Burst of Insight

Burst of Insight – An Introduction

Hello Readers, I’m Andrew Marlowe, two-time RPG Superstar Top 16 contestant, and freelance game designer and I’d like to thank you for joining me for this first ever installment of the Burst of Insight designer’s blog. Over the coming months, we’ll cover game design from a number of different angles including designer tips, house and variant rules, and of course examples. We’ll look at new products from Paizo and third-party publishers as well as look back at older OGL edition publications. Along the way, I’ll have some industry guests share some of their stories and experiences. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Why call it Burst of Insight? Because “Toiling in the Word Mines” is probably taken (and possibly inappropriate) I also really wanted a cool spell name. So while planning exactly what I would write and trying to decide what the heck we were going to call this thing, we tossed around several ideas and discarded most of them quickly.  When someone found the spell burst of insight on the mesmerist list it just clicked for me. Those fleeting-glorious-magical moments are totally worth all the hard work in between. Hopefully, I can help inspire you to find that burst of inspiration in your own gaming, whether you want to break into freelance design or simply run a better campaign at home.

Disclaimer: You may notice that despite being May there are many references to April and the Ultimate Intrigue theme in this blog. Yeah well, sometimes things get changed in development and now we’re launching all the new blogs in May…so consider this blog April Bonus Content. You’re welcome.

Intriguing April

Now, the first thing I was told when I signed on to begin this blog in April was “It’s a theme month. You don’t have to write about Intrigue but we thought you might like to know.” As a regular viewer, reader and friend of the network I was already aware of April’s theme, but the reminder was nice. It also helped me realize that I needed to touch on two very basic tips for freelancers: “Write what your publisher wants” and also “It never hurts to be a team player.”

I’ll address the first point in detail in a later blog but for now, I’d like to be a team player.

Unchaining Intrigue’s Combat Feats

Pathfinder Unchained introduced players to Stamina and Combat Tricks. Nearly every Combat Feat from a cross-section of books was given an associated combat trick. Ultimate Intrigue in the fashion of each of the hardcover books gave us a number of new feats, including several combat feats. What it didn’t give us (probably because of space) were any combat tricks for those feats. This presents other designers a bit of space to work in.

I’m not going to tackle tricks for every new combat feat but I want to show you some of my process for expanding on existing rules.

So let’s pick a few feats to fiddle with: Sliding Dash (because I love it), Fox Style, Graceful Steal, Improved Bravery, and Quick Study.  Now we need to look at each feat’s theme and think about what each one does. I’ll jot down the brief summary from the table of feats.


  • Sliding Dash: Charge through a foe for a flank attack.
  • Fox Style: Feint and distract with martial training.
  • Graceful Steal: Use the steal combat maneuver outside of combat and from containers.
  • Improved Bravery: Bravery applies against all mind-affecting effects.
  • Quick Study: Study with an ally to learn a combat feat.


Okay brainstorming a few ideas for each of these feats that will keep within the theme of the feat as defined by the above description. What follows are a few of the thoughts I had while working on these. Some of these ideas will get dismissed quickly, others may persist for a while before joining the early dismissals and a few might make it through. We’ll see:

Sliding Dash is a very cinematic feat and we should probably try to build on that. There is also an AC penalty above and beyond the normal one for this sort of maneuver. We could negate that additional penalty or grant an additional hit. I’m leaning a bit towards the former rather than the latter. Especially since you could have the player spend 1 stamina point per “point of penalty” they want to ignore.

Fox Style allows you to use you BAB in place of Bluff ranks to feint. With an Intelligence of 19, you get an added bonus when adding your Charisma modifier.

Graceful Steal you can use a Dexterity based CMB check in place of Sleight of Hand for a steal combat maneuver. This is a pretty straight forward switch of one score for another. I’m just not certain there’s a lot to improve on here which is why some feats didn’t get write ups originally. So for today’s purpose, I’ll probably let this one slide…if I were adapting these for an actual assignment it might be different depending on the scope of the project.

Improved Bravery. Hmm looking over the Pathfinder Unchained text, it appears regular Bravery was not included in the original tricks. Maybe we skip Improved Bravery in favor of Bravery from the original rulebook or maybe there is something about applying Bravery to more than just fear effects that is worth tackling.

Quick Study requires Bravery +3 and fighter level 10, interesting. Once per day you can basically trade quick study for the day for a feat an ally can teach you.

Applying these early notes I came up with a few draft tricks. And, indeed, in the time I budgeted to write this blog I did not come up with anything suitable for Graceful Steal.

Sliding Dash (Combat): You may spend stamina points to reduce the armor class penalty you incur when using this feat. For every stamina point you spend (up to a maximum of 4) reduce the penalty to your armor class by 1.

Fox Style (Combat): When using this feat you may spend 2 stamina points to grant yourself a bonus equal to your Intelligence modifier when feinting for 1 round instead of the normal + 4 modifier for an Intelligence of at least 19. If you would normally gain the additional modifier for high Intelligence with this feat, then you may instead choose to spend a stamina point to gain a +2 competence bonus when using this feat.

Improved Bravery (Combat): You may spend 3 stamina points to add half your bravery modifier (minimum 1) to any skill check that involves courage such as climbing, jumping (particularly long jumps across spaces with long falls) swimming against strong currents. Ultimately, the GM is the final arbitrator of what situations qualify for the use of this trick.

Quick Study (Combat): You may spend 5 stamina points to emulate a combat feat for which you qualify but do not possess, that was used against you in the last minute.  Each time you use this emulated feat you must continue to pay the associated 5 stamina for feats that are always active you need to pay this cost each round. This use of Quick Study replaces any feat that you had previously trained to use.

Now these are draft tricks in a publishing setting a developer would further fine tune these and make them ready for publication but for a home game, these would probably play pretty well and could be further fine-tuned if it turned out that the balance on any of these seemed off. While playing I might decide that the Quick Study trick is too powerful. Rather than tweaking costs or trying to make it more complex I might instead rewrite it completely. My new version might resemble this:

Quick Study (Combat): You may use any of the combat tricks of feats you acquire through the use of this feat but the stamina cost of the trick is increased by 1.

So what did you think of this first blog? Are there any topics relating to design you’d like me to talk about? Did you like the Stamina and Combat Tricks system from Pathfinder Unchained? If so what did you think of these tricks and what would you do for Graceful Steal? For that matter feel free to post your own Ultimate Intrigue based traits. Join the conversation and leave a comment.

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.

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