Guns of Tarnation

I’m running a major membership drive to the Rogue Genius Games Facebook page. I challenged folks that if we got to 600 likes (from 540) by Nov 1, I’d make a pdf free forever, and post a 600-or-so word microsetting.
It took all of two days for us to pass 600, and we’re now at more than 650. If we hit 700 by Nov 1, I’ll do another free pdf and a 700-or-so-word microsetting.
For those of you not on Facebook, here is the (slightly more than) 600-word Microsetting: Guns of Tarnation!
Guns of Tarnation
A microsetting (for now, anyway) for the Pathfinder RPG rules. This is designed as a Magic Old West, so that’s how the GM should run the campaign. Winchesters & Runeblades. Magnificent Seven Wizards. The Lone 5th Level Ranger. You get the idea.
As The Duke, lord of Cattle Barons, opens up the Gateway to the West all types of adventurers -Spellpokes, Swordslingers, Native Folk, Tenderpriests, Drovers, Riflebearers, and Snake Oil Salesmen – must try to carve out settlements from Tarnation, the land of fertile plains and grasslands where no civilized folk every lived before. But given the Weirdnesses found there, newcomers often declare:
“What in TARNATION!?”
*The campaign uses the Guns Everywhere rules for firearms. This means firearms are simple weapons.
>>If a character has simple weapon proficiency and would also receive any firearm proficiency as a class feature, it instead gains weapon mastery (as the fighter class feature) with the same firearms.
*There is no multiclassing. It’s a simple world, with simple roles. Besides with the Advanced Class Guide and all the Talented Classes from rogue Genius games, you’ll manage just fine.
*Ability scores are point-buy. Fighters and rogues get 27 points. Gunslingers get 25. Paladins and summoners get 21. Everyone else gets 23.
*There is no alignment. All alignment restrictions are removed, no alignment is detected. However, chaos, evil, good, and law remain as descriptors for spells and subtypes for monsters.
*There are “hats.” Everyone must select if their character is a White Hat, Black Hat, or Brown Hat. While PCs are free to act however they like, the GM should have 90% of White Hats be good guys, 90% of Black Hats be bad guys, and 90% of everything else be Brown Hats.
>>Treat White Hats as good and lawful for purposes of how they are affected by spells that specifically affect a good or evil creature differently than other creatures. This has no impact on the character’s behavior, and is not revealed by divinations.
>>Black Hats follow the same rules, but for chaotic and evil.
>>Brown Hats follow the same rules, but for neutral.
*For abilities like ranger favorite enemies and the bane feature, there are only the following categories: ANASAZI (all outsiders), CRITTERS (animals, magical beasts, and vermin), FOLKS (all humanoids, but pick a hat color each time it is selected), CREATURES of TARNATION (aberrations, constructs, dragons, oozes, and undead), and ROUGH TERRAIN (elementals, fey, and plants).
*Every character gains Plot Immunity Armor. This acts as an armor bonus to AC, but represents attacks just not hitting you because you are the hero. It does not stack with normal armor bonuses. Your Plot Immunity Armor is equal to your class level, +1 for each form of armor proficiency (light, medium, heavy, shields, tower shields) you have
*The campaign is designed to run from 2nd to 6th level. You can stop playing at 6th, or use some variant of the E6 rules commonly available.
*There is no required wealth by level. You may never get any treasure at all. Play for the fun of playing. That said, to keep you balanced with creatures of your CR, you do gain “legend,” special bonuses for being the strong-jawed heroes of the setting:
>>At 2nd level, you gain either a +1 enhancement bonus to all weapon/unarmed/natural attacks, or two bonus feats you meet the prerequisites for.
>>At 3rd level you gain a +1 resistance bonus to all saves and a +1 to one ability score of your choice. (This is in addition to the ability score increase you’ll get at 4th, like normal).
>>At 4th level you gain a +1 deflection bonus to AC.
>>5th level is the same as 3rd level. If you already had an enhancement bonus and you select it again, you either end up with a +2 enhancement bonus or you add a +1 special weapon quality that applies to all attacks it can be applied to.
>>6th level is the same as 3rd level. You can increase the same ability score, or a different one.

Birthday Plans… or lack thereof

Tuesday, October 28th, is my birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
It’s not a major landmark birthday. But it is the first birthday in a long, long time where I will be away from my home town and most of my family. My birthday was generally a fairly big celebration in Norman, with the past few years focusing on “Gab ‘n Dab” events where we gathered as geeks, painted miniatures of not as we each preferred, ate Doritos and drank Mountain Dew, and enjoyed a sideboard of cakes and party foods provided by my lovely wife and anyone else who wanted to bring such things.
That’s “normal” for me, and it’s unlike to happen this year.
I have no space for such an event, for one thing. And I’m still feeling my way along socially. Those social events I have been invited to since moving, all too often I haven’t been able to attend. I haven’t really tried arranging any myself. My circle of “close” friends out here is pretty small, but my circle of friendly acquaintances is huge. I’m not sure what’s going on in the middle range between those two.
So purely practical considerations blend with social uncertainty and get the schedule I am trying to maintain poured on top… and I don’t know what, if anything, I’m planning on doing about celebrating my birthday. Under the old paradigm that would be pinned down and on everyone’s calendars by now.
I may just throw open a general announcement that I’ll be at the AKF, and enjoy whatever time I have with whoever shows up. :)

from the mists emerges… a Dracomancer!

In 2009 the Genius Guide to the Dragonrider was released, the first in the very long and popular line of Pathfinder-compatible pdfs. The book offered rules for dragon steeds that included all the chromatic and metallic dragons and it was suggested that another class, the spellcasting Dracomancer, would soon follow.
The Genius Guide to the Dracomancer is now FINALLY available and DriveThruRPG!

(Better late than never!)

The Dracomancer is a new base class, designed for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It is a spontaneous arcane spellcasting class that draws upon the themes and abilities of dragons, and has a draconic companion that acts as guard, ally, and advisor. Dracomancers are similar to sorcerers in that they have a deep connection to a source of magic power, but in the case of the dracomancer the power source is the mystic energy all dragons draw upon rather than the mystic inheritance of an inhuman bloodline.

Additionally since the stats for draconic companions and dragon steeds (from the Genius Guide to the Dragonrider) are interchangeable , the nearly 30 draconic companions presented in The Genius Guide to the Dracomancer can be used as new steeds for the dragonrider, expanding dragon steed options to include all the imperial, outer, and primal dragons!GG to the Dracomancer Cover

This Week: The Talented Ranger

Coming This Week!
More than 22,000 words of edges, talents, tricks, traps, and tracking.
Find out what a ranger can REALLY do!

GG to the Talented Ranger Cover

Gen Con Schedule!

I’m being flown out to Gen Con by Paizo, so I’ll be working the show for them this year. My first company-funded GC trip since 2000!
Here’s my schedule for those who want to find me.

I don’t get into town until 3:30 or so, assuming the plane arrives on-schedule. I’ll likely get to my hotel (the Omni) by 4:30-5. I’ll need to eat dinner somewhere, then I have an off-the-grid event that evening starting around 9pm. I won’t be staying up super late though because…

I’m in the Sagamore Ballroom to assist with Pathfinder Society Events! I’ll be here until a little after 10am.
I’m in the Pathfinder 101 Seminar! Learn the backstory of the Pathfinder RPG, Golarion, and it’s iconic characters. At ICC: 231
Back at the Sagamore Ballroom
Seminar, Adventure Design 101. We’ll talk about plotting, encounter creation and balance, mapping, and more! Also At ICC: 231
I mysteriously disappear for the night! Awoooooooooo!

Helping with pathfinder Society in the Sagamore Ballroom!
Seminar, Be The Next RPG Superstar! We’ll give first-timers and veterans tips for submitting successful entries in next year’s contest. At ICC: 231
Green Ronin has a seminar (which I likely won’t be around for) on Pathfinder and Green Ronin, at Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn A. Go see what Chris Pramas has up his sleeve!
Meanwhile, I’ll be at the Sagamore Ballroom!
I’ll be at the ENnies, starting with the Cocktail reception. I’m an “ENnie Dream Date” for Alyssa Faden, so come hang out with us!

Once again, Pathfinder Society in the Sagamore Ballroom!
Seminar: Emerald Spire All-Stars! Join a jaw-dropping panel of the game design superstars behind the Emerald Spire Superdungeon, followed by a Q&A and signing. At ICC: 231
I may have a brief window to say hi to folks from 6:30-8pm or so, before I disappear again. ☺

Pathfinder Society in Sagamore all day, except for a break for lunch from noon to 1:30. Phew!

I don’t fly out until 5pm, so if people still want to see me and are sticking around for a bit, I’ll be there!

Shadow Warrior

In late 2009 I wrote The Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin for Super Genius Games. It was one of SGG’s earliest Pathfinder-compatible products, and we even took the unusual (for us) step of ordering custom interior art for it. It was a huge hit, and remains one of our most-reviewed and best-selling products. Given its great success I decided a follow-up product, The Genius Guide to the Shadow Warrior, was in order. While the shadow assassin was a stealthy killer inspired by tales of mystic ninja and darkness-manipulating sneaks, the shadow warrior was to be a more direct killer, a combatant steeped in the power of shadow, darkness, and stealth. Much as a ranger is a fighter with connections to nature, the shadow warrior was conceived as a fighter with connections to shadow.
But the original design had some issues in playtesting. And then some other products came along that needed more attention.
And then 3 and a half years passed.
I have keep working on the design – tweaking special powers, rewriting troubling sections, sending it back out to playtesters for more feedback. I became a better game designer, so it became a better product, but it always needed at least one more big push to be done. As months slipped away, its priority keep being reduced. I mean if I hadn’t gotten to it in a year, surely 2 years was fine. Or 3. Or…
So last November I was bought out from Super Genius Games, but I got to take nearly all my Pathfinder-compatible design work with me. As I went through old files, I got excited about the shadow warrior again. I went back to work. i was going to have it out by the end of 2013!

Then, I got offered a position as the Pathfinder developer for Green Ronin.
I go back a long way with Green Ronin. They gave me a lot of my early freelancer breaks. Plus I am a huge fan of their setting and rule material, and getting to work on their coming back to d20 gaming was more than I could pass up. I accepted, got to work on the Pathfinder book for Freeport and the new Advanced Bestiary, and figured while the workload was going to delay things, I’d have the shadow warrior out by Spring of 2014!

Then, I got a job offer from Paizo.
I’m not complaining. I’m thrilled to be working for Paizo, even though it’s meant not pushing my own company, Rogue Genius Games, as consistently. Paizo has some of the greatest game and adventure designers in the world, and I am honored to have been included in their number.
But it did mean packing up my entire household, moving halfway across a continent, and settling in to an office schedule again (after 14 years of setting my won work hours as a full-time freelancer).
And I was (and am) still working for Green Ronin.
So Spring of 2014 came and went, and Summer, hit, and I finally got settled enough to make that last push.
So now, quick before Gen Con, I’m taking the last few steps to get the shadow warrior out into the world. Finally. More than 4 years after I originally planned it.
So far, it looks like it’ll have been worth the wait.
GG to the Shadow Warrior Cover

Father, good & bad

My father died in 1996, but that was just the physical culmination of decades of slow suicide. My father drank himself to death, starting before I was even born, but escalating into high gear when I hit my teens, right about the time my sister went off to college. As he had to focus more and more energy on drinking, and managing to hold down a job while drinking, he had less and less of himself to use for anything else. When he was a child, he was a boy scout. By the time I was walking, he didn’t want to be anywhere wilder than a restaurant’s outdoor seating. Growing up I remember him throwing pizza parties for his university students. By the time I could cook, he claimed to be unable to understand how ovens worked. He earned numerous commendations and awards early in his career as an economist. In his last years, the university let him take early retirement out of pity since he hadn’t written anything in a decade, and could no longer face grading papers or talking to students.

My father taught me to play checkers, then chess, then go just as soon as I could move the pieces. Then he took me with him to the local bar, and watched over me as I played with other alcoholics in late summer evenings, after my mother had gone to bed. It was the only way I got much time with him, at that point. By the time I had to learn to shave, he was either unwilling or unable to teach me. My friend Marc Curlee did, instead.
He pulled pranks in college, and once tried to build the world’s largest hookah. By the time I came along, his need for solitude was so great my family literally had to add an addition on to the back of our house, so he’d be far enough away from my bedroom and able to have a space of his own even away from his wife, my mother. He taught me a lot about honor and honestly, but broke many vows and promises. He taught me to value work and savings, but hated his job and wanted to splurge money on luxuries he couldn’t possibly afford. He was an economics professor who loved gambling, though thankfully never to excess.
My father and mother made plans to take my wife and me out for dinner on our first wedding anniversary. My mother had to call me and tell me she was going to do it alone, because my father had moved out of the house weeks earlier, and the night of my anniversary he was so drunk he couldn’t stand or answer his own phone.
Somewhat later, through sheer willpower, he was sober for 6 months solid because someone at a treatment center told him he was an alcoholic, and it was impossible for him to go 6 months without a drink. Right after hitting the 6 month mark, he drank himself into such a stupor he fell and bloodied his head on his apartment wall. But he’d gone the 6 months, so clearly he didn’t have a problem.

A few weeks before he died, I sat in his living room, and told him if he didn’t get help and stop drinking, he’d die. He told me he knew. I gave up. Of course after that when he ended up in the hospital and the doctor told him he was dying, my father indignantly replied “No I’m not!”
He was.
I loved my father very much. I love him still. But I have come to realize that his greatest service to me is as a bad example. Many of my failings – my dislike of being told what to do, my craving for a lifestyle I haven’t earned, my fear of the unknown or uncomfortable, my hated of asking for help, my fear of failure – are very much like my father. And I saw what giving in to those less noble traits did to him. So I fight mine. Not always very well, and not without failures and setbacks. But I fight them. Because I have seen what the alternative is.
I have never been sure what first cracked my father, but I saw how his method of dealing with it shattered him. All I can do is try to learn from his failings.
I know my father loved me. I hope he is at peace now. Despite everything, I deeply honor the good he did for me, the care he gave me, and the fact he did his best to protect me, and teach me.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Comicpalooza Schedule!

Heya folks! Next weekend I’ll be at comicpalooza in Houston. Here’s what my schedule currently looks like:

Friday 2pm-3pm Panel: Writing and Designing for RPGs in room 310 A
Friday 6pm-8pm Staff and Guest Mixer in the Hilton

Saturday 12pm-1pm Panel: How to Make Games Your Sole Source of Income in room 370 A
Saturday 2pm-3pm Panel: The Business of Games in room 370 B
Saturday 8pm-?? I’ll be mysteriously missing

Sunday 2pm-3pm Panel: Monster Design 101 in room 372 C
Sunday 3pm-4pm Panel: Networking in the Gaming Industry in room 372 C
Sunday 5pm-6pm Panel: Ask Owen K.C. Stephens Anything in room 370 E

Monday 2pm-3pm Panel: Encounter Design 101 in room 360 B

For more info on Comicpalooza (and the AMAZING list of guests!) check out

Happy DM’s Day!

My mother is an awesome geek, a fan of science fiction and real space exploration and fantasy of multiple descriptions, and to some extent boardgames — but not RPGs. They’re ust not her cup of tea, and that’s fine.
But when I was a pre-teen, and hooked on D&D, and no local group would take me in due to my age? She ran a game for me and a few friends, every Sunday, for about 2 years.
She ran us through scenarios from history, 1001 Nights, a lot of Excalibur myths, and plots from books she was reading at the time. We were 11 and 12, and she exposed us to political campaigns, romantic plotlines, the law of unintended consequences, exploration, mystery, and research games, and only rarely a dungeon crawl. Often, the answer to some vexing in-game puzzle required us to research some real-world bit of logic or history.
When we found another DM, she happily (and I think with relief) turned us over and never looked back. But she still has the “Dungeon Mistress” button I bought her at a Con a few years alter, and though she doesn’t *wear* it, she likes having it.
I grew up in central Oklahoma. I had a lot of friends who were forbidden by their parents from playing D&D. My mother instead ran a game for us, sat and talked with anyone we were playing with so she had an idea what kind of person they were, and encouraged us to have most games at her house (often in her garage) so she knew who I was with, and what I was doing.
So, Happy Mother’s Day, to my first long-term DM!
Thanks, Mom.

New Job

I don’t normally copy Paizo press releases, but in this case I’ll make an exception.
REDMOND, WA (April 3, 2014): Paizo Inc., publisher of the world’s best-selling Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as well as novels, game accessories, board games, and the wildly popular Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, is pleased to welcome the addition of Developer Owen K.C. Stephens to the Paizo design team.
A lifelong gamer, Owen K.C. Stephens began writing articles for Dragon Magazine in 1990, in the hopes of making enough money to pay for his RPG habit. In the decades since, his career has included work for Adventure-A-Week, Green Ronin, Steve Jackson Games, Super Genius Games, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, and Paizo. Stephens will join Paizo to helm the development of the quarterly, 64-page Pathfinder Module line, working with both established Pathfinder authors and RPG Superstar winners.
Says Paizo Editor-in-Chief F. Wesley Schneider, “Owen’s been helping us build adventures, settings, and rules for the Pathfinder RPG since its earliest days—you’d be hard pressed to find a single author who’s worked on more Pathfinder-related projects. Now that the stars have aligned for all of us, we couldn’t be more excited to have him lending his expertise to the everyday work of making Pathfinder even more awesome!”
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is the world’s best-selling tabletop RPG, in which players take on the role of brave adventurers fighting to survive in a world beset by magic and evil. The Pathfinder RPG is currently translated into multiple languages, and the vibrant Pathfinder universe has been licensed for comic book series, graphic novels, miniatures, plush toys, apparel, and is being developed into a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.


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