Monday, September 29, 2014

The Demon Hunters RPG, From Dead Gentlemen, is Back!

Most gamers know Dead Gentlemen Productions as the hilarious filmmakers responsible for movies like The Gamers and its sequel, The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. However, what my fellow tabletop enthusiasts might not know is that Dead Gentlemen has hooked up with a team of RPG professionals to produce a new roleplaying game. Demon Hunters RPG: A Comedy of Terrors.

Wait a second... what the hell is Ned doing here?

Hold On A Minute... I've Seen This Before!

Yes you have, and no you haven't. You see Demon Hunters began, like so many great things, at a college. The film achieved some serious regional success, and Dead Gentlemen Productions got straight to work on the sequel Dead Camper Lake. It took until 2008, but Dead Gentlemen partnered with Margaret Weiss Productions to release the first Demon Hunters Roleplaying Game.

The game managed to bring together both fun and laughter, and it made a splash with some gamers. Though it didn't become the new standard that everyone had to play, it got more than a little bit of press.

So Where Does The New Part Come In?

Well you see in April 2014 Demon Hunters was turned into a webcomic (didn't know that, did you?). The webcomic, which is located right here, reset large parts of the story's canon and changed many of the previous world rules. So since the story is changed it only makes sense to change the rest of the game too.

The new game will follow the new canon, but more than that it will also be using rules inspired by the Fate System, as opposed to what the previous rulebook had. It will be handy, dandy, and portable with a bible-sized book that will make double-checking rules look more like reading the forbidden text of an ancient grimoire.

Or at least it will, once Dead Gentlemen reach all of their Kickstarter campaign goals (go here to help!).

You can click the link in the last sentence to get all of the details, but Dead Gentlemen Productions have already wrapped up shooting for a new film that will be part of the upcoming RPG. So if you want to see more from this group the least you can do is spare a dollar to help them reach their goal

And if you can spare more than a dollar you can get killed in action! The highest honor a Demon Hunter could ask for.

As always if you want to keep in touch with everything that Improved Initiative is doing follow me on Facebook or Tumblr. If you've got leftover scratch once you've stopped by and helped out Dead Gentlemen in their most recent endeavor you can also go by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Alternatives To Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor

There's nothing quite like that moment where your characters get their first magic weapons. Whether it's a longsword crackling with lightning, a glowing bow that fires with a choral thrum, or a shotgun that booms with a thunderclap, chances are it was your character's most treasured possession for months. You went on adventures with it, saved the day with it, and it became part of your character's signature look.

At least until you found something more powerful.

You fought well old friend, but you're just not a +2 weapon.
It happens in every game; your first magic item is a life-changing experience, but pretty soon even the most wondrous weapons and amazing armors become nothing more than a collection of numbers and abilities. Worse though, you usually have to end up exchanging huge piles of gold for them. It's the only way to keep the game balanced though; if players didn't have to pay a wizard to enchant their weapons and armor then the whole game would be unbalanced.

Wouldn't it?

Not really.

You see the mechanic of treating a magic weapon or suit of armor like any other good, with a value that can be measured in gold pieces, is functional. If it wasn't then so many roleplaying games wouldn't use it. However, for storytellers who are sick to death of how these awe-inspiring items become no more impressive than buying rations or a bedroll, here are some alternative suggestions for getting magic items into the hands of the party.

If you'd like suggestions for making your magic items just seem more special, then read How To Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane.

Don't Let Players Buy Magic Weapons or Armor

Now I know what you're thinking, but hold up a moment. I'm not advocating that you force your players to partake in a world with no magic; that would completely eliminate the point. What I'm saying is that you need to take away your players' abilities to just exchange hard currency for whatever they want out of the back of the book.

I bought this at a hock shop for $500.
Magic items are supposed to be fairly rare in the first place; it's what makes them so special. Lots of players just walk into every town like there's an epic weapon emporium right next to the inn though, and if you want to keep your players on their toes you need to curb that behavior right away.

If you want to be a kind storyteller then you can put magic items in your shops, but make players really look for them. Perhaps what a merchant thinks is simply a monstrously fine sword is actually a weapon engraved with dwarven runes of power to make it burn brightly when drawn in battle. Maybe the local smith has a weapon he keeps only for special customers, locked away in the back for those willing to pay for its true value. Or it might be possible for characters to wheedle a favor from a wizard's college or a learned spellsmith, if the character is willing to pay the price demanded.

That's if you want to be nice.

What if I'm all out of nice?
If you don't want to be nice to your players then make them work extra hard for their magic items. Make them fight creatures for them, or give them specific magic items as quest rewards. Make them win a tourney of champions, or seek out a mythical smith in the haunted forest. Have the party defeat the Lord of the Dread Marsh in order to take up his enchanted helm and flail. If you do that it becomes clear that enchanted tools represent things money simply cannot buy.

Alternatively if a party member wants a flaming sword, then make him perform a ritual where he plunges a masterwork blade deep into the flames of a sacred volcano while chanting an ancient incantation. If someone wants a lighting lance then make her charge the top of a mountain and survive being struck by bolts from the heavens. These solutions allow players who want more story to still get magic items without taking craft feats or chiding the party wizard to please, pretty please, make something shiny for them. It also means that you can't stop in at local farming village #356 and walk out with celestial armor and a holy avenger.

Ancestral Weapons

Despite the name, an ancestral weapon doesn't have to be handed down within a family or a clan; the name refers to weapons that have acquired a legend of their own through long use. As an example, many vorpal weapons were never enchanted as such (at least in older editions of Dungeons and Dragons), but they gained this quality due to the sheer number of heads they'd taken from both the wicked and the wrongly convicted. Everything from Wyatt Earp's 6-gun to the Sword of Charlemagne grows larger when wielded by someone whose legend has grown long.

I'm sure there are other examples... somewhere...
This mechanic means a storyteller avoids the whole "go to a special shop and commission an enchanted weapon" mechanic entirely, and it allows weapons and armor to get special histories of their own. The holy sword found in a treasure trove might have been handed down a certain line of priest kings, whose piety made it more than just sharpened steel. A bow might have been carried by a series of famous outlaws whose chaotic lives imprinted in the grain of the wood over long use. Even a spiked gauntlet worn as a symbol of rank by ancient generals might begin to buzz with the energies and wisdom of a hundred great commanders, taking on effects for those who wear it today.

Old Fashioned Magic

Both high and low fantasy have some pretty epic examples of enchanted weapons, and they always come with intricate rituals and rare components. These weapons or suits of armor come with names and looks, and a complete pedigree of how they were made and where they came from. Like the greatsword Starbreaker, forged from the last gasp of a dying star fallen from the heavens, and hammered on the altar of Gorum for seven days and seven nights. Quenched in sacrificial oils the sword burned white hot, and then the blade turned as black as the Lord of Iron himself. The sword's edge never dulls, and it cleaves through shields and flesh as if they were no more than morning mist.

What I just described is an adamantine greatsword +1. But how much cooler did it sound?

It bears a passing resemblance to another famous sword.
Some magic items are made with certain components, while others are created by certain events. If you want to power up your party then use that to get players deeper into the game.

Let's say you have a barbarian who is particularly devout. There's no mechanical bonus for it, but the player is going to the hilt with her character's devotions to Sarenrae. The character arises every morning, prays, sharpens her sword, and dances to welcome the burning light of another day. Say that the party is later fighting undead in an underground tomb, and the barbarian dedicates each slain foe to Sarenrae; it's possible she'd begin to notice, and that the sword would glow brighter on each death. Once a cinematic moment is reached the sword bursts into flames as bright as the dawn itself, and the character attacks with all the ferocity of a desert whirlwind.

That's a lot cooler than just paying 4k gold for a +1 flaming sword. It also comes with the potential for the character to lose the goddess's favor if she strays too far from the fervor that granted her the weapon in the first place.

For characters who are less devout then it's possible for pure circumstance to leave weapons changed. A weapon that's killed a hundred lycanthropes might become a bane weapon, for instance. A blade that deals the death blow to a dragon might absorb some of the wyrm's power in the form of an enchantment appropriate to the creature's breath weapon. A weapon which always seems to deliver critical blows might become keen-edged, or perhaps actively try to suck the life force out of those it kills, depending on the wielder and the situations it's been used in.

For players who want the experience of making a magical weapon there's always the use of rare components. The hunt for star metal is well known, but what else might soak magic into steel? Quenching the blade in dragon's blood and bile? Heating a forge with the bones of great warriors so the steel absorbs their power (this was something some ancient peoples actually frigging did!)? Perhaps having a sword forged by a blind man, or a prophet, or a virgin priestess is the secret to making it powerful?

Whatever mystical dingus you want to use for your magic items it will make players appreciate how hard they are to get. Not only that, but a player will be a lot less likely to forego the trusty Razor Tusk, the weapon that killed the last of the great orc chieftains in the Black Tooth Wars just because another sword crops up that gives him an extra +1.

And even if the new sword gets drawn, the old one will never leave its place of honor on that warrior's hip.

One More Thing...

Also, before you go, I wanted to show you this.

Willy Shakes just telling it like it is.
This is the latest example of gear you can get at my store. If you want to check out the full Shakespeare click here, and a complete list of my shirts can be found by clicking the link for Literary Mercenary gear on the right hand side of the page. There's stuff for literary types as well as gamers, and the list keeps getting bigger so check back regularly if you don't want to miss anything.

If you want to help support me and this blog then check out my Patreon page to become a patron today! If you'd like to follow Improved Initiative and get all of the tasty, tasty updates on this blog then either plug your email into the box on the right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr. See you there!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Improved Initiative Needs Your Help (Part Two)

When I started Improved Initiative nearly a year ago I had a simple goal; write an interesting blog about games that players and storytellers alike will enjoy, and make money while doing it. For a while it seemed like I was doing just that. My page views were up, many of you were engaging with me, telling me what I was doing right, and I even had enough ad revenue coming in from the Google AdSense ads on my blog to help out with some of my living expenses.

We all know what that means, of course; it was time to make a perception check for an ambush.

He's not looking, kick him in the bollocks!

So What Happened?

The first domino fell this past July when I was told Yahoo! Voices was closing its doors. For those of you who didn't see my post on it here, the short version is that I had an archive of over 400 articles on Yahoo! Voices that was paying me royalties every month that I'd come to depend on. Averaged out it was between $100 and $200 a month; not chump change in the life of the writer. I received my last royalty check from them in August, and I was left sitting there with over 400 articles that were now homeless and making me no money.

What did I do?

First I wore this face for about a month.
I took a deep breath, dusted myself off, and got back to my feet. I took a look around the Internet and saw there were a few other websites who would be happy to give my articles a new home. They wouldn't pay me for traffic (Yahoo! Voices paid authors a flat fee for every 1k page views their content received), but instead they would pay me for ad clicks through Google AdSense (meaning that I would receive a fee every time someone clicked on an ad). I decided that was the best option I was likely to get, joined HubPages, and settled in to start cleaning up my archive so it would look good to a fresh audience.

I had a Google AdSense account after all, and this would help me make more money with it.

"Had," You Say?

Had is the operative word in the above sentence. For two months I edited my articles, found good photos to go with them, and got them put up to the general approval of most viewers. My AdSense views were up, and I was seeing some real success.

Then I got an email from Google. I was told they'd spotted possible "invalid activity," and that my AdSense account was going to be suspended. The email also said that while Google would be happy to tell me the exact reasons why I was suspended that they couldn't because to do so would put their security at risk.

If you don't know what you did then we are under no obligation to tell you. So there.
I appealed the decision, trusting as so many people do that the fact they didn't do anything should be enough to clear them of any accusation of wrong doing. Two days later I was told that Google had gotten my message, and thought about it really hard, but that as far as they were concerned I'd been kicked out of their clubhouse and I couldn't come back in. It didn't matter that my blogs, and now my account at HubPages, were all tied in to Google nor did it matter that there was no evidence presented to me.

Why doesn't that matter? Because I guarantee you that there are 100 eager, fresh-faced bloggers ready to step on my broken ribs to take my slot.

So What Happens Now?

I didn't realize until the supposedly-solid ground gave way beneath me just how much of the Internet Google controls. Without them and access to the Google AdSense platform users cannot join most of the popular content creation websites. Writers have to wander the wastes looking for companies that managed to resist Google, and hang on to their own plots of Internet real estate. Most of what I found were the broken castles and ruined walls of websites that had fallen under Google's assault, and had been bought out, conquered, or ground into dust beneath their corporate heels.

In the time of legends the empire of Squidoo stood before the tide of Google, defiant to the end.
Can I recover from this? Sure, given enough time, success, and an audience willing to keep listening to what I say that checks back every time I complete a new piece of content for them.

At this very moment though, I think I'm internally hemorrhaging.

Short Version; I Need Your Help

Not all readers know this, but without you guys even the greatest writers are nothing but echoes in an empty room.

What I mean by that is that without readers a website has nothing. It doesn't matter whether it has cuddle-fight videos of cats and baby unicorns; if no one's coming in to see them (and no one is supporting those efforts) then that site and the people who create that content will cease to be in fairly short order.

Shush, I'm watching my re-match with the quadricorn.
What I need from you, dear readers, is a shoulder to lean on until I can stop limping from this corporation-shaped boot print that's caved in my ribs. If you want to support me (along with this blog and all of my other efforts), then I need you to do something very simple right now.

Whoa, What The Hell Is This?

That link is for a website called Patreon, and the short explanation is that it's like Kickstarter except that it's for artists who create lots of little projects instead of a single, big one. Instead of trying to get a lot of cash to write a book or make a movie, I'm asking my patrons (that's you, dear readers) to give me a small donation every month so I can pay rent, buy groceries, and do all those necessary things while I try to rebuild my online life.

All I need is $1 a month from you. $12 a year to keep this blog, and all of my other projects, going.

It's not easy making a living as a writer, and it gets a little harder every day as major corporations get hold of bigger and bigger portions of the Internet. I have no intention of quitting, but if you could spare the price of half a cup of coffee every month I promise to keep doing my best to make sure that you have plenty of food for thought when it comes time to plot your next campaign.

Also, There's Free Stuff!

Because everyone likes free stuff, I have a special offer for those who become patrons before the end of September! All new patrons will receive, for free, one of my stories. It's just a little something to sweeten the deal, and a way for me to say thank you to all of those who want to help me keep doing what I love to do.

Again, thank you to all of those who have become patrons already, and to all those who have helped me try to get the word out. I will soon return you to your regularly scheduled gaming goodness, and if you'd like to follow me then stop by my Facebook page or my Tumblr.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

In late June I published a list of 5 Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting, and the response to it was amazing. Forums were exploding with a buzz, and everyone was clamoring about other rules that got left off of the list. I took careful notes, and I decided there were so many that I had to come back and write a continuation to the original list. In fact, this series has been going on so long I now need to include the full list of entries on rules players have been overlooking, forgetting, or just plain don't know.

Playing By The Book: Some Pathfinder Rules That Players Keep Forgetting
MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Even MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Still More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
- 5 More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

So, that said, here's some more rules you likely forgot all about...

You Need Cover or Concealment to Use Stealth

You're going to need to do a little better than that...
I've lost track of the number of games I've played where a character is so specialized in stealth that a pin drop would seem like a gunshot compared to his footsteps. Hell, I've written a character build article for how to do this very thing right here on this blog. But even if you are silent as death and stealthy as a shadow, that doesn't change that you can't just roll a stealth check and become invisible.

Page 106 of the Core Rule Book outlines how the stealth skill works. Basically if anyone is observing you with any sense (sight, smell, hearing, etc.) then you cannot make a stealth check. Period. If you want to try and pull a Batman then you first need to make a bluff check, and then you can move to a place where you have cover and attempt a stealth check at a -10.

Short version; stealth is a skill, not a spell. Unless you have some class ability like hide in plain sight, or a feat like hellcat stealth (Cheliax, Empire of Devils) then you had better be able to move from rock to rock like a special ops soldier if you want to sneak up unseen.

Anyone Can Find Magic Traps

One of the strangest arguments I've come across from storytellers is that, in their games, rogues can't find or disable magical traps unless they have levels of some kind of spellcasting class. Despite the very clear language of the trapfinding ability these storytellers refuse to allow one of the signature abilities of the rogue class to come into play if they haven't dipped at least one level in wizard or sorcerer.

It must hurt to know they're double wrong.

Everybody chill out... I got this.
Page 417 of the Core Rule Book makes no bones about the fact that anyone can find traps both mechanical and magical. The basic DC for finding and disabling a mechanical trap is 20, and raising or lowering that DC changes the CR of the trap in question. When it comes to magical traps the base DC for both spotting and disabling the trap is a DC 25 + the level of the highest spell used in the trap. Only those with the trapfinding class feature can attempt to disable these traps using the disable device skill, but there's no word on whether or not wizards can disable these traps or not. Anyone, from the eagle-eyed barbarian to the overly-observant bard can perceive them, though.

Yes, You Can Take Multiple Archetypes For The Same Class

One of the best things that Pathfinder introduced starting with the Advanced Player's Guide was the idea of class archetypes. Rather than re-inventing the wheel by creating dozens of new base classes, or stuffing the world with prestige classes (a big complaint toward the end of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5), Pathfinder introduced archetypes that replace some of a class's old abilities with shiny new ones that allow them to be better at certain things. The Titan Mauler is good at fighting big enemies, and loses some signature barbarian abilities, the Holy Gun creates a black powder paladin, but strips away some of the raiment of a knight in shining armor... you get the idea.

Yes you can take more than one archetype for the same class.

It's the only way to explain this, really.
The caveat for this rule, found in the Advanced Player's Guide is that you cannot take two archetypes that replace the same ability. So you could take Thug and Bandit, two rogue archetypes, because they replace different abilities entirely. On the other hand you can't take an armor master and a brawler (the fighter variant, not the Advanced Class Guide class), because both of these archetypes replace weapon training 1.

Yes you can double dip. No you can't do it with the chip you've already finished eating.

Activating A Magic Item is a Standard Action

This is one of those sticky rules that players think they know, but often forget key pieces of. For instance, we all know that using a scroll or activating a wand is a standard action. But what about activating your flaming sword? Or sheathing your frost mace in arctic chill?

Yep, still a standard action.

Terrifying the locals remains, however, a free action.
Lots of players tend to forget that everything takes time. Yes it's cinematic for a fighter to growl a word in ancient celestial to light his burning sword, but it's good tactics to go into the stronghold of evil with your big guns cocked and locked. It also cuts down on grousing about wasted turns if you take care of all your command-word activations before the DM calls for initiative.

Combat Maneuvers

Combat maneuvers are those tricky things that most players eschew until they come up against a situation where they would be really useful (sundering the enemy's nearly impenetrable armor, hammering the poisoned knife out of the assassin's hand, grappling the escaped prisoner you want to take alive, etc.). While any character can attempt these maneuvers (though they draw attacks of opportunity if you don't have the improved name of combat maneuver feat), there's a lot of confusion about them.

So I make an opposed strength check now... right?
Firstly it's important to remember that some combat maneuvers can be done as a standard action, and some combat maneuvers simply replace an attack. Disarm, sunder, and trip can replace attacks (including those in a flurry of blows, or those being used by a two-weapon fighter), whereas bull rush, overrun, grapple, dirty trick, steal, and reposition all take a standard action. Of these standard actions, only a bull rush or an overrun may be used as part of a charge. You will roll a 20 and add your CMB (combat maneuver bonus), and if you beat the CMD (combat maneuver defense) of the enemy then congratulations you have successfully pulled off the maneuver.

Secondly you don't need to charge to use the bull rush combat maneuver. You can charge (Core Rule Book 198), and if you do you get a +2 to your bull rush maneuver, but you can perform the maneuver while standing entirely still.

Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate Are Not Mind Control

The bonus 6th rule of this set, at the risk of repeating myself, is that lots of players tend to forget skills are not more powerful than spells. Any character can have a skill and build it up to a robust number; only certain classes get spells. It's for that reason that yes a bard can talk a mean game with her silver tongue to try and sweeten up a guard to let the party past, but if he she really wants to make the guard do something then it's going to take a command spell or a similar effect to force the guard's hand.

Why? Because you can have the most reasoned, appealing argument in the world, but some people won't care because they're bigoted, prejudiced, distrustful, or they just don't like you.

Sorry honey, I only listen when men are talking.
According to the descriptions of these skills (all of which are found in the skills chapter of the Core Rule Book) bluff can be used to convince people of the truth of a believable lie, diplomacy can be used to increase a creature's attitude toward you by up to two steps, and intimidate can be used to force a character to act as if it were friendly toward you for a few minutes before reverting to unfriendly.

What can't you do with these skills? You can't convince the goblin that he's actually an ogre, you can't suddenly persuade the paladin that his oaths don't matter, and you can't intimidate someone into betraying a sworn ruler if that person has ironclad loyalty. You most certainly cannot just get into someone's pants because you rolled a really high number on a social check. Basically you can't just roll a die and then take control of another character's decisions and responses, no matter how many levels you beat the DC by.

For those who have rules that are constantly forgotten at your table please leave them in the comments, or email them! Thanks again for dropping by Improved Initiative, and if you'd like to follow me then type your email into the box on the right, or stop by my Facebook and Tumblr pages. If you'd like to support this blog, and by extension me, then like this post on FB by clicking the box on the upper right, leave a tip in my "Bribe the DM" button on the right hand side, or stop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sabertron: The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Boffer?

Before we get started with this week's Moon Pope Monday post I'd like to give my readers an update. I've been steadily working to get my previous character build articles up and running again, and as of today my Gotham Knights series has been re-posted and collected at this link right here. You can also see the complete archive of character conversions by clicking the tab above and to your right.

Now that I've told you that, let's talk about this...

Yes, it's exactly what you think it is.
What you are looking at is something that every kid would squeal with joy to find under the Christmas tree (and if we're honest, most of us so-called "adults" would do the same). Sabertron is a sword fighting system that can tell the difference between a blow on the wielder and a blow on his or her sword, and which can keep score electronically. So while cheap shots and dirty fighting are still part of the game there's no denying that one opponent managed to strike the other.

Seriously, check out the promo video they put together for this thing.

I want one. Hell with that, I want four.

As always, thanks for dropping in on Improved Initiative. Feel free to like this post on FB by clicking the window on your upper right hand side, and if you'd like to keep up on all of the blog's updates plug your email into the box on your right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.