D20 Steampunk Game

D20 Steampunk Game

Games will be run at Gamestorm 19, in Portland Or. Date and time TBD.


Books used:
D20 Modern
Ultimate Arcane Spellbook
Sorcery & Steam
D20 Modern – Past
Steam & Steel
Imperial Age – Gamemaster’s Guide

Solar System

The Solar System is a giant Orrery. A huge brass pin goes through both poles and connects a brass circle around the Earth. This in turn connects to an Equatorial brass gear that turns the Earth. A huge system of gears turns the Earth; it’s moon and the entire Solar System around the Sun.


In November of 1860, Men of the American Gun Club, fresh off their mechanic victories of obtuse dimensional canons deployed on the Russian front, resolve to build the “Columbiad” a canon capable of shooting a projectile to the Earth’s moon. The purpose of this invention is to examine the Moon and the exact device that keeps it encircling the Earth. The 274 meter long canon propels the 20,000 pound projectile with three passengers aboard into the Earth’s atmosphere and towards the Moon.
Unfortunately the projectile missed the Moon, looped back around and crashed into the Pacific Ocean off of Spanish San Francisco. Most members of the club were simply happy that the experiment succeeded and the passengers were alive and well.
But one, Jules Verne, could not stand to let the mystery lie. After 13 months of Scientific experimentations, he proclaimed his discovery of the Ether in the New York Journal of Astronomy. Fellow Astronomers almost immediately confirmed it’s existence, and six months later the British Navy had commissioned a Board of Inquiry into development of a means of travel in the Ether.
Within a few years, all the major European powers have a presence on Mars, the closest planet with a breathable atmosphere.

The material called the Ether surrounds the Planets. It’s thickest near planets, moons and the brass gears and workings. The Ether has a slight electrical charge to it and is breathable, although characters will become fatigued if they do not get fresh oxygen within six hours.

There are also pockets of “Collapsed Ether” which are highly flammable, and devoid of any air.


Since the European nations were never able to expand to the east by sea, there was a lot more political infighting and wars across Eurasia. Russia struggles to maintain it’s hold on lands with enemies on all sides.

Britain, Spain and France fought over the Americas, with Britain coming out as the clear winner in the 1770’s. Spain still maintains holdings in Mexico, Texas and the South Western States while Britain holds the east and Canada. The line between the two nation’s colonies lies somewhere in the plains area and will most likely continue to be a point of contention in the future. France has long lost or sold all its colonies in the Americas to fund it’s continued wars against the Ottoman Empire.

In the Pacific, China, India and Japan have fought hard over every resource available. All three nations mount vast armies, luckily they are too fragmented to join together and push west. The Pacific nations do not have steam technology yet.


Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity all exists with their respective good and bad points.


Hermetic Magic exists, but hundreds of years of prosecution by Christianity has driven it under ground and even eliminated entire schools. Clubs and Societies exist to explore and teach Hermetic Magic under the guise of “Science.” The Free Masons, Knights Templar, Lunatic Science and Drinking Club, and many others are examples of such. The downside is that many of these clubs are more theoretical then practical and can have a heavy dose of pseudo-magic mixed with pseudo-science.

Shamanistic Magic exists via the untainted traditions of native peoples recently “discovered” by Western “Civilization” such as the Natives of the still mostly unexplored Americas. When found Church practices attempts to outlaw and wipe it out. Like Hermetic magic, it can often survive underground, or be corrupted and integrated into Divine Magic.

Divine Magic is granted by each of the Gods to members of its religion. The Church sanctions divine magic. Only religious figures may wield it, and only with enough devotion and study. Those who are not affiliated with the Church but are able to wield Divine magic are deemed heretics and burned or tortured.


Steam power has been used on an industrial level across Europe and the western Parts of Russia for many years. Steam Power is present in the larger American Cities although it still lags behind Europe and especially Britain. It’s been used as propulsion in ships for about ten, and only in the last five years has it been applied to air ships and Zeppelins.

Steam Power is becoming a force in it’s own right as it’s applied almost daily in ways never imagined before, and advanced metallurgy techniques enable it to become smaller and more efficient.

Air ships are simply regular wooden ships that have had their masts and sails replaced with hydrogen air balloons. These are propelled through the air via steam powered propeller blades in the rear. The engines are still powered by coal, but the extra room saved from not needing ballast provides ample storage for the coal. Once Airborne into the ether, sails are deployed from the main balloon and ship. Using the currents in the Ether, and the propellers, the ship can move extremely fast from one place to another.

Once in the Ether Air Ships release pure dephlogisticated air from compressed tubes stored below desks. Due to the nature of the Ether, the air stays with the ship, as do items thrown overboard.

Pockets of “bad” or Collapsed Ether exist. Their presence so far is unexplained, although several theories abound. Their size is variable and so far the few that have been found are well marked on Astronomy maps. Entering one has various effects. These include; a lack of breathable air, to technology stopping (and in some cases, extremely damaging) affects, to wild magical affects.

Solar System

The Earth’s moon remains uninhabited, except for a few hardy miners. The moon’s atmosphere is not enough to hold in sufficient air so those who work and live there need to wear repurposed diving equipment to be outside of long. Otherwise they live inside small heavily tarred and pitched wooden buildings.

Britain does maintain a small Fort here, Fort Wales. It’s built bigger then needed as it was originally designed to maintain a full company of men. Forty soldiers mostly on light duty now hold it. Being assigned here is seen as a punishment.

Britain, France, Spain, Prussia and Russia all have forts on Mars. Garrisoned by 100-200 soldiers, except for the British Fort, which has about 500 troops.

No nation has yet to visit any of the other planets, although plans are of course under weigh do do so.

Martian Climate

Mars is habitable near the poles to the 45th latitude. Daily temperatures hover between 110 degrees in the Martian winter to 145 during the summer months. Between the 45th and the Equator, the daily temperatures reach 180 degrees or hotter. Most inhabitants follow the Spanish custom of a mid-day siesta during the hottest part.

The air is thin and makes breathing rather hard. Care is taken to make sure buildings are airtight. Compressed air is released daily into buildings and doors are sealed with a double door airlock arrangement. Streets between buildings are shaded with canopies. Some of the larger streets are additionally cooled with steam powered fans placed up wind.

Fort George

The British Fort, named Fort George is also by far the largest physically. A town of about 1000 civilians sits at it’s foot. The original fort has been upgraded from a moat and wall 5-point star configuration to a more stout and traditional stone affair with large walls and cannons that protect the fort and town.

In the town of Fort George are offices and a warehouse of the Martian Fur Service, a British Factor, three Sutter stores (general goods,) and a small theater. About 25% of the residents of the town are engaged in farming. 50% are engaged in the burgeoning Fur Trade (a small mink like animal that practically walks up to humans still,) and the rest are storekeepers and various other businesses that are meant to separate soldiers and settlers from their hard earned money.


Martians are misnamed as Selenites. The first explorers expected to find life on the Earth’s Moon. Disappointed they applied the Lunar Citizen’s name to the Martian natives.

The Selenites are a race of short lizard people. They are tool-using, omnivores that live in small tribes of 10-30 individuals. Their tools consist of spears, obsidian knives, and digging tools. Little else is known about them other then they have a primitive language that some can communicate in.

The predominant predator is an animal that looks to be a cross between a crocodile and the Americas Porcupine.

Followers, DND Style

Followers, DND Style

One of the biggest boons in AD&D to player characters, were the followers. By 7th through 9th level most Classes started gaining followers. The rules for followers were found in the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide, pg.16. A group of Player Characters could amass an army pretty quickly. There is even a random followers generator over at deadskexies, based off this chart.

Dragon Magazine had several sets of flavor rules on attracting followers for almost every class. Many of the article had a series of tables to roll on to figure out what types, level, and number of followers a player character could have. These were meant to supplement the rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and add a bit more flavor to games.

If you’d like to re-read some of those articles, and still have your old copies of Dragon Magazine, check out the following issues.
Dragon #92 – The more, the merrier (Clerics)
Dragon #99 – Tables and Tables of Troops (Fighters)
Dragon #103 – More range for rangers (Rangers)
Dragon #113 – Clout for Clerics (Clerics)
Dragon #178 – Follow the Leader (Paladins)
Dragon #219 – Pirate Crews and Retinues (Fighter subclasses)
Dragon #246 – A Few Good Henchmen (List of NPCs to use as Henchmen)

A savvy DM could also use these tables to quickly generate followers for NPCs. The table from Dragon #219 “Barbarian” could generate a tribe of primitives for instance. Or the Pirate table could be used to crew a ship from an actual Pirate ship to a Merchantman. (Click here for Random Gangs and Guilds generators)

Unfortunately, the concept of followers was moved from an automatic boon to characters at a certain level, to a Feat in DND 3.x. The 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Manual has this feat on pg 106, and it is also in the SRD. I have yet to see a Player ever take this feat though.

While the concept of followers above it heavily influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, it can be easily transferred to other game systems, and not just fantasy ones. Nor does it have to be a virtual army of NPCs following the Player Characters along. It could just as easily be a single follower or henchman that complements the Player’s Class.

For instance, an Police Officer could have a rookie partner assigned to them. A Solider could advance in rank and have a batman. An Indiana Jones type character could have an especially bright student as a follower. A Superhero could have a sidekick with complimentary powers. The possibilities are endless.

The biggest problem with followers though is that it’s one more NPC for the GM to keep track of. The best way to handle this is offload the work of tracking stats and such to the Player, while the characters motives are still controlled by the GM. This allows the GM to not worry about their stats, but gives them an additional way move plot points along, or even introduce new ones as needed.

Good examples of such are that the Follower could have a deep dark secret that is coming back to haunt them. They could have a stroke of intuition, or luck, at just the right moment in time that is the key to solving the puzzle. They can add a precious bit of fire power in battles, or be used to cause a distraction at a critical moment.

The usefulness of followers in Role Playing games should not be over looked by players or GMs. While they add a bit of work for both parties, the additional opportunities for role playing more then make up for it. Have you used followers in your game? If so, how did that work out? Any memorable scenes where the follower played a critical role?

Written for the December 2013 RPG Blog Carnival

D20 Character Race – Neanderthals

D20 Character Race – Neanderthals

From Wikipedia: Neanderthals are an extinct species of the genus Homo, possibly a subspecies of Homo sapiens. They are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.3%, just twice the variability across contemporary humans. Remains left by Neanderthals include bones and stone tools, which are found from western Europe to central Asia. The species is named after Neandertal (“Neander’s Valley”), the location in Germany where it was first discovered.

D20 Character Race - Neanderthals

Neanderthals made advanced tools, had a language (the nature of which is debated) and lived in complex social groups. The Molodova archaeological site in eastern Ukraine suggests some Neanderthals built dwellings using animal bones. A building was made of mammoth skulls, jaws, tusks and leg bones, and had 25 hearths inside. While largely carnivorous, and apex predators; new studies indicate Neanderthals had cooked vegetables in their diet. In 2010, a U.S. researcher reported finding cooked vegetable matter in the teeth of a Neanderthal skull, contradicting the earlier belief they were exclusively (or almost exclusively) carnivorous and apex predators.

Neanderthal as Characters
Personality: Neanderthals tend to be peaceful and caring people. They will rarely war on others or make trouble, but they will finish it if they are evenly matched or have the upper hand. They tend to think things through, and they are not quick to anger. Both these leave them to be thought unintelligent, and simple people – even among other tribes of the same technological level. They are predators though and in hunting and war can be very vicious. They will rarely give quarter to enemies. Their outlook on life is pragmatic – live and let live, kill or be killed. Despite that they will avoid trouble when possible. Entire tribes will move away to avoid problems.

Physical Description: They have short natural lives, with an upper limit of 50 years old. Both males and females reach puberty at a young age, eight to twelve years old though. Males average 65 inches tall and 171 pounds in weight, while females average 60 inches tall and 146 pounds in weight. Both will have shaggy unwashed hair adorned with bones, feathers, and colored stones. Males will have shaggy beards to match. They wear rough hide tunics or go fully naked. In cold weather foot wrappings and coats of fur will be worn.

Society: Neanderthals live in tribes of 10-50 individuals, mostly extended family members who tend to pair off for life. Particularly heroic figures, and other aged members of the tribe will act as a ruling council, with the oldest member of the tribe the leader. All members of a tribe no matter age, participate in the hunt, preparing food, building shelter, and war. Tribes will make permanent villages near sources of food such as herds of large animals. They do eat vegetables, but as a supplement to their diet. They do not brew, farm, or raise animals, instead living off the land as foragers and hunters. Shelters will be made of the bones and skins of animals, and sometimes caves or piles of rocks. Neanderthal are masters of stone chipped tools, they have a wide variety of chipped tools for scraping and curing hides, cutting vegetation, and making weapons. Neanderthal art is basic, woven grasses, small stone statues, and bone, feather and sinew totems and necklaces.

D20 Character Race - Neanderthals

Neanderthal have the concept of trade, but it is mostly small items on an individual level. A father will trade his daughter to another tribe for one of their children. An especially skilled stone worker will trade tools or weapons for food. A tribe may trade one type of meat for another, for extra hides, or for stones they can chip. Otherwise most possessions that aren’t carried day to day are communal and can be used by anyone. Most of these will likely be left behind if the tribe moves.

Hunting: The entire tribe funnels large animals into traps, either by driving them over a cliff side, or into a box canyon where they finish it off as fast as possible with spears. They try to only kill as many animals as needed, avoiding destroying entire herds if possible. They may also hunt especially dangerous predators that pose a threat, although they are just as likely to move the entire tribe to a safer location.

Religion: The Neanderthal does not worship a god per say. They give thanks for their sacrifice to the souls of animals they kill for food, for enemies killed in battle, and tribal members who have died. Opponents in war are given the same burial rights as members of their own tribe, a basic burial away from camps and water sources without a marker of any sort. Neanderthals do rely on herbal and natural remedies to heal the injured and remove afflictions. They naturally live “with” nature and have a distrust of magic.

Language: They have their own language that is straightforward and without metaphors or allusion. Nor does it have words to express feelings of hatred, revenge or envy. The are able to express simple emotions such as sadness and love. They have the ability to pickup guttural languages easily and are likely to learn Orc or Goblin before Common or Elvish.

Alignment: Neanderthals tend towards Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, or True Neutral. Neanderthals do not naturally have the concept of Evil, selfishness, or laws outside those imposed by the tribe or nature. Any characters with these alignments are either mentally deranged or have suffered a life shattering event that has driven them over the edge into another alignment.

Adventurers: Neanderthal adventurers are incredibly rare. Their natural isolationism and willingness to move to avoid trouble leave family groups relatively whole. An adventurer is likely to be the last remaining member of a tribe, attempting to find a mate or home with another tribe, or a lone hunter who has gotten lost.

Neanderthal Racial Traits

  • +2 Str,+2 Int,-2 Chr,+2 Con,+2 Hit Points. Neanderthals are stockier, stronger, and slightly smarter then humans.
  • Medium Sized
  • Neanderthal Land speed is 30 feet. They are not slowed when carrying a medium or heavy load. Unlike dwarves this does not include armor, they are still slowed by armor weights – if they can be convinced to wear it in the first place.
  • Weapons: Neanderthals use Shortspears, Longspears, Stone Axes, slings, and stone daggers. They can use metal versions of these weapons, but are likely to drop them in favor of their own homemade stone versions as soon as possible.
  • Masterwork and Magic Weapons: Any adult Neanderthal automatically makes masterwork stone weapons and tools. This takes 2D6 days per an item assuming the correct materials are on hand. At level five these become +1 weapons, at level ten, +2, +3 at level 15, and +4 at level 20.
  • Armor is limited to crude hides and leathers, and will be indistinguishable from their day to day clothing. As for weapons, armor is masterwork by default, and gains a +1 bonus every five character levels if the character makes it themselves. This bonus can stack on top of exotic leathers to the maximum +5 bonus.
  • Thrown Weapons: Neanderthals can throw any of their ranged weapons at double the normal range. IE, a shortspear normally has a range increment of 20ft, in the hands of an neanderthal it is 40ft. In addition, longspears can be thrown as if they are shortspears (range increment of 20ft)
  • +4 dodge bonus to Armor Class against all beasts and animals, size medium or larger.
  • +4 saving throw Spell Resistance. Includes ALL magical affects, including supernatural, extraordinary, and even those cast by friendly characters.
  • +4 savings throw against poison and disease.
  • +5 resistance against Cold
  • Favored Class: Barbarian. Neanderthals that have had contact with the “outside” world may also take Fighter, Druid, or Ranger as a multi-class only after they have at least two levels of barbarian, AND must have access to a teacher of some sort.

  • Fantasy D20 World
    Typically players would only come across a tribe of Neanderthals in a remote location. They will be treated indifferently unless the tribe is helped or threatened.

    Plot Points:

  • Slavers have found a tribe of Neanderthals and have captured them. A few members were able to escape and are looking for help to rescue the rest of the tribe.
  • The colored stones a tribe of Neanderthals wear in their hair turn out to be valuable gems. The PCs can be tasked to find the source of gems, or can try to protect the tribe before it is ruthlessly slaughtered by treasure seekers.
  • A tribe has come across a powerful artifact that is slowly twisting their minds towards evil. The tribe has been attacking settlements nearby and the characters are tasked to take care of them.

  • Modern D20 World

  • An frozen Neanderthal is found frozen in the Arctic. It is brought back to civilization but along the way unfreezes….
  • A tribe of Neanderthals are found in a remote area that is soon to be exploited for it’s natural resources (Minerals, oil, etc.) The Corporation is planning on simply wiping them out, but the head of the project has secretly contacted the characters to make the tribe quietly disappear to somewhere safe.
  • An unscrupulous scientist is posing as a fertility doctor. He is implanting unsuspecting women with Neanderthal children without them knowing.
  • A group of Neanderthals have been found. Zoos want to put them into captivity. Corporations want to exploit them. Scientists want to study them. Activists want to protect them. The characters can be asked by one or more of these groups to resolve the issue.

  • Science Fiction/Future D20 World

  • The characters come across a previously hidden island “Lost World” style. To survive, they need to make friends with the natives, who just happen to be a tribe of Neanderthals.
  • A corporation has decided to resurrect the Neanderthals to exploit them as cheap labor. Since they don’t fall under the definition of “human,” this has been determined as legal by the courts. Characters can be “guards” of the labor camp. Or hired to break the Neanderthals out.
  • Neanderthals never went extinct. They simply left Earth to avoid the problems with humans. They have been found on another planet, with technology far advanced of humans and a racial grudge.
  • RPG Plot Hooks: Treason at the Finest Kind

    RPG Plot Hooks: Treason at the Finest Kind

    The Findest Kind is a high class fantasy Inn and Tavern that can be placed anywhere in your game world as appropriate. It can be a waypoint with a few subplots and plot hooks of it’s own. Or it can be a major part of larger plot arc.

    The Finest Kind Inn should sit near a large trade route, noble quarter if in a city, or Continue reading “RPG Plot Hooks: Treason at the Finest Kind”

    RPG: Dread Pirate King Borloff

    RPG: Dread Pirate King Borloff

    Borloff is a good generic Pirate Captain for D20 Fantasy games.

    Description: Borloff was born into piracy. His father raised Borloff to replace him from an early age. By the age of fifteen he had risen through the ranks, doing every job possible aboard ship before taking command of his own sloop. Borloff is somewhat of a lovable swindler. He has friends and enemies in many ports, usually the same person. He knows it’s only a matter of time before finally being caught, and will quit piracy “after just one more successful capture.” Unfortunately that last job never quite turns out as successful as it needs to be, and he usually forgoes his own share of the loot to be sure the crew gets enough.

    Borloff, male human Rog12: CR 12; Size M (5 ft., 9 in. tall); HD 12d6-12; hp 39; Init +8 (+4 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative); Spd 30 ft.; AC 14 (+4 Dex); Attack +10/+5 melee, or +13/+8 ranged; SV Fort +3, Ref +12, Will +6; AL CE; Str 13, Dex 18, Con 9, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 11. Languages Spoken: Common, Giant, Ignan. Skill points: Rog 165 Skills and feats: Balance +13, Bluff +11, Climb +16, Decipher Script +19, Disable Device +17, Hide +14, Jump +15, Listen +2, Move Silently +16, Open Lock +11, Search +15, Sense Motive +16, Spot +17, Swim +16; Blind-Fight, Deceitful, Diligent, [Evasion], Improved Initiative, Power Attack. Possessions: 27,000 gp in gear.

    Adventure Hooks:

    – Borloff “left” a map in the possession of one of his many acquaintances on shore. They’re pretty sure that it’s worthless and offer to sell it cheap a member of the party. The map can be as real or unreal as possible, but should include some seemingly nonsense and random directions. (Take the fifth up after the green door)

    – The party needs a ship. Borloff has one and offers to rent it cheap.

    – The party needs a job. Borloff happens to have one, he just needs some help delivering a trifling little trinket to one of his admirers. Unfortunately the young lady in question is the daughter of the local merchant who has lost many a ship to Borloff’s raids, and has put a large reward on his head.

    – The crew has mutinied. Borloff finds himself captain of a crew-less ship and Shanghais the party to fill in “temporarily.”