Stripping a Starfinder Monster to Its Gears

February 19, 2020

Today, I wanted to give you a bit more use out of your Starfinder monster books. There are a ton of monsters available in Starfinder, with three Alien Archivebooks and even more monsters in the back of every adventure path volume. If you need more to prepare for a session, it’s easy to make them; the tables at the back of the first Alien Archiveallows you to quickly build a monster based on its role (combatant, expert, or spellcaster) and the Challenge Rating (CR) that you need. But if your players are throwing you for a loop and you need something fast, you can re-flavor or “reskin” any of the existing monsters for still more options. 

Here’s how to strip a monster down to its gears and reskin it as something else.

First, think about the CR you need. If you’re preparing a monster that will take on your heroes by itself, you want a monster that’s the same CR as your heroes’ level, or maybe 1 CR higher than that. If you’re preparing a monster that will attack the heroes in a group of 2, 3, or 4, lower that CR by the same amount (2, 3, or 4, respectively).

Second, find monsters that are the CR you’re looking for. The back of every Alien Archive has a table allowing you to look this up easily. 

Third, look at these monsters quickly. Focus on their stat blocks, and ignore the picture on the page. You’re looking for a couple of things: the monster’s role (combatant, expert, or spellcaster), which is an icon near the monster’s name; the monster’s key resistances/immunities/etc., its most common attacks, and its special powers. Try to see these abilities as something separate from the monster. Ask yourself this question: other than this particular monster, what other creatures in the galaxy might have those same abilities?

Finally, describe your alternate, or “reskinned” creature in your head. Note those abilities that match the description, and those that should change to match your image. Write these down, and you’ve got a new monster.

Let me give you two examples.

Example 1: My heroes are prowling around in the lowest levels of a grimy planet-wide city, where the smog is thick and gangers and monsters are a constant threat. I want to throw a back-alley brawl at them with some sneaky thug-type monsters. These are enforcers for a local gang. My players’ characters are 7th level, and I want three or four foes. That means I’m looking at CR 4 monsters.

I crack open the Alien Archive, which is the nearest monster book at hand. I could look in other books, too, but I’m lazy, so I’m sticking with this one. CR 4 monsters include the crest-eater, gray, ksarik, nuar enforcer, patrol-class security robot, and shobhad. That’s a lot of options to skim.

I look over these monsters, and I see that the thug-type opponents (with the combatant role) are all of them but the gray. Still plenty of options! The crest-eater and the ksarik are quadrupedal monsters, and not what I’m looking for. I also don’t want a robot. So the nuar enforcer and the shobhad seem like the best options. The nuar enforcer has lots of abilities: a goring charge, the ability to knock foes over, and a strong sense of direction. They fight with big ol’ pikes. The shobhad has fewer abilities: ferocity and cold resistance, and it uses a sword and a machine gun. That’s sort of it for the shobhad.

The shobhad works best, I think, so I’m using that stat block. I want to make a couple of swaps: first, the acidic smog means my thugs resist acid 5 rather than cold 5. And they prefer to fight with their machine guns over their swords, so I’m swapping their to-hit modifiers: +10 with their swords, and +13 with their machine guns. My thugs aren’t big, so I’m ignoring the big Space and Reach of shobhads. I like that they have ferocity, which makes them feel dedicated and tough. I want to make them badger-people, just because. So here’s what I have:

Badger-People Gang Toughs (4)  CR 4

XP 1,200 each

N Medium monstrous humanoid

Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +10

DEFENSE         HP 50 each

EAC 16; KAC 16

Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +5

Defensive Abilities ferocity; Resistances acid 5

OFFENSE

Speed 40 ft.

Melee carbon steel curve blade +10 (1d10+9 S; critical bleed 1d6)

Ranged squad machine gun +13 (1d10+4 P)

STATISTICS

Str +5; Dex +1; Con +3; Int +0; Wis +0; Cha +1

Skills Intimidate +15, Stealth +10, Survival +10

Languages Common

Gear tactical war harness (functions as defrex hide), carbon steel curve blades (2), squad machine gun with 80 heavy rounds

 

Example 2: My heroes, much higher level now, are investigating an ancient ruin on an asteroid. They need to get something special from this ruin—a crystal, say—but getting it releases some big, threatening monster from stasis that skulks around the ruin until it finds the heroes. This monster probably wants to eat them. My heroes are 15th level, and I want something that’s a challenge by itself. So I’m looking at CR 16.

I go back to the Alien Archive, and see that there is only one CR 16 creature: an oma, which is a colossal space-whale. That doesn’t feel right. Maybe something just a little bit tougher, like CR 17? The only creature there is a hallajin (bad pun on “halogen”), a light-based monster with a raft of special abilities that don’t seem quite right, either. With a sigh, I reach way overto the bookshelf and grab Alien Archive 2. This one has three CR 16 monsters: a haeshi-shaa, moonflower titan, and plasma ooze. These sound promising, but I don’t know any of these creatures well, so I take a quick look.

My monster should be big and sneaky, so a combatant or expert role sounds right. The haeshi-shaa is a spellcaster role and also an incorporeal monster, which isn’t want I need. The moonflower titan is a big combatant and already eats people (it has the Swallow Whole ability), although I’m not envisioning a plant. The plasma ooze is…another enormous monster that flies through space? Huh, maybe they spend time battling omas. But the plasma ooze doesn’t fit. 

The moonflower titan is my best bet. I don’t like that it’s a plant, but I can fix that. I’ll just call it a magical beast instead, and delete the “plant immunities.” Its attacks feel right, particularly the bite that swallows whole. My monster maybe doesn’t have tentacles, but that’s easy to change into claws or whatever (and change the damage type to slashing). Its special abilities are zany: my monster doesn’t need specialized telepathy or “Pod Spawn.” I like the Root Tremor ability, but it can be some other effect: maybe this creature stomps the ground or something. Moon Pulse seems like a neat ability to catch the heroes by surprise, and I could just keep it as-is, but I think I’d rather have some other “debuff the heroes” ability instead. When I was looking at the plasma ooze, I saw it had an electromagnetic pulse power that emptied charged items. That seems neat, especially if reflavored as a creature that makes things decay or expire. That feels right for a monster in crumbling, ancient ruins. I’ll replace the Moon Pulse with this ability and rename it “Decay of Ages.” I see the plasma ooze puts this in the Aura line, so I’ll do that, too.

So my monster is feeling like a “herald of the end times”-type creature that got locked away. Maybe it looks like a huge hippopotamus/crocodile monster, like Ammit from Egyptian mythology (it helps to know a lot of mythological monsters). So here’s what I have:

Ammit, Ender of Epochs, Hippo-dile Horror    CR 16

XP 76,800

N Gargantuan magical beast

Init –1; Sensesd arkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +28

Aura decay of ages (100 ft., DC 22)

DEFENSE         HP 300

EAC 30; KAC 32

Fort +20; Ref +14; Will +18; DR 10/slashing; Immunities electricity; Resistances cold 10

Weaknesses vulnerable to fire

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft.

Melee bite +30 (6d10+26 P plus swallow whole)

Multiattack bite +24 (6d10+26 P plus swallow whole), 2 claws +24 (5d6+26 S)

Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.

Offensive Abilities mighty stomp, swallow whole (0 or 10d6 A & B [see text], EAC 30, KAC 28, 75 HP)

STATISTICS

Str +10; Dex –1; Con +7; Int –2;Wis +5; Cha +0

Skills Stealth +28 (+33 in ruins)

Languages telepathy 120 feet

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Decay of Ages (Su) An ammit generates a field of supernatural decay that disrupts electronics and interferes with signals. Electronic signals, such as those employed by comm units, do not function within this area. When a creature activates an object with charges that is in the area, that object must succeed at a DC 22 Reflex save or it is drained of all charges and the action is lost. A technological construct that begins its turn in this area must succeed at a DC 22 Reflex save or be staggered and unable to use energy-based attacks for 1d4 rounds. A creature or object that succeeds at its saving throw is immune to the ammit’s decay of ages for 24 hours.

Mighty Stomp (Ex) As a full action, an ammit can rise up and bring its bulk crashing to the ground, causing a violent tremor. Each creature within a 50-foot-radius spread originating in the ammit’s space must attempt a DC 22 Reflex saving throw. Those that fail take 10d6 bludgeoning damage and fall prone. Creatures that succeed take half the damage and remain standing.

Swallow Whole (Ex) If an ammit successfully swallows a target, that creature remains inside the ammit for 2 rounds, during which the victim takes no damage and the ammit can’t swallow another creature. After this time, the target is enclosed in a stony disintegrator pod and expelled into a space adjacent to the ammit. The pod then acts as the swallowing creature, with the same swallow whole statistics but now able to deal acid damage as the creature is quickly disintegrated. A creature can’t use Athletics to climb out of this disintegrator pod. Other creatures can attack the pod, but the enclosed creature takes damage equal to half the damage dealt to the pod. An external attacker can avoid dealing the enclosed creature damage by using a bludgeoning weapon to make one attack against the pod as a full action.

 

 

Monsters That Should Not Be

February 13, 2020
We have a lot of neat internal tools at Paizo. These include spreadsheets to let us know what parameters new Pathfinder Second Edition monsters should meet to be appropriate for their level. (This information is going to be in the upcoming Gamemastery Guide for everyone to see, although in a table form, not a spreadsheet.) These spreadsheets are fun to manipulate, and my friend James Case is a wizard at such things. He invented a very rough tool to translate monster stats to different levels:...
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Dungeon Mapping Practical Advice

February 11, 2020
This mini-series of suggestions started with what tools you should have to drawn dungeon maps and how to concept the map as a flowchart. Here are some practical tips to render your map into a final product to go to a cartographer. Most of these are "consider X, but also Y," and it's important to maintain a balance between conflicting considerations.

Consider Reality, But Only a Little Bit. Its important that you consider real-world aspects of the creatures who live in your dungeon. Where do th...
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Designing Dungeon Maps as Flowcharts

February 4, 2020
When designing a dungeon map, you should first start with a flowchart. Draw each room as a small circle or little box, and then draw all the connections to each other room. Make this a solid line if it's an easy passage, or a dotted line if there's something tricky about that passage (such as it's behind a secret door, or needs to be cleared of rubble, or must be opened with a special key). You'll end up with more lines than circles or boxes, and that's just fine; this initial exercise is to ...
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Tools for Mapping

January 25, 2020
We've been talking a lot about mapping here in Paizo: what makes a good encounter-level map (like a dungeon, or a starship) and what doesn't. Most of us spend time redrawing at least some maps we get it, and doing that well is important. After all, we don't want to replace a map that isn't in good enough shape to go to a cartographer with a different map that isn't in good enough shape to go to a cartographer, but for different reasons. So we've been talking about standards.

To be clear, this ...
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The Hidden Bestiary!

January 21, 2020

I’ve got a point to make about something tricky in Pathfinder, but first let me give you three new statblocks for mythological creatures.

Nephilim

Giants descended from deities in ancient times, nephilims are all but extinct today. They resemble enormous, noble humanoids with feathery wings, handsome features, and a crown of bone horns growing from their heads. Masters of magical essences and the arts of war alike, nephilims are gracious in peace and fearsome in battle.

Nephilim Hero Cr...


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Looking Over Changes: The God-Host Ascends

January 14, 2020

One of the most exciting times for a freelancer is seeing the final product of the work you wrote. For me, there’s something indescribably satisfying about holding something in my hands that has the words I wrote on a printed page. This is also a good time to look over the product and see what your developer and editors changed! This helps you align future work to what they want.

First and most importantly, realize that not every change is due to a mistake. A freelancer can do everything abs...


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Placing Art

January 9, 2020

I talked a lot in my last two blogs about all the things to do with adventure text when you’re done with it. One of the last steps I do here at work when I’m done developing an adventure is to write up an “art brief.” This is the direction for the pieces of art to appear in the text. There are a couple things to keep in mind when doing this, and I’ll talk about the first one today: where to place your art in the adventure. 

Note that you’ll be ordering art before you layout your ad...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 28 of 28

January 1, 2020
I'm finally at the end, both of this project and of the year (and the decade)! There are dozens of teeny steps I've taken with my final text, and I still have more to do, but I wanted to lay them out for you to answer the question: "I've written an entire adventure path, now what?"

Now, it's got to get into a publishable product people can buy and use and play. If you're freelancing for another company, you just send it in and your job is done. If you're publishing it yourself--like I'm doing-...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 27 of 28

December 19, 2019
Okay! My writing is done, and I have two more things to share on this whole project. The first is what to do when the writing is done, and the second is a bit about layout. So now I know that there are 28 points in this whole series, and I'm declaring myself too lazy to go back and add "of 28" to all the prior posts!

Completing the writing doesn't mean you're done! You should aim to complete a freelance writing project at least a few days before your turnover date, so you've got some time to d...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 26

December 17, 2019
And that's it! Below are my last two chapters, Chapter 15 and Chapter 19. They're very different! One has a bargain with a lich gone wrong (which ends in a fight with the lich on the heroes' side) and the other has the heroes quashing evil in more discrete adventure locations than I've used in any chapter thus far. 

So, now, if you go back through all my blog posts, you'll have every chapter of an entire adventure path. But I intend to make this much easier on the reader and compile it all tog...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 25

December 12, 2019
Part 25, already? Wow, this has been a much longer road than I initially thought. But I'm almost done!

It should be clear by now that adventures (like most movies, and most books) aren't simply written from beginning to end in a line. There's a lot of jumping around. A case in point is today's adventures, which include the finale for this adventure path even though I'm not wholly done with the middle bits (although I have more middle bits to share, too).

Now that I can see the whole shape of th...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 24

December 10, 2019
Another chapter! I realized that although I'd given the stat block I intend to use in Chapter 17 (which details the final confrontation against the devil cult), I never actually got around to writing up that chapter. So I did so, and here it is. It's the longest by far (nearly 1,000 words over my 1,500-word limit), and that's for three reasons. First, I wanted to build in a plot reason to confront the pit fiend other than "we just don't like pit fiends running around doing their evil," so I c...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 23

December 5, 2019
Here's another chapter! With this, I'm 70% of the way done. I'm starting to feel less like I can pick whatever I'd like for a chapter (as was the case for the first two chapters I wrote, 3 and 16) and now feel like I need to be building the right connective tissue. The plot threads are all coming together now. For example, at the end of Chapter 9, the heroes know their villain (Treerazer/Treereaver) and his location (the Heartwood), and want to go there. I have to get across that the Heartwoo...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 22

December 4, 2019
It's easy to put mazes in an adventure, but it's really hard to do it well. You can have an intricate maze as a map, but that becomes tedious to draw and boring to navigate. Worse, it doesn't feel particularly immersive for the players (as opposed to the characters), since the players can see the whole maze from a superior top-down perspective at all times. 

The best mazes in adventures give the players the wait-where-are-we-now feeling that their characters should have, and that usually means...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 21

November 27, 2019
I've been doing a lot of skipping around in my adventure path writing; to be honest, the very fact I've given myself some direction for chapters 12 through 15 has made me feel like I can tackle those a little later. So I've got chapters 9 and 18 to post today.

But first I wanted to talk about maps! I discovered an excellent cartographer named Dyson Logos, who has a ton of maps on his site at dysonlogos.blog. Many of his maps are free for commercial use (which is great for me!), although he has...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 20

November 25, 2019
I'm taking a close look at the mid-levels of my adventure path, particularly the events of chapters 11 through 15 or so. I sort of just threw chapter numbers on the map, but I want a way to link them together. You'll remember the lower levels are about "experiencing weird stuff" and "figuring out what's going on," so by these mid levels the heroes should be in the "doing something about it" phase.

But doing something can be really simple ("go to location X and do a thing") or very complex ("he...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 19

November 15, 2019
Hard to believe, but I'm just about halfway done with my full 2E AP. I've now got a good thread of story and I've dropped a lot of locations, but I don't feel like I can tie down the second half without making some map decisions. I need to know where in the Northfells the rest of the action is going to occur. Looking over the map and what I've got so far, I see a few changes I need to make. I should have a few more small forests near the "starter towns" of Fallinghollow and Jannasthorpe. I al...
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Getting the Most from Monster Damage

November 13, 2019

I've stepped briefly away from the Heartwood Blight Adventure Path for another project (see here), but I'll turn back to it soon enough. In the meantime, though, I had a good conversation to bring here.

I’ve been working with a new-ish freelancer on monster design for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. His narrative prose is very strong, and his monster design is good, but I recently talked with him about his monster’s damage, and I thought it would be good to share this.

His monster, which we’ll ca...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 18

November 5, 2019
This adventure path has been rolling along consistently in the design process: I think about where I need the story to be, look at monsters available for the chapter's level, list out 12 encounters in a variety of themes, write up the 1500 word (or so) adventure, then seed in the right amount of treasure for the level. Repeat over and over!

I knew I wanted to get back into the forest threats for the 7th level adventure, and I have my eye on that scrap of forest at the eastern edge of my map. I...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 17

October 31, 2019
Warning! This post is long, because it includes 10 percent of an entire adventure path!

Last time, I talked about how I had to do some creative thinking to fill out the 17th level adventure. In building the 5th level adventure, I found I had way too much cool stuff I wanted to pack in. A hobgoblin/barghest thieves guild, a sinister alchemist, and salt miners all working for the secretive devil cult, plus a raid on the devil cult in the Owlbear House, and mind-controlling vampires, and plots ag...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 16

October 30, 2019
I've been working on a couple different components of my adventure path at once: the pieces that are urban and focus on the devil activity. This is something of a side quest; the main thrust of the adventure path is about evil fey and demons, after all. But a devil-focused, urban, intrigue-based subplot allows players who really like that type of adventure to shine, and gives the whole adventure path some variety.

I've been specifically working on the 5th-level adventure (which introduces the ...
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Sparwell Lodge is Here!

October 25, 2019
My second Pathfinder Second Edition product with Rogue Genius Games is now out! You can get it right here. It's called the Ghosts of Sparwell Lodge, a haunted-house adventure for 4th level characters. This is a reworking of my Pathfinder 1st edition adventure Six Griffons Haunt (my first Run Amok Games product!), which is itself a reworking of a D&D 3.5 edition adventure I wrote called The Haunted House of bin-Khadij. Each time the adventure has grown and been refined a bit more, and I'm very...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 15

October 24, 2019
So, I've now got my first three adventures done, and they do sort of what I wanted when I outlined this; the heroes are getting their first taste of troubles, and relying on NPCs a lot (in particular, the scholar Gendal). I ended that by pointing to a place called the Wailing Grove, and someone named Nelthek Sharpleaf (which isn't a very viking-themed name, so I'm already planning to change it to Njoln).

Looking back at my outline, I see that levels 4 to 7 were the ones where I want the heroes...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 14

October 22, 2019
So, I've got the 1st level adventure, and I've got the 3rd level adventure. Now I need to connect them by filling in the 2nd level adventure. I look at how the first adventure ends (an arboreal has killed a duergar from the Wastingdeep Mine, the scholar Gendal is kidnapped) and how the third adventure begins (upon returning to Fallinghollow with Gendal, stuff happens) and see that the second adventure is about rescuing Gendal from duergars. That seems like a dungeon crawl to me, and having th...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 13

October 17, 2019
Last time, I presented the first adventure in the adventure path I'm writing. Today, I want to talk about how to end it. I haven't yet put this together, because I think it will depend a lot on how the 19th-level adventure goes, but I want to put down some thoughts about the 20th level finale of this campaign.

* It need not have 12 encounters. I've been building every chapter with 12 encounters to make sure there's enough experience for the heroes to level up for the following chapter. Since t...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 12

October 10, 2019
Okay! Here is the entire 1st level adventure. This is how the Heartwood Blight Adventure Path will kick off!

Chapter 1: Raiders of Fallinghollow (1st level)

The heroes all begin in the town of Fallinghollow, a small community in the Northfells of about 1,000 people. It’s best if the heroes have some connection to this town, such as by being from there, or having recently moved there. They might be connected to Headman Sigrir, the town’s efficient and no-nonsense mayor; Sheriff Arskej, who i...


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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 11

October 8, 2019
Now that I'm 11 posts into this project about writing an entire Pathfinder Second Edition adventure path, I'm ready to start! That is, I'm ready to take a look at how I'm going to design the first adventure, which will launch this adventure path right. The start of an adventure path needs to do these things:

* Establish the Theme. The way the adventure path feels should be established in the first adventure. If the adventure path is going to be a gritty, urban, noir theme, the first adventure ...
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I'm Writing an AP in Front of You, Part 10

October 3, 2019
Okay! Now that I've got some names I can plug in, let me finish up the 16th level chapter I outlined earlier. This is a bit long, 1,600 words rather than 1,500, but I can trim it up a bit when I ensure it's connected to the 15th level adventure that comes before it and the 17th level adventure that comes after it, which I already know is going to be an urban adventure culminating against the pit fiend Balzzevarian, which I set up here.

Chapter 16: Monastery of Frozen Stone (16th level)

The hero...


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Name Checks

October 1, 2019
I'm taking a quick step away from my lengthy blog series where I'm writing an entire adventure path to talk about names. More specifically, I'm talking about how you check them. Here's what I do, whether I'm writing something myself or developing an adventure for someone else. At some point near the end of the writing/development, you're going to want to run your document through a spellchecker. Have a Google window open at the same time. For each proper name you find, before hitting "Accept,...
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About Me


I'm Ron Lundeen, developer for Paizo, Inc., active gamer, and RPG freelancer. I've recently had products in print for Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, Raging Swan, Open Design, Headless Hydra Games, and Rite Publishing. I'm still taking freelance writing assignments, but also focusing on writing for Run Amok Games.


 

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