People talk about game rules and social contracts and spotlight time and a dozen other interaction-facing things much, much more often than they talk about having an actual space to play tabletop game.
So, as I sit here in a 20×21 dedicated gaming room, with two 5-foot-long, 2.5-foot wide tables in the middle, several office chairs, a slew of stacking padded church chairs, ceiling fans, led lights bright enough to power solar calculators (which mattered when we designed the room 24 years ago), it’s own refrigerator, a computer hooked to a sound system, and bookcases on every wall, I wanted to talk a little about what I find useful in a physical gaming space.
This isn’t a must-have list or some professionally surveyed best answer. It’s just what I have found over my 40 years of playing tabletop games, as game to me today in no particular order, and generally using my current main gaming space–a dedicated gaming room in the house I’m living in–as a point of comparison.
This may seem obvious, but it’s still worth thinking about. Especially if you have people with disabilities, what may work for you for 4-6 hours or more of sitting might be torture for other members of your group. Also, think about sturdiness. Not just for regular use (our gaming chairs see many more hours per week of sitting than the dining room chairs of my childhood home ever did), but for the people you want to have over. I’m a heavy guy — more than 450 lbs. on average — and I’ve lost track of the number of times I have been invited by people to hang out at their place where all they have are thin folding wood frame or aluminum tubing chairs. Those do not safely hold me. Consider who you want to make accommodations for, and give people an opportunity to tell you if they need something nonstandard.
Our game room is 3 steps down from the rest of the house. We have railings, and happily pass things up and down for folks having issues with the balance or steadiness, but I still wish our space wasn’t sunken in that much.
We’re pretty central to our town, which is a plus, but not particularly close to public transit. Some people walk here for gaming. Some carpool. But an easier way for people to arrive would be a help.
We have the game table in the middle of a big room with two ways in and out, so mostly people can walk around without bumping into people. But when we cram 9 people in for the big Tuesday Night game, it’s cramped. We can’t even get everyone at the table if the whole crew shows up.
How much tablespace you need depends a lot on the needs of the game you play. If you are wanting to have Starfinder games where sniper rifle ranges are relevant, you may need a ton of space for miniatures and terrain. If you’re playing Dread, everyone needs to be able to reach the tumbling tower, and it (probably) ought to be on stable level surface.
We have a table-topper that puts a 2 ft. x 3 ft. space up about 4 inches off the center of the table and can slide and spin. that’s great for letting people pull the map closer to them and turn it to see what is going on behind a shack or hill, but also means we can’t really have many drinks on the main table, and laptops often have to be closed as the table topper is spun. We also have TV trays, which people can use as additional space for books, dice, water bottles, and so on.
Our space is large enough that even with 9 people rammed in, the AC and ceiling fans and tower fan can keep us pretty cool, even in summer. But it takes 4 AC ducts, 2 returns, two ceiling fans, and 1 tower fan to do it. If a space is likely to get too cold, it can be worthwhile to have blankets and fingerless gloves as options. If it’s going to get too hot, plenty of water, and be understanding if folks decide they are just unwilling to get too hot while trying to have fun.
Once of the nice things about a dedicated game space is that it serves as the geeky visual center of the house as well. There are miniatures and maps and game books on shelves, light sabers and swords and starships hanging on the walls, a fleet of sailing ships on top of one bookcase, plastic towers, mountains, and a 3-foot wire-frame oil derrick on other furniture. The walls have framed posters of comic books, movies, and game magazine covers. Overall, it helps put people in the mood to play games.
You often can’t go this far–kitchen tables and living room coffee tables are much more common as play spaces, and those often need to serve aesthetic desires beyond “look geeky.” On the other hand, some people go much further, with faux-stone walls, stuffed dragon heads, and wallscapes of fantasy forests with distant castles.
Whatever your options, think about little things that can help put people in the right frame of mind for the game you want to run. Even just having a GM Screen for a specific adventure or game system, or a single small prop tied to a game’s theme (like a model of the PC’s starship, or miniatures of the allied royal court, or a picture of the fungal ghouls destroying civilization) can help make a game space feel tied to specific campaigns, even if those props have to be put away between games.
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I keep wanting to try to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and it almost never works out. That’s sad to me, because there is an energy, expectation, and support system in place for NaNoWriMo’s goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days that makes it ever-so-slightly easier to get a lord of wordcount produced in November than times where you’re doing it largely alone. The groundswell of support, suggestions, public accountability, and even people talking about hard times they are having can help buoy a writer past obstacles that might stop them on other months.
But, yet again, I can’t do NaNoWriMo this year, because if I have any spare capacity beyond my regular monthly writing contracts and obligations to people depending on me for projects to move forward so they can make money on the labor they’ve already put into them, it has to go into 52-in-52.
You remember 52-in-52, right? It was my big swing at doing something new, announced in November 2019. The idea was to produce one new product every week in 2020, with each product being released in four different versions–on each for Pathfinder 1e, Pathfinder 2e, Starfinder, and D&D 5e. It was a big, ambitious subscription model and something I knew would take all my focus.
Obviously since I am still talking about needing to work on it nearly two years later, it did not go as planned.
The Covid pandemic is part of the reason why, along with moving twice in 2020, being hospitalized, having friends die, losing a beloved pet–seriously, it’s been among the roughest 24 months of my life. I tried to allow for complications and interruptions on the schedule I had for creating 108 game products in a year, but I never could have guessed at even half the things that were going to hit during that production time.
And this was not a Kickstarter, or some other crowdfunding campaign, where the entire budget is covered in advance. The idea was a classic pre-order, with enough money from early orders to get started, followed by ongoing sales to keep funding the project as it went along. I had carefully noted that my plan was to personally write or develop each product in the line. That meant if I fell behind on writing things, I could hire writers I knew to take on one or more parts of the project. I had a decade of sales information to extrapolate from, so I was confident that I could get things done that way if I had to. I was covered… as long as a major economic disaster didn’t have a huge impact on how much money people spent on tabletop rog products on a scale even ten years of sales data couldn’t predict.
Cue sad trombone.
So, that’s why now, ten months past the original deadline, the project is still only about half-finished. Under any other circumstances, I’d consider doing more than 100 game products cover 4 different gam systems over two years to be a triumph of productivity. But I promised customers a series of products, and while I can’t change history so those things arrive on-time, I can make sure everyone who pre-ordered gets everything I promised them.
So, what does all that have to do with NaNoWriMo? Well, I’m going to produce 50,000 words of 52-in-52 this month.
No, that won’t be all the rest of what is missing. Nor is it really what NaNoWriMo is about. But it’ll be closer to doing NaNoWriMo than I have been able to try in recent years, and 50k words produced towards overdue subscriptions will go a long way towards providing material I am dedicated t putting in people’s hands.
So, I’ll be tracking my Na52WriMo at the beginning of each day. It’ll be in the form of Words Prepared for layout/Words Turned Over to Layout (Words Sent to Subscribers)/50,000. So if I have 1,000 words prepared but none turned over yet, that’d be 1,000/0/0/50k. I’ll update each weekday, with the stats from the previous day.
It won’t fix things being late, but it will move a lot of materials forward on this much-overdue subscription model.
So, if anyone hasn’t been keeping up (and a lot has happened amazingly quickly), last week the workers of Paizo announced they had formed a Union, the United Paizo Workers, in conjunction with the CWA, and called on the Paizo onwership and Executive Team to voluntarily recognize it, rather than wait for the legally binding vote UPW seemed sure to win.
Just last week, I was on the BAMF podcast with Jake Tondro, discussing how and why this had happened, and what to expect next.
I’m not kidding when I say this is a historic moment. there may have been a Union in the tabletop game industry before, but I’m not aware of one. Paizo and their staff have been leaders in change and new ways of doing things for more than a decade, so it’s no shock to me to see the workers take on the amazingly complex task of getting a union organized and union cards signed, nor am I shocked to see Paizo’s ownership and executive team voluntarily recognize that union, given how clear it was a supermajority of eligible employees were members.
I also want to hoist a glass to the Pathfinder and Starfinder communities of freelancer and fans. A group of freelancers came together to put their careers on the line to support Paizo staff, and as soon as the staff formed a union, that support pivoted to asking for the union to be recognized. It’s something I have never seen before, and it made my heart full to witness the real care and compassion with which the freelancers fought for the better treatment of their colleagues within the company. I talked a little but about why I consider that to be entirely professional behavior on my post Wednesday.
I’ve long discussed systemic, serious, complicated problems that have plagued the tabletop industry for as long as I have been involved, sometimes under the hashtag #RealGameIndustry. I’ve had no suggestions on how to fix these issues, much more often than not. But I truly believe that collective action–definitely of the UPW, but also of the freelancers who have self-organized and found power and support among themselves in doing so, is much more likely to produce answers than any previous approach.
There are many, many more freelancers and independent creatives producing work in the tabletop industry than their are companies with multiple full-time employees. I know from experience that can be a lonely life, not just because you often end up working along typing (or drawing, or outlining, or laying out) for hours, but also because there’s no informed, connected support structure to lean on.
My first “professional” writing project was 100,000 words… for $50. I signed a contract, I had a deadline, and I delivered. And I was exhausted, and shocked how hard that took (and I didn’t think it would be easy). Now admittedly this was the mid 1990s, but there was really no where I could turn to when I had questions or concerns. That project never saw print (though I did get paid for it, in accordance with the contract), and if I had not ended up with Dave Gross accepting some Dragon magazine pitches I sent to him, I suspect I would have dropped out of game creation entirely. I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t know where to go to learn more.
There’s now a group of freelancers who have discovered they have power, and that they can work together and support others. I hope they continue to evolve that collaboration to support one another and, in time, support newer freelancers who otherwise might have no place to go. Maybe it’ll just be a casual group, keeping in touch in case they ever feel the need to take massed action again. Maybe they’ll form something more formal, and overcome the many, many hurdles so many RPG writer’s guilds failed to clear.
But they have already done more than I ever did when I was first freelancing, and I stand in awe of their vision, dedication, organization, and compassion.
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Again, some legal stuff.
Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.
Obviously there’s going to be a “ShadowFinder Society” as an in-world group in the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book. But that’s far from the only group dealing with the issues created by the Shadowblast. One of the more potent is the elite collective known as the Black.
The Black is among the most powerful coalitions of spellcasters and scientists on either Rasputin’s Legacy Earth or Golarion, and they work ceaselessly to build ways for their members and others to comfortably exist in other planes, and to find ways to cross in and out of the Shadowblast (and to a lesser extent, other planes of existence). They do insist that any who make use of the transportation they can sometimes provide be respectful and considerate of the new plane traveled to, but also believe that locking creatures behind planar barriers inevitably lead to inequality and tribalism. When the Black finds a subjugated group trapped in an alternate plane, they often focus their efforts one stablisg routes for those under the yoke toescape, moving them to new planes of reality if necessary.
While most people aware of it consider the battle against the Shadowblast to be a war of light against darkness, the Black philosophically take the other approach. They see it as a battle of true dark against the dim, hazy, often tricky gloom of shadow. To members of the Black, the problem with quantifying everything as light and dark is that light often causes shadows, and within those shadows illusion and misperception can run rampant. They further see than many groups have a illumination-at-any-cost rule, claiming the ends justify the means, and this often leads to tyranny and abuse as warriors of the light cross ethical lines to destroy any darkness-themed creature they encounter. The methodology of the Black is different, seeking to understand the nature of things and then seek a solution built from that understanding.
The fact that numerous creatures of the Shadowblast hate their existence within it is, to the Black, those Shadowblastoi’s primary motivation for violent and dangerous assaults into the Material Plane. If the creatures of the Shadowblast could be freed of the pain regions of their own home plane cause them, or given a way to travel to other realities without needing sacrifices, and rituals, and riots, the Black believe harmonious co-existence could be achieved. Further, given some planar slivers are nearly infinite in their scape, surely if any creature could move to any realm of reality that would end the need to fight over territory, resources, and borders.
Many groups consider the Black hopelessly naïve, insisting that evil is real and absolute, and that seeking ways to comfort the enemy is treasonous to the Material Plane itself. In general, agents of the Black acknowledge evil is real and most be opposed – they simply decry any effort to categorize all of any one species, region, or even plane of existence as inherently evil. After all, if even angels and fall and devils can be redeemed, is that not proof that each individual must be judged on their own merits, rather than as broad categorizations? And, if so, doesn’t that mean any system that encourages valuation based on group factors itself inherently unable to create true equity and justice?
Most other large-scale groups aware of the Shadowblast see the Black as a branch of the enemy at worst, or dangerous fools at best. As a result, the Black keep their membership tightly controlled, with only senior members of their collective allowed to engage in recruitment, and only the most competent of veteran planar travelers considered for membership. Until someone has a number of significant deeds to their name, the Black feels it’s premature to try to judge them by those deeds. However, individual agents of the Black often act as patrons and allies to less-connected or inexperienced hunters, healers, and researchers, both to build independent networks of useful allies, and to keep tabs on those who might someday be considered for inclusion in the Black.
The official positions of the Bannerfolk, Lighthouse, and ShadowFinder Society is to treat the Black as too dangerous to get involved with, but that position is not universal among the actual members of those organizations. There are individuals among those groups who hear a ring of truth in the philosophy of the Black, and are at least willing to hear out the proposals made by its agents.
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So, first some legal stuff.
Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.
One element of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book, is the demiplane known as the “Shadowblast.” Obviously that demiplane gets a fairly lengthy writeup in the Core Book, but I haven’t talked much about what it’s actually like in these previews, So, here’s an excerpt about one of the Shadowblast’s regions. (And yeah, “Shadowblastoi” get an entry as well, but the short version is that they are creatures stuck in the Shadowblast, who want to get out.)
The Shadowblast is often described in terms of an ocean, with Beachheads, Shallows, Reefs, the Faraway, and the Deeps.
“Beachheads” are areas literally overlapping with another plane (so a creature not bound to the Shadowblast can simply walk from the Shadowblast into the overlapped plane, and a ShadowWalker could walk from that plane into the Shadowblast). A creature that is not a ShadowWalker could walk right past the overlap with nothing more than a sense of something weird going on. But a ShadowWalker on the Material Plane might take a wrong turn and go from their own world to the Beachhead, without having any idea why the city around them suddenly looks like a mostly-abandoned ruin. A ShadowWalker can also walk from the Beachhead back to their own Plane… if they know what route will take them back, and if the Beachhead doesn’t fade away first.
A Beachhead overlapping the Ethereal or Astral plane generally looks like a fog or mist.Those connected to elemental planes are often a mix of that element and ruined vehicles or land. Those overlapping slivers of infernal planes often seem to be endless buildings with offices dedicated to sin and torture, and fiendish residents sometimes don’t notice the difference until the Beachhead fades.
Beachheads are temporary, and generally caused by massive amount of undirected energy (ranging from mass death to nuclear power meltdowns and interrupted rituals) or planar or astrological conjunctions. They may last as little as a few minutes, or as long as a few months. The area near the overlap on the connected plane is usually lightly-populated and/or hard to reach. Things from the Shadowblast yearn to escape it, and seek Beachheads—often causing trouble for the denizens of the connected plane. However, many powerful Shadowblastoi cannot pass through unless a Beachhead is reinforced, which requires energy—emotional, magical, or technological—to be released chaotically on the other plane. Some beachheads need specific kinds of energy, while others grow stronger with anything from a rock concert to a political riot to a wildfire.
But the majority of Shadowblastoi that pass through a Beachhead are sucked back into the Shadowblast when the Beachhead closes. The amount of energy to keep a Beachhead open slowly increases with time, so a permanent Beachhead seems impossible. Even so, the Shadowblastoi desperate to escape their demiplane keep trying to find new forms of energy or magic to make a Beachhead last, or be able to create one at-will. Since the planar barriers are thinnest between the Shadowblast and the Material Plane around Lost Golarion and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth, those are the places Shadowblastoi most often seek to invade (though certainly efforts to wedge open Beachheads to other planes are also undertaken).
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Yesterday, I previewed a new type of feat coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book. (And the awesome cover!) Today, I’m teasing some general rules designed to cover the use of everyday mundane equipment.
[H2]Mundane Equipment Rules
Not everything listed as mundane equipment has detailed descriptions or specific rules associated with it. Mostly, this is because I assume we all know what a smart phone, alarm clock, and ball-point pen are. I certainly could go into excruciating detail on how long a line, in linear feet, you can draw with the ink in one ball-point pen, and the differences between disposable ones, refillable, and collectable. But I decided not to do that.
Because I don’t want to.
Seriously, modern gear mostly doesn’t need a ton of rules behind it. You have a pdf ruleset you had to be online to buy, so you have access to the Internet. If you need to know how many ounces of ink are in a typical ball-point pen, or the burn rate of scented candles, or if polypropylene rope floats (hint: it does), you can take 15 seconds online to look it up.
But while many games may end up needing to know one of those things, once, in a specific weird circumstance, the overwhelming majority won’t need to know any of the rest of the trivia I could fill a modern equipment section with. So, I don’t want to take the time, or space, or make people read through it all, just to cover the rare corner case with well-defined facts and rules.
Instead, I’d prefer to give some general rules on how to determine if a character’s effort to use a piece of equipment in a specific way works. That puts the GM and players on roughly the same page about the chances of success when you try something off-the-wall, and can be used regardless of what mundane equipment is involved. ShadowFinder is about facing weird threats in mysterious circumstances at strange locations, not careful tracking of modern mundania.
So, what rules DO I think make sense for modern gear we’re either all familiar with, or able to easily look up with the marvel of online search engines? Simply put, rules that determine if a character can successfully do what they want with a piece of equipment. To keep that short and simple, I’m going to use Skill checks as the baseline for gear success, breaking into XX easy steps for the GM to go through.
[H4]1. Is There Already A Rule For This?
Often, players will just want to use their equipment as a way to do typical adventuring things. If the attempted use is already covered by a Starfinder rule, just use that rule and assign a penalty or circumstance bonus as seems appropriate. Given how tight the success math is for most tasks, if you can attempt something with a piece of gear, it likely shouldn’t take more than a -2 penalty for being an off label use. Similarly, circumstance bonuses can be a little as +1 or +2, and should very rarely go above +5.
For example, E.Z.Wren is in a Parasol Consolidated Industries office waiting to talk to a compliance officer about evidence E.Z. has uncovered about PCI violating various consumer safety laws. Suddenly, instead of middle management, four chemghouls burst into the room. E.Z. makes a made dash for the conference room off the office, and gets inside and locks the door. But the chemghouls begin hammering the door, which won’t hold them long, and the only other way out of the conference room is the windows.
On the 23rd story.
E.Z. wants to smash a window open with a chair. That sounds like an improvised weapon, so the GM just treats the chair as an awkward club with a -4 penalty to attack rolls as with the standard improvised weapon rules. It takes a few swings, but E.Z. breaks one of the big window panes, and now has access to the outside of the building.
Unfortunately, it’s an all-glass sides modern high-rise and E.Z. doesn’t have any climbing equipment with him. Obviously, the building’s exterior isn’t perfectly smooth, but it seems likely to be a “relatively smooth surface with occasional handholds,” as defined by the Athletics skill (which covers climbing), so the GM rules it’s a DC 25 Athletics check, and given the height (240 feet, the GM decides), E.Z. would have to make a lot of checks to successfully make it to the ground.
[H4]2. Can The Equipment Be Used This Way?
(There are more steps obviously, but this is a TEASRER PREVIEW, not an entire rules section!)
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Today, I am going to look at a new type of feat coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.
Also, a peak at the W.I.P. cover for the Core Book.
Quirky feats are a special category of feats that represent something abnormal and strange, even when grading on the curve of exceptional heroes with extraordinary and magic powers. While combat and general feats can cover everything from having a bit of spellcasting ability (or enigma power), specialized training, or even a gaining a squox companion, Quirky feats are both more specialized and just plain stranger than that. Quirky feats like Branded By An Actual Artifact, Demon For A Hand, Doomed To A Horrific Fate, Literal Third Eye, and Skunk Stripe of Significance indicate some importance well beyond just the rule interactions they grant. A GM may well build cosmological details on Quirky Feats, such as having a door that can only be opened by a character who has the Demon for a Hand feat, or a creature that doesn’t get to use it’s DR and energy resistances against anyone with the Skunk Stripe of Significance.
Not all ShadowFinder games will have any Quirky feats. The GM and players should discuss if they want the kind of offbeat heroes these feats tend to create, and certainly don’t push the issue if a few players hate the idea. Try to make decisions that will help everyone enjoy the game. (In fact, always do that.)
Because Quirky feats are more attention-grabbing than normal feats, they follow some special rules.
First, a GM should feel free to give a character that doesn’t have a Quirky feat access to one as a bonus when it’s narratively appropriate. For example, if a PC tries to grapple the Shadowblastoi that is making off with the Amulet of Ra the entire campaign is built around, and fails, the GM might well tell the player their character can gain Branded By An Actual Artifact as a bonus feat, if the player wants. The GM should never force a Quirky feat on a PC without the player’s buy-in. They’re just too, well, quirky.
Second, a character that has a Quirky feat can’t select one using any of their normal feat choices. Once you are Doomed to a Horrific Fate, you already have plenty of weird, special things about your character. You don’t need to add a Frequent Heroic Breeze or Weird Eye That Means Something to such a character—leave some Quirky stuff for other people! Also, you can’t take a quirky feat another character in the same party has without GM approval, and the GM should get the other player’s approval. If everyone descended from the Witch Heather Spellgoode has a literal third eye, it makes sense for two characters that are siblings to both take it. But if one character ends up with a Demon For A Hand, it’s going to be weird if another character goes to Demon-For-A-Hand-R-Us and gets one for themselves.
In rare cases, a GM may have a plot point take away a Quirky feat that has previously been given as a bonus feat. If this is done, it’s polite to either replace it with another Quirky feat the player approves of (maybe being healed of the scar from being Branded By An Actual Artifact exposed you to energies that caused you to gain a Skunk Stripe of Significance), or grant a bonus feat slot the player can use to take anything their character qualifies for.
In even rarer cases, a GM might grant a character that already has a Quirky feat the opportunity to acquire another one, either as a bonus feat or as a feat they can select next time they gain a feat. This should only be done when it serves to drive the narrative forward, but GMs must use their best judgement on that.
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Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.