Monthly Archives: May 2023

Revised Path Design Goals

A revised PF1. Something you could still use to run PF1 adventure paths, for example, but that had significant quality-of-life upgrades and improved organization,clarity, and all-levels play.

I’ve been thinking about these things for years, and even worked on it briefly before other projects came along (and then became years late). But, for whatever reason, this has been coming to the fore a ton in the past couple of days, so…

Just as the original game system went from 3.5 to a very different 4.0, and PF1 was a branch off 3.5 (without being exactly the same), the idea here is that with a second edition of PF2 being very different from PF1, this would be a branch off PF1 (without being exactly the same).

(Art by warmtail)

What would the design goals be? Well, to start:

1. Make the game more stable at all levels of play.

2. Make combat run faster.

3. Reduce the total amount of math, without reducing granularity or customizationability.

4. Faster, easier rules for making monsters.

5. Support archetypes in the core books, Make them a set of simple, easily understood rules allowing a wide range of classes to take the same archetypes (so, for example, if you make a Swordmaster archetype, most combatant classes can take it).

6. Nonspellcaster classes gain a wider range of built-in options that allow them to impact combat and noncombat encounters beyond doing damage.

7. A formalized set of rules for designing and running skill-based encounters.

8. Rename and reconceive “races” to eliminate ability score bioessentialism and delink cultural and biological benefits.

9. Establish three modes of spellcasting — prepared, spontaneous, and “blended” (like the arcanist), and allow any spellcasting class to be able to select any of them. Ensure the distinctiveness of spellcasters is not dependent entirely on their spells — if a sorcerer and a wizard both select spontaneous spellcasting, they should still feel distinct and different.

10. Both reduce the total number of classes (which sits at 39 even if only counting base, core, and hybrid classes from official PF1), and add new classes that fill missing niches (such as a good warlock).

11. Revised rules for crafting and magic item creation, with guidance explaining where some decisions come from (such as the sidebar notes I added in the Loot 4 Less product line).

12. Establish some “common” rule variants, including spell points and automatic bonus progression, which are kept in mind for all relevant sections of the game and expansions.

13. A thorough spell-by-spell review of the core spells to tweak for game balance.

14. A thorough item-by-item review of magic items, so those that do interesting things rather than just give bonuses can be gained at low enough levels for them to still feel like attractive choices.

15. Revise combat maneuvers to be simpler, faster, and worth attempting as PCs, without always being the best choice to shut down a foe.

16. Reorganize rules and review that all needed rules exist (such as burrow), are easily found, and simply explained.

17. Review and as appropriate add PF1 errata.

18. Rethink Prestige Classes.

19. Where lack of keywords or clear definitions have caused issues or clunky language (what is a “weapon?,” how many hands is a creature assumed to have?, can a horse use a magic glove?), clean up and streamline language and add late-game solutions to the core.

20. Review and revise favored class bonuses and traits, with an eye toward balance and not having some ability core to popular class builds being locked behind a single trait.

21. Review and revise subsystems introduced outside the core (such as downtime, building organization businesses and buildings, ruling countries, and so on), with an eye toward balance and having as few such systems as possible, integrated into core rules, while still supporting all the elements they allow for. 

22. Design the simplest possible introductory version of the game at the same time as the core. Such an introductory game should introduce the most important rules in a way that is 100% how those are handled in the core game, while still radically reducing the cognitive load to learn the game or teach it to others.

23. Find ways to reduce the work required for a GM to run the game, including both simplifying the math a GM is required to deal with when designing things and the effort needed to build encounters.

24. Radically simplify AoO rules without removing the tactical element they represent.

25. Radically simplify the planning needed to make specific character builds. This includes reducing feat taxes and feat chains, while still protecting spotlight time and level-locking some abilities to higher levels of play.

26. Review and revise conditions, to have as few conditions as possible without reducing granularity or breadth of the system.

26. Review and revise monster/NPC stat blocks, to make them easier for GMs to use and (if possible, but as long as I am listing all the things I’d *like) shorter and easier to read.

27. Review and revise how alignment is presented, and how rules interact with it.

Now, that’s a LOT. I’m not tackling all that all at once, and for the most part aren’t tackling it at all until I am in better shape, and have caught up on other massively-overdue projects. But I *have* taken a first, tiny stab at some of these ideas on social media.

I’ll show those off later this week, in a Draft 1.1 form.


Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Health Update: Physical Therapy and Port Surgery

For background: I had a pulmonary embolism in February 2023, as told in these articles: Part OnePart Two

The bleeding I’d had before that meant I’d already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at it (which was going to happen in May), but my colonoscopy got moved up, as told here.

The bleeding I had already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at (which was going to happen in May) got my colonoscopy moved up, and it happened last week as told here.

That resulted in a cancer diagnosis , and I saw a colorectal surgeon as told here. Then a cardiologist, as told here. Then I was nearly tortured by an MRI, as told here

Then I had to offer a blood sacrifice to a CAT scan, got a massive kidney infection, and was rediagnosed as having late Stage 1, rather than Early Stage 2 cancer, as told here. That led to my case being presented to the shadowy and mysterious Tumor Board, and the decision to start me on three months of Chemotherapy, as told here.

All caught up? Okay then.

So, the decision to engage in Benevolently Poisoning me almost immediately had implications. First, I was assigned to physical therapy, both to increase my stamina to help reduce the impact of chemo, and to train me to move my larger-than-life body around if the chemo makes me weak. I’ve done four sessions in the past week, and it’s exhausting. It’s especially exhausting since I got surgery for my port in the middle of that, and am anemic and on blood thinners.

None of that means it’s not a good idea. It’s just an exhausting good idea. Those happen. Like, I dunno if I could climb 50 feet of cargo netting. But if I was drowning in a sea covered with burning oil and a ship threw a cargo net over the side and told me to climb the 50 feet up to the railing so I could survive? You can bet my exhausted ass would be climbing, because that would be a good idea.

Well, metaphorically, there’s a section of oil-covered burning seas in my colon trying to kill me. (And no, this is not a joke about spicy food. Or, at least it wasn’t until just now. I guess it is now, which belabors the point more than just a little, but I mean you’re reading a blog about someone’s cancer and if I don’t do these silly little asides now and then it’s going to be too grim for me to want to write it, much less ask anyone to read it. Or, for that matter, be so inspired by it as to pay me for it — see “Support,” down below to see what I mean.)

So, the point with the cargo net story was supposed to be that I am fighting for my life. So I don’t have to like physical therapy, I’m doing it as told, when told.

In the middle of this run of physical therapy, I had to get my chemo port installed. This is a little silicon injection site, inserted just under my skin (it makes the surface skin swell by about the same size of the last joint of my pinky) with a tube connecting it to a vein that feeds directly into my heart. Because if I’m going to have to make a Save Vs Poison to beat my body’s cancer cells, I’m making sure the poison tracks down every last one of the little fuckers, wherever they hide.

We happened to have the same anesthesiologist for my port as my wife had for her hysterectomy last month. He walked into the ready room, looked at me in the surgical gown, looked at my wife in the visitor chair, and said “Y’all switched seats! So, second verse, same as the first.”

I like him.

And he took my pain, breathing, and anxiety very seriously. Due to my breathing issues and anemia, he decided to put me all the way under (he normally does twilight for port surgery), and be in charge of my breathing. Which is scary, but he talked me through every step, made sure we have the exact mask he wanted, my head at exactly the angle he wanted, and so on.

Once I was in the OR, he told me medicine was flowing, and I should feel tingling and burning. I didn’t, so he stopped absolutely everything, and checked every connection. It was all fine, I just had no reaction to the first medication. Then he began the second, and I grunted “Oh, THERE is the tingling and burning!”

I also want to say that I was wearing an overglorified napkin at this point, and it’s neither dignified nor warm. to help with both, I was laired in nice, warm, heated blankets. But my hands and feet get cold fast, and one of the nurses took it upon herself to lean over and hug me, rubbing my arms and flank until I warmed up. And… it was nice. Comforting.

Then, the anesthesiologist told me we were beginning the third medicine, and someone put an ice chip into my mouth and asked me how I was doing.

Now, yes, objectively I am aware things must have happened between third medicine and ice chip. (Even Star Trek transporters aren’t THAT fast.) In fact, when I took that ice chip, I was aware that it was not the first ice chip I’d been given, and that I was in the Recovery Room, but I had absolutely no memory of anything after “third medicine” was said.

I think that’s what the Gap, in Starfinder, must have felt like.

And, I don’t remember anything ELSE in Recovery either, though I was in there for an hour. My next memory is being back in my prep room, with my wife and a nurse, aware that I hurt a little. I didn’t CARE about the pain, but I knew I hurt, Except for my throat. It felt like I had the worst case of strep ever. Which I’d been warned to expect, as a result of the breathing tube. But it still sucked.

Then, the nurse offered me a selection of drinks. I have no memory of anything but hearing “hot chocolate,” and knowing that was what my throat needed.

So, here’s a piece of advice: If you’re coming off full sedation and painkillers, still so groggy from surgery you feel the room swaying back and forth, and the nurse offers you a drink for your throat, do not select hot chocolate.

Because you’ll have no hint if you’re burning your mouth as you drink it, until hours later when painkillers begin to wear off.

My wife assures me I sounded and looked quite clear-headed. So when the nurse warned me the hot chocolate was very hot, and I just happily sipped away through a tiny stir straw, my wife figured I knew what I was doing. 


Things are a blur again for a while after that. I was magically dressed (again, my wife Lj assures me there was no magic involved, just hard work on her part), and teleported to the comfy chair at home. Then food materialized, and disappeared, and then my wife and housemate faded away and I was left snoozing in the comfy chair, in the quiet.

Or, that’s how I remember it.

It took me two full days to really recover, and even now a third day later my incisions hurt like heck, I suspect due to the blood-thinner-induced bruising (as I had to go back on blood thinners the day after surgery).

But I’m okay. Which is good, because tomorrow my chemo begins.

Save vs poison!!


Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –


So, it’s a day later, and it hasn’t been a great day.

I went to go begin my chemotherapy today. I had port surgery last week so I could have infusions.

But chemo did not start, and I can’t get infusions.

See, my normal care goes through the Norman Regional Health System, who take my insurance. But they won’t treat my cancer. I’ve seen them, and my case is too complicated for their facilities and the staff they can put on it.

So, instead, my cancer is being treated by the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center. They have the tumor board, cancer teams, and facilities I need.

It was Stephenson who decided I needed to begin with 3 months of infusion chemo, then referred me to Normal Regional for the port surgery, which happened last week.

But when I went to go get my chemo infusion today, my oncologist saw me instead, and told me Stephenson doesn’t take my insurance, so I can’t get an infusion through them. (Also, I may be racking up thousands of dollars in bills with her, since her health system doesn’t take my insurance. She doesn’t know.)

And Norman Regional only has a tiny infusion team, and my oncologist can’t get them to schedule me for weeks.

We can, of course, argue with both the insurance company and Stephenson to make a deal for my case. That will also take weeks.

I have cancer right now. I can’t wait weeks.

So, despite having undergone general anesthesia to get a port, I can’t use it.

Instead, we will be going with an oral chemo treatment — which is not my oncologist’s preferred treatment, but at least we can start… soon. Or, at least, soonish.

We don’t know how soon. My oncologist called it in to the two specialist pharmacies that handle it locally… one of which is the Stephenson Pharmacy. Which may not take my insurance, which may leave me out of pocket for a few grand to pay full price for my own poison.

But we’ll see how fast they can get that in, and what they’ll charge me.

AFTER chemo, Stephenson expects that most likely I’ll need two surgeries, likely months apart.

Surgeries that, right now, Norman Regional *won’t* perform, and Stephenson will not accept insurance for, leaving me tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

But that’s a tomorrow problem. Today, I just need to change all my prep from 3 days of infusion every 2 weeks, to oral poison twice a day every day nonstop. And different side effects, like possibly the skin peeling off my hands and feet.

I am not happy right now.

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Government)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

The people of the region of Icehold all consider themselves part of a single culture, generally called Icehold, but not all of them are part of the only large settlement in the region, the fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf. Even so, understanding the government and laws of Jokullnaf (which, confusingly to newcomers, is also often just called Icehold) is crucial to understanding the region as a whole.

Jokullnaf was originally built some 200 years ago as a fortified base of operations for the Drakull Campaign, a religious expedition that sought to destroy the creature belived to be the First vampire and, after several decades, appeared to succeed in destroying it. This lead to a slow conversion of Jokullnaf from a military fortress to a settlement. It is the only major settlement within hundreds of miles of its location, though a few small family enclaves exist in the surrounding caves and valleys. Most are friendly with Jokullnaf.

A few are not.

But even those who are somewhat hostile to the townsfolk accept that the closest thing to law in the land of Icehold is the Jokullnaf Council of Principals.

Council of Principals

Jokullnaf is ruled by a Council of Principals, which serves as the only executive, legislative, and judicial authority within the town. The official motto of the council is “Secure in Body, Belief, and Self.” Councils argue often about what exactly that means, but in general it’s accepted that the job of the Council of Principals is to keep everyone in all of Icehold safe, without bothering them too much. 

The size of the council is currently 12 seats, but it has been as small as 6 and as large as 18 over the past century. Changing the council’s size requires a petition be brought by the population with at least 1,000 signatures, and then a vote in which at least 1/3 of the council agree with the change.

Each seat on the council is assigned to a “Principal Interest” within the population of the city. The current seats are (in order of seniority) Crusaders, The Guard, Landowners, Masons, Alchemists, Citizens, Churches, Scouts, Fishers, Gatherers, Merchants, and Service Guilds. A single councilor holds each seat, and terms are 24 months, offset so a new councilor takes a seat every 2 months. All matters are handled by an open vote among the councilors, with the oldest councilor who has held their seat for at least one full year being given the tiebreaking vote in case of stalemate.

Councilors are not paid for their labor, but do receive a few personal assistants for the term of their membership, generally young members of rich families and trade groups that wish too teach their children how Icehold is run. A councilor is not officially required to appear for the weekly meetings of the council, but one who shirks work without good reason is likely to be penalized by the grumpy councilors who do go to meetings, and eventually thrown out of the council.

Each group represented by a Principal Interest is responsible for keeping a list of enrollment current with the names of everyone considered part of that group. Each group is allowed to petition the Council of Principals to approve a charter that defines membership in an Interest, which almost always includes being of age of majority, mentally sound, not sworn to a foreign secular government, not convicted of a serious crime against Icehold or its population, and being considered an actively involved member of the Interest. 

For example, a Citizen likely only need be a competent adult in good standing, but a Mason must be of at least Journeyfolk skill level, and still an active participant in the profession of masonry.

Nearly all the seats are filled by sortition — each time a seat opens, a councilor is selected at random from the enrollment list of people who qualify. (This is not true for Crusaders, the Guard, or Masons). In most cases a person cannot sit in the same councilor seat two terms in a row (although members of the Guar and the Masons can). Further, the council can dismiss any member from their seat with a 2/3 vote, though that seat is then immediately filled by a new member of the same interest. (And only a more-than-half vote is required to unseat a council from the Guard or the Masons). 

The general definition of each Interest is as follows:

Crusaders: Individuals with ties to a known group that still seeks to destroy the powerful undead that exist in the far north. In most cases, modern crusaders are those who have been trained by someone who was trained by someone who was one of the original members of the Drakull Crusade.

Because Crusaders often leave Jokullnaf for long periods, they are allowed to elect a council from within their ranks, and may select a retired member who i no longer active in crusading.

The Guard: The region of Icehold is dangerous, and Jokullnaf is a fortress town for a reason. The Guard are responsible for walking the walls, manning the watch-towers and gates, organizing defense of Icehold in times of attack, watching for and organizing efforts against fires (especially at the harbor), enforcing degrees of the Council of Principals, and generally being the armed branch of Jikulnaf. However, there are only 30 or so full-time members of the Guard, with any major effort requiring rounding up armed citizens.

Because the Guard has a Guard Commander and a chain of authority is considered important for it to function, the Guard seat is appointed by a vote of the rest of the council, and can be held repeatedly.

Landowners: People who own land within the walls of Jokullnaf, or bowshot of its walls and harbor. Most landowners are families that date back to when Jokullnaf made the transition from armed camp to independent town.  The council restricts ownership to a single person per building, and doesn’t count any building too small for a person to live in, or that doesn’t serve a useful function for the betterment of the region. Unlike most Interests, Landowners are qualified for Council membership if they are  able to speak the oath of loyalty, regardless of age.

Masons: The walls and towers of Jokullnaff are considered crucial for the long-term survival of the town, and they require maintenance and protection from people prying rock loose for use in other projects. There’s no mason’s guild within Jokullnaff, just a very protective, skilled community of people who work on the town’s stone, some of them old enough to have helped build it to begin with.

Because masonry projects often take longer than two years, and require continuity of direction, the masons are allowed to vote for their councilor, and may vote in the same person each term. 

Alchemists: Access to cheap Firestone and Blue Iron, along with natural materials unknown in warmer climes, has caused a small but vibrant alchemist community to develop in Jokullnaf. After a few explosions in the early days, the Council of Principals determined anyone wanting to work in alchemy required the council’s approval. This led to the council and the alchemists working closely together to keep the town safe from experiments and, eventually, that expertise proved useful enough to earn a seat on the council. 

Citizens: As the town grew, the fact landowners had a voice in government but other citizens did not lead to unrest. A citizen’s seat was added to settle things down, and remained for the past century.

Churches: Several churches have moved into Icehold, and often wish to have holy day celebrations, perform loud or odd ceremonies, or otherwise act in ways that seem questionable without some advanced discussion. The Council decided to set aside a single seat for all church leaders in the region. If a church leader fails to appropriately represent the interests of all churches in Icehold, the Council dismisses them and gets a new church leader to sit in the seat.

Scouts: Dangers to Jokullnaf often begin elsewhere, and sometimes you need someone to run to outlying enclaves or put together search and rescue parties. The town scouts are the only people crazy enough to do it all the time, and were granted a seat.

Fishers: Fish makes up a huge part of the Jokullnaf diet, and after a few council decisions made fishing more difficult and led to long, hungry winters, a Fishers’ Seat was added.

Gatherers: Added the summer after the Fisher’s seat, this seat represents those who gather barks, needles, and lichens for foodstuff. It also currently covers rangers with strong family ties to the town, who want their own seat, but aren’t currently numerous enough to convince the council to give them one.

Merchants: Only a few decades old, the Merchant’s Seat is a grudging acknowledgement of how much of Jokullnaf’s comfort, if not quite its existence, depends on goods being brought in by sea and through dangerous mountain passes. Most people on the merchant enrollment lists are also on the Landowner and Citizen lists.

Service Guilds: When the Summer Trade Season opens, hundreds of members of guilds dedicated to servicing the needs and wants of the tradeships, caravans, and merchants that briefly flood the town with money and new people. These cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, work in small, tight guilds that must follow council rules. Despite most guilds owning property, they are not allowed on the landowner’s enrollments and have often been seen as “outsiders,” leading to unfair treatment. Shortly after the Merchants gained a seat, the Service Guilds held a strike at the beginning of a Trade Summer to prove how important they were to Jokullnaf’s prosperity, and gained a seat.


I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Economy and Threats)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which were my focus for this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.


For much of the year, the fortified town is cut off from any other civilization. Sitting n the far western spur of the Middle Kingdoms, during the summer traders can sail in from the eastern ports of that continent, but also the far western and southern lands of the Ivory Empires, ports in the Spice Gauntlet, and even the Realm of the Jaguar. In addition to sea voyages to Jokullnaf, a few mountain passes lead southeast to the Njor lands and other points in the Middle Kingdoms, though those are passable only in September, and only for a few weeks.

With a typical winter population of 5,000 people, Jokullnaf can swell up to 11,000 in the summer months as merchants flood the city to buy up as much Blue Iron and Firestone as possible, and service folk come with them to provide services the wealthy expect, but there is little need for when they are gone. Numerous Service Guilds exist, including cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, who own permanent buildings in Icehold which sit nearly empty 8 months out of the year, watched over by a skeleton staff until the work season arrives in summer and its rooms are full.

Though the region around Icehold is mountains, valleys, and tundra, there remain natural resources the locals have learned to harvest and grow. White spruce are common, many growing to more than 100 feet high, and offer nutrition in their needles, inner bark, cones, and seeds. This is most often accessed as various teas, but it can also be used to make beer, porridge, and even a flat bread. Fishing is plentiful and open sea ice fishing, though dangerous, allows that bounty to be caught year-round. Numerous shrubs and bushes flow in the summer, including crowberries which are used to make wines and jams. Other forms of lichens, mosses, and sedges, abound and wyrmlichen can sustain a person for months, though the taste is bitter, sour, and spoiled.

Some herders manage reindeer and musk oxes, and households often raise a small number of hares or clipped snow geese to provide meat in cold months. Insect farming is also common, and considered a fine way to turn lichen into something closer to meat (and, if dried and ground, a kind of flour). Pickling food is extremely common, as is dry freezing and deep freezing in cold pits. Even so, when the Summer trade begins, the desire for honey, flour, and non-local meats is high.


Though the First Vampire is long since destroyed by the Drakull Campaign, other undead still dwell in the tundra, and during the Long Nights are a significant threat. While some are restless spirits of local folk who died in anger or hate, powerful undead from around the world have moved to the far north to take advantage of their immunity to the cold, and the long stretches where no sunlight can reach them. Though none have built true kingdoms, some have created their own tomb complexes, in the style of their homelands, and created as many servants as they can. None of these major undead have lairs too near Jokullnaf, but they keep an eye on the largest gathering of fresh sapient meat and hot blood, and raid whenever they feel they can.

(Art by DM7)

Other threats include arctic cave bears, ice perytons, snow spiders, white chimeras, and the sparse but significant threats of boreal dragons, drakes, wyverns, and wyrms. A troll kingdom once existed in the lands around the town, driving out or killing most other humanoids, but its population is much reduced and has grown only very slightly over the past century. Some trolls trade with the people of Icehold, others seek its destruction. Yeti also exist in the hillier and rockier regions, apparently existing at a neolithic stage of technological development and with extremely simple language skills. These yeti are often seen by newcomers as nothing more than bipedal beasts, but natives to Jokullnaf are aware they are as smart as any other humanoid, even if their culture is less technologically advanced (at least in part because they do not need or trust fire). Most yeti groups see all other humanoids (even trolls) as interlopers in their lands, and eliminate small groups if they can while avoiding bands too big to attack, but as with any sapient creatures, there are exceptions.


I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Location and Environment)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which are my focus for all this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

Location and Environment

Icehold, also known as Jokullnaf, sits to the farm far north, halfway between the lands of the Njor and the Northern Pole. Even the seas around it are frozen most of the year, and its harbor is typically only free of ice from June to September, and is always frozen sold from November to April. The average temperatures of those months reaches a high of 6° C (43° F). It is below freezing nearly all the rest of the year, with the coldest month averaging high temperatures of −15.5° C (4.1° F), but sometimes getting as cold as −39.1° C (−38.4° F). On the coldest days, a cup of warm tea thrown into the air turns to powdery snow before it hits the ground.

Snow and ice on the ground are nearly universal, which is just as well since rivers freeze and even the deepest wells hit ice rather than liquid water. Nearly every building and most camps keep firesburning nonstop, year-round, with firestone the most common source of heat (a single fist-sized hunk of firestone weighs roughly half a pound, 4 pounds of firestone can keep a typcial stove hot and warm a 20 ft. x 30 ft. house for 24 hours, making it roughly 10 times as efficient as coal). This both heats an area and allows snow and ice to be melted daily for fresh water. It also ensures new fires can easily be started from the burning firestone, should that be needed.

Those local to Jokullnaf know how to survive the deadly cold, and warming magic is common, but some nevertheless freeze to death every year. Buildings are well-insulated, so much so that in the short summer most activity is taken outdoors as the buildings can get uncomfortably warm with just the heat of people in them. Clothing and armor are almost always layered, and extremely thick hooded cloaks known as feldjar are common. Feldjar are made of two thick layers of furred hide, sewn with the fur facing inward to form a thick insulation, and are designed to be buttoned closed if necessary, but generally warn just draped around the shoulders to it can be thrown off if necessary for any detail-oriented work.

Conversely, there are a few regions of the lands around Icehold where massive heat rules. Several apparently-dormant volcanos are close enough to the settlement for their red glow to be visible on a clear night, and many have slow lava flows down into apparently-bottomless pits. Anyone coming close to the molten rock find the air goes from freezing to burning surprisingly quickly, and when snow falls the lava hisses and can produce steam able to scald skin, which may twist and shift suddenly in strong winds. Even beyond the volcanoes, a few of the old firestone mines have caught fire often the decades. The entrances to these are unknown, but occasionally a vent opens in the ground and burning smoke and cinders jet out… before enough ice falls into the crack to make the ground shale so hard it closes access to the burning mines as suddenly as it opened.

The deadly temperatures are far from the only regional challenges Icehold residents face. When the sun sets on October 28th each year, it does not rise again until the 15th of February (111 days later), and due to mountains cannot be seen from town until shortly after the first week of March. Conversely, when it rises on April 18th it does not set again until August 23rd (127 days later). For weeks at either end of these periods the is enough glow to see even though the sun does not properly rise, though the light is dim, in the times known as the Blue Nights.

Some nights, the sky lights up with Spirit Tides from the Ocean of Souls, the literal path (also known as the Low Road) spirits of the departed take to reach the afterlife from the mortal realm. When the Spirit Tides are green, they can be safely observed, and individual spirits cannot be visually picked out. But on especially cold nights they can turn blue, purple, red, or yellow, meaning the barrier between the Spirit Tides and the mortal realm are too thin for safety. Specific souls can be seen, or if you are high enough on a mountainside even spoken to. Such nights draw undead, necromancers, and grieving beloved of the recently lost, but anyone looking at the tides also risks a spirit possessing them, or breaking free to become a spectre or wraith. If work must be done during the nights of strong Spirit Tides, locals to Icehold wear wooden blinders over their eyes, keeping their vision restricted to a narrow band they focus down, away from the skies.

(Art by Jasper W)


I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Health Update: Tumor Boards, Blood Thinners, and Chemo, Oh My!

For background: I had a pulmonary embolism in February 2023, as told in these articles: Part OnePart Two

The bleeding I’d had before that meant I’d already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at it (which was going to happen in May), but my colonoscopy got moved up, as told here.

The bleeding I had already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at (which was going to happen in May) got my colonoscopy moved up, and it happened last week as told here.

That resulted in a cancer diagnosis , and I saw a colorectal surgeon as told here. Then a cardiologist, as told here. Then I was nearly tortured by an MRI, as told here

Then I had to offer a blood sacrifice to a CAT scan, got a massive kidney infection, and was rediagnosed as having late Stage 1, rather than Early Stage 2 cancer, as told here.

All caught up? Okay then.

So, after weeks of consultations, referrals, testing, secondary illnesses, and follow-ups, I finally got in to see the colorectal surgeon at the OU Stephenson Cancer Center, who was now in charge of my case. He had all the records of my tests and scans and elf-on-a-shelf snitching, and was ready to take my case to the Tumor Board, which is a shadowy cabal of psionic tumors who secretly rule the world from their formaldehyde jars.

Okay, no, it’s just a group of 50 cancer experts who share their knowledge through consultations on tough cases, like an older massively obese cancer patient recovering from a pulmonary embolism and still on mandatory blood thinners (you know, just to pick an example at random). But the other description sounded cooler.

(A member of the Tumor Board, I guess. His name’s Beegly. Art by Cerafts)

The surgeon had a long list of things he expected we’d try first, and a few more tests he wanted to schedule, and his best guess on how we were going to handle things sounded great, and none of that matters because the Shadowy Council of Psychic Tumors had other ideas.

A few days after seeing my surgeon, we got an evening call from my oncologist’s office, asking if we could come in for an unexpected visit early the following morning. Now, I had already exhausted myself during the week of tests and appointments, and I don’t do early mornings well, and we had things planned for late morning which we might need to bump if the oncologist visit ran long so we… said yes, absolutely, we’ll be there.

Look, it’s cancer, not a weird noise your shoulder makes if you hold your arm at just the wrong angle. When your oncologist wants to see you, even if it’s sudden and unexpected, you say yes. In fact, especially if it’s sudden and unexpected. Besides, now that the psionic tumors knew my name, I had to toe the line lest the Board send dream lemmings to gnaw at my toes as I slept.

(Okay, fine, what do YOU think politically motivated telepathic jar lumps do to punish their lackeys? I’m going with toe-nibbling dream lemmings. You want to suggest something else? Write your own health update blog entry.)

So we went, and it was stormy. (So far this month tornado sirens have gone off multiple times in my hometown, including at one point seven times in one night. Apparently having failed to kill me with pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, cancer, and a kidney infection, now the universe was targeting me with air elementals. Bring it, universe. I’m ready for you. I’ve got backup.) During the drive in, I was nervous.

My wife kindly said “Look, I’m not going to tell you not to be nervous. STOP SHAKING.” Then, I laughed at the irony, and she came back with a friendly “Hey shut up,” and that comforted me more than any platitudes would have.

She and I have been married for more than 32 years. Our interactions don’t have to make sense to anyone else.

So, the oncologist came into the office and, long story short ([GeorgeCarlin]”Too late!”[/GeorgeCarlin]), the Tumor Board decided to start with 3 months of chemotherapy, and then we’d see where we were.


I really liked it when they said I probably wouldn’t need chemo, and we could cut this thing out and be recovered before summer. Then, risks and all, it’d be done. But, no. The Shadow Council of Trancer Cancers wanted to make me Save Vs Poison instead. Fine. Fifty evil biogrowths in jars can’t be wrong.

So, the plan is for me to get a port installed so the poison can be easily introduced into my system (heaven forbid the poisoners have to work for it). Then, shortly thereafter, I’ll go in for my first Poison Picnic. I’ll sit in a nice recliner, and have deadly chemicals pumped directly into my heart through the port for a few hours. Then they’ll swap me to a hand-carried pump, which I’ll carry with me to keep the fun of being poisoned going for 48 hours straight.

We’ll repeat that every 2 weeks for 3 months. I’m going to be massively immunocompromised, much worse than now, and that’s going to further dial back who I can see in person and where I can safely go to be out and about. In fact, I’m likely not going to leave my house except for doctor stuff for three months, and have almost no visitors.

So… thank goodness I’m an introvert. 

After the discussion with the oncologist, we got a call from the OU Stevenson Cancer Center, on our voice mail, saying we couldn’t use their physical therapy center, since it was out of network for my insurance, but we had other options and we should call them to discuss those.

Now, if you find yourself thinking “Physical therapy?! This is cancer, not a weird noise your shoulder makes if you hold your arm at just the wrong angle. When did Physical Therapy get involved?!” then you are right where we were when we played the voice mail. A flurry of callbacks and message-leaving and phone tag games followed, but eventually we got to the bottom of the issue. The Tumor Board wanted me to begin physical therapy to help harden my body against the rigors of chemo. Now, the word “hard” is rarely applied to any part of my body except in sentences like “It’s hard to get our arms all the way around you when giving you a hug,” but again, whatever the Council of Evil Pickled Polyps thinks is my best bet, I’m doing.

My first session is Thursday.

THEN it was time to see the cardiologist again, to talk about what the ultrasound showed when they went looking for my Deep Vein Thrombosis. (There are a lot of doctor appointments once you have cancer, especially if you are a unique butterfly of a case, as I am.) That involved a looooong wait in the office, and a nurse with the most unexpectedly pixie-on-helium voice my wife and I had ever heard. (Seriously, I had to fight to not blurt out “THAT’S your VOICE?!” Thankfully I managed to treat the medical professional trying to help me with the respect she was due but, folks, it was not easy.)

But, in the end, the cardiologist said my Deep Vein Thrombosis has cleared, which meant the blood thinner was working, which meant my pulmonary embolism has probably cleared, which meant I could tell my port-for-chemo-installation-surgeon I could go off blood thinners for 48 hours prior to surgery.

Phew. There’s a lot to keep track of.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the NEXT day (which was today), we saw the port surgeon. He was polite and informative and professional, so that was great. He went over the risks of the surgery (including mentioning things that had never happened when he performed it and “I don’t expect you to be the first.”, but I like being told all the risks, even the unlikely ones like a collapsed lung). And, when could he perform the surgery?

Friday morning. As in, three days from now. And my first 48-hour chemo infusion may be as soon as Monday.

And that brings you all up to speed, for now.

Now, time to Save v Poison!


Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Campaign Setting: Icehold

All this week I’m going to be writing about a fantasy ttRPG setting I’m calling Icehold. I’ll give an overview of the main settlement, some notes about resources and trade, local threats, and even adventure seeds.

(Art by Cerafts)


The fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf, also known as Icehold, is the northernmost walled city in the known world. Nestled in Jokull Harbor, it is surrounded by mountains, tundra, hyboreal forests, and ice. No other major settlement exists within hundreds of miles of it, it can only be accessed for a few months a year, it is under constant threat by undead, extreme weather, deathly cold, and monstrous threats of the far north. With the risk and isolation, however, comes a level of political freedom rare in settlements its size.

Icehold exists only because the Drakuul Crusade built the original fortress as they sought to find and destroy the First Vampire, and in those years rich veins of Blue Iron and Firestone were found in the mountains that stretch for hundreds of miles in all directions of it. Holy pilgrimages still bring a few crusaders to its walls every year, but it is the fortune that can be made mining that has maintained the town. 

Though positioned far north of any humanoid settlement on its continent, it is also on the continent’s westernmost point, making it an attractive trade port for foreign nations… at least for the few months per year its harbor is not totally iced over. Even the extreme cost of the long travel and paying the high prices locals demand for labor in the harsh clime does not make it unprofitable for merchants to come to the Icehold every year, buying materials outright but also trading magics, foods, preservatives, and clothing to the icelocked settlement.  

The local population are a hardy folk, descended from crusaders, the tradesfolk and servants the crusade needed to survive, explorers, and researchers, The population has a large percentage of elf, dwarf, gnome, goblin, human, ogre, orc, and gnimmocs (a gnollish ethnicity adapted to arctic environments). Less common, but noteworthy, are the numbers of halflings, logith (a humanoid species with elemental fire ancestry), lyricera (a tundra-adapted ethnicity of catfolk), and ice trolls (native to the region, predating the establishment of Icehold).

The year-round population of Jokullnaf hovers around 5,000, with another 1,000 or so living in small private settlements (based mostly in caves and defensible valleys). During the summertime Trade Seasons, the popular can almost double, as merchant ships and overland caravans rush to buy as much Blue Steel and Firestone as they can, before the surrounding sea freezes over and the long, winding mountain routes become impassible.

Ruled by a Council of Principals, Jokullnaf sets high value on privacy, individual freedom, and the right to be left alone. While there are laws dictating certain antisocial behaviors are criminal, no sect, ethnicity, ancestry, nationality, religion, or creed is banned or outcast, as long as they play by the rules.

The combination of great personal freedom, vast mining riches, a history of undead-destroying crusades, and access to the coldest places in the world attract a specific kind of person, who is willing to brave all the risks of Icehold’s harsh environment to reap its rewards.

More Icehold!

Here’s an index of additional Icehold articles, updated as they are written.

Location And Environment 

Economy And Threats



I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Campaign Setting: Hellscape City

Just over 200 years ago, every major threat in the mortal world was defeated. every ravaging dragon slain, every tyranny toppled, every lich destroyed. Champions the likes of which had never arisen before, led by the Chosen Ones of the Goddess of Peace and Justice, sought out and cured every source of inequity, suffering, hunger, fear, bigotry, and poverty. They used nearly-deific powers to link their awarenesses and knew on one perfect silvery dawn, that total peace reigned in all places.

They sat back, sure that after the Silver Dawn, no pain or evil would ever exist in their reality again. By noon, they knew they were wrong.

No vast, continent-threatening evil arose. No hidden, secret source of vile intent had avoided their purge of all injustice. But, nevertheless, evils still occurred. People who did not need to steal, stole. People who knew better, chose to create and spread lies. The numbers were tiny, compared to the days before the Silver Dawn, but every possible crime still happened somewhere, to someone. Despite there being no remaining root cause of evil, some mortals performed vile deeds, from the prosaic to the murderous.

The Champions of the Silver Dawn could have used their powers to seek out every criminal and bully and ended or altered them, but to what end? If evil would arise even after every mortal cause for it was gone, what was the point? That meant the Champions could never eliminate all evils, unless the evil was coming from beyond the mortal realm…

And then the Champions turned their eyes towards Hell. The home of the tempters, deceivers, soul-buyers, and fiendish bargainers. Surely, though the Champions, it was not that some percentage of mortals would turn to evil no matter how idyllic their world. Instead, the denizens of Hell must be the true source of evil. And that meant that creating a world free of evil required that hell be conquered.

And so they set out to do just that.

The First Circle of Hell fell in a matter of days, its forces having never faced anything so mighty as the Champions of the Silver Dawn. The Second Circle took months, but its defeat was just as complete. Though it took years, so too did the Third Circle fall to the Champions, and after decades the Fourth Circle. But twixt the Fourth and Fifth Circle of Hell lay the mighty river Styx, the most deadly of moats. Further, the Lords of Hell had used their time to fortify well, and the Fifth Circle of Hell stood behind ramparts of unholy metals and punished assailants with siege weapons of fiendish design.

It’s been more than 150 years, and the Champions still have not done more than establish a bridgehead in the fifth Circle of Hell. The fighting literally shakes the pillars of existence, and the wise come nowhere near that battle.

(Art by grandfailure)

But… the earlier Circles of Hell are a different story.

Centuries of conflict mean supplies must be brought in to the Champions’ armies, and those come largely from the major cities of the mortal world, through permanent Hellgates built and guarded by the Champions of the Silver Dawn. In the First Circle of Hell, a major mortal metropolis has grown, Hellscape City, where mortals, angels, and devils who have sworn obedience to the Silver Dawn all dwell. Though literally a plane of Hell, the First Circle of Hell is now no worse than the most dangerous and vile of mortal cities was before the Silver Dawn, and many mortals swarm to that place looking for opportunities.

The Second Circle is of hell is under Silver Dawn control, but far less settled. Devilish bandits hide in its depths, and twisted mortals often seek to unearth fiendish powers here. Further, the nature of the place itself is untamed, and its otherworldly flora and fauna must be tracked down and either tamed or destroyed. Many mortals foray out from Hellscape City to hunt bounties and seek fortunes in the Second Circle of Hell.

The Third Circle is actively dangerous, as the Champions of the Silver Dawn find it keeps creating devils and devilish threats no matter how many times they pacify it. The greatest mortal warriors and warlocks are often employed by the Silver Dawn to scout and picket the Third Circle, to put down minor threats, and raise the alarm when major ones form.

The Fourth Circle is more dangerous still, with a few ArchDevil holdouts with flaming redoubts in its far reaches. The Champions of Silver Dawn themselves must grip the Fourth Circle in their nearly-divine iron grasp, for otherwise their crusade would lose this claimed land, and be pushed back, perhaps driven from hell itself.

Hellscape City and the lands beyond are not for the faint of heart, but they are realms where the secrets and wealth of Evil City have been hoarded since the dawn of time, and there are fortunes to be made, and power to be found.

There are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. They’re just $34.95 apiece, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1:
Bundle #2:

Alternatively you can join my Patreon, or if you prefer donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Making All the PCs the Chosen One in Pathfinder 1st ed

Sometimes, you want to run a game where the PCs *are* all the Chosen Ones, the destined demigod reincarnated empowered megaheroes the world is waiting for.

But, you know, little baby 1st-level ones to start.

So, you want to give them some oomph that makes them *feel* special, without totally breaking your game. Bending it all to heck, yeah. But not breaking it.

Now, you can use the Mythic rules, or if even Horrifically Overpowered Feats (though you should never use HOF). But, here’s another option.

Let each player be stupidly good at one broad category, even starting at 1st level.

Here are some examples. Each option should be taken by no more than one character.

Axelord/Spearmaiden/Sword Saint: Character is +5 to attacks and damage with one weapon or weapon category. The character also applies a +1 enhancement bonus to such weapons (+2 at 5th, +3 at 10th, +4 at 15th, +5 at 20ths), and has the magus ability to swap enhancement out for some weapon magic abilities.

Gifted: Character gains additional spells knows and spells per day as a sorcerer of their character level, but selected off any one spell list (best if it’s a list from 0 to 9th level spells). The spells are all automatically Still Spells.

Greatest Something Of Their Generation: Select one ability score. The character is +6 to all ability checks and skill checks based on that ability score. They also get a +2 enhancement bonus to the score (+4 at 6th level, +6 at 12th level), and a +1 innate bonus to that score (+2 at 5th, +3 at 10th, +4 at 15th, +5 at 20th).

These aren’t designed to be *balanced* so much as separate — getting one of these options is great, but it doesn’t make you good at everything, so having other characters along is still a big help.

There are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. They’re just $34.95 apiece, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1:
Bundle #2:

Alternatively you can increase your pledge level to my Patreon, or if you prefer donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –

Now On Patreon: Designing Different Fighters for Pathfinder 2e

Today at my Patreon I talked about how easy it is to change what kinds of characters the fighter class creates by swapping out their shield block ability for some other fighting-style option. I did four options (for single-weapon-and-free–hand, two weapon fighting, two-handed weapons, and ranged weapons).

My Tuesday posts are Patreon-exclusive, so head over there if you want the full article (and sign up, if you haven’t already!). Once my Patreon hits $1500, I’ll go back to posting full Tuesday articles here on my blog.

However, as a taste of what’s over there, here is just one of those four options.

(Art by murat)

Free Hand Fighting
(Alternate fighter feature, replaces shield block)

When you have a 1-handed weapon in one hand and your other hand is completely free, and you take a manipulate action that takes at least one single action and only requires one hand, you can also Strike with the weapon in your other hand.

There are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. They’re just $34.95 apiece, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1:
Bundle #2:

Alternatively you can increase your pledge level to my Patreon, or if you prefer donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –