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Quick Tips: GMing with Taste, Touch, and Smell

One of the most challenging jobs of a GM is to serve as the describer of everything the PCs experience in the fictional game world. This is especially true when the GM wants to convey information through those descriptions–it’s one thing to say a tavern smells stale, and another to say the stale mix of herbal sachets on the walls and sawdust and straw scattered across the floor can’t quite cover the lingering coppery scent of spilled blood, watered-down mead, and urine that permeates the main room.

Lots of advances in gaming have been made with visuals and soundboards. Between being able to do internet searches for interesting visuals and great sound-effect programs designed specifically for ttRPGs (such as Syrinscape, who I love but have no association with), it’s pretty easy for a GM to be able to skip needing to describe sights and sounds. But what about taste, touch, and smell? Just a single extra description for each major element of an encounter can go a long way to both adding immersion, and conveying clues the PCs have a chance to pick up on. If you link any unusual sensation to a specific element within your game, players will often pick up on it and use it as another clue to use to experience and understand your world.

Taste: The most obvious time to describe taste is when PCs eat or drink something, and many ttRPGs have more than enough potions, oils, and magic cupcakes to make this a useful sense to think about in advance. A GM can make the identification of some potent potables easy by deciding healing potions all smell like honeysuckle and mint, or that ungol dust has a distinctive acidic bite in the back of the throat. If the GM doesn’t want to be that easy and consistent, it can still be fun to add taste elements to specific kinds of potion — perhaps potions made by clerics tend to have a strong medicine taste, those made by druids are usually overwhelmingly herb-flavored, and those made by alchemists tend to have a powerful saccharine-sweetness to them. That doesn’t tell PCs exactly what a potion does, but it does become an interesting piece of information that can help the game world feel more well-rounded.

The other fun use for taste is for things that impact the PCs to impact their sense of taste without being directly connected to eating or drinking. Maybe a mummy’s curse makes you constantly get a taste of dust in your mouth, or getting a serum of invulnerability injected into your system causes you to feel like you are licking oiled steel. Powerful smells can be tasted as well, so the rotting meat scent of the zombie bloom may also cause those near it to taste raw mushroom flavors in the air, or the choking smokebomb actually tastes like black pepper.

Touch: PCs don’t often rub their bare skin against adventure site walls and monster hides, so things like smooth, rough, sharp, fluffy, and sticky may not come into play often. But touch can also express things like temperature, and feedback from hitting things with weapons. One of the most successful descriptions of a foe I ever gave noted that while the creature seemed to be a hunched humanoid under a ragged veil and cloak, when a PC hit it with their sword, it felt like chopping into green woo. There was give as the blade chopped into the creature’s flesh, but it was far tougher than any human or even monstrous skin, muscles,and tendons.

Similarly, if touching a glowing sword makes a chill run down a character’s spine, or grabbing a Xorarcan plasma-lance makes any other humanoid’s fingertips tingle, that can be great descriptive information. If a character makes a saving throw against a gaze attack that makes their eyes itch, the player has reason to suspect a failed save results in blindness. If even approaching the stone archway covered in glowing runs makes it seem like the ground it tilting away from you, it suggests the gate may be tied to movement of some kind.

Smell: In many ways smell is just taste at a greater range, so all the taste notes apply here as well. But smell is also one of the most powerful senses for evoking primal fears–we evolved to know that the smell or rot is bad, the smell of blood is dangerous, and the smell of smoke calls for caution. Smell can be used to give clues to some kinds of deception–the high ghoul illusionist can make herself look like a human, but needs to use heavy perfume to cover the scent of the grave; the stench coming from the locally feared Troglodyte Clans Cave is bad, but not THAT bad; the bandits in the tavern smell like chili peppers, ebcause they infuse their boots with pepper oil so guard dogs can’t follow their scent.

Smells can also be fun because they can carry varying distances depending on local conditions, and what they promise is not always what they deliver. If the scent of fresh-backed pastries wafts tantalizingly through the woods, are the PCs about to stumble on a halfling village, or a giant baker that literally grinds human bones to make his bread? Is the smell of honey just a pleasant spring scent, a warning sign of giant paper wasps moving into the dense wilderness, or the smell of an undead mellified man about to round the corner and attack?

Conclusion: You don’t have to go crazy with secondary senses, but adding the description of a single noteworthy taste, touch, or smell in each major encounter can help round out the sense of what your game world is like.

Patreon: Okay, I admit it does not taste like honey or smell like nectar, but if you support by blog writing by joining my Patreon, I’ll certainly think it’s sweet!

Quick Tips: Designing Adventures Backwards

If there’s one thing I think is most likely to trip up new GMs when they design their own adventures, it’s that they tend to design them front-to-back. That is, most GMs (and adventure writers) I see who begin creating adventures from scratch for the first time want to write the first encounter first, the second encounter second, and so on.

Now, that makes a lot of sense on the surface. That’s the order gamers encounter other people’s adventures in, so it’s a familiar pacing. Also, it means that if you plan to have 4 game sessions worth of adventure, you only have to do the first 4 encounters of work before you can run the first session. No need to design more than you need for the next game night, right?

Well…

Look, that works great for a lot of GMs, and if it works for you, more power to you. There are absolutely advantages to that system, and lots of ways to make it work to your advantage. But for many GMs, it means they introduce a problem and the mystery and the clues… before they know what the mystery is, or what the clues are supposed to be pointing to. That often works fine when you first introduce elements — everyone has seen the stories where the map has a big blank spot, or the detective finds mud they are sure is important, or the prophecy only makes sense after it’s fulfilled. So if you tell the ranger that yes, the site of the bandit attack has lots of wolf and goblin footprints, but on top of all of those are sharped bits of wood, as though from a whittled stick, which was done 2-3 hours after the bandit attack, players will file that away as an important clue for later.

Which is great–if you ether have a rough idea what you are doing (so you can make up clues that’ll fit in) or are good at bringing things together in the last few chapters even if you had no idea what you are doing when you leave a clue. But if you’re GREAT at coming with evocative and intriguing set dressing, but terrible at connecting them together after-the-fact, the end game of your adventures may be much more stressful and dissatisfying than you’d like.

For such GMs, writing your adventure backwards can make things much easier.

For example, let’s say you decide the end villain of your adventure is an evil ranger, who riles up local wilderness threats, directs them at farms and villages, and then charges those settlements money to “solve” the problems he’s creating. You give him a couple of personality quirks — he’s arrogant, handsome, and can whittle small wooden symbols that anger specific kinds of wildlife. You want a fight with him to end your advneture.

You want some investigation in town to happen just before that fight. So you create an event rh PCs could investigate once they are suspicious enough. You decide the ranger runs a protection racket, but a newcomer bard was becoming suspicious. So the ranger poisoned a local goblin tribe with herbs that make them battle-mad. Then he faked a note from the goblins to the bard making it seems the goblins wanted to tell the bard something important. When the bard went to where the note indicated, the herb-maddened goblins killed the bard. The ranger came by after the battle, whittling more of his magic traps, and stole the bard’s gear.

With that in place, it’s easy to see how the Ps get involved. Locals think the attacks are getting worse, and that the ranger isn’t enough to deal with them anymore. They hire PCs to help, but the PCs keep finding evidence of an unseen figure behind the attacks. You can have them fight some maddened animals the ranger sends after them hoping the PCs will be killed, have them ask folks what might have riled the animals, get told the new bard asked similar questions before being killed by goblins, seek ut the bard’s hidden notes because the bard was already onto the ranger, get pointed at the ranger, want to find the bard’s loot so they search the ranger’s hut and find it, then confront the ranger. Easy.

It may not solve all adventure problems, but often working backwards from the end is the easy way to decide what clues and story beats the PCs will find as they move forward through the adventure.

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ShadowFinder Organizations: The Black

Again, some legal stuff.

Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.

Obviously there’s going to be a “ShadowFinder Society” as an in-world group in the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book. But that’s far from the only group dealing with the issues created by the Shadowblast. One of the more potent is the elite collective known as the Black.

The Black

The Black is among the most powerful coalitions of spellcasters and scientists on either Rasputin’s Legacy Earth or Golarion, and they work ceaselessly to build ways for their members and others to comfortably exist in other planes, and to find ways to cross in and out of the Shadowblast (and to a lesser extent, other planes of existence). They do insist that any who make use of the transportation they can sometimes provide be respectful and considerate of the new plane traveled to, but also believe that locking creatures behind planar barriers inevitably lead to inequality and tribalism. When the Black finds a subjugated group trapped in an alternate plane, they often focus their efforts one stablisg routes for those under the yoke toescape, moving them to new planes of reality if necessary.

While most people aware of it consider the battle against the Shadowblast to be a war of light against darkness, the Black philosophically take the other approach. They see it as a battle of true dark against the dim, hazy, often tricky gloom of shadow. To members of the Black, the problem with quantifying everything as light and dark is that light often causes shadows, and within those shadows illusion and misperception can run rampant. They further see than many groups have a illumination-at-any-cost rule, claiming the ends justify the means, and this often leads to tyranny and abuse as warriors of the light cross ethical lines to destroy any darkness-themed creature they encounter. The methodology of the Black is different, seeking to understand the nature of things and then seek a solution built from that understanding.

The fact that numerous creatures of the Shadowblast hate their existence within it is, to the Black, those Shadowblastoi’s primary motivation for violent and dangerous assaults into the Material Plane. If the creatures of the Shadowblast could be freed of the pain regions of their own home plane cause them, or given a way to travel to other realities without needing sacrifices, and rituals, and riots, the Black believe harmonious co-existence could be achieved. Further, given some planar slivers are nearly infinite in their scape, surely if any creature could move to any realm of reality that would end the need to fight over territory, resources, and borders.

Many groups consider the Black hopelessly naïve, insisting that evil is real and absolute, and that seeking ways to comfort the enemy is treasonous to the Material Plane itself. In general, agents of the Black acknowledge evil is real and most be opposed – they simply decry any effort to categorize all of any one species, region, or even plane of existence as inherently evil. After all, if even angels and fall and devils can be redeemed, is that not proof that each individual must be judged on their own merits, rather than as broad categorizations? And, if so, doesn’t that mean any system that encourages valuation based on group factors itself inherently unable to create true equity and justice?

Most other large-scale groups aware of the Shadowblast see the Black as a branch of the enemy at worst, or dangerous fools at best. As a result, the  Black keep their membership tightly controlled, with only senior members of their collective allowed to engage in recruitment, and only the most competent of veteran planar travelers considered for membership. Until someone has a number of significant deeds to their name, the Black feels it’s premature to try to judge them by those deeds. However, individual agents of the Black often act as patrons and allies to less-connected or inexperienced hunters, healers, and researchers, both to build independent networks of useful allies, and to keep tabs on those who might someday be considered for inclusion in the Black.

The official positions of the Bannerfolk, Lighthouse, and ShadowFinder Society is to treat the Black as too dangerous to get involved with, but that position is not universal among the actual members of those organizations. There are individuals among those groups who hear a ring of truth in the philosophy of the Black, and are at least willing to hear out the proposals made by its agents.

(Yep, more art of Jacob Blackmon’s you don’t get to see the full version of until the book is done!)

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ShadowFinder: The Shadowblast

So, first some legal stuff.

Nothing on this page is OGL. This is a post of Community Use content of Paizo materials.

One element of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite product, the ShadowFinder Core Book, is the demiplane known as the “Shadowblast.” Obviously that demiplane gets a fairly lengthy writeup in the Core Book, but I haven’t talked much about what it’s actually like in these previews, So, here’s an excerpt about one of the Shadowblast’s regions. (And yeah, “Shadowblastoi” get an entry as well, but the short version is that they are creatures stuck in the Shadowblast, who want to get out.)

Shadowblast Regions

The Shadowblast is often described in terms of an ocean, with Beachheads, Shallows, Reefs, the Faraway, and the Deeps.

Beachheads

“Beachheads” are areas literally overlapping with another plane (so a creature not bound to the Shadowblast can simply walk from the Shadowblast into the overlapped plane, and a ShadowWalker could walk from that plane into the Shadowblast). A creature that is not a ShadowWalker could walk right past the overlap with nothing more than a sense of something weird going on. But a ShadowWalker on the Material Plane might take a wrong turn and go from their own world to the Beachhead, without having any idea why the city around them suddenly looks like a mostly-abandoned ruin. A ShadowWalker can also walk from the Beachhead back to their own Plane… if they know what route will take them back, and if the Beachhead doesn’t fade away first.

(A Shadowblast Beachhead that overlaps a major Material Plane city. Art by David Edwards)

A Beachhead overlapping the Ethereal or Astral plane generally looks like a fog or mist.Those connected to elemental planes are often a mix of that element and ruined vehicles or land. Those overlapping slivers of infernal planes often seem to be endless buildings with offices dedicated to sin and torture, and fiendish residents sometimes don’t notice the difference until the Beachhead fades.

Beachheads are temporary, and generally caused by massive amount of undirected energy (ranging from mass death to nuclear power meltdowns and interrupted rituals) or planar or astrological conjunctions. They may last as little as a few minutes, or as long as a few months. The area near the overlap on the connected plane is usually lightly-populated and/or hard to reach. Things from the Shadowblast yearn to escape it, and seek Beachheads—often causing trouble for the denizens of the connected plane. However, many powerful Shadowblastoi cannot pass through unless a Beachhead is reinforced, which requires energy—emotional, magical, or technological—to be released chaotically on the other plane. Some beachheads need specific kinds of energy, while others grow stronger with anything from a rock concert to a political riot to a wildfire.

But the majority of Shadowblastoi that pass through a Beachhead are sucked back into the Shadowblast when the Beachhead closes. The amount of energy to keep a Beachhead open slowly increases with time, so a permanent Beachhead seems impossible. Even so, the Shadowblastoi desperate to escape their demiplane keep trying to find new forms of energy or magic to make a Beachhead last, or be able to create one at-will. Since the planar barriers are thinnest between the Shadowblast and the Material Plane around Lost Golarion and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth, those are the places Shadowblastoi most often seek to invade (though certainly efforts to wedge open Beachheads to other planes are also undertaken).

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ShadowFinder Previews: Quirky Feats and the Cover WIP

Today, I am going to look at a new type of feat coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

Also, a peak at the W.I.P. cover for the Core Book.

Quirky Feats

Quirky feats are a special category of feats that represent something abnormal and strange, even when grading on the curve of exceptional heroes with extraordinary and magic powers. While combat and general feats can cover everything from having a bit of spellcasting ability (or enigma power), specialized training, or even a gaining a squox companion, Quirky feats are both more specialized and just plain stranger than that. Quirky feats like Branded By An Actual Artifact, Demon For A Hand, Doomed To A Horrific Fate, Literal Third Eye, and Skunk Stripe of Significance indicate some importance well beyond just the rule interactions they grant. A GM may well build cosmological details on Quirky Feats, such as having a door that can only be opened by a character who has the Demon for a Hand feat, or a creature that doesn’t get to use it’s DR and energy resistances against anyone with the Skunk Stripe of Significance.

Not all ShadowFinder games will have any Quirky feats. The GM and players should discuss if they want the kind of offbeat heroes these feats tend to create, and certainly don’t push the issue if a few players hate the idea. Try to make decisions that will help everyone enjoy the game. (In fact, always do that.)

Because Quirky feats are more attention-grabbing than normal feats, they follow some special rules.

First, a GM should feel free to give a character that doesn’t have a Quirky feat access to one as a bonus when it’s narratively appropriate. For example, if a PC tries to grapple the Shadowblastoi that is making off with the Amulet of Ra the entire campaign is built around, and fails, the GM might well tell the player their character can gain Branded By An Actual Artifact as a bonus feat, if the player wants. The GM should never force a Quirky feat on a PC without the player’s buy-in. They’re just too, well, quirky.

Second, a character that has a Quirky feat can’t select one using any of their normal feat choices. Once you are Doomed to a Horrific Fate, you already have plenty of weird, special things about your character. You don’t need to add a Frequent Heroic Breeze or Weird Eye That Means Something to such a character—leave some Quirky stuff for other people! Also, you can’t take a quirky feat another character in the same party has without GM approval, and the GM should get the other player’s approval. If everyone descended from the Witch Heather Spellgoode has a literal third eye, it makes sense for two characters that are siblings to both take it. But if one character ends up with a Demon For A Hand, it’s going to be weird if another character goes to Demon-For-A-Hand-R-Us and gets one for themselves.

In rare cases, a GM may have a plot point take away a Quirky feat that has previously been given as a bonus feat. If this is done, it’s polite to either replace it with another Quirky feat the player approves of (maybe being healed of the scar from being Branded By An Actual Artifact exposed you to energies that caused you to gain a Skunk Stripe of Significance), or grant a bonus feat slot the player can use to take anything their character qualifies for.

In even rarer cases, a GM might grant a character that already has a Quirky feat the opportunity to acquire another one, either as a bonus feat or as a feat they can select next time they gain a feat. This should only be done when it serves to drive the narrative forward, but GMs must use their best judgement on that.

(We’re still tweaking things, like I want my name on it, but the final version will look a LOT like this!)

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

ShadowFinder Class Preview: The Enigma

Today, I am going to continue actual OGL rule examples of some material coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

I wanted a class to fill the “modern character with weird powers” niche so common in much of the inspirational media that has influenced the form ShadowFinder took. This is more than being a spellcaster, or even something the psionic themetype I wrote up can represent. I needed a class for firestarters, dead zones, shining, heckspawn, and mutants.

I needed a way for a PC to be an enigma. So that because the class.

Here’s a preview of some elements of this new, 100% Starfinder-compatible, character class.

(Yes, I have new ShadowFinder art for all 8 classes I’m supporting in the ShadowFinder Core Book. No, this one is not the enigma. Yes, you’ve seen the enigma digitized tease already. Guess which one it is?!)

Enigma

An enigma has power, but no one (not even the enigma) is sure why. Unlike spellcasters or combatants, it is not a trained or learned power, and unlike warlocks it is not part of some bargain for power from otherworldly forces. That doesn’t mean the enigma can’t train to use their powers more effectively, or that it might not have been bestowed by an entity beyond the enigma’s understanding, but no science or mystic research has yet to understand enigmas’ abilities, and the growing number of enigmas is seen by many groups as a rising threat.

An enigma has often had to hide for much of their life, at least early on. Their powers are hard to control when they first manifest, and can both disrupt the stability of a support group and attract attention from others. It’s not unusual for an enigma to be the product of some mysterious experiment who escaped, and to be hunted by their former keepers. Others seem to bloom with power on their own, but organizations exist who wish to find the source of that power, even if they have to cut it out of the enigma. As a result, many enigmas learn to be self-sufficient when young, both in urban and wilderness settings.

Once enigmas grow into their abilities, most groups consider opposing an enigma directly to be too dangerous, though organizations with more reach and resources may feel differently. An enigma does well to forge bonds with allies to ensure anyone interest in knowing how they manipulate energy, form, or even reality itself sees that the enigma is not alone, and has friends who will come after them if they disappear.

Hit Points: 6
Stamina Points: 6

Key Ability Score
Cha

While no one knows where the power that makes enigmas comes from, the fact that it fueled by their own force of personality seems clear. Enigmas may be bold or shy, honest or deceptive, friendly or hostile, but they all have the strong sense of self that makes them naturally apt at interpersonal relationships. Your Charisma determines the save DCs of your various enigma powers, and is thus your key ability score.

Class Skills

The enigma’s class skills are Bluff (Cha), Culture (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Medicine (Int), Mysticism (Wis), Profession (Cha, Int, or Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand(Dex), Stealth (Dex), and Survival (Wis)

Skill Points at each Level: 6 + Int modifier.

Proficiencies

Armor

Light armor

Weapons

Basic melee weapons, small arms.

(Yes, I am ending this preview before the class features table on purpose!)

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

ShadowFinder Spells

Okay, let’s do an actual OGL rule example of some material coming in the Starfinder Infinite ShadowFinder book.

Since ShadowFinder is a new Play mode that focuses on a more modern aesthetic and theme, I want to add some things–like spells–that tie into that theme. These are simply ways for characters to feel more “Supernatural Kindred Stalker” than “Guardians of the Trek Wars.”

Here’s an example:

(Art by grandfailure)

Secret Signs [Technomancer 2]
School divination
Casting Time 1 round
Range personal
Duration instantaneous

Casting secret signs can tell you whether entering a specific commercial or public space that has signage (such as a store, restaurant, library, subway terminal, and so on) is likely to be helpful for accomplishing a specific goal you wish to accomplish there (such as buying a specific item, being able to travel to a given destination, finding a friend of yours, finding a police officers, and similar goals). You must have the specific goal in mind when you cast the spell, and it gives you information above every public or commercial location in your line of sight by changing how you see their signs, indicating good results with positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs up, etc.), and difficult or unlikely locations with negative emojis.

The chance for successfully receiving a meaningful reply is 85%; this roll is made secretly by the GM. A result may be so straightforward that a successful result is automatic, or it may be so complicated as to have no chance of success. If the secret signs succeeds, you get one of four results.

*Thumb’s Up (if the location will probably aid in the goal).
*Thumb’s Down (if the location likely won’t aid in the goal).
*Shrug (If the location may aid, but such aid is dangerous, expensive, or hard to find once within the location)
*WTF (for locations that have neither especially good nor especially bad results).

If the secret signs isn’t successful, you get the “nothing” result. A spellcaster who gets the “nothing” result has no way to tell whether it was the consequence of a failed or successful casting.

The secret signs can only predict about 30 minutes into the future, so anything that might happen beyond that time frame does not affect the result. Thus, the result might not take into account the long-term consequences of a contemplated action. Multiple castings of secret signs by the same creature about the same goal in the same region use the same die result as the first casting.

Would You Like To Know More?

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon! This post has an Expanded Version on my Patreon as well, which talks a little about the design philosophy behind secret signs.

ShadowFinder Adventure Sketch

The ShadowFinder Core Book won’t include a full-length adventure–there’s neither time nor room to get one crammed into that first book–but it WILL include some GM/Adventure support. There will be a section that talks about how to take typical Starfinder Adventure Paths and “reskin” them for the ShadowFinder Play Mode. And there will be some Adventure Sketches.

These are short outlines of what an adventure might include, with sections outlining “What It Looks Like,” “What’s Actually Going On,” “How Do PCs Get Involved,” “How Does It End,” and “Then What.” They are designed for GMs to use as inspirations and jumping-off points, with just enough details to explain what the adventure is about and how it may go, but without so many it’ll be difficult to mold into an existing campaign’s events. For example, while this adventure sketch mentions “the city,” it doesn’t tell you if it happens in New York City, Tokyo, or Absalom. That’s up to the GM.

I kinda hate to preview an Adventure Sketch–they take a lot of effort to write compared to their size and I see them as being a big part of what makes the ShadowFinder book work, despite their relatively small wordcount–but for exactly the reason I want them in the Core Book, I think they do a great job of showcasing what kinds of stories I think ShadowFinder is going to be great for playing through.

So, I picked one of my favorites — Save the City Beneath — and am showcasing it here.

Save The City Beneath

What It Looks Like: Water is mysteriously disappearing. From the drinking water system, reservoirs, even entire rivers and lakes are showing water levels way, way below what they out to be. The systems are all connected to the city’s drinking system, and if the loss isn’t stopped, the entire city is going to have a water shortage.

What’s Actually Going On: The city sits atop “The City Beneath,” a subterranean mix of old, unmapped sewers, storm drains, bootlegger tunnels, heating shafts, closed-off basements, cisterns, bomb shelters, previous cities, and secret underground complexes, natural caves, mined-out salt mines, where a civilization exists with only sporadic contact with the normal city above them. The City Beneath has actual physical portals to the Shadowblast, but also to demiplanes with less malignant residents and much ancient lore and preserved mystic libraries.

The City Beneath is not an inherently evil place. It’s a city, with good people, bad people, homeless people, gangs, unions, charities, arks, and everything else you’d expect to find in a big city—just all underground. But a powerful and judgmental person or group in the upper class of the “normal” surface city (we’ll call them F.L.O.O.D. – Friends of Law, Order, and Organized Democracy) has decided the City Beneath is an unacceptable danger. This group wants to find the City beneath, scour it of everything of value and power, and destroy it.

So, FLOOD are flooding the lower sections of their own city—uncaring that they are drowning the homeless, flooding out the dispossessed, and terrifying the vulnerable members of the lower class in the process—to follow the water drainage into passageways to the City Beneath.

Of course, in the process they are also waking up and releasing things the City Beneath locked away as too dangerous centuries ago.

How Do PCs Get Involved: If the mystery of a regionwide water shortage centered on a major city isn’t enough to get the PCs poking around, when some monsters start popping up in basements, abandoned bank vaults, old tunnel systems, and trendy secret clubs, the PCs can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, someone working for FLOOD might even try to hire the PCs to protect their water-trackers, hoping monster-hunters will blindly accept that the City Beneath must be “dealt with.”

How Does It End: The PCs figure out what FLOOD is up to, and either expose them to the public (which won’t result in anyone important going to jail, but will bring enough pressure for FLOOD to give up… for now), or hunt down and take out the FLOOD manager in charge of the deadly operation. FLOOD won’t be destroyed either way, but will decide such high-profile, headline-grabbing operations are a bad idea.

Then What: Assuming the FLOOD threat to the City Beneath is ended, the PCs now have access to an entire hidden society. In future adventures they can explore, train, use Coin of the Realm to buy magic items, set up bases, make allies, and go adventuring to deal with the City Beneath’s unsavory elements and gangs.

For inspiration on the City Beneath, look up the real-world locations of the Aldwych tube ghost statipn in London, England; Avinguda de la Llum in Barcelona, Spain; the Burlington Bunker in Corsham, England; the Cincinnati Subway in Ohio; Derinkuyu, Turkey; Dixia Cheng in China; the Estación de Chamberí abandoned subway station in Madrid, Spain; K’n-yan; Metro 417 in Los Angeles, California; Naours, France; New York City’s City Hall station; The Paris Catacombs, France; Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine; Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon; Three Kings Catacombs in Tizimín, Mexico; and the Seattle Underground, in Seattle, Washington.

(Seriously, I can’t wait to show you all this Jacob Blackmon ShadowFinder art!)

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon!

How to Use the ShadowFinder Book

I’ve made a big deal out of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite project called ShadowFinder being a Play Mode for Starfinder, rather than a separate campaign or ruleset. So, if it’s designed to create a different play experience, but is 100% Starfinder compatible, what do I expect people to actually do with this book?

Well, no shock, I write about that a bit in the book itself.

Okay, What Do We DO With This?

ShadowFinder is designed to be use a few different ways, depending on your interests.

First, it’s everything you need to start running adventures in a new Play Mode, with a focus on the aesthetics and tropes of modern urban fantasy, rather that the more scifi-fantasy of Starfinder. We present enough information to get you started, including a quick description of the planar scar known as the Shadowblast, and the two worlds it links – Lost Golarion, and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth. If you are the type of group who just wants some rules and a setting, or maybe also some adventure seeds, and then you craft adventures and storylines yourselves, you can get started right away.

Second, it’s a big set of additional options for any Starfinder game. The new classes, class options, feats, and spells are all designed for use in ShadowFinder, but since the rules are 100% compatible with Starfinder, if you want to add enigmas, warlocks, and even sword saints and technicians to a non-ShadowFinder game, they’ll fit right in. There are some options rules in ShadowFinder that aren’t designed for other uses, such as Heroic Defense, but I’ve carefully kept those separate from other player-facing material. That means if you want to play a ShadowFinder game with Heroic Defense, it applies to any PC (even those uses classes from other sources), and if you want to play a warlock in a game without Heroic Defense, the class remains balanced.

Third, and most excitingly for me, it’s a toolkit of ideas you can take and use to create your own Play Mode, unique campaign, or even related Starfinder Infinite products! This book is very much the product of exactly what I wanted to make, but I see that as a beginning, not an end. Now that these rules and ideas are out in the world, I hope you will take the opportunity to shape, mold, and build off of them to create whole-new things I could never dream of.

(Yep. It’s a Nuar in a Suit)

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ShadowFinder Inspirations List

This week seems to be all about previews of some of the material from the ShadowFinder book I announced in my ShadowFinder Is Coming post.

So, what on Earth has gone into my head to lead me to want to write this book? Well… there’s a lot of it.

Appendix A: Inspirations List

This excerpt of Appendix A is not part of the OGL content of this site, and it not covered by any of the licenses this product is published under. It’s a separate, editorial list presented under fair use.

While ShadowFinder is not an effort to duplicate any specific piece of genre fiction, it absolutely does draw inspirations from a wide range of movies, shows, anime, books, and comics. While I simply do not have room (or time) to compile a comprehensive list, I did want to touch on some of the biggest contributors to the zeitgeek I’m trying to tap into. Very few of these represent exactly what I expect a ShadowFinder game session to look like, but most of them have elements that could easily inspire ShadowFinder plots, adventures, and characters.

This is just the film and television parts of the appendix from the book, which also has comics and literature… though wow have I wanted more tv and movies in the past 20 years than read books. 😛

In some cases, I have listed the original source of a franchise, even though something later in the franchise might be the first thing that that inspired me. In other cases, I list some later product, because it stands out in my mind from the rest of its franchise. There’s a reason both Dawn of the Dead movies are listed but not all the related zombie films, and Friday the 13th Part II and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday are the only two Friday the 13th movies listed.

Inclusion here is absolutely not a claim of quality entertainment, in value, theme, presentation, or diversity. A lot of these are bad, and the very fact they are bad sometimes is what caused them to spark ideas in my head. In particular, many of these things now make me cringe when I read or watch them, as they have tropes, attempts at jokes, and stereotypes that should never have been acceptable. Please, check reviews and content warnings before trusting them to be entertaining. There are some great ideas in these, but too often they are mixed with bigotry and bias. I know we can all do a better job when importing the cool parts into our own stories.

Also, a lot of them are horror-themed, despite the fact I don’t consider ShadowFinders to be designed as a horror genre. But modern supernatural stories often are horror, and part of the point is that slasher and monster-in-the-sewer films go differently when PCs get involved.

[H2]Film and Television

Alias. Created by J.J. Abrams.

Alligator. Directed by Lewis Teague.

Angel. Starring David Boreanaz.

Angel Heart. Directed by Alan Parker.

Assault on Precinct 13. Directed by John Carpenter.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Directed by John DeBello.

Attack the Block. Directed by Joe Cornish.

Battle Royale. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

Belphegor, or the Phantom of the Louvre. Directed by Claude Barma.

Big Trouble in Little China. Directed by John Carpenter.

Black Dynamite. Directed by Scott Sanders.

The Blair Witch Project. Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.

The Blob. Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.

The Blues Brothers. Directed by John Landis.

The Boondock Saints. Directed by Troy Duffy.

Brimstone. Created by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris.

Bubba Ho-Tep. Directed by Don Coscarelli.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.

The Cabin in the Woods. Directed by Drew Goddard.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Directed Ken Hughes.

C.H.U.D. Directed by Douglas Cheek.

Cool World. Directed by Ralph Bakshi.

The Craft. Directed by Andrew Fleming.

Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Jack Arnold.

The Crow. Directed by Alex Proyas.

Dark Angel. Created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee.

Dark City. Directed by Alex Proyas.

Darkman. Directed by Sam Raimi.

Dawn of the Dead. Directed by George A. Romero.

Dawn of the Dead. Directed by Zack Snyder

Death Valley. Developed by Eric Weinberg, Curtis Gwinn, and Spider One.

Deep Rising. Directed by Stephen Sommers.

Demon Knight. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson.

The Descent. Directed by Neil Marshall.

Escape from New York. Directed by John Carpenter.

Equinox. Directed by Robert Day.

Evil Dead II. Directed by Sam Raimi.

Five Deadly Venoms. Directed by Chang Cheh.

The Fog. Directed by John Carpenter.

Friday the 13th, the Series. Created by Frank Mancuso Jr. and Larry B. Williams.

Friday the 13th, Part II. Directed by Steve Miner.

Fright Night. Directed by Tom Holland.

Fringe. Created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci.

From Dusk till Dawn. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Game of Death. Directed by Bruce Lee.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Directed by Jim Jarmusch.

Ghostbusters. Directed by Ivan Reitman.

The Golden Child. Directed by Michael Ritchie.

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter.

Happy! Created by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson.

Hellraiser. Directed by Clive Barker.

Highlander. Directed by Russell Mulcahy.

Highway to Hell. Directed by Ate de Jong.

The Host (Gwoemul). Directed by Bong Joon-ho.

House II: The Second Story. Directed by Ethan Wiley.

House on Haunted Hill. Directed by William Malone.

Howard the Duck. Directed by Willard Huyck.

Hudson Hawk. Directed by Michael Lehmann.

In the Mouth of Madness. Directed by John Carpenter.

Infinity Train. Created by Owen Dennis.

John Dies at the End. Directed by Don Coscarelli.

John Wick. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Directed by Adam Marcus.

Jurassic Park. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Directed by Stephen Chiodo.

The Kingdom (Original title: Riget). Created by Lars von Trier.

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Directed by Gordon Hessler.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Creator Jeff Rice.

Kung Fu Hustle. Directed by Stephen Chow.

L.A. Story. Directed by Mick Jackson.

Labyrinth. Directed by Jim Henson.

The Lair Of The White Worm. Directed by Ken Russell.

Lake Placid. Directed by Steve Miner.

The Last Dragon. Directed by Michael Schultz.

The Lost Boys. Directed by Joel Schumacher.

The Lost Room. Created by Christopher Leone and Laura Harkcom.

El Mariachi. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Midnight, Texas. Developed by Monica Owusu-Breen.

MirrorMask. Directed by Dave McKean.

Monster Squad. Directed by Fred Dekker.

Mortal Kombat. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.

National Treasure. Directed by Jon Turteltaub.

Near Dark. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Neverwhere. Created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry.

Nightbreed. Directed by Clive Barker.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Directed by Chuck Russell.

Night of the Lepus. Directed by William F. Claxton.

The Passage. Created by Liz Heldens.

Pi. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

The Prophecy. Directed by Gregory Widen.

Predator. Directed by John McTiernan.

Prince of Darkness. Directed by John Carpenter.

Pumpkinhead. Directed by Stan Winston.

Puppet Master. Directed by David Schmoeller.

Quatermass and the Pit. Directed by Roy Ward Baker.

The Quiet Earth. Directed by Geoff Murphy.

Raiders of the Lost Ark. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Rawhead Rex. Directed by George Pavlou.

Re-Animator. Directed by Stuart Gordon.

REC. Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza.

Repo Man. Directed by Alex Cox.

The Return of the Living Dead. Directed by Dan O’Bannon.

Salem’s Lot. Directed by Tobe Hooper.

Sleepy Hollow. Created by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove, and Len Wiseman.

Special Unit 2. Created by Evan Katz.

The Strain. Created by Guillermo del Toro, and Chuck Hogan.

Stranger Things. Created by the Duffer Brothers.

Streets of Fire. Directed by Walter Hill.

The Stuff. Directed by Larry Cohen.

Supernatural. Creator Eric Kripke.

The Swarm. Directed by Irwin Allen.

Them! Directed by Gordon Douglas.

They Live. Directed by John Carpenter.

The Thing. Directed by John Carpenter.

Thirteen Ghosts. Directed by Steve Beck.

Trancers. Directed by Charles Band.

Tremors. Directed by Ron Underwood.

Vampire Hunter D. Directed by Toyoo Ashida.

Vampires. Directed by John Carpenter.

Warlock. Directed by Steve Miner.

The Warriors. Directed by Walter Hill.

The X-Files. Creator Chris Carter.

Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon!