Monday, November 30, 2020

How The Trend in Rules Light RPGs Has Affected Me

Anyone who's been paying attention to the RPG landscape over the past few years has no doubt noticed the trend for games to be easier to learn, and faster to play. I'd personally say this began with the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons' 5th Edition, but it's expanded with games like Fate, Apocalypse World (and the whole Powered By The Apocalypse stable), and even the horror one-shot system Dread all rising to prominence. Old School Roleplaying (OSR) games have also jumped back into popularity, and it seems every time I turn around there's a new game out there that bills itself as fast to play, easy to learn, and friendly to new and experienced roleplayers alike.

Not to worry folks, minimal moving parts here!

There are upsides to this trend, certainly. There are more people playing RPGs than perhaps at any other time in history. People who might feel overwhelmed by complicated games, or who don't have the time to dedicate to learning a complex system, can still get out some dice and play with their friends without doing a three-week correspondence course. It also means that more games are coming out, because with fewer mechanics to balance these games are a lot easier to produce.

Something this trend isn't good for, though, is me. Not just personally, but professionally.

It's Not Easy Rolling With The Market

Anyone who's been on this blog for a while knows that Pathfinder Classic is my game of choice, and the big reason for that is because the game has so many options for customization that you can support practically any idea. It's why I have nearly 58 entries on my Character Conversions page with builds for characters ranging from Gregor Clegane, to Killer Croc, to Captain America.

Part of that, as I've talked about in posts like Understanding The Difference Between Story Freedom and Mechanical Freedom, is that I like games that actually support the story I'm trying to tell with unique mechanics that are suited to my character and story. The difference between my just saying my 8-foot-tall human fighter with a maxed-out Strength score is descended from giants, and having an ability on my sheet that expressly states my giant blood means I qualify as a giant for the purposes of feats, magic items, spell effects, etc.

The other part, though, extends beyond what I personally like to play at my tables. Because while I love writing gaming guides, build recommendations, and going in-depth on mechanics, nobody needs a safari guide to walk across the manicured lawn of the local park.

This is really more my environment.

As an example, DND 5th Edition is a wildly more popular system right now than Pathfinder, but it doesn't really have a lot of mechanical freedom for your character. It's easier to play, but it has the hard structure you expect from an MMO that severely limits your options and customization. I took a good faith stab writing a 5th Edition character conversion guide for John Wick, but the response was... well, mixed, shall we say?

This isn't just about DND, though. As more and more gamers embrace games where the rules are broad, general, and simple, there's just less for me to work with when it comes to offering unique combinations. You can't make bricks without clay, and while I can talk about story, pacing, habits, etc., game mechanics have been the most consistently popular pieces I've put out. Some of them still have staying power... but it's less and less as the days go on. When you add in the fact that rules-light games take smaller teams to design, and they're more often done in-house, that means there's also a lot less work for freelancers like me.

That's why readers are much more likely to see flavor guides and supplements from me, like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern, or the almost as popular 100 Merchants to Encounter. Because no matter how simple a game's rules are, random storefronts, taverns, characters, etc. to act as fill-ins will still sell even while mechanics-focused pieces will fall by the wayside.

Sales Drives My Pen

I'm talking about this on Monday because I've had several readers ask why I'm not doing more mechanics-focused projects or posts the way I used to. Whether it's expanding my conversion guides, or writing more modules like False Valor, The Curse of Sapphire Lake, or The Ghosts of Sorrow Marsh there's been a noted drop in my crunchier content.

At the end of the day, it's about return on the investment in energy that I put into my work. Because I would absolutely love to work on a big, crunchy module or campaign where I can put my knowledge to use... but at least at time of writing, those are the kinds of projects that get minimal hits and sales.

So if you see something I make that you really like, something that you want to see more of, please help boost the signal on it! Get a copy if you can, and share the link if you can't. Leave reviews, tell your friends, and spread the word. Because if creating more of that thing you like is going to put tacos on my plate and keep my landlord off my back, I promise you that is exactly the sort of thing I'm going to keep writing.

Also, for those who don't know, you can help support me and my efforts over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. That helps you send word directly to me, and every patron is much appreciated!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

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

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, 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, November 28, 2020

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 30: The Fall of Karzoug

Past dangers untold, and through threats unnumbered, the Companions have found themselves at the foot of Karzoug's stronghold. The Runelord who, in his arrogance, believes he can simply sweep down on the land he abandoned when the Starstone fell and cast the world in darkness thousands of years before. Though hundreds of his servants and cat's paws have fallen, the Runelord of Greed still feels that he can transform the Companions from his staunch enemies, to servants beneath his power... so he opened his doors, and welcomed them inside.

The time for the reckoning was nigh.

For those who need to catch up, the tale is as follows:

- 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, onward, to the final chapter...

The Horrors of Karzoug's Fortress

The servant's entrance needs no decoration.

Once the Companions made their way to the doorway at the foot of the massive fortress atop the mountain, the door opened as if to welcome them in. They climbed square-cut stone stairs, ascending ever higher until they reached a large room with a strange, enchanted circle worked into the floor. Two doors were set into the walls, the wood beautiful but plain... and a man stood before the Companions. A man who, at first glance, appeared to be the Runelord himself... but who quickly revealed that his name was 227, and that he was merely a servant of the great Karzoug. A creature grown from the flesh of his great creator, and whose flaws meant he was a mere menial in the service of the Runelord rather than a functionary of importance.

227 showed the Companions to a waiting chamber that made even the opulence of the palaces of Magnimar seem drab by comparison. Mother of pearl ran along the walls, with priceless pieces of art and a nation's ransom in gems scattered as haphazardly as cushions in a lounging pit. With their hands on the hilts of their weapons, and their eyes looking for ambush in every corner, the Companions seemed almost like a pack of wolves who had stumbled into an oasis... but an oasis where they knew a deadly viper lay in wait for them.

The strange mockery of Kharzoug bid the Companions to please rest. He would inform Karzoug they had come, and once he found a gap in his labors he was certain his master would see them. Zhakar nodded, replying with instinctual courtesy from his youth as 227 scurried out the door. No sooner was he gone, though, than the Companions began to explore their surroundings looking to learn all they could about the strange wizard.

Through a small door, half hidden on the other side of the tower, they found Karzoug's magical laboratory... and all of the horrors it contained.

The Companions found dragon eggs made from raw components, the unborn creatures lacking souls. They found undead woven through with plants, creating bizarre, parasitic organisms unlike anything they'd seen before. They found creatures who had been half-transmuted into devils and demons, and people turned into living stone. Guarding it they found an angel, blinded and hampered, bound by geas and spell to defend Karzoug's laboratory against invaders. The Runelord's spells, however potent, separated under the edge of the Companions' runeforged weapons. With tears in her eyes, the angel who had been held captive for so long was sent home by Ivory, who laid her hands upon the exhausted servant of heaven and sent her on her way.

There was more, however. The Companions discovered that in addition to shaping the plane with his spells, Karzoug had also created his own gatekeepers. The soul of an orphan boy purchased from slavers had become the storm giant king who cast lightning in the clouds. A loyal hound had been grown and changed until it forgot it had ever been anything but a dragon. And someone whose name the Runelord hadn't even thought important enough to record had become the devil who gambled for lives and stakes in the center of the city.

Every vein of corruption that ran through Xin Shalast, every vile deed and every perversion, all of it could be traced to the mind of the creature that called itself the master of this plane.

The Runelord's Attendants

Filled with disgust, and a fury that would not wait a moment longer, the Companions stormed through the waiting room, and into an audience chamber. 227 was in there, as they'd expected, but so was a strange woman with a clearly infernal heritage, alongside two massive rune giants. The woman drew the weapon at her side, a shimmering scimitar, and when she spoke her voice sounded hollow; the delivery of a puppet master from somewhere off to one side of the stage.

Now was not the time for debate and discussion, though. The Companions had seen the black heart and rotting guts of Karzoug's enterprises, and there was no longer a need for words.

Now is the time when swords speak true.

For all the Companions' fury, it was the strange fighter possessed by the malignant blade that rushed forward first. The blade dragged along Zhakar's ribs, piercing his steel skin and drawing blood in a dozen places. He returned the attack blow for blow, his blood sizzling where it struck the floor as if molten metal pounded through his veins. Thok rushed to his friend's side, his ranseur raking and slashing, leaving rents in the swordswoman's side.

Slow, but powerful, the giants soon joined the fray. Though they struck Ivory and Thok with crushing blows, they were not enough to turn the tide. One fell beneath Chikara's sparking ax, and the other fell dead at a wave of Mirelinda's hand, ghostly harrow cards whirling round it in a swirl that cut it to ribbons. As the infernal puppet fell, the sword reformed itself, growing legs and eyes like some bizarre insect, and running for the safety of the laboratory. Before it could pass, Ivory whispered a spell, and brushed her fingers against the blade. The air popped, and the weapon vanished into the very edges of the planes where it could do no one any further harm.

As Ivory healed the Companions' wounds, 227 got back to his feet, wiping blood from his mouth where the possessed creature had struck him. He limped ahead, prattling about the rooms they passed, and finally gestured the Companions forward. His master was through there, preparing a meal for them. Zhakar bent, and saw Karzoug through a keyhole, but the door would not budge. There was a strange enchantment on it, and when they finally found a set of keys that fit the lock they discovered that turning the key transported them somewhere they had no expected.
That is one big hot chocolate.
They were in the kitchen, yes... but they had been shrunk to the size of toys upon the table. Hams reared up like hill tops, teapots stood like fortresses, and across an expanse of pie and rolling loaves of bread stood the towering figure of Karzoug. He welcomed his guests, and asked them once more if they would not agree to join him. When they refused, parts of the table erupted, changing themselves into deadly enemies. An onion became a white dragon, an apple core a bat-winged devil, and a twist of licorice metamorphosed into a massive scorpion with black venom dripping from its claws and tail.

They fared no better than Karzoug's other minions had.

Zhakar took to the air to menace the dragon and the devil alike, keeping them away from the others. Thok climbed to the top of the tea kettle, and drew a bead on the scorpion just as it snapped its pincers around Chikara. Ivory whispered a spell, and when Thok's arrow flew the enchantment the Companions were all under vanished, and his arrow returned to its normal size, slamming through the creature like a giant's balista.

Taken aback, Karzoug fled the field as his creatures were torn to pieces. A shimmering doorway at the far end of the table marked what the Runelord had likely intended as the exit for the Companions once they graciously accepted his offer. With no time to waste, they dressed their wounds on the fly, and flung themselves through the portal.

The Fall of The Runelord

The Companions found themselves in a golden chamber, supported by a dozen pillars. Karzoug sat upon a huge throne, the gems in his head glimmering in the light. He was impressed with them. They were more determined than he'd given them credit for. But having fought so hard just to get where they now stood, did they really feel they could best him? In his own chamber of rulership? Ivory raised her voice, and entreated Karzoug one last time. He could end this... undo all of it. It was within his power to change things for the better. He sneered, and said he would show her what his power could change.

You wish to see my final form?

With a silent whisper of his will, the chamber melted around Karzoug, altering and changing. Cylinders of thick, viscous liquid emerged from the walls, with dark creatures floating inside of them. The floor fell away, except for a central path leading to the seat upon which Karzoug sat. As the Runelord stood, though, the throne melted and parted, and Karzoug himself grew. His robes flowed, and his skin altered, his body becoming a massive form of war that still boasted the smiling, self-assured face of the man who had survived the end of the world when doom had come to Golarion so many centuries before. A relic of another age, convinced that nothing so young in this world could pose a threat to him.

He was about to realize that his hubris would be his undoing.

Unfurling his wings, a light shone from Zhakar. It was bright, but not blinding, and for the first time the voice that issued forth from him sounded like his own. A whisper that entered the Companions' ears, their minds, and their hearts. Light filled them all, and as one they turned their gazes upon the Runelord. Then, driven by the conviction that had been breathed into them, they struck.

Thok was the first to rush the dais, his ranseur cutting a swath through Karzoug's belly. Though the Runelord had laid protections across himself, Thok's aim was true, and his weapon blazed with the fury of both the divine, and the power of the Runeforge. He'd barely finished his swing when Chikara was at his side, her ax biting into the Runelord's mercurial flesh, chewing through his wards as if they were made of paper. Karzoug laughed, and light flashed. On the far wall, one of the cylinders shattered, and a creature fell out of the chamber. It had a body identical to Karzoug, but which bore the wounds the Runelord had taken in his stead. It fell away into space, vanishing into nothingness.

Ivory looked at the rows of cylinders, each of them holding a copy of the Runelord... and she understood why he had been so confident.

Realizing the full scope of how dire the situation was, Ivory shouted for the others to hold nothing back. She unleashed fire at Karzoug, the spell infused with the light granted her by Zhakar. Mirelinda concentrated, and plucked at the threads of fate, bolstering the destiny and fortune of the others. Chikara struck like she'd been possessed, and Thok slashed and stabbed as if his life depended on it... as indeed it very well did. Karzoug flung fire and force at Mirelinda and Ivory, bringing his sword down on those assaulting him.

As more cylinders popped, and the bodies within them vanished, though, he unleashed deeper magics.

In the blink of an eye, Thok and Chikara were locked within a prison of force. The Runelord shimmered with additional protections, and he laughed. The laugh was mocking, but deep within there was something... a single crack of fear.

Zhakar flew into the fray, hammering at the prison with his pick and attempting to parry the huge blade that Karzoug brought down toward his neck. Thok's ranseur sliced through the walls of the prison, and Chikara's ax burst it apart from within, leaving her panting and snarling up at the creature. Ivory attacked the cylinders directly, her spells smashing them open and denying Karzoug the regenerative power of his doppelgangers.

The Runelord had his arm raised, when Zhakar exploded in a burst of light. Thok and Chikara felt their wounds and weariness leave them, and Kharzoug howled, holding a hand across his temporarily blinded eyes. Thok, seizing the advantage, drove his ranseur into the Runelord, ripping at his weakest places. More cylinders burst, leaving Kharzoug alone before the panting, bleeding Companions.

Just as Kharzoug regained his sight, Zhakar leaped into the air. His wings beat a powerful charge, and with a single cry he brought his pick down into the center of Kharzoug's forehead. The runeforged blade shattered the gem set in the wizard's forehead, and drove deep into his brain. Kharzoug hung there for a moment, his body attempting to remake itself; to transform into something else. But there was no denying the inevitable; no way to fight against the darkness snuffing out the last of his life force.

Thus fell Kharzoug, who had thought himself the greatest of the Runelords.


Kharzoug's death reverberated through the realm, and the seat of power he had forged sat empty. The Well of Greed, which had been beneath his throne, needed to be bound to someone. If it was not, then Xin Shalast would tear itself apart.

Each of them felt the temptation. That desire to seize such colossal power. But they also knew that even if they did so with the best of intentions that it could lead to disaster. That it could corrupt them. The Well of Greed needed to be bound to a creature who could withstand its influence. Whose altruism was unassailable, and purer than that of any mortal's.

So they offered it to the realm of heaven, and to the angel who had been bound as a slave to the realm for so many years. It only seemed right that she should be the one to help shape Xin Shalast into something new. Something better.

Huh... didn't see that one coming.

The coming days saw many changes come to Xin Shalast. The release of slaves that had been taken from the material plane, the shattering of bonds of those who'd lived in servitude in the realm, and the scouring of the wicked, the corrupt, and the degenerate. Succor was given to the weak and the wounded, and some of the damage Karzoug had done over the many centuries of his rule began to heal.

It was as the Companions stood at the gates to return whence they'd come, that Zhakar stopped. He had been contemplative for days, as if listening to a force no one else could hear. At the doorstep of a return to the material plane, he clasped Thok's arm, and pulled his friend into a fierce embrace.

"This is where our paths diverge," Zhakar said, the rune on his forehead burning and throbbing. "Would it were otherwise. But the places I must go, I cannot bring you with me. I wish you warm days and bright fires Thok, son of Uugoo."

Zhakar unslung the flametongue, the weapon warm to the touch even wrapped in its sheathe of dragon hide, and offered it to Chikara in both hands. It was a strangely formal gesture.

"Please, name one of your sons for me," Zhakar said. "When you do, put this weapon in his hands to mark the event. Then, when you feel he's earned it, give him the blade to light his way in the world."

He turned to Mirelinda, and reached into his pouch. He pressed a small vial into her hands. It glowed faintly, filled with a thick, viscous fluid. "I much doubt this is a surprise to you, but this is the greatest value I have to give. Should you need to find me, or to call me to you, inscribe the spell with this."

He took a last, long breath, pulling the air into his lungs before he turned to Ivory. "I have waited long enough. There are introductions I need to make... and a promise I need to keep before I can rest."

What's Next on Table Talk?

Now that Rise of The Runelords is complete, what would you like to see next time on Table Talk? Suggestions are always welcome!

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 hard-boiled cat noir novel Marked Territory, 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, November 23, 2020

Game Masters, You Must Get Player Buy-In If You Want To Control Their Stories

The way a tabletop game is set up is that the players control their characters, and the game master controls basically everything else. Because the player characters are the only method of participation in the game that the players have, they tend to fall under the sole control of the players themselves. Whether they want to give their characters green hair, or make them half-elves, or go into excruciating detail on everything from the skull-shaped buckle on their sword belt to the patched whipcord of their trousers, at the end of the day their characters are the only thing the players can really control.

And if you want to limit that control as a game master, then you need to really take a moment and sell the reason for that loss of control to your table. Especially if you don't want them to collectively fold their arms and refuse to take one more step forward until you get your hands off their agency.

Never assume buy-in. Ever.

As game masters we sometimes get so caught up in our own "brilliance" that we forget we need the rest of the players to actually make this game work. And before I get into an example, remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter so you don't miss any of my new releases or upcoming projects!

One Man's Meat is Another Man's Poison

For those who've played this game...

If you've looked into playing Strange Aeons pictured above, then you probably understand the simple gimmick it has. For those who aren't familiar, this entire adventure path is meant to explore the Cthulhu Mythos aspects that are baked into the Golarion setting for Pathfinder. Elder gods, ancient cults, bizarre prophecies, horrific visions, and so on, and so forth. And when the game starts off the players are in an asylum, unable to remember the recent past. They don't know how they got there, how long they've been there, or what's going on. A large portion of the early part of the campaign is investigating their own pasts, and finding answers to these questions.

Now, I have not read the campaign books, because I'm still hoping to play this game and I don't want to spoil things for myself. However, in the player's guide it tells you very explicitly that this amnesia is for the past several years (up to a decade, I believe). As the game is written, the characters do not awaken with total amnesia, piecing themselves together from nothing as the game goes on.

However, I have lost count of the number of game masters who've said that's exactly how they want to run the game. Not only do they want to be the ones who create the stories of every PC, which the players will discover over time, but they also want to be the ones in charge of their character sheets. Everything from which classes a character has levels in, to what feats they have, to what spells they know, is already pre-set, the same way their stories and identity are... it's up to the players to "discover" it, which is the central conceit of how they'd tell the story.

Just put on the mask, trust me, it will be fun!

I guarantee you right now there are some people out there who think that sounds like an amazing game to play. They would be totally down for a full mystery and uncovering all the boxes on their character sheet as they play, in addition to who their character is and what brought them to such a bizarre and dangerous place.

And if that's a version of the game you would love to play, then I wish you godspeed in that endeavor!

However, you need to make sure everyone at your table is equally enthused for playing the game with that twist before you get started. Because if you want that kind of control over the characters people are going to end up playing, you need to get people to agree to give it to you. Because if a player is more interested in telling their own story as part of the campaign, there might be no faster way to kill any interest they had in being a part of this particular table than to take that away from them.

Communication, As Always, is Key

Playing a tabletop RPG is a collaborative process. Everyone needs to build off of everyone else, and all persons at the table need to be on the same page regarding what's allowed, what the limits are, and where things happen.

And if you want to try something a little unconventional or unexpected as a game master, then you need to make sure all of your players agree to it, and that they're just as enthusiastic as you are about it. Otherwise you're going to be in for a bad time.

Or, at the very least, some awkward questions.

There is a line down the middle of the table. You, as the game master, have control of everything outside a player's bubble. If you want to reach into their territory to change something then you're going to have an easier time if you ask permission and work with them than you are going to have trying to force that change.

Because if a player has no agency in their character's actions, and they aren't contributing to their character's story, it's very likely they'll take the only action left to them and push back from the table entirely to find a game where they are more of an active participant.

Also, if you haven't been keeping an eye on my latest releases, you might have missed the news on the following:

- 100 Stargazer Kinfolk: The encore piece for my 100 Kinfolk project for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this was the one tribe left out of the initial project that readers demanded. So I decided to give it to them!

- 100 Sci-Fi Mercenary Companies: For folks who enjoyed the supplement 100 Random Mercenary Companies for their fantasy games, I decided it was time to do a far future version for my sci-fi gamers. There's at least one more supplement like this that did a genre hop, so stay tuned!

- Captain America is Chaotic Good: The latest installment in my Alignment Deep Dives, this one has led to some... spirited discussion, shall we say? So stop in and give it a look!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

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

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, 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, November 21, 2020

The Reincarnated

The forest looked different through her new eyes. The edges were softer, fuzzier, but the shadows were non-existent. The smells had changed as well; the familiar scents brought into such clarity that they were nearly overwhelming. Her hands were thicker, her feet heavier, and her former grace had deserted her. It had taken some getting used to, but she was adjusting, and working the old skills back into her new muscles.
A twig snapped, and in a fluid motion she turned and raised her bow, twin arrows nocked. Three of the border wardens stood in the branches, their own bows in hand, staring down at her with the blank expressions of executioners.
"Avoril, Shentar," she said, nodding at them. "It is good to see you."
The forest wardens' eyes twitched, but they betrayed no other surprise.
"How do you know our names, grayskin?" Avoril demanded.
"When last our paths crossed, you told me I had the most beautiful eyes in the forest," she said, baring her now much-larger teeth. "You clasped my hand, and told me to be safe. And I told you I would return, one way or another."
"Isandra?" Avoril said, her name a whisper. His aim shook, and he lowered the yew, staring at her.
"Though I may not look it," she said, slowly letting the tension off her own bowstring. "There is much to tell. I would prefer to do it without another death staring at me, if you would oblige?"
It is quite a tale.

Shedding Your Skin

Death is not the end in most of our fantasy games, but when most of us think of characters who have died and been brought back, we tend to think of a resurrection spell. Characters who have been brought back that way fall into The Returned... but the Reincarnated come with their own unique challenges and benefits.

For those who've never had a character subjected to the spell, reincarnation creates a fresh, young adult body for the subject. However, what race that body is will often vary quite widely, which can lead to some... interesting new perspectives.

Please be an elf... please be an elf...

The difficulty with using reincarnation as a way to resurrect a character is that if you wind up with a vastly different race, it might screw up what your character was built to do. A dexterous archer might find themselves trapped in a clumsy body that can no longer use the delicate weapons they once did. A potent sorcerer might find the creature they rise as no longer possesses the same force of personality they did in their old self. And so on, and so forth.

As a storytelling mechanic, however, a reincarnation spell can be a godsend. Particularly if you're looking to play out a particularly unusual tale in an unfamiliar skin.

For example, how would an elf who'd fought orcs for nearly a century react to suddenly finding themselves encased in their gray skin? What lessons would they learn seeing their "enemy" with their guard down, or experiencing the sort of treatment they once participated in from the other side of the coin? How would a goblin, who was held as suspicious and dangerous, react to people suddenly ignoring them because they were resurrected as a halfling? How would they react to losing their darkvision, or no longer being able to eat many of the things they once enjoyed? Would their sense of smell be different? Their sense of hearing? The list goes on and on.

The other useful thing you can do with a character who's been reincarnated is that it allows you to play certain races without the baggage that may normally come with someone raised in particular parts of the world, or who has been part of a certain community. For example, if you wanted to play a goblin, a bugbear, a gnoll, a lizardfolk, a kobold, or even a troglodyte (and that's just off the basic list of potential races), you could have begun life as someone else before dying heroically and being reincarnated as thanks for their service. Maybe someone who was born sickly made a bargain with a spellcaster, asking only for a new chance at a fresh life, and they got what they asked for in a way they didn't expect when the 90-pound human arose as a 300-pound bugbear. There's all sorts of possible story arcs you can play with, here!

And for those who want to have a Dr. Who-ish aspect to their characters, the Reincarnated Druid out of Ultimate Magic allows you to reincarnate over and over again as a class feature, making it particularly difficult to keep you dead for any real length of time.

On that note, you may want to check out my 5 Tips For Playing Better Druids before you take that archetype for a spin. And, as always, if you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet, please take a few moments to do that today!

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 16, 2020

Looking For a New Virtual Table For Your Campaign? Check Out Mythic Table!

In a post-Covid-19 world, online gaming has become more common than ever before. Even diehard resisters who said they would wait it out to meet around a table again have at least taken a stab at making Discord and Roll 20 work for them. Some brave folks have even tried Astral, the digital tabletop platform you find on Drive Thru RPG if you scroll down and take a look at the left-hand column.

Chances are good that your group has already fallen into a rhythm by now, and you've found a platform that you can use, even if you don't particularly love it. However, it is the nature of tabletop gamers to always keep our ears open when looking for a game that offers us something our current setup doesn't have. Especially if it's free.

Which is why you should take a moment to check out Mythic Table.

Unleashing the potential of the imagination!

What is Mythic Table?

The elevator pitch is that Mythic Table is an online virtual tabletop that is completely free to use, and which has been created by a team of industry veterans who want to make sure players have a platform that will let them enjoy their games to the fullest.

There is more to Mythic Table than that, though. Because while it's a customizable platform you can use to build and create your ideal online campaign, it's also open source! New features are always being added, and the platform itself can handle math, modifier tracking, lighting, and all those other pesky details that can be a pain in the butt when you're running your game.

Math, the downfall of most GMs.

While an argument could be made that Mythic Table is just another virtual gaming portal, it is extremely sleek, stylish, and pretty user friendly for a portal that's free. The fact that it's funded by the audience, and that there are already announcements for new and interesting features is certainly enough to make checking it out worth your time.

So follow Mythic Table on Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel where you can listen to their town halls about the platform, and what they expect to do with it! If you like what you see and want to help support them, check out their Patreon page as well! Also, there's a special release coming on the 21st of this month, which I'll be adding a link for once it's ready, so be sure to check back for that this weekend!
Also, in case you missed it, I recently added 5 Tips For Playing Better Vigilantes to my ongoing 5 Tips series. So stop in to check that out if you get a moment!

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

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

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, 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, November 14, 2020

Who Are The Famous Brand Names and Merchants in Your Setting?

Polyhurdis hefted the steel, getting the balance of it. He held the blade up, looking down the edge and the flat to see how straight it was. He swung it, forehand and backhand, his wrist rolling and making the steel whistle through the air.
"And as you can see, Sir, it still has the mark of the Berthas forge there on the blade," the merchant said, smiling a wide, obsequious smile. "A fine weapon to sit on the hip of a warrior as skilled as yourself."
Polyhurdis thumped the blade with his finger, and held it to his ear. He sneered, and tossed the sword at the steel merchant, who fumbled to try to catch it.
"Polishing pig iron doesn't make it crucible steel, fool," Polyhurdis said, turning his back on the sword seller. "Save your lies for someone who can't tell the difference between a sword and a plowshare."
Try to cheat me again, and I'll split your skull with that dolled-up prybar.

Brand Names, Maker's Marks, Guilds, and Companies

World building is not an easy thing to do, and all too often we will just overlook or ignore parts of it that we don't find fun, useful, or immediate. However, if you're looking for a unique twist to put on your setting that will affect both the players' experience of your world, as well as how they think about everything from their weapons and armor to the brew they order down at the tavern, it really helps to consider merchants, guilds, and the idea of brand name products or services in your setting; because everyone is looking to protect their methods, their secrets, and their good name.

Yep, looks like this is genuine Arisban steel. That changes things.
Consider some of the following examples
- When your dwarven sellsword bellies up to the bar, does she just order an ale? Or does she ask if the keep has Red Mountain, bottled and sold by the Rolling Hill clan?
- When your swordsman is looking to upgrade to a masterwork blade, do they just want a +1 to hit, or do you give them a choice between weapons forged by the artisans at Garrus Foundry and the Crimson Mark Forge, each of which are considered some of the finest in weapon craft?
- If the wizard comes across a potent protective medallion in a dungeon is it just a magic item, or is there a mark on the inside lip bearing the sigil of the Averdius Acadamae, a school so famous for its craftsmanship that though it's a thousand years in the dust it is still considered the standard to which enchanters should aspire?

Brand names, company reputations, or even items that are manufactured only with a guild seal-of-approval can all add to your setting. Whether it's just a cool background detail, something used as a signifier of status, or a clue as to the origin of a particular piece of treasure, these make your game's world feel more organic.
Also, before you go any further, consider signing up for my weekly newsletter to make sure you don't miss any of my updates!

You Can Make It As Important As You Want

The thing with notable manufacturers, companies, brands, guilds, etc. is that you can make them as big of a deal (or not) as you want them to be. For example, in my post "Secrets of The Viking Sword" is a Documentary About How To Make a Masterwork Weapon, I talk about the Ulfbehrt swords. These were some of the highest quality swords ever wielded by Norsemen during the Viking age, and when compared to iron age blades they would have been seen as just this side of magical. As such they were a huge symbol of both status and prowess, and someone who carried an Ulfbehrt sword was, generally speaking, not someone you wanted to screw with.

I'm just saying... maybe we should try Diplomacy...

If all you want for your famous manufacturers and trusted brands to do is act as signs of quality while sitting in the background, you can leave it at that. However, you can take it a step further and use these brands as plot points, or even a way to outfit your party if you so desire.

As far as plot goes, let's return to the example of the Ulfbehrt sword. Only a select number of sword smiths knew the secret to making them, but there were a lot of individuals who were making knock-off blades that were average quality, but had a faux maker's mark on them. The Viking equivalent of that $10 Rolex you got from a guy selling stuff off a blanket in the Bronx. If there's a plague of knock-offs being sold and traded in the city, it could be eroding confidence in a particular foundry's name and product. As such, they'd make an ideal client for a party of investigators tasked with finding out who is creating this flood of substandard steel so they can be stopped.

And as for outfitting your party? Well, as Factinate points out, ancient gladiators often endorsed products the same way that professional athletes do today. So if your party did a great service, or achieved celebrity in some way, then you could probably skip giving them gold in lieu of giving them gifts from noted brands, merchants, or guilds. If the PCs accomplished something very publicly, such as winning a tournament, or defending an important member of the gentry, they might even receive a uniquely commissioned gift from said guild, merchant house, etc. Or even if you were doing something smaller, such as taking on freelance jobs for a guild, part of the reward for service might be that they provide the party with an operating budget, giving them access to an armory, transportation, places to stay, access to guild facilities, etc.

This approach helps remove all the coin counting and hauling around huge amounts of gold, but without cutting into your adventuring budget. Additionally, for those who are looking for some premade additions to their game they can slot into the background, you may wish to check out the following supplements by yours truly:

- 100 Merchants to Encounter: This one is Electrum verging on Gold at time of writing, and while there are a lot of independent merchants and caravan drovers, there are more than a few franchise holders and larger businesses in here as well.

- 100 Fantasy Guilds: A Silver seller that was quite popular when it first dropped, these guilds cover a wide range of trades and manufacturing that might crop up in your game. From arms and armor, to spells, bookbinding, spices, mining, and more, it will save you a lot of work in plotting your setting's corporate influences!
Also, consider checking out an old favorite from Dungeon Keeper Radio... Vanguard Tower Shields!


Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Fluff post!

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 thriller Marked Territory, 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 9, 2020

For a Unique Gaming Experience, Rewind The Clock on Your Campaign Setting

Most published campaign settings have an established timeline in them these days. It's one of those things players expect to find, and the longer a setting has been around the more events and eras there will be in the past. Whether you're running a game set in Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, the Grim Darkness of the far future, the Battletech universe, or anywhere else, most game masters have a tendency to set their games in whatever period is considered now by the timeline.

But if you've got all of that history to work with... why not play around with it to create a unique story, and to add some spice to your players' experience?
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History is closer than you think.

Everything Old is New Again

To be very clear, I'm not talking about games with time travel in them, where players spend an arc in the past doing something or other before returning to the present for the rest of the game. We're talking a full campaign nestled completely within an older period of time, with characters from that period. Whether it's a part of a great world event, or one of the many deeds that were simply lost to the ages, that's up to you.

This allows you to keep the same world, and the mechanics of the game you're all used to, but it also creates a thrilling new sense of the unknown. Because in many ways, the past is a truly undiscovered country.

Perhaps an example would help?

Since it's the setting I know best, let's talk about the world of Golarion for a moment. Though there are dozens of adventure paths out there that you can play, most of them are set around the year 4711 in the Age of Lost Omens. However, as The Inner Sea World Guide points out, that's only the most recent era of the world... and it's only been going on since the death of the god Aroden, which was barely a hundred years or so ago. While massive changes happened to the world at that point, rewinding the clock around 200 years or so would leave you with a setting that was recognizable, but also hugely different in many ways.

First and foremost, the image of Cheliax as devil-worshiping fascists wouldn't be the case. The Hellknight orders have yet to be founded, and Aroden still guides the nation on its explorations. Galt's bloody revolution has yet to begin, with the aristocracy still ruling over a nation that might be fractious, but hasn't yet reached the point of bloodshed. Alkenstar is brand new, and firearms are found only among the dwarves sealed in the underground stronghold of the Dongun Hold since the gun works hasn't been built yet. Taldor and Quadira are still at war, Osirion is still under Keleshite control... and the list goes on and on.

The countries players are familiar with are present... but they're still in what most think of as their golden age. The unexpected turn that ripped open a portal to the abyss, and that created a permanent hurricane, hasn't happened yet. The huge, cultural and political shifts that players are so used to being taken for granted as part of history still lie in the future. That is where the potential lies!

Whether you've been looking for a way to gracefully avoid dealing with gunslingers in a game set in Golarion, or you really want to see what Cheliax was like back when it still had its soul, this kind of game would give you and your players the chance to play out those what-ifs. To re-discover and experience the history of the setting. And if you have a long-lived character like an elf, a gnome, etc., there's even a potential they're still around and kicking when many of the "modern" adventure paths are going, for those game masters who enjoy callbacks to previous campaigns.

The Further Back You Go, The Stranger Things Get

To continue with my timeline of examples, Golarion has something like 10,000 years of recorded time, eras, and events you could run games in. As well as two full eras that have no dates and events because they're just too damned far back. And the further back you go, the more of the world that's open to your imagination and interpretation because the civilizations, nations, rules, and heroes have been lost to the annals of time. The Age of Darkness, for example, marked the fall of the greatest human empire the world had see, the sleep of the Runelords, and the return of the dark god Zon Kuthon. There is a huge potential for a fantasy post-apocalyptic game there, in a world where everything has fallen, and death lurks in every shadow. Heck, several gods haven't even been established yet, most nations players are familiar with have yet to be formed, and even so-called "lost" empires haven't even been founded yet.

The campaign practically writes itself.

If you have an established campaign world (or heck, if you created your own), you can get a lot of unique mileage out of this idea. Especially if your table wants to do something different, but doesn't necessarily want to learn a whole new rules set to experience a unique campaign setting.

Also, for any Paizo folks who caught this particular update, feel free to reach out to me if you're considering writing adventure paths set in the past! I would be more than happy to roll up my sleeves and get to work on that.

Further Reading and Inspiration

If you take this advice, but you find yourself going back far enough that you need to fill in some gaps in the setting, check out some of the following supplements by yours truly!

- A Baker's Dozen Pieces of Lore: If you need to fill in the blanks in your setting, especially because you wound back the clock, then this one might be right up your alley.

- A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them): If you're looking for some potential plots to fill-in the empty places in a city or campaign, these 13 rumors are just meaty enough to get the job done. Versions are available for Pathfinder and for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, as well.

- 13 Fiends: A Baker's Dozen of Devils: Whether you've rewound before the prominence of certain dark faiths, or you just want something more unique for your earlier setting, these fiendish entries come with notes on their areas of influence, rituals and rites, and the sorts of followers they draw. It's best paired with 100 Cults to Encounter, for those who need a little extra inspiration.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

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

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, 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!