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Really Wild West Science Agents (For Starfinder)

Science Agents

The room smelled strongly of sulfur, with scorch marks covering one wall and the adjacent floor and roof. Something had clearly exploded, driving fragments of wood away from the burned wall and scattering shattered glass, torn pages, and bent metal implements across the small space.

Rosa Abascal crouched near what appeared to be the origin of the detonation, careful to keep only the soles of her feet in contact with the ground, and dragged one gloved finger through the residue. It was dry, but still bright red and shiny, the color of blood.

“You see Agent Abascal?” The agitated man behind her was obviously nervous, but Rosa had found Americans were often nervous around her. Honestly, most men were nervous around her. An inevitable consequence of her badge and gun. But he sounded sincerely frightened, and has not tried to move closer to her, even when she turned her back on him. It was a risk she could only take because she trusted her partner to react faster than any fat businessman, though she also had her other hand close enough to the knife in her boot to handle any aggression herself if necessary.

But the American wasn’t moving any further into the room than the doorway, and he nearly vomited out his loud concerns.

“You smell it, don’t you Agent? Brimstone! And with these strange books and idols and runes? Satanists have infiltrated my mine, and summoned demons! I’d have called a marshal, but…”
But, thought Rosa, this close to the border we’d arrive faster. Or he had hoped we’d fail to notice something.

The room darkened slightly, and Rosa turned to see her partner, Agent Garza, stepping past the nervous American. She raised her fingertip, to let Garza see the mix of residual blasting powder and powdered stellar metals. He grunted, and nodded past the door to the scrublands beyond.

“Looks like a small group kept their horses in a nearby arroyo until recently.” Garza spoke in Esperanto, as was his habit. The Científicos’s rules on the use of the new hopefully universal lingua franca weren’t official yet, but Garza always liked to be just ahead of the rules.

“But the horses were scattered a day or two ago, and only one set of hoofprints are deep enough to have had a rider,” Garza finished.

Rosa nodded. She had kept one eye on the American, and not only did she not think he understood Esperanto, she was pretty sure he didn’t realize it wasn’t Spanish. That meant he was unlikely to give anything away with a reaction to Agent Garza’s report, but Rosa was fairly sure he didn’t know anything he wasn’t saying. His fear at the thought of demons seemed as genuine as it was unwarranted.

Rosa stood, and showed the American her fingertip, though she knew he was unlikely to grasp the relevance.

“Not demons, señor. Demolitions. Whoever stayed here was experimenting with a mix of stellar ores and explosives. Cavorite, most likely, or potentially even red mercury.”

The American looked confused, and then relieved. Rosa took out a small hand kerchief, and thoroughly cleaned her glove’s fingertip.

“So… there’s nothing to worry about!” The American seemed pleased. “You can return to your side of the border and…”

Agent Garza interrupted, speaking in English.

“No, sir. There’s no sign of planar visitors, but that’s far from saying there’s no danger. Such metals are rare and expensive. For someone to have had enough to leave this much residue, “he gestured to the scorchmarks covering half the cabin’s interior “almost certainly means he found a Martian fighting machine, or possibly an embankment machine, and scavenged from it.:

Rosa nodded, and she folded her kerchief, and laid it on the broken remains of the room’s table.

“If there’s more such metal, whoever experimented here might salvage enough for a bomb that could threaten a town or small city. Or, worse, there might be canisters of black smoke, or dormant red weed. It’s crucial we find the machine before anything left with it is activated or unleashed.”

“But…” the Amercian paused. “If the trail leads further into Texan territory… “

Rosa was already headed to her horse.

“If there’s a significant threat to the region as a whole, science agents are empowered by our government to operate wherever necessary.”

Her glove’s fingertip burst into flame, and the fire quickly began to spread to the ruined table. The cabin was on a patch of bare dirt, and bordered on three sides by rock. The flames would eliminate the cabin and any residues, and spread no farther.

In a world where weird science and theosophic magic are real, of course positivism cannot deny the existence of strange powers. What it CAN insist on is a rigorous testing of such powers and an analysis of how they function. In the Really Wild West, it has become crucially important for governments and major agencies to be able to tell the mysterious from the mystic, and the revolutionary from the disastrous. Among those with the best track record and reputation for such needs are the science agents of the Mexican Porfiriate.

Science Agent Archetype

Science agents are special federal law officers who work directly for the Científicos, the government council of scientist ministers and directors who are guiding Mexico into a new age of rationalism and modernity. They act as investigators, law keepers, trackers, spies, troubleshooters, and paramilitary advisers. They are respected as one of the great peacekeeping forces in North America, on par with the Canadian Mounties, Dread Templars, Justicers, Pinketons,Texas Rangers, and U.S. Martials.

Most science agents train at the Hall of Science in Mexico City, though it is also possible for a science agent to take a single deputy cadet and train them, with either method taking between 1 and 4 years depending on the cadet’s aptitude and previous education. All science agents must swear to apply the scientific method over intuition or superstition, and to protect Mexico in specific, and humanity, rational thought, and science in general. There is no other official requirement, and the Porfiriate’s insistence on promotion and decision-making based on evidence-based investigation has lead to a series of standards cadets must meet that do not include any gender, religion, age, or level of formal education. Anyone who can pass the strenuous entrance exams, which focus on logical thought (but not specific previous knowledge of any scientific principles), determination, and basic physical ability, may attempt to become a science agent. Roughly 1 in 5 cadets finish the course, but that number includes equal numbers of men, women, urbanites, and rural citizens.

Science agents are often given great latitude to track down potential threats, and often operate outside of Mexico. There legal authority to do so is questionable at best, but their strong reputation causes most honest folks to give the silver-eagle badges of the science agents some leeway as long as they aren’t committing crimes themselves.

Alternate Class Features

Scientific Method (Ex): At 2nd level, a science agent has learned enough about how theosophy, Martian technology, psychic phenomenon, planar creatures, and advanced science work to be able to examine an area and determine if anything in it is magical. This functions as detect magic, except it is an extraordinary ability. Additionally, a number of times per day equal to the science agent’s key ability score bonus, she can attempt to identify an item’s function as the identify spell, but as an extraordinary ability and using a character level check in place of a Mysticism or Engineering check. A science agent also gains a +2 bonus to AC and saving throws against attacks and effects from a specific object she successfully identified.

At this level a science agent also learns Esperanto and either English or French.

Keen Observer (Ex): At 4th level a science agent may choose from one of two abilities. The first is an insight bonus equal to half her character level to checks with any two of the following skills: Diplomacy, Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival. If either selected skill is not a class skill, it becomes a class skill. If the science agent has a feat that grants an insight bonus to either of these skills, she may retrain that feat immediately, or at the beginning of any future level, for a feat she meets the prerequisites for at 4th level.

Alternatively, the science agent may choose to gain blindsense (sound) with a range of 30 feet and blindsense (scent) with a range of 10 feet.

The choices made with this ability cannot be changed.


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Really Wild West Key Ability Scores and Resolve (for Starfinder)

Characters in the Really Wild West campaign have some drawbacks due the rules of the setting hack, when compared to standard Starfinder Roleplaying Game PCs. Some equipment is rarer. Weapon capacities are lower. Information less accessible. These are minor restrictions, but if the players are being asked to take on threats designed for standard threats and monsters from the standard RPG, they need to have some balancing factor to make up for the slight changes the campaign enforced.

Some of that can be done with the campaign’s genre feats, but those don’t work for everyone, and don’t quite make up the difference.

The rest is handled with a change to Key Ability Scores, and Resolve.

Key Ability Scores

Really Wild West is designed to allow for over-the-top, heroic characters common to the old pulp stories. These often include oddball characters with unexpected characteristics. Genius sharpshooters. Spellcasting card sharps. Singing cowboys with the gift of gab. Making characters like this should be encouraged in Really Wild West, but it can be difficult to focus on two disparate elements of a character without making them a little less effective. Normally that’s fine, the game doesn’t require optimized heroes, but since Really Wild West already restricts other options a bit, it’s best if heroes aren’t also put at any disadvantage for wanting to make characters outside the typical mold.

Thus, the first time you take a class level in Really Wild West, you may select any one ability to be your Key Ability Score. Dexterity-based mechanic? Sure, your nimble fingers let you build clockworks no one else can master. Constitution-based mystic? Your psychic powers draw directly from your physical endurance. Charisma-based soldier? Singing cowboy.

In addition to determining how you calculate your Resolve Points, your Key Ability score becomes the ability all your class features use for calculations. A Constitution-based mystic uses her Constitution modifier to determine bonus spells, spell DCs, and connection power Cs, for example. This doesn’t impact how you calculate skill points, or anything based on the general rules of the game (such as EAC, KAC, melee attack bonus, and so on). But for things listed under class features in the class’s 20-level table, switch from whatever ability score is listed to your chosen Key Ability Score.

Resolve Points

The Really Wild West can be deadly and grueling, and its heroes need to be more resolute to survive. PCs gain +2 Resolve Points at 1st level, and an additional bonus Resolve Point at 3rd, 6th, and 9th level.

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Scorchers for Really Wild West (in Starfinder)

In the real-world 1890s, “scorchers”–bicycle riders (male and female) who sat-forward on the diamond-frame bikes or “safety bicycles” that were coming out for the first time at about that time–were considered a social menace. They were considered to be too aggressive, and moving too fast. Editorials held them up as examples of the decline of society. Special anti-scorcher police units were established.

In the Really Wild West, scorchers hold a different place in society, because they were crucial in many efforts to scout out and track Martian tripods during the invasion, operating initially within large towns and cities, but soon finding ways to use stellar metals and gearing scavenge from fallen walkers to make A-frame bikes that worked well in rougher terrain such as prairies. Scorchers are still seen as too aggressive and willing to go too fast, but it’s accepted that while scorchers aren’t fit for polite society, they do serve a useful function for military and police units.

Below we present a typical Really Wild West safety bicycle, and a feat that turns a rider from merely someone who can ride a 2-wheeler into a true Scorcher.

Safety Bicycle
Item Level 2; Price 30; Bulk 4
A safety bicycle grants you a +10 enhancement bonus to your land speed, and has an armor check penalty of -4 and max Dexterity bonus to AC of +4 (treating it like armor for these purposes—if actually wearing armor use the worse value of the bicycle or armor, then make it 1 worse). The bulk of a bicycle (and up to 1 bulk of material placed on it) does not count against your encumbrance limit when you are riding it or pushing it, only if you are carrying it.
Mounting or dismounting takes a move action or a DC 15 Pilot check. You must make a Ride check to stay mounted whenever you take damage (DC 10 + the item level or spell level of the attack, or 10 + level for natural and unarmed attacks), and automatically fail to stay mounted if someone successfully performs a trip combat maneuver against you or a sunder combat maneuver against your bicycle.
You must succeed at a DC 15 Pilot check to use a bicycle with just 1 hand, and a DC 20 pilot check to do so with no hands. You must also succeed at a DC 15 Pilot check to use a bicycle in difficult terrain. If you fail a Pilot check to use or stay mounted on a bicycle, you fall prone and take 1d4 bludgeoning damage.

You are a master with the new A-frame style of safety bicycle, doing things with it no one expected.
Prerequisite: Pilot 1 rank.
Benefit: When in terrain that does not require Athletics checks to move through, having a bicycle simply grants you +15 feet of land speed. You take no penalties to any other checks, don’t need to make Pilot checks to remain mounted when damaged, don’t need to keep a hand free, and don’t need to take extra time to mount or dismount. Additionally you may make Pilot checks in place of Acrobatics checks while mounted. No one can attack your bicycle while you are riding it.
If you take a double move or run, and you have at least one hand free to help control your bicycle, you double its bonus to your move rate.
If forced to carry your bike, you treat its bulk as half its actual bulk value and take no other penalties (even if climbing or swimming). You may use your Pilot skill check in place of your Engineering check (and your ranks of Pilot in place of your ranks in Engineering), in regards to bicycles.
If you select this feat at first level, you gain a safety bicycle for free. Regardless of when you gain it, if you have access to your equipment and tools and the basics requires to build or maintain a bicycle, you are assumed to have a safety bicycle after 24 hours of work.

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Really Wild West Technology and Equipment (for Starfinder)

In many ways, the Really Wild West setting of an 1890 where dwarves, elves, and kasatha have always been around, Martians attacked and died of plague, theosophy was right and magic and psychic powers are extant (if not commonplace), is the continuation of the Industrial Revolution into what may someday be known as the Age of Invention. We touched on some of the technologies at play in the original post for this setting hack, but some of those ideas call for expansion.

Technology has rocketed forward (in some cases literally) over the page 50 years, and society is permanently changed as a result. In 1856, Henry Bessemer found a way to turn molten iron into steel, and that created the material needed to build far more powerful forges and steam engines. The discovery of adamantine and other stellar alloys among the Martian machines made otherwise impossible creations possible, though at a high cost given Earth still has no way to mine those extraplanetary metals for itself. But anywhere a Martian expedition collapsed (often, though not always, self-destructing) or an old destroyed cigar-shaped transportation cylinder is found to have crashed, a “Mars Rush” of scavengers seeking working machines if possible, and just the rare stellar allows if not, make the old gold rushes look calm by comparison.

The telegraph made the world smaller and brought communication to a new speed, but it is the creation of the Babbage-Bell Grid, a series of wired analog computers and difference engines in the largest cities connected by Bell’s new data transmitter technology (though it is Elisha Gray who invented the switches to allow this communication to move quickly, and Bell stole the idea and patented it first). With the Babbage-Bell Grid, a small city or major town can afford just a Babbage node, no bigger than a church organ, allowing them to send complex data requests to a full-sized Babbage buildings hundreds of miles away, connected by the Grid.

Automotons, invented separately in Bohemia, Switzerland, and Japan (where they grew from the tradition of Karakuri puppets), continue to grow in complexity and utility. The use of difference engines, stellar alloys, and heat ray capacitors for power allows the creation of automotons that seem nearly self-aware, though the most advanced are generally capricious and require a single genius (normally a character with the mechanic class) to keep it operational.

Medicine has leaped forward. Germ theory, much studied after the fall of the Martian tripods, has gained nearly universal acceptance. Theosophic studies combining western theories with eastern techniques and psychic infusions allow miraculous serums and healing ampules that actually follow through on the promises of the previous century’s snake oil. Similarly the dedicated study and experimentation on theosophic abilities has allowed some practitioners to master high levels of psychic mastery and to develop specific mental exercises to produce and reproduce dependable, measurable effects common folk often call ‘spells’ (as ‘metatative ectoplasmic invocation techniques” doesn’t have the same snappy ring to it). Emotions and paranatural phenomenon can even be fused into weapons, equipment, and even crystals (allowing for the normal Starfinder Roleplaying Game rules for weapon fusions, magic and hybrid items, spell gems, and spell ampules).

Weapon technology has similarly seen vast improvements. Brass cartridge weapons are commonplace, though older percussion cap and some pinfire and needlefire weapons still see extensive use. Revolves are common, as are lever-action and even pump-action firearms. The first few automatic pistols have appeared, and the water-cooled Maxim machine guns are changing the face of war. Tesla and Tom Swift have advanced lightning guns, among other weapons, the German flammenwerfer and Chinese Pen Huo Qi both proved their worth against Martian tripods and have been much copied, and the Martian heat ray technology itself has been successfully mass-produced in Mexico.

Most equipment options are just normal Starfinder Roleplaying Game gear, modified as noted in the original post of the setting hack. But there are a few particularly Western kinds of gear, or logical extrapolations of the 1890s and weird science, which should be added to the setting.

Ammo belt 1 5 L
Ammo belt, masterwork 1 100 L
Battery belt 2 300 1
Block and tackle 1 5 4
Candle, wax, set of 5 1 1
Canteen 1 2 L
Compass 1 3
Lantern, oil, bullseye 1 2 L
Lantern, oil, hooded 1 2 L
Matches, box of 100 0 1
Rations, canned, 1 day 1 4 2L
Rations, fresh, 1 day 0 1 L
Rations, trail, 1 day 0 2 L
Sack, large 1 2 L
Sack, small 1 1
Steam engine, small 2 850 80
Tent, 2-man 1 5 4
Tent. 4-man 1 10 6
Tool, manual 1 5 1
Torch, set of 10 1 2 L
Watch, pocket 1 15

Rules for new equipment is presented below.

Ammo Belt
An ammo belt can be designed for bullets, hand-bombs, or dry cell batteries. It carries up to 3 L worth of such items (though their weight still applies to encumbrance normally). A character with a masterwork ammo belt with the necessary ammo can also reload a weapon as part of the same standard action as firing it once. If the character has Quick Draw, one a round they can reload a weapon without taking an action.

Battery Belt
While firearms remain more common than weapons powered through electricity drawn from dry cell batteries, the rapid increase in cell-powered devices in recent years (especially in Mexico) has resulted in a desire to be able to carry multiple batteries of various capacities connected together, with a single feed cable and adapter that allows different devices to be powered from the connected batteries.

A battery belt is similar to an ammo belt, but is designed to carry, and connect, multiple batteries. It can carry up to 9 batteries of L bulk or less without increasing its own bulk. Linking a battery to the belt is a move action. The belt has a single output cable designed to plug in to any electric-charge driven device. This takes the same action as to reload a weapon (normally a move action). Any device plugged into the battery belt can use charges from any of the batteries in the belt, even if the device normally uses a different capacity of battery.

Block and Tackle
A block and tackle allows you to pull a rope 10 feet to move a secondary rope 5 feet with twice as much fore. A successful DC 10 Engineering check and one minute allows you to rig a block and tackle to you can use it to life twice as much bulk, or gain a +5 circumstance bonus to a Strength check, but performing such tasks take twice as long as usual.

A candle is as easy to light as a torch, and burns as well as a match. It increases the light level by 1 step in a 5 foot radius, but is easily blown out by wind, rain, or being dropped. It burns for 6 hours.

A canteen is a water bottle made of cured leather or steel, generally with a cloth covering both to pad it for protection and so the cloth can be soaked with water, which then evaporates and cools the canteen. It carries two quarts, the minimum most people need to drink each day.

A comas points north. A character with a compnas trained in Survival gains a +2 bonus to Survival checks to orienteer.

Lantern, oil, bullseye
A bullseye lantern increases the light level by 1 step in a 60-foot-cone. It burns for 1 hour on 1 pint of oil.

Lantern, oil, hooded
A hooded lantern increases the light level by 1 step in a 30-foot-radius. It burns for 1 hour on 1 pint of oil.

Matches, box of 100
A match can set easily flammable materials on fire as a standard action.

Oil, pint
One pint of oil, normally in a flask or leather bladder. As a standard action you can coat an adjacent object, which then if exposed to flames must make a Fortitude save (DC 20 + item level or caster level of flame source) or gain the burning condition. You can also throw oil at targets as improvised thrown weapons, which do 1 point of damage and coat them in oil.

Rations, Canned
Canned rations include canned meats, fruits, and vegetables, pickled items including eggs and fish, jams, jellies, canned cheeses, honey, foil-wrapped chocolate (in small quantities along with other canned goods), condensed or evaporated milk, bottled cooking oil, and even entire canned hams or turkeys. Canned rations last 1-4 years as long as they are undamaged, and have a 50% change of spoiling each year thereafter.

Rations, Fresh
Fresh rations can include both cooked foods and raw ingredients to make food, such as butchered meats or entire small game, breads, flour, butter, medium or soft cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and so on. Food hunted or foraged with the Survival skill counts as fresh rations. Fresh rations last for 1d4 days, and have a 50% chance of spoiling each day thereafter. Fresh food can count toward have the UPB cost of making canned or trail rations (with the other half being preserving agents or canning supplies).

Rations, Trail
Rail rations include such things as hardtack, crackers, hard cheese, dried soups, dried beans, dried pasta, grains, coffee grounds, tea, jerky, dried fruits and vegetables, fruitcakes, salt pork, and smoked fish. Trail rations last for 30 days, and have a 50% chance of spoiling every 30 days thereafter. Trail rations cannot be consumed for more than a day without water, which are not included in this weight or cost.

A small sack can carry roughly 2 bulk of materials, and a large sack 10 bulk. Bulk in a sack counts against the bulk total of a character carrying it.

Steam Engine, Small
A small steam engine is often used to run other machines, such as pumps, drills, power hammers, mills, and lathes. Weighing more than 800 pounds, these devices must be moved by wagon or train, and are generally only available to large, well-funded expeditions or companies in towns and cities. A successful DC 15 Engineering check can rig a steam engine to perform a simple, repetitive task, allowing it to apply a 24 Strength to that task. It consumed 10 pounds of coal per hour of operation, or double that weight in fuel if burning wood.

Tents are made of waterproof canvas, and include the ropes, poles, and pitons needed to set the up.

A tinderbox contains flint, firesteel, and tinder (generally hemp fiber, but other materials are possible). Equipped with a tinderbox, a character can create fire in 1 round with a DC 15 Survival check (or, in most cases, automatically by taking 20, but that takes 2 minutes).

Tool, Manual
A manual tool is a crowbar, pickaxe, shovel, hoe, or other sturdy device designed to aid in manual labor. A manual tool grants a +2 circumstance bonus to ability checks and skill checks it is well-suited to perform and (at the GM’s discretion) may cut the time required for such tasks by 50%. Manual tools can also be used as clubs (though some may do piercing or slashing damage, at the GM’s discretion).

A torch increases the light level by one step within 20 feet. It burns for 1 hour. A torch can be used as a club, but half the damage it does when lit is fire damage. As an open flame, a lit torch allows an Intimidate check as a standard action to demoralize one animal no larger than Large within 10 feet. A demoralized animal generally does not attack unless it has some primal drive to do so (such as great hunger, protecting its young, a need to flee, or combat training).

Watch, pocket
A character with a pocket watch is assumed to know what time it is, and if they keep it in hand need not make any checks to determine when an exact number of seconds, minutes, or hours have passed. If they are trained in Survival, it gives them a +1 circumstance bonus to Survival checks made to orienteer or predict weather.


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Really Wild West Index

Since it looks like I’m going to be working on Really Wild West campaign and setting hack for Starfinder on and off for the foreseeable future, in order to keep it usable I’m creating (and will maintain as new articles are written) an Index that lists and organizes the existing articles.

These are descriptive of the setting, though they may include rules elements.

Really Wild West
>Read This First. 🙂
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 Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, with theosophy (magic), fantasy and sci-fi races, guns, and strangely advanced technology. Includes tips on how to hack the Starfinder Roleplaying Game rules to better suit the Weird West genre, as well as some feats unique to the setting.

Putting the “Steam” and “Punk” in Really Wild West
>I don’t describe RWW as a :steampunk” setting, but is it one? What is steampunk, anyway? A think piece about a popular genre and this setting’s place in it… or outside of it.

Badlands City
>A city built by Hell and ruled by devils… and one of the safest places in the West.
Badlands Resident Theme
>A theme for people from Badlands City
Dread Templar Archetype
>Badlands City produces devil-trained officers of the law who focus on punishment and vengeance.

Easterner Theme
>Is your character from back East? Then this is your theme.

The Mexican Porfiriate and the Technopolitan Theme
>Mexico is a rising technological superpower, governed by war heroes and scientists. Includes the Technopolitan theme.
Science Agents
>Short fiction and an archetype for Mexico’s famed peacekeepers of rationality.

Plot Hooks and Inspirational Media
> Want to know what kinds of adventures Really Weird West characters may have? Here’s a list of 20 plot hooks and a list of inspiration media that helped set the tone for the setting.

These are primarily about rules, though they are designed specifically for Really Weird West.

Key Ability Scores and Resolve
Really Wild West is a cruel setting with pulpy characters. That takes a tweak of some core rules to support properly.

Renown and Gear
> Rules for using character renown to buy higher-level gear, allowing money rewards to remain the same regardless of character level.

Dragon Guns
>Weapons that throw fire onto your foes have their origins in China and are 1,000 years old.

Lightning Guns
>One of the more common energy weapons available in the Really Wild West.

>Shotguns in Really Wild West work a little different than the big blast weapons of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Mounted Combat
>Horses are more common than self-powered vehicles in the Really Wild West.

Technology and Equipment
>What is there, what’s the background for advanced tech in the 1890s, and some more Wild West themed gear.

>In the real-world 1890s, “scorchers”–bicycle riders (male and female) who sat-forward on the diamond-frame bikes–were considered a social menace.
In the Really Wild West, scorchers hold a different place in society.

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Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats (Pathfinder)

I am very fond of Item Mastery Feats for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I think there are lots of interesting places those feats can take characters, especially fighters. I am also a big fan of the Advanced Weapon Training rules that allow fighters to make weapon training do more than just grant flat attack and damage bonuses. The two already combine somewhat (with the item mastery advanced weapon training option), but I think there are yet more interesting ways they can be mixed for fighters, and some other classes.

Arcane Fighter (Combat)
You know magic is a potent weapon, and you study how to fight with magic items.
Prerequisite: Fighter level 1.
Benefit: You are considered trained with Use Magic Device, and can make special UMD checks with a bonus equal to your fighter level + your Constitution bonus +3, rather than your normal skill bonus.

Draught Mastery
When you drink a magic potion, you gain additional benefits.
Prerequisites: One of the following class features: armor training, brew potion, weapon training.
Benefit: Select three item mastery feats for which you meet the prerequisites. Each time you gain a new level, you can change this selection.
Once per day when you drink a potion, you may use the benefit of one of those item mastery feats if the potion would qualify to grant you if it were a permanent magic item. You may use this feat a second time per day when your base attack bonus, caster level, or alchemist level reaches +5 or 5th, and every +5 or 5 levels thereafter.

Extra Weapon Training (Combat)
You are a master of many weapons and weapon fighting techniques.
Prerequisites: Weapon training class feature.
Benefit: You can select another weapon group your weapon training class feature applies its benefits to. Alternatively, you may select another advanced weapon training option for which you meet the prerequisites.

Patreon Exclusive!
The point of the Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats article was to create new ways to use existing Item Mastery Feats and find synergy with advanced weapon training, rather than to present new Item Mastery Feats. However while writing it I thought of one new Item Mastery Feat which fills a gap in what those feats can allow a character to do: Buff Mastery. It is presented at my Patreon, exclusively (for now) for my Patrons!

RPGs: The Map is Not the Territory

RPGs are not, in general, trying to create a pure simulation of reality in the form of entirely consistent and all-encompassing rules (and acting as if they are, or even should, leads to unhappiness, silliness, or both). The rules of the Game part of an RPG can be distinctly different from a description of the objective rules that define a universe. People who want to take things ‘allowed” by RPG rules and dive down to what a world is “really” like if those rules are equally and evenly available to even citizen of the world are not playing the game as intended.

(And if they have fun doing that, that’s fine. But if they don’t, the flaw isn’t necessarily with the game rules.)

For example, it’s perfect acceptable to say “This ability can be selected by any player for their character. There are no limitations or restriction on a player doing so.” and a GM or campaign setting saying (or even being built so it is true without saying it) “This ability represents a very rare ability, and only a very few people in the universe have it.”

One early step in beginning a new RPG campaign or adventure that almost no RPGs ever mention is, everyone involved should be interested in engaging in that activity in a way that causes everyone to have fun. If someone actively doesn’t want to play, or their motivating for playing is to make other people unhappy and sadly yes, this happens), most RPGs are going to collapse under the weight of neutral or bad intentions. (This is, by the way, one reason why formal organized play groups often have some significant additional rules about player and character behavior, or collapse under their own weight. I remain in awe of people able not only to run such organizations, but write for them, build them,\and create environments where clearly most participants are having fun.)

If everyone wants to play the game for mutual fun, the fact the rules are often focused on what player characters can do (rather than what is unavailable to the majority of the population because not everyone is a Caped Knight Wizard of Justice) is rarely an issue.

Some people claim such a focus on PC abilities automatically mans the player characters are somehow “chosen ones” because they have access to options common NPCs don’t. Now, sometimes that’s the case, and that’s fine. I have often run games where player characters were, explicitly, somehow gifted in ways the vast majority of the population was not. Sometimes that’s a built-in rarity explained by the game. (“Only 1 in 10,000 people can learn the Rite of Heroism… and in this rare case, all four of you have that ability despite being from a village of 700.”)

But in other cases, the PCs have no special fate or inherent superior power. They are just the people who, at the start of the game, have ended up somewhere interesting. Maybe they have options other people can’t take due to genetics, but that doesn’t make them “chosen” despite the rarity, any more than having one blue and one green eye does. Or maybe they have just had unusual circumstances since birth—a lot of people feel anyone CAN become a professional artist if they spend the time and have the drive to do so, but not everyone does.

Put another way, if you were reading a piece of fiction about an interesting time and place where 25% of children die at birth, you wouldn’t want to focus on the people who died at birth at point of view characters. There’s nothing that “protected” the other 75% of the people born, they’re just the characters who are still alive to do things, so of course the story follows them instead.

So just because a game says “A character may select ‘Ouch’ as a power, which removes 1% of a foe’s health once per day with no chance of failure” doesn’t automatically mean the world is ruled by roving gangs of 100 11-year-old commoners who all have Ouch and thus can, as a group, kill absolutely anyone they want to. It just means some people have this and, if the campaign setting, GM, or adventure doesn’t call out Ouch Battallions, chances are they don’t exist.

Now it IS useful for an RPG to give a GM and players some idea of what NPCs and common folk in the game are likely to be like. This might be as complex as the kind of distinction between PC and NPC character classes in d20 games—no player character is going to select the strictly-inferior “warrior” if “fighter” is an option, but tons of NPCs do, and at the same time some important NPCs instead tale PC classes which lets you know (generally without explicitly saying so) that those NPCs are more important to the adventure or campaign.

Or it might be much more simple and subtle, like providing lists of NPCs game rules, or even just lists of inspirational media. If an RPG tells you it takes inspiration from the X-Men comics, Gifted television show, and movies Carrier, Firestarter, and Push, and the game gives you options to take extraordinary superhuman powers, it doesn’t also have to explicitly tell you that not every person in the world has those powers. That’s clear, in the types of stories it outlines as inspiration. You can BUILD a campaign world with that paradigm if you want to, but you should already know you are system-hacking.

I love system hacks, as Really Wild West might make clear. But once you go that route, it’s unfair to expect the rules to not force you to make some decisions to make the hack logical.

No RPG can fully, accurately, and deeply represent all the factors that determine who ends up with what abilities in a realistic world setting. We can’t even do that in the real world, even if we just limit ourselves to who will be successful out of a single class of kids. We can make educated guesses, based on experience and statistics, but some kid will buck those trends.

That kid, by the way, is the one many people want as their player character.


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The Mexican Porfiriate and the Technopolitan Theme for Really Wild West (in Starfinder)

The Mexico of the Really Wild West isn’t quite the Mexico of real-world 1891, but it is grounded in the history and beliefs of the real-world Mexico of the time. This is a fantasy write-up, which focuses on simplified and gamified elements of the true historic Porfiriate and makes adjustments for purposes of making a fun game setting. The true history of the era is fascinating, and I strongly recommend anyone who finds any of this Really Wild West version interesting spend time learning about the actual events, philosophies, and individuals important to this time in Mexican history.

Porfiriate Mexico

While much of the rest of the world considered Mexico a lawless land with constantly-changing governments and corrupt officials from the War of Independence in the early 1800s through the Mexican Empire, the First Mexican Republic, the Mexican-American War, the War of Reform, the French Invasion, the Second Mexican Empire, and the early years of the restoration of the Republic, that has changed since Porfirio Díaz rose to power in 1876. While the sheer list of major events, wars, forced colonialism, and upheaval that wracked Mexico for the first three-quarters of the 1800s might suggest most of the problems in the country have roots in socio-economic causes rather than any inherent laziness or moral lack of Mexican citizens, but common opinion worldwide, all too often, blamed the latter rather than the former.

However, most people in other countries also happily state the “new Mexico” seems to have found cures for the “failings of character” they once assigned to the people of the country. While bias and bigotry against Mexicans has not ended overnight, there is increasingly a sense that the new government, and its citizens and agents, are both better equipped to deal with the rest of the world on equal terms, and to insist the world treat them with respect.

The “Porfiriate” government of Mexico is ruled by military hero Porfirio Díaz with the aid of the Científicos (“scientists”), a group of appointed technocrats who believe strongly in positivism. Put (very) simply, positivism states that knowledge gained by direct observation, interpreted by reason and logic, is the only knowledge that can be proven and conclusively trusted. Positivism was developed by French philosopher Auguste Comte, who taught several of the Científicos, and who called on a new social doctrine based on the sciences and who founded the Religion of Humanity, a secular religion designed to fill the social functions of churches without dependence on theology. It reveres humanity itself, and promotes the three pillars of altruism, order, and progress, with its own priests, liturgies, and sacraments. It has been described as “Catholicism without the Christianity.”

The Porfiriate has run Mexico since 1876, and has focused on modernization, rationality, trade, and safety. The Rurales (“Rural Guard”), a national police force that is in part a counterpoint to the Federal army, have significantly reduced banditry throughout the country, though areas furthest from major cities remain dangerous. The powerful Superior Health Council has successfully improved health conditions overall and run successful campaigns against many tropical diseases, but infant mortality remains extremely high. Financial stability has been maintained on the macroeconomic scale, and rising wages and tax revenues are well on their way to creating a national budget surplus, but food costs continue to rise faster than the lowest wages making life difficult for the urban poor.

While the Profiriate has turned Mexico into a major and respected world player in less than two decades, the new government is not without its flaws. As wealth pours into the country and does improve the lives of the average citizen, it is the most powerful and well-connected families, as well as foreign investors, who see the greatest benefit. The focus on modernization often dismisses or even outlaws traditional beliefs and rituals, both damaging some cultural identities and leaving many poorer or rural families insecure about the nature of the future. Schools demand standardized modern teaching methods which do increase overall education, but also reduce the flexibility to each things important to life in specific areas, especially far from big cities. So far Porfirio Díaz largely has the trust and support of the majority of the population, and is easily able to win public elections when they are held, but he also clearly seems willing to use his vast power to suppress dissent and political rivals in the name of maintain a vision of a modern, rational Mexico.

Further, while much of the rest of the world was driving to the brink of defeat just last year by the invasion of Martian tripods, Mexico has left relatively unscathed. Fewer tripods landed in Mexican territory than most stretches of land the same size and none in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, which include Mexico City.

Even more importantly, most Tripods in Mexico succumbed to disease within days rather than after the months required in most regions. While other nations were losing vast swathes of major cities and national infrastructure, and later rebuilding the ravaged areas, Mexican engineers were taking tripods apart and learning the secrets of heat rays, compression gears, and extraplanetary metals. The result was that Mexico’s growing industrial base and scientific academies had a huge head start revising their entire manufacturing and educational sectors to adapt to the new technology. Heater guns are more common in Mexico than anywhere else, and their Academia de Ciencias Marcianas in Mexico City creates new gizmos nearly every week.

As Mexico’s government and its people grow in power and confidence, they have also begun to extend their influence beyond their countries borders. The focus on science and rationalism in Mexico has led to significant advanced technologies being created, and experts from around the world study there to stay current on Martian studies, and Mexican experts are often invited to investigate any strange phenomenon anywhere else in the world. This exchange has rapidly caused many foreigners to see Mexicans as likely experts in any science, and they have developed a reputation for being rational, well-educated, and quick-witted. While the Mexican moves to include increasing numbers of women in every job and rank (a trend brought on by a mix of the result of focusing on rationality over traditional roles or instinctive reactions and the need for as many engineers, analysts, and scientists as possible in the rapidly growing major cities) is seen as “odd,” it is generally accepted as part of the “Mexican method” for creating a new, technological society.

The Mexican government’s Science Agents, who serve as the elite troubleshooter and law-enforcement arm of the government both within and outside of the nation’s borders, are revered and respected as among the best detectives and law-enforcers in the world. They are sometimes invited into neighboring countries to deal with particularly complex cases and, though the legality of this is questions, claim limited jurisdiction outside their national borders when an investigation’s trail takes them outside of their nation.

While all the races of the Really Wild West can be found in Mexico, the largest populations are human, lashunta, half-orc, and halfling.

Technopolitan Theme [+1 Int]
Although many Mexicans still lead primarily rural lives, the combination of a government focused on modernization and the influx of alien technology and foreign investment has lead to the rise of technology-focused societies in the major cities and universities. These are people whose entire lives revolve around science and technology, and they have come to be known as “the new citizens” or “technopolitans.” While this social movement is most common in Mexico city, any major industrialized area or large university or similar academic and advanced facility may generate some number of technopolitans. If you were raised in a region with access to modern science and technology, and have come to believe technology can be used to improve most aspects of life, this theme is for you.

The technopolitan theme is specifically designed for the Really Wild West setting hack, though it can be used with any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign.

Theme Knowledge (1st)
You can use your Physical Science skill for any Engineering or Life Science check. Additionally, Physical Science is a class skill for you. If it is a class skill from the skill you take at 1st level, you instead gain a +1 bonus to all Physical Science skill checks. In addition, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to Intelligence at character creation.

Calm Analysis (6th)
Your study of and confidence in the results of the scientific method give you additional rigor and assurance when you are able to calmly consider a question. When you take 10 or take 20 on any Int- or Wis-based skill or ability check, you gain a +2 bonus. Additionally when you take 10 on any other skill, you can gain a +1 circumstance bonus by doubling the amount of time normally required to perform the skill check.

Applied Principles (12th)
Even when you don’t know how to do something, you can often work it out by breaking it down into logic problems and analyzing each step for the basic principles that apply. You can make skill checks untrained, and if you are in circumstances that would normally allow you to take 10 with a skill, you may substitute a roll using half your total Physical Science bonus in place of any other skill check (though you may not, then, take 10).

Check Your References (18th)
You know that for nearly any question, some of the work toward an answer has already been done. Up to twice a day, you can take 10 minutes to check any information repository (from an encyclopedia to a pocket reference book to the Babbage-Bell Grid) to check assumptions, theorems, and research into questions you are considering. This allows you to regain 1 Resolve Point.

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Easterner Theme (for Really Wild West in Starfinder)

One of the classic concepts in most westerns is the character from “back east.” In the Really Wild West people who know more about culture and polite society, and by the same token less about the brutal conditions of “the west,” are also expected to be better educated overall, and have access to the most recently updated information on any topic.

The easterner theme joins rules for shotguns, mounted combat, Badlands City and its Dread Templars and citizens, Renown Equipment Rules, and a set of plot hooks and inspirational media as part of the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Easterner       +1 Cha

While you are in the Really Wild West now, you spent most of your life in a more civilized, less frontier region. That may be back on the East Coast of the United States, or it might be the urban centers of any major country, such as Mexico City or Tokyo. You enjoyed the benefits of cosmopolitan newspapers and the bonus to current event tracking that comes from living near a node of the Babbage-Bell Grid… while at the same time you have significantly less practical experience with the skills needed to survive in the rough.

Theme Knowledge (1st)

Choose an Intelligence based skill. When attempting a Profession or Culture check to recall knowledge about major figures, theorems, and advances in the field that skill represents, decrease the DC by 5. You gain a +1 bonus to checks with this skill, and it becomes a class skill for you (though if it is a class skill from the class you take at 1st level, you instead gain a total of a +2 bonus to checks with the skill). You also take a -1 penalty to all Survival checks, and if you have no ranks in Survival cannot take 10 with that skill.

In addition, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to Charisma at character creation.

Up to Date (6th)

You manage to keep your education current and maintain the advantages your lifetime with modern information sources gave your information base. You gain 3 extra skill points at 6th level. These must be spent on Int-, Wis-, or Cha-based skills. You do not add your Intelligence bonus to this collection of bonus skill points, and you cannot have more ranks in a given skill than your level.

Soul of Civility (12th)

Your civilized and refined nature is clear for all to see, and causes people who aren’t already opposed to you to take your opinion seriously. You gain a +5 bonus to Diplomacy checks to change the attitude of indifferent and friendly creatures.

Comforts of Home (18th)

Up to twice a day, when you take at least 10 minutes to enjoy one of the finer things from the culture of home (be that a fine cup of tea, a few lines from a favored book of poetry or great piece of literature, humming classical music, or whatever), you regain one expended Resolve Point.


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Dread Templar Archetype (for Really Wild West in Starfinder)

This archetype represents one of Badland City’s famed Dread Templars, supernatural law enforcers who focus on punishment and vengeance over peace and prevention. It’s specifically designed for use with the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, but could be used in any campaign using the RPG’s rules.

Dread Templar

Whether you trained at the Acadamance in Badlands City, or was granted Dread Templar powers because someone sold their soul to the Devil (possibly even you), the power of infernal law flows through you, and demands you obey its rules. You may or may not be a Badlands Citizen, depending on your background. One way or the other, you earned your tarnished silver goat’s-head badge, and everything that comes with it.

Infernal Law (Su): [2nd Level] A Dread Templar is infused with the power of hellish order, as seen through the lens of federal US law. If you are aware that a creature is with certainty an unpunished criminal, you must do your best to see the criminal is punished in accordance with US law for its crimes (regardless of whether US law has jurisdiction over the crime). If you are aware of a victim of a crime, you must do your best to gain vengeance for the victim. On any day when you become aware of an unpunished criminal or unavenged victim and don’t act to further procurement of punishment or vengeance, you lose all benefits of this archetype until the next time the moon is at its apex (“High Moon”).

If you see an act, you automatically know if that act is illegal under US federal law, and if so what the minimum and maximum sentences are for those convicted of that crime. If you carry out punishment for such an act, you know if the punishment you carried out is equivalent to such sentences (as determined by the GM). (A GM can simplify the legal code into misdemeanors, which are punished by a 10-100 credit fine or a week confined; crimes, which are punished by a 100-1,000 credit fine or up to a month confined, and felonies which are punished by confinement of a year or more or more serious loss, such as death. Money taken from fines is not considered punishment of the Dread Templar or other PCs keeps it—it must be turned over to nearby legal local authorities or the US federal government.)

You gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy checks with law officers, and a +2 bonus to Intimidate checks with criminals.

You also carry the power of hellfire within you. Whenever you make an attack, you may choose for half the damage to be infernal fire, which is an untyped form of magic damage. If the attack already deals two types of damage, replace one of them with hellfire (you decide which damage type to replace each time you use this ability).

Lesser Sentence (Su): [4th]

This alternate class feature is optional. A Dread Templar may choose not to take it, in which case they gain their class’s normal class feature for 4th level. Alternative they may choose to take it at another level archetypes can gain alternate class features, giving up the normal class feature, as long as they do not gain another archetype alternate class feature at the same level.

Whenever you make an attack that kills a creature you are aware has committed an unpunished crime, you may choose to invoke a lesser sentence. The creature (even if unconscious) has the option to choose not to die, and to instead impose upon itself an appropriate sentence for its crime, as outlined under US federal law (as adjudicated by the GM). If for some reason the creature is forced to end its sentence prior to it being completed, it dies.

Manacles (Su): [6th]

This alternate class feature is optional. A Dread Templar may choose not to take it, in which case they gain their class’s normal class feature for 6th level. Alternative they may choose to take it at another level archetypes can gain alternate class features, giving up the normal class feature, as long as they do not gain another archetype alternate class feature at the same level.

When you succeed at a melee attack against a target you are aware has committed an unpunished crime, you may also for it to make a Reflex save or have a pair of hellfire manacles bind it. On a failed save the creature gains the entangled condition. It can escape these manacles as if they were physical manacles, with the DC of any appropriate skill check being 15 + 1-1/2 your character level.


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