Monday, November 25, 2019

4 Ways DMs Can Take The Commerce (And The Math) Out of Magic Items

With the holidays coming up, I'm reminded of a study I once read that said money is one of the best gifts you can give during the holiday season. However, in worlds of fantasy, I often find that massive piles of gold are just... eh. Sure, the party can liquidate their funds and do the math to buy whatever magic items they want, but doing that makes getting your hands on what should be major milestones that should leave you staring in awe feel like an almost purely mechanical exercise.

And the bigger the treasure budget you're handing over, the more ludicrous this whole thing becomes.

All right, that's 37,575 gold pieces. Enjoy your legendary armor, sir!
I've harped on this before in How To Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane, as well as in Alternatives to Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor, but I figured this week I'd provide some specific examples for the DMs who want to keep their magic items feeling special, but who aren't sure where to start.

Method #1: Spoils of War

This is one most dungeon masters out there are probably familiar with. Whether the party is going through a dragon's hoard, they're exploring the ruins of the necromancer's tower, or they've defeated the bandit king, the idea is that they're going through the spoils of the battle to see what sort of loot can be found.

Holy crap! This guy had a Hell Globe just sitting around!
Most dungeon masters I've seen at this point just roll randomly for whatever loot is on the bodies, or in the chests... but this is your world! The stuff that's in there is the stuff you say is in there. So if your players are hitting that point where it's time to start upgrading their gear, put stuff there that suits them. The bandit leader managed to keep all those men under his command, maybe he has a headband that boosts his Charisma that would be ideal for the sorcerer, or the paladin. Maybe the risen bodyguard that protected the necromancer wielded a potent magical ax that would be right at home in the barbarian's hands. Perhaps the dragon kept a careful display of trophies taken from past heroes, allowing you to provide some options and choices for what your players take.

You should have a couple of valuables strewn around too, don't get me wrong... but more often than not the gold equivalent is geared to provide magic items to keep your party on the proper track to handle the threats coming their way. So just give them the cool stuff they'd buy anyway, make them feel like they earned it by winning it in a battle, and make sure you attach a bit of a story to the items in question.

That point goes for the rest of this list, as well. And if you have trouble coming up with stuff like that on the fly, then you might want to get your hands on 100 Histories and Legends For Fantasy Weapons. Trust me, it will make your players far more attached to their items.

#2: The Reward

Some adventurers perform their deeds out of a sense of duty, to defend their community, or to get revenge... but let's face it, a lot of them do it for the money. And just like with sacking an enemy's lair, actual coinage should be handed out as part of the reward... but if you know your party is going to spend the reward to get new equipment, why not just make that equipment part of the reward in the first place, and cut out the middle man?

I'll be damned, you brought him in. Well, let me just unlock the case here.
One of the reasons that a lot of DMs avoid having just the right equipment in a villain's lair is that it can sometimes feel over-planned, or a little trite. After all, why would an enchanted monk's robe be in a bandit stronghold? Why would an enchantress have a magical greatsword in her bedchamber? You can find reasonable answers for these questions (the bandits sacked a monastery, the sorceress took it as a trophy, etc.), but sometimes it's just easier to decree that the items are a reward for a job well done. After all, a noble whose problem has been solved, a wizard the party has helped, or even a city that's been saved could produce unique items that are fitting for the character, and their deeds.

This is especially true if they have a noted reputation, which I refer to as The Small Legend.

For example, if the party's cavalier is little more than a hedge knight, then a noble patron might give them a unique banner for their symbol, or even an enchanted saddle or shoes like those given to his house's champions. Perhaps the wizard whose enemies the party slew passes on a staff of power to the magus, commenting that it was given to her by her teacher, and that she sees the same potential in this younger arcane caster. And so on, and so forth.

Since there's usually a bit of downtime between when the party completes a job, and starting the next one, this allows you to get the present ready. And if there's a celebration of any sort (as big problems often have), you can make a big deal out of the presentation. If you're looking for a bunch of potential patrons for this sort of scenario, then 100 Nobles To Encounter might be just up your alley.

#3: The Steward

Sometimes there are items that are either so massive in cost, or so specific in rarity, that it feels stupid to be able to just walk into a market and buy them (even if you can afford to do so). And even more "normal" magic items might feel too special for the party to just hand over a bunch of gold for them, if you've given the item a name, a backstory, and all of the associated goodness.

That's why another interesting approach is to declare a character the steward, or current bearer of a particular item.

Particularly if the item is kept under lock, key, and guard.
While this can be a serious provision of trust (the paladin is given a holy avenger from the church's vaults because he's proven himself worthy, the ranger is given the armor worn by one of the founders of his order, the wizard is granted the right to wear one of the circlets of the Council of Nine, etc.), it's important to remember that this can be done in a smaller sense, as well. In those cases characters might be loaned equipment for use on a mission, or given it as an advance as a way to help them complete a particularly difficult task. Items like endless decanters for exploring a ruin in the middle of the desert, wands, scrolls, etc. might be provided as part of the price of taking on the job.

If you've ever played Spycraft, this is very similar to how agents are given a mission budget, and then allowed to take the equipment they will need most to complete their upcoming task. They can still have their own, personal stuff, but they aren't expected to buy a tank with what they have saved up in their private fund.

Churches, guilds (good, neutral, and evil), along with other in-game organizations all tend to have potent items they hang onto in times of need. As long as the party has a benefactor, like some of the groups found in 100 Knightly Orders, then you have someone who could provide them the tools they need to see their adventure through. Or, in some cases, the individual may have to officially join an organization for the privilege of wielding the item... which can be a kind of reward in and of itself.

#4: The Special Merchant

I know the whole point of this post thus far has been to avoid trading magic items for straight gold, but note the term "special" in this title. Most merchants you find in town won't have magic items for sale, and if they do they'll be minor baubles at steep prices. But there should be a few folks that crop up time and again who are always willing to trade for something... unusual. Or, in some circumstances, for a favor.

What did you bring me today, darlings?
The special merchant can take many forms, and ask for many things. Maybe it's that shady dealer in the low quarter who always has something, "for his friends," as long as they don't ask where he got it, and they can pay him something quick. It might be the fey merchant the party finds in parts of the forest, asking strange or bizarre prices for items that would be priceless anywhere else. Or it might even be that tiefling who specializes in "slightly" cursed objects, whose problems make them ideal for certain party members (a sword that only comes alive in the hands of an orc, a bow that hates elves for the ranger who has them as his favored enemy, and so on, and so forth).

These merchants will still ask a price, of course, but it might be something more in-keeping with the resources the party has. Taking their old weapon in trade as something that's tasted the blood of a dragon, perhaps. The skull of an orc champion. A cursed item that's useless to the party, but extremely valuable to the merchant. Hearing the tales of a certain battle firsthand so they know the full truth, along with a small stack of platinum coins. Maybe even the vintage gold found in an old vault, as the coins themselves are more valuable as items of history than for their weight in gold.

You'll find a few NPCs who fit this bill in 100 Merchants to Encounter, should you need a place to start looking.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my 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, November 23, 2019

The God Squad (Party Concept)

The town of Anvil was burnings, and demons preyed upon its streets. Tiny winged monsters flitted from window to window, while corrupted cultists and half-blood damned walked through gore and viscera. The sound of hooves was loud in the charnel air, drawing the attention of the conquerors. Even the fiend Galatz DeThrann looked up from his sprawling seat upon the stone chair in the town square. A handful of people approached, their traveling cloaks drawn up, their horses at a slow walk.

"Fresh sacrifices," the Lord of the Gluttonous Feast burbled, fragments of meat spilling down the rolls of his chest. "Bring them to me!"

A pack of sharp-taloned flesh tearers loped toward the newcomers, teeth bared and claws at the ready. Before they could close, the leader raised his left hand in the air, and murmured a single word. Bright light spilled forth from him, banishing the shadows and darkness, making the servants of the dread lord hiss and bleed.

"So showy," Elaria Valdeem snickered, raising her birch-stock crossbow, the holy charms dangling from the grip chiming as she took aim.

"Now can we ride?" Kolvurus Grimm snarled, tossing back his hood, revealing the branded face of a servant of Charn, the god of the hammer and chooser of the worthy.

"Yes," Valarus Cann, Father of the Order of the Purifiers said. "Let us ride once again."

And may our gods smile upon us!

The God Squad

The gods have many servants, from clerics and inquisitors, to paladins and (at least according to some) oracles. Some even count shamans, druids, and rangers among their numbers, even though they draw on older, deeper powers than mere divinities. However, it is unusual to see these servants coming together to battle common foes. Not unheard of by any means, but what is almost unheard of is an entire party of these individuals coming together, the fingers of their faiths forming together into a single fist.

That is the God Squad.

Forgiveness and mercy? Sorry, that's not my department.
While it's possible to form a Squad from a single faith, it is far more interesting to weld one together from different deities who share goals, but perhaps not methods. The leader as a priest of the god of light, who is trying to find peaceful solutions to the issues at-hand, for instance, but he understands that when peace is not an option, the Red Helmet at his side from the chosen of the war god will take the lead. While the inquisitor of the god of change and revolution might get the side-eye from her companions, there's no denying that she gets results, and that her heart is in the right place.

And when demons rear their ugly heads... hoo boy. That's when the fires flare, and the heavens go to war.

Having that much divine power in one place at one time means that the party can bless themselves and their companions to become true avatars of the greater powers. Between boons to attack and damage, increased defenses, healing, the abilities to summon allies from beyond the planes, empower your weapons, and break curses... this group is a force to be reckoned with.

What Brings Them Together?

The gods move in mysterious ways, but there are two basic structures for forming a God Squad... the organic, and the structured.

If you're the sort of person who likes to start off with everyone on the same page, then a structured origin story might be better for you and your table. For example, if there is a holy order of knights that accepts servants from a variety of faiths, the party may all be tasked with solving problems on behalf of that group. Something like The Order of The God Hand in 100 Knightly Orders, which I wrote specifically for folks interested in a concept like this. Alternatively, individuals might be part of organized churches who agree to form groups of champions, or they may be under the command of the same lord or monarch, who can summon them to aid their cause in a time of need. Especially if the individuals in question already have their own Small Legends, which I've talked about previously.

And for those who prefer an organic approach?
A more organic solution for a God Squad is something you can turn to the Avengers for. Champions who may be individually powerful all find themselves in a situation where they need to rely on one another to be greater than the sum of their parts, their various specialties coming together to turn the tide. Perhaps they were all in the same place by happenstance, or they were given some sort of sign to look for; a nudge in the right direction by their patron deities. In this case the Squad assembles because of pressure from the outside, rather than from being told by higher-up mortal authorities to work together.

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but if your group wants to try to do this there are some important things to keep in mind.

- Do Not Bring Fire and Ice: Just because you all have patrons of some variety, don't bring someone who's purposefully antagonistic. This is not to say that you can't have servants of a good and an evil deity, but think of it like keeping things civil at work; learn to not push each other's envelopes too hard, and see what mutual ground can be found. Explore the characters' faiths and backstories, and see if they pull each other in different directions instead of butting heads.

- Avoid Pecking Orders: This is good advice for any party, but doubly so for a God Squad. Just as different gods may have different areas of influence, different members of the Squad will have differing roles. Don't create a, "My god is bigger than your god," setup, and you'll avoid needless frustration.

- Really Lean Into Your Faiths: A lot of the time players just hand wave the praying and the rituals when it comes to divine characters, but the God Squad is the place to explore those dynamics. If you have worshipers from different nations or sects, what differences do they ignore, and which ones matter? If two sworn swords have taken different oaths, have them discuss their priorities and alternative approaches. You don't have to do all of this at the table (chats and downtime roleplay is your friend here), but it can go a long way toward character development.

Additionally, if you haven't checked out my 5 Tips series on some of the divine classes out there, you might find some of the following entries particularly useful:

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a game master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Who Does Your Character Owe Their Allegiance To?

The sound of hooves on stone echoed through the streets, and a figure rode into the lamplight. A cloak hid her face, but there was no mistaking the blood-red bandolier with its grinning devil's head buckle, or the heavy hilt of the scimitar that rode high on her hip. Erephor and Galin raised their crossbows, but if Sczarina of the Red Hand noticed it, she gave no sign.

"What do you want?" Erephor asked through gritted teeth.

"So much for gratitude," Sczarina said, halting her destrier and sliding from the saddle with a liquid grace. "Are you going to waste my time with this, or are we going in there?"

The two crossbowmen stared at the assassin in confusion. Erephor pointed his weapon up, glancing at the tavern where the commanders of the occupying army could be heard. Galin frowned, but his finger was a little lighter on the trigger.

"Why?" Galin asked.

"Because someone called in a marker," Sczarina said, her blade whispering from its sheathe. "And besides, this is my city. They aren't welcome here."

Let's move... we're wasting night.

Who (Or What) Has Your Loyalty?

Different forces act on PCs to get them embroiled in the events of the world, but while we often think about the allure of treasure, the sweet taste of revenge, or even the chance at recognition and status, there is a basic driving force we often forget about; loyalty. Which is unfortunate, because as far as story-based binding agents, loyalty is one of the best ways to make sure your party stays cohesive and active when the dice come out.

To ward the realm, and stand ready at the gates. My life, my word, my charge.

I mentioned this back in 10 Questions To Put On Your Character Creation Document, but it's something that so few players (and dungeon masters) genuinely consider. Because most of us have someone or something that we're loyal to, and it can be an ideal way to ensure that you're an active participant in the story instead of an anchor being drug along by the rest of the party.

So, before you've put the last layer of polish on your backstory, take a moment to ask what people, institutions, ideals, or causes your character is loyal to. Generally speaking, you should have 2 to 3 of these, and they should vary in strength from "powerfully loyal" to "a slight tugging at the heart strings".

As an example, say your character is a mercenary (not an unusual line of work for a starting adventurer). If that's the case, then does this character prize their word and their contract, finishing the job no matter what comes? Are they instead loyal to the company whose badge they wear, perhaps having served long enough that their fellow mercs are like a family? Or are they instead loyal only to certain warriors they've served with, willing to go into danger only because they've shed blood together, and they know their companions won't turn their backs?

A character could have loyalty in all of these areas to varying degrees. Perhaps they prize their companions first, their word second, and though it rarely swells them with pride, they will fight someone who spits on their company's good name. Of course, in addition to their company, they'll have friends, lovers, patrons, and maybe other organizations they're a part of, as well as a personal code to follow. With so many divided loyalties, some of them may clash from time to time... which is sort of the point when it comes to dramatic tension.

Also, if you like that example but need some additional inspiration, then 100 Random Mercenary Companies may be just what you're looking for.

Pushed and Pulled All Over The Place

Typically the only characters who get in on the question of making hard decisions about which oaths and fealties to follow are paladins, clerics, and other characters who are given codes as part of their makeup. But why should they get to have all the fun?

Neither the choirs of heaven nor the roars of hell will move me from my post.

A character's loyalty means nothing if it's never tested, and how they choose to act when faced with demands on their loyalty can say a lot about them.

For example, if your character was a simple sellsword knighted by a lord who took them into service, do they have a divided loyalty between the lord who raised them, and the oath they swore? If the lord's actions conflict with the knight's oath, what will they do? Will they remain loyal to the oath they swore, or will they act on behalf of the lord who holds their service? Alternatively, if they are part of an order of knights, how will they cope with the order acting against their own oaths? Or if the character's oath of service mean they are now set against friends, family, or those they once fought alongside? This question might be even more important if your character was part of a noble bloodline, where certain loyalties and actions are expected of them... what happens when they decide that something they're supposed to do conflicts with their other loyalties? Or will they do anything as long as it's in service to their house?

These are some heavy questions, but the answers to all of these things can make your character a lot more interesting in the long run. And much like your alignment, it's important to remember that loyalties can (and often should) change as time goes on, and characters have new experiences.

Also, as a final tip, loyalty can also be an ideal way to keep a problematic character concept in-line with the rest of the party. Because you might want to play Gregor Clegane, but if all that torture, murder, and general evil is going to be a problem, then loyalty to a noble patron above you (Tywin Lannister, in this case) can provide a way to rein-in your worst impulses, while remaining true to character. After all, Ser Gregor knows which side his bread is buttered on, and as long as he does what Lord Tywin says, he's the next best thing to untouchable as far as punishments are concerned.

Just something to chew over.

Looking For Further Inspiration?

If you're having some trouble coming up with people, causes, or organizations to tie your character's loyalties to, you might find some of the following supplements to be useful for you.

- 100 Nobles to Encounter: Whether you're looking for a patron, or someone whose lands you were raised in, the tie to one's lord or lady can be quite strong. If you're playing a noble character, though, then you might get a little more use out of A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families, which includes their creeds, histories, reputations, colors, and all those other handy details.

- 100 Knightly Orders: Whether you are an initiate to an order, or a veteran of several missions, these organizations often command a loyalty that borders on the sacred. Even for someone who has left the order, or been excommunicated from its ranks, loyalty to the ideals may still run strongly within them... and they might be willing to take serious risks to redeem themselves, and rejoin their fellows.

- 100 Pirates to Encounter: If you were a salty dog on a pirate crew, or raised the black flag with someone you truly respected, then that bond is a tough one to break. If you're looking for a land-based version of these, then 100 Random Bandits to Meet may be more up your alley. Or, if you served time with someone who had your back while you were both on the inside, then 100 Prisoners For a Fantasy Jail might just be the ticket.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Fluff post! If you've used this in your games, share a story down in the comments!

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

DMs, If You Want To Provide A Tougher Challenge, Alter Your Arenas

Earlier today I was on a group talking about my recently re-homed character conversion guide for Hawkeye, when I had a strange exchange with someone. This person said, as a DM, they do everything in their power to take archers out of a fight completely. They hate them, they don't want to deal with them, and nullifying them is a primary goal they have when they're at the head of the table. While I see that as extremely bad form (after all, if you approved the character to play at your table, why are you taking away that player's ability to participate?), I decided to ask why they felt this way.

Apparently, to paraphrase, they felt that archers were too powerful because they can just wipe an encounter before the monsters ever have a chance to get close to the party.

My guess is this DM had never heard of tower shields.

Sarcasm aside, though, this is something that I see DMs run into time and time again. They always complain that this class, or that spell, totally destroys any challenge and lets players walk right through every fight... but when I ask about what kinds of fights they're presenting they miss the obvious solution.

In short, don't have every combat take place in a well-lit meadow with no cover and smooth terrain underfoot. Alter the environment, and you change the fight completely in many cases.

Change The Arena, Change The Game

A majority of combats in a lot of RPGs I've played/ran take place either in open rooms, or outside in open fields. Sometimes there are hallways, or an occasional nighttime ambush, but a lot of DMs just figure that if they throw enough monsters (or big enough monsters) into the arena then challenge will just happen.

Well, they wiped one of them... so I guess I'll throw THREE of them in this time!
While what you're fighting is important, there's no doubt about that, a lot of DMs forget that where you're fighting can make a huge difference in just how much of a challenge it is. I talked about this back in 3 Ways To Spice Up Combat in RPGs, but I feel like it might be helpful to expand the concept into areas that a lot of dungeon masters don't seem to consider.

To get started, let's use an example I just mentioned a little bit ago; the nighttime ambush. The party has bedded down for their rest, taken off their armor (in some cases, at least), and they're as vulnerable as heroes get. Sure, someone is on watch, but if they don't make the proper checks then they're going to be just as surprised as everyone else. In situations like this the darkness becomes a major asset to the ambushers. They can actually sneak up unseen, in many cases, and they can stand beyond the firelight to sling spells and shoot arrows at the party, making the attackers a much bigger threat because the party can't see them in the darkness (unless, of course, everyone in the party actually brought PCs with darkvision, which is not as common as some folks seem to think).

The difference that single environmental penalty makes can be stunning, and if you haven't tried it you should give it a whirl. The amount of actions it takes to create light, or to reveal enemies (the faerie fire spell was basically made for this) adds a whole new aspect to the challenge, and favors some strategies and characters (the half-orc with the crossbow can basically shoot back with impunity, while the human archer can barely pick out a target, for example) over others.

But that's just one example of a potential environmental penalty that players have to deal with. So ask what else you can do to change up the arena, and alter the challenge instead of just putting more, or bigger, monsters into play.

Who Has The High Ground?

The battlefield is about more than just whether or not there's darkness, mist, or smoke concealing enemies, and the fog of war is something that can go both ways. Everything, from whether the crumbling walls throughout this stretch of woods can be used for cover, to whether there are snipers up in the trees where the bruisers can't reach them, alters the challenge of a battle. Difficult or damaging terrain (in case you want to have fires blazing to control people's movements), slick ice, or even temperature that's hot or cold enough to exhaust those who aren't tough enough to take it are options you have at your disposal.

All right... I don't think they've seen us yet. Twenty more yards, and they're ours!
The key thing to remember, as the DM, is that terrain should be neutral a majority of the time, and favoring the monsters only if they're preparing for something. Obviously the orcs defending a stronghold from invasion are going to have walls to duck behind for cover, snipers behind arrow slits, etc., but those kinds of encounters should be stand-outs, not the norm. A fight in the forest should allow the party to duck behind the trees for cover just as easily as the bandits they're fighting, for example, turning it into a game of tactics and movement instead of a head-to-head fight where they line up and quote numbers until someone dies.

You also shouldn't be afraid to toss the party an advantage with the environment every now and again. Because yeah, they're fighting a dragon, but the rubble strewn around the cavern is big enough to give them a cover bonus against its breath weapon, and if they properly utilize the area they can surround it rather than all getting crushed in a narrow hallway. And perhaps the biggest gimme in this scenario, the cavern is too small for the dragon to take to the air and strafe the party with fire, ensuring that the fight is contained to a ground-level battle... assuming that would be more of an even match (as well as more fun) for the style of party your group is running.

Use All The Rules, and Stuff Tends To Get Tougher

I mentioned this back in No That Class Isn't "Broken" (You're Just Throwing The Wrong Challenges At It), but it bears repeating. If you play right into the strengths of your party every, single time, then of course they're going to crush whatever threat is standing in front of them. You put a Pathfinder paladin up against a mummy? He's immune to its disease, you can't make him afraid, and it takes all the damage from his smite and holy weapon... that lawful neutral mercenary, on the other hand, is going to give him a run for his money, because none of his holy powers come into play. You clustered your enemies together in a hallway, and then put them in front of the sorcerer who specialized in lightning bolt? Of course they got fried... but in a place with some cover and mobility, it would have been a lot harder to get that straight line of kills.

And so on, and so forth.

It takes extra damage from piercing weapons, you say? Hoo buddy, this will be over fast.
While you shouldn't be actively nullifying your players' abilities, you should be throwing in occasional challenges for them to deal with. Have them brawl in a theater where there are archers up in the box seats that have to be taken out, for example. Put an enemy at the top of the hill, and force your party to make tactical decisions about movement, cover, and range. When a fight breaks out in the bar, flip some of the tables over to block spells and crossbow bolts while the enemies return fire... at least until the barbarian sunders the table with her battle ax.

Lastly, remember that this is a two-way street. With all of the spells and alchemical items out there, it's possible for players to change up the environment as well as your monsters. Whether it's a tiefling lowering the lighting in the room with his darkness spell-like ability so he can get a miss chance on attacks coming his way, or the fighter hucking a smoke stick into the doorway so he can enter the room without presenting a clear target to the waiting enemies, don't get mad at them for using the rules and tactics available to them. Instead, take notes, because they might do something you didn't think of.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my 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, November 9, 2019

Increasing Your Movement Speed in Pathfinder (A Beginner's Guide)

It's been a while since I've done an in-depth piece on how to tweak a particular part of your PC in my favorite game, so I figured it was time to do another one of those! And if you've ever had one of those frustrating moments where you were 5 feet out of range of the enemy, well, then this collection of tips and tricks may be just what you've been looking for!

Oh that's cute... you thought I couldn't get to you!
And if you like this particular guide, you might also want to check out:

- Tips For Building a Whip-Wielding Swashbuckler
- Aid Another in Pathfinder is More Powerful Than You Think
- How To Increase Spell DCs in Pathfinder
- How To Weaponize Your Intimidate Check in Pathfinder

Anyway, onto this week's musings!

Classes and Feats

You can learn to be faster. Here, let me show you!
One of the easiest ways to increase your speed is to invest in a class that gives you the Fast Movement ability. This typically boosts your base speed by 10 feet, but some classes give you additional boosts as you go up in level. The trade-off is that you typically can't wear more than a certain amount of armor while also maintaining said speed. Still, if you don't need a heavy metal tank, you can try out the following options:

- Barbarian (level 1): Add 10 feet to base speed as long as you're wearing medium armor or less, and not carrying a heavy load.

- Bloodrager (level 1): Second verse, same as the first. It's identical to the barbarian ability.

- Monk (starting at level 3): Monks add 10 feet to their movement starting at level 3, and they can add up to 60 feet as they progress. They lose this bonus if wearing any armor, or carrying a medium or heavy load.

- Hinterlander (level 2): A prestige class found in Paths of The Righteous, the Hinterlander gets an additional 10 feet of land speed, but there are no stipulations regarding load or armor for keeping it. Then again, this prestige class has such high prerequisites that you're probably already juggling other concerns.

You're probably noticing a theme here... classes that get fast movement typically have to give up defense. This makes it pretty tough to build a fast-moving tank. Even the feat Fleet (found in the Core Rulebook) comes with the stipulation that you can wear no more than light armor and carry no more than a light load, or you lose the bonus 5 feet of movement it grants you.

Not great options, really. Fortunately, that's what magic is for.

Spells and Magic Items

Now we're getting somewhere...
Magic allows you to re-write the laws of reality, and it's one of the best ways to give yourself a bit of a boost to your speed. So, to start with, here are a few spells you may want to keep in mind if you've got a time for some pre-casting.

- Longstrider: An old standby for rangers, this spell grants you a +10 foot enhancement bonus to your base movement speed, but no other movement types. A greater version of the spell in the Advanced Class Guide grants a +20 foot enhancement bonus to your land speed, and a +10 foot enhancement bonus to any other forms of movement a character actually has. The advantage of these spells (1st and 3rd level respectively) is that they last for hours per caster level, which makes them a great pre-cast. Sadly, they're self only, meaning you need a spell completion item, or the ability to share spells with your target (such as casting this on a mount or a familiar who will be delivering your touch spells).

- Burst of Speed: A solid spell from Ultimate Combat, this spell seems a little weak for a 3rd-level spell slot at first glance. As a swift action you gain a 20 foot bonus to your speed (untyped), or a 10 foot bonus if you're wearing medium or heavy armor. The advantage is that your movement doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, and you can move through spaces of creatures larger than you as long as you don't end your movement there. Again, it's only usable on the self, but it's a handy trick to have up your sleeve if you need to close with an enemy (or get behind them for a flank) in a big damn hurry.

- Haste: Everyone's favorite party boosting spell, haste adds 30 feet to a person's movement in all forms. This counts as an enhancement bonus, so it won't stack with other enhancement bonuses. However, it has the advantage that it can affect several people at once, and that it will boost party members who can fly, swim, burrow, climb, etc. It also eats a 2nd or 3rd level spell slot, depending on your casting class, so you can keep it in spell-completion form, too, should you need it.

- Expeditious Retreat: A lower-level way to give yourself a 30-foot bonus to your speed, expeditious retreat is also treated as an enhancement bonus. It lasts for minutes per level, and it's a great way to get around the limitations placed on you because of heavier armor, shorter movement speeds from size, etc. And, despite the name, you can use this spell to move into an attack position if that's what you'd rather do!

- Blessing of Fervor: A spell that gives you and your allies all sorts of options to pick from, one of them allows you to add 30 feet to your speed. This doesn't stack with haste and other similar spells, but it's another useful spell for giving the party some options.

Again, there's a theme here of spells all granting enhancement bonuses, ensuring that you can't stack them up to suddenly turn yourself into the Road Runner with a greatsword. However, if you don't have spells at your beck and call, or if you just want a more permanent sort of boost like what you'd get from a class feature, then you could also add some of the following magic items to your roster.

- Expeditious Armor: Named after the last spell mentioned above, this enchantment allows you to flick a switch 3 times per day as a swift action, and add a 10 foot enhancement bonus to all forms of movement for 1 round. It can only be put on armor, and while not great, it comes with a flat gold cost rather than a magical enhancement value, so there is that.

- Boots of Striding and Springing: An old standby, these boots add a 10-foot enhancement bonus to the wearer's base land speed, and they're a very common way to overcome penalties from heavier armor. Also, they provide a +5 competence bonus on Acrobatics checks, so that's nice to have as some icing on the cake.

- Boots of Speed: While wearing these boots, as a free action, someone can click their heels together and act as if under the effects of haste for 10 rounds per day. Snazzy if you can find them, and you don't want to wait for your party caster's initiative to come up.

- Horseshoes of Speed: For mounted warriors, or those who managed to convince their DMs to let them play a centaur, these horseshoes add a 30 foot bonus to the creature's land speed. It counts as an enhancement bonus, of course, but with an extra 30 feet how much more do you really need?

While a few options have no doubt slipped through the cracks (and if I missed any really good options please leave them in the comments so I can update the list), these are the options you're going to find the most often.

Why Do You Need All This Speed, Anyway?

Getting the hell away from that, for starters.
While having an increased speed is nice, it might not be clear right away what you can actually do with it. After all, it is going to be kind of situational, as once you're in fighting range it's time to focus on swinging. With that said, though, there are a few reasons to invest in upgrading your ability to get around the battlefield.

The first is so you can play range games with your opponents. Because staying out of reach of your enemies while still being able to harry them is a solid path to victory. Whether you're dealing with shambling undead, or humans in heavy armor who can only move 20 feet or so, if you can hit and move (either with a ranged or reach weapon, a spell, or a feat like Spring Attack) then you can basically dominate a particular fight while not letting yourself get surrounded.

Secondly, the ability to get around a battlefield is often greatly hindered by the abilities of enemies and the terrain itself, and a little enhancement on your part can really help in breaking through those obstacles. Difficult terrain costs double your movement, for example. So does tumbling past opponents to avoid attacks of opportunity, and moving stealthily (without the proper rogue talent, at least). A simple tanglefoot bag can chop your speed in half, and that's without even getting started on all the ridiculous spells there are out there that can stagger you, and make it hard to get around. So it's important to have an ace up your sleeve for when the bad guys think they've got you in a trap.

Like, Share, and Follow For More!

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, 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, November 4, 2019

DMs, When It Comes To World Building, There's No Such Thing As Wasted Effort

How many times have you slaved over a dungeon layout, a unique monster, or a deeply thought out bit of world lore, only to have your party skate right past it without so much as slowing down? If you've been a dungeon master for any length of time, the answer is probably more times than you can readily count. And there are typically two reactions to this scenario. The first is to contrive some reason that the party is forced to stop and admire all of the hard work that you did, typically by throwing the brakes on to make them ask about the lore, fight the monster, or acquire a macguffin. The second is to sigh, close your notebook, and then when the players go home at the end of the night, to drink and think about what could have happened.

It could have been a great dungeon... but they didn't want to explore it. Why do I bother?
However, for those DMs who get caught up in "wasted" effort, I think you need to be reminded of something. You're the one who makes the world go round... you can always bring that thing back around again somewhere else, if you think creatively about it.

A Great Re-Structuring Is Always Possible

The most obvious example of these situations is when the players miss something you spent a lot of time working on, hoping they would find. Maybe it was this massive dungeon complex hidden behind a wall, or a crumbling temple that your party could see off in the distance, but they decided to nope right past because it wasn't part of their current mission.

That's fine. Because if the players never saw it, they won't realize that you just moved it to a different location later up the road.

And we'll just move you... here. This spot's perfect!
I mentioned this way back in Herd Your Players, Don't Railroad Them, but it bears repeating. If you wanted your party to explore an area you put a lot of time and effort into, but they didn't take the bait, just move the area to another spot, and make it more relevant. If your players didn't see the dungeon, meet the NPC, face off with the monster, etc., then as far as they know it doesn't exist. You are the only one who will know that you're recycling an "old" location/person/fight and connecting it to a different spot. Additionally, you'll look super prepared because you have something ready to go, complete with map notes, diagrams, riddles, etc.

Lore Isn't Wasted (Even If No One Bites The Hook)

Sometimes the thing you want your party to interact with is less tangible. Maybe it's the history of a particular knightly order, or the legends swirling around the royal family, or the rumors on the street about girls who are going missing on the second night of every full moon. It might be interesting background, but the key thing to remember is that unless these lore details are actually part of your party's current adventure, that's all they are; part of the scenery.

Just mentioning these things exist means they're doing their job, even if no one pursues them.

Anyone curious about the Dragon Pikers? Anybody? Come on, guys...
Background lore and details like this set the tone for a place. While you might think it's fascinating that each of the gargoyles perched on major public buildings has a name and a history associated with it in the city of Evernight found at the base of the Obsidian Mount, gushing about it won't endear that fact to your players. Instead, just describe what they see, and let them react appropriately. Work references to the gargoyles into the way people speak, making warding signs and invoking the creatures' names the way others might offer prayers to saints. Have certain, specific gargoyles crouched over doors, or left inside like household altars, to drive home how important they are in this town, and show how people touch the statues as a way to gain good luck, or protection, or how they'll pay one of the statues' heads the way we might knock on wood to avoid ill fate.

Some players might wonder what's going on, and either ask to make checks or talk to your NPCs to find out. Others will simply nod, and take it as part of the atmosphere. And even if the religious import, cultural significance, etc. of this worship is never discussed, its very existence is enough to make the place unique... that means it did its job. The goal is not to inundate your players with a guided tour of this fantasy setting's religion, but rather to use that aspect to make the place feel unusual and different. Mission accomplished.

If your players are overcome with curiosity and ask questions, you know the answers. If they don't ask, they still have the haunting visuals you've described, and the feeling of eyes watching them from above. Either way, it's a win for you as the DM. The lore is a bonus, but force-feeding it to your players is going to bore them, rather than engage them. If they don't ask, don't take time away from their actions to tell them.

Looking For Some Inspiration?

Another option I'd suggest for all the DMs out there is to keep some lists handy so you can just grab names, places, and backstories as you need them. This can save you a lot of work, and a lot of staring off into space as you try to spitball an NPC's name, or layout the rumors about a location or a person. If you're looking for some inspiration, might I suggest some of the following by yours truly?

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumors (And The Truth Behind Them): Each of these rumors can be used to add a little flavor to a game, but they also have enough meat behind them that you could build an entire session out of them. Handy to have on-hand if you need a plot, but can't spitball something in a hurry.

- 100 NPCs You Might Meet At The Tavern: Perhaps my bestseller yet (at Electrum status at time of writing) this one has a bit of everything. So whether you need merchants or scholars, gang lords or private muscle, you can find a little of everything in this collection, ready to go!

- A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families: Every family has a story, and noble families tend to have several. Whether you want shining lords or corrupt patriarchies, there's a bit of everything in this particular collection of the high and the mighty.

- 100 Knightly Orders: That crack about unique knights above wasn't just a crack. Elite troops and stand-out orders with their heraldry and histories can capture the imagination, but coming up with them on the fly isn't easy. So, here's a hundred of them ready for their marching orders!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my 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, November 2, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 21: Storming The Halls of Evocation

Though the gates were guarded by a fell dragon, as well as ancient stone golems, the Companions found their way within the Runeforge. A place thought lost to myths and legends, containing some of the most brilliant and blasphemous works of arcane magic the world had ever seen. A place of danger, to be sure, but perhaps the one place they could find what they need to end the threat of Karzoug.

For those who haven't caught up on this adventure yet, check out the previous chapters below:

- 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

Now, into the depths of the Runeforge!

A Strange Place, Unseen in Centuries

Well we're here... now what?
Entering the Runeforge, the Companions found themselves in a large, central chamber. A strange fountain of prismatic energy flowed, casting lights onto the stone faces of the statues of the Runelords. Each stood before a hallway that appeared dedicated to their sin and magical school of choice. There were no indications as to where Runeforged weapons might lie, or even if there was anyone else in this ancient plane of existence, separate and apart from the material realm.

After some debate, and with nothing rushing toward them from the depths of the Runeforge to challenge their presence, the Companions decided the most likely place to find a weapon was in the section dedicated to evocation. So, arms at the ready, they headed off to see what they might find.

Storming The Halls of War

The first thing the Companions found, other than perfectly smooth halls, was a massive entryway with a huge statue atop a stone outcropping. It looked like some sort of construct, inactive for now, watching over the room. Bostwick was the first to step into the open space, triggering a blaring alarm, and making the sentry guardian shiver to life.

Well, it noticed us. Evasive maneuvers!
The golem turned, took aim, and fired, sending massive projectiles ripping through the air. Zhakar unfurled his wings, drawing the flametongue he'd taken from the dragon's hoard and blasting the sentry with a bolt of fire. The golem re-oriented its cannon, drawing a bead on the winged figure as Chikara loosed an arrow. The crackling shaft smashed into the golem, leaving it jittering and slow to fire. In attempting to defend Zhakar, she'd discovered the thing's weakness to electricity.

Bostwick rushed the plinth, scrambling up the wall and laying into the machine with hammer blows from his tiny fists, each one dancing with electrical sparks. Thok loosed one arrow after another, before Zhakar swooped down, clasped his friend's arm, and dropped him atop the outcropping where Thok could use his spear on the guardian. Drawing its fire from the air, the thing was quickly overwhelmed, and outmatched, unable to focus through the storm of blows. Whatever force powered it overheated, and it crumbled, it's legs buckling, and its arms clanging as they fell to the floor.

Though the chance for surprise was clearly gone, the Companions had no choice but to move forward... and to hope the other defenses were human rather than automated, so they could perhaps find a diplomatic solution to their situation.

Beyond the shattered hulk, they found a strange portal. Deciding there was no other way forward, they stepped through it. As before, Bostwick went first, which was fortunate as the formation of sorcerous soldiers who'd drawn up in firing formation loosed their spells at the first enemy to come through. Protected by his sheer resistance to magical energies, not a single projectile managed to land a blow against the small monk. As the others came through, and stared at the force arrayed against them, they knew that peace would not be an option.

They also saw that every, single wizard was the same man. Half a dozen of them, as alike as twins.

Well... this just got weird.
Moving in strange, silent tandem the evokers warded themselves, and slung spells at the Companions. Great balls of fire exploded, and missiles of raw force hammered at them. Illusions made the wizards nearly impossible to hit, with ghosts vanishing in whiffs of smoke as Thok's arrows and Chikara's ax passed through them. The wizards did not react to entreaties to stop fighting, and wouldn't even speak, simply hurling more magic at the Companions.

Enraged, Zhakar unleashed his hellfire, as well as his blinding beams of light, immolating several wizards, and blinding most of those who were left. Hacking through their remaining defenses, Chikara and Zordlan dispatched the rest, while Thok's arrows found their mark, leaving a field of bodies where previously there had been silent, deadly warriors.

Shock Troopers

Winded, and confused, the Companions looked around and found themselves in a barracks. The place where, supposedly, these wizards would have lived, worked, and trained. And despite the fact that the Runeforge made sleep and eating optional rather than required, there were beds that had been used, and carefully preserved rations stacked up and ready. As if these warriors had been preparing for something. And then, in a strange, alchemical array in the rear of the room, they found what looked like a cross between a cauldron, and some kind of birthing chamber.

Well, at least we know where they were coming from...
The Companions rested, staying vigilant, but taking care to keep an eye on the portals in, and out of the barracks. Once their strength returned, they continued on through the next portal, finding themselves in an even stranger place... a place that was one part armory, and one part arena. A curtain of flames stood against the left wall, burning silently. Unsure if they'd found a hold of Runeforged weapons, Zordlan examined the arms hanging on the wall. While they were clearly wrought by masters of their craft, there was nothing else unusual about them. Nothing strange or enchanted. They'd also been attached to the wall, rendering them little more than decoration.

That was when a challenge rang out from beyond the fires. An invitation to step into the arena, and to die with honor.

The Mistress of Evocation

Be careful what you wish for.
The Companions stepped through the fire, hoping they could reason with the woman who had challenged them. That there was some way they could explain what was going on, and end things peacefully. When they saw the red-haired warrior wreathed in flames, with a hulking, demonic slave standing ready to aid her, they knew there would be no way to halt her. Not without putting their own lives at great risk.

As the battle began, the wizard flew into the air, howling for blood as she sent streams of baleful light down toward the Companions. As her demonic minion began a buzzing intonation, Thok loosed an arrow, taking it in the throat. The creature's concentration broken, it failed to summon more of its brethren to join the fray. Chikara charged it, her ax holding its full attention. Zhakar rose to meet the mistress of the chamber, an inhuman battle cry bellowing from his throat as his eyes burned, and his wings flared. Mirelinda spoke the soft, dire words she'd only uttered a few times before, and the light of bright intelligence in the evoker's eyes went out. All that was left was a brute, animal hatred, and a desire for battle.

The battle was lost after that. The demon soon fell beneath the onslaught of blades and arrows carving its flesh, and with a final blow from his pick, Zhakar pierced the wizard's ribs, the spike ramming in beneath her arm, and puncturing her heart. As the body floated to the ground, something strange happened. The symbol on her forehead, which had blazed brightly, lifted from her brow. It streaked toward Zhakar, striking him just above his eyes. It burned there, a blazing symbol heating his steel skin red hot, making slag drip around the edges. It didn't hurt, though... quite the opposite. It pulsed with power, filling his blood with heat. A potent weapon the evoker had burned into herself, transferred on her death to the hand that had thrown her down.

What Next?

Shaken, and confused, the Companions realized they were no closer to getting what they came there for. Worse, if the evokers were anything to judge by, those in the Runeforge would be universally hostile, giving them no choice but to fight for every answer, and every foot of ground.

With half a dozen halls left to choose from, there was still a great deal more of the place to explore.

Next Time on Table Talk!

Will the Companions survive the horrors of the Runeforge? Will they find the weapons they seek, or is it all just a deadly trap? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal 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.