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ShadowFinder Classes

Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials, and is a follow-up to my ShadowFinder Is Coming post from earlier in the week.

Since that announcement, a lot of people have asked me what classes will be in ShadowFinder. The short answer is “anything designed for Starfinder.” The long answer is a little more complicated, because the first ShadowFinder book will specifically be designed around eight classes – enigma, envoy, mystic, operative, soldier, sword saint, technician, and warlock.

So, if every class works, why focus on just a subset of them? Well it turns out I wrote a whole sidebar about that! here it is, complete with layout formatting just so people can see what my 3pp manuscripts tend to look like.

[BEGIN SIDEBAR][H2]“Why Can’t I Play A Vanguard In ShadowFinder?”
Good news, you can play a vanguard, if your group wants that!

Oh, still here? Want more of an explanation? Okay, let’s talk.
The ShadowFinder Play Mode is designed to evoke a different set of tropes and sub-genres than standard Starfinder. It’s much more Modern Urban Fantasy than Science-Fantasy, so we expect you’ll mostly adventure on one planet, hunt cryptids, run down cults, and fight things you find in the shadows (see what we did there?), rather than have battles in starships, hop from world to world, explore strange new sections of space, and combat the forces of entire star kingdoms.
So, for that different Play Mode, we focus on the 8 classes that feel most appropriate for the kinds of stories we expect to be part of that – envoy, mystic, operative, soldier, the new enigma and warlock classes, the hybrid mechanic/technomancer technician class, and the sword saint alternate class for the solarian. As a result, those classes are given more support (and in the case of new/hybrid/alternative classes, introduced, blended, and modified) to fit the tone of ShadowFinder.
But that’s the game we envision. If you’re reading this, they’re YOUR ShadowFinders now! Yes, we played with Armor Class rules, damage, equipment… but that can all be applied to any Starfinder class (even other classes on Starfiner Infinite, or things Paizo hasn’t released yet). The whole point of making ShadowFinder be 100% Starfinder compatible is that anything in ShadowFinder can be used in a typical Starfinder game, and anything designed for Starfinder can be used in the ShadowFinder Play Mode.
A single player want to be the only vanguard in the known world and the GM is cool with that idea? Great, no issues here. You want to port in more fantasy-themed classes from Rogue Genius Games’ Starfarer Companion? Be our guest. Don’t like our technician class, and you want to give its class features out to mechanics and technomancers? That’ll work just fine. ShadowFinder is both a toolbox and a goody bag. Use it however you want—be designed it that way.
TL;DR – Anything that works in Starfinder works in Shadowfinder. This is a Play Mode, not a different game or campaign. If you want to have biohackers and vanguards and technomancers finding shadows, go for it!

[END SIDEBAR]

Obviously, I’ll talk more about this both running up to the book’s release on Satrfinder Infinite, and afterward.

(Yep, more Jacob Blackmon ShadowFinder art you don’t get to really see yet!)

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The Icosantheon. No 20 — Aor

The Icosantheon is a host of twenty deities bound not by a common origin, but by a united conservatorship of the immaterium that forms the sides and edges of the material plane.

(Art by grandfailure)

Aor is among the most unusual of deities in the Icosantheon, as it is not perceived as self-aware. Rather Aor is the Beacon Tower, the very first structure created by mortals to serve as a warning to others. It is believed to be the first structure made by any civilization to be so tall it’s top could not be reached by one standing on the shoulders of another, the first made of stone, the first to have artifice and magic both involved in its creation, and the first built by more people than the land around it could support, requiring the coordination of multiple communities over months or years.

Thus Aor became a thing early civilizations would swear by, and call upon when attempting to rally people. Aor represents the act of creation and cooperation not to destroy, or even to defend, but to warn. A nonviolent transmission of data that required people struggling and sacrificing in order to pass a benefit on to later generations. While there is significant disagreement about when, where, and by who the true Aor was built, that made no difference to it’s growth as a symbol. And much as the sun, or the ocean, or the wind could act as a divine force with no anthropomorphization, so, too, could the Beacon Tower.

The first worshippers of Aor were essentially philosophers and planners who discovered that parables about the effort needed to build Aor, and the benefits that were reaped not by those who did so but those who came after, granted them more than just wisdom. Stories spread, and were compiled, talking about the need to maintain Aor so it would not fall into disrepair, to man it so the beacon could be lit as needed, to set aside some effort of a community to keep the advantages Aor had granted them. Aor became a symbol of a thing mortals did without the gods, and in doing so took the palce of gods in the minds of many.

Aor has no tenets, being an inanimate object, but its worshippers actively promote the ideas that must have held sway when it was constructed. They see themselves as beacons of their own, looking for dangers to entire societies and teaching the needed behaviors that will prepare populations to be ready for such threats.

*Aor is Neutral, and accepts worships of all non-chaotic alignments. The essential quality to worship Aor is to accept that there are benefits of forethought, and working together, and maintaining that which has been wrought. Such beleifs can be applied to good and evil, to strict laws or general trends, but do not mesh well with those who hold individual freedom of choice above joint, organized action.
*Aor’s color is gray — the gray of rock, stone, and dust gathering in ancient corners. Often Aor is represented by a single vertical gray stripe, which may be placed in the center or to the left of any other pattern or image.
*Aor’s favorite weapons are hammers, which were used to help craft and place it.
*Aor’s favored animal is the ganet. There are debates about why. Ganets are seabirds, suggesting the Beacon Tower might have been the first ligthhouse. Ganets are also famously fearless and easy ot kill, perhaps suggesting they need Aor more than other animals.
*Its servitors are non-chaotic outsiders linked to architecture and crafting, regardless of their other affiliations.
*Its holy symbol is a tower with a light or bolt at the top, spiraling outward from it.
*Its areas of concern are architecture, cooperation, communication, diligence, forethought, navigation, teaching, and warning.
*Its domains are Artifice (industry, toil), Community(cooperation, education), Rune (wards), Sun (light), Travel (trade), and Water (oceans).

Worshipers of Aor are often gifted with divine foresight, and an inherent understanding of construction. They may give up any skill known to gain Knowledge (Engineering) and have one bonus rank in that skill per level (still limited to max ranks equal to their level). Additionally, any worshiper of Aor that receives a domain, hex, or mystery can sacrifice a domain power, hex or, revelation to gain a power from the divination wizard school, or any of its subschools, that could be gained at the same or lower level.

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The Icosantheon. No 5 — Eirsival

The Icosantheon is a host of twenty deities bound not by a common origin, but by a united conservatorship of the immaterium that forms the sides and edges of the material plane.

(Art by grandfailure)

5. Eirsival

Eirsival is known as the Knight of the Final Thunder and the Coming Storm. She is the last of the Storm Mothers, agents of the primal divinities from before the fall of the Cthonic Gods. The Storm Mothers oversaw the destiny of those who would die defending others. In a twist of what could be considered irony, they were unable to foresee their own destiny, dying to defend the birth of mortals during the Gogolmachy when gods and elder beings first came into direct conflict and destroyed so much of reality, including entire alternate histories and places where technology was far more advanced than the current world.

Along with the other Storm Mothers and the First Heroes they had guided, Eirsival stood to hold the Final Line against aberrant horrors that sought to unmake the rules of the material plane. Had they failed, there would be no natural order to things, just a whirling tumult where the will and power of an entity were the only limits of what it could force others, and matter itself, to become. Though the Final Line did not break, when the maelstrom fell back, only Eirsival and Ixalicor, the progenitor of all unicorns, remained. Ixalicor swore to serve as Eirsival’s mount for all time, and Eirsival swore that those who defended the innocent, weak, and abused should never have to do so alone.

And in that moment, she went from the last of a line of angelic servants to being a deity.

Eirsival neither requires nor even requests worship, as she wishes to support all righteous defenders, whether they pay her obeisance or not. However, that very fact draws some to venerate her and wish to spread her name, and as long as they do so in the name of protecting a better world and respect the lives in the current world, she does not refuse them. Her temples are few, but tend toward massive fortifications that can take in and defend vast populations when needed. Slightly more common are stables and cavalry forts with a small shrine to her, as the friendship between her and Ixalicor has carried down to many forms of equine.

Eirsival believes that rules and order are a necessary part of protecting the rights and dignity of all things, but she also accepts that rules and order can be used for darker purposes. Thus while she has a natural distrust of anarchy and randomness, she does not inherently oppose it until it begins to impinge on her quest to protect all. Eirsival is a close ally with Karrackar, and where she and the Shade Dragon disagree on some finer details of how to best proceed, their mutual respect is so great they simply defer to one another within their specific areas of concern. Eirsival actively dislikes Garuuhl, and considers him excellent proof that if the ends is sued to justify the means, evil will eventually result. She largely ignores other members of the Icosantheon, and other gods in general, unless their interests and goals somehow overlap or oppose her own.

*Eirsival is Lawful Good, and accepts worships of all good alignments, and those who are Lawful Neutral. She supports all efforts to protect and aid others, and acknowledges that there are often many ways to do so, but does not tolerate evil in any form, or anarchy for the sake of anarchy.
*Eirsival’s colors are sky blue, silver, and pearly white, often in wind and cloud motifs. However, her colors are for times when color is appropriate, her worshippers feel no pressure to embrace those colors unless they both desire to and are safely can.
*Her favorite weapons are any form of lance or spear, most often one sheathed in lightning.
*Her favored animal is the horse and all horselike creatures, especially pegasi, unicorns, and hippogriffs.
*Her servitors are winged unicorns the color of thunder and lightning, tengu spearmasters who are wandering teachers, and smiths, especially lance-smiths.
*Her holy symbol is a single bolt of lignting, surrounded by darkness.
*Her areas of concern are destiny, dignity, heroes, honor, loss, resolution, and solitude.
*Her domains are Air (cloud, lightning, wind), Glory (chivalry, heroism, and honor), Good (friendship), Law (loyalty), Protection (defense, fortification, and solitude), and Weather (storms).

Any worshipper of Eirsival who is of good alignment and has the animal companion class feature can take the Unicorn Companion feat, even if they do not otherwise meet its prerequisites. Additionally, her worshipers can gain the feat and the animal companion feature needed to use it by giving up specifi class features based on their class: cleric (one domain), inquisitor (domain and stern gaze), oracle (revelations from 1st, 7th, and 15th level), shaman (spirit animal), warpriest (both blessings).

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Making Combat Interesting: The Really Wild West Clockwork Platform Fight

I recently ran a fight in my Really Wild West campaign, using Starfinder rules, that took place atop a series of spinning, moving, shifting gears. Overall, it was big hit.

(Plus a hodge-podge of objective markers, miniatures, models, and standees)
(and one 3D printed mechanical dog, used to represent the old west mechanic’s steampunk canine drone)

Now, this was made much easier by the fact that one friend of mine made these big green gridded disks from flower/cake foam (to use as hills and such), and other got this spinning, sliding lazy susan tabletop. So all I had to do was tell folks the disks were big bronze gears, spin and turn them (they both rotated on their own axis, and spun around each other at different speeds), and players could rotate the whole map if they needed to see what was on the far side of the gear-pile.

I warned people that the mechanism was so complex as to be essentially unpredictable, so while I tried to follow some basic rules on how things spun and moved, if I messed up players knew that randomness was intended. While the gears were officially in constant movement I just relocated them at the end of each round, so players always had a chance to react to one position before they formed a new one (and, after all, realistically the characters are in “constant motion” as well).

On top of the big moving gear platforms, there were two sets of “control cogs,” parts of a Babbage system that controlled the movement of the gears (orange markers), and the actions of the constructs defending them (green markers). The mechanic in the group managed to get access to those things, though it wasn’t easily, and one-by-one shut down the constructs while their allies used mobility (including good Acrobatics or Athletics checks and actual mobility to avoid attacks from spinning gears as the dodged about), flight, and climbing to move around.

So, this encounter had fairly normal combatants, but a lot of other things going on as well. In fact I kept the combatants pretty straightforward (well… one had a steam-pressure triphammer than could boost for multiple rounds to gain more and more bonus dice to its next attack) just so I wasn’t throwing too much at the players.

I’ve done similar things with moving elements before–fighting on rafts in rivers choked with floating logs, conflicts on trains both mobile and stationary, running battled through tunnels with teleportation gates, stampedes as hazards with big rocks to hide behind and every other space counting as an attack of opportunity as you try to avoid being trampled–but I think this is the most complex and multi-moving-part encounter I’ve done. And my players are all veterans of gaming and general and, at 9th level, this campaign and these characters in particular.

And it’s fairly easy to spice things up with doing so far as to have two Jedi battle it out on rocks bobbing along streams of lava with guard skiffs flying by. A battle behind a waterfall makes everything wet, and drowns out all noise. Defending a wall gives all the PCs cover–or all the PC’s foes cover, depending on which side of the wall they are on. A cliffside fight is all about climbing up, down, and sideways rather than running N, S, E, and W. Fights on frozen ponds, or in hurricanes, or in grass fields that stand 12 feet tall — not only do these things give the players a new experience, it can make various class and ability options they take worthwhile. Who wants to move freely through natural terrain if there isn’t the occasional thorny bramble covering 13 of the map, with grig archers shooting out of it?

You don’t need to shake things up in every battle, but just a few props now and then, or a different kind of terrain or local hazard, can help a specific encounter be memorable.

PATREON
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Slenderman, for ShadowFinder (Starfinder-Compatible)

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

So, what will PCs oppose in a ShadowFinder campaign?

Creepy things. Like a SlenderMan.

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

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

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

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Owen Explains It All – Textile Characters for Starfinder

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

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

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

We have a logo and everything!

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

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

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

Ready?

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

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

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

Playable Textile Characters

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

Weft

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

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

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

(Art by vivali)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up

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

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

Top Ten Things Wizards Watch on Crystal Balls When They Think No One is Looking

Top Ten Things Wizards Watch on Crystal Balls When They Think No One is Looking

We know what videos people watch in the modern world. But what visions are popular in a crystal-ball enable fantasy reality? You can use this for background info in a typical fantasy game, or along with my list of Top Ten Modern Crystal Balls, or just giggle and never think about it again.

10. Cat Visions
Most of the ethereal plane is just filled with visions of cute cats. Often paranormal cats. Winged kittens playing with floating baby flumphs and chimera cubs chasing their own dragon-heads are particularly popular.
9. Critical Hit Visions
It’s often entertaining to watch heroic people to amazing things, and cheer their spectacular successes!
8. Critical Fumble Visions
But it is MUCH more entertaining to watch people accidentally hit themselves in the head with the sharpened bottom end of a gnomish hook hammer, or wrap a spiked chain around their own legs.
7. Waterfalls and Thunderstorms
A lot of mages tune in to tranquil sounds to sleep. … Others know air and water elementals want them dead, and keep a constant, paranoid watch out on any scene that might hide a rogue wave or ill wind plotting their death.
6. How-Do Ritual Demonstrations
Once you have a crystal ball, it’s a good idea to expand your repertoire of rituals… especially privacy rituals that keep other people from watching visions of your critical fumbles.
5. Reaction Visions
If you know where to watch, you can see the looks on adventurer’s faces when they discover the “white dragon” they were hunting with flaming weapons is a “wight dragon,” an undead fire dragon immune to both flame and ice.
4. Make-Up Tips
Face it, people just take mages with on-point eyebrows more seriously, and there’s a fine line between the perfect “necromancer eye” look, and people thinking you have smudged soot on your face.
3. Tick Tock
No one is sure why, but the Paraelemental Plane of Clockwork has a lot of dancing on it…
2. Previews
Okay, okay, technically this is “prognostication,” but seeing snippets of the future is just a form of previews, right?
1. Porn
Look, we all knew this was going to be #1. And if we hadn’t lumped all porn sub-genres into one category? Then the whole list would have been porn. Some extraplanar entities make a living with acts of lovemaking mortals can barely comprehend, which can only be viewed by mages who pay to know the password to scry past the “wall of pay” warding.

PATREON
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Ned Kelley vs Dracula. A Timeline

A timeline.

1431. Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia, is born in Sighişoara, Transylvania.

1441. Vlad is knighted into the Order of the Dragon, the youngest noble to ever receive this honor. The order’s primary goal is to destroy the Ottoman Empire. Vlad receives the right to be named “of the Dragon,” or “Drăculea.”

1442. Vlad and his older brother are imprisoned in Tokat Castle, in northern Turkey, and held as hostages to ensure that his father, who is waging war against the Ottomans, does so honorably. The Tepes brothers are treated well, and educated and taught science, philosophy, the arts, and even allowed to continue their martial training.

1444. Chaffing under his imprisonment, Vlad III seeks additional, darker educations. He managed to communicate with a secret agent of the Scholomance, a school of sorcery that is ruled by the Devil and demands the soul of 1 in 10 students as payment. Vlad excels in these dread powers, as he has excelled at everything he has attempted.

1446. Vlad’s older brother is allowed to join his father. Vlad redoubles his efforts to master sorcery.

1447. Vlad completes a complex ritual to force fate to arrange for his release. Vlad’s father and brother are killed by Vladislav II with the support of the Ottoman Empire, and Vladislav takes control of Wallachia. Considered no threat as a deposed younger son, and having hidden his fouler education from the jailkeepers he has largely charmed, Vlad is allowed to leave as long as he vows never to take up arms against the Ottomans.

1448. Backed by King Ladislaus V of Hungary, Vlad takes up arms against the Ottomans, and Vladislav. He fuels his victories with a combination of personal combat prowess, tactics, strong leadership, and blood magic using the fresh vitae of fallen soldiers and civilian victims on both sides.

1453. Constantinople falls. Vlad III takes control of Wallachia, and continues to wage war against the Ottomans. Insisting on continuing the war does not sit well with the boyars under his command. He has them impaled, and gathers and preserves the blood for more sorcery.

1462. Vlad is deposed as Prince of Wallachia by Mehmet II. Vlad flees into the mountains, and returns to the Scholomance for further training, doubling the chances his soul will be demanded as payment by doing so.

1476. While leading a scouting party to set an ambush to destroy Mehmet II, Vlad and a small guard are themselves ambushed and his men are all slain. Vlad appears to be dead, but has been performing blood magics in preparation for this day for decades. Though his own flesh dies, its living functions are supported by the vitality of the blood he has hoarded.

Vlad flees into the mountains, and begins building a hidden network of agents and apprentices he has trained in scraps of the Scholomance lore he knows, plotting Mehmet II’s death. He sustains himself with magic performed with small, voluntary donations of blood from loyal followers.

1481. Vlad unleashes a curse on Mehmet, slaying him. However, Mehmet had powerful supernatural protections of his own, woven by Gileadian talismancers and astrologers, who were tolerated by the Ottomans. Vlad suffers massive eldritch backlash, and his need for blood intensifies. He also suffers a need to draw strength from the earth, preferably in a stone vault, and a vulnerability to many holy words and objects.

For the next 400 years, Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, and the Gileadian champions of peace and life known as the Hieremias (or ‘Weeping Prophets,’ as they can invoke a sight to pierce illusion which turns one eye blue briefly and causes it to weep tears of blood) wage a secret occult war against one another in eastern Europe. Drăculea is impregnable in his hidden mountain fortress Nefartatul, but lacks the resources to strike far from there. He trains Sfinții Dracului (‘Saints of the Dragon’) to act as his agents and form secret cells of those loyal to him, but they cannot overcome his enemies without being revealed and then destroyed. The Hieremias seek to find a way to cut Drăculea off from the safety of the earth and stone, but must be close to Nefartatul to do so, and suffer great losses in the efforts. Over time, both groups grow weak and are vastly reduced in numbers.

1536. King Henry VIII deposes the FitzGerald dynasty as Lords Deputies of Ireland. A group of Hieremias rush to Ireland to recover and protect ancient Ottoman relics that were in the FitzGerald’s hands. A small group of these remain in Ireland, using the chaos between Catholic and Protestant forces to remain largely unnoticed. They marry in to local families, and pass on much of their mystic lore. Those families become known as “Cuidightheach,” or “The Helpful Folk,” and “Mac Óda” or “son of Óda’ (Óda being a nickname given to one of the original Hieremias to arrive in Ireland).

1691. The Irish Catholic Jacobites surrendered at Limerick. Among them are several families descended from the “Cuidightheach” and “Mac Óda,” though these names have become the family name “Cody.”  

1800. Mary Cody, a strong scion of the Cody linneage, is born in the Irish townsland of Clonbrogan.

1820. Mary Kelly ne Cody gives birth to John Kelly.

1840. John Kelly is transported to Australia as punishment for the crime of Pig Stealing.

1845. The Irish Great Famine of 1845 – 1847 begins.

1854. Ned Keely is born in Victoria, Austalia, the third of eight children of John Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He grows up to be a bushranger, a criminal who operates out of the wilderness in Victoria, Australia.

1877. Dracula travels to London by ship, consuming all aboard.

1878. Dracula is nearly destroyed by Professor Van Helsing and his allies. The Dread Lord successfully fakes his destruction, but must flee from eyes that will watch for him in England and Transylvania. Needing a place civilized enough to provide sustenance, and considered dangerous enough for his kills to not immediately raise suspicions, Dracula takes passage to Australia.

1879. Dracula uses his experiences in England to successfully introduce himself into British nobility in Victori, and begins to take control of it

1880. Ned Kelly, bushranger, famously dons heavy armor to survive various shootouts with Victoria police and army forces. Kelly’s crucifix, passed down from the Cody line, reveals one of the sheriff deputies he shoots to be a Sfinții Dracului, and realizes Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, is present in Australia.

He begins gathering forces to support him in a crusade against the undead prince.

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Top Ten Modern Crystal Balls

I love stories that mix magic with a range of modern time periods and aesthetics. Inspired by some such stories, I’ve come up with some modern stand-ins to be used in place of crystal balls by urban, modern fortune-tellers.

Top Ten Things Modern Diviners Use as Crystal Balls

10. Magic 8-Ball
No one ever expects the Magic 8-Ball toy to be, you know, magic. But it’s a perfect place to hide your real scrying lenses, and already thematically aligned with divination energy.

9. Mirrors
They’re a classic, and remain a popular choice for modern spellcasters. however, the big wall-mounted mirror is no longer the standard for scrying mirrors, though some older models still exist. Instead scrying is more often done through bathroom mirrors (good for early morning divinations), car rear-view mirrors (especially for threats that are closer to you than they appear), and make-up compacts (which are particularly good for showing you your own faults).

8. Pocket Watches
While a few modern spellcasters have turned wristwatches and even step-trackers into crystal ball equivalents, its much more common to use pocket-watches for this. The practice dates back to the 1800s, when the devices were far more common, but the protective cover, larger viewing surface, and psychic link to conductors on railways (often built along ley lines) still make pocket watches better divination tools than more modern timepieces.

7. Mashed Potatoes
As homaged in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it turns out Starchomancy remains a powerful tool for foresight. Visions sometimes form within the mash itself, and other times the scryer finds themselves sculpting the vision received. The loss of scrying power is somewhat offset by the ease of acquiring and concealing the tools of divination.
This works best if you make your own mashed potatoes, but if you don’t have the time, store-bought is fine.

6. Fireball Whiskey
Long thought to just be catnip for college kids, it turns out cinnamon-infused spirits are a powerful medium for seeing visions, dating back to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. The bottle itself is most commonly used as the scrying surface, with the whiskey inside becoming briefly cloudy as it fills with visions.
A single drink of the whiskey can aid in divination, but more than that is a terrible idea.

5. Giant Novelty Dice
Though divination through casting lots with dice (a form of cleromancy) is common, using dice as crystal ball stand-ins is increasingly popular, using giant translucent dice the size of your fist or bigger. There is a direct correlation between the number of faces of the ide used, and both the complexity of the divination and the level of detail. A d6 may not tell you much beyond broad strikes, but it easily scryed with. A d100 takes much, much more effort, but a successful scrying gives you many fine details.

4. Cats
Yes actual, living, fur-covered cats. There is an entire school of scrying dedicated to feeding a cat a favorite feast, brushing them, luring them into a pillow, in a box, in a beam of sunlight, and then staring deep into their fur to foresee the future. While this is much harder to do on-demand than inanimate scrying tools, there are numerous curses and supernatural threats that can be detected by ailouromancy that other soothseeing methods miss.

3. Smart Speakers
While newer technology often takes time to be properly aligned with divination rituals, interactive smart speakers apparently come almost ready-made to be turned into crystal balls–though most use a purely auditory interface, rather than the old visions viewed without crystal-covered mists.

2. Stock Ticker
From 1870 to 1970, stock prices were broadcast via telegraph/telephone lines to stock tickers, then printed on ticker tape. While no one uses stock tickers anymore, many were enchanted during the near-century of their use, and those enchanted stock tickers are still powerful divination tools… especially if you want to predict financial news.

1. Old Computer Monitors.
The better the color and resolution, the better the vision you can get on it! Know someone with a pile of old computer monitors? They’re probably a modern spellcaster!
Or a hoarder.
Or both. Both is likely.

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Random Idea Generation Methods. 1. The Reverse and Twist

Sometimes, I just need an idea to play with. I may need a starting point for a new project, or some color and side-thoughts for a bigger ongoing work. Often I just generate new random ideas as a palate-cleanser when I need a break from something I am grinding on. Other times I want to throw ideas out to other people, either for fun or to jump-start their creative processes.

Now if I am lucky, a random idea just comes to me when I need it. Or, if one comes when I don’t need it, I can jot it down with just enough detail to come pick it back up later.

But more often than not, i have to generate an idea, and when i have to come up with dozens at a time, I have verious methods I use to do that. Here’s one”

Reverse/Twist The Starting Point

This is one of my favorites, and it’s a good way to use inspiration without turning everything into a pastiche (or rip-off). The basic idea is to take the core premise of an existing setting or story you like, and make a major change to it. Then, you follow the permutations of your new set-up.

For example, take Moby Dick. It’s a captain’s obsession with getting revenge on a whale. It’s compelling, but it’s also been done and redone hundreds of times. So, what if we reverse a number of elements.

Our Captain is still a whale hunter, but he has not a care in the world. The Red Demon, which may or may not be a whale but is certainly a sea creature, seeks to destroy the captain as revenge for the captain slaying the Demon’s mother. We still have stories of obsession and revenge, but now our focal human point is ignoring the risks, his arrogance convincing him that even if the Red Demon is real, it’s a brute animal, and he has all the advantages of human civilization and intellect to overcome it if it ever finds him.

Now, the inspiration for that idea are pretty clear. That’s fine–the starting place of a story, setting, or even writing prompt is only a small part of the work of making something. But once you have that nugget, you can twist and add/alter as you see fit. Instead of a whale-hunting captain hunting you could have a famous ivory poacher, clearly a villain and an up-and-coming local warlord–who does worry about human threats (and perhaps kidnaps a journalist to tell “his side” of his story, giving us our narrator), but ignores local legends of a Red Demon elephant out to get him, even when other poachers are slain by it.

The further we get from the trappings of the original idea, the more our end product will be clearly its own thing.

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