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The AssassiNations

The AssassiNations is a conceptual paradigm, a rough description of  a secret world and their rules and rulers, designed for use in TTRPG campaigns where something a step more involved than just secret societies is desired.

AssassiNations

The AssassiNations are non-territorial governments that rule over populations of secret societies and superhuman clans, ruled with an iron fist by the Erebocracy and it’s regimented laws known as the Canon. They are also one of the least closely-guarded secrets in the world.

Nearly all classic world powers are aware of them. In most service industries between 10-15% of the members know enough to avoid violating the Canon, but that goes up for many fields such as train and bus employees, hotel concierges, sex workers, smugglers, and mercenaries. More than 3/4 of the cabbies in New York City are formally Read In, even if they are mostly nonpartisans.

Despite nearly 10% of the world’s population having some level of familiarity with the AssassiNations, that knowledge does not spread. No one who does not need to know is told, and this rule is very rarely broken. In part, this is because the Erebocracy forbids such revelations, and rules over the greatest sects of secret killers, spies, and double agents the world has ever known. And partly, it is because it’s better for everyone that way.

The AssassiNations are a solution to the problem of there being more than one clade of person in the world. While the classic governments of the world are sufficient for most people, there is a second kith of people with extraordinary abilities. They have been called many things over the eons–Argonauts, fey, djinn, even demigods. The next step in human evolution. Aliens. What is important is that the Shadowbreed exist, and are capable of acts of reasoning, endurance, resilience, accuracy, and strength literally impossible for typical humans.

The Shadowbreed vary between 2-15% of the human population, and are found in every nation, every ethnicity, every culture. If they are a different species, they are as broad and varied as humanity itself. If they are a mutation, they are one that does not seem to be spreading. If they are sidhe, they lack the vulnerabilities legend suggests they should possess.

The AssassiNations themselves are often strongly tied to their native cultures, though they evolve and adapt and adopt as any culture does. Whenever a territorial government or group explored, conquered, committed genocide, there were Shadowbreed AssassiNations present on both sides. Once, they warred in near-open conflicts, many of which are the source of ancient mythology. But with the rise of the Erebocracy and it’s Canon, their conflicts are much more regimented. Choreographed. Secret. Quiet.

Canon dictates no single conflict may include more than a dozen Shadowbreed without Ereborcracy sanction. Sanctions are generally in the form of contract hits, laying a price on the slaying of a rogue Shadowbreed that any member of an AssassiNation can claim. No one who is not Read In is ever to be involved in any AssassiNation business or conflict, and only regional Triararchs and their sworn Liturgies can read anyone in. Anyone not a formal member of an AssassiNation is nonpartisan, not to engage in violence against Shadowbreed, or be a target of it.

All AssasssiNation services, known as Custom, as available only to those in good standing with the Ereborcracy. Custom is paid for only in Blood Gold, red coins only the AssasiNations mint or use, and any single Custom has a cost of a single Blood Coin.

Specific locations are declared Moresnet — neutral zones where violence of any kind is forbidden. These include the headquarters of every AssasiNation, most churches and temples, and a significant number of hotels, pawn shops, bus stops, ships, and cemeteries. Most Moresnet are overseen by a Castellan, who within that single space is equal in rank to a Triararch, and is considered the match for a Liturgy even outside their domain. The Ereborcracy anoints Castellans, but cannot remove their title. It can, however, suspend the sanctions of anyone violating the neutrality of their Moresnet, and even place a price on their head. But only for 72 hours — if a Castellan has no been killed or capitulated within that time, their authority and sanctuary within their Domain is maintained for a year and a day.

No action by a Shadowbreed may ever expose the Ereborcracy, the AssassiNations, the Canon, or any element of the careful balance of this shadow world. As needed Triararchs can Read In non-Shadowbreed for the purpose of maintaining the ability of the AssasssiNations to function and fight among themselves, but any that abused this power will be sanctioned.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? Join my Patreon and let me know what you want to see!

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Developing to Spec: Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats (Part 2)

This is Part Two of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can find Part One here, or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

So yesterday in Part One we discussed what to do if you have a developer/writer job to take on you don’t think is a great idea, and how to work to make it a great idea.

To serve as our example, we’re creating the “Missing” legacy feats for Starfinder, taking every PF core rulebook feat that doesn’t have a feat by the same name in SF, and writing a new version.

So far, we’ve done Acrobatic and Acrobatic Steps (see part One for a detailed discussion of that).

And now, we have to tackle Agile Maneuvers.

In PF, this feat allows you to use your Dexterity when calculating your CMB (combat maneuver bonus). Our problem? In Starfinder, we don’t USE CMB, and we don’t want to give bonuses to combat maneuvers based on Dexterity, because there are already ways for a character to do that.

So, again, we need a different benefit with the same name and a similar niche. So, we need to read the rules again.

Going over combat maneuvers in Starfinder, we see they are a standard action. That’s it, no way to make multiple combat maneuvers as part of a full attack. Well, okay then! Let’s run with that as a place to make our new feat. (This kind of “place where the rules leave room to do multiple different kinds of things that are balanced and interesting” is sometimes referred to by game professionals as a game’s or concept’s “design space.”)

So let’s see what that might look like.

AGILE MANEUVERS
You’ve learned to leverage your quickness when attempting complex maneuvers in combat.
Benefit: When you take a full attack action, you can make a melee combat maneuver in place of one or more of your attacks. The combat maneuver takes the same penalties to its attack roll from being part of a full attack as the attack it replaces would, as well as any normal bonuses or penalties related to being a combat maneuver.

So, this is designed to only work in melee (on purpose–ranged combat maneuvers are rare but already a big advantage over melee combat maneuvers, and giving characters who focus on melee in Starfinder new options generally has less impact on the play space, and encourages creative and mobile tactics). It also works with abilities that improve your accuracy when making multiple attacks in a round (which is good–combat maneuvers are hard enough unless you’re a specialized taclash-wielding skittermander), but doesn’t break any of the game’s underlying combat math.

That brings us to Alertness as a feat… which has the same problems as Acrobatics as an unneeded feat in Starfinder. So, again, we need to read the relevant section of the Starfinder rules to look for a new design space, and that runs us right into the states of awareness. Which seems ripe with design space, but…

Here’s one of the places where being aware of the issues found in a game as it is played is important. The states of awareness already confuse, confound, and annoy a lot of GMs and players. We CAN build on it if we need to — it’s a functional and official part of the rules — but it’d be better if we can find some design space more easily utilized by a bigger portion of the target audience.

(Full disclosure–I helped with those states of awareness rules. Mea culpa. A rewrite is something I keep thinking about… but not for this project.)

So, time to do a search for “Perception Checks” and “Sense Motive.”

There are rules on Perception while asleep. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing. Having an alertness ability mean you don;t take -10 to Perception checks certainly feels appropriate. Sense Motive has an option to sense mental effect, which normally takes a minute. Allowing that to be done in one round might not be bad–but it also might spoil adventures specifically designed to make sure you can’t interact with someone for a full minute. We can cut it down to half a minute maybe, but that’s not much of a benefit, even coupled with the sleep benefit. Similarly, adventures can be ruined if it’s too easy for a character to call out a lie.

But there ARE less adventure-ruining used for Sense Motive, to oppose Bluff uses such as diversion, feint. While we normally don’t want to play with the math in Starfinder, if it is tightly limited to specific events, it can work.

So, our new Alertness.

ALERTNESS
You often notice things that others might miss.
Benefit: When asleep, you take only a -2 penalty to perception checks, rather than the normal -10. Additionally, you gain a +5 bonus to Sense Motive checks to oppose Bluff checks to create a distraction, and your Sense Motive bonus is treated as 5 higher for Bluff checks made to feint.

And that brings us to Alignment Channel, which, woof.

But we’ll tackle it next week!

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? Join my Patreon and let me know what you want to see!

And every little bit helps. Even if you can’t support me with just dollar a month right now, you can share the link to my Patreon with your friends, and on social media. I promise, it makes a difference. https://patreon.com/OwenKCStephens

Developing to Spec: Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats (Part 1)

This is Part One of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can find Part Two here, or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

The job of a freelance game developer (or writer) isn’t always to do the thing you think is the best, or the most fun. Sometimes, it’s to do the best, most fun version of the thing you are being paid to create. You may think that core idea is a bad one, but if you agree to do the job, you are agreeing to fulfill its design goals. You can (and should) suggest the design goals might not be good ones (you are being paid for your opinions and talents, by all means be a strong advocate for your opinion), but in the end the people paying you deserve to get what they ask for if they aren’t convinced by you.

And there absolutely CAN be good business reasons to do a product that has a concept that isn’t the most fun, or more useful addition to a game. If you have moral or ethical objections to that concept, the right answer is to refuse to do it at all. If you just think it’s not a great idea, and you agree to do it, your task is to make the best version of that product you can.

Sometimes, the results can surprise you.

So, let’s look at some concrete examples of developing an idea that, at least at first blush, isn’t fun or smart.

Let’s do the Starfarer Missing Legacy Feats.

Here’s our remit: Create Starfinder-compatible versions of all the feats that are in the PF Core Rulebook, but not in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

There are some obvious issues here. the two games are different, despite sharing a lot of the same DNA. And many feats are “missing” because they’ve been simplified or replaced. In fact, we run into this issue with the VERY first “missing” Legacy feat: Acrobatic.

Acrobatic is one of the PF feats that gives you +2 to two skills: Acrobatics and Fly. There’s no need for that feat in Starfinder, because Skill Synergy covers it and more. (And the skill DC math is different, the bonus structure is different, and there’s no Fly skill, and… lots of reasons, but Skill Synergy is the most obvious).

So, we are required to have an Acrobatic feat, and it’s a terrible idea for it to do the same thing. So, as a developer or writer where do we start? Well, I always like to go read the rules we’re dealing with, so it’s time to read Starfinder’s Acrobatics skill.

Here we see the skill has 4 tasks: balance, escape, fly and tumble. We don;t want to give numerical bonuses to any of those (because that would interefere with the balance of skill DCs in the game), and we want to give benefits that feel ‘acrobatic,’ and apply to both being acrobatic and flying.

Looking at fly first, we see you normally have to take a move action to hover, or if you have perfect maneuverability you can do it without making a check, or as a swift action if you make a check. But taking a swift action still prevents a full action in Starfinder. So, here’s a place we could have a benefit — allow you to hover as if you had perfect maneuverability even if you don’t, and allow you to hover without using any action without making a check if you do have perfect maneuverability.

So, that means we need some similar benefit for one or more of balance, escape, and tumble.

With balance, you need to make a check if you take damage, so we could allow someone with this feat to ignore that requirement.. but that’s pretty corner-case so more is needed. Escape is a standard action, or a minute for restraints, so we could make that faster. Tumble requires you to not be encumbered… but that makes sense. It also requires you to move at half speed as a move action, so there’s a place we can give some benefit for the feat.

And as a last step, we need to check all other feats and class abilities to make sure none of them already do the things we are now considering making feat benefits.

Then, we pull the whole thing together, as follows:

ACROBATIC
You are particularly talented at balancing, flying, and tumbling.
Benefit: When using the Acrobatics skill for the following tasks, you gain the listed advantages.
Balance: You do not have to make a skill check to maintain your balance if you take damage.
Escape: You can attempt to escape from a grapple or pin as a move action. You can attempt to escape from restraints in half the normal time.
Fly: If you do not have perfect maneuverability, you can attempt to hove as if you did have perfect maneuverability. If you do have perfect maneuverability, you can hover without making a check and without taking an action to do so.
Tumble: You can make an Acrobatics check to tumble as part of any action in which you move, and do not have to move at half speed to do so.

So those are all situational, minor benefits–but there are four of them, they are all linked to the same skill, and none of them alter the balance of skill check math in the game. Overall, not a bad feat!

Next comes Acrobatic Steps… which is built on Nimble Moves. Starfinder has a feat called Nimble Moves, which is better than PF’s Acrobatic Steps, but our remit requires us to create Acrobatic Steps, so…

ACROBATIC STEPS
You can easily move over and through obstacles.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Nimble Moves
Benefit: As long as you are not encumbered or overburdened, you ignore the effects of difficult terrain.

Which brings us to Agile Maneuvers, which has a similar, but potentially more complex set of issues. Which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? Join my Patreon and let me know what you want to see!

 

Shield Traits for Pathfinder 2e

One of the unified systems in the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a set of weapon traits that make specific fighting styles work differently from one another without having to depend on special class features or unique rules that apply to only a single weapon.

That same idea can easily be applied to shields, allowing all the common shield types and options to apply to some of the specific kinds of shields that evolved in the real word to meet specific fighting styles’ needs.

For example here are to Applied Kite Traits, designed to be applied to several different types of shields, allowing specific shields used by cavalry forces in the real word to function without special class features or skill uses.

A shield can only have one Applied Kite Trait, and that trait must be selected when the shield is crafted.

Bouche: A bouche shield has a series of ridges and notches along the top and one side that allow a mounted wielder to brace a lance on the shield. While wielding a bouche shield, you gain access to the set lance action.

A buckler, wooden or steel shield can have the bouche trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and reduces hardness by 1.

Set Lance [1 Action]: The next attack you make with a lance before the end of your turn does damage dice as if you were holding the lance 2-handed. You must be mounted and be wielding a lance in one hand to take this action.

Shield Bouche Bouch Shield

Kite: A kite shield has a wide, rounded top and tappers down to a point. It is a long shield, normally running 3/4 to 4/5 the height of the user.

When you take the Raise a Shield action with a kite shield while mounted, your mount also benefits from the increase to AC. If you have access to the Shield Block reaction, you can use it to defend your mount from a physical attack, rather than only when you would take damage from a physical attack.

A wooden, steel, or tower shield can have the kite trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and increases the bulk by 1.

Kite Shield Kite Shield

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? Join my Patreon and let me know what you want to see!

Heightened Spellbook: New Spell Options for PF2

One of the interesting things Pathfinder second edition has done is have a uniform set of rules for casting spells at higher spell levels. Many spells end up taking niches similar to lesser- and greater- versions from the first edition by having a set of effects that get better as you access higher-level versions of the spell.

Of course not every Pathfinder Second Edition spell has heightened benefits… but they all COULD.

So, I’m beginning to look at ways to add heightened effects to PF2 spells that currently don’t have them. For the moment, I’m starting at the beginning of the alphabet and just seeing how far I get, doing just a few each day.

Later these may all get compiled into a pdf, and backers of my Patreon at every level will certainly have compiled access to them eventually, as well as having the similar rules for focus spells I am posting exclusively on my Patreon pages.

I don’t want to duplicate the fine work other people have done compiling the base rules online (such as the PF2 SRD and the Archives of Nethys), so I’ll just list the spell, and it’s new heightened rules.

So, let’s get started with the Heightened Spellbook!

ABYSSAL PLAGUE     Spell 5
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; disease level increases by +2.

AIR BUBBLE     Spell 1
Heightened (+1) Targets increases by +1; duration is doubled (x2 at 2nd level, x4 at 3rd level, etc.)

AIR WALK     Spell 4
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; duration is doubled (x2 at 6th level, x4 at 8th level, etc.)

ALTER REALITY     Spell 10
Heightened (+1) Level of spells you can duplicate in each category increases by +1.
(Note: You’ll need some rules for 11th level spells to use this one, but if you’re using spells from some rando’s blog, who knows what other optional spells you’ve adopted?)

ANIMAL MESSENGER     Spell 2
Heightened (2nd) Animal messenger will bring a message or light Bulk item back to you, as if the recipient has also cast this spell.
Heightened (+1)
 Range and duration is doubled for each time you add this heightened effect.

00 Dragon and Wizard - RetroPunk

Art (c) RetroPunk, used under license

Like with all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon!

This is specifically supported by the Open Gaming Store, which currently has a HUGE mega-bundle sale going on if you want lots of material for only a few gp!

#101Mimics, the First Fifty!

Last month I spent some time on social media thinking up 101 unusual options and encounters for mimics, under hashtag  #101MIMICS.  Was it a good idea to take time to write up 101 ideas for unusual encounters with mimics? Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you?!

So if you want to hunt down all 101 mimics, they are still available on my Facebook and Twitter. But here are the first 50 of them, to give you a good chunk of mimic all in one place.

My Patreon backers get even more! All my mega-patrons will get a PDF in a few days that has all my free content from September, including the 101 Mimics, but I also wanted to compile these in one post for anyone interested in them. So all my patrons have access to a Patreon post with 101 Mimics, plus I added ONE more mimic encounter idea as a bonus, at the end of that post!

So if you want more mimics (and similar material as time goes on), go join my Patreon!

#101MIMICS

  1. Mimic as the keystone in an arch (build by mimic minions). When it attacks and jumps free not only it there a bitey mimic, the room’s ceiling collapses on you.
  2. Mimic treasure map. The mimic pretends to be a treasure map that leads you to am ambush of the mimic’s allies. The mimic changes this location as needed to keep the news from getting out.
  3. Mimic bandage. It just quietly drinks your blood when you wrap it around your wound.
  4. Mimic haute couture. The mimic rents itself out to be brand-new, impossible-without-living-cloth high-end outfits and shoes that fit perfectly, match your coloration, hair, and jewelry, and you don’t have to put in a closet after wearing once. Hourly or daily rates available.
  5. Mimic rope. It waits until you are using it in a life-or-death situation, then extorts you with greater payment or it withdraws its (literal) support.
  6. Mimic golem: Easiest to pretend to be a wood golem or clay golem. You think it’s a construct, but it’s actually an aberration, giving it a distinct tactical advantage.
  7. Mimic rock at edge of common rest-stop campsite. Look, people are SUSPICIOUS of treasure chests these days, but no one looks twice at a rock that happens to be near where their head is going to be when they sleep.
  8. Mimic false bottom of a chest. Go ahead, check the chest for signs it’s a mimic all you want. then, once you are inside and your guard is done, and you get excited you’ve spotted a false bottom…
  9. Mimic hanging tapestry. May rent itself out to high-end castles as a magic every-changing tapestry that also shouts an alarm when people find the concealed door behind it, or may drop down on unsuspecting adventurers looking behind it for a concealed door. Or both.
  10. Mimic trash-can private investigator. You can learn a LOT about someone by sorting through their trash, and if they give it to you there’s no expectation of privacy.
  11. Mimic Spike at the Bottom of a Pit. If you fall into the pit and still look fine, it ignores you as too tough to handle. If you fall into the pit and seem badly injured or incapacitated…
  12. Mimic bookcase wizard. People have been placing powerful and dangerous books on it in the forbidden section of the library for decades.
  13. Mimic altar. Honestly, a faithful devotee of a god that has decided to serve as an altar. Of course, if you come to DESECRATE that temple…
  14. Mimic Kitchen Table. Mostly just eats scraps when no one is looking. But may be in trouble since it is now so fat, it doesn’t really fit in the same space anymore…
  15. Mimic Mirror in a Vampire’s Employ. Look, some vampires care how they look!
  16. Mimic Siege Tower. Always the right size and shape to reach the top of a wall, able to become a bridge to get over a moat, and able to be healed or buffed against fire with “1 target” spells.
  17. Mimic Wagon. Mostly lets your draft animals pull it along (while it dozes off), but for an extra fee and turn into a boat to cross rivers, walk itself out of mud, and so on.
  18. Mimic Wine Barrel. Takes a nip now and then, but mostly stays sober so it can eat the occasional vagrant that wonders by late at night, who no one will miss.
  19. Mimic Wishing Well. I mean, people just THROW money into it! Why risk combat when you can get paid to sleep, then go buy any food you want later?
  20. Mimic Coffin. Sneak into undertaker’s (or cut deal with them). Get corpse placed indie me. Eat it. Dig my way out of grave, making people panic about ghouls. Sneak back to undertaker’s.
  21. Mimic Iron Maiden. Torturers put people in me, I drink their blood, and they are kept alive to go back into me again and again.

Mimic smuggler. Can look like any crate, fake any needed seals or markings, hide among other crates and shuffle from warehouse to warehouse and hold to hold as needed.

  1. Mimic roulette wheel. Doesn’t detect as magic or illusion, but can still make sure the house gets more than its cut (or, if smuggled in as a ringer, it’s partner can take a huge bite out of the house).
  2. Mimic Spymaster Confessional. Look, if there’s a place people are going to just whisper their secrets anyway…

(Lots of other Mimic Spy possibilities, too.)

  1. Mimic sleeping bag guard hireling. Hires itself out to protect travelers. It can sleep during the day, eat all your leftovers, and quietly watch over you while you sleep at night, while being the perfect size and warmness for you.
  2. Mimic is a single wheel in a rented wagon. It can thus “fall off” at any time to make the wagon vulnerable to ambush, and attack from inside the defensive perimeter once the ambush begins.
  3. Mimic weapon rack. With luck, you disarm yourself and give it your weapons before the fight starts, and it’s certainly armed.
  4. Mimic as obviously trapped secret door. Everyone moves away from the rogue in case the trap goes off, leaving the rogue alone with the mimic.
  5. Mimic table in room convicts meet with lawyers. Might be spy for illicit law enforcement, or might be enforcer for the thieves’ guild ensuring people keep their yap shut.
  6. Mimic cloak. Rules a gang of cloakers who think it is a highly evolved version of themselves.
  7. Tiny mimic sheath for dueling rapier. One of two. Everything seems fine when your foe selects one of them, but once the fight starts, the mimics don’t let your foe even draw his weapon.
  8. Mimic fishing pole. Mostly works as advertised, but when hungry just eats a fish which you think is “one that got away.”
  9. Mimic emulating a corpse. When it starts moving and eating things, everyone thinks it’s an undead. But it’s not.
  10. Mimic big overstuffed chair. Is a consulting detective, but keeps hiring someone to sit in the chair and play the public role of detective, so no one suspects their cases are being solved by a mimic listening in.
  11. Mimic crystal ball. Works with fake psychic to show clients what they want to see, but can’t actually tell the future.
  12. Mimic workbench. Friend and ally to renowned craftsman, acts as his guard and assistant, moving tools to be in reach as needed.
  13. Mimic guillotine psychopath. Just wants to kill people, so as long as the revolution feeds its bloodshed, acts like a guillotine. If anyone tries to reign in the mob rule, sneaks out to kill that person.
  14. Mimic crossbow. Works with its hunter. Loads itself, can even fire itself as needed.
  15. Mimic printing press. Always well informed, and can tweak things it prints to move its own narrative or plots forward.
  16. Mimic sail. Self-trimming, self-furling, heals if damaged, and can help defend the ship if attacked.
  17. Mimic lump of clay. Works with fake sculptor to allow the sculptor to appear to be a great artist, then sneaks off with sculptor once a commission is paid.
  18. Mimic high-end furniture from antique store. Gets bought and placed in rich house. Waits to see where their valuables are. Steals them blind while antique dealer has alibi. Sneaks back to look like different high-end furniture at shop.
  19. Mimic banker’s or merchant’s scale. Check for false weights and magic all you want, it can still claim your valuable are 1-2% lighter than they really are, getting its merchant partner an extra profit margin.
  20. Mimic rock full of veins of gold and silver. Sits in a mine its partner wants to sell. Makes sure the potential buyer “happens” to see it, still wedged into the wall. Great for cycling through multiple played out mines.
  21. Mimic pile of hay. Only good for some seasons, but great way to hide in plain sight, and local children often sneak off to play near you, making them easy targets.
  22. Mimic outhouse. Perfect for catching prey with their paints down.
  23. Mimic dressmaker’s dummy. Can be the exact size and shape (and even weight) the dressmaker needs, often happy to work for scraps of cloth (leather, cotton, and other biomass). Plus, gets to feel like a pretty, pretty mimic.
  24. Mimic periscope. Fits in any shape, crack, or around any corner, can show you what it sees, and even report on what it hears.
  25. Mimic game table. Can play chess with you, or help you subtly cheat against others.
  26. Mimic elevator. Crawls up and down (and even sideways) though the large castle, giving easy access quickly in return for a fair daily wage.

My Patreon: The Silver Lining

Well, you crazy folks did it. You pushed my Patreon over the $714 mark, my first monthly GOAL, which I have had since 2016, and never gotten closer than halfway before now.

So, I can now (starting today), “budget a guaranteed amount of time into my freelance schedule, allowing me to post at least one 750-word or longer piece of setting or fiction material every Monday, and 2 microrules (Microfeats, Spell Tweets, or similar very-short RPG rule ideas) every Tuesday-Friday.”

I also need to figure out my next goals. Sure, bringing in $1500/month to support my random writings seems impossible–but then $714 always felt like a stretch as well. More news on that soon.

Obviously I am extremely grateful to my backers, new and pre-existing, and everyone who has boosted, linked, promoted, and generally made a big deal of the fact I write things and people can help fund that directly. Since the job that my wife Lj and I moved to Indiana for has dried up many friends and fans have told me they wished they could do more. But it is clear that the efforts people have made on our behalf is what’s lead to this point, where my Patreon is a noteworthy part of my freelance income.

So what is the money going towards? Right now the time I am carving out for Patreon-supported writing is paid for by this income, which is going to go directly to finding a stable health insurance solution for my family.

And now, of course, what you are all paying me for– Game Content! Keeping with the theme of today I have written up a Silver Lining feat. Or, rather, since Silver Linings come in lots of different forms, I have written three different versions of it, for three of my favorite different RPGs.

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 1st Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll or a saving throw in circumstances where a typical character could not take 10 on a skill check, you gain 1 resolve point. As a reaction when you next fail an attack roll or saving throw you may spent this resolve point for an immediate reroll without taking an action. If the d20 die result of the reroll is 1-10, add 10 to your total result. You can only have 1 resolve point at a time, and if not used it goes away when you next qualify to regain uses of daily abilities (even if you do not actually have daily abilities to regain).\

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 2nd Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you suffer a critical failure on an attack roll or saving throw, as a reaction you may choose to either heal a number of HP equal to your level, or regain one Focus Point.

Silver Lining (Starfinder)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll against a significant foe, or on a saving throws against a significant foe, as a reaction you may spent 1 Resolve Point to regain a number of Hit Points and a number of Stamina Points equal to your level. You cannot regain more of either than you are currently missing.

Silver Lining for Fantasy AGE

I am also now the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin, so I’m posting this *very* rough, *very* unofficial version of Silver Lining as a Talent for that game system.

SILVER LINING
Classes: Mage, Rogue, and Warrior
Requirement: None
When things go badly for you, it’s usually a sign that something good is also about to happen.
Novice: When a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 3 or more against you, the next time you gain SP, you gain 1 more than usual. You never gain more than 1 extra SP from Silver Lining.
Journeyman: Silver Lining now functions when a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 2 or more against you.
Master: Silver Lining now functions whenever a foe uses a stunt against you.

Want to help with my Silver Lining?
I’m back to being a full-time freelancer, which means arranging for stability, health insurance, retirement options, and so on, is extremely difficult.

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Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.

Two-Sentence Supers

Not every supers character needs a lot of backstory. In fact when you get into B-Teams, Caped Best Buddies, Great-Lakes Groups, X-treme X-amples, Tri-County Taskforces, and Substitute Heroes, often about all you need for a quirky, minor super character is two-sentences.

These concepts can be used as quick descriptions for background characters that may not ever need full stats, or jumping-off points for more detailed descriptions. They aren’t necessarily “joke” characters, just nontraditional and less likely to take center stage for various reasons.

Alewife: Alewife is a stern mother of five who is the strongest in a long line of monosaccahakenetic women able to generate and manipulate honey and honey byproducts, including ale. She does not use her powers for parties, unless one of her children (by birth or fierce mommabear adoption) is getting married or turning 16.

Bear-B-Que: Bear-B-Que is a chubby, cheerful, hirsute, gay man who can actually breath fire and (as a professional chef) make ribs that make people think they are breathing fire. Can also cast shade, but that doesn’t appear to be a superpower.

Drakkar: As a child, Drakkar ate a piece of a viking longship his parents were excavating at an archaeological dig, and now he can transform into one (from 20-60 feet long, which can fly, and has a “kick-ass” dragon masthead). He also fronts an eponymous heavy metal rock band.

Hotspot: Hotspot can always connect any device she is holding to the nearest radio tower, satellite pickup, and wireless connection–even through Faraday cages and solid stone. She most often plays “girl in the chair” to low-level heroes, giving advice and overwatch.

Prybar: Prybar has unbreakable, irremovable, unbendable fingernails. They are often a big ragged, since they are nearly impossible to trim (she has to use her own nails to file her nails).

Quiff: Quiff volunteered to be a human test for a receding hairline treatment. He is the only survivor of the test, and while he is still an aging, overweight man, he now has augmented strength and durability (though not enhanced endurance–he’s good for maybe a minute of fighting between rests), and a huge lock of thick, nearly-indestructible, brightly-colored prehensile hair on his forehead that can lift half a ton and extend up to 30 feet.

Sheba: Sheba is a highly evolved colony of bees–not a sapient queen bee who rules a hive, but the hive itself has become a distributed intelligence able to communicate and act collectively. She can do anything a hive of bees with group human intelligence can do, and is an active environmentalist.

Slack: Slack’s skin is infinitely flexible and stretchy, able to extend away from the rest of the body, which is otherwise normal. If cut free, the removed skin rots almost immediately and the wounded skin heals just as quickly.

Sudden-Oven Man: He can summon an over…. suddenly. Prefers charity work over superheroics but is willing to pitch in when needed. (You can read an interview with him here.)

Ten-Point: Ten-point is a seven-foot tall man with a full rack of stag horns, stag feet, and considerably enhanced speed, strength, and endurance. He works as a park ranger most of the year, but not during hunting season (no amount of bright orange makes him safe when it’s hunting season), when he does more in-town heroics and volunteer work.

THE PATRON
The Patron helps freelance writers pay the bills, and this is a superhero YOU can be!

I’m back to being a full-time freelancer, which means, ever word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. money made.

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Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.

 

Game Masters, Chapter One

One. Those Above.

Maise Delores tapped the ‘record’ light hovering midair in front of her, making sure her host saw her do it. She could have set the device to record with just a though, but that would’ve been a violation of her streaming site’s official privacy policy. She almost never did that.

She smiled in a friendly manner, but didn’t really think it was necessary. Her host, Winton Classen, was famously among the calmest men in the public eye.

“Thank you for agreeing to an interview, Mr. Classen. My producer and your PR people will put together all the introductions and pleasantries, so we can skip right to the meat of what people want to know. Are you ready for that?”

Winton gave an easy smile in return, no less practiced or perfect than her own.

“Of course, Ms. Delores. I’m delighted to proceed however you feel is best. You’re the tastemaker, after all.”

“Thank you. All right, let’s get right into it. Your company offers vacations to the masses using ‘manufactured reality.’ So the difference between the neural virtual reality we’re all familiar with and manufactured reality is…?”

Winton’s voice broke into the easy, regular rhythm of someone who had practiced saying something a hundred times. “Manufactured reality is literally adjusting the reality you, personally, are experiencing. You can see, hear, even taste and feel an entirely new world we create for your entertainment. And you can do so entirely by yourself, or with a group of family, friends, co co-workers.”

Maise nodded, as much to show Winton she wanted to interject something as to indicate she understood. “Okay, but how do you do that? How is it possible for someone to experience a different reality other than broadcasting electrical impulses into their brain, the way modern VR parlors do?”

Winton’s smile grew in a way Maise thought looked a bit predatory. “VR is just as you say, an illusion of senses sent to your brain. But you only experience what the VR system is programmed for you to experience. It’s no more than a game, or a movie.

“Manufactured reality actually creates a new set of physical laws, which act and react to whatever you do within that reality. We set up those rules, but don’t control the outcome of how you interact with them.”

Maise switched her smile from “friendly” to “slightly bemused,” one of her trademarked moves. “How does that work? At a layman’s level, I mean?”

Winton spoke energetically, his hands moving to punctuate specific words. “We’ve known that perception influences reality since the old double-slit experiments of the early 2000s. It took time for that to eb well-excepted, but the sciences of quantum attunement and quantum frequency grew out of that. In short, at it’s most basic level, reality is just a state of energy, and conscious minds can impact the form that energy takes. Because we are all at the same quantum frequency, we all experience the same reality, on a macro-scale.

But it is possible to adjust that quantum frequency, temporarily, attuning a person and their perception to a new energy state. With the right equipment, such as our extreme comfortable q-couches, your entire body can be placed slightly out of attunement with the reality we all perceive around us, and attuned with a manufactured reality, created by a q-bit cogitator that can emulate a new set of physical laws. That create the framework of a new energy state that an individual can perceive as real.

“Once the framework of a manufactured reality is set up, a visitor’s quantum frequency is attuned, through entanglement, to a master oscillation which serves as a common reference point. Everyone attuned to the same oscillation experiences one, shared, manufactured reality we design and oversee, but do not control. When something happens in VR, it’s part of a script. When it happens in our manufactured reality, it’s because of cause-and-effect beyond anyone’s control or ability to predict.”

Maise jumped on that. “So, it’s real, not artificial experiences? Then why are people’s bodies still here, sitting in high-tech sofas? If you manufacture a new reality, why are they still present in our reality?”

Winton looked unsurprised. “We keep the quantum amplitude low enough to only impact each individual’s experience of the manufactured reality. It isn’t some naturally occurring alternate universe, though we now know those exist. It is a framework of reality, built to be real enough to enjoy and have largely-consistent rules, but not real enough to impact our perception of guest’s bodies. So as soon as their quantum attunement stops being maintained, they snap back to our perception of them, no worse for wear.”

“But to the guests, their experiences are entirely real-feeling?”

Winton allowed his smile to fade to a friendly grin. The kind of grin your grandfather had just before telling you a bad joke. “Only within the rules of the manufactured realities they visit. We keep some sensations, such as taste, touch, and smell, at full strength. But we have adjusted each manufactured reality to have different expressions of pain, for example. So while being stabbed in the manufactured HeroLand reality hurts, it hurts like a bruise or cramp. Typical sport-activity level pain. Nothing traumatic, for obvious reasons. And we ensure that the bandwidth of the quantum amplitude is taken up with enough other feedback that even the most horrific experiences in our manufactured realities are perceived more like watching them in a movie, rather than experiencing them. We make worlds better than real – nothing too bad is capable of happening within them.

Maise knew there was no chance of catching Winton off-guard, but there were certain questions her fanbase expected her to ask. “And no one can get stuck in a manufactured reality? I understand there were some incidents during early human trials.”

Winton choose to look more somber. “When the technology was young and the applications being explored were all military, yes there were cases where it was not possible to detune a subject from their manufactured reality without bringing back the physical effects of their experiences. And some people were allowed to experience manufactured realities for much longer than current best practices dictate. But our systems literally can’t do either of those things.” The big smile returned.  “Our quantum cores can’t generate manufactured worlds with the amplitude needed to overwrite physical reality, and our transmitters overheat after 40 continuous hours, well short of the 150-hour duration that has been shown to potentially cause physiological distress. We built systems that break before they can put anyone in actual danger.”

Maise had one shot at getting a good sound bite, and she took it. “But the system could, theoretically, be repurposed to create more dangerous manufactured realities?”

Winton laughed. “In the same way you could strap a jet engine to a ferris wheel to make it less safe, yes. But no one in their right mind would do such a thing, and it would take hundreds of millions to create such a thing in any case. Guests to any of our Manufactured Marvels sites have nothing to worry about.”

Maise was prepared to push the point—less because she thought Winton actually ran secret off-the-books manufactured deathsport reality, but more because such conspiracy theories were good for clicks and views—but the magnate lifted a finger to forestall her as she took in a breath.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Dolores.” There was no humor in Winton’s expression now, and Maise could just barely see a tiny flashing red light in the corner of his right pupil. “I’m afraid one of those ‘unexpected emergencies’ my staff must have warned you might crop up has, in fact, raised it’s ugly head. Could we have my staff arrange for a virtual interview to answer any more questions? We have, in fact, had an in-person interview now, so your claim of an exclusive remains legally valid.”

Maise smiled and stood, putting out a hand as she did so. “Of course, Mr. Classen. I appreciate you making any time at all for me.”

Winton stood and clasped her hand firmly. A tiny series of hums Maise felt in the bone of her skull, inaudible to anyone else even if they were adjacent to her, confirmed what she suspected. Winton was receiving a stream of wireless data. Her bootjack system probably couldn’t record it, and even if it managed to she’d likely never break the encryption. But even just knowing how much data he was getting could help her figure out what part of his vast empire was under threat serious enough for hum to cut HER short, in person.

His voice remained eminently calm was he walked her to the door of his office. “Perhaps we can make it up to you/ Allow you to run a stream from one of our Manufactured Marvel facilities?”

Now Maise was surprised. “I… was under the impression that was never allowed?”

“Not while guests are present—privacy concerns and such, of course. But we often have previews for VIPs before we open a facility to the public, I would imagine we could let you stream from one of those before anyone else was allowed to use it.”

“That would be lovely.” Maise let real excitement leak into her voice. “I can guarantee that would get fifty million live views.”

Winton’s very-practiced smile returned. “With you as the streamer, I’m sure it will. My staff will contact you to set something up.”

And then Maise was in the waiting room again, and Winton has smoothly closed the door, blocking her access to whatever emergency had his attention.

Winton Classen tensed his jaw in exactly the way needed to bring up his personal HUD, and a list of options popped into his view, though the ‘URGENT’ light flashing in his peripheral vision remained bright and obvious. He focused his vision on “Lockdown,” and as that option was picked heard the hum of antispying devices turning his office into the next-best thing to espionage-proof.

Not that he believed someone couldn’t break those protections, if they really wanted to. Winton just wanted to make sure such an effort would be so expensive no one would ever bother.

Winton moved past the cozy sitting area he and Ms. Dolores had been at, where he interviewed people he wanted to put at ease, to sit in the massive leather chair behind his immense oak desk. Where he interviewed people he wanted to frighten. With a wave of his hand he brought a section of the wall to light and the image of Cory Mai, his chief of operations, took form on it.

“Who is it, and how badly did they screw up?” Winton’s voice was terse, but not angry. If Cory thought he needed to be interrupted, he assumed she was right. He trusted her judgment.

Her face was calm, but the slightest crinkle by her left eye worried him more than most people would have if they’d been spitting in rage.

“It’s the Morgan brothers. Both of them, at once, I’ll note. And they screwed it about as badly as possible.”

Winton signed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Can we get them out alive?”

Cory shook her head. “I’m not sure we can get them out at all. They’re Gamma-6.”

“What?!” Winton rarely lost his reserve, and was immediately annoyed. If anyone but Cory was claiming that. “Okay, Cory. Explain to me why that’s not impossible. My last briefing said Gamma-4 is still as deep as even DARPA has gotten. And we only recently proved Gamma-5 as even theoretically possible. How the hell did a couple of rich idiots get themselves attuned more deeply than any other manufactured reality system in the world.”

Cory visibly shrugged. “We don’t know. David Morgan is a hell of a quantum engineer, even if he’s refused to ever do much with his talent. We’ve just gotten on-site, and it’s obvious he’s made extensive modifications to his oscillator. And as far as we can tell, he hasn’t documented any of it. We’re analyzing it now, but we have to do that while it’s running, which complicates things. We can’t shut it down without losing both Morgans, given the state of their quantum signatures, and David may be the only person who has never managed a G-6 attunement.”

Winton released the bridge of his nose, and let his mind float for a minute. Cory knew he was thinking, but also knew she wouldn’t interrupt him just by giving him more facts.

“Their overwatch team got worried 12 hours ago, when the Morgan’s bodies began to show sign of severe trauma. They don’t let their overwatch monitor of record their manufactured experiences, but there is a tandem rig for each of them. Two security experts settled in and got attuned, with a 5-minute timer. Both came back into native attunement with enough trauma on their bodies to die within seconds. The Morgan’s chief of staff freaked out, ignored house policy, and called me directly. It took time to get here with a team…”

“You’re there, yourself, in person?” Winton interrupted.

“I am,” Cory confirmed. “The Morgans are huge donors and investors in many of our concerns, and we supplied them with the original private oscillator they’ve since modified. Given their influence, and that we already had two dead, I wanted to assess the situation directly.”

Winton waved a hand to indicate he understood. It was an unusual step, but Cory had always proven to have good reason to take unusual steps.

“The Morgan’s oscillation system shows them at Gamma-4, but I wanted to confirm that, so I had our people do an independent sampling. When that came in at G-7, I had them run it again. And again. But it turns out the Morgan’s system simply isn’t set up to show any attunement deeper than Gamma-4, and our results are consistent. I can’t tell you how they managed it, but I can tell you what David Morgan thought he’d done.”

Winton raised an eyebrow, an affectation he’d developed as a child but also an effective way to let people know they had his attention.

“His diary entries are clear.” Cory’s voice was carefully neutral. Unjudgmental. “He thought he’d found an actual alternate reality, which just happened to have magic and dragons and evil tyrants.”

Winton’s eyebrow stayed elevated. “Do you believe that?”

“I…” Cory rarely paused. She was silent for a full two seconds. Then:

“I don’t believe it. But I can’t disprove it either. And whatever they’ve done, it’s going to radically change some dearly held belief of our experts. So as ridiculous as that sounds, I’m not ruling it out of the list of possibilities, though I’m not basing decisions on it, either.”

Winton nodded to himself. That kind of risk-management, and willingness to accept facts over her own view of what ought to be true, was a big part of why he trusted her judgement. “So…,” he let the word linger for a moment. “”What do you recommend?”

“Now Cory didn’t hesitate.” “We need to send a team in after them. If nothing else, we need to talk to David Morgan, even if we can’t extract him alive. I already have new attunement couches being set up. The Morgans only designed their system for the two of them and the two emergency tandem rigs, but the quantum oscillator has the same standard 32-output connections as our standard models. Even so, I don’t think we can afford to send more than 12 people – there’s a limited about of power available, and while the Morgans’ couches are normal, I don’t know what might happen if we overload their oscillator’s output. It looks like the system can handle 12 more without any issue, but after that it might start throttling back the among of energy used for each couch, and since I don’t know how they got to Gamma-7, I don’t know if reducing total power available might impact it.

“As for who to send, obviously we have a number of qualified teams for most of this. But the manufactured reality the Morgans are in was… custom. It’s not based on any of our Manufactured Marvel settings, or any of the common tropes we have explored and trained in for possible setting expansion later. That means we don’t have any internal setting experts. I recommend we hire some from… unorthodox… sources.”

Winton nodded. “Approved. What is the setting based on, and where are you going to get experts?”

Cory sighed. “It’s something called the Grimdarque Roleplaying Game. It’s a paper=and-pencil tabletop game, not computer or VR, with origins in the 1980s. And… there’s a fan convention… “

“Game Masters” is an experiment in serialized fiction. It is supported only by contributions to my Patreon. if you want to read more of the story, go support my Patreon and let me know!

Writing Basic: DO NOT USE TABLE FORMATTING

This is SUPER basic, and SUPER ignored, but I promise you, it’s true. (And as with most of my writing basics, here I am talking about tabletop game writing for someone else to publish.)

Unless your editor/producer/publisher specifically tells you to?

DO NOT USE TABLE FORMATTING IN YOUR FINAL DRAFT.

It is of NO use to the developer, editor, or layout artist. It is, in fact, a huge pain in the butt.

Yes, MAYBE you need to get things in neat columns to make sure your table says what you want where you want it.

But when you turn it over?

Note what is a table title, what is a column head, and what is table text, and then put ONE TAB between EACH COLUMN ENTRY. (As always, check to see if your publisher has specific or different requirements.) Do NOT use your word processing programs table function.

Like this, but with [tab] replaced by an actual tab.

[Table Title]An Example Table

[Table Column Heads]Writing Level[tab]No. Of Wrong Tables[tab]Editor Cursewords

101[tab]14[tab]14

102[tab]6[tab]12*

201[tab]0[tab]0

*Because a 102 level writer should know better.

Yes, it’s a minor thing.

But getting minor things wrong makes you take more time and more effort, and thus more money and frustration, for publishers to want to hire you.

Patreon
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, ever word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found this useful or entertaining, and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge different.