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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report (Part 2)

Apparently there REALLY IS a big demand to hear more about my first session of “Really Wild West: Doomstone.” You can read Part One (which covers the first fight on a train) here, and may find some useful context from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

Disintigration Ray

After the fight, the PCs introduce themselves, and compare notes.

  • According to the Transit and Portage Guild’s bylaws, since the PCs were instrumental in defending Old Number Seven, they have the right to a payment from the train. The acting conductor (the halfling porter) offers them a cut of the valuables from the robbers, or passes for free rides any associated vehicle in perpetuity (the end date on the passes is officially “Kingdom Come.” Every PC decides to take lifetime free travel.
  • The soldier/mystic says he’s gonna talk to Vardalos, the dead Kasatha. PCs all follow, The soldier/mystic casts “grave words,” and the corpse says the following:
    • Stormfront rolling
    • The grass is all blue
    • The venom king has returned – the signet ring
    • My manticore gang – on the revolvers
    • All is lost
    • The teacup is in the meadow
    • Bandersnatch
  • One of the Fonts & Bismark agents confirms a theory of the centaur paladin that the robbers wanted to send the train over the cliff and recover the item from the bottom of the gorge.
  • The soldier/mystic goes to see Vardalos’ *very* strict and loyal pony, which he can talk to. Discover’s the pny’s training means it accepts help from and takes orders from only who its owner approves. It’s owner is now dead, but the owner had allowed the porter to feed it, so it takes orders from the porter. No PC or the porter wanting the pony, it’s decided to give it to the nice Moyer family (1 father and 5 kids, headed to a farm owned by the father’s sister, in Kansas for a fresh start. The mother died during the War, and the father need help raising the kids).
  • The mechanic roboticist helps with the bridge – cuts the repair time in half

PCs arrive in beautiful Cheyenne – which was sacked by Martians.\Is the state capital… but the state and its capital are a mess. Notes about the city:

  • Opera house biggest building left in town, serves as city hall for now.
  • The Tivoli building is almost finished as new construction. It is a Pabst beer distribution center, and has “Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights (an all-race, all-gender brothel) on the second floor.
  • There is a cheap, reliable Cheyenne Citizen Hostel
  • Also some homes that will let a room

The Fenrin Bounty Hunter checks on new Bounties:

  • Chimera Kid is now worth 650c as of yesterday
  • Bounty for “That Goddamn Manticore” 1000c posted by Ranch Master Dwargus Hardfist (a dwarf), go to the Circle Axe Ranch for more information

General:

  • This place is crawling with bounty hunters, assassins, guns fire hire, bodyguards, ugh-me-toughs
  • Why? No clue.
  • Old Blue (a fenrin bloodhound on the sheriff’s porch) says a “Year and a day” ends in a couple of weeks
    • Records house burned to the ground, lots of people died, so there is a lot of land no one knows who owns it. It was decided you can lay claim to land it and if no one has a better claim within a year and a day, it’s yours. Those first year-and-a-day claims come up in a few weeks, and everyone is expecting there to be some trouble over it.

The PCs are invited to a meeting with Fonts & Bismark Station Master Ralston Adler (who turns out to be in a wheelchain) at 5pm, to discuss the mysterious package the bandits tried to steal.

  • The Item is being held for a client who’s coming to get it (no details on who or when available). The item is a Martian crystal (tripod’s power core)
  • Nineteen duplicates were shipped at the same time for security. Eight were attacked
  • About the scrap of paper
    • The handwriting appears to be that of one Felspark Klein – elf woman Regional Director for East Hudson Fur Trading Co. She is new to the position (her predecessor died choking on a chicken bone).
    • She is staying at Vicious Hippogryph Ranch, adjacent to Circle Axe
    • Significant disagreement about who owns what plots of land
      • Biggest area of dispute has all the water
    • Adler agrees to get the PCs a copy of an excellent map of that area (+4 to know where we are)
  • Adler also knows that Dwargus hardfist of the Circle Axe has been claiming for months that a Manticore is loose in Wyomingn and feeding on ONLY his cattle

PCs decide to go check it out. They will wait until the map is ready before they take off to see about this manticore, and checkout Felspark Klein.

Fonts & Bismark agrees to equip the PCs with horses and supplies. Also note that a couple of other people are asking about these events, and if Adler is convinced they are assets, he’ll diect them to the PCs in the morning to see if the PCs want to join up with them.

End of game. XPs: 650 per PC.

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First Really Wild West Session — After-Action Report

A number of people have asked for more details about the train fight in the first Really Wild West game session (with the campaign entitled “Really Wild West: Doomstone”), so I have adapted notes taken by my wife Lj who is playing a fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer.” Some context may also be available from the campaign notes I developed from this session.

RWW Good Doggo

(“Sawyer,” by Jacob Blackmon)

I specifically set up this fight to bring the player characters together with a common interest. Here’s the set-up.

PCs:
Female Fenrin Operative Bounty Hunter (Seeking a bounty)

Female Centaur Paladin Mercenary (Seeking an ancient evil, the Venom King)

Female Human Mechanic Roboticist (Seeking to access Martian tech found in the field, rather than the picked-over scraps she can get hold of back East) – has stealth drone mechanical dog, “Pinion”

Male Human Soldier/Mystic  Criminal (Seeking to tip the balance for past bad deeds)

1891 – Spring

  • The Fenrin bounty hunter is looking for the Chimera Kid, who he shot a federal judg. The Kid is a Ksatha missing one of his four arms. Fights with poison pistol, flame pistol, ram-headed hammer.
  • Currently tracking Gavra Vardalos, a previous associate of the Kid, who is headed West on the Old Number Seven train out of St. Louis. Vardalos wears a black bandito mask with a green scorpion tail. Vardalos seems to be waiting for something.

Evening of day two – around 36 hours into the trip – as the sun sets

  • Alarm bell goes off as the train comes to an emergency stop
  • Bridge is out ahead. Fresh damage.
  • This might be what Vardalos was waiting for
    • He gets up and says he’s gonna check on his pony
    • Fenrin bounty hunter gets on top of the train and follows
  • The porters arm themselves
  • Vardalos says his pony needs medicine and wants to get into the baggage car
    • A halfling porter takes him around the outside to the caboose
  • Gunshots ring out from within the back of the train

FIGHT!

  • Just after the porter knocks on the caboose door, Vardalos attempts to kill him. Vardalos has two sabers enhanced with jury-rigged Martian heat-ray crystals. The distinctive sound of them powering up can be heard throughout the train, and including by the mechanic roboticist. Fenrin bounty hunter jumps down to stop vardalos.
  • The halfling caboose porter rolls under the train and pulls down a shield with a gun port from the bottom of the caboose, then locks his gun into it
  • The centaur paladin, suspicious of Vardalos’s possible involvement because of the scorpion-tail mask, also comes to stop him.
  • A stamer trunk turns out to be a mimic, and attacks a Fonts & Bismark agent guarding a package in the boxcar.
  • Outside the train, thin lizardfolk step out of the air – serpentfolk (5) from a hidden reality. Everyone not already engaged helps fight them off.
    • They shoot old revolvers. Poisoned bullets.
  • The mechanic roboticist and Pinon run to the back of the train to investigate the Martian tech sounds, and run into the Fonts & Bismark agent fighting against the steam trunk mimic. Stop to help.
  • The caboose door rotates out, revealing an old, beat up robot breakman, with a 2ft spanner
    • Moves to attack the serpentfolk who is attacking the porter
  • When Vardalos dies, his body writhes and breathes out a green vapor
  • As serpentmen overpower the conductor guarding the engine, soldier criminal comes running up the center of the train, shooting it from 2 cars away and preventing it from powering up the train and running it over the broken bridge into a gorge below.

ON VARDALOS: 2 manticore stamped revolvers; 2 jury-rigged Martian metal sabres; 350 credit chips issued from the East Hudson Fur Trading Co.; under a glove a signet ring with a scorpion tail with a green teardrop signet stone; scrap of paper with Fonts & Bismark Service# written on it – these go on whatever F&B is shipping that the mimic went for. The scrap has a watermark from the EHFTco. The fenrin bounty hunter can confirm it’s not written in Vardalos’ handwriting.

At the end of this introductory fight, the fenrin bounty hunter wants to follow up on the clues around Vardalos to see if they lead to the Chimera Kid. The centaur paladin wants to follow up because the green vapor and scorpion-tail clues are her best lead to find the cult of the Venom King. The mechanic roboticist wants to follow up because somehow Vardalos got access to fresh Martian heat-ray technology. The soldier/mystic wants to follow up because this seems like a good opportunity to earn some karmic balance.

The session didn’t end there of course.

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Notes for the Really Wild West

RWW Logo

(Logo by Perram, pistol art by Jacob Blackmon)

I ran my first actual session of my first full Really Wild West campaign, called “Really Wild West: Doomstone”

Here are some notes from that sessions.

The “New Wild”: Due to the Ravages of the brief War of the Worlds in early 1890, the lawless West is much more expansive in 1891 than it was just a few years earlier. While major towns exist, and are mostly as controlled and regimented as one would expect, the entire central area of the United States — from the Mississippi River to the Cascade Mountains — is simply not yet back under government control beyond sight of a major settlement. Wherever an army unit or even US Martial circuit patrol happen to be, it’s fairly lawful. Some towns, sheriffs, mutual aid societies and land-owners can also enforce rules within their own demesne (which some do fair-mindedly and others… don’t).
But the fabric of society has not yet recovered from either the direct effect of being overrun by alien war machines that destroyed entire cities and killed millions, or the psychological effect of learning aliens exist, want us dead, have better technology than Earth, and that often women and children and immigrants were crucial to slowing their advance and evacuating those in their path despite being often discouraged from such roles by society.
From the Mississippi to the Cascades is the New Wild. Stay alert. Be cautious. Strap iron.

East Hudson Fur Trading Company: Multinational trade and mercantile… and banking, private security, espionage, manufacturing, and land exploitation. They actually call one of the services they offer “land exploitation.” Had war declared on them by the Lakota for “Crimes Against Man and Nature.” Merciless. Efficient. Profitable.

Fonts & Bismark: A powerful “service company,” that handles deliveries, finances, and vault storage. Grew out of an adventuring company in the 1840s. Mercenary, but have tight ethics controls on who they work for… but a contract, once signed, is fulfilled.
Sometimes do government work. Sometimes hired to protect against the government.

Lost Walkers: When the Martians realized they were dying off, many hid their machines (mostly tripods, but also some flying machines and digging machines) and mothballed them. The Central Power Core of these machines, once cold, can only be brought back to life with an active Central Core.
Only walkers that were captured during the war without being destroyed, or the first few grabbed when the earliest Martians succumbed to viruses, had their Central Core taken intact and active. Thus these are among the most valued of artifacts. Most are in the hands of national or state governments, with a much smaller number controlled by the rich and powerful (Edison is smugly vocal about having two. Tesla dodges the question when asked. A young Polish scientist studying in Paris, Marie Skłodowska, is warning anyone who will listen not to stand too close to the things.)
When a Lost Walker is found, there is a “Tripod Rush” as people tear it apart for rare elements, crystals, and circuits, and scour the surrounding territory for any other Martian relics. But if anyone ever managed to repair and restart a tripod with a Central Core, it would immediately become a notable regional power.

Newgauge: Even before the War of the Worlds caused technological advancement to explode, most industrially advanced nations were moving to Newgauge trains — massive mass-transit vehicles twenty feet wide, nearly thirty feet tall, with locomotives and cars each up to 150 feet long. Since the war, Newgauge trains have become rolling battleships, each normally equipped with heat-dispensing armor on critical cars, and with at least one Rail Monitor car with artillery and units of troops.
But you absolutely cannot run Newgauge trains without building entirely-new tracks. While in the densely-populated Northeast and West Coast, that has been done extensively enough to least linked the biggest cities, the Martians did enough damage to the central parts of the country that even old rails are no longer properly transcontinental, and no Newgauge rails to speak of have yet been laid down… or even surveyed to accommodate the additional massive easement needs. Thus smaller “Old Rail” trains must be used, and occasionally have to fend for themselves between cities.

Old No. 7: An ‘Old Rail’ train with variable-gauge axles, Old No. 7 is a more-than 50-year-old 4-4-0 locomotive and its associated cars that was pressed into service as a military transport during the War of the Worlds (and armored, and equipped with an automaton-operated Combat Caboose with Rail Repair devices), survived numerous hits from Heat Rays and, despite showing buckled plates and grime-caked engine, remains a mobile defensive platform. Its normal run its along an exiting Old Gauge Line from St. Louis to Colby, Kansas and then to Cheyenne, Wy, and then return.

Trustee: The Really Wild West is a world where heroes, monsters, oracles, madmen, and adventurers have existed for thousands of years. Nations, towns, organizations, and businesses have evolved to deal with the fact that sometimes if a wandering hero or expert doesn’t save you, no one else can.
Thus it is common for individuals and small bands to be on a path to be considered “trustees” of groups and governments. These are outsiders who have earned the trust of a government or organization of note. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are trustees of Scotland Yard. The Spectral Rider is a trustee of the town of Eagle Net, New Mexico. The Kestrel is a trustee of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and so on.
Bigger organizations have numerous steps of trust that occur before you are a trustee, but a trustee is generally considered to be competent, potent, trusted, and an ally of the group that names them trustee. A trustee does not necessarily agree with all actions of the bestowing group, and individual members of the group might mistrust the trustee (think of Batman as a trustee of Gotham PD), but the organization as a whole formally cuts the trustee considerable slack.

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Running a Really Wild West fight on a Train (in Starfinder)

For tonight’s Really Wild West game, I drew out the train “Old Number Seven” on a very simple 1-square-is-30-feet scale. That got the whole (short, 12-car) train onto one map, and character tracked where they were (inside a car, on top of a car, or outside the cars) on that map whenever they were not dealing with anyone in melee.

If greater resolution was needed, each car and its immediate surroundings were drawn on their own flip-tile. We actually only had to do that twice, and while I was initially worried about running one fight at two scales, my (brilliant, veteran) players had no trouble figuring it out or moving PCs seamlessly between them.

It also meant the fight took place over a distance hundreds of feet long, which I could never have gotten onto a single game table. Things like firearm range increments and who was more effective in melee had real tactical impact. (And we got some awesome cinematic moments like the centaur paladin in full plate charging down the length of the outside of the train, the fenrin bounty hunter flinging herself off the caboose’s roof to tackle a foe, and the human soldier running along a train car, civilians huddling for safety as his command at the sides of the car, while he fired at a foe in the aisle of the next car over… and hits!).

It also really helped drive home the genre of this campaign. Sure there were kastha… and snakemen… and centaurs and spells and pistol shots. But it was a fight on a steam train stopped by a blown-up bridge as brigands attacked it.

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New Critical Hit Effects for Starfinder

As I work on running my first Really Wild West campaign, and write up weaponry for it, I find myself using new critical hit effects.

I’ll present a weapon list later I presume, but here are some new crit hit effects for GMs doing their own homebrew weapons.

RWW Weapons

(Art by warpaintcobra)

New Critical Hit Effects

Alternate Crit
When you score a critical hit, you may apply either its normal critical hit effect, or its alternate critical hit effect (listed in parenthesis), at your preference.

AoO (Attack of Opportunity)
Scoring a critical hit with the weapon causes the target to provoke an attack of opportunity from you. Normally only melee weapons have this critical hit effect.

Trauma
A weapon with a trauma crit does double normal damage to living thing on a critical hit, to a minimum of its maximum normal damage.

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Biohacker Multiclass ThemeType (for Starfinder)

Character concepts don’t always fit neatly into just one character class. Sometimes you want to play a a reality-warper who has also studied diplomacy, a spy who has studied just enough biological engineering to consider it one more tool in her toolbox, or a soldier with mystic martial powers. Starfinder offers three broad tools for adjusting a character to fit such concepts—themes (to represent background training), archetypes (to represent a different path than a typical member of a class), and multiclassing (to represent training in more than one role). Generally exactly the right balance of those options can make nearly any character concept work.

But it can take a lot of effort.

Maybe, if they were all blended into one definitive all-encompassing option, a broad range of new character concepts could be made easier and faster to write up. A way to indicate that a character has been working to add a second career to their primary training for most of their life, and plans to continue to blend the things represented by multiclassing, theme, and archetype. Something that takes some of the advantages of multiclassing, and places them in the slots of additional abilities normally granted by themes and archetypes. In short, a Multiclass ThemeType.

MultiClass ThemeTypes

A Multiclass ThemeType gives you some abilities of a second character class, but counts as both your theme (preventing you from gaining any other theme, and requiring you to select the ThemeType at 1st level) and as an archetype for the first class you take levels in (requiring you to give up some abilities of your primary class, as normal for an archetype). You can pick up the pdf of multiclass themetypes for all the classes from the Core Rulebook at DriveThruRPG. But, the concept has not yet been used for the new classes from COM — biohacker, vanguard, and witchwarper. So, this week we’ll look at those.

Multiclass ThemeType abilities marked with (Theme) occur when you reach the listed character level, regardless of what classes you have taken levels in. Those marked (Archetype) are gained only when you reach the listed level in the first character class you take levels in. However, it is also recommended that characters with a Multiclass ThemeType not be allowed to also use normal multiclassing rules (in which case the character’s character level and class level will always match).

A character cannot take class levels in the class that matches their Multiclass ThemeType.

While ThemeTypes can be used in any Starfinder campaign, they are particularly appropriate for the mash-up world of the Really Wild West setting hack.

SF Mad Scientist

(art by David Edwards)

Biohacker ThemeType
You have studied the arts of biohacking enough to be able to apply some of their techniques and secrets in your day-to-day life. You’re not a master of biohacking, but you know enough to have a few surprises up your sleeve.

Key Ability Boost (Theme, 1st level): At 1st level you decide if your biohacking was more instinctive, or more studious. If instinctive, you gain a +1 to your Wisdom score. If studious, you gain a +1 to your Intelligence score. This acts as the normal +1 to ability score gained from a theme.

Theme Knowledge (Ex, Theme, 1st Level): At first level, you gain either Medicine or Life Science as a class skill. If you have both of these as class skills from other sources at 1st level, you instead gain a +1 bonus to one of the two skills. Once these choices are made, they cannot be changed.

If you select Medicine, you may use your Medicine skill bonus as your Life Science skill bonus, and are considered trained in Life Science. If you select Life Science, you may use your Life Science skill bonus as your Medicine skill bonus, and are considered trained in Medicine.

Minor Biohacks (Ex, Archetype, 2nd Level): You gain a limited form of the biohacker’s minor biohack ability. You can use a minor booster or minor inhibitor a number of times per day equal to the modifier of the ability score your gained a bonus to with your key ability boost for this themetype (minimum 1/day). You do not have a full custom microlab but do have enough expertise to attune a number of creatures equal to 3 +your key ability score, to allow you to deliver biohacks to the attuned creatures using ranged injection weapons without making an attack roll under the same circumstances a biohacker can, using the same attunement rules as the customer microlab.

Basic Biohacks (Ex, Archetype, 4th Level): You can now use a basic booster or basic inhibitor. This counts against your total minor biohacks you can use per day. Once you use a basic booster or basic inhibitor, you cannot use that biohack again until you have expended a Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.

Basic Field of Study (Ex, Archetype, 6th Level): Select one biohacker field of expertise. You gain access to that field of study’s booster or inhibitor (your choice). Using this counts against your total uses/day of minor biohacks. Once you use a the field of study’s booster or inhibitor, you cannot use that biohack again until you have expended a Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.

Basic Theorem (Ex, Theme, 6th Level): You gain one biohacker theorem, selected from the list of 2nd level biohacker theorems. You treat your character level as your biohacker level for all biohacker theorems. gained from this themetype.

Improved Field of Study (Ex, Archetype, 9th Level): You gain your field of study’s booster or inhibitor (whichever you did not select for the basic field of study). Using this counts against your total uses/day of minor biohacks. Once you use a the field of study’s booster or inhibitor, you cannot use that biohack again until you have expended a Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.

Improved Theorem (Ex, Theme, 12th Level): You gain one biohacker theorem, selected from the list of 2nd level or 8th level biohacker theorems.

Greater Field of Study (Ex, Archetype, 12th Level): You gain the breakthrough of your field of study. If it is a biohack, it counts against your total uses/day of minor biohacks and once you have used it you cannot use that biohack again until you have expended a Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.

Greater Theroem (Ex, Theme, 18th Level): You gain one biohacker theorem, selected from the list of 2nd level, 8th, or 14th level biohacker theorems.

Unlimited Minor Biohacks (Ex, Archetype 18th): Your minor booster and inhibitors are no longer limited to a specific number per day. Your other biohacks remain limited to a daily number equal to the modifier of the ability score your gained a bonus to with your key ability boost for this themetype (minimum 1/day).

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Save to Negate Fun? (Starfinder)

(A prelude — I moved cross-country last week. I had expected to be up and running my blog by Monday… and was not. further while we have arranged for connectivity at the new house, there seem to be some issues. Long story short, this is a Week’s Worth of blog posts — a 750+ word article for Monday on the basic concept and design concerns, then 4 days worth of looking at specific spells in short snippets.

My hope is that by June 15th, i can go back to giving you these things daily. 🙂 )

You are a spellcaster in the Starfinder RPG — a master of esoteric energies that can rewrite the universe’s laws. Having read about the cool abilities of a spell you select it and, when the time is right, stars in your eyes, you unleash eldritch powers beyond mortal comprehension on a foe…

“It succeeds at its saving throw. The spell is negated.”

Well… THAT’s not fun. At least if you have tried a damaging spell, it would have had SOME effect on creatures that made their save against it. And… HOW many spells saving-throw-negates spells did you put on your spell list? You only get so many spells known, after all… Oh, and hey, you can’t swap those out all that often. Lower-level spells are much more likely to be successfully saved against. And even if you use them against lower-level foes… those often don’t last long enough for the penalties you assess against them to be worth a spell slot either.

It’s not just that you had an action not be effective. Attacks miss sometimes. But you have SO few resources, you had to select which spells to trust in, and if you have spell after spell get negated with a saving throw…

Sometimes, it’s the fun that gets negated.

So, what if we rewrote those spells? What if we added minor effects that apply, briefly, even against foes that negate the primary effect? It would have to be carefully balanced — spells that target multiple foes or an area are already pretty powerful because *all* targets are unlikely to negate it. Lower-level spells need to not be able to stack so many minor status effects you can overwhelm a high-level foe. That’s all tricky, but doable.

But, let’s be clear — this is a pure power-up of these spells. If you are finding the use of the spells listed below is already skewing things in the favor of the PCs on a regular basis, then these optional rules aren’t for your group. Also, this is designed only for Starfinder. The core math of similar d20-based systems is just too different for anything designed to rebalance the utility of Starfinder save-to-negate spells to apply well in other game systems.

While they’ll need some playtesting, I’ll likely use these rules as “core” in the Really Wild West setting. (With the lower tech level technomancers, at least, may need the help 🙂 )

RWW Technomancer

(art by Дмитрий)

Lingering Penalties: There’s only so much failed magic can do to hamper a creature that has successfully negated a spell. Many of the additional effects added below list “lingering” penalties. If a creature is suffering multiple lingering penalties to the same roll or value, only the highest of those penalties applies. Such penalties overlap–if you are taking a -3 lingering penalty to AC for 1 round and a -1 lingering penalty for 1 minute, you take the higher -3 penalty for the first round, then the remaining -1 penalty for the next 9 rounds.
This is also designed to prevent spellcasters from being able to cast low-level spells against the same foe over and over to stack up minor penalties until they are insurmountable. Much as casting a 1st-level damaging spell against a CR 9 foe may do a little damage and be of some use–but isn’t likely to be the major factor in a combat–casting a low-level save-negates spell against a high CR foe should, at best, have a modest effect on the combat.
The idea is for the player not to feel like their precious, limited resource was totally wasted, or that they might as well have fired their small arm (which might still miss, but ammunition is in much readier supply than spell slot–and that doesn’t feel very spellcaster-y).

Sample Lingering Effects
These are the spells from the Core Rulebook I consider most in need of modifications to increase their fun value without making spellcasters overpowered. If there’s demand for it, I might take a look at Armory and COM spells.

Baleful Polymorph: On a successful save the target suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage for 1 minute. This increases to a -2 lingering penalty for spell level 4 and up.
Baleful Polymorph, mass: If only a single creature is targeted by the mass baleful polymorph, on a successful save the target suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage for 1 minute.
Bestow Curse: On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to saving throws for 1d4 rounds as the curse energy continues to try to bring it misfortune.
Charm Person: On a successful save for 1 round/level the target suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attacks and damage against you, and the save DC of any effect it forces you to save against is reduced by 2, as it struggles with feelings for trust and friendship it knows to be false.
Command:
On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell. 
Command Undead:
On a successful save the creature suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for 1 minute as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Confusion: On a successful save a creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Confusion, lesser: On a successful save a creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Control Machines: On a successful save targets suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for the spell’s duration, as they fight the foreign urges of the spell.
Control Undead: On a successful save targets suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for the spell’s duration, as they fight the foreign urges of the spell.
Deep Slumber: On successful saves, targets take a -2 lingering penalty to Perception rolls and initiative checks for 1d4 rounds.
Detect Thoughts: If the target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Directed Denial of Strength Attack: On a successful save, the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to all Strength- and -Dexterity based skill checks, and to its AC against combat maneuvers, for 1d4 rounds.
Discern Lies: If a target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Discharge: On a successful save the target suffers a -1 lingering penalty to any attacks or damage for 1d4 rounds.
Dismissal: On a successful save the creature suffers a lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1d4 rounds as it fights the effort to force it off this plane. The penalty is equal to 1 + any bonus to the caster level check of spell you gain with the use of special materials.
Dominate Person: If the target saves against this spell, it is at a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage against you, and you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it, for the duration of the spell.
Fatigue: On a successful save, the target is affected for 1 round.
Feeblemind: On a successful save, the target takes a -4 lingering penalty to all Int- and Cha- based skills for 1 minute. If Int- or Cha- are its key ability scores, it’s spell and class feature save DCs take a -1 lingering penalty for the same time period.
Flesh to Stone: On a successful save the target’s move rate is halved as a lingering penalty, and it takes a -1 lingering penalty to AC, for 1d4 rounds.
Hold Person: On a successful saving throw, the target takes a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls, initiative checks, and Dexterity-based skill checks for 1 round.
Mind Probe: If the target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +3 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Overload Systems: On a successful save, the target is staggered for 1d4 rounds.
Rewire Flesh: On a successful saving throw, the target still takes 1d6 slashing damage per round (Fortitude half, as normal).
Rewire Flesh, mass: On a successful saving throw, a target still takes 1d6 slashing damage per round (Fortitude half, as normal).
Slow
: If only a single creature is targeted by the slow, on a successful save it’s move rate is halved as a lingering penalty for 1d4 rounds.
Synaptic Pulse: On a successful save, a target is instead sickened for 1 round.
Suggestion: On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls and skill checks for 1d4 rounds as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Suggestion, mass: If only a single creature is targeted by the slow, on a successful save the creature suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and skill checks for 1 minute as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Unwilling Guardian: On a successful saving throw, the target takes a -2 lingering penalty on attacks against you for 1d4 rounds.

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Hollow Worlds of the Really Wild West

Before we begin, a scheduling note. I am moving from Indiana, back to Oklahoma this week. As a result rather than do four small posts Tue-Fri, you are getting one big one now. And some bonus content. A week’s worth of blog material in one day. As a result it covers a few related topics, rather than being tightly focused. My expectation is that by next week I’ll have at least set up a laptop on a box and have an ice cooler for a chair, and can post as normal again.

Some Design Goals

One of the things I have realized about the Really Wild West is that I want it to feel like some of my favorite weird west, Victoriana, steampunk, and genre-blending stories (many of which are listed in the inspirations page, here). Stories that surprised and delighted me when Dracula and Sherlock Holmes fought, or the Nautilus rams Martian Tripods, or cowboys deal with dinosaurs, sorcerers, and aliens.

Things that… just aren’t that unusual anymore. Between the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Cowboys vs Aliens, and Penny Dreadful, late 1800s fiction and genre blending is not only fairly normal, a lot of things have become nearly passe. Having Doctor Jekyll run a monster-hunting secret society that conflicts with an ancient mummy just doesn’t do it for me anymore. All those elements are too common, explored, and available.

But I do want to do things LIKE that. Not have archaeologists race to find the Holy Grail in Hatay, or seek the treasure of the Knights Templar hidden by the Founding Fathers, but for the Club of Nobody’s Friends (the oldest dining club in England) to have to hide the the three parts of the Scepter of Dagobert (the oldest of the French Crown Jewels, which had been left with the religious pension fund known as Queen Anne’s Bounty) from the Serpentin Vert (“Green Serpent,” in French, a secret society of poison-themed mystics who wish to use it to take control of the Dragons of France), and thus have hidden the sections in old wine cellars in abandoned 1700s New France mansions overtaken by the swamps of Louisiana.

That gives me the blend of stuff I want.

While hopefully avoiding treating colonialism as a good thing, treating any culture or peoples as orcs to be slaughtered, or making caricatures of real-world groups.

So, I want to create NEW legends and myths, drawn from the era and feel of the things I have loved, without just retreading Dracula, the Grail, Frankenstein’s Monster, Martian Tripods, and Billy the Kid. Instead of focusing on werewolves, talk about coyotes who can take on human form for one lunar cycle if they eat a human’s heart, and are vulnerable to any weapon that has never taken a human life. Undead are gulchers and whistlers, rather than just ghouls and zombies.

Not for every encounter. It’s the Wild West, sometimes you just get jumped by outlaws.

But for setting pieces and major plots? Then we build on the new mythology to make the Really Wild West earn the “Really Wild” title. Then the outlaws are Junk Golems spontaneously created from steam train Iron Horse 4771, which blew up when its experimental Fire Elemental Engine was sabotaged to ensure the Arcane and Arkansas Railroad would lose out on a contract to Zeus Skyboats–resulting in the boom sky town of Oklahoma City (established recently in 1889) becoming wealthy–a fact the Junk Golems plan to fix by destroying it.

You know… Really Wild.

And this brings us to “The Hollow Worlds.”

In the world of the Really Wild West, it is accepted there is a Surface World — everything common and seen and (mostly) understood. There is the Esoteric World, or perhaps multiple Esoteric worlds, wherein the spirits move, ether flows, Astral Projection is possible, and Theosophy is mapping out the powers of spiritualism.

But with the discovery of Agartha, the concept of Hollow Worlds has become commonplace. These are definite, concrete places you can walk to under the right circumstances… that may or may not be part of the Surface World. Agartha is actually part of a Hollow Earth. But there are also places that seem to exist in some kind of “Hollow Space.” Buyan is only accessible by the Surface World some of the time. Frozen Lomar is from the dim and ancient past… but somehow seems to be a place people still encounter from time to time. The fact dinosaurs exist in Agartha, and the Americas, and nowhere else convince most scholars that there are Hollow Mountains that lead from those continents to Agartha, and that perhaps vast caverns also exist in which lost civilizations and alien societies may dwell.

Atlantis rose, and fell, and is gone. All the lands of the Surface World are inhabited by *someone*, save Antarctica (as far as anyone knows). It is to the various Hollow Worlds the great explorers and conquerors now loom to find a fresh frontier.

And Mars, of course. If anyone can figure out out to get there.

These are some of the most commonly accepted Hollow Worlds.

RWW Agartha

(art by Oscar)

Agartha

Agartha is the Hollow Earth, and entire world within the center of the world. Long rumored to exist, it was considered by most to be little more real than Mu or Lemuria… until Professor Lidenbrock made an expedition to there and back through a volcano in Iceland, and returned with proof of his discoveries. The professor is largely retired now, but his daughter Gräuben Lidenbrock runs “Lindenbrock Excursions,” and has established three major routes to the Hollow Earth, all through Northern Europe. She is expending considerable resources to attempt to be the first to find the theorized link from the Americas to Agartha.

Agartha is filled with Asuras, Dinosaurs, Giants, Megafauna, Impossible Golden Palaces which can be seen in the distance, but never reached), and a few small enclaves of sapient species known on the surface world (descended from, at least, vikings and Chinese soldiers who found their way there in antiquity). It’s interior is also filled with particulate gravity-blocking cavorite, which can be sifted from the air at great expense to form lighter-than-air metal.

Buyan
Buyan is an island or continent (reports are unclear) inhabited by angels, demons, fey, or the spirits of the departed (unclear), that can appear in any lake or ocean. It is the source of weather (which is guarded by two dragons known as the Talon and the Serpent–Gagana and Garafena), home of the legendary city of Ledenets (from where the warrior-priestesses the Zoryas endlessly forge the chain that keeps the Doomsday Hound  Simargl bound to the star Polaris so it cannot devout all the stars and destroy the world), and the place one must go to begin a quest for the Alatyr, the “burning white stone” which may or may not be the rock Jesus stood on when he preached to his Disciples.
Most information about Buyan comes from the Dove Book (Golubinaya Kniga), a book of mixed pagan and Christian lore banned by the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 20 core versions of the book, ranging from 20 to 300 pages long, and hundreds of local variants of those core 20 versions.
However, the advent of Theosophical methods of divination have determined Buyan, or something like it, is real, and it’s location and route to and from it are mutable. Many theosophicers believe Buran is Etheric, existing in an Ether through which spiritual energy and thought travel.

Frozen Lomar
The land referred to as Frozen Lomar is a pre-humanoid civilization that may date back to the Pliocene Epoch, and nearly all sign of it was lost due to later glaciers. Frozen Lomar is noted as being located “within the ice cap,” but there is no hint if that is to the north or south. It is know the Lomarah, the denizens of Frozen Lomar, accessed and studied the original Pnakotic Manuscripts, scrolls which described elder gods and horrific eldritch truths. The Lomarah added to the Manuscripts, perhaps creating several different versions. However no copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts remain. They, and frozen Lomar, and known only because of quotes from an also-lost Greek translation (the Pnakotica) are referenced in a few other works of antiquity. While there are rumors of a Pnakotic Brotherhood that seeks and is ruled by the Manuscripts, sometimes linked to the Faustus Society, there is no verified proof they exist.
Frozen Lomar is believed to have created various outposts, also in the Pliocene, which are also lost to time. A few such have been reported by explorers to Agartha, vast caverns in Argentina and Missouri, and one mist-shrouded island in the Pacific. These all describe huge cyclopean structures, black runes that can only be read by indirect moonlight, strange aberrations, hex-shaped stone constructions, lore crystals, blind cultists, and hairless ratlike semihumanoid cannibals.  However, such encounters invariable end with the Lomarah Outpost sinking or being destroyed by lava, so reports are always second-hand.
A few expeditions claim to have stumbled from such outposts into a still-vibrant Frozen Lomar itself… though thsoe who claim so often seem too crazed to be taken as reliable.

Hsan
Many esoteric book on magic and the supernatural written in the ancient period reference a city of great wisdom called Hsan. These reference suggest the city is so ubiquitously well-known that no description of its location or nature is necessary. By the Fall of Rome, no one seems to know anything about it. It is suggested to lie East of Persia and West of Qi.
The symbol of Hsan is noted to be a winged and horned lion with two tails of differing lengths. This symbol has been spotted by telescope on at least one Impossible Golden Palace in Agartha, leading some to think Hsan is in a Hollow World adjacent to Agartha, but somehow separate from it.

Silbannacia
During the reign of Roman Emperor Philip, who ruled from AD 244 to 249, armoes and emissaries from the “Northern Roman Empire, Silbannacia” arrived in Rome and offered an alliance. They had coin, apparently magic weapons and armor, and claimed to serve “IMP MAR SILBANNACVS AVG,” under the grace of the God Mercury.
They also carried banners of the lost Roman Ninth Legion, which had dissappeared centuries earlier.
Then Emperor Philip was deposed, and the emissaries vanished.
Silbannacia shows up a few more times through history. Apparently late-Roman soldiers, in chain but with strange weapons that “fire plumbes of vapour green,” and swords and spears that produce the same green gas, they arrive in strange corners of the world. Sometimes they are peaceful allies to small groups of the lost. Other times they sack, kill, raid, and make off with some object or person. There are numerous accounts of them in the records of natives in North and South America, dating back thousands of years.
And recently, a few sightings have been reported near wildernesses in the Far West.

Ungol
Very little is known of Ungol. It is mentioned almost exclusive in its absence–the banned text Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten notes the “Dust of the Letterless City is Death,” and then lists five sections of the German alphabet. Each section is in common order, but the sections themselves are shuffled and one letter is missing from each section. If you note down each missing letter in order, you get u, n, g, o, and l. Some archived copies of the Maladicta, an unholy book used by hags, dare to mention “Ungl/Ngol.” The Code of Hammurabi proscribes the same punishment for “naming or marking the Name of the Forbidden City that is not Gol” as it does casting a spell upon a man unjustly (trial by holy river).
Some undead cry out “Ungol! Ungol!” just prior to destruction.

Okay, that’s a rundown of some Hollow Worlds.

Let’s move on a bit to something we touched on in the article on fenrin… the the Paderborn Edicts, which evolved from the First Council of Paderborn.

The Paderborn Edicts
In the hsitory of the world of the Really Wild West, the Paderborn Edicts were an important set of laws established by the Council of Padernborn in 785 under Charlemagne, and were designed to codify interactions between different “Uberklug,” a term used to indicate all creatures capable of emotion, thought, speech, and self-awareness (often translated as “sapient”). In addition to dwarves, elves, humans, kasatha and ysoki (all common in the Holy Roman Empire), it included noted representatives and scholars of centaur, gnomish, nuar, and shirren groups. Leaders of 4 major religions were present, as were representatives of 12 more. At least one dragon, one inevitable, and one sphinx were present as advisors.
The Paderborn Edicts established that communication with or gaining power from “achaierai, azatas, daemons, demodands, demons, devils, efreeti, lengites, sahkil, slaad, tindalosi, yeth, and the spirits of the dead” is always wrong and can (and should) be banned, while other forms of divination and magics are not inherently evil. Further it makes a distinction between magi and wonder-workers, and “hexen,” or those who spread, use, or wish to command evil powers.
While the original Edicts were far from complete, new councils were held every 101 years to update them. Rules on being a Hex Hunter were established (for hunting down only evil and murderous spellcasters, as opposed to the much more mercenary and often wicked “witch hunters” who often scourged areas), various religions “vetted” as no better or worse than any other, more creatures added to those not to be trusted (from qlippoth in 886 to, most recently, manasaputra and oni in 1795), and so on.
Most European nations have built their laws on magic on the Paderborn Edicts. While for centuries magic has been seen as uncontrollable and unpredictable by sapients (“Magic and monsters are real — as are lighting and typhoons — but there’s no point in mortals studying or trying to control it”), where laws were seen as needful (while a man was unlikely to be able to cast a spell, a deal could be cut with a faerie, after all) they were built off the Edicts.
While many of the laws and rules were seen as metaphors in Europe and the Americas (“of course giants and dragons exist, and I suppose angels must, but none of that is common or normal, and wizards are mostly fakers or fey playing tricks”) in the past century much more of it has been taken to be literal. With the rise of Theosophy defining some natural laws behind magic (and laying out ways it can be taught like any other skill), it is expected the 1896 council will potentially rewrite the Edicts from scratch.

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Good Doggo PCs in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

I am sometimes asked what makes the Really Wild West justify it’s claim to being “Really Wild.” My original through was just that it was a step up from merely “Wild” West. That the addition of Martian invaders, advanced science, magic, devil-run cities, psychic powers, dozens of species, alternate history, energy weapons, and legendary weapons made the setting wild enough, compared to just a Western, to justify the title.

But, maybe I was wrong. More than once, fans have indicated that as long as a certain theme and aesthetic is maintained, they want things in Really Wild West that just don’t show up in most settings.

Lots of folks have also noted that what they want is more Starfinder stuff that works in core Starfinder. That it’s fine if it’s flavored for Really Wild West,  or GammaFinder, as long as it can be used in typical science-fantasy games as well.

So, let’s look at the fenrin, a species with aesthetics and backgrounds designed specifically for Really Wild West, but definitely work in any Starfinder setting.

FENRIN

Fenrin are talking, telekinetic dogs.

Where humans or ysoki are found, fenrin are also there. In most ancient cultures, it was simply accepted that there were dogs, and there were talking dogs, and little thought was given as to why this was. During the First Paderborn Council held in the Holy Roman Empire n 785 AD, the question of whether all dogs were “uberklug” (or “sapients,” a distinction as to what counted as “people”), or just some, determined there was a different between “Fenrin” and other canines. This resulted in considerable scholarship of the question of fenrin, and how they did (or didn’t) relate to common dogs, dire wolves, winter wolves, and hellhounds. As a result, most accepted terminology about fenrin has come to be derived from Germanic roots.

Fenrin are an accepted and understood part of the Really Wild West world. Fenrin have been soldiers, priests, scholars, teachers, merchants, farmers, politicians, and every other role sapient creatures fill. Most have a very strong sense of community, which may focus on their own family, or may include a tight-knit social group that includes friends, colleagues, and often even neighbors the fenrin personally dislike but accept as part of their community unit.

Vital Statistics
Average Height
Graberin: 9-18 inches, 5-20 lbs.
Jager: 19-29 inches, 21-99 lbs.
Arbiter: 30-60 inches, 100-180 lbs
Age of Maturity: 2 years Maximum Age: 50 +1d100 years

RWW Good Doggo

Names: Fenrin have three classic forms of naming. Many take names common from their culture, no different from human or ysoki names. Because of the strong influence of the Paderborn Council, many take Germanic names, or add a Germanic name as a middle name.  Finally, some take names common among domestic canines, while others only do so as nicknames, and others find such names insulting. Fenrin are not a single culture, and both groups and individuals have differing opinions on this point.

Hit Points: 2 (graberin), 4 (jager), or 6 (arbeiter)
Breeds: Like the dogs they so closely resemble, fenrin come in hundreds of different breeds that are all part of the same species. In general fenrin break into three broad categories with some similar traits: graberin (Tiny, fierce, swift), jagers (Small, sturdy, steadfast), and arbeiters (Medium, strong, patient).
Ability Adjustments: Fenrin gain a +2 racial bonus to Charisma, and a -2 penalty to Wisdom. Graberin have a +2 bonus to Dexterity. jagers have a +2 bonus to Constitution. Arbeiters have a +2 bonus to Strength.
Size and Type: Fenrin are monstrous humanoids. Graberin are Tiny, jagers are Small, and arbeiters are Medium.
Doglike (Ex): A fenrin gains a +10 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be a specific breed of dog of the same size category, and takes no penalties for being of a different creature type.
Additionally, a fenrin can make a special Charisma check (1d20 + level + Charisma) to use Diplomacy on any canine, though not all fenrin can actually speak with other canines.
Fenrin Trait: Different breeds of fenrin often have radically different physiological features that go beyond size, from double coats to particularly strong claws or teeth to spectacularly loud barks. You gain one fenrin trait, from those listed below. You can take a second fenrin trait as your 1st level character feat.
*Best Friend: Sometimes a fenrin IS your best friend. Whenever an ally takes an action that requires one or more Resolve Points, and does not have enough to pay the RP cost,, if you are within 60 feet you may donate your RP to cover the difference.
*Bite: You are always considered armed. You can deal 1d3 lethal piercing damage with unarmed strikes and the attack doesn’t count as archaic. You gain a unique weapon specialization with your natural weapons at 3rd level, allowing you to add 1.5 × your character level to your damage rolls for your natural weapons (instead of just adding your character level, as usual).
*Fierce: Your bark is actually pretty dang impressive. You can make an Intimidate check to demoralize a foe without sharing a language. You can also make Cover Fire and Harrying Fire attacks unarmed, by barking.
*Speak With Canines: You can speak to any canine in a language they instinctively understand, and you can understand communication from any canine of the animal type.
*Sprinter: You can take an additional move your speed action before or after any other action on your turn. Once you have done this, you cannot do so again until after you have expended 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest.
Keen Senses: Fenrin have a +2 racial bonus to Perception checks. Each fenrin also gains two of the following senses, selected at character creation:
*Low-light vision
*Darkvision (30 feet)
*Blindsense (scent) 30 feet and tracking (scent)
*Blindsense (vibration)(30 feet)
*Blindsight (scent) 5 feet
*Sense Through (scent)
Psychic Hands (Su): Fenrin do not have hands the way humans do. They can shove things about with their paws, or grasp items with their mouths, but treat their Strength as 2 lower when they do so. However, their innate telekinetic powers allow them to use and carry and manipulate objects as easily as a Medium creature with 2 limbs. They can use Medium equipment, and “hang” objects off their telekinetic field the same way a Medium creature would hang them on their body. They must have line of effect to any object they manipulate this way, and are limited to what could be reached by a Medium creature in their location. As a result of their psychic hands and the telekinetic field that goes with them, they can choose to have a space and reach of 5 feet (as a Medium creature), or to have the space and reach of a creature their actual size if not Medium (it’s a swift or move action to change between the two states). Functionally, they can do exactly what a Medium, 2-armed creature of the same Strength score can do (even if the fenrin is Small or Tiny).

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Interesting Creature Powers in Really Wild West (for Starfinder)

We did some specific “interesting” design things with whistlers yesterday. Today we’re just going over a short list of ideas for things you can do to spice up creature design in the Really Wild West. (Or GammaFinder, or any Starfinder setting, though you should consider the themes and tone of a specific setting when designing monsters for it.) Things like this should be obvious as soon as they come into play, and a good identify creature check should also reveal them.

This isn’t a comprehensive, or even very extensive list. Just a few ideas to get GMs thinking about interesting monster design.

Damage Type Reaction: Creatures that take more or less damage from specific damage types can be interesting, but they are common enough not to be special. However, if a creature has an unusual reaction to taking a specific kind of damage, that can make things more interesting.
Several of these are a mixed blessing, quite intentionally, but they are also complex enough you likely do want them to count against a creature’s total special abilities, just to keep fights from becoming too complicated. For the same reason, avoid fights with multiple creatures with different damage type reactions. Three Slag Beetles with acid reactions gives PCs a chance to learn how the ability works and plan around it. A fight with one Slag beetle, one Dire Bobcat with a fire reaction, and one Crystal Elemental with a sonic reaction is just a confused mess.
Acid: Target takes double damage from acid, but also partially dissolves into a toxic cloud. It gains a smoke cloud effect like a smoke grenade (which it is immune to) whenever it takes acid damage, and those that fail their save against the smoke also take secondary damage from it as a poison effect. good for creatures covered in hard armor of unusual composition (chitin, plastic, alchemically treated materials, and so on).
Bludgeoning: Creature takes half damage, but it knocked back 10 feet and knocked prone. Good for ephemeral, floating foes and those on narrow, tippy legs.
Cold: For one round target is slowed and becomes hard, but brittle. For that round it’s KAC increase by +2, but it takes extra damage from any kinetic attack that hits equal to its CR. Good for stone, crystal, and strange metal creatures.
Electricity: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is also hasted for 1 round. Great for machines, but also anything with unusual biology, including outsiders, undead, and aberrations.
Fire: Target takes normal damage, but catches on fire. Takes a burn of 1d6 per 5 CR, but also now does fire to melee attackers. Good for dry plant monsters, including fungus, and those covered in oily or greasy substances or thick fur.
Piercing: Target gains a bleed effect equal to half it’s CR in HP/round, but the blood is acidic and does secondary attack damage (Reflex for half) to all targets in reach.
Slashing: Sever part of the target. This acts as a wounding critical, but also turns the severed part into its own monster 4 CR lower than its parent. Great for undead, constructs, plants, and nearly any supernatural threat.
Sonic: Target takes 1.5x damage, but is now vibrating for 1d4 rounds causing attacks against it to suffer a 20% miss chance.

Intimidating Surprise: The creature has some kind of attack or transformation that is unexpected. Perhaps it looks like a typical snake, but can unhinge its jaw and make a sonic attack. Or it looks like a typical steam engine, but transforms into an iron golem. Or its melee attacks are accompanies by lightning and thunder strikes.
The first time this transformation or surprise attack takes place in a combat, the creature can make a free Intimidate check to demoralize the closest foe. Character who are warned about it but haven’t experienced it have the DC to be demoralized increased by +5. Those who have experienced it before have the DC increased by +10. After 2-3 such encounters, characters are likely immune.

RWW jawsnake
(art by Dina)

Melee Awkward: A melee awkward creature simple isn’t designed to deal with foes that are right up against it. Imagine a Martian tripod with no tentacles to defend it, or a floating gun platform, or even a tank or giant acid-spitting pillbug. Melee attacks against a melee awkward target gain a +2 bonus, and if it has melee attacks of its own (most don’t) they suffer a -2 penalty. Making a creature melee awkward normally goes along with giving it some benefit or special ability that doesn’t count against its normal maximum number of such abilities.

One-Weapon Reach: The creature has more reach with one weapon or natural attack than all its others. This can be especially fun if the weapon is weaker and less accurate than it’s primary attacks, but has MUCH more reach. Consider doing 20-30 feet of reach, but make the attack the secondary attack of a creature 3 CR lower. Works best with solo foes or those used in no more than 2 per encounter, otherwise there is simply no place for PCs to go to avoid reach, and rather than be an interesting tactical choice this just becomes a constant annoyance.

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