Monthly Archives: July 2021

Loot 4 Less for Pathfinder 2nd Edition?

I’ve been considering what a Loot 4 Less line of books for the 2nd edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game would look like. Of course the price point would be insanely different– 2,000 gp is a LOT more money is 2nd ed than 1st ed. But if I decided to limit myself to 200 gp, is that too high and easy, or about right?

Anyway, here are a couple of items that evolved just from the thought experiment.

Able Armor Seal Item 6
Abjuration Invested Magical
Price 200 gp
Usage affixed to armor
Activate Single Action; Bulk L
This cast iron seal has a depiction of two hands clasped in friendship. Armor with this affixed can be donned in half the normal time. With a successfully use of the Armor Assist feat, it takes only 1/3 the normal time.

Silver Serpent Item 5
Divination Invested Magical
Price 175 gp
Usage worn earing; Bulk L

This small silver serpent is a piece of jewelry that sits wrapped around your ear, molding itself to match the size and shape of your ear and holding itself firmly in place until intentionally removed. Each silver serpent is attuned to a single Lore skill, and whisper information about that Lore in your ear as it become relevant. You treat your proficiency rank in the related Lore skill as one degree better while wearing the silver serpent. If you are already Legendary in that Lore, you instead gain Assurance with that Lore.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this. 

If you enjoy any of my articles, please sign up, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month!

Guest Blog: Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Gaming veteran, artist, and writer Jacob Blackmon!

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at

I Started Drawing Because I Can’t Spell Worth Shit…


My Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

By Jacob E Blackmon

Let’s just start by saying, I love my life. I love being an artist in the tabletop game community. This job has allowed me a freedom of living that I never imagined possible. I seriously cannot think of any job I would rather be doing right now.

As the same time, it has also been the occasional financial burden, when the art commissions slow down and money gets tight. That is something one has to learn as a freelancer in any market. There are highs and lows (or “feast and famine” as some say), and one never knows when they will come… so be sure to have a good savings account.

My name is Jacob Blackmon, and I have been a freelance artist in the tabletop rpg community since 2009. I’ve only been doing the gig as a full time thing since 2013. Given that I was born in 1977, this has been a very small – but significant – portion of my life. I’ve been gaming since 1989, and I never even considered using my art skills as a ttrpg artist.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, hence my distinctive style. This style has served me well… and also been a curse, as there are some companies that refuse to work with me, because I don’t have that traditional “painted fantasy” look. And that kind of rejection is certainly going to apply to the big-name companies (Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, etc.), who only use that “painted” style of art, so I know I will never get jobs with them. Which is too bad, because I would love to see my name in one of their books.

But my success is not measured in what books I have not been in. It is measured in the books where I HAVE contributed my art. And those are MANY! The third-party ttrpg industry is a massive community of wonderful and passionate people. These are the folks I consider my peers… and quite, often… my friends. Despite this familiarity to which I speak of them, it is important to maintain a professional attitude when working with such people. They expect every bit as much professionalism from their freelancers – artists and writers includes – as any of the big name companies.

Deadlines are a serious thing, and can make or break a company, especially in the post-COVID days. During the CV19 days of 2020, the gaming community seriously suffered. If you were not Wizards of the Coast, you saw your finances drop significantly. This is why deadlines are so important to keep in mind as a freelancer. We need to make sure we get our work done in time, so the company can get their product out.

I have seriously lost count of many projects have come my way because another artist decided they didn’t want to work on a project and did not communicate this fact until after the deadline posted by the company. This is a serious breach of trust and of professionalism. If a freelancer can’t make their deadlines, the company will stop going to that person in favor of those that will. So, meet your deadlines. This is, seriously, THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE IS CAN GIVE ANYONE! Meet your deadlines!

I can count, on one hand, how many times I have failed to make a deadline. And, when it has happened I always let the company whom I am working for know that I will miss the deadline before it happens. That is the second key: communication. Just like in life, love, family, and relationships, one needs to maintain communication with the people they are working for. Let them know the progress of the art assignment. Have you started on it? Yes? Let them know that.

During the art process, I usually have several stages of communication with a client.

  1. Beginning – When first starting on the art.
  2. Early stages – When my first rough draft concept is ready, I send them a copy via email (sometimes through another PM service, if they prefer, but emails is always the true professional way to do it!). When a rough draft is approved, I move on to…
  3.  Line work – This stage shows the clean version of what had been the rough draft, giving the client an idea of what the final piece will look like. It is also the last time a client will really have to make any serious changes to the pieces. I mention this, because once we start to add color, shading, and highlighting to an illustration, it becomes MUCH harder to make alterations.
  4. Coloring – For me, this is both the base coloring stage, plus shading and highlights. This is often the final stage, as alterations after this stage are incredibly difficult.

Each of these stages has me sending the client an email of what is going on with the piece. Once the final piece is approved, that’s the best time to send an invoice and get paid! The best clients pay immediately (“I do the job, I get paid.” – Mal Reynolds, Firefly), but some clients may have to hold those payments until they themselves get paid through another venue. This is why it helps to make sure to have a steady stream of clients at the same time. That way, not only can an artist transition from one piece to another, while waiting for one client to respond to the latest email; but also so that the artist has a nice steady flow of income. One client may not be able to pay their bill immediately, but the other should be able to. And that keeps a bank account happy, bills paid, and food on the table.

There are a couple of suggestions I have to maintaining a steady supply of clients, as well as netting new clients in the future. These were things I had to learn along the way in my own freelance art career, and some were told to me by others. So I am teaching them to you, as well…

Get an online profile! Make sure you have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure you have an online gallery where potential clients can see your art.

Have a rate sheet! Make sure you know how much to charge for your work, and make sure it is equal to how valuable your time is that you put towards your work. Don’t short-sell yourself, just to make clients happy. Save the price discounts for “friends and family.” Make sure to always charge your friends and family. Don’t give them free art, unless YOU choose to do so. This is your JOB!

THIS IS YOUR JOB! Be a professional. Meet your deadlines. But, at the same, time treat it like a job. Take time off, including regular breaks during the day (don’t sit in the chair and look at social media; stand up and move around… make yourself a light snack.. socialize with your roommates), break for lunch, and when you have put in your 8 hours…. STOP WORKING!

The last bit of advice I can give to a potential artist who wants to work in the ttrpg community is to also be a ttrpg gamer! You cannot imagine how much time it save a client to have an artist already be familiar with the various games and art associated with said games. No one has ever had to describe to me what a “peryton” is, as I already know what they are supposed to look like. This saves both you and the client a ton of time and descriptive text.

Go! Draw! Have fun and make money doing it!

Speaking of which, please support me on Patreon:

Jacob Blackmon



And as always, you can support this blog at Owen K.C. Stephens’ Patreon!

Letting Dead PCs Die

I have had my fair share of dead PCs get returned to life in ttRPGs. Often they are dead so briefly, and with such little consequence, it doesn’t really feel like they died at all. Brought back by spells within 6 seconds of joining the choir invisible (not even enough time to see if they are an alto or soprano among the spirits), given reprieve by a GM retcon, or just having their life restored off-screen as part of treasure division, some characters’ deaths have no more impact on their narrative than tossing out the laser pistol they carried during the nightmare invasion of Ragesh III for a more expensive model that does 1d8 instead of 1d4.

Even among characters who needed more effort put in by friends and allies to return to the mortal coil, being temporarily dead is rarely an interesting enough part of their story than any of us sit around and recount when we are telling imaginary war stories. Being temporarily dead is mostly a hiccup, a plastered-over accident we erase because we’d all rather keep telling our parts of that character’s story.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When my wife’s cleric in IFGS (live-action foam-sword fantasy D&D-style larping) died, an entire game was written and produced for her closest friends to bring her back. Her soul wasn’t responding to normal resurrection magics, and we had to travel through her most vivid memories to find it and convince it to return. This meant playing through the biggest, most memorable encounters of her previous IFGS adventures, many of which some of us had gone through with her, and recreate he greatest victories (and, in the case of getting burned by one glyph she mis-named, we thought we needed to recreate her failure as well). All that lead to finally finding her in a kind of lesser heaven, happily keeping house, and somehow convincing her she was needed to keep fighting the forces of evil away from a world where the fire was always warm and the baked bread always fresh.

THAT return to life some of us still talk about.

But for my own characters, it’s much more often the ones who stay dead who get their stories told by other players. When the rarely heroic Pallinor flew across the chasm moat to take on 5 apprentice warlocks, keeping them from casting spells at any of his allies so they could fight their way across the bridge, his success ensuring their victory but at the cost of his own magic being snuffed out and plummeting to his death. When the Monitor overloaded the reactor in his powered armor to self-destruct and blow up himself and 7 Sentry war-bots, ensuring the young mutant girl Olivia could escape, and become the leader and heroine Emerald a generation later. Those deaths were never undone, and it made the character’s sacrifices mean more to me, and be notable enough that other people who were there sometimes tell their tales.

Because the ending for most of my characters is that the one-shot game was a one-shot, or the adventure path ended when someone moved rather than when we finished it, or the campaign’s GM lost interest, or schedules changed, or personal quarrels made a group not want to get together for that game anymore.

My fictional characters who lived are rarely as memorable as those who died… and stayed dead.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this. 

If you enjoy any of my articles, please sign up, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month!

Combat Effects on Missed Attacks for Starfinder

As discussed in the articles Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder, and Greater Partial Effects for Starfinder “Save Negates” Spells, there’s very little as frustrating for a player than to take their whole turn and have absolutely no impact on a conflict. We’ve talked about how to possibly mitigate that frustration for combat maneuvers and spells, but what about characters focusing on just making attacks? Certainly, constantly missing a target is no less frustrating that failed maneuvers and resisted spells, even if it is theoretically easier to accomplish and doesn’t have as high a resource cost. So, should we create minor secondary effects on failed attacks for the combatant characters?

I personally think the answer is “yes…. but.”

On the one hand, it makes sense that exactly the same factors that make failed attempts unfun for maneuvers and spells makes it unfun for attacks. On the other hand, the very fact that attacks are more likely to succeed and easy to keep trying means they need to not have all the advantages of other combat options. While we made combat maneuvers and spells more appealing by giving them minor conditions that could apply even when they failed, we can’t use the same solution for standard attacks. First, it doesn’t make sense for a failed standard attack to impose a condition when a successful one doesn’t. Secondly, if failed attacks impose conditions, even minor ones, they’ll overshadow the hard-won advances in failed combat maneuver and spells feeling impactful.

We can, however, have missed attacks still have SOME impact in combat. But it shouldn’t be a condition, and it shouldn’t be damage (not because that couldn’t be balanced with some small amount of damage, but because a large segment of d20 game players rebel at the idea of doing damage on a miss, and because the tiny amount of damage we’d have to make it be for balance would likely not feel satisfying).

So, instead, we can play with accuracy. As with all these “effects on a failure” rules this could be made a general rule, or even a general rule for characters with base attack bonuses equal to their character level, but I think it makes the most sense to present it as a feat.

Zero In

As your foes evade your attacks, you manage to zero in on their defenses, increasing your accuracy for your next attack.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: When you make an attack against a target’s EAC or KAC (or a starship’s AC, but not TL), and your attack misses, and the attack has no effect on any target, you gain a +1 insight bonus to your next attack against that target using the same weapon. If you attack a target with this insight bonus and miss again, the insight bonuses increases by 1, to a maximum equal to your Strength modifier (for most melee attacks) or Dexterity modifier (for ranged attacks and melee attacks with operative weapons if you used your Dexterity bonus as part of your attack bonus). If you attack another target, damage the target you used Zero In to gain an insight bonus for, or the encounter ends, your insight bonus resets to +0.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this.  So if you want more Starfinder-related content from one of the creators of the game and the original Starfinder Design Lead, sign up for my Patreon, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, and let me know!

Greater Partial Effects for Starfinder “Save Negates” Spells

As discussed yesterday in the article “Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder,” there’s very little as frustrating for a player than to take their whole turn and have absolutely no impact on a conflict. Obviously in addition to combat maneuvers, which are much more difficult to succeed with than other attacks, the same frustration can be felt by spellscasters using spells that have no effect if their target succeeds at a saving throw. In many ways that is additionally frustration, because a limited resource has been expended.

On the other hand, boosting the power of spellcasters is an extremely tricky balancing act. Numerous “save: negates” spell can incapacitate a target with a single bad saving throw, and making them more effective (and thus less of a gamble for the spellcaster using them) can easily swing them from underpowered to overpowered. Further, we need to make sure that we don’t boost the power of lower-level and large-area spells by too much on a failed save, since if they retain a high degree of utility higher-level spellcasters end up with both high-level spells that work as originally designed, and a backup of more-useful low-level spells.

So, the following feat is designed to allow spellcasters to get SOME utility from save: negates spells, while carefully costing them some of their other options when casting them, and ensuring lower-level spells don’t become overpowered in higher-level games. If a GM finds spellcasters are simply all underpowered in their games, they could just make this a universal rule that applies to all spellcasters.

And again, if anyone has questions about the why of the design choices for spellcasters in Starfinder, that’s the sort of thing I am happy to discuss when patrons ask about it on my Patreon.

Greater Partial Effect

You can take time to weave more complex spells, which have a partial effect even on targets that resist them.
Prerequisites: Caster level 1
Benefit: When you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action that affects only one target, and the spell is listed as having no effect if the target makes its saving throw, you can choose to cast the spell as a full-round action. If you do so, and the target succeeds at its saving throw and the spell would normally thus have no effect, the spell instead as a minor partial effect for 1 round. The partial effect is based on the target’s CR compared to the spell level of the spell you cast, as noted below.

Target CR is Equal To or Lower Than Spell Level: Target is Sickened for 1 round.

Target CR is Above Spell Level, Below x2 Spell Level: Target is Flat-Footed for 1 round.

Target CR is Above x2 Spell Level, Below x3 Spell Level: Target is Off-Target for 1 round.

Target CR is x3 Spell Level or Greater: Target is Dazzled for 1 round.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this.  So if you want more Starfinder-related content from one of the creators of the game and the original Starfinder Design Lead, sign up for my Patreon, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, and let me know!

Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder

Okay, let’s get back to doing some ttRPG rules you can bring to the table, shell we?

Combat maneuvers in Starfinder are specifically designed to be difficult to pull off against a significant foe without having a fair number of bonuses in place. You have to hit an opponent’s KAC +8, which is a difficult task, and if you fail you have no effect on them at all. This is an intentional design choice rather than some accident of not playtesting (indeed, it was originally KAC +10, and after playtesting we decided that was exactly 10% too hard to achoice, which is why the weird “+8” value is used).

(If you want to know WHY we made that intentional design choice, I recommend joining my Patreon for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and ask in the comments there!)

The biggest problem with having an appealing-looking effect available but unlikely to work, is that there is very little as frustrating for players than taking a round to accomplish absolutely nothing. In a game with soft limits designed to keep a character from ever being able to specialize in a tactic to the point it nearly never fails, this frustration is worse for players who are trying to create a certain kind of “build” focused on trying a difficult maneuver over and over. The end result may be effective (if you have to try to disarm someone three times before you succeed, but disarming them makes them nearly useless and you couldn’t knock them out that fast, it’s an effective tactic), but still not be any fun.

(And yes, there are things like “save: negates” spells that have the same issue. But that’s a different article.)

However, just making it easier to perform the difficult-but-extremely-effective maneuver can break the balance of different options in the game, especially if other soft limits are kept in place.

But you can alleviate some of the unfun “wasted by whole turn” feeling by having a midpoint between spectacular success and total failure.

You COULD just add this as an alternate rule that applies to all combat maneuvers performed by everyone, or make it a built-in part of the Improved Combat Maneuver feat. However, you’ll have the least impact on game balance if this becomes a new feat option, allowing additional specialization for characters who want a better chance to impact combat with their preferred maneuvers, without making the maneuvers universally more effective.

Greater Combat Maneuver (Combat)

With one specific combat maneuver, even when you fail you often inconvenience your target.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Choose one combat maneuver (bull rush, dirty trick, disarm, grapple, reposition, sunder, or trip). If your attack roll for this combat maneuver fails to hit your target’s KAC +8, but does hit their KAC +4, you manage a :near miss,” and impose a minor, temporary condition on the target. This is not considered succeeding at the combat maneuver for purposes of any other effects of yours that are triggered by succeeding at a combat maneuver.
The effect you have on a near-miss depends on the combat maneuver you have selected, as noted below.
Bull Rush: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Dirty Trick: The target had to twist away from you, or shield its eyes, to avoid the impact of your dirty trick. The subject is dazzled for 1 round.
Disarm: You didn’t knock the item out of the target’s hand, but you did give it a good whack, impacting their aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Grapple: While you haven’t managed to get a solid grip on your target, your attempt to get a grip and subsequently being in-their-face makes it a bit more difficult for them to pay attention to anything else. They are dazzled for 1 round.
Reposition: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Sunder: You didn’t damage the item, but you did give it a good whack, impacting the target’s aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Trip: Although you didn’t trip the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Special: You can take Greater Combat Maneuver multiple times. The effects don’t stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new combat maneuver.

While this feat doesn’t require Improved Combat Maneuver (in keeping with Starfinder’s tendency to keep feat chains to a minimum), it has obvious synergy with that feat. A character with Improved Combat maneuver (disarm) gains a +4 bonus to their disarm attempts. That means if their attack roll would normally hit the target’s AC, with the +4 from the Improved feat it’ll hit KAC +4, which is enough to trigger Greater Combat Maneuver. So on any roll that would have been good enough to damage the target that character could get some impact from attempting a combat maneuver, even if it doesn’t get the full maneuver effect.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this.  So if you want more Starfinder-related content from one of the creators of the game and the original Starfinder Design Lead, sign up fr my Patreon, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, and let me know!

TTRPG Retirement Plans, or Lack Thereof

There are, as far as I know, only six realistic retirement plans for full-time, ttRPG professionals in the United States–and calling them “realistic” is debatable. This is not a happy or upbeat list of options, and it doesn’t come with any problem-solving or brilliant insights on my part. This is just the state of the industry, as I know it.

You can think of this as an unusually long #RealGameIndustry entry.

Company Retirement Account

A few of the biggest ttRPG-producing companies have things like 401k programs, a few with some degree of matching funds. It can be tough to put much away in these, as in most cases pay barely covers living expenses, but if you can, and you manage to work at the same company for 30 years or so (which is also extremely rare), it may build up a big enough account to cover you in retirement.

Personal Retirement Account

You can, of course, create your own retirement account and put money in it, with or without some period of time when you have corporate matching funds. This is the “best” option for most full-time freelancers… who on average make even less money (and thanks to paying for their own health insurance and paying self-employment tax often have higher expenses), which makes it even harder to put anything away for the future. And, of course, no matching funds.

Build A Passive Income

Though royalty deals, maintaining ownership or partial ownership of the products you create, starting your own company, or some similar plan, you can try to set up passive income — that is, money you work for once that then keeps coming in. I have profit-share deals with more than 500 products sold as pdfs. Most older files sell only a few copies a year now, but that IS an income that keeps coming in even when I don’t do much or any work on maintaining it. I myself haven’t even gotten this near a level of retirement income, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or at least be part of a retirement plan.

Have a Spouse With A Real Retirement

Yep, this sounds like I am being glib, but I have had multiple ttRPG professionals tell me they only believe they have any hope of retirement because they have a spouse with a solid corporate retirement plan or the spare income to invest in their own retirement account. It would be dishonest not to include this as among the common plans within the industry.

Depend on State Benefits

Be that Medicare, Social Security, Disability, or some other program, I know many ttRPG professionals who just assume at some point they’ll only have whatever the government gives them, and will have to survive on whatever that allows. Most are not optimistic about the quality of life this will allow, and many have tried to make other arrangements, only to have them fall through.


This is honestly the most common “retirement plan” ttRPG professionals have talked to me about – Don’t Retire. Work until they die. Assume that there will never be a time when we don’t have to put in 40-80 hours a week to earn enough to maintain an at-least marginal existence.

I personally call this the “Die at the keyboard” plan.

Speaking of Making a Living

There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.

Potentially Big News for the Game Industry

Sometimes, the most important thing is to have a seat at the table.

Within the ttRPG, and broader tabletop hobby game community, often GAMA is the table.

And it looks like there may be soon a place for more people to be a part of it, with formal ways to have their voice heard and respected.

Intangible Rewards in the Really Wild West

One of the ways I try to make ttRPG sessions fun, as a GM, is to give players rewards above and beyond just loot and items.

I think of these as non-tangible rewards, though certainly some can be “tanged.”

For example, in my Really Wild West campaign, the players have formed a group known as the Knight Rangers. The Knight Rangers have recently been listed in national newspapers as one of the “Great Posses of the New Wild,” bands of extraordinary adventurers who are making a differences in the increasingly dangerous New Wild West. There’s even a ranking of the Top Ten Great Posses, so the PCs know what their reputation looks like.

Just for fun, they are ranked as follows:

1. Blud-Hexen Bunch

2. Tannerfaust

3. Knight Rangers

4. Sweet Daisies

5. Irregulators

6. Swordslingers

7. Hell-Wranglers

8. The Sawed-Off Seven

9. Snakenails

10. Dragonpunchers

So when it turns out one of the bad guys the Knight rangers killed in a previous adventure was the brother of one of the Irregulators, who calls out the PC who did it with an eye to vengeance, the players all have an idea of their relative reputation compared to the band calling them out.

Similarly, the Knight Rangers have been named “Trustees” of a number of organizations and businesses, who officially trust the group to be both intending and able to help deal with major problems, and thus worthy of giving favors to.

The centaur paladin in the group has learned she is so feared, crime bosses track when she is in town, and reduce the crime level when she is. The soldier with a mystic bent is talking to daughters of death and crow and raven fylgiur. The roboticist technomancer is becoming a renowned expert on Martian tripod technology, and asked to give lectures. The technomancers has been invited to teach at a rebel salon bucking the official theosophy university. The whole group has had conversations with deputies of the supernatural Marshal in charge of hunting down “gravejumpers.”

The trust, fear, and reputation are all things the players can work with, use as tools, or just accept as an evolution of their characters stories. But they are often a lot more interesting than getting another ring of resistance.

Although the Airship in a Bottle IS kinda cool loot.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this. 

If you enjoy any of my articles, please sign up, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month!