Fluff (RP & Story)

If you start talking about your character and the first thing out of your mouth is a stat block, chances are you missed the point of a roleplaying game. Having a tricked out power set is great, but who is your character? Really? How about your city? Your world? Below are suggestions for players and storytellers alike to help spice up the game, and to create some real drama. There's more to games than combat and skill checks, after all.

May 25, 2024 Everyone's Favorite Game: Fantasy Character or Prescription Medication?
Our prescription medications may sound ridiculous, but at the same time, they can make an interesting fill-in for a fantasy RPG character. If you've never tried it at your table, consider giving it a shot for your next game!

April 21, 2024 Consider Using Unexpected Origins For Your Character's Skills
It is often surprising how skills and abilities intended for one task or career can be repurposed, and used in a different one. So consider asking if this is what happened to your character. Did the greatax-wielding fighter spend their early years as a lumberjack? Is the trap expert someone who spent years in the army as a scout, or who was a journeyman locksmith who needed a change of work?

March 15, 2024 Consider Giving Summoned Creatures, Spirits, Etc., The Full NPC Treatment
Summoning creatures to one's side to help them do battle is a fairly common strategy in most fantasy RPGs. However, these creatures can really add to the game beyond just showing up to fight when called on... if you're willing to put in some elbow grease to make them into full NPCs, that is.

February 19, 2024 5 Tips For Making Better Fantasy Cults
Cults are a mainstay of many fantasy games... but if you want a villain that's going to really be memorable, it's important to make sure your cults are as fully fleshed out as you can manage. If you've had troubles with this in the past, consider this week's advice!

January 22, 2024 What Are Relationships Like in Your Fantasy Setting?
Romance is one of the earliest elements of every fairy tale we've ever heard. However, all too often we just ignore the questions about romance, relationships, marriage, taboos, and other aspects of our fantasy settings that could prove to be very interesting if we took a moment and thought about them.


December 23, 2023 Have Both a Good Ending (And a Bad One) For Your Character
We often get so caught up in our idea of where our character's stories are going that we sometimes ignore any branching paths a story could take as the narrative unfolds. And one of the easiest ways to start our brains moving in that direction is to ask ourselves what the bad ending for our characters could be, in addition to the good ones.

November 24, 2023 A Little Taste of Glamour (A Tip For Immersion in Changeling: The Lost)
Changelings are both more, and less, than human. One of the stranger aspects of their life, though, is siphoning off the power of emotions felt by others to fuel their supernatural powers. If you want to get into the skin of your changeling, ask what the feelings and sensations they feel when they drink in the emotions around them to produce their glamour.

October 3, 2023 How Did You Learn Your Magic? (Wizards, Sorcerers, And Other Spellcasters in TTRPGs)
We tend to get wrapped up in how things must be in our TTRPGs... but there's more than one path to mastery of the mystic arts. So if you're playing a character with spellcasting capabilities, consider asking what particular road they took to acquire the skills and knowledges they possess.

September 2, 2023 Name, Rank, and Serial Number in Werewolf: The Apocalypse (A Criticism of Overdoing The Formal Garou Greeting)
This is something that's always bothered me about this particular WoD game. Because whenever something just becomes reflex, or a burden, it can undermine the purpose it's supposed to have within the genre; immersion. Make the lore work for you, don't make your players labor under the lore.

August 5, 2023 The 5 Maddening Monks You Meet During Your Gaming Career
I've covered a lot of classes, and the frustrations we all face when dealing with them. However, I haven't touched on the monk just yet. That changes today, though, and if you've come across any of these archetypes, then you have my sympathies, friends.

July 9, 2023 5 Real Underground Cities to Inspire Your TTRPG Campaign
Gigantic underground cities are things we often think belong solely in fantastical fiction... but the world we live in is a strange place. If you need a little inspiration for your setting, then check out these 5 examples of subterranean cities that will have your jaw dropping!

June 11, 2023 Find a Reason For Your Character to Get Involved
There is an almost knee-jerk reaction many players have when it comes to plot hooks, and that reaction is to avoid them unless it is specifically about them and their 1-2 pre-existing goals. However, it's much better to find a reason for your character to get involved, and to jump into plot, because it's going to make the game that much more enjoyable for you, and the rest of your table.

May 14, 2023 What Education Did Your RPG Character Receive?
All too often we just assume that our fantasy settings have no educational options... but there are actually dozens of different ways someone might acquire their skills and abilities. Since this is so often overlooked, I thought it would make an interesting topic to talk about this week!

April 16, 2023 Consider Giving Your Loose Cannon Character a Minder
We've all had those characters who just aren't going to gel with a particular group. However, if you're really passionate about playing these characters, you might be able to give them a minder in order to make them palatable to play with, while still letting you explore their story.

March 19, 2023 5 Tips For Playing a Better Pacifist
Pacifist characters are often seen as boat anchors to the rest of the party, especially if a game has a high chance of combat. However, if you're bound and determined to play a character who seeks non-violent (or at least less violent) solutions to problems, I'd recommend following some of these tips.

All of us take inspiration for our games and characters... but sometimes we want to be a little more subtle with it. If you don't want it to be super obvious where your current character or campaign arc came from, I'd recommend using some of these tricks to camouflage your homage.

January 21, 2023 5 Cringey Clerics You Meet in Your Gaming Career
The latest in my awful character series, I figured it was time to turn our eyes toward the divine... or at least to their worst servants. If ever there was a player acting in bad faith, it was these cringey clerics.


December 22, 2022 5 Tips For Playing Better Kineticists
Folks have been asking me to move on to the Occult Classes for several yonks now, and the kineticist was always top of the request list. So I figured it was time to give the readers what they want with this first step into a whole new book!

November 27, 2022 An Exploration of "Reverse Stereotype" Characters
We often try to escape traditional tropes and stereotypes when it comes to our characters... but often we just end up turning things on their heads. This, ironically, creates a reverse stereotype character, which can be just as eye-rolling in their own way.

October 23, 2022 5 Tips For Playing Better Ninjas
I have been wanting to finish out the Ultimate Combat classes for a while now. With them, and Ultimate Magic finished off with the Magus, I feel like I can start tackling the bigger books that folks have been asking about for a while now. Before I move into the hybrid and occult classes, though, I wanted to talk about ninjas, and how you can do a lot of unique, interesting things with them.

September 24, 2022 5 Infuriating Fighters You Meet in Your Gaming Career
It's been a while since I put together one of these lists, and it felt like a good time to drag another one out of the darkness. Because fighters are often thought of as reliable, steadfast, and hard to mess up... yet these examples keeping bubbling to the surface time and time again!

August 25, 2022 5 Tips For Playing Better Samurai
I started this book by covering the gunslinger, so it only seemed fair to finish out Ultimate Combat. With these tips for the samurai, that just leaves the ninja... should I finish this book off? Leave your comments on the article!

August 3, 2022 What Secrets Does Your Character Hide?
One of the questions we don't usually ask about our characters is what facets of themselves do they keep hidden? What are they ashamed of, or what things don't they share even with close friends? In short, the secrets that people hold can tell you a lot about who they are.

June 27, 2022 5 Tips For Playing Better Neutral Characters
It's been forever and a day since my original list of alignment-based tips went up, but it's remained one of my most popular posts since the day it was published. So I figured it was time to poke at another alignment that I feel often gets pigeonholes or misunderstood... and that's folks who are neutral in one part of their alignment or the other.

May 27, 2022 50 Origins For a Sorcerer's Bloodline
Often times sorcerers inherit their gifts... but what if your "bloodline" came to you in a different way? These are 50 ways one may have become a sorcerer that don't involve being the great-great-great-something-or-other of an angel, demon, dragon, or archfey creature.

April 29, 2022 5 Tips For Playing a Better Magus
It's been a while since I've cracked out a new 5 Tips guide for a character class, and I figured that it was time to take a closer look at the magus. If you've had trouble stepping out of their usual box, consider some of the following tips!

April 3, 2022 Who Does Your RPG Character Care About?
A lot of the time when we design our RPG characters we think of them as individuals, apart from the rest of the setting and their experiences. One big puzzle piece to consider, though, is who these characters care about, and what their relationships with these people is.

March 6, 2022 5 Films You Should Watch To Really "Get" Changeling: The Lost
The World of Darkness is full of all kinds of strangeness, but one that can throw people for a loop is Changeling: The Lost. Since it's one of my favorite games, I figured I'd compile a media list for folks looking to really sink their teeth into this corner of the setting.

February 5, 2022 What is Your RPG Character's Theme Song?
A handy little trick that's helped me get a handle on my share of characters, I highly recommend coming up with a theme song to help define your character. Or, hell, even an entire playlist!

January 9, 2022 5 Tips For Playing Better Half-Elves and Half-Orcs
It's been a while since I updated my 5 Tips series, but I figured that with the release of the Blooded for my Sundara: Dawn of a New Age setting, it was time for me to share some of my thoughts on half-elves and half-orcs.


While we often think about our characters' morality, and about their goals, we don't always ask what happens when these two things come into conflict. Especially if that conflict happens under intense pressure... does their morality hold strong? Or do they cross lines they told themselves they wouldn't in order to get what they want?

Too many of us will censor ourselves for no reason other than we feel like we're not allowed to play certain characters because they're too silly, too stupid, or too immature. If it fits the game, and it would make you happy, crank that shit up to 11 and roll them bones!

I love diverse rules and mechanics as much as the next person (and more than some), but even I need to remind folks there are huge blank parts of the game the rules don't influence. You can color those in however you want, and you should feel free to do so!

Too often when we make our characters we end up conflating facts about what a character must be given their creature type or abilities, and general stereotypes about what people think they are. So remember, the facts part is what a character is... but the rest you can usually ignore, or shape to suit your wants and desires for your character!

The third entry in my series of bad players you meet in your gaming career, this time we're finally bringing up bards. Because no other class is quite as adroit at managing to suck the fun out of a table when it's in the hands of someone who shouldn't be trusted with them.

If you're looking for an unexplored part of your character's background, consider whether or not they leave a calling card when they do something. And if they do, what is it? How did they choose that calling card? It can often tell us a lot about them.

We're always personalizing our characters, and one of the most common ways we do that is through body modifications of one stripe or another. This week I wanted to talk about tattoos, scars, piercings, and what kind of significance they can add to your character's story.

We all roll our eyes at grim, dark, and edgy characters, but they can be really satisfying, and interesting. However, what separates the good ones from the bad ones is that the edge they have needs to be in service to some great goal, statement, or purpose... when it's just there for no reason, that's when it becomes problematic.

Too often when making characters we just use generic, placeholder names for our backgrounds. If you really want your character to feel like an organic part of the world you're actually playing in make sure you get as detailed as you can.

The second installment in this series, we've all shared a table with at least one of these rogues... and some of us with more than one. A series of red flags that should never be ignored, these particular back stabbers tend to be a bigger problem than the campaign antagonists when they actually show up!

We've all had to deal with these PCs at some point in our career. This week I'd like to point out that even jerks should have nuance, and that you should careful consider why they act certain ways toward other characters... especially toward others in the party, who they're going to have to work with over the long term.

For all the folks who are trying to create their own settings, these tips should help you make towns and cities that feel like they're part of an organic whole, rather than just a set piece in a fantasy showroom.

Most of our games seem to take place out on the open road... but it feels like we always have he same, worn-out reasons for the PCs to be at the local tavern. So consider some of these alternatives the next time you want your character to be far from home.

Too often the only entertainment we think of for our characters is getting drunk at the bar, or seeking out a brothel in town. Maybe shooting some dice in the back alley. But entertainment preferences and hobbies can say a lot about who a character is, and it's a question that can give us a lot of surprising answers.

We've all shared the table with bad characters before. This is the first installment of a potential series talking about some specific varieties of red flag PCs you should keep an eye out for. And kicking us off is, of course, the paladin!

Something that often gets overlooked when we make our characters, every society comes with rules and norms that need to be observed. So take a moment to ask what norms shaped your character, and the culture they came from... the results might be unexpected!


December 29, 2020 What is a Barbarian?
Another of my gaming etymology dives, this month I dug into the origin of the word barbarian, and where so many of our assumptions and ideas of the barbarian archetype come from.

One of the most controversial classes in the game, it was only going to be a matter of time before I added the gunslinger to this ongoing series!
Fantasy characters, both heroes and villains, tend to accomplish great deeds and possess extraordinary powers. So what kind of reputation does your character have? And what do they do to either increase that reputation, or to downplay as much of it as they can?
If you're looking to add more details to your setting in a meaningful way, then you could do worse than including reliable brands, businesses, guilds, and artisans into your world lore. They can be as big or as small as you want, but their very existence often adds a lot more potential than you might think.
It's been a while since I did an alignment deep dive, but in honor of the recent election I figured it was time to look at a character that is true to the red, white, and blue's ideals.
It's been a while since I added a new class to my ever-expanding 5 Tips series, but this month I thought I'd weigh-in on the Vigilante class, and offer some tips for making your particular vigilante that much better.
Too often we get caught up in the stereotypes and archetypes of our genres and stories. So I thought I'd take this week to share a lovely phrase I picked up in conversation a while back which can help provide some simple perspective for GMs who mistake a stereotype for some kind of law of the land in a game or setting.
Since it's Talk Like a Pirate Day, I figured I'd get to a piece I've had brewing for some time. Whether you're thinking about playing a pirate, or you're sort of stuck in how to make that archetype unique, some of these points should help you!
Often we think of heraldry as something reserved only for the noble or socially important... but it's far more common that we might think. So take a moment and ask what symbols your character wears, and what they mean. It can add quite a lot to your story!
In the age of ACAB, I was worried Robocop wouldn't be an enjoyable re-watch. If anything, though, Robocop is a pop culture touchstone for how to make a complex character who fits firmly within the lawful good category.

One aspect that we often leave out of our characters are the little habits, or odd beliefs, they've picked up over the course of their life. So before you set out on your next adventure, consider adding a few of these little quirks, and asking how they picked them up.

June 28 2020 The Difference Between "Bad" Characters and "Evil" Characters
Shades of gray can be tough to find when you're muddling through the twists and turns of alignment. But this week I settle on some generally useful questions to ask when it comes to staying firmly in that shadowy area where you're bad, but not too bad.

June 4, 2020 The Punisher is Evil
The second of my alignment deep dives, this time around I examine the history, motivations, and methods of Frank Castle, the infamous vigilante more famously known as the Punisher.

May 30, 2020 Make NPCs Part of Your Story (It Makes Everything More Interesting)
Too often we end up with PCs and parties who feel like the only real things in the world. However, if you pull more characters into their orbit this makes our characters' stories feel more organic, and more real. This is my advice for incorporating NPCs in a useful, natural way.

May 2, 2020 Everything is Weird in Fantasy RPGs (But That's Not How You Make a Character Stand Out)
Too often I see players (and even some DMs) who mistake a character being unusual in their abilities or race for being interesting. If you're banking on sheer weirdness making your PC stand out, then you are probably going to be disappointed, because there's a great deal more to a character than that skin-deep oddness.

April 4, 2020 What Are Your Character's Cultural Misunderstandings?
Sometimes one of the things that tell us the most about a character are the things about them that are different. Not just in their bodies and skills, but their culture, and the way they see the world. Sometimes it's funny, and sometimes it's fascinating, but it always makes a game more memorable.

March 7, 2020 Reveal Details About Your Characters Through Flavor-Based Skill Checks
Sometimes it's tough to bring across the details of your character to the rest of the table in an organic, natural way. One tool I've found that's very useful for this process is something I call a flavor skill check.

February 9, 2020 It Only Has To Happen Once (Weird PCs, and The "Special Snowflake" Argument)
There's this habit among DMs, and among players, to ridicule PCs who stick out as strange, or unusual. However, if we look at the canon of classic fiction and mythology, it's the weird, strange, and bizarre characters who are the ones most often cast in the roles of heroes. So take a moment and ask why you're so adamant about putting restrictions on what's available via the rulebook?

January 11, 2020 How Do Your Characters Sleep (And What Does That Say About Them)?
Sleeping is often the least interesting part of any game session, right behind strolling through the wilderness with nothing happening. But there's a lot of potential character that can be found in how someone sleeps, and what it says about them.


December 14, 2019 4 Tips For Making Long-Lived Characters FEEL Old
There are a dozen or more fantasy races with inhumanly long lifespans... but how do you really bring that across to the rest of the table? These tips should get you started.

November 18, 2019 Who Does Your Character Owe Their Allegiance To?
Too often we make PCs who aren't connected to anyone or anything. However, if you want to provide a string to tug them in certain directions, then clearly defining who holds their loyalty, and how strong that hold is, can be a godsend for your DM.

October 20, 2019 Do Content, Happy People Hunt Dragons? (More on Character Backstories)
You've all seen the image that claims people who have their lives together have no reason to go out fighting monsters, so only the tragic and damaged take the field against such creatures. Well, here's my rebuttal to that.

September 21, 2019 Why Does He Do That? (Thinking About Your Character's Habits)
A lot of the time we just give our characters habits out of reflex, or because it fits a trope. But if we dig a little deeper, we might find that these little quirks come from their lived experiences, or racial inheritances.

August 29, 2019 5 Tips For Playing Better Tieflings and Aasimar
The blood of outsiders runs through the veins of many mortals, granting them strange powers and twisting their forms out of true. If you've been looking for a good way to step outside the box for these two races, these tips may be just what you've been looking for.

August 24, 2019 Using The Limiting Bolt in Your Games
Sometimes you want to play a character that's an established badass... but how do you knock them back down to low levels? Well, a Limiting Bolt is one of the easiest ways, in my experience.

July 26, 2019 Who is in Your Character's Rogues' Gallery?
Your villains can often define who you are. So who does your character oppose? And what do their villains say about who that character is?

June 28, 2019 Are You Still Worthy? (An Alternative View on Alignment Restrictions)
Lots of people see alignment restrictions as a problem. However, embracing them in the spirit they are meant to represent can lead to some interesting character development, too.

June 1, 2019 What Is Your Profession? (Character Creation From A Different Direction)
If you've ever had trouble getting a handle on who your character is and where they come from, consider looking at an aspect of their background and history that often gets overlooked; their profession. If you are what you do, this is a central pillar of who your PC should be.

May 28, 2019 5 Tips For Playing Better Evil Characters
Playing evil characters isn't something a lot of players are good at. If you do get a chance to do it, though, I would recommend keeping some of these tips in mind.

May 19, 2019 10 Backgrounds For Your Spellcasters
Rounding out the backgrounds options, this time I talk about some unusual, out-of-the-box spellcaster histories, motivations, styles, and ideas to make your next magic user feel different from the standard issue.

May 3, 2019 What Organizations Does Your Character Belong To?
We so often think of our characters as islands that we forget there are dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of in-game organizations they could be members of. So take a moment, and ask which of them (if any) count you among their ranks.

April 29, 2019 5 Tips For Playing Better Noble Characters
Nobles are a big part of most fantasy worlds. If you want to play heroes born to the aristocracy, then these tips should help get the wheels turning in your minds!

April 11, 2019 10 Backgrounds For Your Scoundrels
From heavy-handed thugs to light-fingered rogues, it's important that you know how your scoundrels got where they are. These 10 backgrounds should help you get started!

April 6, 2019 Have You Tried Using "Spiritual Bleed" in Your RPG?
When you make a bargain with a force outside of yourself, it can rub off on you. Make you see the world in strange ways, or do things you never would have done before you were connected. The question is, what outside forces have touched your character? And how has that changed them?

March 9, 2019 Players, Only You Can Prevent Fishmalks!
If you've never heard the term fishmalk before, don't worry, I guarantee you've seen one before. As long as you've shared the table with at least a few players who had chaotic neutral in their alignment box.

February 25, 2019 5 (Specific) Costuming Tips For Your Next LARP
Getting a proper costume together is no easy task, and doing it on a budget can be a nightmare. Here are some quick tricks I've found that should help you out, though.

February 9, 2019 How Do You Play A Character That's Smarter Than You Are?
Some players trip themselves up when they try to depict characters with higher mental stats than they feel they themselves possess. Here are some simple tips I've found for overcoming these obstacles to good roleplaying.

January 16, 2019 10 Unusual Prompts For Your Next Campaign
Being a dungeon master isn't easy. If you're stuck in a rut for campaign ideas, then here are 10 prompts to get those creative juices flowing!

January 11, 2019 Any Class Can Be A Knight (More Thoughts On Outside-The-Box Character Presentation)
How many times have you seen someone ask in a forum what class makes the best knight? The best noble? The best priest? The problem is that none of these words are directly connected to class features... even if the person posing the question thinks they are.


December 14, 2018 Unique Currencies Can Add A Lot To Your Game World
We all know about copper, silver, and gold pieces... but is that all they are? Adding a little flair to your world's money can make a big difference in making your world feel more real to your players.

November 17, 2018 DMs, Remember, Monsters Don't Have To Be MONSTERS
Too often we allow the monsters in our games to just be that. No motivations, no desires, they exist only for the PCs to fight as part of this game. But you'll get a lot more mileage out of them if you give them room to grow, and to be affected by PC actions other than rolling for initiative.

November 16, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Elves
Someone suggested that I should expand my 5 Tips series to cover races as well as classes. Here's the first installment!

October 25, 2018 10 Questions to Put On Your Character Creation Document
It's always a good idea to have a character creation document. If you're wondering where to get started with it, though, here are 10 questions you should consider adding.

October 20, 2018 What Holidays Are Celebrated in Your Game?
Holidays are one of those things we don't usually think about when it comes to fantasy worlds, but they offer a lot of potential both for the setting, as well as for the characters in it. So take a moment and ask what sort of important days you have in your game.

October 10, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Cavaliers
The final entry for the Advanced Player's Guide, this time we're talking about the much-maligned cavalier. If you want to step outside the class's usual box, here's some advice you should keep in mind!

September 22, 2018 6 Dos and Don'ts of Character Flaws
Character flaws can be great ways to make your PC stand out... but if you aren't careful, people might remember you for all the wrong reasons. Here's some advice to help you keep the game flowing, while also keeping your story interesting.

September 20, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Witches
Continuing my 5 Tips series, I finally get to one of the most requested pieces I've put out in a while... the witch! If you've been looking to step outside of the stereotypes of this class, here's my advice.

August 25, 2018 Why Aren't You Using Signs and Portents in Your Game?
The gods are real in many fantasy settings... yet if there are no divine casters in the party, then they may as well not exist to many characters. Give them an occasional sign or portent, though, and they'll start paying much closer attention to their surroundings. Especially if they want to avoid divine wrath.

August 23, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Warlocks
Perhaps the only class that isn't shared by Pathfinder and 5th edition is the warlock. As such, I thought I'd share some of my tips for playing them.

July 27, 2018 5 "Modern" Ideas You Should Try Adding To Your Fantasy World
World-building is the name of the game when it comes to presenting an interesting arena for stories to take place in. So why not spice your world up a bit with some things we tend to assume with the modern day, but which really aren't all that new?

July 7 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Oracles
The oracle is perhaps one of the most popular classes from the Advanced Player's Guide, but it is still pigeon-holed into certain boxes far too often. Break free from those stereotypes with the latest installment!

June 29, 2018 What Is Graffiti Like In Your World?
Graffiti is not a modern influence... it's been around for centuries. So, if you're looking for a fun detail to add to your setting, you might want to ask what messages people are scratching on the bathroom walls.

June 7, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Inquisitors
The 5 Tips series continues, delving deeper into the Advanced Player's Guide with the Inquisitor. While often thought of as little more than religious zealots, they can be so much more than that.

June 2, 2018 Adventuring Isn't Just A Young Man's Game (5 Questions You Should Ask For Older PCs)
If you're playing a middle-aged or older adventurer, that can be a very different experience from the young bucks and spit-shiny apprentices a lot of players typically start with. So take a moment, and ask what being older means for characters like this.

May 20, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Summoners
The list goes on, and I thought I'd set my sights on one of Pathfinder's most controversial base classes. Love them or hate them, these are my suggestions for playing deeper, more interesting summoners.

May 4, 2018 Did Your Character Have A Former Life?
Some PCs are just what they look like... but others had a life before this one. Whether you're a palace runaway, or a former bandit, it can be fun to have a secret life the rest of the party doesn't know. Assuming it comes into play at some point, that is.

April 20, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Alchemists
Despite the announcement of Pathfinder 2e, I figured I'd at least hit one of my favorite classes for this series. Alchemists are ridiculously powerful, and they can be played in all sorts of different ways. Here are some of my suggestions for getting the most bang for your buck.

April 7, 2018 The Non-Problem of Making Monks Fit Your Setting
One of the most common complaints I come across from DMs is how to make monks fit their setting. This strikes me as either really lazy, or really just not wanting any of that "Eastern" stuff in your "Western" game. So, here's how to solve what really isn't a problem, but a lot of folks seem to think is.

March 9, 2018 Do Clothes Make The Adventurer?
We all have an idea of what our characters wear... but the devil is in the details. So think about it, and ask about materials, make, style, cut, and what accessories they have on. Then ask what, if anything, that says about who they are, where they come from, and what others who see them will know based purely on their look.

February 9, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards
The final installment in my 5 Tips series for the base classes, I finish up strong with my advice for playing better, and more interesting, wizards.

February 9, 2018 Who Are Your Mercenary Companies?
There are always people willing to trade their steel for gold. In fact, it's one of the most common jobs for PCs to have. But what mercenary companies exist in your world? And what makes them unique?

January 26, 2018 5 Tips For Playing Better Sorcerers
The second-to-last installment for the core classes, sorcerers always end up feeling like a wizard with training wheels. Here are some good ways to make them more unique in their own right.

January 13, 2018 What Do Your Characters Eat?
We all know our adventurers eat... but what do they eat? What are their preferences? Do they like spicy foods, or bland ones? Are they vegetarians? Do they drink, or not? Do they like foods from other planes? All of these questions can add a little more depth to your PC.


December 19, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Rangers
My 5 Tips series continues, and though I'm drawing close to the end of the core rulebook I don't plan on letting these articles stop any time soon. This time we're talking about rangers, and how to avoid the stereotypical ways to play them.

December 15, 2017 "Games Orcs Play" or "Real Fantasy Sports"
When you hear the term fantasy sports, you probably think of made-up dream teams of football players whose stats alter with real-world games on your phone. But what about the sports played in your campaign setting? Games like siegebreaker, dog runner, mudhole, or stone's throw? After all, if you're going to make fantasy sports, pull out all the stops with it.

November 21, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks
If you've been wondering how to get your monks to stand out from the pack, and step outside the usual box, here is a simple guide to get you started.

November 20, 2017 De-Coupling The Idea of Race And Nation in RPGs
How many times do you hear about the elven nation of this, or the orc country of that in RPGs? How does a force that large, with that many resources, stay so completely homogeneous? Well, it shouldn't, which is why I'm giving my thoughts on why we should undo so many barriers that box-in races in RPGs.

October 20, 2017 Why So Many Sad Backstories?
Have you ever noticed that we tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to our PCs backstories? Dead parents, missing siblings, war-torn nations, etc., etc. But why? Do we need them? Or is it just habit?

October 4, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Fighters
The latest in my "5 Tips" series, this week I'm talking about fighters. If you want to be more than a suit of armor that occasionally rolls initiative, here's some of my recommendations for how to do it.

September 24, 2017 What is Your Character's Everyday Carry? (And What Does It Say About Them?)
The gear your PC carries in the depths of a foray into the Underdark is probably a world away from what they carry when they're just walking around town, or attending court. So what gear do you leave in your room at the inn? And what stuff never leaves your side, no matter where you are?

September 12, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Druids
Another in my "5 Tips" series, and the second one to appear on Vocal, I'm taking a look at everyone's favorite shape-shifting, beast-summoning, leather-clad badasses. So if you've wanted to make your druid stand out, here are some tips to help you along in your journey.

August 26, 2017 What Do Your Wands, Scrolls, and Potions Actually Look Like?
We go through a lot of limited-use magic items in our games... but how often do we really think about what they look like, or what they feel like? They can be potent, and even life saving... but how often do they just fade into numbers on the page? Here are some simple ways to prevent that.

July 29, 2017 Fun With Raise Dead, Resurrection, and Reincarnation (In Pathfinder)
The three R's of shaking off the reaper are pretty commonplace in most campaigns. However, being dead, and coming back, can also be a big part of your story. So take some time to think about where you went... and who, exactly, the person that came back is.

July 17, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues
Rogues are one of the most commonly stereotyped classes in the game, and that's largely because they started life as the thief. But if you want to stretch beyond the narrow confines of your traditional role, here are some ways you can do just that.

June 30, 2017 How Do Your Warriors Prepare?
We're used to the spellcasters taking their sweet time getting their mojo ready, but while they're studying and chanting, what are the martial characters doing? Mechanically, they don't have to do anything, but when it comes to flavor, wouldn't it make sense for them to limber up as well?

June 2, 2017 Hygiene in Fantasy RPGs
Hygiene is one of those things we seem to forget about when it comes to our sessions. However, if you've ever been to a historical re-enactment or a LARP, you know how hard it is to keep clean when you're out in the woods in armor. So, the question remains, what sort of hygiene does your PC have?

May 6, 2017 What Is Your Character's Moral Code?
Alignment is good for a lot of things, but not for nuance. For that, you have to crack your knuckles, and do the heavy lifting of figuring out who the hell your character is, and what they really believe.

April 8, 2017 A Dwarven Raised Drow? Yours For The Asking, With The Adopted Trait!
If you have a DM who always turns down monstrous or unusual races, remember, there's a way to fit them into the normal culture of the world. Just have them adopted, and raised by someone else. Seriously, it opens all kinds of doors, and presents a whole new world of possibilities.

March 19, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics
The "5 Tips" series continues, and this month we're talking about clerics. The soul of most parties, and the most common healers, clerics tend to wind up in the missionary position a lot of the time. Here are 5 ways you can shake up the routine.

March 10, 2017 Where Do Your Characters Get Their Standards of Beauty From?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... but in RPGs it often has a stat of its own. So it pays to think about what your character views as attractive traits, and how they embody them, or don't embody them, and how they feel about that.

March 7, 2017 Alternative Adventures: 6 Adventures That Aren't Your Average Dungeon Crawl
Most adventures fall into one of two camps: dungeon crawls, and combat slogs. If you want to break up the routine, though, you should check out these 6 alternative plots written by yours truly, and published over at Kobold Press.

February 9, 2017 5 Tips For Playing Better Bards
The third installment in my "5 Tips" series, I'm debating whether to expand into all the base classes. What would you like to see, as my readers?

February 3, 2017 Your Alignment Isn't Your Motivation
Too often players will choose alignment, and then figure out how a character acts. I would suggest you do the opposite. Figure out who they are, and what they want, and then tick which box they fall into. Above all, remember that characters all have motivations and goals aside from what's written in their alignment box.

January 7, 2017 Tattoos and Scars... What Do They Say About Your Character?
Body modification is extremely common in fantasy settings, and if you want to indulge in it it's a great way to create a character with a truly unique appearance. You can also use your relatively simple character design decisions to send a message about who you are, and organically weave yourself into the lore.


December 9, 2016 Ethnicity and "Half-Breeds" in Fantasy RPGs
Whenever we play a character with mixed heritage, we always tend to default to a Tolkien-esque look for them. Why do that? With so many ethnicities and cultures in today's fantasy worlds, there are so many other options we aren't exploring!

December 2, 2016 1d12 Intimidate Checks To Keep Up Your Sleeve
I wrote this piece some time ago for the Open Legend RPG blog, and it seems I never linked it here. So, I thought it was time to make it an official part of the Improved Initiative archive.

November 10, 2016 Make A Dating Profile For Your Character (Seriously, It Helps)
Some players have no problem creating a whole character from the ground up. Others, though, find it hard to get more than the bare bones. If you want more details from your players, then ask them to create a dating profile for their PCs. Seriously, it works.

October 14, 2016 Who Raised Your Character, and How Did That Shape Them?
Every character, no matter how badass, was once a squalling baby. Someone had to take care of them long enough for them to grow up to care for themselves. So who did it for your PC? And what did they learn along the way?

October 13, 2016 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians
The barbarian is one of the most consistently pigeon-holed character classes in RPGs. If you've been looking for a way to really stand out, this checklist should help.

September 16, 2016 Your Story Progression Doesn't Have To Be Linear (Even if Your Levels Are)
Character progression in level-based RPGs is linear. You start off at level one, and when your earn more XP, your level goes up. However, while you can tell your story in a linear fashion as well, you aren't required to. This method may not work for all groups, but it's worth a look if you've wanted to spice up your characters and table.

August 19, 2016 Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How it Changes Your Game
Too often we rely on words that become crutches in our games. The word "adventurer" is a nice, catch-all category, but it's a pretty meaningless word. If you roll up your sleeves, and ban its use, you'll see a lot more nuanced character histories showing up at your table.

July 15, 2016 Ethnic Homogeneity in RPGs (Or, Why So Many Burly White Adventurers?)
Have you ever noticed how resistant to characters from other nations we are at our tables? If not, you're likely part of a good group. This week, I wax on the subject, and examine why we seem to have a thing against immigrants in our fantasy worlds.

July 9, 2016 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins
The paladin is a lightning rod for controversy when it comes to more gaming tables. This simple list is meant to help players new and old alike look at the class in a different light, and make decisions that will avoid arguments, while preserving the class's strengths.

June 19, 2016 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power
Rage is an ability lots of players, and even DMs, pigeonhole. After all, it's called Rage, what else could it be besides berserk fury? Well, here are 50 potential flavors. Some go with the theme of primal fury, and others take you on a decidedly different course.

June 17, 2016 Do Dwarves Surf? Tips For Diversifying Non-Human Fantasy Races
Have you ever noticed that while humans come in all shapes and sizes in our fantasy RPGs that the other races are assumed to be the same pretty much the world over? Here are some thought experiments that can help you shake up those stereotypes.

June 14, 2016 6 Tournaments to Add Some Bloodsport to Your Campaign
These 6 tournaments, which originally appeared on Kobold Press's blog, are great for adding to your plot. They could be in the foreground, with members of the party participating, or they could be background events, influencing what's going on in your game. The choice is up to you!

May 20, 2016 You Don't Have Any Actual Authority, Just Because You're A Paladin
Too often we forget that classes like paladins, samurai, etc. don't have badges. Levels in base classes don't grant you de facto authority to go around enforcing the law... that is a power granted as part of your story, and it has to be agreed to by your DM.

April 23, 2016 What Does Your Spell Preparation Look Like?
Spell prep is like all the walking we do in game; largely hand waved away. But if you're looking for great ways to show, rather than tell, your character's story, these rituals are a great insight into who they are, and how they operate.

April 4, 2016 6 NPC Organizations To Spice Up Your Campaign
A while ago I wrote up several NPC organizations for Kobold Press. This week I'd like to gather them all in one place for DMs who are looking for some sweet, free content to make use of.

March 25, 2016 Just How Old is Your Loot? Tips For DMs Looking to Spice Up Treasure Hoards
So, your party has defeated the beast, and now lays claim to its treasures... that's great. But if you find yourself getting bored just reading out a stream of items found on the treasure chart, maybe it's time to spice things up a bit. Here's a simple guide for how you can do that.

February 26, 016 Want to Play a Ninja, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling it "The Agent" Instead
We make all sorts of assumptions about classes based on language. While the samurai takes the brunt of assumptions, the ninja gets a lot of unnecessary banning as well. So take a moment, and think about why it isn't being allowed in a game. Is it because the abilities are too powerful? Or is it because of the name?

January 24, 2016 The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing
So, you're trying to decide what kind of character to bring to your next game. Well, go down this list real quick, and make sure your characters don't fit one of the 5 concepts on this list. Trust me, your table will thank you.


December 26, 2015 What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?
If you want your spellcasters to stand out, then you need to dig a little deeper than the surface. A good place to start is making your spells distinct, offering more than a simple, "I cast fireball," before picking up your damage dice.

November 27, 2015 The 1st Level Badass (Freeing Your Backstory From Level Restraints)
There's nothing more frustrating than having a big, sweeping backstory for your character, and then being told you're starting at level 1. That doesn't mean you have to make someone different... it just means you have to get creative with why they aren't bringing the full force of their power to bear.

October 24, 2015 Sexuality Matters in Roleplaying Games (And Here's Why)
The discussion of diversity and inclusiveness in RPGs has attracted a lot of shouting. One of the most commonly heard phrases you hear, though, is "Why does this matter to the game?" If you were ever legitimately curious, here's the answer for you.

September 26, 2015 10 Backgrounds For Your Martial Characters
People complain that martial characters are just stacks of stats with no story to them. So, here are 10 backstories you can use to start fleshing out your combat-inclined hero or heroine.

August 28, 2015 How To Keep A Positive Attitude At The Table (Even If You're Rolling 1's)
No one likes rolling badly, but it happens. If it takes you out of the game, and you start wishing you were somewhere else, though, try these suggestions on for size. They might be just the thing to tune you back into the action.

August 7, 2015 What Services Exist In Your Fantasy World (And Do You Use Them)?
We get so caught up in slinging spells and shooting arrows that a lot of the time we forget there's more to the world than just our party. What happens when you need to send a letter, heal a particularly grievous disease, or get to a far away place? Here are some examples of organizations that might fulfill those needs.

July 19, 2015 What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity
All too often we put on blinders when it comes to our character's flavor because of the class we gave them. Here are some fun things you can do to take those blinders off.

June 27, 2015 What Does Your Character Do When Not Adventuring?
Most of what we see our characters do involves chasing the plot... but that isn't all they are. They're more than spells and swords, and when you fill in all those blanks you'll see that you've got a lot more potential than you thought you did.

June 5, 2015 The Dangers of The Phrase "I'm Just Playing My Character"
All too often we consider the phrase, "I'm just playing my character," to be an immediate argument ender regarding a character's actions. But do we use it as a shield to hide behind when we're legitimately called out?

May 15, 2015 The Defining Moment: An Easy Way to Get a Handle on Who Your Character Is
Life is full of odd moments that can change the course of our decisions. If you're looking for a way to make your characters a little bit deeper than the archetype they're fulfilling, you might want to consider adding some of these moments to his or her back story.

April 26, 2015 Undoing Character Death: Unique Methods of Resurrection in Pathfinder
Character death happens. Whether it's an unlucky roll of the dice or the price someone pays for foolhardy actions death is always a possibility... but in a world filled with magic it's possible to escape the reaper's grasp. If you're willing to get creative, anyway.

April 4, 2015 Want to Play a Samurai, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling it a Knight Instead!
For a game about fantasy people can sure get hung up on pigeonholing classes as a result of preconceived ideas. For example, if your DM told you that you can't play a samurai because the game is not set in Tian Xia, try explaining to them that a knight is really just a western samurai.

March 14, 2015 How To Roleplay During Combat
Even the best groups will completely shed their RP when combat breaks out. It's like a weird glitch that says if you're using abilities or swinging a sword you don't have time to roleplay anymore. That's not the case, and here are some ways to inject your RP back into your combat.

February 20, 2015 Why We All Need Diversity In Gaming (And How You Can Start)
Diversity in gaming is a big issue for a lot of people. While the conversation is largely focused on video games there is something to be said for attempts to be more diverse in your tabletop games. While you might resist stepping outside your comfort zone, there are definite benefits to doing so.

January 24, 2015 Fleshing Out Your Background or How To Avoid To Becoming A Murder Hobo
There is a character that shows up in every game, if you let it. A character whose only purpose is to kill the bad guys and take their stuff, but for no reason except to move on to killing the next thing. The murder hobo is a blight on a game, and this simple guide will help you make sure that you inject real pathos and plot into your characters.

January 1, 2015: A Guide To Swearing In Your Fantasy RPG
How many times have you gone to drop a four-letter-word into your game and remembered at the last moment there are children present? Or how often have you used a modern curse word that just doesn't feel right in the fantasy setting? Well this week we're here to help you liven up your language, and make it a touch more authentic to your characters.


December 12, 2014: Animal Companions, Cohorts, and Familiars, Oh My!
Adding secondary characters under a PC's control is a great way to bring more power to your game, but it's also a fantastic RP opportunity. If you want to recruit followers then remember you need to ask yourself how being a leader changes who your character is, and why.

November 28, 2014 What To Do When Your Player Characters Become Gods
The idea of turning PCs into gods isn't new; lots of people have done it. You shouldn't. You really, really shouldn't. There's no reason to. However, if you feel that you must then here are the major issues you're going to face.

November 7, 2014 Why You Should Respect Characters of Noble Birth (Before They Kick Your Ass)
There's a trend that paints nobles as lace-wearing buffoons or hapless middle managers of a country. History, and even our older stories, all point out that this seems to be a relatively new fear of ours. From Dracula to Tarzan the dangerous, cunning, and powerful have nearly always come from the ranks of the nobility.

October 24, 2014 Tips For Playing Evil Characters (Your DM Might Allow)
Playing an evil character is not as easy as DMs make it look, as evidenced by the sheer number of games that outright ban characters of an evil alignment. However, if you have your heart set on putting together a good evil character (however that works), here's a guide breaking down the basics.

October 11, 2014 All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Non-Monetary Rewards For Your RPG Party
Loot in an RPG is pretty by the numbers; XP, gold, and magic items. What else is there? This week's post gives you some alternative rewards that will surprise and delight your players. Especially those who love outside-the-box presents.

September 24, 2014 Alternatives to Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor
Magic weapons and armor are part of many roleplaying games, but it gets a little staid just buying them like you would a mug of ale or a cask of salt pork. Instead, why not re-think how your players get magic items? See if changing things up lights a new spark in your arms race.

August 26, 2014 The Difference Between Roleplaying Games And Just Playing Make Believe
The battle lines between RP and mechanics have been drawn. It's time to end the civil war, and for both sides to realize that without the other, they're useless.

July 10, 2014 A Gunslinger By Any Other Name...
The gunslinger has led to more arguments with DMs than practically any other class. For some reason storytellers have a staunch refusal to allow characters who use guns into their worlds. Here's a different way of looking at the class that might help those who are firmly against it see the other side of the issue.

May 28, 2013 Using Religion in Your Roleplaying
Religion is an important part of any fantasy RPG, particularly for classes who draw their strength and power from the divine. For those who want to add another layer of depth to their characters, here are some suggestions that might take a leap of faith.

April 23, 2014 How to Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane
After a while magic items just feel like props with more numbers stacked onto them... unless, that is, you breathe some life into them. Whether as a player or a storyteller your weapons, armor, and tools can really add to your character's story. The more epic it grows, the happier everyone will be.

March 21, 2014 Motivation: Why Characters Do The Things They Do
While there's no spot for it on your character sheet, motivation is one of the most important things you can know about your character. Here are some tips and suggestions for figuring out why it is your characters are out adventuring rather than working a job as an NPC.

February 23, 2014 Tips For Roleplaying Monstrous Characters
Monstrous characters and exotic races are always a fun experience for roleplayers. For those who want to really bring across the inhuman nature of their characters though, it's important to dig a little deeper than the abilities on a character sheet.

January 24, 2014 Avatar Games: When Players Play Themselves
We've all seen that one player who only knows how to play characters just like him. However, when that's done on purpose, and characters are supposed to be their players, it can be a fun and adventurous romp. Or it can be a terrible, crash-and-burn experience. It all depends on how you run it.


December 27, 2013 Dungeon Master Alchemy: Turning Stats Into Story
Ever have one of those games where all people talk about are numbers? Well, here's a list telling players and storytellers alike how to convert arithmetic into art.

December 2, 2013 How to Build Your Campaign: A Step-By-Step List
It isn't easy building and running a campaign. However, if you get organized you're making it a lot easier on yourself. Here's a checklist.

November 2, 2013 In Their Own Words: Finding Your Character's Voice
Characters are more than just numbers on a sheet. They have personalities, thoughts, and opinions. How they express them though is the mortar that keeps players in-character.

October 15, 2013 Keeping it in Character
Sometimes it's hard to keep people's heads in the game. However, if you set a couple of basic ground rules, and more importantly you set the proper tone, then players will be constantly trying to one-up each other with how in-character they are. Try it, you'll see.

October 11, 2013 There is No "I" in "Party"
While a party might look great on paper, it's very easy to fall apart as soon as an actual challenge shows up. If combat is giving you a run for your money, your strategy and strengths might be the issue. Here's some tips.

April 4, 2013 You're in the Army Now
While it's good to encourage players to make characters they want to play, in the end it's important to form a party. Not just a gaggle of adventurers who can get the job done, but a team. A unit, one might even say. Enlist today, and solve your party problems!


  1. The links for Jan. 25, 2013 and Apr. 4, 2013 are dead, can the articles be found anywhre else?

    1. You're In The Army Now was slipped into the archives, but the address has been updated. Sadly, Faces of Rage seems to no longer exist. I'll have to re-write that one.