Category Archives: Game Design

Writing Basics: File Formatting

This is a very small thing… and yet an important one.

When, as a freelancer, you turn your project over to the contact with the client (be that editor/developer/manager/producer/publisher), make sure you are giving it to them in the format they want.

If they have a style guide, READ AND FOLLOW IT.

If they DON’T have a style guide, ASK how they want it.

For many years, I VERY much preferred writing in WordPerfect, then exporting files as rtf or text, depending on what my client would take.

But over the years, more and more of them specifically wanted .doc, or .docx, or even styled Word documents using specific fonts and styles.

So, I had to give up my Beloved WordPerfect, more than a decade ago.

The vast majority of freelance work I do now is turned over in styled Word docs, as requested by the publisher.

BUT

Some publishers HATE styled Word docs. Some need things in google docs. I literally had one ask me to send the material in the body of an email… which would be anathema for everyone else I work for.

So the takeaway here is that it’s very little effort to ask, and it wins you a lot of goodwill to give publishers materials the way they want them.

 

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Cooperative Chess

I’m not saying this is a good version of this idea, or even that this is a good idea.
But it SHOULD be playable…

*There are three colors of pieces, white, black, and red.

*Black and white are both lines up on one side of the board, with the white pieces being the left half of each line, and the black pieces being the right half. There is no queen, instead both black and white have kings.

*Red pieces are set up normally on the opposing side.

*One player runs the white pieces, and one runs the black pieces. They work together, and are considered to be on the same side (for example, their pieces cannot capture one another).

*The red pieces represent the opposition, and their movements are determined randomly.

*White moves first. Then red. Then black. Then red. Repeat this sequence until a king is in checkmate, or normal rules of chess would indicate a draw.
*Number all of the Red pieces, 1-16, starting with the pawn on A7, running right to H7, then moving up to the rook on A8, and running along the back row to H8.

*On Red’s move, move it’s pieces by following these priorities:

1. If its Red’s King is in check, it takes a legal move to capture the piece placing its King in check (if this removes the King from being in check from any piece), block check, or remove the King from check. If multiple such moves are possible, Red prefers capturing a checking piece, then moving the King out of check, then using another piece or block the King. If multiple such moves exist determines which move it makes randomly.

2. If Priority 1 move does not occur, and a Red pieces is in a square where a black or white piece can capture it on the black/white’s next turn, and the piece can legally move to where that will not be true, it does so. If it can capture an opposing piece with this move, it does so (see Priority 3 if there are multiple pieces it can capture).

Otherwise it moves the fewest squares it legally can to move to a square where it cannot be captured on black/white’s next move. If multiple such squares exist, select which one it moves to randomly.

If multiple Red pieces can fulfill priority 2, move the one that is of the highest value. If multiple pieces of the highest value exist, move the one that can capture an opposing piece. If none can capture, determine which one moves randomly.

3. If a Priority 1-2 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check or ending in a square where a black or white piece can take it on their next move, it does. If there are multiple such legal captures, it takes the highest-value piece it can. If there are multiple such captures of pieces of the same value, determine which one it takes randomly.

4. If a Priority 1-3 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check, but doing so leaves it in a square that can be immediately taken by a black or white piece on its next move, roll 1 six-sided die. On a 1-3, the Red pieces makes the capture. On a 4-6, it does not. If there are multiple such captures possible, roll once to see if Red makes any such capture, and if it does use the rules from Priority 3.

5. If a Priority 1-4 move does not occur, and Red has only a single legal move, it takes it. This is true even if it is a move that was ignored during Priority 3.

6. If a Priority 1-5 move does not occur, roll three dice, total them, and subtract 2 from the sum. If the result is 1-16, and that Red piece is still on the board, move the piece matching that number. If that Red piece is no longer on the board, go to Priority 7.
6a. If the piece is a Red pawn, and it can move to the Black/White home row without ending in a square where it can be captured by a black/white piece on its next turn, the pawn takes the move and is promoted to a Queen. It retains its original numbering.
6b. If the piece can move to a square where it could take a black or white piece on its next move, it does so. If there are multiple such squares, it selects the one with the fewest black or white pieces able to take it on their next move. If multiple such squares exist, determine which one it selects randomly.
6c. If no move is indicated by Priority 5a, make a legal move that goes as far as that piece can go, in a randomly determined direction, that does not end with it in a square where it could be captured on black or white’s next move.

7. If the Red piece indicated by the die roll is no longer on the table, instead move the remaining Red piece with the closest number. If two remaining Red pieces are equidistant in numbering, go with the lower number if the result was odd, and with the higher number if the result is even.
7a. If the newly-selected Red piece can legally capture a black or white piece, it does. If this would expose its King to check, the King is moved in a randomly determined direction however many squares are needed to keep it out of check, in ADDITION to the Red piece making a capture. If there are multiple black/white pieces the Red piece could capture, use the preferences from Priority 3.
7b. If the newly-selected Red piece cannot capture a black./white piece  with a legal move, it is moved in the following manner. Roll 1d6 and add one. This is the numbered row the piece moves to. Roll 1d6, with 1 being B, 2 C, 3 D, 4 E, 5 F, and 6 G. This is the column in that row the piece moves to.
If there is a black or white piece in that space that is not a King, it is captured, if there is a black or white King in that space, the Red pieces is captured. If there is a Red piece in that square, the higher value of the two Red pieces takes the square, and the other is capture. If the two red pieces are of the same value, determine randomly which one gets the square.

*If either the Black or White king is placed in Checkmate, or if both are ever in Check, Red wins. If the Red King is ever in Checkmate, black and white win.

PATREON
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Really Wild West Class Features: Envoys

We covered why it’s a good idea to offer some campaign-specific class features for the Really Wild West (index of articles here) Campaign Hack for Starfinder in our first such article, which went over soldier class features. We continue to explore the classes with new class features for the envoy.

There are numerous Western and pulp-adventure tropes that work for an envoy character in the Really Wild West, including merchants, cattle barons, carpetbaggers, snake-oil salesmen, reporters, tourists and vacationers from Back East (be they sightseers, big game hunters, or displaced nobles struggling to carve out a new empire), diplomats, traders, and activists, to name just a few!

We offer four new envoy improvisations, and two new envoy expertise talents.

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Envoy Improvisations [Any level]

Factor (Ex): You have a factor, a CR 0 NPC that helps make arrangements for you. The factor doesn’t even go adventuring for you, and generally doesn’t even travel with you, preferring to handle your affairs by telephone, telegraph, Babbage-Bell message, and courier. You can only communicate with your factor when you have access to a settlement or the Babbage-Bell Grid.

Your factor can handle one request at a time, and all requests take at least 24 hours. A factor can research a question (taking time to take 20, with a +1 bonus, thus answering anything a DC 21 check can find), make travel arrangements or housing (ensuring you get the needed number of seats or rooms at a location, at the normal cost), keep your funds secure (and wiring them to banks and stores as you direct), make inquiries about location conditions and agents (making a Diplomacy check to gather information with a bonus equal to 5 + your level), and do such minor tasks as receiving and sending mail, looking after objects you end to them, and whatever else the GM considers appropriate. They are not a spellcaster, crafter, famous personage, or combatant in any way.

In some cases when dealing with officials or members of high society, the GM may grant you a circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to do things such as ask for an audience or open negotiations if you do so through your factor.

Have Thing, Will Travel (Ex): (Sense-dependent) You possess one weapon that you are well-known for carrying, or that is itself recognizable (either as a unique weapon, or as one of a class of renowned weapons). You can choose what weapon this is each time you gain a new level, and if lost you can replace it with another weapon with 24 hours of adjustments and spreading rumors.

You can draw this weapon without taking an action as part of any move action or full action, and as part of rolling for initiative. When you draw the weapon in this way outside of combat or in the surprise round of combat, you may make an Intimidate check to demoralize a single creature within 30 feet of you also without taking an action. Any creature within 60 feet of you when you do this is immune to this ability of yours for 24 hours.

Put A Price on their Head (Ex): You can put a bounty on a foe, dead or alive, to encourage bounty hunters, law agents, allies, sellswords, and gunslingers to make their best effort against that target. You can only do this in a settlement with a Babbage-Bell station, and you must either make a Successful DC 15 Diplomacy check to accuse the target of a crime you reasonably believe they have committed, or have the GM make a Bluff check in secret (DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s CR, +10 if viewed as friendly by the settlement, +20 if viewed as helpful) to accuse them of something believable, with the ability only working on a successful check.

You must offer at least 100 credits for the target, to be brought to justice dead or alive. You must pay ¼ of this amount in advance. The GM then makes a secret Diplomacy check for you (DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s CR). If it is successful, within 24 hours everyone who could reasonably have heard about the bounty gains the benefit of your Get ‘Em improvisation when attacking the target, even if you are not present. On a failed check there is no benefit, but you do not know if the check succeeded until you witness someone attack the target.

The bonus lasts 30 days, and you can then renew it by doubling the bounty (and paying 25% of the new amount in advance). If you learn the check failed, you can make a new check my doubling the bounty. If you do not renew a bounty, you cannot set a new bounty on the same target for 30 days.

If someone brings in the target and claims the bounty, you must pay it, or you cannot use this ability again in the same territory (generally an area the size of a US state) until you do so.

You must have Get ‘Em to select this improvisation.

References (Ex): You have a series of references you can use as your bona fides in certain segments of society. These may be names of people who will vouch for you (and who you can describe well enough to convince others such vouchsafing is likely), passwords and phrases, physical letters of recommendation or letters of credit, secret handshakes, or any combination of similar methods. You know exactly which references to call on in what circumstances, allowing you to benefit from these to a degree other characters can’t match.

Select a “reference alignment” within one step of your own alignment. When dealing with official members of an organization with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, or officials or people with influence in a settlement with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, you can make a Diplomacy check to change the attitude of that character as a move action by calling on your references. This only works once (ever) per character, and only if the character is unfriendly or indifferent toward you. (Hostile creatures don’t care what your references are, and friendly or helpful creatures already like you well enough not to care either).

Additionally, in a settlement with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, treat your character level as 1 higher for purposes of determining what you can buy.

Expertise Talents

Interlocutor (Ex; Culture): You know a number of languages, and can often work out how to communicate with someone who only knows a language related to yours. You gain a number of bonus languages equal to your ranks in Culture (increasing whenever you put an additional rank in Culture).

When you meet someone who speaks a language, but with whom you do not share a common language, you may roll your expertise die (by itself). On a result of 1-5 you have no special advantage communicating with the target. On a result of 6 or 7, you have found a related language and can convey very simple concepts with a minute of work. On a result of 8 or more, you find a common language similar enough to easily communicate basic concepts.

Look Harmless (Ex; Bluff): If you do not have a weapon or obviously dangerous item or spell readied for use, and a creature has never seen you make an attack, rather than add your expertise die to a Bluff check, you can make a Bluff check as a standard action to convince the target you are no threat. This is a Bluff check to lie, but it does not take a modifier for the target being hostile or unfriendly. If the check succeeds, and there is any other target in line of sight making attacks against the target or the target’s allies, the target does not attack you, favoring attacking more dangerous-looking foes.

This immediately ends if you are witnessed take any action that works against the target’s best interests, or aiding the target’s foes. If you target gives you instructions (such as “don’t move!”) and you do not follow them, you must make another check with a cumulative -5 penalty for every instruction you have not followed.

If you attack the target while it believes you are harmless, it is treated as flat-footed against your first attack.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look at class features for the rest of the Starfinder core classes, to give them Really Wild West-specific options!

PATREON
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

Really Wild West Class Features: Soldiers

A big part of the point of making the Really Wild West (index of articles here) a Starfinder Campaign Hack is that it means most of the rules we need for weird-science-and-fantasy-infused-western stories already exist. While the RWW Index has lots of special rules subsets for things like high noon showdowns, renown, gambling, and so on, the majority of the game’s basic rules, including classes, skills, feats, and even most equipment, are largely unchanged.

However, as with any campaign setting, there are good reasons to add some new class options to a Really Wild West campaign, to allow players to make Western-themed characters that are appropriate in the Weird West of a Martian-invaded Earth of 1891, which might not fit in a more traditional (or official) science-fantasy setting. We already touched on a few campaign-specific themes and rules for theosophy and psychic powers, but it’s also worthwhile to create some class-specific new options to help players make some iconic weird-west concepts.

We start with soldier class features, focusing on some new gear boosts and two new fighting styles.

(And, of course, the other advantage of making this setting Starfinder-compatible is that you can take new material like this, and use it in other settings if you want to. 🙂 )

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Soldier

Gear Boosts

Shootist (Ex) You add your level to damage done with small arms, in addition to any other bonuses you get (including your Weapon Specialization bonus). You cannot add this damage at the same time you are adding any other ability that only works with a subcategory of weapons that includes small arms or operative weapons.

Shotgun Fit (Ex) You can custom-fit a shotgun so it’s trigger pull, balance, but plate, and position match your frame and shooting style perfectly. This precise a fit requires you to do maintenance on a shotgun, so it must be in your possession for 24 hours before this ability applies, and you can only keep a maximum of two shotguns adjusted to use this ability on at a time.

When using a custom-fit shotgun firing shot, you halve the damage penalty it takes for range.

THAT’s a Knife! (Ex) You add your level to damage done with operative weapons, in addition to any other bonuses you get (including your Weapon Specialization bonus). You cannot add this damage at the same time you are adding any other ability that only works with a subcategory of weapons that includes small arms or operative weapons.

Tight Grouping (Ex) When you make multiple ranged attacks at the same target in a single round, you gain a +1 bonus to the ranged attack rolls after the first one. If you attack a different target or make a melee attack, you don’t receive the tight grouping bonus for the rest of the round.

Fighting Styles

Cavalry

You may have been formally trained in cavalry tactics, or grown up on a ranch or in a culture where being mounted s a way of life, or be a skilled scorcher who learned to fight from a seat while running scouting missions against Martian Tripods.

Ready to Ride (Ex) [1st Level] You begin play with a light or heavy horse (or with the GM’s approval a similar creature using the same statistics, such as a bison,camel, or moose), or a safety bicycle. If it is lost, you may replace it at no chare at a major settlement, or when you gain a level.

If you begin play with a mount, you gain Expert Rider as a bonus feat, without needing to meet its prerequisites. If you begin play with a safety bicycle, you instead gain the Scorcher feat as a bonus feat, without needing to meet its prerequisites.

Mounted Combat (Ex) [5th] You gain a +10 ft. bonus to speed when using the mount of bike from the ready to ride ability.  Additionally, once per round when your mount or bike is hit by an attack or fails a saving throw, without taking an action you may make a Survival check (for a mount) of Pilot check (for a bike). If your check meets or exceeds the total of the attack roll against your mount or the DC of the saving throw, the mount is missed or considered to have made its saving throw.

Fight From the Saddle (Ex) [9th] You gain Mobility as a bonus feat, but only when using the mount or bike gained from the ready to ride ability. If you already have Mobility, you instead gain your choice of Shot on the Run or Spring Attack (only when using your mount or bike) as a bonus feat without having to meet its prerequisites.

Like the Wind (Ex) [13th] You bonus to speed when using the mount of bike from the ready to ride ability increases to +20 feet. Additionally, you can take 10 for Survival checks and Pilot checks regarding mounted combat and bicycles, even in combat or when stress or distraction would normally prevent you from doing so.

Cavalry Charge (Ex) [17th] When you are on a mount or using a bike, you take no attack penalty to attacks made when charging, and add a +4 bonus to damage done on a successful attack when charging.

Pugilist

Whether it’s street brawling, a formal martial art, boxing, Bartitsu, or a knack picked up from years of literally punching cows, you are particularly skilled at fisticuffs.

Improved Unarmed Strike (Ex) [1st Level] You gain Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat, and when you gain this ability choose to either have your unarmed attacks not count as archaic weapons, or gain a +1 bonus to damage with unarmed attacks. You can make an unarmed attack without having a hand free as long as you are not immobilized and have one limb or your head free to move about.

Additionally you can make unarmed strikes using melee or ranged weapons, by using the weapon to smash a pommel or other blunt part of the weapon into your target. If the weapon has a fusion or weapons special property that is appropriate to apply to an unarmed attack, or is made of a special material, you add those effects to your unarmed attack.

Keep Your Guard Up (Ex) [5th] Your KAC against combat maneuvers is increased by +4.

Stunning Blow (Ex) [9th] You can hit a foe so hard they are briefly disabled. You take no penalty to your attack roll to do nonlethal damage to a target with an unarmed attack. Additionally, you can declare a unarmed attack to be a stunning blow in advance of your attack roll. If the attack hits, the target must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your soldier level + your key ability score modifier) or be stunned for 1 round. Once you attempt a stunning blow, you cannot do so again until you regain Stamina Points during a 10-minutes rest.

Sucker Punch (Ex) [13th] Once per turn you can make an attack of opportunity with an unarmed attack without taking a reaction. You can still only make attacks of opportunity when a target provokes one from you.

Flurry of Blows (Ex) [17th] When you take a full attack, you may make one additional attack at -8 to the attack roll, which must be an unarmed attack.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look at class features for all the Starfinder core classes, to give them Really Wild West-specific options!

PATREON
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

 

 

“You’re Always Aiming For Their Eyes”

“I want to aim for his eye! So I can blind him, and kill him in one shot!”

“Okay, his eyes widen as he sees your malicious intent, and he throws up a guard. Make an attack roll.”

“What modifiers for aiming for his eyes?!”

“None. You’re always aiming for your foes’ eyes.”

“No I’m not! I’m just trying to hit. I want to do a lethal blow now!”

“You’re always trying to land a lethal blow, unless you do something special not to. It’s a fight. Your character is always doing their best unless you say otherwise. Your attack rolls already represent the very best attack your character thinks can land. Of course you want to stab him in the eye, or cut off his head, or pierce his heart. And that’s represented by the existing combat rules of the game. And when the foe goes down, that is when you succeeded.”

“But maybe I can do those things before that!”

“Sure. It’s called a “critical hit.” in this game. A “stunt” or special maneuver in other games.”

“But I want a SPECIAL chance to kill him in one shot!”

“Okay. Do you want every foe you ever fight to have a special chance to kill you in one shot, too?”

“You’re no fun!”

“If you want to try to be flamboyant in your attacks because that’s fun, I am fine with that. That’s why I said he reacted to your effort. And if this attack kills him, it’ll be because you ran him through the eye, and that’ll be awesome.

If you want to have a reduced chance to be effective because of what you are trying, feel free to not use your full combat bonuses.

If you want an increased chance to be effective because of what you are trying, once I allow that why wouldn’t you always do that? And every other PC? And every NPC?”

 

What’s Your Runeblade Name?

Runeblades always have cool, evocative names… but it can be a pain to have to come with them from scratch all the time. So for all your Runeblade name needs, here’s the What’s Your Runeblade quiz!

Take the second letter of your first name, and the last letter of your last name. So, as Owen Stephens, my Runeblade name is Shadow Slayer. (Or Shadowslayer—you can run them together or not, as you prefer.)

Or, you can roll 1d100 twice to create a random name.

Or just pick something cool. 😊

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Second letter of your first name, or 1d100)

A (01-04). Ash
B. (05-08). Bane
C. (09-12). Battle
D. (13-16). Blaze
E. (17-20). Blood
F. (21-24). Bright
G. (25-28). Crimson
H. (26-32). Dawn
I. (33-36). Death
J. (37-40). Doom
K. (41-44). Fear
L. (45-48). Foe
M. (49-52. Gray
N. (53-56). Hell
O. (57-60). Ice
P. (61-64). Luck
Q. (65-68). Mourn
R. (69-72). Night
S. (73-76). Pain
T. (77-80). Rage
U. (81-84). Run
V. (85-88). Sea
W. (89-91). Shadow
X. (92-94). Soul
Y. (95-97). Storm
Z. (98-100). War

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Last letter of your last name, or 1d100)

A. (01-04). Blade
B. (05-08). Bringer
C. (09-12). Claw
D. (13-16). Cleaver
E. (17-20). Crasher
F. (21-24). Dragon
G. (25-28). Fist
H. (29-32). Flame
I. (33-36). Friend
J. (37-40). Gate
K. (41-44). Hammer
L. (42-48). Iron
M. (49-52). Master/Mistress
N. (53-56). Moon
O. (57-60). Raven
P. (61-64). Razor
Q. (65-68). Sigil
R. (69-72). Skull
S. (73-76). Slayer
T. (77-80). Song
U. (81-84). Star
V. (85-88). Thunder
W. (89-91). Tomb
X. (92.-94). Tooth
Y. (95-97). Wand
Z. (98-100). Widow

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The Branding and Promise of the Names of RPGs

I think it’s helpful for the name of an RPG to tell you something about what the game is (supposed to be) like.

For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars (even if some folks will always claim it is just the Ghostbuster’s rules of D&D, “reskinned”).

Dungeons and Dragons does a good job of this–it’s a game about monsters and underground locations. Yes, it’s more than that, but it still tells you something. And it’s ubiquity allows you to show kinship with it easily enough — Tunnels and Trolls is clearly giving a similar feel as D&D. Mutants & Masterminds was brilliant.

Hero System and Champions are both pretty good.

Shadowrun was not as good as Cyberpunk, originally, but it is now. Gamma World was good, but Aftermath was better, and Marrow Project at least as good.

But Omega World was brilliant, because of Gamma World.

Both Vampire and World of Darkness did good jobs with this.

Star Frontiers was better than Traveller in this department, but Space Opera may have been better than either.

I’m not comparing the quality of these games as games. Just the ease of branding offered by their names.

I think about this, when I am working on things like Really Wild West, which I hope does a good job of immediately identifying itself as a kind of over-the-top Weird West setting.

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Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words (Update!)

The most recent update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words can be found here!

Need to make a region sound more like a Croft or Realm? Want to make sure people reading your fantasy text think of you as argute?

Well then, you need a Very Fantasy Word!

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Gambling in the Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

Gambling, and being a professional gambler, are common Wild West tropes, so the ideas ought to be supported in the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game (which, after a long rest, is going to start getting regular support from me again!).

On the one hand, those rules ought to include some way to have dramatic gambling scenes for when a game of chance has become crucial to the plot. On the other hand, most people don’t want to have to be good gamblers to play the gambler character (any more than they want to have to be sharpshooters to play gunslingers).

So the rules should be simple, and play to the character sheet as much as the player, while retaining some dramatic tension.

Profession (gambler)

Step one is to explicitly allow “gambler” as an option for the Profession skill. In most cases, a character who wants to make money gambling just uses Profession (gambler). While all professional gamblers can pull from a broad toolbox to make money, the emphasis of their gambling style is determined by what ability score it’s based on. If the skill is Intelligence-based, the gambler depends primarily on knowing the odds and rules of the games, calculating the smart bet and using betting schemes to maximize wins and minimize losses. If the skill is Wisdom-based, the gambler depends more on reading other gamblers and trusting instinctive gut feelings on how to bet. If the skill is Charisma-based, the gambler depends more on bluffing, faking out other gamblers, or using a distraction to cover cheating.

Unlike most Profession skills, a character can make Profession (gambler) checks untrained *thought they cannot use it for the earn a living task if untrained). A player decides what ability score Profession (gambler) is based on when they take their first rank it in (and may choose any ability score if using it untrained).

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Casual Gambling

To make things slightly more interesting, a character with Profession (gambling) can use casual betting when making the skill check for the Earn a Living task. The player bets a number of credits equal to their Profession (gambler) skill +10. Then if their skill check for the task (which they may not take 10 on) results in a d20 roll of 2-5, their bet is lost and no money is earned. On a 6-10, they win back their bet, but do not earn any additional income. On an 11-15, they win back their bet and earn credits normally. On a 16 or higher, they win back their bet and earn twice as much as normal for a week’s work. On a natural 1, they lose the bet and lose the same amount of additional credits. (Overall this option is good deal for the player.)

Once a character has used this option for a week in a settlement and made money doing so, it’s not normally available again for at least a month (as locals have learned better than to play with the character). A GM may modify this rule for cities with lots of gambling, very large settlements, and times when numerous new potential gambling partners are appearing regularly.

Dramatic Gambling

Dramatic gambling is only used when the GM calls for it, and normally only when there’s more on the line than just credits. This is the option when the master villain insists on playing poker to see who wins the blood-soaked contract that sells a soul to a devil, or a neutral third party won’t sell the crucial material for a required ritual, but will gamble for it. Unless all the players are gamblers (or find interacting with the dramatic betting rules interesting), this should be as rare as any other focus most players can’t interact with—it’s fine as a spotlight scene or a change of pace, but you shouldn’t build regular encounters out of these rules unless your players know the campaign is going to have a gambling focus.

Dramatic gambling can be done with Bluff, Culture, Diplomacy, Profession (gambling), or Sleight of Hand (with potential consequences). Characters must make multiple checks during a dramatic gambling event, usually using at least two different skills. Most of these skills cannot be used more than once during a dramatic gambling event. The exceptions to this are Profession (gambling) and Sleight of hand, which may always be used. If a character decides to use Sleight of Hand they are choosing to cheat, and all participants and bystanders are allowed to make an opposed Perception check with a -5 penalty and, with a successful check, spot the character cheating.

The Stakes

Before any rolls are made, the gambling event’s stakes must be determined. This can be as simple as an amount of money risked by each participant, but for dramatic gambling events it’s equally likely to be some sort of plot point. For example, if the PCs are trying to convince the Cattle Duke of Montana to allow them to lay train tracks through his grazing lands, the Duke might decide the issue is settled by a high-stakes game of Red Dog, as represented by a dramatic gambling event. Similarly, if the specific player is trying to pick up a legendary item using renown, a GM might decide the final task needed to do so is a throw of the dice with Death herself… again, as a dramatic gambling event.

If the stakes are money, the winner gets to double their stake, and everyone else loses their stake (any “unwon” money goes to the house, which is never a PC). If the stakes are more plot driven the GM should be clear about the consequences of winning and losing. The PCs convince the Cattle Duke to allow their train through his territory if they win, and lose any chance of a peaceful settlement of the problem if they lose. The PC wins a legendary weapon from Death with a win, and gains a temporary negative level with a loss.

Stakes should also include the cost of folding. A character can fold until the Final Reveal. Normally folding costs you half your stakes, though for dramatic gambling where the stakes are more conceptual, the GM should just establish stakes that are half as bad as loosing (the Duke won’t work with you, but will allow you to keep trying to find a new deal he likes better. Death doesn’t give you the legendary item, but the negative level only lasts 1d6 days.)

The First Deal

Once stakes are set, the First Deal is made. This represents how good a position each participant begins with in the gambling. This need not be one hand of cards, or even cards at all. It could represent luck in the first spin of a roulette wheel, how good information about a horse is, or the value of an initial die roll in a gambling dice game.

Each participant in the event rolls a d20 in secret. The die is set aside for the moment. The First Deal is used to determine the final winner of the dramatic gambling event, but not yet.

No abilities that affect d20 reroll can be used on another character’s First Deal, including things like rerolls, unless the character using the ability has successfully Read the d20 result first. Any participant can attempt to Read another participant’s First Deal with a successful use of the detect deception task of Sense Motive check. This can be attempted once after the First Deal, once after the First Deal, and once after the Raise Round, each time looking at a single participant’s First Deal. On a successful check, the raw d20 result of the First Deal is revealed. Once you use Sense Motive to attempt to Read a First Deal you can’t use Sense Motive for any other purpose during the dramatic gambling event.

The GM can ask to see anyone’s First Deal die result, but can’t have NPCs act based on that knowledge without successfully using an ability to Read it.

Raise Round

After the First Deal, comes the Raise Round. Each player makes one d20 roll in the open. Then, from lowest die result to highest, each participant chooses a skill to add the bonus of to d20 roll. Characters can only use their ranks + ability score for this bonus, unless they state they are using some other rule that affects it, such as a class feature, feat, racial ability, spell, or item. (Using spells or items is always considered cheating, and requires a Stealth check opposed by all bystander’s and participant’s Perception checks, to do so without being noticed). Any such ability that affects a die roll or skill bonus can only be used once at any point in the dramatic gambling event. If an operative decides to add operative’s edge to a skill check for the Raise Round, it cannot be used again in the Final Round, even for a different skill.

Once each participant has done this, and the current result of all the raise Round skill checks are known, in the same order characters may choose if they wish to change to a new skill (perhaps one with a higher bonus), or to add an ability that can impact the Raise Round skill check. If anyone does so, another round of potential chances to skills used and class features is taken, repeating until all players pass.

Any skill or ability used in this process cannot be used again in the Final Round.

The winner of the Raise Round is allowed to roll an additional d20, in the open. In the Final Round, that player can use his original First Deal d20 check, or the new d20 roll. This decision need not be made until all the Final Round actions are completed, and everyone’s First Deal is revealed.

If two or more character’s Raise Round skill check totals are tied for the highest total at the end of the Raise Round, whichever character got to that total first wins the round.

At any point in the Raise Round, a participant may Fold, in which case they lose half their stakes (or suffer the more minor penalty, for dramatic gambling events with nonmonetary stakes.)

Final Round

In the Final Round, participants go in reverse order of the order used in the Raise Round. Each participant chooses a skill and declares what their total bonus for that skill is, but do NOT yet reveal what their total is with their First Deal die.

As with the Raise Round, after every participant has declared a skill and any abilities they wish to use to boost it, another round is held where characters may swap to new skills or add new abilities. After each round, characters may Fold, as with the Raise Round.

After everyone passes, everyone in the same order decides to Fold or Call.

Everyone who Calls reveals their First Deal d20 roll, adds their total bonus, and the highest total wins. Whoever won the Raise Round may swap to their second d20 roll in place of their First Deal roll after seeing everyone else’s total. In case of a tie, the character with the highest number of ranks in their chosen skill wins (better good than lucky). If there is still a tie, everyone tied rolls a d20 and the highest result wins.

Example of Play

Alex (a soldier), Janye (an operative), and Stan (an envoy) are playing out a dramatic gambling event. They establish stakes, 100 credits each.

Each of them makes a First Deal roll. Alex gets a 4, Jayne a 7, and Stan a 17, but none of those die results are revealed.

Alex decides to attempt to Read Stan’s First Deal die roll. Alex makes a Sense Motive check, opposed by Stan’s Bluff check. Alex succeeds, and learns Stan’s hidden die roll is a 17. Alex now can’t use Sense Motive for any purpose in this dramatic gambling event other than attempting another Read check after the Raise Round.

For the Raise Round, Alex, Jayne, and Stan each make another d20 roll this time in the open. Alex gets a 15, Jayne an 11, and Stan a 10. Since Stan rolled the lowest, he is the first to declare a skill total. Since he knows he has a 17 as his First Deal, he decides to use a lower skill here and states his using Diplomacy, which is +8, for a Raise Round total of (d20 roll 10 + 8) 18.

Jayne goes next. She has Profession (gambling) at +12, and is an operative with another +2 from operative’s edge. She can use Profession for both her die rolls, but can only apply her operative’s edge to one of them. Knowing she has a First Deal roll of 7, she’d like to win the Raise Round to get a reroll, but hopes she won’t have to use operative’s edge to do it. So she uses her Profession skill without her+2 operative’s edge, getting a total of (d20 roll 11 +12) 23.

Alex has a Raise Round result of 15, and knows his First Deal result is 4 and Stan’s is 17. His best skill is Culture, which is +12, and his second-best is Diplomacy, which is +9. He feels he must get the reroll in the Raise Round to have any hope of winning, and isn’t sure using Diplomacy is good enough. It would get him a 24, better than  Jayne’s current total, but if she has any abilities to boost her result she could beat him. Alex decides to use his Culture to get a total of (d20 roll 15 +12) 27.

Everyone has a chance to change their skills now, again beginning with Stan. Stan decided he wants to prevent Alex or Jayne from getting the reroll from winning the Raise Round, even if he doesn’t need it, so he switches to his Bluff, which has a +12 bonus and gives him the option of adding a +1d6+1 expertise die. Stan decided to use the expertise die now, and rolls a (1d6 roll 4 +1) 5, giving him a +17 bonus for this skill check. That gives him a (d20 roll 10 +17) 27 total as well. However since Alex got that result first, he wins the tie.

No one else wants to use any other skills, so Alex wins the Raise Round. He makes a d20 Raise Roll in the open, getting a 12. Now he can use either his original First Deal result of 4, or his Raise Roll of 12, for the Final Round.

On the Final Round, participants go in reverse order of their Raise Round totals (Jayne 23, Stan 27, Alex 27). Each announced their skill total, but does not yet reveal their First Deal die. Jayne knows Alex has a Raise Roll result of 12 he can use, and she knows her own First Deal roll is a 7. She declares she is using Profession (gambling) again, which gives her a +12 bonus, and that she is using operative’s edge (there’s no reason not to), for a total of a +14 bonus.

Stan used his best skills (Bluff and Diplomacy) and his skill expertise class feature, so his best remaining option is to use his weaker Sense Motive skill, at +7.

Alex knows he has a Raise Roll of 12, but his best remaining skill is diplomacy at +9.

No one has any additional abilities to add or better skills to switch to, the everyone passes.

Jayne then must decide to Fold or Call. She has a skill bonus of +14 and a First Deal die roll of 7, so she knows her total is 21. She also knows Alex has at least a 12 (his visible Raise Roll) and a bonus of +7, also a 21. She thinks she has more ranks in Profession (gambling) than Alex has in Diplomacy, so she calls.

Stan has a skill bonus of +7, and a First Deal die roll of 17, for a total of 24. But he is afraid Jayne’s much higher skill bonus makes her more likely to win. He folds, and loses half his stakes (50 credits).

Alex thinks Jayne must have a really bad First Deal die roll, so he Calls.

Jayne and Alex then reveal their totals. They are tied at 21, but Jayne DOES have more ranks in her skill than Alex has in his, so she wins. Alex loses all his stake, and Jayne doubles her stake.

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Starfinder Writing Basics: Terms

Quick Starfinder developer note.

In Starfinder? The names of classes, archetypes, bonus types, magic items, class features, hybrid items, technological items, equipment, the word level, and spells ARE NOT CAPITALIZED the way feats, skills, and HP/RP/SP are.

It’s not “The Gramarthurge is an Archetype exclusive to Technomancers that gains Word Abuse at 2nd Level, which boosts the utility of Spell Cache.”

It’s “The gramarthurge is an archetype exclusive to technomancers that gains word abuse at 2nd level, which boosts the utility of spell cache.”

But it’s still “The gramarthurge gains Toughness as a bonus feat, and a +2 insight bonus to Diplomacy when speaking or writing.”

As for why?

Well for every game, that’s a house style call, generally lead up by the editors and publisher, and possibly creative directors and designers.

It’s a process that involves a lot of smart people with a lot of opinions, and I am far from the most important (or most informed) member of that group, but as general guidelines:

If a detect magic spell will cause it to ping, it get italicized. So spells, magic items, hybrid items. This makes it easy for a GM to know what is magic without always looking it up.

If the term has been capitalized in every version of the d20 rules in our ancestry for 19 years (skills, feats), it gets capitalized. The original logic (IIRC) was that if we didn’t capitalize skill and feat names, they would get lost as game terms, and they were each their own highest-level header independent of any other game element. For example, you don’t capitalize class features because they are elements of a larger sub-category, the class. But each feat is all of that feat, and same with skills.

If the abbreviation of a multi-word game term is capitalized so it won’t be lost, and uses the first letters of the game term, the full term is capitalized. So HP leads to both Hit Poitns and Hull Points, but XP does not lead to experience points being capitalized. This isn’t true for all d20 games.

Otherwise normal rules of grammar apply, so elebrian isn’t capitalized for the same reason human isn’t, but Deoxian (as in a resident of the undead world of Deox) would be for the same reason American is.

And you can always check a game’s glossary and/or index, and always ask your editor/developer if they have a style guide.

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