Category Archives: Adventure Design

Adventure Set-Ups: The Free City of Delve

It can be useful to set-up a homebrew campaign to support the kinds of adventures you want to run. Want high-seas adventures? Set up a world with lots of good reasons to be on the high seas. So, obviously, want a reason for new, inexperienced adventurers to go dungeon-delving a lot? Build a campaign that supports that idea.

Here’s an example: The Free City of Delve

The Free City of Delve sits on the Isle of Acmonides, among the ruins of the Acmonidesi Empire of giants. Once a world-spanning superpower, Acmonides was the most advanced civilization, with titans and cloud and storm giants ruling over a hundred subjected kingdoms and enforcing their will on dozes of smaller species. Three centuries ago, some massive civil war set the giants against one-another, and the sub-giants (cyclops, ettins, athach, ogres, trolls, and so on) were so devastated they lost nearly all their culture.

Nearly a century after Acmonides fell, seafarers found the island that was its capitol, the location of which had been a well-guarded imperial secret. Camps were set up to loot the islands, then a town evolved as ways to loot the rest of the empire were discovered, and finally the Free City of Delve established.

The center of Delve is the Catacomb Market, built around an ancient step well 60 feet across and 2,000 ft. deep. Hundreds of channels run from various levels of the well. Each channel was once part of an Empire-wide aqueduct system, with teleportation gates bringing water in, and taking it out. For security, only appointed Tibiax, water-workers, could travel the gates. Each gate was controlled by a set of Keystones, attuned to specific Tibiax.

Tibiax were rarely giants, the job instead going to smaller subjugated peoples. The role was often hereditary, so Keystones still work for the descendants of ancient Tibiax, if first used in in the step well on Acmonides Isle.. As the Empire spanned the world, Keystones can be found anywhere worldwide. Merchants in the Catacomb Market import and buy Keystones, and prospective delvers walk the market to see if any stones will work for them. If a stone works for you, it grants potentially exclusive access to some distant part of the Empire, through the magic waterways.

Since the system was specifically designed to allow scions of Tibiax families learn the ropes of maintaining the mystic aqueducts safely, young and inexperienced individuals who first access a keystone are generally sent to a location no one has been sent to in decades or more (since those are the areas with the most failed sections of waterworks) that aren’t extremely hazardous (since the keystones are designed to find problems their attuned Tibiax can handle). The system isn’t perfect, but it means youngsters who discover there’s a Keystone that will work for them can generally gather a group of allies and explore some new part of the collapsed Empire that, though often dangerous, is rarely beyond their ability to cope with. And, they can freely teleport between that location and the step well at the center of Delve.

A a Keystone-bearing group fixes the problem in the region they teleport too through the step well, the keystone then begins to grant them access to new areas — often nes with bigger risks, and sometimes bigger rewards.

The primary trade of Delve is to equip adventurers to loot sections of the long-fallen Acmonidesi Empire, through expeditions sent through the Catacomb market’s magic waterway teleport gates. Loot is brought back to Delve, and used to fund more expeditions. While many nations would love to conquer and control Delve, so far none have wanted to risk angering all the other interested parties by trying to do so through force.

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Dungeon Name Generator

I unironically love dungeons.

Now, I use a pretty broad definition of “dungeon.” In fact, I’ve written whole series of articles about what I consider to be dungeons, in ttRPG terms.

But part of a cool dungeon is a cool name. And, I love creating name generators. So while I don’t claim this article can name every dungeon in all of fantasy gaming, it can certainly create more names than any one campaign world can use.

Using the Generator

Roll 1d6 to determine how to generate your dungeon name.

1-2: Start with “The,” then roll once on Table 1 and once on table 2.

3-5: Roll once on Table 2, add “of,” then roll once on table 3.

6: Start with “The,” then roll once on Table 1 and once on table 2, add “of”, then roll once on table 3.

Table 1 (Roll 1d100)

01-03: Azur

04-05: Bastard

06-08: Barrier

09-10: Candle

11-13: Collapsed

14-15: Crimson

16-18: Crumbling

19-20: Demon Queen’s

21-23: Demonweb

24-25: Dragonbound

26-28: Emerald

29-30: Fallen

31-33: Frostfell

34-35: Gallow

36-38: Guardmoor

39-40: Hastur’s

41-42: Haunted/Haunting

43-45: Hellspike

46-48: Hollow

49-50: Icy

51-53: Iron

54-55: Kobold

56-57: Lost

58-60: Nightfang

61-62: Nightworm

63-65: Red

66-67: Shattered

68-70: Silver

71-72: Sinister

73-75: Standing

76-77: Stonefang

78-80: Sunless

81-82: Thunderspire

83-85: Tiger’s

86-88: Trollhunt

89-90: Terrifying

91-93: Under

94-95: White Plume

96-98: Windswept

99-00: Yawning

Table 2 (Roll 1d100)

01-02: Abby/Abbies

03-04: Acropolis

05-06: Barrow(s)

07-08: Bastion(s)

09-10: Cairn(s)

11-12: Catacomb(s)

13-14: Cave(s)

15-16: Cavern(s)

17-18: Castle

19-20: Citadel

21-22: City

23-24: Dungeon

25-26: Enclave

27-28: Fane

29-30: Field(s)

31-32: Forge(s)

33-34: Fortress

35-36: Gate(s)

37-38: Grotto(s)

39-40: Hall(s)

41-42: House(s)

43-44: Keep(s)

45-46: Kingdom

47-48: Labyrinth

49-50: Lodge(s)

51-52: Manor(s)

53-54: Mine(s)

55-56: Mount

57-58: Mountain(s)

59-60: Palace(s)

61-62: Pass/Passes

63-64: Peak(s)

65-66: Pit(s)

67-68: Oubliette

69-70: Prison(s)

71-72: Portal(s)

73-74: Pyramid(s)

75-76: Redoubt

77-78: Rift(s)

79-80: Ruin(s)

81-82: Sanctum

83-84: Shrine(s)

85-86: Spire(s)

87-88: Stone(s)

89-90: Temple(s)

91-92: Tomb(s)

93-94: Tower(s)

95-96: Wall(s)

97-98: Warrren(s)

99-100: Well(s)

Table 3 (Roll 1d100)

01-03: Annihilation

04-06: the Archmage

07-10: the Borderlands

11-13: Broken Souls

14-16: Chaos

17-19: Deception

20-22: the Drow

23-25: Elemental Evil

26-28: Fandelver

29-31: the Feathered Serpent

32-34: the Forgotten King

35-37: the Frog

38-40: the Frost Gant Jarl

41-43: Fury

44-46: the Ghouls

47-49: Graves

50-52: Harpies

53-55: Hawksmoor

56-58: the Horned ________ (roll on Table 4)

59-61: Horrors

62-64: Ice

65-67: Lies

68-70: the Necromancer

71-73: Peril

74-76: Ravenscroft

77-79: The Ravenous Moon

80-82: Redcliff

83-85: Ruin

86-88: the Serpentfolk

89-91: the Shadowfell

92-94: Shadows

95: Slaughtergarde

96-98: Spiders

99-100: the Winter King

Table 4 (Roll 1d6)

01. Bear

02. Crown

03. Man

04. Rat

05. Skull

06. Wolf

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Quick Tips: GMing with Taste, Touch, and Smell

One of the most challenging jobs of a GM is to serve as the describer of everything the PCs experience in the fictional game world. This is especially true when the GM wants to convey information through those descriptions–it’s one thing to say a tavern smells stale, and another to say the stale mix of herbal sachets on the walls and sawdust and straw scattered across the floor can’t quite cover the lingering coppery scent of spilled blood, watered-down mead, and urine that permeates the main room.

Lots of advances in gaming have been made with visuals and soundboards. Between being able to do internet searches for interesting visuals and great sound-effect programs designed specifically for ttRPGs (such as Syrinscape, who I love but have no association with), it’s pretty easy for a GM to be able to skip needing to describe sights and sounds. But what about taste, touch, and smell? Just a single extra description for each major element of an encounter can go a long way to both adding immersion, and conveying clues the PCs have a chance to pick up on. If you link any unusual sensation to a specific element within your game, players will often pick up on it and use it as another clue to use to experience and understand your world.

Taste: The most obvious time to describe taste is when PCs eat or drink something, and many ttRPGs have more than enough potions, oils, and magic cupcakes to make this a useful sense to think about in advance. A GM can make the identification of some potent potables easy by deciding healing potions all smell like honeysuckle and mint, or that ungol dust has a distinctive acidic bite in the back of the throat. If the GM doesn’t want to be that easy and consistent, it can still be fun to add taste elements to specific kinds of potion — perhaps potions made by clerics tend to have a strong medicine taste, those made by druids are usually overwhelmingly herb-flavored, and those made by alchemists tend to have a powerful saccharine-sweetness to them. That doesn’t tell PCs exactly what a potion does, but it does become an interesting piece of information that can help the game world feel more well-rounded.

The other fun use for taste is for things that impact the PCs to impact their sense of taste without being directly connected to eating or drinking. Maybe a mummy’s curse makes you constantly get a taste of dust in your mouth, or getting a serum of invulnerability injected into your system causes you to feel like you are licking oiled steel. Powerful smells can be tasted as well, so the rotting meat scent of the zombie bloom may also cause those near it to taste raw mushroom flavors in the air, or the choking smokebomb actually tastes like black pepper.

Touch: PCs don’t often rub their bare skin against adventure site walls and monster hides, so things like smooth, rough, sharp, fluffy, and sticky may not come into play often. But touch can also express things like temperature, and feedback from hitting things with weapons. One of the most successful descriptions of a foe I ever gave noted that while the creature seemed to be a hunched humanoid under a ragged veil and cloak, when a PC hit it with their sword, it felt like chopping into green woo. There was give as the blade chopped into the creature’s flesh, but it was far tougher than any human or even monstrous skin, muscles,and tendons.

Similarly, if touching a glowing sword makes a chill run down a character’s spine, or grabbing a Xorarcan plasma-lance makes any other humanoid’s fingertips tingle, that can be great descriptive information. If a character makes a saving throw against a gaze attack that makes their eyes itch, the player has reason to suspect a failed save results in blindness. If even approaching the stone archway covered in glowing runs makes it seem like the ground it tilting away from you, it suggests the gate may be tied to movement of some kind.

Smell: In many ways smell is just taste at a greater range, so all the taste notes apply here as well. But smell is also one of the most powerful senses for evoking primal fears–we evolved to know that the smell or rot is bad, the smell of blood is dangerous, and the smell of smoke calls for caution. Smell can be used to give clues to some kinds of deception–the high ghoul illusionist can make herself look like a human, but needs to use heavy perfume to cover the scent of the grave; the stench coming from the locally feared Troglodyte Clans Cave is bad, but not THAT bad; the bandits in the tavern smell like chili peppers, ebcause they infuse their boots with pepper oil so guard dogs can’t follow their scent.

Smells can also be fun because they can carry varying distances depending on local conditions, and what they promise is not always what they deliver. If the scent of fresh-backed pastries wafts tantalizingly through the woods, are the PCs about to stumble on a halfling village, or a giant baker that literally grinds human bones to make his bread? Is the smell of honey just a pleasant spring scent, a warning sign of giant paper wasps moving into the dense wilderness, or the smell of an undead mellified man about to round the corner and attack?

Conclusion: You don’t have to go crazy with secondary senses, but adding the description of a single noteworthy taste, touch, or smell in each major encounter can help round out the sense of what your game world is like.

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Quick Tips: Designing Adventures Backwards

If there’s one thing I think is most likely to trip up new GMs when they design their own adventures, it’s that they tend to design them front-to-back. That is, most GMs (and adventure writers) I see who begin creating adventures from scratch for the first time want to write the first encounter first, the second encounter second, and so on.

Now, that makes a lot of sense on the surface. That’s the order gamers encounter other people’s adventures in, so it’s a familiar pacing. Also, it means that if you plan to have 4 game sessions worth of adventure, you only have to do the first 4 encounters of work before you can run the first session. No need to design more than you need for the next game night, right?

Well…

Look, that works great for a lot of GMs, and if it works for you, more power to you. There are absolutely advantages to that system, and lots of ways to make it work to your advantage. But for many GMs, it means they introduce a problem and the mystery and the clues… before they know what the mystery is, or what the clues are supposed to be pointing to. That often works fine when you first introduce elements — everyone has seen the stories where the map has a big blank spot, or the detective finds mud they are sure is important, or the prophecy only makes sense after it’s fulfilled. So if you tell the ranger that yes, the site of the bandit attack has lots of wolf and goblin footprints, but on top of all of those are sharped bits of wood, as though from a whittled stick, which was done 2-3 hours after the bandit attack, players will file that away as an important clue for later.

Which is great–if you ether have a rough idea what you are doing (so you can make up clues that’ll fit in) or are good at bringing things together in the last few chapters even if you had no idea what you are doing when you leave a clue. But if you’re GREAT at coming with evocative and intriguing set dressing, but terrible at connecting them together after-the-fact, the end game of your adventures may be much more stressful and dissatisfying than you’d like.

For such GMs, writing your adventure backwards can make things much easier.

For example, let’s say you decide the end villain of your adventure is an evil ranger, who riles up local wilderness threats, directs them at farms and villages, and then charges those settlements money to “solve” the problems he’s creating. You give him a couple of personality quirks — he’s arrogant, handsome, and can whittle small wooden symbols that anger specific kinds of wildlife. You want a fight with him to end your advneture.

You want some investigation in town to happen just before that fight. So you create an event rh PCs could investigate once they are suspicious enough. You decide the ranger runs a protection racket, but a newcomer bard was becoming suspicious. So the ranger poisoned a local goblin tribe with herbs that make them battle-mad. Then he faked a note from the goblins to the bard making it seems the goblins wanted to tell the bard something important. When the bard went to where the note indicated, the herb-maddened goblins killed the bard. The ranger came by after the battle, whittling more of his magic traps, and stole the bard’s gear.

With that in place, it’s easy to see how the Ps get involved. Locals think the attacks are getting worse, and that the ranger isn’t enough to deal with them anymore. They hire PCs to help, but the PCs keep finding evidence of an unseen figure behind the attacks. You can have them fight some maddened animals the ranger sends after them hoping the PCs will be killed, have them ask folks what might have riled the animals, get told the new bard asked similar questions before being killed by goblins, seek ut the bard’s hidden notes because the bard was already onto the ranger, get pointed at the ranger, want to find the bard’s loot so they search the ranger’s hut and find it, then confront the ranger. Easy.

It may not solve all adventure problems, but often working backwards from the end is the easy way to decide what clues and story beats the PCs will find as they move forward through the adventure.

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ShadowFinder Adventure Sketch

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

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

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

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

Save The City Beneath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Use the ShadowFinder Book

I’ve made a big deal out of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite project called ShadowFinder being a Play Mode for Starfinder, rather than a separate campaign or ruleset. So, if it’s designed to create a different play experience, but is 100% Starfinder compatible, what do I expect people to actually do with this book?

Well, no shock, I write about that a bit in the book itself.

Okay, What Do We DO With This?

ShadowFinder is designed to be use a few different ways, depending on your interests.

First, it’s everything you need to start running adventures in a new Play Mode, with a focus on the aesthetics and tropes of modern urban fantasy, rather that the more scifi-fantasy of Starfinder. We present enough information to get you started, including a quick description of the planar scar known as the Shadowblast, and the two worlds it links – Lost Golarion, and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth. If you are the type of group who just wants some rules and a setting, or maybe also some adventure seeds, and then you craft adventures and storylines yourselves, you can get started right away.

Second, it’s a big set of additional options for any Starfinder game. The new classes, class options, feats, and spells are all designed for use in ShadowFinder, but since the rules are 100% compatible with Starfinder, if you want to add enigmas, warlocks, and even sword saints and technicians to a non-ShadowFinder game, they’ll fit right in. There are some options rules in ShadowFinder that aren’t designed for other uses, such as Heroic Defense, but I’ve carefully kept those separate from other player-facing material. That means if you want to play a ShadowFinder game with Heroic Defense, it applies to any PC (even those uses classes from other sources), and if you want to play a warlock in a game without Heroic Defense, the class remains balanced.

Third, and most excitingly for me, it’s a toolkit of ideas you can take and use to create your own Play Mode, unique campaign, or even related Starfinder Infinite products! This book is very much the product of exactly what I wanted to make, but I see that as a beginning, not an end. Now that these rules and ideas are out in the world, I hope you will take the opportunity to shape, mold, and build off of them to create whole-new things I could never dream of.

(Yep. It’s a Nuar in a Suit)

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ShadowFinder Inspirations List

This week seems to be all about previews of some of the material from the ShadowFinder book I announced in my ShadowFinder Is Coming post.

So, what on Earth has gone into my head to lead me to want to write this book? Well… there’s a lot of it.

Appendix A: Inspirations List

This excerpt of Appendix A is not part of the OGL content of this site, and it not covered by any of the licenses this product is published under. It’s a separate, editorial list presented under fair use.

While ShadowFinder is not an effort to duplicate any specific piece of genre fiction, it absolutely does draw inspirations from a wide range of movies, shows, anime, books, and comics. While I simply do not have room (or time) to compile a comprehensive list, I did want to touch on some of the biggest contributors to the zeitgeek I’m trying to tap into. Very few of these represent exactly what I expect a ShadowFinder game session to look like, but most of them have elements that could easily inspire ShadowFinder plots, adventures, and characters.

This is just the film and television parts of the appendix from the book, which also has comics and literature… though wow have I wanted more tv and movies in the past 20 years than read books. 😛

In some cases, I have listed the original source of a franchise, even though something later in the franchise might be the first thing that that inspired me. In other cases, I list some later product, because it stands out in my mind from the rest of its franchise. There’s a reason both Dawn of the Dead movies are listed but not all the related zombie films, and Friday the 13th Part II and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday are the only two Friday the 13th movies listed.

Inclusion here is absolutely not a claim of quality entertainment, in value, theme, presentation, or diversity. A lot of these are bad, and the very fact they are bad sometimes is what caused them to spark ideas in my head. In particular, many of these things now make me cringe when I read or watch them, as they have tropes, attempts at jokes, and stereotypes that should never have been acceptable. Please, check reviews and content warnings before trusting them to be entertaining. There are some great ideas in these, but too often they are mixed with bigotry and bias. I know we can all do a better job when importing the cool parts into our own stories.

Also, a lot of them are horror-themed, despite the fact I don’t consider ShadowFinders to be designed as a horror genre. But modern supernatural stories often are horror, and part of the point is that slasher and monster-in-the-sewer films go differently when PCs get involved.

[H2]Film and Television

Alias. Created by J.J. Abrams.

Alligator. Directed by Lewis Teague.

Angel. Starring David Boreanaz.

Angel Heart. Directed by Alan Parker.

Assault on Precinct 13. Directed by John Carpenter.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Directed by John DeBello.

Attack the Block. Directed by Joe Cornish.

Battle Royale. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

Belphegor, or the Phantom of the Louvre. Directed by Claude Barma.

Big Trouble in Little China. Directed by John Carpenter.

Black Dynamite. Directed by Scott Sanders.

The Blair Witch Project. Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.

The Blob. Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.

The Blues Brothers. Directed by John Landis.

The Boondock Saints. Directed by Troy Duffy.

Brimstone. Created by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris.

Bubba Ho-Tep. Directed by Don Coscarelli.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.

The Cabin in the Woods. Directed by Drew Goddard.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Directed Ken Hughes.

C.H.U.D. Directed by Douglas Cheek.

Cool World. Directed by Ralph Bakshi.

The Craft. Directed by Andrew Fleming.

Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Jack Arnold.

The Crow. Directed by Alex Proyas.

Dark Angel. Created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee.

Dark City. Directed by Alex Proyas.

Darkman. Directed by Sam Raimi.

Dawn of the Dead. Directed by George A. Romero.

Dawn of the Dead. Directed by Zack Snyder

Death Valley. Developed by Eric Weinberg, Curtis Gwinn, and Spider One.

Deep Rising. Directed by Stephen Sommers.

Demon Knight. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson.

The Descent. Directed by Neil Marshall.

Escape from New York. Directed by John Carpenter.

Equinox. Directed by Robert Day.

Evil Dead II. Directed by Sam Raimi.

Five Deadly Venoms. Directed by Chang Cheh.

The Fog. Directed by John Carpenter.

Friday the 13th, the Series. Created by Frank Mancuso Jr. and Larry B. Williams.

Friday the 13th, Part II. Directed by Steve Miner.

Fright Night. Directed by Tom Holland.

Fringe. Created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci.

From Dusk till Dawn. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Game of Death. Directed by Bruce Lee.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Directed by Jim Jarmusch.

Ghostbusters. Directed by Ivan Reitman.

The Golden Child. Directed by Michael Ritchie.

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter.

Happy! Created by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson.

Hellraiser. Directed by Clive Barker.

Highlander. Directed by Russell Mulcahy.

Highway to Hell. Directed by Ate de Jong.

The Host (Gwoemul). Directed by Bong Joon-ho.

House II: The Second Story. Directed by Ethan Wiley.

House on Haunted Hill. Directed by William Malone.

Howard the Duck. Directed by Willard Huyck.

Hudson Hawk. Directed by Michael Lehmann.

In the Mouth of Madness. Directed by John Carpenter.

Infinity Train. Created by Owen Dennis.

John Dies at the End. Directed by Don Coscarelli.

John Wick. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Directed by Adam Marcus.

Jurassic Park. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Directed by Stephen Chiodo.

The Kingdom (Original title: Riget). Created by Lars von Trier.

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Directed by Gordon Hessler.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Creator Jeff Rice.

Kung Fu Hustle. Directed by Stephen Chow.

L.A. Story. Directed by Mick Jackson.

Labyrinth. Directed by Jim Henson.

The Lair Of The White Worm. Directed by Ken Russell.

Lake Placid. Directed by Steve Miner.

The Last Dragon. Directed by Michael Schultz.

The Lost Boys. Directed by Joel Schumacher.

The Lost Room. Created by Christopher Leone and Laura Harkcom.

El Mariachi. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Midnight, Texas. Developed by Monica Owusu-Breen.

MirrorMask. Directed by Dave McKean.

Monster Squad. Directed by Fred Dekker.

Mortal Kombat. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.

National Treasure. Directed by Jon Turteltaub.

Near Dark. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Neverwhere. Created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry.

Nightbreed. Directed by Clive Barker.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Directed by Chuck Russell.

Night of the Lepus. Directed by William F. Claxton.

The Passage. Created by Liz Heldens.

Pi. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

The Prophecy. Directed by Gregory Widen.

Predator. Directed by John McTiernan.

Prince of Darkness. Directed by John Carpenter.

Pumpkinhead. Directed by Stan Winston.

Puppet Master. Directed by David Schmoeller.

Quatermass and the Pit. Directed by Roy Ward Baker.

The Quiet Earth. Directed by Geoff Murphy.

Raiders of the Lost Ark. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Rawhead Rex. Directed by George Pavlou.

Re-Animator. Directed by Stuart Gordon.

REC. Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza.

Repo Man. Directed by Alex Cox.

The Return of the Living Dead. Directed by Dan O’Bannon.

Salem’s Lot. Directed by Tobe Hooper.

Sleepy Hollow. Created by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove, and Len Wiseman.

Special Unit 2. Created by Evan Katz.

The Strain. Created by Guillermo del Toro, and Chuck Hogan.

Stranger Things. Created by the Duffer Brothers.

Streets of Fire. Directed by Walter Hill.

The Stuff. Directed by Larry Cohen.

Supernatural. Creator Eric Kripke.

The Swarm. Directed by Irwin Allen.

Them! Directed by Gordon Douglas.

They Live. Directed by John Carpenter.

The Thing. Directed by John Carpenter.

Thirteen Ghosts. Directed by Steve Beck.

Trancers. Directed by Charles Band.

Tremors. Directed by Ron Underwood.

Vampire Hunter D. Directed by Toyoo Ashida.

Vampires. Directed by John Carpenter.

Warlock. Directed by Steve Miner.

The Warriors. Directed by Walter Hill.

The X-Files. Creator Chris Carter.

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Making Combat Interesting: The Really Wild West Clockwork Platform Fight

I recently ran a fight in my Really Wild West campaign, using Starfinder rules, that took place atop a series of spinning, moving, shifting gears. Overall, it was big hit.

(Plus a hodge-podge of objective markers, miniatures, models, and standees)
(and one 3D printed mechanical dog, used to represent the old west mechanic’s steampunk canine drone)

Now, this was made much easier by the fact that one friend of mine made these big green gridded disks from flower/cake foam (to use as hills and such), and other got this spinning, sliding lazy susan tabletop. So all I had to do was tell folks the disks were big bronze gears, spin and turn them (they both rotated on their own axis, and spun around each other at different speeds), and players could rotate the whole map if they needed to see what was on the far side of the gear-pile.

I warned people that the mechanism was so complex as to be essentially unpredictable, so while I tried to follow some basic rules on how things spun and moved, if I messed up players knew that randomness was intended. While the gears were officially in constant movement I just relocated them at the end of each round, so players always had a chance to react to one position before they formed a new one (and, after all, realistically the characters are in “constant motion” as well).

On top of the big moving gear platforms, there were two sets of “control cogs,” parts of a Babbage system that controlled the movement of the gears (orange markers), and the actions of the constructs defending them (green markers). The mechanic in the group managed to get access to those things, though it wasn’t easily, and one-by-one shut down the constructs while their allies used mobility (including good Acrobatics or Athletics checks and actual mobility to avoid attacks from spinning gears as the dodged about), flight, and climbing to move around.

So, this encounter had fairly normal combatants, but a lot of other things going on as well. In fact I kept the combatants pretty straightforward (well… one had a steam-pressure triphammer than could boost for multiple rounds to gain more and more bonus dice to its next attack) just so I wasn’t throwing too much at the players.

I’ve done similar things with moving elements before–fighting on rafts in rivers choked with floating logs, conflicts on trains both mobile and stationary, running battled through tunnels with teleportation gates, stampedes as hazards with big rocks to hide behind and every other space counting as an attack of opportunity as you try to avoid being trampled–but I think this is the most complex and multi-moving-part encounter I’ve done. And my players are all veterans of gaming and general and, at 9th level, this campaign and these characters in particular.

And it’s fairly easy to spice things up with doing so far as to have two Jedi battle it out on rocks bobbing along streams of lava with guard skiffs flying by. A battle behind a waterfall makes everything wet, and drowns out all noise. Defending a wall gives all the PCs cover–or all the PC’s foes cover, depending on which side of the wall they are on. A cliffside fight is all about climbing up, down, and sideways rather than running N, S, E, and W. Fights on frozen ponds, or in hurricanes, or in grass fields that stand 12 feet tall — not only do these things give the players a new experience, it can make various class and ability options they take worthwhile. Who wants to move freely through natural terrain if there isn’t the occasional thorny bramble covering 13 of the map, with grig archers shooting out of it?

You don’t need to shake things up in every battle, but just a few props now and then, or a different kind of terrain or local hazard, can help a specific encounter be memorable.

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Battle of the Bands: Reskinning Chases as Musical Contests for Starfinder

One of the great things about the Starfinder Core Rulebook is that is has built-in vehicle chase rules. That framework is great for opposed efforts that just wouldn’t work well using normal battle-grid and movement rules. But once we HAVE that framework, we can adapt it to other conflicts that don’t depend on attack rolls and Stamina points as much as they do relative success.

Like a Battle of the Bands, Starfinder-style!

“Can no one defeat the Digital DeckGod? Wait… a new challenger appears. Please welcome to the stage… Cherry Cyborg Candy!”

(Art by Corona Borealis)

Okay, to run a Battle of the Bands, where two or more acts compete to win the hearts of a judge or audience (be that live in person, or while suspended on platforms above molten lava with a mad undead host calling the shots),we need to take the existing Vehicle Chase rules, and make some tweaks.

If you are setting up a battle of the bands where actual attacks are allowed, you may describe the set-up as having each band of a floating, mobile stage hovering over the crowd. then, engaging maneuvers allow members to make melee attacks, as normal.

This could be a one-time event PCs have to take part in to save a kidnapped famous singer, the only way to earn the trust of a powerful witchwarper drummer with a secret the PCs need, or even just a common part of the mystery-solving adventures of a space band.

Relative Positioning: Battles of the Bands uses the same Relative Positioning rules as vehicle chases, but rather than represent a physical distance apart, it represents relative popularity with the viewers or judges. Once you are 2 or more relative positions behind the leader, you are out of the battle. If there are just 2 bands competing this ends the battle, but in a free-for-all bands could be slowly dropping out until only 2 remain. If a single band is ahead of everyone else, they get the normal Being Ahead bonus to skill checks and attack rolls.

Musical Armor Class: Each band has a Musical Armor Class (MAC), equal to 10 plus (average ranks of appropriate Profession skill among band members). Each band member contributes only their highest ranks in appropriate Profession skills to this total. This does mean a bigger band with a few less-skilled members may have a lower MAC, but those extra members get actions each round so it may be worth it. Use this in place of vehicle KAC for actions.

Musical Item Level: Each band has a Musical Item Level (MIL), equal to 10 plus the highest number of ranks of an appropriate Profession possessed by any band members). You use this in place of vehicle item level for all Band Action DCs members of the band attempt. This does mean the better your best band member is, the harder it is for anyone to make Band Actions, but it turns out if you can’t keep up with your headliner, it sounds bad.

Phases of a Battle of the Bands: Use the normal phases of a vehicle chase for the battle of the bands, but with one crucial difference. Rather than Pilot actions, the first phase is Perform actions, representing musical actions or part of the band’s stage show.

There are the same choices of perform actions as pilot actions in a vehicle chase, but perform actions are taken with appropriate Profession skills (normally dancer, musician, orator, poet, video personality, electrician, vidgamer, and manager, though specific bands might have others) in place of Pilot.

Each member of a band can attempt their own perform action (go in order of initiative), but a band can only benefit from one successful action each phase (ie if a band member tries to break free and fails another member can try the same action, but once any band member succeeds, no further benefit can be gained from that action in that phase. All the pilot actions from vehicle combat are allowed, with the GM and players describing them in terms of band actions (“I’ll use the trick pilot maneuver to represent playing a riff that is disharmonic with all the other band’s music, making them sound worse, while reinforcing our disintegrator-rock sound.”)

If a band member attempts the same action another band member has already attempted, or uses the same Profession skill, they take a -2 penalty to their check. This applies to checks attempting in the same phase, or that were attempted in the previous round — it turns out audiences like some variety. Band members can also ready an action to aid another on an ally’s perform action skill check — harmony is a thing.

The chase progress phase and combat phase proceed normally. Even if a battle of the bands doesn’t allow actual combat, this is the phase when characters an use other class abilities, cast spells, try to demoralize foes, and so on, if they have actions left.

That’s It! You are now ready to run varied, nuanced Battle of the Band contests in Starfinder!

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Ned Kelley vs Dracula. A Timeline

A timeline.

1431. Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia, is born in Sighişoara, Transylvania.

1441. Vlad is knighted into the Order of the Dragon, the youngest noble to ever receive this honor. The order’s primary goal is to destroy the Ottoman Empire. Vlad receives the right to be named “of the Dragon,” or “Drăculea.”

1442. Vlad and his older brother are imprisoned in Tokat Castle, in northern Turkey, and held as hostages to ensure that his father, who is waging war against the Ottomans, does so honorably. The Tepes brothers are treated well, and educated and taught science, philosophy, the arts, and even allowed to continue their martial training.

1444. Chaffing under his imprisonment, Vlad III seeks additional, darker educations. He managed to communicate with a secret agent of the Scholomance, a school of sorcery that is ruled by the Devil and demands the soul of 1 in 10 students as payment. Vlad excels in these dread powers, as he has excelled at everything he has attempted.

1446. Vlad’s older brother is allowed to join his father. Vlad redoubles his efforts to master sorcery.

1447. Vlad completes a complex ritual to force fate to arrange for his release. Vlad’s father and brother are killed by Vladislav II with the support of the Ottoman Empire, and Vladislav takes control of Wallachia. Considered no threat as a deposed younger son, and having hidden his fouler education from the jailkeepers he has largely charmed, Vlad is allowed to leave as long as he vows never to take up arms against the Ottomans.

1448. Backed by King Ladislaus V of Hungary, Vlad takes up arms against the Ottomans, and Vladislav. He fuels his victories with a combination of personal combat prowess, tactics, strong leadership, and blood magic using the fresh vitae of fallen soldiers and civilian victims on both sides.

1453. Constantinople falls. Vlad III takes control of Wallachia, and continues to wage war against the Ottomans. Insisting on continuing the war does not sit well with the boyars under his command. He has them impaled, and gathers and preserves the blood for more sorcery.

1462. Vlad is deposed as Prince of Wallachia by Mehmet II. Vlad flees into the mountains, and returns to the Scholomance for further training, doubling the chances his soul will be demanded as payment by doing so.

1476. While leading a scouting party to set an ambush to destroy Mehmet II, Vlad and a small guard are themselves ambushed and his men are all slain. Vlad appears to be dead, but has been performing blood magics in preparation for this day for decades. Though his own flesh dies, its living functions are supported by the vitality of the blood he has hoarded.

Vlad flees into the mountains, and begins building a hidden network of agents and apprentices he has trained in scraps of the Scholomance lore he knows, plotting Mehmet II’s death. He sustains himself with magic performed with small, voluntary donations of blood from loyal followers.

1481. Vlad unleashes a curse on Mehmet, slaying him. However, Mehmet had powerful supernatural protections of his own, woven by Gileadian talismancers and astrologers, who were tolerated by the Ottomans. Vlad suffers massive eldritch backlash, and his need for blood intensifies. He also suffers a need to draw strength from the earth, preferably in a stone vault, and a vulnerability to many holy words and objects.

For the next 400 years, Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, and the Gileadian champions of peace and life known as the Hieremias (or ‘Weeping Prophets,’ as they can invoke a sight to pierce illusion which turns one eye blue briefly and causes it to weep tears of blood) wage a secret occult war against one another in eastern Europe. Drăculea is impregnable in his hidden mountain fortress Nefartatul, but lacks the resources to strike far from there. He trains Sfinții Dracului (‘Saints of the Dragon’) to act as his agents and form secret cells of those loyal to him, but they cannot overcome his enemies without being revealed and then destroyed. The Hieremias seek to find a way to cut Drăculea off from the safety of the earth and stone, but must be close to Nefartatul to do so, and suffer great losses in the efforts. Over time, both groups grow weak and are vastly reduced in numbers.

1536. King Henry VIII deposes the FitzGerald dynasty as Lords Deputies of Ireland. A group of Hieremias rush to Ireland to recover and protect ancient Ottoman relics that were in the FitzGerald’s hands. A small group of these remain in Ireland, using the chaos between Catholic and Protestant forces to remain largely unnoticed. They marry in to local families, and pass on much of their mystic lore. Those families become known as “Cuidightheach,” or “The Helpful Folk,” and “Mac Óda” or “son of Óda’ (Óda being a nickname given to one of the original Hieremias to arrive in Ireland).

1691. The Irish Catholic Jacobites surrendered at Limerick. Among them are several families descended from the “Cuidightheach” and “Mac Óda,” though these names have become the family name “Cody.”  

1800. Mary Cody, a strong scion of the Cody linneage, is born in the Irish townsland of Clonbrogan.

1820. Mary Kelly ne Cody gives birth to John Kelly.

1840. John Kelly is transported to Australia as punishment for the crime of Pig Stealing.

1845. The Irish Great Famine of 1845 – 1847 begins.

1854. Ned Keely is born in Victoria, Austalia, the third of eight children of John Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He grows up to be a bushranger, a criminal who operates out of the wilderness in Victoria, Australia.

1877. Dracula travels to London by ship, consuming all aboard.

1878. Dracula is nearly destroyed by Professor Van Helsing and his allies. The Dread Lord successfully fakes his destruction, but must flee from eyes that will watch for him in England and Transylvania. Needing a place civilized enough to provide sustenance, and considered dangerous enough for his kills to not immediately raise suspicions, Dracula takes passage to Australia.

1879. Dracula uses his experiences in England to successfully introduce himself into British nobility in Victori, and begins to take control of it

1880. Ned Kelly, bushranger, famously dons heavy armor to survive various shootouts with Victoria police and army forces. Kelly’s crucifix, passed down from the Cody line, reveals one of the sheriff deputies he shoots to be a Sfinții Dracului, and realizes Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, is present in Australia.

He begins gathering forces to support him in a crusade against the undead prince.

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