Off the Path: City Construction, Part 2: Qualities

In my last post I talked about the basics of city construction. Settlements have

  • settlement scores analogous to characters’ ability scores, though applied to different purpose;
  • levels analogous to character levels, that influence the size and resources available;
  • population analogous to experience points (which will come into play more in the next article);
  • qualities that expand on and help provide texture for the settlement.

In this post I’m going to talk more about qualities.

Settlement Qualities

The Pathfinder GameMastery Guide defines a dozen qualities that influence the nature of a settlement. Each quality is basically binary (present or not) and has a fixed effect. For instance, the ‘Academic’ quality indicates that “the settlement possesses a school, training facility, or university of great renown. (Lore +1, increase spellcasting by 1 level)”, where ‘Lore’ is a score that “measures not only how willing the citizens are to chat and talk with visitors, but also how available and accessible its libraries and sages are”, and ‘spellcasting’ affects the highest-level spells available for purchase or hire in the settlement.

I’m not using the same scores as the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide, so obviously I can’t use the same qualities the same way.

Measuring Qualities

Binary qualities are easily applied and adjudicated, but I am leaning away from that. I think I’d rather see them quantitative, with different values, so I don’t have to define ‘Fortified I’, ‘Fortified II’, and ‘Fortified III’ qualities. I’d rather see ‘Fortified’ with a value of 3 than need three qualities.

Off the top of my head (I haven’t formalized a list) I think I’ll have qualities such as

  • Fortified adds to Military modifier on rolls against attacks. This quality probably looks like a palisade or earthen ramparts or stone walls, choke points in approaches to the settlement (probably with guard posts), siege engines, and so on.
  • Religious might add to Stability checks, but I can imagine examples where it might not. A primary benefit, though, comes in having divine support for the settlement. This quality might indicate a large temple or collection of temples, religious icons commonly displayed, and so on.
  • Mercantile adds to Trade modifier on certain checks. This quality probably indicates many or large marketplaces, caravansaries, dockyards, guilds, and other locations to trade or means of transportation.
  • Industrial could add to Craft (more people working to make stuff) or Trade (more goods to export)… or I could see a couple more possibilities. It might not even add to any checks, instead providing other benefits. I need to think about this. In any case, it probably looks like more crafters, or improved manufacturing resources such as mills and factories.
  • Wealthy would probably add to one or both of Trade and Social checks, depending on the origin of the wealth. The houses are nicer, people tend to be better-dressed, and so on.
  • Resources (needs a better name) would add to Infrastructure checks, and indicates things like storehouses to hold food, aqueducts to ensure good water, and so on.
  • Academic is probably like Religious in that it might not actually add to any checks, but provide support for skills within the city, especially Knowledge or Profession skills. As might be expected, a settlement with the Academic quality probably has schools and colleges and the like.
  • (Skill) indicates that the skill, or rather those that practice it, are easier to find than might otherwise be the case, or more capable than might be expected. This could interact with Religious, Industrial, and/or Academic. For instance, while you can reasonably expect to find an armorer in most cities of a certain size, the Craft (Armorer) quality indicates that more or better armorers are found here than usual. This probably looks a lot like Industrial, except that it should be evident which skill is the focus of the quality. Also, it is probably easy to see the results (products or services) of the skill available for sale.

As I said above, each of these would likely have a numeric value indicating ‘how much’ effect the quality has. This value might be added to specific checks as needed, and in some cases is just a measure. ‘Craft (Weaponsmith) I’ might mean common weapons are readily available for sale, while ‘Craft (Weaponsmith) II’ might mean uncommon weapons or masterwork weapons are readily available — no check needed, they just are.

The list needs to be developed further, but this should give a sense of what qualities are, what they do, and how they might influence the appearance of a settlement.

Off the Path: City Construction, Part 1: Basics

Deviating from plan (I’d said my next post would be about building a ‘local pantheon’ of small gods), I decided to write instead about alternate rules for developing a city or other settlement.

It expands somewhat on the Polyhedral Pantheons Adaptations I wrote about a while ago.

Settlement Basics

Before diving into process, I’m going to describe some of the mechanical underpinnings. They are in some ways pretty similar to how characters are created.

Settlement Scores

Each settlement has ability scores comparable to — and associated with — the normal character ability scores.

Settlement Score Ability Score Description
Military Strength How well the settlement can deal with military and other active threats.
Trade Dexterity How much commerce is done and how well-connected the settlement is to other entities.
Infrastructure Constitution How resilient and enduring the settlement is in physical terms; includes actual infrastructure such as roads and aqueducts, and availability of important resources such as food and healing.
Craft Intelligence How much artifice, creation, and innovation are available in the settlement.
Stability Wisdom How well-regulated the settlement is, especially in the face of disruption.
Social Charisma How active and sophisticated social elements of the settlement are.

Generate these through the normal means: point buy, random roll, whatever. I favor adapting ‘27-25-23‘, making it instead ’23-21-19’:

  • Roll 3d6, subtract from 23. These are two scores.
  • Roll 3d6, subtract from 21. These are two more scores.
  • Roll 3d6, subtract from 19. These are two more scores.
  • (reroll anything that would result in a score outside 3..18)
  • Assign to taste.

I like that all settlements start with some difficulties. These will be overcome as they get larger (see below) and generally aren’t crippling anyway.

Settlement Levels

Level Qualities Population GMG size Low Pop High Pop
1 1 18 thorp       15 21
2 1 25 thorp 21 30
3 1 35 hamlet 30 42
4 1 50 hamlet 42 59
5 2 71 village 59 84
6 2 100 village 84 119
7 2 141 village 119 168
8 2 200 village 168 238
9 3 283 small town 238 336
10 3 400 small town 336 476
11 3 566 small town 476 673
12 3 800 small town 673 951
13 4 1,131 small town 951 1,345
14 4 1,600 small town 1,345 1,903
15 4 2,263 large town 1,903 2,691
16 4 3,200 large town 2,691 3,805
17 5 4,525 large town 3,805 5,382
18 5 6,400 small city 5,382 7,611
19 5 9,051 small city 7,611 10,763
20 5 12,800 large city 10,763 15,222
21 6 18,102 large city 15,222 21,527
22 6 25,600 metropolis 21,527 30,444
23 6 36,204 metropolis 30,444 43,054
24 6 51,200 metropolis 43,054 60,887
25 7 72,408 metropolis 60,887 86,108

Like characters, settlements have levels. Small, minor settlements (thorps and hamlets and whatnot) are very low-level, major settlements such as large cities and metropolises are high-level. This affects how good a settlement is at something, and the population.

At levels 4, 8, and every fourth level after that, add 1 point to all six settlement scores.

I’m going to say that a level 2 settlement has a population of about 25 people, and that every two levels the population doubles. Increasing or decreasing by one level multiplies the nominal population by the square root of 2 (about 1.4).

The exact populations aren’t particularly important, so I’m looking at ‘nominal population’ to provide an estimate.

The ‘GMG Size’ column assigns settlement type, per the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide guidelines… approximately. This actually will have little direct impact on the process mechanically, but is useful for descriptive purposes.

When assigning the ‘GMG Size’ values I looked at the nominal population rather than the population range. For example, a level 8 settlement has a nominal population of 200. Per Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide a settlement with a population of 201 is a ‘small town’. It would seem that this would fit the level 8 settlement because 201 lands in the level 8 population range (168..238)… but I chose to not do that.

Population and Experience Points

Population of a settlement grows on an exponential scale. Every two levels the population nominally (it’s not likely to be exact) doubles.

By strange coincidence — no, really, it wasn’t planned on my part — the experience point totals needed in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to advance levels doubles every two levels. (Or rather, the series converges on that ratio, more or less, once you get past about 10th level… but it works for slow, medium, and fast rates.)

So it looks like population and experience points have similar enough curves that for this purpose they can basically be equated. This leads to all sorts of interesting ideas for city-building minigames that I’m not thinking about too hard right now. But I will remember for later.

Settlement Qualities

A settlement has ‘qualities’ that modify the nature of the settlement. In some cases a quality might provide a modifier to a settlement score (‘defensible’ indicates that the settlement is easier to defend from attack than most, providing a bonus to the Military score). In other cases a quality might indicate a specific resource or other benefit to the settlement.

These can be similar in concept to the Settlement Qualities described in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide guidelines, but as these rules use different scores they would have different effect.

My next post on city construction will cover qualities in greater detail.

Black Friday and White Star Dent Removal Sale

James Spahn (Barrel Rider Games, publisher of White Star and of Labyrinth Lord supplements) had an unfortunate interaction with a kamikaze bambi. He and his family are fine, nobody in the car was injured, but they’re looking at a big repair bill.

I was already planning to run a sale this weekend, but it’s changed a bit. From now through Cyber Monday, all Echelon Game Design products — Polyhedral PantheonsDraconic Bloodlines, and the entire Echelon Reference Series — are on sale at a 20% discount. Half my proceeds will go to James to get the bambi-shaped dents and other damage to his car fixed.

Off the Path: Small Gods

Many campaigns have world-spanning deities whose power reaches everywhere (more or less). They can provide the ‘full range of services’ (i.e. spells all the way up to ninth level, or seventh in some editions of D&D). Very useful from a game play perspective.

However, the idea of being able to meet and interact (and deal) with the actual spirit of the forest has always intrigued me. I like the idea of divine creatures who have notable power but are greatly limited in their reach.

It turns out this is pretty easy to do in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Making a Small God

The simplest mechanical implementation of small gods is to simply use (and bend slightly) the mythic rules.

  • A small god is a creature of at least CR 5, and typically at least Mythic Rank 3. The creature gains:
    • the mythic subtype;
    • a bonus to natural armor (base +0 if it doesn’t otherwise have natural armor) equal to its MR;
    • bonus hit points equal to its MR times 6, 8, or 10, depending on whether the base creature uses d6, d8, or (d10 or d12) as its racial Hit Die;
    • damage reduction (5/epic if it has 5 to 10 Hit Dice, 10/epic if it has 11 or more Hit Dice; existing DR if any is merged);
    • bonus to spell resistance equal to MR, if it has spell resistance;
    • the mythic power and mythic surge universal monster abilities;
    • at MR 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, the creature gains a +2 bonus to one ability score (all can be added to one score or they can be split up);
    • at MR 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, the creature gains a mythic feat it qualifies for;
    • additional mythic abilities equal to one more than its MR;
    • CR increased by half the MR, XP adjusted to match.
  • Among the mythic abilities, pick
    • Divine Source (Su): [3rd-Tier Universal Path Ability] The creature can grant divine spells to those who follow its cause. Choose two domains suitable to the small god’s portfolio/interests. The small god can only grant spells of a level up to its MR. The small god can cast one spell per spell level per day, chosen from the domain spells available. At MR 6 and MR 9 this mythic ability can be taken again, adding one domain and two subdomains. Deviation from RAW: the small god does not need to take ‘alignment domains first’, per the normal mythic ability. A subdomain may be chosen in place of a domain if it better suits the small god.
  • The small god might have other divine casting ability, such as (and probably no more than) one of:
    • the Simple Divine Spellcasting ability (universal monster rule), giving it knowledge of cleric or druid spells with a total number of levels equal to twice its Hit Dice (none higher than 1.5 times its Hit Dice) and the ability to cast each once per day;
    • the Cleric Creature template from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Monster Codex;
    • cleric (or druid, etc.) levels.
  • The small god might also have the Mythic Magic ability (universal monster rule). Three times per day when it casts a spell (from Divine Source or Simple Divine Spellcasting or some other ability) it can spend mythic power to cast the spell as a mythic spell.

Fill in the rest of the abilities and you should be about done.

Note that you could use the Divine mythic simple template instead, but I think the more detailed rebuild works better.

Sample Small God: Sheshsia, the Well Spirit

The farmers and other villagers of the valley perform small rituals to thank Sheshsia, the Well Spirit, for keeping their water clean and sweet.

Mechanically — I’ll expand on her story elements in another post — Sheshsia is a mythic huge water elemental (CR 10/MR 4) with the Divine Source (Water and Community domains) mythic ability and the cleric creature template (normally +2, but I discounted to +1 for weak spell choices and because the stats aren’t CR 11).

Huge Water Elemental
CR 10/MR 4 (base CR 7, template is +2, MR is +2, but much closer to in-line with CR 10 because many of the added abilities are weak)
XP 12,800
N Huge outsider (elemental, extraplanar, mythic, water)
Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +17

AC 25, touch 13, flat-footed 20 (+4 Dex, +1 dodge, +12 natural, –2 size)
hp 135 (10d10+40+40)
Fort +11, Ref +11, Will +7
DR 5/—; Immune elemental traits

Speed 20 ft., swim 90 ft.
Melee 2 slams +15 (2d6+7)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks channel energy (3/day, level 8), drench, mythic power (4/day, surge +1d8), vortex (DC 22), water mastery
Cleric Domain Spells (CL 10th; DC 14+level)
4th (1/day)—imbue with spell abilitysleet storm
3rd (1/day)—call lightningprayer
2nd (1/day)—fog cloudshield other
1st (1/day)—blessobscuring mist
Cleric Spells (CL 10th; DC 14+level)
4th—control water
3rd—remove diseasewater breathing (might have remove curse instead of water breathing)
2nd—cure moderate woundslesser restoration
1st—(any two)
0—(any two, often create water or purify food and drink)
Mythic Abilities amazing initiative (+4), divine source (Community, Water), empathic healing, hard to kill, pure body, recuperation, water of life

Str 24, Dex 18, Con 19, Int 6, Wis 19, Cha 11
Base Atk +10; CMB +19; CMD 34
Feats Cleave, DodgeM, Great Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Power AttackM
Skills Acrobatics +11, Escape Artist +15, Knowledge (planes) +7, Perception +17, Stealth +3, Swim +26

In practice I would be inclined to change the domain spells, such as by creating a new subdomain or hybrid domain. The water domain as written doesn’t quite align with what I want here. I added the ‘cleric creature’ simple template to provide additional spell access that better fit what I wanted. Because the spells typically don’t have combat utility and the statistics align more closely to a CR 9 creature than to a CR 11 creature, I’m treating this as a CR 10 creature — the additional spells and channel energy clearly add something, but it’s not as much as might be suggested by the template.

Closing Comments

Creating the statistics for Sheshsia, the Well Spirit, was mostly straightforward. There was some slight complication when I found the domain spells didn’t do quite what I wanted, but it wasn’t that hard to work around. In practice I’d do more, probably create a ‘Sheshsia domain’ that replaced some of the water spells with something that better fit my vision.

Those who entreat Sheshia for divine power gain access to cleric spells, but only of up to fourth level. She is neutral, but I would consider her to have good tendencies and thus require that her clerics channel positive energy. Those who can plead their case to her directly might benefit from her abilities… but they’re pretty limited.

My next post will focus somewhat on how to build a ‘local pantheon’ of small gods.

Off the Path: HERO Power Construction

A brief diversion on the Words of Power exploration, I thought it worth providing a bit of an overview of how powers are constructed in HERO System. This looks like it will become important soon.


Powers in HERO are based on effect, with descriptors added to give flavor and something to hook abilities on. At its root, a fireball and a lightning bolt are very similar: they do damage at range. In HERO 6e terms, and for the sake of argument, they both use the Blast power (previous editions it was ‘Energy Blast’, but the same power was used for energy and physical blasts. Blast costs 5 points per 1d6 damage, and has a range directly proportional to points. The descriptors provide narrative and descriptive elements that can be applied, and can influence how these interact with other powers. For instance, a staff that augments fire powers can make the fireball more powerful, but do nothing for the lightning bolt. For this example, we’ll work with an 8d6 blast in both cases (worth 40 points, the Base Cost).

That is at the base… but powers are not just the base effect. In this case ‘fireball’ implies that it fills a circular area, while a lightning bolt probably zaps anything between where the bolt started and where it ends. The fireball might be best defined as having a ‘radius area of effect’ that determines how much gets charred, and the lightning bolt could be defined as having a ‘line area of effect’. This sounds like it should make the spells better than without, providing an advantage. It would be reasonable to expect this to be more expensive… and it is.


The 40 point base cost is just where we start. Advantages are measured in units of “+¼” (and presented in simple form: the next step up from a +¼ advantage is a +½ advantage, not a +2/4 advantage). You  multiply the base cost by (1+sum of advantages) to get the Active Cost, the measure of how powerful the power is. A 4d6 Blast (20 Base Cost) with +1 of advantages would have an Active Cost of 40, same as the 8d6 Blast (and in principle is as powerful — it might do less base damage, but the advantages might make it better than the 8d6 Blast, such as if it were armor piercing and able to ignore some armor, or indirect and not needing line of effect to the target).

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, fireball has a 20-foot radius. This doesn’t align exactly with HERO System (which uses metric on a hex grid, each hex being 2 metres across), but 20 feet is four squares, and if I equate that to four hexes that would be 8 metres. In reality this is a little more than 25 feet, but in game terms I’ll consider this a rounding error. A power in HERO with an 8-metre radius would have a “+¾” advantage. The fireball has an Active Cost of 40*(1+¾)= 70 points.

With the lightning bolt I’m going to do something different. In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game this is a 120-foot line, but instead I’m going to make it indirect, a +½ advantage that means I don’t need line of effect to my target. Unlike the fireball I affect only a single target, but I all lightning from the sky to strike my enemies, and don’t need to be able to reach them directly. The indirect advantages increases my Active Cost to (40*(1+½)=) 60 points, but ‘calling lightning from the sky’ sounds like I need to be able to see the sky. That limits how I can use the spell, it’s not going to be much use underground.


Limitations serve two purposes in power construction. They lower the Real Cost of a power to make it affordable (in a Heroic-grade game a 60- or 70-point power would consume a very large fraction of a character’s build resources), they provide restrictions on the use of a power to make the powers more interesting to play, and they help make the powers more distinct.

As advantages, limitations are measured in units of ¼, but are marked as negative values as a reminder. Where the Base Cost is multiplied by (1+advantages) to get the Active Cost, the Active Cost is divided by (1+absolute value of limitations). That is, a 60 Active Cost power with -½ limitation would be worth 60/(1+½)= 40 character points.

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, casting fireball has verbal, somatic, and material components. In HERO terms these would be Incantations (verbal utterance for the purpose of activating power and no other purpose, recognizable as unusual; preventing speech prevents the power from being used: -¼), Gestures (free and visible movement for the purpose of activating power and no other purpose, recognizable as unusual; preventing free movement prevents the power from being used, -¼), and a Focus (“Obvious Accessible Focus”: it’s clear that the bat guano and sulphur are used for unusual purpose, and thus ‘obvious’, they can be knocked out of hand (spoiling the spell) with a single action, and thus ‘accessible’, -1… foci are worth a lot in HERO). This is a total of -1½ limitation. This reduces the Real Cost to (70/(1+1½)=) 28 character points. Still awfully big for a heroic-grade HERO campaign, but you wouldn’t often see a starting PC with a 70 Active Point spell.

The lightning bolt, on the other hand, requires some more adjudication. There actually isn’t an inherent “must be able to see the sky” limitation, so the GM will need to determine a limitation value based on campaign expectation. If the campaign is largely set outdoors, this might be only a -¼ limitation: the sky is almost always available. If the campaign is in the Underdark and the sky is only rarely visible it might be -1½ (or even more! and this is probably a silly spell to pick). I’m going to guess here and say that the spell is usable roughly half the time, which is a -1 limitation (and I’ll be strict — if I made it a -½ limitation I’d likely still let it work in caves and rooms with windows, as long as the sky was reachable). I’m going to say that this spell has verbal and somatic components (-½ together), but that each casting consumes a wand made from the branch of a lightning-struck oak (OAF expendable, hard to get: -1¼). This gives a Real Cost of (60/(1+1.75)=) 21.8181… points — which in HERO rounds down to 21 points to 22 points.

Thanks to Chakat for the correction, I was misremembering a different example. Rounding in HERO is to the nearest integer, with half-points being rounded in the character’s favor. The only exception I can find is that the figured SPEED attribute always truncates — a character with Dex 18 would make DEX checks at 13- (i.e. 9+18/5 = 12.6, rounds up to 13) and have a base SPD of 2.8 (1 + DEX/10), which gets treated as SPD 2 for determining actions.

Closing Comments

This has been a brief explanation of power construction in HERO System. Even just as far as I’ve gone here, the flexibility inherent in the system should be evident… and I left out some of the funkier options, such as:

  • Naked advantages, advantages bought ‘as powers’ that can be applied to other powers. Buy an advantage as its own power, such as being able to Autofire ‘any weapon’ up to a certain Active Cost: take the Active cost of the biggest effect the Autofire can be used with, multiply by the Autofire advantage cost, and treat the result as the base cost of the ‘Autofire power’.
  • Partially-limited powers, where you can apply limitations to some but not all of a power. For instance, the 8d6 ‘fireball’ above has Gestures, Incantations, and OAF limitations. The spell could be written as being 6d6 with those limitations but having 4d6 more power available if other limitations (such as Extra Endurance, Extra Time and Concentration, say) are applied. You can cast a 6d6 fireball ‘normally’, or exert yourself (Extra Endurance, Extra Time, and Concentration) to cast a 10d6 fireball. The Active and Real costs of the two pieces would be calculated and added together to find the final values for the spell.
  • Power frameworks, where thematically related powers are grouped together to reduce their Real cost. This gives you more powers available at once, but there are restrictions on how you can use them. For instance, a ‘multipower laser rifle’ might have several ‘configurations’ that allow you to use Blast, Killing Attack, each with Autofire or Armor Piercing or Area of Effect… but only one configuration at a time. Lots of options, cheaper than getting six different items, but only one is usable at a time.

Hopefully this will help make my next Words of Power articles easier to understand. I’m pretty sure I can lean on this power construction mechanism to build and apply the Words of Power framework I’m devising.

Letters from the Flaming Crab Kickstarter

Alex Abel — the Flaming Crab himself — is Kickstarting the 2017 Letters from the Flaming Crab series.

These are small (15-20 page), flavorful supplements that explore topics often overlooked in many roleplaying games, topics that help round out a setting and make it more than a murderhobo arena.

Topics from 2016 include:

  • Winged Cavalry Welcome to our first issue: Winged Cavalry! Our team of writers brings you the master of aerial combat: the wind warden, an alternate class for the cavalier. And 4 orders for the wind warden: the order of the feather (pegasus), order of the hunt (pteranodon), order of the spire (magic carpet), and the order of talon and mane (griffon). In addition, we have a few advanced flying maneuvers in the book. “Do a barrel roll!”
  • Culinary Magic Within Culinary Magic you’ll find rules for culinary magic, a variety of recipes, new items, feats, and traits for magical bakers and chefs, and two new archetypes: the kitchen witch and the performing chef.
  • Haunted Places Within Haunted Places, you’ll find four haunts (one is sometimes also a loci), one new medium spirit, and three new archetypes inspired by those haunts just in time for the spookiest day of the year.
  • Wheel of the Year Wheel of the Year features 9 pagan holidays, from Yule to Samhain!For each holiday we have a brief description, the types of deities that are revered, mystic resonances (each holiday has a school of magic that’s enhanced and one that’s weakened), and a specific ritual/spell that may be cast during these events. Without celebrations, a campaign world is a sterile place. Breathe some life into your game with holidays!
  • Iconic Princesses Iconic Princesses features 4 women from classic fairy tales ready to be introduced into your campaign as NPCs or even as PCs.Each “princess” is detailed in the established iconic format (1st, 7th, and 12th level) along with a unique magic item, feat, or spell. Inside you’ll find:
    • Beauty. A vengeful witch that protects the powerless and curses their oppressors.
    • Mulan. A resourceful brawler that defends her homeland in her father’s stead.
    • Rapunzel. A disciplined monk with a hardened mind and barbed hair.
    • Snow White. A wandering occultist with a zest for battle.
  • Here There Be (tiny) Dragons Here There Be (tiny) Dragons presents six new Tiny sized dragons to be used as friend, foe, or improved familiar! It also features new archetypes and a new class of scaling wondrous item, dragonstones, that can only be used by a dragon and non-dragon in cooperation!
  • Her Story In honor of Women’s History Month, Her Story tells the tales of 8 incredible women (from Earth). It also features “crunch” inspired by each woman. (For example, Saint Clare Assisi inspired a pious Inquisitor archetype and 5 new virtues.) Inside you’ll find:
    • Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed
    • Queen Boudicca
    • Saint Clare of Assisi
    • Doctor Marie Curie
    • Hatshepsut
    • Joan of Arc
    • Osh-Tisch
    • Mary Shelley
  • Coins & Credit Within Coins and Credit (our biggest Letter, yet!), we cover the topic of money and how to make it fit in your campaign (and your bag of holding).
    The first part of our 8th Letter is all about coins. We cover mundane and magical currency crafting, counterfeiting, coin size, exchange rates, and transportation of coins. Slaying the dragon is great and all, but how many coins can you fit in a leather bag? And is the party barbarian strong enough to carry the whole hoard? Part two is on banks. Surely you don’t want to lug around all that gold? Even if you got it converted to mithral pieces, tens of thousands of metal coins is a lot for our heroes! We cover the different types of banks, account types, loans, account tiers, the likelihood of finding banks in different settlements, and example banks!Finally, part three covers credit. Don’t worry if your head is still spinning from tax season. We make things simple for you and your adventuring party! We cover tabs, letters of credit, promissory notes, banknotes, and magic items to assist in the transfer of wealth!
  • Hygiene In the days of old, the public bathhouse was as much of a social center as any tavern. So why not mix things up and start your adventure somewhere a little more clean? Sure, the half-orc may object to soapy water (after all, he’d get a -2 penalty on Diplomacy checks against his own people for being dishonorably cleansed of his enemy’s blood), but I’m sure the elf noble wouldn’t object to spending time in a more refined and relaxing establishment.Within Hygiene, we cover both the effects of neglecting cleanliness and places where you can scrub after delving in a mucky dungeon! Included are maps for each of the 6 locations inside, including 3 bathhouses (Japanese, Roman, meditative), a barber shop, laundry pools, and a salon.
  • County Faire Within County Faire, we take a trip to the fantastic Fantasia County Faire! It’s the perfect location to take a break from dragon slaying and dungeon delving! There is plenty to do!Play a variety of games of skill and chance! Can you hold your alcohol like a dwarf during the chug run? How many hot peppers can you handle in the flame mouth competition?See one of a kind spectacles and events! The finest cows, goats, sheep, and pigs are on display at the livestock contest! Watch a variety of animal races, everything from horses to humans to rats!Between events, be sure to pick up delectable treats. The faire has anything and everything you crave (most of it is fried, of course)! Children and adults with a sweet tooth will especially love dropping by Sugar’s Sweets!We’ve also included a mini adventure for 1st or 2nd level characters! The PCs are employed by the fireworks specialist– the Splendiferous Spranza– to guard her tent from nosy locals and mischievous children. While the default setting is the Fantasia County Faire, it can be used at any faire, festival, or celebration.
  • Inspired by Heraldry Within Inspired by Heraldry…We bring you 5 new unusual creatures for Pathfinder that are often featured as decorations upon a shield of arms: biscoine, enfield, lepus hositili (murder bunny), talbot hound, and yale.We also introduce heraldic feats that allow characters to draw power from their noble bloodline, familial history, and the spiritual patron of their clan. We feature the following patrons: allocamelus, basilisk, bear, biscoine, boar, bull, dragon, enfield, griffin, lepus hostili, manticore, phoenix, serpent, talbot hound, toad, unicorn, and yale.And we finish Inspired by Heraldry with the heraldic knight, an alternate class for the cavalier that invokes the power of their family’s crest.
  • Strange Weather Within Strange Weather…We bring you a dozen new Conditions and Hazards more magical and exciting than a mere thunderstorm! Acid rain, aurora hypnosis, ball lightning, blood storm, ectoplasmic storm, fire whirl, hailstorm, pollen storm, skyquake, blood moon, dread moon, radiant moon, and the solar eclipse!We also introduce the Storm Elemental with four variants: the blizzard storm elemental, dust storm elemental, hurricane elemental, and lightning storm elemental!And we finish Strange Weather with two weather related archetypes: the Stormcaller (Shaman) and the Child of the Sky (Barbarian)!
  • Dinosaur Companions We introduce 25 new dinosaurs (and pterosaurs and a crocodilian) to choose from to be your new best friend! Every dinosaur can be an animal companion/mount or familiar!15 of these prehistoric pals are animal companions/mounts: Argentinosaurus, Baryonyx, Concavenator, Corythosaurus, Deinocherius, Dilophosaurus, Dracorex, Excaliborsaurus, Maiasaura, Neptunidraco, Scipionyx, Stygimoloch, Tethyshadros, Tupandactylus, and Utahraptor!10 of them are familiars: Coelophysis, Jinfengopteryx, Leaellynasaura, Mei, Micropachycephalosaurus, Microraptor, Nyctosaurus, Parvicursor, Scansoriopteryx, and Sordes!
  • Household Magic

In 2017 they plan to drop to bimonthly (i.e. every two months, not the misbegotten twice per month) in order to accommodate the request that they make each issue longer. Topics planned include:

  • The Puppet Show
  • Gremlins
  • Libraries and Research
  • Imaginary Friends
  • Religious Communities
  • Dangerous Spores
  • 3 personal letters (topics chosen by high-rolling backers)

If you’re interested in an eclectic mix of topics that can help you flesh out your world, I recommend you check this Kickstarter out and consider backing.

Tenkar’s Disclosure: Alex is a friend of mine online, I backed his Archetype Compendium, Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons was an add-on for $30+ pledges for the Letters from the Flaming Crab (2016) Kickstarter last year, and we’ve been talking about my writing about Small Gods for one of the Letters.

Letters from the Flaming Crab (2017)

Letters from the Flaming Crab (2017)


Off the Path: Words of Power, Part 2

In my last post I outlined some things I’d like to see in the Words of Power system.

  1. Cost based on caster level;
  2. Reorganizing the effects;
  3. Unified power framework.

The unified power framework might seem to be the most ambitious… but I noticed something that might make it a lot less work than I expected. I’ll come back to that a little further below.

Examining Words of Power

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Let’s start looking at aspects of the words of power and see where it takes us.


I’m going to use Healing Words as my starting point. In Words of Power there are five healing words that map more or less directly to the stabilize spell and the four cure wounds spells (soothing touch stabilizes a dying creature, then each level of Word after that heals 1d6+level (max 5*word level) points of damage — 1d8+1/level if the spell is boosted).

This is an okay starting point, but I want characters with greater word mastery to be able to get greater effect for cost. It doesn’t matter if you have elder cure (4d6+1/level, 4d8+1/level boosted) if you only use a second-level slot. Also, I really don’t like “per level” calculations in effects. I considered having the same degree of healing for a single point (so having Healing Word IV lets you do 4d6 points of healing for one magic point) but that’s way too rich if I’m going to allow using more than one point.

I’ll back it off. Healing Word I heals 1d6 points per magic point, Healing Word II heals 1d8 points per magic point (just 1 more on average), Healing Word III heals 1d10 points per magic point… and following my smoother damage progression, Healing Word IV and Healing Word V heal 2d6 and 2d8 points per magic point respectively. With the understanding that cantrips are often considered “half” a first-level spell, I’ll include a Healing Word 0 (cantrip-grade) for 1d3 points of healing per magic point.

But wait! 1d3… that’s… half a d6. And d6, then d8 has a mean of 4.5, which is d6+1, and d10 has a mean of 5.5 (or d6+2, or the same as d6+d3… one and a half d6s).

HERO System damage classes (DC) are five points each, and go 1, ½d6, 1d6, 1d6+1, 1½d6, 2d6, 2d6+1, 2½d6, 3d6… the Healing Word I spell does 1d6, Healing Word II does 1d8 and averages the same as 1d6+1, Healing Word III does 1d10 averages the same as 1½d6, Healing Word IV does 2d6, Healing Word V does 2d8 and averages… 9 points, one point higher than 2d6+1. Close enough. Even Healing Word 0 aligns, at 1d3 (½d6), and the (as-yet unmentioned) “Healing Word -1” (because Echelon has a Pre-Basic tier even below Basic tier, for things like rats) doing a single point of healing would align.

So… power words being worth 15 Active cost (in HERO terms) at tier 1, then plus or minus 5 Active cost per tier above or below, there must be something I can do with this. Let’s look at limitations, see how they line up.

Limitations on Words of Power

The Words of Power system expects that all spells have Verbal, Somatic, and Material components, unless otherwise indicated, and take a standard action to cast. The Verbal and Somatic components apply only when casting, and map directly to the Incantations and Gestures limitations, each at the -¼ level. Material components have no special cost, but are easily identifiable at casting time and taking them away is a relatively simple action. Together I’m going to call them an “Obvious Accessible Focus” (OAF), which is a -1 limitation. This gives a total limitation of -1½ on spells by default.

This works well for me. If power words have an Active Cost of 5 points per tier, and expected limitations of -1½, that means the power words have a Real Cost of 2 points (5/(1+1½) = 5/2½ = 2) per tier.

What if I ignore Active Cost here and look primarily at Real Cost? If I require that a power word is worth “2 Real” per tier and allow the Active Cost to swing, I find I could have more variety in the power of the words, with varying degrees of limitation. A ‘simple spell’ (low limitation, such as ‘just Verbal and Somatic components’, a total of -½) would limit the power word to 3 Active Cost per tier. Simple to cast, doesn’t do much. Or I could go the other way and increase the limitations (let’s say requiring more time to cast and spending more magic points — Extra Time and Extra Endurance in HERO terms) but get an effect with more Active Points — harder to cast, but more powerful. The -1½ already present on the spell means I’m not going to get a lot of mileage out of adding more limitations, though. To double the Active Points available (from 5 points per tier to 10 points per tier) I’m going to need to take the divisor from 2½ to 5 — which means increasing the limitations from -1½ to -4! That’s a huge jump, so this is not an easy path to incredible cosmic power.

It does, however, gain me something nifty.

Variations and Unified Casting

I don’t have to stick with Verbal, Somatic, and Material components (Incantations, Gestures, Focus). HERO provides me with all sorts of options for limitations that could be applied.

Concentration: made for a psychic/psionic system.

Requires Skill Check: want a skill-based magic system? Or just the ability to do crazy fantastic things with skill checks? Or…

… or even martial. ‘Sword Magic’ can be a thing! It might use attack rolls instead of skill checks, or not, but this could be a thing.

Aaand I need to get back to work, lunch break is over. I’ll have to continue this more later.

Off the Path: Words of Power, Part 1

The first Off the Path series will take the Words of Power system from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic and make it more to my taste. The general approach is good, and I see room to add a lot more to it.

Words of Power Overview

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Words of Power in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game are pretty straightforward. There are many ‘effect words’, and a smaller number of ‘target words’ and ‘meta words’. Effect words ‘do something’ (burn targets, heal subjects, teleport the caster), target words determine what is affected by the effect words, and meta words change what or how this happens.

A wordspell consists of one target word, one to three effect words, and any number of meta words, within the limits of the caster’s ability. A fireball analogue wordspell might be ‘burst fire blast distant’

  • burst: 10-foot radius within close range, or boosted to 20-foot radius within medium range (level 1, or 3 if boosted);
  • fire blast: 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (level 3, max 10d6);
  • distant: range extended from medium to long (level 0).

This wordspell has a single effect word with a minimum level of 3, the burst target word has a minimum level of 1 (or 3 if boosted, and why not do that?), and the distant meta word does not modify the level. This is a third-level spell doing 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) in a 20-foot radius at long range.

There are more targets, more meta words, and many more effects described in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic… and yet I see some things that could be added, and while it’s pretty close to what I want, I see a few things I’d like to do differently.

Changes Under Consideration

There are several things I’d like to try to incorporate.

Casting Cost Based on Caster Level

The psionics rules in D&D 3.x (and later in Dreamscarred Press’ Ultimate Psionics) base casting cost not on ‘spell level’, but on the ‘caster level’ of the effect. I find I very much like that, and want to incorporate it here. Higher-level abilities might be more efficient (more benefit for cost — cure light wounds doing 1d8+1/level, and cure serious wounds doing 3d8+1/level, both could be cast at a cost of 5 points, but one would do 1d8+5 points of healing and the other 3d8+5). I like the idea of unskilled but powerful casters throwing heaps of power at a spell in order to achieve what a more skilled caster could do more easily.

Reorganize Effects

There are many (137 effect words across 35 effect types, 10 meta words, and 6 target words)… but I they can be better organized and expanded. In fact…

Unified Power Framework

think I see the outline of a unified power framework that can be used to develop a variety of different power types. Spells, psionics, and martial disciplines (as from Dreamscarred Press’ Path of War) might all be possible here.

Closing Comments

This is a pretty ambitious change, to be sure… but it relates to several things I’ve considered over the years, and I think it can be done.

Off the Path: Exploring Different Ground

Blank Arrow Sign -- William McAusland

Blank Arrow Sign — William McAusland

I’m starting a new series, “Off the Path”.

Off the Path takes an idea currently implemented in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and changes it — much like the old ‘KJD-ALT‘ posts I used to make to

Much of my design is influenced by my work on Echelon. I mostly talk about Echelon at my other site, but since this series is actually about Pathfinder I’m keeping it here.

Echelon Influence

The mechanics of Echelon are in flux, I’ve identified several ways they can be implemented. The only important bits about Echelon to remember in this series are:

  • Many Games In One: D&D 3.x, and by extension the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, has several modes of play hidden within it. At low levels it’s relatively gritty and realistic, in the middle levels the PCs are superhuman, and at the upper levels they are functionally superheroes and demigods (even if they don’t have divine traits — look at human mythology, and what the PCs can do).
  • Power Curve Is In Spells: The true power curve in D&D 3.x is not at all based on fighters and the like, but on dedicated spell casters. The most powerful classes are cleric, druid, and wizard. Tiers in Echelon are mapped to iconic spell levels (the iconic spells are usually at levels 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, and are gained at caster level 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17 respectively). I’ll be remapping back to D&D-esque levels (i.e. PCs start at first level, not ninth), but I’ll still keep “levels 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-20” in mind.
  • Awesome Comes From Level, Not Class: Everybody should become increasingly more awesome as they reach higher levels. Spells are fantastic, but fantastic doesn’t need to mean spells. Even the non-casters should not be limited to strictly mundane, can-happen-in-reality options.

These will often have application in the Off the Path series.

I Blame GreyKnight

Today GreyKnight tagged me in a G+ post regarding some machine-assisted mapping software by Martin O’Leary (Uncharted Atlas on Twitter).

Well, I say ‘machine-assisted’, but it looks like the software does most of the work.

It’s also frighteningly close to some ideas I explored about fifteen years ago, but Martin made it work much better than I did… and this gives me ideas for how to improve what I’d done, and make it a little more interactive.

Fantasy Map Generator (Terrain 2.0)

Some notes off the top of my head, so I don’t forget.

Original Version

My original attempt was a command line program. Given an an arbitrary height map (TIFF file with elevation ranging from black to white — which mapped to values ranging from 0..1) it would apply many iterations of ‘precipitation’ to discover rivers (and thus watersheds) and lakes/oceans (depressions that filled with water). I was good at finding waterways, I never did find a satisfactory method of finding bodies of water.

There was also an erosion element, where moving water would reduce the elevation along its path. This included a ‘sediment’ component where the eroded material could be dropped if the speed of the water became too low. This would happen mostly when the slope became to shallow or when the ‘water unit’ hit standing water. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped but I think this was mostly because of my problem finding bodies of water.

The program would periodically render the image in several modes, so I could see what was going on.

  • Bump mapped height map, just the terrain itself. Over time I could see the effects of erosion.
  • Bump mapped colored height map, the terrain with pseudocolored elevation so I could more readily make out the differences in elevation.
  • ‘Water map’ showing the aggregated water flows, optionally with the ‘ocean’ (everything with an elevation under a specified value) filled in blue. This gave me a very good idea of how the water flows were working out. It was very satisfying seeing how, over time, I could pick out where the mountains were by the water flowing away from them.
  • Combined, the colored height map with the waterflows and ocean shown. Because I like the pretty pictures.

New Version

First thoughts on what will be in the new version.

  • GUI (C#/WPF, because that’s what I work with in my day job) allowing adjustments as it goes.
  • Multiple phases in map development:
    • Initial height map. The first iteration will load a greyscale raster image (black = low, white = high) to use as its height map. I might later add a height map generation tool, but that’s lower priority for me.
    • Adjustment layer, so the user can adjust the heights of the original height map nondestructively. I will probably add this after height map generation, since loading the height map from a raster image means the height map can be modified outside this program if needed.
    • Set sea level (which might be below the lowest elevation, if the entire map is above sea level). This should be readily adjustable, but will affect later steps.
    • Find lakes (apply the Planchon-Darboux algorithm), so I know where all the standing water is.
    • Erosion, per my original algorithm. Drop units of water on the terrain, see where it goes. If it hits a lake, go to the exit point of the lake and carry on until it hits the ocean (or the edge of the map). This will find my rivers and watersheds, and will affect the final height map.
      • I might need to find lakes a few times, depending how much effect erosion has. The water leaving the lake should probably erode the terrain as well, and would thus reduce the maximum elevation of the surface of the water. Ultimately it might even wash the lake out!
      • I might go with with a more approximate, but much faster, erosion mechanism. I might even make it configurable which gets used… but I will still need to do the water flow analysis.

That gets me more or less as far as I’d gotten before. Get height map, pour water on it. Now for the next steps.

  • New phases in map development:
    • Settlement. User identifies how many cities (major settlements) and towns (minor settlements) to add. There might be the option of manual insertion (put them exactly where the user says), but for the first pass I’m going to apply them based on rules — mostly around where the water is. Each city or town added will grab the most attractive location available.
      • Initial version will follow Martin’s algorithm, taking into account how attractive the location is (how much water) and how unattractive (how close to another city or town).
      • Later versions might allow weighting these. Perhaps cities want to be far from each other, but towns like to be close to cities.
    • Nations. Assign control (or at least influence) over the territory based on proximity to settlements.
      • It appears Martin assigns control of the territories based on relative proximity to the cities, splitting things as evenly as possible between them. This seems to take the terrain into account, with mountains, and rivers and other waterways, penalizing distance.
      • Martin’s process appears to assign all territory on the map. I am greatly tempted to restrict the reach of each settlement.
      • I might instead give each settlement a certain amount of ‘regional reach’ (first pass, each city is worth this much, each town is worth less) that governs how far their influence can reach. (City, city) regions overlapping are probably either contended or split based on proximity (each point goes to the closer city), (city, town) regions overlapping probably see the town allying with the closest overlapping city, (town, town) probably either stand alone or ally. Allied town regions are counted as part of their ally’s region, extending the reach of a city (or set of towns).
    • National option: iterative assignment.
      • Rather than working on ‘distance to settlement’, each settlement might have a certain amount or number of points of influence. Assign each in turn (proportional to number available, I suspect — if a city has twice as much influence as a town, the city should assign/grab two units of territory for each the town grabs… of course, there are more towns than cities).
      • Each time a settlement grabs territory, it looks for the most attractive location to grab. This is probably a function of:
        • Distance from settlement;
        • Ease of travel (proximity to water is probably a good measure here, easier to follow a river up-valley or follow a shoreline than to cross the mountains);
        • Distance to or amount of neighboring territory of the same settlement (while it is easier to go up-river for a while, eventually the proximity to other controlled terrain makes it cheaper to climb the hill than to follow the river).

I don’t anticipate worrying about names.

Further Adjustments

I expected to have more places for the user to intervene in the map development. Adjusting the height map is the biggest one, but by dropping the need (and ability) to do that there isn’t much left to change. There are some controls involved (how much erosion, etc.) but most of the work after that is done by the computer.

… I started to list other things that could be added, but I think I’ve got enough to start. It would be very easy to get bogged down in additional detail, and I don’t want that to happen. At least, not until I’ve got this part working.