Blog Archives

Q & A Week, Pt 3

I found some ttRPG-industry-related Q&A items that have never made it onto my blog, and thought this week, when I am so distracted and overloaded, would be a great time to offer them up.

Q: Do you think we, as a creative force, have hit a dead end? Can we still produce New and Original material at a time when everything seems to be derived from something recent or a Reboot or Remake? Do we need a Renaissance of the Human Spirit to bring a new Age of Inspiration? Can we still make New works?

A: I think we CAN, and WILL, and ARE.
I also think 90% of everything creative is crap, and always has been, and sometimes the crap is the most popular/successful.
But it’s still worth striving to make New Art.

Q: What would you guess are the 5 best selling ttrpgs right now? What game isn’t on that list that you think more people should know about?

A: My guesses (and they are JUST guesses) are, in order:
D&D 5e
Cyberpunk (Right now, though maybe not a year ago or a year from now)
Pathfinder 2e
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Starfinder

And I think the entire AGE game system from Green Ronin is something more people should know about, but especially The Expanse.
https://greenroninstore.com/collections/the-expanse-rpg

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I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. 

Q & A Week, Pt 2

I found some ttRPG-industry-related Q&A items that have never made it onto my blog, and thought this week, when I am so distracted and overloaded, would be a great time to offer them up.

Q: If you had 3 do’s, 2 don’t, and 1 always to tell an aspiring free lancer what would they be?

A: DO write every day, even if no one has given you a job yet.
DO read what your favorite writers say about how they write and work.
DO keep work/life balance.

DON’T quit your day job.
DON’T change your assignment from what is assigned or in the outline without getting the developer/editor’s approval.
DON’T forget that as you get better, you’ll see the flaws in your own work more readily, but it also means that work is improving.

And nowadays I’d add: DON’T be afraid to turn down a project. If you don’t have time, or the expertise, or the interest, turn it down, and even say why. Some of my best business relationships in the industry have grown from my being honest about not being the right person for a project, or it not being the right time for me to take it on.
Related, DON’T be afraid to ask for what you need as a condition of taking a project. Clearer outline? Setting bible? PDFs of related books from the publisher? More money? Say so, and feel free to stick to your guns. Be polite, but also treat your own needs with respect.

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I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. 

Q & A Week, Pt 1

I found some ttRPG-industry-related Q&A items that have never made it onto my blog, and thought this week, when I am so distracted and overloaded, would be a great time to offer them up.

Q: When you are writing lore for a new system, where do you go for inspiration?

A: Generally, the seething pool of psychic acid that is my brain.

Now, I feed my brain a lot of raw and distilled ideas. I read up on things like satrapies of the Achaemenid empire, the Trackless Tank Corporation, Mansa Musa (ruler of the Malian empire and arguable the richest man who has ever lived), quantum computing, the political history of the pocket, and whatever else catches my eye.

I read books from as many authors as I can find time for (recently The Shattered Queen, by Jaym Gates). I watch speculative fiction movies, ranging from Gojira and the black & white Spanish language Dracula (that was filmed at the same time and on the same sets as the Bela Lugosi version) to Cloud Atlas to Train to Busan to Lord of the Rings.

I watch a lot of Discovery channel, anime, procedurals, and televised contests.

All that stuff goes into the psychic acid, and becomes an idea soup that rarely lets me down.

And when an idea does slop out of the acid, I do some research on it. What are the real-world analogs? How did the idea turn out historically? What societal pressures arose from it, and how was it taxed?

Just enough to know that if I am reinventing the wheel, I’m not adding it to the Inca Empire without good cause.

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I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. 

What If Losing in a ttRPG Also Made Your Character More Interesting?

This is a super-unformed thought, and that’s all I have time or energy for right now. So you get to see the beginning of the sausage getting made on this, if I even ever come back around to this idea.

While it’s far from univeral, in most ttRPGs, the closest you come to “losing” the game is having your character die. The Total party Kill is a legendary example of this potentially bringing a game to a close.

And, the argument goes, death and loss of character has to be something that can happen so players get the thrill of the risk. OTOH, actually having your character die generally isn’t fun. It isn’t fun for a few reasons. First, you don’t get to play for a while. Second, if you liked that character, either you don’t get to play them at all anymore, or you or your allies are penalized (even if it’s just with a cost to raise dead) in order for your character to come back to life.

But what if it wasn’t that cut and dried?

For example, what if, when your character died, you became an Omen, or Haunt? A floating spirit that could influence the game in minor ways, on your turn, even though you are gone? Maybe you get to hand out a bonus here, or the GM gives you secret knowledge you can use to create 1-word clues for allies as they stare into their ale mourning your passing? There are a number of board and card games that give players who have been kncoked out some other task so they still have a role to play and actions to take — applying the same idea to a ttRPG has even been done, though not nearly as often.

Similarly, what if there were changes that occurred to a character after dying that left them playable, but altered? Maybe some options *are* taken away, or penalties put in place, but there are also new options that only come from being killed or starving to death or whatever? Or if rather than death, the loss-state of the game was to suffer a scar or trauma that came with penalties, but also with opportunities to be more interesting, though not more effective — we don’t want people throwing their characters into rivers of lava for the cool power-up.

It would be a delicate line, more about taking the sting out and keeping the player engaged than rewarding them for failure.

Food for thought.

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PF2 Alchemical Items: Emetics

Yep, I’m writing about the power of puke. For the 2nd edition Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

EMETIC Item 1+
Alchemical Consumable Elixir Healing
Usage held in 1 hand; Bulk L
Activate Single Action [Interact]
An emetic makes you nauseous. Drinking a dose when not sickened gives you the sickened condition with a value equal to the emetic’s potency. When you are sickened, a successful DC 15 Fortitude save allows you to imbibe the emetic despite the sickened condition. Rather than increase your sickened value, this gives you a bonus to Fortitude saves to recover from being sickened when you choose to retch. This bonus to equal to the emetic’s potency.

Emetic (Lesser) Item 1
Price 2 gp
Bulk L
This emetic has a potency of 4.

Emetic (Moderate) Item 6
Price 20 gp
Bulk L
This emetic has a potency of 5.

Emetic (Greater) Item 10
Price 110 gp
Bulk L
This emetic has a potency of 6.

Emetic (Major) Item 14
Price 455 gp
Bulk L
This emetic has a potency of 6. Additionally when you successfully retch to reduce the value of your sickened condition, you reduce it by 1 more than normal.

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New Talents for the PF1 Wolfshead Pathfinder Class

I had ideas for a few new wolfshead class talents, presented below.

(Art by Konstantin Gerasimov)

New Wolfshead Talents
These talents follow the normal rules for wolfshead talents.

Ambuscade (Ex): When you attack a creature that could not perceive you just prior to the attack (such as from using the stalk class feature), you attack deals +1d6 damage and, if it is a critical threat, you gain a +4 bonus to the confirmation roll for the threat.

Set Up And Strike (Ex): When in bedlam, if you are wielding two melee weapons but only attack with one of them, the first time in the round you deal damage with the weapon you may roll the damage twice and take the better of the two results.

New Advanced Wolfshead Talents
These talents follow the normal rules for advanced wolfshead talents.

Improved Set Up And Strike (Ex): When in bedlam, if you are wielding two melee weapons, the first time each round you deal damage with the weapon on an attack of opportunity, you may roll the damage twice and take the better of the two results.

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I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

PF1 Wolfshead Hybrid Class Archetype: Scrapper

Here is the promised third article in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 1st Edition Wolfshead class collection, presenting a full archetype for the class — the scrapper.

(Art by Konstantin Gerasimov)

Scrapper

Some wolfsheads focus on fighting close and dirty, using easily concealed weapons or even their bare hands to tear their opponents limb from limb. These close-fighters also learn a great deal about various combat maneuvers, using them to cripple or crush their foes. A scrapper has the following class features.

Close Finesse (Ex): A scrapper focuses on small, fast weapons she can easily conceal and use in tight quarters. When choosing weapons for her finesse fighting ability, she can only select from the blade boot, brass knuckle, cestus, dagger, dueling dagger, gauntlet, hanbo, iron brush, jutte, kerambit, kukri, kunai, lungchuan tamo, punching daggers, sap, sea knife, shang gou, sickle, spiked gauntlet, starknife, switchblade knife, swordbreaker dagger, tonfa, war razor, or unarmed strike. This ability is identical in all other ways to finesse fighting, and supplements that ability.

Close Attack (Ex): A scrapper focuses her ability to deal sneak attack damage with her finesse fighting weapons at the expense of sneak attacks with other weapons. When she makes a sneak attack with a weapon she has selected for the finesse fighting ability, she uses d8s to roll sneak attack damage instead of d6s. For sneak attacks with all other weapons, she uses d4s instead of d6s. This ability is identical in all other ways to sneak attack, and supplements that ability.

Hidden Blade (Ex): At 3rd level a scrapper adds 1/2 her level on Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal light weapons. She may also draw a light weapon (even a concealed one) as a free action on her turn. This ability replaces stalk, which is delayed to 14th level, At 14th level, the wolfshead does not receive hide in plain sight.

Parry Sense (Ex): At 4th level, a scrapper is so skilled in close combat that she gains a +1 dodge bonus to AC against melee attacks when she is wielding a weapon she has selected for finesse fighting, and is wearing no armor or light armor (shields are allowed). This bonus increases by +1 for every three levels, to a maximum of +6 at 19th level. This ability replaces the wolfshead talent gained at 4th level.

Savage Grapple (Ex): At 5th level, the scrapper takes only half the normal penalties to Dexterity, attack rolls, and combat maneuver checks when she has the grappled condition. She can make an attack of opportunity against creatures trying to grapple her even if they possess the Improved Grapple feat or the grab special attack. If she hits with this attack of opportunity, she gains a +2 circumstance bonus to her CMD against the grapple attempt. She cannot make these attacks of opportunity once a grapple has succeeded. This ability replaces uncanny dodge, and the scrapper cannot select improved uncanny dodge as a talent.

Pit Fighter (Ex): At 3rd level, the scrapper has learned combat tricks from fighting in tight spaces with few rules, such as back alleys and pit brawls. She selects one combat maneuver and gains a +1 insight bonus on her CMB or to her CMD in that maneuver. This bonus increases to +2 if the wolfshead is wearing no armor or light armor (shields are allowed). At every three levels after 3rd, the barbarian may select another combat maneuver and add this bonus on her CMB or to her CMD. This bonus can be applied to each maneuver no more than twice, once on CMB and once to CMD. This ability replaces trap sense.

Improved Savage Grapple (Ex): At 8th level, the scrapper takes no penalties to Dexterity, attack rolls, and combat maneuver checks when she has the grappled condition. She also is treated as one size larger than her actual size when determining whether she can be grappled using the grab ability or swallowed by another creature. This ability replaces the wolfshead talent gained at 8th level.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

This fulfills my extra content stretch goal from the FaceFunding campaign I ran in Nov/Dec of last year, so if you want more wolfshead content, you should join my Patreon and let me know!

PF1: Wolfshead Class (Index and Favored Class Bonuses)

Right now there are just few articles in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 1st Edition Wolfshead class collection, but having an index is always useful to point back to.

Full Class Write-up
Found here.

Additional Talents
Found here.

Archetypes:
Scrapper — focuses on light, fast weapons and close-fighting.

Favored Class Bonuses
See below.

Thanks to the FaceFunding campaign I ran on Facebook, the wolfshead now gets a bunch of ancestry-specific favored class bonuses, as follows. Rather than just do 8 for the core ancestries, I have expanded it to 25 ancestries worth of options.

Core Races

Dwarf: Reduce armor check penalty of any light armor worn by 1 (to a maximum reduction of negating the penalty)
Elf/Half-Elf: Gain +1/3 on all Acrobatics, Climb, and Stealth checks in bedlam.
Gnome: Add a +1/2 bonus to trap sense.
Orc/Half-Orc: +1/2 a bonus finesse fighting weapon choice.
Halfling:  Add a +1/2 bonus on critical hit confirmation rolls with any weapon selected with finesse fighting. This bonus does not stack with Critical Focus.
Human/Half-Elf/Half-Orc: Gains +1/6 of a new wolfshead talent.

(Art by Konstantin Gerasimov)

Other Ancestries

Aasimar: Add +1/4 to the morale bonus on saving throws provided by bedlam.
Catfolk: Add +1/3 to the result of any sneak attack damage dealt after all sneak attack damage dice have been totaled.
Changeling: Add +1/6 of a witch’s hex with no prerequisites. The hex can be used only when in bedlam, and doing so expends 4 rounds of the wolfhead’s rounds of bedlam per day. The wolfshead uses her bedlam level as her witch level for all purposes related to this hex.
Dhampir: Add +1 to the number of temporary hit points gained from bedlam.
Fetchling: Add a +1/2 bonus on Stealth and Sleight of Hand checks made while in bedlam.
Gilman: Add +1 foot to Swim speed. This increase only has any effect in multiples of +5 ft.
Goblin: Add +1 to the result of any damage dealt in the surprise round.
Hobgoblin: Add a +1 bonus on CMD against disarm and sunder maneuvers.
Ifrit: Add +1/4 fire damage to the result of any sneak attack damage dealt after all sneak attack damage dice have been totaled.
Kitsune:  Add +1/3 to the DC of any talent gained from the wolfshead class that requires a saving throw.
Kobold: Add +1/2 bonus to CMD when in bedlam.
Nagaji: Add +1 to the nagaji’s effective wolfshead level when determining their level compared to a target with uncanny dodge.
Naiad: +1/3 bonus to the bonuses granted by the naiad’s token using the inspiration ability.
Ratfolk: Add +1 foot to land speed. This increase only has any effect in multiples of +5 ft.
Samsaran: +1/4 to the bonuses gained from the lifebound samsaran ability.
Skinwalker: Gain +1/2 to the skinwalker’s effective Wisdom score for purposes of their skinwalker speak with animals spell-like ability, and +1/2 to the number of times per day they can use that ability.
Strix: Add +1 bonus to the strix’s effective Strength when calculating carrying capacity for flight and the stalk wolfshead ability. this does not increase the strix’s actual carrying capacity, but allows more weight to be considered a light loud for purposes of whether or not they can fly or use stalk.
Tiefling: Select one creature type. (You do not need to specify a subtype, it applies to all creatures of the chosen type). Add +1/2 to the result of any sneak attack damage dealt to creatures of that type after all sneak attack damage dice have been totaled. Each time this damage bonus reaches a multiple of +4, you may select one additional creature type it applies to.
Vanara: Add +1 to the number of rounds per day the vanara may use bedlam.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Adventure MacGuffins 2, the MacGuffining

Yesterday we discussed what MacGuffins were, and how they could be used to drive ttRPG adventures. Now, we’ll list some *types* of MacGuffins that can help drive the action of an adventure. These are far from comprehensive, just some options a GM can consider when looking at MacGuffin-driven adventures. These can be mixed and matches as desired for a specific kind of adventure. These also aren’t rules of any kind, but more jumping-off points to encourage GMs to come up with new and interesting MacGuffins beyond the ring that needs to be thrown in the volcano, the algorithm that needs to be kept out of enemy hands, the valuable statue, or the assassin robot coming back from the future to kill the PCs.

(Art by pit3dd)

Hidden: The true nature and/or the location of the MacGuffin is concealed. The PCs might have this MacGuffin (or be the focus of it, if it is Knowledge) and not even know it, which is why they are caught up in events.
Knowledge: The MacGuffin is some sort of information which motivates those who know it. This may be a prophecy which warns against or requires specific actions, or suppressed knowledge such as one of the PCs being the rightful heir to a kingdom. It can also be information someone already has, which a faction wishes to suppress further. If the PCs all learn the true name of a demon and can command it if they ever come face to face with it, but if any more people learn the name it will change the demon’s true name so it no longer works, the PCs can’t tell anyone else, and the demon wants to destroy them so it is safe from them.
Mysterious: Some things are known about the MacGuffin, but even those aware of its existence and nature don’t fully understand it.
Object, artifact: An artifact is an object of great importance because of what it can do for one faction or another. You may need to find and acquire it so your side can use it, keep it safe so the other side can’t use it, destroy it so no one can use it, or all of the above. This need not be magical — a letter of safe passage that will allow spies to scape the search for them in a tyrannical kingdom is an artifact because of what it can do.
Object, returning: You can’t get rid of the MacGuffin because it returns to you.
Object, treasure: The MacGuffin is an object of great value that drives NPCs to care about it. It may have pure monetary value, or may have some other kind of value. A book that proves an ancient philosopher thought of humor as important as other topic and rewrites history would be a treasure even if it’s price as an antique is insignificant to the people seeking it.
One-Sided MacGuffin: Not everyone can use the MacGuffin. For example, if only those of the Blood of the Original Emperor can use the Fate-Cutting Sword, and the only such descendent left is the bad Guy, the Fate-Cutting Sword is a one-sided MacGuffin.
Rumored: Not everyone is sure the MacGuffin exists. If the Flower of Resurrection is only spoken of in legend, you can go looking for it, but don’t has assurance it actually exists. If the antagonists are convinced a prophecy says the PCs will destroy the world, the PCs are likely to feel that without proof that’s just one possible future, but the MacGuffin prophecy still can drive the action if enough people aren’t willing to take the risk.
Temporary: The MacGuffin has some kind of ticking clock or time limit. A bomb that will blow up the entire city can be a temporary object MacGuffin — if you don’t find it by the time it explodes, the adventure is essentially over. A temporary MacGuffin might also be knowledge of a specific stellar conjunction, or a photograph that proves someone on death row is innocent. Temporary MacGuffins have additional pressure, which can encourage PCs to hurry up, but can also rush them along so the players have less fun.
Willful: The MacGuffin has its own will or agenda, or can take unexpected actions with no one directing it to do so. This may be because the MacGuffin is a creature or sentient object, or it may be more complicated than that. If the MacGuffin is the knowledge that there is a 5th cardinal direction and those that know of it can appear to teleport as they walk in a direction no one else knows exists, but doing so too often has a chance of releasing vorpal wraiths that severe creatures from reality until there is less 5th-directional travel, that secret knowledge is a willful MacGuffin (and may also be why the knowledge was suppressed or hidden in a way that makes it a MacGuffin now).

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Adventure MacGuffins, Pt. 1

A lot of adventures use the literary device of the MacGuffin. That is, something that motivates the plot, but doesn’t impact it. The Holy Grail in Arthurian myth is a great example — the knights seek it, villains want it, but it almost never impacts the story itself. Your MacGuffin may come back into things in the final arc of your story, but achieving it may also just be the end of the story. Other famous examples are the Maltese Falcon of its eponymous movie, and the Ark from Raiders of the Lost Ark–which literally gets put away once the heroes get their hands on it.

(Illustration by Maksym Yemelyanov)

It’s easy to see what this would be a great trope for ttRPG adventures. Seeking a MaGuffin can have numerous legs, each needed to acquire this thing but not actually interacting with the MacGuffin itself. If you present an Unstoppable Evil rising in the Westlands, for example, stage one of your adventure might be to find an Ancient Tablet of lore that will tell you how to defeat the Unstoppable Evil. That things that can stop the Unstoppable Evil is now the adventure’s MacGuffin (replacing the tablet itself, which was a minor MacGuffin). Then, you need to seek a Retired Oracle, who is the only being that can tell you how to find the MacGuffin. This may require acquiring a Map to the MacGuffin Vault, and then separately a Key to the MacGuffin Vault. Then, of course, it turns out the MacGuffin Vault is at the bottom of a vast flooded Dungeon, in the middle of a war zone, so you need to both bring the war to a close, and find a way to adventure underwater. All the while, minions of the Unstoppable Evil seek to stop you, and agents of the Questionable Other Faction are seeking the MacGuffin for their own Mysterious Purposes, which may be to defeat the Unstoppable Evil on their own terms, or perhaps to use the MacGuffin’s power to turn their leader into an Even More Unstoppable Evil.

Sure, if the RPG campaign lasts long enough for the PCs to actually get the Main MacGuffin, you likely want a satisfying Showdown, but the MacGuffin doesn’t have to be weapon that is going to get used by the heroes. A MacGuffin could be a famous treasure (which may or may not be of great value… or even real), a document that settles a generational dispute, an object the loss of which has caused dishonor, an item that the PCs have no use for but which would make a foe immensely more powerful, or dozens of other possibilities.

A MacGuffin may broken into different pieces that must each be found and assembled, such as the classic Rod of Seven Parts, in which each part may act as a useful device, but the concept of them all combined becomes the true plot-driving MacGuffin. Some MacGuffins are clouded in riddles and secrets and the question involves answering them–the whispered word “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane drives the story exactly because no one knows what it means. Rather than eb sought out, a MacGuffin can be something you have to get rid of, an idea perhaps most famously presented as the One Ring in Lord of the Rings. The PCs may not have any interest in the MacGuffin itself, but just be drawn into other’s desires to have/understand/or destroy it, as is the case in The Maltese Falcon. (And if the PCs are the type of heroes who can be hired to go on adventures, it’s easy to draw them into Maltese Falcon-style plots of searching, betrayal, and forgery).

While cinema often gets away with not defining a MacGuffin well beyond its existence (think of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, or whatever’s in the trunk in Repo Man, or in the box in Kiss Me Deadly), that tends not to work well when the MacGuffin is something the players can get their hands on (or even use resources like divination magic to learn about). It’s generally best as the GM to have a firm idea what the MacGuffin is and why people want it (or wants to get rid of it, or learn about it, or whatever is driving the action of the adventure), even if you don’t expect all of that information to be revealed.

In future installments, we’ll look at some options for specific adventure MacGuffins.

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