Tuesday, May 28, 2019

I've Gone Silver and Copper on Drive Thru RPG!

As I said way back when I first started this blog, occasionally I'm going to take some time to crow about a new release, an achievement, or something else I'm really excited about. That's why I wanted to take this week's Moon Pope Monday post to let folks know that one of my DM supplements has hit silver status on Drive Thru RPG! I wanted to give a big thanks to everyone who bought themselves a copy of 100 NPCs You Might Meet At The Tavern, and encourage anyone who hasn't checked it out yet to go give it a look.

Seriously, we've got a little bit of everything in this one.

I've Got Half A Dozen Coppers, Too!

For folks who aren't sure why hitting silver is a big deal, Drive Thru RPG has a rating system for products based on how well they sell. It starts at copper, when you officially sell 50 copies of a particular game. From there it goes up to silver, electrum, gold, platinum, mithral, and adamantine. The site is pretty cagey with how many sales you need to make to hit levels after copper; all they've really confirmed is that it isn't just a doubling of the previous tier like it is at some sites.

However, once you reach certain metal levels, it means your products are now grouped together on a page. This makes you easier to find, more likely to see more sales, and helps you reach new gamers. Which is why I'm ecstatic that, in addition to my first silver metal level, a bunch of other stuff I've put out over the past year has finally hit copper status!

And with your help, dear readers, might eventually get up to that gold level!
My recent copper mints include:

- 100 Random Taverns: This one literally came out a year ago, and went up on my birthday. It sort of snuck up on me when it went copper, but I was quite pleasantly surprised.

- 100 Oracular Pronouncements: An oldie but a goodie, I'd nearly forgotten about all these cryptic fortunes and strange predictions. But it seems some folks out there have been putting them to good use!

- 100 Characters You Might Meet in a Star Port: This was the first piece I came out with for use with Starfinder, and it's been slowly growing in popularity. It also pairs very well with 100 Sci-Fi Cocktails, and my most recent release 100 Space Bars, for all the sci-fi gamers out there!

- 100 Nobles To Encounter: This was the fastest collection I've ever written to hit copper status; it happened in just a few weeks after release! I was blown away, though for folks who have this one, it also works great in conjunction with A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families, which offers more of a deep dive into a smaller number of nobles.

- 100 Merchants to Encounter: I was super surprised at how popular this one was. Though looking at the supplements available, it might be simply because there just aren't as many NPC lists specifically dedicated to the shopkeeps, hawkers, and peddlers you could run into during your travels.

- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: From big bosses like the Dark Skull, to cooks, lieutenants, and enforcers, this collection had a little bit of everything for adding personality and story to characters typically seen as 1st-level cannon fodder. While I remain very proud of it, I am still surprised at how positive the reaction has been to this one.

Where I'm Going From Here (And How You Can Help)

I've always got new stuff coming out on Drive Thru RPG and its sister sites, and my hope is that all of it does well enough to reach those metal levels. But I'm gonna need a little help from you all out there to keep pushing stuff up the ladder!

And how much is this gonna cost?
Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if everyone who reads my blog bought a copy of the supplements I put out, but I know that's just not feasible. After all, not everyone plays the same games and editions, and everybody's money is tight these days.

However, there's ways you can help me spread the word that won't cost you a dime!

Firstly, if you have a copy of any of my supplements (or books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife), thank you for your patronage! If you have a little bit of time, leaving a review on your purchase can go a long way toward boosting the signal and helping me find a wider audience. Also, if you have something I've written that you really like, then take a moment to share it with your friends and family! A post on Facebook, a share on Tumblr, or just a Tweet can do a lot more than you think... especially if you're one of dozens of people doing it.

Also, I'd like to take a moment to talk about two ongoing projects of mine that could use a little more love, if you're looking for something new to try out? And if you want to keep track of all my latest releases, I've put them all on a simple Pinterest board!

Critical Hits!
The first is Critical Hits, a project I've been working on for Total Party Kill Games. The idea was to come out with one-shot modules for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, specifically focusing on lower-level content that you can use as filler, an intro to a campaign, or just for fun. The first in the series, False Valor, came out way back in September, and acts as a murder mystery where players need to use their skills and insight to figure out whodunnit before things get out of hand. The second, which was just released recently, is the above-pictured The Curse of Sapphire Lake. If you've ever wondered what the bastard child of Beowulf and Friday the 13th would look like, this module will answer that question for you!

And suddenly... werewolves!
The second project is a little out of left field, but I've been working on it for a bit now. Through High Level Games, I'm releasing character guides for kinfolk NPCs for use with Werewolf: The Apocalypse on Storyteller's Vault. My goal is to write up one guide for every tribe of werewolves, and at the moment the 100 Get of Fenris Kinfolk, 100 Glass Walker Kinfolk, and 100 Black Fury Kinfolk are the only two that have been released. I'm going to talk more about this at a later date, but if you're a fan of the World of Darkness, I'd recommend giving this one a look!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Sorry for being late with this one, but Memorial Day threw me off. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to form and schedule in the coming weeks!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, 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!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Here's How To Turn Floating Disk Into A Battlefield Spell (in Pathfinder)

If you've ever played an arcane caster in Pathfinder, then chances are you've had floating disk in your spellbook as one of those utility spells you learn, but don't have cause to use all that often. Maybe you cast it once or twice to haul particularly heavy loot out of a dungeon, or to carry that hulking-yet-unconscious party member back to camp, but generally speaking you probably didn't bother with it much past first level or so.

But what if you could do more with it than haul water in the desert, or use it as a sidecar for the halfling to ride in? Something like...

Death From Above!
You can't ride your own floating disk, of course. It says so right in the spell description. But the right feats can make a lot of difference, which is why the feat Magic Trick (floating disk) found in the book Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Realms is so great.

Want To See A Magic Trick?

The Magic Trick feat, much like the Equipment Trick feat, unlocks more features the more prerequisites you meet. In this case, all you need to take the feat is the ability to cast floating disk. Once you have 3 ranks in fly, you unlock the ability Disk Rider, which allows you to ride any disk you create that will support your weight. The disc will remain 5 feet off the ground, unless you're using this ability in the astral plane, which allows you to go wherever you please as if you had unrestrained flying.

But wait, there's more!
If you have 3 ranks in fly, as well as shield proficiency, then you unlock Defensive Disk, where you can use your free hand to flip your disk up as a move action to gain the effects of the shield spell for one turn. If you have Mobility as well, then you can use that ability as a free action as part of a 10-foot move. If you also gain Improved Bull Rush or Improved Dirty Trick, then you unlock Force Check, allowing you to slam your disk into your target before pushing them back as part of a bull rush attack, dealing a bonus 1d6 of force damage. And if you have 6 ranks of fly you gain Spurn Gravity, allowing you to shoot up higher, but you fall back down at the end of your turn. Unless you reduce the duration of the spell to 1 round per level, which grants you a 50-foot fly speed and allows you to ignore the altitude restrictions on your disk.

The full list of abilities is laid out in the Magic Trick page on the D20PFSRD.

So What Can You DO With It?

While there is something satisfying about floating disk becoming a more useful spell, feats are at a premium for casters, so the question you need to ask is what are the benefits of this feat?

Well, I do have a prepared list, since you ask...
The first and most obvious benefit of the feat is that riding on a disc five feet in the air is enough to give you that +1 bonus to attacks you get from having the higher ground against any small or medium-sized opponents on foot. It can also negate the enemy's bonus if you're fighting enemies on mounts.

That right there might be enough to justify the feat, especially for the magi out there who want to grab any advantage they can while zipping around the battlefield. However, there are other benefits to having a disk to ride!

If you're up on your disk, then that means you don't have to deal with any of the flaws of the terrain beneath you. That means if there's difficult terrain, that's not going to be a problem for you. If there are weight-sensitive traps in a hall, or trip lines meant to catch your ankle, you can float right on by. Since it gives you a fly speed, rather than treating you like you're on a mount, it also means you don't take movement penalties to casting, which can be handy when you're trying to get an advantageous position.

Also, by the time you hit level 6, your ability to fly for several rounds atop your disk means that you are conserving a lot of mid and higher-level spells you'd otherwise be using to get yourself airborne. If you've also invested in the defensive tricks, then your 1st-level spells is now providing you with some not-inconsequential defensive bonuses as well, which can be very useful to have on-hand.

While it takes a bit of investment, this is definitely a magic trick you can build a character concept around. Whether you're rushing into melee slinging lightning and steel, or you just want to be an elevated fireball platform, there's a lot of potential for a disk rider.

Also, if you're wondering who might have taught your caster such an unusual trick, this could very well be the signature technique of a group of arcane mercenaries, using their position to maintain fire lines and to zip over blasted terrain and the bodies of the dead. If you're looking for inspiration, I'd recommend taking a look at some groups like The Acolytes of Arannis in my 100 Random Mercenary Companies.

Just some food for thought!

Edit: Using The Disk Without The Feat

When I first put this post together, it was with the assumption that most folks would use this spell to help boost their own efficiency in combat. However, due to a bunch of comments, I felt I should add another section down here to mention how you can use this disk to help boost your companion's abilities.

As an example, you can order the disk to move on your turn up to the limits of the spell. If you have a companion already on it, then that allows you to bring them into the action without using their turn; an ideal way for a fighter to get a full attack action without having to spend the movement to close the distance. Additionally, keeping a bodyguard or similar character on the disk would ensure they're always nearby, as the disk follows you. It would also allow them to ignore rough terrain, etc. which can be quite a tactical advantage.

And if you want someone to cart you around on a disk (someone like your familiar, for example), then all they need to be able to do is cast this spell, or use it from a scroll, wand, etc. Now you have someone pulling you out of harm's way and ferrying you about the battlefield, leaving you free to cast at your leisure. This is particularly useful if the individual casting the spell has a quick movement, a fly speed, or both, as it lets you zip around.

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Want To Run Better World of Darkness Games? Then Watch John Wick!

I finally got around to seeing John Wick 3: Parabellum last night, and I found it to be an immensely satisfying addition to the series. Like the previous two installments of this criminally well-written action franchise, the movie expanded the world, introduced new, colorful assassins for John to meet (and of course fight), as well as giving us some more glimpses into the seedy underbelly of the world of the Continental and the High Table.

Beware what lives in the shadows.
Like any gamer out there, one of my first thoughts while watching the film was that you could capture the feel of globe trotting assassins and the secret wars of the High Table with a Spycraft campaign (a game I highly recommend if you want a John Wick style experience). However, the second thought I had was that watching the John Wick films is an ideal way to really get at the meat of how to make game settings like the World of Darkness really work.

Adding Weight to a Secret World

One of the primary appeals of settings like the World of Darkness, as well as Mr. Wick's world of covert criminals, is that they operate off of the hidden world trope. The conceit is that these things could be really happening just out of sight, but only those who know what to look for can see what's going on.

Where a lot of storytellers lose the thread, though, is they allow the intricacies of the World of Darkness (or Chronicles of Darkness) setting to become the new, mundane reality. They skip the pageantry of it all, and by doing so it reduces the mystery and atmosphere of the game setting. Because without a proper atmosphere, the game is going to suffocate.

Have any examples?
Let's say, for instance, that your coterie of vampires needs to have a conversation with the Viscount of Shadows, a powerful information broken among the Nosferatu. Sure, as an ST, you could just do it via a direct phone call or an exchange via a back chatroom on the dark web... but why would you do that? It reduces the exchange to the purely mechanical, taking out anything that might make the experience memorable or unique in the minds of your players. It also completely undermines how special such an NPC should feel, and how difficult getting a meeting with him should be.

Instead, make an event out of it! Instead of just knocking on a door, or showing up at a regular gathering, the coterie has to go through the Viscount's protocols. They need to catch the 9:19 express train, hand the conductor a small, black coin with a skull on it engraved with the phrase memento mori, and say, "End of the line, please." The conductor will then take the coin, and ask them to wait until all other passengers are disembarked (or maybe a few trapped to be taken as feeding stock for the Viscount). The train arrives at precisely 10:30, pulling up to an abandoned platform that has been converted into a haven for the Viscount. His ghouls and attendees lounge on mismatched leather furniture, and chandeliers of crystal hang from the arched ceiling. Aged storefronts have been converted into side chambers, and rats line the galleries like supernatural sentinels. The Viscount's personal ghoul, a hulking albino with his master's red eyes, carries your words into the back room. Will the Viscount choose to see you? Do you talk to any of the others, knowing full well that everything you say and do (even your very presence here) is being noted by someone? Or is the Viscount himself among the throng, watching you from anonymity? Is he truly the shabby figure in the ragged coat curled into a wingbacked chair? Or perhaps he's actually the woman in the elegant dress with the dirty feet, having an earnest conversation with a large rat?

That sort of atmosphere is what really brings your players' heads into the game, and makes them feel like their characters are part of a truly secret world. It's also the sort of thing you should take every opportunity to hammer home.

If you're running a Changeling the Lost game, don't just let players show up at the Summer Court; have them go through the protocol with the guardian hobgoblins, and announce themselves according to the security procedures put in place. If you're running Werewolf the Apocalypse, don't hand-wave the bizarre things these characters have to deal with on a daily basis. Have them walking down the street, ignoring the beggar on the corner, who stops his cries to whisper, "The City Father seeks a meeting with you. Wait for him beneath the Main Street overpass in two hours." Have that Fight Club thing happen where kinfolk who recognize werewolves give them that nod of recognition and understanding (or the full Tyler Durden deference, getting them a car, free food, taking care of a witness, etc.).

And so on, and so forth.

Lastly, for folks looking for an example, consider giving "Missed Connections" a listen... it really sets the tone for what I'm talking about, here.

Background Music From Tabletop Audio: Secret Facility

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Keep It Fresh

The other important lesson to take away from Mr. Wick's world is that you need to keep things fresh. When you introduce players to a new character, a new place, or a new element for the first time, make sure it gets a slow reveal with a lot of pomp and circumstance. But those dramatic moments are like really good jokes... you can only tell them once before you get seriously diminishing returns.

Yes, yes, a pineapple. I got it the first time.
The first movie gave us the coins and the Continental, the second film gave us blood markers and the Bowery King, and so on and so forth. When we return to these elements after their initial introduction, they're treated as established and familiar, but that first time really sets the tone for what makes them important, or how players should react to them. That first impression can give your game a lot of momentum if you instill a bit of gravitas into it... but it can be really hard to come back from if you don't.

As a quick aside, if you are running a Werewolf the Apocalypse game, and you're looking for unique kinfolk to bring into your world to help drive home that the tribes have connections everywhere, then you might want to check out my 100 Kinfolk: A Werewolf The Apocalypse Project that I've been putting out with High Level Games!

Alternatively, if you're more of a Pathfinder player, then you might get a kick out of my John Wick Character Conversion that I wrote up some time ago. I've also got a John Wick conversion for 5th Edition DND, as well. They're both on my Character Conversions page along with a dozen different Avengers, the Game of Thrones cast, and a whole slew of others!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how your personalized your game, and what you'd recommend others do to get the best results!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, 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, May 18, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam

With Fort Rannick retaken, the threat to Turtleback Ferry seems to have passed. Or has it? Because as the companions return to the town at the foot of the mountain, they find it awash in water. Worse, something has been awoken... and it's laying waste to the town!

If you need to be brought up to speed, the story so far:

- 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

Ready? Good! Because...

The Return of Black Magga!

Along with the waters, something has crawled out from behind the walls of the Skull's Crossing dam. Something dangerous, primordial, and hungry. A creature that seems to bend reality around itself, its powerful tendrils slipping sideways through dimensional rifts in order to rip and tear at the flesh of any who seem appetizing. A creature legends named Black Magga!

This is WAY above my CR!
Unaware of what, exactly, this creature was, the companions rushed into the fray to save as many of the townsfolk as they could. Arrows flew from Thok's bow, and Zordlan joined in the harry the creature. Mirelinda invoked a power none could pronounce, sending her magic against the beast's hide. Zhakar breathed deeply, and sent a blast of blinding light straight into the monster's face, burning out its eyes. Though hungry, and enraged, Black Magga quickly decided there was easier prey elsewhere in Golarion, and slunk back into the lake to lick her wounds.

Bloodied and harried, the companions tried to figure out what could have happened in the past day or two that would have let such a horror loose. The town's nominal mayor didn't know, but he was sure the answers could be found up at the Skull's Crossing dam. A place that, despite its continued existence being of major import to Turtleback Ferry, no one had been to in years. It had been overtaken by trolls, or so they said, and from that time onward no one had the courage to investigate.

It seems they sent letters to Magnimar for aid, but that aid never came.

A Relic of The Old Times

Above Turtleback Ferry, along a path through the mountains, was an ancient, stone dam. Covered with colossal skulls, the stones were too large, and far too old, to have been placed by anyone living in the valley today. A great work of ancient Thassalon, the dam had stood, holding back the waters of the river for more than a thousand years.

And there were ogres trying to tear it down.

Destruction without a permit? Can't have that.
The crew of ogres, who were apparently unaware of what befell their comrades at Fort Rannick, were less than pleased to be interrupted just as their work was starting to really get underway. Though steel clashed, and battle roars rang through the pass, the ogres were quickly scythed down before the steel and spells of the companions. They knew that even a slight delay might be enough to doom the town below, and the integrity of the dam on which they stood.

The labor crew were, of course, not the only ogres in the dam. Nor were they the only threat!

There was a second crew of ogres within the dam, exploring the interior, and deep within there was a creature called (in the primitive pidgin giant the ogres wrote in) Wet Papa. The skragg awaited in a pool of scummy, filthy water, but even its regeneration wasn't enough to save it from the fire and fury that fell upon it when it attempted to harry the companions. A skulltaker awaited in one of the other rooms, as well; a bizarre, mechanized contraption that pinned its enemies to the floor before removing their heads. A device that had seen its share of intruders, to judge from the number of skulls it bore.

Bloody and bedraggled, the final room they explored held twin binding circles... and one very old, very tired pit fiend.

The engineers of ancient Thassalon had indeed found a way to power the colossal dam... by using the life essence of the damned. For centuries this fiend and another had been trapped... but it was dead now, and there wasn't enough life left in the remaining fiend to reseal the dam. Without hesitation, Zhakar extended his corrupt hand into the other field. Pain slammed up his arm, and something sucked away at the essence that filled him. The fiend closed its eyes, sighed, and collapsed into dust. The dam raised, and the waters ceased to flow. Turtleback Ferry had a reprieve... for now, at least.

There was more to do, of course. Because it seemed that while a lot of pieces were moving, it was the same hands directing all of them. Hands that, if the companions were to safeguard themselves, their friends, the nation, and perhaps more, would have to be stopped.

What is around the next corner? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Mutant Sorcerer

Before we get started with this week's Unusual Character Concepts post, I wanted to take a moment to draw your attention over to the right side of your screen. You should see an ad for my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

If you're interested in seeing more of my fiction, keep an eye on that spot. Whenever I come out with a new book, that's where I'm going to put the cover and link. Since I've got something in the works right now, and I just finished my latest giveaway for Crier's Knife, I figured I'd give folks who hadn't read it yet a chance to grab a copy before the new release hits.

Anyway, on with this week's post...

No there's nothing weird in my family... nothing!
The boys had left with their heads held high, spears in hand, each bragging they were going to find the greater glory on the field. Only half of those who left returned, and none of them came back the same. Some were missing arms, hands, legs, or eyes... others had changed in ways that couldn't be seen from the outside. Until something happened.

Chase sat at the corner of the bar, hunched over a cup of spiced tea. He had his hat pulled low, and he kept his eyes down when people came in. Some nodded, or offered a hello, but no one came close. Until the outsiders arrived. Loud and crude, with the air of soldiers of fortune, they spent gold on anything they saw. Drink, food, and they even attempted to spend it on the girl waiting their table. She laughed as if it were a joke, but the strangers didn't care for that. They pulled her close, refusing to let her up. While they laughed and jibed, the air in the tavern grew thicker... like the closeness before a storm.

"Let loose," Chase said to the men. He hadn't gotten up from his seat, or turned to face them, but there was no one else he could have been talking to.

"Or what?" the captain of the little mob asked, rocking to his feet. He stormed across the boards, and grabbed Chase by his collar. "What are you going to do about it?"

There was a flash, and a boom as the air was split asunder. The captain stumbled back, clutching at his hand. He screamed like a gelded horse, the flesh of his sword hand charred black, smoke rising from the bones poking from the wound. Chase stood, turning to face them. The air was growing thick again, and sharp sparks split the air with the sound of cracking pebbles.

"That is what I'll do," he said, staring at the men with eyes that had seen the elemental wizards of Bardan-Brashen, and which carried the marks of the storm lords power in the old scars he'd brought home from that battle.

The Mutant Sorcerer

Sorcerers are generally thought of as the progeny of powerful bloodlines, whose magics manifest as the sorcerer grows and matures. Those whose ancestors once lay with dragons or djinni, or who have inherited the raw power of the elements, or the wild potential of unbound magic. There are some sorcerers, though, who have no such ancestors. Instead, they survived strange, uncanny events, walking away from them changed in ways that are hard to explain, and even harder to control.

They came out of the experience... mutated.

She could hear the voice of the stars... practically reach out and touch it.
Mutant sorcerers can be caused by any kind of exposure to powerful essences, whether that exposure was accidental or purposeful. Whether the character was a caravan guard accidentally exposed to a potent magical blast when her cargo was commandeered, a warrior who managed to withstand the spells of an archmage, a baby in the womb when their mother was swathed in the fell energies of a necromantic ritual, or someone who was the subject of unusual alchemical tests and trials, there are a hundred different ways a sorcerer may have acquired their mutation.

Just look into a comic book, and you'll find all sorts of inspiration.

The degree of mutation can be subtle, or it can be crazy, whatever makes you happy as a player. Someone with ice running through their veins might feel chill to the touch, their once black hair now shot through with blue-white streaks. Someone who died, went to hell, and was resurrected may have brought a little hellfire back with them, turning one of their eyes black and leaving a slow crust of red scales crawling up one arm. An apprentice who was caught in a blast when their master's tower exploded might find themselves filled with the raw potential of wild magic, but lacking the knowledge (or guidance) to actually control it. This might cause their hair, skin color, eye color, or a slew of other features to shift and change the more they dip into their weird admixture that now lives inside them.

Who Takes A Mutant In?

Mutant sorcerers may be even more unusual than traditional ones, lacking a pedigree to establish who you are or where your powers came from. You might find yourself shunned and feared, especially if your mutation gives you a strange or unsightly appearance in addition to powers others don't understand.

So another question you should ask is where do you go if your old life can no longer support you after your change? Do you withdraw into a monastery, attempting to find guidance and routine to help you control the power burning within you? Do you seek out an arcane school, risking a fate as a laboratory subject if it means they can help you... or cure you, if your mutation is something that has made it impossible to return to the life you had? Do you try to find others like you, who've survived terrible ordeals and found themselves changed by them?

Alternatively, do you turn to the renegades, rebels, and rogues of the world, hoping your powers may garner you a place among their ranks? Groups you might find in:

- 100 Mercenary Companies: Whether you can call down lightning, or breathe acid like a dragon, there are few free companies that would pass up the raw power of a sorcerer, any sorcerer, in their ranks.

- 100 Bandits: Whether you ride with the Darkskull, or count yourself among the Tin Men's ranks, might makes right in the world of highwaymen and robbers. A show of arcane force is often enough to stop resistance before it starts, making you a valuable member of any gang.

- 100 Pirates: Buccaneers and river ruffians need all the muscle they can muster, and a sorcerer (even a mutant with a disfiguring scar from the ordeal that empowered them) can be a potent weapon on the seas. Not only that, but a pirate's life might be the cause of your mutation, bringing you to cursed islands, ancient treasure hoards, or forcing you to fight denizens of the deep.

There are all kinds of twists and turns you can take with this particular concept. Just remember that you are limited only by the stats you roll up, and your imagination when it comes to who your sorcerer is, and what led them down this particular path.
Lastly, don't forget to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Sorcerers for additional inspiration!

Closing Links and Other Places You Can Find My Work

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 dungeon master.

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

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

If A DM Wants Personal Investment, Their Game Needs Personal Stakes

Being a DM is not an easy job, I'll be the first to admit that. You need to wear a dozen different hats, several of them at the same time, and keeping all of those balls you're juggling in the air is no mean feat. However, there is a problem that a lot of storytellers run into that I wanted to talk about today.

Put simply it's that if your plot doesn't affect the PCs personally, then your players will feel like completing that plot is a chore rather than an adventure.

You want results, you need to build in motivation.

Make it Personal, And Players Will Never Want To Stop

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen DMs make (and I've made it a time or two myself), is to use a general plot hook to motivate the entire group to go do the thing you want them to do. You throw down a big reward for those who capture the bandits, maybe, or you make it clear that the big bad is going to wipe out the town/country/world, thus stopping him is now everyone's problem.

Do these work? Sure, and you can get away with them once or twice without too much trouble. But these plot hooks are impersonal, and they do nothing to enhance a PC's story or involvement in the world. If you can find a way to make it personal, though, then your players are going to champ at the bit to go do the thing, rather than needing you to coerce them out of the bar.

Bandits? Eh, who cares. Wait, they kidnapped WHO? Let me get my coat...
Let's go back to that bandit-hunting hook. It's one of the oldest low-level plots in the book, and it's a good way to get your party to establish themselves, earn some loot, and get some combat under their belt. It is, however, a pretty weak plot. After all, what do you do if someone is uninterested in the reward being offered? Or they don't care about the fact that the highways are dangerous? How do you convince them to go and fix this problem?

Make it personal.

Take Adan Skar, a half-orc from the mountain clan hold. He doesn't care if the people of the region are too soft to defend themselves, and he has no need for the reward being offered. But what if someone mistakes him for one of the bandits because they have the same scars and tattoos as he does? Could the gang member they call Clipped Ear be the clan blood he's been searching for? If so, he needs to find him before someone else kills him, and convince his clan brother to move on to a place where he doesn't have a price on his head. That could lead to using his relationship to avoid certain fights, and even making an ally if the party wants to ambush the bandits, and get Clipped Ear clemency for his past actions as part of the deal.

Do the same for every member of the party, and make sure that this plot isn't just a grind quest for them. If the fighter is looking to make a name for himself as a champion, then suggest that defeating the Red Brand's best warrior in a duel would boost his reputation significantly. If the wizard is more interested in arcane studies than solving the problems of commoners, suggest that magical tomes and items were waylaid by the bandits, thus making them ripe for reclamation to whoever can lay hands on them. If someone is of noble blood, has a tie to a warrior church, or membership in the local militia, use that as a way to assign them to this problem. This makes your life easier as the DM, but it also means you're incorporating that PC's background in a meaningful, interesting way.

And if you're looking for NPCs to add into the mix for this arc, I'd recommend checking out the supplement 100 Random Bandits to Meet. From legendary gang lords like the Darkskull, to lower rank-and-file members, there are all sorts of NPCs you can use to start building those connections.

Nurture Their Connections, And You Won't Have To Work

Forever and a day ago I wrote a post titled If You Want A Better Game, Give Your PC Connections To The World. The idea was that by tying your character to the setting and the story you're specifically in, your DM has all of the strings they can tug on to both get you involved, and to reward you in a meaningful, personal way.

If you're the DM, you need to make sure your players follow this advice, but then you need to do your part and actually use the information they give you!

Yes that's a lot of information. Apply it at every opportunity!
This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to re-structure your campaign so that every bad guy is a long-lost brother, or is responsible for kidnapping someone's best friend. But you need to keep in mind who the characters at your table actually are, what they've done, and how the world reacts to them. Because if you let them put down roots in the world, they are going to start growing on their own.

As a for-instance, if one of the characters has in their background that they're a mercenary, don't just leave it at that. Ask who they've fought for, what sort of reputation they carry, and if they have any identifying marks that would make people treat them with respect, or specifically offer to hire them to do a job (you could find ideas for this in 100 Random Mercenary Companies, if you're looking for inspiration regarding who a particular character might have worked for). If another character is from a small town, don't let it just be some generic town; give it a name, a popular trade, a location, even an accent. Then when that PC is traveling, have some folks recognize the region, and talk about when they've traveled through there before. Mention the reputation of the farmers, woodsman, fishermen, etc. from the area, and show that the player's choice had impact on how they're treated in the world. Even if it's just how certain NPCs react to them.

One of the biggest things you should do as a DM is to help your players form connections with the NPCs they interact with. Whether it's their regular waitress at the tavern, the merchant they like to do business with, or a particular church or esoteric order they've worked with, those are all real, tangible connections you can pull on to help motivate your PCs. Because a general, "Oh no, the Rhadoran Cartel is threatening the area," might be a blip on the radar, but if a group of thugs tries to put the squeeze on Doc and the bar the PCs have claimed as their own personal watering hole, now they're invested.

Personal Rewards Are Often Just As Important

I talked about this in Are You Not Entertained (5 Tips For Engaging Your Players), but it bears repeating; random loot and generic rewards are never going to make players as invested in your game as personalized stuff that gets them closer to their goals.

Arise, Reginald, a champion of the realm!
Most DMs roll up random loot according to a chart, or they give the players a metric ass ton of gold and just let them buy what they want. However, that has the same problem as the generic plot hook; it doesn't feel special. That's why it pays serious dividends to always make the rewards personal, even if the initial hook wasn't.

As a for-instance, take the glory hound fighter we mentioned earlier. Sure, he likes gold as much as the next person, but when he single-handedly defeats Banor Fell, the Brute of the Bilewood, that draws the attention of Lord Henton Cross. An older man, now, he lost a son to Fell's gang of brigands, and the PC's actions have brought him peace. As a token of esteem, he presents the PC with a castle steel sword, marked with the raised fist of Cross's house. This sword marks the fighter out to nobles as a chosen man, boosting his fame and reputation as the tale is told and re-told. Perhaps Lord Cross calls on him and his companions when his lands are threatened, thus acting as a plot hook. Eventually the fighter (and perhaps those who fought with him) are raised to knighthood, given lands and honors by Lord Cross for their service.

All you did was hand the character a masterwork weapon that fit with his preferences... but showing that his actions had very specific and very personal consequences draws the character in, and it's the sort of thing players respond well to.

Keep that in mind when it's time to reward players for their efforts. Because sure, everyone loves a little extra wooge and some gold. But making rewards personalized hooks a PC hard right now, and often provides you an even stronger line you can tug on later when you want them to go in a particular direction.

Before you go, you might also want to pop over to my author blog The Literary Mercenary and check out the post Don't Put The Whole World on The Chopping Block. It's all about stakes, and how to raise them without reducing their impact on the audience.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how your personalized your game, and what you'd recommend others do to get the best results!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, 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!

Friday, May 3, 2019

What Organizations Does Your Character Belong To?

When most of us make characters, we focus on who they are as individuals. Krogar the Brute, with his thick mane of black hair and massive great ax, for example, is a feared mercenary and a native of the Western mountains to judge from his accent. Brisheen Fairhair, veiled in silks and able to twist the mind with no more than a glance and a whisper, has a past shrouded in mystery. Hadrick Coster, a light-fingered dwarf with a knowing smile, and a touch of mischief in his one, remaining eye.

No man is an island, though, or so the old saying goes. Every character has someone who raised them to adulthood (whether it was a parent or not), everyone has had friends (or at least casual acquaintances), and most folks had a mentor or teacher of some kind to help them master their particular skill sets. Whether your relationships with these other character are good, bad, or complicated is up to you, but those characters should exist in some capacity.

There is another aspect of who a character is that we often overlook, as well... what groups or organizations they belong to.

Knights of Columbus, perhaps?
While there is no rule in a game saying your character can't fly solo, you can get a lot of mileage out of asking what groups they owe their allegiance to... and if they've turned their backs on those groups, why they did so.

Born, Sworn, and Otherwise

One of the most basic ways that a character ends up becoming a member of a particular group is that they're born into it. If your parents are nobles, then you're a noble as well... whether you like it or not. If you're part of a hill clan of barbarians, or the child of an infamous bloodline, then you have a birthright that sticks with you. Maybe you embrace it, maybe you run from it, but it's there and should contribute to your character's history.

Valgard, what's this symbol on your ring mean?

There are also organizations you find yourself part of that you didn't choose to join, but which you weren't exactly born into. A good example is if your character was taken for mandatory training when they were young. Whether it was like the Spartan agoge, or simply a requirement that all children who show magical talent be trained in its proper use in your home nation, that organization was a huge part of their early life, and likely shaped them in important ways. Alternatively, if your character was taken in off the streets by a gang, or shanghaied onto a pirate ship that acted like a surrogate family, then that will also give you some experiences and allegiances you didn't exactly choose, but found yourself stuck with.

Sworn allegiances, on the other hand, are any groups that you voluntarily chose to join (though in some cases you may have been pressured due to circumstances). Whether you served with a particular military unit, fought beneath a mercenary company's banner, you were a graduate of an arcane college or tradition, or you were a member of a particular religious sect or esoteric order, all of these can play into who you are, how you act, what your goals are, and most importantly what your place in the world is.

If you're looking for inspiration for some groups you could work into your character's history, you might want to check out:

- A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families: From the swamp-dwelling clan fam of the Dredgers, to the deep pockets of High Hall, these 13 noble families are fleshed out enough that you can easily make your character a member.

- 100 Nobles to Encounter: For those looking for siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and rivals, there are all kinds of nobles in this one. Some of them even go outside traditional aristocracy, such as elven High Boughs, or orcish war dukes.

- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: From the warrior wizards in the Acolytes of Arannis, to the black-clad battalions of the Harbingers of Sorrow, each of these companies offers unique ties for those who signed up for a tour of service.

- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: Filled with gangs, brigands, thugs, and blackguards, this collection is ideal for those who lived that bloody life. Maybe you're still in it, maybe you're trying to get out, but either way there's plenty to work with here.

- 100 Pirates to Encounter: The same as bandits, but on the high seas! With dozens of captains, ships, and odd crew members from the Skull Island Coven, to the galley known as the Floating Forest, this will certainly help spice up your back story.

The important thing to remember is you don't have to have just one of these allegiances throughout your character's history, either. You may have been born a noble, and trained as a knight, only to be on the losing side of a war. Stripped of lands and title, you joined a mercenary unit where you flew your old banner and family colors, defiantly refusing to admit that the past was truly dead. Perhaps you lost your parents early in life, and were adopted by a gang of street thieves. You picked up some skills here and there, but when your talents for magic manifested you used them as your ticket out of that life. While you might be a respected scholar of the arcane now, that tattoo on the inside of your wrist reminds you that once a Red Brand, always a Red Brand... and some of the cutthroats you once called friends haven't forgotten the promises you made to each other more than half a lifetime ago.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Organizations can say a lot about characters, and often enhance (or deplete) their social currency. If you wear the armor of a Genarian Templar, people may overlook your ill manners and poor hygiene. Even if you left the brig behind years ago, and you've totally reformed, those who see the brand of piracy on your arm beneath the blag flag tattoo of the Blood Tide may fight shy of you. Whether you're up-front about which organizations you belong to (or used to belong to, in case you're trying to keep it on the down low), think about why and how you made those allegiances in the first place.

The results might surprise you!

That's all for this week's Fluff post. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how it went for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, 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!