Category Archives: Microsetting

ShadowFinder Campaign Sketch

ShadowFinder is a concept for a Modern Urban Fantasy setting using heavily-modified Starfinder.

The idea behind ShadowFinder is that there used to be magic in our world, but it went away when the Gods of Old Egypt left to go a place Beyond. Then there was no magic to speak of, until a group of mystic champions arrived in Siberia during WWI to kill Rasputin, and accidentally left a few magic devices behind.

Now it’s the Modern era, and magic is common enough that most governments and many international organizations have at least one department that knows about it, and as needed deals with it. But the greatest protection a mundane creature can have is to believe magic does not exist, and so these in-the-know groups are literally protecting the world by keeping magic a secret. Further, just as vampires cannot be seen in mirror, they (and all magic effects and creatures) cannot clearly be recorded or sensed by any camera, film, or recording device, but are vulnerable to atomic weapons. So magic threats tend to try to stay out of sight, so they don’t force the whole world to grapple with their existence and potentially over-react with devastating power.

Both sides work to keep magic in the Shadows, and to find sources, allies, threats, and lost relics in those shadows to bolster their own side in a never-ending was keep just out of sight.

(Art by grandfailure)

Classes would be drawn from various sources. Soldiers and operative from the core rulebook, certainly, with little change. Likely mechanics, but with neither drones nor exo-cortexes as common options, replaced with some other variable class feature. No solarions or vanguards at all, but maybe sword saints. Warlocks and witches seem more appropriate than mystics or technomancers, though it’d be a shame to not have some kind of modern-device-focused spellcasters — again variant classes might do the trick. Biohackers are out, witchwarpers likely in. The precog is a definite maybe, depending on how it turns out.

Weapons would scale differently, with an equipment list that didn’t assume you got higher- and higher-level weapons, but instead use weapon damage benchmarks to scale up the damage a character does as they gain levels, allowing things like pistols, shotguns, and rifles to retain utility even at extremely high levels.

In a standard characters would at least initially be part of one of the groups that monitor, track, and if needed neutralize supernatural threats, and action would primarily take place in wilderness areas, abandoned towns, lonely highways, and defunct sewers, basements, and subway lines. As players got used to how the ShadowFinder world worked, some scenes might burst into the bright light of day, only to be misconstrued by the public (and maybe even misremembered by witnesses) as gas main explosions, terrorist attacks, or herds of feral hogs.

Plots could include locking down viral zombie outbreaks before they turn into zombie apocalypses, retrieving the book that got moved to a university’s accessible library that is bring people’s nightmares to life, undead serial killers that haunt campgrounds, tracking down wererat colonies that are feeding on the homeless, rescuing student filmmakers from nighthags in the woods, capturing souls that have escaped hell, slaying evil clown demons, and racing against time to beat cultists to the artifacts of power in the bottom of dungeons built in the ancient era to prevent them from falling into mortal hands. Along the way other weirdnesses might be encounters, such as cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, giant alligators in the sewers, giant cockroaches mimicking humans, and genetically engineered giant spiders.

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KOLONY – A Campaign Framework

“KOLONY” is a campaign framework for Starfinder, and any other rpg you care to adapt it to.

Matter, it turns out, simply cannot exceed the speed of light. However, a sufficiently advanced civilization can rotate artificial wormholes around one another in order to transmit data at vastly greater speeds. This being the case, with only data able to leap between stars in less than centuries, it might be thought that interstellar empires and hostile takeovers of alien worlds are impossible.

It might be thought… but it’s not true.

In 2047, the first transmissions from the Kastellan Collective were received from an artificial wormhole array in orbit of Mars. Though there was a delay averaging from 5 to 20 minutes for signals to move back and forth from the Martian Orbital Wormhole Array (MOWA) to Earth, there appeared to be essentially NO delay from MOWA to wherever the Kastellan Collective is. The Kastellanians claimed with was due to ftl communication, though numerous theories suggest that in truth some intelligence, real or artificial, is physically present at the MOWA.

It doesn’t really matter.

Though unable to physically affect Earth at all, the Kastellians immediately set about being power brokers and empire builders. They could focus MOWA transmissions so tightly that only one receiver on Earth would pick it up. They began making promises, cutting deals, and handing out schematics for advanced technology as their currency of choice. Strong AI. Antigravity. Cold fusion. Genetic engineering. Cloning. Quantum flux manipulation so amazing that to a casual observer, it is indistinguishable from magic.

Major corporations, world governments, and various individuals the Kastellians found useful suddenly had vast knowledge, science, and power. And as long as they did what the Kastellians wanted, they got more. The “Kaste System” quickly went into effect, with those willing to vote for politicians who promised to abolish local government and law in favor for the miracles of the Kastellan Collective getting the best of everything, while everyone else was a second-class citizen almost overnight.

A generation has passed. Upper Kaste humans claim they are still the ruling class, that the Earth is still a Human world for Human habitation.

But it’s a lie.

(Art by grandfailure)

Genetic modification has created dozens of substrains of humans, built to Kastellan specifications. Lashunata. Shirren. Vesk. Ysoki. Kasatha. Brethedans. Genetically still 95% or more human, but so clearly designed for something else. Many are Upper Kaste… but some show more loyalty to their ancestors than theowners of their breeding tubes.

The world is being molded to suite the Kastellians, who claim they’ll send just a few observers, via cryosleep, who will arrive in 5,000 years. Nothing to worry about…

But already Earth culture is being wiped out and replaced by the Kaste. Cemeteries are dug up and the remains and artifacts scanned, so data about them can be sent via MOWA to curious Kastellians… and are often scanned at a molecular level which destroys the original. As Kastellian language and ethics and art begins to dominate culture, old Earth languages and art is lost, and sometimes outlawed. The United Nations is a pale vestige of Human power. Even where they should be contrained by local law, those who call themselves Kaste look down on anyone who does not serve and swear allegiance to the Kastellian way of life. Robotic soldiers and overseers built to Kastellian specifications control more of the streets, and answer only to commands from MOWA.

Sure, the air has begun to smell acrid, but the water is safe. Yes, most of the world’s power is taken up running calculations on Kate computers designed and built for the Kastellians, which spit out answers to the MOWA without any Human ever even knowing what the question was. But that’s a small price to pay for progress, isn’t it? Who cares if we are slowly losing what it means to be human, since we have androids, regeneration machines, and 100,000 years of Kastellian art to catch up on.

And yes, of course, now other interstellar powers have begun to make inroads. The Mygus offer alternatives to Kastellian service… for those who swear obedience to the Mygus. The Chardalos are happy to give even greater scientific advances, in return for human minds to be digitized into pure data and send through their own Wormhole Array to power Chardalos machines. The Favirzon just want to encourage rebels to damage and slow Kastellian servants, especially upper Kaste.

It’s 2080. Alien collaborators control every major nation, and to one degree or another ever big city, major corporation, and even most churches. The idea of humanity, and every art, culture, philosophy, and language of terrestrial origin is at risk of being wiped out. And anyone who doesn’t bow to one or more interstellar information empire is seen as a second-class citizen at best, and a savage or even vermin at worse.

And you?

You realize there’s not much time left to save the Earth from being nothing more than an alien Kolony.

(Art by Melkor)

Resist. Preserve. Rebel.

Kolony is a game of conflict against an alien culture that has opted to consume and reshape Earth to match its own wants and desires. None of those aliens are physically present, but enough Terrans have chosen to become Kaste that they have the upper hand. No one is you enemy because of the species they were born into, or even the nation they hail from. Instead, you oppose members of the various Kaste because of the choices they have made, to prioritize gaining the wealth of alien tech and data at the cost of selling out everyone else on the planet. The Kaste all know that eventually there will be nothing left of humans but museum exhibits, but as long as that happens after their own long life spans, they don’t care.

You do.

As a Starfinder campaign, all magic is presented as quantum manipulation, a form of technology so advanced that even the Kaste who use it don’t understand it. Most regions have laws restricting such quantum tech to approved Kaste members – no one else can legally use any spell, spell-like ability, supernatural ability, or magic or hybrid item. Of course, as rebels, the players are likely to flaunt such rules, but must do so cautiously. Casting a spell while in disguise raiding a datacenter is one thing—it’s worth the risk to prevent people’s minds from being digitized so they can serve as virtual assistants in some distant system, or ancestral relics be put behind paywalls so only Kastellian virtual tours can see them. But in day-to-day life, such displays will bring visits from the automated Patent Police, or Kaste Commissars.

(Art by Kit8 D.O.O.)

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I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts, but especially longer and more experimental ones like this. If you’d like to see more game-bending rule options (or more fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 7, part 3)

Wrapping up the after-action report for Session Seven of the Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign. The Knight rangers have headed out in their converted Martian Excavationg Machine, now known as The Armadillo, to the Montana city of Hellgate as part of their quest to find and defeat Professor Barkane Adrameliche, who has become the darkling Lord, the Venom King.

But first, they want to check in on the family of the ogre ranch-hand and ally Bo Hoss, who live near Rexburg and stopped communicating with him months ago, though they only ever sent him messages once a season.

Notes adapted from the notes of my wife Lj, a player in the game, and told from her point of view.

>>Later on May 6th day we come to Rexburg.

The Knight Rangers decide to visit Bo Hoss’s family before going in to Rexburg. The ogre clan live in a small valley between Rexburg and Hibbard, in the vents of a mostly-dormant shield volcano.
·        There’s a Pony Express post at the edge of the valley, which looks abandoned. An investigation reveals an old smell of blood in the floor – a Kasatha was stabbed and bled to death right there – no blood drops leading out of the shack. It’s been at least 7-8 months since the pony has been here, and no foot prints nearby for months.
·        The post itself has a hobo mark on it – means this place is unfriendly and unsafe
·        Strongly smells of vulture-like bird – either a large flock or a huge roc visits here every few days but is smart enough to clean up their sign (only their scent gives them away)
·        Place is clean and packed like they left it on purpose
·        The Soldier and Operative, both with DaVinci Wings, take to the air and scout the valley.
     o   The soldier determines that there is wildlife, but they are all acting like there are predators around. He finds and talks to a fisher (a weasellike mustelid) using speak with animals. It says there are “big, death birds” – they crow and dance and speak all the wrong words. They’re all feathered, but they talk to fleshy people
     o   The operative sees at the other end of the valley, beyond the volcano, there is a creepy looking lodge up in the side of the mountainside, in a wetland area. It’s old and rundown, but there’s a light on. Between 100-200 years old, or maybe just a really hard 40 years. Smells of at least two half-elves.

Drive the Armadillo in, but it can’t make it up the mountain to the vents where Bo Hoss’s family live. There are carved-in stairs the Knight Rangers take to get up.
·        There are old stones here carved with South Pacific language, which no PC speaks
·        Also some larger, new stones carved in a very different language
·        We see someone inside the cave – a Bo Hoss-like ogre– carving on the wall.
·        There is a vrock overseeing him. It sees us and screeches – it’s on

FIGHT!

·        The operative shoots and misses, but startles the vrock.
·        The centaur paladin charges and shouts “I name thee demon!” The Knight Rangers conclude it’s a demon.
·        The vrock screams and causes fear, though no one in the area is affected
·        It slams its beak into the paladin for a LOT of damage. It seems to be augmented.
·        The cartograthurge technomancer moves up to see if the new stones are doing something that may effect the ogres
·        The ogre, being now free to move as he will, turns to the stones at the entrance and starts to chisel away the runes yelling “NO!” with each blow
·        The soldier PC spots another figure down the other tunnel

·        The vrock dances and creates a cloud of spores, affecting everyone but the soldier, who is out of range. The centaur paladin grows pustules on her skin from it – blech – but just ignores the penalties and keeps fighting.
·       The technomancer says the menhirs are summoning rocks – brings more demons here, and infuse the area with demonic energy. The ogre keeps trying to destroy it, but it’s taken months to make and is resistant to destruction.
·        The roboticist engineer and her drone joins in to destroy the menhir with the ogre, using her engineering knowledge to help break up its structure. They speed up the destruction quite a bit
·        The figure the PC soldier spotted down another tunnel is a half-elf male with a red, glowing pentagram over one eye who has a wavy-bladed dagger and a pistol. He waves his dagger in the air to cast a spell while he fires. A screaming bullet fires past the Soldier, the bullet crying out obscenities in Infernal.
·        The ogre hits one of the runes on the menhir (natural 1 on a skill check to damage it), and it disintegrates his chisel and damages him mildly.
·        The fenrin Operative bounty hunter moves into the tunnel near , sees another set of stones and alerts the cartograthurge technomancer. Operative shoots the vrock, but the attack bounces.
·        The roboticist mechanic moves into the tunnel to deal with the second menhir. She spots three more ogres manacled and gagged deeper in the tunnel, and lets the other OCs know.
·        Te half-eld cultist and PC Soldier exchange gunfire in a different tunnel. The half-elf staggers to behind a third menhir in that tunnel, and smears his blood on the menhir – his eyes roll up – he chants in Ancient Sumarian and keeps firing at the Soldier.  His bullet missed, but the soldier felt the vileness of it as it passed
·        The Operative bounty hunter moves over to the bound ogres, and identifies that their manacles happen to be compatible with her manacle keys. Ha! She unlocks one, tells it to free the others.
·        The centaur paladin continues to solo the vrock but has to lay on hands for herself – she was running too ragged. It’s smite evil lance strikes against fiendishly-empowered beak bites.
·        The technomancer successfully breaks the front menhir. Half the sense of fiendish energy infusion in the area goes away.
·        The mechanic begins to dismantle the second menhir
·        The soldier (able to ignore the half-elf’s cover), shoots him again – this time, killing him
·        The first menhir broken, the ogre who was attacking it picks up a rock and assists the centaur paladin fight the vrock by flanking it with her. The ogre takes an attack of opportunity from the Vrock to get into position and is bloodied (runs out of stamina), but doesn’t seem to care.
·        The centaur paladin bloodies the vrock – woohoo! Then it smashes her with its beak again, bloodying her.
·        The technomancer unleashes his steampunk bee-bots (the spell “microboat assault) at the vrock, distracting it
·        With Engineering and her drone’s strength, the mechanic roboticist destroys the second menhir, ending the “evil temple” feel entirely, inside this tunnel. The vrock is visible weakened.
·        Soldier, Technomancer, and Mechanic PCs move on to break the third menhir in the other tunnel, byt the dead halg-eld cultist.

·        The manacled ogres frees themselves and follow the fenrun Operative into battle. Second.
·        Aided by the Operative and the orges, the centaur paladin finally does in the vrock. It diminishes into ropey cords of muscle, pus, and rot before it disappears.

·       A second vrock is spotted flying this way. The Knight rangers and freed ogres destroy the remianing menhir, and wait for it to arrive. It is visibly weaker than the first vrock, and faulters when the last mehir is destroyed.
·During the wait, the freed orgres explain two half-elves arrived months ago and summoned a vrock on a stormy knight. Then the vrock captured the ogres and forced them to make the new, evil mehirs. When three were done, the vrock did a dance that turned on half-elf into a second vrock. Then they began being forced to make more menhirs, to turn the last half-elf into a vrock, so the three vrocks could then open a gate to the Abyss.
 ·        Most Knight Rangers take cover to fight the vrock, but the centaur paladin and the ogres stand in open view to draw it in.
·        The second vrock arrives at half health since there are no menhirs, and he’s trying to get to the third one.
·        Paladin charges, Operative and Soldier shoot, Technomancer uses the beebots, Mechanic sics her drone on it, so the vrock is flanked by drone and paladin. Orgres pick up and throw rocks they have prepared for their home’s defense.
·       Vrock is outmatched, though it does ignore magic missiles cast by the technomancer thanks to Spell Resistance, and on a critical hit inflicts a bleed effect on the drone. It dies, much less impressively than the first vrock.

AFTERMATH
·        The ogres are Bo Ghun, Bo Ghran, Bo Deir, and Bo Fo. There are 20 total in the Bo clan (babies grow to full size within 2 years). They invite the Knight Rangers to eat and rest.
·        PCs check out the shack at the end of the valley first — was an abandoned cult house. Find a demonic text telling them how to summon a vrock. The cultists were still 5 months from completing the rocks needed to summon the third vrock, but needed the ogre’s exert stone-carving skills to do it. They told the local townsfolk that the post had been destroyed and that the ogres would come into town to get their mail, townsfolk didn’t care enough to check on why the ogres never did that.
LOOT: Magical Sumerian wavy-bladed dagger; sixteen sets of size-large manacles; demonic text (which is put in a lead-lined safe n the Armadillo the mechanic deigned for radioactives, but will work great for magic too)
·        The ogres give the Knight rangers us a return letter for Bo Hoss.
·        When the Knight Rangers get into Rexburg to mail the letter to Bo Hoss, they tell local officials that because they ignored the inquiry about the Bo clan, demons nearly overran the world.

XPs: 1300
20,270 current total, (23,000 to 7th)

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 7, part 2)

Continuing the after-action report for Session Seven of the Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign. The Knight rangers have headed out in their converted Martian Excavationg Machine, now known as The Armadillo, to the Montana city of Hellgate as part of their quest to find and defeat Professor Barkane Adrameliche, who has become the darkling Lord, the Venom King.

Notes adapted from the notes of my wife Lj, a player in the game, and told from her point of view.

>>Campaign Day 31
·        About an hour after we set out, we see Waterlily (a ranch hand from the Circle Axe Ranch) riding up behind us
·        We pull over and she hands us a large, fancy, international letter that arrived right after the Knight Rangers left the Circle Axe.
o   Formal Eastern European letter
o   Carries appreciation and amazement at our accomplishments from Princess Allegra Gullveig of Stythencia (a tiny Tiefling City-state in Eastern Europe in the Carpathian Mts. near Transylvania).
o   She wrote and sent it, referring to the Knight Rangers by name, about six hours after we decided on our group name. Info doesn;t travel that fast without magic.

Camping first night, spot a glow-in-the-dark figure on a horse coming toward the camp. Skeletal man in law officer duds, with a badge that says he is “Deputy D. Nails.” His horse is bandaged like a mummy and has a necklace of severed heads. As the figure approaches it gets cold and snow begins to fall – not cloudy
·        The heads – there are at least three – are from men who fled when the Knight rangers attacks the Venom King’s forces at Neblin Hill.
·        He says he’s taking over after Deputy B. Hill was recalled. He’s hunting the grave jumper (Venom King).
·        We trade information. The Knight Rangers learn the Prof. has split himself in to two – flesh and bone – but they’re right next to each other. He’ll be at full strength in 180 days from tonight if not stopped – he needs a specific conjunction to accomplish this so it cannot be rushed. His vulnerability is the metal from coffin nails, not silver or cold iron, that have been used to keep bodies in the ground.
·        If the Venom King isn’t brought down soon, “the Marshall” will come down to earth personally and get him.
·        Deputy Nails heads away toward Montana

Campaign Day 32
·        Pass through Rollings, WY
·        Get to Rock Springs, WY
o   Stop here to camp and resupply

Day 33
·        Eden, Farson, Boulder, and Pinedale, WY – all of which are wrecks – wiped out during the WotW
·        Stop at a battlefield on our path – the centaur paladin stops to honor the dead

Day 34
·        Come to a pass through the mountains – gorgeous
·        Stop in Hoeback

Day 35 (fifth travel day – May 5th)
·        Idaho Falls, far eastern Idaho – decent sized town
·        Bear River too deep to cross in the Armadillo
·        Use the cattle bridge and end up in the edge of town
·        A crowd gathers, looking at the amazing converted Martian tech. Begin to cheer, because they think the Knight Rangers took it from the Martians
·        Cartographothurge Technomancer gets off to resupply
·        Centaur paladin gets on the train station platform and tells a tale of defeating the forces of the Venom King’s snakeperson allies, who are quickly dubbed “the Scorpion Gang.” Though she tells the tale accurately, the crowd is already making it bigger that she tells
·        We head out five miles from town to camp
·        A handful of horsemen come out to us – five
o   Three young men, one older man, and a middle-aged woman
o   Professor Virgil, and students from the Eastern Idaho Technical College
o   They want to ask about the Armadillo
o   They brought us potatoes au gratino   They talk to the technomancer roboticist, talking to dawn and learning from her. Invite her to come lecture whenever she likes

Campaign Day 36, which is determiend to be May 6th 
·        Around noon, we spot a herd of brontosauruses.
·        We slow down and drive by at a safe distance
·        Soldier outlaw with DaVinci wings goes out and flies over them – sees the babies
·        The technomancer sketches his heart out

Later that day, the Knight rangers reach Rexburg, and head to the nearby shield volcano to visit Bo Hoss’s family.<<

What do they find!? We’ll discover that tomorrow, in part 3!

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 7, part 1)

After nearly a month break, I finally ran by Starfinder-Really Wild West-Doomstone campaign again, and people have been asking about getting to see the after-action report. So here’s a write-up adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”), mostly in second person, as a report for Session Seven!

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.
Session Five here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Six here.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

A lot happened in this one, so it’s been broken into multiple blog posts.

>>We’ve traded the digging bits of the Martian Embanking Machine we captured (that had already been partially-converted by Professor Adrameliche, who turns out to be the Venom King) to the Circle Axe Ranch in exchange for the parts, materials, tools, and assistance we need to convert it into our base of operations. Conversion takes two weeks, during which time we are guests of the Circle Axe. The group decides on a group name (the Knight Rangers), and name the soon-to-be-finished mobile base of operations “The Armadillo.”

(A standard Martian embanking Machine, before any modifications. Twenty feet tall, twenty feet wide, and forty feet long. Art by Jacob Blackmon)

The local Fonts and Bismarck Station Chief, Adler, comes to visit and receive a briefing on the Knight Ranger’s recent activities. Agrees to use official Fonts and Bismarck channels to make inquiries about whether Professor Adrameliche has been seen in Montana. Also helps discover that the Professor’s style of technological invention is very similar to that found in several train robberies (performed with the aid of a robotic derailing machine) performed a few years back that accrued a great deal of cash.

Since the Knight Rangers believe the Professor is in Montana, the fenrin operative bounty hunter looks up bounties in Montana.
·        The situation is complicated, with the state new to the Union and in a very unstable place due to massive damage from Martian Walkers during the War of the Worlds. Various Copper Kings (like cattle barons, but for copper) are in near-open warfare and set bounties on each other, many with local (though not legal) support. State bounties are legal, but often lack local support and are likely to anger one or more factions. Mostly only official Federal bounties are seen to have the weight needed to be legal and not likely to bring reprisals.
·        An exception is that the rare bounty placed by “Gotham Jo” – Josephine Fiery, are also respected throughout Montana.
o   She is a madam and business owner of a hurdy gurdy house in Helena
o   She’s married to a man who’s present, but not in charge. In fact she seems to have him under her thumb, with lcoals knowing not to allow him to drink or gamble.
o   has a reputation for taking care of her employees, and only put out bounties on those who have wronged her people, never on an ex-employee
·        There are currently no active bounties safe to take

Knight rangers made some inquiries about Beard-cutter Ben (who sold them “walking meat,” a chewing gum that turned out to attract the Monstrous Jerusalem Bugs that attacks the PCs back in Session Two.
·        Upon hearing they are looking for him, he shows up at the ranch to apologize and offer us refunds and reparations. He got the material from the East Hudson Fur Trading Company. He will never do business with them again, and he’s spreading word that it’s bad, hired a lawyer to sue the EHBFTCo.
·        We ask him to tell us when he finds out more information
·        As part of reparations, ask him to give discounted shaves for law enforcement. He also gives some cash.

Station Chief Adler reports Professor Adremeliche has been spotted in three places in Montana in the last 60 days.

·        Helena, the capitol (It is 680 miles from here – if Knight Rangers go there, can visit Bute-Silverbow on the way. Economy fueled by lead, silver, and gold mining. Capitol buildings under construction. Most millionaires per capita in the US. Many movers and shakers – includes Gotham Jo. The Copper Kings who are so influential elsewhere in the state have very little control here. Population 13,000. No real bad part of town. Almost no unemployment. The rich people compete in charitable giving.)

·        Butte-Silverbow (Closest to the Knight Ranger’s current location – 450 miles. Population of 15,000 – biggest city in Montana. Center of War of the Worlds refugees in the state. Major EHBFTCo. base of operations–no Fonts and Bismarck office there. Center of where the Copper Kings are waging war against each other. Center of the Asteroid Mining Co. – mine adamantine and other star metals. Growing copper industry. Center of Martian tech research in the state. Two scummy red light districts. Grimy and smoke-filled. Gangs based on foreign national or ethnic origins divided up the town, most with ties to one or another Copper King.)

·        Hellgate (800 miles from here – due to limitations on moving the Armadillo through mountains and damaged infrastructure from the War of the Worlds, have to go around a forest to get there. Third largest city in Montana – pop. 3,400. In Hellgate Valley [Sections of which were choked with bones due to French fir traders fighting with natives, which is how it got its name. Fur trade has moved out.] Now largely trades in lumber. Home of Hellgate University [oldest in the state and includes the only accredited and licensed school of necromancy not in Eastern Europe]. Next to the Rattlesnake Mts. One of only two places in the world with a Badlands City embassy.

Most information comes from Station Chief Allison Flynn of Helena, Montana.
·        Her information was gathered under the radar. She is convinced Professor Adrameliche is connected with one of the power structures in the state. Found a picture of him for us – he wears black with accents of the same green as the Venom King. He is, of course, the Venom King. Mechanical arm. Cane with human bones and a green skull pommel – [Likely the Venom King’s actual bones.] Eyes = black with tiny, green dots

The Knight Rangers decide they are going to visit the university in Hellgate first, to see if they can find a way to put down the dead spirit that is the Venom King, and who now seems to inhabit Professor Adrameliche.
·        We can make 40-50 miles per day in the Armadillo. Get to the university in 16 days using an alternate route. Our route will take us through Yellowstone, Idaho Falls, Salmon, Hamilton, Lolo, then Hellgate

Around Day 10 into the 14 days it takes to put together the Armadillo. Dwargus invites us up to the big house for supper and new. Circle Axe has been granted 75% of the disputed lands they were arguing with the vicious Hippogriff Ranch – including Neblin Ridge.
·        Dwargus gives us a Federal salvage deed for the Armadillo from the Sixth Federal Circuit Court in Ohio. It might be overturned, but it should at least take a court case to do so.
· Mention that Texas Helium Magnate Tex Tanner has sent word he’s sending a representative to make an offer to buy the Armadillo… but the rep won’t arrive until two days after the Knight Rangers have left. We decide not to wait for him.

Around Day 12 into the 14 days elven ranch hand Waterlily wants to talk to us. She mentions the Ogre ranch hand Bo Hoss has a problem he doesn’t want to bother us with. His family lives in a shield volcano near Rexberg, Idaho. Communication with them has ceased. Dwargus sent an inquiry – got no information. They’re all ogres – only a few speak English – mostly immigrants of Pacific Islander descent.

A Shirren lady comes to measure Liam for some clothes. As a sensate, she asks if she can lick the Armadillo. The Knight rangers are okay with it, and she experiences 15 new flavors she’s never tasted before. In thanks, she gives us all spider silk umbrellas (+2 KAC/EAC against liquid-based attacks if held, but only 1 HP and takes damage if attack it is used against does any damage).

On Campaign Day 31 – it’s time to head out to Hellgate
·        The roboticist mechanic and operative bounty hunter are the best drivers, with the cartogramancer technomancer a close third.
·        The centaur paladin can drive, but her armor gives her penalties
·        The others we set up on rotation to learn

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 6)

It looks like there is enough interest in session notes from my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign for those to become a regular feature. So here’s a write-up adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report for Session Six!

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.
Session Five here: Part One. Part Two.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

Session Six

I decided to playtest my idea for Spotlight Tokens in this session. I got some useful feedback, I may or may not keep using them in this campaign.

These notes are from the point of view of the PCs (specifically my wife Lj, and I adapted them from her notes for her character, the fenrin operative bounty hunter Sawyer).

The Svirfneblin host us and feed us. Dinner includes large roasted pill bugs that taste like lobster. Mushrooms, snails (escargot-style), slugs, beer.
· The svirfneblin give us papers and a copy of The Pact to give to Dwargus Hardfist, with whom they hope to open formal trade.
· The svirfneblin give us “the Door,” a complex set of nested crystal spheres. It will seek a spot within the serpent people Hollow World near its center, and then can be activated (with a combination of three successful Engineering and/or Mysciticm checks in a row) to close the serpent people Hollow World for a century or so. Once activated, it must be guarded for 1-2 minutes (1d10+10 rounds), after which it will open a portal. It then cannot be stopped, but anyone who doesn’t go through the portal will be trapped in the Serpent People dark Hollow World for a century.
· The Svirfneblin can have their Hollow World (the Vault) overlap the serpent people’s Hollow World (Aakath), and deposit us near where we will need to set up “the Door.” As soon as we open the door, the powerful Venom Champion known to the serpent people only as “Her” will know, and is sure to arrive.
· Once Aakath is cut off, the serpentfolk who are currently out in our world, will be stuck. They will still be able to teleport, but will have weaker arcane powers and less eldritch strength.
· The Svirfneblin the PCs found and buried have returned their essences and minds to the Svirfneblin communities. Their “soul sparks” have become soul gems, which those who have fallen offer to the PCs (one each) as thanks for putting them to rest.
o “Who they are” has gone back to the community
o These are the fuel that drove their essence, minds, and bodies.
Soul Gem
· all are +1 Resolve Point (only to stabilize)
· Then there are cuts, each with a different power set.
o Trillions +1 to all saves
o Navette +2 against all afflictions
o Cabochon +4 to all saves against poisons

Into the breach — The Svirfneblin perform the ceremony to place us in Aakath.
· We all take anti toxins
· Things dwell there that are worse than serpent folks
· Be prepared for darkness that defies simple concepts such as evil

Aakath — the Endless Cavern
· Darkness so gray, it might as well be black, but we know it isn’t
· Settlement with inhuman architecture in distance, outbuildings nearby
· Thin glowing green sickly line in the far distance
· Vapor clings to the ground
· Crunching noise beneath our feet
· An alien howl of alarm goes off
· The Door draws us toward a nearby fountain, but there are things between us and it.

FIGHT!
· “The unclean thing” – (GM describes it ‘the bezor that the otyugh spit up’). It is a shapeshifting mass of waste, raw, pulsing organs, and foul ichors.
o It spews digestive juices and waste as an attack out of a sphincter it forms for the purpose
· The alarm turns into chanting
· The green glow flashes and two figures teleport in
o One is a Four-armed Huge snake-legged serpentfolk, with glowing venomous pistols, a green gem in her head, and wicked dagger – this is clearly “Her”

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

o Also with HER is a Size-large serpent with ridges on its back
o Damage to HER appears on the serpent, until the serpent is slain.
· The serpent charges for the bounty hunter operative fenrin.
· A Size-large four-headed serpent appears
· The centaur mercenary paladin protects the human robotocist mechanic and half-orc cartographer tecnomancer as they get the mechanism activated.
· Another unclean thing shows up – a minor version
· We finally get everyone down
· The portal opens as we see siege weapons and giant coils rolling this way
· We flee

AFTERMATH
· We all make it through. End up in the same cavern as the Martian embanking machine, beneath Neblin Ridge.
· Heal up

LOOT from Her: Pocket hollow world (clear gem) – teleport (self only, 440-foot range) CL10 as a move or swift action once per day – (goes the the centaur paladin); warmaster’s gloves (swap out weapon you are wielding with those stored on your person without taking an action) – goes to human soldier; Martian capacitor (1ce/day supercharge a weapon as part of the attack) – goes to human mechanic.

The Tess drives the Martian Embanking Machine out of the mine. We all take a turn driving it. Go back to the Circle Axe Ranch.
· They give us burgers
· Bring Dwargus up to speed. Learn Felspark has been “Recalled East,” by the east Hudson Fur Trading Company.
· He makes us Trustees of the Circle Axe Ranch
· We can take out the tunneling stuff from the Embanking machine and turn the engine into a mobile Base of Operations. Decide to do so before hunting down the infamous Professor Barkane Adrameliche, who we believe has beocme the Venom King, and we think is in Montana.

Divide up the $4000 worth of bounties between us. $800 each.

XPs: 1920
18,970 (23,000 to 7th)

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Gaming by Candlelight

Like most of the state of Oklahoma, I lost internet and power after a huge icestorm hammered the state at the beginning of this week. We had no connectivity for three days, and no power for two. (And many friends and family still don’t have power, and may not for days to come.)

Which is why I had no blog posts Mon, Tues, or Weds this week. I couldn’t even write them to post later. Normally when the power is out for days at a time I’d go cluster shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other people in an internet café or coffee house. But in time of pandemic? Absolutely not.

On our first night in the freezing dark, a friend who still had power came by to bring us batteries and food. And then… sit with us. In the darkness. And cold.

I mean, what else are four gamers going to do with no electricity and no place to go?

So, we played a four-hour 1-shot Pathfinder 1st edition game. By candlelight.

(Yep, public domain candles photo)

The GM kept is simple–humans only, core rulebook only, everyone gets a single +1 item of choices, and 50-point ability buy. (“50 points!!?” “Yeah, you-all are from a harsh place with few magic items and I am limiting options, so LOTS of ability points.”) The setting was similarly simple–a low-tech but sophisticated realm (“Nothing is made of metal, but your stone, bone and wood weapons are as good as metal.” “Your people’s main activity is gathering. It’s second is hunting. You are hunters.”) We began at 4th level.

It took us 30 minutes to make characters. On blank paper, by pencil, in candlelight. Being veteran players we did do SOME houserule customization. The GM said no one had armor, but we got a +2 armor bonus, with an additional +2 for each armor proficiency we got. I played a druid, who got to swap our prepared spells for healing rather than summoning spells (so I didn’t have to keep two books open to read by candlelight). We ended up with a greataxe barbarian, 2-weapon fighter, storm druid, and destined sorcerer.

It was a simple 3-encounter adventure. First, while hunting aurochs, we were attacked by a T-Rex. Then, we discovered our allies back at the hunting camp had been captured by serpent people. We had to track them down, which the GM handled as a 4e-style skill challenge. Then, we ambushed the serpent people and rescued our people.

We ended on a note that the serpent people where beginning to move out of the forbidden valley, and our people would need to find allies to oppose their expansionist assaults.

I played the druid (Tormuk Stormspeaker), and discovered I REALLY like the weather domain’s 1st level power — it does very little damage (and its nonlethal), but a foe hit takes -2 to attacks for 1 round (no save). That retains at least some utility well past the point of the damage being relevant. I had a really nice play experience, burning all but my last 2 buff spells in the first two encounters, and able to augment the barbarian and fighter before ambushing the serpent people, and becoming a wolverine to fight in hth.

I’m sure it helped that we were very specifically just passing time, and we knew if there were hiccups they were a result of it being a very casual, barely-planned session. And as a 1-shot, any weird issue could be shrugged off and never dealt with again. But we also had a LOT of fun… even if we had to point flashlights at the dice to see what we rolled.

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Fantasy Maxims

Sometimes as a GM, you just need a new maxim to put on a tomb wall, or inscribe into a book, or have a wise old turtle say while puffing on a pipe.

So, here are some options.

“It takes more than a hoard of gold to make you a dragon.”

“Counting a man’s tears doesn’t teach you the depth of his grief.”

“A man who freezes do death does not care how soon Spring is.”

“A tunnel is just a hole that kept going.”

“Butterflies don’t help caterpillars.”

“Don’t make deals with talking skulls.”

“The differences between heroes and corpses is more skill than luck.”

“Don’t light a candle if you don’t want to see what’s in the dark.”

“No one buries something without good cause to take on the labor.”

“Blame the parent for a child’s behavior, but blame the adult for their own actions.”

“An axe that chops wood is a tool. An axe that chops flesh is a weapon. The axe doesn’t care.”

(Art by Svitlana)

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 5, Pt. 2)

Here’s part Two of the Session Five notes for my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign, adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”).

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.
Session Five here: Part One.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

Session Five (Part Two)

Still Day 13

The characters see that the heaviest traffic out of the Big Cavern is through the left-hand tunnel, which was clearly made by the Embanking Machine. This also shows signs of the svirfneblin-drawn sled they saw bring green ore out of the mine when observing the camp outside. This is the route the take.

  • There is a breach in the tunnel that clips some underground complex that was already there. (The players later learn this is the Svirfneblin Vault)
  • The end of that tunnel opens up beyond the breach
  • The centaur paladin, in the lead (with her darkvision) is attacked by monsters disguised as rocks at the entrance. They’re grick!

FIGHT!!!

  • The grick don’t seem to take electrical damage, fire damage either
  • The human soldier criminal grabs the Warhammer the Chimera Kid was using and uses that on the grick – bounces off. The magic fusion that was on the warhammer has already been moved to the mechanic robotisit’s drone’s bite attack (her drone looks like a mechanical dog).
  • The grick don’t do a lot of damage, but anyone near them has to make a Reflex save or take some damage from their flailing tentacles, on top of their bites or acid spit. And the grick are reducing every attack that hits them by 10 points of damage, so seem nearly invulnerable.
  • There are two Sverfneblin here. They speak some kind of old German. It takes Culture checks for people who know German to understand them.
  • The centaur paladin and fenrin operative work to asks the Svirfneblin to call off the beasts – the svirfneblin explain they do not control the gricks
  • The human soldier criminal called out the name Drungeldan Smyreonot – the name of one of the ‘neblins we talked to after death
  • Bullets don’t work against the gricks either
  • The half-orc technomancer cartographer makes a Mysticism check, and says it takes magic damage to hurt the grick. He then casts overcharge weapon on the paladin centaur’s lance.
  • The lance kills one. The human soldier has an automatic pistol with a magic rune on it, and he easily kills the other one.

AFTERMATH:

  • The centaur paladin casts a spell that allows her to speak to the Svirfneblin
  • They need to get to their Headman
    • He is being held hostage in the back
    • We will have to bypass the serpentfolk and some pact guardians
    • The Pact Guardians are varied – some mechanical, some monsters. They protect the svirfneblin, but also obey the pact, and thus don’t currently attack the serpent people who took over the pact by stealing blood of pact scion – Dwargus. Thus as long as Dwargus does not elave the area, the serpent people can come and go in the Svirfneblin Vault. (PCs realize this is why the manticore kept killing off Dwargus’s cattle–so he couln’t retire and leave).
    • Only the authority of the pact scion can get us to bypass the pact guardians
    • The PCs try the writ given to them by Dwargus allowing them to investigate the area on the door in this room, which is a Pact Guardian itself.
    • It works!
    • There are serpentfolk on the other side of the door!!

FIGHT!

  • There is a gorgeous small green snake, a serpentfolk with a gun and serrated jawbone of an ass sword, and a human carpetbagger with a staff and wearing a beautiful green operacloak
  • The two ‘neblin cast spells to aid the PCs
  • When the pretty cobra dies, it turns into a pool and evaporates
  • The soulstaff dissolves

LOOT: Sharpened jawbone of an ass that is bane vs humanoids (5,000- 10,000-year-old artifact); Who’s Who in Montana 1890; guardian greatcloak (Goes to the technomancer cartographer, and changes from venomous green to midnight blue with silver nautical symbols, route lines, and compass roses when he puts it on).)

Guardian Greatcloak (magic item, level 5): If you take an action that provokes an attack of opportunity, you may expend a Resolve Point without taking an action and not provoke the attack of opportunity

LOOT: One shotgun

PCs move through the rest of the Vault to get to the headman, using the Writ from Dwargus to bypass traps and guardians of the Pact. Final room. Locked and trapped door. The mechanic roboticist bypasses it, and recognizes the handiwork/design skills of Professor Barkane Adrameliche, whose handiwork was also found in the Martian Embanking machine.

  • The Svirfneblin Headman is inside
  • He asks if he can close the vault, using their authority with the Writ from Dwargus – PCs all say yes
  • The Headman explains Professor Barkane Adrameliche IS the Venom King (“Toxin Krieger”to the Sverneblin)
    • The Professor found the idea of a “Venom King” while studying Martian Black Gas, and began to hear whispers. As he experimented with and perfected ways to use the Black gas, the whispers grew louder and louder, and eventually the Professor became the Venom King as much as he is Barkane Adrameliche.
  • The Professor/Venom King is a Darkling — a human who has embraced the darkness so totally he is a native outsider, and on his way to becoming a demigod. He is one of six “Dread Fates,” six unspeakable ways to die.
  • The Professor had six Lts.
    • Dathaca (who was the Chimera Kid)
    • Gaotma – (the only one with a Doomstone)
    • Athath-ka
    • Venomancer (the spellcasters the PCs *just* killed)
    • Female serpentfolk in the other tunnel. Called “Her” in fearful tones by other serpent people.
    • One Unknown
  • The Professor and his six lts are the only ones who will ascend, becoming demigods
  • None of the other six Dread Fates currently has a physical body. The Professor is trying to bring about one of them, his closest ally, the Dread Fate of Torture (who has a drop of blood as his icon, like the blood cultists encountered earlier on Neblin Ridge).
  • The Professor is currently in Montana.
  • Sverfhaim is a Hollow World– a place that is as much a concept and planar pocket as it is a material place. So is the Serpent People home. Also, the serpentfolk seek another “Hollow World
  • Headman offers PC hospitality for the night
    • Sends his folk to watch the upper caverns
  • PCs need to get into the serpentfolk city, set up a mystical “door” (a device the Neblin headman can create), go through it, close the door
    • Then the serpent city will cease to have access to our world and we would be on Neblin Ridge

End of session. XPs: 2650

LEVEL UP to 6th!!

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Really Wild West “Doomstone” Campaign — After-Action Report (Game Session 5, Pt. 1)

It looks like there is enough interest in session notes from my Really Wild West: Doomstone campaign for those to become a regular feature. So here’s a write-up adapted from notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report for Session Five!

You can find Session One here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Two here: Part OnePart Two.
Session Three here.
Session Four here.

If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.

Session Five

Day 13

The fenrin operative bounty hunter takes the mask of inconsequence once used by the Chimera Kid. This magic item allows you to make Stealth checks, opposed by observer’s Perception or Sense Motive (whichever is greater) to appear to be no different form the majority of people around you. It only works when you are not in combat, and does not work against anyone directly interacting with you or who is in combat.

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

So equipped, she heads into the mine to do Stealth recon. She overhears a conversation between two guards – they know there was a ight outside, and if anyone comes up they don’t recognize the guards will will shoot first, ask questions later. They are awaiting the return of “the Professor,” who the guards obviously fear. The Professor specifically warned them not to use the “embanking machine,” which is taken by the group to be a Martian embanking machine from the War of the Worlds.

The players decide to make a blitz attack, since these guards and part of an operation that has used slave svirfneblin labor, and mercilessly killed and hid the bodies of a dozen or more of those.

  • The centaur paladin charges in to begin the fracas, impaling an enemy operative (one of two) with a critical hit on a lance change before he has a chance to do anything. (“Yep, that’s a crit. What IS the crit effect on your lance?” “He dies?”)
  • There is a spell-casting serpentfolk in here. It casts a defensive spell, then alternates between supercharge weapon and firing snakes as arrows from a 3-limbed bow.
  • The surviving operative sniper trick attacks the centaur, and gets his own critical hit on her before she rides him down.
  • The human soldier criminal PC exhcages fire with numerous gunslingers, and two axe-lords (people with magic rune brands in their hands allowing them to make special throw-and-return and multiple-target ace attacks, an old Nordic tradition). He gets shot with a snake arrow, but doesn’t go down
  • One crook, “Mr. Green Jacket” gets away out the front of the mine and since he agreed to flee “into the desert” and not come back, and the PCs took a lot of damage, they opt not to chase him down.

AFTERMATH

  • There is a Martian Embanking Machine here, which has been used to dig dozens of tunnels. It looks like a 20-ft. wide mechanical centipede, and has been converted to be steered by human controls. The human mechanic roboticist disables it by taking out aprt of thsoe adapted controls and in doing so finds a gear with a patent he reognizes–it was created by the infamous Professor Barkane Adrameliche, a citizen of the Ottoman Empire who helped create the first automatons. It is suspected he might have known Gaotma, the Manticore.
  • This room also has a series of Martian atomic batteries, which have been salvaged from other Embanking machines. These are not as powerful as a Tripod Generator (like the one serpentfolk tried to steal in Session One), but these three have been hooked to a capacitor designed to concentrate their power, though it takes several days to power up to a generator’s power level.
  • The capacitor is hooked to an array that clearly once had a spherical device hooked up inside it. This is right next to an empty storage area which the fenrin can tell 9with Scent) used to have Martian Black gas cannisters. Also, the iron box with the Doomstone taken from the manticore gets hot near the area.
  • The PCs conclude the Venom King is using the Martian Batteries to infuse Green Iron (taken from this mine) with the toxic properties of the Black Gas, the most virulent poison now known on Earth. This creates the “Doomstones,” such as the one they recovered, but can only make one every week or two. If the Venom King had a Tripod Generator, he could make a Doomstone every few hours.

LOOT from thsi fight: High-quality handaxes x4; Allin needle guns x2 (one for Liam); Ajax revolvers (x5); three-limbed serpent person bow (no arrows), bag with 8 snake eggs; golden bullet (magical) – put it in any projectile weapon and it has a one-shot built-in supercharge weapon (given to the fenrin operative bounty hunter); gallon of butane

Cast grave words on the bodies the Serpentfolk just hisses words at the PCs. The All of the rest of them talk about weird smells and weird dreams

There are two paths deeper into the mine. The PCs go left.

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Want me to keep people updated about future game sessions? Want something else? Pathfinder 1st-edition content? Would you rather see more material for 5e, or industry insider articles? Join my Patreon for a few bucks a month, and let me know!