While I am personally a creative who suffers from mental health issues that include depression, and I know a lot of friends and colleagues who fall into that category, I don’t have scientifically valid statistics to prove that RPG creatives are often people struggling with depression. And that doesn’t really matter, because even if the numbers aren’t higher than for the baseline population, it still means that there are at least a few of us out there. I might just be talking to a tiny group today, but it’s something I am passionate about.
How do you write, draw, create, make things that are supposed to be fun for other people, when you are depressed? And I don’t mean down a bit because your favorite series ended or you can’t get that soda you like in your hometown anymore. I mean clinical depression, which can include loss of executive function, true hopelessness, sleep disruptions, and even thoughts of suicide.
I’ve talked before about how I get through my most serious depressions, but there’s one thing I haven’t touched on, or at least haven’t often enough.
Sometimes? You can’t. And that has to be okay.
Just as it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to run when your leg is broken, it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to create when your brain is broken.
If you are too far down the hole to reach any of your creative tools, please let that be, and instead seek help. That can be professional help, self-care, reaching out to a support network — whatever you can do. I’m not qualified to give professional advice on these things, but there are resources out there to find help if you don’t already have some in place. If you aren’t in a place where you can bring yourself to care about yourself, see if you can consider taking care of yourself as a way to help the people around you–sometimes I can only manage any degree of self-care out of guilt. That’s far from perfect, but sometimes I have to take what I can.
But then there’s the gray zone. Where you can try to work, but it’s terribly difficult and slow and you think everything you do is bad and pointless. Again, you have to be kind to yourself when you are here, but maybe there are ways to get a little more done if you find the hacks your brain responded to.
So, here are the hacks I use. They may not work for you, but if you try different things, and record the results, maybe you can find things to help you when work is possible, but damnably difficult.
For me some of it is habit. More than 21 years of it, at this point. If I’m not actively doing anything else, my brain naturally wonders if there is work I can do. When the thing that needs to be done FIRST is more than I can handle (sadly the project that is most important to finish often triggers the most anxiety which triggers the worst depression symptoms), I hop to something else if my brain is less opposed to it. No, that doesn’t help me get the most crucial thing done on time, but down the line it’s better to have worked on something, rather than nothing.
Some is desperation. This is how I pay the bills. Holding my own feet to the fire hurts, but it can also break through apathy sometimes. I don;t recommend this one unless you have already noticed a tendency of reviewing your situation to help you prioritize and take action. But if that is a tendency of yours, then it may be worth seeing if it can apply to creating.
A ton of it is therapy. I have learned to make my writing work for me in my battle with my brain. Often, that doesn’t actually produce anything that gets a deadline checked off. but sometimes, if produces a blog post when I need one, or at least helps me build my social media presence. And if nothing else, writing is a perishable skill. Writing privately helps me maintain the habit and edge I need to write for others.
My wife, Lj, is a HUGE help. In fact I have a lot of support group, including my public contacts. When I tell folks I am hurting, I get a lot of positive messages. People from lifelong close friends to social media connections I have never met in person also give me a lot of great private venting opportunities.
And sometimes? Sometimes I just have to melt down and give up for a bit. But Lj can hold me when I collapse and wail in great wracking sobs. When I am an inconsolable mess for an hour or two, convinced I have done so much damage to my reputation and career, that I’ll never work again. When it seems like I’ll never hit another deadline, that no one should ever trust me to get anything professional done. And that whole time, Lj tells me it’ll all be okay, and eventually I believe her.
Often, I pass out in exhaustion after that. Sleep, or at least oblivion, claims me for anything from a few minutes to a few hours.
And then, sometimes, I can write again.
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This is the sixth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).
If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, we’ve settled on an appropriate and interesting class concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure we are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity, and discussed spell access and progression.
But we still need to talk about spell lists. Specifically, do you give your new class access to one (or more) existing spell lists, or make a brand-new spell list? And, it turns out, that.s a pretty complex question that depends very much on the game system you are using.
So, you know, let’s start by saying studying what that system does and how it handles those questions.
Also, it’s very important to know if you are building expansions classes that are in addition to a *core* set of pre-existing classes or are building a whole set of classes from scratch. Most of the advice here is directed at the former case. If you are in the latter situation, there may not even be pre-existing spell lists for you to borrow from. In that case you’ll need to make decisions about how many class lists to build from scratch, and the following advice may still be applicable to that decision.
Certainly the more you want a spell list to have a very strong theme tied to the class’s concept, the more you should consider a unique class spell list. The more you want the spell list to interact and grow well with other publisher’s content, the more you should consider using an existing class list.
In Pathfinder 1st edition, classes have access to a hodgepodge of class-specific lists, sharing class lists, and mixing class lists. The bard has its own spell list for example (though the skald later gains access to it as well), while the warpriest just has access to the cleric list (though it gets most spell levels later in its own level progression, when they are less powerful compared to the challenges being faced). Both sorcerers and wizards use the sorcerer/wizard spell list, though it has specific spells only one of the classes can take. Hunters get both druid and ranger spells (and gain access to ranger spells much earlier than rangers do, potentially making them more powerful compared to the challenges faced when you first access them), but inquisitors have a unique spell list.
Counting only official classes, no alternate classes, and only actual spell lists (as opposed to formula lists for alchemists and investigators), by the end of its run Pathfinder 1st d had 16 separate spell classes. On top of that, all of the class spell lists are defined as being arcane, divine, or occult.
In that environment, it seems insane to create a brand new unique class list. First, there are tons of lists with different themes already. Second, each of those lists has been expanded by so many supplements (official and otherwise) that any new lists is either going to fill a small book on its own, or have many fewer options than the 16 existing lists. Further, if someone is adding content from other publishers, those 3pp spells won’t even know to suggest what new spells should be on your unique class spell list.
By the same token, by the time a game has 16 unique spell lists, it’s hard to claim a 17th will be the bridge too far for design weight.
Pathfinder 2nd edition, as a counterexample, has only 4 spell lists. Absolutely every class has access to the arcane, divine, occult, or primal spell list. Some classes can pick what spell list they access based on other class features (such as the sorcerer), and many classes have access to a very small number of “focus spells” unique to their class. This includes both classes with access to a traditional spell list (such as the bards and their occult spells), and classes with no other spell access (such as champions). While it would be possible to build a whole 5th spell list (akashic magic, perhaps, or runic magic), this would likely only make sense if designing multiple classes that accessed it, or perhaps writing class variants of existing classes that accessed your new magic type. However, adding a small number of focus spells to any new spellcasting class, but otherwise tying them to one or more of the 4 existing lists, seems an excellent way to both benefit from that class having unique and flavorful spells of its own (new focus spells) and benefiting from ties to a growing standard spell list that other books and companies can expand. Pathfinfer 2nd ed also has things such as spell rarity which could be used to create “new” spell list options (such as creating a magister class that has access to common spells for multiple lists, but can never gain uncommon or rare spells).
By contrast Starfinder goes the opposite route, and give every spellcaster their own unique spell list.
Starfinder only has 3 official spellcasting classes so far of course, and each also has the same level of spell access and spells/day. That certainly sets an expectation for players that a class focused on spellcasting would likely follow the same path. There are many potential reasons to not go that route (if creating a mechanic/technomancer hybrid class, the Dronemancer, that only had access up to 3rd level spells, it might well make sense for it to have the technomancer spell list), but again the key point is to know what tools are at your disposal, and study how the core game (or similar games, if you are starting from scratch) use them.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed also gives each class its own spell list (at least in the Player’s handbook), including the sorcerer and wizard, who shared a spell list when the sorcerer was first introduced in 3rd edition. There is greater variety in both spell access (paladins and rangers only get up to 5th level spells), and how the class uses spells (warlocks and wizards have very different game mechanics dictation how they interact with and use their spells). The larger number of lists makes it more likely that you can match a specific class’s theme with an existing class list or combination of lists, but it also drives home player expectation in much the same way Starfinder does.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that whether a game has dozens of class spell lists or just three, d20 games almost always have some basic spells that appear on multiple (or even all) spell lists. the most flavorless and utilitarian spells are often there, from detect magic to light. By the same token, most such games have at least a few types of spells that are kept off specific spell lists, in the tradition of “clerics don’t cast magic missile, wizards don’t heal.”
But honestly, that’s another whole blog post worth of commentary.
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This is the fourth section of Part 22 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can go back and read previous entries where we converted every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and I shared my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats here.
This is it. The very last feats from the PF Core Rulebook that did not exist in Starfinder. This has been my longest ongoing blog series ever. I’m almost sad.
But, let’s get to them, shall we? We begin with Unseat.
A confession. Having played hundreds (in all honesty, maybe thousands) of sessions of Pf and the games that came before it, I have never seen Unseat be used, or even taken by a character, even once.
It’s a super-specific jousting feat. Yo have to be mounted to use it. And attacking with a lance (and only with a lance). And your target has to be mounted. AND you have to charge to use it. And if you hit, you can TRY a bull rush to unseat the target.
That’s so many rules I’d be inclined to just add them to what a lance can do without needing a feat for it. Plus, does this mean that without this feat, I can’t use trip or bull rush to take a mounted foe out of their saddle? Or only that I can’t do it as part of a charge attack with a lance?
But we HAVE to make a Starfinder version, so:
You can rip foes from the mounts and vehicles.
Benefit: When a foe that is mounted or in a vehicle provokes an attack of opportunity from you, you can make a bull rush or trip combat maneuver instead of a melee attack. If you succeed, you pull the target off their mount or out of their vehicle, and leave them prone in an adjacent space.
I’m still not sure how often that’ll come up, but at least knocking folks off their motorcycle has genre-emulation value.
Next up is Weapon Finesse. Which, like so many PF feats, requires things (like a definition of “light weapons”) that Starfinder doesn’t have to allow something (switching some melee weapons from Strength to Dexterity) Starfinder isn’t designed to allow. In fact Starfinder already essentially decided that light weapons are “operative weapons,” and anyone can use their Dexterity to attack with them, and no other weapons should be allowed to do that under any circumstances.
But there is one thing that Starfinder’s system could allow for — some way for operatives to make trick attacks with different weapons than normal. Not to be more effective (operatives are FINE on the power scale), but to support different character concepts and variable tactical styles.
WEAPON FINESSE (Combat)
You can use bulkier, slower weapons to place attacks with additional effects.
Prerequisites: Trick attack class feature.
Benefit: You can use any weapon to deliver a trick attack. When you do so with a non-operative melee weapon, you may choose to use your Dexterity modifier, rather than Strength modifier to add to your attack bonus. You can only apply the trick attack to a single creature, regardless of how many the attack affects, and must make the appropriate skill check. For that one trick attack, you deal either just your trick attack damage +1 per operative level (with its damage type determined by the weapon), or you do the weapon’s damage without any bonus from your trick attack. In either case, you can apply any other effect your trick attack imposes onto the target you trick attack.
There are things this does, and things it does not do. It won’t increase any character’s single-target damage-per round output, and that’s intentional. It also won’t allow a solarian (for example) to ignore all Strength in favor of Dexterity, and that’s intentional. It is of most use to operatives who want increased flexibility. You may not do any more damage to one target when you deliver a trick attack with a grenade, but you still get the rest of the effect of a grenade. making unarmed attacks as trick attacks won’t bust your damage curve, but it’s a lot better than normal trick attacks if you’ve been disarmed.
Okay, last one.
Whirlwind Attack is a PF feat that normally comes in at mid- to high-level play that has 7 prerequisites (though a fighter could theoretically meet them all by 4th level), that allows you to make one melee attack against every target within reach. Again, a chunk of that is balanced by the fact that in PF, a good chunk of your Damage Per Round (DPR) is based on making more attacks each round. In Starfinder, your DPR increase is much more strongly tied to each attack doing more damage, so getting to make a single attack against a large number of foes is much more powerful.
We could probably do something with forcing you to take the full attack -4 to your attack rolls, and then maybe another -2 or so… so it’s only useful against lower-level foes, and even then you won’t hit all of them, so if you connect with one or two your DPR is reasonable…
But wow that doesn’t sound like fun or satisfying as a player. Let’s try something else.
WHIRLWIND ATTACK (Combat)
You can surround yourself with lighting-fast, shallow strikes.
Benefit: When you use the full-attack action, you can give up all your other attacks and instead make one melee attack against each opponent within reach. Make a single attack roll, and apply it to the AC of every target in reach. Roll damage once, and apply half the value to every target you hit.
That’s easy to access, it lets you do a little damage to a lot of foes (which is closer to how Whirlwind Attack generally works in Pf anyway), has a much better change of doing SOME damage to multiple targets. If you want to lay about and put a hurt on a lot of people up close this works, even if you won’t be able to pile nearly as much on any one target.
AND THAT’S IT!
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This is the third section of Part 22 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.
We have come to the last couple of two-weapon related feats; Two-Weapon Defense and Two-Weapon Rend. It would have made sense to write these back when we were writing the base Two-Weapon Fighting feat and it’s follow-up feats, but since we were only checking all the prerequisites for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, and didn’t check to see if there were any more thematically-linked feats (such as Double Slice, or today’s examples), it didn’t come up.
So, Two-Weapon Defense is a combat feat that grants bonuses to AC. We’ve made major changes to every one of those we’ve run into on this project and for Two-Weapon Fighting we need to adjust:
Not a darn thing.
Seriously. With the advent of shield bonuses being defined in COM, Two-Weapon Defense works perfectly as-written. Even the prerequisites are reasonable. We can just add it to the game as-is. (If it makes sense and ain’t broke, don’t adjust it). We could require the two weapons to be melee weapons (although PF didn’t–apparently twin hand crossbows is fine), but the visual of the two-pistol character blazing away to give themselves cover fire is too cool to restrict even if it makes slightly less logical sense.
TWO-WEAPON DEFENSE (Combat)
You are skilled at defending yourself while dual-wielding.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When wielding a double weapon or two weapons (not including natural weapons or unarmed strikes), you gain a +1 shield bonus to your AC.
When you are fighting defensively or using the total defense action, this shield bonus increases to +2.
And that bring us to Two-Weapon Rend which… does need change. I’ve never been convinced the PF version of Two-Weapon Rend was balanced. At first glance it looks like just a little bonus damage, but later FAQs made it clear that it also benefits from damage bonuses that apply to both attacks that trigger it (such as Power attack and potentially sneak attack) but not things that specifically are weapon damage bonuses (such as weapon enhancement bonuses and spells such as divine favor. Which means it is far, far more powerful for cavaliers, paladins, and rogues than for most other classes.
Any damage bonus is always problematic with Starfinder feats, especially those that won’t really have a drawback for a large portion of characters. While it’s nice for being multi-armed being useful, we don’t want a feat to radically change that usefulness if that calculation wasn’t considered in creating the core rulebook.
Luckily the feat’s name says you “rend,” not “do extra damage” so there are other options.
TWO-WEAPON REND (Combat)
You can make the intersection of damage from different weapons hurt.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When you hit and damage the same target with attacks from two or more weapons in the same round, it must attempt a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your base attack bonus +your key ability score modifier). If it fails, it is sickened for 1 round for ever 5 item levels of the lower-level of the weapons (minimum 1 round). This is a pain effect.
Now, why did we say it was a pain effect?
Pain IS one of the descriptors Starfinder lists in the core rulebook. Pain effects note “Creatures that are immune to effects that require a Fortitude save are immune to pain effects.” It doesn’t come up that often, but it also helps explain why rending someone causes a sickened effect, so it’s worth the extra wordage.
Okay, that just leaves three feats, all of which we’ll tackle tomorrow.
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