Keyword Design – “‘Merica”

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 is “‘Merica” as suggested by Jordan.

On the day before I leave for PaizoCon (in the United States), and the last Keyword Design before the 4th of July (which I’m told is like the American Canada Day), Jordan wants me to design ‘Merica options (apostrophe theirs). You can think of this as a companion to my original Keyword Design – Canada, an article that already had a companion piece in the form of a Code/Switch on adapting culture I guest wrote. Although this was one of my earliest suggestions, the algorithm I use to narrow down my keyword is based first on who made the suggestion, then what their oldest suggestion is. The timing just happened to be appropriate in a few ways.

Speaking of appropriateness, I debated the tone to take here. As I mentioned, I wrote an article on adapting culture, how you can adapt some stereotypes or unique attributes of a culture that are emphasized by those outside that culture because of the uniqueness to the culture of the attributes, as long as you the writer are aware that they are stereotypes or that this minor part of the culture disproportionately stands in for the culture as a whole, and you try to balance them out with broader options, etc. On the other hand, Jordan didn’t ask for American options, he asked for ‘Merica options, implying that he wants me to lean into the stereotypes. As a non-American, that makes me uncomfortable. Fortunately I have plenty of Americans I can filter this through to make sure none of my shots are below the belt.

Mundane Item Paradigmatic Material Wearing iconic imagry influences witnesses based on their feelings about the image depicted.
Magic Item Flight Risk Brew This magical drug invigorates the user and grants them temporary flight.
Feat Capitalizing Spell Caster can pay gold instead of increasing the caster level of spells modified by metamagic feats.
Spell Bloodsucking Contract If the target performs certain specific actions, the caster syphons life out of them.
Class Option Gun Smoker A gunslinger archetype that treats their weapon of choice as a drug.


New Mundane Items
Not a special material as much as a special finishing treatment offered by smiths with an eye for colour of an artistic partner. A paradigm finish wraps clothes, armour, and other items with the colours and iconography of a country or organization’s flag. The reaction a paradigm finish receives depends on the starting attitude of a character to the country or organization the paradigm finish represents.

Type of Paradigmatic Material Item Item Price Modifier
Clothing +250 gp
Light armour +300 gp
Medium armour +450 gp
Heavy armour +750 gp
Other items +75 gp/lb +cost of masterwork quality

A masterwork item with a paradigm finish weighs as the item normally would. A paradigm finish has no affect on an item’s hit points or hardness.  Items with a paradigm finish are always masterwork items; the masterwork cost is included in the listed prices. Every three additional items with a paradigm finish visibly worn together increases these bonuses and penalties by 1, so long as all paradigm finishes represent the same flag. Wearing multiple items with different paradigm finishes negates all bonuses they provide.

Starting Attitude Diplomacy DC Modifier Intimidate DC Modifier
Hostile -4 +4
Unfriendly -2 +2
Indifferent +1 +1
Friendly +2 -2
Helpful +4 -4

The GM determines if a country or organization is significant or specific enough to warrant a paradigm finish.  

As comic books and pro wrestling have taught me, the easiest way to get a character over is to wrap them in an American flag.
As Marvel’s struggle to get people to buy into the recent Hydra Cap storyline proves, the symbol can be bigger than the wearer. That informed my decision to give inverse bonuses to Diplomacy and Intimidate (with the exception being a neutral audience, which will be forging opinions based on your interaction with them. Also, I wanted the net total to be a positive since you have to pay for this option).
Oh, and did you know that it’s illegal to wear clothes based on the American flag? Well if Made In The USA Lex Luger is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

New Magic Item
Aura faint transmutation; CL 6th
Slot none; Price 50 gp; Weight 1 oz
This amber elixir is made primarily of burnt feathers used as a component in a fly spell. It grants the user a fly speed as the fly spell, but only for 1 round. Additionally, the other ingredients required to turn spent spell components into an elixir are invigorating. The user ignores fatigue and exhaustion for 1 hour.
There is a health cost to drinking flight risk brew. The ingredients are dangerously addictive, meaning this magic potion counts as a drug with the following traits:

Flight Risk Brew
Type ingested; Addiction moderate, Fortitude DC 16
Effect 1 round; fly as the spell, 1 hour; ignore fatigue and exhaustion
Effect 1d4+1 hours; user is exhausted
Damage 1d2 Con damage

Requirements Brew Potion, fly; Cost 100 gp

This started as an energy drink (which I was going to call Tiger Blood Wine, untimely Charlie Sheen reference and all). It’s ability was going to begin and end with getting rid of fatigue but then make you exhausted. Then Red Bull’s slogan came to mind and I knew this drink needed to give you flight (wingless, granted). I thought about making it a nonmagical drug that grants a magical effect, like Dwarven Fire Ale, but there’s a difference between alchemical rage and alchemical wingless flight. Apparently that makes this is the first magical drug in the game. That’s interesting, given that I believe it’s a bit of a trope of science fiction/fantasy. There’s a Jessica Jones comic about people taking hits of mutant DNA to temporarily gain mutant powers, and although I’ve never consumed Dune in almost any way, I understand that Spice is a drug that grants powers (something about time bending?). It’s an area that could potentially be exploreds. Just not by me. I’m about as unqualified to write about drugs as someone can be.
Also, the format of drug rules is weird. What’s with two Effect entries? Couldn’t one be Effect and the other Side Effect?

New Feat
You upgrade your spells with your wallet.
Prerequisite: Any two Metamagic feats
Benefit: You can spend gold to cast metamagic spells more easily. When preparing or casting a spell modified by a metamagic feat, you can add an amount of gp as a spell component to reduce the spell slot the spell requires.
Reducing the spell slot a capitalizing spell takes up costs 100gp x the higher level spell slot the modified spell would take up x the number of level increases ignored. For example, an empowered (a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s actual level) widened (a spell slot three levels higher than the spell’s actual level) fireball (a 3rd level spell) would take up an 8th level spell slot. However, a caster could make it a capitalizing spell and pay 4000gp when casting the spell to cast it as a 3rd level spell.
The spell slot a capitalizing spell takes up can not be reduced to lower than the spell’s actual level. You must be able to cast a spell of the spell’s modified spell slot before reducing the spell slot required to cast the spell. You can reduce the spell slot by between 1 level and the total number of spell slot levels the spell is modified by, or not at all. You only make this decision and pay the cost when the spell is cast
A capitalizing spell uses up a spell slot of the same level as the spell’s actual level.

This feat all started with health care. I originally designed a lower level version of mass cure light wounds that you could pay to increase the effectiveness. Then I designed a metamagic feat called Meritocratic Spell, where a spell that benefits multiple targets numerically instead creates a pool of bonuses and the caster determines who benefits how much from that pool. Finally, I had an idea for a buffing spell that targets multiple characters, but the fewer targets you cover, the more the caster benefits. All of my initial designs were clunky and a bit below the belt. I broadened my idea to make it about capitalism in general (still very ‘Merican) and it came together better. It’s still a bit cheeky in its intent, but I think it’s functionally a success. I’m pretty happy with how the equation scales. You can max out your spells, but it’ll cost you.
The clauses and riders paragraph was longer than usual, but I think I covered all of my bases. I just felt like a lawyer doing it.
Speaking of lawyers.

New Spell
School necromancy [evil, language-dependent, mind-affecting]; Level antipaladin 2, bard 2, cleric/oracle 2, inquisitor 2, psychic 2, shaman 2, sorcerer/wizard 2, witch 2
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (parchment and a quill)
Range touch
Target  living creature touched
Duration 1 round/level
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes
When you cast this spell, your touch syphons your targets blood onto your quill, enough to write on the parchment an action they are obliged not to take. They are immediately aware of the action written on the contract. This functions as forbid action, but if the target fails their saving throw and chooses to take the action on the contract, they take 1d6 points of damage. You gain temporary hit points equal to the damage you deal, as vampiric touch.

I wanted to write that you prick your target with your quill as a touch attack, but I knew that would cause RAW issues with whether this is a touch attack or an attack, if it affects targets in full plate, etc. I think having your touch conjure your target’s blood onto your quill is as effective a visual without the rules issues.
So, this spell is forbid action meets vampiric touch. If hybrid spells were a thing, this would be a hybrid spell. Whoa, why aren’t hybrid spells a thing? On the one hand, this feels lazy. On the other, it started with an original concept and in adapting it, it happens that two spells already exist that cover the mechanical needs of this spell. This is how computer computer programing becomes more efficient, so I don’t feel ashamed.
Funny origin story, I was chatting with the network members and mentioned that I was working on an article about Americans. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw Loren posted about Bloodsucking Lawyers, so naturally I assumed it was a suggestion for my article. ‘Americans love to sue’ is a stereotype, although it feels out of fashion or out of date. Well it ends up she was referencing her latest Dear DovahQueen, and telling Luis to design a Bloodthirsty Rules Lawyer for Monstrous Physique. This may end up the strangest series of articles we’ve ever published.

New Class Option
A gun smoker is addicted to the smell of a freshly fired bullet. This addiction has its drawbacks, but their commitment to their gun is unparalleled.
From My Cold, Dead Hands (Ex): At 1st level, a gun smoker’s connection to her gun goes beyond a weapon of choice. She can’t picture life without it, blindly reaches for it when it isn’t in hand, and is clearly aggravated when away from her gun. She gains a circumstance bonus equal to half her gun smoker level (minimum 1) to CMD to defend against attempts to disarm, steal, or sunder her gun. She also gets gains this as a circumstance bonus to Sleight of Hand skill checks to conceal her gun, and on Bluff checks to lie about having a concealed weapon.
This close connection comes at a cost. A gun smoker is addicted to the smoke from firing her gun. She must make a Will save (DC 10 + ½ her gun smoker level) every hour that she does not fire her gun or take 1d2 Wisdom damage. This can be treated like an addiction, but it returns after 8 hours of sleep.
Rack’Em Up (Ex): A gun smoker is never satisfied with the number of guns they’re carrying. At 1st level, a gun smoker treats guns and ammunition as being half their weight for the purposes of carrying capacity. This deed replaces the Gunslinger’s Dodge deed.
Makin’ A Statement (Ex): At 3rd level, a gun smoker learns to modify her guns to be louder when fired, and learns to apply just enough pressure on a trigger to play with it without firing. When wielding a gun, if the gun smoker has at least 1 grit point, she gains a circumstance bonus equal to half her gun smoker level (minimum 1) to Intimidate skill checks. Whenever she fires a gun, she can spend 1 grit point as an immediate action to make an Intimidate skill check to demoralize a target who heard the shot. This ability replaces utility shot.

This is as political as I was willing to get with today’s keyword. I knew my class option had to be gunslinger related (cause ‘Merica), and it’s hard to turn a class that specializes in guns into a gun enthusiast without flat out turning it into an addiction. Sidenote: After never writing a single option related to drugs or addiction, I now have to question if I subconsciously connect addiction and Americans. It’s not a stereotype I’m familiar with, but then why did I go to that well twice in the same article for unrelated options?
On the plus side, I think the gun smoker is a useful archetype for the gunslinger. I’ve only seen one gunslinger NPC, and in the first round the PCs wisely disarmed him. The rest of the combat was spent sheepishly chasing after his guns, provoking attacks of opportunity until he died. That encounter conjured Charlton Heston’s famous anti-legislation slogan, which was too perfect not to use.

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:


  1. Christopher Eich

    In the Storm Front novel of the Dresden Files series, three eye is a magical drug that grants an effect similar to true seeing.

    • Then it sounds like there’s precedence to include it in the game. I wonder if there’s an appropriateness line that drugs don’t cross but magic drugs might.

  2. Aaron

    One word