Microsetting: The City of Hoard
I’ve been on a bit of a Starfinder RPG and general essay kick recently, but I’m still a big fan of fantasy RPG settings in general, and Pathfinder in general. So as a palate cleanser, here is a microsetting, the City of Hoard!
The City of Hoard
It’s not formally called “Hoard” of course. It’s listed as Draconis Rekai Achael in the old Imperial Charter of Settlements, Drakkenhelt in the dwarven tunnel-maps, and Aerivermaeli in the elven Songs of Places. Among the academic writings and speech of most dragons and draconic-oriented scholars, it’s Brarguren’s Canton, an acknowledgement that the mighty Brargured has carved out land acknowledged by other nations as hers, and hers alone. But even those learned individuals generally call it “Brarguren’s Hoard” in casual conversation, and from that long title most common folk have taken to just calling the city “Hoard.”
Brarguren was an active dragon in her youth, traveling extensively as soon as she ceased to be a wyrmling, claiming temporary territories, exploring lands with no sapient creature settling them. There are numerous credible accounts of her worldwide, suggesting she did not limit herself to any one continent or trade route. Many of those tales speak of her establishing herself on the edges of major civilizations, speaking to their scholars and acting as patron for their great artists. Though she spent no more than a few decades in any one place in her first few centuries of life, she was intellectually active and curious during these visits, each year doing as much research and learning as any member of the shorter-lived races could manage, and thus compiling numerous lifetimes of knowledge in just a few hundred years.
She gained cunning and power in equal measure. Early descriptions of her make it clear her coloration was “bright” and “metallic,” but never matched her to a single hue. She can breath fire, but has also proven to have draconic and magic talents that allow her to breath acid, and ice, and even frozen acid. She can access the power of sorcerers, druids, and even witches, leading some to suggest she has studied as a shaman. She is also a mistress of illusion, or transmutation (or both), and certainly her appearance in the past few centuries has shifted and changes enough to suggest she is keeping her true nature secret, though she always has the same piercing, nearly glowing, amber eyes.
No one is sure when she became fascinated by architecture, urban planning, and landscaping. Perhaps it was when she carried out a vendetta against the Order of the Broken Claw as a young adult, joining and leading armies to sack the order’s cities on both sides of an ocean. Perhaps her visits to the continents of the Ivory Empire, Jade Kingdoms, or the lands of the Spice Road as an adult and mature adult piqued her interest in how different cultures build and grow settlements. Certainly her Guild of Masons was established at that time, and she forged alliances with dwarves and elves both to aid and learn from their greatest artificers, fort-builders, and urban engineers and planners.
What is known for certain is that as an old dragon, more than 4 centuries ago, Brarguren stopped her regular travels and claimed her Canton, a rich land with access to ocean, trade, field, and ore. The land surely would have been claimed by some nation before her, located between small kingdoms and in a route between major empires as it was, if not for the gorynych that laired there, and the twisted mutant cult that worshiped it. Brarguren was not the first dragon to seek to destroy the wicked creature known as “The Three Sinners,” but she was the first to succeed in destroying the gorynych and scattering the cult.
And to mark her success, she claimed the piles and piles of treasure the Three Sinners and its minions had collected…. And built a city.
People claim that early on no one lived in Hoard, but of course that’s not true. Expending money as a waterfall expends water, Brarguren hired hundreds of planners and thousands of workers. Even before Hoard had a finished building, it has inhabitants. Nor where buildings the first permanent structures to be raised. Brarguren had roads laid, and aqueducts, canals, wells, and cisterns built, long before any buildings. She gave broad guidance to her lord architects, and insisted their plans be revised many times, but did little of the direct planning herself. The first city was to be designed to house 10,000 citizens in wealth and comfort, and to have a network of towns to support it, but she also demanded plans be in place for it to grow. Even the names of its major sections, “First Ward, Second Century Ward, Third Century Ward,” showed what her plans were for its expansion.
Now, Hoard is 310 years old, a city of nearly 50,000, and one of the most powerful and wealthy trade cities in the world. Though Brarguren is the unquestioned owner and ruler of the city and the surrounding valley, including it’s roads, dozens of supporting towns and farms, minor auxiliary ports and shipyards in nearby islands, she rarely takes a direct hand in ruling or protecting it. The Canton Guard serve as both city guard in Hoard, and ranging military force throughout Brarguren’s lands, and the Dragonfire Wardens act as scouts, investigators, and game wardens further from the city. Both answer directly and separately to Brarguren, though their Lord Commanders (Guard Commander Alvric Krakarral—a human investigator—for the Guard, and Warden Commander Jealis Irontusk—a half-orc hunter—for the Wardens) are cagey about how how those reports are delivered. But 72 years ago when Brarguren devoured the then-Guard Commander Thurgen Thurgenis, the dragon made it clear she would react if her forces failed to report as she expected them to. Her lack of direct action since is taken as proof the Lord Commanders are doing as they are supposed to.
However, neither of those forces run the city (or any of the townships),and lack the power to makes laws or edicts. Laws are made only by Brarguren herself, and she hasn’t changed the short list of basic rules (outlawing slavery, insisting on equal basic rights for all sapient creatures, establishing the civil and paramilitary organizations in her lands) in almost a century. Edicts come from the Council of Stakeholders—made up of guild leaders, religious heads, neighborhood alders from Hoard and town magistrates from supporting settlements, representatives of the Guard and Wardens, hereditary members from important families, one judge from each court circuit, and ministers of various Hoard city offices—and are signed by the Marshal of the Exchequer (or become law without the Marshal’s signature if 2/3 of the Council of Stakeholders agree to do so after 90 days… which almost never happens).
The Marshal of the Exchequer acts as the chief executive of Hoard, oversees legal cases against any member of the Council of Stakeholders or judge within Hoard, and is in charge of the budget of the entire region. Since taxes are surprisingly low in Hoard, and city services are quite high, there’s a persistent rumor that the Marshal of the Exchequer pays for things directly out of some vast supply of wealth Brarguren has accumulated. While every Marshal of the Exchequer has always denied this is the case, and the city has had budget troubles many times over its three centuries of existence, the rumor remains common.
As for where such a vast pile of treasure might be kept… no one knows for certain. Brarguren dives into and flies out of the ocean harbor on most of the rare occasions she makes an appearance in the city itself, but no one has ever found any sign of an aquatic lair. The city center includes a massive, round, fortified building known as The Vault when used as a landmark, but it has no known entrance and its purpose is secret. The mountains that border the valley Hoard sits at one end of have numerous caves, but none have ever shown size of draconic habitation. Everyone agrees Brarguren must have at least one secret lair, but no one can agree on where it is, what it’s like, or how much treasure is piled up in it.
But it is known what treasure has gone into it, at least on some occasions. Brarguren does not directly defend Hoard or its lands, unless a threat arises so great only an old dragon could oppose it (such as the arrival of the Archtitan Oceator, more than two centuries ago), or when the Guard and Wardens have already suffered major losses and are clearly being overwhelmed (such as during the Wightblade Plague nearly a century ago). When she does become directly involved, however, she takes everything of value possessed by any foe she defeats—from Oceator’s Trident of the Wave-Gods to the ghost swords left over from the Plague. Hoard is safe from nearly any direct threat, but does not receive the spoils of war from foes it’s draconic owner finishes.
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Sometimes in the Really Wild West, you need to express your displeasure through violence, but you’re not wanting anyone to get killed over the issue. Maybe someone spilled your drink. Maybe someone hasn’t gotten the message to get out of town. Maybe they didn’t smile when they called out something vile. You don’t want blood on your hands, but you’re ready to bust a lip and blacken an eye.
You’re ready for a Brawl.
Though specifically designed for the Really Wild West setting hack, these rules can be used in any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign.
A Brawl is specifically a fight where no one is trying to kill anyone else. Common examples of this are bar fights, campside tussles, and pugilist exhibitions. A brawl stops being a brawl as soon as anyone involved switches to lethal intent, generally by drawing a true weapon (as opposed to an improvised weapon). Even if you draw a weapon with the intent of using it in a nonlethal fashion, such as pulling a pistol to use in pistol-whipping foes, the very fact it is being brandished changes the tenor of the conflict, and it goes from a brawl to a normal fight.
In a Brawl, no one has escalated he fight to lethal levels. As a result, the fight goes a little differently. First, everyone is more focused on hitting than avoiding hits, so everyone gets +2 to attacks, and takes a -2 penalty to KAC. Second, unarmed damage increases to 1d6 + Strength bonus + a special Weapon Specialization bonus equal to level. (A character with Improved Unarmed Strike may skip these bonuses and penalties and add their normal dice of damage on top of this, and a character with special unarmed Weapon Specialization, such as a vesk, may use it instead).
A character can attempt to use an improvised weapon, such as a bottle to crack over someone’s head, or a chair to smash over their back. An improvised weapon takes a move action to ready, it adds +1d6 brawl damage, you lose the +2 bonus to brawl attack rolls, and if you ever miss a foe’s KAC by 5 or more, or do maximum damage, the improvised weapon breaks.
As long as the Brawl is still in effect, no attack can do more than 1 Hit Point of damage, even if a target is out of Stamina Points. Instead, whenever a character takes even a single Hit Point, the character must make a Fortitude save (DC 15 + total damage of the attack that deal Hit Point damage) or be stunned. If the target misses this save by 5 or more, they are instead Knocked Out for 1d4 rounds.
You can use 0-level spells as part of a Brawl, but anything higher level counts as drawing a weapon. And once someone draws a weapon, the Brawl switches immediately to normal fight rules.
A character trained in Bluff or Diplomacy can try to Hold Off a Brawl for a round, preventing anyone from attacking them. This is a standard action and requires a check with one of those two skills to be made against each potential attacker, with a EDC equal to 15 + target’s CR. With a successful check, the attacker must either escalate to a lethal attack, or pick a new target.
Getting into a Brawl is generally overlooked by local authorities in frontier regions. The difference between punching and kicking and hair-pulling vs shooting with guns and stabbing with knives is well understood. It’s a public annoyance, rather than a potential murder. However, anyone who escalates a Brawl to a lethal conflict is seen as a thug at best, and a criminal guilty of attempted murder at worst.
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One of the great things about the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is that designing new monsters and NPCs is fast an easy. Most of the math is taken care of for you, allowing GMs to focus on cool ideas to make threats interesting, instead of having to bend over backwards making sure their core game stats are appropriate for threats of a given level.
That also gives people creating new settings for the game, like my Really Wild West setting hack, opportunities to present creatures in a new way. Rather than just offer a monster, it’s possible to write template grafts in such a way that a GM can adapt a few simple monster rules to create a version of a monster for any CR. A GM need not try to shoehorn the perfect creature concept into an encounter of an inappropriate level. Instead the monster concept can be presented in such a way that the GM can quickly and easily use it at any CR.
I’m going to provide some examples on how to do that, while at the same time talking a bit abut what makes good monsters, walking GMs through the monster creation process, and presenting some brand-new monsters perfect for the Really Wild West (but usable to fill the wildernesses of any Starfinder Roleplaying Game world’s wilderness).
We’ll start with the Grizzly Boar
A Grizzly Boar is a monstrous alpha predator roaming the deep woods and mountains of North America, with a range that is densest along the southeastern coast of the US, the eastern US/Mexico border, and on the whole west coast of North America. With a tusked, porcine head, massive furred body and huge claws, grizzly boars are territorial omnivores that do not fear humans and that will challenge wyverns, wolf packs, and even dragons of their size. When wounded, a grizzly boar will stalk whatever it perceives as a threat for hundreds of miles, until it becomes enraged enough to move in for a kill. Their coloration runs from dark brown in temperate zones to white in the far north, and similar, smaller species of tusk-bears can be found in northern and eastern Europe.
Building and Defining a Monster
Every Starfinder monster is built on one of three arrays presented in Starfinder Alien Archive—combatant, expert, or spellcaster. These arrays give the base values for a creature based on CR, ensuring they are an appropriate typical challenge for an average 4-person group of PCs of that level. In most cases the first decision a GM needs to make is what array to use for a given creature. Since the grizzly boar is described as a dangerous predator, but not listed as having any noteworthy magic abilities, it’s best represented with the combatant array. The template graft for the monster thus lists the combatant array as “required,” so a GM knows that grizzly boars are always build as combat-focused creatures.
After determining the array, a GM needs to know a creature’s type, since this impacts adjustments to the stats of the array and determined what keyword abilities affect the creature. A grizzly boar could be a magical beast, but again given that it seems to basically be a hybrid of boars and big bears, just making it an animal seems more appropriate. Again this is noted in the template graft. That means that when building a grizzly boar, the GM knows it gets all the things listed with the animal creature type graft presented in in Starfinder Alien Archive—low-light vision, Int modifier of -4 or -5, and a +2 increase to Fort and Ref saving throws.
While the combatant array will tell the GM what the grizzly boars top 3 ability score modifiers are for any given CR, those could be put anywhere. Since grizzly boars are strong, tough, and cunning, those modifiers should be put into Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom (in order from highest to lowest). That information also goes into the template graft. A GM can generally leave all the other ability score modifiers at +0, though if at higher CRs a +1 or +2 is desired for one of the remaining ability scores, that’s fine too.
All combatants gain between one and four special abilities, depending on their CR. These are the things that set a monster apart from other creatures of the same CR and type, and are the abilities that PCs are most likely to remember after facing a given monster. To make the grizzly boar template graft work for a grizzly boar of any CR, four special abilities are listed in order of priority, 1-4. If making a CR 1/3, ½, or 1 grizzly boar, it gains only the first listed ability (brute), while a CR 2-CR 11 grizzle boar also gains the second listed ability (gore). Additionally, since all of those options are passive and the grizzly boar is supposed to be among the tougher threats a group might face at its CR, and it has no ranged attacks, a single bonus special ability is listed (ferocity, a universal creature rules from Starfinder Alien Archive), which all grizzle boars receive regardless of CR.
Finally, all monsters built on the combatant array gain one master skill and two good skills, which are listed in the array. Creatures are assumed to gain Perception as a good skill, so it isn’t listed. For consistency sake, a few other notes are given, including the size of a grizzly boar based on it’s CR. These don’t have much impact on its stat block (though it does impact space and reach), but it helps a GM know that lower-CR grizzly boars are young cubs, runts, or from smaller species.
So, the final template graft looks like this:
GRIZZLY BOAR TEMPLATE GRAFT
Required Array: Combatant
Required Type: Animal
Size: Small (CR 1/3-CR 1), Medium (CR 2-CR 4), Large (CR 5-CR 11), or Huge (CR 12+)
Speed: 30 feet (Small and Medium), 40 feet (Large and Huge)
Ability Score Modifiers: Strength, Constitution, Wisdom
Special Abilities: 1-Brute (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). 2-Gore (as the nuar racial trait). 3-Grab (claw). 4-Extra hit points (adjustment special ability, see Starfinder Alien Archive). Bonus-Ferocity.
Skills: Master– Athletics; Good-Intimidate, Survival
Attacks: Melee (tusk or claw), no ranged.
To make this monster, a GM just takes the combatant array for the desired CR of the end monster, adjusts the numbers as noted for the animal type, and enters those values in a stat block as directed by the template graft. If an ability just changes numbers (such as brute and extra hit points), the GM makes those changes, but doesn’t need to list those abilities in the state block (since, once the changes are made, the GM doesn’t need to be reminded of those abilities during combat, unlike something like gore, which impacts choices the GM makes). Here’s what a CR 6 Grizzly Boar looks like, for example.
GRIZZLY BOAR CR 6 [COMBATANT]
XP 2,400 each
N Large Animal
Init +0 Senses low-light vision; Perception +13
DEFENSE HP 90
EAC 18; KAC 20
Fort +10; Ref +10; Will +5
Defensive Abilities ferocity
Speed 40 ft.
Melee tusk or claw +13 (3d4+13 P or S)
Space 10 feet; Reach 10 feet
Offensive Abilities gore
Str +5; Dex +0; Con +3; Int -4; Wis +2; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +18, Intimidate +13, Survival +13
Ferocity (Ex) When a grizzly boar is brought to 0 Hit Points, it can fight on for 1 more round. It can act normally until the end of its next turn; if it has 0 HP at that point, it dies. If it would lose further Hit Points before this, it ceases to be able to act and dies.
Gore (Ex) A grizzly boar can charge without taking the normal charge penalties to the attack roll or its AC.
If the GM needs a group of 4 smaller, lower-level grizzly boars, it’s the work of 2-3 minutes to write up a new stat block to represent a pack of cubs or a herd of wild tusk-bears. If the GM wants to truly challenge a group of 6th level PCs with a massive grizzly boar threat, writing up a CR 9 version is just as fast and easy. Rather than just a single monster at a single CR, the grizzly boar template graft makes this creature a threat usable at any level.
In the coming weeks, we’ll present at least a couple more examples for creatures using the Expert and Spellcaster arrays, while filling out the Really Wild West Bestiary entries.
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This is the third and final part of a series of articles looking at how to contextualize the starfaring species of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game into the world of the Really Wild West, a setting hack that uses the science-fantasy rpg for a campaign with magic, monsters, and weird science in an alternate Earth in 1891.
When looking at the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species for things I can use to tie them to a fantasy-science-fiction-pulp version of the real world, sometimes I have gone with cultural or game ability elements… and sometimes I have leaned on fantasy versions of biology, as is the case with shirren, vesk, and ysoki.
Shirren are big bugs, which means they should have evolved someplace that supports larger arthropods. The largest land-dwelling arthropod currently in existence on Earth is the coconut crab, which is found on islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Assuming they originated in the same regions in the timeline of the Really Wild West, shirren would have built their own island cultures (perhaps in conjunction with other species, perhaps not), and spread in Ancient times as trade blossomed throughout the Indian Ocean. This takes our ancient shirren to China, Egypt, India, Java, Somalia, and southeastern Europe. While they would have spread worldwide from there, I assume those regions along old trade routes going through the Indian Ocean still have the largest, most integrated populations of shirren. That gives me guidance on what cultures they might be drawn from, and what traditions they could have, without claiming something small-minded like “Arabs are shirren” (which erases real Arabs and eliminates numerous cultural advancements, historical figures, and real-world ethnicities from being part of RWW, and is also pretty structurally racist).
Australia leads the world in reptile biodiversity, so that’s where I am having my vesk evolve. That has vesk populations being tightly concentrated in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding islands. I’m guessing I’ll need to add a frontier wars or “Lizardman War” (as the colonial powers call it) between the British Empire and various vesk groups at some point, and chances are the vesk lost. But by now, they’re at least partially integrated, and some will have travelled throughout the British Empire, despite suffering a fair amount of racism. While vesk likely have a lot of native culture that impacts their fashion, those that travel abroad are likely to adopt Western clothing sensibilities when in western nations, including the Really Wild West.
Note that this is a change from my original thoughts on vesk, which was to make them the product of Doctor Moreau’s anthropomorphization of animals. I can hold on to that idea for more minor species (as I add them), but it ended up feeling too limited for a “core” species, and had some connotations I wasn’t comfortable with.
In the real world, rodents are populous on every continent except Antarctica. They date to the Paleocene on the supercontinent of Laurasia, spread across landmasses, crossed oceans, and pretty well got everywhere (even Australia) on their own, without human intervention.
So as much as I am tying most starfaring species to specific region of the Really Wild West? Ysoki are everywhere.
And they got there first.
With cheek pouches as built-in bags (allowing them to carry goods—even water—long distances before the invention of sacks or gourd-bottles), bonuses to Stealth and Survival, and darkvision? Ysoki were the main competition with humanity for global domination. Much as there were Neanderthals and other cousins to homo sapiens sapiens who didn’t make it, there were multiple lines of ysoki through the ages, though none of this is well understood in the RWW year of 1891.
In general, every culture has a ysoki element to it. There are sure to be exceptions—Egyptian cat-worshipers may not have taken to ysoki citizens, some ysoki clans likely existed in regions without significant human presence.
But the core assumption in Really Wild West is that ysoki are everywhere from the most remote, paleolithic cultures, to the suit-wearing bankers of New York.
Speaking of context!