It can be useful to set-up a homebrew campaign to support the kinds of adventures you want to run. Want high-seas adventures? Set up a world with lots of good reasons to be on the high seas. So, obviously, want a reason for new, inexperienced adventurers to go dungeon-delving a lot? Build a campaign that supports that idea.
Here’s an example: The Free City of Delve
The Free City of Delve sits on the Isle of Acmonides, among the ruins of the Acmonidesi Empire of giants. Once a world-spanning superpower, Acmonides was the most advanced civilization, with titans and cloud and storm giants ruling over a hundred subjected kingdoms and enforcing their will on dozes of smaller species. Three centuries ago, some massive civil war set the giants against one-another, and the sub-giants (cyclops, ettins, athach, ogres, trolls, and so on) were so devastated they lost nearly all their culture.
Nearly a century after Acmonides fell, seafarers found the island that was its capitol, the location of which had been a well-guarded imperial secret. Camps were set up to loot the islands, then a town evolved as ways to loot the rest of the empire were discovered, and finally the Free City of Delve established.
The center of Delve is the Catacomb Market, built around an ancient step well 60 feet across and 2,000 ft. deep. Hundreds of channels run from various levels of the well. Each channel was once part of an Empire-wide aqueduct system, with teleportation gates bringing water in, and taking it out. For security, only appointed Tibiax, water-workers, could travel the gates. Each gate was controlled by a set of Keystones, attuned to specific Tibiax.
Tibiax were rarely giants, the job instead going to smaller subjugated peoples. The role was often hereditary, so Keystones still work for the descendants of ancient Tibiax, if first used in in the step well on Acmonides Isle.. As the Empire spanned the world, Keystones can be found anywhere worldwide. Merchants in the Catacomb Market import and buy Keystones, and prospective delvers walk the market to see if any stones will work for them. If a stone works for you, it grants potentially exclusive access to some distant part of the Empire, through the magic waterways.
Since the system was specifically designed to allow scions of Tibiax families learn the ropes of maintaining the mystic aqueducts safely, young and inexperienced individuals who first access a keystone are generally sent to a location no one has been sent to in decades or more (since those are the areas with the most failed sections of waterworks) that aren’t extremely hazardous (since the keystones are designed to find problems their attuned Tibiax can handle). The system isn’t perfect, but it means youngsters who discover there’s a Keystone that will work for them can generally gather a group of allies and explore some new part of the collapsed Empire that, though often dangerous, is rarely beyond their ability to cope with. And, they can freely teleport between that location and the step well at the center of Delve.
A a Keystone-bearing group fixes the problem in the region they teleport too through the step well, the keystone then begins to grant them access to new areas — often nes with bigger risks, and sometimes bigger rewards.
The primary trade of Delve is to equip adventurers to loot sections of the long-fallen Acmonidesi Empire, through expeditions sent through the Catacomb market’s magic waterway teleport gates. Loot is brought back to Delve, and used to fund more expeditions. While many nations would love to conquer and control Delve, so far none have wanted to risk angering all the other interested parties by trying to do so through force.
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The ShadowFinder Core Book won’t include a full-length adventure–there’s neither time nor room to get one crammed into that first book–but it WILL include some GM/Adventure support. There will be a section that talks about how to take typical Starfinder Adventure Paths and “reskin” them for the ShadowFinder Play Mode. And there will be some Adventure Sketches.
These are short outlines of what an adventure might include, with sections outlining “What It Looks Like,” “What’s Actually Going On,” “How Do PCs Get Involved,” “How Does It End,” and “Then What.” They are designed for GMs to use as inspirations and jumping-off points, with just enough details to explain what the adventure is about and how it may go, but without so many it’ll be difficult to mold into an existing campaign’s events. For example, while this adventure sketch mentions “the city,” it doesn’t tell you if it happens in New York City, Tokyo, or Absalom. That’s up to the GM.
I kinda hate to preview an Adventure Sketch–they take a lot of effort to write compared to their size and I see them as being a big part of what makes the ShadowFinder book work, despite their relatively small wordcount–but for exactly the reason I want them in the Core Book, I think they do a great job of showcasing what kinds of stories I think ShadowFinder is going to be great for playing through.
So, I picked one of my favorites — Save the City Beneath — and am showcasing it here.
Save The City Beneath
What It Looks Like: Water is mysteriously disappearing. From the drinking water system, reservoirs, even entire rivers and lakes are showing water levels way, way below what they out to be. The systems are all connected to the city’s drinking system, and if the loss isn’t stopped, the entire city is going to have a water shortage.
What’s Actually Going On: The city sits atop “The City Beneath,” a subterranean mix of old, unmapped sewers, storm drains, bootlegger tunnels, heating shafts, closed-off basements, cisterns, bomb shelters, previous cities, and secret underground complexes, natural caves, mined-out salt mines, where a civilization exists with only sporadic contact with the normal city above them. The City Beneath has actual physical portals to the Shadowblast, but also to demiplanes with less malignant residents and much ancient lore and preserved mystic libraries.
The City Beneath is not an inherently evil place. It’s a city, with good people, bad people, homeless people, gangs, unions, charities, arks, and everything else you’d expect to find in a big city—just all underground. But a powerful and judgmental person or group in the upper class of the “normal” surface city (we’ll call them F.L.O.O.D. – Friends of Law, Order, and Organized Democracy) has decided the City Beneath is an unacceptable danger. This group wants to find the City beneath, scour it of everything of value and power, and destroy it.
So, FLOOD are flooding the lower sections of their own city—uncaring that they are drowning the homeless, flooding out the dispossessed, and terrifying the vulnerable members of the lower class in the process—to follow the water drainage into passageways to the City Beneath.
Of course, in the process they are also waking up and releasing things the City Beneath locked away as too dangerous centuries ago.
How Do PCs Get Involved: If the mystery of a regionwide water shortage centered on a major city isn’t enough to get the PCs poking around, when some monsters start popping up in basements, abandoned bank vaults, old tunnel systems, and trendy secret clubs, the PCs can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, someone working for FLOOD might even try to hire the PCs to protect their water-trackers, hoping monster-hunters will blindly accept that the City Beneath must be “dealt with.”
How Does It End: The PCs figure out what FLOOD is up to, and either expose them to the public (which won’t result in anyone important going to jail, but will bring enough pressure for FLOOD to give up… for now), or hunt down and take out the FLOOD manager in charge of the deadly operation. FLOOD won’t be destroyed either way, but will decide such high-profile, headline-grabbing operations are a bad idea.
Then What: Assuming the FLOOD threat to the City Beneath is ended, the PCs now have access to an entire hidden society. In future adventures they can explore, train, use Coin of the Realm to buy magic items, set up bases, make allies, and go adventuring to deal with the City Beneath’s unsavory elements and gangs.
For inspiration on the City Beneath, look up the real-world locations of the Aldwych tube ghost statipn in London, England; Avinguda de la Llum in Barcelona, Spain; the Burlington Bunker in Corsham, England; the Cincinnati Subway in Ohio; Derinkuyu, Turkey; Dixia Cheng in China; the Estación de Chamberí abandoned subway station in Madrid, Spain; K’n-yan; Metro 417 in Los Angeles, California; Naours, France; New York City’s City Hall station; The Paris Catacombs, France; Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine; Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon; Three Kings Catacombs in Tizimín, Mexico; and the Seattle Underground, in Seattle, Washington.
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You can find the introduction, map, and index of the Bottomless Tombs here!
Area 2: The First Passage
Thirty feet down the shaft is the first passage, off the south wall. When the heroes are free to pay attention to it (likely after killing the centipedes in Area 1, though who knows how PCs will react to a vertical battle?), and assuming they have a light or can see in the dark, read or paraphrase the following.
An opening in the southern wall reveals a small space, no more than five feet wide and six feet tall. A 1-foot ledge sticks out into the shaft forming a narrow balcony that is part of that space’s floor. The opening is no more than a large hole in the shaft’s wall, with a broken door sitting in a stone frame 5 feet in. The floor is littered with bits of broken pottery, wood, and dirt, and the walls are stained by dark splashes of color.
More than one adventuring party has left a guard here over the years, and just left their refuse behind. The stains can be identified with a DC 10 Knowledge (dungeonering), or (nature) check to be a mix of water stains from when rain gets into the holw and old ichor, maybe from large vermin.
If more than one Small or Medium creature tries to fit within the space, they must squeeze.
The door was once fine preserved wood and brass, but has long since been smashed in and the brass fittings and hinges removed. A careful examination allows a DC 15 Perception check to realize the door was not designed to ever be opened once it was closed, and it had a trap built into the wall, though it is also long since gone.
The doorway leads to a 10-foot-long, 5-foot wide corridor, which ends in a portcullis. Read or paraphrase the following:
A portcullis blocks passage any further south. Made of rusted iron, it runs the width of the corridor, and its spiked bards set into small holes in the floor. It is covered in worn runs, and shows obvious signs of having been battered and hammered on, and one bar is bent outward toward you, making a space roughly the size of a cat. Just past the portcullis is a cross-corridor, running east and west. A lever, also of rusted iron, sits in the wall of that corridor, currently in the ‘down’ position. A rotting bag of sand is attached to the leaver by a frayed rope.
If you lift the leaver, the portcullis goes up. The last group of adventurers here tied a sandbag to the lever so it would be pulled down after they left. There’s no easy way to use a rope or similar flexible device to pull up on the lever from the north side of the portcullis.
The portcullis can be lifted by a DC 24 Strength check (so an 18 Strength character can do it by taking 20, though this is loud and time consuming). A Small creature can get through the bent-out bars with a DC 18 Escape Artist check, though failure results in 1 hp of damage from jagged edges. The portcullis has 8 hardness and 30 hp per bar, so a group could just hammer on it and hope to break open a bigger hole.
A DC 15 Disable Device check allows a character to find a way to trigger the lever, and a DC 15 Engineering check can be used to rig a staff or similar device to flip the lever u by using the crossbars on the portcullis as a leverage point, though this also requires a successful DC 15 Strength check.
Developments: The louder the PCs are, the more likely it is they draw out something from Area 3.
Design Philosophy: It’s a dungeon, so it should reward people ready for traps and mechanisms… but also not prevent groups without such preparation from getting to the fun part if they work at it. So this has lots of solutions, and is mostly about the players deciding how they want to handle such things.
It also establishes that doors here may have traps, which will matter later, with being a gotcha moment for players.
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So, it’s time to head down the shaft!
Area 1: Entering the Shaft [CR 1]
If the players closely examine the shaft before heading down, read or paraphrase the following.
The sides of the shaft are worked stone, but show signs of considerable wear. In a few places, smooth, though cracked, finishing stone still lines the walls but most of that has long-since chipped away. Most of the shaft is cracked stones, and in many cases these have large cracks, through which thick roots and vines grow to choke the shaft, tangled around the wreckage of worn logs and rope rigging from one or more some kind apparatuses that has fallen into the shaft in recent years.
If the PCs have darkvision, or a directional lightsource (such as a bullseye lantern), or wait until the sun is directly overhead, add the following.
It’s impossible to see more than 35-40 feet down the shaft, but a dark shadow just short of the limit of that range suggests a side passage extends off the southern wall of the shaft.
The first side passage is 30 feet down on the southern wall of the shaft. The only way to get to it, is to climb (or fly, but mostly 1st level characters can’t do that).
Hazards: The Climb DC for this section of the shaft is 10 if a PC just tries to climb along the roots and wreckage. If a rope is added (perhaps anchored to the iron ring in the staging area), the Climb DC drops to 5. Characters can take 10 on this check as long as nothing is attacking them. (Yeah… wait for it)
If a character fails a check by 5 or more, they fall. Luckily, the shaft of the Bottomless Tomb is so checked with roots and detritus, they eventually land on something able to hold their weight. When a character falls, roll 2d6 – 1d6. This value is both the damage they take, and the number of 5-foot squares they fall before landing on something. Most of the damage is from bouncing off roots or falling through rotted wood or frayed ropes. A character can fall 55 feet and only take 11 points of damage because they never build up much momentum.
If the value of the roll is 0 or less, the character is caught within 1 foot by something, and takes no damage.
Foes: There are house centipedes living in the cracks in the walls of the top of the shaft. they pretty well ignore ropes, rocks, or other things being thrown in (unless someone things to dangle meat on a rope, in which case they come out and swarm up the rope to get at the PCs), but once a creature is 20 feet down, they crawl out to attack any potential meal.
If you want to make their attack dramatic, read or paraphrase the following:
A noise like sand trickling over tight leather slowly fills the shaft. Movement rustles roots and ropes, beginning at one of the walls. A long centipede crawls out, more that a foot from it’s clicking mandibles to the end of its 100-legged body, the length of a halfling’s arm! Two more follow it, their heads swinging back and forth as the crawl along the sides and bottoms of the detritus choking the shaft and scuttle toward you!
Three centipedes attack when the first character gets down 20 feet. They have climb speeds, so they easily reach any point in the shaft. They attack any adjacent creature, or if none is adjacent the last creature to attack them.
They have cover from anyone more than 10 feet away, due to how clogged the shaft is.
Remember that despite their massive strength penalties, they do at least 1 hp on a successful attack.
Developments: After 1d4+1 rounds, three more house centipedes attack having been drawn by the sounds of combat.
Design Philosophy: There’s a lot going on with this encounter.
First, if you manage at least a +0 Climb bonus you can safely move around until the centipedes attack, and if you thought to have a rope anyone with at least a +4 (likely including anyone with a rank and a class skill and light armor) still can’t fail. this rewards more mobile characters even at 1st level.
Second, it’s a high-tension fight over a bottomless pit… carefully set up so if you fall you get caught before you go too far.
Third, anyone with even one point of DR can largely ignore the centipedes.
Fourth, it’s a 6-foe fight, which rarely happens until much higher level.
Fifth, the cover means melee characters in the shaft have a real advantage over ranged characters. This may not be true for most of their adventuring career, but it’s nice to start things off rewarding the nimble rogue on a rope with a dagger in one hand.
Sixth… poison. Not too serious, but anyone with bonuses to saves against poison gets to benefit from that immediately.
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We introduced the Bottomless tombs, and their map, yesterday.
Now, it’s time to get to some adventure!
The Top of the Tomb
The first issue is reaching the shaft, and examine the areas around it before the PCs even think of climbing down the the shaft into the tomb and reaching the first side-passage. As the PCs reach the top of the tomb shaft, read or paraphrase the following:
The top of the shaft is a square hole in the ground, roughly 15-feet to a side. Dirt, sod, and bits of refuse are piled up around the hole, and the shaft itself is choked with long tree roots, clumps of matted grass, and a tangle or what seem to be old and broken woodwork and rope rigging. It doesn’t look particularly stable, but it does offer numerous handholds. Light doesn’t penetrate more than 40-50 feet into the shaft, but there is certainly no sign of a bottom to it within that range.
An iron ring, showing just some signs of rust, is looped through a large wooden stake driven into the ground 5 feet to the north of the hole. Not far from that sits a well-defined fire pit, ringed in stones and filled with a dense layer of cold ash and charcoal. Bits of cloth, broken glass, chipped whetstones, and strips of rawhide are scattered about, more than half-buried in the grass. Old woven grass mats are laying on the ground in a semicircle around the firepit.
The firepit, mats, and refuse are the remains of numerous camps adventurers have made here over the past several decades, thought the gnomes who came through a few weeks ago didn’t use any of it.
Hazards: The mats are long-since riddled with lice, and anyone who sleeps on one must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or be at -1 to all Dexterity ability and skill checks from itching until they are deloused with a DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or Heal check. A DC 10 Survival check reveals the mats are infested, and can use smoke from a fire in the firepit to cleanse them.
Treasure: One sunrod, three pitons, a cold iron dagger, and 2 cp can be found with careful examination of the old campsite and refuse around the shaft. Each can be found with it’s own DC 10 Perception check, and an additional item found in one attempt for ever 5 the check exceeds that base DC.
Developments: Animals and outlaws both check this area from time to time, looking for food or valuables. They don’t make any dedicated searches, so any effort to bury or conceal items is successful. however, if tents, or mules, or food stores are left unattended and unguarded at the old campsite, there is a 1-in-12 chance each day that either a wolf of a brigand comes along and raids obvious materials.
Design Philosophy: It’s not that common for 1st level characters to get much use out of Survival (especially in dungeon-focused games), or from searching areas that aren’t obviously dangerous but that detail-oriented adventurers should want to check out.
This also already gives characters a reason to be happy to have an animal companion or basic hireling. If anyone (or, within limits, anything) watches their stuff they can safely use the old campsite as a base of operations. Neither wolves nor brigands will risk fighting for trail rations or spare blankets, though a guard left behind can let PCs know that someone has been prowling around after a week or more of time watching.
Low-level characters also often don’t get much benefit out of resistance to disease, or the ability to make basic alchemy and Heal checks. Lice isn;t life-threatening, but that’s the point,. Characters can begin to learn ways in which the game world is dangerous without risking having am arm drop off or becoming a mummy.
Not yet, anyway…
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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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