Category Archives: Microsetting

Microsetting: The City of Hoard

Microsetting: The City of Hoard

I’ve been on a bit of a Starfinder RPG and general essay kick recently, but I’m still a big fan of fantasy RPG settings in general, and Pathfinder in general. So as a palate cleanser, here is a microsetting, the City of Hoard!

The City of Hoard

It’s not formally called “Hoard” of course. It’s listed as Draconis Rekai Achael in the old Imperial Charter of Settlements, Drakkenhelt in the dwarven tunnel-maps, and Aerivermaeli in the elven Songs of Places. Among the academic writings and speech of most dragons and draconic-oriented scholars, it’s Brarguren’s Canton, an acknowledgement that the mighty Brargured has carved out land acknowledged by other nations as hers, and hers alone. But even those learned individuals generally call it “Brarguren’s Hoard” in casual conversation, and from that long title most common folk have taken to just calling the city “Hoard.”

Brarguren was an active dragon in her youth, traveling extensively as soon as she ceased to be a wyrmling, claiming temporary territories, exploring lands with no sapient creature settling them. There are numerous credible accounts of her worldwide, suggesting she did not limit herself to any one continent or trade route. Many of those tales speak of her establishing herself on the edges of major civilizations, speaking to their scholars and acting as patron for their great artists. Though she spent no more than a few decades in any one place in her first few centuries of life, she was intellectually active and curious during these visits, each year doing as much research and learning as any member of the shorter-lived races could manage, and thus compiling numerous lifetimes of knowledge in just a few hundred years.

She gained cunning and power in equal measure. Early descriptions of her make it clear her coloration was “bright” and “metallic,” but never matched her to a single hue. She can breath fire, but has also proven to have draconic and magic talents that allow her to breath acid, and ice, and even frozen acid. She can access the power of sorcerers, druids, and even witches, leading some to suggest she has studied as a shaman. She is also a mistress of illusion, or transmutation (or both), and certainly her appearance in the past few centuries has shifted and changes enough to suggest she is keeping her true nature secret, though she always has the same piercing, nearly glowing, amber eyes.

No one is sure when she became fascinated by architecture, urban planning, and landscaping. Perhaps it was when she carried out a vendetta against the Order of the Broken Claw as a young adult, joining and leading armies to sack the order’s cities on both sides of an ocean. Perhaps her visits to the continents of the Ivory Empire, Jade Kingdoms, or the lands of the Spice Road as an adult and mature adult piqued her interest in how different cultures build and grow settlements. Certainly her Guild of Masons was established at that time, and she forged alliances with dwarves and elves both to aid and learn from their greatest artificers, fort-builders, and urban engineers and planners.

What is known for certain is that as an old dragon, more than 4 centuries ago, Brarguren stopped her regular travels and claimed her Canton, a rich land with access to ocean, trade, field, and ore. The land surely would have been claimed by some nation before her, located between small kingdoms and in a route between major empires as it was, if not for the gorynych that laired there, and the twisted mutant cult that worshiped it. Brarguren was not the first dragon to seek to destroy the wicked creature known as “The Three Sinners,” but she was the first to succeed in destroying the gorynych and scattering the cult.

And to mark her success, she claimed the piles and piles of treasure the Three Sinners and its minions had collected…. And built a city.

People claim that early on no one lived in Hoard, but of course that’s not true. Expending money as a waterfall expends water, Brarguren hired hundreds of planners and thousands of workers. Even before Hoard had a finished building, it has inhabitants. Nor where buildings the first permanent structures to be raised. Brarguren had roads laid, and aqueducts, canals, wells, and cisterns built, long before any buildings. She gave broad guidance to her lord architects, and insisted their plans be revised many times, but did little of the direct planning herself. The first city was to be designed to house 10,000 citizens in wealth and comfort, and to have a network of towns to support it, but she also demanded plans be in place for it to grow. Even the names of its major sections, “First Ward, Second Century Ward, Third Century Ward,” showed what her plans were for its expansion.

Now, Hoard is 310 years old, a city of nearly 50,000, and one of the most powerful and wealthy trade cities in the world. Though Brarguren is the unquestioned owner and ruler of the city and the surrounding valley, including it’s roads, dozens of supporting towns and farms, minor auxiliary ports and shipyards in nearby islands, she rarely takes a direct hand in ruling or protecting it. The Canton Guard serve as both city guard in Hoard, and ranging military force throughout Brarguren’s lands, and the Dragonfire Wardens act as scouts, investigators, and game wardens further from the city. Both answer directly and separately to Brarguren, though their Lord Commanders (Guard Commander Alvric Krakarral—a human investigator—for the Guard, and Warden Commander Jealis Irontusk—a half-orc hunter—for the Wardens) are cagey about how how those reports are delivered. But 72 years ago when Brarguren devoured the then-Guard Commander Thurgen Thurgenis, the dragon made it clear she would react if her forces failed to report as she expected them to. Her lack of direct action since is taken as proof the Lord Commanders are doing as they are supposed to.

However, neither of those forces run the city (or any of the townships),and lack the power to makes laws or edicts. Laws are made only by Brarguren herself, and she hasn’t changed the short list of basic rules (outlawing slavery, insisting on equal basic rights for all sapient creatures, establishing the civil and paramilitary organizations in her lands) in almost a century. Edicts come from the Council of Stakeholders—made up of guild leaders, religious heads, neighborhood alders from Hoard and town magistrates from supporting settlements, representatives of the Guard and Wardens, hereditary members from important families, one judge from each court circuit, and ministers of various Hoard city offices—and are signed by the Marshal of the Exchequer (or become law without the Marshal’s signature if 2/3 of the Council of Stakeholders agree to do so after 90 days… which almost never happens).

The Marshal of the Exchequer acts as the chief executive of Hoard, oversees legal cases against any member of the Council of Stakeholders or judge within Hoard, and is in charge of the budget of the entire region. Since taxes are surprisingly low in Hoard, and city services are quite high, there’s a persistent rumor that the Marshal of the Exchequer pays for things directly out of some vast supply of wealth Brarguren has accumulated. While every Marshal of the Exchequer has always denied this is the case, and the city has had budget troubles many times over its three centuries of existence, the rumor remains common.

As for where such a vast pile of treasure might be kept… no one knows for certain. Brarguren dives into and flies out of the ocean harbor on most of the rare occasions she makes an appearance in the city itself, but no one has ever found any sign of an aquatic lair. The city center includes a massive, round, fortified building known as The Vault when used as a landmark, but it has no known entrance and its purpose is secret. The mountains that border the valley Hoard sits at one end of have numerous caves, but none have ever shown size of draconic habitation. Everyone agrees Brarguren must have at least one secret lair, but no one can agree on where it is, what it’s like, or how much treasure is piled up in it.

But it is known what treasure has gone into it, at least on some occasions. Brarguren does not directly defend Hoard or its lands, unless a threat arises so great only an old dragon could oppose it (such as the arrival of the Archtitan Oceator, more than two centuries ago), or when the Guard and Wardens have already suffered major losses and are clearly being overwhelmed (such as during the Wightblade Plague nearly a century ago). When she does become directly involved, however, she takes everything of value possessed by any foe she defeats—from Oceator’s Trident of the Wave-Gods to the ghost swords left over from the Plague. Hoard is safe from nearly any direct threat, but does not receive the spoils of war from foes it’s draconic owner finishes.

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“Far Alamo”: A Really Wild West-esque Video

This video is exactly the sort of thing I’d want to see in a Really Wild West campaign! My complements to the creator! (And to the people who created the thigns that inspired the video!)

And the amazing “Dinosaurs of the Wild West” are ALSO perfect for this setting hack!

Mare’s Leg for Really Wild West (in Starfinder)

A Mare’s Leg is a lever-action rifle cut down so it can be carried in a (large) custom holster and held and fired with one hand.

For purpose of Really Wild West (a weird western setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game), any longarm can be cut down to be a Mare’s Leg, with an hour’s work and a successful Engineering check (DC 10 +1.5x the item level of the longarm). This causes it to become a small arm. You can also buy a Mare’s Leg version of a rifle anywhere you could buy a longarm 2 levels higher than the item level of the desired Mare’s Leg (though you may have to wait a day as one is custom built), at a cost of 120% of the longarm base price.

Base damage does not change, but Weapon Specialization applies as a small arm. A Mare’s Leg’ range increment is cut in half, attacks and any skill check to use trick attack with it suffer a -2 penalty, and any other penalty that applies to attack rolls with it also apply to trick attack skill checks. It has a Strength minimum equal to 10 + ½ its item level, and for every point of Strength you are below this minimum you take a -1 penalty to attack rolls (if you use a Mare’s Leg in two hands you increase your effective Strength by 5 for meeting this minimum).

Design Note: A Mare’s Leg is not an ideal weapon choice for many characters. It’s not a strict damage upgrade for characters most likely to be able to overcome the attack penalty and Strength minimum, and places penalties on the main use of character who can use it as a strict upgrade (operatives). It’d be very useful for some specific character builds, such as a high Strength envoy, drone mechanic, mystic, or technomancer… all of whom don’t have a lot of synergy from having a high Strength.

All of this is intentional. The Mare’s Leg is not a common item (it likely never existed in the real Old West), but it’s cool looking and iconic. It’s an interesting piece of gear to carry as a high-power back-up, or to add a tweak to otherwise quirky character designs, and that’s what it’s designed for.

Also, Really Wild West only goes through 10th level, so if you use these rules in a typical Starfinder game, it may have unexpected consequences when entering higher-level campaigns.

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High Noon Showdown Rules for Really Wild West

Two characters stand facing one another, guns holstered, eyes squinting, hands twitching.

In a moment, one will likely be dead.

A moment of drama common to any Western setting, so the Really Wild West setting hack should support it. But how, using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game rules, where one shot is rarely lethal?

HIGH NOON SHOWDOWN

The High Noon Showdown rules apply whenever two sides agree to a shootout, whether that’s standing in the street waiting for each other to flinch, or a formal timing quickdraw content. A Showdown may apply to just two characters, or to two opposing groups, Tombstone-style.

The Showdown has a number of Prequel Round, which represent the time squinting and staring each other down. In each Prequel round, a character involved in the Showdown can take one action. If any character takes an action not on this list, or a character outside the Showdown interacts with the characters in the Showdown in any way, the Prequel rounds end and the showdown goes straight to resolution.

Prequel Rounds

Prequel actions are taken once per prequel round, in any order. Each player and the GM notes what action each character plans to take, then those actions are all revealed and resolved.

The Prequel action options are as follows:

Demoralize: You can use the Intimidate skill to demoralize a foe involved in the Showdown using the normal skill rules, though no talking is required. Once a foe is demoralized, the shaken condition lasts for all Prequel Rounds. If the Intimidate check is good enough for the condition to normally last more than one round, any extra rounds are applied after the Showdown resolution.

Fake Out: You can make a Bluff check to feint a foe, or any skill check needed for a trick attack. If you succeed, the target will be flat-footed and/or subject to your trick attack for the attack that is made at the Showdown resolution, but not for targeting dice earned through targeting.

Stand Confident: If you have extraordinary abilities that apply bonuses to your allies or penalties to your foes that don’t require you to move or attack (most common with envoy characters), you can use one of these. Like demoralizing, one round of duration lasts through all the Prequel rounds, with any remaining duration kicking in after the Showdown resolution.

Targeting: You can target one foe involved in the Showdown. This is an attack roll, but you don’t roll it yet. You just note you have a targeting die on a foe. You can build up as many targeting dice as you wish on foes, but they don’t take effect until the Showdown resolution and, of course, your foes can be building targeting dice on you at the same time.

End Showdown: You can end the Showdown. Everyone gets to finish their Prequel actions for this Prequel Round, then you move to resolution.

Resolution

At the resolution of the showdown, everyone draws their weapon and shoots (or takes some other action that requires no more than 1 standard action, such as casting a spell). All involved characters make Initiative checks. Characters with Quick Draw gain a +10 bonus to this check. If a character is adjacent to a foe, or willing to take the modifiers for a charge, a melee attack can be made instead, but this places a -10 penalty on that character’s initiative check.

The character with the highest initiative goes first and then resolution actions are taken in descending initiative order as normal. However, anyone killed or incapacitated by a resolution action still gets to take their resolution action if their initiative is within 5 of the action that killed or incapacitated them. (The actions are so close to simultaneous the bullets cross mid-air).

When you attack a foe as your resolution action, you make a single attack roll. If that attack hits, you also roll all your targeting dice, using the same attack modifier. For each targeting die that scores a hit, you do an additional 1d10 damage of the same type (1d6 damage if using an area affect or multiple-target attack). Any targeting dice you have against other targets are lost.

Normal Combat

After the resolution of the Showdown, any surviving characters enter normal combat. The first round of the combat is a surprise round, with characters that make a Perception check equal to the highest initiative result of the resolution round able to take one action. The exception to this is any character that took the end showdown action in the final Prequel Round. These characters automatically get a full round of action in the first combat round after the Showdown.

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Starfinder Monster Design and Really Wild West Bestiary—Rattle-Cat

We already looked at some general guidelines for building monsters for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with the Grizzly Boar, an entry for the eventual bestiary for the Really Wild West setting hack which uses the combatant array for monster creation. Now, we’re going to look at building a monster using the expert array.

The Rattle-Cat

RWW-Rattlecat-color-01

A Rattle-Cat is a predator and scavenger unique to North America, though it’s range on the continent is much broader than the snake it shares some characteristics with (likely due to it’s fur coat and warm-blooded nature). Rattle-Cats are ambush predators, depending on speed, stealth, and a mastery of terrain to get near their prey, before dashing out to bite and poison potential prey or threats. They also use their menacing rattle to intimidate any creature that poses a potential threat, a warning much of North American wildlife knows well enough to heed, and to drive away competition from potential scavenged kills, such as dead herd animals and carrion.

Rattle-Cats often travel alone as wandering creatures, but also sometimes form territorial packs (known as a “dirge of rattle-cats”) of up to 12-16 members, ruled over by the eldest female in the pack. They lay eggs which hatch big-pawed cubs with stubby tails, who can already move about and inject venom within an hour of hatching. A rattle-cat can be trained with some success if raised from hatching, making the eggs valuable in certain markets.

Building and Defining an Expert

The actual rules for building and defining a monster using the expert array are the same as those for any other creature, but the nature of the expert array means the emphasis needs to be different. An expert has a lower attack roll and does less damage per attack than a combatant, and has a slightly lower KAC and about 10% fewer hit points. In exchange, it gets a higher ability DC, base spell DC, and more master skills.

That means when deciding if a creature should use the combatant or expert array, the GM needs to ask “is the core conceit of this creature one that leans heavily on skills or abilities with save DCs?” (You use the spellcaster array if you creature is primarily a spellcaster—that’s pretty straightforward. Anything that is a straightforward fighting monster should be a combatant. But if some creature’s concept is built on special effects or opposed skill checks, it works better as an expert. It’s not able to deal or soak quite as much damage in a stand-up fight, but it is more likely to have the skills needed to be a noncombat threat to PCs, and it’s abilities are harder to resist.

So when building our template graft, we should have a fairly heavy focus on things that work well with complementary skills, and/or that have a save DC of some kind. Once we know the core abilities for the creature, it’s still possible to easily create a graft we can apply to the right array and type and/or subtype grafts to produce a version of the monster at any CR. Using the same format as we did for the Grizzly Boar template graft, here’s the graft for the Rattle-Cat.

Rattle-Cat TEMPLATE GRAFT
Required Array: Expert
Required Type: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Small (CR 1/3-CR 1/2), Medium (CR 2-CR 11), or Large (CR 12+)
Speed: 30 feet (Small), 50 feet (Large) or 60 feet (Huge)
Ability Score Modifiers: Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom
Special Abilities: 1-Poison bite (see Rattler Poison). 2-Rattle (see Rattle special ability). 3-Evasion. 4-Cloaking field (as the operative exploit). Bonus- Spring Attack (as the feat).
Skills: Master– Acrobatics, Intimidate, Stealth; Good-Athletics, Survival
Attacks: Melee (bite, with poison; critical: injection +2), no ranged.

Rattle (Ex): The tip of a rattle-cat’s tail makes a disturbing, rhythmic noise that most creatures other than rattle-cats and rattle-snakes find disconcerting. As part of a move action, a rattle-cat can rattle its tail to make an Intimidate check to demoralize all foes within 60 feet. Once a creature has been demoralized by this function of a Rattle-Cat’s rattle ability, it cannot be affected again for 24 hours. A Rattle-Cat can also make an Intimidate check to demoralize any creature that can hear it as a standard action.

Rattler Poison

Type poison (injury); Save Fortitude (DC set by array and CR)
Track Constitution; Frequency: 1/hour for 12 hours
Special: Multiple bites cannot move target down the Constitution track more than once per hour.
Cure: 2 consecutive saves

So, you can see that one major element of the rattle-cat is its poison, which it applies with every bite. Given how the poison rules in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game this could be extremely deadly very quickly, but the special restriction means that after the first bite you are just taking damage until the 2nd or subsequent hour. If untreated, the 12 hour duration makes you likely to die without treatment… which is exactly what we’re looking for in a poisoned Really Wild West creature, to help drive storylines. The poison is both a combat enhancer, and an after-combat driver of story and plot.

The Rattle ability is built off Intimidate skill rules, which works well with our Expert build. However, the Rattle-Cat is also well positioned to be a mobile ambush threat, with high Acrobatics and Stealth values as well. A combatant would have trouble being a major threat with Acrobatics and Intimidate and Stealth, all of which can call for checks with DCs based on the competence or skill of the foe. With evasion and the cloaking field, higher CR Rattle-Cats are even tougher to flush out, and the bonus Spring Attack feat (given for the same reason we gave the Grizzle-Boar a bonus ability) and high speed allows them to make hit-and-run attacks from cover in the wild.

A Rattle-Cat written up as a combatant would be more dangerous in a stand-up fight, but less able to use the tactics and abilities that make it interesting.

Here we bring the whole thing together for a CR 3 Rattle-Cat.

RATTLEE-CAT          CR 3          [EXPERT]
XP 800
N Medium Animal
Init +2 Senses low-light vision; Perception +8
DEFENSE     HP 35
EAC 14; KAC 15
Fort +4; Ref +4; Will +6
OFFENSE
Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d4+7 P plus rattler poison)
Offensive Abilities rattle
STATISTICS
Str +4; Dex +2; Con +0; Int -4; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +13, Athletics +8, Intimidate +13, Stealth +13, Survival +8
Languages none

Rattle (Ex): The tip of a rattle-cat’s tail makes a disturbing, rhythmic noise that most creatures other than rattle-cats and rattle-snakes find disconcerting. As part of a move action, a rattle-cat can rattle its tail to make an Intimidate check to demoralize all foes within 60 feet. Once a creature has been demoralized by this function of a Rattle-Cat’s rattle ability, it cannot be affected again for 24 hours. A Rattle-Cat can also make an Intimidate check to demoralize any creature that can hear it as a standard action.

Rattler Poison
Type poison (injury); Save Fortitude (DC 14)
Track Constitution; Frequency: 1/hour for 12 hours
Special: Multiple bites cannot move target down the Constitution track more than once per hour.
Cure: 2 consecutive saves

So that brings us through two of the three arrays, while helping to build a set of unique threats for the Really Wild West (though these monsters can be used in any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign). We still need to discuss the Spellcaster array, and maybe take a look at class grafts, in upcoming articles!

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Starfinder Roleplaying Game Monster Design Notes–Really Wild West Bestiary: Grizzly Boar

One of the great things about the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is that designing new monsters and NPCs is fast an easy. Most of the math is taken care of for you, allowing GMs to focus on cool ideas to make threats interesting, instead of having to bend over backwards making sure their core game stats are appropriate for threats of a given level.

That also gives people creating new settings for the game, like my Really Wild West setting hack, opportunities to present creatures in a new way. Rather than just offer a monster, it’s possible to write template grafts in such a way that a GM can adapt a few simple monster rules to create a version of a monster for any CR. A GM need not try to shoehorn the perfect creature concept into an encounter of an inappropriate level. Instead the monster concept can be presented in such a way that the GM can quickly and easily use it at any CR.

I’m going to provide some examples on how to do that, while at the same time talking a bit abut what makes good monsters, walking GMs through the monster creation process, and presenting some brand-new monsters perfect for the Really Wild West (but usable to fill the wildernesses of any Starfinder Roleplaying Game world’s wilderness).

We’ll start with the Grizzly Boar

Grizzly Boar

GRIZZLY BOAR

A Grizzly Boar is a monstrous alpha predator roaming the deep woods and mountains of North America, with a range that is densest along the southeastern coast of the US, the eastern US/Mexico border, and on the whole west coast of North America. With a tusked, porcine head, massive furred body and huge claws, grizzly boars are territorial omnivores that do not fear humans and that will challenge wyverns, wolf packs, and even dragons of their size. When wounded, a grizzly boar will stalk whatever it perceives as a threat for hundreds of miles, until it becomes enraged enough to move in for a kill. Their coloration runs from dark brown in temperate zones to white in the far north, and similar, smaller species of tusk-bears can be found in northern and eastern Europe.

Building and Defining a Monster

Every Starfinder monster is built on one of three arrays presented in Starfinder Alien Archive—combatant, expert, or spellcaster. These arrays give the base values for a creature based on CR, ensuring they are an appropriate typical challenge for an average 4-person group of PCs of that level. In most cases the first decision a GM needs to make is what array to use for a given creature. Since the grizzly boar is described as a dangerous predator, but not listed as having any noteworthy magic abilities, it’s best represented with the combatant array. The template graft for the monster thus lists the combatant array as “required,” so a GM knows that grizzly boars are always build as combat-focused creatures.

After determining the array, a GM needs to know a creature’s type, since this impacts adjustments to the stats of the array and determined what keyword abilities affect the creature. A grizzly boar could be a magical beast, but again given that it seems to basically be a hybrid of boars and big bears, just making it an animal seems more appropriate. Again this is noted in the template graft. That means that when building a grizzly boar, the GM knows it gets all the things listed with the animal creature type graft presented in in Starfinder Alien Archive—low-light vision, Int modifier of -4 or -5, and a +2 increase to Fort and Ref saving throws.

While the combatant array will tell the GM what the grizzly boars top 3 ability score modifiers are for any given CR, those could be put anywhere. Since grizzly boars are strong, tough, and cunning, those modifiers should be put into Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom (in order from highest to lowest). That information also goes into the template graft. A GM can generally leave all the other ability score modifiers at +0, though if at higher CRs a +1 or +2 is desired for one of the remaining ability scores, that’s fine too.

All combatants gain between one and four special abilities, depending on their CR. These are the things that set a monster apart from other creatures of the same CR and type, and are the abilities that PCs are most likely to remember after facing a given monster. To make the grizzly boar template graft work for a grizzly boar of any CR, four special abilities are listed in order of priority, 1-4. If making a CR 1/3, ½, or 1 grizzly boar, it gains only the first listed ability (brute), while a CR 2-CR 11 grizzle boar also gains the second listed ability (gore). Additionally, since all of those options are passive and the grizzly boar is supposed to be among the tougher threats a group might face at its CR, and it has no ranged attacks, a single bonus special ability is listed (ferocity, a universal creature rules from Starfinder Alien Archive), which all grizzle boars receive regardless of CR.

Finally, all monsters built on the combatant array gain one master skill and two good skills, which are listed in the array. Creatures are assumed to gain Perception as a good skill, so it isn’t listed. For consistency sake, a few other notes are given, including the size of a grizzly boar based on it’s CR. These don’t have much impact on its stat block (though it does impact space and reach), but it helps a GM know that lower-CR grizzly boars are young cubs, runts, or from smaller species.

So, the final template graft looks like this:

GRIZZLY BOAR TEMPLATE GRAFT
Required Array: Combatant
Required Type: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Small (CR 1/3-CR 1), Medium (CR 2-CR 4), Large (CR 5-CR 11), or Huge (CR 12+)
Speed: 30 feet (Small and Medium), 40 feet (Large and Huge)
Ability Score Modifiers: Strength, Constitution, Wisdom
Special Abilities: 1-Brute (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). 2-Gore (as the nuar racial trait). 3-Grab (claw). 4-Extra hit points (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). Bonus-Ferocity.
Skills: Master– Athletics; Good-Intimidate, Survival
Attacks: Melee (tusk or claw), no ranged.

To make this monster, a GM just takes the combatant array for the desired CR of the end monster, adjusts the numbers as noted for the animal type, and enters those values in a stat block as directed by the template graft. If an ability just changes numbers (such as brute and extra hit points), the GM makes those changes, but doesn’t need to list those abilities in the state block (since, once the changes are made, the GM doesn’t need to be reminded of those abilities during combat, unlike something like gore, which impacts choices the GM makes). Here’s what a CR 6 Grizzly Boar looks like, for example.

GRIZZLY BOAR          CR 6          [COMBATANT]
XP 2,400 each
N Large Animal
Init +0 Senses low-light vision; Perception +13
DEFENSE     HP 90
EAC 18; KAC 20
Fort +10; Ref +10; Will +5
Defensive Abilities ferocity
OFFENSE
Speed 40 ft.
Melee tusk or claw +13 (3d4+13 P or S)
Space 10 feet; Reach 10 feet
Offensive Abilities gore
STATISTICS
Str +5; Dex +0; Con +3; Int -4; Wis +2; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +18, Intimidate +13, Survival +13
Languages none
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Ferocity (Ex) When a grizzly boar is brought to 0 Hit Points, it can fight on for 1 more round. It can act normally until the end of its next turn; if it has 0 HP at that point, it dies. If it would lose further Hit Points before this, it ceases to be able to act and dies.
Gore (Ex) A grizzly boar can charge without taking the normal charge penalties to the attack roll or its AC.

If the GM needs a group of 4 smaller, lower-level grizzly boars, it’s the work of 2-3 minutes to write up a new stat block to represent a pack of cubs or a herd of wild tusk-bears. If the GM wants to truly challenge a group of 6th level PCs with a massive grizzly boar threat, writing up a CR 9 version is just as fast and easy. Rather than just a single monster at a single CR, the grizzly boar template graft makes this creature a threat usable at any level.

In the coming weeks, we’ll present at least a couple more examples for creatures using the Expert and Spellcaster arrays, while filling out the Really Wild West Bestiary entries.

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Really Wild West Bestiary: Gulchers

Of course you can use any creatures from the Starfinder Alien Archive as threats in a Really Wild West campaign, but in most cases you’ll want to reflavor them to something more appropriate for it’s 1891 aesthetic and technology level.

It’s useful to dream up brand-new threats as well of course, to get foes hat are unique to the dangerous world of pulp theosophy and super-science that is Really Wild West. Here is a very RWW-themed undead, which may be encountered alone or in mass numbers as dictated by the plot. If you want to make different of higher-CR gulchers, just take any undead and replace one of its offensive powers with bad off, add false life, lower its EAC by 2 and raise its KAC by 1.

GULCHER (CR 1)
XP
400
NE Medium undead
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +5
DEFENSE
HP
24
EAC 9; KAC 14
Fort +3; Ref +3; Will +3; DR 3/magic; Immunities undead immunities
OFFENSE
Speed
30 ft.
Melee pitchfork (or other tool) +8 (1d6+5 P; critical: bad off) or
Ranged revolver +6 (1d6+1 P)
Special Attacks bad off (DC 11)
STATISTICS
Str
+4; Dex +2; Con —; Int +0; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +10
Other Abilities unliving
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Bad Off (Su)
A gulcher is imbued with the bad times that lead to its sorry state, and can sometimes inflict its bad luck and sad-sack existence on those it hurts. Any attack from a glucher that scores a critical hit causes the target to feel down and out, gaining the sickened condition for 24 hours, or until the target receives a morale bonus (to anything) or is the recipient of a Diplomacy check to improve their attitude.
A gulcher can also attempt to inflict its bad off ability on a creature as a standard action, creaming in contagious misery. Used this way the ability is sense-dependent and the target can negate it with a successful DC 11 Will save.
A DC 11 Mysticism check can identity the nature of a creature being bad off, and reveal the circumstances that negate this effect. Bad off is a curse effect.

False Life (Ex)
A gulcher that doesn’t realize its own true nature is not affected by spells or abilities that only target undead.
ECOLOGY
Environment
any
Organization solitary, pair, posse (3–12), or settlement (13+)

Gulchers are undead that appear to be gaunt, dirty, badly-tended humans, often dressed in patched and worn prairie clothing, though they can also have the appearance of drovers, gunfolk, miners, merchants, gunfolk, and native people can also become gulchers. Most have sallow skin, yellowed, crooked teeth, stringy hair, and sullen or bloodshot eyes. A few appear jaundiced.

Gulchers are most often normal people who went through a time of despair, tribulation, hunger, and pestilence, and died. But they didn’t notice. Things had been so bad, for so long, that dying would be a relief, and gulchers just don’t expect anything to get better.

As long as a gulcher is unaware it has become an undead, it goes about the dreary and colorless motions of living a life. It eats, if food is available, lies in bed and doesn’t realize it never sleeps, sucks down duststorms and doesn’t realize it should choke. In this state, the gulcher isn’t affected by powers that only effect undead, but it also isn’t immune to fear and emotion effects, and takes the penalties for being shaken at all times (though this is more a dreary lack of verve than true fear).

All this changes if the gulcher is made aware of its state. The easiest way to do this is to deal piercing or slashing damage to it – gulchers have thick, black blood and realize the horrible truth of their state if they see their own tarlike vitae. Evidence of their lifeless existence, lack of food, lack of sleep, and so on, can also be used to convince a gulcher it is no longer living with a DC 15 Diplomacy check. Once it knows that even the peace of the grave is denied it, a gulcher is slowly consumed with a desire to make everyone and everything as pained and hopeless as its own existence.

It’s not unknown for entire towns to become gulchers, often during thunderdusts, droughts, and locust plagues. Sometimes one or two take the gray journey, and their desire to cause misery slowly kill off everyone else in town. Othertimes a real bad situation takes out near everyone most all at once. And sometimes, a drakul, ghul, black spirit, or other bigtime black hat decided to take over a town as a base of operation, and intentionally nurses the despair that causes god-fearin’ folk to become the things other folk fear.

In very rare cases, gulchers perform a useful service, such as toiling at a mostly-played out mine that would be pointless for living creatures to port the food and water needed to operate, operating rickety barges on distant rivers with little traffic, or slowly clearing stones from areas that might, in a few decades, be worthwhile farmlands. Of course, these gulchers are also likely to be angered by the sight of anyone doing better than they, and may drown passengers, or dump scorpions into their sleeping blankets.

CODEWORLD CAMPAIGN SETTING: Part II

CODEWORLD is a campaign setting that borrows heavily from a number of popular cartoon, comic, and toy franchises where the heroes and villains all have fascinating codenames, like Black Adder, Magnum, Overkill, and Code Blue.

It could be used for a heck of a supers or super-agent game, or even the backdrop of nearly any modern, sci-fi, or science-fantasy game system. This is a world with four color action, but no masked superheroes to speak of. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, but lovingly so.

You can find the Rank One and Rank Two code groups here.

Rank Three Code Groups

Rank Three groups are even less impactful than Rank Two groups, often with much more limited membership or resources as well as a more tightly-defined area of concern, but within their wheelhouse are still more impactful than normal organizations. In some cases Rank Three groups are a single powerful individual, who simply lacks the support and scope to be a Rank Two group, but is more potent than any individual in most Rank Two code groups. Rank Three groups at least have the potential to grow into Rank Two Groups, and a Rank Three group can go toe-to-toe with a unit of a Rank One or Rank Two Code Group in the right venue.

CRONOS is a cult that believes the original deity, the progenitor of all god myths, can be awakened by creating enough death and misery. They are lead by PROFESSOR RAGNAROK, who is imbued with some kind of supernatural power, though it’s exact origin and limits are debatable. CRONOS works to create mass disasters and start wars, which often brings them into conflict with S.T.E.E.L. and occasionally VIGIL.

The CYBERPACK, lead by the heroic STEELWOLF, protects the lost continent of Urheimat, and seek to find and neutralize threats from the pre-Atlantean nations. Originally the CYBERPACK were an elite anti-terrorist team, who chased a MAMBA Snake Charmer into a huge storm in the Indian Ocean, and  crashed into Urheimat during a rare conjunction that exposed one of the entranced to the submerged continent. While STEELWOLF and her people were badly damaged, they were found by the ancient ZARSEN, ancient robots set by the residents of Urbeimat to protect it after they left it. But the ZARSEN did not know human physiology and mistook the anti-terrorist unit’s wolf-mascot on their patches and canine-based codenames as a sigh they were partially canine. Thus when rebuilding them as cyborgs, the ZARSEN gave the CYBERPACK wolf-based abilities and partially canine appearances. The CYBERPACK has access to the ancient Urheimat ley-gates, allowing them to quickly move to any continent, but only at one of a few dozen locations.

DOCTOR LICHGATE, is a human who bonded with a FEL GHUL spirit, who is generally a frail older male but can for a temporary period transform himself into a powerful, monstrous skull-faced, green-skinned form. The doctor is seeking the Twelve Crystal Menhirs that the pre-Atlantean nations used to control every aspect of the world’s weather, tides, and day/night cycle, causing him to always be searching for entrances to the three LOST CONTINENTS, Meropis, Rutas, and Urheimat. He is aided in this by the MADNORMALS, mutant humans with a few animalistic-appearing traits who (when exposed to the LICHGAS created by the doctor) can assume much more powerful, twisted, bestial forms.

DOCTOR LICHGATE controls a single Crystal Menhir, the ONYX SPIRE, which allows him to travel back and forth between the normal world and the CAIRNWORLD, a version of the Earth where nearly everything has died. As only the doctor controls access to the CAIRNWORLD, it serves as a nearly impregnable base for him to operate from, and while he can only travel between worlds at places with strong ties to death, it also allows him to travel easily and secretly worldwide.

HACK, INC is a distributed cyber-mobster syndicate that performs computer-based crime-for-hire. The most members of HACK, INC have codenames they use online, and avoid ever meeting anyone in person, though the most elite members often have Hat Racks, where numerous hackers are brought together to work as a collective (often without being made aware they are hacking for HACK, INC.) Only a few agents are aware that HACK, INC is ultimately the tool of AUTOMALA, a self-aware program that seeks to ensure its own existence by spreading itself into every computer-controlled device on Earth… very much including the POLYMECHS, CALIBURN, and the systems in use by MAMBA and S.T.E.E.L.

VIGIL is an international NGO disaster search and rescue team. They operate out of the SAFEHOUSE, an enormous dirigible mobile base that carries a number of VIGILANCE VEHICLES, or VVs, including VIGILANCE 1 (a supersonic jet plane and communications center), VIGILANCE 2 (a high-speed, heaving-lift aerostat roughly half the size of the SAFEHOUSE, and able to carry any 2 other VVs), VIGILANCE 3 (a reusable orbital rocket), VIGILANCE 4 (a rescue sub capable of being dropped into the ocean from the SAFEHOUSE, or VV 1 or 2), and VIGILANCE 5 (a high-speed digging machine). The SAFEHOUSE, and VV 1, 2, and 4 also have support centers for EXO-SHELLS, modular suits of powered armor designed for operations in extremely dangerous conditions (though many of their rescue gear options can also be used in a combat capacity, and they possesses modular less-lethal munitions for use when needing to potentially incapacitate hostiles when performing rescue operations in a war zone). EXO-DRONES launched from a support center can fly new EXO-SHELL modules into the field fairly quickly.

WICKED WENDY is a powerful necropath, who also appears to be some kind of psychic vampire. She is the only creature who can travel between the normal world and CARINWORLD under her own power. She and DOCTOR LICHGATE dislike each other, but see no benefit in fighting one another, given CAIRNWORLD is a whole planet. WICKED WENDY carried a tattered teddy-bear, MISTER CHUCKLES, which is inhabited by a demonic spirit (and thus is self-mobile, and can fight with eldritch knives, claws, and fangs) that urges her to create chaos and misery, but is also entirely loyal to her and wants to make her happy.  WICKED WENDY is in love with the OMEN KING, an ancient god that might also be progenitor god worshiped by CRONOS, or the FEL TYRANT of the FEL GHULS… or might not. The OMEN KING sends her omens through raven messengers, but seems to be limited in what he can do. WENDY plans to awaken/free the OMEN KING, and doesn’t care what cost must be paid by anyone for that to happen.

PATREON
Patreon is the codename for the way you can support me, so I can make more geeky stuff!

CODEWORLD Campaign Setting

CODEWORLD is a campaign setting that borrows heavily from a number of popular cartoon, comic, and toy franchises where the heroes and villains all have fascinating codenames, like Black Adder, Magnum, Overkill, and Code Blue.

It could be used for a heck of a supers or super-agent game, or even the backdrop of nearly any modern, sci-fi, or science-fantasy game system.

This is a world with four color action, but no masked superheroes to speak of. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, but lovingly so.

CODEWORLD

Rank One Code Groups
These are the largest, and best-known code groups. They are among the most important forces on Earth.

POLYMECHS are sentient, sapient robots able to take on multiple forms–normally one that is roughly humanoid and one that closely resembles a vehicle. They are divided into the GUARDROIDS (which include Morality Circuits that cause them to struggle to act in ethical ways and protect weaker entities), the dangerous WAR MACHINES (which are locked into carrying out ancient military operations despite their original foes having long-since been exterminated), and the COMPUTECHS (which are free-willed but lack anything recognizable as ethics, and function on pure pragmatism).
The three groups all originated in different extra-terrestrial societies, with the WAR MACHINES the oldest (having destroyed all the biological entities that created them), the COMPUTECHS nearly as old (having survived as probes and exploration surveyors for a culture that died out long ago when their system was consumed by a red giant star), and the GUARDROIDS only a few centuries old (having evolved from assistance-AIs created by a race that suffered a slow decline as devolution caused them to be less and less viable, even as younger civilizations attacked them, including the WAR MACHINES).
All three POLYMECH groups were ravaged by a 3-way internecine war that left their numbers radically reduced and their resources depleted. The WAR MACHINES seek out new worlds (such as Earth) and seed them with enough of their kind to conquer it and turn it into a support planet for their endless conflicts. The GUARDROIDS attempt to send a unit to stop such efforts and preserve as much of the invaded world’s culture as possible, and the COMPUTECHS think it’s a bad idea not to keep an eye on any world where the other two POLYMECH forces are fighting.
Because their advanced technology is well beyond Earth’s tech base, and support is far way, all three factions prefer to remain camouflaged as much as possible on Earth, revealing themselves and their true battle forms only when absolutely necessary to achieve a major goal.

S.T.E.E.L. is the Special Taskforce on Espionage and Enforcement of Law. It is an international force, operating alongside but separately from the U.N., which draws its members from the elite forces of most of the Earth’s nations. S.T.E.E.L. operates only against threats deemed by all its supporting nations to be a serious risk to the collected nations of Earth, which generally includes international terrorist cells (most often MAMBA) unaffiliated with any member-nation, extraterrestrial threats (including WAR MACHINES in specific, and POLYMECHS in general), and lone madmen and apocalypse cults. S.T.E.E.L. has its own chain of command, its own (small) fleet of military air, water, and land vehicles (including a single submersible aircraft carrier, the U.N.S. Ironside), and an extraterritorial prison for extraordinary prisoners (Codename: Limbo).

PROJECT HELM is a semi-independent division of S.T.E.E.L. that uses vehicles enhanced with retrofit POLYMECH technology, which was confiscated by S.T.E.E.L. after several early clashes with the WAR MACHINES, and partially reverse-engineered in conjunction with a COMPUTECH who felt giving humans more advanced technology was the only way to maintain a balance of power on Earth.
Since the POLYMECH tech used by PROJECT HELM is retrofit, and its neural inputs are still too advanced for any mechanical or computer input device to control, PROJECT HELM operatives use helmets with neural relays to allow pilots to  learn how to control specific “Great Helm” vehicles that have various POLYMECH tech in them (some of which are capable of partial transformations, such as from car to boat, or motorcycle to powered armor).

MAMBA is a ruthless terrorist organization, built by a coalition of billionaire oligarchs who seek the means to anonymously impact international politics, and manned with the spies and operatives of failed states, renegades of nations with recent revolutions, zealots who challenge the status quo at any cost, and angry repressed people willing to allow the ends to justify the means. While no nation on Earth publicly supports Mamba, enough powerful people with vast resources support it to give it a huge (if decentralized) military branch and incredibly effective cybercrime, covert operations, and assassination branches.
MAMBA generally seeks to gain power at any cost, and has had infrequent but not unproductive collaborations with the WAR MACHINES. The most far-reaching of these was a project where the WAR MACHINES aided MAMBA scientists in building incredibly advanced mecha known as the FOE-BOTS, which were used to artificially boost the apparent size of the WAR MACHINE presence on Earth in an effort to convince the nations of the world to capitulate. However the FOE-BOTS are cheap knock-offs of true POLYMECHS, able to change form from battle mode to some camouflage state, but not functioning beyond the most basic level in that camouflaged mode, and requiring human pilots to operate. While that plan failed, the FOE-BOTS division of MAMBA remains one of its strongest units, and are the most common antagonists of PROJECT HELM.

Rank Two Code Groups
Rank Two groups are either significantly less numerous than rank one groups, or less powerful, or a combination of both, but they still play important roles in world events even if they aren’t as well known.

CALIBURN is a solo hero who appears to be the last of the STAR KNIGHTS (who place their life essence in soul rings so their android knight bodies can fight eternally against the vile FEL GHULS, a semi-unliving race of space sorcerers and shapeshifter). However, he has done his best to equip a small group of young people who have a natural talent to see FEL GHULS true nature even when they are shapeshifted, creating the STAR SQUIRES, who have spirit disks that boost their natural psychic abilities in random ways when triggered, giving them a new set of powers (and codenames and costumes) whenever they are used, but which can only function for one hour out of every 24.

The FEL GHULS wish to create the Negalife Ritual, which will kill all life on the Earth and raise their FEL TYRANT, an elder god that sleeps beneath the Pacific Ocean.

KAIJU are giant monsters created by the FEL GHULS to subjugate the world. Opposed by the RONIN FORCE of giant robots that represent the only joint effort between the GUARDROIDS, CALIBURN, and S.T.E.E.L. Because the KAIJU threat is unpredictable and requires massive firepower to oppose, and are most often fought in international waters, the RONIN FORCE is largely left to handle such matters with little outside interference. While most of RONIN FORCE are giant mecha with multiple human pilots there are two exceptions, LASER LEOPARD, a giant robot controlled by a transplanted STAR KNIGHT soul-ring with no memory of its previous life, and ROCKET OMEGA, the enormous POLYMECH transforming ship that brought the COMPUTECHS to Earth, but has sense decided the FEL GHULS desire to wake their FEL TYRANT is the greatest threat in the galaxy.

PATREON
Patreon is the codename for the way you can support me, so I can make more geeky stuff!

 

Starfaring Species in Really Wild West (part 3 and finale)

This is the third and final part of a series of articles looking at how to contextualize the starfaring species of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game into the world of the Really Wild West, a setting hack that uses the science-fantasy rpg for a campaign with magic, monsters, and weird science in an alternate Earth in 1891.

When looking at the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species for things I can use to tie them to a fantasy-science-fiction-pulp version of the real world, sometimes I have gone with cultural or game ability elements… and sometimes I have leaned on fantasy versions of biology, as is the case with shirren, vesk, and ysoki.

RealWildWest-Races-color-01

Shirren

Shirren are big bugs, which means they should have evolved someplace that supports larger arthropods. The largest land-dwelling arthropod currently in existence on Earth is the coconut crab, which is found on islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Assuming they originated in the same regions in the timeline of the Really Wild West, shirren would have built their own island cultures (perhaps in conjunction with other species, perhaps not), and spread in Ancient times as trade blossomed throughout the Indian Ocean. This takes our ancient shirren to China, Egypt, India, Java, Somalia, and southeastern Europe. While they would have spread worldwide from there, I assume those regions along old trade routes going through the Indian Ocean still have the largest, most integrated populations of shirren. That gives me guidance on what cultures they might be drawn from, and what traditions they could have, without claiming something small-minded like “Arabs are shirren” (which erases real Arabs and eliminates numerous cultural advancements, historical figures, and real-world ethnicities from being part of RWW, and is also pretty structurally racist).

Vesk

Australia leads the world in reptile biodiversity, so that’s where I am having my vesk evolve. That has vesk populations being tightly concentrated in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding islands. I’m guessing I’ll need to add a frontier wars or “Lizardman War” (as the colonial powers call it) between the British Empire and various vesk groups at some point, and chances are the vesk lost. But by now, they’re at least partially integrated, and some will have travelled throughout the British Empire, despite suffering a fair amount of racism. While vesk likely have a lot of native culture that impacts their fashion, those that travel abroad are likely to adopt Western clothing sensibilities when in western nations, including the Really Wild West.

Note that this is a change from my original thoughts on vesk, which was to make them the product of Doctor Moreau’s anthropomorphization of animals. I can hold on to that idea for more minor species (as I add them), but it ended up feeling too limited for a “core” species, and had some connotations I wasn’t comfortable with.

Ysoki

In the real world, rodents are populous on every continent except Antarctica. They date to the Paleocene on the supercontinent of Laurasia, spread across landmasses, crossed oceans, and pretty well got everywhere (even Australia) on their own, without human intervention.

So as much as I am tying most starfaring species to specific region of the Really Wild West? Ysoki are everywhere.

And they got there first.

With cheek pouches as built-in bags (allowing them to carry goods—even water—long distances before the invention of sacks or gourd-bottles), bonuses to Stealth and Survival, and darkvision? Ysoki were the main competition with humanity for global domination. Much as there were Neanderthals and other cousins to homo sapiens sapiens who didn’t make it, there were multiple lines of ysoki through the ages, though none of this is well understood in the RWW year of 1891.

In general, every culture has a ysoki element to it. There are sure to be exceptions—Egyptian cat-worshipers may not have taken to ysoki citizens, some ysoki clans likely existed in regions without significant human presence.

But the core assumption in Really Wild West is that ysoki are everywhere from the most remote, paleolithic cultures, to the suit-wearing bankers of New York.

Speaking of context!

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