Monday, July 29, 2019

Dungeon Masters, If Your Players Focus on Something, Make it Matter

It's a story as old as time. The dungeon master has carefully constructed an epic magic item meant to take the center stage of the dragon's treasure hoard, but no sooner are they through with the description of the legendary Seven-Body Blade than everyone in the party wants to ask about that weird jade figurine of the bird-headed woman the DM included just for atmosphere. Or when they walk into the tavern, and there's clearly a Mysterious Stranger with the words Quest Giver practically floating over their head, but the PCs would rather make small talk with the bartender, or dice with the shady-looking NPCs in the corner with the lip rings and strange accents.

"So, Boblin, what's up with the smoking man there? And what the hell is he drinking, eh?"
A lot of dungeon masters get frustrated when this happens, because they put a lot of work into major NPCs and set pieces, and having them ignored can feel like all your effort went to waste. When you compound that with the side of frustration you can sometimes get when throwaway items or set-dressing NPCs have now become the focus on your party, it can feel like a double slap.

However, instead of trying to push your players back onto the course you had planned for them, you'll get better results by just finding a way to get them where you want them to be using this new thing that's caught their attention. Or, at the very least, throw them a bone to show that interacting with the world (even in unexpected ways) garners results.

How, Exactly, Does This Work?

All right, let's start with the infamous tavern scene. As a dungeon master, you've put one figure in the bar who is clearly marked as an important NPC. Maybe it's the hulking man in the ragged cloak with his hood up, attended by three floating eyes of fire as he drinks from a skull that isn't the bar's standard cup. Perhaps it's the woman in the plain cape that keeps slipping, not-so-subtly revealing her badge of office, or the tattoo that marks her as a member of an infamous assassin's guild. Whoever it is, they may as well have a big, glowing sign over their head that they are the person the party is meant to interact with.

All right... but who ELSE is at the bar?
Instead of going and interacting with the NPC whose name, backstory, and prepared dialogue you've got ready, though, the party asks about who else is in the tavern. And you don't want to say, "No one, just go talk to the NPC you're clearly here to meet," so you toss out a few other random characters. There's the ogre-blooded bouncer leaning against the support post in the corner, the gnome waiter, the long-limbed bartender with her one eye, and a handful of other patrons. And for some reason the party just fixates on one of these other NPCs. Maybe it's that you made up something really cool and flashy on the spot, or there's something endearing about them, but now they're focused on the wrong thing.

Or are they?

As I said in Avoiding Railroading (More Than One Way To Skin A Cat), you get a lot more mileage out of deciding what goals need to be met instead of how the party needs to meet them. So instead of trying to figure out a way to get your players to focus on what you think of as the proper way to move forward, ask instead how you can progress from the direction they're currently facing.

It's all connected!
For example, say your party is at the bar so they can meet with the local thieves' guild rep to get some information. You already put together the dual-dagger wielding, slick-talking thief with the badass facial scar and black cloak, but the party decided they wanted to spend their time talking to Shengo the blue-haired gnome waiter instead. If the party doesn't actually know who the guild rep is, the easy thing to do is just to make it Shengo instead. Now you can take most of the information you were going to put into that guy in the corner booth that everyone's ignoring, and give it to your party via their new friend. This makes you look smart as a DM, and it lets your players feel rewarded for interacting with the scene you set up.

Another option you have is to connect this random thing the party has focused on to what you want them to pay attention to, making them part and parcel of the same overall scene.

Let's go back to that treasure chamber for a moment. There's this super-epic sword of legend in the middle of the room, but for some reason the party is focused on the jade statuette. Instead of just telling them, "Look, it's a normal statue, it's barely even worth gold at the level you're at, stop paying attention to it," add some flavor that connects it to the item you want them paying attention to.

For example, have your party make a check for the item's history, realizing that this statue was connected to the last-known wielder of that blade. A funerary statue, it was meant to contain her soul, and to keep it safe when she finally laid aside her weapon. Alternatively, you could put a legend into the back of the statue, the words declaring the origin and powers of the Seven-Body Blade. Now the party feels smart because they got to sidestep the check to know the weapon's history, and you still brought their attention back onto the item you want them looking at. You could even give them a cryptic warning about how once the sword is hefted, it cannot be put down until death, alluding to how it bonds to one wielder at a time.

Everything in Service of The Overall Goal (When You Can)

By focusing on the general goals of your game, rather than on the specific characters the party needs to interact with or the particular paths they have to take, you add an air of flexibility that allows you to respond more quickly with creative solutions to the actions your players take, and the things they show an interest in.

You just need to get into the habit of asking, "How do I point them toward the end goal?" rather than, "How do I get them back on track?"

Subtlety is your friend, here.
Admittedly there will be times where you can't come up with some way to tie this particular thread your players get stuck on into your overall plan. The scarf-seller on the corner isn't an undercover agent of the crown, and that beggar sitting in the shadow of the alley doesn't have some dire secret that the PCs need, they're just background that the players are zeroing in on. Sometimes that bauble they found in the dungeon really is just a bauble, plain and simple.

If your players are willing to put in the effort to interact with your world, though, give them a reward for doing so. Maybe let them buy a headscarf that doubles as a star char to help with navigation, or let them make a friend out of the beggar, who can come back later when he's in trouble and needs the PC's help. If they are fixated on finding the origin of a random ivory cat statue and its secret meaning, then give them something. It doesn't have to be big or important, but make it a unique item carved by a noted sculptor, or maybe it allows them to talk to cats as long as it's been dipped in milk that day.

Rewards, even minor ones, will get players more interested in the setting, and encourage them to explore. Which is more than worth the cost of shuffling around a few NPCs, and taking the long way to get to certain plot points.

Some Additional Advice

The first thing I would recommend for all the DMs out there is to not put passive situations in your game if you want the PCs to do something specific. If they really need to talk to the guard captain, or they have to get this piece of information from the duchess's chambermaid, then don't wait for them to figure it out and go looking. Have the NPCs approach the party, and get the interaction started. It immediately takes the guesswork out of the situation, no one gets frustrated, and no one will try to use creative (or "creative") solutions to figure out what will move the story forward.

But... but I had the molotovs prepped and ready to go!
Another thing I'd recommend is that, if you want to give the PCs freedom to mingle, put as few "strictly background" NPCs in the scene as possible. That way no matter who they approach, you can keep the scene moving forward in some way, shape or form. If you're looking for useful characters to add into the mix, I've put together 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern, along with 100 Merchants to Encounter and 100 Nobles to Encounter, all of which are filled with PCs that can provide rumors, give helpful information, and generally assist you in moving your plot forward.

Make sure you never fold your arms and wait for the PCs to hit a certain DC in order to go forward. I covered this more in my recent post Dungeon Masters, Embrace The Concept of Failing Forward, but if your PCs fail to disable a lock, or make a high enough Diplomacy check, don't just say, "nothing happens," and wait. Succeed or fail, if the situation was important enough to warrant a test, then something needs to happen whichever result turns up.

Lastly, remember the characters that are actually at your table. Who knows them, who are their friends, who are they related to, and what enemies do they have? These aspects can often help you come up with appropriate ways to tie things together in your game to keep everyone moving forward. You'll find more detailed advice along these lines in The Small Legend: Character Reputation in RPGs, as well as in my other recent post Who is in Your Character's Rogues' Gallery?

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used this tactic successfully in your games why not leave a comment below?

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, July 26, 2019

Who is in Your Character's Rogues' Gallery?

Folks who've been watching my social media feed have no doubt noticed that I'm moving over a lot of my old Pathfinder character conversions. From horror shows like Jason Voorhees and Ghost Rider, to Badasses of History like Harriet Tubman, my hope is to get the majority of my guides freshly updated, and secure in their new home over in my Vocal archive.

However, it's while I was updating two of the most popular Marvel favorites Captain America and Spider-Man that something occurred to me. Something that I'd never thought of before in the context of character design, but which struck me as a great way to figured out who your character is, and what they stand for.

Give them a rogues' gallery, and see who crops up.

This block... yeah, this is where they put my guys.

What Is A Rogues' Gallery, And How Can It Help You?

If you're a comic book fan the concept of the rogues' gallery is no doubt already familiar to you, but we'll lay it out for folks who may not have heard the term before. Generally speaking, the term refers to a collection of photographs of people who have been arrested as criminals. Whether it's a group of Wanted posters on the wall, a collection of mug shots, etc., the idea is that you get all your villains in one place so you can really take them all in.

As a story construct, though, a rogues' gallery helps you figure out more things about your character. Because if you've ever taken a stand for something, chances are good you've made yourself a few enemies here and there. Even if you don't wear your underwear on the outside (and if you're curious as to why so many costumed crime fighters do that, you'll find the answer in Why Do Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on The Outside?).

"Billy and me... we got what you might call a history."
We've all had those characters who swore vengeance on some unspecific enemy. You know, the one who said they were going to slay dragons because a dragon burned down their village, or to hunt down bandits because their father was a merchant killed on the road by an outlaw gang, and so on, and so forth. But how often has a character had specific sworn enemies, with names, histories, and lives of their own?

And, more importantly, how often have you seen a PC that had specific enemies, but whose life wasn't entirely consumed by those enemies?

That, you see, is the kicker. For while a rogues' gallery can be an important element of who your character is, it shouldn't be the entirety of their character. The character needs to stand on their own, while this adds a little spice to their story.

It's Possible To Have Too Much of a Good Thing

Think of famous characters with prominent rogues' galleries. Batman. The Flash. Spider-Man. Dick Tracy, if we want to get one of the OGs up in here. While their antagonists lent them character, and contributed to their stories, they weren't the entirety of their characters.

Rather, villains can be used to show different aspects of a character, and to give us a deeper look into who they are, and why they do what they do.

And sometimes, it gives us fun, recurring antagonists.
For example, putting a character like Two-Face against Batman helps show the inherent dual nature of the crime fighter/child of privilege. Darkseid is an individual for whom might makes right, and opposing him is more a battle of morals than of thews for Superman. Every time Spider-Man has clashed with Venom, it's like looking into a blackened mirror at something he could have allowed himself to become.

You get the idea.

However, you don't have to get that deep with it. Just remember that your villains should highlight something about your character, and flesh out some part of their story. Perhaps your sorcerer used their powers to smash the influence of a cult in their town, but many of the black robes escaped and have sworn vengeance on them. Maybe your fighter came from common stock, and though they're strong and skilled, they've made enemies of the Silverchaste family, who hide behind their noble births and knighthoods to cover their own shady dealings. Your barbarian might have double-crossed Red Johnny Hack, and though he didn't swing from the gallows, the bandit king has been plotting his revenge from behind the stone walls of Stillbarrow.

Because who your villains are is only part of the story. Why you oppose them, and how you defeated them (through guile and cunning, skill and strength, by refusing to compromise your ideals, etc.) is just as important.

Well, that, and they give the DM something to work with when adding important NPCs to help tie your character and your story to the campaign. Especially when you consider that your enemies are part of your reputation and history. More on that in Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend, for those who are interested.

Looking For Some Inspiration?

If you're looking for some villains to add to your character's rogues' gallery, and you find yourself coming up dry, might I suggest glancing through the following supplements by yours truly?

- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: From big-named bandit lords to small-time highwaymen, this collection's got a little bit of everything. It was also my second supplement to go Silver, if that tells you anything.

- 100 Pirates to Encounter: From seabound necromancers to cannibal buccaneers, there's all sorts of scalawags and scoundrels in this one. Bad fellows to fall afoul of, and plenty of enemies for those who've ever been through a port town.

- 100 Prisoners For a Fantasy Jail: If your rogues' gallery is currently behind bars, then there are all sorts of villains to choose from here. Illicit alchemists, crazed killers, depraved assassins, and one individual possessed by a demon. Can't go wrong, here!

Like, Follow, and Keep in Touch!

That's all for this week's Fluff post. If you've used alignment restrictions to create interesting story results, tell us how in the comments below!

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!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Dungeon Masters, Embrace The Concept of Failing Forward!

There are few things more frustrating from the players' side of the table than running into a brick wall when it comes to forward progress with a game. When the PCs can't pick the lock, when they can't find the right contact, or when they just can't navigate their way through the twisting and turning woods, the proper response from the dungeon master shouldn't be to fold your arms and wait for them to roll better.

It's to make something happen that moves the game along.

Did you disable the lock? No... but as you lean close to the door, you hear something on the other side!
To that end, I wanted to explain the basic premise of failing forward, and how you should consider incorporating it into your games so you never lose the pace.

What You Can Learn From A Heist Game

Even if you've never played the game, chances are you've heard of Blades in The Dark. Billed as a rules-light, gritty, heist-style game, the basic idea is that you assemble your crew, and take on intricate jobs that may go through multiple stages before you get your hands on the loot, and make a break for it.

However, there is a concept in this game that I would advocate dungeon masters and storytellers embrace no matter your game of choice; the concept of failing forward.

How does that work, exactly?
I touched on some aspects of this idea back in Want Your Games to be More Engaging? The Make Failing Interesting, but I didn't quite hit the nail on the head. I talked about how failed rolls should have some effect on the game that wasn't necessarily a punishment (missed arrow strikes a lamp, shattering it, and bringing down the light level in the room, as an example), but failing forward takes things a step further.

In short, win or lose, something needs to happen when you tell your players to reach for their dice. And that something should progress the story forward in a meaningful way.

One of the most common examples is when someone goes to scout ahead of the party. When this happens, there's a good outcome, and a bad outcome. Good, they manage to see something without being seen, and they can report back to their allies about what's going on. Bad, they get caught, raise the alarm, or find themselves running into someone else who's trying to sneak in, too. Whether they succeed or fail, something has happened that's moved the story along.

As a dungeon master, you should apply that logic to every part of your game so that the story is always moving forward. Whether they players are leaping forward with grace and skill, or tumbling wildly down the stairs because they tripped, they're still going in the right direction.

If the rogue is trying to open the locked door, and they're just not getting the numbers they need, don't sit there for ten minutes letting them try and try again; make something happen! A guard patrol comes along, with the key to the door swinging off one of their belts, for example. Now the party has to fight them, hide from them, or decide whether to try to swipe the key so they can get in more expediently. If they can't roll high enough on Diplomacy to find the contact they need, have a crew of enforcers roll up with questions about why the party was looking for Mad Jack. Do they talk their way through it, beat up the thugs, or trail them back to the hideout?

And so on, and so forth.

This basically applies to any kind of situation with a game. If the PCs succeed, awesome, the story moves forward on a success. If they fail in what they set out to do, though, introduce a complication that, though it might be a negative consequence, gives them a new opportunity to succeed. This new opportunity might be more difficult, or significantly more life threatening (fighting a squad of guards as opposed to picking a lock and sneaking in, for example), but it will keep the story moving along before players start getting bored and waiting for the right number to turn up on the die.

Get Creative With It

The important thing to remember about the idea of failing forward is that you want it to feel like an escalation, not a punishment. Also, while tossing a combat encounter at the party is often a viable way to do this, it shouldn't be the only solution.

Talking cross purposes with mysterious strangers is one idea, for example.
As another example, say the party has been commissioned to find a particular item that's circulating through the city's black market. However, they don't quite make the right checks, so instead of getting in touch with a dealer who can give them a line on the item, they find themselves getting a visit from the city watch, or even the inquisition. It's a bad idea to just pull steel on the cops (though some might do that anyway), but now they have a chance to find out a little more about the item they've been contracted to find, and they're given some help from the law to lay hands on it... provided they give up the item and their client in a sting operation when the exchange goes down.

There's nothing that stops the party from agreeing to this setup, taking the information the watchmen give them (which they would have gotten from the black market dealer on a successful check), and then double-crossing the authorities to keep their profits while skipping town. But the situation escalated, and grew more complicated, as a result of their failed check.

More to the point, though, the story didn't stagnate. It didn't have time to just stop, and get boring. And that is what failing forward is all about.

Also, if you're looking for some handy lists of NPCs who have built-in roles to help you give your players pertinent information, provide aid, and keep your story from slowing down, I'd recommend taking a look at some of the following supplements:

- 100 NPCs You Might Meet At The Tavern: From scholars and hard cases, to pickpockets and rumor mongers, almost everyone on this list can clue your party in to where they need to go, or who they need to talk to on the next step of their journey.

- 100 Merchants To Encounter: From dealers in deadly poisons, to information brokers, to curse breakers, everything has its price. Whether you're flogging dungeon trash, or you need someone to give you the straight dope about that rare statue you've been asked to steal, someone in this collection can definitely provide what you need... for a price.

- 100 Prisoners For A Fantasy Jail: Just because someone's behind bars doesn't mean they can't be useful. From local thugs and blackmailers, to dangerous sorcerers and nigh-immortal war criminals, there is all sorts of potential in the cutthroats, blackguards, and scoundrels in these pages.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used this tactic successfully in your games why not leave a comment below?

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!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Air Support in Pathfinder: 4 Ways To Get Your Party Airborne ASAP

Flying is one of those things that happens in every Pathfinder game, sooner or later. Whether it's for epic dragon fights, or so you can avoid the deadly bastions of an enemy fortress, the ability to add a third dimension to your party's combat and movement capabilities is a game changer.

The question so many parties face, though, is how do you get into the air?

All right, Ragnar, we just have to get this rope around his neck...
Most of us are content to wait until we hit mid to high levels before we can finally start flying around. And while there are plenty of abilities like bloodline powers or racial feats that kick in around 11th or even 15th level, that's not what this week's installment is about.

Because if you really want to get the most out of being able to defy gravity, then you need to get your hands on that power as soon as possible. So the following methods are meant to get you high in the sky before you hit 6th-level or so. Also, we're looking for permanent ways for you to fly whenever you want to, rather than just for a few minutes when you happen to be in a fight.

Now then, on with the list!

Option #1: Character Race

Some of us are just born lucky, I guess.
One of the appealing traits of fantasy races is that they offer unusual capabilities or helpful bonuses. Some races even grant you a natural flight speed that you have at creation. Your maneuverability will vary, and you'll have to make a lot of Fly skill checks, but the ability to be high in the sky from level 1 onward grants you serious advantages that cannot be overstated. From ignoring difficult terrain, to staying out of the reach of melee-focused enemies, there's a lot to be said for those who can take wing using just what the gods gave them.

Some of the options you have include:

- Gargoyles: According to the playable stat block in the Advanced Race Guide, gargoyles have a natural fly speed of 50 feet. While most DMs probably won't let you have a gargoyle, it is one of the most powerful natural fliers out there.

- Strix: Also statted out in the Advanced Race Guide, the strix is probably one of the most commonly-denied races players have requested. With a natural fly speed of 60 feet, or 20 feet if they have the wing-clipped trait, most dungeon masters view strix as a flying monkey on their backs. If you get one, hold tight and have fun!

- Wyvaran: Paizo's answer to the Dragonborn, the wyvaran is another race that got a lot of attention in the Advanced Race Guide. They have a 30 foot fly speed, but their maneuverability is absolute crap. Fortunately, a high enough investment in the Fly skill can help you get around that minor inconvenience.

- Gathlain: These small-sized, woodland-looking creatures have a surprising among of speed when it comes to getting into the sky. With a 40 foot fly speed, but rather crap maneuverability, you can do quite a bit with them if you can persuade your DM to let you have one.

- Aasimar: While most people are familiar with the Angelic Wings feat aasimar can take later on in the game, there's actually an alternative racial feature that grants them a 20 foot natural flight speed at creation. It's a feature that shows up more than once in my most recent collection 100 Unusual Aasimar, and while it isn't the best speed, it can be boosted through any spells and other items that increase your character's base speed.

- Skinwalker: Skinwalkers debuted in Blood of The Moon, and the Bloodmarked variety have the ability to take Bloodmarked Flight once their BAB hits 5. This adds flight to their list of features they can use when they transform, and their transformations last basically as long as the player wants, making this a solid contender for full-BAB characters with an open feat slot.

While not being added to this list, honorable mention goes to the tengu. Their ability to glide and thus prevent falling damage is very useful in an aerial campaign, and the feat Tengu Wings allows them to grow functional wings for a short period of time per day, but it's not enough to keep up with the rest of the options in this section.

Option #2: Animal Companion

Mount up, loser, we're going adventuring!
Animal companions tend to fill more of a tank role, with bears and wolves as some of the standby favorites. However, there are a lot of animal companions out there that can fly... and some of them start as Medium-sized animals! The vulture is one of my favorites for this purpose, but there are one or two others on the list.

This is ideal if you're a small-sized druid, ranger, hunter, or other class that naturally receives an animal companion. You could even use it for clerics with the Animal domain, or those who take feats like Animal Ally out of Faiths and Philosophies. If you don't get a full druid level to advance your companion, then taking the feat Boon Companion out of Ultimate Wilderness is a smart idea. And if you want to play a Medium-sized character, but still want to fly, then you should consider the feat Undersized Mount out of the Advanced Class Guide. There are also some ranger archetypes that get flying mounts, like the hippogriff rider, if you're willing to wait a few levels to claim your sleek ride.

Generally speaking, we're looking at level 1 and level 4 respectively for animal companion flight, which isn't too bad. Provided, of course, you're not too big for your animal companion to haul you aloft.

You need to make sure your animal companion is properly trained so you can ride them, you'll likely need to get the proper saddle made for them, and you might want to take some mounted combat feats to help you run and gun through the skies. If you're going to be shooting from the saddle, that gives you penalties, so it's a good idea to take Mounted Archery. If you're going to be casting spells from a moving mount (as opposed to casting before or after your mount moves), that forces you to make concentration checks, which is also something to keep in mind.

Option #3: Familiars

Oi! Make with the magic already, Mephisto!
We tend to think of familiars as delicate little flowers to keep protected and safe... but you can turn them into a harrier, and rain death from the skies if you want to. With the right options, a familiar can make a perfect perch for an evoker who wants to provide fire support from a distance, or for a conjurer who wants full access to control the battlefield like it was a chessboard.

But how do you make such a tiny animal something you can ride on?

Well, this is another lovely present from Ultimate Wilderness. Because in addition to animal companion archetypes, the book also gave us familiar archetypes. The one you're going to want most for this plan is the Mauler. These familiars are always dumb and aggressive, but that's exactly what you want in a battle mount. At level 3, they can grow to a medium-sized version of themselves, which makes them easily able to be ridden by smaller casters, or by Medium-sized ones with the right feat.

If the idea of a half-mad gnome evoker riding a hawk the size of a condor into battle, blazing bolts flying from his hands as he and his familiar screech in triumph appeals to you, then this is definitely the direction you should be going.

This isn't just an option open for strictly arcane casters, either. If you take Eldritch Heritage in Ultimate Magic for the Arcane bloodline, then that grants you a familiar. You could also take the feat Familiar Bond out of the Familiar Folio, if you want something a little more expedient but which is much more useful for a melee class that just needs a familiar that can become a mount. And, of course, there is a magus arcana that grants you a familiar, as well as several other paths to acquiring such a bonded companion.

The thing to remember is that your familiar/mount needs to be able to carry you and your gear, and that you need the proper skills to ride it the same way you would any other mount. As it grows in level, though, it will gain more natural armor, and Maulers will also gain damage resistance when they hit higher levels. And if you are a caster, you can share spells with your familiar, allowing you to buff it up to become even harder to hurt, and giving it other capacities while it carries you through the battlefield.

And if you take a dip into a different class, Boon Companion works for your familiar just as it does for an animal companion.

Option #4: Eidolon

You didn't forget about me, did you?
The summoner is known for making terrifying tanks via their eidolons, but it's also possible to give yourself a flying mount pretty much right off the bat if you invest the points. A base avian form, and a small-sized summoner can be a deadly combination. Especially if you add in some other traits that let the bird blast from a distance, or if your summoner gets hold of the right scrolls, wands, and other spells to provide the right kind of support from their place on-high in the sky.

Unlike many of the previous options, eidolons are one of those things you can't really tap into from other classes. So for this one, being a summoner is really the way to go.

Make Sure You Bring Your Squad To The Right Campaign

Before you get too caught up in designing your ideal aerial wing, there's one last thing to keep in mind when it comes to these ideas; fliers need room to fly!

It sounds obvious, but it's one of the reasons I wanted to bring an airborne party to a game like Giantslayer, rather than one like Emerald Spire. Because while there may be times in the former adventure path when the party finds themselves underground, or constrained within a relatively small arena, there will be plenty of opportunities for high-flying shenanigans, ranged games, and all sorts of airborne adventures. Whereas in the Spire... well, you're inside all the time, often in cramped, narrow, dungeon-crawl style halls. Not the best place for a halfling wizard named Iceman and his hard-eyed arctic hawk Mauler.

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.

Monday, July 15, 2019

100 Kinfolk: A Werewolf The Apocalypse Project

If you've ever played Werewolf the Apocalypse, then you know there is a lot to take in when it comes to that game and its setting. There's the centuries-spanning lore of the world, hundreds of monsters of flesh and spirit alike, factions, camps, allies, threats, and all of the dark nooks and crannies of the World of Darkness that always seem to hide another rabbit hole for you to fall down.

One of the more interesting elements of the game that often gets overlooked, though, are kinfolk. The little brothers and sisters of the garou, these humans and wolves help pass on the potential to become a shapeshifter to their children, but they also act as the support staff (and in many cases the backbone) of the nation. They're the ones that run the guns, stamp the papers, move the supplies, and clean up the messes left behind by werewolf packs, and it's a largely thankless job.

Garou are the rock stars, but kinfolk are roadies, stage hands, mixers... you get the idea.
Something I noticed, as well, was that a lot of storytellers (and players if I'm honest) sort of forget that kinfolk are even there, except as a nebulous force that can sometimes help out. Like shoemaker elves. And even when people do try to include kinfolk, they can often feel at a loss as to where to begin with them. Who are they supposed to be, what are they supposed to do, and how is it supposed to help the nation?

Well, hopefully I've got some answers for you.

The 100 Kinfolk Project

I've been writing storyteller supplements for a few years now, and of all the disparate project I've put out, I noticed that the most popular ones were always lists of background characters. Characters the storyteller doesn't really plan for, because they aren't an important part of the current campaign, nor do they function as a set piece. Collections like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern, along with 100 Merchants to Encounter, for example, are the ones that have some of the biggest consistent sales.

You see a man sitting at a table. What's he look like? Ugh... he's... smoking...
Since I wanted to stretch my wings a bit, I thought I'd put together something that took that basic premise, but extended it into Werewolf. The idea was to create 100 unique kinfolk for every werewolf tribe, thereby ensuring that no matter who was at your table, or where your campaign was taking place, that there would be a list you could draw some background characters from. I reached out to High Level Games, pitched this project, and we got cracking on making some kinfolk!

So far the completed tribe lists includes:

At time of writing I'm elbow-deep in the Silver Fangs, and already making notes on the Shadow Lords. Additionally, if you don't see your favorite tribe up right now, check back later, as I'll be updating this list whenever a new collection comes out!

What Makes These Collections Useful?

When I first started writing NPC collections, I wanted to make sure they were more than just a general collection of names and descriptions; I required them to be useful in some way to the people who were bringing them to the table.

In my fantasy gaming collections that meant including characters with knowledge about the local area, who could lay out rumors, identify magic items, sell the party sundries, or who might be hired to tail a notable NPC. Some of them were meant to act as security, and a few of them were just for local color, but the majority had some purpose they fulfilled, and some use they could be turned to in order to help you keep the story moving forward.

I wanted to do the same thing with my kinfolk collections.

Sometimes you just need the right cog to keep your machine ticking away.
The kinfolk in these lists aren't here just for set dressing. From private detectives and tech gurus, to police officers, snipers, soldiers, and nurses, they're here to help make sure that any pack has support in its endeavors to fight the Wyrm. You'll find investigative journalists, stock brokers with insider information on enemy organizations like Pentex, and even models, entertainers, and diplomats who can all ease the red tape associated with getting into places that could otherwise prove to be quite a chore. Some of them can wield gnosis, and some of them are expert crafters, capable of furnishing garou with items they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.

And since many werewolves started their lives as just kinfolk before their first changes, these lists can also act as inspiration for people who aren't sure who their character should be.

What You Won't Find In These Collections

The World of Darkness is a horror setting. Full stop, no questions asked. It is a crumbling world where the shadows are deeper, the mean grow cruel, and where suffering has teeth. It's a world of blood and guts, where even a moment's distraction could send you howling into a blood frenzy, corrupting your soul in ways that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

However, those who read through these kinfolk collections will notice a decided lack of those kinds of themes. Instead you're more likely to find characters with tight communal relationships, who have living spouses, children they care about, and a decided lack of self-destructive coping mechanisms (for the most part, there are a few stand outs). You'll also find that, contrary to a lot of World of Darkness supplements out there, that characters in these collections are not shunned for their ethnicity, or punished for their identity. Nor will you find problematic allies of the sort who support atrocious causes or espouse hateful ideologies, expecting you to tacitly put up with them if you expect their help.

And you lost me...
Why do that, you might ask? Doesn't that seem like it would be the opposite of a supplement that would fit a horror game?

Well, there are two reasons.

The first, and most important, is that kinfolk still have the blood of the garou running through their veins. They are communal people (and animals), and what makes them different from normal people brings them together. They are part of a great secret, and that can be binding. They are tribal, and that means you defend your own. Especially when you're a rare resource that's precious for the continued existence of the garou nation as a whole. There are mechanisms in place to help kinfolk resolve their differences that aren't available to normal people, as well, ranging from mediation by garou, to bringing their troubles before their community elders. So while there are certainly resentments, frustrations, differences of opinion, and the occasional grudge, the kinfolk presented here are much more like average people who are banded together in a common cause.

The second is that kinfolk need to have something that's actually at risk to make it matter when they're in danger. If a character's entire life has been one long tragedy after another, and they've been kicked down the stairs at every turn, then it just isn't going to have any real impact when yet another terrible thing happens to them. That's true with PCs who try (often unsuccessfully) to walk that grimdark edge, and it's especially true for the supporting characters along the way. You want players to care about these NPCs, to want to protect them, and to feel responsible for them. Which is why a majority of them tend to be likable, willing to help (if not always eager), and why most of them are busy living lives filled with goals, drives, and plans.

Because cutting all of that short is a much bigger fall, and your players will feel a much heavier impact if the hammer comes down.

Also, while we're on the topic of World of Darkness stuff in general, and Werewolf in particular, you might find the following posts quite useful for your upcoming games:

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you do check out any of my guides, please leave a review once you've had a look!

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, July 12, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 17: The March of The Giants

While Turtleback Ferry is safe, for the time being at least, a greater danger is thundering down from the north like an avalanche. Sandpoint sits squarely in its path, and the giants are coming. It's a race against time, and the Companions don't have a moment to lose.

If you need to catch up on the story so far, take a moment to do some reading:

- 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

Up to speed? Perfect! Now, as we rejoin our heroes...

Shields of Sandpoint

Their final errand complete, the Companions returned to Sandpoint as fast as they could. Down raging rivers, and through nighted forests, they hoped to reach the town before the hammer of the giants fell upon them. And a good thing they did, as they arrived just ahead of the worried whispers of strange figures in the night, and black smoke rising on the horizon.

It still stands! We're not too late!
The folk of Sandpoint were startled by the sudden reappearance of their heroes, haggard and dusty from the road. The news that angry giants lurked just over the horizon, sweeping toward them, was almost enough to set off a panic. Zordlan did what he could to calm the townsfolks' nerves, while Zhakar asked for volunteers willing to stand and help. Even if all they had were a pair of sharp eyes and a loud voice, their warning might be the difference between victory, and defeat. Thok assigned people positions, explaining to them what he needed, setting up watchers, ambushers, placing archers, and talking to those who had some skill. Chikara, who'd been sitting for months waiting for something to happen in the town, gleefully took a whetstone to her greatax. Mirelinda and Zordlan began the process of evacuating the older residents, along with the children, intending for them to be escorted to Thistletop. The fortress wasn't fully rebuilt, but it was sound, and would keep them safe from the thick of the fighting.

They worked into the night, catching some rest in the wee hours once the watches were set, and the traps laid. It was as dawn was coming over the horizon that word was passed from the town's gate; giants approached, and they were girded for war.

Battle is Joined

A trio of stone giants approached the town, their war clubs ready, granite faces set. They made no effort to respond to Thok's shouts to talk, and they refused to stop when told. That was when arrows were nocked, and the first volley loosed.

Hitting them isn't the hard part, boys... it's hurting them.
Arrows punched into the giants' stony skins, but they showed no signs of stopping. Chikara, fed up with waiting for the creatures to come to her, leaped from the wall and charged across the open ground. Roaring with pure bloodlust, she sank her blade into the lead giant, slowing their advance. Thok and Zhakar feathered the other giants with shafts, and Mirelinda drew a pair of wands from her belt, letting fly with the spells contained within. It would be a fight of attrition, and there was no telling what the giants had brought to the fight.

When they heard a thunderous roar, and saw black smoke from inside the town, though, the Companions realized exactly what was happening. The giants had breached the bridge, and struck Sandpoint in the flank. Worse, they'd brought a red dragon to aid them!

No Time For Subtlety

Realizing they had a decision to make, the Companions elected to end the fight at the gates quickly. Mirelinda's fingers etched a burning symbol on the air, and as she crushed the glyph a great pit opened beneath the feet of two of the giants. Caught unawares, they fell into the hungry hole, their screams echoing up through the chewing tunnel. Their third companion managed to evade the hole, but not the blade of Chikara's ax, his body tumbling like a colossal tree felled in some strange, awful forest.

Right, great, celebrate later, there's a godsdamned dragon to take care of!
The body had barely finished coming to rest before the Companions were off, leaving the shaken townsfolk to guard the gate. They'd barely gone two blocks before they found a pair of ogres smashing through the fronts of buildings, stuffing terrified townsfolk into a sack, a stone giant watching for resistance.

Before any of them even knew what was happening, Thok had put two arrows into one of the ogres, surprising him into dropping the sack. Zorlan joined the fray, his longbow thrumming in the air as the giant kin drew their clubs and howled their defiance. Zhakar raised his black right hand, and his eye flashed with fire as he called down a pillar of infernal flame. The ogre and the stone giant roared, surprise and pain mingling as the black tongues burned into them. Disappointed that she'd only felled one foe at the gates, Chikara leaped back into the fray, her ax swinging. Zordlan ducked past the dueling figures, cutting the sides of the massive bags and getting the townsfolk out of the fray. Just as the ogre fell, choking on its own blood, and the stone giant crumbled with three of Thok's arrows in his heart, there was a roar from above. The dragon had found them, and set its sights on the Companions.

The first blast of fire seared the Companions, and the beast remained hovering over the street, out of the reach of the bellowing Chikara. Zhakar blasted it with a beam of blinding light, but the dragon's natural protections diverted the sunfire. It wasn't ready for Mirelinda's magic, though, and her spell punched through the creature's resistances, stealing its wits away in a moment. The cunning, ruthless red dragon became nothing more than a beast, lost to its impulses and instincts. It roared, launching itself at Zhakar in full ferocity.

Though the beast was still a young dragon, the full force of its raw might was nothing to be taken lightly. It smashed Zhakar's shield, raked along his ribs, and would have taken his head if he hadn't turned aside its teeth with a desperate smash of his gauntleted fist. Leaping over the lashing tail, Chikara buried her ax in the thing's side, howling an orcish war cry for it to face her. Mirelinda sent bolts of magic flying at the creature, but they broke against its scales like droplets of water. Zhakar drove his blade into the thing's throat, drawing spurting, burning blood. It was Thok's final shot, though, that splintered the dragon's skull. It lumbered to one side, fire bursting from its torn throat, before falling in a heap.

The First of The Fist

More than a dozen giants and their kin assaulted Sandpoint, and they were all laid low thanks to the warning the Companions managed to give. Though many buildings were smashed, and fires raged, relatively few members of the town's defenders lost their lives.

They even managed to take a prisoner.

Bound with a dozen ropes, held down by a two dozen older children who had snuck back to help (many of them holding the steel daggers Thok had given them after the goblin attack), a stone giant drew long, calm breaths. He was ready to parley, if the Companions wished. It not, then he was ready to die. Once the promise of his life was given, as well as the understanding that his footsteps would turn to the south upon release, he told the Companions that a great gathering of the giantkin was happening far to the north at the lost fortress of Jorgunfist. Thousands of giants strong, they would roll over the southern lands, and crush the world of men beneath their feet. Their leader was a potent wizard, and it was said that he had discovered an ancient horde of knowledge. They built their strength still, but a strike force had been sent to take Sandpoint. He did't know why, but they would expect their warriors to return soon.

The Companions, true to their word, allowed the giant to flee. As his steps receded, they made travel arrangements of their own. The threat from the north yet loomed, and they could not stand against so many giants. But if they cut off the head, then surely the snake would writhe, and die.

Or so they hoped.

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, July 8, 2019

The Inquisitor's Guide, A 5E DND Review

As I've alluded to before, sometimes the folks reading this blog happen to be game designers themselves. And when the stars align, I get a message asking me if I'd like to review their latest releases. I'm always down for checking out new material, and when I'm done giving it a look, I'll tell folks what I think of it.

And, honestly, I didn't expect what I found in The Inquisitor's Guide.

Because honestly, who expects this?

What Is This Supplement For?

As it says on the cover, The Inquisitor's Guide is basically a new paladin oath, a new background, and some detailed options for torturer's implements and skills. The new oath is presented clearly, the background is comparable with what you find in the rest of the game, and the rules for confessions... eh, we'll talk about that part later.

We always talk... eventually.
The rest of the word count is taken up with setting-specific flavor that will either help you a lot, or be less-than-useful for you. It's going to depend entirely on if you're running your game in the Forgotten Realms setting or not. Because if you are, great, this provides you a solid starting point for seeing how inquisitors can be organized, and the gods they tend to serve (it's Tyr, in case you were wondering). If you're running in another world with different gods... well, that part is largely going to be set aside for you. Though it's straightforward enough you could change a few names and cannibalize it if you want.

Honestly, I Expected More

It might have been a miscommunication when the creator was telling me about this project, but I thought it was going to be a lot more in-depth than this. When I saw it wasn't a guide for an entirely new class (as I love Pathfinder's inquisitors, and I was hoping to see some really expanded options for 5E along the same lines), and that it just gave a single option for paladins (rather than, say, one for paladins, one for clerics, one for rogues, and so on and so forth to give you a diversity in inquisitorial choices), I felt like an opportunity had been missed.

However, it is unfair to judge something by what it isn't rather than what it is. And what The Inquisitor's Guide is happens to be a useful, straightforward supplement that isn't going to break the bank, and provides you with a new option, and a little support.

What About That Torture Thing You Mentioned Earlier?

Oh, right. That.

One of the major selling points of this guide for some players and DMs is going to be that it details the use and DCs for torture implements. While the guide does take pains to point out that this kind of enhanced interrogation is an inherently evil act, and that those who serve good gods should be penalized for participating in it, these implements do exist, and they are available for those know know how to use them.

Which is a bit of a mixed message, honestly.

The supplement paints inquisitors as fanatical devotees of their gods, but also goes to some pains to assure the reader that the organizations who boast these members are usually good and just, only going to extremes when truly called upon. Which is sort of at-odds with the whole, "And here's how they torture people to extract information," section. And even apart from how dicey it is to have a non-magical means that accurately forces facts out of people (as torture isn't something that works, which is why on a practical sense it's a bad tactic), giving ostensibly good characters access to an in-the-text evil skill set is a problem.

Personally, I would have given that technique to another class archetype (perhaps an Inquisition rogue who was all about ferreting out lies and interrogation), or pairing it with a cleric who could detect lies at-will as an ability. Or, barring all of that, making the inquisitors more about getting results, and less about methods and goodness, showing them as wide-eyed, bloody-handed warriors that are seen by the faiths of the world as weapons of last resort. The ones given permission to lock the doors of hell from the inside if that's what it takes to keep the demons at bay, so to speak.

Overall, 3 stars. A solid start, and I would really like to see it expanded into some of the options I mentioned. But if it's not, I won't lose any sleep over it.

Interested in Other Stuff?

I've gone through a surprising amount of stuff over the past few years. If you're looking for more fun supplements to add to your table, might I recommend some of the following?

And if you've got something you'd like me to review, feel free to reach out! I'm always up for taking a look at new, unique stuff.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed the film, and it provides you all with the same sort of inspiration it did me!

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!