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A gold compass rose is surrounded by slices from eight different landscapes. Clockwise from the upper left they are: a rainforest, a desert with red stripped hills, a grassy plane surrounded by mountains, red mountains, a temperate forest, a lake with a rainbow, snow covered mountains, and an underwater view of a coral reef.

A gold compass rose is surrounded by slices from eight different landscapes. Clockwise from the upper left they are: a rainforest, a desert with red stripped hills, a grassy plane surrounded by mountains, red mountains, a temperate forest, a lake with a rainbow, snow covered mountains, and an underwater view of a coral reef.


This character creation sequence is designed for any of the adventures that I have created for the Crossroads setting. Each of these adventures was created to be played on the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast series, and the text of each adventure is planned to be released with the podcast episodes.

On the podcast each player is run through this character creation sequence individually, but it is also designed to be run through by a group together. The sequence starts with a bit of background and setting information to get players oriented. Next is the character creation itself. Afterwards there is a mini adventure to give the players a taste of game play.


Step 1, Introducing the Setting: The goal of this is to give the players a feeling of the setting before they create their characters. For me this works best when I invite players to interrupt with questions as they have them.

  • Crossroads: This game is set in the Land of Crossroads, which is a kingdom that exists inside a mysterious ring of mist. This mist completely encircles the kingdom. Trade comes through the ring, but the nature of the mist and what lies beyond it is still uncertain. This is an eclectic, high fantasy setting with significant fairy tale influences. It is a quirky place of great ecological and cultural diversity which contains a pocket of every kind of person, culture, or creature. This means that the types of characters available are deliberately open ended and people are welcome to bring in elements from other genres (such as steam powered air ships, clockwork automatons, and magical gunslingers) if they would like.
  • Social structure: Crossroads is an organized society with many laws, rules, and regulations. These laws cover many aspects of daily life. The fact that Crossroads is a densely populated kingdom means that every resource is regulated. Hunting, harvesting, or gathering anything requires a permit, from the downed branches in the forest to fish in the sea. People do sometimes break the law, but if they are caught, they will face consequences. This means that, by design, this is a setting where killing is taken very seriously.
  • Technology: Crossroads is at a transitional, early industrialization technology level, where much of the technology and day-to-day life is still medieval, but the presence of magic-powered technological advances is also having an impact. These advancements are most notable in major cities and include magical light and heat, magic powered vehicles, and animated constructs. Because crossroads is not an empire, it does not have the raw material resources to leap full force into an industrial revolution.
  • Magic: Because magic is so prone to going wrong, even for experienced casters, most permanent magic is done by enchanting small, removable, gemstone orbs. These orbs are only incorporated into larger objects if the enchantment process went as desired. Orbs come in six standardized sizes.
  • The Adventuring Academy was founded by Natasha Shen and Kyra Piper, a couple who are famous adventurers from marginalized backgrounds. They used their wealth and fame to create an organization that would ensure that other marginalized adventurers had the same access to high quality training, equipment, and social connections that previously only privileged adventurers had. Academy classes teach a diverse range of skills and knowledge that are tailored to each student’s unique talents. However, the Academy is most famous for its innovative internship program where groups of students are carefully matched with tasks that are difficult enough to challenge them without overwhelming their capacity.
  • Your character is a student at the Adventurers Academy.

Step 2, Character Creation: This is where the players go through the standard Magic Goes Awry character creation system. Some character concepts fit well within one character class, while others will pull from multiple character classes. It is helpful if the game manager is familiar will all of the options and can guide players through them (if needed).

  • If the players aren’t together when going through character creation, then wait to figure out relationships.
  • For the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast series: What disability, chronic illness, and/or type of diverse mind does your character have?

Step 3, Mini Adventure: For most players, these mini adventures will vary in length from twenty minutes to an hour each, depending on luck and the complexity of the specific scenario. Each of these mini adventures is a training challenge that the students faced in Kyra Piper’s Creative Problem Solving class. They are designed so that players can run through challenges individually or a group can run through one scenario together.

Note: Anyone participating in Unfamiliar Heroes games which use the Magic Goes Awry system should not read these mini adventures.

Setup for the mini adventures:

  • Kyra Piper is one of the founders of the Adventurers Academy. She is a middle-aged orc woman with green skin and long blue hair in a hovering wood and brass wheelchair.
  • “These training challenges take place in a large magical arena at the center of the Adventurers Academy. Encircling the arena is the three story main academy building. A spiral of open, tree and vine supported ramps and balconies covers the inside surface of the Academy building, providing viewing spaces for Kyra and the rest of the class. The arena itself is a large, oval-shaped space that has been dug into the ground. It has vertical, rough stone walls with a ring of magical orbs built into it. These orbs create powerful, multisensory illusions which are used for training.”
  • The goal of these challenges is to find and retrieve a fist-sized crystal orb. This is a radiant orb which emits both a soft white light and a gentle warmth. The warmth can be felt at the same distance that the light from the radiant crystal can be seen.
  • Due to a history of unscrupulous adventurers abusing self-defense claims, by law all licensed adventurers are now held to strict no killing policies. Therefore, while training students are allowed to incapacitate, but not significantly harm any hostile people or animals that they encounter.
  • Adjust the difficulty of the encounter by adjusting what happens with partial successes. If things are too easy, then introduce significant challenges that the character will need to actively deal with on a partial success. If things are too challenging, then the drawback of a partial success can instead be something that demonstrates the character is struggling without adding any new obstacles.
  • If the student is struggling in their challenge, they may hear Kyra’s clear, calm voice imparting one of the key concepts of this course: “Know your limits and communicate them.” “Play to your strengths.” “Do research ahead of time.” “If you can’t do something directly, do it indirectly.” “Always have a way out.” “When in doubt, retreat.” “Get help when you need it.”

Challenge #1: Underwater Maze

  • “In front of you is a thin ring of black sand surrounds a large, deep pool of salty water. Just below the surface, a school of tiny silver fish is darting around. In the blue depths you can just barely make out large, irregular, dark shapes.”
  • If needed, the character is given an amulet that allows them the breath underwater.
  • Once they get inside the water they can make out a series of tunnels and caverns that form a three-dimensional maze. Its walls are made of a combination of black rock and tough, magically sculpted kelp. Only a portion of the maze can be perceived at one time. There are multiple entrances to the maze.
  • The inside of the maze is lit by the dim sunlight that filters through the kelp.
  • Basic efforts to navigate the maze use the survival skill.
  • The orb is located in a large cavern at the center of the maze. This is the largest cavern, and the only one made entirely of rock. Because of this, the orb cannot be perceived from outside the maze.
  • The orb itself is attached to the back of a three foot long mechanical fish that is swimming erratically around the cavern. This fish will evade anyone who approaches it, but it will stay in the cavern. The arcana, engineering, nature, animal handling, and perception skills can all be used to gather different kinds of information about it. The mechanical fish is animated by magic (arcana), emulates fish behavior imperfectly (nature and animal handling), and it has a somewhat predictable evasion pattern (engineering and perception).

Challenge #2: Rainforest Tree

  • “A lush tropical forest fills the arena. The tree canopy is dense, but the forest floor is relatively open. The forest is alive with bird song and buzzing insects.”
  • The orb is located in the branches at the top of the tallest tree on the northeast side of the arena. Its glow and warmth can be seen and felt once the character approaches the tree.
  • A leopard lounges on the lowest branch of the tree, guarding the orb.

Challenge #3: Rubble Robots

  • “The arena is filled with a mountain of rubble. A narrow, clear roadway runs through the middle of this mountain. Walls of rubble loom on either side of the road, and halfway down its length, two humanoid robots with spears and shields stand guard. At the far end of the arena, the road ends in a small clearing with a three foot tall pedestal in the center. The orb sits on this pedestal, guarded by two more humanoid robots with spears and shields.”
  • The rubble contains a diverse array parts that can be used for building things (using either the engineering or crafting skills).
  • Moving over the unstable rubble requires an athletics, climbing, acrobatics, or stealth check (depending on how the character is approaching it). Because it is tallest in the middle of the arena, it is possible move over the rubble out of sight of the robots in the middle of the road.
  • The robots are simplistic and only follow the orders they have been given, ignoring everything else. Characters can use diplomacy, deception, or engineering to interact with the robots.
  • The robots guarding the middle of the road have been ordered to stop people from crossing a line in the road. “No one is permitted to cross the line.” “Stop! You are in violation of the rules! No one is permitted to cross the line!”
  • The robots guarding the orb have been ordered to prevent people from touching or removing the orb. “No one is permitted to touch the orb.” “Stop! You are in violation of the rules. No one is permitted to touch the orb!”

Challenge #4: Dancing Lights

  • “A ramp leads down into a large pit that fills most of the arena. Inside the pit, many large stalagmites have grown on top of the flat, smooth stone that forms the ground. There is space to move between the stalagmites, but there are patches of smaller, densely clustered stalagmites that will make movement in certain areas challenging. In between these pillars of rock, a dozen floating balls of lights and warmth flit back and forth in irregular patterns.”
  • The spaces between the stalagmites are the right size for the largest character to fit through. They are close enough together that flying between them is challenging. The patches of smaller, densely clustered stalagmites are treacherous to move over (moving over them requires either the athletics or acrobatics skills).
  • The lights are will-o’-wisps. Those with either the nature or the culture skill may know something about will-o’-wisps.
    • A single success with the culture skill means that the character knows that Will-o’-wisps are the vengeful spirits of people who were killed unjustly.
    • Those with two successes also know that these malicious spirits seek revenge on the living. Because will-o’-wisps have become consumed by their purpose, they have limited intelligence. They cluster around dangerous areas, including marshes, mines, and cliffs, attempting to lead people to off to their doom. Those who fall victim to will-o’-wisps will sometimes become will-o’-wisps themselves, creating a terrible cycle.
    • Those with three successes additionally know that Will-o’-wisps have a magical lure that uses emotion altering magic to entice people to follow them. Will-o’-wisps can also confuse people by creating minor illusions that trick people thinking dangerous areas are safe or into thinking the path leads off in a different direction than it actually does.
  • The will-o’-wisps create a strong lure. Magical defense is used to protect against this emotion manipulating magic.
    • 0 successes—The character feels an irresistible urge to follow the will-o’-wisps. Although they cannot resist this urge, the player still has control over their character and determines how their character acts on this urge. In addition, the character may take additional actions while they follow the will-o’-wisps (such as testing the ground in front of them or creating a magical barrier to prevent the will-o’-wisps from moving). This effect will eventually wear off.
    • 1 success—The character feels a strong desire to follow the will-o’-wisps and will alternate between following and not following the will-o’-wisps. While following the will-o’-wisps, the character has the same options as a character who feels an irresistible urge to follow the will-o’-wisps.
    • 2 successes—The character fully resists the lure and feels no desire to follow the will-o’-wisps.
    • 3 successes—The character resists the lure so well that they can help others resist the lure too. Anyone this character touches becomes more resistant the lure, meaning that a character who once felt an irresistible urge to follow the will-o’-wisps now feels a strong urge to follow them, and those who once felt a strong urge to follow the will-o’-wisps now feels no urge to follow them. However, this change only lasts as long as the characters remain in physical contact.
  • There is a small sinkhole in the center of the arena that the will-o’-wisps have disguised with an illusion so that it appears to be stable, flat ground. The sinkhole itself is a round cavity in the ground that is five feet wide and five feet deep with a wet, muddy bottom. The opening to this cavity is a hole three feet across with an unstable, crumbling edge. If a character moves onto this unstable edge then it will crumble beneath them, causing them to slide down the side into the hole. The fall will cause minor, but not fatal injuries.
  • Once close to the sinkhole, magical defense is used to disbelieve the illusion disguising it.
    • 0 successes—The character completely believes the illusion and will continue to experience the illusion for as long as it lasts. However, if they experience evidence that the illusion is false, or if they are told about the illusion, the character can choose to act based on that information.
    • 1 success—The character experiences the illusion, but something seems odd about it. If others tell them about the illusion, the character can act on that information. In addition, if the character directly experiences evidence that the illusion is false, they can choose to disbelieve the illusion so that they will no longer experience it.
    • 2 successes—The character fully resists the illusion and they no longer experience it.
    • 3 successes—The character resists the illusion lure so well that they can help others resist it too. Anyone this character touches becomes more resistant the illusion, meaning that a character who once completely believed the illusion now notices something odd about it, and a character who once noticed something odd about the illusion now no longer experiences it. However, this change only lasts as long as the characters remain in physical contact.
  • There are several skills that can be used to figure out which ball of light is the orb.
    • With the perception skill it is possible to notice that the light and warmth emitted by these will-o’-wisps is irregular (flickering), while the light from the orb is steady.
    • The arcana skill allows characters to perceive that one of the balls of light (the orb) emits a different type of magic than the others.
    • Insight allows characters to notice that all but one of the lights seem to be reacting to their presence (the will-o’-wisps are deliberately trying to entice the character to follow them, while the orb simply continues on its path unchanged).
    • Note that there are many other options for locating the orb, such as luring the will-o’-wisps into one area, or systematically trying to catch each of the balls of light until the character finds the one that is solid (since the will-o’-wisps are spirits, they can’t be restrained without magic).
  • The survival skill is used to stay oriented inside the pit of stalagmites. If the character has located the orb, survival can be used to get to the orb without going over a stalagmite cluster. If the character instead wishes to go over the cluster they need to use acrobatics or athletics. Systematic searches can be done with either survival or the technology skill.

Challenge #5: Sky Sharks

  • “Looking down into the arena you see an open sky with a dozen small, puffy clouds that are in constant motion. Oddly, each of the clouds is moving in different direction. Between the clouds, animals with long, graceful bodies can be seen gliding through the air. Their silhouettes are just like those of sharks swimming in water. Through the clouds there are glimpses of the bottom of the arena where the orb is resting on the flat, sawdust covered ground.”
  • The air within the arena takes on the properties of both air and water. Water-breathing and air-breathing creatures can breathe normally here. This air feels thick and bears weight like water does. Once inside the arena, the characters will discover that swimming is the basic way to move through this environment. Because of the complex air currents, moving around requires a successful swimming roll. Any creature with wings can instead use their flying skill to move around.
  • Either nature or arcana can be used to determine (if successful) that the unusual air in this arena is similar to a phenomenon that happens in certain remote places where the regional magic alters the properties of air to be water-like. In these places both flying and swimming creatures coexist together.
  • The clouds are made of a stinky gas that repels the sharks. Characters can use either perception, insight, or animal handling to notice that the sharks never go inside the clouds.
  • The clouds are being moved around by different currents in the air that are flowing in strange, unnatural patterns. Understanding and predicting their movements requires the technology skill. Anyone on or inside the clouds moves with them. Clouds from different currents periodically move near each other without touching. It is possible to get to the bottom of the arena by moving from cloud to cloud.
  • The sharks are hungry. When a creature enters an exposed region of the air (anywhere outside the clouds), the sharks will come over to investigate. The sharks will readily attack anything that is bleeding, as well fish, seals, seabirds, dolphins, and other animals they know to be food. Because they are intelligent animals, they will try to assess any creatures which they are unfamiliar with. When assessing an unfamiliar creature they will circle around them, swimming closer and closer, possibly even bumping into them. If the creature the sharks are investigating stays in the open with the sharks long enough, the sharks will escalate to test bites.
  • Light also attracts the sharks. Because of this, the sharks are attracted to the orb and they will regularly swim near it. Once a character has the orb, the sharks will become more aggressive toward them.


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