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Mythic Stars: Mythic Feats for Starfinder (2)

More Mythic Feats for Mythic Starfinder.

Mythic Alien Herbalism (Mythic)
You can easily create life-saving medicines.
Prerequisites: Alien Herbalism, Life Science 5 ranks, Survival 5 ranks.
Benefit: You can use Alien Herbalism to create short-lived medicinals during the same time you recuperate*, and there is no limit to how many times per day you can do so, though it still costs a Resole Point each time.

Mythic All Hands on Deck (Mythic)
Many hands make light work.
Prerequisites: All hands on Deck, four or more arms.
Benefit: When performing labor, perhaps requiring a Strength check or an Athletics check, such as digging a hole, moving cargo, or hauling in a rope, you can complete the task in half the usual time. Tasks requiring other checks aren’t included. Alternatively, you can simultaneously perform two skill-based tasks that can be performed with two hands, such as making Computers checks on two different computers. This has no impact on combat, or tasks that require more than using your hands.

Mythic Ambuscade (Combat, Mythic)
You are particularly skilled at attacking targets who have not had a chance to prepare for combat.
Benefit: You gain the benefits from Ambuscade against any target you attack in a surprise round (whether or not they have acted), and any target you attack before they have had a chance to act in the first round of combat (even if the first round isn’t a surprise round).

Mythic Ambush Awareness (Combat, Mythic)
You are particularly skilled at fighting when surprised.
Benefit: If you are unable to act in the surprise round because you failed a Perception check, you can still act on your initiative count in the surprise round, but cannot take an action that requires an attack roll or forces targets to make a saving throw.

Mythic Amplified Glitch (Combat, Mythic)
You can create sudden distractions with technological devices.
Prerequisites: Amplified Glitch, Computers 3 ranks, Intimidate 3 ranks.
Benefit: You can use Amplified Glitch on all targets in a 30-foot radius, as long as there is a technological device able to make sound at the center of that radius. Creatures targeted by your Amplified Glitch do not gain immunity to it for 24 hours, but do gain a +1 cumulative bonus to their save against it for each time they have been exposed in the past 24 hours.

Mythic Antagonize (Mythic)
You know how to make foes quickly and repeatedly angry with you.
Prerequisites: Antagonize, Diplomacy 5 ranks, Intimidate 5 ranks.
Benefit: You can use Antagonize as a Move action. Additionally, creatures targeted by your Antagonize do not gain immunity to it for 24 hours, but do gain a +1 cumulative bonus to their save against it for each time they have been exposed in the past 24 hours.

Mythic Apt Mentor (Mythic)
Your aid is always useful in academic pursuits.
Prerequisites: Apt Mentor, Life Science or Physical Science 5 ranks.
Benefit: You automatically succeed at an attempt to aid another on an Intelligence-, Wisdom-, or Charisma-based check. Additionally, once per day you can make a Diplomacy check to gather information without taking any extra time to do so, and without your inquiries being obvious to others.

Mythic Arm Extensions (Mythic)
You have unique devices installed into your arms that allow you to extend them great distances.
Prerequisites: Arm Extensions, constructed racial trait or construct type.
Benefit: Your arm extensions extend your natural reach to 15 feet, and impose no penalty to attack rolls with weapons wielded in your hands and to Dexterity- and Strength-based ability checks and skill checks. When you use this ability to grab an object or surface and pull yourself to that item or surface as a full action, or you can anchor yourself where you are to lower yourself to another surface, you move 20 feet as if using a fly speed with perfect maneuverability, ending your movement in a square adjacent to the chosen object or surface.

Mythic Barricade (Combat, Mythic)
You are adept at creating quick cover.
Prerequisites: Barricade, Engineering 1 rank.
Benefit: When determining the hardness and Hit Points of your temporary barricade created with the Barricade feat, treat it as a piece of equipment with an item level equal to your total ranks in Engineering. Additionally, the most recent barricade you built with that feat does not collapse at the beginning of your turn 1d4 rounds after it is hit by an attack.

Mythic Basic Melee Weapon Proficiency (Combat, Mythic )
You are a master of attacks with basic melee weapons.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with basic melee weapons.
Benefit: When attacking with a basic weapon, you do not apply the penalty from the dazzled, fatigued, off-kilter, off-target, prone, or shaken conditions to your attack rolls.

*Recuperate is my proposed game term to represent when a character spends 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest. That would be defined in any product I used it in.

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ALTERNATE HERO POINTS FOR PF1

Hero points are a mechanic that allows players to “edit” the events of an encounter and the rules of the game to a limited degree. They give heroes the ability to do the amazing things heroes do in fantasy fiction, but with specific rules for doing so, and they encourage players to make the sort of choices fantasy heroes do in those stories, in order to get more Hero points.

A GM decides where or not to use Hero points, and while it’s most common for that to be done on a per-campaign basis, it needn’t be. A GM could allow Hero points only when the PCs are involved in something they have strong feelings about, or only in climactic plotline-ending scenes. Alternatively, a GM might use Hero points when a player can’t make it to a game session, to give the remaining characters a power boost, or use it for day-in-the-life game sessions when combat and life-or-death situations are unlikely but the GM would like to encourage players to get involved in telling social stories.

Hero points are a pure power up for characters, but they are also a way for the GM and players to have a rules-based back-and-forth with what moments each consider important to the ongoing story. Some groups like having some ability to edit events to be closer to what they want, while others feel it takes focus away from the risk-and-reward feel of the game rules. The most important thing is to find what a GM and their game group are comfortable with, and do that.

These Hero points are based on those from the M&M game, and are intentionally more common and generally more powerful than those presented in the APG (though explicitly excluding the Cheat Death option, since having that tends to discourage Hero point spending for any other purpose). Even so, you can look to the APG rules on Hero points for more ideas on how and why you might use them. For example, these rules are not designed to be used with the Hero’s Fortune feat (APG), but you could combine them with such a feat if you wished.

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material including rewritten versions of the Hero Point Feats from the APG made available exclusively on my Patreon, for my supporting Patrons.)

HERO POINTS FOR PATHFINDER 1E

Players start each game session with 2 Hero points. During the adventure they get opportunities to earn more Hero points. Unspent Hero points don’t carry over to the next session; the heroes start out with 2 points again. Use them or lose them!

USING HERO POINTS

Unless otherwise noted, spending a Hero point is a reaction that takes no action (thus not restricting your other reactions). You can spend Hero points for any of the following:

EXTRA ACTION

You can spend a Hero point to gain an additional standard action on your turn (this is an exception to the rule that Hero points are normally a reaction), or to gain an additional Move action at any time. You cannot combine multiple extra actions into a full round action.

IMPROVE ROLL

One Hero point allows you to re-roll any die roll you make and take the better of the two rolls. On a result of 1 through 10 on the second roll, add 10 to the result, an 11 or higher remains as-is (so the re-roll is always a result of 11-20). You must spend the Hero point to improve a roll before the GM announces the outcome of your initial roll. You cannot spend Hero points on die rolls made by the GM or other players.

REUSE

You can spend a hero point to recall a spell you have already cast or to gain another use of a special ability that is otherwise limited. This should only be used on spells and abilities possessed by your character that recharge on a daily basis.

INSPIRATION

You can spend a Hero point to get sudden inspiration in the form of a hint, clue, or bit of help from the GM. It might be a way out of the villain’s fiendish deathtrap, a vital clue for solving a mystery, or an idea about the villain’s weakness. It’s up to the GM exactly how much help the players get from inspiration and how it manifests, but since Hero points are a very limited resource, the help should be in some way significant.

RECOVER

You can spend a Hero point to recover faster. A Hero point allows you to immediately remove a bleed, confused, dazed, dazzled, fascinated, fatigued, prone, shaken, sickened, or staggered condition, without taking an action.

Spending a Hero point to recover also lets you convert a cowering condition into frightened, panicked into frightened, frightened into shaken, exhausted condition into a fatigued condition; convert a stunned condition into a staggered condition, or convert a nauseated condition into a sickened condition.

You can also use a Hero point to overcome the limitations of the blinded, broken, deafened, energy drained, entangled, grappled, flat-footed, or paralyzed condition for 1 round. This does not end the condition, and you cannot move from a spot the condition roots you to, but you ignore all its other effects until the beginning of your next turn.

If at 0 or fewer Hit Points and dying, you can spend a Hero point to stabilize. If at 0 or fewer hit points and stable, you can spend a Hero point to become conscious and have positive hit points equal to half your level (equal to your level if you have Toughness or Endurance, equal to 1.5x your level if you have both).

MINOR SCENE EDITING

A player may offer the GM a Hero point to make a minor edit to a scene. For example, if the player’s character is set on fire in the middle of the street, the player might offer the GM a Hero point in order to add a trough of water to the street, so the PC can jump into it and extinguish themselves. Minor editing should always make sense, should never bypass an encounter entirely, and is entirely at the discretion of the GM. If the GM does not edit the scene as requested, the player retains the Hero point.

EARNING HERO POINTS

The GM can give any player a Hero point to edit events in a way that goes against the player’s character without allowing die rolls, and in contravention of the normal rules or action order. For example, if an adventure calls for a villain to escape, and a PC has the villain grabbed, the GM can grant the player a Hero point and declare the villain wriggles free and dashes out of sight. If a PC manages to kill a major foe in a single blow, the GM can give that PC’s player a Hero point and state the foe miraculously blocked the attack at the last second.

A GM can also offer a player a Hero point as an inducement to have the player’s PC make a poor choice. This is always voluntary—the player decided whether to accept the Hero point and make the bad decision. For example, if a sketchy old man offers the PC an apple out of nowhere, and the player obviously rejects the iffy fruit, the GM could offer the player a Hero point if the PC takes and eats the apple instead. This should only be done in furtherance of the adventure, and obviously not if it means permanent negative consequences for the PC.

These options should never be used to make a character look incompetent or stupid, unless the player encourages that as part of their characterization of their PC.

If a player does something especially heroic, awesome, funny, or helpful, the GM may grant them an extra Hero point in response.

PATREON

There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.

Top Ten Modern Crystal Balls

I love stories that mix magic with a range of modern time periods and aesthetics. Inspired by some such stories, I’ve come up with some modern stand-ins to be used in place of crystal balls by urban, modern fortune-tellers.

Top Ten Things Modern Diviners Use as Crystal Balls

10. Magic 8-Ball
No one ever expects the Magic 8-Ball toy to be, you know, magic. But it’s a perfect place to hide your real scrying lenses, and already thematically aligned with divination energy.

9. Mirrors
They’re a classic, and remain a popular choice for modern spellcasters. however, the big wall-mounted mirror is no longer the standard for scrying mirrors, though some older models still exist. Instead scrying is more often done through bathroom mirrors (good for early morning divinations), car rear-view mirrors (especially for threats that are closer to you than they appear), and make-up compacts (which are particularly good for showing you your own faults).

8. Pocket Watches
While a few modern spellcasters have turned wristwatches and even step-trackers into crystal ball equivalents, its much more common to use pocket-watches for this. The practice dates back to the 1800s, when the devices were far more common, but the protective cover, larger viewing surface, and psychic link to conductors on railways (often built along ley lines) still make pocket watches better divination tools than more modern timepieces.

7. Mashed Potatoes
As homaged in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it turns out Starchomancy remains a powerful tool for foresight. Visions sometimes form within the mash itself, and other times the scryer finds themselves sculpting the vision received. The loss of scrying power is somewhat offset by the ease of acquiring and concealing the tools of divination.
This works best if you make your own mashed potatoes, but if you don’t have the time, store-bought is fine.

6. Fireball Whiskey
Long thought to just be catnip for college kids, it turns out cinnamon-infused spirits are a powerful medium for seeing visions, dating back to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. The bottle itself is most commonly used as the scrying surface, with the whiskey inside becoming briefly cloudy as it fills with visions.
A single drink of the whiskey can aid in divination, but more than that is a terrible idea.

5. Giant Novelty Dice
Though divination through casting lots with dice (a form of cleromancy) is common, using dice as crystal ball stand-ins is increasingly popular, using giant translucent dice the size of your fist or bigger. There is a direct correlation between the number of faces of the ide used, and both the complexity of the divination and the level of detail. A d6 may not tell you much beyond broad strikes, but it easily scryed with. A d100 takes much, much more effort, but a successful scrying gives you many fine details.

4. Cats
Yes actual, living, fur-covered cats. There is an entire school of scrying dedicated to feeding a cat a favorite feast, brushing them, luring them into a pillow, in a box, in a beam of sunlight, and then staring deep into their fur to foresee the future. While this is much harder to do on-demand than inanimate scrying tools, there are numerous curses and supernatural threats that can be detected by ailouromancy that other soothseeing methods miss.

3. Smart Speakers
While newer technology often takes time to be properly aligned with divination rituals, interactive smart speakers apparently come almost ready-made to be turned into crystal balls–though most use a purely auditory interface, rather than the old visions viewed without crystal-covered mists.

2. Stock Ticker
From 1870 to 1970, stock prices were broadcast via telegraph/telephone lines to stock tickers, then printed on ticker tape. While no one uses stock tickers anymore, many were enchanted during the near-century of their use, and those enchanted stock tickers are still powerful divination tools… especially if you want to predict financial news.

1. Old Computer Monitors.
The better the color and resolution, the better the vision you can get on it! Know someone with a pile of old computer monitors? They’re probably a modern spellcaster!
Or a hoarder.
Or both. Both is likely.

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Guest Blog: Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Gaming veteran, artist, and writer Jacob Blackmon!

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

I Started Drawing Because I Can’t Spell Worth Shit…

OR…

My Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

By Jacob E Blackmon

Let’s just start by saying, I love my life. I love being an artist in the tabletop game community. This job has allowed me a freedom of living that I never imagined possible. I seriously cannot think of any job I would rather be doing right now.

As the same time, it has also been the occasional financial burden, when the art commissions slow down and money gets tight. That is something one has to learn as a freelancer in any market. There are highs and lows (or “feast and famine” as some say), and one never knows when they will come… so be sure to have a good savings account.

My name is Jacob Blackmon, and I have been a freelance artist in the tabletop rpg community since 2009. I’ve only been doing the gig as a full time thing since 2013. Given that I was born in 1977, this has been a very small – but significant – portion of my life. I’ve been gaming since 1989, and I never even considered using my art skills as a ttrpg artist.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, hence my distinctive style. This style has served me well… and also been a curse, as there are some companies that refuse to work with me, because I don’t have that traditional “painted fantasy” look. And that kind of rejection is certainly going to apply to the big-name companies (Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, etc.), who only use that “painted” style of art, so I know I will never get jobs with them. Which is too bad, because I would love to see my name in one of their books.

But my success is not measured in what books I have not been in. It is measured in the books where I HAVE contributed my art. And those are MANY! The third-party ttrpg industry is a massive community of wonderful and passionate people. These are the folks I consider my peers… and quite, often… my friends. Despite this familiarity to which I speak of them, it is important to maintain a professional attitude when working with such people. They expect every bit as much professionalism from their freelancers – artists and writers includes – as any of the big name companies.

Deadlines are a serious thing, and can make or break a company, especially in the post-COVID days. During the CV19 days of 2020, the gaming community seriously suffered. If you were not Wizards of the Coast, you saw your finances drop significantly. This is why deadlines are so important to keep in mind as a freelancer. We need to make sure we get our work done in time, so the company can get their product out.

I have seriously lost count of many projects have come my way because another artist decided they didn’t want to work on a project and did not communicate this fact until after the deadline posted by the company. This is a serious breach of trust and of professionalism. If a freelancer can’t make their deadlines, the company will stop going to that person in favor of those that will. So, meet your deadlines. This is, seriously, THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE IS CAN GIVE ANYONE! Meet your deadlines!

I can count, on one hand, how many times I have failed to make a deadline. And, when it has happened I always let the company whom I am working for know that I will miss the deadline before it happens. That is the second key: communication. Just like in life, love, family, and relationships, one needs to maintain communication with the people they are working for. Let them know the progress of the art assignment. Have you started on it? Yes? Let them know that.

During the art process, I usually have several stages of communication with a client.

  1. Beginning – When first starting on the art.
  2. Early stages – When my first rough draft concept is ready, I send them a copy via email (sometimes through another PM service, if they prefer, but emails is always the true professional way to do it!). When a rough draft is approved, I move on to…
  3.  Line work – This stage shows the clean version of what had been the rough draft, giving the client an idea of what the final piece will look like. It is also the last time a client will really have to make any serious changes to the pieces. I mention this, because once we start to add color, shading, and highlighting to an illustration, it becomes MUCH harder to make alterations.
  4. Coloring – For me, this is both the base coloring stage, plus shading and highlights. This is often the final stage, as alterations after this stage are incredibly difficult.

Each of these stages has me sending the client an email of what is going on with the piece. Once the final piece is approved, that’s the best time to send an invoice and get paid! The best clients pay immediately (“I do the job, I get paid.” – Mal Reynolds, Firefly), but some clients may have to hold those payments until they themselves get paid through another venue. This is why it helps to make sure to have a steady stream of clients at the same time. That way, not only can an artist transition from one piece to another, while waiting for one client to respond to the latest email; but also so that the artist has a nice steady flow of income. One client may not be able to pay their bill immediately, but the other should be able to. And that keeps a bank account happy, bills paid, and food on the table.

There are a couple of suggestions I have to maintaining a steady supply of clients, as well as netting new clients in the future. These were things I had to learn along the way in my own freelance art career, and some were told to me by others. So I am teaching them to you, as well…

Get an online profile! Make sure you have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure you have an online gallery where potential clients can see your art.

Have a rate sheet! Make sure you know how much to charge for your work, and make sure it is equal to how valuable your time is that you put towards your work. Don’t short-sell yourself, just to make clients happy. Save the price discounts for “friends and family.” Make sure to always charge your friends and family. Don’t give them free art, unless YOU choose to do so. This is your JOB!

THIS IS YOUR JOB! Be a professional. Meet your deadlines. But, at the same, time treat it like a job. Take time off, including regular breaks during the day (don’t sit in the chair and look at social media; stand up and move around… make yourself a light snack.. socialize with your roommates), break for lunch, and when you have put in your 8 hours…. STOP WORKING!

The last bit of advice I can give to a potential artist who wants to work in the ttrpg community is to also be a ttrpg gamer! You cannot imagine how much time it save a client to have an artist already be familiar with the various games and art associated with said games. No one has ever had to describe to me what a “peryton” is, as I already know what they are supposed to look like. This saves both you and the client a ton of time and descriptive text.

Go! Draw! Have fun and make money doing it!

Speaking of which, please support me on Patreon: patreon.com/jacobblackmon

Jacob Blackmon

Gallery: deviantart.com/prodigyduck

FB: facebook.com/jacob.blackmon.56

And as always, you can support this blog at Owen K.C. Stephens’ Patreon!

Letting Dead PCs Die

I have had my fair share of dead PCs get returned to life in ttRPGs. Often they are dead so briefly, and with such little consequence, it doesn’t really feel like they died at all. Brought back by spells within 6 seconds of joining the choir invisible (not even enough time to see if they are an alto or soprano among the spirits), given reprieve by a GM retcon, or just having their life restored off-screen as part of treasure division, some characters’ deaths have no more impact on their narrative than tossing out the laser pistol they carried during the nightmare invasion of Ragesh III for a more expensive model that does 1d8 instead of 1d4.

Even among characters who needed more effort put in by friends and allies to return to the mortal coil, being temporarily dead is rarely an interesting enough part of their story than any of us sit around and recount when we are telling imaginary war stories. Being temporarily dead is mostly a hiccup, a plastered-over accident we erase because we’d all rather keep telling our parts of that character’s story.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When my wife’s cleric in IFGS (live-action foam-sword fantasy D&D-style larping) died, an entire game was written and produced for her closest friends to bring her back. Her soul wasn’t responding to normal resurrection magics, and we had to travel through her most vivid memories to find it and convince it to return. This meant playing through the biggest, most memorable encounters of her previous IFGS adventures, many of which some of us had gone through with her, and recreate he greatest victories (and, in the case of getting burned by one glyph she mis-named, we thought we needed to recreate her failure as well). All that lead to finally finding her in a kind of lesser heaven, happily keeping house, and somehow convincing her she was needed to keep fighting the forces of evil away from a world where the fire was always warm and the baked bread always fresh.

THAT return to life some of us still talk about.

But for my own characters, it’s much more often the ones who stay dead who get their stories told by other players. When the rarely heroic Pallinor flew across the chasm moat to take on 5 apprentice warlocks, keeping them from casting spells at any of his allies so they could fight their way across the bridge, his success ensuring their victory but at the cost of his own magic being snuffed out and plummeting to his death. When the Monitor overloaded the reactor in his powered armor to self-destruct and blow up himself and 7 Sentry war-bots, ensuring the young mutant girl Olivia could escape, and become the leader and heroine Emerald a generation later. Those deaths were never undone, and it made the character’s sacrifices mean more to me, and be notable enough that other people who were there sometimes tell their tales.

Because the ending for most of my characters is that the one-shot game was a one-shot, or the adventure path ended when someone moved rather than when we finished it, or the campaign’s GM lost interest, or schedules changed, or personal quarrels made a group not want to get together for that game anymore.

My fictional characters who lived are rarely as memorable as those who died… and stayed dead.

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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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