Monthly Archives: December 2019

Developing to Spec: Part 14c – More Greater

This is the third section of Part Fourteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

For the most part these Greater feats work pretty well, but we need to consider their balance in Starfinder’s combat environment. For example, it’s more difficult to perform disarm on average in Starfinder than it is in PF, and there aren’t a lot of abilities that boost your chances (though that can change as more official rules are added). So while we don’t want to add bonuses to succeed, since Starfinder combat math is pretty tight, it might be worth making the benefit of success better than the 15 feet of distance you get in PF.

Grapple is just as difficult to achieve by base math, but there are many more ways to get better at it (being a skittermander one of the biggest boosts). So we don’t really need to add a great deal more benefit for taking the feat (it’ll appeal most to people who have found ways to maximize grapple bonuses already). But since grapple is simplified in Starfinder compared to PF, we can (and probably should) simplify the related Greater feat.

We’re also simplifying the prerequisites, because Starfinder has less complex and lengthy feat prerequisites on average than PF. So, with all that in mind, here are our two new Greater combat maneuver feats.

GREATER DISARM (Combat)
You can knock weapons far from an enemy’s grasp.
Prerequisites: Improved Combat Maneuver (disarm), base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: Whenever you successfully disarm an opponent, the weapon lands up to 1d4+2 squares away from its previous wielder, in a square you select.
Normal: Disarmed weapons and gear land at the feet of the disarmed creature.

GREATER GRAPPLE (Combat)
Maintaining a grapple is second nature to you.
Prerequisites: Improved Combat Maneuver (grapple), base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: When you already have a creature grappled, you can use the grapple combat maneuver on that creature as a move action.
Normal: Maintaining a grapple is a standard action.

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Developing to Spec: Part 14b – Devils in the Details

This is the second section of Part Fourteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

So, having tackled Scorpion Style, now we can go back and grab Gorgon’s Fist. And, much like Scorpion Style, it doesn’t really need any major revisions. Because Starfinder generally has fewer feat prerequisites than PF, it makes sense to cut the Strength requirement and Power Attack from that list, and we want to use key ability rules, but otherwise the feat works as-is. Those tiny details matter, though, as they help make these feats feel and work like Starfinder feats, which can be an important part of the product being popular with fans and successful.

GORGON’S FIST (Combat)
With one well-placed blow, you leave your target reeling.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike, Scorpion Style, base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: As a standard action, make a single unarmed melee attack against a foe whose speed is reduced (such as from Scorpion Style). If the attack hits, you deal damage normally and the target is staggered until the end of your next turn unless it makes a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your key ability modifier). This feat has no effect on targets that are staggered.

Okay, so Greater Bull Rush is next. Greater Bull Rusk works perfectly as written… IF a bull rush doesn’t normally provoke attacks of opportunity in Starfinder. This is a matter of some debate among fans, based on whether there is a difference between a target moving out of your threatened area, and a target being moved out of your threatened area. And, for our purposes, it doesn’t matter which interpretation is right, because a chunk of the fanbase will disagree with that ruling regardless. So if we make a feat that depends on the rules being read one way or the other, even if we are right we lose part of our potential customer base.

We COULD just let you make a bull rush in place of a melee attack, since that’s a difference between many PF and Starfinder combat maneuvers, but we are going to have to do “improved” versions of all the combat maneuvers already, and that seems like something we could keep as an easy way to adapt those without interfering with Starfinder’s combat math.

But one tiny detail we discover when comparing PF bull rush and Starfinder bull rush is that in Starfinder, you don’t get to move with your target. And that can certainly become the basis for a new feat!

GREATER BULL RUSH (Combat)
Your bull rush attacks can carry you across a battlefield.
Prerequisites: Improved Combat Maneuver (bull rush), base
attack bonus +6.
Benefit: When you make a successful bull rush maneuver, if you are able to move and have an appropriate movement speed, you can move with the target of your bull rush. Your total movement cannot exceed your speed. You do not have to travel the entire distance your target does, but you cannot go anywhere but toward your target along the path of the bull rush.

And that is going to define how we handle all the Greater and Improved combat maneuver feats.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 14a – Stay Up to Date

This is the first section of Part Fourteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

One of the difficult parts of writing for a constantly-evolving game system is that you need to keep current. Every new book released that is considered “official” (such as those published by the game’s original publisher, rather than depending on some 3pp license) can bring new rules, clarifications, options, and styles of play that change how your project should be handled. This can even happen in the middle of a project, which may require you to go back and look at work you have done but not yet turned over.

For example, while there is no “rage” mechanic in the Starfinder Core Rulebook for our Extra Rage PF feat to be converted to work with, the Starfinder Character Operations Manual adds a wrathful warrior fighting style, which is clearly inspired by barbarians. Since Extra Rage was only usable by a small fraction of total characters in PF, it seems reasonable to make our Starfinder version similarly focused only on fighting classes with anger powers.

EXTRA RAGE (Combat)
You are filled with a fast reservoir of fury you can call upon in combat.
Prerequisites: Wrathful warrior fighting style.
Benefits: Once per day as part of any other action you can activate your frenzied fighting ability. You may do this even if you have already used the ability and have not yet rested for 10 minutes to regain Stamina Points since doing so.

This is in many ways simpler than the PF version, and it includes an action economy buff when using this once/day version, but those are intentional choices to try to keep it appealing to players who are, after all, playing soldiers with tons of other options (especially if they have COM options to play with).

That brings us to Gorgon’s Fist, but since it has Scorpion Style as a prerequisite, it makes more sense to do that PF feat first.

Weirdly, Scorpion Style… works FINE in Starfinder. It doesn’t reference rules that don’t exist, it doesn’t impact the game’s combat math, and it doesn’t interfere with any game setting themes or logic. Given how easy it is to make a Starfinder version, I spend a fair bit of time checking things other than feats (such as class features and archetypes) to see if it had been co-opted for those, and the only thing I found I didn’t know about was hampering inhibitor for the biohacker (again, in COM), so we want this to operate a bit differently.

But otherwise my one and only concern is that it doesn’t use key ability score language and seems underwhelming in a game that has jump jets available by 3rd level. Those, however, are easily fixed.

SCORPION STYLE (Combat)
You can perform an unarmed strike that greatly hampers your target’s movement.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike.
Benefit: To use this feat, you must make a single unarmed attack as a standard action. If this unarmed attack hits, you deal damage normally, and the target’s burrow, climb, fly, land, and swim speed (if any) are reduced to 5 feet for a number of rounds equal to your key ability modifier unless it makes a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your key ability modifier). Multiple uses of this ability can reduce a target’s speed multiple times, to a minimum of 0.

With that done we can hop back to Gorgon Style… tomorrow. 🙂

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Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, every word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found any of this useful and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

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#VeskGods: Bhel

Bhel, Flame Tongue

Alignment: N
Portfolio: Betrayal, Fire, Knowledge, Magic
Worshipers: Vesk, firefighters, spellcasters, historians.
Favored Weapon: Flaming Taclash
Connections: Akashic, Flamewalker, Overlord
Bhel is a snake-headed vesk with flaming eyes and a long, flaming tongue. She was originally the deity of a race of serpentfolk that opposed the vesk, but betrayed the serpentfolk deities to become a vesk goddess when it became clear the vesk would crush the serpentfolk. She is considered a keeper of secrets, and while Ollothatyra is the writer of the scroll of every mortal’s life, Bhel burns the end of those scrolls to bring about every mortal’s death.
Worshipers of Bhel consider themselves to be students, rather than ethical faithful of her religion, and seek to learn hidden knowledge that she holds control over by following her dictates as rules of her metaphyscial school. While this is considered a reasonable deal in vesk society–obeying a powerful lady because she can reward you–worshipers of Bhel are often viewed with suspicion, given that betrayal is part of her portfolio.
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Writing Basics: Revisions

So, you have a finished draft of a game project. You’ve checked that it meets your wordcount requirements (neither too much nor too little off the mark – I try to hit within 5% of the exact wordcount total, and I consider being off by 10%–whether over or under—to be a failure to hit wordcount), the formatting is what your publisher has asked for (so if you used ANY table function of your program, you have replaced it with what the publisher’s style guide calls for), and you’ve hit all the required topics.

Now what? Now, you get ready for revision.

Revisions can have a number of steps for game writing, depending on the project, time, and circumstance, but here are some common types. A project may have all of these, just a few, or none… though try to avoid not even having time for a reread.

The Re-Read

The best way to get a good revision on your own is to put your writing down for a couple of weeks, work on other projects and then, when it’s no longer fresh in your mind, reread it from the beginning. You are likely to catch a few places where the wording got muddled, or you didn’t type exactly what you were thinking. But you may also find some more systemic problems, such as discussing concepts in length before introducing them in brief, or contradicting yourself because ideas evolved as you wrote them (or you wrote two parts of the same section days apart, and misremembered what you said the first time).

This is also a good time to play developer with your own material. Do you see a simpler way to express the same idea? Is a rule system too complex for the value it gives the game? Is an option obviously overpowered, or under-powered, and you can see a way to fix it? Does something you thought was awesome now seem dull? This is a good chance to fix all those issues.

And if you aren’t sure about something? Just flag it for your developer/editor/producer. Leave a comment explaining your thought process and concern, and that you weren’t sure one way or another. Having comments and thoughts from the author can be a huge help when a developer is first tackling a project, and it shows you’re cognizant of potential issues in your work, but trust the people you are working with. While you are at it, put notes in about anything else that might be useful for your developer. A list of resources that need to be mentioned in a OGL section 15. Which bits of continuity are canon (and where you found them), and which are new elements you made up yourself. Anything that’s an Easter Egg (or even clearly inspired by existing IP—homage CAN be fine, but let your publisher know what you are riffing off of, so they can make that decision for themselves).

Playtest

If at all possible get at least SOME playtest in of any gameable elements. An adventure can be easy to do a quick playtest of—grab some friends (with your publisher’s permission to have people you are sharing the unpublished material with, if under NDA or similar restriction) and run through it once. Single stand-alone elements such as spells or feats can be trickier, but having people other than you use them in character builds can show if they are unexpected synergies, or are valued much more or less highly than similar options. Larger elements, such as entire character classes, can take months to properly playtest, but at minimum it can be useful to run a Rules Rumble playtest – have one set of players make characters without access to the new rules, and a second group make characters required to use the new rules, and pit them against each other.

If you find any glaring issues, fix them. If you find potential issues, leave comments for your developer/editor/producer.

Beta Readers

It can be useful to have people you trust take a look at your work to highlight any potential problems they see. Again, if you are under NDA or similar constraint, get your publisher’s permission for this. Sometimes projects with multiple freelancers working on it provide a way for those freelancers to go over each other’s work as it is created, which can be a great resource (but be sure you give back – if someone gives you useful feedback in that kind of environment, read through their stuff too). You don’t have to take a Beta Reader’s opinion over your own of course, but do consider their point of view. If a Beta Reader says something is unclear, for example, then no matter how obvious it is to you, you know it’s unclear to at least SOME other people.

Publisher Feedback

Publisher feedback is extremely important on any project they have the time and energy to give it to you, which is my experience isn’t that often. Ultimately if you don’t work with your publisher on their feedback, you may not get published. But the degree of how important this is varies from ‘crucial” to only “very important.”

Most freelance work written for the tabletop game industry is done Work for Hire, which means once you are paid you have no further rights to the work. You aren’t even considered the creator, for copyright purposes. When I am working on that kind of project, if the publisher gives me feedback, I consider it part of my job to incorporate that feedback, even if I disagree with it.

I ALSO consider it part of my job to point out why I think bad feedback is bad, but in the end if this is something for which I am providing content using someone else’s sandbox, and I have been hired to fill a certain amount of it with the kind of sand they want, I consider my job to be to give the publisher what they want. I often call this kind of work “content provider” rather than “author,” to remind myself of what my end goal is.

Things are slightly different if a publisher is partnering with you to publish something you retain the copyright to. It’s still crucial to consider the publisher’s feedback—one presumes you picked this publisher to be the venue for your work for a reason, but if it’s ultimately your project any feedback should ultimately be your call. (Though, you know, check your contract. Preferably before signing it.)

In Summation

The point of a First Draft is to get it done. The point of a Revision is to get it right. This can vary from tweaking a few things to realizing you have to tear out the heart of what you have written and start over (which can feel a lot like tearing out your own heart). In tabletop RPG design you often don’t have time for more than one revisions (though a developer may be coming along behind you to make another, out of your sight), so try to get as much feedback as you can, then apply what you have learned, make notes…

And move on to the next project. Never finishing revisions is a form of never finishing, and it’s often said “Game designs are never finished, they just escape their designers.”

Don’t be afraid to change things in revision, but also don’t be afraid to leave them alone if you think they’re good.

Patreon
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, every word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found any of this useful and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.

#VeskGods: Grumzati

Grumzati, the War Blood.

Alignment: CG
Portfolio: Freedom, Rage, Strength
Worshipers: Vesk, rebels, liberators, sailors (and thus starfarers), special forces, Pahtra, Ysoki.
Favored Weapon: Fist
Connections: Flamewalker, Geneturge, Star Shaman

Depicted as a dark blue vesk with prehensile, double-long tail, Grumzati lives in a sea of burning blood found where the Abyss overlaps with the Plane of Water.

While the Vesk god of War is the deity of battle, glory in combat, and victory, Grumzati is the god of conflict as a means to an end. Grumzati was a mortal vesk that fought to destroy a cult of slaver demons, and changed his form to adapt to water environment as a way to defeat the most powerful of those demons. As a result he is also seen as a god of change, evolution, and specialized tactics.

Worshipers of Grumzati believe as strict rule systems will, in time, become imbalanced and turn into tyrannies. They exist to prevent those tyrannies from damaging the rights of individual vesk. While the Vesk imperium might normally try to suppress the worship pf such a deity, as a conflict god Grumzati is too well-respected by other militant vesk gods for any direct action to ever be taken against his followers.

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