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Episode 74: Campaign Basics
Regular Shows

00:00 / 1:01:52

Main Topic

We talked about world building before, but now we will take the suggestion from you, our listeners, and look at how to create a campaign for your games.Before we dive too deep, we thought we would take the chance to make two or three episodes out of this topic, but that means defining terms first! Bear with us and we will explain what parts of a campaign we think you have to at least be aware of when designing (and next time, we will take a hand at some actual design practice!) A campaign not only fleshes out and enlivens a world that you’ve built, but it will be centered around an idea or theme.  The idea or theme could be internal or external, but it provides a “through line” in the session. Think of a campaign like a season of a TV Show, and a theme for a campaign like the Big Bad the campaign is leading up to or revolving around – In Angel, the theme for one season was that the worst place in the universe, the place that held the most torment was here, which wasn’t revealed until a single scene at the end of the season. Other times, you have an external theme like the literal Big Bad Evil Git that has been pulling the strings, like The Founders in Deep Space Nine behind the Dominion War.

You should ask whether the Campaign will be event driven or character driven, or more accurately how much of each you want to use.  I don’t like the idea that character driven is in opposition to events or world building, but I know that is a way people want to see the axis. Each of the styles described below can be used for character driven or event driven campaigns and some of that returns to the question of internal versus external focus for your table.  Which is going to bring more motivation or movement for the characters? An event driven campaign may go from scene to scene and event to event in a fairly linear manner, but that is not to say personal growth doesn’t happen just that it is framed in respect to the events. Conversely, a character driven campaign may not use the events as milestones so much as the backdrop against which personal moments and growth happen.

How you get to that Theme is a question and here are a few of the styles of Campaigns we will discuss in the upcoming episodes:

  • Discovery/Exploration – This is the “What’s Over the Hill?” and “Going Boldly Where Nobody has Gone Before” style campaign and centers around the player characters being away from what they know and seeking something new in the world. (Star Trek: TOS) (2001).  This can also be where a mystery game can fall if it isn’t going to have the players as proxies for a larger conflict. (The Bourne Identity)
  • Succession of Power – This is the fun handoff or power from one generation to another and related campaign ideas.  It can be a potent campaign concept for political and social games where the transition of power often comes with violence that the players may want to prevent … or incite. (Game of Thrones/ASOIAF)
  • Metaconflict – Conflict way bigger than the players that they are somehow thrust in to the middle.  This is the War between Good and Evil (Dragonlance) as well as the War between the Superpowers (Macross) game where the players serve as pawns, or maybe bishops, but often find personal discovery in the service to a larger power.
  • Microconflict – This is the human versus human, knowable level of conflict.  Here, it is the direct village against village, or maybe the village against a band of encroaching bandits or critters, but it is built on the most intimate scale of these examples and will often feature recurring and long running NPCs, (call back to Episode 45: Flesh on Your NPCs Bones).

From that theme, you can then work on the building blocks of the campaign that may not be finished from your world building, or that may be your world building – who, when, and where in particular. Next time, we will look at one or two of these campaign themes and show how to use it to build out an example campaign! Or two.

Stat Blocks

Zendead- Draks

So what happens when a protoplasmic slime interacts with a living entity? Wait let’s’ rewind a bit. A protowhat? I hear you say, yes it is proto meaning before. See I knew you would questions for me about this substance. What is it and where did it come from being foremost in your mind. Well both of those questions are not possible to answer as of right now. See we are still working them out ourselves. I can give you are bit of history about them. Shortly after the quakes that struck the planet where settling back down. People where trying to figure out what had happened, they started showing up at the epicenters of the disasters. This grey green slime was present and didn’t make any sense it should have been ash and lava and rock not a strange slime. Samples were taken of the slime. That is when things, as the saying goes, went off the rails.

The first samples didn’t seem to have any strange characteristics. It was a semi fluid liquid at room temperature. It didn’t have a chemical reaction to the containers it was stored in. One day it was being transferred to a new lab and some of the material came into contact with a petri dish that had a culture of E. Coli growing on it and the slime then became for nothing better alive. It enveloped the culture. Then the true horror began. The E. Coli that had contact began to change what it became we are not sure. We couldn’t get it sequenced fast enough. The long and short of this part is that it changed the bacteria into something else, and fast. The rate of mutation was in the million of times faster. Evolution at a rate unseen before or since. Needless to say it got out of the dish.

What we had not been able to see was that the local animals near these epicenters had found out that the slime was able to do that in the wild and was changing the local wildlife. It was adapting to a world that wasn’t present now but was on its way. The species barrier was not present at all. Then it found a human. After the change rewrote the genetic makeup of a person they were different. After the first human contact things spread fast people could be carriers at least at first. Like a small group of terraformed people they were a few hundred at first but the population never got very big and the first ones after a few tests were found to have an extra pair of nucleotides that nothing on this planet had. One feature they all have now is a growth that changes the shape of the skull pulling it back and giving them a scaled appearance to their smooth skin. Which is why we call them Draks.

Joules-The Infernal Phone


“You can’t keep it a secret.  They all know”

The phone vibrates in your hand.  You’ve been getting strange messages for the past month.  Cryptic warnings. Subtle threats. Disturbing images.

You kept trying to throw the phone away.  But for some reason it always kept reappearing. Like rings in the old fairy tales.  And you couldn’t ignore it. Some strange compulsion forces you to look at communications.  To re-live all your past transgressions. To exist in a state of anxiety. Every time you start to relax, you hear that familiar chime.


“You know what you did to that old man.”

You remember being at the train station, yelling on phone to your subordinate about some perceived transgression.  You got your first message that night. The next morning you heard that your subordinate threw himself out of his office window.  You’ve been getting similar messages ever since. Torturing you every time you hear that chime. Destroying bits of your soul till the end of time itself.

And as the last of your essense fades, you realize where you are.


“Your hands will never be clean”

You see, the world modernized. Mobile data and constant electronic surveillance and endless swaths of data stored in the cloud.  Technology infusing every aspect of life. What humanity didn’t know is that hell was upgrading as well. Humanity still saw hell as this otherworldly place of fire and sulfur, filled with the eternal screams of the damned. So, with Hell using the ubiquitous tools made by man to mete out punishment in the afterlife, you didn’t know that you were in hell. Humanity’s past sins and shames are repeated to them through the technology they used every day.  And with all the stories of Anonymous and other hacker groups, man is able to delude themselves, thinking that they’re still alive. Making the punishment all the more sublime. Hellish tools like the infernal phone have become standard tools for punishing the wicked. Man is now unwittingly creating the tools of his own torment.


“Do you know where you are?”

nulloperations- A Ring of Storms

It’s an art piece, to be sure. A golden ring interlaced with sapphire flecks and leaves of silver. It is large enough for an average ring finger, but fits comfortably on a larger pinky or smaller thumb. But wearing it as a ring doesn’t matter as it is functional no matter the distance from its owner. Once bound it cannot be unbound until death.

The ring is a focus, a fetter for a bound entity of lightning and rain. The storm spirit will manifest itself only when the wearer experiences intense emotions. Fear will bring mountains of dark clouds and heavy rain. Anger will bring thunder, fury, and cutting winds. Loss and pain will bring cold shadowy downpours that never seem to end. Love will bring a soft and warm summer rain with rainbows swept through the mist. The spirit feels all that the its master feels. It lives only as the master lives.

Ownership of the ring is a lifelong affair. An unbound ring will not obey until it feels the touch of intense emotions, and once bound the ring will not transfer to another until its master has passed beyond. If the ring is taken violently then hurricane forces gales will sweep the land and send the ring travelling. If the ring is taken by accidental demise, the spirit will weep the master’s last pains. And should the ring’s master come to a quiet death in their slumber, the spirit will bring fog to the land for a year and a day until it has finished mourning.


The Siren’s Cosmic Call, or How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Imprecision

It can be as simple as a one way street sign pointing the way under the brightest street light this side of June & Hospice.  It can be as subtle as the repeating refrain of a songbird just a month too early to be heard. Sometimes, the universe will tell you to wake up and pay attention – you have been called to service. Why?

Sometime, long ago, the universe realized that it needed help, or at least antibodies within the vastness that is.  You have been chosen. You have been called. You have an ability to stop the infection that seeps into our world. How?

That is a question that is harder to answer.  You find the others, called like you, coming to the same place like you, holding a quizzical look like  you. Each different, but also with similarities. The universe made a team. The universe chose people to come together, perhaps at its most pure form, to be a kind of family. This is no closer to how, though.

If it isn’t an accident, what do you hold that sets you apart?  Do you fly through the air? Have you found some remarkable insight into the nature of this world? Or do you just have an imagination?

There is no instruction booklet, only flashes and glimpses of insight in your disparate heads.  There is no guidance, only guesswork. You could be nothing more than disposable accidents of creation, hearing something not meant for you; is that a better option than the universe actively using you like flotsam and jetsam to discard at the earliest point.

Is it about the betterment of all over your own comfort … or is it something more that these other people here have kept hidden? There is but one way to find out, and so you commit yourself to uncovering this mystery or perhaps to collapse of old age and in that singular moment see the infinite glory you believe you have been protecting.


Cyclopean  adjective

cy·​clo·​pe·​an | \ ˌsī-klə-ˈpē-ən  , sī-ˈklō-pē- \

Definition of cyclopean

1 often capitalized : of, relating to, or characteristic of a Cyclops


3 : of or relating to a style of stone construction marked typically by the use of large irregular blocks without mortar

Etymology of cyclopean

“of or characteristic of the legendary Cyclopes of Greek mythology,” 1640s, from Latin cyclopeus, from Greek kyklopeios, from kyklopes (see cyclops). Especially in reference to having a single eye in the middle of the forehead; also “vast, gigantic,” and in reference to a style of ancient masonry, irregular or unhewn, fabled to be the work of a gigantic Thracian race (1822).

First Known Use of cyclopean

1582, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Look-up Popularity

Bottom 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  Good to read to your kids and to draw minor ideas from. Good for introducing kids to fantasy and reading.

Joules-Crap Guide to D&D

nulloperations- Space Engineers: Minecraft in Space

Guard-a-Manger- Stranger Things.  The Season 3 trailer dropped, and I have not been doing a great deal of reading lately, but it reminds me of how effective theme building can be and how evocative the creators are with their design elements.

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster and online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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Sci-Fi, Raypunk, Noire
Big heroes, big legends, and big adventures are all part of what make the pulpy genre of Raypunk fun. But every tale has got to have a place to let the plot roll forward, and with noire being a close cousin, the underworld of smoky dice tables, an illicit bar, and scheming card sharks make this space bound casino a welcome stop in the players’ story.
The Rambling Star
Place, Casino
Neon everything, bright fuzzy carpets, the smell of too much cheap perfume and too many cheaper cigars, and the constant flow of whatever hooch and chemical altering substances that can be shipped in defines the Rambling Star. It’s parked somewhere just beyond the normal legal space lanes this month, and it’ll be towed somewhere else next month once this week’s protection money doesn’t show up. The place is dangerous, filthy, and loaded with cash as they drain ever spacer’s wallet that dares to step beyond the faux gold-plated doors.
The casino is built on an asteroid that used to house a mining colony’s dormitory. The rock’s been outfitted with a huge movement thruster and countless maneuvering rockets to let the vessel turn around to stop its momentum. The dorms have been converted to far more expensive than they’re worth hotel rooms with a little space left over to house the organic staff. Parking space is always available as the rock has ports to handle over 90% of most ship to ship connectors. Everyone else can maglock and just float on in.
No one knows who owns The Rambling Star. It changes hands often enough; sometimes because it makes too much money, but mostly because it burns too much of it. The staff rarely change as the bulk of them are either programmed to stay or just don’t have enough money left over from their worthless pay checks. The few that do usually escape to become crew on passing ships, or just stowaways.
Fitting The Rambling Star In
The Rambler is a good place to start a raypunk campaign or a place to pick up a late joining PC crew member. The table games are watched carefully, and big winners are quickly comped, suggested to spend their winnings, or quickly thrown out of an airlock if they won’t. Machine games are heavily rigged in the house’s favor. Players shouldn’t look to get rich here from playing at the casino aspect of the Rambling Star, and stack games of chance against them including having the house cheat and cheat hard. Lure the players here with promises of information or meetings, and play up the atmosphere enough that they’re discouraged from wanting to join in the danger and underlying darkness of the place. The bright lights hold nothing but lies.
Ace of Thirty Kings
Person, Robot
Robots are built for a purpose, and if you ask Ace, he’d tell you he was built to be an annoying jackass. Loud, bold, and in need of maintenance on his joints and personality, Ace of Thirty Kings is a recent arrival at the local watering hole. His frame was once painted a brilliant deep sapphire that seemed to absorb the light of the room, but now the paint is worn and only a few patches still show off the glittered specks in between the deep blue void of his design. The robot now wears a large black jacket with silver and gold lining in a checkerboard pattern. Fake jewels stretch along the stitching of the jacket, although these are dull and damaged from his countless quick departures from casinos and bars. Turns out there’s some bouncers strong and angry enough to pick up his heavy frame and show him the concrete outside.
Ace of Thirty Kings is a swindler and a card counter. He’s got enough software in him to get any dice he picks up to always roll whatever he wants, when his arm isn’t acting up. He memorizes the smallest details of cards of other players, and know exactly what he’s playing against every time. That’s not to say he wins every time. Too suspicious that way. He’ll mostly lose, but in the end, he’ll come out on top.
He’s bored, mostly. Mastering the gambling arts, he hasn’t quite found something worth betting his own life on yet. For now, he goes from casino to casino, table to table, pulling in just enough extra credits to get by, waiting for that big score he’s been dreaming of all these years.
Fitting Ace of Thirty Kings In
Ace should be a nuisance to the party, the npcs, even the GM should find him annoying after a while. He’s a robot who doesn’t quite know when to shut up, but always knows when it’s time to fold a hand. There’s no better gambling machine than him as his software is loaded with every conceivable cheating mechanism. This also means almost nothing escapes his notice, and he’ll be perceptive on what the party is up to often long before they even realize it themselves. While he’s annoying, he should be played smart, and like any good card shark he’ll know when to get up and walk away from a bad situation. His need for the party should scale by how well he’s doing financially. While he wins a lot, if he’s caught cheating those winnings seem to always magically turn into debts, and favors are the most valuable of currencies.
The Luck Virus
Thing, Macguffin
The infection starts small; little things like finding a few credits on the ground, catching a dropped glass that should have been out of reach, or finding a door unlocked they expected to have to break down. Things then start to get odd; every traffic light seeming to go their way, an extra magazine of ammo in their kit, the dealer’s shuffle seeming to give them the card they need a dozen hands in a row. Then the barely missed speeding car, the well-timed door opening that knocked out the guard chasing them, or the tripping hazard that made the hit-man’s bullet miss. Somehow it just feels like the universe loves them.
The infection is ancient tech; nanites from a civilization long dead. The tiny machines were made to help those infected survive in the hyper-science culture that had existed long ago. The strain was meant to die when the host infected passed on, but somehow they took on a life of their own. Now they pass from host to host, sharing their ability to manipulate physics and odds in the favor of the being they love.
But luck can come and go, and those who become too wise to the infection’s gift tend to earn the luck virus’s ire. An infected can find danger lurking around every corner as the universe seems to try to correct the bubble of blessings that surrounded them.
Fitting The Luck Virus In
In games where luck is an attribute or stat, the luck virus should act as a bonus or an extra die. For games where luck is an economy item of player agency, toss them random plot points, edges, or other tokens to suggest that things are just going their way for some reason. But log these gifts, because just as luck gives, it takes. The virus is semi-sentient, and knowns when it’s being abused. The virus’s goal is to help it’s host survive, not to help them lie, cheat, and abuse. Those that do will find themselves drained of luck and good fortune, and find their worlds crashing down on them.
Using Bless Your Lucky Star
The Whole Block
The Bless Your Lucky Star scenario can be a good entry point into a campaign, or serve as a point of interest in a Raypunk or other sci-fi setting. The casino’s ownership is always in question, and wealthy heroes or villains make for good customers. Ace of Thirty Kings should set the tone of how loud and boisterous the rest of the npcs should be. Everything should be loud, bright, and always have the undercurrent of a threat. The Luck Virus itself offers a way of throwing chaos into the casino. So many patrons would be attempting to use their newfound luck to scam the Rambling Star, and the virus would find itself jump from host to host to find someone worth protecting in the den of thieves. If the npcs of the Rambling Star know about or realize what the legendary Luck Virus is, they may want to hunt down any PCs that take it from the Casino. Ace can make a good antagonist for such escapades or serve as the means to informing the PCs of just what they have.

Dark Tides Session 7
Dark Tides Actual Play

00:00 / 30:45

The seventh session of Carrion Crown

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Fantasy, Artifacts, Community
A legacy comes with the gift of magic and art. Children often inherit the curse of their parents, and the fetters of the past serve to remind descendants of what pains their parents endured. Powerful loss often attracts outsiders looking to take advantage of an opening, and the cycle of pain continues when an entire community supports the method that the curse was caused from.
The Village of Clouds
Holswyrth has never known a dry day in ten years. The rains vary from light and cheerful to heavy and wrought with wind and thunder. For this, while a drought is never a problem, the village has taken a hardship with growing their own crops. They have become known instead for being the water bearer town, and wagon after wagon leave their lakes to seek profit from nearby lands. While the surrounding villages suffer with droughts, Holswyrth is able to sate their thirst for the exchange of food and goods.
The past ten years have changed the village significantly. Once known for their jewel craft and blacksmithing, the village has focused instead on producing goods to protect against the rains or to provide a means of transporting water. Regardless of the time period Holswyrth is found, they have invented umbrellas, advanced cisterns with pumps for moving water, and tanks for transporting water. Oh, and most importantly, lighting rods to protect their homes.
They have begun to keep logs about the different types of rains that strike their town although they have failed to solve the meteorology to determine what type of rain it should be. For this, they are at lost. The rains vary so dramatically they assume the worst on each day and dress appropriately. While they enjoy the light sprinkle days, it is the storms they fear and prepare for.
Fitting The Village of Clouds In
The village of Holswyth is an odd place with its permanent storms. Players should hear rumors long before they reach the town, and the landscapes and villages in Holswyth’s region should be barren and dry as all moisture is drawn to the village at the heart of the storm. Merchants from Holswyth should be seen bringing large tanks of water and hauling back food to the village of clouds. These merchants should be concerned about any outsider asking questions, and will actively avoid adventurers if possible. The residents don’t know what causes the storm, but they fear someone delving into their community and breaking the wheels that have cursed them with the rains. They’re too invested now to choose another path.
Tabitha of the Ring
An orphaned child raised by her uncle, Tabitha is nine-years-old. It’s said that her birth was greeted by a wall of fog, as the storm mourned her mother’s passing. Tabitha is a sweet young girl with the curiosity of one who consumed every piece of knowledge she’s exposed to. She’s read every book in her uncle’s manor she can find. She’s twice borrowed every book the town’s record keeper will lend her. Her ideas have given inspiration to the jewelers who keep her uncle wealthy, and her talents have garnered the interest of the town’s other smiths and crafters. As a thank you, those who have used her ideas often carve the symbol that has become synonymous with the youth; the token she wears on her necklace, a simple gold ring with small silver leaves that once belonged to her mother.
To be truthful, the entire town did mourn her mother’s passing as she was one of the most skilled jewelers the community had known. They had been pleased with her mother’s art and the wealth and prestige it had brought them. Her legend had travelled far, and with the tales of the master jeweler came merchants, nobles, and others seeking to bid for her work. It had been one of these men that had courted the jeweler, a travelling merchant whose wagon had smelled of strange potions and housed unusual artifacts. His mystique had lured the crafter, and they had wed after his third visit. She travelled with him for some time but always returned to the town Tabitha would know as home. When Tabitha’s mother became with child, the merchant traveled on, promising to return before the birth. A promise that had not been fulfilled.
And so, for the months prior to Tabitha’s birth a set of weeping clouds swept forth. The rains started slowly but became more and more intense until the night of the child’s birth when the fogs beset the town for a year and a day. Her uncle took in his sister’s newborn and gave the child a necklace of the wedding band his sister forged.
Fitting Tabitha of the Ring In
Tabitha has her mother’s skill of the forge and patience of working with the delicate. But she also her father’s burning desire to know more and more and more. These arts are slowly combining, and with it comes a curiosity to study new and odd things. When the PC’s enter the town Tabitha lives in, she will immediately take notice of them. She’ll try to stay out of sight unless the PC’s deal with her uncle and he forces her to reveal herself. This includes following them into any nearby dungeon, crypt, or locked manor. She’s especially curious of any character that seems to exhibit magic or technological wonders. She’s a foil as she’ll often steal away with an artifact before the players notice her or it, or she’ll snag books or other loot from them as long as she thinks they’re distracted enough. She can be an ally as she knows every single detail about the town she lives in, and every secret everyone has. Earning her trust takes time, but an exchange of knowledge is always welcome.
A Ring of Storms
Its an art piece, to be sure. A golden ring interlaced with sapphire flecks and leaves of silver. It is large enough for an average ring finger, but fits comfortably on a larger pinky or smaller thumb. But wearing it as a ring doesn’t matter as it is functional no matter the distance from its owner. Once bound it cannot be unbound until death.
The ring is a focus, a fetter for a bound entity of lightning and rain. The storm spirit will manifest itself only when the wearer experiences intense emotions. Fear will bring mountains of dark clouds and heavy rain. Anger will bring thunder, fury, and cutting winds. Loss and pain will bring cold shadowy downpours that never seem to end. Love will bring a soft and warm summer rain with rainbows swept through the mist. The spirit feels all that the its master feels. It lives only as the master lives.
Ownership of the ring is a life long affair. An unbound ring will not obey until it feels the touch of intense emotions, and once bound the ring will not transfer to another until its master has passed beyond. If the ring is taken violently then hurricane forces gales will sweep the land and send the ring travelling. If the ring is taken by accidental demise, the spirit will weep the master’s last pains. And should the ring’s master come to a quiet death in their slumber, the spirit will bring fogs to the land for a year and a day until it has finished mourning.
Fitting a Ring of Storms In
Give the ring to someone who doesn’t know its purpose. Let it be someone who will stand in opposition to the party but not necessarily violent opposition (as the adrenaline from fighting will bring up quite the storm). And then when the party least expects it, let that NPC die in a way the party can get their hands on the ring. At this point, let the players wonder how they have ended up becoming a deity that brings the rain and why the clouds seems to love their presence.
Remember that the ring itself is not magical. It is just the fetter that links the spirit to the player’s world. As such normal effects that detect magic won’t work on the ring but attempts to identify what it is should work.
Using the Brewing Storm
The Whole Block
The Brewing Storm represents an interesting challenge to the party. The key to the scenario is making Holswyth a pivotal point for the campaign. Maybe the players want to solve the curse or are attempting to apprehend a fugitive. Maybe they’ve been sent here from royal decree to collect taxes or arrest Tabitha’s uncle on charges of treason. Whatever is run, get Tabitha to notice them and get her either intensely curious in them or angry at them. Highlighting the storms and rains throughout the game is important to set the mood here. Solving the mystery of why Tabitha’s mother’s ring is possessed by a storm spirit is an open invitation for adventure, especially if it leads the players to attempt to hunt down Tabitha’s father and the strange dangers surrounding him. Remember, Tabitha is also a seeker of knowledge, and anything the party discusses she will attempt to learn and master. If it means finding her true parentage, the party will not be able to shake her as she tags along and brings the rain with her.

Episode 73: Adapting Systems to Other Settings
Regular Shows

00:00 / 51:57

Main Topic

Sometimes, you want to use a system for a setting that it wasn’t originally built for! How do you do it and what are the considerations to keep in mind? Focus first and foremost of the style and feel you have and want for your table as well as the game itself.  The closer that the system already evokes one of those, the easier it will be to adapt it!

Some keys to keep in mind is that not every system can be used to run every game idea. Some have built in conceits that make them not appropriate for some games. Like Using 3.5 D&D to play something like Shadowrun – a level system with a nonleveling system can clash. This allows systems to play to their strengths where D & D or d20 style systems have made cyberpunk settings and have included magic, but the feel of the game provides a different experience.

Also a really Crunchy system to a super rules light system can be tough to do. But strangely I find that going the other way is less of an issue. Often times, the settings are bootstrapped onto the systems.  The crunch of the system is reflecting part of the world.

Also if you have a ruleset that you know very well and you want to drag a different setting into it regardless you should try to. Remember to be willing to see when things are not going well and be willing to change things, sometimes on the fly.

Some settings have troupes and elements that sometimes need to be created in the system and you need to understand that.

One of my favorite science fiction type games I’ve played used Mage the Ascension …

Things to keep in mind is finding a rule set that matches the feel of the tone of the setting you’re trying to tell. A story of super powered beings works well for settings designed to be adaptable, so something like Mutants and Mastermind can cover that, but if you’re looking for something more nitty-gritty, using a system that’s more built to handle rough combat may fit your table better. The same goes for a adapting settings from tv shows or other tropes. Not all anime shows work well when adapted through Big Eyes, Small mouth. Some might work better with Blades in the Dark, Dungeons and Dragons, or Traveller. Like picking the system to match your table, picking the system to adapt to a setting should match the tone on what feel you and your players want to experience in the story your table wants to tell.

Remember, Yes, And; Yes; Yes, but; and No from Episode 33’s discussions

Stat Blocks

Zendead- The Day the Earth Cracked

To think it started with a bang and it ended with a bang as well. Then a roar and screaming, lots of screaming. Everyone said it would end with a whimper but damn where they wrong. The idea that it would come from out of our solar system didn’t seem strange. There was an extinction level event that ended the reign of dinosaurs. Did it happen before that, no one is sure or even thinks so. The Femri Paradox says that we should have seen something intelligent in the universe by now. What we found was terrible and earth shattering. Both literally and figuratively.

So maybe you remember July 16, 1945? How about August 6 and 9 of the same year? Of course you don’t while they were huge events on the world stage they would be dwarfed by the thing that happened after that. It was months later. Almost 5 full months later to be exact. February 2, 1946 lives in infamy to those few of us that have survived. A week before that we got a message from out in the void of space. We come in peace is all the message said.

We actually believed them and why would we not? We had just ended a massive war that raged across the globe for the most part. We did it by showing the other side we would stop at nothing to destroy them. When the ships got here there where several we could tell it was not a fleet more like an expeditionary group. But they were not here in peace they wanted to stop us from destroying such a prime planet. So in the cover of darkness the ships spread out and started making broadcasts about how they where here to save us. The blasts that triggered the eruption of every major VEI 7 and 8 on the planet at once. So you see the scream was heard around the world.  

nulloperations- The Soul Guardian Lamp
The lamp is simple; a brass cage with a thick carved stone holder for a candle, polished metal and a handle along its top. The sides of lamp are open but the corners, the top, and the bottom are sealed with a dark stained glass. A woven steel thread of chain loops extends from the top of the lamp where it hangs from a hook upon the store’s wall.

It flickers as people pass. Soft whites, radiant golds, angry reds; a myriad of colors showing emotions, mnemic scars, and thoughts of those who presence illuminate its flame. The light shines clean and pure for human souls. Animals that pass leave a wake of light like flowing water. But the souls that stand out the most are the ones inflicted with magic and greater powers. A spellweaver leaves images of her eyes in the candle’s core. A plains walker casts illusions of the reality they have last visited. The undead dull the flame, making it grow cold and dark. In this way the lamp warns the store of who has entered, of who crosses the threshold and what danger may they pose.

Which is why it is curious when the new figure has entered the store and as they passed the lamp the flame has frozen in place. Not died down, not darkened, not snuffed out. Frozen, like crystal, like time has stopped and turned all plasma to gems. What soul has come and overburdened the lamp? What danger was beyond all considerations?

Guard-a-Manger – The Akira Sequence

Sometimes the secrets of science do turn out to be more like magic, Clarke be damned.  Something special about this formula and research is apparent. It is elegant, but something isn’t balancing properly.  It is a difficult thing to come back to time and time again. You can see the math behind it, but have not yet cracked the final proof that will have it fall together.  

Dr. Akira Katsura had left behind the work, the manuscripts, the pieces of the universe reflected in this arcane but known script of mathematics.  You found it after he retired and it has become your own obsession – perhaps quest is the better word. Between the chalk scritched into the board that you wheeled out of his office to the neatly and pristinely written notebooks of proofs, you know there is something here that could unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Late at night, or perhaps early in the morning, you find a way to balance the equation.  You find a way to finish the Akira Sequence. You found out that Physics as you knew it was a lie.

There really was nothing that stopped you from running up the walls.  Nothing to stop you from flying through the air. Walls were … negotiable in this new understanding of the universe.  The math showed you how to transcend what had been our limited understanding of the universe.

THe problem, you now realize, is that when you break physics, it breaks back.  Just as the Akira Sequence unlocked your ability to function with a new set of universal laws, so too did it unlock the universe’s darkest corners where things had been stuffed, and boxed in; locked away and forgotten from time immemorial.  The laws of physics, even your newfangled Physics, meant nothing. They were free now and you have to figure out how to break Math to put them back in their cage.


Halcyon  adjective
hal·​cy·​on | \ˈhal-sē-ən

Definition of halcyon (Entry 1 of 2)
1a : characterized by happiness, great success, and prosperity : GOLDEN —often used to describe an idyllic time in the past that is remembered as better than today
the halcyon days of youth

    a halcyon atmosphere


2 : of or relating to the halcyon (see HALCYON entry 2) or its nesting period


Definition of halcyon (Entry 2 of 2)
1 : a bird identified with the kingfisher and held in ancient legend to nest at sea about the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during incubation


Did You Know?

According to Greek mythology, Alkyone, the daughter of the god of the winds, became so distraught when she learned that her husband had been killed in a shipwreck that she threw herself into the sea and was changed into a kingfisher. As a result, ancient Greeks called such birds alkyon or halkyon. The legend also says that such birds built floating nests on the sea, where they so charmed the wind god that he created a period of unusual calm that lasted until the birds’ eggs hatched. This legend prompted people to use halcyon both as a noun naming a genus of kingfisher and as an adjective meaning either “of or relating to the kingfisher or its nesting period” or calm.

History and Etymology
Middle English alceon, from Latin halcyon, from Greek alkyōn, halkyōn

First Known Use of halcyon
1601, in the meaning defined at sense 2

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Top 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- Umbrella Academy on Netflix.

nulloperations- The Dragon Prince Season 2 on Netflix

Guard-a-Manger- Blast both of you for taking my suggestions ….

A glossy magazine.  Which one doesn’t matter so much as curling up at home with a tactile paper product full of design with both words and images.  Lose yourself in the combination of things and thoughts that a large format publication brings. Tune out the electronic media and connectivity for a few minutes.  

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

Find us

Show- Email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Page, Facebook Group

Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Instagram, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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Welcome back to the Card Catalog 1 Pilot, 3 Ways series! Delayed, but completed! Thank you for your patience! I will admit that FATE is a game system I hadn’t really played much with, having taken deep root while I was in the personal great gaming fallow of the previous decade.  FATE is the most narrative and story driven of the three settings for this series and it actually was a lot of fun. In fact, I am planning to return to FATE and this little setting with a full card catalog later that will rope in the rest of the Seize the GM crew.  I know there has been a bit of delay in finishing this series of posts, and hopefully time is returning to be able to do more writing on the deadlines. I’ll take a week off to start getting the next Card Catalog post in order and see you back on April 16th!

15 years ago, Evil Hat came out with FATE, and part of the new generation of narrative storytelling began.  I have not done a full Card Catalog with FATE before, and I think that I will enlist the fellow Seize the GMers to help me do that in the upcoming months. I’ll do some abbreviated descriptions here, and make sure that I come back for more when we do the fuller write up.  FATE has a legion of dedicated and motivated fans brought on by the innovative and narratively enhancing mechanics of the FATE system or maybe the support for gaming shown by Evil Hat including the OGL and Creative Commons licensing options for Fate.

There are several intertwined parts of FATE as a mechanical system, that includes the character creation system which has players swapping story lined to integrate them together and help create narratively focus Aspects of different characters.  Additionally, Fate’s precepts are that the game is about drama and that the PCs are exceptional – role playing games like Fate are about being bigger than life and about being active in the environment.

The basic mechanic for FATE uses the specific FATE dice, though they can be jury rigged on a d6 pretty easily.  The Fate Dice are 6 sided with 2 “+”s. 2”-”s, and 2 blank faces each. You roll 4 Fate Dice and add the values for your result.  If you are rolling with a skill, you add this to your skill total, described below, and compare it to a difficulty set by the GM. Aspects can also be Invoked or Compelled to those later.  Fate Points also come into play where you gain them from your Aspects being Compelled against you and can be spent to Invoke an aspect or maybe make a slight narrative shift. FATE points also can be used to activate certain particularly useful or powerful stunts, but I think we will save a fuller description for focus on FATE in the future.

Setting Notes

FATE Core is not a setting dependent system, and it provides for some great guidance on building a setting in conjunction with the players. It is hard to overstate the emphasis on the work between the GM and the Players in designing the world or setting and the initial character development. We’ve got the 1 Pilot, 3 Ways thing going on, so we are definitely going science fiction and I’ll give you a rough description of the world for now and we can come back to it when we do a more developed FATE write up later. I am a fan of political upheavals and actions being a motive force so potentially warring space empires is a fun place to start.  I am not going to worry too much about some of the specifics until we get to the later write up, but we are talking at least star system wide with science fiction implausible FTL drives; a “soft sci-fi” but not a full on space fantasy. I would call this “Medium Plausability” in the words of the FATE Space Toolkit. For the most part, we will stick with the default settings and rule components to make the following:

Since I am looking at Science Fiction, I’ll start with two opposing nations and a space station somewhere to the side.  This is a tried and true trope, but it sets up a lot of drama – It is the basic setting for The Expanse, in both books and TV series, as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5. It is Gygax 5 that shall be the home of this campaign.

Once you have the broadest swath of the setting’s scale, you look at some troubles for the setting.  Fate Core recommends two, with the default to be a present or current trouble or problem and one that is coming in the future. A good present issue is THE TRADE WAR IS COMING to highlight the economic pressure between these nations. For the Future Problem, we’ll save that for our return visit …

Next, we create some quick descriptions of locations or people that the players can interact with, and who will have their own Aspect to help shape the campaign play.  Remember that players and the GM can invoke these Aspects when appropriate for purposes of making some of the rolls more interesting. I mentioned the idea of the two different space empires that are dancing around a war with ONE MISTAKE CAN TURN A COLD WAR HOT, so my first two things I want to work out are their Aspects or Issues.  For the Franitelli Consortium, an ancient empire that may well be faltering and needs a war to keep its economy from collapsing, has lots of possibilities. Similarly, in contrast (because Science Fiction so often deals in that design), a decentralized star nation on the other side like the C.A.N. with it’s own problems! Instead of economic, this one is pure political where factionalism is leaving a hawkish Chancellor able to make decisions without majority support.  There is a lot of inspiration that can be mined from the Cold War between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in the 20th Century as an archetypal template.

The rest of this campaign design will be fleshed out with the help of the players including some more location descriptions and some NPCs to recur.

Generally, we will replace the “Drive” skill with “Pilot”, “Lore” with Knowledge, and “Crafts” with Mechanics.  This makes a better sense of the world and I am fine with Knowledge being the generic scientist skills that Feats will simulate.  Mechanics reflects a skill that would have an impact on the game world more than Crafts as well. For Extras, where the worlds and settings truly set themselves apart, I am going to include Geneware and Cybernetics in the mix.  To qualify for these Extras, a PC needs to have an Aspect that would reflect that such as “GENE WIPED & SPLICED UP” or “CYBERSAMURAI”. A cost to use the Extra will likely vary based on the type of modification, but between investing skill slots for implanted knowledge, to refresh points for amped up cyber reflexes, the variety is legion.  

Design & System Notes

Fate has very straight forward crunchy bits, as befits a narrative heavy game.  The first thing to think about are these “Aspects” that form the crux of Fate’s system.  These are short and snappy descriptions that describe your character, or anything really, that could be “invoked” to help or hinder you.  These are adjectival phrases or shorthands for things about your character that provide the springboard for your role playing. For example, a warrior’s aspect could be “READY TO FIGHT” or reflect the specific training they received as “STUDENT OF THE LOST MASTERS”. Other Aspects reflect noticeable features or relationships for your character as well as status based duties. You may note that they get rendered in CAPS or SMALLCAPS frequently to set them off when reading. Aspects can be “Invoked” during play by the players or the GM may “Compel” them either at the cost of a FATE Point or to receive a FATE point during a scene respectively. An Aspect may be Invoked for a variety of uses, from a reroll to a flat bonus to your roll on a skill. When it is Compelled by the GM, you can accept the narrative complication he or she is devising (and regain a spent FATE point) or spend a FATE point to prevent it.   The first thing to do to make a FATE character is to come up with our first two aspects – your high concept & your trouble!

The former is your core character concept which may well describe your profession or place in the world like Wanderlust Exiled Monk or Workaday Police Inspector.  While this will mostly be used as a way for you to as a player to Invoke the Aspect to your advantage, make it broad enough that the GM to Invoke as a negative as well.  The second Aspect to consider is the Trouble. Because the Characters are Dramatic Characters for FATE, there is something that “complicates your characters existence[.]” That is your Trouble!

For M’kal, His High concept is HOT SHOT PILOT.  I thought about whether I wanted to make it the icy cold professional, but decided instead to leave that for one of his other aspects.  HOT SHOT PILOT could be used by the player as a benefit in a situation where maybe his reputation could get him some recognition, or it could be invoked against him by up and comings bravos to challenge him.  As a Trouble, I like the idea of DRUMMED OUT OF THE MILITARY because it is something that can come up in a myriad of ways. In his home country, it could be a sign of disloyalty and shame, with the secret police watching him from his background.  In the neutral zone, is he someone that attracts trouble as a reputation for being unable to be controlled.

FATE then moves to the “Phase Trio” of character creation where you create the history and story of your character up to now.  Each Phase adds an Aspect to your character either from history or what you learned. Phase One is about your first adventure. Remember that FATE is built around the supposition that the characters are proactive and dramatic so your first adventure had to leave it’s impression on you.  Phase Two and Three create a mechanical session zero because you pass the power to the player on your right who helps you describe how you crossed paths with his or her character! This helps bind the characters together and generates some cohesive storytelling for the GM to use later. If you are not making the characters around a table with a party, you can of course just create them whole cloth like we will for M’kal, but I wanted to mention the basic method first.

With three Aspects to choose without the benefit of passing the character sheet around for a Session Zero like creation, I will start with ICY PROFESSIONAL because that is our definite concept for the 1 Pilot, 3 Ways build.  This could be used in a positive or negative aspect but also will be quite enjoyable with the next Aspect – GENE WIPED & SPLICED UP. This past, with military experiments, has produced some remarkable results such as the piloting abilities but would also be a distinguishing mark in society with the potential for some unexpected biological results.  It also lets me take some augmentation Extras if I so choose. Which you know I probably will. Finally, for his 5th Aspect, between the military training, the gene wiping, and the indoctrination, M’kal simply exists OUTSIDE SOCIAL NICETIES – he isn’t rude or a boor, but the social customs and etiquette don’t have an immediate frame of reference for him.  His outsider nature tends to have him potentially able to short circuit certain social expectations for both good and ill.

Now that you have a good handle on your character, you actually put the stats down on paper, or Skills as they are called in FATE.  There are only 18 Skills to choose from and you start with a ranking in 10 of them at the default power level. It is purposefully designed as a broad system to provide the most flexibility. You have ratings from +4(Great) to +1(Average) to start.  Among the Skills are things other games would call Attributes or States like Physique or Will which provide not only their own benefits but also the Stress and Consequence Tracks described below! The breadth of these skills has ratings that exemplify Close Combat where the skill is all forms of close combat.  You begin with 1 Great (+4) skill, 2 Good (+3) skills, 3 Fair (+2) Skills, and 4 Average (+1) Skills.

Pilot at Great (+4) is an obvious start for M’kal. On the other end of the spectrum, Stealth, Provoke (the ability to goad or intimidate people socially), Physique, and Contacts are suitable Average (+1) skills here.  As you’ll see in advancement, this make sit easier to improve them and keep everything together. Between those two – Athletics & Notice at Good (+3), and Will, Shoot, and Fight at Fair (+2) round out a rather good representation of a former military pilot hotshot I think.

Once you know what your skills are, you can choose your Stunts.  Stunts are special tricks or abilities that allow a Character to use a Skill in a different or distinct way. In a SuperHeroic game, this would be where the powers would live or a way to reflect Special Training for “Class Features” that everyone wouldn’t have with a Skill.  You can have anywhere from 3 to 5 in a standard game, but the more stunts you start with the fewer FATE points you will have to spend.

I’m going to make a Stunt called STAY ON TARGET for the Pilot Skill.  This allows a +2 to the roll when tracking or following another ship. I will use BODY LANGUAGE READER straight from the book to allow a Notice test to discern Aspects of other people rather than Empathy because I see M’kal still being pretty cut off from emotions.  For M’kal this will be something I attribute to his Genetic Mods. Finally, for the third Stunt, I am going to pick INDOMITABLE which provides a +2 to Defend against Provoke attacks related to Intimidation or Fear.

I am going to reduce M’kal’s Refresh by 1, meaning that he gets fewer FATE points each session, as a cost for a Genetic Modification Extra.  The idea of trading off that human ineffable ability to succeed for the more mechanical bonuses is a common trope. This is similar to the FATE SYSTEM Toolkit idea for Augmentations between minor & major taking refresh.  As an Extra, M’kal has NEURO PILOTING HYPERFOCUS – He has been genetically modified to be able to enter a state of heightened responses and awareness through neurotransmitter modifications and manipulations of the brain specifically for his Piloting.  The experiments he was subjected to were trying to find ways to modify and evolve the soldiers to their specific tasks to give them an edge if that COLD WAR TURNED HOT. By taking a degree of Mental Stress, M’kal can activate the Hyperfocus for a scene and receive a +2 to his Piloting rolls as well as related rolls such as Notice or Will that are about piloting.  This Extra helps explain why he keeps to himself and why is an outcast, compared to the other 1 Pilot, 3 Ways builds.

Finally, you derive your Stress and Consequences Tracks from your Skill rankings. Stress Tracks for both Mental and Physical Stress start at 2 boxes, with the aforementioned Will and Physique able to add additional boxes. Similarly, there are three Consequences slots – Mild, Moderate, and Severe.  These are the wounds or harm that isn’t just a flesh wound or being a little winded. They provide penalties and act as Aspects that can be invoked or compelled as well and are only slowly healed back.

Advancement Notes

Advancement is a bit different than the other games we have looked at as well. There are not levels like the d20 systems we’ve looked at, nor are there points to be spent like in build style systems.  There are, however, measures for it called Milestones:

  • Minor milestones don’t advance your stats, but may show change in your character and can be where you change some Aspects around based on your characters experiences.  I liken this to a single episode of a TV series and is described as usually a single session of game play.
  • Significant Milestones are about new things and about the advancement of stories.  This is a lot like the end of an arc or the midseason finale of TV shows, and likely several sessions worth of play.  In addition to renaming Severe Consequences to show recovery, an additional skill point is available. The skill pyramid you see on the sheet helps explain how to advance skills – you can never have more skills at a higher level than the level immediately below it.  This requires you to slowly learn new skills to keep the character rounded and get close to the existing skill Cap (which in our game is +4).
  • Major Milestones do advance the power of the characters as well as the world itself.  This is usually 3 or so scenarios which seems to be close to a season of TV if you think about it.  Something large scale has changed in the world from NPC deaths to power balances shifting, or anything else of that nature.  In addition to the benefits of the other milestones, a Major Milestone also provides an additional point of Refresh that may be used to buy new stunts or kept to increase FATE points and if you have the skill points, you may break the Skill cap and increase it for the campaign.  Finally, as this is a story driven system, you can rename you High Concept Aspect if it is warranted.

I am going to say that we have reached a Major milestone that was made up of 3 Significant milestones to get there to approximate our 6th level.  This means that a total of 4 skill points may be applied to move skills up the pyramid and an additional Refresh Point will need to be handled. It isn’t enough to break the skill cap to +5, but the next Major Milestone could see that happen.  

I start moving skills up the pyramid to put M’kal in a place where he will be able to increase his Piloting.  Notice is the obvious item to move to Great (+4) and fits with the consistency of Dexterity and Intelligence often being the Pilot’s focus.  To support that, I need to move Will up to Good (+3) and I think Physique up to Fair (+2). This dials in more of the genewiped and improved idea of M’kal, but we first must see what skill will be added at Average (+1) to allow this step up to happen – I go with Mechanics to let him start to fix what may get broken especially as he seems to be on his own a lot up to now.

I decide to keep the additional Refresh to put M’kal back to 3.  Since the NEURO PILOTING HYPERFOCUS Extra takes a FATE point to use, it seems like he needs to the extra FATE points.  Maybe next time, he’ll broaden his skills and find a new direction with an additional Stunt.

Character Notes

M’kal On’did always knew a world, a star system, that was on the verge of violence.  Skirmishes happen on a regular basis so much so that people forget that there isn’t a real war going on.  Ntil they are given a reminder of what a real war means to the system. Today, on NAME Station, M’kal’s ICY PROFESSIONALISM keeps him cool even though the station is a DMZ THAT LEAVES EVERYONE ON EDGE. How he got here, and why he barely blinks when taking the job you’ve come to offer is filled with rumor and half truths.

“Staring at you? Yeah. That’s M’kal On’did.  A pretty good mercenary if you need one.”

“M’kal isn’t a super soldier.  Yes, he isn’t still blessed with his original genome.  You can thank the Franitelli Consortium for that.”

“The way I hear it, he was already a HOTSHOT PILOT that signed on to fly the starways when the Consortium decided to experiment on their own troops.  Always the mind for innovation, the black book project partnered with a few of the powerful Houses in the Consortium to implement genetic experimentation and preprogrammed Neurohyperfocus.”

“Yeah. . .

. . .Freaky is a good word for it.”

“M’kal didn’t stay put, though, and something got him kicked out being unceremoniously DRUMMED OUT OF THE MILITARY.

“I hear he grew a conscience, briefly, but more than likely, if you’ve talked to him, it’s that habit of cutting through some of the social chaff. You forget your past, you get through basic training, and then you get your genetics scrubbed down, rewritten, and put back in can leave you OUTSIDE SOCIAL NICETIES.

“What can he do?”

“He’s one of the best Pilots around, even without those special edges he has.  He can read a room and see through what you are hiding. He won’t blink in the face of a threat, and he has all the training he had in the Consortium Military, but he seems lost sometimes.  Stuck on the frontline when ONE MISTAKE CAN TURN A COLD WAR HOT and without a family means he has to find something or someone else to believe in.”

“You know that sabotage ring that got busted last month? Yeah, that one. M’kal was in the middle of that.  It definitely stopped Gygax 5 from being sacrificed to this TRADE WAR COMING DOWN THE ROAD but it leaves you with the question – What’s next?”

“Yeah. He’s still looking at you.”

“No.  He hasn’t blinked yet.”

M’kal On’did FATE Sheet

1 Pilot, 3 Ways Overview

FATE(tm) is Trademarked by Evil Hat Productions, LLC. The FATE Core System Resource Document is available under OGL and CC-BY licensing. This work is a fan production and is not intended as a challenge to ownership or usage of the trademark holders of Fate, Fate Core, or any other work referenced herein.

M’kal On’did
Level 6 Borais Ace Pilot Soldier

After looking at Babylon 5, I wanted to see how else the d20 systems would handle a pilot in our 1 Pilot, 3 Ways write up.  The recent roll through the Starfinder system with the Troublemaker Beta showcased some of the advancements and refinements that have occured in the past 15 years.  Without a dedicated Pilot Class, you may think it is harder to accomplish, but the Theme of Ace Pilot is certainly a direct nod to a Pilot. While the Operative provides a great platform for a Pilot, I am going to go with Soldier even though the old Troublemaker Beta crew has two already.  This shows the true innovation that came from Pathfinder where the equivalent of one of the base original classes, Fighter, has so much variety and playability. I’ll work through the choices as I go, but I did use a species from the excellent Pact World sourcebook. If you read the previous overview of Starfinder in the Troublemaker Beta overview, you can skip down to the Design notes.  

System Notes

The system in Starfinder, like Pathfinder, is built on the skeleton of D&D 3.5 like we discussed in the Babylon 5 intro.  This means that you have 6 Ability Scores, a list of Skills, and class abilities to draw from. You have Hit Points, Armor Class, Saving Throws, and Attacks that are all derived from your Ability Score Bonuses and Class Descriptions.  Finally, you have Feats that, along with your special class abilities, provide you with your unique character’s abilities. This is a system that is fairly well known in the gaming sphere, so I want to focus on some of the innovations and pieces that struck me compared to the early d20 system works. Starfinder represents Paizo’s big leap forward, though, with innovations and changes that set Starfinder apart from other d20 derived systems while retaining the core mechanics and appearance.

The three part character generation is fantastic.  Instead of just a species and class, Starfinder adds a Theme so that you massively increase the number of concepts that have mechanical support in the game.  A Human Soldier is one thing, but a Starfarer Themed Human Soldier is very different from a Priest Themed Human Soldier. Each theme provides bonus skills to be in class as well as an attribute bump and other abilities at higher levels.  

Attribute enhancements are handled well and really do provide a science fantasy or pulp feel to the improvements.  While you are not allowed to start with an Ability Score over 18 at character creation, there is ample opportunity to exceed that limit as you advance. Every 4 levels, you can increase four of your six Ability Scores by 2 if they are at 16 or below or by 1 if they are at 17 or above.  

The subclasses available in each class, that I referred to above for playability of the core classes.  Increasing the number of types of characters available even more, every single class has significant “subclasses” where there are multiple ways it can be developed.  Each class has a plethora of special abilities beyond feats making them each be desirable, but then the further specialization available is like icing on top of the cake. Take the Mechanic which has an AI of some kind – either an exocortex that the Mechanic wears or in a Drone.  This means that your mechanic could take on aspects of a “pet” class with the drone that increases in abilities with you or double down on using direct enhancement with the exocortex. Each provides a different flavor on top of the Theme, Species, and Class decisions already made. There are four different example builds with each character class in the book that showcase the diversity, and I will try not to use any of them in the builds here.

Finally, there is a strong hand dealt to the GM and expectations.  GMs are expressly told that the party is expected to have access to a spaceship in someway so that the adventures can go on either as a perk from their employer or having it outright.  Additionally, GMs are advised to allow wealth by means of a regular paycheck or reward system rather than by looting the bodies of fallen foes. Making setting expectations clear for the GM, and by extension the players serves as a Session Zero.1 for the entire setting and not just a campaign.

Design Notes

For this 3 Ways build, I decided to eschew “standard” humans, and in the Starfinder setting, I choose to use a Borais from the Pact Worlds Sourcebook.  Borais are quasi undead in that they share some of the undead’s features, but few of the benefits. This may showcase some diversity in the systems, but it also can showcase how a single concept plays across these different games.

The great part about making a Pilot is that the Dexterity and Intelligence is going to be the priority, and with the bonus from my planned theme gives me a clear place to start.  Starfinder provides quick start Ability Score options where instead of rolling for your Ability Scores, you can start with a preset list of rolls to assign as you wish. If you recall from the overview, no Ability Score can start over 18, but we will get well past them later. With a spread of 16, 16, 11, 10,10, and 10, I am starting our Pilot character with STR 10, DEX 16, CON 11, INT 16, WIS 10, and CHA 10.  M’kal Ondid is a Borais Ace Pilot Soldier, so we will start by unpacking those choices.

Species – Borais.  I may have taken the concept of an icy cold pilot a bit literally here, compared to the usually hot blooded Narn in the Babylon 5 build – I choose the Borais which are like quasi-undead in that they are undead but lack many of the undead immunities or traits.  Because they are frequently found on Eox, I will use that as an hooks to the character integration with the story I already did for the Troublemaker Beta. The step into the negative plane provides an excuse to be alien and all business with a bit of what’s left from originally being human.  As a former Human, M’kal retains his species ability of Skilled which provides an additional skill rank per level which will come in handy when we select our limited number of skills from the Soldier Class. Additionally, the Borais have 60 feet of Darkvision, immunity to negative energy drain and resistance to energy drain effects among other abilities. The Borais Ability Score modifiers are -2 WIS but a +2 CON and +2 CHA.      

Theme – Ace Pilot. This is pretty much the expect part of the build here making a pilot. The Ace Pilot ensures that Piloting is a class skill and the checks relating to Piloting and starships are given an advantage. Finally, an Ace Pilot Theme provides a +1 DEX. This will put us at a final stat list of STR 10 DEX 17 CON 13 INT 16 WIS 8 CHA 12

Class – Soldier. The Soldier is the future form of the Fighter, but Starfinder has certainly made the Soldier a deep and engaging class. Each Soldier selects a Primary Fighting Style that provides techniques that fit that overall theme of the character.  The CRB has 7 different Fighting Styles and for M’kal’s sure sighted functionality in combat, I am going with the Sharpshooter Style. It is a common fiction trope to see the pilot be the sharpshooter, and I see no reason to change it here. The Initial Primary Fighting Style Ability is Snipers Aim which reduces the AC bonus for people in partial cover by 2.

Soldiers have weapon and armor proficiencies to cover all known weapons, so that is an easy part of the design.  We look next at our skill list. As an Ace Pilot, since Soldiers have Pilot as a Class Skill, an extra +1 untyped bonus is available to assist M’Kal in excelling.  Pilot will obviously be one of his 8 skill selections (4 for Soldier, 1 for [former] human, and 3 from an INT of 16).

After we get the Piloting out of the way, Acrobatics, Profession (Soldier), Intimidate, Perception, and Stealth.  A starting rank in Culture, and Athletics would round out the starting options pretty well.

Hit Points are a set amount based on your species and class (10), while Stamina points are a set amount from your class plus your CON modifier(4).  Finally, Resolve Points start as half your level, rounded up plus your class chief ability score modifier, DEX for M’kal. Finally, thinking about M’kal and what he is or isn’t, I am going with a Neutral Good alignment. He is underneath it all, a good person and tries to do right – as a quasi-undead his view of what is a person may be broader than others, but he also knows that law and order sometimes is carried by inertia and is not for the best of all people.  He is from Eos after all.

Advancement and Gear Notes

As a d20 derivative game, the class and level advancement is a straightforward advancement system.  Check the link below for the full character sheet, but we will look at the highlights of the character advancement here.  

First, on the Ability Score increases, as a Soldier and primarily a Pilot, DEX and INT are two of the four bonus while bumping up the CON and CHA provides for a better rounded set of hit points and disarming way about which M’kal elides in society.  DEX receives only a +1 while the rest recieve +2. An 18 DEX is good, sure, but with the option to add a personal upgrade, M’kal would assuredly go with a Mk I. personal upgrade for DEX. Magitech seems like the best choice for a quasi undead, so a form of enhanced nerve transmission lines created from vat grown cosmis electric eels and infused with electrical magic works well and an occasional crackle of electricity as the undead nature of the Borais interacts with it is a nice image in my head.   That gets a DEX of 20 and a INT of 18 which also increases the skill choices and Resolve points for M’kal.

I think that splitting up the skills makes the most sense, especially as I look at some skills that maybe are not as needed at maximum.  I keep the maximum skill ranks, of one per level, in Acrobatics, Intimidate, Perception, Piloting, Profession and Stealth. A few ranks in Athletics, Bluff, Computers, Culture, and even a rank of Medicine help round out M’kal in the world.   

If you click through to the attached character sheet, you’ll see some of the gear that M’kal has to choose from, including a Triple Focus Laser Sniper rifle that will add some synchrony with his Laser Gear Boost and that has a Ghost Killer Fusion so that he shoot ghosts as the Penetrating advantage to more easily blast through barriers.

The Lashunta Mindmail gets the extra equipment of a targeting computer because now that means that both Concealment and Cover will be less effective against M’kal and the Sera of Enhancement are good options. Both the Mind Mail Armor and the specific Sniper rifle are from the Armory book that Paizo has published allowing for more gear and equipment.  I like Pact Worlds better myself, but that is because it is the worlds building lore sourcebook.

Soldiers come stacked, though with abilities and bonus feats.  We have three Feats, two Bonus Feats, a Gear Boosts, and a Fighting Style ability that have shown up! Aside from the Skill Focus on Piloting, Skyjockey is an obvious choice for Feats to reinforce that side of M’kal.  Improved Initiative is always a good choice and then you throw in Slippery Shooter and Far Shot. Slippery Shooter allows close in use of ranged attacks without provoking while Far Shot obviously enhances the sniping abilities.  Finally, Veiled Threat will let his unsettling self use Intimidate without leaving the target hostile, only unsettled. His Gear Boost will be the Laser Accuracy for the bonus with Laser weapons, from Sniper rifles all the way down to sidearms. The Sharpshooter Fighting Style ability he gains is Focus Fire which allows a full attack action against a single target with -3 to each attack rather than -4.  

As with other d20 based systems, the Base Attack Bonus and Saving throws also increased.  Check out the character sheet linked below for the full write up.

Character Notes

M’kal N’Did was human.  He is not any longer. OnceA simple truth is that those who are skilled will be taken to what they are meant to do – For M’kal that was in the cockpit.  Sadly, though, his life ended. Except it has not.

Flying through the stars brought a sense of wonder to M’kal when blood was still warm, but as a Borais when the resurrection failed, he finds only a calm almost serene stillness in the depth of space now.  It is hard to explain how much was torn away from the hard living and charming M’kal when he was brought back to … almost life. Rather than truly have to process it, his newfound Borais existence allowed him to elide over the emotional pain his family and friends faced.  Instead, on Eox, he found himself in the service of Bone Sages. The Corpse Fleet had left, and as all in the Pact Worlds know, the fleet of Eox’s finest military might was rebuffed and left still prowling the starways for an eventual revenge. The remaining Bone Sages, those who had not supported this act, needed capable pilots and M’kal as a Borais was able to both fit in without becoming one of them – a valued and needed tool but always just a tool to the Enebrians.

It has been some time, perhaps a hundred years, and M’kal has not been challenged.  The Troublemaker Beta, however, revealed something most unusual. The chance that perhaps there was a few Bone Sages who were not buried in the Eternal Barrows that could be conspiring with Elves of Castrovel to destablize the Pact Worlds.  It is only with great fortune that when they met in battle before, M’kal had neither killed them nor been laid low himself.

Now, M’kal has taken the freedom that comes with being both good at his job and overlooked to take his mission of protecting Eox to the stars.  The crew of the Troublemaker Beta will soon find themselves with an unlikely friend and ally who hopes to learn from them to get closer to the Corpse Fleet conspirator.  Chitter may not like a backseat pilot, but Besu will finally have someone as foreign to all these goings on as she is.

M’kal Starfinder Sheet

1 Pilot, 3 Ways Overview

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Ship Wreck, Heroic, and Adventure
Ship disasters can be mirrored in multiple time periods and while the circumstances of what runs a ship aground will vary on sea or in the dark confines of space, salvaging the remains can be a profitable and dangerous endeavor.
Rumors of a lost treasure abound, but can the heroes survive when the danger is the very treasure they seek to claim?
The Hopefield
Place, Vessel, Dungeon
Luxury, prestige, danger, and fear; These are the tokens that advised the creation of the vessel known as The Hopefield. The ship is a large cargo hauler meant to be impervious to threats of theft or sabotage. It’s captain is a fierce loyalist to the company that owns the vessel, and the crew are all hand selected one by one; their past and backgrounds all dissected to know who is worthy to help the elite ship their most valuable possessions.
it is not the vast cargo bays that makes The Hopefield so profitable and important. It is not it’s speed despite its size. It is the single hold located deep in the heart of the vessel. The steel vault, an advanced creature of it’s time, that is the single most valuable piece on the vessel; a vault built to withstand cannons, the sea, and all the ravenous violence of time itself. Shipping ancient relics, family heirlooms, and other precious tokens costs more than renting the rest of the ship and it’s deep holds but these items will arrive, guaranteed.
So long as the ship reaches its port.
And like all ships built for pride and with the confidence that they will make it, The Hopefield has not. Somewhere deep along the ocean’s trenches it lies barnacled along the depths. Somewhere in the deep black reaches of a dead asteroid field, it lies moored upon crushed rock. The Hopefield awaits discovery. It awaits grave robbers. It awaits it’s holds to be plundered, and the ghosts of the dead to stir it.
Fitting the The Hopefield in
A ship designed to be an icon of wealth and luxury, the vessel was built around a unique and nearly indestructible vault. This storage compartment is constructed to lock upon the ship’s departure and remain locked until two criteria are met. First an extended timer runs for the expected minimum length of the journey. Without breaking the frame of the cargo vault down, the ship’s cargo cannot be accessed while en route. The second criteria depends on if the ship is moored on sea or in space. On the seas this second token is a key belonging to the captain. A simple token but guarded closely. In space, the token is a sample of DNA from the captain. In both periods, the captain must be found to access the high-risk cargo hold.
The Hopefield is a massive ship, regardless of the time period it is lost within. Stressing the size of the vessel is important in conveying the trouble in finding the high value cargo vault. The vessel should be loaded down with various materials to distract the players, but never enough to draw them away from their main objective.
The Deleuran Herilooms
Thing, MacGuffin
Treasures vary from person to person. While gold and jewels and other valuable materials make for pricey rewards for adventurers, sometimes what is valuable can be something so simple and emotionally sincere. The Deleuran Herilooms are such items. The consist of five tokens created long ago by the family forebearer. They’re not much to look at, just simple animal shapes that no one would agree on which creature they are meant to represent and to most of the world they are worthless pieces of carved wood and glass beads.
And they’re followed by a line of endless bodies.
It is said they must always be in the possession of a Deleuran and never touched by those not of the blood. That if those not of the family holds the pieces, that tragedy will befall the place the tokens rest in. Fires, earthquakes, murders, floods, and wrecks; all tragedies follow the tokens. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about them. They are not blessed or marred or cursed. Only that they object to being touched by those who should not dare lay finger upon them.
Fitting the The Deleuran Herilooms in
The tokens represent a silly macguffin to toss at players. They should never appear magical nor emit a sinister aura, but when they are touched directly by a PC or NPC something bad should happen. Light bulbs should pop, straps breaking on gear, a car crash, a door falling off its hinges, etc. The players should become paranoid about touching the wooden pieces directly but don’t overplay it or risk having them just throw them away and never complete their objective.
They can be introduced by having one member of the Deleuran family pay the players to steal a token from another member. If players are breaking into a home, laying these around where they shouldn’t be is also a fun manner of making a thief worried about their life choices.
Captain Wera Orbán
True loyalty is a gift. If a cause or concern is enough to be worthy to risk life and limb over, it is comes at great cost. Captain Wera Orbán believes in this damn company, and if you’re on her crew you better believe in it too. Of all the founders Captain Orbán is the one who has stuck out her neck to get the endeavor going. She’s mastered her role as the leader of a crew, the navigational tools to get the job done, and has learned cut off what dead weight will linger to her vessel if she doesn’t act fast enough.
Captain Wera Orbán has a stocky frame with short cut blond hair and a noticeable tattoo on her neck of the company crest. She wearing a functional uniform built to handle the rigors of ship action, be it on the wind-swept deck at sea or in the hot corridors of a starship. She is rarely dressed for ceremony, and does the minimum prep for a leader to be presentable to her crew before getting to work on her vessel. Her hands are callused, and her skin is marred by various burns earned in her youth from mistakes she learned from. She will always have a tool belt, and a knife on her hip.
So, it is with great trepidation I report that Captain Wera Orbán is lost. Despite our best efforts we cannot find where her ship has run aground nor what has become of her crew. But know that wherever they are if the good captain still lives, she serves this company, protects our interests, and is doing everything she can to be prepared for our rescue efforts. No matter what storm, what pirate, what villain has struck out against her ship she will out last it. She will be waiting for whoever comes for her.
Fitting Captain Wera Orbán In
She is a survivor, a true believer in her company, and is currently ship wrecked. The cause of the wreck isn’t her or her crew’s fault, and they will be doing the best they can to make do until rescue comes. They will take special care to secure the cargo if possible, and if they can’t they’ll make efforts to recover the cargo once they themselves are recovered.
The Captain believes in protecting her company’s interests, and will not stand talk of theft or betrayal. She’ll directly attack players that make any threatening noise towards acting against her company’s interests, and be suspicious of anyone claiming to be a member of her company considering how high of a role she has within it.
Using the Lost Hope
The Whole Block
The Hopefield is lost somewhere in the deep, and the players have been hired by the Deleuran family to retrieve their lost valuables. Or perhaps the players have learned of the Heriloom’s worth to their family, and seek to steal the tokens themselves before the ship goes down. No matter what, getting their hands on the tokens spell trouble, and not just from the curse but from the dedicated Captain determined to protect her cargo.
The players should be heavily incentivized to the value of the haul inside the vault, and how they learn about it will determine if they’re focusing on robbing a derelict or ship at sea. Getting the Captain on their side should be an almost impossible task unless they convince her they work for her company. If so they’ll make a staunch ally. If not, then they’ll have to fight Captain Orbán to the death before they get away with the herilooms.

Dark Tides Session 6
Dark Tides Actual Play

00:00 / 48:49

The sixth session of Carrion Crown

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The Whole Block are Seize the GM Stat blocks built to fit snuggly into certain genres. Instead of providing a single idea in the form of a person, place, or thing, they’ll provide a series of related items to help add the block into an existing campaign.

The Warped Wood
Sci-fi, Horror, and Dark Fantasy
Disease is a trope adds several dark story elements when used in games; body horror, loss of loved ones, and a general breakdown of social constructs just to name a few. When the plague is unnatural it’s resistant to normal cures and treatments and leads to unnatural horrors like zombies, the spawning of monsters, or the extreme eradication of entire population hubs.
When a new plague comes to town, seeking the aid of someone familiar with the disease might lead to a cure for a ravaged community. Or it might mean their demise.
The Bark Plague
Concept, Antagonist
It starts with an itch. Under the skin, typically around lymph nodes or fatty deposits. The skin swells and reddens when touched. Then the sprouts start. Mostly in the hair, the nails, anyplace where keratin naturally occurs in the body. It’s only when they become painful that a victim realizes something is wrong. The taste buds go next. Everything starts to taste oily, waxy, like the texture of a thick magnolia leaf. The victim starts to smell flowery, and those with allergies with find themselves reacting to the victim’s presence. At this point, the plague is spreading, and the real symptoms start to move in.
The skin tears open. Hard keratinous scales cover the limbs and stretches over the core. They look like wood and small twigs and stems sprout from them like a sapling branching out. The urge to be outside in the sun grows, but it is not all consuming. No, another hunger starts to spread within the bark boned. Their digestion system fails, but they still seek food. Bloodied soil draws them in, be it the blood of beasts or blood from those not yet succumbed to the plague, any soil that has been stained red will keep a bark boned captivated for hours until it has had its fill.
Bark Boned move with jerky movements the deeper into the plague they go. Eventually they move sluggishly slow as their skin converts to a hardened wood like armor. In time, they will eventually root themselves, and become trees of flesh and keratin. These blood trees no longer assault the living, but instead emit an odor like blood that draws less infested bark boned to them. Once in range, the trees will break the spine of these creatures, and consume them to strengthen their own growth. In time the trees begin to blossom, and fleshy beasts begin to spawn from the fruit on its branches.
Fitting the Bark Plague In
The Bark Plague is a nasty disease that can overwhelm an area given time. It’s best to draw out the disease by intermingling it with the introduction of spring into a campaign. Fresh flowery smells and the growth of nature can serve as a nice introduction to the horror that is to come. Once the disease has reached the tree stage it’s nearly impossible to hide what’s happening. And then the strange creatures begin to spawn from their branches, it’s too late to save a community.
The disease spreads from victims in the earliest and treatable stage of the disease. Bark Boned and Blood trees are not infectious. The beasts that spawn from the blood trees, however, are constantly spreading spores of infestation. Those infected with these spores turn faster than those infested by an early stage victim.
Patrik Wehnert
The belief of doing what must be done for survival can be taken to extremes, and the alchemist Patrik Wehnert lives by that mantra. Plague has taken from him family, friends, allies, and his birthplace. He has seen the bark boned, the blood trees, and the beasts that dwell in those darkened woods. And he has learned to treat it. His ways vary from kind and loving to brutal. Those in the earliest form of the disease he can cure almost instantly, as well as providing a plague mask that allows the uninfected to resist even the worst spores of the plagues. But to those beyond the first steps, he holds no mercy. He rips and tears, dissects, and sources all of the components he needs to resist the plague from those who are its victims.
Wehnert is a small man, but bulky and fast. He wears ashen and brown colors and perfumes himself with strong flowery notes. His face is oily, and his hair is sticky with sap and sometimes blood. He calls no dwelling home although he’ll setup labs within abandoned basements and hidden cisterns under cities. He’ll always have his tools handy be they guns, knives, or other accoutrements of his twisted craft.
The man will not trust those who have not proven themselves to have the gall to handle the worst necessities of treating the plague. If he finds those who can stomach what must be done, he is a dangerous ally to keep, but a powerful one. He will not turn his back to others, even those he trusts. Within combat he is like a man possessed, and is skills at taking down the worst of the beasts the warped wood produces.
Fitting Patrik Wehnert In
Patrik Wehnert will appear after any plague outbursts have been reported. He comes to rid the land of the plague, not to save those who are its victims. He is brutal and direct, and is not afraid to hurt and maim those who might halt his progress. If he is an ally it is only because the party’s interests align with his own, and no other allegiance should be expected. He will teach others the way of curing the plague, but only if they have proven they can commit to his level of brutality. Patrik has some medical knowledge besides the treatment of the plague, but very little is practical besides from an academic point of view. He knows not the ways of medicines or curing other diseases except those that work similar to the plague he comes to fight.
He can be used in any campaign with a particular nasty plague that can be fought in some manner. Be it the black plague, a zombie infestation, or some sort of super natural or sci-fi disease, he can be molded to fit the slot of a zealot in curing the infestation. His knowledge will often seem twisted and corrupted, and earning his wisdom will come with a gruesome price.
Dryad’s Curse
It’s a thick chuck of oak but stained a dark red. The smell that comes off it is like deep rich mud, and it feels soft and mailable but resists heavy blows against rock and iron. When held, it gives the wielder a sense of purpose, a desire to protect and shield the wilds around them. And it forces this belief on them as roots start to burrow from it into its wielder’s skin.
The Dryad’s Curse is a gift and a punishment. It grants its wielder the ability to repair damaged tissue on all life, plant or animal. But repaired tissue becomes plant matter. Nails and hair become bark-like, skin becomes stalks of chlorophyll. The flesh is repaired but it is forever changed.
Fitting Dryad’s Curse In
The curse is a tool of woodland creatures to restore their lands. In magical games it is a gift and curse from a nature goddess. In science fiction, it represents nanotech released without consideration of its consequences. It does heal injuries, it does save those who are dying. But it changes them into something they’re not.
The curse is meant to restore injuries. It is not meant to cure disease. Diseases treated by the Dryad’s Curse change into something far worse, becoming something able to infect both beast and plant. Something that causes plants to gain aspects of the creatures that once feed on them.
Using the Warpped Wood
The Whole Block
The trio of entries serve as a foundation to a dangerous encounter for any party. The plague stars slow and becoming a rapidly spreading nightmare if it is allowed to reach its final fruit bearing stages. Worse, the plague is extremely contagious when it hasn’t even been diagnosed yet and carriers will be amongst those treating and dealing with the first victims. Patrik Wehnert makes for a good introduction to understanding what the plague is after exposing bark boned to a party, and having him show up to kill one should give them confidence in being able to put the monsters down.
Most parties will find just the plague and Patrik, but those who delve deeper into the mysteries will find that the source of the disease comes from something intended to be helpful. The Dryad’s Curse was meant to be a gift to the healer’s arts, but when the chirugin treated their own sickness they converted the first signs of plague into the sire of the bark plague. The Dryad’s Curse is still melded to their hands although by the time the party finds them, the first victim should be a blood tree.