Backgrounds for Sorcerers & Speakeasies

Okay… so maybe I now AM working on a Sorcerers and Speakeasies 5e supplement. Mostly, I’m having someone else work on it right now, while I just offer outlines and notes. But since it’s on my mind, and I need content for my blog anyway, here are some more thoughts.

Given that 5e is a robust, flexible, well-supported game system we need to ask ourselves: what do characters really need to fit in to our 1920s setting? Equipment, obviously. Since we are sticking with the normal species there’s no need for change there. We’ll make adjustments to the classes, but only as needed. Maybe a few spells to augment the feel of the setting (Tannison’s Terrible Tommygun, anyone?) But there’s actually not a ton of hard rules changes needed.

That brings us to backgrounds.

Many of the backgrounds in 5e conceptually work fine for our 1920s “Djinn and Tonic” campaign. We’d need to update available equipment, including for each background, but we can do that easily (once we have an equipment list… so this is something I have an excellent freelancer working on right now). Similarly we’d want a conversation about languages (do we have all the 5e languages and all the real-world languages? Do we decide German is elven, so Netherlandic is drow, West Scandinavian is old fae, and so on?), but once that’s settled languages are easy. The personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws generally work fine (I think we can trust players to update any anachronistic terms to 1920s-appropriate equivalents).

Beyond that, looking at the PHB, Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Sage, Sailor, and Urchin all work pretty well as-is. Some context might be worth adding, but each of those backgrounds can easily be adapted to Sorcerers & Speakeasies with a small entry that gives an update to equipment and maybe proficiencies, and a short description of any conceptual tweaks that need to be mentioned.

We might want to do just a bit more work for Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, and Outlander. The core of those work fine, but the details might need a tad more adjustment. Luckily, the concept of Variant backgrounds can handle that just fine. Local Favorite is an easy variant for Folk Hero, Union Member for Guild Artisan, Dedicated Academic for Hermit, Upper Class Scion for Noble, and possibly WWI Veteran for Outlander.

It could be worth doing a few more variant for the backgrounds that already work well too, just for specific flavor. Gambler is an easy variant for Charlatan, Gangster for Criminal, Scientist for Sage, and so on.

Now that doesn’t mean we may not want to add some new backgrounds as well. Journalist comes to mind as a common 1920s trope worth supporting on its own, and maybe Masked Vigilante if we want specific support for it. Copper, Detective, Driver, Engineer, Pilot, Smuggler, Rum-Runner… there’s tons of fun stuff we can do if we want to. In each case we should ask if it needs it’s own background (if we do Smuggler, Rum-Runner is a pretty obvious variant–same with Copper and Detective or Diver and Pilot). Dilettante could be a variant of Noble, but maybe Dandy/Flapper deserves its own? We can touch on things like Made a Deal at the Crossroads (if we don’t borrow the idea for the Warlock), or Blasted By Lovecraftian Horror if we want to support more mystic backgrounds in keeping with our magic-and-machines.

We don’t want to get TOO specific. I suspect we want Archaeologists as a form of Sage or Hermit, and Banker/Grocer/Typewriter Repair Man are likely just suggestions for some kind of Crafter or the Guild Artisan. We should think hard about whether Spy, Photographer, Athlete/Sports Star, Student, and the dozen more than come to mind are really worth having their own entries at all, but certainly some will.

A LOT of character flavor can come from backgrounds, so we’d want to think about if we want to make any variants just for that reason.

For example, look at the Entertainer background. It has 10 Entertainer Routines listed. There’s nothing wrong with being an actor, dancer, or juggler, but “jester” doesn’t speak to the 1920s. Let’s look at what a revised table might look like.

Entertainer Routines

Pick 1-3 routines, or roll a d10 to pick them randomly.

  1. Stage actor
  2. Dancer
  3. Carnival barker
  4. Clown
  5. Juggler
  6. Jazz instrumentalist
  7. Big Band instrumentalist
  8. Singer
  9. Radio actor
  10. Ventriloquist

That doesn’t change the game rules at all, but it does feel very much more grounded in the culture of the Roaring 20s.

This also means a Backgrounds chapter of a Sorcerers and Speakeasies game could contain a lot of flavor without loading down players or the GM with a lot of specialized rules. If we want to sneak in references to Adventurer’s Inc., Hexers, Grendels, and Taxi Heroes, we can put all that into Backgrounds just to help flesh out the world.

Speaking of helping:

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Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 8)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

Adding new options to a witchwarper is almost too easy — nearly anything can be justified as access to alternate realities. To keep things interesting, here we picked one way to gain bonus feats (and have access to a wider range of options that you can use at one time), and one way to use feats to define a different power that does things the feats normally don’t.

Paradigm Shifts

[2nd Level]

Alternity (Ex): Select three feats you meet the prerequisites for. These are abilities alternate versions of you, in alternate realities, have gained. Each day as a swift action you can select one of these feats to have for the remainder of the day. If you are 6th level or higher, you can expend a Resolve Point as a swift action to change which of these feats you have access to after you have made this choice.

At each new witchwarper level, you can change what three feats you have selected for this ability.

That’ll Leave A Mark (Su): Select a Critical feat (a feat that adds a critical hit option to an attack of yours), plus one additional Critical feat for every 5 witchwarper levels you have. You do not need to meet these feat’s normal prerequisites, but you must have a caster level equal to any base attack bonus they require. You do not benefit from the Critical feat, but as a reaction when an ally within 60 feet hits a foe with an attack, you can expend one use of your alternate outcome ability to add one of your critical hit feats to that attack (in addition to its normal critical hit effects, if the attack was a critical hit).

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Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 7)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

In addition to just giving a class access to bonus feats, and using the abilities of new feats to create new class options (as we did with the mystic support material), its possible to use new feats to define the powers of brand-new abilities. In 1st edition Pf, the cavalier and inquisitor classes are great examples of this, as both have powers that use teamwork feats in ways the feats alone don’t provide.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some new theorems for the biohacker!

Theorem

The following theorems follow the normal rules for biohacker theorems.

[2nd Level]

Heal Thyself: You gain the Self-Sufficient feat. Additionally when you use a skill, feat, or class feature to restore Hit Points or Stamina Points to yourself, you may take the points restored and divide them between your missing Hit Points and Stamina Points, even if the ability normally only restores one of those.

Multispectrum Booster: Select two feats from the following list: Acrobatic, Agile Maneuvers, Athletic, Deceitful, Deft Hands, Dodge, Endurance, Nimble Steps, Persuasive,  Stealthy. When you inject a creature with a basic booster, it gains both the normal booster benefit and your choice of the two feats you selected for the booster’s normal duration.

Alternatively you can expend a use of your booster ability to grant an injected creature both feats for a number of minutes equal to your key ability score bonus (minimum 1 minute).

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I was only able to pry away enough spare time to write up a whole mystic connection because of the support of my wonderful patrons! If you’d like to see more work like this, please consider supporting my Patreon for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee each month.

 

Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 6)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

With the mystic, we added a new channel energy alternate connection power, which allows any mystic to access the long list of channel feats we created. But we can go even farther, creating a whole channeler connection that has a slew pf powers that, rather than just hand out those feats, gives access to the concepts and powers we created for those feats (and works with those feats if the player wants to delve even deeper into channeling), and works on its own to introduce those concepts into a character concept without needing feats to do so.

Channeler Connection

You are linked to a mystic energy that flows through the planes. This energy is the medium through which holy and unholy effects flow, the divine and fiendish waveforms that can impact creatures of different kinds based on the frequency it is attuned to. You can access an increasing width of those frequencies, learning to manipulate the energy in more ways.

Associated Deities: Gods of energy, healing, light, science, and suns.
Associated Skills: Medicine and Physical Science.
Spells: 1st wisp ally, 2nd force blast, 3rd divine aspect, 4th enervation, 5th call cosmos, 6th control gravity.

Channeler Connection Special Powers

Channel Energy [1st Level] At 1st level you gain the channel energy alternate connection power.

Expanded Energy [3rd Level] At 3rd level you can select a 2nd choice of channel from the channel energy power. You can cause either effect when you channel energy, or can expend a mystic Spell slot of the highest level you can cast to create both effects at the same time.

Reserve Energy [6th level] At 6th level you can channel energy once without spending a Resolve Point to do so. Once you have used this ability, you cannot do so again until after you recover Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.

Focus Energy (Su) [9th] Before you roll an attack roll, as part of the same action you can choose to expend your channel energy to add its effect to the attack as bonus damage that only applies to one type of foe you can harm with your channel energy. The damage applies to any appropriate foe hit by the attack. This does not apply to any attack that does not require an attack roll (though it does apply to area attacks that also require attack rolls, such as most grenades). Affected foes can attempt a Will save to reduce this bonus damage by half, at your usual connection power DC.

Greater Expanded Energy (Su) [12th Level] At 12th level you can select a 3rd choice of channel from the channel energy power. You can cause any of these three effects when you channel energy, or can expend a mystic Spell slot of the highest level you can cast to create all three effects at the same time.

Turning Energy (Su) [15th Level] When you use your channel energy to harm a type of creature, those creatures that fail their saving throw are also flat-footed, off-target, and staggered for a number of rounds equal to 1/3 your mystic level.

Ultimate Channel (Su) [18th Level] Each day when you regain your spells you may select once creature type or subtype. when you channel energy, you may choose to harm creatures of this type or subtype in addition to any other effect of your channel.

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Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 5)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

The core thing we are trying to do is make it easier for characters to access the additional feats appropriate to their character concept without that being the only thing those characters can do. Essentially an additional 130 feats is a considerable “weight” of concepts that it can be difficult for a class to access a reasonable number of. Certainly giving classes new ways to gain these feats is one way to accommodate the additional weight of concept options on a character, but there are other options. You can, for example, take some of the new options you created with feats and build them into a class feature without accessing the feats directly. This works best with classes that don’t have a good class feature to use to hand out one feat, or a small collection of feats.\

Like the mystic.

Given all the healing channel options we added with feats, it begins to seem odd that healing connection mystics, and ONLY healing connection mystics, can access this vast array of new powers. But there’s a good way to fix that — an Alternate Class Feature. Alternate class features were added to Starfinder in the Character Operations Manual, so we have a precedent.

That brings us to the channel energy alternate connection power.

Channel Energy (Su) 1st Level

You can channel mystic energy. You can spend 1 Resolve Point to channel this energy. Having the channeled energy just affect yourself is a move action, while affecting one adjacent creature is a standard action, and affecting all appropriate creatures within 30 feet is a full action. This channeled energy’s effect starts at 2d8, and increases by 2d8 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.

Your channel energy qualifies as healing channel for prerequisites, and can be modified by feats and options that modify healing channel.

You can choose one of the following channel effects.

Alignment Harm: Select one of the following alignment subtypes: chaos, evil, good, law. Your alignment cannot include any aspect of the selected subtype. When you use your channel, you can expend a mystic Spell slot of the highest level you can cast to also deal damage equal to the amount you heal to all foes in the area with the selected subtype. The foes can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC.

Elemental Harm: Your channel energy deals damage equal to its effect to elemental foes (including all creatures of the elemental type) targeted. The elementals can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC.

Harm Undead: Your channel energy deals damage equal to its effect to undead foes (including all creatures of the undead type) targeted. The undead can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC. This qualifies as the Harm Undead feat for other prerequisites, and things that modify Harm Undead can modify this ability.

Healing: The channeled energy heals all targeted allies a number of Hit Points equal to its effect.

Special: Any connection can take Channel Energy as a replacement for it’s 1st-level power. This is normally themed in a way appropriate to the connection (the crusader connection might well take alignment harm to smite its supernatural foes) or the character (even if the empath connection has no specific link to undead, a character taking it as the priest of a god that abhors undead might well replace it’s first level power with the harm undead alternate connection power).

Of course just because something can be an alternate power of other connections doesn’t mean it can’t also be the core of it’s own connection, which we’ll explore tomorrow.

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Writing When Depressed

While I am personally a creative who suffers from mental health issues that include depression, and I know a lot of friends and colleagues who fall into that category, I don’t have scientifically valid statistics to prove that RPG creatives are often people struggling with depression. And that doesn’t really matter, because even if the numbers aren’t higher than for the baseline population, it still means that there are at least a few of us out there. I might just be talking to a tiny group today, but it’s something I am passionate about.

How do you write, draw, create, make things that are supposed to be fun for other people, when you are depressed? And I don’t mean down a bit because your favorite series ended or you can’t get that soda you like in your hometown anymore. I mean clinical depression, which can include loss of executive function, true hopelessness, sleep disruptions, and even thoughts of suicide.

I’ve talked before about how I get through my most serious depressions, but there’s one thing I haven’t touched on, or at least haven’t often enough.

Sometimes? You can’t. And that has to be okay.

Just as it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to run when your leg is broken, it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to create when your brain is broken.

If you are too far down the hole to reach any of your creative tools, please let that be, and instead seek help. That can be professional help, self-care, reaching out to a support network — whatever you can do. I’m not qualified to give professional advice on these things, but there are resources out there to find help if you don’t already have some in place. If you aren’t in a place where you can bring yourself to care about yourself, see if you can consider taking care of yourself as a way to help the people around you–sometimes I can only manage any degree of self-care out of guilt. That’s far from perfect, but sometimes I have to take what I can.

But then there’s the gray zone. Where you can try to work, but it’s terribly difficult and slow and you think everything you do is bad and pointless. Again, you have to be kind to yourself when you are here, but maybe there are ways to get a little more done if you find the hacks your brain responded to.

So, here are the hacks I use. They may not work for you, but if you try different things, and record the results, maybe you can find things to help you when work is possible, but damnably difficult.

For me some of it is habit. More than 21 years of it, at this point. If I’m not actively doing anything else, my brain naturally wonders if there is work I can do. When the thing that needs to be done FIRST is more than I can handle (sadly the project that is most important to finish often triggers the most anxiety which triggers the worst depression symptoms), I hop to something else if my brain is less opposed to it. No, that doesn’t help me get the most crucial thing done on time, but down the line it’s better to have worked on something, rather than nothing.

Some is desperation. This is how I pay the bills. Holding my own feet to the fire hurts, but it can also break through apathy sometimes. I don;t recommend this one unless you have already noticed a tendency of reviewing your situation to help you prioritize and take action. But if that is a tendency of yours, then it may be worth seeing if it can apply to creating.

A ton of it is therapy. I have learned to make my writing work for me in my battle with my brain. Often, that doesn’t actually produce anything that gets a deadline checked off. but sometimes, if produces a blog post when I need one, or at least helps me build my social media presence. And if nothing else, writing is a perishable skill. Writing privately helps me maintain the habit and edge I need to write for others.

My wife, Lj, is a HUGE help. In fact I have a lot of support group, including my public contacts. When I tell folks I am hurting, I get a lot of positive messages. People from lifelong close friends to social media connections I have never met in person also give me a lot of great private venting opportunities.

And sometimes? Sometimes I just have to melt down and give up for a bit. But Lj can hold me when I collapse and wail in great wracking sobs. When I am an inconsolable mess for an hour or two, convinced I have done so much damage to my reputation and career, that I’ll never work again. When it seems like I’ll never hit another deadline, that no one should ever trust me to get anything professional done. And that whole time, Lj tells me it’ll all be okay, and eventually I believe her.

Often, I pass out in exhaustion after that. Sleep, or at least oblivion, claims me for anything from a few minutes to a few hours.

And then, sometimes, I can write again.

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Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 4)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

Since the core thing we are trying to do is make it easier for classes to access appropriate feats, since we’re adding more than 120 additional feats to the game, we don’t have to restrict that access to just new feats we created. If there are feats appropriate to a class from previous rulebooks, and a game-balanced way to give them to characters as selections for class features, that can have the same benefit as just focusing on our new feats.

We can also do more than just offer up bonus feats. As a class feature, we can give options to get feats you normally wouldn’t (such as allowing ranks in a skill to substitute for base attack bonus), as long as we don’t grant feats so early the end effect is unbalanced. We can also tie the feats to other class features, to reinforce a previous class concept.

Here are some examples (one mixing old and new feats, one focusing just on pre-existing feats) for the mechanic class.

Mechanic Tricks
These mechanic tricks follow the normal rules for the mechanic trick class feature.

[2nd Level]
You may select these mechanic tricks beginning at 2nd level.

Combat Interface
Select one of the following feats: Ambuscade, Ambush Awareness, Defensive Combat Training, Dodge, Manyshot, Nimble Steps, Power Attack, Precise Shot, Spirited Charge, or Unseat.
If you have a drone, it gains the selected feat. If you have both a drone and an exocortex, at the beginning of each day you decide which has the programmed combat interface, determining if you or your drone gain the bonus feat. Otherwise, you gain the selected feat.

You may select this mechanic hack more than once. Each time, you choose a different feat.

Combat Engineer
Select one of the following feats for which you meet the prerequisites. You can use your ranks in Engineering in place of base attack bonus to fulfill the prerequisites: Adaptive Upgrade, Amplified Glitch, Barricade, Cook Grenade, Double Tap, Far Shot, Grenade Mastery, Hauler, Penetrating Attack, Pull the Pin, Ricochet Grenade.

You may select this mechanic hack more than once. Each time, you choose a different feat.

So, should we cover the rest of the classes next week, or move on to a new topic? Let me know! One great way to do that is as a comment or message through my Patreon! Like all my blog posts, this content was only possible because people joined my Patreon, helping me have the free time to write these things. 🙂

Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 3)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

So let’s look at envoys.

Envoys are an interesting case because they don’t really try to fill a role that exists in PF. Yes, they are Charisma-based characters, and so are bards, but bards are so explicitly build as spellcasters with a single strong group area buff (bardic performance), with a strong secondary role as information sources. Envoys have no base spellcasting, and can be built with any of a wide variety of powers, only some of which are buff or information focused.

But they do clearly serve as diplomats and negotiators, and spies and field observers, 0so there’s room there for them to have an easier time picking up some of our new feats.

Envoy Improvisations

[2nd Level]

Entourage: Select Followers or Leadership. You gain the selected feat as a bonus feat.

This envoy improvisation can be taken a second time. When you do so, you gain the second feat.

Tricksy: Select Alertness or Deceitful. You gain the selected feat as a bonus feat.

This envoy improvisation can be taken a second time. When you do so, you gain the second feat.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 2)

So we’ve finished creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, and we’re spending this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

Technomancers already have spell hacks to help them manipulate their eldritch energies, so it’s easy to see how those might be turned toward adding some of the new feats that do the same.

Technomancer Magic Hacks

[2nd Level]

Eldritch Crafter: Select one of the following feats for which you meet the prerequisites. You gain this as a bonus feat. Brew Potion, Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Rod, Craft Staff, Craft Wand, Craft Wondrous Item, Forge Ring, Scribe Scroll.

This magic hack can be taken more than once. Each time, you select a different feat from the list.

Eldritch Finesse: Select one of the following feats for which you meet the prerequisites. You gain this as a bonus feat. Empower Spell, Enlarge Spell, Extend Spell, Heighten Spell, Maximize Spell, Quicken Spell, Silent Spell, Still Spell, Widen Spell.

This magic hack can be taken more than once. Each time, you select a different feat from the list.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Designing to Spec: Support Material (Part 1)

So now that we’re done creating Starfinder versions of all the Pf Core Rulebook feats that weren’t already in Starfinder, what’s next?

While you think about that (and tell me your thoughts!), let’s spend this week looking at things we may want to add to Starfinder, now that we’ve added such a huge load of feats.

These are going to be class features which are designed to help players who like many of the new wave of feats add them to their characters in some cases. this helps prevent Starfinder from being a game where everyone feels feat-poor as a result of the conversion work we have done.

First, let’s look at some soldier options. Soldiers already have a lot of feats and combat options, but they are also the class that is most likely to feel lacking if a player thinks there are now more feats than they can possible reasonably take (especially if those feats are important to a specific character concept).

Luckily, the soldier already has gear boosts, which are on-par power wise with feats, and we can use that as a way for a soldier to access even more of the new feats we created, or gain abilities that tie into them.

Soldier Gear Boosts

Shield Tactics [Ex] Select a feat that has proficiency with shields as a prerequisite, and for which you meet the prerequisites. You gain this as a bonus feat.

Twin Draw [Ex] When you draw or sheath weapons, you can draw or sheath one for every arm you have as part of the same action. If you have the Quick Draw feat, you can sheath a weapon and draw a new one (with each arm, if desired) as part of the same action.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!