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“Imaginary Friend,” a Quirky Feat for ShadowFinder (a Starfinder Play Mode)

This feat is specifically designed for ShadowFinder, a play mode for Starfinder, but should work in any Starfinder game where it is thematically appropriate. It’s in a category called “Quirky Feats,” that a GM may exclude from a ShadowFinder game… or might give every character one as a bonus when the campaign starts, or after a major event. In this case, the feat represents a character with an apparently at least semi-real “imaginary friend.”

Imaginary Friend (Quirky)
There’s a…. thing, that talks to you sometimes. It may look like an animated mouse in a trenchcoat with pistols. Or a stuffed animal from your childhood. Or a translucent ghost costume made out of a sheet. You’re not sure it’s real. But it seems to want to help, and it’s not like you haven’t seen weirder things…
Benefit: With very rare exceptions, only see your imaginary friend.

(Or maybe your imaginary friend is the logo off one of your favorite ttRPG books, come to life to save you. Art by ヴィダル.)

Most of the time, your imaginary friend comes and goes without doing a lot to help (often making snide remarks in the process). Your GM can use this as an opportunity to have an NPC around to crack jokes, though they should be sure they aren’t so annoying with this that you (the player) regret spending a precious feat slot to get an imaginary friend. It’s fine for your character to wish they didn’t have an imaginary friend, but overall you should be enjoying the experience.

You can choose to have your character’s imaginary friend take one of the following actions. This is not dependent on the character being free to act—the action occurs on the character’s initiative count, but can be taken even if the character is unconscious, paralyzed, nauseated, or unable to take any action. Once you have used this ability you cannot do so again until after you next recuperate*, and doing so requires you to expend a number of Resolve Points equal to the number of times you’ve already used the ability in the same day.

Demoralize: The imaginary friend briefly reveals itself to a creature, and makes a check to demoralize that creature, as the demoralize task of Intimidate. The check has a special bonus bonus equal to your level plus your Charisma modifier or key ability modifier, whichever is higher.

Gather Information: The imaginary friend zooms around and spies on conversations… but somewhat at random. Imaginary friend comes back with the information at the beginning of your next turn, and this functions as the gather information task of Diplomacy. The check has a special bonus bonus equal to your level plus your Charisma modifier or key ability modifier, whichever is higher.

Look Out!: Your imaginary friend warns you about an ethereal or incorporeal creature, which it can see even if you don’t. As a move action each round you can listen to it try to describe what and where the threat is. This allows you to make an appropriate recall knowledge check to identify the creature, prevents you from being flat-footed or off-target against it, and tells you what square it is in. This lasts for one round per character level, after which your imaginary friend falls unconscious in dizzy frustration.

Snap Out of It: The imaginary friend tries to snap you out of a mind-affecting effect. It may do this gentle… or it may blow an airhorn in your ear, set fire to your toes, or treat your nose as a punching bag, depending on its personality and attitude. You gain an immediate saving throw against one mind-affecting effect you are under, at the same DC as its original save. This is a boosted** roll. If the save succeeds, the effect ends.

*Recuperate is my proposed term for when a character takes 10 minutes and expends a Resolve Point to regain all their Stamina Points.
**Boosted is a term that refers to a d20 roll with a special benefit. If the d20 result is a 1-10 (the die shows a 1-10), you add +10 to the result (so, effectively, a boosted roll always results in a value from 11-20, though only an actual 20 on the die counts as a “natural” 20).

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Starfinder or ShadowFinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

My (Current) Thoughts on AI Images

There are numerous AI (“artificially intelligent”) programs designed to allow someone to use text prompts and maybe a few simple other buttons to generate images that have never existed before. People have been playing with them for years, and the fact they were improving has been clear for a long time, but in my opinion they have taken a major leap forward suddenly and recently. As with any disruptive technology, this opens a number of cans of worms, and some of those worms seem likely to crawl into the game industry sooner, rather than later.

This broke open for me last month, when I used prompts to produce the following image using Midjourney — an AI image creation program, that allows you to enter text prompts and style notes, ask it to create variants of options it presents, and eventually upscale a thumbnail to a higher-res image. I pay for access to Midjourney, and for the rights to use the images it creates with my prompts in commercial products.

(Prompt and variation choices by me, using Midjourney, and who to credit here is one of the fundamental questions of AI art)

I was blown away that my effort to use prompts to have Midjourney return an image of a dungeon entrance, such as was of the right quality and style I could use it in a professional ttRPG adventure, was successful. I had been sharing images I created on social media that were much less successful, so I shared this one as well, with the comment “So, this is the first MidJourney AI image I’ve prompted that I believe I can use as-is for a ttRPG product. It’d make a great cover, even.”

It would have been more accurate to say it was the first image I thought I *could* use, since I had no immediate plans to do so, but I said what I said. While the response has evolved as more people replied, the early pushback referred to my suggesting I would put that image in a product as “anti-art,” “unethical,” and “gross.”

I wanted to dig into those responses, so I tried to ask leading and clarifying questions. I likely should have waiting longer before replying, because my knee-jerk responses to being called gross can be more confrontational than I prefer to make my professional communications. having taken more time, and having had a number of conversations with different people in a number of different places, I thought compiling my current thoughts and positions in one place would be a good move.

As a starting point, I recommend anyone interested in the question of the history, legality, and morality of AI art read the recent Engadget article by Daniel Cooper ” https://www.engadget.com/dall-e-generative-ai-tracking-data-privacy-160034656.html. The article doesn’t try to definitely settle any issues, but it’s a good rundown of what some of the big questions are.

Speaking of big questions, I was asked a lot of them when I publicly declared I had AI art I can put in a product. I don’t want to call out anyone specifically in a venue where they can’t reply (and I absolutely do not want to encourage anyone to engage in people I disagree with online in anything other than a polite and professional manner, so please don’t), so I have tried to summarize my position on big questions below. Given there are public links to this article, it’s fair game for anyone who wants to debate or disagree with any of my thoughts or statement.

We should all acknowledge there are unsettled legal and ethical questions about AI-generated images. For example, AIs are trained by looking at images online, almost always without compensating the owner of those images, or asking permission. However, the AI do not just remix existing visual elements, nor copy them into a database and go back to grab pieces of them. They look at existing art as references, to learn from them. I do not see an ethical difference between that and a living artist doing the same thing, which is commonplace and well-accepted.

Another common concern is that art generated by an AI may take jobs from existing traditional artists. Such concerns have been raised by new technologies before, including photography and Photoshop. Pragmatically, I note that as of time of writing this, my art budget has not been reduced at all by my use of Midjourney (and this article is the only “professional” product I have such images in atm, and only because it is crucial to understanding why I am even discussing this). I pay several artists, to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, and do not foresee that going down at all. Midjourney can do many amazing things, but at least in my hands it can’t produce something like a recognizable band of adventurers, especially not reproducing them in multiple different illustrations.

However, that pragmatic note aside, I do not accept the argument that my using an AI to create my own art is an ethical or moral failing on my part. The system requires input and decisions from me to generate art I can use, and I do consider the images in question to be “art,” even if a machine was substantially used in its creation. All the mechanical aspects of fixing an image with a camera are machine labor, and it is accepted as art. If I created an image with a spin art machine, or a spiralgraph, that is accepted as art. Nor is the claim that I am unethically avoiding paying artists convincing to me. I can and have used public domain images in commercial products, and that neither puts money in any artist’s hands, nor inspires anyone to claim I am being immoral.
I absolutely understand the concerns of professional artists that this new technology may make their careers more difficult, or even impossible. I have seen the same AI-driven changes begin to influence how professional text is generated and sold. The program Grammerly is used by at least one company I am aware of to replace one human editing pass, and I have been told other places use it in place of any paid editor. Things like resumes and ad copy have AIs dedicated to producing them, and that trend is only going to grow.

In my opinion the answer to those challenges is to work for a world where creators don’t have to depend on companies paying them to create what those companies want, and constantly working to do so as cheaply as possible (as opposed to claiming that finding a cheaper way to obtain images is immoral, which would also apply to using stock art for example, which I do all the time). I suspect this problem is going to spread, farther and faster than expected, and no effort to convince the world to not use it is going to be enough to save creators that can be replaced by it. Those answers may include seeking direct patronage from fans (such as through Patreon and Ko-Fi), a Universal Basic Income, or some other answer no one thinks of using every truck driver, warehouse worker, delivery and transportation job, and basic manufacturing employment begins to be eliminated due to Ais doing it cheaper.

But this technology is not going away, and I suspect it will always have things it does not do as well as living artists. At the moment, I am exploring what it can and can’t do, and I am continuing to research, consider, and come to my own conclusions. There are risks involved in adopting any technology early, and I am weighing them. For example, without paying a much higher subscription fee, my Midjourney art can be seen and used by others with the license, so I have no exclusivity. Further, if the courts decide these images are being created by a machine, rather than being created by humans using machines, there’s a good chance that legally they will be impossible to copyright, adding another layer of complication for using it commercially.
On a personal level, I am enjoying many of the images I created as things to look at. I enjoy creating art this way, and am growing to appreciate the skill it takes to do so. Like silkscreen, quilting, coil pottery, or tie-dye it’s a very different kind of skill, but that’s not on its own enough to say it isn’t art.

So, on AI art I know what camp I’m in but, obviously, not everyone is going to agree. This tech is happening, so it’s worth learning and thinking about. I don’t currently have any plans to actually put AI art into commercial products, but I’m, absolutely using it for my own entertainment and in social media posts. I’m still considering how to proceed in cases where AI art looks like it may be a good match for a product’s needs, and may use it as the basis for human artist efforts, or as underpainting for more traditional art, or as-is, or as-is but paying an artist extra money for each AI piece I use in a form of patronage just to keep the human artist industry vibrant, both out of love of art and (pragmatically) because I believe a healthy visual creative field is necessary to make the best possible game products, even with access to AI-generated images.

Speaking of Being a Patron to Maintain a Healthy Industry of Creatives…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

The 40th Anniversary of My First RPG Character

I remember my first ttRPG character, who was also my first D&D character, quite well. I made him in the summer of 1982, when my sister and I were staying with our aunt, uncle, and cousins while our parents took a trip to Europe. My uncle had a copy of the 1st edition AD&D DMG in his Den of Geeky Stuff (along with an Apple computer with a flight simulator, Go and Shogi sets along with books on rules and variations on those and Chess and other classic games, model train books, model trains, a vast collection of Oz and Asterisk and Obelisk books, and I am sure some things that someone did not make a permanent impression on me). I was drawn to it, he saw me reading it, and he told me if I could figure out how the game worked, we’d play.

Since we only had the DMG, “figuring out how the game worked” turned out to be my first foray into RPG design, which thus precedes me ever actually playing an RPG. But that’s a story for a different time.

I named my first player character VanBuskirk. Now, a specific, small subset of classic scifi fans will immediately know where I got that name – it’s a secondary character from the Lensman series, which I was obsessed with at the time… and oblivious to the failings of. I still love those books, but not only do I embrace others’ criticism of them, but I also have my own critiques as well. The first Lensman story, “Galactic Patrol,” will hit the public domain in a decade or so and I may… okay, that’s also a story for a different time.

In Lensman, vanBuskirk is a Space Marine, and a heavy worlder, and a big guy, and a wielder of Space Axes, and if you happen to have played games I had a PC in, a lot of those elements may well strike you as familiar. So, you might think I’d make my PC a dwarf, or half-or, or at least a human. But, no, I decided to play an elf, I suspect largely due to the influence of the Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings movie. Of course if I’m making a character based on an axe-wielding Space Marine, I must have made him a fighter, right?

Well… fighter/magic-user/thief.

See, as best as my young self could figure it from just the 1st ed AD&D DMG, an elf could take three classes at the same time, and why wouldn’t you do that? Being a fighter meant I could have a Space Axe (yes, I wrote up special rules for space axes.) Being a magic-user meant I could “put on my screen” (a personal defensive barrier, you know, the shield spell). And being a thief meant… well, it meant my character wasn’t stuck in a dead-end career. See, elves had a level cap as fighters and magic-users (yes, I mean they literally couldn’t gain above a given level in those classes, which at the time didn’t feel weirder than Strength going from 3 to 25 but potentially having a percentile score if you had an 18, even though no other ability score than went from 3 to 25 had a set of percentile sub-scores if you had an 18). So, if I wanted my fighter/magic-user Space Marine to keep growing in power as well, he had to be a thief as well.

Is that Power Gaming? Maybe. I’ve been guilty of that from time to time, over the decades. I honestly feel a chunk of it isn’t my fault – if your character concept is Lancelot or Superman or Jedi Master Luke Skywalker or a Highlander, or even a Space Marine, you are going to want to be able to pull off the kind of badass stuff those characters do. And, especially in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot of discussion in the game-playing space of considerations beyond following the rules, not cheating, and everyone working together. I’ve learned a lot of lessons since then, and often have fun playing someone with one or more major flaws, but that didn’t come naturally to me.

My first game with VanBuskirk was run by my uncle, and the other player was my sister. She thought the whole thing was pretty dumb, and while I rushed to go explore the “dark opening in the rocky ground, with uneven stairs descending into a lightless pit,” she could not imagine why her character (who had food, and money, and camping equipment) would think that was a good idea. My uncle was GMing for the first time and tried having her see glints of gold at the bottom (which did not impress her, she *had* gold), making it rain (her character just pitched a tent), the area begin to flood (in which case she DEFINITELY wasn’t going underground), and then, in desperation, having her hear a cat crying in distress from the bottom of the stairs.

She rushed right in.

We had a single fight (to save a golden-furred kitten), and that was the end of the game. We never picked it up again. I was hooked forever. My sister was… not.

But VanBuskirk kept popping up for several years. Since I had no one at home to play with, my mother got advised to get me Tunnels & Trolls, which had solo adventures, and I made a new version of VanBuskirk (who had a wild career, from Buffalo Castle to a dungeon run through Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon, Naked Doom, Dargon’s Dungeon, and Beyond the Silvered Pane, to eventually tromp for months through City of Terrors, the associated Arena of Khazan, and down into the Sewer of Oblivion).

He became one of my main supporting NPCs in early AD&D games I ran (along with Frost the Gadget Girl, Father Mathew Cuthwulf – Bishop of Cuthbert, Sasha the Seeress, and the Archmage of Twelve Towers – all of whom have their own stories, for another time), and was my main playing-at-conventions characters throughout my teens. Conventions were one of the main places I played ttRPGs for a while, and everyone would just pull out a pile of coke-stained paper character sheets and find something the DM would allow. To accommodate this, VanBuskirk existed at different character levels, loot totals (from “scant” to “Monty Haul” to “Mounting ion cannons on the mechanical spider he claimed after taking it from Lolth, who now works for him”), and even multiple rule systems. For a while, if I was playing a fantasy game, I was probably playing some version of VanBuskirk.

And then, sometime in late middle school or early high school, I… stopped. I don’t remember the last time I played some version of VanBuskirk. But as I had more friends, and played in more regular campaigns with continuity, and used conventions more as places to play something new, VanBuskirk stopped meeting my needs. I kept all his character skeets for a long time. Then just a few key ones. Then just his original T&T sheet and one yellow parchment-patterned D&D-compatible sheet with a vaguely demigod version of him.  

And then, one day while moving, I realized I hadn’t used him for anything for more than a decade. And I let him go.

There are characters I get the itch to replay or recreate, from time to time. Father Cuthwulf and Frost, to name two. More recently Solnira, Temple, Kilroy, Celestial, and Lord Brevic Falkavian. I don’t do it, because like ice sculpture, or performance art, part of the appeal of the memories of those characters are the time and place in which they existed. If I tried to remake them, in a new time, a new game system, or with new players, it wouldn’t feel the same. And, besides, I have hundreds of ideas for characters I have never gotten to play, so why take up rare game slots with things I have done before?

But I never have any urge to recreate VanBuskirk. He met my needs when I was first gaming, and I appreciate all he did for me and went through in the name of my entertainment, even as a fictional character, but I don’t need an elven Space Marine fighter/magic-user/thief with a giant spider mecha anymore. Even if I was in a game where that was a reasonable character concept (and, yeah, I’d play in that game in a hot second), it’s not VanBuskirk I’d be going for.

But he came into existence 40 years ago this summer, and while I don’t think of him much anymore, I thought he deserved this one memorial. And, I hope, people might enjoy hearing how insane my first few ttRPG character concepts were.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more storytime entries, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

Weapons in ShadowFinder, a Starfinder Play Mode

In the upcoming ShadowFinder modern fantasy play mode for Starfinder, weapons don’t do a set damage based on their item level, and mundane, typical weapons aren’t bought with credits. Instead anything reasonably available to a typical person (bolt cutters, road flares, blue jeans, baseball bats, cars, firearms, bandages, and so on) use a wealth mechanic to see if you can find and afford what you want when you want it. Credits are used for more esoteric items, such as magic and hybrid equipment, fringe science, psychically imbued crystals, alien relics, and so on.

Similarly, rather than a set damage, weapons have their damage based on a damage tier, which is calculated using a set of rules that are being polished as we speak. If you are proficient with a weapon, it’s base damage tier is your character level. If you are not proficient, it’s base damage tier is your base attack bonus -2 (and you suffer the normal nonproficiency penalty to your attack roll). Weapons then have a damage tier modifier, often based on things like their critical hit effects and special properties.

Here’s a sample of what some melee weapons will look like, and how the damage tier chart works.

Baseball Bat (1-h/2-h Basic Melee Weapon)
Wealth Check: 10
Damage Tier -1 (B)
Properties: Analog, archaic,
Critical Hit Effect: Knockdown

Stiletto (Operative Melee Weapon)
Wealth Check: 12
Damage Tier +0 (P)
Properties: Analog, conceal, feint
Critical Hit Effect: Bleed (1d6, +1d6/5 damage tiers)

Single Target Melee KAC Weapons

Damage   1-h          2-h                       1-h           2-h
Tier     Adv.        Adv.      Oprtv      Basic       Basic

-3            1d2         1d4          1 pt.        1 pt.        1d2

-2            1d3         1d4          1 pt.        1 pt.        1d3

-1            1d3         1d4          1 pt.        1d3         1d3

0              1d4         1d6         1d3         1d4         1d4

1              1d4         1d6         1d3         1d4         1d6

2              1d6         1d6         1d4         1d6         1d6

3              1d6         1d8         1d4         1d6         1d6

4              1d8         1d8         1d4         1d6         1d8

5              1d8         1d10      1d6         1d8          1d8

6              2d4         2d6         1d6         1d8         1d10

7              2d6         2d8         1d8         1d10      1d12

8              2d8         3d6         2d4         1d10      2d8

9              3d6         4d6         2d6         2d8         3d6

10           4d6         5d6         3d4         2d8         3d8

11           5d6         4d8         2d8         2d10      4d6

12           4d8         6d6         3d6         3d8         5d6

13           6d6         7d6         3d8         3d10      4d8

14           6d8         9d6         4d6         4d8         5d8

15           9d6         10d6      5d6         5d8         8d6

16           10d6      11d6      6d6         6d8         9d6

17           12d6      13d6      7d6         7d8         10d6

18           14d6      15d6      8d6         8d8         12d6

19           16d6      17d6      9d6         9d8         13d6

20           18d6      20d6      10d6      11d8      15d6

21           20d6      22d6      11d6      12d8      17d6

22           22d6      25d6      12d6      13d8      19d6

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Starfinder or ShadowFinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Owen Explains It All: Tiny Terrors for Starfinder

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

This post is tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post because it links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new or classic things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All: Ice Pirates” episode.

In this ep. we talked about a lot of the shameless scene-stealing of Ice Pirates (and, to be honest, added content warnings we discovered we needed after watching the movie for the first time in decades — not all old content holds up), and focused on the scenes that resented a small, fast, infectious threat that serves as a B Plot in the movie.

The show has a logo and everything!

(Logo by the amazing Jacob Blackmon)

This kind of small, infectious, lurking threat is fairly common in scifi fiction, but not well-supported by most existing Starfinder monsters. It works particularly well when the PCs are stuck in a specific area, such as on a starship during a long voyage, in a city or prison complex, or taking shelter in an ancient alien ruin to escape a deadly ion storm ravaging the outside. It can also work well as a recurring threat — a tiny terror that attacks the players, works to infect one, then flees the scene only to come back again later.

So whether your PCs are dealing with an alien that burst out of someone’s chest at lunch, acid-spitting reptilian aliens working to establish dominance, or a disgusting git that’s infected your ship, you can create a new kind of threat for your players by introducing a tiny terror to your Starfinder game.

THE TINY TERROR

Sometimes you encounter a hostile creature that’s not a threat in a direct stand-up fight, but rather a lurking threat you have to hunt down, trap, or maybe even blow up the whole planet just to be sure. Making a tiny terror can be easy, with this template you can slap onto any thematically appropriate creature. Shrink the monster down to diminutive or tiny size (no need to change its ability scores — if PCs can tap into the cosmic forces of gravity, entropy, and magic, a 6-inch insectoid threat can carry a man away with a +8 Str bonus, if that’s what the stat block has), and add the following special rules.

Dodge And Weave (Ex): A tiny terror ignores the movement penalties for difficult terrain, and treats difficult terrain as cover against attacks made by any creature larger than it is.

Duck And Hide (Ex): A tiny terror has Stealth as a master skill. If it already had Stealth as a master skill, it gains a +1 bonus on Stealth checks. It can make Stealth checks anytime it is 30 feet or more for any observer (even if it lacks cover or concealment), and anytime it is in difficult terrain. A character that has successfully used the identify creature task on a tiny terror(using whatever is the appropriate skill for the tiny terror’s creature type), can make an Engineering check to modify any equipment that qualifies as a scanner to detect the tiny terror. Such modified scanners allow Perception check to ignore the tiny terror’s Stealth checks, though only to identify what square it is in.

Hit And Run (Ex): Once a tiny terror has successfully damaged a foe, it gains a +4 AC bonus whenever it takes the fight defensively or withdrawal actions. This ability lasts until the tiny terror makes an attack roll, or is out of combat for 10 minutes or more. As a result once a tiny terror hits (and potentially infects) a foe, it generally seeks to escape the encounter, often by fleeing to an air duct, dense foliage, or other region where pursuers cannot easily follow.

Infection (Ex): If a tiny terror’s attack doesn’t already have a disease attached to it, it gains one. if it had a curse, poison, or other affliction, this is removed in favor of a disease. A target is exposed to the disease, (which is always a physical disease — select any you like the sound of), and the save DC is typical for the ability DC of a creature of the same array and CR as the tiny terror. If the target is killed by the disease, a new tiny terror is born out of the corpse in 1d4 hours. (A tiny terror may grow into the full-sized version of the creature you apply this template to, but how long that takes is a narrative decision made by the GM based on the story’s needs.)

Terror’s Sting (Ex): A tiny terror’s attacks are highly accurate and focused enough to penetrate most defenses, but deal little actual damage. The tiny terror gains a +2 bonus to all attacks, and ignores an amount of its target’s hardness, energy resistance, and damage reduction equal to its CR. However, its attacks deal a maximum amount of damage equal to its CR (roll its damage normally, but if it exceeds the tiny terror’s CR, reduce the damage dealt to equal its CR). In most cases this means it can easily hit target’s AC and bypass defenses, but will still only do a little damage.

Anytime a tiny terror’s attack damages a target, that target is exposed to the infection (see above).

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more adventure sketches, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

Top Ten Worst Ideas For Horror Film Mashups

Sometimes, I have good ideas I just can’t get out of my head.

These are not those.

10. Army of the Dead Zone
A virus causes people to go crazy, bite 2-3 other people, fall into a coma, then wake up 5 years later with psychic powers. As interesting as all that sounds, this is a heist movie that doesn’t really touch on it.

9. Halloween Out of Space
A strange holiday descends from space, which no one can describe, but celebrating it involves lots of people showing up without calling first, spending time with your least favorite relatives and your boss’s family, and killing people with an axe.

8. Nightmare on Wall Street
What’s that you say, the movie Wall Street isn’t a horror film, so this isn’t a horror film mashup?
(Stares at you in late-stage capitalism.)
After conning retirees out of their life savings, a Wall Street bigwig is burned at the stake. But his greed is so great, he survives as a dream-based apparition, who can force people to pay him if they want to sleep.

7. Silence of the Quiet Place
Yes, hearing-based aliens have invaded the world and everyone must operate in complete noiselessness. But the FBI still needs to catch serial killers, even if they have to pass notes delicately written in crayon to serial killers for insight into what kind of wacko goes on a killing spree during an alien invasion.

6. Amityville of the Corn
It turns out the same architect who built the Amityville House built an identical house for himself in the corn fields of Nebraska. Sadly, entirely by coincidence the architecture itself is a form of spirit-summoning rune, and He Who Walks Behind the Corn, and the kid who wishes you to the cornfields, and the cannibalistic creeper who pretends to be a scarecrow have al moved in.

5. Bride of Young Frankenstein
The wife of Young Frankenstein decides to make her own monster, for the merchandizing potential.

4. Train to Cabin in the Woods
An evil corporation tries use supernatural monsters to kill off everyone on a train to appease evil gods who are conceptual stand-ins for the audience itself, while constantly complaining that their actions are largely pointless, derivative, and a crude cash-grab as conceptual stand-ins for what the audience are thinking. Obviously, this is a prequel.

3. The Mummy of the Opera
An opera singer’s voice is so bad, it could wake the dead. And it does.

2. Night of the Cabinet of Doctor Dracula’s Labyrinth Hostel
Doctor Dracula, professor of bloodletting, lures innocent tourists into his maze-themed air bnb so his animated cabinet can torture them. … Or something like that, anyway.

1. Interview with a Voorhees
An unkillable psychopathic murderer agrees to give a reporter an exclusive interview on what it is like to be the vengeful spirit of not letting teenagers have any fun. In the end, the Voorhees turns the reporter into a vengeful spirit of not letting teenagers have fun

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Nanocyte ThemeType For Starfinder

I mentioned in the article on the precog, I wanted to make sure I have Multiclass Themetypes for all of the official classes for Starfinder (and likely some other classes too!), so here’s the article on the last missing offficial class the nanocyte (from Starfinder Tech Revolution). You can check out the precog Multiclass ThemeType article for the rules and design logic behind Multiclass ThemeTypes.

(Art by warmtail)

Nanocyte ThemeType

You have been infused with morphic nanites that obey your subconscious commands. These are neither as strong nor as flexible as the nanites of a true nanocyte, but they are still far more advanced than anything available for commercial purchase.

Theme Knowledge (Ex, Theme, 1st Level): You gain a nanite surge, as the nanocyte class feature. You gain a total number of nanosurges per day equal to 1/3 your character level (minimum 1). Select one skill. You can expend a nanosurge as part of making a skill check with that skill. This grants you an insight bonus to the skill check equal to 1/4 your character level (minimum +1). Each time you gain a new character level, you can change what skill your nanosurge can apply to.

Minor Faculity (Ex, Archetype, 2nd Level): You gain the 1st level ability of one nanocyte faculty. If this faculty grants a nanocyte a class feature early, you gain the class feature. You cannot select a faculty that modifies or requires an array you do not have.

Knack (Ex, Archetype, 4th Level): You gain one nanocyte knack, selected from the list of 2nd level nanocyte knacks. You treat your level in the class this archetype is attached to as your nanocyte level for all nanocyte knacks gained from this Multiclass ThemeType.

Minor Array (Ex, Theme, 6th Level): You gain a single form of nanite array (sheath, cloud, or gear). You calculate this array’s effect’s using your character level -4. Additionally, you can expend a Resolve Point to immediately gain and use a nanite surge.

Knack (Ex, Archetype, 6th Level): You gain a second knack, following all the rules of the knack granted by this ThemeType at 4th level.

Lesser Faculty (Ex, Archetype, 9th Level): You gain the 4th level ability of the faculty you selected at 2nd level.

Improved Array. (Ex, Theme, 12th Level): You now calculate the effects of the nanite array you selected at 6th level using your character level -2. You gain a second array option, which you calculate the effects of using your character level -4. You can still only have one array active at a time.

Knack (Ex, Archetype, 12th Level): You gain a third knack, following all the rules of the knack granted by this ThemeType at 4th level except it may be a 2nd- or 6th-level knack.

Greater Array (Ex, Theme, 18th Level): You now calculate the effects of the nanite array you selected at 6th level using your full character level, and the effects of the array you gained at 12th level using your level -2. You gain a third array option, which you calculate the effects of using your character level -4. You can still only have one array active at a time.

Knack (Ex, Archetype, 18th Level): You gain a fourth knack, following all the rules of the knack granted by this ThemeType at 12th level.

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Starfarer’s Codex: More PF1 Metamagic Feats for Starfinder

While I have already converted all the metamagic feats in the PF1 Core Rulebook to Starfinder, there are tons more official PF1 metamagic feats out there we can use to create interesting magic options for spellcasters in Starfinder.

Here are a few converted from the APG.

(Art by Travel Dawn)

Focused Spell
When you cast a spell that normally affects more than one creature, you can focus it on one opponent that finds it more difficult to resist.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast spells.
Benefit: When casting a spell that an area with a 5-foot-radius or larger, or targets more than one creature, you can choose to cast it with a casting time of 1 full action. This focuses the spell on only a single target within the spell effect. The saving throw DC to resist the spell is increased by +2 for that creature. You must choose which target to focus the spell on before casting the spell. Spells that do not require a saving throw to resist or lessen the spell’s effect do not benefit from this feat.

Once you have used this ability, you cannot do so again until after you next recuperate*. If your caster level is 5th or higher, you can instead expend 2 Resolve Points to use this ability again without recuperating.

Intensified Spell
You can cast damaging spells at higher spell level, to increase their damage.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast 2nd level or higher spells.
Benefit: When you cast a damaging spell with a casting time of 1 standard action, that is at least 1 spell level lower than the highest-level spell you can cast, you may cast it with a casting time of 1 full action using a higher-level spell slot than it normally takes. Such spells do 2 additional dice of damage for every level the spell slot you expend is than the spell’s normal level. The extra dice deal the same type of damage and follow all the rules of the original spell. You also calculate the spell’s save DC using the level of spell slot expended, rather than its normal spell slot. If you have other feats or abilities that depend on the spell level of the spell you cast, you treat its spell level as being equal to the level of spell slot you use to cast it.

Lingering Spell
Your spell clings to existence, slowly fading from the world.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast one or more instantaneous spells that affect an area.
Benefit: When you cast an instantaneous spell that affects an area and that is at least 1 level lower than the highest-level spell you can cast, you may cause it to persist until the beginning of your next turn. Those already in the area suffer no additional harm, but other creatures or objects entering the area are subject to its effects. A lingering spell with a visual manifestation obscures vision, providing concealment beyond 5 feet and total concealment beyond 20 feet.

Once you have used this ability, you cannot do so again until after you next recuperate*. If your caster level is 5th or higher, you can instead expend 2 Resolve Points to use this ability again without recuperating.

Merciful Spell
You can make your damaging spells less-than-lethal.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast spells that deal damage.
Benefit: When you cast a spell, you can choose for the damage it does to be nonlethal.

*Recuperate is my proposed term for when a character expends a Resolve Point and rests for 10 minutes, allowing them to regain all their Stamina Points.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more adventure sketches, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

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Random Cool-Sounding Science-Fantasy Terms

No, this isn’t going to be as focused (or authentic) as my Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words (which can be found here), but if you need jumping off points for soft science-technobabble, science-fantasy black-box-magic, or technology so advanced it’s indistinguishable from magic, these may be good places to start.

A few of these can be put together to maybe mean something, but don’t count on it (or feel limited by it).

Arcasement

Asymmetric Chronal Matrix

Decoherence Canon

Depleted Oragone

Eldrion

Enriched Orichalcum

Exterociter

Focal Inflection

Half-Death Decay Rate

Haser (H.A.S.E.R; Hex amplification by stimulated enchantment of radiation)

Inertial Converter

Inverse Reactive Force

Logarithmic Casing

Neogenic Incursion

Phrenic Bus Bar

Picoites

Prefabulated Amulite

Positronic Impulsor

Psionic Accumulator

Q-Shaped Helix

Quantum Coherence

Radiopsytronic

Resublimated Vril

Scry Shielding

Sinusodial Transmission

Spellation Particle

Spinal-Mounted Primary

Subcritical Thiotim Breeder

Subspace Decay

Superstring Equilibrium

Transadiate/Transaditation

Void Circuit

Warp Plasma

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“Celestial Heroes,” An Adventure Sketch (With Notes for 4 Game Systems)

I’ve wanted to do a full write-up for this adventure for years, but never had time. So, here’s a sketch of the general idea.

Players their PCs are all very junior angels–celestial outsiders who mostly sort through prayer requests to see what to pass up to higher ranks of the divine bureaucracy, but who also get an occasional flash of excitement by being summoned by the faithful to aid in a fight. The players should give their characters names and personalities, but not worry about game stats yet.

The PCs are spending time sorting through prayers, and notice that a specific priest keeps praying for guidance about the impending destruction of the Astral plane (the “Catastralphe”). There’s nothing in their sorting guidelines about that topic, so protocol is to take it to a one-rank-higher angel, who assures them there is not such thing, and to file the prayer requests under “mortal paranoia.”

Then, on their way back to their duties, the PCs are summoned… by that selfsame priest! She’s 1st level, so she can only keep them for a limited about of time.

If you are running this as a 5e game, the priest has used a scroll with a 1st-level variant of conjure animals, and gets the PCs as minor celestials instead, but can’t give them verbal orders and she can only concentrate on it for up to 1 minute. If this is a PF 2 game, the PCs are summoned with a summon lessor servitor spell and can be around for up to a minute if the priest is able to maintain concentration. If PF 1, it’s summon monster I to call up celestial animals for 1 round. If Starfinder, it’s summon creature at a 1st-level spell, again for 1 round.

Rather than just sticking with the creatures those spells normally summon, allow each PC to select a creature of the same power level to represent their summoned form, AND let them pick anything vaguely appropriate for their appearance. If the rules would let them be an eagle, but they want to be a winged housecat, let their imagination loose. Note to the players that they are celestial spirits in a temporal mortal body regardless. Death has no consequence for them here.

(Art by lenka)

The priest doesn’t speak any of the languages they do, so they have to guess what she wants them to do — but they are summoned while she and four other people (clearly adventures — a fighting type in heavy armor, an arcane type, a sneak, and some kind of sage) are fighting for their lives (all already badly damaged) against what appear to be negative wind elementals (just use air element stats and have them do cold or shadow damage) in an ancient stone chamber that clearly depicts the Astral Plane being rended to destruction, and all the planes of the multiverse being flung apart (no longer able to connect to each other).

With a bit of luck the summoned celestial PCs can save the heroes (if not, just replace any that get killed in future encounters), and regardless of how the fight goes the PCs see that the ancient temple clearly has some real eldritch power connected to it, and the impending Catastralphe.

When their time is up, whether the priest and her adventuring party are safe or not, the PCs return to the angelic plane. They can take up the issue of whether the Catastralphe is real or not, but the celestial bureaucracy considers it to be much more likely that a set of junior angels misinterpreted what they saw than for there to be a true multiplanar threat the Angelic Host never heard of.

Later, the PCs get summoned again… but it’s clear that months have passed on the mortal plane, and the priest is now 3rd level, so she can use more powerful spells to summon more powerful allies. The PCs can maintain their appearance (or evolve it, perhaps from winged housecat to winged bobcat), get to choose new higher-level creatures for their ability scores. This time they are helping defend the priest and her adventuring allies who are being attacked at night, in an inn, by humanoid assassins who have no face, just a lamprylike fanged maws taking up the whole of the front of their heads. (Pick any CR-appropriate monsters and just give them new descriptions).

The priest is clearly surprised to see the PCs, suggesting they are not what she thought she was summoning, but she is also happy for their help.

Upon their return to the Angelic Host, if the PCs bring it up the event, they are directed to the Conjuration Control Department, where they discover there’s at least one other angel that believes in the Catastralphe, a planar traffic controller who is directing them to answer the priest’s summoning when she is showing to be near an important moment in her life.

The adventure goes on like this, with PCs working their way up through the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy, most angels not really believing in the interplanar threat, but grudgingly suggest the Pcs should look for specific clues when summoned. The GM should come up with a list of things — specific sigils, or eldritch currents, or the scent of the abyssal influence, so PCs can have investigating they can do when summoned. Meanwhile the priest continues to gain levels and summon the PCs with higher-and-higher level spells, months or years passing between the times they see her, and her quest is also clearly taking a toll on her. Some of her companions die, and are replaced. She loses and eye, from then on having an eyepatch when the PCs are summoned. At some point, she manages to learn their language, so she can speak to them when they arrive… but they can only go to her when she summons allies in a crucial moment in her life, so communication is always rushed during a desperate fight.

As the PCs gain influence among Angels, they are allowed to explore Forbiddings –places within the Heavens once kept by angels that fell and became devils. These encounters are to seek out lost lore on the Catastralphe, as their recurring encounters with cultists and supernatural entities on the Mortal Plane trying to kill the priest and her adventuring party suggest it might be real after all. However the Forbiddings are in the same heavenly reality as the PCs. While they use the same game stats as when they were last summoned for adventures in the Forbiddings, death there is permanent even for up-and-coming angels.

Eventually the combination of clues gained when summoned and when exploring the Forbiddings expose that the Catastralphe is real, and it is the eons-long plot of a fallen angel who wishes to rip the planes apart so it can become effectively a god of whatever bit of the multiverse it has access to after the Astral plane is destroyed. Once this revelation is in place, there are two more major encounters. First, the Fallen Angel can only be stopped with a weapon found in the most dangerous of Forbiddings, and that weapon can only be wielded by those who procure it, so the PCs must go get it. Second, the Fallen Angel’s ultimate base of operations is impossible for any celestial to enter without being summoned from within. So the PCs must wait for the priest to call them for aid one last time, and hope she does so in time for them to use their newly acquired relic weapon to stop the impending Catastralphe.

Obviously, this can be as quick as a 3-4 session mini campaign, or as long as a 1st-20th game, depending on how many encounters the GM decides to fill into this vague sketch of plot points. But I love the idea of Pcs being summon creatures (originally the idea was celestial badgers, back in 3.5 rules days), who have no fear of dying in most of their fights, but have to get anything they want done in the mortal realm done quickly, when summoned, while another fight is already going on. I also like the idea of players not having to make characters in any traditional sense, though it would be easy enough to let them pick special abilities as they “gained levels,” like being to reroll one attack roll per fight, or one saving throw, or teleport once, to represent their angelic nature growing stronger even as they hop from stat block to stat block as more and more powerful spells call them to battle.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more adventure sketches, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

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