Category Archives: Adventure Design
Adventure Sketches are just the most basic set up, plot, twist, and development for as many or as few sessions as a GM wants to turn them into. They’re enough guidance to make plotting out a game easy, but not so much it’s hard to fit into any existing campaign.
Intended for Pathfinder, this adventure sketch can be modified to work with nearly any RPG with lawless lands, frontier zones, and numerous races.
The rapids are the most dangerous part of the great river, but are also on a branch of the river easily bypassed by those wishing to use it for travel. The land around the rapids is rockier and heavily overgrown, bad for farming and hard to travel through. It was considered to be most concerning as a potential place for bandit hideouts, but no such group was ever known to use it. As recently as a generation ago the rapids were considered too far from anything of value for any thinking group to bother with them.
But in recent years, numerous aquatic animals and magical beasts have attacked all up and down the rest of the great river, and most ponds and lakes near it. At first such attacks were only on isolated groups, mostly itinerant traders, and local settlements ignored it. But in recent months the attacks have been bolder. Major trade shipments have been attacked, and a few small thorps have been abandoned, with signs of attacks in the disused buildings.
Major merchant princes in faraway lands wish the disruptions of trade to end, and assume some brigand ranger or petty druid is finally using the lands of the rapids to set up an outlaw camp. The merchant princes wish to end the problem quickly and cheaply, and thus have placed a bounty on the leader of these presumed “rapids rogues.” The PCs are drawn into this situation, perhaps to pay off a debt, perhaps as guards for a river trader and his shipment, perhaps as a favor for a struggling vendor, or perhaps just for the bounty.
But in truth, it’s a brine dragon (a juvenile brine dragon perhaps, CR 8, and a good capstone fight for 5th or 6th level PCs) and its lizardmen conscripts that have been causing problems. The brine dragon, Breakwave, has also conquered the local nixie clan who once lived in idyllic peace in the rapids and surrounding lands. Breakwave wishes to build an empire, and forces the nixies to use their talents to train and command aquatic threats (giant caimans, anacondas, arapaima, monstrous electric eels, and dire river otters), and uses threats and bribes to turn any other nearby creatures into soldiers.
The PCs must fight their way through the rapids, learn the true nature of the threat, rescue citizens of the abandoned settlements (many of whom have been pressed into service by Breakwave), bypass monstrous and aquatic guards, and finally defeat Breakwave himself.
And then the real adventure begins.
Breakwave has angered numerous other nearby threats–attacking some, extorting others–and his death causes those threats to rush into the lands around the rapids to claim his presumed hoard. Further, without his *undesired) patronage, and with the rapids now seen as a crucial tactical location, the nixies and their care for that section of the great river are doomed–unless they can convince the PCs to protect them (perhaps in return for the nixies’ loyalty).
And the merchant princes suddenly think the PCs may be making too great a profit. And the lizardmen came from a not-too-distant tribe, who expected regular payments in return for the lizardman mercenary service, and will demand recompense for the loss of the income Breakwater provided.
The PCs can flee the situation, or try to use diplomacy to re-establish equilibrium, or claim the area as their own base of operation, of even pick up where Breakwave left off…
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This Adventure Sketch exists in direct response to backer suggestions for more Pathfinder content, and more adventure ideas. I can only take the time to write up things like this, thanks to my Patrons support! If you’d like to support this kind of material, and suggest other content I might add more of, why not join my Patreon for as little as $3 a month?
One of the things I have given as advice to people who want to break into rpg writing or increase the amount of rpg writing work they receive, is to make pitches to smaller companies. The logic here is that while Paizo and Fantasy Flight and Wizards of the Coast pretty well all know exactly what books they are doing for the next 12-18 months, and likely already have some sense of their schedule over the next 5 years or so, smaller RPG companies are more likely to be flexible and interested in projects freelancers are excited to write. You probably can’t get WotC to publish your idea for an adventure or a book on halfling baking magic, but Rogue Genius Games, Rite Publishing, and other small-to-mid-range companies are more likely to be interested.
If you do it right. And I never really talk about what that looks like. So, here’s a new Writing Basics to cover making rpg-related pitches. A lot of this is going to carry over to other publishing mediums and freelance work… and a lot won’t. As usual this is where I have the most experience, so this is where I am focusing my advice.
Way Before You Pitch
But before you do more than jot down some ideas you want to pitch, you have some pre-work to do. A lot of this is boring, and requires you to put in a lot of effort and thought before you get to any of the fun stuff of making things up for a game. That’s one of the big secrets of freelance work. It’s three jobs—successfully get the assignment, do the assignment, and then get paid for the assignment. The willingness to do this “boring part” is a huge part of how to get good without depending on getting lucky.
So, you want to pitch some companies, So, first, you need to pick some targets. Study your targets. I don’t want to make this sound creepier than it has to, but that really is the best way to say this.
You need to know who to pitch to, and you need to know what to pitch to them. One good way to find companies who are doing current work in the game system you want to write for is to go to DriveThruRPG, search for the game system, and click its home page. On the left is a list of game companies that have had good recent sales on products for that game line. Those are prime targets, because they are making money on that game and are doing do recently.
That’s not the only method of course—see who is active, who freelancers are talking about, who releases lots of products. Ask around.
Once you know who you want to pitch, you want to make it as easy as possible for the people you pitch to say yes, and that requires knowing somethings about them. Check their web sites. Look to see if they have submission guidelines. Look to see if they have a “Contact Us” link somewhere. Look to see if the owners or employees or recurring freelancers have social media you can follow and, if they do, read everything you can.
You can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader. You want to know as much as you can about every company you are going to send pitches to. If they are looking for something specific, if they work in particular game lines, you want to know. Do they use a lot of authors for each product? What size product do they publish? What kinds of products do they publish? Adventures? Monster books? New rules content? Campaign settings? Entire game expansions? Whole games?
Before you ever approach a game company asking if they want to give you work, you want to have a solid idea what kinds of things they publish. That’s a big part of “making it easy to say yes.” Sure, if you have a brilliant idea that’s radically different from what a company normally does they may opt to take a risk on you… but that’s a bigger ask than suggesting you be the person to fill a slot they are already likely to want somebody to fill.
Also, BUY some of the company’s products. Yes, this means spending money before you make money. But not every game company has a style guide, and even the ones who do don’t include all the things they do out of institutional momentum. How a company arranges headers, whether it uses first-person, second-person, or third-person language, how it handles pronouns, how much art it uses, how many maps it presents, how serious or jokey their products are—those things can vary wildly (and can vary by line, or even by product). Knowing at least some of how a company actually presents game material is a huge help both when deciding what to pitch them, and in producing a manuscript they like enough to want to work with you again.
If you can, categorize the types of products produced by numerous game companies and their various lines. This can be helpful when you are first pitching, but it can also be helpful later on. For example, if you know what companies product short monster books for pathfinder tied to a single theme, then if you pitch a book like that to one of them and get turned down, you can quickly decide who to pitch it to next.
Finally, if you have any contacts within the industry, you may want to ask about their experiences working for each of the companies you have picked. Knowing if they are friendly, timely, how they pay (profit-share? Per word? Upon completion or upon publication?), what rights they take (work for hire or share of rights?) can help you know what to expect. You can always try to negotiate these things if they don’t match your needs (and should walk away from an offer rather than take one not worth your time or that takes advantage of you), but that’s another issue that may make it harder for a company to say yes to you.
We’ll continue this advice with Part Two: What to Pitch and When to Pitch It.
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A template for 1st ed Pathfinder, to turn a foe into a Boss Monster.
Initiative: If a boss’s total initiative is less than 15, it changes to 15. If that would cause it to go last in the first full round of combat, it’s initiative improves until it goes next-to-last.
HP: Double total HP
Boss Action: At the end of each round, the Boss gains an additional full-round action. It cannot use this to run, charge, or double-move if it has already done any of those things this turn.
Boss Bash: As a full-round action, a Boss can move itself up to its move and damage all creatures adjacent to it at any point as if it had hit them with a melee attack. If the boss had some kind of limitations on its movement they do not affect this action, but are still in place after it takes this action. This movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Alternatively, it can expend a spell or spell-like ability to damage these creatures equal to 1d6 per spell level +1d6 per 2 caster levels.
This ability looks and is described differently based on what the boss is, and does damage of a type the boss can normally do.
Boss Options: Anything other than boss bash that the boss can do a limited number of times per day, or per minute, or per round, it can do twice as often.
Boss Resilience: If a failed saving throw would normally cause a boss to be helpless, unconscious, dead, or paralyzed, and the boss still has the boss action ability, the failed saving throw instead just strips the boss of its boss action for 1d4+6 rounds.
Treasure: Give double treasure.
There you go! All the boss’s numbers and abilities are in the range PCs can deal with, but it’s twice as tough and dangerous, and harder to pin down or isolate!
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“We are locked in existential battle with the forces of Khernobog. Every living, thinking thing on the other side of the rivers and mountains wants us dead. Or worse.
“The Wards Majoris keep out most threats. More powerful creatures can burst through the wards, of course, but doing so takes time and sets off alarms. As long as our Princips aren’t busy elsewhere, they can respond to any such effort and prevent a breach.
“But more minor creatures are simply below the threat level the wards respond to. Sometimes those lesser forces of Khernobog gather in numbers large enough to be a significant danger. Generally they must take such armies through the fords or passes. Which is why there are keeps and castles there, manned with veterans who couldn’t stop a creature powerful enough to breach the wards, but can act in units to guard against incursions of massed minor threats.
“Of course, for them to respond quickly, they can’t stray too far from those routes, and they can only patrol so much territory beyond that. Smaller groups of minor creatures that can pass through the wards can sneak past the patrols, or move through rough terrain a whole army couldn’t negotiate.
“Such individuals and small bands are no danger to our lands as a whole. But that is no comfort to a father mourning a stolen child, or a wisewoman who loses her chickens.
“Those threats are minor, but no less threats, and someone must face them. Someday, perhaps, you will have the experience and power needed to guard the castles. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll even be a Prencip, and defend us from reality-altering powers of the enemy.
“But until then, we need you to form into small groups, and seek out those threats you can handle. Ensure that the patrols don’t have to abandon their posts, and the Princips are neither distracted nor out of position.
“It may seem minor, but this, too, is a great service to our lands.”
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Sometimes in the Really Wild West, you need to express your displeasure through violence, but you’re not wanting anyone to get killed over the issue. Maybe someone spilled your drink. Maybe someone hasn’t gotten the message to get out of town. Maybe they didn’t smile when they called out something vile. You don’t want blood on your hands, but you’re ready to bust a lip and blacken an eye.
You’re ready for a Brawl.
Though specifically designed for the Really Wild West setting hack, these rules can be used in any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign.
A Brawl is specifically a fight where no one is trying to kill anyone else. Common examples of this are bar fights, campside tussles, and pugilist exhibitions. A brawl stops being a brawl as soon as anyone involved switches to lethal intent, generally by drawing a true weapon (as opposed to an improvised weapon). Even if you draw a weapon with the intent of using it in a nonlethal fashion, such as pulling a pistol to use in pistol-whipping foes, the very fact it is being brandished changes the tenor of the conflict, and it goes from a brawl to a normal fight.
In a Brawl, no one has escalated he fight to lethal levels. As a result, the fight goes a little differently. First, everyone is more focused on hitting than avoiding hits, so everyone gets +2 to attacks, and takes a -2 penalty to KAC. Second, unarmed damage increases to 1d6 + Strength bonus + a special Weapon Specialization bonus equal to level. (A character with Improved Unarmed Strike may skip these bonuses and penalties and add their normal dice of damage on top of this, and a character with special unarmed Weapon Specialization, such as a vesk, may use it instead).
A character can attempt to use an improvised weapon, such as a bottle to crack over someone’s head, or a chair to smash over their back. An improvised weapon takes a move action to ready, it adds +1d6 brawl damage, you lose the +2 bonus to brawl attack rolls, and if you ever miss a foe’s KAC by 5 or more, or do maximum damage, the improvised weapon breaks.
As long as the Brawl is still in effect, no attack can do more than 1 Hit Point of damage, even if a target is out of Stamina Points. Instead, whenever a character takes even a single Hit Point, the character must make a Fortitude save (DC 15 + total damage of the attack that deal Hit Point damage) or be stunned. If the target misses this save by 5 or more, they are instead Knocked Out for 1d4 rounds.
You can use 0-level spells as part of a Brawl, but anything higher level counts as drawing a weapon. And once someone draws a weapon, the Brawl switches immediately to normal fight rules.
A character trained in Bluff or Diplomacy can try to Hold Off a Brawl for a round, preventing anyone from attacking them. This is a standard action and requires a check with one of those two skills to be made against each potential attacker, with a EDC equal to 15 + target’s CR. With a successful check, the attacker must either escalate to a lethal attack, or pick a new target.
Getting into a Brawl is generally overlooked by local authorities in frontier regions. The difference between punching and kicking and hair-pulling vs shooting with guns and stabbing with knives is well understood. It’s a public annoyance, rather than a potential murder. However, anyone who escalates a Brawl to a lethal conflict is seen as a thug at best, and a criminal guilty of attempted murder at worst.
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RPGs are not, in general, trying to create a pure simulation of reality in the form of entirely consistent and all-encompassing rules (and acting as if they are, or even should, leads to unhappiness, silliness, or both). The rules of the Game part of an RPG can be distinctly different from a description of the objective rules that define a universe. People who want to take things ‘allowed” by RPG rules and dive down to what a world is “really” like if those rules are equally and evenly available to even citizen of the world are not playing the game as intended.
(And if they have fun doing that, that’s fine. But if they don’t, the flaw isn’t necessarily with the game rules.)
For example, it’s perfect acceptable to say “This ability can be selected by any player for their character. There are no limitations or restriction on a player doing so.” and a GM or campaign setting saying (or even being built so it is true without saying it) “This ability represents a very rare ability, and only a very few people in the universe have it.”
One early step in beginning a new RPG campaign or adventure that almost no RPGs ever mention is, everyone involved should be interested in engaging in that activity in a way that causes everyone to have fun. If someone actively doesn’t want to play, or their motivating for playing is to make other people unhappy and sadly yes, this happens), most RPGs are going to collapse under the weight of neutral or bad intentions. (This is, by the way, one reason why formal organized play groups often have some significant additional rules about player and character behavior, or collapse under their own weight. I remain in awe of people able not only to run such organizations, but write for them, build them,\and create environments where clearly most participants are having fun.)
If everyone wants to play the game for mutual fun, the fact the rules are often focused on what player characters can do (rather than what is unavailable to the majority of the population because not everyone is a Caped Knight Wizard of Justice) is rarely an issue.
Some people claim such a focus on PC abilities automatically mans the player characters are somehow “chosen ones” because they have access to options common NPCs don’t. Now, sometimes that’s the case, and that’s fine. I have often run games where player characters were, explicitly, somehow gifted in ways the vast majority of the population was not. Sometimes that’s a built-in rarity explained by the game. (“Only 1 in 10,000 people can learn the Rite of Heroism… and in this rare case, all four of you have that ability despite being from a village of 700.”)
But in other cases, the PCs have no special fate or inherent superior power. They are just the people who, at the start of the game, have ended up somewhere interesting. Maybe they have options other people can’t take due to genetics, but that doesn’t make them “chosen” despite the rarity, any more than having one blue and one green eye does. Or maybe they have just had unusual circumstances since birth—a lot of people feel anyone CAN become a professional artist if they spend the time and have the drive to do so, but not everyone does.
Put another way, if you were reading a piece of fiction about an interesting time and place where 25% of children die at birth, you wouldn’t want to focus on the people who died at birth at point of view characters. There’s nothing that “protected” the other 75% of the people born, they’re just the characters who are still alive to do things, so of course the story follows them instead.
So just because a game says “A character may select ‘Ouch’ as a power, which removes 1% of a foe’s health once per day with no chance of failure” doesn’t automatically mean the world is ruled by roving gangs of 100 11-year-old commoners who all have Ouch and thus can, as a group, kill absolutely anyone they want to. It just means some people have this and, if the campaign setting, GM, or adventure doesn’t call out Ouch Battallions, chances are they don’t exist.
Now it IS useful for an RPG to give a GM and players some idea of what NPCs and common folk in the game are likely to be like. This might be as complex as the kind of distinction between PC and NPC character classes in d20 games—no player character is going to select the strictly-inferior “warrior” if “fighter” is an option, but tons of NPCs do, and at the same time some important NPCs instead tale PC classes which lets you know (generally without explicitly saying so) that those NPCs are more important to the adventure or campaign.
Or it might be much more simple and subtle, like providing lists of NPCs game rules, or even just lists of inspirational media. If an RPG tells you it takes inspiration from the X-Men comics, Gifted television show, and movies Carrier, Firestarter, and Push, and the game gives you options to take extraordinary superhuman powers, it doesn’t also have to explicitly tell you that not every person in the world has those powers. That’s clear, in the types of stories it outlines as inspiration. You can BUILD a campaign world with that paradigm if you want to, but you should already know you are system-hacking.
I love system hacks, as Really Wild West might make clear. But once you go that route, it’s unfair to expect the rules to not force you to make some decisions to make the hack logical.
No RPG can fully, accurately, and deeply represent all the factors that determine who ends up with what abilities in a realistic world setting. We can’t even do that in the real world, even if we just limit ourselves to who will be successful out of a single class of kids. We can make educated guesses, based on experience and statistics, but some kid will buck those trends.
That kid, by the way, is the one many people want as their player character.
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The bell on the front door chimed, causing Gunner to look up, a smile leaping to his face out of habit. It froze midway to his lips, as he saw the figure slowly walking into his store. It was a short, broad woman, her antennae drooping with fatigue and dust covering her long coat and short-brimmed hat. The dust clung to her face as well, the delicate patterns common to a lashunta lost in the swirls of grime caked on her skin. The left side of her coat was dark, from the ribs down, and a ragged hole suggested the stain had a violent origin.
“May… may I help you?”
The visitor was rough, but Gunner sensed no threat from her. Not towards himself, in any case. But he kept one hand under his counter, near his shotgun. Just in case.
The woman moved slowly, but with purpose, crossing the room to his counter with firm steps. When she spoke her voice was as dusty as her clothes, but also filled with iron.
“I need a gun.”
She slapped a single golden credit on his countertop. A century-piece, sure, but not much for the price of a gun.
“Well…,” Gunner tried to think if anyone in town had an old derringer or wrack-piece they might part with for so little. It was often easiest to avoid trouble by seeing to its needs so it moved along on its own.
She nodded once, as if she could read his mind. And, a lashunta? Maybe she could.
“Cannibal Kid and his cult comin’ in on the noon train. I mean to meet them. I’d be obliged if I could do it with iron in my hand.”
Gunner felt all color drain from his face. Sometimes the Cannibals’ cult just got off a train and left town. Sometimes, they got… hungry…
“You… you going to face Cannibal on your own, miss?”
She shook her head. once.
“Got a posse. Good folks. Swedish rune-man. A gambler who hasn’t used all his luck, yet. And some crazy professor. But I can’t back their play as well with a fist as a gun. But I will, if I have to.
Gunner paused. Cannibal Kid’s loons had been a growing problem for years. And no one knew for sure if Cannibal had really been responsible for the destruction of the town of Pecan Prarie… but that was the best guess.
Gunner’d had family in Pecan Prarie.
Many people had gone after the Cannibal Kid, and ended up joining him for dinner. But there was something about this lashunta woman. Even covered in dirt and clearly hurt, her eyes were bright, and Gunner instinctively trusted her skills. With the right weapon, maybe she could end Cannibal, once and for all.
He reached under the counter, ignoring his own shotgun, and brought out a lacquered box. Opening it, he spun it to face the lashunta, revealing the gleaming, 4-barreled heavy pistol within. The name “Lewiston” was engraved on one barrel, and “Custom” on the one below it. Eight .454 rounds were nearly packed beside the pistol, each in their own satin-lined niche.
“Will this do, ma’am?”
The lashunta’s already bright-eyes nearly glowed as she reached out a hand and lifted the pistol from the box. The handle fit her hand even better than her own glove, and the expertise with which she checked the hammer, released the barrel-catch, and loaded all four barrels before snapping it shut left Gunner feeling he’d made a good investment.
“This will do just fine, mister. Just fine.”
Gunner slid the gold credit off the countertop. But if he heard good news about events at the noon train, he doubted he’d ever spend it.
Renown is an alternate equipment economy specifically for use with the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, though it *could* be adapted to other campaign settings. The idea is to alter the way PCs, pricing, and the world work in such a way as to keep an economy that feels more reserved, without seriously altering the ultimate balance of the game. Instead of all equipment being bought and sold exclusively for credits, higher-level gear requires renown, in keeping with the theme of famous gunslingers and frontier heroes of the Really Wild West.
As a recap, we’ve also looked at rules for mounted combat and shotguns, presented Badlands City and the Badlands Citizen theme, and presented a list of adventure seeds and inspirational media. While the really Wild West setting hack isn’t complete, there’s certainly enough material for it for a GM to build a campaign around it, if desired.
When using the Renown system, money by itself is used only to buy 1st and 2nd level equipment, which includes nearly all “mundane” gear such as rope, shovels, lanterns, and the vast majority of the worlds pistols. Even “extraordinary” 1st and 2nd level equipment, like an azimuth heat ray rifle (Really Weird West’s equivalent of a laser) is bought with normal credits. Such items can be sold for 50% of their value in credits.
Wealth per encounter, in credits and 1st and 2nd level items, never exceeds CR 2 values. If you face and kill a CR 7 Prairie Dragon… you get treasure, in credits and 1st and 2nd level gear, equal to a CR 2 encounter.
However, all characters also have Renown, which can be used to acquire items of 3rd level and higher, which are considered legendary items.
Renown is the measure of the character’s mystic legends. Some of that is normal reputation, and some of it is their impact on the Akashic record, the theosophic concept of a complete compendium of all events, thoughts, actions and intent to have ever happened… even if no one is aware of it. The Akashic record is recorded in the weft of the Ethereal Plane, and as characters perform actions, their impact on it grows. As a natural consequence of that impact, the characters end up with legendary gear, items that also have a greater impact on the Akashic record and naturally gravitate toward agents of importance and change who can get the most out of their extremely high quality.
When calculating rewards for an encounter, the difference between the normal wealth per encounter for CR 3 and higher encounters, and the maximum CR 2 rewards given out under the Renown system, is a character’s gain in Renown. Fighting off six Texas Tick Twisters may not earn you any credits or reward, but you gain Renown even if no one knows you did it, as it has an impact on the supernatural fore of the Akashic Record, which pulls legendary items toward you.
Legendary items aren’t common, and no amount of money guarantees you can buy one. These are the objects that have their own stories and rumors, and collectors and master craftsmen can spend lifetimes hunting down just one such item. These are things like a Lewiston Custom Original, one of the 12 original 4-barrel pistols built by hand by master gunsmith Ezrah Lewiston and equipped with tiny screws and pins to allow it to be customized by every user for perfect balance. While the mass-produced Lewsiton 4-barrel is based on the twelve Custom Originals, it lacks the exacting standards and precision of its legendary progenitors.
If you wish to buy a legendary item, you can cover the first 1,000 of its cost in credits, but the rest you must spend in Renown. In general such items are not for sale commonly, but the same power that causes Legendary items to be available only to those with enough Renown tend to put such items in the path of their destined users. A character can choose to buy one Legendary item, with an item level no greater than their character level +2, each time they arrive at a new settlement. The character’s player decides in advance which item they want, and normally it is available if they have the renown to cover it.
When making gear of 3rd level or higher, you must cover the first 1,000 credits of cost in money (high quality raw materials and precision instruments aren’t cheap, after all), but the rest of the item’s cost you may choose to cover in Renown. In this case you are imbuing such items with a bit of your own legend.
Parting with a legendary item restores some of the Renown used to acquire it… but not much. If you give away or sell a legendary item, you regain 10% of its Renown value to add back to your total. For example, if you sell one of the rare Lewiston Custom Original 4-barrel pistols, you regain 550 Renown, 10% of the 5,500 Renown required to acquire such a rare and storied pistol. If you sell a legendary item you can expect to be paid 750 + (1d6 x 100) credits by a collector or a major figure (senators, rail barons, Black Hand dons, bandit generals, high society types, and so on) or their agents. Such things generally then disappear from the world of adventuring, to live in a glass case or on the hip of someone who’s never in any real danger.
Legendary items have prices listed with an “r,” to indicate that all but 1,000 of the price must be paid with Renown.
This system does require a GM to add some flavor to 3rd level and higher gear, to set legendary items apart from 1st and 2nd level gear, but that’s not too difficult (and, honestly, players may be allowed to suggest backstories of the legendary gear they acquire, since it is part of their own Really Weird West legend once they get it). For some examples of how legendary versions of gear might be presented differently than 1st and 2nd level mundane gear, here are some pistols reskinned to fit the Really Weird West.
|Lewiston 4-Barrel||1||260||1d6+2 P||30 ft.||—||4 rounds||L|
|Ajax Revolver||1||260||1d6||30 ft.||—||6 rounds||L||+1 to attack rolls|
|Lewiston Original Custom||7||5,500 r||2d6+4||60 ft.||—||4 rounds||L|
|Statesman Revolver||7||5,500 r||2d6||60 ft.||—||6 rounds||L||+1 to attack rolls|
|Lewiston Trainkiller||10||18,200 r||3d6+6P||60 ft.||—||4 rounds||L|
|Kingmaker Revolver||10||18,200 r||3d6||60 ft.||—||6 rounds||L||+1 to attack rolls|
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Since there’s certainly no full published adventure support for the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, I thought it might be useful to both provide some adventure seeds, and provide a list of inspirational media. That said, a GM interested in running a Really Weird West campaign need not feel like every adventure needs to be custom-crafted from scratch. Most adventures appropriate to the Starfinder Roleplaying Game can be reskinned to run in Really Weird West (with space stations becoming port towns, starships becoming zepplins, hyperspace travel becoming riverboat or airship travel, other planets being other states and/or islands, and so on). Similarly, adapting adventures designed for related fantasy RPGs is easy by changing lost dungeons into lost mines or ancient civilization cities, and adding guns to most foes.
But if you do want to create your own adventures, or add introductions, side-quests, and major revisions to existing adventures, the adventure seeds below and inspirational media lists that follow should provide numerous appropriate jumping-off points.
1. You come across a dead, masked Texas Ranger, with a gunbelt full of silver bullets. He was clearly mauled by a giant wolf. This leads to an adventure tracking down a group of werewolf bandits.
2. A madman named Robur, operating in unincorporated territories, has nearly completed the Death Cloud, an airship with a rebuilt Martian heat ray so powerful it can destroy an entire city in a single shot. He’d see an entire army coming and wipe them out, but a small group might be able to sneak past his defenses and blow up the Death Cloud from within.
3. Someone has been stealing hegesistrati (a “hegesistratus” being a gearjack prosthetic), knocking out veterans of the War of the Worlds and ripping the most advanced gearjack technology from their bodies. At the same time, rumor is a new mad genius will sell you gearjack armor cheap…
4. A dragon is terrorizing the small town of Walnut Grove. It’s smart enough not to appear when the cavalry is around, and no one has found its lair, somewhere in the badlands…
5. The PC with the best pistol attack bonus receives a letter. The infamous killer and quickdraw artist Doc Valentine has heard people claim the PC is better with a pistol than valentine, and is coming to town on the noonday train tomorrow to call the PC out to a shootout.
6. The PCs order new gear from a major town, to arrive by train. The train is hit by bandits, and their gear stolen.
7. An unscrupulous lawyer has stolen the designs for a local ally genius’s rainmaking machine, which will save entire counties of farmers from a serious drought. He has a head start, but the PCs know he’ll be on a moving train for a specific leg of his journey, so if they can just rob the train and get the design back…
8. A young man in strange clothes claims to be a time traveler, and he needs to find his elder friend and repair his time machine before he does major damage to the timeline…
9. There’s a new addictive drug in the territory, premade black cigarettes called Coffin Nails. If the gang pushing it isn’t stopped, they may gain enough power to challenge the US government.
10. One Martian tripod, alone in the desert, is still active.
11. The Mole People are kidnapping singers, for some reason, and some of the singers that have taken are important high society folks that need to be rescued from their underground kingdom.
12. Someone has desecrated a Civil War battlefield, and the dead from both sides are rising up to punish the living until the desecration is made right.
13. There’s something in The Mist.
14. The lost city of El Dorado offers vast treasures… if you can survive the traps, guardian constructs, rival explorers, and Olmec lizardfolk who have taken over.
15. The Hatfields have turned to necromancy. The McCoys have turned to diabolry. Everyone else has turned and run.
(Though in fairness, I have been informed “We McCoys would never turn to diabolry. Unstable alchemical explosives, maybe. Ninjitsu, probably. Mentally unstable deities that are still good-natured even if they cause far more problems than they should, definitely. Gigantic robots that can flatten a town without noticing, oh you bet we will.”)
16. The Illuminati hid a vast treasure in a long-abandoned mine, and a series of obscure clues will allow the PCs to get to it before a cult that wishes to use it to summon an ancient, elder god.
17. It’s snowing in the desert, and only one person has the cold-weather gear everyone needs survive. And he’s selling it at a huge mark-up. And whenever he runs out, white wolves bring him more.
18. A mad military genius has built a rolling fortress, and plans to use it to destroy a group he dislikes, be that a native tribe, a pioneer town, or the PCs’ base of operation.
19. Characters with advanced melee combat skills are being kidnapped and forced to fight in a tournament of Bullfighters, who face off against minotaurs in a labyrinth arena.
20. A villager from a small, unarmed town begs the PCs to come protect them from bandits. The bandits number in the hundreds, and the villagers can only pay in food and a place to stay, but without the PCs help, the village will be driven to the brink of starvation.
Taking a broad view of “Weird West” as a setting to include any strongly-Western setting (even if located somewhere other than the American Old West) that adds elements of the supernatural, or advanced technology (steampunk or not), or visitors (from monsters to aliens to time travelers), there’s a lot of media that can act as inspirations to create your own adventures, characters, and themes. I’ve excluded things that transport Western plots and sensibilities into other settings (so no Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers or Dark Tower or Firefly, all of which might well also spark ideas), not because they are in any way inferior, but because they tend to be better known and I wanted to keep this list manageable.
It’s worth noting that while these are great sources of Weird West inspiration… that doesn’t mean they’re great as forms of entertainment. Many are quite good, but some are truly awful. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth skimming through (or reading summaries of them) if you can’t sit through them the regular way, in order to get inspired to riff new ideas and characters and plots from the bad stories. Myself, I sometimes fin terrible books and movies are actually better sources of inspiration, as when they do something really dumb I find myself thinking “It would have been cooler if they’d done X,” and whatever X is, that’s my new, cool idea.
It’s also worth noting that nearly any western, fantasy, or cyberpunk plot can be easily adapted to a Really Wild West campaign. It’s easy to add some half-orcs to a bandit gang, have long-dead sorcerers wear black cowboy hats, and turn megacorporations into railways and cattle barons. If that doesn’t feel natural to you, try describing the driving force of a plot as generically as possible. The Fellowship of the Ring can simplify to “a local boy is convinced my a mysterious wanderer to take something dangerous to the big city for advice, then decides to throw it into a volcano which requires him and friends to pass through an abandoned mine, all while hunted by the original owner’s forces and elite generals.” One you have it reduced to that level, it’s easy to replace the local boy, mysterious wanderer, something dangerous, big city, and abandoned mine to seem more Weird Western. So if a pioneer has to take a Crimson Spike, which turns any railway into demon-summoning railroad line, to New Holt City where the Elven Preservation Society convinces him that to keep it from senator “Boss” Morghul he must take it through the old Brimstone Double-Y Mine to a volcano hidden in the Rockies… THAT’s Weird West.
Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, publisher Dark Horse Books
Black Jack Ketchum, publisher Image Comics
Bouncer: The One-Armed Gunslinger, publisher Humanoids, Inc.
East of West, publisher Image Comics
High Moon, publisher Super Genius
Iron West, publisher Image Comics
Jonah Hex, publisher DC Comics
The Justice Riders, publisher DC Comics
Kingaway West, publisher Dark Horse Books
Lazarus Lane (El Diablo), publisher DC Comics
Magic Wind, publisher Epicenter Comics (English language publisher)
Pretty Deadly, publisher Image Comics
The Sixth Gun, publisher Oni Press
Trailblazer, publisher Image Comics
Zagor, publisher Epicenter Comics (English language publisher)
Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, author Paul Guinan
Boneshaker, author Cherie Priest
The Buntline Special and sequels, author Mike Resnick
Dead In The West, author Joe R Lansdale
Dead Man’s Hand, anthology, ed. by John Joseph Adams
Dead Man’s Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West, author Nancy Collins
The Dead Remember and other “Weird West” stories, author Robert E. Howard
Deadman’s Road, author Joe R Lansdale
Devil’s Tower and Devil’s Engine, author Mark Sumner.
The Encyclopedia Of Weird Westerns, author Paul Green
FRANK READE: Adventures in the Age of Invention, authors Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
The Golgotha Series, author R.S. Belcher.
The Hexslinger Series, author Gemma Files
Karen Memory, author Elizabeth Bear
Low Moon, anthology, ed. David A. Riley
“Mad Amos” stories, author Alan Dean Foster
A Road Paved In Iron, author Don Corcoran
The Shadow series, author Lila Bowen
Shadow on the Sun, author author Richard Matheson
Stagecoach Mary, author Jess Nevins
Straight Outta Tombstone, anthology, ed. By David Boop
The Sundowners Series, author James Swallow
Tales of the Far West short story collection, authors Gareth Skarka, Matt Forbeck, and others
Vermillion, author Molly Tanzer
Wax and Wayne series, author Brandon Sanderson
Zepplins West, author Joe R Lansdale
Deadlands Classic, published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Deadlands Reloaded, published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Devil’s Gulch, for BRP, published by Chaosium
Down Dark Trails, for Call of Cthulhu, published by Chaosium
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, for Red Dead Redemption, published by Rockstar Games
Shadows of Brimstone, published by Flying Frog Games
Sixguns and Sorcery, for Castle Falkenstein, published by R. Talsorian
Werewolf: The Wild West, published by White Wolf Publishing
Back to the Future Part III, directed by Robert Zemeckis
Billy the Kid vs Dracula, directed by William Beaudine
Blood Moon, directed by Jeremy Wooding
Blood Rayne II Deliverance, directed by William Beaudine
Bone Tomahawk, directed by S. Craig Zahler
Bunraku, directed by Guy Moshe
The Burrowers, directed by J.T. Petty
Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
Curse of the Undead, directed by Edward Dein
Dead Man, directed by Jim Jarmusch
El Charro de las Calaveras, directed by Alfredo Salazar
From Dusk Til Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, directed by P.J. Pesce
Gallowwalkers, directed by Andrew Goth
Ghost Brigade aka The Killing Box, directed by George Hickenlooper
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, directed by Grant Harvey
The Good the Bad the Weird, directed by Kim Jee-woon
High Plains Invaders, directed by K. T. Donaldson
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, directed by William Beaudine
Jonah Hex, directed by Jimmy Hayward
High Planes Drifter, directed by Clint Eastwood
Ned Kelley, directed by Gregor Jordan
Pale Rider, directed by Clint Eastwood
The Phantom Empire (1935 serial), directed by Otto Brower and Breezy Easton
Purgatory, directed by Uli Edel
Ravenous, directed by Antonia Bird
Red Sun, directed by Terence Young
Sukiyaki Western Django, directed by Takashi Miike
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, directed by S.S. Wilson
Undead or Alive, directed by Glasgow Phillips
The Valley of Gwangi, directed by James O’Connolly
The Warrior’s Way, directed by Sngmoo Lee
The White Buffalo, directed by J. Lee Thompson
Wild Wild West, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse
Kung Fu, created by Herman Miller and Ed Spielman
The Lazarus Man, created by Dick Beebe, Colleen O’Dwyer, and Michael Ogiens
Legend, created by Bill Dial and Michael Piller
Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, created by Ryan Brown and Bob Carrau
The Wild Wild West, created by Michael Garrison
And, of course, the really Wild West setting is an example of weird west, and it’s made available by the supports of my Patreon! If you’re a fan, please consider offering a few dollars a month for support!
I get annoyed anytime anything puts magic in a modern setting, and people say “That’s ripped off from Shadowrun.” No, Shadowrun blended cyberpunk and fantasy, brilliantly, and is the first thing I am aware of to do so. But if something blends other forms of modern or sci-fi with magic, with no cyberpunk element? That’s NOT original to Shadowrun. Lots of stories did it before that, many of them major releases.
Yes, these are “different.” That’s my whole point. If you are blending modern or futuristic elements with fantasy with neither cyberpunk tech nor thematic ties, there are tons of examples available from prior to Shadowrun’s release in August of 1989.
This is a short, incomplete, trivial list of settings and stories that mixed magic and modern elements before Shadowrun came out. It could be expanded tenfold with any effort. Some is great. Some is terrible. All is arguably influential.
Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Billy the Kid vs Dracula (and a LOT of Weird West stuff from the 1960s forward)
Burning Water (by Mercedes Lackey, first printing Feb 1989)
Comics (Seriously, Doctor Strange and Iron Man have been in the same universe since 1963, and they are hardly the earliest example, by decades)
Expecting Someone Taller
Fiends of the Eastern Front
Incarnations of Immortality (And a lot of Anthony)
Jack, the Giant Killer (and lots of Charles de Lint)
The Jewel in the Skull (and, in one form or another, a lot of Moorcock)
The Keep (novel and movie)
War for the Oaks
Warhammer 40k. This predates Shadowrun by a couple of years, and it’s actually much more like Shadowrun (or rather, Shadowrun is a much more like it) as a setting than I find Shadowrun to be with most things people want to claim are inspired by Shadowrun.
The Magic of Support Through Modern Technology!
Is there anything I can’t turn into a segue about how my patrons support this blog through my Patreon campaign, and you can too?
No. No there is not.