Monthly Archives: December 2017

Really Weird West: Renown and Gear (for Starfinder)

The bell on the front door chimed, causing Gunner to look up, a smile leaping to his face out of habit. It froze midway to his lips, as he saw the figure slowly walking into his store. It was a short, broad woman, her antennae drooping with fatigue and dust covering her long coat and short-brimmed hat. The dust clung to her face as well, the delicate patterns common to a lashunta lost in the swirls of grime caked on her skin. The left side of her coat was dark, from the ribs down, and a ragged hole suggested the stain had a violent origin.

“May… may I help you?”

The visitor was rough, but Gunner sensed no threat from her. Not towards himself, in any case. But he kept one hand under his counter, near his shotgun. Just in case.

The woman moved slowly, but with purpose, crossing the room to his counter with firm steps. When she spoke her voice was as dusty as her clothes, but also filled with iron.

“I need a gun.”

She slapped a single golden credit on his countertop. A century-piece, sure, but not much for the price of a gun.

“Well…,” Gunner tried to think if anyone in town had an old derringer or wrack-piece they might part with for so little. It was often easiest to avoid trouble by seeing to its needs so it moved along on its own.

She nodded once, as if she could read his mind. And, a lashunta? Maybe she could.

“Cannibal Kid and his cult comin’ in on the noon train. I mean to meet them. I’d be obliged if I could do it with iron in my hand.”

Gunner felt all color drain from his face. Sometimes the Cannibals’ cult just got off a train and left town. Sometimes, they got… hungry…

“You… you going to face Cannibal on your own, miss?”

She shook her head. once.

“Got a posse. Good folks. Swedish rune-man. A gambler who hasn’t used all his luck, yet. And some crazy professor. But I can’t back their play as well with a fist as a gun. But I will, if I have to.

Gunner paused. Cannibal Kid’s loons had been a growing problem for years. And no one knew for sure if Cannibal had really been responsible for the destruction of the town of Pecan Prarie… but that was the best guess.

Gunner’d had family in Pecan Prarie.

Many people had gone after the Cannibal Kid, and ended up joining him for dinner. But there was something about this lashunta woman. Even covered in dirt and clearly hurt, her eyes were bright, and Gunner instinctively trusted her skills. With the right weapon, maybe she could end Cannibal, once and for all.

He reached under the counter, ignoring his own shotgun, and brought out a lacquered box. Opening it, he spun it to face the lashunta, revealing the gleaming, 4-barreled heavy pistol within. The name “Lewiston” was engraved on one barrel, and “Custom” on the one below it. Eight .454 rounds were nearly packed beside the pistol, each in their own satin-lined niche.

“Will this do, ma’am?”

The lashunta’s already bright-eyes nearly glowed as she reached out a hand and lifted the pistol from the box. The handle fit her hand even better than her own glove, and the expertise with which she checked the hammer, released the barrel-catch, and loaded all four barrels before snapping it shut left Gunner feeling he’d made a good investment.

“This will do just fine, mister. Just fine.”

Gunner slid the gold credit off the countertop. But if he heard good news about events at the noon train, he doubted he’d ever spend it.

Renown is an alternate equipment economy specifically for use with the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, though it *could* be adapted to other campaign settings. The idea is to alter the way PCs, pricing, and the world work in such a way as to keep an economy that feels more reserved, without seriously altering the ultimate balance of the game. Instead of all equipment being bought and sold exclusively for credits, higher-level gear requires renown, in keeping with the theme of famous gunslingers and frontier heroes of the Really Wild West.

As a recap, we’ve also looked at rules for mounted combat and shotguns, presented Badlands City and the Badlands Citizen theme, and presented a list of adventure seeds and inspirational media. While the really Wild West setting hack isn’t complete, there’s certainly enough material for it for a GM to build a campaign around it, if desired.

Renown

When using the Renown system, money by itself is used only to buy 1st and 2nd level equipment, which includes nearly all “mundane” gear such as rope, shovels, lanterns, and the vast majority of the worlds pistols. Even “extraordinary” 1st and 2nd level equipment, like an azimuth heat ray rifle (Really Weird West’s equivalent of a laser) is bought with normal credits. Such items can be sold for 50% of their value in credits.

Wealth per encounter, in credits and 1st and 2nd level items, never exceeds CR 2 values. If you face and kill a CR 7 Prairie Dragon… you get treasure, in credits and 1st and 2nd level gear, equal to a CR 2 encounter.

However, all characters also have Renown, which can be used to acquire items of 3rd level and higher, which are considered legendary items.

Renown is the measure of the character’s mystic legends. Some of that is normal reputation, and some of it is their impact on the Akashic record, the theosophic concept of a complete compendium of all events, thoughts, actions and intent to have ever happened… even if no one is aware of it. The Akashic record is recorded in the weft of the Ethereal Plane, and as characters perform actions, their impact on it grows. As a natural consequence of that impact, the characters end up with legendary gear, items that also have a greater impact on the Akashic record and naturally gravitate toward agents of importance and change who can get the most out of their extremely high quality.

When calculating rewards for an encounter, the difference between the normal wealth per encounter for CR 3 and higher encounters, and the maximum CR 2 rewards given out under the Renown system, is a character’s gain in Renown. Fighting off six Texas Tick Twisters may not earn you any credits or reward, but you gain Renown even if no one knows you did it, as it has an impact on the supernatural fore of the Akashic Record, which pulls legendary items toward you.

Legendary items aren’t common, and no amount of money guarantees you can buy one. These are the objects that have their own stories and rumors, and collectors and master craftsmen can spend lifetimes hunting down just one such item. These are things like a Lewiston Custom Original, one of the 12 original 4-barrel pistols built by hand by master gunsmith Ezrah Lewiston and equipped with tiny screws and pins to allow it to be customized by every user for perfect balance. While the mass-produced Lewsiton 4-barrel is based on the twelve Custom Originals, it lacks the exacting standards and precision of its legendary progenitors.

If you wish to buy a legendary item, you can cover the first 1,000 of its cost in credits, but the rest you must spend in Renown. In general such items are not for sale commonly, but the same power that causes Legendary items to be available only to those with enough Renown tend to put such items in the path of their destined users. A character can choose to buy one Legendary item, with an item level no greater than their character level +2, each time they arrive at a new settlement. The character’s player decides in advance which item they want, and normally it is available if they have the renown to cover it.

When making gear of 3rd level or higher, you must cover the first 1,000 credits of cost in money (high quality raw materials and precision instruments aren’t cheap, after all), but the rest of the item’s cost you may choose to cover in Renown. In this case you are imbuing such items with a bit of your own legend.

Parting with a legendary item restores some of the Renown used to acquire it… but not much. If you give away or sell a legendary item, you regain 10% of its Renown value to add back to your total. For example, if you sell one of the rare Lewiston Custom Original 4-barrel pistols, you regain 550 Renown, 10% of the 5,500 Renown required to acquire such a rare and storied pistol. If you sell a legendary item you can expect to be paid 750 + (1d6 x 100) credits by a collector or a major figure (senators, rail barons, Black Hand dons, bandit generals, high society types, and so on) or their agents. Such things generally then disappear from the world of adventuring, to live in a glass case or on the hip of someone who’s never in any real danger.

Legendary items have prices listed with an “r,” to indicate that all but 1,000 of the price must be paid with Renown.

This system does require a GM to add some flavor to 3rd level and higher gear, to set legendary items apart from 1st and 2nd level gear, but that’s not too difficult (and, honestly, players may be allowed to suggest backstories of the legendary gear they acquire, since it is part of their own Really Weird West legend once they get it). For some examples of how legendary versions of gear might be presented differently than 1st and 2nd level mundane gear, here are some pistols reskinned to fit the Really Weird West.

WEAPON LVL PRICE DAM RANGE CRIT LOAD BULK SPECIAL
Lewiston 4-Barrel 1 260 1d6+2 P 30 ft. 4 rounds L
Ajax Revolver 1 260 1d6 30 ft. 6 rounds L +1 to attack rolls
Lewiston Original Custom 7 5,500 r 2d6+4 60 ft. 4 rounds L
Statesman Revolver 7 5,500 r 2d6 60 ft. 6 rounds L +1 to attack rolls
Lewiston Trainkiller 10 18,200 r 3d6+6P 60 ft. 4 rounds L
Kingmaker Revolver 10 18,200 r 3d6 60 ft. 6 rounds L +1 to attack rolls

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Really Weird West: Plot Hooks and Inspirational Media

Since there’s certainly no full published adventure support for the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, I thought it might be useful to both provide some adventure seeds, and provide a list of inspirational media. That said, a GM interested in running a Really Weird West campaign need not feel like every adventure needs to be custom-crafted from scratch. Most adventures appropriate to the Starfinder Roleplaying Game can be reskinned to run in Really Weird West (with space stations becoming port towns, starships becoming zepplins, hyperspace travel becoming riverboat or airship travel, other planets being other states and/or islands, and so on). Similarly, adapting adventures designed for related fantasy RPGs is easy by changing lost dungeons into lost mines or ancient civilization cities, and adding guns to most foes.

But if you do want to create your own adventures, or add introductions, side-quests, and major revisions to existing adventures, the adventure seeds below and inspirational media lists that follow should provide numerous appropriate jumping-off points.

Adventure Seeds

1. You come across a dead, masked Texas Ranger, with a gunbelt full of silver bullets. He was clearly mauled by a giant wolf. This leads to an adventure tracking down a group of werewolf bandits.

2. A madman named Robur, operating in unincorporated territories, has nearly completed the Death Cloud, an airship with a rebuilt Martian heat ray so powerful it can destroy an entire city in a single shot. He’d see an entire army coming and wipe them out, but a small group might be able to sneak past his defenses and blow up the Death Cloud from within.

3. Someone has been stealing hegesistrati (a “hegesistratus” being a gearjack prosthetic), knocking out veterans of the War of the Worlds and ripping the most advanced gearjack technology from their bodies. At the same time, rumor is a new mad genius will sell you gearjack armor cheap…

4. A dragon is terrorizing the small town of Walnut Grove. It’s smart enough not to appear when the cavalry is around, and no one has found its lair, somewhere in the badlands…

5. The PC with the best pistol attack bonus receives a letter. The infamous killer and quickdraw artist Doc Valentine has heard people claim the PC is better with a pistol than valentine, and is coming to town on the noonday train tomorrow to call the PC out to a shootout.

6. The PCs order new gear from a major town, to arrive by train. The train is hit by bandits, and their gear stolen.

7. An unscrupulous lawyer has stolen the designs for a local ally genius’s rainmaking machine, which will save entire counties of farmers from a serious drought. He has a head start, but the PCs know he’ll be on a moving train for a specific leg of his journey, so if they can just rob the train and get the design back…

8. A young man in strange clothes claims to be a time traveler, and he needs to find his elder friend and repair his time machine before he does major damage to the timeline…

9. There’s a new addictive drug in the territory, premade black cigarettes called Coffin Nails. If the gang pushing it isn’t stopped, they may gain enough power to challenge the US government.

10. One Martian tripod, alone in the desert, is still active.

11. The Mole People are kidnapping singers, for some reason, and some of the singers that have taken are important high society folks that need to be rescued from their underground kingdom.

12. Someone has desecrated a Civil War battlefield, and the dead from both sides are rising up to punish the living until the desecration is made right.

13. There’s something in The Mist.

14. The lost city of El Dorado offers vast treasures… if you can survive the traps, guardian constructs, rival explorers, and Olmec lizardfolk who have taken over.

15. The Hatfields have turned to necromancy. The McCoys have turned to diabolry. Everyone else has turned and run.

(Though in fairness, I have been informed “We McCoys would never turn to diabolry. Unstable alchemical explosives, maybe. Ninjitsu, probably. Mentally unstable deities that are still good-natured even if they cause far more problems than they should, definitely. Gigantic robots that can flatten a town without noticing, oh you bet we will.”)

16. The Illuminati hid a vast treasure in a long-abandoned mine, and a series of obscure clues will allow the PCs to get to it before a cult that wishes to use it to summon an ancient, elder god.

17. It’s snowing in the desert, and only one person has the cold-weather gear everyone needs survive. And he’s selling it at a huge mark-up. And whenever he runs out, white wolves bring him more.

18. A mad military genius has built a rolling fortress, and plans to use it to destroy a group he dislikes, be that a native tribe, a pioneer town, or the PCs’ base of operation.

19. Characters with advanced melee combat skills are being kidnapped and forced to fight in a tournament of Bullfighters, who face off against minotaurs in a labyrinth arena.

20. A villager from a small, unarmed town begs the PCs to come protect them from bandits. The bandits number in the hundreds, and the villagers can only pay in food and a place to stay, but without the PCs help, the village will be driven to the brink of starvation.

Inspirational Media
Taking a broad view of “Weird West” as a setting to include any strongly-Western setting (even if located somewhere other than the American Old West) that adds elements of the supernatural, or advanced technology (steampunk or not), or visitors (from monsters to aliens to time travelers), there’s a lot of media that can act as inspirations to create your own adventures, characters, and themes. I’ve excluded things that transport Western plots and sensibilities into other settings (so no Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers or Dark Tower or Firefly, all of which might well also spark ideas), not because they are in any way inferior, but because they tend to be better known and I wanted to keep this list manageable.

It’s worth noting that while these are great sources of Weird West inspiration… that doesn’t mean they’re great as forms of entertainment. Many are quite good, but some are truly awful. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth skimming through (or reading summaries of them) if you can’t sit through them the regular way, in order to get inspired to riff new ideas and characters and plots from the bad stories. Myself, I sometimes fin terrible books and movies are actually better sources of inspiration, as when they do something really dumb I find myself thinking “It would have been cooler if they’d done X,” and whatever X is, that’s my new, cool idea.

It’s also worth noting that nearly any western, fantasy, or cyberpunk plot can be easily adapted to a Really Wild West campaign. It’s easy to add some half-orcs to a bandit gang, have long-dead sorcerers wear black cowboy hats, and turn megacorporations into railways and cattle barons. If that doesn’t feel natural to you, try describing the driving force of a plot as generically as possible. The Fellowship of the Ring can simplify to “a local boy is convinced my a mysterious wanderer to take something dangerous to the big city for advice, then decides to throw it into a volcano which requires him and friends to pass through an abandoned mine, all while hunted by the original owner’s forces and elite generals.” One you have it reduced to that level, it’s easy to replace the local boy, mysterious wanderer, something dangerous, big city, and abandoned mine to seem more Weird Western. So if a pioneer has to take a Crimson Spike, which turns any railway into demon-summoning railroad line, to New Holt City where the Elven Preservation Society convinces him that to keep it from senator “Boss” Morghul he must take it through the old Brimstone Double-Y Mine to a volcano hidden in the Rockies… THAT’s Weird West.

COMICS
Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, publisher Dark Horse Books
Black Jack Ketchum, publisher Image Comics
Bouncer: The One-Armed Gunslinger, publisher Humanoids, Inc.
East of West, publisher Image Comics
High Moon, publisher Super Genius
Iron West, publisher Image Comics
Jonah Hex, publisher DC Comics
The Justice Riders, publisher DC Comics
Kingaway West, publisher Dark Horse Books
Lazarus Lane (El Diablo), publisher DC Comics
Magic Wind, publisher Epicenter Comics (English language publisher)
Pretty Deadly, publisher Image Comics
The Sixth Gun, publisher Oni Press
Trailblazer, publisher Image Comics
Zagor, publisher Epicenter Comics (English language publisher)

BOOKS
Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, author Paul Guinan
Boneshaker, author Cherie Priest
The Buntline Special and sequels, author Mike Resnick
Dead In The West, author Joe R Lansdale
Dead Man’s Hand, anthology, ed. by John Joseph Adams
Dead Man’s Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West, author Nancy Collins
The Dead Remember and other “Weird West” stories, author Robert E. Howard
Deadman’s Road, author Joe R Lansdale
Devil’s Tower and Devil’s Engine, author Mark Sumner.
The Encyclopedia Of Weird Westerns, author Paul Green
FRANK READE: Adventures in the Age of Invention, authors Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
The Golgotha Series, author R.S. Belcher.
The Hexslinger Series, author Gemma Files
Karen Memory, author Elizabeth Bear
Low Moon, anthology, ed. David A. Riley
“Mad Amos” stories, author Alan Dean Foster
A Road Paved In Iron, author Don Corcoran
The Shadow series, author Lila Bowen
Shadow on the Sun, author author Richard Matheson
Stagecoach Mary, author Jess Nevins
Straight Outta Tombstone, anthology, ed. By David Boop
The Sundowners Series, author James Swallow
Tales of the Far West short story collection, authors Gareth Skarka, Matt Forbeck, and others
Vermillion, author Molly Tanzer
Wax and Wayne series, author Brandon Sanderson
Zepplins West, author Joe R Lansdale

GAMES
Deadlands Classic, published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Deadlands Reloaded, published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Devil’s Gulch, for BRP, published by Chaosium
Down Dark Trails, for Call of Cthulhu, published by Chaosium
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, for Red Dead Redemption, published by Rockstar Games
Shadows of Brimstone, published by Flying Frog Games
Sixguns and Sorcery, for Castle Falkenstein, published by R. Talsorian
Werewolf: The Wild West, published by White Wolf Publishing

MOVIES
Back to the Future Part III, directed by Robert Zemeckis
Billy the Kid vs Dracula, directed by William Beaudine
Blood Moon, directed by Jeremy Wooding
Blood Rayne II Deliverance, directed by William Beaudine
Bone Tomahawk, directed by S. Craig Zahler
Bunraku, directed by Guy Moshe
The Burrowers, directed by J.T. Petty
Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
Curse of the Undead, directed by Edward Dein
Dead Man, directed by Jim Jarmusch
El Charro de las Calaveras, directed by Alfredo Salazar
From Dusk Til Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, directed by P.J. Pesce
Gallowwalkers, directed by Andrew Goth
Ghost Brigade aka The Killing Box, directed by George Hickenlooper
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, directed by Grant Harvey
The Good the Bad the Weird, directed by Kim Jee-woon
High Plains Invaders, directed by K. T. Donaldson
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, directed by William Beaudine
Jonah Hex, directed by Jimmy Hayward
High Planes Drifter, directed by Clint Eastwood
Ned Kelley, directed by Gregor Jordan
Pale Rider, directed by Clint Eastwood
The Phantom Empire (1935 serial), directed by Otto Brower and Breezy Easton
Purgatory, directed by Uli Edel
Ravenous, directed by Antonia Bird
Red Sun, directed by Terence Young
Sukiyaki Western Django, directed by Takashi Miike
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, directed by S.S. Wilson
Undead or Alive, directed by Glasgow Phillips
The Valley of Gwangi, directed by James O’Connolly
The Warrior’s Way, directed by Sngmoo Lee
The White Buffalo, directed by J. Lee Thompson
Wild Wild West, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

TELEVISION
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse
Kung Fu, created by Herman Miller and Ed Spielman
The Lazarus Man, created by Dick Beebe, Colleen O’Dwyer, and Michael Ogiens
Legend, created by Bill Dial and Michael Piller
Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, created by Ryan Brown and Bob Carrau
The Wild Wild West, created by Michael Garrison

Patreon
And, of course, the really Wild West setting is an example of weird west, and it’s made available by the supports of my Patreon! If you’re a fan, please consider offering a few dollars a month for support!

Leisure Writing vs Career Writing

I have gotten some feedback about how much writing I am doing now, on my vacation. Most of it is from a place of love and concern, and a little is friendly but understanding ribbing, but at least a small percentage of people genuinely don’t seem to understand the difference between RPG writing as a staff designer or developer or as a freelance writer, and the leisure-writing I have been doing the past week.

So, for those few folks, here is the most important distinction, distilled down.

I wasn’t feeling like writing anything tonight.

So I didn’t.

And that has no impact on my livelihood, or that of my friends, colleagues, and employers, so there’s no guilt, worry, or backlog that has to be made up later.

(And the more people who support me through my Patreon, the more writing time I can afford to spend on this blog and other freebies!)

Badlands Citizen Theme (For Really Wild West)

We continue our look at the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with a new theme, for characters with ties to Badlands City.

Badland Citizen Theme         [+1 Cha]

They say the people who live a year or two in Badlands City are just a little different from everyone else. Most locals will point out that the “Badlands Attitude” is far from universal… but if they’re being honest, they’ll also admit it’s not imaginary, either.

Theme Knowledge [1st]
You can’t live in a city created and rules by devils without learning a little about theosophy and theology. Reduce the DC of Mysticism checks to recall knowledge about evil outsiders and planes with evil attunement by 5. Mysticism is a class skill for you, though if it is already a class skill for the class you take at 1st level, you instead gain a +1 bonus to Mysticism checks. You also gain a +1 bonus to your Charisma score at character creation.

Twisted Truths [6th]
While the devils that still run important part of Badlands City can’t tell an untruth, they are masters of lies of omission, allowing others to leap to conclusions, and telling truths for ulterior motives. You have learned to take nothing at face value, and consider the implications of every statement. The DC of a Bluff check to convince you of an untruth when you are not suspicious of or attending carefully to the liar is 2 higher than normal, and it is not reduced by your having a friendly or helpful attitude toward the liar. Additionally, you gain a +2 bonus to Sense Motive checks made to detect deception.

Not Ready to Go [12th]
Even if you’ve never sold your soul to a devil for some benefit, you’ve considered it. And you while you have the sure knowledge there is a Hell that evil souls can be sent to, you can’t be sure what rules determine if you’re going. As a result, at the moment of death you find yourself with a  wellspring of determination to not go just year. Add 10% to your maximum age. Additionally, once per day when dying you can stabilize without spending Resolve Points. However, when you do this you cannot spend Resolve to stay in the fight within also paying the normal Resolve Point cost to stabilize, or waiting 1 minute.

Devil’s Due [18th]
Try as you might, a little of the bargaining nature of the ladies and lords of Badlands City has seeped into your personality. Once per day if you take 10 minutes to make a deal with someone, you regain one Resolve Point. Also, once per day when you get what you had due as part of a fulfilled bargain, you regain one Resolve Point.

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Badlands City (For Really Wild West)

As I have considered the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, I’ve begun to consider what kind of “Western” setting you end up with if you mix six guns and sorcery and steamtech and fantasy cosmology all into one stewpot. It’s easy to implement new rules the setting needs, such as more advanced mounted combat and shotguns, but what do the existing rules say about the universe this campaign takes place in? For example, if all the magic from the game is allowed in, including the summoning spells from Starfinder Alien Archive, that means this is a Weird West setting where at least some people can summon devils.

I’ve tried to let that sink in a bit. Somehow spellcasting elven sheriffs, steampunk cyborg half-orc bandits, and mechanics with automatons built out of leftover Martian technology suddenly feel like the minor changes to the Old West setting. Theosophy allows us to skin the supernatural in a specific flavor in this game, and of course this is an era of unmitigated flummery on stages and in sideshows and snake-oil stands, so some people will assume conjuring a dancing imp out of thin air is done with smoke and mirrors.

But some people will know. The Devil is real. Hell is real. And there lies power.

How does THAT get translated into a Western? Here’s the end result of my first foray into these ideas.

Badlands City

No one is sure who is responsible for Badlands City. The reasons why it might have been created are clear enough—the route between Sioux Falls and Rapid City is both heavily travelled and traditionally dangerous. Gold in the Black Hills still draws prospectors, investors, and brigands thought the main gold rush is long since over. Trains cover short distances, but are often attacked. Bandits have hideouts deep in the badlands that are hard to find, and almost as hard to clear out once located. The reservations given to the Lakota have been illegally reclaimed by force by the US government multiple times, and now answer a call to Ghost Dance and refuse to be pushed any further, even as rich wheat crops bring new settlers from the East. Though South Dakota is recently a state, so far this has done little to quell a land that has seen Indian wars, Martian tripods, and robber barons in armored trains.

It’s obvious that someone wanted a respite of civilization, following the laws of the United States, smack between the two major cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

And they were willing to sell their soul to get it.

Badlands City sits in the South Dakota badlands, roughly 2/3 of the way from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. It is the major stop on the Good Intentions double-track rail-line between the two, which is open to any train willing to follow the rules. It has banks, hotels, shops, brothels, stables, a courthouse, and every other convenience a citizen of the nation might desire. And it is literally the work of the Devil.

Someone, or many someones, sold their souls to Hell to make Badlands City happen just a few years ago, and it (and it’s train service) arrived almost overnight. At first all its stores and venues were manned by lesser devils in service to the Great One, but as those devils found humans willing to sign a contract and follow strict rules on how each business was to be run, the devils left. Very few remain now, though the city’s mayor, old Harry Squarefoot, is certainly one of them. He looks human enough of course, except for the slight red tinge to his skin, and the fire in his eyes. Neither of those things show up well in lithographs, so most folks Back East think the “City of Hell” and “Devil’s Own as Mayor” stories are colorful advertising and analogies.

The few major theosophists and priests who have studied the place loudly confirm this is not the case. It’s a city build by Hell and run by a devil. Many ban their followers from ever going there.

However, Badlands City is safe, as long as you follow the law. Famously safe. Old Harry is happy to explain why. Badlands City is the Devil’s end of a bargain, and that bargain was specific.

1.The city will strictly enforce the laws of the United States, and no others, (Of course when it arrived the city was in Dakota Territory rather than the state of South Dakota that didn’t exist yet, so Badlands City recognizes the state, but doesn’t enforce its local laws. Only federal statutes).
2. It will train and support a band of law enforcers who will seek to bring criminals to justice and avenge victims of crimes.
3. Badlands City will be protected by the infernal from famine, drought, war, plague, and any other such mass misery as might weaken or destroy a city or its people.
4. No devil in Badlands City may ever speak an untruth. (Of course, this does not require them to answer questions they choose not to, or deceive in other ways.)
5. If another city as successful is ever built within 100 miles of Badlands City, the devils and their influence will leave the place forever, never to return.

While the territorial government was wary of Badlands City at first, its existence is simply too convenient for them to refuse to work with its city council. Badlands City gathers and pays its taxes, but needs no state funds in return. It provides a courthouse, but allows official federal judges and bailiffs to operate it. It creates an anchor point of absolute security, and anyone who has been badly treated there has always been proven to be a lawbreaker. Badlands City makes transport between the two biggest cities in South Dakota faster and safer, and acts as a jumping off point for all sorts of settlers and entrepreneurs. Even the massive Martian tripods were unable to threaten the city, and old Harry has hinted the disease that destroyed them all may have come from Badlands City.

The state government now simply shrugs and calls is a massively successful landstead, and the federal government takes the state government’s lead.

And then, there are the Dread Templars.

Badlands City is required to train and support a band of law enforcers who will seek to bring criminals to justice and avenge victims of crimes. To fulfill this obligation the city has created the Dread Templars, who carry goats-head badges of tarnished silver and, if technically lacking legal standing outside of the city limits, are acknowledged along with the U.S. Martials, Canadian Mounties, Texas Rangers, Mexican Science Agents, Pinkertons and Justiciers as among the great peacekeepers and detectives of North America. Badlands City has a quota, though it never reveals what its minimum numbers are, of how many Dread Templars it must produce every 5 years, and how many it must keep active.

But it’s not required to do it for free.

So long as the city hits its secret minimum, it can pick and train Dread Templar candidates however it chooses. There are currently two known methods. First, anyone who wishes to can join the Acadamance, within the city, where devils train cadets about how evil thinks, and how evil can be foiled. Cadets may be of any race, creed, or gender, as long as they follow the rules and dedicate their lives to the twin goals of bringing criminals to justice and avenging victims of crimes, and swear to never act to threaten Badlands City itself. For each class it is a two year process and at the end of that time, as all candidates note they are aware before joining, the most average candidate (the one furthest from being the best, or the worst) will die in a gruesome, painful accident and their soul will go to Hell.

This is, as old Harry has noted, perfectly legal. No one at Acadamance has anything to do with the accident, which they can’t predict or stop and have no idea how it’ll happen or who is behind it, and no laws govern ownership of souls.

The alternate method is that the Devil will make anyone willing to abide by the code of the Dread Templars one of their number immediately, in return for a human soul. It need not be the soul of the Dread Templar. Stories claim that sometimes, when a victim of foul play is about to succumb to their last breath, they promise the Devil their soul in return for a Dread Templar to avenge them. The Devil considers this a good deal, and a new Dread Templar is born.

Thus one of the safest places in the Really Wild West sits in the shadow of Hell, and among the most effective lawbringers are its implacable agents who carry punishment and vengeance with them.

In the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at some tie-in rules that bring Badlands Citizens and Dread Templars to a Starfinder Really Wild West campaign.

Shotguns in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

Scatterguns in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game are blast weapons, meaning they make attacks in a 90-degree cone, and only out to their first range increment. It would certainly be possible to make weapons that work that way, and it’s a great niche for a new type of weapon in a science-fantasy game… but it’s nothing like how shotguns work in real life. Shotguns do fire an expanding cluster of shot, but the cluster spreads at something close to one inch per yard traveled—nowhere near a 90-degree cone—and generally have an effective range between 5 and 65 yards.

Now, attempting to perfectly model reality is a terrible reason to change fun and effective game mechanics. After all, no one worries about how much damage you do to your sword when you parry another sword, even though this can be a serious long-term issue in the real world.

But getting a genre “feel” right IS a good reason to adjust game rules, and the Really Wild West campaign-hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game feels like it should have more Old West style shotguns. So a set of shotguns are presented below, all of which use a more subtle “shotgun” special weapon quality rather than “blast,” and some of which have “double” to represent ubiquitous double-barrel shotguns common in the 1890 time frame of the campaign.

Double: The weapon has two barrels, each carrying a single round of ammunition. You can fire each round separately as its own attack, or fire them both at the same target as a single attack. If you choose to do this, you make two attack rolls against the target each at -1 (as the more powerful kick of both barrels going off increases the amount of rise from the barrel). Each attack does normal damage if it hits. You can reload both barrels at the same time if you are proficient with the weapon, but must do each as its own move action if you are not proficient.

Shotgun: A shotgun can fire slugs or shot (which have the same cost). Slugs work as normal for a typical kinetic weapon. Shot means firing a cluster of balls that spread into a widening pattern the further they get from the muzzle of the shotgun. As the pattern expands, the chance you hit a target with one or two balls goes up, but the chance you hit them with most of the balls goes down. For each range increment after the first, your attack gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls, but does -1 damage per die. If the damage is reduced to 0 or less, the target takes no damage.

A sawed-off shotgun has a shorter barrel, causing the balls to spread more quickly. A sawed-off shotgun has a shorter range increment (of your choice, to the nearest 5-feet, to a minimum of a 5 foot range increment).

As a set of sample weapons for Really Wild West, here are a series of double barrel shotguns, pump-action repeaters (which were new technology in 1890) and shotgun revolvers (which existed but never really caught on, but seem perfect for a Weird West setting).

WEAPON LVL $ DAM RANGE CRIT LOAD BULK SPECIAL
Double Barrel Scattergun 1 100 1d8 P 15 ft. 2 rounds 1 Double, Shotgun
 Repeating Shotgun 2 260 1d8 20 ft. 7 rounds 1 Shotgun
Kensington Revolving Shotgun 4 2,400 2d6 20 ft. 6 rounds 1 Shotgun
Double Barrel Coach Gun 7 5,500 2d8 15 ft. 2 rounds 1 Double, Shotgun
 High Plains Repeater 7 5,500 2d8 20 ft. 7 rounds 1 Shotgun
Kensington Revolving, Elite 8 5,500 3d6 20 ft. 6 rounds 1 Shotgun
Double Barrel Dragongun 10 18,200 3d8 15 ft. 2 rounds 1 Double, Shotgun
Damascus Repeater 10 18,200 3d8 20 ft. 7 rounds 1 Shotgun

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Mounted Combat for Starfinder

While these rules are specifically for the Really Wild West microsetting I did yesterday, you can also apply these rules to any Starfinder Roleplaying Game where people ride mounts often enough to make it worthwhile to have mounted rules. If the game has more horses (or Thandallian Riding Beasts) than enercycles, these rules may be worth the headspace they take up. If not, you’re likely better off winging it if the whole campaign is only going to have one scene with a Starforce Knight jumping on a dinosaur to do battle with a cyborg kasatha and you’re just using the chase rules anyway.

Also, of course, you can use mounts with the Starfinder Roleplaying Game chase or vehicle rules whenever appropriate. These mount rules are designed for campaigns where people are fairly likely to be on a mount for normal character-scale combats.

Controlling a Mount
You control a mount using the Survival skill, using the normal rules for doing so. If you are an expert rider, you may wish to take the expert rider feat. This feat should ONLY be used in games where combat on a mount is going to be commonplace.

Expert Rider

Prerequisite: Survival as a class skill.
Benefit: You treat an animal with an attitude toward you of indifferent or better as a domesticated animal for purposes of riding it. You treat a domesticated animal not trained for combat as if it is trained for combat for purposes of riding and controlling it in combat. When riding a mount trained for combat, at the beginning of your turn as long as you are able to take actions, you may make a Survival check regarding your mount that would normally take a move or swift action without taking an action.

Additionally you can rear a wild animal, or train a wild animal (see below) in days or weeks, rather than weeks or months. You can give special training to a single mount, allowing it to increase in CR to be no lower than a CR one below your level. If you lose this special animal, it takes weeks or training to bring a new animal to the same CR, and your old animal reverts to its normal CR.

Fighting from a Mount
When mounted, you use your reach, but the space of your mount. This means if you are Medium but on a Large mount, you can make melee attacks against creatures adjacent to your mount (10 total squares), but those creatures can also make melee attacks against you. If your mount is trained for combat, or you have ranks in Survival equal or greater to your mount’s CR, you can draw and replace equipment stored on your mount as easily as if it was on your body. Otherwise, it’s a standard action to retrieve or put away equipment stored on your mount,

Training a Mount
You can train a grown wild animal (rather than rear it from infancy) to act as domesticated (or, if you prefer, for it to act as domesticated just toward you, or toward you and a subset of people present during its training). The DC to do this is the DC to rear a wild animal +5 (it is generally wiser to train animals with a lower CR than you, or to do it in an environment with other trainers able to give aid another bonuses). You can train a domesticated animal to be combat trained using the same DC as to rear a wild animal.

Mount Stat Blocks
Here are stat blocks for two typical mounts, a light horse (or pony), and a heavy horse. Either can be wild, domestic, or combat trained. If a player has the expert rider feat, you can upgrade either of these to higher CRs just by updating the numbers according to the appropriate creature creation array.

Horse, Light                              CR 1                [Expert]
XP 400
N Medium or Large Animal
Init +2 Senses low-light vision; Perception +10
DEFENSE HP 17
EAC 11; KAC 12
Fort +3; Ref +3; Will +4
OFFENSE
Speed 60 ft.
Melee hoof +5 (1d4+5 B)
STATISTICS
Str +4; Dex +2; Con +1; Int -4; Wis +0; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +5, Athletics +10, Sense Motive +5, Survival +10

Horse, Heavy                             CR 1         [Combatant]
XP 400
N Large Animal
Init +2 Senses low-light vision; Perception +10
DEFENSE HP 20
EAC 11; KAC 13
Fort +5; Ref +5; Will +1
OFFENSE
Speed 50 ft
Melee hoof +8 (1d6+6 B)
STATISTICS
Str +5; Dex +1; Con +2; Int -5; Wis +0; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +5, Survival +5

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Really Wild West (Weird West for Starfinder)

I am on vacation, so I may post a bit less for a couple of weeks than I have on average this month… so I thought I’d leave you with an entire microsetting. It even has an index page that lists and organizes all the articles that came after this one, the Really Weird West index.

This is Victoriana Pulp Weird West Adventure.

The year is 1891. The place is somewhere in North or South America, generally far from established law. In 1890, the War of the Worlds happened. That’s over, but wow has tech taken a leap forward.

This is a campaign played using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with the following adjustments.

*The game’s top level is 10th, not 20th. After 10th you get +1 RP, +3 SP, +3 HP, +1 feat, and +2 skill points every 20,000 XP, and ability score upgrades every 100,000, but your class level doesn’t change.

*Humans are most common, with legacy races second-most (many of whom look a lot like humans), and Starfinder core races rare and usually the result of accidents or experiments (such as Dr. Moreaux’s creation of vesk from alligators… )

*All magic is theosophy. But it still works just like in the rulebook.

*Everything is analog, but all abilities that work on technology work on everything that isn’t exclusively magical.

*“Credits” is just shorthand for “credit on the bank,” meaning you have US dollars and lines of credit. Gold and silver coins get used too. All prices are the same, but represent a unifed currency exchange that exists because of the Babbage-Bell Grid, which allows room-sized computer “difference engines” in major cities to communicate over telegraph lines.

*Shock weapons are lightning guns, flame weapons are flamethrowers, lasers are heat rays (from Martian tech). They always have a maximum of 10 shots (adjust usage accordingly).

*Projectile weapons are pepperboxes (four shots, but add +2 damage to every die of damage), revolvers (six shots, but +1 to attacks), or tube-fed (eight shots).

Cryo, plasma, sonic, and untyped ranged weapons are available only as weird loot from adventures (but see the mad genius feat, below). They are generally called Freeze Guns, Heaters, and Thunder Guns.

*No one much wears armor. You get a bonus to EAC equal to your level, and a bonus to KAC equal to your level +2. If you are proficient with heavy armor, you get an additional +2 bonus to EAC and KAC. You can wear armor—light armor costs 100 and gives +1 to KAC, with a max Dex of +5 and an armor check penalty of -1, while heavy armor costs 150 and gives +2 to EAC and KAC, with an armor check of -3 and a -5 ft. speed adjustment.

*You can wear armor upgrades as “gizmos.” These are steampunky/theosophic devices that do weird stuff. Force fields are Etheric Shields.  Jump jets are Jack’s Spring-Heels. Jetpacks are DaVinci Wings. Get creative. But it takes skill to use more than one gizmo at a time. You can use at once one gizmo, plus one for every kind of armor you are proficient with, +1/3 character levels.

*Computers are too big and bulky to be of any use to anyone but people operating out of stationary huge houses and mad geniuses (see the Mad Genius feat), but there is a Babbage/Bell grid of difference engines using telecom wires to send and receive info. These work like Infospheres, but work on hard wires.

*Augmentations and upgrades exist, but are normally only available as treasure (but see the Mad Genius feat). These things are steampunk as heck.

*Technological items exist, and are steampunk/Martianpunk tech-but there’s no broadcast/receiving technology. You can have a comm unit… but it only works when hooked up to a Babbage/Bell telecom wire (some of which do cross various badlands, to keep cities in communication with each other). You can generally buy such things.

*Magic items and hybrid items exist, but are generally only available as treasure (but see the Psychic feat, below).

*Vehicles exist, they are just all steampunk. Big airships and sea ships also exist, and use the starship rules (but damage against characters from big airship weapons is x2, not x10).

*Other purchases exist, and can generally be purchased, they’re just more rustic and snake-oil sounding.

*UPBs are Ulysses’ Paraphernetic Bobimathings, a famous universal construction gizmo created a decade ago by the legendary (but never seen) inventor Ulysses S. Abernathy. Any number of them is a total of 2 bulk. They otherwise work like normal UPBs.

Genre Feats

You may select no more than one genre feat, from the list below. At 5th level you may select a second genre feat, if no one else in the campaign has taken it.

A Contact in Every Port
Benefit: In every settlement you come across, you have at least one local (at neither the bottom nor top of the social ladder) who is helpful towards you. These may be old flames, pen pals, admirers of your work, a spy network, the last citizens of the lost subterranean empire you were queen of, or whatever else you decide to define them as. Even if you abuse these allies and reduce their attitude towards you, it goes back up one step (to a maximum of helpful) every time you gain a level.

Bushwacker
Benefit: When you are adjacent to a target in a secluded area where the target cannot see or hear any of its allies or your allies, any nonlethal damage the target takes in a surprise round before the target acts is quadrupled. If any of these conditions end you cannot use this feat again on the same target until you have gotten an attitude or friendly with the target, or if the target does not realize you are the same person when you next are adjacent to it in seclusion.

Chandeliers and Rigging
Benefit: As long as there are hanging ropes, lights, sails, rafters, trees, or similar dangling objects nearby, you have a fly speed of 30. If you end any turn not within 20 feet of a dangling object, you must land or you fall.

Elan
Benefit: Rather than suffer frightened or panicked conditions, you simply take the penalties of the shaken condition. Additionally even when confused or mind controlled, you never attack yourself or an ally unless you wish to.

Flamboyant
Benefit: You may use your Charisma modifier (rather than Strength or Dexterity) when making attack rolls with weapons, and add your Charisma modifier (in addition to any other ability score that applies) to damage rolls with weapons.

Mad Genius
Prerequisite: Engineering as a class skill.
Benefit: Select one technology type: cryo, plasma, sonic, untyped ranged weapons, computers, or augmentations. You can create such items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules. You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Engineering. You can swap out what items you have each day, but new items don’t come with full loads of fuel, batteries, or ammunition.
You can select a second category if you are 5th level or higher, and a third at 10th.

Psychic
Prerequisite: Mysticism as a class skill
Benefit: You can create magic items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules (and hybrid items, if you have enough ranks in engineering for them). You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Mysticism. You can swap out what items you have at each new character level, or with 30 days of downtime.

Resolute
Benefit: You gain 5 additional maximum Resolve Points.

Weapon Master
Benefit: Whether you are a gunsmith, or veteran soldier, or just weirdly lucky, you almost always have access to special weapons. If you have access to your normal equipment and have not lost that since you were in a typical town, you have access to one weapon of your level, one weapon of your level -2 (if the result is 1 or more), and one weapon of your level -4 (if the result is 1 or more). You may select weapon normally only available as treasure.
These special weapons may have double the normal usages, or reroll one damage roll per combat, or have one weapon fusion it qualifies for. If you wish, you may give up one of these special weapons to instead apply an additional benefit from this list to one of your remaining special weapons. You can swap out your special weapons at a major settlement or weapon cache.

The Setting

Nearly every time-period appropriate fiction works in this setting. The heroes are part of a worldwide tradition of larger-than-life figures, and after 1st level can generally expect to be accepted as noteworthy experts in the field of adventure, if nothing else.

This is a world where Sherlock Holmes is world famous and alive, secretly waging a war with Professor Moriarty and aided by Nick Carter and Inspector Donovan. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison publicly wage thought wars for scientific superiority, though Marie Curie is actually making more headway with Martian technology and Beatrix Potter has mastered the hybrid red weed the Martians brought with them. Dr. Moreau is busy with his experiments somewhere in the Pacific, Dr. Jekyll wanders the world looking for a cure, Old Shatterhand works to bring justice to the badlands, Sir Henry Curtis explores Africa (ignoring the fact people already live there), retired Otto Lidenbrock has established multiple routes to the center of the earth with his nephew Axel (though Gräuben Lidenbrock runs most of the expeditions, as her husband Axel is too afraid to make the journeys), and Professor Challenger just received his degree.

In Australia the age of the bushrangers has largely ended, though Ned Kelly still runs a group of armored outlaws seen by many as local heroes. The rapid industrialization of many of the nation’s major cities, and a growing depression, is also leading to rising nationalism, rising cries for independence, and sadly growing racism against Asian immigrants and the continent’s aborigines.

In Canada the Dominion of Canada is just a generation old, and still struggling to settle land disputes with the US and between its own provinces. The Mounties are less than 20 years old, the Yukon gold rush is strong, and there is not yes a single unified code of law for the nation.

In Mexico military hero Porfirio Díaz rules as president over a stable, growing, wealthy Mexico. He rules with the aid and advice of the científicos (“scientists”), who reject religious ideas and mysticism to focus on scientific method and the accumulation of knowledge… though the Maximillian monarchy was just a generation ago.

In Japan Emperor Meiji overseas the transition of a nation from feudal power to modern power, and though samurai have had many of their privileges removed they still exist and the last samurai conflict was within a generation.

In the United States, there are still unsettled territories, though not as many as their used to be, and while veterans of the civil war have grown rare and aged, veterans of the War of the Worlds are now common. While the Indian Wars are mostly over, the indigenous peoples have been conquered by force, smaller military conflict still occur. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the Army’s attempt to subdue the Lakota but, for now, the Lakota remain present and in control of the reservation without federal interference within their borders.

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Shadowrun is Great, but it’s not The Beginning

I get annoyed anytime anything puts magic in a modern setting, and people say “That’s ripped off from Shadowrun.” No, Shadowrun blended cyberpunk and fantasy, brilliantly, and is the first thing I am aware of to do so. But if something blends other forms of modern or sci-fi with magic, with no cyberpunk element? That’s NOT original to Shadowrun. Lots of stories did it before that, many of them major releases.

Yes, these are “different.” That’s my whole point. If you are blending modern or futuristic elements with fantasy with neither cyberpunk tech nor thematic ties, there are tons of examples available from prior to Shadowrun’s release in August of 1989.

This is a short, incomplete, trivial list of settings and stories that mixed magic and modern elements before Shadowrun came out. It could be expanded tenfold with any effort. Some is great. Some is terrible. All is arguably influential.

Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Billy the Kid vs Dracula (and a LOT of Weird West stuff from the 1960s forward)

Burning Water (by Mercedes Lackey, first printing Feb 1989)

Comics (Seriously, Doctor Strange and Iron Man have been in the same universe since 1963, and they are hardly the earliest example, by decades)

Expecting Someone Taller

Fiends of the Eastern Front

The Gunslinger

Incarnations of Immortality (And a lot of Anthony)

Jack, the Giant Killer (and lots of Charles de Lint)

The Jewel in the Skull (and, in one form or another, a lot of Moorcock)

The Keep (novel and movie)

Lammas Night

Magic, Inc

Operation Chaos

War for the Oaks

Warhammer 40k. This predates Shadowrun by a couple of years, and it’s actually much more like Shadowrun (or rather, Shadowrun is a much more like it) as a setting than I find Shadowrun to be with most things people want to claim are inspired by Shadowrun.

The Magic of Support Through Modern Technology!

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No. No there is not.

The Value of Spellcasting

I have often wondered how valuable players and GMs find spellcasting. For example if you place limitations and degradations on spellcasting and boost the cost of acquiring it, at what point does it become not worth the effort? How close is that to the point when most GMs are comfortable allowing spellcasting easily-acquired outside of a class into a campaign?

This leads to a though experiment of a feat.

Spellcasting (Thought Experiment)

You can cast spells. Just not very well.

Benefit: Select one class’s spellcasting list. If that class has alignment, code, equipment requirements that must to be able to cast spells (such as a paladin’s code, or a druid’s need to be partially neutral and avoid metal armor), you must meet those requirements or suffer the same consequences with regards to spells gained through this feat) as the class you selected.

You gain spells known and spells per day as spell-like abilities from that spell list, using the spells known and spells per day of a 1st level sorcerer and your character level as your caster level. To determine your save DCs and max spell known, instead of Charisma or the ability score used by the class you picked for the spell list, you use your lowest ability score. You can change one spell known at every character level, using the rules for sorcerers to swap spells known, but they must all come from the selected spell list.

Special: You can take this feat more than once, but not more times than 1+1/2 your character level. Each time, you increase your effective sorcerer level for determining your spells known and spells per day from the selected spell list by +2, and increase the number of spells you can swap out at each new level by +1.

Patreon (Not a thought experiment)

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