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Combat Effects on Missed Attacks for Starfinder

As discussed in the articles Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder, and Greater Partial Effects for Starfinder “Save Negates” Spells, there’s very little as frustrating for a player than to take their whole turn and have absolutely no impact on a conflict. We’ve talked about how to possibly mitigate that frustration for combat maneuvers and spells, but what about characters focusing on just making attacks? Certainly, constantly missing a target is no less frustrating that failed maneuvers and resisted spells, even if it is theoretically easier to accomplish and doesn’t have as high a resource cost. So, should we create minor secondary effects on failed attacks for the combatant characters?

I personally think the answer is “yes…. but.”

On the one hand, it makes sense that exactly the same factors that make failed attempts unfun for maneuvers and spells makes it unfun for attacks. On the other hand, the very fact that attacks are more likely to succeed and easy to keep trying means they need to not have all the advantages of other combat options. While we made combat maneuvers and spells more appealing by giving them minor conditions that could apply even when they failed, we can’t use the same solution for standard attacks. First, it doesn’t make sense for a failed standard attack to impose a condition when a successful one doesn’t. Secondly, if failed attacks impose conditions, even minor ones, they’ll overshadow the hard-won advances in failed combat maneuver and spells feeling impactful.

We can, however, have missed attacks still have SOME impact in combat. But it shouldn’t be a condition, and it shouldn’t be damage (not because that couldn’t be balanced with some small amount of damage, but because a large segment of d20 game players rebel at the idea of doing damage on a miss, and because the tiny amount of damage we’d have to make it be for balance would likely not feel satisfying).

So, instead, we can play with accuracy. As with all these “effects on a failure” rules this could be made a general rule, or even a general rule for characters with base attack bonuses equal to their character level, but I think it makes the most sense to present it as a feat.

Zero In

As your foes evade your attacks, you manage to zero in on their defenses, increasing your accuracy for your next attack.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: When you make an attack against a target’s EAC or KAC (or a starship’s AC, but not TL), and your attack misses, and the attack has no effect on any target, you gain a +1 insight bonus to your next attack against that target using the same weapon. If you attack a target with this insight bonus and miss again, the insight bonuses increases by 1, to a maximum equal to your Strength modifier (for most melee attacks) or Dexterity modifier (for ranged attacks and melee attacks with operative weapons if you used your Dexterity bonus as part of your attack bonus). If you attack another target, damage the target you used Zero In to gain an insight bonus for, or the encounter ends, your insight bonus resets to +0.

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Greater Partial Effects for Starfinder “Save Negates” Spells

As discussed yesterday in the article “Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder,” there’s very little as frustrating for a player than to take their whole turn and have absolutely no impact on a conflict. Obviously in addition to combat maneuvers, which are much more difficult to succeed with than other attacks, the same frustration can be felt by spellscasters using spells that have no effect if their target succeeds at a saving throw. In many ways that is additionally frustration, because a limited resource has been expended.

On the other hand, boosting the power of spellcasters is an extremely tricky balancing act. Numerous “save: negates” spell can incapacitate a target with a single bad saving throw, and making them more effective (and thus less of a gamble for the spellcaster using them) can easily swing them from underpowered to overpowered. Further, we need to make sure that we don’t boost the power of lower-level and large-area spells by too much on a failed save, since if they retain a high degree of utility higher-level spellcasters end up with both high-level spells that work as originally designed, and a backup of more-useful low-level spells.

So, the following feat is designed to allow spellcasters to get SOME utility from save: negates spells, while carefully costing them some of their other options when casting them, and ensuring lower-level spells don’t become overpowered in higher-level games. If a GM finds spellcasters are simply all underpowered in their games, they could just make this a universal rule that applies to all spellcasters.

And again, if anyone has questions about the why of the design choices for spellcasters in Starfinder, that’s the sort of thing I am happy to discuss when patrons ask about it on my Patreon.

Greater Partial Effect

You can take time to weave more complex spells, which have a partial effect even on targets that resist them.
Prerequisites: Caster level 1
Benefit: When you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action that affects only one target, and the spell is listed as having no effect if the target makes its saving throw, you can choose to cast the spell as a full-round action. If you do so, and the target succeeds at its saving throw and the spell would normally thus have no effect, the spell instead as a minor partial effect for 1 round. The partial effect is based on the target’s CR compared to the spell level of the spell you cast, as noted below.

Target CR is Equal To or Lower Than Spell Level: Target is Sickened for 1 round.

Target CR is Above Spell Level, Below x2 Spell Level: Target is Flat-Footed for 1 round.

Target CR is Above x2 Spell Level, Below x3 Spell Level: Target is Off-Target for 1 round.

Target CR is x3 Spell Level or Greater: Target is Dazzled for 1 round.

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Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder

Okay, let’s get back to doing some ttRPG rules you can bring to the table, shell we?

Combat maneuvers in Starfinder are specifically designed to be difficult to pull off against a significant foe without having a fair number of bonuses in place. You have to hit an opponent’s KAC +8, which is a difficult task, and if you fail you have no effect on them at all. This is an intentional design choice rather than some accident of not playtesting (indeed, it was originally KAC +10, and after playtesting we decided that was exactly 10% too hard to achoice, which is why the weird “+8” value is used).

(If you want to know WHY we made that intentional design choice, I recommend joining my Patreon for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and ask in the comments there!)

The biggest problem with having an appealing-looking effect available but unlikely to work, is that there is very little as frustrating for players than taking a round to accomplish absolutely nothing. In a game with soft limits designed to keep a character from ever being able to specialize in a tactic to the point it nearly never fails, this frustration is worse for players who are trying to create a certain kind of “build” focused on trying a difficult maneuver over and over. The end result may be effective (if you have to try to disarm someone three times before you succeed, but disarming them makes them nearly useless and you couldn’t knock them out that fast, it’s an effective tactic), but still not be any fun.

(And yes, there are things like “save: negates” spells that have the same issue. But that’s a different article.)

However, just making it easier to perform the difficult-but-extremely-effective maneuver can break the balance of different options in the game, especially if other soft limits are kept in place.

But you can alleviate some of the unfun “wasted by whole turn” feeling by having a midpoint between spectacular success and total failure.

You COULD just add this as an alternate rule that applies to all combat maneuvers performed by everyone, or make it a built-in part of the Improved Combat Maneuver feat. However, you’ll have the least impact on game balance if this becomes a new feat option, allowing additional specialization for characters who want a better chance to impact combat with their preferred maneuvers, without making the maneuvers universally more effective.

Greater Combat Maneuver (Combat)

With one specific combat maneuver, even when you fail you often inconvenience your target.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Choose one combat maneuver (bull rush, dirty trick, disarm, grapple, reposition, sunder, or trip). If your attack roll for this combat maneuver fails to hit your target’s KAC +8, but does hit their KAC +4, you manage a :near miss,” and impose a minor, temporary condition on the target. This is not considered succeeding at the combat maneuver for purposes of any other effects of yours that are triggered by succeeding at a combat maneuver.
The effect you have on a near-miss depends on the combat maneuver you have selected, as noted below.
Bull Rush: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Dirty Trick: The target had to twist away from you, or shield its eyes, to avoid the impact of your dirty trick. The subject is dazzled for 1 round.
Disarm: You didn’t knock the item out of the target’s hand, but you did give it a good whack, impacting their aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Grapple: While you haven’t managed to get a solid grip on your target, your attempt to get a grip and subsequently being in-their-face makes it a bit more difficult for them to pay attention to anything else. They are dazzled for 1 round.
Reposition: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Sunder: You didn’t damage the item, but you did give it a good whack, impacting the target’s aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Trip: Although you didn’t trip the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Special: You can take Greater Combat Maneuver multiple times. The effects don’t stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new combat maneuver.

While this feat doesn’t require Improved Combat Maneuver (in keeping with Starfinder’s tendency to keep feat chains to a minimum), it has obvious synergy with that feat. A character with Improved Combat maneuver (disarm) gains a +4 bonus to their disarm attempts. That means if their attack roll would normally hit the target’s AC, with the +4 from the Improved feat it’ll hit KAC +4, which is enough to trigger Greater Combat Maneuver. So on any roll that would have been good enough to damage the target that character could get some impact from attempting a combat maneuver, even if it doesn’t get the full maneuver effect.

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Intangible Rewards in the Really Wild West

One of the ways I try to make ttRPG sessions fun, as a GM, is to give players rewards above and beyond just loot and items.

I think of these as non-tangible rewards, though certainly some can be “tanged.”

For example, in my Really Wild West campaign, the players have formed a group known as the Knight Rangers. The Knight Rangers have recently been listed in national newspapers as one of the “Great Posses of the New Wild,” bands of extraordinary adventurers who are making a differences in the increasingly dangerous New Wild West. There’s even a ranking of the Top Ten Great Posses, so the PCs know what their reputation looks like.

Just for fun, they are ranked as follows:

1. Blud-Hexen Bunch

2. Tannerfaust

3. Knight Rangers

4. Sweet Daisies

5. Irregulators

6. Swordslingers

7. Hell-Wranglers

8. The Sawed-Off Seven

9. Snakenails

10. Dragonpunchers

So when it turns out one of the bad guys the Knight rangers killed in a previous adventure was the brother of one of the Irregulators, who calls out the PC who did it with an eye to vengeance, the players all have an idea of their relative reputation compared to the band calling them out.

Similarly, the Knight Rangers have been named “Trustees” of a number of organizations and businesses, who officially trust the group to be both intending and able to help deal with major problems, and thus worthy of giving favors to.

The centaur paladin in the group has learned she is so feared, crime bosses track when she is in town, and reduce the crime level when she is. The soldier with a mystic bent is talking to daughters of death and crow and raven fylgiur. The roboticist technomancer is becoming a renowned expert on Martian tripod technology, and asked to give lectures. The technomancers has been invited to teach at a rebel salon bucking the official theosophy university. The whole group has had conversations with deputies of the supernatural Marshal in charge of hunting down “gravejumpers.”

The trust, fear, and reputation are all things the players can work with, use as tools, or just accept as an evolution of their characters stories. But they are often a lot more interesting than getting another ring of resistance.

Although the Airship in a Bottle IS kinda cool loot.

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My Evolution as a Tabletop RPG Player, Part 1. The Beginning

The idea of a tabletop roleplaying game was so unbelievably powerful and alluring when I first encountered it in 1982, it did not matter how good or bad the rules were. In fact, it didn’t matter if we even had the rules–the group I first played with (myself, my sister, and my uncle Lucien) literally only had the hardback 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide available to us. But the very idea of a game where you took on the role of a heroic character and played through your own adventures was so seductive that I crafted (terrible) rules to replace the Player’s Handbook, and we managed two game sessions.

I was hooked forever. To the best of my knowledge, neither my uncle or sister ever played again.

Part of the appeal was that I was an voracious reader, and always got through series I loved faster than they were produced. And, in many cases, the pulp novels that lined the hallway to my bedroom in my childhood home stopped having new entries before I was even born. I hated getting invested in a character and having the stories about them just… stop.

But here was an opportunity to make my OWN stories. To my 11-year-old self, it had all the exciting appeal of playing cops & robbers, but with RULES and a simulated semi-objective reality attached so everything didn’t just devolve into yelling “Bang! Bang!” “You’re Dead!” “Am Not!” “Are Too!” (or, at least, that happened less often).

I was a child with a new toy, and it was better than any toy I had ever had previously. I was already dipping my hand into game design, on an ad-hoc, houserule basis, but I wasn’t really questioning the basis of the games I played, or the stories they encouraged me to tell. In the first few years I played a lot of Tunnels & Trolls solo modules, played a massive amount of D&D hybrids (blending AD&D 1st ed, OD&D, and Basic D&D however made sense at a given session),played a little Car Wars (but made a LOT of Car Wars designs), and played a surprising amount of Secret Gamma Hill World Busters Alpha (smooshing Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, Gangbusters, and Metamorphosis Alpha into one reality-hopping, post-apocalypse-retro-Saturday-Afternoon-B-Movie mess, which only worked because no one questioned it much).

I had only two regular groups early on — the School Recess Crowd, and the game my mother ran for I and several friends every Sunday (in which she discovered young boys would shut up, listen to her, and tackle math, history, geography and logic puzzles if she made it needful for the solution of a dungeon room). Everything was fair game. We all borrowed from movies, books, comics, and other games. I grabbed every RPG I could, even ones I never got to play or only played 1ce or 2ce, and Traveller, Space Opera, Champions, Empire of the Pedal Throne, the Morrow Project, and Palladium Fantasy Roleplaying Game, all took up more and more space in my room, as action figures, brick-building sets, and plastic army men slowly lost their appeal.

But I was generally still only playing with people I knew from other walks of life in 1982 and 1983. A few school friends, family, and people my family arranged for me to meet. I wasn’t developing a circle of friends FROM gaming yet, nor expanding into all the wide and various other forms of tabletop games. I wasn’t questioning HOW to play games, or even WHY, or considering there might be good ways, bad ways, and even damaging ways.

Not yet.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 4

Fourth part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

You can find Part Three here.

Event

An Event kickoff begins with some big happening that has long-lasting consequences, and that the PCs are intentionally part of one way or another. If the PCs are all contestants in a bloodsport that determines the fate of the world (or just has prize money they all want), that’s an event set-up. If they are all arriving in the Big City for the World’s Fair, Queen’s Birthday, Anniversary of the End of the Z-Wars, Inauguration of the Jack of Graves, or Battle of the Planar Rock bands, and plan to partake of those happenings, that’s an Event setup.

An Event can often be tied to other setups, as a lead-in to a longer-lasting framework for the campaign. If the annual Demigod Trial Festival is a continent-wide celebration the PCs are all attending, with various chances to get up to mischief, and at the end of the first adventure the PCs are all going to be accepted in the Demigod Academy, then it’s an Event leading into an Organization.

An Event can be particularly useful for new players if you can have their participation in the events help showcase individual elements of the rules. If the PCs are all young adventurer-hopefuls attending the Adventure Academy Admittance Trials, those trials can highlight the game’s various systems (a mock combat, a lockpicking speed trial, tightrope walk, insult-duels, riddle contests, and so on) allowing the players to see how their PCs do in those situations and how the rules world while the stakes are fairly low.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time

The difference between an Event and Wrong Place/Wrong Time is largely intentionality of both attendance and what spawns the adventure. It can be on a large or small scale. If a dragon (or kaiju, alien starship, floating castle, demigod, zombie hordes, tank battalion–whatever is genre appropriate) attacks a city that is home to all the PCs, or is hosting a major festival the PCs are all attending, turning it into a ruin from which they must escape, that’s a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup. If the PCs are on a train headed west when it’s hijacked by teleporting snakemen, that’s also a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time is a great way to get quickly and directly into some action. All you need is to have all the PCs in one place, and then the adventure can come to them. This works best if the action that occurs naturally leads to more adventure, so the PCs don’t just go their separate ways when the first adventure ends. For example, if the PCs are all on a fantasy-themed roller coaster, and it warps them to an actual fantasy realm, not only do they have to deal with whatever is waiting for them when they arrive, they now have to figure out how to survive in this new realm, and make a living, or make it home.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time can be a good addition to a longer campaign setup. Even if you are doing Family, Organization, Patron, or Tavern as on ongoing setup, you can start with a Wrong Place/Wrong Time to get the PCs into the action, together, quickly.

Right Place/Right Time

The difference between Wrong Place/Wrong Time and Right Place/Right Time is that while the former is about misfortune arriving wherever the PCs are, the latter is about something good (in the broad scheme of things) occurring and leading to adventure. If the PCs are all hanging out at the Taco King parking lot when a Dark matter meteorite bathes them in cosmic radiation turning them into superheroes, they have been thrust into a world of adventure by being in the Right Place/Right Time.

Right Place/Right Time can later be revealed to be Destiny, if you want. While it may seem the servants of Sir Gerginald got lucky by being present when he was slain by a dragon, bathing them all in martyr’s blood and anointing them with eldritch magics, that may in fact have been the fulfillment of the Blood Guild Prophecy. Or perhaps Mr. Cellophane has been injecting hospital patients with experimental super-serum, and the PCs as survivors of a train wreck were just the first recipients to survive his efforts (which, obviously, they find out when they see right through him).

Right Place/Right Time doesn’t automatically assume the PCs are going to agree to participate in the adventure those events open up for them, so it may be useful to combine it with anther setup. It’s easy to have Right Place/Wrong Time blends by having the triggering event be random and a mixed blessing. Perhaps the PCs were in the same hospital as the Ghoul Outbreak, forcing them to fight for their lives against bloodthirsty undead, but as a result they also have immunity to the ghoul virus, and develop various necromantic powers. The outbreak forces them to deal with the Wrong Place/Wrong Time survival threat, getting the campaign started, but it also gives them powers which are going to make survivors in the ensuing Ghoul Apocalypse turn to them for help and leadership.

Obviously there are LOTS more kickoff setups you can use, but hopefully this short list will give you some options and help get you creative juices flowing.

Game On!

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 3

Third part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

Organization

Using an Organization for the setup of your campaign kickoff can make things extremely easy at first, but may come with hidden work for you later-on. The simplest form of Organization setup is that the PCs are all members of the same Organization, and it sends them on missions that create adventures. This can be a military organization, a knighthood, an NGO, Star Fleet, a mercenary company, adventuring guild, thieves guild, wizards guild, the Honorable and Holy Order of Sewer Guardians, SpecterBusters, a newspaper, the FBI, a Lady’s Sewing Circle, insurance claim investigators, doctors without dimensional barriers, CDC field team, the Imperial Diplomatic Corps, starship crew, space trucker union, Lamplighter’s Guild, Library Overdue Asset Network and Interdiction Team (LOAN IT)– whatever fits the genre and tone of the campaign, and that the players are all willing to be members of.

Of course just because you start a game with players as part of an Organization (or even just trying to get in — a first session that is the Admission trials of the troubleshooter’s Union could be a lot of fun) doesn’t mean they have to stay in it. Here in my experience the two most important issues are player expectation and current player satisfaction. If you have proposed that a game is the adventures of the Stellar Alliance Battlecarrier Valorous, and you plan to have the characters all cashiered out over something that isn’t there fault by session 3, you may have a lot of unhappy players who were excited to be part of a big starship crew. OTOH, if the players end up hating how Stellar Alliance regulations hamper their desire to help non-member citizens and want to go it on their own, forcing them to stick with the organization they dislike can also be a big problem.

One good way to subvert expectations in an Organizations campaign is to have sub-organizations, perhaps secret ones, that the players can find out about and choose to join (or not). If the Lamplighter’s Guild has a secret “Bump in the Night” department that handles horrific things their lights sometimes illuminate (an awesome idea I am stealing here from my friend Carl), the players can work with that group, or look to join them, or even work against them if they think the Bit-N are actually traitorous vampire spawn.

Patron

The idea of a Patron setup is that the PCs are working for, or at least aided by, a powerful Patron who can direct them to adventures, and help them gain access to resources and/or people when it might otherwise be beyond the PCs’ reach. A Patron setup can be a nice mid-point between Organization and Wanted Posters — the PCs need not be as wantonly mercenary as an entirely Wanted Post campaign might suggest, nor as beholden to a set of rules as is common in an organization-style campaign.

A Patron might be just a wealthy or well-connected individual, but there can be other interesting options to. A Patron could be someone unable to operate in society easily on their own — a sentient magic item, or a strong AI, or a member of a marginalized group the culture won’t take serious or treat with respect. Or they could have legal or societal limitations based on standing and position — Commissioner Gauthier can’t be seen operating outside the law, but instead makes a deal with a group of vigilantes that as long as they play by his much looser rules, he’ll feed them intel and not pursue them himself.

One common trope is for a Patron to actual be evil, and planning to betray the PCs, and/or destroy them. While this is pretty well expected in some genres (noir detective stories especially, and things inspired by those tropes), I am personally not a fan of that “twist” unless it’s actually a stated part of the game’s assumptions. I find it much more interesting to do things like have the Patron trust the PCs more and more, in time setting them up to be independent or even take over the patrons wealth and power, because betrayal is no fun in real life, and when it comes in my entertainment, I like it to not be a huge surprise or have a big impact. YMMV.

Mysterious Patron

The big difference between a Patron and a Mysterious Patron is that there’s some big element of the Mysterious patron the PCs aren’t aware of. Perhaps they only communicate through a speaker in an office, send coded messages through the bottlecaps of daily milk deliveries, or meet the PCs in the back of an abandoned opera house while wearing a all-concealing cloak that suggests they have a massive hump… or maybe wings and horns. In my experience it’s much harder to get players to trust a Mysterious patron (which can be fun), and they almost always want to Solve the Mystery, which means only use this setup of dealing with those issues seems likely to be fun for you and your players.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 2

Part two of the series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

Family Ties

This setup is a lot like the Organization, but you may not have any choice about being part of it. The campaign is driven by PCs’ ties to a family, which they may all be members of, or may have some different connection to (such as all working for the same noble clan, or all having been infected as hosts to related strains of the same sentient fungus). At their simplest Family Ties can drive forward a campaign through familial connections, ranging from helping out other family members to working to expand and protect all family holdings.

Family ties can be little more than an excuse to be in the Wrong Place/Wrong Time, such as if the reading of a family scion’s will brings all the characters together into a haunted house (or onto a secret seabase, into an exclusive club, at the lost keep, in the big boardroom, or around the meadhall fire, depending on genre). They can also come with duties that are hard to refuse (such as being the nobles who oversee a territory, or being the only bloodline that can activate the planetary defense grid… or the bloodstone altar, or whatever). Family ties can also come with enemies who don’t care if the PCs want to be involved in family business or not, from demons sworn to end all descendants of a great champion (or great champions sworn to end all descendants of a given demon), to rivals for a familial claim to a throne–whether the PCs have any interest in claiming it, or not.

One great way to subvert this is to make it family of choice, rather than blood or marriage. In a session 0, players can all be asked to create one NPC that is close friend and beloved companion to them all, even if the PCs do not themselves know each other (or do, but don’t like each other much). This gives players power to help define their driving force, and no player will be a bit surprised if that group-generated NPC is kidnapped, or needs help dealing with blackmail from the wererat mafia.

Wanted Posters

At their simplest Wanted Posters are literal posters offering a reward for some deed to be accomplished, from bringing in known criminals to coming along on time travel expeditions. Players can all be told they are answering the same Wanted Poster, or get caught up on some NPC’s attempt to make good on on. The format can vary as needed, from the town crier to personals columns in newspapers, late-night public access shows, spraypainted messages on underpasses, online forums and electronic bulletin-boards, or Dark Curve InfoSphere Sites.

Many fantasy and scifi settings have formalized versions of Wanted Posters, and assume a self-employed persona can make a living answering one call after another. There may be a big Notice Board just outside the city’s biggest auction house where offers of rewards for quests are posted, or a Bounty Hunter’s Guild that passes out tracking fobs for specific freelance reacquisition jobs. If there are enough such tasks, an Organization may evolve to bond and insure the best adventurers to answer such offers, but it’s perfectly possible for individual middlemen, fixers, and “Agent Johansson” underworld figures to connect employers and for-pay-troubleshooters on an ad-hoc, if frequent basis.

The less common way to use Wanted Posters to drive a plot is for the faces of the PCs to appear on them, turning the mercenary community against the characters. This can be a subplot at any time, but if the PCs are all selected by some nefarious force to be blamed for a crime, it can kickoff a campaign to have the unknowning character all wonder into the new town on the same day, and discover they have a collective price on their heads, even though they’ve never met. This can become a variant of Wrong Place/Wrong Time.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 1

Kicking-off a ttRPG campaign can be tough. You need a setup that gets all the player characters in the same place, working toward the same goal, and in most cases you want that setup to both not take a lot of time to explain, and have long-term impacts on the ongoing campaign so what time you take explaining the setup remains useful as the campaign moves along. Setup is connected to, but separate from, the plot, theme, and tone of a campaign. Some setups remain the backbone of the campaign for its duration, while others are mere starting points that are discarded once the PCs are comfortable working together and have their teeth in the meat of the game’s adventures.

Basically, anytime you think “That’d be a cool way to start a campaign!,” you’re considering a campaign setup.

Over the course of this week, we’re going to look at some common (and less-common) kickoff setups, including Tavern, School, Family Ties, Wanted Posters, Organization, Patron, Mysterious Patron, Event, Wrong Place/Wrong Time, Right Place/Right Time, and maybe a couple more.

The Tavern

It’s a well-known trope, and overused, but that doesn’t mean there’s no utility to it. The idea is that there’s a gathering place where you can go to get into an adventure. It may be the home of your Patron, a favored hangout of members of your Organization or the School, or the place where Wanted Posters get put up.

I actually think the most interesting idea for the Tavern as a campaign kickoff is to look at Lloyd’s Coffee House, which lead to the creation of Lloyd’s of London. What began as an effort to have reliable news for maritime patrons turned into a global insurance market. It’s not hard to see how a popular tavern (or meadhall, cafe, diner, or intergalactic truck stop, depending on genre) near areas that need adventurers might work to have news of potential adventures and people hiring same.

You can subvert this setup in a few ways. One is to lean hard on the Lloyd’s example, and have “taverns” have simply evolved over decades from primarily places to get drink and lodgings to primarily places to do adventuring-related business (or maybe the evolution of function means those places aren’t called taverns anymore, but Hire Houses or some other term you introduce to the campaign). Another is to make a tavern itself the primary site for early adventures–perhaps a famous and massive tavern was abandoned after some horrific tragedy, and now new owners need the stables cleared of dire rate, the stockroom cleaned of psychic fungus, and the zombies in the basement dealt with.

The School

Whether it’s Backrazor’s School of Berserking and Skulldudgery, the Starknight Academy, Eerie Indiana’s Stranger High School, or Miskatonic University, the idea behind the School setup is that all the PCs are students of the school, and that is what’s going to get them into the adventure.

If the school is training people to BE adventurers, or something similar (military academy, space knight squire class, witches and wizards community college, whatever), it’s easy to see how both minor adventures may be part of the standard class and exam methodology and lead to bigger adventures. For schools with less esoteric curriculum, adventure may come in the form of a locational threat (your school just happens to be at the center of the zombie apocalypse, or the hellmouth, or where the aliens land, or where the Queen of Love and Thorns sets up her fallback command post), or the secret headquarters of an Organization, or again as the home of a Patron.

School can also be easily blended with other setups. If the PCs are all AbHumans with superpowers, learning how to control those abilities at the Kenson Academy while participating as members of the Young Crystal Knights hero team, the academy is obviously also part of an Organization, and may even have a Patron in the form of Professor Kenson. If the school is ground zero for the Dragon Invasion, then being there put the PCs in the Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

One way to subvert this setup is to make the “school” something very different from a big building on a formal campus. Perhaps all young nobles of the realm must spend one full year with a touring knight-magistrate, learning about their lands and its problems. Maybe there is a specific starship for training cadets, and easing them into their final roles and duties. You could have a French Foreign Legion-like group that operated airships with sign-on-mercenaries (no experience needed) to patrol the Diesel Mountains, facing off against Sky Pirates, Wand-Runners, and Panzerdemons.

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Otherworld: A Mode for Wayward

One of my Shower Projects recently (things I only spend time thinking about while showering, making lunch, and so on) has been what my Modes (pocket parallel worlds that overlap with the “normal” world of the Ecumene may look like in the  Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

I’ll want my Modes to be distinct, different, yet feel like they belong in the same sets of stories. Two have already suggested themselves to me.

The first of those is Otherworld, a mode where creatures from various afterlife mythologies (Valkyries, angels, devils, ghosts, and so on) live and interact in a version of the modern world where every town, or every neighborhood in big cities, has a single distinct character. Svanrcroft is tall stone buildings, broad, tree-filled lanes, and massive rock municipal buildings and concert halls; Latssvin is another neighborhood in the same city across the river from Svanrcroft, and is entirely rusting steel, cracked concrete towers, and brutalist sprawls with homes and businesses and offices crammed in with little rhyme or reason.

Each of these distinct neighborhoods is controlled by one afterlife group that serve much like some combination of street gangs, neighborhood watches, local beat cops, organized crime, and community centers. Major otherworld creatures mostly believe they are agents of divine beings, getting their “orders” from what appear to be entirely random sources — the Valkyries of Svanrcroft believe they receive orders from Freyja in the form of messages written on Brísingamen-brand food and drink packages, but to anyone else they just seem to be random, common commercial quotes.

Common citizens of the Otherworld are shades of Ecumene folk who have died, living agelessly in very much the condition they were in shortly before they died (though obviously ways to get better if sick, or younger if old, will be major potential plot drivers for Otherworld adventures featuring shades). The status of shades within Otherworld influences how they are remembered in Ecumene — a great writer whose shade has suffered misfortune and poverty within the Otherworld slowly loses their place of relevance and fame in Ecumene.

When major forces from Otherworld influence Ecumene, they tend to be voices heard by Ecumene commoners, who are driven into zealotry. A single Otherworld creature may be occasionally whispering to dozens of Ecumeners , or be spending vast amounts of time influencing a single person. Those affected are encouraged to perform acts, rituals, or influence world events in Ecumene that grant an Otherworld faction more prestige, power, and territory within Otherworld. Left unchecked, Ecumeners under Otherworld influence become Zealots, and begin to actually be able to bring tiny bits of Otherworld (and its Mode rules) into corners of Ecumene.

Within Otherworld, heroics are commonplace and easy, spellcasting is hard. This will be handled with some combination of special rules for stunt points — something like, whenever you reference the value of the stunt die (including when you roll doubles and need to determine the number of stunt points you get) you use the highest value die of your roll, rather than the stunt die–and special hindrances for spellcasting.

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