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ShadowFinder Spells

Okay, let’s do an actual OGL rule example of some material coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

Since ShadowFinder is a new Play mode that focuses on a more modern aesthetic and theme, I want to add some things–like spells–that tie into that theme. These are simply ways for characters to feel more “Supernatural Kindred Stalker” than “Guardians of the Trek Wars.”

Here’s an example:

(Art by grandfailure)

Secret Signs [Technomancer 2]
School divination
Casting Time 1 round
Range personal
Duration instantaneous

Casting secret signs can tell you whether entering a specific commercial or public space that has signage (such as a store, restaurant, library, subway terminal, and so on) is likely to be helpful for accomplishing a specific goal you wish to accomplish there (such as buying a specific item, being able to travel to a given destination, finding a friend of yours, finding a police officers, and similar goals). You must have the specific goal in mind when you cast the spell, and it gives you information above every public or commercial location in your line of sight by changing how you see their signs, indicating good results with positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs up, etc.), and difficult or unlikely locations with negative emojis.

The chance for successfully receiving a meaningful reply is 85%; this roll is made secretly by the GM. A result may be so straightforward that a successful result is automatic, or it may be so complicated as to have no chance of success. If the secret signs succeeds, you get one of four results.

*Thumb’s Up (if the location will probably aid in the goal).
*Thumb’s Down (if the location likely won’t aid in the goal).
*Shrug (If the location may aid, but such aid is dangerous, expensive, or hard to find once within the location)
*WTF (for locations that have neither especially good nor especially bad results).

If the secret signs isn’t successful, you get the “nothing” result. A spellcaster who gets the “nothing” result has no way to tell whether it was the consequence of a failed or successful casting.

The secret signs can only predict about 30 minutes into the future, so anything that might happen beyond that time frame does not affect the result. Thus, the result might not take into account the long-term consequences of a contemplated action. Multiple castings of secret signs by the same creature about the same goal in the same region use the same die result as the first casting.

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

Owen Explains It All – Textile Characters for Starfinder

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

First, this blog has spoilers for an animated series, so if you want to avoid those, don’t read this.

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

We have a logo and everything!

(I guess I need to build that chair, now…)

If you haven’t already gone and watched the September, 2021 episode, we talk about the fifth episode of Marvel’s What If… series, titled “What If… Zombies?” Obviously there are spoilers for that episode both in the OEIA episode, and this tie-in blog, so go no further if you want to avoid those.

I mean, obviously, while it’s pretty clear from the title that this is the Marvel Zombies inspired episode of What If…, I’m going to be talking about some things that aren’t necessarily clear just because there are zombies involved. So, if you want to avoid spoilers for this (or, weirdly, the Disney Alladin movies), I’ve given you fair warning.

Ready?

So in the episode, we see Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation act entirely of its own accord. It does this in the Strange movie, of course, but here the doctor is no longer around to even subconsciously direct it, and the cloak makes tactical decisions, puts itself at risk, and makes a friend. In other words, the cloak acts not like an object, or a power, but as a character. And I was immediately reminded of Carpet, in the Disney Alladin movies, which similarly shows bravery, or fear, or whimsey, and is clearly more a person than a thing.

And, I realized, that would NOT be hard to make an option in a ttRPG.

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

Playable Textile Characters

Okay so, look. This is for people who have decided sentient magic items that happen to look like capes or carpets or sashes or whatever are no sillier than, and need not be restricted any more than, robots with healing circuits, floating brains with atrophied limbs, or 6-armed overhelpful furballs. Either you like the idea, or you don’t. I’m here to provide rules for people who do, not try to convince people who don’t to change their minds. 🙂

Weft

The weft are living, self-aware fabric magic items, and no one is sure where they came from. Are the living cloaks and rugs an offshoot of cloakers? Are cloakers some kind of morlock offshoot of the weft? Are fabric magic items simply more prone to gaining self-awareness than other forms of eldritch items? Is there some artifact loom, somewhere in the galaxy, cranking out cloth-people?

Like androids, weft are constructs that have sufficient complexity to attract a soul. Also like androids, when a weft is old enough, it simply chooses to let its soul move on, it’s body briefly being an inert length of cloth that changes color in a process known as “dyeing,” before a new soul moves in, and a new weft person arises in the same body. No weft remembers its creation, and it is unclear if this is because all original weft dyed long ago, of because even a “newborn” weft doesn’t become self-aware until removed from its place of origin.

While the majority of weft appear to be carpets or cloaks and capes, some instead take the appearance of coats, sashes, shawls, curtains, and other fabric objects.

(Art by vivali)

Ability Modifiers +2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis
Hit Points 2

Size and Type
Weft are Small, Medium, or Large constructs with the magical subtype, though unlike other constructs, they have Constitution scores. This decision is made at character creation and can’t be changed.

Blindsense
Weft’s sensitive fibers grant them blindsense (vibration)—the ability to sense vibrations in the air—with a range of 30 feet.

Living Threads
In addition to being constructs and thus able to benefit from spells like make whole, weft count as living creatures for the purposes of magic healing effects that work on living creatures, though the number of Hit Points restored in such cases is halved. A character must use the Engineering skill (or a fabric creation/repair Profession skill) to perform the tasks of the Medicine skill on weft. Weft also heal naturally over time as living creatures do, and can benefit from magic or technology that can bring constructs back from the dead, as well as effects that normally can’t (such as raise dead).

Silent, Sign, and Limited Telepathy
Weft do not speak, but can hear normally and communicate through signed versions of the languages they know. Also, they can communicate telepathically with any creatures within 30 feet with whom they share a language. Conversing telepathically with multiple creatures simultaneously is just as difficult as listening to multiple people speak.

Drape
A weft can share the space of an ally without penalty to either the weft or ally. A weft can also drape itself on a creature willing to let it do so. At the beginning of its turn, the weft must decide if it is riding (in which case it can take no movement that turn, and only moves when the creature it is draped on does), or carrying (in which case it can carry the creature as it moves, but that creature cannot take any other movement until the beginning of the next turn). An ally can decide to stop allowing a weft to drape at any time as part of any action, but if the character was carried by the weft, it still can’t move on its own until after the weft’s next turn begins.

Additionally, whether is it draping or not, as a full-round action a weft can lay and move in such a way as appear to be a typical cape, or carpet (or whatever one mundane cloth object it matches the appearance of, as selected at character creation) to gains a +20 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be that thing.

Woven
Weft are immune to bleed, disease, death effects, poison, nonlethal damage, and sleep effects unless those effects specify they affect constructs. Weft can be affected by effects or spells that normally target only humanoids, but receive a +4 racial bonus to saving throws against such effects. Weft can drink (absorbing liquids into their fabric), though they don’t need to, and they must rest by entering an passive torpor that is similar to sleep for 8 hours every day. Weft do not breathe or suffer the normal environmental effects of being in a vacuum.

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a weft character? Got other magic items you think could be turned into playable species? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know!

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material discussing weft as drones for mechanics and technomancers, exclusively on my Patreon for my supporting Patrons.)

Hero Points for Starfinder

Hero points are a mechanic that allows players to “edit” the events of an encounter and the rules of the game to a limited degree. They give heroes the ability to do the amazing things heroes do in scifi fiction, but with specific rules for doing so, and they encourage players to make the sort of choices fantasy heroes do in those stories, in order to get more Hero points. This set is based on an article I did on alternate Hero points for Pathfinder 1e, tweaked as needed for the differences between PF1 and Starfinder.

A GM decides where or not to use Hero points, and while it’s most common for that to be done on a per-campaign basis, it needn’t be. A GM could allow Hero points only when the PCs are involved in something they have strong feelings about, or only in climactic plotline-ending scenes. Alternatively, a GM might use Hero points when a player can’t make it to a game session, to give the remaining characters a power boost, or use it for day-in-the-life game sessions when combat and life-or-death situations are unlikely but the GM would like to encourage players to get involved in telling social stories.

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material including rewritten versions of the Hero Point Feats from the APG made available exclusively on my Patreon, for my supporting Patrons.)

Hero points are a pure power up for characters, but they are also a way for the GM and players to have a rules-based back-and-forth with what moments each consider important to the ongoing story. Some groups like having some ability to edit events to be closer to what they want, while others feel it takes focus away from the risk-and-reward feel of the game rules. The most important thing is to find what a GM and their game group are comfortable with, and do that. These Hero points are based on those from the M&M game and those presented in the PF1 APG.

HERO POINTS FOR STARFINDER

Players start each game session with 2 Hero points. During the adventure they get opportunities to earn more Hero points. Unspent Hero points don’t carry over to the next session; the heroes start out with 2 points again. Use them or lose them!

USING HERO POINTS

Unless otherwise noted, spending a Hero point is a reaction that takes no action (thus not restricting your other reactions). You can spend Hero points for any of the following:

EXTRA ACTION

You can spend a Hero point to gain an additional standard action on your turn (this is an exception to the rule that Hero points are normally a reaction), or to gain an additional Move action at any time. You cannot combine multiple extra actions into a full round action.

IMPROVE ROLL

One Hero point allows you to re-roll any die roll you make and take the better of the two rolls. On a result of 1 through 10 on the second roll, add 10 to the result, an 11 or higher remains as-is (so the re-roll is always a result of 11-20). You must spend the Hero point to improve a roll before the GM announces the outcome of your initial roll. You cannot spend Hero points on die rolls made by the GM or other players.

REUSE

You can spend a hero point to recall a spell you have already cast or to gain another use of a special ability that is otherwise limited. This should only be used on spells and abilities possessed by your character that recharge on a daily basis.

INSPIRATION

You can spend a Hero point to get sudden inspiration in the form of a hint, clue, or bit of help from the GM. It might be a way out of the villain’s fiendish deathtrap, a vital clue for solving a mystery, or an idea about the villain’s weakness. It’s up to the GM exactly how much help the players get from inspiration and how it manifests, but since Hero points are a very limited resource, the help should be in some way significant.

RECOVER

You can spend a Hero point to recover faster. A Hero point allows you to immediately remove an asleep, bleeding, burning, confused, dazed, dazzled, fascinated, fatigued, flat-footed, off-kilter, off-target, prone, shaken, sickened, or staggered condition, without taking an action.

Spending a Hero point to recover also lets you convert a cowering condition into frightened, panicked into frightened, frightened into shaken, exhausted condition into a fatigued condition; convert a stunned condition into a staggered condition, or convert a nauseated condition into a sickened condition.

You can also use a Hero point to overcome the limitations of the blinded, broken, deafened, encumbered, energy drained, entangled, grappled, overburdened, or paralyzed condition for 1 round. This does not end the condition, and you cannot move from a spot the condition roots you to, but you ignore all its other effects until the beginning of your next turn.

You can spend a Hero point to automatically gain one success in saving against an affliction.

You can spend a Hero point to have healing that would normally only apply to Hit Points to heal Stamina points instead. (You can divide the healing as you wish between HP and SP).

RESOLVE

If you are out of Resolve, you may spend Hero points in place of Resolve points. You may spend a mix of RP and Hero points if you need to spend more Resolve points that your current total, as long as you leave yourself with no RP after the expenditure.

MINOR SCENE EDITING

A player may offer the GM a Hero point to make a minor edit to a scene. For example, if the player wants to use Barricade, Amplified Glitch, or a junk spell in a scene where the GM has ruled the materials needed don’t already exist, the player might offer the GM a Hero point in order to add a pile of discarded electronics cases in an alley. Minor editing should always make sense, should never bypass an encounter entirely, and is entirely at the discretion of the GM. If the GM does not edit the scene as requested, the player retains the Hero point.

EARNING HERO POINTS

The GM can give any player a Hero point to edit events in a way that goes against the player’s character without allowing die rolls, and in contravention of the normal rules or action order. For example, if an adventure calls for a villain to escape, and a PC has the villain grabbed, the GM can grant the player a Hero point and declare the villain wriggles free and dashes out of sight. If a PC manages to kill a major foe in a single blow, the GM can give that PC’s player a Hero point and state the foe miraculously blocked the attack at the last second.

A GM can also offer a player a Hero point as an inducement to have the player’s PC make a poor choice. This is always voluntary—the player decided whether to accept the Hero point and make the bad decision. For example, if a sketchy old man offers the PC an apple out of nowhere, and the player obviously rejects the iffy fruit, the GM could offer the player a Hero point if the PC takes and eats the apple instead. This should only be done in furtherance of the adventure, and obviously not if it means permanent negative consequences for the PC.

These options should never be used to make a character look incompetent or stupid, unless the player encourages that as part of their characterization of their PC.

If a player does something especially heroic, awesome, funny, or helpful, the GM may grant them an extra Hero point in response.

PATREON

There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.

ALTERNATE HERO POINTS FOR PF1

Hero points are a mechanic that allows players to “edit” the events of an encounter and the rules of the game to a limited degree. They give heroes the ability to do the amazing things heroes do in fantasy fiction, but with specific rules for doing so, and they encourage players to make the sort of choices fantasy heroes do in those stories, in order to get more Hero points.

A GM decides where or not to use Hero points, and while it’s most common for that to be done on a per-campaign basis, it needn’t be. A GM could allow Hero points only when the PCs are involved in something they have strong feelings about, or only in climactic plotline-ending scenes. Alternatively, a GM might use Hero points when a player can’t make it to a game session, to give the remaining characters a power boost, or use it for day-in-the-life game sessions when combat and life-or-death situations are unlikely but the GM would like to encourage players to get involved in telling social stories.

Hero points are a pure power up for characters, but they are also a way for the GM and players to have a rules-based back-and-forth with what moments each consider important to the ongoing story. Some groups like having some ability to edit events to be closer to what they want, while others feel it takes focus away from the risk-and-reward feel of the game rules. The most important thing is to find what a GM and their game group are comfortable with, and do that.

These Hero points are based on those from the M&M game, and are intentionally more common and generally more powerful than those presented in the APG (though explicitly excluding the Cheat Death option, since having that tends to discourage Hero point spending for any other purpose). Even so, you can look to the APG rules on Hero points for more ideas on how and why you might use them. For example, these rules are not designed to be used with the Hero’s Fortune feat (APG), but you could combine them with such a feat if you wished.

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material including rewritten versions of the Hero Point Feats from the APG made available exclusively on my Patreon, for my supporting Patrons.)

HERO POINTS FOR PATHFINDER 1E

Players start each game session with 2 Hero points. During the adventure they get opportunities to earn more Hero points. Unspent Hero points don’t carry over to the next session; the heroes start out with 2 points again. Use them or lose them!

USING HERO POINTS

Unless otherwise noted, spending a Hero point is a reaction that takes no action (thus not restricting your other reactions). You can spend Hero points for any of the following:

EXTRA ACTION

You can spend a Hero point to gain an additional standard action on your turn (this is an exception to the rule that Hero points are normally a reaction), or to gain an additional Move action at any time. You cannot combine multiple extra actions into a full round action.

IMPROVE ROLL

One Hero point allows you to re-roll any die roll you make and take the better of the two rolls. On a result of 1 through 10 on the second roll, add 10 to the result, an 11 or higher remains as-is (so the re-roll is always a result of 11-20). You must spend the Hero point to improve a roll before the GM announces the outcome of your initial roll. You cannot spend Hero points on die rolls made by the GM or other players.

REUSE

You can spend a hero point to recall a spell you have already cast or to gain another use of a special ability that is otherwise limited. This should only be used on spells and abilities possessed by your character that recharge on a daily basis.

INSPIRATION

You can spend a Hero point to get sudden inspiration in the form of a hint, clue, or bit of help from the GM. It might be a way out of the villain’s fiendish deathtrap, a vital clue for solving a mystery, or an idea about the villain’s weakness. It’s up to the GM exactly how much help the players get from inspiration and how it manifests, but since Hero points are a very limited resource, the help should be in some way significant.

RECOVER

You can spend a Hero point to recover faster. A Hero point allows you to immediately remove a bleed, confused, dazed, dazzled, fascinated, fatigued, prone, shaken, sickened, or staggered condition, without taking an action.

Spending a Hero point to recover also lets you convert a cowering condition into frightened, panicked into frightened, frightened into shaken, exhausted condition into a fatigued condition; convert a stunned condition into a staggered condition, or convert a nauseated condition into a sickened condition.

You can also use a Hero point to overcome the limitations of the blinded, broken, deafened, energy drained, entangled, grappled, flat-footed, or paralyzed condition for 1 round. This does not end the condition, and you cannot move from a spot the condition roots you to, but you ignore all its other effects until the beginning of your next turn.

If at 0 or fewer Hit Points and dying, you can spend a Hero point to stabilize. If at 0 or fewer hit points and stable, you can spend a Hero point to become conscious and have positive hit points equal to half your level (equal to your level if you have Toughness or Endurance, equal to 1.5x your level if you have both).

MINOR SCENE EDITING

A player may offer the GM a Hero point to make a minor edit to a scene. For example, if the player’s character is set on fire in the middle of the street, the player might offer the GM a Hero point in order to add a trough of water to the street, so the PC can jump into it and extinguish themselves. Minor editing should always make sense, should never bypass an encounter entirely, and is entirely at the discretion of the GM. If the GM does not edit the scene as requested, the player retains the Hero point.

EARNING HERO POINTS

The GM can give any player a Hero point to edit events in a way that goes against the player’s character without allowing die rolls, and in contravention of the normal rules or action order. For example, if an adventure calls for a villain to escape, and a PC has the villain grabbed, the GM can grant the player a Hero point and declare the villain wriggles free and dashes out of sight. If a PC manages to kill a major foe in a single blow, the GM can give that PC’s player a Hero point and state the foe miraculously blocked the attack at the last second.

A GM can also offer a player a Hero point as an inducement to have the player’s PC make a poor choice. This is always voluntary—the player decided whether to accept the Hero point and make the bad decision. For example, if a sketchy old man offers the PC an apple out of nowhere, and the player obviously rejects the iffy fruit, the GM could offer the player a Hero point if the PC takes and eats the apple instead. This should only be done in furtherance of the adventure, and obviously not if it means permanent negative consequences for the PC.

These options should never be used to make a character look incompetent or stupid, unless the player encourages that as part of their characterization of their PC.

If a player does something especially heroic, awesome, funny, or helpful, the GM may grant them an extra Hero point in response.

PATREON

There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.

The Performative End of Being a Creator

You can think of this as an unusually long #RealGameIndustry entry.

If you are depending on the game industry for your full income, and you do not have a full-time job with benefits, necessity means at least part of what you are doing to performative.

Performing to build a community. Performing to gain name recognition. Performing to seem more fun and interesting, on the assumption that makes your products seem more fun and interesting.

Given how many of us came into gaming to escape what we saw as societal and clique-based requirements for shallow performative interactions, this is often a bitter irony. Indeed, while most of us are too smart to complain publicly, this can result in annoyance or anger as what we see as the “pretty popular people” being successful in their performance to a degree we cannot match (often directly measurable in how much money those people can raise compared to how much experience they have or how much content they have created.)

Especially as a mentally ill, socially-awkward, depressive introvert, it often strains my coping mechanisms and ability to put on a false face to their absolute limits. Social media is both a blessing and a curse in this regard. The ability to use text to put forth an idealized, entertaining self helps create a buffer between my depression and my need to be a performative creator. However, those very tools also demand constant attention to remain an effective part of my mandatory performance.

And at that, I have a much easier time as a cis white hetero male, because there are faults and failings I can have which are seen as quirky, or the stereotype of the grumpy writer. Creators in more marginalized groups often don’t get that slack. They both have much more cause to be scarred by social interaction, and must maintain a more perfect performance to reap the same benefits I do.

Even my ability to make discussions of my illnesses, failings, and annoyances part of my public persona is made easier by my role as an elder whitebeard. I have seen women, and minorities, and LGBT creators all with as much or more experience as I have been shouted down as clearly unstable for daring to say the same things I am allowed to state largely without consequence.

Nor do I foresee anything of this changing in a major way. The need to be performative to be successful as an independent appears to be baked into the industry (and full time jobs that pay something like the median income for their area are so rare as to be unicorns). That means the only part of this likely to change is the unfairness that performative need puts on marginalized creatives.

That fight is worth fighting. But it’s going to take hard work and time to make significant progress.
Meanwhile, the demands for performance keep changing and increasing, as technology drops the barriers between creator and consumer.

I work hard to remain relevant. And I see no time when I’ll be able to stop working at that without falling into an at-best-niche position. Which means my coping mechanisms for my trauma, depression, and other issues must include being able to maintain the performance–at least for regular, short bursts– even when I am fighting to not just curl up under the covers and give up on it all.

This is like climbing a wall, endlessly. If you ever fully give up you don’t just fail to make progress. You may be able to rest in a cradle for a time, or depend on your ropes. But those things can only hold you for a brief time. Eventually you’ll fall, and then you don’t just drop a little. You lose a huge percentage of your progress, and can damage yourself and your career, even kill it, as you smash things on the way down.

Keeping yourself in a place where people will see you and your work so they even might buy it is a grind, on top of the grind of creating enough work to survive even if people see enough of it.

You don’t have to have answers for all of this as you start. But to rise above a certain level, you must begin to work it out eventually.

When people sometimes suggest I take on too much, I want to yell at them that if I only do 75% as much work, I won’t get 75% of the result. I’ll get 50%, or less. If you try to microwave popcorn and you put it in for 60 seconds, you don’t get half the popcorn you’d get if you microwaved it for 2 minutes. Your work is all at least partially wasted if you can’t back it up with enough PR, backstock, and previews to maintain brainshare in an audience with tons of other, better-funded, better-advertised options.

I don’t have solutions for many of the problems these issues bring up. But it’s better for newer creators to be aware of the potential minefield and prepare for it, than have it come as a surprise for them. If you just want to create on your own terms and enjoy whatever success happens to come your way, and not try to pay the rent, cover medical insurance, and put food on the table purely through ttRPG efforts, you can largely ignore this. And if you find a way around it, I heartily congratulate you. And there are different levels of this performative need, with some folks managing much more success than I with much less performance put in.

But be aware of the potential drain on your time and energy.

Speaking of Performing

Part of the performative need is to drive people to platforms you can monetize, like my patreon. There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.