Monthly Archives: May 2018

In Seattle. Sleepless.

“So, Owen, what DO you do if you seriously need rest to fulfill your professional obligations, such as an early morning at PaizoCon, but your insomnia kicks in?”
I’m so glad you asked!
I have numerous mechanisms designed to help me cope. One is to get up and do something uninteresting for 30 minutes. this increases the chance I’ll go back to sleep (rather than watching anime, or writing on a project that excites me, which is likely to make me even more awake).
Drink some water or a bout a cup of cold milk. Spend 5-10 minutes being restful and aware of my surroundings.
Then I change the conditions I am trying to sleep in. If I am using white noise, I alter what it is. If I have a nightlight, I turn it off, or use a different one. Anything to trick my brain into thinking it’s a different night and a different bed. (If a different bed is actually an option, I sometimes take that.)
Then, it’s time to try to sleep again.
If about two cycles of that still doesn’t do it, (or three or four if I have more time) I “give up.” If I can manage it, I stay in bed and rest, because quiet rest can leave me in better shape than being twitchy all night, even if I get no sleep. If that’s psychologically off the table, I get up, shower, dress, and begin my day.
“So, do you find writing about not sleeping boring? Because, it’s almost midnight, and you need to be up early…”
Nope, this definitely qualifies as too interesting for my above coping mechanisms. But sometimes I need to do some therapeutic writing to quiet my mind enough to try the other stuff.
And this has been that writing.
Now, to pull up a waterfall video on my cell phone…

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Sick and Tired of Being Tired, But At Least I’m Not That Sick

For a couple of weeks now, I have dealt with the specter of possibly having cancer hanging over my head.
To cut to the chase—that doesn’t seem to be the case. Thank goodness.
The full version of the story isn’t a whole lot longer.

But please, only read this if you can resist giving me any medical advice. I have a good relationship with my medical team and a few folks I turn to if I need advice. I prefer not to get advice from the general public, and ask you not offer me any.

For months now, I’ve had much less energy than normal. Given the number of enormous projects and drains on my serenity I’ve had in the past couple of years—from helping design the Starfinder RPG to moving to overextending myself on other game-industry matters—for quite some time I assumed I was just exhausted.

But when that didn’t seem to be getting better, I decided to talk to my doctor about it, and that brought on a series of tests.

One of those tests did point to a potential cause… which can itself be a sign of cancer. So, that lead to a whole new round of tests.

These tests are, apparently, not completely definitive. There isn’t an absolute yes/no about having cancer of the type I might have had. But all the test results are giving the results you’d most likely expect if there was no cancer. Having no other symptoms, that’s what we are assuming for now, though it’ll change the context with which we’d look at certain other changes should they come along.

Now, I can see about trying to fix the energy level thing with my doctor. That’s still going to take some more tests and maybe trial-and-error, but it’s still ncie to be at the stage that largely rules out worse possibilities.

High Noon Showdown Rules for Really Wild West

Two characters stand facing one another, guns holstered, eyes squinting, hands twitching.

In a moment, one will likely be dead.

A moment of drama common to any Western setting, so the Really Wild West setting hack should support it. But how, using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game rules, where one shot is rarely lethal?

HIGH NOON SHOWDOWN

The High Noon Showdown rules apply whenever two sides agree to a shootout, whether that’s standing in the street waiting for each other to flinch, or a formal timing quickdraw content. A Showdown may apply to just two characters, or to two opposing groups, Tombstone-style.

The Showdown has a number of Prequel Round, which represent the time squinting and staring each other down. In each Prequel round, a character involved in the Showdown can take one action. If any character takes an action not on this list, or a character outside the Showdown interacts with the characters in the Showdown in any way, the Prequel rounds end and the showdown goes straight to resolution.

Prequel Rounds

Prequel actions are taken once per prequel round, in any order. Each player and the GM notes what action each character plans to take, then those actions are all revealed and resolved.

The Prequel action options are as follows:

Demoralize: You can use the Intimidate skill to demoralize a foe involved in the Showdown using the normal skill rules, though no talking is required. Once a foe is demoralized, the shaken condition lasts for all Prequel Rounds. If the Intimidate check is good enough for the condition to normally last more than one round, any extra rounds are applied after the Showdown resolution.

Fake Out: You can make a Bluff check to feint a foe, or any skill check needed for a trick attack. If you succeed, the target will be flat-footed and/or subject to your trick attack for the attack that is made at the Showdown resolution, but not for targeting dice earned through targeting.

Stand Confident: If you have extraordinary abilities that apply bonuses to your allies or penalties to your foes that don’t require you to move or attack (most common with envoy characters), you can use one of these. Like demoralizing, one round of duration lasts through all the Prequel rounds, with any remaining duration kicking in after the Showdown resolution.

Targeting: You can target one foe involved in the Showdown. This is an attack roll, but you don’t roll it yet. You just note you have a targeting die on a foe. You can build up as many targeting dice as you wish on foes, but they don’t take effect until the Showdown resolution and, of course, your foes can be building targeting dice on you at the same time.

End Showdown: You can end the Showdown. Everyone gets to finish their Prequel actions for this Prequel Round, then you move to resolution.

Resolution

At the resolution of the showdown, everyone draws their weapon and shoots (or takes some other action that requires no more than 1 standard action, such as casting a spell). All involved characters make Initiative checks. Characters with Quick Draw gain a +10 bonus to this check. If a character is adjacent to a foe, or willing to take the modifiers for a charge, a melee attack can be made instead, but this places a -10 penalty on that character’s initiative check.

The character with the highest initiative goes first and then resolution actions are taken in descending initiative order as normal. However, anyone killed or incapacitated by a resolution action still gets to take their resolution action if their initiative is within 5 of the action that killed or incapacitated them. (The actions are so close to simultaneous the bullets cross mid-air).

When you attack a foe as your resolution action, you make a single attack roll. If that attack hits, you also roll all your targeting dice, using the same attack modifier. For each targeting die that scores a hit, you do an additional 1d10 damage of the same type (1d6 damage if using an area affect or multiple-target attack). Any targeting dice you have against other targets are lost.

Normal Combat

After the resolution of the Showdown, any surviving characters enter normal combat. The first round of the combat is a surprise round, with characters that make a Perception check equal to the highest initiative result of the resolution round able to take one action. The exception to this is any character that took the end showdown action in the final Prequel Round. These characters automatically get a full round of action in the first combat round after the Showdown.

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Starfinder Monster Design and Really Wild West Bestiary—Rattle-Cat

We already looked at some general guidelines for building monsters for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with the Grizzly Boar, an entry for the eventual bestiary for the Really Wild West setting hack which uses the combatant array for monster creation. Now, we’re going to look at building a monster using the expert array.

The Rattle-Cat

RWW-Rattlecat-color-01

A Rattle-Cat is a predator and scavenger unique to North America, though it’s range on the continent is much broader than the snake it shares some characteristics with (likely due to it’s fur coat and warm-blooded nature). Rattle-Cats are ambush predators, depending on speed, stealth, and a mastery of terrain to get near their prey, before dashing out to bite and poison potential prey or threats. They also use their menacing rattle to intimidate any creature that poses a potential threat, a warning much of North American wildlife knows well enough to heed, and to drive away competition from potential scavenged kills, such as dead herd animals and carrion.

Rattle-Cats often travel alone as wandering creatures, but also sometimes form territorial packs (known as a “dirge of rattle-cats”) of up to 12-16 members, ruled over by the eldest female in the pack. They lay eggs which hatch big-pawed cubs with stubby tails, who can already move about and inject venom within an hour of hatching. A rattle-cat can be trained with some success if raised from hatching, making the eggs valuable in certain markets.

Building and Defining an Expert

The actual rules for building and defining a monster using the expert array are the same as those for any other creature, but the nature of the expert array means the emphasis needs to be different. An expert has a lower attack roll and does less damage per attack than a combatant, and has a slightly lower KAC and about 10% fewer hit points. In exchange, it gets a higher ability DC, base spell DC, and more master skills.

That means when deciding if a creature should use the combatant or expert array, the GM needs to ask “is the core conceit of this creature one that leans heavily on skills or abilities with save DCs?” (You use the spellcaster array if you creature is primarily a spellcaster—that’s pretty straightforward. Anything that is a straightforward fighting monster should be a combatant. But if some creature’s concept is built on special effects or opposed skill checks, it works better as an expert. It’s not able to deal or soak quite as much damage in a stand-up fight, but it is more likely to have the skills needed to be a noncombat threat to PCs, and it’s abilities are harder to resist.

So when building our template graft, we should have a fairly heavy focus on things that work well with complementary skills, and/or that have a save DC of some kind. Once we know the core abilities for the creature, it’s still possible to easily create a graft we can apply to the right array and type and/or subtype grafts to produce a version of the monster at any CR. Using the same format as we did for the Grizzly Boar template graft, here’s the graft for the Rattle-Cat.

Rattle-Cat TEMPLATE GRAFT
Required Array: Expert
Required Type: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Small (CR 1/3-CR 1/2), Medium (CR 2-CR 11), or Large (CR 12+)
Speed: 30 feet (Small), 50 feet (Large) or 60 feet (Huge)
Ability Score Modifiers: Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom
Special Abilities: 1-Poison bite (see Rattler Poison). 2-Rattle (see Rattle special ability). 3-Evasion. 4-Cloaking field (as the operative exploit). Bonus- Spring Attack (as the feat).
Skills: Master– Acrobatics, Intimidate, Stealth; Good-Athletics, Survival
Attacks: Melee (bite, with poison; critical: injection +2), no ranged.

Rattle (Ex): The tip of a rattle-cat’s tail makes a disturbing, rhythmic noise that most creatures other than rattle-cats and rattle-snakes find disconcerting. As part of a move action, a rattle-cat can rattle its tail to make an Intimidate check to demoralize all foes within 60 feet. Once a creature has been demoralized by this function of a Rattle-Cat’s rattle ability, it cannot be affected again for 24 hours. A Rattle-Cat can also make an Intimidate check to demoralize any creature that can hear it as a standard action.

Rattler Poison

Type poison (injury); Save Fortitude (DC set by array and CR)
Track Constitution; Frequency: 1/hour for 12 hours
Special: Multiple bites cannot move target down the Constitution track more than once per hour.
Cure: 2 consecutive saves

So, you can see that one major element of the rattle-cat is its poison, which it applies with every bite. Given how the poison rules in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game this could be extremely deadly very quickly, but the special restriction means that after the first bite you are just taking damage until the 2nd or subsequent hour. If untreated, the 12 hour duration makes you likely to die without treatment… which is exactly what we’re looking for in a poisoned Really Wild West creature, to help drive storylines. The poison is both a combat enhancer, and an after-combat driver of story and plot.

The Rattle ability is built off Intimidate skill rules, which works well with our Expert build. However, the Rattle-Cat is also well positioned to be a mobile ambush threat, with high Acrobatics and Stealth values as well. A combatant would have trouble being a major threat with Acrobatics and Intimidate and Stealth, all of which can call for checks with DCs based on the competence or skill of the foe. With evasion and the cloaking field, higher CR Rattle-Cats are even tougher to flush out, and the bonus Spring Attack feat (given for the same reason we gave the Grizzle-Boar a bonus ability) and high speed allows them to make hit-and-run attacks from cover in the wild.

A Rattle-Cat written up as a combatant would be more dangerous in a stand-up fight, but less able to use the tactics and abilities that make it interesting.

Here we bring the whole thing together for a CR 3 Rattle-Cat.

RATTLEE-CAT          CR 3          [EXPERT]
XP 800
N Medium Animal
Init +2 Senses low-light vision; Perception +8
DEFENSE     HP 35
EAC 14; KAC 15
Fort +4; Ref +4; Will +6
OFFENSE
Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d4+7 P plus rattler poison)
Offensive Abilities rattle
STATISTICS
Str +4; Dex +2; Con +0; Int -4; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +13, Athletics +8, Intimidate +13, Stealth +13, Survival +8
Languages none

Rattle (Ex): The tip of a rattle-cat’s tail makes a disturbing, rhythmic noise that most creatures other than rattle-cats and rattle-snakes find disconcerting. As part of a move action, a rattle-cat can rattle its tail to make an Intimidate check to demoralize all foes within 60 feet. Once a creature has been demoralized by this function of a Rattle-Cat’s rattle ability, it cannot be affected again for 24 hours. A Rattle-Cat can also make an Intimidate check to demoralize any creature that can hear it as a standard action.

Rattler Poison
Type poison (injury); Save Fortitude (DC 14)
Track Constitution; Frequency: 1/hour for 12 hours
Special: Multiple bites cannot move target down the Constitution track more than once per hour.
Cure: 2 consecutive saves

So that brings us through two of the three arrays, while helping to build a set of unique threats for the Really Wild West (though these monsters can be used in any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign). We still need to discuss the Spellcaster array, and maybe take a look at class grafts, in upcoming articles!

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On Playing Games With Strangers

I’m at a gaming convention this weekend, and that means I have played a bunch of games with total strangers. Nor were all of them any form of D20 game, or even RPGs. I played, and observed the play, of a broad range of people of different ages and backgrounds.

It was exhausting, but also amazing.

I think it’s really important for game designers to play games with people they don’t know at all, outside of a formal playtest, at least from time to time. Especially in a “fellow player” capacity, where you aren’t the facilitator or teacher of the game. You can learn things it’s hard to pick up with this kind of empirical experience.

This weekend, I have been reminded that if you have a game that *ever* requires someone to add three numbers, and the sum is going to be a double digit or higher number, there’s a segment of competent, reasonable adults you are excluding. Those people will never, ever, enjoy any activity that has that basic level of math as a requirement. And the more often you require that in the game, the bigger that segment of people is.

That doesn’t mean no game should do that math. It’s okay for a game not to be for everyone.

But it’s important to remember that our individual experiences and preferences are far, far from universal.

As a game design, I am adding “Play Games With Strangers” as one of the critical activities I need to make sure I engage in from time to time.

I ALSO have a list that tells me to Boost My Patreon” fairly regularly, so…
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Starfinder Roleplaying Game Monster Design Notes–Really Wild West Bestiary: Grizzly Boar

One of the great things about the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is that designing new monsters and NPCs is fast an easy. Most of the math is taken care of for you, allowing GMs to focus on cool ideas to make threats interesting, instead of having to bend over backwards making sure their core game stats are appropriate for threats of a given level.

That also gives people creating new settings for the game, like my Really Wild West setting hack, opportunities to present creatures in a new way. Rather than just offer a monster, it’s possible to write template grafts in such a way that a GM can adapt a few simple monster rules to create a version of a monster for any CR. A GM need not try to shoehorn the perfect creature concept into an encounter of an inappropriate level. Instead the monster concept can be presented in such a way that the GM can quickly and easily use it at any CR.

I’m going to provide some examples on how to do that, while at the same time talking a bit abut what makes good monsters, walking GMs through the monster creation process, and presenting some brand-new monsters perfect for the Really Wild West (but usable to fill the wildernesses of any Starfinder Roleplaying Game world’s wilderness).

We’ll start with the Grizzly Boar

Grizzly Boar

GRIZZLY BOAR

A Grizzly Boar is a monstrous alpha predator roaming the deep woods and mountains of North America, with a range that is densest along the southeastern coast of the US, the eastern US/Mexico border, and on the whole west coast of North America. With a tusked, porcine head, massive furred body and huge claws, grizzly boars are territorial omnivores that do not fear humans and that will challenge wyverns, wolf packs, and even dragons of their size. When wounded, a grizzly boar will stalk whatever it perceives as a threat for hundreds of miles, until it becomes enraged enough to move in for a kill. Their coloration runs from dark brown in temperate zones to white in the far north, and similar, smaller species of tusk-bears can be found in northern and eastern Europe.

Building and Defining a Monster

Every Starfinder monster is built on one of three arrays presented in Starfinder Alien Archive—combatant, expert, or spellcaster. These arrays give the base values for a creature based on CR, ensuring they are an appropriate typical challenge for an average 4-person group of PCs of that level. In most cases the first decision a GM needs to make is what array to use for a given creature. Since the grizzly boar is described as a dangerous predator, but not listed as having any noteworthy magic abilities, it’s best represented with the combatant array. The template graft for the monster thus lists the combatant array as “required,” so a GM knows that grizzly boars are always build as combat-focused creatures.

After determining the array, a GM needs to know a creature’s type, since this impacts adjustments to the stats of the array and determined what keyword abilities affect the creature. A grizzly boar could be a magical beast, but again given that it seems to basically be a hybrid of boars and big bears, just making it an animal seems more appropriate. Again this is noted in the template graft. That means that when building a grizzly boar, the GM knows it gets all the things listed with the animal creature type graft presented in in Starfinder Alien Archive—low-light vision, Int modifier of -4 or -5, and a +2 increase to Fort and Ref saving throws.

While the combatant array will tell the GM what the grizzly boars top 3 ability score modifiers are for any given CR, those could be put anywhere. Since grizzly boars are strong, tough, and cunning, those modifiers should be put into Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom (in order from highest to lowest). That information also goes into the template graft. A GM can generally leave all the other ability score modifiers at +0, though if at higher CRs a +1 or +2 is desired for one of the remaining ability scores, that’s fine too.

All combatants gain between one and four special abilities, depending on their CR. These are the things that set a monster apart from other creatures of the same CR and type, and are the abilities that PCs are most likely to remember after facing a given monster. To make the grizzly boar template graft work for a grizzly boar of any CR, four special abilities are listed in order of priority, 1-4. If making a CR 1/3, ½, or 1 grizzly boar, it gains only the first listed ability (brute), while a CR 2-CR 11 grizzle boar also gains the second listed ability (gore). Additionally, since all of those options are passive and the grizzly boar is supposed to be among the tougher threats a group might face at its CR, and it has no ranged attacks, a single bonus special ability is listed (ferocity, a universal creature rules from Starfinder Alien Archive), which all grizzle boars receive regardless of CR.

Finally, all monsters built on the combatant array gain one master skill and two good skills, which are listed in the array. Creatures are assumed to gain Perception as a good skill, so it isn’t listed. For consistency sake, a few other notes are given, including the size of a grizzly boar based on it’s CR. These don’t have much impact on its stat block (though it does impact space and reach), but it helps a GM know that lower-CR grizzly boars are young cubs, runts, or from smaller species.

So, the final template graft looks like this:

GRIZZLY BOAR TEMPLATE GRAFT
Required Array: Combatant
Required Type: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Small (CR 1/3-CR 1), Medium (CR 2-CR 4), Large (CR 5-CR 11), or Huge (CR 12+)
Speed: 30 feet (Small and Medium), 40 feet (Large and Huge)
Ability Score Modifiers: Strength, Constitution, Wisdom
Special Abilities: 1-Brute (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). 2-Gore (as the nuar racial trait). 3-Grab (claw). 4-Extra hit points (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). Bonus-Ferocity.
Skills: Master– Athletics; Good-Intimidate, Survival
Attacks: Melee (tusk or claw), no ranged.

To make this monster, a GM just takes the combatant array for the desired CR of the end monster, adjusts the numbers as noted for the animal type, and enters those values in a stat block as directed by the template graft. If an ability just changes numbers (such as brute and extra hit points), the GM makes those changes, but doesn’t need to list those abilities in the state block (since, once the changes are made, the GM doesn’t need to be reminded of those abilities during combat, unlike something like gore, which impacts choices the GM makes). Here’s what a CR 6 Grizzly Boar looks like, for example.

GRIZZLY BOAR          CR 6          [COMBATANT]
XP 2,400 each
N Large Animal
Init +0 Senses low-light vision; Perception +13
DEFENSE     HP 90
EAC 18; KAC 20
Fort +10; Ref +10; Will +5
Defensive Abilities ferocity
OFFENSE
Speed 40 ft.
Melee tusk or claw +13 (3d4+13 P or S)
Space 10 feet; Reach 10 feet
Offensive Abilities gore
STATISTICS
Str +5; Dex +0; Con +3; Int -4; Wis +2; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +18, Intimidate +13, Survival +13
Languages none
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Ferocity (Ex) When a grizzly boar is brought to 0 Hit Points, it can fight on for 1 more round. It can act normally until the end of its next turn; if it has 0 HP at that point, it dies. If it would lose further Hit Points before this, it ceases to be able to act and dies.
Gore (Ex) A grizzly boar can charge without taking the normal charge penalties to the attack roll or its AC.

If the GM needs a group of 4 smaller, lower-level grizzly boars, it’s the work of 2-3 minutes to write up a new stat block to represent a pack of cubs or a herd of wild tusk-bears. If the GM wants to truly challenge a group of 6th level PCs with a massive grizzly boar threat, writing up a CR 9 version is just as fast and easy. Rather than just a single monster at a single CR, the grizzly boar template graft makes this creature a threat usable at any level.

In the coming weeks, we’ll present at least a couple more examples for creatures using the Expert and Spellcaster arrays, while filling out the Really Wild West Bestiary entries.

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36 Years of Thought on Alignment in 500 Words

So, here is my entirely personal and unofficial guideline to alignment, based not on any one game system within the D&D/D20 lineage, but my opinions evolving over 36 years of playing in games with systems using Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral, Good, and Evil to make 9 alignments.

Lawful characters believe orderly systems are most likely to achieve their goals and be most effective overall, and consider the faults of orderly systems to be more acceptable compared to the dangers of a system that is too lose and disorganized. They fear anarchy more than tyranny.

Chaotic characters believe loose, adaptable systems are most likely to achieve their goals and be most effective overall, and consider the faults of loose systems to be more acceptable compared to the dangers of a system that is too strict and rigid. They fear tyranny more than anarchy.

Characters who are neutral rather than Lawful or Chaotic see strengths and weaknesses to both ways of doing things, and tend to work with whatever seems best on a case by case.

Good characters are willing to suffer to save others from suffering, and generally think most people should feel the same way at least to some degree (and that those that don’t are amoral).

Evil characters are willing to make others suffer to avoid suffering themselves, and generally think most people should feel the same way (and that those who don’t are stupid).

Characters neutral rather than Good or Evil would rather no one suffer to save someone else from suffering, and think both extremes are based more on dogma or emotion than rationality or realism.

True Neutral characters either don’t have strong opinion on any of this, or actively strive towards a cosmic balance.

For characters without some supernatural element to their alignment, these are trends, not absolutes. A lawful good character can generally believe that orderly systems are the most effective and that everyone should be willing to suffer to prevent the suffering of others, but still have a prejudice against orcs and think laws protecting orcs are wrongheaded. They are, in those moments, neither lawful nor good, but as long as those moments are not common or major (or cause the character to act in a way majorly at odds with their alignment), that’s an aberration, rather than something that automatically changes their alignment.

Characters with supernatural alignment elements still feel the same way as those without, but as a result of their very essential nature rather than merely their experience and opinions.

And in the short form, that’s it. It’s a set of tendencies that express your characters attitudes and methodology in the broadest of terms. Except where constrained by class, a character that is 51% lawful and 49% chaotic can be described as of lawful alignment (as can a character that is 34% lawful, 33% on the fence, and 33% chaotic). Characters are not assumed to be paragons of one of nine possible ethos descriptions, just trending toward one of them.

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A Post Script

I have never understood wanting to use game rules to claim a fictional reality must conform to some very narrow view of how it’s cosmology or physics “work” because of how the game rules are written.,

Yes, those are the mechanism we use to have fictional characters interact with a fictional world. But the game rules are always a simplified expression of the complexity of a whole reality, even an imaginary one.

No one claims that in a d20 game, science will have determined that every creature in existence can only increase in lifting capacity by certain quanta of increased weight, even though by the game rules that’s true–when you go from a 17 Strength to an 18 your lifting capacity jumps by a set amount which is the same for everyone. But we all know that’s a granular simplification in order to have a playable game.

The same is true of absolutely every aspect of an RPG, from economy to ability scores to alignment to skills. Including alignment.

The March of Entertainment Awareness

When I was a child, the first time I became aware of an upcoming movie or television series was its trailer. So by the time I knew a thing existed, I was exposed to the sounds, actors, lighting, design, and even some of its tone and theme. Similarly I became aware of books and games with their ads, which generally included a cover and excerpt, though admittedly both of those were sometimes created for just the ad.

But my expectations were set not by a name and a hope, but by a small slice of the end product.

Now even then there were industry papers and genre magazines that would talk about upcoming stuff, but they weren’t as commonly available or as all-encompassing as the internet news of today. And as I got older, I did start to find such sources of news, but even then I often got either just a sentence of a thing in production, which didn’t always even have it’s name, or I got more news only when there were set pictures and publicity shots, which still gave me some feel for what kind of entertainment product was being crafted.

That’s not to say I was never surprised, or disappointed, or shocking delighted by the end product. Nor do I claim there were no exceptions (especially sequels) to not knowing about a thing until there was some evidence of what kind of thing it would be in the end. But on the whole even when I wanted news, I knew less, and knew anything for a shorter timeframe, than I do now.

Nor do I have to go looking for such information anymore. Even if I assiduously avoid industry news and genre-based forums and discussion groups, that information makes its way to me. If you are part of social circles that include numerous fans of some genre with entertainment offerings, chances are someone in your group will share, or link, or just tell you about it in person.

And in response to the growing level of knowledge, many creators try to control the expected narrative, engage fans and build trust, and get marketing value out of even the earliest stages of announcements about a new series, movie, game, or novel.

And that builds even more awareness, as it is intended to, but without much more context for what the end product will actually be like.

Though I have no proof of this, I personally believe that both builds a sense of community (along with all the rights and duties a community carries with it) where none truly exists, and that it allows the most passionate fans to build in their imaginations what the end product SHOULD be like long before they have any input on what it WILL be like.

And, in some cases, that leads to consumers of this material feeling like not only CAN their opinions be taken into consideration, but that they SHOULD be. Rather than see the movie or play the game and make a judgement based on what it is, they want their opinions to shape the end result, and are doubly-upset when the final product largely ignores them

Now, there are explicit cases where consumer feedback IS sought out where it can impact the end result, Test screenings, pilot episodes, beta reader copies, and playtests are all places where a company wants to know what the reaction is while there is a mechanism in palce to codify it, and time to adjust the end product. And that’s great.

But AMAs and hidden easter eggs and forum chats often AREN’T that, and people, with their greater awareness of what is coming well before that thing is gelled, are specifically tricked into thinking they are invited to be among the cooks, instead of among the diners.

I’m not claiming this is better or worse… but it feels like a trend that has not hit its apex. And at the minimum, it makes me think about what I am implying is possible, or even desired, when I talk about products I am involved with that don’t yet exist in their final form.

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Starfinder Theosophy and Psychic Powers for Really Wild West

While magic and full-blown spells are known to exist in the pulp-fantasy 1891 for the Really Wild West setting hack of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, and considerable study in codifying their scope and limitations has taken place over the past century, they are not the only supernatural powers available to delvers into the occult. With the growth of Theosophy, and the radically increased communication between various cultures and esoteric traditions in the Age of Steam, numerous wise folk, parapsychologists, charismatic preachers, shamans, and madmen have become practicing psychics, able to use the power of their minds to impact the world around them.
There powers are represented with a feat, Practicing Psychic, which gives access to a series of additional tasks that can be performed with the Mysticism skill, known as “Mysticism skill unlocks.”

PRACTICING PSYCHIC
You have opened your third eye, learned the ancient ways, mastered the fourth circle of the Secret Masters, attuned your chi, met your fylgja, gained your Doctorate of Theosophy, or otherwise become adept in manipulating the phrenic energies of the mind.
Benefit: Mysticism is a class skill for you. If it is a class skill from some other source than this feat, you instead gain a +1 bonus to Mysticism checks. You do not have to meet the Charisma requirement of the Minor Psychic Power feat, or any feat that has that as a prerequisite. Additionally, you can select one Mysticism Skill Unlock. Once made, this choice cannot be changed.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Its effects do not stack. Instead, each time you take it after the first, you gain two additional Mysticism Skill Unlocks.

MYSTICISM SKILL UNLOCKS
The tasks you can perform using the Mysticism skill if you have gained access to them through Mysticism Skill Unlocks (such as from the Practicing Psychic feat)—automatic writing, cloud minds, dowsing, faith healing, hypnotism, psychometry, and thought transference—are detailed below. Several of these tasks have sub-tasks you can attempt if you have access to the main skill unlock.

AUTOMATIC WRITING
You can produce mysterious writing that pertains to the immediate future, either under the influence of enigmatic guiding spirits or by unleashing your subconscious intuition.
Once per week, you can spend 1 hour posing questions while your hand unconsciously scribbles messages of varying legibility and accuracy. At the end of this hour, you attempt a Mysticism check to decipher the meanings of these messages. If successful, you gain information as though you had used augury, except the time frame of the information gathered can be up to a week in advance (but the longer it is, the more likely the GM is to conclude the contemplated action will bring both good and bad consequences, since consequences become more difficult to predict further out).
If you have 10 or more ranks in Mysticism, you can attempt a higher DC check to instead gain information as though you had used divination. The chance of successfully producing coherent or meaningful writing from any of these effects equals 60% plus 5% for every 1 by which your check result exceeds the DC (to a maximum of 90%). You must choose which DC you’ll try to meet before attempting the check. The GM rolls the check and d% roll secretly, so that you can’t tell whether the messages are accurate.

Writing Results  Ranks Required DC
As augury spell  1             20
As divination spell            10           30

CLOUD MINDS
You can cloud the minds of thinking creatures so they don’t realize where you are. As a standard action you can make a Mysticism check and a Stealth check, using the lower of the two checks as a Stealth check to hide against any thinking creature (but not traps or mindless creatures) without needing cover or concealment. You can even speak without creatures being able to find you without a successful perception check. This ability lasts until the end of your next turn, but creatures get a +10 bonus to Perception checks to notice you on the next round. This is a mind-affecting, sense-dependent effect.

DOWSING
You channel mysterious forces in the nearby environment to locate hidden resources. Once per day, you can follow a dowsing rod’s movements to locate a particular type of location. Each attempt requires 10 minutes of intense concentration, after which you attempt the Mysticism check with the DC listed on the table below. The maximum range at which you can detect anything using dowsing is 400 feet + 40 feet per rank in Mysticism you possess. The rod’s directions persist for up to 10 minutes. You choose a particular target each time you dowse, and get the following information on a successful check.
Find Water: The dowsing rod points toward the largest source of fresh water within range, including aquifers, lakes, ponds, and springs.
Grave Dowsing: The dowsing rod points in the direction of the largest burial site, cairn, or tomb within range.
Locate Metal and Gems: You concentrate on a specific metal or mineral. On a successful check, the dowsing rod points to the largest quantity of the selected mineral within range.

Dowsing Target DC
Water    15
Grave    20
Mineral 25

FAITH HEALING
You apply esoteric principles to temporarily suspend or remove afflictions (curses, drugs, diseases, and poisons). You can use faith healing once per day. The DC and effect of the Heal check depend on the task you attempt. You can’t use faith healing on yourself.
Suspend Affliction: You treat one curse, disease, drug, or poison affecting a creature. You enter into a deep trance for 1 hour while you treat the subject, after which you attempt your Mysticism check (with a DC equal to the afflictions DC, or 25 for afflictions without save DCs). If the check is successful, you suspend the effects of the affliction by 1 hour, plus 1 hour for every 5 by which you exceed the DC. This time doesn’t count against the effect’s duration (if any). The affliction can still be cured by other means while it’s suspended.
Remove Affliction: You can attempt to permanently remove an affliction in an 8-hour ceremony, after which you attempt a Mysticism check, with a DC equal to the DC to suspend it +15. If your check succeeds the affects is suspended, and the sufferer can attempt another saving throw using the original DC to permanently cast off the effect.

HYPNOTISM
You use the power of suggestion and subtle psychic influence to alter a subject’s mind and dredge up repressed memories. You can use hypnotism once per day. Hypnotism requires one minute of calm, uninterrupted interaction—it is impossible in crowded rooms, loud areas, and anyplace where both you and the subject aren’t free to take 10 on most skill checks—though you cannot take 10 on skill checks to hypnotize a subject unless the subject is both aware and cooperating with the attempt.
The DC of a Mysticism check to hypnotize is 20 + the subject’s Will save modifier against mind-affecting enchantment (compulsion) effects. All uses of hypnotism are mind-affecting enchantment (compulsion), sense-dependent, language-dependent effects.
Implant Suggestion: You can implant a suggested course of reasonable action in the mind of a willing creature, along with a defined trigger. To implant a suggestion, you spend 1 minute inducing a trance-like state in the subject, after which you attempt a Mysticism check. You can attempt to subtly implant a suggestion in the mind of an unwilling creature with an attitude of indifferent or better after 1 minute of continuous, calm interaction with that creature rather than being obvious about it with a willing target, but the DC is 10 higher.
If the check is successful, you implant the course of action, as a suggestion spell with a duration of 10 minutes plus 10 additional minutes for every 1 by which your check result exceeds the DC. If the suggestion is one the subject would not perform for a creature it had a reaction of Indifferent toward, once it has an opportunity to act on the suggestion  it can attempt a Will save once each round to shake off the effects. The save DC is equal to 10 + 1/2 your character level + your Charisma modifier.
This is a mind-affecting, sense-dependent effect.
Recall Memory: You can draw out forgotten memories from a willing subject. You spend 1 minute inducing a calming, trance-like state in the subject, after which you attempt a Mysticism check. If you succeed at the check, the hypnotized creature can reroll any previously failed Intelligence or Knowledge check to recall the forgotten information with a +4 bonus. The information must be something the subject once knew or was exposed to.
This is a mind-affecting, sense-dependent effect.

PSYCHOMETRY
You can read the psychic impressions left on objects or in places by previous owners and events.
Once per day, you can concentrate for 1 minute while in physical contact with an item or location, during which you receive flashes of insight regarding the subject’s nature and ownership. After 1 minute, you attempt a DC 15 Mysticism check to decipher the visions. You gain one piece of information about the historical significance or the last previous owner—such as a glimpse of the last owner’s appearance or its emotional state when it last used the item—determined by the GM. You learn one more piece of information for every 10 by which your check result exceeds the DC, as long as you concentrate for 1 additional minute for each piece of information. If you fail the check by less than 5 or the item has no significant psychic imprint, you don’t learn any information. If you fail this check by 5 or more, the item appears to be psychically significant even if it’s not, and the information you gain is wildly inaccurate.
If you attempt to use psychometry on an item affected by a spell or effect that hides its true nature or history, you automatically learn all the false information imprinted by the spell or effect. You must also attempt a Will save (DC 15 +1/2 the level of the creature that created the spell or effect). If you succeed at this save, you realize the implanted information was false, and can determine the true information as well. On a failed save, you believe the implanted information is true.

THOUGHT TRANSFERENCE
Once per round without taking an action, you can make a Mysticism check to attempt to pass a secret message without speaking. If you exceed the DC by 5 or more, the recipient can send a secret message back to you in the same way. Only creatures with the thought transference skill unlock, limited telepathy, or telepathy can make opposed Sense Motive checks to attempt to learn the gist of the message. The DC for this increases by +10 if you attempt to use it on creatures you are not currently perceiving, and +20 if you attempt to us it on creatures a mile or more away.

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Really Wild West Bestiary: Gulchers

Of course you can use any creatures from the Starfinder Alien Archive as threats in a Really Wild West campaign, but in most cases you’ll want to reflavor them to something more appropriate for it’s 1891 aesthetic and technology level.

It’s useful to dream up brand-new threats as well of course, to get foes hat are unique to the dangerous world of pulp theosophy and super-science that is Really Wild West. Here is a very RWW-themed undead, which may be encountered alone or in mass numbers as dictated by the plot. If you want to make different of higher-CR gulchers, just take any undead and replace one of its offensive powers with bad off, add false life, lower its EAC by 2 and raise its KAC by 1.

GULCHER (CR 1)
XP
400
NE Medium undead
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +5
DEFENSE
HP
24
EAC 9; KAC 14
Fort +3; Ref +3; Will +3; DR 3/magic; Immunities undead immunities
OFFENSE
Speed
30 ft.
Melee pitchfork (or other tool) +8 (1d6+5 P; critical: bad off) or
Ranged revolver +6 (1d6+1 P)
Special Attacks bad off (DC 11)
STATISTICS
Str
+4; Dex +2; Con —; Int +0; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +10
Other Abilities unliving
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Bad Off (Su)
A gulcher is imbued with the bad times that lead to its sorry state, and can sometimes inflict its bad luck and sad-sack existence on those it hurts. Any attack from a glucher that scores a critical hit causes the target to feel down and out, gaining the sickened condition for 24 hours, or until the target receives a morale bonus (to anything) or is the recipient of a Diplomacy check to improve their attitude.
A gulcher can also attempt to inflict its bad off ability on a creature as a standard action, creaming in contagious misery. Used this way the ability is sense-dependent and the target can negate it with a successful DC 11 Will save.
A DC 11 Mysticism check can identity the nature of a creature being bad off, and reveal the circumstances that negate this effect. Bad off is a curse effect.

False Life (Ex)
A gulcher that doesn’t realize its own true nature is not affected by spells or abilities that only target undead.
ECOLOGY
Environment
any
Organization solitary, pair, posse (3–12), or settlement (13+)

Gulchers are undead that appear to be gaunt, dirty, badly-tended humans, often dressed in patched and worn prairie clothing, though they can also have the appearance of drovers, gunfolk, miners, merchants, gunfolk, and native people can also become gulchers. Most have sallow skin, yellowed, crooked teeth, stringy hair, and sullen or bloodshot eyes. A few appear jaundiced.

Gulchers are most often normal people who went through a time of despair, tribulation, hunger, and pestilence, and died. But they didn’t notice. Things had been so bad, for so long, that dying would be a relief, and gulchers just don’t expect anything to get better.

As long as a gulcher is unaware it has become an undead, it goes about the dreary and colorless motions of living a life. It eats, if food is available, lies in bed and doesn’t realize it never sleeps, sucks down duststorms and doesn’t realize it should choke. In this state, the gulcher isn’t affected by powers that only effect undead, but it also isn’t immune to fear and emotion effects, and takes the penalties for being shaken at all times (though this is more a dreary lack of verve than true fear).

All this changes if the gulcher is made aware of its state. The easiest way to do this is to deal piercing or slashing damage to it – gulchers have thick, black blood and realize the horrible truth of their state if they see their own tarlike vitae. Evidence of their lifeless existence, lack of food, lack of sleep, and so on, can also be used to convince a gulcher it is no longer living with a DC 15 Diplomacy check. Once it knows that even the peace of the grave is denied it, a gulcher is slowly consumed with a desire to make everyone and everything as pained and hopeless as its own existence.

It’s not unknown for entire towns to become gulchers, often during thunderdusts, droughts, and locust plagues. Sometimes one or two take the gray journey, and their desire to cause misery slowly kill off everyone else in town. Othertimes a real bad situation takes out near everyone most all at once. And sometimes, a drakul, ghul, black spirit, or other bigtime black hat decided to take over a town as a base of operation, and intentionally nurses the despair that causes god-fearin’ folk to become the things other folk fear.

In very rare cases, gulchers perform a useful service, such as toiling at a mostly-played out mine that would be pointless for living creatures to port the food and water needed to operate, operating rickety barges on distant rivers with little traffic, or slowly clearing stones from areas that might, in a few decades, be worthwhile farmlands. Of course, these gulchers are also likely to be angered by the sight of anyone doing better than they, and may drown passengers, or dump scorpions into their sleeping blankets.