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”
So here is the idea:
Dungeon speed runs as a team sport, on roller skates. “Roller Dungeon Team T-Shirts” optional, but the Absalom Abyssals Woman’s Speed Destruction Team is my favorite.
EVERYONE is on roller skates. Heroes, monsters, gelatinous cubes… everyone.
Every PC must have half their levels in barbarian, brawler, cavalier, fighter, investigator, kineticist, monk, ninja, rogue, or slayer.
For these mandatory class levels, you get +4 skill points per level, and the Skating skill. Also, any class that has Ride replaces it with Skating.
Skating works like Ride, but your “mount” is a pair of skates that take your space. Anything you could do on a mount, you can instead do on skates. All skates have a 30 foot move rate and, like a mount, if you control your skates without taking an action, you get a full action.
Skates are never battle-trained mounts, unless you would get a mount as a class feature like cavaliers).
All dungeons should be 2 CR lower than the APL *your spellcaster assistance has been limited after all, and you are making speed runs).
You only get full XP and treasure for a combat or trap encounter if you finish it in 5 rounds or less. For every round more than that, you lose 25% of your XP and treasure. An encounter begins when you become aware of it, so scouting eats into your time. If you complete an encounter in less than 4 rounds, you get a 10% treasure bonus for each round less time you take.
It’s assumed you have an audience, so Performance combat is an option.
Combine with DungeonBall! or X-Crawl as desired.
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I kind of want to write “SpaceThulhu 1889!”
“To defend an Earth on the brink of War, man must take to the stars in ships driven by steam and ether!”
“And face horrors never before imagined.”
1. The Dagon Drive
2. The Statement of Captain Randolph Carter
3. Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Crew
4. Nyarlathotep Nebula
5. Herbert West — Chairman of the Royal Reanimation Society
6. The Colour Out Here in Space
7. The Whisperer on Mars
8. The Eclipse Over Innsmouth
9. The Fall of Cthulhu
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I kinda want to write an adventure set on the Isle of Misfit Magic Items.
“So you have a 9th level spell as a prerequisite. Oh! Are you a ring of wishes?”
“No!” (sobs) “I’m a ring of foresight. I’m a ring with literally the only 9th level spell no one cares about.”
“Well… at least you’re an intelligent item!”
“Not that intelligent. I can’t spell.”
“But you have a spell in you!”
“Yeah… but it’s ‘Foursight’!”
… Along with the Gem of Climbing, Cloak of Elven Strength, and Rope of Holding.
Silly Scares are super short Pathfinder rules to add a bit of a fright to a fear-themed game, without getting at all serious.
Shark- (Simple Hazard Template, +2 CR)
The Shark- (read “shark blank”) template increases the danger of hazards by making them shark-related. Thus a forest fire becomes a “shark-forest fire,” clearly a case where a shark-forest catches on fire.
When a shark-hazard forces a character to make a saving throw, or it makes an attack against a character, or it deals damage to a character, the sharkiness of it also makes an attack. This is a bite. It has an attack bonus equal to the CR of the hazard x1.5, and deals 1d8 damage per 2 CR of the encounter. Any one event only results in a single attack
So if caught in a CR 8 shark-forest fire, each time a character had to make a Fortitude save to avoid nonlethal heat damage, the character would also be subject to a shark bite (+12 to hit, 4d8 damage). Even if the character both failed a save and took heat damage, the character would still be subject to only a single bite attack.
Any skill to identify a hazard gains a bonus equal to the hazard’s CR if it is a shark-hazard. Because an entire shark-forest burning is hard to miss.
A shark-hazard returns after 1 year + 4d20 – 4d20 days if it is not destroyed properly. (This is often referred to as a “sequel” to the original shark hazard.) Destroying it properly requires a complex plan capable to both ending the hazard, and simultaneously killing a number of sharks equal to double the hazard’s CR.
It doesn’t matter what the plan is, as long as it is complex, ends a normal hazard, and kills a bunch of sharks.
(Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support more free material?)
Silly Scares are super short Pathfinder rules to add a bit of a fright to a fear-themed game, without getting at all serious.
Drunken Spirit (Simple Template, +2 CR)
A drunken spirit is a form of ghost that died while tripping balls. It only exists for, and can only interact with, creatures that are suffering the staggered condition, or are sickened as a result of drinking too much alcohol. For other characters the drunk spirit cannot be seen, affected by any spell or ability, or even confirmed to exist by anything up to 9and including) miracle and wish.
Similarly, the drunken spirit can do nothing to those who cannot affect it. The drunken spirit treats itself as incorporeal for all unattended, inanimate objects, so it walks through walls and can’t pick up or throw rocks. (A giant with the drunken spirit template can still use its throw rocks ability, but they are steins of sloshing booze).
Any creature can have this template. Although it is theoretically an undead, it doesn’t act like an undead for creatures that can interact with it, and can’t be affected by other creatures, so that doesn’t matter.
Any affect that can sober up a creature damages a drunken spirit (roughly 1d6 points of damage per spell level of the effect), and anything that makes you drunk heals them.
An easy way to introduce a drunken spirit is to have one appear when a character is staggered, and then it follows that character until it is seen again. This can also be a kind of horror for play and character alike, as the GM assures other players the PC claiming to see something is wrong, while that character takes damage. For an extra level of confusion, you can decide any damage the drunken spirit deals to the staggered of drunk PC appears self-inflicted.