Short Fiction: “Plan Z”

Introduction: The Tao of Jim

If you’re readying this, there’s a good chance you already know more about how Plan Z worked out than I do now while writing it. I don’t know if it’s more likely that you’re a bored schoolkid reading a dog-earned third edition of a book made from my writing, or another survivor holding a blood-stained copy you pulled out from under my corpse while wondering what hubris lead to my demise, but either way you’re seeing the end result of our efforts, and I’m still uncomfortably near what still feels like the beginning.

But either way, you’re likely wondering how this manuscript, and the place I’m writing it in, came about. And that means you need to understand Plan Z. To understand how Plan Z came about, you have to understand our friend Jim. Which, I mean… it’s not like any of us really understand Jim…

Okay, let me try to explain.

So, first, Jim doesn’t process information like anyone else I know. He has a deep, subconscious need to connect any information he has to a potential explanation for it. It doesn’t matter if that explanation is silly, iffy, or obviously wrong–he has to have some rationale to link to anything he sees, hears, thinks of, or watches. If he can’t, if he runs into anything that doesn’t make sense to him, it eats him up inside until he finds a way to attach a rationale, any rationale, to the unexplained.

If a movie has a huge plot hole, Jim is bothered by it until he (or often someone else) can provide reasoning–no matter how far-fetched–on how it could have happened. If he hears about an unsolved mystery, he has to study and research it until he has a potential solution figured out. If someone does something stupid, he has to theorize about it until he can come up with a theoretical example of what the hell they were thinking that made them do it. It doesn’t matter if he’s learning about a crime of passion, a b-movie full of plot holes, or archeological artifacts found with no context. If he comes across something that doesn’t have a clear, well-laid-out history of how and why it happened, he needs to make one up for himself.

To be clear, Jim knows this isn’t rational, but it’s just part of who he is. It’s actually one reason he got into the University of West Colorado’s Tabletop Game League, where we all met him. Games make sense to Jim — you do things because there were rules, and if a rule is unclear or contradictory everyone agrees it has to be fixed. When he joined the League was mostly focused on wargames and roleplaying games (especially Atomic Age, Glaive 4000AD, NapoleonPunk, and Wyverns & Woodlands), and Jim prefers trading card games and boardgames (due to cleaner and tighter rules I suspect), but he played whatever was most popular… even if he didn’t enjoy it.

By the way, if I’m making Jim sound stupid, I have done him a disservice. Jim is among the smartest people I have ever met. He never forgets a fact, sees how things are interconnected and impact one another, can plan, iterate, theorize, and design at levels few can match. His mind tends more towards concrete systems — math, engineering, things where he can be sure that event x inevitably leads to result y — but in that arena he’s a genius.

Which, sadly, sometimes caused him problems.

Often, Jim will mentally envision complex patterns of events he blames for apparently random events. Someone didn’t just get hit by a car and killed because life sucks. No, if someone was hit by a car, then they weren’t wearing reflective enough clothing. Or they had to walk because they didn’t have a bike. Or the reason the driver didn’t see them was that the car didn’t have tinted directional fog lights. To stay sane, Jim has to blame everything bad on some failure to plan or prepare.

As a result, Jim has spent his entire life building up a mental list of things he needs to be ready for. Whether those things are likely enough that it’s rational to be prepared for them isn’t what matters to Jim. Instead, he preps for whatever he’s spent time agonizing to make sense of, and what steps he can take to prevent a similar “nonoptimal outcome.” Even when I first met him, Jim’s truck was practically a roving emergency shelter and mini-pharmacy for like, 12 people. Jim didn’t just want to keep himself safe from his long list of potential disasters, he needed to be able to protect his friends as well.

And that brings us to point two about him.

Jim is desperate for a close social circle, and doesn’t trust his own personality, choices, or preferences to build it for him. A gaming club was perfect for him, because we’d invite anyone who wanted to play to game days, and if he showed up he was part of the group. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took us to realize Jim was willing to be unhappy in order to be included, but in our defense we were young, stupid, and often drunk. But as long as we didn’t actively tell Jim to go away, he was always happy to hang out. And, as a core group of us became fast friends, we befriended Jim–at least as best we could. Some of us left college to begin careers while Jim got a Master’s Degree… and a second Master’s Degree, and started on a third Master’s Degree. But most of the Monday Night Heroes stayed close enough to campus that we could get together for Monday Game Night most weeks.

And as we dated, married, had fights and falling outs and make-ups and parties, Jim was just always there. For the Monday Nighter’s, Jim became part of the background of our lives. He was invited to celebrations, movie nights, road trips, and he never said no. I suspect Jim was actually really lonely, since we weren’t smart enough to ever think about what he wanted to do. He invited us to do a few things that interested him: camping, hunting, canning, quilting, pressing flowers, Historical Martial Arts practice… but we almost never accepted. And, for whatever reason, he didn’t click with the communities that were interested in those things. So if we did anything, or needed anything, or wanted anything, Jim was there. In short, Jim was a good friend.

The rest of us, maybe not so much.

Finally, and this is crucial to how things panned out, while none of us realized it, Jim was rich. I’m not surprised we had no idea, since he wore the same clothes until they fell apart, drove a 30-year old suv, ate store-brand canned food, lived in a 450-square-foot apartment that was once a garage, and had no interest in expensive things. But his family had owned multiple ranches, and he’d inherited them all. Some had oil wells paying him royalties. Many were leased to other ranchers, or loggers, and one had ended up having a suburb develop around it, so Jim had houses built and rented out an entire small neighborhood. He had a personal banker, a personal lawyer… and I guess we all knew that, but we just chalked it up to his family having lots of professional friends.

But, no. Jim had money. Lots of money.

In a way, I’m glad no one seemed to realize that. I’m not convinced I could have kept myself from taking advantage of Jim wanting friends and being rich, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. I’m only alive today because Jim decided I was a friend, and to be honest I haven’t really done anything to deserve that. But without Jim’s psychological quirks, interest in nerdy things, membership in our social circles, genius intellect, and surprisingly deep pockets, Plan Z never would have happened. And even with all that, it only happened because of a power outage.

It’s true. This all started on a cold, dark night. I’ll explain.

While Monday nights were always for gaming, we often had what we called the “Cheese and Cheese Gathering” on Saturdays. The event was specifically designed to watch a cheesy scifi or fantasy movie, and eat a cheese-based dinner and snacks. Yes, it’s stupid, but we had fun, and Jim loved it. He knew what to expect. He could bring anything with cheese flavor, and it was welcomed as appropriate to the event. Sliced cheese? Sure, gimme a slice. Cheeseburgers from the McClown drivethru? Classic. Novelty cheddar soda? What the heck, we need something to get us through watching Cyborg Cannibal Clowns 3 – the Clownening, pop me open a can.

The night Plan Z was born, we were watching Dusk of the Living Dead and enjoying pizza-topping-nachos and cheddar-crusted chicken nuggets, when the power went out. There was a snowstorm, which honestly was worse than we’d been prepared for, and when everything went dark in the whole neighborhood all at once, we realized no one was going home that night. We had enough candles, and Jim had 4 camping lanterns, a backup generator, weather radio, sleeping bags, and MREs in his truck, so we weren’t worried. But, as we set up a faux-camp in Dana and Dale’s living room and sat up through the night, we got bored.

I wouldn’t have remembered exactly who was there that night, but Jim wrote it down on page 1 of what became the Plan Z Survival Guide. There was Jim, me (I’m Casey), Dana and Dale (it was at their house), Jayden, Liam, Mia, and Sanjay. That was pretty much a full house in those days–Jordan had stopped coming around after Mia quite-rightly slapped him, Nevaeh hadn’t really joined the clique yet, and Roger never came to Cheese and Cheese because he and Dale never got along. So we managed to entertain ourselves for a bit by talking about what we’d each done that week, arguing about politics, religion, and pizza styles, and telling bad jokes. But, eventually, conversation lulled.

Then, Jim asked us why the characters in Dusk of the Living Dead had decided to take shelter in a Giganto-Mart when everyone started turning into zombies. While it had lots of useful stuff, he pointed out that it would be a target for any survivalist groups still around, the front of it was all breakable glass windows, and (as the movie was showing when the power cut out), once zombies got inside, there’d be no good way to keep them from roaming over the whole store.

And so, for lack of any better topic, we began figuring out the best plan for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.

It was a surprisingly Socratic event. Someone would postulate something, like claiming the best place to hole up would be in a cabin in the mountains, and the rest of us would ask questions to test that claim. Were the woods really the best place? Was a cabin the best option? What about an old-style prison, with stone walls and guard towers? But would the prisoners be a high risk factor? Well, not if it was a decommissioned prison. Would such a place be in good repair? It could be, if it was bought in advance and maintained and updated for survival. What kind of updates and supplies? Well, food, weapons, survival gear, maps, a library of how-to books, at least. Farm equipment? Maybe, how many people are going to shelter here? Well, 7-8 is supposed to be the ideal size for survivalist groups. What about repopulation? Okay, you’d need a bigger group for that, but if you start with 7-8 and they form the leadership of a community made up of survivors who find them…

We spent all night doing it, Our smartphones still had reception, so we could look up facts, locations, pricing, storage, shelf life of foods, the most common ammo type in the state, what crops would be best, what skills you’d want people to have, and how would you arrange in advance for people with those skills to join you? Of course we didn’t think there was any chance there’d be a zombie apocalypse, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted what actually killed the world. We were just goofing around.

But Jim?

Jim was taking notes.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various stories, thoughts, or ideas, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

The Minimum Percentage of Jerks Rarely Changes

When an influencer has more than 150% more reach than anyone involved in a fandom (even its creator/publisher), badmouthing everything related to that fandom can end up being punching down.

Sure, if the fandom as a whole is toxic, or the IP fascist, that’s one thing.

But if the fandom is genuinely related to things you have identified as part of your interests (such as any ttRPG, if you declare yourself to be a ttRPG writer), and its fans enthusiastically promote it to you, that doesn’t rise to the level of toxic or abusive.

Of course part of the problem is, the minimum percentage of jerks in any group rarely changes, and social media algorithms are literally trained to seek things you’ll engage with. That means if something is worded to annoy you, since most people are more likely to engage with things that annoy or anger them, that version is most likely to be shown to you.

If the minimum percentage of jerks in a group is 5%, and you have a reach that gets you 10 replies from that group, half the time none of them are from jerks. If your reach means you’ll get 100 replies, 5 of them are from jerks. If your reach means you’ll get 1,000 replies, not only are 50 of them from jerks, but there’s a decent change you’ll be exposed to a higher percentage of them by AIs designed to get you to reply… even if that reply is angry annoyance.

And even you ask people on social media not to reply like that? Absolutely no guarantee anyone replying to your posts the next day saw that request.

If you have a lot of reach online, and are dealing with fandoms and groups and opinions, remember Sturgeon’s Revelation when judging them. “90% of everything is crap.”

Yes, by all means protect yourself and your mental well being. And if that means finding a way to use online tools to block certain phrases, by all means do that. Need to block some folks who leap into your mentions too often. heck yes. But the bigger you are, the more careful you should be venting your annoyance in a way that makes an entire fandom look bad to your followers, because the bigger you are the more harm you can do to a whole group by lashing out and decrying them as an entirety. Make sure they deserve that before doing so, especially if you reach is bigger than any of them, or even all of them.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Precog Multiclass ThemeType (for Starfinder)

Character concepts don’t always fit neatly into just one character class. Sometimes you want to play a precognitive who has also studied diplomacy, a spy who has studied just enough entropy manipulation to consider it one more tool in her toolbox, or a soldier with nanites flooding through their system. Starfinder offers three broad tools for adjusting a character to fit such concepts—themes (to represent background training), archetypes (to represent a different path than a typical member of a class), and multiclassing (to represent training in more than one role). Generally exactly the right balance of those options can make nearly any character concept work.

But it can take a lot of effort.

Maybe, if they were all blended into one definitive all-encompassing option, a broad range of new character concepts could be made easier and faster to write up. A way to indicate that a character has been working to add a second career to their primary training for most of their life, and plans to continue to blend the things represented by multiclassing, theme, and archetype. Something that takes some of the advantages of multiclassing, and places them in the slots of additional abilities normally granted by themes and archetypes. In short, a Multiclass ThemeType.

MultiClass ThemeTypes

A Multiclass ThemeType gives you some abilities of a second character class, but counts as both your theme (preventing you from gaining any other theme, and requiring you to select the ThemeType at 1st level) and as an archetype for the first class you take levels in (requiring you to give up some abilities of your primary class, as normal for an archetype). You can pick up the pdf of multiclass ThemeTypes for all the classes from the Core Rulebook at DriveThruRPG, and there are articles on this blog giving ThemeTypes for all the new classes from COM. So, this week, we’ll look at the precog class from Starfinder Galactic Magic.

Multiclass ThemeType abilities marked with (Theme) occur when you reach the listed character level, regardless of what classes you have taken levels in. Those marked (Archetype) are gained only when you reach the listed level in the first character class you take levels in. However, it is also recommended that characters with a Multiclass ThemeType not be allowed to also use normal multiclassing rules (in which case the character’s character level and class level will always match).

A character cannot take class levels in the class that matches their Multiclass ThemeType.

(Art by rolffimages)

Precog ThemeType

Whether from careful study of esoteric arts, exposure to strange 5th-dimensional crystals, being the only survivor of an alternate reality that was culled, or through some other means, you gain glimpses of the future itself and have access to eldritch chronal energies.

Theme Knowledge (Ex, Theme, 1st Level): At first level, select one anchor from the precog class feature of the same name. You gain its focal paradox. You have a single precog paradox per day, which you can use for any of the options available to a 1st level precog.

Minor Precognition (Sp, Archetype, 2nd Level): Select one 1st level precog spell. You can cast this spell once per day. Select two 0-level precog spells. You can cast these spells at will. Your caster level for all precog spells gained from this Multiclass ThemeType is equal to your character level, and you use your key ability score for all calculations that normally draw on the precog’s key ability score.

Basic Precognition (Sp, Archetype, 4th Level): Select two 1st level precog spells. You have two 1st-level precog spell slots per day you can use for any combination of the 1st-level precog spells gained from this Multiclass ThemeType. This replaces the 1st level spell you gained from minor precognition. Also select a third 0-level precog spell. You can cast this spell at will.

Chromatic Defense (Theme, 6th Level): You gain the chromatic defense class feature of a precog, but can only use it on yourself.

Intermediate Precognition (Sp, Archetype, 6th Level): Select one 2nd level precog spell. You can cast this spell once per day.

Advanced Precognition (Sp, Archetype, 9th Level): Select two 2nd level precog spells. You have two 2nd-level precog spell slots per day you can use for any combination of the 2nd-level precog spells gained from this Multiclass ThemeType. This replaces the 2nd level spell you gained from intermediate precognition.

Minor Temporal Anomaly (Theme, 12th Level): You gain a second paradox each day. Select one temporal anomaly from the list available to 2n- level precogs. You gain this temporal anomaly, using your character level as your precog level, and using your key ability score or key ability score modifier in place of any the ability score or ability score modifier listed for any calculations.

Greater Precognition (Sp, Archetype, 12th Level): Select one 3rd level precog spell. You can cast this spell once per day.

Major Temporal Anomaly (Theme, 18th Level): You gain a third paradox each day, and the paradoxical acceleration precog class feature. Select one temporal anomaly from the lists available to 8th-level precogs. You gain this temporal anomaly, using your character level as your precog level, and using your key ability score or key ability score modifier in place of any the ability score or ability score modifier listed for any calculations.

Full Precognition (Sp, Archetype 18th): You replace all your precog spells gained from archetype powers of this Multiclass ThemeType with 4 0-level spells known, 4 1st-level spells known, 3 2nd-level spells known, 2 3rd-level spells known, and one 4th-level spell known. You can cast the 0-level spells at will, and have three 1st-level spell slots, two 2nd-level spell slots, two the connection 3rd-level spell slots, and one 4th-level spell slot.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).


Converting PF1 spells to Starfinder: Revealing Emoji and Scrying Emoji

Yep, another emoji spell as part of the run to convert to Starfinder all the Pathfinder 1st edition spells that don’t already exist (or have a clear replacement) in that game. Currently I’m working on doing all the glyphs, runes, and symbols.

You can find an index of the spells that have already been converted on this blog to-date here.

(Art by tigatelu)

Revealing Emoji
Class
 technomancer 5
School divination
Casting Time 10 minutes
Range 0 ft.; see text
Effect one rune
Duration see text
Saving Throw Will partial (see text); Spell Resistance yes

This functions as mirror emoji, except as noted above and as follows. This rune can only be triggered by creatures that have an altered appearance, including those that are polymorphed, shapeshifted, disguised, or have their appearance concealed or changed by magic or technological means. Creatures that are invisible do not trigger it, but if a creature that triggers it becomes invisible, the effect does reveal their location. Each viewer of the rune perceives it slightly differently, with the rune taking the visible form of a simple symbol that is commonly associated with shock, surprise, or understanding. When triggered, affected creatures in the area have a visual and audio illusion of the emoji rune appear above them, gasping in surprise and moving with them wherever they go. If a creature succeeds at their initial save against this effect and leave the area, they are not affected again if they re-enter the area. Creatures that fail their save are affected each time they enter the area.

Creatures who succeed at a saving throw and have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining are marked by the emoji rune for a single round.

Both creatures that succeed at a saving throw but do not still have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining, and creatures that fail at a saving throw and do have both SP and HP remaining, are affected in the same way while in the rune’s area.

Creatures that fail a saving throw and do not have both SP and HP left are marked as long as they are in the area, and for 10 minutes after they leave it.

Detect magic allows you to identify a revealing emoji with a DC 20 Mysticism check. Of course, if the symbol is set to be triggered by reading it, this will trigger the symbol.

Magic traps such as revealing emoji are hard to detect and disable. While any character can use Perception to find a revealing emoji (which may trigger it), a character must use the lowest of their Engineering or Mysticism skill (based on the skill’s total bonus) to disarm it. The DC in each case is 31.

Scrying Emoji
Class
 technomancer 5
School divination (scrying)
Casting Time 10 minutes
Range 0 ft.; see text
Effect one rune
Duration see text
Saving Throw Will partial (see text); Spell Resistance no

This functions as mirror emoji, except as noted above and as follows. Each viewer of the rune perceives it slightly differently, with the rune taking the visible form of a simple symbol that is commonly associated with eyes, seeing, spying, or visual events. When triggered, it creates a scrying sensor that acts as an arcane eye., but forms at the location of the rune (regardless of how far from you that is, even if it is on another plane or in a different star system), cannot move, and lasts 10 minutes.

Creatures who succeed at a saving throw and have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining are difficult to see through the scrying sensor, and you can only determine their position, size, and creature type (but not subtype), and they gain a +10 bonus to Disguise checks to conceal any of those details if they are attempting to do so.

Both creatures that succeed at a saving throw but do not still have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining, and creatures that fail at a saving throw and do have both SP and HP remaining, have the same details revealed, but do not gain a bonus to Disguise checks. You can make a Perception check opposed by their Stealth checks (even if they are not attempting Stealth and lack cover or concealment) to gain full visual information about them.

Creatures that fail a saving throw and do not have both SP and HP left are as easy to spot as if you were present, and you gain a +10 bonus on any Perception or Sense Motive checks you make against them through the sensor.

Detect magic allows you to identify a scrying emoji with a DC 20 Mysticism check. Of course, if the symbol is set to be triggered by reading it, this will trigger the symbol.

Magic traps such as scrying emoji are hard to detect and disable. While any character can use Perception to find a scrying emoji (which may trigger it), a character must use the lowest of their Engineering or Mysticism skill (based on the skill’s total bonus) to disarm it. The DC in each case is 31.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Converting PF1 spells to Starfinder: Beguiling Emoji and Pain Emoji

Okay, I’m hopping back to the project to convert to Starfinder all the Pathfinder 1st edition spells that don’t already exist (or have a clear replacement) in that game. We’re still working on doing all the glyphs, runes, and symbols.

You can find an index of the spells that have already been converted on this blog to-date here.

(Art by film.design)

Beguiling Emoji
Class
 technomancer 6
School enchantment [charm, compulsion, mind-affecting]
Casting Time 10 minutes
Range 0 ft.; see text
Effect one rune
Duration see text
Saving Throw Will partial (see text); Spell Resistance yes

This functions as mirror emoji, except as noted above and as follows.  Each viewer of the rune perceives it slightly differently, with the rune taking the visible form of a simple symbol that is commonly associated with charm, enchantment, or being starry-eyed. When triggered, affected creatures in the area gain a charm effect toward the caster. The effect lasts as long as they remain within the area, and a limited duration after they leave (see below). If a creature succeeds at their initial save against this effect and leave the area, they are not affected again if they re-enter the area. Creatures that fail their save are affected each time they enter the area.

Creatures who succeed at a saving throw and have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining take a -2 penalty to any attack against the caster and skill checks opposed by the caster, and the caster gains a +2 bonus to all saving throws against their effects. This effect lasts for 1 round after an affected creature leaves the rune’s area.

Both creatures that succeed at a saving throw but do not still have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining, and creatures that fail at a saving throw and do have both SP and HP remaining, are affected in the same way, but the effect lasts for 10 minutes after they leave the area.

Creatures that fail a saving throw and do not have both SP and HP left are charmed by the caster, as if they had been affected by a charm monster spell. This lasts for 1 hour per caster level.

Detect magic allows you to identify a beguiling emoji with a DC 21 Mysticism check. Of course, if the symbol is set to be triggered by reading it, this will trigger the symbol.

Magic traps such as beguiling emoji are hard to detect and disable. While any character can use Perception to find a beguiling emoji (which may trigger it), a character must use the lowest of their Engineering or Mysticism skill (based on the skill’s total bonus) to disarm it. The DC in each case is 34.

(Art by voinsveta)

Painful Emoji
Class
 technomancer 5
School necromancy (pain)
Casting Time 10 minutes
Range 0 ft.; see text
Effect one rune
Duration see text
Saving Throw Fortitude partial (see text); Spell Resistance yes

This functions as mirror emoji, except as noted above and as follows.  Each viewer of the rune perceives it slightly differently, with the rune taking the visible form of a simple symbol that is commonly associated with agony, suffering, or trauma. When triggered, affected creatures feel pain for as long as they are in the area, and a limited amount of time after they leave (see below).

Creatures who succeed at a saving throw and have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining take a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. If they expend a Resolve Point at the beginning of their turn, they can ignore this penalty for 1d4 rounds. The penalty ends when affected creatures leave the rune’s area, but returns if they re-enter.

Both creatures that succeed at a saving throw but do not still have both Stamina Points and Hit Points remaining, and creatures that fail at a saving throw and do have both SP and HP remaining, take a -2 penalty to all attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. If they expend a Resolve Point at the beginning of their turn, they can ignore this penalty for 1d4 rounds. The penalty ends 1d4 rounds after an affected creature leaves the rune’s area, but returns if they re-enter.

Creatures that fail a saving throw and do not have both SP and HP take a -4 penalty to to all attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. Each round such creatures may expend a Resolve Point to reduce this penalty to -2. This penalty is active anytime the affected creature is in the rune’s area, and for 10 minutes after they leave it.

Detect magic allows you to identify a painful emoji with a DC 20 Mysticism check. Of course, if the symbol is set to be triggered by reading it, this will trigger the symbol.

Magic traps such as painful emoji are hard to detect and disable. While any character can use Perception to find a painful emoji (which may trigger it), a character must use the lowest of their Engineering or Mysticism skill (based on the skill’s total bonus) to disarm it. The DC in each case is 32.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Owen Explains It All: Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks for Starfinder

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

You may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new or classic things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All: Independence Day” episode.

The show has a logo and everything!

The main game-rule idea we discuss in the show is that sometimes, for plot purposes, you want to be able to catch PCs in an area of mass destruction (be that a hurricane, carpet bombing, or alien citykiller beam), which places them as risk but can’t kill them. This is splitting the difference between an entirely game-driven event (where standing around as a city is destroyed can definitely do enough in-game damage to kill someone) and an entirely-narrative even in a game (where the GM just tells the players what happens to set up an important situation necessary for the game).

This allows a GM to ensure the PCs end up in the situation needed for the game to move on, and places them at some risk (which their actions and abilities can mitigate), with no chance they’ll be killed.

Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks

The skies darken as the K’ruel City Killer materializes high above the city center. There’s a moment of silence as the population takes in the sight of the massive starship, it’s hull covered in runic circuitry glowing a sickly yellow. Then, as its dematerializer pylon begins to power up with a thundercrack, the sounds of screaming and panic begin…

So, the PCs have been caught in a massive, plot-driven even that’s going to destroy everything around them. That’s bad, but as the GM you have assured them that they’ll survive… but their actions, characters’ resilience, and the luck of the dice are going to determine in what condition they survive. They’ll be at 0 Stamina regardless (it’s a massive city-destroying effect after all — of their starship exploded, building collapsed on them, interdimensional oozes swept away all corporeal matter into a interdimensional vortex — whatever massive event your plot needs). But their Hit Points and Resolve Points are still up for grabs, and they may be able to do something about those.

The Warning

This even isn’t supposed to be a gotcha moment — the GM should tell the players what is happening, and how it’ll work. That lets them set their expectations appropriately, and make informed decisions as part of the event, which is an important part of a fun game.

Once you tell the players how this will work, each character gets two rounds of actions before The Event hits them. They can try to get defenses ready, aid one another, take cover–whatever makes sense to them to help their characters come out of this in the best possible condition.

The Threat

Since there aren’t any game statistics for “Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks,” you’ll need to have a baseline to make sure your Event is an appropriate challenge for the PCs. So, go to the creature creation rules in Starfinder Alien Archive, and look at a combatant with a CR equal to the character’s average character level. When we discuss the Event having an attack bonus, or skill bonus, we’ll be talking about the values from that line of the combatant character creation table.

After the PCs have all has 2 rounds of actions, the Event hits. It comes in 3 waves, but there’s no time to take actions (other than reactions) between the first two. The PCs are going to be subject to an attack roll in part 1, a saving throw in part 2, and then a skill check in part 3. Here’s how it breaks down.

Part 1: Initial Damage

Make a single attack roll using the Event’s highest attack bonus against every PC’s EAC. If the attack hits, the PC takes 4 HP per level of the Event. If the attack missed by 5 or less, the PC takes 2 HP per level of the Event. If the attack misses by 6 or more, the PC takes no HP damage.

Part 2: Saving Throw

Each PC must attempt a Reflex saving throw against the Event’s ability DC. On a failed save, the character loses half their Resolve Points. If the save is failed by 5 or more, the Resolve Points only return at the rate of 1 per full day of rest.

Part 3: Skill Test

Having survived the first two initial waves of damage, the players then get to take a single action to try to avoid the aftershock of flying debris, collapsing buildings, secondary fireballs, and so on. Each player must describe how they use a skill to protect themselves. Appropriate choices include an Acrobatics check to dive into a narrow crevice for cover, an Athletics check to jump into a trench of other safer location, a Computers check to use a datapad to calculate a gap in the oncoming wave of destruction, a Culture check to know where an entrance to a bomb shelter is, an Engineering check to know what walls or vehicles are going to survive the damage and be a good option to get behind, a Mysticism check to use a spell to mitigate the effect, or a Survival check to take steps to mitigate the damage as if it was a natural disaster and damaging weather. The GM has the final say on whether a suggested skill use is appropriate, but the rule of cool should definitely be considered in these cases.

The skill DC is equal to the Event’s Good skill bonus +10. If the PC succeeds by 10 or more, they not only take no damage, they can aid a number of other targets equal to their level + Charisma modifier. This allows them to save an NPC (who will be at 0 SP, 0 HP, and 0 RP), or grant a +5 bonus to an allies’ skill test check. If the PC succeeds by 9 or less, they simply survive with no further effects. If they fail by 5 or less, they lose 1/2 their Resolve Points. If they fail by 6 or more, they lose 1/2 their resolve Points, and those points only return at a rate of 1 per day of rest.

The Aftermath

Unless the PCs are *very* good, and very lucky, after the Event they will be at a serious disadvantage in any combat or resource-intensive encounters (possibly for several days). As the GM you should be ready for this, and may want to focus on things like rescuing other survivors, gathering information, sneaking around, and finding a secure new base or operations before throwing a lot of fights at the characters.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Contemplating 25 PF1 Alchemist-Hybrid Classes

What if there was a hybrid class for every conceivable combination of base, core, and occult classes?

Yes, it’d probably make a LOT more sense to just go with a full set of Talented Character Class write-ups, and let people mix-and-match themselves. For one thing, with 26 originating classes (as I’d treat the magus as a fighter/wizard hybrid class and the shifter as a druid/ranger, rather than either as a new base class), we’re talking about 650 classes. (And you think people complain about PF1 bloat NOW).

But, the idea still sticks with me. Which made me wonder, can I even come up with a core conceit for 650 hybrid classes? (Well, 638, since there are already 12 things I am treating as hybrid classes… )

So, I decided to take a look at one slice, of all potential alchemist hybrid classes. Not to write them at any level, just to see if I had ideas for each combination.

Here’s my initial list, for the alchemist (which already has the investigator as an alchemist/rogue hybrid).

Ragebringer (Alchemist/Barbarian – anger-based mutagens and elixirs) Brewester (Alchemist/Bard – drinks to make you happy, sad, or brave, and to fit any occasion) Glatisant (Alchemist/Cavalier – wide man of the court who rides a strange, ever-changing Questing Beast) Reliquarian (Alchemist/Cleric – priest that carries and empowers holy symbols and icons of the faith) Herbalist (Alchemist/Druid – uses secrets of nature to brew poultices and take on animal aspects) Steiner (Alchemist/Fighter – fights with weapon in one hand, mug of lord-knows-what in the other) Grenadier (Alchemist/Gunslinger – makes and fires strange alchemical grenades from a bombard) Antivenin (Alchemist/Inquisitor – for every divine foe, there is a potential alchemical antithesis) Phlogistor (Alchemist/Kineticist – distills anything down into its core eldritch elements) Lucid Dreamer (Alchemist/Medium – alter reality by projecting energy into your own dreams) Catalyst (Alchemist/Mesmerist – set up elixirs in yourself and others that are triggered by events) Purifier (Alchemist/Monk – use alchemy to purify the self to allow for better and more varied flow of ki) Psychomorph (Alchemist/Occultist – distill the essence of objects true nature into drinkable elixirs) Nectarian (Alchemist/Oracle – affected by the divine drink of the gods, not meant for mortal lips_ Alkahest (Alchemist/Paladin – Imbues substances with holy energy to undo any wicked force or creature) Orgonite (Alchemist/Psychic – Able to distill thought into matter, and matter into pure thought) Beastcrafter (Alchemist/Ranger – turns parts of your enemies into useful materials) Mutate (Alchemist/Shifter – slowly, intentionally becoming different than your beginning species) Uroboros (Alchemist/Sorcerer – create elixirs from your own vital energies and fluids) Ectoplasmic (Alchemist/Spiritualist – conjure spirit fluids with various effects) Metamorph (Alchemist/Summoner – use mutagens to become bizarre creatures with variable evolutions) ThiefFinder (Alchemist/Vigilante – an alchemical criminologist and mastermind) Leach (Alchemist/Witch – create imbalances in foe’s vital fluids to weaken them, or gain their power) Spagyric (Alchemist/Wizard – able to create much more potent elixirs, though not mutagens)

I doubt all of those ideas would survive contact with the design process, and some are pretty similar (do I really have two different ideas for the alkahest and antivenin?), but it’s a good enough starting point I’d feel like the idea had potential. I have no plans to make 24 more hybrid alchemist classes… but sometimes playing with an idea you know isn’t practical can lead to the development of an alternative you do like. It’s the game concept equivalent of doodling, with the goal not to produce a finished picture, but to see what interesting shapes evolve.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Enlarging Dragons and Charming Outsiders in PF1

I’ve been contemplating how to create a broad set of rules on when you can safely create spells that affect different types of creatures in Pathfinder 1st edition. For example, enlarge person doesn’t work on dragons… would enlarge dragon be a reasonable 1st-level spell? At 1st level we have both charm animal and charm person… would charm outsider make sense too?

There are some tricky side cases that make a universal rule hard to be balanced. For example, if you could easily apply animal growth to any creature, you end up with a spell that can potentially make giants bigger than giant form II can, and at much lower level, and that is just a terror if applied to a summoner’s eidolon.

But if we follow the example of charm person to charm monster, there do seem to be a few ways to make at least a broadly applicable set of metamagic feats that can open up flexibility, just at the cost of both a feat, and a lot of extra spell levels needed.

Monstrous Spell [Metamagic]
You have learned to adapt eldritch energies normally directed at humanoids to affect a much wider range of targets.
Benefit: Monstrous Spell can only be used with spells that limit their targets to only the humanoid creature type. This ability removes the spell’s limitation of only working on humanoids. However, it does not change that some creature types may be immune to the effects of the spell–for example Monstrous Spell applied to enlarge person allows you to use the spell to enlarge a vermin, but Monstrous Spell applied to charm person does not allow you to charm vermin that are mindless and immune to mind-affecting effects.
A monstrous spell uses up a slot three levels higher than the spell’s actual level.

Unexclusive Spell [Metamagic]
You have learned to adapt eldritch energies normally directed at undead to affect a much wider range of targets.
Benefit: Unexclusive Spell can only be used with spells that limit their targets to only the undead creature type. This ability removes the spell’s limitation of only working on undead. For example, Unexclusive Spell applied to halt undead allows you to affect creatures of any type, though most nonundead targets are considered “intelligent” (excepting only those actually lacking an Intelligence score).
This feat only works on spells that specify one or more undead as their targets, not spells that interact with undead in different ways. For example, since create undead targets a corpse, rather than an undead, you cannot apply Unexclusive Spell to it in an effort to have a spell that allows you to create creatures of any type.
An unexclusive spell uses up a slot three levels higher than the spell’s actual level.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Owen Explains It All — Ghost-Busting Weapons for Starfinder

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

You may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All; Ghostbuster’s Afterlife” episode.

The show has a logo and everything!

Adding Weapons to Use Against Ghosts to Starfinder

Really, the two things you need to add the ability to bust ghosts to Starfinder are weapons that can affect and grab ghosts, and traps to hold them. So, here are two OGL options for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, designed to work together: the antiectoplasmic fusion, and the ghostbinder grenade modifications.

(Art by evilratalex)

New Fusion: Antiectoplasmic [Level 1]

Only weapons that deal electricity damage, and no other type of damage, can have the antiectorplasmic fusion.

An antiectoplasmic weapon does full damage to incorporeal creatures, and can score critical hits against incorporeal creatures. If an incorporeal creature is out of Stamina Points (or is at half or less of its HP, for creatures without a Stamina Point score), and has unrecovered damage from an antiectoplasmic weapons on it, then any ectoplasmic weapon can be used to grapple the target (even at range) by hitting its EAC +4 (rather than KAC +8). If an antiecotplasmic weapon has an incorporeal creature grappled, as a standard action you can both maintain the grapple and move the creature a number of squares equal to the weapon’s item level. This counts as an attack, including for purposes of expending charges or ammunition.

Grenade Modification: Ghostbinder

Ghostbinder is a modification that can be applied only to grenades that do electricity damage, and it increases their cost by 100%. A ghostbinder grenade does half damage, and has a trigger connected to it by a cord allowing it to be triggered within 30 feet. A grappled incorporeal creature in the area of a ghostbinder grenade must make a Fortitude save against the grenade’s DC, or be trapped within it. For every foe grappling the incorporeal creature, it takes a -2penalty to this save. An incorporeal creature within a ghostbinder grenade can take no action, cannot affect anything, and is immune to the affects of anything other than the grenade. If the grenade is shut off or destroyed, the incorporeal creature is released.

Unlike most grenades, a ghostbinder grenade is not destroyed when used. If there is no incorporeal creature bound within it, it can be recharged for the cost of a normal grenade of its type.

Expanded Content

In addition to these its, I briefly present rules for long-term ghost storage exclusively at my Patreon. You can join for a monthly cost of less than a cup of coffee!

Hold-Out Grenadier Feat, for Starfinder

Grenades in Starfinder are specifically designed to work in-game. That is, their cost, range, and power is scaled in such a way as to make them useful, but not something that is going to end an encounter with one action or allow minor NPCs to kill all the PCs with one lucky throw. That is, of course, arguably not how grenades work in the real world. That’s the “game” part of a roleplaying game.

But there are other factors as well when scaling grenades compared to reality. They are heavy and expensive per use, compared to other ranged counterparts, and real-world fatigue is more complex than just a bulk or credit system. They can be unpredictable in exact aiming, pose a potential danger to the user or their allies, break or detonate when damaged on your person in combat, and often require you to expose yourself more from cover than using a rifle does. None of these factors are major enough to call for complex rules to model them in Starfinder, but they are a reason it’s not common for individual soldiers to carry 20 grenades with them.

So, is there a way to give players the big-boom-to-save-our-butts experience, without breaking the game so grenades become the go-to solution for every combat? Well, yes, but since we are trying to overcome a gamist issue, it’s going to require a gamist solution with some limitations that have to do with fun gameplay for everyone rather than modeling reality. Not everyone will like that, but for those who do, here’s a feat to become the guy who has one cinematically-impressive grenade on their belt for when the situation calls for a big boom.

(Art by Sarah Hollund)

Hold-Out Grenadier (Combat)
You keep one bad boy ready, in case things go badly south.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with grenades and heavy weapons
Benefit: Once a day, when one of more of your allies is out of Stamina Points (or is down to 25% of their HP, for allies that lack a SP score), and you have access to your normal selection of gear (so not if captures searched and weapons removed, or when you have unable to resupply since last using this ability, and so on), as a full-round action you may throw a hold-out grenade that you keep for emergency situations.

The grenade is a grenade of your choice with an item level no greater than your item level +2, and you add your level to damage dealt by the grenade. If the grenade does dice of damage, it deals one additional die of the same size its damage is calculated in (thus a 4d6 grenade becomes a 5d6 grenade). The grenade cannot be one that does not directly deal damage (such as a smoke grenade, flash grenade, or grenade that summons a creature).

The round after throwing the grenade, you cannot make an attack, attack action, full-attack action, cast any spell unless it is harmless, or use any ability that requires an attack roll or forces opponents to make a saving throw.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).