Author Archives: okcstephens

The AssassiNations

The AssassiNations is a conceptual paradigm, a rough description of  a secret world and their rules and rulers, designed for use in TTRPG campaigns where something a step more involved than just secret societies is desired.

AssassiNations

The AssassiNations are non-territorial governments that rule over populations of secret societies and superhuman clans, ruled with an iron fist by the Erebocracy and it’s regimented laws known as the Canon. They are also one of the least closely-guarded secrets in the world.

Nearly all classic world powers are aware of them. In most service industries between 10-15% of the members know enough to avoid violating the Canon, but that goes up for many fields such as train and bus employees, hotel concierges, sex workers, smugglers, and mercenaries. More than 3/4 of the cabbies in New York City are formally Read In, even if they are mostly nonpartisans.

Despite nearly 10% of the world’s population having some level of familiarity with the AssassiNations, that knowledge does not spread. No one who does not need to know is told, and this rule is very rarely broken. In part, this is because the Erebocracy forbids such revelations, and rules over the greatest sects of secret killers, spies, and double agents the world has ever known. And partly, it is because it’s better for everyone that way.

The AssassiNations are a solution to the problem of there being more than one clade of person in the world. While the classic governments of the world are sufficient for most people, there is a second kith of people with extraordinary abilities. They have been called many things over the eons–Argonauts, fey, djinn, even demigods. The next step in human evolution. Aliens. What is important is that the Shadowbreed exist, and are capable of acts of reasoning, endurance, resilience, accuracy, and strength literally impossible for typical humans.

The Shadowbreed vary between 2-15% of the human population, and are found in every nation, every ethnicity, every culture. If they are a different species, they are as broad and varied as humanity itself. If they are a mutation, they are one that does not seem to be spreading. If they are sidhe, they lack the vulnerabilities legend suggests they should possess.

The AssassiNations themselves are often strongly tied to their native cultures, though they evolve and adapt and adopt as any culture does. Whenever a territorial government or group explored, conquered, committed genocide, there were Shadowbreed AssassiNations present on both sides. Once, they warred in near-open conflicts, many of which are the source of ancient mythology. But with the rise of the Erebocracy and it’s Canon, their conflicts are much more regimented. Choreographed. Secret. Quiet.

Canon dictates no single conflict may include more than a dozen Shadowbreed without Ereborcracy sanction. Sanctions are generally in the form of contract hits, laying a price on the slaying of a rogue Shadowbreed that any member of an AssassiNation can claim. No one who is not Read In is ever to be involved in any AssassiNation business or conflict, and only regional Triararchs and their sworn Liturgies can read anyone in. Anyone not a formal member of an AssassiNation is nonpartisan, not to engage in violence against Shadowbreed, or be a target of it.

All AssasssiNation services, known as Custom, as available only to those in good standing with the Ereborcracy. Custom is paid for only in Blood Gold, red coins only the AssasiNations mint or use, and any single Custom has a cost of a single Blood Coin.

Specific locations are declared Moresnet — neutral zones where violence of any kind is forbidden. These include the headquarters of every AssasiNation, most churches and temples, and a significant number of hotels, pawn shops, bus stops, ships, and cemeteries. Most Moresnet are overseen by a Castellan, who within that single space is equal in rank to a Triararch, and is considered the match for a Liturgy even outside their domain. The Ereborcracy anoints Castellans, but cannot remove their title. It can, however, suspend the sanctions of anyone violating the neutrality of their Moresnet, and even place a price on their head. But only for 72 hours — if a Castellan has no been killed or capitulated within that time, their authority and sanctuary within their Domain is maintained for a year and a day.

No action by a Shadowbreed may ever expose the Ereborcracy, the AssassiNations, the Canon, or any element of the careful balance of this shadow world. As needed Triararchs can Read In non-Shadowbreed for the purpose of maintaining the ability of the AssasssiNations to function and fight among themselves, but any that abused this power will be sanctioned.

PATREON
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Developing to Spec: Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats (Part 2)

This is Part Two of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can find Part One here, or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

So yesterday in Part One we discussed what to do if you have a developer/writer job to take on you don’t think is a great idea, and how to work to make it a great idea.

To serve as our example, we’re creating the “Missing” legacy feats for Starfinder, taking every PF core rulebook feat that doesn’t have a feat by the same name in SF, and writing a new version.

So far, we’ve done Acrobatic and Acrobatic Steps (see part One for a detailed discussion of that).

And now, we have to tackle Agile Maneuvers.

In PF, this feat allows you to use your Dexterity when calculating your CMB (combat maneuver bonus). Our problem? In Starfinder, we don’t USE CMB, and we don’t want to give bonuses to combat maneuvers based on Dexterity, because there are already ways for a character to do that.

So, again, we need a different benefit with the same name and a similar niche. So, we need to read the rules again.

Going over combat maneuvers in Starfinder, we see they are a standard action. That’s it, no way to make multiple combat maneuvers as part of a full attack. Well, okay then! Let’s run with that as a place to make our new feat. (This kind of “place where the rules leave room to do multiple different kinds of things that are balanced and interesting” is sometimes referred to by game professionals as a game’s or concept’s “design space.”)

So let’s see what that might look like.

AGILE MANEUVERS
You’ve learned to leverage your quickness when attempting complex maneuvers in combat.
Benefit: When you take a full attack action, you can make a melee combat maneuver in place of one or more of your attacks. The combat maneuver takes the same penalties to its attack roll from being part of a full attack as the attack it replaces would, as well as any normal bonuses or penalties related to being a combat maneuver.

So, this is designed to only work in melee (on purpose–ranged combat maneuvers are rare but already a big advantage over melee combat maneuvers, and giving characters who focus on melee in Starfinder new options generally has less impact on the play space, and encourages creative and mobile tactics). It also works with abilities that improve your accuracy when making multiple attacks in a round (which is good–combat maneuvers are hard enough unless you’re a specialized taclash-wielding skittermander), but doesn’t break any of the game’s underlying combat math.

That brings us to Alertness as a feat… which has the same problems as Acrobatics as an unneeded feat in Starfinder. So, again, we need to read the relevant section of the Starfinder rules to look for a new design space, and that runs us right into the states of awareness. Which seems ripe with design space, but…

Here’s one of the places where being aware of the issues found in a game as it is played is important. The states of awareness already confuse, confound, and annoy a lot of GMs and players. We CAN build on it if we need to — it’s a functional and official part of the rules — but it’d be better if we can find some design space more easily utilized by a bigger portion of the target audience.

(Full disclosure–I helped with those states of awareness rules. Mea culpa. A rewrite is something I keep thinking about… but not for this project.)

So, time to do a search for “Perception Checks” and “Sense Motive.”

There are rules on Perception while asleep. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing. Having an alertness ability mean you don;t take -10 to Perception checks certainly feels appropriate. Sense Motive has an option to sense mental effect, which normally takes a minute. Allowing that to be done in one round might not be bad–but it also might spoil adventures specifically designed to make sure you can’t interact with someone for a full minute. We can cut it down to half a minute maybe, but that’s not much of a benefit, even coupled with the sleep benefit. Similarly, adventures can be ruined if it’s too easy for a character to call out a lie.

But there ARE less adventure-ruining used for Sense Motive, to oppose Bluff uses such as diversion, feint. While we normally don’t want to play with the math in Starfinder, if it is tightly limited to specific events, it can work.

So, our new Alertness.

ALERTNESS
You often notice things that others might miss.
Benefit: When asleep, you take only a -2 penalty to perception checks, rather than the normal -10. Additionally, you gain a +5 bonus to Sense Motive checks to oppose Bluff checks to create a distraction, and your Sense Motive bonus is treated as 5 higher for Bluff checks made to feint.

And that brings us to Alignment Channel, which, woof.

But we’ll tackle it next week!

PATREON
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Developing to Spec: Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats (Part 1)

This is Part One of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can find Part Two here, or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

The job of a freelance game developer (or writer) isn’t always to do the thing you think is the best, or the most fun. Sometimes, it’s to do the best, most fun version of the thing you are being paid to create. You may think that core idea is a bad one, but if you agree to do the job, you are agreeing to fulfill its design goals. You can (and should) suggest the design goals might not be good ones (you are being paid for your opinions and talents, by all means be a strong advocate for your opinion), but in the end the people paying you deserve to get what they ask for if they aren’t convinced by you.

And there absolutely CAN be good business reasons to do a product that has a concept that isn’t the most fun, or more useful addition to a game. If you have moral or ethical objections to that concept, the right answer is to refuse to do it at all. If you just think it’s not a great idea, and you agree to do it, your task is to make the best version of that product you can.

Sometimes, the results can surprise you.

So, let’s look at some concrete examples of developing an idea that, at least at first blush, isn’t fun or smart.

Let’s do the Starfarer Missing Legacy Feats.

Here’s our remit: Create Starfinder-compatible versions of all the feats that are in the PF Core Rulebook, but not in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

There are some obvious issues here. the two games are different, despite sharing a lot of the same DNA. And many feats are “missing” because they’ve been simplified or replaced. In fact, we run into this issue with the VERY first “missing” Legacy feat: Acrobatic.

Acrobatic is one of the PF feats that gives you +2 to two skills: Acrobatics and Fly. There’s no need for that feat in Starfinder, because Skill Synergy covers it and more. (And the skill DC math is different, the bonus structure is different, and there’s no Fly skill, and… lots of reasons, but Skill Synergy is the most obvious).

So, we are required to have an Acrobatic feat, and it’s a terrible idea for it to do the same thing. So, as a developer or writer where do we start? Well, I always like to go read the rules we’re dealing with, so it’s time to read Starfinder’s Acrobatics skill.

Here we see the skill has 4 tasks: balance, escape, fly and tumble. We don;t want to give numerical bonuses to any of those (because that would interefere with the balance of skill DCs in the game), and we want to give benefits that feel ‘acrobatic,’ and apply to both being acrobatic and flying.

Looking at fly first, we see you normally have to take a move action to hover, or if you have perfect maneuverability you can do it without making a check, or as a swift action if you make a check. But taking a swift action still prevents a full action in Starfinder. So, here’s a place we could have a benefit — allow you to hover as if you had perfect maneuverability even if you don’t, and allow you to hover without using any action without making a check if you do have perfect maneuverability.

So, that means we need some similar benefit for one or more of balance, escape, and tumble.

With balance, you need to make a check if you take damage, so we could allow someone with this feat to ignore that requirement.. but that’s pretty corner-case so more is needed. Escape is a standard action, or a minute for restraints, so we could make that faster. Tumble requires you to not be encumbered… but that makes sense. It also requires you to move at half speed as a move action, so there’s a place we can give some benefit for the feat.

And as a last step, we need to check all other feats and class abilities to make sure none of them already do the things we are now considering making feat benefits.

Then, we pull the whole thing together, as follows:

ACROBATIC
You are particularly talented at balancing, flying, and tumbling.
Benefit: When using the Acrobatics skill for the following tasks, you gain the listed advantages.
Balance: You do not have to make a skill check to maintain your balance if you take damage.
Escape: You can attempt to escape from a grapple or pin as a move action. You can attempt to escape from restraints in half the normal time.
Fly: If you do not have perfect maneuverability, you can attempt to hove as if you did have perfect maneuverability. If you do have perfect maneuverability, you can hover without making a check and without taking an action to do so.
Tumble: You can make an Acrobatics check to tumble as part of any action in which you move, and do not have to move at half speed to do so.

So those are all situational, minor benefits–but there are four of them, they are all linked to the same skill, and none of them alter the balance of skill check math in the game. Overall, not a bad feat!

Next comes Acrobatic Steps… which is built on Nimble Moves. Starfinder has a feat called Nimble Moves, which is better than PF’s Acrobatic Steps, but our remit requires us to create Acrobatic Steps, so…

ACROBATIC STEPS
You can easily move over and through obstacles.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Nimble Moves
Benefit: As long as you are not encumbered or overburdened, you ignore the effects of difficult terrain.

Which brings us to Agile Maneuvers, which has a similar, but potentially more complex set of issues. Which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

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? Join my Patreon and let me know what you want to see!

 

Shield Traits for Pathfinder 2e

One of the unified systems in the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a set of weapon traits that make specific fighting styles work differently from one another without having to depend on special class features or unique rules that apply to only a single weapon.

That same idea can easily be applied to shields, allowing all the common shield types and options to apply to some of the specific kinds of shields that evolved in the real word to meet specific fighting styles’ needs.

For example here are to Applied Kite Traits, designed to be applied to several different types of shields, allowing specific shields used by cavalry forces in the real word to function without special class features or skill uses.

A shield can only have one Applied Kite Trait, and that trait must be selected when the shield is crafted.

Bouche: A bouche shield has a series of ridges and notches along the top and one side that allow a mounted wielder to brace a lance on the shield. While wielding a bouche shield, you gain access to the set lance action.

A buckler, wooden or steel shield can have the bouche trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and reduces hardness by 1.

Set Lance [1 Action]: The next attack you make with a lance before the end of your turn does damage dice as if you were holding the lance 2-handed. You must be mounted and be wielding a lance in one hand to take this action.

Shield Bouche Bouch Shield

Kite: A kite shield has a wide, rounded top and tappers down to a point. It is a long shield, normally running 3/4 to 4/5 the height of the user.

When you take the Raise a Shield action with a kite shield while mounted, your mount also benefits from the increase to AC. If you have access to the Shield Block reaction, you can use it to defend your mount from a physical attack, rather than only when you would take damage from a physical attack.

A wooden, steel, or tower shield can have the kite trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and increases the bulk by 1.

Kite Shield Kite Shield

PATREON
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Career Planning. “Now What?” (Part Two)

I’m at a major crossroads in my career, and not one that looks like I expected it to just a few weeks ago. So, I ask myself an important question in this second post of two on Career Planning (you can read Part One here).

We covered step 1, process your new reality, and step 2, review. So that brings us to:

3. Look Forward

I often open advice sessions with other people with “Where do you want to be in two years?” It is, for me, a perfect amount of time. Far enough ahead that you can discount immediate but temporary inconveniences such as a sprained ankle or massive looming deadline, close enough that you can visualize the time between now and then. For other people different timeframes might make more sense, but my 5-year plans very rarely go anything like as planned, and when looking forward 6 months or less I am often skewed towards immediate issues that aren’t necessarily representative of what I am going to face in general.

So, where do *I* want to be in 2 years? As I make a list of those things I find, unsurprisingly, that a lot of them involve money.

And money involves a budget.

Budgeting isn’t any fun, but it’s a crucial part of a freelance career. If I am going to successfully reach any of my goals, many of which involve things like buying a house and paying off student loans, I have to be able to account for more than just my immediate bills. Freelancing if often filled with feast-or-famine incomes, where you get paid for several things over the course of 2-3 weeks, and then nothing to speak of over 2-3 months. It’s important to do more than just cover the rent and groceries. You need to be able to sock away for emergencies, long-term needs, even retirement.

That just isn’t likely to happen without a budget.

You also need to consider what skills and contacts you should improve to meet your two-year goal, whatever it is. Do you want to have a published novel? Then you better both be writing is NOW, and talking to anyone you can about how to get it published. Want to have your own game company? I recommend working as an assistant to someone else who has one, so you can learn the ins and outs by watching and helping, before you have to figure it out by doing.

The review is also the time to have an honest talk with yourself about what your weaknesses are. Are you bad at adventure writing? You can either plan to just avoid having to do that, or to get better at it, but you won’t know that’s something to take into account unless you are aware of it as a weakness.

You also need to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Impostor syndrome is rife in this industry… as is the Dunning–Kruger effect. Combating those in yourself is tricky–it’s always easier to see bias in others rather than yourself. I recommend both trying to describe how you would expect someone who gets the kind of work and responses you do objectively to see at least ho you are seen by others, and to ask people you trust who are more successful than you to give you their honest assessment of your pros and cons.

The whole point here is to be able to look forward from a grounded place of information about yourself. You don’t need to beat yourself up or gild your own laurels, but if you don’t have a rough grasp of where you ARE in your career, it’s very tough to plan a course forward.

It may be worth considering what kinds of jobs you have already done and think about which ones you’d like to do more of. My article “Developer? Designer? Who is the What Now?” may be helpful for thinking about different kinds of tasks within the writer end of the TTRPG industry. If you are more focused on art, editing, or business and planning, those are still useful distinctions to know, but you should consider what kinds of sub-divisions your own career has revealed.

Try to boil all your “looking forward” ideas in 3-5 bullet-points of 1-2 sentences each. If two bullet points look similar, see if you can blend them into one slightly broader bullet point.

My first run at that list of ideas looked like this. I offer it only as an example — your list should definitely look different, based on where your career is, and where you want it to go.

*Make enough money to cover more than just the necessities, including health care, buying a house, retirement planning, and the occasional vacation.
*Expand my professional skillset to be able to take advantage of any text-based or business-related aspect of the game industry, including working in different game systems,  being a manager, and overseeing licenses.
*Build my online and social media presence to make it easier to directly reach fans and potential employers, possibly including doing more videos, streaming games, and redesigning my website to be more modern.
*Build income streams separate from per-word writing, possibly including growing RGG, doing more royalty-based projects, and patron support (such as my Patreon, which supports this blog and gives me time to write things like this article-Join Now!)

Now that you have an idea of where you are, and where you want to go, it’s time to:

4. Make Plans

This is going to be one of the vaguest sections of this article, because your previous steps should already be leading you to a different destination than mine–possibly a different destination than I could even think of. So making plans to get you from where you are to where you want to go in your career should look very different than getting me where I want to go. But I do think there’s some high-level advice that can still be broadly useful for making plans.

The first is: schedule your time, then fill it.

It’s very temping to do this the other-way ’round: to find things to do, and then go looking for time to get it done in. And at a casual or hobby level, that’s fine. If you mostly want to just post a few articles on free sites and occasionally get paid for a bit of work that drops in your lap, you probably can just schedule things as they come along. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way–I strongly suspect more TTRPG words get written each year by people who enjoy it as a hobby than those who see it as a side-gig or want it to be a full-time career.

But in my experience, if you want to step beyond that, you’ll eventually need to do the hard work of carving out time from everything else, and then filling that time. If you don’t have enough work to fill the time you set aside? Then it’s time to use the spare time to work on some RPG Pitches. If you don’t have enough time set aside to do all the work you’ve gotten?

Then it’s time to take a hard look at whether you need to set aside more time, write faster, or work less. For any of those answers, you may end up trying to Survive on 5 Cents/Word (or Worse). Good luck, sincerely.

As you set aside time, make sure some of it is saved for making contacts, pitches, and seeking better opportunities, and that includes opportunities for self-improvement. Work and learning opportunities may just fall into your lap sometimes, but there’s almost always more work you can get if you go hunting for it, and that often includes better options. If you want regular income, for example, you may need a regular gig writing articles, or running a Patreon, or being a part-time contract employee of a game company. Some of those things you can set up yourself, but that takes time too.

This is often the hardest part of planning a career. While there are now formal education opportunities to get involved in gaming (and not all of them are focused on computer games, and many of the skills are fungible even so), nearly everything I know about being a game industry professional came from working with people smarter, more talented, and more experienced than I was. My time on-staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo taught me there is something I can learn from everybody in the industry, even people with much less experience than me. I needed to be open to the opportunities to learn from them, and that often required I take the time to consider why they wanted to do something differently than I planned to. Yes, deadlines are often tight and there is a time and a place to be a strong advocate for your own vision and experience, but never let that cheat you out of a chance to learn a new resource, skillset, hard-learned lesson, or even just a new point of view.

So, look not only at what work you can do, but what doing that work may mean in terms of advancing your career. There are people in this industry I will always work with if I can, because I always learn from them. I try to challenge myself to take on things that put me out of my comfort zone, and set aside extra time to get those uncomfortable things done.

Sometimes that means an opportunity doesn’t pan out, and that can be especially painful if you gave up something stable for it, and/or were depending on it for a major part of your income. It’s good to note these things (like in future rounds of processing and reviewing your new reality), but it’s not a reason to not try new things. You’ll need to balance potential risk with possible reward, and I can’t tell you how much risk to take for what reward level. Just be realistic with yourself, and never take a risk you can’t survive going badly if you don’t have to.

So, with those steps in mind, what am I looking at for plans to carry my career forward? I’m not going to go into ever deep detail, for obvious reasons, but I think it’d be a bit of a cheat not to wrap this up with some concrete examples of where this process has lead me. So:

I’m the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin. This is a part-time contract position, working with some of the smartest and most experienced people in the TTRPG industry, and it’s a stable source of some income every month. That hits a number of my goals, from working with new game systems to being around people who can help me be better at a wide range of TTRPG industry tasks. I’ll be looking for more similar opportunities, but I am super-stoked at making this part of my long-term success.

I’m focusing more on my Patreon, including posting a new goal promising videos and bonus content if it hits $1500/month. It was, to be honest, extremely scary for me to consider a $1500 goal, but my $700+ goal having been met, I have to take that risk. And if it turns out the public doesn’t want what I am offering for that level of patronage? I’ll re-assess, and try again. I see this as both a way to seek semi-regular income to help meet my financial goals, and to force me to learn and offer new things to stay connected and relevant to the ever-changing TTRPG market.

I’m setting aside more time for Rogue Genius Games. There are types of projects I have never dared tackle with my own little gaming company, and forcing myself to try them is another way to exp[and my skillset. And of course writing more of my own products also means having more royalty-based projects, which is a good way to build income streams that aren’t exclusively one-time per-word money.

Fiction. I am going to do it, this time. I am terrified.

More traditional freelance. I need the money in the short-term, and the contacts in the long-term. So I am throwing my doors open to new publishers, new projects, and new game systems. Time to prove I am more than a d20 game mechanic guy.

So, for the moment, in broad strokes, that’s it for me. I’ll compare my results to my needs and plans (especially my income vs my budget) every 90 days (and more frequently if things are obviously out of whack). And every 6 months or so, it’ll be time to do the whole process again — process, review, look forward, and plan.

It’s a never-ending process, but that’s okay. I never plan to stop having a career, so I can afford to take time to adjust and rethink as needed.

In fact, I can’t afford not to.

 

Fossil. (One)

To call it evil would be to utterly misunderstand its entire existence, though it had been called evil many times over the heartbeat of one or another species’ rise. But those species were never considered when it took form. They had not yet existed, and would not exist for 60 million years after it’s origin was forgotten.

Concepts like good and evil were foreign to it, as they had been foreign to those who called it forth, those who ruled the surface of a very different kind of world, though it was what became our world. They has stood tall in the certainty that their 100,000 years of ascendance would be eternal, and had been as wrong as every collective that believed it before them.

It functioned. That was all it was ever to do, just function, and through functioning prove that thought had gone into it. That thought had existed. Not thought as any mammal brain would produce, or even recognize, but thought nonetheless. Nothing else was enough to memorialize those who had seen the need for a memorial to their meaningless aberration from lifelessness and wild. They called it forth to prove that they had once called things, that the idea of calling into the night had come before, and were satisfied they had crafted the perfect monument to their own immortality.

Then, like every other spark of order or sapience that had even arisen, they were extinguished. Erased so totally that even if the surface of the Earth had not churned over and crushed their edifice to dust over tens of millions of uncounted years, there would be no proof to betray their scar in the timeline of thoughtlessness. Nothing was left of them, who were so different that they could not conceive of man, and man would never conceive of them.

Nothing but the fossil.

And all it could do was function.

Not well. Not as it once had. Nothing it did was in any way what had been planned for it. But it had been planned by creatures more alien than even those on other worlds. Entities who had no concept of anything a mammal could recognize as culture, or art, or philosophy. They made their monument to be magnificent in their sight, but they saw a different world, in different colors, and had no care for what it might do once they were gone.

The monument, the fossil, still functioned, And it would be fair, from the perspective of frail, floundering human minds to call that function evil. Not by intent, or manufacture. But because it was never even vaguely predicted to ever interact with anything like humans, and thus everything it did would be antithetical to human rationality.

It could have destroyed the world, but that was not its function. It could have made men gods, or revealed the secrets of the hidden dark energy binding the universe and accelerating galaxies away from one another, but that was not its function. Divorced from any context native to its creation, its function could no longer be said to be rational, for the rationality of the apes briefly reshaping the world with things born of their dreams was different from the closest equivalent of rationality to those of the things that had brought it forth.

Its function was at best, an approximation of what had been expected of it when it was made nearly eternal. But even if it had been aware of how far from its first conception its new actions were, it would not have cared. It would just have functioned.

On October 28th, 1987, in Grange, Oklahoma, that function was, by human standards, horrific and maddening.

Heightened Spellbook: New Spell Options for PF2

One of the interesting things Pathfinder second edition has done is have a uniform set of rules for casting spells at higher spell levels. Many spells end up taking niches similar to lesser- and greater- versions from the first edition by having a set of effects that get better as you access higher-level versions of the spell.

Of course not every Pathfinder Second Edition spell has heightened benefits… but they all COULD.

So, I’m beginning to look at ways to add heightened effects to PF2 spells that currently don’t have them. For the moment, I’m starting at the beginning of the alphabet and just seeing how far I get, doing just a few each day.

Later these may all get compiled into a pdf, and backers of my Patreon at every level will certainly have compiled access to them eventually, as well as having the similar rules for focus spells I am posting exclusively on my Patreon pages.

I don’t want to duplicate the fine work other people have done compiling the base rules online (such as the PF2 SRD and the Archives of Nethys), so I’ll just list the spell, and it’s new heightened rules.

So, let’s get started with the Heightened Spellbook!

ABYSSAL PLAGUE     Spell 5
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; disease level increases by +2.

AIR BUBBLE     Spell 1
Heightened (+1) Targets increases by +1; duration is doubled (x2 at 2nd level, x4 at 3rd level, etc.)

AIR WALK     Spell 4
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; duration is doubled (x2 at 6th level, x4 at 8th level, etc.)

ALTER REALITY     Spell 10
Heightened (+1) Level of spells you can duplicate in each category increases by +1.
(Note: You’ll need some rules for 11th level spells to use this one, but if you’re using spells from some rando’s blog, who knows what other optional spells you’ve adopted?)

ANIMAL MESSENGER     Spell 2
Heightened (2nd) Animal messenger will bring a message or light Bulk item back to you, as if the recipient has also cast this spell.
Heightened (+1)
 Range and duration is doubled for each time you add this heightened effect.

00 Dragon and Wizard - RetroPunk

Art (c) RetroPunk, used under license

Like with all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon!

This is specifically supported by the Open Gaming Store, which currently has a HUGE mega-bundle sale going on if you want lots of material for only a few gp!

Writing Basics: The First Draft

Your first draft doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

Yes, there’s a time and place where you need to be able to share your ideas with editors, developers, playtesters, and so on.

And, yes, it’s worth reading up on how other people draft and outline and process their work, to see if those techniques are useful to you.

But your FIRST draft doesn’t have to be anything more than a starting point. I, at least, never worry too much about what the final product is going to be when starting my first draft. I throw ideas at the page, and see what sticks. Often I have half-finished sentences I abandon because my brain finds something better.

Maybe you work that way. Maybe you don’t.

Just don’t let concern about your first draft being *right* sideline you from WRITING.

You can fix, change, revise anything you want in a second draft.

But only if the first draft happens.

#101Mimics, the First Fifty!

Last month I spent some time on social media thinking up 101 unusual options and encounters for mimics, under hashtag  #101MIMICS.  Was it a good idea to take time to write up 101 ideas for unusual encounters with mimics? Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you?!

So if you want to hunt down all 101 mimics, they are still available on my Facebook and Twitter. But here are the first 50 of them, to give you a good chunk of mimic all in one place.

My Patreon backers get even more! All my mega-patrons will get a PDF in a few days that has all my free content from September, including the 101 Mimics, but I also wanted to compile these in one post for anyone interested in them. So all my patrons have access to a Patreon post with 101 Mimics, plus I added ONE more mimic encounter idea as a bonus, at the end of that post!

So if you want more mimics (and similar material as time goes on), go join my Patreon!

#101MIMICS

  1. Mimic as the keystone in an arch (build by mimic minions). When it attacks and jumps free not only it there a bitey mimic, the room’s ceiling collapses on you.
  2. Mimic treasure map. The mimic pretends to be a treasure map that leads you to am ambush of the mimic’s allies. The mimic changes this location as needed to keep the news from getting out.
  3. Mimic bandage. It just quietly drinks your blood when you wrap it around your wound.
  4. Mimic haute couture. The mimic rents itself out to be brand-new, impossible-without-living-cloth high-end outfits and shoes that fit perfectly, match your coloration, hair, and jewelry, and you don’t have to put in a closet after wearing once. Hourly or daily rates available.
  5. Mimic rope. It waits until you are using it in a life-or-death situation, then extorts you with greater payment or it withdraws its (literal) support.
  6. Mimic golem: Easiest to pretend to be a wood golem or clay golem. You think it’s a construct, but it’s actually an aberration, giving it a distinct tactical advantage.
  7. Mimic rock at edge of common rest-stop campsite. Look, people are SUSPICIOUS of treasure chests these days, but no one looks twice at a rock that happens to be near where their head is going to be when they sleep.
  8. Mimic false bottom of a chest. Go ahead, check the chest for signs it’s a mimic all you want. then, once you are inside and your guard is done, and you get excited you’ve spotted a false bottom…
  9. Mimic hanging tapestry. May rent itself out to high-end castles as a magic every-changing tapestry that also shouts an alarm when people find the concealed door behind it, or may drop down on unsuspecting adventurers looking behind it for a concealed door. Or both.
  10. Mimic trash-can private investigator. You can learn a LOT about someone by sorting through their trash, and if they give it to you there’s no expectation of privacy.
  11. Mimic Spike at the Bottom of a Pit. If you fall into the pit and still look fine, it ignores you as too tough to handle. If you fall into the pit and seem badly injured or incapacitated…
  12. Mimic bookcase wizard. People have been placing powerful and dangerous books on it in the forbidden section of the library for decades.
  13. Mimic altar. Honestly, a faithful devotee of a god that has decided to serve as an altar. Of course, if you come to DESECRATE that temple…
  14. Mimic Kitchen Table. Mostly just eats scraps when no one is looking. But may be in trouble since it is now so fat, it doesn’t really fit in the same space anymore…
  15. Mimic Mirror in a Vampire’s Employ. Look, some vampires care how they look!
  16. Mimic Siege Tower. Always the right size and shape to reach the top of a wall, able to become a bridge to get over a moat, and able to be healed or buffed against fire with “1 target” spells.
  17. Mimic Wagon. Mostly lets your draft animals pull it along (while it dozes off), but for an extra fee and turn into a boat to cross rivers, walk itself out of mud, and so on.
  18. Mimic Wine Barrel. Takes a nip now and then, but mostly stays sober so it can eat the occasional vagrant that wonders by late at night, who no one will miss.
  19. Mimic Wishing Well. I mean, people just THROW money into it! Why risk combat when you can get paid to sleep, then go buy any food you want later?
  20. Mimic Coffin. Sneak into undertaker’s (or cut deal with them). Get corpse placed indie me. Eat it. Dig my way out of grave, making people panic about ghouls. Sneak back to undertaker’s.
  21. Mimic Iron Maiden. Torturers put people in me, I drink their blood, and they are kept alive to go back into me again and again.

Mimic smuggler. Can look like any crate, fake any needed seals or markings, hide among other crates and shuffle from warehouse to warehouse and hold to hold as needed.

  1. Mimic roulette wheel. Doesn’t detect as magic or illusion, but can still make sure the house gets more than its cut (or, if smuggled in as a ringer, it’s partner can take a huge bite out of the house).
  2. Mimic Spymaster Confessional. Look, if there’s a place people are going to just whisper their secrets anyway…

(Lots of other Mimic Spy possibilities, too.)

  1. Mimic sleeping bag guard hireling. Hires itself out to protect travelers. It can sleep during the day, eat all your leftovers, and quietly watch over you while you sleep at night, while being the perfect size and warmness for you.
  2. Mimic is a single wheel in a rented wagon. It can thus “fall off” at any time to make the wagon vulnerable to ambush, and attack from inside the defensive perimeter once the ambush begins.
  3. Mimic weapon rack. With luck, you disarm yourself and give it your weapons before the fight starts, and it’s certainly armed.
  4. Mimic as obviously trapped secret door. Everyone moves away from the rogue in case the trap goes off, leaving the rogue alone with the mimic.
  5. Mimic table in room convicts meet with lawyers. Might be spy for illicit law enforcement, or might be enforcer for the thieves’ guild ensuring people keep their yap shut.
  6. Mimic cloak. Rules a gang of cloakers who think it is a highly evolved version of themselves.
  7. Tiny mimic sheath for dueling rapier. One of two. Everything seems fine when your foe selects one of them, but once the fight starts, the mimics don’t let your foe even draw his weapon.
  8. Mimic fishing pole. Mostly works as advertised, but when hungry just eats a fish which you think is “one that got away.”
  9. Mimic emulating a corpse. When it starts moving and eating things, everyone thinks it’s an undead. But it’s not.
  10. Mimic big overstuffed chair. Is a consulting detective, but keeps hiring someone to sit in the chair and play the public role of detective, so no one suspects their cases are being solved by a mimic listening in.
  11. Mimic crystal ball. Works with fake psychic to show clients what they want to see, but can’t actually tell the future.
  12. Mimic workbench. Friend and ally to renowned craftsman, acts as his guard and assistant, moving tools to be in reach as needed.
  13. Mimic guillotine psychopath. Just wants to kill people, so as long as the revolution feeds its bloodshed, acts like a guillotine. If anyone tries to reign in the mob rule, sneaks out to kill that person.
  14. Mimic crossbow. Works with its hunter. Loads itself, can even fire itself as needed.
  15. Mimic printing press. Always well informed, and can tweak things it prints to move its own narrative or plots forward.
  16. Mimic sail. Self-trimming, self-furling, heals if damaged, and can help defend the ship if attacked.
  17. Mimic lump of clay. Works with fake sculptor to allow the sculptor to appear to be a great artist, then sneaks off with sculptor once a commission is paid.
  18. Mimic high-end furniture from antique store. Gets bought and placed in rich house. Waits to see where their valuables are. Steals them blind while antique dealer has alibi. Sneaks back to look like different high-end furniture at shop.
  19. Mimic banker’s or merchant’s scale. Check for false weights and magic all you want, it can still claim your valuable are 1-2% lighter than they really are, getting its merchant partner an extra profit margin.
  20. Mimic rock full of veins of gold and silver. Sits in a mine its partner wants to sell. Makes sure the potential buyer “happens” to see it, still wedged into the wall. Great for cycling through multiple played out mines.
  21. Mimic pile of hay. Only good for some seasons, but great way to hide in plain sight, and local children often sneak off to play near you, making them easy targets.
  22. Mimic outhouse. Perfect for catching prey with their paints down.
  23. Mimic dressmaker’s dummy. Can be the exact size and shape (and even weight) the dressmaker needs, often happy to work for scraps of cloth (leather, cotton, and other biomass). Plus, gets to feel like a pretty, pretty mimic.
  24. Mimic periscope. Fits in any shape, crack, or around any corner, can show you what it sees, and even report on what it hears.
  25. Mimic game table. Can play chess with you, or help you subtly cheat against others.
  26. Mimic elevator. Crawls up and down (and even sideways) though the large castle, giving easy access quickly in return for a fair daily wage.

My Patreon: The Silver Lining

Well, you crazy folks did it. You pushed my Patreon over the $714 mark, my first monthly GOAL, which I have had since 2016, and never gotten closer than halfway before now.

So, I can now (starting today), “budget a guaranteed amount of time into my freelance schedule, allowing me to post at least one 750-word or longer piece of setting or fiction material every Monday, and 2 microrules (Microfeats, Spell Tweets, or similar very-short RPG rule ideas) every Tuesday-Friday.”

I also need to figure out my next goals. Sure, bringing in $1500/month to support my random writings seems impossible–but then $714 always felt like a stretch as well. More news on that soon.

Obviously I am extremely grateful to my backers, new and pre-existing, and everyone who has boosted, linked, promoted, and generally made a big deal of the fact I write things and people can help fund that directly. Since the job that my wife Lj and I moved to Indiana for has dried up many friends and fans have told me they wished they could do more. But it is clear that the efforts people have made on our behalf is what’s lead to this point, where my Patreon is a noteworthy part of my freelance income.

So what is the money going towards? Right now the time I am carving out for Patreon-supported writing is paid for by this income, which is going to go directly to finding a stable health insurance solution for my family.

And now, of course, what you are all paying me for– Game Content! Keeping with the theme of today I have written up a Silver Lining feat. Or, rather, since Silver Linings come in lots of different forms, I have written three different versions of it, for three of my favorite different RPGs.

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 1st Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll or a saving throw in circumstances where a typical character could not take 10 on a skill check, you gain 1 resolve point. As a reaction when you next fail an attack roll or saving throw you may spent this resolve point for an immediate reroll without taking an action. If the d20 die result of the reroll is 1-10, add 10 to your total result. You can only have 1 resolve point at a time, and if not used it goes away when you next qualify to regain uses of daily abilities (even if you do not actually have daily abilities to regain).\

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 2nd Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you suffer a critical failure on an attack roll or saving throw, as a reaction you may choose to either heal a number of HP equal to your level, or regain one Focus Point.

Silver Lining (Starfinder)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll against a significant foe, or on a saving throws against a significant foe, as a reaction you may spent 1 Resolve Point to regain a number of Hit Points and a number of Stamina Points equal to your level. You cannot regain more of either than you are currently missing.

Silver Lining for Fantasy AGE

I am also now the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin, so I’m posting this *very* rough, *very* unofficial version of Silver Lining as a Talent for that game system.

SILVER LINING
Classes: Mage, Rogue, and Warrior
Requirement: None
When things go badly for you, it’s usually a sign that something good is also about to happen.
Novice: When a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 3 or more against you, the next time you gain SP, you gain 1 more than usual. You never gain more than 1 extra SP from Silver Lining.
Journeyman: Silver Lining now functions when a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 2 or more against you.
Master: Silver Lining now functions whenever a foe uses a stunt against you.

Want to help with my Silver Lining?
I’m back to being a full-time freelancer, which means arranging for stability, health insurance, retirement options, and so on, is extremely difficult.

So if you found any of this useful or entertaining and you’d like to join the growing community of folks supporting the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.