Friday, February 23, 2018

The Head of Vecna (An Apocryphal Tale)

I've played a lot of games with a lot of different people. One fellow I played with told me the story of the Head of Vecna, though whether he had truly been the originator of this idea, or he'd simply run his groups through it as a way to test someone else's theory, I cannot say. However, the tale is worth the telling, I feel, so I thought I'd take this week to share this little apocryphal story with all my fine readers out there.

Don't try this one at home... or do, if you're really feeling it.

How This Nonsense All Began


The story begins with the DM running two separate groups whose parties' actions are both happening in the same world. While they aren't at the the table and interacting with each other, the deeds done by one party will have affected the world by the time the next group gets together. So if one party decides to wipe out the bandits in a forest, there's no bounty for the other group to collect. And it's safer to travel the highway.

You get the idea.

Well, there was a story being circulated to both groups of a cavern with an item of great power inside. So, of course, one group gets there first. They slay the monsters, trip the traps, and after defeating the guardian find a horde of swag. Gold, jewels, magic swords, shiny armor, stuff like that. But, as they're packing up to leave, one of them has a devious idea. What if they disposed of the bodies, reset the traps, and then played a trick on anyone else who might come that way.

Wouldn't that be funny?

The Head of Vecna


So, after making the necessary skill checks to put everything back the way it was, the party cuts the head off of one of the human foes they fought. They age and tan it using magic, and then affix an illusion to it to make it seem like it's brimming with necromantic power. Then they carefully make their way out, and go down to the local pub to start spreading tales about what they heard was actually sitting in the heart of that mountain stronghold.

Magic tomes? Nope, didn't see any. We did see this other thing, though...
What did they claim was waiting in the stronghold? Well, you've read the title, so you probably guessed it was the mythical Head of Vecna!

Quick history lesson for those who don't know. In earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons, Vecna was a powerful spellcaster who became a lich. He was eventually destroyed, but for his left hand and left eye. Vecna was made a god in later editions of the game, but his left hand and left eye remained preserved as powerful relics. In order to gain their powers, though, you had to put out your eye, or cut off your hand, and replace it with the lich lord's body parts.

I'm sure you see where this is going.

So the other group, hearing tales of the supposed head of this evil undead god, wanted to kick in the door, and take its power for themselves. They didn't find any monsters, but all the traps seemed to be in working order. So they disabled what they could, and tanked what they couldn't, until they reached the head. As soon as the party had it in their grasp, the wizard (who was, of course, a necromancer) told the fighter to cut off his head, and to press the stump of the Head of Vecna to his neck before he finished dying. The fighter raised his greatsword, brought it down, and took off the wizard's head in a single swing. He pressed the Head of Vecna to the stump of his neck, but nothing happens.

That didn't deter the rest of the group, though.

The cleric wanted to go next, figuring that it must take a divine spellcaster rather than an arcane one. So the fighter brought his sword down again, but the results were pretty much the same. Despite going 0 for 2, the rogue wanted to give it a try. He figured that a high enough Use Magic Device check before the grafting would get the job done. So snicker-snack, and then there were three headless bodies in the bowels of this fortress.

The fighter had no desire to take on the powers of some lich god, and he really didn't want to take the risk that if he managed to cut off his own head that it wouldn't work a fourth time. So he wiped his sword clean, took what little loot had been left behind, stripped his compatriots' bodies, and got the hell out of there.

Once, Twice, Three Times A Killer


There was no saying if the group in question kept meeting after that trick, and the subsequent evil party not doing any of the research to realize that this whole thing was a hoax. However, I highly doubt that second group was willing to come back after they reached into the cookie jar, only to find a guillotine.

That's all for this week's installment of Table Talk. Hopefully you got a laugh out of it. If you've heard this story before, feel free to leave the who, where, and when in the comments! If you'd like more content from me, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel I contribute to, Dungeon Keeper Radio. If you want to keep up on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support Improved Initiative, all you have to do is head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's some sweet gaming swag that will come your way as a thank you for your help.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Unexpected Ninja

The ambassador waddled up the lane. He was a fat man, with his belt stretched garishly over his girth. He had a smile on his face, though, and smelled of lilac perfume. He wished the guards a good evening, then leaned in conspiratorially.

"Be careful now... I have heard there are ninja about!"

The ambassador let the word hang on the air for a moment, before letting out a rolling belly laugh. He clapped the guards on the shoulder with his pudgy, beringed hands, and they let him inside. He was shown down the hall, and in time found himself sitting across from the governor. The man poured tea for the two of them, and the ambassador thanked him. They talked, and the ambassador refilled their cups several times. The governor's eyes began drooping, and that was when the ambassador slipped the blade from behind his belt, and cut the man's throat. As the governor bled out, the ambassador smashed out the window, then screamed like a castrated goat, and pissed himself as he crawled into the corner beneath a table. When the guards found him, he babbled incoherently about an assassin in black. He made an ugly, cowardly sight of himself as he was led away. The last thing he heard was that a detachment of men was to escort him back to his own embassy, and to be on the lookout for the murderer.

Yes... yes, indeed, inform me when the blackguard has been found!

You Never See Them Coming


Ninjas, and their parent class the rogue, are well known for their stealth and their guile. But it takes a career operative to truly appear to be something they're not. To completely embody their social camouflage, and to build an entire life around that misconception... even if it's only for a little while.

That's far from an easy thing to do... but there are a lot of ways you can pull it off.

The easiest way is to take the path outlined in the opening story. Set your ninja up as the party face, and do so in such a way that they are seen as completely harmless. Even cowardly, to need so many bodyguards to hide behind. You may be a noble, come to discuss things on behalf of your family. You might be a diplomat holding a similar role for a government. You might tell people you're a merchant, or even the master of a performing troupe. Whatever your cover identity is, though, it needs to be something no one will see as a threat. A bumbler, a stooge, or even an airhead with a single, viable skill.

So how do you play the other 98% of the time?
The inherent challenge of the unexpected ninja is that if you allow your competence to be seen, you've blown your cover. Much like how it was said children would be told to spin tops or toys in front of people as a ninja test to see if they nimbly dodged aside out of reflex, or if they would stumble and trip. So who is your ninja purporting to be that they can still do things necessary for their mission, without undermining their cover?

Well, one way to keep your hand concealed is to become a performer. A singer, a dancer, a storyteller, etc. All would be charismatic travelers, and they have a perfectly good excuse to be somewhere. And many of them will be asked to perform for important people. Alternatively, a level dip in fighter for proficiencies and feats would allow you to claim you were a simple man-at-arms. Of course, no one would expect you to be traceless, to have ki powers. And, if you were going to utilize your other abilities (and pull out your hole card when the time is right), you could easily do so while disguised if you still needed to preserve your cover as a simple soldier.

While this sort of concept can be adequately reproduced with a vigilante, the key for that class is that you need to be in a relatively stable location to build your reputation. The unexpected ninja, though, does not want a reputation. They do not want to be known at all. They simply want to run a con, if a con is needed, as a temporary identity (or just a convenient lie) can often stop people from looking at them too closely when there are suspicions going around.

Whether they claim to be someone about as smart as the battle ax on their belt (so they can listen in on conversations the speakers don't think they can understand), or they protest they would never hurt a fly (while secreting a half dozen poisoned blades on their person), a good ninja makes sure no one knows who they are or what they can do until it's truly too late.

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts installment. Hopefully some folks out there enjoyed it, and find a way to make it work at their tables. If you'd like to see more stuff from yours truly, you can check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I put episodes together with other, talented gamers. To keep up-to-date on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page... or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, you'll have both my thanks as well as some free gaming swag!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Don't Want To Make Your Own Maps? Try Axebane's Maps On For Size!

Being a DM is a lot of work, and 90% of that work is just prepping the game. You need to have all your minis in place, you need the story arc drawn out, all the NPCs in the given area, a complete list of monster stats, and you have to remember what loot your party is going to find when they get through the challenge you've set before them.

There's one other thing you have to prep, though. Your maps.

And you're in... a room... somewhere...
Given how persnickety games like DND and Pathfinder can be about sight lines, distances between targets, and whether or not someone left a threatened square, running a game without a map can be a nightmare. And that's before Geoff's evoker starts tossing around area of effect spells. However, it takes a special kind of person to really get into making maps... which is why if you're not that kind of DM, head over to Axebane's Maps to save yourself a lot of time and headaches.

All The Dungeons You Could Ever Delve


The individual behind Axebane's Maps is a talented artist named Daniel Walthall, who is a lover of tabletop games. So, rather than keep that talent under a rock, he put all the maps up for fellow DMs to make use of. Just head over to the Tumblr page, and take a gander at all the resources on display. You need a rotting crypt? No problem. A multi-level megadungeon? Got you covered. What about village? No problem, Axebane has that too.

Seriously, these worksheets save you SO much time!
Not only do these pre-made maps take a lot of the strain off of your back, but they also allow you to draw up places you could pull out when players take unexpected turns. Did they seek an inn instead of going to the ogre cave? Well, you've got one. Did they decide to beard the dragon in its den rather than laying a trap for it? You're prepared for that, too. And even if you don't have something pre-made, all it takes is a few minutes with a pen to fill out a new sheet, and you're ready to go!

These maps are, of course, not for re-sale. However, they are free to anyone who wants to use them in their games. And, if you do want to help the artist keep making great content for fellow DMs, go to Daniel Walthall's Patreon page to become a patron. After all, every little bit helps!

And, if you're looking for other great (and free) resources to make your life behind the screen easier, you might want to check out Tabletop Audio Gives DMs Free, Hand-Crafted Soundtracks For Their Games and Want Some Cool Props At Your Table? Check Out Paper Forge!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. If you know of any other cool, free resources that help DMs out there, feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you'd like more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other gamers get together to offer tips, tricks, and advice for having a better game. If you want to stay on top of all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep making content for all you fine readers out there, then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, my eternal gratitude will be yours, along with some sweet gaming swag.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who Are Your Mercenary Companies?

PCs come from all walks of life. Some of them have been soldiers, others were scholars, and more than a few of them were craftsmen, priests, and farmers. All too often, though, players won't give you a detailed answer on their character's work history. They simply reach for the low-hanging fruit as a way to plug the huge gap in the PC's backstory. While the most common answer by far seems to be, "I'm an adventurer!" (and I've covered that previously in Stop Using The Word "Adventurer" And See How It Changes Your Game), the second-place contender is typically that the PC is a mercenary.

Problem?
Now, that isn't to say that "mercenary" is a bad background for a PC, or that your world shouldn't have freelance troops ready for hire. However, rather than just letting a player give a general job title, dig a little deeper with them. Ask why they left the group they used to work for, what trappings they took with them, if they would be welcomed back, and most importantly, who they've served with?

Give Them Options (And Watch Characters Grow)


Mercenary companies come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some are cavalry tacticians, while others are unsurpassed foot soldiers. Some are sailors in times of war, and pirates in times of peace. Every mercenary company, though, has a reputation. Because that reputation is often what they sell themselves on, and how they attract new blood.

The 100 Ronin have won wars simply by being hired, their reputation is so fierce.
Whether you take inspiration from history by looking at groups like The Varangian Guard (viking and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries who protected the Eastern Roman emperors), or you decide to make up something out of whole cloth like the Lost Squires (a group founded by squires whose knights died, leaving them half-trained, but otherwise masterless), these groups add a lot of potential to player backstories.

Take a moment to ask what mercenary companies exist in your setting? How big are they? Who founded them? What is their reputation, and do they have any kind of uniform or badge to mark out members? Do they have a motto, or a doctrine? Do they claim to serve a higher purpose, such as being servants of a god of war?

Also, remember, free companies have all sorts of needs, and will hire all kinds of freelancers. So if you're looking for a spin on "Dark Ages PMC", here are some examples to consider.

- The Acolytes of Arannis: Founded by the evoker Arannis, the war wizards of the Acolytes specialize in ending wars with arcane might. Their commanders are made up of wizards, sorcerers, bards, magi, and even alchemists, but the company also boasts assassins and warriors trained in how to kill spellcasters should the need arise.

- The Harbingers of Sorrow: Every war has losers, and the Harbingers of Sorrow was originally formed from those who knew how to fight, but who had nothing left to fight for. Dressed in funerary black, the Harbingers fight in almost complete silence but for bellowed orders, and droning war horns. Their ranks are made up of disowned knights, exiled warriors, and veterans who lost everything but their swords when their units fell. The Harbingers never flee, it's said, because they have nowhere else to run to.

- The Jolly Company of The Black Flag: When war turns to peace, sailors often turn to piracy in order to keep food in their bellies. While there was much to be made plundering merchant ships, Captain Korgon Blood realized there was even more to be made in keeping them safe. The half-orc and his galleons hired themselves as escorts, using their knowledge of the other captains to avoid being attacked when they could. While the Jolly Company is mostly legitimate now, there are always rumors dogging them that they aren't above playing both sides of the water... or in staging attacks by phantom pirates to drive up demand for their services.

But What About Independent Operators?


With all of that said, there's still plenty of room for independent contractors. After all, sometimes a caravan just needs an extra sword, and one more pair of eyes. Maybe your employer has a very specific job he wants done, and it's a one-time gig for a professional like you. Perhaps you specifically operate in gray areas of the law, so they want someone not affiliated with any established group.

That's still an option. However, the iron trade is a booming business anywhere there's strife and conflict. So consider expanding the world a bit, and giving your players several mercenary groups they could have been affiliated with in the past... or which might recruit them in the future!

Also, speaking of mercenary companies, you may want to consider Blackguard. They hire anyone, regardless of past criminal history, alignment, race, or class. And they're particularly keen on doing outreach to groups that tend to be marginalized. Kobold survivors of warren raids, orcs whose parents were killed by wandering sellswords, and even to those serving convictions for misuse of the mystic arts. Blackguard has a place for you, if you're willing to step up!


That's all for this week's Fluff post. Hopefully it got some wheels turning out there, and if you have any unique mercenary companies of your own, feel free to leave a description in the comments below. If you'd like to see more content from yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with talented gamers to create things like that Blackguard video above. To keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, if you'd like to support my work, please head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll be happy to send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your support!

Monday, February 5, 2018

5 Tips For Travel in RPGs

There's a saying when it comes to RPGs. That a 5-day journey can be completed in seconds, but a 5-minute combat takes half the night to get through. However, as any experienced player can tell you, an average game gives you three to four times as much time traveling as it does slinking through dungeons, or battling dark forces.

Man... I am gonna stroll all OVER that thing...
So how do you make sure your players don't zone out when it comes to travel in your game? Especially if you're following the advice in For Tighter Games, Consider Nixing Random Encounters, and doing away with seeing how many wolves harass the party on their way from Point A to Point B?

Well, every game is going to have a unique solution. However, the following tips might make things a little easier on you as a DM, and more interesting for your table.

Tip #1: Sprinkle The Route With Lore


It's one thing to walk down a road for four days, but it's another thing to give your players a guided tour of the realm's history. For example, there might be an ancient stone highway made of colossal slabs of perfectly-planed granite. No one in the region knows who built the road, but there are wild tales of an empire of giants lost to history. Have the occasional statue on the path, or have the party rest at notable sites like the Countess's Crown; a ring of standing stones that's said to offer protection to those who sleep within them.

If you're going to go through the journey, actually give your players things to see, and let them roll a check from time to time to get more information. These things don't necessarily have to be connected to your campaign quest, but it helps if they are.

Tip #2: Examine Alternative Transportation


If you're seeking the ruins of a forgotten fortress in the middle of the desert, chances are you have no option but to hoof it into the dunes. Maybe, if you're smart, you'll buy some camels. However, you can often spice up the rest of the journey by offering your party some alternative methods of travel.

For instance, rather than just making the journey from where you start to the center of the desert one long, hard ride, offer other options. Does the party take a ship, making their way around the coastline on the open ocean? Do they travel via river raft through the slower moving waterways? Do they take an airship? Or, if they're wealthy enough, can they afford to have a wizard simply teleport them to a pre-determined landing pad near where they wish to be?

If players are asked to participate in the planning process, and they have more options than, "we start walking," you get more opportunities for engagement. And to bring in fresh NPCs, since it won't just be the players walking alone through the forest until something happens.

Tip #3: Have Things Happen


I said no random encounters earlier, and I mean that. However, you should design regular old encounters and incidents for your party to get embroiled in as they travel. For example, did the party book passage on a clockpunk train trekking across the northlands? Well, have a murder happen onboard. The party can get involved in finding the killer, giving them a chance to use their abilities to clear themselves of any possible wrongdoing. If they're on a ship, run a small side scene where the captain attempts to sell his passengers into slavery. Now the party can smash the slavers, and continue their journey as heroes. It also sends up a flare to any shadowy villains who might be keeping track of their progress from afar. Even if the party opts to just ride down the King's Highway, have them meet up with patrols, exchange news, and hear about potential threats on the road. As long as something is happening, it keeps players involved. It also has the added benefit of making the journey feel like it took time, which can be helpful if you don't just want to fast travel all over the map.

Tip #4: Make It A Challenge (If Players Wish)


Travel is usually hand-waved away because if there's no potential threat to the party as they go, then why spend time on pure narration? However, if you have the sort of group that watches how much weight PCs carry, and keeps track of how many arrows the archer brings with, then making travel through the wilderness a potentially hazardous thing might increase player involvement. While magic can make environmental penalties and dangers trivial after low levels, the potential of getting lost, running out of food, or dying of exposure can be thrilling for the right group. This tip has a chance to backfire, though, so make sure your group is down for it before insisting they count their daily calories, and carry enough water.

Tip #5: Don't Linger If There's No Point


Presenting side quests and additional RP, as well as getting the players wrist-deep in the lore of the world, are all well and good. However, sometimes it can feel more like a burden than an opportunity. Just like how it's possible to create unique NPC merchants, to name their stores, and decide what inventory they do or don't have can turn shopping for gear into a fun experience, but there are going to be some tables who just want to buy fresh bolts and alchemist fire before getting back on the trail.

If that's what your group wants, let them do that. It will save everyone frustration down the road.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully some folks out there find my advice useful. If you're looking for more content by yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other talented gamers to bring the world of Evora to life. To keep up on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep making fresh content just for you, consider heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or just Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's some sweet gaming swag in it as a thank you for your support.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How To Keep Up As A Gunslinger in Scion

White Wolf was best known for the World of Darkness, but one of the most popular titles outside that particular setting was Scion. The premise is that the titans have escaped from their prisons, and the Godwar has resumed. What's your part in this? Well, you are the children of the gods, and as they awaken the ichor in your veins, you need to step up to stop the titans from tearing the world down to its foundations, and burning away everything you've ever known in an apocalyptic inferno.

No pressure, though, no pressure. 
Scions are gifted with extraordinary powers, and they're capable of epic feats. They can lift loads of several tons, leap to the heavens, wrestle giants, and instantly heal from grievous wounds. These are the main tools in their fight against the titans and their spawn... but for players who like to mix the modern with the mythic, it can feel like there's a small hiccough when it comes to weapon choice.

The Scaling Problem of Guns in Scion


When you start off in Scion, guns are going to be your best friend. Pretty much every attack, except for grappling a foe, is your Dexterity plus your relevant skill (Brawl, Marksmanship, Thrown, or Melee). Then, if you successfully overcome the opponent's defense, you roll your damage. Your damage pool for a firearm is made up of the damage dealt by your weapon, and the number of threshold successes you achieved (one die for every success you beat the opponent's defense by), plus one. However, your damage with melee weapons, thrown weapons, or your fists is that, but you also add bonus damage dice to your pool equal to your Strength score (with additional successes from epic Strength factored in).

So, while it might take a little while to invest the necessary points to get both a high Dexterity to actually hit your target and a high Strength to deal a lot of damage, the guy throwing javelins, or the woman swinging the sword, is capable of doing a lot of harm once they hit their stride. Which leads some players who have invested in firearms wondering how they are going to keep up.

Don't panic... seriously, you've got this.

Piercing, Increased Damage, And Threshold Successes


The first thing to remember about guns is, well, they're guns. A firearm allows you to keep some healthy distance between you and an enemy, ensuring that unless they have eye lasers, or the ability to throw a semi-truck a few blocks (not uncommon in Scion), that you might be able to poke them in the eye without them poking back. This is particularly useful if you can turn yourself invisible, or if you want to shoot from behind cover while you and your fellow godlings are trying to take down a rampaging frost giant.

Tactical benefits aside, there are some good reasons to use guns. The first is that they all inherently have the piercing quality, which cuts the damage soak from armor in half unless it has the bulletproof quality. Guns all have a bonus to damage, ranging from +3 to +7 lethal, as well. This allows you to bypass all that bashing damage malarchy, and the traditionally higher damage soak that comes with bashing damage. To compare, no melee weapon offers a higher starting bonus than +5 lethal, even if the wielder could use their Strength to increase the damage.

And when we crunch the numbers...
Where you get money for value with firearms is in your threshold successes (the number that you beat your target's defense value on). Well, that, and because you can't parry bullets without some very specific abilities, which means the target has to use their dodge defensive value. So, in order to deal the biggest amount of damage with your gun, you need to make sure you hit your enemy's sweet spot every time.

The first thing you want to do is make sure you have the highest Dexterity, epic Dexterity, and Marksmanship scores possible (easy enough to do). As a starting character, it's possible to have 10 dice (5 Dexterity and 5 Marksmanship), plus one automatic success to throw around in that setup. Then you add in your weapon's accuracy rating, which for a gun will typically give you another +1 to +3 (though not all guns give you more accuracy to your attack). So, you could potentially be rolling 13 dice, with 1 automatic success from epic Dexterity. If you take the Aim action, that adds between +1 and +3 bonus dice to your attack, or a +2 to a +6 if you have the Trick Shot knack.

So, if you need to make that big shot on the rampaging titan, you could have a dice pool of 19 plus one automatic success with the right skill, attribute, knack, and weapon. Not too shabby. Then, if you want to add on to your pool, a relic firearm can have increased accuracy, which allows you to get even more bonuses to your shots. You could also spend a Willpower to add a number of bonus dice equal to an applicable virtue, which can bulk up your dice pool substantially.

However, if you're an unlucky player, even an attack pool of 20 with a free automatic success might not net you more than 7 or 8 successes. Which is enough to hit an enemy, but not really enough to get you a lot of threshold successes (assuming you're fighting titanspawn who are slightly tougher than a beefy scion). That's why you need to take advantage of defensive value penalties on your target.

The More You Do, The Lower Your Defense


Your defensive values are your dodge, and your parry. However, those values will change depending on the circumstances you're fighting in.

As a good example, if your target is unaware that combat has been joined (or simply can't see you, in many cases), then they can't apply their defensive values against your attack. That means if you quick draw your widowmaker, or squeeze that trigger from 200 yards out, the target won't be able to apply their defensive values against that attack without some kind of power that lets them. In that case, you only need one success to hit them, which means those 7 or 8 successes now nets you 6 or 7 bonus damage dice on your shot.

However, even if your target is aware of you and on the defensive, you can still take advantage of timing and environment to hit them when they're vulnerable. If a target does pretty much anything (like attack, or cast a spell, etc.) that action will give them a defensive penalty. Not only that, but if the target is getting attacked, then they'll be subject to an onslaught penalty as well (receiving a number of attacks equal to Legend rating + 1 before their next action) which reduces their defense by -1. If the target is wearing bulky armor, that reduces their dodge and mobility. If there is poor footing, they're slogging through mud, or some other environmental negative, then their defense goes down even further. This is a great reason to take the Aim action, and wait for your friends to smack the bad guy around. After all, you can interrupt your Aim at any time to take your shot.

One And Done


Godlings are tough, and titans are tougher, but it's important to remember that if you can get past their defensive values, and punch through their soak, they don't have all that many health levels. A scion has 7 health levels, and if you fill all those levels up with bashing, their lights go out, and they're down for the count. You fill it up with lethal, and unless they get some medical attention in a big hurry, they're dead. While titans might have more health levels, or just be harder to hurt because of increased soak, doing even a few lethal damage is not nothing. You put two or three of those "small" holes into them, and they aren't long for this world.

That's all for this week's Crunch topic. Figured folks could use a break from Pathfinder, and for those who want to give Scion a try, it's time to lock and load. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, and head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to take a listen to skits, world building, and advice videos that several talented gamers as well as myself make. If you want to stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support Improved Initiative so I can keep bringing content right to you, consider dropping some change over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. It really helps, and as little as $1 a month gets you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you.

Or, if you like, you could just Buy Me A Coffee!

Monday, January 29, 2018

DMs, Think Outside Traditional Templates (Orcs Can Be Vampires, Too, You Know!)

A while ago I came across a forum post from a DM asking for help. The situation was that he had a vampire as the big bad of the current arc of his campaign in Golarion, and he wanted it to be sort of a mystery as to who the leech was. The problem was that as soon as the players walked into the local tavern, they saw the lord of the manor seated near the fire with his manservant. He was tall, angular, pale, with a high widow's peak, a commanding presence, and he didn't seem to eat anything.

And when the party trigged that the baron was the vampire? Well, the DM didn't know what to do.

Well, making it someone less obvious might have helped.
Now, there were all sorts of things the DM could have done here, but pretty much all of them boil down to, "Don't make the vampire the most obvious guy in the room!" The most common suggestion was to make the lord a servant to the vampire, but have his "manservant" be the actual vampire. With all the eyes focused on the baron, no one would have noticed someone so lowly and unimportant. A few folks suggested going a step further, and making the vampire the innkeeper, or a traveling merchant, but mostly the consensus was to make it the guy standing next to the most suspicious dude in the room.

All I could think, looking at that setup, was that the vampire should not only have been someone different, but someone that no one in the party would have expected based on trope and stereotype. For example... what about the soldier of fortune from the Mwangi Expanse? Or the traveling mystic from the Dragon Empire? Why not the Varisian fortune teller, or the Taldan tinker?

While those were all fine options, it eventually struck me that vampire is a template we can apply to any living creature. So while changing the nationality into something we don't expect a traditional vampire to be, that's just the tip of the ice berg (and one I explored in The Draugr's Bastard, An Unexpected Dhampir). The vampire could have been nearly any fantasy race as well... and that idea opened up all kinds of possibilities that I think DMs often overlook.

Step Outside The Box, And See What You Can Make


The first scenario that came to my mind was a small army of orc sellswords, led by Garrak Blooddrinker. A huge, heavily muscled brute, Garrak has a vicious bite, and he often tears out the throat of his victims on the battlefield. It's said he drinks the blood of his enemies from a goblet made from a jeweled skull, and that he avoids the daylight like the plague. His eyes are bright red, and glow in the dark when he rages across the field, encarmined sword in hand.

Because why wouldn't an orc war master be a vampire? All the clues are there, but because we think, "Ah, he's just an orc, that's what orcs do!" it has the potential to teach a valuable lesson. Take nothing at face value, and always ask if what you're seeing might mean more.

And then my mind went to silly places.
At that point, I asked why one would stop with vampires? There are dozens (if not hundreds) of templates in Pathfinder alone, so why apply them only to traditional, predictable circumstances? Because sure, we expect an alchemically quickened creature in a crumbling castle full of bizarre laboratories... but why not apply the template to a tiefling assassin who stalks the party on behalf of his unknown masters? The apostle kyton is a terror to behold, but to add some extra horror, why not add it to an aasimar to create a true perversion of celestial beauty? If your players are raiding the ruins of a giant's tomb, why not have stone giant mummies? Or boreal lizardfolk who hunt the frozen peaks of the northern mountains? Why not make fire giant werewolves who command packs of hellhounds?

With so many options, and so much potential, why do we limit our thinking when it comes to our monsters? Make something new, or unexpected, and you might be surprised at the reactions you get from your table. If nothing else, you'll teach your players to make Knowledge checks to be sure they aren't overlooking a big hazard.

And for more fun on templates, and resurrecting fallen minions, check out this advice from the Dungeon Keeper!



That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully it gave fuel to the fire, and has some folks thinking about what to do with their monsters in the near future. If you'd like more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I put shows and skits together with other, talented gamers. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help me keep doing what I'm doing, consider heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or, if you'd rather do a one-time tip, you could just Buy Me A Coffee. Either way, I'll be happy to send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!