Monthly Archives: May 2020

Interesting Creature Powers in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

We did some specific “interesting” design things with whistlers yesterday. Today we’re just going over a short list of ideas for things you can do to spice up creature design in the Really Wild West. (Or GammaFinder, or any Starfinder setting, though you should consider the themes and tone of a specific setting when designing monsters for it.) Things like this should be obvious as soon as they come into play, and a good identify creature check should also reveal them.

This isn’t a comprehensive, or even very extensive list. Just a few ideas to get GMs thinking about interesting monster design.

Damage Type Reaction: Creatures that take more or less damage from specific damage types can be interesting, but they are common enough not to be special. However, if a creature has an unusual reaction to taking a specific kind of damage, that can make things more interesting.
Several of these are a mixed blessing, quite intentionally, but they are also complex enough you likely do want them to count against a creature’s total special abilities, just to keep fights from becoming too complicated. For the same reason, avoid fights with multiple creatures with different damage type reactions. Three Slag Beetles with acid reactions gives PCs a chance to learn how the ability works and plan around it. A fight with one Slag beetle, one Dire Bobcat with a fire reaction, and one Crystal Elemental with a sonic reaction is just a confused mess.
Acid: Target takes double damage from acid, but also partially dissolves into a toxic cloud. It gains a smoke cloud effect like a smoke grenade (which it is immune to) whenever it takes acid damage, and those that fail their save against the smoke also take secondary damage from it as a poison effect. good for creatures covered in hard armor of unusual composition (chitin, plastic, alchemically treated materials, and so on).
Bludgeoning: Creature takes half damage, but it knocked back 10 feet and knocked prone. Good for ephemeral, floating foes and those on narrow, tippy legs.
Cold: For one round target is slowed and becomes hard, but brittle. For that round it’s KAC increase by +2, but it takes extra damage from any kinetic attack that hits equal to its CR. Good for stone, crystal, and strange metal creatures.
Electricity: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is also hasted for 1 round. Great for machines, but also anything with unusual biology, including outsiders, undead, and aberrations.
Fire: Target takes normal damage, but catches on fire. Takes a burn of 1d6 per 5 CR, but also now does fire to melee attackers. Good for dry plant monsters, including fungus, and those covered in oily or greasy substances or thick fur.
Piercing: Target gains a bleed effect equal to half it’s CR in HP/round, but the blood is acidic and does secondary attack damage (Reflex for half) to all targets in reach.
Slashing: Sever part of the target. This acts as a wounding critical, but also turns the severed part into its own monster 4 CR lower than its parent. Great for undead, constructs, plants, and nearly any supernatural threat.
Sonic: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is now vibrating for 1d4 rounds causing attacks against it to suffer a 20% miss chance.

Intimidating Surprise: The creature has some kind of attack or transformation that is unexpected. Perhaps it looks like a typical snake, but can unhinge its jaw and make a sonic attack. Or it looks like a typical steam engine, but transforms into an iron golem. Or its melee attacks are accompanies by lightning and thunder strikes.
The first time this transformation or surprise attack takes place in a combat, the creature can make a free Intimidate check to demoralize the closest foe. Character who are warned about it but haven’t experienced it have the DC to be demoralized increased by +5. Those who have experienced it before have the DC increased by +10. After 2-3 such encounters, characters are likely immune.

RWW jawsnake
(art by Dina)

Melee Awkward: A melee awkward creature simple isn’t designed to deal with foes that are right up against it. Imagine a Martian tripod with no tentacles to defend it, or a floating gun platform, or even a tank or giant acid-spitting pillbug. Melee attacks against a melee awkward target gain a +2 bonus, and if it has melee attacks of its own (most don’t) they suffer a -2 penalty. Making a creature melee awkward normally goes along with giving it some benefit or special ability that doesn’t count against its normal maximum number of such abilities.

One-Weapon Reach: The creature has more reach with one weapon or natural attack than all its others. This can be especially fun if the weapon is weaker and less accurate than it’s primary attacks, but has MUCH more reach. Consider doing 20-30 feet of reach, but make the attack the secondary attack of a creature 3 CR lower. Works best with solo foes or those used in no more than 2 per encounter, otherwise there is simply no place for PCs to go to avoid reach, and rather than be an interesting tactical choice this just becomes a constant annoyance.

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Making Interesting Monsters in Really Wild West (For Starfinder)

You don’t want foes you write up for Really Wild West (or any Starfinder game) to just be sacks of Hit Points with attack rolls. You want to make them interesting. One option for an interesting monster is to give it unusual strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn’t do this for every monster, but it’s a good choice for major foes that are a linchpin of an adventure (even if the adventure is just a sub-section of a bigger quest).

With Starfinder, you can design a plan for a monster by picking it’s array, type, and a few mandatory and optional special abilities. Then, you can aply those to an array at any CR to get themonster you need.

Here’s an example: the whistler.

Whistlers are undead combatants.

Every whistler has mark of the moment, which we don’t count against their total number of special abilities because it’s a mixed blessing and has a low DC skill check to identify crucial info about it. Every whistler also has half past dead and full of holes, and has a EAC/KAC 1 lower than normal, so we count all that as as one special ability (20% miss to offset the lowered ACs).

Eerie whistling and gunslinger skills are optional powers. Some whistlers have them, some don’t. Add them if you do a high-enough CR whistler to have the abilities to spare, otherwise ignore them.

Eerie Whistling (Su): Anyone within 100 ft/CR of a whistler is affected by its eerie whistling sound, made by wind passing through it’s incomplete body, and must make a Will save or be shaken. Creatures remain shaken while within line of effect, but may make a new Will save at the beginning of each round. A success save ends the shaken effect, and the creature is immune to being shaken by that whistler for 24 hours. This is a sense-dependent, mind-affecting, fear effect.

Full of Holes (Su): A whistler’s body is incomplete. Any attack against it that target’s the whistler’s EAC or KAC has a 20% miss chance, as the attack goes through part of the whistler that is already missing. Force effects ignore this miss chance.

Gunslinger Skills (Ex): Many whistler’s were expert gunslingers. For some reason, the grit of a gunslinger makes them more likely to become whistlers. A whistler can have gunslinger abilities, using it’s CR as its gunslinger level.

Half Past Dead (Su): When a whistler has taken half or more of its HP it began a fight with, it fades away… for a time. It may be gone for 1d10 rounds (25%), 1d10 minutes (25%), 1d10 hours (25%) or 1d10days (25%). When it returns (anywhere within 1 mile of its last location) it has healed its CR in HP, or has fully healed if it was gone for a day or more.
A whistler being held at bay does not disappear, and if dropped to 0 HP is destroyed.
A whistler bound to a specific place rolls twice to see how long it is gone when at that place, and appears in the shorter timeframe.

Mark of the Moment (Su): Every whistler bears the marks of the moment of its death. Those that died by fire seem burned and partly made of ash, those that dies by piercing damage have holes punched cleanly through them.

Select one damage type that killed the whistler (acid, bludgeoning, cold, electricity, fire, piercing, slashing, or sonic). The whistler is immune to damage of this type, but also fears it. A successful attack that deals that damage doesn’t harm the whistler, but does cause it to target that foe next, and be shaken for 1 round as it reals from the memory of its death. An obvious source of that damage type can be used to hold the whistler at bay, as the Intimidate task.

Mark of the Moment is always the first piece of additional useful information gained by a successful identify creature check, and when exposed to its feared damage type a successful Sense Motive check (DC 10 + 1.5x whistler’s CR) reveals it is shaken by attacks and can be held at bay with obvious sources of such damage.

RWW Whistler

(art by breakermaximums)

Whistlers are among the most feared of the Passed, because they are unpredictable and hard to get rid of. Regions with a whistler are often seen as cursed, and their anger at the living causes them to attack nearly at random. They are named for the hollow whistling sound wind makes as it passed through their perforated bodies.

Here is a sample whistler.

Whistler          CR 3          [COMBATANT]
XP 800, each
NE Medium Undead
Init +4 Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +13
EAC 13; KAC 15
Fort +4; Ref +4; Will +3
Defensive Abilities gunslinger’s dodge, full of holes (20% miss), mark of the moment (fire), undead immunities, unliving
Speed 40 ft.
Melee burning fist +8 (1d6+5 B and F)
Ranged pistol +11 (1d6+3)
Offensive Abilities eerie whistling (DC 12)
Str +2; Dex +4; Con –; Int +0; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +8, Athletics +8, Intimidate +8
Languages none
(See above for full descriptions)
Eerie Whistling, Full of Holes, Half Past Dead, Mark of the Moment


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GM Advice: Using Problems to Create Encounters

(This article was originally written in two parts, for Tuesday and Wednesday publication. It can been combined into a two-fer article for today.)

So, a member of the party died, and the characters aren’t in a position to raise them. Or they foolishly ignored all the warnings about the cursed artifact, and now have a lich hand slowly taking over their soul. Or they played tag with a vampire, and lost so many levels they can’t recover that the rest of the adventure you have planned is way over their head. As a GM, it looks like you have a problem.

But what you have is also an opportunity for a solution — new encounters!

Rather than handwave the negative consequences (which can remove the sense of risk and stakes many players need to enjoy rpg games), or enforce them mercilessly regardless of the reduction in fun, you can offer the players a change to earn the solution to their problems, with more encounters.

Often, this takes the form of an imperfect patron.

The Perfect Imperfect Patron

A patron is a great way to add new options to a campaign. Players know there are other powerful movers and shakers in a campaign setting, so someone with access to things they lack, and thus the solutions to their problems, are a reasonable part of the setting. And, obviously, if you want to be able to use a Patron to introduce ways for PCs to undergo encounters to buy the answers they need, you want your patron to be a fairly powerful entity. This is where your archwizards, angels of allied deities, cosmic heralds of fundamental forces of the universe, and tech billionaires can be handy.


At the same time, you need the patron to be someone that both can’t just solve all their problems with the snap of a finger, and someone that can’t be relied upon to solve all the problems of the campaign (leaving the PCs with nothing to do). You need an imperfect patron.

You don’t want the PCs to be personal friends with Elmage the ArchEverything, because Elmage can likely just fix things without blinking. But if Elmage exists, and is nearly always in astral meditation protecting reality from cosmic horrors, it can be super-useful to know Elmage’s secretary. The secretary can’t just fix things, but DOES have access to the ArchEverything’s contacts and correspondence. Elmage himself can’t be awoken for something like this, but he has a lesser colleague who asked if Elmage knew any hearty heroes willing to undertake a weird journey, and that colleague An fix their problem… if they get their own help first.

Rather than an Angel, perhaps the PCs know an oracle, or medium, who can commune with powerful spirits but can’t guarantee the results. The tech billionaire is under investigation and can’t access most of her holdings, but she does have a friend in the right field she can put them in touch with. The Cosmic Herald has vast and ill-defined powers… but has also only had this job for 3 months and lost the manual. He’s sure he CAN just snap his fingers and fix the issue… but doesn’t know how. What he CAN do, though…

These kinds of imperfect patrons work best if you introduce them before you need them. Absent-minded demigods, long-retired and dottering high priests who just want to raise orchids. Lone bronze juggernauts of the God of Deals, who is left standing in the middle of a ruin where there was once a city, bound to wait there for ever for someone to need a deal badly enough to come talk to them. Folks who, when you first introduce them, clearly are not the end-all be all of the getting-things-done department, but have let slip to PCs that if things are ever REALLY bad, they might have… options.

So, what does an encounter to solve a problem look like? Some are obvious. The Cave of Wonders has this lamp, but is warded against Jafar, but if you go grab it, you can also have the Rod of Restoration you need.

Of course if a player is dead or unplayable, you may need to get more creative.

Planar Works Program

The Patron is more than happy to help the PCs with their problem… but in order to have the resources needed to do so, the PCs need to help out the Patron first.

Whatever Patron is working with the PCs has allies who often summon creatures for help. But there are cosmic threats afoot (as GM you can allude to whatever you have planned as a big plot point in 5 levels if you want, or you can hand-wave this by saying it’s all happening in adjacent realities, its just causing a shortage of resources) which leave the Patron short of souls/spirits/celestial badgers to send in answer to those summons.

So the Patron needs the PCs to fill in.

You can have the PCs (living and dead) be sent in lieu of whatever angels, demons, fey things or elementals would normally respond to a summons, or you can give the PCs NPC stat blocks for a few encounters. Regardless, you have them take the role of creatures summoned by heroes in other planes, planets, countries, or whatever. Once they cover 2-3 such events, they have bought their patron enough slack that the Probelem can be solved.

As GM you can have a lot of fun with this. First, since the PCs are being summoned, you can give them hints of plot elements normally off-screen. Planning for the Queen of Graves to be awakening in the Barrowmire, beyond the Shallow Sea? Well that may be 5,000 miles from the PCs bodies, but if a flumph cleric in the Barrowmire summons them to help fight the undead Regicidals who serve the Queen, the PCs can see part of the scene of things going badly, but without the time to do a whole lot about it.

You can also give PCs much different goals and challenges that usual. For example, a TPK isn’t a big deal if the PCs are summoned spirits who will return to their Patron rather than truly die. They may not speak the languages of their summoner, and have to quess what task they must perform. They might only be present for the duration of a single summoning spell–of if they can give the creature that summoned them enough aid, perhaps they can be re-summoned (with full health and daily abilities) multiple times during one fight. If any PC is looking for someone (a long-lost sister, the man who burned their town down), they could spot that individual at the summoned spot, but not know its exact location in the world.

Speaking of Patrons

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Intimidating in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

When you expand a game’s rules to cover specific tropes, you want to make sure you don’t take options that should be available to everyone and make them character-specific or class-specific feats and features. It’s okay if the same trope can be produced using more than one set of game rules (as long as all the options make sense), but you don’t want to end up with only soldiers being able to do something as basic as twirl a pistol.

Or dishearten a frontier town beyond the reach of quick or reliable assistance (a favored tactic of everything from bandits to rakshasa)

And that brings us to Intimidate in the Really Wild West, where the skill has a few additional tasks available.

RWW Mounted Rakshasa

(Art by Дмитрий)

New Intimidate Tasks


Disheartening is showing such superiority that creatures are unwilling to be caught taking action against you, though they certainly won’t move to help you. Disheartening is similar to bullying (and has the same DC), but the effect only brings the target up to indifferent, and the effects last for 1 week, +1 week per 5 you exceed the DC. You can dishearten a target as a full action, normally as a show of force (shooting at someone’s feet to force them to dance, smashing your fist through a wall, lifting someone with one arm, and so on).

You can dishearten a group as an action that takes one minute, but only after disheartening a member of that group. This only functions if no member of the group has a CR that matches or exceeds your own, or the group as a whole has a CR below that of you and your obvious allies.

While disheartened targets are likely to be unfriendly or hostile, but will take no action they believe can be traced back to them, publicly acting indifferent.

At the end of a dishearten duration, the targets can act as their true attitude dictates. However, you can extend a dishearten (the duration of a new check replaces the old duration), or even re-dishearten an individual or group.

RWW Rakshasa head b and w

(art by Helen_F)

Hold at Bay

When dealing with creatures with an Intelligence of 3 or less (modifier of -4 or less) or with no Int score at all, you can’t make threats with words—but you can sometimes still make a threat. If you have something the creature instinctively avoids (fire, for most animals and vermin, for example) as a standard action you can use it to hold the creature at bay. The target must be within line of sight and line of effect, and the DC is 13 + 1.5x the target’s CR. This even works for creatures immune to mind-affecting effects and swarms (the classic scene where the mass of scarabs are kept back with a torch), as long as you have something they can perceive and instinctively avoid. You can use this against a group of similar creatures (that all instinctively avoid the same object), but the DC is increased by 2 per creature beyond the first.

On a successful check, the target creature will not come within 15 feet of you for 1 round. For every 5 by which you exceeded the DC, the range increased by 5 feet. This is a sense-dependent ability.

This task can also be performed against outsiders and undead, but normally requires a source of supernatural dread. This may include holy symbols, depending on the creature. Some special relics may have the power to hold creatures at bay that typical examples of such symbols cannot (such as using the Crystal Ankh of Saint Frasier to hold giants at bay, even though giants are not normally subject to this task).

A successful Recall Knowledge check regarding a creature will normally tell you if a specific object at hand will function to keep them at bay.

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Keeping the Memorial

All this week’s content will go up. 5 articles over the course of the week.

Just, not on Memorial Day.

New Operative Specialization in Really Wild West: Pistoleer (For Starfinder)

We wrap up out look at operative class options in the Really Wild West (and therefore Starfinder in general) with the pistoleer specialization, and one extra exploit that synergies with it despite not being part of it. While the gunslinger and soldier are both classes that may well use pistols (one reason gunslinger abilities have multiple ways of being accessed by soldiers), the existence or trick attack means operatives are the class most likely to focus on small arms, and deserve a unique way to specialize with such weapons.

Rww Shootist

(art by warpaintcobra)

New Operative Specialiation: Pistoleer
While all gunfighters may have a preference for one firearm over another, a pistoleer specifically focuses on pistol-combat, trading versatility for greater expertise in small arms.
Associated Skills: Bluff and Sleight of Hand. When you use Bluff to make a trick attack, you gain a +4 bonus to the skill check.
Specialization Exploit: Fast on the Draw
Sweep the Room (Ex): At 11th level as a full action you can make one small arm attack against every target in a cone out to your weapon’s second range increment. If you are holding multiple small arms, you can decide which small arm is used to attack which target. Each attack takes the weapon’s normal ammunition usage and you cannot reload during this attack, even if you have a way to reload without taking an action. When you run out of ammunition, your attacks stop.

Operative Exploits:

[2nd Level]

Shootist (Ex)
You gain a gunslinger ability. You must select one that could normally be used with small arms or longarms (though it can also be usable with other weapons as well). You must meet its other prerequisites. You can only use it with small arms.
At 4th level, you gain a second gunslinger ability using the same rules and limitations.

[10th Level]

Fast on the Draw (Ex)
You gain the Quick Draw feat – if you gain the Quick Draw feat through other means, you gain the ability to draw a small arm as a reaction whenever someone within your line of sight makes an attack against anyone. You can still take a full action on a round you Quick Draw as a swift action.

Additionally, you gain a +1 bonus to the attack roll of trick attacks made with a small arm in the first round of a combat.

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New Operative Exploits in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

We already did a few operative exploits for the Really Wild West, but we obviously want more than 3 new thematic options for the operative class. So here are 4 more, inspired by Western tropes, but appropriate for most Starfinder campaigns.

RWW Mounted cowgirl

(art by Daniel)

Artillery Tricks (Ex)

You have learned to apply your flexible attack style to starship combat. When you do damage with starship weapons, you roll both its normal damage, and (separately) your trick attack dice. You use whichever total is higher, though you still cannot exceed the starship weapon’s maximum damage.

Bushwacker (Ex)

If all foes are unaware of your location at the beginning of a combat, you may make a Stealth check, rather than an initiative check, to determine your iniativie.

Flexible Tricks (Ex)

You can use any weapons to make trick attacks, rather than just operative weapons and small arms. However, the precision and light touch needed to make a trick attack prevents you from getting the full impact of more powerful weapons when you perform a trick attack with them. The maximum weapon damage you can deal using a weapon while trick attacking is based on your operative class level, as noted below. If you have Weapon Specialization with the selected weapon, it is limited to half your character level when you make trick attacks with it.

Level      Max Weapon Damage
1              1d3
2-3          1d4
4              1d6
5-6          1d8
7              1d12
8              2d6
9              2d8
10           2d10
11           3d6
12           3d8
13           4d6
14           4d8
15           6d6
16           5d8
17           6d8
18           7d8
19           8d8
20           9d8

Steer With Your Knees (Ex)
You can steer a vehicle, or control a mount, without using your hands. This means when mounted, you do not need to make a special Survival check to control your mount without using your hands.

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Designing Really Wild West/Starfinder Faction Rules

We discussed some organizations for Really Wild West yesterday, and I mentioned we might talk about some rules that cover how players interact with them during the week.  Lots of games have had faction/organization/reputation rules. I want SOMETHING like that for Really Wild West, but I want to keep it simple. So, here’s a first stab.

For these rules, factions and organizations are seen as interchangeable, though a GM might well split that hair more finely for a specific campaign. (For example a single organization might have multiple factions within it, and increasing your reputation with one faction might have no impact on others, or even lower your reputation).

Organizations have the same attitudes as NPCs – Helpful, Friendly, Indifferent, Unfriendly, and Hostile. An organization is normally Indifferent to you unless it has some reason to see you as a threat. This includes people known to strongly support or be members of opposing organizations or factions, though normally not casual supporters. For example, the Religion of Humanity in Porfiriate Mexico is explicitly rationalist, and dismisses all religion as anti-intellectual superstition. Thus a member of the Church of Humanity is likely to be unfriendly to actual priests, and certainly missionaries, from other faiths, though someone who is simply a member of that faith is unlikely to be seen in the same light unless they make a strong point of pushing their beliefs on others.

Those attitudes determine how much help and aid the organization as a whole will extend you (or how much it’ll try to harm you). This is separate from the attitude of specific NPCs, though the two can overlap. Professor Amelia Von Schtat might personally be very fond of you, and do what she can to aid you, but as a Preceptor of the Faustus Society she can’t help that her superiors want you dead.


Qualifying Events

You can attempt to alter an organization’s attitude toward you, but only with a Qualifying Event. Just talking to a faction, sending them gift baskets, and hanging around spending money in their stores is not enough to actually cause the organization as a whole to think better of you.

Here are some example qualifying events. Most only let you make a check to improve the organization’s attitude towards you once.

Formally joining a faction

Bring a senior member to helpful attitude

Bring a commanding member to helpful attitude.

Performing an impactful service

“Performing an impactful service” normally represents doing something for the faction that is important, more than the faction would expect from you, and something word of gets back to them about. In general to be considered “impactful” the service should be something that takes an investment one step higher than the level of attitude you are trying to bring the organization to. For example, if the Gesellschaft is Indifferent toward you, you’d have to do something noteworthy that only a Friendly character would normally be willing to do in order to make a check to improve the organization’s attitude toward you to Friendly.


It’s true – groups want to know what you have done for them lately. An organization is friendly or helpful to you (or just friendly or helpful if you are a formal member, however that organization determines such things), you must make a Maintenance Check from time to time to keep their attitude toward you at that level. If you fail a Maintenance Check, the organizations attitude toward you is decreased by one step,

Reaction Checks

A Reaction Check is like a Maintenance Check, but it is triggered only by some specific even the organization is aware of. Here are some sample Qualifying Events.

Lose formal membership for the faction.

Fail at an important duty you perform for the faction.

Publicly join an opposing faction.

Perform an impactful service for an opposing faction.

DCs to Come

This is just a sketch of the system I have in mind. I’ll nee to think about what the skill checks and DCs allowed are. I suspect I’ll always allow Diplomacy, but you may sometimes be able to make another skill check appropriate to the organization or your qualifying event. For example if you are trying to make the Faustus Society treat you better, and you have Profession (archaeology), and you undertake an archaeological expedition for them, it makes sense you could make that profession check to improve their attitude.

And if you kill one of their foes, you might even be able to make an attack roll or a raw class level check to improve their attitude.

It’s a work in progress. 😊

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Organizations of the Really Wild West

It’s often useful for players and GMs in a new campaign to have some groups to bounce ideas and plots off of. These can help determine tone, theme, and easily establish roleplaying opportunities and drive new plots. We’ve mentioned some groups in the Really Wild West before, such as the Dread Templars and Science Agents, to present specific rules linked to them. But there should be other groups as well, that aren’t designed to work with specific themes or archetypes.

We can look at rules for general player interactions with such groups later, for now I just want to introduce the concepts of some different groups and their histories.


Symbol: A bald eagle, holding a slide rule and beaker, wreathed in olive branches
Motto: Laborare et studere (“To labor and study”)

The American Reserve of Engineers and Scientists began as an emergency measure during the War of the Worlds, seeking to provide civilian assistance to the militaries of the American continents on understanding and designing countermeasures to the vastly superior technology of the Martian invaders. It’s founder and current Dean is Josephine Silone Yates, a black woman and chemist who taught at and became head of the Natural Science department at Lincoln University before retiring from the position in 1889 because, having married, she was no longer allowed to teach. A strong believer in clubs and organizations, she used her combination of scientific knowledge and social management allowed her to bring together overlooked minds during the darkest days of the War.

Though Edison and Tesla were famously employed by the War Department and New York State respectively to serve as scientific consultants during the invasion, and both have made international headlines with discoveries and inventions by retro-engineering Martian technology since, Mrs. Yates and A.R.E.S. have actually had much more success understanding Martian technology and finding ways to deal with it. Since the end of the War, A.R.E.S. has turned to be a combination think-tank and investigative body. Whenever a strange phenomenon is thought to possibly be linked to Martian (or other potential extra-terrestrial) source, “fellows” of A.R.E.S. are often sent to explore, examine, report, and if needed assist.

While A.R.E.S. has no official authority, and doesn’t get the headlines the for-profit exploits of Edison and Tesla do, it has been instrumental in tracking down old Martian walkers, disarming unstable weapons, and tracking down and capturing rogue weeds and similar creatures affected by energies unleashed during the War. Most scientists and government officials think very highly of A.R.E.S.’s results, though the fact it is run by a black woman and does not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, or sect causes many to publicly scoff, even when privately consulting with experts wearing an A.R.E.S. fellowship pin.

Faustus Society

Symbol: A fist holding a bolt of lightning

The Faustus Society formed in 1604 with a singular focus on twin jointed goals – to find, and preserve the works of John Faustus (1466 – 1541), the famed German itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician of the German Renaissance; and, by extension, to find and preserve all knowledge.

At any cost.

Certainly, the Society does not credit claims that Doctor Faustus sold his soul to the Devil in return for the secrets of all aspects of life, death, and change. The Society often states these unfortunate rumors are solidly the work of fearful, superstitious folks over the centuries. Sadly, however, it does mean the senior-most membership in the Society, the Determining Council, must be kept secret. For their own protection from those who would harm them, out of fear and misunderstanding.

All official and legal matters of the Society are handled by Solicitor Methuselah Drake, a tall, thin, gaunt man with a severe expression who is normally only seen when someone makes claims against the Society, or a new steel-doored Society Chapterhouse is bought or has extensive work done.

And, yes, some famous members of the Society have done spectacular things with questionable ethical implications. Certainly Doctor Frankenstein was a member, though there is no proof is was one of Faustus’s lost chapbooks that sent the doctor on his quest for resurrection. And if Mr. Poole’s claim that Mr. Hyde stole a book of Faustus from the lab of Dr. Jekyl before fleeing to America is to be credited, then of course evil has been done in the name of such books.

But that’s not the fault of the knowledge itself, now is it?

And members of the Faustus Society have helped build many of the greatest libraries in the world. And while certain sections of those libraries are restricted to senior members, that’s a reasonable limitation given the cost the Society underwent to gather such things. And the Babbage-Bell grid, which the Society was crucial in developing, makes lesser works of the Society available more widely than any paper book.

Yes, the demands of the Faustus Society on its members can be strict. But there is no greater quest, than the quest for knowledge.

Especially the knowledge unlocked centuries ago by Doctor Faustus.

The Gesellschaft

Symbol: Lugh’s Knot

Formed in the 1400s, the Gesellschaft was originally a Swiss gild with membership among the multiple ranks of society, filled with councilors and syndics but also merchants, scholars, and craftsfolk. The organization was as much a specific contractual format as a society, and could only exist because Switzerland allowed mingling between royals, lords, and commonfolk without shame or loss of station, thought o be sure some level of importance was required to qualify for membership.

Members granted “status” within the Gesellshaft listed those things (goods, services, education, influence and so on) they were willing to provide with trusted, elected “grand-sautiers,” along with those things they would accept as payment.

Thus individuals of very different social statuses could bring their needs and possible forms of payment to the grand-sautiers of the Gesellschaft, who would see if an accommodation could be made. Because the society was revered, trusted, and discrete, this allowed complex trades to be made, and the weight of angering the multiple ranks of the Gesellschaft saw to it such bargains were honored.

By the late 1700s, few new contracts were signed, and the Gesellschaft larger existed to oversee generational agreements, and have an annual “Feast of Brother Klaus” every September.

Likely it would have died out entirely in time… were not one of its founding families the Frankensteins.

The story of the mad Victor Frankenstein and his Demon are well known in the 1891 of the Really Wild West. Doctor Frankenstein’s hubris lead to the death of nearly his entire family by 1818… save only for one of his younger brothers, Ernest Frankenstein.

A solider by training and temperament, the young Lord Frankenstein at first wished to deny the claims of his eldest brother’s deeds. Even in a world where dinosaurs roam the Earth, magic was increasingly accepted to be real, and elves, gnomes, and kasatha no less common than humans, the idea of using electricity and chemistry to build a life out of multiple dead bodies, and then to abandon it newborn, was more than the last Lord of Frankenstein Castle wished to credit.

But when Captain Robert J. Watson brings the last narrative of Victor Frankenstein back from a failed expedition to the North Pole in 1821, Ernest accepted that his brother was dead, and that his monstrous Demon had killed him. But, more importantly to Ernest, the Demon had also killed William Frankenstein, the youngest of the three brothers, and an innocent.

Lord Ernest Frankenstein put together an expedition to the North Pole to hunt and destroy The Demon of Ingolstadt. And in doing so, he called upon vast favors and levied hefty debts onto his family through the Gesellschaft.

Gone for a decade, Ernest Frankenstein was thought lost. His return in 1832, with proof of having found and destroyed the Demon, and having found the north pole, *and* having found a passage to the hollow world of Subterra, made him fantastically famous.

And rich.

And one of the few people in the world who might loan an apparent madman money, guns, men, and mediums for problems considered too crazy to be real even in a world with dragons, Martians, and lost inhuman civilizations on a hollow Earth. If you need an expedition to hunt down an undead dinosaur, seal a breach to the Plateau of Leng, or build a canon to fire the Shard the Eros back to the planet Venus, the Gesellschaft is your best bet. All such arrangements are made with the Frankenstein holdings serving as “guarantor.” Should one of these Fantastic Expeditions be unable to pay its debts, but make every effort to do so, the vast Frankenstein fortune makes good on the expenses through the Gesellschaft.

And so it has gone, for more than 60 years. Now in his late 80s or early 90s, Lord Ernest Frankenstein is mostly retired, and rarely leaves his family castle anymore. His daughter, Margaret “Mad Maggy” Frankenstein, oversees day-to-day operations and signs off on the most crucial and expensive Gesellschaft expeditions. Her agents, often members of the Watson or Clerval families, carry news to her and orders from her around the globe (and inside of it). Nearly every major city on Earth, and a surprising number of frontier towns, has at least a small Gesellschaft office. Aid is, of course, not guaranteed.

But often, it can be bought if you are willing to promise the right price.

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Lassos in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

A lasso is definitely a thematic option for the Really Wild West, but it’s also something that can become unbalanced quickly or weird quickly. Lassos use in the real world to capture cattle is extremely common, but it’s use for anything else in a modern era is equally uncommon. While there were roman gladiatorial laquearius, but it is unclear if they were true gladiators or closer to clowns who fought mock battles. There are records of various groups in antiquity using lassos in combat, but they are neither clear nor common.

So, we need the lasso to be easily and commonly used to bring down big, strong cattle, and to be something you can use in combat but with a great deal more difficulty. We need it’s use to be common among cowboys, and rare among most other people.

I want to avoid using feats to cover this for a couple of reasons. First, it seems unlikely most cowboy builds will consider a feat a reasonable cost to be able to do a core, iconic thing from their concept. Secondly, if someone DOES expend a feat on lassoing, they’ll want to try to use the lasso all the time, rather than when it’s actually the right tool for a an encounter. So, we need to look to the item/weapon design itself to thread this needle of utility.

This is a first stab at such an item, which almost certainly will be adjusted given some playtesting. As a special weapon no one gains proficiency with it automatically from their class, but the “professional” weapon special property (defined in Armor) means anyone with 1 rank in Profession: Cowboy is considered proficient, which seems a reasonable compromise.

RWW lariat

(art by Elena)

2-Handed Special Weapon
Item       Level  Price       Dam    Crit           Range   Bulk   Special
Lasso         1         30            —      Entangle       15 ft.        1       Professional (Cowboy 1 rank)

A lasso is a ranged, 2-handed special weapon. A character trained in Survival or Profession: Cowboy can use a lasso to control a creature within 30 feet that has an Intelligence modifier of -3 or less. The DC for this check is 10 + 1.5x the CR of the creature. On a successful check, you control the creature’s movement until the end of your next round. If your check exceed’s the DC by 5 or more, the creature is flat-footed and off-target. If you are adjacent to the creature, exceed the check by 5 or more, and the creature was already flat-footed or off-target, you can bind the creature with the lasso, leaving it helpless.

If proficient with a lasso, you can use it to make grapple checks at range. You gain a +5 bonus to your attack roll if the target has no hands or arms, and a +5 bonus if your target has an Intelligence modifier of -3 or less. Once grappled the target is entangled (with you as the tether) as the weapon special property. If you use a lasso to successfully grapple an adjacent creature that is pinned, you can bind two of their limbs as if using manacles.

A lasso takes half damage from bludgeoning, piercing, cold, and sonic attacks.

Higher-level lassos made of special materials (and thus having higher hardness and HP) may exist.

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