Category Archives: Game Design

The Power (And Risks) of Options over Set Abilities in Starfinder

This is something I have thought about for more than a decade, and which I want to write about in greater length someday. But a power I recently wrote up for my Starfaring Gunslinger (for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) really drove the point home, so I thought I’d share the core idea.

Options of a set power level are more potent in making effective/overpowered PCs (depending where you are on the potency curve) than set abilities of the same power level, as long as the most effective use of those abilities is obvious.

So, what do I mean by that?

Well first, I mean that if you are building the class features of a new class (for example), and you give it +3 to a specific skill (let’s say +3 to Acrobatics), that is less potent than giving it +3 to any class skill. These have exactly the same game mechanical advantage (+3 to a bonus added to a d20 roll), but +3 to Acrobatics can only be used a single way. If a specific character build already has all the bonus to Acrobatics it needs (perhaps because a player is making a character that doesn’t rely on Acrobatics), the +3 is wasted. But the flexible +3 can be put anywhere it’s useful, making it easier to have different character builds make use of it, making it more useful to more characters.


Not all skills are equally useful to all character builds. If, for example, a player thought that Acrobatics and Profession (dancer) were equally useful in a typical game, that player might place the +3 in the profession skill and assume they had made an equally-potent choice. There MAY be cases where that’s true, but not understanding the most effective use of skills makes that flexibility more likely to lead to frustration for that player.

(The skill rules, in general, do a pretty good job of telling you what each skill is used for, making the relative effectiveness of each fairly clear. But maybe it would be worth the extra complexity to either balance them better, or show why they aren’t equally weighted, despite using equal resources to access.)

In the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, this idea influences most class abilities. Rather than get a lot of flat assigned abilities, most classes have at least one variable power set you pick, and many have lists of abilities made available ever few levels. Gear boosts, envoy improvisations, magic hacks, and so on, give a range of options PCs can pick from to make a character that is effective the way they play it.

At the same time, if you don’t know when an ability is most likely to be useful, you may pick something you think will come up a lot, only to find it requires careful set-up or a play style your group does not support.

Which brings me to the ability that set all this off:

Spotter’s Observation (Ex): [1st level][Language-dependent, sense-dependent] As a standard action you can gauge the distance to a specific target you have line of sight to, and give advice to your allies on what factors may affect ranged attacks against that foe. Any ally you can communicate with (either directly or through comm units) halves any penalty from cover or range increments they take to ranged attacks against that target until the beginning of your next turn.
If you have the get ‘em or improved get ‘em envoy improvisations, you can use spotter as part of the same action you use for those abilities rather than as its own standard action.

Hopefully both the name and the way the ability is written makes it clear that this is an ability for someone who wants to play a support role, and who has allies likely to make powerful ranged attacks against foes that are far away, in cover, or both. It gives special options to the envoy, because envoys already work well in this role and have a great deal of synergy with something like this. If your group includes a technomancy who prefers status effect spells and a melee solarian and a melee soldier, this ability is a bad choice in terms of potency. If the group is playing a sniper squad who want to handle most issues from 1,000 feet away at mini8mum, it’s a great one.

Speaking of Great Choices

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Really Wild West Gunslinger (for Starfinder)

So, of COURSE, the Really Wild West has to have gunslingers, and since RWW is a setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, that means I need gunslingers for that game… at least up to 10th level (RWW’s current cap).
That said, a big part of the fantasy gunslinger class is that it gives access to firearms, and makes them less-terrible and less-unreliable choices. Since small arms, longarms, and sniper rifles aren’t terrible choices and are easy to gain access and proficiency with, there’s no need for a class that takes up a lot of its abilities fixing those fantasy-rules-related issues. Also, RWW is the kind of setting where a mechanic, mystic, or even solarian could all be gunslingers, so why restrict the concept to just one class?
I’m working on a longer version of the Starfaring Gunslinger rules that will cover some archetypes and go to 20th, but that’s likely to actually be a full product. This is a preview.

There are two ways to get gunslinger abilities: the gunslinger archetype, and the gunslinger feat. You can use both, if you wish.

Gunslinger Archetype
You are more than proficient with guns, you are focused on them to a degree most gun users can neither duplicate nor understand.
Special: You must be proficient with small arms, longarms, or sniper rifles to take this archetype.
Gunslinger Ability: At 2nd, 4th, and 6th level you may choose to take gunslinger abilities as alternate class features (using the normal archetype rules).
If you make this choice more than once, each time after the first that you make it you gain two gunslinger abilities, rather than one. (Thus if you selected this option at all three level, you’d have five total gunslinger abilities.)

Gunslinger Feat
You are a master of slinging guns.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with small arms.
Benefit: Select one gunslinger ability.
Special: You can select this feat more than once. Each time, you select a new gunslinger ability of your character level or less.

Gunslinger Abilities
Regardless of how you gain your gunslinger abilities (feat or archetype), you can only select a gunslinger ability of your level of less. Unless it specifies otherwise, you can’t select a gunslinger ability more than once.

Gunslinger’s Dodge (Ex): [1st Level] You gain an uncanny knack for getting out of the way of ranged attacks. Once per day when a ranged attack is made against you, you can move 5 feet as a reaction; doing so grants you a +2 bonus to AC against the triggering attack. This movement is not a guarded step. Alternatively, you can drop prone to gain a +4 bonus to AC against the triggering attack.
Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you spend 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points taking a 10-minute break, or regain your daily abilities. You can also use this even when it is expended by spending 1 Resolve Point.

Gunslinger Initiative (Ex): [3rd Level] As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point, you gain the following benefits. First, you gains a +2 bonus on initiative checks. Furthermore, if you have the Quick Draw feat, your hands are free and unrestrained, and the small arm is not hidden, you can draw a single firearm as part of your initiative check.

Gunslinger Specialization (Ex): [3rd Level] When you take the attack of full attack action with a small arm, without using any class feature or feat that increases attack rolls or damage, you add damage equal to 1-1/2 your level to damage done with small arms (instead of Weapons Specialization’s normal bonus for small arms of half your level).

Pistol-Whip (Ex): [3rd Level] You can use your small arm, longarm, or sniper weapon as a melee weapon. Select a bludgeoning basic melee weapon with an item level lower than your ranged weapon. Treat your ranged weapon as this melee weapon for purposes of threatening spaces, making attacks of opportunity, and dealing damage, but grant it the knockdown critical hit effect (replacing any critical hit effect it normally has). When used in this way, the weapon still benefits from any weapon fusions it has that would apply to an unpowered bludgeoning melee weapon.

Utility Shot (Ex): [3rd Level] If you have at least 1 Resolve Point, you can perform all of the following utility shots. Each utility shot can be applied to any single attack with a ranged weapon, but you must declare the utility shot you are using before firing the shot.
Blast Lock: You make an attack roll against a lock within the first range increment of your ranged weapon. A Diminutive lock usually has AC 15, and larger locks have a lower AC. The lock gains a bonus to its AC equal to its item level. Hold portal grants a +5 bonus to the AC of a lock against this attack. On a hit, the lock is destroyed, and the object can be opened as if it were unlocked. On a miss, the lock is undamaged. It can still be unlocked by successfully performing this deed, by using the Computers or Engineer skills.
Scoot Unattended Object: You make an attack roll against a Tiny or smaller unattended object within the first range increment of your ranged weapon. For this purpose, a Tiny unattended object has an AC of 5, a Diminutive unattended object has an AC of 7, and a Fine unattended object has an AC of 11. On a hit, you do not damage the object with the shot, but can move it up to 15 feet farther away from the shot’s origin.
Stop Bleeding: You expend one usage of a ranged weapon and then press the hot barrel (or hot energy vent, or power cable, or some other part of the weapon that heats when it uses energy or fires) against yourself or an adjacent creature to staunch a bleeding wound. This ends a single bleed condition affecting the creature. You can do this in place of an attack (as a standard action, or part of a full action allowing multiple attacks).

Dead Shot (Ex): [7th Level] As a full action, you can expend 1 Resolve Point to make a single ranged attack, rolling your attack twice and using the better of the two results. This functions with Gunslinger Specialization and can be combined with the full action to aim and fire a sniper weapon, but does not work with any other class feature or feat that increases attack rolls or damage.

Startling Shot (Ex): [7th Level] If you have at least 1 Resolve Point left, when you successfully use covering fire or harrying fire against a creature, you also cause it to be flat-footed for 1 round.

Targeting (Ex): [7th Level] As a full action, you can make a single ranged weapon attack and choose part of the target’s body to aim at. If you hit, you inflict the following effects depending on the part of the body aimed at. If a creature does not have one of the listed body locations, the GM can determine if it has an equivalent body part or not [and may require a Perception or Life Sciences check (DC 15 +1-1/2 target’s CR) for you to know and recognize such an equivalent]. Creatures immune to critical hits or critical hit effects are immune to this ability.
Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you spend 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points taking a 10-minute break, or regain your daily abilities. You can also use this even when it is expended by spending 1 Resolve Point.
Arms: On a hit, the target takes no damage from the hit but drops one held item of the your choice that it can drop, even if the item is wielded with two hands.
Head: On a hit, the target is damaged normally, and is also confused for 1 round. This is a mind-affecting effect.
Legs: On a hit, the target is damaged normally and knocked prone. Creatures that have four or more legs or that are immune to trip attacks are immune to this effect.
Torso: Targeting the torso causes any critical hit effect your weapon possesses to be triggered on an attack roll of 18 or better (the die shows an 18, 19, or 20) that hits the target’s AC, even though an 18 or 19 is not a critical hit.
Wings: On a hit, the target is damaged normally, and must make a Fly check (DC 15 + 1-1/2 your base attack bonus) or fall 20 ft.

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Social Technomancy for Starfinder

While the technomancer spells presented in the Starfinder Core Rulebook focus on mixing magic and specific, physical applications of technology, as residents of the modern world we know that technology is much more than a set of devices. Social technologies exist, from things like first aid techniques to social media to advances in the social sciences and philosophies, as well as data organization and storage techniques, metadata analysis, and so on. Surely in a galaxy that has spellcasters blending arcana with other fields of study, technomancy would leak into every aspect of advanced knowledge.

So, here are some technomancy spells that investigate other paces magic and advanced techniques might overlap. It also introduces some new focus rules—elements that are useful to casting a spell, but not mandatory.

Cram (T2)
School transmutation
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range touch
Target one creature
Duration 1 minute/level (see text)
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

With this spell, the caster can take the knowledge from any text-based, audio, or video source and implant it into the mind of the target creature. This grants the subject a number of bonus ranks in one skill of the caster’s choice to bring the target’s total ranks (their own ranks + bonus ranks) equal to half the caster’s level (for Int-, Wis-, or Cha-based skills) or 1/4 the caster level (for Str-, Dex-, or Con-based skills). A caster that has access to an infosphere can generally use this to grant ranks in any skill, or a computer can have sufficiently complete versions of the relevant information downloaded into it for the same cost and effort as adding a secure data module.

Focus: If the target has a source of information on the granted skill on their person (such as a book or a datapad with the information downloaded into it) the spell’s duration increases to 10 moinutes.caster level.

Fashion Plate (T1)
School transmutation
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range touch
Target one set of clothing
Duration 1hour/level
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell transforms the appearance of one set of clothes. The clothes may be transformed into a specific set of normal clothing, or they may be turned into clothes appropriate for a particular group of people. For example, a mage could change his ragged jeans and leather jacket into a business power suit, or skateboarding street gear, or a karate gi. This has no impact on any game mechanical bonuses the clothing offers—a cold weather suit works just as well when it appears to be swimming trunks. This spell ends if the clothing is taken off.

Focus: If the caster has access to fashion information about a specific group (normally available automatically with access to a related infosphere, or compiled with a DC 15 Culture check), this spell can make clothing appear to be perfect for interacting with a specific group or segment of society (such as a specific gang, or a specific social class in a specific city). When wearing clothing perfectly matched for such a group, the clothes grant a +3 circumstance bonus to all Charisma checks and Charisma-based skill checks made with that group. One set of clothing can only be perfect for one group at a time.

Instant Therapy (M2, T2)
School enchantment (language-dependent)
Casting Time 1 minute (see text)
Range close (25 ft. +5 ft/2 levels)
Target one creature
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell removes the confusion condition from the target. It also acts as a dispel magic and remove affliction against all fear and mind-affecting effects on the target, moves the target one step closer to healthy on the mental disease track.

Once a creature has been the target of this spell, it can’t be targeted again until it has undergone a 4-hour traditional therapy session.

Focus: If you have a mental health file for the subject, the casting time for this spell becomes 1 standard action. A target can give you a file they have access to, or one can generally be compiled over 24 hours with a recall knowledge Culture check or liberated from modestly-secured infosphere sources with a Computers check (both DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s level).

Rap Sheet (T0)
School divination
Casting Time 1 minute
Range close (25 ft. +5 ft/2 levels)
Target one creature
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

This spell gives the caster knowledge of one target’s legal record. This acts as a Culture check to gain information about the target as if the caster has ranks in Culture equal to her caster level and has access to a relevant database, but only covers information such as arrests, torts, convictions, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and bankruptcy. Only legal records are revealed, and only for the identity of the target as understood by the caster—disguises are not automatically penetrated and actual guilt or innocence is not revealed.

Speaking of Social Magic!

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Updated List of Very Fantasy Words

The most recent update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words!

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Falx for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

The falx is a weapon so powerful, it forced the Romans to make the only change to their armor (reinforced helmets) that was recorded as occurring specifically because of an enemy weapon. Used by the Dacians and Thracians, the flax was a curved blade sharpened on the inside edge. Contemporaneous accounts suggest it was made in both one-handed and two-handed versions, but the one-handed may also have been used in both hands at least sometimes. It seems to have come in both swordlike and polearm-like designs, and while its most powerful swing appears to have been a devastating overhand chop, it may also have been used to thrust. It seems related to the rhomphaia (as featured on a recent episode of the television show Forged in Fire), and went through many design evolutions. During much of the time it was a popular weapon, creating a long, sharp, strong blade required particularly skilled smiths, so the longer-bladed falx may have been weapons of prestige as well.

In short, it is exactly the kind of weapon rpg players love to argue about by finding specific references or illustrations that support one concept of what it looked like and how it was used, while ignoring others. And there’s just no need for that in an rpg setting. There’s room for lots of falx ideas to all be lumped together in one game mechanical weapon, the same way the pathfinder Roleplaying game combines numerous distinct weapon designs into the broad categories of shortsword” or “longsword.”

(Martial) Two-Handed Melee Weapons Name    Cost       Dmg (S) (M)        Crit         Weight  Type      Special

Falx        75 gp     1d4        1d6        19-20*, x4             8 lbs.     P or S     Disarm, trip

*See description

Falx: A falx is a two-handed martial weapon, but if Exotic Weapon Proficiency is taken with it, it can be wielded as a one-handed weapon. It is part of the axes, heavy blades, and polearms weapon groups. A falx is considered to have a threat range of “20” for the purposes of all abilities that increase threat ranges, but after making all such calculations its threat range is increased by 1. For example, a keen falx doubles its normal threat range of 20 to 19-20, then increases that threat range by 1 (to 18-20).

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Dare Feats in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

The Really Wild West (a Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) is all about daring heroes who face terrifying odds, survive on sheer grit and gumptions, and fight their way back from apparently impossible situations. Of course the heroes game mechanics of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game take care of a lot of that theme, but some heroes are just better at rising to the challenge when they should normally be on their last legs. To help players who want to build heroes who are the linchpin of avoiding disaster when all hope seems lost, the Really Wild West has Dare Feats.

Dare Feats

Dare feats only become active when you run out of Resolve Points, and go back to being inactive when you regain any Resolve Points. Each also has a method for restoring Resolve Points, which also causes the feat to be inactive (until and unless you run out of Resolve again).Dare feats don’t have prerequisites—they can be taken by any character from the plucky young librarian searching for a stolen tome in the rough frontier, to the grizzled veteran of the War of the Worlds who has seen too much horror to be shaken when things go south.

In addition to their listed effects, all characters with Dare feats gain a +1 bonus to saves against fear effects for each Dare feat they possess when they are out of Resolve Points.

Frantically Nimble (Dare)
When the chips are down, you gain a surge of evasiveness.
Benefit: While this dare is active, you gain a +1 bonus to AC. You regain 1 Resolve Point when you are attacked and missed in three consecutive rounds by a significant enemy (the attacks need not come from the same enemy) without being hit in any of those rounds.

Out for Blood (Dare)
You can fight like a cornered rat.
Benefit: While this dare is active, if your attack has a critical hit effect, your attack roll is a natural 19 (a “19” shows on the die), and you meet or exceed your target’s AC, your attack applies its critical hit effect (though it does not do double damage as a critical hit normally does). If you score a normal critical hit against a significant enemy, you regain one Resolve Point.

Run Like Hell (Dare)
When the going gets tough, you can really get going.
Benefit: While this dare is active, your speed increases by 10 feet, you are not flat-footed when taking the run action, and you can take the run action even through difficult terrain or when you can’t see where you are going. You regain 1 Resolve Point if a significant enemy takes an attack of opportunity provoked by you moving out of a threatening space, and the attack misses.

Vigilante Shooter (Dare)
You’ll jump through hell to turn the tides of a bas situation.
Benefit: While this dare is active, you gain the evasion class feature. If you already have this class feature, while this dare is active you roll twice when making any Reflex saving throw and take the higher result. You regain 1 Resolve Point when you succeed at a Reflex saving throw forced by a significant enemy while using this dare.

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Gizmos in Really Wild West (for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game)

Since no one is expected to wear armor in the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, “armor upgrades” aren’t really part of the setting. However, everything that functions as an armor upgrade in the core rules is still available- it just exists in the form of an advanced speculative principles device that builds off stellar alloys, theosophic imbuement techniques, compression gears, heat-ray crystal capacitors, vril, or some other weird science from ancient ruins, Martian wrecks, lost civilizations, or mad scientists.

These are commonly know as “gizmos.”

Gizmos are most common among people who operate on the fringes of society, be they adventurers, bandits, mad scientists, or peacekeepers who have to deal with all those other categories. Gizmos often have a very steampunk aesthetic, with bronze a common material (thanks to its theosophic and anti-corrosion properties), leather straps, buckles, and some nice detail work.

Anyone can use a single gizmo, but it takes skill to use more than one gizmo at a time, or to even have more than one rigged properly to be used simultaneously. You can have ready (and in use at one time) one gizmo, plus one for every kind of armor you are proficient with (the main use of armor proficiency in Really Wild West), plus one additional gizmo per 3 character levels. Armor upgrades that take two armor upgrade slots count as two gizmos for this limit once translated into the RWW. Rigging up a gizmo for use, or putting one way, takes 6 rounds.

Here are the Really Wild West gizmo names and descriptions for Starfinder Roleplaying Game armor upgrades. Each gizmo functions the same way as the armor upgrade it is modeled after (listed in parenthesis), except as noted in each description below.


Aetheric Shields (Force Fields)
Aetheric shields are tiny aetheric generators retooled to work in reverse—rather than taking aetheric currents from the ethereal plane and turning them into electricity, they take electricity and turn them into an aetheric flow that surrounds and (modestly) protects the wearer. The power crystal of an aetheric shield turns the color of the force field it emulates.

Amazing Martian Fighting Shield (titan shield)
This is just one example of the names people use when they take a plate of stellar alloy from a Martian fighting machine, and add straps, and turn it into a shield. It’s big and heavy, so if you use it, you can’t do anything else with that arm.

Babbage Scope (targeting computer)
A Babbage scope takes readings through numerous small lenses, tracks information through a small built-in brass Babbage analytical engine, and predicts where partially concealed targets most likely are.

Crystal Goggles (Infrared Sensors)
The same crystal technology that makes Martian heat rays possible can be turned into red-lenses goggles, that allow you to see heat. Among the most common of gizmos, since you can make several from a smashed Trip’s heat rays.

DaVinci Wings (Jetpacks)
It turns out with energized cavorite (an antigravity metal that can have its gravity- neutralizing properties boosted with an electrical current) and compression gears, some of DaVinci’s designs for powered flight can function.

Dragonhide Duster (thermal capacitor)
While killing true dragons is rarely both practical and moral, drakes and other draconic creatures can be a serious threat in the frontier, and once slain their hides easily take to theosophic infusion to become clothing that stays warm, but never gets hot.

Doctor Cavor’s Resplendent Repellent Field (deflective reinforcement)
Dr. Cavor, the woman who created Cavorite and who has had the most success with Martial technology involving stellar alloys, has built just a few of these prototype devices, that normally take the form of a large metal gauntlet with several crystals and dials. It can push anything away, rather than just alter gravity as most Cavorite devices do.

Float Pack (force pack)
Though it is extremely rare for one of the few Martian flying machines to have one of it’s floater units removed while still functional, when that task is accomplished, a spectacular backpack-style device that allows amazing flight can be crafted from it.

Gas Mask (filtered rebreather)
The threat of Martian Black Smoke forced every nation of the Earth to seek better ways to protect against airborne poisons. Since Really Wild West doesn’t use armor like the core rules do, this gas mask can be considered to work for 5 weeks (though you can break that down into 35 periods of 24 1-hour increments), and then need significant cleaning and refurbishment (costing 10 credits per hour restored). It only applies to inhaled diseases and poisons, though the same cost could be applied to a Diving Helmet and Suit.

Gun Carriage (Automated Loader)
Of use only to wearers of Iron Soldier suits or Tripods (powered armor), a gun carriage is a system of complex clockwork systems that can eject casings and ammo belts, and reload new ones.

Huckster’s Sheath (quick-release sheath)
A spring-loaded sheath designed to be kept up the sleeve, and often considered a sign of low moral character.

Hush Coat (sonic dampener)
This short, leather jacket has gear-shaped metal studs arranged unevenly along its surface, and a dial control at the wrist. It uses a small aetheric generator and retuned Martian heat-ray crystals to creates sounds that perfectly muffle sounds made by the wearer.

Iron Hercules (load lifter)
The Iron Hercules ™ is a compressed air pistol-driven exoframe powered by an aetheric generator to increase your carrying capacity. Also called a “pocket mule” when built and sold by dastards who don’t have the right to the patent.

Jack’s Spring-Heels (jump jets)
Compressed pneumatic pistols running along the calf (and anchored to protective knee braces) drive down, sending you up (or forward). One of the most popular gizmos first designed by Professor “Gentleman Jack” Jersey.

Leyden Gears (backup generator)
These reverse-engineered compression gears are strapped to the arms or legs (or both), and turn your movement into electricity to recharge a battery. It can be connected to a battery belt.

Radium Belt (radiation buffer)
Designed from devices created by Mdm Curie, radium belts protect you from the “poison metals” called radioactive by learned types.

Storm Grommets (electrostatic field)
Storm grommets are small metal rings that can be attached on outwear, with each grommet connected by a high-conductivity wire to a capacitor battery, allowing you to both absorb electrical damage and create an electrical field that shocks anyone that touches you.

Temporal Adjustor (haste circuit)
Only pocket-watches created by famed punctualist Phileas Fogg are capable to being imbued theosophically with the concept of “saving time” that is so powerful, it actually allows the user to temporarily slow all the rest of the universe.

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Writing Basics: Headers for RPGs

Headers are the big titles of sections of books that tell you (roughly) what content is in that section. If you want a quick overview of what headers are, how to mark them in a manuscript (which, I should note, is actually “however your publisher tells you to,” though the [H1] and [H2]-style designations are pretty common if not universal), go check out Rogue Genius Games’ “RGG Writer Guidelines,” which discuss headers and how to let your editor and layout artist know where they should in your manuscript. That’s designed specifically for writing for RGG, but should be a useful overview you can apply to whatever style guide another publisher tells you to use.

That advice, however, is a what and a how, not a why or a where. It assumes you know when you want to have headers, and why you might want them to be different sizes. Why headers are useful and how to decide where to put them and what to call them isn’t something I learned in school, or that I was expressly taught by any editor or developer on any of the RPG projects I worked on. It is often taught, in a specific way, in courses on technical or academic writing, but those tend not to use them exactly the way an RPG does. Creating the right number of headers, in the right order and scaling, is something I picked up by example and self-education, rather than finding any course that taught it to me.

So let’s talk about how headers tend to work, for RPGs. I’ll note that this is my general advice, designed to give you a starting point, rather than an end point. Again, I’m self-taught, and learned to work with the people who published me. If you want an academic discussion of headers, you should find someone with a lot more editorial training and credentials than me.


Headers are titles and subtitles for sections of your text. They act as labels that let the reader know what information is about to be presented, and let the readers scan for a bit of information by seeking a related header. Headers can also be useful when referencing rules. It’s much easier to say “This uses the standard rules for bull rush, as found in the Combat Maneuvers section of the Tactical Rules chapter” than to say “This uses the standard rules for bull rush, as found halfway down page 942, on the left, at the top of the really big paragraph.” By giving a section of text a header, you make it easy for the reader to know what is coming, quickly find relevant material, and safely skip part of a chapter or article if they know they don’t need that information yet.

(There are also some kinds of headers that specific publishers use for game system elements. For example, if you look at the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, every feat and spell has a different treatment of text for the name of the feat or spell. Those are a kind of header, but in general unless a publisher tell you to mark headers at that level you don’t need to. Now some publishers DO tell you to mark such things, perhaps with “Feat Title” or “Stat Block Title” notations, but that’s the kind of thing you can trust your publisher to tell you if you need to notate formatting.)

In many ways, headers are like the names of sections of an outline that you just don’t strip out. I find this a useful way to think of what to call my headers and how to organize them. In general, every major topic gets a header (which we’ll call a Article Header if it is the title or an entire article or chapter, and otherwise call “H1”), and every sub-topic that is UNDER THE SAME TOPIC gets a header one size smaller (each numbered in order, with H2 smaller than H1, and H3 smaller than H2). Not every publisher has an H3 header, while some have H4 or even H5, and some consider an in-line bold (where you don’t change the font size, you just begin a paragraph with a bolded word, perhaps followed by a colon or em-dash) to be effectively the smallest header size.

For example, if I have a chapter called Equipment, then obviously “Equipment” is my article header. If I want to open that with an introduction, then I’d write have just the word “Introduction” as my H1 header. If I then do some general equipment rules as a new section, I have a new H1 “General Rules.” I don’t go to an H2, because my general rules aren’t part of the introduction. However, if after explaining that this is a section of general rules for equipment I want to describe each of those general rules (as examples, perhaps Availability, Cost, Encumbrance, and Durability), then each of those has an H2 header, as they ARE all sub-sections of general rules.

Here’s an example how that might be set up, though exactly how you format your headers is going to depend on your publisher—the writer’s job is to match the publisher’s requesting formatting, not to try to make your Word document match how the text will look min the end product. That’s the layout artist’s job, and your proper formatting helps them know what header should be what size and style.

[Begin Example]

[Article Title]Equipment 

You generally don’t want to have two headers right after each other, so here you might put a sentence or two equipment in your game. However, some publishers DO go directly from article title to your first H1, so check their house style.


Introduce why your game has equipment, and why characters care. This might just be a sentence or two, or it could be a philosophical essay about loot, treasure, power gaming, and how equipment does or doesn’t define characters in your game.

[H1]General Rules

This is a new section, still about equipment, but not part of the introduction anymore. So it gets it’s on H1, and here you talk about the fact these are general rules for equipment. If there are rules elsewhere that could interest with these (like skills, or crafting, or whatever), you might mention where those rules are found.


This is one specific “general rule,” so it gets a header one size down, an H2 compared to General Rule’s H1. Again, you can often tell what needs headers from a good outline. If you wrote without an outline, you can still go back after you are done and create an outline for a project, which may help you better organize it and determine which sections call of headers, and what kind.


Again the rules on cost are a specific “general rule,” so these get an H2, one size down from General Rule’s H1. At a glance, a reader can tell that both “availability” and “Cost” are separate ideas, both grouped under “General Rules.”


Here you put your encumbrance rules, still an H2, under General Rules.

[H3]Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance

If the core of the encumbrance rules are about determining how much a character can carry, and noting where the weights of equipment are listed, the rules for exceeding encumbrance limits are clearly related, but slightly different. By giving them an H3, one size smaller than the H2 of Encumbrance rules, you make it easy for readers to find this section (which they may only reference occasionally), and give yourself the option to point to just these rules if something modifies them (for examples if dwarves suffer a less severe penalty when they exceed their maximum encumbrance, in the dwarf race write-up you can give that lesser penalty, and tell the reader to “See “Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance” mon page ##” making it easy for them to find these rules).


Since durability is another general rule, it gets the same H2 header as Availability, Cost, and Encumbrance. A reader who gets to the end of the Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance section can tell from the larger header of “Durability” that they have moved on to a new topic.

[End Example]

When determining what your headers are and what to call them, keep in mind that headers are both organizational, and graphic. If a player is going to be looking for a rule section or specific bit of lore fairly often, it aids ease of play to have a header that points them to the right place. Headers can also make a page easier to read—two pages of nothing but column after column of text is more difficult to read through than one with a header or two to break up the monotony and give the eyes something to navigate with. On the other hand, a header called “Everything You Need To Know To Play A Halfling War Baker But Where Afraid to Ask” may be overpowering and look terrible on the page.

Consistency with headers can also be useful. If you are writing up 7 kingdoms, and each one has sections on culture, organizations, population, and threats, having that info groups under the same headers for each write-up can both make it easy for readers to absorb and understand the info, and keep you on track to not forget to mention any cultural notes about Kitchenaria just because you were excited about all the War Baker Guilds you wanted to write about. Keeping the writer on track is another benefit of good, well-defined headers.

As I noted, this is just a starting point on what headers are and how they work. When you are organizing your writing, it can be very useful to keep in mind what headers your publisher uses. If you don’t know, and there isn’t a style guide that tell you, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s a lot easier to know at the outline stage that you only have H1 and H2 options and in-line bolds, than to write a manuscript that assumed you can nest H5s and H4s and H3s to go down multiple tiers of sub-categorization. There are all sorts of things—such as sidebars, and tables, and page treatments, and section breaks, and so on—that can impact what makes sense for your headers, and even what your publisher will let you do. But understanding why you need headers, and how to decide what they should be, is a big jump forward for those without a strong grasp of them.

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The Solarian for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

Fantasy Solarian

The solarian is the class in the space-themes game built off the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that is the furthest from any of the official fantasy rpg classes. The solarian specifically takes themes, tropes, and ideas from science-fiction settings and uses them to build a class very different from most fantasy heroes. But if the idea of a warrior-philosopher able to call upon the fundamental forces of the universe is what you want in your fantasy campaigns, it’s certain possible to take the space-faring solarian class, and revise it to work for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Mostly you can ignore the rules tied to the science-fantasy ruleset (Stamina points, 10-minute rests, Resolve Points, and so on), and run the character using straight Pathfinder rules. Some universal adjustments are needed as follows: a reaction can be done as a swift or immediate action; ignore rules that refer to spells, equipment, feats, or weapons that do not exist in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game; if a solarian effect creates a condition that does not exist in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, apply the same penalties and rules the condition would have applied in the star-faring version of the rules; bonuses to EC or KAC or both apply to AC; bonuses to AC against a combat maneuver are bonuses to CMD against the same maneuver.

For a few features, alternatives must be presented. Each of the items below replaces or alters the solarian feature of the same name. No abilities of this fantasy-themed solarian class use Resolve Points. The following also presents hp, skill, and proficiency rules for the envoy for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules. Otherwise, you can use the normal tables and class features of the solarian.

(You may also want to check out our Fantasy Envoy, and give us feedback on if you want to see more Fantasy-versions of starring classes!)

Fantasy Solarian


Alignment: Any

Hit Die: d10

Class Skills: The solarian’s class skills are Acrobatics (Dex), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (all) (Int), Perception (Wis), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Sense Motive (Wis), Stealth (Dex), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str), and Use Magic Device (Cha).

Skill Ranks per Level: 4 + Intelligence modifier

Proficiencies: The solarian is proficient with light and medium armor (but no shields), and all simple and martial weapons.

Solar Manifestation

Solar Armor: The bonus granted is a shield bonus to AC, and it works with light, medium, or heavy armor. It increases to +2 at 5th level and by an additional +1 every 4 levels to a maximum of +5 at 17th level. The solarian can enhance armor any of the following armor special abilities: energy resistance (normal, improved, and greater), fortification (heavy, light, or moderate), glamered, and spell resistance (13, 15, 17, and 19). Adding any of these special abilities replaces an amount of shield bonus equal to the special ability’s base cost. For this purpose, glamered counts as a +1 bonus, energy resistance counts as +2, improved energy resistance counts as +4, and greater energy resistance counts as +5. Duplicate abilities do not stack. The armor must have at least a +1 enhancement bonus before any other special abilities can be added.

The enhancement bonus and armor special abilities are determined the first time the ability is used each day and cannot be changed until the next day. These bonuses apply only while the solarian is wearing the armor, and end immediately if the armor is removed or leaves the solarian’s possession. This ability cannot be applied to a shield.

Solar Weapon: Change the damage of the solar weapon to match the damage of a monk’s unarmed strike, but with a minimum of 1d8. A solarian weapon can be used with weapon finesse, and any special ability that works with rapiers or scimitars.

Additionally, when the solarian is attuned he can grant his solar weapon a +1 enhancement bonus. For every three levels beyond 1st, the weapon gains another +1 enhancement bonus, to a maximum of +7 at 19th level. However, no more than a total of +5 of this bonus can be applied to attack and damage rolls. Beginning at 5th level, these bonuses can be used to add any of the following weapon properties depending on whether the solarian is graviton-attuned or photon-attuned: graviton-attuned—agile, anchoring, dancing, frost, icy burst, keen, speed, vorpal; photon-attuned—beaming, brilliant energy, dazzling radiance (DC 10 +1/2 solarian level + Cha bonus), disrupting, flaming, flaming burst, shock, shocking burst.

Adding these properties consumes an amount of bonus equal to the property’s base price modifier. At least a +1 enhancement bonus must be added before any other properties can be added. These bonuses and properties are decided when the solarian becomes graviton-attuned or photon-attuned, and cannot be changed until the next time the solarian gains attunement. These magic weapon properties can be added to a solarian weapon even if it would not normally qualify (such as placing disrupting on a solarian weapon that doesn’t do bludgeoning damage). If a magic weapon property has an ability that can only be used a limited number of times per day (such as beaming), once the solarian leaves attunement his total enhancement bonus he can grant his weapon is reduced by a value equal to the property’s base price modifier until the solarian next rests and regains daily abilities.

Solarian weapon crystals can be bought or crafted with the Craft Magic Arms and Armor feat. A solarian weapon crystal has a cost equal to a weapon enhancement bonus equal to half the solarian weapon crystal’s item level (such that a 7th level solarian weapon crystal has the same cost as a +3 weapon enhancement).

Sidereal Influence: The list of skills this applies to is adjusted as follows:

Graviton Skills: Bluff (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Knowledge (religion)(Int), Sense Motive (Wis), Spellcraft (Int), Stealth (Dex)

Photon Skills: Diplomacy (Cha), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (nobility)(Int), Survival (Wis), Use Magic Device (Cha)

Weapon Specialization: At 4th level the solarian gains Weapon Specialization as a bonus feat in any one weapon with which he is proficient. This can be his solar weapon, if he has taken that option. He does not need to meet this feat’s prerequisites.

Flashing Strikes: At 7th level the solarian can make two melee attacks with a weapon able to be used with Weapon Finesse as a standard action. Both attacks take a –2 penalty to their attack roll.

Solarian’s Onslaught: At 13th level as a full-around action the solarian can move up to double his movement, and at the end of his movement make one melee attack at his full bonus, or two melee attacks both at –2.

Stellar Paragon: At 20th level when the solarian enters a stellar mode, he gains 2 attunement points of the corresponding type immediately and is considered attuned, and when he keeps your current stellar mode at the start of his turn, he can gain 2 attunement points instead of 1, allowing him. to become fully attuned after 2 rounds.

Additionally once per day he can become fully attuned as a free action once per day, regardless of his previous attunement. He may do this even when not in combat, in which case his attunement lasts for 1 minute or until a combat begins (at which point it follows normal attunement rules).

Stellar Revelations: Most stellar revelations do not require any rules changes. A few exceptions are detailed below.

Gravity Boost: The skill bonus applies to all Acrobatics, Climb, and Swim checks.

Gravity Hold: This revelation functions as mage hand, with the exceptions as noted in the ability.

Astrologic Sense: You may use this ability once per day, plus one additional time at 11th and 16th level.

Crush: Once per day when you are attuned or fully attuned, you may choose to force the target to save or be stunned for 1 round, rather than staggered.

Glow of Life: You may use this ability once per day, plus one additional time for every 3 levels you have beyond 9th. However, you cannot use this ability within 10 minutes of having used it previously.

Reflection: This ability only works when fighting defensively if you are attuned or fully attuned.

Soul Furnace: You can use this ability once per day, plus one additional time per day for every 3 elvels you possess above 10th.

Gravity Shield: The bonus granted by this revelation is +2.

Zenith Revelations: In place of a normal zenith revelation, a solarian can choose to gain access to a solar weapon (if he originally selected armor as his solar manifestation) or solar armor (if he originally selected a solar weapon). This allows the solarian to use both abilities at once.

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Really Wild West Dragon Guns (For the Starfinder Rolplaying Game)

In the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, flame guns have been the most common form of energy-weapon for decades, and have a history going back centuries in the Quin Dynasty of China. While the great stability of government and vast, settled agrarian economy of the Qing and previous Ming Dynasty could have led to a great divide between the advanced of science and technology between China and European and American nations, the greater number of theosophic traditions in China (which, truthfully, significantly predate and are the origin of later western theosophy) and number of spiritual threats, from oni to dragons to kaiju, ensured that even with fewer conflict and greater stability, the constant need for innovation kept China on pace during the 1700s and 1800s. Further, victory over European powers in the Opium War, coupled with a strong global demand for Chinese silks and other goods and the looming threat of a Sino-Japanese War has kept the Qing government strongly invested in military technology, and placed their agents, allied merchants, and envoys in most major cities around the world—many carrying advanced flame weapons for self-defense.

The first flame-projecting weapons were double-piston pump naphtha flamethrowers used in 919 AD in China, known as pen huo qi or “spray fire devices.” There were generally large and slow-operating, deployed on wheeled carts, but their benefit against enemies lacking energy weaponry is not to be dismissed, and while some supernatural threats are immune to fire, those that are not are often more easily burned than stabbed or shot by projectiles. The pen hou qi were replaced by smaller and smaller units, until the modern single-person portable flamethrower was developed by famed statesman, general, and Confucian scholar Zeng Guofan in the mid-1800s. Flame pistols and flame rifles drew the attention of numerous other world militaries, but were generally seen as oddities too volatile for field use until the War of the Worlds, when flamethrowers proved to be among the cheapest and most reliable mass-produced energy weapons. Germany has done the best job creating their own designs for modern flame weapons, but their models remain behind the Chinese dragon guns.

In North American, numerous forms of flamethrowers were rushed into production to equip military units in the War of the Worlds… and were then suddenly no longer in significant demand when the Martians died unexpectedly on their own. These surplus guns, mostly local reproductions of German designs, can generally be bought on civilian markets in larger cities. Even more often, flame weapons are often found in the hands of communities with large Chinese immigrant populations, often in camps of near-slave labor imported for building and expanding railroads (which remain a major priority for most North American governments fearing a second Martian invasion and unable to move troops and vehicles quickly across their sprawling continent) and in major cities with trade ties, especially on the West Coast. Many small Chinese weaponworks shops have popped up to supply their superior designs of flame weapons, sometimes only to those of Chinese decent, but in other cases to anyone with the credits to pay for one in advance.

RealWildWest-DragonPistol with Text 72dpi

Table Small arms
One-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk  Special


1          90             1d3 F            30 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             L        —

Haoxian dragon pistol
2          450           1d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

3          1,100*     1d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             L        —

Chaofeng dragon pistol
4          1,850*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon pistol
5          2,700*     2d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Yu dragon pistol
6          4,000*     2d4 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon pistol
8          9,000*     2d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon pistol
9          13,000*   2d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Zhurong god pistol
10        17,500*   2d8 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

*Only 1,000 of this price can be covered in credits. The rest of the price must be covered using renown, as covered in the rules for Renown and Gear.

Table Longarms
Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk     Special


1          110           1d3 F            50 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             1        —

Haoxian dragon rifle
2          750           1d4 F            40 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

3          1,300*     1d6 F            50 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             1        —

Chaofeng dragon rifle
4          1,900*     1d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon rifle
5          2,800*     2d4 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d4        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Yu dragon rifle
6          4,100*     2d4 F            50 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon rifle
8          9,100*     2d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon rifle
9          13,150*   2d6 F            50 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Zhurong god rifle
10               17,800*     2d8 F          50 ft.           Burn 2d6   40 petrol   5                  1                  Line, unwieldy

Table Heavy Weapons
Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity     Usage         Bulk            Special


1          110           1d3 F            15 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             2        Line

Haoxian dragon canon
2          750           1d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

3          1,300*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        30 petrol        5             2        Line

Chaofeng dragon canon
4          1,900*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        30 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon canon
5          2,800*     2d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Yu dragon canon
6          4,100*     2d4 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        50 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon canon
8          9,100*     2d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        60 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon canon
9          13,150*   2d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d6        60 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Zhurong god canon
10               17,800*     2d8 F          30 ft.           Burn 2d6   60 petrol   5                  10               2                  Blast, unwieldy

Also on Patreon!
Since my patrons make things like this possible, I like to post any extra thoughts I have outside of the core of an article over on my Patreon page, for their enjoyment. That material may get made public eventually, but it starts as patron-exclusive. In this case, I talked a little bit about what lead me to make the worldbuilding choices I did for flame weapons in Really Wild West, totally aside from any game mechanical considerations. I you want to support my blog writing and get some exclusive access to my notions, go check it out!