RPG Design – Weapon Wednesday: Crackblade


One-handed martial weapon. 1d8 slashing damage. 19-20 x2 critical. 3 lbs. 15 gp. Special: Fragile, see text

This weapon is intentionally designed to fly apart into shards that can cut your opponent. When this blade breaks while you are wielding it during combat due to an opponent’s sunder attack, you may immediately make 3 attacks as if with thrown daggers against that opponent.


Weird and wonky weapon. Requires a very specific situation, but man that would be cool!

Max Porter-Zasada


RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Savvy Sorcerer

Savvy Sorcerer Tweak: Sorcerers get a bonus equal to their level on Use Magic Device checks involving scrolls and wands.


This rules tweak provides a method for sorcerers to be a little more versatile, a little more useful, and most of all more unique. Few sorcerers that I know of put a large investment into Use Magic Device unless they feel they have to, yet every sorcerer gets it as a class skill. Everyone should be rewarded for exploring their characters fully.

My friend David Finzi holds that sorcerers ought to get Scribe Scroll as a bonus feat, but I don’t really like that idea much. Actually scribing scrolls just feels much more like a wizard activity, while possessing an innate understanding of magic such that you can pull it out of magic items–it just feels like a sorcerer.

Please feel free to disagree in the comments!

– Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Designing Apocalypse

Theme Thursday: Designing Apocalypse

A classic setting of fantasy and adventure, the magical apocalypse can be extremely difficult to get right. The difficulty lies in the way that an apocalypse challenges the assumptions that everyone normally has. In any game, players have certain needs; in Pathfinder, they need to shop for magic items, sell their loot, and rest to regain spells.

However, the point of designing an apocalyptic setting is to challenge the assumptions of a normal world. A player needs to feel that things are drastically different, and the best way to achieve that sense of loss is to do away with the perks of civilization. However, at the same time, a setting can’t be so frustrating and difficult that no one wants to play.

Unfortunately, most apocalyptic settings tend to fall to the other extreme and make most amenities available in some form, only using the apocalyptic setting to justify new powers and abilities. This often makes the characters into unstoppable badasses roaming the landscape as they please, since the rest of the world has been hit harder by the end of days. This kind of thing can be fun in its own right, but doesn’t really accomplish the goal of a world-ending setting.

To achieve the right feel, you have to make frustration work for you instead of against you. Make limitations, but make things available. Instead of a magic shop, there’s a mad old peddler with cracked teeth; he sure as beans won’t have the selection of one of the old magic emporiums, but every now and then he’ll have some unusual, crazy-strong item that someone really wants. Let the players feel like they got a little something in return for everything the apocalypse took away. Let the players feel like badasses only in comparison to their bleak surroundings.

The manner of the apocalypse might well affect the characters’ options. If it was an arcane explosion, perhaps some magically protected locations survived. If a flood, or divine fire, or icy doom befell the world, then certain creatures may have survived; the point is to remember that anything that survives the apocalypse becomes much more important as a result.

Perhaps that’s how the characters become heroes.


Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Monster Monday: Kroskling

Kroskling                             CR 5
A mysterious figure in a brown cloak reveals his true nature with three twitching blue-skinned tails that end in needle-sharp spines. 
XP 1,600
CE medium outsider (native)
Init +8; Senses Darkvision 60 ft; Perception +11 Aura darkshards 15 ft.
AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 15 (+4 Dex, +5 natural)
hp 57 (6d10+24)
Fort +6, Ref +9, Will +7
DR 5/silver; Resist fire 10
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 3 tentacle rakes +11 melee (1d4+4 plus darkshard poison)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th)
At will–produce flame
           3/day–charm person, invisibility
           1/day–black tentacles
Str 19, Dex 19, Con 18, Int 13, Wis 15, Cha 20
Base Atk +6; CMB +10, CMD 24
Feats Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (tentacle)
Skills  Climb + 13,  Bluff +11,Perception +11, Sense Motive +7, Stealth +11
Languages Celestial, Common, Abyssal, Infernal
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or rustle (3-10)
Treasure standard
Special Abilities
 Darkshards (Su, aura): A kroskling’s magic tattoos cause it to be surrounded by a 15-ft. aura of whirling black shapes that can imprint themselves on a creature’s skin unless they make a will save. Creatures that fail this save take a -2 penalty on saves against the kroskling’s spell-like abilities and its darkshard poison. On a success, that creature cannot be affected by this kroskling’s darkshard aura for 24 hours.
Darkshard Poison (Ex): Tentacle–Injury: save Fort DC 17; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d3 Dex, cure 1 save. This strange poison causes a victim’s skin to break out in dark shapes like tattoos. Creatures that become immobile due to losing all of their dexterity slowly become krosklings over the next 24 hours.
Mercurial and wholly evil, krosklings live to cause pain and discord. No one knows where they came from, though the oldest krosklings speak of dark fissures in the earth that lead to other, stranger worlds. Though they normally stalk the fringe of society looking for victims, krosklings occasionally band together to convert entire villages into places of suffering and madness. More than one ghost town lies in the wilderness with strange bloody marks on the walls of empty houses, painted by newly converted krosklings mad with the sadism of their new existence.


I love monsters that bewilder and bemuse the players, or make them squirm at strange forms of evil.

This monster’s art was created specially for me by my brother, Israel Pesach Porter Zasada! Doesn’t it look gorgeous?


-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Sunday Spell: Absorb Blast

Absorb Blast

School abjuration; Level cleric 2, sorcerer/wizard 2
Casting Time 1 immediate action
Range personal
Components V, S, F/DF (a gold talisman worth 100 gp)
Target self
Duration instantaneous
Saving throw: none; Spell Resistance: none

When you are targeted by a spell or spell-like ability that deals hit point damage and you have the proper talisman in hand, you can cast this spell to reduce some of the damage you would otherwise take, although you still suffer any other effects of the spell. Make a caster level check against the caster. For every point by which your check defeats your opponent’s, reduce the incoming damage by 3. If you absorb all the damage, you get a damage bonus on the next damaging spell you cast equal to the absorbed spell’s level if you cast such a spell within 1 round.

Created by the warmages of the north for their spell duels, this spell has become a signature of elite and erudite spellcasters. It is said that to venture into one of the northern warmage academies without this spell is tantamount to suicide…


I love abjuration spells in principle, but I think it’s very hard to get excited about them, especially the 2nd-level options. Making the school of abjuration as dramatic and cool as evocation is something I would like to do.

– Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Feat Friday: Spellfire Spear

Spellfire Spear
You can convert a fire spell into a powerful attack.
Prerequisite: BaB +3, one metamagic feat, Int or Cha 17,  ability to cast fire spells
Benefit: You can cast a spell with the fire subtype and convert its power into a weapon instead of actually triggering the spell’s effects. Instead, the spell’s power collects at the head of a staff, quarterstaff, or spear that you are holding and imbues you with power. This item functions as a +1 flaming spear and you can use your Intelligence modifier in place of your Strength for attack and damage. These effects last a number of rounds equal to the original spell’s level.


I love feats that let a player try alternate strategies or “go crazy mode” without having to commit the resources to a level dip in a new class.


-Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Magic as World-Builder

Theme: Magic as World-Builder

The use of magic is incredibly important to the background of your fantasy world. Not only do magical locations settle your game firmly within a genre, they are precise calibrators of theme and a player’s position in a world. Nothing evokes a sense of wonder so much as having an adventure that takes you to a manor on a turtle’s back, a wizard from a forgotten world, or the strange rituals that take place within the world tree.

Magic and its uses are vital to your setting and your game. The trick lies in mixing the two kinds of magic properly to create both wonder and engagement.

Engaging Magic

This type of magic shows up in your world in forms that are clearly understandable to the players. If they get high enough level or put enough work into it, they themselves could create that dramatic stone bridge with a wall of stone spell, or held back the hordes of undead with a consecrate. Players of an RPG must feel that most things in the world are understandable or could have been done by the players themselves (speaking strictly from a 3rd edition viewpoint). This allows the players to matter, to present themselves on the stage of history and be prepared to make their marks.

Wondrous Magic

You just can’t ignore the big ideas. Any fantasy world requires an occasional sense of wonder at some sheer impossibility. Once in a while, your players should see or experience magic that lies beyond the realm of the Core Rulebook, beyond the realm of the known or the safe magic. There must be places within a fantasy world that defy explanation of any kind; the places where time runs backward, or cities float via forgotten spells, or spells come alive and dance. The sense of wonder keeps people interested, sustains them as they seek the mystery or the life beyond understanding. The moment your daily memorization of spells starts to become a chore, the world needs to remind you that it is a place of fantasy.


Generally speaking, your world needs a somewhat imbalanced mix: most magic should be understandable, something grasped and hungered after by the players. Yet here and there the truly wondrous magic must reside.

-Max Porter Zasada