Removing action penalties for gear swaps in tabletop Roleplaying Games

An essay on a specific element or ttRPG game design.

When I first got into playing RPGs, a round of combat was generally viewed as being a minute. As a result, no one worried about how long it took to draw a sword, reload a gyrojet pistol, or get a potion out of your pack.

I’m not saying none of the games had different action economies. Just that no one I played with ever worried about those things. You could do one thing a round, maybe two, and it was assumed in-play that you could get the gear you needed for that.

That changed, over time. Some of that change grew from better-written rules in more games to handle the action economy for such issues. Some from games moving to shorter durations for player turns (though I don’t remember ever having to declare I was drawing a pistol in Car Wars games, where a phase was 1/10th of a second).

Now most popular RPG rulesets have explicit rules for determining how long it takes to draw a weapon, change a battery, sheath a wand, dig a potion out of your bag, and so on. It makes sense. It helps with verisimilitude.

I’m not convinced it adds much fun.

I’m leaning toward trying some games where it is just assumed you can have any one set of held equipment at the beginning of your turn. Things you have to strap into or carefully adjust still take time, but if you want to be using a greatsword one round, twin nickel-plated Colt .45s the next, and a zippo lighter and healing potion the third, fine.

Changing gear in the middle or a round still takes time. Otherwise we hand-wave it, and focus on the interesting things characters are doing with their equipment, rather than making them waste a turn getting what they need to have fun ready.

This could be adapted to nearly any game system, though games with Quick Draw options, or limited charges as a power balancing factor, or characters who focus on equipmentless options in order to have reduced effect for increased readiness might nee tweaking.

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

PF1 Barbarian/Rogue Hybrid Class: The Wolfshead

Last week I was looking through some old files on my computer, and found a list of Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 1st-edition hybrid classes I had thought at one time I might write up as products for Rogue Genius Games. Some where mostly written up, but not completed, while others where little more than a concept.

The most interesting of these that was also pretty far along in the design process was the wolfshead, a barbarian/rogue hybrid class. I mentioned the discover and some notes about the class on social media… and a number of people said they’d happily pay money to get their hands on a finished version of the class.

Always looking for ways to make being an RPG designer/developer/professional profitable, I decided to see if I could find a way to let people pay me to release THIS class, as a draft, on my blog. So, after some research into online-tip-jar options, as an experiment, I ran a Facebook business fundraiser. (The business category was crucial, because this isn;t like raising money for medical bills or some horrifical emergency, and I wanted to be clear about that. Plus, it means Facebook will know to report it as income I’ll pay txes on, which is as it should be.)

If the fundraiser made $300 by Dec 31st, I said, I’d post a playable first-draft version of the class at least 1,000 word on my blog for all to enjoy. I thought 50 days would be enough time to see if there was sufficient interest.

It took 4.

Obviously I will be extremely interested in seeing if this is a new mechanism for me, as a ttRPG content creator, to raise funds to make game material. But for now, let’s post the class and fulfill my first “FaceFunder” campaign.

(Art by Konstantin Gerasimov)


Wolfsheads are masters of the stealth and cunning common among natural predators, from big cats to sharks and, of course, wolves. A wolfshead can be equally at home in the savage wilderness and the densest urban settlement, comfortable using her instincts and ease in dangerous situations to make her way through nearly any situation.

Role: The wolfshead is an excellent scout, ranged combatant, and hit-and-run skirmisher. Wolfsheads are best when able to cull outlier foes from a primary group, or move quickly in and among a group to strike at vulnerable target. While often lightly armored, a wolfshead can depend on her bedlam to increase her AC when in the thick of fighting, or to overcome the armor check penalties of thicker medium armor to gain better protection.

Alignment: Any.

Hit Die: d10.

Parent Classes: Barbarian and rogue.

Starting Wealth: 5d6 × 10 gp (average 175 gp.) In addition, each character begins play with an outfit worth 10 gp or less.

Class Skills
The wolfshead’s class skills are Acrobatics (Dex), Appraise (Int), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Disable Device (Dex), Disguise (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (geography) (Int), Knowledge (local) (Int), Knowledge (nature) (Int), Perception (Wis), Profession (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Stealth (Dex), Survival (Wis), and Swim (Str).

Skill Ranks per Level: 6 + Int modifier.

LevelBase Attack
1+1+0+2+0Bedlam, fast movement, finesse fighting
2+2+0+3+0Evasions, sneak attack +1d6
3+3+1+3+1Stalk, trap sense +1
4+4+1+4+1Wolfshead talent
5+5+1+4+1Sneak attack +2d6, uncanny dodge
6+6/+1+2+5+2Armored speed, trap sense +2
7+7/+2+2+5+2Sneak attack +3d6
8+8/+3+2+6+2Wolfshead talent
9+9/+4+3+6+3Swift bedlam, trap sense +3
10+10/+5+3+7+3Sneak attack +4d6
11+11/+6/+1+3+7+3Advanced wolfshead talent, greater bedlam
12+12/+7/+2+4+8+4Sneak attack +5d6, trap sense +4
13+13/+8/+3+4+8+4Wolfshead talent
14+14/+9/+4+4+9+4Hide in plain sight
15+15/+10/+5+5+9+5Sneak attack +6d6, trap sense +5
16+16/+11/+6/+1+5+10+5Wolfshead talent
17+17/+12/+7/+2+5+10+5Sneak attack +7d6
18+18/+13/+8/+3+6+11+6Trap sense + 6, wolfshead talent
20+20/+15/+10/+5+6+12+6Sneak attack +8d6

Class Features

The following are class features of the rogue.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency
Wolfheads are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, light armor, and shields (except tower shields).

Bedlam (Ex)

A wolfshead can call upon inner reserves of passion and ferocity, granting her additional combat prowess. Starting at 1st level, a wolfshead can bedlam for a number of rounds per day equal to 4 + her Charisma modifier. At each level after 1st, she can bedlam for 2 additional rounds. Temporary increases to Charisma, such as those gained from spells like eagle’s splendor, do not increase the total number of rounds that a wolfshead can bedlam per day. A wolfshead can enter bedlam as part of any standard, move, full or swift action or reaction. The total number of rounds of bedlam per day is renewed after resting for 8 hours, although these hours do not need to be consecutive.

While in belam, a wolfshead gains a +2 morale bonus to her Strength and Dexterity skill and ability checks, a +2 morale bonus to AC and on Will saves. In addition, she gains a number of temporary hit points equal to double her wolfshead level, though she can only gain these once per ten minutes. While in bedlam, a wolfshead cannot use spells or spell-like abilities, or take 10 or take 20 on skill or ability checks (even if she has an ability that would normally allow her to do so).

Additionally, while in bedlam a wolfshead can apply some sneak attack dice to damage dealt to targets, even if those targets are not flanked or denied their Dexterity. The maximum number of sneak attack dice the wolfshead can apply is equal to 1 + 1/3 her wolfshead class level.

A wolfhead can end her bedlam as a free action and is unfocused, still unable to take 10 or take 20, for a number of rounds equal to double the number of rounds spent in the bedlam. A wolfshead cannot enter a new bedlam while unfocused. If a wolfshead falls unconscious or is dazed or stunned, her bedlam immediately ends. A wolfshead with access to rage from another source cannot be in bedlam and rage at the same time, and cannot enter bedlam if prevented from entering rage, or enter rage when prevents from entering bedlam.

Fast Movement (Ex)

A wolfhead’s land speed is faster than the norm for her race by +10 feet. This benefit applies only when she is wearing no armor, light armor, or medium armor, and not carrying a heavy load. Apply this bonus before modifying the wolfshead’s speed because of any load carried or armor worn. This bonus stacks with any other bonuses to the wolfshead’s land speed.

Finesse Fighting (Ex)

At 1st level, a wolfshead selects one melee or ranged weapon with which she is proficient. Once this choice is made, it cannot be changed. She can add her Dexterity modifier to the attack and damage rolls for that weapon, in place of any other ability score that would normally be added. If it is a ranged weapon attack (other than alchemical weapons), she can add her Dexterity modifier to damage even if using a weapon that does not normally allow Strength to be added. If any effect would prevent the wolfshead from adding the normal ability modifier to the damage roll, she does not add her Dexterity modifier.

A multiclass wolfshead using this ability gets her full base attack bonus from woflshead for these attacks, but only half the base attack bonus gained from other classes unless those classes also have abilities that would allow her to add her Dexterity to attack and damage rolls (as the unchained rogue or swashbuckler might).

The wolfshead gain an additional weapon choice at 4th level, and every 4 levels thereafter.

Stalk (Ex)

Beginning at 3rd level, as a full action a wolfshead can move up to double her movement (using any movement type she has access to) while making Stealth checks, even if she lacks any cover or concealment. She does not take the -5 penalty to her Stealth check for moving more than half her speed. Any creature that has already spotted the wolfshead gains a +10 bonus to Perception checks to notice her while she stalks, but this bonus ends of the wolfshead gains cover or concealment at any point in her movement.

Trap Sense (Ex)

At 3rd level, a wolfshead gains an intuitive sense that alerts her to danger from traps, giving her a +1 bonus on Reflex saves made to avoid traps and a +1 dodge bonus to AC against attacks made by traps. These bonuses rise to +2 when the wolfshead reaches 6th level, to +3 when she reaches 9th level, to +4 when she reaches 12th level, to +5 at 15th, and to +6 at 18th level. Trap sense bonuses gained from multiple classes stack.

Wolfshead Talents

As a wolfshead gains experience, she learns a number of talents that expand her options and showcase her expertise. Starting at 4th level, a wolfshead gains one wolfshead talent. She gains an additional talent at 8th, 11th, 13th, 16th, and 18th level. A wolfshead cannot select an individual talent more than once unless it specifically states otherwise. Wolfshead sneak attack talents are marked with an asterisk, and only one of these talents can be applied to an individual attack and the decision must be made before the attack roll is made.

Bewildering Injury (Ex)*: The first time each round the wolfshead deals sneak attack damage to a foe while in bedlam, she can also bewilder the foe for 1 round. The target takes a –2 penalty to AC and an additional –2 penalty to AC against all attacks made by the wolfshead. At 10th level and 16th level, the penalty to AC against attacks made by the wolfshead increases by –2 (to a total maximum of –8). Any form of healing applied to the target removes this penalty.

Disorienting Injury (Ex)*: The first time each round the wolfshead deals sneak attack damage to a foe while in bedlam, she can also disorient the foe for 1 round. The target takes a –2 penalty on attack rolls. In addition, the target takes an additional –2 penalty on all attack rolls it makes against the rogue. At 10th level and 16th level, the penalty on attack rolls made against the rogue increases by –2 (to a total maximum of –8).Any form of healing applied to the target removes this penalty.

Hampering Injury (Ex)*: The first time each round the wolfshead deals sneak attack damage to a foe while in bedlam, she can also disorient the foe for 1 round. All of the target’s speeds are reduced by half (to a minimum of 5 feet). In addition, the target cannot take a 5-foot step. Any form of healing applied to the target removes this penalty.

Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): As the rogue class feature. A wolfshead must be 8th level to select this talent.

Rage Power: The wolfshead gains a rage power, using her wolfshead level as her barbarian level for all rage-power-related purposes. She must meet the power’s prerequisites. Rather than working during rage, these abilities work while the wolfshead is in bedlam. Rage powers calculations based on a barbarian’s Constitution score are instead based on the wolfshead’s Charisma score. A wolfshead can take the rage power option more than once, but cannot select the same rage power more than once unless the power specifically allows it.

Animal Fury, Auspicious Mark (UC), Autumn Rage (UW), Battle Roar (ACG), Bestial Climber (UC), Bestial leaper (UC), Bestial Swimmer (UC), Bleeding Blow (UC), Boasting Taunt (APG), Brawler (UC), Brawer, Greater (UC), Clear Mind, Crippling Blow (UC), Deadly Accuracy (UC), Disruptive (APG), Elemental Rage (APG), Elemental Rage, Lesser (APG), Energy Resistance (APG), Energy Resistance, Greater (APG), Ghost Rager (APG), Good For What Ails You (APG), Ground Breaker (APG), Guarded Life (APG), Guarded Life, Greater (APG), Guarded Stance, Hurling Charge (APG), Internal Fortitude, Intimidating Glare, Knockback, Linnorm Death Curse, Cairn (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Crag (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Fjord (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Ice (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Taiga (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Tam (ACG), Linnorm Death Curse, Tor (ACG), Liquid Courage (APG), Lizard Stride (UW), Low-Light Vision, Night Vision, No Escape, Powerful Blow, Primal Scent (UC), Quick Reflexes, Raging Climber, Raging Flier (APG), Raging leaper, Raging Swimmer, Reckless Abandon (APG), Reflexive Dodge (UC), Regenerative Vigor (UC), Renewed Life (UC), Renewed Vigor, Renewed Vitality, Roaring Drunk (APG), Rolling Dodge, Scent, Sharpened Accuracy (APG), Smasher (APG), Spell Sunder (APG), Spring Rage (US), Sprint (UC), Staggering Drunk (APG), Strength Surge, Summer Rage (UW), Sunder Enchantment (UC), Superstition, Surprise Accuracy, Swift foot, Terrifying Howl, Unexpected Strike, Winter Rage (UW), Witch Hunter (APG)

Rogue Talent: The wolfshead gains a rogue talent, using her wolfshead level as her rogue level for all talent-related purposes. She must meet the power’s prerequisites. Rogue talents that add effects to a rogue’s sneak attack apply to the wolfshead’s sneak attacks, and count as wolfshead sneak attck talents. The wolfshead can select from the rogue talents listed below. A wolfshead can take the rogue talent option more than once, but cannot select the same rogue talent more than once unless the talent specifically allows it.

Assault Leader (APG), Befuddling Strike (APG), Bleeding Attack, Camouflage (APG), Canny Observer (APG), Careful Stab (AG), Charmer (APG), Combat Trick, Deft Palm (UC), Distracting Attack (APG), Expert Leaper (APG), Fast Fingers (APG), Fast Getaway (APG), Fast Picks (APG), Fast Stealth (APG), Finesse Rogue, Follow Along (UI), Follow Clues (APG), Guileful Polyglot (APG), Hard to Fool (APG), Honeyed Words (APG), Iron Guts (UC), Ledge Walker, Ninja Trick (UC), Offensive Defense (APG), Peerless Maneuver (APG), Positioning Attack (APG), Quick Disable, Quick Disguise (APG), Quick Trapsmith (APG), Rogue Crawl, Rope Master (UC), Shades of Gray (UI), Slow Reaction, Snap Shot (APG), Sniper’s Eye (APG), Stand Up, Strong Impression (APG), Strong Stroke (UC), Terrain Mastery (UC), Trap Spotter, Underhanded (UC) , Wall Scramble (UC), Weapon Training.

Trapfinding (Ex): As the rogue class feature.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex)

Starting at 5th level, a wolfshead can react to danger before her senses would normally allow her to do so. She cannot be caught flat-footed, nor does she lose her Dex bonus to AC if the attacker is invisible. She still loses her Dexterity bonus to AC if immobilized. A wolfshead with this ability can still lose her Dexterity bonus to AC if an opponent successfully uses the feint action against her.

If a wolfshead already has uncanny dodge from a different class, she automatically gains improved uncanny dodge (see below) instead.

Armored Speed (Ex)

At 6th level, a wolfshead takes no armor check penalty from light armor or shields (expect tower shields). Additionally, if wearing medium armor with which she is proficient, the wolfshead does not reduce her speed as a result of the armor’s speed penalty.

Swift Bedlam (Ex)

At 8th level, a wolfshead can choose to enter bedlam as part of rolling for initiative. If the wolfshead chooses to do this, she may add the bedlam’s morale bonus to Dexterity ability checks and skills to her initiative check.

Additionally, if the wolfshead has a rogue talent that can be used once per day (taken as a wolfshead talent), while in bedlam she can use the power by expending 5 rounds of bedlam without it counting against her total uses per day.

Advanced Wolfshead Talents

Beginning at 11th level, when a wolfshead gains a wolfshead talent, she may instead choose one of the following advanced wolfshead talents.

Advanced Rogue Talents: The wolfshead can select one of the advanced rogue talents listed below, using all the same rules as the rogue talent option for wolfshead talents.

Another Day (APG), Confounding Blades* (UC), Crippling Strike*, Deadly Sneak* (APG), Defensive Roll, Fast Tumble (APG), Feat, Frugal Trapsmith (APG), Hard Minded (UC), Hidden Mind (UI), Improved Evasion, Master of Diguise (APG), Master Tricks (UC), Opportunist, Redirect Attack (APG), Skill Mastery, Slippery Mind, Stalker Talent (UI), Stealthy Sniper (APG), Weapon Snatcher (UC).

Animal Focus (Su): Each time the wolfshead enters bedlam, she may also select an animal focus, from the hunter class feature. While in bedlam, the wolfshead gains the benefit of that animal focus, using half her wolfshead level as her hunter level.

Rage Powers: The following rage powers are added to the list that may be selected with the rage power wolfshead talent.

Eater of Magic (UC), Element Rage, Greater (APG), Energy Absorption (APG), Energy Eruption (APG), Fearless Rage, Flesh Wound (APG), Lethal Accuracy (UC), Mighty Swing, Raging Whirlwind (UW), Spellbreaker (APG)

Greater Bedlam (Ex)

At 11th level when the wolfshead enters bedlam the morale bonus to her Will saves, AC, and Strength and Dexterity ability and skill checks increases to +3.

Hide in Plain Sight (Su)

At 14th level, a wolfshead can use the Stealth skill even while being observed.

Avoidance (Ex)

At 19th level the wolfshead is able to duck or roll from nearly any source of damage, reducing all hit point damage taken from any source by 5 points. The wolfshead cannot use avoidance any time she loses her Dexterity bonus to AC.

Dire (Ex)

At 20th level, the wolfshead is a dire threat, able to perform at a level well above typical mortals. At the beginning of each round the wolfshead can select one of the following benefits, which lasts until the beginning of the wolfshead’s next round.

*All of the wolfshead’s critical threats automatically confirm.
*Whenever the wolfshead makes a Dexterity- or Charisma-based ability check or skill check, she rolls 2d20 and takes the best result.
*None of the wolfshead’s movement provokes attacks of opportunity.
*None of the wolfshead’s ranged attack provoke attack of opportunity.

New Feat

Extra Wolfshead Talent
You have unlocked a new wolfshead ability.
Prerequisite: Wolfshead talent class feature.
Benefit: You gain one additional wolfshead talent. You must meet all of the prerequisites for this talent.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times.

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Technomancers of the Really Wild West 1: Cartogramancers

The technomancer character in my Really Wild West campaign “Doomstone,” is a cartogramancer–someone who uses magic to enhance maps and mapmaking tools, and can use those tools to divine some kinds of information.

I noted on Facebook and Twitter recently that in the Really Wild West, the most common kinds of technomancers are Cartogramancers, Edisonades, Lovelacers, Telethurges, Teslics, and the Prophets of John Moses Browning.

I thought it might be fun to examine those ideas, starting with the one I had used the most, cartogramancer.

(Art by ForeverLee)


Cartogramancers focus on cartography, exploration, and the map as a scrying device. It has multiple origins, having developed in different forms separately in Babylon, China, and India. These were all known to and evolved by Greek and Roman mappers, but the major advancements in cartogramancy occurred in the Muslim community during the Golden Age of Islam. The 12th century cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi is considered the Founder of Modern Cartogramancy, and it was his time spent in Sicily at the court of King Roger II that brought this modern version of the art to Europe, from whence it spread to every place the Europeans eventually colonized.

Cartogramancers are among the most in-demand forms of technomancers among major companies, governments, and military groups. Though this ascendency had begun in the past generation to wane as less and less of the world was uncharted, the Martian Invasion changed so much topography, and stirred up so many Hollow Worlds, that demand has spiked again in the past two years.

Technomancer Alternate Class Feature: Cartogramancy

At 1st level, you gain access to cartogramancy. This replaces you spell cache. (You gain a spell cache at 6th level in place of a cache capacitor, and gain cache capacitor ( at 12th and cache capacitor II at 18th level).

You can make a Mysticism check to perform the Orienteering task normally associated with Survival. You double any equipment bonus that would normally apply to an Orienteering task check (such as from a cartographer’s kit). You also gain an insight bonus to checks made for Orienteering equal to 1/3 your technomancer level (round up).

Additionally, if you are in an environment you have taken at least 10 minutes to survey with a cartography kit from a vantage point that grants you a broad view (such as the top of a hill, rather than down in an alleyway), you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to initiative checks, Perception checks, Stealth checks, and Survival checks within the area you were able to see from your survey point.

Once per day, you can divine information about a region using a cartography kit. This takes 10 minutes, and can be combined with surveying an area, as described above. You generally gain information about one biome you can see out to one day’s travel from you. You can learn one piece of information, plus one piece per 4 technomancer levels.

You can learn the direction or distance to the nearest potable water source, what the natural weather will be over the next 24 hours, the CR of most dangerous creature native to the region, what the most dangerous natural hazard is and what its CR is.

If you ask the same question more than once, each answer moves down to the next relevant answer–for example of you discover CR 7 quicksand is the most dangerous hazard in a region and you asked that question twice, you might also learn than CR 5 rockslides are the second-most-dangerous hazard.

Cartographer’s Kit
Bulk: 1 Cost: 20 credits
A cartographer’s kit includes a compass, sundial, triangles, pens with various nib thicknesses, collapsible tripod, levels, spyglass with level, sextant, and plumb lines. It grants a +2 equipment bonus to skill checks for the Orienteering task or to craft a map. Additionally, if you are trained in a skill that can be used to perform the Orienteering task, and can see the stars or sun, you can take 10 minutes to make a DC 20 check with that skill to attempt to determine your longitude and latitude on the globe… if you know what world you are on.

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Reconsidering the Fighter for PF1

For years I’ve thought about altering the 1st edition Pathfinder Roleplaying Game fighter class so it has some kind of extraordinary ability that would augment it the way rangers and paladins have spells and supernatural powers. Something to represent that moment when the heroic warrior pits their will, skill, and determination into overdrive and overcomes obstacles that stymie lesser mortals. Not something too boost

But… that’d be a lot of work.

But… every project starts somewhere.

So, here is a really rough First Draft for Martial Techniques, a new alternate class feature for fighters. This is absolutely not how I would present these in a final format, but it’s something I would playtest to see how well the rough version works, to give me guidance on where to take it in development. These are very much not supposed to boost a fighter’s attack rolls, AC, damage, or threat range, but instead give fighters options when dealing with challenges the class isn’t otherwise well-suited to deal with.

(Art by PatSM)

Martial Techniques

You gain martial techniques in place of bravery (or in place of anything that replaced bravery if you took an archetype that removes bravery). You can use it once per day at 2nd level, and one additional time per day at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter.

You can use only a single martial technique each round. You use a technique as part of a standard, move, full, or swift action, or a reaction. Martial techniques are extraordinary abilities and, much as the flight of a dragon or the existence of elemental entities, often seem magical without counting as spell-like or supernatural.

There are six martial techniques. You can select from the full list each time you use a martial technique.

Breakdown: You may add your base attack bonus to a single Strength ability check.
Heroic Threat: Select one foe that can see and hear you. That foe takes a -4 penalty to all attack rolls the the DCs of its spells and abilities until it has come within 30 feet of you to make an attack against you or force you to make a saving throw. This effect ends if you move away from the foe, are dazed or stunned, take cover or gain concealment, or the foe takes a standard action to regain their composure.
Overcome: A single attack ignores DR, and affects incorporeal and swarm creatures at full effectiveness even if it normally wouldn’t. If you use this a second time on the same target, it applies to all your attacks until the end of the encounter.
Reputation: Your reputation proceeds you. You may add your base attack bonus to a single Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Sense Motive check.
Shake It Off: You ignore one condition for one round. If the condition is one you could have negated with a saving throw, you also gain a bonus save (at the same DC) to end it.
Vault: An amount of movement up to half your normal move rate can be taken in any direction that does not require teleportation, including flight, underwater, or through difficult terrain. This does not give you additional movement, just frees the movement you take through your normal actions from most restrictions. At the end of your turn if you are not at a location that can support you, you suffer the normal consequences for being there (such as falling, or needing to make a Swim check to not sink).

I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

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

It’s been more than 18 months since I updated the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words (which can be found here)!

So if you want to have a vavasor gallivant across his demesne, or have the sigil in a grimoire be the campaign’s telos, these are the words for you!

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Why Is [Insert Game Product] Late?

A lot of projects from a lot of game companies are late. I don’t find this at all shocking, at least in part because I have projects of my own that are not just horrifically behind, but (at least to public eyes) look like they’ve had no progress for weeks or months.

But for those who want answers and don’t have access to the creators of whatever project they feel is unreasonably late, here’s a table of reasons whatever thing you wish you already had is late. Tongue in cheek… but also a lot of grains of truth.

(Pic by stokkete)

Roll 1d20

  1. Roll twice. The first roll is the main reason the game product is late. The second roll is something that happened while the first roll was being dealt with, making it later.
  2. Nothing went wrong with the project. However, because game industry professionals always have multiple projects in the pipeline, an even older, even later project had an issue that delayed it, and that must be addressed before the project you are concerned about gets finished.
  3. While the publisher wasn’t dealing with major issues, a printer, distributor, freelancer, or shipper was, and that delayed things. By an unknown amount of time. We don’t have an eta yet. We’ll update you as soon as we know anything.
  4. Dog ate it.
  5. While only three days of work time was lost when a historic icestorm took the power out and killed cell phone access, it turns out that throwing out spoiled food, getting new groceries, getting emergency prescriptions to replace ruined insulin, clearing debris, calling insurance companies, checking in on elderly family members, and dealing with a three day backlog of emails, direct messages, and voicemails can take much longer than the time the power was out. Some issues take hours to deal with weeks and months later.
  6. Mental health issues. In this case, normal mental health issues that could have delayed the project in any year.
  7. Mental health issues… brought on by 2020. That might be a response to the pandemic, political turmoil, issues that call for protest, attacks from someone else flipping out over something linked to this year, or any of a dozen other things hammering this year.
  8. Aliens took it. … They may have been dog aliens.
  9. One or more of the creators is so overwhelmed that while they can dedicate time to trying to get the project out, when they do no useable creative work happens.
  10. A delay from someone else, linked to 5, 6, or 7, is serious enough other creatives need to take time to make sure the most impacted person is safe and okay.
  11. It was always going to be late. Let’s get real. It’s just worse because, you know, 2020.
  12. Time lost to having to have meetings virtually (rather than in person), and make plans to try to deal with the ever-shifting landscape of the industry, and answer questions publicly why projects are late, and try to find alternatives to plans made earlier in the pandemic which are already not viable, not only eats into time to actually make products, they tend to interrupt numerous times per day so what time can be applied to making progress on the delayed project is broken up and inefficient compared to conditions back when the project schedule was written out.
  13. All the time that should have gone to working on the project was wasted screaming into a pillow. And collecting bigger, more sound-absorbent pillows from other locations in the home.
  14. It’s hard to get much done when you are woozy from selling plasma, which you can do twice a week if you want the big donation bonuses… I mean the money has to come from somewhere.
  15. The pandemic, and the shutdowns and economic challenges it brings, have caused cash flow to drop so seriously that the project doesn’t have the money budgeted for some part of it. That work now has to be done in-house or by the lead creator, who has to squeeze it in around all the rest of the demands on their time.
  16. [This space left intentionally blank. Otherwise filling it would have taken so long, this blog post would have been late. The irony is not lost on us.]
  17. As the game industry takes hit after massive hit, time was taken to see if any Federal aid was available to make up for lost income, or to pay freelancers, to to act as a bolster for the downturn. Whether aid was found or not, the labyrinthine process of finding what options exist, reading the rules to understand if they apply, getting documents together, applying for the program, answering questions that come up, and letting others know what did and did not work, took enough time that an entire hardback book could have been written with the same effort–if anyone had a reason to think it would sell well right now.
  18. Time-travelers came from the future to delay the publication, claiming that if it was released on time, somehow things would get unimaginably worse.
    They looked… haunted.
  19. With all the joy and inspiration sucked out of them by nonstop horrorshows in their life, the creators just gave up. They aren’t happy about it, and hope to get to it later. When the world seems less terrible. If they haven’t moved on with their lives and let the industry behind forever.
  20. The creative team loved the game, the project, the fanbase, and the industry, and is working on the “Better late than bad” principle. Stated simply, this principle says “If a project is late, it’s only late until it’s delivered. If it’s not given the time and resources it needs and is bad, it’s bad forever.”

I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more snarky game industry commentary disguised as comedy (or Pathfinder 1st edition options, more rules for other game systems, fiction, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Power Fantasy for the first edition Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

Sometimes, you just want to pretend you are a hero of vast and spectacular power. And if you are a fan of PF1, there are lots of ways to build a campaign that does that.

All of these are ideas designed to make characters that totally break the expected power curve of characters of a given level. For each idea you implement, you can treat characters as 2 levels higher when determining APL for encounters. However, for the epic power level feel, it’s best to double the creatures in an encounter, rather than use higher-CR foes. Yes, four 1st level characters using three PFOs (Power Fantasy Options) can usually* take a single CR 7 foe. But it’ll feel more epic if you put them up against sixteen CR 1 foes as a challenging encounter.

(*Characters using multiple PFOs should have the bonuses and numbers needed to take on more powerful single foes, but may not have access to higher-level options to overcome some specific powers. Check if creatures have incorporeality, drains, flight, planar movement, or things linked explicitly to HD, and if those powers are beyond the reach of the abilities and spells available to the PC’s actual level, rather than their power level.)

Here are some PFOs.

(Art by Grandfailure)

Amalgam Characters
Amalgam characters pick two classes, and blend them. They get the best of the two classes’ skill points, hit dice, base attack bonuses, and base saving throws, and all the proficiencies, spellcasting, and class features of both classes.
All of the abilities of both classes are considered to be native to the amalgam class. This can be important for rule interactions. For example, an amalgam magus/wizard treats all their wizard spells as being magus spells when determining if they can cast spells without suffering from arcane spell failure.
Some amalgam class combinations are much more powerful than others. A ranger/paladin has lots of options, but doesn’t benefit from blending abilities nearly as much as a magus/warpriest. A cleric/shaman or druid/monk can be horrifying. This PFO also makes significantly more powerful characters if you use the power fantasy ability score buy.
It’s a good idea to outlaw any character that ends up with multiple animal companions and/or familiars, just because they end up with a lot of time spent dealing with those and their extra actions on their turn.

Bonus Esoteric Feats
Pathfinder has… a lot of feats. So many feats it can be tough for characters to delve into many of the more esoteric ones from beyond the core rulebook. So, this PFO gives characters 3 bonus feats, plus one bonus feat per character level above third… but the bonus feats must be taken from sources other than the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook.

Custom Gear and Bonus Progressions
Rather than random starting money and only random treasure, characters all begin with 2,500 gp of equipment at 1st level as their “core gear”. At each character level, they may reselect their core gear up to a total value equal to half the average wealth per level for that character level. Also, beginning at third level, character gain automatic bonus progression.
This is on top of whatever random treasure they receive. This option also allows GMs to not have the buying and selling of magic items in the campaign, since characters have plenty of ways to get the bonuses and options they need through this PFO.

Horrifically Overpowered Feats
They exist. Don’t take this option. Don’t use these feats. Don’t even buy the pdfs.

Yeah, the mythic rules are a very different system. But it would be remiss of me not to mention it, as it’s a well-established, expansive system designed to power up characters. That said, you should use the mythic rules regarding CR adjustments for PCs and foes if you add mythic rules, rather than my simpler PFO options. That said, you could treat one mythic tier as a single PFO.

Power Fantasy Ability Score Buy
Using the ability score point costs, rather than using the value for high fantasy (20) or epic fantasy (25), you use the value for power fantasy–50 points to buy ability scores. Characters still cannot begin with a score above 18 (before adjustments for species). It’s also totally reasonable not to allow characters to sell ability scores down below 10 with this option… though really at this point it won’t make a huge difference unless someone is building multiclass amalgam characters.

I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Diligence and Patience

For PF1. And Starfinder. Any any other game system you like them for.

You can go slowly and carefully, when the situation calls for it.
Benefit: When you Take 10 or Take 20 on a check, you can choose to take twice as much time as normal, and gain an additional +2 bonus to your check total.

You know some things require time and effort to accomplish.
Benefit: When you attempt an ability check, skill check, or attack roll (without taking 10 or taking 20) and fail, if you next action is to attempt the same check (with the same tools or weapon, against the same challenge or target), you gain a +1 bonus to the result. If this fails and your next action is again to attempt the same check as before, your bonus increases to +2. If this fails you can try third and subsequent times consecutively with a +3 bonus. If you take any other action, your bonuses end until you fail again.

I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Appendix O: Sortition as a Plot Device

Okay, yes, “Appendix O” is a cheesy and derivate name for a column title. But I really did love the inspirational appendices of some of my early RPG purchases in the 1980s, and genuinely learned a lot from them. Not as academic sources themselves, but as starting points for me to hunt down ideas and historical or philosophic context of ideas I first encountered in ttRPGs.

So when I realized I wanted a column title for just starting points of ideas I could pitch and explore a bit for gaming, I settled on this… in about 5 minutes without much serious though. I may or may not do more Appendix O articles. If you have an opinion on the idea, let me know!

Given it’s Election Day here in the U.S.A., I thought I’d tackle a government-related idea I’ve been playing with for some time as a potential plot device — sortition.

What is Sortition?

As a broad definition, sortition is the act of selecting, sorting, or deciding something by drawing lots. In governance, sortition is the selection of governing agents through random selection from a bigger pool of qualified candidates.

In 6th century Athens, sortition was considered a crucial part of democracy. The idea was that if positions of power were allowed to be filled through election, competition for those positions would inevitably lead to oligarchy as people made promises, cut deals, and build power bases to ensure they would get elected and re-elected. By assigning governing officers at random (from the male citizens who self-selected to be potential candidates).

However, sortition CAN use anything as qualifying for candidates, or nothing at all. Looking at some of the interesting governments proposed on early ttRPG sourcebooks, a Mageocracy might use sortition to assign important governmental positions to randomly selected spellcasters within the kingdom. A Theocracy that worshipped a god of chance (or has a strong tradition of using random fortune-telling methods to determine the will of the gods, or perhaps the collective will of a whole pantheon of gods) might use sortition to assign those positions not held by the church, or to decide who within the church holds government positions through sortition.

Sortition has been used in many forms over the centuries. In the US, juries for trials are essentially selected by sortition (and it’s easy to see why electing jurors would be seen as rife with corruption.) Sortition has been used to replace just a legislatural body, or to form policy boards, and even to select community leaders.

So, how can a government determined by chance be used in a ttRPG as a plot point?

(Art by Grandfailure)

Congratulations, High Minister

If you present a sortition government to PCs, and explain that anyone who meets certain qualifications can be selected to serve, the PCs may still be surprised when one of them is selected to fill an important role. Depending on the government, the selection may not be something a character is allowed to decline.

This allows a GM to introduce political elements to a campaign without worrying about political parties, campaigning, votes, or even re-election. A PC is handed a position for one term, which could be as short as a few weeks (especially if they are filling in for the end of a term of someone who died in office), and no actions on the PCs’ part is going to get them another term.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, King

You could also have an ally, patron, or even adversary of the PCs have vast political power dropped in their lap–or have them need to rush to complete some project or pass a law before their term ends, since they know they have little chance of keeping the power to do so after the next random assignment of power.

Luck as Political Power

Many ttRPGs have chance-manipulating abilities in the hands of PCs. If a government is strongly influences by sortition, those abilities can be seen as political power. A player might be woo’d by a candidate to skew luck in their favor… or accused of doing so when the PC did no such thing.

Open Field

Rather than force a plot on PCs, a GM could also just establish a major sortition government as an invitation for PCs who are interested. If candidates must express interest in running for office, but are then chosen by lots, it allows PCs to decide to get involved in politics very spur-of-the moment.

Critical Failure

One of the common criticisms of sortition is that it does not select for skill or morality. A GM could use that as a plot point, having a stable, rational, well-liked set of government officials replaced by idiots and crooks with a particularly bad set of randomly assigned positions. This could cause nearly overnight change, and potentially riots and cries for revolution. It can also place the PCs in a position where they must choose between the well-established law of the land, and wishing to replace an objectively terrible ruler, judge, legislator, or all of them above.

I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Appendix O ideas, (or game theories, Pathfinder 1st edition thoughts, or more rules for other game systems, 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 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.

· “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

· 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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