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Developing to Spec: Part 20c – Ride and Run

This is the third section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We are now at Ride-By Attack and Run. Ride-by Attack as written mostly isn’t needed in Starfinder (assuming you are using the creature companion rules in AA3), because when you ride a mount you gain its movement, which means Spring Attack works with your mounted speed. However, since there are companion riding rules, we can work with them to give some kind of mounted combat bonus.

This begins to push past the number of prerequisites I prefer to have on Starfiner feats given how rarer long prerequisite chains are, but since this is designed to directly work with Spring Attack, we have to list that feat and all its prerequisites.

RIDE-BY ATTACK (Combat)
You and your mount have mastered hit-and-run tactics.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, creature companion, Mobility, Spring Attack, base attack bonus +4.
Benefit: Any round you are riding your companion and make a melee attack, if your companion has only taken one action, it may additionally make a move action.

Run doesn’t do much by Starfinder standards, but we can read the Starfinder rules on running to see if we can punch it up a bit.

RUN
You are able to run quickly and under adverse conditions.
Benefit: When you run as a full action, you can move up to five times your speed in a straight line. You do not gain the flat-footed condition as a result of running, and you can run even if you must cross difficult terrain or can’t see where you’re going. You can run for a number of rounds equal to double your Constitution score.

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Developing to Spec: Part 20b – Forms of Rapid

This is the second section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We hit our first “r” feat, Rapid Reload.

Which is easy to adapt to Starfinder mechanically… but has major power power implications that may not be obvious.

Having to take an action to reload weapons is used to reign in some combat options. Automatic mode attacks, for example, are designed to not be able to be used every round because they use all your remaining ammunition. So if you could reload without taking an action, you could make automatic attacks every round.

But we can boost reload utility without going that far.

RAPID RELOAD (Combat)
You can quickly reload a while while doing other things.
Benefit: When you take an action that does not include making an attack or reloading a weapon, you may additionally reload any one weapon you could reload as a move action. Alternatively, if you take a move action to reload a weapon, you may reload one weapon for every 2 arms you have.

That brings us to Rapid Shot, which has similar issues–it’d be easy enough to allow additional ranged attacks at -2, but it would be extremely unbalancing. PF primarily scales damage output at increasing level by giving characters more and more attacks. Starfinder primarily scales damage output by giving characters more damaging attacks. That means that giving yet another attack on top of whatever else Starfinder gives a character, especially at a mere -2 to attack rolls, would boost a character’s potential damage output well out of scale with any other feat.

Nearly anything that impacts the action economy of making one or more attacks is going to be nearly impossible to balance, especially since some Starfinder official material has already given very minor boosts and we can’t predict how future minor boosts might interact with some very constrained option we create here.

But we can create something that let’s you shoot rapidly without shooting more often.

RAPID SHOT (Combat)
You can get off the first shot with surprising rapidity.
Prerequisites: Improved Initiative
Benefit: When you roll initiative, you can choose to gain a +4 bonus to your check. If you do so, your first round of combat is restricted to drawing weapons and making a single ranged attack roll.

The prerequisite is designed to restrict this feat to characters that can get the most use out of it. Since Improved Initiative gives you a +4 initiative bonus with no restrictions on your first round actions it’s clearly something you should take before getting a second +4 with drawbacks.

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Developing to Spec: Part 20a – Powerful and Precise

This is the first section of Part Twenty of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

I got back from orcaCon at about 3am, thanks to snow and ice delays and a 2-hour drive from the airport to my apartment. Since I hadn’t managed to get ahead on these, that left me writing them after I collapsed into a dreamless slumber, a black hole of unconscious from which nothing, not even snoring, could escape.

I only mention this because there really is an impact from real-world events on writing projects, especially longer ones. I’ve been doing these posts since early October–three months now, normally 4 times a week. In that time I have had to accommodate delays from illness, travel (three out-of-state trips longer than a weekend), major holidays, and more than one bout of depression so serious I needed professional help. I’ve tried writing all my posts early, writing them each morning with my coffee, even combining them all into a single post with a week’s content.

So far, it looks like a combination of doing batches early, and doing it day-of, as energy and timing dictate, is my best plan.

But these kinds of interruptions are absolutely the sorts of things that can derail a project. We are well past the halfway point for this task, and I’m doing it much more slowly than i would if I’d actually been hired to do this as freelance. But as a personal project, it’s exactly the kind of thing that can get dropped “just for a bit,” and never picked up. Sometimes, the difference between success and failure (and, separately, between being a professional and just being a hobbyist) is making sure you get all the way to the end.

So, as tempting as it was today to do something faster, easier, or smaller, i instead forced myself to tackle the next set of feats, AND writing the lengthier-than-necessary explanation of how real life interference can be the death of a project just as much as bad design.

So, let’s get to it. Power Attack.

In PF, Power Attack is the melee equivalent of Deadly Aim. Sf converted Deadly Aim, but has it apply to both melee and ranged attacks. That removes the obvious design space for the feat, and once again puts us in a position to have to create an apples-to-oranges adaptation.

However, we can likely still make this a combat feat that plays with the combat rules for a damage bonus. We just move away from penalties, and instead look at options for adjusting the action economy in a way that allows a character to spend more time on an attack to get more damage, much in the way the boost weapons special quality does.

POWER ATTACK (Combat)
You can focus all your power into a single mighty attack.
Benefit: When you take the full attack action with weapons (including a solarian’s solar manifestation, but not spells or other special abilities of any kind), you can choose to make only a single attack. If you do, that attack deals additional damage equal to half your base attack bonus (minimum 1).

Next is Precise Shot, which in PF allows you to negate a penalty when making ranged attacks into melee that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. But we can likely adjust the mechanism to do something similar.

PRECISE SHOT (Combat)
You are adept at firing ranged attacks into melee.
Benefit: Your allies do not give targets cover from your ranged attacks unless they give total cover.

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5e Campaign Settings the Easy Way (Sorcerers & Speakeasies)

As is so often the case for me, as I specifically set myself up for a massive workload (I am currently sitting at 223 different project deadlines due sometime in 2020), my muse is hammering me hard with ideas for a project that ISN’T on that list.

That, combined with the fact I’m still in Seattle having been flown out for some meetings at OrcaCon, means I am going to punt the next d20 Class Design Diary post (which has had Part 2 and Part 3 in recent weeks) by another week.

But we are going to tackle a related topic! I take a look at some campaign building/class expansion ideas to match new campaign options for 5e, based on the ideas that have been Muse-shoved into my brain recently. So, what project does my muse have me thinking about, that so far is NOT on my list of things to get to anytime soon?

Sorcerers & Speakeasies

“It’s the Raging 20s. Magic elixirs and booze are illegal. Monsters are rampant. Adventure is everywhere!”

There are lots of ways I could proceed about making a magic-and-machine-guns setting based on Prohibition era America, ranging from making a brand new RPG ruleset, to a full game system hack (such as I have been working on for Really Wild West). But its also possible to design it as just a set of bolted-on extras for an existing game system that does most of what we need. The current edition of 5e is flexible and open-ended enough that it could cover a lot of what a Sorcerers & Speakeasies game would need. Some worldbuilding would be necessary of course, and 1920s equipment would have to be designed and added, but that’s easy compared to reskinning a whole game or creating one from scratch.

Since the main way players interact with a game world is through character classes, that’s a great place to start when looking at creating a campaign setting for a new ruleset. When discussing using 5e classes in a Paladins-And-Prohibition game, there are two routes we could take. We could create new 5e classes whole cloth to fill all the roles we need, or we could just add new specializations to each class to give them a 1920s moonshiners and monsters feel. That’s a good deal less work, and in some ways more flexible since it means any other material designed for those classes can be easily added to our Sorcerers & Speakeasies (S&S) game.

Of course some people might not consider all the 5e classes to be good matches for a 1920s-era setting, even one that adds dwarves, gnomes, and spellcasting. For example, players with visions of barbarians exclusively as nordic vikings, Conan-like Hyperboreans, and savage jungle princesses may have trouble seeing how the class works in a game that runs from Uptown Citadels and Theater Street all the way down to the Undertown and Gearling Park.

But that’s why our new specializations need to be flavorful and thematically appropriate both to the core of the class, and to some 1920s hero/villain trope. For example, if I was going to do S&S as a simple 5e bolt-on, I’d start with something like this.

Barbarian: Three new Primal Paths
Boondock – You grew up in a remote rural location, commonly mountain country or midwestern farmland, in an area with extensive and extreme poverty. You may have learned to survive just on woodcraft and farming, or you might have gotten a hard manual labor job such as miner, oil field worker, or logger. You might fit the stereotype of being an uneducated overall-wearing moonshiner and pistol-popper… or you might have depths city-slickers neither expect nor appreciate. You may or may not not be quick to anger, but your hillfolk roots give you access to a pool of simple, potent wrath you can tap when you have had enough.
Grinder – When there is dirty, hard, unpleasant work to be done, people look at you. Your best prospects are often acting as a second-tier knee-breaker, not trusted to plan anything complicated but an expert at mayhem when the the plan falls part. Some grinders make an honest living, as boxers, wrestlers, pig-chuckers, or circus strongmen, but your strength and durability often draw the attention of people who think they have more violent uses for your talents.
Jitney – People are shocked at how big you are, and how much hardship you can shrug off. They may call you “built like a cement truck,” a “brickhouse,” or a “palooka,” but the sentiment is the same regardless of the term — you are made of shoeleather and axehandles, and your durability seems unearthly. It’s fairly common for those who don’t know you to assume your mass and density mean you are dim-witted as well, though being underestimated in that way can play in your favor.

Yes, I’d need game mechanics to make those paths complete, but my starting point for adding specialties to 5e to give a 1920s magic adventure feel is very much conceptual. Taking this exploration of ideas a bit further, here are some other potential directions to take 5e classes that might otherwise feel very disconnected from the modern world of a 1920s campaign. These are just sketches of ideas, starting points I’d build out from if I was spending more time on this.

OwenPulpFantasy-ElfSinger-01

Bard: Three Circuits
There’s a good chance your S&S bard has a bit more experience singing for his dinner, and a little less formal training, than a bard with a “college.” In place of colleges, an S&S bard can select a Circuit, reflecting the types of places where they are most likely to have gotten paying gigs.
Busker’s Circuit – You might not still mostly be performing on the streets hoping for spare change to make a living, but you’ve done it enough to know the ins and outs, and how life on the street works.
Club Circuit – There are a lot of houses of entertainment these days, and you’ve learned to get booked, make a living on the gigs, and work contacts bot for your career, and to arrange for anything else you might need.
Vaudeville Circuit – You’ve done a little of a lot of different things to fit in to the vaudevillian life, and may be able to sing a bit, dance a bit, do a few card tricks, throw your voice, tell some jokes, throw your voice, or a dozen other little performances.

Druid: Three Habitats
There isn’t any one universal druid circle in the 1920s. There are numerous groups and religions that work with or include druids along with many other characters, but what most distinguishes one druid from another in Sorcery & Speakeasies is the habitat of creatures they focus on and feel a connection with.
Alley Habitat – You are closely connected to the creatures that share urban living spaces, from pigeons and rats, to feral cats and dogs, and sometimes even roaches.
Domestic Habitat – Civilization has been working with animals, as guards, allies, mounts, producers, and just food, for thousands of years. You are most strongly connected to animals that share citizens lives, be those cattle, horses, guard dogs, housecats, hunting birds, or circus elephants.
Wilds Habitat – There’s still a lot of wilderness out there, from back roads to mountain hollows and unspoiled woodlands. You prefer to connect with the creatures of these

Step 0 – A Feel for the World

This project didn’t begin as a thought experiment into how to adapt 5e classes. It began with a wild notion for what kind of slang might exist in a Fantasy Roaring 20s campaign, and how such slang might help define a world and inspire adventures within it. I’ve posted all this to my Facebook page at random times over the past couple of months, but it seems worthwhile to offer it all in one compiled for here.

Sorcerers & Speakeasies Slang

Adventure, Inc.: Adventure, Inc. is a semi-formal network of taxi drivers, trash collectors, diners, phone operators, street workers, milkmen, bus drivers, mechanics ,and similar folk who work to get information about “grendles” to people who might do something about them.
Babylon Phonebook: Spellbook, especially one focusing on summoning things.
Button Troll: Any monster paid to act as a guard, thug, or legbreaker, normally by organized crime figures.
Calico: A woman who has rural hedge-wizard, witchcraft or shamanistic powers, but also acts as an urban employee, guide, or even boss.
Cement Cloak: A magic item designed to get the user killed. Sometimes used to refer to any method of assassination.
Cleaver Squad: Group willing and able to engage in violence using primarily melee weapons, especially those adapted from tools. “The merchants of Unstreet, from the Gutters to Old Fane, can call up a pretty big Cleaver Squad.”
Copper Shield: A system protecting police and other government enforcers *and* their agents and informers from the consequences of their own actions as long as they remain useful to the government higher-ups. “He’s crooked, but he’s behind the copper shield.”
Corpse Doctor: A necromancer. Or necrothurge. Or flesh automaton maker. Basically anyone who mucks with bodies for mystic purposes.
Dama: A woman with the skills and confidence of a knight. May be literal for a warrior-woman, or may be a term of respect for the woman’s expertise and dominance within her field, be that accounting, politics, or just being family matriarch.
Drowned Man: Functioning drunk. Often barely-functioning, like a disgraced doctor who now works out of a back ally, or a corrupt police detective who does private investigations now.
Eveic: The secret language of Eve, used in the Garden of Eden, which neither Adam nor God understood. Therefor, any secret known and used by a group of women.
Hexer: Anyone with magic that is of an evil source, or they use to specifically evil ends.
Hexhunter: An expert at tracking down, understanding, and undoing the evil caused by hexers.
Glint: Someone who has one, and likely only one, truly noteworthy magic item (often a weapon or one-use spell-tosser).
Go Dwarven: Get simple, heavy, primitive, and generally violent. “If you don’t pay your loan back, we’ll have to go dwarven on you.” But also a mechanical philosophy. “The radiator doesn’t work unless you go a bit dwarven on the pipes.”
Grendle: Any monstrous or supernatural problem that, for whatever reason, the local authorities won’t do anything about.
Guillotine Cure: Fixing social problems by getting rid of politicians in charge. Not always by killing them, but that’s often the implication.
GumSword: A hired monster-killer or adventurer. Often a low-rent one, who can’t afford high-end steel weapons, but may depend on a baseball bat or crowbar.
Lotus Fiend: Drug addict, especially addicted to drugs that grant magic visions and maybe real eldritch powers, at least briefly.
LuckLubber: Someone who is cursed, or has such bad luck they seem to be cursed.
Medusa: A woman who is believed to have power, generally magical or political, and the will to use it.
Morlock: Any intelligence, roughly humanoid thing that most lives below ground and doesn’t abide by the rules of civilization and society, not even Undertown society. May include trogs, derro, mongrelmen, skulks, tommyknockers, and, you know, morlocks.
Noirmancer: A secret spellcaster, who only does their wok in the dark or at night, or in the metaphysical shadows.
Paper Troll: Someone who talks big and makes trouble, but only in newspaper editorials or letters to the paper, or in town meetings and such.
Pargeter: An artificer skilled in the creation of automatons and homonculi.
Parthian: An enchanted firearm. “No one wants to cross Gurhtu One-Tusk. His violin case supposedly is where he carries a Parthian.”
Precious: Any important item, often referred to by the obsessive owner; such as “Jimmy the Glint’s ‘Precious’.”
Psara Cat: An unusually large, fluffy, calm breed of feline who supposedly pick people to adopt and turn into spellcasters. Also, anyone who appears to be the power behind the scenes. “Little Ezri may just look like the bartender, but he’s the real Psara Cat south of 114th street.”
Raven: An informer who knows things about the world of magic and monsters. Sometimes, may be an actual corvid.
Spelleasy: A neighborhood bar when you drink coffee or tea and discuss magic. You might discuss elixirs, but don’t actually make them. Like alcohol elixirs are, after all, illegal now.
Spider-Friendly: Willing to deal with creatures from the Undertown, like drow and driders and ropers. “The ground floor of the Drake Drink Club is upscale, but the basement levels are spider-friendly.” Also a suggestion of a person who might be sexually attracted to subterranean races.
Stormer: A powerful, primal spellcaster. often one who has to be angry to create magic effects, or who creates uncontrolled magi effects when angry.
Talk to a Mirror: Any form of divination. “Okay, I’m stumped on this case. but I know a guy who’ll talk to a mirror for us.”
Taxi Hero: An adventurer who deals with things on a case-by-case, for-pay basis. “They may not deal with the whole cult, but the neighborhood gathered some money to hire a taxi hero to clear out that Set temple on in the abandoned Monarch Hotel.” Taxi heroes often literally work for a local branch of the Delver’s Union, which sells tickets to people they can give a Taxi Hero to deal with a problem. An “A Ticket” is a minor nuisance, such a a giant rat in your basement, or soot-sprites. The letter-codes go all the way up to the E Ticket, which is your trolls under an overpass, chimera nest in the church’s bell tower, hauntings, and so on.
The Taxi Hero takes the ticket back to the local Delver’s Union, and gets paid for the work. Of course, it seems like the A and B tickets pay out less and less every season…
“Three C’s”: Chokers, Cloakers, and Crypt Things — stand in for anything you may run into in an urban alley or sewer that’s common enough to recognize and know how to deal with, but dangerous enough to kill in an unheroic manner you anyway. “Lots of people gone missing in the Battery recently. Probably just the Three C’s.”
Threadman: An undead created intentionally as a servant. Comes from the fact they often have lips, eyes, or both sewn shut.
Wand Wiggler: A spellcaster-for hire, often a pretty weak one.
WarWolf (or Loup de Guerre): A civilian vehicle converted for paramilitary or military purposes. “The Starshiners have an old WarWolf they use to make deliveries.”

Step 0+1: Microfiction

Even after I saw how easily gamified the concepts for Sorcerers & Speakeasies could be, I didn’t leap to game rules. Instead, I began wondering if there was a way to present a setting that had magic melee weapons and firearms both be fairly common, but magic firearms be rare. I especially liked the idea of enchanted clubs and sling rocks being even more common than enchanted swords.

That lead to this super-short story.

Runes and Remmingtons
“Sarge, why do the Torchers carry breakbats?”

“Are you asking, cadet, why an officer in the Undertown street patrol might be equipped by the city with an Type IV Enruned Peacekeeping Cudgel?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Because cadet–Macklin, is it?–there are things in Undertown that need kinetic encouragement to be good citizens.”

“Well sure, Sarge. We all get that. But why not use a .38?”

“While our Police Standard Issue is a fine choice for many duties, son, there are things in Undertown that don’t pay attention until you tap their should with something that has runes on it.”

“Okay, Sarge, but why not just put runes on a .38? I mean I’ve seen an Ogre Squad carrying more boarspears than shotguns! Shouldn’t we just put some runes on modern weapons?”

“First, Cadet Macklin, a shotgun lacks the lugs needed to keep a wounded globster from crawling up onto and over you while you and your squad hit it with the wrath of Good St. Alaina the dozen or more times it takes to bring it down.
“Second, runecasters have been putting the roxie on pigstickers and crossbows for centuries. They’ve gotten right good at it. But a nice Remmie pump 17? Been out less time than you’ve been alive. Turns out, until the Longbeards and Calicos in armaments have been perfecting the runes for a kind of weapon for a good dozen decades, the cost of enruing one is… prohibitive.”

“But Captain Auburn has that cherry Springfield with a bunch of runes on it!”

“She does indeed. Brought it back from the war. And she earned it. Got that for killing a dragon, Macklin.”

“A draaaagon, Sarge? Really?”

“Feel free to ask her your own self, cadet. If you want to lose your eyebrows for insolence. But until then, let’s train with the Peacekeeping Cudgels, shall we?”

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Homebrew Relic: The Eye of Chanokh

I ran into this note recently from 2013. It’s a relic I wrote for a Pathfinder First Edition game (using the Relics of the Godlings rules), for my wife’s “Daybreak” campaign.

I thought people might enjoy seeing stuff my friends and I homebrewed with.

Eye of Chanokh – The Sixth Lock

The Eye of Chanokh is a gleaming ring of layered gold wire that is bent and twisted into sigils of summoning and control, forming an almost lacelike pattern. Set in the wire is a bright emerald which shines with an internal light each time the wearer casts a conjuration (summoning) spell.

Legend claims that the gem is truly a fraction of a star that forms part of the 8-star elven constellation of Chanokh the Warcalled, a mote of the star forged into the form of an arcane gem when this relic was created. Elvish myth presents Chanokh as a warrior-wizard who summoned arcane armies he commanded as their general, and who eventually learned to summon creatures from the stars themselves. He was a great defender of elven lands, and a proponent of the effectiveness of knowledge and cunning over brute strength. When he died, the star-warriors he had called took him with them into the night sky, creating the constellation that bears his name.

Supposedly the Eye of Chanokh is one of eight great rings of conjuration, which were created to lock away a vast and evil summoning gate (which was created by demons to allow them to invade the world of men). Each of the eight rings is a lock that drains power from this evil gate, allowing the wearers of the rings to augment their conjuration spells with the leached power. As long as the rings are used, the gate is constantly weakened and can never become a threat.

Abilities By Character Level

Level 1: Once per day when you conjure creatures with a summoning spell, they gain a +1 enhancement bonus to their existing natural armor bonus to AC.

Level 2: Each creature you conjure with summoning spells gains a +1 enhancement bonus to its existing natural armor bonus to AC.

Level 3: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains +1 resistance bonus to saving throws.

Level 4: Once per day you may cast a conjuration (summoning) spell with a casting time of 1 round as a standard action. The summoned creature arrives immediately, and may take an action immediately.

Level 5: Once per day when you cast a conjuration (summoning) spell that summons a random number of creatures, you may roll twice to see how many creatures are summoned and take the better of the two results.
Additionally, you are able to speak to and understand all the creatures you summon with conjuration (summoning) spells.

Level 6: Each creature you conjure with any summoning spells gains a +2 enhancement bonus to its existing natural armor bonus to AC.

Level 7: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains +2 resistance bonus to saving throws.

Level 8: You may now cast a conjuration (summoning) spell with a casting time of 1 round as a standard action twice per day.

Level 9: You may now roll twice to see how many creatures are summoned by a conjuration (summoning) spell twice per day.

Level 10: When you conjure creatures with a summoning spell, they gain elemental resistance 10 for one element of your choice.

Level 11: Each creature you conjure with summoning spells gains a +3 enhancement bonus to its existing natural armor bonus to AC.

Level 12: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains +3 resistance bonus to saving throws.

Level 13: You may now cast a conjuration (summoning) spell with a casting time of 1 round as a standard action an unlimited number of times per day.

Level 14: The elemental resistance against an element of your choice gained by creatures you summon with a conjuration spell increases to 20.

Level 15: You may now roll twice to see how many creatures are summoned by a conjuration (summoning) spell three times per day.

Level 16: Each creature you conjure with summoning spells gains a +3 enhancement bonus to its existing natural armor bonus to AC.

Level 17: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains +3 resistance bonus to saving throws.

Level 18: The elemental resistance against an element of your choice gained by creatures you summon with a conjuration spell increases to 30.

Level 19: Three times per day you may cast a conjuration (summoning) spell of 1st-3rd level as a swift action.

Level 20: Three times per day when you cast a conjuration (summoning) spell that summons a random number of creatures, you may choose to receive the maximum number. You may make this decision after seeing how many creature the spell would have randomly produced.

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Developing to Spec: Part 19–Martial Weapons to Pinpoint Targeting

This is the all of Part Nineteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

I have a lot going on this week (I hop on a plane at 6am Thursday to fly to OrcaCon… and the airport is 2 hours away, so I’m getting up at 3am or so…), so rather than do two feats a day for four days, I just did eight feats all today! Same content for the week, you just don’t have to wait for it.

We start with maetial Weapon Proficiency, and… dang it, Starfinder doesn’t HAVE “martial weapons” to be proficient in! So we just need to find something warlike a character might like to be better at, without exceeding the highest possible bonus *some* character could have. We don’t want someone investing in this unless it’s going to be an important part of the game they play in, so let’s delay access until they’ve played through the lower levels.

MARTIAL WEAPON PROFICIENCY (Combat)
You have learned to master the most martial of weapons–starship weapons.
Prerequisites: Character level 6+.
Benefit: You have special training not only in how starship weapons work, but how to use your class experience to attack with them more accurately. When you fire a starship weapon, you attack bonus is equal to your level +your key ability score modifier. You are also considered proficient with any vehicular-mounted weapon, and gain Weapon Specialization with it if appropriate.

All of Starfinder’s crafting rules fit in one column in the core rulebook. reading through them, we can find some ways we can let someone spending a feat on it be a little better.

MASTER CRAFTSMAN
Your crafting expertise exceeds mere training.
Benefit: You can craft items with an item level equal to your ranks in the appropriate skill +1. You craft items in half the time it would normally take you. When determining the hardness, Hit Points, and saves of an item you have crafted, you treat its item level as 5 higher than its true level.

Rather than find some weird other combat benefit, Medusa’s Wrath is a place we can just limit the circumstances where you can use the feat, and just hand out an actual numeric bonus.

MEDUSA’S WRATH (Combat)
Those who are unable to react in combat are vulnerable to your fists.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike, base attack bonus +11
Benefit: If you take a full attack action against a foe that is dazed, helpless, staggered, or stunned, and all your attacks are melee attacks, you get a +1 bonus to the attack roll of any unarmed attacks you make against that target.

Mounted archery is SUPER-specific as a science-fantasy concept, but that makes it pretty easy to find extra options we can give a character that would want this feat, without them being unbalancingly powerful.

MOUNTED ARCHERY (Combat)
You have trained in the ancient art of mounted bow use.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with a weapon that uses arrows as ammunition.
Benefit: When you are riding a mount, making ranged attacks with a weapon that fires arrows does not provoke attacks of opportunity. If using the creature companion rules, any round you are riding your companion and make a ranged attack with a weapon that fires arrows, if your companion has only taken one action, it may additionally make a move action.

Natural Spell is another case where the rules in question from PF just don’t apply to Starfinder (which doesn’t require verbal or somatic components anyway). So, time for another apples-to-oranges conversion that just tries to make an interesting option that would appeal to a player who likes the sound of a “Natural Spell” feat.

NATURAL SPELL
You have received xenowarden-like training in using magic to deal with
Benefit: Any spell you cast that could affect a humanoid, can also affect a creature of the animal, plant, or vermin type.

Starfinder DOES have a “Nimble Moves,” but not a “Nimble Steps,” so we need to adapt a feat that’s already been adapted (just renamed in the process). But the difference in the names gives us a potential direction, as well. We can make the prerequisites less strenuous, limit the benefit to just land speed, and even create a synergy

NIMBLE STEPS
Benefit: When using your land speed, you can move through up to 30 feet of difficult terrain each round as if it were normal terrain. This feat allows you to take a guarded step into difficult terrain.
Special: If you have this and Nimble Moves, you ignore difficult terrain when using your land speed.

Persuasive is just like all our other +2-to-2-skills feats, we need to find some other benefit since we can’t use just bonuses.

PERSUASIVE
Somehow, you can convince others that your actions aren’t as threatening as they seem.
Benefit: The first time you attack a helpful, friendly, or indifferent creature, it’s attitude does not automatically worsen by one step. The first time you use Intimidate to bully a creature, its attitude does not automatically worsen when the bully ends. These abilities doesn’t reset with a given creature until you gain a new level.

Pinpoint Targeting is, by Starfinder standards, broken at any level. So, we need a different benefit… and we had a similar problem with Penetrating Strike. maybe a similar solution will work?

PINPOINT TARGETING (Combat)
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +6, Weapon Focus (any ranged weapon).
Benefit: As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point remaining, when you make a single ranged attack as a standard action (with an attack to which you can apply Weapon Focus, and targets only a single creature) against a target in your first range increment, your target does not gain any AC bonus from cover (including shields) against that attack, and it ignores any HP and other effects from force fields and energy shields, and any other defensive effect of a shield.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

Design Diary: Creating d20 Classes (Part 3)

Last month we began a line of Design Diary entries discussing how to create a character class from scratch for a d20 class/level based game. We’ve gone over concept, and discussed the class progression tools various games give you to fill out the mechanical roles your class might fill. Now, it’s time to begin discussing the heart of what makes a class fun and unique–special abilities.

Of course there are lots of elements to good special abilities. Balanced numerical considerations. Well-worded rules. But also, matching (or intentionally breaking from) the game system’s class organization etiquette.

Yep. Etiquette.

Each d20-based game system has an etiquette on how classes are presented, which you need to understand on order to build a set of class features players will find satisfying and relatable. Yes, you can challenge it, but you need to know why it’s there and understand how GMs and players may react to a class that doesn’t follow the system’s rules of class presentation etiquette.

Since we haven’t talked much about special abilities yet, let me use a progression bonus example to explain what i mean/

If you were making a Chaos Adept class for Starfinder, you could perfectly well decide it has a +2 base Will bonus at 1st level, +0 at 2nd level, +3 at 3rd and 4th, +1 at 5th, and +4 at 6th. Done properly, that can be balanced, and match the class’s theme. None of those numbers are out of whack for balance purposes at the levels they are presented, so the class is not in that regard unbalanced.

But it breaks etiquette in a big way. A lot of GMs will flip out. It LOOKS wrong, since every other class in Starfinder uses one of just two progressions, which all march slowly upward at a regular pace. It also makes it really hard to a player to know if the class is one that in general is “good” at Will saves. If they want to be more mentally resilient than ususal should they invest in Iron Will or similar save-boosting options? Most players won;t have a clue.

Further, the class if going to give different end result feels at different levels. Sometimes it’ll feel very mentally resilient, while on other occasions it will seem weak for entire levels of gameplay at a time. That can be chaotic, of course, but it puts a lot of mystery into how the class is going to act, forcing the player to guess or do a fair amount of analysis before discovering what to expect from the class.

Is that worth the chaos-themed-feel? You can’t answer that questions until and unless you understand why the etiquette existed to begin with.

Different games handle how the class gains bonuses to basic tasks and game functions differently. Proficiency values are fixed in 5e, it’s what you apply them to that varies. Proficiency tiers are given as specific levels in PF2 and have set values. No one ever gets a d11 hit die in any of these games, even though d11s are easily available.

Using a specific set of tools and presentation makes it much clearer to players and GMs what a class is good at and should be able to do. Breaking those norms has consequences, and you need to grasp what those are before you can decide if your off-the-wall design is worth it.

There’s also some Picasso at work here.

If your choices appear entirely random and disconnected from how the game you are designing for builds a class, players and GMs have little reason to trust you know what you are doing as a designer. Suspicion and confusion can very quickly lead to gamers spending more time picking about the game design than playing the game, and that is unlikely to lead them to feel they got good value out of what your spend so much time and hard work creating.

On the other hand, if your class design is familiar in how most of it is presented, the places you do deviate from the norm are more likely to be accepted as mindful, intentional efforts to make something new and innovative. Like a work of Picasso, at least some people are going to evaluate something that breaks the normal conventions in the context of knowing the creator has proven to have mastered the normal rules of that art form first. Picasso mastered the conventional styles of art in his field, and was then able to change the rules from a place of understanding what they were and how to use them.

So, analyze how the existing classes in the game present everything from bonuses to proficiencies to class features. In Starfinder, every class has beginning armor and weapon proficiencies, class skilsl and skill points/level (and in general twice as many class skills as the number of skill points it gets per level), Weapon Specialization at exactly third level, and most have a few set core abilities every few levels and one or two different sets of tiered ability choices with level prerequisites.

By contract, 5e classes all have a proficiency bonus that increases by level (at exactly the same rate for every class), fixed abilities at most levels (generally with one kind of choice at 1st or 2nd), and one or two points where the player picks a specialization. Classes don’t have special class abilities that are picked every few levels in 5e, though things like feats and spell selection still have an element of that.

So if you want to introduce a whole new mechanic of player (say, a system of runes that don’t work like any existing class feature as I have in the runecaster class now available through the 52-in-52 program), you want for everything else in the class presentation to follow the normal class etiquette. Not only does that show you knew what you were doing, it lets gamers who look at your design focus on learning the new rules you are presenting, without having to also grasp a totally different presentation of information.

You CAN change anything you want as a designer. Just make sure you only do so when the result is worth the cognitive load on your customers.

Next week, for sure, we’ll talk about fixed abilities versus customizable abilities. 🙂

PATREON

These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. If you want to keep seeing them, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.

Developing to Spec: Part 18d — Magic and Automatic Mode

This is the fourth section of Part Eighteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We now come to Magical Aptitude and Manyshot. Neither is going to work for Starfinder, as they work with mathematical assumptions about how skill bonuses work and the value of multiple attacks that are very different in PF. So, again, we need to do what one reader has referred to as an apples-to-oranges conversion. The end result won’t be the same as the PF versions, but as long as they are interesting and useful options, that’s fine. (Better, in fact, than doing a conversion that works the same way as the original if doing so would create boring, unhelpful, or overpowered options).

MAGICAL APTITUDE
You’ve learned how to apply your nonmagical experiences to increase the effectiveness of your magical abilities.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell.
Benefit: Your caster level is equal to your character level, rather than the combination of just your spellcasting classes. This does not impact your spells known or spells per day, just calculations that directly involve your caster level.

MANYSHOT (Combat)
You are expert at maximizing the effect of having ranged attacks fly in high numbers.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with heavy weapons.
Benefit: When you make an attack in fully automatic mode (using the automatic weapons special property), you can choose what order to attack targets (rather than attacking closest foes first). Additionally, your attacks in fully automatic mode, your attacks can score critical hits as normal.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 18c — Fight like Wind and Lighting

This is the third section of Part Eighteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We’ve come to Lightning Stance, which has Wind Stance as a prerequisite. In Pf, Wind Stance rewards you for staying mobile and not taking full-attack actions (which is why they don’t kick in until you have a +6 BAB, so you have a full attack you *could* be making). Not as it happens full attacks in Starfinder are available earlier, and still have a strong upward push on the amount of damage you can do in a round, so that’s a fair tradeoff. On the other hand, a number of things are already playing with that tradeoff in Starfinder so we likely don’t want to give as big a boost as a 20% miss chance (especially since ranged attacks are more common in Starfinder). OTOH, a way for melee-focused Starfinder characters to get in and out of the fight without getting plastered because they left cover would be nice.

The Character Operations Manual had similar ideas when it introduced new rules for shields, which are basically mobile bits of cover. So…

LIGHTNING STANCE (Combat)
The speed at which you move makes it nearly impossible for opponents to strike you.
Prerequisites: Dex 17, Wind Stance, base attack bonus +11.
Benefit: If you take two Move Your Speed actions in a turn, and take no other actions of any kind, you gain a +4 shield bonus to AC until the beginning of your next turn.

WIND STANCE (Combat)
Your erratic movements make it difficult for enemies to pinpoint your location.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: If you move more than 5 feet this turn, you gain a +2 shield bonus to AC against ranged attacks until the beginning of your next turn.

While these feats have Dodge in the PF versions, it really has a different utility the way we’ve adapted it, and Starfinder tends to have fewer and shorter prerequisite chains, so we omitted it.

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Developing to Spec: Part 18b –Followers and Leadership

This is the second section of Part Eighteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

And we’ve reached Leadership.

Leadership has always been a contentious feat. It brings with it some unanswered questions, such as whether the GM or player writers the cohort gained by taking it. There’s no question it is among the most powerful feats, based on action economy alone–even if your cohort is a few levels below you, having another character that can take a full set of actions every round is a huge boost to the effectiveness of a whole group. The feat has never been allowed in any official organized play program, and it’s easy to see why Starfinder’s designers chose not to include it. But now, we have to.

Of, at least, we have to create a feat called “Leadership.” No one said it had to include things like followers and cohorts. On the other hand, even if we decide cohorts are out of the picture (the Alien Archive 3 companion rules *could* be adapted if a group wanted to do so), there are going to be players who want followers, conceptually, even if we go a different route with the Leadership feat.

So, if a feat is too powerful and too flexible, maybe we need more than one feat to emulate it in a new game system.

FOLLOWERS
You’ve got a lot of fans out there.
Prerequisites: Cha 15, Cha as key ability score, or a theme that grants +1 Cha.
Benefit: You have allies, fans, supporters, and boosters all over the galaxy. Each day you can call upon those supporters to assist you in one of the following minor ways.
Friendly Face. In any settlement, with 1d4 hours of inquiries, you can find a typical local who is one step friendlier toward you than the typical population. You can make Diplomacy checks to try to improve this attitude normally.
Reconnoiter. You can ask your supporters to gather information for you, anywhere you can communicate with them. This takes 1d4 hours, and the bonus used for the skill check is equal to your level + your Charisma modifier.

LEADERSHIP
You have a knack for keeping a group together and on-task.
Prerequisites: Cha 15, Cha as key ability score, or a theme that grants +1 Cha.
Benefit: When ally determines if they are within range to affect a friendly target with beneficial abilities, you are within the range of the ally’s ability, and the friendly target is within that range to you, the ally can affect the friendly target. You can also act as a middleman for line of sight and sense-dependent abilities (as long as both ally and friendly target are within line of sight of you, the ally can affect the target even if they are not in line of sight of one another), and language-dependent abilities (as long as you are able and willing to communicate with ally and target the ability works,m even if te ally can’t communicate directly with the target).

Additionally in starship combat, you can take the role of Captain, even if the ship already has a captain. You take your action directly after the other captain, and cannot take the same action the other captain does in the same turn.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!