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Starfaring Species in Really Wild West (part 3 and finale)

This is the third and final part of a series of articles looking at how to contextualize the starfaring species of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game into the world of the Really Wild West, a setting hack that uses the science-fantasy rpg for a campaign with magic, monsters, and weird science in an alternate Earth in 1891.

When looking at the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species for things I can use to tie them to a fantasy-science-fiction-pulp version of the real world, sometimes I have gone with cultural or game ability elements… and sometimes I have leaned on fantasy versions of biology, as is the case with shirren, vesk, and ysoki.

RealWildWest-Races-color-01

Shirren

Shirren are big bugs, which means they should have evolved someplace that supports larger arthropods. The largest land-dwelling arthropod currently in existence on Earth is the coconut crab, which is found on islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Assuming they originated in the same regions in the timeline of the Really Wild West, shirren would have built their own island cultures (perhaps in conjunction with other species, perhaps not), and spread in Ancient times as trade blossomed throughout the Indian Ocean. This takes our ancient shirren to China, Egypt, India, Java, Somalia, and southeastern Europe. While they would have spread worldwide from there, I assume those regions along old trade routes going through the Indian Ocean still have the largest, most integrated populations of shirren. That gives me guidance on what cultures they might be drawn from, and what traditions they could have, without claiming something small-minded like “Arabs are shirren” (which erases real Arabs and eliminates numerous cultural advancements, historical figures, and real-world ethnicities from being part of RWW, and is also pretty structurally racist).

Vesk

Australia leads the world in reptile biodiversity, so that’s where I am having my vesk evolve. That has vesk populations being tightly concentrated in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding islands. I’m guessing I’ll need to add a frontier wars or “Lizardman War” (as the colonial powers call it) between the British Empire and various vesk groups at some point, and chances are the vesk lost. But by now, they’re at least partially integrated, and some will have travelled throughout the British Empire, despite suffering a fair amount of racism. While vesk likely have a lot of native culture that impacts their fashion, those that travel abroad are likely to adopt Western clothing sensibilities when in western nations, including the Really Wild West.

Note that this is a change from my original thoughts on vesk, which was to make them the product of Doctor Moreau’s anthropomorphization of animals. I can hold on to that idea for more minor species (as I add them), but it ended up feeling too limited for a “core” species, and had some connotations I wasn’t comfortable with.

Ysoki

In the real world, rodents are populous on every continent except Antarctica. They date to the Paleocene on the supercontinent of Laurasia, spread across landmasses, crossed oceans, and pretty well got everywhere (even Australia) on their own, without human intervention.

So as much as I am tying most starfaring species to specific region of the Really Wild West? Ysoki are everywhere.

And they got there first.

With cheek pouches as built-in bags (allowing them to carry goods—even water—long distances before the invention of sacks or gourd-bottles), bonuses to Stealth and Survival, and darkvision? Ysoki were the main competition with humanity for global domination. Much as there were Neanderthals and other cousins to homo sapiens sapiens who didn’t make it, there were multiple lines of ysoki through the ages, though none of this is well understood in the RWW year of 1891.

In general, every culture has a ysoki element to it. There are sure to be exceptions—Egyptian cat-worshipers may not have taken to ysoki citizens, some ysoki clans likely existed in regions without significant human presence.

But the core assumption in Really Wild West is that ysoki are everywhere from the most remote, paleolithic cultures, to the suit-wearing bankers of New York.

Speaking of context!

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The Power (And Risks) of Options over Set Abilities in Starfinder

This is something I have thought about for more than a decade, and which I want to write about in greater length someday. But a power I recently wrote up for my Starfaring Gunslinger (for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) really drove the point home, so I thought I’d share the core idea.

Options of a set power level are more potent in making effective/overpowered PCs (depending where you are on the potency curve) than set abilities of the same power level, as long as the most effective use of those abilities is obvious.

So, what do I mean by that?

Well first, I mean that if you are building the class features of a new class (for example), and you give it +3 to a specific skill (let’s say +3 to Acrobatics), that is less potent than giving it +3 to any class skill. These have exactly the same game mechanical advantage (+3 to a bonus added to a d20 roll), but +3 to Acrobatics can only be used a single way. If a specific character build already has all the bonus to Acrobatics it needs (perhaps because a player is making a character that doesn’t rely on Acrobatics), the +3 is wasted. But the flexible +3 can be put anywhere it’s useful, making it easier to have different character builds make use of it, making it more useful to more characters.

But.

Not all skills are equally useful to all character builds. If, for example, a player thought that Acrobatics and Profession (dancer) were equally useful in a typical game, that player might place the +3 in the profession skill and assume they had made an equally-potent choice. There MAY be cases where that’s true, but not understanding the most effective use of skills makes that flexibility more likely to lead to frustration for that player.

(The skill rules, in general, do a pretty good job of telling you what each skill is used for, making the relative effectiveness of each fairly clear. But maybe it would be worth the extra complexity to either balance them better, or show why they aren’t equally weighted, despite using equal resources to access.)

In the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, this idea influences most class abilities. Rather than get a lot of flat assigned abilities, most classes have at least one variable power set you pick, and many have lists of abilities made available ever few levels. Gear boosts, envoy improvisations, magic hacks, and so on, give a range of options PCs can pick from to make a character that is effective the way they play it.

At the same time, if you don’t know when an ability is most likely to be useful, you may pick something you think will come up a lot, only to find it requires careful set-up or a play style your group does not support.

Which brings me to the ability that set all this off:

Spotter’s Observation (Ex): [1st level][Language-dependent, sense-dependent] As a standard action you can gauge the distance to a specific target you have line of sight to, and give advice to your allies on what factors may affect ranged attacks against that foe. Any ally you can communicate with (either directly or through comm units) halves any penalty from cover or range increments they take to ranged attacks against that target until the beginning of your next turn.
If you have the get ‘em or improved get ‘em envoy improvisations, you can use spotter as part of the same action you use for those abilities rather than as its own standard action.

Hopefully both the name and the way the ability is written makes it clear that this is an ability for someone who wants to play a support role, and who has allies likely to make powerful ranged attacks against foes that are far away, in cover, or both. It gives special options to the envoy, because envoys already work well in this role and have a great deal of synergy with something like this. If your group includes a technomancy who prefers status effect spells and a melee solarian and a melee soldier, this ability is a bad choice in terms of potency. If the group is playing a sniper squad who want to handle most issues from 1,000 feet away at mini8mum, it’s a great one.

Speaking of Great Choices

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Starfinder Species in Really Wild West (Part 2)

We went over why it’s worthwhile to consider where the species from the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have major population centers in the world of Really Wild West (and why we won’t be using them as stand-ins to replace the humans of any real-world culture) in the first post in this series, where we also looked at the RWW take on androids. We continue our look at this idea with the kasatha and lashunta. It’s worth repeating that these touchstones are designed as one set of options, not absolute rules. Just as humans from differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds can be found on every continent, so too can our new sentient, sapient species be found in every culture of the Really Wild West.

RealWildWest-Races-lines-02.png

Kasatha

Since one of the big defining traits of kasatha is that they have 4 arms, there’s an obvious temptation to have kasatha be linked to Hinduism, because of the prevalence of multiarmed deities in Hindu. However, Hinduism is a massive, modern religion with tens of millions of worshipers, in which things like what a deity carries in each arm can be important, and about which I am not an expert.

Looking to tie the multiarmed aspect to something less crucial than gods, Greek mythology has numerous multiarmed humanoids such as the Gegenees, and Hecatonchires. Though these are presented as giants, that just also gives me a place for Shobads. And there’s lots of ancient and closer-to-18901 history involving Greeks that is fascinating and interesting, which can help serve as context for kasatha players.

So if the Greek empires were all mix of human and kasatha, by the modern era of Really Wild West that can be expected to have large populations throughout Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Greek ships were visiting the Americas by the early 1600s, and a significant Greek community developed in New Orleans during the 1850s. By the 1890 there were tens of thousands of Greeks in North America alone, many of them from the Ottoman Empire.

Lashunta

One of the defining traits of lashunta is their telepathy, which makes placing them in the world a bit tricky, because what westerns think of as telepathy doesn’t really have any notable real-world equivalents, even in theory or fiction, prior to the 1800s, which is too late to form a culture from that is well established by 1891. However, the Japanese idea of ishin-denshin (literally “”what the mind thinks, the heart transmits”) certainly seems similar to telepathy. That idea seems to have developed in China where it has links to traditions of Zen Buddhism.

So, having lashunta have developed in Asia, with strong populations in places where Zen Buddhism is prevalent (China, Japan, Korean, Vietnam) gives cultural texture to how the actual power of telepathy in Really Wild West might have been viewed in varying real-world cultures. It’s important to note that lashunta don’t replace any of those real-world cultures or the religious and philosophical advancements they created. But it does give context for how to view a fictional species in a historic framework. And all those nations have rich histories that include massive exploration, trade, and diplomacy as well as immigration which can place an Asian-origin lashunta anywhere in the world a player wants to be from (even before allowing for lashunta families who may have migrated from those nations centuries ago).

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Starfinder Species in Really Wild West

When running a Really Wild West game, which takes Starfinder Roleplaying Game concepts and sets them in a weird west version of the real world in 1891, one of the questions that can come up is where the nonhuman species come from. Given how much cultures and nations and lone people can interact, overlap, and move around, any individual character can obviously be from anywhere—in real-world history it’s easy to find Japanese expatriates in Manila and Mexico in the early 1600s, so ethnicity, nationality, and geography aren’t always as linked as typical examples of each might suggest.

But a question remains of where the most common cultures and ethnicities of various nonhuman species are found. It’s a bad idea to replace entire real-world ethnic groups with nonhumans, since that erases the possibilities of real-world options and may tell a player that their actual ancestry isn’t important enough to keep, but if we are presenting a world where dozens (or even hundreds) of species are sharing the planet, it makes sense to consider where our fictional species fit reasonable well with real-world culture, and key those as major cultural and population centers for kasatha and lashutna and others.

This is especially important for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species. It’s easy to place dwarves, elves, gnomes, haflings, half-elves, and half-orcs in the European areas that inspired them and that lots of fantasy and modern games have drawn from to build fictional cultures for them. You can assume they all overlap with humanity 100%, or make the major population centers line up with the countries you think make interesting matches—perhaps dwarves are German and elves are French. Or perhaps dwarves are French, elves are Germanic, and gnomes Russian or Scandinavian, and orcs Spanish. There’s enough fiction and game material with those races to make it easy to build or match cultures to serve as backgrounds for them.

But there’s not nearly as much material to draw on for androids (especially as Really Wild West envisions them), vesk, or ysoki, and even less for kasatha and lashunta. Since the Really Wild West is set in an alternate version of the real world, if I want to place these new species somewhere I need to either think of places where I can add them to the existing populations, or add new places. I could slap a few new small continents—Atlantis. Lemuria, and Mu come to mind—in the middle of oceans to give me new space for new cultures if I wanted to, but that’d take a lot more effort than I am looking to do just to create some cultural touchstones.

It seems perfectly reasonable in a campaign setting that adds multiple new sapient, sentient species to a fantasy version of the real world to have those species be tied primarily to specific regions or cultures, so that is the approach I took here. That leaves the question of where to place each of these species primary population centers, and for that I looked at each in turn to determine what core feature or concept helps define each and how those can be integrated into existing real-world regions.

I used real-world art references for the art order representing clothing and styles for these new species. That’s not to suggest that all of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species come from only these regions or look like the characters below, but it’s a baseline to give GM and players something to draw from.

Over the next few posts I’ll give some details where each of these new species is being centered in the world of Really Wild West, and why, beginning with the androids.

RealWildWest-Races-color-01

Android

Androids in the Really Wild West (far left) are visually and culturally notably different from androids in standard Starfinder Roelplaying Game campaigns. Given the 1890s aesthetic of the RWW, androids are presented as old-school robots, closer to Metropolis than Blade Runner. They could never pass for human. They function with the same rules, but the definition of android in this campaign is closer to “humanlike in form” than “machine that passed for human.”

Complex machines claiming to be automatons and clockworks did exist in the era, perhaps the most famous of which is the chess-playing automaton created in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen of the Hapsburg Empire, who usefully for our purposes also created a speaking machine. While von Kempelen’s chess-playing machine was not a true automaton (it hid a chess player in its integral cabinet), that looks a fine origin for our manlike machines. If the first automatons were created in 1770 in the Hapsburg empire, they can easily have spread to be much farther and wider by 1891. The Austro-Hungarian Empire that formed out of the Austrian Empire that followed the Hapsburg Empire is a European melting pot, and numerous immigrants from that region moved to  New York City, Pittsburgh, and Chicago early in the 1800s, and then were part of the century.

We can assume that older androids are from the Austria and Hungary regions, and newer ones likely constructed in the big cities of New York City, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. At some point some form of Turing Test has developed, and androids have won recognition as “people” in the United States, Mexico, and most industrialized nations of the world. But they lack strong family roots, and are often looking for opportunities to make a life for themselves.

We’ll address the kasatha, lashunta, shirren, vesk, and ysoki soon!

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More Gunslinger Abilities (for Starfinder)

To add on to yesterday’s gunslinger abilities, here are some drawn from a gunslinger archetype (one of which requires you take the Gunslinger Feat to access… at least for now). These work for normal Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaigns, or the Really Wild West setting hack.

While I’ll release full rules for these as an actual product, for now note that whether you use the archetype or feat to access these, you can only select abilities with two different possessive title forms. In other words if you take a “Gunslinger’s X” and “Ace Shooter’s X” abilities, you can’t also take an ability titled “Blatherskite’s X” (as there will be many more possessively titled abilities in the final product).

New Gunslinger Abilities:

Ace Shooter’s Resolve (Ex): [3rd level] As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point, you can make a ranged attack as a standard action and ignore the effects of concealment (though not total concealment) and cover (other than total cover) against that shot.

Ace Shooter’s Vigilance (Ex): [7th Level] As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point, your ranged attacks to not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Ace Shooter’s Pinning Shot (Ex): [15th level] When firing a small arm, longarm, or heavy weapon that uses darts or arrows (such as a crossbolter) you can make 1 attack as a full action to give the weapon the entangling special weapon property.

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Really Wild West Gunslinger (for Starfinder)

So, of COURSE, the Really Wild West has to have gunslingers, and since RWW is a setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, that means I need gunslingers for that game… at least up to 10th level (RWW’s current cap).
That said, a big part of the fantasy gunslinger class is that it gives access to firearms, and makes them less-terrible and less-unreliable choices. Since small arms, longarms, and sniper rifles aren’t terrible choices and are easy to gain access and proficiency with, there’s no need for a class that takes up a lot of its abilities fixing those fantasy-rules-related issues. Also, RWW is the kind of setting where a mechanic, mystic, or even solarian could all be gunslingers, so why restrict the concept to just one class?
I’m working on a longer version of the Starfaring Gunslinger rules that will cover some archetypes and go to 20th, but that’s likely to actually be a full product. This is a preview.

There are two ways to get gunslinger abilities: the gunslinger archetype, and the gunslinger feat. You can use both, if you wish.

Gunslinger Archetype
You are more than proficient with guns, you are focused on them to a degree most gun users can neither duplicate nor understand.
Special: You must be proficient with small arms, longarms, or sniper rifles to take this archetype.
Gunslinger Ability: At 2nd, 4th, and 6th level you may choose to take gunslinger abilities as alternate class features (using the normal archetype rules).
If you make this choice more than once, each time after the first that you make it you gain two gunslinger abilities, rather than one. (Thus if you selected this option at all three level, you’d have five total gunslinger abilities.)

Gunslinger Feat
You are a master of slinging guns.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with small arms.
Benefit: Select one gunslinger ability.
Special: You can select this feat more than once. Each time, you select a new gunslinger ability of your character level or less.

Gunslinger Abilities
Regardless of how you gain your gunslinger abilities (feat or archetype), you can only select a gunslinger ability of your level of less. Unless it specifies otherwise, you can’t select a gunslinger ability more than once.

Gunslinger’s Dodge (Ex): [1st Level] You gain an uncanny knack for getting out of the way of ranged attacks. Once per day when a ranged attack is made against you, you can move 5 feet as a reaction; doing so grants you a +2 bonus to AC against the triggering attack. This movement is not a guarded step. Alternatively, you can drop prone to gain a +4 bonus to AC against the triggering attack.
Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you spend 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points taking a 10-minute break, or regain your daily abilities. You can also use this even when it is expended by spending 1 Resolve Point.

Gunslinger Initiative (Ex): [3rd Level] As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point, you gain the following benefits. First, you gains a +2 bonus on initiative checks. Furthermore, if you have the Quick Draw feat, your hands are free and unrestrained, and the small arm is not hidden, you can draw a single firearm as part of your initiative check.

Gunslinger Specialization (Ex): [3rd Level] When you take the attack of full attack action with a small arm, without using any class feature or feat that increases attack rolls or damage, you add damage equal to 1-1/2 your level to damage done with small arms (instead of Weapons Specialization’s normal bonus for small arms of half your level).

Pistol-Whip (Ex): [3rd Level] You can use your small arm, longarm, or sniper weapon as a melee weapon. Select a bludgeoning basic melee weapon with an item level lower than your ranged weapon. Treat your ranged weapon as this melee weapon for purposes of threatening spaces, making attacks of opportunity, and dealing damage, but grant it the knockdown critical hit effect (replacing any critical hit effect it normally has). When used in this way, the weapon still benefits from any weapon fusions it has that would apply to an unpowered bludgeoning melee weapon.

Utility Shot (Ex): [3rd Level] If you have at least 1 Resolve Point, you can perform all of the following utility shots. Each utility shot can be applied to any single attack with a ranged weapon, but you must declare the utility shot you are using before firing the shot.
Blast Lock: You make an attack roll against a lock within the first range increment of your ranged weapon. A Diminutive lock usually has AC 15, and larger locks have a lower AC. The lock gains a bonus to its AC equal to its item level. Hold portal grants a +5 bonus to the AC of a lock against this attack. On a hit, the lock is destroyed, and the object can be opened as if it were unlocked. On a miss, the lock is undamaged. It can still be unlocked by successfully performing this deed, by using the Computers or Engineer skills.
Scoot Unattended Object: You make an attack roll against a Tiny or smaller unattended object within the first range increment of your ranged weapon. For this purpose, a Tiny unattended object has an AC of 5, a Diminutive unattended object has an AC of 7, and a Fine unattended object has an AC of 11. On a hit, you do not damage the object with the shot, but can move it up to 15 feet farther away from the shot’s origin.
Stop Bleeding: You expend one usage of a ranged weapon and then press the hot barrel (or hot energy vent, or power cable, or some other part of the weapon that heats when it uses energy or fires) against yourself or an adjacent creature to staunch a bleeding wound. This ends a single bleed condition affecting the creature. You can do this in place of an attack (as a standard action, or part of a full action allowing multiple attacks).

Dead Shot (Ex): [7th Level] As a full action, you can expend 1 Resolve Point to make a single ranged attack, rolling your attack twice and using the better of the two results. This functions with Gunslinger Specialization and can be combined with the full action to aim and fire a sniper weapon, but does not work with any other class feature or feat that increases attack rolls or damage.

Startling Shot (Ex): [7th Level] If you have at least 1 Resolve Point left, when you successfully use covering fire or harrying fire against a creature, you also cause it to be flat-footed for 1 round.

Targeting (Ex): [7th Level] As a full action, you can make a single ranged weapon attack and choose part of the target’s body to aim at. If you hit, you inflict the following effects depending on the part of the body aimed at. If a creature does not have one of the listed body locations, the GM can determine if it has an equivalent body part or not [and may require a Perception or Life Sciences check (DC 15 +1-1/2 target’s CR) for you to know and recognize such an equivalent]. Creatures immune to critical hits or critical hit effects are immune to this ability.
Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you spend 1 Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points taking a 10-minute break, or regain your daily abilities. You can also use this even when it is expended by spending 1 Resolve Point.
Arms: On a hit, the target takes no damage from the hit but drops one held item of the your choice that it can drop, even if the item is wielded with two hands.
Head: On a hit, the target is damaged normally, and is also confused for 1 round. This is a mind-affecting effect.
Legs: On a hit, the target is damaged normally and knocked prone. Creatures that have four or more legs or that are immune to trip attacks are immune to this effect.
Torso: Targeting the torso causes any critical hit effect your weapon possesses to be triggered on an attack roll of 18 or better (the die shows an 18, 19, or 20) that hits the target’s AC, even though an 18 or 19 is not a critical hit.
Wings: On a hit, the target is damaged normally, and must make a Fly check (DC 15 + 1-1/2 your base attack bonus) or fall 20 ft.

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Social Technomancy for Starfinder

While the technomancer spells presented in the Starfinder Core Rulebook focus on mixing magic and specific, physical applications of technology, as residents of the modern world we know that technology is much more than a set of devices. Social technologies exist, from things like first aid techniques to social media to advances in the social sciences and philosophies, as well as data organization and storage techniques, metadata analysis, and so on. Surely in a galaxy that has spellcasters blending arcana with other fields of study, technomancy would leak into every aspect of advanced knowledge.

So, here are some technomancy spells that investigate other paces magic and advanced techniques might overlap. It also introduces some new focus rules—elements that are useful to casting a spell, but not mandatory.

Cram (T2)
School transmutation
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range touch
Target one creature
Duration 1 minute/level (see text)
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

With this spell, the caster can take the knowledge from any text-based, audio, or video source and implant it into the mind of the target creature. This grants the subject a number of bonus ranks in one skill of the caster’s choice to bring the target’s total ranks (their own ranks + bonus ranks) equal to half the caster’s level (for Int-, Wis-, or Cha-based skills) or 1/4 the caster level (for Str-, Dex-, or Con-based skills). A caster that has access to an infosphere can generally use this to grant ranks in any skill, or a computer can have sufficiently complete versions of the relevant information downloaded into it for the same cost and effort as adding a secure data module.

Focus: If the target has a source of information on the granted skill on their person (such as a book or a datapad with the information downloaded into it) the spell’s duration increases to 10 moinutes.caster level.

Fashion Plate (T1)
School transmutation
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range touch
Target one set of clothing
Duration 1hour/level
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell transforms the appearance of one set of clothes. The clothes may be transformed into a specific set of normal clothing, or they may be turned into clothes appropriate for a particular group of people. For example, a mage could change his ragged jeans and leather jacket into a business power suit, or skateboarding street gear, or a karate gi. This has no impact on any game mechanical bonuses the clothing offers—a cold weather suit works just as well when it appears to be swimming trunks. This spell ends if the clothing is taken off.

Focus: If the caster has access to fashion information about a specific group (normally available automatically with access to a related infosphere, or compiled with a DC 15 Culture check), this spell can make clothing appear to be perfect for interacting with a specific group or segment of society (such as a specific gang, or a specific social class in a specific city). When wearing clothing perfectly matched for such a group, the clothes grant a +3 circumstance bonus to all Charisma checks and Charisma-based skill checks made with that group. One set of clothing can only be perfect for one group at a time.

Instant Therapy (M2, T2)
School enchantment (language-dependent)
Casting Time 1 minute (see text)
Range close (25 ft. +5 ft/2 levels)
Target one creature
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell removes the confusion condition from the target. It also acts as a dispel magic and remove affliction against all fear and mind-affecting effects on the target, moves the target one step closer to healthy on the mental disease track.

Once a creature has been the target of this spell, it can’t be targeted again until it has undergone a 4-hour traditional therapy session.

Focus: If you have a mental health file for the subject, the casting time for this spell becomes 1 standard action. A target can give you a file they have access to, or one can generally be compiled over 24 hours with a recall knowledge Culture check or liberated from modestly-secured infosphere sources with a Computers check (both DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s level).

Rap Sheet (T0)
School divination
Casting Time 1 minute
Range close (25 ft. +5 ft/2 levels)
Target one creature
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

This spell gives the caster knowledge of one target’s legal record. This acts as a Culture check to gain information about the target as if the caster has ranks in Culture equal to her caster level and has access to a relevant database, but only covers information such as arrests, torts, convictions, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and bankruptcy. Only legal records are revealed, and only for the identity of the target as understood by the caster—disguises are not automatically penetrated and actual guilt or innocence is not revealed.

Speaking of Social Magic!

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Really Wild West Dragon Guns (For the Starfinder Rolplaying Game)

In the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, flame guns have been the most common form of energy-weapon for decades, and have a history going back centuries in the Quin Dynasty of China. While the great stability of government and vast, settled agrarian economy of the Qing and previous Ming Dynasty could have led to a great divide between the advanced of science and technology between China and European and American nations, the greater number of theosophic traditions in China (which, truthfully, significantly predate and are the origin of later western theosophy) and number of spiritual threats, from oni to dragons to kaiju, ensured that even with fewer conflict and greater stability, the constant need for innovation kept China on pace during the 1700s and 1800s. Further, victory over European powers in the Opium War, coupled with a strong global demand for Chinese silks and other goods and the looming threat of a Sino-Japanese War has kept the Qing government strongly invested in military technology, and placed their agents, allied merchants, and envoys in most major cities around the world—many carrying advanced flame weapons for self-defense.

The first flame-projecting weapons were double-piston pump naphtha flamethrowers used in 919 AD in China, known as pen huo qi or “spray fire devices.” There were generally large and slow-operating, deployed on wheeled carts, but their benefit against enemies lacking energy weaponry is not to be dismissed, and while some supernatural threats are immune to fire, those that are not are often more easily burned than stabbed or shot by projectiles. The pen hou qi were replaced by smaller and smaller units, until the modern single-person portable flamethrower was developed by famed statesman, general, and Confucian scholar Zeng Guofan in the mid-1800s. Flame pistols and flame rifles drew the attention of numerous other world militaries, but were generally seen as oddities too volatile for field use until the War of the Worlds, when flamethrowers proved to be among the cheapest and most reliable mass-produced energy weapons. Germany has done the best job creating their own designs for modern flame weapons, but their models remain behind the Chinese dragon guns.

In North American, numerous forms of flamethrowers were rushed into production to equip military units in the War of the Worlds… and were then suddenly no longer in significant demand when the Martians died unexpectedly on their own. These surplus guns, mostly local reproductions of German designs, can generally be bought on civilian markets in larger cities. Even more often, flame weapons are often found in the hands of communities with large Chinese immigrant populations, often in camps of near-slave labor imported for building and expanding railroads (which remain a major priority for most North American governments fearing a second Martian invasion and unable to move troops and vehicles quickly across their sprawling continent) and in major cities with trade ties, especially on the West Coast. Many small Chinese weaponworks shops have popped up to supply their superior designs of flame weapons, sometimes only to those of Chinese decent, but in other cases to anyone with the credits to pay for one in advance.

RealWildWest-DragonPistol with Text 72dpi

Table Small arms
One-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk  Special

Flame

Flammenpistole
1          90             1d3 F            30 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             L        —

Haoxian dragon pistol
2          450           1d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Flammenschwert
3          1,100*     1d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             L        —

Chaofeng dragon pistol
4          1,850*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon pistol
5          2,700*     2d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        20 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Yu dragon pistol
6          4,000*     2d4 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon pistol
8          9,000*     2d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon pistol
9          13,000*   2d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

Zhurong god pistol
10        17,500*   2d8 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        4             L        Line, unwieldy

*Only 1,000 of this price can be covered in credits. The rest of the price must be covered using renown, as covered in the rules for Renown and Gear.

Table Longarms
Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk     Special

Flame

Flammengewehr
1          110           1d3 F            50 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             1        —

Haoxian dragon rifle
2          750           1d4 F            40 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Flammenlanze
3          1,300*     1d6 F            50 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        4             1        —

Chaofeng dragon rifle
4          1,900*     1d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon rifle
5          2,800*     2d4 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d4        20 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Yu dragon rifle
6          4,100*     2d4 F            50 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon rifle
8          9,100*     2d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon rifle
9          13,150*   2d6 F            50 ft.      Burn 2d6        40 petrol        5             1        Line, unwieldy

Zhurong god rifle
10               17,800*     2d8 F          50 ft.           Burn 2d6   40 petrol   5                  1                  Line, unwieldy

Table Heavy Weapons
Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity     Usage         Bulk            Special

Flame

Flammenkanone
1          110           1d3 F            15 ft.      Burn 1d6        20 petrol        5             2        Line

Haoxian dragon canon
2          750           1d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d4        20 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Flammewaffe
3          1,300*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        30 petrol        5             2        Line

Chaofeng dragon canon
4          1,900*     1d6 F            20 ft.      Burn 1d6        30 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Suanmi dragon canon
5          2,800*     2d4 F            20 ft.      Burn 2d4        40 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Yu dragon canon
6          4,100*     2d4 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        50 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Zhayu dragon canon
8          9,100*     2d6 F            30 ft.      Burn 2d4        60 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Yazhai dragon canon
9          13,150*   2d6 F            40 ft.      Burn 2d6        60 petrol        10          2        Blast, unwieldy

Zhurong god canon
10               17,800*     2d8 F          30 ft.           Burn 2d6   60 petrol   5                  10               2                  Blast, unwieldy

Also on Patreon!
Since my patrons make things like this possible, I like to post any extra thoughts I have outside of the core of an article over on my Patreon page, for their enjoyment. That material may get made public eventually, but it starts as patron-exclusive. In this case, I talked a little bit about what lead me to make the worldbuilding choices I did for flame weapons in Really Wild West, totally aside from any game mechanical considerations. I you want to support my blog writing and get some exclusive access to my notions, go check it out!

Really Wild West Lightning Guns (For the Starfinder Roleplaying Game)

In the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, lightning guns were experimented with by numerous inventors and scientists throughout the mid- and late 1800s, but the technology for focusing and directing electricity beyond a wire lead was consistently lacking for purposes of a practical weapon. The advancement of theosophy, though seen as the study of the spiritual and supernatural, proved to be the major breakthrough in lightning weaponry. Theosophy proved that inanimate objects could have the impression of events, thoughts, or even natural phenomena permanently infused into them. This lead to the idea of having the event of a lightning strike infused into a focusing orb, which could then ‘convince” electricity built up within a device to fire outward in a (roughly) predictably way. While many inventors sought to find the best material and theosophic infusion for practical lighting guns, it was the Menlo park workshop of Thomas Edison that ultimately created the “Menlo Storm” standard of “recording” the event of a lightning strike into a focusing orb and using that to store and focus electricity as part of a weapon.

Even with the Menlo Storm standard, early lightning guns were heavy, expensive, and not particularly superior to traditional firearms. However, many of those drawbacks became irrelevant when the Martian tripods attacked and turned out to be almost entirely immune to most kinetic attacks. Short of artillery, only energy weapons had any notable effect on tripods and the Martians other weapons of war. Suddenly it didn’t matter how limited lightning guns were, they were the go-to weapon for anti-tripod forces.

As is often the case when war breaks out, the technology used to fight quickly improved. German-born inventor Charles Proteus Steinmetz made numerous adjustments to lighting weapon technology, though his name remains not nearly as well-known as that of Edison. Steinmetz’s battery and coupling technology were quickly retrofit to nearly all lightning gun designs, and his own weapon designs were in field trials when the Tripods came crashing down worldwide, and the need for such specialty crafted high-end weapons ended. Westinghouse created a few commercial models based on Steinmetz’s designs, but simplified for mass production, though these remain less popular than the Menlo Park models. Steinmetz’s various field prototypes remain the most powerful lightning guns in existence, but they are exceedingly difficult to find.

RealWildWest-LightningPistol with Text 72dpi

Table: Small Arms

One-Handed Weapons

Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk

Shock

Spark gun, Westinghouse light
1          250           1d4 E            30 ft.      Arc 1                20 charges     4             L

Lightning pistol, Menlo arc
2          750           1d6 E            40 ft.      Arc 2                20 charges     5             L

Spark gun, Westinghouse heavy
3          1,400*     1d6 E            40 ft.      Arc 1d4           20 charges     4             L

Lightning pistol, Menlo storm
4          2,100*     1d6 E            50 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             L

Lightning pistol, Menlo custom
5          3,000*     1d4+1d3 E   50 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             L

Proteus pistol, Perun
6          4,200*     1d8 E            60 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             L

Proteus pistol, Zeus
8          9,300*     1d10 E          60 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             L

Proteus pistol, Ukko
9          13,250*   2d6 E            60 ft.      Arc 1d8           40 charges     5             L

Proteus pistol, Thor
10        18,000*   3d4 E            60 ft.      Arc 2d6           40 charges     5             L

*Only 1,000 of this price can be covered in credits. The rest of the price must be covered using renown, as covered in the rules for Renown and Gear.

Table: Longarms

Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Critical             Capacity          Usage    Bulk

Shock

Spark rifle, Westinghouse light
1          275           1d6 E            40 ft.      Arc 1                20 charges     4             1

Lightning rifle, Menlo arc
2          800           1d8 E            50 ft.      Arc 2                20 charges     5             1

Spark rifle, Westinghouse heavy
3          1,500*     1d8 E            50 ft.      Arc 1d4           20 charges     4             1

Lightning rifle, Menlo storm
4          2,200*     1d8 E            60 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             1

Lightning rifle, Menlo custom
5          3,300*     1d10 E          60 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             1

Proteus rifle, Perun
6          4,600*     1d12 E          60 ft.      Arc 1d6           40 charges     5             1

Proteus rifle, Zeus
8          9,900*     1d12 E          60 ft.      Arc 1d6           80 charges     5             1

Proteus rifle, Ukko
9          14,250*   2d6 E            60 ft.      Arc 2d4           80 charges     5             1

Proteus rifle, Thor
10        19,000*   3d4 E            60 ft.      Arc 2d6           80 charges     5             1

Table: Heavy Weapons

Two-Handed Weapons
Level   Price        Damage        Range    Capacity     Usage         Bulk            Special

Shock

Spark canon, Westinghouse light
1          275           1d6 E            40 ft.      20 charges     4             2        explode (5 ft.), unwealdy

Lightning canon, Menlo arc
2          800           1d8 E            50 ft.      20 charges     5             2        explode (5 ft.), unwealdy

Spark canon, Westinghouse heavy
3          1,500*     1d8 E            50 ft.      20 charges     4             2        explode (5 ft.), unwealdy

Lightning canon, Menlo storm
4          2,200*     1d8 E            60 ft.      40 charges     5             2        explode (10 ft.), unwealdy

Lightning canon, Menlo custom
5          3,300*     1d10 E          60 ft.      40 charges     5             2        explode (10 ft.), unwealdy

Proteus canon, Perun
6          4,600*     1d12 E          60 ft.     40 charges     5             2        explode (10 ft.), unwealdy

Proteus canon, Zeus
8          9,900*     1d12 E          60 ft.      80 charges     5             2        explode (10 ft.), unwealdy

Proteus canon, Ukko
9          14,250*   2d6 E            60 ft.      80 charges     5             2        explode (15 ft.), unwealdy

Proteus canon, Thor
10        19,000*   3d4 E            60 ft.      80 charges     5             2        explode (15 ft.), unwealdy

Over on Patreon!
My patrons are why I am able to produce posts like this, so occasionally when I’m done with an article, I write a bit more just for them. In this case, I discuss a little about how the item level system impact weapon design, and how I accounted for that in this list of 30 Really Wild West lighting guns. For just a few bucks a month, you can check it out!

Really Wild West Science Agents (For Starfinder)

Science Agents

The room smelled strongly of sulfur, with scorch marks covering one wall and the adjacent floor and roof. Something had clearly exploded, driving fragments of wood away from the burned wall and scattering shattered glass, torn pages, and bent metal implements across the small space.

Rosa Abascal crouched near what appeared to be the origin of the detonation, careful to keep only the soles of her feet in contact with the ground, and dragged one gloved finger through the residue. It was dry, but still bright red and shiny, the color of blood.

“You see Agent Abascal?” The agitated man behind her was obviously nervous, but Rosa had found Americans were often nervous around her. Honestly, most men were nervous around her. An inevitable consequence of her badge and gun. But he sounded sincerely frightened, and has not tried to move closer to her, even when she turned her back on him. It was a risk she could only take because she trusted her partner to react faster than any fat businessman, though she also had her other hand close enough to the knife in her boot to handle any aggression herself if necessary.

But the American wasn’t moving any further into the room than the doorway, and he nearly vomited out his loud concerns.

“You smell it, don’t you Agent? Brimstone! And with these strange books and idols and runes? Satanists have infiltrated my mine, and summoned demons! I’d have called a marshal, but…”
But, thought Rosa, this close to the border we’d arrive faster. Or he had hoped we’d fail to notice something.

The room darkened slightly, and Rosa turned to see her partner, Agent Garza, stepping past the nervous American. She raised her fingertip, to let Garza see the mix of residual blasting powder and powdered stellar metals. He grunted, and nodded past the door to the scrublands beyond.

“Looks like a small group kept their horses in a nearby arroyo until recently.” Garza spoke in Esperanto, as was his habit. The Científicos’s rules on the use of the new hopefully universal lingua franca weren’t official yet, but Garza always liked to be just ahead of the rules.

“But the horses were scattered a day or two ago, and only one set of hoofprints are deep enough to have had a rider,” Garza finished.

Rosa nodded. She had kept one eye on the American, and not only did she not think he understood Esperanto, she was pretty sure he didn’t realize it wasn’t Spanish. That meant he was unlikely to give anything away with a reaction to Agent Garza’s report, but Rosa was fairly sure he didn’t know anything he wasn’t saying. His fear at the thought of demons seemed as genuine as it was unwarranted.

Rosa stood, and showed the American her fingertip, though she knew he was unlikely to grasp the relevance.

“Not demons, señor. Demolitions. Whoever stayed here was experimenting with a mix of stellar ores and explosives. Cavorite, most likely, or potentially even red mercury.”

The American looked confused, and then relieved. Rosa took out a small hand kerchief, and thoroughly cleaned her glove’s fingertip.

“So… there’s nothing to worry about!” The American seemed pleased. “You can return to your side of the border and…”

Agent Garza interrupted, speaking in English.

“No, sir. There’s no sign of planar visitors, but that’s far from saying there’s no danger. Such metals are rare and expensive. For someone to have had enough to leave this much residue, “he gestured to the scorchmarks covering half the cabin’s interior “almost certainly means he found a Martian fighting machine, or possibly an embankment machine, and scavenged from it.:

Rosa nodded, and she folded her kerchief, and laid it on the broken remains of the room’s table.

“If there’s more such metal, whoever experimented here might salvage enough for a bomb that could threaten a town or small city. Or, worse, there might be canisters of black smoke, or dormant red weed. It’s crucial we find the machine before anything left with it is activated or unleashed.”

“But…” the Amercian paused. “If the trail leads further into Texan territory… “

Rosa was already headed to her horse.

“If there’s a significant threat to the region as a whole, science agents are empowered by our government to operate wherever necessary.”

Her glove’s fingertip burst into flame, and the fire quickly began to spread to the ruined table. The cabin was on a patch of bare dirt, and bordered on three sides by rock. The flames would eliminate the cabin and any residues, and spread no farther.

In a world where weird science and theosophic magic are real, of course positivism cannot deny the existence of strange powers. What it CAN insist on is a rigorous testing of such powers and an analysis of how they function. In the Really Wild West, it has become crucially important for governments and major agencies to be able to tell the mysterious from the mystic, and the revolutionary from the disastrous. Among those with the best track record and reputation for such needs are the science agents of the Mexican Porfiriate.

Science Agent Archetype

Science agents are special federal law officers who work directly for the Científicos, the government council of scientist ministers and directors who are guiding Mexico into a new age of rationalism and modernity. They act as investigators, law keepers, trackers, spies, troubleshooters, and paramilitary advisers. They are respected as one of the great peacekeeping forces in North America, on par with the Canadian Mounties, Dread Templars, Justicers, Pinketons,Texas Rangers, and U.S. Martials.

Most science agents train at the Hall of Science in Mexico City, though it is also possible for a science agent to take a single deputy cadet and train them, with either method taking between 1 and 4 years depending on the cadet’s aptitude and previous education. All science agents must swear to apply the scientific method over intuition or superstition, and to protect Mexico in specific, and humanity, rational thought, and science in general. There is no other official requirement, and the Porfiriate’s insistence on promotion and decision-making based on evidence-based investigation has lead to a series of standards cadets must meet that do not include any gender, religion, age, or level of formal education. Anyone who can pass the strenuous entrance exams, which focus on logical thought (but not specific previous knowledge of any scientific principles), determination, and basic physical ability, may attempt to become a science agent. Roughly 1 in 5 cadets finish the course, but that number includes equal numbers of men, women, urbanites, and rural citizens.

Science agents are often given great latitude to track down potential threats, and often operate outside of Mexico. There legal authority to do so is questionable at best, but their strong reputation causes most honest folks to give the silver-eagle badges of the science agents some leeway as long as they aren’t committing crimes themselves.

Alternate Class Features

Scientific Method (Ex): At 2nd level, a science agent has learned enough about how theosophy, Martian technology, psychic phenomenon, planar creatures, and advanced science work to be able to examine an area and determine if anything in it is magical. This functions as detect magic, except it is an extraordinary ability. Additionally, a number of times per day equal to the science agent’s key ability score bonus, she can attempt to identify an item’s function as the identify spell, but as an extraordinary ability and using a character level check in place of a Mysticism or Engineering check. A science agent also gains a +2 bonus to AC and saving throws against attacks and effects from a specific object she successfully identified.

At this level a science agent also learns Esperanto and either English or French.

Keen Observer (Ex): At 4th level a science agent may choose from one of two abilities. The first is an insight bonus equal to half her character level to checks with any two of the following skills: Diplomacy, Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival. If either selected skill is not a class skill, it becomes a class skill. If the science agent has a feat that grants an insight bonus to either of these skills, she may retrain that feat immediately, or at the beginning of any future level, for a feat she meets the prerequisites for at 4th level.

Alternatively, the science agent may choose to gain blindsense (sound) with a range of 30 feet and blindsense (scent) with a range of 10 feet.

The choices made with this ability cannot be changed.

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