10s out for another ride, and you just haven't been in the mood to brood, then Era has several games that you should be able to pick up and play with relatively little adjustment.

Want a sci-fi game? Era: The Consortium has you covered! Want to try a d10 superheroes game? Well, then Era: The Empowered may be just what you're looking for! Want some gritty, highly-lethal survival based game play? Then Era: Survival should be right up your alley!

But how does it play?
While I made the White Wolf comparison above, that's really just a place to get started. Both systems have you roll a pool of d10s to determine your successes, and the formulas for generating things like your Health, your Defense, etc. are going to feel very familiar.

The game is far from a carbon-copy, though, even those some of the mechanics will feel familiar. And then you slather on the world-building (and hoo boy is there a lot of it; if you're a fan of complex worlds with a lot of backstory, then this is your lucky day!) and you'll have a game that definitely has its own, unique identity. But it also won't require you to get a new set of dice and other supporting tools, which is definitely a win for folks who want to take their game in a new direction!

Seriously, go check out Shades of Vengeance publishing, and take a look at some of the stuff they have on offer. It's definitely worth your time!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! If you'd like to see other work from yours truly, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, along with the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd prefer to get your hands on some of my fiction, stop 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 latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps... trust me.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

How Do You Play A Character That's Smarter Than You Are?

Our characters are often different from us in a lot of ways. But while a lot of players have no trouble with characters who are stronger, tougher, or quicker than they are in real life, it's those more ephemeral attributes that can sometimes cause a problem. How do you portray a character with an 18 in Intelligence if you don't have a degree in higher sciences? Can you believably act out an 18 Wisdom while knowing all those bad decisions you'd make in this situation? And what the hell does someone with an 18 Charisma even do?

Relax. Take a deep breath. You've got this. You just need to look at it from a different angle.

There are many sides to any endeavor, remember.

Being Smart Has No Set Appearance

Brief personal story, here. When I was in college, I had a professor whose classes I adored. She was short, broad-shouldered, black, and had a rather thick Louisiana drawl. She favored well-worn, comfortable clothes, and she had a no-bullshit attitude along with a plain way of speaking. The first day in any class she taught the first thing she did was introduce herself, tell us that she was well aware of how she sounded when she talked, but she was the one with the doctorate and two masters degrees, so we had better listen up when she had some shit to say.

Verbatim quote, there.

You also got full credit if you quoted her use of profanity on tests.
The point of that story is that just because someone is very smart, that doesn't mean they have to be dropping five-dollar words every time they open their mouth. We see that all the time in movies about child geniuses, and in TV shows about brainy folks who don't fit into the real world, but you could just as easily have a sharp and incisive mind inside someone who uses common, everyday speech. The sort of person who only pulls out the technical terms when discussing something complicated enough to require them, but who even then might try to keep things simple so everyone in the party can follow what they're saying.

The erudite scholar from the Academie Magique and the well-connected thug with tattoos on his knuckles both have a 17 Intelligence. They both speak several languages, and they both have an array of unique skills. While the wizard speaks dead languages, or tongues of power, though, the rogue focused on trading languages, and mastering the subtle double-speak of the street. While the wizard's skills lie in spellcraft and arcane knowledge, the rogue has learned to school their face to make lies seem truthful, and to get under someone's skin to make them afraid. Both of them have learned the ins and outs of magical devices, though, which gives them at least one area of expertise they can put their minds together on.

You have the same kind of wiggle room when it comes to your wisdom, or your charisma scores. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to go for the air of the calm-hearted priest who sees to the core of an issue, or the wisdom of monks who have long contemplated the inner workings of the mind and heart. On the other hand, the dogged private eye who's seen it all and done it twice could just as easily have as high a Wisdom score. And while lots of us think of characters with high Charisma as beauty queens or handsome princes, the rakish rabble rouser heading up the biker gang, or the hollow-eyed sorcerer with that strange, compelling air about him could just as easily fit those high numbers.

Remember to Separate Attribute From Training

Something that can help in this process is to remember that, while a raw attribute might make you better at certain tasks, the ones you've been trained in are the ones you're good at. And that training might make someone with a lower attribute better than you at a given task.

Stick with me, I promise we're getting there.
Take someone with that raw Charisma score of 18. That gives them a +4 bonus on an attempt to Intimidate someone. That's not bad. Now take their party cohort, who only has a 12 Charisma, but who is trained in the skill. That gives them a +5 to their checks because they've studied how to do this. They may lack the raw force of personality, but they know which words to use, how to invade someone's personal space, and even what facial expressions to wear when delivering a threat. Everything from tone of voice to whether or not to have a weapon in-hand is something they've learned how to do.

This can also help some players, who get too focused on the raw attribute instead of how the character has been trained to use it. Because while one person might be very intelligent, they won't have the depth of knowledge regarding religion of someone who was schooled by priests and teachers of a given faith if that other person has the skill maxed-out. Someone might be naturally athletic, but that raw talent won't allow them to get higher results than someone trained in how to climb, swim, tumble, etc. for many levels. And while someone might have a great force of personality, they simply won't be able to haggle for better prices the way someone who studied the art of deal-making can.

So, in addition to asking how your character's Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma manifests itself, you should also ask how they wield that attribute. Because while your sorcerer might rely on their Charisma to shape magic, do they use diplomacy in the same way? Are they subtle, leaving the person thinking they got the best of the bargain? Or are they overbearing, attempting to wear down resistance until they get what they want? If your paladin intimidates a foe, do they deliver booming threats, or do they simply draw their steel, and allow their absolute lack of fear make their foes think twice? The cleric and the monk may both be very wise, and they might both be trained in sensing someone's motives, but do they do it in the same way? Does the cleric notice the changes in voice and where the person looks, catching a lie? Does the monk have a way of saying or doing things that unsettle the other person, making them slip up?

It's important to remember that there are dozens of ways you can depict these mental stats. So if one way just isn't working for you, or you want to try something different, don't be afraid to stretch outside the box. And just because you've got a lot of raw ability in one area, it's important to remember that training and investment beats talent every, single time.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment! Hopefully some folks out there found it useful, and if there are any tips you've found to help with the gap between PC and player abilities, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. And if you'd like to check out some of my fiction, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then stop by My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Also, to help support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit really does help!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Sometimes I Feel Like The Quigley of RPG Design

You ever seen Quigley Down Under? Aside from being the best Western that doesn't even pretend to be set in the Wild West, it is filled with memorable performances. Perhaps no scene is more famous than the ending, though, where it turns out our hero (who prefers the range and power of his rifle) is significantly more accomplished with a pistol than the villain would ever have believed.

If you haven't seen the scene, somehow, this is the one I'm talking about.

Sometimes I feel a lot like Quigley. Not because I possess levels of heretofore unknown badassery, but because for the past year or so I've had people looking at me in surprise and saying, "Wait, I thought you didn't make content for that game?"

And I'm over here like, "I said I preferred not to play it. Didn't say I didn't know how to design for it."

Something For All The Folks Out There To Think About

If you've read my blog, or seen the work I've contributed to other sites, then you know I have some very definite opinions about which games out there I like. However, just because I may not enjoy something in my free time as a player (or I may feel that game is choice four or five on a would-you-rather list), that doesn't mean I won't design content for it.

As soon as there's money involved, that changes the parameters completely.

Seriously, though, commerce takes precedent.
When I first proposed the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons module False Valor, the reaction from my contact at TPK Games was, "Wait, I thought you hated this edition?" Or when my recent Azukail Games supplement 100 Characters You Might Meet in a Star Port for Starfinder came out, and people were confused by it, asking me why I would design for a game I had personally described as my biggest gaming disappointment of 2017?

Two points here. First, I don't hate most games I criticize on here. I just feel that they're a bad fit for me, as a gamer, and I recognize that for a lot of people out there these flaws aren't as important. In some cases they may even be considered features. But I am currently involved in at least one 5th Edition game, and if someone offered me a spot at a Starfinder game, I wouldn't kick it out of bed.

Second point. Because I enjoy tacos and having the power company off my back, I'm usually amenable to working on games that I would prefer not to play in my free time. Which is why I read through so many RPGs, and try out so many different systems. Because the games I enjoy most might not be the top sellers, so if lucrative contracts get floated my way I need the skill set to snatch them up, and keep my client happy.

This is Where You Come In

So why am I talking about this in this week's Monday installment? Well, because I want to hear from you, my readers. In short, if you have wanted to see my take on something, I want you to ask me for it.

Seriously, I can't have too many ideas.
Have you wanted to see me talk about more 5th Edition stuff, like I did with my homebrew poison Vile Bile made from a green dragon's breath weapon? Have you wanted to see more homebrew stuff from me in general? Do you want to see more of my 5 Tips For Playing Better Fantasy Races? Would you rather I write more class advice guides? Should I branch out into the World/Chronicles of Darkness? Do you want to see me write more modules? Any particular guides/supplements you've wanted to see my take on?

If you have a request, I'm listening.

And if you're a publisher looking for a freelancer, this goes double. Even if I prefer not to play a particular system, that doesn't mean I don't know how. And even if I don't know how, you get me a pdf of the rules, and I'll figure it out.

Anyway, that's all for this Moon Pope Monday post! If you have something you've been dying to request, then leave it in the comments below, or shoot me an email through the contact button. Or, if you just want to see more of a particular series, tell me that, too.

If you'd like to see more of the stuff I make, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out. Or if you'd prefer to see my fiction, then stop 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 latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Want To Do A Lot of Damage? Stack Your Dice, Your Bonuses, or Both!

One of the first questions players in RPGs often ask is how they can do a lot of damage. After all, there are few things as satisfying as the one-shot-kill.

Boom! Head shot.
There are generally two choices you have when it comes to finding a solution to this problem, and if you approach the game and all of its associated material with these things in mind you'll do fine. You either need to stack a lot of bonuses on your side (which ensures you always do a respectable amount of damage regardless of your damage rolls), or you need to make sure you're rolling a lot of dice when you actually hit (to be sure the sheer weight of the roll averages out to a big hit).

The Bonus Approach

Here comes the pain train!
Bonuses to your damage are reliable, and they help ensure that when you hit you always hit hard. Not only that, but you already recognize how this mechanic works, so the pattern is easy to spot.

For example, in a lot of games your Strength modifier is added to the damage you deal with melee attacks as a bonus. So if you want to make sure your target feels it when you hit them, you naturally want the highest Strength score you can get. And some games will even allow you to add 1.5 times your Strength score if you're two-handing your weapon. This means you can't wield a shield, but if maximum damage output is your goal, then that's a sacrifice you make.

If you look at your class options, you'll often find bonuses there, too. In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, barbarians gain a straight bonus to melee damage when they're raging. In Pathfinder, fighters can pick different subgroups of weapons to specialize in, giving them bonuses to hit as well as bonuses to damage when wielding those weapons. Evokers get a bonus to damage with evocation spells in Pathfinder, as well, based on their level, and paladins also get to add their level to the damage dealt to subjects of their smite. Many cavalier orders also grant you bonus damage when you use your challenge on a particular foe.

Then there are the bonuses from your gear, from your feats, and from spells or special abilities. For example, a Belt of Giant's Strength increases your Strength (at least in theory), and therefore your damage output with melee attacks. A magic weapon adds the "+" modifier to your attack and damage. In Pathfinder feats like Weapon Specialization automatically add +2 damage to strikes made with specific weapons, and Power Attack and Deadly Aim allow you to deal bonus damage while taking penalties to your attack roll. 5th Edition has feats like Charger, which gives you +5 damage if you move at least 10 feet in a straight line while taking the Dash action before slamming into your target. Then there are class features like bardic music, or spells like Deadly Juggernaut which improve your attack and damage.

The key is to stack as many of these in your favor as possible so that no matter what the damage die for your weapon rolls, the sheer amount of bonuses you're adding makes you a viable threat. Because sure, you rolled a 1 for the damage. But between a high Strength modifier, the right class features, ongoing spells, magic items, and feats, you could still deal more than 20 damage with that minimal strike.

The Swimming Pool of Dice Approach

Someone's gonna get it...
If you roll one die, you might get a bad result. But if you roll all of your dice, then the sheer amount of damage is going to add up. Or that's the basic theory, at least.

This method requires a little more deviousness, but is no less effective. For example, let's go back to that Pathfinder evoker. Now take a spell like fireball; it deals 1d6 for every caster level you have. Normally that's going to be your character level if you're a straight wizard, but you can bump that up with feats like Varisian Tattoo, adding even more dice to that pool by increasing your caster level for certain schools of magic. There are also metamagic feats that let you increase how much damage that spell could do over and above its normal cap, letting you throw 15 or more d6s onto the table instead of the usual maximum of 10.

There are also options like taking rogue levels to add sneak attack dice onto your attack. Because you might need to meet some specific circumstances in order for those dice to count, but when they do your short sword's 1d6 suddenly has 6 or 7 friends who want to come and play. This is also the idea behind paladin smite in 5th Edition; you blow a spell slot to supercharge your strike, adding bonus d8s based on the level of the spell slot you used, and on whether the target is undead or a fiend.

In addition to class features and feats, gear is often used as a way to grab bonus dice for non-spellcasters. Because a regular longsword deals a d8 of damage, but a flaming greatsword deals an addition d6 of fire damage. You could add shocking to that to stack a d6 of electricity damage, too, and so on and so forth.

Adding more dice also increases your minimum possible damage. After all, if you're rolling 6 dice, then your new minimum damage is 6. But the maximum goes up, too.

Of Course, You Can Combine The Two Approaches

If you want to really dole out the harshness, then you should look for ways you can combine these two philosophies in your character. For example, say you're playing 5th Edition. Give your rogue a single level dip in barbarian, and max out their Strength score. Then give them the Charger feat. If you Dash into battle and hit an enemy with advantage (or if they're being threatened by one of your allies), then you get to roll the damage die for your weapon, and your sneak attack damage, but on top of that you get to add your Strength modifier, as well as the bonus damage from your Rage, and the +5 from charging into the fray.

And that is something your target is going to notice.

Just hope it takes them out before they respond in kind.
Every game is going to be different, but as long as you keep these two approaches in mind when you examine how to put a hurt on your enemies, chances are good that you'll do just fine.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or, if you'd prefer to see some of my fiction, stop 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 latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!