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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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Slenderman, for ShadowFinder (Starfinder-Compatible)

So, if I DO a ShadowFinder rpg, or campaign book, or Starfinder hack, or whatever, obviously it’s going to involve adventures that include fighting things (because if it didn’t, I’d pick a different game system). While part of the point of doing something compatible with an existing game system is to make all the existing options available for use as a GM pleases, we’d obviously need some other, new things.

So, what will PCs oppose in a ShadowFinder campaign?

Creepy things. Like a SlenderMan.

(Slenderman art (c) Jacob Blackmon, and used with permission. Check out his Patreon here!)

ApĂłleipa, Innocence-Eater (Slenderman) (Combatant)
CR 7
XP 3,200
CE Medium fey (Extraplanar)
Init +6; Senses blindsight (emotion) 30 ft., low-light vision; Perception +14
Defense HP 98
EAC 19; KAC 20
Defensive Abilities Only the Fearless (DR/Resist all energy 10 vs attacks from frightened foes), Tilted Away
Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +10;
Offense
Speed 40 ft.
Melee touch +13 (2d4+7 B), critical: staggered 1d4 rounds, 15-foot reach
Ranged warped world +15 (2d4+7 A)
Statistics
STR +4; DEX +2; CON +0; INT +2; WIS +1; CHA +5
Skills Bluff +19, Culture +14, Diplomacy +19, Intimidate +19, Sense Motive +19, Stealth +19
Languages alltongue
Other Abilities alltongue, feats (Improved Demoralize), isolation (DC 19), warped world
Ecology
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or infestation (3–6)
Special Abilities
Alltongue (Su): The Slenderman can speak and understand all spoken or signed languages, and is always able to be heard, even in areas of deafening sound and by creatures without a sense of hearing.
Isolation (Su): The Slenderman is a creature of isolation, and this extends to efforts to communicate with people far away by magical or technological means, or even just shouting. Anytime a creature within 300 feet of the Slenderman attempts to send or receive communication with anyone or anything not in their line-of-sight, they must succeed at a DC 19 Will save. On a failed save their radio turns to static, magic spell returns just whispered howls of pain, or their scream seems to die as soon as it leaves their throat. Once a creature fails this save, the condition prevents any communication beyond line-of-sight until it gets more than 300 feet from the Slenderman.
Any effort to record or preserve any image or sound of the Slenderman also requires a successful DC 19 Will save, with failure resulting in just a vague blur or feint whisper, or a picture of what appears to be a tall, thin, but mortal man in a suit, with a blurred face.
Only the Fearless (Su): Those who know fear find themselves nearly unable to damage the Slenderman. When a creature is suffering a fear effect (including the Slenderman’s own Intimidate check with Improved Demoralize), the Slenderman reduces damage from any attack they make by 10 points, regardless of damage type.
Tilted Away (Su): The space the Slenderman is in seems to ripple and roll away to make it difficult to make ranged attacks against it. Any ranged attack made against the Slenderman at a range greater than 2 feet grants the Slenderman concealment.
Warped World (Su): The Slenderman can reach out a long, crooked finger and cause someone to have a sense the world is spinning and twisting, wrenching their organs and insides as if they were being wrung out like a rag. This is a ranged acid attack against EAC, has a range increment of 50 feet, and has Knockdown as a critical hit effect.

ApĂłleipa are a form of fey native to the Plane of Shadow that represent the unformed fears of spaient creatures. As cultures form specific fears or hatreds, various apĂłleipa form to both try to stoke these negative feelings of natives to the mortal world, and to feed on them. Among the most recent form of apĂłleipa are innocence-eaters, also known as Slendermen, who feed of a sense of loss of innocence and self-loathing at having done horrid things. They operate mostly in places already suffering from great tragedy or resentment, often on the fringes of society, and seek to convince the most vulnerable members of these places to take actions that will deepen the fear and despair of the population.

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Building New Things That Feel Iconic

I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.

I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.

I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.

For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:

Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.

The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.

Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.

As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.

But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂

Image

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Fighting Fire (Elementals) with Fire (Damage)

Heya folks! Gaming veteran and cartooning luminary Stan! wrote a response-with-counterproposals to my blog from last Friday, which I am delighted to present to you here as another Guest Blog!

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.

On Friday, Owen wrote an interesting and provocative post suggesting that Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire. As so often is the case, I was gobsmacked by the brilliance of this simple game design heresy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like the idea would be improved with a little tweak. When I brought it up to Owen he said, “Fine … write it up!”

Damn it, Owen!

Demons and Devils

Owen’s first suggestion was that since demons and devils were placed in Hell as punishment for their evil natures, it makes sense for they themselves to share the eternal torment that the souls they tend suffer. His suggestion was that these creatures are merely immune from being DESTROYED by hellfire because they are immortal spirits. While that made some sense to me, it also made me wonder why in that case they wouldn’t be eternally on the EDGE of death, burned to near cinders but unable to succumb.

My counterproposal: In addition to being unable to be killed by fire damage, demons, devils, and other similar creatures get a new trait so that at the start of their turn, they heal all fire damage they have suffered. That way they are fresh at the start of each turn, and then get burned all over again. And if you target them with spells or other sources of fire damage, they have to take that too … they just can’t die from it, and they’ll heal it all back when their turn comes along.

In Their Element

The second half of Owen’s pitch was that Fire Elementals not be immune to fire in the same way that we creatures of flesh are not immune to fists, suggesting instead that they are adapted to their natural habitat and “see routes through the flames” so as to avoid taking damage. I suppose partly this comes down to how one envisions the Plane of Fire, but for me there are no routes “through the flames,” they are omnipresent. And my interpretation of creatures native to that plane is that they are cozy and comfortable when in the presence of natural occurrences of their element (sitting in a campfire is like a soothing bath for a Fire Elemental, likewise a Water Elemental is total at home in any amount of water).

My counterproposal: While elementals are sanguine when faced with their natural substance, they are still vulnerable to magical, chemical, and alchemical variations of it. So a fire elemental could be fine fighting in the middle of a burning house, but it’d take damage just like anyone else might from a <ital>fire bolt, fireball,</ital> or burning oil. It would be impossible, of course, to set a fire elemental on fire for ongoing damage … but the initial blast or splash sure hurts.

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Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire

In a lot of ttRPGs, a whole slew of creatures are immune to fire damage. Most commonly, demons/devils, and things from the elemental plane of fire.

The logic goes, demons and devils live in some kind of fiery hell. But most fantasy mythologies have them put there as punishment. Why put them someplace they are immune to?

Similarly, a fire elemental is said to be immune to fire because is it made of fire. But I’m made of flesh and bone, and a leather-wrapped femur slapped upside my head damages me just fine. Slap me with a side of beef and I show no sign of being immune to it.

Now, you DO want these creatures to be able to exist in their environments, but that need not make them immune to a common form of damage, and classically one of the things you CAN use against monsters in fantasy fiction. Demons and devil may be immune to being destroyed in Hell because they are immortal spirits, but they can still burn and suffer, making their existence damnation, Fire elementals can be given an ability to see the routes through the plane of fire, escaping burning not because they are made of fire, but because they are adapted to their environment.

So, since people aren’t immune to damage from being hit by the things they are made of:

Fire elementals should not be immune to fire.

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Ablative for Pathfinder 1st edition

Ablative is a creature ability you can add to monsters to make them shrink as they take damage. It’s designed for use with elementals, constructs, and slimes, but could apply to other creatures as well. If applies to creatures that primarily do weapons or natural weapon damage, it’s reduced damage output heavily counters its increased AC and accuracy. For creatures that use offenses not modified by the reduced size, it generally becomes more dangerous as it’s injured.

When an ablative creature has lost 1/3 or more of its HP, it becomes one size smaller until its HP total is healed to be over that threshold. This otherwise functions as reduce person.

When an ablative creature has lost 2/3 or more of its HP, it becomes one size smaller until its HP total is healed to be over that threshold. This also otherwise functions as reduce person, with the modifiers stacking with the first application.

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Koufrawraiths – A simple d20 monster template

This is designed as a simple template for monsters in a wide range of d20 games. It has a horror/mystery theme, and the GM should consider its use carefully. Certainly it’s going to be as dangerous as a creature 1 level or CR higher, and if PCs do not yet know how to deal with it, it may be much more dangerous. On the other hand, a group could walk right past one and never know it, so it needs to be used in an intentional way with forethought, rather than as a random encounter.

Koufrawraith

(Sleepless art by likozor)

A koufrawraith is a creature that exists in the dim fog between the waking world and the Plane of Dreams. They cannot be encountered by anyone fully in either realm, but do cross into any other reality where creatures able to sleep exist. Despite the name koufrawraiths are not necessarily undead, though undead koufrawraiths do exist. Many are hags, fey, monstrous beasts,and rarer examples exist as constructs, dragons, and oozes.

A koufrawraith’s existence can only be experienced by those who are fatigued or exhausted, but conscious. For any other creature, they cannot be perceived or effected, and the koufrawraith similarly cannot directly effect those who are ineligible to perceive it. It does perceive waking and sleeping creatures, but no action it takes (including things like casting spells that leave lasting effects, such as a wall of stone) can be perceived by, effect, or be effected by such creatures. Secondary effects can be–if a koufrawraith damages an exhausted person, the damage is visible and can be healed, but there is no evidence of how it was caused. Any effort to identify a koufrawriath from secondary observation or description suffers a -10 penalty.

Also known as sleepgaunts, koufrawraiths often prey upon lone insomniacs and those suffering great loss or toil. If feeds on the suffering of the tired, and prefers to hurt and frighten its food source, rather than kill them.

The ancient order of the Wearied Guard once drove koufrawraiths to near extinction, but once they were no longer a common threat, societies stopped supporting, or even believing, those who claimed their crucial work had to be done in the still of night, while bleary-eyed and staggering from fatigue.

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Ways to Boost a Foe’s CR in Starfinder

Yesterday we discussed why Starfinder doesn’t really follow the CR and CR equivalent charts in the core rulebook in all situations. I also linked to my “CR 6 +1” manticore as a way I had created a CR 7 monster appropriate for 5th level characters. A lot of people wanted to know if there were fast and easy ways to boost the CR of a Starfinder creature by +1 without making them too dangerous for lower-level players.

So, here are three! (Note that these don’t work as well if the players are already higher-level than the monster’s CR.)

Art By Herschel Hoffmeyer

*Boost All It’s Lower Values: Look at the creature’s saving throws, and make them all as good as its best save. Look at its attacks, and make all its attack bonuses as good as it’s best attack bonus. Look at its skills, and give them all the bonus for its highest skill. Increase its initiative modifier to be 4 higher than its highest ability score modifier. If it’s EAC is more than 2 lower than its KAC, bring it to be within 2. Remove any vulnerabilities.
This doesn’t raise the opponent’s numbers to be higher than the PCs can deal with at its level, but it does make it as strong as is reasonable in every area of combat. Without a weakness the PCs can exploit, the foe is more effective in whatever area happens to be important in the chaos of a fight.

*Double Its Hit Points: A foe that lasts longer can do more damage, but obviously it’s as dangerous as two of the same foe, since it can still make only one set of attacks per round, can only be in one place, and any penalties the PCs inflict only have to target one enemy. This one is fast and easy, but it has the downside that combats can drag on a bit, so only use this sparingly, and when you want an opponent to come off as super-tough.

*Give It Area/Ranged Attacks: You don’t want to make it do more damage or have a better attack bonus, but you can give it ranged, area attacks that do appropriate damage for its level. A breath weapon is a good example of this, as are any grenades with an item level equal to its CR or less. The idea here is to let it damage multiple PCs in a single attack action, and be able to switch up its attack options based on what’s happening in the combat.

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