Friday, November 13, 2015

Behind Every Cover, there is a Story

The following short story was written by our own resident cover artist, Anthony Butler, whose fine art graces the cover of all of our Into the Breach series books.  The piece above is the Inquisitor cover, and its featured character is Reigbar, a tiefling inquisitor.  I hope everyone enjoys this fine bit of fiction, as IMO it is every bit as awesome as the art that inspired it.  A huge thanks to Anthony for simply being "the man with the plan."

Jeff Harris
Flying Pincushion Co-owner


Carnival time in the city of masks, they’d told him, that was when one sought secrets.

When the people donned masks to hide their faces, and the wine flowed freely and the music filled the streets, cautious folk grew prone to sharing, and loose lips spilled truth, inasmuch as they knew it. What people thought they knew, that was more valuable than what they actually knew. Stories started somewhere, after all. It was just a matter of following each vein back to the source of the corruption that had tainted it.

Someone in this city had chafed under the high temple’s rule, and was now spreading heresy and lies in the guise of the good works of Sarenrae. Riegbar’s sacred duty was to hunt them down, to purify the corrupted words that he’d heard so many of the clergy spreading from their pulpits. The common folk were weak, and the sermons seductive, corrupting the sacred songs, twisting a word here, a phrase there. Wickedness and sin, invited in, because someone had made them welcome. He’d see the clergy burn, if needs must. Infection must be burnt to prevent it from spreading and returning.

But before the corruption could be cleansed, Riegbar needed answers, needed stories, names and tales of deeds. The carnival was in full swing now, the red moon high and large in the sky, every the street flooded with song and revelry and torchlight, crowds brightly-costumed in jewel-toned silks and elaborate masks, when they could afford them, though more often the silks were cheaply dyed cotton and the masks simple papier-mache. He’d settled for somewhere in between with his disguise, trading in the tattered burlap pilgrim’s cloak for black cotton printed with gold, a popular choice as the black dye was less likely to betray its poor quality. The masks were decent ones, but the selling point had been the large, elaborate ram’s horns, under which he could conceal his own.

Suitably masked and cloaked, with two additional masks hidden under his cape should he need a disguise, Riebgar slipped down from the tiny room he’d rented and threaded his way into the crowd, another mask in a sea of frozen faces.

* * *

Two hours later, and Riegbar had yet to find a satisfactory clue. Either the wine wasn’t flowing as freely as he’d have thought, or else everyone in the crowd was far better at holding their liquor and their counsel than he’d prefer. He’d already had to change his mask once, when one masked woman became just a touch too curious about his purpose; he recognized her voice and build from a sermon, she was one of the clergy. Certainly, someone had followed him through a few streets, though he’d lost his pursuant. There was no sense in pursuing that lead, she’d have grown suspicious now, perhaps even have alerted a few others. Riegbar cursed himself, dragging one claw across his palm as a chastisement for his foolishness. If he’d been more careful, perhaps. Plied her with more wine first. But he’d been desperate, after a fruitless search, and grown hasty.

Surely, someone knew. He whispered prayers now, begging for some divine intervention, something to guide him, to direct his search so that he might do the work needed to purify the flock.

Overhead, a hawk cried out. Its call was unusually melodious.

Around him, the crowd shifted; once joyous and unrestrained, singing bawdy songs and laughing, now, there were whispers.

Riegbar inserted himself into a nearby cluster to eavesdrop; one speaker, a half-orc by her build, he guessed, speaking in the strange accent of the city, was trying to persuade her companion not to visit...a fortuneteller?

“It’s not worth it,” the half-orc hissed, clutching her companion’s wrist tightly, her greyish hand dwarfing the dainty wrist; elven blood, perhaps, the movements were correct.

“But they say that la strega buona knows everything,

“And that she exacts a dear price for her knowledge, Christina! Ezio isn’t worth it, he’s vile!” The half-orc grew angrier. “I shan’t follow you! If you intend to go into that alley, you go alone! ” she insisted, stamping her foot down. “It is madness!”

“I don’t care! I must know!” Wrenching her wrist from the half-orc’s grip, the elf took off into the crowd, her pastel cloak vibrant against the richer tones favoured by the others.

Stupida!” The half-orc wailed, throwing up her hands. “She’ll regret this!” She kept looking over to her companion, wavering in her vow not to follow.

“Beg pardon,” Riegbar saw his chance now, and swooped in. “I couldn’t help overhear, perhaps I could retrieve your friend for you?”

He’d follow the elf to the fortuneteller and convince her to turn back, and then interrogate this woman. The bluster of prices and ominous threats was just a selling tool, advertising to enhance her mystique. Riegbar had encountered this type before, common rogues with an ear for gossip and a flair for the dramatic. He’d have her information by the end of the night, and perhaps this would be the answer to his prayers.

With the half-orc lady’s babbled blessings still ringing in his ears, Riegbar set out in pursuit, putting on a valiant show of struggling against the crowd for her sakes, at least until he was out of sight. The elf, it seemed, faced even more of a challenge than he did, for Riegbar was soon within a few paces of her. From here, he could see her ears; too long and fine to be a half-elf, pureblooded, then. Surprising that she’d had the strength to break the half-orc woman’s grip, but then perhaps the half-orc had not wished to hurt her, and so had held back.

Quite suddenly, someone bumped into Riegbar, spinning him about and knocking him to the ground. He fought to pull himself back to his feet, ignoring the protests of his assailant, who quickly faded into the masses. There, he saw a hand, gloved in silk beautifully embroidered with a pattern of figs, reaching out to offer him aid, which he gladly accepted. His rescuer spoke to him, but he ignored it; over her shoulder, through the figs branches which adorned her mask, Riegbar could see the elf he sought. With mumbled thanks to the woman, he pushed past her, diving into the crowd again. She’d worn an almost absurd amount of perfume, he could smell it even though the mask covered his face, rosemary blended with something cooler, sweeter, like the salve used to tend to burns. It invaded his nostrils, though not the scent was not unwelcome; certainly, it was preferable to sour wine and too many bodies packed together under stifling cloaks.

The elf had turned, down a side street so small that had she not been wearing such a brightly coloured cloak, Riegbar would have never seen her. Riegbar did the shoving now, desperate not to lose her in the alleyway, ducking underneath a lazy fist swung at him by a man wearing a wolf’s mask and a scarlet cloak, until he reached the archway.

The elf was gone.

Riegbar began to run down the alley, searching for some hint of her trace. There were no side streets, yet she’d vanished, as if by magic. As he turned a corner, he caught a glimpse of a pale pink cloak, and beyond it light; too dim to be torches, a lantern, perhaps. Maybe this was the fortuneteller he sought out, and perhaps the elf had just inexplicably decided to run to her.

Too late to send her back to her friend before she met the fortuneteller, it seemed, but maybe he could discourage her from speaking to the charlatan, dramatically rip off his mask to reveal his horns and fiery, slit-pupiled eyes, terrify her into fleeing --

“You are a determined one, aren’t you?”

The woman who spoke was not the elf; her voice, it was richer, deeper, and strangest of all, familiar. Riegbar had heard that voice, or one which sounded much like it. He’d found his way into some sort of cul-de-sac, lit by a dozen or so lanterns, their shades decorated with cut paper. Strange figures danced in the candlelight, reaching down to caress the circle of chairs, the silks draped over every surface. Someone had taken some care in transforming what should have been a filthy back alley into something else, luxurious and sinister. There were braziers too, taking the chill off of the cool night, filling the air with the scent of sage.

“I’d thought you’d lost my friend for a moment, back there,” The woman, the fortuneteller he sought, Riegbar supposed, reclined across a bench, draped in black velvet so deep and rich it put his own cloak to shame. She too wore a mask, a simple female face, painted in red and gold, and adorned with gold braid and a spray of crimson feathers. Her mask was porcelain, however, not the cheap papier-mache that Riegbar and most of the revellers wore.

She extended a hand to him; her skin was dark, and when Riegbar reluctantly took it, he found the skin to be soft, though her grip was firm. “Sadly, she doesn’t believe in mercy. If one is meant to find me, Christina believes, they will find their way to me.” Her eyes, a rich mahogany brown, twinkled from beneath the mask, and as Riegbar settled himself into a seat opposite her, he realized where he’d heard that voice before.

“You should be dead, you know,” Riegbar said. “Mind if I take this damned thing off?” he added, already reaching up to the mask.

Vanozza di Anima, who, by her sister’s accounts, had perished ten years past, reached out to stop him. “Not yet. For now, it is safer if your face is hidden,” she said, her voice soft, but in a tone which would accept no argument. “Consider it...the price of admission.”

“Is that why you wear that, then?”

Vanozza laughed. “No, caro ragazzo, I wear this because it would not do for the face of a woman who, as you said, should be dead, to be seen in this city. Especially on the night of the carnival, when passions run high.” She beckoned upwards; the same strangely musical cry rang out, and a hawk dove down, landing on the back of Vanozza’s divan. Like her, the bird wore a mask, though Riegbar could not see how it was attached.

“I don’t recall Miranda saying that her sister was a sorceress,” Riegbar said, which was broadly true, because while Miranda had told him her story, how she’d survived the attack on her family home and fled the city, she’d mentioned little else, save that her parents and her two sisters had perished. "Or alive."

“That is because we look after each other, in our own ways, and because I am not a sorceress, Inquisitor.” It was disconcerting, seeing Vanozza’s eyes smiling while the face of the mask remained frozen in its beatific half-smile.

“A wizard, then? Certainly no druidess, not somewhere so removed from nature.” That she knew who he was, that was alarming, he’d been cautious with his identity. Even the drunken priestess no doubt thought he was merely a spy.

Laughing, Vanozza shook her head as she reached out for the hawk’s porcelain beak with one finger, which the bird playfully nipped at before consenting to be stroked. “Ah, caro Inquisitor,” she said at last. “I am a witch. La strega buona, they have come to call me here, because that is what we do in this city. We call the unknown and terrible kind and good, in the hope that it might pass us over. La bella giustizia. Il mare tipo. La strega buona. I am feared, and yet, I am sought out. Love charms, cures, curses, all those things which, I imagine, you would see me burnt for?”

Riegbar had heard of witches. Certainly, he’d dealt with women who had been accused of such, simply for knowing a little of herbalism, or perhaps showing some trace of sorcerous skill. But never had he actually encountered one whose powers were sourced in whatever unknown entities that deigned to speak to them. “I could be convinced to...look away,” he said at last, through clenched teeth. “I seek a greater corruption.”

“And for that, you would partner with one who, according to your books and your priests, stands against all that you believe in, eh, Inquisitor?” Vanozza’s tone was cruel now. “A lesser evil, allied with for the greater good. I approve of your practicality. Especially as I would much rather not anyone try to set me aflame again. I might not be so lucky this time, you see.” She placed two cups, finely chased silver, though one was slightly marred on its side, on the table, before pouring tea into each one. The liquid was crimson, so dark as to be almost purple. She turned her head back for a moment, listening to a sound Riegbar knew he would never hear. “It is safe to remove our masks now, Inquisitor,” the witch said, at last. “After all, if we are to be allies, after all, we must know each other’s face.”

Gratefully, Riegbar undid the ties holding his goat mask in place; the heat from the braziers made the confines of the papier-mache stifling, and he took the chance to wipe the sweat from his face with the hem of his cloak. Only when he had set his mask down on the table, did Vanozza remove her mask; she was indeed Miranda’s twin, the same full lips and strong cheekbones, the same broad and shapely nose, though the left side of Vanozza’s face was marred by a faded burn scar. Unlike Mirand, who wore her dark hair braided back in tight, severe rows, Vanozza favoured a elaborate style of shining, ropy plaits, woven through with tiny charms that glistened as they caught the candlelight.

“A toast, then, caro Inquisitor.” Vanozza said. “And no, it isn’t poisoned. Test it for yourself. We are, after all, allies in this matter.”

Riegbar circled his finger over the cup, the sides already heated by the scalding liquid, though to his hand it merely felt pleasantly warm, a perk of his fiendish heritage. Neither the orison for the detection of poison or magic yielded any results, so, with a cautious whispered prayer, he took a sip. “Delicious,” Riegbar said, though he had no real basis against which to compare. It certainly tasted good, fruity and sweet, unlike any tea he’d had before, but whether this was an exemplary blend or not, he could care less.

Vanozza in turn sipped delicately from her own cup, a motion that Riegbar had once seen her sister do in exactly the same way. “Now, you have come here chasing the rumours which plague your temples here, have you not?”
“I have. How do you know?”

“An educated guess, caro Inquisitor. Merely an educated guess.” Vanozza took another sip, before setting her cup back down onto its plate. She had chosen the warped cup, he noticed. “As one who comes so infrequently in to the city, I too have seen what you have seen. What is preached from the pulpit changes a little in each telling, too subtle for the faithful to catch.”

“What do you mean, “comes infrequently”?” Riegbar asked; he had assumed that the witch was set up in, if not this alley, then certainly somewhere in the maze of streets and canals.

“It would be imprudent for me to stay here for too long. The di Anima family still has its enemies, even if most believe that family to be long gone.” Vanozza replied. “But also, it would not do for those who seek me to have an easy time of it. Adversity strengthens the soul, after all, one of the few things that we can agree on.”

“Then how am I to find you,” Riegbar asked, “When I have need of you again?”

The witch arched one dark brow. “What’s to say that you will have need of me again?”

Try as he might, Riegbar could not tell if the witch was mocking him, or if her question was sincere, but he’d learned more from someone who stood against everything that he believed in than he had from those who professed to be the most devout. He had to take a leap of faith, and trust that he’d found an unlikely ally in a city being turned to heresy.

Part of him argued that surely, the twin sister of a paladin whose faith even Riegbar could not bring himself to question could not truly be an enemy. But though this woman wore the face of his closest friend, she belonged to another force. Whatever offer she made, it was to serve her own agenda, and that of her otherworldly master. She and Riegbar would use each other, useful tools for a grim task, to be discarded when they were no longer helpful.

“I have need of someone who knows this city. And you have need of someone who knows the church.”

He’d just have to be sure that he survived being discarded.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Questions About Class: the Inquisitor

Welcome back readers! Here is another entry in our Questions about Class series, this time focusing on the inquisitor. As you may (or may not) know, Flying Pincushion Games is about to release its next book, Into the Breach: The Inquisitor.  So we thought it was a good time that I, Kiel Howell, sit down with fellow Pincushioneer Jeffery Harris to talk about the class.

KH: First of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer these questions!

JH: My pleasure Kiel, thank you for taking the time to lay down some excellent questions about the inquisitor class!

KH: Can you give the readers a little about yourself and your role at The Flying Pincushion?

JH: Well sure, I am of course Jeff Harris, co-owner, CFO, sometimes editor and lead designer here at The Flying Pincushion.  I have been gaming for more than 24 years, but have only been in the industry officially for about two and a half years.  I am married to a lovely wife and live in a house with as many cats as there are core classes.

KH: So what exactly is an inquisitor? Is it someone who tortures folks for religious reasons (ala Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition)?

JH: The Spanish Inquisition is likely the default, go to, idea that many folk have.  Thankfully the inquisitor in Pathfinder need not fall into this trope.  While they can be zealous religious fanatics, there is an infinite variety of ways to see the class.  From skilled detectives of the many goods, to vengeance sworn monster hunters.  With the right inspiration and  careful building/character design, inquisitors can be nearly anything the player can brain storm up a story for.

KH: Why does this stand as a whole class to you? Would it have been better as an archetype of the Paladin or perhaps a type of Cleric?  Personally I think the inquisitor stands up very well as a class of its own.  

JH: While a paladin could be a zealous hound of the faith, their paladin code would restrict them from accomplishing any dirty or nasty deeds that need doing.  Conversely clerics seem to (as a class) trade much of their ability to be a skilled character out for their powerful magic and domain powers.  That is not to say a cleric cannot be a skilled character, as a class it is simply not their main focus.  Thus the inquisitor seems to fall somewhere in between, with more divine power than a paladin in terms of spells, but less combat ability, and far more skill breadth than a cleric, but with less divine magic.  Overall the class seems to have a little bit of both paladin and cleric, merged with the practical mindset and broad skills set of rogues.

KH: What exactly are judgments and what are they supposed to represent?

JH: As far as I can tell, a judgment is meant to represent an inquisitor calling down divine justice (or vengeance) against their foes or providing divine reward to themselves or allies.  In general I suspect judgments are the physical manifestation of the inquisitors faith in his or her god, and the rewards for said service.

KH: Some of the abilities seem a little out of place, like Monster Lore and Slayer, what are your thoughts on the cohesiveness of the class?

JH:  To me this is an issue stemming from what fantasy settings commonly employ.  Because it is not just humans that populate the world, it makes perfect sense (in the context of say, Golarion) that inquisitors would have to deal with monsters and non-human foes as part of their gods church.  Slayer, while mechanically sound, perhaps suffers from a less than perfect name for the ability.  To recap the questions, I am fine with Monster Lore and Slayer, I see them as just extension of placing a real world influenced class into a fantasy setting, and its adaptation to that move.

KH: This class seems to suffer from lone wolf syndrome, in that there are abilities that allow the inquisitor to treat allies as if they possessed (without receiving the bonuses from) any teamwork feat she possesses, so she can effectively act alone. Does this work? Is it going against the flavor of the class?

JH:  The “lone wolf” issue is one that I also see as a bit of a problem.  From a theme perspective, the “lone heretic hunter” works nicely, but Pathfinder and table-top RPG’s in general are not solo games, and more than ever now in Pathfinder teamwork is a must.  So, from a game perspective, the thematic power of solo tactics is less than ideal.  It can be worked around, and worked with, but it does leave a bit of a bitter taste in the rest of the parties mouths when only Bob Lone Wolf the inquisitor benefits from his Teamwork feats and everyone else is just a placeholder.  That said, if the players decide to more heavily invest in Teamwork feats, the pain can be mitigated somewhat.

KH: The way the class itself reads, there isn’t much flexibility for what type of character you can play...

JH: I personally feel that while this is true, the build of a class does not prevent interesting and unique inquisitor characters.  I tend to feel that if the chassis is a bit limited, which here one could indeed say that, then it is HOW the inquisitor progresses, and how the player RP’s their character that will make them stand out.  The same issue could be said of a fighter, but there are many levels of detail available (nearly limitless really) beyond just what the inquisitor class ability table provides that can and does make inquisitor characters interesting and unique.  I feel behind every inquisitor is a great story of WHAT made them into what they are, and given the class focus and flavour, those stories can indeed be amazing.  I dare say that is just as valid, perhaps more, than flexibility that is built into the class design. The option of taking specific inquisitions can help support a detailed and interesting inquisitor, and provide more support for their detailed backstory and personality elements (more about that in a later question though.)

KH: The inquisitor gets spells from both the cleric list and the sorcerer/wizard list (such as true strike), yet they are obviously a divine inspired class. What’s the deal?

JH: I suspect this is another of those issues that comes from the mechanics aspect of the game rather than fluff or source material.  In order to provide a list of spells that fits with the class theme it would seem that both lists were scoured and then combined into the mongrel spell list the inquisitor uses.  As I do this often when working on archetypes and class design, I can’t really fault Paizo for doing so, and overall feel the spells are appropriate, even if in the back of my mind I know that they are not all divine in origin.

KH: Should the inquisitor be a d8 hitpoint class or should they be more of a d10?

JH: Given the scope of their class skills, spells, judgments, and other abilities, I feel a d10 would be going too far. Having a d8 for hit die suites me just fine, I might well think differently with d10’s, which also tends to come along with a full BAB class.  So nope, I think they (inquisitors) have the correct HD for what they are and for balance purposes.

KH: What would you change about the base class if you were given free reign?

JH: Solo tactics is my pet peeve, I would want more teamwork focus, rather than benefits for the inquisitor only.  Heretics are dangerous, one would think that friends would be a good thing in the battle against them.

KH: Have you ever had to ban or have you seen the class banned at a table?

JH: I have never banned the inquisitor, though I freely admit nearly none of my players tend to favour the inquisitor class.  I suspect that somewhere someone has banned it, but given that I do not see endless ban this class threads either on Paizo’s forums, or in PFS, I would think its banning is rare in general.

KH: What is your advice for building a successful inquisitor?

JH: While I could go through lots of game mechanics and discuss how to make a deadly awesome murder-hobo inquisitor, in my personal opinion, the best way to make a successful inquisitor is build something that is at least mechanically sound, then FOCUS very hard on roleplay and character motivation/personality.  Because this class has mechanics that to me scream, “there is a really good story behind why I can do this”, it deserves to have those aspects played up.  I dare say that it is the intangibles that make inquisitors memorable at the table.  I suggest picking an inquisition rather than a domain and then writing a hell of a story about the why your inquisitor has said inquisition.

KH: Thank you for taking the time to have this chat, Jeff!

JH: As always, it was my pleasure Kiel, it was a fine set of questions you wrote for this installment of “Questions About Class.”  I hope we have shed a bit of light on a class that is often in the shadows.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Want to get into game design? Work-shopping is key.

Want to be a RPG Superstar? How about get into Wayfinder, or freelance as a game designer? It's the competition's worst kept secret that most of the best get there by practice and work-shopping. This however isn't going to be an advice article on how to get the most out of work-shopping this is going to be an article about being good at helping others through work-shopping.

The thing some people don't seem to get is that to get better you have to give  more.

Image result for giving tree

When giving feedback the first and most important key is that it is specific. Telling someone something as general as "I like it" might be good for their ego but it doesn't help them identify what makes their work good that they can take to their next piece. Just slamming something in a general sense and saying you do not like it without being specific as to why is equally useless in helping them improve.

I used the good, bad, and ugly format with a summary for feedback for awhile because it forces em to look at something positive, something that isn't majorly bad but worth noting, my biggest issue, then a summation of my overall impression. Generally that turns into 4-5 talking points which is about right for a pass at something. Going more in-depth then that can be helpful but only if you're asked to do so, otherwise you might be overwhelming the author by giving them too much to focus on. which leads me into my next point.

Know your role as a pit crew person. What kind of feedback is the designer looking for from you. Grammar and format editing? Where they looking for focus group feedback (like this, dislike that and so on?) Are they looking to bounce and build which is to day they suggest something you expand on it or suggest a direction they run with that suggestion and develop it further into a new idea and so on... For the record I'm the king of bounce and build sessions or focus group style feedback and shit at grammar and format editing as I have a tendency to auto correct as I read. Knowing your strengths helps you build others and it also informs on what you need from them when they return the favor.

Detach from who they are. It is natural for you to want go go easier on your friends or perhaps be a little less respectful to someone you do not know or like. It is important to be around people that challenge you and it is important that you are that person even to people you really like.

Being honest isn't brutal. I tersely informed one contestant this year that his inherent concept would be an immediate must have for every power gamer. He toned it down but kept the concept going because the phrase every blaster would want one was in there and he held onto that. He made top 100.

Except for a pair of DQs I missed (sorry again Jeff and Andrew details aren't my thing) of the 16 items I pitted for 8 made top 36 along side my own item and the remaining 6 made top 100. The range is my best friend to people I've never met outside the boards. This doesn't mean I want to do 100 items next year this is me telling you as a community find people you trust and work off of one another. Practice, learn and come back stronger next year... because I know I will.

To the top 8, you know where to find me.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Don't be that Contestent.

Hi gang,

This is an open letter for those that participate in the RPG Superstar contest. Not just for those that have made it into the competition, but to those on the sidelines that entered an item into round one but fell short of the top 36 entries.

The TL:DR version of this article is some advice I heard a lot when I was looking to join up in the military... They's say, "don't be that guy." They's say don't be that lady to the women but we're past excluding those that don't fit into gender binary perceptions so; Don't be that contestant.

Image result for drill sergeant

What they mean by this is don't do something stupid to eliminate yourself from your opportunities like get drunk and drive, or get arrested for drug use, or fail out because of the physical requirements. For me the end of the road was that my feet are a little too flat for the DOD but that isn't relevant here because the advice is still sound advice for this competition.

Even if you missed the mark this year, your words and reputation can carry forward into future years and if particularly ill advised cost you other opportunities. I'm far from the only publisher that pays attention to and hires off the Superstar design boards.

Here's my pitch for new designers: We're a great place to cut your teeth and develop as a designer, but we pay like good bbq it's low and slow. I basically tell people we're slow to publish, turn a profit and pay and I still get no shortage of takers. Oh and I factor in people's reputation on the boards and professional demeanour nearly as much as I do their design talent regarding who I invite to work with my team.

The truth is there's a lot of talented folks that want to design. It's a publisher's market and we typically cannot afford to bring in designers that are a liability so here's a list of deal breakers for most publishers.

Don't be that Contestant that...

1) Reacts poorly to feedback - We're willing to take on and train writers we see some mojo in. Running a 3PP is a risk, publishers are risk takers. Defending your choices professionally is fine, flaming out or reacting badly to feedback makes us question your maturity and your ability to handle criticism from an editor or a harsh reviewer. There is no bigger red flag than a thin skinned and fragile ego designer.

2) Lives in a puddle - I'm not taking about being shy, I'm talking about being unaware of opinions that differ from your own. I'm talking about living in a puddle and fighting any rival beta fish that enters your tiny puddle. You can always tell who these people are by how they react when they are called out for their behaviour. If your go to defensive move is to talk about how things work in your home game or within the confines of your limited experience then this is you, get out of you puddle and reach out and experience other game styles.

3) Casually offends people - This typically goes hand and hand with living in a puddle. I've seen some tone deaf statements about how 90% of the items this year suck... good luck selling your work to those 550+ people you just offended. There's a difference between snark and being a total a-hole and usually the line is this, would you say that statement after it was revealed you were in the top 32 and you need people to vote for you? If the answer is no, don't be that contestant.

4) Breaks the gag order - While I was happy to compete I'd rather have not done so on the grounds that my competitors DQ'ed themselves by not following the gag order. I'll wear my top 32 tag with pride but it wasn't my desire to get it because the competition hamstrung themselves. It happens every year, resolve yourself next year that if you get the opportunity it will not be you. I'd still hire the person that makes this type of mistake but a lot of publishers are a lot less lose with the concept of NDAs then I am.

5) Bores us - Look at the end of the day you can be a lot of things and succeed but don't be boring. I'll hire someone that took a risk and whiffed a little on execution over someone who did something plain and safe like gloves that give a skill bonus...

6) Forgets the prize is a job - You win, you get a job. Want a job in game design? You have other tools to reach that goal even with Paizo. That also means don't argue with your potential future co-workers in a way that is going to make them not want to work with you which can literally be anyone you're competing with. Don't piss off the possible winner of Superstar Season 12 then have to work with them because you won Superstar season 16 and they got an editing job... It's too small an industry to create enemies.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Check out the Wardens of the Wild: A lorebook of elves Kickstarter

A massive game sourcebook expanding on elven PC options in any game you play, but specifically designed for Pathfinder and 5e Fantasy.

Hello Flying Pincushion Fans,

You might see a few familiar names in the stretch goal for this fun project from TPK Games. Consider contributing for exciting expanded content. Brian Berg has kickstarter experience and a very solid reputation, a glimpse behind the scenes tells me you're not going to want to miss this one.

Frank Gori
Flying Pincushion Games

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Questions about Class: the Alchemist

Welcome back readers! Here is another entry in our Questions about Class series, this time focusing on the alchemist. As you may (or may not) know, Flying Pincushion Games is about to release its next book, Into the Breach: The Alchemist.  So we thought it was a good time that I, Jeff Harris, sit down with fellow Pincushioneer Kiel Howell to talk about the class.

JH: First of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer these questions!

KH: Thank you for having me! It is a pleasure to be on this side of the questions!

JH: Can you give the readers a little about yourself and your role at The Flying Pincushion?

KH: Sure! I'm Kiel Howell, I typically go by theheadkase online (PSN too!). I've been contributing classes/archetypes/alternate classes/items/spells/feats/everything to The Flying Pincushion products since the first Into the Breach book (Into the Breach: The Summoner, stay tuned to the website for updates on that book). I hesitate to call myself senior staff, because I don't really think like that and what we do at Flying Pincushion is a super unique and collaborative environment.
JH: So what exactly is an alchemist? Isn’t he traditionally just some guy that turns lead into gold, and hunts after the philosopher's stone?  

KH: That is a common trope of alchemists, making gold from any other less expensive materials and searching for how to make/find the philosopher's stone. That stone, by the way, has its own branch of tropes that are varied and worth looking into! I won't get into it here, but it is not always about life everlasting with the philosopher's stone.
Alchemist's are so much more than just money-making, long life searching, amoral scientists. Their powers and mindsets are varied depending on which world or even genre you are in. Some are straight potion makers, some are scientist/wizards that replicate magic, some are volatile chemical makers. Still others are poisoners, people resurrecting lost arts, herb sellers, and tinkerers. There are quite a few versions of alchemists across the planes of literature/film that it is really hard to peg down one "supposed to be" description. Heck, in the show Full Metal Alchemist, they bend the natural world to whatever shape/composition they want with equal exchange, with surprisingly little focus on turning every day dirt into gold.

JH: Do you think that the Pathfinder version of the Alchemist, bombs and all, still fits with the model that is put forth in traditional fantasy and medieval history?

KH: Medieval history is so hard to accurately represent and still make it fun. An alchemist in the Dark Ages would literally have been a person who was more likely to be a swindler than any real sort scientist or magician. Often, what we would refer to as an alchemist from that time would really be more akin to an apothecary, if they were a good one. The Pathfinder Alchemist can indeed fulfill this role, but again, I'm not so sure it would be super fun to only make medicines that are dubiously effective or to build a character who makes small amounts of coin selling snake oil (if the GM even has NPC's you can sell to).
As far as traditional fantasy goes, with the wide ranging types of alchemists there are, I would say yes, Pathfinder does a pretty excellent job representing the tropes. Especially with archetypes and Discoveries. My personal favourite, though, would be in our upcoming release Into the Breach: The Alchemist. Mark Nordheim put together the Academician archetype, and without giving too much away, I'm super excited for the Insightogen and trapping abilities he wrote.

JH: Do you think that an Alchemist is still a viable character, and still serving his role if he does not have bombs?  There are several archetypes that replaces bombs, do these still fall into the realm of an Alchemist as you see them?

KH: Bombs are fun. Especially with some of the Discoveries (dispelling bomb, precise bomb, and stink bomb) they are a supportive force to be reckoned with. I think that is the true power of the Alchemist class, support. There are builds for tanky mutagen based alchemists and bomb chuckers, but there's some powerful support options with the infuse and combine discoveries (and the discoveries we have in our book) for a group to really benefit from. Archetypes that give up bombs for more support focus tickle my fancy and I absolutely play that kind of character far more than the mad bomber.

JH: How do you feel about the extracts class feature, as they are “spells” that are not really spells, do they make sense to you, or does it stretch immersion when the magic but not magic issue arises?

KH: Speaking earlier about the wide range of "what an alchemist is" in literature/film, it doesn't break immersion for me nor the tables I've ran. It is definitely one of the lesser chosen classes I've seen but those that have brought characters have typically had a blast (with or without bombs) with those characters and it is, to some degree, because of extracts. The alchemist gets up to 6th level spells in extracts, can learn new formulae from a wizard's spellbook, and they are an intensely personal creation for the alchemist as can be seen by the fact they are made by using a part of one's own magical aura and become inert if they leave the alchemist's hands. There are discoveries that allow you to share extracts with teammates, and true strike is a 1st level formula. That's a personal favorite combo of mine.
But, the extracts are not spells, and thus can't be used to qualify for magic item crafting. This is a whole can of worms that I won't tackle here, because this facet of extracts DOES bring me out of immersion. An alchemist in Pathfinder is set up to be an item crafting genius, they create extracts by using bits of their own magical aura, but those extracts can't be used to make wands, armors, rings, weapons, or insert-favorite-magic-item-type-here. I can see the side that Paizo wants to represent, that they aren't magic spells and thus can't be used as magic spells, but I still want to have my cake and eat it too!

JH:Do you think that poison and poison use is a reasonable class feature for all Alchemists to gain, even if they are of a good alignment, as traditionally poison is not a tool of the righteous?

KH: This is a very good point to bring up, but I won't be getting into my views on what Alignment constitutes. I do believe poison use is a great class feature for the alchemist as it makes the most sense as a class to put it with them. A good character can choose not to use poisons, and while I understand that you basically are wasting a class feature slot, there are also plenty of archetypes that do away with poisons as a class feature. There are interesting character concepts to play as well that are both good and poisoners. I have one long running character (e.g. hasn't died in 10 levels!) who is NG aligned by the name of Mardruth. Mardruth's family was killed by raiders led by the story's antagonist (before becoming the BBEG of course). Mardruth has a dagger coated with various poisons that he re-applies on a consistent basis which he plans to use on the antagonist...the very same poisons used to kill the different members of his family.
So, while it may not be traditionally called righteous to poison...history is written by the victors :)

JH: If there was one new ability you could give to the Alchemist, what would it be and why?.

KH: (Shameless plug) Oh geez, it would have to be Edward Elric's ability to transmute objects without a transmutation circle, which I've tried to represent in the Natural Transmuter archetype in the upcoming book. There's so many possibilities and character fluff that kind of ability can provide. I just want to be able to idly transmute toys as a teenager while sitting around a campfire with grizzled adventurers.
JH:Paizo has provided the Alchemist a way to share extracts, ala the infusion discovery, do you think that mutagens should have a similar ability?

KH: I'm a big fan of the infusion discovery. Mutagens, on the surface, make sense to allow it to be shared with companions. Looking at it a little further though, it makes far more sense to not allow it to be shareable. The classic image of a mutagen can arguably be derived from Robert Louis Stevenson's book, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Drinking a potion that morphs one's self into a physical different person (which in this case is a terrible person) is exactly what a mutagen does. Enhancing and changing physical characteristics while also penalizing or changing mental characteristics. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde doesn't exactly explore the possibility, but it certainly makes sense that the mutagen (or serum in the book) was made to interact specifically with Jekyll's body composition. Unless another party had his exact physiological makeup, that party would probably die or become seriously ill if imbibing the mutagen (or serum). Keeping in line with that, the alchemist in Pathfinder makes the mutagen with his own magical essence and tailors the ingredients to his own body chemistry. He wouldn't be able to share his mutagen, but perhaps someday there will be an archetype that creates mutagens specifically for his teammates (why didn't we think of that?!)
I do believe the Botanist from our upcoming book allows the character to use the mutagen on the plant companion, but that isn't exactly sharing with other team members and is a special case.

JH: Discoveries, are there too many, not enough, and what sort of new discoveries would you want to see if you had your way?

KH: Discoveries are the lynch-pin to alchemist abilities, so there can never be enough! They really do allow for almost any type of character to be made and be different from any other alchemist around.
The kinds of discoveries I'd like to see would focus more on healing (which we have in this book!), necromancy, and magic item crafting.

JH: In your opinion, how well do you see the Alchemist stacking up against full spellcasting classes such as the wizard, sorcerer, oracle, and cleric?  Are they on par, or do bombs and poison in your opinion still fall short of qualifying the Alchemist as a true “blaster.”

KH: I'm a little biased against spellcasters, so take this with a grain of salt. In a pure numbers game, full spellcasters will always win. Period. A level 20 wizard will always have metamagic feats and a huge array of spells that can literally erase you from existence. Alchemists only get access to 6th level spells and bombs, while great, are more supportive and situational. So in that sense, no a garden variety Alchemist will never be a true "blaster" compared to a garden variety wizard.

But, with discoveries and the Alchemist's ability to force the corner cases with his status effect bombs, that's a different story. Precise, stink bombs are extremely useful and can shut down casters and melee attackers alike. Mix together feats that allow 2 bombs to be thrown in a round, and the alchemist can stink and dispel bomb the heck out of a full caster. It really comes down to how creative the player wants to be with their alchemist.

JH:It could be said that the Alchemist is an equipment dependent class, and they inherently have the ability to craft a number of unique alchemical items with greater speed and skill than those who simply have the Craft (alchemy) skill, do you feel this is an undervalued, overvalued, or a balanced ability?

KH: I wouldn't say the Alchemist is any more equipment dependent than a fighter or barbarian, and certainly not more than a Monk. Pathfinder is a magical equipment heavy game. As far as the value of quickly crafting, I think it is balanced from a development perspective—at least with respect to current crafting rules—but it is undervalued from a player/GM perspective. Without getting spoilery, I was playing a certain famous adventure path from Paizo. In the particular session, the party wizard couldn't make it to the game. There's a puzzle requiring all different schools of magic, and my alchemist was able to use his extracts to solve it. It really does depend on how outside the box the player/GM can think.

JH: Have you ever had to ban or have you seen the class banned at a table?

KH: I haven't banned it, but I ran a lot of Core Rulebook only games in the past which excluded the class. I've read stories on Paizo's forums of folks banning certain archetypes or nerfing the stink bomb discovery...but no outright bans on the base class itself.

JH: What is your advice for building a successful Alchemist?

KH: Go crazy and be inventive, just like the spirit of the class. My favourite character I've ever played was a Gnome Alchemist who specialized in Dirty Tricks. He would shrink himself to Tiny sized, carry a bag of iron spikes and a regular hammer, drink a true strike extract, and go around nailing people's shoes to the floor. It was so much fun and still was helpful to the team. That's the other bit of advice, Alchemists are inherently supportive, don't be afraid to exploit that trait.

JH: Thank you for taking the time to have this chat, Kiel!

KH: Thank YOU for the wonderful questions, and don't forget readers, check out Into the Breach: The Alchemist when it is available!