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Developing to Spec: Part 13 – Keeping It Simple

This is the first section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

The deeper we get into this project, the greater the temptation is going to become to create complex, weighty new rules to help us have enough design space to make a slew of new feats covering common conceptual tropes. But as much as possible, we need to keep things simple.

For example, while channeling feats are going to keep being something we have to adapt, Elemental Channel can be extra easy and simple, since we can just emulate the existing Starfinder feat Harm Undead.

ELEMENTAL CHANNEL
You can use your healing channel to harm elementals.
Prerequisites: Healing channel connection power, mystic level 1st.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel, you can expend a mystic spell slot of the highest level you can cast to also deal damage equal to the amount you heal to all elemental foes (including all creatures of the elemental type) in the area. The elementals can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC.

Sometimes the problem is deeper, but that doesn’t mean the solution has to be complex. The reason Endurance doesn’t exist in Starfinder is that all of the benefits the PF version grant have been rolled into Toughness (which also does pretty much what the PF toughness feat does). That means if we want to have something that feels like Endurance, we need to come up with brand-new mechanics. There are lots of places we could go with this, but since I know that afflictions in Starfinder turn out to be pretty severe, that’s the first place I go looking for options. And, luckily, there’s a really easy way to adjust a character’s level of enduring such things.

ENDURANCE
Harsh afflictions do not bring you down quickly or easily.
Benefit: You treat the onset and frequency of afflictions that have them as being twice as long as normal.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12d – Designing to Concept

This is the fourth section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

Sometimes when developing existing rules, you find you like a concept that an option of encounter is built around, but the core mechanics don’t work. When that happens you often “design to concept,” looking not at the mechanics you have been given, but the cool idea behind them that needs to work differently. Everything but that core, good idea gets thrown away. That same idea can apply to adapting from one game system to another–sometimes you have to throw out everything but the concept (and in this case, the name), and start over from there.

For example, Dodge is a lot like Dazzling Display in that it would work exactly as written in Starfinder, which makes us have to ask why it isn’t. The answer is clearly a case of combat math, so like Greater Weapon Focus we need to find some other solution to creating a feat that serves some defensive function, has a solid game use, and feels like dodging, but doesn’t break the game assumed range of numbers.

DODGE
Your training and reflexes allow you to avoid a wide range of threats when specifically avoiding opponents’ attacks.
Benefit: When you take the fight defensively or total defense action, you apply the bonus that action gives you to AC to your saving throws as well.

Like so many PF feats, Double Slice is designed to work with mechanics that just don’t exist in Starfinder. The name of it does lead to consider some interesting options, hwoever, and I know from my time talking to Starifner players that there is a strong desire for some kind of mechanical beneit for wielding multiple melee weapons. So, in a two-birds-with-one-stone way:

DOUBLE SLICE
You are adept at using multiple weapons to strike foes around you when they drop their guard.
Benefit: If you are wielding two or more melee weapons that are not archaic or unwieldy (including natural or unarmed attacks, if they meet those requirements), and at least is an operative weapon, you an take one additional attack of opportunity each round. Each attack of opportunity must be provoked by a different event, and must be made with a different melee weapon.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12c – Deft and Disruptive

This is the third section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve made it to Deft Hands, which has all the issues of Athletic and Acrobatic and similar feats. Luckily we can again use the same solution—look through the relevant feats and seek some design space open for new options.

DEFT HANDS
You have exceptional manual dexterity.
Benefit: You can perform the hide object, palm object, and pick pocket tasks of Sleight of Hand as move actions.

Disruptive is interesting, because it makes a spellcaster less likely to cast defensively… and defensive casting isn’t a thing in Starfinder. But if we just take the feat to be something that makes spellcasters near you less effective, we can build something interesting that does that without trying to replicate the exact game mechanics.

DISRUPTIVE (Combat)
Your training makes it difficult for enemy spellcasters to safely cast spells near you.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: Creatures within the area you can threaten with melee attacks take a -1 penalty to attack rolls with spells, and the save DCs of their spells are reduced by 1. If you hit such a creature with a melee attack these penalties are doubled as long as is it in your threatened area until the beginning of your next turn.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 12b – Adapting Concepts

This is the second section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve reached Defensive Combat Training, which has the same kind of problems with game math and combat options as Greater Weapon Focus and, like it, there’s a way to preserve the concept by having it apply to avoiding penalties rather than gaining bonuses.

DEFENSIVE COMBAT TRAINING (Combat)
You have trained to keep your defenses us against tricky maneuvers, even under the worst circumstances
Benefit: You do not apply the penalty from the entangled, exhausted, fatigued, flat-footed, frightened, grappled, off-kilter, panicked, or prone conditions to your AC against combat maneuvers.

Deflect Arrows clearly got superseded by Deflect Projectiles, but we can possibly use the fact that the Starfinder version has extremely broad utility, late-level prerequisites, and a Resolve Point cost to make a much narrower, but less costly version just for “arrows.”

DEFLECT ARROWS (Combat)
You have trained in an archaic art designed to avoid archaic missile weapons.
Benefit: Once per round when an archaic ranged weapon that does kinetic damage would hit you, you may choose to have it miss you.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12 – Deadly and Deceitful

This is the first section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

So now that we’ve done Greater Weapon Focus and Shatter Defenses, we can look at Deadly Stroke. The PF version is specifically designed to give you a kind of quick coup de grace option, but that doesn’t hold up well to Starfinder’s combat math. On the other hand, Starfinder does assume that if you have an attack bonus to high you can hit even while taking the penalty for multiattacking, you can do more damage (or significantly inconvenience them with a combat maneuver). There might be ways to allow that high-attack-bonus character to just access more damage directly if they pay a feat to do so.

And since Starfinder feats tend to be much more prerequisite-lite than PF, and the base attack bonus restricts this to higher-level characters anyway, we can do away with some of the prerequisites that aren’t directly related to the way this feat works.

DEADLY STROKE
With a well-placed strike, you can bring a swift and painful end to most foes.
Prerequisites: Greater Weapon Focus, Weapon Focus, and proficiency with the selected weapon, base attack bonus +11.
Benefit: When using a weapon you have Greater Weapon Focus with to make a single attack as a standard action, if your attack roll exceeds the target’s AC by 8 or more, the attack is a critical hit.

And that brings us to Deceitful, which has all the issues of Athletic and Acrobatic and similar feats. Luckily we can use the same solution—look through the relevant feats and seek some design space open for new options.

DECEITFUL
The art of deception is second-nature to you.
Benefit: You can use the diversion task of the Bluff skill to allow another character to use the distraction to attempt Stealth or to palm an object. If your skill check is 20 or higher, you can pass a secret message to the character you are making the distraction for informing them of your intention in creating the distraction, and no one who is distracted can attempt a Sense Motive check to learn the gist of that message.
Additionally, the DC of a Perception check to penetrate a successful disguise of yours is increased by +2.

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Developing to Spec: Part 11d – Design Tricks

This is the second section of  Part Eleven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

So, Deadly Stroke is our next feat in the alphabetical list of things to convert from PF to Starfinder, but it has as prerequisites Greater Weapon Focus and Shatter Defenses, two PF feats that aren’t in Starfinder, and that are on our list to convert, but that we haven’t converted yet. So, it makes more sense to do those feats first, and then come back for Deadly Stroke.

So, Greater Weapon Focus has the same issue as Combat Expertise and Deadly Aim — it’s a PF feat build off a different mathematical assumption than Starfinder’ combat uses. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how to turn Greater Weapon Focus into anything more than bonuses to hit targets… it just doesn’t do anything else, and not much else is thematically appropriate.

But there is a trick up my designer’s sleeve. It’s not perfect, but when we HAVE to convert something like this, and we CAN’T just give bonuses without breaking the game, sometimes we can reduce penalties instead.

Reducing penalties doesn’t change a character’s maximum attack value, so they aren’t just more effective all the time, but it does allow them to retain more accuracy when they normally would lose it. It keeps the character within the range of expected numbers for Starfinder combat, while still allowing them to be better than expected in specific circumstances. Since Starfinder allows you to take penatlies to make multiple attacks (and this is almost always more effective in terms of total damage-per-round) we don’t want to just allow a character to reduce all penalties, since that could be used to almost always make a more effective damage-per-round choice than the normal maximum. Luckily for us there is another source of well-defined penalties in Starfinder–conditions.

GREATER WEAPON FOCUS (Combat)
You have become a master of a particular weapon type.
Prerequisites: Proficiency and Weapons Focus with selected weapon type, base attack bonus +8.
Benefit: Chose one weapon type (small arms, longarms, heavy weapons, etc.) with which you have Weapon Focus. When making attacks with these weapons, you ignore penalties to attack rolls from the entangled, exhausted, fatigued, frightened, off-target, and shaken conditions. 

That should appeal to weapon-focused characters with lots of feats to spare (such as soldier). If we weren’t specifically converting these to Starfinder feats it might be worth making this a soldier gear boost, but it’s not unbalanced to let any character take it, so we’ll leave it alone.

That brings us to Shatter Defenses. It works fine as-is (though we should note flat-footed is a condition). It does overlap with an operative’s trick-attack a bit, but we can incorporate off-kilter as an additional effect if the target is or becomes flat-footed, so an operative working with a character that has this feat still sees synergy in their attacks (another design trick for when rules have PC abilities overlapping).

SHATTER DEFENSES (Combat)
Your skill with your chosen weapon leaves opponents unable to defend themselves if you strike them when their defenses are already compromised.
Prerequisites: Weapon Focus, Dazzling Display, base attack bonus +6, proficiency with weapon.
Benefit: Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent hit by you this round gains the flat-footed condition until the end of your next turn. If the target is already flat-footed, or becomes flat-footed during that duration, it is off-kilter during this time instead. (Targets are off-kilter even if not in 0-G, but may automatically right themselves with a move action if this is the case).

So NEXT week, we can go back and pick up Deadly Stroke!

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Developing to Spec: Part 11c – Design Traps

This is the second section of  Part Eleven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

Our next feat is Dazzling Display, which can again work exactly as written in Starfinder, but again isn’t in Starfinder. We need to ask ourselves why, and that means we need to examine how demoralize is sued in Starfinder. So, it’s useful to do a search through a complete Starfidner SRD for “demoralize” to see all the ways that task is used in various other abilities. This is important because, for example, we find in AP #12 there’s the Improved Demoralize feat, which lets you demoralize as a move action. That’s actually extremely powerful, and it cuts a lot of design space off for Dazzling Display.

We also discover the envoy class has the expertise talent “menacing gaze,” which allows you to demoralize a group of foes, which is the core concept behind Dazzling Display. And soldiers have shock and awe as a fighting style, which lets you burn Resolve to demoralize all foes within 60 feet. So, we can’t duplicate those effect without stealing some of the special abilities for those classes, and we can’t allow you to do it more quickly without overwriting Improved Demoralize. (I checked all the references for game uses of demoralize of course, from star knights to the ferocity blazon, these are just the most relevant issues.)

But what we don’t find is a demoralize critical hit effect. And that gives us some design space.

DAZZLING DISPLAY (Combat)
Your most spectacular attacks are frightful to behold.
Prerequisites: Weapon Focus
Benefit: You can add the demoralize critical hit effect to any attack you make that is a critical hit. The effect allows you to immediately make an Intimidate check to demoralize your target and all foes within 30 feet of your target. If your base attack bonus is greater than your Intimidate bonus, you may use it for the demoralize check. You may add this critical hit effect in addition to any other critical hit effect or effects the attack can normally benefit from. This critical hit effect applies to creature immune to critical hits and is not negated by things which negate critical hit effects, but does not apply to creatures immune to mind-affecting effects. This is a emotion, fear effect.

Moving on to Deadly Aim, we see it has the same issues as Combat Expertise in how it interacts with Starfinder’s combat math. Looking at some solutions, we see sniper rifles have some special rules, which maybe we can co-opt to match the flavor of Deadly Aim, without breaking the game’s math (though it also won’t be as broadly useful a feat, which is fine as long as it has good utility for the characters most likely to take it).

DEADLY AIM (Combat)
When you take time to aim, your accuracy is exceptional.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with sniper weapons.
Benefit: You can take a move action to aim with a ranged weapon as if it had the sniper weapon special property. This allows you to treat it’s range increment as being 50% longer. If you make an attack with a weapon that does have the sniper weapon special property, when you take a move action to aim with it you gain a +1 bonus to the next attack roll you make with it during the same round.

Of course the REAL design trap is that Deadly Aim IS already in Starfinder!

Always double check your sources. Otherwise, you might write a feat you don’t need. 🙂

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

Developing to Spec: Part 11b – Matching Mechanics to Flavor

This is the second section of  Part Eleven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We’re chewing through feats at a good pace now, and running into many fewer that refer to rules that just don’t exist in Starfinder. but we also need to make sure that even if a feat can be adapted directly, we are doing good thematic conversions as well. And that brings us to Combat Expertise and Command Undead.

So, once again, Combat Expertise works as written in Starfinder… which leads to ask why it isn’t IN Starfinder? When so much of Starfinder is clearly based on PF, and so many feats are adapted over, why was this one left behind?

A careful analysis shows the answer is: math.

Starfinder combat math is different from PF, despite so much of the system being built on the same base mechanics. Part of this is because Starfinder replaced iterative attacks with increases in damage as you gain levels. But part of it is because what bonuses are given out are more tightly controlled. We CAN introduce new bonuses on top of those–they game mechanics will still produce results that make sense to players–but doing so begins warping the system in a way that is going to make play results unpredictable.

If we can avoid that, we want to.

But since we know Starfinder has rules for making multiple attacks a -4 to both, and has rules for giving up attacks to gain a +4 bonus to AC, maybe we can create a new option that allows a player to take the same penalties as a full defense and multiple attacks in a round, but still gives them one attack and some movement. It’ll only be useful for corner-case tactics, but it’s also optional. If players can’t figure out a way to make this useful (mostly likely with a high-Dex energy-weapon optimized soldier when facing a horde of lower-CR foes), they just don’t take this feat.

And it’s clearly superior to JUST taking a full defense action, so it has its uses. It’s the kind of thing someone with expertise in combat might take as a 7th or 9th feat. In fact, since not a lot of Int builds are combat focused, let’s just slap a +9 attack bonus onto the prerequisites, to make it clear this isn’t designed for 1st level characters.

COMBAT EXPERTISE (Combat)
You can increase your defense at the expense of your accuracy and mobility.
Prerequisite: Base attack bonus +9.
Benefit: As a full action you can choose to take a –8 penalty on attack rolls to gain a +4 bonus to your Armor Class and make a single attack. You may choose to take a guarded step as part of this action. You cannot take attacks of opportunity. You cannot combine this with any other action that increases AC. The effects of this feat last until your next turn.

Okay, that brings us to Command Undead. We could just make this a new option off the healing channel connection power, but that means we’re saying healers make the best undead controllers and that feels… wrong. The devastator and shadow mystic connections feel more appropriate, so…

COMMAND UNDEAD
Using foul powers of necromancy, you can command undead creatures, making them into your servants.
Prerequisites: Mystic (devastator or shadow connection) level 5.
Benefit: As a standard action, you can expend one Resolve Point to enslave undead within 30 feet. Undead receive a Will save to negate the effect at your normal connection power DC.  Undead that fail their saves fall under your control, obeying your commands to the best of their ability, as if under the effects of control undead. Intelligent undead receive a new saving throw each day to resist your command. As long as you are controlling any of these undead, you cannot recover the Resolve Point used activate this feat. You can control any number of undead, so long as their total levels do not exceed your mystic level. If an undead creature is under the control of another creature, you must make an opposed Charisma check whenever your orders conflict.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!

Developing to Spec: Part 11 – Building Momentum

This is a Part Eleven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

There often comes a time in any big project where I feel I have gained momentum–most of the big design challenges are settled, I have gotten very familiar with the details of the rulesets involved, and the words just flow more easily. Once I hit this point, it’s time to just maintain a good pace and work on getting the project finished without adding any more complications than I need to, but also make sure I don;t get complacent.

So, the next feat we need to adapt is Catch Off-Guard which… works perfectly in Starfinder. There’s absolutely nothing you HAVE to do to make this feat SF compliant… but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we *should* change. having momentum also means making sure we don’t tear past something without taking a moment to consider the implications of its rules design.

Unarmed opponents are less common in Starfinder, the flat-footed condition is tied into a lot of class builds already, and damage-per-round is calculated using Weapon Specialization and increasing damage dice for higher-level weapons rather than multiple attacks per round. Also, this seems like a feat operatives would want (much as rogues are more interested in the PF version), so we want them to find it more useful.

CATCH OFF-GUARD (Combat)
Foes are surprised by your skilled use of unorthodox and improvised weapons.
Benefit: You do not suffer any penalties for using an improvised melee weapon. You may add half your level to damage dealt with such weapons as a special form of Weapon Specialization (and in place of any other weapon specialization bonus), and treat such weapons as having the operative weapon special property.
Normal: You take a –4 penalty on attack rolls made with an improvised weapon and never add damage from Weapon Specialization.

That brings us to Channel Smite, which again applies to a game mechanic that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. But the Harm Undead feat that allows healing connection mystics to use healing energy to harm undead clearly serves the same function as channel, so we can adapt from there. In this case, there’s no need to build a complex rules subsystem, we just want to make sure the details work well in Starfinder’s game environment.

CHANNEL SMITE (Combat)
You can channel your mystic energy through a melee weapon you wield.
Prerequisite: Harm Undead, healing channel connection power, mystic level 1st.
Benefit: Before you make an attack roll, as part of the same action you can choose to expend your healing channel to add its value to the attack as bonus damage that only applies to undead. The damage applies to any undead hit by the attack. This does not apply to any attack that does not require an attack roll (though it does apply to area attacks that also require attack rolls, such as most grenades). The undead can attempt a Will save to reduce this bonus damage by half, at your usual connection power DC.

It may seem like we’re still at the beginning of this process since we’re still in feats beginning with a C, but given we’ve done all the metamagic feats, all the critical feats, and all the item crafting feats, we’ve actually made major progress towards being done. It may not be the beginning of the end of this project, but we’ve definitely hit the end of the beginning.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 10d: Down the Rabbit Hole

This is the fourth section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. The I applied it to Craft Rod and Craft Staff, which was weird. Then Craft Wand and Craft Wondrous Items, which was weirder. Now we just have Forge Ring and Scribe Scroll left.

The further I go down their weird rabbit whole of having Craft Wands make hybrid items, Craft Staff make technological ones, and Craft Rods do augmentation, the more I doubt my choice to do things that way. But I’m already most of the way down the rabbit hole, so I’m going to tackle the last two of these feats, and think about how I like the full set as I move on with other feats next week.

FORGE RING
You’ve mastered the nearly lost art of magic ring forging, and can aply it to creating similarly useful objects of magical power.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 7 ranks.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that do not use charges (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

SCRIBE SCROLL
You are adept at taking magic energy and freezing it time, a process that was once done using ink and parchment, and now generally involves spell gems.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 1 rank.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that have charges that never refresh (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook), except serums and spell ampules which fall under Brew Potion). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!