Category Archives: Game Design

Developing to Spec: Part 21d (Finding Design Space)

This is the fourth section of Part 21 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

So here we are at the last post of the next-to-last week of this season-long project. There are still some real problem feats in front of us, but today won’t be too bad.

And it starts with Spirited Charge.

In PF, Spirited Charge helps charge-based characgers keep up with damage-per-round (DPR), since a major factor of  DPR is getting multiple attacks per round and you (generally) can’t do that with a charge. However, in Starfinder, the primary way DPR increases is through bigger weapon damage dice and Weapon Specialization. So a damage multiple would be, to put it simply, broken as heck.

However, charging has big drawbacks in Starfinder, in the form of penalties to attack and AC. That gives us some design space, if we are clever and careful. We can mitigate those… but we need to keep an eye on other abilities that do this. For example, the uplifted bear’s ferocious charge and the soldier’s blitz fighting style already negate the normal penalties to attack rolls and AC. Since people playing an uplifted bear blitz solider are likely among those most interested in a Spirited Charge feat. (And, by the way, I want to play an uplifted bear blitz soldier now… )

Oh lawd, you be comin’.
Benefit: When you charge, you can attempt a trip combat maneuver in place of the normal melee attack. In addition, you can charge without taking the normal charge penalties to attack rolls or AC. If you have another ability that allows you to charge without taking these penalties (such as the charge attack ability from the soldier’s blitz fighting style or an uplifted bear’s ferocious charge), you gain the ability to charge through difficult terrain. If you already have the ability to charge through difficult terrain (such as from being an uplifted bear with the blitz fighting style), you can charge even if you do not have a clear path directly to your target (running around obstacles, for example), and if the space adjacent to the target that is nearest your starting space is blocked or occupied, you can charge to the closest available adjacent space.

That brings us to Stealthy. Like all our PF +2-to-2-skills feats, this needs a total conceptual rewrite. Luckily, reading through terms like “Hide” and “Stealth” in a pdf of the rulebook gives us lots of places we can grab some design space.

You can always find a way to avoid detection.
Benefit: You can attempt to make a Stealth check without cover or concealment. Doing so applies a -20 penalty to your Stealth check. This is cumulative with the penalties for attempting Stealth while moving more than half your speed.
Additionally, if you are using Stealth and you would be detected by a sensor or spell (such as detect thoughts) from a creature that is not currently observing you with a primary sense. This acts as nondetection, but the DC for those attempting to detect you is 11 + ranks in Stealth + any insight bonus you have to Stealth.

This design took some careful consideration. Since it’s already a -10 to make a Stealth check after a successful Bluff check, it needs to be harder to make Stealth with no cover or concealment at all. This is mostly only useful for sneaking past low-level threats… but that often includes things like guard animals and patrols. And besides, the chance to duck other ways of being detected is a nice back-up for nonmagic sneaks who should have SOME change to have trained in ways to avoid cameras and crystal balls.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 21c (One pro-spell feat, one anti-spell feat)

This is the third section of Part 21 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’re up to Spell Mastery, which once again references a rules element in PF (preparing spells) that does not exist in Starfinder (where all spellcasters are spontaneous). But it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with something spells related that matches the feel of the feat’s name and is useful for spellcasters.

Some spells you have learned to use in place of your normal repertoire.
Prerequisites: Spells class feature.
Benefit: For each spell level you can cast as a result of the spells class feature, select one spell from your class spell list that you do not have as a spell known. When you regain your spells per day, you may swap out one of your spells known at each level for a Spell Mastery spell of the same spell level. This lasts until you next regain your spells per day.
Special: You may select this feat more than once. Each time it is selected, you choose another spell for each level of spells you can cast which you can temporarily gain in place of a spell known when you regain your spells per day.

On to Spellbreaker… which is designed to work with the PF rule that if you cast a spell it provokes an attack of opportunity unless you cast it defensively, which is not a thing in Starfinder. But the core idea that your melee attacks make it harder for a creature to cast spells is something we can work with.

You know how to hit spellcasters where it hurts.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +5.
Benefit: When you make a melee attack against a creature you may choose to take a -4 penalty to the attack roll to make it a spellbreaker attack. If you attack hits and damages the target, it must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 10 + your key ability modifier +1/2 your base attack bonus) or be unable to cast spells or use spell-like abilities for 1 round.

That attack penalty is enough to ensure characters are unlike to combine this with other difficult attack options (such as a full attack action), and in fact will likely want to use this as part of a team effort to give them enough bonuses to be able to hit (with flanking, Get ‘Em, and similar options taken by other characters in an effort to help), but since no extra resource is used the players are free to try that any time.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 21b (Troublesome, Archaic Feats)

This is the second section of Part 21 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

So, here’s something I have been dreading. Of all the feats I do not have an obvious starting point in my head on how to make a Starfinder version, this is the top of the list. And it’s because it is SO simple, and basic, and unneeded in Starfinder.

Simple Weapon Proficiency.

Not only does Starfiner not have simple weapons, the things that might be considered simple weapons (such as basic melee weapons) all classes already have proficiency with. Unlike PF, no class has a list of individual weapons it is proficient with. Every class gets at LEAST basic melee and small arms.

We had similar issues with Exotic Weapon Proficiency and Martial Weapon Proficiency, but at least the names of those feats gave us a sliver of conceptual design space we could latch onto. Simple weapons? Not so much. Any PC is going to have all “simple” weapons anyway. So, maybe this isn’t a feat to make Player Characters better?

You want laser wolves with buzzblades? Because this is how you get laser wolves with buzzblades.

You have trained your companion to use the most basic of weapons.
Prerequisites: You have a creature companion
Benefit: Your creature companion is proficiency with one-handed basic and advanced melee weapons, and small arms–but only those 2 or more item levels below your character level. Being proficient with weapons does not automatically allow a companion to physically use the weapon. Unless a GM decides otherwise, a companion must have a special control interface made to use such a weapon, at a cost of 20% of the weapons base cost.

That brings us to Snatch Arrows which, again, is pretty niche. But in PF Snatch Arrows plays off Deflect Arrows, and we built tat feat, so…

You can pluck slow-moving projectiles out of the air and fling them back at their source.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Deflect Arrows.
Benefit: When you choose to have an archaic ranged weapon miss you with Deflect Arrows, you may as a reaction choose to snatch it from the air and hurl it back at the attacker who launched it. It has a range increment for you of 20 feet or its own range increment, whichever is less. You use your thrown attack bonus and Weapon Specialization (if any) to determine the effect of this attack.

Additionally, if a grenade is targeted on an intersection of your space, you may catch that and throw it anywhere you wish as a reaction. You use normal grenade throwing rules for this attack.

It’s still pretty niche, but at least is could lead to an awesome moment or two under exactly the right circumstances. Heck, if you had a friendly grenade-using character, he could launch grenades at you, and you could redirect them, allowing the grenade to make a turn in its attack.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 21a (Shield Feats)

This is section one of Part 21 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. The point of these is to offer practical examples of how I approach developing and writing supplemental rules for tabletop RPGs. Rather than just blather on about things as I think of them, I go over issues as I encounter them in a real-world example.

This also represents the Beginning of the End. We should have just two more weeks to go before we’ll have gone through and converted every PF Core Rulebook feat that doesn’t already have a Starfinder version. At which point I’ll have to start doing something else for my Tu-Fri posts. So if you have ideas of what you’d like to see, let me know!

We’ve hit two more shield-related feats — Shield Mastery and Shield Slam. These are more entries in a long line of PF feats designed to make attacks with your shield easier and more effective. In Starfinder, since shield attacks in melee use your unarmed attack rules, they are already as effective as any unarmed attack you have (potentially more so, since they are not archaic and may have fusions added to them).

So we need to make the Starfinder versions of both to appeal to characters who want to have more useful shield options in combat, but we can’t increase the actual effectiveness of shield attacks in terms of accuracy or damage (or we risk breaking the game’s combat math). Luckily, there is more to combat than just how well or hard you hit. We can break these up so you take take either on its own, depending on what aspect of shields you wish to improve. We probably *could* get away with not having Shield Focus as a prerequisite to Shield Mastery, but it just feels weird to me for a character to mastery something without having focused on it, and beyond proficiency with shields its the only prerequisite we;re suing, so I’m fine with adding it.

You and your shield are as one.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields, Shield Focus.
Benefit: You reduce the armor check penalty of a shield by 2 (though this can never turn into a bonus). You reduce the bulk of one shield you are carrying or wielding by 2, to a minimum of light bulk.

You are skilled at hitting things with your shield when the opportunity arises.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields.
Benefit: When wielding a shield that allows you to make unarmed attacks with it, you can take one attack of opportunity each round to attack with your shield, without expending your reaction. You cannot do this if for any reason you could not have made an attack of opportunity even if you had had a reaction available to do so.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Design Diary: Creating d20 Classes (Part 4)

Last month we began a line of Design Diary entries discussing how to create a character class from scratch for a d20 class/level based game. We’ve gone over concept, and discussed the class progression tools various games give you to fill out the mechanical roles your class might fill, and begun discussing the etiquette of the presentation of special abilities (the heart of any d20 class).

So, we need to dig into Class Features… and that’s a big topic. So this week we get a big post, that tackles some of the context and frameworks you can use when designing how a class and a character interface with class feature choices.

When looking at what special abilities to give a class, you should consider the category of each ability. Some abilities are access abilities, such as a spellcaster’s access to a spell list (and we’ll talk more about spells and spell lists in a later post) or access to a list of feats. Some are unique powers available only to that class. Some classes (and some game systems) blur that line — Pathfinder 1st edition has fighter-only feat, which some later classes can can access as their own class features. Pathfinder 2nd edition has feats for every class that are unique to that class, except that any other character can pick many of them up by taking a mutliclass dedication feat.

In addition to the access-unique spectrum, class abilities can be divided into static abilities, group abilities, and selectable abilities. Static abilities are things the class gets with no variation or choice (and least without accessing optional or advanced rules). In Starfinder, every operative gets trick attack. Group abilities are things where a player makes a choice between one group of abilities and another, but once that choice is made the abilities it grants are set. Looking at the Starfinder operative again, each operative select one specialization. That specialization has a few abilities it grants over the course of the operative’s career, but once the choice of which specialization to take is made the abilities within that choice are set. Selectable abilities are individual things that can be chosen from a list (though they might have prerequisites). The operatives exploits are a good example of this.

Some of the access choices are things every character class can take some portion of, so when designing a class you need to consider not just what access options help their role within the game and a party, but how that interacts with other classes in the game. Skills are a perfect example of this. Most classes have access to more skills than they can take (whether through a skill-point system, scaling proficiencies, or just what ability score they focus on, depending on how the game system handles classes). If you give a class access to all a game’s skill options, the chances they’ll overlap with some other class that needs a skill more for its core function increases. Even if no one character can take all the skills, adding some limits to what subset they have to choose from can help give a class focus and clarity of purpose.

There are some pseudo-choices a character can offer as well, where every member of the class has the same ability, but characters may be differentiated by which choice they make. For example, all fighters in most d20 game systems have access to all martial weapons, armors, and shields. However, most fighters select a small set of weapons to use most often. Even though two different fighters can both use a greatsword or a longsword and shield, most characters go with one or the other. While that’s a minor difference at first, as the character evolves the other choices they make are likely to reinforce one equipment selection over another.

One of the less-obvious consequences of how you allow ca class to access its abilities is complexity. A character that has access to a wide range of spell choices, for example, is less likely to have lots of selectable abilities. The need to read through and pick spells is already a lot of footwork to ask of a player. (Even if a character ends up with only a small number of spells, the need to pick them from a large list slows and complicates character creation). If you are designing a class to add to an existing game you likely can afford to make the design more complex overall–players who don’t like more work to make their character can stick to existing class options. But if you are designing all the classes designed to be used in a campaign (such as if you are creating new classes that are all that is expected to be available for a campaign setting), you should consider having at least one class that is simpler and has fewer choices, to allow players who prefer simple design an easy entry point.

That’s not universal, of course. Many players prefer highly customizable characters with lots of options. Many just enjoy being able to build a character closer to their pre-existing concept, while others want to have enough flexibility that if another player chooses the same class their two characters act and play differently from one another.

However that plays off another important fact, which we need to discuss before we move on to ability balance–the more selectable options a character class has at a given level, the more potential for min/maxing exists. Even if the options are tied to a set of options that are (theoretically) all at the same power level, the wider the set of options you give access to the more powerful a character can become. For example, if you give a class access to a single specific feat at 5th level, that’s a typical and easily balanced level of power. If you give the character their choice of one of 6 feats, that is slightly more powerful, even if all those feats are perfectly balanced against one another. If you allow a character to take any feat they meet the prerequisites for that is much more powerful, even if you assume every feat in the game is perfectly balanced.

This is because players who achieve a high-degree of system mastery can use synergy between options to make a character that can do more than an off-the-rack build. Especially in games with growing rules additions (which are most games that are seen as “well-supported”), every adjustable class feature is a chance to find some combination that works better than a typical combo. Even if none of the new options are built into you class’s features (a character who has a set of 7 specific feats they can choose from doesn’t have that list automatically expand just because new feats are added to the game, unlike a character with access to all of a type of feat–or one with access to all of one set of spells), a synergy could develop between an old choice and new options any character can access.

There’s no right or wrong choices with these elements, to be clear. They are just things to consider when looking at the ways you can organize and hand out class features.

With all that in mind, we can look at power level of class features and appropriate choices by character level… next time! (Maybe in a week… maybe in 2-3… )


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Developing to Spec: Part 20d – Lots of Healing Feats

This is the fourth section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We’re well into the S feats, with Selective Channel, which requires us to examine one of the consistent differences between PF and Starfinder.

So in PF, when a cleric channels energy, they affect all creatures within range. This can set you up to heal your enemies, which is both both bad tactics and awkward to explain later at Thanksgiving dinner. The Selective Channel feat allows you to choose who you affect, so you can channel to heal allies and skip affecting foes, which is extremely useful.

However our closest analogue to channel energy in Starfinder is the healing channel ability of the mystic’s healer connection… and it already just affects your allies. Man, sometimes it’s like the designers of Starfinder decided to specifically simplify the game and make some of the most popular and common options baked-in to class design. ([MorganFreeman]”They did.”[/MorganFreeman]).

So that use of Selective Channel is out.

Luckily “selective” is a pretty broad term, so all we need is to create a new option for healing channel that involves someone making a choice of some kind.

Your allies can help fuel your healing powers.
Prerequisites: Healing channel class feature.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel ability, every ally you heal can choose to donate a Resolve Point to the effort. This decision is made in secret by each ally, then all revealed at once. For every ally that expends a Resolve Point, each healed all may choose to gain an additional 3 Hit Points per mystic level you possess, or 2 Stamina Points per healer level you possess.

That brings us to Self-Sufficient and, yeah, it’s another +2 to two skills feat we need to totally redesign. We can still apply the benefits to Medicine and Survival, but we need to take some liberties to make it a feat a player would consider taking.

You are an expert at looking out for yourself.
Benefit: When you make a Medicine check with yourself as the only target, you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to your result. Additionally, anytime you spent Resolve Points to stay in the fight, you may make a Medicine check on yourself for first aid, treat deadly wounds, treat disease, or treat poison without taking an additional action to do so. Additionally, if you make a Survival check with yourself as the only target to endure severe weather or live off the land, you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to your result.

This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 20c – Ride and Run

This is the third section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We are now at Ride-By Attack and Run. Ride-by Attack as written mostly isn’t needed in Starfinder (assuming you are using the creature companion rules in AA3), because when you ride a mount you gain its movement, which means Spring Attack works with your mounted speed. However, since there are companion riding rules, we can work with them to give some kind of mounted combat bonus.

This begins to push past the number of prerequisites I prefer to have on Starfiner feats given how rarer long prerequisite chains are, but since this is designed to directly work with Spring Attack, we have to list that feat and all its prerequisites.

You and your mount have mastered hit-and-run tactics.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, creature companion, Mobility, Spring Attack, base attack bonus +4.
Benefit: Any round you are riding your companion and make a melee attack, if your companion has only taken one action, it may additionally make a move action.

Run doesn’t do much by Starfinder standards, but we can read the Starfinder rules on running to see if we can punch it up a bit.

You are able to run quickly and under adverse conditions.
Benefit: When you run as a full action, you can move up to five times your speed in a straight line. You do not gain the flat-footed condition as a result of running, and you can run even if you must cross difficult terrain or can’t see where you’re going. You can run for a number of rounds equal to double your Constitution score.

This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 20b – Forms of Rapid

This is the second section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We hit our first “r” feat, Rapid Reload.

Which is easy to adapt to Starfinder mechanically… but has major power power implications that may not be obvious.

Having to take an action to reload weapons is used to reign in some combat options. Automatic mode attacks, for example, are designed to not be able to be used every round because they use all your remaining ammunition. So if you could reload without taking an action, you could make automatic attacks every round.

But we can boost reload utility without going that far.

You can quickly reload a while while doing other things.
Benefit: When you take an action that does not include making an attack or reloading a weapon, you may additionally reload any one weapon you could reload as a move action. Alternatively, if you take a move action to reload a weapon, you may reload one weapon for every 2 arms you have.

That brings us to Rapid Shot, which has similar issues–it’d be easy enough to allow additional ranged attacks at -2, but it would be extremely unbalancing. PF primarily scales damage output at increasing level by giving characters more and more attacks. Starfinder primarily scales damage output by giving characters more damaging attacks. That means that giving yet another attack on top of whatever else Starfinder gives a character, especially at a mere -2 to attack rolls, would boost a character’s potential damage output well out of scale with any other feat.

Nearly anything that impacts the action economy of making one or more attacks is going to be nearly impossible to balance, especially since some Starfinder official material has already given very minor boosts and we can’t predict how future minor boosts might interact with some very constrained option we create here.

But we can create something that let’s you shoot rapidly without shooting more often.

You can get off the first shot with surprising rapidity.
Prerequisites: Improved Initiative
Benefit: When you roll initiative, you can choose to gain a +4 bonus to your check. If you do so, your first round of combat is restricted to drawing weapons and making a single ranged attack roll.

The prerequisite is designed to restrict this feat to characters that can get the most use out of it. Since Improved Initiative gives you a +4 initiative bonus with no restrictions on your first round actions it’s clearly something you should take before getting a second +4 with drawbacks.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 20a – Powerful and Precise

This is the first section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

I got back from orcaCon at about 3am, thanks to snow and ice delays and a 2-hour drive from the airport to my apartment. Since I hadn’t managed to get ahead on these, that left me writing them after I collapsed into a dreamless slumber, a black hole of unconscious from which nothing, not even snoring, could escape.

I only mention this because there really is an impact from real-world events on writing projects, especially longer ones. I’ve been doing these posts since early October–three months now, normally 4 times a week. In that time I have had to accommodate delays from illness, travel (three out-of-state trips longer than a weekend), major holidays, and more than one bout of depression so serious I needed professional help. I’ve tried writing all my posts early, writing them each morning with my coffee, even combining them all into a single post with a week’s content.

So far, it looks like a combination of doing batches early, and doing it day-of, as energy and timing dictate, is my best plan.

But these kinds of interruptions are absolutely the sorts of things that can derail a project. We are well past the halfway point for this task, and I’m doing it much more slowly than i would if I’d actually been hired to do this as freelance. But as a personal project, it’s exactly the kind of thing that can get dropped “just for a bit,” and never picked up. Sometimes, the difference between success and failure (and, separately, between being a professional and just being a hobbyist) is making sure you get all the way to the end.

So, as tempting as it was today to do something faster, easier, or smaller, i instead forced myself to tackle the next set of feats, AND writing the lengthier-than-necessary explanation of how real life interference can be the death of a project just as much as bad design.

So, let’s get to it. Power Attack.

In PF, Power Attack is the melee equivalent of Deadly Aim. Sf converted Deadly Aim, but has it apply to both melee and ranged attacks. That removes the obvious design space for the feat, and once again puts us in a position to have to create an apples-to-oranges adaptation.

However, we can likely still make this a combat feat that plays with the combat rules for a damage bonus. We just move away from penalties, and instead look at options for adjusting the action economy in a way that allows a character to spend more time on an attack to get more damage, much in the way the boost weapons special quality does.

You can focus all your power into a single mighty attack.
Benefit: When you take the full attack action with weapons (including a solarian’s solar manifestation, but not spells or other special abilities of any kind), you can choose to make only a single attack. If you do, that attack deals additional damage equal to half your base attack bonus (minimum 1).

Next is Precise Shot, which in PF allows you to negate a penalty when making ranged attacks into melee that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. But we can likely adjust the mechanism to do something similar.

You are adept at firing ranged attacks into melee.
Benefit: Your allies do not give targets cover from your ranged attacks unless they give total cover.

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5e Campaign Settings the Easy Way (Sorcerers & Speakeasies)

As is so often the case for me, as I specifically set myself up for a massive workload (I am currently sitting at 223 different project deadlines due sometime in 2020), my muse is hammering me hard with ideas for a project that ISN’T on that list.

That, combined with the fact I’m still in Seattle having been flown out for some meetings at OrcaCon, means I am going to punt the next d20 Class Design Diary post (which has had Part 2 and Part 3 in recent weeks) by another week.

But we are going to tackle a related topic! I take a look at some campaign building/class expansion ideas to match new campaign options for 5e, based on the ideas that have been Muse-shoved into my brain recently. So, what project does my muse have me thinking about, that so far is NOT on my list of things to get to anytime soon?

Sorcerers & Speakeasies

“It’s the Raging 20s. Magic elixirs and booze are illegal. Monsters are rampant. Adventure is everywhere!”

There are lots of ways I could proceed about making a magic-and-machine-guns setting based on Prohibition era America, ranging from making a brand new RPG ruleset, to a full game system hack (such as I have been working on for Really Wild West). But its also possible to design it as just a set of bolted-on extras for an existing game system that does most of what we need. The current edition of 5e is flexible and open-ended enough that it could cover a lot of what a Sorcerers & Speakeasies game would need. Some worldbuilding would be necessary of course, and 1920s equipment would have to be designed and added, but that’s easy compared to reskinning a whole game or creating one from scratch.

Since the main way players interact with a game world is through character classes, that’s a great place to start when looking at creating a campaign setting for a new ruleset. When discussing using 5e classes in a Paladins-And-Prohibition game, there are two routes we could take. We could create new 5e classes whole cloth to fill all the roles we need, or we could just add new specializations to each class to give them a 1920s moonshiners and monsters feel. That’s a good deal less work, and in some ways more flexible since it means any other material designed for those classes can be easily added to our Sorcerers & Speakeasies (S&S) game.

Of course some people might not consider all the 5e classes to be good matches for a 1920s-era setting, even one that adds dwarves, gnomes, and spellcasting. For example, players with visions of barbarians exclusively as nordic vikings, Conan-like Hyperboreans, and savage jungle princesses may have trouble seeing how the class works in a game that runs from Uptown Citadels and Theater Street all the way down to the Undertown and Gearling Park.

But that’s why our new specializations need to be flavorful and thematically appropriate both to the core of the class, and to some 1920s hero/villain trope. For example, if I was going to do S&S as a simple 5e bolt-on, I’d start with something like this.

Barbarian: Three new Primal Paths
Boondock – You grew up in a remote rural location, commonly mountain country or midwestern farmland, in an area with extensive and extreme poverty. You may have learned to survive just on woodcraft and farming, or you might have gotten a hard manual labor job such as miner, oil field worker, or logger. You might fit the stereotype of being an uneducated overall-wearing moonshiner and pistol-popper… or you might have depths city-slickers neither expect nor appreciate. You may or may not not be quick to anger, but your hillfolk roots give you access to a pool of simple, potent wrath you can tap when you have had enough.
Grinder – When there is dirty, hard, unpleasant work to be done, people look at you. Your best prospects are often acting as a second-tier knee-breaker, not trusted to plan anything complicated but an expert at mayhem when the the plan falls part. Some grinders make an honest living, as boxers, wrestlers, pig-chuckers, or circus strongmen, but your strength and durability often draw the attention of people who think they have more violent uses for your talents.
Jitney – People are shocked at how big you are, and how much hardship you can shrug off. They may call you “built like a cement truck,” a “brickhouse,” or a “palooka,” but the sentiment is the same regardless of the term — you are made of shoeleather and axehandles, and your durability seems unearthly. It’s fairly common for those who don’t know you to assume your mass and density mean you are dim-witted as well, though being underestimated in that way can play in your favor.

Yes, I’d need game mechanics to make those paths complete, but my starting point for adding specialties to 5e to give a 1920s magic adventure feel is very much conceptual. Taking this exploration of ideas a bit further, here are some other potential directions to take 5e classes that might otherwise feel very disconnected from the modern world of a 1920s campaign. These are just sketches of ideas, starting points I’d build out from if I was spending more time on this.


Bard: Three Circuits
There’s a good chance your S&S bard has a bit more experience singing for his dinner, and a little less formal training, than a bard with a “college.” In place of colleges, an S&S bard can select a Circuit, reflecting the types of places where they are most likely to have gotten paying gigs.
Busker’s Circuit – You might not still mostly be performing on the streets hoping for spare change to make a living, but you’ve done it enough to know the ins and outs, and how life on the street works.
Club Circuit – There are a lot of houses of entertainment these days, and you’ve learned to get booked, make a living on the gigs, and work contacts bot for your career, and to arrange for anything else you might need.
Vaudeville Circuit – You’ve done a little of a lot of different things to fit in to the vaudevillian life, and may be able to sing a bit, dance a bit, do a few card tricks, throw your voice, tell some jokes, throw your voice, or a dozen other little performances.

Druid: Three Habitats
There isn’t any one universal druid circle in the 1920s. There are numerous groups and religions that work with or include druids along with many other characters, but what most distinguishes one druid from another in Sorcery & Speakeasies is the habitat of creatures they focus on and feel a connection with.
Alley Habitat – You are closely connected to the creatures that share urban living spaces, from pigeons and rats, to feral cats and dogs, and sometimes even roaches.
Domestic Habitat – Civilization has been working with animals, as guards, allies, mounts, producers, and just food, for thousands of years. You are most strongly connected to animals that share citizens lives, be those cattle, horses, guard dogs, housecats, hunting birds, or circus elephants.
Wilds Habitat – There’s still a lot of wilderness out there, from back roads to mountain hollows and unspoiled woodlands. You prefer to connect with the creatures of these

Step 0 – A Feel for the World

This project didn’t begin as a thought experiment into how to adapt 5e classes. It began with a wild notion for what kind of slang might exist in a Fantasy Roaring 20s campaign, and how such slang might help define a world and inspire adventures within it. I’ve posted all this to my Facebook page at random times over the past couple of months, but it seems worthwhile to offer it all in one compiled for here.

Sorcerers & Speakeasies Slang

Adventure, Inc.: Adventure, Inc. is a semi-formal network of taxi drivers, trash collectors, diners, phone operators, street workers, milkmen, bus drivers, mechanics ,and similar folk who work to get information about “grendles” to people who might do something about them.
Babylon Phonebook: Spellbook, especially one focusing on summoning things.
Button Troll: Any monster paid to act as a guard, thug, or legbreaker, normally by organized crime figures.
Calico: A woman who has rural hedge-wizard, witchcraft or shamanistic powers, but also acts as an urban employee, guide, or even boss.
Cement Cloak: A magic item designed to get the user killed. Sometimes used to refer to any method of assassination.
Cleaver Squad: Group willing and able to engage in violence using primarily melee weapons, especially those adapted from tools. “The merchants of Unstreet, from the Gutters to Old Fane, can call up a pretty big Cleaver Squad.”
Copper Shield: A system protecting police and other government enforcers *and* their agents and informers from the consequences of their own actions as long as they remain useful to the government higher-ups. “He’s crooked, but he’s behind the copper shield.”
Corpse Doctor: A necromancer. Or necrothurge. Or flesh automaton maker. Basically anyone who mucks with bodies for mystic purposes.
Dama: A woman with the skills and confidence of a knight. May be literal for a warrior-woman, or may be a term of respect for the woman’s expertise and dominance within her field, be that accounting, politics, or just being family matriarch.
Drowned Man: Functioning drunk. Often barely-functioning, like a disgraced doctor who now works out of a back ally, or a corrupt police detective who does private investigations now.
Eveic: The secret language of Eve, used in the Garden of Eden, which neither Adam nor God understood. Therefor, any secret known and used by a group of women.
Hexer: Anyone with magic that is of an evil source, or they use to specifically evil ends.
Hexhunter: An expert at tracking down, understanding, and undoing the evil caused by hexers.
Glint: Someone who has one, and likely only one, truly noteworthy magic item (often a weapon or one-use spell-tosser).
Go Dwarven: Get simple, heavy, primitive, and generally violent. “If you don’t pay your loan back, we’ll have to go dwarven on you.” But also a mechanical philosophy. “The radiator doesn’t work unless you go a bit dwarven on the pipes.”
Grendle: Any monstrous or supernatural problem that, for whatever reason, the local authorities won’t do anything about.
Guillotine Cure: Fixing social problems by getting rid of politicians in charge. Not always by killing them, but that’s often the implication.
GumSword: A hired monster-killer or adventurer. Often a low-rent one, who can’t afford high-end steel weapons, but may depend on a baseball bat or crowbar.
Lotus Fiend: Drug addict, especially addicted to drugs that grant magic visions and maybe real eldritch powers, at least briefly.
LuckLubber: Someone who is cursed, or has such bad luck they seem to be cursed.
Medusa: A woman who is believed to have power, generally magical or political, and the will to use it.
Morlock: Any intelligence, roughly humanoid thing that most lives below ground and doesn’t abide by the rules of civilization and society, not even Undertown society. May include trogs, derro, mongrelmen, skulks, tommyknockers, and, you know, morlocks.
Noirmancer: A secret spellcaster, who only does their wok in the dark or at night, or in the metaphysical shadows.
Paper Troll: Someone who talks big and makes trouble, but only in newspaper editorials or letters to the paper, or in town meetings and such.
Pargeter: An artificer skilled in the creation of automatons and homonculi.
Parthian: An enchanted firearm. “No one wants to cross Gurhtu One-Tusk. His violin case supposedly is where he carries a Parthian.”
Precious: Any important item, often referred to by the obsessive owner; such as “Jimmy the Glint’s ‘Precious’.”
Psara Cat: An unusually large, fluffy, calm breed of feline who supposedly pick people to adopt and turn into spellcasters. Also, anyone who appears to be the power behind the scenes. “Little Ezri may just look like the bartender, but he’s the real Psara Cat south of 114th street.”
Raven: An informer who knows things about the world of magic and monsters. Sometimes, may be an actual corvid.
Spelleasy: A neighborhood bar when you drink coffee or tea and discuss magic. You might discuss elixirs, but don’t actually make them. Like alcohol elixirs are, after all, illegal now.
Spider-Friendly: Willing to deal with creatures from the Undertown, like drow and driders and ropers. “The ground floor of the Drake Drink Club is upscale, but the basement levels are spider-friendly.” Also a suggestion of a person who might be sexually attracted to subterranean races.
Stormer: A powerful, primal spellcaster. often one who has to be angry to create magic effects, or who creates uncontrolled magi effects when angry.
Talk to a Mirror: Any form of divination. “Okay, I’m stumped on this case. but I know a guy who’ll talk to a mirror for us.”
Taxi Hero: An adventurer who deals with things on a case-by-case, for-pay basis. “They may not deal with the whole cult, but the neighborhood gathered some money to hire a taxi hero to clear out that Set temple on in the abandoned Monarch Hotel.” Taxi heroes often literally work for a local branch of the Delver’s Union, which sells tickets to people they can give a Taxi Hero to deal with a problem. An “A Ticket” is a minor nuisance, such a a giant rat in your basement, or soot-sprites. The letter-codes go all the way up to the E Ticket, which is your trolls under an overpass, chimera nest in the church’s bell tower, hauntings, and so on.
The Taxi Hero takes the ticket back to the local Delver’s Union, and gets paid for the work. Of course, it seems like the A and B tickets pay out less and less every season…
“Three C’s”: Chokers, Cloakers, and Crypt Things — stand in for anything you may run into in an urban alley or sewer that’s common enough to recognize and know how to deal with, but dangerous enough to kill in an unheroic manner you anyway. “Lots of people gone missing in the Battery recently. Probably just the Three C’s.”
Threadman: An undead created intentionally as a servant. Comes from the fact they often have lips, eyes, or both sewn shut.
Wand Wiggler: A spellcaster-for hire, often a pretty weak one.
WarWolf (or Loup de Guerre): A civilian vehicle converted for paramilitary or military purposes. “The Starshiners have an old WarWolf they use to make deliveries.”

Step 0+1: Microfiction

Even after I saw how easily gamified the concepts for Sorcerers & Speakeasies could be, I didn’t leap to game rules. Instead, I began wondering if there was a way to present a setting that had magic melee weapons and firearms both be fairly common, but magic firearms be rare. I especially liked the idea of enchanted clubs and sling rocks being even more common than enchanted swords.

That lead to this super-short story.

Runes and Remmingtons
“Sarge, why do the Torchers carry breakbats?”

“Are you asking, cadet, why an officer in the Undertown street patrol might be equipped by the city with an Type IV Enruned Peacekeeping Cudgel?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Because cadet–Macklin, is it?–there are things in Undertown that need kinetic encouragement to be good citizens.”

“Well sure, Sarge. We all get that. But why not use a .38?”

“While our Police Standard Issue is a fine choice for many duties, son, there are things in Undertown that don’t pay attention until you tap their should with something that has runes on it.”

“Okay, Sarge, but why not just put runes on a .38? I mean I’ve seen an Ogre Squad carrying more boarspears than shotguns! Shouldn’t we just put some runes on modern weapons?”

“First, Cadet Macklin, a shotgun lacks the lugs needed to keep a wounded globster from crawling up onto and over you while you and your squad hit it with the wrath of Good St. Alaina the dozen or more times it takes to bring it down.
“Second, runecasters have been putting the roxie on pigstickers and crossbows for centuries. They’ve gotten right good at it. But a nice Remmie pump 17? Been out less time than you’ve been alive. Turns out, until the Longbeards and Calicos in armaments have been perfecting the runes for a kind of weapon for a good dozen decades, the cost of enruing one is… prohibitive.”

“But Captain Auburn has that cherry Springfield with a bunch of runes on it!”

“She does indeed. Brought it back from the war. And she earned it. Got that for killing a dragon, Macklin.”

“A draaaagon, Sarge? Really?”

“Feel free to ask her your own self, cadet. If you want to lose your eyebrows for insolence. But until then, let’s train with the Peacekeeping Cudgels, shall we?”

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