Monthly Archives: October 2021

In Historic Moment, Paizo Voluntarily Recognize “United Paizo Workers.” … Now What?

So, if anyone hasn’t been keeping up (and a lot has happened amazingly quickly), last week the workers of Paizo announced they had formed a Union, the United Paizo Workers, in conjunction with the CWA, and called on the Paizo onwership and Executive Team to voluntarily recognize it, rather than wait for the legally binding vote UPW seemed sure to win.

Just last week, I was on the BAMF podcast with Jake Tondro, discussing how and why this had happened, and what to expect next.

You can read the statements from the UPW itself on their website. You can read Paizo’s statement on their website.

I’m not kidding when I say this is a historic moment. there may have been a Union in the tabletop game industry before, but I’m not aware of one. Paizo and their staff have been leaders in change and new ways of doing things for more than a decade, so it’s no shock to me to see the workers take on the amazingly complex task of getting a union organized and union cards signed, nor am I shocked to see Paizo’s ownership and executive team voluntarily recognize that union, given how clear it was a supermajority of eligible employees were members.

I also want to hoist a glass to the Pathfinder and Starfinder communities of freelancer and fans. A group of freelancers came together to put their careers on the line to support Paizo staff, and as soon as the staff formed a union, that support pivoted to asking for the union to be recognized. It’s something I have never seen before, and it made my heart full to witness the real care and compassion with which the freelancers fought for the better treatment of their colleagues within the company. I talked a little but about why I consider that to be entirely professional behavior on my post Wednesday.

I’ve long discussed systemic, serious, complicated problems that have plagued the tabletop industry for as long as I have been involved, sometimes under the hashtag #RealGameIndustry. I’ve had no suggestions on how to fix these issues, much more often than not. But I truly believe that collective action–definitely of the UPW, but also of the freelancers who have self-organized and found power and support among themselves in doing so, is much more likely to produce answers than any previous approach.

There are many, many more freelancers and independent creatives producing work in the tabletop industry than their are companies with multiple full-time employees. I know from experience that can be a lonely life, not just because you often end up working along typing (or drawing, or outlining, or laying out) for hours, but also because there’s no informed, connected support structure to lean on.

My first “professional” writing project was 100,000 words… for $50. I signed a contract, I had a deadline, and I delivered. And I was exhausted, and shocked how hard that took (and I didn’t think it would be easy). Now admittedly this was the mid 1990s, but there was really no where I could turn to when I had questions or concerns. That project never saw print (though I did get paid for it, in accordance with the contract), and if I had not ended up with Dave Gross accepting some Dragon magazine pitches I sent to him, I suspect I would have dropped out of game creation entirely. I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t know where to go to learn more.

There’s now a group of freelancers who have discovered they have power, and that they can work together and support others. I hope they continue to evolve that collaboration to support one another and, in time, support newer freelancers who otherwise might have no place to go. Maybe it’ll just be a casual group, keeping in touch in case they ever feel the need to take massed action again. Maybe they’ll form something more formal, and overcome the many, many hurdles so many RPG writer’s guilds failed to clear.

But they have already done more than I ever did when I was first freelancing, and I stand in awe of their vision, dedication, organization, and compassion.

Want to support my writing? You can do so at Patreon. The support of readers such as yourself makes it possible for me to make these blog posts, covering industry news, geeky thoughts, and game content.

Is A Freelance Work Stoppage “Professional”?

So, today I’m responding specifically to comments made by Ron Lundeen, who I consider and friend and have nothing but respect for, in his role as cohost of Digital Divination, a podcast that is part of the Know Direction network.

Specifically, something he said in Digital Divination 041 – Mechs! The relevant section begins at about 5 minutes, so feel free to go listen.

Ron specifically said (as best as I can transcribe the punctuation of this statement): “I can speak about the freelancers who have elected not to not to work with us as a statement. I respect that statement that they’re making, and, saying ‘We’re not going to take any more work’ is one of the most powerful statements that they can make. On the other hand I, in my mind I do deem it pretty unprofessional to have agreed to turn something in and then to withhold it.

So those freelancers that are saying, ‘As a matter of principle I am not going to sign any more contracts or take any more work,’ I both understand and support that. Freelancers who have contracted for work and are refusing to turn in something that they have contractually agreed to turn in, … ah I don’t consider that particularly professional. That’s… that’s… a.. in my mind, that’s kind of a black mark from the person’s professionalism.

He then goes on to talk about his background in contract law and the fact that he’s closer to 50 than to 40 being factors that influenced this opinion of his. As someone who turned 50 last year, and who has filled the roles of freelancer, Paizo Dev, WotC Dev, Green Ronin Dev, Designer, and Publisher over more than 20 years in the ttRPG industry, I wanted to respond to Ron’s statement. I also feel the need to note I am not one of the freelancers who withheld work from Paizo, and I was not part of the group that coordinated that decision. However, I will not be taking work from Paizo until the United Paizo Workers union is recognized.

I absolutely, positively, do not consider it unprofessional to refuse to turn over contracted work as part of a protest against the corporation you have a contract with. I think judging that as a “black mark” against freelancers who choose to do so is not only wrongheaded, it’s dangerous.

I consider withholding contracted work for moral reasons to be in the same category as civil disobedience. That there can be a higher ethical calling than to follow agreed-upon rules. And that, especially given the freelancers did this not to aid themselves, but to aid Paizo employees they had reasonable suspicion were being mistreated, makes it the moral choice. The freelancers very clearly have little other power to affect change and, much like a strike, have turned to this as a last resort.

That leads to the question of “professionalism.”

Common law imposes obligations on employers to provide a safe workplace, provide safe tools, give warnings of dangers, provide adequate co-worker assistance so that the worker is not overburdened, and promulgate and enforce safe work rules. I would consider calling it a “black mark” to refusing to assist in ongoing conditions that numerous past and current employees are saying fail to meet that standard to be actually dangerous, as it is a statement that contracts should be followed even if doing so may cause you to be assisting in creating unsafe conditions.

Now, I acknowledge suspension of contract to apply pressure for a better workplace is not recognized in ordinary contract law or in commercial contract law in particular. A party to a contract must perform its obligations under the contract (subject to the terms and conditions of the contract and the exception of unusual circumstances which may cause disruption to the contract). A party which reneges on its contractual obligations is in breach of contract and the injured party may sue for remedies such as performance or compensation for damages.

But that doesn’t, to me, make it unprofessional to risk being sued in order to make every effort to aid people you believe to be in need, and lacking the power to affect such change themselves. To me, the question of professionalism is about how they did it. As a concerted action, having discussed it among themselves, and making sure their developers were aware of who was withholding work, and why, and then beginning discussions with Paizo management on how to fix those issues to a degree the work could be delivered, are the acts of professionals.

Which is why the freelancers have since changed from whatever their original concerns were straight to “Recognize the Union.” Because what they want is for their colleagues working at Paizo to have a voice to affect change.

I refuse to label that as unprofessional.

You can learn more about the events that lead to this freelancer decision and their desire to Support Unionization here: https://supportpaizoworkers.carrd.co/#summary

If you are so inclined, you can support me by joining my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/OwenKCStephens

ShadowFinder Organizations: The Black

Again, some legal stuff.

Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.

Obviously there’s going to be a “ShadowFinder Society” as an in-world group in the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book. But that’s far from the only group dealing with the issues created by the Shadowblast. One of the more potent is the elite collective known as the Black.

The Black

The Black is among the most powerful coalitions of spellcasters and scientists on either Rasputin’s Legacy Earth or Golarion, and they work ceaselessly to build ways for their members and others to comfortably exist in other planes, and to find ways to cross in and out of the Shadowblast (and to a lesser extent, other planes of existence). They do insist that any who make use of the transportation they can sometimes provide be respectful and considerate of the new plane traveled to, but also believe that locking creatures behind planar barriers inevitably lead to inequality and tribalism. When the Black finds a subjugated group trapped in an alternate plane, they often focus their efforts one stablisg routes for those under the yoke toescape, moving them to new planes of reality if necessary.

While most people aware of it consider the battle against the Shadowblast to be a war of light against darkness, the Black philosophically take the other approach. They see it as a battle of true dark against the dim, hazy, often tricky gloom of shadow. To members of the Black, the problem with quantifying everything as light and dark is that light often causes shadows, and within those shadows illusion and misperception can run rampant. They further see than many groups have a illumination-at-any-cost rule, claiming the ends justify the means, and this often leads to tyranny and abuse as warriors of the light cross ethical lines to destroy any darkness-themed creature they encounter. The methodology of the Black is different, seeking to understand the nature of things and then seek a solution built from that understanding.

The fact that numerous creatures of the Shadowblast hate their existence within it is, to the Black, those Shadowblastoi’s primary motivation for violent and dangerous assaults into the Material Plane. If the creatures of the Shadowblast could be freed of the pain regions of their own home plane cause them, or given a way to travel to other realities without needing sacrifices, and rituals, and riots, the Black believe harmonious co-existence could be achieved. Further, given some planar slivers are nearly infinite in their scape, surely if any creature could move to any realm of reality that would end the need to fight over territory, resources, and borders.

Many groups consider the Black hopelessly naïve, insisting that evil is real and absolute, and that seeking ways to comfort the enemy is treasonous to the Material Plane itself. In general, agents of the Black acknowledge evil is real and most be opposed – they simply decry any effort to categorize all of any one species, region, or even plane of existence as inherently evil. After all, if even angels and fall and devils can be redeemed, is that not proof that each individual must be judged on their own merits, rather than as broad categorizations? And, if so, doesn’t that mean any system that encourages valuation based on group factors itself inherently unable to create true equity and justice?

Most other large-scale groups aware of the Shadowblast see the Black as a branch of the enemy at worst, or dangerous fools at best. As a result, the  Black keep their membership tightly controlled, with only senior members of their collective allowed to engage in recruitment, and only the most competent of veteran planar travelers considered for membership. Until someone has a number of significant deeds to their name, the Black feels it’s premature to try to judge them by those deeds. However, individual agents of the Black often act as patrons and allies to less-connected or inexperienced hunters, healers, and researchers, both to build independent networks of useful allies, and to keep tabs on those who might someday be considered for inclusion in the Black.

The official positions of the Bannerfolk, Lighthouse, and ShadowFinder Society is to treat the Black as too dangerous to get involved with, but that position is not universal among the actual members of those organizations. There are individuals among those groups who hear a ring of truth in the philosophy of the Black, and are at least willing to hear out the proposals made by its agents.

(Yep, more art of Jacob Blackmon’s you don’t get to see the full version of until the book is done!)

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? See a huge backlog of game stuff in articles? Just like my stuff and want to support its creation? Check out my Patreon!

ShadowFinder: The Shadowblast

So, first some legal stuff.

Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.

One element of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book, is the demiplane known as the “Shadowblast.” Obviously that demiplane gets a fairly lengthy writeup in the Core Book, but I haven’t talked much about what it’s actually like in these previews, So, here’s an excerpt about one of the Shadowblast’s regions. (And yeah, “Shadowblastoi” get an entry as well, but the short version is that they are creatures stuck in the Shadowblast, who want to get out.)

Shadowblast Regions

The Shadowblast is often described in terms of an ocean, with Beachheads, Shallows, Reefs, the Faraway, and the Deeps.

Beachheads

“Beachheads” are areas literally overlapping with another plane (so a creature not bound to the Shadowblast can simply walk from the Shadowblast into the overlapped plane, and a ShadowWalker could walk from that plane into the Shadowblast). A creature that is not a ShadowWalker could walk right past the overlap with nothing more than a sense of something weird going on. But a ShadowWalker on the Material Plane might take a wrong turn and go from their own world to the Beachhead, without having any idea why the city around them suddenly looks like a mostly-abandoned ruin. A ShadowWalker can also walk from the Beachhead back to their own Plane… if they know what route will take them back, and if the Beachhead doesn’t fade away first.

(A Shadowblast Beachhead that overlaps a major Material Plane city. Art by David Edwards)

A Beachhead overlapping the Ethereal or Astral plane generally looks like a fog or mist.Those connected to elemental planes are often a mix of that element and ruined vehicles or land. Those overlapping slivers of infernal planes often seem to be endless buildings with offices dedicated to sin and torture, and fiendish residents sometimes don’t notice the difference until the Beachhead fades.

Beachheads are temporary, and generally caused by massive amount of undirected energy (ranging from mass death to nuclear power meltdowns and interrupted rituals) or planar or astrological conjunctions. They may last as little as a few minutes, or as long as a few months. The area near the overlap on the connected plane is usually lightly-populated and/or hard to reach. Things from the Shadowblast yearn to escape it, and seek Beachheads—often causing trouble for the denizens of the connected plane. However, many powerful Shadowblastoi cannot pass through unless a Beachhead is reinforced, which requires energy—emotional, magical, or technological—to be released chaotically on the other plane. Some beachheads need specific kinds of energy, while others grow stronger with anything from a rock concert to a political riot to a wildfire.

But the majority of Shadowblastoi that pass through a Beachhead are sucked back into the Shadowblast when the Beachhead closes. The amount of energy to keep a Beachhead open slowly increases with time, so a permanent Beachhead seems impossible. Even so, the Shadowblastoi desperate to escape their demiplane keep trying to find new forms of energy or magic to make a Beachhead last, or be able to create one at-will. Since the planar barriers are thinnest between the Shadowblast and the Material Plane around Lost Golarion and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth, those are the places Shadowblastoi most often seek to invade (though certainly efforts to wedge open Beachheads to other planes are also undertaken).

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? See a huge backlog of game stuff in articles? Just like my stuff and want to support its creation? Check out my Patreon!

ShadowFinder Mundane Gear Rules Preview

Yesterday, I previewed a new type of feat coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book. (And the awesome cover!) Today, I’m teasing some general rules designed to cover the use of everyday mundane equipment.

[H2]Mundane Equipment Rules

Not everything listed as mundane equipment has detailed descriptions or specific rules associated with it. Mostly, this is because I assume we all know what a smart phone, alarm clock, and ball-point pen are. I certainly could go into excruciating detail on how long  a line, in linear feet, you can draw with the ink in one ball-point pen, and the differences between disposable ones, refillable, and collectable. But I decided not to do that.

Because I don’t want to.

Seriously, modern gear mostly doesn’t need a ton of rules behind it. You have a pdf ruleset you had to be online to buy, so you have access to the Internet. If you need to know how many ounces of ink are in a typical ball-point pen, or the burn rate of scented candles, or if polypropylene rope floats (hint: it does), you can take 15 seconds online to look it up.

But while many games may end up needing to know one of those things, once, in a specific weird circumstance, the overwhelming majority won’t need to know any of the rest of the trivia I could fill a modern equipment section with. So, I don’t want to take the time, or space, or make people read through it all, just to cover the rare corner case with well-defined facts and rules.

Instead, I’d prefer to give some general rules on how to determine if a character’s effort to use a piece of equipment in a specific way works. That puts the GM and players on roughly the same page about the chances of success when you try something off-the-wall, and can be used regardless of what mundane equipment is involved. ShadowFinder is about facing weird threats in mysterious circumstances at strange locations, not careful tracking of modern mundania.

[H3]Professional Use

So, what rules DO I think make sense for modern gear we’re either all familiar with, or able to easily look up with the marvel of online search engines? Simply put, rules that determine if a character can successfully do what they want with a piece of equipment. To keep that short and simple, I’m going to use Skill checks as the baseline for gear success, breaking into XX easy steps for the GM to go through.

[H4]1. Is There Already A Rule For This?

Often, players will just want to use their equipment as a way to do typical adventuring things. If the attempted use is already covered by a Starfinder rule, just use that rule and assign a penalty or circumstance bonus as seems appropriate. Given how tight the success math is for most tasks, if you can attempt something with a piece of gear, it likely shouldn’t take more than a -2 penalty for being an off label use. Similarly, circumstance bonuses can be a little as +1 or +2, and should very rarely go above +5.

For example, E.Z.Wren is in a Parasol Consolidated Industries office waiting to talk to a compliance officer about evidence E.Z. has uncovered about PCI violating various consumer safety laws. Suddenly, instead of middle management, four chemghouls burst into the room. E.Z. makes a made dash for the conference room off the office, and gets inside and locks the door. But the chemghouls begin hammering the door, which won’t hold them long, and the only other way out of the conference room is the windows.

On the 23rd story.

E.Z. wants to smash a window open with a chair. That sounds like an improvised weapon, so the GM just treats the chair as an awkward club with a -4 penalty to attack rolls as with the standard improvised weapon rules. It takes a few swings, but E.Z. breaks one of the big window panes, and now has access to the outside of the building.

Unfortunately, it’s an all-glass sides modern high-rise and E.Z. doesn’t have any climbing equipment with him. Obviously, the building’s exterior isn’t perfectly smooth, but it seems likely to be a “relatively smooth surface with occasional handholds,” as defined by the Athletics skill (which covers climbing), so the GM rules it’s a DC 25 Athletics check, and given the height (240 feet, the GM decides), E.Z. would have to make a lot of checks to successfully make it to the ground.

[H4]2. Can The Equipment Be Used This Way?

(There are more steps obviously, but this is a TEASRER PREVIEW, not an entire rules section!)

(Yes, there really are commercial sledgehammers available off-the-rack that are that big.)

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon!

ShadowFinder Previews: Quirky Feats and the Cover WIP

Today, I am going to look at a new type of feat coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

Also, a peak at the W.I.P. cover for the Core Book.

Quirky Feats

Quirky feats are a special category of feats that represent something abnormal and strange, even when grading on the curve of exceptional heroes with extraordinary and magic powers. While combat and general feats can cover everything from having a bit of spellcasting ability (or enigma power), specialized training, or even a gaining a squox companion, Quirky feats are both more specialized and just plain stranger than that. Quirky feats like Branded By An Actual Artifact, Demon For A Hand, Doomed To A Horrific Fate, Literal Third Eye, and Skunk Stripe of Significance indicate some importance well beyond just the rule interactions they grant. A GM may well build cosmological details on Quirky Feats, such as having a door that can only be opened by a character who has the Demon for a Hand feat, or a creature that doesn’t get to use it’s DR and energy resistances against anyone with the Skunk Stripe of Significance.

Not all ShadowFinder games will have any Quirky feats. The GM and players should discuss if they want the kind of offbeat heroes these feats tend to create, and certainly don’t push the issue if a few players hate the idea. Try to make decisions that will help everyone enjoy the game. (In fact, always do that.)

Because Quirky feats are more attention-grabbing than normal feats, they follow some special rules.

First, a GM should feel free to give a character that doesn’t have a Quirky feat access to one as a bonus when it’s narratively appropriate. For example, if a PC tries to grapple the Shadowblastoi that is making off with the Amulet of Ra the entire campaign is built around, and fails, the GM might well tell the player their character can gain Branded By An Actual Artifact as a bonus feat, if the player wants. The GM should never force a Quirky feat on a PC without the player’s buy-in. They’re just too, well, quirky.

Second, a character that has a Quirky feat can’t select one using any of their normal feat choices. Once you are Doomed to a Horrific Fate, you already have plenty of weird, special things about your character. You don’t need to add a Frequent Heroic Breeze or Weird Eye That Means Something to such a character—leave some Quirky stuff for other people! Also, you can’t take a quirky feat another character in the same party has without GM approval, and the GM should get the other player’s approval. If everyone descended from the Witch Heather Spellgoode has a literal third eye, it makes sense for two characters that are siblings to both take it. But if one character ends up with a Demon For A Hand, it’s going to be weird if another character goes to Demon-For-A-Hand-R-Us and gets one for themselves.

In rare cases, a GM may have a plot point take away a Quirky feat that has previously been given as a bonus feat. If this is done, it’s polite to either replace it with another Quirky feat the player approves of (maybe being healed of the scar from being Branded By An Actual Artifact exposed you to energies that caused you to gain a Skunk Stripe of Significance), or grant a bonus feat slot the player can use to take anything their character qualifies for.

In even rarer cases, a GM might grant a character that already has a Quirky feat the opportunity to acquire another one, either as a bonus feat or as a feat they can select next time they gain a feat. This should only be done when it serves to drive the narrative forward, but GMs must use their best judgement on that.

(We’re still tweaking things, like I want my name on it, but the final version will look a LOT like this!)

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

#UnionizePaizo

#UnionizePaizo
https://supportpaizoworkers.carrd.co/

ShadowFinder Class Preview: The Enigma

Today, I am going to continue actual OGL rule examples of some material coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

I wanted a class to fill the “modern character with weird powers” niche so common in much of the inspirational media that has influenced the form ShadowFinder took. This is more than being a spellcaster, or even something the psionic themetype I wrote up can represent. I needed a class for firestarters, dead zones, shining, heckspawn, and mutants.

I needed a way for a PC to be an enigma. So that because the class.

Here’s a preview of some elements of this new, 100% Starfinder-compatible, character class.

(Yes, I have new ShadowFinder art for all 8 classes I’m supporting in the ShadowFinder Core Book. No, this one is not the enigma. Yes, you’ve seen the enigma digitized tease already. Guess which one it is?!)

Enigma

An enigma has power, but no one (not even the enigma) is sure why. Unlike spellcasters or combatants, it is not a trained or learned power, and unlike warlocks it is not part of some bargain for power from otherworldly forces. That doesn’t mean the enigma can’t train to use their powers more effectively, or that it might not have been bestowed by an entity beyond the enigma’s understanding, but no science or mystic research has yet to understand enigmas’ abilities, and the growing number of enigmas is seen by many groups as a rising threat.

An enigma has often had to hide for much of their life, at least early on. Their powers are hard to control when they first manifest, and can both disrupt the stability of a support group and attract attention from others. It’s not unusual for an enigma to be the product of some mysterious experiment who escaped, and to be hunted by their former keepers. Others seem to bloom with power on their own, but organizations exist who wish to find the source of that power, even if they have to cut it out of the enigma. As a result, many enigmas learn to be self-sufficient when young, both in urban and wilderness settings.

Once enigmas grow into their abilities, most groups consider opposing an enigma directly to be too dangerous, though organizations with more reach and resources may feel differently. An enigma does well to forge bonds with allies to ensure anyone interest in knowing how they manipulate energy, form, or even reality itself sees that the enigma is not alone, and has friends who will come after them if they disappear.

Hit Points: 6
Stamina Points: 6

Key Ability Score
Cha

While no one knows where the power that makes enigmas comes from, the fact that it fueled by their own force of personality seems clear. Enigmas may be bold or shy, honest or deceptive, friendly or hostile, but they all have the strong sense of self that makes them naturally apt at interpersonal relationships. Your Charisma determines the save DCs of your various enigma powers, and is thus your key ability score.

Class Skills

The enigma’s class skills are Bluff (Cha), Culture (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Medicine (Int), Mysticism (Wis), Profession (Cha, Int, or Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand(Dex), Stealth (Dex), and Survival (Wis)

Skill Points at each Level: 6 + Int modifier.

Proficiencies

Armor

Light armor

Weapons

Basic melee weapons, small arms.

(Yes, I am ending this preview before the class features table on purpose!)

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

ShadowFinder Spells

Okay, let’s do an actual OGL rule example of some material coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

Since ShadowFinder is a new Play mode that focuses on a more modern aesthetic and theme, I want to add some things–like spells–that tie into that theme. These are simply ways for characters to feel more “Supernatural Kindred Stalker” than “Guardians of the Trek Wars.”

Here’s an example:

(Art by grandfailure)

Secret Signs [Technomancer 2]
School divination
Casting Time 1 round
Range personal
Duration instantaneous

Casting secret signs can tell you whether entering a specific commercial or public space that has signage (such as a store, restaurant, library, subway terminal, and so on) is likely to be helpful for accomplishing a specific goal you wish to accomplish there (such as buying a specific item, being able to travel to a given destination, finding a friend of yours, finding a police officers, and similar goals). You must have the specific goal in mind when you cast the spell, and it gives you information above every public or commercial location in your line of sight by changing how you see their signs, indicating good results with positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs up, etc.), and difficult or unlikely locations with negative emojis.

The chance for successfully receiving a meaningful reply is 85%; this roll is made secretly by the GM. A result may be so straightforward that a successful result is automatic, or it may be so complicated as to have no chance of success. If the secret signs succeeds, you get one of four results.

*Thumb’s Up (if the location will probably aid in the goal).
*Thumb’s Down (if the location likely won’t aid in the goal).
*Shrug (If the location may aid, but such aid is dangerous, expensive, or hard to find once within the location)
*WTF (for locations that have neither especially good nor especially bad results).

If the secret signs isn’t successful, you get the “nothing” result. A spellcaster who gets the “nothing” result has no way to tell whether it was the consequence of a failed or successful casting.

The secret signs can only predict about 30 minutes into the future, so anything that might happen beyond that time frame does not affect the result. Thus, the result might not take into account the long-term consequences of a contemplated action. Multiple castings of secret signs by the same creature about the same goal in the same region use the same die result as the first casting.

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

ShadowFinder Adventure Sketch

The ShadowFinder Core Book won’t include a full-length adventure–there’s neither time nor room to get one crammed into that first book–but it WILL include some GM/Adventure support. There will be a section that talks about how to take typical Starfinder Adventure Paths and “reskin” them for the ShadowFinder Play Mode. And there will be some Adventure Sketches.

These are short outlines of what an adventure might include, with sections outlining “What It Looks Like,” “What’s Actually Going On,” “How Do PCs Get Involved,” “How Does It End,” and “Then What.” They are designed for GMs to use as inspirations and jumping-off points, with just enough details to explain what the adventure is about and how it may go, but without so many it’ll be difficult to mold into an existing campaign’s events. For example, while this adventure sketch mentions “the city,” it doesn’t tell you if it happens in New York City, Tokyo, or Absalom. That’s up to the GM.

I kinda hate to preview an Adventure Sketch–they take a lot of effort to write compared to their size and I see them as being a big part of what makes the ShadowFinder book work, despite their relatively small wordcount–but for exactly the reason I want them in the Core Book, I think they do a great job of showcasing what kinds of stories I think ShadowFinder is going to be great for playing through.

So, I picked one of my favorites — Save the City Beneath — and am showcasing it here.

Save The City Beneath

What It Looks Like: Water is mysteriously disappearing. From the drinking water system, reservoirs, even entire rivers and lakes are showing water levels way, way below what they out to be. The systems are all connected to the city’s drinking system, and if the loss isn’t stopped, the entire city is going to have a water shortage.

What’s Actually Going On: The city sits atop “The City Beneath,” a subterranean mix of old, unmapped sewers, storm drains, bootlegger tunnels, heating shafts, closed-off basements, cisterns, bomb shelters, previous cities, and secret underground complexes, natural caves, mined-out salt mines, where a civilization exists with only sporadic contact with the normal city above them. The City Beneath has actual physical portals to the Shadowblast, but also to demiplanes with less malignant residents and much ancient lore and preserved mystic libraries.

The City Beneath is not an inherently evil place. It’s a city, with good people, bad people, homeless people, gangs, unions, charities, arks, and everything else you’d expect to find in a big city—just all underground. But a powerful and judgmental person or group in the upper class of the “normal” surface city (we’ll call them F.L.O.O.D. – Friends of Law, Order, and Organized Democracy) has decided the City Beneath is an unacceptable danger. This group wants to find the City beneath, scour it of everything of value and power, and destroy it.

So, FLOOD are flooding the lower sections of their own city—uncaring that they are drowning the homeless, flooding out the dispossessed, and terrifying the vulnerable members of the lower class in the process—to follow the water drainage into passageways to the City Beneath.

Of course, in the process they are also waking up and releasing things the City Beneath locked away as too dangerous centuries ago.

How Do PCs Get Involved: If the mystery of a regionwide water shortage centered on a major city isn’t enough to get the PCs poking around, when some monsters start popping up in basements, abandoned bank vaults, old tunnel systems, and trendy secret clubs, the PCs can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, someone working for FLOOD might even try to hire the PCs to protect their water-trackers, hoping monster-hunters will blindly accept that the City Beneath must be “dealt with.”

How Does It End: The PCs figure out what FLOOD is up to, and either expose them to the public (which won’t result in anyone important going to jail, but will bring enough pressure for FLOOD to give up… for now), or hunt down and take out the FLOOD manager in charge of the deadly operation. FLOOD won’t be destroyed either way, but will decide such high-profile, headline-grabbing operations are a bad idea.

Then What: Assuming the FLOOD threat to the City Beneath is ended, the PCs now have access to an entire hidden society. In future adventures they can explore, train, use Coin of the Realm to buy magic items, set up bases, make allies, and go adventuring to deal with the City Beneath’s unsavory elements and gangs.

For inspiration on the City Beneath, look up the real-world locations of the Aldwych tube ghost statipn in London, England; Avinguda de la Llum in Barcelona, Spain; the Burlington Bunker in Corsham, England; the Cincinnati Subway in Ohio; Derinkuyu, Turkey; Dixia Cheng in China; the Estación de Chamberí abandoned subway station in Madrid, Spain; K’n-yan; Metro 417 in Los Angeles, California; Naours, France; New York City’s City Hall station; The Paris Catacombs, France; Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine; Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon; Three Kings Catacombs in Tizimín, Mexico; and the Seattle Underground, in Seattle, Washington.

(Seriously, I can’t wait to show you all this Jacob Blackmon ShadowFinder art!)

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