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“Celestial Heroes,” An Adventure Sketch (With Notes for 4 Game Systems)

I’ve wanted to do a full write-up for this adventure for years, but never had time. So, here’s a sketch of the general idea.

Players their PCs are all very junior angels–celestial outsiders who mostly sort through prayer requests to see what to pass up to higher ranks of the divine bureaucracy, but who also get an occasional flash of excitement by being summoned by the faithful to aid in a fight. The players should give their characters names and personalities, but not worry about game stats yet.

The PCs are spending time sorting through prayers, and notice that a specific priest keeps praying for guidance about the impending destruction of the Astral plane (the “Catastralphe”). There’s nothing in their sorting guidelines about that topic, so protocol is to take it to a one-rank-higher angel, who assures them there is not such thing, and to file the prayer requests under “mortal paranoia.”

Then, on their way back to their duties, the PCs are summoned… by that selfsame priest! She’s 1st level, so she can only keep them for a limited about of time.

If you are running this as a 5e game, the priest has used a scroll with a 1st-level variant of conjure animals, and gets the PCs as minor celestials instead, but can’t give them verbal orders and she can only concentrate on it for up to 1 minute. If this is a PF 2 game, the PCs are summoned with a summon lessor servitor spell and can be around for up to a minute if the priest is able to maintain concentration. If PF 1, it’s summon monster I to call up celestial animals for 1 round. If Starfinder, it’s summon creature at a 1st-level spell, again for 1 round.

Rather than just sticking with the creatures those spells normally summon, allow each PC to select a creature of the same power level to represent their summoned form, AND let them pick anything vaguely appropriate for their appearance. If the rules would let them be an eagle, but they want to be a winged housecat, let their imagination loose. Note to the players that they are celestial spirits in a temporal mortal body regardless. Death has no consequence for them here.

(Art by lenka)

The priest doesn’t speak any of the languages they do, so they have to guess what she wants them to do — but they are summoned while she and four other people (clearly adventures — a fighting type in heavy armor, an arcane type, a sneak, and some kind of sage) are fighting for their lives (all already badly damaged) against what appear to be negative wind elementals (just use air element stats and have them do cold or shadow damage) in an ancient stone chamber that clearly depicts the Astral Plane being rended to destruction, and all the planes of the multiverse being flung apart (no longer able to connect to each other).

With a bit of luck the summoned celestial PCs can save the heroes (if not, just replace any that get killed in future encounters), and regardless of how the fight goes the PCs see that the ancient temple clearly has some real eldritch power connected to it, and the impending Catastralphe.

When their time is up, whether the priest and her adventuring party are safe or not, the PCs return to the angelic plane. They can take up the issue of whether the Catastralphe is real or not, but the celestial bureaucracy considers it to be much more likely that a set of junior angels misinterpreted what they saw than for there to be a true multiplanar threat the Angelic Host never heard of.

Later, the PCs get summoned again… but it’s clear that months have passed on the mortal plane, and the priest is now 3rd level, so she can use more powerful spells to summon more powerful allies. The PCs can maintain their appearance (or evolve it, perhaps from winged housecat to winged bobcat), get to choose new higher-level creatures for their ability scores. This time they are helping defend the priest and her adventuring allies who are being attacked at night, in an inn, by humanoid assassins who have no face, just a lamprylike fanged maws taking up the whole of the front of their heads. (Pick any CR-appropriate monsters and just give them new descriptions).

The priest is clearly surprised to see the PCs, suggesting they are not what she thought she was summoning, but she is also happy for their help.

Upon their return to the Angelic Host, if the PCs bring it up the event, they are directed to the Conjuration Control Department, where they discover there’s at least one other angel that believes in the Catastralphe, a planar traffic controller who is directing them to answer the priest’s summoning when she is showing to be near an important moment in her life.

The adventure goes on like this, with PCs working their way up through the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy, most angels not really believing in the interplanar threat, but grudgingly suggest the Pcs should look for specific clues when summoned. The GM should come up with a list of things — specific sigils, or eldritch currents, or the scent of the abyssal influence, so PCs can have investigating they can do when summoned. Meanwhile the priest continues to gain levels and summon the PCs with higher-and-higher level spells, months or years passing between the times they see her, and her quest is also clearly taking a toll on her. Some of her companions die, and are replaced. She loses and eye, from then on having an eyepatch when the PCs are summoned. At some point, she manages to learn their language, so she can speak to them when they arrive… but they can only go to her when she summons allies in a crucial moment in her life, so communication is always rushed during a desperate fight.

As the PCs gain influence among Angels, they are allowed to explore Forbiddings –places within the Heavens once kept by angels that fell and became devils. These encounters are to seek out lost lore on the Catastralphe, as their recurring encounters with cultists and supernatural entities on the Mortal Plane trying to kill the priest and her adventuring party suggest it might be real after all. However the Forbiddings are in the same heavenly reality as the PCs. While they use the same game stats as when they were last summoned for adventures in the Forbiddings, death there is permanent even for up-and-coming angels.

Eventually the combination of clues gained when summoned and when exploring the Forbiddings expose that the Catastralphe is real, and it is the eons-long plot of a fallen angel who wishes to rip the planes apart so it can become effectively a god of whatever bit of the multiverse it has access to after the Astral plane is destroyed. Once this revelation is in place, there are two more major encounters. First, the Fallen Angel can only be stopped with a weapon found in the most dangerous of Forbiddings, and that weapon can only be wielded by those who procure it, so the PCs must go get it. Second, the Fallen Angel’s ultimate base of operations is impossible for any celestial to enter without being summoned from within. So the PCs must wait for the priest to call them for aid one last time, and hope she does so in time for them to use their newly acquired relic weapon to stop the impending Catastralphe.

Obviously, this can be as quick as a 3-4 session mini campaign, or as long as a 1st-20th game, depending on how many encounters the GM decides to fill into this vague sketch of plot points. But I love the idea of Pcs being summon creatures (originally the idea was celestial badgers, back in 3.5 rules days), who have no fear of dying in most of their fights, but have to get anything they want done in the mortal realm done quickly, when summoned, while another fight is already going on. I also like the idea of players not having to make characters in any traditional sense, though it would be easy enough to let them pick special abilities as they “gained levels,” like being to reroll one attack roll per fight, or one saving throw, or teleport once, to represent their angelic nature growing stronger even as they hop from stat block to stat block as more and more powerful spells call them to battle.

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Factotum, Pathfinder 2e class in 3 paragraphs.

Yep, I’m bringing the Quick Base Class concept to Pf2. In this case, it’s specifically an effort to create a “blank” class that can easily be used to create any multiclass-feeling character combination, which we’ll call the .

Factotum

You are skilled in picking up numerous different forms of training, and excel at flexible combinations of expertise. Your key ability may be any one ability you select. Your Hit Points are 6 + Con modifier. You are trained in Perception and any two Saving throws, and Expert in the remaining save. Trained in 1 skill of your choice + Int mod. Trained in Simple Weapons. Trained in unarmored defense. You gain 2 additional benefits, each of which can grant you an additional 2 HP/level, increase Perception or a Save from Trained to Expert, gain proficiency in a weapon group, or increase proficiency in a weapon group from Trained to Expert.

At first level, select one class. You gain any ability that class gains at 1st level that is not alchemy, ancestry, background, initial proficiencies, instinct, spell repertoire, spellcasting, or a school. You gain the Dedication Feat for that class’s archetype as a bonus feat. If that feat (or any later archetype feat you take) has a version of a class feature you have already gained (such as a bard’s muse), you do not gain a second version of that feature. You also gain the Dedication Feat for a second class archetype of your choice. You can take feats from either archetype when you gain new class feats. Once you have taken at least 2 archetype feats for one of the archetypes, you can take a new Dedication feat.

At 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, you gain an archetype feat and a skill feat. At 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, you gain another archetype feat or an ancestry feat. At 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, you gain a general feat. At 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, you gain a skill increase. You can use this increase either to increase your proficiency rank to trained in one skill you’re untrained in, or to increase your proficiency rank in one skill in which you’re already trained to expert. At 7th level, you can use skill increases to increase your proficiency rank to master in a skill in which you’re already an expert, and at 15th level, you can use them to increase your proficiency rank to legendary in a skill in which you’re already a master. At 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, you boost four different ability scores. You can use these ability boosts to increase your ability scores above 18. Boosting an ability score increases it by 1 if it’s already 18 or above, or by 2 if it starts out below 18. In addition to the ancestry feat you started with, you gain an ancestry feat at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The list of ancestry feats available to you can be found in your ancestry’s entry in Chapter 2.

(Art by Valia)

Speaking of Pathfinder 2nd edition!

I’m currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the Skaldwood Blight, a 1st-20th level adventure written by Ron Lundeen, Paizo’s Developing Manager and the author with more experience creating official Adventure Paths than any other writer. We’re more than 75% funded in 48 hours, so go check it out!

Doom has come to the Northfells!

Now funding on Kickstarter, the Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path is a complete campaign for Pathfinder Second Edition, taking characters from 1st level all the way to 20th level in a massive book over 250 pages long! A demon lord has invaded the far northern land of stalwart barbarians, righteous priests, and mysterious fey. Can the heroes uncover the demon lord’s many plots, vanquish his minions, and save the Northfells from corruption and destruction? Here is your chance to save the land!

 The Adventure Path’s setting, the Northfells, can be easily dropped into any campaign world. There’s plenty of wilderness adventure, but the Skaldwood Blight’s heroes must delve dungeons, infiltrate insular cities, and negotiate with supernatural forces for vital aid. There’s something in the Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path for every player!

 The Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path began when Paizo, Inc. developer (and veteran adventure author) Ron Lundeen set out to build a compact yet complete adventure path from the ground up on his blog at RunAmokGames.com. The pieces of the Adventure Path have now been compiled, expanded, and reconfigured into a massive book presenting an entire campaign, complete with art, maps, designer commentary, and more!
 This 250+ page book contains everything you need to run the campaign, including:

  • 20 chapters of adventure, one for each level of play, in a thrilling, danger-filled campaign!
  • An overview of the Northfells, a hard region of ice and fury. Menace lurks in every proud city-state, along every trail, and in every frost-shrouded forest!
  • Unique backgrounds suitable for any character!
  • Copious art and maps by industry veterans!

Additional rewards to unlock throughout the campaign include:

  • Additional backgrounds that tie directly into the campaign’s characters, locations, and plots!
  • An expanded gazetteer of the Northfells, the campaign’s thrilling setting!
  • A designer commentary about building the Adventure Path from the ground up!

By Ron Lundeen, Paizo’s Developing Manager for Pathfinder, veteran and fan-favorite adventure writer, owner of run Amok Games, and licensed lawyer and member of the Washington State Bar Association!

Stretch Goal 1: Northfells Gazetteer [LOCKED – $`15,000]

We’ll provide a four page, high-level gazetteer of the adventure path’s entire setting, including all the key towns the heroes will visit (and even some they won’t, giving GMs room to expand). The gazetteer also includes the dangerous forests, waterways, and mountain ranges of the Northfells, too, as much of the campaign occurs in the wilderness! A map of the entire Northfells is included.

This gazetteer is player-focused, providing tantalizing hints but no spoilers, so it’s suitable for GMs to give to their players.

More Stretch Goals To Be Announced As We Get Closer To Them

Under the Weather: Minor Ailments for 4 ttRPGs

So, I have a bug. Not covid, according to the testing I have available, but something more like the “Con Crud” of days of yore. And, while I can still do stuff, I’m tired, achy, slow, and my mind is generally focused on being under the weather.

So, you guessed it, I’m writing game rules for it.

These are minor ailments, representing colds and mild flu, things bad enough they impact a hero and reduce peak performance, but not crippling. If caused by a disease, remove disease or similar effects end it. Otherwise, you get a saving throw at the disease’s DC each day to end the ailment.

Pathfinder 1e & Starfinder: Lesser Sickened. You’re achy and sniffly enough to make things unpleasant, but not enough you can’t generally function. You need of the 150% the sleep and rest to regain abilities or end the fatigued or exhausted condition, take a -2 penalty to Constitution checks and Con-based skill checks, Fortitude saves, and Perception and Stealth checks. These penalties do not stack with those of being sickened, which is largely just a worsened version of this condition.

Pathfinder 2: Lesser Sickened. You take a -1 status penalty on all your checks and DCs. You require an additional 1d4 hours of sleep each night to recover daily abilities or end the fatigued condition.

5e: The idea of adding another condition to 5e, especially one as crunchy as this suggestion is, goes against a lot of the design philosophy of 5e. OTOH, having a situational rule that comes up once as part of a plot (“Expedition to the Flu Season Peaks”) can be a fun change of pace.

Achy: You’re gnerally not at your best, but the situation isn’t bad enough to give you disadvantage to all rolls. When you roll a 10 or 11 on a d20 roll, you must roll a 2nd d20. If the second roll is a lower result, you take the lower result. If it is a higher result, you use your original roll. This is a lesser form of disadvantage, and if you have disadvantage on a roll, use the normal rules for that roll in place of these.

Cat Pics

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Guard Dog Feat for d20 Games

Look, guard dogs are a common element of fantasy and feudal adventures, but they can add a lot of hassle for bookkeeping and worrying about their well-being in a ttRPG. So, maybe we just let people take a feat so they can have a dog that barks when assassins creep up in the night, and otherwise don’t worry about it?

This can also be used as a group benefit a GM passes out as a reward for PCs buying a stronghold, or saving an animal, or having an official group name and working together.

This is written to work in a number of d20-baed ttRPGs, so the formatting and language may need to be tweaked to perfectly match the exact game you are playing.

If they don't keep dogs, maybe.
(I *love* The 13th Warrior)

Guard Dog

You have a guard dog. It doesn’t put itself at risk during combat, does not make attacks, and just serves as an early waring system when you are stationary. You cannot use it to send messages, threaten prisoners, carry equipment, or any other task.

As long as you have access to your normal equipment you are expected to have access to your guard dog, unless the GM specifically says otherwise. While the GM can have your guard dog involved in other matters if they wish, doing so is specifically under the purview of the GM’s discretion. This game mechanics of this feat provide for a guard animal’s senses to help protect you out of combat, and in return for expending the resource of the feat and limiting the animal to early warning, you are not required to track its exact location, hit points, food needs, and so on. If the guard dog needs special accommodations to survive in the area you are adventuring, and everyone else in the party has them, you are considered to have managed to cobble together what the guard dog needs.

When you are camping or otherwise staying in one place for a long period of time (such as hanging out in a tavern, sleeping, having a picnic, crafting objects in a shop, and so on), the guard dog can make a Perception check with a bonus equal to half your maximum possible Perception bonus without any spells or equipment augmenting it. The guard dog can see, smell, or hear threats. If the guard dog perceives a threat, it barks loudly, alerting everyone nearby who then may act as if they had successfully made a Perception check to notice the threat.

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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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Me, NaNoWriMo, and 52-in-52

I keep wanting to try to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and it almost never works out. That’s sad to me, because there is an energy, expectation, and support system in place for NaNoWriMo’s goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days that makes it ever-so-slightly easier to get a lord of wordcount produced in November than times where you’re doing it largely alone. The groundswell of support, suggestions, public accountability, and even people talking about hard times they are having can help buoy a writer past obstacles that might stop them on other months.

But, yet again, I can’t do NaNoWriMo this year, because if I have any spare capacity beyond my regular monthly writing contracts and obligations to people depending on me for projects to move forward so they can make money on the labor they’ve already put into them, it has to go into 52-in-52.

You remember 52-in-52, right? It was my big swing at doing something new, announced in November 2019. The idea was to produce one new product every week in 2020, with each product being released in four different versions–on each for Pathfinder 1e, Pathfinder 2e, Starfinder, and D&D 5e. It was a big, ambitious subscription model and something I knew would take all my focus.

Obviously since I am still talking about needing to work on it nearly two years later, it did not go as planned.

The Covid pandemic is part of the reason why, along with moving twice in 2020, being hospitalized, having friends die, losing a beloved pet–seriously, it’s been among the roughest 24 months of my life. I tried to allow for complications and interruptions on the schedule I had for creating 108 game products in a year, but I never could have guessed at even half the things that were going to hit during that production time.

And this was not a Kickstarter, or some other crowdfunding campaign, where the entire budget is covered in advance. The idea was a classic pre-order, with enough money from early orders to get started, followed by ongoing sales to keep funding the project as it went along. I had carefully noted that my plan was to personally write or develop each product in the line. That meant if I fell behind on writing things, I could hire writers I knew to take on one or more parts of the project. I had a decade of sales information to extrapolate from, so I was confident that I could get things done that way if I had to. I was covered… as long as a major economic disaster didn’t have a huge impact on how much money people spent on tabletop rog products on a scale even ten years of sales data couldn’t predict.

Cue sad trombone.

So, that’s why now, ten months past the original deadline, the project is still only about half-finished. Under any other circumstances, I’d consider doing more than 100 game products cover 4 different gam systems over two years to be a triumph of productivity. But I promised customers a series of products, and while I can’t change history so those things arrive on-time, I can make sure everyone who pre-ordered gets everything I promised them.

So, what does all that have to do with NaNoWriMo? Well, I’m going to produce 50,000 words of 52-in-52 this month.

No, that won’t be all the rest of what is missing. Nor is it really what NaNoWriMo is about. But it’ll be closer to doing NaNoWriMo than I have been able to try in recent years, and 50k words produced towards overdue subscriptions will go a long way towards providing material I am dedicated t putting in people’s hands.

So, I’ll be tracking my Na52WriMo at the beginning of each day. It’ll be in the form of Words Prepared for layout/Words Turned Over to Layout (Words Sent to Subscribers)/50,000. So if I have 1,000 words prepared but none turned over yet, that’d be 1,000/0/0/50k. I’ll update each weekday, with the stats from the previous day.

It won’t fix things being late, but it will move a lot of materials forward on this much-overdue subscription model.

PF2 Hero Point Feats

I’ve been playing a lot with Hero points in d20 games recently, having looked at some alternate Hero point rules for PF1 and a whole set of Hero point rules for Starfinder. Now, I turn y gaze toward PF2.

PF2 already has a strong, integrated Hero point mechanic, and an extensive and flexible feat system. What it lacks, oddly, is any Hero point feats. Especially given PF1 had Hero point feats in the APG, this is an omission that calls out for a 3pp patch.

So, here are my conversions of the three PF1 Hero point feats to work with the PF2 game and Hero point mechanic.

BLOOD OF HEROES
[General]
Prerequisite: Hero’s Fortune, Luck of Heroes

You seem destined for success, even when the odds are against you. Whenever you spend a Hero point to reroll a d20 roll, of the result on the d20 is a 1-10, you gain a +10 bonus to the result (making it effectively an 11-20, though not a “natural” 20 for game mechanical purposes).

HERO’S FORTUNE
[General]

Even a miraculous escape from death doesn’t use up all your good luck. When you expend all your Hero points to avoid death, if you had 2 or more Hero points, you get to keep 1 or them rather than spend them all.

LUCK OF HEROES
[General]
Prerequisite: Hero’s Fortune

Luck never completely abandons you. Once per game session, if you end an encounter with no Hero points, you may choose to gain one Hero point.

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Loot 4 Less for Pathfinder 2nd Edition?

I’ve been considering what a Loot 4 Less line of books for the 2nd edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game would look like. Of course the price point would be insanely different– 2,000 gp is a LOT more money is 2nd ed than 1st ed. But if I decided to limit myself to 200 gp, is that too high and easy, or about right?

Anyway, here are a couple of items that evolved just from the thought experiment.

Able Armor Seal Item 6
Abjuration Invested Magical
Price 200 gp
Usage affixed to armor
Activate Single Action; Bulk L
This cast iron seal has a depiction of two hands clasped in friendship. Armor with this affixed can be donned in half the normal time. With a successfully use of the Armor Assist feat, it takes only 1/3 the normal time.

Silver Serpent Item 5
Divination Invested Magical
Price 175 gp
Usage worn earing; Bulk L

This small silver serpent is a piece of jewelry that sits wrapped around your ear, molding itself to match the size and shape of your ear and holding itself firmly in place until intentionally removed. Each silver serpent is attuned to a single Lore skill, and whisper information about that Lore in your ear as it become relevant. You treat your proficiency rank in the related Lore skill as one degree better while wearing the silver serpent. If you are already Legendary in that Lore, you instead gain Assurance with that Lore.

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Putting the Use of Critical Hit/Fumble Decks in Player’s Hands

Lots of game systems have Critical Hit and Critical Fumble decks. Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder are two well-known examples (and, full disclosure, I wrote the ones for Starfinder).

Many groups find them hysterical, chaotic fun, Others find them hateful, swingy, and absolutely no fun at all.

But what if the PLAYERS got to decide when they came into play? That introduces the rules and their funny, unexpected effects into a game, but doesn’t force them on anyone who doesn’t want to deal with them.

Here’s a simple set of example rules for doing that.

When an attack against a PC is a success, the player can earn one Crit Point by deciding the attack draws from the Critical Hit Deck.

When an attack by a PC is a failure , the player can earn one Crit Point by deciding the attack draws from the Critical Failure Deck.

When an attack by PC is a success, the player can spend two Crit Points to cause the attack to draw from the Critical Hit Deck. If the player has 3 or more Crit Points, they can spend additional Crit Points before any cards are drawn to increase the number of cards they draw on a 1-1 basis (spending 4 extra Crit Points means you draw 4 extra Critical Hit cards). You select one Critical hit effect from one drawn card to apply to the attack.

(As an alternate rule, you can also allow a player to earn Crit Points when they use these rules, by having GM draw 3 critical hit cards for an attack against the PC, or by drawing 3 Critical Failure cards for an attack made by the PC).

All Crit Points are reset to 0 at the end of each game session.

The reason a PC has to suffer more card effects than they get to inflict is that players can be quite cunning about timing and resources, accepting critical hits and critical failures that go against them when they can afford the hit and saving up the Crit Points to turn the tides when they need it. However, by making it a 2-1 ratio, and not letting players save points between games, this tactical use of the rules is balanced out.

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