Monday, February 24, 2020

Looking For A New Gaming Podcast? Check Out Loaded Dice Rollers!

It's been a while since I've done a signal boost for some other folks out there in the gaming community, and this Monday I figured it was time for just such a shout out. If you're one of those folks who enjoy tabletop gaming podcasts, but you've been looking for something new to really strike your fancy, then I've definitely got something you need to check out.

They call themselves... Loaded Dice Rollers!

Come on... you know you want to tune-in to this!

What is Loaded Dice Rollers?

Well, the short version is that Loaded Dice Rollers is a tabletop gaming podcast that you can catch on Twitch... but that's sort of like saying the ocean is wet. It's true, but there's a bit more to it than that.

The short version is that the tale takes five mis-matched adventurers, and sends them on a journey of DM Macleod's own devising. Using the new edition of Pathfinder, the journey began in the dark lands of Ustalav. Moving through the Tusk Mountains, and into the highest peaks of Golarion, these heroes will face chaos out of time, and forces that could break the minds of less potent (and less inebriated) parties. Will they save the world... or will the dice fall in the favor of chaos?

Who can say?
That's enough to get you started, but there are other reasons to check out what this podcast is doing. The game itself takes place in MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys, which is a unique setting for an endeavor such as this. Additionally, the DM and the players are all veterans of the Hollywood scene who are putting their skills to work on the hobby they love. So if you want episodes that have that epic, sweeping grandeur to them, the style and editing on this will be right up your alley.

Of course, the crew themselves fully admit that the rules of the game often take something of a beating in the name of exciting scenes and adventure... so like any production that's a fantasy instead of an exact recreation, it might be best for the table attorneys to leave their hang-ups at the door for this one.

If that sounds like something that would spice up your workday, and get you fired up for your own next session, then check out Loaded Dice Rollers on Twitch, follow them on Facebook, and while you're at it check them out on Instagram, too!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you found this suggestions useful!

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 latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 24: Preparation For The Final Journey

With the Runeforge fallen silent, and the weapons that would be the unmaking of Kharzoug in their hands, the Companions returned to Magnimar to regroup, and to find their way to the final steps of their journey. It would not be easy, testing their will as surely as it would test their strength and endurance. In the end, not all would be ready for the task.

For those who need to catch up, previous installments can be found 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

 But what did the Companions find awaiting them in Magnimar? A test of their minds and spirits, as well as a mysterious, new companion.

Is My Heart Yet Pure?

Our hands were forced... but was there another way?
Upon returning to Magnimar, Zordlan secreted himself in council with the Pathfinder Society, digging through maps and historical accounts, he tried to make sense of the clues they had regarding Kharzoug's whereabouts and the fabled city of Zin Shalast. Bostwick, wearied and shaken from what had happened in the Runeforge, sat in contemplation in the clearing dedicated to Desna, hoping to rinse the miles and the deeds from his mind. Thok and Chikara rested, like hunting hounds conserving their strength. And Mirelinda wandered the city, troubled in her spirit.

As the days passed, the young Varisian found her steps returning to the same, abandoned chapel where Zhakar had found Demonbane awaiting him. He was there, standing quietly in the stillness of the place dedicated to the dead god Aroden. His hair blew in a breeze that wasn't there, and the steel of his gauntlet and manica seemed to flow and flex, responding to the moods of the one who wore them. For ever since his return from the Runeforge, it was hard to call Zhakar a man any longer. When he turned, the light that lived in him glimmered in his eyes. It frightened, but comforted. That light would not tolerate the presence of evil.

"Something troubles you," Zhakar said, placing his right hand atop the head of the Runeforged pick on his hip. The steel stilled, quelled by the presence of the weapon that wounded transmutations.

"We killed them," she said. The words came out of her like a popped cork, the rest tumbling out in a jumble. "Not in a fight, not like the others. I broke them. I wiped their minds clear. They couldn't do anything and... and..."

"And you wonder if that stained you," Zhakar asked, taking a step closer. Mirelinda wrapped her arms tightly around herself, barely suppressing a shudder. She nodded, but wouldn't look up. "Do you trust me?"

"What?" she asked, her head coming up in surprise.

"Do you trust me?" Zhakar repeated, a smile that was something of the man he'd been when she first saw him at the festival so long ago quirking his lips.


"Then close your eyes," he said. "And I will show you how little you truly changed."

Mirelinda almost argued, but shut her eyes. Once he was certain she wasn't going to open them again, Zhakar tilted his head back, and let forth the Light. The whole chapel illuminated in a burst of brilliant radiance that washed over the two of them, filling them like a wave of purity. Mirelinda gasped, her eyes shooting open once it has passed. Zhakar looked down at her, and nodded.

"Are you blind?" he asked.

"No," she said. "And I feel... I feel..."

"Good," he said, nodding. "Take that as a sign, then. Those who are merely selfish creatures feel nothing when the Light covers them. Those who are wicked are blinded. We should take no pride in what had to be done, but we did not lose our souls for doing it."

A Mysterious Stranger

And just who the hell are you?
Zordlan emerged after several days of consultation with the archives and records, having found an old map, and an account of a mining camp far to the north of the Black Arrows' fortress. Though there had been rich veins of minerals, there was also something strange. Rumors of odd happenings, and of sights that couldn't be. Overlaid with the ancient lines regarding where the entrance to Zin Shalast could be found, he was certain the portal would be found there.

Not all of the Companions would take that journey, though. Zordlan would remain at the Society lodge, looking for any further mystery they could use to their advantage. And Bostwick, though he had walked far with them, said that his path was elsewhere. He wasn't sure what awaited at the end of his journey, but he knew traveling to Zin Shalast was not a part of his path.

While Mirelinda, Thok, Chikara, and Zhakar stood on the docks awaiting the ship that would take them upriver the following day, they saw a strange sight. A woman was on the deck of the ship... or, more accurately, a feminine figure.

She was slender and petite, wearing a dress that was not suited to either the practicalities of travel or the idea of modesty. If the cold bothered her, though, she showed no sign. Black ears like that of a beast sat atop her head, and a tail curled round her waist. Her eyes were an impossible hue, and silver rings pierced her skin in unexpected places. A light scent of jasmine seemed to waft from her, but oddest of all was that she sat on a small cloud... a cloud that seemed to obey her whims and directions.

No sooner had the dock touched down than she floated closer to the Companions, her smile bright, wide, and satisfied. She called Zhakar by name, and told him she'd been looking for him everywhere. She called him nephew, and while his face gave no sign of disquiet, the steel of his gauntlet writhed until he managed to get control of himself again. Ivory was her name, and though he had never prayed to the Lady Arshea, blood called to blood in times of turmoil. So the Lady had sent Ivory to find him, and to bring him back into the fold.

Once the Companions explained their current task, Ivory's delight dimmed. A serious matter, and one that would require the utmost of care. Finally, she shrugged. If Arshea had waited more than two decades for Ivory to find Zhakar, surely she could wait a little while longer while they attended to a matter of such import.

Next Time on Table Talk!

Who is Ivory? Is the tales she tells about Zhakar's lineage true? If so, can she reveal what it is that's going on inside of him? And will she be what helps the Companions finally put to rest the machinations of the risen Runelord? 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 or my recent short story collection The Rejects, 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, February 17, 2020

The Field Commander Conjurer

Shaheen Redoras watched the battle line from atop the hill. Below her was the slow grind of attrition as the enemy pushed back the line step by step, leaving blood and bodies in its wake. The men were holding, but only by the skin of their teeth. Next to her Captain Fandras was chewing on the ends of his mustache. She could feel his silent demands, but the time wasn't right just yet.

Then the line broke, and the foe committed themselves to the charge. They roared through the gap, feet pounding and blades upraised. Shaheen smiled. It was a sad smile. She'd hoped it wouldn't come to this, but she knew that sooner or later it always did.

"To me," she bellowed, hammering her staff into the ground. "Rise to me you pit-born jackals!"

She barked the names and ranks in an unbreaking tide of words. There was no pretty ritual to her calling; no chalked runes on a slab of stone, or an upraised knife for a sacrifice. Those things were for one begging a boon... Shaheen commanded, and hell rose to meet her.

The only warning the enemy had was the smell of brimstone, and a sound like the striking of a match. Then the fiends were upon them. Roaring beasts with shards of bone jutting from their fists tore apart the enemy's front line, and winged creatures with the bodies of women and eyes of fire lanced into those behind with arrows from above. Skittering hellhounds harried the flanks, tearing and scorching anything they came into contact with. Holding a finger to her ear, Shaheen roared her orders, directing the devils by name to where they would do the most damage.

Conscripts they might be, but in her hands they were a precision machine that quickly turned a sure victory into a rout.

Fall in, maggots!

Conjuring The Cavalry

Magic is one of the most potent forces in most fantasy settings, and as such it has the potential to act as the main mechanic of an arms race. From evokers acting as living artillery batteries (as we saw in the Military Grade Evoker), to necromancers who can command legions of undead troops, to abjurers who can shield troops from harm, magic is of prime interest to those that deal in war.

Which is why a conjurer who can make tactical decisions with the minions they call forth from the ether can be a literal one-caster-army.

Page 875, devil dogs somatic component: Oorah!
The advantage that conjurers have is they can call on a variety of creatures to suit the needs of a particular engagement, as long as they have the time and knowledge to call in the proper reinforcements. However, matching the creature to the conflict is only one skill the field commander needs... the other is strategy.

For example, any conjurer can summon a squad of celestial warriors... but can they direct them to use their abilities in conjunction with one another? Can they make the best possible use of flanking, or aiding another, and of providing a shield? Even something as simple as making grapple checks, executing a trip, or using conjured creatures that can fight in ranks (one in front, one with reach behind them) can be a huge boon.

To really bring this concept home, though, it's important to ask who the conjurer fought for, and what troops answer their call? You can also get a lot of mileage out of what sort of relationship the conjurer has with their summoned creatures, and how they respond to being press-ganged into the action.

For instance, is the conjurer one who sings the celestial hymns of war, bringing forth angels they've fought side-by-side with through several battles? Someone who has earned these beings' respect and loyalty? Or is this conjurer one who summons beasts, howling with the pack or bellowing with plane-touched bears? Do they bend demons to their will, or cow devils who fear that if the conjurer does die then they'll be placed so high in hell's hierarchy that these unwilling troops will still have to follow their orders?

While this concept can work with summoners and druids, as well as with conjurers, the key is to incorporate strategic summoning, military experience, and the relationship with the creatures being summoned. Once you have those three elements worked out, you've got a unique version of this idea. Whether your conjurer is an eager young officer testing their skills in the field, or a jaded ex-soldier who left the life and has turned mercenary, you've got something unusual to contribute to the party's endeavors!

Additional Resources

If you like the idea of the field commander conjurer, you might find some of the following resources to be helpful in filling out your character's background, history, and personality.

- 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards: One of my more popular 5 Tips guides, it's important to remember that not all wizards are stodgy scholars in long robes. There's also 5 Tips For Druids and 5 Tips For Summoners, if you're going down those paths instead.

- 100 Knightly Orders: If you're looking for an order to command your PCs loyalty (or whom they'd one day like to join), then organizations like the Masters of the Unbreakable Chain might be just what you're looking for. Or if you'd rather be a little less scrupulous, in 100 Random Mercenary Companies you can find groups like the Acolytes of Arannis, which employs mages of all varieties to win the field of battle.

- 100 Fantasy Battle Cries (And Their Histories): From ancient warrior-philosophers, to elite mercenary companies who've been dead for a millennia, these battle cries add a touch of flavor to any warrior. And if one is to lead, it never hurts to have a signal for your troops that it is time to fight.

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 dungeon master.

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

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

You Are Not Obligated To Like Games Just Because They're Popular

Like a lot of gamers, I came into the tabletop RPG hobby through what was then the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. This was right around the time that 3.0 was making its transition to 3.5, for those of you looking to construct a timeline. I'd had brushes with funny-shaped dice and narrative gaming before, but that was when I really committed to the hobby.

It wasn't long after that my dice collection began to become... an issue.
Also like most gamers, the longer I was in the hobby, the more games I discovered. The World of Darkness got its reinvention not long after I became aware of it (the games now referred to as the Chronicles of Darkness for those feeling confused), and several groups I played with ran stuff like BattleTech, Call of Cthulhu, and in one night of zany experimentation, Paranoia. And one of my clearest memories as a gamer was when Wizards of the Coast brought out the 4th Edition of DND.

Like a lot of gamers who'd gone all-in on 3.5, I hated 4th Edition. I felt the lack of customization was a major flaw, and I disliked how it felt more like an MMO or a minis war game than the sort of RPG I was used to. My group all shared the same opinion, and we decided to stick to 3.5 until we found something we liked better. Which we did when Paizo released Pathfinder. It was everything we liked, plus some extra wooge, and we couldn't have been happier.

I Told You That Story So I Could Tell You This Story...

The reason I told you all of that is to establish that for the first decade or so of my gaming career, I was a gamer who found that most of my wants and needs were in sync with the broader strokes of what was popular in the hobby. I came in when the dominant game design philosophy was to make games that focused on giving players the ability to fully customize their characters, and where the DMs had to do the minimal amount of improvisation regarding common rules (there were charts and scales for falling damage, weather, monsters and traps were fully statted out, skills had specific thresholds and modifier, etc.).

However, over the past several years as both a player and a designer I have noticed that the pendulum is definitely swinging the other way now. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons came back hard from 4th Edition's failure, and gobbled up a huge amount of the market. Thanks to shows like Stranger Things, simpler editions of DND are coming back in vogue. And, generally speaking, the market is filling up with games that have a lot fewer moving parts, and which require a lot less investment and time on the part of players and storytellers alike.

Just what the hell is going on here?
There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that with gaming's increased accessibility, gamers are reaching for the editions they see in their favorite shows (Critical Role, in particular, I hold responsible for a portion of 5th Edition's booming fan base). Another is that more gamers are adults, and adults with jobs (and sometimes kids of their own) don't typically have hours upon hours to dedicated to learning labyrinthine, complicated storytelling systems. When you add in that lots of games are also geared toward shorter campaigns, and even one-shots (I'm looking at you, Dread), the market is clearly changing to fit a much different audience. And since shorter, less complicated games require a lot less work to make, they're popping up in greater numbers.

This is a gaming demographic I'm not part of.

This is frustrating both as a gamer, and as a game designer (though in my defense I'm stretching out and following the curve with 5th Edition DND modules like False Valor and The Curse of Sapphire Lake), but meditating on it has lent some clarity. Once upon a time the things I liked in games were popular, and that drove profit margins. Now my style of game is less popular, and as a result there are fewer companies putting out the type of content that I enjoy. That's not a slight against me, that's just how the free market works; if there were more gamers in the hobby who wanted what I want, it's what companies would produce.

And that's fine (at least personally; professionally it's a different kettle of fish). I am under no obligation to buy the games being produced if they're not the sort of things I want to play. No one is going to make me move on to Pathfinder's second edition, or Dungeons and Dragons' fifth, in the same way that no one forced Vampire: The Masquerade players to move onto Requiem when it was released. The games I like still exist, and I have full control over what I play in my own time. We all do.

With That Said... Let People Enjoy Things

Having said all of that, not liking something doesn't mean that you should volunteer your opinion in places where it isn't wanted. If people are talking about their latest campaign, and your only contribution is to disparage the edition or system they're using, just shut up. Move on from that conversation, because it's not for you, and no one is asking for your input.

"In my day, natural tharks weren't an auto-success!"
As geeks and gamers (particularly those who are used to being the dominant audience), we occasionally get confused and think that other people beyond the folks we play with care what we think. We fall into that trap where we mistake not being catered to with having our interests ignored, and too often we end up trying to spread that negativity around. Like how grown men will rail against the popularity of boy bands or romance novels just because something that isn't made for them is popular and successful.

So the next time you get ready to hold forth about something you don't like that's popular in gaming, or how this or that group who's clearly having fun is contributing to the popularity of the "wrong" kinds of games, take a moment and ask if anyone solicited your opinion. If you were specifically asked to share, consider whether what you're about to say will have a positive impact on those who hear your words.

Take my advice on this one; your games of choice will not get more popular if you shout about how they're superior to all the stuff people are playing and enjoying now. Instead, make a pitch for what your games do that other games don't. Put on your salesman's cap, and hold the door open for gamers who may not have heard of your favored system, or preferred edition. Be an ambassador who persuades those watching to give your style of gaming a try.

Because in this instance, you will catch far more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you found this suggestions useful!

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 latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

It Only Has To Happen Once (Weird PCs, and The "Special Snowflake" Argument)

There is an argument that happens a lot at gaming tables, and it's one that's confused me the older I've gotten. It is, in general, the idea that wanting a player character to be unique or special in some way is inherently bad, and that it somehow represents poor storytelling on the part of the player proposing the idea (or on the part of dungeon masters who allow such characters).

Sometimes it's a player who wants to bring in a race that isn't typically seen in a certain environment. Other times it's a desire to play a certain class that's deemed unusual, or even mastering a strange method of magic, or esoteric fighting style. But any time someone asks to bring in a character that has something weird, wild, or unusual, there's all too often a push back against it purely because it's something out of the norm.

This is a bad habit, and it's one that I think we should all step back to examine.

Seriously, guys, calm down.

PCs Are SUPPOSED To Be Special

If you are playing a long-term campaign where the party is supposed to achieve a goal and maintain its cohesion all the way to the end, then the PCs should stand out, or be special in some way. It isn't required, but it is certainly well within the genre if you look at most of the classic examples from modern fiction and well-known myths.

Drizzt Do'urden is probably our go-to example as a drow who finds his views apart from his people, and who adventures away from the Underdark, but he's far from the only example. Logen Ninefingers (and his anime counterpart Guts) are both sensitive to the world of spirits, and achieve feats of violence and bloodshed that leave others in awe. Hercules is the son of a god, and has a strength so prodigious that in one play he literally puts death itself in a headlock until it returns a friend's wife. Oedipus is the secret son of a king, and a child of prophecy (tragic prophecy, but prophecy nonetheless). The crew list for the Argo was a who's who of heroes and champions, all on a quest for the golden fleece. The dangerous ranger who goes toe-to-toe with half a dozen undead kings is actually an 80 year-old prince in love with the daughter of an elf lord who by rights should be wielding a mystic sword spoken of only in legend.

Then there's this white-haired, golden eyed, regenerating ladies' man.
The point I'm getting at is that PCs are not supposed to be randomly-selected extras who've just been promoted to starring roles. They are the ones with the skills, the drive, and often the unusual abilities to step up and do what other people can't... because if someone else was already handling the problem, then we would be telling stories about their exploits instead.

So if a thing exists in the game world, and it is available to players, there's no reason to blanket-deny it to someone who asked for it.

And as the guy who wrote both 100 Unusual Aasimar and 100 Tieflings To Meet in Your Travels, trust me, I'm no stranger to slotting in weird, wild, and bizarre character concepts.

The Drizzt Problem

I can hear a lot of DMs out there clearing their throats, and preparing comments that they've seen far too many players who want to just make versions of some of the characters I mentioned with the serial numbers filed off. They're not putting in their own creativity, or trying to make the character their own in any way, they just want to change the name and be Drizzt, or Strider, or Guts.

To that I ask you this one, very important question: Why does that matter?

Seriously... because I know we've all done our own version of this. Heck, I wrote the conversion!
If the race, class, and abilities your player wants are clearly influenced by a particular archetype of character, and they're willing to make that character work in your game, who cares if it's their own take on a popular archetype? Because Batman is just Zorro without the horse, Zorro is just the Scarlet Pimpernel with a different accent, and so on, and so forth.

Your primary concern as a DM should be that your players are having fun, and playing characters they enjoy, which add to the game. If everyone around the table enjoys their take on something, then it will make the game better. Also, if you let a player get that experience under their belt, next time around they're more likely to do something different, and to stretch their legs a bit. Whereas if you tell them no, they're just going to want to do it more because they didn't get a chance to try it out. I speak from personal experience here both as a player, and as a DM.

Rarity is Not an Excuse, Either

 The other major argument that I'm sure someone was getting ready to make is that rarity should exclude players from having certain character types. The more uncommon a race, class, etc. is, the more reason you have to say no to it.

I'd actually take the opposite view of this. If something exists in the setting, and it is available for PCs to have, then there should be even less reason to say no to it because by its very nature it's going to fit into the mold of someone (or something) bound to have adventures worth following.

A tiefling warlock who uses the powers of hell to battle fiends? Baller, let's roll!
The rarity argument makes no sense, because we are not choosing the PCs we play by looking at world demographics and picking what makes the most sense based on that spread. Otherwise 99 percent of all games would just be human peasants being slaughtered by wave after wave of goblins. You pick a PC for their ability to actually solve the threats the party is facing, and because their unique flavor appeals to your palate.

And if something "doesn't fit" in a particular location, then it's your job to sit down with the player and figure out why this character ambled into town.

Heard you had a monster problem. Might be able to help with that.
I talked about this in The Non-Problem of Making Monks Fit Your Setting, as well as in DMs, Please Stop Arbitrarily Limiting Race Choice in Your Games, but it still bears repeating. The world is a big, wide-open pile of nonsense, and getting a character from one end of it to the other is often way easier than we seem to think it is.

For example, say a player wants to play a character who's been schooled in the art of the Broken Fist. It's a powerful fighting style that has a particular tie to a nation half a world away from where your game takes place. So, how did the PC get there?

- They Walked: Caravans and ships are canonically everywhere in most settings, and there's nothing to say that a student of this bone-breaking martial art didn't simply walk until they found a place where their skills were needed.

- They're Already Local: If someone was a local who was schooled by a retired master of the art, then they're in the area you need them to be, and for bonus points they're someone known to the neighborhood/town. You could even throw in some tension with their master over how this art should be used, with the student electing to do the right thing despite their teacher, or their teacher sending the student to help as a test of their skills.

- They're With Someone Else: The barbarian puts their sword into the fight, but the initiate of the Broken Fist has been traveling with them, and can't let their friend go it alone. How did Han and Chewie get to the middle of nowhere when the plot needed them? Who cares, they're here now, and that's what matters.

Whether the PC is a demon-blooded sorcerer who really just wants to help, or one of the last of a clutch of lizardfolk looking for revenge, as long as the player has an explanation for why they are here, that's all that matters.

Because even if only a small percentage of the game world qualifies for a certain class, or is born as a certain race, what's the point of that argument? 1 percent of billions of creatures is still millions of potential candidates! Having an entire party of "rare" creatures and specialties is not all that unusual, and is something you can explain pretty easily between mercenary companies who specialize in outcasts (like The Devil's Own in 100 Random Mercenary Companies), traveling circuses, fleeing refugees, and the bloodlines of previous generations of adventurers who stopped in every tavern and brothel they could find to spend their loot. So if your urge as a DM is to say no, and fold your arms until everyone goes back to dwarven fighters and elven rangers, ask why you feel that way. What are you gaining from denying your players the options they want to utilize which exist in the setting you're running?

Your players might make do with a secondary PC idea they've had laying around. But if you give them that weird, wild thing they asked for? They will typically fight tooth and nail to make the most of it. Just something to think about.

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, February 3, 2020

The Five-Man Band and Your Party (Something to Think About)

Most of us know that the general purpose of an adventuring party is to make sure that everyone contributes a different strength to the group. The idea is that if one member can't handle a task (interpreting an ancient text, sneaking past the guards, smashing in the ogre champion's skull), then another member can step up and take point on it. This makes everyone a main character, and equally responsible for moving the story as it unfolds around them.

However, examining the literary trope behind this setup can be quite useful. If you've never come across it before, it's called the Five-Man Band.

The short version is that a balanced party, using this blueprint, consists of the following members according to TV Tropes.

- The Leader (Lead Singer): If the party had a protagonist, it would be this character. Whether it's the charismatic paladin who draws their friends into their adventures or the mastermind who runs the team for the heist, the leader is the one the others tend to defer to when it comes time to speak for the group.

- The Lancer (Lead Guitar): The Lancer is the balance to the Leader. They are, in many ways, the opposite side of the same coin, providing the elements the Leader lacks. If the Leader is clean-cut and noble, the Lancer may be grizzled and pessimistic. If the Leader is an opportunist who's more than a little amoral, the Lancer often acts as their conscience, etc.

- The Smart Guy (Keyboardist): This character is immediately recognizable across genres. The wizard, the hacker, the antiquarian... the Smart Guy is the one who knows things. Often physically weak, they tend to be good friends with the Big Guy... the Loki to their Thor, if you will.

- The Big Guy (Drummer): The bulk of the band, this guy is the tank. Sometimes the Big Guy is reluctant to really bring their strength out, like we see with Colossus in the X-Men, and sometimes they revel in it, like whenever the Hulk is let off the chain. Sometimes the Big Guy is slow on the uptake, sometimes they're mute, but they're the only ones who can literally carry the party.

- The Heart (Vocals): Typically referred to as The Chick in the classic Five-Man Band setup, the Heart is more often than not the only female character in the group (though this is changing as time goes on). The Heart is the one who brings everybody together, and who helps maintain balance while keeping a happy medium. It's argued that if the Heart is male that it's not a Five-Man Band, but for anyone who saw the episode of Captain Planet when Mati wasn't included (and the Captain was a merciless, uncaring force of pure destruction let loose on the world to scour it clean), we can all agree that a Heart is a necessity.

Incidentally, for anyone who wants to make a party that is also an actual band, you might want to take a moment to check out 100 Fantasy Bands for a little inspiration.

Ask Yourself What Your Job in The Band Is

Something I have come across a lot, both as a player and as a dungeon master, are folks who design their PCs in a vacuum. They know, academically, they're going to be part of a group, but they haven't really thought about how that's going to work.

This is why understanding the Five-Man Band, and seeing it in action in fiction, can be quite useful.

Avengers fans are already ahead of the curve on this one.
Even if you know your character's role mechanically (meat shield, fire support, buffer, healer, debuffer, terrain control, the list goes on), it's worth thinking about where they're going to fall into a group in general, and the group you're planning on joining in particular.

It's also worth considering that different characters can sometimes take up different roles when they're placed on different teams. Captain America is basically the Leader no matter what squad he joins up with, but Thor is more often the Big Guy when he's with other Avengers, while he can become the Leader when he's paired with other Asgardians. That makeup of the rest of the team matters, and even if you saw your character in one role, they might fall into another when paired with a different party.

Just as with mechanical roles in the party, it's important to ask if the story role you need has already been filled. Because you may have a similar skill set to another character, but a wildly different story position.

For example, your party's Big Guy might be Helgar Hopswithe, the Silent Knight. A towering figure in black armor, his lance is almost as deadly as his sword, and he stands as the party's muscle. Crayton Bloodacre, the Rager of Render's Deep, might seem to be a very similar character at first glance, because he fills a similar role mechanically. But while the barbarian and the fighter may have similar styles and purposes once initiative is rolled, Crayton is instead the Lancer to Amelie Steadfast, the dwarven cleric who heads up the party. Amelie is noble and determined, and Crayton is the brutish opportunist who tries to get her to be reasonable... even if reasonable for him is amoral to anyone else.

While there's nothing that says a party can't have more than one of these roles (two Big Guys, for example, or two Smart Guys), you can end up stepping on each other's story beats the same way you could get crowded if two of you are basically using the exact same character build.

It's a Template, Not an Absolute

There is nothing saying your party needs to ascribe to this setup. If you want to completely ignore it and do your own thing, or double up on roles, you're free to do that if it makes for a better story that you and your table enjoy.

However, with that said, it's still important to think about story in the meta-context. And for those not used to analyzing a game, this trope is often a very useful place to get started.

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you found this suggestions useful!

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 latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

5 Ways To Sidestep Hits in Pathfinder (Without Magic)

The main defensive mechanic players pay attention to in Pathfinder is their armor class. If that number is as high as they can get it, typically through armor, shields, spells, magic items, feats, and additional abilities, it will allow them to just tank attacks while avoiding damage.

What was your total? Heh, git gud, scrub.
As the game goes on, though, your armor class just isn't going to keep pace with the enemies you're fighting. Even the biggest tanks are going to run into issues when it comes to melee touch attacks, or trying to dodge arrow snipers who were specifically built to aim for their visor slits. So, with that said, this week I thought I'd lay out some handy tricks for making sure you've got at least one Get-Out-of-Pain-Free card on your person for when you need it most.

For example...

#1: Deflect Arrows

Catch these hands!
 Perhaps the oldest trick in the book, Deflect Arrows is one of the favorites from the Core Rulebook. In short, it allows you to just deflect any one missile attack that would normally hit you (provided it's appropriately sized, as cannonballs, boulders, etc., are all too large to be affected). All you need is to be aware of the attack, which makes it ideal for those who can't be caught flat-footed (looking at you barbarians and rogues).

The reason this feat doesn't wind up on nearly as many sheets as it should is because it has Improved Unarmed Strike as a pre-requisite. As such, most folks only give it to brawlers and monks. However, if you have a DM who actually uses archers, poisoned throwing stars, darts, firearms (as Ultimate Combat states that this feat works on the flintlocks and muskets we typically see) it is well worth the investment. It's ideal for warpriests (whose Sacred Weapon ability lets them bump up their unarmed strike damage, as well as apply blessings and bonus abilities to their strikes), but as a purely defensive measure it's also worth keeping in mind.

#2: Parry

What did you say? "Parry this"?
 Anyone who's shared a table with me knows that the swashbuckler was one of my favorite additions to the game in the Advanced Class Guide. Their parry ability allows them to try to make a counter attack using an attack of opportunity in melee, essentially deflecting an incoming attack. When combined with Combat Reflexes, the proper weapon buffs, and even traits like Fencer, that can add up to a big damn defensive ability. Even if you can only riposte once per round as an immediate action, it's possible for a swashbuckler to just guard themselves with a flurry of steel... even against melee touch attacks!

With that said, the duelist prestige class also offers a parry ability. The difference is that the swashbuckler's ability costs panache to use (based on your Charisma modifier), whereas the duelist's just allows you to use your normal attacks reserved from a full attack action. So which option works better for you depends on what your Charisma modifier is going to be (for the record, a paladin with a dip in swashbuckler, or simply taking the paladin archetype Virtuous Bravo which gives you swashbuckler abilities is one of the best combos for this ability). This is only going to work in melee, of course, but sometimes that's all you really need.

#3: Snake Style

Go on, punk... take your shot.
 One of the most popular fighting style feats found in Ultimate Combat, Snake Style takes a bit to set up. You need to take a swift action to get into the stance, and then once you're in it you can use your immediate action to roll a Sense Motive check against an incoming attack that you are aware of, and while you're not flat-footed. That requires you to first invest maximum ranks in a skill, and to probably have a pretty good Wisdom score. You then need to take the whole first round of combat setting up your stance. However, the thing that makes Snake Style really good is that it counts as your AC or your touch AC. So if you've got a ghost that's slapping you through your armor, or a necromancer who's shooting beams of acid green death, this ability is a great method for dodging out of the way.

The hard part, of course, is beefing up your Sense Motive to a high enough degree. Skill Focus will help a lot here (making it ideal for half-elves wondering what to use their free Skill Focus on), and any traits that give you a bonus, and which make Sense Motive a class skill will stand you in good stead. Again, this is commonly used by monks and warpriests, but it's great for any class that wants to be able to just cobra their way out of being hammered into the dirt.

#4: Cut (And Smash) From The Air

Better make it count.
 There are few things more frustrating than being a fighter, and constantly getting shot at from nine different directions. However, if you have a crap load of attacks of opportunity, then you might want to consider taking Cut From The Air and Smash From The Air, both feats out of the Weapon Master's Handbook. The first feat allows you to spend an attack of opportunity to try to cut a ranged attack out of the air, provided it's a normal-sized missile (boulders, ballista, etc. still not allowed). The second feat allows you to use Cut From The Air against all missiles that come your way, as well as targeted magic effects. A great way to save your fighter from taking a few rays of searing light in uncomfortable places.

I keep saying fighter, because like many other feats from this book, you need to have weapon training with a melee weapon in order to use these feats. While there are other classes and archetypes that gain this ability other than fighters (looking at you, swashbuckler), your options are pretty limited for which characters you can slap these feats onto.

#5: Missile Shield and Ray Shield

Don't miss.
 Missile Shield, out of the Advanced Player's Guide, is pretty common among sword-and-board fighter types. It has Shield Focus as a prerequisite, but basically lets you use Deflect Arrows as long as you have a shield to deflect them with (same rules and restrictions apply). This is particularly useful for two-weapon style fighters who are going sword and shield bash, who still want to slap away crossbow bolts while they ginsu the enemy forces. Combined with the above feats, it can get tough to even scratch these fighters.

Of course, just to add insult to injury you can also take Ray Shield out of the same book. It requires you to have the Spellbreaker feat, which itself requires you to have Disruptive, and to have 10 levels of fighter. However, it allows you to basically deflect ray spells and effects, taking the hit on your shield. Your shield still takes the effect of the spell, which can be a problem for things like disintegrate or spells that deal absurd amounts of energy damage, but if your shield is tough enough you can often negate enemy magic that could otherwise seriously impede you. Especially if the ray wouldn't have an effect on an object, so you can basically ignore it.

Also, for those who like the idea of getting to smack away rays with impunity, the Crystalline Body feature of the oread not only increases your AC against rays (making them more likely to miss in the first place) but gives you a once-per-day deflection due to your crystalline structure. Just something to think about!

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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 or my latest short story collection The Rejects, 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.