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The Magic of Little Details

Worldbuilding can often get bogged down in big-picture questions and large-scale issues. Yes, there’s use to knowing how rivers flow from mountains to sea level, what kinds of natural barriers are likely to become borders, and how socio-economic statuses can form political lines. But those questions still just outline nations and factions. At the scale that most players are interacting with your world, it doesn’t really matter in play if the border between Heroton and Badlandia is a river, a mountain range, or a big blue dotted line that runs through a flat plain. What DOES matter to players is how those places feel and act differently while you are within them.

And for that, it’s often useful to throw in just a few little details.

If the common drink for a culturally-interlinked area is a tea just known as Steeps, maybe the people in Heroton like it strong and bitter, while the peasants of Badlandia make it weak and sweetened with honeysuckle. Elves prefer red Steeps, while human throw away the red stems as tasteless. The dwarves of Ironbeard make Steeps with weak beer to ensure no diseases remain in the local water, while the gnomes of Rillridge ferment it until foam forms on the surface which is then skimmed off.

None of that *matters*, but those kinds of tiny details, when used in sparing moderation, can help bring regions and cultures alive. Players who don’t care can wave it off, but those who enjoy engaging in fictional cultures have the option of paying attention, and offering the Big Bad of Badlandia honeysuckle-sweetened Steeps at the peace conference. And maybe he smiles, and notes he actually always preferred it strong and bitter, like his parents made it… suddenly given a new context into his background, based on how he takes his tea.

Nearly anything can be made into this kind of cultural detail and, as long as you don’t load ever city with 27 things you expect players to keep track of. Adding just one or two tiny differences can help immerse players, and make regions distinctive.

Nearly anything can be made into this kind of detail, but it helps if it’s something publicly noticeable (how the Halfling war bakers of Gnabysko bless their battle muffins in secret ceremonies isn’t going to impact player perception much, unless someone is playing a Halfling war baker), minor (so players don’t feel they must remember the detail or get into cultural trouble, which can feel like homework), and relatable (details that tie into activities players understand are more easily understood and remembered—the fact there are 17 “proper” foot stances for fighting with an orroc gutting axe is interesting… but for players with no melee combat training experience it doesn’t connect to anything they’ve done).

You can also build off a detail, creating slang and cultural notes that play off the detail. This can help the detail be memorable, but it also invites the players to dream up such phrases and ideas as well.

For example, let’s say you have decided that in the Free City of Campaign, street performers put out a boot for people to toss coins into, rather than a hat or other collection device. That’s easy to work into a campaign as an observed behavior, unlikely to make any player feel they have to memorize it, and replaces a common occurrence in a way players are likely to understand.

Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to see how some local slang might develop around the tradition. “Giving you the boot” could mean firing someone, so they now have to earn money on the street, while “Earning your boot” might indicate you are good enough at some performance to make a living as a busker. Having a “hole in your boot” could indicate someone is stealing from you, and “looking in the toe” could mean you’re scrounging for every last coin (like checking the cushions of your sofa).

If players show interest in a detail, and explore it, you can build on it. Maybe the boot tradition dates back to when soldier came back from a war, and without enough work used their hard military boots to gather coins as beggars, and the tradition grew from there. Maybe there was a tax on all labor performed ‘without boots” that was designed to exclude hard workers, but street performers used this to get around it. You don’t HAVE to do that kind of background work, but if players dig around it shows they have an interest in that element of your world.

Tiny details like this should be sparing, to ensure a world remains familiar enough for players to be comfortable with it. These are seasoning for the main course of your world, rather than the entrée itself. But used properly, that kind of seasoning can elevate the flavor of your creations, and make them much more memorable.

Putting My Boot Out

I have a Patreon. Feel free to throw a few coins in as I sing and dance. 🙂

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Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Aiding Others…

I am bad at self-care. Mental and physical healthcare and even housekeeping tasks that serve to make my own life better are difficult for me. I’ve done a lot of therapy with a lot of professionals to try to figure out why. Some theorize it’s self-sabotage based in a fear of rejection so strong I want to make sure I am so unlovable I simply expect rejection. Others think life with an alcoholic father in a dysfunctional family taught me bad habits. It’s been suggested I have been in so much pain that self-medication was inevitable, and mine happens to include numerous things that aren’t good for my mental or physical health. And, of course, the few therapists I have opened up to about an incident of sexual abuse as a child often point to it as a a major cause of me not naturally taking care of myself.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I am aware of what behaviors I fall into that harm me. I work to avoid them. When I can’t, I try to mitigate them. When I can’t, I try to forgive myself for the failure.
I’m much better at it that I used to be. I’m much worse at it than I need to be. I suspect I’ll struggle with it until the day I die.
Basically, that’s life. There are ups, and downs, and long lulls of necessary work.
But I’ve already done better, and come farther, than i ever would have believed 32 years ago. So I try to take that as a victory.

Geek Movie MiniReview: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island was, for me, a delight. It knows it’s a giant monster movie with roots in grindhouse and pulp, and it isn’t embarrassed about that at all. But it also sees the benefit in things like characterization, story, pacing, and development.

I clapped with childhood glee, laughed, cried, and gasped. I am exactly the target audience for this.

In my binary digit-based review system, it gets a thumbs up.

Spell: Minor Miracle

It always seemed odd to me that there’s limited wish before wish, but nothing like it at 7th level for clerics. I mean, we have the term minor miracle, why not use it? But since miracle works a little differently than wish, and doesn’t always have a material component cost, you need to be careful what options you give minor miracle.

Minor Miracle

School evocation; Level cleric 7
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S; see text
Range see text
Target, Effect, or Area see text
Duration see text
Saving Throw see text; Spell Resistance yes

You don’t so much cast a minor miracle as request one. You state what you would like to have happen and request that your deity (or the power you pray to for spells) intercede.

A minor miracle can do any of the following things.

Duplicate any cleric spell in a domain or subdomain granted by your deity of 6th level or lower.
Duplicate any other cleric spell of 5th level or lower.
Duplicate any other spell of 4th level or lower
Undo the harmful effects of certain spells, such as feeblemind or insanity.
Have any effect whose power level is in line with the above effects.
Alternatively, a cleric can make a more powerful request. Casting such a minor miracle costs the cleric 1,500 gp in powdered diamond because of the powerful divine energies involved. Examples of especially powerful minor miracles of this sort could include the following:

Swinging the tide of a battle in your favor by raising a fallen ally to continue fighting.
Duplicating anything that can be accomplished by a limited wish.
Moving yourself and one ally, with all your and their gear, from one plane to a specific locale through planar barriers with no chance of error.
Delaying an earthquake, volcanic eruption, flood, or other major natural disaster for a number of hours.
In any event, a request that is out of line with the deity’s (or alignment’s) nature is refused.

A duplicated spell allows saving throws and spell resistance as normal, but the save DCs are as for a 7th-level spell. When a minor miracle spell duplicates a spell with a material component that costs more than 25 gp, you must provide that component.

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Naming the Planets of TRAPPIST-1

Obviously when naming TRAPPIST-1a through TRAPPIST-1g, there will be a strong temptation to use the names of some famous set of seven things. Noting that the most-likely of these to have life are TRAPPIST-1d through TRAPPIST-1f, here are some suggested naming schemes with notes on the potential pros and cons. I’ve bolded the ones I assume have life (and cultures and all sorts of stuff there’s absolutely no real evidence for) to keep in mind which of these 7 names I think are the most crucial in each set.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, >Wednesday Thursday, Friday<, Saturday
Has the advantage of being able to do travel posters saying “Thank God, It’s Friday!”

Avarice, Envy, Gluttony, >Lust, Pride, Sloth<, Wrath
Gives built-in cultural suggestions. “We’ve sexy, we know it, and we’re not doing anything about it.”

Aventine, Caelian, >Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine<, Quirinal, Viminal
One of my only two actual serious suggestion. I really like the sound of these, and it makes me thing of a vast interplanetary empire controlling multiple worlds on one system.

Ji Kang, Liu Ling, Ruan Ji, >Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong<, Shan Tao
My second serious suggestion. I like it a lot, though obviously it would encourage renaming the star from TRAPPIST-1 to Bamboo Grove, which might not be fair to Trappist.

Kambei Shimada, Gorōbei Katayama, Shichirōji, >Kyūzō, Heihachi Hayashida, Katsushirō Okamoto<, Kikuchiyo
You could fudge the order to be alphabetical, or course. The main shame here for this order si I think Kambei Shimada and Kikuchiyo would be the most interesting planets to live on.

Goat, Lion, Peacock, >Pig, Snail, Snake<, Toad
All I have is a marketing campaign “At least you don’t live on a toad!”

Doc, Dopey, Bashful, >Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy<, Happy
So first, if we are doing this, I want to force Disney to pay for probes to go there, so at least we get some benefit from the corporate advertising.
Second… I don’t want to live on any of those. I’d be okay living on Happy, but who the hell wants to be a native Grump?

Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, >Curufin, Caranthir, Amrod<, Amras
Not a serious suggestion, but I wouldn’t mind. But if this happens, we’d better get GOOD fantasy movies out of it.

Cup, Diadem, Diary, >Locket, Potter, Ring<, Snake
Okay, I’m only in favor of this if the inhabitants of Planet Potter turn out to be wizards.

Father, Mother, Maiden, >Crone, Warrior, Smith<, Stranger
Don’t recognize this set?
SHAME! (bell rings)

Lunia, Mercuria, Venya, >Solania, Mertion, Jovar<, Chronias
My biggest issue here is no one gets to live on SEVENTH heaven.

F, C, G, >D, A, E<, B
This has my vote for the Worst Idea On This List. First, naming planets for the seven natural pitches that form the C-major scale is weird. Second, renaming TRAPPIST-1a to just “F” screams confusion.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Traits

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week (which started here) with a look at traits available to Merothian characters.

Merothian Ethnic Traits

These are all traits available to characters that are Merothian, and who were raised in Merothia or a neighboring region where it was known they were Merothian. These serve both as specific tweaks to character abilities that help players with Merothain PCs feel like their backgrounds matter, and as data points to help reinforce to players a culture and tone for Merothia in general.

Blessed are the Humble (Faith trait). Even the gods seem to know that Merothians have gotten a raw deal. If a divine spellcaster casts a spell with harmless in the saving throw or SR entry, treat that spellcaster’s level as being one higher when determining the spell’s effects (including amount healed, duration, and so on).

Born to Serve (Race trait). Since the fall of the High Barons, numerous groups (most often spellcasters from Te Essar) have made adjustments to Merothian bloodlines to make them better servants, often in an effort to prove Merothains are an inferior race of humanoids. Your family comes from such an altered bloodline. When you aid another in combat, your aid another bonus is +3 rather than +2. For skills, your aid another bonus is equal to 1 + 1/10th your total aid another skill check.

When you make an aid another check to help a nonhuman creature with a humanoid subtype you have never aided before, roll 1d20. If the result is a 20, this trait actually increases your aid another bonuses by +1 for all creatures of that subtype.

Distant Kin (Family trait). You have an extensive family of Merothian relatives who are commoners, peasants, and serfs. When in a settlement that has a population of at least 500 Merothians, in Merothia or a neighboring region, if you make a successful Diplomacy check to gather information you also find a distant cousin who may help you. Calculate how many followers you would have if you had the Leadership feat. This is the maximum number of cousins you can find over your career (though as your leadership score goes up, so do the potential number of cousins you are put in contact with). These cousins are randomly assigned npc class levels by the GM based on what follower slots you have remaining, are within one step of your alignment, and begin with an attitude of friendly.

Hard to Kill (Combat). Most Merothian families have more than one ancestor who survived outrageous wounds and long odds to live long enough to have children. The trait for survival is often passed on. Add your character level to the negative number of hit points you must reach before dying.

Old Magic (Magic). There aren’t many Merothian spellcaster left, but tales of the Witch-Knights, Green Mages, and Holy Kirks make it clear there were once many eldritch traditions in Merothia. Some of that old lore has been passed down to you, allowing you to occasionally surprise a foe with a different way of doing things. Once per day (plus once per day per 5 caster levels) when you cast a spell that is not the highest-level spell you can cast, and the foe succeeds at a saving throw, you can force the foe to reroll the saving throw. If the foe fails this second save the spell takes effect, though if it deals damage it deals minimum damage, and if the spell is not instantaneous its maximum duration is 1 round.

Used to It (Social trait). Things often suck for Merothians, and to survive they have had to simply learn to manage under harsh conditions. When you have a penalty of -2 or more that applies to d20 checks (such as attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and so on), as a move action you can cut that penalty in half for one round. You can’t reduce the same penalty from the same circumstances multiple times.

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Additional Snow Rules

While snow is covered in Chapter Thirteen: Environment of the pathfinder Roleplaying game Core Rulebook, there are some additional rules I’d personally use if snow is a major element for a specific adventure, but not a common part of a campaign overall.

Adaptation: Creatures with both the cold subtype and native to a cold environment, and those with the cold subtype and a natural climb speed, ignore all rules to perception, getting lost, and movement from snow.

Light snowfall: Very light snowfall produces less than an inch of snow per day. It does not impact visibility or flames. It actually gives a +4 bonus to Survival checks to track anyone who has passed by since the snowfall stopped, since their prints are outlined.

Snowfall: Normal snowfall reduced visibility enough that a character may get lost in the wilds when it is snowing this hard. See Getting Lost, in the Wilderness section of Chapter Thirteen: Environment. If there is an additional effect in addition to the snow that might cause characters to get lost, any Survival check to avoid getting lost takes a -4 penalty.

Heavy Snowfall: When it is snowing this hard, a character can get lost outside even within an urban environment, but may make a Knowledge (local) check rather than a Survival check to avoid this. Also, a character in a wilds environment takes a -4 penalty to a Survival check to avoid getting lost. If there is an additional effect in addition to the snow that might cause characters to get lost, any Survival check to avoid getting lost takes a -4 penalty. See Getting Lost, in the Wilderness section of Chapter Thirteen: Environment.

Heavy snowstorms and blizzards also reduce the effectiveness of fire attacks. Creatures vulnerable to fire do not take additional fire damage if they are in a heavy snowstorm or blizzard.

Whiteout: The most powerful of blizzards cause whiteout conditions. This grants everything more than 5 feet away total concealment (even from sound-based blindsight and blindsense), and anything close standard concealment. Check to avoid getting lost take a -20 penalty, and must be made every 10 minutes. Whiteout conditions last from a few minutes to a few hours, and can drop 1d4 feet of snow per hour.

If a character is in snow deeper than they are tall, this is similar to being stuck in an avalanche. Buried characters take 1d6 points of nonlethal cold damage per hour, in addition to any cold hazard. If a buried character falls unconscious, he must make a DC 15 Constitution check or take 1d6 points of lethal damage every ten minutes thereafter until freed or dead. See Cave-Ins and Collapses for rules on digging out buried creatures.

Snow Creatures

You can turn any creature into a snow creature by giving it the cold subtype, moving it to a cold terrain, and giving it a climb speed equal to 1/2 its movement rate. While the CR of a cold creature it not increased in general, an encounter with one or more cold creatures in a snowstorm or blizzard has an ad hoc +1 CR adjustment.

For example, the Blue Orrocs of the northern Basalt Mountains are famed for their dark blue-to-purple coloration and their raids made into the lowlands during blizzards and winter storms.

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100 Questions for your RPG Group: 61-70

After a break for the holidays, 100 Questions is back! We’re a good deal more than halfway through the list, so let’s see if we can get these released in a timely manner now?

These questions are designed not to lead anyone to the “one true path to roleplaying,” nor even to find and excise undesirable group members. Instead, they are tools of conversation. Hopefully they’ll help members of an RPG group discuss some philosophy, some game theory, and some silly stuff.

These are best handled in person, while feeling casual, likely with beer and pizza (or the age & culturally appropriate equivalent).

61-70: Gamer Superstitions

Roleplaying games vary widely, from rule- and math-heavy tactical exercises, to story-based activities designed to work with a group all working together, but a surprising number of “gamer superstitions” are common in a wide range of groups. It can be worth examining what these are, why people observe them, and how serious such observances are.

  1. Do you play along with ideas of gamer superstition for fun, despite not believing them, or secretly believe such things without publicly acknowledging them? Are there any you take so seriously having others dismiss them is hurtful or worrying to you?
  1. Do you believe in lucky dice? Or a lucky die-rolling method, or chant that accompanies important roles?
  1. Within the bounds of normal personal space and courtesy, do you care who touches your dice? Does a stranger touching the, annoy or worry you? Do you believe rubbing them on a game designer or GM increases their luck?
  1. Do you feel your luck, or the general luck of your dice, is impacted by loaning your dice to other people who need them? Or borrowing dice when yours aren’t available?
  1. Do you have any rituals regarding your gaming materials? Do you believe a custom figure helps your character succeed? Do you place dice in order from least to most sides, sit them with a desired result showing when they are not in use? Do you think hand-written character sheets have more mojo than computer-generated or e-sheets? Do you pre-roll your dice before making actual game-relevant rolls, to see which dice are doing well, or try to pre-remove any undesired result?
  1. Do you feel a character, or a campaign, or an adventure can be cursed? That some unknown force actually makes some element of the game impact randomly determined elements of the game?
  1. Do you believe your typical results of randomized elements of tabletop or electronic games is better or worse than average? Do you think that such a history, if accurate, is a predictor of future results that are statistically anomalous? Do you think such a predictor, if it exists, should be considered when determining the balance or appropriateness of game options you select?
  1. Are their events outside your control you believe influences your luck or success in a game? Do you feel there is music that makes a character more likely to succeed, or that playing on a holiday or birthday gives you an edge unexplained by statistics?
  1. Do you feel the way one character dies impacts the fate of the next one beyond decisions made by players and GM? Do you think a character dying heroically in game blesses your next character, or giving up and abandoning a character curses your next one? Are there any ways to avoid these positive or negative influences, if you believe in them?
  1. Regardless of your own beliefs, are there any game superstitions of others you enjoy watching? Are there any that annoy you, or negatively impact your ability to enjoy a game?

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SpaceThulhu 1889!

I kind of want to write “SpaceThulhu 1889!”
“To defend an Earth on the brink of War, man must take to the stars in ships driven by steam and ether!”
“And face horrors never before imagined.”
1. The Dagon Drive
2. The Statement of Captain Randolph Carter
3. Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Crew
4. Nyarlathotep Nebula
5. Herbert West — Chairman of the Royal Reanimation Society
6. The Colour Out Here in Space
7. The Whisperer on Mars
8. The Eclipse Over Innsmouth
9. The F
all of Cthulhu

 

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How to Colaborate

When you are working on a project that is so big no one person can write, develop, or edit all of it, it is inevitably you will, at some point, accidentally make something created by someone else slightly worse or less clear. You’ll have the best of intentions (or at least I always do), but it’ll happen occasionally.

I have just a few coping mechanisms for this.

First, I try very hard to improve more than I degrade. That sounds obvious, but it’s still a useful guild principle for me.

Two, I try to run anything that seems oddly worded or build to produce weird results past both the original creator and a second opinion. This helps avoid “fixing” things by altering the actual intent, and helps catch places where I have misread or misunderstood something and THAT is why Iw ant to change it.

Third, and the one that applies to the broadest range of situations on such a project, I work very hard not to be precious about anything I write. If I am the publisher and my money is backing the project, I’m okay to decide my vision is paramount. But in any other circumstance, I know I am working with brilliant, experienced, smart people. If I disagree with them on a call, the goal must be finding the solution best for the product, not the one I like best.

Also, sometimes go out with such folks for drinks. 🙂