Yesterday we discussed what MacGuffins were, and how they could be used to drive ttRPG adventures. Now, we’ll list some *types* of MacGuffins that can help drive the action of an adventure. These are far from comprehensive, just some options a GM can consider when looking at MacGuffin-driven adventures. These can be mixed and matches as desired for a specific kind of adventure. These also aren’t rules of any kind, but more jumping-off points to encourage GMs to come up with new and interesting MacGuffins beyond the ring that needs to be thrown in the volcano, the algorithm that needs to be kept out of enemy hands, the valuable statue, or the assassin robot coming back from the future to kill the PCs.
Hidden: The true nature and/or the location of the MacGuffin is concealed. The PCs might have this MacGuffin (or be the focus of it, if it is Knowledge) and not even know it, which is why they are caught up in events.
Knowledge: The MacGuffin is some sort of information which motivates those who know it. This may be a prophecy which warns against or requires specific actions, or suppressed knowledge such as one of the PCs being the rightful heir to a kingdom. It can also be information someone already has, which a faction wishes to suppress further. If the PCs all learn the true name of a demon and can command it if they ever come face to face with it, but if any more people learn the name it will change the demon’s true name so it no longer works, the PCs can’t tell anyone else, and the demon wants to destroy them so it is safe from them.
Mysterious: Some things are known about the MacGuffin, but even those aware of its existence and nature don’t fully understand it.
Object, artifact: An artifact is an object of great importance because of what it can do for one faction or another. You may need to find and acquire it so your side can use it, keep it safe so the other side can’t use it, destroy it so no one can use it, or all of the above. This need not be magical — a letter of safe passage that will allow spies to scape the search for them in a tyrannical kingdom is an artifact because of what it can do.
Object, returning: You can’t get rid of the MacGuffin because it returns to you.
Object, treasure: The MacGuffin is an object of great value that drives NPCs to care about it. It may have pure monetary value, or may have some other kind of value. A book that proves an ancient philosopher thought of humor as important as other topic and rewrites history would be a treasure even if it’s price as an antique is insignificant to the people seeking it.
One-Sided MacGuffin: Not everyone can use the MacGuffin. For example, if only those of the Blood of the Original Emperor can use the Fate-Cutting Sword, and the only such descendent left is the bad Guy, the Fate-Cutting Sword is a one-sided MacGuffin.
Rumored: Not everyone is sure the MacGuffin exists. If the Flower of Resurrection is only spoken of in legend, you can go looking for it, but don’t has assurance it actually exists. If the antagonists are convinced a prophecy says the PCs will destroy the world, the PCs are likely to feel that without proof that’s just one possible future, but the MacGuffin prophecy still can drive the action if enough people aren’t willing to take the risk.
Temporary: The MacGuffin has some kind of ticking clock or time limit. A bomb that will blow up the entire city can be a temporary object MacGuffin — if you don’t find it by the time it explodes, the adventure is essentially over. A temporary MacGuffin might also be knowledge of a specific stellar conjunction, or a photograph that proves someone on death row is innocent. Temporary MacGuffins have additional pressure, which can encourage PCs to hurry up, but can also rush them along so the players have less fun.
Willful: The MacGuffin has its own will or agenda, or can take unexpected actions with no one directing it to do so. This may be because the MacGuffin is a creature or sentient object, or it may be more complicated than that. If the MacGuffin is the knowledge that there is a 5th cardinal direction and those that know of it can appear to teleport as they walk in a direction no one else knows exists, but doing so too often has a chance of releasing vorpal wraiths that severe creatures from reality until there is less 5th-directional travel, that secret knowledge is a willful MacGuffin (and may also be why the knowledge was suppressed or hidden in a way that makes it a MacGuffin now).
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A lot of adventures use the literary device of the MacGuffin. That is, something that motivates the plot, but doesn’t impact it. The Holy Grail in Arthurian myth is a great example — the knights seek it, villains want it, but it almost never impacts the story itself. Your MacGuffin may come back into things in the final arc of your story, but achieving it may also just be the end of the story. Other famous examples are the Maltese Falcon of its eponymous movie, and the Ark from Raiders of the Lost Ark–which literally gets put away once the heroes get their hands on it.
It’s easy to see what this would be a great trope for ttRPG adventures. Seeking a MaGuffin can have numerous legs, each needed to acquire this thing but not actually interacting with the MacGuffin itself. If you present an Unstoppable Evil rising in the Westlands, for example, stage one of your adventure might be to find an Ancient Tablet of lore that will tell you how to defeat the Unstoppable Evil. That things that can stop the Unstoppable Evil is now the adventure’s MacGuffin (replacing the tablet itself, which was a minor MacGuffin). Then, you need to seek a Retired Oracle, who is the only being that can tell you how to find the MacGuffin. This may require acquiring a Map to the MacGuffin Vault, and then separately a Key to the MacGuffin Vault. Then, of course, it turns out the MacGuffin Vault is at the bottom of a vast flooded Dungeon, in the middle of a war zone, so you need to both bring the war to a close, and find a way to adventure underwater. All the while, minions of the Unstoppable Evil seek to stop you, and agents of the Questionable Other Faction are seeking the MacGuffin for their own Mysterious Purposes, which may be to defeat the Unstoppable Evil on their own terms, or perhaps to use the MacGuffin’s power to turn their leader into an Even More Unstoppable Evil.
Sure, if the RPG campaign lasts long enough for the PCs to actually get the Main MacGuffin, you likely want a satisfying Showdown, but the MacGuffin doesn’t have to be weapon that is going to get used by the heroes. A MacGuffin could be a famous treasure (which may or may not be of great value… or even real), a document that settles a generational dispute, an object the loss of which has caused dishonor, an item that the PCs have no use for but which would make a foe immensely more powerful, or dozens of other possibilities.
A MacGuffin may broken into different pieces that must each be found and assembled, such as the classic Rod of Seven Parts, in which each part may act as a useful device, but the concept of them all combined becomes the true plot-driving MacGuffin. Some MacGuffins are clouded in riddles and secrets and the question involves answering them–the whispered word “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane drives the story exactly because no one knows what it means. Rather than eb sought out, a MacGuffin can be something you have to get rid of, an idea perhaps most famously presented as the One Ring in Lord of the Rings. The PCs may not have any interest in the MacGuffin itself, but just be drawn into other’s desires to have/understand/or destroy it, as is the case in The Maltese Falcon. (And if the PCs are the type of heroes who can be hired to go on adventures, it’s easy to draw them into Maltese Falcon-style plots of searching, betrayal, and forgery).
While cinema often gets away with not defining a MacGuffin well beyond its existence (think of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, or whatever’s in the trunk in Repo Man, or in the box in Kiss Me Deadly), that tends not to work well when the MacGuffin is something the players can get their hands on (or even use resources like divination magic to learn about). It’s generally best as the GM to have a firm idea what the MacGuffin is and why people want it (or wants to get rid of it, or learn about it, or whatever is driving the action of the adventure), even if you don’t expect all of that information to be revealed.
In future installments, we’ll look at some options for specific adventure MacGuffins.
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The idea of developing a fighting style specifically designed to benefit a jetpack or other movement-boosting device is certainly not a new one, but it’s not something I have seen apply to the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. While this might grow to be a whole series of fighting techniques for soldiers to operative specializations, for the moment I’m just starting with a couple of combat feats.
For the following options, “jetpack” applies to any armor upgrade or technological, hybrid, or magic item that gives you a flight speed, or gives you a bonus to Athletics checks made to jump (including items that increase your land speed enough that the increased speed gives you a bonus to Athletics checks to jump). “Using” the jetpack means being able to activate it and expending any battery power, use duration, fuel, or similar consumable required to gain the flight or bonus to Athletics checks to jump. You don’t actually need to take an action to do this, it is part of whatever action is required in the Jet Justsu option.
Jet Back (Combat)
Benefit: When you are attacked by a foe you observing (see States of Awareness), as a purely defensive reaction you can use your jetpack to dodge out of the way. You can move up to half your land or fly speed, and gain a +4 circumstance bonus to your AC against that one attack, and to any Reflex save required by the attack. On your next turn, you must take a Move action to recover as your first action. If you are prevented from doing this (such as if you are stunned), you fall prone. You are also off-target until the end of your next round.
Jet Punch (Combat)
Benefit: You can use your jetpack as part of a charge. You do not take a -2 penalty to your attack roll as with a normal charge, but your penalty to AC increases by -2 (normally to -4 AC). You add half the item level of your jetpack, to a maximum of half your ranks in Piloting, to your damage on a a successful attack.
You may also want to take Jet Charge, Mobility, Sky Jockey, and Spring Attack as part of your Jet Justsu techniques.
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This is designed as a simple template for monsters in a wide range of d20 games. It has a horror/mystery theme, and the GM should consider its use carefully. Certainly it’s going to be as dangerous as a creature 1 level or CR higher, and if PCs do not yet know how to deal with it, it may be much more dangerous. On the other hand, a group could walk right past one and never know it, so it needs to be used in an intentional way with forethought, rather than as a random encounter.
A koufrawraith is a creature that exists in the dim fog between the waking world and the Plane of Dreams. They cannot be encountered by anyone fully in either realm, but do cross into any other reality where creatures able to sleep exist. Despite the name koufrawraiths are not necessarily undead, though undead koufrawraiths do exist. Many are hags, fey, monstrous beasts,and rarer examples exist as constructs, dragons, and oozes.
A koufrawraith’s existence can only be experienced by those who are fatigued or exhausted, but conscious. For any other creature, they cannot be perceived or effected, and the koufrawraith similarly cannot directly effect those who are ineligible to perceive it. It does perceive waking and sleeping creatures, but no action it takes (including things like casting spells that leave lasting effects, such as a wall of stone) can be perceived by, effect, or be effected by such creatures. Secondary effects can be–if a koufrawraith damages an exhausted person, the damage is visible and can be healed, but there is no evidence of how it was caused. Any effort to identify a koufrawriath from secondary observation or description suffers a -10 penalty.
Also known as sleepgaunts, koufrawraiths often prey upon lone insomniacs and those suffering great loss or toil. If feeds on the suffering of the tired, and prefers to hurt and frighten its food source, rather than kill them.
The ancient order of the Wearied Guard once drove koufrawraiths to near extinction, but once they were no longer a common threat, societies stopped supporting, or even believing, those who claimed their crucial work had to be done in the still of night, while bleary-eyed and staggering from fatigue.
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ShadowFinder is a concept for a Modern Urban Fantasy setting using heavily-modified Starfinder.
The idea behind ShadowFinder is that there used to be magic in our world, but it went away when the Gods of Old Egypt left to go a place Beyond. Then there was no magic to speak of, until a group of mystic champions arrived in Siberia during WWI to kill Rasputin, and accidentally left a few magic devices behind.
Now it’s the Modern era, and magic is common enough that most governments and many international organizations have at least one department that knows about it, and as needed deals with it. But the greatest protection a mundane creature can have is to believe magic does not exist, and so these in-the-know groups are literally protecting the world by keeping magic a secret. Further, just as vampires cannot be seen in mirror, they (and all magic effects and creatures) cannot clearly be recorded or sensed by any camera, film, or recording device, but are vulnerable to atomic weapons. So magic threats tend to try to stay out of sight, so they don’t force the whole world to grapple with their existence and potentially over-react with devastating power.
Both sides work to keep magic in the Shadows, and to find sources, allies, threats, and lost relics in those shadows to bolster their own side in a never-ending was keep just out of sight.
Classes would be drawn from various sources. Soldiers and operative from the core rulebook, certainly, with little change. Likely mechanics, but with neither drones nor exo-cortexes as common options, replaced with some other variable class feature. No solarions or vanguards at all, but maybe sword saints. Warlocks and witches seem more appropriate than mystics or technomancers, though it’d be a shame to not have some kind of modern-device-focused spellcasters — again variant classes might do the trick. Biohackers are out, witchwarpers likely in. The precog is a definite maybe, depending on how it turns out.
Weapons would scale differently, with an equipment list that didn’t assume you got higher- and higher-level weapons, but instead use weapon damage benchmarks to scale up the damage a character does as they gain levels, allowing things like pistols, shotguns, and rifles to retain utility even at extremely high levels.
In a standard characters would at least initially be part of one of the groups that monitor, track, and if needed neutralize supernatural threats, and action would primarily take place in wilderness areas, abandoned towns, lonely highways, and defunct sewers, basements, and subway lines. As players got used to how the ShadowFinder world worked, some scenes might burst into the bright light of day, only to be misconstrued by the public (and maybe even misremembered by witnesses) as gas main explosions, terrorist attacks, or herds of feral hogs.
Plots could include locking down viral zombie outbreaks before they turn into zombie apocalypses, retrieving the book that got moved to a university’s accessible library that is bring people’s nightmares to life, undead serial killers that haunt campgrounds, tracking down wererat colonies that are feeding on the homeless, rescuing student filmmakers from nighthags in the woods, capturing souls that have escaped hell, slaying evil clown demons, and racing against time to beat cultists to the artifacts of power in the bottom of dungeons built in the ancient era to prevent them from falling into mortal hands. Along the way other weirdnesses might be encounters, such as cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, giant alligators in the sewers, giant cockroaches mimicking humans, and genetically engineered giant spiders.
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