Category Archives: Adventure Design

Ways to Boost a Foe’s CR in Starfinder

Yesterday we discussed why Starfinder doesn’t really follow the CR and CR equivalent charts in the core rulebook in all situations. I also linked to my “CR 6 +1” manticore as a way I had created a CR 7 monster appropriate for 5th level characters. A lot of people wanted to know if there were fast and easy ways to boost the CR of a Starfinder creature by +1 without making them too dangerous for lower-level players.

So, here are three! (Note that these don’t work as well if the players are already higher-level than the monster’s CR.)

Art By Herschel Hoffmeyer

*Boost All It’s Lower Values: Look at the creature’s saving throws, and make them all as good as its best save. Look at its attacks, and make all its attack bonuses as good as it’s best attack bonus. Look at its skills, and give them all the bonus for its highest skill. Increase its initiative modifier to be 4 higher than its highest ability score modifier. If it’s EAC is more than 2 lower than its KAC, bring it to be within 2. Remove any vulnerabilities.
This doesn’t raise the opponent’s numbers to be higher than the PCs can deal with at its level, but it does make it as strong as is reasonable in every area of combat. Without a weakness the PCs can exploit, the foe is more effective in whatever area happens to be important in the chaos of a fight.

*Double Its Hit Points: A foe that lasts longer can do more damage, but obviously it’s as dangerous as two of the same foe, since it can still make only one set of attacks per round, can only be in one place, and any penalties the PCs inflict only have to target one enemy. This one is fast and easy, but it has the downside that combats can drag on a bit, so only use this sparingly, and when you want an opponent to come off as super-tough.

*Give It Area/Ranged Attacks: You don’t want to make it do more damage or have a better attack bonus, but you can give it ranged, area attacks that do appropriate damage for its level. A breath weapon is a good example of this, as are any grenades with an item level equal to its CR or less. The idea here is to let it damage multiple PCs in a single attack action, and be able to switch up its attack options based on what’s happening in the combat.

PATREON
Want to see more game system analysis? Starfinder content? PF1, PF2, or 5e? Something else entirely? Let me know and, if you are enjoying any of these, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

The Issues of CRs and Multiple Creatures in Starfinder

So if you look in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, it’ll tell you that encounter difficulty is determined by comparing an encounter’s CR to your player’s Average Party Level (APL), as follows:

Encounter Difficulty

DifficultyCR Equivalency
EasyAPL – 1
AverageAPL
ChallengingAPL + 1
HardAPL + 2
EpicAPL + 3

It’ll also tell you that you can determine the CR equivalence of multiple creatures with the following table.

CR Equivalencies

Number of CreaturesCR Equivalency
1 creatureCR
2 creaturesCR + 2
3 creaturesCR + 3
4 creaturesCR + 4
6 creaturesCR + 5
8 creaturesCR + 6
12 creaturesCR + 7
16 creaturesCR + 8

Both these tables are useful… and both are wrong in ways the core rulebook doesn’t explain (we didn’t really realize it when we wrote the book — or at least I didn’t), and that isn’t intuitively obvious. But depending on how you combine these, your encounters may be way too easy, or way too hard.

Let’s start with when it may create an encounter much harder than expected.

Single Creatures of Higher CR

If you use a single higher-CR creature to make an encounter above your player’s APL, that encounter is going to be much harder than the core rulebook suggests. A single creature 1 CR higher than your PCs’ APL is on the tougher end of “Hard,” not merely “Challenging.” A single creature 2 CR’s above APL is Epic. And a single creature 3 CR above APL is likely to be more murderous than fun.

The reasons for this are baled into how Starfinder is different from pathfinder. First, the math is tighter. In Pathfinder you often have 1 or 2 players who are well ahead of the average PC curve in one area or another. Thus when you challenge them with a higher-CR foe, the one PC who is above the curve in whatever aspect of the game is effective against that foe can affect it, and the other PCs can support them. In Starfinder, the upper level of effectiveness is much more tightly controlled (and monster state blocks are much more consistent), so as the CR of a single monster goes up, the % chance of any attack of ability affecting them drops in ways the PCs cannot easily deal with.

Similarly, the raw bonuses and DCs a monster has increase in ways the PC’s defenses aren’t designed to handle, and a single higher-CR creature is likely to focus its attacks more than two lower-CR ones, just as a practical matter of space, reach, and line of sight.

Relatedly, the prevalence of save-or-lose effects is much lower in Starfinder than Pathfinder. In Pf, if you are just facing one foe players can spam hold or similar spells until the enemy fails a saving throw. Which such effects exist in Starfinder they are much less common, and generally more limited in scope.

Additionally Starfinder generally increases combat effectiveness not with multiple attacks, as Pathfinder does, but with each single attack anyone makes doing more and more damage. This both means the PCs can;t spam 3-6 attacks a round at a foe hoping to roll well on at least a few (and thus get a little damage in each round), and that a GM can’t have a foe divide their attacks among multiple PCs to make sure one is not killed in a lucky shot.

These factors combine to mean than one CR 8 foe is much more dangerous to a group of PCs than three CR 5 foes. It is much harder for the PCs to connect with it, given it’s higher ACs and better saves, and rather than have the threat be reduced as they drop one enemy and can focus on the other two, it remains at full effectiveness until dropped. And many legitimate class builds that focus on area attacks which help deal with three CR 5 creatures are actually less common against one CR 8.

So the table that tells you an APL +3 encounter is Epic (but reasonable) is only true if you are using multiple creatures of roughly your parties APL.

But, of course, there’s another possible weird result, when things are much easier than expected…

Art by likozor

Multiple Creatures of Lower CR

The other thing the core rulebook tells you is that 16 creatures make up an encounter with a CR equal to their indiviual CRs +8. That ought to mean that if you have an APL of 9th level, you can challenge them with 16 1st level foes.

But you can’t. I mean you can do it, but it won’t be a challenge.

In this case, the tighter math and reduced attacks per round work in the PCs’ favor. The AC of a typical CR 1 combatant is 11 lower than a CR 9 combatant, and it has 20 HP, compared to the CR 9’s 145. One or two area attacks can wipe out all the CR 1 foes, and their attacks are insignificant even if they manage to connect with PCs.

Now being able to be in multiple places can given useful otpions, and of course a clever Gm CAN build an encounter where eight CR 1 foes are at least interesting (putting them in defensive positions, for example, or spread them out and set the encounter so the PCs want to capture them all without letting any escape, rather than just defeat or bypass them). But failing that, for a satisfying encounter you generally don’t want to use foes with a CR more than 3 below your PCs’ APL.

The Takeaway

When using the CR system in Starfinder, try to stick to creatures with a CR no more than 3 below, or 1 above, your party’s APL.

(Unless you are prepared to get clever, as I experimented with when building a CR “6 +1” Manticore.)

PATREON
Want to see more game system analysis? Starfinder content? PF1, PF2, or 5e? Something else entirely? Let me know and, if you are enjoying any of these, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

The “Damn” Manticore of Really Wild West (in Starfinder)

In yesterday’s session notes for my third Really Wild West Game, I mentioned the main villain was a modified manticore. I took the base stats from Legendary game’s excellent Alien Bestiary (name mentioned here with special permission from LG), and made some changes.

Some of those changes are stylistic. I wanted a scorpion-tailed manticore, rather than a spike-flinging tail. But some of the changes (higher will saves, flexible tail, flyby attack, advanced weaponry) are specifically designed to make it a more dangerous foe.

Essentially, I wanted a CR 7 threat to be an epic encounter for the five 5th level heroes, but I didn’t want to use a CR 7 monster. In Starfinder, the math is so tight, fighting something that is 2 CRs above you can be extremely frustraintg, ebcause it never misses, and you rarely hit. Using two CR 5 monsters as a CR 7 encounter works great, but here I experimented with boosting the combat effectiveness of a foe without boosting their HP, AC, attack values, and so on. I list this as CR 6 +1; it’s CR 7 for all purposes except it’s array.

Then at the end I list my GM notes on two of the bits of treasure Gaotema had. They helped tell this specific monster’s story — an Ottoman Turk manticore who has been around since the 1700s, and fought for the Confederates in the US Civil War, then turned mercenary and gang leader after the South lost.

Gaotema, sans hat, art by Jacob Blackmon

GAOTEMA, The “Damn” MANTICORE
Manticore           CR 6+1
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +13
DEFENSE              HP 95    
EAC
18; KAC 20
Fort +10, Ref +10, Will +10
OFFENSE
Speed
40 ft., fly 60 ft. (Ex, average)
Melee
claw +16 (1d8+11 S) or stinger +16 (1d8+11 P, Fort DC 17)
Ranged
grenade launcher +14 (“Puckle Gin,” See below)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with stinger)
Offensive Abilities Flexible Tail (Threaten foes in reach even if they have cover)
STATISTICS
Str
+5, Dex +2, Con +3, Int –1, Wis +0, Cha +0
Skills Survival +18 (+22 when tracking)
Feats Flyby Attack (as PF1), Mobility, Spring Attack
Languages Common, Ottoman Turkish
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Doomstone-Enhanced Poison – Uses track of target’s highest ability score. End State is Venom-Wight. DC 17 (7 points of damage)

Each state takes twice as long as the one before it
Immediate/1 round – Save or Weakened             
2 rounds – Save or Impaired                                       
4 rounds – Save or Staggered                                    
8 Rounds – Save or Immobile                                     
16 rounds – Save or Venom-Wight                        

Puckle Gun
2280 cr.               60 ft.     8 grenades         5 bulk    Analog, Expiramental
Grenades
Grey Smoke – Fortitude saving throw each round (DC = 13 + 1 per previous check) or spend that round choking and coughing; he can do nothing else. A character who chokes for 2 consecutive rounds takes 1d6 nonlethal damage. Concealment.
Silver Smoke – DC 14, or forget details of what you saw without confirmation afterward.
Black Smoke – As smoke + tail venom, above
Red Shell – 5d6 fire, half damage to targets within 20 feet (Ref negates)
Experimental — If damaged, roll d20 on the mishap chart, below.
1-5: Backfire, user takes 1d6 fire damage each time it fires.
6-10: Takes a full round action to attack.
11-15: Can’t load a new round without a DC 17 Engineering check
16-20: Inaccurate. Roll scatter for every attack.

Artilleryman’s Hat – Constant – Reduce effect of miss change from smoke/fog/vapor-base concealment by half, and it is never total concealment.
Standard Action – Grant 1 hour of immunity to inhaled smoke/fog/vapor effects. 1/day.
“A battered hat with many cuts and scrapes, there is a Confederate artillery pin stuck on top of a faded Union artillery patch.”

Compression Gear Harness
Standard to activate, 1/day, for 1 hour +4 to bulk carrying capacity, +2 damage with melee attacks
2 bulk, 5k credits, item level 5, must be custom fit with Engineering check

PATREON
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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 3)

Since people still seem to be enjoying after-action reports of my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign, here’s a write-up adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report for Session Three!

You can find Session One here: Part One, Part Two.
Session Two here: Part One, Part Two.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

Session 03:

Day 06

The players investigate the eponymous Circle Axe the Circle Axe Ranch is named for. It is 4ft tall, 30lbs. When the land was pioneered 50 or so years ago, Dwargus hardfist (the current foreman and a dwarf) was here with his grandmother. She had them stop here and dig up this axe, buried in the ground, because she could sense it. She believes it dates back to when a Hardfist was with Leif Erikson’s exploration of the area.

  • Discover it is a magic item, The Double Blade, which is Axiomatic, Bane vs. creatures aligned to, or serving humility or gluttony.
  • Serves Pride and Patience. “Pride and Pateince” is the Hardfist family motto. It dates back to Nordic days, when Pride was seen as a sin by the family, and patience their failing.
  • Can oversee an oath – is doing so right now. Therefore, that oath is still intact. Dwargus is sure no one has used it for an oath since it was buried. Since it was buried, the PCs think the oath might have been a treaty of some kind (for “Bury the hatchet’)
  • Made of steel alloyed with a star metal – noqual. Not usually compatible with steel.
    • Some magical process fused them
    • It weighs 2x-3x what it should
    • It has become a crystalline matrix of steel

Since the PCs are here to stop the Manticore only Dwargus has ever seen, which always kills of his (and ONLY his) cattle each time they are picked from the general hear, their plan is to have the cattle picked, put in buildings in a nearby abandoned town (Horse Creek), and wait for the Manticore to arrive. Sawyer (fenrin operative bounty hunter) buys a cow to mix in with Dwargus’ herd

Day 07 – At the ambush

  • The cows are in two buildings
  • Two ranch hands — Bohoss (an ogre) and Waterlily (an elf) are handling the cattle to keep them calm
  • PCs wait for the attack … and it comes!

FIGHT!

  • First there’s a distant “thump” then a silvery fog rolls in. Everyone needs to make a DC 10 Will save, and those who fail it can’t remember any element of the situation they aren’t currently seeing. Tess (human mechanic) fails her save… but asks her drone what she is doing in a building, at night, near cows, and when explains she rushes out to help.
  • Then the hossest-looking manticore flies in
    • Wearing a previously Union Artilleryman’s hat – debadged
    • Armored forearms with mechanical thumbs
    • Mounted, heavily modified and updated Puckle Gun on its shoulder
The Manticore, Gaotma, by Jacob Blackmon
  • He swoops in and fires at Anuthyr (centaur paladin) – same “thump” sound occurs
    • It’s his fog gun!!
    • MARTIAN BLACK GAS!!
    • He calls her a bad name in Ottoman Turkish – Pislick (“dirt” – piece of crap or asshole)
  • Sawyer flies up and shoots the manticore … real hard
  • Liam (human soldier) was in a sniper position behind the saloon sign on its roof. He drops his rifle and leaps upon he Manticore’s back in an attempt to sunder its gun harness.
    • Gets stung – poisoned
    • Extremely virulent (Doomstone does not use the normal Starfinder poison rules for common poisons, but DOES use them for this poison. Which, worse, uses the track of your HIGHEST ability score!)
    • Liam and damages the harness (As an Experimental weapon it rolls on a failure chart each time it is damaged — it is now a full action to use. So the manticore can no longer use it while flying, and must land).
    • Hangs on, dragging the Manticore to the ground
  • Anuthyr sets for charge and challenges the manticore
  • He shoots her, she stands strong and challenges again
  • Brone (Half-orc technomancer cartographer) tries to cast from cover and is stung and poisoned. The manticore’s tail has reach AND can make attacks of opportunity around corners!
  • Four serpentfolk teleport in, drop off masked bandits, then disappear
    • The bandits have sawed-off double-barrel shotguns, and mining picks with green rims
  • Liam sends up a flare so that Anuthyr can see the manticore on the other side of the black gas
    • Liam starts to succumb to the poison – Dex for him
  • Anuthyr charges – her attack glances off the Manticore’s shoulder armor
    • Manticore identifies himself as Gaotema
  • Gaotema stings and poisons Anuthyr
    • She begins to succumb to the poison – Str for her
  • Sawyer (flying with Davinci wings) keeps Gaotema flatfooted with successful trick attacks
  • Tess and Pinon take on the bandits
  • Brone begins to succumb to the poison – Int
  • The bandits finally get to take action
    • One of them takes on Tess
    • The other two enter the building with Waterlily and 6 cows
    • Lily is shot, but manages to keep the cows calm… during an active shootout right next to them!
  • Liam is stung a second time – poisoned
  • Lily kills a bandit
  • Anuthyr drops her lance, activates Smite, and smacks Gaotema with her sword
    • SMOTE!!
  • Gaotema flies by, attacking Anuthyr
  • Sawyer misses this time
  • Tess takes out another bandit
  • Brone throws a magic Missile at Gaotema
  • Liam shoots Gaotema, putting him on his last leg. Liam’s poison finally stops progressing.
  • Anuthyr charges
  • Gaotema attempts to fly away
  • The last remaining bandit wings a huge knife at Tess, injuring her and knocking her down with a critical hit
  • Liam shoots Gaotema one last time – finally killing him
  • Anuthyr steps up to remove his head saying “You shall see your master in hell.”
    • He responds “Kral Zenhiri is not in hell”

Aftermath:

  • Brone falls over
    • Anuthyr helps him
    • Brone is still in trouble
  • Waterlily is bleeding out
    • Sawyer helps her – stops the bleeding
  • Tess tries to make an anti-venon
    • We need to get his venom out to do so
    • There is something stuck inside the stinger
    • Bohoss smashes it with a rock and gets out a piece of glowing green iron
    • It’s a piece of green iron – radiated. “Doomstone” Get it far enough away from the poisoned, will help
    • Tess gives it to Pinon, who runs it far, far away
  • Brone is still in trouble
    • This isn’t gonna kill him… it’s final state will turn him into something
    • Finally, he stabilizes

We set watches and discuss what to do with the body. Bury them all.

Day 08

  • Brone’s good
  • Bury the bodies – the bandits are all branded with a manticore, and they used to have bounties on them
    • Each had a token of one drop of poison – likely used to locate them by the serpentfolk. We give them all to Anuthyr.
    • The manticore had a flower stuck in his gear (cliff dandelion) that locally is only found on Neblin Ridge – in the disputed territory between the Circle Axe and Vicious Hippogriff ranches.
  • Bury all the items tainted with radiation
  • Leave it unmarked for now

LOOT: Artilleryman’s hat (magical), compression gear harness, Puckle gun (original to 1700s, and upgraded by the Confederates and again recently with Martian-derived tech), one black gas shell, one silver shell, two gray shells. Four sawed-off double-barreled shot guns, four bowie knives, 400 credits worth of Vicious Hippogryph script. Lead case for the Doomstone.

  • The hat
    • The bones and fangs cover up the Union marks
    • Brone mends it
    • It helps the wearer see through smoke, fog, and vapor
    • Gives wearer immunity to smoke, fog, and vapor effects once per day for an hour
  • Harness
    • Once per day, for one hour, allows +4 to bulk carrying capacity, and +2 damage with melee attacks (2 bulk)
  • Puckle gun
    • Grenade launcher – custom made (5 bulk)
  • Lead case
    • Designed to hold the green radiated rock Domstone
    • Inscribed with

Mark II

Doomstone

Go out and get the stone and put it in the case. All the vegetation around it has died.

The rock doesn’t want to be enclosed. It *fights* being put in the lead case, but Tess forces it in.

Anuthyr and Liam can both tell where it is. Brone can too.

PCs return to Dwargus

  • His cattle are fine
  • Bring back the manticore head
  • They cheer, feed us, put us to bed
  • We take watches

Day 09

Everyone’s healed up. Now, only Anuthyr and Brone can feel it where the Doomstone is.

LOOT: 200 credits each for the bounty

Dwargus gives the PCs a writ to legally explore Neblin Ridge, in the disputed territory, as there is enough evidence to suggest criminals are operating out of there.

  • Wants to send the Puckle gun ammo to the Speaker of the State House
  • Wants to buy the Puckle gun for 1500 credits
  • Tess wants to keep the tech

The Plan

  • Stay here tonight
  • Send the ammo to Fontz and Bizmark to take to the State Speaker of the House, who Dwargus trusts, as evidence of criminals with access to martian tech, in the hopes of getting state or federal peacekeepers out here… in 3-4 weeks.
    • Sawyer and Tess write letters of witness for Dwargus
  • PC’s keep the stone with us and head to Neblin Ridge first thing in the morning
  • Use the VH scrip to buy some anti-toxins here at Circle Axe. (Medicinals cost 1/10th list price in Really Wild West)
    • One tier 2 anti-venon
    • Six tier 1 anti-venons
    • One tier 1 sedative

Day 10 – 2 days to Neblin Ridge

Brone says if we take the direct route, the PCs will be seen.

  • However, he says they can take a dry creek bed, not be seen, and take three days instead of two. So they do.
  • As we approach the entrance to the gully, Sawyer finds a trip wire made of spider silk.
  • Loud gunshot goes off – green iron shot
    • Not radioactive, not poisonous, but it would sicken you if shot with it
    • They must have a green iron mine
    • Tess gathers up the pellets

LOOT: Shotgun w/a manticore symbol in the butt

  • We notice that this gully is wide enough for the manticore
  • They have a trail-craft expert with them
  • Find his half-way campsite
  • Used in the last week 5-20 people, possibly the manticore
  • It’s been here weeks, months, maybe years
  • PCs camp aways off so we can watch the camp

As we settle down to camp …

  • Sawyer’s hackles raise
  • Tess sees impact terms in her tea
  • Something is vibrating. Underground?
  • The local fauna doesn’t seem to care
  • Tess determines it’s happening at Neblin’s Ridge, whatever it is
    • Ten to twenty miles away
  • For the next 3-4 hours, the vibration goes off for one minute every half hour
    • Tess gets no sleep

Day 11

On toward Neblin Ridge. Find another trip wire. This time the PCs disarm it and rig it back up to appear to be set up.

LOOT: green iron shot, shotgun

Tess determines these are very well-made shotguns made by a master engineer, but using an extremely simple design, as if he’d never made guns before.

That night, the PCs find another camp site, with a shallow grave next to it.

  • At least three sverfneblin. Dead for awhile.
  • Liam talks to them.
    • In olde German, the corpse will say
    • “They said it was part of the pact. Why are they killing us? They said it was part of the pact. I didn’t know they were killing us.”
    • The body turns to dirt. Released?
    • They were on their way to becoming undead, but being allowed to speak after death has given them epace.
  • We dig them up to give them proper burial.
    • Find a total of 9 bodies
    • Looks like they were buried every three months
  • Other relevant things they say
    • “They do not respect the ore. They do not respect the old ways of mining.”
    • “Damn the pact. Damn the traders. We should have closed the vault.”

XPs: 950

PCs at 12,000 total (15,000 to 6th)

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Second Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part Two)

After the first Really Wild West: Doomstone game session After-Action Report, and its Part Two follow-up, numerous people indicated they were excited to keep learning about the campaign as I run it. So, it’s two weeks later, I’ve run another session, and adapted notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report.

We did Part One yesterday. Here’s Part two. If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

RWW Jerico Pistol

Still Day 4

After recuperating from the fight with monstrous Jerusalem Bugs, the PCs come to a fork in the road. One path leads to the Circle Axe Ranch, the other to the Vicious Hippogriff. There are five people on horses hanging out there, in the middle of the road.

  • When they get close enough, the PCs can see they are cowpokes, the one covered weapons and collar that covers his face, stopping the PCs. They won’t let the PCs pass. Nor will they tell us who they work for (just insisting it’s “the Ranch” without saying which one.)
  • The PCs move away to talk about our options. They glean some information about the cowpoke’s leader. -James “Burning Jack” Byrne,  a gun-for-hire. Wears fire-retardant gear and then covers himself in flammable material. Also, carries dynamite.
  • Burning Jack is clearly crazy.
  • PCs decide to go around, trusting their map and Brone Mallory the half-orc cartographmancer to get them through the badlands. T’ll come back later.

The map indicates that along the route to get to the Circle Axe while avoiding the trail there is–in the middle of nowhere, with no trail or nearby town or even apparent water sources–an inn the PCs can stay at called Tombspider Inn. Skill checks tell the PCs that a Tombspider is spider-based flesh golem construct with built in melee weapons for legs.

  • On the way there they find a ridge that has collapsed about  2 miles shorter than it should be accordign to the otherwise VERY recent and accurate map. Earthquake?

Tombspider Inn

The Inn is veru large and well-maintained… but tumbleweeds blow by right in front of it.

  • Kobold greets us at the door. Seems confused as to why we are here. Says he’s never actually had a customer. His name is Mr. Scrapgnaw.
  • Apparently, this inn was built so that people can fight “the Tombspider” when it returns. It’s been 110 years since the last appearance. Ulysses S. Abernathy was the last, and only, other name in the log book. This is the name of an engineer whose name is a brand of thingamabobs (UPBs) and who created the “phantom pocketwatch” spell. He also built this Inn, and corresponds by mail once every quarter or so.
  • Rooms are free since the PCs are on a quest. Tinned food. Room-temp drinks. Will take awhile to heat up the water for baths.
  • We all partake in the dark gray liquid from a keg marked with a dead dog. Tastes like rum and coke. Not bad!
  • Mr. Scrapgnaw says there’s not been an earthquake per se. Instead, he’s had wonky feelings over several nights recently. He thought it was just tommy-knockers.
  • Scrapgnaw shows the PCs where the Tombspider will supposedly appear in 1936. It’s down below the Inn in a cavern.
  • A rock covered in blood shows the symbol of the spider, but with guns for legs instead of blades.
  • Each Inn room is set up for many people, weapons, wash tubs, curtains, radiators, and gas lamps.
  • We forget to set watches and just enjoy the sleep and the fluffy beds.

Day 05

  • Breakfast: strong coffee, strong tea, cookies.
  • A few Pcs mention they now plan to retire here.

The PCs arrive at the Circle Axe Ranch

  • Sprawling fenced compound.
  • PCs stop at the gate where there is a tall, lanky elf woman. Waterlily.
  • She gets “Bo-hoss” a large ogre to take her post. He sports a rock bandoleer. (A broad leather strap with pockets for 8-10-inch smooth rocks perfect for him to throw)
  • Waterlily takes us to Forman Dwargus Hardfist
    • Hardfist carries a hand cannon (1-shot, 8-gauge shotgun pistol)
    • Has a complex timepiece with multiple functions
  • His family helped establish the ranch, and it was Hardfist’s mother who found the circle-axe the ranch is named for. She claimed it was an old Nordic relic, perhaps tied to the Hardfist family members who helped Leif Erikson explore North America.
  • As a stakeholder, he gets a cut of each Roundup. For the past three years, each time his cattle are separated out they, and not anyone else’s, keep getting eaten by a manticore. No one else ever sees it. If Hardfist can get one more good sale of his share of a roundup, he plans to retire.
  • It’s not the ranch owner’s family doing it.
  • Doesn’t seem to be a curse.
  • This all seems to have started when Felspark, the East Hudson Fur Trading Company representative, arrived as a guest at the Vicious Hippogriff ranch, which is also when relations between the two ranches went bad.
  • Not an illusion.
  • The fighter/mystic, who can both speak to animals and cast grave words, speaks with the skull 0.o
    • PCs hear scared moos from the skull
    • The fighter/mystic hears “Ow! Danger! Danger to the herd! I die.”
  • The skull shows signs of poison. The fenrin;s scent ability allows her to determine the poison is the same as that used by the serpentfolk on the train.

What PCs want to know

  • When is the next cattle round up? (Anytime — it’s been delayed until hardfist could get some help)
  • Where could the serpentfolk and a manticore be hiding?
  • What’re the forces that link the serpentfolk, manticore, and East Hudson Fur Trading Company together after? Water rights aren’t enough for this much trouble.
    • Other ranch may want the water, so they let the manticore folk use the land.
    • Venom King … what’s he after?
    • What have the tripods awoken? Did the black gas seep down and wake something up?
    • What if they’re headed to the hollow world?
    • And the Trading Co would have a monopoly on the passage to the hollow world from the USA.
  • Hardfist is convinced none of his people are leaking information.
  • There were supposedly invisible rattlesnakes in these parts. “Smoke snakes.”
  • The are given the seasonal bunk house to work out of.

XPs: 400 each (PCs now at  11,050, need 15,000 to reach 6th)

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Second Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part One)

After the first Really Wild West: Doomstone game session After-Action Report, and its Part Two follow-up, numerous people indicated they were excited to keep learning about the campaign as I run it. So, it’s two weeks later, I’ve run another session, and adapted notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

Chimera Kid

(Sketch of the Chimera Kid by Jacob Blackmon. The Kid is a figure in RWW: Doomstone the PCs have heard about, but not yet me. Jacob is awesome at capturing character designs in sketches like this, and you can hire him to do it for your characters!)

Session 02

The player running the human mechanic roboticist can’t make it to the game session, but wants us to proceed. That character is determined to have to stay behind in Cheyenne to repair her drone, and will be escorted to the ranch the PCs are heading to in a few days, when the Fonts & Bismark patrol comes back into town so they have spare people to do it. Since everyone wants to play, no one picks at the logic of this too much.

Most PCs stay at Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights. Discover there is a bastet Norwegian Forest Cat named Caesar who is a professional cuddler. Fantastic purrer and snuggler. From a line of French pillow warmers (on his mother’s side) and a Bostonian chimney-sweet (literally crawls into a chimney and cleans it by moving through it, using token Spell to clean himself off when he’s done).

Day 3

PCs gather at the Fonts & Bismark station-house in Cheyenne to pick up the gear they are being given. Station Chief Adler introduces them to a new potential companion — Brone Mallory, a half-orc cartographer technomancer with a Doctorate in Theosophy from Oxbridge University, who is a mail-order theosopher who was hired to help survey the border between the Circle Axe and Vicious Hippogriff ranches. But the survey company went bankrupt while Mallory was in transit, so now he is between jobs. PCs agree to bring him along.

PC skill checks suggest he may have connections to the “Brone,” Normandy orc warcasters from the 900s AD, and possible the Mallory family of humanblooded spells-for-hire that operate around the Appalachians.

PCs decide to head to Circle Axe first. On their way north out of town, they are accosted by a human man with 4 mechanical arms run by a steam abckpack (in addition to his own 2 arms) grooming utensils. He declares he is “Beardcutter Ben, the Shaver’s Friend,” and makes his sales-pitch

  • He claims to be able to solve any problem we have.
  • Centaur Paladin buys a ring of oral hygene
  • Human Fighter/Mystic buys ten water pills (each pill turns into 1 gallon of water)
  • PCs get Beardcutter Ben’s calling card – a small gear-clockwork that when plugged into the Babbage-Bell grid tells you his last known location (he’s a wandering peddler)
  • He offers us a free sample of “Walking Meat” (gum). Says he can;t get anyone to buy it, but it makes long foot travel more pleasant. The human fighter/mystic accepts a piece. It tastes like unseasoned pot roast.

The PCs head north. It’s two day’s travel to the Circle Axe.

Brone writes down the lyrics to a song Sawyer sings on the trail, and does a couple of sketch portraits of her.

At camp the first night, shortly after sundown, the PCs see a figure approach them, with points of light for its eyes, and his mount’s eyes.

  • Skeletal male, humanoid, casually walking toward us. Rifle on shoulder. Pauses at 100ft.
  • He comes from the North, and is headed into town.
  • Wears a deputy’s badge with a skull on it — not a symbol anyone recognizes
  • Smells of turned earth, ashes, and heather
  • PCs can’t identify what he IS, but conclude he’s not an undead
  • He says he is “Deputy B. Hill,” works for “The Marshall.” Someone has “grave jumped,” and he thought it might be one of them — but now that he is here, he sees they are all on “the right side of the dirt.” His prey keeps covering its tracks, “Like a snake shedding its skin fer feathers.”
  • PCs suggest he (might*be hunting the same foe they are looking for. Offer to maybe help. Deputy Hill says he’ll mention the PCs to The Marshall. If Deputy Hill can’t track down the grave-jumper himself, the Marshal may send a less discerning senior deputy, Or a full posse, which can cause “collateral damage.”
  • Deputy Hill rides off, calmly. Later, his horse’s footprints disappear with soft, eerie sounds.

Day 04

A green meteor crosses the sky in the morning. East to West. In the Northern sky. No one is sure what it is, though it could be sky metal.

  • The human fighter/mystic seems to be permeated with a carrion smell, though only the fenrin operative bounty hunter can smell it (has scent).Fighter/mystic’s mouth is dry and foul.
  • Token Spell doesn’t help.
  • The cavalier’s ring of oral hygiene doesn’t help either.
  • Players determine this is an affect-effect of the Walking Meat gum, Determine to Have Words with Beardcutter Ben when they get back to town.

About half a day from the ranches, monstrous Jerusalem Bug (size Small) burst from the ground and attack, focusing on the fighter/mystic at first. PCs ID that these bugs burrow and eat carrion.

  • PCs look at real-world pictures of Jerusalem Bugs, and declare them “A Big ol Bucket of Nope”
  • The PCs identify these eight creatures are Rowdies (first time I have used those rules in a game).
  • They bite and spit entangling resin. Also, rub their legs together making static electric jolts and dust clouds.
  • Fighter/mystic moves to not be surrounded, suffers a knockdown crit. Draws a long knife to fight rather than pistol (has Cleave and there are many AoO possible with so many melee foes)
  • PCs roll BADLY, and the Jerusalem Bugs get multiple knockdown crits.
  • Brone Mallory, the half-orc technomancer, mostly just maintains microbot assault through the whole fight, but the margin makes a difference several times.
  • Tough fight. The fenrin operative bounty hunter loses all Stamina Points, though the player identified she kept taking unnecessary risks.
  • PCs win. Fighter-Mystic heals fenrin operative bounty hunter’s Wound damage, and then most characters take 10 minutes and expend Resolve to regain Stamina Points.

End Part One!

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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part 2)

Apparently there REALLY IS a big demand to hear more about my first session of “Really Wild West: Doomstone.” You can read Part One (which covers the first fight on a train) here, and may find some useful context from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

Disintigration Ray

After the fight, the PCs introduce themselves, and compare notes.

  • According to the Transit and Portage Guild’s bylaws, since the PCs were instrumental in defending Old Number Seven, they have the right to a payment from the train. The acting conductor (the halfling porter) offers them a cut of the valuables from the robbers, or passes for free rides any associated vehicle in perpetuity (the end date on the passes is officially “Kingdom Come.” Every PC decides to take lifetime free travel.
  • The soldier/mystic says he’s gonna talk to Vardalos, the dead Kasatha. PCs all follow, The soldier/mystic casts “grave words,” and the corpse says the following:
    • Stormfront rolling
    • The grass is all blue
    • The venom king has returned – the signet ring
    • My manticore gang – on the revolvers
    • All is lost
    • The teacup is in the meadow
    • Bandersnatch
  • One of the Fonts & Bismark agents confirms a theory of the centaur paladin that the robbers wanted to send the train over the cliff and recover the item from the bottom of the gorge.
  • The soldier/mystic goes to see Vardalos’ *very* strict and loyal pony, which he can talk to. Discover’s the pny’s training means it accepts help from and takes orders from only who its owner approves. It’s owner is now dead, but the owner had allowed the porter to feed it, so it takes orders from the porter. No PC or the porter wanting the pony, it’s decided to give it to the nice Moyer family (1 father and 5 kids, headed to a farm owned by the father’s sister, in Kansas for a fresh start. The mother died during the War, and the father need help raising the kids).
  • The mechanic roboticist helps with the bridge – cuts the repair time in half

PCs arrive in beautiful Cheyenne – which was sacked by Martians.\Is the state capital… but the state and its capital are a mess. Notes about the city:

  • Opera house biggest building left in town, serves as city hall for now.
  • The Tivoli building is almost finished as new construction. It is a Pabst beer distribution center, and has “Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights (an all-race, all-gender brothel) on the second floor.
  • There is a cheap, reliable Cheyenne Citizen Hostel
  • Also some homes that will let a room

The Fenrin Bounty Hunter checks on new Bounties:

  • Chimera Kid is now worth 650c as of yesterday
  • Bounty for “That Goddamn Manticore” 1000c posted by Ranch Master Dwargus Hardfist (a dwarf), go to the Circle Axe Ranch for more information

General:

  • This place is crawling with bounty hunters, assassins, guns fire hire, bodyguards, ugh-me-toughs
  • Why? No clue.
  • Old Blue (a fenrin bloodhound on the sheriff’s porch) says a “Year and a day” ends in a couple of weeks
    • Records house burned to the ground, lots of people died, so there is a lot of land no one knows who owns it. It was decided you can lay claim to land it and if no one has a better claim within a year and a day, it’s yours. Those first year-and-a-day claims come up in a few weeks, and everyone is expecting there to be some trouble over it.

The PCs are invited to a meeting with Fonts & Bismark Station Master Ralston Adler (who turns out to be in a wheelchain) at 5pm, to discuss the mysterious package the bandits tried to steal.

  • The Item is being held for a client who’s coming to get it (no details on who or when available). The item is a Martian crystal (tripod’s power core)
  • Nineteen duplicates were shipped at the same time for security. Eight were attacked
  • About the scrap of paper
    • The handwriting appears to be that of one Felspark Klein – elf woman Regional Director for East Hudson Fur Trading Co. She is new to the position (her predecessor died choking on a chicken bone).
    • She is staying at Vicious Hippogryph Ranch, adjacent to Circle Axe
    • Significant disagreement about who owns what plots of land
      • Biggest area of dispute has all the water
    • Adler agrees to get the PCs a copy of an excellent map of that area (+4 to know where we are)
  • Adler also knows that Dwargus hardfist of the Circle Axe has been claiming for months that a Manticore is loose in Wyomingn and feeding on ONLY his cattle

PCs decide to go check it out. They will wait until the map is ready before they take off to see about this manticore, and checkout Felspark Klein.

Fonts & Bismark agrees to equip the PCs with horses and supplies. Also note that a couple of other people are asking about these events, and if Adler is convinced they are assets, he’ll diect them to the PCs in the morning to see if the PCs want to join up with them.

End of game. XPs: 650 per PC.

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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report

A number of people have asked for more details about the train fight in the first Really Wild West game session (with the campaign entitled “Really Wild West: Doomstone”), so I have adapted notes taken by my wife Lj who is playing a fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer.” Some context may also be available from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

RWW Good Doggo

(“Sawyer,” by Jacob Blackmon)

I specifically set up this fight to bring the player characters together with a common interest. Here’s the set-up.

PCs:
Female Fenrin Operative Bounty Hunter (Seeking a bounty)

Female Centaur Paladin Mercenary (Seeking an ancient evil, the Venom King)

Female Human Mechanic Roboticist (Seeking to access Martian tech found in the field, rather than the picked-over scraps she can get hold of back East) – has stealth drone mechanical dog, “Pinion”

Male Human Soldier/Mystic  Criminal (Seeking to tip the balance for past bad deeds)

1891 – Spring

  • The Fenrin bounty hunter is looking for the Chimera Kid, who he shot a federal judg. The Kid is a Ksatha missing one of his four arms. Fights with poison pistol, flame pistol, ram-headed hammer.
  • Currently tracking Gavra Vardalos, a previous associate of the Kid, who is headed West on the Old Number Seven train out of St. Louis. Vardalos wears a black bandito mask with a green scorpion tail. Vardalos seems to be waiting for something.

Evening of day two – around 36 hours into the trip – as the sun sets

  • Alarm bell goes off as the train comes to an emergency stop
  • Bridge is out ahead. Fresh damage.
  • This might be what Vardalos was waiting for
    • He gets up and says he’s gonna check on his pony
    • Fenrin bounty hunter gets on top of the train and follows
  • The porters arm themselves
  • Vardalos says his pony needs medicine and wants to get into the baggage car
    • A halfling porter takes him around the outside to the caboose
  • Gunshots ring out from within the back of the train

FIGHT!

  • Just after the porter knocks on the caboose door, Vardalos attempts to kill him. Vardalos has two sabers enhanced with jury-rigged Martian heat-ray crystals. The distinctive sound of them powering up can be heard throughout the train, and including by the mechanic roboticist. Fenrin bounty hunter jumps down to stop vardalos.
  • The halfling caboose porter rolls under the train and pulls down a shield with a gun port from the bottom of the caboose, then locks his gun into it
  • The centaur paladin, suspicious of Vardalos’s possible involvement because of the scorpion-tail mask, also comes to stop him.
  • A stamer trunk turns out to be a mimic, and attacks a Fonts & Bismark agent guarding a package in the boxcar.
  • Outside the train, thin lizardfolk step out of the air – serpentfolk (5) from a hidden reality. Everyone not already engaged helps fight them off.
    • They shoot old revolvers. Poisoned bullets.
  • The mechanic roboticist and Pinon run to the back of the train to investigate the Martian tech sounds, and run into the Fonts & Bismark agent fighting against the steam trunk mimic. Stop to help.
  • The caboose door rotates out, revealing an old, beat up robot breakman, with a 2ft spanner
    • Moves to attack the serpentfolk who is attacking the porter
  • When Vardalos dies, his body writhes and breathes out a green vapor
  • As serpentmen overpower the conductor guarding the engine, soldier criminal comes running up the center of the train, shooting it from 2 cars away and preventing it from powering up the train and running it over the broken bridge into a gorge below.

ON VARDALOS: 2 manticore stamped revolvers; 2 jury-rigged Martian metal sabres; 350 credit chips issued from the East Hudson Fur Trading Co.; under a glove a signet ring with a scorpion tail with a green teardrop signet stone; scrap of paper with Fonts & Bismark Service# written on it – these go on whatever F&B is shipping that the mimic went for. The scrap has a watermark from the EHFTco. The fenrin bounty hunter can confirm it’s not written in Vardalos’ handwriting.

At the end of this introductory fight, the fenrin bounty hunter wants to follow up on the clues around Vardalos to see if they lead to the Chimera Kid. The centaur paladin wants to follow up because the green vapor and scorpion-tail clues are her best lead to find the cult of the Venom King. The mechanic roboticist wants to follow up because somehow Vardalos got access to fresh Martian heat-ray technology. The soldier/mystic wants to follow up because this seems like a good opportunity to earn some karmic balance.

The session didn’t end there of course.

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Running a Really Wild West fight on a Train (in Starfinder)

For tonight’s Really Wild West game, I drew out the train “Old Number Seven” on a very simple 1-square-is-30-feet scale. That got the whole (short, 12-car) train onto one map, and character tracked where they were (inside a car, on top of a car, or outside the cars) on that map whenever they were not dealing with anyone in melee.

If greater resolution was needed, each car and its immediate surroundings were drawn on their own flip-tile. We actually only had to do that twice, and while I was initially worried about running one fight at two scales, my (brilliant, veteran) players had no trouble figuring it out or moving PCs seamlessly between them.

It also meant the fight took place over a distance hundreds of feet long, which I could never have gotten onto a single game table. Things like firearm range increments and who was more effective in melee had real tactical impact. (And we got some awesome cinematic moments like the centaur paladin in full plate charging down the length of the outside of the train, the fenrin bounty hunter flinging herself off the caboose’s roof to tackle a foe, and the human soldier running along a train car, civilians huddling for safety as his command at the sides of the car, while he fired at a foe in the aisle of the next car over… and hits!).

It also really helped drive home the genre of this campaign. Sure there were kastha… and snakemen… and centaurs and spells and pistol shots. But it was a fight on a steam train stopped by a blown-up bridge as brigands attacked it.

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Survival in GammaFinder

One of the core concepts of any post-apocalypse RPG is survival. This is definitely true in GammaFinder, as the world is full of poison earth, acid rain, toxic water, deadly environmental effects, baked earth, rusted, twisted metal… it’s harsh. Just traveling beyond a settlement, even if nothing rises to the level of an encounter, is dangerous.

And, as it happens, Starfinder has a Survival skill.

But making Survival rolls daily, and making people think about where their character sleep, find water, hunt, how they avoid heatstroke, dodge poison ivy, and so on gets boring.

So GammaFinder has a Weekly Survival Check.

PA dead carscape

Weekly Survival Check

Each group makes a Survival check each week. The DC is equal to 15 + 1.5 x the average CR of hazards and monsters in the area, +1 per person in the group. (When in double, if there is a titan nearby, the GM can assume the average CR is within the Titans range. Otherwise if the area is not known to be particularly hazardous, assume an average CR of 2. Yes, 2. GammaFinder World is rough).

If multiple people make Survival checks, the highest check result is treated as the primary result, and each character in the group after the first who succeeds adds one to that highest result. The following additional factors modify the roll, as can previous rolls (see results, below).

PA Wasteland

Weekly Survival Check Modifiers
Group begins week out of food and water: -5
Group has no wilderness gear: -2
Group has at least 1 piece of survival gear for each member: bonus equal to the highest item level of such gear every character has. (For example, if 4 people have a piece of 5th level survival gear, but one person only has a 1st-level piece of gear, the bonus is +1. If six people all have a piece of 3rd level gear, the bonus is +3).

Results
You not only need to know if the group succeeded or failed, but by how much.

PA japan Fire

Success by 5 or More: Things went very well! You slept in protected spots, avoided unpleasant allergens and minor hazards, and found plentiful and quality food and water. You do not use up any of your carried food or water resources, and everyone in your group gains a +2 bonus to the next week’s Weekly Survival Check.

Success by 4 or less: You use up resources (such as food and water) normally, but manage to avoid being run down by the constant dangers of the GammaFinder World.

Fail by 5 or less: You didn’t manage ideal conditions, but it’s livable. You might be  sleeping in a cold, cramped space under a large rock, eating grubs, drinking water that’s slimy but not poisonous, or just dealing with gnat bites, rough terrain, sunburn, weariness, and so on.
Everyone in the party takes a -1 penalty to skill checks, including next week’s survival, until you succeed at a weekly survival check or you get a good night’s sleep and food in a settlement. This is cumulative if you fail by this amount in consecutive weeks.

Fail by 6- or more: Why did you ever leave your hovel?

Everyone in the party takes a -2 penalty to skill checks, including next week’s survival, until you succeed at a weekly survival check or you get a good night’s sleep and food in a settlement. This is cumulative if you fail by this amount in consecutive weeks.

Everyone temporarily has their maximum Stamina Points reduced by 1 per character level. This lasts until the group succeeds at a Weekly Survival Check by 5 or more, or get 2 good night’s sleep and food at a settlement.

PA dead trees

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