Blog Archives

Owen Explains It All – Textile Characters for Starfinder

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

First, this blog has spoilers for an animated series, so if you want to avoid those, don’t read this.

Second, you may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

We have a logo and everything!

(I guess I need to build that chair, now…)

If you haven’t already gone and watched the September, 2021 episode, we talk about the fifth episode of Marvel’s What If… series, titled “What If… Zombies?” Obviously there are spoilers for that episode both in the OEIA episode, and this tie-in blog, so go no further if you want to avoid those.

I mean, obviously, while it’s pretty clear from the title that this is the Marvel Zombies inspired episode of What If…, I’m going to be talking about some things that aren’t necessarily clear just because there are zombies involved. So, if you want to avoid spoilers for this (or, weirdly, the Disney Alladin movies), I’ve given you fair warning.

Ready?

So in the episode, we see Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation act entirely of its own accord. It does this in the Strange movie, of course, but here the doctor is no longer around to even subconsciously direct it, and the cloak makes tactical decisions, puts itself at risk, and makes a friend. In other words, the cloak acts not like an object, or a power, but as a character. And I was immediately reminded of Carpet, in the Disney Alladin movies, which similarly shows bravery, or fear, or whimsey, and is clearly more a person than a thing.

And, I realized, that would NOT be hard to make an option in a ttRPG.

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

Playable Textile Characters

Okay so, look. This is for people who have decided sentient magic items that happen to look like capes or carpets or sashes or whatever are no sillier than, and need not be restricted any more than, robots with healing circuits, floating brains with atrophied limbs, or 6-armed overhelpful furballs. Either you like the idea, or you don’t. I’m here to provide rules for people who do, not try to convince people who don’t to change their minds. 🙂

Weft

The weft are living, self-aware fabric magic items, and no one is sure where they came from. Are the living cloaks and rugs an offshoot of cloakers? Are cloakers some kind of morlock offshoot of the weft? Are fabric magic items simply more prone to gaining self-awareness than other forms of eldritch items? Is there some artifact loom, somewhere in the galaxy, cranking out cloth-people?

Like androids, weft are constructs that have sufficient complexity to attract a soul. Also like androids, when a weft is old enough, it simply chooses to let its soul move on, it’s body briefly being an inert length of cloth that changes color in a process known as “dyeing,” before a new soul moves in, and a new weft person arises in the same body. No weft remembers its creation, and it is unclear if this is because all original weft dyed long ago, of because even a “newborn” weft doesn’t become self-aware until removed from its place of origin.

While the majority of weft appear to be carpets or cloaks and capes, some instead take the appearance of coats, sashes, shawls, curtains, and other fabric objects.

(Art by vivali)

Ability Modifiers +2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis
Hit Points 2

Size and Type
Weft are Small, Medium, or Large constructs with the magical subtype, though unlike other constructs, they have Constitution scores. This decision is made at character creation and can’t be changed.

Blindsense
Weft’s sensitive fibers grant them blindsense (vibration)—the ability to sense vibrations in the air—with a range of 30 feet.

Living Threads
In addition to being constructs and thus able to benefit from spells like make whole, weft count as living creatures for the purposes of magic healing effects that work on living creatures, though the number of Hit Points restored in such cases is halved. A character must use the Engineering skill (or a fabric creation/repair Profession skill) to perform the tasks of the Medicine skill on weft. Weft also heal naturally over time as living creatures do, and can benefit from magic or technology that can bring constructs back from the dead, as well as effects that normally can’t (such as raise dead).

Silent, Sign, and Limited Telepathy
Weft do not speak, but can hear normally and communicate through signed versions of the languages they know. Also, they can communicate telepathically with any creatures within 30 feet with whom they share a language. Conversing telepathically with multiple creatures simultaneously is just as difficult as listening to multiple people speak.

Drape
A weft can share the space of an ally without penalty to either the weft or ally. A weft can also drape itself on a creature willing to let it do so. At the beginning of its turn, the weft must decide if it is riding (in which case it can take no movement that turn, and only moves when the creature it is draped on does), or carrying (in which case it can carry the creature as it moves, but that creature cannot take any other movement until the beginning of the next turn). An ally can decide to stop allowing a weft to drape at any time as part of any action, but if the character was carried by the weft, it still can’t move on its own until after the weft’s next turn begins.

Additionally, whether is it draping or not, as a full-round action a weft can lay and move in such a way as appear to be a typical cape, or carpet (or whatever one mundane cloth object it matches the appearance of, as selected at character creation) to gains a +20 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be that thing.

Woven
Weft are immune to bleed, disease, death effects, poison, nonlethal damage, and sleep effects unless those effects specify they affect constructs. Weft can be affected by effects or spells that normally target only humanoids, but receive a +4 racial bonus to saving throws against such effects. Weft can drink (absorbing liquids into their fabric), though they don’t need to, and they must rest by entering an passive torpor that is similar to sleep for 8 hours every day. Weft do not breathe or suffer the normal environmental effects of being in a vacuum.

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a weft character? Got other magic items you think could be turned into playable species? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know!

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material discussing weft as drones for mechanics and technomancers, exclusively on my Patreon for my supporting Patrons.)

Owen Explains It All – Super-Shrinking for Starfinder

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

First, this blog has spoilers for an animated series, so if you want to avoid those, don’t read this.

Second, you may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

We have a logo and everything!

If you haven’t already gone and watched the August 29th, 2021 episode, we talk about the third episode of Marvel’s What If… series, titled “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” Obviously there are spoilers for that episode both in the OEIA episode, and this tie-in blog, so go no further if you want to avoid those.

Seriously, much more than either of the first two What If… stories, “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” has twists and reveals you may not want to know until you’ve seen it. It’s a murder mystery, and we’re going to spoil who done it, and how. Ready?

I mentioned in the blog “Owen Explains It All! – Forlorn Hope and Gadgeteer Armor,” superhero movies and TV are particularly good places to pick up ideas for Starfinder, because they are generally modern-or-later settings that include aliens, technology, magic, and small-unit action –and sometimes even starships– much as Starfinder does. In this What If…, Hope Van Dyne (the Wasp in main MCU continuity) dies before the episode begins and Hank Pym, clearly grief-stricken but also possibly driven mad by using Pym particles without a properly protective helmet (as noted as a potential drawback to the Yellowjacket armor hank’s wearing in this in the first Ant-Man movie) kills everyone tagged in the Avengers Initiative as revenge on Shield.

He does this by being small. So small, people can’t see him, and he remains free to employ both his massive genius and full-size strength at miniscule size. And that got me to thinking about how to make miniscule-but-mighty threats in Starfinder!

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

Tiered Super-Shrinking

This is now added to the long list of tiered powers we have available for sci-fi Starfinder games, but also FreedomFinder and/or GammaFinder campaigns using the same rules. That link will show you how you can gain tiered powers through feats, themes, archetypes, and so on.

Super-shrinking is about more than just getting small. It is a specific form of shrinking that leaves you the full power of your personal abilities, muscles, and gear while becoming harder and harder to spot. Even movement is unaffected — your reduced weight means you can pump your legs faster or even just jump as needed to maintain the same move rate as you do at full size. The only changes that occur to your character’s game stats at each tier of shrinking are those listed with the power.

Growth-Punch: Whenever you are shrunk, you can end your shrinking as part of a melee attack against a target bigger than you. The target is treated as flanked by you for this one attack, and add your tier to the damage done by a successful attack. The stress of a growth-punch on you means you cannot shrink again (from any source) until after the end of your next turn.

Tier 1: You can become Small. If you are already Small, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Small creature. You have a 5-foot space and 5-foot reach (10-feet for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 8 and 60 lbs. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +2 size bonus to Acrobatics checks.
Tier 2: You can become Tiny. If you are already Tiny, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Tiny creature. You have a 1-1/2-foot space and 0 reach (5-foot reach for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 1 and 8 lbs. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +3 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +1 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 3: You can become Diminutive. If you are already Diminutive, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Diminutive creature. You have a 1-foot space and 0 reach (5-foot reach for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 2 oz. and 1 lb. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +4 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +2 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 4: You can become Fine. If you are already Fine, you shrink down to an even smaller size within Fine. You have a 1/2-foot space and 0 reach, and weigh between 0.2 oz. and 2 oz. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +3 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 5: You can become Fine, but even smaller than even typical Fine creatures. You have a 0-foot space and reach, and can share a space with a creature of any size without either of you taking any penalties. You are between 0.1 and 1 inch in height, and weigh less than 0.1 oz. You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +4 size bonus to Stealth checks. Unless an area is described as totally barren and clean, there is always something in your space you can use to take cover as a move action, retaining cover until you move again.
Tier 6: You can become Fine, but much smaller than even smaller Fine creatures. You have a 0-foot space and reach, and can share a space with a creature of any size without either of you taking any penalties. You are between 0.01 and 0.1 inch in height, and have no effective weight. You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +5 size bonus to Stealth checks. You always have cover against any creature of Diminutive or larger size (allowing you to always attempt Stealth checks against such creatures). Unless an area is described as totally barren and clean, there is always something in your space you can use to take cover against Fine creatures as a move action, retaining cover until you move again.
Tier 7: As tier 6, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Diminutive or larger size that is unaware of your presence (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 8: As tier 7, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Diminutive or larger size that is aware of your presence, but unaware of your location. (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 9: You can shrink done to microscopic scale. As tier 8, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Tiny or larger size that is not using at least tier 8 super-shrinking. (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 10: You can shrink down to atomic scale. As tier 9, but you are also treated as being incorporeal by any creature of Tiny or larger size that is not using at least tier 8 super-shrinking, though you can attack and affect such creatures normally. Unlike most incorporeal things, you can move completely through solid objects (though not those that can stop incorporeal creatures, or that block teleportation).

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a Forlorn Hope campaign? Got other supers you think could be turned into archetypes? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know! The best way to do that is to Join my Patreon, and leave me a note through that!

Owen Explains It All! – Forlorn Hope and Gadgeteer Armor

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

So, why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a new show from the BAMF podcast, titled “Owen Explains It All!“.

We have a logo and everything!

No description available.
(BAMF!)

If you haven’t already gone and watched the August 16, 2021 episode, we talk about The Suicide Squad and how to implement elements of it in a Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign. We’ll do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material.

Superhero movies and TV are particularly good places to pick up ideas for Starfinder, because they are generally modern-or-later settings that include aliens, technology, magic, and small-unit action –and sometimes even starships– much as Starfinder does. While there are lots of other science-fantasy game settings out there (40k, Shadowrun, RIFTs, and so on), it’s a much less common combination in major media such as TVs and movies. And while superhero stories tend to focus on, well, superheroes (or, in this case, villains), a lot of the concepts and set-pieces still work well translated to a less-cape-and-mask science-fantasy setting.

For this movie in particular, I was fascinated by the idea of convict agents as protagonists on a suicide mission, and with Bloodsport’s gadget-armor, both of which seem ripe for Starfinder emulation. So that’s what we’re looking at in this article. If you want game material inspired from other elements of The Suicide Squad, or want to suggest other things for us to feature on Owen Explains It All, let me know!

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

Forlorn Hope as Campaign Setting

I won’t dwell on this too much because I actually covered it pretty well in the podcast, but I still think there is a lot of value in using conscription as the framework for a Starfinder game. Note here that i am talking about doing so with the explicit buy-in of the players, not springing it on them as the GM with no warning. But some game groups really enjoy a narrative device that helps keep them on-track, especially for lengthy campaigns adapted from published adventures. Not everyone will enjoy having a controller with their finger on a cortex bomb that can kill the PC, but having an overwatch who tells you when you are wasting time moving away from the adventure can be a big help for larger groups, or those who play rarely enough they sometimes forget what is going on.

Of course just because you are playing convicts doesn’t mean you are doomed to die on a suicide mission. The term “forlorn hope” specially refers to a group accepting a mission from which they are unlikely to return, often a last stand or desperate attack. You can use this term just to refer to characters for whom death is a likely outcome (the idea of the Forlorn Hope Division is kinda too cool to let a little thing like real-world definitions get in the way), or even put a hard timing on how long the PCs will survive. Certainly there’s nothing more definitely going to bring a game to a close and keep players pushing without having their characters fully rested all the time than a 100-day countdown to cortex bombs detonating.

You can also make it almost comical, and assure players if they die, they get to bring in a new convict character at the same level in the next game session. As long as you are okay with players flinging their PCs into air ducks to jam them and wresting dragons to buy friends time to escape, this can ramp up the risk players are willing to take.

Different groups will react to these concepts different ways, so this is very much an idea a GM should pitch to their players and see how it is received before implementing, but for people who find it dramatic, motivational, and potentially funny it can be a great campaign setup.

Gadgeteer Armorer

The concept of a character grabbing various modules and pieces off their armor to snap together into different kinds of tool and weapons is very on brand for Starfinder. The main issues with turning such an idea into a character option is how to make it balanced and something that doesn’t slow down game play, while remaining relevant at a wide range of character levels. Essentially, it needs to act like a class feature, rather than as buy-it-for-credits gear. The easiest way to add class features in Starfinder while maintaining balance is to create an archetype.

There already are some abilities that grant equipment, temporarily, as class abilities. The technomancer’s “fabricate tech” magic hack is a key example, along with fabricate arms at higher level, and the Adaptive Fighting feat offers a way to let a character have a range of options without slowing down gameplay. Drawing from those, and the mechanic’s experimental armor prototype alternate class feature, I wrote up the following:

Gadgeteer Armorer Archetype

While every starfaring adventurer knows that armor is a crucial part of their gear–allowing survival in the airless void of space as well as keeping attacks of fang and laser at bay. But some explorers and mercenaries go farther, turning their armor into a flexible supply of variable gadgets to be used and changed as needed. The gadgeteer armorer archetype represents such people.

When this archetype’s features refer to your class level, use the level of class you have attached this archetype to.

Minor Gadget Block (Ex or Su): At 2nd level, you can adapt a suit of armor you wear to be gadgeteer armor. No one else wearing your gadgeteer armor gains any benefits of this archetype from it. If your gadgeteer armor is ever destroyed or lost, you can convert a new suit of armor into gadgeteer armor after 24 hours of uninterrupted work. You can take a single 8-hour rest during each 24 hours spent working, but any interruption greater than a moment of conversation requires you to add 12 hours to the time required to convert a new suit of armor into your gadgeteer armor. In addition, you can transfer the gadgeteer function of your armor and place it in a new suit of armor with 10 minutes of work.

Your gadgeteer armor has two gadget blocks, pieces of modular technology you can remove from your armor and add to other devices or turn into specific items. One used, a gadget block is inert and cannot be used again until it is renewed when you regain your daily abilities. Select three technological items or weapons (not including analog weapons) and three weapon fusions. The selected items and fusions cannot have a level greater than your class level.

As a move action, you can use two gadget blocks to temporarily construct a piece of technological gear matching one of the three technological items or weapons you have selected. The item appears in your hands or in an adjacent square. The size of the item cannot exceed 10 bulk or Medium size, and the quality of the item is average. The item persists for a number of minutes equal to your class level. At the end of this duration, the item ceases to function, and is obviously not of any value. If you create an item or weapon with limited uses or charges (such as batteries, drugs, or fuel) with this hack, you must separately provide the appropriate ammunition or fuel for it to function.

Alternatively, as a move action you can use two gadget blocks to temporarily grant the effects of one of the three weapon fusions you selected to a weapon that you touch. The weapon gains the chosen fusion for once minute per class level. The weapon can’t gain a fusion it already has or one that can’t be applied to a weapon of its type, but this bonus fusion doesn’t count toward the maximum total level of fusions the weapon can have at once.

Each time you gain a class level, you can change what technological items, weapons, and fusions you have selected.

Split Gadget Block (Ex or Su): At 4th level, you can select an additional 3 technological items or weapons, and an additional 3 fusions. These must have a level no greater than your class level -2. You can use one gadget block to create these lower-level items or apply these lower-level fusions. These otherwise follow the rules for gadget blocks, meaning each day you can either spend 2 gadget blocks for one item/weapon or fusion of up to your level, or twice spend 1 gadget block to create your lower-level item/weapon or fusion.

Gadget Block (Ex or Su): At 6th level, your gadget armor has a total of 4 gadget blocks per day.

Improved Gadget Block (Ex or Su): At 9th level, your gadget armor has a total of 6 gadget blocks per day.

Major Gadget Block (Ex or Su): At 12th level, your gadget armor has a total of 8 gadget blocks per day.

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a Forlorn Hope campaign? Got other supers you think could be turned into archetypes? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know!

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material discussing operative-trick-attacks-as-flavor, and an Acrobatic Tricks operative exploit, exclusively on my Patreon for my supporting Patrons.)

Owen Explains It All! – 0-Level Starfinder Characters

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

So, why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a new show from the BAMF podcast, titled “Owen Explains It All!“.

We have a logo and everything!

No description available.
(Why no, that’s NOT Doctor Dungeon… Obviously!)

If you haven’t already gone and watched that whole inaugural episode, we talk about The Tomorrow War and how to implement elements of it in a Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign. We’ll do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material.

As we covered in the episode, there’s a lot of good pacing and scene-setting material in The Tomorrow War that can inspire cool setups for a Starfinder game. But the most interesting idea from my perspective was having some of the characters be largely untrained… “0-Level” versions of themselves, not yet even at the base level expected for the things they had to do.

So that’s what we’re looking at in this article. If you want game material inspired from other elements of The Tomorrow War, or want to suggest other things for us to feature on Owen Explains It All, let me know!

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

0-Level Characters for Starfinder

There are two common approaches you can use when starting PCs are below-1st-level of power, which I refer to as the Weak Firsters, and the True 0-Level. The Weak Firsters is much easier for the GM to implement, but less flexible for the players. True 0-Level takes more effort on everyone’s part, but it a good deal more flexible. We’ll look at both these using Starfinder Roelplaying Game rules, though the ideas can be easily adapted to any ttRPG system.

Weak Firsters

Using the Weak Firsters rules, each player still picks a character class for their character before play, and then makes a weaker-than-1st-level version of them. Species are picked and their abilities and bonuses applied as normal, but characters start with only 8 points in their ability scores. Each character can spend a single skill point and select a single class skill (which need not be a class skill for their character class — they deserve some reward for beginning at less-than-1st-level), and pick a single armor or weapon proficiency (which DOES need to be something their class starts with).

And that’s it. No other class features, no other skills or proficiencies. Everyone is suffering proficiency penalties to either armor or weapon choices, and depending on what they begin with (normally the GM will have a standard kit of starting equipment everyone begins with in a game like this, though players could be given half their normally starting wealth to pick their own gear) may suffer penalties to everything at first.

Note that this makes EVERYTHING much harder for the characters than for 1st level characters. If you want to frighten your players with CR 1/2 or 1/3 minor threats, now is the time to do it! Even climbing over a wall or driving a vehicle is challenging at this point, and it should be clear that these characters are essentially untrained civilians trying to survive in a situation they have never been prepared for. But they have a key ability score, and thus Resolve points, so at least they can stabilize when at 0 HP…

However, after each encounter, not only to the characters receive normal experience points, they get to add one element from their starting character. At first, each pick must be a class skill and skill point, an armor or weapon proficiency, one of their two missing ability score points (still limited to a max of 18), or gaining a 0-level spell known and castable (spells again being restricted to their class’s normal options), but once those are filled in, characters can start to gain their class’s actual class features, base attack bonus, base saving throw bonuses, and pick their 1st-level feat. This is trial-by-fire, and surviving a single fight with CR 1/2 wounded Mandible Beasts has the immediate reward of getting better at some thing you just had to do while terrible at it.

Once characters select all their 1st level class features, leveling occurs normally from there. This does mean many PCs will have different class skills than their core class, but if they are restricted to the same number of total class skills and skill points, that’s not a huge power boost, and it is a fair reward for beginning play so weak.

True 0-Level

True 0-Level characters have a similar set up with species abilities and 8 ability score points, but don’t have to select a class in advance. Instead each gets proficiency with light armor and small arms (since all classes start with that in Starfinder), but have only 5 base SP and HP, no key ability score, no base attack or base saves, no class skills, and just 2 skill points spend on skills.

Then they gain advances as in the Weak Firsters rules, but make their choices without a class to guide them. Each time they add something other than a class skill or skill point spent, they limit their choices in the future to only classes that have that. For example, if a player decides to gain proficiency with advanced melee weapons, they are then limited to choices matching the solarion, soldier, and vanguard (the only classes that get +1 base attack at 1st level). Once a character has assigned skill points equal to 4 plus their Int bonus, they can only assign more if there is a class available with additional skill points/level.

This is a move flexible system, where players may make careful choices to keep their options open as long as possible, but eventually get locked into a class based on what they want to advance next. Checking that each choice has at least one class that allows it is a good deal more work, and the GM may need to be forgiving of the occasional out-off-class mistake (or even allow one to each player as a bonus–it’s not the worst thing in the world if a soldier happens to have one 0-level spell known, or an envoy has a +1 base attack bonus at 1st level).

Wrap Up

So, see uses for 0-level characters in a game you want to run? Want to pitch it to your GM? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know!

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material discussing the Deadly Character Pyramid option to go with 0-level characters, exclusively on my Patreon, for my supporting Patrons.)