Still Compiling

   Well, the first sixty pages of the compiled races and other materials are done – but that hasn’ t left much time for minor projects. Ergo, today it’s just going to have to be catching up on the crosslinks…

   The Letters from Rudra are an in-character account of the Twilight Isles campaign. While the player wasn’t able to make it to the first few sessions, so far we have Letter One, Letter Two, Letter Three, and Letter Four.

   Fredronon’s Notes are a similar production – the somewhat biased notes on his adventures that Fredronon is willing to share. Currently we have parts Three and Four.

   The Ability Spotlight series is player notes on how he’s designing and developing Fredronon. Here’s Part II

   For the Federation-Apocalypse Campaign we have a writeup of Fern, a Sentient BlackBerry of Battling Business World.

Compiling

   Sorry, but there will be no main update today: I’m compiling a .PDF of a large portion of the Eclipse d20 material on the site. That will be several hundred pages, so…

RPG Design – The Divine Ruler

   For the final bit of the series on Magical Rulers we have come, at last, to the Divine King – the ruler who’s authority flows not from the people, or from law and tradition, or from military power, but from the will of the gods. The rulers who get obeyed because nasty things happen to the people who don’t respect and obey them.

   That belief, of course, is the final stage of this particular form of magical thinking.

   For the God-Favored, divine favor is a subtle, chancy, thing, and is primarily devoted to simple survival.

   For the Noble-Blooded, the blessings of the gods are fairly obvious enhancements, and some of the benefits can be shared with those around them – demonstrating their right to lead.

   The Divine King is a viceroy for the gods, their living representative and intermediary in the mortal realms, and the gods tend to smite the people who disrespect or disobey them.

   Once again, people today generally don’t see things that way. When we look at the history of a ruler who rose to power through a clever alliance, a spectacularly lucky battle, and rival being hit by a stray arrow, we see a man who was fortunate enough to be born into the nobility, who had a couple of strokes of good luck, and who was skilled and intelligent enough to take advantage of them – although suspicious historians may see a man who arranged to dispose of a rival quietly.

   The classic view would have seen one or more gods arranging for the rule of one of their chosen – bringing him (in reality, although not in fantasy, virtually never “her”) to power by providing him with useful allies and by striking down anyone who stood in his way.

   In fantasy game settings, it’s often vital to find some way to make that classical view real. Otherwise you wind up with characters who – being run by players with modern worldviews – are rude to kings and rulers, ignore their authority whenever it’s convenient, and run roughshod over local governments and traditions. It’s bad enough when the players are simply ignoring the social conventions that their characters supposedly grew up under. It gets even worse if their characters actually possess personal power on any significant scale and thus can do that sort of thing with near-impunity.

   So what should a Divine Ruler actually get?

  • First off, we can assume that they get everything that any Noble-Blooded character gets and more – receiving those abilities when they’re formally inducted into the office if they don’t already have them.
  • The Gods look after their anointed; curses and misfortunes will tend to fall upon those who oppose a king within his or her own realm or the lands nearby. When plots and foes multiply, it is obvious that the Gods are angry with the Divine Ruler, and he or she has lost their favor.
  • They are inspired with Divine Wisdom; they can give wise judgements, make inspired decisions, and get things right about their public affairs – although, oddly enough, most of them seem to fall afoul of all the usual human errors of jealousy, egotism, and such in their personal lives later on. Apparently all that divine wisdom and approval doesn’t do a thing for their personal lives.
  • The Gods listen to Divine Rulers. If there’s a great drought, or likely calamity, the gods will allow a Divine Ruler to erect temples, perform rituals, undertake “improvements” which will provide a remedy – whether or not such activities have anything whatsoever to do with what a modern thinker would see as the cause of the problem. If all such efforts fail, it may be time for a new ruler. (Fortunately, in actual history, a lot of problems fix themselves if given a little time. Others, of course, result in the elimination of the Divine Ruler – thus demonstrating that he or she has lost the favor of the Gods).
  • They are impervious, or at least resistant, to minor curses and spells. Otherwise we can pretty much take it for granted that any target so public and so important would be subjected to dozens per day.
  • Similarly, they are impervious or resistant to divination effects, mind-reading, and related powers and abilities. Otherwise they’d have no privacy or secrecy at all.
  • In many movies and tales Divine Rulers remain healthy and vigorous into extreme old age – but that’s hardly universal – and is common in a lot of game systems anyway.

   Now, to actually get specific we will have to pick a game system to work with – in this case Eclipse d20. Given that the +1 ECL Noble-Blooded template has already been set up for d20, all we’ll have to concern ourselves with is what we need to add to that…

  • First up are a few additional Innate Enchantments – a total of 5200 GP worth (5 CP):
    • Armor of Light (+1 Sacred Bonus to Saving throws, Unlimited Use Use-Activated, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Resist Energy (reduces energy damage by 10, Unlimited Use Use-Activated, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Protection from Opposing Alignment (as appropriate, Unlimited Use Use-Activated, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Detect Magic (Unlimited Use Use-Activated, L0 at CL1, 1000 GP). Divine Rulers can detect the presence of magic – allowing them to sense many illusions, supernatural creatures, and subtle spells.
  • Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized for Double Effect (4/-)/only versus physical damage (3 CP).
  • Dominion/Wrath of the Overlord/Curse, Specialized and Corrupted/this ability will not operate if the Gods are displeased with the Divine Ruler and he or she has little control over its operation; it mostly works when the ruler is very very upset, but occasionally will take effect on threats they don’t even know about – and, of course, drains their dominion point reserve each time it does (2 CP).
  • Major Divine Favors, Specialized (for double effect – as in, epic-level Favors) and Corrupted (for reduced cost)/the Divine Ruler must enact major rituals to gain a favor, erect occasional temples, persecute the enemies of the gods, and otherwise carry out their will in the material world (4 CP).
  • Deep Sleep, Specialized/only as a prerequisite, Corrupted/stops working until a proper atonement is made if the user offends the gods (2 CP) and Cosmic Awareness, Specialized/only works to provide occasional intuitive guidance (whenever a matter is important to the gods for some reason) when making public judgements, determinations of policy, and directing public affairs, Corrupted/stops working until a proper atonement is made if the user offends the gods (2 CP).
    • This could also be made to work as an Occult Sense, but Cosmic Awareness works better to simulate external guidance.
  • Immunity to Divination (Common, Minor, Major – covering effects of up to level five and providing a +6 bonus on saving throws against higher-level effects, 6 CP).
  • Spell Resistance of (Level + 10), Corrupted/only works as long as the user is fulfilling his divine obligations and remains favored by the Gods (8 CP). Divine Rulers can often resist or throw off hostile magic.
  • Accursed/feels damage inflicted on his or her domains, and may suffer sympathetic injuries and penalties from such damage (-3 CP).
  • Accursed/is a special object of the Gods attention. A Divine Ruler has been granted power by the Gods, and may be punished in a wide variety of ways if he or she misuses it – often through his or her children, by a failure of their powers, or by disasters such as invasion, famine, drought, or rebellion (-3 CP).
  • Finally, the Divine Ruler is entitled to a Bonus Feat – most often an additional Dominion power, but Immunities to the special enemies of the gods or to their particular attack forms, the ability to detect lies (Occult Sense), the ability to inspire others by their mere presence (Presence), gaining loyal followers (Leadership), and the ability to coordinate the efforts of others (Executive) are all common.

   With a total cost of 64 CP – 32 CP here and 32 CP for the Noble-Blooded Template – this is a +2 ECL (over whatever the user’s racial adjustment is) acquired template. Of course, unlike most Templates, if the character loses the favor of the Gods AND gets rightfully overthrown, he or she will drop back to the +1 ECL Noble-Blooded base.

   Hopefully, this particular template will help make the player-characters respect the ruling nobles a bit more; they’ll never know when it really is the Gods speaking – or when some act of defiance may result in a vicious curse.

Latest Material Index

   It’s once again time to get the latest material index updated and to transfer the material from the old one to the main index tabs at the top of the page. If you want the very latest material, it may be necessary to either scroll down or consult the “Recent Posts” listing-widget on the lower right. The previous Latest Materials Index can be found HERE, and – for those who like to rummage at random – the full post-by-post index can be found occupying a great deal of space in the lower right column.

   Eclipse Classless d20 Character Construction Cribsheet / Sample Character List – Character Creation Primer – Compiled Martial Arts.

   Subindexes: RPG Design – Twilight Isles – BattletechChampionsd20Legend of the Five RingsShadowrunWhite WolfOther GamesBattling Business World

Cumulative General Index.

   d20 Material:

   RPG Design:

   General RPG Material:

  • Uncontrolled Substances: Zashin (A drug that extends the user’s mind into other dimensions),

   Shadowrun Material:

Federation-Apocalypse Session 90b – Core Values

   Back in Core, the House of Roses and the Unified Church had settled on stashing Death in a small, ancient, castle in Brittany, France – Chateau de Largoet.

   Having never been there, having no idea of what the place was like, and not being able to access any information about the place – whether from the minds of people who’d been there, or from computer databases – Kevin would need a Thrall there to help him direct the gate.

   The Church was a bit reluctant to involve the Thralls – but the House had no such compunctions; they got a couple on the spot to help Kevin focus in on the Church’s Opener.

   Interestingly, Kevin’s theory had turned out to be at least partially accurate; releasing the Death Knights from their unnatural bonds did seem to weaken the barrier by about a third – and sped up it’s overall decay as well. Either their bindings were related to the greater one or they were aspects of it.

   The unforging process was revealing as well. There were definitely strange energies involved. They seemed to be related to negative energies in the same way that holy and positive energies were related, yet they weren’t the typical infernal power. The swords seemed to act as a energy vacuum in some fashion. Almost as if the blades were pulling in the trace mana of the souls and using that pull to hold them.

   Kevin exercised the privilege of youth and leapt to quite a conclusion from a standing start. Both Negative and Positive energy were neutral in themselves – but became aspected when focused through the soul. Unholy power, destruction, despair, rage, darkness, nihilism – all negative aspects, just as sacred energies, creation, hope, inspiration, serenity, charity, and healing were all positive. The souls weren’t bound to the swords. The Swords were just links to someone like HIMSELF. Thus the need to consent to become a Death Knight… Being slain by one was simply a link-breaker. As for the dimensional barriers… all they had to do was exaggerate the link to where the enemy wanted the souls to wind up and suppress others; that way almost all the souls would wind up going where you wanted them too. The cross-Manifold bonds channeled power from the flux between the worlds. If he wanted to get souls into phantasms, he simply had to find dying volunteers who’d like a new life with some bennies, bind their souls to himself without a soul-transform – probably a witchcraft pact alone would do it – and transfer them in… It wouldn’t work if they didn’t like the new life though; a spell-link wouldn’t be nearly as strong as the natural affinity of having been born into a life or choosing it independently.

   Hm… A compatible personality between the phantasm and the soul would probably be a good idea, but a large part of that would be describing their new incarnation in advance and selling them on it. If he was good enough at that, they’d just need a link to transfer in even WITHOUT any major intervention.

   Ok, all that was simply theorizing again – but he’d bet that there was something good in there that would at least lead to better theories.

   Meanwhile, Marty had been having a close encounter of a particularly awkward kind: a young man holding the broken remains of a weapon…

(Ex-Marty) “Well now Marty, how do I look now that I am flesh and blood again? Do you see any resemblance between us?”

   Well, there was a resemblance – if Marty had been a lot younger and fitter.

(Marty) “Yeah, I can see it. You look pretty good.”

(Ex-Marty) “Good to hear, although I do suppose you might be a bit biased in my favor. (Cocks his head) Or maybe not.”

   For a moment, Marty wondered if it was Puck again… It would be just like him to come back for a third pass at trickery… Still, the mannerisms were all right. It probably was the… er… ex-him.

(Marty) “So, what are you going to do now?”

(Ex-Marty) “Not sure, I was giving some thought to following you guys out of here for a ways. I also was pondering trying to reforge the blade to act as a better focus of my personality and memories before venturing too far though. Those rune weapons were handy on some levels.”

(Marty) “Always room for people in Kadia.”

(Ex-Marty) “Glad to hear it. I also suspect the training as a Death Knight ought to be somewhat compatible with the training of a paladin. Any thoughts on that? And if I do pursue that, any particular faith you prefer?”

(Marty) “Hey, go for it. And why not go Catholic? Lots of good knightly orders out there.”

   Kevin heard about that bit later… A personality-recording to help a phantasm maintain stability; not as good as being in the entourage of someone with a soul, but still helpful. The trip had certainly paid off in ideas and information.

(Ex-Marty) “So what is Kadia like?”

(Marty) “Kevin runs the place for his servants to rest and train. It’s got lots of technology that’ll blow your mind, more entertainment than you can shake a stick at, and paths to a lot of worlds.”

(Ex-Marty) “Sounds like fun. Now I do have an embarrissing question to ask of you, if you don’t mind.”

(Marty) “Yeah? I’ve heard a lot of those.”

(Ex-Marty) “You wouldn’t happen to remember my/our name? You do seem to recall some of the details of our collective past.”

(Marty) “Err… Oh yeah! I remember now! Your name’s Tomlin.”

(Tomlin) “Ah good, I was certain calling myself Marty wold cause no end of trouble.”

(Marty) “Could just go with Martin. Still confusing, though.”

(Tomlin) “Quite true… In the meantime I think, before I go off and become a holy warrior, it might be a good idea to partake of the coming celebrations. Care to join me? (Winks with a bit of a wicked smile.)”

   Marty knew that kind of smile all too well.

(Marty) “Great minds think alike!”

(Tomlin) “We’re two of a kind eh? Now remember one of us is the responsible one, and I plan to find out which one tonight!”

  There was quite a festival going on in the streets of Jerusalem – and Marty and Tomlin wound up competing to see who could be most responsible (Tomlin clearly won that one) and who could party hardest (Marty) – but the margin of victory was higher for Tomlin. He managed to keep Marty out of a few of the seediest events and even kept him down to only three run-ins with the city guard.

   The celebration reached considerable heights. Sadly, Marty and Tomlin were unlikely to remember it later, Jamie refused to go off-duty while there was a prisoner to help Kevin keep an eye on, and A’ikana was entirely too dignified to participate fully.

   Nonetheless, the city was jubilant, and the sense of unity in the city seemed likely to set a precedent that would stand for years to come – especially after an Archangel appeared in the Temple-Mount complex to watch over the festivities.

   Kevin was still focused on Death – he wasn’t taking any risk of losing such a source of information given how difficult it had been to find any so far – but he did wave cheerily.

   Marty was more direct:

(Marty) “Hi! Have a drink!”

   Stunned silence filled the crowd as the archangel looked at the proffered drink for a moment – and then took the drink and sipped it idly. He raised the mug to the air…

(Archangel) “Congratulations on your victory today! For this surely is an occasion for celebration as you have triumphed over the forces of Darkness.”

   Things got even wilder after that – although Tomlin smacked Marty upside his head, spilling half his mug

(Tomlin) “Yoush were shupposhed to welcome him to the party first, dolt.”

(Marty) “Shorry..”

(Tomlin) “Ish ok, now what were we doing?”

(Marty) “Drinking!”

(Tomlin) “Shounds about right to me. Off to the next place of impeccable virtue!”

   They reeled off down the street together. Faced with divine approval for a wild party, even A’ikana gave in and had a little fun.

   Jamie was seriously torn. Hm… Angels were Heralds of the Lord. Did the presence of an Angel in that capacity mean that peace had been declared and that the combat troops could stand down? If so, was she now off-duty?

   She eventually decided to unbend enough to participate in a few festivities.

   In the morning, both Marty and Tomlin had been well-polluted, although Tomlin was not doing nearly as well as Marty. It looked like the last drinking game might have been a bit much for him… At least, Marty thought that it had been the last game. It took Marty a moment to recall that he could purge himself readily, but that Tomlin wasn’t so lucky. Had he drunk himself into alcohol poisoning?

   That turned out to be a mild “yes”, so he had his pocket-companions treat him. He’d still have a hangover, but the rest of the effects were easy enough for them to deal with.

   How had he ever done without Thrall-assistants?

   Was he getting too reliant on Thrall-assistants? He might have to think about that some time. Anyway…

(Marty) “You okay?”

(Tomlin) “How in the however many levels of Hell do you drink that much? We weigh about the same and I am younger than you.”

(Marty) “I’m magic. Or crazy. Probably both.”

(Tomlin) “I am voting for both myself.”

(Marty) “Anyway, that was fun. I think…”

(Tomlin) “Yeah, but the aftermath is a sure pain.”

   Kevin, meanwhile, had a more-or-less private angelic visitation. The local powers wanted to thank him for his assistance in the war – but they also wanted to know when he’d be leaving, and strongly implied that it really needed to be fairly soon; a period of withdrawal would allow the natural balance to be re-established before he could be welcomed as an occasional unstable element.

   They had no objection to establishing more contact with the outworlds; now that the horseman had invaded their realm, it was obviously time for that. They obviously could no longer remain isolated from the affairs of the Manifold – and the local population would still need supplies and trade to return to prosperity.

   They didn’t even seem to really object to his recruiting – although personally Kevin would guess that they did not really approve.

   Oh well, he’d been planning to leave as soon as the barriers dropped sufficiently to set up a gate safely anyway, and that would probably be sometime this afternoon. Besides, they had said “Thank you” and apparently meant it, which was a distinct rarity when you were in the “Lesser Evil” business.

   He got together with the rest of the group to join in the end of Marty’s conversation with Tomlin.

(Kevin) “Ah well, Marty isn’t – strictly speaking – entirely mortal. Have a hangover cure. Death needed one two, and I wouldn’t have thought that even faerie ale would no that to him…”

(Tomlin) “Thanks, I needed that. So is the city still here or did the revelry do what the armies of undead could not?”

(Kevin) “Still here – mostly anyway – and, I think, at this point a lot of the repairs need to be up to the people who belong in this world. If a lot of it isn’t their own work, it might not stick. The barriers are far enough down to try a crossing in the next few hours… I don’t suppose that you know of any special trick to that or key to the barriers or some such?”

(Tomlin) “Sorry, I do know that it is tied to the Horsemen and their powers. I do suspect one of them is the key and the others serve as foci though.”

(A’ikana) “I would guess that they are fearmongers, and so use portents and a slow crescendo of terror to build up their power. Their victims feel entrapped, and believe that there is no escape – and so help sustain the barriers with their own strength. They are an old and terrible darkness, far more malevolent than Kevin’s mischief.”

   Kevin sighed. NO ONE appreciated cheerful, friendly, polite, evil properly!

(Kevin) “Oh well. We may be able to get more out of Velaric (Velaric Storahm, until recently known as “Death”).

   The barriers were down to the readily-manageable level, they had their stuff together, Kevin had sent a small contingent of Thralls to take the ship home, the local Thralls – with ever-increasing support from the local supernatural powers – were having little trouble cleaning up the other sieges now that Death’s power was no longer supporting them, and the knightly council had decided they would like some local gates to the other capitals (and taken Kevin’s recommendation of setting them up in the new outworks on the Jerusalem end and in similar locations in the other capitals; they way they’d be well defended, yet set up to be under central observation and easy to defend against as well).

   Kevin informed them that his “agents” could open and close the gates once they were set up – and that, if they did decide on a mercenary contract, they’d always be able to reach him. He also offered to take along any observers who wanted to come.

   He had several Thralls stand by to keep any wild disturbances damped out – or at least to keep them away from Velaric and the observers / witnesses. There were several hundred who wanted to watch, although the knightly authorities were trying to keep the number of onlookers down to a minimum, and twenty-five who wanted to come along.

   The House and Church had no objection to visitors of course, but didn’t want them involved in the debriefing – which seemed fair enough. It was likely to be tricky enough without having to stop and explain all the time. The local gates were easy – but for the main production, Kevin threw some wind, a bit of a lightshow, and some dramatic posing just for the look of things. No reason the onlookers shouldn’t get a bit of a show.

   Marty just looked blase, simply for the sake of his image.

(Kevin) “We Stand Within the Sea of Worlds, Outside of Time and Upon the Threshold of the Infinite. Eternity has been given to men, as it has been given to those who have come before and will be given to those yet unborn. I am an Opener; by the strength of the race; let the balance be set that the Gates of the Foundation World allow our passage!”

   Opening the gateway had been a new experience. There had definitely been something actively resisting his push outwards – but Kevin had slowly feed more power into the push until he’d felt another different-yet-familiar pull latch onto his own efforts. The combined push and pull had swiftly frayed the resistance – until the dimensional ward slowly unraveled from the damage and the gate took shape.

   The Thralls he’d deployed wound up working feverishly to stamp out the wild energies released, and to avoid any wild gates, dimensional disturbances, or similar troubles, before the potentials died down.

   The rift in space opened up overlooking a light, picturesque forest (with all the obvious telltale signs of careful landscaping and computer-maintained gardening), a modest castle, a selection of Church and House officials, and several security teams and some Orbs in the distance. Obviously no one was inclined to take any chances with Death.

(Kevin) “Welcome to Core Earth. If you would step this way?”

   Thawban had been clearly trying to hide his amazement. Most of the others hadn’t even bothered to try – although Tomlin had been watching with a knowing smile. He seemed to be fully aware that the dramatics weren’t at all necessary – although he was also aware that he wouldn’t be very creative or anything in Core, even if it wouldn’t hurt him any. He’d want to get to Kadia fairly quickly, or he’d be very boring to have around.

   Kevin kind of wanted to meet the Church Opener; Openers were rare enough that he’d only met a few during the early days of the opening – mostly during discussions with the scientists who were investigating it – and had rarely encountered any since. Ryan was about it…

   Marty stuck with Thawban and Tomlin – and with gently prodding people through the gateway if necessary.

   Hm. The Church Opener appeared to be a woman in her 30’s, of African descent, and wearing loose fitting gray and white clothing. Over that she has a black Tabard with the number XIII embroidered onto it in a highly stylized fashion.

(CO) “Well, welcome back to Core. I am sure the bunch of you have quite the stories to tell from what reports I have heard.”

(Kevin) “Always nice to visit home! Ah, introductions… (Kevin introduced people all around – including) “Velaric Storahm, until recently known as ‘the Horseman of Death’… I presume it would be safer to close the gate at the moment. Would they prefer it sealed for now, or simply shut?”

(CO) “Definitely stories worth hearing I think. I do think it best to close the gate for now. Let us hold off on sealing it until we have more information though. The forces in the area should be able to keep intruders in check. Unfortunately, I fear the officials behind me will want to debrief all of you and put Mr. Storahm into protective custody.”

   Kevin closed the gate – and recommended against upsetting Mr Storahm; even in Core, he could still do something pretty unpleasant if he wanted to blow what magic he had available in Core all at once.

   There was no point in resisting the debriefing – at least as long as they didn’t take TOO long about it – it was just nice that everyone was getting it over with all at once. Separate debriefings for the House, the Church, and the Military would have been pretty annoying and a huge waste of time.

   They’d spent a lot of time on the Ark enchantments and the Wards. No one in the group could really figure out why? It wasn’t like local magic was really likely to be that useful elsewhere… Oh well. It was over soon enough, although they were asked to keep quiet about Storahm’s location.

   Kevin and Marty pointed out that they expected to get the relevant information anyway – and Kevin recommended keeping a few Thralls with him; both as servants and to help contain him if he loses his temper. Wine, women, and song had certainly implied as being among the benefits of retiring, and they didn’t want to even remotely appear to be cheating.

(Marty) “Yeah! You can’t cheat Death!).

   After the groaning had stopped, the House had readily agreed to these points, the Military had been neutral, and the had Church required some debate and persuasion before they agreed to go along with it.

(Kevin) “He’s cooperating because I restored his memories of humanity; we want to keep those memories as well-reinforced as possible! Would you rather have his aspect as Death ascendent again? I find it hard to believe that you’d want to argue about this! It’s worked so far, so lets keep it up! Trust me, he as worse things on his conscience than fooling around with young women!”

   The Church had actually turned out to be more reluctant about the Thralls than about the luxuries and women. They hadn’t been disagreeing about keeping him calm and happy.

   Kevin told them that, if they had a ready supply of other handy agents with telepathy, glamour, magic, the ability to easily return if killed, and all the rest to keep an eye on him, that would work too – but if they didn’t have any handy, they should have some sense!

   The Church representatives gave in eventually.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 90a – Reminiscence of Apocalypse

   Kevin had been busy for the first few days after getting back from the Crusader Kingdoms… There had been the new Thralls to induct. Kelsaru had done a marvelous job of getting that organized, he’d never have been able to get so many bonded so quickly if she hadn’t sorted out the ones who were willing just on the basis of the recorded information and gotten them set up with mass appointments – but it had still taken time.

   He’d had to talk to Gelman, organize the information network, dispatch new agents, and a dozen other projects – but all of them were underway at last.

   Gelman was right; he really should delegate more.

   Anyway, he finally had time to look back on the last few hours they’d spent in the Crusader Kingdoms.

   He’d been focusing on keeping an eye on Death (and making sure that he STAYED pacified) while some of the Thralls got Death Knights (including the ones who’d had their foci captured, but not yet broken) on the road to recovery, Thrall-contingents had been dispatched to the other major cities – both to serve as gate-foci and to relieve what was left of the undead sieges (it wasn’t too hard now that Death’s power was no longer backing them) – and the rest had been assigned to maintain the defenses of Jerusalem, produce food and supplies (at least until a new harvest was in) and to answer questions for potential recruits.

   Marty had just sworn blood-brotherhood with Thawban (not something that he’d seen coming, or really would have suggested, but it was Marty’s decision), was considering where Puck might have escaped to, and was trying to get to know his previous incarnation. He’d wanted to take Thawban along when they left too… He hadn’t thought that there was much left for the poor man in the Crusader Kingdoms. He hadn’t really thought about that; if the man wanted to come along, why not? He could probably use a change of scene.

   Jamie’s heaviest sarcasm (Oh why not? After all, it wasn’t like they didn’t have enough trouble already without hauling along someone who was sure that THEY were one of the biggest menaces in the universe!) hadn’t been enough to penetrate Marty’s psychological armor of cheerful and slightly-tipsy anarchy.

   Back on Core Earth, the Unified Church, House of Roses, and Department of Mysteries had been frantically preparing a secure place to debrief Death. They desperately needed information, and Death had to have at least a little, just to direct his contingent of the enemy forces.

   The priests had been looking for a way to argue with Kevin, but their attempts had been swiftly falling to A’ikana’s subtle theological points. Up against a core-style education, formal training in debate, and fifteen hundred years worth of theological development, they had about the same chance as a shield wall against a tank division. Still, some of the local priests were fairly tolerant and had been turning out to be more aware of the existence of other dimensions than she’d thought. Some of them might be ready to join the Unified Church after all.

   When they’d departed, they’d spent a total of twelve days in Jerusalem… One realm saved, three hundred Death Knights either destroyed or saved, better than a hundred thousand lesser undead destroyed, thousands of Thralls recruited, one Horseman of the Apocalypse pacified and ready to be debriefed, magical ward-repairs completed, supernatural beings once more intervening, dimensional barriers down, insane Dr Frankenstein type dealt with, magical knights considering an alliance, remaining sieges being relieved, and many people badly confused. It hadn’t been a bad trip.

   It had been a mildly amusing discussion though – at least if you thought about their committment to pursuing the Trickster.

(Thawban) “Leave? Where would we be going to? Much of this world lies in ruins. Or are you suggesting heading to where you hail from?”

(Marty) “Possibly. Or we could go to Kevin’s realm.”

(Thawban) “So you are not all from the same world then?”

(Marty) “No, we are not.”

(Thawban) “It may be that this was fated. I do feel that in order to better understand the threat to my home and elsewhere, it would be prudent for representatives to go to the wider conflict. I have nothing keeping me here save a blood oath against a vile creature, and I suspect that where ever I may go, I will run into him again.”

(Marty) “Yeah, well, we’ll get him someday!”

(Thawban) “Very well then I will come with you.”

(Jurin Hans) “Well that does seem to have gone much better than I would have thought possible. (Watches the treatment of the Death Knights for a moment) So the process of becoming a Death Knight can be reversed?”

(Kevin) “Yes. Bodies are relatively easy; it’s retrieving a soul that’s passed on that’s nearly impossible. If the soul is available though – such as by being trapped in a focus – bringing someone back is merely tedious.

(Jurin Hans) “Fascinating. I imagine the rune weapons are the foci containing the soul then? That would explain why slaying Death Knights accomplished so little in the long run, the creature was really the blade and not the body. When you are done here, there is someone else I would like for you to have a look at before you leave.”

(Kevin) “Yes, although a few seem to use foci other than swords. I do hope we haven’t completely upset the order of your world. It would still be better than it’s destruction – but most worlds exist because people want them that way, and it’s rude to simply turn them upside down. Who is it you want me to have a look at? I’d rather not get too far from keeping an eye on Death until he’s safely into counseling and debriefing.”

(Jurin Hans) “Well, when it comes to upsetting our world, it apparently happens from time to time. Should things get too out of hand, the people rally around a single Emperor for the world and he makes decrees to set things back on track again. Last time this happened was the formation of the Roman Empire. As for the special individual, the Knight-Commander’s elder brother was taken by the Death Knights during the war but was captured before the siege began. The Knight-Commander could not stand the thought of slaying him though, so he was locked away deep inside the walls of the Temple Complex. If you could heal him, I expect the Knight Commander would be overjoyed once he recovers.”

(Kevin) “Well, I see no reason not to heal him as well if he is willing – and that is interesting. Most worlds are not so aware of how people can act to maintain them.”

(Hans) (Claps his hands) “Great! I am sure that will make a fine victory reunion for the Knight-Commander. So most worlds are not aware that the leader of the world can reshape the world by virtue of his position? It would seem obvious to me.”

(Kevin) “Hm… No, most worlds do not have quite such an expansive view of authority. I would guess that it comes of the deeply religious nature of your world and of the idea of leaders as agents of god. Most worlds are not so accepting.”

(Hans) “I am not sure whether to be intrigued that other worlds view such matters so differently, or to be saddened that those worlds would lack such guidance in times of great need.”

(Kevin) “Every world must follow it’s own nature, and I suspect that all of them have advantages and disadvantages of their own.”

(Hans) “Nonetheless, each of you does deserve a boon for you efforts over the last weeks. Have you any thoughts of what you would ask?”

   Marty had actually given that a bit of thought beforehand; the locals weren’t up to upgrading his sword, although they could forge mystical latin scripts into the blade to grant it local holy powers – but that wouldn’t help him much and didn’t exactly suit him. Still, unrestricted trading rights in Jerusalem would be nice – and the locals had no problem with that. They NEEDED trade to get back on their feet.

   Jamie wanted her campaign ribbon. She’d participated, and thus should get the appropriate award – and some local souvenir in token of a job well done seemed in order. Any actual pay or increase in grade would – of course – be up to her actual employers, but she’d been serving on detached duty with the local forces, and the recognition would be nice.

   A’ikana felt that she would be well-rewarded if the locals would extend a welcome to any other emissaries of the Unified Church that might come along.

   Kevin was a bit baffled… He came to worlds for his own purposes, recruited there, and departed. He was a Lord of Darkness, and took what he wanted; if his personal activities happened to be to the advantage of the locals, that was their good luck! The locals didn’t usually offer to reward him for manipulations… Ah! This time he was here to help the locals both because it suited him, in search of information, AND to get an “in” with the Unified Church! It just looked to them like he was being gratuitously noble!… and it wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of that. Ah well. A token of appreciation (maybe a title to go with his local ID, he could start collecting those) and allowing his agents to continue their investigations and aid / defense operations would cost the locals nothing at all – and it would continue to let them recruit a bit on the side. Of course, the locals probably had no real way of stopping that anyway, and – if they had – it would unfairly stretch their religious scruples to ask them not to try. He could ask for some social reforms, such as a limit to slavery-terms, but social change would be barreling down on the realm anyway. It might be nice to know who’d set up their wards, but they hadn’t even known about the foci, so they’d surely have no idea of who’d made them.

   Marty felt that it might have been the original founders of the realm – after all, the place might well be linked to Heaven or Eden, so all they’d have needed to have done would be to draw on the holy power – but Kevin felt that most of the local stunts involved active divine magic being channeled through people – and whoever had set up the wards had a modern education and used Tengwyr – Tolkien’s invented script. That put it within the last five hundred years, and probably a lot more recent than that.

   Another mystery to be added to the list. Something about the whole thing made Kevin suspect that Ryan was involved somehow, but there really wasn’t any evidence of that at all.

(Kevin) “I hadn’t really considered such a thing… I think your world needs time to recover with as few demands on it as possible in any case – although I was planning to ask if you needed a few local gates set up before I left”.

(Hans) “Gates to other worlds might be good to have, although I must admit having no knowledge whatsoever on the nature of such things. However I will ask some of our most wise leaders and see what insight they might have.”

(Kevin) “I can also set up a few local gates if you like; those should allow you to move people, information, and materials, between various points more readily. It should make it easier to get everyone back on their feet again.”

(Hans) “Also intriguing, I suspect routes connecting the various capitols would be the most prudent, but I shall once again have to consult the others… I shall leave you to your endeavors for now. I, unfortunately, have matters I need to attend to.”

   Meanwhile, Marty was having his companions wrap him up in more protective spells and was keeping an eye on the Death Knights (while avoiding actually touching any of them or their stuff). It didn’t look, however, like any of them wanted to challenge the massed Knights and the beings who’d defeated Death.

   Kevin, meanwhile, went back to keeping an eye on Death (and talking to him to maintain his influence) and organizing a few more Thralls – mostly the ones’s he and Marty had arrived with and who knew the ropes of the Manifold – to keep an eye out for attempts at interference. He had some doing divinations, more keeping an eye on the dimensional barriers, more acting as waiters/watchers for Death, keeping up aerial scouting and layers of anti-divination wards… Death was a major prize, and he wasn’t taking ANY avoidable risk of losing him. He wanted to get Death to Core, where magic generally wouldn’t work, and to wherever the House and the Church had decided to stash him, without any accidents.

RPG Design – Star Trek Physics

   The Star Trek universe uses a lot of power – and we know where it comes from; Antimatter.

   Or do we?

   Antimatter is a difficult thing to find. There isn’t a realistic natural source in the galaxy – and making it by any known method takes rather more energy than you can get back out of it.

   It’s equally awkward to store. If something happens to your containment system, not only will you loose your energy reserve, but you’ll probably lose your ship too.

   It does have one major advantage of course; it’s the most efficient source of power available to known physics and engineering. Antimatter has, in fact, such a good power-to-weight ratio that it is already – even with our incredibly inefficient methods of antimatter production – a marginally viable fuel for space travel (try googling “NASA Antimatter Engine”; you’ll find a load of trash, but there are some genuine studies out there).

   This is science fiction, so we can, of course, invoke zero-point energy systems, tapping into other dimensions, violations of conservation laws, and similar forms of technobabble, to supply energy – but if we overdo that we might as well admit that we’re making the “technology” work by waving a magic wand. Every science-fiction setting is entitled to a few waves of the magic wand – but the trick is to keep it down to as few as possible and – preferably – to keep them on the level of principles ormaterials instead of individual gadgets.

   That’s why this analysis is sticking with the original series and the first few movies. The various followup series used the magic wand so often that it’s almost impossible to make anything consistent out of their physical principles.

   So what do we actually know about the antimatter systems in the Star Trek universe?

  • They use antimatter, and actually seem to be fairly realistic about it’s properties – it annihilates on contact with normal matter to yield vast amounts of energy, it’s very dangerous, it’s very hard to find, you need special containment systems for it, and you DEFINITELY don’t want it getting out. There’s an alternate mirror universe full of the stuff (although there isn’t normally any access), and the interaction produces some fairly odd results.
  • They involve “dilithium” crystals, which are rare, somehow involve more than chemistry, and seem to have some fairly unique properties. In addition, time travel, very high warp speeds, and other exotic circumstances seem to put some special strain on them that isn’t shared by most other materials – including the highly-sensitive ones of living bodies. There are serious problems with synthetic versions and even the natural ones tend to break down in use. None of this has much to do with actual lithium or dilithium.
  • They are apparently necessary to achieve sustained FTL speeds – although there may be a mention or two of other systems apparently involving “quantum singularities”. Given that we never get more than a casual mention though, this could be the usual gross oversimplification that you get in casual conversation which touches on technical subjects.
  • Powering up a matter-antimatter annihilation engine too quickly results in backwards time travel. Now THAT’S a big anomaly.
  • Antimatter engines are apparently regarded as being SAFER than fission systems. That’s also pretty weird under normal circumstances. “Makes an area messily toxic and hard to clean up” is usually a bit less menacing than “instantly vaporizes the city”.
  • They don’t seem to use very much antimatter. Federation starships seem to be equipped with methods of transporting relatively small amounts of it rather than large reserves, can physically eject the antimatter system and have it be at a relatively safe distance in less than a minute, are not considered a major menace in orbit, and have been destroyed within eyesight range of unprotected humans with no one the worse for wear. The explosion is impressive, but certainly can’t involve much antimatter.
  • There’s some indication that the matter-antimatter engines use up a lot more matter than they do antimatter.

   So

  • Federation warp drives require antimatter due to the vast energy demands.
  • Federation ships don’t actually carry enough antimatter to yield vast amounts of energy.
  • Federation ships do have to have antimatter, but once they’ve got some, they seem to have enough to operate almost indefinitely.
  • In the Star Trek universe, antimatter is a fairly safe fuel source.
  • They apparently don’t have to invest massive resources in creating the stuff.
  • Federation starships have broad corridors, plenty of personal space, and other luxuries – implying power to spare. There isn’t really any sign of them being particularly mass-and-space conscious.

   We have one set of observations that say antimatter is plentiful, and another set that says that it’s only actually used in tiny quantities.

   How can we make sense of this and still keep the magic wand waving to a minimum?

   Well, it was noted long ago that an antiparticle is indistinguishable from a normal particle moving backwards in time – and time seems to be entangled in this whole mess.

   Ergo, here’s the vital point where we can keep our magic wand waving to a bare minimum.

   The internal structure of “Dilithium Crystals” involves time. When electromagnetic energy above some critical threshold is projected into, or generated in, the otherwise-unreactive interior of such a crystal, it produces a field (or altered volume or space) within which time flows backwards.

   The annihilation of matter and antimatter generates vast amounts of intense electromagnetic energy.

   If carefully maintained within a small area, such a field will convert matter entering it into antimatter. That means that the initial supply of antimatter is only a catalyst; if it’s focused into a small area, and the matter feed is carefully regulated, you can increase or decrease the power output to suit demand.

   If you try to do it too quickly, you run the risk of the field either collapsing too rapidly – shutting down the engines and requiring a slow, careful, startup again with a fresh infusion of antimatter – or of the field expanding beyond the limits of the crystal. If it expands beyond the vacuum-chamber, but does not engulf the entire ship, the resulting matter-antimatter explosion will destroy the entire ship. If it does engulf the entire ship, from the viewpoint of the ship, it will go backwards in time until the field collapses again.

   Given that, we need very little antimatter – quantities small enough so that multiply-redundant containment systems are quite practical and that even a total containment failure will not endanger much of a planetary surface and will be quite survivable at even a modest distance from the main ship.

   We can even have several small antimatter reserves, so there’s a backup way to start the engines if you lose power unexpectedly. That also means that you can dump extra antimatter into the system to try for that “fast start” or “intentional time travel” stunt.

   The main fuel supply can simply be ordinary matter – such as water.

   Now, if the Dilithium Crystals have a structure that unique, it’s pretty reasonable that they’d be affected by time travel and forces which have no effect on normal matter. Normal matter doesn’t have any structure on that level to be affected. It’s also a possible reason for why synthetic crystals aren’t a lot of use and why even natural ones degrade; in operation, the structure of the crystal is forced unevenly back into time. Natural crystals – often many millions of years old – can handle a lot more going back into time before breaking down than synthetic ones from last year. Ah, that precious, precious, natural dilithium!

   This also means that antimatter reactors are far safer than fission reactors.

   What else can we do with this particular pass of the wand?

   Well, the other technological wonders of Star Trek include the Transporter/Replicator (and, later on, the Holodeck), the Warp Drive, the Phaser, the Tractor Beam (and other artificial gravity effects), Subspace Communicators, Tricorders, the Universal Translator, Sensors, and the Shields/Force Fields.

   OK, we can get around a few of those:

  • Tricorders are just sophisticated special-purpose analytical systems with a lot of miniaturized sensors.
  • The Universal Translator is presumably simply a very high-powered linguistic analysis system and automated translator.
  • The Warp Drive… well, we’re already playing with generating a field which modifies time. If we wrap the ship in such a field without quite going to the (presumed) threshold for time travel, then we’ve just opted out of normal space and time; we’re now within a “warp” – and FTL travel is fundamentally linked to time travel through relativity. All we need now is a low-powered drive to give us some “impulse”, and there’s no reason why our “warp” shouldn’t let us move around quite handily. That glosses over a LOT of details of course, but if we actually knew the details, we’d be able to do it. It also gets us out of having multiple drive systems; impulse power is a necessary part of the warp drive.
  • Phasers can be used to cause things to become hot, to cause matter to quietly vanish – with no apparent residue or energy release, to stun living creatures, and can be fired at targets which are moving far faster than light. They can also be dodged, but only by creatures which are clearly operating in purely subjective time. Phasers seem to have near-infinite speed, but can be seen. They lose energy even passing through empty space. Awkward… Wait; if solid matter is accelerated in time, it will become hot – at least to an outside observer. If it’s slowed, it will seem cold, and – it’s not too hard to believe – that complex biological processes will be somewhat disrupted. If matter is somehow stopped in time, it would quietly vanish – lost to the past without necessarily releasing other energies. OK: “Phasers” “fire” time-manipulation effects, losing energy as they “pass through” normal space due to interface effects and virtual pair production. Obviously, Phasers involve the use of tiny bits of dilithium. They’ve only got a limited charge, so they’re obviously too small for antimatter – but a larger power pack will make the same emitter “more powerful”; it’s just pumping more energy through the dilithium speck at the core of the system. Dilithium can be affected by high-energy radiation, thus Sulu’s misfire in Star Trek IV.
  • Force fields glow a bit, glow more brightly when touched, and interact with phasers. Another boundary effect then, generated by pumping power into an array of tiny dilithium-based “field emitters”. That means that things which can warp normal space and time – like Charlie – can easily pass through them if they wish. Energy never just vanishes, so energy directed against a force field feeds back into the generator system – so shields can overload and burn out.
  • The Tractor Beam is apparently an artificial gravity effect – a warp in space time. Can we do that? Happily, yes, we can. Once we’re distorting space and time, artificial gravity effects are pretty straightforward.
  • The Transporter/replicator is harder – if only because the Star Trek universe is never too clear on what the thing actually DOES. If it moves atoms, how can it duplicate people? If not, why can’t it copy people normally? Is the Soul involved? How can it sometimes send you into alternate universes? How could it split Kirk into good and evil halves? Well, if dimensions – that is, space and time, are involved, we can avoid the problems with quantum mechanics. The system is somehow flicking it’s targets through other dimensions, a process which could allow access to alternate universes and any kind of weird effect we like. Who knows what other universes could be like or what strange disturbances might occur there? Playing games with space and time… It’s a bit of a stretch, but that does still fall under the basic effects we can get from our one bit of unobtainium dilithium. 
  • That leaves us with Sensors and Subspace Communicators. Sensors aren’t all that awkward with respect to what they pick up; what’s awkward is their ability to do it at incredible ranges, and through massive amounts of matter or other shielding. Similarly, Subspace Communicators operate at incredible ranges and leap right past the speed of light. It’s almost as if both were operating through another dimension – just like the Transporter.

   Magic Wands are nice. Well-aimed and precise magic wands are even better. They also make it a lot easier to game in a setting; you can give the players a fair idea of what will and will not work, and of how they can try to adapt a setting’s equipment to their own purposes.

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