Blackskull (and its mistress) is a location you can use as the seed of one or more adventures. It can be a side-quest, the end of a small adventure, a goal for players to claim, or even act as a patron’s home base. Legend claims it is the remains of Akash, the Titan of All Knowledge and avatar of the Akashic Record. You can set it in a vast desert, at the center of a massive barrow ground, at the peak of a dangerous mountain, or just at the edge of a small town that has spring up to house and make money off people who come to speak to the oracle of Blackskull.
The one true power of Blakcskull is the highest chamber within the skull, known as the Lore Room, which once per day allows anyone making a Knowledge check there to gain a +10 circumstance bonus to the check, as the ancient knowledge of Akash soaks into their mind.
(Blackskull cartography from Dyson Logos, and available for use by license)
For years, Blackskull was a focal point for petty squabbles among various sects of gods of knowledge and wizards who wished to use its resources to design new forms of hybrid animals. After an unfortunate incident when two such forces combined and made a small chimera-like creature with the body and one head of a racoon, wings and head of a magpie, and additional head of an tiger keelback snake, which began stealing the holy books of all religious orders, the local baron set up a challenge that Blkacskull would be granted to the scholar who could answer the most difficult question the baron could pose.
And the winning sage was the Fel Sage, also known as the Blood of Knowledge, a minor bard lich who poses as a vampire.
The Mistress of Blackskull
The Fel Sage is legendary as a “reasonable” undead. She doesn’t have any ethical limitations on her choice of actions, and would happily burn orphanages to the ground if it further her own researches one iota. However, she is also an apt historian who has a clear view of what happens to evil overlords when they become a threat to the world at large—heroes come and destroy them. The Fel Sage doesn’t want to rule the world—that sounds like a lot of work—she just wants time to read all the books, scrolls, tablets, and folios she has gathered over more than a lifetime (which is why she became an undead to begin with—to have more time to read).
So, she used the power of suggestion to convince the baron to pose a question she already knew the answer to, answered it in a public show of her vast knowledge, and laid claim to Blackskull. As a result she even has some legal protections—as long as she doesn’t break local law, it’s illegal to kill her just for being an undead. Further, she acts as a sage for numerous adventuring parties and heroes, to ensure she has more allies than enemies—part of her plot to survive forever.
Though she used trickery to win her roost, in truth, the Fel Sage is capable of answering questions well beyond the norm for creatures of her power level. If she chooses to use the akashic communion spell she can gain a +10 insight bonus to one Knowledge check, and combine that with Blackskull’s Lore Room for a +10 circumstance bonus and her archivist version of lore master that allows her to take 20 on one Knowledge skill check per day, getting most of her Knowledge skill totals to +49 to +51. Of course even when this is her plan to answer a question, she insists such knowledge comes from days or even weeks of research, and generally only promises to have an answer after a petitioner has gone and gathered some rare book she desires (or rubbings off new ruins that have been discovered, or a drop of blood from an unidentified body that might spark a border war in a conflict zone so she can cast blood biography, or anything else that might quench her thirst for knowledge).
The Fel Sage only willingly sees people under the guise of a disguise self spell, and normally thus restricts herself to one meeting a day so as not to drain her spell resources (though she has scrolls if she is forced to break that rule). She doesn’t use her disguise self magics to appear human—that’s beyond the power of the spell. Instead she uses it to appear to be a vampire, a different form of undead than her own lich status, and an undead with a very different set of limitations and weaknesses.
While she sees significant tactical benefits to being mistaken for a vampire, her main motivation is actually pride. She is an extremely weak lich, having only barely managed to transform herself and only because she found a document with the easiest, most carefully-explained lich ritual ever. She fears mockery if the world at large ever discovered she was, essentially, the weakest lich ever. But if she poses as a vampire, her immunity to daylight and ability to claim she holds off bloodlust through ancient elixirs and pure willpower make her seem extraordinary and special.
She also uses her disguise self to make her whip look like a dagger, and to make an impressive magic ring appear on her hand, which she pretends is the source of her paralyzing touch lich power.
If a group comes to her with some question that must be answered she insist on being paid in rare knowledge and books, and often has some specific quest she insists on sending adventurers on. If possible, she picks tasks that are more dangerous than they sound, hoping anyone bothering her will be killed off rather than return for an answer—but if they do return, she sees the benefit in having adventurers who will put themselves as risk for her benefit, and treats them fairly. If any seem taken with her comely vampire guise, she does her best to establish a sense of intimacy, often creating a first name she offers to allow them to call her (which she makes up n the spot, the Fel Sage has long since forgotten her “life name,” which she considers irrelevant to her new existence).
Of course she is a lich, and she is evil. Someday, even with the tenuous protection of local law, someone will decide she has to go.
Her hope is that when that day comes, more adventurers will want to keep her around than get rid of her.
The Fel Sage
Female lich (human) bard (archivist) 7
NE Medium undead
Init +2; Senses darkvision (60 ft.), Perception +19; Aura fear (60-ft. radius, DC 19)
AC 18, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+1 armor, +5 natural armor, +2 Dex)
hp 73 (7d8+35)
Fort +3, Ref +8, Will +7; +4 vs. bardic performance, language-dependent, and sonic
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +4; rejuvenation; DR 15/bludgeoning and magic; Immune cold, electricity, undead traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee whip +7 (1d3–1), touch +2 (1d8+3 plus paralyzing touch)
Ranged light crossbow +7 (1d8/19–20)
Special Attacks bardic performance 22 rounds/day (countersong, distraction, fascinate, inspire competence +3, lamentable belaborment*, naturalist +2*), paralyzing touch (DC 19)
*Represents an ability gained from the archivist archetype
Bard Spells Known (CL 7th; concentration +12)
3rd (2)—akashic communion, charm monster (DC 19)
2nd (4) alegro, blood biography, invisibility, mirror image, suggestion (DC 18)
1st (6)—beguiling gift (DC 17), charm person (DC 17), disguise self, expeditious retreat, hideous laughter (DC 17), memory lapse (DC 17), saving finale, touch of gracelessness (DC 17)
0 (at will)—detect magic, ghost sound (DC 16), light, message, prestidigitation, sift
Str 8, Dex 14, Con -, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 22
Base Atk +5; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Arcane Strike, Greater Serpent Lash, Lingering Performance, Serpent Lash, Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics +12, Appraise +11, Disguise +16, Knowledge (arcana) +9, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +11, Knowledge (engineering) +9, Knowledge (geography) +9, Knowledge (history) +9, Knowledge (local) +11, Knowledge (planes) +11, Knowledge (nobility) +11, Linguistics +7, Perception +19, Perform (oratory) +16, Sense Motive +14, Spellcraft +6, Stealth +19, Use Magic Device +16
Languages Common, Giant, Polyglot, Necril
SQ bardic knowledge +3, jack of all trades*, lore master (take 20*) 1/day, magic lore*
*Represents an ability gained from the archivist archetype
Combat Gear scroll of comprehend languages, scrolls of disguise self (2), scroll of restful sleep, wand of cause light wounds (50 charges), wand of grease (50 charges); Other Gear quilted cloth armor, light crossbow with 10 bolts, whip, cloak of resistance +1, headband of alluring charisma +2, backpack, spell component pouch, 25 gp
Blackskull in Your Campaign
You can use Blackskull and the Fel Sage as traditional villains and adventure locations if you wish–just have the Fel Sage send thugs to gather lorebooks by any means necessary, the thugs steal something from friends of the PCs, and the adventure is on! Or she can become a colorful patron, always willing to answer the PCs’ questions… in return for their taking on some dangeorus mission (which gives you, the GM, an easy work-around any time your PCs are stumped–they can get the answer to any question, as long as they do an extra adventure for the Fel Sage to make up for it).
Of a PC could become the “legal” owner of Blackskull somehow, and have to kick the Fel Sage out of it.
Or the PCs could discover some foe of their is always one step ahead of them because that foe buys information from the Fel Sage, and force the PCs to decide if they want to kill her, or buy her off to gain information of her own.
It’s easy to add some encounters to Blackskull to make it a mini-dungeon. Since the Fel Sage is CR 8, throwing together some CR 4-9 monsters is easy enough. here are some examples.
*An androsphinx waits outside, having paid the Fel Sage to find him a new riddle, and he attacks anyone who tries to go in before he has his answer from her.
*An annis hag has become the Fel Sage’s apprentice, usually taking the form of a sky maid named “Lilly.” Lilly tries to get visitors to violate any of the Fel Sage’s rules, so she can kill and consume them. Also, she makes soup.
*One of the upper elvels is protected with a flame strike trap.
*A hill giant, Onks, serves as the Fel Sage’s guard. She has convinced him he is descended from the titan Akash, and that if he serves her long enough he’ll become smart. This is a lie.
*The lowest level has been blocked off and flooded, and there’s a globster in it. because the Fel Sage read about one, got one imported to study, and now doesn’t know what to do with it. She doesn’t feed it much, so it’s hungry.
The Fel Sage has stuck a lurker above in the room off the right eye socket, to protect access to the Lore room. It knows she’s rotted meat, and has no interest in eating her.
*Two bookcases are actually Wood Golems.
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Adventure Sketches are just the most basic set up, plot, twist, and development for as many or as few sessions as a GM wants to turn them into. They’re enough guidance to make plotting out a game easy, but not so much it’s hard to fit into any existing campaign.
Intended for Pathfinder, this adventure sketch can be modified to work with nearly any RPG with lawless lands, frontier zones, and numerous races.
The rapids are the most dangerous part of the great river, but are also on a branch of the river easily bypassed by those wishing to use it for travel. The land around the rapids is rockier and heavily overgrown, bad for farming and hard to travel through. It was considered to be most concerning as a potential place for bandit hideouts, but no such group was ever known to use it. As recently as a generation ago the rapids were considered too far from anything of value for any thinking group to bother with them.
But in recent years, numerous aquatic animals and magical beasts have attacked all up and down the rest of the great river, and most ponds and lakes near it. At first such attacks were only on isolated groups, mostly itinerant traders, and local settlements ignored it. But in recent months the attacks have been bolder. Major trade shipments have been attacked, and a few small thorps have been abandoned, with signs of attacks in the disused buildings.
Major merchant princes in faraway lands wish the disruptions of trade to end, and assume some brigand ranger or petty druid is finally using the lands of the rapids to set up an outlaw camp. The merchant princes wish to end the problem quickly and cheaply, and thus have placed a bounty on the leader of these presumed “rapids rogues.” The PCs are drawn into this situation, perhaps to pay off a debt, perhaps as guards for a river trader and his shipment, perhaps as a favor for a struggling vendor, or perhaps just for the bounty.
But in truth, it’s a brine dragon (a juvenile brine dragon perhaps, CR 8, and a good capstone fight for 5th or 6th level PCs) and its lizardmen conscripts that have been causing problems. The brine dragon, Breakwave, has also conquered the local nixie clan who once lived in idyllic peace in the rapids and surrounding lands. Breakwave wishes to build an empire, and forces the nixies to use their talents to train and command aquatic threats (giant caimans, anacondas, arapaima, monstrous electric eels, and dire river otters), and uses threats and bribes to turn any other nearby creatures into soldiers.
The PCs must fight their way through the rapids, learn the true nature of the threat, rescue citizens of the abandoned settlements (many of whom have been pressed into service by Breakwave), bypass monstrous and aquatic guards, and finally defeat Breakwave himself.
And then the real adventure begins.
Breakwave has angered numerous other nearby threats–attacking some, extorting others–and his death causes those threats to rush into the lands around the rapids to claim his presumed hoard. Further, without his *undesired) patronage, and with the rapids now seen as a crucial tactical location, the nixies and their care for that section of the great river are doomed–unless they can convince the PCs to protect them (perhaps in return for the nixies’ loyalty).
And the merchant princes suddenly think the PCs may be making too great a profit. And the lizardmen came from a not-too-distant tribe, who expected regular payments in return for the lizardman mercenary service, and will demand recompense for the loss of the income Breakwater provided.
The PCs can flee the situation, or try to use diplomacy to re-establish equilibrium, or claim the area as their own base of operation, of even pick up where Breakwave left off…
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As I have considered the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, I’ve begun to consider what kind of “Western” setting you end up with if you mix six guns and sorcery and steamtech and fantasy cosmology all into one stewpot. It’s easy to implement new rules the setting needs, such as more advanced mounted combat and shotguns, but what do the existing rules say about the universe this campaign takes place in? For example, if all the magic from the game is allowed in, including the summoning spells from Starfinder Alien Archive, that means this is a Weird West setting where at least some people can summon devils.
I’ve tried to let that sink in a bit. Somehow spellcasting elven sheriffs, steampunk cyborg half-orc bandits, and mechanics with automatons built out of leftover Martian technology suddenly feel like the minor changes to the Old West setting. Theosophy allows us to skin the supernatural in a specific flavor in this game, and of course this is an era of unmitigated flummery on stages and in sideshows and snake-oil stands, so some people will assume conjuring a dancing imp out of thin air is done with smoke and mirrors.
But some people will know. The Devil is real. Hell is real. And there lies power.
How does THAT get translated into a Western? Here’s the end result of my first foray into these ideas.
No one is sure who is responsible for Badlands City. The reasons why it might have been created are clear enough—the route between Sioux Falls and Rapid City is both heavily travelled and traditionally dangerous. Gold in the Black Hills still draws prospectors, investors, and brigands thought the main gold rush is long since over. Trains cover short distances, but are often attacked. Bandits have hideouts deep in the badlands that are hard to find, and almost as hard to clear out once located. The reservations given to the Lakota have been illegally reclaimed by force by the US government multiple times, and now answer a call to Ghost Dance and refuse to be pushed any further, even as rich wheat crops bring new settlers from the East. Though South Dakota is recently a state, so far this has done little to quell a land that has seen Indian wars, Martian tripods, and robber barons in armored trains.
It’s obvious that someone wanted a respite of civilization, following the laws of the United States, smack between the two major cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City.
And they were willing to sell their soul to get it.
Badlands City sits in the South Dakota badlands, roughly 2/3 of the way from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. It is the major stop on the Good Intentions double-track rail-line between the two, which is open to any train willing to follow the rules. It has banks, hotels, shops, brothels, stables, a courthouse, and every other convenience a citizen of the nation might desire. And it is literally the work of the Devil.
Someone, or many someones, sold their souls to Hell to make Badlands City happen just a few years ago, and it (and it’s train service) arrived almost overnight. At first all its stores and venues were manned by lesser devils in service to the Great One, but as those devils found humans willing to sign a contract and follow strict rules on how each business was to be run, the devils left. Very few remain now, though the city’s mayor, old Harry Squarefoot, is certainly one of them. He looks human enough of course, except for the slight red tinge to his skin, and the fire in his eyes. Neither of those things show up well in lithographs, so most folks Back East think the “City of Hell” and “Devil’s Own as Mayor” stories are colorful advertising and analogies.
The few major theosophists and priests who have studied the place loudly confirm this is not the case. It’s a city build by Hell and run by a devil. Many ban their followers from ever going there.
However, Badlands City is safe, as long as you follow the law. Famously safe. Old Harry is happy to explain why. Badlands City is the Devil’s end of a bargain, and that bargain was specific.
1.The city will strictly enforce the laws of the United States, and no others, (Of course when it arrived the city was in Dakota Territory rather than the state of South Dakota that didn’t exist yet, so Badlands City recognizes the state, but doesn’t enforce its local laws. Only federal statutes).
2. It will train and support a band of law enforcers who will seek to bring criminals to justice and avenge victims of crimes.
3. Badlands City will be protected by the infernal from famine, drought, war, plague, and any other such mass misery as might weaken or destroy a city or its people.
4. No devil in Badlands City may ever speak an untruth. (Of course, this does not require them to answer questions they choose not to, or deceive in other ways.)
5. If another city as successful is ever built within 100 miles of Badlands City, the devils and their influence will leave the place forever, never to return.
While the territorial government was wary of Badlands City at first, its existence is simply too convenient for them to refuse to work with its city council. Badlands City gathers and pays its taxes, but needs no state funds in return. It provides a courthouse, but allows official federal judges and bailiffs to operate it. It creates an anchor point of absolute security, and anyone who has been badly treated there has always been proven to be a lawbreaker. Badlands City makes transport between the two biggest cities in South Dakota faster and safer, and acts as a jumping off point for all sorts of settlers and entrepreneurs. Even the massive Martian tripods were unable to threaten the city, and old Harry has hinted the disease that destroyed them all may have come from Badlands City.
The state government now simply shrugs and calls is a massively successful landstead, and the federal government takes the state government’s lead.
And then, there are the Dread Templars.
Badlands City is required to train and support a band of law enforcers who will seek to bring criminals to justice and avenge victims of crimes. To fulfill this obligation the city has created the Dread Templars, who carry goats-head badges of tarnished silver and, if technically lacking legal standing outside of the city limits, are acknowledged along with the U.S. Martials, Canadian Mounties, Texas Rangers, Mexican Science Agents, Pinkertons and Justiciers as among the great peacekeepers and detectives of North America. Badlands City has a quota, though it never reveals what its minimum numbers are, of how many Dread Templars it must produce every 5 years, and how many it must keep active.
But it’s not required to do it for free.
So long as the city hits its secret minimum, it can pick and train Dread Templar candidates however it chooses. There are currently two known methods. First, anyone who wishes to can join the Acadamance, within the city, where devils train cadets about how evil thinks, and how evil can be foiled. Cadets may be of any race, creed, or gender, as long as they follow the rules and dedicate their lives to the twin goals of bringing criminals to justice and avenging victims of crimes, and swear to never act to threaten Badlands City itself. For each class it is a two year process and at the end of that time, as all candidates note they are aware before joining, the most average candidate (the one furthest from being the best, or the worst) will die in a gruesome, painful accident and their soul will go to Hell.
This is, as old Harry has noted, perfectly legal. No one at Acadamance has anything to do with the accident, which they can’t predict or stop and have no idea how it’ll happen or who is behind it, and no laws govern ownership of souls.
The alternate method is that the Devil will make anyone willing to abide by the code of the Dread Templars one of their number immediately, in return for a human soul. It need not be the soul of the Dread Templar. Stories claim that sometimes, when a victim of foul play is about to succumb to their last breath, they promise the Devil their soul in return for a Dread Templar to avenge them. The Devil considers this a good deal, and a new Dread Templar is born.
Thus one of the safest places in the Really Wild West sits in the shadow of Hell, and among the most effective lawbringers are its implacable agents who carry punishment and vengeance with them.
In the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at some tie-in rules that bring Badlands Citizens and Dread Templars to a Starfinder Really Wild West campaign.
Scatterguns in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game are blast weapons, meaning they make attacks in a 90-degree cone, and only out to their first range increment. It would certainly be possible to make weapons that work that way, and it’s a great niche for a new type of weapon in a science-fantasy game… but it’s nothing like how shotguns work in real life. Shotguns do fire an expanding cluster of shot, but the cluster spreads at something close to one inch per yard traveled—nowhere near a 90-degree cone—and generally have an effective range between 5 and 65 yards.
Now, attempting to perfectly model reality is a terrible reason to change fun and effective game mechanics. After all, no one worries about how much damage you do to your sword when you parry another sword, even though this can be a serious long-term issue in the real world.
But getting a genre “feel” right IS a good reason to adjust game rules, and the Really Wild West campaign-hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game feels like it should have more Old West style shotguns. So a set of shotguns are presented below, all of which use a more subtle “shotgun” special weapon quality rather than “blast,” and some of which have “double” to represent ubiquitous double-barrel shotguns common in the 1890 time frame of the campaign.
Double: The weapon has two barrels, each carrying a single round of ammunition. You can fire each round separately as its own attack, or fire them both at the same target as a single attack. If you choose to do this, you make two attack rolls against the target each at -1 (as the more powerful kick of both barrels going off increases the amount of rise from the barrel). Each attack does normal damage if it hits. You can reload both barrels at the same time if you are proficient with the weapon, but must do each as its own move action if you are not proficient.
Shotgun: A shotgun can fire slugs or shot (which have the same cost). Slugs work as normal for a typical kinetic weapon. Shot means firing a cluster of balls that spread into a widening pattern the further they get from the muzzle of the shotgun. As the pattern expands, the chance you hit a target with one or two balls goes up, but the chance you hit them with most of the balls goes down. For each range increment after the first, your attack gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls, but does -1 damage per die. If the damage is reduced to 0 or less, the target takes no damage.
A sawed-off shotgun has a shorter barrel, causing the balls to spread more quickly. A sawed-off shotgun has a shorter range increment (of your choice, to the nearest 5-feet, to a minimum of a 5 foot range increment).
As a set of sample weapons for Really Wild West, here are a series of double barrel shotguns, pump-action repeaters (which were new technology in 1890) and shotgun revolvers (which existed but never really caught on, but seem perfect for a Weird West setting).
|Double Barrel Scattergun||1||100||1d8 P||15 ft.||—||2 rounds||1||Double, Shotgun|
|Repeating Shotgun||2||260||1d8||20 ft.||—||7 rounds||1||Shotgun|
|Kensington Revolving Shotgun||4||2,400||2d6||20 ft.||—||6 rounds||1||Shotgun|
|Double Barrel Coach Gun||7||5,500||2d8||15 ft.||—||2 rounds||1||Double, Shotgun|
|High Plains Repeater||7||5,500||2d8||20 ft.||—||7 rounds||1||Shotgun|
|Kensington Revolving, Elite||8||5,500||3d6||20 ft.||—||6 rounds||1||Shotgun|
|Double Barrel Dragongun||10||18,200||3d8||15 ft.||—||2 rounds||1||Double, Shotgun|
|Damascus Repeater||10||18,200||3d8||20 ft.||—||7 rounds||1||Shotgun|
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I am on vacation, so I may post a bit less for a couple of weeks than I have on average this month… so I thought I’d leave you with an entire microsetting. It even has an index page that lists and organizes all the articles that came after this one, the Really Weird West index.
This is Victoriana Pulp Weird West Adventure.
The year is 1891. The place is somewhere in North or South America, generally far from established law. In 1890, the War of the Worlds happened. That’s over, but wow has tech taken a leap forward.
This is a campaign played using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with the following adjustments.
*The game’s top level is 10th, not 20th. After 10th you get +1 RP, +3 SP, +3 HP, +1 feat, and +2 skill points every 20,000 XP, and ability score upgrades every 100,000, but your class level doesn’t change.
*Humans are most common, with legacy races (many of whom look a lot like humans) and Starfinder core races second-most common (though with entirely terrestrial origins). Other races are rare and usually the result of accidents or experiments (such as Dr. Moreaux’s creation of catfolk and uplifted bears… )
*All magic is theosophy. But it still works just like in the rulebook. It’s been a round a long time, and is well-understood in many older cultures already, but is becoming more codified in the Western nations in recent years.
*Everything is analog, but all abilities that work on technology work on everything that isn’t exclusively magical.
*“Credits” is just shorthand for “credit on the bank,” meaning you have US dollars and lines of credit. Gold and silver coins get used too. All prices are the same, but represent a unifed currency exchange that exists because of the Babbage-Bell Grid, which allows room-sized computer “difference engines” in major cities to communicate over telegraph lines.
*Shock weapons are lightning guns, flame weapons are flamethrowers, lasers are heat rays (from Martian tech). They always have a maximum of 10 shots (adjust usage accordingly).
*Projectile weapons are pepperboxes (four shots, but add +2 damage to every die of damage), revolvers (six shots, but +1 to attacks), or tube-fed (eight shots).
Cryo, plasma, sonic, and untyped ranged weapons are rare and are often available only as weird loot from adventures (but see the mad genius feat, below). They are generally called Freeze Guns, Heaters, and Thunder Guns.
*No one much wears armor. You get a bonus to EAC equal to your level, and a bonus to KAC equal to your level +2. If you are proficient with heavy armor, you get an additional +1 bonus to EAC and KAC, and if you are proficient with powered armor, you get an *additional* +1 bonus to EAC and KAC. You can wear armor—light armor costs 100 credits and gives +1 to KAC, with a max Dex of +5 and an armor check penalty of -1, while heavy armor costs 150 and gives +2 to EAC and KAC, with an armor check of -3 and a -5 ft. speed adjustment.
*You can wear armor upgrades as “gizmos.” These are steampunky/theosophic devices that do weird stuff. Force fields are Etheric Shields. Jump jets are Jack’s Spring-Heels. Jetpacks are DaVinci Wings. Get creative. But it takes skill to use more than one gizmo at a time. You can use at once one gizmo, plus one for every kind of armor you are proficient with, +1/3 character levels.
*Computers are too big and bulky to be of any use to anyone but people operating out of stationary huge houses and mad geniuses (see the Mad Genius feat), but there is a Babbage/Bell grid of difference engines using telecom wires to send and receive info. These work like Infospheres, but work on hard wires.
*Augmentations and upgrades exist, but are normally only available as treasure (but see the Mad Genius feat). These things are steampunk as heck.
*Technological items exist, and are steampunk/Martianpunk tech-but there’s no broadcast/receiving technology. You can have a comm unit… but it only works when hooked up to a Babbage/Bell telecom wire (some of which do cross various badlands, to keep cities in communication with each other). You can generally buy such things.
*Magic items and hybrid items exist, but are generally only available as treasure (but see the Psychic feat, below).
*Vehicles exist, they are just all steampunk. Big airships and sea ships also exist, and use the starship rules (but damage against characters from big airship weapons is x2, not x10).
*Other purchases exist, and can generally be purchased, they’re just more rustic and snake-oil sounding.
*UPBs are Ulysses’ Paraphernetic Bobimathings, a famous universal construction gizmo created a decade ago by the legendary (but never seen) inventor Ulysses S. Abernathy. Any number of them is a total of 2 bulk. They otherwise work like normal UPBs.
You may select no more than one genre feat, from the list below. At 5th level you may select a second genre feat, if no one else in the campaign has taken it.
A Contact in Every Port
Benefit: In every settlement you come across, you have at least one local (at neither the bottom nor top of the social ladder) who is helpful towards you. These may be old flames, pen pals, admirers of your work, a spy network, the last citizens of the lost subterranean empire you were queen of, or whatever else you decide to define them as. Even if you abuse these allies and reduce their attitude towards you, it goes back up one step (to a maximum of helpful) every time you gain a level.
Benefit: When you are adjacent to a target in a secluded area where the target cannot see or hear any of its allies or your allies, any nonlethal damage the target takes in a surprise round before the target acts is quadrupled. If any of these conditions end you cannot use this feat again on the same target until you have gotten an attitude or friendly with the target, or if the target does not realize you are the same person when you next are adjacent to it in seclusion.
Chandeliers and Rigging
Benefit: As long as there are hanging ropes, lights, sails, rafters, trees, or similar dangling objects nearby, you have a fly speed of 30. If you end any turn not within 20 feet of a dangling object, you must land or you fall.
Benefit: Rather than suffer frightened or panicked conditions, you simply take the penalties of the shaken condition. Additionally even when confused or mind controlled, you never attack yourself or an ally unless you wish to.
Benefit: You may use your Charisma modifier (rather than Strength or Dexterity) when making attack rolls with weapons, and add your Charisma modifier (in addition to any other ability score that applies) to damage rolls with weapons.
Prerequisite: Engineering as a class skill.
Benefit: Select one technology type: cryo, plasma, sonic, untyped ranged weapons, computers, or augmentations. You can create such items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules. You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Engineering. You can swap out what items you have each day, but new items don’t come with full loads of fuel, batteries, or ammunition.
You can select a second category if you are 5th level or higher, and a third at 10th.
Prerequisite: Mysticism as a class skill
Benefit: You can create magic items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules (and hybrid items, if you have enough ranks in engineering for them). You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Mysticism. You can swap out what items you have at each new character level, or with 30 days of downtime.
Benefit: You gain 5 additional maximum Resolve Points.
Benefit: Whether you are a gunsmith, or veteran soldier, or just weirdly lucky, you almost always have access to special weapons. If you have access to your normal equipment and have not lost that since you were in a typical town, you have access to one weapon of your level, one weapon of your level -2 (if the result is 1 or more), and one weapon of your level -4 (if the result is 1 or more). You may select weapon normally only available as treasure.
These special weapons may have double the normal usages, or reroll one damage roll per combat, or have one weapon fusion it qualifies for. If you wish, you may give up one of these special weapons to instead apply an additional benefit from this list to one of your remaining special weapons. You can swap out your special weapons at a major settlement or weapon cache.
Nearly every time-period appropriate fiction works in this setting. The heroes are part of a worldwide tradition of larger-than-life figures, and after 1st level can generally expect to be accepted as noteworthy experts in the field of adventure, if nothing else.
This is a world where Sherlock Holmes is world famous and alive, secretly waging a war with Professor Moriarty and aided by Nick Carter and Inspector Donovan. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison publicly wage thought wars for scientific superiority, though Marie Curie is actually making more headway with Martian technology and Beatrix Potter has mastered the hybrid red weed the Martians brought with them. Dr. Moreau is busy with his experiments somewhere in the Pacific, Dr. Jekyll wanders the world looking for a cure, Old Shatterhand works to bring justice to the badlands, Sir Henry Curtis explores Africa (ignoring the fact people already live there), retired Otto Lidenbrock has established multiple routes to the center of the earth with his nephew Axel (though Gräuben Lidenbrock runs most of the expeditions, as her husband Axel is too afraid to make the journeys), and Professor Challenger just received his degree.
In Australia the age of the bushrangers has largely ended, though Ned Kelly still runs a group of armored outlaws seen by many as local heroes. The rapid industrialization of many of the nation’s major cities, and a growing depression, is also leading to rising nationalism, rising cries for independence, and sadly growing racism against Asian immigrants and the continent’s aborigines.
In Canada the Dominion of Canada is just a generation old, and still struggling to settle land disputes with the US and between its own provinces. The Mounties are less than 20 years old, the Yukon gold rush is strong, and there is not yes a single unified code of law for the nation.
In Mexico military hero Porfirio Díaz rules as president over a stable, growing, wealthy Mexico. He rules with the aid and advice of the científicos (“scientists”), who reject religious ideas and mysticism to focus on scientific method and the accumulation of knowledge… though the Maximillian monarchy was just a generation ago.
In Japan Emperor Meiji overseas the transition of a nation from feudal power to modern power, and though samurai have had many of their privileges removed they still exist and the last samurai conflict was within a generation.
In the United States, there are still unsettled territories, though not as many as their used to be, and while veterans of the civil war have grown rare and aged, veterans of the War of the Worlds are now common. While the Indian Wars are mostly over, the indigenous peoples have been conquered by force, smaller military conflict still occur. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the Army’s attempt to subdue the Lakota but, for now, the Lakota remain present and in control of the reservation without federal interference within their borders.
Patreon and You
I can only take time to write microsettings and genre rules like this because of the support of my patrons. Please check out my Patreon, and consider baking me for a few bucks a month.
One of the things more industrialized settings sometimes do for an rpg campaign is open up new avenues of adventure. While there is nothing at all wrong with tuning an abandoned mall into a dungeon, or a wrecked spaceship into a haunted house, or treating an alien progenator as a dragon in its layer, sometimes it’s fun to play with new possibilities as well.
And if you have a setting with multiple homeworlds drawing together in a confederation with representative officials from different worlds, each with its own method of selecting said officials, that means politics.
While in some games PCs might actually be candidates, and some system of determining who wins an election might be useful as a subsystem, the idea of political action adventures can be introduced without going nearly that far. Much as you don’t need a subsystem on fighting epidemics in order to rush antidotes to a plague-ridden city and don’t need rules on the impact of an alpha predator on an ecology not designed for it to hunt down the bullette destroying a forest, you can do a lot with politics as a motivator without ever getting into voting, caucuses, poll taxes, or even issues.
As with many RPG-related adventure ideas, you can borrow heavily from fiction for inspiration. While these are by no means an exhaustive list of movies with politics-driven action plots, and it’s certainly not a commentary on the quality of any of these movies, they are things that a good GM should be able to easily borrow from to throw some political adventure into a modern or science-fiction campaign. All of these have at least some elements where it’s easy to envision PCs of any level getting involved, either accidentally, as catspaws, or as a politically appropriate measured response. While it might be important in some cases to downgrade the action from centering around a chief executive to simply a minor representative who’ll cast a decisive vote on something, the core ideas are still easily lifted.
And obviously, I leaned towards those movies with cool ideas and set-pieces over those with believable politics.
Air Force One
Bridge of Spies
Enemy of the State
Escape from New York
The Hunger Games tilogy
In the Line of Fire
The Manchurian Candidate
Olympus Has Fallen
The Pelican Brief
The Purge: Election Year
Speaking of Politics
Well only sort of. But politicians need supporters… and so do I! I have a Patreon, where I have set up pledge levels to explain how much you’ll actually be charged (within a few cents) even under Patreon’s weird new pricing scheme. Check it out!
Two things are on my mind at the moment. “Dirty Santa” style gift –exchange games, and treasure division in dungeon-delving style fantasy RPGs. These two things have nothing to do with each other, and yet…
Let me interrupt my own train of thought to point out that I’m not claiming this is a good idea. I strongly suspect it’s a bad idea. But, it IS an idea, and sometimes those demand our attention.
So, let’s combine Dirty Santa and Treasure Division.
Decide how many items there are to be divided. We’ll call this the number of “picks.” If there’s money or other bulk valuables you can divide the total value by the number of people in the party who get treasure (we’ll call them folks), and treat each amount of that value as one pick. (So if there is 2400 gp of coins and gems, and five folks dividing the treasure, that’s five picks worth 480 gp each.)
Divide the total number of picks by the number of folks, and round up.
Double that number, and each of the folks get that many takes. A take represents selecting an item of loot to keep. They should track their takes.
To decide who gets to spend a take first, players all secretly bid how many takes they will spend for that privilege. Then reveal the bids. Whoever bid the most goes first, and the order after id determined by who bid the 2nd most, and so on. In case of ties, roll off to see who goes earlier.
The person who goes first expends 1 pick to select an item. At least for the moment, it is theirs.
The next person may expend 1 pick to select an item left in the pool, or may expend TWO picks to take the item already selected by the person who went first. If that happens, the person who went first gets one pick back.
Proceed in order. On each turn, a folk can do one of these things:
A: Expend one pick to select an item no one has selected yet.
B: Select an item someone else has. This requires you to spend a number of picks equal to 1 + the number of people who have already picked it. So if two people have already picked it, you have to spend three picks. No matter how many picks you spend, one pick goes back to the person you take it from.
C: Select an item someone else has that you were the very first person to pick. This costs only one pick, no matter how many people have picked it since.
Repeat this process until you run out of items, or everyone runs out of picks. If you run out of items, the process is over. If everyone runs out of picks when there are still items left, everyone gets back all the picks they began with, and keep going.
Speaking of Ideas
Here’s an idea; why not support my Patreon? It’s the main way to encourage me to produce more blog posts so if you enjoyed this, maybe it’s worth a dollar a month?
Adventure idea: A community of unusually short-tailed, round-headed ratfolk (an ethnicity called ‘voles’ by other local races) who live in borrows (boroughs?) outside a major city have begun to be assaulted and driven out of local markets by rougher citizens of the city. The settlers accuse the ratfolk of theft, and desecration of several shrines within the city, saying the ratfolk move through the city’s sewers and drains, and have even been seen trying to get at children asleep in their homes.
The ratfolk proclaim their innocence, and point out they warned the city’s leaders weeks ago that wererats had been spotted in the thick brush of a nearby woods. The ratfolk believe the wererats have infected some city dwellers. The city government thinks the ratfolk are making false claims about wererats to protect some ratfolk hooligans, and thus aren’t taking it seriously.
Thus the ratfolk need help, because the wererats (who do indeed walk among them, including a few wererat ratfolk who only have a modest appearance change in hybrid form) are a demon cult who wish to summon agents of their demonic patron, a scavenger lord who spreads disease and uses vrocks as his agents. The wererats have summoned one vrock already, and want two more so they can do a dance of ruin beneath the city streets! So, the rastfolk want to hire some outsiders (the PCs) to fairly investigate.
The players must separate fact from fiction, deal with hunting down were rats both in the city sewers and hiding in plain site among the ratfllk, and ultimately deal with the apocalyptic whereat demon cult’s plans.
The name of the adventure?
“Vrock and Vole”