RPG Seed: Journeyfolk

This is the seed of an idea. The barest hint of a setting, a slight blush of a game mechanic.

The Setting

There are great and mighty heroes of the land, movers and shakers who can face down armies, raise mountains, and challenge the gods themselves.

These titans are busy. Perhaps they must oppose the forces of Khernobog. But for whatever reason, while these paragons can do any twenty things they wish, there are always 100 more things to do.

You have been apprenticed to one of these mighty beings for years, cleaning weapons and cooking meals and cleaning up after familiars. But now, you are a journeyfolk. You are trusted to actually take care of some minor things on your own, dealing with some of of the 100 problems your great and powerful patron doesn’t have time for so they are freed to tackle other issues.

And if one of these lesser problems kills you, that will prove it’s important enough to draw your patron’s direct attention.

The Rules

When you attempt something you might fail at, you make a roll. Every die that turns up as a 5 or more on that roll is a success. For typical things, one success means you have accomplished your task. Difficult things, or those actively opposed by others, might require 2 or more successes at once. Long, complex things might require many successes, earned over time.

Every turn, you get three action dice. These are normally d6s. (For our purposes these are colored green, though that’s not required by the rules). Anything you do on your turn must have at least one action die attached to it. If it’s something you can’t fail at (walk across the room), you just expend the die and take the action. If it’s an action you could fail, you roll the action die to see if you succeed.

You also have other dice, like Physcial dice (attribute dice are blue), Combat dice (skill dice are white), and Fire Spell dice (magic dice are red). These start at a d6 each. When you expend an action die to attempt something, you can add these dice if they are applicable.

You can keep adding dice to see if you succeed, until you roll a “1” on one or more dice, at which point you have to stop. However, you can only use each die you have one per turn, and every action must at least one action die attached to it.

You can spend experience points to buy up the value of your dice. Buying up skill dice is cheap (they only apply to a limited number of rolls), buying up attribute dice is more expensive (they apply to broad categories — in fact there may only be three attributes, like Mental, Physical, and Spiritual), and buying up action dice are extremely expensive (as they can apply to any action).

When you take damage, you have to degrade your dice. I’m not sure how yet. Maybe just your action dice degrade. They can go down to a d4, which can’t *succeed* at a task, but you can still expend those action dice to do things (you’ll just have to expend additional dice as well, if you are attempting a thing you could fail at).

Damage might be broken into categories, like physical (wounds), mental (confusion or insanity), social (reputation), and spiritual (possession, demoralization). If so, engaging in a public debate can’t result in physical damage (unless things escalate to violence), but might result in you taking damage to a Diplomacy or Mental Attribute die.

Your patron is also a die, but one you can only use out of combat, and which has a recharge time measured in days or weeks, rather than a turn. Need to talk your way past a guard? Invoke your patron’s name. Want a curse removed? get your patron to send you the materials needed to do so. Want to have a band of mercenaries guard a town? Ask your patron to pay for them.

The more often your patron helps journeyfolk like you, the fewer resources they can dedicate to help on each occasion. Your patron die begins at a d10, with a one week cooldown. You can move it up to a d12 with a month cooldown or a d20 with a season cooldown; or a d8 with a day cooldown.

This obviously isn’t a playable system yet, but it’s the nugget from which a game could be carved out.

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Announcement: Change of Course

Well I don’t like TOO much preamble before getting to the point of the announcement, so here’s the tl;dr version.

My wife Lj has gotten a job in Indiana, working as an Executive Assistant for Lone Wolf’s vice-president. As a result, she and I are moving from WA to IN.

In fact, Lj is flying out to our new apartment (if you need our new address and don’t have it, drop me a line) on Saturday. June 15th. In 3 days.

I’ll be around for about a month in Redmond, and then go out to join her.

Inevitably some folks will have questions, so predicting them as best I can, and in no particular order:

Starfinder isn’t going anywhere. Paizo has lots of amazing, hard-working, and talented people on that game line, and they have known I was leaving for a bit now. We don’t know exactly how everything will get sorted out, but the game line and its products will continue.

I remain a huge fan of Paizo, Pathfinder (both editions), Starfinder, the Adventure Card Game, and even things I can’t talk about yet. I was a freelancer for Paizo for years before I was a full employee, and I expect to be freelancing for them again in the future.

While Lj getting a job is the reason for this change, yes, I have plans that involve other companies. But I’m not announcing any of them just yet. Rest assured, I am not leaving gaming behind.

Yes, this is why Rogue Genius Games is taking a short break. But in the long run, it’s not going anywhere. I have plans and plans, yet, for my tiny little gaming company, and its partners and allies.

Yes, that’s why I will be at Gen Con this year. I had decided not to do any out-of-state conventions in 2019. But that won’t be out-of-state by August.

If you have more questions, let them fly!

Making d20 Creatures Interesting: Phase Venom

In general, d20 games are more fun if the foes have abilities that require PCs to make interesting decisions.

Ideally these abilities can be easily figured out (perhaps after being experienced a time or two), follow an internal logic, and force the players to try new things without being frustrating or overpowered.

For example:

Phase venom. A creature with phase venom is out of phase with all standard planes of existence. It takes only 50% of the damage inflicted on it, and it only 50% likely to be effected by nondamaging effects.

All the creature’s attacks infect targets injured with phase venom, causing them to be more in-phase with it, and less with the normal universe. Such targets do full damage to the phase venom creature and have nondamaging effects affect it, normally, but receive 50% less healing from allies not at the same phase, and each round are 50% less likely in that round to be affected by non-damage based abilities (such as beneficial spells) cast by allies not at the same phase. They also take only 50% damage from creatures not out-of-phase, and are only 50% likely to be affected by such foe’s nondamaging effects.

A target of phase venom becomes fully in-phase with their normal reality after one minute.

Now, this makes a creature very resistant to PC attacks, but it also gives them a way to make it less resistant, at the cost of potentially being more cut off from ally support. OTOH, if the phase venom creature is used in a fight with creatures that don’t have that ability, a PC that becomes out-of-phase is actually harder for some foes to hurt… which may cause them to target in-phase foes.

None of this is overpowering, but it adds a new element to an encounter, forcing PCs to decide who is best to face off against each kind of foe.

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“One Night in Greyhawk”


“Grayhawk, D&D setting
And the players don’t know that the DM is getting
The creme de la creme of the game world
In a boxed set with everything but G. Gygax

Time flies doesn’t seem a minute
Since the Trithereon temple had the PCs in it
All change don’t you know that when you
Play at 10th level there’s no ordinary venue

It’s Perrenand or the Bone March or Highfolk or
Or this place!

One night in Greyhawk and you’ll find a cloister
There are priests in temples but the heals ain’t free
You’ll find a mage in every bar’s gone roister
And if you’re lucky then the mage’s a sidhe
I can feel an encounter sliding up to me

One town’s very like another
When your head’s down over your character sheet, brother

It’s a drag, it’s a bore, it’s really such a pity
To be ranting at the bard, not exploring under the city

Whaddya mean?
Ya seen one crowded, polluted, stinking sewer
Otyughs, dark oubliette
Some are set up in the under Tailor Street

Get real, you’re talking to a gamist
Whose every roll soon become famous”

With apologies to songwriters: Tim Rice / Benny Goran Bror Andersson / Bjoern K. Ulvaeus

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Rogue Genius Games and Pathfinder 2nd Edition

While RGG doesn’t have access to the Pathfinder 2e rules yet, we DO know we will want to support that game system.
One of our first releases is almost certainly going to be an update of the Time Thief.
That means it’s a good idea to get our concept of what an “iconic” Time Thief looks like settled.
So, we sent Jacob Blackmon an art order, and with just a little feedback, we got this.
I don’t know exactly what a 2e Time Thief can do yet, but I know what she looks like!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling


But… THEN what?

There will be new ideas, and new freelance opportunities, and new projects, of course.

But I am also VERY likely to update some of our most popular Pf1 classes to Pf2.


Noting that things I update for Pathfinder 2e is going to have a reconsideration of all their elements (rules, themes, art, style, niche, tone, and so on)– because when you know better you do better, and goodness knows I have learned a bunch over the past decade, and:

Keeping in mind I expect the Pf2 Time Thief is already on this list and should also handle the Time Warden:

And that I suspect some Pf1 classes will be beter served as archetypes in Pf2:

AND that I am likely to wait for official Paizo rules for some game elements (like hexes) before I build a class using them (though I could redesign to not use them):

What RGG classes would you be most interested in seeing updated to Pf2 earlier, rather than later?

Anachronist Adventures classes (and likely the rest of that book, too)
Archon/Riven Mage
Death Knight
Death Mage
Mosaic Mage
Shadow Assassin/Shadow Warrior
War Master
Witch Hunter
Hybrid Class — Blasphemer
Hybrid Class — Fury
Hybrid Class — Mountebank
Hybrid Class — Opportunist
Hybrid Class — Possessed
Hybrid Class — Psychemist
Hybrid Class — Shifu

Let me know in the comments, or at https://twitter.com/Owen_Stephens, or at owen.stephens@gmail.com, or at https://www.facebook.com/OwenK.C.Stephens

Or, if you are a Patron, at my Patreon! https://www.facebook.com/OwenK.C.Stephens


Speculative Fiction Show Ideas

Speculative Fiction Show Ideas

Look, Amazon and Netflix are greenlighting everything else, so…

“SPOOKED” When the randomly-selected patsy of a deep cover spy mission turns out to have an honest-to-magic necromancer as a sister, spies and ghosts face off in a world that runs from honeypots to ceramic urns and pits undercover against undead.

“BLACK SPOT” For centuries the Order of the Black Spot have been hunting and killing pirates, working outside of government and outside the law. Now the King, Queen, and Jack of Spades, the royal family ruling the order, have mysteriously turned to the FBI to give information about bringing down both the remaining pirate organizations of the world, and their own Order.

“CRIME AND CHAOS” When the government becomes the problem, who can the people turn to? A mastermind thief, greedy con, addicted stage magician, reformed pacifist ex-assassin, gray hat hacker, and disillusioned counterfeiter form the ultimate crime league, with their only targets the corrupted forces who now control law and order.

“PLAN Z” Dozens of corporations and more than a few terrorist groups have access to a weaponized virus that creates undead, and the governments of the world are endlessly dealing with breakouts and pandemics in a desperate bid to prevent the zombie apocalypse. When a zone is too hot for any human to be sent in, the trained, international, experimental squad of soldiers who are immune carries to the zombie virus are sent in as Plan Z.

“GOTHIC JUSTICE” When Lady Penanggalan went to sleep in 1800, she expected her monstrous partners to wake her in a century, as agreed. Now it’s 2017, and she’s discovered not only did the other Gothic Scions betray her, most have turned to run organized crime. She is pissed, and ready to work with human law if that’s what it takes to gain her revenge. But the most powerful of those scions, the dreaded Akephaloi or “Headless Man” knows more about Lady Pen’s sleep and why her allies betrayed her than she could ever guess.

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My PaizoCon Schedule, 2019!

It’s PaizoCon time!

Here’s when I will be where!


4-6pm, 10pm-on: Hanging around the Doubletree. Don’t be shy, come say hi! heck, if you want to be able to pitch things to me later, and you see me, “You mentioned on your blog anyone could ask for a business card” is a great conversation-opener!


9am — Starfinder Delve! I am running 20-minute slots on a table near registration. I have SUCH robo-wonders to kill you with!

10am — Pathfinder 2e Delve! One table over. Kill-you, kill-you,. kill-you is three actions, right?

11am — I’m hanging out near the Seminar rooms, keeping an eye on things.

12-12:50pm — Seminar: Industry Insider: How do Ideas Become RPG Products? (Cascade 8) It’s just me, so come with your questions!

1-1:50pm — Lunch! Almost certainly in the hotel restaurant or nearby table. Again, come say hi!

2-5:45pm — Into the Emerald Star Spire, part 11. Six years. 10 conventions. One persistent dungeon. I believe all the seats are full.

6pm-On: Floating about at the hotel!


9am — Pathfinder 2e Delve! I promise to use the new rules. I don’t promise to use them correctly. 🙂

10am-12:45 pm — Lunch! Or… Brunch! Or, look I’ll need food from somewhere. 🙂

1-5:45pm — Into the Emerald Star Spire, part 12. I’m giving them bigger plasma cannons this year. How far can they get? Again, I think this is full.

7pm — Preview banquet! I have many hats in this industry, but I’ll have my Starfinder Design lead hat on for this event. Right? I mean… right?

10pmGrimmerspace launch party! (Cascade 13) Cash bar. Come say hi!


9am — Pathfinder 2e Delve! How goofy am I as a GM b y Sunday? Come find out!

12pmRPG Writing and Editing Workshop! (Cascade 8) With two members of our AMAZING editing staff, including our Managing Editor Judy Bauer! Simple editing test included.

4-6pmOblivion Oath Live! Come see why Pickles are Magic! We play for an hour, do Q&A for an hour, and it’s all streamed!


10am-1pm — Gaming With Staffers! (Cascade 12 & 13) What game? I dunno! Let’s find out together!

The Bottomless Tombs, Area 2

You can find the introduction, map, and index of the Bottomless Tombs here!

Area 2: The First Passage

Thirty feet down the shaft is the first passage, off the south wall. When the heroes are free to pay attention to it (likely after killing the centipedes in Area 1, though who knows how PCs will react to a vertical battle?), and assuming they have a light or can see in the dark, read or paraphrase the following.

An opening in the southern wall reveals a small space, no more than five feet wide and six feet tall. A 1-foot ledge sticks out into the shaft forming a narrow balcony that is part of that space’s floor. The opening is no more than a large hole in the shaft’s wall, with a broken door sitting in a stone frame 5 feet in. The floor is littered with bits of broken pottery, wood, and dirt, and the walls are stained by dark splashes of color.

More than one adventuring party has left a guard here over the years, and just left their refuse behind. The stains can be identified with a DC 10 Knowledge (dungeonering), or (nature) check to be a mix of water stains from when rain gets into the holw and old ichor, maybe from large vermin.

If more than one Small or Medium creature tries to fit within the space, they must squeeze.

The door was once fine preserved wood and brass, but has long since been smashed in and the brass fittings and hinges removed. A careful examination allows a DC 15 Perception check to realize the door was not designed to ever be opened once it was closed, and it had a trap built into the wall, though it is also long since gone.

The doorway leads to a 10-foot-long, 5-foot wide corridor, which ends in a portcullis. Read or paraphrase the following:

A portcullis blocks passage any further south. Made of rusted iron, it runs the width of the corridor, and its spiked bards set into small holes in the floor. It is covered in worn runs, and shows obvious signs of having been battered and hammered on, and one bar is bent outward toward you, making a space roughly the size of a cat. Just past the portcullis is a cross-corridor, running east and west. A lever, also of rusted iron, sits in the wall of that corridor, currently in the ‘down’ position. A rotting bag of sand is attached to the leaver by a frayed rope.

If you lift the leaver, the portcullis goes up. The last group of adventurers here tied a sandbag to the lever so it would be pulled down after they left. There’s no easy way to use a rope or similar flexible device to pull up on the lever from the north side of the portcullis.

The portcullis can be lifted by a DC 24 Strength check (so an 18 Strength character can do it by taking 20, though this is loud and time consuming). A Small creature can get through the bent-out bars with a DC 18 Escape Artist check, though failure results in 1 hp of damage from jagged edges. The portcullis has 8 hardness and 30 hp per bar, so a group could just hammer on it and hope to break open a bigger hole.

A DC 15 Disable Device check allows a character to find a way to trigger the lever, and a DC 15 Engineering check can be used to rig a staff or similar device to flip the lever u by using the crossbars on the portcullis as a leverage point, though this also requires a successful DC 15 Strength check.

Developments: The louder the PCs are, the more likely it is they draw out something from Area 3.

Design Philosophy: It’s a dungeon, so it should reward people ready for traps and mechanisms… but also not prevent groups without such preparation from getting to the fun part if they work at it. So this has lots of solutions, and is mostly about the players deciding how they want to handle such things.
It also establishes that doors here may have traps, which will matter later, with being a gotcha moment for players.

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The Bottomless Tombs, Area 1

We introduced the Bottomless tombs, and their map on Monday, and discussed the staging area around them yesterday.

So, it’s time to head down the shaft!

Area 1: Entering the Shaft [CR 1]

If the players closely examine the shaft before heading down, read or paraphrase the following.

The sides of the shaft are worked stone, but show signs of considerable wear. In a few places, smooth, though cracked, finishing stone still lines the walls but most of that has long-since chipped away. Most of the shaft is cracked stones, and in many cases these have large cracks, through which thick roots and vines grow to choke the shaft, tangled around the wreckage of worn logs and rope rigging from one or more some kind apparatuses that has fallen into the shaft in recent years.

If the PCs have darkvision, or a directional lightsource (such as a bullseye lantern), or wait until the sun is directly overhead, add the following.

It’s impossible to see more than 35-40 feet down the shaft, but a dark shadow just short of the limit of that range suggests a side passage extends off the southern wall of the shaft.

The first side passage is 30 feet down on the southern wall of the shaft. The only way to get to it, is to climb (or fly, but mostly 1st level characters can’t do that).

Hazards: The Climb DC for this section of the shaft is 10 if a PC just tries to climb along the roots and wreckage. If a rope is added (perhaps anchored to the iron ring in the staging area), the Climb DC drops to 5. Characters can take 10 on this check as long as nothing is attacking them. (Yeah… wait for it)

If a character fails a check by 5 or more, they fall. Luckily, the shaft of the Bottomless Tomb is so checked with roots and detritus, they eventually land on something able to hold their weight. When a character falls, roll 2d6 – 1d6. This value is both the damage they take, and the number of 5-foot squares they fall before landing on something. Most of the damage is from bouncing off roots or falling through rotted wood or frayed ropes. A character can fall 55 feet and only take 11 points of damage because they never build up much momentum.

If the value of the roll is 0 or less, the character is caught within 1 foot by something, and takes no damage.

Foes: There are house centipedes living in the cracks in the walls of the top of the shaft. they pretty well ignore ropes, rocks, or other things being thrown in (unless someone things to dangle meat on a rope, in which case they come out and swarm up the rope to get at the PCs), but once a creature is 20 feet down, they crawl out to attack any potential meal.

If you want to make their attack dramatic, read or paraphrase the following:

A noise like sand trickling over tight leather slowly fills the shaft. Movement rustles roots and ropes, beginning at one of the walls. A long centipede crawls out, more that a foot from it’s clicking mandibles to the end of its 100-legged body, the length of a halfling’s arm! Two more follow it, their heads swinging back and forth as the crawl along the sides and bottoms of the detritus choking the shaft and scuttle toward you!

Three centipedes attack when the first character gets down 20 feet. They have climb speeds, so they easily reach any point in the shaft. They attack any adjacent creature, or if none is adjacent the last creature to attack them.

They have cover from anyone more than 10 feet away, due to how clogged the shaft is.

Remember that despite their massive strength penalties, they do at least 1 hp on a successful attack.

Developments: After 1d4+1 rounds, three more house centipedes attack having been drawn by the sounds of combat.

Design Philosophy: There’s a lot going on with this encounter.

First, if you manage at least a +0 Climb bonus you can safely move around until the centipedes attack, and if you thought to have a rope anyone with at least a +4 (likely including anyone with a rank and a class skill and light armor) still can’t fail. this rewards more mobile characters even at 1st level.

Second, it’s a high-tension fight over a bottomless pit… carefully set up so if you fall you get caught before you go too far.

Third, anyone with even one point of DR can largely ignore the centipedes.

Fourth, it’s a 6-foe fight, which rarely happens until much higher level.

Fifth, the cover means melee characters in the shaft have a real advantage over ranged characters. This may not be true for most of their adventuring career, but it’s nice to start things off rewarding the nimble rogue on a rope with a dagger in one hand.

Sixth… poison. Not too serious, but anyone with bonuses to saves against poison gets to benefit from that immediately.

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The Bottomless Tombs, Staging Area

We introduced the Bottomless tombs, and their map, yesterday.

Now, it’s time to get to some adventure!

The Top of the Tomb

The first issue is reaching the shaft, and examine the areas around it before the PCs even think of climbing down the the shaft into the tomb and reaching the first side-passage. As the PCs reach the top of the tomb shaft, read or paraphrase the following:

The top of the shaft is a square hole in the ground, roughly 15-feet to a side. Dirt, sod, and bits of refuse are piled up around the hole, and the shaft itself is choked with long tree roots, clumps of matted grass, and a tangle or what seem to be old and broken woodwork and rope rigging. It doesn’t look particularly stable, but it does offer numerous handholds. Light doesn’t penetrate more than 40-50 feet into the shaft, but there is certainly no sign of a bottom to it within that range.

An iron ring, showing just some signs of rust, is looped through a large wooden stake driven into the ground 5 feet to the north of the hole. Not far from that sits a well-defined fire pit, ringed in stones and filled with a dense layer of cold ash and charcoal. Bits of cloth, broken glass, chipped whetstones, and strips of rawhide are scattered about, more than half-buried in the grass. Old woven grass mats are laying on the ground in a semicircle around the firepit.

The firepit, mats, and refuse are the remains of numerous camps adventurers have made here over the past several decades, thought the gnomes who came through a few weeks ago didn’t use any of it.

Hazards: The mats are long-since riddled with lice, and anyone who sleeps on one must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or be at -1 to all Dexterity ability and skill checks from itching until they are deloused with a DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or Heal check. A DC 10 Survival check reveals the mats are infested, and can use smoke from a fire in the firepit to cleanse them.

Treasure: One sunrod, three pitons, a cold iron dagger, and 2 cp can be found with careful examination of the old campsite and refuse around the shaft. Each can be found with it’s own DC 10 Perception check, and an additional item found in one attempt for ever 5 the check exceeds that base DC.

Developments: Animals and outlaws both check this area from time to time, looking for food or valuables. They don’t make any dedicated searches, so any effort to bury or conceal items is successful. however, if tents, or mules, or food stores are left unattended and unguarded at the old campsite, there is a 1-in-12 chance each day that either a wolf of a brigand comes along and raids obvious materials.

Design Philosophy: It’s not that common for 1st level characters to get much use out of Survival (especially in dungeon-focused games), or from searching areas that aren’t obviously dangerous but that detail-oriented adventurers should want to check out.

This also already gives characters a reason to be happy to have an animal companion or basic hireling. If anyone (or, within limits, anything) watches their stuff they can safely use the old campsite as a base of operations. Neither wolves nor brigands will risk fighting for trail rations or spare blankets, though a guard left behind can let PCs know that someone has been prowling around after a week or more of time watching.

Low-level characters also often don’t get much benefit out of resistance to disease, or the ability to make basic alchemy and Heal checks. Lice isn;t life-threatening, but that’s the point,. Characters can begin to learn ways in which the game world is dangerous without risking having am arm drop off or becoming a mummy.

Not yet, anyway…

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