Author Archives: okcstephens

Writing Basics: Bringing Your Publisher Concerns

In part one of my recent ongoing series of articles looking at converting every feat from the PF Core Rulebook that doesn’t already have a namesake in Starfinder to the Starfinder game system, I mention that if you think a project you are being hired for has bad decisions behind it, you should bring those to your publisher. I also mention that once you agree to do the job you should do it, without offering any exceptions for cases where you have moral or ethical concerns about completing the work. these can be tricky waters to navigate, but it’s worth discussing some best practices for bring your concerns to your publisher/editor/developer/producer.

Some of the following examples are going to sound extreme, and I don’t want to give the impression that every project is filled with objectionable, harmful, short-sighted material you have to fight back against. But I can’t pretend it never happens, and obviously it’s when the stakes are highest that this is both the most important, and the most nerve-wracking.

Also, I am aware of my own shortcomings enough to know I don;t always see the ways in which material can be harmful. So if you are writing for me, and you have concerns? LET ME KNOW. Push back. Point to this article if you want some back-up. I ASKED you to tell me if I’m requesting bad ideas from you.

As always, I’ll also note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Also, I come at this as a writer, developer, and publisher, as those are the kinds of roles I have filled for RPG creation. Artists, graphic designers, editors, and layout artists face similar challenges at least as great, but my advice may not work as well for them.

Try Not To Create Any Surprises

Ideally when working on a project you’ll have access to an outline and a general vision of the project prior to agreeing to write for it, so if you have any concerns you can bring them up early on. For example, if a project’s outline suggests covering topics you don’t feel are appropriate for an RPG, you can discuss that at the beginning with your contact. Even if that means you backing out of the project because you just can’t get on the same page as the publisher, it’s much better for all concerned if you do that early.

If your project is going to involve a lot of discrete bits, it’s worth scanning those for potential trouble spots extremely early in the process. For example if you are asked to do expanded write-ups on six cities, go through the existing material at least briefly as soon as you can. If one of the cities is mired in material you see issues with (whether those are as simple as it having a stupid name or as complex as having an explicit social set-up filled with stereotypes you find harmful), bringing those to your contact as soon as possible both allows everyone plenty of time to try to figure out a solution (while the rest of the project moves forward), and proves you’re taking your responsibilities seriously.

The closer you are to deadline, the less flexible your publisher is likely to be. While that is often because the publisher places money over your concerns, it’s worth remembering they have mouths to feed as well, and people counting on them. That doesn’t excuse making money on harmful material, but it is worth remembering if you’re trying to build a working relationship.

Of course sometimes things develop you could not have foreseen. You may only be contracted to write part of a project, and when you see someone else’s section it’s full of material you have issues with or, worse, it changes the context of your own material in harmful ways. Or you might be shown cover art you dislike so much you don’t want your name associated with it. Or you might get developer feedback that explicitly asks you to alter things in a way you have problems with. The point is that the sooner you can raise a flag, the easier the process is likely to be for all concerned.

There’s A Thing Line Between Asking for Clarification and Passive-Aggressive

A great first step when something from the publisher seems like a bad idea is to ask for clarification. Going back to my series of articles as an example, if a publisher told me to convert *every* missing PF feat from the core rulebook to Starfinder, I’d pretty quickly ask if they meant even feats that refer to rules that don’t exist in Starfinder and already have their basic concept covered, like Exotic Weapon Proficiency. The publisher might come back and agree that some feats don’t need conversion.

However, once I get told that yes, EVERY feat needs to be converted, constantly asking if that’s the case even if the end result is dumb, or even if that means confusing people, or any other objections, I’m moving beyond just asking for clarification. Once you have your answer work with it, for better or worse.

If the answer means you can’t work on a project for personal or ethical or legal reasons, at that point just say so.

Be As Polite As The Situation Allows

Ideally, you’ll always be in a place where you can be polite and considerate to your publisher. If nothing else, with luck you’ll have some idea what kind of material the publisher produces before working for them (or even pitching them ideas) and will have just avoided anyone who is going to ask for things you think are stupid or problematic.

Even just five years ago, I’d have made this advice to ALWAYS be polite. And, honestly, my privileged and luck have meant I have always had that choice (though I haven’t always used it, to my regret). But I have seen other writers put in situations where I confess, polite might not convey how serious an objection is.

I strongly recommend defaulting to as polite as you think you can possibly be, and reserving more stringent language and complaints for serious legal or ethical objections, but that has to be your call.

Explain Your Concerns

Saying “this piece of art is terrible” isn’t helpful to a publisher. Be as specific, and as nonjudgmental, as the situation allows for. Does the art depict the 8-armed Klyzon species as having 6 arms? Are the colors so muted and fuzzy that from 2 feet back it just looks like mud? Does the Klyzon look EXACTLY like a character from the Trek Wars animated series? It it’s tattoo of a symbol with real-world religious or political meaning? Is the Klyzon man a horrific monster in full armor, and the Klyzon woman a near-human with tiny horns wearing sexualized attire?

Specific details on what is your concern, and why it concerns you, helps move quickly to seeing if improvements or resolution can be found.

If there is a broader social issue in play, it may help to link to resources education on that issue. Yes, this is asking you to do extra work, and that’s both unfair and not your ethical duty. I offer the suggestion because I have found it effective, but you have to decide how much effort you’re willing to put into any issue.

Offer Solutions

If you can think of an easy way to address your concern, pitch it. Publishers love solutions to problems, especially compared to problems they have to spend time working on themselves.

In fact if approving your solution is less work than figuring out some way to get what the publisher originally asked for, the publisher may just agree to save time and effort.

Try To Do It All At Once

This isn’t always an option, but a publisher can much more easily deal with a unified, concise list of 7 issues with a project, than getting a new issues brought up 7 different times during production.

Pick Your Battles

There’s nothing wrong with noting you think a sketch of a monster you are writing up is too goofy to convey the theme of menace and fear you have been asked to write… but that’s also not something I’d ever take beyond the bringing-it-up stage. The publisher has people they trust to make publication decisions, and they are unlikely to take your freelance opinion over that of their staff or trusted contract producers.

Even when mentioning concerns, it can be worth it to note when you are just bringing something up for consideration, (and will finish your work as agreed, on time, to a high standard of quality even if nothing changes), and when you think there is a serious issue you need to find clarification on before you can continue, or that you fear may impact the value of your work.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I wish I didn’t even have to cover this, but that’s not the world we live in. Your own sense of ethics, morality, and right and wrong should take precedence over giving a publisher what they want… to whatever degree you decide you’re willing to pay the price for making a stand.

It’d be nice to claim you’ll always be rewarded for doing the right thing but again, that’s not the world we live in. Only you can decide what to do when legal obligations (such as a contract), financial obligations (such as looming rent payments), and moral obligations (such as creating work you think might harm others) aren’t in alignment.

But I don’t personally think advancing your career, or getting one freelance paycheck, is worth feeling you have made the world a worse place. Be honest with yourself, and make the best call you cab.

Don’t Assume The Publisher Is Making a Change Until They Say So

Some freelancers will write in they have a concern, propose a solution, and then immediately continue their writing as if their proposal had been accepted. In some cases this has included things such as saying a topic can’t support 1500 words, so they are going to write 1100 words on it, and 400 words on some new topic.

Don’t. Do. This.

The project outline and remit hasn’t changed until the publish says it’s changed.

Be Clear On Your Position

I never recommend starting with ultimatums or even making threats, but especially once you have voiced a concern, if you are dissatisfied with the publisher’s solution, it’s worth talking about how you would like to proceed.

You may just note you won’t want to take similar projects in the future. You might ask that your name be taken off a project. You might need to ask for extra time because you feel the scope of the project has shifted or requires more research than you expect.

I personally have never, on ethical grounds, backed out of a project without the publisher’s approval once I had signed a contract. But I’m not going to claim there are never circumstances where that might be the moral choice. Myself I’d always finish wordcount and turn a project over by deadline, even if I had to write something that wasn’t exactly what was asked for because I have conscientious objections to what was asked for.

I have asked a publisher if they would approve of my walking away from a contract for various reasons, and had them agree to it. In general, that means I don’t get paid for work already done (which the publisher then cannot use), and that’s often the cost of doing business.

Don’t Freak Out

As a socially awkward introvert with depression, I know it can be overwhelming to tell a publisher you think they need to change their concept. But it happens, and most publishers are used to it, and many even appreciate it. By being prompt, polite, and specific, you can generally get a dialog going on issues without having to take on a huge emotional burden.

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Developing to Spec: Part 10d: Down the Rabbit Hole

This is the fourth section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. The I applied it to Craft Rod and Craft Staff, which was weird. Then Craft Wand and Craft Wondrous Items, which was weirder. Now we just have Forge Ring and Scribe Scroll left.

The further I go down their weird rabbit whole of having Craft Wands make hybrid items, Craft Staff make technological ones, and Craft Rods do augmentation, the more I doubt my choice to do things that way. But I’m already most of the way down the rabbit hole, so I’m going to tackle the last two of these feats, and think about how I like the full set as I move on with other feats next week.

FORGE RING
You’ve mastered the nearly lost art of magic ring forging, and can aply it to creating similarly useful objects of magical power.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 7 ranks.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that do not use charges (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

SCRIBE SCROLL
You are adept at taking magic energy and freezing it time, a process that was once done using ink and parchment, and now generally involves spell gems.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 1 rank.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that have charges that never refresh (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook), except serums and spell ampules which fall under Brew Potion). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!

Developing to Spec: Part 10c: More Weird Design Choices

This is the third section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. The I applied it to Craft Rod and Craft Staff, which was weird. Now we go forward with Craft Wand and Craft Wondrous Items.

CRAFT WAND
Wands were one the magic tools of choice for spellcasters throughout the galaxy. No one knows what momentous shift changed how wands functioned, but you have studied all the rites and rituals that once created them. That knowledge turns out to apply well to the creation of advanced technology augmented with magic, despite the appearance of these “hybrid” devices often having little to do with what is often considered a ‘wand.”
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Mysticism 5 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of hybrid items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of hybrid items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory or tech workshop. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

CRAFT WONDROUS ITEMS
You are well-versed in the creation of magic items that work off recharging pools of magic.
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Mysticism 5 ranks.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that have charges that refresh each day (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

The reason I limited this to a specific subset of magic items is twofold. First, magic items can do nearly anything in Starfinder, so they are more flexible that technological items. Second, breaking them into different categories both gives me more space for Forge Ring and Scribe Scroll,and better models how Pf divides its categories of magic items.

That leaves just two more item creation feats, which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!

Developing to Spec: Part 10b: When The Easy Answer Is WEIRD

This is the second section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor, and I can see how it’ll work well for Scribe Scroll and Craft Wondrous Item. Those are all well and good. Even Forge Ring is probably going to be okay.

But the NEXT feat I need to convert is Craft Rod. And there are Craft Staff and Craft Wand lurking out there, as well. So we need to get creative.

Looking at the types of equipment in Starfinder, I can map Scribe Scroll to spell gems, which serve the same function. I can map Forge Ring to magic rings, and Craft Wondrous Item to other classes of magic items. That still leaves augmentations, computers, technological items, hybrid items, vehicles, other purchases, and (if I got desperate) starships.

I’m going to discard computers, vehicles, and starships from the craft system immediately. Even ignoring how much those don’t feel like magic crafted items, the idea of letting someone make a computer in 10 minutes, which could then grant access to skills for example, seems clearly adventure-breaking.

I can see using Craft Staff for technological items (playing up that staves were, technically, weapons as well as magic items). Using Craft Wand for hybrid items is a stretch… but maybe I can find a way to have it make sense with the flavor text. That leaves me augmentations for Craft Rod, which again feels weird, but it IS a good game mechanical match.

This, by the way, is the point in a design process where if I was working in an office with other people employed by the same company, I’d lean over to whoever was next to me (for Starfinder, that was usually Rob McCreary or Joe Pasini), and ask them if this idea was TOO weird. failing that, if I had a developer or publisher to run it by, I’d ask for their input.

But since I am doing this project as a solo freelancer, I am on my own. It feels like it might be too weird… but it also works, so I’ll give it a go and see how I feel after the project is done. This is one of the things that can happen when you run into a major design challenge without having a solid plan to handle it, and just bull forward with the first thing that seems workable. (This is also one of the reasons a lot of game companies have developers — just because I decide this weird answer is okay doesn’t mean a publisher will agree with me. Developers help keep a game line;s tone consistent.)

CRAFT ROD
You have mastered the ancient art of using magic and sliding, interconnected rods and gears to make functioning, complex machines to accomplish specific tasks.
Prerequisites: Life Science 9 ranks, Physical Science 9 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of unimplanted augmentations with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of augmentations up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level. They may be unimplanted, or you may create them automatically implanted in a willing target that is able to have an augmentation added to the appropriate system.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory or medical bay. Alternatively you can do this with a medkit, but are limited to augmentations with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

CRAFT STAFF
You have mastered centuries of philosophy and techniques on using magic to create technological items. Though this ancient art began with just staffs, you can use it to produce the vast array of technology you are familiar with.
Prerequisites: Engineering 11 ranks, Physical Science 11 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of technological items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of technological items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an tech workshop or vehicle bay. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Yep, those are weird. But, at least right now, they also feel cool to me.

I’m keeping them for now, and moving on with this project!

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

 

Developing to Spec: Part 10: When You Have No Plan

This is a Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats, beginning with Brew Potion–that play on game mechanics from PF that just don’t exist in Starfinder.

And, confession time, I have no plan for these.

I’ve known they were coming, in vague terms, since I began this project. And I’ve know they were the next thing to be tackled since last week, when I discovered I’d skipped a few things when I diverged from alphabetical order to tackle critical feats. So I have had lots of time to casually ponder this design issue. That often brings a number of ideas for how to work around some tricky bit of game design.

This time? Nothing.

Obviously I COULD just say I’ll do them later, and give myself more time. In some ways, that’d be the smart thing to do. But I want these articles to show how I tackle tricky development and design issues, so let’s pretend I don’t have any more time. I am on deadline. The project lead insists these be done, and I am out of time. So, since nothing else has sparked a good idea, it’s time to take an extreme measure.

It’s time to read messageboards.

I try to avoid this as a way to look for inspiration on specific questions, though I often do read game boards to get a feel for what players of a given game are thinking. But I am aware messageboards are not representative of all of a game’s players, and they can often have toxic elements I’d rather not dwell in. On top of that, when I am stumped on an issue I need to be careful not to plagiarize ideas I run into. Looking for inspiration is fine–taking someone else’s actual work and passing it off as my own isn’t.

So, reading through some Starfinder messagebaords today (there’s a reason this article got pasted so late in the day), I find the following common complaints about item creation in Starfinder.

It takes too long.
It doesn’t save you any money.
You have to have a big chunk of your wealth locked into UPBs instead of gear if you want to be able to craft while far from civilization.

Now I’m not going to play with costs at all. Equipment economy in -finder games is highly tuned for a reason, and adjusting it can lead to imbalances quickly, But there may be some room for solutions in the other issues.

BREW POTION
You have mastered ancient alchemical and magical arts of potable and potent liquids.
Prerequisites: Life Science 3 ranks, Medicine 3 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of posions, medicinals, spell ampules, and serums with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of poisons, medicinals, spell ampules, and serums up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory, medical bay, or synthesis bay. Alternatively you can do this with an advanced medkit or chemalyzer, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Okay… that seems like a usable feat! It’s focused, but it fixes some of the problems people have with crafting. And it’s optional after all — if a player doesn’t think it’s worth it for them, they don’t have to take it.

Can we do the same with Craft Magic Arms and Armor?

CRAFT MAGIC ARMS AND ARMOR
You have mastered ancient magical techniques to create and adjust armor and weaponry.
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Physical Science 5 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of weapons, suits of armor, shields, or fusion seals with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of weapons, suits of armor, shields, and fusion seals up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory, hangar bay, or tech workshop. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Well, it sure is a feat. We’ll see if this concept survives going through all the item creation feats!

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

Centaur PC Race for Starfinder… and more.

CENTAURS IN STARFINDER
I have always loved the idea of centaur player characters. I suspect my love started with “Bridge of Sorrows” by Denis Beauvais, which was the cover of Dragon Magazine #92 (TSR, December 1984). Or maybe to goes back a tad earlier, to the Xanth novel Centaur Aisle, which I read in 1982, the same year I first encountered D&D, and RPGs in general.

I definitely want centaur PCs for my Really Wild West setting hack, which means I need rules for playing them as PCs in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Ability Adjustments
Centaurs are powerfully built and in tune with their surroundings, but their hybrid form does come with drawbacks. Some centaurs are slightly awkward, having the brain of a biped, but the body of a quadruped. Others are delicate, their thin ankles and strange doubled internal organs leaving them prone to injury and ailments. A few are impatient and have little taste for complex calculations, preferring direct action and simple solutions whenever possible.
+2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 to Dexterity, Constitution, or Intelligence.

Size and Type
Centaurs are monstrous humanoids.Centaurs vary in size from halfling-scale torsos on pony equine bodies, to mighty human or even ogrelike torsos on mighty warhorse equine bodies. At character creation, a centaur PC decided if they are Medium or large. They use equipment as Medium characters in either case.

Hit Points
6

Darkvision
Centaurs have darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Humanoidlike
Centaurs are close enough to nonmonstrous humanoids that they can be affected by spells and abilities that affect humanoids, but do not affect monstrous humanoids. Centaurs gain a +4 racial bonus to saving throws (if any) against such effects.

Gallop
Centaurs have a land speed of 40 feet, but treat it as a speed of 20 feet when determining their movement using Athletics to climb or swim. A centaur gains a +2 bonus to AC when charging (which normally just offsets the -2 penalty to AC for charging). When a centaur succeeds at a bull rush combat maneuver, they can move their target 5 feet farther than normal.

Natural Weapons
Centaurs are always considered armed. They can deal 1d3 lethal damage with unarmed strikes and the attack doesn’t count as archaic. Centaurs gain a unique weapon specialization with their natural weapons at 3rd level, allowing them to add 1–1/2 × their character level to their damage rolls for their natural weapons (instead of just adding their character level, as usual).

Quadruped
Centaurs are quadrupeds, which gives them some advantages and a few drawbacks. They take -2 penalties to Acrobatics checks to tumble and Athletics checks to climb. When determining their bulk limits, centaurs add half their Constitution score to their Strength. Centaurs gain a +2 racial bonus to their KAC against bull rush and reposition combat maneuvers. A centaur can carry one creature of its own size, or two of at least one size smaller, without counting them against the centaur’s bulk limit.

RWW-Centaurs-background-01

CENTAURS IN THE REALLY WILD WEST
In the pulp-scifi-western-fantasy-world of the Really Wild West, centaurs appear in most ancient civilizations of western Asia, northern Africa, and eastern Europe. They often appear as separate tribes, no less advanced or civilized than the other species around them, and often seen as wiser and more scientifically advanced than the ancient cultures that wrote about them. They are an accepted part of the history of those places, and have become common throughout Africa, Europe and northern Asia.

However, centaurs are not generally huge fans of sea travel. This dislike is not pathological, but practical. Centaurs are excellent overland travelers, but at best mediocre swimmers, and many are large enough to make building ships to accommodate them problematic. In previous centuries, they simply used Roman roads and Asian trade routes to spread their kingdoms far and wide, often as the most feared and effective of cavalry. But the rise of sea travel in empire-building has left most centaur nations shrinking, and often joining larger bipedal nations in mostly-friendly alliances and unifications.

As a consequence, centaurs are not particularly common in the Americas, as their lack of a tradition of sea travel simply has centaur businesses and families less interested in the kinds of roles that have brought people from other nations to American shores. This in turn has caused most major North and South American to develop without taking centaur needs into account. Buildings are not designed to be accessed by hooved people up to seven feet tall, and even centaurs small enough to fit in American buildings find themselves with few places to stand in settings where everyone else sits.

Most centaurs in the Americas find they are just more comfortable in frontier towns or pure wilderness. So while there are not many centaurs on the continents in general, a disproportionate number of those who are present take to Wild West living, where their speed and carrying capacity, and long tradition of dedication and excellence, are seen as more than enough to justify making a few changes to the local saloon, or having on or two of the hotel’s stable stalls be well-appointed rooms, as well.

CENTAURS PF2
So, PF1 already has solid rules for centaur PCs, but what if you wanted to play a centaur PC in PF2, or 5e?

Hit Points
10

Size
Medium

Speed
30 feet

Ability Boosts
Strength
Wisdom
Free

Ability Flaw
Dexterity

Languages
Common
Sylvan
Additional languages equal to your Intelligence modifier (if it’s positive). Choose from Aklo, Elvish, Gnomish, Goblin, Jotun, Orcish, and any other languages to which you have access (such as the languages prevent to your region).

Traits
Centaur
Humanoid

Darkvision
You can see in darkness and dim light just as well as you can see in bright light. though your vision in darkness is black and white.

Centaur Heritages
Centaurs have a vast number of ethnic differences, but also can trace their linneage back to a few early tribes that still often produce very different

Kentoroi
You are Large, rather than medium, and have a thick, sturdy appearance. You may have small tusks, or pointed ears. You gain the orc trait and your bulk limits are increased by +6. You can select orc feats whenever you gain an ancestry feat.

Lapith
Your head, arms and torso are extremely humanlike. You gain the human trait and are trained in one skill of your choice. You can select human feats whenever you gain an ancestry feat.

While for a full suppliment we’d obviously want some cool centaur-specific ancestry feats, doing things this way ensures that as the PF2 game adds new options for humans and orcs, our centaur PCs will automatically gain expanded options as well.

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Developing to Spec: Part 9 (d) — My Mistakes Create A Teaching Moment

This is a continuation of Part Nine of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read long as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve hit a whole class of feats that play on rules that don’t exist in Starfinder — metamagic feats. Having developed a plan for converting those (and wanting to stay consistent with our development), it seems smart to tackle all the rest of the metamagic feats before we move on to the next in alphabetical order.

So, that brings us to Widen Spell. …. And Empower Spell and Enlarge Spell.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t those have been before Extend Spell, which we did in the first section of Part Nine?

Yes. Yes, they should have.

But when I did all the critical feats we got out of order, and instead of hopping back to Brew Potion (which would have sent us down a rabbit whole doing crafting feats this week), I somehow skipped ahead to Exotic Weapon Proficiency. I only caught the mistake earlier this week, when double checking I could get all the metamagic feats done by today, to move on to a new topic next week.

Now this isn’t a big deal. I can write these things in any order, so going back to Brew Potion next week is fine. But if I hadn’t double checked, I might have missed those skipped-over feats entirely. For purposes of a series of blog posts, that’s fine. But if this was actually a project I was developing for another publisher? A chunk of missing content would be a major failure on my part.

So, teaching moment. If your assignment is supposed to cover a specific list of items? Check from time to time, including when you think you are done, that you have covered all of them. And if you missed some? Fix it.

So, we’ll do three more metamagic feats today to get that line of design done, then hop to Brew Potion and crafting feats next week.

Since it’s always worthwhile to do things in alphabetical order unless you have a pressing reason not to, let’s look at Empower Spell. It has a lot of the same issues as Maximize Spell, so maybe we can use the same kind of solution. However, since it doesn’t add as much damage, we need it to be a smaller risk, and apply to a wider range of spells.

EMPOWER SPELL
You can get more effect out of your lower-level spells.
Prerequisites: Able to cast a spell at least 2 spell levels higher than your lowest-level spell.
Benefit: When you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action, that is at least 2 spell levels lower than the highest-level spell you can cast, you may cast it with a casting time of 1 full action. The sp or hp damage done by the spell is increased by +50%.

That applies to a slightly higher level of spell, and takes a full action rather than 1 round. The payoff is much lower, but I could legitimately see a spellcaster wanting both these feats, and while they won’t work with each other (intentionally), they will stack with technomancer magic hacks.

Then it’s Enlarge Spell, which looks like it’ll work much like Extend Spell did.

ENLARGE SPELL
Your spells often have much greater reach than most spellcasters’.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell with a range based on level.
Benefit: When calculating the range of your spells, treat your caster level as being +4 levels higher.

Aaaand that brings us to Widen Spell. Starfinder doesn’t normally have areas based on level, but they do often have targets limited per level, so we can use that with the Enlarge/Extend paradigm.

WIDEN SPELL
Your spells often affect many more targets than most spellcasters’.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell with a maximum number of targets based on level.
Benefit: When calculating the maximum number of targets of your spells, treat your caster level as being +4 levels higher.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

 

Developing to Spec: part 9 (c) — Quickened and Silent

This is a continuation of Part Nine of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read long as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve hit a whole class of feats that play on rules that don’t exist in Starfinder — metamagic feats. Having developed a plan for converting those (and wanting to stay consistent with our development), it seems smart to tackle all the rest of the metamagic feats before we move on to the next in alphabetical order.

So, that brings us to Quicken Spell and Silent Spell.

Quicken Spell is an issue because the action economy in Starfinder is different from that of Pathfinder, and the quickened spell magic hack is clearly more limiting and already in place, and available to just one class. So, how do we quicken spells, without overlapping and invalidating that magic hack? Well, that hack applies only to spells with casting times of 1 standard action or less. So, we look only at other spells.

QUICKEN SPELL
You can cast some of your spells much more quickly than other spellcasters.
Prerequisites: Able to cast more than one spell level of spells.
Benefits: When you cast a spell with a lower spell level than your highest-spell-level, if it has a casting time of 1 round, you can instead cast it in 1 standard action. If it has a casting time of multiple rounds, you cast it in 1 round. If it has a casting time for 1 minute, you can cast it in 2 rounds. If it has a casting time of 10 minutes, you can cast it in 1 minute.

Okay, so, Silent Spell. That feat’s benefit in PF is that it prevents you from needing to fulfill verbal components when casting a spell–but Starfinder doesn’t HAVE verbal components. But it DOES note that spells have obvious elements, and creatures around you can tell you are casting a spell. So, what if it wasn’t that YOU were silent, but literally that your SPELLS could be silent?

SILENT SPELL
You can produce magic without audible consequences.
Prerequisites: Able to cast more than one spell level of spells.
Benefits: When you cast a spell with a lower spell level than your highest-spell-level spell, you can make a Bluff or Stealth check (your choice), opposed by observer’s Perception checks, to prevent anyone who cannot target you with a precise sense other than hearing from being aware you have cast a spell. On a failed check such observers do not know you have cast a spell, and are unaware of the spell itself unless it have physical effects.

Okay, having done that, it’s clear what Still Spell will be, right?

STILL SPELL
You can produce magic without visible consequences.
Prerequisites: Able to cast more than one spell level of spells.
Benefits: When you cast a spell with a lower spell level than your highest-spell-level spell, you can make a Bluff or Stealth check (your choice), opposed by observer’s Perception checks, to prevent anyone who cannot target you with a precise sense other than sight from being aware you have cast a spell. On a failed check such observers do not know you have cast a spell, and are unaware of the spell itself unless it have physical effects.

Okay, tomorrow we tackle Widen Spell… and some stragglers we missed.

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Developing to Spec: Part 9 (b) — Heighten and Maximize

This is a continuation of Part Nine of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read long as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve hit a whole class of feats that play on rules that don’t exist in Starfinder — metamagic feats. Having developed a plan for converting those (and wanting to stay consistent with our development), it seems smart to tackle all the rest of the metamagic feats before we move on to the next in alphabetical order.

So, that brings us to Heighten Spell and Maximize Spell.

Heighten Spell is tricky, because so little is tied to spell level in Starfinder, and there’s already a mechanism or three in place to adjust spell DC. However, Starfinder does have variable-level spells, which are a totally different thing that could be “heightened” without totally disrupting game balance (if properly defined and limited).

HEIGHTEN SPELL
You can get the most out of your variable-level spells.
Prerequisites: Know a variable-level spell with a higher-spell-level variant you do not know, but can cast spells of that level.
Benefit:
 You can expend one Resolve Point to cast a spell using a higher-level spell slot, to gain the benefits of the higher-level version of that spell even if you do not know the higher-spell-level version. Any decisions you must make when you learn the higher-level version (such as what creatures you can summon with a higher-level summon creature spell) you make the first time you use this ability, and cannot change until you gain a new character level.

That’s not *simple*, but it does stick with exiting Starfinder rules, rather than introducing a whole new subsystem. I’d likely playtest the wording with some friends before turning it over to a publisher, if I had time.

Now, Maximize Spell… which is a whole new issue. The PF version let’s you cast a lower-level spell with a three-spell-level-higher slot, to maximize all its effects. The math on that would be a nightmare to graft to Starfinder in an effective way, and it always encouraged alpha-strikes taking out everything in the first round of an encounter. But, how do we do SOMETHING with this that can be considered to maximize a spell, without introducing metamagic or breaking Starfinder?

There are lots of things we could do. Require the caster to expend a grenade with an item level at least triple the spell level… but that feels very technomancer. We could allow maximum damage on a critical hit with a spell, but mathematically that’s not great, and it doesn’t come up that often.

On the other hand, the fact spell damage tends not to scale in Starfinder means we might just be able to let spellcasters do maximum damage, under carefully-controlled circumstances. This extends the utility of lower-level spells, but also makes sure the spellcaster is taking a risk to do so.

MAXIMIZE SPELL
You can get the most effect out of your lower-level spells.
Prerequisites: Able to cast a spell at least 3 spell levels higher than your lowest-level spell.
Benefit: When you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action, that is at least 3 spell levels lower than the highest-level spell you can cast, you may cast it with a casting time of 1 round. The spell is not completed until just before you turn on the next round, and if before that time you take any damage from either a successful attack that targeted your AC or from an effect that you failed a saving throw against, the spell fails.
The sp or hp damage done by the spell is maximized, rather than rolled normally.

Tomorrow, we tackle Quicken Spell and Silent Spell… for a game that doesn’t have verbal components.

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Developing to Spec: Part 9: Keeping It Simple

This is a Part Nine of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read long as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve hit two feats that play on rules in PF that Starfinder doesn’t have — Exotic Weapon Proficiency, and the first metamagic feat. When looking at converting those things to Starfinder, there’s going to be a temptation to make complex feats that closely map to the functionality of the PF versions. Sometimes, you have to do that to make a functional, interesting feat.

But let’s try not to.

Starfinder doesn’t have “exotic” weapons, but it DOES have “special weapons.” And, of course, you can gain proficiency with one special weapon with Special Weapon Proficiency.  But that requires you to take that feat for every model of special weapon, which means there’s space to let someone be proficient with all special weapons. If we require them to have the Special Weapon Proficiency feat as a prerequisite we don’t invalidate that feat, and Versatile Focus and Versatile Specialization set a precedent for this kind of mass-weapon-benefit feat.

Simple.

EXOTIC WEAPON PROFICIENCY (Combat)
You understand how to use exotic weapons in combat.
Prerequisites: Special Weapon Proficiency feat, proficiency with basic melee and small arms.
Benefit: You are proficient with all special weapons.

And that brings us to Extend Spell. Not only does Starfinder not already have metamagic, but technomancers have what are clearly a replacement for metamagic in the form of certain magic hacks, including “extended spell.” We COULD recreate the whole metamagic system… but that’s going to overlap with what technomancers get (reducing the value of those magic hacks) AND introduce a whole new subsystem. But what if there was a way to have an Extend Spell feat without doing either of those things?

For skills and weapon attacks and damage, rather than slide an effect into a different category to gain a benefit (such as metamagic increasing spell level to boost effects), they just give a numerical bonus. We don’t want to just add +4 rounds to durations, because we’d have to write tons of rules to make sure we didn’t have instantaneous spells running multiple rounds, and spells with a 10 minute/level casting time wouldn’t be affected in a significant way.

But since lots of durations ARE based on caster level, we can add a flat bonus to that to gain a benefit that only applies as relevant, and that can stack with technomancer magic hacks.

EXTEND SPELL
Your spells often last much longer than most spellcasters’.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell with a duration based on level.
Benefit: When calculating the duration of your spells, treat your caster level as being +4 levels higher.

Simple, stacks with the technomancer spell hack, and from 5th level on not as useful as the spell hack.

Since there are lots more metamagic feats to convert, and we have a design principle in place for them, we’ll hop to getting all those done in the next few entries before we move on to Extra Channel.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!