Monday, March 29, 2021

Mythic Table Returns, Better Than Ever Before!

Regular readers might remember last November when I put up Looking For a New Virtual Table For Your Campaign? Check Out Mythic Table! In case that one slipped by (and you don't have a second to go back and catch up), Mythic Table is a virtual RPG destination that allows us to run sleek, intuitive game nights even when we all can't be around a table together.

Or, for those of us who have embraced high tech gaming, when you prefer a virtual map and display rather than doing things the old-fashioned way.

Many of us have grown used to these strange ways, though.

Mythic Table is open source, it's got some experienced professionals on the design team, and it's been growing behind the scenes. If you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should... especially now, since they're going to start blowing up in the very near future!

Let's Kick This Party Off!

So, if Mythic Table is already out there, and already free to use, what do you get from the Mythic Table Kickstarter? Isn't this kind of campaign usually something companies do to build up finances in order to make a product in the first place?

Well, yes. But in this case we've all had a taste of what Mythic Table is capable of... now the question is what would it be capable of if we really put some gas in the tank?

Fill 'er up!

First and foremost, the Kickstarter will help Mythic Table expand the assets it already boasts, giving players and GMs alike all kinds of shiny new toys to play with! Improvements on lighting options and dice styles, doors and windows, map creation, GM control... if you can think of it, chances are the designers want to rev it up. And that is, at least in part, where support is going.

It's far from the only thing the Kickstarter will be backing, though.

In addition to tweaking all the toys, there's also plans to work on content integration (specifically with World Anvil to start, though I doubt that's where things will end), allowing GMs to import maps and campaigns, as well as binding accounts. There's even talk about creating a digital marketplace where maps for Mythic Table can be bought and sold, giving players and GMs alike access to unique items that are designed to run smoothly on this platform.

That's a lot... but if action economy has taught us anything it's that when you have enough people all working together, it's amazing the things you can accomplish!

Speaking of New Releases...

While we're on the subject of fun new things you should keep an eye on, the second supplement for my own fantasy RPG setting just dropped a little bit ago! Moüd: The City of Bones is available for both Pathfinder Classic as well as Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, and you can either fold it into your existing RPG setting, or use it as part of the ever-growing amount of stuff available for Sundara: Dawn of a New Age.

I'll go more in-depth on what makes this new location special and unique later, just wanted to take a second to mention it!

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, March 27, 2021

Armor Class is a Sucker's Game in Pathfinder (Here's A Way To Beat It)

Combat in RPGs, when boiled down to its bare essentials, comprises trying to hit the enemy as hard and as often as you can while attempting not to get hit yourself. While there are a lot of different mechanics for this throughout the gaming spectrum, Pathfinder opts for the passive defense mechanism of armor class. You take your Dexterity modifier, the value of your armor, the value of your shield (if you have one), unique feats and class features, magic items, protective spells, circumstance bonuses, and you add all of those up to determine how good an attack needs to be to actually hit you.

Pretty standard stuff, really.


If you've played a long-running campaign, though, then you know armor class is a sucker's game the longer the story goes on. And as someone whose characters draw critical hits like a magnet draws iron, I'd like to share some of what I've learned on the subject of making sure you don't get smashed to a pulp whenever initiative is rolled.

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Diminishing Returns on Your AC

Let's lay some foundational points, here. I'm not saying that armor class is a bad mechanic. I'm not saying that it's broken, or that you shouldn't use it at your table. What I am saying, though, is that if you want your armor class to actually provide a lot of protection as you level up then it's basically the only thing you're going to be investing your resources in to allow you to keep pace with your enemies.

You spent HOW much on that?!

I'll give you a perfect example from my recent Rise of The Runelords playthrough. For that campaign I was running a paladin with a Dexterity focus. At lower levels all it took was decent armor and a shield to avoid getting hit a majority of the time. Sometimes the GM got in a lucky shot, but the character sometimes went through entire encounters with barely a scratch. By the time the party's level hit double digits, though, it didn't matter how high my armor class was. I had enchanted armor, a boosted Dexterity bonus, natural armor, a shield bonus, deflection modifiers, boost spells from the party enchanter, and the huge bonus from active smite on a target, and I was still practically guaranteed to tank at least 2 hits per big bad per round.

Why the change?

Well, part of it is that once you hit high single digits to double digits for character level, you start dealing with one big threat a lot more often than you do squads of smaller threats. While one big threat stands less of a chance of winning (because the party gets more actions, and is therefore more likely to cream that single enemy), these enemies tend to have huge attack bonuses that are practically guaranteed to hit at least once when they unload on a PC. And it's usually more, which can be a problem if those hits are all targeted at one PC instead of spread out among the party. Or, even worse, enemies tend to pack potent magic that targets your touch AC or your saving throws (thus ignoring a lot of buffs), or they opt to try to grapple characters, which targets your combat maneuver defense instead of your armor class.

So, to sum up, the higher your character level gets the less often enemies rely on purely physical attacks to harm you... and when they do rely on physical attacks, they tend to come from massive enemies with huge bonuses to hit so that even the tankiest of tanks is going to lose a hefty chunk of hit points by the time the GM is done rolling dice.

Thinking Beyond Armor Class

Now, for the record, I'm not saying you shouldn't invest in your armor class. Getting a good AC is going to save you from a lot of damage over the long-term, and you'll often be able to shrug off attacks from smaller minions, traps, and other sources of damage that can still pose a serious danger if you go running into battle with nothing but a bedsheet and a buckler.

All right, I'm ready. Let's do this!

There are three categories of defense that I find a lot of players don't invest in, but they can often provide you far more protection than spending all of your gold to get the best magical amulets, shields, cloaks, and armor you can find to boost your armor class. Those areas are:

- Attack Negation
- Miss Chance
- Damage Reduction

The first category is, admittedly, one of the rarest out there. Not only that, but it tends to be pretty narrow in its application. However, this covers class abilities like the swashbuckler or duelist parry, as well as feats like Deflect Arrows, Missile Shield, and Ray Shield. It also covers feats like Snake Style, Cut From The Air and Smash From The Air as well. The idea is that these abilities directly counter an attack that might otherwise hit you, allowing you to use your own prowess instead of relying on your armor class. These abilities tend to have a small pool of uses (they require you to spend attacks of opportunity, or they only function once per round), but they are ideal for characters with high attack bonuses (or just Improved Unarmed Strike) who want to use that offense as a defense.

These don't help much with magical attacks, of course. For that you need a counterspell, or for the caster to miss you entirely... which is where the second category comes in.

Miss chance is what happens when an attack should hit, but due to poor lighting, a magical effect, etc., there's a percentage chance that it doesn't land. You've got either a 20 percent miss chance for concealment, or a 50 percent miss chance for total concealment... and these are going to be far more effective than pumping all your money into your AC just to eke out another 1-4 points that won't stop you from getting your teeth knocked out.

This can be done at all levels, depending on the situation you're involved in. A first level tiefling when fighting humans can use their darkness spell-like ability to lower the lighting conditions in an area, granting themselves a 20 percent miss chance due to concealment. Orcs fighting in total darkness in a cavern can get a 50 percent miss chance if they snuff all the lights in an area. Tossing down a smoke stick creates a cloud of vapor that makes attacks pretty likely to miss you, and is a good strategy if you're all sitting ducks in a hallway with an archer or a blaster at the other end. An invisible character gets that 50 percent miss chance, while a blurred one gets the 20. Magic items like a cloak of displacement are going to be worth more than their cost in terms of blood and suffering when it comes to how much pain they save you. And what's even better is that a miss chance can often save you from precision damage like sneak attack, meaning that even if the rogue or assassin manages to strike a blow, that mountain of d6s isn't going to accompany it.

While some would argue that mirror image isn't technically a miss chance spell, I'll remind folks about it here, because it is a life saver.

What if they don't miss, and you can't block?

If that blow does land, and you're going to take damage, there's still one more trick you can keep up your sleeve... damage reduction.

Damage reduction is usually something monsters get, but players can get their hands on it as well. The most common examples are when it's a class feature, which you see with barbarians, bloodragers, and some fighter and monk archetypes (such as the one I used for my Luke Cage character conversion). Anyone who've ever played a high level barbarian can tell you that ticking off a dozen points of damage that you just don't have to take adds up over the course of a fight. Adamantine armor also grants damage reduction, and spells like defending bone (one of my personal favorites) will also take some of the hits for you. If you have a divine caster who really likes you then you might be able to get them to use shield other on you. Or if you get a familiar, then one with the Protector archetype can do much the same thing around level 5 as long as the two of you are touching.

Layered Defense Works Best

There is no way to completely avoid taking damage in Pathfinder. Sooner or later a lucky shot, an area of effect spell, a trap, or an invisible assassin is going to make you bleed. However, you're going to have far more flexibility (and get screwed far less often) if you can create a layered defense against the threats you're facing.

The first layer of that defense is your armor class, and while it will stop some attacks, there's no way it will stop all of them. An active defense might cut some arrows out of the air, or parry some strikes, but it won't stop every shot coming your way. A miss chance might mean that even a few of the ones that do get through fly harmlessly past. And, lastly, even if the blow manages to land, damage reduction can chop that number down so that it's barely a flesh wound.

This isn't perfect either. Area of effect spells that require Reflex saves are still going to be something you need to contend with, Will saves are going to be a serious threat, and while a miss chance might stop you from getting grappled or tripped, none of the others will affect those attacks. Choking gas clouds, fear effects, an inability to reach flying enemies, illusions... there are still dozens of different challenges and threats you'll need to be ready for.

So keep that in mind before you start feeling too invincible.

Like, Share, and Follow For More!

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, 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.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Rules Light Games Require Trust (And a Good GM) To Work

Of all the conversations I have with people about gaming, the one that never goes anywhere is the one about how dense a game's rules system is. Because for a lot of players (and a lot of game masters, too) rules are always an impediment to their fun, their stories, or both. They see them as unnecessary boundaries that micro-manage their creativity, and even worse require them to read stacks of tomes or memorize large swaths of text to understand how their own character works.

That's a valid opinion to have. It's one I don't share, because as I mentioned in Rules Might Limit Dungeon Masters, But They Also Protect Players, roleplaying games are still games. Games, by their nature, have rules, victory conditions, and mechanics that determine who wins whenever there is a conflict. Rules are what keep things fair, and stop a session from becoming a playground game of make-believe where someone can out-creative you. Math plays no favorites, in other words.

However, there is something else I'd like to point out this week that I think often gets overlooked. It is that, simply put, games with fewer rules require you to have a greater trust in the person running the game that they will be fair. Not only that, but they require a GM who is willing to spin a lot of absolute nonsense out of thin air in order to roll with the punches, and keep the game going.

Hold on, hold on... I got this...

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Let's Talk Improvisation

No game is going to be able to cover everything players want to try. Sooner or later someone is always going to make a suggestion there are no rules for, and when that happens you either need to say, "There's no rules for that, you can't do it," or, "There's no rules for that, but let's make some!"

What the hell, let's make it happen!

What you're going to find is that the simpler a game's rules are, the more often the game master is going to have to come up with some way to allow the players to do things they didn't account for. Sometimes it's simple, like repurposing an existing type of skill check to use in a very different situation, but other times it can feel like you're building a whole new wing onto a house that you thought was done when you bought it.

And just like how someone who owns a home isn't necessarily someone who can build a home, so too there's no guarantee that someone who runs a good game can actually build a good game.

Don't get me wrong, here. There are some GMs who can whip out their toolbox and come up with smooth, well-fitting mechanics that run just like they were part of the original game. What I can tell you from experience, though, is that the number of GMs who think they can do this is very different from the number who actually can. And even if a GM is really good, an untested idea come up with on the spur is almost never going to be as good as something that was planned, workshopped, and put through playtesting before it was included in a rulebook.

And if your GM isn't actually good at this? Or worse, they purposefully skew things to put players at a disadvantage because the existing rules don't tell them they can't do that? That's going to create a bad time really fast.

As An Example

For those who want something concrete as an example, I'd suggest reading the rules for necromancy in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. While that might not be what some folks think of as a rules light game, I'd argue that it's right on the borderline since it has very rigid limits on what characters can and can't be, and you have relatively few meaningful options when it comes to customization. Especially when you compare it to more rules-dense games.

This is particularly true when it comes to what you can actually do with necromancers as a player.

Seriously, ya'll, black cloaks get hosed.

What do you think of when you think of necromancers? Typically it's someone who can raise or control large numbers of undead to do their bidding. And if you're playing a necromancer in Pathfinder, then it's like being at a buffet! If a creature has a corpse, then you can make it into a skeleton or a zombie, raising all sorts of strange and bizarre creatures to do your bidding, from skeletal orcs, to a zombie T-Rex that follows you around like a foul-smelling puppy! And as you go up in level you can create (and control) more powerful undead, applying templates to all kinds of bodies and creatures as long as their hit dice falls under your caster level, and ability to inflict your will.

In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, necromancers can make no more than a few basic kinds of undead, even fewer forms of advanced undead, they lose control of them within a day after the casting, and they can only be made from human corpses (though one would assume any humanoid would work).

Now, I will freely admit that I don't have access to the entire trove that Wizards has put out from 5E, because unlike Pathfinder the entire archive isn't online for free where I can triple check my numbers. But this particular difference cropped up while I was working on Moüd, The City of Bones for my Sundara campaign setting. The city is run by a guild of necromancers called the Silver Wraiths, and one of the most obvious examples of their arts at work are the massive sand trains that tirelessly pull goods and people across the wasteland where their city is built. The creatures that haul these trains are skeletal mammoths, directed and controlled by a Silver Wraiths drover.

In Pathfinder, you can basically do this as a mid-level character with a few extra boosts to tweak your caster level, as long as you have access to the bones and materials to cast the spell. In DND 5E, as far as I was able to find, there's no way to do this short of GM fiat because the spells don't allow anything outside of basic undead made only from human corpses. And that's one thing that made converting the Pathfinder edition of Moüd: City of Bones to the DND 5E edition of Moüd such a pain in my behind.

And this is my job. There's no guarantee that someone who's running a game has the same skill set and experience it would take to design those kinds of options, even if they want to make them available for their players. And while there's nothing saying the GM has to do that, the simpler a game's rules are, the less support they're going to have when a player wants to step beyond the basics that's available.

Just Some Food For Thought

As I said in How The Trend in Rules Light RPGs Has Affected Me, I understand why these games are so popular. And not just popular, but thriving. These games require less investment of time and energy, they allow faster play, and less overall system mastery for someone to actually sit down and start rolling dice. And that is what a lot of players want, or need, and there's nothing wrong with that.

However, it's important to understand a rules-light game is like a knife. A good-quality knife can stand you in good stead, and it can accomplish a lot of different tasks. However, if you want one tool that can do even more tasks, even if said tool is a little fiddly, then a Swiss army knife, or a multitool is going to be the better option.

Because it's entirely possible that your GM is skilled enough to saw off a tree branch, pick their teeth, clean their nails, and open a wine bottle with a survival knife... but if that's the sort of task they're looking to do, it might be better to use a broader toolbox to avoid problems, frustrations, and accidents.

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, March 20, 2021

"It Is Always Better To Do The Thing" Made My LARP Career Far More Interesting

The monarchs sat in conclave, heatedly discussing what to do. Every season had a different strategy, and none were willing to give ground to the others. So they sat, gridlocked, while the rest of the freehold held its breath. It was as they were preparing for another round of verbal sparring that a heavy hand hammered on the door. Eyes went wide, and each of them exchanged glances. Their time, whether they knew it or not, was up.

It was Spring's Queen who floated toward the door, her feathers twitching as she tried to maintain her composure. Every instinct the songbird had told her not to approach that door, or the scent of the thing on the other side of it. But she steeled her spine, and opened the door.

The figure on the other side of the door radiated raw, animal menace. Though he possessed the rough form of a man, with a thick mane of hair and cables of hard muscle beneath his scarred skin, the Hedge had tainted him. The nails on his hands were thick claws, like those of some fanciful predator, and the teeth in his jaw were too long, and too sharp. The eyes were a piercing blue that never seemed to blink. Worse, while he stood still, the coat he wore seemed to twitch and sway as whispers just on the edge of hearing burbled from the depths of the shadows between its folds.

"I'm going out," the creature called Mr. Sainte said. The Hound glanced at those who ruled the freehold, unbowed by their authority or their combined power. He leaned in, his nostrils flaring as he drank in the scent of the Spring Queen's primal fear of hunting beasts. "If you've made some plan, now's the time to mention it. Because once I step out that door, I'm not coming back till the job is done."

And once I step into those shadows, you won't find me unless I want you to.

There's No Time To Waste! Let Us Discuss This For 3 Hours...

There is something that happens in LARPs that has become the bane of my existence as a player; the Meeting of the Authorities. This is what happens whenever a plot point drops, and the powers-that-be retire to a closed-door meeting to discuss what to do about it. Whether you're playing Vampire, Changeling, a traditional fantasy game, or something else entirely, as long as the leaders of the community are player characters, this happens. And what's worse, it can take anywhere from half an hour to half the game for these PCs to reach a decision, and to then distribute that plan out to the rest of the venue regarding what we all need to do about this latest development.

And while they're doing that, the rest of the players are just sitting on their hands, feeling their makeup run, and their wigs start to itch.

Man, I hope I get to actually play at some point today...

Enter the infamous Mr. Sainte, and the phrase that ended up becoming my motto as a player.

Mr. Sainte was a character of mine in a Changeling: The Lost LARP several years back. Born Shepherd Black, he was caught by the Wild Hunt by chance while he was at the police academy. Molded into one of the lead hounds, he led uncounted hunts before he stumbled back into the real world following a scent. Eventually his nose led him to his fetch. The fetch, not well-adjusted to begin with, was cracking under the pressure of his position. He'd become a cop in Shepherd's place, and he'd been undercover for vice. Planted deep with the Russian mafia, living two lives on top of seeing things that shouldn't exist, and having awful nightmares about what Shepherd was living through in the Hedge, the fetch was at a breaking point.

It was only too glad to give Shepherd the life of the infamous Mr. Sainte, and to disappear for a while. Of course, with that identity, Shepherd also acquired a badge, and enough sway that he could smooth things out for the local freehold... or make life very unpleasant for those he felt had crossed a line.

Sainte was an enforcer, and the savagery of the hunting hound was never far beneath his skin. In addition to his claws and teeth, though, it was his ability to seemingly vanish into thin air, and to track people who'd thought they couldn't be followed that made him so unnerving. A black bagger of the first order, if Sainte took it into his mind to make someone disappear, it was only a matter of time before they dropped completely off the radar to anyone but those who could read the skeins of the Wyrd itself.

Big Dogs Don't Take Well To Leashes

Now, under ideal circumstances, his skills would have been put to use for the good of the freehold. A scout, a specialist in intimidation, a capable warrior, and someone who was more than happy to get his hands dirty, he was built as a hatchet man. But rather than let him off the leash, any time there was a plot development the players with the role of the monarchs sequestered themselves in council. Orders could have been given to other players, allowing them to complete separate tasks while discussions were had (there were enough assistant storytellers to keep more than one plate spinning at a time), but it just never seemed to happen. So 4 players were engaged with a tense scene, while between 6 and a dozen others just sat around doing nothing.

And as anyone who's ever had a high-energy dog can tell you... if you don't give them something to do, they will eventually get destructive due to all their pent-up energy. The same is true of players like myself, as I mentioned in Game Masters, Goal-Oriented Players Need Challenges (Or They'll Eat The Setting).

Who you looking at?

The first time the venue was left to cool its heels, I contented myself with some light RP with other folks. The second time I had a long, in-depth conversation with others about what was going on with the current problem. The third time, though... well, the third time Mr. Sainte tapped an ogre on the shoulder, grabbed one of the freehold's academics with a greater knowledge of the creature who had made itself a problem, and went to solve it himself.

By the time the monarchs had agreed this creature needed to be dealt with, Sainte and his impromptu crew had determined what it was, where it was, and put something of a hurt on it. They were only coming back to the freehold to load up before finishing the hunt. While there was some talk about how communication and cooperation needed to be exercised, a hard look from the Hound made it clear that was going to go both ways if they expected this situation to work.

Which was why, from that day forward, any conclave had an invisible, ticking clock on it. And when the Hound came knocking it meant that the decision was going to be taken out of their hands, or they were going to have to explain to him exactly why he shouldn't task a crew and go kick the hornet's nest.

"It Is Always Better To Do The Thing"

I talked about this broadly way back in 5 Tips To Get The Most Out of Your Next LARP, but it's something I feel this motto really hammers home. Because being proactive is one of the best things you can do in order to really get the most out of a LARP specifically, and in RPGs in general. And if you find yourself constantly waiting for the Authorities to tell everyone to get on the bus, just go without them. Because when you do that, something rather amazing happens...

Other players start getting on the bus, too.

If you're going to Do The Thing, and you make it a point to bring other players with when you Do The Thing, pretty soon it gains momentum. Whether you're hunting down a dangerous fey creature, scouting out a strange location, or digging for dirt on a nosy cop that's becoming a pain in the game's collective backside, anything that allows you to get other people involved not only stops you from sitting on your duff, but it helps other players have an engaging night.

The thing you're doing doesn't have to be super important. It doesn't have to be some high-risk endeavor that the fate of the venue is riding on. Sometimes it's locating an NPC that's important to your backstory, or claiming a new piece of turf, or just gaining access to the restricted section of a library to do some research. But the activity should help achieve concrete goals, allow everyone to participate, and give those involved something to talk about at afters once the game has wrapped for the night.

And once you make it a habit, you'll also find that any Meeting of the Authorities ends up becoming as short as they can make it... because if they take too long they'll come out of conference to find the situation has dramatically changed while they had their heads buried in the sand.

What's Next on Table Talk?

That's it for this 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 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, March 15, 2021

"Small GM Energy" Can Be a Problem For Your Game

Tabletop RPGs are supposed to be filled with the wondrous and the fantastical. Whether you're playing denizens of the night, lurking in the shadows of the modern day and feeding from the blood of mortals, or a party of great heroes standing against the undead tides of the necromancer lord Zar-Nathas, we're all fond of saying that the only limitations for our games are our imaginations.

I would personally recommend that more game masters out there embrace that spirit! Because far too many folks fight their players tooth and nail to try to make their games as small as possible, and I have rarely seen anything stifle player interest and creativity as thoroughly as those efforts.

Go on... let it out already!

For folks who don't want to miss out on any of my upcoming releases and news, make sure that you subscribe to my weekly newsletter! Additionally, if you want to help me keep doing what I'm doing, consider become a Patreon patron today! Or if you're just looking for something fun to add to your table, you might want to take a look at 10 Fantasy Villages, or my supplement for Ironfire, the first city in my new fantasy setting available for both Pathfinder and DND 5th Edition!

What I Do (And Don't) Mean About "Small" Games

To eliminate confusion, I'm going to talk about what I do and don't mean regarding what a "small" game is. Because I'm sure there are some GMs out there who think I'm talking about giving their players powerful magic items, letting them have high-level characters, or giving them expansive resources (servants, castles, mercenary companies, etc.) just because the players want it, and it fits their backstories.

But I'm not talking about any of that.

When I say that too many GMs put in white-knuckled effort to keep their games small, I mean that they restrict as many starting options as they can in order to fit everything within narrow boxes. I'm talking about GMs who will tell you that elves can't be barbarians, that orcs and half-orcs can't be nobles, and that drow, tengu, or tieflings are right out because they, "Don't want to deal with them." These are the GMs who, even though they're running modern games, will re-write the rules to discourage use of firearms so that players either won't (or effectively can't) use them. The GMs who, even if the setting is strange, bizarre, and fantastical, want to limit as much stuff as they can so the players only have a handful of real choices when it comes to making their characters and telling their stories.

But why, you may ask?

Academically, I understand why some GMs do this. Generally speaking there are two reasons:

- They want to exert some sort of control on the toolbox that players have available to them. They might be prepared for barbarians, wizards, and sorcerers, but they don't also want to have to deal with psionic nonsense that follows its own rules, a character race that's highly resistant to certain abilities, etc.

- They want to control what kind of story is being told, and what sort of elements are present in it.

For the record, the second one is a way bigger problem, and a far more common reason that this happens in my experience.

You Can Change The Game (But Your Players Need To Know)

The rule most people cite here is that we can all change the rules of any game we want to as long as it gears it toward the experience we want to have. And I am totally in favor of doing this... what most people seem to leave out, though, is that if a GM is going to change the rules or the setting, that needs to be done with the informed consent of their players for it to be fair.

And there should be a conversation around it... especially if this is going to be a problem for your game going forward.

Everybody's got deal breakers.

As an example, if you want to run a Pathfinder game in the core setting of Golarion without black powder, guns, gunslingers, or any of the weird tech that exists in that core setting, then you need to tell your players about this change up-front. This is especially true if there is no canonical reason for the change to happen in setting, such as rewinding the timeline so the gunworks in Alkenstar hasn't been built yet, so of course there aren't widespread firearms. You can limit the race and class choices if you want to, and even declare certain feats and spells are off-limits. You can state that elves are no longer aliens, that gnomes are not fey creatures, or anything else that you want.

What you might find, however, is that your players are a lot less enthusiastic about your game if you do that. It's even possible they'll decide to walk away, and wait for a game that allows them full access to the breadth of options in the published material rather than play with options they want grayed-out.

So the next time you go to make a change in your game, stop and ask yourself whether it broadens the options players have available to them, or if it shrinks them. Because I can tell you this right now... if you let your players have the toys they want, and if you let them really go for it when it comes to their characters, you will never have to chase them down to ask if they're coming to game. They will be there, ready to roll, and eager to play because you worked with them to help provide the experience they wanted.

And sometimes that's worth a little extra planning, or a slightly convoluted explanation on your part as the game master.

Also, for additional reading, consider some of the following:

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, March 13, 2021

Wolverine is a Case Study For Elven Barbarians

The bar was tense as the armored men fanned out. They kept their hands near their weapons as they went from table to table, pulling back hoods or snatching chins, turning patrons' faces into the light. Once they were sure the person wasn't who they sought, they moved onto the next.

"We seek one called Grimtooth," the captain said, watching the reactions of the room. "Reports told us he was nearby. Those who know where he is will be rewarded if they step forward, and guide us to him."

"He's just a myth," a man said, shaking himself out of one of the soldier's grips. "A story told to children."

"Every story has some truth at its heart," the captain said, though not unkindly. "So it is with this one. We have hunted him long, and his crimes are too numerous to count. If you know nothing, then stand aside and leave us to our business."

The corner was dim, but a figure lounged there. He had the relaxed posture of a hunting cat, one hand wrapped around a bottle. The fingers were slender, but strong, the knuckles covered in a network of scars. A pipe smoldered on a cracked, clay plate. The captain nodded at his enforcer, a huge man whose armor strained at the seams, gesturing him toward the back of the bar with one hand. The man grunted acknowledgement, and stalked forward, his hand outstretched toward the drunk.

"You better ask yourself how bad you want to keep that hand," the shadowy figure said, as pleasantly as if he were discussing the weather.

Everything seemed to happen at once. The shadow lashed out, kicking a chair forward. It smashed into the soldier's knees, making him stumble. The scarred, slender hand wrapped around the soldier's wrist like a vise, yanking him forward. His cry was cut short as the corner of the table rammed into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. His gasping turned into a strangled yowling as steel flashed, and a blade rammed through his wrist, pinning his arm to the table. Blood sprayed, and the shadow paused for a moment to let what he'd just done sink in. Then he wrenched the dagger out, and kicked the soldier in the side of the head. He went down like an ox, his skull thunking against the flagstones.

The shadow stood, and the firelight played across his features. His face was drawn, and his dark eyes far too large for a human visage. His ears were long, one pointed, and the other notched from an ancient arrow wound. His hair was long and tangled, like a hunting beast, and the muscles beneath his skin moved like they were made of steel cables. He flicked a gaze over the others, and blinked once. It seemed as if he read all they were, and all they could do, in that moment.

"Sarassan guard," he drawled, stretching his neck till it popped. "Your founders weren't worth much when I taught them the soldier's trade, and you can't even add up to that. You know what's good for you, you'll pick up this ox and leave. While I'm still in a good mood."

You ain't ready for this, boys.

A Template For The Elven Barbarian

One of the constant refrains you'll hear from many players is that you simply cannot mesh X race with Y class, even if there is nothing in the rules that supports this opinion. And while the discussion shifts from one game to another, one of the biggest targets for these arguments is the elven barbarian.

Even if you're playing an edition where elves don't get a negative to their Constitution score, it can seem like a contradiction. Especially if the image you have of elves in your head is Tolkien's ideal, where they represent faded glory, refinement, elegance, and the grandeur of a lost age. Though even in these circumstances, the old fire raging up and refusing to go quietly into the good night is still an interesting character in and of itself.

While the whole conversation about what elves can be used to represent, and how they play in a given setting is an interesting one, something that I think helps the discussion is to find a pop culture representation of an idea or concept that can act as a basis for execution in game. And those looking for an elven barbarian need look no further than one of the most infamous mutants in the Marvel Universe.

Let's run some numbers, shall we?

Though the canon of the character is somewhat scattershot, we know that Logan's early years were spent as a child of privilege. He was educated, and taught many of the finer things in life. After his father was murdered, and he killed a man in defense of himself, he fled to the frontier. Out there he grew hard, adopting the rough ways of miners, hunters, and trappers. He became a soldier, fighting in both World Wars, but he's also adopted several foreign cultures, volunteered for secret experiments, and been around the world a dozen times in the (at least) two centuries since he was born.

And though Wolverine as a character seems simple at a glance (he's a snarling, brooding hardass with a shady history), we get occasional glimpses of his strange, checkered past and unusual legacy. From correcting scholars on the proper origin of a katana forged over a century ago whose original polishing was done with his own two hands, to speaking nearly lost dialects of foreign languages, to major world events he was in the background of, to important persons that he first met when they were young adventurers themselves, there's always more to him lurking just off screen.

If that sort of story doesn't inspire you, then I don't know what will.

Mechanics Can Always Be Overcome

Regarding the arguments of mechanical penalties and ideal builds, there is always a way to overcome an issue, or to nullify a negative. I'm not talking about re-writing the game or begging a boon from the GM either; I'm just talking about ensuring that you take the proper precautions to deal with the negative aspects of your character's build.

I put my high scores in Charisma... I'm not really cut out for this story...

Even if elves take a negative to Constitution (or simply don't receive a bonus to it, depending on your game and edition), you can overcome that. Whether it's through natural attribute bumps as the game progresses, taking the right feats (if you're a 5E player), acquiring the right magic items, etc., there's almost always a way to overcome a negative. You might have to work harder to boost your Strength score over your Dexterity, or you may need to tweak your background in order to get an extra bump to essential skills and tricks, but the point is that unless the game expressly says you cannot combine X and Y, then you should feel free to make the character you want.

Whether it's an orc wizard, a halfling cavalry fighter, an aasimar necromancer, or an elven barbarian, if the rules don't actually stop you from doing it then all you have to do is explain the series of events that led your character to become what they are.

It's that simple.

EDIT: In the time since this came out my Species of Sundara: Elves book has dropped in both a Pathfinder version and a DND 5E version. The warriors of the Rashar, with their steely eyes and fast-healing flesh, are an ideal template for those looking to take this concept just a little bit further!

Also, for those who want to make sure they don't miss any of my upcoming releases, make sure you sign up for my weekly newsletter! You might also want to give the following articles a read through if you're looking to build yourself some better barbarians in the coming games:

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, March 8, 2021

Don't Be a Passive-Aggressive GM (It Won't Help)

Being a game master is a difficult, and often thankless task. You have to balance plot elements, mechanical challenge, character creation, voice dozens of different characters on any given night, and keep the wheel of the cosmos turning in such a way that the players don't notice because everything looks so smooth and effortless.

When the players go out into the weeds to try to steal giant wheels of cheese, or they get fixated on an unimportant piece of world lore, or they won't stop setting buildings on fire, frustration is a perfectly natural response. However, you aren't going to get your players to stop doing those things by dropping hints or being vindictive... you need to communicate with them like the adults you all are if you want to get on the same page moving forward.

Seriously, open communication is your friend, here.

And, of course, if you want to make sure you don't miss out on any of my fresh content or upcoming releases, sign up for my weekly newsletter! Also, if you're curious about the new setting of mine that finally dropped, take a moment to check out What is "Sundara: Dawn of a New Age" All About?

Just Use Your Words, Already

I talked about this back in Killing Characters Won't Solve Out-of-Game Problems, but it bears repeating. If you want your players to do something (or not do something), do not drop hints. Do not punish them in-game for not being able to read your mind. Don't get mad when they don't pick up on subtlety. Sit down and talk to them, GM to player, and explain the problems you're having so you can both work toward a solution.

Just take off the mask, and say what you want to say.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were living with a roommate. You both agreed you'd each do your part of the chores, but it seems like they never wash the dishes like they said they would. You leave a note somewhere you're sure they'd notice it, but they don't react. You make comments about how it would be nice to cook certain meals, but the dishes you need aren't clean. Finally you fold your arms and refuse to wash another dish until they do it... but they still don't wash any.

Most of us have lived through a scenario just like this, or know someone who has. And at least some of the time the only thing that fixed the situation was sitting down with the person and asking, point-blank, "Why aren't you washing the dishes? Be straight with me, we've got to find a solution to this."

Same thing applies to being a GM.

If you have a player who is making you or the table uncomfortable with their horny bard trying to seduce everything they come across, you aren't going to curb that behavior by giving their character STDs. They're not going to get the hint if the succubus gives them negative levels, or the dragons is so enthusiastic it leaves them bedridden for a week. The same way you won't get the overly-violent barbarian to stop picking fights by making every town guard a retired epic-level adventurer, and how you won't get the rogue to stop randomly stealing stuff no matter how many traps they stick their hand into.

If you want your players to stop doing something, tell them. Don't drop hints, don't levy in-game punishments, and don't hope they get the idea... use your words, and tell them.

This is a Cooperative Game

While as a GM you run the game's antagonists, you are not the antagonist yourself. You should be facilitating storytelling and gameplay with your players, and when something doesn't work you need to be the one who's addressing it.

More importantly, you need to be the one working out solutions with your players so that everyone can enjoy the game.

All right, I found the flaw. Now let's see if we can find a solution, here.

For example, some players are just operating under misconceptions or stereotypes (paladins can't allow other party members to carouse, rogues have to be thieves, barbarians can't come from cities, etc.) and just talking about alternatives can sometimes be eye-opening. Other times it's because a player is trying to channel a desire for a certain type of action, but they don't have a good way to do it (the barbarian wants to fight, the thief wants to steal, etc., but those actions aren't currently necessary to advance the plot). In that case you need to work with the player to provide opportunities for them to use their skills and abilities in the current game so they don't resort to destructive ends to feel like their contributing (the rogue stealing important items for the party rather than from them, the barbarian being made a champion to enter a tournament so the party can snoop around, etc., etc.).

Sometimes you won't be able to find a solution. A player might want/expect a completely different kind of game than you're actually running, or insist that they can do whatever they want with their character in the sandbox. Again, do not attempt to force someone to conform to your expectations through in-game punishments, here. If a player isn't willing to play ball and cooperate with you, don't invite them back to this particular game. Not every game is going to suit every kind of player, and everyone at the table needs to be willing to participate in the same game, and to allow everyone else to have fun.

And the best way to do that is to make sure you're all on the same page as players, and that you're all engaged and willing to go forward as a group.

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, March 6, 2021

What Keeps Your Character Traveling?

There's a reason so many tales begin in the tavern... it's usually the one place that travelers gather to wile away the evening hours before they have to get back out on the road. And while there are some games where the party members are local to the area, those tend to be fairly few and far between. Heroes (and villains, for evil games) tend to come from afar, walking into whatever danger and adventure awaits them in the place where their adventure begins.

Before you put together another traveling adventurer with worn down bootheels and a cloak that's just getting ragged around the edges, take a moment to consider just how many reasons there are to be on the road. Because a lot of us only seem to think of the same handful to be from home when the plot thickens.

Also, road is sort of a loose term in this instance.

And as I remind folks every week, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter, take a second to do that! It will ensure you get all my updates, new releases, and other shiny things.

Professional Reasons

The most common reasons you find PCs located far away from home when we first meet them is because they're looking for work... but that work is almost universally A) as a wandering sellsword, or B) as a traveling bard.

And there are some characters who tend to be a bit of both.

While there's nothing wrong with either of these reasons (and you can improve them by lifting some content from 100 Random Mercenary Companies as well as 100 Fantasy Bands by yours truly if you'd like), there are so many other options out there!

For example, consider the fantasy teamster. With her wagon and her mule she runs goods all over the region, and any trouble she meets out on the road gets a quarrel between the eyes from the crossbow she keeps locked up by her seat. Traveling peddlers, river boatmen, and sailors can also fall into this category. Or consider the barber surgeon, who can cut hair, stitch wounds, set bones, and pull teeth, but who tends to make rounds to a wider area in order to help as many people as possible while collecting modest fees. There's the treasure hunter who's always looking for that next big score, the forest ranger acting as a freelance guide, the cartographer who is making new, updated maps of the region, and the historian who's attempting to piece together parts of the past to provide a window onto what came before.

The key for characters who are traveling for professional reasons is that you need to give them a pressing enough reason to be on the move, but not something so pressing that they end up ignoring the adventure hook in favor of their personal travel plans. If the drunken master monk is a roadie/bodyguard for touring musicians, for example, you don't want them to be so committed to that role that they refuse to go check out the troll caves, or to stick around and help protect the town against bandit raids.

It's all about balance, and flexibility.

Personal Reasons

Much like the above section we see plenty of personal reasons for travel among PCs... but a lot of them tend to fall into the same, very broad categories. The most common examples I've seen of this are, A) Looking for revenge, B) Running from debts/commitments C) Some kind of rite of passage.

You met a man with three fingers on his left hand? Which way did he go?

Again, because I cannot stress this enough, there is nothing wrong with those reasons. They're old fall back positions, the same as the paladin that's a knight in shining armor, or the wizard that's an old gray-bearded sage. But they aren't the only options you have, and you can get a lot out of stretching your creativity in this case.

For instance, is your character having a mid-life crisis, so they decide to leave behind a steady trade or a growing business to go out and make their name as a hero? Are they hounded by visions and prophecies, driven toward certain places by the will of inscrutable gods (whether or not they're divine caster classes)? Did they want to get out of their small town to see the world before settling down to have kids? Are they looking for a long-lost friend, family member, or rightful owner of a strange ring they found that draws them on like an iron filing to a lodestone? Are they a really dedicated foodie determined to try all the strange dishes and unusual customs found in 100 Fantasy Foods?

There are hundreds of different reasons someone might find themselves on the road, far away from home. The advantage of personal reasons to travel, though, is that a good GM can take them, and weave them into the ongoing plot in order to hook a PC into said plot to satisfy the player's personal arc. Whether it's deciding to Don Quixote their way through a goblin siege on their old plow horse, or traveling to the capitol to taste the finest viands while also solving the murder of the duchess, players with personal reasons to be out and about can often be easily directed toward the plot with a dangling carrot.

Additional Resources and Inspiration

If you're going to be running a game that takes place out in the open world, and your PCs are going to be doing a great deal of traveling, then I would suggest checking out some of the following supplements for extra inspiration!

- 100 Random Taverns: One of my bestselling supplements, it's gone Electrum at time of writing. Whether you need a sports bar hung with regalia of tourney knights, a clockwork brewery, or a hole-in-the-wall run by kobolds, this supplement has you covered!

- 10 Fantasy Villages: Whether you need a place for your PC to be from, or you need unique locations for the party to stop in, this supplement has everything you need. Maps, histories, rumors, notable places, NPCs, and more can be found between these pages.

- 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest: Traveling through a fey forest is a unique kind of danger... people who are actually from such places might be seen as touched in the head by the rest of the world. For those looking for specific lists there's both a Pathfinder Classic version as well as a DND 5E version.

- 100 Encounters For on The Road or in The Wilderness: From road construction, to guard patrols, to mating wolves, and strange discoveries, there's no reason your PCs should ever have a dull moment when getting from point A to point B. And like the previous supplement this one comes in both a Pathfinder Classic version as well as a DND 5E version.

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!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

What is "Sundara: Dawn of a New Age" All About?

All the folks who keep a sharp eye on my latest additions and updates probably saw Cities of Sundara: Ironfire last week. This supplement is all about Ironfire: The City of Steel; a full-fledged industrial fantasy city built atop the volcanic forge established by an alchemist who figured out the formula to mass-produce dragon steel. The supplement provides a history of the city itself, insight into the culture that grew up around it over the past century or so, and it also gives you a map, as well as a district-by-district break down of what's in the city. There's a slew of NPCs, unique locations, and rumors you can use as jumping-off points for your game in there, too. Lastly I provided rules for using dragon steel equipment, stats for playing volcanically-adapted Cinderscale lizardfolk, stat blocks for dragonsbreath salamanders (the huge riding lizards native to the region), as well as unique background features for veterans of the city's mercenary trade.

Seriously, go get a copy!

This particular supplement is available both for Pathfinder Classic (or first edition for those who insist on the name), as well as for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.

However, while Ironfire can technically be used all on its own (either as the main location for a campaign or folded into your existing campaign world), it is merely the first installment of a much larger setting that I've been hammering on since the end of 2020. And since there are several new installments coming down the pike, I wanted to take this week to let people know what they can expect from Sundara: Dawn of a New Age.

And if you want to make sure you don't miss any updates on Sundara (or any of my other projects) then sign up for my weekly newsletter today!

What Is "Sundara: Dawn of a New Age"?

Several months ago I had an exchange with my contact at Azukail Games, and he suggested that we break some fresh ground by providing unique locations for GMs to use in their games. It was a deviation from the huge lists of NPCs, gear, random encounters, etc. that we'd done in the past, and I figured it would be a nice change of pace where we could see what the audience thought.

The first part of this project, 10 Fantasy Villages, went Copper in less than a week... so you could say we'd stumbled across something folks were definitely interested in seeing more of.

It really does have a lot of stuff crammed into it. Go on, get one for yourself!

One idea for a follow-up was to expand on the initial concept, and to do a collection of 10 fantasy cities. After all, urban games are tough on a lot of GMs, and you can never have too much content to draw on when setting a scene or making a unique location. For folks who are good at pattern recognition, though, you'll know that cities are my jam, so I didn't just want to do a shallow dive on a bunch of places that had the potential to become so much more.

And that was the inspiration for a whole new fantasy RPG setting which has become Sundara.

There are a lot of factors that make Sundara: Dawn of a New Age so unique, in my opinion. The first is, as the name implies, the setting is striding out toward progress, change, and finding new solutions to the problems people within it face. Unlike so many fantasy settings that can trace their roots back to the works of Tolkien, the world of Sundara is meant to feel rich, varied, and full of strange discoveries waiting to be made. It's got its share of old ruins, abandoned tombs, and lost places, but the idea is that people are looking forward to make new things, rather than trying to reclaim ancient relics of the past simply because they represent some lost time of glory or achievement.

What better way to represent that, we thought, than to start with a series of supplements that showcase some of the cities across the face of this new world? Places that have developed their own unique industry, and which make a statement about the sort of things that are possible during this, the dawn of a new age?

Not High Tech (Technically Speaking)

One misconception a lot of folks have when I have talked about Sundara so far is to just assume that it's a high-tech fantasy world, or that it's a magitech setting. And while there are definitely going to be pockets of such things in the world (freshly-discovered methods, or jealously guarded secrets protected by engineering guilds), that's not the thrust of what is going on.

Rather, what I want to do with Sundara is to introduce (for lack of a better term) "period" technology, combined with all the bizarre elements that are available in RPGs filled with monsters and magic.

Just as an example...

Getting back to Ironfire for a moment, the city was founded on the volcanic forge that produces reliable, high-quality dragon steel. While the location and method of power is very fantastical, the item being produced is pattern-welded crucible steel... what most of us think of as Damascus steel. This steel was regularly used for swords at least as far back as 800 a.d. in our real history, and techniques for producing crucible steel in the Middle East and India go back to the third century or so.

That is, in a nutshell, the sort of thing you're going to see all over Sundara as the setting expands.

Because our real history is full of wide-sweeping industries, feats of amazing engineering, and achievements that astonish us even to this day. From the highway system and shopping malls of ancient Rome that I mentioned in Introduce Some "Period" Technology In Your Game, to the industrial levels of soap production during the Middle Ages (as well as the enduring legacy of communal bath houses held over from the Roman era), history is a strange and undiscovered country. And that's before we add in things like celebrity advertising (how gladiators often shilled for particular products), or the attempts to keep products legitimate through maker's marks and guild seals like I mentioned in Who Are The Famous Brand Names and Merchants in Your Setting?

And those are the things I'm adding in to give Sundara its unique flair as a setting. It's a world that is full of odd quirks and strange resources, bizarre industries and curious crafters who are all trying to explore and expand on the resources of this unusual world they all live in. And that's in addition to the wide array of fantastical beasts, bizarre species, and competing ideologies that will likely span the width and breadth of the setting.

What Else About It Is Different?

In addition to the theme of moving forward into discovery rather than attempting to reach into the past, Sundara is going to have a variety of other elements about it that won't conform to what folks who play Pathfinder or DND 5E are likely to expect. While I'll be going into some of these in greater detail in future releases, I figured I'd provide a short list of some of the bigger ones here.

- Sundara does not use the alignment system. This will require a lot of changes both thematically and structurally for Pathfinder players, which will be addressed in upcoming supplements.

- I'm also nixing the multiplanar setting we've grown used to, with three-dozen or so different planes to explore. Sundara has only two realms; the material plane, and the Prim, the place where magic is born, and where the gods dwell.

- For the foreseeable future, Sundara is probably going to drop in separate splat books and expansions, rather than a single, unified rulebook/setting guide.

There's more, but I think this is enough to chew on for a bit.

For the first point on this list, alignment is one of the most contentious points for many Pathfinder players because it's such a huge part of the game as it's written. And like I said in Alignment's Roots Go Deeper Than We Might Think (How Much Stuff Do You Lose Pulling It Out?), you basically have to tear down the old cosmos, re-write a lot of spells, and either eliminate or greatly alter a lot of classes in order to adjust for a game that doesn't use it. And since I'm creating a whole new cosmos from the ground up, I figured that I would purposefully provide a setting where not using alignment was intended right from the get go.

As far as the cosmos, boiling it all the way down is meant to do a couple of things. One, it deals with eliminating so many planes tied to alignment (no devils, no angels, no demons, and so on, and so forth), and it allows the GM to keep gods and their desires more varied and mysterious. I'll go into greater depth on this in Gods of Sundara, which I hope to start soon, and hopefully you can all see where I'm going with this one.

Lastly, though, Sundara's books will (for the foreseeable future, at least) keep coming out in what amounts to splat books. And I want to talk about my reasons for that.

There is method in my madness, I assure you.

First things first, part of the reason for this decision is because this is a one-man show at time of writing. I can only produce content so fast, and while I can put out one Sundara supplement a month without straining too hard, a big RPG book could take a year or more to complete. A year or more of not getting paid at all, and the book could flop utterly after all that time and effort, leaving me nothing to show for it.

This setting is still in its infancy, and I'm trying to build up a fan base for it that wants to see new, fresh content. It's a lot easier to convince a publisher to put out a city guide, or a supplement for discussing gods and the nature of the divine, than it is to get someone to commit to a hefty tome that lays the groundwork for a whole new setting. And it's not just getting the project greenlit, either; it's also a lot easier to convince players (many of whom may have setting fatigue) to just try a bite of something new than it is to get them to fork over a big chunk of change for a massive book with an equally massive price tag.

Lastly, I want these early supplements to be flexible enough that players and GMs can have fun at their tables without needing to use the whole of Sundara to do it if they don't want to. If someone thinks Ironfire is neat, or they want to use Moüd: The City of Bones (this month's supplement, so keep your eyes peeled for this necromantic nonsense) as a central hub of a dungeon crawl game, they should be able to do that. The mechanical goodies that I'm loading into every supplement are meant to be used, as well. Even if someone opts not to play with them with the location I'm tying them to, I want people to use these tools to enhance their games.

What's Coming Up Next?

Well, in addition to Moüd (an ancient city that's been brought back from the graveyard of history by a guild of necromancers), and a supplement discussing Sundara's gods and magic, there's been a lot of talk about where this setting could expand if folks decide they want more. At present, the goal is to put out several more city supplements, and some more general supplements expanding the map and mechanics, and then to delve into providing more hands-on adventures. Species of Sundara is on the list, as well, for providing a varied, alternate take on the creatures players can take control of, ranging from the usual elves, dwarves, and orcs, to goblins, gnomes, and others.

Other potential projects include adventure modules, and if players respond well to these shorter stories it's definitely possible that bigger campaign books (with additional details, NPCs, and extra gaming goodies) will be produced as well. So if this is something you want to see more of, please boost the signal by sharing the links around, leaving positive reviews, and of course getting a copy of Cities of Sundara: Ironfire for yourself if you haven't done so yet!

Oh, There's Also Easter Eggs!

For folks who've enjoyed all the other supplements I've released over the past few years, there's going to be several Easter eggs for you to spot in the upcoming books.

As an example, all of the mercenary companies in Ironfire, from the Scarlet Company to the Bloody Fools, are taken right out of my supplement 100 Random Mercenary Companies. Additionally, the dragonsbreath salamander was a creature that I invented because of the salamander steaks entry that I talked about in 100 Fantasy Foods where I mentioned the meat had to be eaten raw, or acid seared, because of the creatures' resistance to fire. And for the upcoming City of Bones, the Silver Wraiths were one of the early entries in my 100 Fantasy Guilds supplement, and they are the backbone (pun very much intended) of the necropolis turned metropolis.

If you've been following all my past work, there's going to be a lot of call backs as I expand on Sundara... so keep your eyes peeled!

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