Category Archives: Game Design

Modes for Wayward, a Potential Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

Some more thoughts about the Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

So, one of the core conceits of Wayward is that there are “modes,” which represent adjacent realities to the (mostly) normal world, or Ecumene, where PCs call home. Things from other modes can influence, or even partially leak into the Ecumene, causing trouble and pain, but cannot be permanently destroyed except in their native mode.

Luckily, there are the Wayward, people native to the Ecumene who can travel to other modes to deal with things found there. Most modes are twisted parallels of the Ecumene, familiar in some respects and terribly (sometimes horrifically) different on others. Modes are all dangerous, even deadly, but just as things from other Modes (I’ll need a name for “things from other modes” at some point) can’t be permanently destroyed while in the Ecumene, PCs native to the Ecumene cannot be permanently destroyed while corporeally in another mode. However, that doesn’t mean being Put Down in another mode does hurt… and leave scars that stick with you whatever Mode you are in.

I’m using the term “Mode” so far, because I want to treat these alternate realities in roughly the same way Modern Age treats its different Modes of Play (gritty, pulpy, cinematic). So while the Ecumene itself is gritty, the laws of reality on others may be pulpy or cinematic, AND have other local rules changes to represent their altered rules of reality. That might not be a good enough reason to stick with “Mode” in the final term (‘demesne” comes to mind as having the right feel, for example), but it’s definitely good enough as a placeholder name for a in-progress game concept for a campaign using a working title.

Since there are likely going to be options that work differently in different modes [like having a Fiery heart talent might just give you a bonus to Willpower (Confidence) checks in the Ecumene, but allow you to actually summon fire magic within the Otherworld Mode), the rules are going to assume there are a finite number of “core” modes. A GM building a new mode should either make it an offshoot of one of the core modes (perhaps in addition to Otherworld, there is a very Nordic Helvangr which has different creatures and powers and appearance, but follows the same game mechanical rules as Otherworld.

That of course means the core modes I include in the campaign setting are important to the overall success of the setting, and need to be diverse, iconic, compelling, and fun.

So, no pressure.

I already foresee having at least two, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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Quick Notes for the potential “Wayward” Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

So I am planning, as a private individual (rather than as a developer for Green Ronin or the publisher of Rogue Genius Games) to release an AGE Creator’s Alliance product… eventually. Not at that program’s launch, but hopefully within a year or so.

For what seem like obvious reasons I originally thought that would be a Fantasy AGE product… but now my opinion is shifting. I have had an idea for a Modern AGE setting I might prefer to release though the Creator’s Alliance, and that might not only be a great way to divide what I am doing as a GR dev and a private citizen but also help me have a more baseline feel for the Creator’s Alliance experience.

Now, this is far from a done deal. I could discover there are good reasons not to do this setting, or change my mind about the best rules set for it or venue to offer it in. I could find something I like better as a first offering, I could just lose interest. Who knows?

But since part of what I wanted to do was showcase my own journey through the Creator’s Alliance, I wanted to offer up the short notes I jotted down at 5am for this setting idea.

Product/Product Line Title: Wayward
This idea began as I was driving on errands, listening to a song used as a theme for one of my favorite TV series. So, yes, I’m wearing one of the inspirations on the sleeve of this concept. Like anything that might change as the product moves forward, but working titles are useful.

Product Type: Campaign Setting and Adventure Line
As I currently envision it, Wayward is a campaign setting for Modern AGE which comes with built-in adventure support. each Wayward product would have a chunk of setting material, a smattering of new rule options, and an adventure designed to highlight both.
For example, the first product would be Wayward, which would also serve as the name for the whole setting, and be the in-world title of a certain kind of person most PCs are expected to be – the “Wayward,” people who operate outside the expectations and even the reality of common society. The Wayward operate in a shadowy world with creatures and abilities that are literally set apart from most of existence. This Wayward World normally isn’t “real” enough to impact most people, but there are rare exceptions, which Wayward Heroes need to deal with.
So in this first product there would be rules for what makes people Wayward, and an adventure for 1st level characters just discovering the existence of the Wayward World around them and dealing with something leaking out of it.

Inspirations
Wayward is clearly in big part inspired by specific modern media, but I don’t plan for it to be a pure pastiche of one thing. Instead my inspirations include Diana Tregarde Investigates (novels by Mercedes lackey), MAGE (the comic, especially The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined), the Maxx (animated series especially, but also the comics), Sin City (just the first movie), Supernatural (TV show and it’s literally tie-ins)… and especially the trailer for the Max Payne movie (Yes, really just the trailer. not the movie itself, not the games–just that one trailer) and the trailer for Dark City (yep, again, JUST the trailer).
And I really mean “inspiration.” Wayward is an idea that grows out of thoughts I had when exposed to those sources (and many, many more), rather than an effort to duplicate them. It’s very much a thing I wish existed and had movies and comics and games, but doesn’t quite. Not a wholly original idea of course–just my take on a slice of the zeitgeek.

Kernel: Modes of Reality
The core kernel of an idea for wayward is that there are modes of reality that overlap slightly. Most people live only in the Ecumene, the “normal” world we all know and that (roughly) follows the real world rules of physics and history. But there are other modes, where twisted, dark, and blindingly bright things dwell. Sometimes you can glimpse those things when you sleep, or are in an altered chemical or emotional state. And, sometimes, those things can glimpse you. The most powerful things from other modes can sometimes visit or influence the Ecumene. But no Ecumene dweller can go into other modes to deal with the root of those problems.
Well, none but the Wayward…

And that’s as far as the idea has gone so far. 🙂

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Big Bones, a Betting Die Game

Big Bones is a WEIRD betting dice game I mused over for a long time, and never felt was ready for playtest or something I had a real use for. Essentially my current concern is that it works, but there’s no sense to me that it would be fun or easy to play.

But it’s a game you can use a d13 in, or not, so

Big Bones

Each player picks a die, which can be anything from a d6 to a d20. If you have weird dice, like d13s, they are fair game.

This die is placed in a die cup and covered in front of each player, so no one knows what die size you picked.

Everyone antes 5. (5 gp, 5 poker chips, 5 dollars, 5 betting units each of which are worth $4,16, it doesn’t matter.)

Everyone reveals what die they are rolling.

Starting with the lowest die size (or the youngest player among the lowest die size if there are multiple), each player must stand, raise, meet, or drop.

If you are at the current bet, you can stand or raise.

>If you stand, play passes to the player to your right.

>If you raise, you put in another 5, increasing the current bet by 5. Play then passes to the player on your right.

If you are not at the current bet, you can match, or drop.

>If you match, you put in the different between how much you have invested and the current bet. Once you have done this you meet the current bet, and can stand or raise.

>If you drop, you remove yourself from further play. However, your bet money stays in, and you may owe even more than that (see tallying the winning pot, below).

Once every player has gone at least once, and all remaining players stood or dropped on their last turn, the your resolve the game.

Everyone rolls their revealed die.

The lowest die result wins. In case of ties, the highest die size among the lowest rolls wins.

The winning pot is tallied for its full value. That value is then divided by the number of players, and multiplied by the number of sides of the winning die. If this total is less than the pot, the winner gets the full pot. If the total is more than the pot, all players who anted must pay the winner funds calculated as (difference in winning pot)/number of players who anted. If this takes all their remaining funds, they are out (but do not owe money past what they had on the table).

The round is over, and every decides whether of not to ante for a new round.

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More Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

I’ve dipped into my old campaign files to post lore about the holy warriors known as Bennenites, and converted some of their concepts from previous game editions to PF1, including Staff Mastery feats.

So, here are more.

Defensive Bennenite Training
You are as good at defending with an attack as you are attacking.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, as part of any other action that is not any kind of attack, you can choose rather than treating it as a quarterstaff or longsword and shortsword, to treat it as a longsword and a light wooden shield, or a longsword and a heavy wooden shield. You can stop treating it as a longsword and shield at the beginning of your turn, or as part of any standard action, move action, or full action.

Holy Staff
You can channel the grace of St. Bennen through a staff.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, good alignment, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When using a quarterstaff, your attacks bypass any DR that has “good” as one of the elements to bypass it. For example, you could bypass “DR 5/good and cold iron,” even if your staff was not cold iron. (The exception to this is if an attack normally also has to be mythic to bypass the DR, in which case you only bypass it if you are 15th level or higher.) Against targets with the evil descriptor, you gain a +4 bonus to staff attack rolls made to confirm a critical threat.
Additionally, you can use a staff as a holy symbol, and fullfil somatic spell components with a hand holding a staff.

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Unused Starfinder Monster Pitches

These are ideas I was pitching to various publishers/producers in 2017, which never got picked up by anyone. These are taken directly from my pitches, when I was asked to come up with examples, or a set number of ideas, for an article or book.

Bybbin—A long, flat, ribbon-shaped creature like a very flat snake. Uses loops of itself as its arms and hands. Has a single featureless eye at the front and back of it’s form, and “eats” by using a few loops to engulf and crush something that is then absorbed through its skin. Secretes acid, can spray it, and can hear (its whole body is able to pick up vibrations), but needs a mechanical aid to speak.
Envisioned as a sentient and sapient species. Could be a playable species. Could have multiple stat blocks.

Fundamental Dragons — Following the presentation format of chromatic dragons in Alien Archive, but the dragons are spacefaring creatures linked to fundamental forces. Thus there would be electromagnetic dragons, gravity dragons, strong atomic dragons, and weak atomic dragons. Could also add a dark energy/quintessence dragon, or quantum dragon, to get to the traditional 5 dragon within one category. Opportunity for dragons to interact with solarion and vanguard abilities and themes.
Can do any range of CRs.

Ruhnk—A creature shaped like an inner tube, with dozens of tiny tentacles spouting from the “sidewall” of its ring, eyes along its outer wheel (hard crystal eyes that it can roll over), and mouths lining the inner ring. A sentient scavenger that eats whatever it finds off the floor nonstop, the way other races breathe, and has no sense of shame or humiliation—to exist is its own justification. Moves by rolling.
Can work at any CR up to 9 or so. Could be a playable species, or be more monstrous. Could have multiple stat blocks.

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Unused Random Scifi Gear Ideas

These are ideas I was pitching to various publishers/producers in 2017, which never got picked up by anyone. These are taken directly from my pitches, when I was asked to come up with examples, or a set number of ideas, for an article or book.

Class It Up: A hood worn during travel that makes it appear you are in first class, with more room and better entertainment. Deluxe models include neurostimulents that let you think you are stretching your legs, while you hunker into a kind of low-footprint fetal position. This is standard for some air travel companies.

DyeNA: Injection that permanently alters your hair, skin, or eye pigmentation

Kill Fee: A creditstick that can loan you up to 1,000 credits when you press the button—and get a neurotoxin injected. the Kill Fee doesn’t add the money until it’s injector confirms you are you (through DNA) and that you are subject to the neurotoxin (not immune). Every 30 days you must make a payment to the company backing the Kill Fee equal to 5% of the amount loaned, or you lose 1 Constitution. If you manage to pay off the entire loan, you are given the antidote.

MoTats: Injected luminescent nannite tattoos that swim just beneath the skin, allowing your tattoos to moving in flowing patterns over your body, and chance their appearance.

Olfacticator: A device that records your brainwaves when you smell something, and can play that smell back to your or any other brain. Can also come with pre-programmed scents you can play at will, and even Odor Operas.

Self-Censor: A microchip implanted in the eye with a lead to the brain, that reads your response to anything you find gross or unpleasant or offensive, and covers your view of such things with a censor bar (or in some cases covers it with with cartoons, or cat memes, or even ads if you get a free one sponsored by an ad company)

SEPA: “Structural Engineering Pocket Analyzer” Hooked to any camera or smart communication device, it analyzed the objects in your environment and makes an educated guess about hardness, HP, and break DCs.

Walkaway: A small sphere the size of a golfball. Can make the sounds and vibrations equal to a person walking, with the speed of the walk automatically matching how quickly it is rolled along a surface.

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Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

In my longest-running fantasy RPG group campaign, The Sovereign Kingdoms, there was a famous religious order who revered Saint Bennen. Known as “Bennenites,” they were warrior-priests who were considered masters of quarterstaff fighting. They were a popular piece of lore for the world, and anytime a character was described as wearing heavy armor and carrying a wooden staff, shod in cold iron at one end and silver at the other, players knew to take them seriously because they obviously had received Bennenite training.

Bennenites were one of the major Good Guy organizations, and included clerics, fighters, priests, and “Kirks” (which were a form of religious order given roughly the same authority and respect as Knights, but only where that religion was acknowledged). However, Bennenite training was made available to anyone not known to be of foul character, and young peasants, squires, mercenaries, and craftsmen often trained at Bennenite Chapterhouses. If those trainees later turned evil, that did not somehow take away the benefits of their training. (One major villain was a mage with Bennenite Training, and a magic staff).

I had begun to work on Bennenite training feats for 3.0 and 3.5 fantasy RPG rules, but never finished them. Here is a new take on the ideas, at least to start, for Pathfinder 1st edition.

Bennenite Training
You have been trained in the fighting style of St. Bennen, who said “Let none who can pick up a stick see themselves as unarmed against adversity.”
Prerequisite: Proficiency with quarterstaff, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, you can use it as if it was a longsword, shortsword, or one of each, except the weapon damage type is bludgeoning. You are still considered proficient with the weapons when you use the quarterstaff as a longsword and shortsword, even if you aren’t proficient with longsword and/or shortsword. You can use this as proficiency for feats (such as Weapon Focus: Longsword), but if you only meet the proficiency as a result of Bennenite Training you can only use those feats with a quarterstaff. Any feat, ability, or action you have access to you can apply to a quarterstaff you can continue to use even when treating the quarterstaff as a longsword, short sword, or both. You cannot gain the same benefit twice by using one version for quarterstaff and one for another weapons (for example if you have Weapon Focus with both longsword and quarterstaff, you cannot apply both to the same attack).

If you take an action that normally requires two weapons (such as attacking with two weapons), you must treat the two ends of your quarterstaff as the two weapons.

If you are proficient with quarterstaff, longsword, and short sword, this feat acts as Weapon Focus for any attack you make with a quarterstaff.

Bennenite Training Specialization
You have learned advanced teachings of St. Bennen.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +4 or 4 ranks Knowledge (religion).
Benefit: When you make an attack with a quarterstaff, regardless of what weapon you treat it as, you gain a +2 bonus to damage dealt. This counts as Weapon Specialization, and does not stack with other forms of Weapon Specialization.

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More Sigil Scion Options for PF1

So, I wrote up a short set of options for “Sigil Scions,” themed abilities you can stack onto PF1 characters (or monsters) to give them a significant boost in effectiveness. And I have a system for turning oracle mysteries into domains, which would make access to some revelations an option.

But the Sigil Scion rules assume everyone is going to get some spell power, and not everyone WANTS spells — even bonus Still Spells with Eschew Material Components — for their characters.

Enter Sigil Seals.

Sigil Seals

If using the Sigil Scion rules, a character may take a Sigil Seal in place of Sigil Spells or Sigil Power. A Sigial Scion may replace both Sigil Spells and Sigil Power with Sigil Seals, if desired.

Sigil Seals grants a power at 1st level, and again at 8th level. These powers may be bonus feats, alchemist discoveries, the investigator inspiration, magus discoveries, ninja tricks, rogue talents, shaman hexes, slayer talents, or witches hexes. When selecting bonus feats, you do not need to meet any ability score prerequisite, but all other prerequisites must be met normally.

For other choices, you gain the abilities of the selected ability, using your total character level as your level in the relevant class. If the ability is fueled by a pool of points you do not possess (such as an arcane reservoir for arcanist exploits, or inspiration pool), you gain the relevant pool with a total number of points equal to 1 +1/3 your character level. If you select an investigator inspiration, you gain an inspiration pool and inspiration die using your character level as a class level. If you take investigator inspiration, you may then select an investigator talent if you get another Sigil Seal selection. (For example, a character taking Sigil Seals twice at 1st level could select investigator inspiration and an investigator talent as their two 1st level selections.)

You do not gain any ability not expressly granted by the selection. However, you can apply any option from the selected class feature to relevant options gained from other classes (so if you are a druid, and you select the focused summoning arcanist exploit, you do not gain access to arcanist summoning spells, but you can apply the exploit to your druidic summoning spells).

When you first gain a Sigil Seal, select one ability modifier. Any time your Sigil Seal refer to an ability score or modifier (such as to determine save DCs or uses per day), you use the selected ability.

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Off-The-Cuff Campaign Ideas, Part 3

Just like my two previous entries, these are off-the-cuff campaign ideas I have done no prep or pre-planning for. They may all suck… or might spark a good idea for other people.

Surveyors: Ecealhstede is a god, but not a sapient or humanoid one. Ecealhstede is the Eternal City, the Home Before All, and the Foundation of Divinity. It is literally an eternal divinity in the form of a city, which has a center, and an outer wall, but no limit to how big it is, or how many denizens it can support. It is a mix of all architecture styles, all cultural influences, and all building types. It has a sea port, and a river port, and a desert caravan gate, and a forested merchant’s gate, and one long wall of nothing but sharpened stakes that keep out something living just beyond, in the eternally fog-shrouded bog beyond.

Ecealhstede has at least one door to every other city in existence, and it’s aqueducts, and sewers, and culverts, and roads, and alleys are similarly linked.

Many more creatures pass through Ecealhstede without noticing than ever realize they are within, and many more glimpse it briefly than spend any notable time within its walls, moats, barricades, and squares.

But Ecealhstede has chosen you, and your allies, to fulfill the role of surveyors. Because every settlement and structure everywhere is part of Ecealhstede, any threat to any of them can, in rare circumstances, become a threat to Ecealhstede. If a warehouse fire is going to spread through reality-spanning streets into the Eternal City’s thatched quarter, or siege engineers are going to breach a fortified wall that is harmonically linked to one of Ecealhstede’s walls, or if a flood is going to poor through dimensional cracks to flood Ecealhstede’s cisterns, the god-city draws you in to the base of operations it provides you and your allies, and then all doors out lead to the problem.

Of course, being a god’s champion, even one made of boulevards and bridges, has its advantages. With each threat to Ecealhstede you solve, your wealth, prestige, and personal power grow. Though there is also a god of ransacking, and soon you may draw ITS attention…

Brand New Season: Probably, no one should have exposed the Aelder Things to the concept of television. But they did, and now the Apocalypse Prevention Bureau (APB) has to come up with exciting entertainment for those nameless, formless entities to enjoy. You are an expert from a modern, technologically-advanced world. And you have been recruited for the Brand New Season.

The APB puts you in a group of diverse, often edgy allies. Then they send you to go deal with some specific moment, in some fantasy world. Those threats are always discrete, focused, and generally can be solved with properly applied violence. And they are always JUST within your ability to overcome them. You certainly CAN take guns instead of crossbows, and jeeps, and CB headsets… but if any of those things makes the adventure significantly easier, SOMETHING always comes along to even the odds.

And if you make it back, you get to rest, make some merchandizing deals, heal up, train… and then go back out for a new adventure that’s just a bit tougher than the last one.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t be entertaining enough…

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Game Design: First Thing on a Blank Page (Cultsmasher RPG)

So, I’m having trouble focusing on my tasks today. This idea for an entire RPG that would look a lot like a weird hybrid of Starfinder, AGE, PF2, 5e, 4e, and… like… Fudge beginning to form in my head.

It wants out, and I do NOT have time today. 😛

Historically, my best bet is to write down just enough of the idea that it feels like I won’t lose it over time, and I can convince my muse/subconscious it’s safe to move on. So, you get a peak behind the curtain at some of my design musings.

Often the hardest part for starting a whole new RPG, or a new subsystem, or even just something like a class, is to get the very first thing down on the blank page. I can expand, and build, and riff, and iterate MUCH more easily than I can craft from a starting point of absolutely nothing.

So, just to have a textual jumping-off point, I often create concept pieces that I know may have nothing to do with final text. These are visualizations of how rule interactions might be described eventually, starting life along–hanging in midair with no surrounding game infrastructure to connect to. But I have to start SOMEWHERE, and writing a new-ish idea as if it was final text linked to a whole game often helps spark potential opportunities, pitfalls, and complications in my head, often in real time as I write down the tiny seed of thought I started with.

So, here’s a game mechanic, currently with nothing else tied to it.

Focus: Your character’s focus represents making a concentrated effort. Doing so is physically, mentally, and even spiritually taxing. As a result, your character has a limited number of Focus Points, which fuel Focus Abilities. If a Focus Ability is tied to an Attribute which is a Primary Attribute for your character, using it costs 1 Focus Point. If it has no Attribute, using it costs 2 Focus Points. If it is tied to a Secondary Attribute, using it costs 3 points.

Every character begins with the Reroll power. If you fail an Attribute roll, you may expend Focus Points to reroll it. This decision must be made immediately after seeing the result of the roll. When you reroll, rather than roll 2d10 and add your bonuses, you roll 1d10 + 10, and add your bonuses.

Characters gain Focus Powers from their Descriptor Paths. Any character may take any Focus Power they qualify for, but some Focus Powers are more effective for certain types of characters. For example, a character with the Fighter path can take Mighty Blow, and since it is tied to Might, a Primary Attribute for the Fighter, it costs him only 1 Focus Point to use. A character with the Occultist path could also gain access to Mighty Blow, but since Might is a Secondary Attribute for that path, the Occultist would have to expend 3 Focus Points to use that power.

A character regains all their Focus Points when they Recuperate.”

(Art by 9’63 Creation)

I mean no, that’s not anything like a whole mechanic, it it already assumes this that very well might not be how any final game came together. But it’s a good verbal description of this vague IDEA I had in my head.

I also like to label these things as if they were part of an existing RPG framework. Again, these are placeholders, and mental tags to let me organize snippets and file them where I can find them again. So, and just for now, I’ll decide this is part of the CULTSMASHER RPG.

Now, maybe I can get back to working on today’s deadlines.

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