Starting With Ideas: Really Wild West “Oddities” (for Starfinder)

Fairly often, I get asked how I START a big project. Like, if I know I want a chapter of magic items for the Really Wild West, where would I begin organizing my thoughts and planning that out?

Assuming the pagination and wordcounts was already done by someone else, I’d start with ideas.

Especially for a series of elements using the same basic rules subsystem (such as the features of one character class, a series of magic items for one campaign, feats, spells, new superpowers, whatever), I like to start the conceptual work by spitballing ideas to myself. This isn’t an effort to create completed rules elements yet, just to begin filling out what kinds of ideas I want those rules elements to cover.

There are numerous advantages to this for me. First, I can begin to hash out a tone and flavor for the section. Second, I find it easier to figure out how to use rules to model concepts if I have several of those concepts already in a hopper. Third, often coming up with interesting ideas is the important part of a project for me.  I can’t do it all in one sitting. By making a list early on, I give myself time to iterate, modify, and even reconsider if I need to.

After I have a fair percentage of the ideas I think I need, I’ll go back and begin turning the ones I like best into full rules elements. this lets me see how much wordcount those take up, which lets me know how many ideas I’ll need to fit the space.*

*(Unless the project is based on a specific number of items– like a list of 100 NPC catchphrases or 2 things to do in a dungeon when you’re dead, in which case I still like this process but the thing I learn at this stage is if I need to modify how much info I am putting in each entry to the pre-determined number of items will fill up the pre-determined wordcount. IN this case the feedback loop may be more likely to tell me if my concepts need to change to be more of less detailed.)

I often do ideas in three big waves–when I first start a project, when I run out of those ideas I started with, and when I have a good idea how many ideas I’ll need to finish it. Sometimes one or more of those waves isn’t needed–occasionally I find my first brainstorm gave me everything that will fit, for example. I also jot down ideas as they come to me when I am working on other parts of the work, or even other projects.

So, what do I mean by spitballing ideas?

I just want some sense of what the item is going to be. Maybe a name, maybe a description. If I have some idea of how the rules for the idea should work, I jot that down.

Here’s an example of those spitball ideas (cleaned up to a standard format for presentation on its own, rather than as notes only I will see). These are concepts for “Oddities,” magic items that occur as a result of weird events and energies, rather than being created intentionally, for my Really Wild West setting. Each of these gives enough info to see how it might work in game, but doesn’t yet worry about things like item level, cost, and any special rules Oddities may have as opposed to typical magic items.

RWW Glass Eye

(Art by i-pciture. Of the Eye by the Witch Hazel Pentafaust)

01. Weathered copy of a leather-bound book titled “Diplomacy Through Other Means.” It has hardness 20, 20 hp, and can be used as a light simple melee weapon dealing 1d4 damage (+1d4 per 4 ranks of Culture you have). You can’t add Strength (or any other any ability score modifiers) to damage dealt, but do add you ranks in Culture.

02. Pearl-Handled corkscrew. When screwed into people (normally a full round action that requires they be restrained and which deals 1-2 hp) it forces them to reveal their name, even if they don’t know it themselves.

03. Small hourglass filled with dark blue sand. If flipped and allowed to run normally without being moved, when it goes off it casts a random summon creature (or a random spell level) which no one has any control over. It lasts 1 hour if not otherwise damaged or dispelled.

04. Single old scarf about a yard long, with a smoke stain near top. Does not conduct heat (but can burn), thus can be used as perfect oven mitt or grant fire resist 20 for a thing you touch with it.

05. Zippo lighter with the kanji for “stork” on the side. If used to illuminate a written word medium (scroll, book, so on), the text within it slowly scrolls by in the shadow created by the flame.

06. Wire-frame glasses. If kept tucked in a pocket, halves falling damage for possessor.

07. Stained paper map of Fort Harrison, Indiana, from 1823. If mis-folded and then opened, it creates a fog cloud (as the spell). The map itself is always torn free by a gust of wind that brings in the fog, and normally takes (4d4 – 1d4) x 10 minutes to find.

08. An 1888 John J. Loud ball point pen with green ink. Rapidly (and loudly) clicking the pen gives a +5 bonus to Perception checks, but only against people using Stealth.

09. Small box of “Court Orlock” brand safety matches. If thrown at someone within 15 feet they must make a Will save (DC equal to the touch attack roll to hit them) or spend 1 round picking up the matches. Has 1d4 uses per day.

10. Wicker Picnic Basket, with its own plates, cutlery, and stacking cups as service for 6. If loaded with food and taken out of any settlement and then used for an hourlong or longer picnic, the ort remaining can be interpreted as a diving device. It may act as augurydivination, or commune, as randomly determined by the GM. One of the picnic participants will then have an encounter within 1 week of a high enough CR that average treasure for that encounter would pay for a spell gem of the divination spell gained. The basket don’t work again until the creature using them has had this encounter, which doesn’t have any actual treasure associated with it.

11. Tortoiseshell make-up compact. Anyone who has the powder from the compact (requiring an successful EAC attack against an adjacent creature) blown on them is slowed (as the spell) for 1 minute, and the person who used it is slowed for 10 minutes. Only a creature not slowed can use it.

12. Dried pea. If placed up your nose, it grants a +4 bonus to saving throws against poison, and a successful save always ends the poison. Someone who knows you have it up there can get you to shoot it out with a successful dirty trick maneuver (replacing the normal options for dirty trick).

13. Cork table coaster. Anything placed on it doesn’t experience any passage of time as long nothing else is touching it but air. This DOES keep drinks cold (or hot) much longer, but it also prevents fruit from spoiling, dynamite from exploding, radioactive isotopes from decaying, and so on.

14. Wooden, obviously-toy pistol. When pointed at an animal and the trigger pulled, causes the animal to talk randomly in French for 1 round. There is a 10% chance the first time it  is used each day the animal says something useful and relevant to the user holder.

15. Worn leather coin purse. As long as nothing but coins are stuffed into it there does not seem to be a limit how many fit in, but they can only be added or removed at a rate of 4 credits per round.

16. Tablecloth-sized parchment with complex diagram for an unidentified steam engine. If placed on a stationary, prone creature the piping diagram changes to represent the organs (and injuries) or that creature, granting a +5 bonus to Medicine checks with that creature.

17. Old-style iron key. Fits in any lock. Can’t unlock a lock, but can lock it. If it was already locked, the next person to touch it takes 1 point of electricity damage.

18. Small pot of glossy black lipstick. Never runs out. The first time each day someone wearing the lipstick is damaged by an attacker the wearer has not ever damaged, the wearer may kiss a weapon. That weapon delivers critical hit effects (but not critical hit damage) against that attacker the first time it successfully hits and damages the attacker.

19. A granite die with 20 sides, numbered 7-26. Anyone with this on their person is lucky (gain one reroll each day, rerolling after you see the result of a roll and taking the better of the two results) except in games of chance (always roll twice and take the worst result for all games of chance).

20. Carved whalebone whistle. If blown directly in someone’s ear is heals them for 1d8+1 damage, and they are deafened for 1 hour per hp healed. If the deafness is removed early, the healing is also removed. It cannot heal someone temporarily deaf from this effect. The healing appears to be the revelation the wound wasn’t that bad to begin with — there’s never any actual sign of improved health. A person cannot benefit from this again until after they next expend 1 RP to regain SP after a 10-minute rest.

21. The Sinister Glass Eye of the Witch Hazel Pentafaust. This cracked, yellow glass eye spins and looks about of its own accord. When held in a closed fist, it causes you to be shaken (despite any immunities you might have) and automatically be able to identify any spell you see being cast.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on August 17, 2020, in Game Design, Starfinder Development, Writing Basics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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