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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Fighting with Vehicles

Fighting with Vehicles

I have thought for a long time that vehicles were not getting enough love in Starfinder. It’s the future, if you can’t shoot or stab someone while travelling 150 mph what’s even the point? In an effort to fix that, I came up with this. I hope you all enjoy it.

Soldier Fighting Style - Lancer
Like the medieval knights, Lancers deploy to the field of battle aboard steeds that can range from enercycles to power armor and wield long handled melee weapons that can be used defensively or even at range. Sometimes called cyberknights, these warriors are as dangerous as pilots as they are with a weapon.

Loyal Spear-1st
Thrown weapons you wield, that are not ammunition or grenades, gain the effects of a returning fusion. The returning weapon always travels to where you are instead of where you were when you threw it. This does not count towards the maximum number of fusions the weapon may have. 

Pole Master-5th
When throwing a Pole Weapon* you may apply any gear boost you have that modifies a melee weapon to the thrown weapon attack instead. You consider all pole weapons to have the thrown weapon quality with a range of 5 ft for each point of strength bonus you have. If your pole weapon already has the thrown special quality, it increases its range by 5 ft per point of Strength Bonus.
*Pole Weapons include any Lance, Pike, Spear, or Staff. This includes advanced versions of these like Nova Lances, Cryopikes, Singing Spears, Stun Staffs, or any similar weapons.

While Piloting a vehicle no larger than one size category bigger than you, which also provides no cover to the driver, you may pilot it through a cybernetic connection, without using your hands. While doing this, if you make no other attacks this round, you may make one attack with a weapon in your hands as a free action while controlling the vehicle. This attack has the same penalty as if you were making a full attack, even though you only make one attack. You may also spend one resolve point to gain the effects of Shot on the Run and Spring Attack feats until the end of turn. If using a Pole Weapon* that weapon gains the penetrating special quality also until end of turn.
Note: If using the Creature Companion rules from Alien Archive 3, this ability may be used while controlling a mount instead of a vehicle. It otherwise remains the same.

Road Warriors-13th
Any vehicle you pilot increases its ram DC by 1 for every 3 Soldier levels you possess. You also apply your weapon specialization bonus to the collision damage. You are considered proficient in any vehicle mounted weapon and apply your weapon specialization bonus to them.
Note: If using the Creature Companion rules from Alien Archive 3, you may apply your weapon specialization bonus to your mount’s natural attacks instead.

Dragoon Leap-17th
You may make a Leap when Charging and come down on an enemy from above. This ignores an amount of difficult terrain equal to your jump distance (or Jump Jet Distance, if applicable). You must end your charge in any space adjacent to the target, it does not need to be the closest space, but must be within your charge distance. Make an Athletics check equal to 20+the target’s CR. If successful, the target is knocked prone in addition to other effects of the attack. Other creatures within your natural reach at the place you land must make an opposed strength check against you, or they will also be knocked prone. You get a +4 bonus on this check and do 1d10+5 damage to everyone knocked prone by this attack if you are wearing Power Armor. This ability may not be used in the void.

These vehicles are high-tech “mounts” designed specifically for use by Lancers. These ones are optimized for Large creatures. For medium or small creatures, change the size to Large and its dimensions to (4 ft wide, 10 ft long, 3 ft high).
This article was the real-world inspiration for the following vehicles. They have even more articulate armatures and can operate at high speeds.
Cybercyle LEVEL 4
PRICE 6750
Huge ground vehicle (7 ft. wide, 15 ft. long, 6 ft. high)
Speed 40 ft., full 600 ft., 65 mph
EAC 16; KAC 17; Cover none
HP 28 (14); Hardness 5
Attack (Collision) 6d4 B (DC 10)
Modifiers +2 Piloting, -0 attack (-2 at full speed)
Systems Onboard Computer, Cargo 2 bulk; Passengers 1
Onboard Computer: This vehicle has a tier 2 computer. It is Hardened and can only be accessed through a cybernetic dataport. It has feedback, a tier 1 shock grid, and a control module allowing it to operate the vehicle.
This vehicle features multiple wheels on armatures which allow it to have an extremely smooth ride in almost any ground terrain. Its computers are housed in the main body. Designed to be operated either cybernetically or by more traditional means.
“Destroyer” Cybercycle LEVEL 8
PRICE 32,000Huge land and water vehicle (7 ft. wide, 15 ft. long, 6 ft. high)
Speed 40 ft., full 600 ft., 65 mph
EAC 18; KAC 20; Cover none
HP 100 (50); Hardness 10
Attack (Collision) 8d10 B (DC 14)
Attack (Turret) (NIL Grenade Launcher, Squad) (by grenade, range 70 ft., ammo 12)
Modifiers +2 Piloting, +0 attack (+2 at full speed)
Systems Onboard Computer, Automated loader; Cargo 2 Bulk; Passengers 1
Onboard Computer: This vehicle has a tier 4 computer. It is Hardened and can only be accessed through a cybernetic dataport. It has a firewall, feedback, a tier 1 shock grid, and a control module allowing it to operate the vehicle, a control module for operating the grenade launcher, and an AI which can use either one of the control modules.
Automated Loader: This device consists of a small robotic arm and a storage compartment that holds up to 2 bulk of ammunition for the grenade launcher. The AI can activate the automated loader as a move action to reload the grenade launcher.
Where the basic cybercyle uses wheels, the Destroyer model uses turbines on its armatures to hover above terrain. While it can’t achieve true flight, it is able to operate on land or water. It has an AI which typically operates the turret mounted grenade launcher while the operator does the driving. This model also carries heavier armor than the basic model.
“Magus” Cybercycle LEVEL 16
PRICE 640,000Huge air, land, void and water vehicle (7 ft. wide, 15 ft. long, 6 ft. high)
Speed 40 ft., full 600 ft., 65 mph
EAC 30; KAC 31; Cover none
HP 280 (140); Hardness 15Attack (Collision) 18d10 B (DC 20)
Attack (Turret) (NIL Grenade Launcher, Squad) (by grenade, range 70 ft., ammo 12)
Modifiers +2 Piloting, +0 attack (+2 at full speed)
Systems Onboard Computer, Automated loader; SAASI System; Cargo 2 Bulk; Passengers 1
Onboard Computer: This vehicle has a tier 8 computer. It is Hardened and can only be accessed through a cybernetic dataport. It has a firewall, feedback, a tier 1 shock grid, and a control module allowing it to operate the vehicle, a control module for operating the grenade launcher, control module for the SAASI system, and an AI, which can use any one of the control modules at a time.
Automated Loader: This device consists of a small robotic arm and a storage compartment that holds up to 2 bulk of ammunition for the grenade launcher. The AI can activate the automated loader as a move action to reload the grenade launcher.
SAASI (Spell Ampule and Serum Injector) System: This system holds up to 5 Spell Ampules and 10 Serums. It includes monitoring systems that allow the onboard AI to check your health and help keep you alive. It can be programed with uses other than medical and is not limited only to healing effects.
Where the basic cybercyle uses wheels, the Magus model uses antigravity systems on its armatures to easily pass through any environment, even the void of space. It can achieve true flight and even function on asteroids or other airless voids. Typically constructed from star metals, its much heavier armor and hardened systems are difficult to destroy. It has an AI which typically operates the turret mounted grenade launcher and the SAASI system while the operator does the driving.

Let’s discuss a lancer’s armament for a bit. Clearly, they would be using a “Pole Weapon” which is going to be taking both hands, while they use a cybernetic connection to the vehicle to drive. They can poke with it or chuck it at someone for some limited range. And they might be satisfied with that, especially with the ability to race their vehicle into range of your target. But they might want to carry a gun too, and I wanted to point out some options to do just that.
The best way to do this in my opinion is to use a nuar maze core (see the nuar entry in Alien Archive) to combine the Lancer’s pole weapon with a longarm or heavy weapon (among other things). It can switch between the two component weapons with a swift action giving them ready access to multiple ways of fighting at a moment’s notice.
The next best option would be either an integrated small arm, part of your armor, so you don’t have to stow the pole weapon. Or a cybernetic one for the same reason. Though most small arms lack much more range than a good thrown weapon, so this option may not offer you anything.
Lastly there is the more standard option of carrying additional weapon. If this is the rout you want to take, you’ll be stowing or dropping your weapons to switch to the other. This is not idea, but to help speed up that process I recommend also using nullspace accessories or even Uniclamps, each of which will make it easier to switch weapons.

In the future, I’ll present to you a mechanic that gets custom vehicle instead of a drone or exocortex. Until then, I hope you enjoy my posts and find them useful.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Headcannon: Placing Eberron in My Universe

Headcannon: Placing Eberron In My Universe

Eberron has been my favorite setting for a long, long time, ever since I fell in love with Xendrik playing Dungeons and Dragons Online many years ago.  The more I looked into the lore of the place, the more I liked how it was put together.  Lately, though, I’ve been playing the more science fiction Starfinder. I’ve wanted to place Eberron somewhere in the universe I am playing in for the players to stumble across.

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but after Keith Baker’s blog post on reaching the stars from Eberron, the ideas started forming. My ideas approach it from the outside-in rather than the inside-out.  Seeing as I have not-a-single-thing to do with Wizards, all of this is just my headcanon for how Eberron fits in a larger universe.  With that said, I am going to try to present it all without contradicting the established lore.

So, the first question:

Where is Eberron?

It’s already established that Eberron is a material plane of just that one solar system, with one planet, one sun, and 12 moons. If I am going to both keep that intact and also add it to another universe that has its own already established material plane with tons of planets and solar systems, then they have to be separated somehow. My solution for this is to take a page from the Oathbound setting.

Oathbound is another realm separated from the rest of the universe because it was specifically designed to trap and hold a deity.

The Eberron system is removed from the normal material universe because it’s progenitors were building a separate material universe for themselves. We all know what went down between them, but after that, what had been a joint project between 3 gods became a prison for the “survivors” despite that not being the place’s original intention. As the Realm of the Forge in Oathbound, the Eberron material plane is a god-trap.

So, basically, it’s nowhere.

How do you reach Eberron?

It is impossible to reach Eberron from the normal material plane. Reaching it requires using a starship’s plane-shifting engine during a coterminous event at a location that has a star pattern matching at least one of Eberron’s constellations. The reason this works is that the “Drift” engines in Starfinder pull a bit of the universe into the “drift,” Starfinder’s Hyperspace. A coterminous event is already pulling part of the universe into another, though.   So using the engine during one reverses the process, pulling something into the material universe, at least for the duration of the coterminous event.

By doing that at an alignment of stars that match the pattern of Eberron’s boundary stars, it pulls one of those boundary markers from Eberron into the normal material universe. The starship performing this maneuver can then board the boundary marker and be pulled into Ebberon’s space when the event ends and the boundary star returns.

Note that the “Boundary Stars” of Eberron aren’t suns like stars in the normal material universe are. They are unknown objects that mark the limits of Eberron’s material universe. The ritual I made up and detailed above simply uses one of them as a sort of ferry.

What are the Boundary Stars?

The Frontier from the movie
The Last Starfighter
Each Boundary Star exists both in its spot in the Eberron universe and also in a place outside/between all universes. It draws power from The-Place-Between. Together they delineate the boundaries of the material universe of Eberron inside that place between universes. Each is basically an automated space station though, a techno-arcane marvel made by the hands of 3 gods, the ones whose bodies now liter this material realm. If someone could access them from the Eberron side, they could use them to transfer out of the Eberron realm into the normal material universe nearly at will. Each is massive and could house numerous starships docked internally. They are covered in draconic runes that change and shift as the remains of the three progenitor dragons tumble around the space. Since no one has ever been to see them, no one knows what they say.

The stations not only act as boundary markers but as mentioned before, they draw power from the place between universes. Not just to power themselves, but they act like lenses, focusing that power into the center of the plane. The power itself comes from the energy released when a universe collapses and returns to the between state. 

Arrah, the Sun

The point where each Star-station focuses that power is Arrah, Eberron’s sun. Each station is programmed to reduce the output of its power transmission when anything lies between it and its focal point, the sun. That prevents any of the star stations from burning Eberron’s surface to ash and is why the stars are dim on the night side. Meanwhile, on the dayside, the focal point is so bright, you cannot make out the star stations themselves, only the focal point, the Sun.

Arrah is formed by the focal point of all the stars in Eberron’s sky, focusing together on its location. They focus power transmitted from the place between universes, which comes from the energy released from collapsing universes. It is essentially the burning ashes of dead universes. Fire is fire though, and can provide warmth or destruction regardless of its source. That process results in an extremely stable sun that can nevertheless dim and brighten depending on the number of things intervening between it and the star stations creating it.

The Planes

Since Eberron’s entire cosmology was formed artificially by the progenitor dragons but was essentially unfinished, it evolved from its original state to where it is now. The planes surrounding Eberron’s material plane form a framework out of tension and counter-tension between planar forces, which help prevent it from collapsing on its own. The planes each pull certain dominant forces into themselves and collect them together. That not only determines what they are made up of, but it creates a vacuum that leaves certain other planes devoid of those things. Irian and Mabar are classic examples of this. One formed from the light of Arrah, the other from the vacuum of its absence.

Of course, the Astral, Ethereal, and Shadow planes have a different nature entirely. They are essentially the framework that holds the cosmology both together and apart. However, even the Ethereal and Shadow planes exhibit the same opposing tension between them.

Now each plane was also constructed by one of the progenitor dragons and reflects that origin. However, they originally never were meant to be any more than the paints used to create the material universe. Each filled with its own colors. The progenitors fell to their fates before that could ever be realized. Instead, each has evolved in the ages since the progenitors fell into what it is today.

The Moons

That brings us to the nature of the moons. Like everything else in the Eberron system, they are not normal moons. Have you ever played with colored lights? Shining them onto the same space changes the colors you see. The moons of Eberron have a relationship to the planes like the lenses projecting the colored lights. Only the place they project them is onto Eberron. This combination of projected forces is why Eberron’s dominant planar influences are constantly shifting. Why conterminous events occur. It might take centuries of study to understand how they work fully, but they are responsible for why Eberron sustains life despite otherwise just being a dead husk.

The Sybaris Ring

The rings formed from Sybaris’ body are not merely the source of magic in 
Eberron. If the moons are lenses projecting planar energies from the planes, the rings act sort of like a graphics engine combining the projected images smoothly into the orderly pattern familiar to the mortals of Eberron. That prevents harsh projections from the moons from causing drastic and unpredictable changes to the world as they orbit. That is the vestiges of Sybaris’s will and care for the Eberron system it was making with its fellows. The magic produced by the ring is a byproduct of this process.

The residents of the rings are sentient living spells that have formed entire civilizations. If there are other residents, they are either very well hidden or long dead. That strange civilization is a post for another time, though.

What is Eberron like now?

Eberron itself and Khyber beneath it will have changed in the centuries between the last war and any scifi setting it became part of. Here in my headcanon, to make life easier for me, all the major political powers are still in place. What has changed, is that after the space race Keith described in his blog, the residents of this small system began learning more about their home. 

Eventually, through a journey of innumerable conflicts, and the guidance of the Gatekeeper druidic circle, most of the planes of Eberron are part of a shaky multidimensional alliance trying to figure out a way to escape the confines of the prison the progenitors made. This coalition is lead by a strange alliance between the Pit Fiends of Shavrath and House Deneith. Their primary competitors for power is a tense partnership between The Twelve, Houses Cannith and Orien, and the Quori of Dal Quor. Droaam is working directly with the Gatekeepers and Houses Kundarak and Ghallanda to help secure the whole of the planet against the forces that refused to join this alliance. 

Belashyrra, The Delkyr Lord of Eyes
The opposition has four major components.  The forces of Mabar whose hatred for life seeks to consume everything. The Delkyr of Xoriat have never relinquished their goal to remake the world in their image. Khyber and its Overlords who still seek to dominate everything and are unwilling to let any of Eberron’s residents slip through their grasp. Surprisingly the fourth is Daanvi who believes escaping the delineated boundaries of Eberron’s universe would constitute a violation of the whole of the natural order. 

That’s what I have for now. I still have a lot of holes to fill in and questions to answer. If you were considering using this, what questions would you want me to answer next?


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Friday, June 19, 2020

The Modular Design of Starfinder's Summon Creature Spell

The Modular Design of Starfinder's Summon Creature Spell

Summoning pets is one of my favorite things, whether as a GM or as a player. As a player, you get a chance to play with all kinds of toys from the monster manual that would normally never be on your side of a conflict. As a GM, it gives me a reason to have monsters appear from unexpected places to alter the dynamic on the battlefield. In both cases, they can act as force multipliers that enhance the effects of many abilities.

Note: when I say "summoner" I mean any character focused on summoning, not any specific class or build.

I've played a lot of RPGs, and, in my opinion, the two best versions of summoning spells are 5th edition's and Starfinder's, for very different reasons. Like everything in the 5th edition, their summon spells are easy to use and straightforward. You pick one of the options from the book, look it up and use it as is, no templates needed.

Starfinder's is more elegant, in my opinion, but overall more complex. You take the base elemental stat blocks and apply the appropriate summon "graft" (template by another name) to that stat block, which turns it into the monster you want to summon. The base stat block for each level of the summon spell is the same; the only thing that changes is which summon graft you apply to the stat block.

The thing I love about that design is that Starfinder reuses the concept in several other places. Rather than trying to design thousands of new animals for every world you might visit, they came up with a set of "herd animal" stat blocks, and a set of "Predator animal" stat blocks. You merely need to apply an "environment" graft to the stat block, and suddenly, you have a brand new animal for that new world you just discovered. Give it a description unique to itself, and you are ready to rock out with a new animal.

What does that have to do with the summon creature spell? Well, the intrepid homebrewer has the opportunity to re-flavor a summoner by switching out the elemental stat blocks they were using for their summon spells, and replace them with the herd or predator animal stat blocks. The CR of each level of the spell is relatively close, but not exact, but it still works out pretty well, especially if you are more interested in new flavors than you are in more power.

Let's compare the CR levels between each set of blocks: 
Summon Creature Spell Level
Elemental CRs (size)
Herd Animal CRs (size)
Predator Animal
CRs (size)
1/3 (tiny)
1/3 (small)
1/3 (small)
1 (small)
1/2 (medium)
1 (medium)
3 (medium)
2 (large)
2 swarm
5 (large)
4 (Huge)
4 (large)
7 (huge)
6 (Gargantuan)
7 (huge)
11 (huge)
8 (Colossal
10 (gargantuan)

As you can see, the herd and predator animals may get larger sizes faster, or in once case, even get swarms, but they are universally at lower CRs. To help make up for this, you would still add the environmental graft, then also add the summoning graft for the type of monster you want to those stat blocks. And possibly, add a simple alignment graft on top of that.

Why would you do this? It creates the opportunity to make summoners flavored to summon creatures from their homeworlds. Imagine a summoner summoning a "large inevitable wildebeest" with an arc cannon on it's back! Or another summoner is pulling out the glowing shadow jaguar that haunts the jungles of his home. Or simply to flavor a summoner in a way that fits them just right, like a Dromada "Herd" summoner who only summoned herd animals. 

It adds a ton of flavor you as the GM, or your players can use to flesh out their summoners. And the best part is, the last component of Starfinder's summon creature spell is that you pick four creatures from each spell level to summon, so you don't need to worry about option overload in your summoner's at the table, in-game. The player makes these choices before you get to the game!

If you really want to mix things up, you could go so far as to let a player use the CR appropriate stat-line of the NPC maker, and have them apply a whole different set of grafts to them as their summons. You could help a player build an Eoxian necromancer, by letting them use appropriate undead grafts in place of normal summons. You could let a player summon dragons by letting them apply the various dragon grafts to the appropriate stat block instead of a summon graft. Or Mephits, or…  well, I think you get the picture.

All of that leads me to the next interesting thing you can do: use specific summoning combinations as rewards. If you have a summoner in your party, you can have them find the journal of a long-dead conjurer, who discovered a method to summon the "strange beasts of the plains of the world of  Egilothorian." If they read it, they could add the specific combination of stat block and graft(s) that you have put together to their list of known summons. For the summoning enthusiast, this could be just the thing to excite them. (As a side note, you can also use this idea with Polymorph forms as rewards)

Now, some links before I move on, to help you all look into this yourselves and decide if you want it in your universe:

Some Further Advice on Summoners

So that's all fine and dandy, but I feel like I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't include some advice for avoiding the bog-down that summoners can bring to a game. It's one of the most common complaints against summoners and has gotten them banned from many a game. Since it's one of my favorite things to play with, I'd like to offer some advice to help players avoid the pitfalls. I've come up with a series of rules that, if followed, should keep your table happy with you!

1        Use lots of dice, and color code them to different purposes.

This one comes from my experience in large scale tabletop wargaming. When you have 100 models on the table that you need to move and fight with, you find ways to optimize the process to take as little time as possible. One of the most important things you can do is roll as many of the dice as possible at the same time. Until you go through it, you may not believe how much time this can save you.

Have one dice set for yourself, and have another dice set for every monster you have on the field. Roll the d20s to attack and other dice for damage, for yourself, and all your summons at the same time. Since they are different sets for different creatures, you already know which damage dice applies to which d20 roll.

Fortunately, as a gamer, you were already working on a dice addiction, now you have the justification you need to indulge it!

2        During everyone else's turn, prepare for your next one. Never spend any time during your own turn trying to decide what to do.

Seriously, you have 5+ monsters on the field; you need to find and pick up all the dice you are going to roll for them and decide what each of their targets are. As people take their turns and the battlefield adjusts, adjust your plans. Know which enemy is each of your monster's target, or which ally each will support. The more you plan during their turns, the less time your own will take.

3        Your summoned creatures are disposable. Treat them like they are.

Seriously, if they die, you can just summon more until you run out of spells, summon grenades, spell gems, and spell chips. Your creatures can eat up enemy attacks of opportunities freeing your companions to out-maneuver the enemy safely. They can move into dangerous flanking positions helping your allies land blows without putting themselves in excessive danger. They can tank overwatch attacks since you don't need to heal them. They can scout possibly trapped areas. Think of them as independent pools of HP that can soak up the enemy's attempts to hurt you and your friends' pools of HP.

4        Be able to communicate with anything you can summon.

If you don't know it's language, all your summon can do is attack the closest enemy. If you do know it's language, it can do pretty much anything you tell it to do. That makes even your first level summons useful well into the later levels. After all, you can summon a low-level robot to reload your allies' weapons or inject their serums into them, so they don't have to spend actions doing it themselves.

5        Use your summons to support your party, not to flood the battlefield with bodies.

Have you ever watched a trained tactical squad moving through a warzone taking out their enemy? Your summons should be part of that tactical squad, not competing with it. I'll mention again eating enemy attacks of opportunity, and moving into dangerous flanking positions. Those are both things you can do to support your party while still being committed to an all-out attack. You don't even need to choose between both support and offense. Do both. 

If you DO ever have to choose, choose support every time. The reason is, the summons you can get will always be inferior, offensively, to any of your party members. So if you choose offense over support, you are deciding to try for an inferior attack, at the expense of a superior one. But if you do things to boost the likelihood of your companions succeeding in their attack, you are maximizing the damage output of the party. I can't stress this enough.

The other thing it does is alleviate a lot of the annoyance that may build up over the longer turns you have due to the extra creatures under your control. No one ever hates support. Your party will know that their turn will be more successful because of the extra time you took and that always feels good. It's a form of passive diplomacy. Still, try to minimize the time you spend on your turn.

6        Prioritize speed over perfection. Your turns don't have to be perfect. You have more bodies to throw at the problem, so your margin of error is larger.

You want to play with your friends. To do that, they have to feel like everything is fair. For everything to be fair, you can't have most of the time spend centered on you. Do you best to make sure you don't take up more time than you have to, because it is easy to fall into the trap of taking up ALL the time, and that will kill your game.

If you can follow these rules, you should be able to play a summoner without tripping into any of the pitfalls. If you can't, consider carefully if playing a summoner is really the right fit for you. Especially you perfectionists who take a long time to decide what to do on your turns.

That's it for now. I hope it's useful and entertaining for all of you.

Neil Litherland discusses the strategic use of Summon Monster in Pathfinder.

and more that will be added later. 

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