Second Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part Two)

After the first Really Wild West: Doomstone game session After-Action Report, and its Part Two follow-up, numerous people indicated they were excited to keep learning about the campaign as I run it. So, it’s two weeks later, I’ve run another session, and adapted notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report.

We did Part One yesterday. Here’s Part two. If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

RWW Jerico Pistol

Still Day 4

After recuperating from the fight with monstrous Jerusalem Bugs, the PCs come to a fork in the road. One path leads to the Circle Axe Ranch, the other to the Vicious Hippogriff. There are five people on horses hanging out there, in the middle of the road.

  • When they get close enough, the PCs can see they are cowpokes, the one covered weapons and collar that covers his face, stopping the PCs. They won’t let the PCs pass. Nor will they tell us who they work for (just insisting it’s “the Ranch” without saying which one.)
  • The PCs move away to talk about our options. They glean some information about the cowpoke’s leader. -James “Burning Jack” Byrne,  a gun-for-hire. Wears fire-retardant gear and then covers himself in flammable material. Also, carries dynamite.
  • Burning Jack is clearly crazy.
  • PCs decide to go around, trusting their map and Brone Mallory the half-orc cartographmancer to get them through the badlands. T’ll come back later.

The map indicates that along the route to get to the Circle Axe while avoiding the trail there is–in the middle of nowhere, with no trail or nearby town or even apparent water sources–an inn the PCs can stay at called Tombspider Inn. Skill checks tell the PCs that a Tombspider is spider-based flesh golem construct with built in melee weapons for legs.

  • On the way there they find a ridge that has collapsed about  2 miles shorter than it should be accordign to the otherwise VERY recent and accurate map. Earthquake?

Tombspider Inn

The Inn is veru large and well-maintained… but tumbleweeds blow by right in front of it.

  • Kobold greets us at the door. Seems confused as to why we are here. Says he’s never actually had a customer. His name is Mr. Scrapgnaw.
  • Apparently, this inn was built so that people can fight “the Tombspider” when it returns. It’s been 110 years since the last appearance. Ulysses S. Abernathy was the last, and only, other name in the log book. This is the name of an engineer whose name is a brand of thingamabobs (UPBs) and who created the “phantom pocketwatch” spell. He also built this Inn, and corresponds by mail once every quarter or so.
  • Rooms are free since the PCs are on a quest. Tinned food. Room-temp drinks. Will take awhile to heat up the water for baths.
  • We all partake in the dark gray liquid from a keg marked with a dead dog. Tastes like rum and coke. Not bad!
  • Mr. Scrapgnaw says there’s not been an earthquake per se. Instead, he’s had wonky feelings over several nights recently. He thought it was just tommy-knockers.
  • Scrapgnaw shows the PCs where the Tombspider will supposedly appear in 1936. It’s down below the Inn in a cavern.
  • A rock covered in blood shows the symbol of the spider, but with guns for legs instead of blades.
  • Each Inn room is set up for many people, weapons, wash tubs, curtains, radiators, and gas lamps.
  • We forget to set watches and just enjoy the sleep and the fluffy beds.

Day 05

  • Breakfast: strong coffee, strong tea, cookies.
  • A few Pcs mention they now plan to retire here.

The PCs arrive at the Circle Axe Ranch

  • Sprawling fenced compound.
  • PCs stop at the gate where there is a tall, lanky elf woman. Waterlily.
  • She gets “Bo-hoss” a large ogre to take her post. He sports a rock bandoleer. (A broad leather strap with pockets for 8-10-inch smooth rocks perfect for him to throw)
  • Waterlily takes us to Forman Dwargus Hardfist
    • Hardfist carries a hand cannon (1-shot, 8-gauge shotgun pistol)
    • Has a complex timepiece with multiple functions
  • His family helped establish the ranch, and it was Hardfist’s mother who found the circle-axe the ranch is named for. She claimed it was an old Nordic relic, perhaps tied to the Hardfist family members who helped Leif Erikson explore North America.
  • As a stakeholder, he gets a cut of each Roundup. For the past three years, each time his cattle are separated out they, and not anyone else’s, keep getting eaten by a manticore. No one else ever sees it. If Hardfist can get one more good sale of his share of a roundup, he plans to retire.
  • It’s not the ranch owner’s family doing it.
  • Doesn’t seem to be a curse.
  • This all seems to have started when Felspark, the East Hudson Fur Trading Company representative, arrived as a guest at the Vicious Hippogriff ranch, which is also when relations between the two ranches went bad.
  • Not an illusion.
  • The fighter/mystic, who can both speak to animals and cast grave words, speaks with the skull 0.o
    • PCs hear scared moos from the skull
    • The fighter/mystic hears “Ow! Danger! Danger to the herd! I die.”
  • The skull shows signs of poison. The fenrin;s scent ability allows her to determine the poison is the same as that used by the serpentfolk on the train.

What PCs want to know

  • When is the next cattle round up? (Anytime — it’s been delayed until hardfist could get some help)
  • Where could the serpentfolk and a manticore be hiding?
  • What’re the forces that link the serpentfolk, manticore, and East Hudson Fur Trading Company together after? Water rights aren’t enough for this much trouble.
    • Other ranch may want the water, so they let the manticore folk use the land.
    • Venom King … what’s he after?
    • What have the tripods awoken? Did the black gas seep down and wake something up?
    • What if they’re headed to the hollow world?
    • And the Trading Co would have a monopoly on the passage to the hollow world from the USA.
  • Hardfist is convinced none of his people are leaking information.
  • There were supposedly invisible rattlesnakes in these parts. “Smoke snakes.”
  • The are given the seasonal bunk house to work out of.

XPs: 400 each (PCs now at  11,050, need 15,000 to reach 6th)

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Second Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part One)

After the first Really Wild West: Doomstone game session After-Action Report, and its Part Two follow-up, numerous people indicated they were excited to keep learning about the campaign as I run it. So, it’s two weeks later, I’ve run another session, and adapted notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

Chimera Kid

(Sketch of the Chimera Kid by Jacob Blackmon. The Kid is a figure in RWW: Doomstone the PCs have heard about, but not yet me. Jacob is awesome at capturing character designs in sketches like this, and you can hire him to do it for your characters!)

Session 02

The player running the human mechanic roboticist can’t make it to the game session, but wants us to proceed. That character is determined to have to stay behind in Cheyenne to repair her drone, and will be escorted to the ranch the PCs are heading to in a few days, when the Fonts & Bismark patrol comes back into town so they have spare people to do it. Since everyone wants to play, no one picks at the logic of this too much.

Most PCs stay at Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights. Discover there is a bastet Norwegian Forest Cat named Caesar who is a professional cuddler. Fantastic purrer and snuggler. From a line of French pillow warmers (on his mother’s side) and a Bostonian chimney-sweet (literally crawls into a chimney and cleans it by moving through it, using token Spell to clean himself off when he’s done).

Day 3

PCs gather at the Fonts & Bismark station-house in Cheyenne to pick up the gear they are being given. Station Chief Adler introduces them to a new potential companion — Brone Mallory, a half-orc cartographer technomancer with a Doctorate in Theosophy from Oxbridge University, who is a mail-order theosopher who was hired to help survey the border between the Circle Axe and Vicious Hippogriff ranches. But the survey company went bankrupt while Mallory was in transit, so now he is between jobs. PCs agree to bring him along.

PC skill checks suggest he may have connections to the “Brone,” Normandy orc warcasters from the 900s AD, and possible the Mallory family of humanblooded spells-for-hire that operate around the Appalachians.

PCs decide to head to Circle Axe first. On their way north out of town, they are accosted by a human man with 4 mechanical arms run by a steam abckpack (in addition to his own 2 arms) grooming utensils. He declares he is “Beardcutter Ben, the Shaver’s Friend,” and makes his sales-pitch

  • He claims to be able to solve any problem we have.
  • Centaur Paladin buys a ring of oral hygene
  • Human Fighter/Mystic buys ten water pills (each pill turns into 1 gallon of water)
  • PCs get Beardcutter Ben’s calling card – a small gear-clockwork that when plugged into the Babbage-Bell grid tells you his last known location (he’s a wandering peddler)
  • He offers us a free sample of “Walking Meat” (gum). Says he can;t get anyone to buy it, but it makes long foot travel more pleasant. The human fighter/mystic accepts a piece. It tastes like unseasoned pot roast.

The PCs head north. It’s two day’s travel to the Circle Axe.

Brone writes down the lyrics to a song Sawyer sings on the trail, and does a couple of sketch portraits of her.

At camp the first night, shortly after sundown, the PCs see a figure approach them, with points of light for its eyes, and his mount’s eyes.

  • Skeletal male, humanoid, casually walking toward us. Rifle on shoulder. Pauses at 100ft.
  • He comes from the North, and is headed into town.
  • Wears a deputy’s badge with a skull on it — not a symbol anyone recognizes
  • Smells of turned earth, ashes, and heather
  • PCs can’t identify what he IS, but conclude he’s not an undead
  • He says he is “Deputy B. Hill,” works for “The Marshall.” Someone has “grave jumped,” and he thought it might be one of them — but now that he is here, he sees they are all on “the right side of the dirt.” His prey keeps covering its tracks, “Like a snake shedding its skin fer feathers.”
  • PCs suggest he (might*be hunting the same foe they are looking for. Offer to maybe help. Deputy Hill says he’ll mention the PCs to The Marshall. If Deputy Hill can’t track down the grave-jumper himself, the Marshal may send a less discerning senior deputy, Or a full posse, which can cause “collateral damage.”
  • Deputy Hill rides off, calmly. Later, his horse’s footprints disappear with soft, eerie sounds.

Day 04

A green meteor crosses the sky in the morning. East to West. In the Northern sky. No one is sure what it is, though it could be sky metal.

  • The human fighter/mystic seems to be permeated with a carrion smell, though only the fenrin operative bounty hunter can smell it (has scent).Fighter/mystic’s mouth is dry and foul.
  • Token Spell doesn’t help.
  • The cavalier’s ring of oral hygiene doesn’t help either.
  • Players determine this is an affect-effect of the Walking Meat gum, Determine to Have Words with Beardcutter Ben when they get back to town.

About half a day from the ranches, monstrous Jerusalem Bug (size Small) burst from the ground and attack, focusing on the fighter/mystic at first. PCs ID that these bugs burrow and eat carrion.

  • PCs look at real-world pictures of Jerusalem Bugs, and declare them “A Big ol Bucket of Nope”
  • The PCs identify these eight creatures are Rowdies (first time I have used those rules in a game).
  • They bite and spit entangling resin. Also, rub their legs together making static electric jolts and dust clouds.
  • Fighter/mystic moves to not be surrounded, suffers a knockdown crit. Draws a long knife to fight rather than pistol (has Cleave and there are many AoO possible with so many melee foes)
  • PCs roll BADLY, and the Jerusalem Bugs get multiple knockdown crits.
  • Brone Mallory, the half-orc technomancer, mostly just maintains microbot assault through the whole fight, but the margin makes a difference several times.
  • Tough fight. The fenrin operative bounty hunter loses all Stamina Points, though the player identified she kept taking unnecessary risks.
  • PCs win. Fighter-Mystic heals fenrin operative bounty hunter’s Wound damage, and then most characters take 10 minutes and expend Resolve to regain Stamina Points.

End Part One!

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Fire-Breathing Robodino for Starfinder

Okay, so we did a quick robodino kitbash, and compiled the rules for it in one place. But folks still want more robodinos! What’s a game design blogger to do?

Give ’em what they want!

The “Tyrannocyber Wrecks” is a slightly more complex animal-to-robot conversion. We followed the steps outlined yesterday, but we have gone a bit further. We added an integral ranged weapon appropriate for a CR 9 combatant array, and removed swallow whole and replaced it with a fire breath weapon using the guidelines for the universal creature rule. (I’m not sure who decided tyrannosaurus robots breath fire, but it’s a well-known science-fantasy trope. 🙂 ) Since we gave it ranged weapons, we updated the skills and the ability scores to be standard for a CR 9 combatant and adjusted the initiative and melee damage to match.

This is the work of maybe 10 minutes instead of 5, but it gives us a more complex example of a kitbashed foe!

Mecharex

(Art by vexworldwide)

ROBODINOSAUR, Tyrannocyber Wrecks

Tyrannocyber Wrecks             CR 9

XP 6,400
N Gargantuan construct (technological)
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +17

DEFENSE             HP 145

EAC 22; KAC 24
Fort +10; Ref +7; Will +7
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

OFFENSE

Speed 40 ft.
Melee bite +22 (2d10+15 S; crit. bleed 2d6)
Ranged integrated salamander-class burner +19 2d10+9 F, line, crit burn 2d6)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.
Offensive Abilities breath weapon (60-ft. cone, 10d6 F, Reflex DC 16 half, usable every 1d4 rounds)

STATISTICS

Str +6; Dex +4; Con —; Int +0; Wis +0; Cha +3
Skills Athletics +17, Intimidate +22
Languages Common, Draconic

ECOLOGY

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3–6)

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More Robodinos for Starfinder

So… apparently robot dinosaurs for Starfinder are popular!

Who knew?

Okay, even through the whole point of Monday’s article was to make it easy for folks to create their own kitbashed creatures, I’ll offer a few more robodinos since so many people asked for them.

To put the dino-to-robodino “template” all in one place, here’s what you need to do to your stat block:

Change type from “Animal to “Construct (technological)”
Add darkvision (60 feet).
Set Constitution to —
Reduce Fortitude save by -4
Reduce Reflex save by -4
Reduce Will save by -2
Add “construct immunities” and “unliving”
Increase all attacks by +1

Let’s do my obvious favorite–the mechabrontosaurus.

Mechabronto

(Art by PatSM)

ROBODINOSAUR, Mechabrontosaurus

Mechabrontosaurus, CR 10

XP 9,600
N Gargantuan construct (technological)
Init +0; Senses darkvision (60 ft.), low-light vision; Perception +19

Defense          HP 165

EAC 23; KAC 25
Fort +12; Ref +7; Will +8
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

Offense

Speed 30 ft.
Melee tail +22 (2d10+18 B; critical knockdown)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.
Offensive Abilities trample (2d10+18 B, DC 17)

Statistics

STR +8; DEX +0; CON +5; INT -4; WIS +1; CHA -2

Ecology

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or herd (3–12)

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Quick Kitbashing Starfinder Monsters

Sometimes you want a new foe your players haven’t seen before, or that perfectly fits a need in your adventure. (I’ve been doing this fairly often as I prepare to run Really Wild West games, for example). But you don’t want to take the time to build a minor foe from scratch.

Luckily, in Starfinder, reskinning and kitbashing new foes can be quick, easy, and do a great job of creating new enemies.

Let’s say you want a new robot foe for your PCs to tangle with. A robot dinosaur, perhaps?

Let’s make a velocirobot.

Robodino

(Art by DM7)

Since the dinosaur, dromeaosaurid is pretty close to a velociraptor, let’s start with that. First, we take away anything it shouldn’t have. So, the dromeaosaurid is an animal. That means it got low-light vision, and a +2 bonus to Fort and Ref saves. Since our velociraobot is a construct rather than an animal, we strip those out.

Next we add what a construct gets. So darkvsion and low-light, set Con to –, -2 to all saves, and +1 to all attacks. That’s all we *have* to do to make this rules-correct. (If we’d done things with subtypes, we could go through those too… but the Robot Dragon entries suggest we can also just blur those lines if we want to).

And now, in less than 5 minutes, we have a custom robot!

ROBODINOSAUR, VELOCIROBOT

Velocirobot    CR 3
XP 800
N Medium construct (technological)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +8

DEFENSE                HP 45

EAC 13; KAC 15
Fort +2; Ref +3; Will +0
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

OFFENSE

Speed 50 ft.
Melee talons +12 (1d6+5 S; critical bleed 1d6) or bite +12 (1d6+5 P)
Offensive Abilities pounce

STATISTICS

Str +2; Dex +3; Con –; Int –4; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +8, Stealth +13

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Pounce (Ex) When a velocirobot charges, it can also make a full attack.

ECOLOGY

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3–12)

Robodino2

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The Game Industry’s Insanity

There’s a famous quote about insanity — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, in that regard, I am afraid the tabletop game industry is insane. There are lots and lots of things the industry keeps doing, over and over, and being surprised when it gets the same results.

Owen Bust

And, I don’t know that there’s much chance of that ever changing. Because the tabletop industry just isn’t big enough to bring in the kind of analysis and training it takes to properly analyze, iterate, redesign, and take risks about how the whole system is put together.

Here’s just one example — a single data point in a sea of oft-unexamined assumptions.

When my wife was earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, she took a class titled “The Business of Art.” In included how to promote yourself, write a resume, respond in an interview, create a portfolio, and so on. While there are more and more college-level classes about game design, they A: tend to focus on digital games (which represent a LOT more money as a market), and B: don’t have tabletop equivalents of “The Business of Games.”

So each new wave of people wanting to do professional ttRPG work have to cobble together best practices and a career path for themselves. Quite reasonably, they look to what was done by people who have the work they want to do and try to replicate, emulate, or adapt those steps. (Adapting is an important part — I came up through a series of magazine articles, from different tabletop-RPG-focused magazines, owned by different game companies. That’s not really an option anymore.)

So the same advice keeps going out, through the same venues… and keeps drawing in the same kinds of creators. Those of us who have ttRPG careers are asked how to get started–on social media, and at conventions, and in fan interviews– and we advise getting on social media, going to conventions, working with small presses and maybe fan projects.

So, the process that we found, and that appeals to us and is friendly to us, is the one we recommend to people (because, to be fair, it works), using the very venues we recommend newcomers depend on to move ahead, is held out as the best path for new talent.

On a larger scale, it’s similar with game companies. Open calls and contests (advertised in the same forums the people running the companies already use), and panels at conventions the company already have a presence at, and waiting for freelancers to drop pitches or ask how to get started at company forums or using company emails.

And, again, that’s reasonable.

But it does mean as long as the majority of elements in the game industry do what we have done, we’re going to get what we have gotten.

So, why is that a problem?

Because diversity is gold.

Because if we want to industry to grow beyond its roots, somehow there has to be an influx of new ideas, new creators, and thus new markets.

Of course some amazing and talented people DO manage to make their way into the industry. Some find the road that we take and use it despite it being harder for them. others forge whole new paths without any help from the existing system. Not only am I not claiming these folks don’t exist, I am specifically saying a bunch of them are BETTER than many of us who took the well-trod path.

But in terms of sheer numbers, creators from marginalized groups remain very much the minority. Which means their input remains a small fraction of the total amount of ttRPG content, and that most game companies don’t have a balance of different experiences and backgrounds among their creators.

A lot of ttRPG game companies are currently looking at the question of whether their products have been, or currently are, vehicles for racism, bigotry, and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes. There are tools that can (and should) be brought in to try to do better, including more outreach to different creators, research of the cultural impact of aspects that inspire new games, and bringing in sensitivity readers.

But as for the origins of the material, the people deciding what book gets publisher, which creators get bigger budgets, who is seem as “qualified” to work on big IPs — if the industry as a whole keeps doing what it ha been doing, it’ll keep getting what it has gotten.

This past weekend was Digital Gen Con, and my friend and colleague Stan! had the idea of us trying to recreate some of the “Bar Con” hanging out that many pros love to do after  hours at a convention. So we did… and we saw a lot of people we would have seen in person.

But we also had some folks participate that couldn’t have made it to a physical Gen Con, and many who would find gen Con a terrible experience for any of a number of reasons. I was something different.

It’s far from a solution to the insanity. But it did make me think maybe there are more chances at improvement than I have normally thought.

That’s just one small part of the imperfect nature of the #RealGameIndustry I have seen over the years. But I hope shining a spotlight on it might convince one or two other people in the industry to look at new ways to getting information out. New ways ti tutor and mentor people. New ways to find creators.

New ways to change from insanity.

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Q&A with Owen for Digital Gen Con

Heya Folks!

I have an ear infection, which took me out Thursday and most of Friday. But I also did some AMA things to try to replicate the hanging out experiences of Gen Con for its digital equivalent. A lot of the good questions and answers are buried deep in threads, so I wanted to pull them together for you with simplified versions of the questions as a double-helping of blog post content!

So, just pretend this was all said while hanging out at a bar after-hours of a convention. 🙂

Image may contain: Owen KC Stephens

Q: What general advice would you give someone just starting to get into ttRPG game design?
A: Keep creating.
Seek work-life-balance.
Try new things. Write a new poker game. Do a chess variant. Look for the neat parts of games you dislike.
Listen to and read advice from everyone. Especially people with different backgrounds and life experiences.
Diversity is gold.

 

Q: Other than writing and creative writing, what skills should I develop to be a better tabletop Roleplaying Game designer?

A: I recommend looking at some game-specific skills. For example, what makes something fun? (And, I absolutely suggest A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster). Look at probability and averages and bell curves, with regards to dice. Especially if you use dice-based games.
Then, write some things for yourself. Doing it on a blog or appropriate form can help get some feedback, but the important thing is to write ALL of a few different kinds of game content.
For example, write an entire adventure.
That adventure can be just three encounters, but include the introduction, the instruction to the GM, descriptions of areas and NPC motivations, any monsters, treasure, wrap-up, and so on. For example for Pathfinder 2e: I’d say write a short adventure. Write a spell at each level, and make sure they are divided among the traditions. Write some feats. Write an archetype. Write items at different item levels. The best way to start is to *start*. You’ll learn from there.
If you want to write for a game that has multiple publishers supporting it, reach out to all of them. Find emails. Know what lines of products they publish. Make some pitches. I have some blog articles where I talk about pitches.
https://owenkcstephens.com/2018/12/10/writing-basics-rpg-pitches-part-one/
https://owenkcstephens.com/2019/01/23/writing-basics-rpg-pitches-part-two/
Also, follow and read every professional game designer, editor, and publisher you can on social media. Interact with them, politely and positively. Learn from them, both in the knowledge they offer, and how they comport themselves (you can learn from bad examples too).
Don’t just follow and interact with designers that fit one mold either. Learn from everyone. All games systems, all backgrounds, all life experiences. Diversity is golden. I

 

Q: I am often convinced my ttRPG project has no value. How do I push through and finish it?

A: Sometimes, you just have to push through. I often promise myself I’ll send a thing out to be reviewed and, if the reviewers hate it, never publish it. Self-inflicted negativity is super common among gaming pros. I talk about it at bit in this blog article.
https://owenkcstephens.com/2018/08/13/imposter-syndrome-in-the-game-industry/

 

Q: How do your organize your projects?
A:  I generally start by working on an outline. Be it a huge book. tiny article, or even a whole game line, an outline of high points and sections is the best way for me to organize my thoughts and keep track of where I am.
I personally just organize my outlines in word, using various headers.
I talk a little about outlines in this blog article, which also links to my related article on headers/
https://owenkcstephens.com/2019/10/28/writing-basics-the-freelance-work-process/

 

Q: What are the most important elements of game lore and worldbuilding?
A: Creativity
Clarity
Relatability, balanced with originality.
Utility. If a GM or player can’t use it somehow — to describe a region or culture, to inspire adventures, to explain important bakground — then why are you including it?
And a few interesting touchstones of details that are just enough to catch GM and player’s interests.

 

Q: Is the twenty-sided die the best randomizer for ttRPG rules?
A: There is no ideal. Each randomizer had pros and cons. d20 is simple, easily understood, and has a nice range of results. But 2 is as likely as 20. For some things, bell curves are good. For some, die pools. For some, drawing cards. It depends on what the needs of your game are.

 

Q: How do I acknowledge the impact previous games have had on my game design?
A: Ignoring the question of specific licenses (such as the OGL) which can complete things– I like forewords, myself. “Many amazing games and designers helped guide me as I worked on Halfling & Haberdasheries. I was particularly inspired by the Kobold Caps “hat trick” mechanics.”

 

Q: How much should I budget for art in an RPG? How much do artists charge?

A: Most concept artists have rate sheets, so you know in advance what you need to budget for them. Which runs from dozens to hundreds of dollars per piece. Also, talk to them about how they handle sketches and revisions.
Here’s sample rates, for finished art from Jacob Blackmon.

Image

 

Q: I want to learn to play new RPGs. Other than dropping in on new groups at conventions, what else can I do?

A: When life gets back to normal, you can see if your Local Friendly Gaming Store has new game nights, or a board with people offering to teach games. 🙂

 

Q: I have a project I want to send to playtesters since I can’t safely playtest in person but… what if the people I send it to steal it?

A: Get signed Non-Disclosure agreements from everyone before sending them the files. And send them to folks you trust. That’s what big companies do. And if you can, get at least one session done digitally so you can watch, it can be super-insightful!

 

Q: What are good and bad ways for fans to approach you at a convention or event>

A: My favorite way is politely and directly. “Hi, I’m a Big Fan. Would you sign my book for me?”
If I seem to be at liberty, invite me to a meal (Monica is not wrong — I got some quality time with Aaron Allston by offering to buy him lunch), or a drink.
If I am in a group, just stand in it, and if the conversation goes that way, offer to say hi.
My least favorite is barging and demanding. I have had people interrupt whoever I am talking to, or interrupt me, to introduce themselves and gush out a question in the middle of someone else’s answer.
Also, don’t ask me for a lot of time to do you a favor when we first meet. “Hi, will you go over this adventure I printed and have with me and tell me what I need to do to it so you’ll publish it?” is a bad introduction.
Nothing wrong with letting me know you’d like to know if I do such things, but work up to it in stages, and don’t expect it to happen right here and now.
Also if I am on a panel, or heading to another panel, or manning a booth and trying to sell things, don’t plant yourself in front of me and monopolize my tine.
Also, introduce yourself, even if we’ve spoken before. I can be bad at connecting name and face. Let me know the context of why you want to talk to me.”I love your work on Star Wars Saga Edition” tell me you know who I am. “You’re a designer, right? You hire people?” makes me wonder if you are just an opportunist.
Being an opportunist can be fine, to be clear, but even then I recommend using something I just said as a jumping -off point to talk to me, rather than try to jerk the conversation to your topic.
Don’t hug without asking if it’s okay (I am generally fine with it, but I am also a big believer in enthusiastic, ongoing consent).
Also, I personally recommend attaching your name badge with two lanyards, one in each corner, so it is less likely to flip around backwards.

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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part 2)

Apparently there REALLY IS a big demand to hear more about my first session of “Really Wild West: Doomstone.” You can read Part One (which covers the first fight on a train) here, and may find some useful context from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

Disintigration Ray

After the fight, the PCs introduce themselves, and compare notes.

  • According to the Transit and Portage Guild’s bylaws, since the PCs were instrumental in defending Old Number Seven, they have the right to a payment from the train. The acting conductor (the halfling porter) offers them a cut of the valuables from the robbers, or passes for free rides any associated vehicle in perpetuity (the end date on the passes is officially “Kingdom Come.” Every PC decides to take lifetime free travel.
  • The soldier/mystic says he’s gonna talk to Vardalos, the dead Kasatha. PCs all follow, The soldier/mystic casts “grave words,” and the corpse says the following:
    • Stormfront rolling
    • The grass is all blue
    • The venom king has returned – the signet ring
    • My manticore gang – on the revolvers
    • All is lost
    • The teacup is in the meadow
    • Bandersnatch
  • One of the Fonts & Bismark agents confirms a theory of the centaur paladin that the robbers wanted to send the train over the cliff and recover the item from the bottom of the gorge.
  • The soldier/mystic goes to see Vardalos’ *very* strict and loyal pony, which he can talk to. Discover’s the pny’s training means it accepts help from and takes orders from only who its owner approves. It’s owner is now dead, but the owner had allowed the porter to feed it, so it takes orders from the porter. No PC or the porter wanting the pony, it’s decided to give it to the nice Moyer family (1 father and 5 kids, headed to a farm owned by the father’s sister, in Kansas for a fresh start. The mother died during the War, and the father need help raising the kids).
  • The mechanic roboticist helps with the bridge – cuts the repair time in half

PCs arrive in beautiful Cheyenne – which was sacked by Martians.\Is the state capital… but the state and its capital are a mess. Notes about the city:

  • Opera house biggest building left in town, serves as city hall for now.
  • The Tivoli building is almost finished as new construction. It is a Pabst beer distribution center, and has “Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights (an all-race, all-gender brothel) on the second floor.
  • There is a cheap, reliable Cheyenne Citizen Hostel
  • Also some homes that will let a room

The Fenrin Bounty Hunter checks on new Bounties:

  • Chimera Kid is now worth 650c as of yesterday
  • Bounty for “That Goddamn Manticore” 1000c posted by Ranch Master Dwargus Hardfist (a dwarf), go to the Circle Axe Ranch for more information

General:

  • This place is crawling with bounty hunters, assassins, guns fire hire, bodyguards, ugh-me-toughs
  • Why? No clue.
  • Old Blue (a fenrin bloodhound on the sheriff’s porch) says a “Year and a day” ends in a couple of weeks
    • Records house burned to the ground, lots of people died, so there is a lot of land no one knows who owns it. It was decided you can lay claim to land it and if no one has a better claim within a year and a day, it’s yours. Those first year-and-a-day claims come up in a few weeks, and everyone is expecting there to be some trouble over it.

The PCs are invited to a meeting with Fonts & Bismark Station Master Ralston Adler (who turns out to be in a wheelchain) at 5pm, to discuss the mysterious package the bandits tried to steal.

  • The Item is being held for a client who’s coming to get it (no details on who or when available). The item is a Martian crystal (tripod’s power core)
  • Nineteen duplicates were shipped at the same time for security. Eight were attacked
  • About the scrap of paper
    • The handwriting appears to be that of one Felspark Klein – elf woman Regional Director for East Hudson Fur Trading Co. She is new to the position (her predecessor died choking on a chicken bone).
    • She is staying at Vicious Hippogryph Ranch, adjacent to Circle Axe
    • Significant disagreement about who owns what plots of land
      • Biggest area of dispute has all the water
    • Adler agrees to get the PCs a copy of an excellent map of that area (+4 to know where we are)
  • Adler also knows that Dwargus hardfist of the Circle Axe has been claiming for months that a Manticore is loose in Wyomingn and feeding on ONLY his cattle

PCs decide to go check it out. They will wait until the map is ready before they take off to see about this manticore, and checkout Felspark Klein.

Fonts & Bismark agrees to equip the PCs with horses and supplies. Also note that a couple of other people are asking about these events, and if Adler is convinced they are assets, he’ll diect them to the PCs in the morning to see if the PCs want to join up with them.

End of game. XPs: 650 per PC.

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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report

A number of people have asked for more details about the train fight in the first Really Wild West game session (with the campaign entitled “Really Wild West: Doomstone”), so I have adapted notes taken by my wife Lj who is playing a fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer.” Some context may also be available from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

RWW Good Doggo

(“Sawyer,” by Jacob Blackmon)

I specifically set up this fight to bring the player characters together with a common interest. Here’s the set-up.

PCs:
Female Fenrin Operative Bounty Hunter (Seeking a bounty)

Female Centaur Paladin Mercenary (Seeking an ancient evil, the Venom King)

Female Human Mechanic Roboticist (Seeking to access Martian tech found in the field, rather than the picked-over scraps she can get hold of back East) – has stealth drone mechanical dog, “Pinion”

Male Human Soldier/Mystic  Criminal (Seeking to tip the balance for past bad deeds)

1891 – Spring

  • The Fenrin bounty hunter is looking for the Chimera Kid, who he shot a federal judg. The Kid is a Ksatha missing one of his four arms. Fights with poison pistol, flame pistol, ram-headed hammer.
  • Currently tracking Gavra Vardalos, a previous associate of the Kid, who is headed West on the Old Number Seven train out of St. Louis. Vardalos wears a black bandito mask with a green scorpion tail. Vardalos seems to be waiting for something.

Evening of day two – around 36 hours into the trip – as the sun sets

  • Alarm bell goes off as the train comes to an emergency stop
  • Bridge is out ahead. Fresh damage.
  • This might be what Vardalos was waiting for
    • He gets up and says he’s gonna check on his pony
    • Fenrin bounty hunter gets on top of the train and follows
  • The porters arm themselves
  • Vardalos says his pony needs medicine and wants to get into the baggage car
    • A halfling porter takes him around the outside to the caboose
  • Gunshots ring out from within the back of the train

FIGHT!

  • Just after the porter knocks on the caboose door, Vardalos attempts to kill him. Vardalos has two sabers enhanced with jury-rigged Martian heat-ray crystals. The distinctive sound of them powering up can be heard throughout the train, and including by the mechanic roboticist. Fenrin bounty hunter jumps down to stop vardalos.
  • The halfling caboose porter rolls under the train and pulls down a shield with a gun port from the bottom of the caboose, then locks his gun into it
  • The centaur paladin, suspicious of Vardalos’s possible involvement because of the scorpion-tail mask, also comes to stop him.
  • A stamer trunk turns out to be a mimic, and attacks a Fonts & Bismark agent guarding a package in the boxcar.
  • Outside the train, thin lizardfolk step out of the air – serpentfolk (5) from a hidden reality. Everyone not already engaged helps fight them off.
    • They shoot old revolvers. Poisoned bullets.
  • The mechanic roboticist and Pinon run to the back of the train to investigate the Martian tech sounds, and run into the Fonts & Bismark agent fighting against the steam trunk mimic. Stop to help.
  • The caboose door rotates out, revealing an old, beat up robot breakman, with a 2ft spanner
    • Moves to attack the serpentfolk who is attacking the porter
  • When Vardalos dies, his body writhes and breathes out a green vapor
  • As serpentmen overpower the conductor guarding the engine, soldier criminal comes running up the center of the train, shooting it from 2 cars away and preventing it from powering up the train and running it over the broken bridge into a gorge below.

ON VARDALOS: 2 manticore stamped revolvers; 2 jury-rigged Martian metal sabres; 350 credit chips issued from the East Hudson Fur Trading Co.; under a glove a signet ring with a scorpion tail with a green teardrop signet stone; scrap of paper with Fonts & Bismark Service# written on it – these go on whatever F&B is shipping that the mimic went for. The scrap has a watermark from the EHFTco. The fenrin bounty hunter can confirm it’s not written in Vardalos’ handwriting.

At the end of this introductory fight, the fenrin bounty hunter wants to follow up on the clues around Vardalos to see if they lead to the Chimera Kid. The centaur paladin wants to follow up because the green vapor and scorpion-tail clues are her best lead to find the cult of the Venom King. The mechanic roboticist wants to follow up because somehow Vardalos got access to fresh Martian heat-ray technology. The soldier/mystic wants to follow up because this seems like a good opportunity to earn some karmic balance.

The session didn’t end there of course.

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Notes for the Really Wild West

RWW Logo

(Logo by Perram, pistol art by Jacob Blackmon)

I ran my first actual session of my first full Really Wild West campaign, called “Really Wild West: Doomstone”

Here are some notes from that sessions.

The “New Wild”: Due to the Ravages of the brief War of the Worlds in early 1890, the lawless West is much more expansive in 1891 than it was just a few years earlier. While major towns exist, and are mostly as controlled and regimented as one would expect, the entire central area of the United States — from the Mississippi River to the Cascade Mountains — is simply not yet back under government control beyond sight of a major settlement. Wherever an army unit or even US Martial circuit patrol happen to be, it’s fairly lawful. Some towns, sheriffs, mutual aid societies and land-owners can also enforce rules within their own demesne (which some do fair-mindedly and others… don’t).
But the fabric of society has not yet recovered from either the direct effect of being overrun by alien war machines that destroyed entire cities and killed millions, or the psychological effect of learning aliens exist, want us dead, have better technology than Earth, and that often women and children and immigrants were crucial to slowing their advance and evacuating those in their path despite being often discouraged from such roles by society.
From the Mississippi to the Cascades is the New Wild. Stay alert. Be cautious. Strap iron.

East Hudson Fur Trading Company: Multinational trade and mercantile… and banking, private security, espionage, manufacturing, and land exploitation. They actually call one of the services they offer “land exploitation.” Had war declared on them by the Lakota for “Crimes Against Man and Nature.” Merciless. Efficient. Profitable.

Fonts & Bismark: A powerful “service company,” that handles deliveries, finances, and vault storage. Grew out of an adventuring company in the 1840s. Mercenary, but have tight ethics controls on who they work for… but a contract, once signed, is fulfilled.
Sometimes do government work. Sometimes hired to protect against the government.

Lost Walkers: When the Martians realized they were dying off, many hid their machines (mostly tripods, but also some flying machines and digging machines) and mothballed them. The Central Power Core of these machines, once cold, can only be brought back to life with an active Central Core.
Only walkers that were captured during the war without being destroyed, or the first few grabbed when the earliest Martians succumbed to viruses, had their Central Core taken intact and active. Thus these are among the most valued of artifacts. Most are in the hands of national or state governments, with a much smaller number controlled by the rich and powerful (Edison is smugly vocal about having two. Tesla dodges the question when asked. A young Polish scientist studying in Paris, Marie Skłodowska, is warning anyone who will listen not to stand too close to the things.)
When a Lost Walker is found, there is a “Tripod Rush” as people tear it apart for rare elements, crystals, and circuits, and scour the surrounding territory for any other Martian relics. But if anyone ever managed to repair and restart a tripod with a Central Core, it would immediately become a notable regional power.

Newgauge: Even before the War of the Worlds caused technological advancement to explode, most industrially advanced nations were moving to Newgauge trains — massive mass-transit vehicles twenty feet wide, nearly thirty feet tall, with locomotives and cars each up to 150 feet long. Since the war, Newgauge trains have become rolling battleships, each normally equipped with heat-dispensing armor on critical cars, and with at least one Rail Monitor car with artillery and units of troops.
But you absolutely cannot run Newgauge trains without building entirely-new tracks. While in the densely-populated Northeast and West Coast, that has been done extensively enough to least linked the biggest cities, the Martians did enough damage to the central parts of the country that even old rails are no longer properly transcontinental, and no Newgauge rails to speak of have yet been laid down… or even surveyed to accommodate the additional massive easement needs. Thus smaller “Old Rail” trains must be used, and occasionally have to fend for themselves between cities.

Old No. 7: An ‘Old Rail’ train with variable-gauge axles, Old No. 7 is a more-than 50-year-old 4-4-0 locomotive and its associated cars that was pressed into service as a military transport during the War of the Worlds (and armored, and equipped with an automaton-operated Combat Caboose with Rail Repair devices), survived numerous hits from Heat Rays and, despite showing buckled plates and grime-caked engine, remains a mobile defensive platform. Its normal run its along an exiting Old Gauge Line from St. Louis to Colby, Kansas and then to Cheyenne, Wy, and then return.

Trustee: The Really Wild West is a world where heroes, monsters, oracles, madmen, and adventurers have existed for thousands of years. Nations, towns, organizations, and businesses have evolved to deal with the fact that sometimes if a wandering hero or expert doesn’t save you, no one else can.
Thus it is common for individuals and small bands to be on a path to be considered “trustees” of groups and governments. These are outsiders who have earned the trust of a government or organization of note. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are trustees of Scotland Yard. The Spectral Rider is a trustee of the town of Eagle Net, New Mexico. The Kestrel is a trustee of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and so on.
Bigger organizations have numerous steps of trust that occur before you are a trustee, but a trustee is generally considered to be competent, potent, trusted, and an ally of the group that names them trustee. A trustee does not necessarily agree with all actions of the bestowing group, and individual members of the group might mistrust the trustee (think of Batman as a trustee of Gotham PD), but the organization as a whole formally cuts the trustee considerable slack.

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