Unused Starfinder Monster Pitches

These are ideas I was pitching to various publishers/producers in 2017, which never got picked up by anyone. These are taken directly from my pitches, when I was asked to come up with examples, or a set number of ideas, for an article or book.

Bybbin—A long, flat, ribbon-shaped creature like a very flat snake. Uses loops of itself as its arms and hands. Has a single featureless eye at the front and back of it’s form, and “eats” by using a few loops to engulf and crush something that is then absorbed through its skin. Secretes acid, can spray it, and can hear (its whole body is able to pick up vibrations), but needs a mechanical aid to speak.
Envisioned as a sentient and sapient species. Could be a playable species. Could have multiple stat blocks.

Fundamental Dragons — Following the presentation format of chromatic dragons in Alien Archive, but the dragons are spacefaring creatures linked to fundamental forces. Thus there would be electromagnetic dragons, gravity dragons, strong atomic dragons, and weak atomic dragons. Could also add a dark energy/quintessence dragon, or quantum dragon, to get to the traditional 5 dragon within one category. Opportunity for dragons to interact with solarion and vanguard abilities and themes.
Can do any range of CRs.

Ruhnk—A creature shaped like an inner tube, with dozens of tiny tentacles spouting from the “sidewall” of its ring, eyes along its outer wheel (hard crystal eyes that it can roll over), and mouths lining the inner ring. A sentient scavenger that eats whatever it finds off the floor nonstop, the way other races breathe, and has no sense of shame or humiliation—to exist is its own justification. Moves by rolling.
Can work at any CR up to 9 or so. Could be a playable species, or be more monstrous. Could have multiple stat blocks.

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Unused Random Scifi Gear Ideas

These are ideas I was pitching to various publishers/producers in 2017, which never got picked up by anyone. These are taken directly from my pitches, when I was asked to come up with examples, or a set number of ideas, for an article or book.

Class It Up: A hood worn during travel that makes it appear you are in first class, with more room and better entertainment. Deluxe models include neurostimulents that let you think you are stretching your legs, while you hunker into a kind of low-footprint fetal position. This is standard for some air travel companies.

DyeNA: Injection that permanently alters your hair, skin, or eye pigmentation

Kill Fee: A creditstick that can loan you up to 1,000 credits when you press the button—and get a neurotoxin injected. the Kill Fee doesn’t add the money until it’s injector confirms you are you (through DNA) and that you are subject to the neurotoxin (not immune). Every 30 days you must make a payment to the company backing the Kill Fee equal to 5% of the amount loaned, or you lose 1 Constitution. If you manage to pay off the entire loan, you are given the antidote.

MoTats: Injected luminescent nannite tattoos that swim just beneath the skin, allowing your tattoos to moving in flowing patterns over your body, and chance their appearance.

Olfacticator: A device that records your brainwaves when you smell something, and can play that smell back to your or any other brain. Can also come with pre-programmed scents you can play at will, and even Odor Operas.

Self-Censor: A microchip implanted in the eye with a lead to the brain, that reads your response to anything you find gross or unpleasant or offensive, and covers your view of such things with a censor bar (or in some cases covers it with with cartoons, or cat memes, or even ads if you get a free one sponsored by an ad company)

SEPA: “Structural Engineering Pocket Analyzer” Hooked to any camera or smart communication device, it analyzed the objects in your environment and makes an educated guess about hardness, HP, and break DCs.

Walkaway: A small sphere the size of a golfball. Can make the sounds and vibrations equal to a person walking, with the speed of the walk automatically matching how quickly it is rolled along a surface.

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Expanding Fantasy Worldbuilding With Research: Clans of the Reisende

Too often, fantasy worldbuilding seems to be designed primarily to fill in the pre-existing name slots on some universal chart of what already commonly exists in fantasy literature. Obviously this is far from universal, and I’m not trying to claim I am the first (or best, or most important) person suggesting bucking this trend. But when I see worlds with a dwarven mountain nation, and an elven forest nation, and human kingdoms mostly ruled by monarchies with one example each of exceptions that have recognizable modern governments, I often wonder if the creator’s research began and ended with names and style. There have, in the real world, been SO many other forms of community organization, government, family, relationship, kinship, identity, association, rulership, authority,

These notes grew out of research I was doing for two different projects that never happened. The first was to update two “Viking-like northerners” kingdoms from my longest-running campaign, the Sovereign Kingdoms to 3.5 d20 rules. The second was the Runepeaks, a setting I was creating for a project to update a 3pp’s company (not one I have ever ended up working or writing for) from 3.5 to Pathfinder. (That was going to be an ongoing project hand-in-hand with that publisher, and it fell apart for various reasons). At about the same time I was exploring the history of some of my own Norden heritage. I found a lot of information abut clan structures, various Nordic mythologies, fylgja, Nordic fauna, and so on.

I got inspired to lean into some of the more interesting elements of that material to create something more interesting to me than just “Kinda-not-Vikings-have runes-and-axes.” While I never finished the write-up of that area, I did pull together a “first draft” with some key ideas I wanted to build on if I ever got to really explore these ideas in a fantasy setting.

Below is a slightly-cleaned-up version of notes for that fictional culture, the Reisende.

The Reisende

The Reisende are also called Northfolk, because they live further north than the biggest land-trade empires (which are generally the ones with the maps that include the most countries, and who thus have their names for everything used by many other nations). The Reisende themselves consider themselves “Travelers,” rather than “Northerners,” with a strong tradition of naval trade and exploration and of spending winter months gathered in roving bands of explorers, but who also sometimes act as merchants, couriers, raiders, or hired mercenaries.

Reisende culture is heavily influenced by their belief that each of their souls is created by one of the Ancestor Beasts, the original godlike examples of specific animal species. Reisende form clans based on which Ancestral Animal they are descended from, and these clans are cross-regional societies more important than territoriality, feudal allegiance, or even religious affiliation. The most powerful or well respected member of a clan generally settles intraclan disputes near them, and is often called to serve as an advocate for members of their clan with disputes with members of other clans. Local Jarls are landowning military and spiritual leaders who directly own enough land to make them self-sufficient, and generally serve as protectors of outlaying towns overseen by borgers–senior members of same clan as the jarl who convey the clan’s wishes and concerns to other town members. While a borger of a different clan might make an alliance with a powerful jarl if no strong leader of their own clan is close enough, it’s much less common.

Nearly all significant matters are handled through clan channels. Each clan has a reputation to maintain, and no matter what else they may be seen as by their neighbors (strong, or fierce, or crafty, or sly, or even cowardly), it is important to ever clan to be seen as honest and competent. There is no formal policing or court system–a person who commits a crime is rebuffed and if necessary punished by other members of their clan to ensure the clan’s own reputation is not ruined. If others are not satisfied with the can’s handling of their own members, complaints are elevated to senior clan members, borgers, and jarls.

Within any settlement, the more members of a clan there are the more strongly that clan’s behavior is considered to be enforced. A settlement overseen by a Seal Clan borger will certainly have more Seal clan members than any other, and often half or more of the population will belong to that clan. When only a very small percentage of people in a settlement belong to a clan, they often must depend on either the reputation of the nearest major member of their clan (even if that is weeks of travel away), or a strong alliance with local members in a clan with more influence nearby.

While it is often the case that a child is of the same Clan as one of more parent, it is not always so. The Ancestral Animals are divinities, of a sort, after all. If two Bear Clan parents give birth to a Sea Eagle Clan child, well, that’s Ancestral Animals for you. However, everyone has some ties to the clans of their parents, though it is not as strong as their tie to their own clan. Even so, if a Seal Clan daughter of Bear Clan parents was in a warband that took up arms against the Bear Clan, the warband would not expect her to join in the fight. Much rarer, some Reisende are strongly tied to two clans all their own, a state often known as “having an ancestor on each shoulder.”

Indeed, such cross-clan connections are often the way major issues are settled. If a town under a Reindeer Clan jarl has a territorial dispute with hunters under the banner of a Forest Cat jeger, someone with strong ties to both clans (even if not as strong as someone with an ancestor on each shoulder) is most likely to be the mediator that both sides trust.

(Being Northfolk, such issues are often formally settled by a Nærkamp–a ceremonial fight between two small groups of combatants the two sides agree are equal to one another, whether that’s three warrior to a side, or one mighty warlock for one side, against twenty farmers on the other. In some cases, other challenges settle disputes, such as drinking competitions, pig-wrestling, races, swimming contests, thread-spinning matches, butter-churning events, and so on).

Clan membership is not restricted by heredity. While most Northfolk are dwarf, elf, goblin, grendel, human, orc, or ulvemann, each of those is equally likely to belong to any given clan. A Bjornung dwarf and Bjornung orc are likely to be much closer to one another than a Bjornung dwarf and a Havorning dwarf. And if a gnome, or cyclops, or half-dragon centaur shows up and is recognized as descended of the bear (perhaps bya clan member in communication with their fylgiur–a kind of divine prophetic animal guide who likely appears in dreams), they are a beloved member of the Bjornung as well. Clan-kinship can also be extended by members of a clan who are willing to be responsible for the actions of the person they bring into the clan. Spouses, shield-mates, and hearth-bonded groups of any size often include members of numerous clans, and the most respected member of that joining (who is usually a woman, who are considered to be wiser on matters of family, but less often may be a man, especially in families of choice that do not have women as members) can petition the most respected local sage or wise-one of their own clan (also most often a woman) to accept all the members of the family-of-choice as clan-kin.

Of course just as people of the same nation or same family may feud in other lands, two members of the same clan may dislike, mistrust, or work against one another. But such animus is the exception, rather than the rule, and is almost never allowed to go so far as to damage the clan as a whole. If someone within a clan is considered to have committed crimes not great enough to deserve death, but too great for the clan to ever vouch for them, then are generally branded with a severed-head sigil indicating they have been cast out of the clan. It is difficult for such outcasts to be find a home anywhere but with brigands or in lands far from the Reisende, though it does occasionally happen (usually as the result of performing some legendary act of heroism, kindness, or crafting), and the tales of Ulfathe Thrice-Branded proves even someone outcast more than once can earn their way into a new clan.

There are dozens of clans, and the prestige, reach, power, and size of each varies as the fortunes of their notable members rise and fall. The following are the most powerful, well-known, widespread, and respected of the clans.

Bjornung (The Descendants of the Bear)
Hafgufang (The Descendants of the Leviathan)
Havenselung (The Descendants of the Seal)
Havorning (The Descendants of the Sea Eagle)
Lintormeng (The Descendants of the Dragon)
Moskusing (The Descendants of the Musk Ox)
Ratatosring (The Descendants of the Squirrel)
Reinsdyrung (The Descendants of the Reindeer)
Reving (The Descendants of the Winter Fox)
Skoggkattung (The Descendants of the Forest Cat)

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer, 2. Feedback and Keeping Complexity Where It Belongs.

The No-Feedback Loop

One of the things I have never been good enough at as a developer was sending feedback to my freelancers. Yes, a great deal of that is the industry standard and driven by work conditions–if I am already at 50 hours in a workweek, I have to turn over finished text in the morning, and there is something in a freelancer’s turnover that has to be fixed, it’s faster and easier to just fix and send it to the next step (be that editing, approvals, layout, or whatever) than write to the freelancer explaining what needs change and hoping they give me a usable version in time. And that means that writing up and sending feedback becomes extra work I am doing that doesn’t directly help hit my next set of deadlines.

On the other hand, the more I can help freelancers become better writers, the better chance I have of not being in the same situation in the future. Sadly though, the decreased chance isn’t decreased by a lot. Firstly, people who stay in the industry tend to be the ones who figure out what they need to improve even if they don’t get specific feedback. Secondly, the percentage of freelancers who stay in the freelance-ttRPG-writing biz for more than a couple of years is pretty small compared to the fraction who dropout for whatever reason. Third, even if a freelancer gets feedback, sticks around, and gets better, there’s a good chance they’ll get grabbed up by someone else and not have time to do whatever projects I happen to be working on three years later.

Of course, all that doesn’t mean there’s no value in giving that feedback, however much extra work it is for me. If nothing else, it makes it more likely I’ll get to buy a good product later down the line. But more importantly to me, I care about games and gamers. I want to help if I possibly can, and feedback is a great way of doing that. However, in addition to lack of time, I’m not omnipotent. My feedback could be *wrong* for any number of reasons. I might lack the technical knowledge to understand why a freelancer is representing a specific real world event in a certain why. I might not have the cultural, social, or personal viewpoint to see why some inclusion or deletion is significant and important. I might just have a dumb opinion no one would agree with (it happens!). And when feedback is given privately in a professional setting, even if I am wrong, a freelancer might be intimidated by the imbalance of influence within the industry, and not feel safe to tell me I am wrong, or even suggest I am missing something.

(By the by, if you are ever working for me, and I am wrong in my feedback, let me know. I don’t promise to agree with you. I do promise to consider my own biases and limitations, and not punish you for having a differing opinion.)

So, now that I have begun looking at old emails and direct messages I have sent to freelancers over the years, I have concluded that scrubbing these of any specific details (to protect both the freelancer and whatever company I was working for when I wrote it, even if it was MY company), and posting it publicly may overcome a lot of these issues. Yes, the feedback isn’t going to be specific to the issues of everyone who reads it, but it can get into a lot of hands with a single post on my part, and if I’m wrong people are more likely to feel free to point out why (even if it’s just among themselves).

The Issue

Since I am redacting a lot of the details in the first part of this letter, I have to explain what the issue was in the freelancer’s handout, that I felt the need to both fix, and explain why I was fixing it.

In a d20-based fantasy ttRPG adventure, the Freelanced has included a room with a treasure chest. This was not a major villain’s cache, nor even the main focus of the room. There was nothing in the chest relevent to the adventure’s plot, nor tightly linked to the themes of the adventure. It was just one element of a typical encounter within the adventure.

And it had a fire trap.

Now, an occasional trapped chest is a good idea. There was no note as to who had the keys for the chest (after all, whoever trapped it wants to be able to open it safely), but that’s a minor issue. But more importantly, the trap did a variable amount of damage based on how much you failed to disarm it by, and by how far away from it you were, and by how much you failed to pick the lock (if you didn’t even try to disarm it), and special rules for determining how much damage each thing in the chest took depending on which of the above conditions happened.

It, by itself, took up more wordcount than any other part of the encounter, and more than most complete encounters within the adventure. And, weirdly, it’s not the ONLY time I got a overly-complex-random-fire-trap in a freelancer adventure turnover, nor the only time I’ve given feedback about it.

So, I wrote a short note of feedback to the freelancer. letter in response. I have copied it here, minus any identifying information and with a dab of editorial clean-up, as the second “Letter from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer.”

After a polite intro, and some minor notes on lesser matters, I wrote:

“About the fire-trapped chest. In the final version, you’ll find it just does flat damage in an area (Reflex save for half), and goes off if you fail the roll to pick the lock, or smash the chest, or fail the roll to disarm the trap by 5 or more. I wanted to explain why, and it’s not because the rules you wrote are wrong, or don’t work, or that they don’t make sense.

It’s just because, the rules eat up a lot of space, they are a lot for the GM to absorb and run correctly, and the players have no way to know how detailed the rules they are interacting with are. Even if the GM knows that the trap could have done more damage, or could have done less damage, or could have eliminated more items, all the players will ever hear is that it goes boom and does some damage.

So, the play experience for the players is nearly the same, and the cognitive load on the GM is much lower, if the trap just has a simple trigger, and does set damage. The very fact that damage is rolled already creates a wider range of possibilities, and does so in a way the players and GM are used to an expect. While the players aren’t likely to find out that a trap that ends up doing 4d6 fire damage to them could have done 8d6 fire damage, they will know if they made or failed their save, and are likely to know if the GM rolls 12 damage on 6d6.

That’s not to say a trap should never have this level of complexity, but the ‘weight’ of these rules is so great, the chest or trap would need to have a bigger narrative role within the adventure to justify the number of words on the page, and the amount of time the GM needs to figure out how to run it, and how much time it would take at the game table in play.

For example, if an important part of the adventure was getting a MacGuffin, famously locked in the Cask of Conflagrations, you could build up to this complex and detailed trap as part of the adventure leading up to that moment. Players could have chances to speak to people who failed to get past the trap, or find scraps of ancient descriptions of it. They could have a side quest to get some anti-fire salve to help survive it, and be aware that it was an especially devious and complex mechanism that would take more effort and carry heavier consequences than ususal.

Ultimately, this is an issue of thinking about the end play experience for the GM and players. (Note that there certainly ARE people who primarily engaging with adventures by reading them, which may react to something like this differently, but in my experience those people enjoy any well-written encounters, so there’s no actual benefit of having any rules section be longer and more complex than is justified by the narrative value the players will experience.) Every unusual exception to how rules elements are used is one more thing the GM has to spend mental energy understanding before they can run an adventure. Asking GMs to do so isn’t inherently bad, but the extra effort should be linked to extra fun for GM and players both.

There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to do something out of the ordinary with a trap, but being creative and being complex aren’t always linked. If the trap did fire damage, and sprayed alchemical materials that attracted more wandering monsters to attack the PCs as an additional effect that would be unusual, but could be explained in 1-2 more sentences. If it triggered a wand of magic missiles from inside that had just a few charges left, which the PCs could then recover as treasure, that would be unusual, and the end experience for the players would be something fun and new linked to loot, which means that wand then has a story connected to it, which can boost roleplaying opportunities.

I also want to make clear that the overall encounter was good, and this was a pretty easy fix for me as developer. But while I think the extra design work you did here doesn’t serve the adventure well, it was mechanically sound and an interesting read. I want to make sure the end message you get is not just “this was bad” or “this is too long,” but “this didn’t work well where and how it was–but keeping thinking about how to deliver unexpected things for GMs and players to enjoy, and know that if used a different way, these well-done game mechanics could work great.”

So, there’s some of the advice you might get from me, if I was contracting you to write for me.

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Saint Bennen, and Paladins, in the Sovereign Kingdoms

My mention of the Bennenites–staff-wielding warrior-priests from my old Sovereign Kingdoms fantasy campaign–in an article about Staff Mastery Feats has apparently raised some interest in the worldbuilding about the order. (More than in the feats they inspired, in any case 🙂 ).

Most of my notes about that more-than-20-year-old-game are scrawled in pencil in a few different notebooks and one big red 3-ring binder. Having moved 11 times in that two decades they aren’t all in one place, and many are in boxes in storage (though I have laid eyes on most of them on the past 18 months). But I have dug some up, and can

In the Sovereign Kingdoms the major religion was the Apostolic Church, which worshiped a supreme deity who had 4 specially blessed demigods who oversaw interactions with mortals. Three of those rebelled (essentially taking the role of three differently-themed antichrist/lucifer figures), and the fourth, YSRIES, began teaching various mortals directly. Those mortals who followed his teachings to a state of high enlightenment were granted tiny motes of his divine power, becoming saints.

Sainthood was essentially treated as a mega-paladin template in that campaign, making every paladin essentially a potential saint in training. Paladins were considered to have been given a mote of divine power they were trusted to use appropriately, with only those dedicated to the concepts of benevolence and morality even giver that power. There are paladins of other faiths (though they were rarer, and included the singular Green Knight of the druidic faith, the Proctors of the Gnostic faith, and the Salt Warriors of the eastern Apostolic Church).

The power of a paladin was sometimes granted temporarily for a good, faithful follower in particularly desperate straits (as happened to a PC at least once during the campaign). However, the ability to draw on the mote of divinity required a level of dedication and purity. If a mortal failed to live up to that standard, the connection literally became metaphysically impossible. It was not that divine powers withdrew their assistance, but that mortals too far out of balance with the essence of the divinity couldn’t access it.

(As an aside, while the power of a paladin came from outside themselves, actually drawing on the power of a mote of divinity was a skill that could apply to different power sources. If a paladin fell far enough from grace, one of the three fallen demigods could grant a fiendish power source which, if accepted, turned the bearer into an anti-paladin. Anti-paladins tended to have powers diametrically opposed to paladins because they were using the same training manuals to manipulate the aligned planar energy within them.)

Within the Apostolic Church, saints were arranged in three tiers of reverence–the Apostles (taught directly by YSRIES), the ArchSaints (taught by one or more of the Apostles, usually after YSRIES left the mortal plane), and the Canon Saints (recognized as saints by the authority of the Ecclesiarch of the Apostolic Church).

Saint Bennen was the first of the Canon Saints, a farmer-turned-mercenary-turned-priest who had decided to dedicate his life to the protection of the oppressed. Most famously, during a war against devilish cultists, Bennen-as-mercenary refused to leave a town of innocents when local defenders pulled out, as the defenders believing any fight to save it doomed to total defeat. Because the retreat had to be performed swiftly, the sick, wounded, young, and old were all left behind. When Bennen refused to leave, his commander stripped him of his spear, sword, and dagger. Thus when Bennen stood at the edge of town to defend it from oncoming attackers, he did so armed with only a staff.

The half-fiend commander of the attacking forces was so amused, it decided to destroy Bennen personally before overrunning the town, so as to sow fear, misery, and despair among the townsfolk. However, as the fight began, Bennen was granted the power of paladinhood, and was joined by a Bagwyn* companion as a steed. Bennen defeated the half-fiend, the devilish cult army fled in fear, and the town was saved. Due to a wound sufferend in the battle, Bennen forevermore moved with a severe limp. In thanks for the divine aid, Bennen turned to religious studies, and became a priest, and in time a Arch-Prelate (the third-highest rank within the Apostolic Church).

*A bagwyn is a heraldic creature of mythology with the body of an antelope, mighty backwards-curling horns, and the fetlocks and tail of a horse. In the Sovereign Kingdoms, bagwyns were basically unicornlike creatures that served any good-aligned mystic forces, while unicorns were specifically angelic.

I haven’t yet found the list of who Bennen was the patron saint of, but if memory serves it included farmers, mercenaries, defenders, wood-gatherers, woodwrights, the ill, the infirm, the lame, bagwyns, and lost causes. While most Apostolic Orders were extremely suspicious of druids, Bennenites often formed aliances with them, and when a Green Knight arose, Bennenite priests would see to their training.

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer, 1

I recently moved toward the contract stage of a small project (1,500-2,500 words) with a new freelancer, and asked them what timeframe they thought would work for them as a deadline (so I could put it in the contract). Quite reasonably (especially given I had told the freelancer I was available for general industry questions), the freelancer wanted to know what kind of turnaround time was reasonable and typical in the industry. Also, how much back-and-forth was their going to be between the freelancer and myself, as that would impact their thinking on a deadline.

So, I wrote a short letter in response. It then occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of drill-down detail prospective and relatively new freelance ttRPG writers often ask about in seminars and such.

So I have copied it here, minus any identifying information and with a dab of editorial clean-up, as a generic “Letter from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer.” I might do more of these in the future, or this might just be a 1-off.

After a polite intro, I wrote:

“So, turnaround can vary wildly. At the “experienced freelancer” level, I normally expect someone to be able to produce a finished draft of 10,000 words per month, starting from the time they have a full outline (if needed) and contract. That’s assuming they aren’t doing this full time, and don’t have any other freelance assignments.

However, when I am working with a freelancer, it’s not really any of my business if they are doing it full time or have other contracts. I just offer a contact with a deadline, and see if they agree they can hit that.

There are freelancers I know quite well who can product 20k, 30k, or even 45k words in a month… but I try to never plan to need that. And, even those who can aren’t always free to do so when I have an emergency project. I also work with some people who can only manage 5k in a month, and only if the timing is right. But as long as they produce good work when they do take a contract, I can work around that.

When I personally began ttRPG writing in the mid-1990s, I averaged a mere 1,000 words in a month Luckily, I just did magazine articles at first, often with no set deadline. However, by the time I left Wizards of the Coast in 2001, after more than a year of full-time, in-house game writing, I was producing 40k-50k words per month as a freelancer. Now that I’m in my 50s, I can’t really keep that up anymore. 😛

Most developers/editors/producers assume newer writers need more time, and try to work around that. In this case, I *could* perfectly well give you 90 days to write this. Given it’s short length, I’d expect an experienced freelancer to be able to do it in 1-2 weeks, and a veteran to be able to do it in one day (if the timing is right  and they can spare a day when I need it written).

I would expect anywhere up to 30 days for someone with very little experience, but honestly in my dealings it often seems most people who can’t do it in 2 weeks just can’t do it. That’s not being judgmental — some people just have too much going on in their lives to spend much time writing about imaginary magic creatures. And there ARE exceptions. So if you wanted to pad your time with this first project because it made you more comfortable, I’d be okay with that.

As a side note, never be afraid to tell someone offering you a freelance writing project up-front you can’t do it in the timeframe suggested. Also, if you want the job, feel free to tell them when you COULD have it done by. Something like “I love this idea, but my schedule wouldn’t allow me to get it back to you in 6 weeks. However, if you could extend the deadline to 9 weeks, I could accomplish that.” Missing a deadline after you say you can do it is bad, but telling people you can’t meet a deadline when turning down work is never seen as a bad thing. It’s usually taken as a sign you know your limits, and are thus more likely to be reliable.

(And missing a deadline after you agree to a job isn’t the end of the world, especially if there are extenuating circumstances. The most important things are to communicate with your developer early, and let them know if problems are growing. If you have 4 weeks for a project, and 2 weeks in you tell them “This is going slower than expected, can I have an extra week to get it done?” they may be free to give it to you. But if you tell them that the day before it is due, it both gives them much less leeway, and shows you haven;t been working on it throughout, or haven’t been tracking your progress. Even then, exigent circumstances CAN arise. I once had a freelancer tell me the day before their deadline they were going to be weeks late–because their home had been hit by a Category 4 hurricane. And, yeah, I could see how that would make delivery nearly impossible even if they were mostly done.)

(As a second aside, communication is important. Telling someone on the last day that you are giving up on a project and won’t be turning over any work for it at all is BAD, but not telling them that and not replying to their inquiries is still much worse.)

As for how much back-and-forth is needed, it’s a fine line. Especially for something short, if everything goes smoothly, you may do your work and send it to me without ever needing any other advice or input. However, if you aren’t sure if you are doing it right, or aren’t sure if an idea you have had fits what the person paying you wants, or want to change something from the pitch that was already agreed to, or can’t figure out how to write a rule or describe an issue or fix a plot hole, those are all great reasons to reach out to your developer and explain the issue and ask for feedback.

For bigger projects, there are often “milestones” where you are asked 1/2-way through the project’s writing time to show you have done 1/2 the work. And some projects later on where you are asked to work with multiple writers may have some forum or Discord channel set up where writers can brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other.

OTOH, the person paying you to write something normally doesn’t want to spend as much time answering your questions as it would take them to write it themselves.”

So, there’s some of the advice you might get from me, if I was contracting you to write for me.

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Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

In my longest-running fantasy RPG group campaign, The Sovereign Kingdoms, there was a famous religious order who revered Saint Bennen. Known as “Bennenites,” they were warrior-priests who were considered masters of quarterstaff fighting. They were a popular piece of lore for the world, and anytime a character was described as wearing heavy armor and carrying a wooden staff, shod in cold iron at one end and silver at the other, players knew to take them seriously because they obviously had received Bennenite training.

Bennenites were one of the major Good Guy organizations, and included clerics, fighters, priests, and “Kirks” (which were a form of religious order given roughly the same authority and respect as Knights, but only where that religion was acknowledged). However, Bennenite training was made available to anyone not known to be of foul character, and young peasants, squires, mercenaries, and craftsmen often trained at Bennenite Chapterhouses. If those trainees later turned evil, that did not somehow take away the benefits of their training. (One major villain was a mage with Bennenite Training, and a magic staff).

I had begun to work on Bennenite training feats for 3.0 and 3.5 fantasy RPG rules, but never finished them. Here is a new take on the ideas, at least to start, for Pathfinder 1st edition.

Bennenite Training
You have been trained in the fighting style of St. Bennen, who said “Let none who can pick up a stick see themselves as unarmed against adversity.”
Prerequisite: Proficiency with quarterstaff, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, you can use it as if it was a longsword, shortsword, or one of each, except the weapon damage type is bludgeoning. You are still considered proficient with the weapons when you use the quarterstaff as a longsword and shortsword, even if you aren’t proficient with longsword and/or shortsword. You can use this as proficiency for feats (such as Weapon Focus: Longsword), but if you only meet the proficiency as a result of Bennenite Training you can only use those feats with a quarterstaff. Any feat, ability, or action you have access to you can apply to a quarterstaff you can continue to use even when treating the quarterstaff as a longsword, short sword, or both. You cannot gain the same benefit twice by using one version for quarterstaff and one for another weapons (for example if you have Weapon Focus with both longsword and quarterstaff, you cannot apply both to the same attack).

If you take an action that normally requires two weapons (such as attacking with two weapons), you must treat the two ends of your quarterstaff as the two weapons.

If you are proficient with quarterstaff, longsword, and short sword, this feat acts as Weapon Focus for any attack you make with a quarterstaff.

Bennenite Training Specialization
You have learned advanced teachings of St. Bennen.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +4 or 4 ranks Knowledge (religion).
Benefit: When you make an attack with a quarterstaff, regardless of what weapon you treat it as, you gain a +2 bonus to damage dealt. This counts as Weapon Specialization, and does not stack with other forms of Weapon Specialization.

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More Sigil Scion Options for PF1

So, I wrote up a short set of options for “Sigil Scions,” themed abilities you can stack onto PF1 characters (or monsters) to give them a significant boost in effectiveness. And I have a system for turning oracle mysteries into domains, which would make access to some revelations an option.

But the Sigil Scion rules assume everyone is going to get some spell power, and not everyone WANTS spells — even bonus Still Spells with Eschew Material Components — for their characters.

Enter Sigil Seals.

Sigil Seals

If using the Sigil Scion rules, a character may take a Sigil Seal in place of Sigil Spells or Sigil Power. A Sigial Scion may replace both Sigil Spells and Sigil Power with Sigil Seals, if desired.

Sigil Seals grants a power at 1st level, and again at 8th level. These powers may be bonus feats, alchemist discoveries, the investigator inspiration, magus discoveries, ninja tricks, rogue talents, shaman hexes, slayer talents, or witches hexes. When selecting bonus feats, you do not need to meet any ability score prerequisite, but all other prerequisites must be met normally.

For other choices, you gain the abilities of the selected ability, using your total character level as your level in the relevant class. If the ability is fueled by a pool of points you do not possess (such as an arcane reservoir for arcanist exploits, or inspiration pool), you gain the relevant pool with a total number of points equal to 1 +1/3 your character level. If you select an investigator inspiration, you gain an inspiration pool and inspiration die using your character level as a class level. If you take investigator inspiration, you may then select an investigator talent if you get another Sigil Seal selection. (For example, a character taking Sigil Seals twice at 1st level could select investigator inspiration and an investigator talent as their two 1st level selections.)

You do not gain any ability not expressly granted by the selection. However, you can apply any option from the selected class feature to relevant options gained from other classes (so if you are a druid, and you select the focused summoning arcanist exploit, you do not gain access to arcanist summoning spells, but you can apply the exploit to your druidic summoning spells).

When you first gain a Sigil Seal, select one ability modifier. Any time your Sigil Seal refer to an ability score or modifier (such as to determine save DCs or uses per day), you use the selected ability.

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Off-The-Cuff Campaign Ideas, Part 3

Just like my two previous entries, these are off-the-cuff campaign ideas I have done no prep or pre-planning for. They may all suck… or might spark a good idea for other people.

Surveyors: Ecealhstede is a god, but not a sapient or humanoid one. Ecealhstede is the Eternal City, the Home Before All, and the Foundation of Divinity. It is literally an eternal divinity in the form of a city, which has a center, and an outer wall, but no limit to how big it is, or how many denizens it can support. It is a mix of all architecture styles, all cultural influences, and all building types. It has a sea port, and a river port, and a desert caravan gate, and a forested merchant’s gate, and one long wall of nothing but sharpened stakes that keep out something living just beyond, in the eternally fog-shrouded bog beyond.

Ecealhstede has at least one door to every other city in existence, and it’s aqueducts, and sewers, and culverts, and roads, and alleys are similarly linked.

Many more creatures pass through Ecealhstede without noticing than ever realize they are within, and many more glimpse it briefly than spend any notable time within its walls, moats, barricades, and squares.

But Ecealhstede has chosen you, and your allies, to fulfill the role of surveyors. Because every settlement and structure everywhere is part of Ecealhstede, any threat to any of them can, in rare circumstances, become a threat to Ecealhstede. If a warehouse fire is going to spread through reality-spanning streets into the Eternal City’s thatched quarter, or siege engineers are going to breach a fortified wall that is harmonically linked to one of Ecealhstede’s walls, or if a flood is going to poor through dimensional cracks to flood Ecealhstede’s cisterns, the god-city draws you in to the base of operations it provides you and your allies, and then all doors out lead to the problem.

Of course, being a god’s champion, even one made of boulevards and bridges, has its advantages. With each threat to Ecealhstede you solve, your wealth, prestige, and personal power grow. Though there is also a god of ransacking, and soon you may draw ITS attention…

Brand New Season: Probably, no one should have exposed the Aelder Things to the concept of television. But they did, and now the Apocalypse Prevention Bureau (APB) has to come up with exciting entertainment for those nameless, formless entities to enjoy. You are an expert from a modern, technologically-advanced world. And you have been recruited for the Brand New Season.

The APB puts you in a group of diverse, often edgy allies. Then they send you to go deal with some specific moment, in some fantasy world. Those threats are always discrete, focused, and generally can be solved with properly applied violence. And they are always JUST within your ability to overcome them. You certainly CAN take guns instead of crossbows, and jeeps, and CB headsets… but if any of those things makes the adventure significantly easier, SOMETHING always comes along to even the odds.

And if you make it back, you get to rest, make some merchandizing deals, heal up, train… and then go back out for a new adventure that’s just a bit tougher than the last one.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t be entertaining enough…

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Oracle Mysteries as Cleric Domains in PF1

Sometimes, it’s useful to be able to swap around similar features from different classes, such as using oracle mysteries as cleric domains. You might want to have different kinds of clerics for various concepts (perhaps Merothian clerics of Community focus on the founders of each community, so they use the Ancestry mystery as one of their domains). Sometimes you might want to expand options for some other form of 3pp (such as Sigil Scions).

In any case, this specific swap is pretty straightforward.

Mystery spells replace the domain spells of the same spell level. They use the domain spell rules. This does mean a cleric taking a mystery gains access to its mystery spells on character level earlier than an oracle. That’s fine.

Then the cleric gains two revelation powers, one at 1st level, and one at 8th level. A GM can assign these revelations (for example, perhaps all clerics who take the ancestry mystery as a domain gain blood of heroes at 1st level, and wisdom of the ancestors at 8th level), or allow clerics to pick them, but either way they must be revelations can be selected by an oracle at 1st and 8th level. Any calculation in a revelation that works off the character’s Charisma instead works off the cleric’s Wisdom.

And you’re done!

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