Category Archives: Adventure Design

Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 6)

It looks like there is enough interest in session notes from my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign for those to become a regular feature. So 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 Five!

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.
Session Five 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 Six

I decided to playtest my idea for Spotlight Tokens in this session. I got some useful feedback, I may or may not keep using them in this campaign.

These notes are from the point of view of the PCs (specifically my wife Lj, and I adapted them from her notes for her character, the fenrin operative bounty hunter Sawyer).

The Svirfneblin host us and feed us. Dinner includes large roasted pill bugs that taste like lobster. Mushrooms, snails (escargot-style), slugs, beer.
· The svirfneblin give us papers and a copy of The Pact to give to Dwargus Hardfist, with whom they hope to open formal trade.
· The svirfneblin give us “the Door,” a complex set of nested crystal spheres. It will seek a spot within the serpent people Hollow World near its center, and then can be activated (with a combination of three successful Engineering and/or Mysciticm checks in a row) to close the serpent people Hollow World for a century or so. Once activated, it must be guarded for 1-2 minutes (1d10+10 rounds), after which it will open a portal. It then cannot be stopped, but anyone who doesn’t go through the portal will be trapped in the Serpent People dark Hollow World for a century.
· The Svirfneblin can have their Hollow World (the Vault) overlap the serpent people’s Hollow World (Aakath), and deposit us near where we will need to set up “the Door.” As soon as we open the door, the powerful Venom Champion known to the serpent people only as “Her” will know, and is sure to arrive.
· Once Aakath is cut off, the serpentfolk who are currently out in our world, will be stuck. They will still be able to teleport, but will have weaker arcane powers and less eldritch strength.
· The Svirfneblin the PCs found and buried have returned their essences and minds to the Svirfneblin communities. Their “soul sparks” have become soul gems, which those who have fallen offer to the PCs (one each) as thanks for putting them to rest.
o “Who they are” has gone back to the community
o These are the fuel that drove their essence, minds, and bodies.
Soul Gem
· all are +1 Resolve Point (only to stabilize)
· Then there are cuts, each with a different power set.
o Trillions +1 to all saves
o Navette +2 against all afflictions
o Cabochon +4 to all saves against poisons

Into the breach — The Svirfneblin perform the ceremony to place us in Aakath.
· We all take anti toxins
· Things dwell there that are worse than serpent folks
· Be prepared for darkness that defies simple concepts such as evil

Aakath — the Endless Cavern
· Darkness so gray, it might as well be black, but we know it isn’t
· Settlement with inhuman architecture in distance, outbuildings nearby
· Thin glowing green sickly line in the far distance
· Vapor clings to the ground
· Crunching noise beneath our feet
· An alien howl of alarm goes off
· The Door draws us toward a nearby fountain, but there are things between us and it.

FIGHT!
· “The unclean thing” – (GM describes it ‘the bezor that the otyugh spit up’). It is a shapeshifting mass of waste, raw, pulsing organs, and foul ichors.
o It spews digestive juices and waste as an attack out of a sphincter it forms for the purpose
· The alarm turns into chanting
· The green glow flashes and two figures teleport in
o One is a Four-armed Huge snake-legged serpentfolk, with glowing venomous pistols, a green gem in her head, and wicked dagger – this is clearly “Her”

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

o Also with HER is a Size-large serpent with ridges on its back
o Damage to HER appears on the serpent, until the serpent is slain.
· The serpent charges for the bounty hunter operative fenrin.
· A Size-large four-headed serpent appears
· The centaur mercenary paladin protects the human robotocist mechanic and half-orc cartographer tecnomancer as they get the mechanism activated.
· Another unclean thing shows up – a minor version
· We finally get everyone down
· The portal opens as we see siege weapons and giant coils rolling this way
· We flee

AFTERMATH
· We all make it through. End up in the same cavern as the Martian embanking machine, beneath Neblin Ridge.
· Heal up

LOOT from Her: Pocket hollow world (clear gem) – teleport (self only, 440-foot range) CL10 as a move or swift action once per day – (goes the the centaur paladin); warmaster’s gloves (swap out weapon you are wielding with those stored on your person without taking an action) – goes to human soldier; Martian capacitor (1ce/day supercharge a weapon as part of the attack) – goes to human mechanic.

The Tess drives the Martian Embanking Machine out of the mine. We all take a turn driving it. Go back to the Circle Axe Ranch.
· They give us burgers
· Bring Dwargus up to speed. Learn Felspark has been “Recalled East,” by the east Hudson Fur Trading Company.
· He makes us Trustees of the Circle Axe Ranch
· We can take out the tunneling stuff from the Embanking machine and turn the engine into a mobile Base of Operations. Decide to do so before hunting down the infamous Professor Barkane Adrameliche, who we believe has beocme the Venom King, and we think is in Montana.

Divide up the $4000 worth of bounties between us. $800 each.

XPs: 1920
18,970 (23,000 to 7th)

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Gaming by Candlelight

Like most of the state of Oklahoma, I lost internet and power after a huge icestorm hammered the state at the beginning of this week. We had no connectivity for three days, and no power for two. (And many friends and family still don’t have power, and may not for days to come.)

Which is why I had no blog posts Mon, Tues, or Weds this week. I couldn’t even write them to post later. Normally when the power is out for days at a time I’d go cluster shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other people in an internet café or coffee house. But in time of pandemic? Absolutely not.

On our first night in the freezing dark, a friend who still had power came by to bring us batteries and food. And then… sit with us. In the darkness. And cold.

I mean, what else are four gamers going to do with no electricity and no place to go?

So, we played a four-hour 1-shot Pathfinder 1st edition game. By candlelight.

(Yep, public domain candles photo)

The GM kept is simple–humans only, core rulebook only, everyone gets a single +1 item of choices, and 50-point ability buy. (“50 points!!?” “Yeah, you-all are from a harsh place with few magic items and I am limiting options, so LOTS of ability points.”) The setting was similarly simple–a low-tech but sophisticated realm (“Nothing is made of metal, but your stone, bone and wood weapons are as good as metal.” “Your people’s main activity is gathering. It’s second is hunting. You are hunters.”) We began at 4th level.

It took us 30 minutes to make characters. On blank paper, by pencil, in candlelight. Being veteran players we did do SOME houserule customization. The GM said no one had armor, but we got a +2 armor bonus, with an additional +2 for each armor proficiency we got. I played a druid, who got to swap our prepared spells for healing rather than summoning spells (so I didn’t have to keep two books open to read by candlelight). We ended up with a greataxe barbarian, 2-weapon fighter, storm druid, and destined sorcerer.

It was a simple 3-encounter adventure. First, while hunting aurochs, we were attacked by a T-Rex. Then, we discovered our allies back at the hunting camp had been captured by serpent people. We had to track them down, which the GM handled as a 4e-style skill challenge. Then, we ambushed the serpent people and rescued our people.

We ended on a note that the serpent people where beginning to move out of the forbidden valley, and our people would need to find allies to oppose their expansionist assaults.

I played the druid (Tormuk Stormspeaker), and discovered I REALLY like the weather domain’s 1st level power — it does very little damage (and its nonlethal), but a foe hit takes -2 to attacks for 1 round (no save). That retains at least some utility well past the point of the damage being relevant. I had a really nice play experience, burning all but my last 2 buff spells in the first two encounters, and able to augment the barbarian and fighter before ambushing the serpent people, and becoming a wolverine to fight in hth.

I’m sure it helped that we were very specifically just passing time, and we knew if there were hiccups they were a result of it being a very casual, barely-planned session. And as a 1-shot, any weird issue could be shrugged off and never dealt with again. But we also had a LOT of fun… even if we had to point flashlights at the dice to see what we rolled.

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 5, Pt. 2)

Here’s part Two of the Session Five notes for my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign, adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”).

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.
Session Five here: Part One.

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

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

Session Five (Part Two)

Still Day 13

The characters see that the heaviest traffic out of the Big Cavern is through the left-hand tunnel, which was clearly made by the Embanking Machine. This also shows signs of the svirfneblin-drawn sled they saw bring green ore out of the mine when observing the camp outside. This is the route the take.

  • There is a breach in the tunnel that clips some underground complex that was already there. (The players later learn this is the Svirfneblin Vault)
  • The end of that tunnel opens up beyond the breach
  • The centaur paladin, in the lead (with her darkvision) is attacked by monsters disguised as rocks at the entrance. They’re grick!

FIGHT!!!

  • The grick don’t seem to take electrical damage, fire damage either
  • The human soldier criminal grabs the Warhammer the Chimera Kid was using and uses that on the grick – bounces off. The magic fusion that was on the warhammer has already been moved to the mechanic robotisit’s drone’s bite attack (her drone looks like a mechanical dog).
  • The grick don’t do a lot of damage, but anyone near them has to make a Reflex save or take some damage from their flailing tentacles, on top of their bites or acid spit. And the grick are reducing every attack that hits them by 10 points of damage, so seem nearly invulnerable.
  • There are two Sverfneblin here. They speak some kind of old German. It takes Culture checks for people who know German to understand them.
  • The centaur paladin and fenrin operative work to asks the Svirfneblin to call off the beasts – the svirfneblin explain they do not control the gricks
  • The human soldier criminal called out the name Drungeldan Smyreonot – the name of one of the ‘neblins we talked to after death
  • Bullets don’t work against the gricks either
  • The half-orc technomancer cartographer makes a Mysticism check, and says it takes magic damage to hurt the grick. He then casts overcharge weapon on the paladin centaur’s lance.
  • The lance kills one. The human soldier has an automatic pistol with a magic rune on it, and he easily kills the other one.

AFTERMATH:

  • The centaur paladin casts a spell that allows her to speak to the Svirfneblin
  • They need to get to their Headman
    • He is being held hostage in the back
    • We will have to bypass the serpentfolk and some pact guardians
    • The Pact Guardians are varied – some mechanical, some monsters. They protect the svirfneblin, but also obey the pact, and thus don’t currently attack the serpent people who took over the pact by stealing blood of pact scion – Dwargus. Thus as long as Dwargus does not elave the area, the serpent people can come and go in the Svirfneblin Vault. (PCs realize this is why the manticore kept killing off Dwargus’s cattle–so he couln’t retire and leave).
    • Only the authority of the pact scion can get us to bypass the pact guardians
    • The PCs try the writ given to them by Dwargus allowing them to investigate the area on the door in this room, which is a Pact Guardian itself.
    • It works!
    • There are serpentfolk on the other side of the door!!

FIGHT!

  • There is a gorgeous small green snake, a serpentfolk with a gun and serrated jawbone of an ass sword, and a human carpetbagger with a staff and wearing a beautiful green operacloak
  • The two ‘neblin cast spells to aid the PCs
  • When the pretty cobra dies, it turns into a pool and evaporates
  • The soulstaff dissolves

LOOT: Sharpened jawbone of an ass that is bane vs humanoids (5,000- 10,000-year-old artifact); Who’s Who in Montana 1890; guardian greatcloak (Goes to the technomancer cartographer, and changes from venomous green to midnight blue with silver nautical symbols, route lines, and compass roses when he puts it on).)

Guardian Greatcloak (magic item, level 5): If you take an action that provokes an attack of opportunity, you may expend a Resolve Point without taking an action and not provoke the attack of opportunity

LOOT: One shotgun

PCs move through the rest of the Vault to get to the headman, using the Writ from Dwargus to bypass traps and guardians of the Pact. Final room. Locked and trapped door. The mechanic roboticist bypasses it, and recognizes the handiwork/design skills of Professor Barkane Adrameliche, whose handiwork was also found in the Martian Embanking machine.

  • The Svirfneblin Headman is inside
  • He asks if he can close the vault, using their authority with the Writ from Dwargus – PCs all say yes
  • The Headman explains Professor Barkane Adrameliche IS the Venom King (“Toxin Krieger”to the Sverneblin)
    • The Professor found the idea of a “Venom King” while studying Martian Black Gas, and began to hear whispers. As he experimented with and perfected ways to use the Black gas, the whispers grew louder and louder, and eventually the Professor became the Venom King as much as he is Barkane Adrameliche.
  • The Professor/Venom King is a Darkling — a human who has embraced the darkness so totally he is a native outsider, and on his way to becoming a demigod. He is one of six “Dread Fates,” six unspeakable ways to die.
  • The Professor had six Lts.
    • Dathaca (who was the Chimera Kid)
    • Gaotma – (the only one with a Doomstone)
    • Athath-ka
    • Venomancer (the spellcasters the PCs *just* killed)
    • Female serpentfolk in the other tunnel. Called “Her” in fearful tones by other serpent people.
    • One Unknown
  • The Professor and his six lts are the only ones who will ascend, becoming demigods
  • None of the other six Dread Fates currently has a physical body. The Professor is trying to bring about one of them, his closest ally, the Dread Fate of Torture (who has a drop of blood as his icon, like the blood cultists encountered earlier on Neblin Ridge).
  • The Professor is currently in Montana.
  • Sverfhaim is a Hollow World– a place that is as much a concept and planar pocket as it is a material place. So is the Serpent People home. Also, the serpentfolk seek another “Hollow World
  • Headman offers PC hospitality for the night
    • Sends his folk to watch the upper caverns
  • PCs need to get into the serpentfolk city, set up a mystical “door” (a device the Neblin headman can create), go through it, close the door
    • Then the serpent city will cease to have access to our world and we would be on Neblin Ridge

End of session. XPs: 2650

LEVEL UP to 6th!!

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 5, Pt. 1)

It looks like there is enough interest in session notes from my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign for those to become a regular feature. So 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 Five!

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.

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 Five

Day 13

The fenrin operative bounty hunter takes the mask of inconsequence once used by the Chimera Kid. This magic item allows you to make Stealth checks, opposed by observer’s Perception or Sense Motive (whichever is greater) to appear to be no different form the majority of people around you. It only works when you are not in combat, and does not work against anyone directly interacting with you or who is in combat.

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

So equipped, she heads into the mine to do Stealth recon. She overhears a conversation between two guards – they know there was a ight outside, and if anyone comes up they don’t recognize the guards will will shoot first, ask questions later. They are awaiting the return of “the Professor,” who the guards obviously fear. The Professor specifically warned them not to use the “embanking machine,” which is taken by the group to be a Martian embanking machine from the War of the Worlds.

The players decide to make a blitz attack, since these guards and part of an operation that has used slave svirfneblin labor, and mercilessly killed and hid the bodies of a dozen or more of those.

  • The centaur paladin charges in to begin the fracas, impaling an enemy operative (one of two) with a critical hit on a lance change before he has a chance to do anything. (“Yep, that’s a crit. What IS the crit effect on your lance?” “He dies?”)
  • There is a spell-casting serpentfolk in here. It casts a defensive spell, then alternates between supercharge weapon and firing snakes as arrows from a 3-limbed bow.
  • The surviving operative sniper trick attacks the centaur, and gets his own critical hit on her before she rides him down.
  • The human soldier criminal PC exhcages fire with numerous gunslingers, and two axe-lords (people with magic rune brands in their hands allowing them to make special throw-and-return and multiple-target ace attacks, an old Nordic tradition). He gets shot with a snake arrow, but doesn’t go down
  • One crook, “Mr. Green Jacket” gets away out the front of the mine and since he agreed to flee “into the desert” and not come back, and the PCs took a lot of damage, they opt not to chase him down.

AFTERMATH

  • There is a Martian Embanking Machine here, which has been used to dig dozens of tunnels. It looks like a 20-ft. wide mechanical centipede, and has been converted to be steered by human controls. The human mechanic roboticist disables it by taking out aprt of thsoe adapted controls and in doing so finds a gear with a patent he reognizes–it was created by the infamous Professor Barkane Adrameliche, a citizen of the Ottoman Empire who helped create the first automatons. It is suspected he might have known Gaotma, the Manticore.
  • This room also has a series of Martian atomic batteries, which have been salvaged from other Embanking machines. These are not as powerful as a Tripod Generator (like the one serpentfolk tried to steal in Session One), but these three have been hooked to a capacitor designed to concentrate their power, though it takes several days to power up to a generator’s power level.
  • The capacitor is hooked to an array that clearly once had a spherical device hooked up inside it. This is right next to an empty storage area which the fenrin can tell 9with Scent) used to have Martian Black gas cannisters. Also, the iron box with the Doomstone taken from the manticore gets hot near the area.
  • The PCs conclude the Venom King is using the Martian Batteries to infuse Green Iron (taken from this mine) with the toxic properties of the Black Gas, the most virulent poison now known on Earth. This creates the “Doomstones,” such as the one they recovered, but can only make one every week or two. If the Venom King had a Tripod Generator, he could make a Doomstone every few hours.

LOOT from thsi fight: High-quality handaxes x4; Allin needle guns x2 (one for Liam); Ajax revolvers (x5); three-limbed serpent person bow (no arrows), bag with 8 snake eggs; golden bullet (magical) – put it in any projectile weapon and it has a one-shot built-in supercharge weapon (given to the fenrin operative bounty hunter); gallon of butane

Cast grave words on the bodies the Serpentfolk just hisses words at the PCs. The All of the rest of them talk about weird smells and weird dreams

There are two paths deeper into the mine. The PCs go left.

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Tales of the Intrepideurs’ Guild, Pt 3 (Game Session 0)

This weekend, we actually had “Session 0” of my Fantasy AGE game, where players made characters, including asking about the world, talking about relationships to one another, and so on.

Despite all the work I had done on the Intrepideur’s Guild itself, I had not yet spent any effort on the region the PCs will be starting in. As with the guild and the entire campaign concept I didn’t need much–just a frame upon which I could hang a paper-thin narrative for the adventures. But players generally have more fun when there at least a few concepts and place names for them to build their own stories and ideas off of.

So, I took 5 minutes to create the loosest of frameworks for a town. But I wanted the players to be more invested in it than if it was just a long list of imaginary words and sounds with dashs and hyphens thrown in for fantasy flavor. So, instead of naming everything myself, I creates a Mad-LIbs-stype series of options, and asked each player to fill in two of them.

Here’s the framework I used.

Welcome to the major trade town of [Adjective][Word Associated with Elves], located on the shores of the [Word associated with seas or oceans] and bordered by the [Word associated with rock or stone] Mountains with the [Terrain feature] Woods, and an important part of the [commodity] Route.

It is a [form of government], ruled over by the [Any fantasy species] King, [Impressive or noble adjective][word GM picks based on the king’s species].

Then after each player gave me a word I tweaked a tiny bit (I originally had swimmingly forest, which I disliked, so I jogged it slightly to Forrest Swim, which I think is a great town name and immediately makes me begin to wonder how it got that name.

Welcome to the major trade town of Forrest Swim, located on the shores of the Sextant Sea and bordered by the Igneous Mountains within the Outcropped Woods, and an important part of the Silk Route.

It is a Dictatorship, ruled over by the Unicorn King, Gloryhoof.

(Art by Kate Smith)

Then we got to making characters. Everyone choose to roll for ability socres, rather than use point-buy, just to get a feel for how Fantasy AGE feels when done that way. We restricted ourselves to the Basic Rulebook, and had characters done with plenty of time left for a quick adventure.

I used a single house rule, allowing characters to pick a specialization at 1st level.

The players all worked together, comparing ability scores and social status results, talking about what they’d like to see the party be able to do, and so on.

In the end, our heroes came out thusly–
Drahul (orc warrior, two-weapon fighter with battleaxe and longsword)
Folas (elf mage, arcana of healing and heroics)
Hannah (human rogue with assassin specialization, sister to)
James (human warrior, two-handed spear fighter)
Winter (elf mage, arcana of lightning and power)

The game notes, adapted from those taken by my wife Lj, are short but to-the-point.

Session 01:

We’re all tin-level Intrepideurs. We’ve all been on our initial quests with overseers and passed our evaluations. We’re ready for the bigtime.

Only Hannah and James know each other. The Guild recommends this group of 5 band together, at least initially, as an Intrepideur’s party.

We take our First quest: Escort quest (pays 50s per member of the group) – A request to the Guild from King Gloryhoof, himself

  • Five orphan children, arrived by ship. Need to be taken to a holy site of their order up in the Igneous Mountains. Their escorts were killed by Pirates, who were paid by a cult known as The Fists who want to kill the children. The pirates were driven off before they could harm the children.
  • Four days to the end destination, then four days back. Have a cart for the children, and the Guild provides food and basic supplies.

Day 01

Ambushed by 5 members of the Fists on the road. GM says this fight LOOKs too tough for us and it may be a TPK, but since part of this is playtesting and getting used to the game, we all agree to play it out.

  • Everyone knocked out at least once, and in the end everyone but Hannah and James are killed.
  • Except the GM retcons having a near TPK in the first session, as a blessing from King Gloryhoof for those carrying out his errands keeps the “killed” PCs from quite dying.
  • We get the kids to the mountain and back

Day 09

  • We get 50sp each + another 60sp from selling the gear we took off the Fists. Several characters take light chain recovered from the Fists. Including Winter, a spellcaster.

GM says to level up to 2nd level, and everyone gets one common temporary magic items to represent adventures between now and the next game.

So, that’s it. I ran the game… and nearly killed all the PCs with a fight WAY too tough for them. And that’s okay, we all got to use the death and dying rules, which often don’t get played with much, and learned I was right–that fight was WAY too tough!

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Tales of the Intrepideurs’ Guild, Pt 2

So as I noted a little over a week ago, I am starting a Fantasy AGE campaign, specifically designed to help me have a place to try things out as the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin Publishing. This will be the “Tales of the Intrepideur’s Guild,” and have as a framing device that the PCs are entry-level professional adventurers belonging to the aforementioned guild, and doing jobs it sanctions.

I explained a bit about why such a guild would exist in the imaginary game world of Fage I am creating for this campaign. Now I want to delve a bit into the guild itself.

For this article, we’ll discuss the guild’s place in the world of Fage.

The Intrepideur’s Guild is one of the major “Slate League” freelance unions (an unofficial designation that comes from only the most successful such groups able to afford slate tile roofs for all their guildhalls). It among the oldest still-active freelancer unions, third only to the Ratcatcher Society and the Right and Honorable Order of Dragonslayers, both of which are a good deal smaller and not considered Slate League institutions (though the Dragonslayers were, at one time). It is also among the most trusted (along with the Lady’s Sewing Circle and Heroic Alliance) most widespread (challenged in that regard only by the Council of Warlocks and Alchemists’ Consociation), and most successful (consistently placing in the top three best mission-clearance rates, often with the Court of Justiciars and Council of Warlocks, though it worth noting the Lady’s Sewing Circle refuses to discuss their clearance rate, or who their clients are).

Nearly every major city has a Intrepideur’s Guildhall, along with many towns, trading posts, and crossroads. Outside of emergency or disaster relief, only members of the guild in good standing can stay at a Guildhall, and they can do so extremely cheaply—though anyone staying for more than a few weeks without taking on some missions (officially called “Quests”) will get relocated to another Guildhall if members who are on quests need the room.

Because the guild will only accept and sanction quests from individuals or groups that agree to a set or rules regarding the treatment of its members, most city-states and townships have formal treaties with the it. these treaties insure that the guild will have a guildhall at a set rate or tax, that income from performing quests is not taxed, and that guild members are treated fairly and legally always have the right to demand to see an Intrepideur’s Guild representative before being taken to trial or having any criminal punishment carried out.

In many ways, the Intrepideur’s Guild is a government itself, run by a Guildroyal (currently Guildmistress Akachi), overseen by a Council of Senior Hallkeepers, and able to negotiate with the most powerful city-states on near-equal footing. Of course the Intrepideur’s Guild lacks a standing army, and city-states can gather in alliances… but since the guild also shows no sign of wanting to impose its will on anything beyond how its own people are treated, most governments consider the benefit of access to its quest-boards more than worth the cost of agreeing to its terms.

After all, sometimes you need a high-level Intrepideur.

(Art by Jesse-lee Lang)

So, how does the guild decide what Quests to take? How do you join? What’s in it for the Intrepideurs?

Well get to that stuff in time!

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Tales of the Intrepideurs’ Guild, Pt 1

It should come as no shock that, as Green Ronin’s developer for the Fantasy AGE RPG, I want to run a Fantasy AGE campaign. Running (and playing) the games I write and develop for is an important part of being connected to the material as-played for me when I can arrange it, and it helps me build and maintain system mastery.

I have been *meaning* to start a Fantasy Age game for months, but (waves hands at… everything).

However, since I’m only going to be able to run a single campaign at the moment, I want to set up its framework to maximize its benefits to me. That means organizing it so I can run no matter how many of my players can show up, maximizing the amount of time the campaign focuses on game mechanics, and having a framework lose enough I can experiment with and playtest new material without having to spend a lot of effort working it into the game.

My players are, of course, aware that these are goals of mine. I’m currently only able to play in-person with the very small group in my social bubble, all of whom are folks I’ve been playing RPGs with for 20 years or more, so that’s not an issue.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want ANY framing device for the campaign. I just want one with a great deal of flexibility and a focus on small, variable groups going and doing dangerous or difficult things.

And for this game, that’s going to come in the form of the Intrepideurs’ Guild. Which immediately leads to the question, what the heck is an Intrepideur?

(Art by Luca Oleastri)

The word is a portmanteau of Intrepid and Entrepreneur that I am intentionally creating for its slightly cheesy flavor. It will, in-world, be used the way “adventurer” might be in a lot of fantasy game settings. Within the context of the fictional world I am creating, an Intrepideur is someone who makes a career out of being brave and bold, and facing things most people don’t want to.

So in our fictional world (which, for the moment, I am naming Fage), its considered normal to have your day-job be facing dangerous things to make money. In many cases, someone will pay you to do this, because the dangerous things make their lives difficult. In other cases, a group might decide to seek out and face a danger because they think there’s money to be made in doing so. Folks of Fage treat Intrepideurs the way our current world treats first responders, extreme sports athletes and mountain climbers, and entrepreneurs. It’s not for everyone and it’s a bit off the norm, but in general it’s seen as a reasonable choice for people drawn to such work.

Now some of this work is pretty intermittent stuff — if bandits have taken to preying on a road between countries, you can hire Intrepideurs to guard you as you travel it or even to clear off the bandits entirely. Need someone to hunt down and stop an arsonist? Protect your sheep from wolves? Hunt down giant crabs suddenly tearing up fishing nets? Gather the prophetic and altering spice Mordant from the Shifting Desert? Intripdeurs are your best bet.

But there are also some things that happen at least as often as severe weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires, and that really do call for a society to maintain an entire class of people trained to deal with them. Here are some common sources of ongoing Intrepideur work.

Bone Stars — It’s well known that the night sky is the inside of the skull of the giant that was slain by the First Gods to make the world (though there is significant disagreement on which giant, and which gods). Sometimes, the long-dead giant forms a wicked thought in its skull, which flakes off a bit of the bone from the skull and plummets to Fage in a bolt of colored fire. Bone Stars can be seen for days before landing, and are often signs of misfortune or the death of a ruler.

But they also often have actual… things… on them. Screaming, mobile fungi that consume all they come across. Metal spiders that build webs of crystal that drink sunlight. Evil, psychic rats. And whatever it is? It does not belong on Fage. it does not seek balance with its environment. The things from Bone Stars was plagues on the land that, if not dealt with, can eventually scrub whole kingdoms clean of life.

And if one of those Bone Stars lands near your town? You want some Intrepideurs to show up and take care of it. Quick, while it’s small.

(Art by Dominick)

Catacairns — There have been waves of evil spirits, demigods, and demons that have attacked the World of Fage in the past, sometimes swarming over entire continents. When those things are defeated, it turns out they mostly can’t be “killed” in the mortal sense of the word. But they can be placed within massive underground tomb complexes, which are filled with puzzles and traps and hazards to keep the spirits from ever finding their way to their physical remains, or out into the world. these tomb-prison complexes are known as Catacairns. Some are centuries old, built by fallen empires or lone genius/hermit mages, marked by weird mehirs and monuments.

Mostly, they are pretty stable prisons. Mostly.

But sometimes some energy leaks out of an abandoned Catacairn into the nearby wilderness or town and… CHANGES things. That usually mean a seal or lock has cracked, and SOMEONE has to both deal with the twisted “cairnite” abominations it creates, and go fix the thing. And sometimes cultists or power-mad idiots crack into a catacairn intentionally, to siphon such power, or even release what is within in hopes of being rewarded with vast power. Sometimes the outer locks and traps fail after centuries of disuse, and minor spirits even escape outward, and have to be put down and trapped again.

And sometimes? Sometimes the worst things, at the lowest levels, wake up and start to tear down their whole prison, block by block.

(Art by info@nextmars)

Prismatic Mountains — There are multiple ranges of Prismatic Mountains throughout the World of Fage, and they… shift. Not all the time, but always during the winter. A pass found one year is likely useless by the next. Residents, animals, monsters, even weather shifts from year to year. And Prismatic Mountains are almost always right where you want to take caravans of trade goods through.

So, every year, there’s a huge demand for Intrepideurs to go into the nearest Prismatic Mountain range, and map what they can, learn what they can and, if possible, find a route through. With trade routes cut off nearly all winter, the first group who can prove they can get a caravan through can command steep prices of their route, and some small traders will risk heading into the mountains before a pass is established, with many escorts, hoping to be the first to reach the trade routes on the far side so they can charge premium prices for their wares.

Finding a new route can make Intrepideurs reputation. Finding the FIRT route through in a given year also makes them temporary celebrities.

So there’s the campaign basic set-up. Players will be members of an Intrepideurs’ Guild, starting as Tin-ranked members, hoping to work their way up to Copper, Silver, Gold, and Mithral ranks. They get jobs dealing with problems, each one designed to be a single night of gaming. If a player isn’t free a given night, their Intrepideur can’t make it for the mission that time. Weird things and dangers are built into the campaign setting, so I can test things out and, if they don’t work, discard them never to be mentioned again.

Given the popularity of the Really Wild West session recaps, I may recap my Tales of the Intrepideurs’ Guild game sessions as well. And if there’s interest, I can go into more details on how the Guild is set up to speed play along.

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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
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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
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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

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