Monthly Archives: May 2018

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, screaming 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.