Hollow Worlds of the Really Wild West

Before we begin, a scheduling note. I am moving from Indiana, back to Oklahoma this week. As a result rather than do four small posts Tue-Fri, you are getting one big one now. And some bonus content. A week’s worth of blog material in one day. As a result it covers a few related topics, rather than being tightly focused. My expectation is that by next week I’ll have at least set up a laptop on a box and have an ice cooler for a chair, and can post as normal again.

Some Design Goals

One of the things I have realized about the Really Wild West is that I want it to feel like some of my favorite weird west, Victoriana, steampunk, and genre-blending stories (many of which are listed in the inspirations page, here). Stories that surprised and delighted me when Dracula and Sherlock Holmes fought, or the Nautilus rams Martian Tripods, or cowboys deal with dinosaurs, sorcerers, and aliens.

Things that… just aren’t that unusual anymore. Between the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Cowboys vs Aliens, and Penny Dreadful, late 1800s fiction and genre blending is not only fairly normal, a lot of things have become nearly passe. Having Doctor Jekyll run a monster-hunting secret society that conflicts with an ancient mummy just doesn’t do it for me anymore. All those elements are too common, explored, and available.

But I do want to do things LIKE that. Not have archaeologists race to find the Holy Grail in Hatay, or seek the treasure of the Knights Templar hidden by the Founding Fathers, but for the Club of Nobody’s Friends (the oldest dining club in England) to have to hide the the three parts of the Scepter of Dagobert (the oldest of the French Crown Jewels, which had been left with the religious pension fund known as Queen Anne’s Bounty) from the Serpentin Vert (“Green Serpent,” in French, a secret society of poison-themed mystics who wish to use it to take control of the Dragons of France), and thus have hidden the sections in old wine cellars in abandoned 1700s New France mansions overtaken by the swamps of Louisiana.

That gives me the blend of stuff I want.

While hopefully avoiding treating colonialism as a good thing, treating any culture or peoples as orcs to be slaughtered, or making caricatures of real-world groups.

So, I want to create NEW legends and myths, drawn from the era and feel of the things I have loved, without just retreading Dracula, the Grail, Frankenstein’s Monster, Martian Tripods, and Billy the Kid. Instead of focusing on werewolves, talk about coyotes who can take on human form for one lunar cycle if they eat a human’s heart, and are vulnerable to any weapon that has never taken a human life. Undead are gulchers and whistlers, rather than just ghouls and zombies.

Not for every encounter. It’s the Wild West, sometimes you just get jumped by outlaws.

But for setting pieces and major plots? Then we build on the new mythology to make the Really Wild West earn the “Really Wild” title. Then the outlaws are Junk Golems spontaneously created from steam train Iron Horse 4771, which blew up when its experimental Fire Elemental Engine was sabotaged to ensure the Arcane and Arkansas Railroad would lose out on a contract to Zeus Skyboats–resulting in the boom sky town of Oklahoma City (established recently in 1889) becoming wealthy–a fact the Junk Golems plan to fix by destroying it.

You know… Really Wild.

And this brings us to “The Hollow Worlds.”

In the world of the Really Wild West, it is accepted there is a Surface World — everything common and seen and (mostly) understood. There is the Esoteric World, or perhaps multiple Esoteric worlds, wherein the spirits move, ether flows, Astral Projection is possible, and Theosophy is mapping out the powers of spiritualism.

But with the discovery of Agartha, the concept of Hollow Worlds has become commonplace. These are definite, concrete places you can walk to under the right circumstances… that may or may not be part of the Surface World. Agartha is actually part of a Hollow Earth. But there are also places that seem to exist in some kind of “Hollow Space.” Buyan is only accessible by the Surface World some of the time. Frozen Lomar is from the dim and ancient past… but somehow seems to be a place people still encounter from time to time. The fact dinosaurs exist in Agartha, and the Americas, and nowhere else convince most scholars that there are Hollow Mountains that lead from those continents to Agartha, and that perhaps vast caverns also exist in which lost civilizations and alien societies may dwell.

Atlantis rose, and fell, and is gone. All the lands of the Surface World are inhabited by *someone*, save Antarctica (as far as anyone knows). It is to the various Hollow Worlds the great explorers and conquerors now loom to find a fresh frontier.

And Mars, of course. If anyone can figure out out to get there.

These are some of the most commonly accepted Hollow Worlds.

RWW Agartha

(art by Oscar)

Agartha

Agartha is the Hollow Earth, and entire world within the center of the world. Long rumored to exist, it was considered by most to be little more real than Mu or Lemuria… until Professor Lidenbrock made an expedition to there and back through a volcano in Iceland, and returned with proof of his discoveries. The professor is largely retired now, but his daughter Gräuben Lidenbrock runs “Lindenbrock Excursions,” and has established three major routes to the Hollow Earth, all through Northern Europe. She is expending considerable resources to attempt to be the first to find the theorized link from the Americas to Agartha.

Agartha is filled with Asuras, Dinosaurs, Giants, Megafauna, Impossible Golden Palaces which can be seen in the distance, but never reached), and a few small enclaves of sapient species known on the surface world (descended from, at least, vikings and Chinese soldiers who found their way there in antiquity). It’s interior is also filled with particulate gravity-blocking cavorite, which can be sifted from the air at great expense to form lighter-than-air metal.

Buyan
Buyan is an island or continent (reports are unclear) inhabited by angels, demons, fey, or the spirits of the departed (unclear), that can appear in any lake or ocean. It is the source of weather (which is guarded by two dragons known as the Talon and the Serpent–Gagana and Garafena), home of the legendary city of Ledenets (from where the warrior-priestesses the Zoryas endlessly forge the chain that keeps the Doomsday Hound  Simargl bound to the star Polaris so it cannot devout all the stars and destroy the world), and the place one must go to begin a quest for the Alatyr, the “burning white stone” which may or may not be the rock Jesus stood on when he preached to his Disciples.
Most information about Buyan comes from the Dove Book (Golubinaya Kniga), a book of mixed pagan and Christian lore banned by the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 20 core versions of the book, ranging from 20 to 300 pages long, and hundreds of local variants of those core 20 versions.
However, the advent of Theosophical methods of divination have determined Buyan, or something like it, is real, and it’s location and route to and from it are mutable. Many theosophicers believe Buran is Etheric, existing in an Ether through which spiritual energy and thought travel.

Frozen Lomar
The land referred to as Frozen Lomar is a pre-humanoid civilization that may date back to the Pliocene Epoch, and nearly all sign of it was lost due to later glaciers. Frozen Lomar is noted as being located “within the ice cap,” but there is no hint if that is to the north or south. It is know the Lomarah, the denizens of Frozen Lomar, accessed and studied the original Pnakotic Manuscripts, scrolls which described elder gods and horrific eldritch truths. The Lomarah added to the Manuscripts, perhaps creating several different versions. However no copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts remain. They, and frozen Lomar, and known only because of quotes from an also-lost Greek translation (the Pnakotica) are referenced in a few other works of antiquity. While there are rumors of a Pnakotic Brotherhood that seeks and is ruled by the Manuscripts, sometimes linked to the Faustus Society, there is no verified proof they exist.
Frozen Lomar is believed to have created various outposts, also in the Pliocene, which are also lost to time. A few such have been reported by explorers to Agartha, vast caverns in Argentina and Missouri, and one mist-shrouded island in the Pacific. These all describe huge cyclopean structures, black runes that can only be read by indirect moonlight, strange aberrations, hex-shaped stone constructions, lore crystals, blind cultists, and hairless ratlike semihumanoid cannibals.  However, such encounters invariable end with the Lomarah Outpost sinking or being destroyed by lava, so reports are always second-hand.
A few expeditions claim to have stumbled from such outposts into a still-vibrant Frozen Lomar itself… though thsoe who claim so often seem too crazed to be taken as reliable.

Hsan
Many esoteric book on magic and the supernatural written in the ancient period reference a city of great wisdom called Hsan. These reference suggest the city is so ubiquitously well-known that no description of its location or nature is necessary. By the Fall of Rome, no one seems to know anything about it. It is suggested to lie East of Persia and West of Qi.
The symbol of Hsan is noted to be a winged and horned lion with two tails of differing lengths. This symbol has been spotted by telescope on at least one Impossible Golden Palace in Agartha, leading some to think Hsan is in a Hollow World adjacent to Agartha, but somehow separate from it.

Silbannacia
During the reign of Roman Emperor Philip, who ruled from AD 244 to 249, armoes and emissaries from the “Northern Roman Empire, Silbannacia” arrived in Rome and offered an alliance. They had coin, apparently magic weapons and armor, and claimed to serve “IMP MAR SILBANNACVS AVG,” under the grace of the God Mercury.
They also carried banners of the lost Roman Ninth Legion, which had dissappeared centuries earlier.
Then Emperor Philip was deposed, and the emissaries vanished.
Silbannacia shows up a few more times through history. Apparently late-Roman soldiers, in chain but with strange weapons that “fire plumbes of vapour green,” and swords and spears that produce the same green gas, they arrive in strange corners of the world. Sometimes they are peaceful allies to small groups of the lost. Other times they sack, kill, raid, and make off with some object or person. There are numerous accounts of them in the records of natives in North and South America, dating back thousands of years.
And recently, a few sightings have been reported near wildernesses in the Far West.

Ungol
Very little is known of Ungol. It is mentioned almost exclusive in its absence–the banned text Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten notes the “Dust of the Letterless City is Death,” and then lists five sections of the German alphabet. Each section is in common order, but the sections themselves are shuffled and one letter is missing from each section. If you note down each missing letter in order, you get u, n, g, o, and l. Some archived copies of the Maladicta, an unholy book used by hags, dare to mention “Ungl/Ngol.” The Code of Hammurabi proscribes the same punishment for “naming or marking the Name of the Forbidden City that is not Gol” as it does casting a spell upon a man unjustly (trial by holy river).
Some undead cry out “Ungol! Ungol!” just prior to destruction.

Okay, that’s a rundown of some Hollow Worlds.

Let’s move on a bit to something we touched on in the article on fenrin… the the Paderborn Edicts, which evolved from the First Council of Paderborn.

The Paderborn Edicts
In the hsitory of the world of the Really Wild West, the Paderborn Edicts were an important set of laws established by the Council of Padernborn in 785 under Charlemagne, and were designed to codify interactions between different “Uberklug,” a term used to indicate all creatures capable of emotion, thought, speech, and self-awareness (often translated as “sapient”). In addition to dwarves, elves, humans, kasatha and ysoki (all common in the Holy Roman Empire), it included noted representatives and scholars of centaur, gnomish, nuar, and shirren groups. Leaders of 4 major religions were present, as were representatives of 12 more. At least one dragon, one inevitable, and one sphinx were present as advisors.
The Paderborn Edicts established that communication with or gaining power from “achaierai, azatas, daemons, demodands, demons, devils, efreeti, lengites, sahkil, slaad, tindalosi, yeth, and the spirits of the dead” is always wrong and can (and should) be banned, while other forms of divination and magics are not inherently evil. Further it makes a distinction between magi and wonder-workers, and “hexen,” or those who spread, use, or wish to command evil powers.
While the original Edicts were far from complete, new councils were held every 101 years to update them. Rules on being a Hex Hunter were established (for hunting down only evil and murderous spellcasters, as opposed to the much more mercenary and often wicked “witch hunters” who often scourged areas), various religions “vetted” as no better or worse than any other, more creatures added to those not to be trusted (from qlippoth in 886 to, most recently, manasaputra and oni in 1795), and so on.
Most European nations have built their laws on magic on the Paderborn Edicts. While for centuries magic has been seen as uncontrollable and unpredictable by sapients (“Magic and monsters are real — as are lighting and typhoons — but there’s no point in mortals studying or trying to control it”), where laws were seen as needful (while a man was unlikely to be able to cast a spell, a deal could be cut with a faerie, after all) they were built off the Edicts.
While many of the laws and rules were seen as metaphors in Europe and the Americas (“of course giants and dragons exist, and I suppose angels must, but none of that is common or normal, and wizards are mostly fakers or fey playing tricks”) in the past century much more of it has been taken to be literal. With the rise of Theosophy defining some natural laws behind magic (and laying out ways it can be taught like any other skill), it is expected the 1896 council will potentially rewrite the Edicts from scratch.

See You Next Week!
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Good Doggo PCs in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

I am sometimes asked what makes the Really Wild West justify it’s claim to being “Really Wild.” My original through was just that it was a step up from merely “Wild” West. That the addition of Martian invaders, advanced science, magic, devil-run cities, psychic powers, dozens of species, alternate history, energy weapons, and legendary weapons made the setting wild enough, compared to just a Western, to justify the title.

But, maybe I was wrong. More than once, fans have indicated that as long as a certain theme and aesthetic is maintained, they want things in Really Wild West that just don’t show up in most settings.

Lots of folks have also noted that what they want is more Starfinder stuff that works in core Starfinder. That it’s fine if it’s flavored for Really Wild West,  or GammaFinder, as long as it can be used in typical science-fantasy games as well.

So, let’s look at the fenrin, a species with aesthetics and backgrounds designed specifically for Really Wild West, but definitely work in any Starfinder setting.

FENRIN

Fenrin are talking, telekinetic dogs.

Where humans or ysoki are found, fenrin are also there. In most ancient cultures, it was simply accepted that there were dogs, and there were talking dogs, and little thought was given as to why this was. During the First Paderborn Council held in the Holy Roman Empire n 785 AD, the question of whether all dogs were “uberklug” (or “sapients,” a distinction as to what counted as “people”), or just some, determined there was a different between “Fenrin” and other canines. This resulted in considerable scholarship of the question of fenrin, and how they did (or didn’t) relate to common dogs, dire wolves, winter wolves, and hellhounds. As a result, most accepted terminology about fenrin has come to be derived from Germanic roots.

Fenrin are an accepted and understood part of the Really Wild West world. Fenrin have been soldiers, priests, scholars, teachers, merchants, farmers, politicians, and every other role sapient creatures fill. Most have a very strong sense of community, which may focus on their own family, or may include a tight-knit social group that includes friends, colleagues, and often even neighbors the fenrin personally dislike but accept as part of their community unit.

Vital Statistics
Average Height
Graberin: 9-18 inches, 5-20 lbs.
Jager: 19-29 inches, 21-99 lbs.
Arbiter: 30-60 inches, 100-180 lbs
Age of Maturity: 2 years Maximum Age: 50 +1d100 years

RWW Good Doggo

Names: Fenrin have three classic forms of naming. Many take names common from their culture, no different from human or ysoki names. Because of the strong influence of the Paderborn Council, many take Germanic names, or add a Germanic name as a middle name.  Finally, some take names common among domestic canines, while others only do so as nicknames, and others find such names insulting. Fenrin are not a single culture, and both groups and individuals have differing opinions on this point.

Hit Points: 2 (graberin), 4 (jager), or 6 (arbeiter)
Breeds: Like the dogs they so closely resemble, fenrin come in hundreds of different breeds that are all part of the same species. In general fenrin break into three broad categories with some similar traits: graberin (Tiny, fierce, swift), jagers (Small, sturdy, steadfast), and arbeiters (Medium, strong, patient).
Ability Adjustments: Fenrin gain a +2 racial bonus to Charisma, and a -2 penalty to Wisdom. Graberin have a +2 bonus to Dexterity. jagers have a +2 bonus to Constitution. Arbeiters have a +2 bonus to Strength.
Size and Type: Fenrin are monstrous humanoids. Graberin are Tiny, jagers are Small, and arbeiters are Medium.
Doglike (Ex): A fenrin gains a +10 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be a specific breed of dog of the same size category, and takes no penalties for being of a different creature type.
Additionally, a fenrin can make a special Charisma check (1d20 + level + Charisma) to use Diplomacy on any canine, though not all fenrin can actually speak with other canines.
Fenrin Trait: Different breeds of fenrin often have radically different physiological features that go beyond size, from double coats to particularly strong claws or teeth to spectacularly loud barks. You gain one fenrin trait, from those listed below. You can take a second fenrin trait as your 1st level character feat.
*Best Friend: Sometimes a fenrin IS your best friend. Whenever an ally takes an action that requires one or more Resolve Points, and does not have enough to pay the RP cost,, if you are within 60 feet you may donate your RP to cover the difference.
*Bite: You are always considered armed. You can deal 1d3 lethal piercing damage with unarmed strikes and the attack doesn’t count as archaic. You gain a unique weapon specialization with your natural weapons at 3rd level, allowing you to add 1.5 × your character level to your damage rolls for your natural weapons (instead of just adding your character level, as usual).
*Fierce: Your bark is actually pretty dang impressive. You can make an Intimidate check to demoralize a foe without sharing a language. You can also make Cover Fire and Harrying Fire attacks unarmed, by barking.
*Speak With Canines: You can speak to any canine in a language they instinctively understand, and you can understand communication from any canine of the animal type.
*Sprinter: You can take an additional move your speed action before or after any other action on your turn. Once you have done this, you cannot do so again until after you have expended 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.
Keen Senses: Fenrin have a +2 racial bonus to Perception checks. Each fenrin also gains two of the following senses, selected at character creation:
*Low-light vision
*Darkvision (30 feet)
*Blindsense (scent) 30 feet and tracking (scent)
*Blindsense (vibration)(30 feet)
*Blindsight (scent) 5 feet
*Sense Through (scent)
Psychic Hands (Su): Fenrin do not have hands the way humans do. They can shove things about with their paws, or grasp items with their mouths, but treat their Strength as 2 lower when they do so. However, their innate telekinetic powers allow them to use and carry and manipulate objects as easily as a Medium creature with 2 limbs. They can use Medium equipment, and “hang” objects off their telekinetic field the same way a Medium creature would hang them on their body. They must have line of effect to any object they manipulate this way, and are limited to what could be reached by a Medium creature in their location. As a result of their psychic hands and the telekinetic field that goes with them, they can choose to have a space and reach of 5 feet (as a Medium creature), or to have the space and reach of a creature their actual size if not Medium (it’s a swift or move action to change between the two states). Functionally, they can do exactly what a Medium, 2-armed creature of the same Strength score can do (even if the fenrin is Small or Tiny).

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Interesting Creature Powers in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

We did some specific “interesting” design things with whistlers yesterday. Today we’re just going over a short list of ideas for things you can do to spice up creature design in the Really Wild West. (Or GammaFinder, or any Starfinder setting, though you should consider the themes and tone of a specific setting when designing monsters for it.) Things like this should be obvious as soon as they come into play, and a good identify creature check should also reveal them.

This isn’t a comprehensive, or even very extensive list. Just a few ideas to get GMs thinking about interesting monster design.

Damage Type Reaction: Creatures that take more or less damage from specific damage types can be interesting, but they are common enough not to be special. However, if a creature has an unusual reaction to taking a specific kind of damage, that can make things more interesting.
Several of these are a mixed blessing, quite intentionally, but they are also complex enough you likely do want them to count against a creature’s total special abilities, just to keep fights from becoming too complicated. For the same reason, avoid fights with multiple creatures with different damage type reactions. Three Slag Beetles with acid reactions gives PCs a chance to learn how the ability works and plan around it. A fight with one Slag beetle, one Dire Bobcat with a fire reaction, and one Crystal Elemental with a sonic reaction is just a confused mess.
Acid: Target takes double damage from acid, but also partially dissolves into a toxic cloud. It gains a smoke cloud effect like a smoke grenade (which it is immune to) whenever it takes acid damage, and those that fail their save against the smoke also take secondary damage from it as a poison effect. good for creatures covered in hard armor of unusual composition (chitin, plastic, alchemically treated materials, and so on).
Bludgeoning: Creature takes half damage, but it knocked back 10 feet and knocked prone. Good for ephemeral, floating foes and those on narrow, tippy legs.
Cold: For one round target is slowed and becomes hard, but brittle. For that round it’s KAC increase by +2, but it takes extra damage from any kinetic attack that hits equal to its CR. Good for stone, crystal, and strange metal creatures.
Electricity: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is also hasted for 1 round. Great for machines, but also anything with unusual biology, including outsiders, undead, and aberrations.
Fire: Target takes normal damage, but catches on fire. Takes a burn of 1d6 per 5 CR, but also now does fire to melee attackers. Good for dry plant monsters, including fungus, and those covered in oily or greasy substances or thick fur.
Piercing: Target gains a bleed effect equal to half it’s CR in HP/round, but the blood is acidic and does secondary attack damage (Reflex for half) to all targets in reach.
Slashing: Sever part of the target. This acts as a wounding critical, but also turns the severed part into its own monster 4 CR lower than its parent. Great for undead, constructs, plants, and nearly any supernatural threat.
Sonic: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is now vibrating for 1d4 rounds causing attacks against it to suffer a 20% miss chance.

Intimidating Surprise: The creature has some kind of attack or transformation that is unexpected. Perhaps it looks like a typical snake, but can unhinge its jaw and make a sonic attack. Or it looks like a typical steam engine, but transforms into an iron golem. Or its melee attacks are accompanies by lightning and thunder strikes.
The first time this transformation or surprise attack takes place in a combat, the creature can make a free Intimidate check to demoralize the closest foe. Character who are warned about it but haven’t experienced it have the DC to be demoralized increased by +5. Those who have experienced it before have the DC increased by +10. After 2-3 such encounters, characters are likely immune.

RWW jawsnake
(art by Dina)

Melee Awkward: A melee awkward creature simple isn’t designed to deal with foes that are right up against it. Imagine a Martian tripod with no tentacles to defend it, or a floating gun platform, or even a tank or giant acid-spitting pillbug. Melee attacks against a melee awkward target gain a +2 bonus, and if it has melee attacks of its own (most don’t) they suffer a -2 penalty. Making a creature melee awkward normally goes along with giving it some benefit or special ability that doesn’t count against its normal maximum number of such abilities.

One-Weapon Reach: The creature has more reach with one weapon or natural attack than all its others. This can be especially fun if the weapon is weaker and less accurate than it’s primary attacks, but has MUCH more reach. Consider doing 20-30 feet of reach, but make the attack the secondary attack of a creature 3 CR lower. Works best with solo foes or those used in no more than 2 per encounter, otherwise there is simply no place for PCs to go to avoid reach, and rather than be an interesting tactical choice this just becomes a constant annoyance.

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Making Interesting Monsters in Really Wild West (For Starfinder)

You don’t want foes you write up for Really Wild West (or any Starfinder game) to just be sacks of Hit Points with attack rolls. You want to make them interesting. One option for an interesting monster is to give it unusual strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn’t do this for every monster, but it’s a good choice for major foes that are a linchpin of an adventure (even if the adventure is just a sub-section of a bigger quest).

With Starfinder, you can design a plan for a monster by picking it’s array, type, and a few mandatory and optional special abilities. Then, you can aply those to an array at any CR to get themonster you need.

Here’s an example: the whistler.

Whistlers are undead combatants.

Every whistler has mark of the moment, which we don’t count against their total number of special abilities because it’s a mixed blessing and has a low DC skill check to identify crucial info about it. Every whistler also has half past dead and full of holes, and has a EAC/KAC 1 lower than normal, so we count all that as as one special ability (20% miss to offset the lowered ACs).

Eerie whistling and gunslinger skills are optional powers. Some whistlers have them, some don’t. Add them if you do a high-enough CR whistler to have the abilities to spare, otherwise ignore them.

Eerie Whistling (Su): Anyone within 100 ft/CR of a whistler is affected by its eerie whistling sound, made by wind passing through it’s incomplete body, and must make a Will save or be shaken. Creatures remain shaken while within line of effect, but may make a new Will save at the beginning of each round. A success save ends the shaken effect, and the creature is immune to being shaken by that whistler for 24 hours. This is a sense-dependent, mind-affecting, fear effect.

Full of Holes (Su): A whistler’s body is incomplete. Any attack against it that target’s the whistler’s EAC or KAC has a 20% miss chance, as the attack goes through part of the whistler that is already missing. Force effects ignore this miss chance.

Gunslinger Skills (Ex): Many whistler’s were expert gunslingers. For some reason, the grit of a gunslinger makes them more likely to become whistlers. A whistler can have gunslinger abilities, using it’s CR as its gunslinger level.

Half Past Dead (Su): When a whistler has taken half or more of its HP it began a fight with, it fades away… for a time. It may be gone for 1d10 rounds (25%), 1d10 minutes (25%), 1d10 hours (25%) or 1d10days (25%). When it returns (anywhere within 1 mile of its last location) it has healed its CR in HP, or has fully healed if it was gone for a day or more.
A whistler being held at bay does not disappear, and if dropped to 0 HP is destroyed.
A whistler bound to a specific place rolls twice to see how long it is gone when at that place, and appears in the shorter timeframe.

Mark of the Moment (Su): Every whistler bears the marks of the moment of its death. Those that died by fire seem burned and partly made of ash, those that dies by piercing damage have holes punched cleanly through them.

Select one damage type that killed the whistler (acid, bludgeoning, cold, electricity, fire, piercing, slashing, or sonic). The whistler is immune to damage of this type, but also fears it. A successful attack that deals that damage doesn’t harm the whistler, but does cause it to target that foe next, and be shaken for 1 round as it reals from the memory of its death. An obvious source of that damage type can be used to hold the whistler at bay, as the Intimidate task.

Mark of the Moment is always the first piece of additional useful information gained by a successful identify creature check, and when exposed to its feared damage type a successful Sense Motive check (DC 10 + 1.5x whistler’s CR) reveals it is shaken by attacks and can be held at bay with obvious sources of such damage.

RWW Whistler

(art by breakermaximums)

Whistlers are among the most feared of the Passed, because they are unpredictable and hard to get rid of. Regions with a whistler are often seen as cursed, and their anger at the living causes them to attack nearly at random. They are named for the hollow whistling sound wind makes as it passed through their perforated bodies.

Here is a sample whistler.

Whistler          CR 3          [COMBATANT]
XP 800, each
NE Medium Undead
Init +4 Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +13
DEFENSE     HP 40
EAC 13; KAC 15
Fort +4; Ref +4; Will +3
Defensive Abilities gunslinger’s dodge, full of holes (20% miss), mark of the moment (fire), undead immunities, unliving
OFFENSE
Speed 40 ft.
Melee burning fist +8 (1d6+5 B and F)
Ranged pistol +11 (1d6+3)
Offensive Abilities eerie whistling (DC 12)
STATISTICS
Str +2; Dex +4; Con –; Int +0; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +8, Athletics +8, Intimidate +8
Languages none
SPECIAL ABILITIES
(See above for full descriptions)
Eerie Whistling, Full of Holes, Half Past Dead, Mark of the Moment

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GM Advice: Using Problems to Create Encounters

(This article was originally written in two parts, for Tuesday and Wednesday publication. It can been combined into a two-fer article for today.)

So, a member of the party died, and the characters aren’t in a position to raise them. Or they foolishly ignored all the warnings about the cursed artifact, and now have a lich hand slowly taking over their soul. Or they played tag with a vampire, and lost so many levels they can’t recover that the rest of the adventure you have planned is way over their head. As a GM, it looks like you have a problem.

But what you have is also an opportunity for a solution — new encounters!

Rather than handwave the negative consequences (which can remove the sense of risk and stakes many players need to enjoy rpg games), or enforce them mercilessly regardless of the reduction in fun, you can offer the players a change to earn the solution to their problems, with more encounters.

Often, this takes the form of an imperfect patron.

The Perfect Imperfect Patron

A patron is a great way to add new options to a campaign. Players know there are other powerful movers and shakers in a campaign setting, so someone with access to things they lack, and thus the solutions to their problems, are a reasonable part of the setting. And, obviously, if you want to be able to use a Patron to introduce ways for PCs to undergo encounters to buy the answers they need, you want your patron to be a fairly powerful entity. This is where your archwizards, angels of allied deities, cosmic heralds of fundamental forces of the universe, and tech billionaires can be handy.

But.

At the same time, you need the patron to be someone that both can’t just solve all their problems with the snap of a finger, and someone that can’t be relied upon to solve all the problems of the campaign (leaving the PCs with nothing to do). You need an imperfect patron.

You don’t want the PCs to be personal friends with Elmage the ArchEverything, because Elmage can likely just fix things without blinking. But if Elmage exists, and is nearly always in astral meditation protecting reality from cosmic horrors, it can be super-useful to know Elmage’s secretary. The secretary can’t just fix things, but DOES have access to the ArchEverything’s contacts and correspondence. Elmage himself can’t be awoken for something like this, but he has a lesser colleague who asked if Elmage knew any hearty heroes willing to undertake a weird journey, and that colleague An fix their problem… if they get their own help first.

Rather than an Angel, perhaps the PCs know an oracle, or medium, who can commune with powerful spirits but can’t guarantee the results. The tech billionaire is under investigation and can’t access most of her holdings, but she does have a friend in the right field she can put them in touch with. The Cosmic Herald has vast and ill-defined powers… but has also only had this job for 3 months and lost the manual. He’s sure he CAN just snap his fingers and fix the issue… but doesn’t know how. What he CAN do, though…

These kinds of imperfect patrons work best if you introduce them before you need them. Absent-minded demigods, long-retired and dottering high priests who just want to raise orchids. Lone bronze juggernauts of the God of Deals, who is left standing in the middle of a ruin where there was once a city, bound to wait there for ever for someone to need a deal badly enough to come talk to them. Folks who, when you first introduce them, clearly are not the end-all be all of the getting-things-done department, but have let slip to PCs that if things are ever REALLY bad, they might have… options.

So, what does an encounter to solve a problem look like? Some are obvious. The Cave of Wonders has this lamp, but is warded against Jafar, but if you go grab it, you can also have the Rod of Restoration you need.

Of course if a player is dead or unplayable, you may need to get more creative.

Planar Works Program

The Patron is more than happy to help the PCs with their problem… but in order to have the resources needed to do so, the PCs need to help out the Patron first.

Whatever Patron is working with the PCs has allies who often summon creatures for help. But there are cosmic threats afoot (as GM you can allude to whatever you have planned as a big plot point in 5 levels if you want, or you can hand-wave this by saying it’s all happening in adjacent realities, its just causing a shortage of resources) which leave the Patron short of souls/spirits/celestial badgers to send in answer to those summons.

So the Patron needs the PCs to fill in.

You can have the PCs (living and dead) be sent in lieu of whatever angels, demons, fey things or elementals would normally respond to a summons, or you can give the PCs NPC stat blocks for a few encounters. Regardless, you have them take the role of creatures summoned by heroes in other planes, planets, countries, or whatever. Once they cover 2-3 such events, they have bought their patron enough slack that the Probelem can be solved.

As GM you can have a lot of fun with this. First, since the PCs are being summoned, you can give them hints of plot elements normally off-screen. Planning for the Queen of Graves to be awakening in the Barrowmire, beyond the Shallow Sea? Well that may be 5,000 miles from the PCs bodies, but if a flumph cleric in the Barrowmire summons them to help fight the undead Regicidals who serve the Queen, the PCs can see part of the scene of things going badly, but without the time to do a whole lot about it.

You can also give PCs much different goals and challenges that usual. For example, a TPK isn’t a big deal if the PCs are summoned spirits who will return to their Patron rather than truly die. They may not speak the languages of their summoner, and have to quess what task they must perform. They might only be present for the duration of a single summoning spell–of if they can give the creature that summoned them enough aid, perhaps they can be re-summoned (with full health and daily abilities) multiple times during one fight. If any PC is looking for someone (a long-lost sister, the man who burned their town down), they could spot that individual at the summoned spot, but not know its exact location in the world.

Speaking of Patrons

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Intimidating in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

When you expand a game’s rules to cover specific tropes, you want to make sure you don’t take options that should be available to everyone and make them character-specific or class-specific feats and features. It’s okay if the same trope can be produced using more than one set of game rules (as long as all the options make sense), but you don’t want to end up with only soldiers being able to do something as basic as twirl a pistol.

Or dishearten a frontier town beyond the reach of quick or reliable assistance (a favored tactic of everything from bandits to rakshasa)

And that brings us to Intimidate in the Really Wild West, where the skill has a few additional tasks available.

RWW Mounted Rakshasa

(Art by Дмитрий)

New Intimidate Tasks

Dishearten

Disheartening is showing such superiority that creatures are unwilling to be caught taking action against you, though they certainly won’t move to help you. Disheartening is similar to bullying (and has the same DC), but the effect only brings the target up to indifferent, and the effects last for 1 week, +1 week per 5 you exceed the DC. You can dishearten a target as a full action, normally as a show of force (shooting at someone’s feet to force them to dance, smashing your fist through a wall, lifting someone with one arm, and so on).

You can dishearten a group as an action that takes one minute, but only after disheartening a member of that group. This only functions if no member of the group has a CR that matches or exceeds your own, or the group as a whole has a CR below that of you and your obvious allies.

While disheartened targets are likely to be unfriendly or hostile, but will take no action they believe can be traced back to them, publicly acting indifferent.

At the end of a dishearten duration, the targets can act as their true attitude dictates. However, you can extend a dishearten (the duration of a new check replaces the old duration), or even re-dishearten an individual or group.

RWW Rakshasa head b and w

(art by Helen_F)

Hold at Bay

When dealing with creatures with an Intelligence of 3 or less (modifier of -4 or less) or with no Int score at all, you can’t make threats with words—but you can sometimes still make a threat. If you have something the creature instinctively avoids (fire, for most animals and vermin, for example) as a standard action you can use it to hold the creature at bay. The target must be within line of sight and line of effect, and the DC is 13 + 1.5x the target’s CR. This even works for creatures immune to mind-affecting effects and swarms (the classic scene where the mass of scarabs are kept back with a torch), as long as you have something they can perceive and instinctively avoid. You can use this against a group of similar creatures (that all instinctively avoid the same object), but the DC is increased by 2 per creature beyond the first.

On a successful check, the target creature will not come within 15 feet of you for 1 round. For every 5 by which you exceeded the DC, the range increased by 5 feet. This is a sense-dependent ability.

This task can also be performed against outsiders and undead, but normally requires a source of supernatural dread. This may include holy symbols, depending on the creature. Some special relics may have the power to hold creatures at bay that typical examples of such symbols cannot (such as using the Crystal Ankh of Saint Frasier to hold giants at bay, even though giants are not normally subject to this task).

A successful Recall Knowledge check regarding a creature will normally tell you if a specific object at hand will function to keep them at bay.

PATREON
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Keeping the Memorial

All this week’s content will go up. 5 articles over the course of the week.

Just, not on Memorial Day.

New Operative Specialization in Really Wild West: Pistoleer (For Starfinder)

We wrap up out look at operative class options in the Really Wild West (and therefore Starfinder in general) with the pistoleer specialization, and one extra exploit that synergies with it despite not being part of it. While the gunslinger and soldier are both classes that may well use pistols (one reason gunslinger abilities have multiple ways of being accessed by soldiers), the existence or trick attack means operatives are the class most likely to focus on small arms, and deserve a unique way to specialize with such weapons.

Rww Shootist

(art by warpaintcobra)

New Operative Specialiation: Pistoleer
While all gunfighters may have a preference for one firearm over another, a pistoleer specifically focuses on pistol-combat, trading versatility for greater expertise in small arms.
Associated Skills: Bluff and Sleight of Hand. When you use Bluff to make a trick attack, you gain a +4 bonus to the skill check.
Specialization Exploit: Fast on the Draw
Sweep the Room (Ex): At 11th level as a full action you can make one small arm attack against every target in a cone out to your weapon’s second range increment. If you are holding multiple small arms, you can decide which small arm is used to attack which target. Each attack takes the weapon’s normal ammunition usage and you cannot reload during this attack, even if you have a way to reload without taking an action. When you run out of ammunition, your attacks stop.

Operative Exploits:

[2nd Level]

Shootist (Ex)
You gain a gunslinger ability. You must select one that could normally be used with small arms or longarms (though it can also be usable with other weapons as well). You must meet its other prerequisites. You can only use it with small arms.
At 4th level, you gain a second gunslinger ability using the same rules and limitations.

[10th Level]

Fast on the Draw (Ex)
You gain the Quick Draw feat – if you gain the Quick Draw feat through other means, you gain the ability to draw a small arm as a reaction whenever someone within your line of sight makes an attack against anyone. You can still take a full action on a round you Quick Draw as a swift action.

Additionally, you gain a +1 bonus to the attack roll of trick attacks made with a small arm in the first round of a combat.

And Now, Your Sponsor!

This post brought to you by the starjammersrd.com! A sponsor from my Patreon Campaign, they have the Starfinder-compatible rules you may need is an easily accessed, hyperlinked format (including things like my gunslinger!)

 

New Operative Exploits in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

We already did a few operative exploits for the Really Wild West, but we obviously want more than 3 new thematic options for the operative class. So here are 4 more, inspired by Western tropes, but appropriate for most Starfinder campaigns.

RWW Mounted cowgirl

(art by Daniel)

Artillery Tricks (Ex)

You have learned to apply your flexible attack style to starship combat. When you do damage with starship weapons, you roll both its normal damage, and (separately) your trick attack dice. You use whichever total is higher, though you still cannot exceed the starship weapon’s maximum damage.

Bushwacker (Ex)

If all foes are unaware of your location at the beginning of a combat, you may make a Stealth check, rather than an initiative check, to determine your iniativie.

Flexible Tricks (Ex)

You can use any weapons to make trick attacks, rather than just operative weapons and small arms. However, the precision and light touch needed to make a trick attack prevents you from getting the full impact of more powerful weapons when you perform a trick attack with them. The maximum weapon damage you can deal using a weapon while trick attacking is based on your operative class level, as noted below. If you have Weapon Specialization with the selected weapon, it is limited to half your character level when you make trick attacks with it.

Level      Max Weapon Damage
1              1d3
2-3          1d4
4              1d6
5-6          1d8
7              1d12
8              2d6
9              2d8
10           2d10
11           3d6
12           3d8
13           4d6
14           4d8
15           6d6
16           5d8
17           6d8
18           7d8
19           8d8
20           9d8

Steer With Your Knees (Ex)
You can steer a vehicle, or control a mount, without using your hands. This means when mounted, you do not need to make a special Survival check to control your mount without using your hands.

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Designing Really Wild West/Starfinder Faction Rules

We discussed some organizations for Really Wild West yesterday, and I mentioned we might talk about some rules that cover how players interact with them during the week.  Lots of games have had faction/organization/reputation rules. I want SOMETHING like that for Really Wild West, but I want to keep it simple. So, here’s a first stab.

For these rules, factions and organizations are seen as interchangeable, though a GM might well split that hair more finely for a specific campaign. (For example a single organization might have multiple factions within it, and increasing your reputation with one faction might have no impact on others, or even lower your reputation).

Organizations have the same attitudes as NPCs – Helpful, Friendly, Indifferent, Unfriendly, and Hostile. An organization is normally Indifferent to you unless it has some reason to see you as a threat. This includes people known to strongly support or be members of opposing organizations or factions, though normally not casual supporters. For example, the Religion of Humanity in Porfiriate Mexico is explicitly rationalist, and dismisses all religion as anti-intellectual superstition. Thus a member of the Church of Humanity is likely to be unfriendly to actual priests, and certainly missionaries, from other faiths, though someone who is simply a member of that faith is unlikely to be seen in the same light unless they make a strong point of pushing their beliefs on others.

Those attitudes determine how much help and aid the organization as a whole will extend you (or how much it’ll try to harm you). This is separate from the attitude of specific NPCs, though the two can overlap. Professor Amelia Von Schtat might personally be very fond of you, and do what she can to aid you, but as a Preceptor of the Faustus Society she can’t help that her superiors want you dead.

RealWest-TrainAssault-color-01

Qualifying Events

You can attempt to alter an organization’s attitude toward you, but only with a Qualifying Event. Just talking to a faction, sending them gift baskets, and hanging around spending money in their stores is not enough to actually cause the organization as a whole to think better of you.

Here are some example qualifying events. Most only let you make a check to improve the organization’s attitude towards you once.

Formally joining a faction

Bring a senior member to helpful attitude

Bring a commanding member to helpful attitude.

Performing an impactful service

“Performing an impactful service” normally represents doing something for the faction that is important, more than the faction would expect from you, and something word of gets back to them about. In general to be considered “impactful” the service should be something that takes an investment one step higher than the level of attitude you are trying to bring the organization to. For example, if the Gesellschaft is Indifferent toward you, you’d have to do something noteworthy that only a Friendly character would normally be willing to do in order to make a check to improve the organization’s attitude toward you to Friendly.

Maintenance

It’s true – groups want to know what you have done for them lately. An organization is friendly or helpful to you (or just friendly or helpful if you are a formal member, however that organization determines such things), you must make a Maintenance Check from time to time to keep their attitude toward you at that level. If you fail a Maintenance Check, the organizations attitude toward you is decreased by one step,

Reaction Checks

A Reaction Check is like a Maintenance Check, but it is triggered only by some specific even the organization is aware of. Here are some sample Qualifying Events.

Lose formal membership for the faction.

Fail at an important duty you perform for the faction.

Publicly join an opposing faction.

Perform an impactful service for an opposing faction.

DCs to Come

This is just a sketch of the system I have in mind. I’ll nee to think about what the skill checks and DCs allowed are. I suspect I’ll always allow Diplomacy, but you may sometimes be able to make another skill check appropriate to the organization or your qualifying event. For example if you are trying to make the Faustus Society treat you better, and you have Profession (archaeology), and you undertake an archaeological expedition for them, it makes sense you could make that profession check to improve their attitude.

And if you kill one of their foes, you might even be able to make an attack roll or a raw class level check to improve their attitude.

It’s a work in progress. 😊

PATREON
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