Blog Archives

Awesome 80s: Robofauna (for Starfinder)

Today we’re continuing the Awesome 80s line of blog posts, which are about sharing some of the things I created in part from the inspirations I got from movies, shows, games, and literature of that decade. In this case, it’s robots serve the role of fauna on alien worlds and cultures where robotic life fills every ecological niche, and biological creatures are rare or nonexistent. Such worlds are often also populated by SROs, MechaMorphs and Deceptive Transforming Robots, and may be patrolled by allies or visitors with Transforming Cycle Armor in an effort to fit in and keep up.

Do you want robot bug swarms? Because this is how you get robot bug swarms.

Art by klyaksun.

ROBOFAUNA GRAFT Robofauna almost always matches the form, function, and niche of a type of animal or vermin found elsewhere in the galaxy. They are robots, but robots created by an endless (and arguably natural, by which we mean people almost always argue about it) cycle of previous machines.
Creature Type: Only stat blocks for creatures of the animal and vermin type can be used for robofauna. Type changes to Construct (technological).
Traits: Add: construct immunities; unliving; vulnerable to electricity.
Skills: Add Computers as master skill.
Additional Abilities: Robofauna generally have at least one ability the biological lifeforms that fill the same niche don’t. Roll 1d6 on the table below to determine the robofauna abilities:

1. Add a ranged energy attack (acid, cold, electricity, fire, or sonic). The attack has an attack bonus 2 lower that the creature’s melee attack, and does the same amount of damage.
2. Add DR/adamantine, with a value equal to half the creature’s CR.
3. Add energy resistance against one energy type (acid, cold, fire, or sonic; not electricity) with a value equal to the creature’s CR.
4. Add a new movement type (burrow, climb, land, fly, or swim). This movement is as fast as the creature’s fastest movement type (if climb, land, or swim), or half that (if burrow or fly).
5. Add blindsight (life, sound, or vibration) with a range of 30 feet (60 feet if creature is CR 10 or higher).
6. Roll three times and add all results. This may give you multiple different ranged attacks of forms of blindsight, or double the value of DR or Energy Resistance gained. If you roll a 6 again, rather than roll 3 more times, select one ability the robofauna does not yet have. Also increase Hit Points by +20%, and CR by 1.

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Awesome 80s: Deceptive Transforming Robots (for Starfinder)

Today we’re continuing our look at some of the weird, awesome scif-fi and science-fantasy stuff came out in the 1980s, that impacted my geek trajectory significantly. The Awesome 80s line of blog posts is about sharing some of the things I have been inspired to create by movies, shows, games, and literature of that decade. In this case, it’s robots that can disguise themselves as (and operate in the form of) vehicles.

If this kind of content interests you, you might enjoy my Polymechs entry in the CODEWORLD micro-campaign setting from my blog entries in April 2018. If you want quick, simple rules to allow robots that transform into vehicles as a player character species in Starfinder, check out my MechaMorphs blog entry from December 2019.

Art by klyaksun


Sometimes, robots are built (or otherwise come into existence) with the ability to switch between robot and vehicle forms, and disguise themselves as typical vehicles when in that form. In some regions of space, transforming sentient robots are the predominant form of spacefaring intelligence and culture, and some fight vast civil wars among differing factions over centuries. The Deceptive Transforming Robot (DTR) graft can be used to turn any robot NPC into a DTR.

Required Creature Type: Construct.
Traits: Vehicle form (see below).
Skills: A DTR gains Disguise and Pilot as master skills if it did not already have them.

Vehicle Form
A DTR can change into a the form of a Small, Medium, Large, or Huge size vehicle (but not starship) as a swift action. Its vehicle form must be within one size category of the DTR’s base form, and have an item level no greater than the DTR’s CR -2 (minimum item level 1). and once selected cannot be changed. While in a vehicle form, the DTR gains a +20 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be that vehicle (including appearing to have an appropriate driver or pilot, even if it actually doesn’t). Changing back from vehicle form to robot form is also a swift action.

In vehicle form, a DTR can pilot itself (gaining a +8 bonus to all Pilot checks to do so), or allow someone else to pilot it. Anything it carried in its robot form is stowed within it in its vehicle form, and the DTR may opt to allow it to be accessed by riders/passengers. When assuming its vehicle form, the DTR can select equipment or weapons it has in robot form that could be wielded in 2 hands or less, and have them become integrated equipment in its vehicle form. Its vehicle form has the same number of Hit Points as its robot form, and damage taken in one form carries over to the other. It’s EAC, KAC, and speed in vehicle form is determined by the type of vehicle it is.

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Otherianthropes: Fantasy Were-Creature Concepts

Were-creatures are a common part of many world mythologies and fictional fantasy worlds. Depending on the origins for your therianthropes they could potentially be as varied and diverse as all the animal species and humanoid host societies. Thinking about that, I decided to jot down some thoughts on less-common forms of werecreatures, what humanoid species they might be most common amongst (using fairly generic fantasy species ideas), and what special features they might have.

All of these are mammalian carnivores, in keeping with the common were-species of werewolves, werebears, and weretigers. That’s not to say wereboars, weresharks, and werecrocodiles aren’t also well-established and interesting options, but I feel carnivorous mammals are the most typical therianthropes, and since I’m already going a bit far afield when considering nonstandard types, sticking with the most common classifications seems a good limiter.

So, what would YOU make as a new form of werecritter?

N, Dwarf, halfling
Vulnerable to gold, territorial, can shapeshift to change both badger-form and humanoid-form appearance

Catfolk, elf, human
Vulnerable to bone, immune to poisons, can move with extreme speed

Goblin, gnome, halfling
Vulnerable to copper, can cause despair in those that see or hear it.

CG-CN, Aquatic elf, elf, human, merfolk
Vulnerable to volcanic glass, can grant the ability to swim and hold breathe as a dolphin to other creatures… and can also take such abilities away.

CG-NG, Gnomes, faeries, halflings
Vulnerable to cold iron, have prophetic powers

N-NE, Dwarf, human, gnoll, goblin, orc
Vulnerable to stone, can break spells and curses and curse others

N-CN, Human, orc.
Vulnerable to fire, immune to cold, in animal hybrid or humanoid form can take off it’s skin as a cloak and give it to another to allow them to use that form, which is unavailable to the wereleopardseal until it gets the cloak back.

LG-LN-LE, Giants, ogres, trolls
Vulnerable to lightning, weakened by storms, can swallow people and even boats or small ships and keep them safe for weeks or months inside a magic space separate from their gullet.

NG-N-NE, Halfling
Have charm powers

LN-NG, Goblin, gnome, halfling
Vulnerable to wood, immune to charm and fear

NG, Gnome, mouselings
Vulnerable to steel, can charm and command other animals

CG-CN-CE, Goblin, halfling
Vulnerable to anything polished to a high shine, gain natural thieving skills, can become invisible

CN-N, Goblin
Vulnerable to adamantine, has rage powers, regenerates.
(Hey, it’s good conceptual worldbuilding, even if the ideas are blatantly stolen.)

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A PF2 NPC Idea, an Arboreal: Old Witch Hazel

I’ve had the dreaded scheduling conflict eat the past couple of Saturday games, and the next few don’t look good either, so no new session posts for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 for a while. But I am still jotting down PF2 ideas when they come to me, especially those that feel like they might make for interesting encounters or adventureplots.

I don’t know that this one will ever make it into the campaign, but if so I’ll list this to my Gatekeeper’s campaign index.

Old Witch Hazel

Also known as Grantha Mountain-Ash and Quickbeam Lament, Old Witch Hazel is legendarily old and grumpy arboreal (sometimes called a “treant” by locals) that appears to be a moss-covered, partially burned rowan tree, possibly wrapped around a larger, even older tree, with foliage and berries in states representing all 4 seasons. Old Witch Hazel can supposedly be bribed to teach occult and primal magic secrets, but no one knows anyone who has ever successfully done so. The treant is also known to oppose hags, skelm, and evil fey. While a few folks say this is also just rumor and myth, there are dozens of people who will attest to having seen Old Witch Hazel drive such creatures away from small farm communities, roads, and peaceful groves.

Old Witch Hazel is also well-known for thrashing younger humanoids, apparently for no reason. Such attacks always take place outside of settlements, and many adults claim that clearly the treant is warning adolescents away from dangerous creatures or punishing them for bad behavior or violating some secret tree-pace, perhaps without knowing it. Those that have been beaten by Old Witch Hazel protect their innocence, claiming they had done nothing and gone nowhere to invite such treatment.

When Old Witch Hazel attacks youngsters, all its attacks are nonlethal(taking the normal -2 to its attacks for dealing nonlethal damage). It also often throws clusters of rotting berries, which act like moderate water bombs (except they smell worse). If any target attempts to protect someone Old Witch Hazel was attacking, the treant always switches to the defender, ignoring the old target as long as it doesn’t make new attacks. After everyone has been hit at least once, or anyone knocked unconscious, Old Witch Hazel lets them flee, and wanders off into the nearest woods.


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AI Images as References for Live Artists

So, I’ve written a few articles on my exploration of human-prompted, AI-generated images. There is going to be more and more public discussion about this, and I think articles like this one at Kotaku, are important to read and consider. Of course, such articles are generally an undifferentiated mix of fact and opinion, but even where I disagree with the opinions I want to be open to them and see if any new points of view or data are presented that may alter my current position on the issues.

I also want to keep exploring various possible ways to use human-prompted, AI-generated images. One of the things I’ve mentioned is the idea of using such an image as a visual reference for an artist.

So, I did.

Here is an image of a lich I got from prompts fed into MidJounrey.

(Generated from prompts I fed into MidJourney)

I really like this image, including it’s sartorial style, but there are (at least currently) significant limitations I’d have to contend with if I wanted to use this commercially. Not the least of those is I have no way of creating different images of the same being.

So, what if I gave this as a reference to an artist I like? (And, you know, pay them to create more art.)

So, I took this to Jacob Blackmon and asked if he was willing to participate in my experiment (at his standard rate). He was, and sent me this sketch:

(Art by Jacob Blackmon, a living professional artist and great person.)

This highlights two of the things I love about working with Jacob. First, he did a LOT of design work in this piece, flowing from the reference image, but absolutely building well beyond either it or even standard fantasy lich images. Secondly, his sketch stage has enough detail for me to see where he is going and give useful feedback or ask for alterations. In this case, I gave an immediate thumb’s up.

So, that brought us to this, Jacob’s final.

(Yep, also by Jacob Blackmon)

This is awesome, it shows Jacob distinct and developing style, I love it, i can use it, Jacob got paid for it, and it would not have existed without MidJourney returning the top image in response to prompts I gave it. It’s not a duplicate of the original (nor did I ask for it to be), but it clearly uses that image as the umping off point for a new design.

I like this result, and can easily see going this route again. It remains to be seen how issues of legality, ethics, and public opinion shake out on any use of human-prompted, AI-generated images, but I found this a useful project to help me explore my own thoughts on the subject.

And, in this case, it put money in the pockets of an artist I like, which is always a plus.

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Owen Explains It All: Tiny Terrors for Starfinder

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

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

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

The show has a logo and everything!

(Logo by the amazing Jacob Blackmon)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ShadowFinder Bestiary Teaser: Soul Lamprey

As work on ShadowFinder continues, I will occasionally preview things that will be in its Bestiary section. Many of these will be creatures from the ShadowBlast, but others will fill in the “normal” niches a typical modern adventure/scifi/fantasy/surreal/horror game might need.

For each of these, I plan to show some art, talk a bit about why I’m putting it in the ShadowFinder Core Book, and enough info a GM could create a version of the monster at any CR, using the standard Starfinder creature creation rules. In the final entries for these in the Core Book there will be at least one full stat block, but I do also want to give enough info on special abilities and role in an adventure that a GM can reliably make versions at different CRs as they need them.

So, let’s start with the soul lamprey.

(Art by Kalifer)

Soul lampreys are creatures apparently native to the Shadowblast (though like anything in the Shadowblast, they might originally be from somewhere else and just trapped in that dim demiplane). They are driven by an insatiable hunger to consume the determination and drive of sapient beings, as well as the flesh of any sentient creature they can eat while it still lives.

The idea behind the soul lamprey is to get some of the player-dread that creatures that inflicted level drains and negative levels did in older ttRPGs… without the bookkeeping, refiguring, and literal inability to keep playing the character usefully in the same adventure that those rules often inflicted on players. Instead, soul lampreys eat Resolve Points.

To build a soul lamprey, you use a combatant stat array, a single bite melee attack that deals piercing damage, and give it these special abilities and adjustments:

Slow But Tough: A soul lamprey has EAC and KAC 2 lower than normal for the combatant array at its level, but also has 25% more Hit Points.

Devour Determination (Su): When a soul lamprey damages a target with tis bite, the target must make both a Fortitude and Will save. If it makes both saves, there is no additional affect. If the target fails 1 save, it loses 1 Resolve Point. If it fails both saves, is drained of 1d4 Resolve Points (+1d4 for every 4 full levels of the lamprey’s CR). Drained RP do not recover normally. Instead, each time the character regains their daily abilities, they reroll the Fort and Will saves, regaining 1 RP for each save they succeed at each day. If they make both saves, they regain an addition 1d4 RP (+1d4 for ever 4 character levels they have).

The soul lampry gains these Resolve Points, and can use them normally and to fuel its special abilities. While a soul lamprey has RP, any creature missing RP from a soul lamprey drain is flat-footed and off-target to the soul lamprey.

Digest Determination (Su): When a wounded soul lamprey devours determination, it can choose to expend any number of the RP it absorbs to heal itself as part of the attack. For each RP expended, it regains 1d8 HP + 1/2 its CR. It may only do this when it absorbs new RP.

Target Sense (Su): As part of any action it takes, a soul lamprey can expend 1 RP to gain blindsight (telepathy) with a range of 5 feet per CR of the lamprey. This only detects creatures missing RP drained by a soul lamprey. The ability lasts for 10 minutes per CR of the soul lamprey.

Trap Blind (Ex): A soul lamprey is vulnerable to attacks from things that lack their own determination. This includes traps, mindless creatures, and mechanic’s drones. Such attacks gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls and save DCs, and deal double damage, against soul lampreys.

Shudder Step (Su): When a creature damages a soul lamprey with a ranged attack, the soul lamprey can follow the trace of psychic energy carried by the decision to attack it back to its point of origin, teleporting to be adjacent to the attacker (or as close as possible if there is no safe space adjacent to the attacker). This does not take an action, but does expend 1 Resolve Point.

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“Fodder” foes for Pathfinder 1st-edition

I’ve been considering running a Pathfinder 1st-edition game sometime in the not-too-distant future, as a change of pace for when my current Really Wild West campaign wraps up its current story arc. I’ve been especially considering running a variant of the “E6” concept, where regular character progress ends at level 6, and after that characters get a feat (with some new feats to allow ability score progress, access to new spells, access to higher-level abilities as rituals and such).

One of the nice things about running an E6 style game is that lots of classic monsters remain relevant. You have a range from about CR 4 to CR8, and later even CR 9, where its easy to challenge but not overwhelm characters. That means bulletes, dire animals, tougher mundane animals, centaurs, chimeras, cockatrices, cyclops, dinosaurs, drakes, Medium and Large elementals, giant bugs, gorgons, hell hounds, hill giants et al, howlers, hydras, leucrotta, manticores, medusa, ogres, phase spiders, rust monsters, trolls, unicorns and most typical undead (just to name a few) are all easily introduced into encounters. For many people this power level is the “sweet spot” of the game, so E6 just makes that the default, with power increases increasing breadth of options more than raw power numbers.

But it can also mean it’s tough to have challenging encounters with 8-20 foes, which while needn’t be common can certainly be fun. One of the things that can feel good as a hero is to be able to kill foes in a single blow, take out small gangs that jump you in an ally, and hold the bridge against small armies. Doing that without huge numerical bonuses of being 5 levels higher than your foe is tricky, because being outnumbered gives PCs a massive action economy disadvantage.

Lots of games have solved this issue with “minion” or “thug” rules, creating a class of adversary who has enough offensive values to be a threat, but are easily killed. I’ve enjoyed using “rowdies” in my Really Wild West game, and a similar mechanism seems like it might be useful for the specific feel I want for my E6 Pathfinder 1st ed game. This is just a first stab at such rules, off the top of my head, using the template concept and referring to such quickly-defeated adversaries as “fodder.”

I specifically want to make fodder dangerous enough you can’t ignore them, but weak enough their big advantage in extra actions doesn’t allow them to overwhelm PCs. I also want to make sure they are debuffed both in combatant terms, and when thinking about spells and special ablities.

Fodder Template

Six creatures with the fodder template are equal to a single creatre of the same CR. Thus, six CR 2 fodder worgs have a CR of 2. This also means you can have one CR 2 worg pack leader, and six fodder worgs, for a total of a CR 4 encounter.

Fodder have a -4 penalty to Initiative checks, AC, CMB, and CMD.
Fodder have a -4 penalty to saving throws against effects that do not deal hp damage, and if such effects have a duration of 1 round or more, the duration is doubled on a failed save.
Fodder have hp equal to the CR of the base creature. (Thus a CR 2 fodder worg has 2 hp).
Fodder do half damage with all abilities. The save DCs of their spells and abilities are reduced by 2, and on a successful save targets take no effect.
Any successful Knowledge check to identify a creature also identifies if it is fodder.

That’s just one change I am considering making to the rules–I have ideas about cantrips automatically scaling, feats gained from some classes have additional benefits (such as combat feats fighters gain from the class bonus feats automatically granting the combat stamina advantages if the fighter wishes, without needing to expend stamina points), and allowing PCs to gain abilities from other classes as feats.

But those are posts for another day. 🙂

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Holiday-Themed Constructs

Look, maybe you want to run a fantasy ttRPG with giant animated fruitcake warriors… and maybe you’ll just get a giggle out of my actually taking this topic seriously. But if you want to reskin some class iron, clay, and stone constructs (or any construct-type creature) into holiday-themed materials, here are some options for powers to add based on the holiday material used.

Figgy Pudding/Fruitcake: Take half damage from bludgeoning attacks. Are sticky, so they gain a climb speed.

Gingerbread: As almost 2-d, flexible creatures, they can get through spaces a creature 2 size classes smaller could, without taking any penalties. Any fire damage sets them on fire, both damaging them and causing their attacks to do fire damage.

Holly: Anyone hit by the construct, or adjacent to it for a full round, must make a mental save or move towards the person present they would be most interested in kissing (though once they take that move, all compulsion stops).

Hot Cocoa: Gains all the powers of both a fire elemental and a water elemental of the same threat level. takes double damage from bite attacks.

Peppermint: These constructs are “curiously strong.” Tracking them by scent is easy, but they cover all other scents, and after being in an enclosed space for a minute, scent can no longer pinpoint their exact location with that space.

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Chimera Generator

Yeah, it’s silly, but sometimes you want to throw players for a loop.

Roll 1d6 three times, and that puts together your chimera’s appearance. Depending on the game you are playing, you may or may not want to change any statistics from a base chimera.

Central Head and Front Body

1. Bear

2. Hippopotamus

3. Lion

4. Tiger

5. Wolf

6. Wolverine

Right Head and Rear Body

1. Boar

2. Bull

3. Goat

4. Gorgon

5. Stag

6. Unicorn

Left Head and Wings and Maybe Tail

1. Cockatrice

2. Dragon

3. Eagle

4. Phoenix

5. Wasp

6. Wyvern

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