I am on vacation, so I may post a bit less for a couple of weeks than I have on average this month… so I thought I’d leave you with an entire microsetting. It even has an index page that lists and organizes all the articles that came after this one, the Really Weird West index.
This is Victoriana Pulp Weird West Adventure.
The year is 1891. The place is somewhere in North or South America, generally far from established law. In 1890, the War of the Worlds happened. That’s over, but wow has tech taken a leap forward.
This is a campaign played using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game with the following adjustments.
*The game’s top level is 10th, not 20th. After 10th you get +1 RP, +3 SP, +3 HP, +1 feat, and +2 skill points every 20,000 XP, and ability score upgrades every 100,000, but your class level doesn’t change.
*Humans are most common, with legacy races second-most (many of whom look a lot like humans), and Starfinder core races rare and usually the result of accidents or experiments (such as Dr. Moreaux’s creation of vesk from alligators… )
*All magic is theosophy. But it still works just like in the rulebook.
*Everything is analog, but all abilities that work on technology work on everything that isn’t exclusively magical.
*“Credits” is just shorthand for “credit on the bank,” meaning you have US dollars and lines of credit. Gold and silver coins get used too. All prices are the same, but represent a unifed currency exchange that exists because of the Babbage-Bell Grid, which allows room-sized computer “difference engines” in major cities to communicate over telegraph lines.
*Shock weapons are lightning guns, flame weapons are flamethrowers, lasers are heat rays (from Martian tech). They always have a maximum of 10 shots (adjust usage accordingly).
*Projectile weapons are pepperboxes (four shots, but add +2 damage to every die of damage), revolvers (six shots, but +1 to attacks), or tube-fed (eight shots).
Cryo, plasma, sonic, and untyped ranged weapons are available only as weird loot from adventures (but see the mad genius feat, below). They are generally called Freeze Guns, Heaters, and Thunder Guns.
*No one much wears armor. You get a bonus to EAC equal to your level, and a bonus to KAC equal to your level +2. If you are proficient with heavy armor, you get an additional +2 bonus to EAC and KAC. You can wear armor—light armor costs 100 and gives +1 to KAC, with a max Dex of +5 and an armor check penalty of -1, while heavy armor costs 150 and gives +2 to EAC and KAC, with an armor check of -3 and a -5 ft. speed adjustment.
*You can wear armor upgrades as “gizmos.” These are steampunky/theosophic devices that do weird stuff. Force fields are Etheric Shields. Jump jets are Jack’s Spring-Heels. Jetpacks are DaVinci Wings. Get creative. But it takes skill to use more than one gizmo at a time. You can use at once one gizmo, plus one for every kind of armor you are proficient with, +1/3 character levels.
*Computers are too big and bulky to be of any use to anyone but people operating out of stationary huge houses and mad geniuses (see the Mad Genius feat), but there is a Babbage/Bell grid of difference engines using telecom wires to send and receive info. These work like Infospheres, but work on hard wires.
*Augmentations and upgrades exist, but are normally only available as treasure (but see the Mad Genius feat). These things are steampunk as heck.
*Technological items exist, and are steampunk/Martianpunk tech-but there’s no broadcast/receiving technology. You can have a comm unit… but it only works when hooked up to a Babbage/Bell telecom wire (some of which do cross various badlands, to keep cities in communication with each other). You can generally buy such things.
*Magic items and hybrid items exist, but are generally only available as treasure (but see the Psychic feat, below).
*Vehicles exist, they are just all steampunk. Big airships and sea ships also exist, and use the starship rules (but damage against characters from big airship weapons is x2, not x10).
*Other purchases exist, and can generally be purchased, they’re just more rustic and snake-oil sounding.
*UPBs are Ulysses’ Paraphernetic Bobimathings, a famous universal construction gizmo created a decade ago by the legendary (but never seen) inventor Ulysses S. Abernathy. Any number of them is a total of 2 bulk. They otherwise work like normal UPBs.
You may select no more than one genre feat, from the list below. At 5th level you may select a second genre feat, if no one else in the campaign has taken it.
A Contact in Every Port
Benefit: In every settlement you come across, you have at least one local (at neither the bottom nor top of the social ladder) who is helpful towards you. These may be old flames, pen pals, admirers of your work, a spy network, the last citizens of the lost subterranean empire you were queen of, or whatever else you decide to define them as. Even if you abuse these allies and reduce their attitude towards you, it goes back up one step (to a maximum of helpful) every time you gain a level.
Benefit: When you are adjacent to a target in a secluded area where the target cannot see or hear any of its allies or your allies, any nonlethal damage the target takes in a surprise round before the target acts is quadrupled. If any of these conditions end you cannot use this feat again on the same target until you have gotten an attitude or friendly with the target, or if the target does not realize you are the same person when you next are adjacent to it in seclusion.
Chandeliers and Rigging
Benefit: As long as there are hanging ropes, lights, sails, rafters, trees, or similar dangling objects nearby, you have a fly speed of 30. If you end any turn not within 20 feet of a dangling object, you must land or you fall.
Benefit: Rather than suffer frightened or panicked conditions, you simply take the penalties of the shaken condition. Additionally even when confused or mind controlled, you never attack yourself or an ally unless you wish to.
Benefit: You may use your Charisma modifier (rather than Strength or Dexterity) when making attack rolls with weapons, and add your Charisma modifier (in addition to any other ability score that applies) to damage rolls with weapons.
Prerequisite: Engineering as a class skill.
Benefit: Select one technology type: cryo, plasma, sonic, untyped ranged weapons, computers, or augmentations. You can create such items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules. You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Engineering. You can swap out what items you have each day, but new items don’t come with full loads of fuel, batteries, or ammunition.
You can select a second category if you are 5th level or higher, and a third at 10th.
Prerequisite: Mysticism as a class skill
Benefit: You can create magic items using the normal Starfinder item creation rules (and hybrid items, if you have enough ranks in engineering for them). You also get a pool of one item per character level of such things for your personal use (which no one else can make work), but your total item levels worth of such items cannot exceed double your ranks in Mysticism. You can swap out what items you have at each new character level, or with 30 days of downtime.
Benefit: You gain 5 additional maximum Resolve Points.
Benefit: Whether you are a gunsmith, or veteran soldier, or just weirdly lucky, you almost always have access to special weapons. If you have access to your normal equipment and have not lost that since you were in a typical town, you have access to one weapon of your level, one weapon of your level -2 (if the result is 1 or more), and one weapon of your level -4 (if the result is 1 or more). You may select weapon normally only available as treasure.
These special weapons may have double the normal usages, or reroll one damage roll per combat, or have one weapon fusion it qualifies for. If you wish, you may give up one of these special weapons to instead apply an additional benefit from this list to one of your remaining special weapons. You can swap out your special weapons at a major settlement or weapon cache.
Nearly every time-period appropriate fiction works in this setting. The heroes are part of a worldwide tradition of larger-than-life figures, and after 1st level can generally expect to be accepted as noteworthy experts in the field of adventure, if nothing else.
This is a world where Sherlock Holmes is world famous and alive, secretly waging a war with Professor Moriarty and aided by Nick Carter and Inspector Donovan. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison publicly wage thought wars for scientific superiority, though Marie Curie is actually making more headway with Martian technology and Beatrix Potter has mastered the hybrid red weed the Martians brought with them. Dr. Moreau is busy with his experiments somewhere in the Pacific, Dr. Jekyll wanders the world looking for a cure, Old Shatterhand works to bring justice to the badlands, Sir Henry Curtis explores Africa (ignoring the fact people already live there), retired Otto Lidenbrock has established multiple routes to the center of the earth with his nephew Axel (though Gräuben Lidenbrock runs most of the expeditions, as her husband Axel is too afraid to make the journeys), and Professor Challenger just received his degree.
In Australia the age of the bushrangers has largely ended, though Ned Kelly still runs a group of armored outlaws seen by many as local heroes. The rapid industrialization of many of the nation’s major cities, and a growing depression, is also leading to rising nationalism, rising cries for independence, and sadly growing racism against Asian immigrants and the continent’s aborigines.
In Canada the Dominion of Canada is just a generation old, and still struggling to settle land disputes with the US and between its own provinces. The Mounties are less than 20 years old, the Yukon gold rush is strong, and there is not yes a single unified code of law for the nation.
In Mexico military hero Porfirio Díaz rules as president over a stable, growing, wealthy Mexico. He rules with the aid and advice of the científicos (“scientists”), who reject religious ideas and mysticism to focus on scientific method and the accumulation of knowledge… though the Maximillian monarchy was just a generation ago.
In Japan Emperor Meiji overseas the transition of a nation from feudal power to modern power, and though samurai have had many of their privileges removed they still exist and the last samurai conflict was within a generation.
In the United States, there are still unsettled territories, though not as many as their used to be, and while veterans of the civil war have grown rare and aged, veterans of the War of the Worlds are now common. While the Indian Wars are mostly over, the indigenous peoples have been conquered by force, smaller military conflict still occur. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the Army’s attempt to subdue the Lakota but, for now, the Lakota remain present and in control of the reservation without federal interference within their borders.
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I’ve been toying with what it would take to create a different kind of d20 game. One where just a few key choices, that don’t take a ton of planning or prerequisites and that don’t require *exactly* the right tactics to use, can make a major impact on who a character is and what neat, exciting things they can do.
I posted about it some yesterday.
So, of course, now it’s stuck in my head. There’s TONS of stuff I’d have to do to make this overall vision work (like rewrite all classes so they all have three lines of abilities, two tied to one ability score each and a third not tied to any ability score)…
But for now I’m still just exploring interesting revisions to feats many people tell me are either terrifyingly dull, or actively frustrating.
Agile Maneuvers (Combat, Revised)
You’ve learned to use your quickness in addition to brute force with performing combat maneuvers.
Benefit: You add your Dexterity bonus to your base attack bonus and Strength bonus when determining your Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Bonus. When a creature attempts a combat maneuver against you and fails, it provokes an attack of opportunity from you (separate from any AoO provoked when it attempted the combat maneuver, and even if it the attacker doesn’t provoke AoO when attempting a combat maneuver). However, you can only use this attack of opportunity to attempt your own combat maneuver (which does not itself provoke an AoO). You can only perform one AoO per round using this feat, even if you have multiple attacks of opportunity each round.
Alignment Channel (Revised)
Choose chaos, evil, good, or law. You can channel divine energy to affect creatures with this alignment.
Prerequisites: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: Instead of its normal effect, you can choose to have your ability to channel energy heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element. You must make this choice each time you channel energy. If you choose to heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element, your channel energy has no effect on other creatures.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a new alignment element. Whenever you channel energy, you must choose which alignment element to effect, or a combination of elements. For example if you have selected chaos and good, you can choose to affect all chaotic creatures, all good creatures, or just all chaotic good creatures.
Arcane Armor Training (Combat, Revised)
You have learned how to cast spells while wearing armor.
Prerequisites: Light Armor Proficiency, ability to cast 1st level arcane spells.
Benefit: You do not suffer arcane spell failure from light armor. When you cast an arcane spell that gives you an armor bonus while wearing light armor, you may choose to increase the armor bonus of either you light armor or the spell by 1 for the duration of the spell. If you can cast cantrips, you can also use magic to put on or remove your light armor as a move action.
Augment Summoning (Combat, Revised)
Your summoned creatures are more powerful and robust.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast a conjuration (summoning) spell that conjures a creation.
Benefit: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains a +2 enhancement bonus to melee attacks and damage and +2 hp per Hit Die. Additionally, if the spell has a duration of 1 round/level, it increases to 1 hour/level when outside of combat. But if the creature is in a combat (even if it neither attacks nor is attacked) each round of combat reduces the spell’s duration by 1 hour.
About my Patreon
I have a Patreon, and normally I’d link directly to it from here. It seems small, but it’s an important part of my income. My patrons allow me to do less formal freelance writing, which gives me time to do more, longer, better-considered articles and essays here.
But there have been changes to how Patreon charges my patrons.
As a result I wrote a blog post discussing some changes I have made, and while I would love for you to choose to support me, at the moment I’d ask you go check out my thoughts on how to handle changes to Patreon before you go pledge. 🙂
I’ve literally been playing and writing for d20 system games since before D&D 3.0 came out. That long experience has led me to not really fear overpowered characters. If characters are overpowered it’s actually very easy to upgrade encounters in a consistent manner until they’re challenge, and the vast majority of things that cause groups to decide a specific build or ability is overpowered are tied as much to play style as objective balancing of rules.
What I AM afraid of is characters that are boring or frustrating. Players will put up with a lot if they find their character interesting, including a GM modifying pre-written encounters in a possible slightly haphazard way, if they enjoy and are engaged with their characters. All too often, however, feats become a source of both frustration \(as long lists of prerequisites, carefully worded language that excludes numerous combinations, and situational bonuses that may never come up in play cause a player to interact with feats negative far more often than positively. While having a predictable power curve is good for designing adventures and trying to get all players to have equal spotlight time, if brakes built into a game to provide that predictability slaps down players more often than it enables them to do something exciting it reduces fun instead of facilitating it.
Ideally, I’d like to see a d20 game where characters are defined by their feats as much as by their class and race, but only because a few feats are enough to give a character a wide range of new capabilities or augment them enough that their performance itself provides a new play experience. Such a system might well have to affect other subsystems such as bonus acquisition, action economy, and featlike powers from other sources (such as traits, favored class bonuses, alternate race traits, and even archetypes), but it also has to redefine feats to a player envisions a character being notable different in play with even a single feat.
While I clearly can’t tackle ever feat in the core rules in the space of a single blog post, I though a selection of revised feats, all based on d20 feats that are regularly derided for being useless or boring, might provide a good example of the kind of design space I am envisioning. These are just a starting point, and a game build around them would have to make some other hard choices to keep frustration levels down and ease of character design and advancement up.
Your ability to notice things is almost preternatural.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Perception had Sense Motive, and both of these are treated as class skills for you. (You gain an additional +1 bonus to each skill if it is a class skill for you as a result of some other option.) You automatically gain one rank per level in each of these skills, though this cannot give you more total ranks than your character level (if you had already point skill ranks into these skill prior to gaining this feat, you can spend those skill points on other skills). You gain each skill’s unlocks (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained) appropriate for the number of ranks you have +4 (so you gain the 5 rank skill unlock at 1st level, and the 10 rank skill unlock at 6th level).
Combat Expertise (Combat, Revised)
You are a master of increasing your defense at the expense of your accuracy.
Benefit: When you fight defensively (see Chapter 8, Combat) you take only a -1 penalty to your attack rolls. When your base attack bonus reaches +4, and every +4 thereafter, the dodge bonus you gain from fighting defensively increases by +1. Your dodge bonus from this feat is limited to +2 or your armor’s Max Dex Bonus, whichever is greater.
When push comes to shove, you can depend on your ability to succeed at a given skill.
Benefit: Select one skill. You gain a +3 bonus to that skill. Once per day when you fail a skill check with this skill, as a free action you may immediately instead change your die result to a 20. This feat must be selected for each Knowledge skill separately, but if taken for Craft, Perform, or Profession it applies to all of those skills.
Weapon Focus (Combat, Revised)
You are highly skills with a class of weapons.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with one weapon in the category, base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Select one fighter weapon group. You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls with every weapon in this group with which you are proficient. At 3rd level, you also gain a +2 bonus to damage with such weapons. When you base attack bonus reaches +8, your bonus to attacks increases to +2. When you base attack bonus reaches +12, your bonus to damage increases to +4.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take it, you must select a different fighter weapon group.
Special: If you have at least two levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +1 bonus to attack rolls with the selected weapons. If you have at least three levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +2 bonus to damage rolls with the selected weapons.
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A microfeat usable in nearly any d20-based game.
Some people will love this feat. Some will hate it. There will be disagreements if it is overpowered, or underpowered, or a feat tax, or shows a quantitative misunderstanding of how any particular d20 game works.
Which is funny, given that a feat in a blog that doesn’t even tie itself to a specific game system is about as unofficial as you can get.
Sometimes, things just go your way.
Benefit: Once per game session when you make a d20 roll, after seeing the result, you may immediately decide to instead have the d20 result be treated as a natural 20 (as if the die roll had shown a 20).
Some people will love this Patreon. Some will hate it. There will be disagreements if it is a great value, or a terrible value, or shows a quantitative misunderstanding of how crowdfunding works.
Sometimes what the GM and players both want is not some carefully balanced, playtested, and theorycrafted expansion of the rules usable by a broad range of characters.
Sometimes you just want some cheese of the right flavor.
Regardless of your level or base of operations, you are an acknowledged leader within your religion, able to command vast resources and use pure presence to bring others to your cause.
Prerequisites: Cha 13, member of a church.
Benefit: You gain the benefits of the Leadership feat, except your followers and cohort don’t arrive (and aren’t replaced) automatically, Instead, when you drop a foe to 0 or fewer hit points, if you have a cohort or follower slot open that foe could fill (it is the appropriate level or level-equivalent) you can force the foe to make a Will save (DC 10 +1/2 your level + your Wisdom or Charisma modifier — whichever is higher). If it fails the save, rather that die or fall unconscious, it’s alignment changes to match your deity’s and it becomes a loyal cohort or follower (depending on what slot it took). The foe gains a +4 bonus to this saving throw for each of the things that is true; the foe is a priest or divine agent of another deity or philosophy; the foe has an alignment subtype that does not mach the alignment of your deity; the foe is already a follower or cohort.
Additionally, when in a settlement with a church to your deity, you can command any service that does not have a significant cost to your church. This normally includes feeding and housing a modest number of people and having local priests cast any spell with no costly material components or inherent risks. However, any service with a cost as high as a single gold piece costs the full amount, and you can never use this ability to turn a profit.
Additionally, you can cast atonement, as the spell, once per character level as a spell-like ability.
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