This is only the second article I’ve done on “game writing basics” (the first being on Headers for RPGs), and like the first one this is designed to cover a topic that I never got a lot of training on in school. In this case, that topic is “Introduction,” by which I specifically mean the text at the beginning of a product, book, chapter, or section (likely with its own header—these things are often interconnected), that explains what’s actually in that section of text. Ideally, it’s interesting to read, gives the reader some idea of what information is coming and why, and gives some context how that material connects to other books/products/chapters/ or sections of text.
That paragraph right above this one? That’s in introduction.
Like headers, I am moved to write about introductions because there are something I see so many new writers not have any idea how to handle. All to often if I contract someone to write a 5,000 word pdf manuscript that covers a topic, the text I receive leaps right into the details of that topic with no warm-up prose. For example, I have gotten bestiaries that open with the name of the first monster, class write-ups that open with a description of the role of that class, and articles on GM advice that leap into what you should and shouldn’t do at a game without ever mentioning they’re supposed to be collections of GM advice.
An introduction doesn’t have to be very long, but it’s both an important way to set expectations of the reader, and a great way to include some information that applies to a whole section but may not make sense anywhere else. For example, if I had begun this blog post with just “Introductions are the text at the beginning of a new section of writing, and are important for explaining what is coming and why it matters,” anyone reading this article would rightfully wonder both why they care, and why I thought the topic was worth writing about. When used to introduce a new section within a larger text, an intro also lets the reader know the old topic has ended, and that they are moving on to something else. If you have a chapter on weapons, and it begins with melee weapons, a simple 1-2 sentence introducing the section on ranged weapons helps the reader know they have finished the melee section, and are moving on to different kinds of weapons. It delineates the beginning.
That said, while introductions are read at the beginning of a section of text, it’s often useful to write them last. In part, this is because an introduction serves to let the reader know what topics and ideas are going to be covered, and until you’re done writing a thing there’s always a chance that its focus and exact contents are going to shift. At the very least, it’s a good idea to re-read your introduction after you’re done with everything else, to make such it still matches in tone and details.
One great way to get a feel for introductions is to pick up books you don’t remember having introductions, and then finding and reading them. Often you don’t remember an introduction not because it’s missing or bad, but because you only needed it when you first picked up a book, and haven’t looked at it since. This is especially true for books that you frequently reference, but rarely read cover-to-cover, which is true of most readers of most RPGs. Much like a good editor, a good introduction is often at its best when it goes nearly unnoticed.
There are also things an introduction isn’t. It’s not the table of contents, index, apologia, masthead, dedication, short fiction lead-in, or credits page. If it’s appropriate you may cover some of the same territory as an apologia or dedication, but only when those serve as the kind of context a writer really needs to appreciate the words that follow. It also serves a slightly different function than a foreword, and a book can have both a foreword or an introduction, or just one, or have a single piece of text serve as both (and possibly not be labeled as either).
Ideally, an introduction feels short compared to the section of text it introduces. For most game books, one or two pages is normally plenty for your introduction, though if you are introducing a 4-500-page book, even three or four pages is a perfectly reasonable introduction. For shorter things, such as a single article, chapter, or lengthy blog post, a paragraph is likely to be enough (though if you combine this with art and/or an art element this may still take up a full page or even two—for the most part, that’s a publisher/graphic designer decision, but it’s a good idea to study the introductions of your publisher’s products to get some idea of how much text they need). For a short blog post of something that’s just a new header in a larger section, a single sentence is often enough introduction.
In many ways, the simplest way to decide what goes into your introduction is to ask yourself what someone who was asked to read the following text might ask about it, and try to answer those in broad terms. For example, if you asked someone to read a new RPG, they’d be likely to ask what it’s about, and why you think they would benefit from reading it—that information makes for a great RPG intro, as long as you keep it appropriate short. For things that introduce sections within a larger work, the intro just has to cover questions that would be asked by someone who already knew what book they were reading.
For example if you have a book about new equipment in a game, its introduction can assume people know what game it is for. Then if there’s a chapter on armor, that introduction only needs to discuss things specific to armor, since the reader already knows they are reading an equipment book. If there’s then a section on light armor within the chapter on armor in general, a short intro (maybe as little as a sentence) tells the reader that instead of information on all armor, you are now talking about just one subset of that topic.
While writing introductions can be awkward the first few times you do it, with practice it becomes second nature. In addition to helping your writing seem smooth by preparing the reader with a guide and context for each thing they write, it can also help you as a writing by giving you a tool to help define what you are trying to create, which may focus your thoughts during the writing process, as you subconsciously begin constructing an introduction in your head. It can also help you think about how to draw a section of writing to a smooth and satisfying close, so no one ends up feeling left hanging when they come to the end.
But that’s a topic for another day. 😀
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So, we took a capiekie to the 4th of July gathering we went to.
That’s a cake, stuffed with a pie, stuffed with cookies.
It seems complicated, but making one isn’t that difficult.
The first step is always to pick complementary flavors. In this case, it’s a rum-glazed yellow cake, stuffed with a cherry pie, that is itself stuffed with chocolate cookies. Cream pies don’t work well for this. Sometimes, to see if it’s a good three-way match, I ask myself if there’s one flavor of ice cream or sauce that would go with all three dessert elements.
So, construction is in steps.
First, bake your cookies. It’s okay if they are only lightly done. Then bake the pie crust by itself, without filling, in a pie pan. Then make the cake batter, and pour about 1/3 of it into a springform pan. Then lift the crust out of its pie pan, and settle it into the batter. Then a layer of pie filling goes into the pie crust, then a layer of the cookies (just one layer—you can set the rest aside for a second capiekie if you want), then the rest of the pie filling. Then the top crust of the pie (just set it on, no need to crimp it or anything), and then the rest of the cake batter, which should cover the pie crust.
Then, cook as directed for a square cake, though realistically you’ll need to check doneness with a toothpick at the edge (since the center is gooey pie when the cake is solid).
In this case we went with a rum glaze, but you could frost it. Just… only frost the top. A capiekie’s sides don’t have a lot of structural support.
Then cool in the fridge overnight, and remove from springform pan after a good 12 hours of cooling.
Make sure you are taking this thing to a party. It’s not a leave-it-on-the-house-to-snack-on kind of dessert.
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So, there’s a really big Bundle of Holding deal with over $100 in superhero game stuff for MUCH less, going on now (June 26-July 16, 2018). It includes two of Jacob Blackmon;s awesome RGG products, the Super Powered Bestiary and Super Powered Sourcebook.
And that got me thinking.
I’ve always been a fan of heroes who have good rogue’s galleries—villains who make up a regular set of threats for the hero. Lots of heroes have great rogue’s galleries—Daredevil, the Flash, Wolverine, and Superman all come to mind. But for me, without a doubt, the two best are Spider-Man and Batman.
And even better, they’re swappable!
You can take the idea of Batman villains and apply them to Spider-Man, and vice versa. You can also swap the bat- and spider-themes of those two characters.
And if you are running a supers game, this kind of thing can be a quick way to have somethign that feels familiar, but isn’t a direct copy of an existing character. Here are some quick swap-out characters a GM could use to build a world quickly, and still have some depth and surprises for PCs.
Bitten by a radioactive bat, the “friendly neighborhood teen chiroptera” got his (fairly terrible) nick-name from the media when he first began trying to solve crimes in Jersey City, in a homemade hero costume.
Punching Judy (Harley Quinn)
Venus Flytrap (Poison Ivy)
Ugo Fate (Hugo Strange)
Doctor Winter (Mr. Freeze)
Pumpkin Jack (Scarecrow)
When his billionaire Australian parents were murdered while on holiday with him to Empire City in the US, the child who grew to be one of the most feared villain knew he needed a symbol that would strike fear into the hearts of criminals. A symbol… like a blood-red huntsman spider.
Green Gargoyle (Green Goblin)
Bombay (Black Cat)
Professor Kraken (Dr. Octopus)
Wasp the Spider-Killer (Kraven the Hunter)
Herr Geier (Vulture)
Komodo (The Lizard)
Body Doulbe (Chameleon)
Volt (Shocker. Or Electro. Doesn’t make a big difference)
Sometimes all you need to flesh out a world, are a few espy pastiche homages. 😀
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We’re going to take a pause from the Multiclass ThemeType rules, to pick up a thread from a few weeks ago when I was discussing how to make creatures and NPCs using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game monster creation rules. I already did two entries in this series using Really Wild West creatures as examples—the grizzly boar for the combatant array, and the rattle-cat for the expert array.
Now, it’s time to talk about the spellcaster array, and for that, we need something special.
Rakshasa are native outsiders—that is they are inhuman creatures of supernatural power, that are born in and native to the mortal world. They are among the more powerful and feared threats of Southern Asia, and plagued that section of the world of the Really Wild West for centuries before anyone in Europe or the Americas knew anything at all about them. Rakshasa are generally born to a rakshasa part and a humanoid parent and few rakshasas immigrated out of South Asian, keeping their population elsewhere low. But there is a second circumstance where a rakshasa can be born—when human parents are exposed to great evil and cruelty and kept away from holy places, practices, and people, sometimes an evil reincarnated spirit to drawn to their misery, and born as a rakshasa in a concealed guide as the same race as its parents.
Sadly, the fact that the United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 denied citizenship to all immigrants not of white lineage, and most South Asians who were brought to North America served as low-paid farm workers, often lead to situations where the immigrants were forbidden to practice their own religions, suffered cruelty and evils committed upon them, and were even sometimes imprisoned and used for experimentation by Caucasians seeking to gain more power through the expanding arts of theosophy and mad science.
As a result, in the mid 1800s, the first natural born western rakshasa began to appear.
Such creatures are natural deceivers, planners, leaders, and generally power hungry. They learn how to manipulate social systems to their advantage while just children, and are not above arranging horrible fates for their communities in order to be found as “lone survivors,” and adopted by wealthier, more affluent families, While some settle in to urban areas to gain political and economic power in increasingly large cities, others prefer to head to the frontier, to carve their own empires out of the wilderness as cattle barons, marshals, regional governors, and even the unquestioned leaders of outlaw gangs.
While an infant rakshasa might be less powerful than the CR 5 given here as a minimum, such a creature would never risk exposing itself. Any rakshasa willing to operate in any open manner is at least a young adult, and no less than CR 5. Western rakshasa are no more powerful or organized than their South Asian brethren, but they have grown to be one of the greatest threats any Really Wild West adventurer might encounter.
In their natural form, rakshasa have the appearance of anthropomorphic animals, usually predators, and have some joint or joints backwards from a human. The use of tiger-headed rakshasa with backwards-curling hands in the spectacularly popular 1897 Mark Twain novel “The Chronical of Young Rakshasa,” where Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer encounter and must drive away a powerful Satan-like figure (who claims to be the “youngest of 44 master rakshasa”), has caused the common view of rakshasa to be exclusively this version, to the point that some rakshasas take the form when wishing to impress, even if they actually have different animals-features and reversed joints.
Building and Defining a Spellcaster
Spellcaster arrays are for creatures that should first and foremost be seen as users of supernatural powers. They gain either spell-like abilities or spellcasting automatically, allowing them to use such powers for offense and defense, while still having other special abilities to make them unique and interesting. Anytime you are making an NPC mystic or technomancer, you want to use the spellcaster array and the appropriate class graft, in addition to any creature graft.
But in this case, we’re going to write up creatures that have innate spellcasting abilities, as natural to them as their unholy blood.
As with the creatures we designed in the previous entries, we want to create a template graft, that a GM can use to create rakshasas of any appropriate CR. So, the final template graft looks like this:
WESTERN RAKSHASA TEMPLATE GRAFT (CR 5+)
Required Array: Spellcaster
Required Type: Outsider
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Speed: 40 feet
Ability Score Modifiers: Dexterity, Charisma, Strength
Special Abilities: 0-Spellcasting (mystic and technomancer). 1- Change Shape (see below). Damage Reduction (equal to CR x 1.5, bypassed by good). 3- Detect thoughts (see below). 4-Spell Resistance (equal to CR +15).
Key Spells: 1st charm person, magic missile; 2nd caustic conversion, invisibility, 3rd arcing surge, holographic image
Skills: Master– Bluff; Good-Diplomacy, Sense Motive
Attacks: Multiattack melee (bite, two claws), melee weapon, ranged weapon.
Detect Thoughts (Su): A rakshasa can detect thoughts as per the spell of the same name. It can suppress or resume this ability automatically at the beginning of its turn. When a rakshasa uses this ability, it always functions as if it had spent three rounds concentrating and thus gains the maximum amount of information possible. A creature can resist this effect with a successful Will save.
To make this monster, a GM just takes the spellcaster array for the desired CR of the end monster, adjusts the numbers as noted for the outsider type, and enters those values in a stat block as directed by the template graft.
There are a few things to look out for with rakshasa. First, since they sue the spellcaster array, they get spellcasting automatically, and you need to pick their spells known. The template graft offers some “key spells,” but that’s largely just to save you time and give you a feel for what a typical rakshasa of this type is likely to focus on. Feel free to deviate from this list if you wish. Also, the stat block doesn’t bother with 1st level spells, because the rakshasa is unlikely to run out of higher-level options during a typical fight. This is the same logic for giving it unlimited 2nd-level spells per day. If for some reason you need to know exactly how many lower-level spells an npc has, check out the rules in Starfinder Pact Worlds.
Secondly, as a tool user, the Raksha needs weapons. The easy options is to pick melee and ranged weapons that are about 10th item level. The same applies if you plan to give them armor, though rakshasa don’t really need it, and it doesn’t impact their AC anyway (you give a creature armor if it makes sense for the creature to have armor, or if you want to use it as PC loot, of if you want them to have an armor upgrade—which may also serve as loot). Since this is a Really Wild West rakshasa I gave it a damascus repeated shotgun and limited it’s pistols to 6 rounds each, but you could swap that out
Finally, I gave them multiattack. That allows them to forgo using a melee weapon to make a series of natural melee attacks. Read the multiattack rules on how to figure out their damage and attack rolls, but this only matters if they take a full attack routine. They can just use their melee weapon to make a normal attack.
Here’s what a CR 10 western Rakshasa (one of the most dangerous things in all of the Really Wild West) looks like, for example.
Rakshasa, Western CR 10 [SPELLCASTER]
XP 9,600 each
LE Medium Outsider (evil, native, rakshasa, shapechanger)
Init +8 Senses darkvision (60 ft.); Perception +19
DEFENSE HP 140
EAC 22; KAC 23
Fort +9; Ref +11; Will +13
Defensive Abilities DR 15/good
Speed 40 ft.
Melee +17 microserrated longsword (2d10+13, critical bleed 2d6)
Multiattack bite +11 (1d10+13 P), 2 claws +10 (1d10+13 S)
Ranged +19 damascus repeater shotgun (3d8+10 P) or
+19 elite revolving pistol (3d6+10 P)
Technomancer Spells Known (CL 10th) DC 18
4th (3/day)—greater invisibility, mind thrust (DC 22)
3rd (6/day)—arcing surge (DC 21), charm monster (DC 21), holographic image (DC 21),
lesser resistance armor
2nd (at will)—caustic conversion (ranged attack +18), invisibility
Str +3; Dex +8; Con +3; Int +1; Wis +1; Cha +8
Skills Bluff +24, Diplomacy +19, Sense Motive +19
Languages Aklo, Common, Infernal
Other Abilities change shape
Gear Damascus repeater shotgun with 12 slugs and 12 shot, two elite revolving pistols with 36 rounds, microserrated longsword, 2 mk II serums of healing
Change Shape (Su): As a standard action, a rakshasa can physically alter its form to look like any Medium humanoid or outsider, as long as it has seen a similar creature before. It can attempt to either mimic a specific creature or look like a general creature of any humanoid subtype it is familiar with. The rakshasa gains a +10 bonus to Disguise checks to appear as a creature of the type and subtype of the new form. The DC of the rakshasa’s Disguise check is not modified as a result of altering major features or for disguising themselves as a creature of a different type. The rakshasa can remain in an alternate form indefinitely (or until it takes another form).