Keyword Design – “Rebel”

In Keyword Design, I use a single word as inspiration for a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option. Today’s word was suggested by Jordan.

Rebel is a great word, ripe for inspiration. It’s particularly relevant to me as I’m currently playing in a Hell’s Rebel campaign. Any idea I have goes through the “would I want this in my game?” filter.

Mundane Item Subtle Symbol Let wouldbe allies know you can be trusted.
Magic Item Gangland Paint By painting a specific logo, members of the same gang can claim territory and communicate.
Feat Spirited Your rebellious nature motivates you.
Spell Likemind Link Share an empathic link with allies regardless of distance.
Class Option Inspire and Subvert (Sing, Wind) Empowers allies and intimidates enemies.
Class Option Riot Starter (Percussion, Sing, Wind) A crowd becomes aggressive towards a target you choose.
Class Option Rebel Anthem (Percussion, Sing, String) An inspiring anthem that encourages allies more the more often they hear it.
Class Option Among Masks (Oratory, Percussion) Allies temporarily gain a dual identity.


New Mundane Items
Price Variable; Weight
This found object has little material value but a great deal of social value. Social movements often adopt a symbol of solidarity, such as a brown coat to indicate continued loyalty to a failed rebellion or a sewing needle to indicate unity of a cause.
Deliberately wearing an item that a movement you support has adopted as its subtle symbol grants others a +2 bonus on Sense Motive checks to get a hunch about your feelings towards that movement. Individuals who share your views on that movement instead gain a +4 bonus on this check.
A subtle symbol is +10% more expensive than a typical item of its kind to represent the added care that goes into tracking down a particular version of this item that meets the movement’s symbolic need.

A symbol is a powerful tool for a rebellion, and subtle symbols have been used extensively in popular culture and history. I went back and forth on how to price this item, as it started as an analog for the recent safety pin movement. Originally I didn’t have it costing anything, but then I realized that Mal’s browncoat from Firefly was another example of what this item could be. I settled on a slight price increase instead of “GMs discretion”ing it because a GM has enough to discretion about. +10% is mathier than I wanted to go, but also easy enough math.

New Magic Item
Aura faint divination and transmutation; CL 5th; Slot: None Weight -; Price 100 gp
This magical paint comes in a variety of colours and glossiness. When the right combination of colour and glossiness is painted in a specific shape, called a tag, it can be used to communicate with a network of matching tags. When someone whispers to a tag, their words can be heard by creatures within earshot of nearby tags, as the message spell. A tag must match the colour, glossiness, and shape exactly to function. A tag must be within 150 feet of the nearest tag to function, although it only needs to be within range of one tag for the message to travel to all tags in this network. For example, if there is a matte blue bell tagged every 150 feet for a mile, a character whispering into the bell at one extreme can be heard by creatures within earshot of any of the 34 other tags, even the tag 1 mile away.
The colour, glossiness, and shape of a tag are determined by whoever drew the initial tag, as is the DC to recreate the tag. Recreating a tag in gangland paint requires a successful Craft (painting), Linguistics, or Slight of Hand skill check. The DC of this check is generally 10, but can be 25 or higher. The creator of the first tag in the network has a +5 bonus to recreate their tag. A tag takes 1 minute to paint, +1 minute for every 5 by which the DC of the tag exceeds 10 (2 minutes for a DC 15 tag, 3 minutes for a DC 20 tag, etc). For every 5 by which the skill check exceeds the DC, the time to paint the tag is reduced by 1 minutes (minimum 1).
Each pot of gangland paint is enough to create a single tag.
Construction Requirements
Craft wondrous item, message; Cost 50 gp

There’s a lot of inspiration for this one, although not for its ability. Tagging is seen as an act of rebellious youth in my modern North American experience, but it’s taken very seriously in areas with gang activity. DC Comics used this as a narrative device in their No Man’s Land crossover, where a major Earthquake wrecked Gotham and it was effectively a quarantined area of super villain and gang activity. As the gangs gained territory, they tagged walls to indicate their borders. Batman tagged a bat symbol over the existing tags as he beat the gangs up. This was seen to a lesser extent in Dark Knight Rises.
As a mundane item, there wasn’t much separating it from regular paint, so I needed to add a magical element if this was going to be an item. Since tags are used to communicate territory, I thought adding a communication ability to the tags made sense. It allows NPC gangs to manage a large area inexpensively, which has narrative potential, which is always a design goal of mine. Furthermore, PCs can use it to spy on NPCs and get plot information. Also, since there’s no UMD requirement to use a tag, PCs can also whisper “We’re coming” to mess with the NPCs.


New Feat
SPIRITED (General)
You bite down and pressist.
Prerequisites: Iron Will, Chaotic alignment
Benefit: Once per day, when under the effect of a mind-affecting effect, you can choose to roll a new saving throw to end the effect every round even if the effect doesn’t normally allow additional saving throws. Whenever you roll to end the effect of a mind-affecting effect affecting you, you can choose to take 1d6 damage to gain a bonus on the saving throw equal to the damage dealt. You must choose to use this ability before you roll. Effects that would negate this damage, like damage reduction, equally negate the bonus granted.

At first this was looking like a deadline fail. I was settling on an earlier version of the feat was essentially Iron Will plus Improved Iron Will, but better. By replacing a flat bonus with a variable bonus based on damage you deal to yourself, I turned this into a more interesting option for players and GMs, a more original feat, and made a mechanic for a familiar visual. The chaotic alignment requirement means characters that are used to disagreeing with authority are better at it, which I think is thematic and appropriate.

New Spell
School divination [mind-affecting]; Level bard 2, cleric/oracle 2, druid 2, medium 1, mesmerist 1, occultist 1, psychic 1, shaman 2, sorcerer/wizard 2, spiritualist 1
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target one creature/level
Duration 1 hour/level
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance no
You establish an emotional connection between a group of creatures. All targets gain empathic links to one another, as a master’s link to its familiar, for the duration of the spell. Unlike an empathic link with a familiar, a likemind link has no maximum range and continues to function even when the creatures are on different planes.
An empathic link does not allow communication between different characters, only an awareness of each other linked creature’s current sincere emotional state.

This is a YMMV option. When I run my games, I find that limiting out of character communication between players about the state of their characters increases immersion. If the fighter feels he needs a bull’s strength from the cleric, the fighter’s player needs to find a way to communicate that without just saying it or deal with the consequences of saying it (like an archer NPC readying an action to shoot the cleric and disrupt the spell). Similarly, in our Hell’s Rebels campaign, the stealthy characters are often setting up ambushes while the non-stealthy characters are trying to be in position to help, but that requires them knowing the current state of stealthy characters, and being in a position that doesn’t require them to also be stealthy. Knowing the emotional state of the stealthy characters would help a lot.

New Class Option
Bard rebel rousers can use these masterpieces to push their allies or break their enemies.

Inspire and Subvert (Oratory, Wind)
Bolster the size of your forces and diminish the size of your enemies.
Prerequisites: Perform (oratory) or Perform (wind) 5 ranks, Bluff 5 ranks.
Cost: Feat or 3rd-level bard spell known.
Effect: Upon completing this performance, your affected allies count as having twice as many HD for the purpose of effects that affect characters based on number of HD (such as color spray). They are considered one size category larger for the purpose of bonuses on Intimidate checks for being larger than their targets. When one of your affected allies attempts an Intimidate check to demoralize a target, affected allies within 30 ft of the target can aid with the check as an immediate action.
Use: 3 rounds of bardic performance.
Action: 3 full rounds.

Riot Starter (Percussion, Sing)
Others are quicker to acts of violence against your enemies.
Prerequisites: Perform (percussion), or Perform (sing) 7 ranks, Knowledge (local) 7 ranks.
Cost: Feat or 4th-level bard spell known.
Effect: Upon completing this performance, a crowd of creatures with an indifferent attitude towards you becomes hostile towards a target you designate. This change in attitude lasts for 1 minute per bard level, or until another action or effect affects their attitude. The group can be a minimum of 3 humanoid and a maximum number of humanoids equal to twice your HD, none of which can have a number of HD equal to more than half your HD.
Use: 5 rounds of bardic performance.
Action: 5 full rounds.

Rebel Anthem (Percussion, Sing, String)
Others are quicker to acts of violence against your enemies.
Prerequisites: Perform (percussion), Perform (sing), or Perform (string) 4 ranks, inspire courage bardic performance.
Cost: Feat or 2nd-level bard spell known.
Effect: Unlike other Bardic Masterpieces, a rebel anthem affects allies as you perform it as well as upon completition. Allies gain the benefits of inspire courage, with a bonus equal to the number of full rounds you have spent performing the rebel anthem (maximum +5). Upon completion of the masterpiece, your allies continue to gain the benefits, with a reduction in the bonus equal to the number of rounds since you stopped playing. For example, if you spend 3 rounds playing a rebel anthem, your allies will get a +1 bonus the first round, a +2 bonus the second round, a +3 bonus the third round, a +2 bonus the fourth round, and a +1 bonus the fifth round.
Starting a new Rebel Anthem before the benefits of the last rebel anthem does not stack with the previous rebel anthem.
Use: 1 or more rounds of bardic performance.
Action: 1 or more full rounds.

Among Masks (Oratory, Percussion)
The adrenaline of your masterpiece disorients witnesses.
Prerequisites: Perform (oratory), or Perform (percussion) 5 ranks, Bluff 3 ranks.
Cost: Feat or 3rd-level bard spell known.
Effect: Your affected allies temporarily gain the benefits of the dual identity vigilante class feature. All allies gain the same second identity, with an alignment determined by you upon completion of the masterpiece. This alignment must be within one step of your alignment but does not need to be within one step of your allies alignment. They gain the benefit of this dual identity for 1 day or until they change back to their own identity. This takes 1 minute. If the character already has a dual identity, this new identity is in addition to their existing identities.
Use: 3 rounds of bardic performance.
Action: 3 full rounds.

This took the scenic route to its destination. What started as a bard archetype called Rebel Rouser quickly lost direction. I contemplated making it a mesmerist archetype but I just don’t know that class well enough. Plus the mesmerist has an invasive element to the bonuses it provides, and I wanted the class option to be viable to both hopeful and corrupt rebel leaders. Bardic masterpieces were a great fit when I came back across them, but it was not an aspect of the game that would have come to mind. I have some experience with Pathfinder bards, but the only masterpiece experience I can remember with bardic masterpieces is one PFS session where I think a bard at the table had a bardic masterpiece. My opinion on them has turned around slightly, but when I first read about them I did not see much value in them.
Hopefully someone with more bardic masterpiece experience can tell me if mine are on the mark. At the very least I’m happy with the variety of ways they flesh out the key word. 

Thanks again to Jordan for the keyword suggestion! If you have thoughts on the balance and use of these abilities, or you would like to offer a single word that you think can inspire a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option, let me know in the comments below!

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting:

Know Direction Pathfinder Podcast


  1. Quo

    Excellent stuff. Really enjoying your efforts. I love the likemind link and gang land ink pot. Never played a bard before and the bard PC in my mummy’s mask game is an archaeologist so there is no bardic performance. But, they look great!
    Several suggestions for the next keyword design: hygiene, parlay, or research

  2. Jordan

    Very nice! I really like the direction you took the word. The Bardic Masterpieces seem like a great end point for the class options. Those rebels really know how to “drum up” a crowd, eh? Har har!

    Anyway, don’t want to get greedy and go for multiple weeks in a row, but here’s another word to add to the file for a dry week: Legendary!