Monthly Archives: September 2022

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 5: Quickstart Tidegate Gazetteer

When doing a homebrew campaign (such as my upcoming Gatekeepers game for PF2), I have long since given up having everything mapped out in advance. I want a few key things defined (and, if possible, graphed to maps), but only at the lightest level of detail. having done that at the island-level, I also want to put a few things in place for the starting town, Tidegate.

(The map I’ll be using for Tidegate. This is a great piece by, which he makes freely available for commercial purposes thanks to the support from his Patrons. I want to not only pick some of the vast resources I have linked to help have visuals for the Gatekeeper campaign early, but also pick those I can use in an actual produce later if I choose to do so. As locations, like the Smoke Pine Taven become important, I’ll mark them on a copy of this map.)

Tidegate is one of the oldest settlements on Kheysus Island, it’s original founding lost to history and firmly in the realm of myths and legends. It existed before the kingdom of Khetonnia, though in a much smaller form than its current borders. The two most common claims about its origins are that it was originally a temple to a lost sea god, where farmers and hunters would bring offerings to appease the forces of storm and tide. The other is that it was created as a trading post between aquatic species and land-dwelling ones, possibly by a family that included members of both. Of course, these two myths aren’t mutually exclusive, but there’s no real evidence to support either.

Eventually Tidegate was the capital of the Crosstimbers, a Cantref of Khetonnia. The Cantref had no ruling nobility, but was overseen by a Council elected by a vote of landowners (with each acre under production, and hundred acres patrolled but wild, counting as a single vote). Sometime before the Continental Empire conquered the island, the Crosstimbers “went wild,” and most of the nearby woods were ceded to the wild, with any remaining settlements within it independent and fortified.

Tidegate has been ruled by a Town Council ever since, elected by taxpayers with votes proportional to taxes payed over the past 10-years in a running tally. On the one hand, this means the richest people in Tidegate decide who is in charge. On the other hand, it discourages the rich avoiding the paying of tax, and much of how the tax money is spent is dictated by the Duchess of Tides laws on the matter.

The Continental Empire built the Old Keep to the northwest of the town, the Watchtower on the adjacent hill, and the Rampart Wall that surrounds Tidewall shortly after taking over, in preparation for an attack from some international foe that never came. They did so at great expense, and seemed more concerned with defending Tidegate than the larger city of Seagrace.

The defenses became important a century ago during the Bloodletter Wars, when the Bloodletter Dominion tried to conquer the world. They made numerous attempts to take over Tidegate, and it seemed to be their primary objective on Kheyus, though they also did extensive, unknown things on the western side of the island, beyond the Keystone Mountains. Tidegate was besieged several times and numerous defensive battles fought on its walls, but it was never seized by enemy forces.

Current State of Affairs
Tidegate is a fairly stable, prosperous town. It has a regular stream of small merchant ships coming to buy supplies, as well as provisions from and goods from Fishport. Violent crime is rare, work plentiful, and satisfaction among the population high. When there is a serious problem in town it can almost always be traced back to drunk sailors, old feuds between well-establish families, or someone (usually a visitor) acting weird and crazy during a full moon (which is just considered to be one of those things).

Tidegate is the economic, social, and security lynchpin of dozens of farms, outfits, and small settlements within a 2-3 days travel. If there is any regional problem (such as a pack of wolves, or an ogre, or active bandits), people bring the problem to Tidegate and expect the Council to deal with it. If there’s a major local problem a farmstead or thorp can’t deal with, it’s Tidegate they turn to for help.

Tidegate City Council
Not a complete list, just noteworthy members.

Daenen Thraes

Daenen Thraes is a skilled elven blacksmith who is pushing 500 years old. He dislikes talking about the past, but is known to have fought in the Bloodletter Wars and the Imperial Conquest and to have a standing invitation to visit the Duchess of Tides, which no one has ever seen him accept. He has no known family. He runs the only smithing shop in Tidegate, Iron Will Anvils, and makes sure to take new apprentices every few years. He rarely takes commission work himself anymore, and nearly all the work he does do it sold to traveling merchant marines or more mysterious, cloaked figures. (Image by Николай Акатов)

Hexer Hellaina

Hellaina is a gnome who runs the largest herbalism and alchemy shop in Tidegate. She is extremely skilled and well-known for being able to make custom infusions and poltice, and it’s not unusual for a customer to come from the Continent to commission a cure from her. Relations between her and Nana Cutthroat are cool, but not hostile, possibly because Nana knows herbal things Hellaina does not, and possibly because Hellaina has adopted and fully domesticated a few of the Smoke Pine cats, who don’t go there anymore. (Image by KOVALOVA)


Miller has a given name, but not only does he never use it, most folks in town have no idea what it is. He’s the town miller, as was his father and his father before him. The family clearly has some elven or similar ancestry, as they live 150-200 years apiece. The family has grown to be among the richest in Tidegate, and Miller himself employs more people in town (for his mill, but also to run a few outlying farms, act as porters, run bakeries, run warehouses, and so on) than any other single employer. Miller is known to have very minor magic ability, and his family have been building a collection of books that recently grew so big Miller took over part of the Rampart Wall to house it. (Image by diversepixel)

Lantern Siggurds

Siggurds is the head of the Tidegate Council. A locally-born human he left in his youth to travel the world on Circle Trade ships, and retired to the town roughly 20 years ago. He has military experience, and doubles as the town watchman when one is needed. He’s part investor in a number of small, fast merchant ships, and runs a ship-patching and supply business by The Big Dock. He’s seen as a stick-in-the-mud by a lot of locals, but also as a keen city manager and brave watchman, who often helps outlying communities when a child is missing, or a barn burns down, or a pack of wolves is spotted. However, the Siggurds family and the Dale family have been feuding for generations, and often people feel they must either get a Dale’s help, or a Siggurds’ help, not both. (Image by Algol)

Nana Cutthroat

Owner of the Pine Smoke Taven, Nana Cutthroat is believed to the second-oldest citizen of Tidegate, right behind Daenen Thraes. She’s run the Pine Smoke since before the Bloodletter Wars, and seems to have been around before that. She refuses to explain the mis-spelled “Taven” sign, though she sometimes seems wistful about it, and claims replacing it would be stupid because everyone knowns what it means.

She’s a venerable orc woman with a soft spot for strays and outcasts (leading to the Pine Smoke having a large number of semi-feral cats she claims aren’t hers, but no one dares harm), no patience for fools or liars, a surprisingly good hand with children, and an amazing skill at cooking and herbal medicine. Nana (or Goodmiss Cutthroat if she’s in a bad mood) is often torn between not wanting to get involved with affairs outside her inn, and not being able to stand people being stupid about solvable problems. She claims she doesn’t vote for herself to be on the council, and about half of Tidegate believes her. (Image by IG Digital Arts)


A human often accused of having some halfling blood, as an infant Pottage was found as the only survivor of a shipwreck 30 years ago. Nana Cutthroat took him in temporarily, and ended up raising him. He became her cook, and then her manager, and then to her pride and annoyance, set up his own provisions business and general store, which has done very, very well. He’s considered a likeably doofus by most of town, still cooks at the Smoke Pine a few nights a month, and seems beloved by even the most grumpy of Nana’s semi-feral cats. He’s considered a likely candidate for who is voting to put Nana on the council, though she’s been on it since long before he came along. (Image by Lunstream)

Syrkin Dale

Syrkin is the patriarch of the mostly-human Dale family, who have very few members in town but are a large clan that run numerous farms, logging outfits, and some sheep in the surrounding area. No one Dale has much spare money, but all the clan’s trade is funnelled through Dale-owned businesses in town, giving those Dales enough tax money to pool resources and ensure the head of the clan is voted into the council. Syrkin is considered among the smartest, most skilled, most unpleasant clan patriarchs, and he seems intent on stirring discord between people who live within Tidegate proper, and families and settlements outside the Rampart Wall who are merely dependent on the town. He is deeply devoted to his family’s traditional dislike of the Siggurds, and seems to also personally despise Pottage (though no one knows why, and Pottage doesn’t seem to return the animosity). (Image by Zdenek Sasek)

Warden Ellicent

Warden Ellicent is the official representative of the Duchess of Tides to Tidegate, and a formidable tracker, hunter, and trapper. A half-elf she’s considered young for the position, which she has already held for more than a decade. Ellicent seems to dislike being forced to be on the council by ducal decree, and spends as much time ranging as possible. She doesn’t get along particularly with the majority of the council with the important exception of Nana Cutthroat. (Image by Daniel)


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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 4: Quickstart Kheyus Gazetteer

When doing a homebrew campaign (such as my upcoming Gatekeepers game for PF2), I have long since given up having everything mapped out in advance. I want a few key things defined (and, if possible, graphed to maps), but only at the lightest level of detail. I do this for a few reasons. First, not every campaign I plan actually launches, and I don’t have time to spend months plotting out all the details of a world I may never run. Second, I like to see what early elements interest the players the most, and build on those in greater detail. Third, I’m really good at coming up with neat stuff extemporaneously, I I have learned to leave room to do that.

So, this is just a quickstart gazetteer, enough information on the starting region, and greater world events to let players namedrop stuff and decide where they are from, or to know they want to request/suggest elements not yet in existence for their characters.


The campaign will begin in the town of Tidegate, the third-largest settlement on the Island of Kheyus, a major but distant holding of the Continental Empire (which will eventually get a name).

Isle of Kheyus
The Isle of Kheyus, roughly the size of Kansas, is divided into east and west by the Keystone Mountains. The island was home to two independent kingdoms in Ye Olde Days: Eirsyus on the west side, and Khetonnia and the eat side. The two kingdoms were both very Northern European-themed lose confederations of allied nobles, with Eirsyus having a major focus on magic and runes and rituals, and Khetonnia on crafting, engineering, and smithing. They were rivals and often had border skirmishes and occasionally brush wars, but were not hateful toward each other.

The entire island was conquered by the Continental Empire (final name tbd) a couple of centuries ago. It was obvious early in the conflict that Eirsyus and Khetonnia could not defeat the Empire, even if they combined forces. Khetonnia responded to this reality by suing for peace under lenient terms, allowing them to become imperials vassals and keep much of their local laws and nobility. Eirsyus turned to a path of darker and darker magic to grasp for victory at any cost, and their kingdom collapsed.

Khetonnia became part of the Empire, though nowadays that mostly just means the Dutchess of Tides (local ruler over the island) sends a shipfull of taxes back to the Continent once a year.

(The Isle of Kheyus, a map by the talented, and licensed for commercial use. I’ll be making it up before the game starts, but this is a great starting point. You can travel three hexes on a road in a day, or two hexes cross-country, or one through forest or mountains which may also require a check to actually make progress.)

More recently The Bloodletter Wars, about a century ago, involved a lot of fighting on Kheyus and in and around Tidegate. The Bloodletter Dominion was an expansionist eldritch force that used rituals blood sacrifices of sapient creatures to gain permanent magic powers, and intended to conquer the world to serve as endless cattle. The Band of Bloodletters is the last, sad remnant of that force, and they lack the rituals that impowered the original Dominion. Almost everyone agrees defeating the Bloodletter Dominion was a war of necessity.

Current State of Affairs
Since the Bloodletter Wars, it’s been pretty quiet around Tidegate. There are wolves and even wargs in the woods, ogres and trolls in the mountains, drakes in the wilds, and smugglers, thieves, and pirates in the streets and waters, and sometimes a more powerful creature comes over the Keystone Mountains, but actual attacks are rare.
In general, areas within bowshot of a major settlement are considered reasonable safe day and night, and minor settlements and even farmsteads are considered safe within sight of a building during the day, and within a structure at night. Roads are lightly patrolled, but don’t need much more than that, and groups of travelers who are big enough to maintain a campfire and at least one person on watch (or who have dogs or similar guard animals) are generally able to safely travel. The closer to the coast and roads you are the safer you are, and the closer to the mountains or deeper into the woods you are, the more dangerous it is.

Cities and Towns
Seagrace: The capitol of Kheyus is Seagrace, located in the middle of the southern shore where the Sweetwater River flows into the ocean. This is the home of the Duchess of Tides, current lady of Kheyus, vassal of the Continental Empire, and scion of the princes of old Khetonnia. It is the only true city on the island, the only place locally with drydocks and shipyards able to handle big ships, has the deepest harbor, and is an Imperial Fleet naval base in addition to being a major trade port.
Fishport: The second largest settlement on the island is Fishport, located on the northeastern shore of Tempest Bay. Fishport is a major fishing town, and the boats there can bring in much more than enough to feed all of Kheyus’s population, and export a tremendous amount of salt fish, kelp, shellfish, and a small volume of pearls to Tidegate, much of which then go by land to Seagrace. The tides in Tempest Bay can turn nasty even when the weather is nice, and trading ships avoid it though the locals seem to have a sixth sense for what days to not go on the water.
Tidegate: Tidegate is the third largest settlement on the island, a fair-sized town that was once an independent city-state before the Bloodletter Wars. It’s long since demilitarized, with its town walls dilapidated and in some cases converted to businesses, and farms growing up right up to its borders. Tidegate is a much more convenient (and less expensive) port of call for ships traveling along the circle Trade Route, but it’s a shallow harbor that can only handle mid-sized ships and lacks full shipyards and such. The combination of tradewinds and regular, calm currents allows ships to maneuver in and out of Tidegate in less than an hour, while any seatrip to Seagrace takes at least a day to get in, and a day to get out. Those smaller ships that can manage Tidegates waters and don’t need greater services stop here for fresh water and supplies, often leaving the same day they arrive but the volume of trade remains far below what is found at Seagrace.

There is a massive Circle Trade between the five Great Powers of the world, the timing and direction of which is heavily influenced by the Tradewinds. The Empire on the Continent is one major leg of this Circle Trade, and four even-more-distant kingdoms represent four other major segments. Each leg is an area rich in a major, strategic resource that is rare in the other regions. Beginning with Iron on the Continental Empire, the trade goods are then Firestone (needed to make explosives and gunpowder), Steelweave (silken cloth that is resistant to fire, tears, and wear, making the best clothes, sails, and rope), Black Sugar (an alchemical material that can be processed into sweeteners, spices, and drugs), and finally Spell Salt (able to be used to fulfill any consumable crafting or spell component cost). This means there’s a regular influx of Spell Salt into the Continental Empire, including Khesus, making mastercraft materials, toolkits, medicinals, and consumable magic items fairly common. However, since Firestone has to go all round the world before coming the the Continental Empire, bombs and firearms are much rarer on Khesus (though not unknown).

(Worldmap, in progress. Created using Azagaar’s Fantasy World Map Generator. Likely only part of the world, but I may never define anything beyond this. I haven’t had time to do more than click a few buttons, but since I am building my campaign based on existing resources, that’s fine. Kheyus is the 273-mile wide island in the middle of the as-yet-unnamed northern central sea. The “Continental Empire” is the northwestern section of the continent to the east of Kheyus, and the five major trade regions are the northern and southern sections of the two big continents, and all of the smaller central-southern continent.)

Modeled New England/Northern Europe. Cold winters, storms not uncommon, hurricanes rare but known, tornadoes extremely rare, warm-to-hit summers but rarely dangerously hot, lovely springs, wet autumns. Storms can be serious.

Much like this quick look at the island of Khesus, tomorrow I present a quickstart gazetteer of Tidegate, the town the player characters all begin in.


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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 3: Themes and Baselines

Furthering the discussion of my new PF2 campaign, “Gatekeepers,” I want to discuss some of the themes and baseline setting ideas the players and I settled on in Session 0. This isn’t a detailed rundown of the world (I haven’t even named the “Continental Empire,” yet), but it’s supposed to give my players enough of a feel they can figure out how their character concepts fit into the starting area of the campaign.

(I’m not saying the party is going to face a dragon in the first session, or even first story arc… but “powerful monster threatens your whole homeland” is certainly on-theme for the kind of game I’m planning. Art by nyothep.)

Players all all 1st level and likely not yet proper “adventurers,” though they are seen as competent and skilled for their age group and social strata –someone neighbors and friends may go to for help if overwhelmed. They are all from the same town (“Tidegate”) and may or may not be friends, but they are at least all familiar with one another. Players can expect that simply being basically good people of reasonable bravery and competence is going to get them involved in the campaign — the opportunity to put their foot on the path of adventure will come to them.

While there isn’t anything definite set up yet, the players noted they’d enjoy having a base of operations to work out of, and I promised to accommodate that in time. So while individual adventures may take them anywhere, the players can expect to get to a place they think of as a fairly safe home both often and regularly with downtime activities an option there.

Mid-high fantasy. Minor magic and consumable magic items are fairly commonplace. Permanent magic items are more rare. In part this is a nod to the optional rules in use — with automatic bonus progression, the campaign doesn’t need easy access to runes for weapons and armor, and I don’t expect to have magic shops of weapons, armor, crystal balls, and so on. However, alchemists, herbalists, and wizards are considered scholarly experts and may well have talismans, tinctures, potions, scrolls, and other consumable magic for sale. But a magic sword? If they really exist, you may never have seen one. And anything that seems very well-crafted or lucky may be described as “magic.” Old Matron Coglie, who always wins the prize crop awards at the autumn faire? Her plow is described as ‘magic,” with varying degrees of being serious about it.

The campaign’s starting point, Tidegate, is a minor stop on a major trade route, and has grown to be a diverse and liberal settlement. It contains numerous different ancestries, and while individual assholes may well have weird hang-ups, there are no societal biases against any ancestry, sexuality, gender presentation, or ethnicity. There are biases against some specific groups of choice — for example the Band of Bloodletters may see themselves as a positive force for keeping populations and kingdoms strong, but are seen as murderous psychopaths locally and anyone associated with them (even if, for example, your brother became one and you didn’t) is likely to be mistrusted in Tidegate.

The baseline culture will be Northern European in inspiration, but tons of elements from other societies are known, and some have taken root to be considered typical or even “local.” Further, different cultural norms aren’t automatically looked down on just because they are different — Tidegate has benefited from adopting a lot of foreign people, concepts, tools, and even philosophies, and is open to learning more.

There are no languages, or cultures, tied to a specific mortal species. “Common,” as a language, is a trade tongue that has developed due to a world-spanning trade system. The Continental Empire happens to have elves as its Imperial Family, and thus the language spoken throughout their lands is “Elven,” but anyone from the Continental Empire likely speaks Elven, and elves native to the major world power that happens to be united under a dwarven king likely speak “Dwarven” rather than “Elven.”
Planar and magic languages are a different matter, and things like Abyssal and Necril are actually innate magical forms of communication specifically suited to expressing the concepts common to the entities that instinctively undertsand them. These tongues can be learned by mortals, but it is time-consuming and difficult.

The baseline is the default gods of the Second Edition Pathfinder Core Rulebook, who are common among all five the world’s Great Empires and six Lesser Kingdoms, and became “standard” during the Bloodletter Wars of a century ago. They are thus all called the Modern Gods. All those gods that are not evil are generally welcome in all those nations, and even some acknowledgement and appeasement (rather than “worship”) of the evil ones is generally tolerated.

There are Ancient Gods… but most people don’t know the names of any. They’re largely seen as being irrelevant anymore. They mostly get mentioned when someone is cussing (“By All The Ancient Gods!”).

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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 2: Houserules

Yesterday I discussed the optional rules I’m implementing for my upcoming “Gatekeepers” campaign for Pathfinder 2nd edition. On top of those, I’ve gone over the following houserules with my players, and we’ve agreed to use them. Since we are using character support software, I carefully crafted my houserules to be things that won’t alter the information a player needs on their character sheet. (So no bonus feat at 4th level for no reason, or adding +1d4 damage to attacks when attacking two-handed, these are all more universal action options and such.)

(The best houserules are shaped in the coal of past experience, hammered by a GM’s wisdom, tempered by the warm glow of good gaming, and yes I watch a lot of Forged In Fire, why do you ask? Art by Николай Акатов.)

These are just flat breaks from how PF2 rules are written, and I’m good with that.

Hero Points: Boosted Rerolls & Extra Actions
I like Hero Points in PF2, but I actively want to make them even more powerful. On purpose. (And, yeah, this is another in a series of power-up for players, and they all know what that’ll mean in terms of the kinds of threats I throw at them.)

If you use a Hero Point to reroll a check, it is a Boosted Reroll. On a Boosted Reroll, if the actual result on the d20 is a 1-10, you add 10 to the total. Thus the d20 value on a Boosted Reroll is always going to be 11-20. (As an aside this means you could perfectly well have Boosted Rerolls be a d10+10, rather than 1d20-add-10-if-less-than-11 without changing the math, but psychologically that weirds me out.)

There is a third way to spend a Hero Point – you can use it to gain one extra action on your turn, known as a Heroic Action. Any action you take on your Heroic Action ignores multiple action penalties for things you do this turn (normally multiple attack penalties), and does not count toward multiple action penalties for things you in the same round after taking your Heroic Action. You cannot use a Heroic Action as part of an activity that takes multiple actions.

Move And Manipulate
When you take a manipulate action that is not an attack action, and that only involves objects on your person that you can hold, you can also move your speed. Not only does this encourage a more mobile battlefield, it matches my personal experience from my days in live-action foam-sword gaming with the International Fantasy Gaming Society.

d20 = 2d10; Fumble on 2-3; Crit on 18-20
Okay, we aren’t actually implementing this one yet. But I often enjoy games with probability clumping more toward the middle than the flat distribution of a d20 (or d% for that matter). So the idea here is that all d20 checks instead become 2d10 checks. My feeling is that with the tighter math in PF2 (especially with no level to proficiency), that should work great as long as we make allowances for wanting success to go up one step/down one step more often than the 1-in-100 you’d get with fumbles on a 2 and crits on a 20. However, this also lets me make fumbles less common than 1-in-20 (which overall I like), and crits more common than fumbles (which conceptually I also like).

But none of my players have much-if-any PF2 experience (though they are all veteran gamers overall), so we’re going to stick with the classic d20 for the first few sessions, then we’ll try the 2d10 variant for at least one game session and see how we all feel about it. And, of course, I’d have to decide how (if at all) this impacted the Boosted Reroll houserule.

Of course there is much, much more to a ttRPG campaign than the rules of the game. I’ve been playing with this group of gamers for 35+ years, and we’ve grown to a place where we can have an open and frank discussion about what GM and players both do, or do not, want to see in a campaign. tomorrow, I’ll discuss the planned themes and baselines of the Gatekeepers campaign.

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Gatekeepers PF2 Campaign Index

This is an updated index of all the articles I’ve written about my “Gatekeepers” campaign for Pathfinder Second Edition.

(The “Smoke Pine Taven,” in Tidegate. … Yes, “Taven.” Art by Asaneee.)


List of Player Characters

Session 1 Part 1; Part 2

Session 2 Part1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4 (forthcoming)


How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 1: Rules Options
The initial list of houserules and optional rules the campaign began with.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 2: Houserules
The campaign begins with a few pure houserules in place to alter the feel and flow of the game system.

Gatekeepers Campaign, for PF2 – Optional Rule Houserules, 1.0
I got rules options, and I have houserules… and I have houserules FOR my rules options. These are those.

Gatekeepers Campaign for PF2 – Mystery Points
In Session 1 I presented the players with Mystery Points, which represented something their characters did not understand, but the players could still choose to have their characters interact with.

Gatekeeper’s GM Rulings: Animal Companions
Sometimes I make Rule 0 calls during a game, and I want to keep track of them. These are from Session 1, and are both about animal companions.


How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 3: Themes and Baselines
Not a comprehensive review of the world or the goals of the campaign, but just enough info to let players start to consider what characters they want to play. Brief discussion of tone, society, languages, and gods.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 4: Quickstart Kheyus Gazetteer
A quick look at the island the PCs start on, and an even quicker look at the larger world it is part of.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 5: Quickstart Tidegate Gazetteer
A quick look at the town the PCs start in.

Three Things I Plan To Use in Gatekeepers
Caliburn, Gollusks, and Firemud.

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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 1: Rules Options

So, with the Really Wild West campaign closed, and me still needing to make sure I am engaged in rules that’ll be relevant to working on completing the way-too-delayed 52-in-52 subscription, I have concluded it’s time for me to run my first Pathfinder 2nd Edition campaign.

For reasons that will hopefully become clear later, I’m naming this the Gatekeepers campaign.

But, being me, that’s going to come with houserules and optional rules. Pathfinder 2nd Edition has a lot of really cool optional rules designed to help game groups find exactly the kind of ttRPG they want, and I’ve been wanting to try many of them out since before the game was published. Since we had a Session 0 to go over some basics for the campaign, here are the optional rules I worked out with the players during Session 0.

As the week progresses, I’ll talk about houserules, themes, quickstart gazetteers, and so on. Those articles will also all be linked from the Gatekeepers Index, so they’ll be easy to find.

(The adventure is likely to start here, at the “Smoke Pine Taven.” … Yes, “Taven.” Art by Asaneee.)

The PF2 GMG has lots of great rules for how to tweak the core system to produce a different feel or tone. I have gone with several of those options, and sketched out below along with why I picked them. It’s worth noting that these options are all supported by our electronic character software of choice, making them easy to keep track of.

Free Archetype
You get a free archetype feat at 2nd level and every even level thereafter. This significantly broadens the PC options and makes some classic protagonist tropes easy to model, and I like that flexibility. I know several players are looking at multiclass feats, but there are other interesting archetype options as well.

Ancestry Paragon
This slightly-more-than doubles the number of ancestry feats you get over the course of 20 levels. Ancestry feats have a high percentage of exploration, social, and on-theme abilities, and I like adding more of that flavor to a campaign.

Allow Nonhuman Half-elves and Half-orcs
I’m fine with dwarf/elves and goblin/orcs, or whatever other ancestral combinations players want to play with. I mean, I wrote Bastards and Bloodlines. Of course I’m down for weird ancestry combos.

No Coin Weight
Yes, it’s unrealistic. So is heroes who never have to go to the restroom. In 40 years of gaming, I have seen tracking coin weight slow down games way, way more often than I have seen it make the game more fun. My games normally enforce encumbrance rules, and I am certainly doing so with the bulk rules in PF2… except for money.

Proficiency Without Level
In this campaign no one (PC or foe) adds their level to their proficiency bonus for anything. This increases the threat of minor foes and dangers, and it lowers the total value of numbers people have to add in-play. Higher-level characters will still have a significant advantage due to things such as more feats, higher ability scores, special abilities, bigger damage and HP values, and so on. I’m excited to play PF2 this way and explore the feel it creates.

It’s easy enough for players to just not add this into their calculations. When running foes and monsters, I have to remove it, though that’s not hard (and there are electronic game aids that will do that math for me).

Automatic Bonus Progression
This replaces the need for potency, striking, and resilience runes with an automatic scaling potency bonus. This both allows a character to carry the same longsword at 12th level they began the game with at 1st (so if you grabbed the longsword off the mantle place that your grandfather carried during the Bloodletter Wars as a 1st level champion, that same blade can be part of your whole career and legend), and makes it easier for everyone to match the character vision they have with the gear they end up with.

In addition to selecting some of the specific optional rules built-in to the Pathfinder 2e game engine, I’m also going to be implementing some not-in-the-book houserules, which I’ll go over tomorrow.

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I Am A College Dropout And Professional Writer

I do not have a college education.

I can, technically, list “some college” on forms or resumes as my highest educational level, but I got 0 credit hours from that “some college.” It wasn’t a great time for me, and I failed everything. Yes, every single class. For three semesters in a row. And, really, the impressive part of that story is that I talked my way past the admissions panels and deans of schools twice after failing every single class I took. While my close friends and colleagues know I can be a tenacious debater (I mean, I also talked my way into my High School diploma, which I was technically 1/2 credit short of earning), I have to suspect being a cis white male who was the son of two university employees (a professor and an executive secretary trusted to log information about radioactive materials) has as much to do with it as my blessing of blarney.

I was invited into a scholastic fraternity too, after three semesters of all-failing grades. So, yeah, I was treated by a nonstandard set of rules.

But I gave up, and walked away, and got jobs as a pizza delivery driver (a few times), movie theater usher (for one week, before I quit), banquet setup crew, short order fry cook, and the manager of a student union’s parking garage. All the while, what I wanted to do was write, preferably for big professional game companies.

And that left me in a bit of a pickle when I was applying for those professional jobs in the game industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As tempting as it was to write “Education: Talked my way into a High School Diploma and got enrolled in the same college three times despite failing ever class every semester — ask me how!” I’m not a big risk-taker when it comes to promoting myself. I was aware that cutesy things (sending in your resume as a character sheet or formatted as an adventure, doing it on pink paper with sketches of unicorns in the margins, literally folding it into origami that popped open as you tugged on it) were things some other applicants did, and that I just lacked the aura of whimsey to pull off.

So, for years: “Education: High School Degree, Aegis English Advanced Writing Program, Some College.

(And “Aegis English was just a special talented student program in High School, but I figured it sounded cool, and if someone asked me about it at least I was at an interview stage, where I could pile on the effort to be a strong advocate for my position.)

I picked and choose from other jobs that made me sound organized and team oriented. Being a manager of, well, anything was better than a big gap in my work history. Customer service at a bank suggested I could pass a background check. Most of the rest of it? Chucked in the proverbial bin.

Once I was actually on-staff at Wizards of the Coast for 14 months from 2000-2001, that became the crown jewel in my resume for a while. I figured a staff game industry job, followed by dozens of freelance projects for the same company, suggested I did good work. Then repeated freelance work for other companies. Then there was regular work for Super Genius Games. Then a developer gig for Green Ronin, which became the thing I built all my resume around.

And I began to wonder… was listing “High School, Some College” helping me, at all. Or, with no degree to point to, no specialty listed, no ongoing education in years, was I just highlighting one of my weaknesses? If I could get some staff jobs and tons of freelance, didn’t that matter a ton more than a sheepskin? No matter how undereducated I was, I could clearly put words together in a way that generated repeat business, which ought to be proof enough I wasn’t an idiot.

Now, to be clear, if I HAD had a degree in anything relevant, like English, Literature, History, Archeology, Film Studies (you know, just to mention some stuff there are Paizo employees with degrees in), sure, I’d include it. But there comes a point where the fact I was the manager of a parking garage, or could bread and fry cutlets, doesn’t really say anything about my ability to be a good fit for a staff job about making up worlds and rules and adventures.

It was actually my application to Paizo in 2014 when I decided “Fuck listing my education, with its high school and a few hours of college but no degree. I have more than 15 years of relevant, noteworthy, easily referenced work in this field. No one gives a shit if I don’t have a degree.” What I did do on that resume was list every single publication I had been paid for and was credited with. Every Dragon article. Every d20 Weekly byline. Every sourcebook, pdf, online adventure, and official website rules-answers article. Pages and pages of them.

Quantity, I felt, had a quality all it’s own.

(It was also, I have since been told by people who had to read it, a bit much. Nowadays I tend to lump things like Dragon articles and official advice columns into an entry that says “Various articles for Dragon Magazine, published from 1998 to 2009, list available upon request.”

And I can safely say in nearly a decade since making that decisions, whether applying at small ttRPG game companies, megacorporations, or start-ups, no one has asked me what my educational background it.


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Supers Idea: EuroVigil

Be it a comics pitch, background worldbuiding idea, or a supers adventure sketch, here’s a quick rundown on the concept of EuroVigil.

The EuroVigil Hero Contest has been held every year, in one form of another, since 1946. Hosted by the European Broadcasting Guild (EBG), it was originally an opportunity for the ad hoc WWII costumed heroes to gain greater visibility and compete to be members of the Peers, the Eurpoean Superhero Group set up to ensure the escape Nazi villains of the era would be unable to clone fallen madmen and tyrants, build factories to produce hordes of evil robots, train cyborg wolf armies, or unleash mind-control devices, all of which were surprisingly common concerns at the time.

Each hero for the EuroVigil is nominated by local agencies in their home country, the process for which can vary wildly. In France, it is determined by popular public acclaim. Germany trusts the Federal Minister for Empowered Affairs. In England, it remains one of the legal prerogatives of the Monarch to choose an entrant, though the decision is normally vetted and researched at great length before an announcement is made. Norway leaves it to their oldest serving Peer to select a candidate. Greece, Italy, and Spain all have a series of regional contests, and so on.

One selected, the contestants are broken into “Flights,” each of which is assigned to a region of Europe half the time, and to the Peer’s training facility half the time. While assigned to a region, each Flight is assisted in finding and handling crimes, disasters, and public appearances. When at the Peers facility, the heroes are tested in a variety of ways, from obstacle courses to sparring matches to being pitted against various simulated common dangerous situations (burning buildings, hostage rescue, sinking boats, and so on).

After each weekly set of events is finished television and radio broadcasts are put together to show highlights, and nearly all the raw footage can be viewed online. Each participating country then issues a set of votes, half determined by a panel of experts (often including retired heroes, firefighters, and civilian oversight groups), and half by the popular vote of the country’s population. The lowest vote-getters are cut from the program immediately, and a new week of events begins.

Though the program has remained popular for 3/4 of a century, there are criticisms. Often charismatic or kitschy contestants receive more votes than boring but effective heroes. National and international politics are seen as playing an oversized role in early selection and the editing of each week’s broadcasts. Some entrants are accused of seeking fame and fortune rather than a life of service and helping others. However, most winners do receive and accept an invitation to become one of the Peers, now the official European Union superhero team, and numerous runners-up have attracted enough support to become successful major international heroes.


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The Dichotomy

As a GM, I often want to make sure I am providing a rich environment where players can roleplay, explore, build connections and networks, expand into their own character and story, and feel they have a voice within and impact on the world they are thrust into. I try avoid making every session just a “monster of the week” fight, or endless dungeon stomp.

As a player I love those things when they seem to evolve naturally. When it feels like they are being forced and this results in slow sessions where no player is particularly engaged and things are sow, I desperately wish we could just go smash undead/punch fascists/shoot robots. I much prefer even a typical monster-of-the-week fight to a roleplaying session where things aren’t gel-ing.

This makes me wonder how often I am trying to hard as a GM, failing to just let things naturally evolve on the RP side. I have begun to think part of the issue is that my own GM style tends towards crucial, needful conflicts that can’t wait. That’s partially in response to my players generally being the opposite of murder hobos — they don’t want to have characters that murder and loot for the sake of murdering and looting, but want to be heroes who put themselves in harms way while saving others… even as they as players enjoy the action and reward of fighting and looting. So, I often generate foes who *must* be opposed for ethical reasons, and then players feel like they can’t take a day off without letting someone down.

Maybe I can find a way to have more fights and risks be optional, things you can feel good about going and opposing, but not feel bad if you let them sit because everyone really wants to help the orphaned goblin child find a home this week.

This is the other side of roleplaying for me; the flip side of rules and tactics and action economies and even storytelling. The fine tuning of figuring out what activities the GM and players will all enjoy going through within the game.

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#MotiePitch: Spread

Or rather than a movie pitch, you could use this as the plot to an adventure, a backstory, or a campaign kickoff.


A new viral breaks out. It has a very slow incubation period, very few external symptoms, and requires personal contact to spread, so by the time it is detected it exists worldwide, and no one is sure how many people have it.

People who get it are largely immune to bacteria, fungus, parasites, and other viruses. Also, they can recognize each other by touch, and have a primal urge to care for and protect each other. They aren’t telepathic and don’t always agree on anything else (including the best way to protect and care for each other), but they do all feel “curing” them, or slowing the spread of the virus, is bad. And some “Spreaders” feel their best bet is to infect as many people as possible, so the number of them that want to protect each other goes up, even though that requires lots of close personal contact.

Meanwhile, governments of the world begin to realize Spreaders could mean the end of the existing global power structure. First they try to deny Spreaders have any benefits, then briefly hammer on the truth unknowns — will Spread mutate? What are the long-term effects? But quickly, it becomes a combination of clanism and competing narratives. Stories claim some Spreaders have begun attacking anyone not infected in zombie-like biting sprees, but no one knows if it’s true and, even if it is, how common it is or what provocations might be present. More believable reports claim in in 1 million people die slow, agonizing deaths if they catch the Spread, but even that can’t be proven to the masses one way or another.

Spread becomes a new global faction, growing through a dedicated outreach program of its members without any core leader, debatable ideology, or unified message. Spreaders claim universal infection would mean utopia. Ethical objectors say much too much is unknown about how Spread will impact humanity over generations, philosophers object to the biological compunction of it overriding free will, and uninfected people in power simply have no interest in losing their positions to a virus.

Can a compromise be found, or will humanity destroy itself because of an infection that makes it want to selflessly help itself?

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